Saturday, 16 November 2013

The Underrated

First in a series where I re-examine films I feel to be unfairly maligned or forgotten. Warning: There will be spoilers. First up-

Deep Rising (1998)
Director: Stephen Sommers
Cast: Treat Williams, Famke Janssen, Anthony Heald, Kevin J O'Connor, Wes Studi

"Now, what????"

Way back in early 1998, I got a VHS tape (yup.....a VHS tape) free with an issue of  a popular British film magazine. On this tape was a collection of trailers for films due to be released that year and two of them caught my eye for different reasons. The first was a teaser trailer for the US remake of Godzilla, you know the one, with the older gentleman fishing and catching an unexpected bite. I thought it looked awesome and I couldn't wait to see it which is more than could be said for the second trailer for a horror film called Deep Rising. It looked awful and I decided to give it a miss, which I did for a few years. Fast-forward 15 years and if you asked me which film was the better of the two I wouldn't hesitate to say the one that features underwater creatures terrorising an Ocean Liner.
Deep Rising, while not a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, is just such a fun little film with a very simple premise. A group of mercenaries hire Finnegan (Williams), his ship and crew to take them far into the ocean where a cruise ship will be. They plan (unbeknownst to Finnegan) to rob the cruise ship and steal the priceless jewels and such that it is carrying. When they get to the ship which has stopped (due to an inside man) they board, not knowing that underwater tentacled man-eating sea creatures have attacked and killed most of the people on board. They find Trillian (Janssen) who was imprisoned in the freezer by the Captain for attempting to steal the jewels herself and together they try to escape the ship and the slippery beasts that has made it their new home....
The only R rated movie to date by director Sommers, the film has its fair share of blood and gore without going too far (it is rated 15 in the UK) but it also has plenty of humour. Performance-wise, the film varies, Williams is good as the smart-ass heroic dude and Janssen plays a character that proves to be tougher than some of the 'bad-ass' mercenaries. It all culminates in a rather cheeky ending that leads to a sequel that never happened.  I am pretty sure Sommers never actually planned on an follow-up at the time, it was just the ending he wanted, and it's pretty awesome.
A great little monster B-movie with a game cast, fun characters and its tongue firmly lodged in its cheek, I'd recommend this more than I would that other monster movie released the same year....

Monday, 26 August 2013

Things I've Learned From DVD Commentaries 5

Film: Home Alone
Commentators: Chris Columbus (Director), Macaulay Culkin (Actor)

Columbus wasn't sure that he wanted to direct a film again as he had just suffered a major flop with Heartbreak Hotel.
Columbus tried hard to make the film look as festive as possible, in the opening scenes. A lot of characters are wearing red and/or green clothes and parts of the house is decorated in said colours.
Some of the adult cast, especially Joe Pesci and John Heard, weren't happy making the film or with the fact that a child was top-billed.
The film was made for $18 million, which is pretty cheap.
Since Culkin has the most screen-time and therefore had the most work to do, Columbus filmed the opening scenes without his lead child star as much as possible. Culkin even filmed some of his sides wthout the other actors.
Bruce Broughton was the original composer of the film but had to drop out and was replaced by John Williams. There were early posters produced to advertise the film that credited Broughton as composer.
Culkin really likes to laugh at his own jokes.
In the scene where Kevin is scared by the furnace, Columbus initially wanted a CG furnace to get up and chase the kid but it was too expensive. Thankfully.
For the bit where Kevin mocks a photo of his brother's girlfriend, Columbus didn't have the heart to insult an actual girl for her looks so it is actually a boy in drag.
Daniel Stern was the director's first choice to play Marv but the studio didn't want him. Another (unnamed) actor was cast but he lacked chemistry with Pesci and wasn't as quick with the improvisations. He was let go and Stern was hired.
The sledge used by Culkin in the film is in the office of Columbus, signed by the cast.
Angela Goethals who played one of Kevin's sisters also played Culkin's sister in Rocket Gibraltar, two years before. It was Culkin's first film.
Columbus and Culkin admit that Kevin screaming while putting on aftershave makes no sense as he doesn't actually shave.
Columbus loved John Candy to pieces.
Home Alone was number 1 in the US for two months.
While waiting for filming to continue during the Church scene, Culkin fell asleep in the pews.
There was a plan to film HA2 and 3 back to back as John Hughes had an idea for part 3 but the Studio said no.
Columbus praises the stunt doubles of Stern and Pesci no end as they did the flips and falls for real with very little protection.
When the spider is placed on Daniel Stern's face, he is miming screaming as they didn't want to scare the spider.
Mel Torme re-recorded 'Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas' for the film.
The scene where John Candy talks about bad parents to Catherine O'Hara was completely improvised by the actors.
Culkin has a really good memory.

