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Niki’s Crap DVD Clearout Review Extravaganza! part 17

About ten years ago I bought a DVD player from the Blockbuster in Finchley. It cost me £200. I could have got a much better one for that sort of money but you see this one came with 50 free movies! Bargain!

Well the DVD player is long gone but the movies remain for two reasons, firstly and ironically the cheap double sided discs would not play properly in the cheap DVD player they came free with and secondly, despite starring such luminaries as Brad Pitt, Kevin Spacey and Russell Crowe they are uniformly awful. Seriously, the biggest film of the bunch is The Lawnmower Man!

As the years have rolled by they have sat on my shelf in the ‘I’ll get round to them some day’ pile and what better reason to get stuck into them than to inflict my reviews on you gentle people.

As well as a review I shall be giving them a mark out of five which will not only be an indication of quality but a prediction of their very immediate future:

*****  Might actually keep

**** Attempt to sell on Ebay

*** Straight to the nearest charity shop

** Straight to the nearest bin

* Will give away as a gift to anyone who makes me listen to Coldplay

So here goes…

Home Team coverHome Team

 Allan A. Goldstein

 (1998)

 Rating *

Just another reason to hate football

The last time I took a dip into the murky depth of the Family Films boxset it was one of the most diabolical movie watching experiences of my life. A cheaply made, animated musical ripoff of James Cameron’s Titanic, featuring a rapping dog.

I managed to watch ‘Titanic – The Legend Goes On’ in a single sitting. The same cannot be said for Home Team.

You could argue that I may not be the target audience for this film, however even if I was six years old and had just fallen out of a very tall tree on to my head I still could not imagine getting more than half an hour into this but I turned it off and put The Goonies on again.

Steve Guttenberg plays Mr. Butler (if they ever said his first name then I missed it), an ex ‘party boy’ (their words) who’s been in some trouble and now must do community service as a handyman for a small orphanage. Also he’s the most irritating man alive. The orphanage is occupied by a bunch of plucky young scamps with nicknames like Pineapple, a comedy fat cook called (wait for it) Cookie, and a fairly normal, if slightly saccharine, lady called Karen, who we’re told is from Paris even though she’s clearly French-Canadian.

What aboot that Eiffel Tower eh?

         What aboot that Eiffel Tower eh?

Mr. Butler isn’t happy about this arrangement but tries to ingratiate himself with the household in the only way he knows how. By steamrollering into every situation with a barrage of supposedly funny monologues, impressions and comedy skits. No one takes kindly to this, least of all me. I’ve never had much of a problem with Guttenberg in the past but here he delivers every line with the all confidence of a mid-1980’s Eddie Murphy and all the wit of a mid-2010’s Adam Sandler. Every gag is like nails down a chalkboard, but not just to me, all the kids and the Canadian lady think he’s a tool as well. We’re all cringing together and wondering what possible motivation the director could have for making our main protagonist so utterly, utterly irritating. At one point in the film he kisses a live cockroach, this is easily one of least nauseating parts of his performance. And this from a man who appeared in his breakthrough role dressed like this –

BOOM! COMEDY!

                      BOOM! COMEDY!

To be honest it’s not all Stevie Boy’s fault. The script he has to work with is so moronic that even Robin Williams, at the height of his powers, would struggle to wring a chuckle out of it. In the first half hour the comedic highlights include the fact that Pineapple farts a lot and that Cookie the cook, can’t actually cook (oh my sides!).

Anyway, the kids, for some reason, don’t warm to Mr. Butler so pull some pranks on him which generally end up catching poor old Cookie instead. During all this hilarity, Canadian lady is trying to train their football team, however, as the first match proves, they are just dreadful (if you like seeing footballs in the groin and people running into goalposts, buddy this scene is for you!).

Then the orphanage burns down for some reason, plot progression I guess, and suddenly Mr. Butler decides he will train the team, and the kids all suddenly like him. Hurrah! And so with the help and funding of a comedy undertaker (I don’t know, so don’t ask), they start traininnnn…….nurgh…..I can’t, I just can’t relive this any more. Look they train and they win, and Mr. Butler snogs the Canadian lady, and something about Cookie winning a bet so he can buy a new orphanage. The end!

Man this was painful! There are few things worse than bad comedy and this is bad comedy…aimed at children! Also having everyone else in the movie agree that the leading man is painfully unfunny is an odd stylistic choice, I mean this isn’t Scorsese’s The King Of Comedy. We’re suppose to like this guy. Instead the first hour is like watching that embarrassing uncle who thinks kids love him when they’re really all Tweeting about what a dick their uncle is.

Making Police Academy look like Police Academy 6

‘He makes Police Academy look like Police Academy 6. ROFL!’

