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Monday, February 19, 2018

Yor, the Hunter from the Future (1983) – Review

The 80s saw a big boom in sword and sorcery flicks, with Schwarzenegger’s Conan the Barbarian being the real kicking off point for the genre, but unlike Conan most of those films were shot with incredibly low budgets and even lower ranked stars.  Such was the case with Yor, the Hunter from the Future a film that was loosely based on an Argentinian comic book by writer Eugenio Zappietro and artist Juan Zanott but director Antonio Margheriti kind of decided to go in a different direction than what was found in the source material and so instead of solid Conan rip-off the third act of this film turned into a Star Wars rip-off.

 

Note: At no point do flying saucers appear in this movie.

The movie opens with our hero Yor (Reb Brown) running across a desert landscape while his own power ballad blasts the airwaves, “Yor's world, he's the man! Yor's world, he's the man! Yor's world! Lost in the world of past with the echo of ancient blast, there is a man from future, a man of mystery Yor's world!” Certainly not the most scintillating theme songs ever produced but it does clearly establish that Yor is “the man” and throughout the film’s eighty-eight minute running time we will have many action packed moments to supposedly back this claim up, many of these moments will be punctuated by Yor yelling out how awesome he is.

 

This is his “Look mom, I killed a dinosaur” yell.

One has to really sympathize with actor Reb Brown as not only does his wardrobe consists solely of furry boots and a loincloth but he was also forced to wear one of the most unfortunate looking wigs ever made, yet somehow he manages to pull it off without looking completely ridiculous. I know Reb Brown mostly from my repeated viewings of Captain America and Captain America II: Death Too Soon and it's his affable goofy charm that sets him apart from the other muscle bound actors of the time. I certainly wouldn’t want to run around the chilly Turkish countryside dressed like that, all while over enthusiastic extras try and smack you with rubber clubs, but I guess that’s the actor’s life.

 

Wait a minute, was that actually an dinosaur he fought?

Yor, the Hunter from the Future does look at first to be more of a Quest for Fire type film than a sword and sorcery one as we first see Yor as he saves two somewhat primitive cavemen types from what at a glance looks to be a triceratops, one that strangely enough has a view attributes of a Stegosaurus, but as most of us know that man and dinosaurs were separated by about sixty-five million years of evolution this combat is more in the vein of the 1966 film One Million Years B.C. starring Raquel Welch than it is the 1981’s Quest for Fire. That a normally herbivorous triceratops is trying to eat people may seem odd to modern viewers but this was the norm for cheesy genre films aimed at audiences raised on episodes of the Flintstones, but before you ridicule this anachronistic moment to much be warned that this film has a startling twist for its third act that explains all.

 

Note: The twist itself deserves more ridicule than a mere anachronistic dinosaur or two.

The cave people that Yor saved were the beautiful Kalaa (Corinne Cléry) and her grizzled protector Pag (Luciano Pigozzi) and they introduce Yor to their people and it’s here that a tribal elder recognizes the strange metal medallion that Yor wears.  He is told of the mystery surrounding woman with a similar trinket, a woman who apparently descended to the Earth on a tongue of fire and was worshiped as a goddess by the local desert people.  She sported the exact same medallion that Yor does and so our poor hero, who has no memory as to where he comes from or who his people are, decides to go on a quest to find this strange woman, but not right away as he hangs around for a tribal celebration where Kalaa makes it clear that she has the hots for the big blonde hunk.

 

Note: The hotness of cave women is proportionate to how ugly their men are.

Before Kalaa has time to properly seduce Yor the “village” is attacked by a group of blue skinned (or blue painted as one really can’t tell the filmmaker's intent here) Neanderthal types who kill the men and children while making off with the women. Yor puts up a bit of a fight until he realizes that this shit is dangerous and he flees with Kalaa and Pag.

One will take note that as the film progresses the heroicness of Yor comes into question time and time again, sure he’s a big strong dude with a nice axe swing but the amount of actual saving of people in this movie is rather slim. In fact he is directly or indirectly responsible for the deaths of many innocent parties which would result in most protagonists losing their hero cred. A prime example of this is when shortly after fleeing the Blue Man Group our hero tells Pag to head back to the village to look for survivors (that he sends an old man back alone to face unknown forces is another indicator that Yor is a bit of a shit hero) and while Yor and Kalaa look for a good hiding spot they are attacked and the blue Neanderthals make off with Kalaa. Epic Fail. Poor Yor is knocked on conscious and tossed off a cliff and only survives because of the timely intervention of the returning Pag. The two men track the group that kidnapped Kalaa to their cave lair where Yor comes up with a brilliant plan of attack; he shoots a passing giant bat and uses its corpse as a glider.

 

To say this moment is bloody glorious would be a vast understatement.

With the Yor’s power ballad getting a reprise our hero makes a startling appearance as he flies through the cave entrance where after few kicks and punches he quickly makes off Kalaa deeper into the caves. This is where his heroism comes into question again because to stop their pursuers he dismantles a dam that is holding back some kind of underwater reservoir, this results in a torrent of water that floods the cave and washes his enemies away. But how is that not heroic you ask? Well all those other women who were snatched from Kalaa and Pag’s village were also in this cave and when it is flooded they are all drowned alongside their captors. It’s great that Yor was able to save the life of the woman most likely to sleep with him but I must say killing off all those other poor women just to make your escape is not only a dick move but also makes Yor a bit of a mass murderer. What makes it almost worse is that shortly after this "heroic" moment he encounters the mysterious goddess who wears the matching medallion and he pretty much immediately trades up for the new hot blonde over his “old” brunette squeeze.

 

“We are both gorgeous Aryans, we need to mate.”

