Blood Father (FRA, 2016)

Apparently this movie is based on a novel of the same name and a French action thriller. I did not know this and I’m surprised. Surprised that’s its a French made movie because I certainly didn’t get that vibe in the trailers. And I’m surprised at yet another novel adaptation, like almost every other flick!

Again the plot is nothing really original (a rarity these days), its main hook is the fact we see old Mel Gibson back in action again. The plot starts with Lydia (Erin Moriarty) who is in a relationship with a gang leader called Jonah (Diego Luna). During a hit on some tenants Jonah claims stole money from them, Lydia accidentally shoots Jonah. Thinking she’s killed him she runs off and gets in contact with her ex-convict father John (Gibson). Lydia explains the situation and John decides to look after Lydia at his trailer house in the middle of nowhere (hoping no one will find them). Alas Jonah’s gang members come after Lydia and drag John into the fray. What follows is a somewhat slow moving chase thriller as John must protect Lydia from the gang out for revenge.

I think the problem with this movie is the fact it doesn’t really offer anything new (plus it literally feels like it could be another movie about old man Wolverine/Logan). Gibson’s character is your standard gruff, hardassed, tattooed, ex-con who’s turned his life around and deep down has a good heart. His slutty looking daughter Lydia is your typical slutty looking mouthy teen, who has gotten herself into shit and needs her daddy to bail her out. All the while being somewhat ungrateful about it along the way. The bad guys are your stereotypical tattooed Latino gangsters. And most of the folk we meet along the way are all scruffy looking redneck biker types, complete with some Nazi and Confederate imagery for good measure.

bf5

As the story unfolds its not hard to guess what’s gonna happen really. Obviously at first John and Lydia are a tad distant, Lydia doesn’t completely trust John, and John wants to ween Lydia off the drugs and alcohol she’s hooked on. It really is the all the usual beats. John must ask favours from various friends, some good like Kirby (William H. Macy) and some not so good like Preacher (Michael Parks). Speaking of stereotypical characters, Preacher has his own biker garage/club set up where he sells all his (Nazi and Confederate) war memorabilia. You know straight away not to trust this bloke. Anyway as time passes John and Lydia grow closer together until at the end Lydia realises how much she loves and needs John (naturally when its too late).

I guess the million Dollar question was, was the films main selling point of Mel Gibson being the anti-hero protagonist enough? Could Gibson still deliver a knockout? In my opinion the answer to that would yes and no. Lets not beat around the bush here, Gibson has clearly changed his image in recent years. He’s clearly been hitting the gym and getting roided up (health issues at his age?). Anyway performance-enhancing drugs aside, Gibson does look good despite the ravages of time on his looks. Strangely enough he actually looks even more badass in his old age and possibly even more of a better fit for an aged Wolverine.

bf2

Gibson definitely dishes out a solid weighty performance bursting with raw scary beardy-faced energy. In fact his beard is almost its own character, its an awesome beard, the white patch on his chin being the clear highlight. So much so that when he shaves it off his character noticeably becomes less interesting. All of a sudden we lose the unhinged, wide-eyed, muscular, Wolverine-esque, bearded one. And we’re left with a boring looking Mel Gibson from ‘Payback’ (1999). The thing is I believe you could swap out Gibson with any number of decent action thriller actors such as…Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe or Liam Neeson, and probably get the same result. So even though I liked Gibson in this movie, I’d say his presence wasn’t a make or break factor.

Overall I’d have to say I was actually somewhat disappointed with this movie. The trailer was pretty epic and kinda gave me the wrong impression really. I was expecting a more rock ’em, sock ’em action flick top heavy with kickassery. But what you get is a more heartfelt, slow paced drama with the odd burst of action that isn’t really that good. Yes its authentic, its not over the top and stupid, but I just got the impression we’d be seeing more of Gibson kicking ass. We actually see very little of Gibson kicking ass which seems a waste considering all that muscle he’s packed on.

In the end the movie finishes as you knew it would do, in fact I’m sure we’ve all seen the same ending before in other movies. I can’t help but think this could have been a really stonking gritty action flick, but Gibson wanted to show his acting chops (which aren’t quite there I’m afraid). Its by no means a bad film or a mediocre film, its a very solid film, just not as good as the posters and trailers make out.

7/10

bf3

Advertisements

A Night at the Roxbury (1998)

Or as it was originally known ‘The Roxbury Guys’ was another reoccurring sketch within the classic American late night show Saturday Night Live. Whilst I’m not entirely sure who came up with the original idea, the two main characters in the sketch were always played by Chris Kattan and Will Ferrell. The duo were often joined by a third character who would be played by another famous actor. The most well known seems to be Jim Carrey’s contribution.