And that, in a nutshell, is what’s wrong with Home Team. A kid’s comedy about kids finding themselves in a predicament, should focus on the kids, not the guy in his late 30’s. In fact the kids are fairly likable for the most part but we rarely get to root for them before Guttenberg blunders in with another routine. It can be fun to side with the kids against the adults in a movie but not when the adults are completely dominating the scene. Take Home Alone or the aforementioned The Goonies for example. That’s how you get the balance of kids to adults.

Instead what we get is 40 minutes of eye rolling, clenched teeth and forced smiles while Steve churns out another tired barrage of gags. I imagine the filmmakers probably hoped they could use some of Guttenberg’s star power to propel this film to success.  However, as this was a good few years after his brief comedy reign, they’d have been better off focusing the story squarely on the kids and making the adults the supporting cast.

I’ve sat through rubber dinosaurs, rubbish vampires, and six hours of shit Robocop, during this series. I never expected an innocuous family comedy starring Mahoney from Police Academy would cause me the most pain. To be honest it’s got me scared. All bets are off now. I’m never going to make it out of this with my sanity!

Next time – Billy Dee Williams fights cheap aliens with Rex Manning from Empire Records!

(Send help!)

The Top 5 Sports Movies (for people who hate sport)

So the Olympics is finally upon us and has so far been treated with the sort of hostile, passive aggressive welcome us Londoners have been fine tuning for decades. But despite the rail disruptions, road chaos and the fact that Stratford is an armpit with a Westfield, a lot of people are looking forward to the actual sporting events getting underway.

For me however, one guy throwing something further than some other guy means about as much to me as my Mum’s milkman beating some other milkman to the role of head milkman. Or, you know, a really good metaphor that highlights that one stranger beating another stranger at the egg and spoon race (that’s in the Olympics right?) is really not on my radar, even if they are English.

But I do like to be topical, so for all those to whom the Olympics simply means a ball ache of a commute to work for a month here are my five favourite sports movies for people who think Spurs are the spiky things on cowboy’s boots and Arsenal is a big load of guns.

5. Happy Gilmore

(1996)

Happy Gilmore was a small miracle for two reasons, firstly it managed to be a great comedy about golf that didn’t completely rip off Caddyshack, and secondly it managed to be a great comedy starring Adam Sandler. Actually it should probably have points deducted for being the movie that led me to think watching Billy Madison would be a good idea. But we’ll waive that point.

It tells the tale of a terrible hockey player with an incredible slap shot who is convinced to give golf a try in order to win enough money  to save his grandma’s house. Adam Sandler has built a career out of his idiot manchild / violent psychopath shtick for years, but never has it been so perfectly balanced as in this movie. Just check out the scene where his calm attempts to ‘send the ball home’ result in a brilliantly violent outburst –

But it’s not just Sandler who makes the movie, there’s an amazing supporting cast, from Carl Weathers as one handed coach Chubbs Peterson to punchably smarmy rival Shooter McGavin played with relish by Christopher McDonald. Even Ben Stiller has a cameo as a brilliantly moustached psycho care home warden.  The movie zings with quotable one-liners (“I eat pieces of shit like you for breakfast”, “You eat pieces of shit for breakfast?”) and any movie that features a midget cowboy and an all out fist fight with Bob Barker (“The price is wrong bitch”) is definitely worthy of my admiration.

4. BASEketball

(1998)

This one drifted under the radar on its release, at least it did in the UK, perhaps due to the fact that it’s based on two very American sports. But any movie starring the creators of South Park and directed by the man behind Airplane! and The Naked Gun has to be worth at least one watch. Some may argue that this isn’t a sport movie as the sport was made up, to which I say fuck you, all sports are made up (except for human hunting, that shit is inherent).

Matt and Trey play Coop and Remer, two losers whose only joy in life is a hybrid of baseball and basketball which they created. One day a sport promoter (played by the late great Ernest Borgnine) shows up, interested in turning it into a national sport and so they, along with their long suffering third member Squeak (Dian Bachar, who die hard Parker/Stone fans will recognise from Cannibal The Musical and Orgazmo) head to the big leagues and pay the price of fame and fortune before, wouldn’t ya know it, learning a little something about friendship.

The first thing I noticed about this film is what a genuinely talented actor Trey Parker is, he plays the part of Coop with genuine pathos which stops the film ever fully lapsing completely into farce. But aside from that it’s just really, really funny. Matt and Trey had no part in writing this one but they still left their mark all over it, especially in the brilliant ‘psych-outs’, the perfectly legal tactics they use to put the opposing team off scoring points –

3. Caddyshack

(1980)

By now you might be thinking that I’m actually a secret golf fan but let me assure you that my entire experience of golf includes the one time I went to the driving range and that Christmas where my housemate and I spent two weeks drunk, playing Tiger Woods PGA Tour on the Playstation. So it comes as just as much of a surprise to me that not only do I like two movies involving golf but that there were even two great movies involving golf!

