Saturday, January 31, 2015

Ramblin' Man/Concrete Cowboys (1979])

J.D. Reed and Will Eubanks are two friends drifting from place to place. After a card game altercation, they train-hop to Nashville. They need a place to stay, and J.D. remembers meeting someone at a party, who inviting the two to his home if they're ever in the area. They call the man, Lonnie Grimes, up, and he doesn't remember them all that much, but he's a private detective in trouble, and decides that these two country dudes will make some fine stooges, so he allows them to stay at his house while he's out of town. Almost immediately, a woman arrives at the house needing the services of a private detective to find her missing sister Carla Wade, and she pays the broke duo $1000 dollars upfront. Now, the two amateur detectives have to find this missing woman, but they soon begin to realize why Lonnie Grimes skipped town...

Ramblin' Man is a 1979 TV movie that I discovered a few years back on a Public Domain 10-pack, and it greatly helped my then bad mood (I was playing the fantastic Castlevania 64, which is arguably the hardest game in one of the already toughest video game franchises of all time). Though, what didn't help my mood was that seemingly every other film on this set was a piece of crap, and some had such low print quality, they were next to unwatchable. But hey, it only cost me about a dollar, and I got one really good movie out of it!...

This film is known as both Ramblin' Man, and Concrete Cowboys. Both titles fit the movie well, and both have reason to exist. The former has presence in the main theme, while the latter phrase is namedropped at one point, as well as acts as an apt description of the leads.

On that subject, the characters in this film are well written, particularly the two leads, who are nicely distinctive, and never blend into the other.

The plot here is a compelling one, especially thanks to the acting. We've got an intriguing mystery that unfolds well, and we get more and more info about Carla Wade's true personality as the movie goes on.

The acting in this movie is great! Tom Selleck and Jerry Reed make for entertaining and likeable leads, while the supporting cast does well too. Claude 'Sheriff Lobo' Akins delivers an emotional performance, while Morgan Fairchild is very chameleonic. We've also got some extended cameos from Roy Acuff, Ray Stevens, and Barbara Mandrell. Awesomely enough, Mandrell is actually important to the plot, giving the leads their next clue. This is neat, as while a plain old cameo wouldn't have necessarily been unnecessary, having her play an actual part, however minor, in the film's story is appreciated! As for Roy Acuff, his presence gives way to a pretty funny line, courtesy of Jerry Reed when J.D. and Will are discussing whose opinion on Carla Wade they believe. J.D.-"You know, Will, I don't believe a word that woman says."-Will: "Do you believe her husband?"-J.D.-"Well no, not necessarily, but Roy Acuff liked her, and I'd believe him if he said the world was gonna end tomorrow!".

Ramblin' Man's score is great! We get a whole range of songs, from the main theme (sung by Jerry Reed), to a guest appearance by Ray Stevens, as well as the ethereal flashback music, and the actual song that plays in a couple of those scenes. Then there's the moment where Jerry Reed's character sings the secret sheet music, and I kinda wish he would have sung more! And finally, there are the little tunes in the chapter titles, with the third being my favourite.

Yeah, this film has chapter titles! This is a pretty odd quirk that some TV movies of this era have, such as the Superman 1975 Musical, except while in that movie, it was just goofy text on a blank coloured screen, Ramblin' Man actually has specifically made music for them, as well as full drawn pictures of the leads, and whatever they're up to.

This is a public domain film, so you can probably catch it on Youtube. If not, the film does exist on DVD. No idea if it has an isolated release, or if it's only on those PD ten packs. Given Ramblin' Man's status, the quality's not the best. It's certainly watchable, and you'll never strain to hear the dialogue, but it does shake at a couple of moments, and the colour filter acts funny in one scene.

Ramblin' Man briefly spawned a TV series, but that unfortunately only lasted for a very short period, before falling into a black hole of obscurity. I've never been able to find it. Also, it had Jerry Reed, but didn't star Tom Selleck, seeing as how 1980 was rather an important year for him concerning other 'pursuits' that ate up other potential lead role TV acting jobs for the rest of the decade.

