Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017)

Welcome to the jungle…really? Is that the best they could come up with? How many movies have used that in one way or another now?

So at the end of the first movie (in 1969) the board game Jumanji was thrown into a river by Alan Parrish; 26 years later (1995) its somehow ended up in France apparently. Fast forward to 1996 and the board game has once again been discovered…but back in America? (I trust that wasn’t supposed to be the same beach from the first movie). Anyway the game has somehow evolved with the times and is now a videogame console; and once again it lures another unsuspecting youth into its jungle themed clutches. Fast forward again to 2016 and four students will also discover the board game which will trigger the same things that happened before. And round and round we go.

So I gotta admit that I liked the idea that this mysterious game can somehow evolve with the times. Back in the first movie (1969) it was a board game to blend in with the era. Now its a videogame console which of course is perfect for this era. The whole idea of the protagonists choosing a game avatar to play as which then turns out to be their live action avatar once inside the game is pretty cool (although Red Dwarf did it first). This does inevitably lead to very stereotypical characters which is deliberate…but doesn’t excuse the stereotypical teenage protagonists which wasn’t deliberate I’m guessing.

j2

Yeah so the teenagers, they’re a straight ‘Breakfast Club’ type bunch for sure. You’ve got the jock, the nerd, the princess, and the weirdo. So yeah its a complete rip-off. I really felt like they could of done better with these characters despite the movie being full of deliberate cliches and stereotypes. As for the avatars they are also rather cliche, naturally. The Rock is of course just playing the same character he always does, basically himself. Jack Black is the squat, spectacled, old fashioned looking professor type. Kevin Hart is the goofy sidekick type. And Karen Gillian is Lara Croft essentially.

One thing that did get me thinking was the in-game characters, the baddies and the in-game guide. The in-game guide and various baddie henchmen all seemed to act like actual videogame characters on rails. In other words they don’t interact with the protagonists on a personal level, they just do and say what they were programmed. But some henchmen and the main villain (Bobby Cannavale as Professor Van Pelt, same name as the big game hunter from the first movie) seemed to not do this. It did seem like Van Pelt behaved differently and not in a programmed way like the others, almost as if he were a real person.

Now in the original movie we never saw the jungle in the game, obviously this time we do. Alas its not really been visualised that well in my opinion. I always had the impression the jungle was set in an old fashioned British colonial type era mixed with a bit of Tarzan type fantasy. Like the exterior of the board game indicates. Of course as the game evolved so did the interior jungle it seems. This unfortunately has led to all sorts of modern crap turning up like military choppers, motorbikes, modern guns and weapons, ridiculous chase sequences, and lots of explosions. Now I’m sure some people will have liked these elements but for me it totally ruined the entire feel of the movie, or at least the look and feel I was hoping for.

j3

Gone is the possibility of quaintness and charm, enter vast CGI chase sequences on-board a military chopper (being chased by man eating CGI rhinos. Why didn’t they just shoot them?). Stupid chase sequences with hordes of motorbike riding bad guys. Lots of gunfire, explosions and of course the obligatory martial arts sequences from Ruby Roundhouse. I might add that Ruby Roundhouse spends lots of time trying to learn how to flirt and act sexy to distract some bad guys, but ends up just kicking the crap out of them. Her entire character is utterly pointless, why did we need all that shit when she can just beat them up. Its like one sequence where The Rock’s character says he knows CPR but doesn’t actually do it when its required. He just stands there and gives instructions to another character, eh??

Its really such a shame that this movie went down the route it did. Obviously there was gonna be CGI involved, obviously there was gonna be greenscreen involved, but Jesus Christ could they not do any better than this?! Most of the CGI is bad, real bad. Most of the greenscreen is obvious, real obvious. In fact it gets noticeably worse towards the end in my opinion. There are barely any practical effects which the first movie did incorporate in places. This movie is just ugly from top to bottom and its not helped by all the ludicrous action sequences. Its like half the movie wants to be like The Phantom, and the other half like Rambo. Its such a clash of genres and tone.

j4

There is also a large plot hole in the way this story works, I think, unless I missed something. In the original Alan Parrish goes back to the point where he started playing the game in 1969 and changes time. This is obviously meant that Judith and Peter would never have played (in 1995) and wouldn’t know anything about the game or Alan (having never met him). In this new movie the protagonists meet up with the kid (Alex) who got trapped in the game from 1996. When they all leave Alex goes back to the point he started playing in 1996 and changes time. So if he changed time, how come the four main protagonists still remember everything when they get back to their present day of 2016? Surely there’s a chance they would never have ended up playing the game, or the game wouldn’t have ended up in the school (?).

