Tag Archives: blu-ray

The True Story of the Royal Rumble – Blu-ray

The True Story of the Royal Rumble - blu-rayIn January 1988 WWE (then WWF) started their year with a TV special show featuring a new type of match. Based on the traditional ‘all in’ Battle Royal that has been a part of professional wrestling for decades, the Royal Rumble took the basic format of many men in the ring at once trying to throw each other out and, with a few tweaks, made it into something that is still one of the most anticipated and well-known pro-wrestling formats as we head to its 30th occurrence next month.

To mark what they are calling the ’30th anniversary’ WWE have released a ‘documentary’ looking at the ‘true story’ of the match and the surrounding event and, much like most other recent WWE productions it is a mixed bag, too focussed on short attention spans to present anything genuinely revealing.

In a conceit they’ve used a few times recently, most memorably in Daniel Bryan’s autobiography and accompanying video set, the historical story is interspersed with behind the scenes moments focussing on the most recent event (in this case 2016). While this behind the scenes stuff is vaguely interesting most of it is either things you’ll have seen before if you’ve seen anything about how WWE stages one or their shows or is clips of the actual show you’ve already seen, just with a bit more clever editing involved.

Hacksaw Jim Duggan wins the first Royal Rumble

Hacksaw Jim Duggan wins the first Royal Rumble

The most interesting elements of this are around the ‘surprise’ entries and how the surprise is maintained, though a few brief clips with AJ Styles do little more than suggest that somewhere in the WWE archive is a very interesting interview with one of the greatest wrestlers on the planet that we’re not being shown.

The historical segments are the most interesting part of this with the match’s creator, WWE legend and ‘Vince McMahon’s right hand man, Pat Paterson and NBC executive Dick Ebersol giving some insight into its creation (Ebersol stands out massively as a non-WWE figure on one of these documentaries though the archive shots of him promoting the XFL suggest he’s someone trusted by the McMahon machine) and the first event with that matches winner, Hacksaw Jim Duggan, actually speaking quite well on what it meant at the time and how the match came together in the ring.

From there it’s hard to escape it feeling like an hour-long trail for the next event with many current performers talking about how big and important the match has been over the years in clearly scripted ‘interviews’, with obvious accompanying clips.

Roman Reigns and The Rock at the 2015 Royal Rumble

Roman Reigns and The Rock at the 2015 Royal Rumble

The aforementioned Duggan interview, along with interviews with Shawn Michaels, Kevin Nash and a few others do give a bit more context to the past events but, for various reasons (some obvious, some not), many of the key players are missing making it hard to get past a superficial or one-sided feeling to all this.

Unfortunately it makes the main ‘documentary’ feel like something of a wasted opportunity as there is certainly an interesting story to tell about this most famous of matches, but it feels as if the surface is barely scratched here with a chronologically muddled film that doesn’t seem to want to do anything but stress the importance of the event without any real back up to this while fitting into the current WWE network format that will do nothing but date it badly in the coming years. And with all of this phrase ‘make Roman look strong’ is never far away…

Chris Jericho and AJ Styles in the 2016 Royal Rumble

Chris Jericho and AJ Styles in the 2016 Royal Rumble

The Blu-ray set also includes a few ‘exclusives’ that are interesting asides in a few cases, particularly Duggan discussing his confrontations with The Undertaker at an early Rumble and then much later, Ric Flair talking about his return to wrestling in the WWE in the early 2000s and Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch discussing the idea of a women’s only Royal Rumble in the future.

Also included are a series of matches from Royal Rumble events over the years including four full Rumble matches. While all are interesting and a few are referenced in the documentary, there is a lack of any sense of coherent curation or explanation of ‘why these matches’ leaving it all feeling a bit disjointed, something that really sums up the whole package.

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NXT Greatest Matches: Volume 1

NXT Greatest Matches blu-rayOver the last four years NXT, WWE’s ‘super-indie’ (to quote Jim Smallman of Progress Wrestling and the Tuesday Night Jaw podcast), has gone from being a training ground for stars of the future to one of the most respected and interesting wrestling brands or promotions in its own right.

Taking a lot of the conventions of the independent wrestling scene and marrying it to WWE’s big budget look and highly formatted approach has created something different to both, that now not only allows new WWE performers to learn their craft but is providing a new route for already established indie stars to transition to the somewhat different ‘WWE style’ of wrestling and (whisper it) sports entertainment.

With all that in mind WWE have put out a DVD/Blu-ray collection of highlight matches charting NXT’s development from the crowning of their first champion in August 2012 to their Takeover: Respect event in October 2015. Most sets like this WWE release would be described as a mixed bag, but here is a solid collection of more than 8 hours at least good and predominantly pretty great matches, as has become NXT’s stock in trade.

