Saturday, December 16, 2017

Stubs - Scrooge (1935)

Scrooge (1935) Starring: Sir Seymour Hicks, Donald Calthrop, Robert Cochran, Mary Glynne, Garry Marsh, Oscar Asche, Marie Ney, C.V. France. Directed by Henry Edwards. Screenplay by  H. Fowler Mear. Based on A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Produced by Julius Hagen Run Time: 78 minutes. UK Black and White. Fantasy, Christmas

First published in 1843, Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol has never been out of print since. It has also been the subject of many films and TV specials made on both sides of the Atlantic. Last Christmas we surveyed many of the better-known adaptations of the story, including A Christmas Carol (1938); A Christmas Carol (1951); A Christmas Carol (1984) and Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol. Under the guise that there is always room for one more, we’re taking a look at the first feature-length sound version of the story, Scrooge (1935), surprisingly enough, also with an aka of A Christmas Carol.

This version opens on Christmas Eve in 1843. Ebenezer Scrooge (Seymour Hicks) is a cold-hearted and greedy elderly money-lender working away in his freezing counting house. In the next room, the long-suffering Bob Cratchit (Donald Calthrop) is working. Under-paid, Bob tries to stay warm by the heat of his candle.

Bob Cratchit (Donald Calthrop) tries to warm himself with the candle he works by.

Two fellow businessmen, Middlemark (Charles Carson) and Worthington (Hubert Harben), come to Scrooge’s counting house to collect a donation for the poor at Christmas. But Scrooge insists he instead supports the prisons and workhouses where the poor are supposed to go. When told that many of them would rather die than go there, he even goes as far to say if the poor would rather die then they “better do it and decrease the surplus population.”

When Scrooge catches Bob trying to take some coal from the bin to stoke the fire that heats the office, he threatens to fire him if he does not get back to work.

Scrooge's (Seymour Hicks) nephew Fred (Robert Cochran) comes
to visit and to invite him to dinner on Christmas Day.

Next, Scrooge is visited by his only relative, the son of his departed sister, Fred (Robert Cochran). Fred invites his uncle to come to his house to celebrate Christmas with him and his wife, to which Scrooge replies that Christmas is 'Humbug!'.

Reluctantly, Scrooge gives Bob the next day off, but he makes him promise to be early the next day.
That night, Bob goes home to celebrate with his family, while Scrooge dines alone in a pub.

Meanwhile, the upper crust of London celebrates Christmas with the Mayor.

The face of Scrooge's dead partner Marley appears on his door knocker.

When he gets home, Scrooge sees the face of his seven-year dead partner, Jacob Marley, in his front door knocker. Later that night, he is confronted by Marley’s ghost (voiced by Claude Rains). In this version, the ghost is invisible, even to Scrooge, though you can hear the chains he forged. Marley informs Scrooge that in order to escape his fate, he will be visited by three spirits.

Scrooge is visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past (Marie Ney). 

Scrooge is first visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past (Marie Ney), who is visible only as a white silhouette with no facial features. He shows Scrooge the moment he lost his fiancée, Belle (Mary Glynne). A debt-ridden couple (Maurice Evans and Mary Lawson) beg for more time to pay their debt, but greedy Scrooge demands payment. Disappointed by his treatment of them, she leaves, breaking off their engagement. Scrooge then sees what’s happened to Belle. Married, Belle now has several children with her husband (Garry Marsh) and is happy.

Disappointed in how he treats his debtors, Belle (Mary Glynne) breaks off their engagement.

Next up, Scrooge is visited by the Ghost of Christmas Present (Oscar Asche), who unlike his fellow ghosts, takes human form and speaks aloud.

The Spirit of Christmas Present (Oscar Asche) visits Scrooge.

He takes Scrooge to the house of Bob Cratchit and his family. They may have a meager dinner of goose and pudding, but they are happy to be together. Among his family with his wife (Barbara Everest) include Tiny Tim (Philip Frost), an invalid child, forced to walk with a crutch. The ghost warns Scrooge that unless things change, Tim will die. Scrooge is then shown how others celebrate Christmas, including Fred with his wife (Eve Gray) and their friends.

The Cratchit family makes the most of their Christmas, including Tiny Tim (Philip Frost).

Next, Scrooge is visited by the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come, depicted only as an ominous dark shadow. The Ghost shows Scrooge what lies in the store for the coming year. First, he is shown a tombstone of an unknown man. Scrooge learns that Tiny Tim has died.

He also sees his charwoman (Athene Seyler), his laundress (Margaret Yarde) and an undertaker (D.J. Williams) meeting up at Old Joe’s (Hugh E. Wright), a pawnbroker who gives them pennies on the dollar, so to speak, for the items they admit they took off a dead man.

After that, he sees some businessmen that he knows talking rather reserved about an associate’s death, more concerned about his money than the man. Demanding to see the name on the grave, Scrooge is shown that it is, in fact, his own.

In the morning, Scrooge is a changed man.

In the morning, Scrooge wakes up a changed man and feeling generous. He gives his Charwoman a tip and the day off. He flings open the window and calls out to a boy on the street and have him fetch the Poulterer (Morris Harvey) with the prize turkey in the window. Scrooge has the turkey delivered to Bob Cratchit.

The Poulterer (Morris Harvey) is summoned by the boy to Scrooge's.

Next, he goes to Fred’s and, as a surprise but welcomed guest, joins in on the festivities.

Fred and his wife (Eve Gray) will welcome Scrooge in their home.

The next morning, Bob arrives late and finds Scrooge is already there waiting for him. Expecting to be disciplined or fired, he is surprised to find that instead, Scrooge gives him a raise. He promises to be a stepfather to Tim and even attends church together with him.

