Kong: Skull Island (2017)

Ah a freshly rebooted monsterverse, no not that dark monsterverse…that’s some other rebooted franchise wannabe. This is a different rebooted monsterverse from Legendary Entertainment, not to be confused with the multitude of other cinematic universe franchises, failing or otherwise (ugh!).

As this is yet another reboot attempt Legendary and its director decided to go a slightly different route for this monster mash. That slightly different route was setting this movie in 1973 towards the end of the Vietnam War. Basically everything you’d expect to happen in a Kong movie happens here (bunch of military and scientist types go to explore mystery island, find monsters, double cross, fight for survival etc…), but its in 1973 during Nam. Now I initially thought this was quite a neat idea because it was different, and because they did a really good job for the first half of the movie making it look like a Nam war flick (loved seeing all the retro gear).

But dare I say that maybe, just maybe, they went a tad too far in trying to make this Nam element look as authentic as possible. As I’ve already said the movie does look great, they have recaptured the mood of many Nam flicks perfectly with the grubby visuals, presumably using a specific type of film to get that retro look or just fiddling with it in the edit. You could easily be mistaken for thinking you were watching a Nam flick from the 80’s. All the regular Nam cliches and stereotypes are all present and correct with the soldiers and their goofing around, their personally modified military attire, their language, the sweeping camera moves to capture helicopters in flight, the way the soldiers ride their vehicles etc…It all looks really really good.

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Thing is I couldn’t help but think to myself, this is a King Kong movie, not a Nam war movie. Are you trying to make a monster mash movie here or just recreate the Vietnam war era? This leads me to another little peeve of mine, the soundtrack. Again, I realise the movie was set during Nam, I realise the director and co were going for an authentic vibe, but Jesus Christ the constant music playing became annoying. Yes we get it, this is during the Vietnam war, you really [b]really[/b] didn’t have to have the soldiers playing music for the start of every new scene. Overall I just thought they were trying a bit too hard with this section of the movie.

Anyway, the Nam section comes to an end and we enter the meat of the movie. We reach the mysterious Skull Island that is shrouded by a massive swirling storm, keeping it hidden. OK so the storm has kept the island hidden from sight but you’re telling me no one had ever seen this massive storm before? No one has ever ventured into it out of scientific curiosity? And how does this perpetual storm remain in place?

Skull Island itself is a lush Jurassic Park type affair that is infested with all manner of giant beasties. From huge spider-like insectoids with legs that look like bamboo. Another giant bug-like insect that can camouflages itself as a felled log. A giant squid living in the island waters apparently. Mega sized…errr…ox? And of course the main beastie baddies which look like large reptilian creatures with an exoskeleton covering their faces (Skullcrawlers). The creatures were imaginative and well designed but more importantly believable. Although, you still have the issue of when these creatures battle each other there doesn’t often appear to be consequences, initially. When Kong fights the large reptilian Skullcrawlers (or anything) he’s throwing them around, beating them with tree trunks, stomping on them etc…but they just keep getting back up apparently unharmed. The old tactic of throwing the opponent happens often in these movies, we see this in superhero flicks too. Of course Kong eventually kills his opponent but they like to drag these things out.

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The same can be said for the human characters that whip out their guns and barrage these creatures in a hail of bullets. Yet nearly every time these creatures don’t appear to be affected by the gunfire (which I don’t understand). No matter how big or powerful the gun, they never seem to do anything against these monsters, yet the humans keep relying on their guns. Its like…don’t they see the guns are having no effect? I realise that’s all they’ve got but dude come on, stop firing and get the hell outta there. That’s not to say it isn’t exciting to watch, its just dumb at the same time. Its kinda like the numerous times that Kong appears out of nowhere and surprises a human character. How in the hell does an ape of that size manage to casually walk around and not draw attention to himself? At the same time how could anyone not know this mega sized, 100 foot tall, bipedal ape was coming in their general direction??

As for the human characters, well they’re all a predictable, dull, hollow bunch really. Samuel L. Jackson plays the patriotic military leader who’s basically gone a bit off the rails seeing his men killed by Kong, thusly he is obsessed with killing Kong. Yep despite all the odds this guy simply doesn’t take no for an answer, he’s gonna take down Kong and that’s that. Tom Hiddleston plays the good looking, heroic, macho adventurer in a tight t-shirt that can do no wrong and saves the day. Brie Larson is merely the attractive female that still manages to tame Kong even in this movie.

Something that felt completely outta place and crowbarred in. John C. Reilly is your standard marooned bearded bloke who’s gone a bit loopy (kinda like Alan Parrish outta ‘Jumanji’). And John Goodman plays the devious Monarch official who lies to everyone about going to Skull Island (he’s basically Burke outta ‘Aliens’). Then throw in some random diversity box ticking for some other background characters who literally didn’t need to be in the movie.

