Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Most disappointing movies I watched in 2015

It would be hard for me to narrow down an "objective" list of worst movies for 2015, since I watched -a lot- of low-budget, badly rated movies this year, but at the same time, I'm not sure I'd want to put them on such a list. See, while I'm not drawn to actors or characters like many movie viewers, I'm a sucker for world-building, unique story elements and a strong visual style - leading me to love several "objectively not very good" movies like; Demolition Man (amazing world building), The Postman (some very interesting ideas about an image overpowering the person), Wanted (love the stylistic choices, wish it'd done less story), The Grinch (world-building, visual style), the Matrix sequels (there's so much depth hidden between the overly-long fighting scenes) and Hellboy 2 (visual world-building, creature design).
But most of all I'm a story-oriented viewer.
Show me something, anything unique, creative and/or complex and I'll forgive most other technical faults because I can see the original intent of the writer/director, and can appreciate the ideas that were lost during production.
This year was for me filled with flawed products featuring interesting, unique and creative story-elements I didn't expect to find in cheap made-for-tv movies.

No, what really gets me going are movies that failed to do anything with their set-up, movies where I went in with low expectations and still ended up disappointed, movies where I turn off and sit there seething with frustration and anger over what I just watched. Most of the movies on this list stuck with me for days after as negative emotions, and the top three managed the impressive feat of making me both exceptionally bored and incredibly angry at the same time.

Presenting; the most frustrating, irritating, disappointing things I watched this year

9. Man of Steel (2013)
I really, really disliked Superman Returns, and wasn't especially intrigued by the Man of Steel trailers, so I went into this movie with a sort of "I guess I have to see it some day" attitude. And I was still disappointed. I found most of the movie boring, Zod's characterization two-dimensional and underdeveloped, but the final peg in the coffin for me was that it just wasn't a Superman movie. That ending both rewrote everything Superman has been - and removed any chance of a sequel.
How do you one-up the villain that broke Superman?

8. Equilibrium (2002)
Equilibrium was well-received (by audiences, critics hated it) when it released in 2002, and maybe I'd have given it more leeway at a time when Matrix-rip-offs weren't such a dime a dozen as they became in the following years, but I just had no patience for this "trying to be more poignant that it really is" visual slog of a movie. Everything is symbolic in an incredibly obvious, in your face way, the "twist" was much better realized in Half-life 2, and most of all; ANGER IS AN EMOTION!!

7.Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003)
You could have been good Terminator 3!! I didn't like the "happy every after" ending of Terminator 2, so I was all up for the "Rise of the Machines" plot-line, and the script had quite a few interesting elements in it, it's just.. The action is boring, the acting is meh, there's several lines of dialogue that directly contradicts both the movie's plot and the character's personality, and I do not understand the weird, sexy female Terminator!
I wouldn't have minded a female Terminator who played on her sex-appeal if she was a Terminator built for infiltration and blending in, but she's not, she's a Terminator-killer, and while she has a scene where she "fixes" her breasts to look more appealing, she doesn't actually use her new "attributes" when dealing with the cop, she just shoots him. I'd also accepted a Terminator-killer that's a sadist, that I could see Skynet programming, but I do not accept a computer programming a Terminator to almost get an orgasm when she DNA-tests blood!
There's no in-movie reason for her behaviour, just as there's no plot reason for her to drop the "boyfriend-disguise" she puts on to trick Kate Brewster when she does, besides the production requiring its actress to be on screen for most of the movie.
The biggest disappointment is the ending. The ending is so good at first - the slow reveal when we figure out what's happened together with the protagonists, and watch them slowly accept their predetermined future and that everything they did was in vain - and then it's totally undermined by the insulting narration explaining everything like we're a 9-year old watching a sci-fi movie for the first time.

Stop insulting your audience!!
Also, where is my scene where Arnold pulls of his stripper pants? You had fun with the silly sunglasses, why not use the stripper clothes you had him wear the entire movie?!?

Such a wasted opportunity.

