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Saturday, 31 December 2016

Retro Review: Batman Returns (1992)

Batman Returns
Cast: Michael Keaton, Michelle Pfeiffer, Danny Devito, Christopher Walken
Genre: Superhero 
Worldwide Box Office Gross: over $260 million 

Plot: Gotham City faces two monstrous criminal menaces: the bizarre, sinister Penguin and the slinky, mysterious Catwoman. Can Batman battle two formidable foes at once?

'Diversive Entry In The Batman Series That Will Not Appeal To All - Yet I Loved It' 

Up until Christopher Nolan's take on the Batman films, the movie series has had a bit of a rough spell in the film world; with two back-to-back offerings that were quite frankly below par and heading in a direction that rendered the franchise as something of a joke via Warner Bros but moreso Joel Schumacher in Batman Forever, and the even more atrocious, Batman and Robin. Reflecting back to a time when there was a really good, or be it great Batman live-action film, one has to go back to the year of 1992; arguably the only film that lived up to its promises and gave it as good as it can give, effort-wise, is Batman Returns

And I have to say, ever since Batman Returns was released, it is, despite how divisive it was and that it did get mixed receptions from critics and fans, in some ways this overlooked effort is also my favourite Batman film... and one I'd take over most of Chris Nolan's versions. As well as Joel Schumacher's. So what is it about Batman Returns that I loved and enjoyed that many others did not? 

Well, in watching the 1989 Batman, whilst it has its moments, as well as a show-stealing turn by Jack Nicholson as The Joker, I just felt the film needed another major star to give it another massive boost and for it being more than just a Joker vehicle, and yet it amounted to little. And Kim Basinger as Vicki Vale didn't wow me; her character came off as being too one-dimensional. Alas, it just didn't happen in Batman; but heck did it happen in Batman Returns. The phrase two heads are better than one couldn't have been more fitting in the additions or be it arrivals of the Penguin and Catwoman. Yet thanks to the efforts of Danny Devito and Michelle Phieffer, alongside Michael Keaton and Christopher Walken, as well as director Tim Burton having been given the creative freedom to do whatever he wanted with this film and going, even more, darker and at times, sinister with the story, Batman Returns is edgier, darker - which is of great benefit to the franchise itself. Not to mention it is the closest to The Dark Knight's noir-ish type feel. 

The result: an almost colder, gothic-like Halloween tone that sort of harkens back to Burton's Nightmare Before Christmas and Beetlejuice and whilst a lot of people see this as a turn-off for a film, I believe this made Batman Returns even more interesting to watch. It's as if Burton has taken elements from horror films and infused it into a comic book/superhero film. As the character of Batman, the antagonist characters, the film's backdrop, they all express that eerie, dark tone that is also mysterious and brooding in nature too. Heavily stylised, as sombre as it comes across, it is also visually artistic to look at as well. 

The backstories to The Penguin and Catwoman here are unlike any that I have seen before it, and whilst these may detract from the original origins of the comic book versions, I still think it is interesting to see these events unravel on screen through flashback scenes or moments; like when Selena gets pushed out of a window, dies - only to come back under the alias of Catwoman. Her transformation is rather startling to watch, as it all unravels within the plot. 

The casting is excellent: Michael Keaton reprises his role as the caped crusader and plays the part inside out, but also delivering another dimension to his characters in his performances that were sort of lacking in the first film: both as alter-ego Batman and Bruce Wayne. And even to this day, he just comes across in demonstrating why he has been for me, my favourite Batman/Bruce Wayne, besides that of Christian Bale. He plays Bruce like a natural and doesn't overdo it and make him look dorky or silly. He was better in Batman Returns than he was in the prequel, and having had that experience of being in the first film, Keaton looks far more comfortable and at ease here. Danny Devito is great too: virtually unrecognisable underneath all that make-up, this version of the Penguin isn't just scary and repulsive-looking, but Danny also brings out that menace, that anger, that threat that this character needs in abundance. At times, I felt pity towards him, having been rejected by his parents at birth as they dump him in a sewer and being seen as an outsider and picked on because he looked different. The scene where he eats a raw fish - and I don't mean of the sushi kind- is enough to make one throw up. 

Christopher Walken was not bad as Max; that character didn't make a huge impression on me and on the film, as one would have expected. The film could have easily functioned without Max. And finally we come to the lone female character, Catwoman aka secretary Selena Kyle, who though is perceived as a villain-ness, she comes across more as an anti-hero in Batman Returns, than as an outright evil bad girl. Michelle Pfeiffer, at the height of her career at the time, was fantastic and her turn is probably my favourite out of the main 4: over-the-top, but never making Catwoman more outlandish and silly looking, with a highly sexual charged appeal by her donning the catsuit, whilst also evoking empathy, it seems as though she was the one who had the most fun on set, and in watching her performance and her character having the most interesting story arc, I can see why. Pfieffer's take on Catwoman is still unrivalled. 

The team-up of Catwoman and Penguin worked wonders compared to Schumacher's overly camp, Riddler and Two-Face and Mr Freeze and Poison Ivy. 

Though it is less so a Batman film and I do understand it if people think that too much onus in this film is placed on the villains and more specifically, Selena Kyle and The Penguin/Oswald and less on Bruce Wayne/Batman, given it is more about the villains. Still, I actually think this take by Tim Burton made it interesting to watch, as well as appealing to me personally. 

