Turbo Kid


Apple's gonna party like it's 1989.

Apple’s gonna party like it’s 1989.

(2015) Retro Sci-Fi Action (Epic) Munro Chambers, Laurence Leboeuf, Michael Ironside, Edwin Wright, Aaron Jeffrey, Romano Ozari, Orphee Ladouceur, Steeve Léonard, Yves Corbeil, Evan Manoukian, Anouk Whissell, Franҫois Simard, Tyler Hall, Martin Paquette, Pierre Sigouin, Yoann-Karl Whissell, Christian Picone, Eric S. Boisvert, Abdul Ayoola, Nathaly Thibault. Directed by Franҫois Simard, Anouk Whissell and Yoann-Karl Whissell

There was a time when movies just had to be fun, when things like BMX Bandits and Solarbabies filled the 8-screen multiplex with kids and teens. Big floofy hair and a synthesizer-based score were offset by plenty of gore and sex scenes set to power ballads. Mad Max ruled the wasteland and The Last Starfighter soared into deep space. These were good times.

The year is 1997 and acid rain and killer robots have decimated the surface of the earth and reduced the population to a handful of scared townsfolk trembling in the confines of a town on the edge of the badlands, trying to find water wherever they can but most have to get theirs from Zeus (Ironside), the despotic and de facto ruler of the badlands and pretty much anywhere else he can get to on a BMX bike – apparently gasoline is a super-precious commodity that is only used to power cars in emergency situations.

This is the world that the Kid (Chambers) lives in. He’s an orphan who lives in a fallout shelter. He gets by going into the badlands and scavenging for whatever he can find, then trading his goods for water, food and comic books, especially Turbo Rider, the kid’s favorite.

One day he comes across Apple (Leboeuf), a pink-haired chipper happy-go-lucky young girl with ethereal blue eyes. At first the Kid finds her annoying but eventually they become friends and the Kid teaches her the rules of survival. However, the Kid runs afoul of Skeletron (Wright), the right hand man of Zeus which is somewhat ironic because Skeletron has saw blades where his hands should be. In trying to get away, he falls through an ancient door and discovers the Turbo Rider’s suit and power glove, which shoots off a powerful blast of….umm…a powerful blast.

Now armed with a powerful weapon, aided by Frederic (Jeffery), an arm-wrestling champion whose brother was killed by Zeus and whose right arm was chopped off by Zeus and now seeks vengeance. The Kid has his own reasons – first and foremost, Zeus has kidnapped Apple but also nearly as important, it was Zeus and Skeletron who orphaned the kid all those years ago. And before the final confrontation occurs, we discover that Apple has a secret of her own.

As I started watching this, I wasn’t sure whether this was an homage or a spoof of 80s movies and I eventually came to the conclusion that it was the former. Spoofs tend to be mean-spirited but one gets the sense that the filmmakers have a genuine affection for the films and pop culture of the era. The movie is littered with different references to life in the 80s, from the vaguely New Wave synth score to the Legend of Zelda to ViewMasters to rockin’ headbands to the aforementioned BMX bikes to a bazillion cinematic and TV references. The movie began life as a short film that the filmmakers submitted to the ABCs of Death anthology but were not selected; they decided to push on by making a movie of their own based on the short. Either way, Gen X kids are going to get nostalgia overload watching this movie.

There is a ton of gore here but it is not realistic in any sense; blood is essentially red Kool-Aid that fountains from anyone who gets even the merest scratch and while body parts are blown up and limbs scattered everywhere, probably the more freaky images are those of long-dead corpses in the wasteland that are little more than bones and dust.

Chambers is a likable actor who gives the Kid a certain naiveté that is endearing and occasionally annoying, while the out-of-this-world pretty Leboeuf comes off sort of like Goldie Hawn on happy pills. Ironside, a veteran of the sort of films that the movie is paying tribute to, is a bit long in the tooth but still has the gruff skills to make Zeus deliciously hissable.

The special effects are era-specific and look primitive to modern eyes but that’s intentional. In fact, the cheese factor here is off the charts, which some may not appreciate as much as those of us who lived through the era and loved many films from that time. As a matter of fact, I have to say that it brought a nice warm feeling to this reviewer’s gizzards as I was reminded of a whole ton of movies from my misspent youth. Devotees of 80s films will no doubt feel the same, although I think that audiences of a certain age group are going to appreciate this more than younger audiences who might not get the references, at least in any emotionally attached way as a Gen X-er might.

This is a movie that grows on you. Sure, it’s a one-trick pony and maybe you might find it gimmicky and start to get fidgety towards the end but I was definitely in the right frame of mind to experience this movie and fell in love with its goofy charm. No, this isn’t going to win any Oscars but I think it’s got a good shot at being a cult movie that a lot of people are going to adore for a very long time.

