Posts Tagged ‘sci fi’

Don’t let me catch you giving any muffins to those little beggars outside!

Year Released : 1985

Director : Jim and Ken Wheat

Cast : Warwick Davis, Wilford Brimley, Aubree Miller, Paul Gleason, Carel Struykcen and Sian Phillips

Another VHS that I found at my parents house whilst I was clearing out some old belongings, “Ewoks : Battle for Endor” was the first film from the Star Wars universe that I ever actually saw. Obviously this isn’t part of the main film franchise, but it can still be considered canon for the universe given that it was written by George Lucas, so was part of the intended set up.

Unlike my last review for “Mac and Me“, I have actually seen this in the relatively recent past before I rewatch for reviewing purposes, and I seem to remember enjoying it when I watched it in my late twenties. However, as I mentioned during the aforementioned review, I now don’t view films in the same way that I did before due to reviewing them as a hobby just under three years ago. That’s the one thing that they never tell you about film reviewing, it soon becomes very difficult to watch a film without being able to notice all of the little errors. I can’t remember the last time I was able to sit back and just enjoy a film.

But away, time will tell if this film is what I remember it to be.

Plot

Some time after crashing on the moon of Endor, Cindel (Miller) has befriended the Ewok community that helped in the Battle of Endor several years before, especially Wicket (Davis). Just when their ship is close to being repaired they are attacked by a group or marauders and all of Cindel’s remaining family are killed because of a power source, as well as her and a large group of Ewoks being captured by Terak (Struycken) and his witch Charal (Philips).

Cindel and Wicket escape and are greeted by a fast creature named Teek that helps them find a cabin the woods, helping themselves to the food inside. Noa (Brimley), the owner of the cabin, soon returns and is far from happy but eventually agrees to house them for the night. Noa reveals that he has a ship that could get them off the planet, and when Cindel is tricked into being kidnapped by Charal, it’s decided to double the efforts and get the power source that Terak stole.

It soon turns into a much later battle between the Ewoks and the race of marauders.

As good as I remembered?

It’s hard to really say whether it was as good as I remembered because I recall it being fairly decent, and whilst I didn’t dislike it on this viewing, it felt somewhat humble to the point that you couldn’t ever really get into it.

The problem is that you are literally following a child, several puppets or people in costumes, and only two adult characters, one of which isn’t given any development whatsoever. Unfortunately there isn’t a lot to really get invested in because let’s face it, when was the last time you saw a film in which a small child went on a mission and didn’t achieve it? It makes it a bit uncompelling in that sense…..but it’s not a bad film.

I think the best word to describe it would be “quaint”. It’s a nice little science fiction film, with a bit of fantasy thrown in, but one thing that it definitely doesn’t feel like is a Star Wars universe film, that despite being set in the same universe. It’s hard to really call this a Star Wars film because there is very little that it has in common with the rest of the franchise, other than the Ewoks and the odd sign of technology from the series. In many ways this is more of a fantasy film given that Tarek’s army looks more like a bunch of half decomposed dead bodies, and the addition of a witch that can turn herself into a bird at any point.

That’s not to say that it’s not a bad thing that it’s not like a lot of the Star Wars films as I’m not a big fan of that franchise. I like them, but not to the point where I think they deserve the praise that they get so easily in the media.

This is a much darker film than you would expect for most other kids films. Granted, this was the 1980s and standards back then for children were less strict, afterall, the original Star Wars franchise were Universals and yet had people stabbing each other, cutting arms off, etc, but “Battle for Endor” could in some ways be considered a horror-fantasy for kids. The design of the marauders is off putting, you have very dark and unsettling environments, and the character of Noa, who I would remind everyone is a protagonist, is quite a scary (well, by the standards of films aimed at kids) old man at various points. Granted, at times Noa is also a very friendly man in his grandfather style role and relationship with Cindel, but even so.

Visually the film is reasonably quaint considering the low budget and time in which it was made. It has a pleasant enough soundtrack and as I say, certainly isn’t a bad film in how it’s been made.

Summary

Just because this is part of the “Star Wars” franchise, don’t go in expecting it to be anything like that main series as it is anything but. It’s certainly not a bad film and is a quaint science fiction film that borders on being close to a horror movie for children.

