Well back in 1998 this entire premise seemed quite far fetched, virtually in the realms of fantasy by the kind of overly paranoid Yanks that stockpile guns and tinned food. Then unfortunately the unthinkable happened as America was indeed attacked and hit hard on their own turf with the dreadful September 11, 2001 terrorist suicide bombings of the World Trade Center in New York. It is only now that this film really does have a much darker meaning with the events of the movie disturbingly realistic when once thought of as hyper reality.
The story simply sees New York under threat from terrorists in random attacks across the city by an unknown force suspected to be Arabic. Its up to Denzel Washington and Tony Shalhoub to track down and stop the attackers before things get out of hand. Of course things do get way way out of hand as the attacks become more ferocious and the FBI's leads dwindle. In the end the military are drafted in as martial law is declared with Brooklyn locked down around the Arabic community.
Apart from the very real threat of terrorist attacks anywhere at anytime the films main focus is on racial profiling, hardcore stereotyping and prejudice. There is a strong morality tale between good and evil that not only covers the obvious but the use of Nazi-like tactics by American troops on Arabic/Muslim American citizens as they are rounded up and detained in mass makeshift holding areas. I really don't need to go into the obvious concentration camp connections here do I. But there is more as we also get Bruce Willis (badly miscast) as a Major General who is intent on getting information out of suspects in any way possible, illegally of course. Here you see the little twist of the Yanks being no better than the terrorists they are fighting, becoming what they fear and stand against, taking away the right to a court of law, innocent before proven guilty, liberty and justice, human rights go bye bye.
When the shit hits the fan and terror is taking control of the streets, power is granted to various officials, its then that we see the darker side of some people. Willis' character has the orders to basically protect his country and the American way of life by any means necessary, do what needs to be done whilst the upper echelons look the other way. Of course Washington's character stands firm and will not allow this kind of behaviour to carry on, there are still laws and rights. Gotta be honest though at times you do feel he is being too PC considering the circumstances, he's almost too heroic and saintly when in reality someone might buckle. The message is forced even more once Shalhoub's sons is also rounded up and taken away causing him to toss his badge. The message slaps you across the face sure but it works effectively.
This being a Washington movie you know its gonna be decent, you just know...and this doesn't disappoint. Visually its very slick and effective in getting across its now very realistic message. The only let down for me was probably Bening who didn't really fit her part in my opinion, she comes as someone more concerned about their hair looking right plus her plot setup with the Middle Eastern chap is too obvious really. Tension is reasonable but the film is a little too mainstream for you to actually start sweating over the outcome, its not like Washington is gonna bite the bullet is it, everyone else is fair game but not Denzel.
The ending is way too God bless America for my liking, although expected. Too neat and tidy as all the citizens are released with schmaltzy hugging scenes and Washington preaching about their forefathers and how they fought and died for the life they have today. He's right sure but it feels too much like an all American Boy Scout speech, you half expect the Star-Spangled Banner to kick off with fireworks in the sky.
As said its funny how back in 1998 this all seemed so unlikely, the notion that the US could be attacked on their own soil in such a devastating way. This whole martial law scenario and the rounding up of specific people was always possible but it still felt more like an old World War II flashback. These days the entire aspect has come true to a certain degree although not as bad as depicted in the film, its a much easier prospect to see becoming a reality within the US these days that's for sure. In the end the story boils down to the terrorists winning on a psychological level simple because the US way of life has been changed dramatically. Justice and democracy have gone out the window, fear and suspicion sits in its place.
I think it was completely and utterly inevitable that this film would come under close scrutiny because of the near identical concept and execution alongside another certain highly popular street racing franchise. Well...either that or completely shunned, I mean lets be honest here this is a new wannabe racer franchise riding on the coattails of 'The Fast and Furious'...well trying to take its place, so can it?
I needn't really go into the plot much, its all very silly and simple. Basically the main team of characters have gotta get from New York to Cali ASAP so they can enter a secret race there. Behind all this is the standard revenge plot line, the protagonist saw his best friend get killed in a racing accident caused by the films antagonist who sneers like a young moustache twirling 'Dick Dastardly'...without the moustache. Naturally the bad guy (who happens to be rich and own lots of fancy super cars) is in this secret race hence why the good guy wants to enter it and win. Cue lots and lots and lots and lots of super flashy, super slick petrolhead car porn.
Right, I liked this film, yes that's right...I liked it. It started off badly no doubt, there's a hideous looking illegal street racing scene with every fudging unoriginal cliched stereotype under the sun, really got me reaching for the stop button. But my reasons for enjoying this are simply because I like cars and this film feels like an old school car flick. Everything you see in this film is a real time stunt using real cars, no CGI, its all real and it all looks amazingly good. This is what impressed me so much, I mean yeah sure the cars are all filmed beautifully when parked up and when they're on the move but that's expected. The stunts in this film really opened my eyes I can't deny, the Koenigsegg Agera R wreck at the start is fudging awesome! a flipping spinning flaming...errr car on fire! Again you expect hyper glossy interior and exterior shots of the cars in high speed action but damn they got this right! Everything sizzles on screen as the camera pans past from various angles resulting in some excellent traffic dodging moments and of course sexy engine gurgling and roaring.
