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Game For Each Other 1: Papers, Please

Posted on by sam

Game For Each Other Episode One

Papers, Please

Watch HFP: Game for Each Other Episode One…………………………..here

Steam Green Light is a wondrous thing. Letting the Steam community (Steam being Valves digital operating platform for those not in the twenty first century who don’t pc game) vote on what indie titles are released into the store is, in my glorious opinion, an exciting concept that just works. There’s something empowering about watching a game trailer, reading the description, looking at concept art and then holding the fate of the games makers in your hand as you declare whether or not you’d pay for their hard work. In a 100% historically accurate sentence, I imagine it’s probably similar to how Caesar felt when deciding via thumb up or down if the dude who just slaughtered a tiger got to live or die as horribly as a Shia LaBeouf twitter account. It’s given Green Light an organic feel and more and more the store has resembles one of those systems for the people, by the people. Once again being 100% historically accurate with my sentences, Steam feels sort of like what the United States of America claims to be, just without as much racism or obsession with homosexuality………………. probably just as many gun nuts though.

The downside to holding the fate of indie developers in your hand is it requires wading through the rough to get to the smooth. Some of the games submitted to Green Light make me scream, literally, scream. True story, I once screamed so loudly after seeing three Minecraft clones in a row, one of my housemates checked to make sure I hadn’t caught my penis in my fly. Now that I think about it, I have no idea why that’s the first scenario he’d think of upon hearing me scream…………..anyway, here on a blog no one will read, written by a wannabe indie filmmaker who will never have the skills to make a game, (a blog that’s supposed to be about a new series of HFP videos) is a tangent listing six pit falls I implore game developers to avoid if they care about my Steam community vote………………… no I didn’t think they did.

Pit Fall The First: Don’t assume the phrase ‘top down RPG in the style of Final Fantasy and Chrono Trigger’ earns my vote. How about instead taking the time to show me just what your top down RPG adds to a bloated genre that already has those two fantastic titles at its pinnacle.

Second: Don’t make Slender Man, Slender Man has already been made.

Third: First Person Shooters have been around a long time, the concept isn’t ‘new’, please stop using the word ‘new’ when really what you mean is ‘like Half Life 2’. While I’m at it, First Person Shooter probably isn’t the market for your game if your budge wont allow you to make a game that graphically is only just above the standard System Shock 2 during its first release.

Fourth: Just because a game is twenty years old doesn’t mean I won’t remember it or recognise when you rip it off.

Fifth: No matter how much work you’ve put into your game, please resist the urge to put ‘craft’ in the title.

Sixth and Final Pit Fall: Enough with the fucking zombies!

Image courtesy of http://rxwaz.deviantart.com/art/Part-of-Nu-Metal-Never-Dies-107052417

 

…………………… and now back on topic.

For how it should be done (translate to ‘how I think it should be done’) one need look no further than Lucas Pope’s submission for Papers Please; it begins with a plodding, Eastern European influenced melody. A procession of stylised characters pass the screen, each person is dressed tattily in worn down clothing. The characters, despite their shabby, stylised appearance, look normal enough, but something isn’t right………… after a moment you realise it’s their expressions. None of these people look happy. The phrase ‘Glory to Arstotzka’ flashes on screen followed by a myriad of passports getting stamped either red or green. An explosion later and everything becomes faster. The procession of people builds and strange pictures of naked people flash up, some of these pictures reveal concealed weapons, others what appeared to be drugs. Then it’s gone.

If Steam Green Light is one of the most exciting things to happen to PC gaming, then Papers Please is one of the most exciting things to happen to Steam Green Light. It’s submission was one of the most intriguing and unexpected things I’d seen, I couldn’t press the ‘YES’ button quick enough, two weeks later the game was accepted into the Steam Store. A day after that I ponied up the princely sum of 7 pounds and took a punt on the grounds that any game with that good a submission must be worth 7 pounds.

I wasn’t disappointed. Papers Please is one of the best gaming experiences I’ve had in years. What starts as a deceptively simple observation game quickly develops into an intense multi-layered story where you shape the destiny of an entire nation…………all from the vantage point of a desk. The simplicity of the concept: money is tight and hard to come by so every decision requires careful deliberation but isn’t helped by that fucking clock ticking away, is beautifully executed. What’s more, it’s a fantastic exploration of just how easily morality falls. Sure you can try to play as a moral, sympathetic character caring for the needs of others, but you’ll suffer a price. Likewise you can be as studious an office worker as there ever was, but you’ll lose your decency along the way.

With a fair bit of editing left to do on our debut feature Toss, Tom suggested we do ‘game play’ videos so I had something film related to keep me entertained and focused during the long shifts at a crappy supermarket. We eventually realised there were far too many good let’s play videos already, so we may as well just challenge each other to games and do highlight videos. We figured if the chances of success are small (and what actually counts as success in the cut throat world of youtube still puzzles me) then at least we could enjoy the experience of fucking each other over while not getting views. Once that was established it took three seconds to decide what game I’d be challenging Tom to first, Papers Please.

One major reason was that explaining just how remarkable a game requiring you to check passport documentation within a set time limit can be, is a task well beyond me. I figured that if we record a video then I can just point people in its direction whenever I harp on about Papers Please and say there, watch that then buy the game…………………..also maybe hit the subscribe button. The fact Lucas Pope is an angel who allows the monetization of youtube videos of his game being played, even when the people playing it are wannabe indie filmmakers like me and Tom, probably helped as well!

Guess what? It was successful, well not in the youtube sense……………..whatever that is, but I sent sometimes HFP contributor James Fox the video to watch and he ended up buying the game (which you should all do) so that’s money right there in Lucas Popes pocket.

If our Game For Each Other videos achieve nothing else, then forever more I’ll get to say I helped the developer of a game I adore get a sale, and all I had to do was amateurishly edit a video of me enjoying the spectacle of Tom failing miserably.

Truly these are Halcyon days.

Written By Sam ‘GeSTADT!’ McKinstrie

Unnecessarily on twitter as McKinstHFP

See HFP’s videos at www.youtube.com/MrHFProductions

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Top 50 Albums of 2013

Posted on by sam

Top 50 albums of 2013

50: Iceage

You’re Nothing (2013)

It’s fucking loud this bad boy. When you hit play (do people still ‘hit’ play?) you will be treated to an assault. Not a physical one obviously, Iceage are not sadistic, but you will feel a little abused by the end. A bit like being forced to read American Psycho out loud to your new girlfriends mum and telling her you wrote the sex scenes. Not nice but thrilling none the less.

49: Midlake

Antiphon (2013)

Tim Smith has fucked off. The lead singer of Midlake has taken his bat and ball and gone off to the woods to play the flute. Where can a band go when it’s lead singer fucks off to the woods with a flute? The answer in Midlake’s case is stay at home and carry on regardless. ”Antiphon’ is a incredibly strong album considering what’s gone on with Tim Smith and his flute. The band should be congratulated for making an album this tight and focused. Nothing on here stands out like the best tracks on ‘ The Trials of Van Occupanther’ and it neither does it absorb you in it’s mood the way ‘Courage Of Others’ did but it’s a genuine triumph for a band showing they may still yet have a future.

48: Los Campesinos!

No Blues (2013)

Los Campesinos! piss me off more than most modern bands due to the fact that I always have to Google their name to know how to spell it correctly. It’s a shame because they really are a cracking underrated band. I’d class their 2008 debut ‘Hold On Now Youngster’ as one of the best albums since the turn of the millennium and it’s certainly one that deserves more acclaim than it gets. Since then the Welsh band have been successfully churning out worthy albums full of quirky pop hooks and snappy harmonies. ‘No Blues’ carries on this tradition and is another satisfying addition to the Campesinos! catalog that is surely now one of the most consistent in current Indie. They never make a bad record and whilst they may never reach the heights of their debut again their albums are always worth your money. Now if they’d only change their name…….

47: Islet

Released By The Movement (2013)

Islet do nothing to dispel the idea that everyone in Wales is mental. Admittedly that’s just my theory after meeting one Welshman who was clearly insane. Islet though are doing sweet FA to change my opinion on their fellow countrymen. ‘Released By The Movement’ sounds like a compilation tape of unknown post punk bands that was put together by someone called ‘John’ in 1979. My RX-FT510 Panasonic Cassette Player gives out a similar sonic experience to the one here. Muffled, tinny and bass heavy with just one equalizer dial. That being the ‘Tone’ dial which when turned to maximum just succeeds in displaying what your favorite bands would sound like if they were playing live underwater. Maybe it’s the nostalgia that draws me to Islet. They remind me of buying poor quality copied tapes from the market and playing them through my aforementioned RX-FT510 Panasonic Cassette Player which of course made them sound even worse. Or maybe I have some Welsh in me and am mentally ill. Whichever it is, Islet and me are a decent fit.

46: The Strokes

Comedown Machine (2013)

Look, it’s not as good as ‘Is This It?’. Let’s just get that out of the way before people start whining like little bitches about how “it’s not as good as their debut”. ‘Is This It?’ was a moment in time. It was the Emperor of the Indie explosion at the start of the millennium. It was unlike anything else around at that time. It’s over now though. Forget about it. Stop reliving the past. It was 12 years ago. Move on. The Strokes have. Whilst you’ve been getting old and fucking your own life up they have carried on making laudable albums that are dismissed because “it’s not as good as their debut”. ‘Comedown Machine’ is the latest notch on the Strokes rifle. It’s another album you should hear. Not one that will change your life but one that is better than most of the shit you listen to. So just give in, accept they aren’t going to make an album like “Is This It” again and pipe the fuck down.

45: John Grant

Pale Green Ghosts (2013)

The first thing that hits you about ‘Pale Green Ghosts’ is the directness of it’s lyrics. John Grant hides nothing. It’s possibly the most honest set of songs you will ever come across. His openness will probably knock you back initially. Even when he writes a musically straightforward anthem such as ‘GMF’, the chorus of  ”I am the greatest motherfucker that you’re ever gonna meet” stands it apart from any other tune you’ll hear this year. For the most part the sound is entrenched in 80′s synth pop reminiscent of The Human League and at times, such as on ‘Sensitive New Age Guy’, even Erasure but taken as a whole ‘Pale Green Ghosts’ has a style all of it’s own.

44: Prefab Sprout

Crimson/Red (2013)

it’s still the 1980′s in the world of Paddy McAloon and Prefab Sprout. Nothing on ‘Crimson/Red’ will surprise anyone who knows anything about Prefab Sprout. In fact the only surprise is that this album is a release from 2013 and not 1986. That it doesn’t matter how dated it sounds is down to a few things. The main one is the quality of the songs. “Great music is timeless” the cliche goes and ‘Crimson/Red’ is more proof that cliches are cliches for a reason.  Also everybody is trying to sound 80′s these days and this helps Prefab Sprout sound as contemporary as the bands they have influenced. The likes of  M83 and Cut Copy may be harking back to the 80′s but Prefab Sprout never left them.

43: Gold Panda

Half of Where You Live (2013)

I imagine that in some quarters Gold Panda’s follow up to 2010′s ‘Lucky Shiner’ will be seen as a disappointment. It has nothing on it as immediate as something like “You” and at first it can seem like inconsequential background music. The more you listen though the more ‘Half Of Where You Live’ reveals itself. It’s a far more complex and abstract piece than his debut and whilst none of the tracks on here truly stand out like the best moments on ‘Lucky Shiner’ (with perhaps the exception being ‘Brazil’) given time you will come to realise that ‘Half Of Where You Live’ is an all round better album. One to recline with rather than one to dance to.

42: Unknown Mortal Orchestra

II (2013)

People may say “There’s nothing new here” but these are likely to be the same people who say “I wish I was born in the 60′s” and rave about some obscure dead Psychedelic band called ‘The Optical Rainbow Flowercunts’.  This is not perfect but it’s certainly good Psychedelic Pop that has great hooks which grow on you with every listen. Give it time to sink in and you’ll reap the rewards.  And I’ll tell you one thing, this album is better than anything The Optical Rainbow Flowercunts have done so shove that up your asses.

41: Franz Ferdinand

Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action (2013)

Franz Ferdinand were at the forefront of The British Indie rock renaissance that put guitar bands back into the charts in the early noughties. ‘Take Me Out’ was a top 3 hit and they found themselves as cover stars of every major music magazine in Britain. Since then their star has faded and the fact this album came out with such little fanfare is proof of how far they have fallen in the eyes of the press and general public. They still have a lot to offer though and whilst they stick fairly rigidly to the energetic post punk sound that initially provoked such praise, ‘Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action’ is the most consistent set of songs they put to tape since their lauded debut. If you never liked them in the first place then nothing here will change your mind but if you simply lost interest in them as the years passed this may just reawaken the affection you once held for them.

40: David Bowie

The Next Day (2013)

Of all the many comebacks in 2013 the most surprising was that of David Bowie. Nobody had an inkling that he was recording new material and the level of hysteria when he nonchalantly dropped lead single ‘Where Are We Now’ onto the World Wide Web would have made the unenlightened believe that he had literally rose from the dead. Journalists competed against each other to find greater superlatives to throw at him.  Many reviews of this album read like obituaries. ‘The Next Day’ was treated with kid gloves as it was so unexpected. People felt grateful just have it. In truth it doesn’t stand up to the initial cock sucking. It’s not on par with his best work like some claimed early on. What it is though is an album full of ideas that has the same intensity of a debut release. ‘The Next Day’ doesn’t change anything in the Bowie story but if it is his last work then he’ll be one of the few artists to bow(ie) out in triumph.

39: Youth Lagoon

Wondrous Bughouse (2013)

‘Wondrous Bughouse’ sounds like it’s been made by a band the size of Arcade Fire but NO. It’s not. IT’S THE WORK OF ONE MAN. A man called Trevor. Trevor Powers. Trevor Powers makes you want TO SHOUT YOUR REVIEW OF HIS WORK over his expansive music. Obviously you can’t shout in a written review so YOU HAVE TO USE CAPS LOCK to make your point of how it MAKES YOU WANT TO SHOUT. The album has so much going on yet the atmosphere and the songs themselves have a dreamy laid back feel that makes you want to write in small letters to show how relaxed you are. I don’t know how to make my writing smaller though because everytime I try it the whole of this review changes font and ruins any effect I am trying to make. I really haven’t done this album justice with this review. It’s fucking really good.

38: Tricky

False Idols (2013)

Mention Tricky to any casual music fan and they will either say “No, I’ve never met the man” or “Oh yeah Maxinquaye was good…..what happened to him?”. The good news for the latter set of people is that ‘False Idols’ is the most Tricky has sounded like the Tricky that received such praise for ‘Maxinquaye’. It’s a genuine return to form following years of self indulgence and downright dullness. This may only succeed in making fans of his earlier work stand up and take notice again but who knows? Maybe ‘False Idols’ is the starting point to Tricky clawing back his reputation as an artist who shouldn’t be ignored by anyone.

