Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Beauty Day

Title: Beauty Day
Director:  Jay Cheel
Released: 2011

Plot: Documentary about Ralph Zavadil better known for his alter-ego “Cap’n Video” whose show on the local Candian cable station saw him performing various outlandish stunts years before the likes of “Jackass” and Tom Green only for his show to get axed after an ill advised Easter special. Now he plans to make a comeback twenty years later but is there still a place for him and his unique brand of anarchic comedy.

Review: While his show might never have made it over to the UK the legacy of “Cap’n Video” certainly did thanks to appearances on clip shows and certainly for myself through the tape trading channels where recordings of his show featuring him constantly finding new and ever more unique ways to potentially maim himself as he performed stunts such as tobogganing off the roof of his house and most cringingly his attempt to take his pool cover off by jumping off a ladder only to land on his head which is also the clip that the documentary chooses to open with. Somehow despite breaking his neck attempting this stunt Zavadil not only survived but would go on undeterred with performing these stunts until the cancellation of his show.

I think one of the most surprising things about this documentary is not only the fact that Zavadil is still alive but just how grounded he comes across here, talking openly about his life and family aswell as the history of the “Cap’n Video” while seemingly never having a bad word to say about anyone. Zavadil here comes off here as a likable guy who battled alcoholism caused by his attempts to deal with his mundane work at the local GM plant. It would however be his video company which consisted of him and his camera and a helmet with lights strapped to it (instant lighting baby) which also had the tendency on occasion to electrocute him which soon saw him drifting into making his stunt tapes.

For those unfamiliar with “Cap’n Video” there is certainly plenty of footage to enjoy here, much of it seemingly coming from Zavadil’s master tapes as stunts often end with relived at having survived another of his misguided stunts and yet he comes back for more the reason why though is never clear especially when Zavadil openly expresses his disdain for fame seekers and as the audience all we can assume is that it’s purely his love of entertaining that keeps him going. That being said it would have been nice to have actually been given some kind of insight into what makes a guy set fire to his face as seen with his “Razor in a bottle” stunt.

While the main interest here is certainly the “Cap’n Video” parts of the documentary the parts concerning his former girlfriend Nancy Dewar whose motorcycle crash due to failed brakes he still feels responsible for having been her mechanic at the time and its touching to see them reconnect years later much like his daughter who he didn’t meet until she was twelve. All these segements really round out his character and never feel like filler much like when he talks fondly about his father who it seems may surprisingly have provided much of the inspiration for “Cap’n Video” even if he perhaps takes things to a more extreme level.

The climax of the film seeing Zavadil putting together his anniversary show while clearly not having lost his lust for his insane stunts as we see him putting together a new showcase for the local cable network. But in these days of heavy censorship and certainly in the aftermath of the numerous copycat attempts that “Jackass” inspired during its original run on MTV is there still a place for him and if not where does he go from here?

A highly upbeat and fast paced documentary which provides a fitting portrait of this cult hero whose legacy I thought had been lost like so much 90’s nostalgia and yet here is fondly celebrated even if it doesn’t go as deep as I would have liked to have seen with director Cheel seemingly happy to just play the onlooker and let Zavadil guide the film than try and figure out why he still feels this urge to constantly put himself through these stunts with only Zavadil’s mother Barbara and ex-girlfriend Nancy to really give any kind of outside perspective.  Ultimatly this is worth watch for those familiar with “Cap’n Video” or for the “Jackass” fans who want to see the man who inspired it all.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016


Title: Pixels
Director: Chris Columbus
Released: 2015
Starring: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Michelle Monaghan, Peter Dinklage, Josh Gad, Brian Cox, Ashley Benson, Jane Krakowski, Sean Bean

Plot: Aliens misinterpret a video of classic video games as a declaration of war attacking Earth using the characters from these games and leaving it down to gamers and lifelong friends Sam (Sandler) and Will (James) to use their videogame skills to defeat them and save the earth.

Review: For some reason much like M. Night Shyamalan the mere mention of Adam Sandler’s name being attached to any film is usually cause for the critics to start sharpening their knifes and while it’s true that he now seems to have settled into a routine with his comedies which appear to be based more around where he wishes to take his vacation and keeping his friends employed, let alone a bizarre obsession with “Hooters” which continues to show up in his films.

