Movie Review – Urban Legend (1998)

Director: Jamie Blank

Stars: Jared Leto, Michael Rosenbaum, Alicia Witt, Rebecca Gayheart, Loretta Devine, Joshua Jackson, Tara Reid, John Neville, Danielle Harris, Julian Richings, Robert England, Brad Dourif, Natasha Gregson Wagner

A college campus is swept up in a flurry of murders that all have one thing in common – they are based on urban legends.

This movie was made in ’98. It looks and feels like it was made in 90/91. Urban Legend straddles the line between parody and seriousness yet commits fully to neither, so it doesn’t really work.

With slasher films the whole thing is to try and work out who the killer is. I think here they tried to be too clever and put in too many red herrings, so that when the killer is eventually revealed it takes a while to process it, and this isn’t helped by the fact that it then piles on the twists, meaning that you’re spending the climax trying to work out how everything fits together rather than enjoying the film.

The rest of the film is pretty stupid really. None of the characters are that likeable and at times Michael Rosenbaum (as much as I love the guy) seems to be doing a Nicolas Cage impression. The characters are all taking a class that teaches them about urban legends. I’m not sure what class teaches you about these but it gives a way for the film to introduce these murders, but I feel that it would have been stronger had the murders been based on actual famous urban legends. As it is the characters have to resort to going to the library and finding an encyclopaedia of urban legends (because that’s a thing that exists).

The campus security is laughable as well. Even though there’s been a murder no police are called, it’s all handled by one guard (who is apparently the only one employed by the whole campus, and there’s also only one janitor as well). Despite there being “Aren’t you glad you turned on the lights?” written in blood on the wall, the guard decides that there’s nothing suspicious and concludes that it was a suicide. Come on!

The film is filled with little things like this, and it overdoes the ‘character turns around and there’s someone standing right behind them’ trick too.

All in all it’s a pretty crap movie so it’s not worth watching unless you want a cheesy horror movie to make fun of. It’s not scary, it’s not tense and it’s not thrilling.

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Deadpool Test Footage leaked (and it’s freaking amazing!)

This movie has to get made!

My Tiny Obsessions

A test footage, created in 2011, has Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool and Tim Miller as a director. If you have not seen it yet, you better rush to it, because FOX is already taking down the videos (so get moving!)

Deadpool-leaked-test-footage

People in high places: THIS MOVIE NEEDS TO HAPPEN, LIKE NOW! Come on, Deadpool is funny as hell and we need him in the MARVEL family, so FOX, get moving and do this movie already!!! (please…..)

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Movie Review – Looney Tunes: Back in Action (2003) & a Discussion About the Philosophical Implications of Looney Tunes

Director: Joe Dante

Stars: Brenden Fraser, Jenna Elfman, Steve Martin, Daffy Duck, Bugs Bunny, Marvin the Martian, Wile E. Coyote, Joan Cusack, Heather Locklear, Joe Alasky and Timothy Dalton

Daffy is tired of playing second fiddle to Bugs and some of the execs feel that Bugs is the only marketable asset, so when Kate (Elfman) fires Daffy he’s eager to begin a new life. At the same time DJ (Fraser) is fired as well and Daffy hangs onto the security guard, especially when he finds out that DJ is the son of the famous spy actor Damien Drake (Dalton). However, it turns out that not only did Drake play a spy in films, he is a spy in real life! Daffy, DJ, Bugs and Kate get swept up in a globe-trotting adventure to find the Blue Monkey diamond and foil the plans of the ACME chairman, and Daffy has to learn what it truly means to be a hero.

Okay, this film is a riot. I love Looney Tunes and I thought that Looney Tunes: Back in Action captured the spirit of the cartoons and translated it into a fun romp that’s probably not quite as good as Space Jam, but it’s a madcap adventure with a lot of in-jokes. I thought the plot was, well, it’s secondary to the interplay between Bugs and Daffy really. It’s not something that’s particularly captivating but it’s not horrible either, and it sounds strange to say it but Steve Martin’s villainous character was too cartoonish. There’s also a big plot hole at the end as (spoilers) if DJ is holding the diamond why does he not just turn the bad guys into monkeys and deal with them that way?