Arriving late for work, Bob is surprised to get a raise from Scrooge.

Originally released in the UK by Twickenham Studios on November 26, 1935, with a running time of 78 minutes, it was released soon afterward in the U.S. by Paramount Pictures on November 30th, but in an edited form, running only 63 minutes. The 15 minutes of deleted scenes include: The visit of the two men seeking donations; Much of the dinner at the Cratchit's, including Tiny Tim saying "God bless us, everyone"; Brief scenes on a lighthouse and a sailing ship; The party at Fred's while Scrooge and Christmas Present watch; and the ending where Scrooge meets Bob Cratchit at church.

It should not come as a big surprise that this film is not well-known in the U.S., having been overshadowed by MGM’s own adaptation, A Christmas Carol (1938), which had a largely British cast, was much more popular and had better production values.

This Scrooge is very much a stripped-down version than modern audiences are used to. There are few of the photographic/special effects that you come to expect when watching a film dealing with ghosts. In this film, we don’t see Marley with his chains and Christmas Past and Future are depicted as featureless silhouettes and shadows. This comes close to be a filmed stage play. Our modern expectations are not met, though that was not what the filmmaker was concerned about at the time.

The director, James A. Carter, using an expressionist style, manages to give Scrooge’s world a very claustrophobic feel through the use of shadows. Scrooge lives in a narrow dark place from his cramped office, hunched over his desk, to his lonely booth in the pub to his bed surrounded and cut off from the rest of the world by curtains. It is only after he’s been visited by the three ghosts does his world open up. Christmas morning with its bright lights contrasts with the dark night of Christmas Eve.

Everything in the film takes a backseat to the performance of Seymour Hicks. Pretty much an unknown in the U.S. now, Hicks was a well-respected actor, theater manager, and playwright during what is referred to as England's Golden Age of Theater (1880-1920). Hicks had a very successful career writing, starring in and producing Edwardian musical comedies, often starring opposite his wife, Ellaline Terriss. But, the role he was best known for and which he claimed to have played over 2,000 times was Ebenezer Scrooge.

He first appeared on stage at the age of nine and became a professional actor at the age of sixteen. With his stage success, Hicks also starred in films, beginning with a silent version of Scrooge (1913). While making a film version of one of his plays, Always Tell Your Wife (1923), a remake of an earlier 1914 film, he fired his original director, Hugh Croise, and hired a young man from the production department at the studio who had never directed before to complete the film, Alfred Hitchcock.

Hicks was not new to filmmaking nor to the role and it shows in his performance. The actor embodies the character of Scrooge, the way a man wears a well-fitted shirt. He is the sole reason to watch this version of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, though the performance alone might not be enough to place this near the top of the adaptations. The first sound adaptation may not be the best, but it is well worth watching.

To read reviews of other Christmas films, please see our Christmas Review Hub.

Friday, December 15, 2017

TY the Tasmanian Tiger 3: Night of the Quinkan

After the release of TY 2, Krome Studios developed a follow-up game, TY the Tasmanian Tiger 3: Night of the Quinkan, released the following year in 2005. While introducing some additional gameplay mechanics, the game notably draws on Australian folklore for its new enemies, the titular Quinkan. For now, let’s see how TY the Tasmanian Tiger 3 handles this concept and whether it’s enough to mix things up a bit from its predecessors.

TY as he appears in TY 3.

Some time after the events of TY 2, TY and Shazza are summoned by the Bunyip Elder to the Dreamtime, where they must stop an ancient enemy known as the Quinkan from overtaking the Dreaming. After fighting through a gauntlet of enemies, TY obtains the Quinkan Gauntlet, which allows him to actually fight the Quinkan via Close Rang Combat. As TY and Shazza return to the real world, a rogue Quinkan attacks them, throwing off TY and causing him to arrive after Shazza following some additional Dreamtime training. After following a thylacine name Ridge, TY discovers that Burramudgee has changed in the 6 months he’d been gone, as an invasion of Quinkan has turned Southern Rivers into a war zone. TY must now help take down the Quinkan in order to restore balance to Southern Rivers.

The gameplay of TY 3 is generally similar to TY 2, though there are still some differences. The biggest difference is perhaps the way Rangs work in this game; rather than buying Rangs with given abilities, you instead buy Chassis that do not feature their own abilities until customized with Stones. There are multiple Chassis types with their own features (ex. grappling, remote control) and number of Stone slots. Stones grant the Rangs powers such as electricity, fire, or even up to slowing down time, with these abilities upgraded by having 2+ Stones of the same type together (ex. 2 water Stones gives the Rang a freezing ability); there’s also compatibility of different Stones being used together, though this is something I did not explore in-depth. (Protip: While these abilities are meant to aid in Close Rang Combat or dealing with certain situations, you don’t really need much else when you have the Duo Chassis (2 slots) and 2 Earth Stones, which creates an explosion that allows you to essentially bypass the Close Rang Combat entirely in addition to opening metal crates you can find for more Opals.)

TY (right) battling Quinkan (left).

The open world returns from TY 2, though much bigger this time and with a different layout, plus you ride the Crabmersible to travel around the world rather than the decommissioned Bush Rescue jeep. The Crabmersible is also a little more versatile since it can travel underwater, plus losing all your health while driving it will revive you on the spot, even after you passed an outhouse. The world of Southern Rivers is split into two sections, Burramudgee and Cassopolis, with their namesake towns each featuring their own Rang Shops and environments/characters to interact with, with Bunyip shops being located throughout the world. As with TY 2, buying from each Rang Shop will get you different Chassis and Stones, so you will have to make the long trek all the way to Cassopolis to get certain things, which sometimes made me wish fast travel was a thing at the time.