Just like with Batman, Tim Burton has a way of approaching antagonists and villains and handling them with an exquisite touch that also lends itself to its dark undertones that underpin it, whilst at the same time, not make them too cartoon-ish that in turn it makes it difficult for us to take them seriously as villains. Which also relates to Joel Schumacher's failed and botched attempts with the Riddler, Two-Face, Mr Freeze and Poison Ivy. The difference here is that Burton has always seen the antagonists as the crucial piece of the Batman puzzle and that the films cannot fully operate, without them. So, therefore, he makes the most out of their inclusion and in the best ways possible. Whereas with Schumacher, it appears he doesn't treat the franchise the respect it and the fans themselves deserve, and because of that, his takes on the characters are child-like, almost bordering on a joke and a travesty. & to think of what he has done to the Batman series of films, they were botch jobs.

The violence here is not suitable for younger children - the scene with The Penguin biting the nose of some guy and blood is spurting out is rather shocking, and whilst a lot of parents had complaints about this, I thought that violence, that level of violence and the tone of it, sort of resonated to the type of Batman film Tim Burton was trying to get across that parents and families, and even Warner Bros just didn't quite understand. This is not a Batman film ideally recommended for children under 10 years of age.

But the score is terrific: atmospheric, yet bold and captivating in certain scenes. 

The only thing that baffled me was right towards the end when Batman takes off his mask in front of Selena/Catwoman. I didn't understand why he needed to do that. It just seemed so 'off'. 

Final Verdict: 

Batman Returns has lost none of its charm and individuality as a film that although it is a lot unlike many other Batman films prior to and after it, it also a Batman film that is way superior to Batman Forever and Batman and Robin. The first film didn't strike a chord with me as much, but this follow-up practically blew me away & credit to Tim Burton for going all out. 

Not only does it look visually impressive but the characterisations and through them and the performances really upped this offering. It is also much more dramatic and way more satisfying than the prequel, as a lot more effort was being put in by both the actors involved and director, Tim Burton. Also, even with the darker tone, it feels slightly looser and with the characters; you get a better observation and insight into their individual story arcs, as well as the main plot.

Thinking back to the negative reactions and uproar this film faced, it kind of puts a smile on my face knowing that this film still was presented as it was and that it still made a great impression on me. And that's despite the mixed reception it received in 1992. 

The abominations that are of Batman Forever and Batman and Robin are so deeply entrenched in the minds of certain people; some of whom brainwashed into thinking Batman films overall have been nothing more but awful, up until Christopher Nolan came along & resurrected the franchise, that I'd say by going into Batman Returns with an open mind and watching it with observation they will see to it that Tim Burton has given it that magic yet dark touch this franchise deserved and needed. 

Some will say this is almost as good as say Christopher Nolan's Batman films, but I personally prefer this over Nolan's incarnations, and way beyond that of Joel Schumacher's attempts, Batman Returns is a Batman sequel effortlessly and skillfully handled and with creative flair and vision under Tim Burton's trademark dark style that truly doesn't hold back. 

A lot of people may not have enjoyed it for various reasons; I for one count myself as an exception to this rule. 


Friday, 30 December 2016

Retro Review: Cutthroat Island (1995), Channel 4

Cutthroat Island
Cast: Geena Davis, Matthew Modine, Frank Langella
Genre: Action-Adventure
U.S Box Office Gross: over $10 million

Plot: Feisty Morgan Adams inherits her late buccaneer father's galleon and one-third of a map to buried treasure located on Cutthroat Island. The map had been tattooed on her father's scalp, and to find the treasure, she must locate and scalp his two brothers. But Morgan's swashbuckling uncle, Dawg Brown wants the treasure for himself and does battle with his headstrong niece & her unwilling accomplice, Latin-speaking William Shaw 

'Ordinary Pirate Flick With Not Much To Offer & No Match For Pirates of The Caribbean and Hook'

Cutthroat Island has had such a notorious film history, much more so than Steven Spielberg's Hook spanning the past 2 decades; with the latter being another swashbuckling Peter Pan based film, which was also critically savaged by critics in 1991. Both films weren't well received when they originally came out. Yet in Renny Harlin's Cutthroat Island, unlike Hook, in watching this film for the first time in a long while, it appears that so much of the criticism and disdain levelled at this film was justified. It also bombed so badly it made less money in box office ticket receipts than in its actual budget of $70 million, though this in effect led to the demise of Carolco, who went bankrupt. As well as derailing the careers of Geena Davis and Matthew Modine, coupled with a troublesome pre-production and several big-name actors dropping out - most notably Tom Cruise, Michael Douglas, Keanu Reeves -, the aftermath was so bad, almost poisonous it gave this film a negative reputation and one with utter disdain. 

That and it is the inferior film compared to Hook and later on, Jerry Bruckheimer's Pirates of The Caribbean, in almost every single aspect.

This high- sea adventure just didn't do or offer a lot of what was expected for the duration of 2 hours; that combined with the somewhat uninspired casting and direction of the film and the story and what we have here is a film, or be it a pirate film that under-delivers and promises very little in exchange of the $70 million it took to make it. Alas, this is a case where one is far from getting more bang for your buck.
Morgan Adams (Geena Davis) is a tough-as-nails pirate, who goes in search for the pieces of the map that will lead to the treasure on Cutthroat Island. The fourth piece lies in the hands of her evil uncle (Frank Langella). She recruits a thief, namely William Shaw to help translate what is written on the map and the pairing form a (un)likely partnership.

