Monday, 20 August 2018

WatchSeeLookView - Film Style Vol 04 (Cage-A-Thon!)

I enjoy all manner of film. Yes, my tendency is towards sci fi and comedy (with a reasonable dose of foreign cinema as I have delusions of pretentiousness) but I enjoy any well-made films. Sometimes, though, you just want to watch a man riding a bike with his head on fire or driving...angrily, I guess… Yes, it is time to bask in the glory that is Nicolas Cage - a one-time Oscar winning actor who now seems to have decided to just have fun being a Nicolas Cage type character for presumably fairly large sums of money (and fair play to him). I recently binged on several Nicolas Cage flicks (warning - this could be hazardous to your mental health - do no attempt without proper preparation) and here’s what it did to my fragile little mind.

Note:- The term “Any Good?” is used in very specific sense here - generally, “so bad it comes back around and borders on the genius”. You have been warned.

Ghost Rider
In Which:- Yep, Nicolas Cage rides around on a bike with a flaming skull
Any Good? It’s so close to being so bad, it’s good but fumbles it with a hefty dose of stuff that’s just ponderous and boring. It’s a suitably bizarre cast including Peter Fonda and Sam Elliott (who also narrates and, quite frankly, should probably narrate almost every film) and has the occasional stupidly weird moment but doesn’t quite manage to go the whole hog. As such, it’s neither an exciting comic book/superhero film nor a top-notch mental Cage vehicle* and feels like a missed opportunity on either side.

Drive Angry
In Which:- Nicolas Cage escapes Hell in order to save his kidnapped granddaughter.
Any Good? Now this is more like it. A film with an utterly ludicrous premise that knows it and just full-on leans heavily into it. In fact, it’s a film so silly that it features a scene where Nicolas Cage engages in a shootout while smoking a cigar, swigging whiskey and having sex at the same time. This is exactly what I’m talking about it when I mean “so bad it comes back around and borders on genius”. If you’re looking for pulpy action with peak Cage mentalness, this one has to be up there.

Mom And Dad
In Which:- An unspecified zombie-style outbreak causes parents to turn on their children
Any Good? Actually, this is a pretty good horror comedy (in the bleakest of black humour) presenting a fresh spin on the zombie-style horror genre with a bit of a meditation on the loss of youth and the inevitable onset of middle age so it’s not necessarily in the “so bad, it’s good” category but it does feature some prime opportunities for Cage to go fully over the top (as well featuring some flashbacks to non-zombified Cage’s weirdly inappropriate parenting style). Plus it features a kick-ass appearance from Lance Henriksen (Bishop of Aliens fame) so what’s not to love?

I enjoyed my brief descent into the world of insane modern Cage acting (as I said, he once won an Oscar). Would I go all-out Cage and binge my way through a chunk again? Well, there’s always Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance, Season of The Witch and the Wicker Man remake. Hmm, maybe not...

* Aha ha, I said “vehicle” in a review about a bike-riding flame-headed demon. I am most hilarious.

Thursday, 16 August 2018

Fulla Game-y Goodness

It’s summertime and those of you with small younger versions of adult humans (“children” is the preferred term, I believe) may well be looking for ways to divest them from the all-consuming screens of plenty that dominate the modern world. (Or not, those screens do keep them mighty quiet.) Well, here are some physical items that could do just that. Be warned, this may also require interaction from you in that ghastly spectacle known as “quality time” so be prepared.

Burgle Bros
Type:- Tile-based board game
In A Nutshell:- Work together to rob a building and avoid the security guards.
This one’s a co-operative game - there are a lot of these about these days. Basically, you don’t compete against the other players - you work together to defeat the game itself. This one’s good fun although it does take a bit of time to set up. It’s a lovely design though and a great example of economical packaging used to store a surprising amount of tiles, cards and pieces (needs a fair bit of space!)