The Kart Racing minigame makes a return here, and with it the addition of a Gunyip minigame that can also be accessed from the main menu. However, rather than being completely optional, the story absolutely requires you to play through some Gunyip and Kart stages to advance. The Kart missions can be particularly annoying since, on top of having to come in first, you are often required to complete some outrageous objectives that can require several tries to get right. In general, the game feels a bit more vehicle-centric compared to the previous two games, since there’s now hardly any points where you are actually on-foot, which ended up being somewhat of a disappointment for me. This would be rectified with TY the Tasmanian Tiger 4, however I’m getting ahead of myself.

The new means of traversing Southern Rivers.
(Finding usable screenshots is still difficult.)

The graphics continue to improve over the previous game, featuring a minor art style upgrade to make things a little more stylized. There isn’t much in terms of random wildlife running about, though their general absence makes some amount of sense given the premise of the Quinkan invasion. As with the previous games, the sound design is really good, with the background music sounding familiar, yet different enough from its predecessors. As for the voice acting, it’s evident that every (main) character suffers from Dante Disease, however I appreciate them trying to still sound consistent enough with the previous voices; while they still sound a little different, you do get used to them after a while. The subtitle issue from previous games persists here, though I’m aware the first three games came out at a point before cutscene subtitles became a more common option in games.

TY the Tasmanian Tiger 3: Night of the Quinkan once again improves over the previous game visually, though it has some issues gameplay-wise. While I don’t know much about Australian folklore, the fact that the mythological Quinkan were used as the main villains adds a unique flavor to the game to help it stand out a little from the games it was evidently influenced by. I would still recommend TY 3 to Ty fans, primarily so the story for TY 4 makes more sense, whereas newcomers are better off still going through the first two games first in order to better follow along with the plot and character dynamics. As with TY 1 and TY 2, if you don’t own or can’t obtain/play a sixth-generation console copy of the game, TY 3 is also available for purchase on the Steam digital distribution platform.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Stubs - Justice League

Justice League (2017) Starring: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Ezra Miller, Jason Momoa, Ray Fisher, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, Connie Nielsen, J. K. Simmons. Directed by Zack Snyder. Screenplay by Chris Terrio, Joss Whedon. Based on Justice League by Gardner Fox. Produced by: Charles Roven, Deborah Snyder, Jon Berg, Geoff Johns. Run Time: 120 minutes. USA. Color. Superhero.

While the MCU sometimes feel like school, there are films like Thor: Ragnarok that seem to refresh the franchise and make it fun again to watch. The DCEU, however, doesn't know a good thing when it has it. After the high of Wonder Woman (2017), the franchise has reverted back to its dyspotian ways with Justice League, which plopped into cinemas a few weeks ago.

While the MCU did a pretty good job with building the Avengers brick by brick, the Justice League feels rushed, since half of the characters are relatively new to the cinematic franchise. We all know, all too well, the origin stories for Batman (Ben Affleck) and Superman (Henry Cavill), Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) already received her film but the Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) are sort of thrust upon us in this film. Not that all of them are necessarily worthy of their own stand alone film, but a little more background with them might have been nice. No doubt they'll do them someday, it just would have been better to have developed them a little more before making them part of a team.

The DCEU always seems to be in a rush to catch up. There was no Batman film this time around, but Batman did kill Superman, for reasons that escape me now, in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016). As has been pointed out by others, its hard to see how given Superman's powers, like a heat ray, that Batman would have stood a chance, but in what feels like the equivalent to a cinematic dive, it wasn't in the cards for Superman on that night.

Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), Batman (Ben Affleck) and Flash (Ezra Miller).

Now, without the Man of Steel, Batman must hurriedly, though the film seems to move at a slow pace during this section, build a team to protect Earth from a horn-wearing villain with an Oedipal complex. Backed by large flying insect-like creatures, which remind me of the Flying Monkeys in The Wizard of Oz, Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) comes to, what else, destroy Earth with Mother Boxes that have been left here for apparently that purpose. (There seems to be a never-ending cinematic line of things buried on Earth just waiting to destroy it.) So once again, we need super heroes to keep the planet from an Apocalyptic event, so it can get back to its simple dyspotian ways.

Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) flank Wonder Woman.

But the missing ingredient in the league is Superman and they manage to bring him back from the dead so that he can save the day. In reality, he is really the only superhero they need in Justice League, in much the same way Dr. Manhattan was the all-powerful Watchman. The Comedian is nice, but you only really need Manhattan in a pinch.

While Cavill certainly looks the part of Superman, I'm not really sure what I think about Affleck as the Caped Crusader. He's never seemed quite right in the role, too big of a star in a way. As far as the others go, I would follow Gadot anywhere. She's sexy, smart and strong as Wonder Woman and hopefully there is a stand-alone sequel in her future. Momoa is certainly muscular with a James Dean demeanor, Miller provides much needed humor as the weakest superhero and Fisher is passable as Cyborg; his role is harder to judge seeing as he's half-man/half-machine.

Speaking of sequels, this one makes sure to set one up. I'm not a big fan of the casting of the villains in this franchise. Jared Leto was an awful choice for The Joker in Suicide Squad (2016). I hope if there is ever a crossover with Batman that the character is played by someone else. I would say the same for Lex Luthor, but that die has been cast. Jesse Eisenberg, if you stayed for the post-credits scene, is returning in the role. Despite how disappointed you might feel at the end of the film, the Justice League will return.