37: Kanye West

Yeezus (2013)

After watching the ‘Bound 2’ video, I found myself sitting in stunned silence for about 3 minutes. Is Kanye West taking the piss after all? Is he merely a great comic who is seeing how far he can go before people realise he is having them on? Then I remembered just how good ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’ is. I recalled how blown away I was when I first heard ‘Black Skinhead’ from this album. I thought back to the unsurpassed energy that drips from him in his live performances. He can’t be taking the piss. Too much of his output is simply too good for him to be taking the piss. What about his tweets though? “I make awesome decisions in Bike Stores” or “I hate when i’m on a flight & I wake up with a water bottle next 2 me like oh great now i gotta be responsible for this water bottle”. Is Kanye merely playing out his public life in the role of the unreliable narrator? A man who is totally in control of what he does and says yet portrays himself as the opposite? It’s the questions that make Kanye West the most fascinating public figure in music today. ‘Yeezus’ (Yeezus for fucks sake) is no help in trying to solve the Kanye West mystery. It frequently goes from the preposterous to the magical and back again. Often in the same song. It’s impossible to pin down. Just like the man himself.

36: The National

Trouble Will Find Me (2013)

First up, the bad news. The National seemed to have slightly passed their peak. This album is a step down from “Alligator”, “Boxer” and “High Violet” and their sound is now so ingrained in the band it’s hard to see where they can go next. The good part is that the 3 albums mention previous are all genuine classics. Producing a step down from those three is merely being guilty of your own talent. There’s more than enough here to enjoy and their unique sound alone puts it above most from 2013. ‘Trouble Will Find Me’ is one of the best disappointments you’ll ever encounter.

35: Johnny Marr

The Messenger (2013)

I wonder if there has ever been a review about Johnny Marr that hasn’t mentioned The Smiths? It’s unlikely. The band cast a shadow across both Marr and Morrissey but whereas the quiffed one has sporadically produced work that is almost as good as the work he did with the people he now hates, Marr has struggled to come out of the shade of The Smiths. ‘The Messenger’ isn’t going to change what Marr is best know for but it is quite comfortably his best work since ‘Strangeways Here We Come’. His time with The Cribs has clearly revitalized him  and whilst the sound is fairly standard Indie rock it’s not just the mandatory amazing guitar work that stands Marr out from the crowd he influenced. The songs are what makes ‘The Messenger’ a success. You can fill as many songs as you like with great riffs but without the songs they are wasted. ‘The Messenger’ is simply the finest collection of songs Marr has put to tape since the 80′s. It’s even (whisper it) a class apart from Mozza’s recent output. Stephen, It’s really nothing.

34: Causa Sui

Euporie Tide (2013)

Causa Sui may play music from another time like a bunch of stoned slackers but the main difference between them and most other Psych Rock revivalists who like a good drawn out jam is simple. Causa Sui simply do it better. This is the Danish foursomes 8th album and succeeds in converting their sound into a more concise form. The lengthy jams are still here. Two tracks clock in at over the 10 minutes mark whilst all but two are no shorter than 5 minutes. The difference though is in focus. Whereas previous Causa Sui releases sounded like they were a collection of songs recorded at random, ‘Euopie Tide’ seems like a conscious effort by the band to record a ‘proper’ album that sacrifices long winded grooves in favor of shorter pieces that flow into each other. Maybe they are finally beginning to realise themselves how good they are.

33: Paul McCartney

New (2013)

I don’t think many people expected this to be as good as it is. His recent live performances have been woeful from a vocal point of view and his solo career has always been hit and miss leaning heavily on the miss side. The first single from this album was bright and bouncy enough but didn’t exactly raise my confidence in this album. Macca has really pulled it out of the bag here though. It’s a far better album than people will give it credit for. Unlike Dylan and Young people have dismissed McCartney these days as a glorified nostalgia act. Great in his day but way past his best. Of course he is past his best but then again his best was pretty much THE best and ‘New’ has shown that he still has a lot to give us. Not many songwriters of any era could write something as touching as ‘Early Day’s’ and as catchy as ‘Queenie Eye’. You can count on one hand the amount of living legends who have recently made albums this fresh and full of life. You know what? Deep down, he’s still Paul McCartney.

32: Babyshambles

Sequel to the Prequel (2013)

Hands up who thought Pete Doherty would be dead by 2013. Well he isn’t dead and in fact he’s making his most focused music since the days of The Libertines. ‘Sequel to the Prequel’ sees a more relaxed Babyshambles. The sound of a band who aren’t trying to prove anything and of a man who for the first time ever is letting his songs do all the talking . Oh and for those who think he’s an awful singer, listen to “Farmers Daughter”.

31: Quasimoto

Yessir Whatever (2013)

Basically a compilation of leftovers from that have been laying around in the Madlib locker for the past 10 years or so, ‘Yessir Whatever’ can fairly be accused of being nothing more than a scraping the barrel money making exercise. It’s testament to Madlib’s talent that this leftovers album still manages to draw you into the Quasimoto cartoon world he has created and leave not feeling at all cheated. The beats, production and lyrical originality means you’ll return to ‘Yessir Whatever’ more than even it’s creator may realise. It doesn’t have the flow of his two previous albums under this guise and it may seem like nothing more than an overlong EP masquerading as an album but there is no doubting the quality of what is here.

30: Darkstar

News From Nowhere (2013)

‘News From Nowhere’ has been lumped in with all the other Animal Collective-lite albums that have been puked out since ‘Merriweather Post Pavilion”. These counterfeit efforts have been springing up all over the place since 2009 as artists attempt to replicate the Psychedelic Pop experimentalism that Animal Collective pulled off so perfectly. It’s harsh to shove ‘News From Nowhere’ in with these releases as it’s a far more original and ambient experience. Even when they do climb upon the Neo-Psychedelia bandwagon they have a good enough grasp of a melody to make it worthwhile. The best thing about ‘News From Nowhere’ though is that it makes you believe Darkstar have it them to do even better.

29: Phoenix

Bankrupt! (2013)

‘Bankrupt!’ is a longer album than it seems. As you reach the final slice of 80′s pop in ‘Oblique City’ it seems only 10 minutes earlier you were listening to the ridiculously catch first track ‘Entertainment’. Time simply flies by as you drift through a world of sugarcoated snyth pop. Critics may accuse it of  being nothing more than a dispensable pop album with no substance but the majority of the best pop music ever made is carefree and senseless. That’s what makes it pop music and Phoenix have enough hooks to keep you coming back time after time.

28: Daniel Wohl

Corps Exquis (2013)

Some people believe that music isn’t an art-form. It’s worth noting that some people think astrology is a genuine way to judge someone, cancer can be cured by medium of Facebook likes and the phrase “It is what it is” is ever worth saying.  People also say “there’s no such word as can’t” even though if you write ‘can’t’ with the spell check on, it will NOT be underlined in red. Basically people are fucking idiots. “Corps Exquis” is proof of this. This is art. Just read the promotional release for it. It states that it’s a “multimedia chamber opera in nine consecutive parts” and that it is “based on a surrealist parlor game from the 1920′s”. Even if it was just 45 minutes of a man saying “Where is the cheese, Father?” in a monotone voice it would still be art. The fact it often achieves the same sort of beauty and emotional connection that the best work of Steve Reich and Phillip Glass does makes it even more arty. You fucking DICKS.

27: Arcade Fire

Reflektor (2013)

Like any band who have produced such a an universally acclaimed album, Arcade Fire will forever be dogged by the same question when they present something new to the world.  ”Is it is as good as Funeral?”. Unfortunately the answer in this case is no. It’s way too cluttered, it’s needlessly over-long and at least 3 songs could be wiped off and wouldn’t be missed. That said this is Arcade Fire and the majority of stuff on ‘Reflektor’ is excellent. As a whole it recalls the The Clash and their sprawling 3 disc masterpiece ‘Sandinista’. A million and one things have been thrown into the pot as genres ranging from Reggae to Electro-Disco drift around at one with each other. Arcade Fire could have made another ‘Funeral’ or even another ‘Suburbs’ but unlike fellow Indie giants such as Kings Of Leon and The Killers, Arcade Fire are still not satisfied. They know the only chance they have of  getting a “Yes” to the question of  ”Is it is as good as Funeral?” is by continuing to push their sound into new directions.

26: Classixx

Hanging Gardens (2013)

Chocolate. That’s how I’d sum up “Hanging Gardens”. It’s sweet, filling, at times sickly and often makes you feel guilty but you always go back for more. This hour long effort may be hard to stomach in one sitting but there is no doubting the quality of the music you are gorging on. The album is choc a block with pop hooks, sprinkled with Human League-esque vocals and evokes 80′s nostalgia like a Curlywurly. I’ll stop using the chocolate analogy now because it’s feels like I’m just fudging the review. Ha ha ha what a card I am. WANKER

25: Autechre

Exai (2013)

I’ve always struggled to explain into words what it is I get out of the music Autechre produce. Their mechanical volatile pieces are so far removed human emotion that you could be forgiven for thinking you are listening to ‘Sound Effects From A Building Site: Part One”. I often get the suspicion that they are taking the piss and one day Rob Brown and Sean Booth are going to turn round and say “All that stuff we did was just nonsense and we knocked out each track whilst we take a shit”. If they do make their music whilst on the shitter then they better start checking their diets because ‘Exai’ is one fucking long album. More importantly it’s another fascinating work. There’s not much different here in terms of the sound the Rochdale boys somehow dreamt up somewhere around 1997 but the cold ghostly sound of two grown men kicking the fuck out of a lifeless machine that you end up genuinely feeling sorry for is still somehow enthralling after all these years. Not many will put this one down as the best they’ve ever done but even fewer will be disappointed with their latest bloody racket.

24: Bibio

Silver Wilkinson (2013)

I imagine Stephen Wilkinson is one disorganized fucker. His albums under the Bibio alias have no structure, are a mishmash of ideas and play out like the work of a schizophrenic rambler who enjoys LSD and horticulture in equal measure. This may mean that he’ll never produce a true 10/10 classic but it also safeguards him from ever making a dull album. In fairness ‘Silver Wilkinson’ is a more focused effort than his last collection ‘Mind Bokeh’ and harks back to the earlier Robbie Basho meets Boards Of Canada inspired work that he first realised on his 2005 debut ‘Fi’. The J Dilla-esque beats can still be found but this is very much a more laid back controlled Bibio that often reawakens insignificant childhood memories that you never knew you’d forgotten about.

23: Brazos

Saltwater (2013)

On the surface, ‘Saltwater’ is your standard Indie Pop fare. A broken affectionate singer telling tales of love and woe to the backdrop of acoustic guitars, strings and synths. The thing is that when that sort of thing is done correctly it’s truly magical. Brazos, the brainchild of Martin McNulty Crane, show that this magic can be still be found among the shite. That ‘Saltwater’ works so well is probably down to the band’s influences that range from Fela Kuti to Can. It’s these indulgences that give Crane’s perfectly crafted pop songs an otherworldly feel as these gorgeous melody’s adapt themselves delightfully to the exotic backdrop and help to create something truly unique and special.

22: Dr. Dog

B-Room (2013)

If you have enjoyed previous releases from Philadelphia lo-fier’s  Dr Dog then you are going to be happy as here’s yet another album crammed full of melodic brilliance. The band are now on their 7th album and throughout ‘B-Room’ you are left scratching your head wondering just where they keeping digging up these tunes. Some will say Dr Dog appeal to the lowest common denominator as their music is neither original nor complex. They stick to a well trodden path that has been walked across by so many 60′s revivalists. The facts are though that when you listen to the catchy heartfelt tunes Dr Dog pull off at ease, you really don’t care whether they are pushing boundaries or merely re-living the past. Sometimes you just want to sing along and have music put you in a good mood. There are few in this day and age who perfect the this task as good as Dr Dog

21: Foxygen

We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic (2013)

“We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors Of Peace And Magic” is quite possibly the least original album of the year. It’s also quite possibly the catchiest. Maybe the reason behind it’s immediacy is that almost every song on the album borrows it’s hook from some famous 60′s gem. ‘On Blue Mountain’ imitates the chorus of ‘Suspicious Minds, ‘San Francisco’ holds a passing resemblance to The Beatles’ ‘Only A Northern Song’ whilst ‘No Destruction’ has the same vibe as mid 60’s Dylan. The fact they are so unashamed about embracing the past just makes the songs sound all the more assured. It’s pop Jim, just as we know it.

20: Queens of the Stone Age

…Like Clockwork (2013)

I liked ‘Era Vulgaris’. I liked it a lot. I liked it enough to say “You know what, I like Era Vulgaris” to people much taller than me. That’s why when I read things in reviews like “A return to form after the disappointing Era Vulgaris” in reference to ‘Like Clockwork’ I shake my head like an arrogant autistic child. ‘Like Clockwork’ isn’t a return to form at all. It’s just another exquisite Queens Of The Stone  album full of swaggering sweaty rock tunes that will have you playing air guitar until you look in the mirror and see what a cock you look. 6 albums down the line and Queens Of The Stone Age still posses the power to make you look like a twat and not give a solitary shit.

19: Laurel Halo

Chance of Rain (2013)

The main gripe critics had of ‘Quarantine’, the previous release from Lauren Halo, was the voice of the american electronic experimentalist. Her deliberately off key vocals shoved some quarters straight towards the earplugs. It’s highly doubtful she has taken any notice of the criticism directed towards her strange Bjork-esque vocals but for whatever reason she has abandoned them completely on ‘Chance Of Rain’. Where once it was the eccentric vocals that initially perked your ears now it’s the myriad of styles that draws you in. The overall vibe of the album is entrenched in the explosion of the 90′s IDM scene. Pretty much everything on this album would sit comfortably next to the likes of Autechre and B12 on one of Warp’s ‘Artificial Intelligence’ compilations. It’s not necessarily music to dance to, more music to explore you mind with. ‘Chance Of Rain’ is the post-party comedown of 2013.

18: Jon Hopkins

Immunity (2013)

Jon Hopkins is a man who has shoved his dirty hands into many musical pies. From Co-Producing Coldplays’ Viva La Vida to doing a collaborative album with Scottish folkie King Creosote, Hopkins is a man who is just as at home in a studio full of guitars as he is in a filthy club. His long term association with fellow musical chameleon Brian Eno seems to have only furthered his ambitions. ‘Immunity’ takes pieces from each of Hopkins’ past pies as he blends together ambiance, techno and dark club beats to create an album of wonderful diversity. For all his range though Hopkins remains a very intimate producer. ‘Immunity’ sounds at it’s best with the lights down as the world sleeps outside. At that moment it becomes  an album to call your own.

17: Arctic Monkeys

AM (2013)

The Arctic Monkeys story is a curious one. In Britain at least, they exploded on the scene like no other Indie band before them. The first two singles went straight in at number one, a feat only usually achieved by X Factor winners who enjoy the luxury of having how many ever million thick people watching them churn out shite every week for 3 months. Since then they have almost totally shunned the limelight and moved into a direction that has earn’t them credit but also seen them lose fans along the way. ‘AM’ is the Sheffield lads’ 5th offering and it’s attracted the biggest hype since their debut. It’s easy to see why. It’s a mix of the Indie pop tunes of the past and the harder Bluesier sound they have been performing since recording ‘Humbug’ with Josh Homme. Arctic Monkeys aren’t kids anymore. They are now a fully formed confident rock band who know exactly what they are doing.

