Supernova (2000)

Back in the day there was a time when you’d walk into your local videoshop (VHS) looking for a specific movie. Whilst scanning the shelves for your desired evenings entertainment, chances are you’d come across a movie that you’d never seen or heard of before. Yet despite that, the cast, the cover and the genre would get you all excited to see it asap. This is how ‘Supernova’ came into my life. Just one of those ‘out of the blue’ movies that sat there begging to be rented. The lure was too great and for me the internet was not yet a regular source of entertainment and info (I don’t think the net became widely mainstream until around 1999; and even then it will have taken time for many to get fully on board). So I had no way of judging the product without paying for it. Of course you would pay for it, taking the risk, and more often than not the movie sucked. But at times there were exceptions.

The plot is quite simple and unoriginal really. It sees the crew of the Nightingale 229 responding to an emergency call some 3000 light years from their position on the moon Titan 37. To get to this far off point they use the dimension jump drive on-board their ship. Unfortunately this results in the death of their Captain/pilot A.J. Marley (Robert Forster). When arrived they pick up one survivor from the moon (Karl Larson played by Peter Facinelli) and his cargo, an alien artifact. After much discussion it is decided by co-pilot Vanzant (James Spader) to jettison the artifact because it may be dangerous. This makes Larson unhappy and he decides to kill everyone on-board. It seems this alien artifact has made him younger, given him super strength and superhuman healing abilities (handy). Eventually only Vanzant and Dr. Evers (Angela Bassett) are left alive, can they stop Larson?

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The first little issue with this plot is the fact that when the ship arrives close to Titan 37, they enter a debris cloud which damages their ship causing loss of fuel. At the same time Titan 37 orbits a blue giant that’s gravitational pull will suck in the stranded ship within about 17 hours. This means their only means of escape is using the dimension drive again, but that will take almost the same amount of time, so their exit window is tight. Now this all sounds pretty formulaic and admittedly reasonably cool. Thing is, the volatile alien artifact they find (now known as a bomb), does actually get ejected into space towards the finale. This causes a pending supernova as the artifact gets hotter the closer it gets to the blue giant. So in the end the risk of gravitational pull goes out the window; it all suddenly becomes escaping a supernova.

The other oddity if you will is the alien artifact. At first it seems to be some kind of energy releasing thing that empowers anything that it comes into contact with. This resulting in the rather bland superhero power angle. But later on we discover its actually a bomb made by aliens. Its purpose being to literally wipe out an entire galaxy (or even universe apparently) whilst at the same time release new seeds of life to start everything over, or something like that. Its a unique concept for sure but so many questions. The main one being, why would an intelligent alien race want to wipe out other intelligent life? Why make a bomb so powerful it can potentially destroy an entire galaxy? And how does this thing actually trigger? In the movie it only goes off because it flies into a blue giant. Had that not happened I guess everything would have been fine?

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On the whole I did quite like the plot about finding this alien artifact, hardly original stuff I know but still. The side effect of Larson acquiring various super powers was a bit shitty though; I really didn’t like that as it just felt way too generic. That of course led to various generic superhuman fight and healing sequences which we’ve all seen before. Its a shame really because for the first half of the movie the story is intriguing. Come the midway point it just degenerates into a common psycho on a killing spree routine…albeit a short one.

Luckily the visuals in this film are surprisingly decent. No doubt this will have come down to the talent by behind the directors chair (long story but Walter Hill and Francis Ford Coppola of all people). Like many sci-fi flicks you can see the ‘Aliens’ influence throughout, unfortunate…predictable, but they are still effective. Many shots do look very sleek and familiar, and many sets do have a familiar style (mainly the dimensional stabilisation chambers/pods). But they do also have a very polished, shiny, silver finish too them which is a shame because the used appearance is more authentic I think. Oddly at times the whole feature does look a tad like a made for TV movie, the sets look a bit plastic, too clean and Star Trek-esque if you get me. But its amazing what a bit of moisture and steam can do huh.

Space effects are of course a mixed bag being an old movie with early CGI in use. The exterior shots of outer space, star fields, planets, moons, debris clouds, mining facilities etc…all look very nice in a documentary standard type of way. Nothing mind blowing but pretty to look at ya know. Alas the greenscreen effects are pretty horrendous and really give the game away. The zero-G sex scene was especially bad in more ways than one. Oh and speaking of sex, there are like…three sex scenes within the first twenty odd minutes! Obviously going for that gritty adult space thriller, sex being of central importance it seems. The rather goofy ships robot (man in a rubber suit) kinda lets down the gritty adult visage though.

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The B-list cast is also amusing with their over the top performances. James Spader is really going for it with his butch space hero. His voice is so sternly soft and serious you can hardly make out what he’s saying. Where as Angela Bassett is really going for it with her bad tempered and overly serious medic. Really wanted her character to smile! Lou Diamond Phillips seems to be there because…actually I don’t know why. Where as Robin Tunney seems to be there mainly because she was relatively hot at the time after a few biggish movies. Although the cast is likeable in the movie, its some of the most offbeat casting decisions I’ve come across for awhile. These old slapdash straight to video movies did tend to simply cast anyone they could with a known name; it didn’t matter if they fit the bill or not (hence Robert Forster for like…less than ten minutes film time).

