Futuresport (1998)

I used to work in an office building which, when it was renovated in the early years of the millennium, was named “Future Walk”. We had a consultation period before the name was finalised, and I made a comment that, in a few years, when the building was a little older and the cracks had started to appear, the word “future” would look a little silly. 2018, and everyone who still works there probably hates saying “Future Walk” when giving the address to a building which definitely doesn’t belong in the future.

Which is how I feel about the sport at the centre of this movie. I can sort of buy the title being the way it is, as it is, indeed, set in the future. But why do the people in the movie call their sport, which takes place in their present, “Futuresport”? These are the sorts of things which bother me, dear reader.

It’s New Orleans, 2025, and it’s Championship Sunday! The LA Rush are playing the Berlin Griffins, and LA’s captain is the world’s most famous man, Tre Ramzey (Dean Cain, fresh-ish off the Superman TV show). He’s in a relationship with the world’s most famous woman, Lorelei – we know they’re the most famous because they spend a lot of time talking about their PI score (Popularity Index), the be-all and end-all of people like them. Tre is sort of a douchebag, a star player who thinks he should take all the shots, but he’s nice enough that his teammates help him out when a group of Hawaiian Liberation Army terrorists invade a pre-match press conference and try to kill him.

Futuresport is a cross between skateboarding and basketball, with a healthy dose of “Rollerball” in there too. It’s set in a skate-rink, on hover-boards (actual hovering boards, not the stupid thing with that name that was briefly popular last year), with a metal ball that has to be thrown into a small circular goal. Each team defends their goal, but despite the smallness of it, no-one ever seems to miss and there’s only one example in the entire movie of a team successfully stopping a shot. Oh, and after you hold onto the ball for five seconds, it becomes electrified, encouraging you to pass it – to successfully hold on to the electrified ball is called “riding the lightning”. Presumably, no-one told the moviemakers that’s what they call death by electric chair, or maybe it’s a subtle joke about appropriation of old phrases in the far-off future.

So, we’ve got Dean Cain, his fame-obsessed girlfriend, and his teammates. Who else? There’s a TV reporter, Alex (Vanessa Williams), who’s also Tre’s ex-girlfriend; and the creator of Futuresport, Obike Fixx. He’s played by Wesley Snipes, who’s also the producer of the movie and listed at the beginning as “special guest star”. His character’s whole thing is opposition to the corporate behemoth that Futuresport has become – he set it up as a street game to help prevent gangs from battling each other. His initial speech while being interviewed by Alex has a lot of parallels to how American sports like baseball are organised today – it’s not a competition between teams, it’s a racket run by the owners of those teams, where everyone makes a profit and the players are given an increasingly small slice of the pie (and the fans are completely ignored). I want to give Vanessa Williams credit for giving us the line “Futuresport used to mean something” while keeping a straight face, though.

LA lose the championship game, and immediately all Tre’s sponsors drop him, his girlfriend leaves him, etc. Seems a little weird, but maybe it’s a sport where only the winners are worth advertising with? Anyway, you’d think he’d start spiraling downwards, but a quick pep-talk from Alex and some support from Obike Fixx and he’s back, with a press conference suggesting a game of Futuresport between the USA and a rough grouping of Pacific nations for control of Hawaii. Turns out Australia has been bankrolling the terrorists, for some reason? But, most importantly, never let the opinions of the actual people of Hawaii get a word in (quite a lot of Hawaiians don’t consider themselves American, even now).

Everyone immediately agrees to this game, and there are the obvious twists and turns – one of the good guys definitely has bad intentions, and one of the bad guys secretly respects the honour of the good guys. You know the routine.

There are training montages, one of my favourite things about this sort of movie, and lots of touches which elevate it above the normal sort of thing we cover here – Tre has a house computer with a camp English accent, and for a movie made when the internet was still in its infancy, it predicts a number of things about the future with a surprising degree of accuracy. My favourite is how it inadvertently invents Twitter, when Tre reads his “messages” and it’s just random people hurling abuse at him! But then it also has another great line, said with complete seriousness – “It’s hard to believe that this game will replace war”.

So, it’s a decent example of the typical fare we found towards the end of Blockbuster’s reign of dominance – big budget, lots of names you’ll recognise, high-ish-concept. I don’t buy the central character’s conversion to the side of good, as he doesn’t get anywhere near rock bottom, and it’s kind-of morally simplistic, like an episode of daytime TV (it is a TV movie, I guess), but it’s good cheesy fun, all told. If you’re desperate for a movie about sport, set in the future, then go for “Rollerball” or “Salute of the Jugger”, but if you’ve seen them and are still hungry, this would be okay.