Whether you're a fan of country music or not, I'm sure Ramblin' Man is a film you'd enjoy if you're at all a fan of those old '70's type mystery shows, or even just a mystery fan in general...

Ella the Elephant (2013-)

Based on a series of books by Carmela and Steven D'Amico, Ella the Elephant is a CG animated Canadian children's show that I got into recently after seeing it on TV, and it's been an extremely entertaining daily treat for the last few weeks! Here's hoping it gets renewed for a second season!...

Ella is a young girl living on Elephant Island. She and her friends Tiki, Belinda, and Frankie are constantly up to something, whether it be competitions, trunk-to-trunk sports matches, treasure hunts, stage fright troubles, school projects, or helping stranded seafarers, and Ella always has a solution to her troubles, thanks to her magic hat!...

Ella the Elephant is a very good show! It's well-written, and always teaches good lessons. Even better is that they're never really forced.

The characters here are highly amusing. Ella is a dynamic lead, while Frankie is the goofball, Tiki is the smartest one, and Belinda is the spoiled, yet likeable daughter of the mayor-A fact she never lets anyone forget.

The CG animation in this show is very good. The texture for their skin is pretty simple, but hey, they're elephants, and it looks good, so who's complaining. The backgrounds and locations are all handrawn 2D pictures, which sounds like a terrible mix with 3D CG characters, but it actually works! Everything meshes well, particularly thanks to the use of shadows.

The best aspect of this show's animation by far is the ears! The ears of the characters in this show are so cute, the way they flap around! Awww!

The acting here is very good, with no-one turning in a bad performance. The best is definitely lead Addison Holley, who plays Ella. She not only carries the show, but its music too (as I'll get into below), which is a lot to do, but she manages to do it all perfectly!

The music in Ella The Elephant is very good, especially the main theme (sung adorably by Addison Holley), and its instrumental counterpart that plays over the ending credits.

If you simply enjoy watching shows for all ages, or if you have kids, Ella the Elephant is a perfect thing to show them!...Well unless they're a boy. Most young boys are immature bastards who refuse  to watch/read anything 'girly', for fear of being ostracized, and cooties. I should know, seeing as how that's exactly how I acted at that age...

The Gruffalo (2009) and The Gruffalo's Child (2011)

On Christmas Day last year, there were two short kids films playing back to back on one of the ABC channels, and I was tempted to watch them when I had some downtime. They were The Gruffalo, and The Gruffalo's Child, and thank God I chose not to watch them! I saw them weeks later on ABC's iView, and believe me, these may be short films, but they sure feel pretty long!...

The tale of The Gruffalo begins with a Squirrel mother telling a story to her children, I guess to distract them from the fact that they apparently live in the brutal real world of Watership Down. Her story is about a mouse that keeps bumping into danger on his way to get a nut. He gets out of the fixes by making up stories of the Gruffalo, a fearsome behemoth that he says he's having lunch with, terrifying the snake, owl, and fox that want to eat him. Soon enough, the predators realize the deception, and plan on wishboning the hell out of the mouse, but it may be too late for him, as he's run into the real Gruffalo...

The plot to The Gruffalo is terribly repetitive. It's the same scene repeated five times! All this is strung along by really poor narration. It's too infrequent, and some of the time is made up of stuff like 'Saiid the Gruffalo', or "Said the Mouse".

Possibly the dumbest thing about this movie is that despite the fact that the Gruffalo is a figment of the mouse's imagination to scare predators away, it turns out to be real! This is either very Cartesian, or very stupid!

The acting here is ok, but none of the actors really shine. I usually like James Corden well enough, but he's irritating here, as he constantly makes sounds like he's loudly orgasming, or has just been discovered jerking off.

The CG animation in this movie is decent, but wasted on this dreck.

Late one snowy evening, the Gruffalo's young child goes out venturing in search of the Big Bad Mouse...

The Gruffalo's Child is a painfully lazy follow-up. It furthers nothing, nor does it even tell a proper new story. There's barely even a real story! It just spins its wheels and retreads old material until the film quickly wraps up, nothing having been accomplished

There's a Law Abiding Citizen style plot twist when we realize that the Gruffalo's child intends on murdering the mouse and feasting on his warm flesh once she finds him! Wow, we lost sympathy for that little beast fast! This turn is really poorly thought-out, and doesn't gel with previous scenes.