I think Brendan Fraser is an underrated actor. He obviously has a good sense of humour about himself and this shines through in the film. Daffy steals the show though. I always found him funnier than Bugs so I was glad to see that he shares the action. The in-jokes though, in-jokes GALORE. I loved it! So many cute references and quick cameos. I especially loved the short scene with Scooby-Doo, Shaggy and Matthew Lillard. Oh, and Batman! And all the fun references to James Bond without actually mentioning the name, and there were references to Star Wars as well. I just loved it. The movie flew by, I was totally caught up in the humour and the characters and it had me laughing a lot. So obviously I am recommending this!

I do find it odd though when these cartoon characters are placed into the real world. I mean, they’re essentially indestructible and can survive, well, anything! It kinda explains why they’re so caught up in these crazy jokes and schemes because they don’t ever have to worry about dying or their mortality, or even leaving a legacy behind. They can afford to be looney and act as if nothing seriously matters because for them it doesn’t. There’s obviously some amount of pain but really getting blown up is just a minor inconvenience for them. The whole culture of these characters emphasises that what matters is the striving for goals, not achieving them. Characters like Elmer Fudd, Yosemite Sam, Sylvester and Wile E. Coyote all target other characters but if they catch them…what? They’re not going to die, so it’s a case of pouring all their energy into one quest over and over again that is doomed to failure because even if they succeed in catching Bugs or Tweety Pie or the Road Runner, well, there’s nothing left for them. Their whole existence is built on this concept of the impossible quest, and perhaps this is symbolic of our own longing for trying to achieve the perfect life, and to be perfectly happy and perfectly in love. So much of what we’re fed in the media is that our life has to be a certain way and until we have these things we can’t feel that we’ve achieved anything, but the Looney Tunes characters says that it’s okay, it’s alright, the joy is in the trying.

None capture this more than Wile E. Coyote, who has long been my favourite Looney Tunes character. He shows great imagination and incredible determination to capture the Road Runner, and such perseverance and dedication should be celebrated. I would even go so far as to say that he is one of my role models. Thus, I was disappointed when the film showed him as working with ACME. I never saw Wile E. Coyote as a bad guy, not really. I mean, sure, hunting Road Runner isn’t something I would condone but it’s clear in the cartoons that Road Runner mercilessly taunts him. I don’t know what set off Wile E.’s obsession with Road Runner and perhaps it would be better for his mental health if he gave up his pursuit, but he always struck me as a sympathetic, pitiful figure rather than someone that had a malicious streak so I’m not sure that he’d arbitrarily give his services over to ACME, but perhaps I’m biased because I didn’t want to see one of my favourite characters on the side of the bad guys.

But then again given what I said earlier should we be sympathetic to Wile E.? He can’t die, so plummeting off a cliff isn’t as tragic as it would be for one of us. Obviously he suffers a lot of pain but he still chooses to devote his time and energy in pursuit of Road Runner. Maybe instead I sympathise with him because I see the lost potential within, the idea that if he could just see past the Road Runner he might realize that there are so many other possibilities for him to pursue. That strikes me as rather tragic really.

Anyway, yes, I wholeheartedly recommend the film and I would welcome any comments about the philosophical concepts of Looney Tunes.

Book Review – Great North Road by Peter F. Hamilton

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Apparently Peter F. Hamilton is Britain’s number one science fiction writer. This is my first experience with one of his books and it’s quite a tome to get started with. It clocks in at over 1000 pages. The story of Great North Road begins with a murder and ends with an exploration of what it means to be human and the nature of God. It’s set in the future and first we meet Sid Hurst, a detective in the Great Tyne area who is tasked with apprehending the murdered. The other main character is Angela Tramelo, a woman who was accused of a similar murder twenty years previously and who is now freed, determined to find out who committed the crime she was accused of. There are many other characters and subplots but I’m not going to go into them here, those two characters are the ones who the two aspects of the plot revolve around.

I always enjoy sci-fi and this is set in a world that’s an extrapolation of our own. Hamilton does a good job at depicting life in the future, it’s fairly similar to now but there are certain technologies that have been engrained into the world. It all feels authentic and a pretty good approximation of how things could be. The big technological development that has impacted the world is cloning. The North family are all clones, derived from three brothers. One branch has names beginning with ‘A’, one with ‘B’, and one with ‘C’. While I initially thought this system of naming was clever I soon realized that I was finding it hard to keep track of the characters as they all had similar names.

Keeping track of characters is difficult, as they appear and disappear often. Some characters are given big passages and yet they don’t really impact the plot at all, indeed the rhythm of the story can be difficult to adjust to as the point of view shifts easily and if you don’t remain focused you can lose track. It doesn’t help that it shifts into flashbacks in the same way, so it’s often quite disorienting.

