Friday, September 30, 2016

Ninja the Mission Force (2012)

One of these days I'm gonna talk about Brad Jones (aka The Cinema Snob), because I've got a LOT to say! For now, I'll be discussing the Dark Maze Studios (now Neon Harbour Entertainment) comedy webseries Ninja the Mission Force!...

The Evil Ninja Empire, led by Bruce (Brad Jones), have set their eyes on the Avian ninja warriors, mystical items that grant the user incredible powers once all six are found. Opposing them is Interpol agent and ninja Gordon (Ed Glaser), with the help of his various friends (Brandon Lee, Ernest Borgnine, John Travolta, Charles Bronson, Richard Harrison, and more). Gordon finds himself battling against cheese ninjas, science ninjas, space ninjas, and other assorted dastardly schemes as the two forces fight for ultimate ninja supremacy...

Created by Ed Glaser, Brad Jones, and Meagan Rachelle, Ninja the Mission Force is inspired by the IFD ninja flicks, courtesy of Hong Kong filmmaker Godfrey Ho. He'd snatch up unreleased or unfinished films, film around 20 minutes of extra footage with Caucasian actors to appeal to the Western market, usually centreing on ninjas (and later commandos or police, once ninjas started 'going out of fashion' (As if such a thing could happen!)). These two separate entities would be stitched together pretty unconvincingly, thanks to overdubbing, and convenient phone conversations (These characters are totally in the same movie, trust us!). The IFD movies have developed a big cult following on the internet. One of the greatest stars of these was Pierre Kirby, who I've discussed before, and most certainly will again. Ninja the Mission Force uses footage from public domain movies such as Laser Mission, Cold Sweat, Night of the Living Dead, Planet of the Dinosaurs, Street Fighter (the Sonny Chiba one), and more.

While I enjoyed it more on original release, I'm sad to say I didn't really enjoy Ninja the Mission Force much at all this time round!

I hesitate to say the creators missed the point, because I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Glaser and co. understand the 'source material' perfectly, but it doesn't feel like it when watching Ninja the Mission Force. The reason those movies are so amusing is because despite how outlandish things may get, they're still taken completely seriously, and play everything straight, whereas this series is just completely farcical. Seeing ninjas fighting with balloons, frisbees, sticky hand toys, and flying gerbil plushies on string aren't the kinds of things I'd want to see in an IFD inspired production. Plus, an unfortunate side-effect to the overt goofiness is that it robs the proceedings of as much humour as there should've been during moments like the Garfield phone, which is genuinely funny, and faithful to those old movies. If we only saw outlandish stuff happening every now and then, it'd be way funnier whenever Ninja Gordon cracks out his amazing telephone, for example. Quality, not quantity.

As for the quality of writing itself, it varies. The main stuff is usually fun, though too silly for my tastes, but the overdubbed sections didn't impress me much. I didn't feel the writing was all that great, sometimes borderline bad, and didn't fit the footage at all...No, I don't mean like that. Obviously this absurd dialogue didn't originally go with, say, The Stranger, but sometimes it's so mismatched that it's just a bit annoying, and doesn't really work, like extended pauses because the original actors weren't speaking, or laughs when they were totally serious, and other irksome details. Yeah, that's probably deliberate and meant to be funny, but I didn't find it all that amusing, and it feels like a better job could've been done in some spots finding footage that the dialogue would go into easier, or altering the dialogue to fit better. Sometimes what's going on is just so goofy or stupid that it doesn't mesh with the otherwise normal proceedings in the original movies used.

What really bugs me is that the majority of each episode is the overdubbed movie footage. Yeah, it's to emulate the IFD movies, which did the same thing, but do you know what the least interesting parts of those films are? The Movie A segments! The Movie B parts (the added-on ones) are the fun and noteworthy parts, which inspired this series in the first place. Thankfully in the case of Ninja the Mission Force, the episodes are only around 10 to 15 minutes long, and thus don't drag as much as the Movie A footage can in actual Godfrey Ho movies, but they're still an annoying distraction. What's worse is that at such a short length, too little of these other movies are shown, making their usage feel disjointed and abrupt. The two worst cases of this are the Space Ninja in Space episode (which uses only around 6 minutes from the over-two-hour-long Star Odyssey), and the mostly painfully unfunny Christmas special (a bonus episode on the DVD). That one at least integrates the footage from Santa Claus Conquers the Martians into the main story rather than having it be a separate tangentially related plot, but it's still not integrated well, since again, so little of the movie is used, they might as well have used nothing.