What’s really left to say about Caddyshack? Sure it’s rambling and shambolic but it features Chevy Chase and Bill Murray at the height of their comedic powers, the former playing slimy playboy and golfer Ty Webb and the latter in a career making role as semi-retarded groundskeeper and gopher nemesis Carl Spackler. Just watch what happens when the director (in this case Harold ‘Egon Spengler’ Ramis) turns on the camera and let’s Murray do his thing –

or when he knows that all you need from a great comedy scene is Chevy Chase and a piano (see also Three Amigos and Community) –

2. Dogtown & Z Boys

(2001)

I had to include at least one non-comedy on this list and I admit this is a bit of a cheat because I actually fucking love skateboarding. Don’t get me wrong, put me on a half pipe with a skateboard and the only trick I’d pull is breaking 17 bones all at the same time, but sit me in front of the X Games with a cold beer and I’m as happy as the proverbial Larry.

But Dogtown & Z Boys deserves inclusion because it is such a great film. To be precise it’s a documentary film chronicalling the rise of modern skateboarding focusing particularly on the legendary and influential Z-Boys, a group of punk surfers who took surfing to the streets and paved the way for the Tony Hawks of the future. Made by ex-Z-Boy Stacy Peralta and featuring most of the major players from that time it is a fascinating look at the evolution of a modern day sport.

The film also deserves inclusion as skateboarding has always been a bit of an anti-sport. What makes this documentary so fascinating is that none of these people thought they were changing the world, they were just doing something they loved with their friends. The only people they were competing against were themselves, which always seems a far healthier way to be in my opinion.

I have even showed this film to people with little interest in skateboarding who have thoroughly enjoyed it, that’s how good it is. Here’s the trailer, and while you’re at it check out Peralta’s almost as excellent surfing doc Riding Giants.

1. Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story

(2004)

Before this film was released a lot of British people were completely unaware that dodgeball was even a thing, even afterward I think a lot of people thought it was a BASEketball style Hollywood invention. No English council’s health and safety department would ever allow a sport where kids pelt each other with hard rubber balls (though rugby is fine apparently!).

Right there is what made it so ripe for parody. Exchange the children for grown adults, make one side lovable losers led by everyman Vince Vaughn and the other a group of buffed out super men led by a hilariously diminutive Ben Stiller (for the second time in this article sporting a fabulous moustache), then add a deranged Rip Torn throwing spanners at people and you’ve got gold.

I must admit my hopes weren’t too high for this movie on its release, a broad, high concept comedy made by a first time director, so I was as surprised as anyone to be gasping for breath within minutes in the cinema. Dodgeball is simply one of the purest comedies ever made, every single scene exists solely to be as funny as it can be. The performances are superb. Stiller gets a lot of the credit for his admittedly show stealing role as White Goodman but he’s supported by a cast including Justin Long, Stephen Root, Christine Taylor and the aforementioned Torn and Vaughn, and who could forget Alan Tudyk who will forever be Steve The Pirate in the hearts of anyone who never watched Firefly.

Here’s 49 seconds of Justin Long getting hit with dodgeballs. It never stops being funny.

So there you have it, five films that prove that sport can be about more than grown men crying in pubs. What are your favourite anti-sport movies? Have a lovely giant sports day everyone, if you need me I’ll be in Camden in any bar without a TV.

COMMUNITY – 5 reasons to catch up with America’s funniest comedy

It has the best ensemble cast since Arrested Development

Most shows have a few fluff characters, the ones who just make up the number or are wheeled in whenever a stooge is required for the greater characters to play off. Even the mighty 30 Rock has characters that seemed to be fazed in and out depending on the writer’s interest.

Arrested Development was one of those rare shows where everyone watching had a different favourite character (mine was Gob followed by Tobias) and few could argue that any character was not needed to make the show work.

Community focuses on seven disparate individuals thrown together in a study group in a fairly underwhelming community college. Not only is each character completely unique from all of the others but each has such depth that I had to go back and rewatch the first few episodes having completely misjudged most of them. From secretly sensitive high school jock Troy to bright and perky ex-Adderall addict Annie to Shirley the kindly Christian with the secret past, the more we find out about them the more we love them.

The show steadfastly refuses to have a lead character and even the seemingly lead pair of Jeff and Britta are constantly complaining about the rest of the group forcing leadership upon them. If I’m being honest I’d struggle to even name my favourite character, it changes with every new plot line.

