Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘really boring’

It was with a due sense of resignation and expectations bordering on the actually subterranean that I sat down to watch the third and (hopefully) final part of the Godzilla trilogy which has been loitering on a market-leading streaming site for the last year or so, Godzilla: The Planet Eater (directed as before by Kobun Shizuno and Hiroyuki Seshita). Honestly, just the thought of watching another of these things gave me one of my very infrequent moments of existential self-doubt – why do I put myself through this kind of experience? The first chapter, Planet of the Monsters, was terrible; it’s a close thing as to whether the middle instalment, City on the Edge of Battle, was actually worse or simply just as bad; despite the implication that there would be appearances by Mothra and Ghidorah in the concluding episode, was it really worth the investment of ninety precious and unique minutes from my finite store?

Oh well: I’d gone this far, after all, and it would truly be an exceptional feat to take characters as storied and iconic as Godzilla, Mothra, and Ghidorah and put them in a film together and still produce something as tedious and misconceived as the first two films in this series. It would also be a very cheering moment were the Toho Animation people to actually manage to turn things around and produce a worthy Godzilla movie. So it kind of felt like a win-win situation, although it almost certainly shouldn’t have done. Possibly I should just own up to my own innate masochism, I don’t know.

The film opens not long after the conclusion of the previous one, with Godzilla having battered Mechagodzilla City into submission and the human survivors having serious differences of opinion with both their sets of alien allies: the gruff militaristic ones are annoyed with our hero Haruo for interfering with their plan to use ‘nanometal’ to defeat Godzilla, even though this would involve people being absorbed and assimilated by the living metal. Meanwhile, the spiritual ones have concluded that Haruo, and in particular the purity of his hatred for Godzilla, is the perfect vessel to summon their god into existence. Said deity, Ghidorah, has the power to finally defeat Godzilla once and for all. He will also annihilate the planet, but you can’t have everything your own way.

As in the previous two Godzilla animes, the title character spends the first half of the movie standing around off in the background not actually doing anything, while the human-scale characters stand around and flap their mouths at each other. On this occasion, they spend the first half of the movie discussing – oh, something or other. It’s so dull and pretentious I appear to have blanked it from my memory. The film makes various eager swipes at big philosophical issues, contemplating whether it’s better to live in harmony with nature or as part of a technological society, and then contemplating the nature of God and religious belief. Fair play to the makers of Planet Eater for being willing to engage with these sort of themes, but on the other hand the debating seems to go on forever in the most abstract manner. Most of the plot of the first half of the film just consists of people having this kind of static philosophical discussion.

Things briefly perk up ever so slightly as Ghidorah finally manifests himself from a black hole which forms near the humans’ colony ship, still in orbit over the monsterfied Earth. This is almost certainly the best sequence in the whole trilogy, as the familiar dragon-head on a sinuous, seemingly endless neck snakes out and coils around the huge spacecraft. From here we move on to what is clearly intended as the main event – yet another battle between Godzilla and Ghidorah.

Well, wouldn’t you know it, the makers of this trilogy have hit upon a way to make kaiju battles nearly as dull as the theological debates going on around them. This new version of Ghidorah is almost all neck: three more black holes form in the upper atmosphere of Earth and each one produces a Ghidorah-head on a long, golden neck. There’s no sign of Ghidorah’s actual body, legs, tails or wings. I suppose Ghidorah should just be grateful he’s not been reconceived as a piece of urban planning in the same way Mechagodzilla was. How does Godzilla proceed to fight an enemy who is mostly neck? Well, he blasts his nuclear ray at him, but this new Ghidorah has gravity-warping powers and he just bends the ray so it doesn’t strike him (this, I suppose, is not actually a bad idea). Then the dragon-heads of Ghidorah clamp onto Godzilla and start leeching his energy. Which takes about fifteen minutes mostly consisting of the two monsters standing there almost stock-still, while the other characters stand around and watch, and discuss what’s happening.

All right: the animation and production designs on these movies is not awful, although it is a very mixed bag, and you can kind of see what they are trying to do by introducing such radically reimagined versions of many of the classic Toho monsters (their new version of Mothra is actually pretty traditional, compared to the others, but then everyone’s favourite giant mystic lepidoptera barely gets a cameo in this new trilogy). But it’s almost as if they don’t actually understand or don’t care what a Godzilla movie is usually about.

Writing about the other two films I have explained what I think a really good Godzilla film (or kaiju movie generally) should incorporate: excitement, fantasy, spectacle, hopefully a sense of grandeur. These are cheerful, upbeat films, not least because of their essential absurdity. The animated trilogy, on the other hand, quite apart from being slow and talky and pretentious and lacking in any sense of humour or fun, are notable for their essential nihilism: the implication is that modern technological civilisation inevitably spawns giant destructive monsters and (on a more metaphorical level) devours the souls of its citizens. These films end up advocating a rather simplistic back-to-the-land philosophy about living in harmony with nature. It feels glib and insincere.

Well, as luck would have it, we are going to get another outing for Godzilla, Ghidorah and Mothra this year (Rodan will be in it too), and if nothing else the new version of Godzilla: King of the Monsters can only look better compared to the animated trilogy. Someone has already described these films as by far the most boring interval in the entire 65 year history of the Godzilla franchise. I can only agree, and might even suggest they are being too generous in saying that.