Anyway it turns out this movie does in fact have a long long turbulent backstory. Going as far back as 1990 when this idea was originally pitched as a thriller involving an alien artifact releasing evil forces on Earth, with artwork by H.R. Giger to help sell it. Long long story short, the story changed over time with many different writers, directors and actors attached. Originally Walter Hill was at the helm but left after major disagreements. Then came Jack Sholder who virtually reshot the movie cutting most of Hill’s work. This led to a successful test screening but it still wasn’t enough to please the new studio bosses. Said bosses then went back to Hill, who wanted more money and time for more reshoots. The bosses refused so Hill walked again. Then eventually Coppola (odd choice) was brought in to re-edit again, which got a negative test screening, so MGM gave up and sold the film.

Yet despite all that, this mish mash of concepts isn’t all that bad I think. It is disjointed for sure and you tell there was a clash of ideas going on with the way the plot changes directions. It isn’t really explained all that well and it doesn’t really make much sense but I still found it engaging. It is definitely saved by some classy effects and sets. As I said, not too original but still effective. They do compliment the plot well which is genuinely remarkable all things considered. The ending is also quite bold and left open, which kinda gets you thinking but not too much as its also a bit cheap. Personally I think its still more recognisable as a Walter Hill movie, but with a tonne of deleted scenes and alternate cuts its anyone’s game really.

6/10

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Alien: Covenant (2017)

After the somewhat convoluted disappointment that was Ridley Scott’s lavish A L I E N prequel ‘Prometheus’, I was never really sure how his inevitable sequel would go. After seemingly setting up even more story lines with even more questions, the main question for me was simply, how in the hell was Scott gonna rein all this crap in?? So this time I decided to go into this sequel/prequel relatively blind, not paying too much attention to all the mass debating online.

That being said, it was still hard not to get tied up in all the hype. And with that my initial disappointment came with the plot. Set 11 years after the events in ‘Prometheus’, the colonisation ship Covenant is en route to the distant planet of Origae-6. Onboard we also find Walter, a newer model of android series that resemble David from the first movie. His job is again to monitor the ships functions and crew whilst they are in cryo-chambers. A random space event damages the ship and kills some of the sleeping colonists which forces Walter to awaken the main crew. Whilst repairs are underway the ship picks up a distant transmission from an unknown, but habitable planet that is almost identical to Earth (yet the crew are not amazed by this). Despite some concerns the ships Captain decides to divert and check out the transmission. So put simply, its the same damn plot we’ve now seen twice before. Really Ridley?

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OK so I will try not to make this read like a huge list of questions regarding the massively convoluted plot, but no promises. The movie opens with the exact same title sequence as the original 1979 movie. You know what I mean, the main title slowly appearing bit by bit against a backdrop of space. Yep this is an Alien movie alright, and we’re redoing everything you fondly remember…but this definitely isn’t another soft reboot.

K so when the crew are awakened from hypersleep in an emergency, one of the pods malfunctions or something. This leads to the death of the ship’s original captain played by James Franco, who we never actually see in the movie apart from a photo. For some reason he gets incinerated inside his own hypersleep pod, really not too sure why his pod did this. Maybe as a way to contain any possible unknown dangerous space bacteria and whatnot? Also a convenient way to dispose of the body? It does seem to be a rather worrying design flaw. Its also around this time we meet the stereotypical crew consisting of many faceless alien fodder characters that you will never care about (keywords being faceless and fodder). Some strong Ripley rip-off characters, a Lambert rip-off character (you’ll find out later), and the obligatory white female with black male partner (never any other race, always black). Oh and Danny McBride plays a cool, bearded stetson wearing character called ‘Tennessee’. You know because in the origin film there was a cool bearded character called ‘Dallas’. See what he did there?

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As with the previous film we also see that the technology on-board the ship is way better than anything we saw in the original 79 movie. At the time this was crudely passed off with an explanation about how different ships would have different technology on-board. This has always bothered me simply because its bullshit. Why would anyone make a large spaceship and not fit it with the best technology going? Even if said ship was a basic mining ship and costs were taken into account, its a bloody spaceship! not a Ford Escort. It will require good technology all round surely. So with that I still find it hard to swallow the fact that these ships are so ridiculously better looking all round than anything we saw in the original movies. Lets be honest here, its because movie effects are obviously way better today and Scott and co simply couldn’t help themselves. They just wanted kewl looking spaceships.

Quick question about the ship. When they arrive at the mystery planet there is a large plasma storm over the area with the transmission. This storm prevents the Covenant from landing or going in closer when things start to get messy on the surface for the scout party. But why? OK its a storm over an alien planet but lets not forget the planet is supposedly very similar to Earth. Secondly if this ship can fly billions of light years through the universe contending with all manner of spacey things, why can’t it make it through a storm cloud? Thirdly, couldn’t they just go around the cloud? I realise that might have taken time but that leads me to ask why they didn’t just approach the transmission area from a different angle in the first place. Surely they could of descended into orbit elsewhere and gone under the cloud or slightly around it? Its not like the storm was a surprise, they knew it was there, plus they used a drop scout ship anyway so distance clearly wasn’t that much of an issue.

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Again as with the previous film we have issues surrounding the intelligence of the crew and how they operate. One main factor last time was poking and putting your face up close to an unknown alien organism. This time…yup we have that again, ugh!!! But not only that, this time the entire crew wanders off the safety of their ship onto an alien planet (the one with the mystery transmission which just happens to look like where it was filmed…New Zealand) without any form of protection! No space helmets, no real protective suits, no planetary scans or scouts to check the surface, zippo. They merely stroll onto the planet and start off on a cross-country ramble. Jesus Christ some even start talking about setting up the colony there! Yeah this unknown, unchecked mystery planet will do nicely. You can get lost or killed first? First prize…errr…you die!