Onto more positive aspects, the humour is funny at times, with amusing lines like "This encyclopedia salesmen threat smacks of the evil machinations only the Evil Ninja Empire could...organize", "Prejudiced ninja biologists! The worst kind!", "Heartless ninja bastard!"  and of course the most often used "What's a ninja?"-"They're a fairytale. They don't exist.", usually spoken before or after blatant discussing of ninjas.  some of the ideas and moments are hilarious, like the television nature of Gordon's wife (the ending to Ninja Virus is great!), or the golden exchange of "Gordon, I need you to go into space"-"Ok, I will". There are also some really neat visuals, like the above ninja biologist.

The acting is a mixed bag. Glaser and Jones are great in their main roles, as is Meagan Rachelle's voice acting and Sarah Lewis' visual performance as Gordon's wife, but the problem I have is the other voice actors, or rather lack thereof. In the overdubbed movie segments, it's always just Glaser and Rachelle, over and over again, and it's a little annoying when almost every single character in the whole series sounds the same. Also, some of said voices are more annoying than others, with the most grating being in Ninja Virus, which uses footage from Boy in the Plastic Bubble (Yes, really!).

The scoring is pretty fun, from the main theme, to the action piece that always plays during fight scenes. It's pretty repetitive, as we hear the same couple of tracks again and again each episode, but they are only short installments, and of a web-series too, so I'm not complaining.

In closing, Ninja the mission Force is a mixed bag, sometimes leaning more to the negative side, but if you're into really goofy Z-grade parodies, then I might recommend it.You could check out the trailer to see if it's your cup of tea or not...

By the way, I may as well talk about this here. You see the Garfield phone above? That's of course inspired by the use of such an amazing phone in Ninja Terminator, and other such IFD flicks, where the serious and straightlaced hero used this goofy novelty phone. As you can imagine, I wanted such a phone! I searched for one for the better part of five years! I only finally procured one earlier this year with the help of my blog friend Justine, and it's just as amazing as you'd expect!...

Corpse Bride (2005)

The awesome Holly of Holly's Horrorland and Emma of Little Gothic Horrors are hosting the Tim Burton Blog Bash, and I thought it would be a good opportunity to finally get around to watching his 2005 effort Corpse Bride. Better late than never, I suppose!...

In a small Victorian village, clumsy and awkward Victor has been arranged to marry Victoria, the meek daughter of two nefarious and unscrupulous aristocrats, whose only interest in the marriage is the money they hope to get from it, so they can restore their penniless family to past glories. The two young lovers hit it off, falling for each-other fast, but after failing to remember his vows during a disastrous wedding rehearsal, Victor goes out into the deep dark woods, where he practices, finally getting his vows right...and inadvertently proposing to an undead bride, who accepts. Victor is dragged to the underworld, and has to figure out how to get out of the sticky situation he's found himself in before he's stuck in the land of the dead forever...

Coming from the guy responsible for The Nightmare Before Christmas, Corpse Bride is an enjoyable Gothic romp, and exactly what you'd expect from Tim Burton when he's actually making good movies. The plot is inventive, even if some elements and characters are predictable and a bit cliched, and it culminates in a great climax, with lovely visuals.

At only 78 minutes long, Corpse Bride is short and sweet. On one hand, I wish the movie was longer, particularly so we could have more character interaction, and so there'd actually be a friggin denouement! But then again, I do like shorter films, and I also admire the fact that the creators knew the story they were telling would only fill out so much time, and decided to keep it short, rather than try and extend it longer, possibly compromising the experience. Not that I think that would've happened if the movie was 90 minutes though, nor do I actually think that's the reason for the length. It might be a reason, but I have a pretty good idea that it's because the studio didn't want to spend any more money on the very costly and time consuming stop-motion than they already had. Figures. *sigh*

The Danny Elfman soundtrack is very good. At first I was skeptical about the idea of there being songs in a 78 minute long movie, because it's already short enough without the plot being repeatedly interrupted for several minutes, but thankfully the musical numbers aren't intrusive, nor do they take away much from the movie.

Corpse Bride is of course animated through stop motion effects, and looks wonderful, and highly detailed. The film has a neat look to it, what with the surface world of the living being drab and muted, while the land of the dead is vibrant and colourful. The characters all look distinctive, both the living and the dead, especially the latter party, and far from being lifeless or dead-eyed, the character models give off lots of life...or lack thereof in some cases!...

