Office Space Movie Review

There are arguably very few genuine cult movies that have been released in the last ten years.

Off the top of my head I would say The Big Lebowski is a good example as it has generated its own festivals and Donnie Darko which came back from its disastrous stateside debut to be a word of mouth hit especially in the UK.

Office Space released in 1999 has become a cult hit which gets bigger every year thanks to word of mouth from disgruntled office workers. Released in 1999 the film was Mike Judge’s live action directorial debut and was a box office disappointment.

Office Space is based on the short Milton cartoons that were created for Saturday Night Live and Liquid Televison by Mike Judge in 1993 The idea for the film was originally to be a straight live action version of Milton but Judge decided to go with an ensemble comedy instead. The film was advertised heavily as being from the creator if Beavis and Butthead and being in a similar vein which sadly did the film few favours.

The film is set amongst the employees of Initech which is a company prone to excessive over management. The company introduces several characters including Peter Gibbons played by Ron Livingstone who is in despair most days as he spends his time listening to several different people ask him if he got memo’s about new report cover sheets.

His partners in crime who share his misery are Michael Bolton (David Herman) who hates his name which he shares with a ‘no talent assclown’ and Samir Nyednanajad (Ajay Naidu) who hates the fact that no-one can pronounce his name. We also meet Milton (Stephen Root) who mumbles constantly and is bitter about losing his stapler and whom the slimy boss Bill Lumbergh (Gary Cole) harasses no end. Lumbergh brings in ‘The Bobs’ (John C Mcginley and Paul Wilson) who are two management consultants who are there to see who they can lay off.

Peter is stressed and at the end of his rope and convinced he will be laid off. He goes with his girlfriend to a hypnotist to see if he can get some help. During his hypnosis the hypnotist keels over and dies before Peter is brought back and this makes him a completely different person. Suddenly he stays in bed on a Saturday when he has been asked to work, his girlfriend leaves him and he doesn’t care and he turns up to work when he wants. He also plucks up the courage to ask out Joanna (Jennifer Aniston) who works at a nearby TGI Friday type restaurant and suffers many of the humiliations that Peter does on a daily basis. At his meeting with ‘The Bobs’ they decide ironically that he is a ‘real straight shooter with upper management written all over him’ despite his laid back attitude and Lumbergh’s protests. Unfortunately Michael and Samir, two employees who value their jobs are laid off.

The three of them decide to take revenge on Initech by installing a computer virus which will in fact transfer some of the profits from the company into a separate account. Of course this doesn’t exactly go to plan.

When released the film made $10 million at the box office which didn’t even recoup its production costs. Since then the film has become a big hit on DVD. Office workers tend to quote it to each other as it alleviates some of the nonsense that goes along with working in a large corporate office. It’s a shame the film didn’t get much recognition in its initial release as it was two years before Ricky Gervais similar TV series The Office made its debut and it covers a lot of the same ground. One wonders if Gervais saw it before it became a cult success and was inspired by it to create his award winning series. In fact in The Office, Peter Gibbons is mentioned as a previous employee.

Several phrases from the movie have entered popular culture especially in offices. ‘A Case of The Monday’s’ is a good one for the employee who is miserable on the first day of the working week. ‘Pieces of Flair’ is also used to describe the worthless badges that adorn the braces of workers at Pizza Hut and TGI’s. The scene where Peter, Michael and Samir take a printer that constantly breaks down to a field and batter it with a baseball bat is one wish fulfilment scene we can all empathise with.

If you work in an office and haven’t seen this film and work in an office you owe it to yourself to pick up a copy and lend it to your fellow employees (except management). Trust me it will make those Monday’s a hell of lot easier.

Trivia: When Peter is in the meeting room, on the white board behind him there is a complicated flow chart titled “Planning to Plan.”

Kentucky Fried Movie Review

The tag line “This movie is totally out of control!” is definitely justified with this classic sketch based film best known for its spoof of “Enter the Dragon”.

Billed as the first film in feelaround, the Kentucky Fried Movie is the film that launched the Zucker Abrahams Zucker team now famous for their spoof movies like Airplane and the Naked Gun films.

It started with a theatre based sketch review called the Kentucky Fried Theatre in the early 70s. Set up by brothers David and Jerry Zucker and Jim Abrahams when they were students at the University of Wisconsin, they used video and film along side the stage performances to spoof commercials, TV shows and education films – all which feature in the Kentucky Fried Movie. The theatre was successful enough for the three of them to transfer it to a permanent home in LA.

They decided to expand on the theatre by making a short 10 minute film as a taster of a possible feature film version of the live shows. They found financial backing and got an upcoming director too – John Landis, who had only made one film so far, his King Kong-esque comedy “Schlock”. But his talent for comedy and knowledge of low budget filmmaking made him ideal for the Kentucky Fried Movie.

Although the sketch format wasn’t totally new (it had been already been done by “The Groove Tube”) the Kentucky Fried Movie stood out for many reasons. The celebrity cameos (Donald Sutherland, Bill Bixby, George Lazenby et al) were noticeable for such a low budget film. The quality of the spoofing was excellent, especially the Fistful of Yen segment which even went so far as to brilliantly spoof Lalo Schifrin’s score from “Enter the Dragon” and not just rely on slapstick gags – although the slapstick gags are also brilliantly executed too. And if one joke failed you wouldn’t really notice as the ‘quick fire’ script meant the ‘laughs per minute’ count was very high indeed.

It was made for around $650,000, which even in the 70’s was low budget. And with it using the sketch format you couldn’t reuse sets every day. Modern low budget classics like Reservoir Dogs and Clerks use their budgets well as the locations don’t really change. So to make a film where the script requires so many different locations, with such a low budget, is either stupid, requires skill or means you need to be very lucky. With the Kentucky Fried Movie, I think in fact it’s all three.

They even decided to play with the cinema going audience as proposed names included “Free Popcorn” and “Closed for remodelling”, obviously neither of which would please the cinemas when promoting the film on the hoardings outside.

Stand out sketches for me include Danger Seekers, Courtroom (using a great play on the word heinous), Fistful of Yen, Catholic High School Girls in Trouble, and The Wonderful World of Sex – where a couple uses an instructional record to enhance their sex life, which luckily also comes with Big Jim Slade in case of premature ejaculation (who amusingly has Heiveinu Shalom Aleichem as his theme tune). This sketch also introduced me to the art of non sequiturs, and the capital of Nebraska is Lincoln.

For some reason this film has never had much of a life on TV, possibly as it features quite a lot of female nudity, but it has achieved cult status on video (from the early VHS vs Beta days through to DVD) mainly as it was the forerunner of the now over done spoof format.

The Zucker brothers and Jim Abrahams have all gone on to make more than just spoof films, although they will always be associated with Airplane and the Naked Gun films, and John Landis as we know he went on to bigger things with classics like “The Blues Brothers”, “Animal House” and “An American Werewolf in London”. Landis also made “Amazon Women on the Moon” which kept with the sketch theme and is seen as a kind of follow up to the Kentucky Fried Movie, although the ZAZ guys didn’t work on it.

But the Kentucky Fried movie is more than just an insight into where these guys came from; it’s a great, funny look at America in the 70s. The TV, the educational films, the movies and so on. All superbly presented for our amusement in a classic that still stands up to this day as a very funny film indeed.

Interestingly I first remember noticing the film as a 6 or 7 year old when the poster, with it’s bizarre image of the Statue of Liberty and a sneaker, along with 3 black and white stills were displayed outside my local Odeon cinema. I didn’t know much about the film except the title didn’t make any sense as, in my world, ‘Kentucky Fried’ simply referred to food. But around the same time I also had a magazine from the cinema foyer which was promoting the films on release at the time, including the Kentucky Fried Movie. I still have this issue, which no longer has the Kentucky Fried Movie advert intact – I removed it once I’d seen the film on VHS as a teenager, and framed it for display in my bedroom.

So the poster image has always stayed with me to this day, literally in fact. You see many years later a friend was selling part of his poster collection to raise some cash and he had a Kentucky Fried Movie poster. I bought it from him and asked how he came by it. It seems his Aunt used to work at a cinema and gave him many of the posters from outside instead of throwing them away. And amazingly the cinema she worked at was the very same one where, as a child (possibly when queuing for Star Wars or maybe a Disney film) I first saw the poster, the very same poster that is now framed in my hallway.