Dusty Rhodes, Seth Rollins and Triple H

Dusty Rhodes, Seth Rollins and Triple H

The first disc charts the brands evolution from internet based show watched by a handful through the arrival of the WWE Network and up beginnings of NXT’s evolution into its own entity.

So we see a few matches from Seth Rollins that show just why he was to become the star he now he is. His championship match with Big E Langston may be the better of the two here but the tournament final for the first championship with Jinder Mahal is, of course, the more historically significant.

With this we also see Bray Wyatt, before he made it to the ‘main roster’, in a match with Chris Jericho that is again interesting. Notable in these early matches is the commentary team led by ‘JR’ Jim Ross and often featuring William Regal, that is exceptional and really serves to elevate and highlight all the performers strong points – if only the commentary on Monday Night Raw and the monthly WWE specials would do the same!

One of the most talked about early NXT matches, that set the reputation not only for the brand but for one its stars who came in from the indies is included, as Sami Zayn (who some say previously performed under a mask as El Generico) goes to war with Antonio Cesaro in a 2-out-of-3 falls match that is fantastic.

Sami Zayn and Antonio Cesaro

Zayn with the Koji Clutch on Cesaro

Zayn is the performer who’s path most tracks alongside NXT’s so we see him develop with his journey to the NXT championship in a classic against Adrian Neville and the renewal of his storied feud with Kevin Owens in a brutal show stealer. As I write this Zayn’s time in NXT has recently culminated with a match destined for Volume 2 of this collection (should it happen) as he tore the house down in Dallas against a debuting Shinsuke Nakamura.

Alongside the story of Sami Zayn we get potentially the even more influential story of NXT, its Women’s Division. While WWE was still mostly focusing on models ‘wrestling’ under the banner Divas, NXT was breaking this mold with some of the best female wrestlers in the world, including one as their lead trainer, leading to the revolution of the form that has come to the main shows at with the return of the WWE Women’s Championship at Wrestlemania 32.

Here we get the beginnings of this with Paige and Emma clashing for the NXT Women’s Championship followed by the emergence of the ‘Four Horsewomen of NXT’ Charlotte Flair, Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch and Bayley (the last of which is essentially a female Sami Zayn within NXT).

The Four Horsewomen at Takeover: Brooklyn

The Four Horsewomen at Takeover: Brooklyn

Disc one features classics pitting Charlotte against Natalya Neidhart and the Horsewomen squaring off in a Fatal-4-Way match for the championship, before on the second disc we see the Sasha Banks and Bayley feud highlighted with their show stealing performance from Takeover: Brooklyn that even eclipsed that night’s main event between indie heroes Finn Balor and Kevin Owens.

Disc 2 of the Blu-ray set sees NXT grow into an internationally touring brand as we see the Florida based show move out to the Arnold Classic sports expo, Wrestlemania 31 in San Jose, Beast in the East in Tokyo and Takeover: Brooklyn.

With this the third generation of stars come to the fore with Owens and Balor squaring off in a Japanese classic, Hideo Itami showing his credentials in San Jose and the aforementioned face off between Sasha Banks and Bayley in Brooklyn.

Finn Balor at Beast In The East

Finn Balor at Beast In The East

As well as the string of great matches we get an insight into the show from not only the wrestlers but the man leading the show, former WWE World Heavyweight Champion and heir apparent to the WWE as a whole, Triple H, aka Paul Levesque.

These are an interesting set of largely out of character talking heads that shed a light on the organic approach taken to NXT’s development and the apparent surprise and genuine appreciation for its growing popularity.

Notable here as well is the respect shown to the late Dusty Rhodes who seemed to steer the NXT ship in its early days and lay a lot of the groundwork for what it is now. As a parting gift from The American Dream, they don’t come much better or more suitable given his long-held hard-working, common man character.

Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn

Owens and Zayn continue their epic feud

The Blu-ray comes with five bonus matches which, while more curios than essentials, are all at least very good and its nice to see CM Punk and Kassius Ohno (aka Chris Hero) featured given their less than great relationships with WWE today and the chance to see Corey Graves in the ring before his concussion issues is also appreciated.

While many of the matches contained here are available on the WWE Network, what this collection does, and does well, is present a potted history of NXT and its best moments in one easy to find place. Along with that are the early matches not currently available elsewhere which make this a real must own for fans of the brand, and especially fans of British wrestler William Regal as his last televised match (a stormer with Antonio Cesaro) is also included.