6. Robocop (2014)
See Robocop, I could have been one of your biggest fans. I'm not a big fan of the original movie (having barely seen it at the time and not liking hyper-violence) but I am a big fan of exploring what it means to be human, AI and robots. I came into it with low expectations and no baggage, and you still pissed me off!
Robocop is one of the new crop of "sci-fi" movies that doesn't like exploring its own sci-fi elements. It introduces a lot of concepts and questions (some of them being "why is he in such a cumbersome, heavy suit when you -just- showed us advanced prostheses and much slimmer, sleeker robots" and "why did you show him having most of his body just to remove it for no reason, also what happened to his eye??") but never bothers to show us enough to even try to answer any of them.
We're never shown both sides, we're never shown what could be problematic about robot soldiers (the first scene does not count! Just increase their threat-level detection a bit! "Don't kill people with knives" - fixed. Also "they won't feel bad after killing someone" is not a good argument! What, the most important part of using humans in combat is that they'll get PTSD and mental problems afterwards? How is that good for anyone? Besides, you seem completely naive about how humans manage to kill other humans) and we're never shown the "bad guys" motivations or goals.
Android Cop, Hammond and Helen from Android Cop
What's worse, Robocop is a character-driven movie without any character-development. Alex Murphy is a robot before he's put in the suit, and he's a robot after he's in the suit. I couldn't care less about him as a person, and I'm never given enough time with his family to care about them.
I'm also never given enough information or characterization on any of the other characters to even understand what they're trying to achieve or what their jobs are.
I love Jackie Earle Haley and while I thought he had the only interesting character in the movie, he's not given enough time to develop his character or the plot surrounding him, leading to him just portraying a 2-dimensional specieist(?) baddie.

And WHY do the scientists keep getting confused and surprised by their own deliberate research???
"I changed his serotonin levels. Huh, he's acting like a robot now, I don't understand!"
"This serotonin gauge which is the main part of the screen I've been watching this whole time is increasing at the same time as Robocop is behaving erratically, I don't understand!"
Having just watched the Asylum-mockbuster "Android Cop" I can confidently say that Robocop (2014) was outclassed completely by its low-budget, shot-in-2-months counter-part.
Android Cop (2014)

5. Gåten Ragnarok (2013)
I was so happy when this was announced, I love low-budget, not-very-good adventure movies, so I was really excited to get a Norwegian one. I wasn't expecting much, I know from experience that when we stray into a genre Norwegian cinema isn't known for we end up with a regurgitation of common genre tropes, but I was expecting something like The Librarian, Macgyver: Lost Treasure of Atlantis or Voyage of the Unicorn (a Hallmark mini-series I watched when I was young).
The Bluray was purchased not long after release, but when I sat down and watched it this year I was so disappointed. This isn't an adventure movie!
Gåten Ragnarok is a generic low-budget monster movie, that seemed like it didn't have the money to feature its monster in all the scenes it had planned to.
If you've seen films like Jurassic Park: the Lost World, the direction of the plot loses all semblance of suspense and mystery. You know exactly what's going on, why it's happening and how it will end, complete with "monster doesn't kill the kids immediately, just stares at them" trope.
Most of the actual adventure and lore elements are delivered through exposition and dialogue (show, don't tell movie!), and the movie keeps changing locations without ever explaining or justifying the scene/time-jump.
Did the movie mean to have them arrive at Bodø airport or was it using it as a generic air-port stand-in, hoping we wouldn't recognize it? If it is Bodø, do they really think you can drive from Bodø to Finnmark in a few hours? There's no good way to tell because someone thought a sense of time and explaining scene-transitions was unnecessary.
How did he get down again into the cave after the rope broke? How are they suddenly on a raft in the middle of the river? We don't need these in-between scenes, that would be -boring-. ...

Monday, 28 December 2015

Favourite movies I watched in 2015 (That I hadn't seen before)

My 2015 list is going to be a bit different from most "year-in-review" lists, as I didn't manage to get to the cinema this year and I have a huge back-log of recently released movies on Bluray waiting for me here (like X-Men: Days of Future Past, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Cinderella, Snowpiercer, Kingman: The Secret Service..). Most of the movies I watched this year are either from last year, or older movies I've finally gotten around to viewing, but even though they might not be new, I did have some really amazing movie-experiences this year.

10. Edge of Tomorrow/ Live, Die, Repeat (2014)
Edge of Tomorrow was such a nice surprise, totally overlooked at the box-office, so it appeared on Netflix not long after its cinema-run, and ended up being one of the better sci-fi movies I watched this year. Tom Cruise really came out gunning with this awkward, arrogant, spineless, self-aware character, while Emily Blunt got to play a truly kick-ass warrior. I could have done without the romance and I didn't like the ending, but for a movie where I went in expecting nothing, I got a truly great experience in return.

9. Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014)
I had almost given up on the superhero genre, I'm just sick of the shiny, flashy, pretty-but-not-much-substance movies we've had lately, but the Winter Soldier single-handedly dragged me back in and invigorated my interest in the Marvel cinematic universe.
The distinct old spy-movie feel, the consistent use of practical effects and fight choreography and the darker feel and more extreme measures all combined to present a "dirtier" superhero movie and made Winter Soldier my favourite Avengers movie so far.