REASONS TO GO: Really grows on you. It brings up the warm fuzzies of long ago matinees.
REASONS TO STAY: Cheesy to the max. A bit one-note.
FAMILY VALUES: A decent amount of violence and gore, some foul language and a little bit of sensuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Originally set in a desert wasteland, filming in Quebec – which as far as I know doesn’t resemble a desert wasteland anywhere in the province – was marred by particularly rainy weather. Because of this, the storyline was changed to an environment polluted by acid rain and standing puddles were tinted green by the film crew to simulate this.
BEYOND THE THEATER: VOD (check your local cable/satellite provider), Amazon, iTunes
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/28/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 88% positive reviews. Metacritic: 60/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: A Dog and His Boy
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: Pawn Sacrifice

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Oblivion


 

Morgan Freeman doesn't want Tom Cruise jumping on the couch.

Morgan Freeman doesn’t want Tom Cruise jumping on the couch.

(2013) Science Fiction (Universal) Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Melissa Leo, Zoe Bell, Abigail Lowe, Isabelle Lowe, David Madison, Fileena Bahris, Lindsay Clift, Joanne Bahris, Booch O’Connell, Julie Hardin, Jaylen Moore, Jeremy Sande, Jay Oliver. Directed by Joseph Kosinski   

One wonders why professional critics, who seem to be fairly intelligent and knowledgeable about movies, suddenly seem compelled to spend entire reviews of a movie bashing Tom Cruise and lamenting about his age, his off-screen drama, his acting ability or all of the above.

This movie isn’t about Tom Cruise, it merely stars him. He plays Jack Harper, a glorified repair technician. It’s 2077 and the Earth is essentially a dead planet. Aliens, called Scavs, had invaded the planet some decades earlier and while we won the war we lost the planet. The Scavs blew up the moon, causing massive tidal waves and earthquakes which essentially wiped out a huge chunk of the human race. We in turn launched our nuclear arsenal, destroying the majority of the Scav invading force but rendering most of the planet uninhabitable.

Now the surviving humans live on Titan, with a few still remaining on Earth repairing drones that monitor the planet for the remaining Scavs. Huge intake tanks are pulling up seawater necessary for fusion reactors that mean our survival on Titan. Some live on the Tet (short for Tetrahedron, which is its shape) but others. like Jack, live in cantilevered homes above the clouds; they travel on bubble ships which resemble dragonflies or old-style Bell Helicopters.

Jack and his navigator (who remains in their home and monitors him on a computer console from there) Victoria (Riseborough) have only two weeks left in their tour of duty. Victoria can’t wait to head to Titan but Jack…Jack has misgivings. Jack has doubts. Jack has strange memories of the observation deck at the Empire State Building that he can’t explain, particularly since the Empire State was, like all of New York, wiped out well before Jack was born.

Jack also shouldn’t have memories – his memory, like Victoria’s, was wiped five years ago before his mission started so that important information couldn’t get into the hands of the Scavs. He’s fine with that – duty and honor are big with Jack – but he has nagging questions that he can’t really answer and Sally (Leo) his mission control supervisor in the Tet, isn’t prone to answering them. Jack has found an isolated little valley where there is still water and grass and trees, and a cabin he built there with what trinkets and artifacts he can scavenge which he will miss on Titan most of all. But nothing can prepare Jack for the immense lie he has come to believe and what the truth of what is really out there is. Now Jack is fighting for his planet, along with a mysterious woman (Kurylenko) with connections to his past and a wise leader (Freeman) of a group of survivors who have already figured out the truth – and must convince Jack of that truth or else humanity will fade into the mists of time.

Kosinski’s follow-up to TRON: Legacy is another sci-fi epic. Universal hedged its bets a bit, placing this in an April slot that would shield it from competition with the big summer sci-fi epics which I think was a smart move. There’s plenty of eye candy here from the bubble ships which are hella cool, to the landscapes of ruined Earth which is a clever mixture of desolate Icelandic landscapes and familiar cityscapes from the big Apple.

Cruise does what he needs to do here, and that’s mainly act puzzled. Harper is one of those sorts who was born and bred to be heroic; like the original Mercury 7 or the guys in The Right Stuff his instincts are to do the right thing. That’s right in the wheelhouse of Tom Cruise; few guys can be as charismatic and heroic as he can as he’s proven in films like Jerry Maguire, The Firm and Legend. He has to carry this movie pretty much as he is in virtually every scene so as goes Tom Cruise so goes Oblivion.

He has a pretty decent support cast. Riseborough is a beautiful and talented actress who doesn’t get enough credit from mainstream Hollywood just yet. Freeman and Leo are both proven stars, both Oscar-winning performers who can be counted on to deliver sterling work.

There are a couple of major plot twists here but frankly, you are going to see both of them coming a mile away. The movie really needed a slam-bang ending  but doesn’t get one; it’s more of a fizzle and that’s one of Hollywood’s most grievous sins of late – the inability to write a good ending to a movie.

The gee-whiz factor is up there and with Cruise onscreen most of the time, they get the benefit of having one of Hollywood’s most charismatic stars keeping the audience’s attention riveted where the filmmakers want it. This is a solid movie that will keep your eye candy craving satisfied at least until the summer begins.

REASONS TO GO: Cruise is, whatever else he might be, a compelling star. Pretty cool gadgets and visual effects.