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Owen Hart: Hart of Gold

Owen Hart: Hart of GoldI’ve been a fan of professional wrestling since I first saw it around early 1992, in the build up to WWF’s SummerSlam show at Wembley Arena. As with all these things trends and styles come and go and, as the so-called Attitude Era dawned in late 1996 I stopped watching.

In early 1999 I caught up with the WWF and one of the faces who was still there (and there weren’t many) was Owen Hart. His feud with his brother Bret (The Hitman) had been one of the high points of my years of loving wrestling as a kid so having him as a touchstone into the new era was great.

Then in May 1999 I saw in a national UK newspaper that he had died the night before. The first thing that struck me about this was that a UK newspaper was carrying the story (UK newspapers even today are highly unlikely to mention pro-wrestling) then it started to sink in what had happened, surrounded by the rumours flying around the internet and between the few wrestling fans at school.

Luckily I was able to catch that week’s Raw, then broadcast on a few days delay on Sky, and it was and remains one of the most moving episodes of it I’ve ever seen where all the wrestlers broke character to pay tribute to the man I knew as ‘The Rocket’.

Owen Hart as European Champion

Owen Hart as European Champion

After that a lot of controversy has surrounded the relationship of the Hart family and the WWF (now WWE) so its taken 16 years for any further chance to relive and celebrate Owen’s life and work to happen in any kind of official way, and that is a new DVD/Blu-ray set, Owen Hart: Hart Of Gold – though it seems these legal wranglings are far from over.

Along with a fine selection of matches, including some rarely seen examples from the Hart owned and run Calgary Stampede Wrestling and tracing his entire career up to his match with Edge in September 1998, the centre piece of the set is a new documentary.

As with most new WWE documentaries I can’t help but find it a bit short. At just over an hour it’s clearly designed to fit in with WWE Network programming, but, none-the-less a lot is packed in.

The basic structure is to chart Owen’s life and career so it starts with his being born as, famously, the youngest of the 12 Hart siblings. This is all particularly interesting as there are new interviews with a number of his brothers and sisters which, if I’m honest, I wasn’t really expecting, as well as archive clips of the late British Bulldog, Davey-Boy Smith, Owen’s brother-in-law.

If you’ve read Bret Hart’s autobiography there won’t be too much here that’s a surprise or particularly new, but hearing it from the horse’s mouth so to speak, adds more detail and nuance and makes it clear that Owen had a great mind for pro-wrestling from a very young age.

Owen Hart with Bad News Allen in Stampede Wrestling

Owen Hart with Bad News Allen in Stampede Wrestling

The early sections of the documentary are also made extra interesting thanks to the inclusion of footage from the Stampede Wrestling TV shows where Owen was the top star in the late 1980s before his move to WWF. As we track his first run in WWF the documentary is surprisingly candid with Bret Hart commenting about the fact WWF didn’t seem to know what they had, something echoed by Jim Ross about Owen’s short run in WCW (which I had no prior knowledge of) and Daniel Bryan speaking as a fan of Owen.

A fair chunk is taken up going into detail of the brother vs brother feud I mentioned earlier and we get some clips of some of the best wrestling matches I’ve ever seen, including Owen vs Bret at Wrestlemania X which opened and, arguably, stole the show.

Interspersed between all the main sections of the documentary are a series of ‘Owen tales’ where wrestlers from across Owen’s career recount stories of some of the backstage antics for which he was well-known. These add a real extra depth both in showing the much remarked upon fun-loving real life side of Owen, as well as offering a window into the world of pro-wrestling that had its roots in carnivals, fairs and side shows that I can’t help but feel has been a bit lost in recent years.

Owen Hart with the Sharpshooter on Bret Hart

Owen Hart with the Sharpshooter on Bret Hart

The story continues through Owen’s time as a tag partner of both Yokozuna and the British Bulldog (sadly of course there is no comment from either really) and his time as the highly entertaining ‘Slammy Award Winning…’ character.

The reinvigorated Hart Foundation gets a nice examination, but then we reach the still controversial events of Survivor Series 1997 and, arguably, well-known WWE politics rears its (ugly) head. A lot of Owen’s career after that is glossed over, including feuds with Shawn Michaels and his partnership with current WWE persona-non-grata Jeff Jarrett. Also skipped is the incident where Owen accidentally broke Steve Austin’s neck at SummerSlam.

While I didn’t feel there was a big gap here as the running time of the documentary is short, it is a shame these things weren’t covered for completeness and its sad that politics and legal issues clearly still have a troubling place in this story (particularly as it is obvious that these have created a rift in the Hart family themselves and Owen’s widow and children are conspicuous in their absence here).

And then things come to May 1999.