King Of Tokyo/King Of New York
Type:- Board game
In A Nutshell:- Sort of  Yahtzee with Godzilla-style monsters
There are two versions of this - the New York version has slightly more to it so is perhaps a little more satisfying but they’re much of a muchness. You control a Godzilla-type monster trying to control a city and destroy your fellow monsters, using dice to help you do so. Good smashy fun.

Type:- Card game
In A Nutshell:- Cause and fix time paradoxes to meet your desired goal first
Technically a card game, the cards themselves actually form a board across which you’ll play. From the same company that created Fluxx, this is good fun as there are actually three possible ways for you to win the game which prevents it from going on for too long. Some nice silly descriptions on the item  cards add to the fun with this one.

Bubblee Pop
Type:- Board game
In A Nutshell:- Align the Bubblees to get points and stuff up the other player
I realised that, in trying to describe some games, you don’t really do them justice. Basically, you move coloured circles around to make rows of three and they give you points and a special action to take. Doesn’t sound like much but it’s another simple one that combines a little of bit of strategy with a hefty dose of chance.

This is the bit where the end of the post goes. Yeah, I kind of ran out of steam there. Let’s just assume that I came up with an amusing and pithy way to tie this all together and we can all leave with a sense of satisfaction about the whole thing. Splendid.

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

And So It Begins...

Twenty five years ago, a television show that changed the shape of US drama debuted with a feature length pilot episode. It is, however, largely forgotten and overlooked by the public at large. It’s goal was to prove that a novel for television could be done, with a beginning, a middle and an end, all plotted out at the very start. The name of the series? Babylon 5.

There are some stumbling blocks to getting on board as a new viewer. It was the first series to use exclusively CGI models and effects (there are no practical models at all) and that CGI, twenty five years on, has dated somewhat. It also has a lot of similar-ish looking alien races (although with a bit more variety than the standard Star Trek “different type of bumpy nose and forehead” school of alien design*) and the occasional funny accent which can be off-putting to some viewers. It also suffers from something that used to afflict a lot of US TV shows running 22 to 26 eps per season - First Season Syndrome. It takes a little while to find its feet and work out how it’s going to tell the story it wants to tell with the occasional filler ep to fill out the number needed for the season.

So given all that, is it worth bothering with? Biased answer but absolutely. The overall story and the journeys of the various characters (in particular the arc of Londo and G’Kar) are compelling, sweeping and epic. The impressive level of plotting - not just the main storyline itself but having trapdoors built in to shift the story around in case of actors leaving (some of which are used) - is an achievement in itself. It’s a good epic, cosmic story too. At around the halfway point of the first season, the epic scope becomes clearer. As you go into the second season, it’s becoming stronger and stronger. By the end of the second and beginning of the third, it’s a non-stop ride.

This was the first series to propose the idea of a five-year story arc. Without Babylon 5, you wouldn't have had Lost, Breaking Bad or Game Of Thrones (which, depending on your view of shows like that, is either a good or a bad thing). It proved that audiences had the attention span to follow threads unfolding over a period of years, not just week to week (there are elements form the pilot and first episode that pay off years down the round in Babylon 5), and that you could successfully transfer the novel format to the small screen (so you definitely wouldn't have Game Of Thrones without this).

If you’re looking for epic space opera with overtones of Lord Of The Rings (an acknowledged influence by creator J. Michael Straczynski) and can forgive some creaky early 90s CGI then this is definitely one you should seek out. (It’s been notably absent from any streaming media in the Uk so far but is currently available on Amazon Video.)

Image result for babylon 5

* This isn’t meant as a slight on Star Trek and this post isn’t about playing one franchise off against the other. I love Star Trek too (a lot of it, anyway) and there’s room enough for both. I’ve never really understood a need for a certain element of fandom to be busy trying to knock down other sci fi shows - during the 90s, there was precious little space opera around so give everyone a go!