I would recommend the film only if you're a real die-hard fan of the DCEU. For the casual viewer, this is not the best film in the franchise. Instead, I would recommend watching Wonder Woman if you haven't seen it already and again if you have.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Stubs - Running Scared

Running Scared (1986) Starring: Gregory Hines, Billy Crystal, Jimmy Smits, Dan Hedaya, Joe Pantoliano. Directed by Peter Hyams. Screenplay by Gary DeVore, Jimmy Huston. Produced by David Foster, Lawrence Turman Run Time: 107 USA Color. Action, Comedy, Christmas, Buddy Cop

In 1986, MGM, once the gold standard of the major Hollywood studios, was in the midst of another sale, this time the former owner Kirk Kerkorian was buying it back from the current owner, Turner Broadcasting. The studio was starting over this time unburdened by the actual studio lot, now Sony Pictures, and that pesky library of classic films including Gone With The Wind (1939) and The Wizard of Oz (1939). One of the first films produced by the “new” MGM was Running Scared, a buddy cop film starring Gregory Hines and Billy Crystal.

Hines, a dancer turned actor, and Crystal, a stand-up comedian turned actor, were paired together for the first and only time. Hines, whose first screen appearance was in Mel Brooks’ History of the World, Part I (1981), had appeared in about a half-dozen films before Running Scared. Crystal, who had a BFA from NYU in film and television directing, had made a name for himself as a stand-up comic before his first film, Joan River’s Rabbit Test (1978) and as Jodie Dallas on Soap, a TV Series that ran from 1977 to 1981. His only other film prior to Running Scared had been a small part in This Is Spinal Tap (1984) as Morty the mime.

Danny Costanzo (Billy Crystal) and Ray Hughes (Gregory Hines) are undercover
at the beginning of Running Scared.

It is winter in Chicago and Ray Hughes (Hines) and Danny Costanzo (Crystal) are two police officers known for their wisecracking demeanors and unorthodox police methods. When the film opens, they are working undercover on the city's North Side, staking out Julio Gonzales (Jimmy Smits), a drug dealer who has only recently gotten out of prison but is still an up and comer in the Chicago underworld. Even though they are on a stakeout, Danny gets them involved in a pickup game of basketball as a couple of uninvited and unwelcomed additions. Danny is even punched by one of the other players. But before anything else can happen, they see Gonzales drive up.

When Gonzales sees them, he flees, leaving one of his associates, Snake (Joe Pantoliano), high and dry. Ray and Danny manage to catch up to him, gaining entrance to his apartment and looking through the briefcase he’s been clutching. Inside, they find $50,000 cash. While they don’t have anything on Snake, they make it difficult on him by announcing to a group of men playing basketball next door to his apartment that he has the money. In the end, he begs them to take him in. They stop on the way to attend Danny’s Aunt’s funeral.

With their prisoner, Snake (Joe Pantoliano), in tow, Ray and Danny are almost mugged.

Immediately following the funeral, as if to emphasize the dangerous streets of Chicago, Ray and Danny, with Snake still handcuffed to them, are held up by a pair of inept thugs. Ray hands him his wallet, telling them they can take the money, but they need to keep their badges. The two assailants then run away.

At the station, Danny is confronted by a lawyer (Don Calfa) and by his ex-wife Anna (Darlanne Fluegel), whom he still loves. Ray pretends to be Danny to draw the lawyer away and give him some time alone with Anna. But the news is not what Danny expects, as she informs him that she’s getting married again, this time to a dentist. Danny’s mood is somewhat lightened when Ray tells him that the lawyer was there to let him know he was inheriting $40,000 from his recently deceased Aunt.

Snake works with Julio Gonzales (Jimmy Smits) to set Ray and Danny up.

They convince Snake to wear a wire to his rendezvous later that night with Gonzales. While they expect Snake to be buying drugs for Gonzales, when they approach the meeting place (a cargo ship), they discover that he’s buying a large store of Israeli Uzi submachine guns. When they hear what sounds like Snake in trouble, they walk into a trap that Snake and Gonzales have set for them.

Gonzales reveals his ambition to be the first Latino "godfather" of Chicago. Gonzales has Snake killed for bringing the detectives in the first place. It looks as though Ray and Danny will be killed before two undercover detectives in Julio’s gang, Anthony Montoya (Jon Gries) and Frank Sigliano (Steven Bauer), step in to make the arrest. In the ensuing gun battle, several of Gonzales’ gang members are killed or escape. While Montoya and Sigliano only manage to arrest a subordinate, Danny and Ray capture Gonzales.

Captain Logan (Dan Hedaya) encourages Ray and Danny to take a vacation.

Back at the station, Ray and Danny expect to be praised, but instead, their supervisor Captain Logan (Dan Hedaya) chastises them for their sloppy work (as revealed by Snake’s wire). He orders them to take a vacation and the boys are reluctant to go.

Ray and Danny find that they love Key West and plan to move there.

But down in Key West, Florida, the pair see a different side of life. A slower pace, taking time to watch sunsets, not to mention the beautiful women in bikinis with their flat stomachs and perky breasts. They begin to question their career choices and decide to retire and buy a bar using Danny’s inheritance along with their pension fund from the Chicago Police Department.

Gonzales gets away and leaves Ray and Danny pantsless.

Upon their return to Chicago, they inform Captain Logan of their intentions and also find out that Gonzales has been released and is free on bail. Incensed, they vow to capture Gonzales before retiring, but by being a little more careful in the process. They stake out Gonzales Mercedes and use yellow spray paint used to deface their unmarked police car to create a loading zone. As a result, they can get the car towed. They watch to see who will go to inform Gonzales and follow a small boy to the apartment, where Gonzales had been in bed with the boy’s mother. After subduing his crew, they chase after Gonzales, who is pantsless. He takes a hostage and demands Ray and Harry give him one of their pants. Ray is very reluctant but ends up giving up his, when Harry’s pants fall out of Gonzales’ reach. With the pants, Gonzales gets away, stealing their car in the process.

