MAD: Rambo: First Blood Part II
May13

MAD: Rambo: First Blood Part II

(1985 Tristar/Watched on DVD) In one of the most spectacular misunderstandings of the premise of the original comes Rambo. The first film is an exciting but ultimately harrowing depiction of what the Vietnam war did to the men who served, and worse, the contempt and dismissal they were treated to when they rotated back to the world. John Rambo is mentioned as being of Indian and German descent in some of the opening lines, Stallone is half Italian, half Russian Jewish. Now that’s what I call acting! If you’re familiar with Hot Shots Part Deux (and frankly if you aren’t) you will not be able to take this self serious testosterone-fest as seriously as it would like. It’s chock full of lines like “And by the way, what you choose to call Hell, he calls home”. Watched in conjunction with the original, putting the traumatised and deeply damaged John back in the shit is clearly an act of unimaginable cruelty and it’s never treated as such. He’s just a gun with legs, satisfied to finally be pointed in the right direction again. The most cringe worthy aspect is the character of Co Bao, his contact in the jungle. At once exemplary of Asian characters speaking broken American, and a cack-handed way of force-healing the divide of prejudice. Their heart is in the right place; ” Hey, American men, not all Asians are evil. Some of them want wars to be over as well and if they die you should be sad.” But it’s as though they are explaining this to children. What struck me most though was what an excellent setup for Predator this was. I even asked Lyra if it reminded her of anything and the muscly man running around the jungle, easily killing goons immediately recalled the McTiernan classic. Predator, coming two years later, takes the trope of these invincible strongmen in the bush and then throws in the only thing tougher, and they get slaughtered, and it’s brilliant! As it is, Rambo (let’s not call this First Blood Part II any more, it’s an insult to both of the films) stands along with Commando as the benchmark of this kind of movie. The one man army with the amazing body, the opposing force of foreigners for him to throw bullets at with his hands (one of my favourite Hot Shots potshots), and walk out of the war zone with soot rubbed onto his glistening abs. You can’t really make this kind of film any more without subverting it or mixing it up in some way, so it’s important to have exemplars of the breed, even if they’re...

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MAD: Alien Covenant
May12

MAD: Alien Covenant

(2017 Fox/Watched in the Cinema) [I’ll keep this one mostly spoiler free. I don’t recommend this movie, but if you are determined to go see it, like I was, you could do worse.] This was better than it could have been, but worse than it might have been. Effectively it’s a chance for Ridley Scott to do-over Prometheus, with a new script and a proper Xenomorph to satisfy the fans. Apparently he was rather surprised that people wanted Aliens to feature in a story about how the Aliens came about. This one remedies that. Some, but not all of the issues that plague Prometheus for some (especially myself) have been addressed. The ship feels like it might possibly be from the same timeline as the Nostromo. There’s less in the way of flashy tech to present that contradiction. The crew are not all just a bunch of stupid, needlessly aggressive, mouthy twits who this time know exactly why they are there, and debate what to do in the solid first act. Once the acid hits the fan and people start dying things slip backwards a bit. Especially by the end of the film there’s a leery Friday the 13th feel about the way the Alien stalks two particular victims canoodling in a shower. Interestingly most of the stuff they were showing us in the trailers and preview clips is the worst of it. The worst of it comes when Scott and company start providing definite answers to the how and The why of the Xenomorph. The why is actually pretty firmly explained with reasoned motivation, as to the HOW we are back in black goo territory. They may as well have put that Deacon creature from the end of Prometheus into a pod marked SCIENCE and pressed a button marked GO. And of course once it’s all laid out the road back to the beginning of Alien is rocky as hell. Fassbender does a decent job this time, but that period at the beginning of Prometheus, one of unnerving subtlety is only briefly reached. A lot of it is him in a hood looking grumpy and I had quite enough of that in Assassin’s Creed. What I love is seeing Fassbender’s eyes sparkle, when he hits on a great angle for a great role . He had it with Erik and then he lost it. The same is true with this artificial person. The music by Jed Kurzel is a blend of Jerry Goldsmith’s superb Alien score and occasionally the key riff from Prometheus, as this is, after all, inescapably Prometheus 2, no matter what it’s actually titled. As...