Read Full Post »

Regular readers (heaven help you) will easily the imagine the wail of anguish that echoed round the garret when I discovered that I would have to see Fifty Shades Freed, latest (and hopefully final) instalment in the ghastly Fifty Shades multimedia colossus spawned by E.L. James, unaccompanied. It turned out that my usual associate Protective Camouflage, as a result of her having gotten hitched since the last film came out, no longer feels able to be seen with me at overlong inanely aspirational pornographic dribble. Or so I assume, anyway: what Mrs Camouflage actually said was that she had watched the trailer and thought it looked a bit rubbish, but, come on, what kind of reason is that for not going to watch a movie? If I didn’t bother with films just because their trailers weren’t that good, I’d end up only going to the cinema forty or fifty times a year.

Hey ho. You know me; I like to keep my finger on the knob of where it’s at, culturally, and the inescapable fact is that this series of films have earned over a billion dollars at the global box office. (Guys, are we sure the rapture didn’t happen a few years ago and nobody noticed?) So, having wrapped myself up to protect my identity from casual observers, off I went, sinews (and nothing else) appropriately stiffened.

It turns out that Mrs Camouflage is not the only one to have gotten herself spliced, as James Foley’s movie opens with the nuptuals of minimally-defined everygirl Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) and her fiance, the inexplicably alluring handsome billionaire bondage-lover Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan). Soon they are off on their honeymoon tour of the great cities of Europe (it goes without saying that Mr Grey takes his new bride up the Arc de Triomphe while they are in Paris).

Soon there are signs of problems in their idyll, for despite having landed her fish, Anastasia finds herself still having to contend with his stern, possessive, control-freakish tendencies. Is she not even to be allowed to sunbathe topless around the fleshpots of the continent? They even have a big row about whether she is going to keep her maiden name around the office where she works.

Just at the point where I was about to scream ‘Hashtag first world problems!!!’ in the cinema, a subplot develops concerning Anastasia’s psycho ex-boss Hyde (Eric Johnson), who now turns out to have some kind of unspecified beef with the whole Grey clan, as coincidence and the requirements of a credulity-straining plot would have it. Not content with stalking the couple, Hyde even breaks into their apartment where he is swiftly subdued by their highly-trained bodyguards. ‘We need to restrain him!’ shouts Bodyguard One. ‘We don’t have any restraints!’ frets Bodyguard Two. ‘Ooh, I think we might have something,’ pipes up Anastasia, brightly: this is by far the most entertaining moment in the film and yet I’m by no means sure if it’s actually intentional or not.

On and on it goes: can Anastasia persuade Christian to let her keep her own identity now that they are married? Is he ever going to be in a position where he wants to have children? And surely they’re not going to let Hyde out on bail, what with him being a violent nutter? Oh… yes they are. Never mind.

Well, the one thing about Fifty Shades Freed‘s psycho stalker subplot is that it at least results in a sequence where there is some actual dramatic tension and chasing about. Suddenly the film achieves a sort of clarity and dramatic focus as a psychological thriller; only a sort of half-life, to be sure, but still much better than the rest of the film. The only other time I was particularly troubled by a strong feeling came very early on, during the Greys’ exchange of vows, which is so glutinously sentimental a moment I felt the profound urge to upchuck all over the premier seating area of the more downmarket of the two Oxford Odeons.

Those parts of the movie which are not attempting to be a thriller, resemble, like the previous episode, a very long and rather bland commercial, with anonymously attractive young people drifting around high-end apartments with wardrobes bigger than my entire garret, swathed in designer gear. The plotline is, as you may be able to tell, underwhelming, largely consisting of a new development in the lives of the Greys, which results in tension between them, which is resolved by a protracted sequence of make-up sex, often in Christian Grey’s sex dungeon, after which the whole cycle repeats itself.

It is a close-run thing whether the sequences of the Greys discussing their various emotional hang-ups are more or less boring than the trips to the sex dungeon – certainly while Johnson and Dornan are droning their dialogue at each other, I was hoping it would end as soon as possible, but then as soon as he started strapping her to the bedframe and getting out his metalworking kit – that’s what it looks like at one point, anyway – I found myself hoping for another outbreak of dialogue.

In the end this supposedly edgy and transgressive tale of forbidden desire resolves with a tableau of the most conventional domestic happiness you could possibly imagine. I’ve said it before and will repeat it again – the whole Fifty Shades saga is one of the most generic and undemanding romances you could possibly imagine, supposedly pepped up with all the kinky sex. Except it never feels that kinky, and carries no discernible erotic charge. It’s so utterly banal and mundane that it manages to make the visits to the sex dungeon seem boring.

Well, anyway, this seems almost certain to be the last one, and one thing in this film’s favour is that it’s mercifully briefer than the other two, by a good twenty minutes. People clearly go to these films, and I’m hardly in a position to mock them for doing so, but there’s no getting around the fact that they are simply turgid pap that have the opposite effect to the one they seem to be aiming for. After watching Fifty Shades Freed, celibacy has never seemed so attractive.

