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Time Chasers (1994)
On retrospect, it's not that bad
So when I was in high school, I wrote a review of this film for this site when I was well into my die-hard MSTie phase and like many people, just bagged on the film as the worst movie ever made because that would make me "cool." Well, that was a good twelve years ago folks, and really? I've seen a lot of movies since then, and this movie just isn't going to crack the bottom 100 worst movies I've ever sat through. It's not even close to the worst MST3K features ever.
Oh, it's still BAD. Don't get me wrong. It's cheaply made, the plot gets rather silly and filled with holes, and the performances of the principal cast are pretty lousy. The only one approaching actual acting talent is our lead, Matthew Bruch of the Butt Chin, and it's all downhill from there.
But let's be honest guys. For a low-budget sci-fi film, this is practically Shakespeare. David Giancola was clearly aware of how to frame most of his shots, how to hide his low budget wherever possible, and how to string together a screenplay with coherent dialog and a plot you can actually follow.
Can any of us honestly say the same about Monster-A-Go-Go? Red Zone Cuba? Castle of Fu Manchu? Or how about the more recent The Room or Birdemic? Seriously, the hammy, lisping J.K. Robertson is still FAR less painful to watch than Tommy Wisseau.
I can't really hate this movie any more. Sure I can have fun mocking its short-comings and lovingly enjoy Mike and the Bots shredding it into fine confetti. But especially stacked up against other Bottom 100 films here (Daniel der Zauberer? LOOKING AT YOU), it's really got no right to be here. And honestly, I think the fact it's coherent yet silly is part of why the MST3K episode is so memorable.
Oh, 10/10 on the MST3K version and I highly recommend that as well...but I think a lot of folks that watched the MST3K version should watch the full cut of the film as well.
Evan Almighty (2007)
The world's most bizarre love story
First off, this wasn't necessarily a bad way to kill an evening, and if you want some mostly-clean family entertainment, you could do worse. And it's a lot friendlier as Christian viewing than, say, The Passion of the Christ and it's two hour gore fest.
But, for a movie with God as a main character, I found that the divine intervention aspect was the least improbable part of this film. Far closer to the front of my mind were things like: Do they really think the capital looks like that? Are the filmmakers aware that we possess a bicameral legislative branch, a debate process over the passage of bills, a requirement that bills pass both houses and also pass the approval of the president, and, oh, I dunno, more than one frickin' Congressman that makes all the decisions? I realize Hollywood rarely is a stickler for details, but much of the film hinged on stopping one bill from getting passed by a random Congressman, one that would actually sell national park space to private development. What alternate universe is this movie taking place in where Congress would not be besieged by protests and clear legal hurdles? Also, what alternate universe is one mere Congressman of undetermined status is given the power to suspend Congressman, control the entire D.C. police force, and apparently build dams and dictate their construction himself with absolutely no oversight for personal profit? And aside from the bad politics, what of the hackneyed theology? At one point, God tells Evan that the story of Noah's ark was a love story because all the animals came in pairs. Not, say, for the repopulation of the Earth after a vengeful deity drowned every living thing on the planet. Strangely, Evan Almighty skips over this theme when it's the most prominent theme of the story it is trying to reference. There might have been a really witty, thoughtful film if Evan had ever questioned anything and had some deep dialogs with God. But Hollywood isn't out to make thoughtful films with God, they just want to rope in church goers, so the best we get is God declaring ARK as an anagram, ruining a man's life, flooding an entire housing development for no apparent reason, having birds poop on everything in sight, and smirking the entire way.
The movie is also pretty dead set on sticking to clichés. This movie will never surprise you. There's even a clichéd "Wife loses faith in husband" subplot, which would require an incredibly stupid woman in the first place because she's been around her husband for weeks of him being chased by all sorts of exotic animals and watching his uncontrollable hair growth. There's also the normal "Working person ignores his family and just needs to be shown what matters in life" cliché, which apparently translates to "Construction projects bring families together! Also, natural disasters." Yes, I'm paying attention to things like this because the movie isn't exactly throwing anything else at me to make up for it. Steve Carrel is himself, always funny but not capable of the divine miracle it would take to turn this thing into gold. Wanda Sykes gets a few good one liners, but her character seems to exist entirely as a one-liner machine and nothing else. There's also a scary Congressional aide with a strange potential romantic attraction to our poor Evan, though the movie never does comment on the Bible's attitudes towards homosexuality despite having God wandering around D.C. all day.