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MAD: Macgruber
May11

MAD: Macgruber

(2011 Watched on DVD) This is a Saturday Night Live sketch blown up to featurelength status, something which worked twice, once with Blues Brothers, once with Wayne’s World, but not Night at the Roxbury or Superstar or It’s Pat or Coneheads. For Brits who almost certainly won’t be familiar, this guy is a bomb defusing expert and when we meet him it’s the same Troutman calling on Rambo III to drag him back out of retirement schtick that we saw in 1993’s Hot Shots Part Deux. He appears to be awesome and everyone around him will corroborate this, despite the fact that he’s a ghastly idiot, much like Austin Powers. The problem that hits immediately is that it’s indistinct and inconsistent. This guy acts like a completely off-the-rails maniac, and a dribbling manboy, a swearing child and a sex pest and a vengeance-filled vigilante, and a sobbing wretch offering up his every orifice as a sexual receptacle to bewildered men, and the character slaloms between these unconnected poorly-formed extremes with mere seconds separating each personality. It should be funny but it’s quite frightening. And let me tell you, when this man makes love… it is the most repulsive act of human theatre known to man. I would rather have literal sex with Tommy Wiseau in a plummeting elevator filled with ocelot vomit, than even once witness this fictional character orgasm again. They also haven’t nailed down at any point what this collection of intentional cliches is supposed to be. His name and manner of dress and ability to improvise gadgets suggests the whole sketch is a parody of McGyver so that says 1985-1992, but he ejaculates obscenity far too much for that. He’s an arrogant macho asshole action star out for blood so that suggests 80s C-Grade action cinema flicks like Cobra, Commando or Red Scorpion, but he’s totally inept. His love interest (Kristen Wiig) dresses like Farrah Fawcett in Charlie’s Angels from 1976 and seems as innocent as a child, Macgruber drives a mid-90s Mazda MX-5 Miata, and listens to 80s emotion pop, however the soundtrack also features Wolfmother from 2005, and barely showcases a single 80s hit, which as you might remember from my X-Men Apocalypse podcast is absolutely key for setting the tone for that decade in particular. Broken Wings, that’s it, and it’s when he’s having sex so he ruined that song for me forever. He apparently died and went off the map in 1999 but because they can’t crystallise him strongly as being from precisely 1986 there’s only a vague sense of overall displacement, rather than, for example, the strong clash of 1967 and...

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MAD: The Transporter
May10

MAD: The Transporter

(2002 Fox/Watched on DVD) Directed by the choreographer for The One, Corey Yuen, and making splendid use of Jason Statham this time, The Transporter is exemplary of simple action films. There’s a lightness and a humour, the neutral-hero is likeable, engaging and his code of conduct gives us something stable. It makes a change from grim psychopathic anti-heroes; this guy is just trying to be a professional in a world of douchebags. The fact that it’s set in France, among some gorgeous, sunlit hills, blue ocean and winding mountain roads gives it the look of modern day racing games like Forza, which is again a welcome change for the genre, and the action is directed in dynamic form with enough time between cuts to get an idea of who is where in any scenario, something lesser action movies ignore. The “Corey-ography” is smooth, whippy and (I believe Jean-Luc Goddard coined this phrase) smack-tastic. It’s not all plain sailing, however. Producer Luc Besson’s infatuation with waif-like girls is well known and documented (and definitely contributed to the popularity of the Resident Evil and Underworld movies which remain both undead to this day), but the girl in The Transporter is subject to what borders on leery exploitation. Not severely, but enough to make it a struggle to find more dimensionality in a character whose very presence agitates the men around her. I’d call her a walking Asian schoolgirl trope, but she spends too much time tied up to walk. Fortunately the end is a sobering reminder of human trafficking without completely bleeding away the enjoyment of the movie so at least its conscience is in the right place and this protected heroine ends up a little more of a serious character. Also it may be good for the gander, because a mostly naked Statham smeared all over in engine oil while beefy men grab at him is pretty leery in its own right. This movie was inspired by a series of adverts for BMW starring Clive Owen. I do wonder, having seen Shoot Em Up, what The Transporter series would have been like with Owen at the wheel, and what other medium-profile series Jason Statham would have made his name with before wisely abandoning ship as it crumbled and fell into the toilet. Interestingly when we saw Collateral and “Possibly Frank Martin” made a brief appearance and handed Tom Cruise a briefcase, Lyra cheered, thinking he was the actor who portrayed Francis in Deadpool. But Ed Skrein did actually go on to play the same character, recast in the fourth of the series, Transporter: Refuelled, to the delight of absolutely nobody....

