‘Top Knot Detective’ Review (Frightfest, THN)

Believe it or not, as the twentieth century was drawing to a close, there emerged a show so unique, so ground-breaking and above all so violent that it almost changed the face of the small screen forever. Ronin Suiri Tentai (or Top Knot Detective as it’s become known) showcased the unadulterated genius of Takashi Takamoto (above). A former pop star, he was unexpectedly asked by corporate employer Sutaffu to create a TV show.

The result took Japan by storm – Takamoto played Sheimasu Tantai, a samurai driven by bloody vengeance after the brutal “suicide” of his father at the hands of nemesis Haruto Kioke. Sheimasu used his dangerous and sexy skill-set to battle enemies both great and small. Not even children were safe from the surreal antics, with some of the content genuinely shocking.

That’s what was going on in front of the camera. But what about behind the scenes? The making of Top Knot Detective is even more of an eye-opener. Directors Aaron McCann and Dominic Pearce have exhaustively drained the swamp of this bizarre production to bring unsuspecting viewers the truth behind the anarchic legend. The rivalries! Kioke was the son of Sutaffu’s founder and its main star before Takamoto stuck his iron in the fire. When he was rejected as the title character his bitterness ran deeper than a hippopotamus trying to sprint out of some quicksand. The romance! The addition of Mia Matsumoto to the cast as brave warrior Saku led to sparks flying between her and Takamoto. This tender relationship was savagely nipped in the bud when the big cheeses at Sutaffu learned of their clandestine meetings. The appalling crime! Tensions on the show went beyond creative differences, resulting in a gruesome discovery that will chill you to the core.

How could this fascinating and compelling tale possibly get any stranger? Read on to find out…

***SPOILER ALERT: Do not read on if you intend fully appreciating the warped artistry of Top Knot Detective***

They made it up. I’ll hold my hands up, they got me.

McCann and Pearce are to be applauded for creating something that looks and feels 100% real. They’ve captured the crappiness of bad TV and the authenticity of a documentary in a way I’ve never seen before. It’s quite an achievement to invent something from Japanese entertainment culture, which is notoriously outrageous anyway, and still make it convincing.

However once I discovered Top Knot Detective had led me up the garden path, I felt I’d been kicked in the cultural nuts. Now I know it’s a gag the power of the story is diminished. A narrative I was really invested in turned out to be an in-joke. A really well-executed one but an elaborate prank nonetheless. There’s plenty to admire here and I’d watch out for what the helmers do next. But with so much that’s enjoyably insane about the material they’re spoofing, is it really worth going to such lengths to satirise the extreme? To paraphrase the great Sheimasu himself, deductive reasoning must be applied to get the bottom of that mystery…

 

This review first appeared on THN.

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The Commitments 25th Anniversary DVD Review (The Hollywood News)

tcTime for people of a certain age to start feeling old. It’s been a quarter of a century since director Alan Parker introduced us to an unlikely soul combo whose legacy still lives on via a hit stage show and countless concerts. So while their onscreen fortunes turned out to be mixed, The Commitments‘ place in popular culture is assured.

Opening with a bustling Dublin street market with second hand goods, fiddle players and horses, this marks itself out from the blockbusters of the time as a gritty take on Roddy Doyle‘s source novel. Fast-talking wannabe music mogul Jimmy Rabbitte (Robert Arkins) has a simple idea: reasoning that the oppressed Irish are “the blacks of Europe”, he wants to assemble a world class soul outfit from local talent. But like the best band stories the road to success is paved with false starts, egos and copious amounts of drink and swears. In fact the production may hold the record as the most expletive-laden popular movie of all time, if not the twentieth century.

Sitcom stalwarts Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais were the perfect pairing to guide Doyle’s salty characters and quotable dialogue to the big screen (they even manage a cheeky reference to their defining show The Likely Lads along the way). Saxophone player Félim Gormley explains how he came by his instrument – “My uncle gave me it when his lung collapsed.” – and lead singer Andrew Strong gets the job after Arkins sees him giving an impromptu drunk performance at a wedding, one his star turn can’t even remember doing!