The entire idea behind this sketch was simple. Two (or three) guys that are habitual clubbers, dressed in garish rayon suits, adorned with tacky bling, slicked (90’s) hair, and desperately trying to pull anything in a dress with a heartbeat. Even though the guys are experienced in clubbing, their clubbing escapades are generally huge fails because of their adolescent approach to basically everything. The guys come off more like permanently horny teenagers gagging for the slightest bit of female interaction. And when they get it they’d probably cum in their pants straight away.

The movie takes this premise and expands it somewhat. Chris Kattan and Will Ferrell are the main two protagonists again but there is no third member. The duo are now brothers that still live with their very wealthy parents in LA, I think. Most definitely somewhere on the Californian coast. The premise is entirely the same with the brothers spending all their time thinking about clubbing and getting laid. In the background their artificial plant store owner father (Dan Hedaya) is trying to get Steve (Ferrell) to marry Emily (Molly Shannon). Emily being the daughter of a wealthy light fitting store owner that sits next door to the artificial plant store. Meanwhile Doug (Kattan) is trying to keep Steve’s mind focused on their plan of owning a top nightclub in the area.

nr4

The first few sequences of the movie start in exactly the same way the short SNL sketches do. The camera slowly moves through a crowded club towards the bar where the brothers stand, backs to the camera, nodding their heads to the beat. The beat in question is of course ‘What is Love’ by Haddaway which played through every sketch. See it as the theme tune for ‘The Roxbury Guys’. It is painfully obvious that the first 10 minutes or so of the movie are actually the most enjoyable. A collection of short clips showcasing what the brothers are like, how they behave, and how unsuccessful they are. It sums up the entire concept of the characters and all the main gags from the SNL sketches in one blast. Unfortunately this kinda renders the rest of the movie pointless because they were the best bits. Its like they blew their load straight away and no need to carry on.

I like how the brothers feel like their lives are hard and they have to deal with many injustices. When in reality their parents are very rich (from artificial flowers?), they live in a large mansion complete with pool and guest house, and they seemingly have no responsibilities. I like how the parents seem to be a very stereotypically über wealthy LA couple. The mother (Loni Anderson) has a very fake looking face due to plastic surgery and tonnes of makeup. Indeed one of the jokes is how she shows off her new chin to family friends. Hedaya’s character (presumably down to his family heritage) dresses in a very flamboyant Greek-like style, or maybe very Miami Beach-esque. I dunno really, being British I’m not too au fait with US west coast cultures, but that’s how it looks to me.

The entire movie mocks the entire wealthy west coast beachfront lifestyle. You know what I mean, everyone you see seemingly being beautiful. All the guys are ripped, all the women are blonde, the tans, muscles, gyms, perpetual sunshine etc…Then by night its all glitzy clubs where your name has to be on a list to get in, unless you’re famous and rich. The whole look and feel of it is actually really vomit inducing, so fake and materialistic. This is capitalised on by having a couple of sexy club sluts (gold-diggers) trying to get into the brothers pants after they’re seen with a super rich club owner (Chazz Palminteri).

nr2

So I guess it felt totally natural that they stick in a has-been of the big and small screen, Richard Grieco. Now this guy totally encapsulated the entire image of this movie (obviously why they cast him). A relatively big star, slowly fading, now living life as a rich socialite. The girl on his arm is obviously there for the ride, he only gets into clubs because (at that time) he was rich and famous, and he’s now overweight with a fake looking face (makeup much!). It seems he’s in the movie for the purpose of showcasing the worst aspects of Hollywood and the glitzy lifestyle. The real question is was Grieco in on the joke?

That’s not to say this movie is totally unenjoyable, oh on, there are some good laughs to be had. Kattan (who has a face like Kermit the Frog) and Ferrell are both pretty amusing here. Apart from the obvious things like their hair and attire, the visual gags, slapstick and dialog are generally OK, it raises a giggle. Doug is the brains of the duo so to speak, whilst Steve is more the gentle doofus. Much like Jim Carrey, Kattan is good with his rubbery face and physical comedy. Where as a young Ferrell seems to be good at playing simple and vulnerable. I like how Hedaya’s character constantly scorns and mocks Doug and how he reaslise Steve is a moron, but obedient. Molly Shannon puts in the perfect performance as an overbearing bitch who is more interested in making money than enjoying life. She’s almost like executive dominatrix and gets her way by literally sucking Steve off. I didn’t see a problem with this relationship myself, I’m down!

