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Nothing To Sneeze At
Wonderful concept (man films man sneezing) gets bogged in melodramatic Hollywood sentimentality by a director clearly overexceeding himself. The film redeems itself however, with a wonderful performance by Fred Ott. Good, but not great. 7/10.
The Mighty Hercules (1963)
A Lesson In Shoestring-Budget Cartooning
The Greatest Cartoon You'll Never, Ever See Again. On Earth. Period.
"The Mighty Hercules" is a bygone animated classic, the likes of which are just not made today. With "Rocket Robin Hood" and "The Amazing Spider-Man", "Hercules" created a mighty trifecta of cartoon delights for the Gen-X set.
I mean, damn. Come on. You gotta know what I mean here.
"Hercules" was one of countless shoestring-budget cartoon creations to appear on the Saturday morning scene in the 70s and 80s. And while the show's original run existed in the Mighty Sixties, its true essence revealed itself through rerun after jaw-dropping rerun. And just how cheap was this program?
In one episode, Herc's nemesis, the conniving wizard Daedelus, gains control of a deadly flying dragon and instructs it to destroy Hercules. Out of the sky it spirals towards Herc, who runs headlong into battle...behind a giant rock. No fooling. The entire tussle takes place behind this rock. Now that's thrifty cartooning.
That aside, "Hercules" did boast some cool and laugh-inducing characters and scenes, like the aforementioned Daedelus, quite possibly one of animation's most heinous individuals. With squinted, shifty eyes, a black cloak, little pointy slippers and a handlebar mustache of handlebar mustaches, Daedelus and his equally shifty feline, Dido, attempt dastardly deeds on what seems a daily basis. Occasionally the Mask Of Vulcan would appear. This hombre was pretty much a Daedelus clone with a janitor's pail on his head who was invincible so long as he wore it -- so when he showed up Herc would somehow have to get it off with a tree branch. Then there was Willimene, who essentially was a chick-Daedelus. She had a parrot and spent much of her time beating on Herc's maiden, Helena.
But really, when dissecting "Hercules", one has to go no further than the sidekicks. Herc receives help in the form of Newton, a knock-kneed bumbling centaur with slight homosexual tendencies (and more than an inspiration for "The Simpsons" Waylon Smithers), and also Toot, a spritely sort of two-legged version of Newton who can only express himself through a piccolo. And speaking of cheap and careless cartoon-making, watch out for the one where Newton's voice changes mid-episode. This blatant disregard for quality and continuity may mark this program as, well, amateur...but in the spirit of kitsch and pop-culture, it's probably what puts "The Mighty Hercules" over the top as one of TV's true diamonds in the rough.
Oh yeah, and a theme song for the ages. Absolutely kickass.
3000 Miles to Graceland (2001)
This Ice-T's For You
Taking the road less traveled, here is a brief synopsis on what can arguably be called rapper-cum-actor Ice-T's greatest role to date. True, glancing at the cast of "3000 Miles to Graceland", the average Ice-T fan might be put off that his hero is so low in the billing. Then perusing through the film, the Ice-T fan might begin to wonder whether his hero's scenes were left on the editing room floor. At least, that's the impression one gets.
While it seems at other theaters, the dominant question was aimed at the movie's scripting and casting capabilities. At my local movie-house however, I did not let the movie get away so easily, having nearly reached the ending without revealing its unique hidden talent Ice-T waiting for his turn to shine.
Ice-T's character is named 'Hamilton'. He is a...
SPOILER! ...weapons specialist.
And as such, Hamilton is called in to bolster evil-Elvis Murphy's (Kevin Costner, in his finest role I might add, since playing the stiff in "The Big Chill") team in the big climactic shootout versus the Feds in a dark, theatrically-lit industrial warehouse. The result is spectacular. But Ice-T's contribution to this movie start earlier, and can be broken down into three main parts, or 'acts'.
Act I: The Introduction to Hamilton -- Upon arrival at the warehouse, Murphy states to fellow crony Howie Long ("Firestorm", the "NFL") that they need more firepower. Cue Ice-T, who Long boasts 'is a couple of guys (in one)'.
