Category Archives: LBoM: Editorials

Black Mirror: Bandersnatch

So I fucking love the T.V. show Black Mirror, I even did a write up of every episode from the first four seasons. A quick synopsis for those who do not know what Black Mirror is.

The show is an anthology T.V. series that uses technology as it’s backbone. Each episode is self contained and yet they all take place in one unique shared universe. These are dark and depressing tales often with a sting in the tail. Black Mirror is the brainchild of acerbic and satirical writer, Charlie Brooker. If you like miserable and dreary stories – then Black Mirror is perfect for you.

Season five is set to be released late this year and it had already begun filming last year. But it was pushed back from an earlier release due to something else. That something was Black Mirror: Bandersnatch. This is a special one-off episode.

This particular tale is one set in 1984 and tells of a young gaming programmer, Stefan Butler (Fionn Whitehead) who comes up with and sells the idea of a video game that gives the player freedom of choice. The game is based on one of those amazing choose your own adventure books called Bandersnatch by writer Jerome F. Davies (Jeff Minter – legendary game designer). While writing the book, Jerome went mad and killed his wife.

Black Mirror Bandersnatch Stefan

Stefan sells the idea to game publisher, Tuckersoft. But as Stefan delves deeper into the book and his game, things begin to unravel and history tends to repeat itself…

So this special episode is different to any other Black Mirror episode that has gone before it. You see, Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is interactive. You get to make decisions for Stefan at certain points in the story and those decisions will shape the way the episode plays out. Some choices are very mundane from choosing which breakfast cereal to eat or what music to play (mundane, but still have an effect) to much bigger and important choices that will lead to one of numerous endings the episode has.

Black Mirror Bandersnatch Music Choice.png

It has been said that there are five “proper” endings to the episode, but then there are so many branches you can take that lead to other parts that could be considered endings that even creator Charlie Brooker himself has said he’s not sure just how many there really are and everyone involved in the episode can’t agree on what constitutes as an ending, it has even been said that there are so many possible outcomes that some scenes may never be seen.

Black Mirror: Bandersnatch aired on Netflix only a few days back on the 28th December last year. Yet fans have already been scouring the episode and creating flowcharts and maps to find each and every possible outcome. The view time can vary from 40 odd minutes to a couple of hours depending on your choices and around six hours of footage was filmed to be included for each path. I’ve been (I guess) “playing” this episode for a couple of days and seen a fair bit of it and various endings… but not all of them. But is it any good?

I grew up in the late 70s through the early 80s as an avid gamer, I remember and read a load of those chose your own adventure books back then too. And I really do love Black Mirror –  so this episode is seemingly tailor made for me. It’s like an amalgamation of many things I have a strong passion for.

Black Mirror Bandersnatch

The setting is amazing, the nods and references to 80s gaming and the decade in general is stunning and I broke out a nerd smile more than once throughout this episode. So many childhood memories wonderfully recreated through Black Mirror, the attention to detail is exquisite. Even the name Bandersntach is one that is carefully chosen as it references to a major misstep by one of the most influential British gaming publishers of the 80s (one of many subjects covered in my up coming book). There are great Philip K. Dick references, fourth wall breaks, self-referential writing and all sorts going on here. In that regard, I really loved this episode. I got so much enjoyment from just finding little Easter eggs and references, little sparks that kick-started memories from me growing up.

But as an episode of Black Mirror? It’s definitely one of the lesser ones. There’s no such thing as a bad episode of the show – but there are disappointing ones and this is one of them. The story is just a bit too bland for me and the characters not as well written as in previous episodes. The whole choice thing got tedious for me and I quite honestly just got bored of it all. I “played” though the episode four times, each time making different choices and I can’t really say I enjoyed any of them. There’s an element of Groundhog Day with you “resetting” back to a point and trying again, so be prepared to see the same scenes over and over and over again as you can’t skip them even if you’ve already seen it. A lot of the choices are so mundane they may as well not be there and there’s a lot of filler thrown in to pad out this illusion of choice thing.

Black Mirror Bandersnatch Netflix Choice

There are some nice moments that made me smile, like Stefan realising someone (you) is controlling him and you can respond by telling him you are watching Netflix… which didn’t exist in 1984 when this episode is set. There are some fantastic gaming related choices that will mirror the game Stefan is creating and there are more than a handful of nods to previous Black Mirror episodes. It all gets very meta at some points (including one of the endings) and I love when writers do stuff like this. Brooker’s talent as a writer really does shine in some elements of this episode. But quite honestly, I’d have much preferred just having a “normal” episode without the choice thing with Brooker still doing all his fourth wall breaking and references.

But the story just doesn’t really do anything or go anywhere as it gets lost in it’s own gimmick. There’s no real hook, no punch as with other episodes. Give me White Bear, The National Anthem, White Christmas, Shut Up And Dance, Metalhead, Hated In The Nation or one of the other fantastic Black Mirror episodes in this format and it could’ve been something truly amazing. What you have here is a rather uninspired story that lacks the depth and whole Black Mirror ethos.

There’s a lot to find in the episode including an actual game you can play on a ZX Spectrum (you can play it another way too if you don’t have a ZX Spectrum handy) hidden away in one of the episodes. The game is Nohzdyve and it appears in the episode itself, the name of the game is also a reference to a previous Black Mirror episode too. It’s like an Easter egg inside and Easter egg. If you want to find it an even attempt to play it click here.

All in all, it’s a gimmick and one I just quickly got bored of to be honest. As I said, I “played” though the episode four times and I don’t see myself revisiting it to see the rest of the footage I missed. I saw one ending twice and the other two were just sight variations of each other. I’m really not all that bothered about seeing the rest, but I think I might enjoy it more if someone did and edit of the episode that just played out like a normal one with a defined start, middle and end.

To be completely fair, you can kind of watch it like that as you don’t have to chose anything and just let the episode pay out as is. It will select a choice for you and you’ll see a lot more scenes. But the episode will keep jumping back in time to a previous choice and select the other one to see the alternate path… it all gets a bit tedious as you watch and re-watch the same scenes over and over. As I said, I’d rather just see an edited version without the choices telling an A to Z story.

Black Mirror Bandersnatch Reference.png

Black Mirror: Bandersnatch is a great idea, in places it’s brilliantly written too. But my enjoyment came from the 80s setting, the references, the nods to previous episodes, etc and not the whole interactivity thing – which I grew tired of. The story itself is one of the lesser ones in the Black Mirror library of tales. Maybe check it out for curiosity sake if you have a Netflix account, you might get a few hours of enjoyment from it.

It’s a nice little addition to whet the appetite while we wait for season five to come around. But not something I think will be revisiting.

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The End Of Little Bits?

So I’m starting New Year with a possible goodbye, or at least an au revoir.

I’ve been writing this blog for a while now and enjoyed it immensely. I’m eternally grateful to anyone who has been following/reading and surprised I still get new folk following on a weekly basis.

But things are changing here at WordPress who host this platform… money things. See, I pay a subscription every year to keep this blog going and WordPress are changing what you get for your money. Basically they want me to pay the same amount but are removing features I currently get with the package I pay for – to then charge extra for those features. And after some thinking, I don’t believe what they now want me to pay to keep this site with the same features is ultimately worth it.

Money.jpg

It’s not just the WordPress greed that is forcing my hand though. Maybe the planets have just aligned at the right time? See, this blog has always been just a fun hobby for me – I didn’t expect one follower, never mind the amount I do have. 2018 saw more people reading my inane rants and views than ever before. But as I say, this was always just a hobby. My real passion lies with writing books.

Last year I shared my idea to write a book covering the best of British game developers & publishers. And by November, I’d finished the first draft of that book. I’m currently trying to sell the idea to get it published while I work on the second draft. Plus I’m two thirds the way through writing my first novel. A vigilante thriller that’s not as straight forward as it first seems. Then I’m currently writing my second short story collection as well as outlining future book ideas. Basically, I have a hell of a lot of writing ahead of me.

Old vintage typewriter

This is what I want to do – write. Last year I wrote more in those 12 months than I have the previous two years combined. So with WordPress wanting more money and my interests lying in my books – I’ve decided not to renew my current premium account when it expires on the 17th of April, 2019.

I do work full-time, have a 14 month old daughter, write books and with this blog too – I’m just spreading myself way too thin right now and something needs to be dropped.

Now this doesn’t necessarily mean the end of Little Bits of Gaming & Movies for good. I’m not going to delete the site and all my articles will still be available, plus I can still write on this blog as and when I want – I still have 20 draft articles I’ve not published. But the domain name will change as I’ll no longer be paying for it as well as some other behind the scenes stuff too that will limit my options when I drop the premium package and go the free route instead. I’ll be concentrating on my books through 2019 and this blog will just be a background thing I can dip into now and then. They’ll be fewer articles overall as I turn my attention to bigger things. But who knows what the future holds?