Some bits I could even relate too. When Steve starts showing doubt about marrying Emily, Hedaya’s disciplinarian father figure calmly and firmly tells him, the caterer has already been paid for and his grandparents flew half way around the world just for this. In other words you’re marrying Emily because it would be seriously inconvenient and a waste of money not too. That is totally something my own mother would say I swear to God!

In general I can fully understand why this got slated upon release because its the epitome of a one trick pony padded out into a movie. There was never a need to make a movie out of the original sketch because the original sketch just worked so well. Nevertheless I can’t deny its a bit of a guilty pleasure flick for a lazy night in. Its one of those movies you can throw on again and again for a bit of a silly laugh. Either take a trip down memory lane back to the 90’s, or to cheer yourself up if you’re a bit down. The soundtrack is also, like the movie, a guilty pleasure boasting tracks you probably danced to back in the day (age depending of course). Yes its a brainless feature and essentially a collection of skits stuck together. But I believe the two leads are likeable enough to keep you entertained, and possibly come back for more.

6.5/10

nr6

Sgt. Bilko (1996)

Like many classic American TV shows The Phil Silvers Show was something I knew of but have never really seen before (unlike Mr Ed which I did watch a lot when I was a kid living in the US back in 87. Still waiting for that inevitable movie adaptation). Sure I’ve seen the odd snippet here and there, I know what the basic premise is, but I’ve never actually seen an entire episode. So with that I originally saw this movie (back in 96 on first day release) as a newbie, and to this day that hasn’t changed. I still haven’t seen anything much of the original material except for snippets. So to me Steve Martin is essentially my Sgt. Bilko, but is that a good thing?

The plot: Like almost all of Steve Martin’s movies the plot is incredibly simple (admittedly so was the source material). Master Sergeant Ernest Bilko is in charge of the motor pool (a garage in the military) at Fort Baxter in the US army. He and his boys have an easy life bending the rules and trying to dodge any kind of actual military work where ever possible. Their entire operation is a smooth running gravy train with Col. John T. Hall (Dan Aykroyd) successfully kept in the dark at all times. That is until an old adversary from Bilko’s past (Phil Hartman as Maj. Thorn) pops up and tries to take revenge for a past incident. Yeah that’s it.

The entire gist behind the character of Bilko is essentially that he’s a trickster. He’s dodgy, a gambler, obsessed with money, untrustworthy around money, and tries to get out of work whenever possible. He spends most of his time in the motor pool trying to get rich quick with various dubious schemes, or simply avoiding work of any kind. Either he works his ruses or he’ll get his men to do the dirty work for him. All the while he attempts to pull the wool over his superiors eyes (Col. Hall), or other officials, or visitors, or other soldiers from other units, or his own men. Whichever way he can successfully squeeze money outta someone or something.

What’s that?!
That’s horseshit Sir

bil5

Truth be told this movie is pretty much one long collection of sketches, one after another showcasing Martin and co pulling off swindles. Luckily this is relatively enjoyable as what we get is amusing in a very very soft and light-hearted manner. Bilko’s troops are a stereotypically raucous bunch with all the cliches firmly in place. You have the big dumb soldier, the big fat soldier, the Latino soldier, a token female soldier, a token black soldier, the Italian American type soldier, and the new transfer who’s initially a real jobsworth that eventually warms up to Bilko’s antics (of course). Surprisingly the only thing missing was a token gay character for some cheeky gags.

Dan Aykroyd’s Col. Hall is the gentle, bumbling, innocent military officer who is completely oblivious to Bilko’s hoodwinking…in part. He does seem to be somewhat aware of the fact Bilko is up to no good; but in general he is duped quite often without even realising. I think Phil Hartman’s Maj. Thorn sums up Hall perfectly when he calls him a rube. As for Maj. Thorn he is the stereotypically cartoonish villain that could easily be from a Simpsons episode. The mannerisms for both of these characters are very much over the top, larger than life, but it does work for the movie. Both actors are very good at what they do and its very enjoyable to watch them overact here. Hartman clearly relished being this stuck-up villainous asshole.