So to me the Kentucky Fried Movie isn’t a lost film. I’ve always known about it and always had something to remind me of it. But as many people have asked me about it when they’ve seen my poster, I know it’s not as well known as I think it should be. So hopefully this article goes someway to help it be discovered all over again.

28 Days Later Movie Review

Danny Boyle brings zombie flicks up to date with this terrifying modern day horror.

Britain it seems currently rules the roost when it comes to quality “zombie” movies. This, along with Shaun Of The Dead, show that the brits can beat George Romero at his own game in the scares and satire department.

28 Days Later is not strictly a zombie film. The “undead” in this movie are living, breathing humans who are infected with a virus cheesily termed “rage”.

In a prologue we see where the virus began to spread, a group of activists free some laboratory monkeys which unbeknownst to them have been infected with a deadly virus.

A virus which is not only deadly but hugely contagious turning its host into a blood-spewing, human chewing mostrosity almost immediately.

Flash forward 28 Days Later and we now join Cillian Murphy as Jim who has just awoken from a coma to find the city of London almost completely deserted. It is in these early scenes where the movie stakes its claim to be up there with the best horror movies. Deserted city streets have been shown before, think Vanilla Sky’s Times Square opening dream sequence, but that is no match for the eerie sequence on show here. As Jim stumbles through the empty streets, taking in a few landmarks on his way, the music builds as the enormity of the horror becomes apparent. For a feeling of apocalyptic paranioa, this sequence is unmatched in film history.

The atmosphere is slightly ruined when some human counterparts show up as some of the acting on display is not the film’s strongest point. Luckily Cillian Murphy in the film’s central role manages to carry the film on his shoulders until Christopher Eccleston turns up to lend some acting gravitas.

There are numerous memeorable scenes, the aformentioned London opening salvo, an encounter with the “infected” and a horde of rats in a motorway tunnel and a pair of truly affecting moments when Jim comes across his dead parents and a young girl watches as her father, newly infected, is swiftly killed.

A mixture of heart and horror give Danny Boyle’s gritty, DV-shot modern day horror the edge amongst such bland blockbuster fare as the Dawn Of The Dead remake. George Romero has his work cut out matching the striking originality of this in his latest The Land Of The Dead. For now 28 Days Later is the true contemporary horror classic.

The Greatest Movies you have NEVER Seen

In my many years as a mega film-geek, I have heard and read about interesting sounding projects that for one reason or another never got made. In some instances this was because the script was so far out there in terms of a commercial property that funding just couldn’t be secured. In other instances it was merely a pitch by an enthusiastic producer or director that studio executives didn’t get. Sometimes it seems that all the elements are in place for an awesome blockbuster experience but for one reason or another the script’s time passes and the movie never gets made.

Quite often there are alternate versions of a script by another writer which are infinitely more interesting than what eventually got made. Among these are Superman Lives by Kevin Smith, Planet of the Apes by Oliver Stone, A Scanner Darkly by Terry Gilliam and the original version of Total Recall which was more like a futuristic Bourne Identity than the Schwarzenegger action vehicle it became. That however is an article for another time….

What follows is my favorite projects that as of today have never seen the inside of a cinema. I can visualise them but it breaks my heart that you will never see them. Next time you walk out of the latest bloated Hollywood remake or sequel and have that feeling that you have when you have eaten a McDonalds.Remember that they haven’t run out of ideas its just that they don’t want to take risks. For every shallow summer blockbuster there are about 20 interesting original ideas that never see the light of day.

The Ripping Friends

Back in the early 90′s Ren and Stimpy made its debut on cable channel Nickelodeon and then a year or so later on BBC2. It was beloved by stoners everywhere for its anarchic animation and vocal performances. The creator John Kricfalusi has been pitching his idea for an animated film for a long time now to studio executives but instead of presenting them with a script he acts out whole scenes, hums the music and makes the sound effects. The Ripping Friends is about a group of super-heroes who are also scientists and don’t actually have any powers but wear the costumes. They believe that super-heroes are wimps who cheat by using their powers to win their battles and they strap themselves in to a pain machine every morning so they can get used to the pain it takes to win the fight fair. They live in a complex they built called R.I.P.C.O.T (Really Impressive Prototype City of next Tuesday)with their assistant Jimmy, and are frustrated as they can’t seem to break through time. So frustrated are they that they begin to punch into space and accidentally rip through time. They find themselves back in prehistoric times and accidentally kill the first animal to climb out of the sea and onto land. The Ripping Friends must then use their abilities to save the earth by re-starting the evolutionary process.

In these days where animated superhero comedy The Incredibles can make a lot of money perhaps the time is right for The Ripping Friends to make their big screen debut. There was a short lived animated television series in 2001 which lasted 13 episodes and was toned down by fox prior to broadcast. The Lewd uncut version was then picked up for repeats on the cartoon networks ‘Adult Swim’. Its seems we will never see the feature as intended and will have to watch the series DVD and wonder about this lost stoner classic.

The Silver Surfer

Now that he has made his debut to box-office success in the latest Fantastic Four film, it seems likely that we will see a Silver Surfer film at some point. Back in the early 1990′s however before the super-hero boom, there were several scripts in development. Writer John Turman did about ten drafts of The Incredible Hulk which were acclaimed by the Internet spies that read them. Based on this he was given the opportunity to write The Silver Surfer screenplay. The story concerned the surfer coming to earth to scout worlds for the God-Like Galactus to devour. The surfer is attacked by the humans as an alien invader, he then signals Galactus and waits for his arrival. During his wait the Surfer experiences the nature of humanity and connects with the people. Eventually when Galactus arrives the Surfer now considers the humans his friends and must repel Galactus who is bent on devouring the earth. During Galactus’s absorbing of the Earth’s energy he hears music being played over a loud-speaker. Having never experienced music before Galactus becomes confused and will not destroy something that he doesn’t understand. Galactus then desist’s based on this and the Surfer’s willingness to sacrifice his life for this new world.

The problems with this were that Galactus was such a huge scale special effect that would have cost a huge amount of the films budget. Turman had to constantly fight to keep Galactus in the movie. Subsequent drafts removed him completely and humanised the Silver Surfer who reverted back to his humanoid form of Norin Radd for most of the running time. Now that the Fantastic Four sequel has taken most of the elements of this story (Turman gets a ‘story by’ credit on the film), it will be interesting to see where they take the sequel. You get the feeling though that the original story in the hands of someone like Steven Spielberg could have been a sci-fi classic.

Swirlee

James Lorinz was an actor from B-Movie’s like Frankenhooker and Street Trash, in film school he had an idea for an exploitation movie in the gangster genre where the main protagonist wasn’t quite human. He had a vision of a man in a bathtub with half of his head melting as its made of ice-cream. Thus Swirlee was born. In 1989 Lorinz took some money and made some test footage with himself playing the main character under a 2 hour make-up job. He shot a 2 minute trailer and a 15 minute rough cut for the film featuring a young David Caruso. Surprisingly this is played completely straight with touching performances and even has a scene where Swirlee tries to kill himself by taking a hot bath. The screenplay references the thalidomide scandal of the 60′s and grounds itself in reality by explaining the the ice-cream cone shaped head was caused by an anti-miscarriage drug. Whatever food the pregnant lady was craving would then be manifested in the newborn child leading to a scene where you see a pizza baby and a pickle baby.

When the film would be pitched at meetings,Lorinz would describe it as Dick Tracy and Edward Scissorhands meets Mean Streets. Sadly unimaginative studio heads couldn’t see the concept and wanted to make Swirlee as more of a children’s movie. They had trouble with the dark and downbeat nature of the script. The test footage has only been seen by a few people and was televised when David Caruso became famous through NYPD Blue. This could have been one of those great films you discover on late night TV and never quite forget.

