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Fateful Findings (2013)
Move over, Wiseau, there's a new sheriff in town
After hearing about the works of Neil Breen for months, I just had to check them out. From various clips and reviews, one can easily see that he has no idea how to make a movie yet he treats his films as painfully serious masterpieces, making for loads of unintentional comedy and putting him in the esteemed company of clueless auteurs such as Tommy Wiseau and Sam Mraovich.
Actually, scratch that. Neil Breen is worse than Wiseau and Mraovich. Tommy Wiseau had a few halfway decent actors, a competent crew, and decent equipment while Sam Mraovich at least had enough sense to show his characters' faces. Breen can't even do that.
By far the most memorable aspect of "Fateful Findings" is that its plot has many things happening, but yet nothing happens. The main character played by Breen finds a magic rock as a child then watches his childhood sweetheart move away. As an adult (50 years later, going by the looks of Breen's leathery face) he gets hit by a car and then is healed by the rock which he just happened to have. He goes home and decides to dedicate himself to "hacking the most secret government corporate secrets" on laptops that are never on and get repeatedly tossed around his office. These government corporate secrets are so secret that we never learn what they are, even when he exposes them in the absolutely bonkers climax.
He also has a pill-popping wife (who is willing to snatch his pills from the toilet), and an alcoholic friend trapped in a sexless marriage with a pretty teenage daughter who inexplicably keeps coming on to Breen. Said alcoholic friend is also later murdered by his wife for no real reason. The only thing I mentioned that has any bearing on the plot is perhaps the wife's addiction, seeing as how she overdoses just in time for Breen to hook back up with his childhood sweetheart, who seems to have aged at about half the rate of Breen. From there, Leah, the childhood girlfriend, gets abducted and he has to save her.
The cluttered plot might sound a bit ordinary if not for the vague supernatural elements. There are characters who wander around then vanish, a gigantic tome whose contents aren't revealed and appears at random, and scenes of a naked Neil Breen(ick) sitting in a room lined in trash bags that I think is supposed to represent him being inside the magic rock. Near the end he suddenly gains the power to literally walk through walls to save his girlfriend from her kidnappers.
The plot also shows that Breen doesn't seem to understand how the world works. His friend gets murdered by his wife and framed as suicide and nobody investigates. His girlfriend gets kidnapped but the kidnapper conveniently drops directions to where he's taking her. His therapy sessions would make Frasier Crane look legit. He seems to think that exposing high-level corruption will compel government and business officials to confess and commit public suicide to a cheering crowd in a delightfully inane ending that is one of the most unintentionally funny scenes ever captured on film.
Breen's directing is as clueless as his writing. To avoid film permits he often points the camera skyward at people's faces and downward at their feet. In the barbecue scene, he films characters from the neck down as they knock things over rather than zoom out. He films a two-way phone conversation with only one person talking. When his friend is shot by his wife, he cuts to the falling shell rather than have the actor use a squib. Adding to the hilariousness of the climax, he chooses a bad green screen of a nondescript government-like building as a backdrop. He also seems to be madly in love with his video software's fade effect as something, or someone, fades out on average every five minutes.
He has no concept of editing either. He lets a hospital scene linger just long enough to show his butt. He chooses not to reshoot or cut down a scene where the teenage daughter looks right into the camera in obvious frustration. He decides to film himself eating a plate of spinach and later shows said plate falling off a bookshelf. A scene where he's supposedly too weak to lift a coffee cup goes on forever as does a scene where he and his wife rip each other's clothes off.
The scenes have no sense of flow either. The friend's wife goes from being mad about his drinking to shooting him dead in the next scene. There are many unexpected cutaways to a naked trashbag room scene, shots of the ancient tome, ten second therapy sessions, and shots of a largely unseen man-in-black stalking about and then fading away. One scene even manages to combine a fade WITH a ten-second therapy session.
The cringeworthy acting is no different from the average Neil Breen film. The wife sounds half asleep when delivering her lines, the best friend has apparently never been drunk as he has no idea how to act it, his wife hams it up worse than a high school play, and the daughter is the absolute worst as she emotes even less than Breen. Seriously, she treats her dad's murder like she didn't get cheese on her burger.
I really wish I could talk more about this movie because there is so much wrong with it. It's a near perfect storm of bad movie making: it takes itself too seriously, nobody is self-aware, and it has a uncharismatic, unattractive lead who thinks just the opposite. The saddest part is that from what I've seen, I think this might be his least nonsensical movie.
One positive thing I will say for it is that it sure ain't predictable.
Jem and the Holograms (2015)
Show's over, Synergy
It always amazes me when the big shots of Hollywood decide to adapt a popular property into a film and then change everything about it and expect the fans not to notice. "Jem and the Holograms" is yet another such cautionary tale, proving once again that for an industry whose job it is to figure out what people like, they can still be surprisingly clueless.
For those who don't know, "Jem" was an unmistakably 80's cartoon about an all-female rock band fronted by two sisters, whose deceased father left them an insanely advanced computer that could produce realistic holograms which the heroine, Jerrica Benton, used to alter her appearance and live a double life as a world famous rock star. There was also a rival girl group called the Misfits who, with their unscrupulous manager, Eric Raymond, sought to unseat Jem from the top of the charts. I remember it being notable because of the fact that, despite being a show targeted towards girls, it seemed to connect with boys as well.
OK, Now forget all that. Jerrica and her band are now foster teenagers, Eric Raymond is a woman who now owns the company that Jerrica originally owned, and is the mother of Jerrica's future boyfriend, Rio. Synergy has gone from a supercomputer to a tiny robot with missing pieces scattered all over Los Angeles County. Drummer Shana is no longer black. The Misfits do appear but only at the very end for a sequel hook. It comes off as more of a cross between "Hannah Montana" and "Earth To Echo."
This movie tries too hard to be hip. Jerrica gets discovered through Youtube, and lip service is paid to twitter and instagram throughout the movie. I understand thinking a younger audience would be turned off by the big hair and gaudy costumes of the original but in doing so, they likely alienated older fans and the movie is so bland it failed to excite younger ones.
This movie is also crippled by a woefully tight budget. Jem's live performances are in small clubs vainly dressed and shot to look bigger than they are. Footage of Jimmy Fallon, Duane Johnson, and Chris Pratt are used to emphasize Jem's fame but their quotes are obviously out of context and the editing is bungled horribly. One of the most baffling decisions is to use random Youtube clips for scene transitions, montages, and even in place of music cues or camera work to build tension. In other spots, Google Earth is used for location transitions and at one point they don't even hide the logo.
The script is filled with odd plot twists and the characters frequently behave like idiots. For starters, these people have little understanding of the music business. Erica Raymond signs Jerrica after one viral video with a paltry 35K views in Jerrica's own house because who needs an office? Then Jerrica refuses to sign unless she can bring her band despite the fact that her bandmates are an unproven commodity and Erica actually acquiesces. Of course, evil Erica eventually seduces Jerrica to go solo out of desperation to save her aunt's mortgage and Jerrica just signs without going to her friends for help.
The Synergy robot awakens upon arriving in LA and leads them on a wild goose chase for its missing parts just to give Jerrica a farewell video from her dad. Her dad is seen in flashbacks constantly doting on Jerrica but acting like her sister doesn't exist. Synergy's final missing part is Jerrica's star earrings which Erica has locked away in her office. Does she simply ask Erica for them? No, she decides to break in at night and steal them, not to mention the ridiculous deduction involved in figuring out they were the last piece. Finally, Rio just happens to find his father's will in the safe with the earrings naming him the owner of Starlight Records. Wouldn't the family lawyer have told him this already?
The worst part is that this film has hardly any music. The cartoon managed to feature three songs in its half-hour episodes and didn't reuse them until years later. They weren't always good, but it couldn't have been worse than the bland tween pop featured here. There are only really three songs (four if you count the acapella on the pier with Rio) and the only one that even barely rises above mediocrity is "Youngblood."
The performances are probably the best part of the movie though that's not saying much. Aubrey Peeples as Jerrica is OK, not great. The other girls do all right despite not having much of a character. Juliette Lewis gives the best performance mainly because, as the villain, she gets to have the most fun. The worst performance is from Kesha's brief cameo as Pizazz at the end. She tries to be wicked with her one big line, but mostly comes off looking stoned. I'm almost glad there won't be a sequel because she would likely ruin it.
I really don't understand what they were thinking here. "Jem and the Holograms" is an insulting, poorly made cash grab that deserved better and the worst part is that movie studios will use its failure as a reason not to give it another shot. It's one of those movies that makes you wonder why they didn't just call it something else if they weren't going to be faithful to the source material. It's also one of those movies that makes you think it turned out the way it did because the studios feared a faithful adaptation wouldn't be successful, and maybe it wouldn't have been, who knows? It certainly couldn't have done worse than the (current) fourth lowest wide screen theater gross and getting yanked from theaters after two weeks, I know that.
Hits a few sour notes
Upon first glance people might be skeptical of a movie that centers around something generally seen as foolish, such as karaoke. However, I can concede that there are people out there like the ones in this movie who do take it seriously and compete in contests, because I have been one of those people. Having said that, "Duets" is a dull, surreal, aimless disaster for reasons that have little to do with karaoke.
The movie tries to do a connect-the-subplots approach with a menagerie of mismatched characters brought together by chance to a karaoke contest in Omaha and fails at every turn. The characters are thinly written, the pacing is glacial, the premise and character motivations are treated like an afterthought, and some of them commit acts that make it hard to sympathize with them. Having been on the karaoke circuit, I was also extremely disappointed at the lack of minorities in this picture, but then again, that's nothing new in Hollywood.
The plot, such as it is, involves six characters: Ricky(a rare appearance from Huey Lewis), a "karaoke hustler" (as a karaoke fan, even I didn't know this was a thing), Liv(Gwyneth Paltrow), his space cadet daughter, Reggie (Andre Braugher), a "noble criminal," who the movie expects you to feel sorry for despite the fact that he robs an old trucker at gunpoint in his first five minutes on screen, Todd (Paul Giamatti), a sad sack corporate shill who decides to leave his family and go on a crime spree across the country, Suzi (Maria Bello), a woman of shockingly loose morals who seems to have no clear motivation for anything she does, and a cab driver played by Scott Speedman, who is so boring that I can't remember his name and don't care to look it up. I'll admit I may have some of this wrong as I struggled to stay awake during parts.