Anyway once again I find myself completely mystified by a modern movies success. How on earth did this pile of crap make so much money? How on earth did people find this enjoyable?? I could maybe understand it if this was an original movie and the first had never existed, but it does exist! I simply cannot fathom how anyone can accept this utter garbage after the excellent original movie (complete with a terrific Robin Williams) which came out back in 1995. There are some neat little touches here and there, I like the evolution and mystery of the game, and Jack Black is always a pleasure. But apart from that, this was yet another cookie cutter Dwayne Johnson flick. CGI laden trash of the highest order.

3.5/10

Advertisements

Pale Rider (1985)

By this point in his career Clint Eastwood was best known for his westerns, he was essentially the ultimate badass cowboy. In the dictionary under westerns, you’d see a picture of Eastwood (nah not really). But yeah Eastwood was the supreme plains drifter with no name.

This was, I think, Eastwood’s last foray into the realms of western badassery as a no name loner dealing lots of badass justice. He was already slowly moving into a more varied selection of film roles and this seemed to be his final goodbye to this particular genre. And with that we get a very typical Clint Eastwood cowboy flick; all the tropes and cliches you’ve come to expect which is both good and bad truth be told.

The plot: A small bunch of prospectors in California are trying their luck at panning for gold. Thing is they are doing so on land that a greedy big-time miner wants so he can mine it up. Naturally the big-time miner known as Lahood (Richard Dysart) and his cronies are all baddies so they try to run the prospectors off the land with violence. But low and behold, who should come trotting into the picture to save the day? Yep you’ve guessed it, its Clint as yet another no name hero (actually this character is a clerical man but he’s simply referred to as the Preacher).

pr

OK so firstly I have to mention the scenery in this movie, it is stunning. Filmed within the Boulder mountains and Sawtooth national park of Idaho, along with Tuolumne County in California, its all breathtaking. I saw this movie on bluray which made this countryside look even more impressive. The clear blue skies, open grassy ranges, jagged mountains capped with snow, dense forests, and the highly authentic looking small town of Lahood. It all looked terrific and really popped on the screen.

I guess the problems start with the baddies, those dastardly miners. Basically they weren’t a very intimidating bunch truth be told, hardly had me on the edge of my seat. Then you had their leader, a very young Chris Penn. Penn’s character was the son of Lahood, basically he’s the spoilt kid who’s in a position of power but really shouldn’t be. Its a good idea but nothing is really done with it. You kinda expect more of a loose cannon, an annoying hotheaded youth shooting his mouth and guns off, but no. The only real evil he gets up to is attempted rape. K that’s admittedly pretty bad but he does nothing much else. Lahood himself is your stereotypical aged, short, tubby, balding man in a suit with a fat tash.

The elite team of deputies led by Marshal Stockburn (John Russell) who are hired by Lahood to kill the Preacher, are again an element in the film that weren’t used to their full capacity in my opinion. For starters Russell was clearly too old for the role as he doesn’t move much. Whilst I like the fact that there’s an air of mystery surrounding these men and the history between Stockburn and the Preacher, maybe just a hint of backstory wouldn’t have gone a miss. But bottom line these guys just weren’t utilised enough which was a shame because they were cool. In the end they all get killed off pretty easily one by one by the Preacher in a sequence that we’ve seen repeated so many times. Shout out to early Billy Drago role here.

pr3

Speaking of backstory, I guess I should point out that Eastwood deliberately made the Preacher like a ghost. He rides in outta nowhere, as though he was summoned by a greater force to protect the innocent prospectors (a prospectors daughter prays for help as he rides in). At the end he also rides off again to an unknown destination, maybe to save more innocent people? The character obviously does this type of thing often because we see his past gunshot injuries and we see that he keeps his gun and holster locked up in a bank, obviously for these situations. So its totally open-ended which is fine, I guess.

Anyway things get a little bit too silly in places, take über baddie ‘Club’ (Richard Kiel). He is comically taken down by the Preacher early on and later the character actually does the same U-turn as Kiel’s other famous character ‘Jaws’ (he turns into a goodie and helps the Preacher). Then there is also the initial fight between the Preacher and Lahood’s men which involves hickory axe staves. Oh and there’s that whole underage sex angle with the 14 year old girl protagonist. One of the prospectors daughters falls in love with the Preacher (obviously a silly teen crush) and isn’t shy about saying so. Of course the Preacher turns her advances down but holy moly that whole subplot was awkward (and it carries through to the end!).