This unknown planet turns out to be the Engineer homeworld which is also home to David, a now dead Shaw and the black goo. If you thought ‘Prometheus’ was bad, you ain’t seen nothing yet. So David supposedly wiped out all the Engineers with the black goo when he arrived. Why? presumably because he wanted to create his own lifeforms and needed a clean slate, although I don’t know for sure. All the Engineers were standing around and cheering the ship as it arrived, not sure why, was this a special ship or mission? All the Engineers also looked really different to the main chap in ‘Prometheus’, not as muscular or marble-like. Different in a bad makeup job type way that is. We are also led to believe that this entire planet only consisted of one major Engineer city?? No other cities or anything nearby or further away??

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So David released the black goo and it wipes everything out, fine. When the humans go walkabout one male gets infected by a plant or fungus releasing a black goo spore. In turn this very quickly takes affect causing an alien to gestate and burst from within (his back this time because…changing it up a bit). So, if the black goo infected everything in this way, wouldn’t there be lots of little aliens running the planets surface? And clearly those spores are WAY more lethal and effective than the alien creatures. They are literally particles in the air that can enter the human body through any small orifice. The main aliens are actually less threatening! ha! Also, how fucking quickly did that new alien go through its gestation period from a mere spore??!! And speaking of gestation periods, the main alien again goes from chestburster (which looked like a children’s toy) to full grown alien in no time! What has happened to the slow build up and tension?? And how exactly did David create the original alien eggs? I still don’t get how he managed that. Did he somehow get to the eggs from experimenting on Shaw?

As for the finale its in three parts essentially, all of which are totally cheap cop outs (with dreadful CGI on the alien amazingly). The first revolves around a pitch battle and various large powerloader-esque pieces of equipment. As Tennessee tries to take off from the planet with Janet Daniels (Katherine Waterston) in tow, the alien tries to take her down. This involves Daniels outside the ship, trying to shoot or knock the alien off, whilst attached by a cable. For some reason Tennessee just flies around in circles whilst Daniels swings around aimlessly doing a bad job of defeating the alien. At no point did either just think to fly into space and fry the alien? Anyway, eventually Daniels operates a large crane claw, which the alien very conveniently jumps straight into, and they crush it.

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You think that is the end but its not, oh no. We then get the second cheap schlocky finale. Low and behold there is another alien…because of course there is! This one decides to attack some of the remaining crew members while they have sex in the shower, in true 80’s slasher flick style (just to cover all the bases). Tennessee and Daniels (who is now in full Ripley mode complete with vest) must now lure the creature into one of the ships cargo bays so they can flush it into space. Yes that’s right, flush it into space, cheap ending number three. Because Scott just wants to rehash every damn thing from his glorious original. Oh and this alien seems to mature in around five bloody minutes after hatching, certainly appears that way.

What can I say about this movie?? Really what can I say??? Its so so obvious that Scott was somewhat crushed by the reaction to ‘Prometheus’ and was literally forced into going in a new direction for this sequel. Its abundantly clear that he’s added the entire alien aspect simply to appease the fanbase that demanded more alien action. But Ridley being Ridley, was never gonna completely eject his original plans. Thus we have this complete clash of ideas, two concepts rolled into one resulting in a higgledy-piggledy mess.

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On one hand you have this epic spiritual space adventure into the unknown; focusing on life, our place in the universe, creation, Gods and monsters so to speak. Then on the other hand you have this terribly cheesy and cliched monster movie that degenerates into a tacky slasher flick with horribly obvious twists (David and Walter switcheroo and David creating the xenomorph). You can quite easily tell from reading the films title. The film should have simply been called ‘Covenant’ or ‘Prometheus II: Covenant’. The addition of ‘ALIEN’ was clearly to draw in the fanboys of the original movies in the promise of a more familiar story.

Yes Ridley provides us with top notch visuals, a masterclass in true spectacle…again. Yes the attention to detail from costumes to technology to the score, is astoundingly good. Its a sheer pleasure to simply view a Ridley Scott sci-fi movie, it really is. But the more he dabbles in this franchise the more he screws it up. From a pretty looking convoluted mess in ‘Prometheus’, to another pretty looking convoluted mess in ‘Alien: Covenant’. The real downside is this movie is not its own film, its merely a collection of highlights that we’ve all seen before in previous movies. At least ‘Prometheus’ displayed a lot of originality, it still made a mess of everything but at least it was a brave move (much like the Star Wars prequels). I do find it quite bizarre how these new Alien prequels do seem to be going down hill in the same way the Star Wars prequels did. Is the flute scene with David and Walter the new sand scene?

5.5/10

Ghost in the Shell (2017)

I have seen very few Japanese animated movies in my time on this small blue planet, in fact I can count on one hand how little I’ve seen. ‘Akira’ and ‘Monster City’ aka ‘Demon City Shinjuku’ are two of the only films I’ve seen. I have seen the original 1995 ‘Ghost in the Shell’ movie (based on an original manga by Masamune Shirow) once, but it was so long ago I cannot remember anything about it other than some iconic imagery. So I entered into this new 2017 US adaptation pretty much as a fresh faced newbie. Could this new vision wow me?