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MAD: 300
May09

MAD: 300

(2006 Warner Bros./Watched on DVD) [Since We Hate Movies are covering this for their 300th episode we watched it the night before.] One of the first things you see when firing up this piece of work, shortly before David Wenham tells us ubout the eugenics and child abuse that make the Spartans so very strong is the logo for Virtual Studios. Presumably that is the official title for the backlot with an array of large green screens, so in effect the illusion of a studio, the perfect crucible for this illusion of a film. This is the flip side of the songs of The Lonely Island. This is the fragile male ego overblown to comedic proportions and totally unaware of its own neurosis. This is a guy with a five inch todger who doesn’t understand averages and claims that it’s over three feet long. He may in fact have convinced himself that this is the truth, and rarely needs verification. It’s a man who obsessively watches weight training rituals with sweat running down bronzed pectorals, and seeks out nothing short of physical perfection whilst also being terrified of being in a bath house in case he gets bummed silly by all of those gay men. He dwells upon this imagery every few nights and has to picture a woman’s tits AND arse at the same time to distract himself before he can go back to thinking about washboard abs. Betoothed beard, King Leonidas is the kind of man who casually keeps a bottomless pit in his back yard. It’s a health and safety nightmare, though objecting inspectors are never seen again. He’s a pompous, racist git and he’s insane. He’s also our hero. Gerard Butler comes from a long line of Scottish Greeks, including Sean Connery in Time Bandits, but in this he is a barking savage with a bullish physical presence. If you ever met this guy at a barbecue you would leave immediately after he started yacking on about why millennials are all a bunch of wimps. He would be eating handfuls of raw protein powder out of a can as he did so. As you left he would be sandwiching four sausages between two burgers, with no bun and a mouthful of ketchup, standing alone in an empty garden. Butler went on to further forge a career playing these meaty, furious, violent male avatars, as empty inside as a used protein powder can, flesh suits for his audience to inhabit while he cuts foreign throats. Wenham, with his earthy voice and slightly more laid back heroism, and a grinning, virtually unknown Michael Fassbender, make for probably...

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MAD: Lara Croft: Tomb Raider
May08

MAD: Lara Croft: Tomb Raider

(2001 Paramount/Watched on DVD) She’s a badass. It’s established in the poster. Every one of the 5,760 additional seconds in the running time, beyond the first mid-air backflip and two-gun destruction of her training droid (and MP3 player) merely reiterates this same, simple, three-word premise. Also, as we find out from her party mix, Lara has truly terrible taste in music, something that would be a neat flaw in her character, except that it’s not intentional (as far as I can tell her only weakness is that she can’t cook a microwave meal). It was the year 2001, and it was *blockbuster movies* that had terrible taste in music. So she’s not listening to The Partridge Family or Chicory Tip, it’s Paul Oakenfeld era pumping dance music, all of it obnoxious, and it plays throughout the movie, often at really incongruous moments, stepping on any potential tension or drama. The script is by Patrick Massett and John Zinman, penmen behind not much, and it’s the weakest aspect of this film. That includes story too. Everything is lazily trotted out as a series of mild challenges for Lara as she plays the whole thing on Easy. “At last we of the Illuminati will control time” is literally a line in this film. Now granted, it is a line declared to be “twoddle” (I do so love that word) by Ian Glen, but that was the serious driving force of the big bad secret society Lara was defying in her hunt for the sacred stone of “who could possibly care?” Ian Glen plays pretty much the same character in the Resident Evil movies as that guy who just needs to keep testing the back flipping superwoman. If we stop she might be genuinely challenged or might have to fill the silence with something other than gunfire. This is about the lowest ebb the new Wonder Woman could reach, unless there’s something truly objectionable in the narrative; a glamorous, beautiful woman jumping for our enjoyment. In all seriousness she does have hang-ups about her missing father, played by Jolie’s real life dad, Jon Voight (not having to fend off Karate Dogs this time around) and she does exhibit some vulnerability there, but these moments are fleeting and have no real weight or impact on how she conducts her life. Daniel Craig plays Alex West, an American weasel, about as far from Bond as you could get. Brits of a certain age will grin broadly at the sight of Chris Barrie playing her butler. Then there are the inherent problems with adapting the video game character to the big screen. In those early games,...