We do see the native people of Skull Island and their home but unfortunately that is not explored in any real way. We get hints at their lifestyle, how they somehow survive, their culture etc…but nothing more. They are just there to help the plot along. Most of the US troops are faceless expendable monster fodder bar one or two, but you don’t really care about any of them. One soldier decides to kill (or sacrifice) himself towards the end, no clue why he does this, he just does presumably because the director thought it would be cool? I dunno. Then in the climatic battle between Kong and the mega (Queen?) Skullcrawler, I noticed Kong somehow manages to rip out the creatures innards with the same hand he’s holding Brie Larson in. Or so it seemed to me.

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I haven’t mentioned the visuals simply because you should all know by now they will be good, very good. Kong looks incredible, the other creatures look incredible, the island looks beautiful and the action is extremely agreeable. There is also a reasonable amount of blood and gore here too which was a nice surprise, certainly not for the family this one. Overall you don’t actually get much Kong for your buck (much like ‘Godzilla’) so there’s that. Although the finale throwdown is highly gratifying (lots of throwing being key here). You obviously spend much more screen time with the human characters, but alas they are all pretty throwaway in my opinion. There are too many characters, we don’t get to know them and in the end you simply don’t care about them. The off-kilter humour at times also did not help.

If I can say this, the 2014 ‘Godzilla’ movie felt like a slightly more sensible affair, a touch more of a monster action thriller vibe about it. This movie has more of a comicbook vibe about it if you ask me. It felt a bit more silly and leaned more towards something like 1995’s ‘Congo’, mixed with bits of ‘Apocalypse Now’ or any number of Nam war flicks. And of course we have the usual issue of this movie coming across more as filler for a bigger better movie later on down the line that features a famous giant reptilian monster. That’s not to say this was a bad movie, its not, its essentially about King Kong punching and destroying stuff, how is that bad? Well its not, its fun and it looks cool. Unfortunately that’s about it, overall its very shallow, tonally mixed and is clearly riding Marvel’s coattails…but I did enjoy it.

7/10

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The Ice Pirates (1984)

Oh George Lucas, what did you bring upon us with your earth-shattering movie of 1977. The answer to that is of course an absolute multitude of knock-off’s, clones, wannabes and homages. This long forgotten oddity is what you might call a very light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek Star Wars knock-off.

The plot takes place in the distant future, presumably in a galaxy far far away, where water has become an extremely scarce and valuable resource (not too original eh). In fact H20 is so valuable that its actually used as a form of currency in ice cube form. Naturally only one planet is not affected by this, Mithra, home of the evil Templars. And of course they want to keep it this way ensuring their dominance over the galaxy. But as expected there are space pirates that battle the Templars for their control of the water. One such band of pirates (led by Jason, Robert Urich) stumble across a Princess whilst trying to pinch the watery cargo from one Templar ship. In turn they also discover that this Princesses father is thought to have discovered a planet with water, thing is he has also disappeared. So the Princess hires the pirates to find her father and hopefully the watery planet. On their tail are the Templars who do not want this secret being discovered.

OK so the first thing I have to point out is, this is quite literally a film about pirates in space. The movies title isn’t just there to look and sound cool. The heroes literally steal ice, and they are all literally pirates complete with cutlasses, wide belts with big fat belt buckles, cavalier type boots, and poet shirts with lacing down the front. This whole pirate look is blended in with the more typically cliched futuristic sci-fi look. On one hand a shabby, used and weather beaten universe. On the other hand shiny uniforms and ships (basically Mad Max and Star Wars). Interestingly they also throw in some medieval fashions in there too. Yep the Templar foot soldiers (on-board ships) appear to wear medieval knight attire such as full body chain mail etc…

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Now despite how the movie may come across with its obvious similarities to other space set fantasies in its poster and trailer, this movie isn’t really for kids. OK sure there are lots of childish elements like the various silly robots, the slapstick etc…But this movie does have some moments of violence, gore, sex and umm…castration. Let me be clear, this isn’t an R/18 rated type movie, but it has fun bits for the adults. There is a very wet and somewhat in depth softcore sex scene.There are a few scenes of people losing limbs complete with blood. One of the pirates (Zeno, Ron Perlman) loses his hand early on. In one of the more shocking sequences the sexy female pirate (Maida, Anjelica Houston) gets into a sword fight with some bounty hunter fellow and cuts his head off! Its actually quite unexpected and there are no cuts, you see it come right off. And yes in one sequence it is shown that the Templars turn prisoners into slaves by cutting of their balls with a set of robotic steel jaws.

I didn’t really get the whole eunuch slave thing. They go through the process of having their balls cut off (and a lobotomy as well apparently), and come out afterwards with white hair and eyebrows? I guess the shock of having your balls bitten off by a steel trap could be the reason why your hair turns white; but when they are all lined up to be inspected (in white lycra catsuits) its quite clear that these eunuchs still have a lunchbox. One potential buyer even comments on a slaves lunchbox, but surely they shouldn’t have lunchboxes?

Anyway what space fantasy is complete without a generic desert planet or desert scene. Well don’t fret because of course this movie has one of those. Its actually one of the more interesting looking locations, just a shame we don’t spend much time there. For some reason desert terrain always looks good on camera, it always looks authentic and suits fantasy films perfectly. I always liked this part when I was a kid, I think it was that [i]Mad Max[/i]-esque battering ram with huge wheels. This little action sequence is probably the best in the movie despite being very brief. Some nice explosions, a few stunts, a bad guy getting run over and crushed under one of the huge wheels, cool stuff.

