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Eight Crazy Nights (2002)
Great animation cannot save this turd of a flick.
Before I decided to write this short review (in the summertime, no less), let me tell you that I have seen this movie not once, but twice. The first time was when it aired edited with commercials on Comedy Central, and at that time, I didn't like it. Then I watched it when it was available for streaming on Netflix (which it isn't anymore) in its unedited form. I still didn't like it. I think you get the gist of what I think of this holiday travesty of an animated motion picture.
I'm not an Adam Sandler fan by any means, though I will admit he's had some good films earlier in his career. I know a good movie when I see it. This movie, on the other hand, was made at the time when Sandler started to throw farting and "number two" jokes at the audience. That, and the case of this film, our main protagonist is probably one of the most unlikable movie characters ever conceived for cinema (but not as much as Jar Jar Binks, let's just say that). In "Eight Crazy Nights", Sandler plays a character named Davey, a public drunk who pretty much hates everybody and has constantly gotten himself into a lot of trouble, to the point where he has a criminal record longer than Santa's naughty list. In other words, he's a total jerk. He's then put on probation under the supervision of a retired basketball referee named Whitey (unfortunately, also played by Sandler), who has a voice that'll make you envy the deaf. There's more to why Davey is like this, because later in the film, Whitey explains how Davey's life went spiraling downhill, but the question is, would you care after seeing what kind of crap (literally and metaphorically) Davey pulls off on him?
I'll give credit where credit is due. The animation is indeed well-done, as it was done by those who used to work at Warner Brothers' animation department on films made in the late '90s like "Cats Don't Dance" and "The Iron Giant", but all of the good animation that was used in those movies has all gone to waste on a Happy Madison production that is not funny, disgusting at times, and is just downright mean-spirited all around. I know what you're thinking: What about "Bad Santa"? Well, here's the thing, "Bad Santa" was funny, and even though the main character was also an jerk, he wasn't insulting or unlikable, and you can sympathize with him.
If you're an Adam Sandler fan and still believe that this movie is funny, more power to you. The film is available on DVD cheap as chips if you don't have it, but as for me, this film has no welcome place on my DVD shelf.
Far from historically accurate, but still a good family flick.
In the late 1990s, we had two animated movies that were based on a certain event in a country's history. In 1995, Disney gave us an American "history lesson" (and I use that term loosely) with Pocahontas, but in 1997, 20th Century Fox did exactly what Disney did, except give us a look at a bit of Russian history (again, using the term "history" loosely) about the daughter of Czar Nicholas II, Anastasia Romanov, simply called...well...Anastasia. However, one thing to consider when going into this film is that this is a family picture ("kids movie" for short), so if you're looking for a true-to-life history lesson a la a PBS or History Channel documentary, you might as well throw that out the nearest airlock.
In this film, Anastasia, voiced by Meg Ryan, is a princess that went missing for several years after the attack on the Romanov family during a party, which was led by the Romanov's former confidant Rasputin, voiced by Christopher Lloyd of Back to the Future fame, who is an undead, evil sorcerer in this movie. Anastasia, now with a case of amnesia and dubbed Anya, eventually joins two con men, Dimitri (John Cusack) and Vladimir (Fraiser's Kelsey Grammar), who are convinced that she really is the missing Romanov princess, and travel to Paris, France, where her grandmother, the Dowager Empress, resides, to hopefully reunite them, all while Rasputin is seeking her unfortunate demise.
I won't judge this movie on historical accuracy, as all (or most) of us can tell that the general audience for this film is younger children, though adult audiences will also be entertained, since there was a lot of effort put into the creation of this film. That, and I wouldn't dismiss it as a "Disney knockoff" right away, because the directors of the film, Don Bluth and Gary Goldman, were former Disney animators, so it's easy to confuse this for a Disney picture like Beauty and the Beast. As a family film alone, it is pretty damn good. The artwork and animation is great, the songs are enjoyable, and the voice acting is pretty decent.
The film was such a success that it became co-director Don Bluth's comeback after a slew of mediocre to bad animated films he directed throughout most of the decade, and his highest grossing film to date. Not only that, but it warranted a direct-to-video follow up film starring the villain's sidekick, Bartok the Bat (voiced by The Simpsons' Hank Azaria in both films).
Overall, the film serves as a great choice to have playing during a family movie night, unless you're extremely picky on historical accuracy, in which case, go do something else for 97 minutes.