This is a problem because I never felt truly invested in anything that was going on. Some of the characters are introduced and then not mentioned for what seems like hundreds of pages, and it’s the same with the different sub plots. The investigation starts off at a good pace but it quickly gets bogged down, and the same is true for Angela’s story. A lot happens but none of it feels consequential and while it’s easy to read it’s not captivating. I feel that all the characters were given a fitting resolution and I liked how the plot eventually unfolded, but due to the drawn out nature of it the revelation didn’t have a big impact and it all boiled down to quite an underwhelming feeling.

I found myself glazing over many parts of the books. A lot of it felt unnecessary and some of the action sequences lacked dynamism. Due to there being a lot of characters few of them were explored to any degree. The only one I felt invested in was Angela who was the most interesting, but even she disappeared for a good chunk. There’s another nitpick I have as well. The author devotes each chapter to a day and this means that some chapters are huge (we’re talking fifty pages) while others are short. It’s just a personal thing but long chapters are one of my pet peeves in books, and since I found the narrative to be quite jumpy at times I can’t help but feel that the chapters would have been better divided either by location or characters.

So, I can’t really recommend it. I don’t think it’s a bad book and a lot of it is quite clever, but it feels indulgent. If it was just the Angela story or just the Sid story then it might have worked, but there’s too much going on and not enough of it is dramatic so it didn’t hold my attention. When I finished it I didn’t feel any great emotion, or like I had been joyfully lost in an intricate world. It was simply a feeling of , ‘Oh, okay, that’s it, huh’. Unfortunately, this book takes a big investment of time and I don’t think it’s worth it.

Movie Review – The Mission (1986)

Director: Roland Joffé

Stars: Robert De Niro, Jeremy Irons, Liam Neeson, Aidan Quinn, Ray McAnally, Ronald Pickup, Chuck Low

18th Century Spanish Jesuits try to defend a missionary from coming under the rule of pro-slavery Portugal.

Snoozefest! Damn this film was boring. I mean, that synopsis up there is pretty much what this film is about but that doesn’t even get introduced until about 45 minutes into the film (although the Cardinal was narrating from the beginning but he was just blathering on). Yeah it looks nice and the locations were beautiful but the heart of the story just didn’t do anything for me. It threatened to get good towards the end as there were some actions scenes but they never reached a blistering pace.

On a side note, Liam Neeson has hardly changed in 28 years.

But basically the missionaries went in and tried to spread the word of God, you know, because that’s such a noble cause, to go in and dominate someone else’s culture. Anyway, the missions are under threat of being part of a territorial dispute between the Spanish and the Portuguese, and the Cardinal is there to decide whether they should be protected from the negotiations or whether they are just part of the deal.

It’s obviously an ugly period of human history and the film shows the best and worst of religion (and humanity). But the problem is that it’s about the tribe suffering, yet all the focus is on the priests and the cardinal. I mean, at the end the cardinal has a laughably “poignant” speech about the nature of the world and it’s completely ridiculous because the impact of the film shouldn’t be upon. It’s supposed to be about the suffering of the tribe, not about the blot on the conscious of a cardinal who played at politics.

It seems to me that the tribe are merely a plot point for the other characters to quarrel over, and that’s just inexcusable in my opinion. And the other thing is that it’s just boring. Did not like this film at all. Avoid The Mission.

Movie Review – King and Country (1964)

Director: Joseph Losey

Stars: Dirk Bogarde, Tom Courtenay, Leo McKern, Barry Foster, Peter Copley

During WW1, Private Hamp (Courtenay) is accused of desertion with the penalty of death before a firing squad. Captain Hargreaves (Bogarde) is responsible for his defence and tries to prove that Hamp wasn’t in the right state of mind,, all the while shells and bombs are going off all around them as they’re in the trenches.

I do like war films and this combines with another of my favourite genres; courtroom dramas. The subject isn’t really anything new but it does make some good commentary on how the mind can be a fragile thing and simply saying, ‘Pull yourself together!’ is not valuable treatment. Courtenay was earnest in his role and always gave the air of someone who didn’t quite grasp the magnitude of his actions. Hargreaves is a more complicated character as he sympathises with Hamp but also displays a detestable attitude towards the man, and I was never quite sure if he believed what he was defending.