I’m not even going to try and convince you that this film is the one which see’s Sandler break away from his usual antics and gives us a ground breaking comedic experience as you certainly won’t get that here, neither the kind of surprise acting turn that we have seen him pull out of nowhere with the likes of “Punch Drunk Love” and “The Cobbler”. What we do get though is a fun and disposable comedy which shamelessly plays to the retro gamer fans taste for sure.

Opening in 1982 were Sam discovers that he can master video games by recognising the patterns and looks set to win the local video game championships only to lose to the obnoxious and egotistical Eddie Plant (Dinklage). Now flash forward to present day and Sam is working in home tech support setting up home cinema’s while best friend Will is now somehow the President of the United States….I did highlight this was an Adam Sandler movie right. Of course once the aliens invade Sam is of course the only person who can stop them, because seemingly no one else in the world plays old school video games.

Now armed with a bunch of hi-tech equipment Sam and Will team up with their other friend Ludlow (Gad) and former rival and still wildly egotistical Eddie to defeat the video game sprites which all take on the form of popular video game characters such as a giant Pac Man and Centipede with the weakness’s all matching their weaknesses in the game so hence Centipede has to be shot in the head while Pac Man has to be taken out by the mini coopers all assigned the names of the Ghosts from the game in one of the more memorable set pieces here.

All the cast are likable enough here with Sandler once more bringing his usual laid back comedic style while James and Gad are on hand for the more slapstick antics. Peter Dinklage meanwhile steals the show as Eddie as he constantly has something snarky to say and generally plays up his arsehole nature which seemingly has only gotten worse in the years which have passed since he beat Sam in the video game championships.

As I mentioned already this film really aims to shamelessly play up for the retro video game fans as it not only bombards the viewer with numerous refrences but also features cameos from cult figures from this world including former Donkey Kong World record holder Steve Wiebe whose battle to claim the title was so memorably documented in “King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters” and who here puts in a cameo as a military scientist while Pac Man creator Toru Iwatani shows up as an arcade repairman while we also get a fictional version played here by Denis Akiyama due to Iwatani not being able to speak English.

While this film is certainly  fun and has some standout moments it equally has some glaring flaws such as Eddie somehow being able to use video game cheat codes in real life with no explanation given to how exactly this is supposed to work. Equally frustrating is the fact we never see the aliens behind the attacks only their video game avatars so after Sam and co. beat Donkey Kong that’s it! No big reveal or anything while the fact that the video game vixen that Ludow unhealthy lusts over gets magically brought back via a morphing Q-Bert just felt too much like pandering to an audience who couldn’t handle any kind of downbeat outcome in the films ending.

While these flaws are frustrating it still does not make the film as bad as many critics would have you believe, perhaps having cast their judgement at the Sandler’s name being listed as the lead. However for old school gamers this is a fun disposable bit of nostalgia that doesn’t outstay its welcome while no doubt leave you wanting to dust off some of the games in your collection for another round.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Hard Rain

Title: Hard Rain
Director:  Mikael Salomon
Released: 1998
Starring:  Christian Slater, Morgan Freeman, Randy Quaid, Minnie Driver, Edward Asner, Michael Goorjian, Dann Florek, Ricky Harris, Mark Rolston, Peter Murnik, Wayne Duvall, Richard Dysart, Betty White

Plot: Armoured truck driver Tom (Slater) and his uncle Charlie (Asner) have been tasked with collecting the money from the banks set to be affected by flooding as the small town of Huntingburg, Indiana finds itself being hit by a rainstorm. Things take a turn from the worst when Tom finds himself on the run from a gang of armed robbers lead by the charismatic Jim (Freeman) who plan to use the storm as a cover for their heist on the truck.

Review:  Originally intended to be directed by John Woo who left the project in favour of directing “Face Off” instead and leaving the door open for Cinematographer turned director Mikael Salomon to take control of the project in what to date has only been his second feature film, having for the best part of his career preferring to direct TV or Timelife event movies. Still with the writer / producer pairing of Graham Yost and Mark Gordon who’d be responsible for the monster hit “Speed” with the hope being that they could capture the same magic here, especially with the pair having not returned for its ill-fated sequel “Speed 2: Cruise Control” and something which really didn’t happen financially for this film as it ended up being one of the most expensive flops of the year, only later making its budget back when it was released on VHS.

