The End of an Era – Video Stores

Everything in this world changes. The old gives way to the new (notice I didn’t say better there). From my perspective, it’s usually down to one of two things as to why things change. Money, you say. Partially. Time maybe? It certainly is a factor. I see these two factors of change as cultural evolution of thinking and technology. I know I may be simplifying things a bit, but this is my blog, so button it.

For example, Telephones have evolved from the clunky behemoths with a big slowly moving dial on the front that was so heavy that on more than occasion if was probably logged into police evidence as a murder weapon, to the sleek and small handheld digital devices we all have today that contain more computing power than the super computer that put men on the moon almost 50 years ago. And with those changes comes a new way of thinking about the concept of the telephone. People choose to text rather than to speak to another human being, countries have altered the way traffic lights work for pedestrians due to these little amazing devices containing a camera, digitals music play, games platform and access to the internet are taking the attention away from clueless people walking across the road where the road become the lights to say, ‘Stop!’.

The change I have hopefully gathered you all here for today is not as impressive and urgent. Not a bit. But never the less it is something close to this movie geek and pop culture nerd. That of the humble video store.

The evolving media mediums have always been a topic of worry for the people making their livings in the medium that previous. Moving pictures was thought to kill radio when they became talkies, television was a possible death blow to the Hollywood studios and their product, home video and the rise of video stores where anyone could rent something that they wanted to watch was seen as a possible death knell to both network television and the Hollywood machine. This is where I am going to stop the ‘next thing that could kill the previous thing’ barrage. Why, you ask. Because after this point, things do really change.

I am fully aware that the Hollywood style movie houses died out and was replaced by multiplexes, but people still go to the movies. Radio no longer air radio dramas and adventures, but get in your car and turn a certain knob and there is music, commercials and chatty disc jockeys to accompany your journey. But what if you wanted to go and rent a movie on DVD or Blu-Ray (VHS having already been replaced)? Sorry to say, no. At least not the way you used to.

The humble video store has been replaced by vending machines that are dodgey at best, digital downloads where you can rent or buy movies or TV shows, online streaming subscription services and the generally cheap DVDs and Blu-Rays on offer to buys in many stores. The video rental stores just haven’t been able to keep up and one by one have been shutting up shop.

I know what you’re thinking, “So what? Thinks are better now than they were.” Different, yes. Better? I’m not so sure. It is true that now you can get your hands on any kind of film ore TV program very quickly, almost instantaneously is some cases, but the revere for the material is not the same.

Now I did already point out this was an opinion of mine and I am looking through these with nostalgia goggles, but I think it is such a same. When I was younger I didn’t read for myself, I read for school. I played with other kids whose parents knew mine. I played the sports my parents wanted me to play. But when we went to the video store, surrounded by thousands of mini movies posters of the VHS cases, I was told I could wonder these isles of imagination a pick something that I wanted to watch. Me. Not Mum or Dad or my sisters or my brother, but me. I was overwhelmed with choice and I almost cried. I chose a VHS tape of the Masters of the Universe. And I watched it three times before it had to be returned. And again, I got to choose something. And one choice turned into two, two to three. And when I was old enough, I would walk or ride my bike down to the local video store and chose whatever I wanted. And I sampled everything I could. Everything I was on the table there was not restrictions. The world opened up for me then, my mind soaked it all in like a sponge, my imagination became mighty and my education began, truly began in the isles of that video store.

Now my adult brain is still soaking up everything I can find, but the experiences of finding what you want is no longer an adventure with a cinematic outcome as close to a religious experience as I can get. It has become a little more clinical. Anticipation replaced with a waiting game with the postman.

The closest to that feeling I have gotten in recent years is going into JB Hi-Fi (anyone outside Australia, it is a huge chain of stores loaded with every kind of media) and wondering the isles viewing the titles on the spines of the DVDs or Blu-rays. I will continue to go to these places and lose myself in the past, when the choices I made helped make me the person I am today.

The last video in my area is closing soon. It is selling off all its stock and closing its doors. I know eras end, and everything changes. It is the one constant in the universe. But we all must mourn the passing of the end of even the smallest things in our lives, because without them, we wouldn’t be who we are, be it man, woman, child or mutant.

I raise my glass to the video rental stores. You will be missed.

The End of an Era – Video Stores

Corman is King. Reviewing Death Race 2050.