You can clearly see the people behind this love cars and know how to sell them on screen, add to that the fact they know their way around a good looking real stunt. It all looks quite mature too, in other words it doesn't look like a hammy boy racer flick for 18 year old Vauxhall Corsa owners. Its a different type of street racing to 'The Fast and Furious', that was more modified rice racers and American muscle cars, this is the rich boys league with super cars like Lambo's, Veyron's and Spano's. That doesn't mean its better or worse for that, its just offering another level of racing but still with damage.
This doesn't mean its all good of course, far from it. There are still plenty of stupid scenes which are ridiculous and clearly stuck in to crank up the sex appeal. I still don't get why the main character deliberately gets the attention of the cops when picking up one of the gang, I also don't get why that member quits his job and proceeds to remove all his clothes when leaving. It really felt like they were straining for gimmicks to grabs peoples attention other than the fast cars...seeing as the characters are all so one dimensional lets have one remove all his clothes just because he can.
Despite driving like an absolute maniac across half of the US the cops are nowhere to be seen. The main secret race is a winner take all event, so you win the race you win the cars. Problem with that is all the cars get wrecked and nabbed by the police so in truth you don't get any of them and if you do it will cost a fortune to get them fixed up. Plus why would anyone enter a race with a billion Dollar super car and then proceed to ram your opponent?! Jesus Christ what about that expensive paint job and bodywork??!! It made me wince in pain watching it...no! no! that's a McLaren P1!! don't do that!!! Arrrggghhh!!!
Then you have the race organiser played by Keaton, now this guy sits in front of his computer using Skype or something to talk to people all over the place. The funny thing is everyone seems to be logged into his channel or whatever all the freakin' time! he knows everything and everyone is always watching and or listening...accept the police. Hey police you wanna know what's going on how about watching the mega rich guys computer network channel thingy. The main character just happens to befriend the sexy blonde female who works for some other mega rich guy who owns lots of fast cars...this comes in handy because she is able to loan him a Shelby Mustang to race, lucky huh. Oh and she is also the stereotypical female character who everyone thinks is just a dumb blonde but actually knows tonnes about cars. Yet in reality we all know the actress really knows sod all and is reading a script.
I could go on with more silly bits n pieces but lets be honest here (again), we knew to expect silliness and lame characters plus the token black guy. We knew to expect hammy dialog, a cliched plot and lots of predictable sequences, this film is based on a racing videogame. I think its safe to say if you like cars then you know you'll probably get a kick outta this, if you liked that Vin Diesel/Paul Walker car franchise then you'll probably like this. I thought this would be trash but I have been pleasantly surprised I admit. The visuals are crisp sexy and colourful, the action is exciting and seeing these cars in action make you wanna tear up the tarmac on your way down to your local Tesco. Completely cliched B-movie dross top loaded with car porn, but damn I enjoyed it...plenty of vroom!
Hot on the heels of a small sci-fi production called 'Star Wars' came this remake of 'The Magnificent Seven' and 'Seven Samurai'. If you haven't guessed the difference was the story has now been set in space.
A Roger Corman production so you might think it would be space trash, but at the time this was quite a big release as sci-fi was popular again. The people involved with this film is actually quite impressive, for one James Cameron was in charge of the effects (mainly models) so this explains why they look so detailed, imaginative and quite good.
The cast for the film is also impressive for the time, looking back they are all your typical B-movie players really. Classic character actor Richard Thomas is the young hero, the legendáRobert Vaughn plays a space merc, John Saxon is the evil space villain and George Peppard is the 'Space Cowboy'. Yep he has no name other than that, cos he's coooool. All are legends in their own right (accept Thomas maybe) but you can't deny all have popped up in some glorious B-movie fluff in their time, film and TV.
The film on the whole is a brave effort and bold with certain ideas. The start of the film seems quite sensible with its 'Star Trek' like score playing accompanying slow camera pans of various spaceships...all very 'Star Trek-ish'. The costumes aren't too bad either, this isn't a 'Flash Gordon' type affair, well not too much. Of course you can see many similarities to other films in both costumes and various ideas but that is pretty inevitable seeing as 'Star Wars' came out in 78.
As the film progresses it does become a tad dull really, the whole time is spent with the hero looking for mercs to save his home planet. This is where the film tends to rollercoaster as some people he meets are pretty good in design, others are not. Take Peppard as the Space Cowboy, his ship's interior looks good, its well designed and has a nice 'Millennium Falcon' feel about it, the character himself is cliched but Peppard makes the role work nicely.