Captain Logan wants Ray and Danny to train Anthony Montoya (Jon Gries)
and Frank Sigliano (Steven Bauer) before they retire to Florida.

When they get back to the station, not only are they the butt of jokes, but Captain Logan adds insult to injury by assigning them to train their replacements, detectives Montoya and Sigliano, none other than the two undercover officers that saved them from being killed in the Gonzales bust. Logan wants the replacements to be "the best of the worst" and orders them never to let him catch them doing anything Ray and Danny teach them. Ray and Danny do their best to avoid actually working with the two detectives.

Gonzales uses a priest and a nun as drug mules.

Gonzales manages to outsmart much of the Chicago PD by staging a fake smuggling operation but bringing the coke in using other mules. While everyone else is fooled by the tactic, Ray and Danny intercept the mules, a priest and a nun, and confiscate a large amount of Gonzales’ cocaine.

In order to get it back, Gonzales kidnaps Anna and will trade her for the cocaine. He sets the location as the James R. Thompson Center, a tall glass state government building with a large open atrium. He warns that Danny comes alone. First, they have to get the cocaine out of the evidence locker, which takes Danny imitating Captain Lewis to the sergeant in charge.

The climactic scene of Running Scared takes place in the lobby of the James
R. Thompson Center. Note the large Christmas tree in the atrium.

Ray, of course, backs up his partner, taking an alternative way into the building. He discovers that all of the state troopers on duty have been taken hostage and replaced by Gonzales’ men. The only way which Ray can get in unobserved involves hoisting himself the way a window cleaner would. During the ensuing gunfight, Montoya and Sigliano, not wanting to be left out of the bust, follow Ray and Danny, but get pinned down in the crossfire. Danny and Ray ironically rescue their would-be protégés in a way similar to their own rescuing at the beginning of the film. All of Gonzales’ men are killed and after more gunfighting, so is Gonzales. Anna and Danny reconcile and he and Ray decide not to retire after all. The city needs them.

Released June 27, 1986, the film would do well at the box-office, bringing in a less than spectacular $38.5 million domestically.

The comedic approach differentiates Running Scared from these other films. Not only are Ray and Danny friends off-duty, but the actors who play them seem to have a very good screen rapport.

Gregory Hines and Billy Crystal are both quite watchable together and I would have watched them in other films had that ever materialized. Not only does Crystal have good comedic-timing, but so does Hines, which is a pleasant surprise for someone who did not come up through the stand-up ranks. These two carry the film, they have to, but they make it look like they’re having a good time while they do.

There are several elements that seem to link Running Scared to other similar-themed films during the 1980s, including Lethal Weapon (1987) and Die Hard (1988). For one, all three are set around Christmastime (note the Christmas Tree and fake presents in the James R. Thompson Center atrium). The holiday takes a backseat here and is never called out like it is the other two films, but it’s still part of the environment.

Something else that links the three films is the appearance by Al Leong as a henchman. Not that I mean to call out this actor in particular, but I find it interesting he is always seen in the background holding an automatic weapon in all three.

The supporting actors are rather one-dimensional and stereotypical. Dan Hedaya and Jimmy Smits are both very capable actors and could have done more with better-drawn characters. Instead, Hedaya’s Captain Logan is exactly what you’d expect of a policeman in his position. He’s tough but fair and little else. Smits’ Gonzales is a typical ruthless gangster who is no subtler than the machine gun he’s holding.

The love interests are fine. Tracy Reed plays Maryann, a woman that Ray is involved with, but superfluous to the plot. Again, not much else for her to do. Darlanne Fluegel as Anna Costanzo, Danny’s ex, is more important to the story, but she is still a bit of a cardboard character.
There are other weaknesses to the film, beginning with its really bad opening theme song. It is everything that a theme song should not be, one that is immediately forgettable. For the most part, the soundtrack music is also quite vanilla.

The film seems to have a slightly long third act and ends in what is now a cliché, though considered necessary, big gun battle finish. While the damage is not as severe as say Die Hard, which pretty much obliterated the fictitious Nakatomi Plaza, the big shootout in Running Scared is quite deadly as the corpses seem to pile up. (It is interesting that another buddy cop film, Rush Hour (1998), also ends in a similar fashion, replacing James R. Thompson Center with the LA Convention Center.) Our heroes don’t seem to be affected by the body count, which is also par for the course of this genre of films.

For the most part, I liked the film. Hines and Crystal had the makings of a really good film team. It’s too bad that this one never repeated. If you’re looking for a fun two hours and can get past the obvious 80’s trappings, then Running Scared is not a bad way to spend your time.

To read reviews of other Christmas films, please see our Christmas Review Hub.

Friday, December 8, 2017

TY the Tasmanian Tiger 2: Bush Rescue

Following the success of the original TY the Tasmanian Tiger, Krome Studios developed a sequel, released in 2004, known as TY the Tasmanian Tiger 2: Bush Rescue. Among other changes, this release sees a somewhat drastic change in general gameplay, as platformers of its kind were wont to do. Continuing our look at this series, let us take a look at TY the Tasmanian Tiger 2: Bush Rescue.

Following the events of the original game, Boss Cass’ subordinate, Fluffy, is attempting to break him out of prison, however TY tries (and fails) to stop her. Sometime after this, Boss Cass has formed his own sovereign nation, Cassopolis, solely as a means to gain diplomatic immunity and get away with whatever he wants. In response to this, a group known as Bush Rescue is formed, with TY put at the center, to help those in need within Southern Rivers and protect them from Boss Cass. Meanwhile, with the aid of an old koala named Karlos, Boss Cass has been developing an army of Uber Frills in order to take over Southern Rivers.

