MAD: Deep Rising
Jun23

MAD: Deep Rising

(1998 Buena Vista/Watched on DVD) Not to be confused with either Deep Blue Sea, Deep Blue Something, Deep Impact or any other flash in the pan from the 90s purporting to be deep, this is a creature feature in which a luxury cruise liner comes a cropper when Squiddly Diddly takes an interest. Modern-day pirates are stuck in the middle of it, in a bungled robbery attempt. Or rather it’s not the Pirates we care about because they’re all aggressive, macho dillweeds we frankly can’t wait to see becoming fish food, but these guys are being transported by Treat Williams, playing a character I have chosen to head-canon as Old Jack Burton, piloting his good ship, the Pork Chop Express II. Frankly Kurt Russell was only doing Breakdown at the time and I’d gladly trade his appearance in that for what I just described. I’m sure John Carpentar would have approved, even if the satire of the loudmouth playing sidekick to the real Asian hero thing would have been sidelined (as his first mate who fits this bill gets mercilessly eaten) in favour of him basically being Han Solo. Appropriate, don’t you think, as the man originally cast in the role was Harrison Ford? Stephen Sommers wrote this, originally as a movie named Tentacle, and it feels both behind the times for the late 90s and a valuable piece of lost enjoyment for right now. Roger Ebert outright hated it, the critical reception stands at 31% freshness, some publications praised the effects but by today’s standards these are the most basic of CG, though with one or two really disgusting bits of practical work. But if you like monster movies there’s a lot of fun to be had here. It makes up for a lack of star power which was its undoing, with a supporting cast composed of people bound for good things, including Cliff Curtis, Djimon Hounsou, Famke Janssen, Wes Studi (who had already been in Dances With Wolves, Last of the Mohicans and Heat, but was about to be in the little picture that couldn’t, Mystery Men) and a just pre-Lock Stock Jason Flemming. Also a rare appearance from Trevor Goddard who played the bastardly Kano in Mortal Kombat and sadly died in 2003. My favourite is Kevin J. O’Connor, who is kind of Sommers’ Joe Pesci, playing a weasel again, but an entertaining one. He gets some surprisingly subtle moments, since he is weak and everyone around him is tough, he comes off as more human, more fragile, with some quiet performances in between snort-worthy one-liners. But nobody gets as good a line as Anthony Heald...

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MAD: Transformers – The Last Knight
Jun22

MAD: Transformers – The Last Knight

(2017 Paramount/Watched in the Cinema) Oh Transformers 5, how much do you defile with your existence? Let me count the ways. It mutilates the Arthur Legend, turning it into this explosion spewing tedium that will leave you longing for the bolted down Guy Ritchie vision. It wastes English rose, Laura Haddock, reducing her not-much-of-a-character to little more than a key who likes Marky Mark’s abs. It puts that particular bird-voiced, knuckle-dragging dingus front and centre for an excruciating amount of the running time, sidelining promising young actress Isabella Moner, who disappears for nearly two hours when she should have been the young hero of the whole movie. It yanks Dan Brown’s Illuminati bollocks out of the trashcan, dusts them off and force-feeds them to us. Physics gets a right Royal kicking with robots talking about getting goosebumps, robots gasping for breath, and the Earth once again getting smooshed into Cybertron with no visible or noted loss of life. Sir Anthony Hopkins is laid low with having to regurgitate some truly leaden exposition. Optimus Prime is kept backstage, but not in a “Jurassic Park” way like the first movie attempted, but in a “We don’t know what to do with this character now that he’s brainwashed and evil” kind of way. Somehow the disappointing Fast and Furious 8 did this same thing a few months ago and still managed to give Dominic some scenes of internal conflict and of challenging his villainous female puppeteer. None of that happens here at all, so the tag line Rethink your heroes should really read “There’s so many other better written heroes out there. Nothing to see here, we’re just smashing action figures together and spending WAY too much time with that guy from The Happening. You can move you asses along.” Optimus Prime, this titan of our childhoods has been through the wringer so many damn times now I had to strain my ears to ascertain whether it was really Peter Cullen after all. Any semblance to the original performance is a paper thin mask stapled on to this jingoism-spouting thug. Every movie he tells us that the Earth is splendid and that humans are so frigging fantastic, all the while we, as a people, have hunted his kind down and shot them to pieces. We suck in these movies, but they keep telling us the opposite. I mean we, the humans recruit Megatron and his cronies in this one, the same human guys who executed Ratchet last time like a dog in the street. We are fucking psychotic. It’s a Transformers picture and the Autobot are barely in it, the Decepticons feature...

