Conjecture over how we will watch films in the future is always riveting. We’re all lucky, then, to live in a time when you’re unlikely to go as long as seven minutes without being accosted by a self-proclaimed expert who’d like to vomit their opinions on the subject into your ears.
I have no interest in going fully digital until Poundland stops selling DVDs. For those unfamiliar with Poundland, it’s a chain of large shops in the UK that sell a wide variety of items for a pound. Some of the stuff is great, some terrible and some utterly baffling. There aren’t many places you can go to buy a toilet brush, an army action figure, a box of After Eight mints, a USB vacuum cleaner and a multipack of coat hangers for a fiver.
The Poundland DVD section is a strange and wonderful place, home to out-of-date fitness videos, sports compilations, concerts by well-known bands and knock offs of popular cartoons. Then there are the films. For this article, I stormed my local branch, spent £3 and came away with three very different films, hoping that one of them will turn out to be a gem.
The more practised at Poundland DVD buying you become, the easier it is to spot a gem. Sometimes it’s as easy as remembering to look beyond the DVD section and finding the cardboard stand that’s hidden somewhere in the store. Shopping smart somewhat defeats the fun, though. Grab a variety, whack ‘em on and see whether they’re any good.
Unfortunately, searching for gems often involves sticking your hands into a mountain of shit. Previously, I’ve paid a pound for the Kevin Bacon action film Death Sentence (which has some problems, but is good fun) and for horror films from iconic directors like Mario Bava and Lucio Fulci, but I’ve also spent a quid on an episode of the RoboCop TV series, Sunday School: The Musical (the Christian version of High School Musical) and more dreadful no-budget horror films than I’d care to admit.
It’s as simple as having an open mind and being lucky.
THE GOOD STUDENT (also known as Mr Gibb)
The Cover Suggests: Saucy romcom
Perverts per Pound: Plenty
Perfect Poundland Accompaniment: Brillo pad multipack
High school teacher Mr Gibb (Tim Daly) narrates us through the tedious tale of student Ally (Hayden Panettiere) being kidnapped by God bloody knows who. Gibb himself is the prime suspect as student Amber has spotted him ogling Ally’s bottom after class, and because he was the last person seen with her. Her father (William ‘Villain off Die Hard 2’ Sadler), a locally famous used car salesman, responds to her disappearance by offering discounts on his stock. The police… well, they just sort of tit about, not achieving anything.
I decided to pick up The Good Student for a couple of reasons. Partly because I was intrigued by the back cover, which featured a lot of white space and no images from the film. Amongst that white space was William Sadler’s name, which was also influential. Most importantly, I needed a mixture of genres, and the cover of The Good Student marks it as part of ‘The Romantic Comedy Collection’. However, judging by the content of this film, the guy who labeled it a romantic comedy will be giving his wife a box of human teeth for Valentine’s Day. I’d warn her, but I’m staying away as she’s almost certainly a sex mannequin draped in animal carcasses.
Let’s start with a positive – there’s a character called Dick Moon. It’s the best thing here by a mile, and you can say it in less than a second. Dick Moon and his silent partner are incompetent cops. When they find out that a student has been kidnapped they wait to speak to the prime suspect until he gets to work the next day, grill him for one minute, become more suspicious and then leave. They don’t arrest him until he threatens the victim’s father with a frying pan, and even then the charges, much like the frying pan, don’t stick.
The image on the front cover made The Good Student look a little bit creepy, but it turns out that it undersells that element of the film by some way. It would have been more appropriate to wrap the disc in a brown paper bag and to only sell it using a code word. The main character, teacher Mr Gibb, has a crush on one of his students. He rents a porn film because the performer on the cover looks like her. It’s called ‘Young Blondes…’ and then my brain shut off to protect me from further trauma.
Once the underage object of his affections is kidnapped, Mr Gibb storms the girls’ bathroom at school and attacks one of her female classmates. When called into his boss’s office as a result of the attack, he admits to having a crush on the kidnapped girl and they still don’t have him arrested. This guy is the hero of the movie, and yet he seems constantly on the brink of sex attacking his own students. He’s an incredibly alarming and uncomfortable paedo-grenade with the pin pulled out, on the brink of a harrowing explosion. And seriously, ‘The Romantic Comedy Collection’.
