Category Archives: Reviews

Yippee Kiy Yay…

The best Christmas movie there has ever been (yes, I’ll fight you on it), and the quintessential action movie that every other is still trying to follow, was first screened in the UK thirty years ago today.

Hell, it is quite possibly the greatest movie of all time. In any genre. Full stop. I am of course, talking about Die Hard.

“Now I know what a TV dinner feels like.”

Three decades on, and its simple but effective premise has yet to be bettered. The sequels, er…  try hard to recapture that initial glory, and the franchise occasionally even comes close to hitting that big screen G-spot with some of the set pieces that follow, but the original eighties classic stands alone – as tall and proud as the iconic Nakatomi Plaza itself.




Advertisements

Twenty One Years Later…

HBKI have been a fan of the WWE and the product it puts out since the early nineties – back when it was called the WWF, before those animal protection guys got all uppity and decided to take them to court over the name. Guilty pleasure, perhaps, but we should all be permitted a few of those.

Admittedly, the wrestling that company produces – or sports entertainment, as chief Vince McMahon wants the world to call it – has not been the greatest in recent years, but I have long loved the personalities and the check-your-brain-at-the-door storylines. It’s simple, and if you can wrap your head around the fact that the match results are pre-determined and everyone is just playing their part, then you can certainly have a lot of fun with it.

Shawn Michaels is my favourite wrestler. I enjoyed his attitude, his style, and his skills between the ropes. He retired in 2010 after twenty-five years in the business, and that’s just how it stayed until earlier this month when he found himself back in the squared circle, performing on the very controversial Crown Jewel show in Saudi Arabia. I won’t go in to the politics of it all, because that’s not what this is about, but suffice to say that 53 year old Shawn Michaels’ much requested return to the ring left me with a bitter taste in my mouth, despite the fact that his performance proved that even at his age, he still has… it.

imagesA few days ago was the twenty-first anniversary of another controversial broadcast (albeit, for very different reasons) that Shawn Michaels was heavily involved with – the 1997 Survivor Series. In the final ten minutes of his title match against defending champion Bret Hart at the annual pay-per-view, the audience in attendance and those watching at home suddenly saw an entirely scripted production become real. What happened then will forever be known in wrestling circles as the Montreal Screwjob. More has been written about that over the years than the legitimacy of the Apollo moon landings so I won’t add my two cents here, but if nothing else, that incident amplifies exactly how much wrestling, and the perception of it, has changed over the last two decades.

Back then it was gritty and grubby and frayed around the edges. Today it is very sanitised. It’s polished to a high shine and borders on being overproduced, and maybe it has lost a little of its soul as a result.

Then again, both of those events noted here were really just about the money, so maybe it hasn’t changed all that much after all.

It’s Not a Rumour…

On Friday I went to see Rumours of Fleetwood Mac with The Girlfriend© – the premier Fleetwood Mac tribute band in all the land. Even if this was my first time (and it wasn’t, as I had seen them many years ago with my sister) I would have known I was in for a treat as founding member Mick Fleetwood heartily endorsed them at the start of the show.

Rumours-of-Fleetwood-Mac

The first half of the performance was taken up with a celebration of the Rumours album which is now forty years old. As such, they performed every song, featuring one of my favourite Mac tracks, the Stevie Nicks fronted Gold Dust Woman. It’s no secret that I think Stevie has one of the sexiest vocals in rock music, but Jess Harwood – the girl who embodies her on stage – runs her pretty damn close.

After the intermission the hits kept on coming as ROFM took us through the entire catalogue, from familiar eighties tracks like Little Lies and Gypsy, dating back to their roots in the late sixties with songs like Black Magic Woman and Need Your Love So Bad… the latter of which turned out to be somewhat of an aphrodisiac for The Girlfriend©, so that was an unexpectedly sweet Friday night bonus.

It’s a show I would heartily recommended for both Fleetwood fans and also those who simply appreciate good music. Catch them if you can – they are touring the UK until the end of May.

A Standing Six-Count…

Rocky_Saga_560x330Yesterday I sat down for all six of the Rocky movies in a row, because what else am I doing on a Saturday, right? Watching the arc in one sitting like that, it became clear that the series is as much about the titular character’s relationship with Adrian as it is about what he does in the ring. She carries an emotional weight that resonates throughout the ten and a half hour running time, despite the fact that (*spoiler alert*) she dies in the timeline before the opening credits of the final entry.