Read Full Post »

Sometimes you hear talk of ‘the imperial phase’, that period of a career or ongoing project where everything is unassailably perfect, invincible, glorious to look upon, breathtaking to consider – pop groups have them, TV series, football teams, even individuals. They seldom last more than a year or so, and the return to the realms of mundane normality is often abrupt and embarrassingly graceless. One minute you’re conquering the world, the next you’re being whipped 5-0 at home to an unseeded team. One minute you’re making The Trouble with Tribbles, then not long after you’re filming Spock’s Brain. And, if you’re Alfred Hitchcock, you can be rewriting the cinema rulebook with Psycho and The Birds, and then only a couple of films later be troubling the world with a project like Topaz.

topaz_xlg

This is one of the most obscure of Hitchcock’s later films, and – I am irresistibly tempted to say – deservedly so. Released in 1969, it is an espionage thriller drawn from a based-on-true-events novel by Leon Uris. Hitchcock doing a spy thriller? No obvious cause for alarm there. Hitchcock adapting a book? Well, Psycho started off as a novel, too. But something has gone wrenchingly adrift here.

After opening with jolly scenes of the May Day parade in Moscow, the setting switches to Copenhagen in 1962, where a top Soviet agent defects to the US. Handling the case is CIA man Nordstrom (John Forsythe), who discovers that the USSR is in the process of supplying its allies in Cuba with nuclear weapons, a severe threat to American security. Ooh, those Russians!

So, naturally – and this is perhaps the first sign that this is a film made when a totally different sensibility ruled – the CIA recruit a Frenchman to assist them. He is Devereaux (Frederick Stafford), and he is essentially the protagonist of the movie. The rest of the first act of the film concerns Devereaux’s sneaky attempts to get hold of photos of documents confirming what’s going on in Cuba, an undertaking where most of the risk falls on the agents he employs, principally one played by Roscoe Lee Browne.

So far we’ve seen Forsythe, Stafford, and Browne all effectively take the lead, and the effect is somewhat distancing. Which one of these guys is really the hero? Is this just going to be one of those reportage-style films without a central character? Some degree of conventionality is restored as Devereaux jets off to Cuba to try and get photos of the actual missiles (getting other people to take photos of things seems to be his spy speciality). His chief adversary in his mission is fanatical Communist Parras (John Vernon, who seems mainly to have been cast because he’s terrifically good at brooding behind a Castro beard), but matters are complicated by the fact that Devereaux shares the same mistress as Parras (he really is the most incredibly French man in movie history).

Things resolve themselves in a manner which is notably melodramatic and lacking in tension, and Devereaux heads back to the USA, where – a long way into a film which is not notably in a hurry to go about its business – he learns of the existence of Topaz, a Soviet spy ring inside French intelligence itself. And so… zzzzzzzzzzz….

I’m sorry, but despite having watched this film with the Wikipedia synopsis open in front of me at the time, I still found it almost impenetrably dull to watch and difficult to follow, especially in the concluding act. My researches (all right, Wikipedia again) have revealed that such were the scripting travails of this movie that it was basically being written as it went along at some points, an almost experimental way of working more commonly associated with the outer fringes of the avant garde (or a Steven Seagal DTV movie) than a major studio movie.

Just coming up with a coherent movie under these circumstances can be a challenge so I suppose Hitch is to be applauded for coming up with something which hangs together as much as it does. On the reflection the main issue with Topaz is not that it is particularly hard to follow, just that it is very, very tedious, so much so that it doesn’t really feel like following the plot is worth the effort.

The reasons for this are numerous. There is a rambling, very nearly disjointed plot, a hero who does very little you could actually call heroic, and an almost total lack of set pieces of action, tension or suspense. Hitchcock’s original cut ended with a duel between the hero and villain, but this was apparently considered overlong and discarded in favour of a much more matter-of-fact conclusion in which the bad guy just jets off into Russian exile… and apparently even this only features in certain versions of the film, in others he commits suicide off-screen (the money had run out).

But above all, to a modern viewer Topaz feels extremely dated in a way that the great Hitchcock movies don’t. I suppose the background to the Cuban missile crisis still has potential for traction with a modern audience, but the film only really touches on this before turning into something about the internal affairs of French intelligence. It’s just that the style of the thing is so staid and conservative, the characters so drab and unengaging. This is a movie made the same year as Easy Rider, but it looks like something ten or fifteen years older. There are evil Communists. Every Frenchman has a mistress or two tucked away somewhere. People travel around in open-topped cars by the miracle of back-projection. As a sealed bubble of yesterday, it takes some beating, and more effort to really break into than I found myself able to make as a casual viewer.

There are, I suppose, more problematic Hitchcock movies in terms of their tone and content, and possibly technically worse ones – not that I can think of any off-hand, though. But in the end the biggest problem with Topaz is simply that it is very low in wit, tension, warmth, or humour – in short, it is by far the least entertaining Hitchcock film I can remember seeing. One for completists only.

Read Full Post »

Well, the end of the year is very nearly upon us, and of course one of the signs of this is the fact that the cinemas are getting ready to fill up with prestigious, big-budget, star-laden quality movies, all with an eye to collecting as many gongs as possible in a few months time: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Twelve Years a Slave, the Mandela movie, and doubtless many others will soon be with us. None of them really look like a barrel of laughs, but on the other hand it’s arguably the equivalent of the January detox after the usual festive excesses.

