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Owen’s 2015 in Film: Part 7 – July Meets and Danny Dyer Tweets

Continuing his ongoing year in review series, Owen runs through some of the films that he’s watched in July. As with each of the previous articles in the series, the month will be broken down by week, with a review of one arbitrarily chosen film seen during each period.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

143955551975437What the hell happened, July? You used to be cool. The month started out with such optimism. Life was good. Failed Critics was on the up and with an ever increasing number of downloads and visitor numbers to the site every day following the switch to Acast in May, the outlook was positive. Arranging guests to appear on the next three months worth of podcasts was a doddle and the exciting first ever real-life meet up in London was edging closer.

And then, on the afternoon of Thursday 16th July just before the meet was due to take place, like a punch to the gut knocking the wind out of me, I found out that I was to be made redundant from my full time job. Not through any fault of my own either, but because it was cheaper to outsource my team’s role to a contractor. Bummer. A few drinks with some pals that weekend, the worst hangover I’ve ever had and one extraordinary new follower on our Twitter account (DANNY-FUCKING-DYER) later and things started to feel more optimistic again.

Whilst things have worked out for the best now, and from next month I will be a fully enrolled student for the first time since I was 15 years old, it’s both a scary and quite exciting time in my life! It took a lot of hard work and time for me to make this decision. Therefore, for July, the knock on effect (and what I’m certain that readers will perceive as the absolute worst thing to come out of losing my job…!) is that in researching the options I had available to me, I had hardly any spare time later on in July in which to watch films. It’s a good job I ploughed through a few of those nearly three hour long classics earlier in the month, eh?

Anyway, here’s a run through of the films that I actually did manage to see…

Week 1 – Wednesday 1 – Sunday 5 July 2015

Wednesday – [absolutely nothing]; Thursday – DEATH WISH 3 (1985)Friday – [absolutely nothing]; Saturday – 88 (2014), Terminator Genisys (2015); Sunday – Machete (2010)

death wish 3Not that I was expecting it to be, but Death Wish 3 is nowhere near as good as the original 1974 film starring Charles Bronson as a vigilante ex-cop getting revenge on some criminals. Directed by Michael Winner, a man who (as I’m sure we can all agree) was a massive twat, what Death Wish 3 shares in common with the original is how it notoriously descends deeper and deeper into a right-wing rant about modern societal values. However, whilst Death Wish has its faults, it was at least a proper movie. When Cannon Group created the first sequel, Death Wish II, eight years later with one half of its long-term contracted mega-expensive movie stars (i.e. Bronson, the other being Chuck Norris) it was, by and large, contemptible re-hashed shit. Nevertheless, it made enough money for the studio to be convinced it was a commercial success and another sequel was commissioned. Of course it was commissioned. This is Cannon we’re talking about. They probably commissioned ten Death Wish sequels, designed posters for 50 and pitched 100 before eventually folding. Playing up to the crass vulgarity that its audience so clearly demanded, Death Wish 3 is much more comfortable in being exactly what it is. There’s no integrity here. The biggest achievement is that it was released at all, but with Golan & Globus behind it, I suppose it’s not that surprising. It’s often held up as the only good sequel in the franchise (admittedly I haven’t yet seen Death Wish 4, but Death Wish 5 was … OK) and I can see why. It is completely over the top, ridiculous in the extreme and so very, very eighties. I mean, I still wouldn’t call it a good film; imagine The Purge but with doddery old man Bronson as the protagonist. It’s not far off that quality. Nevertheless, morally dubious nature and an out-right rejection of anything com’nist aside, taking its politics with a pinch of salt and admiring it as a daft action-verging-on-exploitation film, it has its occasional entertaining popcorn moments and could have been a Hell of a lot worse.

Week 2 – Monday 6 – Sunday 12 July 2015

Monday – The God of Cookery (1996); Tuesday – The Abyss (1989); Wednesday – Hoop Dreams (1994); Thursday – Red Beard (1965); Friday – 30 For 30: Straight Outta L.A. (2010)THE THIN BLUE LINE (1988)Saturday – The Lost Gold of the Highlands (AKA Garnet’s Gold) (2014); Sunday – [absolutely nothing]