Death Race 2050 (2016) Dir. G.J. Echternkamp

Starring Manu Bennet, Malcolm McDowell, Marci Miller, Burt Grinstead, Folake Olowofoyeku, Anessa Ramsey and Yancy Butler.

Holy Jumping Shitballs! This movie is amazing. Award winning? Not on your life. Fun? Without a doubt. Cheesy? You can bet your sweet ass it is.

Released on DVD and Blu-Ray in 2016, Death Race 2050 is a remake of one of Corman’s own films, Death Race 2000 (1975) which is considered a cult classic of American exploitation cinema.

I know what you’re thinking out there, dear reader. Wasn’t Death Race 2000 already remade in 2008 with the Brit machismo Jason Statham? Why yes indeed, it was. It was fun and brutal and had an angle of social commentary with a nice side order of core. So why remake it again? Well, it seems Roger Corman wasn’t happy with the remake excising a lot of the political commentary, dark satire and the broken society elements for the storyline. Which is fair enough, as a lot of filmmakers are sometimes less than happy about remakes of their films. But that was back in 2008, what took Corman so long?

Well now, gentle fluffy bunny slipper wearing reader, it wasn’t until a few years after 2008 that Mr. Corman got an idea for a remake. He was being interviewed by an Italian journalist who remarked that The Hunger Games had similarities with Corman original Death Race 2000. That was when the ideas fell into place and the dollar signs in front of his eyes.

He contacted the studio Universal, who had the rights to produce the remake (and it two sequels) and made a deal. And what a deal it was. Universal released the film straight to disc and a little after the new year, it landed in the mighty land of skin cancer. (Ptssh! That’s Australia I’m talking about).

Now for many decades now Roger Corman has been making films independently in Hollywood, even as far back as the old Hollywood studio system. He has made his films fast, cheaply, often reusing sets and actors, and while many of his films are pretty terrible there remains within them a weird kind of charm. And occasionally he produces a gem that lasts and is even studied in academic circles. And even more amazingly, none of his film have EVER lost money. That is right, he never technically had a flop in all his years in the film business. Which I believe is because he has an eye for talent, hires them while they are cheap and supports them. Joe Dante, Ron Howard, James Cameron, amongst others, have all got their starts with Roger Corman. Corman himself has directed 56 films, and while he hasn’t directed a film since the beautiful gothic sci-fi horror film Frankenstein Unbound in 1990, he has continued to produce films cheaply, on time and in demand. And while his mainstays of drive-ins and video rental have changed, he has produced films for cable networks and streaming services with such titles like Supergator (2007), Dinoshark (2010), Sharktopus (2010), Camel Spiders (2011), Attack of the 50 Foot Cheerleader (2012), Piranhaconda (2010), and Sharktopus Vs Whalewolf (2015). And you thought only the Asylum boys had a stranglehold on the cheesy CGI monster movie because of Sharknodo. How very wrong you are, silly mortals.

But Death Race 2050 is up there with the crazy, cheap exploitation films that made the original such a fun ride. If I could use one phrase to some up this film, it has to be a glorious ‘Over the Top’.

In the near dystopian future, everyone is addict to reality television they watch on headsets, all day, every day because the is basically on employment. The Corporation owns and runs everything and they produce all produce and entertainment in the United Corporations of America, and the most popular spectacle is the Death Race. A cross country motor race where drivers race supped up death machines whose sole purpose it to mow down innocent pedestrians for points on the way to the finish line. The most popular of these drivers is the mysterious masked Frankenstein. Add ridiculous competition for Frankenstein, like Jed Perfectus and Tammy the Terrorist, and rebel resistance (I know, right), gore from laughable to awesome, cheesy television presenters, outrageous costumes, a crazy amount of terrible CGI and the chairman with worse hair than Donald J Trump and this movie is a gem of ridiculous fun that barely hides its brilliance. I see this remake very soon having the same cult status as the original.

And the disc even comes with special features. Three documentaries (The Making of, The Look of 2050 and Cars! Cars! Cars!) that look at the production, and there are also deleted scenes. Yes, that’s right. There was crappier stuff that they had to cut out. Whaaaaaaaat?

If you want some awesome, crazy, ridiculous fun that you can actually have a intelligent conversation about (or even hit it with a Rifftrax or MST3K treatment) this movie is a must.

GET SET! READY! LAUGH!

Corman is King. Reviewing Death Race 2050.