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MAD: The Da Vinci Code
Jun21

MAD: The Da Vinci Code

(2006 Sony/Watched on DVD) I was expecting to rip this one a colossal, yawning new asshole. Back in the mid-2000s it was customary, especially among writers, to treat Dan Brown and his books like the perennial whipping boy. It was a simple equation, rather silly and poorly written + ludicrously popular = undeserving and needing a good kicking. In the interim years, in this same category we’ve had the Transformers movies, the Twilight movies, and the Fifty Shades movies.  But you know what? To use the current year argument, I don’t think I can direct any kind of real ire at something popular that suggests that twisted old men keep trying to prevent women being given a sniff of real power or they might realise their importance, and those same old men would have their pathetic machinations stymied. Yeah, this film is progressive, and I have all sorts of regressive, pathetic, twisted, greedy, lying old men to direct genuine fury at instead. In effect this is a pretentious treasure hunt with a bit too much grisly murder and a bit too much gum-flapping to be pacy and very entertaining, and it’s far, FAR too long, but when compared with its sequel, Angels and Demons (which I won’t cover here), it’s positively scintillating! When you know the answer to the riddle it can be a little tedious waiting for the stars of the show to catch up, but Tom Hanks is watchable, Audrey Tautau makes you wish she was in more English language films and Sir Ian McKellen is positively delightful as an aged scholar. If he could teach me art history I would be a devoted student for life. The weakest link is the usually excellent Paul Bettany in a ludicrous role as a dribbling, albino zealot, a grab bag of everyone’s worst assumptions about religion, 60% of his whole character is self-flagellation, the rest being stabbing people in the dark. And the finest element is Hans Zimmer’s score, culminating in Chevaliers de Sangreal, which sits firmly in my top ten themes of all cinema history. The reverence playing out at the end while Robert figures out a great secret taps into something profound, and always leaves me breathless. Although this time I did expect Diana to come striding out of the Louvre and stand in the moonlight, only to quip, “You took your...

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MAD: Dawn of Justice [Batman V Superman Redux]
Jun20

MAD: Dawn of Justice [Batman V Superman Redux]

(2017 Alex Shaw/Watched on MP4) With all respect to Zack Snyder, who, along with his family has gone through a nightmarish, unimaginable situation, this movie bothers me more than most. I’m not going to lay into him again, that would be incredibly insensitive and I just don’t like doing that sort of thing when a person is down. When they’re flying high it’s open season, but it feels very wrong when real life rears its merciless head and intrudes outside the movie. So this is just about the material within the film and not the thinking that led to it being in there in the first place. After seeing Wonder Woman I wanted to watch BvS again without all the elements I find objectionable, and just focusing as much  as possible on the stuff that really feels like Justice League building material. So that means Superman moping about not being appreciated, gone. Debating “Do we need a Superman?” gone (because we obviously do). Needlessly complex story about Superman being held accountable for murdering an African warlord and his private army but not for the destruction of Metropolis which many people still hate him for, gone. Bruce gnashing his teeth that this dangerous immigrant poses a threat to us all, gone. Batman killing man after man after man, gone. Batman’s nightmares over his parents’ murder and horrific, confusing visions of an apocalyptic future, gone. Lex Luthor, capering about, cackling to himself, hacking on about Greek mythology, then bad fathers, then human exceptionalism, gone. Jar of piss, gone. The whole explosion thing, gone, Lex kidnapping Martha and gleefully threatening to burn her alive, gone, which means that Batman deciding he has to lure Superman into a fight, beat him and execute him, whilst Superman gets blackmailed into taking on and killing Batman… gone. So what’s left in Batman V Superman if Batman doesn’t V Superman? Well, it’s only 45 minutes long from an original running time of two and a half hours, but what remains tells the story of a similar, but different series of events that would have made up a movie called ‘Dawn of Justice’. The story of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman meeting up for the first time and overcoming their mistrust of one another and their fierce independence to defeat a foe too strong for any single one of them. This alternate version of the film should, it is abundantly clear now, have been released AFTER Wonder Woman and before Justice League. After the title cards we cut straight to a ceremony honouring Lex Luthor, who starts to deliver a speech about Prometheus and Zeus, one which...