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Anyway what space fantasy is complete without generic scantily clad, female amazonian warriors. Well don’t fret because of course this movie has some of them too. They are all highly sexy, they are all very scantily clad, they are all seemingly submissive to their male leader (phew!), and they all seemingly hate outsiders…men and women (indeed). Yes you guessed it, it isn’t long before our hero gets restrained in a very hot and steamy situation after the amazonians wrestle him to ground. Oh no! please don’t straddle me and wrap your legs around my face, scantily clad sexy ladies! This movie seems to have an obsession with body parts too because the male character we meet in this location (Wendon, Bruce Vilanch) appears to be just a head. Presumably another robot but I’m not actually sure, but its another opportunity for a head to roll around.

Anyway what space fantasy is complete without a sequence set in a smokey, scummy space bar complete with aliens, space mercs, bounty hunters, space wh*res, ruffians…you get the idea.

The movie is a bit jumbled overall in hindsight, there are many many ideas being thrown around from many sources. Its like the director was overwhelmed and couldn’t decide which ideas to rip-off, so he did them all. Hell there’s even an ‘Alien’ rip-off (homage?) subplot with this little worm thing that hatches out of an egg and slithers amok on the ship. At one point this thing bursts out of the crews turkey dinner. Turns out its space herpes, which I’m guessing was suppose to be a crude joke at the time, but now falls totally flat. This subplot simply goes nowhere despite it running for most of the movie. Its just there as a joke.

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The effects are also a very mixed bag. There are one or two matte painting shots with live action foregrounds that look really good (and familiar). Some of the sets and props are well designed and built; some look reasonably authentic as if they could actually work. The spaceship/space effects are pretty poor though, considering this came along way after ‘Star Wars’ its a bit shameful really. Then you have the various robots which include actual real robots of the era that do fit in quite well, but were limited in movement. The bulk of the robots are men in suits and very hokey. Rudimentary robotic movements, you can see the suits bending and creasing, plus the God awful slapstick and fights they get into are extremely stupid and infantile. I complain but I don’t really think the effects were ever meant to be taken seriously. Sure they tried but its clear to see this feature was more of a cheeky comedy, hence the effects were never supposed to be groundbreaking (think ‘Spaceballs’).

When I was a kid I loved this movie because I obviously enjoyed it, and it felt like I was watching a movie for adults. It felt like I was being a bit naughty, I felt like I was more grown up…even though my folks were fine with me watching it. Looking back this movie has faded somewhat and lost its excitement factor for me. Robert Urich is certainly an underrated hero with his looks and might have been a better Lone Starr than Bill Pullman, who knows. The rest of the cast is definitely a curiosity and quite star studded these days but none of them really added much to the proceedings. It just doesn’t really feel like a movie, more like a made for TV movie, the style of the end credits kinda reinforce that vibe. A product of its time for sure.

5.5/10

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016)

K so this movie is of course yet another adaptation of a young adult/teen book that I’ve never heard of. I guess there’s no reason why I should have heard of it though seeing as I am neither a young adult or teen, I digress. The title of the movie (and book) is admittedly pretty cool, indeed the whole vibe I got from this movie did kinda remind me of the 2004 movie ‘Lemony Snicket’s A Serious of Unfortunate Events’. At the same time it also got me thinking along the lines of The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy & Other Stories. Funnily enough a quirky little book about weird monstrous children by the one and only Tim Burton. So it was of no surprise to me at all that Tim Burton ended up directing this movie (which is almost a rip-off of his ‘Oyster Boy’ book in part).

So, very briefly, the film is set in Wales of all places and sees young boy Jake (Asa Butterfield) learning about the mysterious school for peculiar children from his grandfather. After his grandfather dies in a very disturbing way Jake travels to Wales to look for the school, following instructions from his grandfather. Jake discovers that the old school was destroyed during WWII, but through a set of mysterious (this word will pop up a lot) circumstances which include a time portal, Jake goes back to 1943. A time when the school was in its prime. Turns out the school and its students all live within an infinite time loop (the same day in 1943), created by Miss Peregrine, where they never age, solely to avoid persecution from the outside world. Jake also learns of monsters called Hollowgasts (disfigured peculiars) led by the evil shapeshifter Mr. Barron (Samuel L. Jackson). These monsters led by Barron hunt down ‘peculiars’ (or ‘Ymbrynes’) for their eyes. They consume the eyes which enable them to retain their powers and human form (which apparently makes them ‘Wights’). Did you get all that??

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So lets take a quick look at the peculiar children (children with paranormal abilities). Now even though society has discriminated against these kids, rejected them out of fear, their powers are clearly of benefit to them. Its the classic narrative, the kids have special powers which are seen as negative in the film, but to you the viewer they come across as actually being really cool. Wouldn’t we all like a special power. And if any of this sounds familiar…yes it is indeed exactly the same notion as Marvels X-Men.

