Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD

Director: Rod Taylor (1988)
Starring: David Hasselhoff, Lisa Rinna, Sandra Hess
Find it: IMDB

A panel from Mark Millar's The Ultimates, largely credited with being inspiration for much of the modern Marvel movement. Here, Doctor Hank Pym (genius, occasional wife beater and frequent Ant Man) asks Nick Fury, director of shady government agency SHIELD, who he thinks could play him in a movie:

Well, I think he might actually be busy, Nick. What about, um, David Hasselhoff instead? Eighties era David Hasselhoff plays Nick Fury, crack agent of SHIELD, rudely pulled out of brooding retirement in order to bring down the sinister HYDRA organisation. More casual Marvel fans may be surprised to see a white David Hasselhoff Fury, but this television movie doesn't actually differ all that much from the Cinematic Universe as we know it today. Arnim Zola, HYDRA and Life Model Decoys... secret agents hanging around in leather on a swanky great helicarrier (two of whom could be named Maria Hill and Agent Coulson without the film missing a beat)... Nick Fury is surprisingly faithful to both the comics and the Marvel films of today.

And, judging by his eyepatch and designer stubble, David Hasselhoff isn't as bad a pick for Fury as one might imagine. Granted, he does spoil the effect the moment he opens his mouth, but he certainly looks the part. Let's face it, we were never going to get Clint Eastwood (my own personal dream Fury). Chewing on a cigar throughout and clad in a winning wardrobe of leather, denim and vest, I can see this Nick Fury sharing a few beers with Dolph Lungren's Punisher before heading back to the warzone to slap HYDRA around some more.

The script is ridiculous, the action shoddy and the acting awful. Nevertheless, Agent of SHIELD is a lot of fun - a charming throwback to a time when comic book adaptations were less respectable and a little rougher around the edges. Stan Lee may have enjoyed the Hoff's performance ("the ultimate Nick Fury!") but Samuel L. should lose no sleep over this film's re-release - Hasselhoff is to Nick Fury as Val Kilmer was Batman. Not entirely awful, but wrong, all the same.

Say what you will about David Hasselhoff's Nick Fury, at least it's more watchable than Agents of SHIELD.

The Perfect Host

Director: Nick Tomnay (2010)
Starring: David Hyde Pierce, Clayne Crawford, Tyreese Allen
Find it: IMDB

My favourite Crane brother (sorry Jonathan) stars as Warwick Wilson, an outwardly normal, mild-mannered man who might not be all that he appears. Well, of course not, he is Sideshow Bob's brother, after all.

After robbing a bank, petty criminal John Taylor (Crawford) is on the run. He seeks refuge in Wilson's home, thinking he might take the poor sap hostage until the morning. Warwick has other ideas; a dinner party to host and a series of photographs he wants taking. Poor Taylor winds up as Warwick's guest of honour in a party that neither man will ever forget. I don't want to spoil too much, since a lot of the fun comes from the amusing, cheeky twists and turns throughout, in addition to the curious interplay between Crawford and Hyde Pierce.

Both men are curiously likeable. Taylor, despite being a thief, liar and bastard, does have a cuddly quality to him, while David Hyde Pierce has a voice that could recite Pride and Prejudice without me getting bored. That's no faint praise, by the way: Pride and Prejudice is possibly my most hated book of all time. Heresy, I know. Plus, he's Niles from off've Frasier. It loses its way somewhere into the final half hour, but by then, it's built up enough goodwill that we can forgive its iffier impulses. Clever, amusing and very well acted, The Perfect Host is the best horror film I've seen in ages.

I wish I was the sort who hosted dinner parties, just so as I could show my friends this wonderfully off-beat (sort of) home invasion movie.