8. The Scorpion King (2002)
I basically bought the entire Mummy/Scorpion King franchise just to watch Ron Perlman in the Scorpion King 3, but The Scorpion King was such a fun surprise. The sound design is ludicrous and the story is basically non-existent, but the movie is so aware of its own campy nature, presenting an incredibly entertaining action-romp where at one point Dwayne Johnson pretends to be a guy's shadow before jumping out and stabbing him(!).
I love that Dwayne isn't afraid to look silly or be defeated, and it was so nice to see one of my favourite actors again - Michael Clarke Duncan (RIP) - in a big role.

7. Standing Ovation (2010)/The Ice Pirates (1984)
In August I put on an afternoon movie to have on in the background, and ended up sitting there, mouth open, amazed and confused throughout the movie. Standing Ovation is a children's movie, a musical, a slap-stick comedy, a dark realistic family drama and a gangster movie all melded into one very inconsistently toned experience. I had no idea where the story was going, and it kept surprising me every scene transition. The ending is unfortunately full-on children's movie, but everything up to that was weird, confusing, funny and emotional.
I became very interested in this director's work, and have been catching up on more of his movies since. Not that impressed by Mannequin 2 or Mac and Me (though I thought it was better than most, probably), but Ice Pirates was another amazing gem; a comedy, science-fiction, pirate movie, some incredibly dark post-apocalypse elements and a weird "happy?" ending.
These elements combine into almost rapid-fire tonal changes - kidnapping and rape-alluding, industrial castration/brain-washing machines, murder of an entire robot family, slavery, food/water-shortage and serial-killers - wrapped in a lighthearted space-romp.
Neither Standing Ovation or Ice Pirates are very good quality-wise, but they introduced me to one of the most interesting directors I've seen in a while - Stewart Raffill, as well as being thoroughly entertaining, interesting experiences.

6. L'illusionniste/The Illusionist (2010)
Not to be confused with the Edwart Norton movie with the same name, the Illusionist is a bitter-sweet almost silent animated movie by the director of "Les triplettes de Belleville" about two people who sorely needed to communicate.
An ageing, forgotten French stage-magician meets a Scottish girl who believes in magic and we follow them through their ensuring combined adventures.
I found the ending to be both the end of their journey and a new start, and found the entire movie a beautiful, tragic and serene experience.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Bit-size impressions: Ballistic: Ecks vs Sever

Okey.. Ballistic is about Sever (Lucy Liu), a rogue DOA trained-from-childhood agent who kidnaps the DOA leader's son (or possibly FBI leader? He commands DOA agents, but he has a FBI back-story, so..?) as revenge for his involvement in the bombing of her family, and Ecks (Antonio Banderas), a former FBI-agent who's called back to active duty to hunt Sever who he thinks has information about his not-really-at-all missing wife, and some missing nano-bots I thought were brain-control bots, but seemed to be internal assassination bots? And then enemies turn out to be friends and friends turn out to be enemies and the bad guy is married to Ecks wife and the kid might not be the bad guy's son, but is carrying a nano-bot, and, and..

I was trying! I was genuinely trying to pay attention to the plot, I gave this movie my full attention, but it's just. so. boring! It's like the movie is actively -trying- to make you disinterested.

The camera-work and cinematography feel like a tv-movie, the acting is non-existent, the pyrotechnics are all flash and no bang, the "action" is laughable, the editing is incompetent, the story is convoluted and overly-complicated... and I just put more into this review than anyone did during this production.

Towards the end of the movie Lucy Liu and a DOA hench-man throw down their weapons to have a martial-arts fight-off, and you just sit there baffled that the movie still thinks it can get away with a scene like that.

After sitting through one and a half hour of this nothingness I wasn't angry, I wasn't annoyed, I wasn't even disappointed, I literally felt nothing. I just went "well, that was boring, lets watch something else."

A 2002 full cinema-release action movie with Lucy Liu and Antonio Banderas.

Do. Not. Watch.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Replicant and happy endings - a rant

First of all, this movie should've been called "Stockholm Syndrome the movie" or "How to be an abuser - a visual guide"...

Replicant is the story about Jake Riley, favourite detective of serial killer "Torch" (Van Damme), known for murdering single mothers and torching their bodies with the child still in the house. After failing to capture him one last time, Jake goes into retirement, but is picked up by a clandestine government agency who are planning to clone terrorists, and have cloned "Torch" to use him as a test subject.
The Replicant (he's never given a name) is telepathically connected with his murderous source, and Jake is tasked with activating the latent killer in the Replicant, any way possible.