Isobar

In the late 1980′s the now defunct Carolco Pictures purchased a spec script by Fight Club screenwriter Jim Uhls. The script was entitled Isobar and concerned a genetic monster that was part of an artificial intelligence experiment that gets loose on a high-speed underground train in the Los Angeles of the future. Ridley Scott and artist HR Giger were connected with the project and Giger started to produce some designs. When Scott and Giger left due to creative differences with the producers Giger eventually used some of his train designs in the sci-fi horror Species. Producer Joel Silver then employed another writer to re-work the script and attached Arnold Schwarzenegger to star. The new version was set further in the future in an uninhabitable earth with the creature being an evolved humanoid that can survive outside but it must have constant adrenaline to survive so it starts to kill the passengers one by one. Independence Day director Roland Emmerich then came on board and Sylvester Stallone was attached to star. Stallone wanted re-writes to be done by his pal Steven De Souza who scripted Die Hard and Demolition Man. They were apparently not impressed that the current script played like a rip-off of Aliens. The script then went through further changes making Stallone’s character a mystery customer type who secretly works for the train company and the reason for the large train being that due to a damaged ozone layer, air-travel was no longer viable. The tone changed from a sci-fi horror movie to a big-budget disaster movie with the train being the inaugural journey between New York and London.The creature was also changed to a plant based life-form that killed humans for the water in their bodies. Rick Baker, the make up genius who worked on An American Werewolf in London constructed the creature and shot test footage. Kim Basinger signed on as the female lead and James Belushi also joined the cast. It was a week to go until set construction and Carolco went bankrupt after the costly flop Cutthroat Island and filming was canceled. Years later when Carolco’s assets were auctioned off the Isobar script was bought by Sony but the film remains unmade.

Although its hard to say that this would have been a sci-fi classic, its no doubt that this would have been entertaining sci-fi hokum like Emmerich’s other movies Stargate and Universal Soldier. Perhaps with Stallone’s recent comeback after Rocky Balboa we might see this one day come to fruition.

Roger Rabbit Two: The Toon Platoon

Who Framed Roger Rabbit? was one of the biggest films of the 1980′s and a major leap forward for animation when it was released. Unfortunately the combination of live action and animation has never been as successfully rendered since. The original films success led to similar lesser projects that didn’t work like Cool World and Space Jam. It seemed inevitable that because of its success we should have seen a sequel but all we got were a couple of amusing fully animated shorts in front of early 90′s Disney family films. Roger Rabbit Two: The Toon Platoon is widely thought to be a much better film than the original by the people who have read it. Its set in 1941 and follows Roger Rabbit through the events that lead up to America’s involvement in World War 2. The film follows Roger as he grows up with his adopted human family on a farm, he doesn’t realise he is a cartoon until he is 18. When he finds out he travels with human Richie Davenport to find his real mother, on his journey he meets his future wife Jessica who is embarking on a career as a radio actress. Jessica is then kidnapped by the Nazi’s and forced to make propaganda radio broadcasts. Roger and Richie then must go behind enemy lines to save her. The script is supposedly structured like an old buddy comedy from the era and ends with a brilliant gag about Bugs Bunny being Roger’s long lost father.

Why it didn’t get made is a mystery but it is thought that it was so important to get all the elements right for this that it sat on the shelf and its moment passed. Maybe in 20 years when we get the inevitable CGI remake they will dust this off for the sequel and then we will get the true classic film that blends live action with animation.

Batman vs Superman

After the bombing of the diabolical Batman and Robin and the aborted Tim Burton revamp of Superman, Warner Bros banded around many ideas in order to get their two most prized assets back on the big screen. Among these ideas were a Frank Miller and Darren Aronofsky collaboration on Batman: Year One and an idea for a live action version of animated series Batman Beyond. However when Warner’s couldn’t make up its mind what to do, they briefly flirted with a script by Se7en writer Andrew Kevin Walker. Batman vs Superman would have begun five years after Bruce Wayne has retired from crime fighting following Robin’s death and settled down with a wife. Superman meanwhile has been dumped by Lois Lane who could no longer deal with the difficulties of being Clark Kent’s girlfriend. The Joker who was presumed dead kills Bruce Wayne’s wife and so Bruce takes up the mantle of Batman again, taking pleasure in doling out justice to Gotham’s low lives. Wayne blames Superman for his wife’s death as he saved The Joker from a savage beating before the murder. Superman then tries to talk Bruce out of his quest for vengeance which pits them against each other. It transpires that Lex Luthor was behind the Joker’s return, hoping that the Man of Steel and The Dark Knight would kill each other. The original script was dark and Warner’s worryingly brought in Batman and Robin writer Akiva Goldsman to re-write it and lighten it up a bit. Warner’s were excited about their script and attached Wolfgang Peterson to direct for a projected Summer 2004 release. The Internet started to rumble with casting suggestions with Jude Law or Josh Hartnett up for Superman and Colin Farrell and Christian Bale in line for Batman. However just as things started to sound like they were going forward, Warner’s abandoned the idea. They were more excited about an idea for a Superman trilogy pitched by Alias and Lost creator JJ Abrams. Studio heads were at loggerheads over which direction to go in but finally they decided to go ahead with two stand alone franchises in the hope of combining them later.

It remains to be seen if this will eventually come to pass. The prospect of a Brandon Routh as Superman and Christian Bale as Batman team up is an exciting one. No doubt this would make millions at the box office, its too much of a sure thing to stay unmade.

Ronnie Rocket and One Saliva Bubble

David Lynch has always had difficulty getting his films financed despite being one of the greatest directors in modern cinema. His vision is so non-commercial that Studio’s generally don’t know what to make of it. You only have to watch his last three films to see that there is no way you could make such things within the Hollywood system. The one time Lynch did take the Hollywood dollar it resulted in the sci-fi mega flop Dune. Prior to the Dune disaster however and before the critically lauded The Elephant Man, Lynch had a different idea for a film in mind. After the cult success of Eraserhead, Ronnie Rocket was developed through Francis Ford Coppola’s American Zoetrope production company. The story was set in an apocalyptic American industrial wasteland where the evil Hank Bartell plagues the population with electrical disturbances and his henchmen ‘The Donut Men’, long coated individuals who explode when informed that their shoelaces are untied. Ronald De Arte lies in a hospital bed disfigured by some unknown event and is unable to do anything except emit strange sounds. A detective visits Ronald and leaves with three strange symbols on a scrap of paper. Ronald is then kidnapped from hospital by two renegade plastic surgeons who jolt him to life with electricity turning him into a living superconductor and Ronnie Rocket is born. Ronnie is sent to high school and has to plug himself into the mains every fifteen minutes. A band then discover Ronnie making wonderful sounds after plugging himself in and blackmail the plastic surgeons into letting them use Ronnie in their music. They become a massive success. The detective meanwhile discovers how to stay conscious during Bartell’s electrical blasts and that he may be able to defeat him due to his ability to stand on one leg. The detective meets up with the plastic surgeons and their assistant and they decipher the symbols on the paper. This leads them to reverse the flow of electricity and defeat Hank Bartell. The dark city is then bathed in a glow of golden light and Ronnie sings a beautiful love song. From the synopsis you can tell that the film dealt with Lynch’s obsessions with electricity and the grotesque. It was not be however as American Zoetrope went bankrupt after a string of costly flops. In 1991 however after the success of Twin Peaks, Lynch signed a three-film deal with Ciby 2000 and it looked like the film was going to go into production with Michael J Anderson (the little man from another place in Twin Peaks) in the title role. However after the first of these films, Twin Peaks:Fire Walk with Me, Lynch found that it was something that didn’t interest him anymore. The screenplay for Ronnie Rocket has been available on the Internet for a long time now and it is an intriguing read. Unfortunately how it would have looked is something that will always remain in David Lynch’s head.

After the success of Blue Velvet, David Lynch and Twin Peaks co-writer Mark Frost collaborated on a screwball comedy script entitled One Saliva Bubble. The madcap tale is sparked by a saliva bubble blown by a security guard which gets into the circuitry of a top secret military satellite causing a short circuit. The story then moves to Newtonville, Kansas (the lightning capital of the world). We follow a downtrodden car salesman, a professor working for a big corporation, the hitman hired to kill the professor, a simpleton called Newt Newton, a troupe of Chinese acrobats and a group of Texas businessman as they all arrive at a Kansas airport. An energy beam from the satellite strikes the earth and causes them to all switch places and much hilarity ensues as the car-salesman starts to kill his fellow co-workers and the Texas businessmen form a human pyramid. A military team is sent to deal with the crisis and the bubble in the satellite eventually pops after another beam strikes the earth. Newtonville returns to semi-normalcy. Lynch came even closer to filming this one than he did with Ronnie Rocket. The film was to be financed by Dino De Laurentiis and had the then hot property Steve Martin and Martin Short headlining the cast, they had locations scouted and were all ready to go. Then money problems put the film through endless delay’s and eventually it was canceled as the De Laurentiis company went bankrupt, Lynch lost interest as he felt there wasn’t enough meat to it and that pretty much anyone could have filmed the story. It is sad that this didn’t get made as the prospect of Steve Martin teaming up with Martin Short on a David Lynch comedy is intriguing. It would have no doubt also brought Lynch to a whole new audience and probably would have secured financing for future projects if it was successful. The script is again widely available on the Internet, sadly the images remain unseen.

