In this exciting episode we turn our attention to the matter of live action adaptations of animations. Why? How dare you question us, insolent pup!
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One of many 1980s cartoons designed primarily to sell toys, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe was a very popular part of my early childhood, as it was for a great many people of my generation. No great surprise, then, that Mattel should seek to take this already purely commercial enterprise from the small screen to the big in order to milk even more money out of the parents of children who loved the adventures of Man-At-Arms, Orco, Skeletor and The Sorceress. They didn’t half make some odd decisions in doing so, though.
Firstly, there is the name. While the toy series was called “Masters of the Universe”, the cartoon series was called He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, known to pretty much every child simply as “He-Man”. So naturally what you should do when making a film from your successful cartoon is to drop the name He-Man from the film entirely. Similarly, to ensure success, you should largely cut your iconic locations, such as Castle Grayskull, seen only fleetingly from the outside as a decidedly crappy matte painting, and indeed move the action almost entirely from the fantastical alien world Eternia to areas around Los Angeles; children being well-known for being captivated by incredibly ordinary urban streets.
Next, drop many of the cartoon series’ most recognisable characters (including, unforgivably, Cringer/Battle Cat) and shift much of the attention from He-Man onto a couple of incredibly bland inhabitants of Earth, who have no swords or magical powers of any sort. Boy, these producers really know how to appeal to kids…
Many bad decisions were made, though they’re not inexplicable, at least not if you noticed the large Cannon Films logo as the film starts. This explains all (though doesn’t excuse it, of course). We are however, thankfully, spared the moralising coda that plagued the end of each cartoon episode.
I should probably at least mention the plot, so here goes: He-Man and his comrades are being overwhelmed by Skeletor’s forces, and are forced to leave Eternia. They do this by means of a “Cosmic Key”, which is basically a teleporter-like device. It malfunctions, though, and they end up in the US in the mid-80s, but without the key. They then spend much of the film looking for the key with the help of a couple of bland Earthlings, while evading Skeletor’s lieutenant, Evil-Lyn, who is also looking for the key for reasons I can’t recall and don’t care enough about to look up. They find the key and return to fight Skeletor, who turns into a golden disco super final form Skeletor, and there’s a fight.
The standout thing here (and, really, the only good thing) is Skeletor. Played, unrecognisably, by Frank Langella, and undeniably hamstrung by not having Alan Oppenheimer’s truly iconic laugh, he’s actually a pretty good villain. The Skeletor mask is very good, and stands up remarkably well in high definition. The variant of the film’s finale, Bling Skeletor, is also, frankly, magnificent.
That’s really it for the positives, though. Most of the characters are forgettable at best, and while He-Man himself wasn’t the most interesting character, the cartoon version at least had bags more personality than Dolph Lundgren (probably the least charismatic of that crop of 80s muscle-bound action stars).
A post-credits scene features Skeletor saying “I’ll be back!”, which I take as a threat from the film-makers, rather than the character, but it certainly hasn’t been so thus far, despite several people, including David S. Goyer, McG, Joe Cornish and even John Woo being associated with it over the years. Probably for the best, I fancy.
I’m not sure if it’s a fault with my age-addled brain or the memorability of mid-2000’s Charlize Theron vehicle Aeon Flux that I couldn’t recall much of anything about it. I suppose that’s why I write things down, and 2006’s iteration of Scott Morris appears to have really hated it (http://www.theoneliner.com/film564.html). 2018’s new and deteriorated version of the Scott Morris Experience is a rather more mellow, or perhaps just more exhausted beast, and can’t bring himself to muster quite the same levels of ire for this flick, even if most of the earlier criticisms are, well, more or less still true.
Aeon Flux adapts the MTV animated series that I’ve seen a few episodes of, but am by no means an expert in. I do know enough to know that it contains some pretty interesting stuff, and would warrant more discussion than we’d be able to go into here to cover properly, but as this is a relatively loose adaptation, I suppose I’ll leave that as an exercise for the interested. This takes a rather more mundane approach to the Aeon Flux world, which is an odd thing to say about a film with a woman who has hands for feet and Pete Postlethwaite dressed as a burrito.