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MAD: Karate Dog
May07

MAD: Karate Dog

(2004 Screen Media Films/Watched on DVD) “A talking dog named Cho Cho teams up with a police detective named Peter Fowler to solve the murder of his owner Chin Li.” That is literally the entire plot summation from Wikipedia. They neglect to point out that the dog can do karate… but that may have been obvious from the title. It’s one of the extensive pantheon of movies (and I use the term incredibly loosely here in that they are marketed as such) built around the premise that a dog can play sports ball or wrestle. Sometimes these films are just based around the *presence* of dogs, as in all they have to do is put dogs onscreen accompanied with a wisp of narrative that separates it from a YouTube video and the little girls and their moms who just want to see dogs will go “Awwwwww”. As far as I can tell Beverly Hills Chihuahua has only tentative links with the Eddie Murphy cop thriller, and the less said about Bone Alone, the better. It’s a veritable Doggywood of barrel-scraping. There’s literally a ‘Dog Productions’. All this started after the 1997 picture Air Bud, a film in which a dog plays basketball, made $27 million theatrically on a budget of $3 million. That told people in the industry that there was an audience for this. However by the 1998 sequel, Air Bud 2: Golden Reciever the fleeting novelty had worn off and the $11 million movie didn’t make its budget back. The conclusion… there was STILL an audience for cretinous dog movies, but they needed to go straight to video and keep the budgets in the doghouse in order to turn a profit. This is business, pure and simple. It’s not about artistic achievement or telling a story it’s about fulfilling a need, scratching a flea-bitten itch in return for money. Back in 1989 and then again in 1995 there were three films where the premise was “A cop and his dog”; in order of quality they were: Turner and Hooch with a pre-Oscar darling Tom Hanks, K-9 with woman-hating shitpile Jim Belushi and Top Dog with bearded fist Chuck Norris. This is kind of a mongrel of both breeds but while the cop scenario is from the latter movie type, absolutely everything else is from the former. It is absurd to watch a bored Chevy Chase voice a dog, it is jaw-dropping to see the CG hounds standing up and romping around, and indeed kicking men over, and it is tragic to see Pat Morita kick his last in a role that’s basically Mr Wing in Gremlins 2....

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MAD: The Last Witch Hunter
May06

MAD: The Last Witch Hunter

(2015 Summit/Watched on Netflix) Vin Diesel somehow convinced a studio to let him make a movie about his D&D character, a granite-faced Highlander who had a run-in with *Witchy-Poo: The Witch that Scares You* some centuries ago in the middle-ages, and was cursed to be eternally awesome. It’s a mess of cliches, specifically things that feel really familiar, like you saw them play out in exactly the same way in other movies (Constantine, Blade II, Hellboy, literally any movie with a cat in the closet jump scare) but you aren’t fully sure that anyone involved knows that this is the case. It’s so self-serious that it makes no concessions to reach out to the eye-rolling audience. There’s no Peter Parker type, Elijah Wood as Diesel’s apprentice just reminds you of the creepy cannibal he played in Sin City. And you never really get why Vin Diesel is fighting, beyond the standard *MY DEAD FAMILY!*, so when he fights it’s just to kill witches and win. The visuals are an annoying overabundance of stuff, like the director tipped a garbage bag from a party attended by movies from 2003 that nobody liked, onto your table. The way everybody talks and the focus, however, is pure 90s comic books. It’s fustrating as a writer to watch tension squandered, potentially great moments rushed past. To see them jump straight to exposition without giving you anything human to latch onto, without being given a single, solitary reason to give a shit about any of this. That’s what comics in the 90s (outside of Vertigo) were like, so intent on wowing you with concept and premise that they forgot to cultivate engagement or set the scene long term. That’s why so many of them started explosively and then puttered out after the variant chromium covers of issue 2 sat taped to the walls behind the counters in many a comic shop for months on end. Bagged, boarded, priced at so many times what the stories inside were actually worth. The score is quite nice to listen to, even if every single note played by Steve Jablonsky is once again, just like Transformers 3, cribbed from Zimmer’s Dark Knight. And at the end while everyone babbles about MacGuffin witch-hearts, what I needed most was Rick Flagg to show up and yell “Her heart’s out, we can end this!”. It’s prettier to look at than Babylon A.D. (although it strangely features the same premise of travelling mentally back to the time of one’s own death) And Vin Diesel works better with expressing regret than he does apathy. The best thing, once Michael Caine gets sidelined is probably...