The plot: In the future humans are enhanced by augmentation with cybernetic body parts. Hanka Robotics headed by Cutter develops this augmentative technology. A female survivor of an apparent terrorist attack (Mira Killian) has her brain placed within a robotic body and is used as a special counter-terrorism operative under Section 9; where She eventually gains the rank of Major. Section 9’s main target is cyber-terrorist Kuze who wants to take down Hanka. Kuze has personal reasons for his actions, Cutter has secrets the Major is unaware of.

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Lets talk visuals, with today’s standards in special effects there is no way this could go wrong, right? Correct! the visuals in the movie are fabulous. The Japanese semi-dystopian cyberpunk world set in a not too distant future, is pretty much ‘Blade Runner’ tenfold, but brighter. I love the attention to detail we see in and around the faceless city as we follow the protagonists. The citizens and their individual styles, their attire, the technology they are using in their everyday lives etc…Every street or alley is bustling with life from neon advertisements to small food vendors or quirky robotics buzzing around. I liked how things just happened in the background, just routine stuff…but clearly had a lot of thought put into it. Although I think they went a tad over the top with the holograms, did they really need holographic arrows in the road?

Whilst its not dark and gritty overall, once you get away from the large colourful holographic images within the gleaming skyscrapers, we find a more typical Japanese/Asian city with huge Lego-esque blocks of concrete living quarters. These areas are grey, cold and somewhat depressing to look at, but definitely not as bleak as the animated movie from what I can remember. The shift in tone from the city to the suburban areas was well handled and showcased an elaborately designed Asian metropolis. I only wish they had toned down the westernisation of the city.

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But that’s not all, I found myself loving much more with the visuals. The car that is used by the Major (Scarlett Johansson) and Batou (Pilou Asæk) is friggin’ awesome! It looked like a classic Lotus Esprit with futuristic mods including some natty alloys and an incredible neon turquoise interior. I loved the weaponry we see being used, it all looked über cool. I loved the costume designs throughout, the various robots we see such as the eerie geishas, and of course the various shots that homage the source material.

Unfortunately I have to address the controversy that surrounded the movie with its casting. fuck it! The casting was brilliant all round which I admit I found surprising. I too am slightly fed up with seeing the same actors in big movies, but gosh darn it if Johnasson didn’t look perfect as the Major. Did she act the part well? Well I guess that could be argued either way, she wasn’t bad put it that way. But Johansson certainly looked the part that’s for sure…even up against both the 95 movie and the original manga, she was perfect. I thought Asæk looked great and did a good job with the battle-hardened Batou. Juliette Binoche added some gravitas as Dr. Quelet. And Takeshi Kitano also added much Japanese gravitas as Chief Daisuke Aramaki (although it was weird that only he spoke Japanese).

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What I found completely ludicrous about the controversy was the fact this story essentially focuses on artificial robotic bodies. How humans modify themselves to such an extent that they are able to insert a human brain into a completely artificial robotic body. Surely this practically erases any notion of political correctness surrounding race and gender. An artificial body can be made to look like anyone of any race or gender, with any brain inserted, a complete hodgepodge. So complaints about ‘whitewashing’ are completely unwarranted. The fact they had to tack on an actual explanation to appease this so called controversy was ridiculous; all because a minority of people didn’t like a white female in the lead role?? A perfect example of when to simply ignore the hyperbolic outrage machine and just create your art.

As a movie that I’m essentially treating as a new entry (because I can’t recall too much of the original) I did find myself enjoying what I saw. Sure there were still a few quibbles that I questioned, even though some of it did feature in the original 95 movie . But at the start of the movie we see the Major leaping off the top of a skyscraper to infiltrate a section of the building in order to stop a terrorist attack. Next scene she’s leaping in through the window. How did that happen exactly?? How do you go from free falling off a skyscraper to leaping through the side of the building? The sequence where Kuze (the apparent villain) programs some garbage truck drivers to kill Dr. Quelet, but where did the garbage truck drivers get their guns from? Garbage truck drivers always carry guns? A cliched double cross scenario over the eventual death of Dr. Quelet. Shooting at a gigantic steel tank with a regular gun? This clearly becomes pointless very quickly. In fact the entire plot surrounding Kuze’s background and eventual team up with the Major is pretty darn cliched bog standard stuff (although I liked the irony of anti-augmentation protesters being used as the first test subjects for cybernetic augmentation).

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The plot itself seems to have been somewhat dumbed-down from what I can recall (and swatted up on). Yes I enjoyed the sequences that are directly lifted from the original source material, but at the same time I know they are mere window dressing and lack real depth. The 95 movie questioned the uneasy relationship between humanity and an ever advancing man-made technology. It was cold, bleak and included body horror. Dare I say identity politics (self-identity) also featured strongly, gender, sexuality and feminism.

This Major is still feminine and at the same time clearly not female, we can see that, but that seems to be as far as it goes. Heck this movie doesn’t even really touch on the problems with cybernetic augmentation. We are basically shown that it works wonders and can give humans a new lease of life (Batou and his eyes for instance). But at the same time there has been great cost to reach that point in technological advancement. Bottom line, sure shitty things happened in the past, but the technology is still sweet so no biggie. You don’t really get the impression that there is a negative side to cybernetic augmentation here, there’s no real clash of ethics.

This new movie does away with much of that, presumably out of fear that the general cinema going audience either won’t understand or simply won’t like the heavy themes. This new vision barely touches on some of these elements and unfortunately seems more concerned with simply looking pretty. I can’t deny that the movie really lacks emotional punch, I really felt that the ending should have been much more dramatic and emotional. Didn’t get that, instead it just felt like any other jacked-up superhero-esque finale we see these days. So yes this adaptation has been somewhat neutered, there’s no hiding from that sad fact. But superb cinematography, production design and solid performances do help in easing the pain. I still found myself enjoying the movie. If you enjoy science fiction I heartily recommend giving it a chance.