the thin blue lineIt was about this time last year that Sight & Sound revealed the winners of their Greatest Documentaries of All Time poll. You might remember that soon afterwards, Paul Field issued a rebuttal on our site listing his personal favourite documentaries. There was only one film to make both of his and the S&S list, and that was Errol Morris’ critically acclaimed investigation into the American penal and judicial system that had sentenced a man for the murder of a policeman on little more than circumstantial evidence. Whilst there is a bigger picture discussed about how people in the US at the time could be convicted of crimes, at its core there is of course a very real case to be made for saving the life of one individual who was the victim of what Morris perceived to be a broken bureaucratic and prejudiced system. Paul described the film best when he said “Errol Morris changed the way investigative documentaries are made. People talk about influential or important, this paved the way to save lives.” I couldn’t have put it better myself. Aside from being absorbing in its narrative and genuinely emotional without needing to be as highly manipulative as its contemporaries often are, the impact that The Thin Blue Line had is recognisable and virtually insurmountable. It is a breathtaking achievement that undoubtedly deserves the adoration it has garnered.

Week 3 – Monday 13 – Sunday 19 July 2015

Monday – Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai (2011), Ted 2 (2015), LAND OF SILENCE AND DARKNESS (1971)Tuesday – Heart of Glass (1976); Wednesday – Stroszek (1977); Thursday – Touch of Evil (1958); Friday – Encounters at the End of the World (2007), Kickboxer (1989), Ant-Man (2015); Saturday – [absolutely nothing]; Sunday – [absolutely nothing]

land of silence and darknessI had a fortnight of quality films smack bang in the middle of July, with one or two exceptions (ahem, Ted 2). If in the previous month I felt my love for film slipping away ever so slightly after some of the dirge I’d sat through, the first couple of weeks in July had me reacquainted with exactly why I do what I do. I finally got around to watching the last few Werner Herzog movies on my Sky Planner, something I’d been promising to do since watching The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser back in January. I’ve raved about Stroszek on the podcast already and the intentional dreamlike nature Heart of Glass just confused, disoriented and scared me. Continuing with the documentary theme of above, I also watched Encounters at the End of the World, which was fine although far from Herzog’s best. However, it was in Land of Silence and Darkness, the touching portrayal of a snapshot in the life of the death-blind German woman, Fini Straubinger, that I found the most inspiring of the bunch. She was truly a remarkable woman who used her drive, determination and talents to enhance the lives of so many other people. Whether helping a young boy who was blind and deaf since birth to feel music, or taking her friends on trips, or arranging meetings for similarly afflicted people, it’s enough to make me feel emotional just remembering specific scenes. In the most poetic (and probably pretentious) way possible, watching the trust that a different young chap puts in somebody else to do something as simple as enter a swimming pool; it produces a swell of emotion. It’s uplifting, heartbreaking and immensely powerful all at the same time. Fini’s story is inspirational and Herzog captures a kind of abstract beauty in the way that in the face of this cripplingly lonely disability, her strength of character saw her achieve far more than most able-bodied folk ever could. Let’s just say that it certainly put a lot of trivial personal dilemmas into perspective somewhat.

Week 4 – Monday 20 – Sunday 26 July 2015

Monday – [absolutely nothing]; Tuesday – [absolutely nothing]; Wednesday – Hyena (2015), Last Man Out of Vietnam (2015); Thursday – Sharknado 3 (2015); Friday – Coherence (2014), CREEP (2015)Saturday – Silent Running (1972), Inside Out (2015); Sunday – Three Outlaw Samurai (1964)

mark duplassFour days in a row without watching a film; that must surely have been a first for me this year! Notwithstanding Thursday’s SyFy channel debut of Sharknado 3, those days that I did see a film, I think I chose well. Some half-decent new releases, a couple of great recommendations picked up from our Best of 2015 Thus Far list, plus two legitimate classics; it was what I can only describe as a solid week. Perhaps the most pleasant surprise of the lot was Creep, the mockumentary horror-thriller starring, written and directed by Patrick Brice. I didn’t have particularly high expectations of Creep. If anything, I anticipated a slightly run-of-the-mill, cheap looking, pretty average thriller but instead found it a well paced and suspenseful indie horror. The binding ingredient that excels it to a higher rung on the ladder than most is its star, Mark Duplass. He is absolutely fantastic as the unsettlingly odd, terminally ill man who hires a freelance videographer (Brice) to record his remaining days to give to his as yet unborn baby. Admittedly I haven’t seen Duplass in too many films; maybe just Safety Not Guaranteed, Parkland, Zero Dark Thirty and one episode of The League. Yet I would easily call it by far the best performance of his that I’ve seen. He is properly creepy and unnerving and it may even be one of the best performances of the year. The film itself slightly veers off course in the last 5-10 minutes and ends up somewhat trite but otherwise I’d give it a solid 8/10.

