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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4/10

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Underworld: Blood Wars (2016)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3.5/10

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 Fabulous World of Jules Verne (aka Vynález Zkázy, CZ, 1958)

This black and white film is based on several books by Jules Verne but primarily his 1896 book Facing the Flag. The basic hook of this film being the unique approach to the special effects by director Karel Zeman.

The plot sees a gang of pirates kidnapping a professor so they can get their hands on his new invention. Said invention being a powerful new weapon combined with special liquid which they want to use for their piracy. The pirates manage to kidnap the professor and one of his assistants and take them to their hidden base (inside a large remote hollow island). There the pirates provide everything the professor needs to build his weapon. In the meantime the assistant manages to get word to the outside world eventually leading to a British fleet arriving to deal with the pirates.

The combination of live action and various forms of animation and effects were the way Zeman created his vision. Although this was not the first time he had taken this approach for his work. Zeman’s 1955 film ‘Journey to the Beginning of Time’ also used a combination of live action, animation and hand drawn elements. The animation and effects in question for this film were stop motion animation, matte painting, miniatures, three-dimensional props and texture superimposition.

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Indeed the visuals in this film are quite astounding to say the least. I reckon most would be amazed to know this film was made back in 1958 as it could easily be a modern movie. Its not too hard to imagine Tim Burton being the director behind this feature with its steampunk imagery. Yes that’s right I did say steampunk, this film could well be the first introduction of the popular Victorian steampunk/gothic subgenre (inspired by 19th century industrialism). If you take the visuals from Disney’s 1954 movie ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’, put them in black and white, and then add the artistic style of using parallel lines (almost like cross-hatching with ink) across all props and sets, you have an idea if what to expect here.

The stark parallel line imagery was in fact Zeman’s attempt at recreating the old Victorian line engravings that were featured in the original Verne novels. This style actually works wonders in giving everything a very detailed and used appearance. The whole world we see in the film looks worn and weather beaten, as opposed to looking shiny and new. A technique we all know has been used effectively by a few directors and their movies in years since. The technique also gives the imagery depth and a grand old fashioned vibe which admittedly predominantly comes from when the film was made. Altogether it makes the whole affair look like a living comicbook or moving picture book.

To be honest the film does come across as more of a living comicbook than a movie really. All you get is basically one scene after another showcasing a piece of machinery, or a vehicle, or a landscape etc…Its literally like watching panels in a comicbook one after another. There is very little dialog, sometimes narration, and sometimes nothing other than the moving imagery and the noise it makes. At times its almost like a silent picture but with fantastic visuals. I really can’t stress enough how stunning this film looks at times. Sure some of the shots look a bit shaky, some look almost too much like an illustration, and in some the stop motion is pretty jerky. On the flip side some shots with live action elements are remarkable because you can’t see the joins! The blend of the actors against moving three-dimensional props and background/foreground mattes, or drawings, is flawless. Overall considering the age of this movie what they achieved is incredible.

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Of course being a film based on Jules Verne you can’t not have underwater sequences with the inevitable attacking giant squid. Its these sequences which mainly make up the most impressive and fantastical visual elements of the film. The imagination shown in these sequences is spectacular and have clearly helped inspire other filmmakers. Watching the various oddly shaped submarines (some with flipper-like paddles) and personal underwater pedal bike things, which the deep sea divers use, is glorious. I could feel my mind being cracked open…letting my imagination escape and run free. Apart from the slightly dated stop motion animation these sequences also highlighted some little errors which were amusing. Such as the divers moving perfectly normally underwater using their weapons normally. Also one sequence where a sub manages to find and pick up the hero from the seabed seemed a bit fortuitous and ludicrous. All in all its still impressive how they managed to convey the deep sea with mere sets, hand drawn props and a slightly wavy blur effect across the whole image.

With a story based around pirates, mysterious islands, nautical swashbuckling, Nemo-like machinery and dashing Victorians in uniform, what more could anyone want? Beautifully lavish visuals that have clearly been given tonnes of attention; Zeman seems to have been a perfectionist for sure. The final results are clear to see. The plot may be thin on the ground but for anyone who appreciates the art form of stop motion animation along with ingenious high fantasy imagery, then this is for you.

9/10

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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

The Neptune Factor (1973)

OK let me just start by saying, this films opening credits sequence looks so cool. The way they have rendered the movies title, text and colour wise, is super sweet. I realise this is a minor thing but I notice these little things and this just looked nice to me, kudos.

Anyway so what the heck is this all about? The title could be mistaken for a hardcore fantasy flick or a hardcore space set sci-fi flick. It is in fact a sci-fi movie all about deep sea exploration and research, dare I say a kind of very early version of ‘The Abyss’…kinda. But don’t get too excited because this movie isn’t that awesome. The plot is set deep deep beneath the ocean waves (Off Nova Scotia, north Atlantic) where a small team of scientists research undersea earthquakes. Ironically the undersea lab they are all living in gets hits by an earthquake which sends the lab tumbling down a deep ocean trench. Luckily just before this happened a few team members were leaving the lab for their leave, so now they must go back down to try and save the remaining stranded team members. Time is of the essence.