Sneaking out ahead of the pack is Carl Rinsch’s 47 Ronin, a costume-drama based on the venerable and much-loved Chushingura literature dating from early 18th century Japan. Clearly, no expense has been spared in bringing this slice of Shogunate life to the screen in a deeply authentic and respectful way, as all the subtleties and strangenesses of feudal Japan survive intact, with a very nuanced and emotionally expressive central performance as a  samurai warrior from Keanu Reeves.

47ronin

It all sounds just about plausible until you reach those last couple of words, doesn’t it? (And I say that as someone who always enjoys it when Keanu turns up on screen.) Hey ho: this is very much not a prestige production, nor even a remotely successful one. In a rational world it might even be challenging the likes of After Earth for the title of Dog of the Year, but we shall see.

As the film opens we are transported to a Mystic Japan of Expository Voice-overs, where demons and spirits still lurk in the forests (despite the fact that it’s technically set only about three hundred years ago). The movie may be based on a real-life historical event, but the actual plot structure we are presented with consists almost entirely of bits from bog-standard fantasy movies with their desktop theme reset to late-period Kurosawa. So we meet the mysterious orphan adopted by a wise old nobleman, witness his loyalty and nobility as his patron’s blood family mistreat him, are party to various wicked shenanigans from an ambitious rival noble, and so on. There is a tragedy, exile, a regrouping of the protagonists, a trip to the mystic forest for supernatural aid and so on. In the end there is a damn big fight in a castle.

Now, sick as I am of bog-standard fantasy movies, I would still concede that it might be possible to do one of these movies that wasn’t actively dreadful – but for this to happen, you would need a witty and intelligent script with a firm handle on the characters, brought to life by engaged and charismatic performers and a director of vision and energy. 47 Ronin has none of these things, with the remarkable result that a big-budget fusion of the fantasy and samurai genres with lashings of CGI and a considerable amount of bloody mayhem actually turns out to be really, really dull.

I can forgive a film being bad as long as it’s bad in an interesting way. Tedium is much bigger crime in my book, and this film reeks of it – and it’s really all down to the script, which is mechanical and obvious, not bothering to bring any of the characters to life, and the direction, which is flat, uninspired, and too reliant on empty spectacle to really involve the viewer.

Keanu is at his most robotic throughout – though his cause isn’t helped by the fact that the film can’t seem to decide whether his character is the main hero, or if it’s in fact Hiroyuki Sanada. I should point out that Keanu is the only significant non-Japanese character in the film (there’s a very Pirates of the Caribbean-informed visit to some Portuguese traders, but it’s over with quickly) and most of the cast is made up of Japanese thesps whose faces may be vaguely familiar to you even if their names aren’t. Most of them have a decent stab at the material, such as it is – though the totemo kawaii Rinko Kikuchi really struggles with the part of a vampy witch (or possibly a witchy vamp) who spends some of the time looking like a fox, some of it looking like a dragon, but nearly all of it looking a bit like David Bowie.

Despite this, for most of its duration the film feels about as authentically Japanese as Usain Bolt playing the bagpipes while dressed in lederhosen. There’s something very odd about the conception of this film – it’s a bit like Japanese producers deciding to make a Robin Hood movie, then casting a lot of British and American stars in it but requiring them to speak Japanese (with Watanabe Ken prominently cast as a Merry Man).

The only element of the film which felt to me as if it genuinely came from Japanese culture was a slightly distasteful obsession with ritual suicide. This is practically fetishised by the film, and – without giving too much away – it happens in bulk quantities. Something very weird is going on when something that appears to have been an attempt at an exciting fantasy adventure for a mainstream audience feels the need to include dozens of characters committing seppuku, and virtually celebrates this.

I saw the trailer for 47 Ronin, clocked the dodgy historicity, prominent CGI, and Keanu Reeves, and thought I had the film pegged as 300 Goes East. I would never seriously argue that 300 is a great movie, but it’s highly entertaining – virtually the definition of a guilty pleasure. 47 Ronin didn’t make me feel guilty, but I got hardly any pleasure from it. I respect Keanu Reeves’ decision only to take selected acting roles these days – but on this evidence, he really needs to do his selecting with a lot more care and attention, because 47 Ronin is a rotten film.

Read Full Post »

For the last week or so, and I expect this really is just a coincidence, I seem to have found myself firmly lodged in the Grotto of Duff Sequels, what with Bourne Legacy, Descent Part 2 and Expendables 2 all appearing in quick succession (although to be fair Expendables 2 is still better than the first one). I always try to look on the bright side and find the silver lining, and bearing this in mind I thought I was now acclimatised enough to Duff Sequels to take the plunge and confront what’s famously one of the Duffest Sequels of all time in another episode of Is It Really As Bad As All That? Ladies, gentlemen and others, I give you Joseph Sargent’s legendary 1987 offering, Jaws: The Revenge.