The Purge (2013) review

Director: James DeMonaco                Screenwriter: James DeMonaco
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Max Burkholder, Adelaide Kane, Edwin Hodge, Rhys Wakefield.

Plot: It is 2022 and America is a better place, crime is down and everyone is happy. This is because once a year, the Government allows residents to partake in the Purge, 12 hours where anyone can do whatever they want without the fear of prosecution. Including murder. The Sandin family, who refuse to take part, sit at home watching the Purge on their TV and on their CCTV monitors. Things spiral out of control when young Charlie Sandin lets in a distressed stranger.....

Review: Cast your minds back a few months when the trailers for The Purge hit the interwebs and the general consensus that the premise is so dumb? Well, the film has been and gone so now it is time to assess it and consider whether the premise is still dumb or not? The answer is- of course it bloody is, it's a stupid idea for a film. Does The Purge pull it off? No, not quite, it tries to have it both ways. It tries to have a premise that is slightly futuristic but sets it only 9 years from now. I know the world isn't perfect but this is going overboard. Anyway, to the film itself, it is slight and despite what it promises, very little actually happens. The problem is the setting, despite the fact that the idea of the Purge is stupid, it is still quite an intriguing idea in a b-movie sort of way. There is potential for some scares and violence here but instead we get a slightly limp home invasion movie. There are things to like, though, the protagonists wear freaky masks and with the exception of the leader, do so throughout which adds a nice air of creepiness but it's never quite scary enough.
Performance-wise, Edwin Hodge plays intimidating while scared for his life well and Rhys Wakefield creepily grins his way throughout the film as the chief bad guy but the rest are pretty forgettable. Even the usually reliable Headey has the thankless role of the scared wife and very rarely shows the toughness we've seen from her elsewhere. Ethan Hawke (returning for DeMonaco who wrote the remake of Assault on Precinct 13 remake Hawke starred in) plays practically the same role we've seen from him before but this time, the dialogue just isn't good enough for what he does.

Conclusion: The Purge thinks it is far more clever than it actually is and despite its premise it doesn't really say anything. Despite my gripes, I don't hate the film, it passed some time and its success means we're getting a sequel. Maybe they'll do better next time?


Friday, 23 August 2013

R.I.P.D (2013) Review

Director: Robert Schwentke                                          Screenwriters: Phil Hay, Matt Manfredi
Cast: Jeff Bridges, Ryan Reynolds, Kevin Bacon, Mary-Louise Parker, Stephanie Szostak, James Hong

Story: A Boston cop killed by his dastardly partner is given the opportunity to join the Rest In Police Department which hunts down the undead on earth. He is partnered up with Roy, an old school cowboy and together they investigate some stolen gold. 

Review: Based on a comic book, written by Peter M. Lenkov, R.I.P.D is already one of the year's box office bombs despite only being out for a few weeks. Is that fair? Not really, while the film is certainly nothing new, it is not the stinker some would have you believe. The comic, created in 2001, already had a Men In Black vibe, which is fine in comic form but the fact that we've now had three MIB films, lends to that sense of deja vu. Nevertheless the film is fun enough, Jeff Bridges especially seems to having a ball playing a part  he essentially played before in True Grit. As a Ryan Reynolds fan and apologist, I pretty much watch anything he is in, in the hope that the dude finally gets the franchise he is apparently looking for. This won't do it for him, but he is pretty good here as the dry witted fish out of water. It won't win any awards (and hopefully not even any Razzies) but at just over 90 minutes there are worst ways to spend your time.

Conclusion: Yes, you have seen a lot of this before but that doesn't mean it is bad. A Fun cast, some witty moments, and some good action, the film is inoffensive. Not awful, not great.  I know I am alone in this but the film didn't want to make me claw my own eyes out which is good enough in my book. Especially with this year's movies....