The tag line on my Bluray "Think twice before you clone a killer" is just blatantly lying about where the story goes. Actually, cloning a killer works pretty well, though making it a much darker and more uncomfortable movie than I expected.

The intro is ludicrous; exposition, extremely fast cutting and jumping to our main plot after 5 minutes, never even -trying- to defend its idiotic set-up, while the end is even stupider than anticipated, ending on the most unrealistic happy ending you would never guess.

Everything in between features naive, newborn replicant Van Damme being abused, manipulated and scared by his "daddy" - the supposed hero of our story, and struggling family man (maybe. We could never figure out if he was related to the fellow police officer/mother he keeps visiting. The kid called him "uncle", he sends his mother to stay with her, and yet, in a deleted scene, they were making out. O.o)
Jake might not be doing it on purpose (we weren't sure), but the way he treats the Replicant is basically a blueprint for creating a dependent - he ignores the Replicant, is overly violent, blames him for any tiny mistake, and just when he's ripped all the footing out from under his feet, he shows him just a little bit of kindness. (Rinse and repeat)
It's depressing, uncomfortable and sad, but not bad. Van Damme absolutely shines in this role, and every time his "daddy" gets angry with him it is heart-breaking to watch.

It's just that nothing else supports the amazing performance and moral lesson presented by Van Damme's Replicant. His serial-murder version is not especially fleshed out or interestingly played, Michael Rooker as Jake just phones in his role, the dialogue is incredibly ham-fisted and likes hammering its points home (while not following up on them. At all) the one-liners are weak and the Van Damme/Van Damme fight scenes are not on the quality level they should have been.

There's a scene in the deleted scenes showing Jake going back to his whatever-their-relationship partner's house and receiving a drawing from her son - illustrating him standing over the beaten up replicant (he brought the replicant to her house, because of course he did, handcuffed him in the basement, son found him, offered him a snack, came running out from the basement, mouth bleeding. Jake went ballistic and savagely beat the replicant - turned out the kid had knocked heads with the dog) which I understand why they cut (it was part of a larger scene with family drama), but really wish they hadn't, because it would have been the -only- indication in the movie that Jake's behavior isn't okey.

I was assuming the movie would be either funny-bad or forgettable, but it's neither, solely because of that replicant performance. It is sad, touching, heart-breaking, infuriating and meaningful, and the movie insults everything it is, it could have been, and its viewers with a bullshit ending that ignores everything that's happened to give replicant Van Damme a girl friend.

About halfway through the movie serial killer Van Damme finds out about his clone and starts manipulating him to turn against Jake because they're "brothers", so I was expecting the movie to end with replicant Van Damme having to choose between his "daddy" and his "brother", killing serial killer Van Damme to save Jake.

It doesn't.

What I wanted to happen was after we'd dealt with serial killer Van Damme and everything is over we enter Jake's house at night, Jake is on the floor, dead, while replicant Van Damme is sitting in a corner, crying, covered in blood.

That definitely doesn't happen.

What happened to bad endings? When did we decide that all movies, no matter what age rating, how dark the story is or what the movie is about shall end on a happy note, ham-fistedly inserted or not?
Some times a dark ending is more meaningful, more poignant, more likely to make an impact, and yet I feel I haven't seen a bad ending in.. 15 years?
Give me my unhappy, terrifying, heart-breaking periods back!

This was a story about a new-born clone given the genetic make-up of a killer, reliving every bad thing that'd happened to the original, every murder he'd done and even being telepathically linked to the guy while he does his deeds - all the while being abused and hated by the first, and only human he's connected with, and we still felt this was the perfect set-up for a nurture over nature ending?

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Transmorphers - More than meets the eye, but your eyes will hurt

I'll always prefer movies/creators that try to do way more than they have the capability to and therefore fail miserably, over movies that just couldn't be bothered trying more than the bare minimum (I'm looking at you Birdemic, the only movie (so far) I've ever rated a "1" on IMDB), and Transmorphers definitely falls into that first category.

This Asylum mockbuster, trying to look like Transformers (released the same year), is actually in the vein of Matrix/Cleopatra 2525 with elements from Demolition Man, Blade Runner, Star Wars, Terminator and Transformers (the animated ones), and some (inadvertent) social commentary.

