Archive for September, 2013

‘North Dallas Forty’ (Ted Kotcheff, 1979)

Pain. That’s what sport is to me. Both physical and mental.

This side of the sport has been well documented on film, from Rocky, to Rocky II, to the Mighty ducks 3. And what does sport mean to me second to that? I’m not telling. But third? Well, it’s the routine of it – the washing your kit, the travel to the game, putting the kit on, taping your shin pads up. When I get ready for a match in the changing room, I am always reminded of the opening titles of the the Burt Reynolds vehicle “Hooper” – it turns the act of pulling on your kit into an operatic ritual. ‘North Dallas Forty” is the equivalent of the taking off of kit after a game. The aches, the pains, the groans. It’s the most realistic sports film I’ve seen.

On the week I watched this, I had just played my first game of football in months (after proclaiming retirement). It took me 4 days to be able to walk properly. When you get into your thirties, sport just don’t seem worth it anymore. You hurt – at the time, and for days afterwards. You find yourself facing opponents half your age and twice your speed. “North Dallas Forty” feels like the story of that sentiment – men carrying on in a pursuit that has got away from them, but not knowing how to say ‘enough is enough’.

Yes, it also about money – Nolte’s character Phil Elliot naturally worries about what he will do when the time comes to retire. But above that, is the rising fear that a time will come when he can’t be part of the game. That a time will come when you don’t suffer the rituals, you no longer feel your racking heartbeat as you go out on the field, balancing on a knife edge between inadequacy and that perfect moment when you pull of the catch/kick/throw/goal that may win the game – a split second of chance that fuels the willpower to smell the soggy post-game kit, accept a week of pain, accept the risk of failure you can’t hide from.
That’s the reason I keep coming back. The hope I will regain the level of talent I had 10 years ago – but it’s a pipe dream. My body can no longer match up.
I expect the money keeps these players coming back long after they should have called it a day – I won’t have that problem – I’m no pro. ‘Slap Shot’ (my favourite sports film) is a great example of this – slipping down the leagues so you keep getting a pay check, the drudgery of sport as a career. But some can’t do that – they only understand being the best.

North Dallas Forty contains a lot of men behaving terribly – destroying their body with legal & illegal drugs, partying too hard, burning the candle at both ends – but it’s all about pride. Never letting the other guy get the better of him playing or partying. We can all understand that. And these men fight for their space on the field, in bars, boardrooms and the bedroom (I think Jackie Collins broke into my computer and wrote that last sentence).

Speaking of pride, a friend of mine was telling me his brother (let’s call him ‘Dave’ as that is his name) never says no to a bet. In a pub recently a chap bet him he could send him across the room with a trademark Bruce Lee “One-inch punch”. Never one to back down from a challenge, Dave accepted. Bruce Li duly charged his body up with ancient power and twatted Dave across the room, sliding along the floor. Now, the indignity of losing the bet doesn’t end there – a little person (the artists formerly known as midgets) leapt upon his chest straddling him – and proceeded to suck Dave’s contact lens right out of his eye.
It turns a little hazy after that (I’m quite sure the red mist descended by that point), but it seems the small eye licker made his getaway. On receipt of this tale, I was naturally sceptical, so I texted Dave myself asking what happened after the punch, and he replied “Little bastid sucked my contact lens out!”.
I don’t know about you, but I’m never going to write ‘bastard’ the same way again. That’s the gift that life can give you sometimes. Thanks God or equivalent.

I just worry that the real Bruce Lee may have had the same sidekick back in the 70’s. Who’s to say that off-camera, Chuck Norris wasn’t getting the beard sucked clean off his face? I actually believe that the Chuck Norris masterpiece “Code Of Silence” was about the network of poor individuals who are made to suffer in silence after such an encounter. But I’m almost definitely wrong.