For one reason of another though this film has been largely forgotten it would seem, which is actually something of a shame as it’s arguably one of the more original heist thrillers as its combined with disaster movie elements as Christian Slater’s Tom has to try and escape his pursuers through an increasingly flooded town which interestingly had also at one point been a proposed setting for a sequel to “Deep Blue Sea” which as of yet is sadly yet to happen.

Moving with almost rocket pacing we are barely into the film before Tom is on the run with the $3 million which Jim and his men are keen to capture, chasing after him on jetski’s which is just one of the numerous nice visual touches scattered throughout the film, while the unique setting keeps it from getting predictable.  Slater here though is really working his usual Jack Nicholson reminiscent charms with an action hero edge similar to what we got  in “Broken Arrow”. Morgan Freeman meanwhile gets a rare chance to play the villain of the piece, with those smooth southern tones really working for him here as Jim isn’t the kind of guy whose quick to anger preferring to methodically work his way through his situation even when Tom continually finds ways out outsmart or out manoeuvre his men who you would think have the advantage here.

When it comes to Jim’s gang they really are a mixed bunch of assorted character types as we have the bible passage quoting Ray (Harris), the token idiot Kenny (Goorjian) and ore randomly the high school teacher Mr Mehlor (Florek) who’s also an explosives expert! Frustratingly it’s never explained what brought these characters together outside of the allure of a big payday the heist promises to provide. The is also a great drinking game to be had based around taking a shot every time the name Kenny is said….trust me it really stacks up.

While this game of cat and mouse is unfolding we also have the few residents of the town which include Sheriff Collig played here surprisingly straight and without any of his usual craziness by Randy Quaid and who despite recently being dropped as the town Sheriff is still trying to stay loyal to his duties as he attempts to evacuate the last few residents with his two deputies. Its during these scenes we not only get to the see the films perhaps unneeded love interest Karen (Driver) who is currently in town restoring the church but most amusing are Henry and Doreen Sears who are determined to wait out the storm in town and generally help provide the film with random comedy moments whenever it threatens to level out. Betty White in particular is fantastic as Doreen as she threatens Tom with a shotgun and puts out bear traps for possible looters. Richard Dysart meanwhile completes the double act and makes for the perfect straight man.  

Somehow managing to juggle the film between being a thriller and a disaster movie Salomon really makes the most his unique setting, with some great action set pieces such as a jetski chase through the hallways of the now flooded school or the heated suprise shootout which marks the start of a major third act twist which essentially changes everything which has been built up till that point as characters motives and standing are changed in an instant but not to the point where it seems unplausable.  We also get a great set piece in the town’s dam collapsing and unleashing a wave of destruction upon the town which while perhaps smaller in scale than some of the more recent CGI assisted waves we have seen in recent years here still looks impressive and helps to ramp up the thrills and stopping the film from settling into a lull.

Watching this film now it’s still unclear why it’s now been all but forgotten by most people and certainly it’s only the more confusing when you consider that we’ve yet to see anything like it since. Yes it’s not the deepest of films but as a fun and action packed thriller this is still a lot of fun with some great twist ensuring that you’ll be hooked to the end.

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Future Shock! The Story of 2000AD

Title: Future Shock! The Story of 2000AD
Director: Paul Goodwin
Released: 2014

Plot: Documentary charting the history of the iconic British comic, which not only gave the world the likes of Judge Dread but also served as a launch pad for the career of many now legendry comic book writers / artists including Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman and Garth Ennis.

Review: Growing up in the rain soaked shores of the south of England I never had much access to the comics being churned out by Marvel or DC, whose characters I knew better from their Saturday morning cartoon series than I did from the comics themselves. This of course being the downside of there being no comic shops near to where I lived but what we did have instead was “2000AD” a weekly comic series and whose pages would inevitable be filled with the kind of hyper violent sci-fi and fantasy stories that I course lapped up.