6.5/10

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Power Rangers (2017)

Or is it Saban’s Power Rangers now? I understand the title comes from the creator of the Power Rangers, Haim Saban, but why?? Why not just ‘Power Rangers’?

So in short, the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers was a science fiction/martial arts TV show that appeared in the early 90’s; it was adapted from a similar Japanese series. Despite being clearly aimed at kids the show still managed to court much controversy for its supposed violence. Nevertheless the show was a massive hit across the world…for some reason. I myself was too old for the MMPR franchise and never saw any of it, nor did I see the previous movies. So I entered into this movie completely blind, only knowing what I’ve picked up over the years.

The plot is the standard origins reboot affair really. The Power Rangers have always been around it seems, the suits are passed on from group to group. So in this case the previous group of Rangers (who were aliens) died to save the Earth from Rita Repulsa (yeah because Rita is what you call your villainess) by hiding the power coins (the suits power source). With his last dying breath the red ranger orders a meteor strike (from their ship) to try and kill Repulsa but instead sends her to the bottom of the ocean. Back in the present day a new group of high school kids eventually find the power coins and the ancient alien spaceship. Whilst at the same time Rita Repulsa is found and comes back to life, the timing huh. The Asian chap is the first Ranger to find a coin near these caves, embedded in rock. But what was he doing there in the first place??

Its within the ancient spaceship that the youngsters discover the consciousness of Zordon (the dead red alien ranger) who explains to them all about the suits and Repulsa. The teens can only morph into their suits when their emotions run high? And when they can then control their emotions or whatever; so this entails lots of training. Basically they only have eleven days before Repulsa gains her full powers back. She then intends to find the Zeo crystal to destroy Earth, because reasons. Oh and there is also a small robot called Alpha 5 that helps Zordon. Think the robot from Lost in Space but smaller, and he does nothing.

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It was only a matter of time before the Power Rangers got a new gritty movie reboot, twas inevitable. Now I fully admit I don’t know much about this franchise, but I do know of the franchises light-hearted tone, and boy is that gone for a Burton! So long to the brightly coloured lycra and plastic Ranger suits. Goodbye to the acrobatic fight sequences with hokey dubbing over the top, and cheerio to the men in rubber suit monsters. This new reboot is all about teen angst folks, lots of teen angst and of course questions about ones sexuality, because 2017.

In that the entire movie mainly focuses on these teens and them trying to find themselves, or find the power within themselves so they can morph, I dunno. The actors playing these characters aren’t bad per say, they just aren’t interesting, at all (maybe its because I’m too old). I mean the yellow Ranger Trini was just annoying, again I realise her character is supposed to be moody but ugh christ! The rest are your basic carbon copy America teens with their newfangled hipster talk and whatnot. The red Ranger looks way older than the rest. Also I realise the original show had a diverse cast, that being its thing, but its just too manufactured for me, too much box ticking. Oh and they switched up the suit colours, so now the Asian bloke isn’t in the yellow suit etc…Glad they pointed out and avoided that iffy microaggression, phew!

Old Rita is quite scary I thought considering what this was adapted from. Look at her in the original series and its hilariously embarrassing; look at her here and she looks like a flesh-eating zombie. Although her outfit is still ridiculous looking. The sequence where her body is trawled up by fishermen is pretty dark Jesus! Yet the fishermen didn’t seem overly concerned, I’d be freaking out. But end of the day what’s her motivation here? What is she really wanting to achieve by destroying the Earth? She used to be a Ranger apparently and now she wants to wipe them out, someone must have really pissed her off! But where did she get her powers? I presume she’s an alien?

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Yeah so its basically a glum teen angst flick right up until the last act of the movie…and then we get to see some Power Ranger action. Finally we see the new Iron Man inspired suits doing stuff, and by that I mean a bit of leaping around before jumping into their big transformer zoid thingies (which they can all pilot perfectly first time). All this in time to fight Rita’s large monster made out of gold, called Goldar (fuck me). Yeah so its a whole load of pretty average CGI fighting robots and a large liquid gold humanoid. Oh and there are these CGI rock creature henchmen things that just get destroyed easily by the Rangers. So the Rangers eventually win relatively easily all things considered, and Rita gets bitch slapped into space, K. This movie actually gets worse when the Power Ranger action kicks in!

Is this a serious action fantasy? Or is this a jokey light-hearted movie for kids? Come on movie make your mind up here will ya. The visuals are clearly in the serious zone but the tone is all over the show. One minute the actors are acting as if their lives depended on it; the next a huge lumbering gold monster awkwardly walks across the screen with this Voltron looking transformer hot on its ass. I understand the plot is taken from the original source material, but I can’t help but feel they should of put some more thought into it. So yeah, I wasn’t a fan before I saw this movie, aaand I can’t see myself becoming a fan now. I’m willing to bet the original cheesy TV show was probably far better than this because it knew what it was and embraced that. This movie takes itself so seriously I’m not even sure if MMPR fanboys will like it.

5/10

Underworld: Blood Wars (2016)

Over time this franchise has virtually become a mirror image of the Resident Evil movie franchise (the crappy live action franchise not the animated franchise). Both formulas have become almost identical to the point that you could simply swap out zombies with either vampire or werewolves and no one would notice or care. And of course the big question for both is how they have managed to keep going??