If my writing career kicks off, I’ll quit the day job and be a full-time writer. If that happens then I’ll have more money and more importantly, time to invest into my hobby of writing this blog. Maybe, just maybe if things work out, Little Bits of Gaming and Movies will be back bigger than ever with me able to really create something better. Maybe a whole new blog that binds my love for games, movies and my writing?

I definitely don’t want to completely close the door on this. I really do enjoy writing this blog but needs must and my dreams and aspirations lie elsewhere right now.

Thank you

But I just want to say a big thank you to everyone who’s followed me and to anyone who sits there reading my views and opinions from you folk who’ve been around for years to the ones who have only just begun following in the last few weeks or so.

Little Bits of Gaming and Movies will be hibernating for a while. Occasionally waking up with the odd article through the year, but mostly sleeping through 2019.

Cobra Kai: The References

So earlier this year, a sequel T.V. show to The Karate Kid film franchise launched on YouTube Red called Cobra Kai. Picking up the story 30 years after the end of the 3rd film, the show continues the story of Daniel (Ralph Macchio) and Johnny’s (William Zabka) decades long rivalry. You can watch the first two episodes for free too on YouTube.

I didn’t have a lot of interest in the show at first, but when an old friend (thanks Mike) suggested I should check it out, I decided to do a full retrospective of the entire The Karate Kid franchise… and I ended up enjoying the show a lot more than I thought I would. Cobra Kai is a brilliant show, one that pays respects to the film series and yet does its own thing at the same time. I loved it so much that I watched the whole thing twice and it was while enjoying the series for the second time when I noticed a lot of in-jokes, references and call-backs to not only the film franchise but also fan theories over the years. The second season of Cobra Kai is filming as I type this and set to be released next year. So to pass the time until then, I thought I’d take a look a the many, many Cobra Kai references from season one. Now, I’m not sure that I caught everything but I’m going to cover as many as I noticed.

If you’ve not seen Cobra Kai yet then check it out as it’s brilliant. Also, SPOILERS ahead too as some references give away plot points.

Episode 1: Ace Degenerate

This one kicks off showing the fight that ended the original film. But it also features some new shots, angles and even previously unused footage not shown in the movie. Johnny still likes his red cars, in the show he now has a bright red Pontiac Firebird while in the movie he had a bright red Avanti convertible – I guess it would be too much to expect the same car three decades later. But it still shows that Johnny likes red cars.

Cobra Kai Johnnys Car

It’s also shown that Johnny is now living in the Reseda area of L.A., which is where Daniel and his mother moved to in the film. Plus Johnny is now working as a odd-job/maintenance man which is the same job Mr. Miyagi held. Then, when Johnny’s car is hit and towed away, the company is called “Pat’s Towing” which could (or could not) be a reference to Mr. Miyagi actor Pat Morita… maybe?

When Johnny and Daniel finally meet in the show after 30 years, Johnny makes reference to the fact that Daniel should’ve been disqualified as his infamous crane-kick hit Johnny in the face and it’s made clear at the start of the tournament that blows to the face are illegal. It’s a much discussed plot hole among fans of the film. Also while at the car dealership, Daniel introduces his cousin Louie and in the films he had an uncle Louie. There’s a chance uncle Louie named his son after himself.

Episode 2: Strike First

While talking to Miguel Diaz, Johnny recites a Cobra Kai mantra (“A man confronts you, he is the enemy. An enemy deserves no mercy.”) and even signs off by saying “What is the problem Mr. Diaz?”. Which is exactly what John Kreese says to Johnny in the first film and even signs off by saying “What is the problem Mr. Lawrence?”.

When talking to his wife, Daniel mentions how he was pushed off a cliff while on his bike. Aside from some hyperbole from Daniel, he is referencing when Johnny and the Cobra Kai students pushed Daniel off his bike and down a hill in the first film. There is also a brief flashback showing Daniel teaching his daughter karate, he says “True karate is here, here but never here” while pointing to parts of her body from her head to her stomach. This is something Mr. Miyagi taught Daniel in the film.

Cobra Kai Daniel Flashback

Daniel invites his daughter’s boyfriend, Kyler round for dinner and at that dinner he mentions how he got his sashimi knife during his first visit to Okinawa which is a reference to the second film. Also during the dinner, Daniel questions Kyler on his injuries especially his black eye and hand. Mr. Miyagi also does this to Daniel in the first film after he is beat up by the Cobra Kai students.

At the Cobra Kai dojo, Johnny has Miguel clean the windows. Miguel asks if he should clean the windows a specific way… which is an obvious set up for a “wax on, wax off” joke, but Johnny says he doesn’t give a shit.

Episode 3: Esqueleto

While at dinner (again) and discussing his daughter going to the Halloween dance Daniel mentions him being a chaperone, he goes on to say how his mother used to drive him on dates which is a reference to the date he and Ali went on in the first film in which his mother drove the love birds.

Cobra Kai Original Date

As Johnny trains Miguel (rather brutally) at the swimming pool, he says “Cobra Kai never dies”, which is a reference to the mantra said in both the first and third films. Then at the Halloween dance later in the episode, Miguel turns up in the same infamous and iconic skeleton costume Johnny wore in the first film. And as Johnny is walking trough the school, he sees a picture of Ali from the first film.

Episode 4: Cobra Kai Never Dies

To be honest, this one is a little light on the references as it spends a lot of time with the new characters instead of the older ones. Well the title of the episode is a reference I’ve already covered with that previously mentioned mantra of the dojo.

This is a tenuous one I admit, but Daniel makes Bananarama pancakes for breakfast, Bananarama performed the song Cruel Summer which appears in the film. When Kyler and his friends bully Miguel in the library, one of Kyler’s cohorts says “I think he’s gonna cry.” This is the same line said by one of the Cobra Kai students to Daniel in the first film in the locker-room before the tournament begins.

Episode 5: Counterbalance

Johnny says “This isn’t a knitting class, it’s a dojo.” to Miguel. John Kreese says the line “This is a karate dojo, not a knitting class.” in the first film to Mr. Miyagi.

As Daniel sets up his dojo at home, he hangs a rule of karate on the wall, this is the same rule (rule 2) Mr. Miyagi has on his dojo and teaches to Daniel in the second film. Plus the country club Daniel frequents in the show (seen a lot in this episode) is the same club where he gets covered in spaghetti from the first film after seeing Johnny and Ali dancing together – the Encino Oaks Country Club.

Cobra Kai Daniel Karate Rule

As Daniel performs a kata near the end of the episode, he strikes the exact same pose he used in the third film’s final fight and the music in the background is the same as the music in the first film’s finale.

Episode 6: Quiver

This one opens with a young version of Johnny showing us his past. We see him ogle some motorbikes, which is something featured in the first film and then young Johnny discovers the Cobra Kai dojo for the first time. He looks through the window and can see and hear a young John Kreese talking to students – the audio used is taken directly from the first film. Funnily enough, the audio used is taken form a scene in the first film that Johnny was in.

Cobra Kai Johnny Flashback

Johnny teaches his students a simple one-two jab punch. This is the same punch John tells Johnny to use to warm up the students in the first film. Daniel is doing some katas when Robby asks him what he is doing. Daniel explains how they are the foundation to Karate, Mr. Miyagi teaches Daniel the same kata and says the same thing in the third film.

Johnny walks past this students in the dojo saying “Fear does not exist in this dojo does it? Pain does not exist in this dojo does it? Defeat does not exist in this dojo does it?” John did the same thing in the first film.

Episode 7: All Valley

This one opens with a very familiar scene as Daniel has Robby do some chores around the car lot including waxing cars. This is Daniel teaching Robby Karate the same way Mr. Miyagi taught him. And when Robby is finished waxing the cars, Daniel asks “Both lots?”. This is a nod to when Mr. Miyagi asks Daniel to paint the fence. Then Robby get upset that he’s not being taught Karate at all and accuses Daniel of using him to just do chores, the same thing happened to Daniel with Mr. Miyagi.

As Johnny is looking through his karate magazine, he sees an ad for the All Valley Karate Championships. The design for the ad is almost identical to the original save some colouring and a date change.

Cobra Kai Ad

Miguel and Sam go on a date to the Golf n Stuff which is the exact same place Daniel and Ali went on their date in the first film. Many of the shots and actions are recreated too including the opening crane shot, having their photo taken in a photo-both, playing mini golf, etc. The whole scene is full of nods and references to the original film.

Johnny learns that the Cobra Kai dojo has a lifetime ban from entering competition. This is a plot point carried over from the third film when John Kreese and the dojo are given a life time ban due to the events of the film. It also makes sense that Johnny knows nothing about it as he was not part of the third film.