How did this all come about?  Well Yor gets captured by some mummy looking dudes in a place Pag called “The Land of the Diseased” and he is brought before their goddess to be sacrificed. The beautiful blonde goddess Roa (Ayshe Gul ) motions to a section of the cave where two shadowy figures can be seen frozen in the ice and she explains to Yor, “They say I came here together with those men, there, caught in the ice. Why I am alive and they are dead I don't know, and why the ice has formed in this parched desert is a mystery without an answer, but the little water that comes from it is vital to these people and they worship me, as a divine goddess.” That is a pretty interesting mystery it’s just too bad the film doesn’t have the time to ever explain or solve any of this and before you can say “genocidal maniac” Yor sets fire to the cave’s interior which causes the ice to melt and the cave to collapse. Yor escapes with Roa while the men of the desert are either burned to death or buried alive.

 

If you’re counting that’s three cultures Yor has encountered that have subsequently been wiped out.

Kalaa is not too pleased with the sudden addition of competition for Yor’s attention, we even get the perquisite catfight between the two women as a jealous Kalaa attempts to murder her rival, but before either of them can work out who gets to sleep with Yor they are attacked by the surviving members of The Blue Man Group. The resulting skirmish ends with Yor killing the last remaining Neanderthal but unfortunately during the fight Roa was mortally wounded. Wait, that can’t be the case can it? So Yor’s whole mission was to find this woman and yet the screenwriters kill her off after a meager thirteen minutes of screen time. What kind of sense does that make? She barely had time to develop any kind of character other than being a useless exposition machine and to provide a pointless element of jealousy for Kalaa. With her dying breath she informs Yor that she is getting back some of her lost memories, “I see an island in the middle of a big sea. On the island there is a magnificent castle. That is where we come from, where are race lives.” She tells Yor to give Kalaa her medallion and with a final kiss to the big lug she dies.

 

Did this woman forget that Kalaa just tried to murder her for stealing her boyfriend?

Our valiant trio bury the poor girl and then quickly go on their merry way, and moments later they find the "Big Sea" just in time for Yor to save another pair of people from a random dinosaur attack.  Pag saves the day with some well-placed arrows to once again prove how lacking our supposed hero is. Our band of misfits are then brought to a nearby beach village (and who the fuck builds a village on a beach?) where Yor is given a “hero’s welcome” and is offered to keep the chieftain’s teenage daughter as his mate. Yor kindly turns down the offer, I’m assuming he was afraid Kalaa would knife the poor girl on the spot if he’d said yes, and then our group learns that two moons ago a “god” dropped from the heavens on a “Strange fiery bird” and that they were forced to kill the god with thrown clubs after he struck down one of the tribe members with fire. Yor investigates the crash site (if you haven’t figured out that the supposed gods in this movie are just dudes from an advanced culture you can go sit at the back of the class) and he picks up a strange metal artifact which he fails to notice had become activated by his touch.  Soon an invisible craft is laying waste to the village.

 

Current score: Yor 4 - Primitive Cultures 0

The village is wiped out by laser fire from this unseen aircraft, one can assume it wasn't so much invisible as out of range of the film’s budget, and though the chieftain’s daughter is mourning the death of her father it doesn’t stop her from enlightening our band of idiots that off the coast is a strange island surrounded by storms. This of course sounds like the place Roa had mentioned and so they take the Chieftain’s boat to investigate.  The Chief was dead and not using it so that’s cool.  Soon our brave heroes cross the perilous sea to the mysterious island, and the village girl wasn’t wrong about the storms and soon the trio are being tossed by murderous waves and Yor is thrown overboard. Yor is quickly captured by a bunch of Stormtrooper looking robots and while tied to a table he learns that his parents were from a small band of nuclear holocaust survivors and that this small island is ruled by a ruthless tyrant called the Overlord (John Steiner) who with his android army plans on wiping out all the primitive societies that populate the mainland.

 

Think Doctor Doom with a cavalcade of Doombots cosplaying as Darth Vader.

So that's the big twist? We weren’t watching a cheesy caveman movie but instead a post-apocalyptic science fiction one, a movie where the hero discovers he’s Luke Skywalker ten minutes before the end credits roll. I’m betting the shift from cave dwellers fighting with axes to robot Stormtroopers engaging our heroes in laser battles must have given audiences whiplash back in 1983. The movie ends with Kayla and Pag teaming up with a group of rebels who were once led by Yor’s now dead parents and the following action scenes are beyond moronic and dull at times as they mostly consists of a bunch of scenes of people running around dodging laser fire. Yor and his cavemen friends are quick studies and appear to be better shots than their rebel friends.  There is an insanely silly scene with Yor and Kalaa finding themselves trapped in a hall of mirrors that is straight out of the Bruce Lee film Enter the Dragon, and then we get the most ridiculous trapeze stunt ever orchestrated as Yor and Pag try to place a bomb on the fortress's atomic stockpile. Pag of course has to save Yor’s life by swinging over and alley-ooping his friend back to safety, once again proving Pag is the true hero of this movie. 

 

"He flies through the air with the greatest of ease.”

Yor catches up with the Overlord but because he is such a macho asshole he tosses aside laser blaster so that he can take on the villain hand-to-hand in a mano-a-mano fashion, but no one informed our lunkhead hero that villains don’t tend to play fair and so Yor finds himself being blasted back by the Overlord’s power glove.

 

Is this magic? Science? Who the fuck knows.

The Overlord tries to escape by jumping into an elevator but Yor grabs a nearby pole and impales the Sith Lord wannabe with a mighty javelin throw. Yor, Kalaa, Pag and a group of rebels flee for their lives as the mortally wounded Overlord tries to reach the bomb and stop its detonation. He fails and our heroes fly off into the sunset as the fortress explodes behind them as narration informs us that, “Yor returns to the primitive tribes on the mainland, he is determined to use his superior knowledge to prevent them from making the same mistakes as their forefathers. Will he succeed?” I’m not sure what “superior knowledge” the narator is referring to because even though he is the son of one of the advanced holocaust survivors he wasn’t raised by them so his knowledge doesn’t expand much beyond hitting dinosaurs with an axe and random genocide. If anyone should be leading the world towards a brighter future it’s Pag as he has shown more intelligence and bravery than our supposed hero.