Hollywood Canteen (1944)
Variety show meets WWII
In 1941, America took a turn for the worse when the naval base known as Pearl Harbor was bombed by the Japanese, and was issued a declaration of war from Nazi Germany, thus pulling the country into the second World War. While our military forces were combating the enemy overseas, at home, we also contributed to their effort by buying war bonds, recycling important materials such as metal and rubber, among other things. Hollywood, especially, had a big part in this, with every major studio producing propaganda and war-themed shorts (both animated and live- action) and feature films that encouraged our troops overseas as well as took our minds off the mayhem. Why did I give you this little history lesson, you ask? Well, when I said that Hollywood had a big part in supporting our own troops and allied forces, they did more than just make films.
In 1942, actors John Garfield and Bette Davis, along with the former president of the Music Corporation of America, Dr. Jules Stein, opened up an exclusive club reserved only for servicemen called the Hollywood Canteen. There, men who were on leave from military service, whether local or from one of the allied countries, got to relax and enjoy food, drink, dancing, and entertainment from some of Hollywood's greatest performers until they were ordered to return to active duty. Many of the performers also served as waiters, dishwashers, and cooks, believe it or not. The canteen would stay open up until the end of the war in 1945. In 1944, however, the place was so popular amongst the public that Warner Brothers Pictures decided to make a musical motion picture based around the establishment.
This two-hour picture, filmed entirely in black-and-white, had one of the biggest star rosters in film history at the time, with most of the stars playing themselves, including founders Bette Davis and John Garfield, as well as Peter Lorre, Joan Crawford, Joe E. Brown, The Andrews Sisters, Jack Carson, Roy Rogers (along with Trigger, "the smartest horse in the movies"), among others. There is a story underlying this, though. It's about two Army soldiers who served in the South Pacific, with one of them, named Slim, falling in love with film actress Joan Leslie, who reminds him of his past fiancée. On the third night, Slim becomes the millionth customer, and wins a date with Joan. It then becomes a romantic drama between the two, as they both have feelings for one another. Thus, Joan makes it her goal to give Slim the best night he's ever had before he goes back to active duty.
Aside from the story, the film is mainly a variety show, featuring several musical numbers and skits performed by the stars. A musical, it may be, but it's not the kind of musical where a character sporadically breaks into song a la Rodgers & Hammerstein in order to move the plot along. Even though the underlying storyline is put aside throughout a good portion of the picture, the film does not stray from its main attraction: the canteen itself and what it accomplished for our troops. The film got mixed reception from critics upon release, but audiences were all over it, with 40% of the ticket sales going to the real canteen.
The film was enjoyable to watch, and serves as a time capsule of a bright moment in U.S. history during a dark time. Warner Bros. even made a parody/tribute of this film two years later via an animated Merrie Melodies short entitled "Hollywood Canine Canteen", which featured dogs that were reminiscent of Hollywood stars. This short can be seen as a bonus feature on the DVD. As for the film, an entertaining, yet informative watch for history and WWII buffs.
The Old Mill (1937)
One of the greatest animated shorts ever made.
Before the release of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs", the animators at the Disney studios had to run tests to see if the special effects they could use at the time would even be possible. "The Old Mill" was one of those tests, and did it pay off in the end? You bet it did. Released in 1937, the same year that saw the release of the aforementioned "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs", "The Old Mill" would in itself be a milestone in Walt Disney's Silly Symphony series. It was unlike any other animated short released at the time, in that it was the first picture to use the "Multi-plane camera", which allowed the 2D animation to look more 3D. The use of realism and experimentations with light, color, and rotoscoping (animating by drawing over real-life images) also gave the film a distinct look amongst all of the other animated shorts released at the time, making it more like a moving painting as opposed to a moving cartoon strip.
There isn't really that much of a story, except that we see the different animals occupy an old, beat-up windmill, such as birds, frogs, insects, mice, bats, etc. Suddenly, a storm sweeps over the land, causing the windmill to spin, and various parts of it becoming more and more loose as the storm intensifies, thus threatening all life within. As it goes on, you see the mill come apart, piece by piece, the wind flowing into the holes of a tree, making it sound like a haunting choir, and the animals trying to keep safe from the harsh weather, until finally, a flash of thunder strikes the mill, nearly demolishing it as the storm dies down. In the end, all of the animals survive the endeavor and begin anew as a new dawn approaches over the remains of the old mill.