Episode 8: Molting

Johnny wears a red jacket in this one (he really likes red) and it looks a lot like the red jacket he had in the first film. Meanwhile at Daniel’s home, he gets a visit from his mother, Lucille and she is played by the same actress as the original film – Randee Heller. Lucille also references the time Daniel was pushed of his bike down that hill… or cliff according to Daniel. She also describes Daniel’s eyes as “baby browns”, something she did in the film.

Cobra Kai Lucile

Johnny recaps the events of the first film while talking to Miguel… only there’s a twist (more on that later). But he mentions several characters from the the flick including Ali, and some of the old Cobra Kai students. When Daniel trains Robby, he wears a baseball catcher’s mask and chest protector, just like Mr. Miyagi did with Daniel in the film. He also mentions about power coming out of one inch of his fist, which is what Mr. Miyagi also said to Daniel.

Cobra Kai Original Training

Miguel discovers his girlfriend, Sam with another boy. A boy she has no interest in, but Miguel misunderstands the situation. Daniel did the same when he saw Johnny and Ali at the country club.

Episode 9: Different But Same

Johnny arrives at Daniel’s house and says “You still can’t leave well enough alone.” This is a reference to the first film when, after the Halloween dance, the Cobra Kai students catch Daniel and Johnny says “You couldn’t leave well enough alone, could you, you little twerp?”.

While test driving a car, Johnny calls Daniel “Danielle”. One of Johnny’s fellow students, Dutch, also referred to Daniel as “Danielle” in the locker room before the big fight in the first film. Also while on the test drive, they stop at Daniel’s old apartment complex where he and hos mother lived in the first film. Then Johnny mentions kicking Daniel’s “ass around the corner”, which is a reference to the Halloween fight in the film. Of course Daniel quips back “how’d that end?” which is referencing Mr. Miyagi beating the crap out of the Johnny and the Cobra Kais.

Cobra Kai Halloween Fight Original

Then while at a bar having a drink together, Daniel and Johnny talk about the spaghetti calamity at the county club as well as well as referencing a few other things from the films including the opening of the second film. Daniel also says he knows where Ali is now (possible set-up for a cameo in season 2?).

Episode 10: Mercy

The scoreboard for the karate tournament is in the exact same style and colours as in the original film. The Cobra Kai gis are also the exact same style and colour as they were in the film. Of course the infamous crane-kick make an appearance when Miguel uses it to score his first point to mock Daniel. The whole tournament has plenty of references to the big fight from the film, Johnny making a fist aimed at one of his students – just as John Kreese did, the semi-finals are announced the same way, one of the Cobra Kai get disqualified for using an illegal move and many more.

Cobra Kai Crane Kick

Robby gets taken out of the competition with an injury, just as Daniel was. Then back in the locker room Daniel rubs his hands together, just as Mr. Miyagi did when readying himself to heal Daniel… only this version has a different resolve. Then when Robby returns to the tournament after his injury, the announcer exclaims, ” Daniel LaRusso’s gonna coach!” – which is a twist on the line “Daniel LaRusso’s gonna fight!” from the first film.

The episode ends with Daniel taking Robby to his old training grounds… Mr. Miyagi’s house. It’s complete with the old cars (especially that yellow Ford Super Deluxe convertible). Then they go into the garden and it looks just as it did in the film, all while the famous Bill Conti music plays in the background. Only that’s not quite the end…

Cobra Kai John Kresee

Back at the Cobra Kai dojo, Johnny get an unexpected visitor – John Kreese, his old sensei, still played by Martin Kove and with a big, fat stogie in his mouth. Setting up for a hell of a confrontation in season 2.

Bonus Reference

As a nice bonus reference. There has been a fan theory for years that Daniel was actually the bully in the original film and Johnny was the victim. Plenty of people have covered this theory and you can read one example here. Well in the show, Johnny is not really the bad guy. He’s a bit of a loser, a drop-out sure – but he’s also shown to be sympathetic and caring. While Daniel is shown to be a more antagonistic, likes showing off his wealth, popularity and success.

Cobra Kai Johnny Talk

It’s almost as if Johnny is the victim here and Daniel is the bully… kind of like the fan theory. In fact, in episode 8, Johnny tells the story of the original film to Miguel – but he tells it as if he was the victim. In-keeping with the fan theory thing. It’s a nice bit on the part of the writers to include such a reference and even base the whole show off.


 

There’s a lot of fan-service in the show (some references I’ve not covered, some I’ve not even noticed myself) yet it never feels forced. The writers have crafted a wonderful series with Cobra Kai that while fresh, still has one foot in the 80s and the original three films.

Bring on season 2, I can’t wait.

Not Your Usual, “Is Die Hard A Christmas Movie?” Article

Yup its that time of year again. The annual celebration we like to call Christmas is back and I bet that if you typed “is Die Hard a Christmas movie” into Google (or your choice of interwebs search engine), you’ll find dozens of articles all asking that particular question and all with differing answers. Most sites keep regurgitating the exact same article from the previous years too just with a few wording tweaks and many offer “a new poll” which, as I’ve noticed seems to switch results every year. Last year a poll said yes Die Hard is a Christmas film but this year it’s a no. It’ll be a yes again next year.

I have been writing this blog for a few years now and never bothered to offer my own insight and answer to this age old query, until now. Except I don’t want to do what everyone else does with a simple yes or no – I want to not only answer but also explain my answer.

This summer saw the 30th anniversary since Die Hard was released and I’ve been doing Die Hard based articles all year in celebration. So it only seem fitting to tackle this sticky subject as part of and to end my 30th anniversary celebrations. But before I get to my opinion and answer to the query, lets see what some people connected to the movie say…

Are They Right?

Die Hard screenwriter Steven E. de Souza already put his view across a while back and he says it is. However Bruce Willis has said its not when he was quoted during his comedy roast by saying:

“Die Hard is not a Christmas movie. It’s a god damn Bruce Willis movie!”

– Bruce Willis

Bearing in mind, that was (as mentioned) during a comedy roast. So I’m guessing Bruce was trying to be funny. Plus there is the fact he’s getting old and senile too – I mean back in 2007 he said that Live Free or Die Hard is better (at times) than the original.

“It’s at least as good if not better at times that the first film.”

– Bruce Willis

As I said, senile. So what Bruce says about the original being a Christmas movie or not is moot… seriously it’s as good as if not better than the original? Bruce needs to be put down – it would be kinder.

Now I Have A Machinegun

I suppose that is really the crux of my point, it’s opinion. When it comes to this question everyone falls into one of three categories.

  1. You have the naysayers, the ones that refuse to see Die Hard as a Christmas flick.
  2. You have the opposite, the ones who will say it is a Christmas movie every year until they die.
  3. Then you have the third group, the ones that just don’t give a fuck.

People say it’s not a Christmas film because it has nothing to do with Christmas… and they’re right from a plot point of view. Then there are those that say it is a Christmas movie because it takes place over Christmas Eve – but is that enough? For me, no. But I will come off as very hypocritical next as it’s now time for me to answer that yearly question – is Die Hard a Christmas movie? Well…

Die Hard Jumpers

Those are my Christmas jumpers for this year, what do you think my opinion is? Still, I said earlier how I don’t just want to answer but also explain my answer. And this is where the hypocrisy will come in. No, I don’t think that Die Hard being set at Christmas is enough to qualify it as a Christmas flick. I feel the same way about that other controversial choice too, Lethal Weapon. I love me some Riggs & Murtaugh and I think Lethal Weapon is a damn fine picture… but it’s not a festive flick to me despite it being set at Christmas just like Die Hard.

What Is A “Christmas Movie?”

Yet something like Batman Returns or Gremlins? Yup, I see those as Christmas films despite the fact they have little to do with the festive season other than the setting. I did pre-warn you about the hypocrisy. Die Hard gets shot down as a festive film just because it’s set at Christmas but the plot has nothing to do with the holiday… yet Home Alone is always lauded as a “Christmas classic” when it is only set at Christmas but plot-wise? What does a really annoying kid fending off two really fucking stupid burglars have to do with the Yuletide season? So what is Die Hard ignored as a Christmas flick because it has nothing to do with the season and only set in it – but others in the same boat get a free pass? You don’t see “Is Home Alone a Christmas movie?” articles year after year do you?

This line of reasoning can be applied to films that no one would argue against being a Christmas film. Take my all time favourite festive flick – It’s a Wonderful Life. Usually at near the top if not at the top of a lot of Christmas film lists…. but why? The opening of the film and the end are set in and around Xmas sure, but the majority of the story has absolutely nothing to do with the silly season at all. George Bailey thinking life would be better of he was dead is a story that could’ve been told any time of the year, not specifically Christmas. Yes it being (hardly) set at Christmas gives it a little lift, a bit more gravitas. But the core of the plot and meaning behind it – that could’ve been told in the Spring and still got the same message across right?