So anyway who’s who. Notably there are characters that clearly play an important role in the movie with their powers, and others that do not. Emma Bloom is aerokinetic, meaning she can manipulate air, breathe under water and she floats because she’s lighter than air oddly. These powers seem pretty useful. Enoch O’Connor can resurrect the dead and make inanimate objects come to life, very useful. Olive Abroholos Elephanta (say what?) is pyrokinetic meaning she’s basically Pyro from the X-Men. Very useful power. Millard Nullings is the invisible boy, say no more, highly useful power. Bronwyn Bruntley is a little girl with superhuman strength, highly useful power. Fiona Frauenfeld can control plant life, so she’s basically Poison Ivy. Reasonably useful power.

The you have Hugh Apiston is a little boy with…umm…bees in his stomach…what now? Pretty bizarre and useless power here methinks. Claire Densmore has a mouth full of razor sharp teeth…on the back of her head. K…errr, whatever. And finally the two very young twins (no names apparently) who are both in fact gorgons. You know, a creature that can turn living things into stone, Medusa. Yeah well these two little terrors can do just that and have to wear masks all the time. Chilling power right there folks.

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So whilst most of this X-Kids team have some pretty sweet special powers that would obviously come in handy in times of peril. Four of them seem utterly useless to me frankly, in fact I wouldn’t even call them paranormal powers but more circus freaks. I get that’s all part of the story but it just comes across as odd that the author would give half the kids solid powers and the other half useless powers, so useless to the point that those characters needn’t even be in the book. Why would shooting bees out of your mouth be of any use unless you lived in a Nintendo platform game.

As for the bad guys, they were all peculiars originally I think (including Mr. Barron who’s power is shapeshifting), but the failed experiment disfigured them. Now they hunt down peculiars for their eyes (yes eyes) because some how that enables them to retain human form. I’m not sure why they are called Hollowgasts though, considering they are merely disfigured peculiars. Not sure why they all look the same or why they look like large demonic Jack Skellington’s? Probably because Tim Burton directed the movie (or maybe they look like that in the book). I’m also not sure why they are referred to as Wights when in human form when again, essentially…they are still peculiars. I dunno, I’m probably getting it wrong. Lets not forget that peculiars are actually called Ymbrynes just to make things even more confusing.

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So aside from the myriad of characters and funny names what is the movie actually like? Well quite frankly its your typical Harry Potter-esque adventure really. I really do hate referring back to Harry Potter but unfortunately that franchise pretty much set the ball rolling for children/young teen book adaptations so its hard not to. But yes in general the fantasy element of the movie along with the children does all seem very familiar these days. Don’t get me wrong its not the exact same kind of fantasy with unicorns and goblins or whatever (in this one movie anyway, unsure about the book), but there are many similar elements involving magic, sorcery, shapeshifting, monsters etc…

Clearly Burton revels in the kids with quirky paranormal powers and of course the visuals. As you would expect the whole movie has that dark twisted fairytale vibe about it, helped by the WWII setting of course. Some of the kids are gaunt looking, slender, dare I say a bit goth with period attire in typical Burton colours. Its not blatant Burton but you can still detect it. The baddies look more Burton-esque as they are generally dressed in black and look more like vampires. Overall not a lot actually happens in the movie action wise, there are obviously some action sequences but nothing much of note. Obligatory sequences where the Hollowgasts attack the kids whilst they try to escape, the predictable showdown at the finale where Barron and co are defeated.

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The whole sequence where they discover a huge sunken ship (ocean liner) and then proceed to raise it seemed a bit ludicrous even for this universe. Sure these kids have weird powers and I mock by mentioning the X-Men but at this point the movie does actually go full X-Men. Then in the finale there is a long battle against some animated skeletons which all seem rather stupid really. How strong were these skeletons geez! There is of course lots of time jumping between 1943 and the present, the setting being the UK does actually give the whole movie a cheaper look which I’m sure wasn’t the idea. Indeed the whole idea that these kids and Miss Peregrine have to live in an infinite time loop just to avoid the general public’s negative opinion of them seemed a bit daft to me. I mean surely you could just live somewhere secluded? Also this specific point in time is just before the school gets destroyed by German planes (WWII remember), so everyday they have to prevent this by winding back time. I mean, couldn’t you just chooses a earlier point in time?

The problem here is I haven’t read the book and like many of these fantasy books there is probably a lot more to it, more books and things that have been cut out. These types of movies always seem to raise so many questions also, questions and confusion. Like, when the Wights have successfully killed all the peculiars and run out of eyes, then what? I mean…I dunno, its not a bad movie, its perfectly entertaining to a degree, but everything is so by the numbers, so mediocre. The visuals are nice but predictable, the acting is fine, the effects are pretty bog standard CGI stuff apart from a nice small sequence of stop motion. The bad guys are spooky looking and generically bad, the Hollowgast monsters are unoriginal looking, a mix of Jack Skellington and [i]Resident Evil[/i] creatures, oh and Tim Burton makes a cameo.

