There's a certain grungy, lived-in feel that is crucial to the mood of Hard Core Logo. Fans of Blu-Ray transfers may not be entirely impressed, but the washed-out, grainy look of the film perfectly evokes the idea of a band like Hard Core Logo, driving around in a dilapidated shipping van, eating at truck stops and staying in dingy hotels, struggling to complete even a string of shows without a massive meltdown. That feeling is accentuated perfectly by the performances, all four of which drip with a very specific brand of self-loathing, desperation, and bitterness. In the same way that Spinal Tap ribs every convention and cliché of rock and roll, Hard Core Logo finds the wounds of every band and pours salt into them. McDonald's direction completes the picture, with the interaction between the filmmaker (playing his character) slowly increasing as the band "gets comfortable" around the cameras. By the time the last 20 minutes roll around, the viewer is so far into the groove that they'll accept anything, and McDonald waits until that moment to start stretching the format a little.
If Tap was about the goofiness of the job and the people who do the job, Anvil! put the spotlight on the relationship between its two core members, and there's strong echoes of that in the contemptuous friendship between Joe Dick and Billy Tallent. Billy is courting a permanent gig with a bigger band in Los Angeles named Jenifur, but he is coaxed out for the benefit for the sake of helping a friend. Joe senses his moment to get his hooks in, and the back and forth between Dillon and Rennie is the blood that pumps through that authentic body. Each conversation is carefully shaded, with the weight of each character's internal monologue hanging overhead. Even when the two men are ostensibly on good terms with one another, there's an awkward vulnerability to both of them in relation to the other that fills in an imaginary decade of good times, heated arguments, and deep grudges.
Personally, I had not heard of Hard Core Logo before reviewing this Blu-Ray, so I can't say I had years of excitement built up for McDonald's long-gestating follow up, Hard Core Logo 2. Tonally and stylistically, it's the opposite of its predecessor: a light, polished feature that hardly has a second go by in which McDonald (the character) is not an integral part of. It's also not nearly as interesting or compelling as Hard Core Logo, but overall, the movie makes for an entertaining curiosity. The challenge of sequels is finding a balance between everything the audience liked about the original and doing something fresh, and McDonald has to be commended in principle for making a movie that strays completely from the original, which he likely could not have topped in any case.
2 follows McDonald, fresh out of work following the cancellation of his hugely popular Christian western TV show, following up on an interesting story relating to the filming of the original Hard Core Logo. Without giving away too many details about Hard Core Logo, the influence of Joe Dick and the previous film have turned Die Mannequin lead singer Care Failure (playing a version of herself) into the headlines, and she wants McDonald, as a friend of Joe's, to shoot a documentary about Die Mannequin and their latest album. It sounds like a sham, but McDonald agrees anyway, leading to a fairly goofy 90-minute journey into McDonald's headspace that gently spoofs showbiz, filmmaking, and McDonald himself. It's far from essential (Trigger, McDonald's film about two female musicians reuniting after many years that was written as Hard Core Logo 2 and features Rennie reprising his role as Billy, seems like it could've been a better fit), but seeing as 2 can almost be considered a bonus feature, it's worth a look with expectations in check.
Hard Core Logo: ****½
The Video and Audio
Now, here's what will likely be the bummer for many viewers: both films are presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and not an uncompressed format, which seems like a pretty massive oversight for two films about rock and roll, both boasting a ton of music. How this keeps happening to films of this ilk (I'm having flashbacks to The Blues Brothers), I don't know, but the next time a distributor thinks about releasing a well-loved music film on Blu-Ray with a standard definition 5.1 mix, they really ought to think twice. On the good side, both tracks are strong for SD, with the audio for the original film really livening up with the music (most of the interview segments are too low key to spread out to the other speakers), and the audio for the second film offering a more general, modern, 5.1 experience (there's probably a little less music in the sequel than there is in the original, but 5.1 being a modern standard, the track makes more use of the surround channels). Both films offer English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing.
Hard Core Logo extras wrap up with a "Who the Hell Do You Think You Are?" music video (2:20, SD), and nine pages of text excerpts -- very tiny text -- from a making-of book by Paul McEwan.
Hard Core Logo 2 gets a slightly larger spread of material. First up is a featurette (18:49, HD). Although this is called a featurette, it appears to be a reel of deleted scenes from the film, as the participants continue to reference the characters as if they were real. This is followed by four interviews, with Bruce McDonald (17:39, HD), producer Rob Merilees (4:49, HD), actor Care Failure (4:12, HD), and actor Julian Richings (6:55, HD). Like the commentaries, these are a little on the low-key, dry side, and McDonald's covers much of the same ground as the commentary. Of them, Richings is the most animated, and the mumbly, uncomfortable Care Failure interview is the most skippable.
Original theatrical trailers for both Hard Core Logo and Hard Core Logo 2 are also included.