Set in a future that’s seen humanity reduced to one walled city, Bregna, after a virus wipes out the rest of the world, scientist Trevor Goodchild (Marton Csokas) leads the ruling council of what seems on the surface to be a happy populace living in comfort, apart from the odd strange nightmare. However, any hint of rebellion is dealt with swiftly, with the technogestapo “disappearing” anyone suspected of seditious leanings – just like the current Spanish government.
This is the fate that befell the sister of our titular hero, mistaken for Aeon after she joined the underground resistance, the Monicans, named after Courtney Cox’s character in Friends. Rising to become their top assassin, Aeon is eventually tasked with putting her deadly skills to use killing Goodchild.
Meanwhile, Goodchild has his own issues, his brother Sick Boy (Johnny Lee Millar) pushing at the edges of his authority in what’s eventually revealed to be a coup attempt, with him manipulating the resistance into getting rid of his too respected to move against brother. When presented with the opportunity, however, Aeon finds she can’t bring herself to kill him, given pause by flashes of memories that couldn’t have happened.
Well, turns out, and spoiler warning for a thirteen year old film, it did happen, just not in this lifetime. The virus left humanity sterile, and the council of scientists decided the best way forward was to keep this a secret and just keep implanting people with clones in a sort of holding pattern for 400 years until the Goodchild scientific dynasty could come up with a cure. It turns out Trevor just had, and Sick Boy wasn’t too keen on the expected loosening of the reigns of power.
So then, Aeon and Trevor must convince the Monicans of this truth, despite her currently being seen as a traitor, and go up against Sick Boy and his generic jackbooted thugs in order to save what’s left of humanity from this tyranny.
Director Karyn Kusama claims the studio recut the film against her wishes, saying it was too arty to succeed. I’d like to have seen that, as this version, pitched as a sci-fi action film, is pretty bad at the action side of that threat. Curiously, I probably appreciate that side of it more now than on initial release, as at the very least a lot of it isn’t the pure CGI snoozefests that have come to define modern tentpole action films. It’s still below par, though.
Sadly, as is the rest of this film. Again, I can appreciate it more now than then, with the 2018 version of the Scott Morris Experience being much more appreciative of any big-budget multiplex fodder that’s less homogenous than the usual Disney-Marvel-Star Wars entertainment complex outing. And Aeon Flux is certainly different, and there’s some solid sci-fi ideas here that I’d love to have seen explored further.
However, it doesn’t, and the scenes between Csokas and Theron in particular are as flat as a pancake which really undermines the central premise. I like Johnny Lee Miller in a lot of works, most recently Elementary which is by a distance the most enjoyable modern twist on Sherlock Holmes, but this isn’t one of those works.
These days I’d consider this more a failed attempt at something interesting and resignedly move on to watching another generally indistinguishable comic book adaptation – I certainly can’t bring myself to be angry about it, and the 9% Rotten Tomatoes score seems unduly low. Still, I’m certainly not recommending this to anyone apart from hard core science fiction or catsuit enthusiasts.
Incidentally, where on earth did this “genetic memories” trope come from? It is silly.
I think it’s fair to say that the majority of the films we’re talking about in this episode are, or are based on, relatively obscure, niche or largely forgotten properties. But one is based on perhaps one of the most famous animations of all time, being the first animated show to have a primetime slot on US TV (three decades before The Simpsons made primetime, and something which is still a very rare thing, even more so on this side of the Atlantic). I speak of Hanna-Barbera’s prehistoric sitcom, The Flintstones.
Set in the Stone Age, yet also Jurassic and Triassic and Cambrian… look, what I’m saying is that I doubt the historical and temporal veracity of this cartoon with the domesticated dinosaurs, talking animals and foot-powered cars… anyway, set in the Stone Age town of Bedrock (pop. 2500, “First With Fire”). Look, is there really anyone who doesn’t know The Flintstones? Is such a thing possible? At the very least you’re going to have seen those horrendously dated clips of Wilma, Fred and Barney selling Winston cigarettes to the families of America.
