FernGully: The Last Rainforest (1992)

2018 #99
Bill Kroyer | 73 mins | streaming (HD) | 1.85:1 | USA & Australia / English | U / G

FernGully: The Last Rainforest

I remember ignoring FernGully when it came out (probably when it hit rental video rather than at the cinema) because it looked a bit rubbish. I mean, it was an animated movie but it wasn’t made by Disney — “could such things even exist?”, wondered little me (probably). As the years went by, I kinda assumed everyone else had ignored or forgotten it, leaving it as some curio I vaguely remembered from video shop walls. But fastforward to 2009 and suddenly everyone was talking about it, because it had been remade as a big-budget 3D sci-fi epic by James Cameron. Okay, Avatar wasn’t actually a FernGully remake, but the disparaging comparison came up a lot. Fastforward another decade to now (a time when Cameron’s fourfilm remake of FernGully 2: The Magical Rescue (yes FernGully got a sequel) is still over two years away (provided they don’t push it back again)), and on a whim I finally watched FernGully to see this supposed likeness for myself.

So, what’s FernGully actually about? Well, not blue creatures on an alien moon, although it’s equally as fantastical. It’s set in the Australian rainforest, where fairies live in isolation, believing humans to have gone extinct… that is until loggers turn up to destroy their home. Fairy Crysta (Samantha Mathis) shrinks human Zak (Jonathan Ward) down to her size to save him from a falling tree, at which point he learns about their way of life — oh, right, Avatar here we are. Anyway, many years ago an evil entity called Hexxus (Tim Curry) was trapped inside a tree, which the loggers cut down, and suddenly everyone’s at threat.

If it’s not obvious already, FernGully is pretty heavy on the environmental messaging (it’s even dedicated to “our children and our children’s children”, and there’s a note at the end of the credits about donating proceeds to the Smithsonian for environmental work). I seem to remember this was all viewed as being kinda-loony eco stuff back when the film came out. Now, of course, acceptance of those views is much wider, and what the film has to say seems a little obvious. Though we’re still destroying the planet, so I guess we’ve not learned that much in the three decades since.

Batty, indeed

Even more of-its-time are the musical numbers. They’re very 1992, and not in a good way. That said, although it’s a terrible song, If I’m Gonna Eat Somebody (It Might As Well Be You) is one of the best titles ever.

One of the people lumbered with an awful tune is Robin Williams, playing a mentally-deranged rapping bat. Nonetheless, he’s definitely one of the best things in the film — not as much as his Genie was in Aladdin, but he does occasionally bring a similar irreverence. It’s needed when the rest of the film is being a bit po-faced about the magic of nature. The other vocal standout is Tim Curry, who always gives good villain. He’s supported by nice design and animation, with Hexxus visualised as a dripping oil-creature, plus a couple of other forms as the film goes on, all of which look pretty effective. Like the rest of the movie, his characterisation and motivation are very underdeveloped, and Curry’s given little to do after his initial birth/song sequence, but the character looks good.

All in, FernGully is a decent little animated adventure — a tad earnest perhaps, but not too bad — but it’s held back by weak music and a thin plot.

3 out of 5

The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again (2016)

2016 #165
Kenny Ortega | 88 mins | download (HD) | 16:9 | USA / English

The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let's Do the Time Warp AgainWhen this TV movie kicks off with Ivy Levan sashaying her way around a cinema while she mimes to a pre-recorded and over-produced backing track of Science Fiction/Double Feature, full of licks and runs and finding four notes to hit where there used to be one, like a desperate X Factor wannabe who has no concept of the meaning of the lyrics she’s warbling but is ever so desperate to show she can saaang (that’s like singing but with added Cool), you get a pretty fair idea of the terrible experience about to be unleashed upon you by the not-so-catchily titled The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again. That’s to say it’s been modernised, Americanised, and sanitised.

If you know the original then you know the plot, and if you don’t know the original then you have no business watching this so-called tribute version, which premiered on Fox in the US last week and makes its way to the UK on Sky Cinema from today. “Tribute” is the latest word someone has co-opted to avoid saying “remake”, a marketing strategy that was presumably settled upon after they realised they’d produced a witless, regressive clone of material that, though over 40 years old, is still more subversive and boundary-pushing than this plastic Disneyfied tosh.