The movie just sort of chugs along, you chuckle a little, you try to ignore how progressively stupid it gets, and then it's over. Not bad for a family rental, but not much more than that either.
The Incredible Nothing
With the one-two punch of the entertaining Bryan Singer-helmed X-Men films and Sam Raimi's brilliant Spider-Man take, it seemed like comic films had finally found their way. It really WAS possible to tell the deep, moving plot line that has entranced comic readers for decades while including the requisite explosions that have also entranced comic readers for decades. Naturally, when I saw the trailer for the Hulk, I was expecting Bruce Banner to get an equally good treatment. I mean, they brought in Ang Lee, meaning they wanted a more serious exploration into the Hulk's multiple personas, right? And the man knows his wire-fu, so the action sequences would be good too, right?
Wrong. The Hulk was one of the most painful theatrical experiences of my lifetime. It even managed to top Wild Wild West and The League of Extraordinary Gentleman for cinematic torture. Of course, that two hour run time of badness can do anyone in. At least those films were short enough to escape from. The Hulk is not only bad, it's long too. The more recent Batman Begins clocked in ten minutes longer than this and and it just zooms by while achieving everything the Hulk fails at. And that had the Memento guy helming it for crying out loud!
Let's get something straight - many in the media and the internet are under the impression that The Hulk is some grand artistic opus overlooked by dumb theater goers due to lack of explosions. They laud it's artistic vision, it's brilliant insight into Banner's head, and a bunch of other artsy crap. These elements ARE NOT IN THIS FILM. The movie I saw was so caught up in convincing the audience it was smart that I was just waiting for the "Oscar Moment" subtitles to pop up. Sadly, it's hoodwinked quite a few people into its vision. People who should know better. Hence why this review exists.
No, this film is a cinematic Seinfeld. This film is about nothing. On top of the title character not even appearing for the first third of the film - we learn absolutely nothing about Bruce Banner to make us care about him. He is a total blank slate. Eric Bana is a fine actor, but his Bruce is someone I never cared about. And there's plenty of angles they could have used to make Bruce intriguing, all of which Marvel Comics has gone in depth over(Grey Hulk anyone?). There's a lot to the Hulk character but Ang Lee never got it - he just liked making pretty pictures and vague plot points that amounted to nothing.
Then there's the conflict with his father. Namely - his creepy dad is trying to do...something. The film doesn't really tell you what. It does use that clever smokescreen of being vague so you supposedly need to analyze to find the plot, but no, deep analysis reveals dad is nothing but a creepy old guy with mutant poodles. At the end of the film, his showdown with Bruce is nothing but a giant metaphor for...nothing.
We get a lot of flashbacks, supposedly to establish conflict. They add nothing to the film except that Bruce's dad is Not A Good Person. We get shots into Bruce's head that are supposed to show an identity crisis. But since we never get anything resembling an identity from Bruce, there's no involvement in his crisis. And naturally, these scenes are way too long and go nowhere. That's not artistic vision - that's someone stumbling around trying to find something more to do with the concept than "Hulk smash!" There's nothing for the Hulk to define himself against - we are given a few vague sources of antagonism. The military sort of plays a role - nothing like a good cliché in our monster movie. But for a film that's supposed to be innovative in its presentation, how come the best they can up with for the military are nothing but tired clichés? It's as though they exist solely so someone can throw tanks at the Hulk.
Oh, sure, there's action sequences, but those are boring too. The only thing the film gets right is that helicopters are not giant tanks of nitroglycerin waiting to go off at the slightest touch. But we do get a thirty minute or so chase sequence through the desert where Hulk jumps...and jumps...and jumps...and winds up in San Francisco so he can...wind up right back where he started! Oh sure, he overturns some tanks and helicopters on the way, but we just had a thirty minute chase sequence go absolutely nowhere but boy did it buffer that artistic runtime.
