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Saturday, 30 June 2018

Retro Review: Demolition Man (1993)

Demolition Man
Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Wesley Snipes, Sandra Bullock, Nigel Hawthorne, Benjamin Bratt, Denis Leary
Genre: Science Fiction Action Comedy
Worldwide Box Office Gross: over $159 million 

Plot: A police officer is brought out of suspended animation in prison to pursue an old ultra-violent nemesis who is set loose in a non-violent future society 

'Do Not Demolish This'

Sylvester Stallone's Demolition Man and Cliffhanger spearheaded the Italian Stallion's turnaround in 1993 and after lukewarm reception towards Rocky V and notable stabs at comedy that was met with little success in Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot and Oscar the previous year, Sly went back to his action roles, but also realising that he may not have a good grasp of comedy, he had to relax, settle down and figure out what to do next. Surprisingly, he went down the comedy route again in Demolition Man - only interestingly and to my intrigue, this time, it worked out much better. 

Demolition Man depicts a California of the future where morality, political correctness have taken over society and in affecting its community and residents in many ways: alcohol, smoking, chocolate, swearing, abortion, sex and kiss to name but a couple are all banned. In John Spartan and Simon Phoenix, they operate on opposite sides of the law with John as the law enforcer and Simon unleashing his anarchy, wherever he goes. At first, Sparton goes after Phoenix and manages to kill his henchmen. Yet, he comes across some dead hostages and is held and convicted of their deaths and for manslaughter. He, along with archenemy, Phoenix are sentenced for the next 60 years in a cryogenic prison. 36 years later, Los Angeles has now become a more totalitarian place, as it has traded freedom for safety. Officer Lenina Huxley is bored with her role and of the fact that nothing remotely interesting takes place. She is eager to get stuck in and is interested in the world of the violent 1990s and wants a piece of the action. Then Phoenix escapes and breaks out, the police un-thaw Sparton, who finds out his wife died and that they have no idea what happened to his daughter. There is also a subplot involving Raymond Cocteau, who is hailed as a saviour for resurrecting LA and turning it into a utopian city, - & yet who also has something planned up his sleeve, which isn't for the good. 

With that in mind, Stallone delivered a performance that was entertaining, and one that made use of his brand of wit that he previously had in Tango and Cash, another action comedy romp wherein he and co-star, Kurt Russell made for a kick ass buddy cop partnership. & here with Demolition Man, he once again relies on charm and wit without diminishing in being an action star and he and Bullock radiate a sparkling glow as the film's male/female pairing. Their partnership and the way it unravels is key to how well they work together. Beyond the action set pieces, explosions, martial arts, futuristic set designs and police cars, in Sparton and more especially Hexley, she provides that human, emotional-though not too emotional-element & it anchors the film, giving it some meaning, as well as a heart to it. Whilst Wesley Snipes never overacts in his role as the villain and bonus points to the casting director and Joel Silver for opting for an actor who is dissimilar to Sly Stallone in the fight stakes, with Snipes's martial arts vs Stallone's brutish, no-holds-barred style. 

In a film of what is almost entirely made of male actors, Sandra Bullock almost steals the show from headliner Stallone, with a performance that was not only quite out of this world but it also shows how adept she can be in an action flick. Demolition Man is also noted as being Bullock's breakthrough role; whilst Jennifer Aniston, Julia Roberts and Meg Ryan each got their feet off the ground in successive rom-coms, Sandra Bullock turned heads in a sci-fi comedy actioner, & for the right reasons. Filling in for Lori Petty who dropped out after one day's worth of shooting, eventually, it didn't work out & in her place was Bullock, who at the time, was still relatively unknown and before the dizzy heights of her rom-com success, delivering an individual performance that is warm, sweet, amusing & engaging. Dropping subtle hints of her charm and likeability that has made her one of the numbers of bankable actresses of the 1990s and 2000s, she did really good, well, make that too good. Oh, did I mention the part where she beats the hell out of one of the bad guys using martial arts? That was really good. It makes me wish she had more hero roles where she did that. She followed this up in Speed, a year after this movie was released, although having seen both Demolition Man and Speed, to me, I prefer her performance in this film than the one with Keanu Reeves, even though that movie was great also. The other performances were okay with Denis Leary, a small appearance by comic actor, Rob Schneider, but Benjamin Bratt's was nothing much to speak of.  

In something that I hadn't noticed until I watched it in full, the writers manage to send up and poke fun at political correctness in a future where violence is outlawed, as well as sex and red meat is banned. & it's all done sufficiently well. 

Visually, it looks like something that could have been directed by Paul Verhoeven or James Cameron; that Robocop, Total Recall and Terminator 2-esque aesthetic look, right down from the uniforms, the cars to the characters appearances themselves, as well as nailing that satirical angle of the Verhoeven efforts. It's all very sleek, stylish but also very 'out there' in a snazzy kind of way. And it looks amazing, along with the great action sequences.