Bad Ass

Director: Craig Moss (2012)
Starring: Danny Trejo, Ron Perlman, Charles S. Dutton
Find it: IMDB

Danny Trejo plays internet meme Frank Vega in Bad Ass, a film about a man who beats up some ne'er-do-wells on a bus. This heartwarming tale is adapted from a real-life incident in which a bearded Vietnam veteran beats the piss out of a ne'er-do-well on a bus, earning himself the moniker 'Epic Beard Man'. Trejo turns the moustache into a epic beard for Bad Ass, but leaves out the bit where Vega was called Thomas Bruso, was white, had severe mental disorders, and actually beat up one black man instead of two white skinhead thugs. Which man was in the right or wrong is debatable, but what we do know is that neither man was Danny Trejo and the event was not as clear cut as Bad Ass makes it out to be. This is a man who rides around on public transport wearing a t-shirt with 'I am a motherfucker' written on the back, after all.

Given that a punch up on a bus takes all of five minutes, that leaves the filmmakers with another eighty minutes worth of film to make. Do they spend that time with Frank Vega in Vietnam? Or show how he knocked out his own father when he was fifteen? Or how his mother put him in the oven when he was a baby? (The latter we can assume never happened to Vega, given his cute, slightly creepy relationship with his cuddly on-screen mom here). No, Bad Ass invents a story about Vega's friend being murdered, leaving the angry pensioner to track down those responsible. It's like Death Wish or Harry Brown, but with a fanny pack and a epic beard.

Ron Perlman and Charles S. Dutton are there to spice up the story a little, but they're barely in it. Trejo does fine as Vega, but his beard looks like shit and even he can't hide the fact that the film has nothing relevant to actually say. Director Craig Moss, veteran of such classy pieces as Breaking Wind Part 1 and 30 Nights of Paranormal Activity with the Devil Inside the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo struggles with the tone, resulting in a film that feels like it should be a lot funnier than it is. There's mileage to be had in seeing Trejo battering the piss out of a group of gangbangers (which he can still do more plausibly than, say, Steven Seagal) and his fight with a giant Bond villain knock-off is a lot of fun, but Epic Beard Man: The Movie (a title they should totally have kept) largely comes up wanting. At least it's better than Machete Kills, though.

Somehow, Bad Ass did well enough to get itself a sequel - Bad Asses, co-starring Danny Glover is on its way later this year - but the joke was already wearing thin after five minutes. Stallone should probably let Trejo in his Expendables now, if only to stop him from making Straight to DVD shit like this. Bad Ass is anything but(t). 

Would You Rather

Director: David Guy Levy (2012)
Starring: Jeffrey Combs, Brittany Snow, Eddie Steeples
Find it: IMDB

Jeffrey Combs wants to play a game. Not Monopoly though - a murderous game of Would You Rather - the choices being increasingly more grisly, escalating from a little light electrocution to stabbing one another in the legs. Or having to choose between being drowned or (semi) blown up. Only slightly more violent than Monopoly, then.

It could be worse, it could be Scrabble. I once argued with a friend for a week over a game of Scrabble. Vegetarian Iris (Snow), whose brother needs a vital bone marrow transplant, answers a mysterious advert posted by creepy aristocrat Shepard Lambrick. Play (and win) his game, he promises, and he'll solve all of her problems. All she has to do is beat the other players. And not die.

What could so easily have been another uninspired Saw rip-off is elevated to another level by the presence of Jeffrey Combs, Brittany Snow and the always great Eddie Steeples. Whether it's playing a bionic leg doctor in I Know Who Killed Me or as Crab Man in My Name Is Earl, there's no film that can't be improved with a little Mr. Steeples.

Oh, hey Crab Man.
It helps that Jeffrey Combs' game is more interesting and exciting than those we usually see in this sort of film. Unlike the relatively dull Truth or Dare, there's someone to root for (hey again, Crab Man), plenty of variety to the mutilation on show, and Combs' overseer isn't too smug (a problem I have with most torture films) that it ever becomes a chore to watch. Of course it's nowhere near the quality of his collaborations with Stuart Gordon of the eighties, but then, nothing ever is. There's a nifty eyeball trauma scene, some fun times with an alcoholic, and Jeffrey Combs is wearing a moustache. 

It's occasionally predictable, and you can more or less guess who will die and (give or take) in what order, but Would You Rather is a lot of fun. There are far worse alternatives out there. 