Apparently based on another sitcom, The Honeymooners (how accurate this is I don’t know, because I know nothing about The Honeymooners and have only ever heard it referred to when people say that Sitcom X is just “The Honeymooners in space/in the stone age/under the sea/in a hospital/with dolphins, for pretty much sitcom ever), The Flintstones is a pretty familiar format: oafish, foolish but non-malicious lunk with inexplicably loving wife gets into scrapes and wacky misadventures, often with similarly foolish but slightly smarter neighbour/friend, rinse and repeat. At least The Flintstones, though, had quite a bit more variety than Hanna-Barbera’s bafflingly enduring Scooby Doo, with its one plot.
The film doesn’t stray from its TV-bound origin, instead largely stretching (or perhaps scraping would be a better word) a plot that would seem at home in an episode across 90 minutes. Fred is set up as a good guy as he has used his and Wilma’s savings to help their friends and neighbours The Rubbles have enough money to adopt a child, and we see him as a popular blokey bloke at his job at the quarry. To try to repay him for his aid, Barney Rubble switches his test paper for a competitive job examination with Fred’s, which sees Fred unexpectedly promoted to Vice President of Being a Patsy for Evil Kyle MacLachlan’s Embezzling Scheme. The money goes to Fred’s head, and he alienates his friends before realising that he’s being set up and trying to rectify matters.
I remember disliking The Flintstones when I saw it back in 1994. This time around I found I could appreciate much more, and I really wanted to like it more, but… well, I just couldn’t. What I really do appreciate is the clear effort that went into making Bedrock seem like the cartoon: the producers didn’t cheap out, and the buildings, cars and creatures really do look just like they did in the animation. To achieve this the sets and props had to be made from polystyrene, papier-mâché and fibreglass and, sadly, they look like sets and props made from polystyrene, papier-mâché and fibreglass: the only things of substance in this film are the lithic names.
It’s a mixed bag acting-wise, with John Goodman doing about as a good a job as I can imagine anyone doing with Fred, and Elizabeth Perkins is fine as Wilma. Rick Moranis even manages not to be his usual objectionable presence as Barney, but Rosie O’Donnell as his wife Betty is a questionable decision at best. It’s largely downhill from there, though, with the biggest problem for me being the waste of Kyle MacLachlan. Halle Berry as Fred’s conniving secretary is, as she is in most films, there, and not a lot else can be said for her. And then there’s Elizabeth Taylor as Wilma’s mother who, I assume, was stunt-casting, but even twenty years ago I’m sure to many people must have been who?-casting. Her performance here is a far cry from her roles in the likes of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and I imagine to many in the audience she was far less a once-great actress and more “that lady with all the husbands who’s friends with Michael Jackson and who sells perfume”.
But the biggest problem is the story, which is thin and simply boring, and just not able to sustain 90 minutes of screentime.
In the end it’s an incredible facsimile of the cartoon on which it is based, but The Flintstones has very little else to offer. A lot of effort for little reward.
I’d let this one sail by me on its 2008 release – the Wachowski’s conclusions to the Matrix films not being quite everything that was hoped for, and having neither seen nor heard of Speed Racer in my puff, leaving this Japaniadaptation very much notly anticipated.
On this first viewing, then, I’m quite surprised to find that it was a box office flop, as there’s a lot to like in here. Eighteen year old Speed Racer (Emile Hirsch) has overcome the death of his elder brother Rex in the dangerous Casa Cristo 5000 rally to start to carve a name for himself, taking the family’s tiny racing team back to the top, to the delight of Speed’s mother and father (Susan Sarandon and John Goodman).
This draws the attention of the big guns of the racing world, such as the seemingly avuncular E.P. Arnold Royalton (Roger Allam), CEO of Royalton Industries who wants to sign Speed to his team. While tempted by the offer and the well resourced team, Speed remains loyal to his family, at which point the mask slips and the reality of the corrupt world of racing is revealed to Speed.