The Defective Detective

Terry Gilliam like David Lynch has always had problems getting his films made due to the unique nature of his vision. The battle with Universal over Brazil is legendary and recently Gilliam clashed with the Weinstein brothers during The Brothers Grimm. Add to this the fact that the movie he started filming prior to Grimm, Don Quixote fell apart and its a wonder the man even bothers anymore. Around the time of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Gilliam started to plan his next movie which was to star Nicholas Cage. The Defective Detective concerned a police-officer from the mid-west who came to New York to make a difference, Now middle aged he has become burnt out and brutalised by the city streets and his marriage is failing. On the verge of a nervous breakdown he investigates a little girls disappearance. The little girls bedroom leads him to a fantasy world where he must learn to be child like again as he searches for the girl and finds that his tough guy posturing does not fly in this strange new world.Eventually he must sacrifice himself for the new world which he prefers to the real one. The screenplay was written in 1990 with Fisher King co-writer Richard LaGravenese. A lot of visual ideas from Gilliam’s previous films make their way into the script and the budget was projected to be on a scale of that of previous film The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. The film however has yet to appear.

Terry Gilliam believes this to be his most personal project yet as the main character is based on himself. Its likely that he would rather not make it than see his vision tampered with as in previous films. Its a real shame that we wont see this as Gilliam is without a doubt one of cinema’s most gifted visual storytellers.

So there you have it, my personal favorite unmade projects in Hollywood. If there are any that you feel should have been mentioned here that remain unseen then please let me know. There are many more that I have heard of that have not yet appeared but one day hopefully we will see them. They include:

Robert Rodriguez’s Predator 3: Homeworld, Star Trek 6: Starfleet Academy which was a prequel with a young Captain Kirk, Spock and Dr McCoy, The Waschowski Brothers Plastic Man and King Conan, Terry Gilliam’s version of Watchmen from a script by Batman writer Sam Hamm, Dino the Dean Martin biopic by Martin Scorcese which was to have an incredible cast, Rob Zombie’s The Crow: 2037, Quentin Tarantino’s World War 2 epic Inglorious Bastards, Mad Max 4: Fury Road, William Gibson’s script for Alien 3 as well as an adaptation of Neuromancer by Chris Cunningham and Biker Heaven the sequel to Easy Rider.

This article was written with the aid of the following books:

*The Greatest Sci-Fi Movies never made and Tales From Development Hell by David Hughes

* The 50 Greatest Movies Never Made by Chris Gore

* Dark Knights and Holy Fools: The Art and Films of Terry Gilliam

GRINDHOUSE: DIY

When Grindhouse, the Quentin Tarantino/Robert Rodriguez double feature was released in the states in April it tanked. This means that here in the UK and the rest of the world we will be denied the 3 hour sleaze and gore extravaganza we were so looking forward to. Instead the films will be released separately with extra footage spliced back in (Death Proof is released here September 21st and Planet Terror is still to be confirmed).

Now I’ve never been to an authentic Grindhouse like they had back in the day and have never seen any of the movies from the period apart from some Bruce Lee and Blaxploitation films. I’ve been to a horror movie festival so I am familiar with the sensation of watching these movies back to back and I have to say I loved it. So disappointed have I been that we are being denied the Grindhouse cinematic experience (Not even on Region 1 DVD) that I have been trying to re-create the experience in my living room over the past few Sundays by picking double bills of exploitation/cult fare that I have seen. I have to admit its yielded mixed results. Below are a few of the double-bill combinations I have tried and recommend. Others on this list I have not tried as I don’t own the movie or its not currently available, I can only dream at this stage….. If you really want to enhance the experience then find some old trailers from Youtube or Veoh and watch them between these movies. Some of these also work better with beer…….. or erm…… other stimulants…… so maybe mix it up a bit and invite some pals round to indulge in cinema extremis with you. Also if you can find these films on VHS that’s probably the way to go as DVD seems a bit too pristine to mimic the bad quality prints that you would get in an authentic grindhouse.

Switchblade Romance (AKA Haute Tension 2003) & Ichi the Killer (2001)

Probably the two most extreme and hardcore films on this list. Switchblade Romance is a film from french director Alexandre Aja which I first saw at Frightfest in 2004 and have been scarred ever since. Decapitations by drawer units, necrophilia with a severed head, throat slicing’s , a six year old killed by a shotgun and a beating with a bar wrapped in barbed wire. All these delights come before the climatic meltdown with a circular saw. By the time this scene comes around you have grown numb to the carnage and feel like your eyes need a good wash. The film is incredibly suspenseful though, something the french seem to have grown very good at in recent years. This reminds you that before Scream and the pale imitations that followed, it was possible to make a genuinely good slasher movie. Follow up this with Ichi the Killer which apart from Visitor Q is most likely Takashi Miike’s most extreme film. Basically when a film begins with the title appearing in a pool of semen you know its just going to get worse from there. Ichi the Killer is the sort of film that directors like Aja, Eli Roth, Darren Lynn Bousman and James Wan wish they could make within the American system. You may not understand it, you may decide you don’t like it but I can guarantee you will never forget it. Just avoid the crisps and dips during these two.

 

The Toxic Avenger (1985) & Cabin Fever (2003) 

Load up on the beer and whatever else floats your boat before these two. The Toxic Avenger is the first Troma film that gained notoriety during the 1980′s and they made quite a few sequels as well as a cartoon series. I actually read the Marvel comic before I saw the film and then lo and behold Christmas 1995 rolls around and its on Bravo! I was quite drunk and so were a few of my friends who were round at the time and we sat and watched it and had an absolute blast. Definitely one of the best Christmas’s I remember. I heard somewhere that on the DVD there is an alternate ending which just has a donkey with a mop tied to its head running into the sunset! What that means is anybody’s guess. Follow up Toxie with Eli Roth’s debut feature which admittedly was massively overhyped on release as critics proclaimed Roth ‘The Savior of Horror and compared this to Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead. While its nowhere near that good I have come to love the film on DVD as a comedy, just a comedy with lots of blood. Its seriously funny stuff whilst inebriated and the sort of film that wouldn’t have been out of place coming from Troma in the 80′s. Roth gets better with each film he makes but I really hope he makes an out and out teen sex comedy one day as based on the evidence here it will be something special.

Urotsukidoji:Legend of The Overfiend (1989) & Up! (1976)

 

Two sexploitation/horror movies now. Both of these I saw before I was 16 and were the things that gave me my first odd feelings about y’know, the opposite sex. Most people saw porn round a mate’s house, I saw these two when my parents were out. Urotsukidoji:Legend of The Overfiend is perhaps one of the most infamous Anime released in the UK. During the Anime boom of the early 90′s which also saw Akira and Fist of The North Star gain a following, this was released and got The Daily Mail up in arms about the queasy mix of sex and violence. Anime subsequently was dismissed as tentacle porn by people who hadn’t even seen any of it. Now the hubbub has died down its actually quite a captivating story just with lots of gore and sex and has a touching boy-meets-girl and boy turns into demon beast story at its heart. I probably saw this far too young, my brother was 9 and was in the room with me when it was on so god knows what he thought! During these blissful Saturday nights when my parents were not around and between wrestling bouts with my brothers, I also saw on Bravo a film called Up! directed by Russ Meyer. At the time I couldn’t believe it was allowed on TV as it just seemed so dirty and sordid but it seems quite tame now. On other Saturday’s I saw Russ Meyer’s other movies but this one was the one that stayed with me. Its cheap and tacky but if you have a thing for well endowed beautiful 70′s women in the wilderness, secret Nazi cult’s and chainsaw’s then this will be like a fetish film for you.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) & The Devils Rejects (2005)

 

The film that kicked it all off and was denied a video certificate for years by the bbfc, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is still a powerful film. When I eventually watched it in 1999 I was left wondering where all the blood was, but it still left me a bit shell shocked come the finale. The chainsaw is actually only used once on someone and even then its mostly off camera and in the dark. It seems the thing that worried the bbfc for all those years was the raw power of the film. A similar situation also happened with The Exorcist. There is something primal and snuff-movie like about the film which is what the maker’s of the 2003 remake forgot as they decided to show the chainsaw in action and have lush cinematography. Once you have watched Leatherface’s debut then watch a film it helped inspire. Rob Zombie’s The Devil Rejects is set in the 1970′s and is heavily in debt to the shocker’s of the era. Again its a film that really only has one moment (shown in the poster above) of shocking horror and is more of a redneck family on the run movie. The soundtrack kicks ass and I’ve always liked the fact that there is no-one to root for in this film. The firefly family are a bunch of twisted murderers and the sheriff who is after them is equally as demented. Great movie and one of the best horror films of the last few years.