There was a time when a Tim Burton movie meant something, it was almost like an event. Nowadays its more like yet another corny gothic escapade drenched in gaudy CGI. Admittedly this movie isn’t quite as bad as that, its definitely more grounded looking. But with a plot that becomes more convoluted as it goes (all these stupid names), weak humour and very generic villains, its just not really good enough to stand out within a packed genre. Its also clearly unsure in which direction it wants to go, dark fantasy or light-hearted fantasy. I dunno, I still can’t escape my feeling that Burton only made this movie because he liked just one aspect of it, the kids with peculiar powers. That aspect comes across nicely here, I wanted more of that, the rest of it not so much.

6/10

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Pete’s Dragon (2016)

Oh boy! another live action remake/reboot type scenario from Disney, because that’s what we want and need (ugh!). Well at least they took an old forgotten movie which wasn’t really too good, because at least that makes some sense (glances at the movies in the queue awaiting their turn…I feel your pain, I really do).

So the original 1977 movie was a musical with a classic cast and is commonly known to be Disney’s attempt at riding on the coattails of its earlier success ‘Mary Poppins’. Its at this point I will admit that I have never actually seen the 1977 movie of Peter and his dragon, so I cannot compare. Essentially I’m going into this franchise remake/reboot blind which makes a change, primarily because I can’t rip this new version apart compared to the original (bugger).

So the story goes like this. A young boy is orphaned when his family are involved in a car crash whilst driving though the forest, somewhere in the pacific north west I believe. Its at this point that the young Peter accidentally meets a mysterious dragon who decides to take Peter in and care for him, for some reason. Six years later and Peter is found by Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard), a park ranger, her boyfriend Jack (Wes Bentley), Natalie (Oona Laurence), Jack’s daughter, and Gavin (Karl Urban), Jack’s brother. They take Peter in and try to care for him but naturally Peter has difficulties coping without Elliot (Peter named the dragon Elliot after a character in his favourite book). Eventually Elliot the dragon is discovered and captured by Gavin and his work colleges (after tricking Grace). So Grace, Natalie and Pete must help Elliot escape the authorities, long story short.

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So this movie isn’t an original premise, in fact you could look at it as a complete rip-off of a few other genres and ideas. Firstly, this could so easily have been a Steven Spielberg movie, its basically ‘E.T.’ for Pete’s sake (ahem). A young boy finds a mysterious creature, they make friends, they get discovered and the boy must help the creature evade the authorities. Not only that but this movie is set in the 80’s, coincidence? The entire set up of this movie is your standard emotional ride with all the familiar beats that we’ve seen a million times before (usually with animals, aliens or whatever). Kid finds a family, unique friend is an added extra.

Then you have the Tarzan aspect of the film, yes that’s right, Tarzan. The young Pete lives in the forest with Elliot the dragon. He runs around in just some ripped pants, no top, no socks, no shoes, long hair, barefoot, very grubby. Both he and Elliot leap, bound and fly around the forest without a care in the world.

At no point do either of them ever get seen, even when flying through the skies in broad daylight and the fact there’s a lumberjack work crew not so far away, but whatever. When young Pete comes across a young Natalie it might as well be a young Tarzan meeting a young Jane, literally. Its also weird how Pete has seemingly never ever thought about finding help after the car accident. Just ran off into the woods with a large mythical creature, who cares about my folks right.

The funny thing is Elliot the dragon isn’t really in the film all that much. He’s there at the start when we get the Tarzan sequences and he’s there for the climatic finale of course. But for much of the middle section Elliot is not around because we are dealing with Pete and his new family (Grace and Jack who find him). Is that a problem? no, it shouldn’t be, but alas here I do think we needed to see more hijinks with Pete and Elliot. More actual fun happy moments of tomfoolery perhaps.

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The film looks great with its woody setting, small American as apple pie town (with 80’s visage), and the cast act well, but again there are problems. There are too many big names here methinks. Bryce Dallas Howard is perfect as Grace the caring mother type. Wes Bentley is fine as the bearded outdoors father type. Oona Laurence is maybe too good as the daughter who befriends Pete because she simply doesn’t act like a child.

Dunno if Laurence is like this is reality but its like a mature woman trapped in a child’s body, weird. Then you have Karl Urban as the brother who initially seems fine, then becomes the bad guy, but is then forgiven for everything it seems. Urban is too bigger name for this role if you ask me. Maybe they should have swapped Bentley and Urban around, have Urban as the father and Bentley as the brother/baddie (he has that look). But then on top of all that you have Robert Redford shoehorned in as Grace’s father, the old man who knows about the dragon but no one believes (couldn’t get more cliched if you tried).

Bottom line there are too many characters and the movie can’t decide which character you should be following. Considering the movies title is ‘Pete’s Dragon’ you’d think it would focus completely on Pete, well no, no it doesn’t. But that might be a good thing because the kid playing Pete (Oakes Fegley…Oakes??) isn’t that good. His performance just isn’t very compelling. He’s always looking miserable, always pulling a scowling face and looks stupid with the wig. I never really got any kind of fun vibes from him.