Rating: thumbs up

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Youtube Film Club: Dead And Deader (2006)

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For reasons unknown, the wonderfully named Mindfire Entertainment decided to do a third movie in the “House of the Dead” franchise; then, realising that literally no-one cared about the name any more, just removed all references to the game from the script they were developing and gave it a different name, saving themselves a few $$$ (sadly, after developing this and the magnificent “DOA: Dead Or Alive” in 2006, they got out of the filmmaking business for good).

Dean Cain is Lt Bobby Quinn, leading a small group of soldiers to discover what happened to a military research outpost in Cambodia. He finds zombies and a tank full of scorpions; but when the last surviving guy at the base blows it up with a grenade, everyone dies.

Almost. Quinn wakes up in the middle of his own autopsy, back in the USA, and discovers that he’s dead. No pulse, no nothing – and he cuts something out of his arm, one of the scorpions on its way to his brain (probably, it’s sort of handwaved away to explain why he’s the only non-evil, intelligent undead guy). Unfortunately, the rest of his team weren’t so lucky, and they’re all just mindless zombie killing machines; so Quinn, while trying to avoid getting arrested (and occasionally craving raw red meat), tracks down all the guys from his old team and kills them, along with all the new zombies they’ve created, being sure to squash the magic scorpions too.

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The very obvious and enormous quality gap between this and part 2 is immediately apparent. The dialogue is easy and natural, the jokes – real, actual jokes – come thick and fast, and the people Quinn picks up are strong actors, and funny too. First up is the cook at the Army base Judson (Guy Torry), then there’s a local bartender Holly (Susan Ward), who’s also a huge film nerd and supplies the movie with most of its in-jokes. The great Colleen Camp pops up briefly as a local housewife who takes a shine to Judson, too, and there’s turns from some great “That Guy” actors, including Peter Greene, Armin Shimerman, John Billingsley and Ellie Cornell (who was also in the first “House of the Dead” movie).

It’s absolutely crammed with movie references. We’ve got people named after movie directors and actors who played James Bond, someone telling Quinn his story has “more holes than a Michael Bay movie”, and maybe the cheesiest of them all, “I smell dead people”. Their 80s fancy dress during the second half of the movie is a particular delight too.

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It rips along, the special effects are great, it’s an enormous amount of fun and is right up there with the strongest of the SyFy Channel original movies – Cain and Ward especially are brilliant, with an easy chemistry. It feels like it was made by a funny group of people at the absolute top of their game, who were allowed to get away with a lot as long as they provided a bunch of zombies getting blown up; which makes looking at the main creative people on this film an odd experience. This was director Patrick Dinhut’s first movie, and he’s only done one more since (in 2012, again for the SyFy Channel); and the writers also wrote the two “House Of The Dead” movies, which indicates the guy who directed part 2 must have cut all the fun stuff out of their script. Or they weren’t trying. But it certainly makes the terrible-ness of that movie way more difficult to understand.

Put this at the top of your SyFy Channel viewing list. If you have one, which thinking about it would be pretty weird. Just pop it on, it’s loads of fun.

Rating: thumbs up

Frost Giant (2010)

A TITLE

Considering I live in a place nowhere near any coast and have no naval people in my family, I’m fascinated by old-timey naval expeditions. The First Fleet to Australia, the doomed attempts to navigate the North West Passage, the “golden age” of piracy…I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading books about them all. So when I started watching this and discovered it was inspired by the journey of the Fury and Hecla in 1824, I was immediately more interested than I would have been by a SyFy Channel film with this title.

But despite an interesting concept, that title is good and misleading. Frost giants more traditionally look like this –

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– and not so much like this –

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A slightly better title would have been “Ice Alien”, which is actually a pretty cool name now I think about it. It’s not like the main baddie is all that giant, either.

In 1824, the Fury and Hecla are trying to navigate the icy wastes of northern Canada, and witness a meteor land on Earth, which has passed by Saturn and grabbed a mysterious creature on its way (it didn’t make much sense to me either). We get little bits of their story throughout the rest of the film, but it’s mostly about a scientific survey team near Fury Beach, where the original boat sank, sharing their space with scientist guy Dean Cain, who’s trying to recover the wreck of the Fury, as he’s a descendant of James Clark Ross. They do recover it, and as well as the journal of the voyage, thought lost, there’s a pretty unhappy ice alien tagging along.

The majority of the film is a bit like “The Thing”, but I suppose it’s difficult to have any ice-station-monster film without getting those comparisons. Dean Cain is the outsider to the group, and Lucy Brown is one of the scientists there, as well as being his former lover. Lucy Brown! She’s ridiculously beautiful, and has mainly worked in British TV, which is a damn shame as she’d make a fantastic lead for some smartly written US cable show about a lawyer or a doctor with a complicated private life. Or one where she gives monsters a good belting. Check this gif out from UK TV show “Primeval”:

Anyway, enough of me talking about women I have a crush on. The alien appears to be made out of ice, but kind-of isn’t, which causes problems for the crew trying to kill it. Luckily, the place is lousy with people from the extremely multi-ethnic and -national cast wanting to heroically sacrifice themselves, so it’s going to have a tough time.