- A hundred years after mankind blew up the skies to combat the rising army of robots, the remaining humans have been surviving under the earth, keeping a stale-mate by not engaging the robots, and prosecuting anyone who suggests fighting. Finally scientists think they have found a way to fight back, but the team sent out to test the new device were all slaughtered. Seeing no other option, the military defrosts known pro-war vigilante Warren Mitchell and his friend "Itchy" to launch a final, desperate attack at the robot overlords. But is there more to Mitchell than meets the eye?

The script is trying way, way too hard, with so many sub-plots and characters that it's hard to keep up (I only mentioned about half the plot threads in my summary), not to mention the amateur editing that rhythmically flashes "lightning bolts" at you and runs both the sound effects and the music over the voices when we're outside making it impossible to hear what anyone is saying (which unfortunately is almost half the movie), and yet, there's a certain charm to the whole thing.
While none of the plot elements are unique or new, the way the story is grafted together is pretty well done, and the lesbian sub-plot (from not having enough male lead actors) blends quite well with the futuristic, dystopian setting (though she is a really bad general). It just doesn't have time to develop any of the story threads since it's basically forcing 5 films into 1.

The ending is genuinely almost good, and Matthew Wolf as Mitchell is head and shoulders above Asylum's usual actor quality, while Griff Furst (Itchy), Sarah Hall (trooper), and Shaley Scott (crazy person, see above) all deliver quite entertaining performances.

If you can handle the headache-inducing flashing and the inept sound editing, and like different takes on known sci-fi plots, this asylum mock-up is actually worth a watch.

P.S - Leigh Scott, you can overlay the countdown over all the scenes, even when we switch to people/places where the countdown wouldn't be heard. We would understand that it's an editing choice to bring all the different plot elements together.

Friday, 6 November 2015

Starship Troopers 3: Marauder (2008) review/love letter

It is not often I watch a movie and go "why have I never heard about this one before, it is amazing!", knowing there and then that the movie will become one of my new favourite things, but that's exactly what happened when I watched Starship Troopers 3.
I was one of the people who really liked Starship Troopers the movie, and I still credit it for stopping the incredibly annoying "these bad aliens are attacking the earth because they're aliens"-trope films like Independence day and Titan AE perpetuated. But, any interest I had in the subversion and social commentary alluded to in first movie was extinguished by the travesty of a body-snatcher "horror film" Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation. Bleh.

Marauder is the third film in the series by writer Ed Neumeier, and the first one he directed himself  - apparently to firmly answer once and for all the debate over whether the first movie was a satire or not.
Marauder just ramps everything up; the satire, the social commentary, the propaganda, the mass-manipulation, the "to defeat our enemy we're becoming our enemy", humans still underestimating the bugs, people benefiting from the war going on forever as both sides try to vanquish each other completely instead of trying to find a compromise.. He even brings in the Mech suits and the planet-destroying bomb fans of the books wanted in the first film.

It takes some time to understand the tone of Marauder, it keeps jumping from over-the-top, comedic propaganda broadcasts to the bloody reality of war, but as we progress the propaganda clips build a more and more ironic view of the Federation, as we see both the glossy outward image, and the behind-the-scenes scheming.
I really appreciated that the movie took its loss and combat seriously, keeping the comedy in the dialogue and non-life threatening parts. There are of course weaknesses to the movie - the budget is low, some of the actors really struggle to pronounce their lines and the dialogue in itself is trying a bit too hard to be cool (also Casper Van Dien plays one scene great - the meeting his old friend/bar struggle is really well done - and then he sort of phones it in for the rest of the movie), and the movie flounders revealing the (by then) rather obvious plot twist - but everything is alleviated by the amazing over-the-top performances of Stephen Hogan as the Sky Marshall and Amanda Donohoe as the wannabe new sky marshall. No matter what the rest of the movie had been, I would probably have recommended it anyway just for those two. You need to see Hogan's slow reveal of his character's true motivations, it's masterful.

I still do not understand why this one isn't a more well-known cult film, it seems like it should appeal to people who like movies like Stranger than Fiction, Thank you for Smoking, Cradle will Rock - subversive films that deal with human motivation and how we can be manipulated.
One theory is that the movie can be read as both highly pro-religion -and- highly anti-religion. I'm still not sure what the writer/director was going for, but I'd say it's pretty safe to say the movie is anti-organized religion, and it can definitely be read as anti-military - all highly controversial subjects a lot of movie viewers seem to react negatively to (at least that's what I've concluded from reading IMDB comments over the years. People hate both religious films and anti-religious films, and don't you dare say anything negative about the military).
It is not being subtle about it either. In fact, it is being so unsubtle about its symbolism that it is rather genius, culminating in two of the main characters getting engaged in front of an exploding planet.
In the end the humans won a small victory, all our main characters have been subdued into new positions, and the Federation is ready to keep fighting the "righteous", never-ending war, now with a new weapon in their arsenal, in the most depressing happy ending I've ever seen.