This is a film which has embedded itself in popular culture in a highly peculiar way. A much-loved stand-up comedy routine by the otherwise-obscure Richard Jeni dissects the awfulness of Jaws: The Revenge in some detail. Michael Caine (whose appearance in the movie is often used to criticise his ‘I’ll do anything’ 80s work ethic) is wont to declare that he has never seen the film, which he’s heard is awful, but he has seen the house the sizable paycheck bought him, which he knows was very nice. The ‘This time it’s personal’ tagline often used to ridicule improbable sequel ideas originated, so far as I can tell, with this very film. But what lies beneath all these barnacular anecdotes and memes? What’s the actual movie like?

Well, the story opens in snowy New England and the small town of Amity where the original was set. Roy Scheider’s character, Martin Brody, has cunningly died in order to get out of appearing (the film appears to indicate a shark gave him a heart attack), and the main character is his widow Ellen (Lorraine Gary). One of her sons is a marine biologist in the Bahamas, while the other has joined the local police (who have a huge picture of Roy Scheider on the wall just to ram home that this is still the same franchise). All is lovely and Christmassy until young Deputy Brody has to go out into the harbour and faff about with a buoy or something. Much to his surprise, a giant shark erupts from the waters and chomps off one of his arms before setting about sinking his boat. We cut back and forth from the travails of Deputy Brody to a choir singing carols on the shore, but this effect is curiously lacking in pathos: possibly because the impression given is that the cherubic singing is actually drowning out Deputy Brody’s plaintive cries.

Unfortunately, drowning is not an option for Deputy Brody himself, and most of him is gobbled up. Widow Brody is traumatised and jumps to the somewhat implausible conclusion that this was a personal attack on her family by a vengeful shark, following the events of the previous movies (though probably not Jaws 3D as that doesn’t appear to be in continuity with this one). Everyone tries to persuade Widow Brody to be more rational, but they are playing a losing game as – and this is the point at which Jaws: The Revenge casts loose from the anchor of reason and sets sail for the wildest oceans of Cinematic Crapulousness – the film indicates that she is right. How is this shark connected to the other ones? How has it acquired some kind of peculiar homing instinct for members of the Brody clan? Why, given that she’s convinced that she’s being stalked by – and let’s not put too fine a point on this – a fish, does she spend the rest of the film on small islands and boats, rather than somewhere safely landlocked in the middle of a continent?

But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Marine Biologist Brody (Lance Guest) turns up for the funeral bringing with him Boring Wife Brody and Irksome Kid Brody, and together they persuade Widow Brody to come and spend the festive season with them in the Bahamas, which at least means the scenery is more cheerful for the rest of the picture. Flying them to the island is waggish pilot Hoagie, who is played by Michael Caine.

(At this point I must digress and reveal that an Italian teenager approached me a short while ago and, very politely, asked, ‘Has anyone ever told you that you look like Michael Caine?’ Somewhat flattered, as Sir Michael was a handsome fellow in his youth, I replied ‘Not a lot of people know that’ (he didn’t get it) and waved him on his way. Only later did it occur to me that the lad probably hasn’t seen any Caine movies except the ones he’s made for Chris Nolan, which means I must look like Michael Caine from the age of 72 onwards. I really must try to get more sleep.)

Caine engages in a colossal struggle with the inconsequential banality of most of the script, bringing pretty much his full firepower to bear. The result is that Hoagie emerges as a relentlessly quirky and charismatic fellow surrounded by a gang of mannequins. Just to keep the thing limping along between shark attacks, once she arrives in the Bahamas, Widow Brody starts to think she’s been a bit silly thinking there’s a shark out there with a personal vendetta against her. However, at this point, the damn shark turns up again (it puts in its first proper appearance about thirty minutes in, floating past the camera in all its static, polymer-based pomp) and tries to eat Marine Biologist Brody and his boat. But he elects not to tell Widow Brody about this on the grounds it might upset her.

Things continue in a similar vein, with Marine Biologist Brody’s marine biology research somewhat impeded by the fact he can’t set foot in the water without an enormous rubber shark with a double bass turning up, until the shark mysteriously vanishes. Crikey! But it turns out that Boring Wife Brody has taken Irksome Kid Brody to the beach, little realising the peril they face. However, Irksome Kid Brody is too small a target and the cartilaginous assassin winds up eating a rather winsome lady in a bikini instead. Confirmed in her earlier suspicions, Widow Brody jumps on a passing yacht and heads out to sea. Is she planning to take the shark on mano-a-mano (so to speak)? Or is she planning to sacrifice herself to it? Or is she simply doing something utterly irrational simply because the plot demands it? Hmm, it’s so hard to say.

Speaking of doing utterly irrational things, Marine Biologist Brody and his buddy use Hoagie and his plane to chase after Widow Brody, only to find the vengeful fish closing in on her boat. Rather than saying ‘Hey, she’s on a boat, she’s safe, let’s just radio for help,’ they quite properly decide to crash their plane into the sea and swim over to the yacht to be with her. The shark is clearly miffed by this and makes an exception to its Brody-only diet to eat the plane. It has a go at eating Michael Caine, too: Caine greets the lunging predator with a hearty cry of ‘Ohhhhh shit!’, but whether this is actually a comment on the quality of the special effects is not clear.

Marine Biologist Brody’s buddy, a zany Rastafarian, selflessly throws himself down the shark’s throat while lodging some kind of anti-shark gizmo inside it. There is some bafflegab about the gizmo giving the shark seizures, but the main result seems to be the shark sticking its head out of the water and roaring like a dinosaur. While the shark is thus occupied, and perhaps also distracted by flashbacks from the original Jaws which appear for no obvious reason, Widow Brody impales the shark on the front of the yacht. Everyone goes home smiling and has a long talk with their agent.