16: Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds

Push the Sky Away (2013)

If you’ve heard “Push The Sky Away” it may surprise you to learn that Nick Cave is now 56 years old. This is not the sound of your average 56 year old. He sounds more mature and relaxed then he ever has but unlike so many others who have released the amount of music Cave has, he doesn’t in any way sound like a diluted version of his former self. In comparison to the rest of the Cave catalog  ’Push The Sky Away’ is closest in terms of sound to the likes of ‘No More Shall We Part” or “The Boatman’s Call”. Never at any point though does it feel like an attempt to recreate those acclaimed works. “Push The Sky Away” is it’s own man. It’s not as immediate as most of his work but it slowly creeps up on you. Don’t be surprised if this one is being mentioned alongside his best work in the next few years or so.

15: Ghostpoet

Some Say I So I Say Light (2013)

‘Some Say I So I Say Light’ is how Autechre may sound if they were fronted by Tricky. It holds the moodiness of Autechre, the beats and drawl of the Trickster whilst keeping all the hallmarks that Obaro Ejimiwe, better known as Ghostpoet, first brought to us on his  2011 debut ‘Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam’.  Whilst you may miss the straightforwardness of the lyrics he brought to us with ‘Peanut…., ‘Some Say I So I Say Light’
shows a greater depth in every area. His lyrics are more abstract this time around and they sit well with his new musical horizons that see him move away from the low key Burial style arrangements into a more expansive sound that display the range of the experimentation Ejimiwe is putting into his music. When he first came onto the scene Ghostpoet was touted as hot new thing in UK Hip Hop. With ‘Some Say I So I Say Light’ he’s shown he doesn’t fit into any genre other than the one he seems to be creating for himself.

14: I Am Kloot

Let It All In (2013)

In another life, it would be I Am Kloot selling out stadiums and winning Brit awards not Elbow. The two bands share a similar sound and Guy Garvey himself produced Kloot’s latest effort. I don’t know, maybe that Kloot front-man John Bramwell looks like bird watcher Bill Oddie is the reason they remain criminally overlooked. Whilst they do have many comparisons with Elbow, I Am Kloot have a more refined, less bombastic approach to their music. Whereas with Elbow the arrangements hit you square on in the face, on ‘Let Them All In’ they act to create a more serene atmosphere that lets the songs fully breath.

John Bramwell has been releasing albums for 25 years now. It’s quite incredible that after all this time he is still producing work that can be put alongside his best. With ‘Let It All In’ he has once again shown a seemingly uninterested world what they have been missing out on.

13: The Felt Tips

Symbolic Violence (2013)

It’s like the Jangle Pop scene of the 80′s never went away with The Felt Tips. People will immediately reference The Smiths but in truth their sound is closer to the endearing sarcastic tone of Hull favorites The Housemartins. There’s a story in every song on ‘Symbolic Violence’ and whether they touch on anorexia or confessions of bullying they all somehow manage to contain a cheeky wink that initially deceives the listener into happily singing along to such personal subjects. It soon becomes clear The Felt Tips irresistible pop has a greater depth than first realised and makes ‘Symbolic Violence’ an album you’ll come back to far more than you initially thought you would.

12: Haiku Salut

Tricolore (2013)

The members of Haiku Salut clearly have a large record collection. ‘Tricolore’ is a work that can’t be pigeonholed into a single genre. It’s not that the songs are detached from each other, much the opposite, it’s that every song shoehorns in a whole host of disassociated influences to create one beautiful whole. On the one hand the music recalls the playful organic sound of Penguin Cafe Orchestra. On the other it lends ideas from experimental ambient electronic artists such as Helios and Mum. There’s also an undoubted nod towards traditional folk music and twee pop. Despite the multiple styles ‘Tricolore’ sounds remarkably uncluttered. It’s a homely, dainty album, as fragile as a snowflake falling from a tree on a winters day. That it’s the debut from the all female three-piece is really quite staggering. Haiku Salut have arrived fully formed.

11: Daft Punk

Random Access Memories (2013)

The likelihood is that you’ve already made your mind up on this one. By being the most hyped album of the year, ‘Random Access Memories’ has forced everyone into having an unyielding opinion on it. You’re either with it or you’re not. It’s funny that it’s this one, out of all the Daft Punk albums, that has created the biggest splash as musically It’s quite easily the most innocuous work they have ever done. ‘Random Access Memories’ is essentially a modern easy listening record. Disco lounge if you will. It’s an album that has as much in common with Burt Bacharach and Christopher Cross as Donna Summer and Chic. A dreamlike stroll around the New York clubs of yesteryear that you’ve only really seen on TV. Ignore the hype, ‘Random Access Memories’ is simply a gentle and charming cruise into a world you never knew.

10: Oneohtrix Point Never

R Plus Seven (2013)

I love Plunderphonics. Bloody Plunderphonics, I bloody love it. In my mind splicing bits of tracks from totally unconnected places immediately gives off that feeling of nostalgia that I have an unhealthy obsession with. Probably due to the fact I have achieved nothing in life and my earliest memories are ones of endless possibility. If I could live my life again I would DEFINITELY have completed Monkey Island 2. It’s good going back to a time when you didn’t get stuck on the fucking last level of a bastard game and ‘R Plus Seven’ is a great soundtrack to live out those times again and again. Many people in IDM community have shown their disappointment with Daniel Loptain’s latest release under his main pseudonym Oneohtrix Point Never. Some believe this sort of thing has been done better before but for real people ‘R Plus Seven ‘ will sound like a totally fresh and original work. It hires ideas from the likes of Steve Reich, Laurie Anderson and Phillip Glass but at the same time it sounds like nothing like them. Laptain has created an unbelievably pretty album that dazzles you whilst you stand wearing retro sunglasses thinking about VHS logos from a time when you still believed you would one day complete Monkey Island 2.  .

9: Tyler, the Creator

Wolf (2013)

He’s easy to hate, Tyler. What with being a immature racist homophobe and all. Of course out of all those accusations the only one that holds any real weight is the immature one. Tyler undoubtedly deserves his reputation as being a childish punk. Here’s the thing though. Those who like the high school kid trying to be Eminem side to Tyler’s work are going to be disappointed with ‘Wolf’. I don’t want to use the word ‘maturity’ in regards to this album or anything else that Tyler does as it’s an oxymoron. ‘Wolf’ is however a lot less cartoonish than anything he has produced before. The majority of songs here have a laid back, R&B feel to them as Tyler talks of the familiar hip-hop issues such as family problems, obsessive fans and rape. Yes, Tyler still raps about rape but it’s not simply shocking for shockings sake and is fairly subtly dropped in. As subtle as a couplet about rape can be anyway.

‘Wolf’ is prettier and more focused than both ‘Bastard and ‘Gobin’. It’s the first time Tyler has found a distinct sound and the first time his lyrical content has seemed justifiable. He’s kept the aggression but moved into a more mature place. Oh fuck, there’s that word.

8: Public Service Broadcasting

Inform – Educate – Entertain (2013)

‘Inform – Educate – Entertain’ messes with your mind more than you may first realise. It’s carefree approach and perky upbeat Indie Electronica background makes you immediately feel at home. The imagery the music creates puts your mind into a false sense of security because when you dig a bit deeper things start getting a bit more ominous. The spoken word clips scattered all around this album relive the propaganda films that filled the airwaves during WW2 and it’s aftermath. All of a sudden you are taken back to Cold War era Britain. A time when fear, whether real or fake, left a whole nation clasped with paranoia. Just like the public deceleration’s from the people in power from that time, “Inform – Educate – Entertain” tells you there’s nothing fear whilst also subtly letting you know that there could be everything to fear.

I’m not sure where Public Service Broadcasting can go from here. I’m not sure whether their initial catch of using spoken word educational snippets over indie-electro sounds will be seen as anything other than a novelty in 12 months time. I’m not sure whether I will still be listening to them in 12 months time. What I do know though is that as I sit here in 2013, ‘Inform – Educate – Entertain’ makes for one hugely enjoyable and unique listen.

7: Space Dimension Controller

Welcome to Mikrosector-50 (2013)

‘Welcome To Microsector-50′ has been in the pipeline for a while. In 2011 Jack Hamill made a prequel to this album with a full length effort in itself called ‘The Pathway to Tiraquon6′. It’s clear the Space Dimension Controller project is something Hamill has spent an awful lot of time playing with and perfecting. It shows too. This isn’t a random collection of Electro Funk tunes thrown together on a whim. It’s a mini Sci-Fi movie. There are fully fleshed out characters, spoken word dialogues and scenes that long time fans of 80’s Sci Fi B-Movies will be able to associate with. It’s undoubtedly as cheesy as the movies it’s taken it’s influence from but it does everything with a knowing wink. It’s the kid at the party who has seen all the dud films, laughs at them but also manages to see the beauty in them.

Taking in the odd track from this unbelievably ambitious album couldn’t begin to explain what it has to offer as a whole. You’ll immediately appreciate the sheer expansiveness of the sound design and in most places you’ll find yourself playing air bass thinking you are a Jedi Knight at a disco but playing it from beginning to end, straight through, is the only way you’ll fully realise the magnitude of “Welcome To Microsector-50”.

6: The Kniφe

Shaking the Habitual (2013)

I’ll cut to the chase. This is the best album The Knife have done. It’s hard to know how they will better it. Maybe by taking out the 20 minute drone track ‘Old Dreams Waiting to Be Realized’ but even that track adds to the overall demented and elusive nature of the album. Maybe that track just being there pushes ‘Shaking the Habitual’ from the odd into the disturbing territory. Make no mistake this is the album that will forever play in your head when you finally get sectioned (none us really die we just all get sectioned in the end and think we’ve died. That’s just a fact).

It’s not for everyone of course. Something this disconcerting will never be one for all the family. Some will say it’s pretentious or overblown. Others may go as far as saying it’s unlistenable whilst other will claim “It’s art, baby”. I say it’s art. (I don’t say baby though. I’m not a chauvinist). ‘Shaking the Habitual’ is a soundtrack to the most disturbing parts of your brain. How many times you want to go there is your choice but once you do there’s no getting out.

Unless you press stop. Then everything goes back to normal.

5: Earl Sweatshirt

Doris (2013)

Of all the Odd Future crew, Earl Sweatshirt gained the biggest initial hype. He was just 16 when in 2010 he released his mix tape ‘Earl’. People fawned over the kid with the vile tongue and he was hailed as the best natural rapper to emerge from the entire Odd Future collective. It’s all gone a bit quiet since then. ‘Doris’ is Sweatshirt’s first release since ‘Earl’ earned him the plaudits. In the time he has been away, Frank Ocean has taken Tyler The Creator’s crown of the most talked about member of Odd Future and has taken the entire group from the underground buzz world well and truly into the mainstream.

It’s safe to say that ‘Doris’ won’t have the same impact as ‘Channel Orange’. What it does do though live up to the initial Earl Sweatshirt hype. It’s undoubtedly all over the place. Guest collaborates from RZA to Pharrell pop up at every turn as the music switches from MF Doom style soulful production to Jazzy interludes more reminiscent of A Tribe Called Quest. Despite the confusion ‘Doris’ showcases everything you knew Sweatshirt had in him and more. His effortless rapping style lends itself perfectly to the themes discussed in tracks such as ‘Burgundy’ and ‘Chum’. He sounds vulnerable. Totally at the odds with the crazed Sweatshirt of 2010 and the one he resurrects at times on this album with tracks like ‘Whoa’. ‘Doris’ is flawed brilliance. An album that indicates it’s creator doesn’t yet understand himself. That’s the reason why ‘Doris’ is so captivating. It’s shows exactly where Sweatshirt is right now, proves he can only get better and confirms that he is still the one to watch out for.

4: Fuck Buttons

Slow Focus (2013)

If Phil Spector wasn’t in jail I’d like to ask him his opinion on Fuck Buttons. The ‘wall of sound’ term may be have been coined by ‘Mad Speccy Specs’ but Fuck Buttons are an ACTUAL wall of sound. I mean literally. They are literally a wall of sound. That’s what I’m saying. If you ran into their music you would be knocked out. Simple as that mate. If I had to pick a wall it most resembles then i’d go for The Berlin Wall. Loud yet lonely. A significant piece that sits uneasy as two conflicting cultures stand either side of it totally ready and resigned to war. A wall of war.

You may want me to comment on ‘Slow Focus’ as an album rather than this half arsed abstract nonsense. You know, like what the music is like or where it sits in comparison to the rest of Fuck Buttons material.  Walls to that idea. All you need to ask yourself is is are you ready to bring on the wall?

3: Karl Hyde

Edgeland (2013)

People only familiar with the thumping techno singles that Underworld are renowned for may be surprised by the first solo album of their lead singer Karl Hyde. Those who have dug a little deeper into the back catalog of the long standing group will be more aware that they have always possessed a softer side that is in opposition to their more celebrated hard hitting elecrtonica. ‘Edgeland’ though is essentially a work totally apart from anything Underworld have produced. Quirky, catchy and offbeat it often resembles ‘Before and After Science’ era Brian Eno whilst the mundane urban landscapes that Hyde’s words paint lend a nod to the likes of Morrissey and Jarvis. It’s a very English record. One that evokes images of looking outside a rain stained bus window onto a wet street where grey skies overlook children jumping into puddles outside an emptying school.

Unlike most solo projects, ‘Edgeland’ is not only a worthwhile effort but one that totally changes ones perspective of the artist in question. Due to the disappointment of recent releases many fans have questioned whether Hyde and band-mate Rick Smith have anywhere left to go. On ‘Edgeland’, Hyde has proved beyond doubt that there’s still much more in the cannon.  It’s hard to believe something as beautiful as ‘Angel Cafe’ or ‘Your Perfume Was The Best Thing’  would be braved on an album featuring the Underworld logo and whilst no-one in their right mind would say ‘Edgeland’ marks the end of the band that made his name it certainly opens up a new exciting chapter for Hyde.

2: Sigur Rós

Kveikur (2013)

Sigur Ros are fucking back. I know they haven’t really been away but this is the real Sigur Ros. This isn’t the safe, yet at times beautiful, “Valtari” or the trying a bit too hard to change ‘Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust’. No this is the Sigur Ros you fell in love with all those years ago. Don’t get me wrong, ‘Kveikur’ is a very different beast to the the golden era of the Icelandic band. It’s a much more aggressive work. Not necessarily aggressive in terms of sound but more in mood. That it’s attracted the attention of dyed in the wool metal heads isn’t that much of a surprise.  It’s not metal at all of course but the atmosphere is allied with that sound. It’s a cold, desolate work that borders on a sense of emptiness and despair. Sigur Ros being what they are though don’t quite take you over edge. They show you the bleakness then bring you back into the warmth before you have time to jump. By the time the more familiar sounding Sigur Ros tracks come on you welcome them like an old lover you never truly got over.

‘Kveikur’ plays out like the film ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’. It’s a turbulent album that ends with smiles all round. That Sigur Ros are making music this powerful and emotive whilst still moving forward with their sound demonstrates how good they actually are. Make no mistake, when people hark back to ‘our times’ to judge the musical outputs of the past, Sigur Ros will be lauded as one of the true greats. That may have been obvious even before ‘Kveikur’ but what this album has done is not just cement their place in history but glorified it even further.