 

Pag is this movie’s true unsung champion.

Yor, the Hunter from the Future is easily one of the more oddball movies out there as it strides two genres and gives us a hero who is a bit of a jerk. The stunt work on display is amateurish, the dubbing is pretty bad, the plot if one can call it that veers from the banal to the ludicrous without warning, and though I do love me some Reb Brown his hero Yor is just too big of an asshole for me to get behind. This film kind of falls into the “So bad its good” category and if you and your friends sit down with the right attitude and a good amount of alcohol you will mostly like have fun watching this thing, but watching it cold I do not recommend.

 

If only the film was as good as this poster.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Black Panther (2018) – Review

It’s almost hard to believe that now with eighteen films making up the Marvel Cinematic Universe the studio has yet to land a dud, even the less than great entries are still better than any other current superhero movies out there, and now with Black Panther they seem truly unstoppable. Like Ant-Man and Doctor Strange the Black Panther film is more of a standalone entry with a couple characters from previous films making appearances and the occasional nod to the wider universe that makes up the franchise, but even though it does work fine if you haven’t seen all seventeen of the previous Marvel movies you are rewarded for being a fan as some of those “nods” are quite nice.


Taking place shortly after the events in Captain America: Civil War we find Prince T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) taking the throne after his father’s death in the previous film, though not without out some resistance which later becomes the major crux of the story, so it’s lucky for him he that has a strong cast of characters at his back to ensure that good will triumph in the end...though a lot of shit will go down before the dust settles.

Black Panther is easily one of the best looking films in the MCU, having academy award nominated cinematographer Rachel Morrison certainly helped on that front, but what really makes this film stand out on its own is how much thought and effort went into the fictional African nation of Wakanda. We only got a glimpse of Wakanda at the end of Civil War but now we see it in all its glory as well as getting a history lesson for this Afro-Futuristic world.  We learn that centuries ago a meteorite consisting of vibranium impacted in Central Africa and after five tribes fought over this most precious and powerful of minerals the nation of Wakanda was formed. It was through the use of vibranium that allowed this small country to become a technological marvel, and birthed the Black Panther's extraordinary abilities, and it also permitted the tiny nation to remain hidden while the rest of Africa fell to colonization.

 

It even makes Asgard look like a cheap summer home.

The decision to remain isolated from the rest of the world is at the heart of this film as some people close to T’Challa believe that the time has come to share their technological achievements with the rest of the world, while others think that maybe the world would be a better place with Wakanda actually running things, and looking at the world as it is now one can see the argument for the latter.  Of course world domination isn’t something the noble Black Panther could condone.

There are more than a few people making things difficult for T'Challa in this movie such as Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), a South African arms dealer with a nasty history with the people of Wakanda, then there is Eric Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) a mercenary with a very personal grudge against T’Challa or more accurately his late father, and even T'Challa's closest friend W'Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya) doesn’t quite see eye-to-eye with the new king on how to deal with outside threats.  “Heavy is the head that wears the crown” would be an apt way to describe the situation T’Challa finds himself in, and certainly made even more complicated when his paths cross once again with CIA agent Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) who could endanger the secrecy that keeps Wakanda safe.

 

Note: $2 million dollars of the budget went towards scenes chewed by Serkis.

Now the film may be called Black Panther, and Chadwick Boseman is the titular star, but it’s the women in this film that really make the whole thing sing. We have T’Challa’s mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett), we never got to see Bassett as Storm but at least she did eventually make it into the Marvel Universe, next is Shuri (Letitia Wright) who is T’Challa’s sister and head of Wakanda’s science and technology department, she’s basically “Q” to T’Challa’s Bond and the stuff she comes up with makes Tony Stark’s gadgets look like tinker toys, and then there is Okoye (Danai Gurira) who is the bald, beautiful and badasss general who leads the Wakandan army.  Finally there is Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) T’Challa’s ex-girlfriend who is one of those people who thinks Wakanda’s isolationism may have reached it “Best Before” date.

 

Themyscira eat your heart out.

That the action set-pieces and special effects that populate this film are spectacular should be of no surprise to anyone but that we also get is a major superhero franchise tent pole that tackles some very relevant issues facing the world today, ones that I’m sure the current President is less than happy about, and this is as unexpected as it is awesome. Who wants to bet that Trump will actually believe Wakanda is a real country? This film not only tackles racial divisions in a thoughtful way but it also provides the MCU with about the best villain they have had yet, as Killmongers is a character that even if you don’t agree with his methods you certainly understand where he is coming from. He isn’t a Norse god angry at being overshadowed by his big brother or some alien menace that simply wants to conquer or destroy the Earth, as he is justifiably angry with the systemic racism that exists today, not to mention some even more personal motivations for revenge.  Michael B. Jordon knocks this role out of the park with a performance that will make you forget he was ever in that disastrous Fantastic Four movie.

 

“Doctor Doom ain’t got shit on me!”

With Black Panther we see director Ryan Coogler becoming another in the ever increasing list of interesting and talented directors who Marvel/Disney has given the keys to one of their big budgeted action movies in the hopes of preventing a generic cookie cutter franchise, and so far this thought process is keeping them well ahead of the competition. You may not have heard of Black Panther before his appearance in Captain America: Civil War but after this film you surely won’t forget him.

Note: There is more civil war in Black Panther than we ever got in Captain America: Civil War which was basically more of a family dispute than a civil war.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Jeepers Creepers 3 (2017) – Review

The third installment in a horror franchise is always a tricky thing, the filmmakers often having made a quick buck on a sequel to their successful first outing have completely run out of ideas come the third chapter. Now in the case of Victor Salva’s Jeepers Creepers 3 it’s not a matter of being bereft of new ideas but instead in this third installment Salva incorporates new elements and mythology that unfortunately don’t work at all.