Slap Shot perfectly captured the camaraderie of a team between games. The touring, the changing rooms – some of my best stories come from nights out after games, and the carnage on tour (I once watched a drunken teammate forget he was in a rickshaw and calmly try to walk off down the street at 30mph plus. His body tumbling into the night was the last we saw of him until breakfast). North Dallas Forty on the other hand excels at displaying the egos at work in a team, and the massaging and tip-toing that needs to be performed to keep the team on the rails. It’s based on a semi-autobiographical novel by Peter Gent, one-time wide receiver with the Dallas Cowboys. The insight into a professional team is clearly genuine, and the film’s strongest suit. All the more impressive is that it’s yet another film covered on this blog directed by Ted Kotcheff. The ‘Weekend At Bernies” and “First Blood” director skips between genres with ease. It’s a great shame he fell off the radar in the 90’s.

Is it a good candidate for the 24 hour film session? Possibly not – it’s very well know so highly likely to have been seen previously by most attendees. But I’m never one to turn away a 1970’s American film, so it may just slip in during the day stretch.
Give it a look, even if you’re not a sports fan. The sport is the vehicle here, friendship and morals the centre.

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‘Fat Slags’ (Ed Bye, 2004)

slagsYou probably think that ‘Fat Slags’ is a terrible film and turned your nose up at it the moment you saw the title.

You’re probably right. But it’s not as though it’s pretending to be something it isn’t.

Fat Slags (15) (2004).avi_snapshot_00.38.46_[2013.09.13_12.31.13]Though it had been going for some time, Viz really took off in the late eighties/early nineties when I was at secondary school. It was lewd, crude, puerile, childish, twisted, stupid, silly and very rough around the edges. I can remember drawing Roger Irrelevant on my Design Technology folder and even buying that stupid little Roger Mellie swear words book. Viz used to be on the top shelf in the newsagents with all the porn. It was lowlife scum in comic form. A reminder of adolescence for adults and one long, bloody funny fart joke for kids.

So if you go to the cinema to see a film called ‘Fat Slags’ about the comic strip characters of the same name, what the hell do you expect from it? Quite frankly it delivers exactly what the title promises: A live action version of that comic strip. I had a rant a few weeks back about the remake of ‘House of Wax’ (Jaume Collet-Serra, 2005) where the makers were clearly taking the piss and it for the money. The opposite is true here, though it’s clearly a money-making exercise, the aim is to make the film the title describes.

Fat Slags (15) (2004).avi_snapshot_01.03.00_[2013.09.13_12.30.23]It’s not possible to be snobbish or angry about this film getting made. However I am puzzled as to why it got made in 2004. It doesn’t really make any sense. By 2004 Viz was well into its decline. But that’s the truth of development hell and a consequence Hollywood, or indeed the British film industry, have yet to acknowledge.

One can draw a lot of parallels between ‘Fat Slags’ and ‘Spice World’ (Bob Spiers, 1997). Both films are British, both are directed by established TV comedy directors, both have that excruciating ‘girl power’ theme, both feature a baffling number of celebrity cameos and both feature Geri Halliwell. Tonally they’re much the same thing and it’s the sort of balls-out fun cinema is so afraid of. I’m not saying I had much fun watching it, but I imagine it was fun to make and there are one or two moments which I genuinely laughed at.

Fat Slags (15) (2004).avi_snapshot_00.47.18_[2013.09.13_12.29.24]Our eponymous slags’ boyfriends, two Geordie guys, are picked up by the police who can’t understand a word they’re saying and assume they’re foreign, putting them through immigration. This was actually quite funny, all the more surprisingly given the immigration officials were Punt and Dennis!

Another strange sequence sees a flattened dead dog being thrown out of a window, hitting a gardener who falls backwards into his wheelbarrow and then explodes in a ball of flame. It’s reminiscent of the sheep and bazooka in ‘Bad Taste’ (Peter Jackson, 1987).