What was that?!
A greyhound Sir

The real enjoyment comes from the montages where we see Bilko and his men in full swing with all their various scams, games and skiving. These range from a cleverly disguised casino in the garage. Roller hockey tournaments and strength contests between fat soldier Doberman and a horse. Using military funds for various other non-military ventures, having wild parties with booze and hookers, playing golf, fixing audits etc…Its all very silly, very childish and highly unrealistic of course, but its supposed to be. Indeed where as some of the things they get up to are just plain daft and make your eyes roll; other things are quite clever with some nice visual trickery.

bil2

At the same time, due to Bilko not ever training his men, they are all useless at actually being soldiers. Once Thorn gets his teeth into them we get the obligatory training montage where we see how crap and unfit all these guys are at military type stuff. Again its all very silly, predictable and cliched, you can see what’s coming a good country mile away. Cue lots of visual gags surrounding Doberman the fat soldier. There is also a subplot involving Bilko always trying to get married to his sweetheart but never quite managing to get their on time. Basically he’s scared to take the plunge and somehow gets out of it by challenging his fiancée to a game of cards when he turns up late to the alter. She is also addicted to gambling it seems. This entire subplot feels really unnecessary and crowbarred in frankly. It brings the movie to a grinding halt every time, its clearly in there for the romance factor.

Steve Martin is admittedly on good form here, he manages to map his off the wall comedic style (taming it for a family audience) onto a classic character from the 50’s very well. Most of the laughs do come from Martin and his somewhat camp physical performance, quips and defiance of the rules. The fit is a surprisingly good one along with Aykroyd, Hartman and some of the soldier actors. The main plot involving the production of the hover tank is a quirky one for sure. It is fun watching Thorn trying to find a way to nail Bilko and get his revenge, only to end up being tricked by Bilko yet again. Naturally this is all predictable just like the rest of the movie, but its pleasing enough.

The problem here is the movie just isn’t consistent, its very patchy, fun in parts but generally very tame and very infantile. Overall its a very very safe movie; it doesn’t take too many risks, its not rude or vulgar, it basically goes down a well trodden path. A very laid back movie, with no controversial content, for a lazy afternoon or evening where you just wanna relax and giggle at some nonsense.

5.5/10

bil4

MacGruber (2010)

MacGruber!! Making life saving inventions outta household materials!

MacGruber MacGyver was originally a reoccurring character on the American TV show Saturday Night Live. The character was created by SNL writer Jorma Taccone who also directed this movie. Actor Will Forte who portrayed the character of MacGruber (in both SNL and this movie) also wrote for the character alongside Taccone. If it isn’t evident enough already, the character of MacGruber is of course based on, a parody of, the classic secret agent TV series MacGyver.

The idea behind MacGyver was an ex-special forces type bloke who worked for a fictional agency of the US government, and the fictional Phoenix Foundation. An expert in physics and physical sciences, he usually solves problems with his ingenuity and array of trusty everyday objects such as a penknife, duct tape, matches etc…So yes, essentially it was another version of the [i]A-Team[/i] but for adults. The idea behind MacGruber is of course to spoof this entire concept tenfold.

The plot: Some baddies led by the dastardly Dieter Von Cunth (Val Kilmer) take possession of a nuclear warhead with the intention of using it to blow up Washington D.C. Col Jim Faith (Powers Boothe) hunts down MacGruber in order to enlist his help in stopping this act of terrorism. At first MacGruber declines, but after a nightmare surrounding the death of his fiancée (killed by Von Cunth), he agrees. But MacGruber has one condition, that he can use his own hand picked team. Faith agrees and MacGruber assembles his boys…only to accidentally kill them; so he ends up going with Lt. Dixon Piper (Ryan Phillippe) and Vicki Gloria St. Elmo (Kristen Wiig).

mc2

The idea behind MacGruber isn’t anything specifically new, we’ve all seen spoofs of action/secret agent movies, a lot of it comes down to Will Forte. Now I don’t know a lot about Forte. I have seen the original MacGruber skits on SNL, but I didn’t know of Forte before hand and I don’t really know of anything he’s done after. All I know is this guy really knew how to play this character, had him down to a tee. His arrogance, egotism, narcissism and juvenile behaviour; Forte handles this characters fragility with aplomb, he makes it look easy and fresh despite the fact its definitely not a fresh angle (I think we’ve all seen Rambo spoofs before right? yup).

Well then, I’ll just have to put together my own dream team…of killer stoppers

I think the best example of the state of MacGruber’s mind is when a passer-by hurls a rather tame insult at his car (a 1996 Mazda MX-5 Miata). MacGruber responses with his own tirade of (much worse) insults and that seems to be that. Later on Dixon comes across MacGruber’s personal notepad and flips through it only to discover every page is covered with insane doodles of anger. Top to bottom, smothered with rantings and scribbles of rage. Clearly MacGruber is unable to take being mocked (despite dishing it out himself). It builds up inside him until he unleashes it upon the offender whom he eventually stumbles across (with his car).