Its A Wonderful Life

What about the all time, undisputed classic A Christmas Carol? I love this story. No matter how many times it is told and re-told, I never get bored of it. Form the Alastair Sim starring 1951 Scrooge, the Bill Murray take from 1988 with Scrooged to the greatest version of the tale yet – The Muppet Christmas Carol from 1992. It’s a story that has been done dozens up on dozens and dozens of times from 1901 onward. Yet it’s another one that is considered a “Christmas classic” when it really has little to do with Christmas outside of it’s setting. Yeah I know what you are thinking – how dare I? But just look at the plot for a second. it’s about a miserly old man learning to be more generous and friendly. Let me put it this way, keep the same plot, same characters, ghosts everything –  only change the setting from Christmas Eve to October 31st and you have an effective Halloween film about a mean old bastard scared into being nice by ghosts of his past and even Death itself.

Seriously, What Is A Christmas Movie?

Of course there are films that are not only set at Christmas but also have a plot that is cemented in the festive season. Miracle on 34th Street as an example. It’s a film about a man trying to prove his is the real Santa Claus. It’s kind of hard to get a more Christmasy film than that. You can change the setting, but the plot is still about someone proving they are the real Santa. But what about something that features the real Santa but is hardly set at Christmas at all? I present the short film Father Christmas from 1991 based on the books by Raymond Briggs, the man behind another all time Christmas classic, The Snowman. Have you ever seen Father Christmas? (the short film not the real dude). It basically tells the story of what Santa does the rest of the year when it’s not Christmas. For those not in the know, he goes on holiday and says “bloomin'” a lot. It’s a film about Father Christmas that has little to do with Christmas itself… yet it’s a definite “Christmas classic”.

Father Christmas

And that really is my point, it’s hard to pin-down what makes a Christmas movie a Christmas movie. You can have Christmas films that have plots and characters centric to the season. There are ones that are only set at Christmas but from a plot point of view have nothing to do with the holiday. Then there are some that feature Christmas characters at the centre, but story/plot wise have little to do with Noël. So where does Die Hard fit into all of this? I said earlier how I don’t consider Die Hard a Christmas movie just because it’s set at Christmas. Yet I do see it as a Christmas flick none the less… and so this is where the explanation comes in.

This Is What A Christmas Movie is…

Back to the Future, The Wizard of Oz, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Rocky III. So what do all those films have in common? Well they’re all Christmas flicks. Maybe I should clarify, they are all Christmas films to me specifically. See here in England in the 80s when I grew up, we only had four T.V. channels at the time and these channels would always battle year after year to get the big films shown over Christmas, sometimes it would be a T.V. premier too. It was a wondrous time of year for the young film-fan me as I got to watch plenty of flicks. I’d probably watch more films over the 2 week Christmas holiday from school than I would the rest of the year. A lot of first time views of these films for me comes from Christmas and so they go on to be forever associated with Christmas to me personally, despite their settings, plots or characters. Then there is the other thing I connect Christmas to – family. I still remember and miss those family gatherings every year. Let me take one film from those above as an example with Rocky III and continue my explanation.

The film itself has nothing to do with Christmas I know. Yet the first time I saw Rocky III was on T.V. in the 80s over Christmas (I think 86?). I still remember the day vividly. Nan and Granddad came over on Christmas Eve and stayed with us. We opened our presents in the morning and I got an X-Wing, toy not a real one. We’d had a huge traditional dinner around 1 PM before The Queen’s Christmas Message came on the telly at 3 as Nan would never miss that. Me and my brothers got to play with our new gifts for a while before we had to tidy up. And then later that evening, Granddad snored away in his favourite armchair, sleeping off that huge dinner as the big film, Rocky III came on T.V. I sat on the sofa next to Nan and she put her arm around a 10 year old me and we both sat there watching Sylvester Stallone punch the crap out of Mr. T.

Rocky III

Whenever I watch Rocky III even now it reminds me of that Christmas Day and so is, for me, a Christmas film. it has nothing to do with Christmas, no Christmas characters, story or plot and not even a hint of a Christmas setting. Yet it will always be a Christmas movie because of that memory.

Same goes for Die Hard (finally), I don’t consider Die Hard a Christmas film because it’s set at Christmas, it helps I admit – but it’s not the reason it’s a Christmas flick to me. The reason is because I first saw it over Christmas. I was way too young in 1988 to go to the cinema to watch Die Hard. But when it was released on VHS, I remember my older brother Rob coming home one day with a copy and we watched it together a few days before Christmas. From that day in 1989 to this, I always watch Die Hard on Christmas Eve as a tradition. Now I’m an adult, I pour myself a large glass of Jack Daniels, plonk myself into a nice & comfy leather armchair, then sit back and relax as Bruce Willis shoots terrorists (who said they were terrorists?) in a skyscraper. I’m not satisfied until Hans Gruber falls from Nakatomi Plaza. And I’ll be doing the same this Christmas Eve too 29 years after that very first time.

Hans Gruber falling

 

That is what a Christmas film is. It doesn’t have to have a Christmas theme or plot or characters, nor does it need to be set at Christmas either. A Christmas flick is one you watch over Christmas because it gets you in the mood, it sparks off a festive memory, a film you watch because it’s Christmas not because it’s a Christmas film.

Is Die Hard a Christmas movie? For me, yes and it’s up there with the likes of Back to the Future, The Wizard of Oz, Raiders of the Lost Ark and of course Rocky III.

John McClane Christmas

Have a good Christmas folks. Oh and yippee-ki-yay mother fuckers.

But The Joker Doesn’t Have An Origin!

I actually meant to write this one a few weeks ago… but the Red Dead Redemption II release kind of took over my blog for a while and all I’d been doing was RDR related articles. Still, semi-normal service has now resumed.

So anyway, there’s a new film telling the origin story of The Joker being filmed right now called Joker as shown in that above early/test footage. Set to be released next year and starring Joaquin Phoenix as the titular Clown Prince of Crime. the film will be a stand alone picture not connected to the existing D.C. movie universe (thankfully). Yet some people are getting all annoyed with the fact that in the comics, The Joker has never had a definitive origin so a film version should not exist. Even the man himself either does not know or refuses to remember the person he was before he became Batman’s arch-nemesis. I suppose this article could be thrown in with my Comic Book Fans Have Short Memories article from a while back. I mean, It’s not as if Joker hasn’t already had an origin story on film is it?

How about Batman: Mask of the Phantasm? It was an animated film from 1993, a continuation of the very awesome animated T.V. show. This film shows one possible origin of The Joker. the fact the movie is also pretty damn amazing and a huge fan favourite helps… oh and it was nominated for an Annie (animation equivalent to the Oscars), sadly it lost out to The Lion King – but still goes to show just how respected the film really was and still is. People love this flick and it has an origin for The Joker.

Batman Mask of the Phantasm Joker.jpg

2016’s The Killing Joke also offered a possible origin for The Joker. Based on the graphic novel of the same name. When a struggling stand up comedian finds it hard to support his pregnant wife, he turns to crime and that lays down the basis for becoming The Joker. Oh and let’s not forget this…

Batman 89.jpg

Still my favourite Batman movie and yes, The Joker is given an origin. Tim Burton’s Batman from 1989 was a pretty bold movie in that regard as (correct me if I’m wrong)  The Joker had never been given an origin before, at least not on screen. I really loved the origin here too as it was Batman who created The Joker… but it was The Joker who created Batman first. They are two sides of the same coin.

Batman 89 Joker

Besides, we don’t really know all the details for this new Joker film as the plot is being kept tip-top secret. All we know is that Joaquin Phoenix is playing Arthur Fleck before becoming The Joker. But here are a couple of ideas off the top of my head of how the film could handle the origin story.

He’s lying. The film being made is just a lie told by The Joker. Kind of how Heath Ledger’s Joker from The Dark Knight told a different story about how he got those scars. This film really could be The Joker just telling a fable of who he once was.

Or the film could be an anthology telling more than one origin story within one film. Look at the comics, they have a similar idea as The Joker has had multiple origin stories and none of them are definitive, they are just possibilities. Maybe that’s the plan to tell different origin stories in one film or even make multiple Joker films all telling a different origin and this is just the first one?

Joker 2019.jpg

Either way, point is. I don’t understand why some people are against this new Joker movie telling his origin… or at least one of his origins. It has been done before in the comics and movies several times over and this is just another version. This is a flick I’m looking forward to… so far at least. I have been stung by D.C. films in recent years so I’m very concerned about whether that can deliver a worthy movie or not. But at this early stage, I really like Joaquin Phoenix and think he could be a perfect bit of casting. It’s all very hush, hush right now with no one really knowing what the film will be about other then it being an origin story. The early test footage shows very little but I’m sure we will see more of the flick over the next few weeks and months.

