Thursday, 28 February 2013

No.173 : War of the Dead

War of the Dead at the IMDb

When the two most recognisable faces in a production are refugees from ‘The Bill’ you could be forgiven for assuming the result may not be at the high end of the quality scale. We at the ‘W’ blog would never make such an assumption, and will scrutinise each detail closely before declaring the film ‘shit‘.

Well it is. The IMDb summary suggests it was filmed in 2008 but hung about like a rotting zombie for two years before being excreted by the studio. Should they have bothered? Let’s see…

The film is set in the Second World War. We get the unsettling camera and industrial lighting that screams either disorientation or ‘we can’t afford a tripod’. A group of Russian soldiers are being led down a corridor in an underground base. There is a confusing bit of gunplay but eventually one Russian makes it to the door where he is met by some men in lab coats. Maybe they had arrived to cart the producer off in a small white van - it isn’t clear.

Anyway, they hook the Russian up to some apparatus and after a while his eyes go black, which signifies they found the contact lenses in time. We then cut to a caption - everything on a caption must be true - which states the Germans are doing experiments on Russians to stop death or something and Finnish and American soldiers are charged with having a look. It’s not clear why the Americans are involved but I’m guessing they had the uniforms and the guy from ‘The Bill’ couldn’t do a Finnish accent.

The unit makes its way towards the not so secret bunker and encounters some heavy resistance. This cuts the bill for extras drastically and we are left with half a dozen or so soldiers against the Nazi/Commie zombie army. The guys make some headway and capture a young Russian in a World war One trench set that they forgot to clear away after another, probably better, film was shot.

The Russian tells them some exposition stuff and they get to a small cottage that has a convenient big car - right in the woods too - fancy that. Anyway lots of zombified troops appear. I say lots, but it’s about 5. Luckily they don’t stay dead so they keep popping up which saves on extras and on continuity as they don’t have to worry about where the bodies should be. After a few skirmishes the guys make good use of the props budget and drive about in the big car for a while as some zombies jump on and off it. It literally travels at 5mph and one guys says ‘my granny could walk faster than this’ - quite.

Things progress slowly but after a fallen comrade reappears as a zombie and they discover the old ‘headshot’ rule the guys finally arrive at the bunker. Can they stop the source and waste the stockpile of the Nazi zombies? Will there be enough time for some noble sacrifice and heartbreaking loss? Can those same five extras get up once more before the CGI planes begin their bombing run? Of course they can!

I can safely say that you’d be hard pushed to find a worse film than ‘War of the Dead’ even in the cluttered zombie genre. Of course every cliché is carefully mined and exploited, you expect that, but this effort goes the extra mile in terms of hammy acting and stilted dialogue.

These failures can be forgiven if you get some kick ass action, but alas no - these must be the bluntest toothed zombies ever - but at least they are persistent, those uniforms must have looked like sieves by the time they were returned to the costumers.

The dreadful acting was cringeworthy stuff with the ‘American’ the worst of a terrible pile. Every face was a grimace and every line spat out like he had piles. The villains, as they were, were poor with some proto-Nemesises ripped straight off from ‘Resident Evil’ the only splash of colour. They were rubbish too - who ever heard of a super powered zombie losing a fist fight?

Even the basics like the uniforms and gun drills were shoddy- I’m no expert but I’m pretty sure you don’t fire a sub-machine gun holding the magazine, side on, gangsta style.

Anyway to split hairs is to suggest that the film may have treaded a line between piss-poor and passable but it didn’t, it was crap.

THE Tag Line - This Film is Rubbish, This Much is True  7/23

Saturday, 23 February 2013

No.172 : Wild Stallion

Wild Stallion at the IMDb

Another crappy 1950’s western now - we really need to upgrade our movie package here at the 100+ W Movies Quest - TCM seems to have no end of these ‘classics’.

Wild Stallion is mercifully short at 70 minutes, but they are long, long minutes.

We open as a cavalry post is being decommissioned. A fat, wise old soldier is packing up the stables as an eager new recruit asks about the old white horse. ‘Thank God you asked’ the old man probably thought as we wouldn’t have a film otherwise. We quickly dissolve to a homestead in the old west, 32 years earlier. The pioneer Maw and Paw barely get a chance to wonder when Dan will be back from the fishing hole before they are dispatched by some sharp shootin’ injuns. These guys fire one bullet and one arrow and score two kills - that’s how the west might have been won! In the low key melee a young white colt escapes - remember him for the next paragraph! The injuns torch the homestead and make off just as young Dan appears with the fish dinner.

Alas his acting range can’t convey the trauma, so he just gets on with burying his folks. He manages to plant his oversized parents without getting his hands dirty, just as a helpful stranger appears. He gives a master class in name carving before dropping the boy off at the cavalry’s military school. Things morph into his teenage years as he and the helpful stranger team up to capture wild horses for the cavalry. Dan has never forgotten his lost white colt, ‘Top Kick’, and near wets his pants as he spots his erstwhile steed.