Imagine for a moment that you were an average joe in 1937, stepping into what was then called a movie-house, and seeing something like this for the first time before the feature begins. For many an audience, it was unlike anything that they have seen before, even by Disney standards. But it was simply a taste from what's to come from the studio later that year. Today, the film still holds up as it did back then. The animation itself is worth noting, as it's so smooth and true to life. The music, which helps move the film along, completely sets the mood, from its happiest moments to the most grim.
The film, along with the release of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs", would show that animation has a place in the industry and can be just as respected as any other motion picture. It has the power to tell unique stories that live-action films could not, and can make moviegoers emote. They began to feel uneasy when the storm came. They shook with fear and worried when the mother bird protecting her eggs as the mill wheel turned, and they sighed with relief that nothing bad happened in the end. This was what going to the movies was going to be like from there on, and as a result of that effort, Walt's team won the Oscar for Best Animated Short Subject.
Today, it's a historic piece of animated art, still enjoyed by both kids and adults alike, and as of 2015, it was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry division of the U.S. Library of Congress. The film can be found on the first volume of the Walt Disney Treasures: Silly Symphony sets, or the Diamond Edition of the 1942 film "Bambi". If you have either one of these, by all means, definitely give it a watch.
A Car-Tune Portrait (1937)
Proof that cartoon animals will always be the screen's clowns
"A Car-Tune Portrait" is a cartoon short directed by Dave Fleischer that proves one and all that no matter what you do to make yourself look different, your true nature is going to come out one way or another, and it is especially the case when it comes to the various cartoon animal characters that many moviegoers around this time period are immediately exposed to before the feature film begins.
Right as the picture begins, we are shown some of the characters being drawn by an "animated" hand (it's really a photograph of one moving frame-by-frame) and we transition to a concert hall where a lion conductor informs us that for the first time, we will be shown that the cartoon animals we often see can be more dignified and self-contained by performing classical music. The song the animals play: none other than Franz Liszt's Hungarian Symphony No. 2 (or simply "Number Two"). Everything's all fine and dandy as the tune begins, but as the picture goes on, the characters' true nature begins comes out and becomes a musical frenzy.
While not the first animated short to use Franz Liszt's "Number Two", this is the animated cartoon that practically started the trend of using it as a musical joke throughout the entire picture as opposed to just a small section of it. I'm pretty sure that's what went through the mind of director Dave Fleischer. Several other shorts from different studios would soon follow years later with this concept, including the 1946 Oscar-winning short "The Cat Concerto", directed by Bill Hanna and Joseph Barbera. As for this short, it's well done. The animation is smooth and precise, as usual with cartoons made by the Fleischer brothers, and the build-up to the slapstick was genius at the time. Nowadays, it's seen as another short that happens to use "Number Two" as a primary basis of comedy, but let's be honest, it never gets old when done right.
The film is in the public domain and not under any form of copyright, therefore it is freely available to watch on the internet, specifically YouTube, and in my opinion, it's worth a watch, especially if you're interested in finding out where "Number Two" as a joke got its roots in animation history.
Rock: It's Your Decision (1982)
Religious propaganda at its worst.
It's time for a bit of really bad Christian propaganda, and ladies and gentlemen, this is a doozie, as in this is probably one of the worst, because everyone that was involved in it had absolutely no idea what the hell they were talking about, nor does it represent the majority of the Christian religion.
"Rock: It's Your Decision" is a movie about a young teen who once loved listening to rock music, but his parents urged him to see his pastor, who convinces him that "all rock music is evil", and gets him to preach to those around him that they shouldn't be listening to it, because it promotes satanism and the occult, which causes all of his friends to turn on him and, let's be real here, destroy his entire social life. In the end, he begins to preach to his fellow churchgoers about his discoveries and how everything that we do should worship Jesus Christ.
Where do I begin with this? First of all, I'm quite the audiophile, meaning I listen to a lot of music everyday, primarily rock, metal, blues, and jazz, all four of which have been prior targets from religious zealots that believe that it's the "devil's music" (Jerry Lee Lewis' childhood and career in a nutshell), and I'm a non-practicing Catholic who still adheres to my religion's beliefs, just not too seriously. Nobody, and I mean NOBODY is going to convince me that listening to these genres of music will turn me into a satanist. Secondly, this movie was made at a time when the '80s New Age movement was just getting off the ground, and metal bands like Twisted Sister, Scorpions, and Judas Priest were some of the most popular groups of the decade. Third, and finally, the audience for this was relatively small, and when I mean small, I mean a few hundred out of hundreds of thousands of individuals in the United States alone. The only people that are going to see this are children and teens who go to Sunday School taught by a strict, closed-minded instructor who believes in the old-fashioned ways of teaching, including whipping children with a paddle or a belt.
