Saturday, February 28, 2015

Rocky III (1982) Review:

For the character of Rocky Balboa, success always seemed miles away. Struggling to make it through on a daily basis on the urban streets was never an easy task. His sluggish yet innocent personality made him an obvious target to individuals who wanted to take advantage of him. For all that, everything would change when he went toe-to-toe (twice) with the latest heavyweight boxing champion Apollo Creed. Even after the first fight, Rocky had become nothing short of legend. As for the rematch, it was what solidified his image as the rising star that he was. Rocky (1976) and Rocky II (1979) are the two films that book-ended this story so nicely. Of course there would be a continuation that would be in the form of this feature but did it maintain the same level of quality? It’s there, but not as much. It's still a well-made and captivating entry but it lacks the substance that made the first two so gratifying to see.

We all wanted to see this,...but it wasn't necessary
The film begins like it did with its first sequel by recapping the finale of its predecessor and showing how much of a beating Rocky could really take. After winning the title, Rocky then becomes engrossed in his fame by covering promo ads, photo shoots, celebrity show cameos and interviews. Despite this, Rocky ends up confronting a new opponent named Clubber Lang (Mr. T) and discovers he may not be as prepared as he thought, so Apollo Creed returns to get Rocky in shape one last time. As for Stallone's direction on how he wanted Rocky to develop as a character, the idea was absolutely fine. When someone becomes famous and is offered riches beyond their imagination, who wouldn't indulge? The lesson behind it all is that you can't let your guard down, no matter how comfortable you feel. Nonetheless, Stallone's writing misfires a number of times in compensation for his directing.

The problems in the screenplay are that unlike its forerunners, there are a couple of scenes that do not add any meaning to the story at hand. Right at the start, Rocky has to confront his Brother-in-law Pauly (Burt Young) about his reckless behavior. Turns out that Pauly is jealous over Rocky's fame, yet the matter is resolved all within the same scene. Another is the charity match between Rocky and Thunderlips (Hulk Hogan). There's nothing wrong with this match up; who wouldn't want to see it? But the fact that it did not move the plot a long in any way other than for the spectacle of Hogan Vs Stallone had no use. These kinds of instances are wasteful. Meanwhile, the audience could have had more sentimental scenes between Rocky and his family. That's not the case though. The audience barely views any family time between Rocky, his wife Adrian and young son.

Instead, fans see Pauly constantly complaining and Adrian saying almost nothing important until close to the final act. Along with developing Rocky and his family, his opponent Clubber Lang receives little treatment either. It's hard to say if Clubber Lang's personality is actually Mr. T being himself or not. It's also another thing when a character is determined by something, but Lang doesn't seem to have a reason. Lang has hatred so strong that there's got to be more of a motive than just Rocky ignoring his demands for a match. No one holds that much resentment for a reason like that. Lang really just appears to be fuming out of nowhere for very little reason. Burgess Meredith as Mickey, Carl Weathers as Apollo Creed and Tony Burton as Creed's coach were really the only true redeeming character additions. Meredith is able to provide a touching scene with Rocky and seeing Creed and his former coach team up with Rocky is also a plus. This particular element helps humanize Creed and his followers and makes them even more likable as characters.

Play nice boys
The other remaining components that do work like before were the music and match fights. The way the fights are choreographed still have life in them and keep the sequences moving at a brisk pace as if to emulate how fast the fists are flying. Credit also goes to Bill Butler, who also was director of photography for Rocky II (1979) and Jaws (1975). Also, because this film represents how far Rocky drifted from his original life (living style), numerous shots contain everything from floor to ceiling of glam and riches galore. It's definitely flashy and displays how much wealth Rocky acquired but it's all style over substance (as explained before). The music composed again by Bill Conti did another efficient job. This time when it came to contemporary music of the time, "Eye of the Tiger" is emphasized more than anything else. "Gonna Fly Now" is still in there but "Eye of the Tiger" was given more priority. The Rocky theme is still played throughout as well along with the softer moments that occur. It's still a decent movie but wasn't executed entirely right.

Sylvester Stallone had the right idea on how to continue Rocky's story but his screenplay misses the point by including scenes that go nowhere instead of developing all of its characters like the first two films. Mr. T as Clubber Lang was certainly the right choice for an antagonist but he too barely has much depth. The music and fight sequences all still please to a point with Carl Weathers returning but without all of its developed characters, the heart of the story doesn't feel as strong.