Elliot the dragon isn’t the best looking dragon I’ve ever seen to be frank, but it does the job. Obviously the movie is supposed to be a serious take but at times it doesn’t look that way with a daft looking, big green furry dragon that can become invisible. The plot is as old as the hills, its not exactly a fun filled film, its a tad dull, not enough dragon action and there are too many protagonists. OK OK look, this film is fine, its your standard emotional, heart-string tugger with lashings of your standard CGI fluff. Its completely and utterly as safe as houses for the family to watch, no doubt about that. I just think its too safe, literally paint by numbers.

5.5/10

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The BFG (2016)

Now to a British person around my age (30 +), Roald Dahl will mean a great deal. Back in the UK during the 80’s Roald Dahl was huge, probably the most well known and loved children’s story teller around at the time. His stories were virtually legendary for all kids. We read them in school, we read them at home (no internet or much on the home videogame front back then) and we saw them read on TV courtesy of Jackanory on CBBC. ‘The BFG’ was arguably Dahl’s most glorious achievement in this field, but to be blunt, they were all fantastic.

The story is all about a little 10 year old orphan girl (named Sophie) living in London. One night she accidentally sees a giant as he goes about his business. The giant notices the girl and basically kidnaps her, bundling her away to giant country (to protect his existence). In giant country Sophie learns that the BFG catches dreams (in dream country) which allows him to control children’s dreams, making them nice or nightmares. This why the BFG goes into the human realm every night, to give children dreams. Sophie also learns about the bad giants that eat people, a real threat to all humans. The main crux revolves around Sophie and the BFG convincing the Queen to help them capture all the bad giants before they can eat anymore people.

So here we have the big screen adaptation of the beloved classic. The big Hollywood adaptation with flashy effects and A-list stars. We have already been blessed with the Jackanory reading of the story back in 1983 by Bill Oddie which blended narration with still hand drawn imagery perfectly. So did we really need a movie? More to the point, was a live action approach the right approach?

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The first thing that hit me with this movie was how weak the CGI was, at least at first. Its a strange thing but the movie looks like something made for TV for quite some time. Now baring in mind this IS a Steven Spielberg flick I did find that really quite surprising. For around the first 30 minutes or so there is nothing of interest going on both story wise or effects wise, in fact the greenscreen effects are bad in my humble opinion. Its only when you start to see the BFG’s face up close do you fully appreciate the CGI quality on display. So yes as things progress the effects do start to look much better, oddly, although don’t go expecting a visual treat of colour and wonder.

What was impressive, as said, was the detail on the BFG’s face, and other giants. I think they really captured the look of the BFG from the original drawings by Quentin Blake, perfectly. They have nailed the giants scrawny, ragged, wrinkly physical appearance whilst also getting his country bumpkin-esque face right too. That might sound odd but it could of been very easy to get the face wrong, the wrong type of face. It seems they actually modelled the giants face on the actor who voices the BFG, Mark Rylance, I think. You can clearly see a resemblance if you ask me and this shows both good casting and decision making. Using Rylance’s actual face will have clearly helped tremendously in giving the giants face such a realistic, original and quirky appearance, more like a caricature. I noticed they also got the mouth movements/speech pattern of the BFG spot on too. The CGI creation actually looked like it was speaking the dialog whilst Rylance’s vocal tones and accent were also spot on too.

So the visual effects were a mixed bag really, stunning close up details on giant faces but overall its a rather glum looking flick. Not even the sequences in dream country look overly marvellous, but I suppose it does all fit in with the book. Had everything been set in a vomit inducing CGI world much like the recent ‘Alice in Wonderland’ flicks…well that would have been very bad.

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Of course the story is now dated so it kinda seems a bit shallow really, at least compared to some kids stuff these days. The bad giants eat people, but do they do this a lot? often? We don’t actually get much insight into why Sophie decides to try and capture all the giants, other than they are bad and are rumoured to eat people. Sure they ate a previous child that the BFG was friends with but there isn’t really any evidence of much else. Its also very cutesy how the duo are able to get close to Buckingham Palace and the Queens window (a giant not getting seen??). All the typical British character stereotypes such as the stuffy military officers, the cliched British kinks and quirks such as what they eat with the Queen, attire and accents. But again its all part of the book, the time it was written is obviously a big part of the story thusly things are out of time.

I think the movie is pretty faithful to the original book and it does well in bringing everything across to be fair. Although overall the movie has clearly been lightened up somewhat because believe it or not but Dahl’s stories are actually pretty dark. This is why they were always so popular with kids, the fact that his stories were a bit gruesome and twisted (a modern equivalent of the Grimm fairy tales perhaps). Interestingly Spielberg did feel the need to include the tragic backstory for the BFG which surrounded the previous child that got eaten. This is not in the book but is actually just as dark as other bits of content, so it does question why some things were lightened up whilst this was added. The entire notion of different humans from different parts of the world tasting differently is totally gone. I can see how that might have triggered some types in this modern age (groan!!). Also the ending has been changed quite a bit from the book, although, I do actually feel the movies conclusion for the bad giants is actually better than the book. Quite frankly the books ending for the giants is ridiculous.