It would be great to get an insight into the creative process behind Jaws: The Revenge, if only to learn exactly whose idea it was to base the plot around a shark with a personal vendetta. I suppose that with some effort one could come up with a worse idea, and the creative minds at the film studio The Asylum have indeed arguably made careers out of doing just that, but the key thing is that Asylum movies like 2-Headed Shark Attack are made with a hurr-hurr-hurr-isn’t-this-ironic sensibility – while Jaws: The Revenge is quite obviously taking itself seriously as a drama. But the premise of the film is so totally absurd that there is no value in this.

I’ve often said that there’s no such thing as a bad film, only a boring one – and, to be perfectly honest, for much of its running time Jaws: The Revenge is actually deeply tedious to watch. The rubber shark does not put in many appearances and this leaves the script with the problem of trying to find things for all the characters to do. This, to be honest, is where the problems with the central idea really start to have an effect. The premise of the film is completely illogical and as a result it’s very difficult for the characters to respond to it in a credible way. Even if the characters were to react to the idea of a shark with a hit list in a rational manner – by organising proper shark-hunting expeditions or simply going a really long way inland – it would either kill the story or completely transform what kind of film this was. It’s almost as if the film-makers were fully aware of what a ludicrous central concept the film has and are doing their best to avoid examining it in too much detail, even when the characters would naturally do just that.

And so, most of the time, the characters aren’t even talking about the shark, but their personal lives, their hopes for the future, their careers – or even just making inconsequential chit-chat. It is all quite horribly dull. Even Caine, for all his twinkly-eyed blokeyness, is more annoying than actually likable. The sheer banality of the dry land sections of Jaws: The Revenge makes them at least as irksome as the bits with unconvincing rubber shark models, but it’s very clear that the film has nothing more to offer to fill in the gaps between them. As exercises in sheer cack-handedness go, it takes some beating, and it’s made even more disagreeable by the decision to restage scenes from the original Jaws and also include sepia-toned flashbacks to it (suffice to say that, 12 years on and in reused footage, Roy Scheider still gets the best line in the movie).

Announcing that Jaws: The Revenge is a terrible film is not breaking bold new critical ground. However, most of the hatchet jobs on this film don’t really look much further than the incompetent special effects and the sheer, absurd stupidity of the central idea of the film. These are both fair game for criticism, but what seems to me to be just as interesting is the more subtly toxic effect that the main premise has on the quality of the drama throughout the movie – it seems to show that when your main idea is as incoherent and implausible as it is here, every other aspect of the drama and characterisation in the movie is going to suffer as a result, and that awkwardly trying to pretend your film is not silly means that you will end up not making a silly film, but a silly and boring one. Which is what Jaws: The Revenge is.

Read Full Post »

You know, in the past I’ve kind of touched on the importance of a film having a really good title, but I’m starting to wonder if some titles are just too good to be left lying around in the open for anyone to use. Surely some sort of licensing system should be introduced where film-makers have to prove they’re really got what it takes to make a movie worthy of a really good name. It would certainly avoid crushing disappointments of the kind accompanying awful films with brilliant names like Lesbian Vampire Killers and A Nymphoid Barbarian in Dinosaur Hell – and now that I think about it there may even be a case for imposing a relevency clause. Tyrannosaur was a terrific movie, but its existence sort of precludes anyone making a film called Tyrannosaur about an actual tyrannosaur, which is – I think you’ll agree – a shame, any way you cut it.

All this thought about titles and – more specifically – mesozoic megafauna was occasioned by my stumbling across James K Shea’s 1978 film Planet of Dinosaurs on a well-known video-sharing website. This is, obviously, a great name for a movie (possibly not a Ken Loach movie, admittedly), and coupled to this is a plot which emanates straight from exploitation-movie heaven: survivors of a crashed spaceship must battle to survive against the prehistoric monsters of an alien world, struggling to remain civilised as they do so! Ah, the dinosaurs! Ah, the heightened passions in this primitive new world! Ah, the babe in the chamois-leather bikini in the poster!

How it really works out is like this: the starship Odyssey is heading on its way when disaster strikes – one of the reactors goes out of control, to the consternation of Captain Lee (Louie Lawless, who was Oscar-nominated. But not for this movie. And not as an actor) and his co-pilot Nyla (Pamela Bottaro). Lee and Nyla appear to be almost unique amongst the crew of the ship, in that firstly, they are both on the same (very small) set together – everyone else reports in via video screen, from what looks suspiciously like the same room. Their other unusual quality is… well, let’s see if you notice it.

Anyway, the Odyssey does a firework impression and the ship’s lifeboat crashes, very cheaply, into a lake on the closest alien planet. This bit really is a rip-off of the original Planet of the Apes, leading one to expect a much, much classier movie than what follows. Lee and Nyla and their colleagues Jim (Jim Whitworth), Harvey (Harvey Shain), Derna (Derna Wylde), Mike (Mike Thayer), Chuck (Chuck Pennington) and Charlotte (Charlotte Speer) swim for shore.