There were some good contrasts though, when Hamp thanked Hargreaves for defending him the officer responded by saying that he was doing his duty, and if Hamp had stuck to that they wouldn’t be in the mess they were in.

While the case is being heard, the rest of the men are having their own trial with a rat. The contrast with Hamp isn’t subtle but it is effective. There’s a strong anti-war sentiment here, and it has some scathing commentary on the officers in charge, especially when the verdict is revealed, and even more so when the reason for that verdict is given. The movie is also interspersed with actual photographs, which provides a harrowing reminder that this was a grim reality.

I can see why it has been overshadowed by other films but I really enjoyed it and the ending is powerful. It definitely deserves a bigger audience, so check out King and Country if you can.

Movie Review – Footsteps in the Fog (1955)

Director: Arthur Lubin

Stars: Stewart Granger, Jean Simmons, Bill Travers, Belinda Lee, Ronald Squire,

Set in the early 1900s, Footsteps in the Fog begins just after aristocrat Stephen Lowry (Granger) has lost his wife. However, his maid Lily (Simmons) knows that Stephen poisoned his wife, and she uses this knowledge to her advantage, but every time she pushes for something new she threatens to annoy Stephen. He’s already killed one woman, can he do it again?

I really enjoyed this film. It wastes no time in getting to the heart of the matter and the dynamic between Stephen and Lily is fraught with tension. Granger and Simmons work so well together. Each of them have to keep up an innocent façade but behind their eyes lies wickedness, and they each push each other resulting in them both being bonded by the secret but also being mistrustful of each other, and each seeking to gain the upper hand.

But while this is going on Lowry’s life continues as he seeks to takes over a business partner’s business…and his daughter. This leads to a subplot where another character gets involved and there are two love triangles going on. It also manages to incorporate a courtroom drama as well. There’s a lot going on in a film that’s just around 90 minutes, but it all flows naturally and it doesn’t feel like it’s trying to do too much.

I loved the setting and staging of the film as well. The stately house was ominous and the picture of Lowry’s deceased wife was ever-present, the spectre looming over him. And the fog gave such tension. It hangs around the scene like a thick blanket and I was actually a little disappointed that more of the film didn’t take place in the fog; a lot of it was contained indoors.

This is the kind of film I love watched and reviewing though, a hidden gem. Stately English homes have been home to much Gothic horror but this is more than a typical one. I really, really liked and I encourage people to check it out.

Book Review – Before Watchmen: Nite Owl/Dr. Manhattan by J. Michael Straczynski & Others

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I put and others because otherwise the title would have been too long. Lots of people worked on these. Andy Kubert did the art for Nite Owl, Adam Hughes for Dr. Manhattan and Eduardo for Moloch. Yes, this volume contains a bonus story focusing on Moloch the Mystic. This is the third volume in the Before Watchmen series. So far I enjoyed Minutemen/Silk Spectre but I didn’t like Comedian/Rorschach  at all. Let’s see what I thought of these.

Nite Owl:

We start of with Dan Dreiberg. After the disappointment that was his own featured story, I’m also pleased to say that Rorschach makes a welcome return. The partnership between the two vigilantes was a part of Watchmen that was one of the more obvious routes to be expanded upon, but this story also shows Dan’s relationship with Hollis Mason too, as well as touching on a few scenes from Watchmen.

I think this one builds on the original in a worthwhile way. We see why Dan became obsessed with Nite Owl and crime fighting in general, and also a source for his costumed fetish. A great deal of this story deals with the sexual element, especially since the main criminal plot is about prostitutes that are being killed. Unfortunately this also leads to some misogynist dialogue and the Twilight Lady is borne from the worst excesses of the comic book psyche. It’s interesting really, because where Watchmen was intended to be a critique of superheroes this reads like a celebration of them. It touches on the nature of the superheroic legacy and also on the idea of masks and how some people use them to hide while others use them to reveal themselves. This is something I appreciate as it attempts to make some commentary on the tropes of the genre.

I loved the interactions between Nite Owl and Rorschach, and as a point we also get a glimpse into Walter’s childhood and this serves to flesh out his character much better than anything in his solo volume. Some of the dialogue is a bit too cute for its own good, but there are plenty of references to Watchmen including an origin for an object that played into the story well. The artwork was serviceable but nothing stellar. Overall I’d put this at about the same level as Silk Spectre. I enjoyed it but I can’t say that anything was completely mind-blowing about it. It’s definitely better than Comedian/Rorschach though, and the latter is served much better in here.