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So despite this being an all American affair I do believe they did capture the olde worlde, whimsical British atmosphere to a tee. I think the casting was very good (Ruby Barnhill as the chirpy Sophie especially), the voice work was very good and the effects were good in part. I think the general problem here was the stories lack of bite because they watered it down, plus the fact it generally didn’t really feel all that thrilling. Maybe its because I know the tale and I’m an adult, I’m sure kids will enjoy this…I would think, but I could be wrong. In all honesty when watching this classic Dahl story as a full movie you do notice how light on plot the story actually is. Its very basic (obviously as it was for kids) and relies heavily on the quaintness of merry old England (in the 80’s), the movie that is not the book.

All in all I was kinda expecting a timeless journey of wonder and excitement…but it just felt lacklustre, a bit drab. I’m not a fan of all things being CGI even though it might look very good (in part). I dunno, I just get the feeling this could of looked and felt so much more fantabulous had it been created with stop motion animation (think ‘James and the Giant Peach’), or maybe hand drawn animation. You really can lose that special magical spark with something like this and CGI if you ask me, not always of course. Anyway, ’tis a fine family adventure for sure, but I think it could/should of been better.

6.5/10

Blackbeard’s Ghost (1968)

So back in the day, the good old days, when I was but a mere nipper, this was one of those movies that would pop up on telly during a lazy Bank Holiday afternoon or maybe over Christmas. It was one of those old flicks that despite loving it, I don’t think I ever actually saw it all the way through for quite some time, for various childhood related reasons. It was only when I was a tad older that I actually managed to sit down and watch it from beginning to end and realised I still loved it. The other amazing thing about this movie is how underrated it is, how little is known about it and how completely forgotten it is. You literally never hear anyone mention this movie like…ever! This is also even more surprising considering the cast involved and the fact that Walt Disney legend Robert Stevenson directed this!

So the gist of the movie is thus. New coach Steve Walker (Dean Jones) arrives at the sleepy old coastal town of Godolphin, Maryland, to take charge of the colleges track team (I presume the town is called Godolphin as that’s what the college is called). The last coach ran off under odd circumstances so the locals hope the new guy will settle in OK. Walker stays at the local hotel (or inn) called Blackbeard’s Inn which just so happens to be made up of old bits of ships that got shipwrecked in the local bay. Not sure how old these ships are meant to be exactly but judging by the exterior visage they appear to be old galleons! One must ask oneself about health and safety if that is the case. Anyway this old Inn is naturally haunted by the ghost of Scrooge…I mean Blackbeard, you know cos the title of the movie.

Walker accidentally summons said ghost after he accidentally discovers an old page of magic spells from within an antique bed warmer (long story cut short). Said bed warmer was the property of Blackbeard’s wife (Aldetha) whom he had burnt at the stake for being a witch (twas common practice back then). Thusly his wife had put a curse on old Blackbeard to remain in limbo after death until he perfects a good deed. So Walker finds himself tied at the hip to old Blackbeard because of the curse, this being even more troublesome for Walker as old Blackbeard is a stinky drunk. They must now help each other so they can be rid of each other. This results in Blackbeard turning his attention to Walker’s track team and eventually (in a sort of subplot) trying to save the old inn from a slimy, casino owning, two-bit hood and his thugs. Silky wants to tear down the old inn and build a new casino in its place. The inn’s elderly owners have a time limit to pay off the remaining mortgage.

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Now first off I will mention that this movie is actually based on a novel of the same name by Ben Stahl, never knew that myself. Anyway lets start with a brief look at the cast for this movie. First off we have the Walt Disney stalwart Dean Jones who began his Disney run of fortune in the 1965 picture ‘That Darn Cat!’. Jones was apparently so well received in this film that Walt Disney signed him on for a whole string of his movies. The fourth movie in that run was this supernatural kids comedy. Jones plays this kind, gentle but firm track coach who simply won’t stand for any nonsense. He’s high on morals, firm on principles and a stickler for discipline. Now to be truthful I never actually liked Jones in this movie, not because he’s wrong for the part or anything, but because his character is such an arse. This Walker is guy is fine at first but as soon as he unleashed Blackbeard he turns into this grumpy, rude, gruff, almost petulant adult that’s virtually impossible to get behind. OK sure he’s supposed to be having a rough time and Blackbeard is annoying and drunk for the most part, but surely anyone could see the benefits of having a ghost covering your back. Then there’s the fun aspect of being friends with a ghost and the things you could learn, its literally a win win situation.

But no, all Walker can think about are his morals and principles whilst constantly yelling at poor old Blackbeard. There were honestly times when I just wanted to slap Walker across the face and tell him lighten the f*ck up, you have a spiritual pirate at your side for Christ’s sake! that’s awesome! Even when Blackbeard shows how useful he can be Walker still won’t have any of it, he still shuns the ghost and refuses to let him help. I mean OK, Blackbeard does get him arrested for drunk driving which nearly costs Walker his job, he steals vital mortgage payment money for the inn to bet on the Godolphin track team, and nearly loses Walker his bird. But each time everything works out alright proving the massive advantage of having Blackbeard around…if admittedly risky at the same time. Thing is it takes almost the entire movie for Walker to get on board with Blackbeard which kinda stifles the fun at some points. In short Walker is a real curmudgeon.