It. Is. Glorious.

"In related news; peace terrorist Elmo Gonif and 51 of his closest friends where hung this morning, in what many believe to be the all-time record for executions in a single day since the 21th century!"

Also, it has boobs.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Bit-size impressions: Journey to the Center of the Earth

Asylum's "answer" to "why is the whole exploration force women?" seem to be "why can't they all be women? Are you sexist?" Well played Asylum, well played.
This makes their Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008) movie the highest number of female leads vs male I've seen in a long while.. 

A California science/military institute is doing a teleportation experiment, planning to send our group of women to (I assume) a similar institute in Stuttgart, Germany. Instead the team end up in the center of the earth, where they're chased by a T-Rex, poisoned by plants and hunted by huge spiders. Fortunately the sister of the team leader (and the experiment head's ex girl-friend) has a huge drill that's already dug deeper than ever before, so she and the experiment head set out to dig their way into the core to save the team.

The movie itself is okey - a bit boring in places, but passable entertainment. Most of the leads do decent performances (besides the blonde, dainty soldier. How did you get on this mission?!?), the special effects are adorably bad and the story is okey. Props for smearing the women in gunk and not keeping them pretty while they're escaping dangers and spider webs (and the same running footage... Every time..). 
The single male lead was the only one who got out spot free, so to speak, so it was almost like he was the designated eye-candy. ^^
I wish they'd explained the tough girl's infatuation with the blond one, as it was never clear if she was bullying her because she liked her, or because she had PTSD..

And please, for the love of God, give Dedee Pfeiffer better directing on what to do with her hands, or tie them down! *glasses on, glasses off, glasses on, glasses off, pen in mouth, pen out, pen in, pen out..* She was a slave to her props in most of the exposition scenes!

At least it was better than the 2008 Brendan Fraser one. I'm -still- pissed at that infuriating "family movie", where we spend most of the movie following the underage teenage nephew creepily hit on the adult woman who's there to be their guide.

Ella Minnow Pea book review

"Ella Minnow Pea" by Mark Dunn was a really interesting book about language. A small island Nollop - outside the US - have built their society around the guy who came up with the pangram "the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog". When the letters on his statue fall down the council decides this is the will of Nollop and removes the characters from all discourse.

The epistle-based society fall into despair, but do not dare fight the council, and we follow through letters, notes and other written communication the fall of the Nollopian society.

It's a very smart book, with a huge glossary and some interesting grammatical choices as the letters fall, though you have to have a huge vocabulary to follow it - as they start using more and more synonyms I spent an increasing amount of time looking up words in the dictionary, until they lose so many graphemes that they resort to "sound-likes" which makes it difficult to read in a totally different way.

While I really liked the word-play and the intelligence in the language-based writing, I wasn't as fond of the story-telling. I felt the book kept telling me plot threads right before them coming into effect - why doesn't the increasingly tyrannical council read the islanders written communication? Because Nollop said before he died "never to read your neighbour's letters". Literally the next page is the council putting into effect a written-communication checker. He's just French so he won't be able to actually read the letters, keeping true to Nollop's wishes. - and stuff like this happens several times. I also found the tone took a heavy turn towards the end, suddenly becoming very dark, and there's a huge plot element with one of the council members I felt was never acknowledged or resolved.

So, I really liked it as a intelligent language experiment, but not as much as a stand-alone story. I'd recommend reading it if you're interested in language, grammar and creative takes on writing.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Ice Twisters review

Ice Twisters is a 2009 Canadian made-for-TV movie that can best be described as an episode of Castle - if the episode was a low-budget disaster movie set in one of Castle's books.
Main protagonist Charlie (Mark Moses) is a former scientist turned disaster novel writer, who's coincidentally doing a book signing/film interview in the same general area that the FSF (Federal Science Foundation) is testing their weather drones, that revolutionary can generate rain clouds, not just seed them. Of course, the experiment generates a freak storm at the book signing, and Charlie runs into his former love-interest/assistant Joanne (Camille Sullivan) - now the main scientist behind the weather drones - and forces himself onto their investigation. After another storm Joanne wants to pull the plug on the experiment, but we soon find out that the government official in charge and the other scientist have conspired and locked them out of the drone control program. The heroes go rogue, trying to stop the drones while battling worse and worse storms threatening to destroy the entire Portland area.