1: Boards of Canada

Tomorrow’s Harvest (2013)

The marketing campaign that Boards Of Canada and Warp Records used to promote ‘Tomorrow’s Harvest’ could only work with a certain fanbase. The first inkling that the Scottish duo were ready to release their first material in 8 years came when someone came across a mysterious Boards of Canada 12″ vinyl at Other Music Record Store in New York titled ‘—— / —— / —— / XXXXXX / —— / ——’. The vinyl contained only a brief musical vignette followed by 6 numbers in an automated voice.  Initial skepticism from long term fans that this was some elaborate trolling by someone who knew the frenzy they would create by faking this Vinyl was put to bed when a blink and you miss it snapshot of the code from the record found in New York was added to the video of ‘Julie and Candy’ on the bands official Youtube page. As the days progressed, a further five codes were released through various media outlets leaving fans of the band with an overall 36 digit code. Once all the codes had been released to the official Boards Of Canada website created a link to another site called cosecha-transmisiones.com. Once on the site a login screen appeared and by typing in all the combined codes that had been collected the site directed you towards a video which revealed the album’s title, Tomorrow’s Harvest, and it’s release date of June 10.

Whatever you think of this campaign, it’s a marketing strategy that just wouldn’t work if someone like Céline Dion tried it. Boards Of Canada have created a sound that has totally immersed it’s fans to the point where the band have inadvertently become almost like cult leaders. Their music has made such an impression on it’s listeners that any sound they put out is dissected and evaluated like a new life form.

When the devotion to a band is this strong it’s natural to worry that their next offering may disappoint you and destroy the God-like status you have given them. The thing with Boards Of Canada though is that you knew they wouldn’t let you down. ‘Tomorrows Harvest’ is every bit as good as you know it would be. In true Boc style the songs feel like they were already in your life before the release. Every sound seems like it’s been in your head since childhood but is now only being accepted by your conscious mind. They paint images that you are familiar with but at the same time can’t recall where you first saw them. They make music so personal that you can’t quite comprehend that other listeners could possibly be feeling what you are. It’s music that seems your own but it’s a communal sound. People are having the same experiences and receiving the same emotional response from the soundscapes as you are.

‘Tomorrow’s Harvest’ is quite a different creation to the work Boards Of Canada have released previously. It’s easily the most desolate album they have ever done. If  ‘Geogaddi’ is the sound of your childhood nightmares being brought to life then ‘Tomorrow’s Harvest’ is your adult fears confronting you. It’s a cold, dark world that you have no real control over. ‘Life is Real’ and ‘New Seeds’ demonstrate that there are places where you can find comfort but by the closing track ‘Semena Mertvykh’ you’re left with the lingering feeling that you are only in the hands of the self chosen Gods that rule you. It’s Orwell’s 1984 in music form. It subtly sucks you in. Fascinates and terrorises you in equal measure. By the end the real world itself seems different. It holds such power that once you have let it in, you’ll never get it out.

Some of the albums on this list will serve as reminders to how good 2013 was. Some will become all time favorites. Some will lose their appeal over time. Some will turn out to be nothing but a half forgotten memory of times gone by. ‘Tomorrow’s Harvest’ though has already made unbreakable emotional connections. It’s here to stay. These things are just too personal to forget. Another flawless Boards of Canada release to study and dissect until the next one comes along.

Top 50 Albums of 2013

Written By Andrew Hague

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The Sunday Film Review / Rourke Factor: Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man

Posted on by sam

Rourke Factor : Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man

Simon Wincer (1991)

When I started the (unfortunately titled) Rourke Factor gimmick and set out on a long (I didn’t quite realise how long at first, I’ll admit) quest to review every Mickey Rourke film ever made, there were two films I looked forward to reviewing (hand on heart they were the only two films I knew for certain Mr Rourke was in). One was The Wrestler, a universally acclaimed film featuring a prodigious Mickey Rourke performance. Two is today’s subject, a film I discovered while trying to google the price of importing Marlboro lights (yes I am enjoying life in the fast lane thank you for asking). Amused by the title I asked some of my more film orientated friends (who I definitely don’t have to pay to hang around with or anything) for their opinion. To the last they all reacted the same way; instant grimace followed by shrug then statement along the lines of ‘it’s awful but I kind of like it’.

‘It’s awful but I kind of like it’ is the very phrase that’s led to me experiencing The Room (last seen at the fantastic Five and Dime Picture Show viewing), Manos the Hand of Fate and Silent Night Bloody Night 2. I had high hopes Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man would be one of those awful films shamelessly crossing the line from genius to madness, a film that bravely disregards quality and focuses on being seen as fun at the expense of being terrible……………..

Plot Summary

Harley Davidson (Mickey Rourke) is a man who rides a Harley Davidson…………yup it’s that sort of a script. To the accompaniment of what I’d term bland eighties wuss rock, Harley rides his Harley while wearing the latest in biker fashion; a dangly earring and orange biker jacket about as intimidating as a cave painting of a smiley face battling a lollipop. Despite his obvious deficiencies in choosing nicknames and avoiding wearing stereotypical clothing, Harley demonstrates physical prowess by stopping two of the world’s most inept robbers holding up a petrol station. He celebrates making petrol courts safer with a gratuitous montage of riding a Harley on different roads.

Eventually even Harley gets bored of endless aerial shots of him on a Harley so he helps move the plot along by seeking out an old friend named Marlboro Man (Don Johnson). Marlboro earned the name by surviving a bear attack using only a monopoly card for Marlboro station…… no I’m lying, it is of course because he always has a Marlboro cigarette in his mouth, there’s that script again. After a brief reunion where Harley fails to lift even a finger of help while Marlboro fights for his life, the two go to a bar………

Right this is where Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man got confusing and weird so bear with me: Before entering the bar Harley gives Marlboro a stolen gun. Marlboro say thank you by shooting his own bike, I either missed or there never was an explanation why. In the bar nobody’s happy to see Harley except the bar owner, an old man imaginatively named Old Man Jiles (Julius Harris given nothing interesting to do). Old Man Jiles tells Harley to leave but Harley refuses which somehow leads to a deaf Mexican dude (Eloy Casados) coming out of a secret wall. The deaf Mexican dude is inevitably named Jose Cuervo (after the tequila…………………… are you starting to appreciate what they did with the names yet?) Anyway, Jose also urges Harley to leave, but again Harley refuses and that somehow leads to a fight between Harley and a whisky drinking arm wrestler named Jack Daniels (former wrestler Big John Studd). Does anyone else get the feeling the writers either thought they were the cleverest cats on the planet or their hearts weren’t really in it?

Jack and Harley’s fight sees them falling out a second story window, which apparently was the excuse everyone was looking for to group hug and forget that Harley didn’t leave. Then Old Man Jiles and his son (I think) Jimmy Jiles (Giancarlo Esposito, who I didn’t recognise but fan boy freaked out to discover was Gus in breaking Bad!) reveal that the bar business is bad because of an airport graveyard next door (seems like you’d move once plans for an airplane graveyard next door were accepted). They also need 2 and a half million dollars for a six month lease otherwise the bar will become the property of ‘GENERIC EVIL CORP’.

In a heart wrenching scene Harley explains to the two Jiles that 2 and a half million dollars is an insane amount to pay for only another guaranteed six months of business, especially when that won’t solve the underlying fact that there’s an airplane graveyard where once there were punters house, and the only sensible course of action is to cut their losses and move on……………………… only kidding, he robs a bank truck. Well Harley, Marlboro and a crew of dudes named after drinks do, sadly they somehow manage to steal from the only security van belonging to drug dealing mobsters and end up with drugs rather than money. The Mobsters incidentally wear black cloaks, like to walk in a line and are apparently bullet proof except for some very brief moments when the script requires them not to be, it is the mobsters who save Harley from the ignominy of the worst dressed character award.

Threatening........................NO

 

The rest of Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man concerns itself with the fallout from the robbery and for reasons I completely missed (if they were given), a weird sub plot involving Marlboro Man being the ‘other guy’ in a marriage between a cop and a woman named (shudders) Virginia Slim (Chelsea Field). Oh and at one point Tia Carrere of Wayne’s World fame holds a door open for someone.

Plot Summary ends.

I can see why some of my film orientated film friends (who exist) quite liked Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man (hereby referred to as Har and Mar), it’s just I won’t be asking them their opinion on anything ever again. Don’t get me wrong, Har and Mar is certainly a film threatening to be fun, when it isn’t weighed down by its sense of self-importance, it’s just it never quite is. The vision was grandiose, a zany road movie in the style of Blues Brothers populated by quirky characters and nods at classic road movies and Westerns. The problem is whenever anything in Har and Mar nears grandiose status, the film panics, flail its arms wildly in the air then throws in an unnecessary shoot-out.

Here Har and and Mar nearing grandiose is represented by Phillip J Fry

 

It’s a case of right intent, wrong execution and nowhere was this more nicely exemplified than in the script……….. Oh the script. The focus was there, the characters were given time for proper introductions and development……. Well the male ones anyway, the females got side lined which considering Har and Mar had two boob shots in the first six minutes wasn’t all that surprising, but then again how can women expect equality when they won’t apologise for Eve eating the apple or the Sex in the City films……… anyway, as I was saying, the character focus got half a tick so all Har and Mar needed to do for the other half was make sure it was populated by engaging characters……….ah.

Har and Mar does this thing where instead of thinking up a creative or natural way to introduce a character and tell you their name (freeze frame, name badge, meeting with doctor, pretty much any good film has a good example of this) it makes the school boy mistake of just having characters say one another’s name in every line of dialogue. At first it works fine,

‘How are you Harley?’

‘I’m fine Jack’

But then it goes on……..

‘That’s good to know Harley’

‘Thank you Jack’

‘You’re welcome Harley’

‘Want a drink Jack?’

‘Yes I would Harley’

Admittedly that example is passable, but imagine every conversation with every new character goes like that, actually don’t imagine, just watch the film, no actually don’t do that. At one point even the cloak wearing sometimes bullet proof mobsters sit in a helicopter talking to each other like that.

‘Fly the damn helicopter or you’re a dead man Tom’

‘Yes sir Ian’

Not only does the script come off as lazy and incredibly stupid, it completely misses the opportunity to show the different statuses characters hold in relation to one another. At first I thought maybe this weird jarring dialogue was just the school boy error of a script writer either inexperienced or more bothered about action sequences than strong characters (though I maintain the two hand in hand is the way forward), but the pacing and time spent on characters led me to a different conclusion. I think it’s a script trying to show off, I reckon Simon Wincer (he wrote the screenplay as well as directing) thought that naming every character after a brand of drinks or cigarettes was cool. There’s this big disclaimer at the beginning where the film emphasises no brands paid for product placement, which is the miss of the century considering how strong the promotion of brands is, and I think Har and Mar genuinely saw itself as this important socially relevant piece then became obsessed with making sure the audience knew it. I imagine a conversation something akin to this occurred………

‘How do we show the audience how big and clever our film is?’

‘Well, one of the cleverest and most daring things we do is have most of the characters named after brands that damage your health, we could emphasise that’

‘Yes but how?’

‘What if we keep having characters say each other’s names at the end of every sentence’

‘fucking sold! Shall see if any of the brands that damage health would be willing to pay for the free advertising they’re getting’

‘No, I have a crippling fear of success and money’

………………

Getting past the names debacle, the rest of the script is really piss poor. There’s this constant theme about Harley being free because he can ride around on a Harley but we never actually see him being free. In fact he spends about a third of the film in hiding after the occasionally bullet proof cloak adorned bad guys get one over on him and another third being asked to leave by everyone. In fact Harley isn’t respected by most of the important characters which makes dialogue telling us what a free spirited wonder-kid to aspire to be he is absolutely redundant. Don’t tell me someone’s a ‘free spirit’, show me.

I want to stress the script was an absolute deal breaker for me, the film became really boring really quickly. It’s littered with clichés and characters not given enough to do to be considered anything other than one dimensional stereotypes. Listen a film aiming to be great and not achieving it is one often very forgivable thing, but Har and Mar so utterly missed the mark its like if NASA missed the Moon landing (remember when they did that? No me neither) and accidently planted a lunar rover on Pluto. There’s an overreliance on shoot outs so ridiculous even Tony Scott would’ve been ashamed and incredibly poor female characterisation (I’m pretty sure Har and Mar wouldn’t pass even one of the criteria for The Bechdel Test). Buttttttttttttttttttttttttttt, for all that I have to admit there were some positives. At times the script forgot it was trying to be a profound piece of cinema and got on with having fun; a scene involving Harley accidently shooting Marlboro Man had a nice build and genuinely made me laugh, while the bad guys in their cloaks, probably for all the wrong reasons, are worth the price of rental alone, actually no, don’t rent the film. Now I think about, it the support characters, despite constantly having to say each others names and being given some shallow dialogue, are really well acted. Big John Studd had a strange semi-irish accent going on, but everyone played their part nicely. There was also a fine cameo by Tom Sizemore (similar to another great cameo in Enemy of the State) as the big bad guy definitely worth mentioning.

And seguing from that into the section of Rourke Factor where I judge Mr Rourke’s performance, the thing I most enjoyed about Har and Mar was Mr Rourke himself. Rourke overcame a poor script, dodgy action scenes and insanely poor choice of character name to deliver a strong, level headed performance. It probably helped that Don Johnson made a pretty decent Marlboro Man, allowing for some much needed improvisation (I’m 99 percent positive it was improv) from Rourke. I was reminded in a very good way of Rourke’s accomplished performance in Angel Heart. He looked in good nick too, Har and Mar was before boxing and bad surgery morphed his face so he made for a handsome, clean cut Harley who rides a Harley.

There’s effort and energy from Rourke here and when he’s like that he’s a pleasure to watch, butttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttt pleasurable as watching Rourke may have been (incidentally I want to be clear my lustful feelings for Rourke are strictly plutonic……………………… unless he wants to) it was nowhere near enough to save Har and Mar. It’s a boring film, my film friends may have enjoyed it, but for long long stretches I just found it boring, inane in a none deliberate way and far far too sure of itself. I didn’t enjoy it and don’t recommend it………………….. unless you want to see a good Mickey Rourke performance, but trust me, there are a lot easier films to watch that deliver that.

Written By Sam ‘He Rockets through the sky, a hero for all time’ McKinstrie

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The Sunday Film Review/ Classic: Robocop 1987

Posted on by sam

Robocop (1987)

Director: Paul Verhoeven (1987)

When I was but a wee one attending a primary school yet to be pillaged of hope and fairness by a hate filled yet well-spoken man named Michael Gove, I somehow ended up on a school trip to Granada Studios. I’m not sure exactly what the perceived educational value of such a trip was and in fact if I didn’t know better, I’d say the whole thing was for the sole benefit of Ms Ellis. Ms Ellis was a rather rotund and forceful teacher who regularly smoked in class, once replaced an entire compilation of my year four work on the wall with a poster of Mike Reid and used Coronation Street storylines to explain Egyptian mythology……………… she was also, I have to say, a bloody good teacher, but then again this was at a time when good teachers were celebrated rather than sent to Siberia because they’d focused on developing a student’s personality instead of worrying if they were on course for a B grade G.C.S.E in English in six years’ time, the evil soulless fucks.