Sure, the narrative shifts from the gritty reality of episodes one and two; to the almost comic book stylings of three and four; to the ‘black sheep’ of the family in episode five; before finally returning to its roots with the melancholy and sentimentality of six. I know it is not perfect, even by the most elastic of standards. It is not the most consistent movie series ever produced either, and it’s perhaps a little too formulaic (in its entirety) to be considered classic.

But the love between Rocky and Adrian transcends its pugilistic background to become one of the great romances of modern cinema. We see Rocky falling in love; we see him being in love; and despite the ups and downs along the way, that never changes.

It is telling that after all the bloodshed and beatings that have come before it, the final shot of the final movie isn’t aggressive in any way, or filled with blunt-headed male bravado – hell, it isn’t even about boxing – but it is instead a quiet moment between a man and his memories of the one thing he loves above all else.

Rocky-II

Another Koontz Klassic?

VelocityI have read a wealth of Dean Koontz novels over the years – from the abysmal Tick Tock to the glorious Mr. Murder – and he is one of those authors I will always find a way back to if I can’t think of anything else to read. He knows how to write a good thriller, and for the first third of Velocity, I really thought it was going to be his best yet.

Unfortunately, the idea – which is great – pulls towards a fairly unsatisfying conclusion with a couple of plot holes that you could have driven a truck through. But I won’t spoil that…

Our protagonist, Billy Wile, finds a hand-written note under his windshield wiper:

If you don’t take this note to the police and get them involved, I will kill a lovely blond schoolteacher. If you do take this note to the police, I will instead kill an elderly woman active in charity work. You have four hours to decide. The choice is yours.

— and that is the set-up.

It runs at a blistering pace, with a few clever moral quandaries to mull over. It’s fantastic for the first two hundred pages, but once Billy starts to gain a little perspective on the situation and begins to think for himself, the novel slows down, and it really isn’t as exciting or interesting anymore.

Negativity aside though, I envy his style. Koontz doesn’t write long-winded paragraphs. He squeezes a lot of character into so few descriptive words, and it always makes me go back and look at some of the stuff I have written for comparison. I used to think it was poor writing or (worse) laziness, but it’s most definitely a skill I admire, and very few people can do it better.

So yeah, pick up Velocity for a quick, easy read. You could do a lot worse. But be warned: the ending is a let-down.

Who is Tom Gordon?

The Girl Who Loved Tom GordonHe is a retired baseball player. Oh, you knew that?

I didn’t know that before this book came out in 1999. Ask me to name as many baseball players as I can, and I promise, I don’t even need two hands.

That is in no way King’s fault, but this short novel will read a lot better to fans of the sport, and even to those who have only a passing knowledge of it. Still, most folk across the pond will be fine with the references, and the psychology of it is still intact, despite the (admittedly, only infrequent) lengthy baseball paragraphs.

Some of King’s greatest pieces – The Mist, The Langoliers, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, and The Body – have been novellas, so I had high hopes and expectations for this one. Unfortunately, it doesn’t reach that lofty standard and ultimately – even as brief as it is – this feels a little stretched.

I think, if this was trimmed by a third, it would be a damn fine piece. As it stands it feels like King is really on autopilot for a lot of the time. Then again, that still means it’s better than a lot of stuff out there…

Roped Into It…

Alfred Hitchcock made a lot of movies, and many of them have since been hailed as classics: The Birds, Rear Window,Vertigo, Psycho, Dial M For Murder, and North by Northwest, to name only half a dozen…

But back in 1948 – long before any of these were filmed – Hitchcock made Rope, an often overlooked masterpiece. Ever since I first watched it when I was a teenager, I thought it was fantastic, and today I landed on it while channel-hopping, just as the credits were starting. Awesome.

The premise is simple: two college students (John Dall and Farley Granger) strangle someone to see if they can get away with the crime, and then have a dinner party while the body lies in the chest upon which they have arranged the food… and to say anything else would spoil the treat for those who haven’t seen it.

It’s only short – eighty minutes – but it’s extremely tight, and there’s no flab in the script at all. It’s an early example of ‘real-time’ film-making, and it also makes use of some (for the time) clever editing techniques to make it seem as if it has been filmed in one continuous take, giving it an intimate, claustrophobic feel.

James Stewart was always effortless, and like all great actors, you never saw him acting – whether it was talking to a seven-foot rabbit in Harvey or defending his family as a grizzled farm-owner in Shenandoah. He lived every part he played, and his role here as the curious professor who tries to figure out what is going on, is no exception.

These elements make Rope an absolute gem of a movie, and if I can write something this precise – this lean – I’ll be very proud of myself.