The main protagonist is female and whilst that is a great thing to see, despite Geena Davis's notable efforts, her character of Morgan is lacking in characterisation, as are all of the other characters. Not one single character from the film either stand out nor comes across as being interesting. The love interest is Shaw played by Matthew Modine, who came in as the last-ditch replacement for Michael Douglas, who chose to bow out, claiming filmmakers were trying to make Morgan more of a mainstay as a character, at the expense of Shaw under Michael Douglas. But alas, Morgan became the central figure. Matthew as Shaw didn't really light up the screen. He has no memorable lines to set him apart from the other characters and his character lacks personality. The love affair between Morgan and Shaw is so derivative and not very compelling, the chemistry between Modine and Davis as their characters just wasn't there and when one may look at it, both performers are not that well suited in their respective parts. The visuals, the special effects and set pieces alone are much more interesting to watch, rather than the actual film itself. 

The dialogue, the story and the acting, however, are what really lets this film down, as it comes across as too hammy to be taken seriously, even though a film like this shouldn't be taken seriously. Even though pirates are supposed to talk and sound the way they do. It's worse than in Pirates of the Caribbean and Hook. The plot made very little sense and the story just wasn't told very well.

The story should have also been a whole lot more exciting, and approached with more vigour and imagination, especially for a film of this type. Morgan scalping her father's head to get the map sounds far-fetched. When I think of those films I've mentioned Hook, Pirates of The Caribbean, they have elements, as well as ways to tell a story that comes across as appealing and catches one's attention. In the latter, it's the adventures of Jack Sparrow, Will and Elizabeth and in Hook, it's about an adult Peter Pan trying to rescue his children from his arch-nemesis, Captain Hook. Unfortunately, this cannot be said for Cutthroat Island, because it just doesn't have that extra something that is creative and bold and daring enough in the story to draw you in.

The film doesn't delve into the characters backstories and histories, nor their personalities, but rather throw in one set piece to another. 

It comes across as a paint-by-numbers job and really, there is nothing creatively ambitious that makes this film risky, daring, nor challenging to the core as it should've been. I guess I was overly praising Cutthroat Island quite a lot and that in rewatching it nowadays, the criticisms and arguments from other people towards it, like I said, still stack up.

Another deciding factor counting against Cutthroat Island is the casting: In Pirates, it has Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, Keira Knightly, Hook
has Robin Williams, Dustin Hoffman, Julia Roberts. & yes, people will keep banging on and on that Julia Roberts was one of the worst things about Hook, but I, for one, say otherwise. Cutthroat Island meanwhile has no real standout Hollywood heavyweight names to speak of. And thus, for a film with a premise as extravagant as this and the budget it has, one expects A-list star names to carry it, and this film just doesn't have that, at all. And I think that that can also attribute to its box office failure, as well as its failure to attract larger audiences. If one shells out over $70 million or whatever to make a movie, it, at least or most needs big-name actors and actresses to back it up and galvanise extra hype, interest & the momentum it so richly needs.

I do think that had this film been released today, instead of 1995, I still think it would have been slightly better received, even with the critical thrashing and especially as with the way the industry has been fading and going downhill with directors, producers, production companies focusing more so on the effects side of things and having huge explosions and whatnot, Cutthroat Island would not have generated as much derision back then in the mid-1990s.

Final Verdict:

Cutthroat Island's abject failure just goes to show it doesn't matter how much money you throw at a film: if the acting, casting choices, performances, characterisation and story don't come through on-screen and make the desired impact on the audience, one has a turkey on their hands. I really didn't want to buy into the criticism and problems that people had with it, but the thing is, they are there and a lot of it is valid.

At best it's average, yet at worst, evidently and without a shadow of a doubt, Cutthroat Island has in every single department, but for the effects & costumes, virtually nothing on the original Pirates of the Carribean and Hook as noteworthy and memorable pirate films of this type.

And, but for a few explosions, memorable, this film ain't.



Battle of the Robin Williams Movie Characters: Malcolm Sayer Vs Patch Adams

In this post, I'd thought I'd do a comparison between two like- for- like Robin Williams characters, who are similar to each other in many ways. I did one way back for Mrs Doubtfire's Daniel Hillard and Fathers' Day's Dale Putley and this one turns my attention to the onscreen doctors/medics in Malcolm Sayer of Awakenings and Patch Adams of Patch Adams, respectively. 

About Dr Malcolm Sayer

Malcolm Sayer is a shy research physician who uses an experimental drug to awaken catatonic victims of a rare disease

About Patch Adams

Hunter Patch Adams is a doctor who doesn't look, act or think like any doctor you've met before. For Patch, humour is the best medicine, and he's willing to do just anything to make his patients laugh - even if it means risking his own career

The differences and correlations made between Awakenings and Patch Adams:

- As a film, Awakenings is a full-on drama, whereas Patch Adams is more of a dramedy type of film. Additionally, Awakenings moves at a much slower pace than Patch Adams

- In Awakenings, the names of the people involved are changed and the method of treatment for a disease is different, whereas, in the film, it states the specific disease 

- The film is based on the book of the same name written by Oliver Sacks, who documented the awakenings of comatose patients in 1973 through the benefits of a drug called L -Dopa. After years in a catatonic state, patients such as Leonard Lowe were awakened and they had to adjust to being alive and in a new time. 

- Oliver Sacks name has been changed in the film to Malcolm Sayer and his nationality is American, instead of British

- Patch Adams is based on the experiences of Hunter Patch Adams as told in the book, Gesundheit: Good Health is a laughing matter. Patch checks himself into a mental institution and finding out that humour helps patients give him a purpose in life, he enrols at a medical college - only to be expelled and then later reinstated, after the college discovers his methods do actually work and they have an adverse effect

- Both films are set in the 1960s 

- Another difference between the films is that Patch Adams is much more centrally driven with regards to the main character insofar as his efforts are concerned both in terms of his work and his personal life. We even see him being romantically involved. Awakenings do this too, but this happens at the end of the film. In Awakenings, it's not really about Malcolm per se or Leonard; it's more to do with the drug and how it impacts people, both for the good and the bad. Less focus is on Malcolm's personal life and a lot more on his endeavours as a physician and a medic. 