I remember two things from my trip to Granada Studios.

One: at the behest of Ms Ellis we toured the Coronation Street set not once, not twice but thrice.

Two: The Robocop ride.

Holy shit that Robocop ride. Actually ride might be a bit of a stretch, it was a first-person perspective film you watched from the vantage point of chairs that leaned left and right to follow the action, still it blew tiny pre-teen me’s mind. Till that point the concept of ‘excitement’ began and finished with The Mighty Morphing Power Rangers, now here was this thing, this crazy experience with flying motorbikes, laser guns, police radios, explosions and awesome narration by Robocop himself.

Amazed, I returned home determined to find out more about this wonderful mechanical man, soon I had a small collection of toys and eventually the Robocop versus Terminator Sega Mega Drive game. By the point I found that game my alcoholic grandfather had snuck me into a life changing Terminator 2 showing, so while my memories a bit hazy, I’m pretty sure the discovery of my two favourite metallic monsters teaming up in a game was something akin to my first orgasm. I still hadn’t seen any of the Robocop films yet, the first two were 18’s, while Robocop 3 was a solid 12 (this was back in the day before the board of classification decided Lord of the Ring’s film profits were more important than children’s emotional development and changed 12 to 12A) and my cool parents, while liberal in many ways, were sticklers for the age ratings…………….. especially after what came to be known as Terminator and James Bond Tomorrow Never Dies gate.

It wasn’t until midway through my teens I actually made the effort to watch any of the films, when I did circumstance dictated it was the second instalment I saw first. I remember feeling nostalgic seeing Robocop on screen but apart from that I really didn’t get into Robocop 2 all that much. As a result I actually turned down the chance to watch the first Robocop in order to go see James Bond Die Another Day at the Odeon cinema. If I ever perfect the ability of journeying through time and space that’s one of the first mistakes I’m correcting, because fuck Die Another Day, fuck it in it’s terrible theme, ice hotel bullshit and fuck Madonna for not being able to act, oh my non-existent god no, fencing scene flashbacks.

Eventually I did see the original 1987 Robocop film……..……..it’s no exaggeration to say I’ve watched it every year since. I quote from it any chance I get (‘bitches leave’ works quite well), I whistle the theme tune and whenever I see Peter Weller on screen I grab the closest person, to me, friend or stranger, doesn’t matter which, and yell ‘that’s Robocop’ right in their stupid fat face. The first Robocop is a classic, an epic, absolutely brilliant classic, I’ll explain why……. after the plot summary.

Plot Summary

Alex Murphy (he of the piercing blue eyes Peter Weller) is a veteran police officer just transferred to a downtown Detroit precinct……… he’s also one unlucky son of a gun. Sadly for Murphy, Detroit is a city gone bankrupt………. Wait, is this still the plot summary and not real life right?………… Sorry where was I? Oh yeah, Detroit is bankrupt and probably as a result suffering from a mass outbreak of crime. Police officers are gunned down daily and the city in its desperation has sold its police force to ‘mega-corporation’ Omni Consumer Products (O.C.P). The head of O.C.P. ‘The Old Man’ (Daniel O’Herlihy) however isn’t as interested in restoring law and order as he is with demolishing the whole city and creating a new one, imaginatively named Delta City. But you know what they say, crime does not investors attract, so O.C.P., in an effort to find investment for Delta City, experiments with using robots to fight crime.

Step forward Senior President Dick Jones (A wonderful Ronny Cox) and his walking death tank concept the ED 209.

Sadly the ED 209 proves a little too good at the ‘death’ bit so an alternative project is proposed by boardroom up-and-comer Bob Morton (Miguel Ferrer joint tied for my favourite performance), a project that just requires a suitable test subject.

MEANWHILE: The unlucky Officer Murphy and his partner Officer Lewis (Nancy Allen a refreshingly strong female character) have tracked down a group of bank robbers headed by the sadistic Clarence Boddicker (Kurtwood Smith a.k.a the dad in That 70’s show, the other performance tied for my choice as favourite). Being police officers and not mathematicians, Murphy and Lewis ignore the fact they are two against a heavily armed gang and storm the robber’s hideout. The result is Murphy being murdered in a brutal scene that still holds up today.

Turns out the terms of OCP’s contract with the city is monumentally one sided to the point where dead police officers count as OCP property, rather than say that of their nearest surviving relatives, and so instead of a funeral, Murphy is rebuilt as ROBOCOP, a walking talking cybernetic android ready to clear the streets of crime, protect the innocent and slowly rediscover his humanity.

Plot summary ends.

There’re so many things about Robocop that I think make it a classic that the prospect of writing about them has me salivating, this is one of those films that I probably love more than my youngest brother.

I’ll start with a topic close to the hearts of a million teenagers………………… violence.

There’s a risk factor in admitting you like violent films; tell the wrong person you enjoy them and soon as there’s another kidnapping, murder, mass murder or gang attack for the news to blame on violent films/games (because societal pressures and mental well-being be damned), the person you confessed your taste for violence to will ostracise you like you’re a leper with a picture of Jimmy Saville tattooed on your forehead. The other challenge is trying to explain exactly why you find you derive pleasure from violent films without sounding psychotic or like your fetish is mutilation………….. step forward Robocop.

Robocop is a sublime example of how to incorporate violence into a film. The trick is making sure a violent moment fits the story and doesn’t just happen for the sake of happening. Early on in Robocop we’re treated to an OCP board meeting. A meeting abruptly ended by a robotic malfunction resulting in a board member being ripped apart by machine gun bullets. It’s a barbaric and extremely violent scene often edited down in televised broadcasts. It’s also a great moment of storytelling, well not the shooting exactly, but the fallout. The various reactions to the shooting tell you all you need to know about the characters at OCP; The Old Man angrily admonishes his second in command Dick Jones for the potential loss of money, while in the background the less important board members scream and recoil in terror. Then Bob Morton uses the malfunction as a way to propose the Robocop programme, and the very next shot is Bob walking downstairs teasing his assistant for feeling bad about their friends death by declaring ‘that’s business’.

By having the various OCP characters react like that we see just what massive jerks they are. OCP comes off as a heartless company run by old white men only concerned about a colleague’s death because it might affect their profits (I possibly work for a crappy supermarket with similar ‘values’) but the importance of life isn’t played down, the weeping terrified lesser board members show the loss of life has an impact, and exasperate how heartless The Old Man, Dick Jones and Bob Morton seem. That’s violence done properly, and not just thrown in because the makers saw the first SAW film and decided to get themselves some of that ‘torture porn’. It’s there because it serves the story and develops characters.

Story is one Robocops strongest points. Murphy becoming Robocop may be the plot the DVD box blurb tries to sell the film with, but there’s actually a remarkable amount of detailed and fleshed out side stories. The opening is a televised news show followed by and adverts that give you a feel of how dark, repressive and sleazy the American dream has turned Detroit. Then as the film progresses there are all these little things going on; the OCP boardroom feud between Dick Jones and Bob Morton, the Clarence Boddicker gang making a drug deal, The Police pushed to the point of considering strike action, a councillor desperate enough to take hostages, and more. These moments combine and flesh out Detroit to the point where the story becomes as much about the city, as it does Murphy and his technimetal dream coat…………… yes I’m using the phrase technimetal dream coat, get over it.

Robocop manages to incorporate these different stories without losing pace or focus precisely because it’s such a slick, well told story. It’s impressive how little screen time gets wasted, admittedly there’s a shoot-out where mostly nameless thugs get gunned down that lasts a little too long, but that’s the exception to prove the rule. Every scene in Robocop is focused on building a grander narrative, if you’ll excuse me the toss-potty film terminology. Some of the guys in The Clarence Boddicker gang are larger than life; I’m able to state that because the actors were given the screen time to show that. The little stories involving the OCP guys or The Clarence Boddicker gang mean that when Robocop gets thrown into the mix, we know exactly who everyone is, who outranks who, and why characters react in the way they do. It’s a film with strong story telling focused on character., backed up by a ton of great performances, Weller is as good as I’ve seen him, Ronny Cox shines and there are some endearing contributions by Paul McCrane and Leon ‘Twin peaks baby’ Nash as two of Boddicker’s henchmen.

Now here’s the other thing I think makes Robocop a classic, it represents a higher calibre of film. Let’s be honest, a lot of films are dumb, especially in the action genre, big explosions and set pieces can be treated as replacements for character development or challenging the audience (step forward Rise of the Planet of the Apes). Robocop is a film that took the high ground, the story has substance, the characters are rounded and developed, the message is complex and mutli-layered; humanity v.s. machine is only one part of it. The fake news reports and adverts provide a social commentary that still holds relevance today, there’s a real discussion about authoritarian rule and more generally Robocop as a film aims to be more than simple popcorn blockbuster. There’s a heart and soul here, down mostly I think to Verhoeven’s direction and vision (he would go on to achieve similar things in the action genre with Total Recall and Starship Troopers).

A fine director

 

Classic or not, it’s hard to deny Robocop is a good film. There’s a powerful Basil Poledouris score that should have a place on any good Ipod, an entertaining array of scenes ranging from an action ‘thug gets beaten up’ to a comedic ‘wide eyed cops stare in wonder at metal cop’ and a fast paced story with an exciting conclusion. With a couple of modelling exceptions the effects stand up to today and probably most importantly, it’s not a film that takes itself too seriously.

Any faults, flaws, criticisms? Yeah a few but I’m really scraping the barrel with them, the ending is incredibly brief and a little unsatisfying, and there are some flashbacks to Murphy’s family that are a bit cringeworthy. There’s also a slightly lazy attempted rape scene, though at the same time Robocop does acknowledge the emotional shock an attempted rape has on the victim, so it’s still more honest than 99% of lazy attempted rape scenes out there. Oh and also one of my friends feels there’s far too much muzzle flash whenever Robocop shoots his gun ……………. Yup scraping the barrel.

So here then is why I think Robocop is a classic: it’s just such a damn entertaining film. Well told, well made and intelligent, it can be held up as a demonstration of how violence can be handled in a film without diminishing the story and it treats the audience with respect.

REMAKE: Oh the remake. Well the first trailer looked abysmal but before I gouged my eyes out the second trailer came out and that one actually looked watchable. Either way it’ll be nice to see Michael Keaton on screen before he returns to slumbering underground for another decade.

Written by Sam ‘My Year 5 teacher used to throw chalk at us’ McKinstrie

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The Mutinee Blog #1: What is Filmmaking to You?

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What Is Filmmaking To You – A Hobbie, Passion or Career?

 

Filmmaking is everywhere you go, you see it through your television set, all over the internet and when friends film each other doing random or stupid things. Filmmaking is an art, an art that everyone can enjoy in as many doses as you like. You can enjoy a short clip of something funny or your can get immersed in a 3 hour long film as part of a trilogy. But what if you’re after something specific? There are hundreds of video libraries and websites that you can visit to look at any kind of film but what are you really after and where is the best place to find it?

Short funny videos: From 6 second wonders to 1 minute long cliff hangers, these type of video are for those who want a quick laugh and the videos are very easily made and distributed. You can use YouTube for this kind of clip but the best place to find this type of video is through the new trend of “Vines”. Vine videos are short and sweet and can go viral in a matter of minutes. This isn’t filmmaking at it’s finest but is a good giggle among friends or co-workers.

Short films: These can be from around 5 minutes to 20 minutes long and the aim is simple, to get the story of a normal length cinema film and cut it down to fit into a short. The stories tend to be fairly simple and non complex but still remain to have quite powerful messages. You can find all manner of short films, whether it be horror or comedy, on websites such as Vimeo or Mutinee. These websites are build around and are specifically for those with short films. They require some kind of passion and talent but not necessarily specialist equipment. Any person can make a short film, it’s all about the story and how it interacts with and grasps the audience.

 

Feature Films: Not necessarily all feature films will show in a cinema, quite a lot of films go either straight to DVD or are free to watch on platforms such as Netflix and YouTube. When a film gets to a certain age it becomes free to watch on freeview boxes and Sky/Virgin boxes alike, but they still make money from this. To be able to make a feature length film you need years of experience and several examples of your work to go with it. This doesn’t means to say that it cannot be done, of course if you work hard enough you can be whatever you want to be in life but if this isn’t a strong passion then there is no real point in pursuing it.

Documentaries: These can be quite fun to film but are extremely dangerous with certain animals, if you are a wildlife filmmaker. You cannot just walk into a reserve and expect to be able to film lions in their natural habitat. You need special permission to film animals unless of course you are in the open wild. Reserves have the right to stop you from filming and you cannot afford to get off on the wrong foot as they will be the ones protecting you should filming take a turn for the worse. You have to be a very strong person to be a wildlife filmmaker and a patient one too. It takes time to film animals, it is not as if you can ask them to repeat an action as they are wild and untrained animals. You can find all sorts of documentaries, not just with animals but with humans too. With this you need to be extra sensitive to peoples needs and the subject matter etc. This is the sort of job for an experienced filmmaker who has spent years studying and has a raw passion for the subjects they cover.

Written By Jade at Mutinee

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The Sunday Film Review: Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa

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Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa

Director: Jeff Tremaine (2013)

Recently (if this review gets uploaded on time then it’ll be last week) I realised I’d been writing these shitty reviews for over two years. Here is the sum of ‘film review’ knowledge acquired over the last two and a bit years:

The easiest films to write about are the ones that fall into what I classily like to call the Rise of the Planet of the Apes category. Basically, the more soulless or lazy a film production is then ultimately the more mistakes jump out to be savaged. The lazy films also double up as a means of better appreciating for films you love. I tell you, Oldboy never look so appealing to me than right after I just survived watching Déjà Vu. Original not remake obviously, FUCK YOU JOSH BROLIN!

Slightly harder but more rewarding to write about are the really enjoyable films. Enjoyment being an emotional response, it can be hard to pin down exactly why a film is or isn’t enjoyable. It’s even more challenging when you know certain dick mates only read your reviews so they can email you a twelve page itinerary of exactly why they disagree with your points…………… ok that’s not true, I don’t have mates………….. only minions and victims. Anyway, the point is that to feel like you’ve done a truly enjoyable film justice you really do have to carefully consider what you’re going to say. Let’s call that one the Kes category.

But the absolute nadir of film reviewing is when you try to review a film that can accurately be described as ‘meh’. ‘Meh’ films seem to have been deliberately made so you can’t think of anything interesting to say. Sure you can say they’re ok, rate them somewhere around 5 out of 10 and move on, but what’s that? What’s a film review without egotistical phrases, swearing or casual Jimmy Savile references? I wouldn’t know, because it’s not a review I’d read.

The point I’m making is that reviewing a ‘meh’ film is tough. It’s a lot like watching someone successfully ride a unicycle; you know the lack of a second wheel is impractical and that really the whole enterprise is just a sad and pretty pointless cry for attention, but just when you’re ready to point that out, maybe mock the unicycle rider for being something possibly analogous to a vagina, a voice in your head screams that you’re watching something requiring mastery of balance and timing. Something executed by someone who worked hard to hone their chosen craft and that really, the spectacle of someone riding a unicycle really isn’t that bad, just slightly inane.