Scary Monsters and Super Creeps: Justice League Dark Blu-Ray Review.

DC Comics have been releasing original animated movies for some time now, making them alongside their various animated series, an area where they have continued to kick Marvel’s collective asses for some time now. While Marvel is trying to catch up with the use of Disney’s animation department, they have a long way to go. DC’s animated films use to be made for television, but tv broadcasts of these films now seem to be an afterthought as these straight to DVD and Blu-Ray released films have increasingly offered more adult driven content, with the occasional limited cinematic run.

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Parts 1 & 2 based on the Frank Miller graphic novels and Alan More and Brian Bolland’s adapted Batman: The Killing Joke have both been released over the last few years to praise (& cinematic runs), the later bringing Mark Hamill back to voice the Joker, a character he had retired from. They have told stories from the comic books, individual stories that are not connected to an overreaching arch. These stories are told the best way the filmmakers can with the confines of length, usually between 75 and 95 minutes.

But on the 7th February 2017 with the release of the animated film Justice League Dark, DC Comics and Warner Bros Animation have given us something a little different; fantasy (in this case magic) with a healthy dose of adult themes and a darker plot. In fact, in the United States it was slapped with an R rating for the magical themes coupled with the humour and the moderate action. In Australia, where I reside clicking away at the computer keys, the film was given an M rating for mature audiences for the same reason.

Based on the Justice League Dark comic series in the recent New 52 soft reboot of DC’s titles written by Peter Milligan, Jeff Lemire, and Mikel Janin, the screenplay for this film was penned by J.M. DeMatteis and Ernie Altbacker and directed by DC/Warner Animation veteran Jay Oliva was a sigh of relief for many DC fans. After the Guillermo del Toro’s failed attempt to give us a live action Justice League Dark film, the property seemed to die a tragic death of never being translated to another medium. And the announcement of the animated film gave many hope, as did the casting of Matt Ryan returning to voice the character of John Constantine which he played in the short lived live action television series. Hope seemed to be alive for a motion picture or tv show of either JLD or Constantine. Or both. Can we all be that lucky?

The story features the (regular) Justice League troubled and very confused about a large string of supernatural killing happening all over the country. While meeting about the mystical crimes, Batman bows out and leaves, leaving the other members scratching their heads. But after a strange occurrence featuring the name ‘Constantine’ written in blood over Bruce Wayne’s bedroom does Batman snap into action. Tracking down Zatanna and Deadman as a means of finding Constantine, we are introduced to him and the House of Mystery where he resides and the human like avatar Black Orchid, who protects the magical artefacts Constantine stores in the house. After a fact-finding mission into the mind of one of the survivors of the mystical attacks thanks to the aid of Ritchie Simpson, an old friend of John’s, more members join the fight and the villains revealed.

Jason Blood and his demon alter ego Etrigan, join to help stop a foe that they both faced back in the time of Merlin, a character called Destiny, and the ever-popular fan favourite Swamp Thing also joins the fight against Destiny and Felix Faust. And in the final confrontation, even the (regular) Justice League are thrown in to mess thing up.

While this is primarily a John Constantine story, it is good to see some of DC’s lesser used characters in the next best thing to a live action movie. All that it was missing, apart from more Swamp Thing, was the DC equivalent to Marvel’s Doctor Strange, Doctor Fate. Now, while is not usually presented as a dark character, it would have been amazing to see.

 

The DVD release of Justice League Dark is rather bare, but the Blu-Ray release has some of the standard extras we have come to know and love from DC’s animated films. The great comic writer Len Wein, who created Swamp Thing, along with other artists and writers appear in the documentary ‘The Story of Swamp Thing’. This little talking head doco gives us the characters back story, his changes over time, and reason for the character’s appeal.

There are also four little vignettes ‘Did You Know?’ giving us a little trivia on the production, trailers for other DC animated movies, a trailer for the new Wonder Woman film, two bonus episodes of Batman: Brave and the Bold featuring some of the characters from the main feature and a sneak peek at the next animated feature, Teen Titans: The Judas Contract. As a special feature’s package, this is pretty standard. But some these the DC’s animated titled are packed with docos and extras, like the DC Showcase, action packed short featuring various heroes and villains. Sadly, there are no sign of the Showcase shorts here.

If you haven’t picked up any of the DC animated titles, I high recommend buying one or two and checking them out. They are rarely released about $20, often retailing for much less, and are always entertaining. Intriguing and entertaining stories, characters you know and love in various incarnations, beautiful animation and some real kick ass action.