- Robin Williams's performance in Awakenings is far more restrained, introverted and serious, given that Oliver Sacks was a serious person who tended to his work as a neurologist. Though Sayer was a hardworking physician, he was a very shy person, who wasn't always comfortable around people whereas, in Patch Adams as Patch Adams, he is a character who relies on humour, so, therefore, he's a lot less serious than Malcolm Sayer and who is very extroverted and likes to engage with his patients and his staff members. One could say Patch has more, yet not so much in common with Robin Williams than Malcolm Sayer does. 

- In Patch Adams, the female character was actually a man and Patch's best friend in real life - only in the film, it is portrayed as a 'she' and as a love interest for Patch

- The moral of the story in Awakenings is the value of life and what it means whereas, in Patch Adams, the question is more along the lines of 'what are we living for?'. Notice how the first question infers to a general sense and the second one has much more personal undertones to it 

- Patch's quote in the film Patch Adams

- Malcolm's quote in Awakenings 

Final Verdict: 

In equal measure, I'd say that both films are about inspiration, hope and thinking beyond the conventions of treating patients but they go about it in different ways. In terms of entertainment factor and being highly watchable from beginning to end, Patch Adams gets my vote, as it held my attention throughout and there weren't scenes where I switched off. The story, though as simplistic as it is compared to Awakenings, was as engrossing, and yet the way it is shot, presented was easier for me to follow in Patch Adams

However, in terms of the overall performance, Robin Williams did it better as Malcolm Sayer, because he didn't have to rely on humour or schtick; he had to play it straight in this drama, though as it was based on Oliver Sacks, Sacks was a serious person in real- life. His performance in Awakenings showed that Robin is a great dramatic actor and of whom has the necessary screen presence to carry it off. 

When it comes to the facts, Patch Adams does skew some of them and does not present everything as it is; likewise, the female love interest in the film is based on Patch Adams actual friend, who was a man. Which is a bit messed up. 

Patch Adams is argued to be a lot more saccharine and that it relies too much on cliches. 

But based on the performances given, the sheer conviction of that performance and that the drama was played out far better, my vote goes out to Awakenings and to Robin Williams as Malcolm. 

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Retro Review: True Lies (1994) #Schwarzenegger

True Lies
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Arnold, Art Malik, Tia Carrere, Bill Paxton, Eliza Dushku, Charlton Heston
Genre: Spy Action Comedy
Worldwide Box Office Gross: over $370 million

Plot: A top spy in the ultra-secret Omega Sector who dances a mean tango, to his neglected wife, Helen, Harry Tasker is just an ordinary computer salesman in her eyes. But whilst Harry's been fighting terrorists, Helen's been gathering secrets of her own. When their secret lives unexpectedly collide, both Helen and Harry find themselves in the clutches of international terrorists.

'James Bond -Style Flick With Added Muscle'

Any film where Arnold Schwarzenegger sends himself up in light-hearted shenanigans tends to turn up the noses of critics and fans of predominantly action movies, be it Junior, Kindergarten Cop, Jingle All The Way, Twins. Yet in True Lies, what we have here is your typically Arnie-like action fest that doubles up as a 007 James Bond spy parody. Harry Tasker is the American equivalent to James Bond of Britain, whose international branch of spies focus on counter-terrorism. 

Harry's wife Helen, meanwhile, is completely oblivious to what is going on and turns to Simon, a con man posing as a fellow agent and used car salesman as she tries to get in on the act. Later on, along with Harry, she finds herself embroiled in a terrorist scheme involving a group called Crimson Jihad, led by mastermind Aziz, who intends to threaten the U.S by firing nuclear warheads that he has acquired. 

A remake of the French film La Totale!, this is a film not many of us tend to associate James Cameron with, as he specialises more in futuristic sci-fi action fare through Aliens, The Terminator & Terminator 2

True Lies sees Schwarzenegger collaborating once again with James Cameron, after 1991's smash hit, Terminator 2 Judgement Day and together, this pairing opted for a more light-hearted, less serious tone for this offering. As far as other films of this type go, there is nothing else quite like it - and that in itself is what makes it revered by many. 

It has a very contemporary feel to it; in the sense that it was a precursor to 21st-century war on terrorism and pre - 9/11. If you read it from a much wider context, one could see to it in Harry the family man exerting and asserting his role as the main head of the family. It looks extravagant, bold & brash. 

The violence is not too excessively violent or as bloody, as on the same lines as say Total Recall and Commando, but it's still strong and there is a slight humourous tone evoked through it. Such as in one scene when Helen drops an Uzi machine gun by accident and as it goes down a flight of stairs, it ends up killing all the bad guys. 

What makes this film stand out from all the other action movies, but besides say, Jackie Chan's Police Story where the action level is pretty much even, is the over-the-top action sequences and stunts that surpass each and every one as the film develops further on. But also, it has that fun element from a fantasy-like context; as silly as some of it looks, they are also highly entertaining and remain watchable as well. James Cameron goes all out and much like with Terminator 2 and Titanic, he is the type of director who, when it comes to spectacular action sequences and the visuals when you expect him to give the audience the thrills, the highs, as well as the spills, Cameron never disappoints. Visually, the film is a treat without all the computer effects, but for the tech scenes, it's as though he has taken notes from the James Bond movies. 