Act 2: Getting Inside Hamilton -- Murphy has thought ahead at this moment. Foreseeing a lengthy battle with the police, he has brought sandwiches. Offering one first to his child hostage ("even tough guys gotta eat", he says), he then offers one to Ice-T. "Would you like a jelly sandwich?" Murphy asks. Ice-T, to this point a silent-but-deadly type, sneers a Billy-Idol-squared sneer and replies. "Yeah", he retorts.
Act 3: Hamilton At Work -- Possibly the coup-de-gras moment of the entire film, Ice-T shows his creative chops, bursting into the final gun battle sliding upside-down on a cable, spinning, twirling, firing two automatics at once, and then...
SPOILER! ...he dies. Just like that. Like that kid in "Pay It Forward", he dies for the greater cause, which Costner's Murphy then kills when he dies himself minutes later. All in all, as I stated earlier, quite possibly Ice-T's greatest (and shortest) moment in film. See this movie for him. After all, if you were in "3000 Miles to Graceland", Ice-T would watch it for you.
To Die For (1995)
It's All About the Acting, Baby.
"To Die For" is a wonderful example of superb acting chops.
Directed by the Gus Van Sant with balls (egs. "My Own Private Idaho", "Drugstore Cowboy" -- later replaced by Gus Van Shmaltz of "Good Will Hunting and "Finding Forrester"), this is a dark and savvy picture, disturbing and funny, boasting one of the decade's finest acting performances by a member of the fairer sex. The presently available Nicole Kidman churns out her best role to date, delicately switching emotional channels between empowerment and ruthlessness. Often looking directly at the camera, her sense of confidence is overwhelming as she guides you through her story.
And while "To Die For" adopts a familiar tale, that of one-woman's-rise-to-fame-and-what-not, the steps it takes to get from Point A to Point B are truly original, tip-toeing through a virtual garden of backstabbing, deceit and murder.
Backed by a fine supporting cast including Matt Dillon, Joaquin Pheonix (watch out for this guy, right?), Casey Affleck, Wayne Knight (!) and Kurtwood Smith (!!!), "To Die For", in the end, is a woman's movie. Not to the kickass nth degree of "Thelma & Louise" mind you, but it is apparent navigating through this film that the ladies rule the coop. Alison Folland fleshes out a true-to-life teenager (having never acted before in her life, she, like "Dancer in the Dark"'s Björk, can only 'be'), and Illeana Douglas is more than a worthy adversary for Kidman.
The men, it seems, are merely here to get screwed around. And it is lovely to watch.
Check it out.
Thunder Warrior: First Blood
Many were put off by Jeffrey Wright's portrayal of a Dominican drug lord in John Singleton's 2000 remake of "Shaft". The reason? Wright wasn't Hispanic. Not in any way. So the question begs to be asked, why was there no similar uproar when the white-as-snow Mark Gregory was cast as the Navajo lead in 1983's "Thunder Warrior"?
OK, so maybe I'm overstating here. Wright stole the show in "Shaft". Everybody talked about it. Gregory on the other hand, played out the role of Thunder to an audience of, well, zero. In fact, you'll be lucky to find a copy of "Thunder Warrior" in even the dankest of video cellars. And with good cause -- it like, totally stinks.
"Thunder Warrior", a gripping yarn about a lone soldier standing in the face of injustice, is a hot-blooded Reagan-era "Rambo" knockoff. And the parallels to Sly Stallone's "Rambo" are staggering: The vigilante lone-wolf warrior, the fighting-for-a-just-cause shtick, the massive odds piled up against him, yada yada yada. It's probably a purposeful move the producers made to keep this flick below radar, in order to avoid accusations of outright plagiarism.
Directed by Fabrizio de Angelis (the genius behind "Murder Alligator" and "Zombie Holocaust"), what we have here is a scorched tale of personal vengeance set in the American West, created by an Italian cast and crew, led of course by Gregory (ne, Marco di Gregario). In essence then, it's Spaghetti-Rambo.