Full Contact (1993) & Dobermann (1997)

 

Two foreign crime flicks now. At the height of his cool heroic-bloodshed period before he sold out, Chow Yun-Fat made Full Contact with director Ringo Lam. It wasn’t very well received in Hong Kong as audiences weren’t fond of the violence. Personally I love this film, its like a revenge movie with a seriously twisted world view and not many films at the time had homosexual villains who were in love with the hero or femme fatale criminals masturbating in the getaway car during a robbery. Gotta love the bullet-eye-view gun battle in the nightclub as well. Follow this up with another seriously twisted crime pic, Dobermann. Its similar to Full Contact in the way its totally off the wall and messed up. Vincent Cassel plays the titular Dobermann and armed robber who’s gang includes his gorgeous deaf girlfriend played by Monica Belluci. a priest and a transsexual. It also stars Tcheky Karyo in one of his most insane villain roles, except here its turned up to 11 as its French and totally unrestrained.

Mad Max (1979) & Freeway (1996)

 

Two films all about the highway now. You must have seen Mad Max by now. Its the classic post apocalyptic revenge movie that launched Mel Gibson and has that scene at the end where the villain can saw through his own leg or get blown up with his car. It has been ripped off so many times and influenced a whole generation of today’s filmmakers. Watching it now it seems so punk and rough that you can see why it appealed to audiences at the time. They actually improved on the first movie with the follow up The Road Warrior but that was much slicker where as the bleak hard edge to this is what makes it great, Damn they need to make another one. Then watch Freeway, Matthew Bright’s directorial debut which is a seriously twisted take on little red riding hood with a white trash juvenile delinquent Reese Witherspoon, hunted by Kiefer Sutherland’s serial killer in the big bad wolf role. Its one messed up violent movie which hardly anyone seems to have seen and has some of the fruitiest language ever.The follow up Freeway 2: Confessions of a trick baby, is an even darker interpretation of Hansel and Gretel. I’m not sure you can even get these films on DVD anymore so keep an eye out for them on late night TV.

Drive (1997) & Shaolin Soccer (2001)

 

American kung-fu movies don’t get much better than Drive directed by Steve Wang which many fans feel is the greatest American Martial Arts movie ever made. Unbelievably the first time I saw it was on Channel 5, it seems it didn’t get much of a push on VHS and fans only discovered it on TV. One year later we were given a decent DVD release with extra footage. The fight scenes in this film are up to the same standard as Hong Kong’s best and the film has a great sense of humor. Its cheap for sure but they have made the best of the situation by being inventive, like a fight scene where the main character wears boots on his fists, or where Mark Dacascos and Kadeem Hardison’s innocent bystander are handcuffed together as Dacascos fights off the bad guys. Watching this and Brotherhood of the Wolf its hard to believe that Dacascos isn’t a bigger star, he never seems to have had the backing that lesser talents like Seagal and Van Damme have had which is a real shame. Shaolin Soccer never really got the push it deserved on international audiences. Stephen Chow only really became known to us through Kung Fu Hustle. Shaolin Soccer is the superior film though and before you get put off its got as much to do with football as Spider-Man has to do with ice-hockey. The soccer in this film is just the catalyst to some laugh out loud slapstick comedy and some great special effects which enhance the kung-fu in the Matrix style football matches. This may well be my favorite Hong Kong film of all time after The Killer, make sure you watch the dubbed into English version for that authentic feeling to your simulated Grindhouse at home.

Nemesis (1993) & Death Trance (2005)

 

For a double bill of low budget action films which are innovative and make good use of their limited resources you cant go much wrong with these two. Back in the early 90′s B-movie producers were trying to launch the next Van Damme with a whole host of straight to VHS action stars like Don “The Dragon” Wilson, Jeff Wincott and Brian Bosworth. Amongst this lot was Olivier Gruner who perhaps resembled Van Damme the most as a one time world kickboxing champion. Nemesis was his best film and possibly the best film directed by prolific B-movie helmer Albert Pyun. The story is heavily cyber-punk with a part cyborg ex-cop now working freelance transporting stolen data and a conspiracy by cyborg’s to take over the world, its quite reminiscent of Ghost in the Shell and Johnny Mnemonic just with a ton of action and ace gunfights thrown in. Its seriously cool, I haven’t seen it in years but I’m going to try and track down a copy. Then after that keep the adrenaline flowing with Death Trance which I hadn’t even heard of until my brother gave me a copy on DVD. The story concerns a warrior played by the infinitely cool Tak Sakaguchi transporting a coffin containing some sort of war goddess through a post apocalyptic environment. Never mind that though just watch in awe as they pull inventive fight sequence after sequence out at you and marvel as the creepiest vampires seen on screen for ages attack our hero. Its an incredibly fun movie, even more alarming is the fact that it was apparently straight to DVD in Japan.

Running Scared (2005) & Killing Zoe (1994)

 

Sometimes films come along that are completely not what the advertising would have you believe and you either end up incredibly pleased or bitterly disappointed. Running Scared came out in early 2006 and pretty much vanished from cinema’s apart from a few late-night screening’s. People are a bit dismissive when they see Paul Walker in a crime movie which is their loss as in Running Scared he pulls out all the stops as a man seriously on the edge. The story plays out in an urban setting but uses fairy-tale motifs similar to Freeway as a child runs away from home with a gun that was used to murder a cop. Combined with this strange take on a crime thriller is the fact that the movie is seriously violent. Heads are blown apart by gunfire and someone is tortured by having a hockey puck smacked in their face. Its one of the most violent movies to come out of Hollywood in a while and the language is extremely harsh. The director Wayne Kramer also directed the Oscar nominated film The Cooler, and kudos to him for not taking a safe-follow up option. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next. After that piece of insanity then put in Killing Zoe, Roger Avary’s directorial debut from 1994. The story is about a master safe cracker who hooks up with an old friend in Paris and robs a bank on Bastille Day, said friend then turns out to be a drug-crazed loon.I don’t remember much about this except that  it was extremely violent had lots of drug-taking and was the first time I saw two men screwing on screen. Its a harsh, raw movie that is very obviously a debut feature but is enjoyable enough as a gonzo thriller.

Ted Bundy (2002) & Perfect Blue (1998)

 

Matthew Bright again, this time directing the tale of one of the most infamous killer’s in history Ted Bundy. This film is harsh and unflinching and really feels quite lurid in places. There is no following of the police investigation, instead we just stay with Bundy as his blood lust increases and he takes more chances with his victims during broad daylight. Bundy is played by Michael Reilly Burke who does an excellent job of portraying the killer who was charming and able to get women to trust him before he killed them. Its one of those films that seems to make no judgement on its subject and is actually funny in places which begs the question of what they were trying to achieve in telling such a story. Perfect Blue is an animated film that is so gripping that half-way through you forget you are watching an animated film. The story concerns a teen pop group whose star member decides to leave and become an actress. As she embarks on her first controversial role as a rape victim,she starts to lose her sanity as she is stalked by an obsessive fan. This could have been done live-action but the fact that its animated gives it an hallucinogenic edge it otherwise would not have had, and its bloody as hell in the final moments. Darren Aronofsky has the live action remake rights to this one and it could be one hell of an interesting film in his hands.