Yet even more intriguing is that this is a rare example of how to take the romantic comedy sub-genre formula and fuse it together with action; you have Helen and Harry, you have a subplot where their relationship is not going so well at the moment. Harry is out saving the world, trying to keep it a secret and because of his job, he doesn't spend enough quality time with his wife and daughter. His absence has a direct effect on their relationship, both as a family and with Helen. Helen feels something is missing from her life and she doesn't feel loved, nor inspired, so much so she feels neglected; that & she is trying to figure out what it is and how to get it. She even puts on one of the most memorable cinematic stripteases known in history for her husband. You have the love interest who turns out to be a femme fatale, and then through working together and defeating the bad guys, not only do Harry and Helen win, but their love for one another also wins out in the end as well. Likewise, True Lies doubles up as an interesting take on the rom-com. They make for one strong central male/female pairing and with Jamie Lee Curtis, out of all the onscreen female actresses that have partnered up with and played alongside Arnie, for me, she had the strongest connection and their bond together as Helen and Harry when it comes together, is just magic. 

The comedy aspect is well-written and when one thinks about it, given it is an action comedy, this could've been an ideal vehicle for say, someone like Eddie Murphy who is not only funny but through Beverly Hills Cop, he has also proven how convincing he can be, as an action star. But this is an Arnie flick and he has a gift of the gab to go with it. 

My concerns with this film were the character of Glib portrayed by Tom Arnold, who refers to women as b*****s and the sketchy portrayal of the female characters. I didn't like the daughter Dana, played by Eliza Dushku very much and thought she was the typically whiny teen. And it can also be argued that the terrorists come off as being too cartoonish and superficial. Also, the last act of Harry rescuing his daughter, I thought that scene was just dragged out a little too long than it should have. I liked the performances from everyone; Bill Paxton as the jerkass car dealer is both irritating and funny to boot, Tom Arnold was just about bearable, yet I don't like Glib much and usually I don't care for Tom in general, but for Eliza Dushku and Tia Carrere's portrayal as the bad girl to Jamie Lee Curtis's good girl, was average. She didn't really sell it to me as the villain, as a) her sole reason for helping the terrorists is money, - and that, in my view that is, just isn't a feasible enough of an excuse for her to become a villain and b) she wasn't 'evil' enough. I preferred her in the Wayne's World films. Arguably of all the characters, it is Helen who winds up showing off more of her human side; especially given as she is the one who becomes embroiled in this mess, and it is not done intentionally. As for Arnie, whilst he can kick a lot of ass, very often he has been accused of being a stoic and wooden actor, who doesn't show an array of emotions or range in his other performances. But as Harry, not since say Total Recall perhaps, we see his acting ability go up one or two notches and he does very well. 

But hey, in all goodies versus baddies action movies, you need sets of characters that viewers can easily identify and make out and distinguish, even if they are somewhat predictable. True Lies didn't need complex or deep characters for us to get to know them, -and thankfully that didn't happen. And the rest of the film is still excellent and a highly entertaining romp that one would come to expect from an Arnie film. 

Whilst it could be said this is not completely out and out perfect, ultimately, I, especially, could concur & say True Lies is the complete package, insofar as content goes in action movies: some credible performances, it's fun, jam-packed with some memorable scenes, great special effects and as an action movie, it remains one of the absolute best indicators of the genre. It still has a lot in the tank throughout those 2 hrs to keep me peeled all the way through to the very end.

That, and it ranks as my second favourite Arnie movie, right behind Terminator 2: Judgment Day

Final Verdict:

True Lies is 007 James Bond, only more quirky, outrageous, over-the-top in the action stakes. & plenty of muscle with less fat. 

Does it still hold up over a decade later? Absolutely. And despite what some may call is the misogynistic portrayal of the female characters - the sex bomb wife, the wacko psycho femme fatale and the annoying child character - the rest of the film is terrific and highly entertaining from start to finish. 

I think this film works better as an action film in general, although the comedy elements - but for some of the sexist jokes and lines that come off as being misogynistic -, are somewhat strong as well and help compliment it. When and where in certain areas it gets things right, it succeeds 110% and on that note, the film and James Cameron's efforts duly paid off. 

But it is through the onscreen coupling of Jamie Lee Curtis and Arnold Schwarzenegger & some spectacular action scenes that True Lies truly excels and literally comes out on top. 


Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Retro Review: The Nutty Professor (1996), ITV2

The Nutty Professor
Cast: Eddie Murphy, Jada Pinkett Smith, Dave Chappelle, Larry Miller, John Ales
Genre: Fantasy Sci-Fi Comedy
Worldwide Box Office Gross: over $270 million 

Plot: Grossly overweight, yet good-hearted professor Sherman Klump takes a special chemical that turns him into the slim but obnoxious Buddy Love

'Foul Language & Mean- Spirited Tone Ruins What Is Otherwise An Entertaining Comedy'

The Nutty Professor is the hit comedy from 1996 that with it being remade when one thinks about it, this could've been an ideal vehicle for any number of comedic actors being cast in the main and supporting roles. Jim Carrey, Robin Williams: comedic actors who have that ability to play multiple characters in makeup & prosthetics & putting on silly voices through improvisation. But alas, it was the role of Sherman Klump that eventually went to Eddie Murphy, who up until this point had a rather so-so career in the 1990s, which yo-yo'ed up and down, thus, averaging mixed reviews for the likes of Beverly Hills Cop 3, Boomerang, The Distinguished Gentleman and Another 48 Hrs to name. But two highlights to come out of this decade was Murphy's turns in The Nutty Professor and Bowfinger; with the latter alongside Steve Martin. Both films helped revived his career, and who else would end that slump, but in a character by the name of Klump. 