But watching MacGruber break down is a regular and hilarious occurrence in this movie. The man is essentially a selfish man-child and throws tantrums when things awry. When MacGruber is first introduced to Dixon he destroys him with insults. He sneers at Dixon despite Faith highly recommending him for his skills. Dixon wasn’t good enough for MacGruber because he had his own team of commandos. That is until MacGruber accidentally blows his team up. After Faith shuts down the operation we then see the U-turn by MacGruber as he starts to literally beg on his knees, offering sexual favours to both Faith and Dixon for their help. Its both embarrassing and extremely funny watching MacGruber acting the tough guy, only for it to crumble and reveal his true inner self when it goes tits up. Again none of this is anything original, far from it, but its the way Forte does it.

mc3

Yes the humour throughout this movie is somewhat childish and daft. Its toilet humour, sophomoric by the bucket load, but at times the craziness is just laugh out loud funny. When MacGruber distracts some bad guys by stripping naked and sticking a piece of celery between his butt cheeks. When MacGruber dresses Vicki up as himself for the sting operation he somewhat cunningly devised and delivered (not), its ludicrous. Then in the next scene they dress Vicki as one of Cunth’s henchmen and Dixon disguises himself as MacGruber to infiltrate a warehouse. All the while MacGruber watches and waits in safety, having expressed to both partners that everything should work just fine. Also the fact that MacGruber refuses to use guns (preferring to rely on household materials just like the SNL sketches and original TV series) for most of the movie…until he realises guns are actually cool to use.

In comparison to the SNL skits I’d say the movie isn’t quite as good simply because the incredibly short skits just worked better that way. Every skit was basically the same utilisng the same set, the same bomb to defuse, but with different characters helping MacGruber. Some sketches were self-contained micro stories, whilst some had a continuing storyline. But overall they were literally a few minutes long and were totally off the wall. Bite-sized nuggets of throwaway comedy. Having to extend this into a full length movie was always gonna present problems.

Did they overcome these problems? Well sort of, whilst the movie is indeed enjoyable, its only really enjoyable in chunks. Naturally these chunks tend to be when Forte is front and centre doing his thing. The other characters are fine but not really that interesting. Its cool to see Kristen Wiig return from the skits but maybe they should of used some of the other characters too, like Darrel (Charles Barkley) or Kyle (Josh Brolin). Watching MacGruber struggling with political correctness and his clumsy racism towards Darrel (a Nordberg type character) is priceless; they really should have included more of that in the movie. I can see why the movie has become something of a cult, and I can also see why the movie bombed at the box office. For people not in the know this movie will have looked like regurgitated trash, which I fully understand. But that’s a shame because this movie and its main protagonist are far wittier than most might expect.

7.5/10

White Lightning (1973)

Willie Mayes Hayes is Black Hammer! Jesse ‘The Body’ Ventura is White Lightning! Together they’re taking on the mob…oh shit wrong film! Wait, its not even an actual film.

Back in his early days of acting good old boy Burt Reynolds was definitely more of a serious actor. Yes much of his work was still based around comedies but they still had drama included. ‘White Lightning’ was one of Reynolds last movies to showcase him as a more serious character actor before he started to slip into more frivolous roles which seemed like spoofs more than anything. Essentially this was a Burt Reynolds movie where we didn’t see him mugging for the camera or messing around with his other A-list star buddies.

I’m honesty not really sure how Reynolds became this icon of the south (being born in Michigan), but yet again his character here is a typical good ol’ boy criminal type serving time for running moonshine. His name is Bobby ‘Gator’ McKlusky…because that’s a really cool southern sounding name obviously. Whilst serving time (for runnin’ moonshine) Gator’s brother is murdered by a corrupt local sheriff. Knowing that this sheriff is taking money from other illegal moonshiners, Gator agrees to go undercover for the Department of Justice to bring him in. Of course Gator isn’t interested in bringing the sheriff in, he wants revenge. Anywho that’s it, that’s the plot, you can guess how it unfolds I’m sure.

wl

Being a movie genuinely filmed in the south during the early 70’s everything does look generally grim. Many of the cars we see are rust buckets, the local towns look a bit squalid in places, the locals look quite poor, building interiors are plain and basic, and the prison looks like something outta ‘Papillon’ (I exaggerate somewhat of course). But next to that you also have the more upbeat side to the south we recall from the movies, such as pool halls, bars, muscle cars, big rigs, stetsons and young easy women in cut-off jeans.