Folks - do not be fooled. This film is not an unsung classic. It is undeserved of that praise. Bruce Banner's consciousness has been explored in depth in his comics since the 70's, and Ang Lee couldn't even get close to it in three hours. Even the TV series had a better shot at the character and he wasn't even named Bruce in that one. There are plenty of better three hour films out there, and plenty of better comic films out there.
A step back...
Having enjoyed the last several direct-to-video installments of the Scooby Doo franchise, I have always been impressed by the fact that the writers were keen on what made the original series work and how to translate that to film. Oh sure, it was always rather corny entertainment, but you're not expecting high art from Scooby. You're expecting FUN.
And that was what I wanted from this outing, but I was rather disappointed overall. As nice as it was to see the living members of the original cast together again, the writing seemed a little stale. The in-jokes were so thick where they became tiresome by the time the credits rolled. The situations concocted for the cast frequently felt like padding instead of entertainment. Though the real kicker is the fact the conclusion managed to be too unbelievable even by Scooby Doo standards. After the more outrageous events that have transpired, the solution to the mystery of the Yowie Yahooie is far too dull, especially considering the supernatural events the last several films ended with. While it's nice to see the film end in step with the original series (proving the supernatural to be something much more mundane), it feels as though the balance isn't even enough between the supernatural facade and the reality.
However, this installment is not a total loss. Not all the in-jokes are a waste (especially one at Fred's expense when the gang is set to investigate a trailer). The riffs on various genres of music (in particular the KISS-inspired vampires) were appreciated, as was the reappearence of the Hex Girls from the second film (though they've lost a lot of their character now that they're not suspects). The hideously out of date manager inspired quite a few laughs as well.
Unfortunately, this does not take away the rather empty feeling at the end of the film. With a new series running, it's of course possinble this was more of a pilot for than a continuation of the previous films, but it's hoped this is really more of an anomaly in the series of movies and not a trend, lest we return to the likes of the franchise-toppling "Scooby Doo and the Reluctant Werewolf".
The American President (1995)
Tries to do both, falls flat
Rob Reiner used to put out some darn funny satires. Unfortunately for this film, he didn't even try. On the one hand is the syrupy, fluff story of a widowed president falling in love with an activist. In other words, a chick flick. Then it switches gears by ramming left-wing rhetoric down your throat and attempting to make itself an "important" film. Not only can the fluffier aspect not mesh well with the "serious" portion, but it also effectively alienates half the audience, as well as everyone else who went in expecting a light romance and got a nice helping of propaganda instead. I'm amazed this later shaped into the West Wing, but at least that series is not hampered by trying to do too many things at once. While still left-wing in rhetoric, the weekly format allows it to switch gears more effectively and thus makes itself more palatable for entertainment. Trying to cram that into a movie fails miserably. If you're looking for a good, light presidential comedy, go rent "Dave." If you're looking for something more meaningful, skip this one.
The wonders of LSD...
This film spends a lot of time preaching against marijuana. However, the plot and visuals are so insane that it seems more like the poster-child for LSD.
Plot: The heroic struggle of Michael as he battles his drug addiction while being subjected to the humiliation brought on by the likes of Winnie the Pooh and Papa Smurf.
Yea, yea, there's a good message, but it's obscured by the fact that the writers have taken a rather stale PSA idea and tried stretching it into 30 minutes. This includes a song sequence, where you're told that there's a million, rational ways to say "No!" such as "I can't smoke pot, I have homework!"
The writers can't make up their minds what to do with the characters they've brought in royalty-free. At first we see they all have to hide from the human characters, but within five minutes we see them all running around in plain sight without anyone noticing. Soon they begin interacting with the human cast, and the only one who's even slightly disturbed by this fact is not the drug-abusers, it's the little sister who talks to her teddy bear (Pooh, by the way.) Further, there's the little drug demon floating around. Because you know, pushers don't give kids drugs. He too is ambiguous - while he might be symbolic of Michael's addiction and hence is not supposed to be seen by other people, he laters goes and haunts little Corey to get HER into drugs. So I guess he's...uhhh.....moving on!
The whole plot finally culminates in some insane sequence in which Michael is in what would appear to be the Saturday Morning Carnival of Souls, aka a theme park from hell where the various cartoon characters beat him up and ignore him and stuff. For example, Miss Piggy eats him in a sandwich and spits him out. If the writers were not high when writing this, I must recommend they try getting high because they can't get crazier than this. Of course, the film ignores the fact that Michael's been having highs for two years by this point, so why this tripping sequence would frighten him is beyond me.