Sweet transgender womanThe interpretation of the songs is appalling. The recordings are all overworked, full of needless warbles and added “oohs”. They’ve been modernised in such a way that, when current popular fads for over-singing things (“licks” or “runs” or whatever else they call them) have passed — as they surely will — these new versions will sound even more dated than the already-40-year-old originals, which have a certain timelessness. The lyrics are sung with the same amount of attention to what they mean as you get from a computer’s text-to-speech function, including or echoing parts of the original without understanding why they’re there or what function they perform; or if it does know the function, it doesn’t know how to replicate it.

To say its performances are like a bad am-dram production would be an insult to am-drammers everywhere. Almost everyone is miscast. It was, perhaps, a nice touch to include Tim Curry, but his limited scenes are uncomfortable to watch because it’s painfully obvious that the poor man is still labouring under the aftereffects of his stroke. As Brad, Ryan McCartan overacts as if he thinks that’s the whole point. Reeve Carney makes Riff Raff a leering creep, and his needless affected British accent is awful. As Magenta, Christina Miian’s is worse. As Frank, Laverne Cox’s imitative mid-Atlantic twang is even worse again. Why did they do it?! Presumably because, as I said, it’s all a thoughtless copy of the original.

The casting of a transgender woman as a transvestite is its own kettle of worms — either she’s a woman doing radical things like fancying men and being jealous of another woman stealing her guy, or you’re saying she’s not actually a woman but still a man and… well, like I say, it’s a mess. A commenter on the A.V. Club’s review summed up the cumulative effect quite succinctly: “Fox was actually able to pull off a pretty conservative casting choice while appearing uber progressive… By casting Cox, who identifies as female, in the role of Frank-N-Furter the seduction scenes actually became far less risqué”.

Well, it's certainly been warpedEverything is blunted further by Kenny Ortega’s ineffective direction. The camerawork is flat and uninteresting, the shot choices unimaginative. Some of the choreography looks interesting — it’s certainly more elaborate than in the original film — but the camerawork seems to be actively trying to obscure it. The editor must have struggled, unable to generate any additional excitement due to a shortage of options. At times it looks as if it was filmed live, under which circumstances its weaknesses might be understandable, if not excusable… but it wasn’t.

Occasionally there are cutaways to a cinema audience — not a real one, but a gaggle of extras, sat in a theatre watching what we’re watching. These moments are pathetic and pointless. I get that it’s meant to be a nod to the interactive midnight showings that have made Rocky Horror the phenomenon it is, but they demonstrate none of the wit or verve that make those screenings so popular. Plus the original film is good entertainment even without such intrusions; this isn’t. You might think that makes the asides necessary to liven it up, but there are so few of them, and they’re so lacking in imagination, or any discernible content whatsoever, that they just feel like they’re dragging the experience out even further.

Believe it or not, it’s not all bad. There’s one new gag in the dinner scene that’s actually pretty funny. It’s delivered by Faye Marsay lookalike Annaleigh Ashford, who makes a good fist of Columbia. Rounding out the leads, Victoria Justice has all the necessary charms to make a pretty fair Janet. Victoria Justice's omnipresent cleavage. May also be omnipotent.I refer partly to her omnipresent cleavage, but also her acting. It’s not great by any means, but she’s suitably sweet and twee at the start, then manages to sell Janet’s near-instantaneous transformation from uptight goody-two-shoes to sex-mad strumpet using just a handful of expressions and line deliveries in the slight gap her character has between Over at the Frankenstein Place and Touch-a Touch-a Touch Me. The latter is one of the film’s rare highlights, for various reasons. One of those is actually Staz Nair as Rocky — undoubtedly the least challenging role in the piece, but at least he gets it right, and his musclebound chest counterbalances Justice’s for those of the other persuasion. The only downside are his tattoos: he was supposedly just grown in a tank, how does he have tattoos?!

More than the ’75 film, Let’s Do the Time Warp Again brings to mind the 2010 episode of Glee that essayed the same musical. If you suffered through The Rocky Horror Glee Show, as I did, you’ll know it was a travesty. Is this even worse? Well, that’s a bit like someone forcing you to eat a dog shit and a cat shit before asking you which tasted nicer. That’s a little unfair: the Glee version was meritless; this one has a couple of minor plus points — so maybe it’s like someone making you eat a very small shit while occasionally showing you a picture of a sexy half-naked person. But unless someone forces you to choose between only this and Glee, there’s no earthly reason to do this particular Time Warp again.

1 out of 5

The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again is available on Sky Cinema from today, screening on Premiere at 12:25pm and 8pm.

It featured on my list of The Five Worst Films I Saw in 2016, which can be read in full here.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #76

Give yourself over to absolute pleasure.