It’s a challenge then to write anything interesting about a ‘meh’ film.  Now watch me prove that by review Bad Grandpa, or Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa as it came to be known between the trailer and cinematic run, because Jackass isn’t dead and gone or anything now that everyone in it realised they’re rich enough to not have to dive in poo anymore…………………. or dead from drink dri……………………… and here’s the plot summary.

Plot Summary.

Johnny Knoxville (who was by far and away the best thing in another ‘meh’ film, the 2004 Walking Tall remake) dons a bunch of prosthetics to play Irvine Zisman, an 86 year old borderline sex addict. Irvine’s wife dies, then his daughter Ellie (Catherine Keener, I cannot help but feel Bad Grandpa, sorry Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa represents something of a decline considering Keener won awards for her contribution to being John Malkovich)  attends the funeral. Ellie is apparently crack addicted, because whenever a film wants a drug addiction to be funny they use the drug named after a part of your arse, and is going to jail. Ellie didn’t turn up the funeral out of mourning, but rather to dump her 8 year old son Billy (Jason Nicoll, who is either a weird but lovable child in real life, or the best damn child actor I’ve ever seen) on Irvine and steal a necklace.

Irvine doesn’t want to look after an, and I quote, ‘8 year old cock-block’ (because old people desiring sex is funny) so he decides to go on a road trip to drop Billy off with his Father Chuck (Greg Harris, who does well with what little time he has). The rest of the film is a zany road trip culminating in a young girls beauty pageant that would have been hilarious if the damn trailer hadn’t shown the entire thing.

Plot summary finishes.

The gimmick of Bad Grandpa, sorry Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa, is it’s really a hidden camera prank. It does the Borat thing of going to various Middle America locations and having its characters act outrageously to film people’s reactions. As with Borat, the strength of each ‘scene’ relies on the strength of the reactions. At times Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa really works, particularly early on where there’s less of a half arsed attempt at a ‘story’ tying it down. One particular scene in a Bingo Hall had me almost wetting myself at how brilliant the people being spoken to were. Honestly it made me consider crossing the pond just to experience bingo for myself, I won’t because I like living somewhere that appreciates the principle of an individual’s right not to be shot………………. Innocent Brazilian plumbers notwithstanding.

Mr Knoxville himself is a man of great timing and makes some strong contributions to the laughs. I really enjoyed his performance, he managed to pull off a character not everyone could have and deliver some brilliant one liners in the process. A particularly funny scene involving a tired bed gag saw him telling a panicked lady to ‘not make it all about you sweetheart’ and earned him a place on my Christmas card list, at least would have if I wasn’t an atheist Jew adverse to both Christmas and lists.

But with the good comes the tired, the old and the bad bad bad-diddly-add. My main criticism of Jackass desperately tries to remind you it was a thing by presenting: Bad Grandpa is that it gets bogged down in a story that really isn’t there. Throughout the film they try to build up Irvine’s blossoming relationship with Billy. They give the two characters tender moments in a car and very deliberate, scripted exchanges to build a story, but then they try and spill it over into the hidden camera stuff. There’s a really contrived scene involving a biker gang where an emotional Irvine leaves Billy with his dad. On an emotional level the scene works about as well as a marshmallow chainsaw on the sun. The problem is that you really can’t convey strong emotional moments with hidden camera pranks.

Imagine Romeo and Juliet was a hidden camera prank film. Juliet stands on a balcony, Romeo underneath declaring his love then the camera turns to the nonplussed expressions of onlookers. Might be watchable as a scene depending on how good the expressions are, but it doesn’t exactly make for a romantically charged moment does it? The problem is that in real life the big emotional moments a person experiences are not only insanely rare, but only possible because their private. There’s a reason why a healthy percentage of the population pour scorn on public wedding proposals unless they end in rejection and abject humiliation. So when a film does want to have a big emotional moment in public, they have this trick where they usually pay the members of the public to react in a certain way and/or give them screen credits, they also rename the members of the public ‘extras’. Revolutionary I know.

Literally a show that's only problem is it's too funny

 

So the scene with the biker gang doesn’t work. Actually it’s a bit nasty. A hidden camera prank film, that pulls a ‘prank’ on a well-meaning biker gang (and they’re actually probably the most well-meaning biker gang in the world) by presenting them with an emotional and over the top situation involving an endangered child and a crying elderly man is not funny, nor is it emotional, instead it’s bloody boring. There just isn’t that much mirth to gain from people’s reactions to child abuse. The result is a scene that drags and while I need to emphasise the biker gang scene is the worst offender by far, it’s not the only scene that goes that way.

Away from that, there’s a real over-reliance on dick, fart and horny old man jokes. Having a scene in which Irvine used inappropriate language to proposition a much younger lady was predictable but actually well executed…………… the first time. By the twelfth time (and there were actually more than that, I just lost count at 12) no one in the cinema was laughing…….. to be fair that may have been because there were only 4 of us in the cinema. Jackass clings to social relevance by presenting: Bad Grandpa did the same thing with fart jokes too.

But none of that was a deal breaker. I chose to ‘treat’ the girl who occasionally lets me violate her to JACKASS IS ALIVE SEE! SEE!: Bad Grandpa because she’d had a bad week and needed a laugh…………. which I want to make clear was not my fault…….. and also, I wanted to show her that I can afford cinema tickets because, while I’m not saying she’s a gold digger, I suspect she’s not messing with no broke n……………….

Anyway, Bad Grandpa, which I’ve heard is something to do with that Jackass programme of yesteryear, provided that laugh. It wasn’t hysterical from start to finish, and a stupid amount of the jokes had been given away in the trailer, but we both laughed. It did its job and delivered what was promised by the trailer, which is all it had to do really.

Do I recommend it?

In the right situation, you could do a lot worse. It’s meh and utterly forgettable but watchable, definitely more fun to watch than review.

Written by Sam ‘The Blockbusters is dead, love live The Blockbusters’ McKinstrie

Unnecessarily on twitter as McKinstHFP

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The (well late) Sunday Film Review: Paranormal Activity 3

Posted on by sam

Paranormal Activity 3

Director(s): Henry Joost and Ariel Schuman (2011)

Many many many many moons ago, (16/08/2011 to be exact, I’’ve been writing these reviews no one reads for over two years, holy shit!) I uploaded a review of the first Paranormal Activity film. looking back it’s interesting to see how far I was from the overly long and self-indulgent style of todays reviews……………….. and very little else, brief is an understatement. Anyway, back then I described myself as 50/50 over wanting to watch a sequel, eventually I ponied up and along with a possibly irradiated housemate watched that sequel. In  my Paranormal Activity 2  review (which began to show the patented egotistical approach I’m not famous or worshipped as a deity for) I described myself as 20/80 on whether I’d be watching a third one, but what better way to celebrate my eightieth review (awwwwwwwwwwww look at me counting) than by going full circle and reviewing the third instalment in the franchise?…………..A franchise which already has a fourth film out, and a fifth one doing the trailer rounds, and a spin off, and the third instalment was actually doing the cinema rounds while I was uploading my review of the first one, take that social relevance.

Plot Summary

Paranormal Activity one happens in the eighties.

Plot Summary finishes

I don’t understand why the film Paranormal Activity 3 exists. I understand why a film called Paranormal Activity 3 exists, the money-dum-dum-da-da-daaa, but the decision making behind this one is such a baffling myriad of bad choices and inconsistencies it’s as if someone put a Liberal Democrat pledge in charge.

The decision to go ‘prequel’ is a straight nonstarter. Why, whenever a franchise runs out of ideas or is universally accepted to have pissed off the fan base (Aliens, Terminator ‘sort of, it was the future but also past if you get me’, James Bond, Batman, The Ring, The Planet of the Apes etc) do they jump on the prequel train like it was the last one leaving the station before a fucking blitzkrieg? I’m not saying delving into the past can’t work, some television series used a characters past to create interesting ‘present day’ storylines, Lost was good at that, before it died and spent three season failing to realise the fact. I just think prequels are just so limiting.

Who cares about prequels? Fan boys, who follows every plot point of a story? Fan boys. Who won’t accept anything half arsed? Fan boys. I’ll use Terminator Salvation as an example, Terminator being a franchise I would call myself a fan boy of, FUCK YOU TERMINATOR 3!

In Salvation there’s a story arc involving John Connor looking for Kyle Rees because he’s heard the machines are after him……I already know Kyle Rees grows up, goes back in time to Terminator 1 and gets laid to the accompaniment of a haunting piano score, so hard as the film tries to convince me otherwise (and Salvation was actually far too preoccupied with thinking motorbikes to try that hard), I already know how the arc the ends. It ends well, so I don’t really care. Paranormal Activity 3 centres around four characters, a mummy, step daddy and two little girls I already know survive, grow up and become the protagonists in the first two films. If I didn’t know that already, I would have after Paranormal Activity 3 chose to spend its first five minutes showing just that. Limiting the possible body count to half the characters does not a tense start make; focusing the ‘plot’ around the two guaranteed survivors isn’t a great continuation either.

But opting for a prequel, stupid as it is, looks like positively sage decision making compared to how Paranormal Activity 3 progresses. Remember the slow stalking Demon of the first Paranormal film? (For this exercise I’m assuming you have seen Paranormal Activity 3 and aren’t the type who would read a review for the third one without seeing the first). Remember how The Demon started small by banging a few pots and going ‘bump’? He seemed almost playful until the characters tried to communicate back. Remember how The Demon took Katie and Micah’s attempts to communicate as a white flag to become more dangerous and obsessive, methodically waging a campaign of psychological torture, unpredictably taking control of people, wounding them, throwing things around and even dragging them out of bed? It was really rather tense. The makers of Paranormal Activity 3 sure seemed to hope you didn’t remember.

Maybe The Demon was still finding itself in the eighties but my non-existent god is it tame. Watch Paranormal 3 if you find the prospect of a malevolent, invisible demon enacting horrors like standing under falling dust, hiding under a bed, closing doors or pulling a little girls hair. He does wound a guy at one point, sort of. In the first film the demon marks grown up Katie’s with a strange bite. This time that bite mark is trumped by giving an unimportant dude a one fingered scratch, maybe that’s what the makers hoped constituted ‘take my money and make eight more’ territory.

In PA3 (see what I did there?) there were twenty or thirty minute periods where I found myself begging for the demon to do something, anything remotely interesting. At one point there was a babysitter primed for the cleaving, ‘yes!’ thought handsome I, a babysitter alone in a house late at night, it doesn’t take a genius to know where this cliché is going.

What do you think our handsome demon friend did?

If you answered ‘blow in her face’ then congratulations, NOBODY WINS.

………………………. Maybe the eighties were a difficult teen period or The Demon did not yet feel comfortable murdering, either way not exactly Michael Myers is it?

I have a feeling I know what happened here. I think the makers of Paranormal Activity 3 (more on them later) saw the third instalment as a chance to make Paranormal Activity a ‘thing’. Instead of figuring out new directions for the franchise to tread, they instead spent their time finding ways to repeat semi-iconic (at best) scenes from the first two films; a subtle ‘bathroom’ joke scene early on, a human scaring another amidst an early Demon sighting, a secondary character encountering the demon and then leaving with dire warnings, a couple’s relationship becoming strained as one obsessively films everything, hoping for a sight of The Demon while the other remains stubbornly sceptical. The first Paranormal Activity has become a blueprint, ‘but the audience expects this stuff’ the makers cry. The result of such ‘sound’ thinking being is the all-purpose Demon of the franchise is reduced to the play thing of the films real villains, old people.

Speaking of the makers; Henry Joost and Ariel Schuman are the directing team behind Catfish, a fascinating documentary about an online relationship built upon a lie, it was an impressive, heartfelt documentary that I thoroughly recommend to everyone, but, and this is one of those big buts I could write as BUTTTTTTTTTTTTTT, I have no idea how that film led to the team getting the Paranormal Activity franchise. Despite the ‘video diary’ premise, Paranormal Activity is to documentary what Rise of the Planet of the Apes was to a wildlife charity plea. Activity is a story; it relies on the audience willingly suspending their disbelief. In real life, as soon as someone caught a clip of a demon terrorising them, they would not stay to film more supernatural behaviour, they would either a) get the hell out of dodge or b) upload the footage to youtube and make millions. Oh wait, it’s the eighties, no youtube, well whatever people did with footage in the dark ages.

Oh yeah, the eighties………

Revolutionary thinking I know, but a neat trick when setting a film in the eighties might be to actually make your film look like it was filmed in the eighties. It’s too bad Henry Joost and Ariel Schuman didn’t realise that. They didn’t even bother putting in effects or filters, they just plumb filmed on digital cameras hidden inside eighties cameras and left the footage as is, so we have a film set in the eighties that looks nothing like the eighties. This decision is baffling to me, Paranormal 3 could have stood out with an eighties style, at the very least it would have given the film some identity, even better it would have made sense and been readily accepted by the audience. Instead we get an instalment that looks bland, and when combined with the inept execution of the titular Demon character, just feels totally lame, inanely tame, easy to blame, out of the frame, a catastrophic dame and a real shame.

Earlier I suggested it’s fanboys who would care about a prequel, I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that Henry Joost and Ariel Schuman are just that. This feels like a fanboy treatment, it picks up on minor dialogue from the first two films and attempts to develop it, it sticks to characters already in the cannon, it’s utterly risk averse, playing it as safe as it possibly can, and it’s filled with self-reverence and knowing winks. There are moments of dialogue which have a slightly different meaning if you remember certain moments from the previous two films than they do in the context of a conversation. The weird thing is, it’s actually a pretty poor tie in; I remember two things the two previous films established about Katie and Kristi’s past; a fire and that ‘their mum cried a lot’, bizarrely neither of those things actually happen. So what we have is a tie in, by fans, desperate to elaborate on previously mentioned territory but conveniently ignoring anything that either feels too risky or uninteresting.

Any positives, actually yes, the acting is pretty good. The lead actors Chris Smith and Lauren Bittner are both clearly talented and capable. I enjoyed watching the two characters interact and really got into their relationship, I just wish they’d had a script that could have utilised on that. The child actors are what you’d expect but the improvisational style works well and there’re some interesting moments of parent-child interactions. There’s also a neat turn by Dustin Ingram as a film assistant..

Do I recommend Paranormal Activity 3? Surprisingly no, not really, it’s a poor, weak imitation of far superior instalments. It’s a film far too obsessed with finding one overarching story for Paranormal Activity when there really isn’t one. A Demon becomes obsessed with a girl, tormenting her and her unfortunate boyfriend, that was all the plot the first Paranormal Activity needed and it worked. The second film sort of got away with adding a family dynamic to the demon’s hunting but that was through an intelligent script that understood that backstory could only work if the story was focused on the current characters. The script for this one shows no such intelligence.