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MAD: Van Helsing
Jun19

MAD: Van Helsing

(2004 Universal/Watched on DVD) There is such a thing in technical reviews as “Reference Quality”‘meaning that a disc is exemplary for colour balance or picture resolution, film grain or audio mix. Van Helsing is Reference Quality for millennial rubber. For the uninitiated this term, coined by me, was when digital artists at the turn of the century spectacularly failed, over and over again to craft onscreen characters (usually for stunt work) that convinced the audience they were real in any way. Skin was always pallid and sparsely detailed, eyes were dead, unfocused orbs, bodies flopped about like weightless rag dolls, there wasn’t an atom of mass between them all, and backgrounds, light sources and subject never meshed, leaving every effect painfully obvious. It was garbage, things have moved on, though not without some of the most venerated series’ being touched by this condition. Spider-Man, Harry Potter and holy balls was Star Wars a hopeless case. I was hoping, when I fired this up, that having seen *Dark Universe: The Mummy*, that I would feel much more charitable to this *Blade for Kids* or *Hellboy for Chumps* which is entirely what it is, but I’d forgotten what a carnival of truly shocking CG it is. It’s as though Steven Sommers, in every production he helms, looks at the first pass of each creature and says “Brilliant! Print the film!” “Sir, are you sure? We have many more rendering and detail stages to get through.” “No point, it looks brilliant now.” “Sir this is a notch above Reptile in Mortal Kombat” “Wow, that’s my benchmark for quality and you already beat it. No, don’t do any more work, these are beautiful, now what’s for dinner?” What’s for dinner is Richard Roxborough’s acting, which is the warmest ham you will ever sink your fangs into, as a Dracula who flings himself around his gothic castle in a whirlwind of loud, ostentatious self pity, flanked by a small army of jawas and three sex crazed vampiresses. Honestly I think he and Gary Oldman were drinking mead in a tavern in Suffolk one night and Oldman was waxing on about how eccentric and loopy he’d played Vlad the Impaler for Frances Ford Coppola, and his next words were clearly “I don’t think anyone could ever top that overblown performance”. To which Roxborough replied, “Hold my beer”. It is saved in part by Hugh Jackman, who is almost CRIMINALLY handsome in this. He’s a monster hunter affiliated unofficially with the James Bond branch of the Catholic church in the late 18th century, but approaches everything with a blunt “Get er done” attitude, perfect for the...

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MAD: The Fall
Jun18

MAD: The Fall

(2006 Roadside Attractions/Watched on DVD) This is from Tarsem Singh, director of The Cell, for which we have recorded a SCORCHING review podcast. I did not know the first thing about it (which is that it was directed by Tarsem Singh) before going in. He also directed Immortals, a bizarre combination of 300 and Clash of the Titans. I know him for his striking visual style and his inhuman coldness, not unlike Refn or Villeneuve, which means that before we even started I was certain that he would be short on the tools required to reach me as a filmmaker, leaning too heavily on skills that leave me less impressed without that key humanity. In a hospital in Los Angeles in the 1920s a bedridden man tells a young girl with a broken arm swashbuckling stories complete with vividly realised, visually striking imagery. Soon these stories veer wildly into scenarios that directly contradict history, throwing Charles Darwin in with Alexander the Great, rendered in Singh’s customary blend of Japanese, Greek, Indian and Chinese cultural influences. Honestly this guy should direct a Soul Calibur movie. Far too much of the film is mumbled. A lot of it in thick accents discussing things that we, a contemporary cinema audience rather than Macedonian scribes are unfamiliar with. One of the benefits of a good facial close up with ample volume is that you can both read the lips of the subject and hear what’s being said as it it is written in the script. I didn’t think I’d have to explain that one this year, but here we are. The words get lost in proceedings so frequently and everything goes by in such a dreamlike manner, defying cause and effect that sometimes it sounds like they’re speaking SIMlish. The play within the play is unintelligible, but damn if Tarsem doesn’t take us all on an extraordinary vacation while it’s being told. He picks out amazingly vibrant architecture and shoots it and the array of absurdly dressed, colourful and distinctive characters from obtuse angles. It ends up feeling superficially similar in tone and screen composition to a Wes Anderson picture, just without his amazing gifts for screenplay and screen play. The saviours are twofold; Lee Pace, a man we’ve mostly seen as humourless and untouchable with Ronan the Accuser and King Thranduil in Guardians of the Galaxy and the Hobbit. Here he is charming and vulnerable as a man afraid he will never regain feeling in his legs, fear which develops greatly over the run time. The second is Cantica Untaru as the little girl, Alexandria, who is endlessly inquisitive, compassionate, stubborn, fiercely...