The cast are uniformly brilliant and it is a joy to watch them interacting with each other, a lot of the cast are relatively unknown but I hope that all will change after this show.

Oh did I mention one of the characters is played by Chevy Chase? No? ONE OF THE CHARACTERS IS PLAYED BY CHEVY CHASE! Yes the 80’s legend plays crotchety, confused and slightly racist ‘moist towelette tycoon’ Pierce Hawthorn. If this means nothing to you then all I can say is why are you wasting your time reading blogs when you should be doing your homework?

The supporting cast are just as great

Sorry to continue the comparison but alongside the great main cast one thing Arrested Development had in spades was great recurring characters. From Henry Winkler’s exasperated lawyer Barry Zuckerhorn to Liza Minnelli’s vertiginous Lucille 2 these supporting characters quickly became favourites among the fans.

Community arguably tops that with its wonderful array of characters that prowl the halls of Greendale Community College.

Favourites include Jim Rash’s camp-as-Christmas Dean Pelton who is always ready to interrupt at the most inappropriate moment, seemingly blissfully unaware of his terrible vocal faux-pas or overtly homosexual costumes –

Ian Duncan, English friend of Jeff, lecturer and sometime alcoholic. As an Englishman myself I always get a kick out of his pathetic attempts to put England above America (“FawltyTowers, game over!”).

Then there’s Chang, played by the incredible Ken Jeong (The Hangover, Role Models). Beginning life as Senor Chang the deranged Spanish teacher with a chip on his shoulder about being Asian (though seemingly unsure exactly which country he’s from) he gets fired and spends the second series as a student trying to get into the gang’s study group. He also has a propensity to use his name in place of other words (“Between you and me, I don’t Chang a lot of chicks”).

Special mention (because I love him) must also go to Eustace Whitman played with gusto by John Michael Higgins (anything Christopher Guest has ever done), the accounting professor whose only lesson is Carpe Diem. He can be seen randomly climbing trees and when asked what he would like to eat at the school canteen he rips up the menu and proudly announces “I shall have a birthday cake!”. He is only in a couple of episodes but is one of the funniest creations in the show.

It manages to do ‘meta’ without being smug and self satisfying

A lot of shows try to be meta, to break the fourth wall or be incredibly self aware. Most shows fail and you just end up feeling like you’re watching half an hour of people winking at you.

Community hit the nail right on the head. It doesn’t use meta to be clever (although it is), it uses it to get away with far more than it would be able to under normal circumstances. How many shows could get away with having an episode entirely in claymation and still make it fit the reality of the show? How many shows could fit in a zombie outbreak, a paintball inspired apocalypse or a Space Camp parody and not seem so utterly ridiculous that you’d be reaching for the remote at the five minute mark?

One of the keys to getting away with all of this is the character of Abed. I’ve not mentioned him before as I’ve been saving him up, he’s special you see. Abed is a borderline Asperger’s suffering meta machine. He lives his life through comparison to films and TV and acts almost as the show’s unconscious director’s commentary through even the most ridiculous of plot lines. It’s hard to explain in writing, just watch this clip –

It’s very, very, very funny! 

A great cast and a whole bunch of self referential moments are all well and good but if it doesn’t have the writing to back it up then you may as well watch Two and a Half Men. Fortunately I will go on record as saying that Community is not only the funniest show in recent years, not only the funniest show in America but one of the funniest shows of all time.

Strong words I know but I like to think I know funny and it takes a lot to have me crippled with laughter, the sort of laughter where tears roll down your eyes, where you struggle to catch breath, where you miss two or three jokes because you’re still recovering from the last one. It’s that funny! Moments like Troy and Abed building a bedsheet fort that ends up spreading across the entire dorm (and includes a Turkish Quarter and a protest march that apparently even filled out the appropriate permission forms), the aforementioned Space Camp parody where the gang get stuck in a space simulator run by a robotic Colonel Sanders, or the simply incredible ‘bottle episode’ where instead of going outside to see a puppy parade the group are stuck inside trying to find Annie’s missing pen. Find yourself among Community fans when you’ve not watched the show and prepared to be completely isolated while they reminisce about their favourite moments, quote it endlessly and try to perfect Troy and Abed’s secret handshake. You have been warned!

Season 3 has got John Goodman in it!  

Just when it seemed that Community could get no better they only go and introduce none other than John ‘Shut the fuck up Donny’ Goodman as Vice Dean Laybourne. So check out this preview for season 3 then, by whatever means available to you, get hold of the first two series and bone up like a good Greendale student.

Community season 3 starts September 22 on NBC

Niki Jones