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Purposefully Talking Over The Film

It’s a dwindling area in the current days of digital downloads and streaming media but, as an extremely nerdy film fan and one-time wannabe filmmaker, I was also keen on the extra features that came along with a film in the DVD era*. Who wouldn't want to hear filmmakers talk in great depth about how they made the film? That’s a rhetorical question, of course, I realise that’s just largely me and some other nerds but stick with me.

Here are some of the best DVD commentaries from that bygone age of buying (or renting) shiny discs to put in the player under the telly.

Fight Club
The problem with a large number of commentaries is that a lot of directors are either reluctant to talk about or not very articulate when it comes to discussing their work. David Fincher clearly enjoys talking about the process of film-making with genuine enthusiasm and also has a good rapport with Brad Pitt and Edward Norton, one of the highlights being when Brad Pitt pushes Fincher to reveal how many times he made a stuntman fall downstairs (twelve) and then which take he used (the first).

Muppets From Space
Another fun one in which the director is joined by Rizzo and Gonzo and all three are silhouetted at the bottom of the screen as if watching the film in a cinema (al al Mystery Science Theater 3000) with a couple of brief cameos from Kermit. The Muppets always had a slightly meta, breaking-the-fourth-wall sensibility so a commentary with Gonzo and Rizzo feels pretty fitting.

Shaun Of The Dead
Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg are both massive film and TV nerds and old friends/collaborators with an easy rapport so they make for a good fun duo when discussing their film work. Being a massive film geek too, it’s nice to hear the sheer of geeky background details that the two of them have included. They’re also pretty funny too.

This Is Spinal Tap
It’s a great film anyway but what makes the commentary is that the three members of Spinal Tap improvise the whole thing as if they really are the characters and the film was a genuine documentary. It’s good fun and has a nice running gag of them pointing out most of the people in the film as being dead now (and not just the drummers).

Any Kevin Smith film (Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy)
Basically, these boil down to what feel like a group of mates sitting around and taking the piss out of each other and generally having a laugh. Always good fun.  Strange to think nowadays that without Kevin Smith, you wouldn't have the blockbuster careers fo Ben Affleck and Matt Damon (I’ll leave that up to you as to whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing).

So if you like hearing people talking about the films they made and want it to be lively and entertaining, track down old-fashioned physical media, put it into the playing machine using your hands and wait what seems like an age for it to load up...

Image result for shaun of the dead dvd menu

* That’s like an old-timey era now, right? The DVD era. Not quite as old-timey as VHS or just drawing on the corners of a book and flicking the drawings really fast to create the illusion of movement but pretty close.

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

More Actual Physical Non-iPad Based Games

Hey, it’s the summer holidays - a time for those of you with younglings to spend ludicrous amounts of money in order to escape the heat in Britain for the heat in another country but with probably a pool or something and those of you without younglings to look smug about spending less money pn holidays at other times of year while enjoying reduced levels of overcrowding (fewer people in the armpits) on public transport. What better way to enjoy the fiery ball of super-heated plasma punishing our puny meat-based frames than with new-fangled take on the old-fashioned board game? (Probably ice cold booze but stick with it, this is all I have for the intro-y bit.)

Type:- Board game
In A Nutshell:- Stay on the board, you win
That is a simplistic description of the game but there really isn’t much to it in terms of rules. Each player has three tiles with different paths on them - you lay down a tile next to an existing one to move your piece without leading it off the board. Lats person with a piece still on the board wins. A good simple one for everyone top grasp and a quick fun one to play.

Bears Vs Babies
Type:- Card game
In A Nutshell:- Build up your monsters to defeat the armies of babies
Yep, from the people who brought you Exploding Kittens, it’s another silly and slightly inappropriate card game (with a NSFW expansion to make it really super-inappropriate). Basically, you build up monsters with head, torso,, arm and leg cards (ones with bear heads get extra points)  in order to defeat the baby cards in the centre of the table. Person who has defeated the most babies wins. The joy from this one comes in the ludicrously weird monsters everyone builds up as they go along.