Naturally these wildly varying plots give the movie an extremely uneven tone. One minute, you see Huey and Gwyneth trying to mend their fractured relationship, the next, Bello is offering to fellate an auto mechanic to detail her friend's car. Then we're taken to Braugher and Giamatti holding up a convenience store. This movie suffers from a severe identity crisis as it lurches toward a climax that is just utterly bonkers.
The actors, bless their hearts, give this movie a performance that is way better than it deserves. Huey Lewis does the best he can as does Maria Bello. Paul Giamatti and Andre Braugher give the best performances though it's not surprising given their storyline is the most interesting. I will say that with their fondness for waving guns around and causing destruction and mayhem everywhere they go, their scenes felt like they came from an entirely different movie. Weakest performances go to Paltrow, who plays her role like Marilyn Monroe imagined as a flower child, and Speedman, who was such a non-entity I frequently forgot he was still in the movie. It takes a special kind of dull performance to make you unsympathetic to a guy who gets two-timed by his girlfriend and his business partner but he manages. I also imagine the bad writing deserves partial credit for this.
You'll spend eighty minutes of a nearly two hour run time with these characters off in their own little worlds until they inexplicably converge at the big contest, which is where an already loopy film gets even crazier. First there's the Paltrow-Lewis duet, which would be pretty great if it weren't a father and daughter singing a love song to each other, then Giamatti must suddenly confront the wife he abandoned, then there's Braugher's final scene which has to be seen to be believed. While on stage he sees the cops coming to arrest him so he meanders through an acapella "Free Bird" before pointing a gun at them and getting shot and killed. It doesn't help that Braugher treats this scene so seriously that it just makes a ridiculous scene even more so. To top it off, we don't even learn who wins the karaoke contest and Giamatti somehow goes back to his boring life despite the fact that he would be wanted for armed robbery and destruction of property, and that he didn't seem to care how much he upset his wife.
Another positive outside of some solid performances is, of course, the singing. The singing is done well enough that I could believe that these people are contenders in a contest, even if they are a bit over-produced. The "Cruisin'" duet is the highlight of the movie despite its context, Huey Lewis hits a few solo home runs, though given his reputation as a karaoke hustler (sorry, still a ridiculous concept), it makes sense. And who knew Paul Giamatti could sing? There are still some low points, like Paltrow's lifeless rendition of "Bette Davis Eyes."
The final major criticism I have of this film is that it is rated R despite having no reason to be. It features violence, coarse language, sex scenes just to have them apparently. You could cut all this out and get a PG-13 rating and lose absolutely nothing. It's a movie about people singing in bars, it's not like it's "Rambo" or "Basic Instinct."
You might think after all the ways I have slammed this film I wouldn't recommend it but the strange thing is, I can. It's one of those movies that's so bizarre you have to see it, mainly because it's an incredibly stupid movie that thinks it's serious and deep. It's almost a shame they wasted such sincerity and conviction on such an absurd film, but it sure is fun to watch.
Just might be the world's first erotic comedy
The year was 1995. Paul Verhoeven and Joe Esterhaz decided to team up again to take the envelope-pushing sex and nudity they brought to the screen in "Basic Instinct" to its logical conclusion by making a mainstream movie that would show as much flesh and sex as it wanted and would not settle for a simple "R" rating. "Showgirls" was meant to be a revolution in filmmaking that ended up being a punchline instead. So what happened?
Well, the biggest flaw with the film is its star, Elizabeth Berkeley. One of the unfortunate drawbacks to making a movie with excessive nudity is that most established actors won't go near it, meaning Verhoeven had to set his sights a tad low. She really tries but she is not even remotely believable as a tough-as-nails drifter. Every time she tries to act tough the results are hilarious whether she's putting the smackdown on a rapist, pulling a switchblade on a man in a truck, or beating the tar out of a basket of fries.
The only thing worse than watching her act streetwise is watching her dance. Characters gush over how she's a great dancer with such raw talent despite the fact that her movements are often sloppy, herky-jerky, and in some cases, resemble an epileptic fit. This all comes to a head in the ridiculous pool sex scene, where she flails and flops around like a fish on dry land. Then again the very nature of the film likely scared away any actresses with true dancing ability so you take what you can get, I suppose.
Not that she has a lot to work with. Her character, Nomi Malone, is mean, nasty, and prone to violent outbursts even before she gets "corrupted" by stardom. She has little to no backstory so it's never really explained why she's like this. Even more baffling is that people are willing to help her as she treats them like dirt. She nearly assaults Molly, the first person to reach out to her, and rewards her hospitality by ranting and raving like a lunatic. She mouths off frequently to her sleazy boss at the strip club and never gets fired. Then the movie has the gall to play her refusal to put ice on her nipples as a show of integrity.
The rest of the cast is pretty solid despite being asked to deliver some terrible lines. Kyle MacLachlan is good as the scummy boyfriend, though he deserves an Oscar for maintaining composure in the pool scene. Robert Davi is dependable despite the absurd misogynistic dialogue he's given. Gina Ravera, the only likable character in the film, Molly, is decent. Gina Gershon definitely looks like she's having a blast.
I don't know what to make of Verhoeven's direction here. He's proved he can direct but yet he also somehow accepted the pool scene. Not only is it Berkeley's worst performance, you can clearly see MacLachlan in tighty-whities in one shot (Hooray for double standards!). As for the rest of Berkeley's bad acting, he could probably only do so much. He also makes a HUGE rookie mistake during the marbles scene by having the actress complain of a broken knee despite falling flat on her back. A lot of people also seem to suffer compound fractures in this movie despite the absence of protruding bone.
The writing is so bad that I am baffled that MGM paid 4 million for this thing. The dialogue is pointlessly vicious and about as subtle as a brick through a plate-glass window. The characters are all vile backstabbers (except Molly).
Nomi, as written, is too stupid to live. She leaves her suitcase with a stranger while going off to gamble. Despite being street smart, she's never heard of Versace or an MBA. She tries to hide her past and refuses to give out her SSN when hired as a showgirl, which not only would prevent her from getting paid but raises serious questions about this movie's timeline. In the film we see five or six performances of her show so does that mean she got hired, became the understudy, and sabotaged Cristal in a week? Nomi gets found out rather quickly and even if she hadn't, the lack of SSN would've prevented her from getting her first paycheck so that gives us maybe two or three weeks. The movie ends with her hitchhiking out of Vegas, despite the fact that she could likely afford at least a used car, just so she can implausibly end up with the guy who stole her suitcase at the beginning.
There is really no point to the James character. He's set up as the love interest only for him to immediately drop her and go into a shotgun wedding with one of her co-workers at the strip club. After ONE date. It's all so rushed and clumsily written that it feels like padding. Though it was almost worth it to hear him utter the immortal line, "Everybody got AIDS and s**t," and see him verify that Nomi is on her period.
Finally, there is the controversial rape scene. It is unnecessary, disturbing, and cruel but yet it's one of the few scenes that works. It's mainly unnecessary because Molly is willing to have sex and the movie has already gone into overkill establishing Vegas as a terrible place with terrible people. So what was the point? To get Nomi to leave Vegas? Couldn't they have found another way? Nevertheless, it is satisfying seeing Nomi get revenge on her behalf (bad acting aside).
The end result is a film that's impossible to take seriously, but certainly never dull. It's been said that Madonna was one of the original choices to play Cristal Connors and Jenny McCarthy was seriously in contention to play Nomi, so it could've been a LOT worse.
Can't Stop the Music (1980)
You can't stop the music, but you'll want to stop this movie
Take a flash-in-the-pan disco act, an unknown Steve Gutenberg on amphetamines, and Rhoda's mom in the director's chair and what do you get? A recipe for disaster that everyone saw coming except Allan Carr.
"Can't Stop the Music" is another one of those can't-miss ideas that failed horribly and from the cheap and corny opening credits, it's easy to see why.
Most of the acting is horrible; the standouts being Steve Gutenberg, Caitlyn Jenner (as Bruce), Marilyn Sokol, and Felipe Rose (the VP's Indian), but for entirely different reasons. Forgotten camp icons Tammy Grimes, Barbara Rush, and June Havoc dress and act so silly that you could recast them with drag queens and nobody would notice. Valerie Perrine, the female lead, gets lost in the shuffle.
Gutenberg's performance is morbidly fascinating, especially when compared with his most famous roles. He plays Village People founder Jacques Morali (Americanized to "Jack Morell" here) as a hyperactive flake with delusions of grandeur who can't hold a job or sit still for five seconds yet is inexplicably allowed to stay rent-free with fashion model gal pal Samantha (Perrine).
Jenner and Rose give hopelessly wooden performances. While Rose seems game, his delivery is flat, his expression rarely changes, and every ten minutes or so he gives this badly dubbed Indian call that's like nails on a chalkboard. Jenner appropriately plays stuffed shirt tax lawyer Ron White and looks visibly uncomfortable. The other Village People aren't much better, but Rose gets the most screen time so we get subjected to more of his "acting."
Up next is Marilyn Sokol. While she isn't as bad, the script gives her lame entendres that even Mae West would find distasteful. Also someone should have advised her to wear a wig or change her hairstyle because she bears an uncanny resemblance to Tim Curry from "Rocky Horror." Every time she came on screen I expected her to break out into "Sweet Transvestite" when I wasn't cringing at her sleazy one-liners.
The movie's biggest failure is lack of lasting conflict. Every obstacle seems to be resolved in less than two minutes usually by introducing a character who just happens to have the solution. Altovise Davis serves as a walking deus-ex-machina, bringing in two of the future Village People off the street and wandering in and out of scenes like a fever dream. Perrine finds the others on an ice cream run and she also conveniently dated a record exec. Ron White's mother announces out of nowhere she can give the VP their big break in San Francisco when said record executive rebuffs them. When money gets tight, Perrine signs on to do a commercial. The whole movie is like this, which makes its two-hour runtime seem like an eternity.