This is a mixed bag for an Eastwood western it really is. On the one hand the movie is serious about its story, this isn’t a film for kids or anything. There are some very violent moments in the movie with people getting shot multiple times and shot in the forehead (no cuts). There are beatings, the attempted rape, pillage, and a calf and dog get shot dead (all with blood). Not forgetting the underage girl trying to get into bed with the Preacher.

pr5

Then on the other hand there are the typical little moments of dark humour you’d expect from Clint, moments of goofiness. As mentioned Richard Kiel’s rather stupid and pointless character. And then really really stupid western cliches such as the baddie gang of miners bursting into a store to gun the Preacher down (where he was sitting moments before). Only for the room to be (clearly) empty when they burst in, yet they carry on shooting, shooting at nothing. Then of course the Preacher casually appears and guns them all down. The ending has a heavy dose of deus ex machina about it too. The Preacher has killed all the bad guys except Lahood who is sneaking up right behind him. But then out of the blue one of the prospectors appears and shoots Lahood. But I guess it showed that the Preacher wasn’t that invincible, he could have died there.

I like that Clint is an aged grizzled gunfighter in this movie, I liked his look and the fact he was a preacher. Yet even though this movie does deliver everything you would want and expect from a Clint Eastwood cowboy flick, you can’t escape the feeling that you’ve seen it all before (which you have). Apart from the odd plot tweak its essentially no different from many of his other western movies. That’s not a completely negative thing as Eastwood is/was a master of the western genre, but bare it in mind.

7/10

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017)

Or as its known in Europe ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge’. Why? I have no idea nor do I particularly care. Which I might add is pretty much how I felt about this movie and this franchise. We’re five movies in now and this whole thing is just becoming monotonous and very familiar. The problem is I can’t not watch it because I’m somewhat invested in the series; its like I have to watch to simply find out how this shitshow will end. Essentially its the same scenario as the Star Wars prequels, you knew they were poor, but you had to watch them all to see how it all tied up. You just had to!!

So what the hell is going on in Pirateworld this time? Well its basically a soft reboot of the very first movie. The ghostly crew of the Silent Mary, under Captain Salazar, are after Captain Jack Sparrow because of the fact Sparrow landed Salazar and his crew in the devil’s triangle which cursed them all (many many years prior). So yes yet again Sparrow is being pursued by undead pirates. At the same time a young Henry Turner (son of Will Turner) is trying to free his father from the Flying Dutchman by locating the Trident of Poseidon. The trident can break all curses upon the sea.

Conveniently, at the same time Henry bumps into the young and beautiful Carina (a Horologist and astronomer) who can help him find the trident (and lead into a very convenient romance). Conveniently Captain Barbossa pops up again who initially sides with Salazar to avoid being killed, but then sides with Sparrow later on to get his hands on the Black Pearl. He then conveniently double crosses Sparrow to take the Pearl and conveniently discovers Carina is his long lost daughter, because of course she is. In the end they all conveniently team up together to defeat Salazar in a highly predictable manner.

pc2

The infamous Jack Sparrow is pretty fleeting in this movie it must be said. Apparently director Joachim Rønning wanted to go back to the original concept where Sparrow crashes in and out of scenes as comedic relief. Well they certainly fudged that up because Depp’s iconic character is pretty much useless in this movie and could of easily been cut out completely. His character has no story here, he literally pops up here and there for some slapstick. He’s just tagging along for the ride, the other characters actually have goals where as Sparrow merely gets in the way. His only hook is that he lost his crew after they lost confidence in him, so he’s a bit depressed basically. This is why he accidentally unleashes Salazar from the devil’s triangle (by giving up his compass for a drink; something that escapes me because you probably gotta recall the last movie).

I understand what Rønning was trying to do but here’s the thing, in the original movie Sparrow was a bright new character. The character took everyone by surprise with his antics. This type of old fashioned visual humour was a real breath of fresh air; but now the character is a has-been, old hat, nothing left, milked dry. Jack Sparrow’s run is essentially over and this merely proved it.

Naturally this franchise is now all about the spectacular visual effects and stunts and naturally this movie does maintain that. The movie is chock-a-block with CGI visuals as you would expect, some good, some not so much. I think we can all agree that landscapes and vistas work best for CGI shots. An attack of undead cursed sharks might sound like a cool idea but its also an example of how some CGI sequences looked utter crap. Strangely enough despite the fact the movie is stunning to look at, its nowhere near as good as the previous movies, it didn’t feel as grand or lavish to me. There was also quite a lot of bad looking greenscreen shots too.

pc3

But the real guff came in sequences and ideas that either didn’t make any sense or just went nowhere. At the start of the movie a very young Henry rows out into the middle of the ocean and throws himself over-board tied to a large rock. He then proceeds to sink to the exact spot where the Flying Dutchman is sunk, or waiting? I dunno exactly. Sure the kid had a map but really? The British Navy (that are briefly seen here and there) don’t believe in all the supernatural stories they’ve heard. Again really?? With everything that happens at sea in your world?? You’d think this shit would be common knowledge. Sparrow and his men attempt to rob a bank by pulling its enormous steel safe out of the building (through a wall) by horsepower…yeeeah that’s really stupid on so many levels.