Following that, we get a really stupid and really annoying ending, where the dickhead mouse emotionally traumatizes this little girl, causing her to run back to the safety of home, forever scarred. What the hell kind of moral is this movie teaching?! That you shouldn't be brave?! That you should always be terrified of the night, no matter what?

The voice acting here is boring. The returning actors aren't bad, but they feel like this is just a quick paycheck to them. The lead actress Shirley Henderson is annoying! With her, it's really fifty-fifty whether she'll be grating or amusing.

Both The Gruffalo and its follow-up are rotten movies, and as far as I'm concerned, you should steer clear, and certainly not watch them at Christmas!...

Dark Age (1987)

In the Australian outback, an extremely rare giant crocodile is roaming the land, claiming numerous victims. Crocodile specialist Steve Harris (John Jarratt) is sent in to find and kill the crocodile, but that's easier said that done when he receives no help from the Aboriginal locals, who view the crocodile-deemed Numunwari-as extremely sacred. Despite troubles, Harris is able to get their help on the agreement that he non-lethally trap the crocodile, and take it to a Conservation. Unfortunately, some poachers the crocodile wronged want it dead, no matter what...

Really? That's it?! A giant crocodile is on the loose? That's not a horror movie for us Aussies. That's Tuesday!

Dark Age (I have no idea why it's called that, by the way) is less of a horror film film and more of an ecological thriller. It's a mishmash of things, from animals-run-amuck, to the slasher genre, as well as other strange choices that I'll get into below. This is a decent film. Nothing I'd ever watch again, but it's a passable time-killer, and certainly decently written. It has ok themes to its story, and the effects are pretty damn good!

One aspect of this film that's a likely dealbreaker is that a kid gets eaten by the crocodile, partially onscreen. On one hand, this film has got balls! On the other hand, that's pretty depressing. However, it's not just a pointless shock moment, as it heavily affects the characters, as well as being the impetus for the film's moral dilemma...So it's a shame that it gets ignored in the last half! Seriously, not only is the love interest character Cathy all-smiles and all-sex barely two days after she witnessed a crocodile eating a kids head, but the film friggin' turns into Free Willy in the last third, and you're honestly expected to cheer this crocodile on as it crawls to safety, even though we previously saw it eat a child's head!

The whole last act of this film is just odd in how much it turns into a Free Willy type scenario, but I'll give it one positive, and that's that this is not cliched. I was expecting that Steve and the two main Aboriginal characters would go looking for the crocodile, with intent to not harm it at all, but it would attack them, destroy the boat, the Aboriginal elder would get eaten, then Steve would hurl an oxygen tank in the crocodiles mouth, then shoot it as he yells "Smile, you son of a bitch!". Thankfully the film doesn't go that cliched direction, as that would be the boring and easy way out. A borderline cop-out that would ignore the film's religious/ecological themes.

Dark Age has some very over-the-top moments, like how it nearly turns into Deliverance with the crazy poachers, one of whom is remarkably agile and, you know, not bedridden, despite having his arm torn off barely six hours prior! The guy delivers some serious evil eyes, lemme tell you, and I briefly thought that the movie would turn into I Spit On Your Grave! More over-the-top moments include the "NNNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!" moment John Jarratt gets, as well as his pained yell a short time later. Even worse is that it's his last vocal moment of the movie! The ending to this film isn't abrupt or rushed, except in the respect that we don't really get any resolution with Steve and Cathy.

The soundtrack is pretty good, with both Aboriginal tribal scoring, and Miami Vice style 80's-tastic tunes!

The acting here is all good, with a very young John Jarratt likely, and a surprisingly young Ray Meagher! What, you don't know who that is? Of course not. Only Australians do. He's Alf from the shitty soap opera Home and Away.

All in all, Dark Age is an Aussie horror film made up of elements of Jaws, slasher films, Free Willy, and 80's-tastic scoring, and it's worth a watch...