While it might be a publication not overly well known outside of the UK, this distinctly British flavoured comic was born out the ashes of the likes of horrendous comics like “Action” in the late 70’s providing its readers with its own iconic cast of characters such as the aforementioned Judge Dread aswell as the likes of Flesh, Rogue Trooper, Nemesis and Slaine whose catchphrase of “Kiss my axe!” is still as badass to me now as it was back then.  Needless to say the many of the key titles are covered in the documentary or atleast nodded to even if the focus is distinctly on the early titles rather than any of the later titles such as Durham Red, Outlaw or Sinister Dexter  which was created as a spoof of Pulp Fiction’s Hitmen Vincent and Jools.

While its characters might have been iconic as we see here in this Talking Heads heavy documentary the comic also served as base and starting point for essentially the who’s who of British comic book talent  and it’s a real credit to director Paul Goodwin that he’s been able to round up so many of the key names with only Alan Moore, Mark Millar and Garth Ennis being noticeably absent  which considering Moore’s feelings on the general treatment of his stories makes it unsurprising that he doesn’t appear here to share further tales of mistreatment of his work or the issues concerning the rights to his stories and creations which is cited as being one of the key influences for the British invasion of America and which in turn would lead to DC creating their “Vertigo” imprint to essentially give these artists the freedom to really do anything they wanted. That being said you have to question the states the industry would currently be in had 2000AD been able to handle this issue with rights to the material as the documentary certainly seems to imply that this was the sole reason for DC being able to create Vertigo in the first place.

Starting with the creation of the comic its these early years which make up the best moments of the documentary with the founding editor Pat Mills still every bit the aging activist as he highlights the satirical elements of society and the govement at the time which would soon become the foundations for the material they were creating and like all the interview subjects shares plenty of great behind the scenes stories including wanting to throttle cover artist Carlos Ezquerra over his colour choices for a cover which he felt changed the tone while most amusing is hearing the general distain by the staff for its fictional editor Tharg, who would become very much to the comic what Cousin Eddie is to “Iron Maiden” with attempts to drop him being greeted with an onslaught of complaints from the readers.

By the time we leave this golden period in the second half of the documentary entering into David Bishop’s time as editor which saw the comic not only lose focus as its once sharp satirical eye began to wonder to easy targets like Tony Blair (B.L.A.I.R. 1) and the Spice Girls (The Space girls), while at the time Bishop had to battle against less than PC advertising which seemingly was designed to embrace the lad culture of the 90’s but at the same time eliminate any female readership they had. Honestly it really has to be seen to believed that they could ever have been considered a good idea. Its also around this point that the documentary starts to sag as it gets bogged down in talks of contracts and artists writes, while constantly feeling towards the end that Goodwin is struggling to find that one soundbite which will allow him to move on.

Considering the past attempts to adapt Judge Dread it’s unsurprising that both film versions get a mention with the Stallone version unsurprisingly getting bashed, despite it really not being as bad as a lot of people would like you to believe. The more recent attempt “Dread” however is praised with Alex Garland on hand to explain his approach for the script, while Karl Urban gives the impression that he is still far from done with playing Dread despite the attempts to make a sequel still seemingly stalled at the time of writing. The documentary also interestingly draws comparisons between Dread and Robocop which certainly the 2000AD team would have you belive was an attempt to rip off Dread which is only made the harder to doubt when you see the original helmet design for Robocop and it’s an exact copy of the original Judge Dread design.  This section is also rounded out by the controversy surrounding Richard Stanley’s “Hardware” which ripped off a “Future Shocks” story.

Despite the sagging middle section the focus here is clearly to tell as full a history of the comic as possible while equally having zero qualms about exposing more than a few grim moments from its long history as no one holds back especially in the case of Pat Mills, while the material is presented in an engaging format with extensive use of archive material and a fantastic animated opening which really grabs the audience and captures the energy and feel of the material. However this is a documentary really designed for those familiar with the material as it sadly misses an opportunity to explore the inspiration for many of the great characters though despite this it remains an important piece of comic book history and worth giving a watch if your curious about the history of this legendry comic.    