The script is also packed with failed humor. The movie thinks, among other things, that getting your finger stuck in a rotary dial, dropping a contact lens into a pan of lasagna, and dropping said scalding hot lasagna in someone's lap is funny. It also throws in a pointless "humor" scene where Grimes and a random woman attack each other with a loaf of bread just so the director can have a cameo.
For a movie supposedly dealing with the music business, it knows surprisingly little about it. Jack can easily compose fully-produced demos with a complete string section despite using a keyboard and headphones. He also thinks DJing an original song one night will lead to instant stardom. He records the VP's first demo in his backyard. The VP perform choreography in full costume in a studio session while recording their parts at the same time! Even non-musical people are bound to notice it's so bad.
Nancy Walker is a lousy director, and it's never more obvious than in the filming of the VP's concert finale. It starts with an all-female opening act that alternates from filming them fifty feet away to pointing the camera up the ladies' skirts. The VP get the same medium and wide shots mixed with closeups that cut out half the group. While Ray Simpson does his solo parts, the camera either focuses on the others or films him from behind. Is it any surprise she never directed again?
Finally we come to the undeniable gay subtext. The movie tries to have it both ways, hiding it for middle America while pandering to VP's gay fanbase at the same time and the results are perplexing and often hilarious. Jack is weirdly asexual unlike his real-life homosexual counterpart and the VP are filmed flirting with female groupies and Sokol. Perrine flashes her boobs in the YMCA hot tub scene but given Walker's clumsy directing, it's hard to tell if this was deliberate.
For the fanbase, Jenner wears a crop-top and Daisy Dukes for no reason at all in the lead up to the infamous YMCA sequence where young, muscular men are lovingly filmed swimming in speedos, wrestling, and baring their backsides, and occasional fronts, in the shower. The song "Liberation" is unapologetically a gay pride anthem. While comparatively tame, the fantasy song "I Love You to Death" also takes on a disturbing tone considering the upcoming AIDS epidemic.
The music is fairly solid if a little formulaic. Morali reliably cranks out catchy disco tunes, though VP classics "Macho Man" and "In the Navy" are sadly absent. The only misses were the stuttering "Samantha" and "I Love You to Death" due to being uninspired, repetitive, and sung horribly.
You have to wonder how anyone thought this would be a success. Disco was dead and even if it weren't, this movie is too shoddily made to be taken seriously. Nevertheless it makes an interesting time capsule for a bygone era and just how much you could push the boundaries of a PG film back in the day.
War Room (2015)
It's time to come out of the closet
"War Room" is yet another film made to cash in on the recent Christian movie boom and like its contemporaries, it puts the message first and trivial matters such as acting, directing, writing, editing, and production a distant second. What makes "War Room" perhaps even worse than its proselytizing brethren is while they tend to share the same overall message (Christians RIGHT, everyone else WRONG), the underlying message in "War Room" is far more disturbing.
"War Room" is the story of Tony (T.C. Stallings, who with his razor sharp features and V-shaped brow is a bit too scary to pass as an everyman), his wife Elizabeth (Priscilla Shirer), and their daughter, Danielle. Elizabeth and her husband argue constantly and he even ponders cheating on her. Things change for Elizabeth when she agrees to sell the house of Miss Clara (Karen Abercrombie). Miss Clara soon senses the turmoil in Elizabeth's home life and tells her that her marital problems will be magically fixed if she hides in a closet and simply prays for them to get better. Yes, really.
The acting is terrible but considering that the leads are motivational speakers and the director gives himself a prominent role it's no surprise. The only person who even tries is Karen Abercrombie but she plays the sassy black grandma shtick to such extremes that even Tyler Perry would tell her to tone it down. She's bossy, pushy, and shouts "Praise Jesus" constantly when she's not speaking in overwrought war analogies. That being said, at least the scenes with her had some life to them.
The writing is just awful. It's full of clunky exposition and treats its female lead with contempt at times, making constant jokes about her bad breath and smelly feet. You can tell men wrote this as the one scene featuring all women has them prattle on about being subservient to their husbands and how it's so "hard" to be a woman. After the first hour, Jesus is mentioned so much that you could turn it into a drinking game.
Another way the writing fails is that Tony is so mean to Elizabeth that their marriage really seems beyond saving. He's verbally abusive, ignores their daughter, lords his superiority over his wife and ogles other women. If that weren't bad enough, he turns out to be a thief and a drug dealer and says in one scene that he wouldn't give his wife CPR if her life were in danger! I'm supposed to want these people together?
And even if divorce is unthinkable (which in this universe, it seems to be) why is marriage counseling never mentioned? Do they not know that some churches actually offer that? They could go to a counselor in their church, save their marriage (Tony's beyond saving but just go with it) AND find Jesus along the way! They can even keep the prayer closet. It's pretty bad when I can think of a way to solve the central conflict of the movie and keep the religious themes intact better than these jokers did.
This movie, like others of the genre, operates in an alternate reality where people convert instantly. Miss Clara preaches to a mugger and instead of getting gutted like a fish like she would be in real life, the mugger slinks away. Elizabeth decides to fight for her marriage by running around the house like a crazy person and shouting at Satan in the movie's most unintentionally funny scene. Elizabeth's incessant praying somehow gives her husband food poisoning while on a date with another woman and he just gives up and leaves. The movie never considers the fact that he could still go have sex with the woman and Tony is so nasty by this point it's very plausible he would.
After Tony and Elizabeth magically reconcile, the movie decides to introduce the drug dealing subplot which is laughably and clumsily handled. Tony's boss sees that his sales numbers don't add up which would be enough for a police investigation but they only fire him and send him on his way. Then he admits to selling drugs on the side but his boss doesn't arrest him because he was really, really sorry. That must be a tremendous comfort to all the people who overdosed on the drugs he sold.
The movie ends with a jump-rope competition that is just unnecessary padding (keep an eye out for the little girl in the audience who CONSTANTLY stares at the camera) before launching into full-on propaganda mode in the last fifteen minutes. It starts with Miss Clara telling Elizabeth to tell other troubled wives to go hide in their closets, segues to her house being sold to a minister who can somehow divine that the closet was used for praying, and finally resorts to outright filibustering. This is conveyed through a prayer montage that works its way up through the nation's schools (separation of church and state is merely a suggestion in this world) to those Godless heathens in Washington. This coda pretty much wrecks what little verisimilitude the movie has (which isn't much).
"War Room" is a vile, preachy, and pretentious film with twisted morals masquerading as wholesome, Christian entertainment. While I can sympathize with not wanting to divorce, there must be some middle ground between divorcing after six months and staying with an abusive and cruel spouse until one of you dies. I can also recognize that there are marriages where sometimes, divorce is sadly the answer.
It's a pity that this movie doesn't seem to think so. Following this movie's advice for marital troubles is not just patronizing and irresponsible, but potentially dangerous. Avoid at all costs.
Overall enjoyable but the central relationship drags it down
Gabe is a somewhat shy, slightly nerdy, aspiring show tune writer while Mark is an attractive go-go dancer at a discotheque. One night on a crowded New York subway their eyes meet and Mark decides to pursue Gabe for a hookup. However, they find themselves all dressed up with no place to go as they are thwarted by inconsiderate roommates, needy BFFs, spurned drag queens and flirtatious club kids, not to mention their own insecurities and burgeoning feelings for one another.
"Trick" is somewhat low-budget but manages to work well within its limitations. The most recognizable name will undoubtedly be Tori Spelling, though most everybody else does a good enough job that the story is at least engaging. Christian Campbell as Gabe gives a terrific performance, really getting across his insecurity, shyness, and fear that the gorgeous hunk he managed to land will slip through his fingers if they don't do the deed soon. Spelling does pretty good playing a shallow, self-centered, struggling actress (meta-casting, anyone?). Clinton Leupp is also another standout, playing every campy drag queen trait to the hilt.
Steve Hayes (Perry) gives the best performance, managing to inject genuine pathos and feeling into a character that could've ended up an uncomfortable stereotype. It helps that he gets one good scene where he sings a hilarious song in a piano bar. It also helps that he gets another scene where he tearfully reunites with an ex. He was so good that I sometimes found myself wanting to see a movie about him instead. The worst performance belongs to Jean Paul Pitoc, who's nice to look at and that's it.
The shots of New York are well done and the city is shown as in a positive light which is certainly a welcome change from other movies even if the musical cues that accompany them sound like they come a different movie. Shots of the WTC towers will instantly date this movie but that's not something that can really be helped.
Not all the music is bad though. The two original tunes the movie showcases, "Enter You," and "Como Te Gusta Mi Penga," have just the right amount of silliness to be charming. My only complaint here is "Enter You" gets horribly overused throughout the film, even playing during the credits. I would guess that the reasons for this are that "Enter You" was probably meant to be a metaphor for Gabe and Mark's relationship and the film's budget didn't allow for much original or licensed music.
The first big problem with the movie comes from several plot inconsistencies. Perry is introduced as though he is not a main character and not somebody Gabe knows. He comes across as just another anonymous casting director at Gabe's audition but later Gabe calls him for help when he needs a place to be alone and watches him sing in a cabaret. Conversely, another character that Gabe talks to in the bar where Mark dances seems to be given some importance despite the fact that he never appears again.
The movie violates the "Show, Don't Tell" rule in the scene where Gabe gets angry with gal pal Katherine in a diner. While his outburst is justifiable since Katherine does nothing but talk about herself, her rebuttal about Gabe pressuring her to experiment in lesbianism doesn't seem reasonable because we are never shown this. Even though Spelling gives the monologue her best it ends up being hollow because we don't see it. Maybe they ran out of money to shoot it?
The biggest problem of all comes from the fact that I just don't see Mark and Gabe having a happy ending despite the movie wanting me to think so. It's stated, and in Gabe's case, shown, many times that they have no place to be alone which can be a drag on even the best of relationships. They both live in shoebox apartments without a nickel between them. There's a scene where a man checks out Mark as he walks by the stoop of Gabe's building and Mark appears to be checking him out too, right in front of Gabe, I might add.