The acting here is quite good, which is surprising considering I just barely tolerate the two lead actors at the best of times. Probably the only reason I could stand Johnny Depp was that I kept forgetting it even was him. Helena Bonham Carter is entertaining, and Emily Watson's character is a bit milquetoast, at least compared to the titular corpse bride, but she plays the role well. The rest of the cast is superb, with actors like Michael Gough, Christopher Lee, Albert Finney, and more giving fine performances.

I definitely recommend Corpse Bride! It's a fun little film, and darkly gorgeous to boot!...

Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother (1975)


In the 1800's, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson routinely solve mysteries, as per usual. On this occasion, however, Holmes 'sublets' the case of missing royal government documents to his younger brother Sigerson, who harbours deep resentment towards him. Aided by the kooky Sgt. Orville Stanley Sacker, 'man with a photographic sense of hearing', Sigerson is quickly found by the compulsively lying music hall singer Jenny Hill, who knows something about the missing papers, but refuses to let on, and soon the trio have to evade assassins, and uncover the truth, before the evil Professor Moriarty can fulfill his evil plans...

The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother is a pretty bad movie! It's a 1975 Holmes-themed comedy written and directed by Gene Wilder, and for that reason I was looking forward to it, despite being skeptical at a Holmes movie with an American lead. Boy, did this disappoint! It's a boring piece of trash, to start with! It isn't funny at all! I mildly chuckled here and there, but for the most part, the movie is either lame, outright unfunny, or just plain gross and grotesque!

The story is pretty barebones. There's a macguffin that the characters need to find, and they need to get it before a villain does bad things. A lot of the film is annoyingly unexplored. Take for example Sherlock 'subtly' aiding Sigerson, which is completely dropped after the first theatre scene, and the great detective isn't seen again until the last few minutes of the movie. Also annoying are things like how Marty Feldman's character is entirely superfluous. I wish they would've written his part better, so he'd have more to do in the story. At least he becomes more proactive in the last half hour.
What also confuses me is the title and concept as a whole, which doesn't hold water. Sigerson isn't smarter than Sherlock, so it doesn't make much sense on face value, but he's not portrayed as dumb or clueless, so it doesn't work ironically* either. I guess it's just because of how Gene Wilder wanted to make A Sherlock Holmes comedy, but didn't want to 'make fun of the well-loved character' by actually having him as the lead, and thought that title was funny.

*I am at peace with the fact that I probably misused the word 'ironic' above.

The biggest issue with the plot is that it's unclear why Sherlock even drafted Sigerson into this case. The almost-reason given is tenuous at best! Related to this is Sigi's relationship with his brother. Why does he hate Sherlock so much? Never explained. It would've been neat to see that aspect explored more, and to have a conclusion to that plot thread. Maybe they could've written Holmes getting Sigerson onto the case as giving him a push to becoming his own detective, but rather than that, we get nothing.

The film's largest problem by far is that it simply doesn't feel like a Sherlock Holmes movie at all. There's little to no detective work, and no Holmesian deduction, while the unsuited comedy distances the movie further from the source material. A good counterpoint would be Without a Clue, which was fantastic, both in actually being funny, and how it felt like a Holmes movie! Come to think of it, these two movies side-by-side are actually good indicators of British vs. American humour.

The acting is hard to judge. From Gene Wilder, to Marty Feldman, Madeline Kahn, and others, these people can act, but the writing holds them back. Sometimes a good actor can make reading bad lines enjoyable, but sometimes it's just unworkable, as is the case here. Even worse? I was so happy to find out that Leo McKern is in this movie as Professor Moriarty! He'd be great in the role, without a shadow of a doubt!...However, this movie's wretched quality is indeed responsible for a greater sin than anyone could comprehend-It wastes Leo McKern, and THAT is a crime I cannot and will not forgive! When not completely wasting his great talents, and making him a completely unintimidating villain, it's making him annoying! Shocking, I know! Beyond that, his Irish accent keeps slipping. Also wasted is John le Mesurier. And also the whole cast, come to think of it. I'd say it was a shame for the leads, if not for the fact that they wrote and directed the film, so at least they were presumably happy with the end product.