REASONS TO STAY: The twists aren’t particularly hard to figure out. Sputters towards the end.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is some violence, a bit of nudity and sexuality and some harsh language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The painting used in the film is “Christina’s World” by Andrew Wyeth.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/4/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 56% positive reviews. Metacritic: 54/100; about as mixed a reception as you can get.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Star Trek: The Motion Picture

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: The Company We Keep

The Secret World of Arrietty (Kari-gurashi no Arrietti)


The Secret World of Arrietty

Pod and Arrietty on a mission in the world of the Beans.

(2010) Anime (Disney) Starring the voices of Bridgit Mendler, Amy Poehler, Carol Burnett, Will Arnett, David Henrie, Moises Arias, Peter Jason, Frank Marshall, Karey Kirkpatrick, Gracie Poletti. Directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi and Gary Rydstrom

 

People come in all shapes and sizes. It is said that the smaller the person the greater the heart and being the brother of a sister who is small in size I can attest to the truth of this. You can’t always predict how courageous a person is going to be based on their size.

Shawn (Henrie) is a very sick boy. He has a bad heart and is in need of surgery. His doctors have advocated bed rest, quiet and above all no excitement. His Aunt Jessica (Poletti) – Shawn’s closest living relative since his parents have both passed away – has decided to take him to the country house where she and her sister (Shawn’s mom) grew up. There he’ll be cared for by Hara (Burnett), a kind of combination nanny and housekeeper.

Hara and Shawn aren’t the only ones in the house though. Underneath the floorboards lives a family of people just a few inches tall. They are members of a race called Borrowers – scavengers who live on items that the people won’t miss. This particular family is made up of Pod (Arnett) the taciturn dad, Homily (Poehler) the hysterical mom and 14-year-old Arrietty (Mendler), their fearless daughter. She has come of age and is old enough to go on “borrowings” with her dad although she longs to see the rest of the world. She has ventured out into the garden where she was spotted by sharp-eyed Shawn.

While on the borrowing she pinches a sugar cube but during the adventure she finds Shawn awake in his room and she accidentally drops the sugar. She and Pod escape but she is ashamed to tell Homily she dropped the sugar they needed. However, Shawn has figured out who they are and where they live and thoughtfully leaves the sugar cube where Arrietty can find it.

Arrietty and Shawn become friends, although there is plenty of mistrust on Arrietty’s part. Pod has seen it before; humans see a Borrower, Borrowers have to leave. It’s too dangerous and so it is again this time, although not from Shawn – Hara you see has also figured out that the little people she’s been ridiculed for believing in her entire life are real and right there before her, ready to vindicate her for the years of being made the fool.

This is the most recent film from the Japanese anime producers Studio Ghibli, the home of acclaimed director Hayao Miyazaki (he produced and wrote the screenplay although he didn’t direct it). It’s based on the beloved children’s novel by Mary Norton.

Like most Studio Ghibli films, there is an inherent sense of whimsy that pervades the whole movie from start to finish. Unlike some animated features which push the silliness, this is a more gentle feeling. They don’t hit you in the face with the pop culture references or with the zaniness; there is heart here as there is in the best Pixar movies.

There are some very poignant moments. Shawn has had a difficult go of things; both parents dead and himself facing his own mortality very young. The filmmakers wisely don’t turn Shawn into some sort of martyr figure; there are moments where his heart issues are evident (he tires easily and he sometimes stumbles) but it isn’t front and center. Rather, it is an issue that is much on his mind and in one scene, he talks to Arrietty about it.

Also like most Studio Ghibli films, the animation is breathtaking. It is not three-dimensional like Pixar is known for, but more of a traditional animated look. It’s actually art come to life, like a painting with motion. The look is amazing and the Borrower’s environment is clever. Yeah there are a few issues with proportion – the cockroaches are about the same size as Arrietty and she is also the same size as the rats. If the cockroaches are the same size as the rats, I am not visiting Japan anytime soon. However that’s a fairly minor point. I will say that the film has a distinctly Japanese feel; those who are suspicious of anime for that reason will probably not enjoy this.

That would be a bummer; this is one of the best animated films you’re likely to see this year. People who don’t like anime or have a view of it that it’s big-eyed “Speed Racer” clones with bad animation and weak plots, or worse, “Sailor Moon” cutesy pie crap. This is a beautiful, heart-warming animated feature that is going to appeal to audiences of all ages; I can’t think of a single reason not to pack the family into the mini-van and head on out to the multiplex to see this.

REASONS TO GO: Another great Studio Ghibli film. Beautiful animation and a heartwarming story that is familiar to American audiences.

REASONS TO STAY: A little Japan-centric for those who are wary of Anime.

FAMILY VALUES: Perfectly suitable for all ages.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The UK and Japanese versions of the movie have different voice actors.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/22/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 93% positive reviews. Metacritic: 81/100. The reviews are outstanding.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Borrowers

RAIN LOVERS: Much of the movie takes place on rainy days and the artists at Studio Ghibli take great pains to make the background art for those particular scenes to look magical rather than grey and dull.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW:Safe House