I respect other peoples beliefs, and I find learning about other religions is a fascinating and educational experience, but one thing I've learned from being informed about other religious practices is that there are those that take their beliefs to a whole new level, as in, they force it on others regardless. With this film, unless you want to watch it with a few friends just to riff on it (a la MST3K) and laugh at how extremely stupid it is, don't even bother.
Frozen Fever (2015)
Made for the sake of cashing in on whatever is left of the "Frozen" craze
The original film "Frozen" was a pretty good animated musical from Disney that got so much popularity, you couldn't walk anywhere without hearing that godforsaken song "Let It Go" at some point. Even 2 years after the film's release, people are still singing the damn thing or playing it on their mobile devices. "Good GOD!", I shouted when I couldn't stand that song anymore. But this review isn't about the movie or that song. This is about the animated 7-minute short film that was released in 2015, preceding Kenneth Branagh's live-action re-telling of "Cinderella" (which was okay), simply called "Frozen Fever".
Today is Anna's (Kristen Bell) birthday, and Queen Elsa (Idina Menzel) and Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) want to make her party a special one that she'll never forget. How? Leading her on a scavenger hunt. There's just one problem: Elsa has a cold (no pun intended...honest), and she spontaneously creates small snowmen every time she sneezes, and all of 'em have a mind of their own.
So as I've said, the original film was pretty good for what it was, with great CGI animation, decent songs, and, seeing as how this is Disney, a predictable, yet enjoyable story for the most part, with no cliffhanger whatsoever. The film became a modern-day example of a box office smash, with merchandise coming out the wah-zoo. The short film...meh. Granted, the animation is just as good as what we've seen in the original movie, but we've seen much better short films coming from the Disney studio in this decade story-wise, and feels more like a cheap cash-in, despite only being 7 minutes long. In other words, this was just a way to say that "Frozen" is still a thing. Hell, there were even news reports about how kids who are fans of the movie were pumped to see this as if this was supposed to be "Frozen 2". Oh, and I should mention, that seeing as how this is a follow up to a 2013 musical, most of the short is basically one whole musical number...which has the habit of referencing the names of the songs from the original movie, including the one that became the godforsaken tumor in everyone's brain.
Honestly, this would be something that should've been a straight-to-DVD or Blu-Ray special feature instead of being released into theatres. For a short film, though, it isn't bad, but it isn't good either. This falls under the mediocre category for me and a one-and-done thing. I most likely won't be seeing this again anytime soon, and I hope Disney doesn't start making these for theatres on a daily basis.
Circus on Ice (1954)
Two bad things that go worse together!
When it came to short films, Warner Brothers was best known for their Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoon series that were released in theatres way back when. They've released other shorts as well, but this one is rather special. Why? It got the "Mystery Science Theater 3000" treatment.
"Circus on Ice" is a 1954 live-action short based on the 40th annual Carnival of the Toronto Skating Club (thanks Canada) showcasing the different talents that the group has done at the event...and that's pretty much it. Nothing else. There isn't a whole lot I can say about it, except that it's just as exciting as watching a figure skating competition on television, which is not that exciting...at all. Even the rather stupid narration from Ken Davey isn't entertaining. James A. Fitzpatrick, he isn't (look him up if you don't know who I'm talking about).
The short, despite originally being from the 1950's, is practically a waste of film. No one really gets anything from it, and is just a straight-up bore to watch, even if it's only 8 minutes long. One the bright side, it made good MST3K fodder, so if you really want to see the short for yourself, watch the MST3K episode featuring 1965's "Monster-A- Go-Go".
Better than Frozen. Yep. I said it.
Disney has had a slew of animated hits when it came to their CGI productions that were not made by Pixar. With the exception of both of the Planes movies which were...well...crap, you've got movies like Tangled (2010) and Frozen (2013), which hearkens back to the Disney Renaissance days of animated musicals, a la The Little Mermaid (1989) and Beauty and the Beast (1991). Then you've got modern takes on pop culture like the video game-inspired Wreck-it-Ralph (2012) and Big Hero 6 (2014) focusing on superheroes. 2016, however, saw the release of what I think is their best, and most original CGI-animated film to date, and it goes by the name of Zootopia (a.k.a. Zootropolis internationally).