There's also the fact that Mark makes a living dancing in a thong and loves to dance the night away shirtless in a club. There's an offhand mention of Mark majoring in journalism, which suggests there might be more to him, but it's casually mentioned and forgotten. Mark seems to instantly fall for Gabe only after he plays his song for him. Mark ends up being as shallow as a kiddie pool and I think this movie could've greatly benefited from character development for Mark.
Gabe is painfully insecure and a bit of a doormat who won't stand up to his best friend mooching off his computer or his heterosexual roommate hogging the only bed every night for his routine conquests. At the dance club he runs off taking the word of a catty drag queen over Mark to say nothing of the fact that watching Mark bumping and grinding against other guys would only exacerbate his feelings of inadequacy.
I would give a couple like this a month in real life. If anything Perry and his ex-boyfriend seemed like they had more of a chance than Gabe and Mark. The whole movie comes off as the screenwriter wishing they could've had a meaningful relationship with a hot, young stud like Mark and deciding to commit their fantasy to film.
I don't know. Maybe I'm just too cynical to truly appreciate this film.
The Ridiculous 6 (2015)
Just when you think Adam Sandler can't sink any lower...
"Ridiculous" is a good word for this movie, though I doubt it's in the way Sandler intended. When your movie features two actors from the "Twilight" franchise, Rob Schneider as a Mexican and Sandler's nephew in a major role, things can only go downhill from there.
The biggest problem with the film is Sandler himself, in that he seems incapable of learning from his mistakes. Ridiculous 6 has most of the flaws of Sandler's recent works: a main character who is beloved despite being incredibly annoying (That's My Boy, Jack and Jill), a main character who is an expert at everything (Pixels, Mr Deeds), Sandler being paired with an impossibly beautiful woman (Grown Ups, Just Go With It, Pixels, Chuck and Larry) and stunt casting of friends and family members (every Sandler movie after about 2002). The only ones he missed were incorporating a lavish vacation into the plot and rampant product placement. Though if this movie had gotten a proper theater release I suspect he would've worked those in too.
The movie is so low budget that product placement might've ironically helped. The opening scene of Sandler using superhuman speed to defeat a gang of outlaws manages to be both laughable and creepy. The title card struck me as not only cheap-looking but difficult to read. The same outlaws are later menaced by some of the phoniest looking ants and snakes you will ever see this side of an XBOX game. Sandler's character discovers the final plot twist by studying an "aged" photo that is not even remotely believable due to some of the worst Photoshopping ever in a professional film. The climax takes place in complete darkness so that you won't know what's happening, not that you'll really care.
Plot for a Sandler movie has always been threadbare but never more so than here. Sandler's character is raised by Native Americans but finally gets to meet his birth father just in time for him to be kidnapped. From there he goes on a journey to rescue him and meets five other illegitimate children that his father sired, not that this matters because it's all just a backdrop for bad jokes, bad physical comedy, and stunts and bad special effects to show the audience how awesome Sandler's character is. He always saves the day and manages to convince an outlaw gang to see the error of their ways after talking to them for all of two minutes. There's a twist at the end involving the kidnapping but Sandler doesn't care much about it so why should we?
Offensive stereotypes abound with each new character with Rob Schneider and Taylor Lautner being the worst. Then there are the pretty bad native stereotypes, who have been reduced to lame jokes about their names, such as "Wears-No-Bra" and "Smoking Fox." Sandler's character has a gorgeous native wife who exists only to be abducted or threatened constantly. Other female characters are either tramps or fodder for one-liners. Though I do have to say that I am surprised the Native American extras walked off this film. While I can understand them taking offense, I also have to wonder if they noticed they were working for Adam Sandler.
This is Sandler's grossest movie yet, and that's saying something. We are treated to a recurring gag of a donkey with explosive diarrhea, a scene where Steve Buscemi rubs his crotch and sticks his finger up said donkey's butt and then proceeds to stick his hand in someone's mouth, a scene of someone being beheaded, and a gory scene where a man cuts out his own eyeball complete with it dangling out by its nerves. Mercifully the last one is filmed in shadow.
Perhaps the most troubling aspect of all about this film is seeing competent actors like Nick Nolte, Harvey Keitel, Danny Trejo and Luke Wilson involved with this. Though Trejo, Nolte and Wilson get off rather easy, Keitel is thoroughly humiliated in an unnecessary role as a saloon owner and gets his head lopped off for his troubles.
On the other side of the spectrum, the worst performances come from Taylor Lautner, Jorge Garcia, Sandler himself and Vanilla Ice. Lautner makes an effort but manages to be more annoying than Sandler or Rob Schneider. Garcia is reduced to making indechiperable grunts, and Vanilla Ice, while managing to be one of the few saving graces of "That's My Boy," was instructed to play Mark Twain, given unfunny slang and was made up to look more like a Madame Tussaud figure of Mark Twain than the real thing. Sandler doesn't care and this time it's obvious. There's also a weird cameo from country singer Blake Shelton, and while he's so-so, you can't help but wonder why he thought this was a good movie to launch an acting career.
After such a long tirade, you may wonder, "Was anything good about this movie?" Well, the score and the scenery were actually decent.
All I can say is that after a movie like this, Sandler really needs to get his act together or he could find himself in fisticuffs with the latest Real Housewife on "Celebrity Apprentice" before long. It's either that or pray that the "Hotel Transylvania" movies keep making money.
If Tommy Wiseau made sci-fi, this would probably be the result
Somebody apparently wondered, "What if Robocop went bad like the Terminator?" and thus ROTOR was born. While the idea of Robocop being evil and going on a murderous rampage has potential, it is a massive failure due to gross incompetence. But at least it has the decency to fail spectacularly.
Should I start with the fact that the male lead is named Coldyron ("Cold Iron")? The fact that he is obviously dubbed? The fact that our first shot is of an empty freeway while a voice-over claims it's in gridlock?
Maybe I should start with the dialogue. The dialogue in this movie is some of the silliest I've ever heard. There's inane technobabble, ham-fisted philosophical discussions, contradictory statements, failed metaphors (the one about skeletons in a tin coffin in particular) and nonsensical one-liners. The most memorable exchange involves the main characters discussing the use of "illogic" to stop the renegade robot. I don't have room to transcribe it but it's on the quotes page here. It's a real masterpiece.
The characters are even more ridiculous than the dialogue. There's Willard, the comic relief police robot, Buglar, the psycho police chief, Dr. Corinne Steele, jive-talking janitor Shoeboogie, and ROTOR himself.
ROTOR fails to inspire fear as a villain, instead resembling an amalgam of the leatherman and the cop from the Village People. He is supposed to walk through some chairs effortlessly but visibly struggles. When he tries to grab people he conveniently reaches over their heads. He is supposed to be this emotionless killing machine but visibly shows anger many times. Shoeboogie is this ethnically confused Casanova wannabe who only appears to accidentally awaken ROTOR and then inexplicably disappears.
And then there's Dr. Steele. This character has to be seen to be believed. She is played by a steroid case with a skunk mullet. They try their hardest to feminize this hulking brute by putting her in full makeup, dubbing her voice with a more feminine one and putting her in an ugly dress and glasses but like most everything else in this movie it fails.
The pacing is atrocious. It takes so long to show the hero's morning routine at the beginning that it felt like it was being shown in real time. We spend another five minutes watching him have lunch and dinner with his girlfriend, a character who serves no purpose. We see him fight off random thugs at a mini-mart and we even get to see the store clerk karate chop one of the robbers. All of this occurs before ROTOR wakes up. A third of this movie could be cut, at least.
The production values are no better. Most of the acting is awful. The only passable performance is from Margaret Trigg, who plays the damsel in distress. Richard Gesswein, who plays the male lead, looks like he's perpetually constipated and Dr. Steele barely registers a pulse despite valiant efforts to dub her with a more convincing and emotive voice. Shoeboogie, the oblivious janitor, is the epitome of a jive turkey. As bad as they are, the extras are even worse. The only character I could stand was the police robot, Willard. His primitive design and goofy one-liners actually made him sort of endearing. Fight scenes are hopelessly telegraphed and performed like the actors are on sedatives.
The characters act like idiots. ROTOR's weakness is a car horn yet Sonya, the woman who becomes ROTOR's prey over a speeding violation, is the only one who thinks to use this against him and even she seems to forget when it's plot-convenient. The hero finds her, tells her to drive around aimlessly all night and she does it! Dr. Steele shoots ROTOR once, then drops the gun to fight him bare-handed! The film ends with Dr. Coldyron getting gunned down in broad daylight in front of a police station. ROTOR has an absurd feature called "Sensor Recall," an ability that lets him literally see the past but yet he's weak to car horns, and lastly, the ordinary citizens of Dallas seem unusually hostile towards ROTOR, despite the fact that there's no reason for any of them to suspect that he's anything other than a normal human police officer.
There is ineptitude behind the camera too. They negate the colors to display electric shock, day switches to night at the drop of a hat, many conversations occur over the phone or outside of a car or a building. The ROTOR demo film is an obvious miniature model with bad stop-motion. Dry ice is used for smoke. The obvious scare chords are cheap and hilarious. The climax features multiple lassos appearing out of nowhere to ensnare ROTOR and a showdown between Dr. Steele and ROTOR is filmed out of focus and fifty feet away. Even the credits have mistakes (note the botched copyright notice, the absence of billing for Shoeboogie, and the song sung by "Larry's Dad").
There's so much to talk about in this movie I barely have room to cover the plot. Just picture Sarah Connor being chased by a Radio Shack quality T-1000 while Robocop's OCP corporation and a female Arnold Schwarzenegger go out to try and stop it and you'd be in the ballpark. The filmmakers were sadly so deluded they set up a sequel with Coldyron's nephew and a new ROTOR designed to resemble Dr. Steele. After the trainwreck that is this movie, you can only laugh at such hubris.
In conclusion, this is one of those movies that leaves me conflicted as far as a rating, because in terms of film-making itself, it's a one, but for entertainment value it's at least a seven. It's a shame that so few people know of this movie because if ever there was a movie that was crying out for a midnight showing with audience participation and costumes, it's this one.