Points Earned --> 6:10

Friday, February 13, 2015

Jack Frost 2: Revenge of the Killer Snowman (2000) Review:

In the late 1990s, there were a number of low budget holiday horror related movies that received public releases. Some of which were abysmal, while others showed that they were not gold, but did have something to like about them. Aside from being mistaken for Michael Keaton's family holiday film with the same name Jack Frost (1998), Michael Cooney's Jack Frost (1997) was by no means a spectacular film with great production value or any other kind of value for that matter. It had a cheap look in its sets, practical/special effects and not all of its actors sounded fully invested. Yet with a premise that was turned on its head, with a remarkably goofy but memorable villain who had inventive kills, this slasher film seemed to grow on the viewers it was played in front of. Now as for whether this green lit its sequel or not that's a whole other topic of discussion.

Is that the Stay Puffed Marshmallow Man?
For what's given on the surface, it seems like things are kept to a standard. But that turns out to be proven wrong as the viewer will see that Michael Cooney, who credits himself as the writer/director again made some noticeable changes to this entry. Most of which these revisions undermine what small credibility the first installment made for itself. A year after Jack Frost was disposed of, audiences revisit Sheriff Sam Tiler (Christopher Allport) and his wife who decide that for this Christmas, it's time to go somewhere else. This time by attending a friends wedding in a tropical resort. Seems like a smart choice until someone digs up the buried antifreeze that Jack Frost (Scott MacDonald) was melted in. This already brings up a big question. Who in the world dug up Jack Frost and if it was buried in an unmarked grave, how'd the person find the location? This character is never announced to the audience nor does he play an integral part to the rest of the plot. Wouldn't it have been more interesting if it was someone Sam knew?

This is just the beginning. The continuity is astonishingly bad when it comes to story and reasons. Another example of this is the rebirth of Jack Frost. It makes no sense at all and fails to explain why it worked.  The only thing Cooney successfully gives justification for is Jack Frost's weakness. The other significant modification Cooney makes to this screenplay is making the characters a little too self aware of the story at hand. A good choice for this claim is the reappearance of Agent Manners (David Allen Brooks). Even Allport's character mentions how he doesn't understand how Manners survived/followed him. Instead of actually answering this question, David Allen Brooks ends up playing Manners like that of a parody to what the character of Manners originally was portrayed. Every other actor plays their character alright but not worth remembering. Interestingly enough though, famous actor Doug Jones has a small role (although its nothing memorable either).

Christopher Allport as Sam Tiler again plays his character like before; timid but courageous enough to fight. He and Scott MacDonald, voice of Jack Frost are the two highlights. MacDonald again flexes his voice chops for Frost and it sounds like he had fun once more as the cold-blooded killer. Sadly though, the viewing experience will have audiences thinking there wasn't much of Jack Frost in it either. In fact, there's a good portion of the movie where Jack Frost just vanishes and doesn't show up until the last few minutes to the finale. This all happens when Frost realizes he can create little deadly snow puffball creatures. The idea was fine but the fact that once they were created, Frost took a back seat. Isn't this movie about Jack Frost? Why isn't he in it as much? It is about him right? The cinematography by Dean Lent (who also worked on the first film) did an ok job at getting the standard shots but it still doesn't stand out anywhere. Lent only seems to be good hiding the fact that the cast is not on an island when it comes to inside buildings. Outside though, it’s noticeable.

Hitch hiking again?
The last two elements not covered yet are the effects and music. For the special/practical effects used - it looks somewhat better than before. These are especially distinct when Jack Frost goes from solid to powder snow form. It's not James Cameron good but it isn't awful either for the movie that it is. The gore is perhaps stronger, with deaths more grizzly than before. Some of which are predictable while others not so much. Some of which these kills are wonderfully quoted by MacDonald. The music composed by Chris Anderson (another crewmember who worked on the first) is only mediocre at best this time. Sometimes there will be a unique tune while others there will be recycled material. The track that gets recycled the most is agent Manners which was ok for the first time but wears thin very quickly after every time he says a line. I guess being creative with the music wasn't even in Anderson's agenda this time either. This sequel is kind of watchable but isn't much of a guilty pleasure like the first.