But where "Thunder Warrior" splits from John Rambo comparisons is its level of quality. And by stretching the very definition of 'quality' to include "Rambo", surely now the abilities of "Thunder Warrior" can be understood. Combining chop-shop editing, stunted dialogue and stunts taken from "The A-Team" big book of tricks, it appears that poor Fabrizio's vision may not have been fully realized. And frankly, that's just sad. There is no action in this action movie. There are no thrills in this thriller. It defies any genre, the very reason the only place you'll find it now is in the five-cent bargain bin. Right next to its two(!) sequels.
Dungeons & Dragons (2000)
'Dungeons and Dragons' is stupid as hell.
But props must be given to the producers for clinching the services of Jeremy Irons, whose presence marks the only difference between 'D&D' and a two-hour episode of 'Sinbad'. Irons notwithstanding, this movie is drivel and an insult to the intelligence of basement-residing D&D nerds worldwide. Yes, it's a dumb, dumb movie with a worthless script that must be blamed for the fact that Irons, an Oscar-winner for 'Reversal of Fortune', is outclassed by a Wayans brother. Granted, the guy has made dumb career moves in the past. Luckily he boasts very little screen time and is surrounded by a full complement of equally insipid performances (including Thora Birch in full 'Monkey Trouble' mode apparently reading cue cards).
Indeed, roughly by the midway point of this thing - when Bruce Payne's blue-Slurpee-lipped henchman Damodar catches thief Ridley (Justin Whalin) in the act of stealing a map and snickers "just like a thief, always taking things that don't belong to you" - you pretty much know what you've paid for...FX.
And plenty of them.
'D&D' is so mired in fantastical visions of gravity-defying CG structures and backdrops, I was surprised to find that the movie was primarily filmed in England and the Czech Republic(!). The snippets of the film not created on an iMac appeared to be pure Hollywood backlot material. And while many will and have realized, 'D&D' borrows - heavily - from other movies, notably some outrageously recognizable scenes straight out of both 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' and 'Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom'.
Rocket Robin Hood (1966)
A Timeless Treasure
Before the Golden Age of infomercials, many television networks relied on recycled episodes of way outdated programs. During what would become the prime-time of the infomercial industry (approximately 4:00 AM until dawn), youngsters in the 70s and 80s were exposed to a brief glut of super-subpar cartoons. These included an animated version of "The Mighty Hercules", "Max the 2,000 Year Old Mouse" (forgive me if I've reported this one wrong, it's been awhile) and "The Amazing Spider-Man". In Canada specifically, there was "Rocket Robin Hood".
Taking the chintzy animation of the aforementioned programs one step lower, "Rocket Robin Hood" graced Canuck TV sets for a brief moment in time in the mid-60s. But due to its rapid demise, many kids were introduced to the 'toon in subsequent decades. Featuring the melodramatic, sometimes comedic, sometimes outright inane adventures of the ubiquitous Sherwood Forest gang, the makers of "RRH" added a like, total 60s twist. They added the limitless possibilities of...The Future. "RRH" you see, took place in 'the fantastic year 3000' in a galaxy ruled by the evil despot Prince John and his fiendish aide, the Wicked Sheriff of Nott. And as for our merry men? They threw cosmic wrench after cosmic wrench into the Prince's schemes out of their base on the lush, green Sherwood Asteroid. By this point, you either see this as way trippy or totally psycho. In this hombre's opinion, those who witnessed the spectacle of "RRH" are truly blessed individuals, exposed to an endless wealth of kitschy pop culture material. Who could forget the timeless theme song, or the cute vignettes of each character that peppered each episode? Or the one time Robin squared off against the evil Infinata of Dementia Five (a feat that was duplicated shot for shot in an episode of "Spider-Man")? This is high-calibre stuff. Seek it out.
It is hoped that one day that this show will make a comeback, as chances are it's been relegated to the TV scrapyard for good. In the future perhaps, the ever-expanding array of channels will force someone to pick it up out of sheer desperation. Let's just hope it happens before the fantastic year 3000.
Reindeer Games (2000)
Ben Affleck is no tough guy.