Some ships looks good while others look terrible, laser effects are poor and not helped by the quite ridiculous sound effects used. The names used for some of these alien races, planets etc...tend to be rather daft too. Sets vary from scene to scene with the odd one looking nice but most looking rather plastic with merely lots of flashing lights everywhere.
Speaking of the 'Millennium Falcon', Robert Vaughn's character is a complete 'Han Solo' rip off in my opinion, right down to his boots. Other characters like the 'Nestor' and 'Valkyrie warriors' are just your typical B-movie crap frankly. They look like they were designed in the 50's, bad makeup, tacky fake plastic looking costumes and completely childish, real cheap sci-fi. From time to time there are some nice ideas though, the character of 'Cayman' is a nice addition with a reasonable looking reptilian mask.
Oh I forgot...the 'Valkyrie warriors' are stunning women with tight outfits that easily reveal their enormous breasts. Just like it would be in space, what? are you saying there aren't alien races like that?.
The film does get sillier and sillier as it goes on, the ham builds with performances and effects. I loved the evil laughter sequences by Saxon and his mutant henchmen...classic stuff. A little bit of evil dialog then pause for some evil laughter with your henchmen. The makeup design for 'Sador' actually looks a bit like Ed Wood's 'Plan 9 from Outer Space' with the single face mark, the mark of the baddie.
The film kicks into gear towards the end as we see the final battle between 'Sador' and good guys. Lots of laser gun fights, dodgy space battles with the same model sequences being reused over and over and some great cheesy acting from all.
Its clear to see many influences in this film from classic sci-fi such as 'Star Trek', 'Lost in Space', 'Westworld', 'Forbidden Planet', 'Star Wars' and many films from the 70's. But you have to hand it to Corman and director Murakami as they too have influenced many sci-fi films with this. The whole concept of a 'space cowboy' may well have originated here, if you overlook 'Han Solo'.
So at the start of this movie there is a little musical number with some lyrics rhythmically explaining that sequels are never quite as good, a cute self referential/self mocking gag. Well umm...gee, what can I say accept...bingo! Yes this whole movie is almost one big self referential joke crammed full of obligatory pop culture references that just make you groan and slump your head into your hands.
The plot unfolds around a master criminal who happens to look identical to Kermit and is the number one criminal in the world. This amphibian wants to steal the British Crown Jewels with the help of Ricky Gervais who is the second best criminal in the world. So its a crime heist not too far off from 'The Great Muppet Caper'. So the fuzzy gang are trying to rejuvenate their show but are actually being used by the criminal duo who are unravelling a mystery that leads them to the Crown Jewels. Its all very 'Mr Bean-esque'.
First up I didn't like the film title, second up why can't we have Muppet movies based around classic tales/legends/fables again? why am I not seeing a Muppet Robin Hood? Anyway the story putters along in a gentle manner dotted with the odd musical number which on the whole weren't too bad, I quite liked the Gervais and evil Kermit duet. It did seem like there would be a song every other five minutes at one point but thankfully not. I did actually like the character of 'Constantine' (evil Kermit), at first I thought he was merely a cheap Kermit clone (kinda is) but he is voiced really well by Matt Vogel and is quite humerous at times. A Russian accent coming out of Kermit along with some nice evil facial expressions which are simply Kermit's face scrunched up into a snarl...was unexpectedly funny. Gervais wasn't the outright satirical funnyman we all know this time around but he gels well with his mean green accomplice.
The other amusing factor was the the second duo of Sam Eagle and Ty Burrell who plays a French Interpol Inspector. Despite the fact Burrell is clearly doing a hammy 'Inspector Clouseau' impersonation I can't deny that he does it well helped along by the stuffy Sam Eagle. Both bumble around in a predictable way looking for clues, Sam being the more keen by the books man/eagle, where as Burrell is the more laid back lazy not quite so intelligent European.
The movie bounces around from one pretty destination to the next giving us fancy looking set pieces and not much else really. Most of the Muppets don't figure too much this time, nothing from Gonzo, Rizzo, Fozzie etc...or new boy Walter! and naturally there are many pointless needless cameos. I know these Muppet films have always had cameos but they used to be from real legends of the silver screen, these days its the dregs of pop culture like Lady Gaga and Sean Combs *groan*. Still can't work out what the Celine Dion singing cameo was about, she just appears for absolutely no reason what so ever and vanishes again! hope it was worth the money sheesh!