At one point the movie literally stops dead just so Sparrow can talk quickly to his uncle Jack. Yep the movie stops dead in its tracks to simply give Paul McCartney a pointless cameo. The guards carrying Jack just haul him over to the cell holding his uncle so they can chat. Why would they do this?? Oh yeah…Paul’s cameo. At another point Sparrow is captured by some Irish (?) pirates who want to force him to marry one of their own as payment for a debt or whatever. Clearly there is backstory here but we don’t find out what. Then Barbossa turns up and kills the Irish leader and that’s that, on with the show. Salazar’s ship is just a bare skeleton of the hull or rotting wreck, but somehow it eats other ships or something. This also causes other ships to explode for some reason…eh??

Then in the finale the ocean parts (yes parts) for the characters to find the trident, this is quite a quick process. Yet when the movie reaches its climax and the ocean starts to fall back in on itself, this takes AGES!!!. In fact it takes just enough time for the main protagonists to be rescued. I might add that this entire sequence on the ocean floor with the CGI parted ocean, looks terrible. Then right at the end (God knows where) various characters from the previous movies just all turn up randomly, outta nowhere, conveniently at the exact same spot for a soppy reunion. This led me to simply ask…how on earth is this actually happening? Its like Rønning just said, fuck it! we’ll just toss in these characters because we can, no one will question it because its a silly fantasy. Are you even trying anymore with this movie/franchise?

pc6

The real problem for this movie I fear is the fact that you gotta remember everything that’s happened previously, to some degree. Don’t get me wrong, its cool that the continuity is well maintained but with the number of movies in this franchise and their convoluted plots, its more like actual work than anything to keep up. Next to that the action felt very poorly choreographed and edited this time round. Just not exciting really, just mundane and unimaginative. There are way too many characters now, its really ridiculous actually. To top that it seems like they’re bringing back yet another character from a previous sequel for the next movie (ugh!!!). As said the movie looks glossy but its by far the worst looking of the franchise. And last but not least, the movie is simply a rehash of the original. We’ve seen this before and its slowly happening more and more it seems, its just not acceptable.

Folks at the end of the day if you’re a fan of the franchise you will probably like this; although I’m very sure you may not rate it highly. If you’re not a fan of the franchise or a casual movie goer, I’d say skip it because you’ve seen it all before I guarantee. Its not really a good stand alone movie. This franchise has officially capsized and sunk.

4/10

Three Amigos (1986)

By simply reading this premise on paper it could well come across as utterly ludicrous, just a totally off the wall mess. Three of the 80’s best and wackiest (white) comedians as gunslinging, Mexican/Hispanic inspired cowboys that do battle against Mexican bandits. I mean…my God! Can you imagine the outrage if this was released today! Holy spitballs!

The plot: This idea has been around for a long long time. Its been used a good many times and still pops up from time to time. The Three Amigos are famous movie stars of the silent, non talkie pictures era (1916). They generally make heroic pictures that involve stopping dastardly, moustache twirling bandits that threaten small villages. Meanwhile in Mexico a real village is being controlled and extorted by a local gang led by the infamous El Guapo. One of the villagers sees a movie of the Amigos and believes they are real, so she sends a telegram calling for their help. The Amigos, thinking the whole thing is just another gig for them, decide to take the job and head down south. Eventually, after a warm reception from the locals, its time for the Three Amigos to face El Guapo and his men. Could this end up being the Amigos greatest performance? Or their last?

I gotta be honest here but for a generally average to small sized movie (I think), just a silly spoofy comedy, this movie looks fantastic! The opening sequence showcasing a small black and white reel of an Amigo movie, really does look terrific. They really capture that early 1900’s vibe with the heavy makeup on the actors, the film being slightly sped up, the snappy random editing, and of course the dialog intertitles with the fancy decoration. This short little intro for the main protagonists sets up the entire movie, and the characters, perfectly. We then move onto the studio back lot (somewhere in Hollywood) and again it all looks really authentic with those very old wagon-esque automobiles dotted around, the sandy dusty ground, the large billboards, the costumes etc…

ta3

Overall the movie is highly effective in conveying the various locations from early Hollywood, the deserts of Mexico, and El Guapo’s Mexican fortress. Well, for me at least, being a Brit. Maybe for an American who knows California it might all look a bit familiar, seeing as scenes in Mexico weren’t actually filmed in Mexico, but in California.