Country: UK & USA
Language: English
Runtime: 100 minutes
BBFC: AA (1975) | 15 (1987) | 12 (1991)
MPAA: R

Original Release: 15th August 1975 (UK)
First Seen: TV, 31st December 1998

Stars
Tim Curry (Annie, Clue)
Susan Sarandon (The Front Page, Thelma & Louise)
Barry Bostwick (Weekend at Bernie’s II, Spy Hard)
Richard O’Brien (Flash Gordon, Dark City)
Meat Loaf (Roadie, Fight Club)
Charles Gray (The Devil Rides Out, Diamonds Are Forever)

Director
Jim Sharman (The Night, the Prowler, Shock Treatment)

Screenwriters
Richard O’Brien (Shock Treatment, Digital Dreams)
Jim Sharman (Shirley Thompson Versus the Aliens, Shock Treatment)

Based on
The Rocky Horror Show, a stage musical by Richard O’Brien.

Music & Lyrics
Richard O’Brien (Shock Treatment)

The Story
When straight-laced young couple Brad and Janet approach a spooky castle in need of shelter, they stumble into the strange world of Dr. Frank-N-Furter, who’s throwing a party to celebrate the ‘birth’ of his new creation: a tank-grown muscleman named Rocky. But it’s not only Rocky who’ll be getting an awakening…

Our Heroes
Good clean all-American kids Brad and Janet, newly engaged but forced to stop off at a creepy castle after their car breaks down in a storm. By the end of the night, they’ll certainly have learnt a new thing or two…

Our Villains
Dr. Frank-N-Furter — not much of a man by the light of day but by night he’s one hell of a lover. Just a sweet transvestite from Transexual, Transylvania, which would be fine if he didn’t get a bit murderous. Surrounded by a gaggle of home help and hangers-on, like hunchbacked handyman Riff Raff, mental maid Magenta, and vaudevillian groupie Columbia.

Best Supporting Character
Charles Gray is perfect as The Narrator, holed up in his wood-panelled study and telling the audience this fantastical story with admirable matter-of-factness.

Memorable Quote
“Let’s do the time warp again!” — everyone

Quote Most Likely To Be Used in Everyday Conversation
“I see you shiver with antici…

…pation.” — Dr. Frank-N-Furter

Memorable Scene
The title sequence: the opening number sung by a pair of very big, very red lips. Simple, but iconic.

Best Song
Rocky Horror is one of those musicals where almost every song is genius: the cleverly reference-filled, surprisingly melancholic, bookending refrain of Science Fiction/Double Feature; the wittily rhymed Dammit Janet; the mission statement that is Sweet Transvestite; the sweetly kinky Touch-A, Touch-A, Touch Me; the epic multi-part floor show climax… and more. That said, I always disliked the post-climax Super Heroes, and wasn’t alone: it was actually cut out of the original US release. But then I heard Richard O’Brien sing it with acoustic guitar on the DVD special features, and in that variation it’s a darkly beautiful song. But for all that, when talking about the best song in Rocky Horror you really can’t beat the utterly iconic Time Warp.

Making of
Many films have “Easter eggs” — little half-hidden treats for fans to discover — but not many have them literally. The exception, of course, is Rocky Horror. Apparently the crew had an Easter egg hunt (which, considering the movie was shot from October to December, doesn’t make much sense) but they weren’t all found, hence why some turned up in the final film. I won’t tell you where they are (I mean, five seconds on Google and you can find out), but there are supposedly three.

Next time…
Initially a flop, it was when someone got the idea to screen the movie for the midnight crowd that Rocky Horror caught on. The interactive, ritual-filled experience of these screenings is legendary, and they’ve continued ever since — to the point where some cinemas have it as part of their regular schedule, and the DVD & Blu-ray releases include alternate tracks featuring the audience participation. It also means that, officially speaking, Rocky Horror has the longest theatrical run in movie history. In 1981, Sharman and O’Brien produced a sort-of-sequel, Shock Treatment. A new adventure for Brad and Janet (both recast), it featured several Rocky Horror actors (O’Brien, Patricia Quinn, Little Nell, Charles Gray) in new roles. It didn’t go down very well, though apparently it has its fans — a cult following within a cult following, I guess. In 2010, once-popular high school musical TV series Glee aired a tribute episode, The Rocky Horror Glee Show. It is truly horrendous; a plasticky, sanitised, neutered version of something that should never be those things. So I don’t hold out much hope for the next thing the same network (Fox, of all places!) have planned for the property: after years (decades?) of rumours, they’re finally making good on the threat by remaking the film. Officially dubbed The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again, the clips released so far look almost as bad as the Glee version. We’ll see. Finally, the original stage show has continued across numerous productions, and last year a 40th anniversary gala performance was simulcast to cinemas across Europe and later aired on TV. It’s now available on YouTube. I’ve not watched it, but I suspect it’s a better bet than that Fox version.