This is all unpleasant enough, but holy shit, every man in this film is sexually attracted to underage girls. The first thing Dick Moon does is remark that some of the students at the school are ‘pretty hot’. Gibbs’ colleague brags to him about having sex with some of the younger students in exchange for passing grades.
Then there’s Ally’s Dad. He’s having a fling with his assistant, which is fine, but then it’s not, because he’s also having a fling with her daughter, who is Ally’s classmate (for which he’s arrested for statutory rape, because someone had to be). He also holds a ‘My Daughter is Missing!’ sale at his used car lot, because what’s the point of making a film creepy if it’s not also going to be stupid as well?
The film finishes up with a twist ending, which is unpredictable in that even the previous 75 minutes haven’t conditioned you to expect something so audaciously silly. The twist gives context to some elements of the film, but it also makes other parts entirely nonsensical. Swings and roundabouts.
I think The Good Student was meant to be funny in places, but it’s not, unless you consider slow to be a kind of funny. This is a film that has nothing to offer besides some pretty decent performances from some of the lead actors. Perhaps most frustratingly, what is the point of doing a kidnapped girl story if your film isn’t about Steven Seagal violently rescuing her?
You might not think this was a good start to our Poundland challenge, but you’d be wrong. We knew going in that some of the films we bought were going to be awful. What we’ve done is found a film that’s incredibly odd. Where else are you going to find a film like this, much less 40 copies stacked in a prominently on display? This is what we come to Poundland for. This is why we’re so very lonely.
JUST FOR THE RECORD
The Cover Suggests: British Gangster Brapfest
Cockney’s per Pound: Roll out a barrel full
Perfect Poundland Accompaniment: Gourmet Cat Food
A mockumentary chronicling the collapse of the fictional film Just For The Record. Just For The Record (the fake one), would you believe it, fell apart because the hilarious caricatures responsible for every part of the production bungled and faffed their way to failure.
Nothing about the cover art of Just For The Record suggests a comedy. And to be fair, very little about the film does. The front cover is very clearly designed to trick people into thinking the film is a typical British gangster film. That’s what I wanted to write about here. These type of films pop up in Poundland all the time. It even features a picture of the film’s main star that is very clearly taken from another film. But, actually, this is a mockumentary aimed at making fun of the film industry.
This would all be fine if it were a good comedy film. If I sit down for a plate of British gangster film on toast but get served a delicious bowl of frothy comedy film, then fine by me. That’s Poundland for you. Except that, er…
The cast certainly look like they’re from a Brit gangsterama. We get Sean Pertwee, Billy Murray and Craig Fairbrass. The headline name? None other than Britain’s Danniest Dyer, Danny Dyer.
In Just For The Record, these actors are afforded an opportunity to cut loose and have some fun. They do so at our expense. Every character is wacky, has a silly voice and a cerrr-azy moustache. Can you imagine having to criticise Danny Dyer for over acting? And he comes off better than most of the rest of the cast. He’s a highlight. A dreadful, dreadful highlight.
This film peaks early on. Really early on. Before the opening credits have even finished, in fact. The best part is when Rik Mayall’s name pops up. It made me feel hope. Unfortunately, he’s barely in it, and even if his role were more prominent it’s unlikely that they’d have known what to do with him (which is obviously smashing Ade Edmondson over the head with a plank of wood before being punted in the balls).
The idea is to satirise the film industry, but no one seems sure as to what’s so silly about it. It’s like criticising a chef because you’ve taken a shit in every meal you’ve ever prepared, and who the hell wants to eat shit? And what’s up with the silly hat, Frenchy? Your moustache looks ridiculous!
This film has no pace, no ideas, no insight and no laughs. It’s a long 80 minutes. I almost killed myself with my own hand, face palming at the constant comments about how awful the fake film they were making was, with nearly every criticism entirely fitting this actual film. The terrible film in Just For The Record is even called Just For The Record. The fake version is described as a ‘film that never saw the light of day’, and because I’m a nice guy I’m not going to finish this joke.