Sure, he's got a big chin and the Deion Sanders swagger, but deep down he's just a Charles Atlas middleman of sorts -- not the pumped up Ahnuld-esque end result, but a few steps above the 90-pound weakling. And so to place him in an Ahnuld role seems, well...awkward.
"Reindeer Games" is the byproduct of this awkwardness. It's a sloppy, uneven and groan-inducing effort not worthy of the talent involved, including Affleck. It reminds me of an old "Kids In The Hall" TV sketch about a doctor/quack who coasts through med-school entirely on charm. Similarly, Affleck attempts to glide through this film on puppy-dog eyes, a Luke Perry forehead and a rat's smile. And he comes off looking like a jerk.
John Frankenheimer, phoning this one in, fails to capture any of the magic of his earlier films (heck, this ain't even on par with "Ronin"). Charlize Theron plays the harlot. Gary Sinise is the bad guy (well duh, he's got long hair). And like I said, Affleck is the jerk. "Reindeer Games" lacks brains, lacks credibility, lacks fun and lacks energy. It has nothing but an ending of blatantly moronic twists straight out of an episode of "Scooby-Doo".
Long story short, it's a Razzie nominee if there ever was one. But it also preaches a valuable lesson: Don't put the 90-pound weakling into the fight until he's ready. Otherwise, he gets ridiculed. And he gets the snot pounded out of him.
The Replacements (2000)
Based of course, on the infamous 1987 NFL players' strike, "The Replacements" feels as if it should have been made in 1987. Featuring the mind-numbingly stereotypical gaggle of misfits and outcasts, this film definitely leans more towards "Major League" forgettability than "Bull Durham" loftiness. And mind-numbingly-stereotypical might be the summary on this turkey. Take a moment and consider every possible sports cliché you can. Got 'em all? No? Well, the makers of "The Replacements" left no cliché stone unturned, believe you me - capped off with the most inane rah-rah speech ever put to celluloid (voiced soullessly by what-the-hell-am-I-doing-here Gene Hackman). By now you're gettin' that I didn't appreciate this thing, and maybe you're wondering "well, what about Keanu?"
Yeah, what about Keanu? Here's a hint: Remember what Mark Hamill did between "Star Wars" movies?
For a film trumpeting the merits of second chances, Keanu clearly takes a colossal bite out of his at the Hollywood A-List (having secured it of course, with "The Matrix", he is in full "Johnny Mnemonic" mode here). Of course, with two more "Matrix" movies on the way, Keanu can quietly cash his check and move on. It makes one wonder though, that this is the same bloke in "Little Buddha". Maybe the guy does have some acting range after all.
Incidentally, the only saving grace maybe, was Jon Favreau as the bull-in-the-china-shop sack machine, even though he reminded me of what's-his-name from the "Police Academy" series.
Steer clear, men. Football season is only a few weeks away.
The Big Snit (1985)
Canadians Have The Best Shorts
Richard Condie is a Canadian marvel, and one that should be shared with the world. Be it for gut-busting early work such as "Getting Started" and the Oscar-nominated "Snit" through "The Apprentice" and the digitally made "La Salla", Condie is a treasured local hero. But no singular piece of work puts a stamp on his career quite like "The Big Snit". And did I mention it was nominated for an Academy Award? Darn tootin'.
"The Big Snit", although clearly a dated message-bearer from the 1980s (the short revolves around Cold War-esquire nuclear annihilation, but don't worry it's hilarious as hell), carries with it a larger meaning, as is most of Condie's work in an understated sort of way. While the planet scurries for cover from Armageddon, a couple bickers over each others' annoying habits (in true Condie fashion, he hacksaws the furniture while she shakes her eyes literally). And don't forget to watch it again and again, 'cuz there's always something to look at. Condie loads this fella up with countless visual gags and memorable catch-phrases.
I strongly encourage this incredible piece of animation be tracked down. In Canada it's usually spotted in a National Film Board video that includes other stellar shorts (including fellow Winnipegger Cordell Barker's equally funny "The Cat Came Back"). Americans will just have to dig a little deeper, but keep at it the reward is worth the toil.