In an Arkansas prison is where we find Gator as he is informed his brother has been killed. Right there and then Gator decides to escape…and does just that! No seriously, he literally walks off and simply climbs a few fences and runs off! What the hell kind of prison is this?? He does of course get captured quite quickly, luckily he’s friends with the warden so its kinda overlooked. They basically blackmail him into going undercover, but in a friendly way.

From here we follow Gator as he slowly makes his rounds gathering information. This essentially means visiting many local establishments and trying to charm the hicks into dishing the dirt. Gator must also try and sneak himself into the moonshine runnin’ game, a difficult task to be sure. This in itself offers up a wide array of stereotypical southern hillbilly types that generally look unwashed in their grubby sweat stained attire. Eventually Gator does manage to hook up with Roy (Bo Hopkins) to run moonshine; and at the same time get involved in a curious love triangle between Bo and his girlfriend Lou (Jennifer Billingsley). Not really sure why this is, I’m guessing to simply give Reynolds a love interest.

wl2

Naturally being an early Reynolds movie you can expect car chases. Yep before he was runnin’ with beer as the Bandit he was runnin’ with moonshine as the Gator. Unfortunately these car chases are nowhere near as good as the Bandit’s wheel spinnin’ antics. One car chase sees Gator confusing, shaking and avoiding the cops through the town in his very brown 1971 Ford Custom 500. This is a reasonable car chase that will kinda satisfy you. It ends with Hal Needham (‘Smokey and the Bandit’ and ‘The Cannonball Run’) jumping the car onto a moving barge which almost failed (but they kept it in). There are plenty of other vehicular tidbits throughout including the obligatory track event but nothing to wow you.

Although the cars are a major part of this movie, characters in their own right and of historical interest, if you’re a petrolhead this movie isn’t gonna do it for you methinks. It merely offers a glimpse of what was to come with Reynolds and co. Overall this movie is generally pretty dull truth be told, nothing much really happens as you watch Gator plod through the sweltering heat of the south. Ned Beatty is definitely a solid villain as the corrupt Sheriff J.C. Connors and almost makes up for a lack of engagement. He is certainly intimidating with his large appearance, bad teeth and receding hairline (deliberately shaved that way). He almost looks like a Nazi Officer with those round spectacles, but alas he does little. On the flip side, there is a decent sequence where Gator visits his parents. There he must face his fathers disapproval of him handing over names of folk involved in illegal liquor to the Feds.

The opening sequence of the movie shows Sheriff Connors slowly rowing out into the middle of an isolated swamp, either at dusk or early dawn. Behind him is Gator’s brother bound and gagged in another small boat. They reach a point and stop. The sheriff then shoots the bottom of the boat with a shotgun and rows away leaving the restrained young man to slowly drown as the boat sinks. This sequence is dark, sinister, brutal and most definitely has a ‘Deliverance’ vibe about it (the landscapes are definitely another form of character in this movie). The thing is its in complete contrast to the rest of the movie which at times feels like a slightly adult version of The Dukes of Hazzard or ‘Smokey and the Bandit’. A strange blend of tones in this movie for sure, a bit hit and miss.

4.5/10

The Net (1995)

Now this was a blast from the past, my teenage years (I was 17 at the time). It might seem crazy these days but I distinctly remember watching this in the cinema with a friend, and both of us scoffing at how ridiculous the movies premise was. The whole idea of the internet (something that was more of a joke back then) being able to bring down someone’s entire life. The idea of people actually having portable computers and being able to use them, online! everywhere! The idea of someone’s life revolving around a computer…or more specifically the net, was at the time almost inconceivable (unless you were rich).

Yes these were simpler times my friends, back before the internet was an integral part of people’s lives, or before the internet was even taken seriously. Hell back then movies like this were the only introduction some people had to the, so called, information highway. This and movies like ‘The Lawnmower Man’ were pretty much the only things most common people saw of the internet, hence why we all thought it was a gimmicky flash in the pan. Even British videogames TV show GamesMaster would mock the internet with its limited abilities at the time. We were told one day we’d all be surfing the net, we all ridiculed the notion, how wrong we were.

n4

Anyway the movie. Systems analyst Angela Bennett (Sandra Bullock) is accidentally drawn into the dark world of cyber terrorism when her work college sends her sensitive information on a floppy disk (remember those?!). The information revolves around the death of the US Secretary of Defense and a large software company CEO, Jeff Gregg. Whilst on holiday Bennett gets wined and dined by mysterious British gent Jack Devlin whom she starts to have feelings for. But before she knows it this British gent is trying to kill her so he can get his hands on this disk. Following a nasty accident where Bennett tries to escape Devlin, she awakes in hospital to discover her life has been deleted. Bennett must now try and find help to recover her life, evade Devlin, and uncover the truth on the disk.