As this was apparently made for TV, don’t go in expecting a top of the range film, it isn’t. Whilst not awful, there are a few minor issues that whilst I can overlook, certainly mean that I can’t give it the approved stamp.

Not sure what else to say really.

Year Released : 1988

Director : Stewart Raffill

Cast : Jade Calegory, Christine Ebersole, Jonathan Ward, Katrina Caspary and Lauren Stanley

I’ve mentioned a few times during this site that I do find it odd when I watch films that I saw when I was young, mainly because they’re often not even close to being as good as I remembered. This has happened with numerous films that I’ve reviewed on this site, but I get the feeling none will come as close as this.

My parents are currently downsizing and therefore I’m currently on holiday so I can go through a lot of my old stuff to help them save space, and I found a VHS of “Mac and Me” (as well as a lot of older films, expect quite a few reviews of older films coming up), a film that I enjoyed a lot in my youth, but I haven’t watched it in what I estimate to be around 25 years. Since then I’ve regularly seen this film on many countdowns of the worst films ever made, including many saying that it’s a glorified McDonalds advert, so when I found the VHS I decided that it was time to relive this and see if it didn’t hold up anymore.

Hopefully this will prove to be as enjoyable as it was during my youth, but I very much doubt it as I’m now in my thirties and I’d like to think my tastes were better than back then.

Plot

A family of aliens are going about their everyday lives on their home planet when a NASA rock sampling machine accidentally sucks them up. When the machine returns to Earth the family is able to escape, but they get separated from their infant son, who finds his way into the back of a family car.

Eric (Calegory) is the youngest of the family and they’re moving from Chicago to California to make it easier for his spina bifida, but as soon as they arrive at their new home the alien starts causing trouble. The first morning sees Eric accidentally going down a hill in his wheelchair and crashing into the lake at the bottom of the cliff. He is rescued by the alien, although his family refuses to believe that this happened and gets him professional help as his mother thinks it might have been a suicide attempt.

Eventually he and neighbour Debbie (Stanley) catch the alien, which he dubs MAC (mysterious alien creature), and this proves it to Michael (Ward), but as more people find out about MAC’s existence, the more his life is in danger.

Is it as bad as people have said it is, or is it actually reasonable?

Well I’ll say one thing, it definitely wasn’t as good as I remembered it being.

Let’s start with the main point of contention that the majority have for this film, the product placements. During all of the ridicule for it I thought that the comments on product placement were exaggerated, but they really aren’t. During my viewing I noticed skittles, Gatorade, McDonalds and Coke on such a regular basis that it did start feeling like a feature length advert. I would love to know what amount of the budget was dedicated to Coke cans because they are in nearly every scene. One of the common jokes with “Fight Club” was that there was a Starbucks cup in every single scene, and I think “Mac and Me” does the exact same thing with Coke.

Having said that, it’s not as sinful as the constant references to McDonalds get in the second half of the film, including a full on dance scene in a McDonalds restaurant that just appears out of nowhere. I’ve worked in McDonalds twice during my life and can assure you that there are no dance contests, not even at kids parties. The McDonalds references aren’t even subtle, including below conversation;

Michael : ‘So, McDonalds huh?’ (Referring to Katrina’s uniform)

Debbie (Katrina’s little sister) : ‘Yeah, why don’t you stop for a Big Mac?’

And the next minute, literally the very next minute;

Michael : Know what I feel like?’

Eric : A Big Mac?

Michael : You’re a genius!

If you must insist on forcing product placement down our throats then please don’t make it so unsubtle. I’ve never seen anything like it and I can definitely see why this has caused a lot of people to criticise the film. I realise that these films have to get their money in some how, but to do it to this extent is just beyond defensible. I can’t think of a single reason to stick up for the film in this respect.

Had this not had the product placement then I think it would have certainly had more of a chance with critics and the general viewing public but I found myself unable to stop laughing at how poorly it was made in that sense. I notice product placement a lot more than I did before I started reviewing films, but at least other films try and integrate it subtlety, something which doesn’t happen here.