British Bulldog and Owen Hart

British Bulldog and Owen Hart

Obviously no detail is given, and I wouldn’t want there to be, but this is a genuinely effecting section hearing from Owen’s colleagues and some of the wrestlers he inspired about their feelings at the time and thoughts now.

In the final moments of the documentary it is particularly interesting to hear from Chris Jericho and then Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens as wrestlers who, in their own ways, have really taken influence from Owen Hart and have paid tribute to him – in the case of Kevin Owens both through his WWE/NXT ring name and in naming his son Owen.

Along with the documentary and the selection of great matches, there are a number of bonus stories which are, in many ways, more of the same but are all very entertaining and offer that glimpse into the behind the scenes of the world of pro-wrestling that is always so fascinating – especially when it comes with no agenda as seems to be the case here. These also show a genuine sense of feeling and emotion from the wrestlers who knew Owen who come across as genuinely happy when recounting the stories and, contrastingly, still devastated about Owen’s death.

Owen Hart as Intercontinental Champion

Owen Hart as Intercontinental Champion

It may have taken 16 years but its great to finally have something to celebrate the great and innovative work Owen Hart did in pro-wrestling. Within that I think it even has a lesson for pro-wrestling (particularly the WWE) today that when wrestlers are allowed to have ‘gimmicks’ that are extensions of themselves is when they are most compelling and Owen is a perfect case study for this.

Following this release I hope Owen Hart can be recognized with a spot in WWE Hall of Fame next April as, like Warrior and Randy Savage in recent years, he has been something of a lost soul to WWE who deserves the recognition and respect that is long overdue. Though it seems ongoing legal issues may mean this won’t be happening.

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Daniel Bryan: Just Say Yes! Yes! Yes!

Daniel Bryan - Just Say Yes Yes YesEver since I first caught a few glimpses of ‘American Dragon’ Bryan Danielson in his ‘indie’ days in Ring Of Honor I was intrigued by this mild-mannered seeming grappler from Aberdeen, Washington who came across as this generation’s ‘Man of a thousand holds’ but with the speed and athleticism of an HBK thrown into the mix as well.

So, when he appeared on the scene in WWE (after a bit of a misfire in the original version of NXT) I was excited to see if those glimpses could pay off in the longer term and in the so-called ‘land of the giants’ of pro-wrestling.

Well, the new Blu-ray/DVD collection from WWE demonstrates that, across his tenure with the company, the renamed Daniel Bryan certainly lived up to the hype. He took whatever was given to him and did it to the best of his ability so, whether it was the laughable angle with Kane in Team Hell No or the more serious feuds with John Cena and The Authority, Bryan was consistently worth watching in the ring.

Daniel Bryan and Triple H at WrestleMania 30

Daniel Bryan and Triple H at WrestleMania 30

This set then seeks to put that across over 8 hours of interviews and action. Initially I was skeptical as what appeared to be the ‘main feature’ documentary was barely an hour-long and glossed over a lot of Bryan’s history, though references to his days in Japan, England and Ring of Honor were nice to hear.

Largely though it focused on his path to WrestleMania 30 where he walked away with the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, marking a high point for his 15 years in ‘the industry’. A lot of this was interesting and featured input from many superstars, most notably John Cena (who came across as a very nice guy and genuine Bryan fan) and Bryan’s wife, then fiancé, Brie Bella along with long time friends and rivals William Regal and Seth Rollins and Bryan himself.

Daniel Bryan and William Regal

Daniel Bryan and William Regal

Though brief, this section did offer some interesting insight into the life of a ‘main eventer’ as it followed Daniel and Brie to the various media appearance in the build up to WrestleMania.

This made me wonder how WWE expects its performers to deliver like they do in the ring and shows why so many wrestlers get burned out by the schedule (I may not be a fan of him in the ring but John Cena must be a superman to have been doing this for a decade).

The other aspect that made this a fun watch is something that spans the set, that being how it straddles ‘real life’ and so-called ‘Kayfabe’ (wrestling lore) to keep up aspects of Bryan’s character while still showing us something more of the real man than we see in the ring. That said this approach can work for Bryan who’s character has developed (like many of the best of them) as an extension of his real self – this approach would be unlikely to work for The Undertaker for example.

CM Punk and Daniel Bryan in Ring of Honor

CM Punk and Bryan Danielson in Ring of Honor

Ending with Bryan’s win at WrestleMania 30 and a title card explaining his subsequent injury the feature documentary portion of this collection is ok but nothing spectacular.

It is in the rest of the set that things really come into their own.

Across 14 matches spanning Bryan’s career from his first, un-televised, tryout match in February 2000 to his clash with Roman Reigns in the build up to WrestleMania 31 in 2015, we see the development of a superstar and pro-wrestler – and Bryan makes no bones about the fact that what he loves is pro-wrestling and I don’t think once utters the words ‘sports entertainment’.