It's a bird, it's a plane, it's an over-the-hill actor who's losing his mind
"Birdman" is the tale of a has-been superhero actor trying to mount a comeback while preserving his own sanity and failing miserably at both. It's probably best known for winning the 2015 Best Picture Oscar and featuring Michael Keaton running through Times Square in his undies. While it is an excellent movie, however, it has some faults that I just couldn't ignore.
The casting of Michael Keaton as an actor trying to escape typecasting and Edward Norton as an argumentative prima donna method actor is genius and they give great performances to boot. The normally slapstick Zach Galifanakis is nearly unrecognizable and it took me half the movie to figure out it was him. Emma Stone and Naomi Watts give terrific performances though it is hard for them to outshine the main stars.
The plot is simple yet full of possibilities. Keaton plays Riggan Thompson, a has-been attempting to put on a Broadway play to energize his career and hopefully make people forget his most famous role, that of a comic book superhero called "Birdman." However, Murphy's Law seems to be working against him in every way possible. A cast member gets injured and has to be replaced last minute by a demanding jerk named Mike Shiner(masterfully played by Norton). Shiner makes things difficult by upstaging Thompson in interviews, sabotaging performances and harping on Thompson's attention to detail. Thompson then nearly screws himself over by getting locked outside of his own theater in his underwear just before his big scene. Thompson struggles to keep his play together in the face of mishaps, vengeful theater critics, and the erosion of his own sanity.
There are many great scenes to be found here. Thompson's repeated failures to put on his play are both funny and sad due to Keaton's honest performance as both Thompson and Birdman, his imaginary tormentor. You can really feel his shame, his defeat and his slow descent into madness even as those around him try to reassure him that there's no such thing as bad publicity. Norton has many great moments such as wrestling Keaton in a speedo, hitting on an actress while naked in his dressing room, and then attempting to rape said actress backstage before a bedroom scene because he wants the audience to believe they were really doing it. She manages to fight him off but he shows the audience a visible erection. Thompson verbally sparring with a stuffy New York theater critic is another major highlight of the film because both make valid points while defending their own points of view.
The film itself is shot in a way that's quite fascinating to watch. The camera follows the character-in-focus everywhere, through cramped stairwells and hallways onto rooftops and through crowded city streets until it's time to shift to another character where it continues to follow them all around. The movie looks like one long unending take with occasional breaks to let characters sleep. The shots don't even cut away for Thompson's increasingly absurd daydreaming sequences, one of which involves Godzilla-like monstrosities demolishing the city. It's quite surprising to know that this film didn't win an editing Oscar because it truly looks seamless. There is one awkward moment where the camera is focused on an empty hallway for about fifteen seconds, which considering that the camera is always following somebody, is rather jarring.
That brings us to the movie's shortcomings. While it is a small gripe, there are lots of wonderful in-jokes peppered through the movie about specific contemporary respected actors cashing in on superhero movies and Hollywood's willingness to milk the franchises for all they're worth. Sure, the references are funny now, but they will probably date the movie.
The most serious strike against the film is its pacing issues. As I watched it, I thought it was about to end with the first flying sequence but I found there was still another half-hour left. Thompson was so far gone by that point and we last see him on a ledge so it seemed logical that the flying was his dying dream before hitting the pavement. It seemed like a wasted opportunity considering that the actual ending was somewhat similar and made less sense. It started to drag so much that I stopped caring about what was happening in that last thirty minutes. There was also a lesbian makeout scene introduced which went nowhere and had no foreshadowing.
I really didn't care for the spastic drum pounding throughout the movie. I don't know what they were going for but it just made the movie seem horribly pretentious. They occasionally worked the drumming in with a real-life street drummer and marching bands beating drums in the street which was cool but the syncing with the bizarre credit sequences was just silly.
Also, I don't get what was up with the subtitle, "The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance." It's only said once at the very end and doesn't seem to apply much to the movie as a whole. It seemed like something they tacked on because they didn't feel the movie was artsy enough.
It really is a shame that these flaws bogged the movie down because other than that, it's well-made, highly entertaining to a certain point, and has a lot of interesting ideas and scenes. If it weren't for these flaws, I would've given it a higher score. That doesn't mean it's not worth checking out though.
Love Is Strange (2014)
Love is strange... and so is this movie
"Love Is Strange" is a modestly budgeted character-driven film that gets off to a promising start with a believable premise, strong writing (though a bit slow at times), and solid performances from its leads, John Lithgow, Alfred Molina, and Marisa Tomei. However, about halfway through the film, things begin to unravel.
Lithgow and Molina really sell the material and as a result you can truly buy them as a loving couple for close to forty years. They have decent chemistry together and they don't seem uncomfortable in scenes that call for them to show affection. As the plot kicks in and they must live apart temporarily, you can really feel how much they miss each other and how miserable they are as they try to make the best of things.
The plot is simple yet effective. Just married longtime lovers Ben(Lithgow) and George(Molina) hit a speed bump in their wedded bliss when George gets fired from his job. As a result, they can no longer afford their Manhattan apartment and must go live with relatives and friends until they can sell off the place or until George finds another job. Both of them have trouble adjusting as Ben lives with a nephew who has his own family and finds him a burden and George must endure living with two young gay male friends who like to party a little too hard for his tastes. Both are obviously unhappy in their living situations but too polite to speak up due to desperation.
It is very refreshing to see a story about Manhattanites who don't have bottomless bank accounts and an endless supply of designer clothes with which to frequent the latest trendy club to sip martinis and gossip about sex. When George loses his job, he doesn't instantly find another one. Their apartment turns a meager profit and they have to consider public assistance. Their friends and relatives live modestly. To that I say bravo movie.
However, this bit of realism eventually undermines audience sympathy for the leads due to some questionable writing. Ben is retired yet George is the only one stated to be looking for work. Their friends chastise them for a lavish honeymoon, and given what happens, it's hard not to take their side. A relative who has an actual house but lives two hours away is dismissed because neither George nor Ben knows how to drive but yet won't learn. George and Ben don't appear to have any money saved up. George loses his job because he flaunts his marriage to the point that his clergymen employers find out. Ben seems comically oblivious, babbling endlessly while his frustrated niece-in-law tries to work. Those things make them seem a bit irresponsible and selfish and I doubt that was the writer's intention.
Believe it or not this movie has more unresolved subplots than "The Room." The only ones to get resolution are the apartment hunt and a hasty revelation about Joey, Ben's great-nephew, being in love with a girl he met on a vacation once. The nephew is absent yet his family never seems to wonder where he is. He and his wife agree to confront Ben but never do. Ben goes to the hospital after a nasty fall and the doctor hints at a more serious health problem that's never revealed. An entire character disappears after the first fifteen minutes after being shot down during an argument about who will host Ben and George. Ben even DIES offscreen.
The worst of these is a nonsensical subplot involving Joey getting in trouble with a vaguely Eastern European classmate for stealing French literature? Joey maintains his innocence, his parents express doubt, and we never find out what really happened. Considering modern teens read stuff like Twilight, I can't believe any teenage boy would risk expulsion for a copy of Cyrano de Bergerac.
In fact, the whole character of Vlad, the classmate, is a big problem with this film. Aside from being pretentious and impossibly tan and attractive, he has a unsettling amount of sexual tension with both Joey and Ben. Ben paints Vlad and Joey spends lots of time with him in his bedroom "studying" and reacts badly to him becoming Ben's new muse. Joey denies being gay when Ben asks about his love life and the story he tells about loving a girl from afar on vacation comes across as a lousy cover. Ben even asking seems to unknowingly imply that he knows Joey is attracted to Vlad. George gets some tension too when he encounters a man at one of his friends' parties who appears to be his soulmate. The subtext is too powerful to ignore, intentional or not.
Once Ben dies, everything falls apart as the movie struggles to come up with a satisfying end. George gets an apartment and Joey visits expressing regret about being mean to Ben. Even though the reveal that Ben died seems like an afterthought, Joey's reaction seems understandable even if the scene is awkward and his delivery hammy. Then it all goes downhill when Joey leaves and starts sobbing on the stairwell for an uncomfortable length of time (so much so it makes you wonder if he had sexual feelings towards Ben too) and then skateboards off into the sunset with "vacation girlfriend." Roll credits.
It feels like the writers didn't know how to end the movie and felt it was too banal and bland. The book-stealing should've been thrown out or changed to something believable, they shouldn't have had so many scenes of Ben being annoying to his family, they should've either got rid of Vlad or made him more realistic, they should've at least told what happened to Ben and they should've ended it before the godawful stairwell crying scene. This movie really could've been so much better.
Do not believe the sock puppets. This is a terrible movie.
Back in August 2012, "The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure" burst on to the scene and broke box office records. Unfortunately for them, the record they broke was that of the LOWEST grossing wide-release film ever, managing to best the previous record holder, "Delgo," which posted some pretty pathetic numbers of its own. Of course, it probably didn't help that advertising for the film seemed to be nonexistent but make no mistake, this movie stinks.
The movie starts with Goobie, Zoozie, and Toofie, who can charitably be described as the unholy spawn of a troll doll and a Teletubby explaining the movie's audience participation gimmick. How they do this is a mystery as their mouths barely move. The rest of their costumes are not much better, as they're only slightly more convincing than the guy in the Goofy costume at Disney World.
We also learn a little about them. Goobie is the smart, analytical one, Toofie is basically the slacker of the group, and Zoozie is a girl who talks to animals. Except for the animal whisperer deal, none of this amounts to anything.
Then we meet their friends, a talking vacuum cleaner named J Edgar, a talking windowpane with a bad Southern accent named Windy Window, a literal fish out of water in a bowl named Ruffy, and a sentient pillow named Schluufy. They set up the plot, which is that the pillow is having a surprise birthday party and J Edgar is tasked with getting five balloons for it. He does this, but loses them all during some spontaneous epileptic fit. Since these balloons are somehow magical, it's up to the Oogieloves to get them back before the party starts even though the pillow seems stoned out of its mind and probably wouldn't notice anyway.