In 2001 writer/director Victor Salva brought to the screen an original monster with an interesting mythology, a creature that would awake every twenty-three years and hunt for twenty-three days, but as cool as the premise for the original Jeepers Creepers was it kind of made for writing sequels a little bit harder. Do you want to have your sequel take place twenty-three years in the future? In 2003 Salva solved this issue by having Jeepers Creepers 2 occur four days after the conclusion of the first film, during the Creepers last days of his hunt, but as that film ended with the Creeper being defeated and nailed to the wall of Ray Wise’s barn it made a third chapter even trickier to come up with.  Jeepers Creepers 2 also ended with an epilogue where we saw an older Ray Wise, who had been watching over the desiccated corpse of the creature for twenty-three years waiting for it to awaken, so obviously any sequel would have to follow that timeline, right?

 

And how does Salva follow up such a good ending?

He doesn’t honor the ending of his second film at all but instead he cheats us and has Jeepers Creepers 3 take place in the days between the first movie and the second movie. Seriously, that’s the best he could come up with? A film where the monster hunts a bunch of people that we know have no chance in winning against it because in the previous entry we saw the creature very much alive before being brought down by Ray Wise, so where is the suspense? The only way this film could remotely work is if the current group of potential victims were interesting and we cared whether they lived or died, and maybe we`d learn a bit more about the Creepers history, but the film fails to deliver on both those counts.  The filmmakers also unwisely decided to have almost all the Creeper attacks in broad daylight, and I’m not saying you can’t make an effective horror film that take place under the harsh light of the day but in the case of the Jeepers Creepers films Salva clearly didn’t understand what made his previous entries so effective.

 

Also what’s with that stupid red shirt they gave him?

Well what about the menu of victims for this film, are they any good? In the first Jeepers Creepers we got a cool and believable brother/sister dynamic, one that you don’t normally get in this genre, then in the sequel we had a busload full of teens who were thrust into a terror that would challenge their own moral compasses.  With Jeepers Creepers 3 all we get are generic two dimensional meat sacks whose only job is to scream and die. There is Gaylen Brandon (Meg Foster) who is haunted by her dead son Kenny Brandon (Jordan Salloum), a victim of a Creeper attack twenty-three years ago and whose corpse appeared in the first film, and then there Addison Brandon (Gabrielle Haugh) whose sole character trait is that she really loves her horse and may have a crush on local feed store employee Buddy Hooks (Chester Rushing). Sgt. Davis Tubbs (Brandon Smith) is one of the cops to witness the Creeper attack that ended with young Derry (Justin Long) being carried off by the monster in the first film and he is joined by Sheriff Dan Tashtego (Stan Shaw) whole leads a team of Creeper hunters that consists of survivors of past attacks.

 

Can they avenge their dead family members? Does anyone give a damn?

That none of the characters in this film are even vaguely compelling is not the key problem with this film, almost the entire Friday the 13th franchise is populated by such characters, but it’s the ham-fisted additional mythology crammed into Jeepers Creepers 3 that sinks the film. In the first two films we know very little about the Creeper, other than his hunt cycle and that he picks his prey through sent and can regenerate from almost any damage, but Salva now introduces the idea that if you hold a severed part of the Creeper (for some reason the Creeper dropped his hand during this film’s prologue) you will learn secrets about the Creeper's origins. That may seem rather weird and kind of arbitrary but what really sucks is that though several people do take hold of the severed hand of the Creeper we never learn if it divulged any secrets or not. How can you introduce such a narrative device and not actually have it pay off?

 

Has Victor Salva not heard of Chekov’s Gun? Or in this case severed hand.

Salva’s inability to understand simply story structure is almost overshadowed by the idiotic alterations made to the Creeper’s truck. In the first movie it was a scary rusted hulk that hounded our heroes in the same manner as the truck from Steven Spielberg’s directorial debut Duel, it was not some kind of magical construct with gadgets and a mind of its own, but in Jeepers Creepers 3 it’s practically the fucking Batmobile. All of a sudden its rear doors are guarded by a spiked portcullis, and down in the undercarriage there is a spear gun that can launch a chained spear that drags its victims back into its clutches.  Worst of all is that the truck apparently operates such devices autonomously with the Creeper not even having to be around to operate them. Is the truck sentient or does the Creeper have some kind of long range mental control over it?

 

We even see the truck driving on its own with the Creeper standing on the roof.

Jeepers Creepers 3 had a long road into production, originally to have been released back in 2006, and with over a decade of problems with script and cast changes it’s no wonder the final result was a bit of a mess.  What is the real shame here is that the film isn’t even an interesting mess, it’s just a drab and lifeless cinematic turd with none of the spirit or fun that the first two installments had contained. Like Jeepers Creepers 2 this one ends with an epilogue hinting at the next chapter but I wouldn’t hold your breath as anything set up in this film ever paying off is a long shot.

 

Maybe they should wait twenty-three years before making a new one.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Woody Woodpecker (2017) – Review

One must admit that the people behind the recent live-action adaptations of once popular cartoons have not been all that worried about pleasing an adult audience; Yogi Bear, The Chipmunks and the Smurf movies have been varying degrees of cinematic cancer yet for some reason kids seem to love them, but a new level have terrible filmmaking has been reached with the recent release of the Woody Woodpecker movie. Now before I go any further into this review an important factor must be stated here; this film would not exist if it weren’t for the characters immense popularity in Brazil, where it is known as Pica-Pau, and thus Universal made this film almost entirely for that market.

 

So along with harboring Nazi war criminals Brazil has added this latest atrocity.

Aside from being about one of the most annoying cartoon characters in history this film is also guilty of being absolutely free of any semblance of originality in its entire ninety minute running time, and as a whole it is nothing but a complete mishmash of films like The Nut Job, the Yogi Bear movie and the Brendan Fraser bomb Furry Vengeance. If you like fart jokes and lame slapstick this could be the film for you.