So, Just For The Record is a shit sandwich. And what is the point of making a ‘film falling apart’ mockumentary if you’re not going to cast Steven Seagal as an action star causing havoc on set?
Now we’re two films in and I don’t have any positive spin for you. During the last film we all learned something, here we just got tricked by another misleading cover (a staple of Poundland, and I should have known better). Of course, when you buy films from Poundland, you will occasionally stumble across one that is entirely unwatchable. Normally, you’d just switch it off after 20 minutes and who cares, it only cost a pound. However, because I’d committed to writing this article, I had to watch the whole thing. I’m an idiot.
The Cover Suggests: Soldiers! Helicopters! Steven Seagal!
Pounds per Seagal: One.
Perfect Poundland Accompaniment: Haribo Charmallows, the greatest marshmallows in all of Poundland.
Straight-to-video films starring action heroes used to be a staple of the Poundland DVD section, although they’ve recently become less common. You can imagine, then, how thrilled I was to chance upon the first ever DTV film of Steven Seagal’s career. Here, Seagal stars as a doctor who, having fallen out with the government over the misuse of his brilliant work, lives a simple life in a small town with his daughter and a crazy old guy named Frank.
Unfortunately, a local militia has fallen out with the cops, prompting them to release a chemical weapon. When the villains realise that their immunity shots aren’t working, they storm the local hospital with guns and, well, Steven Seagal just hates it when people do that. Things go from bad to worse for the militia when they find out that Seagal’s daughter has a natural immunity to the virus they’ve unleashed. They attempt to find her, only to face a light pummeling. Of course, even Steven Seagal can’t punch a virus, so he retreats to a secret military base, finds a cure and then returns to give the bad guys a proper violent seeing to.
Ah, The Patriot. You give so much and ask for little in return. We ask for Steven Seagal as a cowboy, you pop a hat on his head and send him to us on horseback. We ask for Steven Seagal as a doctor, you send him into to a lab and have him whip up a cure for a chemical weapon that’s ten times more powerful than anthrax. We ask for Seagal rage, you have him trash his lab in frustration. We ask for violent Seagal vengeance, you arm him with a wine glass and have him bring brutal stabbiness to the necks of his enemies. We ask for Steven Seagal to love all God’s creatures, you have him save the life of a Shetland pony.
I love it when Seagal films contain some political comment, and on that front The Patriot does not disappoint. We get a condemnation of chemical weapons, and a militia with dangerous weapons and a warped sense of patriotism almost killing millions of people. But hold on a second; Steven Seagal doesn’t hate militias, and he understands that an American might want to exercise their right to bear arms and be patriotic. It’s assholes that he hates, and this militia is run by an asshole. What’s more political than speaking out against assholes?
The Patriot flits between being a western and a thriller. It certainly starts as a western, a family friendly one at that, with a scene of Seagal and a friend on horseback rounding-up some cows and exchanging some friendly chat as a horn-heavy score plays in the background. It’s the thriller sections that provide us with our action, though, including a scene where Seagal (or a stunt double, whatever) front flips through a window with his daughter in his arms. The western scenes are technically better, but the thriller scenes are more fun.
It’s a film without a female character for Seagal to direct his loins at, though, which is a mark against it. That’s not the film’s only flaw, either. We get a 20 minute period building up to the final showdown that moves at a snail’s pace, and the fight scenes don’t rank amongst Seagal’s best.
Still, even the most cynical amongst you who might like to tear a simple film like The Patriot to shreds will have a hard time finding fault in the ending. The cure for NEM37 virus is, heartwarmingly, found in nature, in the petals of wildflowers. To get the cure to the people, a military helicopter flies through the town, dropping flower petals over all of the diseased people. Make love not war, then. A powerful message deployed with all the subtlety you might expect from a military helicopter.
The lesson to take from here isn’t that Steven Seagal is awesome, although if you did come away thinking that then I’ve no intention of disagreeing. The point is, even if you dislike Steven Seagal, you can usually find something in Poundland that you can be confident you’re going to like. And if you’re taking two risks, it’s probably all right to place one safe bet.
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