The 1996 remake is directed by Tom Shadyac, whose other works include the original Ace Ventura, Liar Liar and saccharine-laced Patch Adams and is loosely based on Jerry Lewis's 1963 original version. The concept and original framework of that film have been retained. The main differences between this version and the original are the Klumps are Black, instead of White. It definitely has that African-American subtext, which should also appeal to Black audiences as well. That, and that it is a lot more in-yer-face and brash in its approach. 

Being frustrated at the lack of progress in losing weight, gentle giant 400lbs Sherman invents a potion to help him lose weight so he can attract the attention of Carla. But the weight loss potion appears to have drawbacks and side effects. 

Eddie Murphy's multitude of roles he undertakes in prosthetics is a theme he has revisited from Coming to America and he applies it to maximum and amusing effect here. Seeing him ad-lib throughout, I can definitely see why Eddie noted Robin Williams as one of his major influences in his career; it's almost as if he has also taken a cue from him playing Mrs Doubtfire, and that dual role involved Robin having to take on two different characters too. Murphy gives his funniest - yet craziest comedic performance that was last seen in Beverly Hills Cop 1. 

As Sherman Klump, he is the mild-mannered, morbidly obese professor working at Wellman College; sweet, considerate, intelligent and who has a kind heart, whilst as Buddy Love, he was an arrogant & vain swine with a swagger, who is also on the verge of being very annoying when he wants to be. Buddy Love, much like with Bowfinger's Kit Ramsey is a loudmouth, unduly echoing some of Eddie's earlier stand-up routines and characters in Beverly Hills Cop and Coming to America. Sherman is on the verge of a new cure to help combat obesity. He then bumps into Carla, the love interest in this film played by Jada Pinkett Smith and he develops a crush on her. 

The humour is silly, occasionally crude and low-brow typified by toilet humour, fart and flatulence gags, characters burping and belching, silly stuff like that, which gets old quickly; although one may argue the scene where Dave Chappelle's character cracks jokes about Sherman's weight on stage, is mean-spirited and not really that funny. The visual gags are rib-tickling amusing, if silly at times, but also it goes to lengths emphasising that it is not about what and how you look on the outside, but how you really feel on the inside that counts. & I think the film did vouch upon this aspect & follow through very well, if not so thoroughly. 

Also for all of the silliness, there are some heartfelt and touching moments of poignancy and subtlety where we feel sorry for Sherman. The Nutty Professor has a heart that doesn't stray too far to becoming sickeningly sentimental and plays to its strengths. Yet I feel that sometimes whilst the film tries to put a positive spin & be all light-hearted and encouraging in its message, all of that is thrown away and forgotten about, as it resorts to cursing and cheap fat jokes. 

Had The Nutty Professor relied on jokes about or attacking someone's race, gender or sexuality, disability then this film would've never been green-lighted and approved. But then again we have Deuce Bigelow Male Gigolo sadly, which is guilty of the same, exact thing that this film does. 

The film combines Eddie's penchant for offbeat, fast-tracked and energetic comedy with that of the makeup, fatsuits and prosthetics and Shadyac's script. In this film, he is amusing and goes all out displaying the different personalities, he is at times witty but also brash. His comedy and humour harken back to '80s Eddie Murphy and as the equally believable, Sherman. His improv skills and being able to put on different voices showed the wonders of his talents. But much like Robin Williams himself, he is not always the greatest choser of roles - and that sometimes is his biggest downfall. 

If Mrs Doubtfire and The Mask had a lovechild together, mixed with a bit of Flubber & Eddie Murphy's stand-up antics from Raw, then The Nutty Professor would be it; though I was surprised by some of the cursing in the film, as I'd assumed The Nutty Professor was still suitable for families. The B-word and N-word ruined it slightly, bordering on being (un) intentionally offensive, vulgar & distasteful. The poster itself makes it seem like it is a broad, family-friendly comedy. This should have been a broad family G-rated comedy, and though it is rated PG-13, it still contains language that is deemed to offend others. 

As for the supporting cast despite their efforts, it is Murphy who clearly runs the show, both as Sherman and Buddy Love and towers over Dave Chappelle, Jada Pinkett Smith amongst others. Their performances didn't really wow me, nor were they special. John Ales of whom plays Jason, however, wasn't too bad. 

The Nutty Professor is another one of those films that I used to enjoy a great deal as a teenager growing up in the 1990s; at that time, I thought it was hysterical and I never really contemplated about anything else besides that it would make me laugh. It never occurred to me the cruel context of some of the terms, words that were being used and how hurtful they can be towards people, who have weight issues or lack self-esteem and confidence. Rewatching it now, there are things I've noticed about it as an adult today that I'd never realised before that are rather offensive and mean-spirited, that I don't find it funny as I used to. Yes, it's a comedy and it is supposed to be for a laugh. Yet calling a woman a b**** or using the N-word, is nothing to be made fun of. 

The term 'Nutty' needn't be obnoxious; but unfortunately, that is what this film is alluding to through its tone, sadly. Though thankfully, Sherman's big-hearted nature just about manages to prevent this film from plumbing down to even more lowly and venomous depths. 

Perhaps, this version of The Nutty Professor ought to be known as ''The 'Smutty' Professor''.

Final Verdict:

The sequel isn't as good as this offering; however, this version of The Nutty Professor is one of the more successful comedy remakes, Updating it for the 1990s, it makes it more relevant to the masses. Though it can get a little too absurd and unpleasant with some of the jokes, I for one can get by it or let it slide. 