There is a problem or two with the story, and the way they use history. The Fury is blown up to trap the ice alien in this film, whereas in reality it was abandoned due to damage from the ice. They had enough time to completely empty it and leave the stores on what is now Fury Beach, because when Ross came back 5 years later he was able to use those same supplies to help his new ship out. It’s not one of the great mysteries of the sea because most of the crew survived and went on to many other expeditions, but I suppose the actual history didn’t have an ice alien in it either, so I shouldn’t grumble too much.

Who takes a pool table to the Arctic?

Who takes a pool table to the Arctic?

It’s a pretty good film! Aside from the not-great alien effects, this film has clearly had some money spent on it, and the acting is strong too. There’s perhaps a smidgeon too much of people behaving as dumb as a box of rocks in order to stretch the running time, but it’s a minor price to pay for what is a fun little SyFy film.

Rating: thumbs up

Airplane vs. Volcano (2014)

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The Asylum have done it again! After 2012’s “Super Cyclone”, a film that was as clear a parody of their normal output as it’s possible to make, they’ve come out with this, which is laughs from beginning to end. It also cost them, apart from Dean Cain’s contract, zero dollars, being filmed almost entirely on two already existing sets.

But I’ve not even got to the film yet! Before I started watching it, I was wondering “how are they going to get an entire film out of this? If you’re on a plane and see a volcano, fly the other way, job done” but I grossly underestimated the Asylum’s ability to spin gold out of thin air. Everything goes to pot almost immediately in this film, so a normal flight from LA to Hawaii encounters a local manifestation of a global volcanic apocalypse. By the way, I think this film is a proper tie-in to “Apocalypse Pompeii”, as there’s a mention of the other place’s problems right at the end. The Asylum is getting all cross-promotional!

As volcanoes emerge from the ocean, the scene outside the plane transforms into a rather convincing hellscape. Unfortunately for our plane, both pilots almost immediately die, so the passengers have to band together, and unfortunately for the profit margin of the airline, they only seem to have 20 passengers on board (I was hoping for a joke near the end where the camera would pan back along the plane and just see all the people in economy class sat happily reading magazines and watching the in-flight movie, but no such luck).

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THE SET! Now, you may not be as big an Asylum obsessive as me, but eagle-eyed observers will spot the circular control-room set from “The 3 Musketeers” and “Super Cyclone” (and probably a few other films). If anyone from the Asylum reads these reviews, please let me know where it is?

A brief word about the extras. I may not be the world’s biggest fan of the armed forces, but I appreciate that their training will leave them all looking a certain way – fairly big, strong looking, confident in their environment. The extras in the control room all look like…well, me – doughy guys who’d be more at home in an office than a battlefield. And on the plane is a guy who looks like an Aldi Mandy Patinkin, who goes from calm and staring out the window; to being ready to throw someone out of the plane on the orders of the B-plot bad guy; to calmly staring out of the window again a few minutes later.

The B-plot is absolutely bizarre – a guy with a weird indeterminate “foreign” accent who…I’m struggling to think of a motivation for his actions, honestly. He’s just angry and loses his mind almost immediately – he feels like a weird holdover from a previous rewrite. Anyway, as he’s wildly overacting on the plane, we get a similar overactor in the base. One of the army guys then starts loudly questioning the orders of his Colonel, and only gets worse as the film goes on. His non-approved rescue plan causes dozens of people to die, but is he sorry? Is he heck! In fact, his can’t-do attitude actually results in him implausibly being the hero of the day.

There’s just so much good stuff in this film! Dean Cain, just some guy, takes over flying the plane, but thanks to the pilots (who have the codes to the control panel) being dead, the auto-pilot is jammed on meaning his contribution to actually flying the plane is just sitting there looking unhappy. This also answers the “why don’t they just fly away?” conundrum, because the auto-pilot just flies them round in a circle, so they stay in the ring of volcanoes.

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My notes for the last half of this film is just variations on the line “what the hell is happening?” They think the plan is going down because it’s too heavy, so everyone records their big dramatic speeches to their loved ones…but there’s still 30 minutes to go! Every moment for that last third of the film feels like a crescendo, but it keeps getting sillier and sillier, but played with an entirely straight face by everyone. There’s a hint of a budding romance, but when the guy dies the woman is clearly in shot but doesn’t react at all; there’s talk of a prop plane which can go through the dust clouds, but we don’t see the prop plane til a minute before the end of the film.

After a quick blast of “haha all our friends are dead” the film just sort of stops. I cannot recommend this film highly enough. It’s ridiculous from beginning to end, and is really really entertaining. Get a group of friends and a few drinks and have yourself a fine time.

Rating: thumbs up