Even with main actors, writer/director, cinematographer and musical composer all returning, only half as much entertainment can be taken from this already mediocre franchise. It's two leads and the violence are the only real redeeming qualities. Michael Cooney's writing worsens with every passing minute and even forgets that the movie is about Jack Frost for a bit, thus leaving its already small fan base rather dry.

Points Earned --> 3:10

Friday, February 6, 2015

The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out of Water (2015) Review:

There are a couple of factors that come into play when TV cartoon characters have their big screen appearances. The biggest one being that the cartoon became so popular, a movie needed to be made. Sometimes it also signals the end of the series. The Spongebob Squarepants Movie (2004) was originally creator's Stephen Hillenburg's finale to the TV series. However, after exceeding box office predictions, Spongebob was renewed for several seasons later. One would think after that showing would also warrant another big movie to be made soon after. Well it came,...surprisingly really late compared to how well received movies get a green lit sequel so quickly afterward. Sometimes, though the time is worth the wait and this can be said for Spongebob's 2nd big screen entry with some of the usual flaws (most obvious being continuity).

They look more real than before!
Like many other Spongebob episodes and the movie before this, Plankton is up to his old tricks again; attempting to steal Mr. Krabs' secret Krabby Patty formula. Except this time, there's more going on involving the secret formula than even Plankton knows. Out of nowhere, Krabs' secret recipe vanishes among the city of Bikini Bottom when a mysterious individual named Burger Beard (Antonio Banderas) enters the picture. With that, the city of Bikini Bottom descends into chaos, so Spongebob decides he needs to find a way of getting the recipe back in order to restore his hometown into a tranquil society. The writing headed by Glenn Berger and Jonathan Aibel who were also the brains behind Kung Fu Panda (2008) and Monsters Vs Aliens (2009) accomplished what most fans of the series should enjoy. And although Stephen Hillenburg is not directing this time, his right hand man Paul Tibbitt is.

As an overall presentation there aren't many issues with this production. One of the most notably different things about this movie is that it doesn't exactly stay in line with the previous story of the last film. It's really difficult whether to classify this is a sequel or not. It feels like more of a reboot (for those who are debating). Nonetheless this is a minor flub. All the memorable voice-actors from the TV show return once again to voice their undersea counterparts and that's always important. Antonio Banderas as Burger Beard was certainly an interesting choice only because who could've thought Banderas could play such a convincing pirate? He proved himself of that and for his age, he still gets around quite well (which was also proven in The Expendables 3 (2014)). The dialog also leads to number of funny moments, all of which each main character gets even screen time to make a funny. Many of which these moments break the 4th wall.

This also can be a weak point unfortunately in the screenplay because being silly is fun, but the comedy sometimes goes a bit overboard. What the first film has that this one doesn't is a sense of realism. Here, some scenes get a bit nonsensical to where it denies the universe that The Spongebob Squarepants Movie (2004) established. The reasons behind these frivolous events are explained, which is appreciated, but this is what detaches this entry from its last and what makes it questionable to whether it is a sequel or not. Then again, with these outlandish ideas come alternative animation visuals. For Spongebob's traditional animation sequences, the scenes are perhaps even more honed than the first entry; it looks crisp, clear and bright. Yet, what stands out even more is the live-action animation (also directed by Mike Mitchell, best known for directing Sky High (2005)). The character textures and 3D renderings look very well unified in their own right. Spongebob and friends almost look touchable and that's awesome.

Antonio Banderas (Pirate form)
Next in line with that are some very entertaining action sequences. This is more of the focus when the story hits its third act but it’s worth the wait. Honestly for a Spongebob feature, seeing this much action never seemed like a possibility or interest the producers would ever want. Case in point, that was an incorrect assumption. A number of action sequences actually become quite inventive with how the conflict ensues. Well done. Phil Meheux's cinematography for the live-action scenes are also well constructed. Seeing that he was also the guy with the eye in The Mask of Zorro (1998),...which also had Antonio Banderas, seems only fitting. Much of the camera shots are well lit and wide enough to get a clear view of the scenery. John Debney, a composer who has previously scored multiple family comedy and action related films maintains his style by making the scenes appropriate where they need to be while including the Spongebob theme. Although there is one scene that doesn't belong to Debney which is where the film crew directly takes a snippet of Ennio Morricone's music from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966). This is still fun though.

Spongebob's second big screen outing is rightfully made bigger and more profound. The animation is more spot on, the returning voice-actors / live-action performance from Banderas, action and comedy all work hand in hand to make a fun ride. Occasionally though, it does go out into left field a bit more than its predecessor.