Week 5 – Monday 27 – Friday 31 July 2015

Monday – [absolutely nothing]; Tuesday – Irreversible (2002); Wednesday – Wild Tales (2015); Thursday – [absolutely nothing]; Friday – LOST SOUL: THE DOOMED JOURNEY OF RICHARD STANLEY’S ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU (2015)

lost soulFinally for this month, another documentary to end on. One that tracks the tumultuous production of Richard Stanley’s fated adaptation of HG Wells’ Island of Dr. Moreau. Particularly with Josh Trank getting a lot of flack from critics at the moment about his recent Fantastic Failure, for anyone interested in learning just how badly things can go wrong on set with a director out of his depth and an interfering studio, I’d highly recommend giving Lost Soul a watch. Of course we’ll never get to see the fully realised original vision Stanley had for Dr Moreau, which is a huge shame, but at least it makes for an interesting story with anecdotes of the crazy Val Kilmer and Marlon Brando’s antics! As for the quality of the documentary; it is a fascinating story to tell, but it was slightly garbled in its structure. For example, without having seen 1996’s Island of Dr. Moreau, I didn’t even know David Thewlis was in the bloody film until I caught a glimpse of him in the background of a still with Brando and Kilmer. Never mind the fact that he stepped in to replace Rob Morrow, whose departure isn’t covered in any significant detail. Similarly, Ron Pearlman is entirely absent too. With both Thewlis and Pearlman declining to appear, it does leave a rather noticeable hole in the documentary. Nevertheless, it is largely an entertaining documentary. And just like Marco Hofschneider – and presumably every other man on set – we’re all basically jealous that we aren’t Val Kilmer. What a guy.

And that’s it. Apologies again for posting this midway through the month and not closer to July! But if you see any opinions above that you agree/disagree with, or would like to chat about any of the other films mentioned, leave a message in the comments box below. Otherwise, I’ll be back next month!

Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films

Warning: watching this documentary about the history of Cannon films will almost certainly lead to you spending hours watching terrible 80’s action movies.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

electric boogalooYou may have heard Paul Field recommend a documentary during last week’s podcast called Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films. It tells a rather comprehensive tale exploring the rise and demise of Israeli cousins Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus; two infamous and incredibly ambitious film makers who came to Hollywood, conquered Hollywood and … promptly left Hollywood. It was on Paul’s recommendation that I recently gave it a whirl and now I’m urging you to do the same!

Between them, Golan & Globus were responsible for over 200 films – probably even less than half of which you might have heard of before! Whilst watching the documentary, I was ticking off my bingo card listing the films of theirs I’d seen. Chances are, if you’ve ever seen a Chuck Norris or Charles Bronson film from the 1980’s, it will have been produced by one or both of the cousins.

Got dusty old copies of Missing In Action, Delta Force or Invasion USA in your attic? Check. Ever seen a Death Wish sequel on ITV4’s late night rotation? Yep, that was them. What about virtually any film from the 80’s with ‘ninja’ in the title, including most of those featuring the legendary Shô Kosugi? Tick, tick, tick. How about Masters of the Universe, Superman IV: The Quest For PeaceThe Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, CyborgInvaders from Mars, Bloodsport, the 1990 version of Captain America?? The list goes on and on. If it cost a lot to produce, earned very little back in the box office, and was made in the 80’s, you’ll probably find Manahem and/or Yoram’s name listed in the credits eventually.

Complete with interviews from the likes of Sybil Danning, Tobe Hooper, Diane Franklin, Alex Winter, Michael Dudikoff, Franco Nero, Albert Pyun, Dolph Lundgren, David Engelbach, Boaz Davidson and plenty of others, the talking heads in this feature do not hold back in telling everyone what exactly they thought about their time at Cannon. Most of the them affectionately looking back at the things they can’t believe they got away with – or didn’t get away with, as the case may be. Anecdotes about funds being raised for films as the ideas are made up literally on the spot by Manahem at Cannes, or writers having their scripts completely re-written during production, films being churned out in a matter of weeks from conception to print. It really does sound as wild as the title would have you believe.