I realize I'm completely whaling on this film, but I actually just saw it again because I went through the trouble of tracking it down on eBay because of it's sheer infamy of being a BAD cartoon. The level of unintentional humor is is brilliant. Take this scene for example - Michael's dad is rooting through the fridge for a beer. He notices many of them missing and mentions it to his wife. The ever-observant Mom tells him "Don't worry, you probably just drank them last night watching football." While we're obviously supposed to be learning that Michael is drinking beer (in addition to the pot and crack), we instead read further in and realize - Hey kids, it's okay to have chemical dependencies as long as you're a grown-up! Scenes like this are worth the tiny price tag of this film. Oh yea, and the fact you get to hear Simon the Chipmunk say "Marijuana."
Miracle on 34th Street (1994)
On a normal level of cinema, this film is only mediocre. Where it fails is that it is a terrible remake of a well-known, well-loved film. And even worse for this film, it's a lousy remake of a well-known, well-loved film that just happens to be my favorite Christmas film of all time.
It has a few positives. All right, it has one positive, and that is Richard Attenborough. He brings a genuine delight to the role of Saint Nick, and it is not hard to believe this guy could be the genuine article. Unfortunately, his performance highlights the lousy performances of many of the principles.
Dorey Walker is played by Elizabeth Perkins with none of the sympathy given to her by Maureen O'Hara. It's impossible to even dream of her getting married to anyone. Some of this is to be blamed on the script, though, which spends so much time establishing Dorey's cold heart that it forgets she's supposed to be getting our sympathy, not our scorn. Which brings us to the flat performance of Dylan McDermott. He could be replaced with a cardboard cut-out without affecting the flow of the movie. Then we have Mara Wilson. She tends to be more snobby and over-confident than confused, but Wilson is up against Natalie Wood. To be fair, we never get to see Wilson chattering like a monkey for comparison purposes. That delightful scene was excised from the modern version.
A rather ridiculous subplot has been added to this remake with a rival store, Shopper's Express, trying to put Cole's out of business (Macy's refused to have their name put in the film). It is headed by the popular 90's villain of choice, the Greedy Evil Mean CEO, Victor Landbergh. He doesn't play much of a role, yet he is supposed to be the encompassing bad guy, evoking images of Lex Luthor plotting the demise of Superman. He even has his own flunkies who attempt to sabotage the department store, skittering around almost like Boris and Natasha. This subplot tends to weigh down on the film, feeling forced in rather than meshing with the film. The pompous psychiatrist of the original works because it was simply one guy with a chip on his shoulder instead of a wicked retail overlord. The former is funny, while the latter is overkill.
Actually, that addresses another problem with this film - it takes its subject matter far too seriously. The original film was an enjoyable farce. This one is a somber story, filled with the right glurgy turns to renew our souls or something. Basically, it's way too serious considering the subject matter (an old guy who thinks he's really Santa Claus.) The original had some laugh out loud moments of sharp humor - this one instead attempts to force you to shed tears of sadness and joy. It usually just shed tears of boredom from me.
The court decision at the end of the film is not only anti-climactic, but doesn't really address the actual issue - Kris is on trial for lunacy. The only decision to save him is to prove he's REALLY Santa Claus, thus making him sane. This movie can't seem to make up its mind why he's on trial and its ultimate answer for Kris obvious acquittal would fall upon under the lightest of legal scrutiny, where the original film made a compelling legal argument. I can't answer that, but I will say that this film's answer is far off the mark. Please, I beg of you-if you have NOT seen the 1947 Black and White original, then please correct that. This is not an adequate substitute to a film that didn't need one in the first place. They even colorized the old one, so if you hate black and white, then you still have a color option without wasting your time on this.
Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (1920)
It is difficult to place this film into words, because it tends to defy description. It is truly film as Expressionist art-while there is a plotline similar to modern monster movies, it has a strong theme of the evils of those in authority. Even though a framing device was later added to the film to cut back on this theme, it actually makes it even stronger, because it forces the viewer to question everything the film presents.