At the risk of shortcutting a bunch of the plot, Speed must join forces with the mysterious Racer X and the harmoniously named Inspector Detector to bring these corrupt forces down and return the sport to purity, mainly through the medium of bonkers CG race sequences. There’s a few more twists and turns to maintain interest, of course, but the draw here is, at least supposed to be the racing, not the plot.
I suppose the one word summary of this would be “energetic”? Perhaps closely followed by “exhausting”, and “puzzling”. It has a quite well defined world and primary coloured asthetic that’s almost overwhelming at points, which I’m sure is the intent, along with the action scenes that come close to being defined an an assault. It’s so relentless that you never stop to question why, for instance, Speed’s younger brother’s best friend is a chimp.
I guess I can see why it didn’t have universal appeal – I’m not sure if its stylings are directly lifted from the animated series or are taken to extremes here, but it’s certainly unlike other tentpole releases, and the polar opposite of the grimdark stylings of The Wachowskis’ previous works like The Matrix and Dial V for Viennetta, their watermark ice-cream delivery based film.
Clearly this is aimed at a much younger audience than any of their other films, and as a grumpy auld yin, I can’t really comment on how successfully it plays to that demo, but it seems like it ought to be entertaining. Certainly, I was entertained, and I suppose my mental age is about six, so maybe it was aimed at me after all. It’s briskly paced, brightly coloured, and overwhelmingly enthusiastic. I can’t imagine what watching this in 3D must have been like. My eyeballs would have melted.
I don’t have much else to say about Speed Racer, other than to say it’s pretty well acted where it needs to be, as you might expect from Goodman, Sarandon, Allam, and the rest of a pretty decent cast. It’s perhaps all just a bit too much, but there’s room for wanton excess in cinema. Well worth looking at, if you’ve avoided it until now.
DuJour means seatbelts. DuJour means crash positions!
Based on a short-running 1970s Hanna-Barbera cartoon, itself based on a strip in Archie Comics, neither of which I had heard of until after the first time I watched this, Josie and the Pussycats is the story of an all-female band finding (literal) overnight fame, and the fallout of the stresses and strains this puts on their friendship. That reasonably straight-forward premise is given a twist by the reason for their overnight success: when the über-popular Backstreet Boys-like band DuJour have an “accident” shortly after questioning their producer Wyatt (Alan Cumming) about the unusual backing track on their latest single, Wyatt and his boss Fiona (Parker Posey) must quickly find a new musical sensation to sell to the masses. And why?
Well it’s a well-known fact, Sonny-Jim, that there’s a secret society of the 5 wealthiest people in the world, known as The Pentavirate, who run everything in the world, including the newspapers, and meet tri-annually at a secret country mansion in Colorado known as The Middows. So who’s in this Pentavirate? The Queen, the Vatican, the Gettys, the Rothschilds…and MegaRecords CEO Fiona!
The band’s music is impregnated with subliminal messages urging consumption and promoting new trends, and Fiona’s plan will culminate in a massive, globally-streamed concert by The Pussycats which will unconsciously affect the brains of huge swathes of the world’s youth with Fiona’s sinister agenda.
Josie and the Pussycats is very knowing, and even fourth wall-breaking, with lines like Missi Pyle’s Alexandra’s “I’m here because I was in the comic book” when asked why she is with the band as they travel. A lot of it is very arch, and could quite easily fail but for me it really works, including its comments on product placement and consumption, like a movie-long extension of that scene in Wayne’s World with the Pepsi and Reebok.
I like Parker Posey so much in Christopher Guest’s work so I’m a little disappointed that she isn’t utilised more as hers is a fairly minor character, but it’s The Pussycats that are the heart of the thing, and I like them quite a lot.
Tara Reid, here at the crest of the small wave she rode from The Big Lebowski to American Pie and its first sequel before sinking to appearances in 5 (FIVE) Sharknado films has been much maligned, but she’s an engaging and likeable presence as the detached but harmless drummer Melody, and if you aren’t at least a little tickled by her dropping her sponge every time she claps along to the song she’s singing in the shower, you’re probably some kind of monster.