The primary gameplay is similar to the previous game, primarily TY’s moveset and the presence of platforming, except now the levels take place in a more open world. Outside the starting town of Burramudgee, you move around the various missions in Southern Rivers via driving the Bush Rescue jeep (a minimap, like in TY 1 and 3, is provided to help you find your way). These missions can vary in terms of design and objectives, and somewhere deeper in the map is an area big enough to almost be an entire other hubworld.

The Bush Rescue jeep in action. (Finding usable screenshots remains
somewhat difficult.)

Burramudgee also has shops where you can purchase new Rangs and other abilities and story items, using Opals and other collectibles as currency. When you get past a certain point in the game, a new shop opens up on the map where you can purchase more powerful Rangs from Sly, a former enemy thylacine, which more resemble the Rangs from TY 1 to override the Rangs you can purchase in Burramudgee. (Protip: The Doomerang is the one you want for most situations.)

Being a game from 2004, the graphics are an improvement over the original TY game, including those of the pre-rendered cutscenes. There’s also sort of a minor art style change compared to the previous game, though it doesn’t deviate too much to be jarring. As with the previous game, it’s possible to see Australian wildlife running about, which can make one wonder how they could do that without sacrificing too much processing power. Also like the previous game, there is some good sound design, especially in the background music (at least one track even had me thinking of Ratchet & Clank of all things); the voice actors, however, are different from those in the previous game, making it a little jarring after you’ve gotten used to the previous cast. In spite of this, you do get used to the new cast after a while and they do a decent job putting their own spin on the voices without overall straying too far from how they sounded previously. There’s still the issue of a lack of subtitles in cutscenes, so you’d have to make do when playing.

One addition to the game is the optional kart racing missions (because there was a point where kart racing games were all the rage), which can provide a fun distraction to increase replayability. These minigames can be accessed from within the open world, however you can also access them from the main menu if you so choose, thus turning it into a potential party game akin to Mario Kart.

You also get to pilot a Bunyip at certain points in the game.

TY the Tasmanian Tiger 2: Bush Rescue is a graphical improvement over the previous TY game, and the added gameplay variety and more open world gives something new for players to explore. The change in voice actors can be a bit jarring, however one can get used to it after several minutes of play. This is a game I would recommend to fans of the original TY game and its ilk, however I would still suggest newcomers start with TY 1 for the sake of the story. As with TY 1, this game can be purchased and played via Steam for those unable to acquire/play the game for sixth-generation home consoles.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Stubs - Lethal Weapon

Lethal Weapon (1987) Starring: Mel Gibson, Danny Glover, Gary Busey Director: Richard Donner. Screenplay by Shane Black. Produced by Richard Donner, Joel Silver. Run Time: 110. U.S. Action, Buddy Cop, Christmas

It may be hard to believe for some, but there was once a time when Mel Gibson was considered a popular and non-controversial figure in Hollywood. An American, Gibson had found fame in Australia, where his family had moved when he was a boy. He had become an International star following Mad Max (1979) directed by George Miller and would continue to appear in such films as Gallipoli (1981); Mad Max 2 (1981); The Year of Living Dangerously (1982) and The Bounty (1984) before coming to Hollywood in 1984. While he would continue to live and make films in Australia like Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985), he would tend to become a fixture in American films.

A sex symbol as well as being perceived as a man’s man, Gibson would become a major star. One of those films that shows that is Lethal Weapon. His co-star was Danny Glover, an actor who had been in films since 1979’s Escape from Alcatraz, but who had only starred in one movie, The Color Purple (1985), in his career. Based on a script by recent UCLA graduate Shane Black, Warner Bros. originally thought about giving the film to actor turned director Leonard Nimoy, but Nimoy was already working on a film, Three Men and a Baby (1987), and didn’t feel comfortable making an action film. Richard Donner was given the script. Bruce Willis was considered for what would become Gibson’s role, but he would make his own cop film the next year, Die Hard.

Donner wanted Gibson, having worked together on Ladyhawke (1985), and casting director Marion Dougherty suggested teaming him with Glover. Things were cemented in a script reading with the two actors and both signed on in early Spring of 1986. Added to the mix was Gary Busey, who had been a star since playing the lead in The Buddy Holly Story (1978). Busey had not had to audition for a role since but wanted the opportunity to play a villain.

Filming got underway in Los Angeles on August 6, 1986, with a budget of $15 million. Shooting would take place in and around the city, including Long Beach, Palos Verdes, Santa Monica, Studio City, West Hollywood, Inglewood, El Mirage, Victorville as well as the backlot facilities of Burbank studios. It would go into release on March 6, 1987.

Amanda Hunsaker (Jackie Swanson) before she jumps to her death.

It is a few days before Christmas in Los Angeles when the story opens. Inside a highrise apartment, Amanda Hunsaker (Jackie Swanson) lies half-dressed and in a stupor. After doing a couple of lines of coke, she crawls out on to the railing of the balcony and then throws herself over, landing dead on the roof of one of the cars down below.

After Amanda jumps.

The next morning, Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover), a homicide detective for the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), is taking a luxurious bath when it is interrupted by his wife and children who bring him a cake for his fiftieth birthday.

Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) is surprised by his family to celebrate his 50th birthday.

At breakfast, Roger’s wife, Trish (Darlene Love), tells him that a man named Michael Hunsaker has been trying to reach him for several days. Roger recognizes the name but tells her it’s been twelve years since he has spoken to Hunsaker. They had both fought together in the Vietnam War.