The film focuses on a small rabbit named Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) who becomes a rookie police officer in the city of Zootopia, believing that anyone could be anything. However, this is sadly not the case, as she soon finds out with her first day on the job...as a meter maid. However, a female otter stops by the station and explains that her husband is one of 14 animal citizens that went missing, and Judy, determining to prove that she can be a valuable asset, takes on the case, with the only eyewitness to the otter's whereabouts being a fox named Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), a known con-artist and all around smart ass that makes Officer Hopps' job more difficult than it already is.
At heart, taking away the fact that it's an animated film with an all- animal cast of characters, this is a buddy cop movie in the vein of Rush Hour (1998) and Beverly Hills Cop (1984), just more family friendly. However, there's more to it than being just that alone. The movie is riddled with social commentary about tolerance and acceptance. The beginning of the film where we see Hopps as a child performing a school play about how Zootopia was formed by predators and non-predators leaving their more animal instincts behind and living together to make the world a better place puts this into motion immediately. However, the difference between this and other movies that have similar messages on the aforementioned topics is that this one does it so well that it doesn't sound like it's preaching it in your face and forcing it down your throat, and that's what makes the movie work altogether. It's well- written, and the relationship between Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde becomes more and more believable as the picture goes on.
The animation is some of the best I've ever seen from the studio, as if the best aspects of their past animated productions were all present here, proving that when it comes to animated films made in the United States, Disney is still #1 in that department. In all honesty, with all of the lack of imagination coming from the motion picture industry (i.e. pointless remakes), I would love to see more movies like this coming from the big studios like Disney. Out of all the animated CGI productions from Disney this decade, this one is by far my favorite of them all, no question about it. I liked it more than Big Hero 6, Wreck- it-Ralph (which takes second place), and even Frozen. A must see for everyone of all ages.
One of cinema's biggest mistakes
If you've watched a whole plethora of episodes of the cult TV show Mystery Science Theater 3000, you may have heard of a certain film company that goes by the name of Woolner Pictures. They are the idiots responsible for those godawful Hercules movies that have popped up time and time again. Well, there was one other film that they were infamously known for, and that's the one I'm reviewing in this installment of Cinephile Confessions.
I originally heard of this movie from a video entitled The 50 Worst Movies Ever Made, which counted down...well...the worst movies ever made. Jean Yarbrough's 1967 *ahem* "horror comedy" Hillbillys in a Haunted House (P.S., it's spelled HILLBILLIES) was one of those movies, making the #35 spot. One day, I saw that this was coming on, of all places, my favorite movie channel, Turner Classic Movies, a channel that is often known for showing some of the best the silver screen had to offer. So being the glutton for punishment that I am, I proceeded to sit on my couch and watch the entire thing from start to finish.
So where do I begin with this more-than-worthy entry to Dumpsterpiece Theatre? Well, for starters, the movie is basically an episode of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? stretched out to feature length and including pointless country music numbers, only instead of a large, cowardly great dane and his human companions, we have two musicians and their manager (with the personality of both Scooby and Shaggy combined) on their way to a Nashville Country Jamboree. Their car breaks down, and with a thunderstorm on the rise, their only shelter is a haunted mansion, which also happens to be occupied by a group of international spies, including Basil Rathbone, John Carradine, and Lon Chaney Jr., of all people. Oh, and well-known Country singers Sonny James and Merle Haggard are somewhere in this movie, too.
Watching this movie, I could instantly tell that this picture was made specifically for a drive-in theatre. Not to say that every film shown at one of those is this caliber of bad, but let me ask you this: would an indoor movie theatre show this alongside films like Bonnie and Clyde or The Graduate, which were also released in '67? Nah, I wouldn't think so either. Not only is the movie not funny or scary within the slightest, and with songs that would make Billy Ray Cyrus sound like Garth Brooks, but even though this movie is only 88 minutes long, it felt like two hours. But wait, here's the kicker: when the main story ends and the spies are caught, the movie isn't even close to being done yet. You get to sit through the jamboree the main characters have been singing about when the film began, with about five or six songs sung back to back as if this was really a concert flick. By the time I got to this point, I was like Tom Servo at the end of the Wild World of Batwoman episode of MST3K, shouting "END! EEEEEENNNNNDDD!!!" at the top of my lungs before they gave out.
To conclude, no one was lying. This was bad. Probably the worst movie I've seen thus far. It's worse than Reptilicus, worse than Manos: The Hands of Fate, and almost as irritating as The Castle of Fu Manchu. If you REALLY want to see this poor excuse of a movie, it can be seen on many a bargain bin DVD that's most likely worth a pittance. Otherwise, avoid it as if it was radioactive waste, sign and all.