Perdita Durango (1997) & Sympathy For Mr Vengeance (2002)

 

In David Lynch’s Wild at Heart there was a minor character played by Isabella Rosselini called Perdita Durango, here she gets her own story except now she is played by Rose Perez. Based on the novel by Barry Gifford it also stars future Oscar nominee Javier Bardem as Romeo Delarosa, Durango’s lover who may or may not be a jackal like demon. Together they kidnap a young couple to be used as a human sacrifice and flee the DEA to Las Vegas transporting some illegal human foetus’. If the story sounds nuts that’s because it is. Spanish director Alex De La Silesia makes his English language debut here and doesn’t hold back on the sickness. The film has been cut in nearly every territory its been released and its hard to imagine what they cut as the film includes graphic rape and broken bottle murder. A seriously warped crime thriller that is entertaining and full of great offbeat performances. The first in Park Chan Wook’s vengeance trilogy is perhaps the most non-commercial of those films. As one of the main protagonist’s is a deaf mute the film is almost a silent movie with hardly any dialogue. It matters not though as the stunning imagery and violence tells the story better than any words ever could. Its also darkly funny with a few moments of hilarity that feel like you shouldn’t be laughing. Another plus point is that there is no way Hollywood could ever remake it, or could they?

Cube (1998) & My Little Eye (2002)

 

Two films about being watched by unseen malevolent forces. Cube was the feature debut of Vincenzo Natali who apart from the underrated Cypher has never lived up to the promise shown here. Whilst they were making this they only ever used one set and just re-decorated it each time they had to move rooms within the Cube. The film is very suspenseful and leads your expectations astray as you think that one character is the heroic one and then turns out to be a murderous psycho. There is also violence as faces are melted with acid and people are diced into, erm cubes by razor wire. The film never really gives you an answer as to what is behind the Cube and instead invites you to draw your own conclusions, so if you like neat resolutions you should probably avoid this one. My Little Eye is a satire of the reality television craze with five young people holed up in an isolated house during winter. Their every move is being recorded and they think that they are being broadcast to the masses on the Internet and have become big stars as they compete for a share of one million dollars. Things get creepy towards the last few days and the film gets seriously suspenseful and intense as it feels as though you are watching reality TV that has taken a surreal turn. As all the tension builds suddenly people start to get brutally murdered and the housemates discover the real purpose of what they are doing. If you hate the whole Big Brother phenomenon with its desperate wannabe’s then you will love this as you get to see the wannabe’s murdered, and there is no holding back. There is something very voyeuristic about the film and the way its filmed and the bleak ending with stay with you for days.

Class of 1999 (1990) & Society (1989)

 

 We finish with two of the earliest films I saw which truly earned their 18 certificates. Class of 1999 concerns a future (at the time) where America’s high-school’s are warzone’s with rival gangs killing each other on and around the playground. Into this situation come three military cyborg’s which are adapted to the classroom as teacher’s. That is pretty much all I remember about the story, I haven’t seen the movie for years. The rest is just images of extreme violence as the robots malfunction. One scene I remember in particular was one of the cyborg teachers pulling a gang banger through a wall, splitting him in half. Oh and Pam Grier plays one of the cyborg’s with a flame thrower for an arm. This is bound to be remade at some point. Another late 80′s exploitation film that’s screaming for a remake is Brian Yuzna’s Society. This is seriously creepy stuff as a teenager discovers that his rich Beverly Hills family might not be who he thinks they are. Then we get one of the craziest, sickest ending’s of all time as the rich folk gather in an orgy and are revealed to some kind of mutants as they all stick and squish together. This part features such delights as a man sticking his face through his own arse and then someone being pulled inside out. The make up effects are quite impressive for a film that was obviously low budget. Again I haven’t seen it for years but it was on BBC 1 a couple of years back so keep an eye out for it late one night. Hopefully Film 4 will show it during their Saturday night shocks strand at some point.

Whatever happened to the action movie/hero?

Recently 1980′s icon and sometime action hero Patrick Swayze succumbed to cancer and his death was widely covered by the media. Most people remember the films Ghost and Dirty Dancing fondly but I found myself thinking more of Red Dawn, Roadhouse and Point Break.

That night I watched Point Break for the first time in years and I found myself thinking ‘What happened to the modern action movie’?

Point Break is the tale of undercover FBI agent Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) who works in bank robbery, he infiltrates the Los Angeles surfing community to track down the ex-presidents, a gang of bank robbers who each wear the mask of a former president of the USA. Utah meets Bodhi (Swayze) a surfing guru with a bunch of adrenaline junkie followers.

After Bodhi saves Utah from a savage beating,the two of them form a bond and its not long before Utah discovers the truth and has to pursue Bodhi right to the edge in a game of ever escalating risks. Like all late 80′s early 90′s action movies Point Break is a little bit homo erotic, but its not the greased up muscular torso’s I miss from this period. The film is violent, exciting, has nudity and has almost non stop bad language. People get shot in the head, one character has his foot blown apart and Tom Sizemore gets to say ‘motherfucker’ in only the way he can.

Do you remember when action films used to be like this? What do we have now? Bloodless Die Hard sequels with no F-words and most of the action stars of yesteryear have their work go straight to channel 5. Where did it all go wrong?

Before the 1980′s the action film was mostly westerns and John Wayne films but then in the 1970′s things started to change and we had the likes of Dirty Harry,The French Connection and the first Mad Max. We had stars like Roy Scheider,Gene Hackman and of course Clint Eastwood. Often unassuming physical presences who could play tough and gritty with the best of them. The action film was one filled with grit and brutality and the occasional cool car chase.

Then Sylvester Stallone had a hit with Rocky and this was the beginning of a change. The 1980′s were all about excess and people no longer wanted small character driven thrillers, they wanted more and they wanted it BIG. Truth be told when First Blood rolled around Stallone wasn’t actually a steroid pumped action man and the film still retains some of the grit seen in the 70′s action flicks. First Blood is a lean mean thrill machine which still stands up very well today. Its a very tense and entertaining 80 odd minutes with something to say about the treatment of Vietnam vets and it gave birth to a franchise which is best described as ‘uneven’.

Around the same time an Austrian bodybuilder who came to America seeking his fortune, had a hit with John Milius’s adaptation of Robert E.Howard’s Conan the barbarian stories. The first Conan film is very cool. wisely Arnold Schwarzenegger’s dialogue is kept to a minimum so that Milius can concentrate on the bloodletting and the weird reptile people. Again its entertaining, epic and still has a rawness to it that the similar Scorpion King starring Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson can only dream of.

So Stallone and Schwarzenegger set the scene for the muscle bound mumbling action hero and following their initial hits we had The Terminator and Rambo – First Blood part two. These two propelled their heroes into the stratosphere. Rambo 2 in particular gave birth to a whole subculture of half naked muscular men in sweatbands packing heavy weaponry.

Check out the cover art for any computer game during the mid 80′s and you will see what I mean. Its influence was so widely felt that even kids toys weren’t safe and eventually a cartoon series was made. All this despite Rambo being a brutal, violent piece of work where many communists were killed in the most savage manner possible all in the name of freedom.

Not to be undone, Schwarzenegger made Commando, his own one man army movie where John Matrix, an ex-something or other has his daughter kidnapped and must kill hundreds of bad guys to get her back. Commando in particular is something of an object of ridicule in online forums now but at one point kids were flocking to this stuff for the violence as much as people now flock to the Friday the 13th and Saw movies every Halloween.

The success of these movies lead to lesser budgeted movies with the likes of Steven Seagal, Dolph Lundgren and Jean Claude Van Damme being greenlit. Stallone and Schwarzenegger went on to do movies like Predator, Tango and Cash, Total Recall and Over the Top whilst in your local video shop there were an infinite number of scowling foreign accented beefcake’s begging you to rent their latest Cannon group financed turkey. Van Damme, Seagal and to a lesser extent Lundgren enjoyed huge success in the VHS rental market with the likes of Bloodsport, Hard to Kill and Red Scorpion which meant that we then had to put up with the dregs which meant Billy Blanks, Don ‘The Dragon’ Wilson, Olivier Gruner and Matthias Hues all suddenly appeared in Roger Corman pieces of claptrap mostly about Cyborgs.

Yep if you were Dutch had a black belt and could mumble a sentence in something approaching English then you too could star in ‘American Cyborg Ninja-Steel Warrior’, it was a golden age. So huge was the market for this that eventually Van Damme and Seagal had breakout hits with Timecop and Under Siege which were big movies actually released in cinemas in the early nineties. I remember very clearly being really excited at fourteen years old going to see Under Siege, a film that I was not old enough to see but had Seagal killing scumbags and Erika Eleniak’s bare breasts, Best…Movie…Ever….