Fat Slags (15) (2004).avi_snapshot_00.28.13_[2013.09.13_12.27.43]Other chuckles come mainly from the cast, specifically Anthony Head who is usually pretty reliable. Here he delivers some terrific plummy insults and bitchy asides very well and is probably one of the only cast members to leave with his dignity intact. The aforementioned Geri Halliwell is also pretty good. She doesn’t have much to do, but she does it well. The big mystery is Jerry O’Connell. They clearly wanted a big star, and I seriously suspect they wanted someone to play themselves, someone like Richard Gere or Tom Cruise. They couldn’t get anyone and ended up with O’Connell, tweaking the script to suit. But he’s worse than useless and I’m sure if they’d sniffed around they could’ve found a more convincing star for this, someone who’d make sense in the role. By 2004 O’Connell was old news, in 2013 at the time of writing I don’t even think he has an agent anymore.

Dolph Lundgren took some flak for appearing in this, but again he comes out of it fairly unscathed. He’s mugging a bit, but what the hell? For a guy who can’t act he’s had a great career in film. What he does works.

The leads are another point of confusion. One can assume the plethora of guest stars is to make up for the relative anonymity of the leads. While Fiona Allen was fairly well-known for ‘Smack the Pony’ on TV, Sophie Thompson (Emma’s sister) has never really broken through. It’s probably because she did this! She’s the better of the two slags since Allen insists on a weird toothy smirk throughout, even during fight sequences, and she ends up looking uncannily like the comedic antimatter that is Katy Brand.

Fat Slags (15) (2004).avi_snapshot_00.14.24_[2013.09.13_12.32.24]The shortcomings of the limited script, which lacks punchy lines leaving it to director Ed Bye to fill in with visual gags, is revealed in the closing titles when Paul Alexander’s name appears. Oh, Paul. He’s been attached to some bloody awful things in his time. Aside from contributing to the very worst ‘Red Dwarf’ series he was also responsible for S Club 7’s TV adventures and ‘Dancing Queen’ rip-off ‘Staggered’ (Martin Clunes, 1994).

But none of this matters. You can’t call this film crap, rubbish, shit or disappointing. If you’ve gone out of your way to watch ‘Fat Slags’ then you get what you’ve sought. No-one to blame but you.

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‘House of Wax’ (Jaume Collet-Serra, 2005)

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It’s easy to take the name of something for granted. While leafing through a book recently I stumbled across an explanation of the job title “Foley Artist”. I’m sure I knew this, but clearly my brain disagreed. Between my knowing it and re-knowing it, my brain decided that ‘Foley’ was either a piece of equipment, such as a special microphone, or a mixing desk of some sort specific to sound effects.

Jack FoleyJack Foley died in 1967 and has an entire art named after him. I’m struggling to think of anyone else who can make that claim. Imagine being so good at your job, that people would later carry on that work in your name. It really is an art form too and in such a genre specific film such as horror or science fiction the art becomes more challenging. Creating real world sounds should be relatively straightforward, but creating sounds such as “Man’s face peeling off under wax mask” must be both an exciting challenge and a depressing realisation that you’re working on a truly shit film and performing art in the name of a pioneer in a medium that is eating its own tail.

I’d hate to think I had any sort of expectations of a film before watching it, but the original ‘House of Wax’ (Andre De Toth, 1953) with its ridiculous 3D effects, early Charles Bronson appearance and Vincent Price is a truly enjoyable, though certainly not great film. If one was going to remake the film, one would have to be sure that one was improving on it, otherwise what would be the point? You don’t bake a nice cake and then bake another one to see if you can make it less enjoyable. This is where Jaume Collet-Serra and I part company because Jaume Collet-Serra believes it’s his job to take a perfectly acceptable film and, in cinematic terms, sexually molest it until it’s left weeping, bleeding and shaking on the kitchen floor of his two-bed, semi-detached shithouse of horror. Prick caption