"We just need to shoot through at the right angle"
The first half of the movie has a surprisingly plausible set-up, with pretty well-written dialogue. Most of the actors both do and say things you could actually accept real people doing (bear in mind I'm comparing this to movies which often have plot-synopses like this: "Stunned, scientist David Koch discovers evidence that it was a shift in the Earth's polarity that triggered the last Ice Age.. In just 24 hours." (from my newly bought 10 disaster movies DVD collection. No I don't know either if it's the ice age or the realization that only took 24 hours..)), and pretty much every scene with the main protagonist (Charlie) is laugh-inducing because of his snarky, arrogant attitude.
The one discrepancy is the government official - Frank, played by Robert Moloney - who apparently decided to show up on set ready to play the main villain in a Bond movie, and nobody dared tone him down. Which is fortunate, because his performance is by far the best thing about the movie, to such a degree that you don't even care that the movie goes off the deep end during the second half.

Romantic sub-plot development, shot by hiding in the grass..?
None of that however explains the weird creeper camera work, where the camera man is often laying on the ground or hiding behind furniture/buildings during exposition or character development scenes. It's like Mark Moses and Robert Moloney thought they were doing a comedy, most of the side-characters thought they'd act somewhere between a biopic and a (poorly acted) drama (besides the aid, who was obviously playing in an action-thriller terrorism movie..), while the cinematographer was making a slasher-movie.

Saving the earth at the University's HAARP facility, framed by the background shelves
The movie ends with the heroes (the ones who survived) walking into the sunset(rise?) and the villain being confronted with his actions - sitting by his desk silently realizing that his job and life is over.
It is cliché-ily beautiful. His performance combined with the Castle-like attitude of Moses' character and the insane disaster shots/deaths in the second part makes most of the movie genuinely entertaining to watch.
If you're looking for a realistic disaster movie, you won't find it here (let me know if you -do- find one), but if you're looking for a silly, low-budget disaster flick, this one is definitely worth considering.
For me the biggest "quality" sign for these types of movies is "would I watch it again?" and for Ice Twisters, that's a definite yes, in fact, it'd probably be one of my pics for a disaster schlock night.

"Good luck in prison"
And Robert Moloney is definitely making my list of  "Ooh, it's that guy again, yay!" actors..

Saturday, 19 September 2015

Bit-size impressions: Battle of the Damned (2013)

Dolph Lundgren (Max Gatling) is sent into a quarantined Malaysia(?) to rescue Jude, the daughter of a high-paying CEO, where she's staying in a mansion? embassy? along with other survivors; "good guy" leader who prefers waiting out the outbreak, scientist who keeps insisting they're NOT zombies, white dress girl with the hots for Gatling, jogging girl (why is she always jogging?!) and wannabe samurai Elvis.
At first they're less than thrilled by Gatling's mission to get out of the zone, but when Jude's "big secret" is revealed everyone(citation needed) bands together to get her out as soon as possible.

-Non-zombies might not understand how corners work, but they're amazing at stair-climbing.

-Random robots show up half-way through the story and have way more personality and design than the characters.

From the one-dimensional characters to the awkward story, the saddest thing about this action film with stunt men and martial artists in main roles, is that the fight sequences are incredibly boring.

Best line:
(Killer robots from Japan have just shown up and murdered a whole lot of non-zombies)
Gatling: "How did you get here?"
Robot: "We walked"

Christopher Hatton obviously recognizes that his robots (from his previous movie; Robotropolis) are his best feature, so I hope he keeps this up, and I'll end up seeing these robots randomly insert themselves into every movie he makes.

Monday, 14 September 2015

Impressions: I Am Omega

I've been positively surprised by these 2007 era Asylum movies, there's some genuinely good ideas hidden behind the low-budget and shoddy editing/acting, and I am Omega was no different.

First half of the movie details Renchard's solitary life after a zombie/mutant apocalypse, trying to retain as much normality he can - shopping for groceries, keeping up routines, communicating with his "companions" and pretty much pretending everything is okey, while the second half deals with an independent military group who kidnap Renchard and force him to help them get hold of a girl, who might have the "blood"cure to the outbreak.