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Evil Under the Sun (1982)

Agatha Christie has always been one of my favourite writers, and she has the distinction of never having gone downhill! Her 'last' book Postern of Fate wasn't all that good, if I remember correctly, but she had the excuse of being 82 years old, and dying, to call for that. If people are to be believed (which they aren't necessarily, as opinions always vary, and books some hate, others dig), Christie did write a couple of not-so-good books here and there, and she herself was her worst, most scathing critic, calling a few of her books execrable (though most like them), but she never went the route of some annoying modern writers who have all their 'work' lazily ghostwritten. She was also never as derivative as other British whodunnits of the time. Her books aren't often cliched, the plots still stand up today, and often have surprisingly modern stories, such as And Then There Were None. You guys did know that Agatha Christie created the slasher genre as we know it, don't you?

Famed Belgian detective Hercule Poirot is visiting the island resort of Daphne Castle in order to get to the bottom of an apparent jewel theft, but things take a turn for the worse when unlikeable socialite Arlena Marshall is found strangled on a beach. Taking on this new case, Poirot asks all over the island to determine the identity of the murderer, but who could possible have murdered Arlena Marshall when everyone has an ironclad alibi?...

Evil Under the Sun is a 1982 film adaptation of the 1941 novel. Whether it's a good adaptation, I don't know for sure, but I'm pretty sure it is. It's certainly a whole hell of a lot better than the annoying David Suchet TV movies! I liked the TV series, and Suchet is always a perfect Poirot, but those movies are so damn maudlin, as well as very unfaithful!

The action in this movie is situated almost entirely on an island resort, and the story is just of Poirot talking to people about a crime, but its presentation is very well done! The first half of the film sets up the characters, even giving some potential motives, and red herrings, and following that, the murder occurs, and we see the interesting questioning and flashbacks as the plot advances, culminating in the fantastic 'sitting-room' reveal and explanation.

The mystery in Evil Under the Sun is very compelling! The facts all come together well, and no revelation seems forced, and predictable, all leading to a very satisfying conclusion!

What I especially love is that once Poirot finishes his revelation of the facts of the case, but seemingly lacking any evidence, the murderer just laughs it off, knowing nothing can be proven. In most TV cop shows you'll watch nowadays, the cops present their 'findings' to the villain and they instantly break down and confess, even though they'd be home free if they just kept their mouth shut.

Some say that you can only watch a whodunnit once, and only once, but I don't believe that. On the first watch, you're captivated by the mystery, and on the second watchthrough, you pick up on all the little clues you missed, and the plot comes together even better! And besides, if a film is just plain good, people would be fine with watching it again, despite knowing the outcome of the mystery. After all, people know the whole plots to all movies they've seen before, but can rewatch them just fine as long as they like them. A whodunnit is no different from a comedy, action, or horror, etc. in that respect.

The acting in Evil Under the Sun is great! While neither French, nor black haired, Peter Ustinov makes for a fantastic Hercule Poirot, and is my favourite, especially for a particular reason-He's cheerful! Poirot is a great detective here, showing off great smarts and cunning resourcefulness, never coming across as an egomaniac creep like Agatha Christie thought him to be in her books (which is 100% accurate).

The rest of the actors, such as Maggie Smith, Colin Blakely, Roddy McDowall, James Mason, and the rest (my apologies to the remaining actors for using Gilligan shorthand) are all very good, and some definitely distinctive, especially McDowall's character, who may be annoying to some, but is entertaining to others. There are no two characters alike!

The soundtrack to Evil Under the Sun is a very bombastic one, with plenty of cheery and garish tunes, which complement the film well!

I highly recommend Evil Under the Sun for all mystery enthusiasts out there! It's a great watch!...

Monday, January 26, 2015

Sleeping Beauty (2011)

Oh for the love of God, I swear, you could make a movie as grotesquely disturbing and tasteless as possible, and film critics would absolutely love it so long as you include extended tracking shots of characters doing nothing! I'm not even exaggerating! That Snowtown movie from a few years ago was almost entirely comprised of nothing but characters quietly staring into nothing, and that was even how it abruptly and anticlimactically ended! And some consider it to be one of the most disturbing films ever made?! HA! I've got some films involving Nazis eating babies, then torturing women with acid rats made of evil that I'd like to show them! What this is amounting to is that today, I have the utmost displeasure of talking about Australian movie Sleeping Beauty...