What contributes to the longevity of The Commitments is Parker’s decision to go with unknown actors. Some of them went on to greater things (notably Bronagh Gallagher, who appeared in The Phantom Menace) but on the whole this was their first and only shot at world domination. This means the film still has that layer of authenticity which could have been diminished if you spent two hours spotting the famous faces. The cast are likeable and clearly revelling in the easy going yet edgy atmosphere Parker creates. They’re all good, but special mention must be given to Gallagher and Johnny Murphy‘s Joey “The Lips” Fagan, who gets his pick of the women and who may or may not be a raging fantasist. Then there’s Strong, with his weathered vocals and extraordinary range of facial expressions.

The power behind the story is the filmmaker’s ability to deliver a convincing band, as well as conveying the rough and ready nature of creating musical fusion. Whether winging it through a chaotic set or flowing together like cream and coffee, you buy into their tale, and even hope they find the notoriety they crave. It’s a particularly inspirational movie for a generation all-encompassed by the Simon Cowell approach to talent nurturing and speaks to viewers on all levels.

For this milestone, a solid range of extras has been added for the release. Parker himself is on commentary duties and the way it all came together is chronicled via several documentaries from past and present. If you Try A Little Tenderness you’ll find yourself rooting for this Chain Of Fools, whose distinctive journey will keep you laughing through to The Midnight Hour. I’ll shut the f*** up now.

This review first appeared on THN.

Dad’s Army DVD Review (The Hollywood News)

DAThere were doubts over whether the original Dad’s Army would succeed. Its subject matter of World War II and the ageing Home Guard hardly filled BBC top brass with confidence, but it went on to become arguably its greatest sitcom hit. Fast forward forty-odd years to the new movie version – naysayers said it could never work, that director Oliver Parker couldn’t possibly recapture those nostalgic past glories. This time round they were right!

Opening with a standard spy movie chase that culminates in suitably daft fashion, we’re soon transported to the action-averse setting of Walmington-On-Sea, watched over with a rod of aluminium by the stubborn Captain Mainwaring (Toby Jones) and his largely pensionable team. It isn’t long of course before they find themselves doing more than herding cattle, as the Germans infiltrate the community to retrieve information and the menfolk fall under the spell of a glamorous journalist (a well-cast Catherine Zeta Jones).

In fairness, Parker and writer Hamish McColl had an insurmountable task. As well as being a household favourite, the TV show was a period piece… the period being the 1970s, where its gentle humour felt fresher. It’s all a bit low wattage by today’s standards, and the show’s sweetness and pratfalls are replaced by lavatorial gags and laboured slapstick. Here Private Godfrey doesn’t just need to be excused, he ends up unburdening himself over Corporal Jones!

Probably sensing the national outcry over a cast facelift, Parker has gone above and beyond, hiring some unusually big names to fill the boots of Arthur Lowe, John Le Mesurier and co. This yields mixed results. Jones and Michael Gambon (Godfrey) are by far the best replacements but the other main performers struggle. Bill Nighy hams it up to the nines as Sergeant Wilson, in a turn that frequently puts him on a different planet. Crucially he lacks chemistry with Jones. The line up generally fails to gel, which is another great shame. Tom Courtenay takes on the fondly-remembered, dogmatic Jones, but lacks Clive Dunn‘s light touch, coming off as plain irritating.

McColl scores higher with the female contingent, promoting Mrs Mainwaring from an offscreen presence to a formidable front-of-camera battleaxe (Felicity Montagu). She’s a much better commander than her husband, shepherding the solid support of Sarah Lancashire, Alison Steadman, Emily Atack and in particular Derek‘s Holli Dempsey, who plays Frank (Blake Harrison)’s sweetheart, definitely one to watch. They display the British pluck that underpinned the series and while there’s an end battle that brings the men to the fore, writers Jimmy Perry and David Croft would have done it better and quieter. They also inserted intriguing nuggets of period detail into their scripts, something that’s glossed over somewhat in this incarnation.