On duty, Roger is called to the scene of Amanda’s suicide and is introduced to Dixie (Lycia Naff), a prostitute who witnessed Amanda’s jump. When Roger learns the victim’s name, he realizes she is Michael Hunsaker’s daughter.

Meanwhile, Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) is undercover at a Christmas Tree lot where he attempts to buy coke from the lot operator. When he reveals himself as an LAPD officer, a gunfight ensues. Martin shoots three of the four drug dealers before backup arrives. While they’re looking for the ringleader, Martin is taken hostage. Martin dares the man to shoot before disarming him.

Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) makes an undercover buy at a Christmas Tree lot.

That night, alone in his mobile home at the beach, Martin contemplates suicide. After staring at a picture of his deceased wife, he loads a single bullet into his gun and puts it into his mouth before stopping himself.

The next day, Roger learns from Boyette (Grand Bush) that Amanda’s case is now being investigated as a murder because the drugs she took were laced with toxic drain cleaner, and evidence shows that someone was in bed with her just before she died.

Roger is not happy to learn who his new partner is.

Roger also learns that he is getting a new partner, but before they are formally introduced, he sees Martin, who is sitting outside his office, holding a gun. Mistaking him for a criminal, Roger tries to tackle and disarm Martin, but an expert fighter, Martin overpowers him within seconds. Roger really feels too old for this shit now.
Later, as they leave the office, Martin explains that his superiors believe he is either insane or pretending to be insane in order to receive a pension, and therefore no one wants to work with him. Roger complains that he doesn’t want to work with him either.

Roger meets with the victim's father, Michael Hunsaker (Tom Atkins).

At a meeting the next day with Michael Hunsaker (Tom Atkins), Roger learns that Amanda had been involved in pornography. Hunsaker is distraught and asks Roger to kill the people responsible for her death. Hunsaker insists that Roger owes him one. Roger refuses but later tells Martin that Hunsaker saved his life in the Vietnam War.

That afternoon, Martin and Roger are called to the scene of a suicide attempt, where a man named McCleary (Michael Shaner) is standing on the ledge of a tall building. Even though neither is trained to handle such matters, Roger lets Martin go up to try to talk McCleary down.

Martin handcuffs himself to a possible suicide (Michael Shaner) and then they both jump.

Martin eventually handcuffs himself to McCleary, warning him that jumping would drag them both down and thus be a murder and a suicide. When McCleary refuses to leave the ledge, Martin pushes him and they both leap at the same time. However, by then, a large air cushion has been set up below and they fall into it safely.
Roger, however, is not happy and confronts Martin about his risky behavior. Martin reveals that he is suicidal, but that his love for police work has prevented him from killing himself.

Next, the two go to the home of Amanda’s “sugar daddy,” who is also a suspect in her murder. But they are met with gunfire and while Roger doesn’t want to kill the suspect, Martin has to do so to save Roger from being shot.

That night, Martin joins Roger’s family for dinner and tells Roger that he doubts the sugar daddy was the killer. The two spend time together on Roger’s fishing boat. After a few beers, Martin leaves, but not before he reveals that he was a sniper in the Vietnam War and believes that shooting was his only great skill.

Roger later finds an evidence package addressed to him containing Amanda’s high school yearbook and a pornographic videotape she made with other women.

The next morning, Roger is awakened by Martin who proposes that Dixie, the prostitute who witnessed Amanda’s fall, was also her killer.

Martin and Roger stop at a shooting range for no real reason.

But before they go, they stop at a firing range and both men try to show their prowess with a gun. This is a continuation of sorts of the conversation they had the night before. While Roger is good, Martin is far better, shooting rings around his partner.

When they arrive at a suspect's house, it explodes.

When they finally arrive at Dixie’s house to interview her, the building explodes. Martin finds a trigger device amongst the wreckage, which he recognizes as the same kind used by mercenaries during the Vietnam War. Neighborhood kids who witnessed the explosion tell the detectives that they saw a man at the gas meter outside Dixie’s house earlier that day, and he had a tattoo that matches the one on Martin’s arm. Martin explains that the tattoo means their suspect was in the Special Forces.

They next go to Hunsaker’s home, where Roger proposes to Hunsaker that his involvement in criminal activity is what got his daughter killed and that her murderer was Dixie, who was paid to poison her. Hunsaker admits to being part of a heroin smuggling operation with several other veterans who were part of Shadow Company, a special unit of mercenaries and assassins formed during the Vietnam War.

Just then, a helicopter flies past the house, and Hunsaker is shot and killed by Joshua (Gary Busey), one of the mercenaries from Hunsaker’s drug ring. That night, while Martin and Roger seek out Dixie on the streets, Joshua drives past and shoots, seemingly killing Martin. But when Roger goes to investigate, he finds that Martin is wearing a bulletproof vest that saves his life.

Only moments later, Roger gets word that there has been a killing near his house and rushes home to find that his oldest daughter, Rianne (Traci Wolfe), has been kidnapped. Mercenaries from the drug ring call, ordering him to go to Dry Lake in Victorville, California, at sunrise, saying they only want the information that Hunsaker gave him.

Roger and Martin develop a plan to retrieve Rianne safely, knowing that Joshua believes Martin is dead. The next morning, Roger drops Martin off on the outskirts of the dry lakebed, then confronts the mercenaries, who arrive with a limousine, a truck, and a helicopter full of armed men.

Mercenaries overwhelm Roger and Martin on a dry lakebed.

Roger threatens the mercenaries with a smoke grenade, and the distraction allows Martin to begin sniping from across the lakebed. Just as Martin is getting aim on Joshua, he is stopped by the ringleader of the drug cartel, General McAllister (Mitchell Ryan), which leads to Martin and Roger being captured.