The basic plot to Woody Woodpecker is that a couple of redneck poachers (Scott McNeil and Adrian Glynn McMorran) want to capture Woody (Eric Bauza) as he is apparently a rare species of woodpecker and worth a great deal of money, but that isn’t enough conflict for this movie because we are also introduced to corporate lawyer Lance Walters (Timothy Omundson) who after being fired by his law firm he decides to visit some inherited land he has near the Canadian border, land occupied by one Woody Woodpecker, and while there he will build some horrible atrocity of a house which could then be flipped for big bucks.

 

A house that would make Frank Lloyd Wright throw-up.

Yet two nasty poachers and a lawyer with bad taste is still not enough conflict for this movie so we also get Brittany (Thaila Ayala) his “I hate nature” fiancé whose sole purpose in this film is to be pooped on and humiliated by Woody, then there is Tommy (Graham Verchere) Lance's son who was forced upon him for the summer by ex-wife and who is in dire need of a best friend, and finally there is local forest ranger Samantha Bartlett (Jordana Largy) who is bound and determined to catch those rascally poachers. What follows is the usually slapstick hijinks of a collection of idiots up against a cartoon adversary who is defending his territory; the poachers will accidentally shoot themselves with tranquilizer darts, a bee hive will be dropped amongst the construction workers, Woody will fill Lance’s car with cement and the bird will also blow up Lance's fiancé…wait, what was that last bit?

 

That sure escalated quickly.

This movie may be aimed at kids but the whole thing works better if considered as a horror movie with Woody being some maniacal demon murdering campers as not only is the CGI for Woody Woodpecker just awful but the animation and voice work is so bizarre and off-putting that one is more afraid of this demented bird than amused by him. He’s fucking terrifying at times. So to remind parents that this is a film for children we get some “classic” toilet humor with Woody machine gunning out farts after eating some beans, him repeatedly shitting on Brittany and the poachers, and in one instance Woody shits on some ice cream so that we can enjoy watching one of the poachers eat it. I’m not exactly familiar with the sense of humor of the Brazilian people but if this is what passes for funny in that country I will now have to apologize to France for my comments about them and their love of Jerry Lewis.

 

She hates the woods so she totally deserves this treatment.

And the key thing here is that Woody is a sentient and “intelligent” creature, one who repeatedly breaks the fourth wall to talk to the audience in moments that make little to no sense, but the thing is he isn’t a talking animal as was Yogi Bear in his movie because in this movie even though Woody can seemingly talk and understand what people are saying none of the humans can understand him.  This illustrates that the filmmakers had no idea as to what kind of film this was supposed to be. In adapting such cartoons as Yogi Bear and The Chipmunks to live action you have to embrace the goofiness of the idea of animals that can talk because if you just half-ass it like they do here you leave the audience rather confused.

And just how confusing is this script? Well at one point Lance goes to complain to Ranger Samantha about the annoying bird plaguing his work site and she tells him that the bird he is describing has been extinct for hundred years, making cracks about him being on medication, and then in the very next minute Samantha informs him that this particular woodpecker he is describing was believed to be a god of chaos that harassed the Native American until they fled the area, but when he asks if he can just kill the bird she tells him that it is a protected species and that killing it would result in a $10,000 fine and two years in jail.  So is Woody's species extinct, mythological or endangered?  Make up your mind lady!

Question: Can a species that’s been extinct for 100 years be protected? Is there legislation on the books for fines if you happen to find and a kill a T-Rex?

Lance then asks Samantha how he should handle his problem with the woodpecker and she tells him, “Learn to live with it. There is plenty of room for both of you.” So apparently she is asking him to learn to live with an extinct mythological being that is protected by the Wildlife Fish and Game Conservation.  I think it is Samantha who should be checking her medication. Now I don’t expect a movie about Woody Woodpecker to make a lot of sense but even the goofiest movie has to maintain some kind of internal logic and continuity but the dialog in this film is apparently here just to fill up screen time between the next poop joke and Woody brutally murdering people.

 

Cartoon violence in a live-action movie is tough to pull off; this movie fails miserably at it.

The writers of this film, and there were four of them for this piece of crap, obviously knew it would be next to impossible to fill a ninety minute movie with just scatological humor so we are subjected to a subplot of Tommy going into town where he meets a cute girl (Chelsea Miller) who asks him to join her band so that they can play at the local Firefly festival, I'm assuming these quaint town festivals are required by law for this kind of film, and Tommy also gets harassed by random bullies because I guess the movie needed a little more drama.

Note: When Tommy first encounters the woodpecker he names him Woody but earlier we saw Woody pecking his full name into the bark of a tree, so either Tommy is an incredibly gifted guesser or Woody telepathically let the kid know his real name.

Can Lance bond with his estranged son before it’s too late? Will romance bloom between Lance and that cute forest ranger? How will Woody keep out of the merciless clutches of those poachers? All these question and more will be answered by Universal’s Woody Woodpecker, but as to why anyone would actually pay to see this ornithological turd is the bigger mystery on hand.

 

Can you tell which is the decoy and which is the crappy CGI creation?

Woody Woodpecker was released theatrically in Brazil back in October of 2017, finishing second at the Brazilian box office behind Blade Runner 2049, and is now on Bluray and DVD for the rest of the world to experience, where I’m sure it will quickly find its way into the $2 bargain bins at your logical grocery store.

There isn’t anything in this film that would allow me to recommend it to anyone, not even to a family with little kids who thought Yogi Bear was funny, because not only is the acting in this movie bad across the board and the special effects being so bad that you never once believe Woody is actually occupying the same space as the people he is supposedly interacting with, but every story element on display here has been used before by “better” films on multiple occasions. One can only hope that this film will soon vanish into the cinematic dustbin of history.