There’s a fourth instalment which I’m told is more of the same, normally I’d make a facetious comment like (smug voice) ‘maybe I’ll watch it if I stop enjoying life’ but the truth is the trailer for Paranormal Activity: the Marked Ones, a spin off of the main branch of films, has actually peaked my interest. It looks to be set in generic gangland U.S.A and that The Demon gets more to do than just tease little girls before bed. I’ll admit I’m actually a little intrigued to see where the franchise could be taken after standing still for so long, so maybe I will review the fourth one just to get to spin off.

Either way, shut up…………

Written by Sam ‘Paranormal Entity was scarier than this shit’ McKinstrie

Unnecessarily on twitter as McKinstHFP

See HFP’s videos at www.youtube.com/MrHFProductions

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The Sunday Film Review – Rourke Factor: Year of the Dragon

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Year of the Dragon

Director: Michael Cimino (1985)

If you haven’t encountered them, I’ve got this whole gimmicky ‘thing’ going occasionally reviewing Mickey Rourke films. Basically I watch a Mickey Rourke film, review it, and then group said review with other reviews with the unimaginative banner ‘Rourke factor’, I don’t know, something to do with a Less Than Jake Gig and a quasi-right wing newspaper…….. Lately, during what I’ve termed my ‘huff copious amounts of diethyl ether days’, I find myself picking up Rourke Films without bothering to read the blurb.

I think this must have been the case with Year of the Dragon. After a particularly intense three day ‘ether trip’ (one that left me with the strangest sensation of just neutering a cat) I awoke to discover a peacock on my shoulder, a monkey on my shin and a DVD copy of the film in my arms………………. (Or maybe I just got a copy sent to me by ‘evil’ money corporation amazon offshoot, Lovefilm, you decide which is more entertaining).

Once the monkey clawing at my shins proved to be a figment, I read the title ‘Year of the Dragon’ and wrongly assumed I’d ether danced my way to another film from Rourke’s ‘cold phase’. ‘Cold phase’ being my insipid terminology for a period in Rourke’s career I’ve discovered somewhere between the end of the eighties (Shades) and 2008’s The Wrestler where a combination of dickish behaviour, substance abuse and boxing left Mr Rourke ostracised from the major American studios. I had (possibly ether influenced) visions of drawn out gun battles, clumsy plot points with a murdered wife or friend thrown in, some lazy direction and a haggard looking Rourke……………………………. Then the phrase ‘written by Oliver Stone (if you don’t know who he is that can only be described as tragic) and Michael Cimino (director of the Deer Hunter, every pretentious film watchers favourite Vietnam film)’ popped up, much intrigue followed.

Plot summary

Chinatown, New York, Ham-EriCA: an elderly Chinese man with insanely stereotypical Fu Manchu moustache (incidentally my ether dealer sports a similar work) is stabbed in a restaurant.

A massive social affair of a funeral follows with the inhabitants of Chinatown lining the streets to watch a procession of drummers and dudes in white suits. The local police captain sits on a horse enjoying watching proceedings when he’s approached for comment by local journalist Tracy Tzu (Ariane Koizumi, a fashion model of Japanese and Dutch descent………. who would have thought Dutch + Japanese origins = passable Chinese appearance…………………..except racist casting agents?). Tracy Tzu’s search for a quote gets rudely interrupted by Captain Stanley White (Mr Rourke),  Stanley White it transpires has been recruited as the new police captain in Chinatown, because what more appropriate location to relieve a police captain of his duty than at a public funeral in front of locals and members press?

It turns out the murdered Fu Manchu dude wasn’t just any Fu Manchu dude, he was a senior member of the local Triads, (for those who never played Grand Theft Auto 3, the Triads are a global criminal syndicate stemming from China). On the heels of the funeral, the other local bosses meet and young up and comer Joey Tai (John Lone, an actor of incredible range) talks his way into being elected as their new head. His business plan is simple: piss people off. He pisses of the Italian Mafia by backing out of a drug selling arrangement, he pisses off the locals by shooting up bars, and he pisses off Stanley White by………….. actually Stanley White is already pissed off.

Stanley White, you see, is a Vietnam Veteran with a grudge against anyone who ‘looks Asian’. I’d suggest a man of such views may not be the most suitable choice for captain of your local Chinese community police captain, but far be it from me to accuse the New York Police Department of being indifferent to matters of race……………

……. they’re very focused in their approach to racism. Stanley also has problems at home, his wife Connie (Caroline Kava, not really given anything to do except weep and storm out of rooms) won’t have kids because she doesn’t trust Stanley to take care of himself or take multi-vitamins.

Between them, Stanley White and Joey Tai manage to completely rip up a truce that existed between the police and the Triads, isolate their peers and antagonize each other until there’s nothing left to do save have a shoot out on a bridge.

Plot summary ends

Watching a film directed by Cimino, co-written by Oliver Stone and starring Micky Rourke, I could be forgiven for expecting greatness. Instead it turns out my initial impression was sadly correct and I’m left thinking it wasn’t a coincidence I sat through Year of the Dragon in an ether induced coma. Year of the Dragon is bad, punch yourself in the ovaries bad, in all honesty you’d have to be on some substance to enjoy this film, the fact some dude named Quentin Tarantino lists Year of the Dragon as one of his favourites sort of enhances the point. There’s just so much about year of the Dragon that’s unlikeable when watched through sober eyes.

First I’ll start with the fluffy pink cloud issue of racism. Year of the Dragon came into criticism from some quarters for being racist as shit in its attitude towards Chinese people. I actually don’t think that rings true. Sure there’re tons of racist epithets; yellow-nigger and chink being probably the most abhorrent of the bunch, but they come from racist characters. It’s not the film pointing and laughing at Chinese people, it’s just certain characters. Stanley White is a racist prick with a chip on his shoulder, but the film doesn’t glamorise or celebrate Stanley for his actions, in fact the crux of Stanley’s story involves his attitude alienating and driving everyone who cares about him away. I can understand why the two get confused, because Stanley is the lead character you’re supposed to root for in the final showdown, but that’s not because of his attitude, it’s because compared to drug baron Joey Tai, Stanley is the lesser of two evils.

Year of the Dragon didn’t feel a racist watch then, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t an incredibly-credibly misogynistic one. I can’t believe the treatment of the female characters in this one. Here’s a great scene; Stanley goes round Tracy Tzu’s house, the two exchange badly acted pleasantries (more on that later) and Stanley begins to undress, convinced he is, to quote the schoolyard, ‘in’. Ms Tzu calmly explains to Mr White he is definitely not ‘in’ as she has a boyfriend, to which Stanley gets annoyed, accuses Ms Tzu of being a tease and then, upon discovery that Ms Tzu’s boyfriend isn’t due to visit, dives on her. Ms Tzu lays passively as Stanley kisses her neck…………….. it was at this point I turned to the girl who occasionally lets me penetrate her and questioned whether this did or did not constitute rape? Her answer was to the effect of ‘if you don’t know you should never be around women’………………… which isn’t the first time I’ve heard that, am I right fellas…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. Anyway, even after that things don’t get any better for Ms Tzu, Stanley basically stalks her while neglecting his wife, then when Joey Tai decides he wants to piss Stanley off, his first port of call is to have Ms Tzu raped, which Stanley then does nothing about.

Worst of all Ms Tzu isn’t even the female character hardest done by, the only other female character who gets any time at all, Stanley’s wife literally gets four scenes, 3 crying scenes and then brutally murdered, (yeah that should be a spoiler and I would have put a warning in, if her death actually meant anything in terms of the plot of the film). Post his wife’s murder Stanley never mentions her again, shows no remorse for being unfaithful and generally twatish to her, and then, at the end gets a heroic walk down the street with the woman he raped…………. That’s some messed up morality right there.

It’s here I will accept the argument ‘but Sam, you’re a dude, a macho manly manly dude who’s totally cool and definitely not a virgin, so you won’t be affected by such portrayal of female characters’……. To which I reply ‘not the case and shut up………………also you’re right, I’m not a virgin (manly cough)’.

Rourke Factor (this is the bit where I review Mr Rourke’s performance)

Away from gender politics, Year of the Dragon isn’t a particularly good showing for Mr Rourke either. 2 years after Year of the Dragon, Angel Heart, a far superior film with featuring an exceptional performance by Rourke was released; the difference between the superb Rourke of that film and the stinted wooden Rourke is palpable. There’s little emotion on show here, he doesn’t sound interested in the script, there aren’t any interesting character interactions and I’m left with the impression that Rourke really didn’t care about this film. If I were to hazard a guess, I’d say maybe some of that’s to do with Cimino a fine director, but one with a reputation for a demanding and dictatorial style which I can’t see playing out particular well with a dude like Mickey Rourke. He looks in decent health though, so I was wrong when I guessed he’d look haggard, that may actually be damning with praise though, seeing as how Stanley White is most definitely a man who should look haggard.

I want to emphasise, Rourke’s performance is really only poor in comparison to what I’ve already seen he’s capable of, it’s a passable performance, Ariane Koizumi on the other hand, has no excuses. I don’t like singling out and bashing actors when I’m not paying them expenses (because nothing says wannabe indie like only covering expense), because most of the time I’ve found a poor performance is a failing in either the casting or direction rather than the talent themself. With Ariane Koizumi though, wherever the blame lies, her performance is woeful. She stumbles over lines, feels like she’s reading from an entirely different script that’s a few inches off screen and half the time doesn’t look like she even realises she’s talking to anyone. Ms Koizumi gained two raspberry nominations for her performance, and I really can’t argue against either.

Acting aside, Year of the Dragon is just a tedious and boring watch. Stanley White and Joey Tai are unlikeable fellows who behave downright stupidly; all they ever do is rant and make decisions you can see going wrong a mile off. The support cast just sort of exists without contributing anything meaningful and for once I’ve loathed watching a film so much I don’t even want to read the source material to see if the books better. Oh by the way, Year of the Dragon is a film adaptation of a book.

I could go on ranting about the little things, the plot holes and general lack of a clue this film seems to have had, I haven’t for instance touched upon on the oddly edited action scenes or the bit in the middle where everything turns into Raiders of the Lost Ark for ten minutes for no apparent reason, but it’d be boring for me to write. Instead I’ll try and see the positives…………………….. Year of the Dragon looks good for an eighties film and the locations are well chosen, there, they are literally the only two positive things I could think to say.

To summarise…………Year of the Dragon: poorly cast, poorly executed, poorly structured story, misogynistic, not racist,  looks ok, I recommend you either watch after ingesting copious amounts of drugs or just don’t bother.

Written by Sam ‘A cat fast as lightening, a little bit frightening’ McKinstrie

Unnecessarily on twitter as McKinstHFP

See HFP’s videos at www.youtube.com/MrHFProductions

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The Sunday Film Review – Guilty Pleasure #1 – Constantine

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Constantine

Francis Lawrence (2005)

Question: Should you ever apologise for liking a film………………… that isn’t Rise of the Planet of the Apes?

Answer: Yes, probably…………

I’ve always thought Constantine was a cool little film, so much so that it still amazes me how many of my (non-existent) film friends disagree. In an age where Superman killed, Spiderman emo danced his way to a do-over (though quite a good do-over I’ll admit), Captain ‘McBoring’ America has his own film and a moonstone evolved Daredevil into Batman, I figured Francis Lawrence’s 2004 effort would be seen more positively. I honestly thought people would be proclaiming Constantine as a throwback to a simpler and more fun ‘comic movie’ time. Instead, 8 years down the line, my film friends still sneer like they were Miley Fucking Cyrus at the mere mention of the damn thing.

Hell, even Tom, whose film taste is as close to mine as anyone’s ever likely to get, claims to have never been able to sit through the whole thing. I just don’t understand the vitriol that Constantine still seems to receive.

Recently I’ve been reading Hellblazer, for those who have enjoyable lives; Hellblazer is the graphic novel spin off of Swamp Thing that tells the story of John Constantine. It also happens to be the source material the film shredded, fired out of a cannon, dipped in acid and finally handed to Keanu Reeves. I’d suggest changing the lead character from a foul mouthed scouser with ‘cockney swagger’ into the boring middle aged version of Ted ‘Theodore’ Logan might be the source of my (none existent) filmmaker friends ire, but I know for a fact none of them read it.

Question: So where does all the anti-Constantine sentiments come from?

Answer: I don’t care

Here’s a plot summary, followed by an explanation why I think Constantine’s a great little film and you’re stupid and wrong…………….. assuming you don’t like the film either………….. which seems like a pretty safe assumption to me.

Plot Summary……….

John Constantine (Keanu Reeves, yes I know I already said that, shut up) is a cynical Los Angeles resident living a life it would be generous to describe as a buggery; He’s dying of lung cancer, his job involves exorcising demons from possessed people, he knows for a fact when he dies he’s going to hell (and will therefore experience a literal buggery at the hands of the demons he’s been exorcising), the closest thing he has to a partner is Shia LaBeouf (pre oh look he’s stopped being a knob and started acting seriously stage), even Tilda Swinton thinks he’s a joke.

Like all personal problems ever, the root cause of John’s can be linked back to early childhood. When he was young John discovered he had a natural tendency for being the dead people seeing kid from Sixth Sense. Sadly Bruce Willis wasn’t around to be dead and stuff (SPOILER, Bruce Willis was dead all along in Sixth Sense), so the burden ended up driving young John crazy. A suicide attempt followed, a failed attempt, but one which involved him technically dying for a few minutes. ‘The Rules’ (a plot device implemented by the film so arbitrarily it’s brilliant), state that suicides, even failed ones, go to hell…………………….. long as they technically died. Guessing ‘The Rules’ state allowing a dude to betray you to some Roman dudes, and then letting them crucify you is totally not suicide.

Anyway, since that failed suicide attempt, John’s been doing everything he can to avoid eternal damnation and curry favour with heaven by being a good person sending demons back to hell………….. Which would be sound strategy except Heaven views helping it in a battle (more of a competition really) with demons (technically half demons because The Rules say half demons and half angels are ok, full ones aren’t) as selfish. At least it’s selfish if it’s only done to win favour, and therefore Constantine remains hell bound……………. sort of takes the phrase ‘having a jobsworth attitude’ to a new level doesn’t it.

Elsewhere, Rachel Weisz commits suicide, and her identical twin Rachel Weisz version 2 ends up asking Constantine for help investigating. That leads to the main plot of the film, a plot incorporating cameos from Bush lead singer Gavin Rossdale as a half demon, Djimon ‘DO YOU SEE A DIAMOND!’ Hounsou as nightclub owning witch doctor Papa Midnite (with interesting taste in chairs) and Pruitt Taylor Vince as a religious father with the amazing super power of reading things quickly.

Plot summary finishes.

Here, in no particular order, are some of the more enlightened reasons I’ve been given as to why Constantine is a ‘bad film’ ………………

Reason: ‘Duh bruk, I’s a donna like Keanu Reeves, he’s a gash man-clart’

Why you’re stupid: Did you see the Matrix? Yes, because everyone did. Even if his range is a little limited (emphasise on little), in the right role Reeves is a fine addition to the screen, and that’s exactly what the role of Constantine was, the right role. In both the film and graphic novel Constantine is a cynical arsehole who just does not give a fuck, Reeves barely sounds like he ever gives a fuck, ergo it’s a match made in heaven. An intense actor for an intense role, not rocket science, just good casting. If you don’t want to watch a film with Reeves in, then that makes you the problem, not the film.