Type:- Board game
In A Nutshell:- Compete to see who can build a quilt first
Yes, I realise that the “In A Nutshell” description makes this game sound both tedious and for those who are over 80 but it’s a surprisingly simple and enjoyable game. Basically, you compete for pieces which you use to fill up your board - you get points for the pieces at the end but lose points for empty spaces. One of those games that is not done justice but the concept / description.

There you go, a couple more suggestions to get you to put the electronic device (after you’ve read this, of course - there are limits) and go out and do something more interesting instead. Yes, you’re right, it did go a little bit “Why Don’t You...?” at the end there.

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

WatchSeeLookView - Film Style Vol 03

Yes, you’re right, it has been quiet around here. This is largely due to excessive heat shutting down all mental faculties other than those required to keep me gainfully employed. Still, no real excuse so let’s try and hand crank the heat-addled mass of spongy grey slurry back into action again by channeling some words out of my head through the fingers and into your head via the screen. Here are some things that my hot eyes have blearily stared at:-

Ghost Stories (2017)
Dir. Andy Nyman & Jeremy Dyson

It feels like I have been watching more horror-related films recently but they have been somewhat more inventive than just your standard jump-scare or slasher-stalker fare (The Babadook and A Quiet Place both spring to mind on that). I had high hopes for this one - it’s co-written and directed by the non-acting member of the League Of Gentlemen (who have a well-documented for 70s British horror films) and is an adaptation of the very successful stage version which the pair previously penned. The format follows that of many a 70s British horror film in that you get three separate tales linked by a framing narrative. It’s got a suitably dour, 70s feel to it with some nice stylistic touches and a strong cast including Paul Whitehouse and Martin Freeman. Ultimately, though, I’m not quite sure that the payoff worked for me. I see where it all comes from, being seeded throughout, but I’m not sure it fully worked - it left me feeling somewhat unsatisfied, I have to admit. 

Image result for ghost stories 2018

They Came Back (Les Revenants) (2004)
Dir. Robin Campillo

The original film which spawned a French series of the same name (although translated as The Returned instead) and an American remake series. (Must admit, I haven’t watched the second series of the French TV version - must do so.) From the off, other than the basic premise of the dead suddenly and inexplicably returning to life, it’s a very different beast to the series. The film focuses on a small town’s attempts to deal with the huge influx of dead from the local cemetery and how it impacts both the living and the recently returned. Despite some interesting notions and concepts, I have to say that I found the whole thing somewhat dull and ponderous. The TV version was a vast improvement on this. Intriguing as a compare and contrast exercise but not a film I particularly enjoyed in its own right.

Image result for they came back

There you go, just a couple to get the old brain working again (or brian as my heat-addled sausage fingers originally typed…)

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Is He Even Really English?

There are certain things that are traditionally associated with the English. A certain stiff-upper-lippedness, a preponderance for tutting and an apology being some sort of default opening statement (when, oftentimes, apology is certainly not intended by the words “I’m sorry but..”). There a few things that are indelibly associated with those of an English persuasion which completely pass me by; a fact that has sometimes lead those of a non-English descent to ponder, “Are you even really English?” Allow me to elucidate….

Football is an ever present part of English life. Even in the off-season, there is still usually some form of football to be watched. Case in point as I type this, we are currently in the midst of the quadrannual all-consuming parade of football that is the World Cup (even as a non-football type, you can't fail to be aware of this). It is a time when even those who typically shun the great game seem to be drawn into the ludicrous levels of fervour that surround it. Even then, however, I still just don’t get it. I have tried at various points over the years to muster some enthusiasm for it, what with coming from a whole family of football fanatics but it just doesn’t grab me. Here’s what I see when I’m watching football:-

Men run back and forth kicking roundy thing.
Some men kick it into the bit where it’s supposed to be more than the other men do.
Well done, men. End.