Sleeping Beauty is a 2011 Australian film, and it's a total bore! It's trying to be an art critic darling, but rather than do this by presenting legitimate themes and takeaways, it chooses the Gerry way, and is comprised totally but static shots of nothing!

Let's discuss the positives to this movie first. You see Emily Browning naked! YES!...Or rather 'NO!', depending on how much that would ruin your childhood (Browning was one of the leads in the A Series of Unfortunate Events movie). Now, this may seem like an incredibly shallow positive for me to glom onto, but believe me when I say that this movie is so lifeless that even the tiniest positive is a big deal! Not that this is all that big a positive, as this movie is completely unerotic!

Sleeping Beauty is so boring! It even has the innate ability to make me yell "Oh my God, I fucking get it!" when a scene has only just started! The scenes in this movie are so empty and hollow that you can tell from the get-go that they're going to be Crazy Fat Ethel Making Coffee scenes, and it is intolerable!

The movie's plot goes nowhere, culminating in a confusing and abrupt ending.

This story contains no insight or developed themes on the sex industry, or on the personal level of the act. It's just an empty plot point there to carry the film along. This wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing if the movie's target was on something else, but since it's so heavily centred on this industry, yet never really focuses on it, the movie just feels shallow.

There's zero backstories for characters and their situations, they have little dialogue, and nothing to them. The lead character is a completely unlikeable bitch! She's miserable because she gets kicked out of her apartment, even though she burnt hundred dollar bills for fun instead of paying rent! It doesn't make any sense, nor is given any explanation why she would do that, or why she can't pay rent, as she already has a real job! Two in fact! And she gets fired from one near the film's end because she's such a horrid bitch.

There are a multitude of other stupid aspects to Sleeping Beauty, like the scene with the stupid coin toss routine written by a scriptwriter who clearly don't understand the rules of coin tossing (if you clasp your hand over it as it lands, and especially if you also cradle your forearm around a bit, then no-one has reason to believe the result!)

Really idiotic is the job Browning's character takes. It's the most heavily requirement-filled waitressing job I've ever seen! You'd think they were prepping her to become a goddamn secret agent! All a sexy waitress job needs is a woman willing to wear skimpy outfits-Boom, done! This movie treats it as if its the most high-maintenance job in the universe, and that if the shade of your lipstick doesn't match the colour of you labia, then the world is doomed! I'm sure that people who pay to look at naked women really aren't that stingy, especially when they're into the really odd stuff. They'll only care that they're finally touching female skin for a change.

Especially laughable is the advice one worker gives to Emily Browning-"It gets easier. It's never easy, though." It isn't? The only requirement of the job is to stand around naked in a corset and serve drinks!

Sleeping Beauty is clinical in its sexuality, and completely unerotic. I can't even buy the the film's characters would really find any of this shit erotic! So what if you're at a restaurant served by topless women-You're still at a boring dinner function full of dull suits, pretentious food and drink tasting, and dusty small talk! Nothing kills the mood faster than things like that!

The dialogue here is crummy, frequently comes across as forced, and is oftentimes completely and painfully unrealistic! There are also pretentious monologues courtesy of the lead's friend, of such 'riveting' subjects as near extinct rodents who are basically kangaroos. Dude, you're sleeping with a woman for money-Shut your pretentious mouth and just DO it!

The acting in this movie is passable at best! As for its lead, Emily Browning can't act. She got away with the somewhat stoic performance in A Series of Unfortunate Events due to the style of that movie, but here, she's just boring to an unbearable degree. And neither is this a brave or fearless role for her just because she shows her rack. It could be if the film actually had anything of worth, but it doesn't, and she never really does anything. So in short, she stripped buck naked and had an old guy rub his ballsack against her vajayjay for a 97 minute pile of garbage that says nothing and means nothing. To provide a counterpoint, to show that I'm not just 'prejudiced against high art', Sweet Movie is a good example of a similar demand for an actress, but for a film that actually genuinely meant something.