I give it 4 out of 5 severed monkey heads.

 

Here is a list of the DC Animated films from recent to earliest:

Teen Titans: The Judas Contract (2017)

Justice League Dark (2017)

Batman: The Killing Joke (2016)

Justice League vs. Teen Titans (2016)

Batman: Bad Blood (2016)

Justice League: Gods and Monsters (2015)

Batman vs. Robin (2015)

Justice League: Throne of Atlantis (2015)

Batman: Assault on Arkham (2014)

Son of Batman (2014)

Justice League: War (2014)

Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox (2013)

Superman: Unbound (2013)

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns – Part 2 (2013)

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns – Part 1 (2012)

Superman vs. The Elite (2012)

Justice League: Doom (2012)

Batman: Year One (2011)

Green Lantern: Emerald Knights (2011)

All-Star Superman (2011)

Superman/Shazam!: The Return of Black Adam (2010)

Superman/Batman: Apocalypse (2010)

Batman: Under the Red Hood (2010)

Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths (2010)

Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (2009)

Green Lantern: First Flight (2009)

Wonder Women (2009)

Batman: Gotham Knight (2008)

Justice League: The New Frontier (2008)

Superman: Doomsday (2007)

Scary Monsters and Super Creeps: Justice League Dark Blu-Ray Review.