Top Kick is the leader of a big herd of wild horses and although our man gets a rope on it, it soon escapes his frankly creepy clutches. Over the next few years our man busies himself by fighting with the cavalry’s bully boy horse trainer and in pretending to be interested in the token lady, who does nothing but simper and  look desperately for a husband.

After even more dull related horse antics, including one where Top Kick facilitates a horse jailbreak, he and our man are eventually tamed for a life in the military and with a beard wife.

We dissolve back to the old army man who is telling the tale and are meant to be surprised when we learn that the man running the post is actually our man Dan. We also get the joyous news that rather than heading  for the Tesco burger factory, Top Kick is off to San Francisco for retirement - wonder why our butch hero chose there?

Although it’s easy to tear strips off this film it has no pretensions and is simply a ‘Boys’ Own’ style adventure yarn. Any prospect of drama and suspense is lost from the beginning with the narrative all told in flashback. The surprise ending is nothing of the kind and it gets worse when our hero takes the old man along too - he thought he was for the old folks’ home!

As is often the case with melodrama like this the score is really booming and invasive, and there is no attempt at characterisation - it’s all boo-hiss - hoo-ray - boooo! The Indians get a bad press, as ever, with them randomly shooting folk and setting fire to stuff for no ideological reason that the film makers address. The plot, although slight, is ridiculous with our hero delivering his catchphrase ‘It’s MY horse’ with monotone dullness and regularity. The horse looks like it’s on day leave from the circus with its flowing mane and perfect timing - hardly a ‘wild stallion’

You can see this playing well in a 1950s Saturday matinee but for me it was a dreadful throwback, with wooden acting and stilted dialogue. Throw in an unlikable lead and a charisma free horse and you’ve got the longest 70 minutes you’ll ever endure. Where’s the Tesco value range when you need it?

Best Bit : My, Top Kick is a boy horse isn’t he?
W rating 6/23

Monday, 18 February 2013

No.171 : Wichita

Wichita on IMDb

Off to the wild west now, or rather the ‘mild’ west as there’s not a drop of blood or even any cussing in this strait-laced affair.

We open as some cattle drovers settle down for the night with some beans and possibly gay sex. Their plans, whatever they may be, are interrupted when they spot a stranger on the horizon. They give him a cautious welcome and it turns out he’s Wyatt Earp. Although the aging actor playing him, Joel McCrea, is already 50 no one knows who he is - better get a move on Gramps or they’ll need to install a stair lift by the time you get to the OK Corral!

They bed down for the night and soon two drovers approach Earp’s bed - maybe his red shirt and neckerchief was a signal? but no! They're after his cash. They get hold of his fat bank roll but Earp is wise to the game and after recovering his cash he punches the miscreants out. He heads off to Wichita with his dreams of opening a hardware shop intact. The drovers lick their wounds safe in the knowledge that they’ll be in Wichita soon themselves, and may get their chance at some revenge.

Earp hits town and wins favour with the mayor as his plans don’t involve opening another bar - Kavos this ain't. He goes to the bank and is able to thwart the tamest robbery attempt you’ll ever see, with robbers who look more like Sunday School teachers than brigands. The mayor immediately offers Earp the job of Marshall but our man is determined to sell his buckets, goddarn it!

Fate naturally takes control however when the pished up drovers enter the town and start grappling with some overdressed whores and shooting off their pistols. A hooker and then, seemingly more importantly, a young boy get shot by stray bullets and the even mild mannered Earp has had enough. He grabs the Marshall’s badge and a shotgun and kicks some ass. Well he politely asks them to stop, if it wouldn't be too much trouble.

Now mad with power Earp bans all guns from the town much to the chagrin of local worthy Doc Black who hires two guns to take out this meddlesome Marshall. But D’oh! He’s only hired Earp’s own brothers and gets run out of town for his bother. While all this non-killing is going on Earp finds the time to picnic with a local lass half his age. Tragedy looms however when the evil Doc returns and shoots Earp’s girl’s mother. Earp feigns anger and sets out in pursuit. Can he bring the villains to justice and ride off into the sunset with his gal?

This is definitely a film of its time with nothing remotely offensive or even slightly troubling going on. The biggest crime is the shooting of the boy, who frankly deserved it for his terrible ‘Oh I'm shot' acting. It was so bad it was only beaten by the leg shaking wackiness of Lloyd Bridges in his big shoot out scene. The whores showed nothing and the drunken drovers are so disinterested, even after six month’s abstinence, that they’d rather go about shooting their guns than getting to grips with the painted ladies.