Demolition Man is one of those action sci-fi movies that is just more than action and sci-fi elements all blended into one package; it's also a satirical social commentary on the law, what it entails, how we ought to go about it and in our daily lives and how the police force in the future may deal with it. Additionally, it's well structured and it took a while for me to really get into the movie until John is unthawed and he and Hexley go about business in a not-so-destructive way, but still taking matters into their own hands against Simon Phoenix. It works on a different level that is almost far less conventional than your typical gung-ho action movie, which is a big plus. The humour is well worked into the movie, yet in the ITV4 UK edit on TV, Taco Bell is replaced by Pizza Hut, for some odd and unexplained reason. 

Final Verdict:

This is one of Stallone's better movies that even to this day, some people choose to sleep on and it ranks amongst as one of the best sci-fi actioners of all-time. Along with a fun and great turn by Sandra Bullock, showing her chops, Demolition Man is an action comedy that is strong in the action and is equally strong in the comedy also. Which is a surprise, but it was really good to see.

There are very few of these types of big-budget action movies that rely on wit and good writing, not just action set pieces galore, if more of them were of the quality of Demolition Man and 1994's True Lies, that in terms of style and tone treads on similar territory as this effort, the action genre would flourish even more. 


Friday, 29 June 2018

Movie Review: Fantastic Four (2015)

Fantastic Four
Cast: Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara, Jamie Bell, Toby Kebbell
Genre: Superhero
Worldwide Box Office Gross: over $167 million

Plot: Four young outsiders teleport to an alternate and dangerous universe which alters their physical form in shocking ways. The four must learn to harness their new abilities & work together to save the earth from a former friend turned enemy

'Plastic, Not Fantastic'

The reviews said this was awful, critics haven't been too kind to the previous iterations of the Fantastic Four live-action films starring Ioan Grufford, Chris Evans and Jessica Alba, but 2015's version takes the cake, quite easily. Fox's second crack at the Marvel comics franchise went ka-put, yet again as its checkered history in the cinematic world, is ridden with issues in all areas. Though I wasn't keen on the earlier films, at least one thing they got right, somewhat was the cast. Well, on paper. Here, and in pre-Black Panther star, Michael B. Jordan, it featured a cast (and a younger one to boot) of mostly lesser-known stars. But even they deserve a far better screenplay. After seeing this movie, I've realised & all the negative hype and criticism & backlash levelled towards this film, is justified. 

Reed Richards is a teen scientist, with the help of a friend, Ben Grimm who invents a transportation device in his family's garage. This device attracts the attention of Dr Storm. Dr Storm's son is Johnny with Sue Storm as Johnny's sister & Dr Storm's daughter. 

With a younger cast in B. Jordan, Jamie Bell of Billy Elliott, Miles Teller and Kate Mara, it seems like they were targeting a younger audience, in particular teens and boys. And yet, it failed. I just didn't sense either of them as their characters. These actors just weren't up to the task in making those characters believable and convincing and for me to fully believe that they are those characters. 

The film takes an awfully long time for any genuine action to take place, as the story is overlong and so bland where nothing exciting or interesting happens for say, the first hour. Almost all of the money was blown on the special effects, which some of it weren't all that great, to be honest. It is also shockingly devoid of any humour and fun that the spirit of the comics and 90s animated series had, whilst as bad as 2002's film was, it was modestly entertaining at times. Here, the tone is far too serious and bleak, which is the antithesis of what and who the Fantastic Four stands for.

But the film will be well known for the so-called controversial casting of Black actor, Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm: adopted brother of Sue Richards and who by origin is White. Thus, changing the origin of Johnny and Sue as brother and sister to being adopted siblings, not only deviates from the source material but as a movie trying to pay respect to its history and who the Fantastic 4 are, it doesn't even do that at all, never mind properly. I'm all for diversity in superhero films, but it has to be done in a way that reflects the original origins of the characters from the comics - & less so by changing up the ethnicity of that particular protagonist/ antagonist. 

The race-bending issue wouldn't have been that much of a deal here if the alternate version of Fantastic Four had a Black Johnny Storm (and Marvel & DC have created alternate universe versions of Superheroes for comics like Superman with an Asian and African American one). Yet besides the adequate special effects and the miscasting issues, Jordan also looked far more compromising in Black Panther than as the one dubbed the Human Torch. At one point, he said that the failure of this film was down to racism and the backlash of Johnny being Black, but really, looking at this movie, this was a sheer abomination from point A to B. The chemistry, bond and family togetherness that makes the Fantastic Four a unique superhero family unit just wasn't there, whatsoever. 