There’s an attempt by writer and director Mark Hartley to explain exactly where things might have gone wrong for Cannon. Although no individual excuse is painted as the sole reason for the collapse of the prolific studio, certain aspects are consistently alluded to. Prominently featured among these theories is the fact that being from Israel, Manahem and Yoram were always outsiders in Hollywood. They were the foreigners who didn’t understand the American idioms or fit into the culture of having to schmooze your way to the top at fancy parties or tennis clubs if you really wanted to get anywhere in the business. What makes them both endearing characters is the fact it genuinely comes across as though all they really wanted to do, no matter what stage of their career they were at, was simply make films. It’s a sincere affection for cinema that makes them both such interesting characters. The kind of people you don’t expect to really exist in the cut throat economic world of the high level motion picture production line.

However, somewhat conversely, another theory proffered is that they sacrificed quality for quantity in their efforts to stay afloat. Movies were being made day by day on the money made from potential future pictures. There’s a quote in Electric Boogaloo where Yoram, the more down to earth of the two, revealed his concerns during their peak that they owe the bank $5m. Manahem’s response? To express his dismay that they didn’t owe $10m! Their solution to most problems seemed to be throwing more money at it; sometimes money that they just didn’t have. Frugality didn’t appear to be in their nature.

Take, for example, their plan to ride out their wane in the mid-late eighties. In 1985, Stallone starred in Rambo: First Blood Part II, and then Rocky IV, before appearing in Cobra the following year. Already an Oscar nominated writer and director for Rocky a decade before, now the go-to action star, he was a legitimately huge box office draw. Despite repeated attempts by Cannon to get him into their pictures, including his agent rebuffing $12m, in 1987, Sly finally relented and earned a whopping $14m for his part in the arm-wrestling-come-road-trip movie Over The Top. Fourteen. Million. Dollars! It was an unprecedented amount that he couldn’t refuse and was basically Cannon’s last ditch attempt to go all in as they tried to rescue themselves. Hoping some of Stallone’s success would rub off on them, it nearly worked as the film made quite a bit of money, although just $2m more than they paid Stallone and never actually broke even unfortunately.

But as Hartley explores, this epitomised their approach to film making at that time. No longer were they making daring raunchy films, inserting crude nudity simply to ensure a return on their investment (sex does indeed sell, after all) but trying to refine their product for specific audiences. Which is also another reason offered up as to where things started to go wrong. To put it bluntly, they weren’t good film makers. Passionate, sure. Keenly driven, undoubtedly. Relatively talented, enough to put out a feature film in their home country that people flocked to see, absolutely. But the turning point in their lives, buying Cannon Group and starting a partnership with the distributor MGM, may have been the beginning of their own downfall. As they attempted to up their game, producing more and more pictures with higher budgets and of supposedly a higher standard, their lack of awareness and quality was highlighted ten-fold. Seeing and listening to the former head of MGM at the time, Frank Yablans, during this segment of the documentary, it seems that bitterness towards Cannon over the “garbage” that he had to try and distribute had not dissipated over time.

In fact, Yablans is one of only a handful of people in Electric Boogaloo who seems unable to look back at this period and laugh about it. Laurene Landon is another who seems to despise the company still for the way they treated the crew on America 3000. Others seem to aim their gun at different people involved in production, such as Robin Sherwood’s stories about her time working with the man widely acknowledged as a genuinely humongous dickhead, Michael Winner, on the set of Death Wish II. It seems that if there’s a criticism of Menahem and Yoram’s approach, it was the little-to-no protection they afforded their cast and stars. There were no guarantees that promises would be fulfilled (I sincerely hope that Dudikoff’s Spider-Man is eventually released in some format or another), never mind ensuring stuff they didn’t have time for, like Actors Union standards, would actually be met on set.

It would have been the icing on the extraordinarily bizarre and hugely entertaining cake if Golan & Globus appeared on screen together to defend their actions. Alas, with Menahem Golan passing away last year, there is no longer the opportunity for him to do so. At least, not directly. Alternatively, you could always check out last year’s The Go-Go Boys: The Inside Story of Cannon Films, a documentary that they produced themselves as an attempt to tell the story in their own words. A film hilariously released in competition with Electric Boogaloo, mimicking production on their old films that they released in competition with other studios, such as their most financially successful film Breakin’ and its rivalry with Beat Street. 

If nothing else though, watching the riveting story of Cannon in Electric Boogaloo will give you a wave of nostalgia as you find out the true history of some terrible films from your youth. Or if you’re anything like me, it will leave you trawling through Netflix looking for which region you can watch classics like American Ninja on. (That’s UK Netflix, for what it’s worth.)

Electric Boogaloo was released right here in the UK earlier this month and is available to rent from most VOD services.