So this is an early 70’s movie and boy can you tell. All the blokes look like amateur porn stars and their hair is…lets just say dated. Its really quite amusing to see all these blokes clearly with receding hairlines but trying their best to pretend otherwise. But the women don’t get off that easy either, its quite hilarious to watch Yvette Mimieux’s hair change from scene to scene. She clearly has curly/wavy hair and has it straightened here, so in one scene you can see its been straightened (with the usual static electricity side effects). Then in the same scene but seconds later it might be all over the place as if someone just ruffed it all up.

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The technology is also fun to observe, indeed its incredible to think we could do such things back then with such outrageously dated equipment (same with the moon landing). The small submarine the team use looks quite agreeable, in other words it looks like what you’d expect a small deep sea sub to look like these days, but chunkier. Its all the internal controls which makes you smile, the array of big coloured buttons, huge metal gear-like controls and levers, massively dated VHS looking recording equipment and monitors etc…Its all so corny looking but also so heartwarming. Of course much of it may be pure fantasy and artistic license, I don’t know what the cockpit of a deep sea sub would look like so….

But here’s the thing, from the start of this movie you kinda assume its gonna be a realistic take on deep sea research. Apparently producer Sanford Howard did a lot of research himself to try and show a highly realistic vision of oceanographic research, aquanauts and the danger they encounter. For the most part this all goes well…right up to the point when they go down the deep sea trench and discover gigantic monster sized fish, anemones, crustaceans etc…All of a sudden we go from a pretty technical looking flick with real threats and real science, to an all out fantasy flick with giant crabs. Worth mentioning the fish are actually tropical yet the ocean is the Atlantic, hmmm. The crew do mention the bottom of the trench being warmed by undersea volcanoes though, but still, hmmm.

Truth be told this was a lifeline for the movie because up until that point everything had been going pretty slowly. But do the various giant sea entities help matters? Well again not really because nothing actually happens. They go down the trench, they encounter giant creatures, watch them through their viewport and that’s it. The giant fish merely swim past or have a nose, the crabs and lobster merely walk around, sea anemones react as they do and that’s it. One crab does try to push the sub around a bit, as does a fish, and apart from losing power for a short time that’s about the height of the excitement you get folks. Don’t get me wrong its still kinda fun in a cheesy, Doug McClure kinda way, but its also underwhelming. Really wanted someone to venture outside and get eaten.

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Effects wise its a mixed bag. All the internal sub sets and gear looks really good, very authentic. The equipment the crew use, their outfits, terminology, the oceanlab, ships on the surface etc…its all spot for the time. They do in fact use real minisubs, ships, cranes, undersea labs etc…its all real footage and at the start they clearly shot underwater for a time (using stunt doubles). As the movie proceeds underwater for the exploration things continue to look good within the minisub, I have no complaints here. Apart from the obviously dated equipment it all looks really neat and nicely claustrophobic. The problems start when the crew discover the giant sea creatures, which are actually real creatures not made up monsters (alas). All they have done here is shoot real footage of real creatures and fish, then blown up that footage and used rear projection against the actors to give the impression the fish are huge. At the same time they also used small models of the minisub against real sized fish which looked so flippin’ cute. Remember when you’d put little toys into your goldfish tank…there you go.

Another major issue I had with the movie is how the oceanlab got to its final resting place in the deep sea trench. There was an earthquake and we see the lab topple down the side of the trench, OK. So the lab will presumably just go straight down and crash at the bottom, supposedly implode too it was mentioned but that never happens for some reason. When the minisub ventures down into the trench the crew discover an undersea world, they’re travelling for quite some distance along this trench floor apparently. When they eventually find the lab it feels like they’ve being searching for miles and miles, so how did the lab somehow go all this way? Also when they find the lab the survivors are outside fighting giant eels…but but the pressure??

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The movies poster is epic, it drew me in, I knew I had to see this. Alas the movie doesn’t quite live up to said poster, something I have grown accustomed to with these old movies. But nevertheless the movie is still a fun time it must be said. Part of this is down to the hilarious performances from the cast. Ben Gazzara’s over acting as he tries his very best to be this tough, macho, über cool, smooth talkin’ deep voiced sub Commander. I haven’t seen anyone try to look so cool in front of the camera for some time, loved it. Then of course we’ve got the legendary Ernest Borgnine as one of the oceanlab crew, a chief diver. What can I say? The man is epic, he looks his usual gruff self and what’s left of his hair literally goes everywhere when its wet, brilliant stuff. I just adore how bad hair was back in the 70’s. Naturally you can’t have an adventure movie without a bit of young totty to show off, hence Yvette Mimieux and her flowing locks.

If you like classics like ‘Fantastic Voyage’ then this movie will be right up your particular alley of enjoyment. Yes it might be hokey as hell, kinda lethargic and the threats aren’t really that threatening. Yes you aren’t gonna feel that much tension or excitement with this movie, but its still a good old fashioned romp.

6.5/10

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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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