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MAD: Split
Jun17

MAD: Split

(2017 Universal/Watched on Talk Talk TV) This really is only going to have a decent chance of an impact if you go in cold. So don’t read the following if you intend to see the film. It’s pretty grim and frightening with some questionable psychology, but I think worth seeing, if only to discuss, even if your take-home is pure rage. Now that everyone reading this has seen everything… Shyamalan has had a rough fifteen years. The last film he made that was widely appreciated was Signs in 2002, thus closing out a trilogy of really tight thrillers, begun with The Sixth Sense and escalated with Unbreakable. Now I personally liked The Village more than Signs, but that was the point a lot of people took a big step back and started saying that his body of work was centred entirely around a series of increasingly bizarre twists. Then he made Lady in the Water, which left everyone cold, and in which he extended a fierce mid-digit to film critics with his Bob Balaban-performed parody of them. Then he made The Last Airbender which flabbergasted everyone with how bad it was and hurt fans of the TV series right in their souls. That’s very hard to forgive and forget. Then there was The Happening, which played out almost like a mock version of one of his earlier offerings, because nothing could be this purposefully cretinous. Then there was After Earth, in which he pretty much played a puppet for a miserable Will Smith’s Scientology claptrap. It only felt like Shyamalan because nobody was truly believable as a human being. And then there was The Visit, which I haven’t seen, but Bob Chipman’s SCORCHING review of it left little to the imagination, though other fairly well trusted people have assured me it’s good. I will now see The Visit, but only in retrospect of seeing Split, which, while not a return to form did not have me rolling my eyes every few minutes. That’s a step up for him, since 2004. Let’s start with the weaknesses. It falls into the trap of taking a little bit of knowledge about psychology and extrapolating a gigantic tableau of occasionally insightful, but often wrong-headed generalisation. Even the mighty Silence of the Lambs did this, and along with Se7en it rekindled humanity’s fascination with combining exotically specific mental illness with ritualistic murder. This has proved repeatedly and deeply upsetting to those suffering from genuine debilitating conditions. Things are hard enough without everybody you meet assuming a dozen things about you that just don’t apply. For the narrative to proceed the film requires the two...

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Swiss Army Man
Jun16

Swiss Army Man

This one was an unexpected commission and pushed us well out of our comfort zone. It’s an obscure little indie film about being isolated from civilisation, and it has a couple of particularly… provocative ways of illustrating that point. Many thanks to Dan Mayer for getting this episode made, because I can ASSURE you that without his backing it absolutely would never have happened. So for better or worse, here’s what Sharon and I think of Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe in the movie Swiss Army Man. Next week, make sure you get hold of a copy of L.A. Confidential in the highest resolution possible. It’s an amazing film and you don’t want it spoiled before watching. https://schoolofmovies.podbean.com/mf/download/in3hr4/194_Swiss_Army_Man.mp3Podcast: Play in new window |...