Anyway, calm down folks. All these fans getting upset because its an origin and The Joker doesn’t have one. It’s been done before, pretty damn well too. This could be the start of something great… or it could be another D.C. movie disaster.

 

Bohemian Rhapsody: Is This The Real Life, Is This Just Fantasy?

So I watched the Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody a couple of days back. I wrote this one not long after watching the film but didn’t publish it until now as I didn’t want to break my Red Dead Redemption II saga of articles (they’ve been going on for six weeks or so). But now that damn long awaited cowboy game is released, I can resume (almost) normal service.

So I’m a huge and long time Queen fan. I grew up with their music and when Freddie died back in 1991, the world music lost one of its greatest. There can never, nor will there ever be anyone quite like Freddie Mercury. He was so unique that the word “unique” doesn’t do him justice. He was able to do things with his voice that no one else on the planet could manage and that’s not just personal opinion from a fan, its now scientific fact. But before I get into my feelings about the film, a quick history lesson of how this film came to be.

The History

This film has had a long and troubled production with it being originally announced in 2010. Back then, Sacha Baron Cohen was signed up to play Freddie. But Baron Cohen left the project in 2013 due to “creative differences”. Partly due to the fact he felt that the producers and remaining members of Queen wanted to make a family friendly picture while Baron Cohen wanted to make a more adult look at Freddie going deeper into his sexuality and lifestyle, a more honest biopic of you will. A more recent story has come out suggesting that Baron Cohen wasn’t taking the film seriously.

Bohemian Rhapsody Movie Sacha Baron Cohen

Then in 2013 Ben Whishaw was being tipped to play Freddie while Dexter Fletcher would be in the director’s chair. Both Whishaw and Fletcher left the project by 2014 with both of them citing “creative differences” (the go to excuse for leaving a film project). In 2015 it was suggested that Sacha Baron Cohen could be back as Freddie but that was proven to be false information. For a while, the film was stuck in development hell with numerous writers, directors and actors all hitting the rumor mill over the next few months.

In 2015 the film was confirmed to be back on track and a title was revealed for the first time – Bohemian Rhapsody. All new scripts had been written with Brain May and Roger Taylor attached as consultants and producers. Then in 2016 film was suddenly a-go when Rami Malek was announced to star as Freddie Mercury. Pre-production on the film began in early 2017 and filming started on September 2017 with Bryan Singer as director. Things were going well until filming ground to a halt when Singer stopped showing up to film. Exactly why this is open to speculation, one source says Bryan Singer left the film due to an illness in his family but another suggests that Singer’s poor behaviour on set got him removed from the film. Either way, the production lost it’s director with around two or three weeks still left of filming to do. So re-enter Dexter Fletcher to finish the film who was originally attached to the project back in 2013.

Bohemian Rhapsody Movie Rami Malek.jpg

Now with the film having two directors, that caused a problem as rules state only one director can be given credit. It was announced earlier this year that despite his leaving/firing that Bryan Singer would still be credited as director as he did shoot most of the film before Dexter Fletcher stepped in to finish it up.

So then finally after eight years in film development hell, the movie was released on the 24th of October here in the U.K. while our American cousins will have to wait until the 2nd of November. And I was there opening day wearing my Freddie Mercury shirt, with my mom to see this long troubled film. But was it worth it? A quick synopsis before I offer my view…

Queen Shirt

The Film

It opens up with Freddie (Rami Malek) preening himself, trimming his moustache just before heading out on stage for the famous Live Aid gig from 1985. It then jumps back to the early 70s with a teenage Freddie working at Heathrow Airport as a baggage handler where he puts up with racial abuse for being a “pakki”. Young Freddie dreams of bigger things and while at a bar enjoying a pint, he listens to the student band on stage, a band called Smile. With Brain May (Gwilym Lee) and Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy) as the lead guitarist and drummer respectively. When the lead singer leaves the band to join Humpy Bong (a folk band founded by former Bee Gees drummer Colin Petersen) Freddie steps in to offer his vocal talent, this is when he first meets Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton).

Bohemian Rhapsody Movie Freddie And Mary

The band then hire bassist John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello) and change their name to Queen. They record their first album for EMI and perform their first live gig as Queen. Freddie and Mary grow closer and become lovers as the band also grow from student gigs to tours. Queen begin become a little tired of performing the same type of music over and over so begin to experiment and from that experimentation comes their most famous song, Bohemian Rhapsody. EMI executive Ray Foster (Mike Myers) hates the song and refuses to allow Queen to release it. So the band walk out and take the song elsewhere getting it played by Kenny Everett (Dickie Beau) on his radio show. The song is a smash hit and Queen become huge.

Bohemian Rhapsody Movie Recording.jpg

While out on tour in Rio Freddie begins to show an interest in men and when he returns home he confesses to his then girlfriend that he is bisexual. The pair split but remain very close friends. As Queen begin to rise in the world of music, Freddie’s life begins to unravel. Keeping his sexuality from the press despite continual intrusion. Freddie begins to find comfort in drink, drugs and sex with anyone who shows him even the slightest bit of interest. Cracks begin to show in the band as Freddie grows increasingly out of control and he keeps turning up late for recording sessions often drunk, high or both after a heavy night of partying. Eventually, Freddie feels stifled by Queen and decides to go it alone by signing a solo contract behind the back of the other members at the suggestion of his manager. Queen (unofficially) split and go their separate ways.

Freddie moves to Germany to work on his solo music. After a visit from Mary who gives him a few home truths, Freddie returns home after sacking his backstabbing manager and meets up with the other members of Queen to ask them to reform so they can do the Live Aid gig as a way to say goodbye properly. They agree and the film ends with an amazing recreation of (almost) the entire Queen set from Live Aid 1985 and they cement themselves into rock music history.

Bohemian Rhapsody Movie Poster Freddie.jpg

My View

I’m a huge Queen fan so obviously there is going to be a little bias in my view. The film is utterly brilliant. Now its not perfect and hardcore Queen fans (like me) will spot several flaws especially if you have seen as many Queen documentaries and interviews as I have. This is a biopic and like other biopics certain aspects are exaggerated, changed and twisted to make the film more entertaining. What I’m trying to say is that not everything in this film is 100% factual. But creative licence has to be expected with these kinds of movies, they are not documentaries, they are films. I’m not going to concentrate on the half truths in the film but will highlight a few issues.

Bohemian Rhapsody Movie Poster Freddie and Brian.jpg

First, the film is rated 12A here in the U.K. and if you know anything about the life of Freddie Mercury then you’d know aspects would’ve had to have been diluted to fit that 12A rating… and diluted the film is. Things like the drug usage is not explicitly shown and only hinted at, Freddie’s bisexuality is lightly shown with a couple of gay kisses and that’s about it. But I didn’t go the film to watch gay sex, I went to watch a film about Freddie’s life and that is what I got. There is a scene where Freddie throws one of his infamous lavish parties and even that is watered down from reality. The real parties are legendary in the world of music with Freddie having naked dwarfs (sorry, little people) with trays of cocaine on their head for the guests, performers biting the heads off live chickens, rampant sex and so much more. The party scene in the film shows none of this though and is not as wild as the real things were. Freddie led such an overtly hedonistic lifestyle that even the Roman Emperor Caligula would have suggested that Freddie tone it down a bit. Plus the film shows Brian May not enjoying the party when in reality, he was one of the people who would suggest them and enjoyed himself as much as Freddie.

Second, I didn’t like when the film ended. Note I didn’t say “how” it ended but “when”. To be honest, the recreation of the Live Aid set is stunning, those last ten minutes or so of the flick that show an abridged version of Queen’s now legendary performance is jaw dropping. But there is so much more to the story of Queen after Live Aid that is not shown in the film. Live Aid was their turning point, they had all but broken up and were thought of as a washed up band (especially in America) with nothing left. After that gig, Queen went on to become world dominating and there is so much more story to be told about their music. Plus there is the relationship between Freddie and his lover Jim Hutton to explore which is only lightly touched on in the film, his continual relationship with Mary Austin to the point where Freddie became godfather to her son. And of course there is the death of the man himself and how he kept recording despite the fact he was in so much pain and discomfort right to the very end. There really is so much more story to be told about Freddie/Queen and this really feels like only half a film. Its a fantastic half a film, but still only half of the story. I’ve seen a tone of these biopics and always felt satisfied at the end but this film left a bit of a gap and needs a sequel, there must be a Bohemian Rhapsody 2. Just having a bit of text at the end of the film pointing out Freddie died of bronchial pneumonia resulting from AIDS didn’t really cut it for me.

Bohemian Rhapsody Movie Live Aid

That’s about it for the negatives really. On to the positives.