Yes indeed, nearly everyone in this movie has the same name as their character. I can’t really work out why this is, as this doesn’t appear to be a playfully metafictional drama or arty docu-drama. Maybe it just saved the director from having to remember too many names – he certainly seems to have been struggling in some departments on this movie.

All of the cast are wearing funky, primary-coloured outfits in velour, which will apparently constitute high fashion in the future. Nearly all the men have big hair and luxurious moustaches too, and for a while I did wonder exactly what kind of movie this was going to be.

Not wearing a moustache, nor with the same name as the actor playing her, but still in velour, is communications officer Cindy (Mary Appleseth). On the beach, Captain Lee asks her where the Very Important Emergency Distress Beacon is. ‘Oooh, I forgot to bring it!’ trills Cindy, thus marking the moment at which it becomes irrevocably clear that this movie is entering the Total Crap Zone. Luckily, the Very Important Emergency Distress Beacon floats (oh, good God) and so Chuck whips off his shirt and dives in to retrieve it. Chuck keeps his shirt off for the rest of the movie, and even removes his trousers for the final scene, so he’s obviously very proud of how much he works out: I was completely indifferent, to be honest. Rather more hopefully, if you’re watching this film with a certain set of expectations, Cindy takes off her dress and jumps in the water as well.

Disaster strikes on all counts when Cindy is eaten by something lurking invisibly (and thus cheaply) in the water – disaster compounds disaster when Chuck is not (you will already be sick of this character). The survivors decide to leave the Very Important Emergency Distress Beacon bobbing off in the distance and head for safety on higher ground. Perhaps more importantly, Cindy’s dire fate so soon after taking off her dress is taken as a sign by the women, who decide to stay firmly inside their velour outfits for practically all the rest of the movie. So much for cheap salaciousness. Sigh.

Hey ho. The survivors trek very slowly across the planet, protected only by a handful of laser guns that stop working instantly and forever if you even get them wet, and break very easily (almost as if they’re made from very cheap thin plastic). En route they realise that the planet is solely inhabited by dinosaurs (the audience has almost certainly already worked this out from the title, though I make no guesses about the director). Also en route, the viewer will realise that this film is solely inhabited by people who can’t act and who’ve been given nothing but clunky and inane dialogue to deliver. Big tough engineer Jim, who looks a bit like Dave Lee Travis, thinks Captain Lee is a bit of a wimp for not wanting to kill all the dinosaurs and conquer the planet. Captain Lee is a much more cautious and thoughtful type. Their confrontations are, needless to say, fiercely dull.

The only other noteworthy character is Harvey, a lazy businessman who owned the spaceship. He is also one-dimensional, but at least in an interesting way, but unfortunately he is killed by a ceratopsian dinosaur quite early on. Whatever impact Harvey’s death may have had is instantly dissipated when, after being gored through the torso and falling hundreds of feet off a cliff, the actor audibly goes ‘Umf!’ when he hits the ground in close-up.

With Harvey off the scene it’s just a case of setting up camp in the dubious safety of a plateau, contending with the local tyrannosaur, etc, etc. Suffice to say nothing very interesting happens.

Let me just repeat that: a shipwrecked starship crew, stranded on a planet of dinosaurs, must struggle to survive both the local beasts and their own internal divisions – and nothing very interesting happens. Some astonishing force must have been at work behind the scenes of this movie, to take a premise with such promise (okay, dodgy and slightly ridiculous promise) and produce a film so crashingly tedious. The amateurishness of the cast is only partly to blame, because the script gives them nothing much to work with. The characters are totally underdeveloped, and the clash between their civilised values and the imperatives of their new situation is limply handled at best. There are occasional moments where the film looks like it’s going to get interesting, on a number of levels – ‘Civilisation is like that uniform you’re wearing,’ big tough Jim tells Nyla at one point, ‘it’s getting dirty and torn, and pretty soon it’s going to rot away. You’d better decide what you’re going to wear then.’ Crikey. Unfortunately, nobody’s velour outfit is actually showing any signs of dirtiness or wear, and the dissolution of civilisation basically boils down to Jim and Lee being snippy with each other. Every sign of primitive passions stirring is nipped in the bud by the appearance of an animated dinosaur.

All the attention (not to mention money) appears to have been lavished on the dinos, which are by a colossal margin the one and only reason to sit through this terrible film. Most of the film emanates from a lead-lined vault many miles below the bargain basement, but the animation is not far off Harryhausen standards – I was not surprised to see Jim Danforth’s name in the credits, but apparently most of the actual effects work was done by Stephen Czerkas and James Aupperle, two people previously unknown to me. Bits of this film compare respectably with the effects sequences from movies like One Million Years B.C. and The Valley of Gwangi, with a particularly good tyrannosaur and some nice ornithomimids too. But to get to them you have to endure such a lot of garbage involving the human cast you arrive in a bad mood anyway.

I expect Planet of Dinosaurs has defenders who will strenuously declare that it is so bad it’s good, a camp classic, etc etc. No, it’s not: most of it’s so bad that it’s painful to consider the obvious care and attention that has gone into the animation, which is wasted in a piece of crap like this. You’d think that it would be difficult for a movie called Planet of Dinosaurs to live up to the promise of the title, and I think you’d be right – but for a movie to not live up to the promise of that title as comprehensively and depressingly as this one possibly constitutes an even more remarkable achievement.