Awards
1 Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films Golden Scroll nomination (Best Horror Film (it lost to Young Frankenstein))

What the Critics Said
Rocky Horror is actually a very good film in its own right; made on a small budget, it’s a triumph of clever filmmaking by Sharman, who should have gone on to bigger things (and might have, had he not arrived at the end of an era). Yes, there are little technical glitches, but rarely has there been a more cleverly and creatively shot and edited film. Nearly every angle, every cut, every zoom shot, every optical transition is used to effectively maximize its respective scene. […] Remember the cult status, yes, but sometime try watching Rocky Horror just as a movie. It pays real dividends.” — Ken Hanke, Mountain Xpress

You What?
“Viewed on video simply as a movie, without the midnight sideshow, it’s cheerful and silly, and kind of sweet, and forgettable.” — Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times (Rocky Horror is many things, but “forgettable”? Hm.)

Score: 80%

What the Public Say
Rocky Horror is so distinctive, so unique, that it could’ve come off as bizarre, alien, and off-putting, but it didn’t. It has such self-aware charm, a catchy soundtrack that sticks in the head for days, and hilarious performers, that it overcomes its rather dull protagonists. Of course, Brad and Janet have their own charm as parodies of the square-jawed hero and his girl, but they will always be the least interesting characters on screen.” — That Other Critic

Verdict

Some people dismiss Rocky Horror as a film, thinking its only worth (if they acknowledge it has any) is as a live experience. I’ve never seen it ‘live’ (and don’t have an especially great desire to) but will happily fight its corner as a solo viewing experience. It’s camp and transgressive, but ‘safely’ so — that’s not a criticism, just an observation that it can work well as an eye-opener for the young or more conservative. But beyond that social impact, the outré style belies an underlying cleverness, with witty writing that features abundant references to sci-fi B-movie classics, precisely pitched performances, and, of course, the unforgettable toe-tapping tunes. Whether alone or in a packed auditorium throwing stuff and shouting back at the screen, it’s just fun. To watch it is to, indeed, give yourself over to absolute pleasure.

#77 will be… the greatest love story the world has ever known.

Clue (1985)

2010 #28
Jonathan Lynn | 93 mins | TV | PG / PG

Although Disney have recently treated (I use the word loosely) us to a glut of films based on theme park attractions, movies adapted from good old board games seem a lot rarer. This is probably for good reason — even more so than Disney rides, the majority have no kind of useable narrative. Cluedo (aka Clue in the US) is one of the few that does, and consequently is one of the few (only?) board games that has reached the silver screen. So far, anyway.

I’m going to put Clue into the same category as Flash Gordon: it’s the kind of film that’s unremittingly daft, but it knows it is, and if one gets on board with that then it’s a very enjoyable experience. The story sees an exuberantly excellent Tim Curry gather a group of disparate-but-secretly-connected individuals at a remote stately home, each under a fake name based on those infamous monikers from the game. Eventually there’s a murder, and then a few more, all of which is conveyed in a mix of hilarious farce and fast-paced screwball comedy. It’s Agatha Christie meets Fawlty Towers.

It’s not all funny, certainly — there’s a fair share of puerile gags — but the abundant good bits more than make up for them. On the other hand, you may agree with Roger Ebert that most of the gags fail to hit home. That it has a cult following (plus frequent airings on digital channels like ITV3, suggesting it might pull relatively decent viewing figures (all things considered) whenever it’s on) goes to show it’s all a matter of taste.

Other than the board game connection, Clue is best known for its three different endings, all of which were released, with each screening having just one attached. On TV the film shows with all three consecutively, and they perhaps work best this way — there’s a rising scale of ridiculousness, and the varied repetition of a couple of gags underlines rather than steals their amusement value. My personal favourite variant was the first, incidentally.

Surely the only reasonable reaction to a task as ludicrous as adapting a board game into a film is to turn it into a comedy. Clue does so with aplomb. Ridley Scott, take note.

4 out of 5

Clue placed 10th on my list of The Ten Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2010, which can be read in full here.