The second half is a lot weaker than the first half (possibly because it doesn't just directly follow the book? I haven't read "I am Legend", just watched the meh movie), with Geoff Meed (Vincent) interpreting his role as "the most insane, evil, horrifying asshole possible", but even this part has some (terrifyingly, creepy) unique ideas with Vincent almost raping the girl with the corpse of his friend.
(I know. But genuinely unsettling scenes in an Asylum movie? That's worth something)
I'm disquieted just looking at this image, that's how much these scenes stuck with me
It's marred by the same zombie-mutants reappearing after having been killed, repeatedly, but most of all it's lacking a sense of time.
I have no idea how long it's been since Renchard lost his family (seen in the intro) and the zombie apocalypse began. Renchard acts like he hasn't seen a human in a decade when he's first contacted, but that doesn't match the soldiers, who state they used to be part of the military when the outbreak started, and Mike is so young this can't have been more than 5 years ago.
There's also no way to judge how many days passed since Renchard first heard the "skype call" until he finally answers.
And the bombs that're supposed to go off after 24 hours fluctuate wildly in time, lasting at least three nights after the first we see activated.

Best part? Peek-a-boo zombies who inexplicably hide in the sand or wait around out of sight for the best moment to scare the protagonists.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Stuart Little ramblings

(Small note: I'm trying to actually post everything I write, so this is my draft of a review of Stuart Little)

Stuart Little is a cute, safe movie. Though the story (Shyamalan? Really?) won't win any awards, it also doesn't feature any problematic scenes, and seems like it would shine as a family movie you can just put on when you want some safe mid-day entertainment while you get stuff done.
There's a few things here you don't usually see in children's movies.
I like that none of the adults are bad guys. Stuart's adoptive parents really try their best and love him for who he is, they make mistakes, but they wholeheartedly love their sons, and the rest of the family are supportive and good guys too. Even the orphanage manager and Stuart's "real" parents are good guys, leaving this as one of the few children's movies that doesn't feature adults as bad guys.

What makes the movie stand out among the crop is the team behind it. Everyone connected to this project treated the movie seriously and with respect. From Hugh Laurie's amazing performance as mr. Little to the great New York score, the movie features interesting direction the whole way through. The set pieces (especially the Little house) have a very deliberate design that makes everything a bit otherworldly, the boat race in Central Park is very interestingly directed, using either stop motion or puppeteering, and all the cats are played by actual cats with only their faces cgi'd, which lets the movie focus on Stuart's animation.

But what really makes the movie worth watching, even as an adult, is the amazing cinematography by Guillermo Navarro, most known for classics such as Pan's Labyrinth, Jackie Brown and Hellboy II. There's wide lens shots, pan shots, creative camera angles.. There's one scene in particular, where Stuart is contemplating life with his real parents and the loss of the Little family, where he looks out of the window and the camera slowly pans out from his close-up to show the New York City backdrop in a way that could rival any emotional moment in any classic.
I have never seen this level of cinematography in a children's movie, and I sorely appreciate how much love, care and quality Navarro put into his work.

Osmosis Jones ramblings

(Small note: I'm trying to actually post everything I write, so this is my draft of a review on Osmosis Jones which I wrote the day before Nostalgia Critic posted his review. See that for a more coherent take on this stupid thing)

Osmosis Jones..  OMG. Just why?

This 2001 movie with Chris Rock in the main role featuring obscure buddy-cop movie humour, references to 80s and early 90s movies like Blade Runner and Titanic, a surprisingly good performance by Shatner channeling Nixon, and the worst performance by Bill Murray I've ever seen.

Horrible 90s rap music and an extremely invasive orchestral score make this one of the worst musical film scores I've heard.
Bill Murray muddles through a character who seem to simultaneously be trying to get both the "worst father of the year" award and a razzie award, with just gross-out humour after gross-out humour and nothing else, while the animated sequences (inside Murray's body) are playing out a buddy-cop setting, that unfortunately never manages to push past the established cliches.

The majority of the movie (the animated part) has some good ideas, and features some good performances, notably Drix and the major's aide, but is marred by its lack of focus and too-adult humour.

By the end of the movie we've totally lost track of our target audience, featuring a scene where the villain strangles the protagonist, and then threatens to kill the 9-year old girl.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Bit-size impressions: Santa Claws

"Santa Claws" by Asylum is adorable. Santa Claus is allergic to cats (among other things), so when he's given three kittens to take care of, he's incapacitated and the kittens have to take over the job. *squee* 
It's low budget, and it feels like they didn't manage to film all of the scenes, so the plot is inconsistent, but there was no way a pitch like that wouldn't be adorable. 

I especially like the girl who wants to keep the kittens for herself, in her own little corner of hell. 
That kid reveled in that role!