Thursday, 7 April 2016

SPL: Sha Po Lang AKA. Kill Zone

Title: SPL: Sha Po Lang AKA. Kill Zone
Director: Wilson Yip
Released:  2005
Starring: Donnie Yen, Simon Yam, Sammo Hung, Wu Jing, Liu Kai-chi, Danny Summer, Ken Chang, Austin Wai, Timmy Hung, Liang Jingke

Plot: Hong Kong Police Inspector Chan Kwok-chung (Yam)has spent most of his career trying to arrest triad boss Wong Po (Hung) and now dying from a brain tumour he recived following a failed attempt on his life by Wong Po’s assassin Jack (Jing) he now finds himself along with his team using ever more questionable methods to try and bring Wong Po down.  Now joined by his replacement Ma Kwun (Yen) a police detective with his own questionable past, they must soon decide what they are willing to do to take down Wong Po.

Review: The first of a series of films which along with “Dragon Tiger Gate”, “Flashpoint” and the “IP Man” trilogy which really elevated Donnie Yen from being a favourite amongst Martial arts fans to suddenly bringing him to the attention of mainstream audiences something which had failed to happen with the few roles he’s taken within the Hollywood studio system and putting in still impressive appearances in “Blade 2” and “Shanghai Knights”. At the same time this film marked the first film in a long line of collaborations with director Wilson Yip who would also direct all these breakout films for Yen who he would also give full control over the fight scenes by hiring him as the films action director aswell.

Unquestionably though it’s an impressive cast which director Yip has assembled here with Hong Kong legend Sammo Hung doning a questionable looking ponytail in a rare yet still completely convincing villainous turn as he plays the triad boss Wong Po whose wrath is handled by his personal hitman or his numerous followers. Simon Yam meanwhile is great to see as the morally conflicted Police Inspector who as the film go on becomes increasingly corrupt as his obsession with taking down Hung’s triad boss grows.

Surprisingly the weak link here is actually Donnie Yen, who as Ma Kwun gets the fantastical “Street Fighter” style introduction as he launches a drug dealer into the air with a single punch so that he lands with an impressive crash on the roof a nearby car. Much like Inspector Chan Kwok-chung he has his own personal issues to deal with having sworn off the any means necessary style of police work after he left a drug dealer mentally handicapped from a beating he gave them. A burden he now deals with by checking in on the former drug dealer and taking him to the arcade to ironically play fighting games as he atones for his actions. This of course puts him on a collision course to butt heads with Kwok-chung who he sees heading down a similar path to the one he was on. Maybe its because the rivalry between Inspector Chan Kwok-chung and Wong Po is already so intense the introduction of Yen's character does end up feeling for the most part like something which was bolted on than worked into the plot.

Perhaps also because of Ma Kwun’s desire to hold back and do things by the book I couldn’t help  but think of Bruce Lee’s “The Big Boss” which also held back the fighting till the hero is backed into a corner and forced to fight which is essentially what we get here with film teasing out its fight scenes. When we do get the fight scenes though they are certainly worth the wait with Yip giving us not one but two grandstanding fight scenes as Ma Kwun is forced to fight the hitman Jack before finally having his showdown with Wong Po.

Originally intended as a traditional police thriller before Donnie Yen joining the cast and causing the script to be reworked as he took on action director duties aswell in doing so he also brings to the film two incredible strong action sequences which are only improved by the fact that we get them back to back starting with an Alleyway fight scene which has become one of the more discussed sequences from this film and while largely improvised by Donnie Yen and Wu Jing. While this fight is unquestionably great I have to confess to having a major fanboy moment with the finale which see’s Donnie Yen and Sammo Hung facing off in a scene which surprisingly works despite Hung’s size (the questionable ponytail is something else) and Yen’s speed and makes me appreciate the fact we got a rematch in “IP Man 2” all the more as these two masters really work well together as clearly demonstrated here even if the ending left me with mixed feelings.

Quickly paced and with a healthy dose of great action there is a lot to enjoy here, especially with its three main stars all on great form. True it might not be the deepest of thrillers but the Donnie Yen choreographed action scenes really cover for a lot of the flaws. That being said for newcomers I’d sill recommend watching “Once Upon A Time In China 2” or “Iron Monkey” first to truly get why he’s such a noteworthy talent worth comparing to the genre greats.  