The script is dire with every western cliché present and correct. The baddies literally wear black hats as if we’d mistake our clean cut hero for any of those less than menacing characters. The romance aspect looked tacked on with ‘do you want to go on a picnic’ seemingly shorthand for ‘let’s get it on’. Of course a small peck is followed by asking permission to be married - remember that kids!

The action scenes were dreadful with our man never missing a shot and the bad guys only chalking up one whore’s arm and a 5 year old in return for 10,000 rounds fired.

Of course the film was made for more innocent times, and no doubt some people gasped when the villain twirled his moustache, but nowadays it just looks like a funny throwback to a more naive and gentle period when the good guys won and the bad guys got their just desserts.

Best Bit : "The boy’s name was Michael Jackson - he was 5 years old" - Ow!

W Score 11/23

Friday, 8 February 2013

No.170 : Wreck It Ralph

Wreck It Ralph on IMDb

We conclude your exhaustive review of all the ‘W’ movies at this year’s Oscars with ‘Wreck It Ralph’ which is up for ‘Best Animated Feature’.

The titular character is the villain in an 1980’s video game called ‘Fix-It Felix Jnr’. Ralph’s job, as you may have guessed, is to wreck a building which is then fixed by Felix and his magic hammer. It’s a kind of ‘Donkey Kong’ rip off in its full 16 bit glory.

The game is one of many in an arcade and, as the venue closes, the video game characters go about their everyday lives before it all starts up again the next day. Ralph however isn’t happy. His game is 30 years old and all the residents of the building hate him due to all the wrecking. He lives in a tip and his issues are such that he attends a bad guys anonymous meeting along with Dr Robotnik and a ‘Pac-Man’ ghost, among others. Taking inspiration from his meeting he confronts the residents who advise that if he proved himself to be a hero by getting a medal he can move away from his dump and take residence in the building.

Of course they are humouring him but Ralph sets out on a quest to gain their acceptance. The characters can travel through the electricity cable to the central junction box where they can visit other games. The ‘Bad Guys’ meeting for example is hosted by ‘Pac-man’ and the characters take on the graphics of the host system, leading to some cracking retro fun - and a nice cherry for the homeless Q*Bert.

Anyway, Ralph  first makes his way into ‘Hero’s Duty’ a kind of ‘Gears of War’ shoot em up and meets the foxy Calhoun (Jane Lynch) who yells him through her game. He manages to secure a medal but it’s quickly lost, meaning a trip to the neighbouring ‘Sugar Rush’ racing game cabinet. Unfortunately, Ralph unwittingly takes an alien 'psy bug' with him and this could spell disaster for the candy land of ‘Sugar Rush’ and maybe the arcade in general.

This plot point is parked for a while as Ralph meets Vanellope a cute wannabe racer. She is a ‘Glitch’ who crackles occasionally and is a pariah of the bitchy racers. She has Ralph’s medal and uses it to gain entry to the big race that will determine tomorrow’s grid line up. Ralph helps her build a car but they must also deal with King Candy who wants to keep her out at all costs. Meanwhile Felix and Calhoun have a twin mission of finding Ralph, who has gone AWOL from his game, and the alien bug that Calhoun has to destroy.

Can Vanellope win the race and gain acceptance? Can Ralph break his ‘bad guy’ shackles and become a hero and will Felix and Calhoun sort out their problems and maybe each other? Let’s hope so!

The idea of retro video games being the backdrop drew me to this film but it was so much better than I expected and it must be the best animated feature since ‘The Incredibles’.

The level of detail and affection shown by the creators for the subject matter is amazing. I’m sure I missed loads of references but even small things like Sonic the Hedgehog spilling a load of golden rings when he’s bumped into was great. When Ralph needs a beer he heads to the ‘Beer Tapper' machine and Q*Bert maintains his strange dialogue of  #%! - so that what that sounds like!

The characters were all great fun and fully rounded. Calhoun’s horrific back-story was cracking and had a brilliant call back at the end. I did feel using John C Reilly to voice Ralph was a bit invasive given he’s so familiar sounding but Jane Lynch and especially Sarah Silverman were excellent as Calhoun and Vanellope.

The animation was flawless and the changing styles were a joy. Ralph looks ‘normal’ when off duty but is a boxy 16 bitter when in game. The characters, all from different genres, should look daft together but it works wonderfully especially in the rich sweet vistas of ‘Sugar Rush’. There is also an excellent and energetic soundtrack and a pretty detailed plot that needs your attention. The big surprise at the end was expertly forshadowed in one of the film’s funniest scenes and it all came together in a clever and satisfying manner.

I ‘d find it hard to find any fault with this film and would recommend it to all - well kids and immature men with an 1980’s video game fixation at any rate!

W Score 22/23        Best Bit : Who’s that in Roadblasters?