Between the matches we get further insight from Bryan as to where they fit into both his real life and ‘sports entertainment’ life and every one demonstrates his ability in the ring excellently, even when in the ring with far less experienced and, dare I say it, less talented performers.

Chris Jericho and Daniel Bryan in NXT

Chris Jericho and Daniel Bryan in NXT

Highlights of this include the early tryout and ‘jobber’ matches for curiosity’s sake, a match with CM Punk that shows two former ROH legends performing on the world stage and of course Bryan’s triumph at WrestleMania 30.

However a couple of matches are real standouts. First is a ‘gauntlet’ match from Raw in 2013 that goes beyond the 30 minute mark and sees Bryan go up against Jack Swagger, Antonio Cesaro and Ryback. While the sections with Swagger and Ryback are some of the best of those two men, it is the middle portion with Cesaro that really stands out as the two wrestle like the WWE Universe rarely sees, especially on the weekly TV shows, and tell a hugely dramatic story packed with great moments.

Daniel Bryan and Antonio Cesaro

Daniel Bryan and Antonio Cesaro

Secondly is Bryan’s match against John Cena from SummerSlam 2013 that I didn’t remember as being a classic, but, with the benefit of hindsight, I think really could be described as such. Across a long match (for WWE) the two deliver everything that is the essence of pro-wrestling; drama, varied maneuvers, and a genuine sense of breaking down the boundaries of sports and entertainment.

Throughout it is hard to tell where the match might go and the crowd are invested throughout whichever side of the ‘Lets go Cena… Cena sucks’ divide they might fall, or whether they are out-and-out American Dragon fans. The conclusion makes for a genuinely triumphant moment that is astonishing to relive, despite what comes after.

Daniel Bryan and John Cena

Daniel Bryan and John Cena

Across the collection the ever-present WWE propaganda machine is, as always, in effect, but it seems less obtrusive here than in other sets, but, knowing where Daniel Bryan is now there is a bittersweet tone to the whole thing.

The collection ends with Bryan returning from a nine month absence due to a neck injury and sets up the beginning of another great run (something that seemed to be happening at WrestleMania 31 where he won the WWE Intercontinental Championship), but of course, we now know that injury has caused further complications, once again putting Bryan’s career and health in jeopardy.

Whether we see Bryan back in a WWE ring or not, and while his career hasn’t been as legendary as some, what Just Say Yes! Yes! Yes! shows is a man with a real passion and love for what he dedicated his life to and a man with an uncanny talent in the ring, showing that, even in the land of the giants, skill and in-ring, pro-wrestling, ability still has a place and can shine through.

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The Shadow – Need To Consume

For my first review of pop-culture website Need To Consume I took a look at the new Blu-ray edition of the 1994, pulp fiction, superhero movie The Shadow.

Being a film I remembered both from its huge publicity campaign (at least that’s how I remember it (it was the centre piece display at a big video games and movie event I attended at Earls Court London at around the same time) and from it being hugely enjoyable in a somewhat knowing way it was a cornerstone of my youthful movie watching along with the likes of Batman Forever.

To read my full review click on the image below:

The Shadow - Need To Consume grab

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Super Mario Bros

super mario bros posterSuper Mario Bros the movie is a strange thing; On the one hand its an utter mess that bears little relation to its source material and really doesn’t make much sense. On the other it’s a basically enjoyable romp packed with nostalgia for me as a player of the Mario Bros games and someone who grew up in the late 80s and 1990s – and it’s the first movie I remember seeing in Guernsey’s (then quite exciting) new cinema… don’t worry it’s not the first film I saw in the cinema.

The movie follows the titular, plumbing, brothers as they head into a parallel New York where dinosaurs haven’t died out and have evolved into surprisingly human looking creatures ruled over by Dennis Hopper’s President (not King) Koopa – although he is called King in the credits.

Koopa is planning on taking over the world by merging the two New Yorks with the unwilling help of Princess Daisy and her meteorite necklace, and well his plot ends there really.

Super Mario Bros - Koopa Square set

The Koopa Square set

Certainly the best thing about the movie is the production design, and, while it bears very little relation to the video game its supposedly based on it does look good – in a sub-Blade Runner, mid-90s sci-fi kind of way. This gives the whole thing a kind of dark, decaying tone that references Ridley Scott’s aforementioned sci-fi classic as well as the likes of Tim Burton’s Batman (production designer David L. Snyder had worked on Blade Runner and on PeeWee’s Big Adventure, with Tim Burton).