The cast have to be addressed here. Of course Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury is amazing. He has the voice, the mannerisms and everything. There are times during the Live Aid finale when a few long shots are shown and I’m not sure of it was Rami or Freddie himself using actual Live Aid footage. In fact, I’m pretty sure I spotted a cheeky cameo from the real Freddie during one shot. The strutting on stage the arm waving/air punching, Rami has it all nailed. I said earlier how there can never, nor will there ever be anyone quite like Freddie Mercury and I stand by that – but Rami Malek is pretty bloody close. I’d like to see a side by side comparison between the actual Live Aid footage and the end scene in this film to see just how close it all was. Everyone is talking about Rami Malek’s performance and rightly so to as its (almost) flawless, but I think he’s already getting enough praise. He deserves every ounce of it too and any recognition or awards he may get along the way. But there are other equally as great performances too.

Bohemian Rhapsody Movie Brian May.jpg

The other three band members of Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon played by Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy and Joseph Mazzello respectively are all brilliant. Four great actors coming together to reunite four of the best musicians in music. After Rami Malek, Gwilym Lee’s Brian May was the stand out performance for me though. Brian in the film is just as spot on as Freddie is and I just feel that Rami Malek (as deserving as he is) will overshadow the other actors here. Gwilym Lee deserves just as much praise. Then there is Lucy Boynton as Mary Austin, Freddie’s former girlfriend and long time friend. Yet another strong performance that I feel will be overlooked. You really feel her pain as she loses her boyfriend but refuses to give up on him at the same time.

But my absolute favorite bit of casting? Its really just a glorified cameo from Mike Myers as Ray Foster the EMI records executive who turns down the Bohemian Rhapsody record after listening to it. Now I can’t remember the exact quote, but after hearing the record he says something along the lines of, “Teenagers won’t be banging their heads to this”. Seeing as it was Mike Myers who introduced Bohemian Rhapsody to a new legion of fans with his movie Wanye’s World in 1992 and helped get the song to the top of the charts seventeen years after its original release, its a great in-joke…

As a quick aside. Freddie actually got to see the above scene before he died in 1991 as the film was completed before his passing and released a few months following his death. Brain May has said that Freddie loved the scene and gave Mike Myers his blessing to use the song too. So Mike Myers being the guy to turn the song down its a fitting tribute as well as an ironic joke.

I’m sorry but I must break out an overused cliché here. The film is a roller-coaster of emotions. There are funny and light hearted moments that will leave you with a smile on your face. Such as the band discussing the merits of the Roger Taylor penned “joke” song I’m in Love with My Car or Freddie continually telling Roger to go higher and higher on the “Galileo!” when recording Bohemian Rhapsody. Then you’ll have tears in your eyes during the more heavier scenes. Two such scenes that spring to mind are the one where Freddie finally comes out as bisexual to Mary while the song Love of My Life plays in the background, a song Freddie wrote specifically for Mary. The scene features some sterling acting from both Rami Malek and Lucy Boynton. Then later, toward the end of the film another scene has Freddie attend a hospital where he is told he has AIDS. Such a powerful scene with very little dialogue (I think there’s only one line) but the powerful and emotive Who Wants To Live Forever plays in the background. Honestly, I was welling up.

Yeah of course it goes without saying that the film’s soundtrack is sublime… but I’m going to say it anyway. Its Queen, of course its a brilliant soundtrack. It was great to hear some of the very early stuff such as Keep Yourself Alive, one of my favourite early Queen songs that doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. Seeing how some songs were slowly created and evolved such as Brian May slowly building We Will Rock You with the iconic foot stomps and claps was joyful.

Bohemian Rhapsody Movie We Will Rock You

As for the Live Aid finale. The hairs on the back of my neck were standing up. I have very strong memories of watching Live Aid live back in 85. Both myself and my mom sat there staring at the T.V. in awe while Queen did their thing. I think I was only about 8 or 9 at the time but that twenty odd minutes watching Queen at Wembley Stadium left a lasting impression on me. Then there I was, a now 42 year old man sitting in the cinema with my mom next to me reliving that same experience 33 years later. Honestly, one of the best moments I have witnessed on the big screen. Then as Queen were in the midst of belting out Radio Ga Ga, mom leaned over to me and simply said “it has to be done.” and I knew exactly what she meant, so up went the arms and we both clapped along to the chorus. So there were me and mom doing the Radio Ga Ga bit and as I looked around, other people in the cinema joined in. It was almost like being there live, a genuinely amazing experience. The seats in the cinema gently rocked back and forth as people tapped/stomped their feet and clapped along. A special thanks to my mom for reliving a childhood memory with me.

The re-enactment of Live Aid at the end of this film is stunning and clearly done with passion, worth the price of the ticket alone.

Bohemian Rhapsody Movie Radio Ga Ga.jpg

If you’re a Queen fan, of course you are going to watch the film and you’ll enjoy it too. Just remember that it is a biopic and some elements have been altered to make the film more interesting. Its not a factual documentary but its still telling the story of the greatest front-man ever and one of the greatest rock bands to ever grace a stage. So then, is This The Real Life, Is This Just Fantasy? It’s a bit of both really, but more real life than fantasy. If you’re not a Queen fan, I still suggest checking the film out. Its funny, its emotional and above all, it rocks! You never know, you might just end up becoming a fan of Queen yourself.

A cracking film with laughs, tears, awesome music and some truly amazing performances from the entire cast. It Will Rock You!

Bohemian Rhapsody Movie Live Aid Crowd

We just need a sequel to finish the story up.

“I pity your wife if you think six minutes is forever.”

– Freddie Mercury

The Best And Worst Of JCVD

Since doing my retrospective on The Karate Kid a while back, I’ve been on a bit of a martial arts film kick (pun fully intended). I grew up watching this stuff, as far back as I can remember, I watched the likes of Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Biao Yuen, Chuck Norris, Benny Urquidez and Cynthia Rothrock to name a handful. Then in the 80s, I was introduced to The Muscles from Brussels, Jean-Claude Van Damme and became a bit of a fan.

He had a screen presence that no one else at the time could match. He was good looking with a chiseled body that was hard to ignore (am I starting to sound a little gay here?). He couldn’t act well at first yet he would hold a film together nicely. His on screen fights were in a different league as there was a brutality to them, yet they seemed so elegant at the same time and his splits soon became a trademark. Van Damme was a martial arts actor at a time when the genre was beginning to wane slightly. The 70s were the pinnacle of martial arts cinema largely thanks to Bruce Lee who made the genre massively popular in his heyday. In Asia, the genre had always been popular, but it was Lee who spread that love worldwide and when he died, so did a big chunk of martial arts film in general. While they still remained popular in Asia, the rest of the word began to distance themselves from “chop-socky flicks”. But for me, that love for the films never died.

Bruce Lee

I still remember my brother Rob renting out low budget and often badly made martial arts VHS tapes from a local shop, little gems that the bigger VHS stores just didn’t stock. I was introduced to Jackie Chan long before he became an international star. New Fist of FurySnake in the Eagle’s ShadowMaster with Cracked Fingers – these were the type of films I grew up watching thanks to my older brother. One day, Rob came home with a new film, one that featured a strange plot about Bruce Lee returning from the dead and that was the day I was first introduced to Jean-Claude Van Damme, it fast became one of my favourite films and still is to this day.

Right here, I’d like to celebrate JCVD and take a look at some of his best and worst films, a fun trip though my childhood, and even adulthood. I’m not going to cover every JCVD film as he’s done a fuck load over the years and the article would go on for weeks (it already going to be a long one). I’ll just select some of the best and worst…maybe do a few honorable mentions throughout too.

Very Early Appearances

Jean-Claude Van Damme began competing in full-contact karate tournaments in Belgium through 1977 – 1982 where we was hugely successful and managed an impressive record of 18 victories (all knockouts) and only 1 defeat. Along the way, Van Damme landed an uncredited role in a Belgian/French co-produced film called Woman Between Wolf and Dog starring Rutger Hauer from 1979. After retiring from competition in 1982, Van Damme moved to America in hope of carving a movie career for himself.

Young JCVD

His first American film appearance was in the break dancing film (yes we had those in the 80s) Breakin’ from 1984. He was hired as an extra and can be seen dancing in the background in one scene wearing a very tight, black spandex leotard. While in America, Van Damme struck up a friendship with future internet meme legend that is Chuck Norris and even worked as a bouncer for a while at a bar Norris owned. That friendship also landed him a stuntman role in the Chuck Norris classic Missing in Action. Then in 1986, JCVD secured his biggest (but still small) role yet in that film I mentioned earlier about Bruce Lee returning from the dead.

No Retreat No Surrender.jpg

No Retreat, No Surrender. Oh how I love this film. Okay so the plot is about Jason Stillwell (Kurt McKinney) who is an avid Bruce Lee fan and martial arts student studying at his father’s dojo. When the dojo is threatened by a local crime syndicate, Jason’s father is attacked leaving him with a broken leg thanks to the Russian henchman Ivan Kraschinsky (Jean-Claude Van Damme). The Stillwell family move away from New York to Seattle to get away from the crime syndicate.