OK so I’m not going to explain the plot here simply because that would require going over all the previous movies and I simply can’t do that. Why? because I cannot remember what happened in the previous movies and I’m not gonna rewatch them. The same argument can also be used for the Resident Evil movies coincidentally. But don’t worry because this movie actually recaps all the previous movies in a somewhat lengthy flashback with added narration, so you’re all covered. But put simply, lots of vamps and lycans fight each other amongst a multitude of double crosses and character plot twists.

The first thought that hit me as this movie get into gear was how bad it looked, what a come down from what has come before. In general this movie looks terribly dull, washed out, dreary and unexciting. Now I realise the whole point of the movie/franchise is to look like this because its a gothic action horror series. But here’s the thing, all (or most) of the previous movies had interesting and imaginative visuals and ideas. You could see the people involved wanted to showcase the gothic magnificence of the story with lavish sets and costumes, unique camera viewpoints, creative action sequences and some genuine classic horror vibes. But as the franchise has progressed these elements have slowly drained away leaving this totally drab and frankly cheap looking fifth entry.

The first action sequence is a shambles of obvious greenscreen, an obvious set, terrible transformations and CGI lycans, CGI blood spurts and tired action. The entire sequence looked like it was made for TV or straight out of a videogame. Dated and cliched remark there I know but there is no other way to describe it. Things don’t really improve from that point either. Most of the makeup for the vampires is obvious with their straightened hair, highlights and shadow. All the vamps look like fashion models whilst the lycans look like a bunch of hobos or eastern European gypsies, still. No one ever seems to change their outfits apart from the women who change for every scene (except Selene who never gets out of her catsuit). But more importantly the whole movie is just so boring looking. Its like they had limited locations to shoot on with a limited budget. There is not a single scene or shot that looks interesting, cool or has a nice traditional gothic vibe about it. Its all just a series of badly envisioned sets saturated in a limited colour palette of black, grey and dark blue.

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As for plot points, well holy shit this becomes a convoluted mess fast. Most of the main characters in this movie are either a secret lover of another, or a secret child of someone else important, or they’re double crossing someone. I kid you not it all becomes such a mess of character names and backstory it doesn’t surprise me that there are so many flashbacks to all the other films for assistance. To top that you’re never really quite sure if a certain character has actually died or not, which of course is deliberate (sequels!!).

Lets talk about the new vampires we meet in this movie, the Nordic vampires. Yep you guessed it, they are Nordic, which is Scandinavian, which instantly makes people think of blondes and snow. Yes that’s right, all the Nordic vampires have blonde (or platinum blonde/white) hair and eyebrows and they all dress in flowing white robes (because snow is white and they’re in the snowy region of Scandinavia. See how that works). This section of the movie was genuinely laughable. The vamps looked like elves from a certain fantasy novel, they all used basic weaponry (no guns). There was also a never-ending supply of them apparently, and they carry out some underwater ritual or meditation that gives them teleporting powers (I didn’t get it). Of course Selene eventually goes through this when you think she’s dead (don’t be stupid) and ends up with said teleporting powers…oh and blonde highlights because new movie, new look!

For a movie about vampires fighting werewolves there is certainly a lot of fighting between just normal looking people (with guns, lots of guns…and hoodies, lots of hoodies). There is of course lycan action but the shit CGI mixed with how apparently useless they are made it all seem rather pointless and uneventful really. Lycan chief Marius seems to be some kind of úber lycan or hybrid, not really sure but he has a humanoid face when transformed. Naturally despite him being HUGE and muscular he still doesn’t tear off Selene’s head in the first five seconds of their face-off. I don’t understand how or why he doesn’t do this. I also don’t get how Marius and David (vampire chap from last flick) can expel bullets from their bodies yet none of the others do the same when shot. Is it something to do with how many bullets or vampire/lycan hierarchy and strength?? I’m sure I’ve been told at some point but cannot recall.

So was I disappointed with this new entry in the never ending battle between vampires and werewolves? Well its hard to answer that really. On one hand no I wasn’t disappointed because I knew exactly what to expect, as I’m sure others will do to. I knew very well how it would look, feel and play out. I also knew very well that it would finish leaving the franchise open to carry on further. I would say I was left underwhelmed by the movies lack of imagination, vision and excitement which up to this point has been the franchises saving grace. Yes we know it will do the same thing all over again but come on, at least look good doing it yeah.

3.5/10

The War of the Worlds (1953)

H. G. Wells The War of the Worlds is probably one of the most famous and influential science fiction stories in literature. The story has spawned films, radio dramas, TV adaptations, comic adaptations, videogames and even a record album. One of the lesser known works highly influenced by Wells work would be ‘The Tripods’ by John Christopher. This itself was adapted into a BBC TV series in 1984 which has since developed a strong cult following.

Of course the most infamous adaptation was a live radio broadcast narrated by Orson Wells in 1938. The story was presented in a news broadcast fashion which in turn led to many many listeners actually thinking it was real. Can’t blame them really, if you think about it back then the radio was all people had. No internet, very little television, and what was on TV would have been extremely limited. So if a serious sounding news bulletin comes on informing you about destruction from unidentified objects, chances are you’d believe it.