Where this production design falls down is that it is totally at odds with the family friendly adventure romp tone of much of the plot as the Mario Brothers race about the repetitive sets to a quirky soundtrack of cartoon-esque original music and ironically selected songs while a selection of sometimes fitting, but mostly out-of-place, vaguely reptilian creature effects.

Dennis Hopper as King Koopa

Dennis Hopper

The performances in the film are equally varied from Dennis Hopper seemingly have a great time hamming it up as Koopa (at least while the camera was rolling), albeit again with little relevance to the source character to Bob Hoskins apparently not even having a clue that the movie was based on a video game and very much going through the motions (but being Hoskins and incredibly talented, pulling it off anyway).

John Leguizamo comes across as the most invested lead, bringing a sense of fun where he can and, as much as possible, builds a reasonable relationship with Samantha Mathis’ Princess Daisy and being generally charismatic and quite funny.

Super Mario Bros - Yoshi

Yoshi

Another high point is Yoshi, a fully animatronic dinosaur who actually has more personality, and elicits more sympathy at one point, than a lot of the rest of the movie.

Coming away from Super Mario Bros I can only think that, if it had no relation to the video game, it could have been a slightly brainless but enjoyably family adventure romp – albeit with an odd mish-mash of design styles. What it ends up as being though is simply a mess that has something of the feel of if Troma had a budget and made something that was actually family friendly, though I would be lying if I said I didn’t have a good time on that first cinema visit and, I have certainly enjoyed films less than I did watching this tonight.

super mario bros movie - Bob Hoskins, Samantha Mathis and John Leguizamo

Bob Hoskins, Samantha Mathis and John Leguizamo

The version I watched tonight was the new Blu-ray edition and included is a 55 minute, newly made, documentary that sheds a lot of light onto the production troubles with interviews with most of the major players both on and of screen (for obvious reasons less of Hopper and Hopkins) and is a fascinating insight into how a film can go wrong, really from the beginning of production right up until now.

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The Toxic Avenger Part II

The Toxic Avenger Part II Blu RayThe second in Troma’s flagship franchise, and the follow-up to the film that made their name, ups the stakes in pretty much every regard as the worlds first toxic superhero returns for The Toxic Avenger Part II.

The story, which is as convoluted as you might expect, concerns Toxie once again saving Tromaville from a big evil corporation, in this case Apocalypse Inc who hint at being genuinely diabolical, while also seeking out his father who abandoned him at birth following a suggestion from his “Freudian psychiatrist” and heading to Japan to do so.

Its clear from the start that The Toxic Avenger Part II has a much bigger budget than the first film as the initial opening action sequence actually feels at least partially choreographed and seems to use actual stunt performers, while the explosive destruction of the Tromaville home for the blind is actually quite impressive.

Claire and Toxie

Toxie and his blind girlfriend Claire

This continues throughout the movie from more elaborate car chases to the more convincing gore to the whole middle sequence being shot on location in Tokyo.

Here things shift between the Troma staples of action and comedy to some oddly travelogue like moments with a rock band and dancers in a park where Toxie seems to be doing his best Michael Palin – although this being Troma they still manage to make it all look exceptionally scuzzy and pile on the stereotypes with a bath house and sumo scene and Yakuza-ish bad guys.

All this sets things at odds a bit as, despite the bigger production values (and believe me this is still low-budget, just not as low as the first), it still feels like a student film where every idea that might even slightly work is thrown at the screen to see what sticks. In the first this worked as the running time was somewhat shorter and the restricted budget worked in its favour as to what was possible, here though it does drag in sections and the genuine laughs are fewer.

toxic-avenger-part-ii-05In the end Toxie 2 continues in the footsteps of its predecessor but in an even less controlled way that leaves it not quite as enjoyable as some of the innocence of the extremely lo-fi and scuzzy original is lost, but that said, it left things on a generally good point and contained enough fun stuff to just about balance out the rest if the divisive style of Troma is your thing.

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The Toxic Avenger

The Toxic Avenger blu-ray

(Before I start, as a bit of warning, the last pic in the review is a bit graphic.)

While the likes of Class of Nuke ‘Em High, Surf Nazis Must Die and Sgt. Kabukiman NYPD are lesser known, but still relatively mainstream, entries in the Troma canon, their one film that really did crossover into wider public consciousness (it even spawned a Saturday morning kids’ cartoon series… seriously) is The Toxic Avenger.

Now available in a surprisingly good blu-ray HD transfer from 88 Films I have re-visted this king of schlock movies and, as is expected, on pretty much every level it is awful, but…

For the first part of the film every character is detestable, from Melvin, our de-facto hero and the much put upon janitor at Tromaville’s gym to the initial antagonists who are only more deplorable than our ‘hero’ and everyone else because they get their kicks from running down kids in their suped up car and getting off (literally) to the photos they take of the graphic aftermath.