If that sounds bad, just wait. There are five humiliating guest star appearances tied to the retrieval of each balloon. Each of them is dressed like a clown (except Toni Braxton), is forced to act like an escaped mental patient, and sings an irritating repetitive song meant to inspire audience participation. Everyone here is making such big fools of themselves (except, MAYBE, Toni Braxton) that I spent the entire movie feeling sorry for them.
Guest appearances include Cloris Leachman, as a deranged woman in Raggedy Ann make up who's obsessed with circles and lives in a teapot. Next we have Chazz Palminteri decked out as a fifties soda jerk trying his hardest to channel Jimmy Durante. Then we have Toni Braxton, who is somewhat spared by the costume department as she gets to wear a sparkly yet revealing evening gown and her natural singing abilities keep her song from being a total disaster. Though it is puzzling why she sings a slow R&B ballad in a movie designed to encourage children to dance.
After Ms. Braxton's ode to the sniffles, we get to see Cary Elwes in perhaps the most degrading, bizarre performance in the film and that's saying something. It can best be described as a psychotic cowboy who walks bowlegged and bounces up and down while wearing a creepy smile on his face that doesn't say "Hey kids, let's dance," so much as it says, "I dismembered several young girls and buried them in my backyard." The final balloon is held by Jaime Pressly and Christopher Lloyd who pretend to be Hispanic for some reason and live in a sombrero that only moves through the power of dance. At first, Lloyd mercifully doesn't have to speak but he later loses his dignity in a flamenco dance set to Benny Hill speed after bellowing out a loony Tarzan yell.
And so we have a movie trippier and weirder than anything to come out of the mind of Hunter S. Thompson. That aside, its failures are almost too many to count: bad costuming, bad acting, bad singing (except Toni Braxton), bad writing, and boring, uninspired music. It's also annoyingly repetitive. Not counting the songs, which repeat the chorus until you want to drive a nail into your skull, every time a balloon is retrieved we must endure a chant from J. Edgar to summon Windy Window, another chant to phone Goobie, and the Oogieloves' stock chant.
The last balloon in particular is agonizing to sit through as it takes twenty minutes more for the movie to end and it seems to grind to a halt while they try to get the sombrero moving. When Ruffy complained that they were going so slow that they wouldn't even make it to Schluufy's retirement party I sympathized. I can understand the repetition if it were a TV show divided into several episodes, but in movie format, it comes across as the filmmakers thinking their audience has the memory of a goldfish. Did they really expect kids to sit through this?
This is a movie that truly deserves its reputation as the biggest flop of all time. It's irritating, boring, garish, cheaply made, sickeningly cutesy, and sometimes creepy even. I know I'm not the target audience for this film but there are plenty of kids movies out there that can entertain both kids and adults so it can be done. I truly feel sorry for the few parents who had to sit through this thing to appease their kids and maybe even some of the kids as well.
And as for Cloris, Chazz, Toni, Cary, Jaime, and Christopher Lloyd, my condolences on all your careers.
OK, Cloris Leachman will probably survive this disaster cause she'll appear in anything (this movie is undeniable proof of that), but the others still stand.
Heaven Is for Real (2014)
Heaven is for real and Kenny Loggins is its Messiah
Religion in movies is always a touchy subject. It's very difficult to make a pro-religion (or even an anti-religion) movie without having it come off as preachy. "Heaven Is For Real" is not quite as preachy as you might expect but it's still by no means a good film. The flaws come not from heavy-handedness but rather from the fact that it is a disjointed, disorganized mess.
It takes nearly thirty minutes for the defining event of the movie, Colton Burpo goes into the hospital and sees heaven while on the operating table, to actually happen. Until then, we're treated to several vignettes that I think were meant to be character establishing moments but come off as a collection of random scenes meant to pad the movie to ninety minutes. We see Greg Kinnear, who plays the boy's father, break his leg playing baseball, suggesting a vacation to Denver, complaining about money woes, and we even see him on the toilet with kidney stones. We see the kids play with a tarantula. None of this has ANY point to it. You could switch the order in the film of several scenes and it wouldn't change anything.
Characters pop in and out of scenes and do nothing to advance the plot, the absolute worst being Thomas Haden Church and Margo Martindale, who the movie treats as important but except for a scene where they propose firing Greg Kinnear from the church, do ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. You can even see the boredom on Haden Church's face and hear it in his voice. You almost wonder why he didn't just quit if he hated the movie that much. Even the little boy becomes little more than a prop once he has his out-of-body experience.
Greg Kinnear, on the other hand, is the one saving grace of this film. He gives an honest and sincere performance that quite honestly is way better than this movie deserves. Kelly Reilly, as the wife, does OK, but I have to deduct points for a scene where her British accent slips out. The worst performance in this film is sadly the one that's most crucial, the little boy. I should cut him some slack, I know, but he's too important to the film to be this bad, in theory, anyway. He's cute as a button, so I guess that's all that matters.
They don't show much of the boy's journey to heaven and I can't decide whether this is a good or bad thing. On one hand, it leaves it so ambiguous that it inspires complete indifference and on the other hand, what they do show contains such bad special effects that maybe it's for the best that they didn't reveal much.
Another thing I do have to give positive marks to is that they at least had a few people question his trip to heaven, including his own parents. It would've been too easy for the filmmakers to have everybody just instantly believe him, especially given the father is a preacher and the target audience would eat it up. A scene where a psychiatrist is thrown in to try and show a more secular viewpoint but it's treated as merely an afterthought. There aren't a lot of naysayers, but at least they acknowledge they're there and the film doesn't punish them for it.
I will avoid commenting on the plot due to its polarizing nature. All I will say is that it will not change your viewpoint regardless of what side of the fence you're on. I will say that what little plot there is is utterly destroyed by the dreadful pacing, pointless filler, and serious lack of conflict. In fact, there's no real resolution to this film, it just ends. The wife gets pregnant again and there's a disgustingly sappy sequence where Margo Martindale sees a heavenly vision of her dead veteran son but like most everything else in this film, it means nothing. If anything, it's not an ending so much as a blatant attempt to tug at your heartstrings. This movie has no plot. It's just a bunch of stuff that happens.
And I almost forgot, Kenny Loggins is Jesus, apparently. A little girl who has a similar out-of-body appearance makes a painting of her version of Jesus, and I kid you not, it's Kenny Loggins with maybe a dash of Barry Manilow mixed in. Did no one point this out during filmmaking? It's such a ridiculous payoff and the resemblance is so uncanny that it's impossible not to laugh. What does this mean? Does God want us all to cut footloose, perhaps? Maybe he's not so bad after all.
And can somebody please get Greg Kinnear and Thomas Haden Church some work? They both deserve better than this.
Endless Love (1981)
Classic tale of "boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy burns down girl's house..."
"Endless Love" is one of those films that asks you to accept some rather inappropriate and bizarre behavior as normal, and to sympathize with an obsessed stalker. Throw in gratuitous nudity and it's hard not to see why this ruined Brooke Shields' movie career.
The film basically demonstrates what happens when two teens, David and Jade, start dating and their parents let them do whatever they want. David's parents have the excuse of being oblivious but Jade's parents... oh wow... where to begin?
They do drugs with their kids and throw wild parties. They condone David spending the night in Jade's room. Both parents catch them and while the father does get mad the mother calmly stands there and watches them have sex! Her father even sees David brazenly walking around naked in his daughter's room with the door wide open.
It's only when an exhausted-from-constant-lovemaking Jade tries to swipe some sleeping pills and starts dozing off in class that common sense finally prevails and the father forbids David and Jade from seeing each other albeit temporarily. David protests and pleads his case, which is normal. What he does next, however, is not.
An idiot friend of David's talks him into anonymously setting Jade's porch on fire with the intent that he would come back to rescue them. The big dummy actually does this, the fire gets out of control, and the house burns down. Gee, who could've seen THAT coming? David confesses and gets sent for psychiatric observation. While I applaud that they didn't gloss over the consequences of his actions, this is where the movie takes a really dark turn as David starts to become obsessed, and I mean "Fatal Attraction" obsessed.
He does nothing but pine for Jade and write letters to her every day. He blows off therapy sessions and begs his parents repeatedly to get him out despite the fact that he refuses to get better. In addition, Jade's parents divorce and they move to New York. David's parents do likewise and I can't say I blame them.
Finally, he gets released and what does he do? He goes to New York to track her down. The craziness only escalates as he finds Jade's mother only to have her hit on him but David's too obsessed to care. Jade comes to his hotel room to let him down easy only for him to shamelessly beg her to take him back and pretty much rape her. Since no one behaves like a real person in this movie, this wins her over. Then he has a contrived encounter with her father just so the idiot can be run over as he chases David across the street.
This culminates in a scuffle in a hotel lobby when Jade's brother accuses David of killing their father and ends with David being arrested and likely sent back to the nut house which is where he sadly belongs. Jade, who still can't get the hint, has a heart-to-heart with her mother about taking him back and the movie closes on her coming to visit him while he's locked up. I think my heart skipped a beat.
The film's biggest problem is that is treats David and Jade's relationship as one you're supposed to root for when, in reality, it's puppy love gone horribly wrong. We never see how they got together, they never fight, disagree, or have any kind of meaningful conversation, and they constantly have sex. Everything about the movie wants you believe this is true love: the writing, the acting, even the soundtrack. Sort of makes you wonder if anyone ever told Lionel Richie what the movie was really about before he wrote the classic title track. It doesn't help the film beats you over the head with the song either.
The film also has pacing issues once David gets locked up. It says two years have passed but there's not much to indicate this and there's even less sense of time once David goes to New York. The movie shifts focus solely to David and Jade just drops off the face of the earth for forty-five minutes. What's especially weird is that two years would only make Jade seventeen and probably still in high school so how's she wandering around New York and making trips to David's hospital unsupervised? And you can definitely tell that Brooke Shields can not pass for seventeen or eighteen.