It’s amusing enough, and the players provide guaranteed entertainment value (if only out of curiosity to see how they’ll measure up). As the sum of its parts however Dad’s Army is a misfire. We’re watching an elaborate recreation rather than a movie in its own right, and the producers should really have ditched the tributing and made something that marched more to its own beat.

This review first appeared on THN.

Male, Murky & Mysterious: ‘The Nice Guys’ Feature (The Hollywood News)

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Pectoral-happy power couple Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling are barging their way into UK cinemas for action buddy comedy The Nice Guys. This mix of knockabout antics and crime, set against a sleazy 1970s backdrop, has yielded decent reviews (we here at THN loved it), while at the same time adding to the bulging genre of films where men stumble around trying to see the wood for the trees.

When it comes to a mystery, it pays to send men equipped with both fists and wits to sort it out. There’s something about the traditional gumshoe, or the bloke who finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, that lends itself to this situation. Whether a lone operator or, better still, a spiky partnership, it makes that journey all the more entertaining, especially when you throw in aspects that make guys easily distracted, such as women and alcohol.

Join us as we wake bleary-eyed at our desk, take a swig from the bottle of whisky in the filing cabinet and pull our fedora down against the LA sunshine, venturing out to investigate the very best the movie world has to offer when it comes to the male, the murky and the mysterious…

IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT

ITHOFT1967 saw a powder keg of a scenario brought to the screen by director Norman Jewison, and at its centre was one of cinema’s most incendiary and groundbreaking partnerships: Sidney Poitier as progressive detective Virgil Tibbs and Rod Steiger as bigoted Mississippi police chief Bill Gillespie.

With a high profile murder case on the go, Steiger made the brilliant mistake of detaining tourist Poitier on suspicion of the crime. When it transpired the detainee was in fact an off-duty investigator, the curmudgeonly racist employed him to help track down the killer. The pair went on to form a reluctant alliance, delving into a prickly hotbed of prejudice and close-knit community secrets.

The characters (created by novelist John Ball) were reunited in a long-running TV show of the same name, though the leads didn’t return. However Poitier’s protagonist starred in two big screen Tibbs-centric sequels.

THE BIG LEBOWSKI

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Jeff Bridges‘ dazed and confused amateur sleuth Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski became our guide through the Coen Brothers‘ hard-boiled maze of Chandleresque LA surrealism in 1998. By the end of the story he was none the wiser. His head hurt and so did ours, but our sides were thoroughly split from laughing.

Seeking recompense from a local business titan after his carpet was wrongly urinated on, “The Dude” found himself charged with locating the man’s porn-star-slash-trophy-bride (Tara Reid), accompanied by his bowling buddies – disturbed Vietnam vet Walter (John Goodman) and timid Donny (Steve Buscemi). Along the way they encountered such warped examples of the male species as Jesus Quintana (John Turturro), as well as some questionable cases of the female variety (via Julianne Moore‘s hectoring and pretentious Maude Lebowski).

The movie entered the cult bracket and, since the Coens aren’t known for their interest in sequels, sadly that was the last we saw of Bridges and company. Despite the lack of a narrative continuation his outlook on life has managed to live on, through the unexpected offshoot religion “Dudeism”.

LA CONFIDENTIAL

LACA year earlier moviegoers had witnessed another tangled neo-noir web of crime in the City of Angels. This time the action went back several decades, for Curtis Hanson‘s adaptation of James Ellroy‘s dark saga of law enforcement in Hollywood. Film stars, fist-wielding cops and shark-like journalists all rubbed shoulders.

The unlikely trio of neat ‘n tidy newbie Ed Exley (Guy Pearce), growly hard nut Bud White (Russell Crowe again) and pampered TV police show advisor Frank Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) began to realize things weren’t quite as upstanding at the LAPD as they liked to think. Between them they uncovered a network of corruption, with their boss Captain Smith (James Cromwell) at its rotten core. Kim Basinger memorably played a Tinseltown prostitute, and is reunited with Crowe for The Nice Guys.