Dr. Manhattan:

Okay, now this is one that I enjoyed about as much as Minutemen. I LOVED this volume. It tells a non-linear story and plays with the layout of the pages in a way that feels like a spiritual successor to Watchmen. I wish more of the books did this because for one page you have to rotate the book completely to read everything, and then for a number of pages you actually have to turn the book upside down to read it properly. It’s a very clever way to play with the medium and it’s fitting that it was in the Dr. Manhattan volume, although I wish the other volumes had been as daring and imaginative with their layouts.

The story focuses on Dr. Manhattan trying to figure out why he existed and he follows the path of his life, examining all the decisions that led to the accident that created him. This leads to a split narrative where he looks at a number of choices and the story depicts both on pages that mirror each other. I really enjoyed this way of telling the story. The artwork was amazing and credit here to Adam Hughes because out of the ones I have read so far he’s the one that has most closely captured the style of Dave Gibbons, yet it’s still distinctive.

It’s surprising really since out of all the characters Dr. Manhattan is the one that would least be in need of a prequel, after all, given his nature we’re taken through much of his life in Watchmen itself. But here we get to see the different possibilities of his life and it all ties together wonderfully, especially as we see the beginnings of his partnership with Adrian. This and Minutemen have been the highlight so far. Oh, and there are a couple of fun little nods as well, like comic books drawn by Max Shea. Great addition.

Moloch:

Now here’s one that I didn’t expect to get a prequel. I mean, he was basically the stand-in for all the villains in Watchmen and ultimately I don’t think a story about him was really necessary. The attempt to give him a tragic background was a misguided effort I feel, although perhaps the parallels between his parents and that of the other characters were there to show there’s a fine line between deciding to be a hero or a villain, but if that was the case it should have been made clearer and explored in more depth.

It’s a decent story and the art is okay but it’s not something that I was clamouring for and after reading it I can’t say that it’s amazing. It expands on some things in Watchmen but not in any way that provides with something that we couldn’t otherwise infer. It’s quite cute the way the magician is fooled by the biggest trick on the world, and also how Moloch is finally trying to do penance for his crimes, but in doing so he helps bring about Adrian’s doomsday scenario, but cute is all it is. It’s only a short piece though so it reads and feels like a bonus. I can’t critique it too heavily because it wasn’t something I was expecting and it’s not what I bought the book for.

Overall I think this volume is a pretty good addition to the Watchmen universe and I’d put it on a par with Minutemen/Silk Spectre. For me, Minutemen is still the best story but Dr. Manhattan pushes it close, mostly with the way it plays with the page layouts. I’d recommend picking this collection up.

Movie Review – Shaolin Soccer (2001)

Director: Stephen Chow

Stars: Stephen Chow, Wei Zhao, Man Tat Ng, Yin Tse, Yat-Fei Wong, Kai Man Tin, Chi Chung Lam, Kwok-Kwan Chan, Mei Lin Mo

Steel Leg (Chow) is at a loss after his Master has died. He wants to promote Shaolin Kung-Fu but has no money and no way to go about it, that is until he runs into Golden Leg (Man Tat Ng), a cripple who was once a former great football player. When he witnesses the Kung-Fu in action he sees a way to form a new team and take the national tournament by storm, so the two of them go about recruiting Steel Leg’s former brothers.

Shaolin Soccer is completely ludicrous, dumb, hilarious and amazing. You kind of know what film you’re getting yourself in for when the team managed by the bad guy is called ‘Evil Team’. There’s nothing deep or unsubtle about this film and as long as you keep that in mind you’ll be okay. I was laughing hard at some of the preposterous scenes unfolding before my eyes, like the big song and dance number towards the beginning.

It’s really like a live-action cartoon where the unreal becomes understandable and logic gets cast aside in favour of sheer outrageousness. I’m still kind of amazed, even now. The make-over scene is one that completely had me floored.

That said, when a film is this bizarre there are some things which don’t quite work. Not all the jokes landed for me. I didn’t find a man having to wear stained pants on his head funny, and the forced kiss joke veered too closely to a rape joke to be funny, especially as it was repeated for a double impact. Also, now, I’m sure it would have been impossible to use a real ball but I think it would have been cool had the incorporated some real football action.

Should you watch this movie? I think if you want something that’s totally ridiculous then yes. If you get annoyed by bizarre and outrageous things then give this one a miss. I liked it though, and even thinking about some of the things in it makes me chuckle.