Civil War Memorial

Okay, it has been a while now this Civil War was released and I watched this latest addition to the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe for those who don’t know) and I have had time to decompress and analyse the film in the grey matter that makes the rest of me move around and stuff.
Now there was a great deal of anticipation surrounding the release of this film. And while it was based on one of the most important event story lines in Marvel comics history Civil War, but it was the potential geek-fest and money maker of Spider-Man’s long awaited introduction into the MCU, the spectacle of all the heroes facing off against each other, and the Russo brothers Anthony and Joe returning to direct another Captain America film.
Every bit of news related to this film was devoured by the internet and all other media. From the casting news to the perfectly timed release of the trailers, the whole world was like a starving man at a buffet. And I was so psyched to see this film. Marvel has been going from strength to strength and the beast just keeps getting stronger.
When I finally sat down to watch this film with my popcorn and Maltesers , I was excited and nervous to the point I had to pee three times before the movie started and missed most of the coming attraction trailers. So, what was the verdict from the Monkey, you ask?
Well, it was a fun movie. It is a tent pole movie. A popcorn movie. A disposable movie.
The movie has all the things you could want in a movie of this sort. Great action sequences, amazing special effects, characters you know and love, new and interesting characters, a stellar cast and crew and humour that is genuinely funny and works in the right places (Thanks Spidey!). But that is where it ends. Seriously, I don’t want to be that trolling bitchy fanboy attacking a geek property because its gets attention, and I’ll do my best not to sound like that, but I’m about to drift into the ocean of the unsatisfied.
This is by no means slamming the talent involved, the impact the films has made, or Marvel and Disney. This is like the being of a movie you watch on DVD when it says the opinion contain within are that of the film makers and are in no way, blah blah blah. This is my opinion and how I felt. We all clear. Okay, strap in
For me, there was no real story, or at the least a very weak one for a tent pole movie. It just didn’t live you to the hype and the promise the marketing department conjured up for this movie. And for a man such as me who can find something good in any filmed story, that is saying something. I even liked Iron Man 2 and Thor: The Dark World, the two weakest entries to date in the MCU. But after leaving that movie theatre, I felt disappointed and let down by the story. I wouldn’t say I felt betrayed, but it came close. I honestly couldn’t talk to my friends I when to see the film with for hours afterwards. I felt gut punched and not because of any emotional elements of the story. This was Michael Bay/Transformers 2 pain I’m talking about here.
This movie needed a twist, an unforeseen event, or justifiable role reversal to make you care and it didn’t have it. The bucket of cold water dumped on your brain to wake you up from the fast moving primary colour and is just didn’t have it.
Some of the elements from the comic book story just weren’t successfully carried over to the film version. In the comic book story, the heroes break into two groups, one for superhero registration and one against. There was no villain accept the bureaucracy of the government politicians. The leaders of the two groups, Iron Man (Tony Stark) and Captain America (Steve Rogers), where both hero and villain within the story. They both made hard choices in the roles they took, some good and some bad and they both had repercussions that affected the outcome and those close to them. They both had defections and deserters to their causes, most notably Spider-Man who left Team Iron Man for Team Cap. The movie didn’t show the last aspect at all.
On the printed page you understood the motivations for these two titans, you understood both of their arguments and why they would not back down. In the film version of the story, this duel dynamic becomes very one sided. While Cap objects to the registration act and its possible negative repercussions and voices his views early on in the main story when taking to Stark, they never seem to be mentioned again. Cap appears to throw caution out the fifty story high rise, consequences be damned, too safe his friend, Bucky. Those blinders conveniently blocks out the millions in property damage and the lives of innocent bystanders that get caught in the crossfire, as when as international relations, something he has care about greatly in four feature films so far. Two supporting characters, that of Peter Parker / Spider-Man and T’Challa / Black Panther are given more relatable and understandable motivations in their short screen time than Cap.
Iron Man on the other hand, while he was motivated by guilt in the beginning, is given the emotional journey, the back story motivations, the emotional and psychological hurdles, and the sacrifices (both personal and professional) within the story and still fights on. With the frame work of this kind of story, is presented as the hero more so than Captain America. And as a result Cap comes off as a bit of a dick and a destructive one at that. This is all very odd, and humorous to me in a Captain America movie. This should have been an Avengers movie or Iron Man: Civil War at the very least. Cap seemed to get lost in the shuffle and over shadowed by more colourful characters in his own movie. This is one of the factors that lead to Michael Keaton vacating the role of Batman after Batman Return in 1992. Somebody should have been paying attention to that little bit of info.
And this is the part where I become that ‘guy’ waxing pretentiously about the original comic book being better than the movie. So buckle in while I try not to sound like a full twat. In the comic book story line, both men, Rogers and Stark (and be extension their respective superhero teams) are lead to re-evaluate their course(s) of action with the death of an important character in Marvel comics and The Avengers history, Goliath.
Dr Ben Foster and his superhero alter ego Goliath was the latest in a long line of size altering heroes, and arguably the most mentally stable. He was a brilliant scientist, colleague and friend to many on either team in the civil war divide, even though he chose to fight with Cap. His death at the hands of a Thor clone created by Stark and Reed Richards (Mr Fantastic) devastated many heroes fighting and troubled many in civilian life and government. This death added an emotional weight to the story for many of the characters and the readers, that in this crisis of ideology, there will be real and tragic consequences. The readers where spurred on to read and wonder will happen in this tale and what kind of world will be left in the wake of this fight at story’s end. It added an unstable element to the story of ‘anything could happen’.
In the filmed version of the story, this was absent; as too was the character of Goliath (his role of increasing his size to giant proportions was taken over by Ant-Man as he become Giant-Man for the fight scene at the airport). There were no deaths of any significance within the story, and definitely not heroes in the MCU. In fact, the only one screen death of any significance in the film was that of the villain Crossbones in the first ten minutes of the film, which was a shock to me because he has such a long and interesting arch in the comics.
But there was a point in the filmed version where the death of a major character would have given the Civil War story line and the MCU the same gravitas and emotion weight of the comic story line. In the fight scene at the airport, War Machine (Roddy Rhodes) was shot out of the sky and fell back to Earth. If he had died from his injuries then and there it would have even the story the ‘anything could happen’ uncertainty the film needed. Now I have nothing against the character of Rhodes and I love the work of the actor Don Cheadle, but the movie needed a high body count to make the story important in the MCU and relevant to the extended audience who flock twice a year to the Marvel films. As it stands, as a story, this film in the most disposable of the MCU films and just like every Michael Bay movie, misses every poignant heart string moment to make it truly memorable.
In the end, the film makers could have done better with this tale. I mean, even Henry Jackman’s score for the film was lack lustre and underperformed. This is a man who delivered amazing scores for Kick-Ass 1 & 2. X-Men: First Class, Kingsmen and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. He knows how to score a good movie and make it great and here he seems almost distracted at best, creatively knee capped at worst.
Captain America: Civil War made a butt ton of money, and is a fun movie, but in the end the Russo brothers delivered a film that was all flash and no substance. They are better than this, so are the actors, the writers and the studio that made the film. I’m hoping and praying for better when the team comes together again for the Avengers: Infinity War movies. Fingers crossed.
I think that is all for this rant. Till next time.
– Monkey

 

Civil War Memorial