In 1988 with the release of Die Hard a change was already in the air. Here was a film with a large budget starring Bruce Willis, then most famous for Moonlighting and a top ten single cover of Under The Boardwalk, but not exactly action hero material. Adding to this was the fact that Die Hard is basically Homer Simpson fighting off German terrorists in a large skyscraper.

Despite all of this seeming like a recipe for disaster, Die Hard was a huge hit in the summer of 88. It made Bruce Willis a bona fide star and remains one of the best action movies ever made. Die Hard was imitated ad nauseam for the next ten years. We had Die Hard on a boat (Under Siege), plane (passenger 57), mountain (Cliffhanger) and erm LA (The Taking of Beverly Hills). The Die Hard effect was not really felt in its full capacity until 1994 however when martial arts classes were still full of Van Damme wannabe’s for a glorious six years until Speed was released.

Speed starred teen idol and professional airhead Keanu Reeves who up to that point was most famous as lovable Ted in the Bill and Ted movies but now there was something different about him. Reeves had shaved his shaggy locks, spent a lot of time in the gym and perfected his action hero scowl. We saw a hint of it in Point Break but the full transformation was startling. Speed was massive in the summer of 1994. Teens the world over went for a buzz cut either imitating Keanu or Forrest Gump depending on who you ask. Impact magazine, a magazine basically devoted to the action movie and martial arts genres, christened Keanu Reeves ‘Action Hero of the Year 1994′ beating off the likes of Arnie, Van Damme and Seagal.

Things had changed, here was an actor (its Keanu but hey he has his moments) who could actually act and done a better job than any number of Belgian kick-monkeys could ever dream of doing. Suddenly it seemed silly to pay Van Damme and Seagal a stupid amount of cash to mumble and do the splits when you could get a bona fide Hollywood heartthrob to buff up and scowl. So the floodgates were opened and everyone had a go.

Christian Slater starred in Broken Arrow and Hard Rain, Denzel Washington was in Crimson Tide and Virtuosity, Johnny Depp was in Nick of Time and even Nicolas Cage starred in The Rock and Con Air. Hollywood churned them out as fast as they could get a new MTV friendly face into the gym with a personal trainer. Van Damme, Seagal, Arnie, Stallone and Lundgren all started to gradually fade with the likes of Street Fighter, The Glimmer Man, Daylight, Eraser and The Shooter being average suckfests. The ones even below these guys disappeared into TV series and choreography work.

As always happens though the fad was starting to come to an end and by the end of the 90′s writers were running out of Die Hard on a—- formulas and people were looking to the east for inspiration due to the success of Chow Yun Fat and Jackie Chan. This lead to The Matrix which changed the playing field again and was also something of a comeback for Keanu who after Speed got fat and went on tour with an average grunge band. The Matrix also inspired many to go back to the kung fu classes which had been vacated in the wake of Van Damme’s career nosedive.

So here we are and its 2009 and the action hero has no balls. The Bourne trilogy takes a proper actor in Matt Damon and turns him into a badass but in a very bad language and blood free way. Jason Bourne actually apologizes to the daughter of one of his victims in the second movie! XXX the franchise which Vin Diesel started and will shortly return to, had a potential bad ass in its lead character extreme sports outlaw Xander Cage but as studios favor the PG13/12A rating Cage never gives a ‘Fuck You’ to a superior or a villain as he plants a bullet in their forehead.

It’s no wonder Diesel and Dwayne Johnson now make family friendly movies. Even the fourth Die Hard movie, in a series once renowned for violence and swearing has very little of either. John McClane not cursing was like a CGI yoda, just plain wrong! Van Damme, Seagal, Lundgren and even Wesley Snipes are now stuck making straight to blockbuster video movies which although there is the occasional gem, tend to be pretty one note and badly written pieces of crap. Cinematic action movies today go one of two ways, they tend to be neutered PG-13 films with pumping soundtracks and bloodless martial arts like the Fast and Furious movies or Bourne films or they go the other route and are completely over the top like the Crank movies or Stallone’s last Rambo movie.

Thank god then for Point Break director Kathryn Bigelow and new talent on the block Neil Blomkamp. These two have given the action movie back to the mature adult film fan with The Hurt Locker and District 9. Both of these films are realistic in their depiction of violence and are both thrilling and intense pieces of entertainment. Luc Besson also continues to fly the flag with the Transporter movies, which are cheese to be sure but the kind of cheese I once adored on a Saturday night in. The film Taken was especially an old school badass piece of entertainment, reminiscent of Schwarzenegger’s Commando but with Liam Neeson as slightly older,wiser former something or other. The film was released as an 18 certificate film in the UK and was quite harsh in its depiction of how many foreigners must die to save an American girl.

In January 2009 four months later, the film was released in a heavily cut PG-13 version in the US and made some serious greenbacks. So what does that tell you? I don’t know shit about economics and the PG-13 rating is king most likely. Hopefully the success of that film and the harsher cut on DVD, will make studios take notice that the film fan still enjoys a bit of violence and language in their action thriller and a film does not have to be extreme’ to be mature. If you feel as I do, that we need some fire back in the modern action movie then please go see Ninja Assassin, its apparently drenched in blood and if we all make it a big hit this Autumn just maybe we will get our adult action film back. I apologize in advance if it sucks.

So you could say that Speed was the death of the modern action hero/movie. You could also say that it was simply a a matter of lack of genuine acting talent and good writing that lead to the fall of the action hero. It was an enjoyable era to be sure and there are some diamonds amongst the coal. Until such time though that someone gives Jason Statham or The Rock a Speed or a Die Hard of their own, The Fast and the Furious will be but a pimple of Point Breaks ass.

Action Stars of the Past and Present:

The Past:

Arnold Schwarzenegger: More than any other, Arnie defined the modern action hero. After his last film with James Cameron True Lies, Arnie made a few bad decisions and we got the likes of Eraser, End of Days and Batman and Robin. After a semi-comeback with Terminator 3, Arnold went into politics and is now governor of California. So far there have been no hints at him making a comeback any time soon but there are always whispers of a King Conan from John Milius or a cameo in Predator 3. The less said about his CGI appearance in Terminator: Salvation the better. Best Film: Terminator 2 – Judgement Day.

Sylvester Stallone: Stallone is a far better actor than most give him credit for. During the late 80′s he went through a phase of wanting to make comedies which didn’t really work for him or anyone else. Made a comeback in 1993 with Cliffhanger and Demolition Man which were both solid pieces of entertainment. After that however and his entry into the 20 million a film club, the quality disappeared. The Specialist, Assassins and Daylight were all disappointments. In 1997 he made a comeback with a hotly tipped performance in James Mangold’s Copland. That should have been a renaissance for Stallone but he followed it up with D-Tox and a Get Carter remake. Since then he went on to star in a few straight to DVD titles and presented the TV show The Contender. Then he made another comeback by directing sequels to the Rocky and Rambo franchises. Currently finishing off The Expendables, a men on a mission movie who’s cast reads like an action fans wet dream but will likely appear as a PG-13. Stallone, Jet Li, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren and Mickey Rourke star in the movie which will be released in late summer 2010. Best Film: Rocky or First Blood.

Jean Claude Van Damme: a graduate of the straight to VHS school of kick assery, we loved to watch Jean Claude do the splits whilst nude in the likes of Bloodsport, Kick Boxer and Cyborg. Started to get major cinema releases with films like Double Impact and Universal Soldier and then Timecop was massive despite being pretty bad. Followed this up with the goddawful Street Fighter movie, the okay Sudden Death and then it got worse, he teamed up with Dennis Rodman for Double Team. Gradually went back to straight to DVD with his films now appearing on channel 5 on a weekly basis. Have you seen Legionnaire, Desert Heat or In Hell? thought not. JCVD changed everyone’s perception of him somewhat, as he gives one of the best performances I have seen this year (seriously) playing himself. Best Film: Without a doubt John Woo’s Hard Target.

Steven Seagal: in the UK at least Steven Seagal’s first few movies went straight to VHS. I’ll never forget in 1991 the shock I felt when Seagal blew some goons leg off in Out For Justice, that just does not happen nowadays. Anyway his films always did better on video here that at the cinema. Hard To Kill and Marked for Death were pretty big Saturday night sleep over titles and then Under Siege became a bona fide cinematic blockbuster with its Die Hard on an aircraft carrier scenario. Like Van Damme however Seagal did not pick his follow ups wisely and we got On Deadly Ground and The Glimmer Man. Exit Wounds did okay though in 2001. Now in straight to blockbuster purgatory with Kill Switch, Belly of the Beast and Against The Dark. Seen em? no me neither. Best Film: Under Siege 1 and 2.