After being harassed and beat up by martial artist Dean Ramsay (Dale Jacoby), Jason goes to the grave of Bruce Lee and asks for help. Later that night he gets that help in the shape of Bruce’s ghost who agrees to train Jason to make him a better martial artist. Long story short, Jason attends a local full-contact martial arts tournament where the Seattle team are set to square off against a New York team. Only before the tournament can start the crime syndicate appears and state that they will put up just one man against the entire Seattle team and will win too. That one man, this awesome machine of annihilation is of course the Russian Ivan. After Ivan kicks the asses of the entire team, Jason gets in the ring to fight Ivan.

JCVD No Retreat No Surrender

This film is terribly low budget with some awful acting and cringe-worthy scenes and yet I can’t help but love this film so damn much. Its basically a rip off of The Karate Kid (which is a rip off of Rocky) as about 90% of the film’s plot is taken directly from The Karate Kid – you have the young kid moving to a new city, the mentor training him, there’s a love story involving a jealous ex and of course everything comes to a head at a tournament. Van Damme’s role is minuscule as he only appears in the opening for a few minutes and then again at the end for the big fight, plus I think he only has about three small lines in the entire film. As tiny as the role is, its still a damn enjoyable and memorable one that shows a lot of promise. There’s some great fight scenes in the film too from lead actor Kurt McKinney and of course Jean-Claude Van Damme himself.

No Retreat, No Surrender hardly made JCVD a major star and the film is mostly forgotten about now (but check it out if you can find a copy…preferably uncut. Its awesome!). But it did at least showcase his talents and very slowly opened a few doors. In 1987 Van Damme did manage to land himself a role in a genuine, big budget blockbuster with the biggest action star in the world at the time. He got himself a part in Predator alongside that other mound of muscle Arnold Schwarzenegger. Die hard Predator fans will already know this story, but for those now scratching their heads while reaching for their Predator Blu-rays to try and find JCVD in the film…you won’t find him.

JCVD Preadator.jpg

See, he was hired to play the titular alien in full costume and everything, he did shoot some of the film too. But the alien design was later changed and the new suit didn’t fit Van Damme so he was replaced with Kevin Peter Hall. Plus there was the fact that JCVD hated the role and via some misunderstanding, he didn’t know he would be stuck in an alien suit for the whole film. It has been said that Jean-Claude Van Damme could very well still be in the film somewhere as some of the shots may have been left in but I don’t know how true that is – plus he would’ve been in costume and most probably doing that cloaking thing too so you wouldn’t recognise him anyway.

His Breakthrough

If there is one film that began to put Van Damme on the map and get him recognised, then it has to be 1988’s Bloodsport. Said to be based on the true story of real life martial artist Frank Dux (that’s a whole other article in itself). The film follows Frank (Jean-Claude Van Damme) as he takes part in a no holes barred, underground, full-contact kumite tournament in Hong Kong.

JCVD Bloodsport

Bloodsport is a cracking flick and Van Damme is brilliant in it too. The film has loads of great fights showcasing numerous fighting styles from around the world and of course the final fight is a belter too. Outside of all the fighting, the film still has some memorable scenes such as Frank and Ray Jackson (Donald Gibb) playing the arcade classic Karate Champ or when the mighty Bolo Yeung playing the main villain Chong Li says the line “Brick not hit back” to JCVD in which he is paraphrasing a line Bruce Lee said to him in Enter the DragonBloodsport was a big hit and put people began to notice Jean-Claude Van Damme.

Just as a quick aside. You know how they’ve made several films based on and inspired by the game Street Fighter II? Am I the only one who thinks Bloodsport is a better SF II film than any of the real ones?

Anyway, Van Damme was now a bona fide martial arts/action star. Yeah he was still only appearing in low budget flicks, but he was being recognised. Through the rest of the 80s he began to appear in more films in starring roles including Cyborg from 1988, which is pretty poor to be honest and best to avoid. The much better Kickboxer from 1989 is a film worth checking out though and one JCVD wrote the story for too.

JCVD Kickboxer

Telling to story of American kickboxing champ Eric Sloane (Dennis Alexio) who travels to Bangkok to face the best fighter they have. Eric takes his younger brother, Kurt (Jean-Claude Van Damme) along for support and as his cornerman. Its during a fight against the Thai champ Tong Po (Michel Qissi) when Eric is badly beaten and Tong Po deliverers a particularly vicious elbow to Eric’s back which ends up leaving him in a wheelchair. Kurt swears revenge for his brother and demands to fight Tong Po, yet no one will train him out of fear he will get killed. Until Kurt meets Xian Chow (Dennis Chan) an old expert in Muay Thai who agrees to train Kurt for his big fight against Tong Po.

Kickboxer is perhaps JCVD’s most famous film up to this point. Its good, but I think it lacked the punch (pun still intended) that Bloodsport had.

As the 90s began, Van Damme had a busy and full work schedule for the next few years starting with Death Warrant from 1990. A pretty bog-standard action romp that is not really bad nor good, its okay. Oh and the film is also the first writing credit for David S. Goyer who would go on to pen some of the biggest superhero movies much later like Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Also from 1990 was Lionheart where JCVD played French Legionnaire Leon Gaultier who goes A.W.O.L (an alternate title for the film) from his duties after receiving a letter about his seriously injured brother. Finding himself in Los Angeles, Leon enters the world of underground fighting to raise money for his extended family. Its worth noting that this film also features Michel Qissi from Kickboxer.

Jean Claude Van Damme

I quite like Lionheart or Wrong Bet or A.W.O.L.: Absent Without Leave or Leon or Full Contact…yes this film has that many alternate titles depending on where you are from and when it was released in your country. Its a fairly decent flick with some solid action and Jean-Claude Van Damme’s acting is actually pretty damn good as if he’s finally getting the hang of this acting thing.

Double Impact was released in 1991 and JCVD plays two roles. The twin brothers Chad & Alex Wagner who are made orphans as babies by the Triads. The twins are separated and raised differently, one is a gruff, cigar smoking bad-ass and the other is softer and more gentle…but still able to kick some ass. Years later and they learn of their past, team up to track down and get revenge on those who killed their parents. Double Impact is pretty damn good fun and its interesting to see Van Damme in the dual role playing two sides of the same coin. Oh yeah and man mountain, Bolo Yeung is in the film as the main bad guy which he plays with great relish. This one is worth watching.

His Even Bigger Breakthrough

Its only 1992 and Jean-Claude Van Damme is knocking out films faster than he was opponents in Bloodsport. Next up is his biggest and most successful film up to this point – Universal Soldier.

JCVD Universal Soldier

Luc Deveraux (Jean-Claude Van Damme) is an army vet along with Andrew Scott (Dolph Lundgren). While on a mission in Vietnam, 1969 where Luc and Andrew as tasked with clearing out a small village, Andrew snaps and kills two innocent civilians. A shocked Luc turns his gun on Andrew just as he reciprocates and the two end up killing each other. Their bodies are recovered and cryogenically preserved. Decades later and the two corpses are reanimated as super advanced “UniSols” who are genetically enhanced with cybernetics giving them super strength and self-healing abilities while their memories are erased.

These UniSols are used for counter terrorism work and its while on a mission at Hoover Dam to save some hostages when the flashbacks to their previous lives begin and things start to unravel. Luc escapes his creators with the help of TV journalist, Veronica Roberts (Ally Walker) and Andrew Scott is sent out to bring him back…only Andrew’s mind is still stuck in Vietnam, 1969 and he thinks the war is still going on. Things get bloody and brutal as Luc just wants to go home to his parents while Andrew wants to kill any and everything in his way.

Oh man, I love this film. Its got just the right blend of sci-fi, martial arts and all out action. Van Damme is fantastic as the slightly confused and lost Luc Deveraux and gets a chance to show a rage of acting skills including some great comic timing. Ally Walker as the TV reporter is even better, a little ballsy mixed with a damsel in distress kind of thing. But the person who steals this film has to be Dolph Lundgren as the utterly psychotic Andrew Scott, perhaps one of my favourite action villains ever? If you get a chance, watch this one its a blast. The chemistry between Van Damme and Lundgren is pure gold.

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Universal Soldier was a hug box office hit and catapulted Jean-Claude Van Damme to stardom after several (mostly) modest hits in low budget films.

After making a fun cameo in the massively underrated and clever satire of action films that was Last Action Hero, JCVD starred in 1993’s Nowhere To Run a rather shallow and bland film not really worth bothering with. And followed that up with the far, far better Hard Target also from 93. In this one Chance Boudreaux (Jean-Claude Van Damme) is a  Cajun merchant seaman looking for work. He helps Natasha Binder (Yancy Butler) who is being attacked by a bunch of thugs and she hires him to help find her missing father. But when they discover Natasha’s father is dead, this leads Chance into a very dangerous game.