Like In The Heat Of The Night the scenario went to TV, starring Kiefer Sutherland among others. But that particular investigation never got beyond pilot stage. Hanson’s sleaze-mired Oscar winner remains the definitive screen version.

KISS KISS BANG BANG

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The Nice Guys writer/director Shane Black is no stranger to testosterone-fuelled team ups. In 2005 he took former Batman Val Kilmer and future Iron Man Robert Downey Jr and put them together for another Movieland-set romp involving a dead girl and a mystery.

Charged by Michelle Monaghan‘s actress Harmony with finding out why her sister committed suicide, Harry Lockhart (Downey Jr) and Perry van Shrike (Kilmer) entered a world of smoke, mirrors, sex and violence in a bid to get to the bottom of the murky matter. Of course things weren’t what they seemed – Lockhart was actually a burglar who’d accidentally wangled his way into Hollywood, and van Shrike the genuine snooper helping him with his role.

The result brought Lethal Weapon creator Black back to the forefront, gave Kilmer his best part in years and lit the blue touchpaper under superhero Downey Jr. It was a project that cleared the cobwebs for all their careers.

THE NICE GUYS

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Black is hoping another mismatched male combo will get asses on seats for this hunky comedy detective flick. And if you’re looking for two actors who can get the female half of the population interested, you could do a lot worse than Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling. In a way they’re kind of the ultimate odd couple. The star of Gladiator meeting the leading man of Drive? Both have serious reputations but seem to exist in different movie spheres.

The story sees them initially as enemies. Nattily-dressed private dick Holland March (Gosling) is looking into the disappearance of Amelia Kutner (Margaret Qualley), but the pursuit gets complicated when Amelia takes on heavy for hire Jackson Healy (Crowe) to “persuade” March to back off. It isn’t long before both men have to join forces against the criminal underworld, who have their own sinister reasons for wanting to get hold of the wayward girl. Can Crowe and Gosling wrap things up before they get stamped on…?

With a publicity tour that’s been more engaging than most due to the stars’ natural awkwardness toward each other and a helmer with proper action comedy credentials, it seems The Nice Guys isn’t going to have a problem attracting men and women alike. Will it be a dead cert for box office greatness, or simply wind up deceased? That’s a question not even Philip Marlowe could answer.

This feature first appeared on THN.

10 Film Sequels That Went In Wildly Different Directions (WhatCulture)

PS ICThe psychology behind a sequel is simple: more of the same, and usually bigger. After all, since the first film was a great success, why change a winning formula? While it’s generally accepted that a follow up won’t match the original, producers can always rely on dollar signs as a motivating force.

Over the years, scores of audience members have sat in the cinema only to emerge two hours later wondering why they bothered. The bloated spectacles of Speed 2, Bad Boys II and Escape From LA are testament to that.  However every so often that rule is broken, and a director will try something different with a new instalment. From a shift in tone to a complete change in storyline, there are sequels out there that mean more than an increase in budget and a digit jammed onto the end of the title. Here we take a look at ten of the best/worst examples…  Read more.

Jason Mewes Talks ‘Bling’ & ‘Mallrats 2’ (The Hollywood News)

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When was the last time you saw a movie about jewellery and robots? The answer to that unusual question is something Google Play are banking on for Bling, the first animated film to be distributed via the platform. Best of all it’s free!

Concerning the calamity that ensues when a hopeful man’s engagement surprise is mistakenly acquired by a supervillain, it features attention-grabbing elements such as positronic primate Kit, voiced by Jay and Silent Bob star Jason Mewes.

Putting on our best suit, and with our best inquiries boxed up and ready to be sprung, we took Mr Mewes to the nearest restaurant in the hope he’d accept our proposal. Along the way we couldn’t help but talk about his most famous role and working with friend and quietest Bob in history Kevin Smith for the past couple of decades…

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What was your reaction when you were told about the concept?

I was very excited. Anything with robots is good, but when I was told I was playing a monkey robot, that was a bonus!