Reason: ‘Well Hun-un, I for one was Hun-un bored, I mean the effects were Hun-un bland, the story was predictable at best and there was a Hun–un distinct lack of real actors like Tom Hardy or Ryan Gosling, now please excuse me Hun-un, I need to put my head back in my arse’

Why you’re stupid: In Constantine, there’s an effect that blew my mind. It involves an invisible force grabbing Rachel Weisz and pulling her through walls while Constantine chases. The effect looks amazing…… I’ve later discovered Levis did it first, but even so, their advert lacks the style and shock of the films execution. There are also sophisticated scenes involving a fight with a monster consisting solely of bugs, a pretty sweet moment involving slow motion meeting Rachel Weisz in a bath tub, and finally some smooth stuff involving a dude with a spear, cows and a car. Also, as far as ‘real actors’ go, this is a big budget screen outing involving Tilda Swinton in an interesting role (more on that later).

Reason: ‘I JUST DIDN’T LIKE IT, IT BORED ME AND I DON’T LIKE BEING BORED…….. I HAVE TO GO NOW, MY HOME PLANET NEEDS ME’

Why you’re stupid: Actually you’re entitled to be bored by Constantine, just like you’re entitled to be boring yourself, and if you don’t find something interesting in either the story of a redemptive cynic, the visuals or the acting in Constantine, then truth be told you’re really not going to find many films interesting. The exception is Hell, the films interpretation of Hell as a red dusty wasteland was pretty damn boring and unimaginative, I’ll give you that.

……………………………….

Reason No one’s given me but I can imagine some smart arse is just itching to email me (yes that unfortunately happens): It’s an ‘In Name Only’ and isn’t anything like the source material.

Why you’re stupid: Yup, that’s right, and the question I have to ask is so? Did it really need to be like the graphic novel, (which for the record had some entertaining early story arcs, then became incredibly tedious and pagan until Garth Ennis took over around issue 40) to be a success. This wasn’t a Batman or Superman situation where millions of fans already had preconceived notions of how the characters should be. Going deeper, story wise there’s actually quite a few things the two have in common: the high body toll of Constantine’s friends, trouble finding Constantine regardless of what he does, the interpretation of the conflict between heaven and hell and the Constantine dying of lung cancer plot comes directly from probably the best story arc in the graphic novels……………… though admittedly without the drunk Irishman or the cleverness of the middle finger ending. Anyway, the point is, sometimes films need to go off source……………………………………………………………………………not always I’ll admit, Man of Steel demonstrated that.

And now we move onto the self-indulgent stuff, here’s why I think Constantine is a cool little film.

Constantine should have amounted to little more than another major American studio hack job, a film aiming to simply cash in on the growing ‘comic book’ film crowd. Instead it ended up being a surprisingly deep and interesting film. Take the casting for instance, Reeves and Weisz certainly weren’t in the A-Team of lead actors, but neither were they far off. Both had an impressive track record for strong, detailed performances (which has continued). Now look at the support cast, Djimon Hounsou went on to be a worthy Oscar winner, for all the snipes, Shia LaBeouf is now an established and none existent god help me, entertaining leading man of his own when Michael Bay’s not around, and Pruitt Taylor Vince is quite likely the most prolific character actor you never heard of. I’ll admit Rossdale’s portrayal of a half demon amounted to little more than a butchery of the phrase ‘finger licking good’, but he wasn’t exactly a disaster. The point I’m making is, Constantine casted on grounds of quality over quantity, they could easily have thrown any name actor in the lead roles (Affleck back then was doing the rounds like the morning milkman) instead the film was cast based specifically on the needs of each role.

The supporting cast member I didn’t just mention was Tilda Swinton, and it’s not because her performance isn’t great, it is, it’s because her role represents what I really loved about Constantine, it’s a film that wasn’t afraid to try things. Can you name me a single other big studio film with an androgynous character? I can’t, but even if you can I’m willing to bet Tom’s savings the character amounted to little more than comic relief. Back in 2004, littler Sam had never seen anything even close to the image of an androgynous half-angel sneering at Keanu Reeves. The world Constantine inhabited was just so dense, populated by imagery and odd characters, at the time it was new and sort of refreshing to see a story executed in such a way, now, when comic book films more often than not achieve little more than being superficial popcorn fodder, it looks like a bloody miracle.

The other thing about Constantine that endeared it to me, was that it was a Hollywood action story where it was fine for me to dislike the leading man. Constantine was a cynical arsehole, I got the feeling he couldn’t have cared less about whether the people around him lived or died brutally. He treated everyone, from the holiest of holies to the damnedest of the damned, with utter disdain. That for me, having a lead character I didn’t like him, but still rooted for was a revelation, in a world populated by villains and arseholes, he was the one who admitted it, and as a story that fascinated me.

I think what I enjoyed about Constantine was that I found it so different from other blockbusters released at that time, looking back 8 years later and in terms of story it looks like the non-existent God compared to most of the unambitious dross that creeps out of the studio orifices. Sure it had problems, it absolutely missed a trick in terms of how dark and bloody it could have gotten, there are plot holes, and a few bits that just don’t make sense, demons choosing to stand conveniently grouped in one room while holy water sprinkles down on them is a prime example, but it was a fun, well executed if off topic adaptation that dared to dream.

You may not agree, but then you may not agree you’re a moron who’s contributed to the dumbing down of mainstream cinema either……….

Written by Sam ‘Not the real Slim Shady, just imitating’ McKinstrie

Unnecessarily on twitter as McKinstHFP

See HFP’s videos at www.youtube.com/MrHFProductions

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The Sunday Film Review: Les Choriste

Posted on by sam

Les Choristes

Director: Christophe Barratier (2004)

These days I try to avoid meeting new people whenever possible………………….. Actually it’s not just these days, I’ve always tried avoiding people, because the more I meet people the less I like people.

In the all too frequent situations where I can’t avoid meeting someone new, and am then, for some as yet unexplained reason, expected to make small talk (because apparently staying silent suggests you may be a, and I quote, ‘psycho fuck pig’), my go to icebreaker is film. It’s not that I don’t have other interests, I do, but film’s considered a more varied and socially acceptable interest than Cricket, Satan Tory bashing and/or Ska-Punk music.

What’s nice about film is that generally I find I can spend as much time conversing about a film I hated as much as one I loved. For instance, I can talk all day about how awful Rise of the Planet of the Apes was, but not so much about my loathing for One Direction songs, because I’ve never really heard more than 3 seconds of a One Direction song, so even though I’m 99.99999% positive I hate One Direction songs, I’m not educated enough to discuss why that is. Fact is, people will sit through a bad film, they won’t stop to listen to an atrocious song……….unless it’s in a film.

Very often I’ll initiate the topic with some broad question like, ‘what sort of films do you watch?’ and often the reply is something safe  involving Die Hard, Fight Club or a genre like Disney, action, comedy, Tim Burton.…………. Word of advice, never judge someone by the films they tell a stranger they like, because they will always list popular blockbusters or genres, even though later you discover their bedroom’s adorned with posters for A Serbian Film or Muriel’s Wedding.

Anyway, after talking about a particular film or genre they’ve listed, I look to see if there’s an escape root out of my awkward social nightmare, 99 times out of 100 there isn’t, so I press on. ‘Do you ever watch foreign films?’ The reply I receive usually involves head shaking and far too often a declaration of aversion to subtitles. My next step, regardless of what the person said, is to recommended Oldboy……….. and I mean Oldboy, because there will only ever be one Oldboy, there’s an American tribute by Spike Lee due out soon (one that the trailer suggests is far too close to the original for comfort), but mark my words, that won’t even be fit to lace the originals boots…. Fuck you Josh Brolin!

THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE

 

Moving on in 3,2,1…………

I’ve been dating the girl who occasionally allows me to violate her for about a year and a half now, and while we’ve happily reached the stage where I can simply grunt in her direction, or tell her to shut up without jeopardising my chance of late night intimacy………… that wasn’t always the case. Early on I had to be charming, insightful, intelligible, tolerant and a boatload of other adjectives that never have and never will come naturally. Over cheap but plentiful portions of food at Noodle Inn (on London Road, Sheffield, go, just go, you won’t regret it) I spent long hours talking to the (un)lucky lady, hoping she’d get be too attached to leave once I revealed my terrible final dickish wannabe indie filmmaker form. The topic of film very quickly came up, and when I asked about foreign films, the conversation went like this;

Me: ‘Do you ever watch foreign films?’

Poor Unfortunate Soul: ‘Not really, I watched a French film once that was amazing, it was called Les Choristes’

A year and a half later, while rummaging around for a Nintendo DS and a Playstation 2 (best console ever made bar none) in her parent’s loft, the girl I’m occasionally allowed to violate found Les Choristes. We watched it, I saw her point and better yet, a wonderful excuse to get my French on, so here, not before time, is a review of Les Choristes, starting a patented plot summary.

PLOT SUMMARY

Frenchman Pierre Morhange (Jacques Perrin), a world renowned classical conductor, returns to the country currently trying to shake it’s cheese-eating surrender monkey image by bombing sections of the Middle East (doesn’t tend to end well), to attend his mother’s funeral. After the funeral, Morhange sits at home quietly reflecting on his decision to not bring an umbrella to a clichéd rain soaked funeral, when he’s disturbed by a tap tap tapping at his chamber door. The cause of which is the singularly named Pépinot (Didier Flamand). Pépinot is an old school friend of Morhange from way back when, who has come bearing gifts, well one gift actually, a diary kept by an old teacher of Morhange’s named Clément Mathieu. Not sure how that fits in with the mother’s funeral theme, but Morhange seems receptive enough.

Going back in time fifty years (via a nice transition involving the diary) we discover Clément Mathieu (a wonderful Gérard Jugnot) was a failed musician who applied for the ‘lowly’ job of ‘supervisor’ at the Fond de l’Étang (translation: Bottom of the pond) boarding school for troubled boys. Once there he battled other teachers, troublesome boys (including young Morhange), a countess and a strict headmaster (a fine François Berléand) in order to set up a choir and teach his class of boys to sing, then believe in themselves, then finally be their own o captain my captain.

Plot summary finishes.

Yup, Les Choristes is one of those older teacher bonds with troublesome child stories, (even Star Wars had two of those…….. one worked) and in many ways it’s actually one of the lighter films to brace the topic. It’s certainly not as dark as the likes of Dead Poets Society, nor does it have the social conscience of films like Good Will Hunting or Remember the Titans……………. What’s that, I’ve only listed English language films in a review that took a pot-shot at the anti-subtitle masses? Ok then, there’s a lack of the characterisation seen in the likes of Great Teacher Onizuka, the depth of a Monsieur Lazhar or the bizarreness of a My Teacher, Mr Kim…………….. boom!

What Les Choristes does have, is class, rich Gallic filmmaking class.

The acting for instance, is absolutely wake up and taste the onion soup fantastic, which says a lot considering the majority of the cast were child actors. Gérard Jugnot steals the show with a heart-warming performance, and it’s especially fun watching him interact with the students, I get the feeling there’s a lot of improvisation going on, more than once it looks like a child actor is moments away from bursting into laughter………… which works, because for the most part the lives of these children are as bleak as crappy supermarket workers, so a bit of joy is welcome. The support cast are also strong, particularly François Berléand as the headmaster, until the end you’re never quite sure if he hates children or just believes strong discipline is the best way for them to achieve something in their life. The child actors are competent (less said = better performance) but there is an interesting, and really rather mature turn by Grégory Gatignol as Mondain, a troubled boy who may or may not be a rapist.

The location Fond de l’Étang breaths life; every wall, every minute detail has been paid attention to. They filmed at Château de Ravel, a rather nice looking castle in France, and went as far as to scorch walls to achieve the dilapidated look of a run down boarding school (at least that’s what they did according to Wikipedia, the lazy researcher bible). The end result is a breathtakingly detailed world that the trouble children inhabit. This attention to detail is all the more remarkable when you consider Les Choristes was the debut feature of Barratier, though he had produced a fair few things by then, still, hell of an accomplished debut.

Now we come to the real selling point of Les Choristes, the soundtrack. Morhange may be the accomplished child singer, but a fair few of those boys can clearly sing, and the film is rightly lauded for some consummate original recordings. I’m not so convinced, because choral singing tends to lack the presence of a saxophone and therefore can’t be considered real music in my book, but the girl who allows me to occasionally violate her, bought the soundtrack and assures me that if you’re into that sort of thing then it’s a must have musical collection. Either way, the use of music in the film is exemplary, doesn’t drag and the story progresses in a way where you can mark the development of not just Morhange’s character, but the boys choir as a whole.

There are some negatives, a big one is that, by being a film adaptation of a book, Les Choristes displays the typical problem of a lack of depth to some characters that turn out to be pretty damn important. There’s a countess for instance who funds the boys school, and that’s all I can tell you about her. Likewise some of the boys are just sort of there, sure they have names, but that’s about it, which is a shame, because there’s definitely a consistent group dynamic, there just doesn’t seem to have been time to explore it.

Then there are the little things that bugged me; Clément Mathieu kept a diary from the first day he walked into Fond de l’Étang, yet very early on the boys break into his personal cupboard and steal his stuff, yet no mention of the diary is made. Maybe it’s just the boys weren’t interested in a diary naming and shaming them when there was sheet music to be grabbed………………………. more likely it’s that the diary was added as a plot device specifically for the film (in the book the diary is published in a newspaper way after the fact) and as such, they forgot to carry the device through the rest of the film. It’s not that big a thing, but it annoys me when attention to detail is paid to the location, and then not the story.

Speaking of story, while Les Choristes is certainly a deep, well told story, it’s also a relatively timid one. There are subtle hints to some of the issues we know can affect schools where children considered ‘troublesome’ are left in the care of slightly sadistic institutions without oversight; a paedophile suggestion here, an abuse of power analogy there, but nothing’s really explored in any great depth. There is a brutal scene of a child getting beaten, and I mean horribly beaten, round the face, for a good length of time, and yet there’s no real exploration of the aftermath, no outrage by our morale characters, no acknowledgement that this kind of stuff is shocking and not meant to occur. It’s almost as if Les Choristes shrugged its shoulders and said ‘fine, here’s some of the more sinister stuff that can occur in this type of situation, now back to the lovely singing’.

I’m not saying Les Choristse is a shallow film, it’s got a number of strong, deep characters, just that it’s a safe one, the boys are troubled but we never really find out why, the headmaster may be abusive, but there’s no reason, Clément Mathieu failed as a musician, but you don’t know how or why. It’s almost as if the screenwriter thought such things would be too depressing for a film about troubled boys bonding with a teacher and learning to sing beautifully. That may be true, but then again, understanding more about the boys may have made their development into well behaved choir-singers all the more special.

And now to conclude: Les Choristes is a lovely little film, sure I’m complaining about a lack of grittiness, but there’s just because I’m a terrible person, it’s got warmth, loveliness and fantastic performances across the board. It’s a class act, a safe class act, but a class act nonetheless.

Written by Sam ‘No, no I don’t want to talk to you’ McKinstrie

Unnecessarily on twitter as McKinstHFP

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