But its of no surprise that this movie is all about the cast, the main trio. And what can I say? Its damn near perfect comedy casting, three of the greatest comedians in movie history, Chase, Martin and Short (Short the lesser of the three). But the funny thing is, back in the 80’s we were spoilt for choice with these now classic comedians. Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, John Belushi, John Candy, Rick Moranis, Gene Wilder, Eddie Murphy etc…Just think about it for a minute, you could of easily teamed up any one of these legends and this premise would have still worked flawlessly. The era was perfect, the talent was perfect, the story was perfect, the writing was perfect, and overall it was perfectly directed by John Landis. Pure unadulterated lightning in a bottle.

We have a plan. First we break into El Guapo’s fortress…

…and then??

Well, we really didn’t expect the first part to work so we have no further plan

Quick shout out to the added bonus of Joe Mantegna as the studio boss Harry Flugleman. With Phil Hartman and Jon Lovitz as his personal lackeys. Again amazing casting, even in the small cameo roles. Its actually such a shame we don’t see more of these characters because they looked great; you can see the potential for more great scenes from these guys.

Naturally the cast indicates the type of humour to expect (folks over a certain age will know), and that would be pure lunacy epically delivered. In general the comedy includes slapstick, clever camera trickery, stunts, wordplay and simple spoofing of the genre. Each cast member clearly had their own schtick based around their own individual style which they incorporated into their character. Lucky Day (Steve Martin) is the more intelligent, well-rounded leader of the Amigos. He’s somewhat brave and does all the talking/negotiating. Dusty Bottoms (Chevy Chase) is probably the least intelligent Amigo, a bit simple perhaps, easily led astray. He’s a bit of a ladies man, a bit flashy and brash, but also a bit of a sycophant and creep. He’s also the most cowardly. Ned Nederlander (Martin Short) is probably the bravest of the trio and the dark horse; he often manages to surprise his compadres with hidden talents.

ta6

There are so many small nuggets of comedy gold throughout this movie its impossible to do it justice right here. But take it from me, aside from the more outrageously obvious laughs, there are plenty of tiny facial expressions, poses, quips, and winks that will make you grin from ear to ear. The moment the trio are breaking into El Guapo’s fortress by scaling the walls. They reach the other side just as two guards walk by. The trio literally freeze where they stand despite being in full view; the guards just walk by without noticing a thing. The way the trio act towards El Guapo thinking its all an act, then start to cry when they realise its real. Then at one point a plane flies overhead, Dusty asks ‘what’s it doing here?’. Ned replies ‘I think its a mail plane’, Dusty replies ‘How can you tell??’. Ned responds ‘well didn’t you notice its little balls?’.

Aside from the outlandish comedy on display the movie isn’t perfect, you still find yourself asking questions. Like why is there an invisible swordsman? What’s his story?? Where exactly did the trio get the instructions that led them to the singing bush and the invisible swordsman? Why is there a singing bush? The singing bush is terribly fake looking, doesn’t even match the scenery. Why do the Mexican bandits constantly fire their guns in the air?? Doesn’t that waste bullets?? Lucky got shot…what happened to that??! Where did they get all the correct material from to make so many Amigo outfits in the finale? What exactly does El Guapo get out of this tiny village?? Him and his men never seem to do anything. Lucky gets shot in the foot…what happened to that?? On the very (presumably deliberate) obvious desert night time set, why does the tortoise speak? In the end, after saving the village, the Amigos refuse the monetary reward and ride off into the sunset. But where to? they have no money, just like at the start of their adventure, so what exactly are they gonna do?

Of course many of these questions just don’t matter because the movie isn’t supposed to be looked at in such depth, its just a very light-hearted spoof-esque comedy. The overall balance between the characters is absolutely perfect. Each cast member gets their time to shine with gags they may well have thought up themselves, but often feature all three. The villains and village folk appear to be actually played by real Mexican actors, or at least look like or come from Hispanic countries. Something which is actually quite surprising (the SJW’s would approve I’m sure, maybe). The movie is very bright, breezy and colourful with moments for both youngsters and adults alike, but its the cheeky wit that is so alluring. The real mystery is how this movie continually seems to be overlooked and forgotten.

9/10

ta4

Honey, I Blew Up the Kid (1992)

After the first (successful) movie surrounding shrinkage, and being heavily influenced by some classic sci-fi flicks of the 50’s, it was inevitable that we’d see this. Again heavily influenced by some classic black and white sci-fi movies of the 50’s, we now find the Szalinskis’ with a bigger problem. Yep its basically ‘Attack of the 50 Foot Baby’ or another ‘King Kong’ clone/homage.