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Doctor Strange
May05

Doctor Strange

A mystical return to the Marvel Cinematic Universe we love so very much. This one took us a while to get our heads around. On walking out of the cinema Sharon declared it as possibly her favourite of the MCU entries, which, if you know her, is saying something. Alex on the other hand had doubts about why it failed to make such a huge impact on him, and they took several months of mulling over and three viewings on blu ray to really nail this one down. Guests Joshua Garrity of Cane and Rinse And Neil Taylor of TheKidDogg New Century on Bandcamp Next Week: Transmetropolitan. Get hold of Book 1: Back on the Street. https://schoolofmovies.podbean.com/mf/download/dxacyk/192_Doctor_Strange.mp3Podcast: Play in new window |...

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MAD: Haywire
May05

MAD: Haywire

(2011 Studio Canal/Watched on Blu Ray) Steven Soderbergh’s interpretation of the new wave of espionage thrillers originally kicked off by, (and repeatedly, superficially linked with) the Bourne Trilogy. This is in fact a showcase for MMA fighter Gina Carano. Most pugilists don’t get movies of this serious calibre to display their abilities, so this is something special. It takes the form of a slow-burn 70s style chase, not dissimilar to Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Lots of brilliantly cast, and self-assured men (Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas, Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Channing Tatum and the late, great Bill Paxton) arguing in rooms with plenty of jargon and without resorting to overblown cliches about what’s to be done with this agent on the run. The music has this splendid, smoky, guitar sound, thumbing away behind lurking, muted brass, evoking Three Days of the Condor and its contemporaries. Strangely for a film of this type, the pace never hits breakneck speed, which feels unusual, almost laid-back. The character of Mallory is a sub-contracted specialist rather than a direct government agent and exudes a cool, detached confidence. There’s nothing about this woman that suggests she’s a suitable mark for being burned and held responsible for shady dealings, but that’s exactly what happens. Then in true 80s style (which jumps the flavour forwards a decade) the conniving villains responsible for this mess underestimate our hero’s abilities. [Don LaFontaine, the trailer voice guy] “But there’s one woman they DIDN’T plan on.” When Carano runs it’s with an athletic determination, holding back from sprinting, always managing her stamina level. When she fights it’s with the same level of tactical focus. Rather than the jump cuts between lightning fast moves, these are cautious, powerful, deliberate strikes and grapples, planned out as the conflict develops, searching for an opening. It’s less showy, but because it’s more real there’s a meaty weight to every confrontation. That doesn’t mean the fights aren’t brutal and painful, and desperate, if anything it ups the values on all three of these factors. It just means that you’re not having them blasted in your face at top speed without being able to take in the actual sense of conflict or theatre of battle. She has a quiet, smouldering presence, amazing eyes and beauty, and she acts with professionalism as her character dictates. This is not Jason Bourne in his first film shouting and bewildered, it’s not Craig’s James Bond, smug and self loathing, nor is she Steve Rogers, passionate and forthright. If anything this is a Black Widow movie, and Marvel would do well to take a hard look about what made this great...

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