Final Thoughts:

• Lance is fired after winning a big case for an oil company because he bad mouthed the environment on television. In reality this most likely would have resulted in him getting a partnership.
• The town’s Firefly Festival ends with some dude releasing a bunch of fireflies from a big jar. I’m guessing the town didn’t have a fireworks budget.
• Tommy and his girlfriend cannot sing and should rethink their career choices.
• The poachers hold an online auction to sell Woody and the winner pays $900,000 dollars for the bird to then be stuffed and mounted. Wouldn’t a supposedly extinct bird be worth more alive to a ornithologist than stuffed?

 

And is it just me or couldn’t Woody have just walked between the bars of this cage?

Monday, February 5, 2018

Late Phases (2014) – Review

Who would bring a blind man to a werewolf fight? Well apparently director Adrián García Bogliano would as his film Late Phases pits a blind Vietnam veteran against a group of nasty lycanthropes, and surprisingly at times is does seem to be a fair fight. I’m always happy when I come across a werewolf film I’ve not seen and though this film isn’t in the same league as The Howling or An American Werewolf in London it still has something to offer fans of the genre and I’d rank it somewhere between Dog Soldiers and Bad Moon.


The movie opens with son Will (Ethan Embry) bringing his father Ambrose McKinley (Nick Damici) to his new home at the retirement community of Crescent Bay, and it’s clear off the hop that the son and his blind Vietnam veteran father don’t get along, but of course family dynamics is not really what this film is about so we will chalk their moments together as necessary character development and we will all check our watch as we wait for the first werewolf attack. We don’t have to wait too long as during his first night at Crescent Bay his neighbor is savagely killed by a werewolf and he only survives because his Seeing Eye dog put up a good fight that gave Ambrose time to find his gun. This brings us to our first question, "What kind of werewolf are we dealing with?" Does it have human intelligence like the ones in The Howling or while in werewolf form is it just mindless beast as in An American Werewolf in London?

 

Fleeing from a blind dude with a gun seems like a strange tactic for your average werewolf.

Ambrose learns that once a month a resident of Crescent Bay is brutally killed by a “wild animal” and adding to the fact that the attack he survived was during a full moon he immediately jumps to the conclusion that he is dealing with a werewolf. Why exactly would someone make that assumption so fast is unclear, unless you are aware that you are in a horror film or if the world the film is building includes werewolves as being a known quantity to the public, if not that is a pretty big leap to make. It would have been neat if we’d got some backstory with him where he encountered a werewolf over in Vietnam, something he’s never told anyone before, but sadly this film has me believing that Ambrose found a braille copy of the script lying around. Which brings us to another big question, "If people are dying every month in this little community why is anybody still living there?"

 

Something like this has to hurt the market value.

We meet a couple of cops who basically chalk up the deaths to natural selection, citing that old people can’t fend for themselves when animal attacks so this kind of thing is bound to happen, and they are apparently have no plans on stopping any attacks in the future. If old people were being torn apart on a regular basis you better believe the media would be going ape shit and that there would be an immense amount of pressure on the authorities to catch the creature, whatever it is. Instead Dudley Do-Right and Barney Fife give Ambrose a hard time for not burying his dog fast enough and annoying the neighbors.

When I’m watching a horror movie I'm ready to buy into almost anything from the undead rising or creatures from myths and legends hunting under the full moon light but it’s important that all the other character are somewhat grounded in some semblance of reality and this film’s attitude of “Shit happens” when people in a small community are being killed on a regular basis broke my credulity meter.

 

“Sorry, we’re glorified rent-a-cops not monster hunters, you’re on your own.”

The bulk of the film is then spent on Ambrose trying to figure out which person in Crescent Bay is a werewolf and as he noticed the werewolf’s rasping breathing his suspect list contains; chain smoking Father Roger Smith (Tom Noonan), an old dude in an iron long, and asthma suffer James Griffin (Lance Guest) who also seems a little bit off. The mystery element isn’t really this film’s strong suit, I quickly ruled out the priest as that would have been ripping off the Stephen King werewolf movie Silver Bullet, and an old guy in an iron lung seemed to be a strange bet for a monster in hiding.  So when Ambrose finally discovers who is the actual werewolf we the audience are at the point where we think only a blind man couldn’t have figure it out by this time…oh, right, never mind. One has to admit that having a film’s premise be about a blind Vietnam veteran versus a werewolf is fairly interesting, and the actor does a great job showing how the war changed him, but I never quite bought him as a credible threat to a werewolf.

 

He’s not exactly Rutger Hauer in Blind Fury.

The film establishes that Ambrose has a good sense of smell and good hearing but against a supernatural monster that would give Daredevil a hard time this just doesn’t pass muster.  Sure we get a scenes where he gets supplied with silver bullets and sets up booby-traps but it still seems to be a bit of a stretch. All that said the final showdown is pretty good, where poor blind Ambrose finds himself not only facing the main werewolf but four more others because the bastard monster went running from house to house biting the neighbors. That whole sequence was so bizarre and original that it made up for a lot of the film’s failings, and then the werewolves themselves were also quite interesting and the ever important transformations scene was well-handled and very reminiscent of The Company of Wolves with the werewolf bursting out of its human skin.

 

The use of practical effects over CGI is much appreciated here.

At 96 minutes in length some horror movie fans will most likely find it a little light on werewolf action, an obvious low budget being the most probably cause of this, but when the shit hits the fan and Ambrose must stand alone against a quartet of monsters I can’t see many viewers walking away from this film at least a little entertained. The performances across the board are excellent and the design for this movie’s werewolf I found weirdly intriguing, it kind of has a demonic cat-like visage and a frumpy ape like body, and overall it worked quite well. Late Phases certainly didn’t redefine the werewolf  genre but it did bring enough interesting elements to make it worth checking out and earned a spot in my collection.