Read Full Post »

Given the scenes of devastation still daily on my TV as I write, both in Libya and Japan (a country with a very special place in my heart), part of me is inclined to dismiss Jonathan Liebesman’s enthusiastically apocalyptic Battle: Los Angeles simply on the grounds of tastelessness. But that would hardly be fair, given that film-makers can hardly be expected to predict the future. Unfortunate timing aside, this film deserves as fair a crack of the whip as any other. 

So, then. Battle: Los Angeles boldly breaks extremely well-trampled ground by being an alien invasion movie in which the military of the world must contend with a better-armed extraterrestrial foe. It has one of those slightly annoying openings which has a snippet of the action in full flow, before jumping back in time to establish how everything got to that point. (I don’t really see why this plot structure has become so popular – do directors think people are going to walk out of their movie just because it’s a slightly slow starter?)

Aaron Eckhart plays troubled USMC Staff Sergeant Nantz, who’s on the verge of quitting the forces on the grounds that a) he has personal issues to resolve and b) he’s past it. However, retirement plans are put on hold when peculiar meteorite showers landing off the shores of major cities herald the onslaught of another load of intergalactic metal gits dead set on taking possession of the Earth. (They’re after our water, hence the amphibious assault on coastal cities – although London is also apparently on the hit list. The aliens must have route-marched up the river – once again the Thames Barrier proves a massive white elephant.) Nantz finds himself under the command of an inexperienced new officer, taking a team into an enemy-held section of LA to evacuate civilians prior to a massive bombing operation. Suffice to say that not everything goes to plan.

If we’re going to make a go of this describing-films-in-terms-of-X-meets-Y business, then Battle: Los Angeles is quite clearly ‘Black Hawk Down meets Independence Day’. Fatally, however, it lacks the directorial precision of the former and the crowd-pleasing spectacle and sense of fun of the latter. It is, to be perfectly frank, really, really dull.

It’s not as if nothing happens: most of the film is the story of Nantz and his comrades battling their way to safety while trying to impede the enemy advance and keep some civilians safe. (The divine and radiant Michelle Rodriguez pops up as an Air Force techie they bump into – it’s getting to the point where I can’t think of a film where ‘Chelle doesn’t get to cut loose with a machine gun at some point. It’s not as if she doesn’t scrub up well, I have a collection of photos to prove it.) But it’s simply monotonous. Someone barks some orders. They walk down a street. Alien stuff flies overhead. Someone mutters something plot-related about the situation. Guns go off for a bit. Someone makes a heart-felt speech about their friends and family. They walk down the street. Someone barks orders. Aliens fly overhead. Repeat, for well over an hour.

This only really stops when the film pauses to do Character Stuff. This is not necessarily a good thing, as the film clearly wants to get to the alien invasion stuff in a hurry and the only character to be introduced in anything even approaching two dimensions is Nantz. Eckhart is pretty good, and seems to be trying a bit harder than the script probably deserves, but he’s still been much better in many other different films. Everyone else’s Character Stuff is just out of a trite and overfamiliar soap-opera.

The other problem is that – look, I don’t know any US Marines. They may indeed all be, as the film suggests, heroic, laudable, selfless individuals, simultaneously managing to be elite, fearless warriors and yet subtly flawed, identifiable human beings. This may be a qualification to get into the USMC; I’m not eligible and I can’t swim anyway, so I’ve never bothered to find out. However, even if this incredibly flattering depiction of them is spot-on accurate it doesn’t necessarily make for an interesting set of characters. They all look much the same (except for Eckhart and his chin) and tend to blur into each other, so identikit are they. Even Rodriguez doesn’t make much of an impression.

(The only moment when the Marines aren’t being selfless heroes comes when they happen upon a wounded alien, and – rules of war be damned! – cut it to pieces while still alive in an attempt to find any weak spots it may possess. More of this kind of morally-dubious pragmatism and fewer recruitment-ad platitudes might have made a better movie, but the USMC probably wouldn’t have been so keen to co-operate.)

And this film is almost wholly lacking in subtext. It doesn’t seem to really be about anything, except how wonderful the US military is. It’s a virtuoso piece, technically speaking, but it’s by no means the first film in this fake-verisimilitude style, most notably being beaten out of the traps by the somewhat-similarly-themed Skyline last Autumn.

The makers of Battle: Los Angeles and Skyline are, thrillingly, engaged in a court case claiming that the latter film ripped off material from the first. I don’t think I’m exaggerating too much if I suggest that this behind-the-scenes stuff is probably the most interesting thing about Battle: Los Angeles. (For the record, Skyline is eerily similar in some ways – and while it’s ultimately disappointing and almost wholly absurd, it’s still a more interesting movie than Battle: Los Angeles.)

Of course, I am frequently wrong about these things, and even though I think it’s a crashingly tedious and rather predictable film wasting the talents of two fine actors, Battle: Los Angeles may well go on to be a big hit. In which case no doubt a franchise will result in which our valiant human heroes will engage the alien menace in a variety of water-rich locations. Battle: Leamington Spa, anyone?

Read Full Post »