The Collector

Director: William Wyler (1965)
Starring: Terence Stamp, Samantha Eggar
Find it: IMDB

No, silly, not that one. An adaptation of one of my favourite horror novels of all time, The Collector pits dweebish yet commanding butterfly collector Freddie Clegg (Stamp) against kidnapped college student Miranda Grey (Eggar) in a frequently tense battle of wits.

William Wyler's adaptation of John Fowles' fantastic novel lacks the intricacies of the source material, but makes up for it with a brilliant pair of performances from General Zod and the lovely Samantha Eggar. If it were made today, The Collector would likely resemble... well, The Collector, or Captivity. Thankfully, there's no torture here (aside from the mental sort) although poor Miranda does catch a nasty cold and there's an incident in which Freddie says that her favourite book is shit. To be fair, she does insult his butterfly collection.

A semi-classic that no-one ever seems to mention when recalling the greats, it occasionally feels too cheerful for its own good, lacking much of the dark atmosphere Fowles imbued the book with. Aficionados of kink will also be disappointed to learn that there's a lot less bondage than the novel, save for a brief bathtub bit for Miranda while Freddie tries to fend off a nosy neighbour. Still, it is largely true to Fowles' plot, and the calibre of its performers more than makes up for the shortcomings elsewhere. And that bathtub bit is one of the best bits of mainstream kink I've ever seen, so there is that. There's a "kneel before Zod" slash Fifty Shades of Grey joke about The Collector to be made there, somewhere.

Was The Collector worth the wait, given my esteem for the source material? Not completely, although it does stand very well upon its own merits, with a delightfully peculiar atmosphere and a great chemistry between its leads. An excellent addition to any horror collection. Geddit.

Pacific Rim

Director: Guillermo del Toro (2013)
Starring: Charlie Hunnam, Rinko Kikuchi, Idris Elba
Find it: IMDB

One of the several films of 2013 I had been intrigued about but never got around to seeing. Well, Christmas is a time to rectify such oversights, and so I duly inserted my father's copy of Pacific Rim into the DVD player and prepared to watch giant robots do battle with giant fish monsters. Beyond the Nazis-on-the-Moon movie Iron Sky, it's hard to think of a more Dad-friendly film. Well, dads do love films about giant fuckin' robots.

In the near-ish future, humanity does battle with monstrous sea creatures from an undersea dimension. To this end, mankind builds a number of enormous robots (Jaegers) with which to beat the big fish about the head until they stop knocking over buildings, kicking down bridges and smashing everything in sight. Well, Hellboy was unavailable. Best of the best is Becket (Hunnam), veteran Jaeger pilot and mourning the loss of his brother/co-pilot, killed during a particularly vicious Kaiju attack. With the monsters getting bigger and resources dwindling, it's up to Becket to head up a last-ditch attempt at stopping the Kaiju in their tracks and destroy their entrance into our world. A little like the end of Avengers Assemble, except with less Hulk.

No Hulk, but plenty of smashing. At times, there's almost too much smashing. Rather than show us the Kaiju's first appearance or even the creation of the Jaegers, we're thrown in at the deep end - a fistfight between Kaiju and Jaeger. That's fine, but that's a hefty information dump right from the outset, and a lot of CGI. It leaves the film lacking in humanity, like Transformers but with better acting. Man-of-the-moment Idris Elba is Becket's boss, while Kikuchi is likeable as his partner. Her character is short changed in that she's both the only female presence in the film and subservient to Pentecost for most of the time. She does great with what she's given, but that isn't a great deal. Familiar faces such as Ron Perlman, Charlie Day and Burn Gorman keep the laughs coming, while ex-Eastender Robert Kazinsky is terrible as Jaeger pilot Chuck Hansen.

As a blockbuster, Pacific Rim is great. It's big, explosive and with plenty of action, scale and humour. As a Guillermo del Toro piece, however, it comes up lacking. It's a lot less pretty than the director's usual work and with much less heart. It's still leaps and bounds above Transformers or anything else Michael Bay has put out since Armageddon, but one can't help but feel a little disappointed.