Wolfcop (2014) – Review

wolfcop

Sometimes a movie comes along with a title that makes me say to myself “I need to see that”. Coupled with the awesome art on the DVD case Wolfcop had me sold without question. This instant, unquestioning enthusiasm with little to go on has lead to some fantastic surprises, but also a great deal of disappointments making a quick sale on a great title alone (Osombie?). The basic premise of Wolfcop is pretty self-explanatory, but to be clear it follows Lou, a slacking, alcoholic policeman in a small Canadian town, who has some sort of curse put on him that turns him into a werewolf. The newfound power he has when transformed prompts him to begin a crusade against the local gang leader, as the titular uniformed “Wolfcop”.

It’s a werewolf. Who’s also a cop…

There’s a strong tone of a deliberately “cult” movie here, with fantastic practical effects defying the $1 million budget, red & blue lights painting every second shot like something straight out of the 80’s & a script overflowing with wolf puns that does a reasonable job at balancing the level of groans and laughs. Depite a short runtime just shy of 80 minutes however, it seems to go by very slowly when much of the film feels far too polite for it’s sleazy, gory ambitions. It was such a recurring problem for me that I actually started to wonder if it was some play on Canadian stereotypes against the loud, brash American standard for such movies, but whenever the tough-talking police chief chastised Lou, or his over-achieving colleague put him down a notch, no matter how harsh the words were, the delivery felt like the characters immediately regretted what they’d said. Even when the brutal gang leader stabs one of his cronies’ eyes out he looks and sounds like he’s about to apologise profusely for calling him nasty names. It all takes away from the gritty, trashy feel it seems to be emulating. Whether the result of a poor cast, or a deliberate decision it really didn’t work for me, and detracted from what could have been a fun, bolshy script.

“Smile!”

All is forgiven in the action scenes, though, however far and few between they may be. I’ve already mentioned the effects but fuck it, I’m going back to them. They’re genuinely very good, and not in a condescending “well, they did a good job with what they had” way; I was surprised to see how low the budget was after seeing the quality & screen time of the all-practical effects. We get more than one “transformation” scene, each focusing on different aspects of Lou turning into a werewolf. The first glimpse we get, showing a certain body part transforming, will have at least half of the audience wincing in agony but is the first example of multiple gruesome visual gags that rival Peter Jackson’s early horrors for inventiveness and hilarity. The brilliant pacing of this handful of high-energy scenes is about enough to nudge this movie into being worth a watch when elsewhere there’s very little bite not much to get excited about.

4/10

Advertisements

Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965) – Godzilla 60th Birthday Challenge

This post is part of my Godzilla 60th Birthday Challenge.

I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s no telling whether the next Godzilla film is going to be any good. The quality has fluctuated so much thus far that I’ve given up trying to guess. It is with this newfound inner peace that I approached Invasion of Astro Monster, released the year after Mothra vs. Godzilla & Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster. Since the latter movie saw the conversion of the catastrophic lizard, previously embodying post-Hiroshima/Nagasaki nuclear tension, into a good guy, this film looks to the newly discovered ‘Planet X’ for adversaries, accompanied naturally by a monster; King Ghidorah (again). This planet-hopping plot is coupled with borrowing the tone from the American B-Movies of the space-obsessed era and pulling it off brilliantly. In fact, Godzilla & his apparent sidekick, Rodan, are basically secondary to much of the main plot, which focuses on the interplanetary relations and human side-plots. In previous instalments these human plots have been tiresome; carelessly passing the time before the main event, but here they’re actually enjoyable in themselves. It’s hitting the mark with the tone that makes it work – it’s not taking itself entirely seriously but it’s barely ever trying to be funny. To say it’s well written would be a lie, but it’s an engaging plot with some surprises and it thoroughly entertains.

The new Apple Store was proving successful.

The large number of effects in this film can rarely be accused of being good, but the visible strings, plastic UFOs, and action figure stand-ins for characters somehow work with the general campiness for reasons I can’t accurately place. Despite this, the production values in the ‘real life’ scenes feel far higher than the horrible handheld camera work in Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster. Everything is much more controlled and it feels like care was put into the making, albeit with a limited budget, rather than it feeling like a rushed cash-in. However slight it may seem on paper, I think it’s the most important difference between this and some previous entries, affecting the feel of the whole film. Despite not being at the centre of the plot, Godzilla and Rodan do eventually get a number of great scenes. Godzilla’s ever-changing nature sees him now rather agile, fighting like a boxer who’s taken 20 caffeine pills and leaping around all over the place. Fair enough I suppose. The oddest, and therefore greatest moment of the film comes when, with Planet X’s greatly reduced gravity, Godzilla celebrates a successful fight with a bizarre floating dance that lasts a few seconds longer than it ought to. The general personification of Godzilla, and Rodan to a lesser extent, is admittedly ridiculous but still great.

“How did it make you feel when they were firing missiles at you?”

Further confirming my realisation that there’s no way of knowing whether these films will be good, this is better than Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster in practically every way despite featuring the same monsters (Mothra was omitted due to budget issues), and being made immediately afterwards. There’s no point in picking fault with the silly science talk, or the effects, this is a fantastic B-Movie, entertaining from start to end, and as such my favourite Godzilla sequel yet.
8/10

Mars Attacks! (1996) – Review

Mars Attacks was originally a popular trading card set released in 1964. However, since it was too gruesome for the fragile minds of the children, showing the various imaginative ways the Martians despatched with the humans in their path, production was rather swiftly halted (nothing’s changed since). Becoming something of a cult icon they slowly reappeared through the 1980’s, culminating in a full re-issue, an exclamation mark, and a big-budget movie directed by Tim Burton, fresh off of directing Ed Wood, chronicling the life of cult (read as: “terrible”) director Edward D. Wood Jr. Though I’ve seen this film a number of times it has been a few years since the last, so I decided to revisit it.