How did you approach the role of a monkey robot, if that isn’t a silly question?

I ate a bunch of bananas, that’s how I prepped. (Laughs) No, I just had fun with it man. The animation was already done and I just had to synch up to it. I had some fun and played with it, in order to be the best monkey robot I could be! It was nice because I got to ad lib inbetween and stuff, when my character’s back was turned or when he went offscreen, I got to ad lib some dialogue. You get to see what’s going on, Kit twirling through the air, or landing on top of a car. That made it a little easier and more fun, the process isn’t always like that.

Did you get to meet your fellow cast members, such as James Woods or Carla Gugino?

It was just me in the booth by myself. There are pros and cons doing it both ways, but it was nice. Because I was on my own I felt like if I messed up I could redo it, and get to know the director and all that stuff. It would have been fun doing it with the rest of the cast as well. The only animated movie I’ve ever done like that is Noah’s Ark: The New Beginning and it was nice because I got to work with Michael Keaton and we were able to bounce off each other.

Another upcoming project you may have been asked about once or twice is Mallrats 2! Did you ever think you’d be playing Jay twenty-odd years on from Clerks?

Never! Never… I didn’t expect to play Jay’s character. I was shocked when Clerks was bought and Kevin got a new picture deal and said ‘Hey I’m going to do another movie called Mallrats and I wrote our characters in.’ That was awesome, then with Dogma and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back… I didn’t expect to play the character more than once, let alone be playing it twenty years later. I think it’ll be a blast, playing them again before we get too old! (Laughs)

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Comic book movies have mushroomed over the past decade. Are there plans to do anything more with Bluntman and Chronic?

Me and my friend wrote a Bluntman and Chronic Super Groovy Cartoon Movie (following Jay and Silent Bob‘s movie of the same name). Kevin needs to read it and approve it for the characters and such. And if he approves we’re going to start working on that, so hopefully that will get done soon and we can do a Groovy Movie 2. And then who knows if Kevin will want to do a live action Bluntman and Chronic… but if we did I’d really like to do it like the Avengers movies, Captain America fighting, The Winter Soldier. That would be cool, fighting in that type of style!

What other projects do you have in the pipeline that you can tell us about?

We have a video game coming out, Jay and Silent Bob: Chronic Blunt Punch. Me and Kevin are doing a show called What’s In The Box? for Screen Junkies Plus, where people send us boxes and we don’t know what’s in them. It’s usually toys and all sorts of fun stuff, we started doing that a couple of months ago.

Right now I’m really trying to get this movie off the ground, there’s no title for it yet, but it’s a script by a friend of mine from London. I did a movie called Devil’s Tower with him, and he’s written this script based on an idea we had, and hopefully I’m going to direct it and that will be the first feature I direct. I’m looking forward to that getting off the ground. I’ve done music videos and a short film, and I really want to direct a full feature!

This interview appeared on The Hollywood News.

Dirty De Niro: His 5 Sleaziest Roles (The Hollywood News)

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Yes, that really is veteran acting legend Robert De Niro baring his nipples and loving it much too much. It’s like Warldorf from The Muppets has suddenly stood up and ripped his clothes off on the balcony. If you’re wondering what the hell is going on, this is a scene from new comedy Dirty Grandpa, which casts De Niro alongside Zac Efron as a lecherous relative who revels in the half-naked antics of spring break.

Sleaze isn’t a word you’d associate with a performer whose CV oozes quality. Ooze is certainly the order of the day here however! Though if you look back at the great man’s work you’ll find a fair few characters whose morals were lower than an alleycat taking a swim in a sewer.

So before we get too outraged that De Niro is sullying his reputation in a lower-than-lowbrow gross-out romp, let’s go on a tour of his greasier roles. They straddle a good chunk of his career (no sniggering please) and may make you question your view of America’s premier onscreen presence…

TAXI DRIVER (1976)

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Travis Bickle’s exploits have passed into movie history, leaving a bullet-shaped hole in the fabric of American film. Riding round New York in his cab, he saw himself as a soldier fighting for social decency, though like many such people he was deluded.