As Sherman Klump or be it Buddy Love and playing Sherman's family members, this is Eddie Murphy's most outlandish comedic role and one that brings back memories from his Coming To AmericaRaw and Saturday Night Live days of the 1980s. 

The comedy itself is a hit -&- miss though a lot of it works, some of it is just downright immature and silly and with others through the use of derogatory terms such as the 'B' and 'N' words were not nice for me to hear. 

Henceforth, I'd take Boomerang and Bowfinger over this film. 

Eddie Murphy can be just as funny, even funnier when he isn't so mean as his character, Buddy Love. Alas, it's a shame therefore that it had to be that way and it's a shame that had it not been for some of the cursing, crude jibes towards obese people and mean tone it evokes, this would've been an even better film. 

Still, performance- wise, if one overlooks or puts aside the offensive and crass jokes and foul language, then they will see to it that The Nutty Professor is not a bad effort, as it still manages to be watchable. It's more of a showcase for Eddie Murphy's brand of in-yer-face comedy and less so for the film, which in itself, is unevenly and ineptly scripted. 

Just about, anyway - and that is not by excusing its crude, petulant and unintentional discord this film evokes. 

*score last updated: 12 July, 2017*


Monday, 26 December 2016

Retro Movie Review: Good Will Hunting (1997) #RobinWilliams

Good Will Hunting
Cast: Matt Damon, Robin Williams, Ben Affleck, Minnie Driver
Genre: Drama
Worldwide Box Office Gross: over $225 million 
Trivia: the film was shot in Boston and Cambridge, Massachusets and Toronto, Ontario

Plot: The most brilliant mind at America's top university isn't a student.... he's the kid that cleans floors! Will Hunting is a headstrong, working-class genius, who is failing the lessons of life. After one too many run-ins with the law, Will's last chance is a psychology professor, who might be the only man who can reach him. 

'Not Quite The Hollywood Epic, But Almost'

I've pretty much reviewed and rated almost every single major Robin Williams film, but for Good Will Hunting. I'd never really been interested in this film when I heard that Matt Damon was in it, and frankly, I'm neither a fan of him or his films, but for The Departed, which I enjoyed a lot. This is also the one Robin Williams film that I hadn't seen properly in full, before until recently, I thought I need to take a chance with this and see how it goes and to brace myself for what should be an interesting dramatic film, as well as the outstanding performance by Robin Williams that resulted in his first Oscar win. 

What I wasn't duly prepared for however was the incessant usage of foul language, mainly F-words in this film. Because, truthfully, it didn't need it; it was so out-of-place. This film can function without it, and plus in a lot of instances, it was just unnecessary. It was understandable that the film Erin Brockovich had F-words because as it was based on the real character, she acted and spoke like that, cursing and blinding. But here, this is not based on a true story, and not on the actual Will Hunting, who doesn't exist in real life. Good Will Hunting could have been PG-13 - minus 90% of the profanity & grievous fight scenes, and it would still be a very good film. That way, this would mean teenagers, young children, families could watch it and take inspiration from the character of Will Hunting and see him as a positive role-model. But alas, Gus Van Sant and the writers wanted to appeal to an older audience, and I think personally, that is and was a mistake. Good Will Hunting ought to have been PG-13. A film wants each character to have their own voice, but that doesn't mean they have to go effing and blinding for a sake of it. 

The title is contradictory: at first, it gives the impression that Will Hunting is a (supposedly) good character, a guy we should root for and he does exemplary things when in actuality, for all the smarts he has intellectually, knowledge-wise, insofar as his actual behaviour and character, he is not a wise or good person because he lacks common sense. The biggest plot hole with this character is the film's absence in shedding light on his childhood background. Sure enough, he had a tough and difficult upbringing and childhood, he is an orphan & came from a broken home, but we never see flashback moments that indicate his troubled past life. How did he become a genius overnight? What literately happened to him? What was he like as a child? What were his fondest memories growing up? Was he happy? Yet not once throughout the 2 hours do these questions get addressed. In fact, it seems like there are more questions than answers. 

In real-life, back when I was in high school and college, if I had to endure having someone like Will Hunting in my class, I'd probably tear my hair out (not literately though). 

I guess there are people like Will hunting out there in real life - bright, intelligent but who speak with a filthy mouth that would make a parent blush. What I don't get is why is someone as smart, articulate chooses to throw it all away and act like an egotistical douchebag, when he should know and act better? 

I get what this film is trying to say and the story it is trying to evoke: that for all the troubled so-called bad eggs in society, there is one person who is intelligent, smart but their upbringing, the environment in which they were raised in is a consequence of the personal demons s/he faces. I.e they are homeless, or in this case, immature, reckless, juvenile and on the other side of the law. Yet this film over-hypes and oversells itself that I begin to wonder exactly, what more does it really offer to not only sell it to me but that the viewing experience is one that I will fully cherish and take to heart? This is where Good Will Hunting, and some of the characterisations, more so than the performances fall slightly short for me. Robin Williams won that Oscar for his role, and as much as I enjoyed it, but for touching on the fact he is widower & being a nice guy, we or I don't learn anything else about him or know much more about who he is. Because to me, he is just some therapist/ counsellor type of guy. That's it. 

The character of Will Hunting is a dislikeable, at times arrogant, obnoxious jerk who is incredibly angsty, sulky and negative but things change when he meets Sean and Skylar. And yet, am I really led to believe then that after 2 or 3 therapy sessions, someone like him becomes a completely reformed person for the greater good? I don't think so. Speaking from experience, I've never been someone who is susceptible to frequent outbursts of anger, like Will Hunting, but I've had counselling sessions when I was in my early 20s, and even after 2, 3 sessions, I didn't feel everything was a-okay and I was always in the right, positive frame of mind. & so I continued seeking help until my mid-20s to early- 30s.  