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On the flip side old Blackbeard is a wonderful character and that is fantastically portrayed by the epic Peter Ustinov. If there was ever one man who could make you wanna be a pirate and sail the seven seas, be it as a child or as an adult, it was Ustinov as Blackbeard. Yes you can keep your Jack Sparrow’s and such, Ustinov’s Blackbeard was brilliant and an absolute hoot for all ages. Ustinov plays Blackbeard (presumably going by the book) as a jolly, quite open minded, persistent, opportunistic pirate that likes a good drink…of anything. What I loved about his performance was the way he could change from being quite serious and rugged to chirpy and cheerful in the blink of an eye, whilst all the while being completely agreeable for the kids. Its also a joy to watch all the little quirks and jabs that Ustinov injects into the character. There are moments when he’s actually genuinely funny as he mocks Walker or another characters. His physical comedy is spot on which is accentuated by his rather tubby appearance. The way he prances around in his pirate costume is just an amusing sight, his facial expressions, the pitch of his voice, hell even his facial hair is kinda funny to look at. Although upon reflection, old Blackbeard doesn’t really come across as amazed by the present day and all its technological wonders. Has he been summoned from the grave previously?

What manner of craft be this we’re cruisin’ in?

Of course I fully understand why the character of Walker is supposed to be the way he is, its so he can work off the character of Blackbeard. They are both essentially incompatible but Blackbeard is Walkers foil. Nevertheless I still find it hard to like Walker because he is so damn moody all the time, add to that the rather annoying portrayal of Walkers love interest played by Suzanne Pleshette. Sure she looks cute but my God her voice! Luckily the bad guys in this quirky little flick are great stuff, top banana. The shady casino owner, perfectly named Silky Seymour (Joby Baker), was so damn slimy, slithery, creepy and sly he made you itch. At the same time his little band of thugs looked like they’d all stepped out of a Chuck Jones directed Bugs Bunny cartoon, or a Dick Tracy comic strip. None of them were particularly funny or anything, they were just perfectly cast from a visual standpoint with Joby Baker sounding shifty to boot.

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When it comes to the effects this movie is pretty basic, you’re not gonna see anything mind blowing here folks. Obviously much of what you see is on sets, clear as day sets, but they still look atmospheric enough. Some sets such as Seymour’s restaurant do look bizarrely fake compared to the others, which is odd it has to be said, its like they ran out of money and room. The track event also looked dubiously like it was shot on an interior set, which it probably was. Costumes and props are all acceptable and again, like the sets, successfully immerse you in the story. Naturally Blackbeard’s bedroom and the old inn look the most atmospheric and eerie. As for the actual ghostly effects its pretty much a case of wire work and old fashioned tricks of the trade. Anything floating was done so with wires, backgrounds were expanded with matte paintings, fog machines utilised, acrobatic work from various stuntmen, and some good pretend acting from Jones and Ustinov.

As for action and adventure its a mixed bag really. There isn’t any action so to speak but more large scale incidents if you will. There is an amusing little sequence where Blackbeard commandeers Walker’s car and they end up getting chased by a cop on a bike. This eventually ends up with a riderless ‘ghost bike’ (Blackbeard riding it but the cop obviously doesn’t see him) chasing the cop. Yet despite all the kooky events the cop still does Walker for drink driving. The main event of the movie is the big track meet where Walker must try and get a result out of the Godolphin team who are made up of a bunch of wimps and losers. This is where we really see Blackbeard come into his own with his supernatural assistance. As a kid I used to love this part in the film and its still engaging no doubt, but boy are those effects looking rusty these days. The sped up footage for certain trick shots look especially dreadful. The final major bit of action would be Walker and Blackbeard going to Silky’s place to get back the money Silky refused to pay out on the bet Blackbeard put down on Godolphin to win the track meet…phew! This basically involves a whole load of cartoonish tomfoolery on wires as an invisible pirate beats up the two-bit thugs. Again back in the day I loved it, these days its looking a bit worse for wear.

So does this Disney gem still hold up? Well yes and no. As said whilst many of the effects are still quite cool to see and work well, many do not and look pretty awful. But the whole film does also have that wonderfully bright and vivid look to it down to the good old 60’s technicolour system, always pleasant to see. The acting is generally fine all round but clearly the film is kept afloat by Ustinov as Blackbeard, without him this could of been quite drab methinks. The plot chugs along nicely, its fun and engaging but admittedly looking back, there are a lot of childish moments in there that I can’t really complain about now because, after all, this is a Disney movie for kids. Unfortunately they do slightly hamper my enjoyment now. The slapstick factor is high, the cornball routine is very evident and the formula wasn’t too original for the time (after various other similar projects), but despite all that the movie is still very enjoyable for all the family. I would say if you’re a fan of a certain Johnny Depp franchise you might actually get a kick outta this as it could be seen as a slight precursor.

7.5/10

Money…Oh! The odd flimsy I removed from the pocketbook of your book-ish wench.

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