I like horror as a genre. But horror films, like any other genre, have multiple sub-genres. Take comedy for instance; you can have romantic comedies, screwball comedies, comedies where Lenny Henry wears make-up to make him white with hilarious consequences and even horror comedies. Horror comedies can be both intentional and unintentional and while some would stick an ironic tongue in their cheek and claim ‘House of Wax’ is so bad it’s good, consequently earning it a ‘funny’ label, it is in fact so bad it’s unacceptable that money was spent in such a frivolous way. With a budget of around $30 million you’d think Jaume Collet-Serra would feel some pang of guilt or unceasing, sleepless remorse over his inexcusable and sloppy acts. He doesn’t. If he did he wouldn’t be remaking more films such as ‘Akira’ (Katsuhiro Ohtomo, 1988). $30 million could change the lives of so many people. It could keep a hospital open, provide shelter for the homeless, help a family struggling on income support, educate children – christ even spending the bloody lot on whores and heroin would be preferable to producing shit like this.

Pan for sauce 1There are two saving graces to this travesty. One is the saucepan. A strangely named item in this modern world since I think I’ve only ever made a proper sauce for anything eight times in my life. The rest of the time I use a saucepan for boiling veg, making custard, steaming stuff, collecting the drops of water that used to leak under our sink. In the opening sequence of Collet-Serra’s salute to filmic masturbation we glimpse a gorgeous seventies style saucepan (being used to melt wax – also not a sauce). This exact same saucepan used to sit in our kitchen in Chessington when I was little. It would mainly be used for rice, something of a novelty back then. Also not a sauce. My dad had worked out that the brown plastic lid from a jar of Maxwell House was the perfect size for a cup of rice and used it to portion out the seed accurately. Pan for sauce 2Typically we’d have the rice with either a bland curry with sultanas in it (I hated the sultanas in curry. They delivered a sweet note with a texture of slug that made me gag) or a seventies, Fanny Craddock-inspired goulash. That saucepan was a solid workhorse. It fed me throughout my childhood with its brown and orange rings. I’ve never owned one like it since.

This is where my interest in the film tailed off. Quite frankly anything could’ve happened after that for all I know. Aside from the second saving grace in the form of some lovely design work/architecture on the eponymous House, the rest of the film isn’t worthy of dissection or critique. It was made to offend, upset and leave you feeling optically and aurally violated. There is no art here. There is no love of the medium or responsibility to provide entertainment to others. It is merely a two hour insult to the ticket-holder, akin to a billionaire lighting the farts of tramps with $50 bills and charging them $100 for the privilege. Nobody in this film wanted to entertain, interest or delight you. They hate you. They’re disdainful of you. As far as they’re concerned you are a potential humiliating sale, and once you’ve parted with your money they’ll point and laugh at you for being the prick you are for wanting to watch this abysmal, lackadaisical sham of a film.

I didn’t like it.

More pan.

‘Masters of the Universe’ (Gary Goddard, 1987)

MOTU_PosterI can’t remember the name of the kid whose birthday it was that saw us get a trip to see ‘Masters of the Universe’ at the cinema. This worries me. I used to know it and I can think of loads of other names from those days, but while I can picture this guy and remember which house he lived in, his name completely eludes me. The were five of us and we saw it at the old bastard cinema on Kingston Road, long since knocked down and turned into flats. Probably the same year I’d seen ‘Police Academy 3: Back in Training’ (Jerry Paris, 1986), and would later see Crocodile Dundee II (John Cornell, 1988) there. It was a red carpet, red wallpaper and dark brown wood interior. The carpet was sticky with decades of Coke and the seats lost their spring probably the year they were installed. It had no surround sound, would frequently over-project onto the curtains, occasionally had 30 second reel changes and the staff were all miserable sods. But they were miserable sods who’d let any kid in as long as they paid, regardless of rating. These were the good ‘ol days.

MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE.1987.DRz.avi_snapshot_00.00.48_[2013.09.01_12.25.52]That same cinema can be seen in ‘The Comic Strip’ in ‘Dirty Movie’ (Sandy Johnson, 1984) written by and starring Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson. In 1984 the cost of admission was £2.20 so we can probably assume it never cost me more than £3 to see ‘Masters of the Universe’. The cost of a He Man figure back then was about the same. Does the film offer less value than an action figure? Yes it does. Even Fisto.

MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE.1987.DRz.avi_snapshot_00.13.56_[2013.09.01_12.27.33]The eighties are resplendent with straight-to-video crap. It rolled off the conveyor belt like shit after a Sherbert Fountain. It wasn’t about quality, it was about money. These weren’t films designed to make you think, they were films designed to make money. There’s nothing wrong with that, provided you stand by that principle during filming and don’t find yourself straying into ‘How do we justify this expense?’ territory. Would that one day James Cameron were struck with such a guilt-trip. We live in hope.

It’s not just the films either, everything in the eighties was about profit. Sell, sell, sell. ‘Star Wars’ (George Lucas, 1977) had hit big with the action figure market and Mattel were quick to shove their own boy’s alternative to Barbie on the shelves. Sure they’d had success with GI Joe in the US, but Action Man never really hit the spot in the UK. Also those bloody conscientious consumers were far from happy with war-themed toys. It’s alright in the US were patriotism is compulsory, but the rest of the world isn’t so blinkered. He Man fulfilled a need somewhere between ‘Star Wars’ and Transformers toys.

The cartoon series had been on since 1983. Everyone knew the ‘By the power of Grayskull!’ mantra. He Man was big news. The fact a film was being made was even bigger news, and it seemed to me as a kid at the time that this had all the makings of an epic cinematic experience. We’d already seen how amazing ‘Starchaser: The Legend of Orin’ (Steven Hahn, 1985) had been – He Man had to improve on that. But what’s this?! He Man won’t be a cartoon? It’ll be live action? With people? Actually, that doesn’t really excite 10 year old me.

MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE.1987.DRz.avi_snapshot_00.10.10_[2013.09.01_12.27.21]Sadly very few 10 year olds were excited by ‘Masters of the Universe’. Adults made a film for kids but had forgotten to ask the kids what they wanted. Much like when Richard Donner made ‘Superman’ (1978) and trotted out a ponderous talky overlong drama. Strange to think the same man could set the record straight a few years later with ‘The Goonies’ (1985). ‘Masters of the Universe’ bombed at the box office and barely bothered the home video rental market. It’s never really attained any kind of cult status as a forgotten classic, because frankly it’s a pile of confused shit that doesn’t owe a single syllable to its cartoon origin.

That said I’m led to believe that this film never had its origins in a cartoon anyway, being instead a film in concept prior to the animated series ever happening. Well balls to that because the animated series got there first and it was on the back of that that this crap every got made at all. It owed a lot to kids and it failed to deliver.

orkoThe biggest problem with make a live action film of a cartoon is that where once your only imaginative limit was in the inkwell, waiting to be drawn,  now it was a budgetary nightmare. Cringer and Battlecat are a doddle to draw, just ask my Design Technology teacher who told me off for doing just that week after week. But how the fuck do you make He Man ride a sodding great green tiger on film? Well the answer is you don’t. You write that out. Then of course there’s Orko. Haha! Good old Orko. The floating red dress in a sunhat that all kids knew because it was Orko who frequently delivered the moral message at the end of each week’s episode on TV. How do you realise Orko on film? Don’t bother, that’s the answer. Write him out. Sod Orko.

Jesus weptBut what about He Man? You can’t write him out but you’re at least partially committed to the look of the man. Huge muscles, big furry pants, sodding great sword and a blonde bowl-cut. Seems pretty straightforward except that this is Hollywood. You can’t just cast anyone. They want a name, someone they can sell in the part. This means He Man would have to be played by someone already famous who was muscular, blonde and had his own furry pants. The three obvious big hitters would’ve been Stallone, Schwarzenegger and… hmmm. Who else? Well there’s always that guy from ‘Rocky IV’ (Sylvester Stallone, 1985). Dolph Lundgren does look the part, albeit clearly fiercely uncomfortable in his fuzzy knickers and knee boots wandering around California at night. The major problem stems from when he opens his gob. The words come out occasionally, but mostly the poor Swede struggles. Dubbing him would’ve really helped this film, if only for his ‘I have the power!’ which comes out as ‘Eye happy hour!’.