While there is humour in these scenes, in a typically broad Troma kind of way, they do take some effort to get through and really only the hope that all these guys get their come-uppance carried me through.

Toxie

Toxie

Once our titular hero, aka Toxie, arrives, following a surprisingly good transformation scene, things change. Certainly political correctness remains a foreign concept, but at least pretty much everyone is given a good going over (if that makes it any better?), but finally we have someone to root for in Toxie and his newly found blind girlfriend, whom he saves from what is looking like its going to be a particular brutal fate.

From this point on this becomes a comic book movie in concept and convention, just one where the hero commits genuinely horrific acts to the bad guys while a Viz like streak of humour continues to run through the whole thing.

As is to be expected from Troma, these acts really are where the focus lies so we get death by gym equipment, maiming by sauna, a particular ‘nice’ Three Stooges eye-poke moment and many more.

Toxie and Sara

Toxie and Sara

As the film goes one thing that struck me on this watch is quite how knowing the ‘no-budget’ vibe seems to be as we get basic but none-the-less reasonably executed car stunts and fight scenes that hint that actually, it might not be as cheap as it looks. Some research suggests the film cost $500,000 so far from a blockbuster budget but with a no name cast and crew this explains how the Toxie’s ‘big moments’ were achieved.

This knowing sense really is what takes what would be an un-watchably offensive film and turns it into a watchable superhero comedy horror.

Wanda and Julie

Wanda and Julie

With a surprisingly big climactic scene that I first thought was using stock footage but actually seemed to be shot for the film, The Toxic Avenger entirely lived up to my memories and expectations (its been over a decade since I saw it) and it was clear why this is one of the jewels in Troma’s crown and the movie that made their name.

Certainly its not going to be for everyone, but if you can suspend disbelief and good taste for 80 minutes or so its schlocky combination of poorly shot and enacted sex, brutal violence and puerile comedy (with a little bit of thinly referenced social commentary) really does hit the spot.

And because I remember loving it as a kid, and having some of the toys, here’s the intro to the kids TV show based on the movie (hard to believe, even one series ever got made of this):

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The Rocky Horror Picture Show

The Rocky Horror Picture Show blu-rayBefore I begin I am wondering exactly why, and how, one is supposed to review a cult film? Oh well, I’m going to anyway so here we go.

Ever since I discovered The Rocky Horror Picture Show in my teens, on VHS, I’ve been a big fan, so, as it’s just been re-issued in a shiny steelbook Blu-ray edition, I thought it time to take another look, as its been a while since I’ve actually sat down to watch the movie.

As the new Blu-ray gave me the option I chose to watch the US cut of the movie rather than the UK version which I presumed I was more familiar with. To be honest there is not much difference between the two until the second to last song, but more of that later.

Kicking off with a huge pair of red lips filling the screen, the scene is set as the lips act something like a curtain in a theatre instantly signaling us to suspend our disbelief and just go with what we see while, in the lyrics to Science Fiction, Double Feature, its clear we are heading into b-movie referencing, 1950s nostalgia territory.

Rocky-Horror-Picture-Show-LipsThe opening scene is the only one that tries to be set in the real world, but even this has its odd moments with some American Gothic referencing cameos and a billboard in a graveyard that sets the off beat tone for what is to come.

From this scene on its clear that this is adapted from a stage musical, and many of the performers were veterans of that version, so some of the musical numbers have a somewhat stagey feel but, it is to the credit of the direction and editing, that this is varied just enough with cutaways and similar techniques to never become stagey and it actually heightens the non-realism of the movie in the process.

Brad and Janet

Brad and Janet

As our protagonist duo of Brad (Barry Bostwick) and Janet (Susan Sarandon) head away from the chapel and into the night the pace picks up and, really, never lets up. My remembrance of the movie was that, despite everything, there was something of a lull after Sweet Transvestite, but for the one hour thirty-eight minutes of it The Rocky Horror Picture Show is non-stop – if it’s not a song, there is something happening pushing the boundaries of taste and absurdity in one way or another and all delivered with a sense of knowing mischievous delight.

This tone really comes through in the performances and, while Richard O’Brien is clearly the heart and soul and giving the most committed performance of his own script as Riff Raff, the whole cast seem to be giving it their all.

Frank N. Furter

Frank N. Furter

The real star is Tim Curry as Dr. Frank N. Furter combining creepiness with camp to create a character who varies from malevolent to genuinely empathic at different points and has a truly triumphant pathos drenched end with I’m Going Home.