This was on TV: I would never have paid money to see it or own it on DVD and having just witnessed it for myself, it was a 2-hour slogfest that was mainly dull and its intentions were, again, not realised. 

With the story unfolding, it bends and goes into so many directions that alongside no star performances, this version of Fantastic Four is up there with the other comic book turd & atrocity, 1997's Batman & Robin

Final Verdict:

The Fantastic Four has a straightforward premise and set of characters how movie executives have never managed to get it right, not once, twice but on three occasions is bewildering. It is mostly dire, dispiriting, disjointed. Not to mention uninspiring to offer anything to render it utterly memorable. & memorable it is not. 

As superhero flicks go, as well as being dour, like the Fox X-MEN movies, it ditches the trademark blue and white Spandex outfits for all-black attire. It's not just the personalities that are colourless, but so are their outfits. 

Not only is this one of the worst reboots, ever - & one that was in hindsight, unnecessary, it is also one of the worst comic book movies I've seen; this isn't fantastic, but rather it is so inept and flawed. 


Thursday, 28 June 2018

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Retro Review: Replicant (2001)

Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Michael Rooker, Catherine Dent, Peter Flemming
Genre: Science Fiction Action 
Italy Box Office Gross: over $71, 200

Plot: Scientists create a genetic clone of a serial killer in order to catch him, who teams up with 2 cops

'A Van Damme- Led Thriller Repli-Can, Rather Than Repli-Can Not'

The Replicant sees Belgian action movie star, Jean-Claude Van Damme in his third iteration of the twin Van Dammes, following on from Double Impact and Maximum Risk, with the latter directed by Ringo Lam, who also has a hand in this one. Although The Replicant, much like with the former, the twin concept becomes the main arc of the story, compared to the latter wherein Van Damme's other twin brother is murdered. In this film, set in Seattle, Van Damme, who had the mullet look in Hard Target, now rocks a Brandon Lee of The Crow shaggy hairdo with dark-rimmed glasses as a cold-blooded serial killer, The Torch, who targets his female victims, more specifically mothers by torching them and setting their bodies alight. Van Damme#2 is a clone of the killer, but for his martial arts abilities, has none of his personality traits. Michael Rooker is a cop, Jake assigned to the clone as he tries to nail the bad guy: he's been trying to get his hands on him on several occasions but has had no such luck.

As ever with many of his pre -1993 hits but for Sudden Death, Replicant comes nowhere close to Sudden Death, Timecop, Hard Target and Double Impact, but it's a considerable improvement over Knock Off, Double Team, Maximum Risk. The Replicant also has a sci-fi, mystery thing going for it, along with the action, which is good to see. It also revisits the two Van Dammes are better than one theme, like with Maximum Risk and Double Impact - only this time, each one of them is on opposite sides of the law: there is a good guy Van Damme and the bad guy Van Damme.

Strangely enough, it later descends into a buddy action flick with 2 heroes instead of just one in the Van Damme clone and cop, Jake Reily. As the clone, Van Damme doesn't emote much, say much, he's almost a mute, but what he does do is fight, and fight well he does, but then, what do you expect from the Muscles from Brussels? He also does well acquitting and differentiating between himself in the dual roles as The Torch and Replicant and though he's more known for his good guy roles, Van Damme can also pass off as a convincing villain, which he later replicated-no pun intended- in Expendables 2 and Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning. It's not an easy task taking on 2 different roles in the same film, but if an actor can make it work through skill, timing and being able to assimilate into different characters (like someone in Robin Williams), then the payoff is worth it. & Van Damme does okay; as the Replicant, his mannerisms at first verge on being childlike and similar to that of his character in the first Universal Soldier film. He may not be a great actor, but as a star, he still entertains when he is in a movie that isn't too shoddy. 

Michael Rooker is a good actor: he proved it in Sea of Love, somewhat, and 1993's Cliffhanger alongside Sylvester Stallone, and whilst he worked better with him in that movie than with Van Damme in this one, he still does decent work. 

This is better than Maximum Risk as it is better paced, the story has some good twists and the action is better, whilst the fights are not bad, even if it is Van Damme vs who is clearly a stunt double that JCVD is battling. But one issue is that it never develops the film's characters, aside from Van Damme's. It just meanders on without really becoming spectacular, although really, being as a B-movie, it's not that big of a deal here. 

Final Verdict:

Whilst it is still a far cry from his superior earlier outings of the 1990s and Kickboxer and has little of the proficiency in big-budget action flicks in general, Replicant is still a Van Damme movie that is not too very Van Damme- like, yet it plays to his strengths. 

A B-action thriller film, as a Van Damme vehicle, it's definitely refreshing to see; even if the formula is the same, it's not the atypical movie of his that I usually expect and rather this is sufficient, yet still passable. 


Tuesday, 26 June 2018

The Survivors Movie Screenshots (1983) Part 10

The Survivors














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