But its this 1953 movie that is probably the most well known adaptation of Wells story the world over. Not only was this a loose but solid adaptation of the book, it was also an excellent science fiction film in its own right. For the time this movie was groundbreaking with its special effects, effects that earned the team an Academy Award in 1954. What is incredible is looking back you’d think the effects would be pretty hokey these days (much like many sci-fi movies of the era), but surprisingly they still hold up relatively well.

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Of course the film is adorably cheesy and quaint, can’t avoid that. The feature begins with the typically standard 1950’s sci-fi narration accompanied with black and white stock footage. This footage shows us military technology as it progresses through the years, mainly through both world wars. It then cuts to colour with the movies title and then to a series of matte paintings of every known planet in our solar system. The narrator (Sir Cedric Hardwicke) informs us about each planet and its hostile environment, basically why the martian invaders would want Earth (but how would the narrator know this? Is the movie a story being told to someone by the narrator? Is the whole ordeal a flashback?). Anyway my point being the film unfortunately still relies on stock footage but also includes some lovely matte paintings.

The meat of the effects comes with the alien invaders themselves, although there were issues. Obviously for starters we all know the classic look of the Martian machines, huge towering tripods. Well at the time the effects crew had problems trying to create the three-legged machines so it was decided to alter the design. I have never really been happy with this look though, I realise there were technical limitations at the time so I’m not angry or anything, but the Martian machines just looked awful in my opinion. They essentially looked like a hovering, crescent shaped platform with a long periscope sticking out on top. They never really looked intimidating to me, more flimsy and fragile, and the green colour scheme was just ugly.

To make matters worse (in my humble opinion) the effects team did actually include the tripod legs…only they were force field legs and invisible. If you strain hard enough you can actually see the imprints (with a small pyrotechnic touch) in the ground as the machines move. Alas these look more like small explosions from shells or whatever than imprints from tripod legs. You can also see the wires holding the machines up in some scenes, which was amusing.

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Indeed the chaos and destruction seen on the movies posters are well imagined in the film. The model Martian machines slowly hover down city streets (some live action, some models), their wires quivering. At every opportunity they unleash their devastating heat-rays from their cobra shaped periscopic eyes. Brilliant flashes of white heat that reduce damn near everything to rubble. Oddly though, at first the heat-rays reduce military equipment, vehicles and men to either piles of white or black charred ash (or just nothing at all). Yet when they take to the city streets the same doesn’t seem to happen to buildings, they just crumble and catch fire. Theoretically there should be nothing left standing other than mounds of charred ash. Everything you see is a frantic blur of various effects such as superimposing, models, stock footage, matte paintings etc…That along with the terrific sounds effects for the alien weaponry (think Star Trek: TOS photon torpedoes) and you have some great sequences of action.

The actual aliens themselves were a real achievement also. The level of detail on the rubber puppet was incredible for the time. It had veins, skin texture, skin folds, and it was moist which gave it a more realistic ‘living’ look. Sure they look silly now but considering this was all done in 53 its extremely impressive for the time. I think the one main visual flaw for me was the ridiculous looking, large three-hued (red, green and blue) eye they had. The actual shape of the aliens body, their short stocky torsos with long thin arms and three thin suction cup fingers, was all perfect, quite scary for the time. The sequence where Dr. Forrester (Gene Barry) and Sylvia van Buren (Ann Robinson) are holed up in an abandoned house, only to be met by one of the little aliens during the night, was executed excellently. I’m very sure that had viewers screaming back in the day. But alas that big colourful bug eye looked like a kids toy from the 80’s. It was neat to give the aliens this unique vision, but the three coloured lens sections looked a bit daft to me.

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Of course this being 50’s America you know it wouldn’t take long before the Yanks would break out their Atomic weaponry. Although lets be fair here, the humans get their asses handed to them on a plate. But there is a really effective build in tension as the Americans blast the aliens with everything they have, including nukes. But still the Martian machines keep coming, protected by their amusing bell jar shaped force fields. Eventually the military leaders realise they cannot stop the invaders, the fate of the human race lies in Gods hands (not literally). Its actually quite a haunting solemn moment.

This again leads to another element of the film I don’t really like. After getting separated the main duo (Forrester and Buren) meet up again in a church (now in LA). The Martian machines loom down on the church as they tear through the streets, nothing can stand in their way, not even the house of God. But low and behold just before they are about to destroy the church, the alien crafts falter and come crashing down. Of course I’m sure everyone knows why now, but the fact that its implied there may have been divine intervention from up above that saved the Earth (and that church) is somewhat off-putting. The idea that bacteria infected and killed the Martians was always a brilliant move, genius. Its also perfectly normal to accept that if something like this did happen in reality, there would of course be a lot of religious rhetoric flying around no doubt. But to end this exceptional sci-fi on the notion that mankind was kinda saved by God just sours the fun.

Whilst I recognise the brilliance of this film in everything it achieves, I can’t quite bring myself to say its a perfect movie. Yes it is one of the greatest science fiction movies ever made and it does still hold up today, but the few issues I have with this adaptation I cannot ignore. I think the main peeve for me will always be the look of the Martian machines, I just can’t stand the fact they don’t have tripod legs. Any imagery you see of towering alien tripods is just so instantly recognisable and evocative, it pains me that they are absent in this film. Nevertheless there is a good balance between the action and exposition scenes. Its not bogged down and boring, its actually a really tense and eerie affair, and you do genuinely care about the main cast (all of which do sterling work I might add). End of the day despite its small flaws, this is an absolute must see for all ages.