Though he went all out to protect teenage prostitute Iris from her pimp, he also put Cybill Shepherd through the date from hell. Having woo’ed her at her place of work he proceeded to fumble the ball by taking her to a porn cinema.

This uncomfortable and sleazy sequence shifted the character into the arena of the very people he sought to rid the city of. While there was a sense Bickle had naivety, he also possessed a terrifying dual nature that resolved itself in a major league bloodbath.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK (1977)

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De Niro reunited with Taxi Driver director Martin Scorsese the following year for a project that couldn’t have been more different. New York, New York sought to recapture Hollywood’s Golden Age, while fusing it with the more naturalistic style for which they’d made their names.

Jimmy Doyle formed one half of the mercurial central pairing in this underrated epic, and the actor portrayed him with sleaze and skill. His fast-talking saxophonist latched onto singer Francine Evans (Liza Minnelli), leading to a tangled tale of broken hearts and philandering caused by walking oil slick Doyle.

The early scene when the two meet during V-J Day and enter into verbal battle is an unsung classic. Minnelli tries to dissuade an amorous De Niro by appealing to his gentlemanly side. To her surprise he tells her he is not a gentleman!

CAPE FEAR (1991)

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When it comes to a performance that makes you want to take a bath after seeing it, then De Niro as Max Cady is one of the best/worst. The ultimate bad penny, he turned up to terrorize Nick Nolte and family for perceived wrongdoings in Scorsese’s remake of the Gregory Peck/Robert Mitchum potboiler.

Festooned with lurid tattoos, he bared his physique for the camera in a notoriously sleazy scene in which he assaulted Nolte’s associate (Illeana Douglas). He then upped the slime factor by homing in on Nolte’s teenage daughter (Juliette Lewis).

Those who’ve seen the original will know how ludicrous the Nineties Cady is compared to his menacing Sixties counterpart. But Mitchum’s ex-con is restrained rather than randy, and that makes the more recent incarnation ripe for inclusion here.

NIGHT AND THE CITY (1992)

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De Niro must have been partial to a remake in the early Nineties, as he also filmed a reworking of the Richard Widmark noir alongside Cape Fear co-star Jessica Lange. Harry Fabian is a forgotten but worthy addition to the star’s sleazy repertoire, who dodged and dove his way through the urban underworld.

His trade was that most questionable of occupations, a lawyer, and one up to his neck in duplicity and bad romance to boot. Director Irwin Winkler relocated the action from the UK to the US, placing Fabian in the rotten core of the Big Apple.

Unlike the other candidates on this list, Harry sought to change his ways, looking for a shot at redemption after he got mixed up in the world of boxing promotion. Of course it wasn’t long before the impossible balancing act of his life brought everything crashing down around him.

DIRTY GRANDPA (2016)

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Though criticism has abounded of De Niro in recent years, especially in relation to his move into comedy, his capacity to appear in hit and miss projects stretches back over decades. For every Deer Hunter or Raging Bull there’s a We’re No Angels or The Fan. Perfect actor he may be, but he’s made some far from perfect choices.

With this in mind, you could say reviewers had the knives pre-sharpened for helmer Dan Mazer‘s sleazefest, that takes clean-cut, spray-tanned hunk Zac Efron and puts him alongside De Niro’s crusty curmudgeon. Freshly-widowed and gagging for a shagging, Dick Kelly is far from averse to porn and scantily-clad women, among them Aubrey Plaza, who seems determined to bed the coronary-prone senior citizen. Frolics and various fluids ensue.

We here at The Hollywood News didn’t exactly take Dick to our hearts, so to speak, but the prospect of seeing Scorsese’s muse slum it with the porking ‘n puking brigade could well put asses on seats at the multiplex. I’m as big a fan of De Niro’s as anyone’s and I’m game for this particular laugh. The thought of a Dirty Grandpa 2: There Goes My Rectum on the other hand…? That’s a step even I wouldn’t be willing to take.

This article first appeared on The Hollywood News.