It’s just an utterly foreign thing to me. Not my cup of tea. Oh, and speaking of which…

Drinking Tea
Horrible stuff. It’s bitter leaves in boiling hot water. And people drink it in summer too, when it’s really hot. I’m definitely not buying the whole “drinking a hot drink when it’s hot actually cools you down, don’t you know” thing. If ice, cold water and fans don’t cool me down when it’s hot, what chance has boiling bloody water got??

If you need to add milk, sugar and a biscuit in order to make it even remotely palatable then that doesn’t strike me as something inherently tasty.

No, don’t be soft, of course I bloody well queue. I’m not some sort of mannerless heathen. Do be sensible, there's a good chap.

Monday, 2 July 2018

Bret? Present. Jemaine? Present.

There was something that instantly clicked for me about Flight Of The Conchords when I first saw their HBO special on BBC4 back in about 2007. I’ve always been a fan of musical comedy and things of a deadpan nature so the combination of the two was a winner for me. The subsequent two series were, and still are, a firm favourite so I was excited to see that they were touring the UK after a long-ish period of working on separate projects. I was then disappointed that the shows at Hammersmith sold out quickly and only expensive tickets at the O2 Arena were left. Emotions were turned back around with the announcement of an extra date at Hammersmith and my grabbing of two tickets for said show. All of which is to say that I went to see Flight Of The Conchords last night and was very pleased about that state of affairs.

The Show
This was definitely the venue more suited to a two piece - it would have been overwhelmed by somewhere the size of the O2. That deadpan interaction between the two of them was still there but perhaps a little bit more relaxed and jovial. The scale of the venue also allowed for some improv interaction with the audience from time to time which added to the more intimate feel of the whole thing. They of course cracked out a number of old favourites (although surprisingly no Business Time or Hiphopopotamos Vs Rhymenoceros) but the biggest surprise of the night was the quantity and quality of the new material.

The New Stuff
More than half of the songs in total were new - here’s a quick breakdown of some of them (titles my own from memory):-

Father And Son
A tender back and forth between father and son which is, naturally, punctured at several points in true Conchords style.

Deanna From HR and Ian From Accounting
For me, I think this was probably the standout of the new stuff - the raunchy yet utterly mundane tale of an office romance which properly made me laugh.

A “spread your wings and fly” style metaphorical song from Bret with commentary from Jemanine.

The Summer of 1353
Any medieval-themed song about wooing which features rock-style dual recorder solos has got to be worth it.

The Ballad Of Stana
This one contained a nice moment in which they accidentally repeated the same verse twice, leading to mock recriminations and some fun ad-libbing.

Back On The Road
Never has a song featured so many different types of fish and words for backside.

Worth It?
Oh, absolutely. An hour and forty five minutes of deadpan musical joy and, given their working schedules and New Zealand base, one that’s unlikely to be repeated frequently. I’m still sticking my name down on the list for the next tour, mind….

Friday, 29 June 2018

Dangerous Habits

No, don't worry, I haven't taken up sky-diving or class A drugs. What I have been doing is revisiting the works of some comics writers whose writing I particularly enjoy (far less dangerous but consistently nerdy). One is Grant Morrison who writes comics that are bursting at the seams with idea after idea (which can sometimes make his stuff a little challenging but it is never boring). The other is Garth Ennis who I would say has more in common with someone like Quentin Tarantino - he writes with humour and a fair smattering of pop culture references combined with a healthy dollop of OTT violence. I recently re-read Hitman which is largely an opportunity for him to poke fun at a selection of DC superheroes but it was this that really got the nostalgia flowing…

Hellblazer: Dangerous Habits
Hellblazer follows Englishman John Constantine, a trenchcoat-wearing chain-smoking dabbler in all things occult and magical and somewhat morally complex - he’ll save the world but often only as a by-product of saving his own skin. In this storyline, he finds himself coming up something he can't obviously cheat and swindle his way out of:- lung cancer. It’s a compelling story and, as a naive teenager, I thought it was something that me and my mate could turn into a feature film over the summer.