Yeah so the plot is your typical computer hacking/expert, on the run type affair which is now a dated concept. This idea was quite new at the time but director Irwin Winkler really tapped into the public’s interest by utilising the newfangled internet contraption. The internet wasn’t unheard of at the time of course, but it was intriguing to the masses and was used a lot to present an exciting new angle to movies. It was almost like an unexplored universe and Hollywood wasn’t gonna let it slip by without milking its every potential.

The other main draw for this movie was actress Sandra Bullock who was literally the biggest thing in Hollywood between 1993 – 1995. Hot off a trilogy of blockbusting hits that were ‘Demolition Man’, ‘Speed’ and ‘While You Were Sleeping’, Bullock could do no wrong. She was America’s sweetheart with her adorable, girl next door looks and squeaky clean image. People just went to movies starring Bullock, no questions asked, she was huge.

n5

This movie also used the highly unpopular nerd image which was still something to mock at the time. Nowadays nerds are all the rage but back in the day oh no, being a nerd was not cool. But what baffled people even more was the introduction to a sexy female nerd, this was virtually unheard of at the time. This did present a problem for the movie simply because no one believed a sexy female could be a whizz-kid on computers or a nerd. Especially Bullock who was Hollywood’s new darling leading lady. And admittedly it is hard to believe Bullock in this role because she simply doesn’t look like she understands what shes talking about half the time. She also looks surprisingly unathletic considering her previous action movies, she kinda sleepwalks through this looking bored.

Looking back now this movie is fun simply to see all the retro hardware and early programs in action. All these chunky laptops, very basic net page layouts, disk swapping and loading etc…it does bring back many memories. The action is kinda sparse but reasonably thrilling I suppose, it was never gonna be a violent movie with Bullock in the lead. Bullock was the queen of PG-13/12 rated movies. So the movie cuts away for any violence and there is little profanity, if any. Jeremy Northam is easily the best thing about the film with his devilishly charming contract killer, probably why his character is called Devlin.

In the end this is a very safe and harmless action thriller that didn’t want to rock the boat for its leading lady. Bullock is still cute and cuddly while under the stress of being hunted down by a hitman. Being a movie about computers director Winkler obviously couldn’t pass up a chance to film at the Macworld/iWorld trade show in San Francisco. So naturally the tense unrealistic finale is shot there. It is hilarious to watch Bennett downloading/uploading such large chunks of data onto floppy disks just in the nick of time. I’m just gonna assume that the trade show would have had the best of the best computers on show so that made it possible. Its all very silly, cutesy and charming these days, so amusing to think this was a big serious release back in the day.

5.5/10

n3

Spies Like Us (1985)

There was a time when certain movies could be rolled out into the cinemas solely depending on a handful of Saturday Night Live performers. These movies didn’t necessarily have to be overly interesting, the plot could be thin on the ground, and the characters could be one dimensional. All that was needed was to see these guys doing their thing, their shtick. The studios knew that was enough to generate ticket sales.

In this comic caper Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase play somewhat mis-matched, yet strangely well matched, low key government workers that both undertake a foreign service exam to better themselves. After being caught cheating in a highly embarrassing display of lunacy, the pair are amazingly promoted to foreign service operatives. Turns out that some underhanded DIA folk need decoy agents to protect their real agents out in the field (the field being Soviet Asia). So in thinking they have a real mission to carry out, the bumbling duo are dropped behind enemy lines to basically lead the Soviets on a wild goose chase.

So the plot revolves around the old enemy, the dastardly USSR, arch nemesis to the good old US of A. Going into Russian territory, arming an intercontinental ballistic missile, launching it and then testing a missile defence system. What could possibly go wrong? Turns out the predictable does in fact happen but luckily our inept heroes save the day. Does anything happen much in between this? Well not really truth be told, the entire movie is very much stringed together with a series of skits, or so it seems. This isn’t a bad thing but just don’t go expecting anything amazing plot wise that’s all, this is a bare bones tale.