The film's world is unique, with tilted, abstract settings, gothic characters, and the brooding soundtrack. Though the overuse of irises can be annoying, credit must be given for the fact that the filmmakers actually thought to come up with unique cinematography. The image of Cesare awakening, his eyes slowly opening then suddenly bursting open with fright is quite chilling indeed. Caligari himself is framed in many bizarre shots, giving him a commanding presence in the film.
The haunting aspect of this film is the enigmatic characters. While we are first presented with a typical monster movie, with the evil Caligari sending sleep walker Cesare to murder in the evening, we are thrown a curve when the story teller turns out to be a patient in an asylum, populated both by the film's female lead Jane and Cesare, who died in the plotline, with Caligari as the head doctor. While this was added in later to make sure the movie did not ultimately rebel against authority (censorship still being strong in Germany at the time), this forces us to question-did the events we've been presented with truly happen? If so, did they really happen the way we've been told? Was it all the fantasy of a madman, or was there some truth to it? Though Caligari claims at the end that he can cure the protagonist, we get the feeling that he may not have his best intentions at heart.
It is a shame that many people will avoid this film due to its age and its status as a silent film. I myself would have never heard of it had I not been enrolled in a college film course. It probably would not do well up against films of today with a modern audience-many of my classmates were confused. Though this film is confusing, that's the point-you have to mull this one over in your head and draw your own conclusions. That is the true staying power of this film-it never quite leaves your mind.
Wild Wild West (1999)
A Wild, Wild, Waste of Time
This film has several strikes against it. I like the actors, several of whom I empathize for having been in so rotten a film. Next, I am a history buff, and while I can take suspension of disbelief, I was livid at the ridiculous historical errors this film made. I was deeply offended by the racial humor. Finally, this film is an insult to the people who paid money to see it.
The actors are fumbling around the picture. Will Smith seems confused about how to play Jim West, Kevin Kline seems almost embarrassed to be in this film (In TWO roles, no less!), Salma Hayek is there to show off her butt crack, but the greatest pain is watching the magnificent Shakespearean actor Kenneth Branaugh playing Arliss Loveless overacting every scene using an atrocious Southern/Western accent. It's hard to believe this guy was such a great Hamlet.
The humor is struggling, and at many times, offensive. The lynching scene made me wonder if African-Americans were just as offended at seeing Will Smith equivocate pounding a woman's breasts with communicating by drum like in Africa. The racial element also took an odd dark turn, which began to confuse me about whether the film was a comedy or a drama.
Now we get into the biggest historical blunder in the film.**POSSIBLE SPOILER(Like you care)*** Arliss's grand plan is to kidnap President Grant and force him to sign a treaty that would divy up the U.S. to it's earlier owners (Britain, France, and Spain) and of course leave some for himself. First, by the time this movie was taking place, not one of these countries would want their old territories back. France, in particular, had given up the purchase because they simply couldn't maintain control there anymore. This plan also ignores the fact that President Grant, as inept a leader as he was, would likely not ignore that several of U.S. trade partners had just conspired against him, evil madman or not.
Enough of that, this movie offends on all levels. I don't blame Robert Conrad for accepting 3 of the Razzies this load of garbage picked up that year. I suggest you avoid this film at all costs, because it's just not worth the pain.
Snow Dogs (2002)
A good story buried beneath the drek
As soon as I saw the previews for this movie, I was convinced it was going to be an absolutely horrid film and planned on never seeing it. However, when relatives came over and insisted we watch it, I had no choice and prepared for cinematic horror.
What I got was a bad movie that had a good movie trying to fight it's way out. Yes, there's some rather bad comedy throughout the film. But underneath the terrible comedy is a story about finding oneself that really should have been the focus of the movie. When the movie dropped the more ridiculous "fish out of water" gags it actually had an interesting story going, if not ungodly predictable.
As for performances, I have a message for Hollywood in reference to comedic black actors-Stop having them scream out every single line! It's really annoying to hear Cuba Gooding Jr. shrieking out the majority of his "funny" lines. James Coburn puts in a good performance as Thunder Jack, and I was actually rooting for him during the film.
It's a movie that should have gone back for a rewrite to excise the cheap humor and replace it with more of the dramatic elements that made it more interesting. The kids will love it, it's got an abundance of cute dogs in it. Good for a rent.