Yep, this was one of the first forays we made into the world of film-making, despite not having any experience, cast, effects or money. We did have a VHS camera though (that we borrowed from the training college my mate’s dad was managing) so that was a start. John Constantine has since been played on screen by Keanu Reeves (in an almost unrecognisable film version) and Matt Ryan (a much closer version to the comics in a couple of TV and animated series) but neither of them came close to the majesty and grandeur of yours truly playing him. Yes, OK, that’s maybe massively overstating my frankly dreadful attempts to speak near a camera in something resembling (but only tangentially) acting.

Footage does exist of the few scenes we managed to shoot before we were crippled by our overly ambitious plan (and, not having had the rights to this DC Comics character, we wouldn't have been able to do much with it anyway). Can you see it? No, no not at all. It should probably be burnt, buried, dug up and fired into the sun to make sure that no one’s eyes are burdened by it. This is as close as you’re going to get - here are a couple of screengrabs:-

Anyway, back to the graphic novel itself - aside from the nostalgia, does the story still hold up? Yes, it does. Having not read it for a good few years, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed reading it again. The only drawback for me is that I’m not the biggest fan of Will Simpson’s style of artwork but the story’s strong enough to carry it through. 

We’ll never know how different the world could have been if I’d made it to the big screen as John Constantine first….

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Schlock Horror

There was a definite phase sometime in early-mid nineties where I went through a big horror watching phase. This wasn’t so much your full-on Nightmare On Elm Street-style horror, though (although i did watch those). No, I’m talking more your over-the-top, gross-out, gore-filled, horror-comedies - the sort of films with lots of practical latex-based prosthetics and buckets of slime, blood, gore and ooze. I’ve touched on this briefly before, talking about such “classics” as Ghoulies and Killer Klowns From Outer Space, but those were fairly lightweight compared to this little lot.

Let’s delve into some of the weird and wonderful schlocky horror shows out there, shall we?

Basket Case
In which a young man carries around a basket containing his deformed and murderous conjoined twin (of course, because why wouldn't he?). Followed up by two sequels, which amped up the ludicrousness and comedy elements, this original is a proper grubby, over-the-top horror comedy. Director Frank Henenlotter went on to make the similarly bonkers Brain Damage and Frankenhooker (yep, I’ve seen both of those too).

Bad Taste & Braindead*
Probably the pinnacles of gross-out horror, brought to you by the director of the Lord Of The Rings trilogy. Yes, before he was making multi-million dollar fantasy epics, Peter Jackson was cutting his film-making teeth making low-budget horror comedies. Zombie babies, exploding sheep, re-animated intestines - they’re a surprising difference in tone for those only used to his Middle-earth films. Definitely worth a watch (although, as a lifelong Henson fan, I can’t decide if his obscene take on the Muppets, Meet The Feebles, is just too grotesque; it’s certainly unique, I'll give it that).

A very weird film in which a young teen as part of Beverly Hills high society begins to suspect that there’s something very wrong with his family and friends. It has some really twisted body horror moments including one memorable scene that it really wouldn't do justice to describe. (Interesting note - the director, Brian Yuzna, who also worked on the Re-Animator films, was the screenwriter for Honey, I Shrunk The Kids.)

Special Mention - Troma Films
You can't really talk about pulpy B-movie schlocky horror films without mentioning Troma who pumped out such classics as The Toxic Avenger, Class Of Nuke ‘Em High, Surf Nazis Must Die and Stuff Stephanie In The Incinerator. I’ve seen a fair few of these but have to say that in most cases the films themselves rarely lived up to the insane promise of the titles.

So, if you fancy some disgustingly amusing cheap and cheerful horror films, those are good places to start. I would say “enjoy” but that somehow doesn’t feel like quite the right word….

(*DeadAlive for some reason if you're American)