Dolph Lundgren: After playing the bad guy in Rocky 4, Dolph Lundgren got himself a piece of the straight to VHS pie and made films like Cover Up and Red Scorpion. Then got cinemmatical on our asses with The Punisher and Dark Angel (aka I come in peace). Universal Soldier was a pretty big deal for Lundgren and Van Damme and got a lot of press for their fake-as-wrestling fight at the Cannes film festival. Lundgren didn’t really capitalize on this however and made pretty much straight to video efforts like Joshua Tree and Pentathlon. Struggled after this with straight to DVD titles and the occasional failed TV series directed by John Woo. Unlike some though is capable of a good performance and is one of the best things about Johnny Mnemonic. Will come back next year in Stallone’s The Expendables. Best Film: Universal Soldier.

Bruce Willis: Not really a huge muscular presence but looks good in a vest, Bruce Willis has had the kind of career the above lot can only dream of. Brilliant in the Die Hard movies as an action star but stellar as an actor in Pulp Fiction and Twelve Monkeys, Willis continues to be popular to this day. Surrogates has turned out to be something of a disappointment though but is also in Stallone’s Expendables. Best Film: Die Hard.

Wesley Snipes: Snipes started strongly in the entertaining but slight Passenger 57. He went on to the likes of Drop Zone, Murder at 1600 and the Blade franchise. Currently occupying straight to DVD hell with the likes of 7 Seconds and The Detonator and dealing with being a former jailbird . Hard to believe that this guy was once a solid dependable actor who was in some acclaimed movies.A career almost like the reverse of Bruce Willis. Best Film: Blade 2.

Keanu Reeves: is Keanu an action hero or just an average actor with a good scowl? The films Speed, Point Break and The Matrix show he is completely comfortable with the action hero label but he continues to try his hand at serious independent drama’s like The Private Lives of Pippa Lee and Thumbsucker. Last seen in the tedious Street Kings as an alcoholic cop and the even worse Day the Earth Stood Still redux. Currently prepping a live action version of anime Cowboy Bebop which should be a triumphant return to action hero status. Best Film: The original Matrix remains a classic film.

The Present:

Jason Statham:The Stath is an anomaly, Basically a British action star who is unbelievably popular in the US and yet cannot do an American accent for toffee. A formal model, discovered by Guy Ritchie and placed in Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch. After this he was a solid supporting presence in John Carpenters Ghosts of Mars and The One. He then got his own franchise with The Transporter movies, the second of which was a huge hit stateside despite being laughable. Now occupies the batshit insane Crank franchise and stars in the entertaining likes of Death Race and The Bank Job. Will next be seen in Stallone’s epic The Expendables. So far so good for Statham, apart from the occasional dud he is building a solid career. Still needs to have a Die Hard or Speed of his own which makes 200 million or so to really launch himself into the stratosphere. Best Film: Crank or The Transporter.

Vin Diesel: Remember when we were all excited about Vin Diesel after Pitch Black? How badass was he in that film? He followed up with The Fast and The Furious and XXX which were both solid and Diesel was hyped as the next Arnie. Around the time of A Man Apart it all went south, The Riddick sequel was an overblown mess and the less said about Babylon AD and The Pacifier the better. Made something of a comeback this year with the pretty decent Fast and Furious and will follow with XXX3 shortly, although that film may well be past its era of extreme sports and nu-metal. In interviews he constantly threatens another Riddick movie, you have been warned. Best Film: Pitch Black.

Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson: The Rock needs to fire his agent and fast. In WWE The Rock was entertaining as hell with charisma and presence to burn. He made the leap to movies with The Mummy Returns and The Scorpion King and was touted like Vin Diesel as the natural successor to Arnie. The Rundown (a.k.a Welcome to the Jungle) solidified his rep but didn’t make much money. Walking Tall was straight to DVD standard rubbish and so was Doom. Around this point Mr Johnson decided he either wanted to be a serious actor or a children’s clown so we got the likes of Be Cool, Southland Tales, Gridiron Gang and The Game Plan all of which sucked a big one. After the Witch Mountain revamp earlier this year, will next be seen in The Tooth Fairy. We are not smelling your cooking anymore Dwayne, you need to grab a gun, call John Mctiernan or John Woo and unleash some woopass fast. Best Film: The Rundown.

Gerard Butler: After 300 it would seem that Gerard Butler was the newest Action Hero on the block after being a supporting presence in things like Dracula 2000 and Reign of Fire for so long. He was briefly talked up as the new Snake Plissken in Len Wiseman’s big budget Escape from New York remake but that all collapsed when the budget became too high. Since then he has made a series of mawkish rom-com’s and recently made a comeback in Crank ‘auteurs’ Neveldine/Tyler’s Gamer. Will be seen in vengeance mode later this year in Law Abiding Citizen with Jamie Foxx which should be good for a laugh. Hopefully Butler will get another role as good as King Leonidas soon and become a megastar. Best Film: 300.

Jet Li: Jet Li it must be said is probably the most successful Asian action hero to make the crossover to Hollywood so far in terms of the actual quality of the movies he is doing. In Hong Kong he was a phenomenon in the likes of Once Upon a Time in China and Black Mask. Made the transition with the otherwise poor Lethal Weapon 4 and followed up with Romeo Must Die, The One and Kiss of the Dragon. Occasional blips like Cradle 2 the Grave and War can be forgiven though because of Unleashed and Hero. Should have been Kato in Michel Gondry’s Green Hornet movie but is perhaps now getting on a bit. Will instead be in Stallone’s The Expendables. Best Film: Unleashed

Robert Mitchum

Here is the man of the year. He is one of my all time favorites. His work ranged from writing poetry, screen plays, and some of the movies that he also produced and starred in. He started when he was 15 writing poetry, and songs. His acting career started in the late 30′s , after going to the Long Island Players Guild and doing a stage play “Petrified Forest”. He then played in various movies and westerns, which led him to William Boyd and “Hopalong Cassidy”,with the western “Hoppy Serves A Writ” and went on to do stage plays during that period of time. He did the “Zane Grey Westerns”, and went on to a ten year contract with RKO. He played many different roles, from Drama to Comedy. In the late fifties, and sixties, he had a singing contract in Nashville, recording 26 singles, having three to reach the top of the charts. They were “The Ballad of Thunder Road”, “That Man” and “Walker’s Woods”. After his contract with RKO was over , he made many other movies, again ranging from westerns, drama, to comedy. He also did two TV series, “A Family For Joe”,1990 and “African Skies” 1991, numerous made for TV movies , his biography, and two great mini series in the late 80′s. He did the theme song for two of the movies, sang in Japanese to “Ann Blyth” in “One Minute To Zero”, was a master with any accent and spoke in Japanese in “The Yukusa”, an action/drama filmed in Japan. He played in over170 films counting the made for TV movies. He starred in 3 movies the year he died.They were “Dead Man” (released), “Waiting For Sunset” (not released) and “Race With Destiny” with his granddaughter Carie (released but not available).
He was always known as “Tough”, Dangerous”… Charles Laughton, one of his friends said “That’s a defense,” and he won’t thank you to destroy it!
Vincent Price added: He loves to tell stories, some true, some not, because they’re all funny! but that’s where the stories about him came from.
In 1959, Mitch bought a 250 acre farm in Talbot county, Maryland and raised Quarterhorses. One year he brought three of them for the competition at our Timonium State Horse Show. He dressed as a cowboy with dark glasses, and leaning against the wooden fence, he was obliging to all who recognized him, and free and easy with his autograph. He certainly added a touch of glamour to the opening day.

He was born Robert Charles Durman Mitchum on August 6, 1917 Bridgeport Conn. A family man , he was married 57 years to his boyhood sweetheart, Dorothy Spence and they had three children: Two sons: James and Christopher, and a daughter Petrina. He also had an older sister Julie, and a younger brother John, and several grandchildren. He died July 1, 1997 at his home in Montecito, Calif.

He was over 6′ 2″, had black/brown hair, and blue eyes..