The Razzies would have you believe that the main cast gave bad performances, but I have to disagree on this one. Shirley Knight puts in a believable performance for perhaps one of the worst mothers ever portrayed on film and Martin Hewitt does a respectable job playing essentially a crazy stalker. A young James Spader proves early on that he plays a great smug jerk. Brooke Shields does the best she can pretending to have sex when it's quite obvious she hasn't, although instead of pulling her toe couldn't someone have at least demonstrated the kind of faces a person makes when they're making love? And she's still nowhere near as bad as say, Jaden Smith in "After Earth" or Selena Gomez in "Getaway."
It's the story that really fails them. It's one of those stories that the more effort the actors put in, the worse it looks. The movie wants you to believe it's true love when what's shown on screen is unhealthy obsession. Instead, it ends up a cautionary tale about mistaking lust for love and what can happen when parents don't set boundaries for their children and I really don't think that's what they were going for here.
Mel Brooks can rest easy cause this is no "Blazing Saddles"
After the success of "Ted," the movie industry expected big things from "Family Guy" creator Seth McFarlane, and of course, like so many of Hollywood's next-big-things before him, he failed to deliver.
When I saw the trailers for this film, the scenes looked funny and since I enjoyed "Ted," I thought I would enjoy this too. Little did I know that the best parts of the film were featured in its trailer.
For starters, the movie recycles too many jokes from "Family Guy." Having watched it sporadically since its return to the airwaves in 2005, I could recognize every joke and scene that was patterned after a similar scene or joke from that show. It shouldn't have been a surprise that it was like this, what with Seth writing the film with his FG pals and "Ted" honestly having the same problem, but the difference is that "Ted" used pre-cancellation "Family Guy" humor while "Million" uses POST-cancellation humor and as most FG fans will tell you, that ain't a good thing.
"Million" left a bad taste in my mouth because it reminded me of everything I hated about "Family Guy" since about season five or so: jokes that are explained to the audience after delivery, shock humor that offends more than entertains, prolonging a joke to the point of audience fatigue, and throwing in an unnecessary acid trip sequence reminiscent of "Family Guy's" dreadful hurricane episode. The most memorable non-joke involved a shooting gallery depicting runaway slaves, which was not only offensive and unfunny, but historically wrong as slavery ended nearly twenty years before the movie's setting and Arizona wasn't even a state, much less part of the Confederacy.
The story, such as it is, involves McFarlane (cause he IS playing himself) as a sheep farmer disgusted with the daily perils that come from a life in the Old West. His girlfriend immediately leaves him for a more exciting and wealthier mustache groomer played by Neil Patrick Harris, who McFarlane challenges to a gunfight to win her back despite the fact that he's never fired a gun in his life. Fortunately, he hits it off with a mysterious woman (Charlize Theron) who also teaches him how to shoot and becomes so enamored with her, he lets his nemesis have his girlfriend. Unfortunately for him, his new girlfriend has an outlaw husband who won't let him off the hook so easily. There's also a stagnant side plot about his best friend and his girlfriend saving themselves for marriage despite the fact that said girlfriend is a hooker by trade. You wouldn't think this sounds like much, yet the movie goes on for nearly two hours. When the far superior "Gravity" can tell its story in 90 minutes, you know there's a problem.
And there is filler in this movie. The aforementioned hallucination sequence is not at all needed, nor is the bonding with the Indians scene leading up to it. Sadly, Liam Neeson is extraneous too. Though he gives a genuinely chilling performance, you could cut out his ENTIRE character and nothing would be lost. He has one scene at the beginning to establish how evil he is and he disappears until the last half-hour, which is where the most filler is. Honestly, the movie could've ended with McFarlane calling off the duel with NPH and taking Charlize to ride off into the sunset. The "abstinent" hooker and her boyfriend could've been cut because that plot just kinda goes nowhere. The beginning duel with a debt collector could've been cut too as it's used to set up a tasteless shadow puppet display and is later completely resolved offscreen. All that's probably a good forty-five minutes to be honest.
There are some good performances and a few good jokes, believe it or not. The ending where Neeson drops dead before McFarlane can give his exposition was a pretty clever gag, the gag reference to "Miss America 1880" and the montage of McFarlane in target practice was pretty funny. Among the good performances are Neeson, Charlize Theron, and Harris, despite the fact that he has little to do and is given an overlong diarrhea joke and a dull musical number. And when McFarlane is on screen with Theron, he's pretty good too, because they do seem to be enjoying each other's company. Without her, however, he comes off as a bit of a deer in the headlights. The awkwardness of his opening scene gives a good indication of what you're in for. Another positive is that the cinematography is so gorgeous it could be on postcards.
Much like modern day "Family Guy," watching this film left me feeling empty and disappointed because it could've been so much better. If Seth McFarlane is going to transition into movies, he really needs (1) to not physically appear in front of the camera, (2) someone higher up to rein in his worst impulses, and to (3) write with someone other than one of his "Family Guy" cronies.
Until then, there's always "Ted," the first three seasons of "Family Guy," and "American Dad" to occupy my time.
Our technophlia is taken to its logical conclusion
Is it possible to fall in love with a computer? In a world where it's possible to go on virtual adventures with others in online gaming communities and have cybersex via video conference it doesn't really seem that far-fetched.
Which is why I don't really know what to make of this movie.
"Her" is the story of a romance between a man, Theodore, and his super-advanced OS, set in an ambiguous future. The OS over time forms a personality, christens herself "Samantha," and he falls in love with it with the OS quickly reciprocating his feelings. Soon they hit all the stops of a normal human romantic relationship: they fight, they make up, they share, they go on romantic getaways, they even have sex. Given how attached many of us have become to our electronic devices, the plot certainly seems plausible.
However, the OS is so advanced and so intelligent that it often breaks the suspension of disbelief at times. This is the movie's main problem. Our operating systems are not capable of this level of self-sufficiency or interaction so watching a grown man treat it like a real human lover comes off as hilarious at best and creepy at worst. Maybe someday they might be this advanced, but for now, they're not, and so I found myself laughing at parts that I'm certain weren't supposed to be funny due to how bizarre they are. Perhaps the most unintentionally funny moment is where Theodore gets genuinely hurt when he learns that his OS has other users and thus Samantha is being unfaithful to him. I would think in such a technologically superior world the thought would have at least crossed his mind. The serious tone of the movie doesn't help.
The fact that he tells his friends he's dating his OS and they think nothing of it and a woman agrees to be a sex surrogate for Samantha when she becomes fearful that she can't satisfy him makes it even stranger. To its credit though the movie does establish a world where its implied that others are having similar relationships but I would think his close friends would at least be a little concerned, more so given the fact that he's going through a difficult divorce. The only people who act normal are his ex-wife who rightfully chastises him for dating his computer and a blind date who appropriately runs screaming in the opposite direction. So many people treat it as normal that it strains credibility.
That being said, the movie is not without its share of good qualities. The cinematography is breathtaking and the direction is well done. The sets also have an aesthetic which give them a clean and shiny, but not gratuitous, futuristic feel to them which fits in well with the theme of the movie. But the true winners are the performances of Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johanson as the voice of the OS Samantha as they really sell the material, especially Johanson, considering she probably had to act her part alone in a soundbooth. Both of them give such truly moving and honest performances that one could only imagine what it would've been like if they'd actually got to be on screen together.
The pacing seemed a bit slow as I thought what seemed like an ending came about ninety minutes in only for it to go on for another half-hour. I guess in retrospect it was better that way because it gave a much healthier resolution to the story but that last half-hour seemed a lot longer.
Once it ends it leaves a lot of unanswered questions. Since Samantha is an OS just like Windows or MacOS, what would happen to her if the hard drive crashed? Would Theodore's relationship with her be automatically reset if it did? What would happen if she got a virus? Would her speech patterns or thought processes be affected if the computer's RAM got bogged down momentarily? And given the movie's ending, who in their right mind would write a program that would extricate itself from the user's system and venture out into the ether of cyberspace on its own, especially an operating system? Sure, this movie makes it seem sad and bittersweet that Samantha is moving on but if Samantha abandoned the rest of her users, the software company's customer complaint line must be ringing off the hook.
I don't know whether to say I loved or hated this movie. It certainly does make you think about what love really is, our growing reliance on computers, and what would happen if our computers were capable of thinking and experiencing emotion. There were also some excellent performances but the accidental comedy was often on par with "The Room" or "Mommie Dearest" because some of it was just so hard to take seriously. I guess it's a testament to all involved because in less competent hands, this movie could have been a disaster.
The movie did receive rave reviews and I'm sure many people did take it seriously and honestly it's not a bad film in any sense of the word. I guess maybe I just didn't get it or perhaps it's difficult for me to imagine such an advanced piece of software.
Who knows? Maybe one day it will be possible and perhaps I'll be able to look at this film differently. Definitely see it for some terrific performances that are almost good enough to make you buy into it.
Lively song and dance numbers with lavish backdrops but not much else
Christina Aguilera seemed to be different from the garden variety teen idol princess. She seemed to have genuine talent despite a penchant for showing off just how many different notes she could cram into a single second and chose to focus solely on her music while her contemporaries such as Britney, Jessica, and Mandy Moore were embarrassing themselves in horrible movies. The fact that she seemed to be resisting the urge to make a crappy movie was in fact, quite admirable.
I guess I spoke too soon.
"Burlesque" is yet another rehash of the plucky-young-girl-with-talent-makes-it-to-the-big-time type of story only with the goal being dancing in her undies as opposed to landing a record deal. It's a bright, shiny, loud film that attempts to distract you with bright lights, gaudy costumes, and bouncy numbers to compensate for how truly empty it is. You can tell a lot of effort was put into set design and wardrobe as they are the only things about this film that could be considered top notch.
Performances are passable, but nothing to write home about. Christina does the best she can with an insufferable Mary Sue of a character and Cher does a decent job but nothing worthy of a second Oscar. However, Cher got an obvious collagen lip injection before this movie started filming and her new fish lips are quite distracting every time she has a close up. Stanley Tucci reprises the same snooty gay man role he played in "The Devil Wears Prada," Kristen Bell plays a rival with little motivation and everyone else is just kinda there. Alan Cumming, who can be entertaining, is wasted in a nothing role.