The plot: Well the title says it all really. Oh OK, set five years after the tiny events of the first movie, the Szalinskis’ now live in Nevada. They have a new two year old son called Adam, Nick is now a teenager and Amy has gone to college. Funnily enough Wayne (Rick Moranis) is now working on a ray gun that will increase the size of objects. On a routine trip to his work space at Sterling Labs, little Adam is accidentally zapped with the ray but nothing seems to happen. Later on at home Adam is exposed to electrical waves from the microwave which appear to trigger the enlargement process. Slowly Adam begins to gradually grow bigger and bigger; Wayne and Nick must now try to reverse the process before Adam becomes a danger to himself and others.

So again the main draw here are the effects, the big breezy colourful effects. How do they stand up? Well not too well really. OK lets start positive, there are numerous sequences where it appears that they used someone in a large bodysuit. In some scenes we see live action shots Moranis with a live action giant toddler, but if you look closely this does appear to be a very good bodysuit on an obviously tall person. These shots are always from behind the large toddler so as not to give the game away but they are very effective. This showcases the innovation of the effects crew which unfortunately could only go so far. Other than the usual oversized and undersized props, which are always highly effective if sometimes a bit rubbery looking, much of this movie has to rely on bluescreen and rear projection.

hbu4

And this is where the movie really falls down, the terrible terrible bluescreen/rear projection effects. The bulk of the effects are unfortunately reliant on these techniques and alas it all stands out like a sore thumb. There are clear brightness differences between the live action in the foreground and projected background. Thick black lines outline much of the effects and the colours are faded throughout. Overall the effect is just way too obvious and really takes you out of the movie. Heck even some of the large sets are bad looking, when Nick and his young female counterpart are riding in Adams oversized pocket, it just looks poor. There are some nice touches of forced perspective in a few shots but again you can see right through them. Don’t get me wrong I give them an A for effort but clearly the effects team needed more money or skills, many movies came out before this and looked way better.

Other than the effects there isn’t a great deal on offer here frankly. The plot sees a cliched company villain (John Shea) going after the oversized Adam for his own nefarious dastardly deeds (still not entirely sure why he gets fired by Sterling, for being mean?). This inevitably brings about the inevitable ‘King Kong’ homages as they use helicopters to try and tranquilise Adam. Lloyd Bridges pops up as Clifford Sterling, president of the Sterling company, a company that does…scientific type stuff. Obviously Bridges brings his own brand of spoof-esque humour which is fine but a bit childish, yeah I know its a kids flick but still. Moranis brings home his lovable nerdy Louis Tulley-esque character again; complete with more outrageous inventions which are admittedly pleasing to the eye. Nothing new really, they reverse or mirror some scenes and dialog from the first movie.

hbu3

The movie ends in Vegas which generally looks horrendous from start to finish effects wise. The movie also becomes very stupid as they apparently evacuate the Las Vegas strip in around five minutes. They also manage to coordinate getting all the lights switched off down the strip in five minutes, like all of them! No one gets hurt, nothing gets damaged, and the way they placate Adam is vomit inducing. I guess its all understandable seeing as its essentially a kids movie but its still very lame, lazy and dull.

Doesn’t help that the kid they use for the role of Adam is just kinda annoying, but that’s just me. I think the problem here is the over use of an idea, the Kong sized threat. Add to that the fact its a giant toddler which isn’t particularly interesting or threatening, and of course the fact the first movie used a less common theme which was executed way better. Overall its all adds up to a relatively fun movie with the odd decent moment. Its just fails to capture the magic of the first movie; in this case miniature things are more fun I think.

5/10

Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989)

Could there be anything more cliched and corny than the idea of a weedy, crazy haired, spectacled, crazy inventor type nerd who’s wacky creation gets out of hand? Probably not, but that didn’t stop this idea becoming something of a monster hit back in the late 80’s. I remember the time well, this movie was almost like the Jurassic Park of the day with everyone going nuts over the special effects and innovation of the story (despite the fact the idea had been explored thoroughly during the 50’s). And who better to portray this lovable geeky inventor than Rick Moranis, the man who made a career out of playing lovable geeks.

The plot: Its pretty simple really. Eccentric inventor Wayne Szalinski (Moranis) manages to construct a large ray gun that is capable of shrinking objects in size. Unfortunately he is unable to perfect his machine resulting in much frustration and him being mocked at a conference. Its during said conference that Wayne’s kids (and the neighbours kids) are accidentally shrunk by the ray gun which had previously been accidentally switched on by a lone baseball. Eventually Wayne and his wife Diane realise what happened and start to hunt for the shrunken kids. In the meantime the kids are in a life and death situation after being ejected into the garden and are trying to reach the safety of the house (whilst trying to grab the adults attention).

h2

The movie does start off slow as we get introduced to all the various characters; indicators for the pending adventure. Nick Szalinski is obviously much like his father, looks a bit of a nerd, scrawny, spectacles, but has brains. Amy Szalinski is the attractive, older level-headed sister of Nick. Ron is one of the Thompson kids from next door, he is a bit chunky and a bit of bully. And lastly there is Russ Thompson, older brother of Ron and again like Amy he is more level-headed and has some looks. In fact he has a crush on Amy that flourishes over the course of the movie. And of course both sets of kid have issues with their folks that cause friction at early points; which of course get addressed and ironed out during the adventure. So overall its a stereotypical little gang, no real surprises.