So ignoring the product placement, to be fair it’s not actually an awful film, it’s passable in a small way. It does contain a LOT of cliches, but this was released in the eighties so it would be unfair to criticise it for cliches by the standards of today given that a lot of them did actually start in the eighties, and wouldn’t have been regarded as cliches at the time of release.

The acting is fine (considering what they had to work with) and the characters are likeable, if a little one dimensional, but it doesn’t surprise me that not a single member of the principle cast had a lasting career in Hollywood.

To put this in some sort of context, the film currently has a rating of 3.4/10 on IMDB. Had it not been for the product placement then I’d say it was a solid 5/10, albeit slightly generously.

I’m really struggling to come up with a true positive from the film, other than the exceptionally laudable decision to actually give a role of a kid with spina bifida to a young actor that actually had that condition himself. It would have been far too easy to give it to just anyone, so to give an opportunity to a disabled actor is commendable.

 

Summary

If you can get past the multiple product placements then you might enjoy this as it’s a nice enough little sci-fi film, albeit without being spectacular. I really wanted to say something nice about a film that I loved when I was a child, but unfortunately I couldn’t think of something that was noteworthy in a positive sense.

I really can’t think of anything majorly positive about “Mac and Me” and in many ways I wish I had left it in the past. If you’re going to put this on for your young children then yes, they might enjoy it, but anyone over the age of about seven or eight might start to notice the things that would stop this being a fun film.

It’s not something I would urge you to avoid, but it certainly isn’t one that I can recommend that you watch.

The fugitive returns with me or dies on your ship. I don’t really care which!

Year Released : 2016Untitled2
Director: Tommy Kraft
Cast : Paul Lang, Marc Bowers, Ryan Webber, Callie Bussell, Jeannine Thompson, Ashley Croft, Tom McClure, Tom Kaiser and Ryan Husk

There are few better moments as a film fan than when a film that you’ve been looking forward to for a long time gets released. To sum up how long it is since I saw the trailer for “Star Trek : Horizon”, if you had gone to the Youtube playlist that I created of the films I wanted to see (it be be gone by the time you read this), you would see this as the second entry on the list. Given how much I chop and change the list (I’ve had about 70 movies on there over the last year or so) on a regular basis, it says it all that this was number two (please note that it is based on when I added the video to the list, not the films actually in order of when I’d like to see them).

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Now there’s one thing that you may have learnt about me from my “Star Trek : Renegade” (which isn’t linked to this film) review, I grew up as a Star Trek fan. It was one of the few things me and my dad actually did together when growing up, it was our thing (by the way, before anyone thinks it, he was, and still is married to my mother, we just didn’t do a lot together), and I grew to love the franchise. In recent days I have also been watching the two JJ Abrams reboot films again, as well as the trailer for “Star Trek : Beyond”, and it has gotten me excited to see this, even though I didn’t even know it was out at the time.

The reason I mention this is that because I am a fan of the franchise, I will be a lot harsher on this film than normal. I go into most films open minded, however, much like comic books films and their fans, there is a certain standard to be met. Now don’t get me wrong, I appreciate that this is a low budget film and required crowd funding to get going, but that counts for nothing in this review.

Plot

Set early on in Earth’s early adventures into space, long before the days of Captain Kirk and the Enterprise, Captain Hawke (Lang) and his crew barely survive an attack by three Romulan warbirds, all lead by Admiral Verak (Husk). They are saved at the last minute by another Federation ship. The crew spend several days mourning their dead, but they are quickly sent back out to investigate a weapon that the Romulans are alledgely building two light years from Earth.

They are also assigned a new crew member, T’mar (Bussell), a woman who has spent the last 17 years helping the Romulan Empire before betraying them. Tensions are high as many of the crew blame T’mar for the death of their friends, but they begrudgingly admit that they need her knowledge of the empire. When they arrive at the station, they use new torpedoes to destroy it, but in doing so they disrupt a temporal rift and they are flung to a galaxy several million light years from Earth.

Stopping near a planet, the crew decide to investigate it as there is a huge power source emanating from the planet, however, it turns out that it is an ancient weapon that can be used to destroy anything and anyone, and at the controls is a 28th century Romulan with a grudge against Earth.