Rachael Leigh Cook is probably the most forgettable of the three, odd considering that she plays Josie, the ostensible star, but she’s quite a pleasant presence. I think perhaps she suffers from not being particularly believable when called upon to become bitchy and evil for a while, still seeming too much like the bubbly and chipper character that she is for the bulk of the film.
The third member of the band is Valerie, played by a then mostly unknown Rosario Dawson. I largely approve of all things Rosario Dawson, and so it is here.
This is a film about a band, and, though I’m not a big pop guy, there are some fun, catchy and energetic songs woven throughout the film that keep things moving along nicely, and I remain more amused by DuJour’s “Backdoor Lover” than a grown man ought to be.
Josie and the Pussycats is a slight thing to be sure, but it’s good-natured, fun (and funny) and I was very happy to revisit it. It is also, by quite some margin, the most enjoyable thing I watched for this episode, particularly in that it was a thing that I watched for this episode that I actually enjoyed.
The Guyver, in its original animated form, forms part of the wave of “edgy” Japanese animation that washed over Britain post-Akira that managed to gain a cultural foothold, amongst at least the “spotty teenage geek” subculture I was doomed to at the time. For those keeping track, I have now progressed to “spotty decrepit auld geek”. That series, along with a few in retrospect equally unworthy contenders like Urotsukidōji focused on providing more of the mutant body horror and violence aspects that I suppose someone decided was the reason Akira was successful, was released on appallingly dubbed VHS to mild success here, and I presume elsewhere, enough to warrant this 1991 adaptation.
Hey! It’s Mark Hamill! In a film and not playing famous Jedi Lucas Airbender! Here he’s CIA Agent Max Reed, trying to figure out who murdered Dr. Tetsu Segawa. Spoiler warning: it was agents of the shadowy Chronos Corporation, displeased with his attempts to defect with the dangerous alien device, “The Guyver”. The goons sent to kill him fail to recover the unit, however, and it winds up in the hands of martial arts student Sean Barker (Jack Armstrong), boyfriend to Dr. Segawa’s daughter Mizki (Vivian Wu).
This device turns out to be a biomechanical power suit that implants itself into Sean, allowing him access to greatly levelled up punching and kicking ability. He’ll soon be needing that, as the Chronos Corporation send their apparently powerful elite mutant soldiers, the Zoanoids, to recapture the Guyver unit, taking Mizki as leverage. The Zonaoids, often disturbingly designed monsters in the animated series, are played here by some berks in rubber suits.
And so it goes, with Sean forced to take on the entirety of the Chronos Corporation while struggling to understand just what kind of monster he has become. This sounds almost like it could be interesting, so let me assure you that it is not.
I am, perhaps, expecting too much from a film directed by someone happy to call himself Screaming Mad George. I’ll accept that kind of frivolity from someone standing for Parliament perhaps, but not from a director hoping to capture the essence of the classic source material. I say classic. I suppose “dreadful” is a more accurate term, so I take it back, Georgey-boy (or Joji Tani, as his mother might call him) has done all that could be expected, aided by co-director Steve Wang who went on to direct the less terrible, but still terrible sequel.
There wasn’t a lot of positives to take from the animated show, to be fair, but its creature design was at least striking, and to a degree that’s happened here, but I think Masters of the Universe wore out my Power Rangers man in rubber suit tolerance for this episode and I wasn’t feeling the action sequences here at all. There’s a bit too much of a focus on slapstick comedy, which isn’t really a common element of body horror for I trust fairly obvious reasons.
While the Guyver suit is, to be fair, much better designed and executed than the poor bastards he’s fighting, there is one critical problem with it. That being the numpty inside it. How someone quite so charisma-less wound up being cast in the lead role is a mystery, and he stands out as being particularly bad in a cast that’s competing quite strongly for the position of “least good”.
Bad acting, bad action, a contrived plot, and little to no fun whatsoever. I don’t think I’ve much else to add here. This film is, and let’s be scrupulously fair here, hot garbage. Avoid.
Thanks to everyone who has got in touch with us on this, or said kind words about the show – it’s all very much appreciated.
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