As with many other fantasy movies the real core interest was in the adventure and how the special effects came across. I remember at the time it was hard to escape the media attention this movie got for its shrinking effects, there was a lot of hype. Looking back now its very amusing how quaint these effects look, I’m not being negative but you can’t help but smirk when harking back. In general this movie was definitely a case of, certain shots and sequences would look really great…even now. But then on the other hand certain shots and sequences would look really bad…even worse now.

The best moments are easily when we see the kids on oversized sets against large props; these are the classic shots that obviously hark back to certain golden oldies of the 50’s. Its these shots that really sell the idea that the kids are truly microscopic. Just simple things like the texture of the wooden floor in the attic, giant toys, Cheerios, nails, screws, dust, cookies (which served as a food source) etc…Its also other small details such as a little trickle of water in the garden being a gushing river, and the odd dead insect floating around. The fact that the garden becomes a dense dangerous jungle for of all manner of hazards. It doesn’t sound overly amazing or anything but its these tiny details that really sell it. I also liked how they didn’t shy away from gross things like dead and scary bugs.

h6

Not all the bugs were scary though. At one point Nick accidentally rides a very obvious rubbery bumblebee after falling into a very rubbery looking nectar patch on a flower. The kids also befriend a very rubbery and limited animatronic puppet baby ant (which to them was a giant rideable creature). The ant doesn’t really do much for the kids until it is called on to defend them from a scorpion (would there be scorpions in this type of garden environment?). Alas the baby ant is easily killed by the scorpion and we are presented with one of the most tear jerking moments for kids since Optimus Prime died, maybe. Yes the ant was blatantly fake looking and could hardly move…but God damn it hits you hard when the little blighter dies (sniff!).

Indeed I mention rubbery items there, that is one factor that stands out a lot when looking back (probably even at the time). There are a lot of things that do look terribly rubbery or plastic. Some things look great, some things do not. The giant insects do suffer in this way I’m afraid, the giants plants also suffer in the same way. It doesn’t ruin the movie but I’m just saying it does stand out. Unfortunately it doesn’t help when rubbery things are accompanied with horribly dated bluescreen effects (greenscreen now). Again the bumblebee ride really suffers here as does various shots/sequences of the kids against live action actors or pets. The now famous sequence of the kids running off the dogs snout onto a table is a terrific idea but boy does it look fake in motion. When Wayne is about to eat Nick in his bowl of Cheerios, great idea, looks pretty awful now. Although the close up shots of Nick in an actual bowl of milk with giant Cheerios looks sweet.

Its kinda ironic that this movie actually feels way more like a Disney theme park experience than an actual movie. The whole visual escapade seems so perfect for their theme parks it makes you wonder how no one thought of it earlier. The array of big chunky colourful props and sets, and the brilliantly geeky inventions of Szalinski such as the shrink ray gun or the ‘keep off the grass’ robot, all marvellously visualised by Joe Johnston and his crew. So yes this is clearly a very visual movie experience (perfect for 3D). On the flip side if we’re honest, the plot is pretty shallow and the characters are simplistic and cliched. This isn’t a big problem here but I think Rick Moranis saves the rather drab casting. This is just one of those roles where you can’t really picture anyone else in it, hmmm…maybe Christopher Lloyd. Anyway to sum up, not quite as epic as you might recall, but certainly a good all round family romp.

7/10

h4

Adventures in Babysitting (1987)

Or, curiously, as it was known in the UK ‘A Night on the Town’. Funnily enough I can’t seem to find out why this change was implemented in the UK. I know the UK version was cut by about 8 seconds for profanity and since then the movie was released with those cuts back in and the original title restored. I guess the title change could have been down to possible confusion with some other movie, I guess. That being said, the plot is essentially a kids version of Martin Scorsese’s 1985 movie ‘After Hours’.

Not only that, this movie always seemed like a bit of an oddity to me. Its most definitely a classic 80’s movie yet somehow…I always felt like it should of had a more classic cast. Its the strangest thing, every time I think about this movie I keep putting other classic actors of the era in it, knowing full well they weren’t in it. I guess what I’m saying is this movie really needed some A-list talent in it. The movie really does yearn for a standout comedic performance to add some punch, the best bet being the villains (‘Home Alone’ being a good example). To me this always felt like a huge missed opportunity.