8.5/10

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Stryker (PH, 1983)

It would be very easy of me to say this was a simple rip-off of the first two Mad Max movies but hey, come on, seriously…take a bloody look at this thing. Its a flippin’ rip-off of George Miller’s dystopian creation…visually at least.

The Earth is a scorched barren wasteland. Small pockets of people is all that is left of the human race after a devastating nuclear war. The most precious commodity now is water (sound familiar?), not food, not fuel, not bullets or guns because apparently there’s an abundance of that stuff, no its H2O. The remaining small groups of people fight amongst themselves for the water. Kardis, a tyrant with a loyal following wants the location of a colony that has a natural spring. Said colony is peaceful but remain hidden to fend off the violent Kardis and his black leather wearing minions.

There is seemingly only one man who can help the colony and stop Kardis, that man is Stryker (Steve Sandor), oh and his black leather clad partner Bandit…excuse me?. Stryker is your complete stereotypical 80’s anti-hero…that has been cobbled together from other movies. He’s a silent, roguish, gruff, tanned, muscular bloke with longish hair. Unfortunately the hair is slightly blonde, very curly (almost an afro) and doesn’t look very cool. He wears a tight vest to show off his big arms, he has on what looks to be armoured shin pads and camouflage type pants (similar to Snake Plissken in ‘Escape from New York’), and he often wears a cowboy hat and bandana around his face. Naturally he’s a dab hand with all types of guns and knives.

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His sidekick, Bandit, is also very quiet, slim, athletic, actually has more muscular tone than Stryker and has wavy black long hair complete with bandana. As already said Bandit wears all black leather and is also darn good with guns and knives. Both of these (apparent) butch blokes travel around the desert in…wait for it…a black, heavily modified 1970 Ford Mustang that just so happens to look very similar to the Ford Falcon in that other desert set flick.

The baddie named Kardis looks like Ben Kingsley and dresses relatively sensibly, albeit with a slightly Arabic look. Its his henchmen that look bloody ridiculous and are somewhat of a copyright infringement. All of his men are dressed in black leather, some wearing odd helmets, masks, goggles, body harnesses/fetish gear etc…It literally looks like they just stepped off the set of ‘Mad Max 2’, its so blatant. The only real difference is these bad guys travel around on tanks (which does look badass), although they do use the odd battered vehicle.

Again ripping ideas straight outta other specific movies, this movie also has a band of female warriors that are all incredibly sexy looking. Each and every female warrior is wearing very tight skimpy booty shorts that show more arse than anything (its very nice). They all wear white clothes (as do all the peaceful goodie people) and in another blatant copyright infringement some wear what looks to be white American football type shoulder padding (yes from ‘Mad Max 2’ again). All these female warriors also tend to use bows, arrows and crossbows rather than guns. So essentially these characters are just another stolen idea.

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There is very little dialog in this movie which is somewhat unsurprising I guess seeing as most of the actors are dubbed. But the lack of actual talking is still quite odd really, its like the movie is just one long collection of action sequences stuck together around a crap plot. That plot basically being, the baddies are after the water, the goodies have to stop them, guys wearing black bad, people wearing white good…and that’s it. There are various characters that do get captured and whatnot, there are some flashbacks to explain what happened between Kardis and Stryker etc…but none of it matters. Baddies wear black, goodies wear white…fight!

Admittedly there are a lot of reasonable action sequences involving vehicles. Nothing you hadn’t seen before in some other movies (ahem) but they have been directed and carried out pretty well all things considered. Yes there is a tanker sequence, of course there is, no its not as good as that tanker sequence. Yes there are many nice shots of Stryker’s souped-up car against sunsets, closeups, the roaring of the engine as it thunders down the deserted highways etc…Honesty the car is sweet, they’ve done their best to match (or copy) the iconic Ford Falcon pursuit special and its not half bad, I wouldn’t say no. Other vehicles are standard desert bound stuff like jeeps and various 4×4 things. The female warriors have a neat looking three wheeled motorbike thingy.

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Most of the action is pretty hokey as you might expect with men throwing themselves around when they get shot. Lots of explosive squibs to simulate gunfire, wounds and ricochets etc…The locations work nicely, I believe its all in the Philippines but I could be wrong. Sure some of it looks to be in quarries and some rundown ruins but it does the job. Everything looks yellow, dusty, rocky, sandy, battered etc…what else do you need for an apocalyptic movie in the desert? Steve Sandor is clearly having a ball being this supposedly ultra cool anti-hero, he growls and snarls when required, ignores the sexy women like a true badass would do…I guess. His sidekick Bandit is virtually mute but does get a sex scene, so not gay then? Jury is still out on that because he sure as hell doesn’t like it when Stryker leaves him at the end, dude almost breaks down in tears in front of his new hot girlfriend.

The movies poster is sexy stuff, its literally why I watched the film! I was predictably somewhat disappointed to discover the poster isn’t really accurate (how many times man? how many times?). Going in I knew this would be a mix of many things that have come before, twas bloody obvious, but is that bad? I mean, yeah sure its bad in a legal moral sense, but for entertainment purposes its actually alright. Yes the movie is cheap and tacky but thumbs for effort, credit where credits due, this ain’t half bad for a low budget B-movie. The fact that it looks like there was not much health and safety involved whilst making this makes it even more impressive and fun. Final thought, someone really needs to explain to me why there was a band of Jawas/Dinks in the desert. I…I really didn’t quite understand that, quite simply, why is there a band of little people in the middle of the desert?

5.5/10

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