(it's a low 3, I don't do .5's)

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Things I've Learned From DVD Commentaries 4

Film: Ghostbusters (1984)
Commentators: Ivan Reitman (Director), Harold Ramis (Writer/Actor), Joe Medjuck (Producer)

The library at the start of the film was the real New York public library but when the woman walks down the stairs, she is actually in the Los Angeles library.
The Ghostbusters are broken down like this: Egon- the brains, Ray- the heart and Peter- the mouth. Bill Murray, unsurprisingly was the most like his character.
The original script was written by Dan Aykroyd for himself and John Belushi. It was set in the future and it was not an origin story. Belushi passed away before they started filming.
The interior of the firehouse was an abandoned one in L.A. but the exterior was one in New York that was still in use.
Sigourney Weaver wanted to be in a comedy so much she auditioned as a dog in preparation for the last act of the film.
The part of Louis Tully was written for John Candy but he wanted to play the character as a German. He eventually pulled out of the role as he apparently couldn't get a grasp of the character.
Dan Aykroyd collects fire trucks and police cars in real life. Ones no longer in use, I assume, don't think he just nicks them off the street. I doubt vehicles are his Heroin.
Bill Murray complained a lot.
Slimer was referred to as the ghost of John Belushi.
During the montage scene, a dude walks behind a reporter while looking at the camera. He was a real dude, not a paid extra. Plus, the part where the Ghostbusters are chased in Rockefeller Centre was real as they didn't have permission to film there. Which is quite amusing.
William Atherton got abuse for years off people in the street yelling 'dickless' at him.
The scene in which Dana levitates had to be shot twice as there was a dude sitting in the chair of the bedroom set in the first take.
Egon Spengler was described, in the original script, as a 'new age Mr Spock'.
Listening to this commentary makes me want to switch it off and watch the film.
When Harold Ramis is name-dropping the cast of Airheads (in which he cameod) he wrongly calls Brendan Fraser, Duncan Fraser.
The best review the film got, according to the commentators, was that it's like a perfectly told joke. Couldn't have put it better myself. Honestly, I couldn't, I'm not that clever.
The last line of the commentary is 'we had a secretary?'

Monday, 19 August 2013

My Top Twelve 80s TV Theme Tunes (Live Action) Part Duex

6. Hill Street Blues (1981)
Composed by Mike Post
An iconic cop show needs an iconic theme tune and Mike Post delivers with this, frankly, lovely track. I'm not overly familiar with the show, although I did see some when I was a kid, but I absolutely adore the theme. One of those ones I recognise right away.


5. Miami Vice (1984)
Composed by Jan Hammer
What can you say about Miami Vice?'s about two cops, one has an alligator called Elvis and never wears socks and the other dude was there too. True, the show was pretty groundbreaking for its time, dealing with difficult subjects more harshly than had been seen before. It made a star out of Don Johnson and the other dude was there....blah blah. The real star, though, was composer Jan Hammer who got number one singles and albums with his score for the first few seasons.

4. The A-Team (1983)
Composed by Mike Post and Pete Carpenter
One of the most loved yet ridiculed shows of the 1980s also has one of the most loved yet overused themes of the decade. I still love both show and theme, though, both made the 80s bearable. The show is still daft fun today and while it is action packed it is very tame in regards to actual violence. Guns are fired, things go 'boom' but nobody actually dies (save a couple of people who were killed off for story purposes). And Mr T is a legend.

3. Magnum P.I. (1980)
Composed by Mike Post
Another popular and well-known theme but interestingly, it wasn't the first theme tune of the show. For the first half of season one, a different, less memorable theme was composed by Ian Feebairn-Smith. From episode 12 onwards, we got the more catchy, less 70s influenced Mike Post composition. The show itself lasted for 8 seasons (keeping the exact same four man cast throughout) and is regarded as a rare show that never 'jumped the shark'. And it still holds up today, smart, witty and a bit goofy, a bit like its title character.

2. The Equalizer (1985)
Composed by Stewart Copeland
Graduating from the band The Police, Stewart Copeland decided to try his hand at score composing. After his first major movie gig, Rumble Fish, Copeland moved to TV where he scored most episodes of this tough, gritty revenge series. As with most TV shows of the past, a big screen remake is in the works starring Denzel Washington but if you ask me, that is the wong choice. The Equalizer works better if he doesn't look like he can kick your arse. Edward Woodward, small frumpy English dude, has that, big imposing Denzel, does not.