The other main issue I had with this movie is the plot. Basically Chris Parker (Elizabeth Shue) has taken on a babysitting gig after her boyfriend blows her off. Her job for the evening now is to look after teenager Brad (Keith Coogan), 8 year old Sara (Maia Brewton) and next door neighbour Daryl who gate crashes the situation. Now the entire backbone of the story hinges on one thing, Chris Parker’s friend Brenda running away from home and getting stuck at the city bus station. Brenda uses up all her money to run away to the bus station, changes her mind and wants Chris to come pick her up. To me this was always really weak and really annoying too, I’d be like…not my problem, ring your parents. So Chris feels obliged to help her idiotic friend, but to make matters worse the kids blackmail her into taking them along, cue the nightmare.

The movie moves from one set piece to another introducing more and more problems for Chris as her night becomes more and more convoluted. The whole scenario is one long chain reaction of events intertwined. Its also one of those scenarios in a film where you sit there, at times feeling uncomfortable because you just know the characters shouldn’t be doing this that or the other. You find yourself saying things out loud because you know what’s gonna happen. One of the first major setbacks for Chris and co is when their car gets a flat and after a string of events they end up losing it. This is something that I found to be a constant worry while watching the kids get deeper and deeper. Will they find the car? Where is the car? Is it in one piece? Obviously you know everything will be OK; but you know the movie is working when you’re thinking about it.

Of course everything that does happen is pretty cliched, kids being trapped in the city (Chicago) at night you know what to expect. Nothing horrendous obviously as the movie was for kids but the usual stereotypical 80’s stuff. Lots of bums, hookers, weirdos, criminals that are generally black or mafia-like, some classic 80’s street gangs in some attire to die for, and of course frat boys. Because what 80’s flick is complete without frat boys, required or not. But the main crux surrounds the kids being continuously chased by some criminals because they accidentally picked up a Playboy magazine with some important criminal details written inside.

abs2

Chris and co manage to stumble into a jazz club where they are forced to sing the blues. This whole sequence was certainly silly and embarrassing that’s for sure. I know this is a movie but who would have time for a sing song in this situation?? But this sequence did also remind me very much of ‘The Blues Brothers’ especially with Albert Collins on show. Later on in the movie the kids wind up at a frat boy party (because…80’s) where we see the usual beer chugging tomfoolery along with high school sluts. But we also see another musical cameo from Southside Johnny Lyon which again gave me those Blues Brothers vibes. The soundtrack for the movie is very good overall, some nice soul and blues going down.

As the adventure progresses the kids meet up with various folk who either help them or don’t quite simply. All the while annoying Brenda is having a nervous breakdown in the bus station over not very much really. The whole deal with Brenda felt really out of place, just too stupid. I understand she’s a teen but Jesus Christ get a fucking grip girl! Gotta say, Maia Brewton who plays little Sara was annoying too with her Thor obsession (yes Thor). This all plays into the sequence where the kids meet up with Dawson (Vincent D’Onofrio), the mechanic who has their car towards the end. This guy has long blonde hair (a terrible wig on D’Onofrio) and carries a sledgehammer that looks like Thor’s hammer, so Sara thinks its Thor (ugh!). They owe Dawson $50 for a tyre (only 50! how times have changed), but only have 45, so Dawson refuses. But then little Sara offers him her kids Thor helmet (cos she’s dressed as Thor the entire movie), and Dawson suddenly changes his mind, just like that. Deus ex machina Thor helmet moment.

Hell in the finale the kids end up at the top of a skyscraper and Sara flippin’ climbs out of the window and shimmies down the glass onto a ledge! She’s being chased by one of the bad guys yes but my God! Its at this point I started to question director Chris Columbus’s motives. Clearly he did this just to raise the stakes, make things more thrilling, but its essentially really stupid because no kid would do that. Also the carjacker that initially helps the kids, knocks out his criminal boss to help them finally escape. But what happens to him? Does he wind up getting whacked for punching his boss? Or does he give up his life of crime and start over? Who knows.

Naturally everything works out in the end with a Ferris Bueller-esque finish that is reasonably enjoyable. Even though I was engaged in the unfolding events I was never worried about things not working out, obviously. Even though (as I’ve said) this is a classic 80’s flick, in all honesty there are better ones out there in my humble little opinion. This movie is fun but lacks some real talent of the time. There are so many characters that could have easily been cameos for big name comedians of the era. The movie tries to be funny, witty and at times edgy but it tends to fall a bit flat. The music is a highlight as are the glorious retro inner city visuals; but the main characters are kinda irritating and can’t hold a candle to other 80’s movie casts. In the end its still hard to believe that this entire chain of events happened simply because of one ditzy girlfriend and her own foolishness.

6/10