Note: The hand-to-hand combat scenes between blind Ambrose and the werewolf do veer between cool and the ridiculous.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Batman: Gotham by Gaslight (2018) – Review

What if Batman was on the trail of Jack the Ripper? This was the idea that writer Brain Augustyn and artist Mike Mignola brought forth back in 1989 in what was to be DC’s first Elseworlds book (stories that take place outside the DC canon) as it placed everyone’s favorite caped crusader in the Victorian time period and pitted him against one of the most famous serial killers in history. Now in 2018 Warner Bros. Animation has released their second “R” rated animated movie and with it we are treated to a dark and haunting adaptation that is easily one of the better entries from the studio.


The look of Batman: Gotham by Gaslight is simply fantastic, from the dark shadowy streets of Victorian Gotham to the new designs for our much beloved cast of characters everything on display looks great, and as an added bonus fans of the graphic novel will be able to view this animated entry spoiler free as Jim Krieg’s screenplay does not follow the whodunit plot from the pages of the comic but instead he creates his own mystery and culprit. This story follows the adventures of million Bruce Wayne (Bruce Greenwood) who has just returned from London to help unveil Gotham’s World’s Fair, which is to be a beacon of hope for the city's future, but all is not bright in shiny in Gotham as an evil menace is stalking Gotham’s “working ladies” and only Batman has a chance of stopping this foul fiend.


My only real disappoint in this production was in the decision to choose Pamela Isley (Kari Wuhrer), known to Batman fans as the villainous Poison Ivy, as the Ripper’s first victim. I know it must be hard to resist name checking as many famous characters from the comic book as possible, and we do get a nice moment where Batman encounters three street urchins named Dick, Jason and Timmy, but to take one of the strongest female characters from Batman’s rogues gallery and turn her into a prostitute simply to have her brutally murdered in the film’s opening minutes is a real shame. The movie tries to make up for this by introducing Selina Kyle (Jennifer Carpenter) as a strong and forceful suffragette who may be star of local nightclub but she also spends a good amount of her time trying to track down Jack the Ripper herself.


Unfortunately the Ripper is too strong for Selina to handle, she is almost strangled by her own bullwhip and is only spared death by the timely arrival of Batman, which leads to a discussion of this movie’s version of Jack the Ripper and as mentioned the identity of the Ripper is not the one found in the graphic novel, nor is even the notorious killer who stalked the streets of White Chapel, but instead he is an original creation for this movie.

Now Batman: Gotham by Gaslight may be billed as a Batman mystery but there is no real way for a viewer to deduce the identity of The Ripper before the movie does the big reveal, the film tries to throw a major Red Herring at us but then doesn’t provide any real clues to the actual culprit, and that this particular Jack the Ripper was able to go toe-to-toe with the Dark Knight and almost come out on top had me wondering “What classic character from his Rogues Gallery would be an equal when it comes to hand-to-hand combat with Batman?” Could it be a Victorian version of Bane or possibly the immortal Ra's al Ghu who actually would have been around during this time period? I'll say this if you somehow manage to figure out the man under the top hat before the big reveal you’re a modern day Hercule Poirot and should apply to Scotland Yard today. But Batman: Gotham by Gaslight is more about placing our hero in a new environment and getting to see him use steampunk versions of his grappling gun, awesome steam powered vehicles and tracking the killer down using the detective instruments of that time period.


The film does include many of Batman’s classic cast of characters; Bruce Wayne’s every faithful butler Alfred (Anthony Head) is on hand to provide stoic advice and a ready bat costume, Commissioner Gordon (Scott Patterson) seems to have a tentative alliance with the Dark Knight while Chief Bullock (John DiMaggio) has a more “Shoot to kill” attitude towards the vigilante, and we get Bruce Wayne’s best friend Harvey Dent (Yuri Lowenthal) who’s excessive drinking reveals a “Jekyll & Hyde” nature that is most disturbing. These Victorian adaptations all work rather well, and I especially like the backstory they create here for Selina Kyle, and though we don't get to see her in her trademark skin tight catsuit she still looks fantastic, and Gotham City herself is just about the biggest character in this movie as the gas lit streets and shadowed cemeteries make for a perfect setting for this dark tale. And that’s really what makes this animated movie standout from the others as its distinctive look and style more than make up for any lack of action or story issues. If the mystery lets you down the stunning visuals will certainly perk you up.


Blood and language easily earns this film its “R” rating and thus this is not one for the kiddies but as a follow up to the last year’s adaptation The Killing Joke it’d say it is a vast improvement and has me hoping to see them take a crack at Superman: Red Son.  Director Sam Liu gives fans a whole new take on the Dark Knight and though the mystery itself is on the thin side the action, great voice casting and visuals make this well worth checking out.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Crystal Inferno (2017) – Review

Do you find elevators and elevator shafts fascinating? How much do you enjoy annoying kids yelling at each other? Have you seen Irwin Allen’s The Towering Inferno? Your answers to those questions will greatly impact your enjoyment of the disaster movie Crystal Inferno.


Unscrupulous building developer Lucas Beaumont (Nigel Barberr) cuts corners in the manufacturing of what would be one of the highest building in Paris, his evil henchman Eric Steele (Atanas Srebrev) kills a building inspector who threatened to report a bribe that was offered to her by Steele, and a little while later a company that was going to buy this newly constructed monolith hire structural engineer Brianna Bronson (Claire Forlani) to give the building a good once over. Beaumont can’t have this so he orchestrates a scam that implicates Brianna in an extramarital affair which forces her to leave the city to try and patch things up with her angry husband Tom Bronson (Jamie Bamber).  This of course results in the building never being inspected and the stage is set for disaster.  That the filmmakers apparently thought this set-up would lead to a good movie is the real mystery here.

 “Everyone, if you could please throw your copy of the script into the shredder we can start filming.”