1. Quantum Leap (1989)
Composed by Mike Post
One of my favourite shows of all time and one that just makes this list, date-wise. I like to think watching Quantum Leap changed me, growing up. Seeing heroic Sam Beckett leap through time, helping other people, being other people, educated me me in some respects. This was a man who was good, through and through, who deplored bigotry of any kind and often experienced it when he would become a person of colour or a woman. I wanted to be Sam Beckett and I figured the best way to do that was to be tolerant to others and to never judge anyone by their sexuality, gender or colour of their skin. Oh, and Mike Post's theme tune is great, shame it got bastardized for the show's fifth and final season.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Things I've learned From DVD Commentaries 3

Film: Gremlins (1984)
Commentators: Joe Dante (Director), Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Dick Miller (Actors), Howie Mandell (Voice of Gizmo)

Hoyt Axton (who plays Billy's dad) was also a composer as was his mother who co-wrote the Elvis hit, Heartbreak Hotel.
Actor Pat Hingle almost got the part of the dad as his audition was great. However, the way he played it apparently didn't really sit well with the rest of the film.
Keye Luke (Gizmo's owner) played Number One Son in a series of Charlie Chan movies in the 30s. He also voiced Chan himself in the Hanna-Barbera series Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan.
When Gizmo sings, it is not Mandell, it's a little girl who was a member of composer Jerry Goldsmith's congregation.
Mandell got the job thanks to the mighty Frank Welker who was the voice of Stripe.
Dante is fully aware of the fact that the three rules make no sense and was more than happy to mock them in the sequel.
The older gentleman in the bar who comments on Billy's drawing is animation legend Chuck Jones.
Emilio Estevez almost got the part of Billy.
Joe Dante is a name-dropper.
The original script was more horror orientated. In Columbus' original script, the Gremlins killed the dog and Billy's mum.
Gremlins opened on the same day as Ghostbusters in America, must have been a great day.
When Billy is following Stripe through the snow, he is walking on real ice as they couldn't make the Gremlin tracks on anything else.
There is only one stop motion animation scene in the entire film. It is the scene where we see all the Grlemins together, walking in the street.
All the lines of the Gremlins were improvised by the actors as no dialogue was written for them.
The studio wanted to cut the now infamous scene where Kate talks about her dead dad. Dante loved it, though and was determined to keep it in.
Billy was supposed to save the day by opening the blind to kill Stripe with sunlight and they even filmed it that way. Steven Spielberg, however, wanted Gizmo to be the hero of the piece so it was re-shot that he opened the blind. If you look closely, however, you can see still see Billy at the cord of the blind which was from the original ending.
Dick Miller, who had been silent for the majority of the commentary gets a huge laugh from his fellow commentators when he starts to tell a story just as the final credits end.

Friday, 26 July 2013

The World's End Review (minor spoilers)

Warning: In this review, I give my opinion on the ending without giving it away. I class this as minor spoilers

Director: Edgar Wright                  Screenwriters: Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg
Cast: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan, Rosamund Pike

Plot: Five middle aged men try to conquer the mother of all pub crawls, which they failed to do in their youth. On returning to their home town, however, they discover something is wrong, when the residents start acting odd. As though they have been replaced by robots. Spoiler, they have.

Review: The comedy trio of Pegg/Wright/Frost reunite for the final film in their 'Cornetto' trilogy. Pegg plays Gary King, a total dickhead who is constantly trying to be a teenager and in a reversal of the previous films, Frost plays his straight man ex-best friend, Andy. And within that sentence lies on of my problems- Pegg's character is completely annoying throughout the entire film to the point where his constant joking negates some supposedly serious moments. Character-wise, the other actors fare better, with Frost, especially, upping his game and even proves himself to be a bit of an action hero. Which actually leads me nicely into what I did like about it, the fight scenes are fun, shot in that kinetic Edgar Wright style but well enough that you can tell what is happening. Also, the film is funny and although a lot of Pegg mugging and falling about only goes so far,  it has enough one-liners to keep you chuckling along. Finally, I liked the way they subvert your expectations a little regarding the character of Sam, played by Rosamund Pike even if she has little to do otherwise. My major problem is the ending but I won't go into too much about it. I will say I find it particularity misjudged and I am now convinced film-makers have completely forgotten how to end films.

Conclusion: Despite my gripes with the ending and with Pegg's character, I did enjoy the film.  The cast are great and the action is well shot and choreographed. I am glad films like this are being made in this country, as a genre fan and while it is not perfect it is a still an enjoyable enough way to pass a couple of hours.