Joshua (Gary Busey) enjoys torturing Martin.

In the back of a nightclub, the mercenaries torture Martin and Roger in separate rooms, trying to find out what Hunsaker revealed about the details of an upcoming heroin deal. Even though he’s strapped and hanging from the wall, Martin kills his torturer, Endo (Al Leong). Afterward, he shoots his way through the building, saving both Roger and Rianne in the process.

Martin takes after Joshua on foot through the streets of Hollywood.

Joshua hijacks a car and flees the scene. Martin gives chase on foot but loses him on the freeway. Meanwhile, Roger shoots the driver of a car containing the mercenaries' leader, General McAllister, causing the car to run into a bus and explode.

Martin and Joshua settle things with a fistfight in front of Roger's house while other cops watch.

Roger figures out that Joshua is headed to his house and the two hurry to thwart him. Joshua breaks in, but there is no one home. That is until Roger and Martin drive their car into the house. They manage to disarm Joshua. But before arresting him, Martin challenges Joshua to a fistfight. While police surround the area, the two men go at it. After an extensive fight, Martin beats Joshua, but Joshua doesn’t give up, instead he steals a police officer’s gun. But before he can shoot anyone, both Martin and Roger shoot him dead.

On Christmas Eve, Martin delivers flowers to his dead wife's grave and then stops by Roger’s house. Rianne, who has a crush on Martin, answers the door. He gives her the bullet which he almost used to kill himself to give her father, signifying that he is no longer suicidal.

But before he can leave, Roger hurries out and insists that Martin stay for Christmas dinner.

The film opened on March 6, 1987 and went on to make $120.2 million at the box office. A very good return on the $15 million-dollar budget. So good in fact, that it would spawn not just one sequel, but three: Lethal Weapon 2 (1989); Lethal Weapon 3 (1992) and Lethal Weapon 4 (1998) as well as a TV series, cleverly enough also called Lethal Weapon. The critical response at the time was fair, if not overly, positive and the film even garnered an Academy Award nomination for Best Sound.

On the surface, the film has a lot in common with Die Hard, the least of which is that Bruce Willis was almost in it. Both films deal with cops in trouble, families threatened, violent money-hungry gangs, big fight scenes that close the movie as well as a blonde-haired antagonist that refuses to give up, even after losing the penultimate conflict, and is shot dead to end the threat. In Die Hard, it was Alexander Godunov as Karl; here it is Gary Busey as Joshua. In addition, both films exude an 80’s feel, especially when it comes to the technology of the day. When Roger talks on a portable phone in Lethal Weapon, it is more akin to the field radios they used in World War Two to that mobile device in your pocket. To top it off, there are two actors in this film that also appear in Die Hard: Grand Bush, who here plays Boyette and is FBI Agent Little Johnson in Die Hard; and Al Leong, here Endo and in Die Hard, he played one of the terrorists, Uli.

Al Leong (Endo) plays a similar role in Die Hard.

Also, like Die Hard, the heroes never have a moment to take a breath and seem to recover from their wounds with great speed. Martin goes literally from being tortured while strung up to running full speed down the middle of the street after Joshua, who is driving a speeding car. This is just one example of how once the film gets going it never stops as plot points reveal themselves one after another.

At the heart of the buddy cop film is the cliché partnering a by-the-books cop, Roger, with a cop who plays by his own rules, Martin. You see this over and over again, one of the more recent examples is Zootopia (2016), an animated take on the genre. It is no accident that Roger is also a happily-married family man and Martin is a tinderbox ready to explode. Don’t fault the film for going there, since it is one of the hallmarks of these kinds of films. How dull would it be if both followed the rules, or how chaotic if they both played things by the seat of their pants? For their roles, Glover and Gibson seem to be well cast.

Gibson does have one very dramatic scene, the one in which he contemplates suicide one night in his trailer by the ocean. It is a very powerful scene for this kind of movie and shows what Gibson was capable of providing as an actor. Not really sure if he had the credentials to be a really great dramatic actor. His turn as Hamlet (1991) and the only $20 million it made at the box-office might be evidence that the world wasn’t looking for him to play those kinds of roles.

There are some parts of the movie that get somewhat tiresome, especially the rather long fight scene at the end of the film between Martin and Joshua. Not only does this scene have no real point, other than to show how macho the two men are, but it goes on far too long. At some point, one of the other would have either passed out or given up, but not these two. No matter how much punishment they each dish out, they are both ready for more. It finally takes bullets, not fists or kicks, to stop Joshua, the Energizer Bunny of villains.

Not everything in Lethal Weapon is believable. To begin with, the murder/suicide that starts the film. No one coaxes her to go out on the ledge and her suicide seems more akin to a bad acid trip than a cocaine high (or so I’ve heard). But you get the sense we see it because it’s a way to be more over the top and to throw in a little gratuitous nudity. So much cooler for her to die on top of a car than on the couch. I also get the sense that we have the big showdown in a dry lake bed for the same reason. You can almost hear that as part of the pitch, “It’ll be so cool…” Ditto blowing up the house. How exactly would Joshua know the exact time Roger and Martin were going to show up? But isn’t it cool…

Overall though, I would have to recommend this film. For the most part, it is very entertaining. Fast-paced and never really slows down, Lethal Weapon still gives the audience a real sense of who our main characters, Roger and Martin, are. This is something oftentimes overlooked in many summer films. Knowing them makes you more empathetic to them, which is something missing from a lot of films these days.

To read reviews of other Christmas films, please see our Christmas Review Hub.