If we let slide that the under code manufacturing of the building is a complete lift from the 70s disaster epic The Towering Inferno we are still left with the following plot not making a lick of sense. The first building inspector is murdered and buried in the buildings foundation but for some never explained reason a replacement was never sent to follow up on her findings, and then months later after being framed for infidelity by our villains Brianna flees Paris and yet the company that hired her to check out the building didn't bother to get a replacement for her either. Are building inspectors and structural engineers so rare in France that if one disappears or walks off the job you’re basically fucked and have to hope the building doesn’t fall down?

 

“Be careful, you don’t want to fall down that plot huge hole.”

What’s truly unfortunate is that this moronic and overly complicated set-up isn’t even the worst part of the movie as that would be our two leads and their idiot kids. Disaster films are no strangers to the divorced/estranged couple being brought together by whatever disaster they must confront (earthquake, fire, volcanoes and twisters have saved more marriages than a dozen marriage counsellors), but in the case of Crystal Inferno we don’t want them to get back together, in fact we’d be cool if both of them and their kids died horribly in the ensuing flames. The script tries to imply that Brianna is a strong modern woman who believes that even though she gave up her dreams to marry Tom she can still have a career and a family, but when her marriage is threatened by fake photos of her kissing a man on the streets of Paris all we get from her is a bunch of blubbering as she begs her husband to take her back, and he is a complete asshole about everything.

Note: Tom’s scummy divorce lawyer has his new office in the doomed building. Coincidence or does God maybe want every one here dead?

And how big of a dick is Tom? Well during this divorce settlement meeting he states, “She was selfish, unavailable, she was focused on her career rather than her family…and then the affair.” Are we supposed to be sympathizing with this jerk? In tears she fires back, “I did not have an affair! I have made so many sacrifices to prove to you that I love you. You, you are the one who is throwing this marriage away.” I’m not sure what is worse here; the asshole who apparently thinks his wife should be at home baking cookies or the woman who wants him back. Clearly all this corporate shenanigans and marital strife is about filling up screen time as a straight-to-video budget can’t afford much in the way of actual disasters, and this is also why about sixty percent of the movie takes place in an elevator shaft with a couple of annoying kids constantly yelling at each other.

 

Meet the brother and sister team from Hell.

And just why are brother and sister Ben (Isaac Rouse) and Anne Bronson (Riley Jackson) inside this particular elevator shaft? Well turns out that while their mom and dad were sitting down with their respective lawyers the two kids found the incriminating photos of their mom on their dad’s computer and quickly discovered they were faked, and this right after we heard Tom’s lawyer state that in six months’ time Brianna was unable to prove they weren’t real. So apparently two kids were able to figure out in six minutes what she couldn’t accomplish in six months, and thus our stock in Brianna character plummets further if that even seems possible at this point. She may be some brilliant structural engineer but I myself wouldn’t step foot inside a building she inspected.

 

This movie attempts to kill the Woman’s Rights Movement.

But what about the fire, isn’t this movie about a raging fire that our heroes must escape? Well whatever budget this film had not much of it went into the visual effects; we see a couple guys killed when the power grid overloads and explodes, a CGI air condition unit plunges from top of the building to smash through the atrium below, and then we get repeated shots of the building’s exterior to show us the “raging” fire. And by repeated I mean the fire never seems to grow at all during the entire running time of the movie; despite explosions and stairwells filling with smoke whenever the film cuts to an exterior shot it doesn’t look like the fire has spread one inch.

 

This is a nice shot but they use it about a half dozen times.

When any film is on a limited budget it can make things tough but when a disaster film is on a limited budget that can be well…disastrous. The only way to survive such a handicap is by having a tight script, excellent characters and a good cast, which this movie has none of. Aside from the two leads most of the cast are non-speaking actors that are badly dubbed and even the two kids in film have different accent.  The boy’s English accent keeps slipping out while the girl’s Californian accent is a terrible counterpoint, and with both Jaimie Bamber and Claire Forlani being from London, England we are left wondering why they cast one American actor to play the daughter with everyone else trying to fake American accents? Wouldn’t it have been just as easy to state that this family was from the United Kingdom? I don’t think even the most jingoistic viewer would have faulted this movie if the “heroes” were not American.

The film certainly does not portray them in any kind of flattering light as the dialog they are given is simply atrocious and repetitive. In fact the entire script can be summed up as follows…

Idiot Parent: “Honey, you have to try!”
Idiot Kid: “I can’t, I just can’t”

Idiot Firefighter: “You can’t do that, it’s impossible!”
Idiot Parent: “Those are my children, I have to try.”

Repeat those two exchanges for about ninety minutes and you've got the Crystal Inferno in a nutshell.

What is so depressing is that this movie is not even as good your average piece of crap from the SyFy Channel and the rare fleeting moments of a decent effect shots is constantly overshadowed by the terrible acting and awful script. I’m a bit of connoisseur of disaster films, good and bad alike, and this one is just too painful to even recommend to fans of the genre.

Stray Thoughts:

• We first meet the Bronson children as they toss a Frisbee back and forth, from about five feet away from each other.
• We first see Brianna doing some rock climbing at a gym; this is so we can buy her sliding down an elevator cable with only torn sleeves wrapped around her hands for protection.
• What exactly is Tom’s job that Brianna sacrificed her life for? We never find out.
• When the fire alarm goes off while they are in the law offices Tom ask, “Fire alarm, do we care?”  What a tool.
• Brianna tries to convince them to stay put because she believes the building’s safety features are enough to keep them from harm. Isn’t that something the antagonist in a disaster film is supposed to say?
• Beaumont tries to escape by helicopter but an explosion causes it to smash into the building. Why the pilot took off from the top of the building to then fly down next to the fire will forever remain a mystery.
• When the air conditioning unit fell through the atrium it ruptured a gas line that the fire department were unable to shut off, but it takes most of the film’s running time for one spark of the “raging fire” to ignite the gas.

 

The final shot of the movie shows us the true disaster, this family.