There are also a few other things that I felt this film really went a bit over-the-top with. One of them in making Will Hunting a genius at every single subject. Why? They should have stuck with him being an intellect at maths. Therefore, this is a bit too much. The film doesn't stop to consider that for one minute his talents or abilities can make a huge and positive difference in the world and to people's lives. Instead, Will chooses to throw it all away by smoking, drinking, trying to get laid with the girls.

If it wasn't for Robin Williams being in this film, I wouldn't have had shown the slightest bit interest, at all. He was head and shoulders above everyone else and is the sole reason why it was so successful in the first place. I really enjoyed his performance, but even that alone didn't do enough to make me want to really love this film. When Sean grabbed Will's neck after Will made a crass comment about his deceased wife, I thought Will deserved it and that if anyone was going to talk some real sense to him, it was going to be Sean. People will say Robin's restrained performance as he plays it straight, drama-wise was a gimmick or attempt to land that best supporting Oscar, which he thoroughly deserved. If his performance as Sean is a gimmick, then so are his turns as Good Morning, Vietnam's Adrian Cronauer, Parry from The Fisher King, Malcolm Sayer in Awakenings, T.S Garp in The World According to Garp. Robin Williams is a gimmick because we should only see him as an actor who only and should only do comedy roles and nothing else. If that is your mindset, then one is narrow-minded. 

Though hearing him utter the line, ''It's not your fault'' to Matt Damon's Will several times, is enough to annoy me. That and almost all of his scenes with Matt Damon involve sitting around and doing nothing and saying little. Yes, I know that is the role of a therapist or whatever he is supposed to be, but that doesn't go far enough. His character Sean Maguire is practically the same type of role as the one in Awakenings, Good Morning Vietnam, Dead Poets Society and Patch Adams for Williams: the one where he takes an unorthodox approach, who goes about things in a free-spirited manner and goes about it differently to his peers or those in authority. It's no more as different here as it is in those films really, and whilst that will annoy some people, that is the type of role I for one, enjoy seeing him play. Robin is more effective being the voice of reason as a character, rather than as an evil bad guy. Sean is more, though not so much along the lines of Malcolm Sayer of Awakenings when it comes to his reserved performances and here it is very reserved and restrained. Although making Sean relate to Will, in the sense that he too came from the same area as him, is too obvious and apparent. 

But, for the silly, innocuous fart joke, I thought Robin's showing was great to watch and as ever, he really shows how good he is at doing drama. Matt Damon was good in his role, even though I don't care for him as an actor or his movies, Ben Affleck wasn't in the film as much for me to form an opinion on him because his role was superficial. The chemistry between Matt and Minnie Driver was one I didn't really buy into, and the rest of the film becomes more interesting as it went on. Minnie didn't do much for me. 

Good Will Hunting is a competent effort that doubles up as one of those Mills & Boon romance novels, thanks to the romance subplot - only it has slightly more redeemable qualities, but not one I'd go crazy and ga-ga for. It lacked the dramatic punches and twists it needed to help elevate it as a film. Despite this, though it is not quite exactly the Hollywood epic as it has been touted over the years it is also a film that is not immune to criticism, even for all of its praises. & I am also a bit mystified as to how it won best screenplay at the 1998 Academy Awards. 

Also, the film's message seems to imply that society is at fault and that one shouldn't take responsibility for their own actions. Which I think is wrong and so false. 

Yet Good Will Hunting is in some ways, all right.  


Pros +

- Robin Williams, to some extent Matt Damon and Minnie Driver 

- Good camaraderie between Robin Williams and Matt Damon 

- Story was nice 

- Nicely portrays lower-class Boston Irish life

Cons -

- Couldn't really stand Will Hunting as a character

- Derivative and didn't blow me away

- Swearing was overdone and off-putting with the usage of the F-word

- Film never delves deep enough, especially with regards to Will's formative years

Final Verdict:

The plot of a genius who doesn't have the ambition or faith has been done several times; unfortunately, it is also marred by the gratuitous use of the F-word that basically adds nothing to the story, nor does it detract from it. 

Good Will Hunting's plot and story's conception could have been approached better and with heart, but instead, whilst it has its moments it didn't really make the impact that I'd expected, that I'd wanted. 

Robin Williams practically saves this film and is the only reason why I cared for it in the first place, as intentionally likeable as his character was. In all, Good Will Hunting is a respectable effort - yet it didn't blow me away compared to Good Morning, Vietnam, Awakenings, The Fisher King. 

In summing up the plot to this film in less than 15 words, I'd say it is ''a troubled genius turned good un'' and it is one that is good, yet it also never quite goes deep enough. It is more of a snug fit. Though personally, the material and the story is a lot more fulfilling and it is sporadically more compelling than Dead Poets Society,
 as it has more going for itBut I don't buy into the hype of movies: just because the Academy Awards folk say it's amazing, do I have to always agree with them? No, and all of my movie preferences are down to my own tastes, how I receive the characters, how likeable they are and it's not just down to the performances. 

Good Will Hunting is a solid, sound and sufficient effort that deserves to be viewed more than once, with a well-told story and impressive performances. & those performances and individual moments are what makes the film tick, despite the constant usage of the F-word.

It's not exactly a stroke of genius so many critics have lauded it as, but it's still a film worth recommending and seeing.


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