JCVD Hard Target

Hard Target is thoroughly entertaining even if the plot is one used a ton of times in the past. But what lifts it above most other action flicks of the time is the man behind the camera. This was the first American film directed by legendary Hong Kong action film maker, John Woo. Woo’s blending of American and Chinese cinema is masterful and makes for some great action well worth checking out. Oh and JCVD punches a snake.

Rising Star

By 1994, Jean-Claude Van Damme could be counted among other big action stars of the day such as Stallone, Schwarzenegger and Willis. More starring roles were on the horizon too. Timecop was a sci-fi/action picture with a silly plot that’s actually a damn good watch and entertaining from start to finish. Still in 94, Van Damme landed the lead in Street Fighter based on the hugely popular game series…and its awful. Though its worth checking out just for Raúl Juliá in his final film performance as Bison before his death. Honestly as bad as the film is Juliá is amazing in it.

JCVD Street Fighter

95’s Sudden Death was one of those countless Die Hard rip offs that were becoming increasingly more popular at time. You know the kind, a bunch of terrorists show up and take control of a building (in this case a sports stadium) and only one man can save the day. Its okay, above average, one of the better Die Hard rip offs but there are far better films of its ilk out there…like Die Hard. In 1996, Jean-Claude Van Damme not only starred in but also wrote the story for and even directed The Quest. Not a great film at all, in fact its pretty awful – but a lot can be said for the cinematography that showcases the beautiful locales and the wide range of various martial arts on show. Its a lot like his previous flick Bloodsport only not as charming or as 80s.

The Decline

JCVD’s stardom began to dim in the latter part of the 90s, after The Quest he had a couple of below average films followed up with some absolute stinkers and his career would never reach the highs of that early/mid 90s era. Double Team from 1997 was his first real box office bomb. I mean, its a film where he teams up with basketball player Dennis Rodman. That’s like mixing Jack Daniels with orange juice a terrible combo. This was followed up with 98’s Knock Off where his co-star was Rob Schneider…seriously, what the fuck happened Van Damme? You were riding high and then thought doing films with a basketball player and a crap, unfunny comedian would be a good idea? Both Double Team and Knock Off were and still are atrocious.

Oh but he wasn’t done with the bad decisions yet as next up Jean-Claude Van Damme made Legionnaire, a (wait for it) period costume action movie set in the 1920s. Its not very good.

JCVD Legionnaire

In 1999, he made a sequel to one of his most successful film with Universal Soldier: The Return. Set seven years after the events of the first film, Luc Deveraux (Jean-Claude Van Damme) is no longer a UniSol, he’s now human after having his implants removed. Luc now works as a technical expert for the government to help create more advanced UniSols. The program is overseen by S.E.T.H. an artificially intelligent computer. But when S.E.T.H. learns the UniSol program is being shut down, it attempts to protect itself by unleashing a horde of the advanced UniSols as a defense.

The first flick was brilliant, still is. This sequel is trash and boring that lacks everything that made the original so damn great.

Through the 2000s, JCVD had a steady stream of direct to DVD films or films that saw a minimal theatrical release in countries like Spain, Mexico, etc. Films such as; The OrderIn HellThe Hard Corps and Until Death to name a few, made little to no impact and are mostly forgotten about if they were even known to exist in the first place. His career was dying out fast and the name Jean-Claude Van Damme no longer drew in the audience it used to in the 90s.

JCVD JCVD

Then in 2008, JCVD starred in the film JCVD. An interesting Belgian drama in which Van Damme plays a semi-fictional version of himself caught up in a robbery at a post office where his is taken hostage. I don’t want to say too much about this one other than to express how fucking good it is. Its a film one should watch and experience for yourself. Its not an all action, high kicking kung fu flick that you’d normally associate with Jean-Claude Van Damme. This is something very different, a tense drama that’s highly unique with a mesmerising and engrossing performance from JCVD which shows that he really can act well when needed. Perhaps the most notable scene in the film is when Van Damme breaks the fourth wall and talks directly to the audience in a one shot, six minute monologue. Some critics at the time even suggested that Jean-Claude Van Damme should’ve been nominated for an Oscar for his performance…and you know what, he should’ve. Brilliant film.

2009 saw him return to one of his biggest hits once more with Universal Soldier: Regeneration. Okay, so this one ignores the previous and awful Universal Soldier: The Return and works as a direct sequel to the original film. Reuniting Luc Deveraux (Jean-Claude Van Damme) and his arch nemesis Andrew Scott (Dolph Lundgren).

JCVD Universal Soldier Regeneration

Luc Deveraux is in Switzerland undergoing rehabilitation therapy from his UniSol days in an attempt to reinsert him into society. However, he is used by the government to take part in a mission involving a group of terrorists who’ve taken over the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant and are holding hostages. The terrorists threaten to detonate a bomb if their comrades are not freed. When the prime minister gives into the demands of the terrorists, Dr. Colin (Kerry Shale) of the UniSol program is not impressed and sends in a cloned and upgraded version of Andrew Scott who’s severely mentaly unstable and reactivates the terrorist’s bomb. Enter Luc Deveraux to clean up the mess and face his adversary once more.

You know what? This ain’t half bad, in fact it pretty damn good. Its pure low budget b-movie stuff, but its bloody entertaining none the less. The showdown between Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren being a particular highlight. If you liked the original flick, then check this one out too.

From 2010 Onward

Jean-Claude Van Damme’s direct to DVD film career continued through the 2010s with a few more notable highlights. He wrote, produced, edited, directed and even starred in Full Love from 2010. The film was screened at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival but its not yet been released, though it has been given a 2019 release date along with some more recently shot footage. I have no idea what the film is about, but I hope its something different like JCVD that will showcase his acting a bit more. I’ll certainly be looking out for it next year. Van Damme provided the voice for Master Croc in Kung Fu Panda 2 and its sequel.

Then in 2011, JCVD also took part in his own reality TV show Jean-Claude Van Damme: Behind Closed Doors.

JCVD Coors Light

Since 2012, JCVD been seen in ads for Coors Light. Also in 2012 Van Damme played Jean Vilain in the ensemble action romp The Expendables 2 where he rubbed shoulders with classic and much revered action stars like Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Plus his old friends Dolph Lundgren and Chuck Norris. Still in 2012 and Van Damme slid back into his role of Luc Deveraux for Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning where he once more crosses paths with Dolph Lundgren’s Andrew Scott, and this one is also pretty good too and a great way to end the trilogy.

JCVD Universal Soldier Day of Reckoning

Several more direct to DVD films followed but nothing really worth mentioning. Until 2016 when JCVD was part of a remake of one of his much loved films with Kickboxer: Vengeance. But instead of playing the main hero, he plays the teacher role as Master Durand. Kurt Sloane is played by Alain Moussi this time around with villain Tong Po played by Dave Bautista. Then in 2018, JCVD returned for the sequel, Kickboxer: Retaliation with several of the cast also coming back. I’ve been writing this article just after watching the the two films and have to say how much I enjoyed them. Van Damme still looks great and has that magnetic personality and charm, acts very well and even gets to kick some bad guys in the face too. Its great to still see him doing what he does best and doing it so well.

Then production is said to start this year is the third film, Kickboxer: Armageddon. Its not been confirmed whether Jean-Claude Van Damme will be in the film or not, but I strongly suspect so (I hope so anyway). It also seems like we may be seeing JCVD return as Leon Gaultier in a sequel to Lionheart, which is also said to begin production this year.

JCVD Lionheart 2

Well that’s pretty much yer lot. As I said at the start, I’ve not covered every film of JCVD’s career…but I think I’ve got most of them here and certainly the ones well worth watching if you get chance.


You know, I really do genuinely like this guy and I’d love to see him in bigger and more mainstream films. Whenever I’ve seen him in interviews, Jean-Claude Van Damme always comes across as very likable, charming and humble. I know he’s had a few demons in the past involving drugs and money issues and I sincerely hope JCVD is over the worst of it all. He may not be an Oscar worthy actor but can still really surprise with just how good he can be at times (see JCVD for proof). I’d love to see him as a celebrated action star as he was in the 90s.

Some of his early flicks are stone cold classics. The likes of Bloodsport, KickboxerLionheartUniversal Soldier and of course the utterly awesome No Retreat, No Surrender are still damn fine films and ones I love to watch every now and then.

I really did grow up watching Van Damme films and have a lot of happy memories surrounding them too. Thanks for all the entertainment JCVD.

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Believe me – I’ve done very good stuff and very crazy stuff, and I don’t regret the crazy stuff.

Jean-Claude Van Damme