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MAD: The Transformers: The Movie
Jun16

MAD: The Transformers: The Movie

(1986 Sunbow/Watched on Blu Ray) In 2008 there was a re-released special edition of the video game Final Fight named Double Impact. It was lovingly recreated by its development team (in fact we interviewed one of these guys on Digital Cowboys) and one of my favourite features was the different ways of how you could view the game. You could look at it in naked glory, which is what this 30th anniversary Blu Ray of Transformers: The Movie constitutes, but you could also simulate an arcade monitor with scan lines, appropriate blurring and a slightly convex and distorting bubble effect to simulate the old CRT monitor of the arcade cabinet. If there was ever a movie that deserved additional filters to change the way you watch it, this is the film. There have been many versions of this released over the years in different territories and this version (which incidentally comes in a gorgeous steelbook) is most definitely the best, providing, like only some of the earlier editions’ both the widescreen version, which it’s important to remember was actually what the print was cropped to for its dismally unsuccessful cinema release, and the original full frame, which the creative team knew would be the version this film lived and died by, on home video and TV screenings during the era of pan and scan. But to go that little bit further, a future edition could provide an additional disc with that bowed-out glass screen effect, in order to really put you back in your living room (cereal not included), though they should stop short of making it a pathetic twelve inch  box in the centre of your massive, modern screen. The film itself, as we detailed in our podcast about it, is better than it has a right to be, considerably more finely animated and written than the TV show, with some moments of genuine drama in amongst the deeply silly bits of business the makers propel the new Transformers through even as they toss the first generation Diaclone and Microman models in the trash. It occurred to me this time that the Autobot character of Blurr speaks really fast, being voiced by micro Machines guy John Moschitta jr., but repeats himself and rambles so much that he actually ends up slower and less efficient in his movements than the bots who speak at regular speed. Additionally Eric Idle’s Wrek-Gar has guns for nipples. And at the end Galvatron starts to strangle Hot Rod, and the animators have him gasping for breath, but Lyra pointed out that he survived underwater and Megatron had a chat with Unicron in space,...

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MAD: The Mummy
Jun15

MAD: The Mummy

(2017 Universal/Watched in the cinema) I say watched in the cinema, I was watching my watch for two out of three acts. My God, what an exercise in mediocrity, derivative without taking pleasure in what it’s aping, from Avengers to An American Werewolf in London (that’s not a spoiler, there are no wolves in this… well, there might be, but it’s never really made clear and we may never find out). They are so desperate to jump-start a cinematic universe that they have taken no pains to examine the mistakes of others on similar paths, seemingly completely unaware of what screwed up Man of Steel, Batman V Superman AND Suicide Squad (I spotted elements from all three). It’s crass and blunt and repetitive and slovenly, yet still rushed, aims too large and comes off as unavoidably small and insignificant, yet somehow, occasionally, passingly enjoyable, but only enough to make you feel what’s been wasted. That’s almost worse. If it was just god-awful, with no signs of promise, that would feel like just a brief non-event, but the idea of a league of extraordinary little dark dramas all interwoven, with some incredibly talented actors at the core, bringing monsters back into the nightmares of both kids and adults, THAT is the wisdom apple they half-heartedly reach for before becoming distracted and engrossed in the fools-golden apple of annualised franchise benefits. It’s not really a Mummy film, there’s a Mummy IN it, but there’s a descendent of Ghenghis Khan in the Shadow movie and it’s not mis-labelled “The Dark Universe Phase 1: Shao Khan”. Because this is, (spoilers-be-buggered) the clumsy, half-assed origin of Tom Cruise, playing the character of Tom Cruise, becoming the dark antihero of indeterminate powers; Tom Cruise. That’s what it is, a dark superhero origin and sequel-plus-spin-off setup, only they never actually watched a Marvel movie long or closely enough to work out that thing about those established icons having pronounced weaknesses or challenges concerning people they care about who care about them, but whom they nonetheless clash with, how their nemesis is, when done right, the dark reflection of them, their ethical flip-side. Even Ronan just being a humourless asshole who won’t dance feeds into Peter Quill’s impact. They forgot to give Tom Cruise the tiniest connection to the human race, and the ostensible good guys, the ludicrously named Prodigium are so cruel to the captive Princess Ahmanet that baby-killer though she was I was kind of rooting for her to break out and sand their asses, which of course she does, with the inevitability of a Loki but none of the charm. We don’t know thing...

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