Sunday, 3 April 2016


Title: Entourage
Director: Doug Ellin
Released: 2015
Starring: Kevin Connolly, Arian Grenier, Kevin Dillon, Jerry Ferrara, Jeremy Piven, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Perrey Reeves, Rex Lee, Haley Joel Osment, Ronda Rousey, Alan Dale, Billy Bob Thornton

Plot: Picking up where the series left off Vincent Chase (Grenier) has now separated from his wife after nine days of marriage and now rounding his friends Eric (Connolly), Turtle (Ferrara) and Johnny Drama (Dillon) up he plans to take his career to the next level by directing his next film “Hyde” which is being produced by his former agent Ari (Piven) who has since become a studio boss.

Review: After eight great seasons the fans were understandably alittle miffed with how the abrupt the final episode choose to wrap the series up with as Vincent Chase randomly had the sudden desire to marry the girl he’s been seeing for all of five minutes. Now given a second chance to put things right Director and series creator Doug Ellin chooses to use this film to finally give the fans the ending they wanted rather than trying to take the “Sex and The City” path of trying to continue the series as movies, even though as I write this rumours persist at a possible trilogy.

Opening with the four friends reuniting and with Vincent now newly single and seemingly none the fussed about his recent failed marriage it’s essentially business as usual as the group continue their Hollywood based antics while Vincent’s directorial debut lingers in post-production while Ari attempts to find the $10 million needed to complete the movie while Vincent only hampers his efforts by refusing to show the film to anyone. Eric meanwhile has essentially the only other plotline here has to deal with pending fatherhood while still separated from his ex-girlfriend Sloan (Chriqui), which he seemingly has chosen to handle by basically whoring himself out with various vacuous model types in a move which seems completely out of character from the voice of reason he was in the series and as a result comes off as kind of a douche for the most part here when separated from the rest of the group.

Despite the fact that the group are supposed to be the main focus, you can’t help but feel that like with the series Jeremy Pivan once again has stolen the show as the frequently volatile and foul mouthed Ari. Now having graduated to being a Studio Head with the time out from the Hollywood scenes clearly having done little to calm him down as he remains as much of a hair trigger hustler as before thanks largely to being tasked with getting money out the Texan investor Larsen McCredle (Thornton) who inturn only adds to the continuingly escalating series of issues that Ari has to deal with as he insists that his son Travis (Osment) view the film which Vincent is still refusing to show anyone. Having been chewed up by the Hollywood dream, these recent roles which we have seen Haley Joel Osment taking on as an adult actor have been fascinating to watch and here once more its none the different as while perhaps not a grand standing performance is still one of the better ones here as he plays up the spoilt brat trying to emulate his big shot father.

For the most part the film version gives us nothing that we didn’t get with the series apart from the larger budget allowing more extravagance to sell the audience the Hollywood fantasy that fuelled the show and this film as well, while once more we are bombarded with random A list cameos much like the series which seemingly had everyone from Scarlett Johansson through to Aaron Sorkin making an appearance. Here the cameos are once more accounted for with series favourite Gary Busey putting in another random appearance alongside seemingly everyone else they missed out on getting for the series with Armie Hammer, Jon Favreau, Kelsey Grammer and Jessica Alba all put in memorable apperences, while on the more grating side of things we also get a self-satisfied and sickeningly smug (but when isn’t he) appearance by Piers Morgan who seemingly hadn’t been run out of the states at this point and whose appearance here only serves to remind us all of what a pretentious prick he is.

The real fun of these A-list showings though comes from UFC fighter Rhonda Rousey here playing herself as Turtle now looking considerably lighter than the last time tries to win her affections with his usual clumsy charms and which ultimately ends in him trying to last 30 seconds inside the octagon with her in one of the best moments of the film with Turtle like Johnny Drama coming off the best here of the foursome with Drama at the end finally getting some kind of closure to his journey we’ve followed him on from the series to the movie version.

Ultimately this film is really a goodbye for the fans rather than the newcomers while clearly set in a fantastical version of Hollywood were Vincent despite having no directing ability or any discernible skills outside of his boyish charms or carefree attitude can churn out a critical acclaimed film which from the clip we see of the film seemed to be taking its cues from Richard Kelly’s criminally underrated “Southland Tales. Yes this film is far from perfect with some of the plotlines such as Eric’s failures to deal with impending fatherhood come off feeling like an afterthought, but as a new ending to the Entourage saga it’s better than we had before.
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