Points Earned --> 6:10

Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre 2 (1986) Review:

Sequels in general are hard not to be ignored and they are also very well known for not satisfying audience's expectations. So far though, horror film franchises are the most prone to failing at being better than their initial entry in cinema. For one reason, it's understandable if the founder left the project entirely because then the sequel may not be in the best hands to carry the story. That's not the case here. Director Tobe Hooper, the man behind the first movie comes back to direct his long awaited sequel that almost seems like he forgot what made his original so horrifyingly stimulating. But he didn't forget, Hooper admitted that he wanted this entry to be less serious. And for what it shows, in some ways it is goofy but its dark humor doesn't always save it.

 Stretch (Caroline Williams) & Lefty (Dennis Hopper)
Taking place 14 years later, audiences are introduced to Lefty Enright (Dennis Hopper), a man looking to find the cannibalistic Sawyer family who killed his brother's kids and friends from the first movie. To Lefty's dismay, trying to convince the police that the killers exist hasn't been going well. Fortunately for him, he meets a radio host named Stretch (Caroline Williams) who happened to record one of their killings over a live broadcast. With that, Lefty asks Stretch to help him make the public aware of the current threat. As an entry continuing the story, it does have some key moments that show thought did go into it, but overall there's less plot than before. Of what seems to be a subplot to expose the Sawyer family is then abruptly dropped for Dennis Hopper going on the hunt himself. What was even the point of making him apart of the police department if he decided he was going take matters into his own hands?

There are some intriguing moments that screenwriter L.M. Kit Carson does include in this entry but not much of it feels completed. For continuity sake, Carson accomplished that. He not only makes reference to the original verbally but physically as well so that shows he had the right idea. As an interesting token, Carson also sheds some light on the Sawyer family. Specifically, that Drayton Sawyer (Jim Siedow, the 'ol pop) is a renowned chili cook. This is some of the dark humor because the audience realizes what Drayton belongs to but the characters don't. Another weird side note is that audiences get to see Leatherface actually display what almost seems like a little more humanity than before (almost). This key moment occurs whenever Leatherface is around Stretch. It's these elements that show Carson had some appealing ideas but only some of these character threads are fully realized. There are still some things that don't make sense though. An example of this is Bill Moseley, who successfully replaces Edwin Neal's role as the hitchhiker. How'd he get so horrid looking? No explanation for that.

Dennis Hopper as Lefty isn't all the most believable because of his straight face performance. However, there are times where he blows a gasket and it's entertaining to see. Caroline Williams as Stretch doesn't play much of a memorable character. She does show some courage at times, but mostly she's screaming widely to the point of ridiculousness. Although Jim Siedow was the only original actor to return for the Sawyer family, the entire group still acts as if they were apart of the first movie. Bill Moseley copies Edwin Neal's performance nicely, Siedow had no trouble reconnecting with his original character and Bill Johnson who replaces Gunnar Hansen as Leatherface still looks terrifying. The camerawork was largely forgettable throughout. With an extended running time by 17 minutes from the original, there were only a couple shots that look good with the lighting. Everything else was a rather mishmash of ideas. It's as if Tobe Hooper didn't have much of a direction on how he wanted anything to look this time.

The secret recipe to his chili is the meat X_X
The only other good aspect to this horror film is the violence. With practical effects master Tom Savini helping, the kills are bloodier and the props are much grosser. Gorehounds should enjoy the grossness. As for scariness, it's not much of scarefest because audiences have a clear idea of what the Sawyer family is all about. The music provided again by Tobe Hooper and additional composer Jerry Lambert doesn't waste time in ditching the atmosphere so cleverly crafted from the original. Instead of incorporating bonesaw noises, chicken squawks and what sounds like clanging kitchen tools, has been replaced with the all around generic synth piano.  The notes are frantic to induce panic and scares but because there's no atmosphere to the tune, it sounds largely uninspired and bland. Even for its conclusion, which felt rushed to begin with, feels almost nonexistent or effective in its delivery.

Like other average horror sequels, it has a number of scenes that proved its writer had the ideas but could not completely stitch them together properly. The lead actors are middling in their performances, the music has no atmosphere and the story has a thinner plot than the last. The only things worth mentioning are its ability to still be gross in its visuals and the minor unfinished character threads.

Points Earned --> 5:10