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So, did it make me into an angry Trekkie?

No, not particularly, whilst I wasn’t massively impressed by “Horizon” (I’m simply going to call it that), it’s certainly not a bad effort by everyone involved.

I’m going to start with the negatives and my main gripe with “Horizon” is that it feels lazy in places and recycles plot points from the previous movies and the TV shows. For example, being flung to a far away place in the universe is a key plot point in the “Next Generation” episodes “Where No One Has Gone Before” and the excellent “Q Who” (most notable because is was the first appearance of the primary antagonists of the Star Trek franchise, the Borg), and it was also the main plot point of the whole run of the “Voyager” series. Many aspects of the film feel recycled, right down to the part of the film which lens flares are also heavily feature.

You’ve also got a Romulan from the future determined to destroy Earth because he feels that the Federation did nothing to protect Romulus (the Romulan home world for you non-Trekkies) after the local star went supernova (what could they do), and the captain must do what he can to protect Earth, which is near enough the EXACT plot of the JJ Abrams reboot in 2009.

I’ve always personally felt that the Romulans were always generally poor antagonists. They’ve never felt like a genuine threat in any element of any part of Star Trek, with the exception of the JJ Abram’s 2009 reboot film. The main antagonist (arguably) is Admiral Verak and he never feels like a genuine threat. Even when delivering the line at of dialogue that I have posted at the top of this post, I still never got the feeling that he was a genuine threat. I know that given the time setting, the list of potential enemies would be limited, but surely it would have been more interesting to come up with a brand new species to serve as the main antagonists.

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In more ways that one, this feels like nothing more than a tribute to the other aspects of the franchise, although to be fair that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’d just be nice if there were more original ideas.

The performance by Callie Bussell is also questionable as she often delivers her lines with what could best be described as the manner of a disinterested bystander. She just doesn’t look invested in her character or the story at any point. There is a scene at the 1:07:45 (I’m re-watching the Youtube video of the film as I type this) in which she is asked if she can do something to help the trapped crew on the planet, and her response is “I can try,” and it’s delivered in such an unenthusiastic/couldn’t care less manner that you wonder how bad the actresses that didn’t get the role must have been.

Her’s is by far the least convincing performance in the film, which is a shame as to be fair to the rest of the cast, they do a reasonable job considering the obvious low budget. Don’t get me wrong, they certainly aren’t a mainstream quality in terms of performance, but other than Bussell I can’t overly criticise any of them. Whether any of them will ever progress into mainstream films is exceptionally unlikely, although Marc Bowers certainly had a likable quality to him.

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In all fairness to the filmmakers though, this is a commendable effort and one of the most convincing (visually) low budget films that I’ve ever seen. The look feels very genuine to the nature of Star Trek and the production values used throughout are surprisingly high. Granted, it does feel more like it should be a pilot for a new TV show rather than a feature-film. The shots in space are exceptional and beautiful, and to be fair they wouldn’t look out of place in one of the main franchise films.

 

It’s hard to really summarise why it’s not that bad when I have written more about the negatives as opposed to the positives, but this film is certainly not a bad movie. It isn’t great by any shout, but it’s certainly not as bad as you would expect from a low budget science film.

Considering how little they had to work with, you have to commend them on the job that they have done and whilst I don’t give it the approved stamp, I would actually recommend watching it, which might sound a bit strange. I think this is mainly because the truly successful sci-fi films transcend genre and have a universal appeal, for example, the mainstream Star Trek films, Star Wars, Marvel films, etc, but “Horizon” doesn’t. It is definitely a fan-made film for fans, I don’t think those who aren’t fans of the Star Trek franchise would enjoy this.

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Summary

It’s certainly a bit better than “Renegades” and isn’t bad at all for a low budget science film. It feels like it is missing something that takes it above the slightly-above-average mark, which is why I haven’t given it the approval stamp.

There are more positives than negatives, which is something that I don’t often say on this site, but

I would definitely recommend watching it if you’re a Star Trek fan, however, if you’re not I don’t think this has the universal appeal that non-Trekkies look for.