The music in this film is weird. Weird in that it's not a musical, but there are a couple of spontaneous short songs, as well as a long-ish opera scene during the climax. As for how they sound, regardless of how odd their inclusion is, they range from ok to pretty decent. The Hop Like a Kangaroo one is actually the most painful to watch in a way, because it's so out-of-left-field and ill-fitting that I couldn't help but wince, but the tune and lyrics are actually quite fun!

Finally, the look of the film. It's fine. It looks like a typical Victorian period piece, and what you'd expect from a Sherlock Holmes story, in the visuals of the setting, at least.

To finish, The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother is a pretty garbage watch, and it's a Holmes movie I can totally advocate avoiding adamantly! Now, if you'll excuse me, I'd best get to writing my review for Young Frankenstein, to make up to Gene Wilder for trashing this movie!...

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Without a Clue (1988)

As mentioned many times before, no doubt, I'm a massive Sherlock Holmes fan, and greatly enjoy seeking out movies about the character! Whether or not said films are any good though is another matter entirely! But enough about Sherlock Holmes and the Leading Lady. Especially interesting are the pastiches and comedies, that take an interesting approach with the source material, such as movies like The Seven-Percent Solution, They Might Be Giants, and the one I'm looking at today-Without a Clue...

In 19th Century England, the famed detective Sherlock Holmes is at large, solving mysteries and catching criminals wherever he goes, always with his sidekick Dr. Watson by his side. However, the roles are actually reversed. Watson is the true genius, and Holmes is a fictional character he stands behind, using out-of-work actor, drunkard, and gambler Reginald Kincaid to play the role and bring the illusion to life. Unfortunately, given 'Holmes'' temperament, and inability to understand or utilize Watson's deductive skills effectively, constantly on the verge of embarrassing himself, he's thrown out on the streets. However, Watson finds he has trouble getting anywhere without the great Sherlock Holmes, and everyone treats him as a mere nobody, making sleuthing next to impossible for the good Crime Doctor.

Meanwhile, some plates for the 5 Pound bill have been stolen, and realizing he's getting nowhere fast without 'Holmes', Watson decides reluctantly to bring him along for one last case. The plot thickens when Watson is seemingly killed, and the bumbling Holmes has to solve the rest of the mystery himself...

Without a Clue is a great Sherlock Holmes film, as well as a highly amusing buddy adventure! Due to synopsis' I'd read, I was actually under the impression that Watson is missing for much of the film, but that's not the case. The duo are together for most of the film, and it's the better for it, as they work off each-other really well, and it'd be annoying if one half of the team was gone for the majority of the runtime. The plot moves along at a slow pace for the first half, but is never sluggish, and there's always stuff happening in the movie. The mystery progresses really well! While the film is definitely a comedy, it never sacrifices the seriousness of its plot and gives into farce. The fact that the mystery itself is played totally straight is great!

Without a Clue's core concept is an inventive one, with so much potential for jokes and amusing moments, which the movie absolutely lives up too. It's clever, too, in how it also mirrors real-life, with Arthur Conan Doyle's own relationship with the character if Sherlock Holmes. Between that, and other elements, the writers clearly know their stuff.

The film looks great, too, never appearing unconvincing. Same goes for the score. It's a
rousing and upbeat soundtrack that complements the proceedings well. Finally, both the opening and closing credits utilize neat visuals, with what look like photographs with watercolour treatment done to them to look like period paintings.

The acting is all great! Ben Kingsley is an excellent straight man, while Michael Caine plays his role as both bumbling, as well as determined as the film goes on, handling the material perfectly. Probably the only weak-ish link in the film's casting is Paul Freeman as Moriarty. He's definitely fine in the role, but he doesn't appear quite enough. Thankfully what we do see is well-handled, and he exudes villainy, never feeling hampered by being in a lighthearted comedy. The rest of the cast is fine too, from Jeffrey Jones as Lestrade, Pat Keen as Mrs. Hudson, Lysette Anthony (of Krull! Not overdubbed this time either!), and of course, the indispensable Prince the Wonder Dog!...

One thing of note about Without a Clue is its positive portrayal of a seemingly transgender character! It's nothing major, since the character only comes into play in the last 20 to 30 minutes, and has just a few lines (though they're still an important player), but it's still a breath of fresh air. The movie never belittles or makes fun of them, and they're treated with respect by the characters, and the film itself. It's rare enough seeing a movie treat trans people with dignity NOW, let alone back in 1988!

Without a Clue is both a really enjoyable movie, and a great Sherlock Holmes story! I highly recommend it, whether you're a fan of the character, or just into mysteries and humour in general...