So what of the elements we do have? Well we’ve got Skeletor. He’s not blue, doesn’t ride a purple puma and has human eyes instead of cold, lifeless sockets. But he’s kind of alright. That is until the last ten minutes when he’s transformed into a god but actually looks like Jodie Marsh on her wedding day. Viewers of the cartoon will also remember redheaded, white-booted Teela. Well she’s now a brunette and really pissy with people.

The only successful transfer from small screen to big screen for the good guys is Man-At-Arms (Jon Cypher). I used to dream of casting Charles Bronson in this role. He’d have been great at it. But Cypher’s pleasant enough, even if he doesn’t fire lasers from his wrists. Of course Man-At-Arms, or Duncan as he’s also known, had a purpose in the (loosely termed) plot of the animated series in that he was one of only a select group who knew He Man’s true identity. In the film, He Man has no duality. More’s the pity. Adam could’ve blended in to California, made Lundgren less uncomfortable and given him more to do. But this tiny aspect of He Man’s character is washed away. Lundgren is bloody awful in this film for one reason: He couldn’t be anything else. The part is barely written and what is there is pure good. There’s nothing you can do with He Man as a character.

MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE.1987.DRz.avi_snapshot_00.04.42_[2013.09.01_12.26.37]One final casting acknowledgement should go to Meg Foster’s Evil-Lyn. Again, not much on paper but she brings a lot to the part and in fact is one of the few participants who can leave the experience with their head held high.

For whatever reason the producers have also decided that they want a whole new music arrangement for He Man. This is fair enough, these things sometimes happen. But the problem is you need to replace a catchy, recognisable theme with something equally catchy and recognisable. Instead you get Bill Conti’s fucking atrocious John Williams rip-off which feels like ironic stand-up comedy in music form. Just listen to the opening titles and then Williams’ ‘Superman’ theme. Absolutely shameful and frequently kills the film dead. Which is a shame because a lot of the plot revolves around music. Or something. I don’t really know, I was cooking a chicken kiev when this was on.

MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE.1987.DRz.avi_snapshot_00.23.25_[2013.09.01_12.28.04]Are you feeling peckish now? Fancy a chicken kiev? Well that’s all thanks to my product placement. I made you want that kiev just as the makers of  ‘Masters of the Universe’ want you to rush out and eat some Burger King or better still, play something on a Panasonic, Roland or Rhodes keyboard. Because we have a huge shoot-out in a music shop right here for you guys which we’ll feature clips of in every trailer package. Sometimes Gary Goddard will linger on a shot so long you’ll think you taped the film off the TV and forgot to wind on the ads. While we’re about it, who the fuck is Gary Goddard anyway? This film is shitter than a tramp’s knickers. Action scenes hang static for up to twenty seconds with nothing happening. Exposition is lost amid a cacophony of laser fire and none of his actors seem to have a fucking clue what to do. The man is to cinema what Jimmy Savile was to children.

MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE.1987.DRz.avi_snapshot_00.17.20_[2013.09.01_12.27.48]All is not lost though. This a Canon film and whatever else, Canon films always looked the part. They were low budget, sure, but they delivered spectacle and ‘Masters of the Universe’ benefits from some excellent visual effects. Of course they make a massive saving by setting most of the film on Earth to save paying too much money, but that’s not a problem. As good as they are, I’d still have preferred the money to be spent on a decent Orko.

It’s a brain-numbing film which runs to two hours, but feels like three hours. It just won’t end. When it does, you’ve barely noticed because you’ve been self-harming for the last thirty minutes. It lacks soul, a good director and a less cynical producer. But for the record, if I was making ‘Masters of the Universe’ in 1987, I’d have cast Roddy Piper.

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