MCDSPLI EC009

So lets look at our heroes. Dan Aykroyd is Austin Millbarge (great name), a very clever and innovative codebreaker who works at the Pentagon. Bottom line this is the type of character you’ve come to expect from Aykroyd because its clearly his own persona. He’s clearly very smart, a fast thinker and fast talker who can reel off large chunks of dialog in a robotic fashion. Likewise Chevy Chase plays Emmett Fitz-Hume, an easy going, loveable rogue who’s a bit of a coward, a bit slow at times and a ladies man. Now I wouldn’t say Chase is all this in reality but he certainly comes across like an easy going, loveable rogue and ladies man. Overall both characters show promise but also display remarkable ineptitude.

I love both characters introductions, Millbarge working in this rather curious factory-like part of the Pentagon surrounded by his work. To look at he comes across as nothing more than a messy, going nowhere, slob. But we quickly learn this guy is a technical whizkid. On the other hand we find Fitz-Hume lounging at his desk, headphones on, watching a movie. When asked about his upcoming exam he merely brushes it off as a forgone conclusion. When we get to the actual exam we are offered the first glimpses of how fecking hilarious this movie will be. Aykroyd and Chase work off each other flawlessly in this sequence, its fantastic. I adore how Fitz-Hume has all these little compartments where he’s hiding answers (an eyepatch and arm cast). ‘What does K.G.B. stand for?’ is written on a bit of paper he slips to Millbarge. Then when he eventually play acts a nervous breakdown merely to grab other people’s answer sheets, gloriously cheesy Chase.

The next classic segment would be the training montage where both men are put through their paces double time. Apart from how adorably dated everything looks this is also an opportunity for some quick visual gags. The obligatory obstacle course, being shot at above and below water, radical vertical impact simulation, high-G training in a centrifuge, staying afloat, extreme heat tests etc…Customary military training type stuff. What is kinda amusing is the way they both got to the training facility. Thrown out of a plane (with parachute), only to both land in the exact same spot which just happens to be the training grounds.

slu6

The movie does move fast and before you know it we are in the deserts of Pakistan for more hijinks. Naturally the duo get captured by the locals but are saved by two other westerners who conveniently turn out to be the real DIA agents. Of course one of them is a hot blonde (Donna Dixon) so you know what comes next with Chase’s character. The duo end up impersonating doctors for the most part at this stage and its a hoot. A very amusing operation sequence, some sexual innuendo, topped off with a small chase sequence and its off to Russia by camel. This is where the movie does start to falter somewhat, it slows right down and loses its comedic impetus. This is probably because the plot has to focus more on the whole missile launching angle from the military types in their US bunker.

It does seem pretty reckless doesn’t it, sending agents into the USSR to launch one of their ballistic missiles only to test your own missile defence system. And the fact that this missile is targeted at the USA! Why not just launch one of your own missiles which isn’t pointed at your own country? Any way its very dumb and does kinda spoil the whole ham-fisted spies side of things. This is where many of the plot holes become more apparent also. At the end the US Army Rangers eventually burst into the rogue bunker, but how did they know where it was? Plus how did these DIA folk manage to pull of such a feat as this without anyone finding out?? They knew there was a risk of global thermonuclear war if their missile defence system missed its target…but they went ahead anyway?? All to preserve the ‘American way of life’?! Surely there wouldn’t be much life left after a nuclear war, and all the military personnel in this bunker agreed to this??

The ending is also rather poor and a letdown. After all the missile has been safely sent off into space via Millbarge’s technical reprogramming and the DIA bunker stormed, we later find Millbarge and Fitz-Hume now promoted as nuclear disarmament negotiators. But the weird thing is, the Russian soldiers they fought off to launch the missile back in Russia, are somehow representing the USSR in these talks? So…were the Russians promoted too? If so…why would they have been promoted? Or were they originally nuclear negotiators? Also they all seem to be playing some kind of Risk board game to negotiate? Like…huh??!! Apparently this was a reshot happy ending, clearly the wrong choice methinks.

The location work is terrific it has to be said. Apparently they filmed in Morocco and Norway for Pakistan and Russia but in all honesty it all looks authentic enough to me. This movie is surprisingly good looking considering what it is. With that in mind, even though you might think this was a run-of-the-mill comedy top heavy with slapstick (which it is), its also quite a clever little movie. Director John Landis has injected some nice wit into the proceedings along with nice visuals, nice effects (for the time) and a whole host of cameos that you might not even realise on a first viewing. Aykroyd and Chase are also on winning form with some cracking quick-fire one-liners that can’t fail to make you smile. This isn’t a perfect comedy and its not a thrilling adventure, but it has a good energy to it. If anyone is looking for the epitome of a classic 80’s screwball comedy, you can’t go wrong here.

7.5/10

slu2