Sleeping Beauty really isn't artistic in any way! It has no deeper meanings or themes that can be drawn from it, nor any symbolism, or anything making it artistic! The only thing even remotely close to meaningful is the old man's monologue about a short story, but even it doesn't count, since it barely plays into the plot, and has nothing to do with the main character! It's just superfluous pretentious waffle! This crap is only art if you consider real-time nothing films like The Brown Bunny, or Gerry to be art, and if you do, then you are in dire need to going to see a real art film!

How is this haunting or artistic? Is the scene of Emily Browning exchanging credit card details in real time really that appealing to some? Does the superfluous scene of her waking up, putting on a pair of panties, then going back to bed represent the shocking frailties of society's treatment towards both the underwear industry, and to night owls?! Does it represent her being a 'sleeping beauty finally waking into the real world'?! Of course not! That latter point is a theme that fans of the movie say it represents, but that's rubbish, as the movie would actually have to be about it first! Take the ending to No Country for Old Men. That monologue from Tommy Lee Jones is important and thematic to his character, and isn't just some out-of-nowhere barely-there 'theme' that you'll only understand by reading a related textbook.

Somehow, and I haven't the foggiest how, Sleeping Beauty won several major awards, including best direction. What direction? The camera is still for most of the running time, so I would hardly refer to Julia Leigh as this movie's director. Cinematographer, yes, Director, fuck no!

Any movie that makes seeing a nude Emily Browning not worth the experience is a poor beast, and that Sleeping Beauty indeed is!...

Saturday, January 3, 2015

In Search of the Wow Wow Wibble Woggle Wazzie Woodle Woo! (1985)

The most surprising thing about a title like In Search of the Wow Wow Wibble Woggle Wazzie Woodle Woo isn't so much that it exists, but that it's surprisingly easy to memorize!

Tim is a 'kid' back home from school. He's constantly pestered by his playful imagination, which keeps getting him into trouble, whether it be turning Tim into a wizard, causing the destruction of his bedroom, or other such unwanted shenanigans. In a fit of anger, Tim tells his imagination to get lost, but he's soon lonely, and comes to realize the fun that having an imagination can provide your life...

In Search of the Wow Wow Wibble Woggle Wazzie Woodle Woo is a 1985 childrens musical one-man show TV movie by Tim Noah, and it's highly enjoyable, depending on where your tastes lie. If you're not into musicals, and especially if you're not into kid-oriented material, then you likely won't gravitate to this movie, but if you do dig either, then you're in for a fun, but brief, ride.

At only fifty-four minutes long, this movie never overstays its welcome. The plot is kinda non-existent, and basically just an excuse for semi-elaborate musical numbers, and to teach kids a lesson about friendship come the end, but it's acceptable for what this movie is.

The only scene that one might not find as enjoyable is the opening few minutes, which has almost zero dialogue from Tim Noah, and a kinda-Lovecraftian closet and radio! It's an odd scene, and an even weirder way to start the movie, with the lack of dialogue from the lead making for a confusing start.

The music in Wow Wow Wibble Woggle Wazzie Woodle Woo is great! There are many distinctive and wonderful songs, from a jungle beat, to a seemingly happy tune with an undercurrent of loneliness, to one about friendship, a couple about the seven W's themselves, to a psychadelic rock-sounding song about a bunch of monsters led by Musty Moldy Melvin.

The choreography in this movie is quite good, especially since most of it is either shot in one take, or a few long ones! One aspect I especially like about the movie is the lighting, which is very pronounced, and dims and raises perfectly to fit the tone of certain scenes.

The effects here are obviously fake and stagey, but aren't trying to be anything else. They're good for what they are, and some are definitely either amusing or effectively done, such as the dancing clothes, or quaking shelves, to the point where you can even more easily overlook their low-budget nature!

Finally, onto the acting. Tim Noah is a good actor, and a great singer, carrying the movie very well!

Whether you have or know kids, or if you're just a grown adult who likes Zoobilee Zoo too much (hey, you'll get no judgment from me for that), I recommend Tim Noah's In Search of the Wow Wow Wibble Woggle Wazzie Woodle Woo!...