I knew I wasn't gonna like this film much, I am a huge Muppet fan and grew up with the gang but ever since the final Muppet fantasy (Muppet Wizard of Oz) things have just gone down hill for me. Its all become very bland dull and chock full of annoying pop culture references and placements, the lovely fairytale fantasy element has all but gone. While the film wasn't terrible I wasn't overly impressed either. It just ticked along through unoriginal mundane formulaic fodder, no traditional Muppet hysteria present anywhere...until we reached the inevitably plain and predictable ending. What really summed it all up for me was the fact they tried to dodge the glaring problem of little imagination and creativity by going for this all out slightly satirical self referential gag angle like some sort of cover up, hoping no one will notice its all old hat.
I guess it just manages to squeeze over the pass mark because its the Muppets and you can't help but love em. That is still no excuse for a lazy movie relying on familiar faces to bring in the dough, unfortunately they do seem to be doing this, shoving our fave Muppets on the big screen for some easy earnings. I'm happy for more Muppets but lets get back to the fantasy/sci-fi side of things please, it works so well with Jim Henson's creations. I'm waiting for the Muppet version of Dracula please...anyone.
Well judging by the poster for this Corman gem you can expect to see lots of huge freaky monsters attacking scantily clad ladies on some kind of prehistoric looking alien planet. I really don't understand how this poster even exists as the film is completely and utterly the opposite to everything that poster stands for! it looks like a Doug McClure movie poster.
Anywho I had never seen this film until now so I was unaware of what to expect, again judging by that movie poster I was kinda thinking it was an 'Aliens' type affair...oh well. The film certainly looks and feels like 'Aliens' though that's for sure, holy sputum! the visuals virtually throughout the entire film are near identical! This may well be down to the fact James Cameron was the Production Designer and Second Unit Director on this and he clearly took these ideas and recreated them for his now famous Alien sequel masterpiece.
Indeed this film does look very Cameron-ish in some scenes especially at the start where we see the crew leave the mother ship and search the alien surroundings in their very smart yet workman-like looking space suits complete with light generating backpacks. Hell even the alien planet is a cold dark misty wind swept barren land with mountainous jagged rocks that looks like an early 'LV-426'. Then you have the huge alien pyramid type structure that kinda looks like a concept pinched for 'AvP'. So the more I watched the more I found myself comparing this early Corman sci-fi to Cameron's future work, on top of that much visual style has been borrowed from Ridley Scott's 'Alien' with the blue-collar space crew on board their slick yet heavily metallic industrial interior designed craft and its long twisting corridors. Not quite the oil rig in space scenario, there is more of a dark Battlestar Galactica feel to it in my opinion, and lets not forget the character of 'kore' the cook who is similar in plot development to 'Ash'.
So off the crew go into the unknown looking for survivors of a ship that crashed on this mysterious planet. The setup was certainly looking good for a last man standing type thriller and you do get that to a degree. What disappointed me was the fact the plot doesn't revolve around alien creatures killing off the crew but monsters created by the crew themselves, their own worst fears made flesh like some cheesy Red Dwarf episode. What was a little intriguing was the notion that this huge pyramid where everything takes place is some kind of adventure playground for children of an extinct race of beings. Apparently they would test their ability to control fear within the pyramid...for some reason. Notice the 'AvP' similarities here also huh huh!
So this all leads to various creatures and bizarre scenarios that kill off the crew one by one, some being quite cool effects wise and some not so. The silliest and most controversial (at the time) being a scene where a massive maggot rapes one of the female crew to death...yet she kinda enjoys it in the end. Totally stupid and uber cheesy to watch, makes you wonder what the fuss was all about, but there is some nice use of stop motion and a big rubber slime covered puppet. Most of the time you don't fully see the things killing people, you merely get glimpses, which does work but I fear that may be because most of them looked pretty hokey. The main talking point of the film (apart from the horny oversized maggot) must be the gruesome gory effects you get sporadically. Some lovely use of good old fashioned hands on effects with dummies, fake blood and exploding body parts, again it all looks pretty dubious now of course but back in the day it would have been horrific.
I did start out enjoying the film with its 'Aliens' look and feel but as time went on I grew more and more bored with the ever growing 'Hellraiser/Event Horizon-esque' route it took. What I didn't get on with (and still don't really get) is what was the Master character all about exactly?...who? why? how? etc...and how about some more info on this extinct race and their big pyramid playground of death huh. Plus I never really got behind any of the characters either, didn't really bother me if they lived or died and didn't really like any of them. You never find out what happens to Englund's character and what was all that crystal star throwing malarkey with Haig's character? why was he so obsessed with his precious crystal ninja stars?
Everything is a tad rehashed from Ridley Scott's space opus...especially with the discount Nostromo crew and I didn't really like the question raising ending or plot progression (how exactly did 'Cabren' kill the Master??! what was all that lighting stuff? beats me). But yeah on the other hand I did kinda like it mainly for its visual artistry and glorious hands on effects, on that front its brilliant.