Across the movie the production values vary wildly so while the sets are all impressive and big design pieces, from Frank’s lab to the floor show finish, the dance routines at times have something of the am-dram to them and there are many moments where both continuity and dubbing go out of the window. But this never really matters if you’ve got swept up in the whole thing, which is where the cult status of the film comes into play.

Rocky HorrorI have a feeling that anyone coming to the film fresh will have one of two reactions; a love they can’t quite explain or they simply won’t like it and will think it’s a bit of a mess, which I suppose is fair enough, though as someone who falls into the first camp, its likely I’ll never really understand the second.

As I was saying earlier, the US cut excises a couple of verses of the song Superheroes which gives the film a more conventionally rounded ending as we see Brad and Janet (and Dr. Scott) escape.

Richard O'Brien as Riff Raff

Richard O’Brien as Riff Raff

This though sits at odds with the overall tone of the film when compared to the cut with the full version of the song which adds a sense of melancholy to Brad and Janet’s ‘escape’ from the Transylvanians and leaves things on something of an ambiguous note that is far more in-keeping with the rest of the movie.

In the end, even nearly 40 years after its release, The Rocky Horror Picture Show stands up as a subversive treat that is at once silly and shocking and epitomises cult cinema in a way very few other films have managed. It merges The Wizard Of Oz with 1950s sci-fi and the kind of movies that only seemed to come out of the 1970s typified by the likes of John Waters all with knowing charm that really shows this could only be the product of Richard O’Brien’s mind and really that is what we are watching translated onto a cinema screen.

As an extra note I’d highly recommend Stuart Samuels’ documentary Midnight Movies as a companion piece to The Rocky Horror Picture Show if you’re in something of an exploratory mood (sorry about the quality of the trailer, it’s the only one I could find)…

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Brazil

Brazil movie posterI first encountered Terry Gilliam’s best film (to date), Brazil, during a GCSE English class when we were tasked with writing a short sci-fi story and since then it’s consistently sat very high on my favourite movies list (so thanks for introducing me to it Mr. Gregson).

I’ve revisited the film relatively regularly ever since, first on video then the fantastic Criterion Collection DVD edition and now on Blu-ray for the first time.

The HD transfer of the film itself is fantastic and it felt almost like coming to the film again for the first time as background detail that would have been clear in a large cinema is at last clear on my home TV.

Brazil 1Onto the film itself and, as with all Gilliam’s work, the thing that strikes from the start is the precise sense of design as we are plunged into “Somewhere in the 20th Century” where bureaucracy has taken over government and life in a 1984-lite society with monolithic, grey Ministry architecture standing alongside slum like flatblocks with men in sharp grey suits rubbing shoulders with families looking like they’re from a stereotypical post-war working class but all with hints of the almost steampunkishly modern with computers and technology.

While some of Gilliam’s films are rightly criticised for seeming to focus on design rather than the script, with Brazil the script and design lock together excellently from the first line “Hi there, I want to talk to you about ducts…”.

Brazil, Sam Lowry, Jonathan PryceThis sums up the tone and feel of the film to come as it marries the sense of the absurd with which Gilliam made his name doing animations for Monty Python with the notion of the world which we are thrown into that borrows from 1984 but feels almost more relevant even than Orwell’s still excellent book.

Alongside the bureaucracy the film’s satirical eye is aimed at some other staples of 80s life including cosmetic surgery and terrorism all of which combine to make something that is certainly just as relevant today as it was when the film was written in the early 80s.

BrazilIf all that sounds a bit like its dealing with big societal issues the thing that makes the film work so much for me is that it combines this with a story of a man fighting the system, something I have always felt strongly about.

This aspect is the story of Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) and he really delivers a tour de force performance as he is in virtually every scene following the prologue and we watch his journey from frustrated junior clerk to executive to… well that would be telling.

Along the way he meets a range of characters who seem to swirl about him with almost constant movement leaving both Sam, and us, dazed and confused and as the film goes on this increases but, rather than doing it in a way that ends up with the film being a mess, it all builds to a suitable final crescendo.

Sam Lowry dream BrazilAs well as Sam’s real life we also delve into his dream world which is again a triumph of the films design and special effects aspect as he appears as a winged hero in shiny armour fighting the evil creatures who have his true love caged.

As the film goes on, these two sides of Sam get closer and closer as we head toward the aforementioned climax.

Ok, so this may not be my most impartial review, but, on rewatching Brazil tonight, I could not find a single flaw in it. I’m sure some may think it looks a bit dated now and I am aware Terry Gilliam’s style may not be to all tastes, but for me, this is one of the greatest films ever committed to celluloid and I would heartily recommend it to anyone – just be prepared for something a little outside of the ordinary.

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