Typical women – a spider appears and they lose their he- *Booed off stage*

The opening scene, featuring a herd of burning cattle, is the film setting the scene instantly for the rest of the film to follow – it’s pretty nasty but has its tongue planted firmly in its cheek. The premise is mostly summed up by the title, and the film follows a number of different individuals from the President to a Trailer-Park family to Tom Jones (Yes, Tom Jones, playing himself) as they witness the invasion of earth by the horrid skull-faced, gooey-headed aliens. Telling these various stories allows the film to run along without ever stalling on the action, but also prevents any of the characters from being fully developed. It does seem though that there was never any intention of having them fully-fleshed characters (Indeed, some of them end up without any flesh at all), so it’s out of place to call this out as a weakness. Obviously paying homage to the B-Movies of the 1950’s, including those by Ed Wood, the film takes a joyful stance, watching the destruction and chaos from afar without putting in anything too heavy to bring the mood down.

Enjoy yourself! Or else!

A brilliant cast was amassed for this film, featuring Jack Nicholson, Sarah Jessica Parker, Jack Black, Michael J. Fox, Pierce Brosnan, Glenn Close, Danny DeVito, Pam Greir, Natalie Portman and Jack Nicholson again. After joking that he wanted to play every part in the film, Burton called him on it and cast him not only as the President but as shady businessman Art Land – both roles he plays instinctively brilliantly, while the rest fit into their roles just as well, as they’re mostly playing caricatures of their typecast roles – Sarah Jessica Parker the ditzy blonde, Pierce Brosnan the suave Englishman, Danny DeVito and Jack Black being loud, etc. Tom Jones is inarguably awful, but somehow that adds to the film, especially when he’s given the final scene of the film which is probably the most tongue-in-cheek ending to a film, and as such provides one of the film’s funniest moments for simply coming out of nowhere and making no sense at all. Much like most of the film really; the aliens’ weakness that’s discovered in the third act; Sarah Jessica Parker & Pierce Brosnan’s storyline; the list goes on.

No one has ever looked this happy

To conclude that this film is “so bad it’s good” would be missing the point of the whole film; this is not intended to be a “good” film, this is meant to be a fun, outrageous  throwback film and it achieves that perfectly, with the B-Movie sensibilities carried excellently by Danny Elfman’s brilliant, Theremin-heavy score. Perhaps looking a bit dated now, the extensive CGI effects are nonetheless very impressive for a film that’s almost 20 years old. Not only are the character designs and visuals lifted directly from the source, but the myriad of characters and consistently inventive action/comedy set-pieces does ring true the trading card origins of the franchise. This isn’t often remembered as a Burton classic, but I think it deserves to be.

8/10

Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964) – Godzilla 60th Birthday Challenge

This post is part of my Godzilla 60th Birthday Challenge

I’ll be completely honest. After Godzilla Raids Again King Kong vs. Godzilla I was beginning to fear for my precious remaining sanity at the thought of having to get through another 20-odd Godzilla movies. Next up however was Mothra vs. Godzilla which changed everything. The franchise has left Gojira’s realism behind, this much is apparent, but not yet have the sequels seemed to commit to a new tone. This film finally feels confident in being a mix of comedy and awesome monster movie, and throws in being completely mental for good measure.

It’s just a really big butterfly. “IT’S A MOTH! AS IN MOTH-RA!!! GET IT?”

Mothra’s egg floats up on a small village’s shore very early in the film and a greedy businessman purchases it, to make it the centre of a theme park. Having not seen Mothra I was unaware of this monster’s origins but this film seems to be fairly standalone in that sense. That doesn’t mean everything has to make sense though,especially true with the introduction of Mothra’s guardians of sorts; twin ladies who are about 9 inches high and constantly speak at the same time. The question “Why?” is never really answered for their existence or actions, but they communicate to Mothra via some catchy, yet almost creepy songs, and follow the heroes around for much of the film, prompting some really neat visual effects showcasing their tiny size. The funniest moments of this film come simply because it is so unashamedly ridiculous; the script for example has lines every few minutes that are logically unfounded. Some allowance must be made for things being lost in translation, but the explanation for the businessman paying precisely 1,224,560 Yen for Mothra’s egg is laugh-out-loud insane, and there are no end of moments that can only be knowingly stupid, finally allowing the franchise to dive head-first into the B-Movie tone.

Mostly creepy.

Not too long after, Godzilla appears in a scene that is at once extremely cool, but also manages to reinstate some of the sense of terror from the first movie. I couldn’t say there’s ever any illusion that it’s not a man in a suit (except for in the brief stop-motion shots, pedants), but the rampage he goes on is pretty extreme and they’ve made the nice addition of superimposing him in some ‘real’ city shots, giving it a bit more credibility than the all-cardboard cityscapes featured in the previous disappointing installments.

Atomic breath. Check.

While the set-up is greatly entertaining, the final battle is what matters. Here the showdown lasts most of the last half hour, giving us plenty of time to try to come to terms with the image of Godzilla fighting an enormous moth and equally enormous brown caterpillars. It’s all totally ridiculous, and occasionally impossible to comprehend, but never anything less than entertaining and the 90 minutes go by quicker than 20 minutes in either of the previous two sequels. There is a revelation in this movie, half a century before Michael Bay patented the formula, that more explosions = better movie, in lieu of any reasonable plot or logic. This film marks the franchise finding its footing in the barmy-yet-incredibly-entertaining tone it has become known for, and I’m more excited than ever to see what lies ahead.

7/10