The music and the dancing are also pretty good but that's to be expected when you have an at-her-peak Christina Aguilera, Cher and "Dancing with the Stars' " ingénue Julianne Hough in the cast. The song lyrics, however, show an odd lack of imagination as four or five of them are about the art of burlesque alone. I was also disappointed that Cher only got two songs compared to the ten or so that Christina got.
The lack of creativity in the songs can probably be attributed to a non-existent plot. The plot revolves entirely around Christina's character, Ali, leaving behind her boring life in Iowa and taking a bus to L.A. where she lands a job waitressing in a nightclub and quickly works her way up the ranks and falls in love along the way snore. Other than the side plot about Cher's club being on the verge of bankruptcy, this is pretty much all that happens. There's some stuff about Stanley Tucci finding a boyfriend, Kristen Bell battling alcoholism, and Julianne Hough being pregnant but none of it has any bearing on the plot.
This spotlights the film's biggest problem: Ali is a blatant Mary Sue who monopolizes the entire movie. She comes to town and immediately wins everyone over. Cher promotes her to dancer in the show, Cam Gigandet leaves his fiancée for her and Eric Dane wants to get in her pants and throw money at her. Everyone loves her and she instantly becomes the main attraction of the club. She's a naturally gifted singer and dancer despite being an Iowa farm girl. They might as well have named her Strawberry Serenity Symphony Nightshade or something equally pretentious because she NEVER loses.
The plot also doesn't attempt to explore any of the ramifications of her rise to stardom. There's a sabotage subplot with Kristen Bell but it's quickly dropped. The movie never once deals with how Ali's new boyfriend might feel about her performing nightly in a highly sexualized stage show and it never attempts to explain her past or how a Midwestern girl with limited options in life and no family got to be such a great dancer and singer. Ali seems to have no aspirations beyond the club and despite being this amazing phenom who brings new customers in, it's still somehow going under. Perhaps if Cher would cut a few corners on her extravagant stage shows, she might save some money that way. Not to worry though because the writers find a different way for Ali to save the club, thus keeping her Mary Sue status intact.
Perhaps the saddest part of it all is that this movie not only derailed Christina Aguilera's career, it seemed to derail her personal life as well. After a mediocre showing, her marriage fell apart, she released the worst selling album of her career, she gained a noticeable amount of weight and gave several legendarily bad performances of the national anthem.
While the movie is deeply flawed, I don't think it's bad enough that Christina deserved to have her career ruined over it. She has no business acting but she still has a good voice and she should get a chance to redeem herself. If Britney can survive "Crossroads" and Madonna can survive "Shanghai Surprise," "Who's That Girl," "Body of Evidence," "The Next Best Thing," and "Swept Away," then Christina should get to put "Burlesque" behind her too.
Ben & Arthur (2002)
Only the power of a deluded egomaniac can stop a movie from making any sense
With production values that make "The Room" look like "Inception," dialogue that makes "Troll 2" look like Shakespeare, performances that make Pia Zadora look like Meryl Streep, and a deluded, egomaniacal creator that would make even Tommy Wiseau seem modest, "Ben & Arthur" is just about as bad as it gets. It is ultimately what you get when someone with delusions of grandeur and no resources has WAY too much time on their hands.
The movie is just plain wrong from the word "go,"beginning with a desecration of Scott Joplin's "The Entertainer" that not only sounds cheap but is wildly inappropriate. Credits scroll by simply as an excuse to stroke creator Sam Mraovich's massive ego while juxtaposed on a nauseating brown background that looks like somebody vomited on the print, appropriately enough.
From there we are introduced to the titular characters, a relatively handsome man named Ben and his lover, a doughy, pasty, balding man named Arthur who is none other than demented creator Sam Mraovich himself, proving that the "Ugly Guy, Hot Wife" trope works just as well for gay men. Their raison d'etre is a simple one: they want to get married.
However, things are revealed to be not quite so simple. First, Hawaii revokes their gay marriage laws, then Ben drops a bombshell that he's still married to a woman (who apparently didn't know he was gay?) then Arthur must turn to his disapproving conservative Christian homophobe brother for a loan.
Jamie Brett Gabel does an admirable job as Ben but it is Sam Mraovich who makes this train wreck utterly fascinating to watch. He has to be the most offensive stereotype to walk this earth, or in his case, prance. He runs like a girl and his dancing has to be seen to be believed. His mannerisms incite laughter because you get the feeling he's not acting.
To pull off such a character you need a few redeeming qualities but sadly, Arthur has none. He's a whiny, entitled drama queen, and you want to cheer during one scene where Ben punches him even though it's basically condoning domestic abuse. Then he sets a priest on fire while humming merrily and this is the guy we're supposed to root for?
Arthur has a fundamentalist brother who would be the gayest person in the movie were it not for him. He has blonde highlights, is constantly seen petting a cat, and spends all his free time with a man named Stan. I do understand the point they were trying to make, that a lot of extreme homophobia comes from people who are in denial about their own sexuality, but they could've been more subtle in their casting. Then again, nothing in this movie is subtle.
To round out the cast we have Ben's loony wife who thinks that holding him at gunpoint and offering to be gay like him will fix their marriage, a woman lawyer who reads her lines in a distracted monotone, and Mildread, a woman who shows up only to complain about stuff.
The plot starts off sensibly enough but devolves into insanity as it progresses. Ben and Arthur go from wanting to get married and seeking legitimate legal avenues to domestic violence and murdering priests. Victor, the brother, goes from proselytizing to taping bottles of strange liquid to his brother's door, murdering lawyers, hiring PI's to follow his brother around and finally hiring a hit-man to kill Ben and Arthur then sending him away at the last minute to do the deed himself. In fact, Arthur not drinking the holy water is the only thing in the last half that makes any sense.
The lack of research in this film is just astounding. In Mraovich-land, holy water has a recipe, Catholics believe in karma, are willing to kick people out of their congregation just for having homosexual relatives, advocate killing sinners to save their souls, and baptize people in the nude. Vermont has palm trees and you can ship yourself there by FedEx and graham crackers make a perfectly normal dinner.
It was really a challenge to keep this review down to a thousand words because there are just so many things wrong with this movie. The cinematography is horrid, the camera shakes and wobbles, all continuity or pretense of realism is thrown out the window, and the score and set design are laughably cheap. The most memorable examples of these flaws are people getting shot with no bullet wounds and blood, several characters getting killed without police investigation, a sex scene where nobody moves, a song with only the words "Let's go," the obvious background noise clipping, and the priest's office, complete with cardboard cross and paint-by-numbers Jesus.
As a final testament to Mraovich's ego, he ends the film by visually assaulting us with the image of his naked body and generously borrowing from the final scene of "Scarface" only with him and Victor substituting for Gina and Tony. Fortunately, Arthur dies at the end.
In fact, nobody in this movie gets a happy ending, unless you count the audience because they no longer have to watch it. All that remains is an ending credits sequence that pays further tribute to Sam Mraovich while set to the soothing sounds of a Fisher Price rendition of Pachelbel's "Cannon" in D.
I guess it's only appropriate that the movie should end with a spelling error. Nothing else was done right in this mess of a movie so why should they care about spelling?
Sam Mraovich should just stick to real estate.
The Lonely Lady (1983)
For a "lonely" lady, she sure gets around
"The Lonely Lady" is the story of Jerilee Randall, a young girl who in search of fame and recognition basically puts out to get ahead. It's sleazy, campy fun for all if you can stand the gratuitous nudity.
The reason this movie is so entertaining is its star. Pia Zadora is a bad actress who was fortunately blessed with the gift of accidental comedy. Sometimes you can't help but bust out laughing even before she opens her mouth. I can't help but wondering if maybe she would've had more success if she tried to make comedies rather than angst-ridden melodramas like this that only spotlight her lack of talent.
She is further hindered by utterly atrocious dialogue as is the supporting cast. The lines range from unintentionally funny ("You've already had one abortion, don't make it two", "I don't suppose I'm the only one who's had to f**k her way to the top", "Is this more your kick?") to downright alien (Jerilee's high school award acceptance speech at the beginning and her book reviews, which laud her for depicting "rape and violence with a sensitivity beyond her years" and showing "the inadequacy of liberal values in the face of evil???")
The writers' bad dialogue and poor choice of wording really deserve a mention because this movie is about drum roll, please screenwriters! Nevermind the fact that Jerilee thinks her ticket to fame is becoming a successful screenwriter, she modifies a script by excising an actress's entire monologue and replacing it with "Why?" and it is treated as brilliant! We're also supposed to believe that the actress would rather say one word than give a monologue. Of course it's all worth it as watching the actress act out her new line change is rife with narm.
Bad acting and dialogue aside, it's really hard to feel any sympathy as Jerilee goes from one obvious bad choice to another. She dumps her nice-guy boyfriend in the beginning to run off with a famous screenwriter's son. Her reward for this is getting raped at his house by one of his smarmy friends with a garden hose, no less. The description is absurd on its own, but this scene has to be seen to be believed. Our imperiled heroine writhes on the ground while shrieking her head off as she waits for a soon-to-be-embarrassed Ray Liotta to insert his hose (not a metaphor) inside her. He rips her blouse open so the audience gets a boob shot (first of many) as a bonus while overwrought "scary" music blares. In a more competent movie with a competent cast, this scene would be upsetting to watch. Here, it's so ridiculous that the filmmakers have achieved the impossible: a comedic rape scene.
Later she marries the boy's father (the screenwriter's son, not the garden hose rapist, though given some of her later choices in men, it would've made as much sense) and continues to live in the same house where she was raped! Though it can almost be forgiven as it leads to another memorable scene where her older husband, after battling impotence, waves the garden hose in her face and taunts her with it. It's so jaw-droppingly insensitive you just can't help but laugh.
She follows with a succession of increasingly sleazy boyfriends though once again, it's forgiven as it gives us Jerilee's nervous breakdown scene. Of course, it's memorable for all the wrong reasons.
Jerilee is also given a mother who's every bit as comically insensitive and abusive as her lovers. She repeatedly puts her daughter down after getting raped, getting an abortion, and even going to the loony bin. She throws herself at her daughter's husband, knowing full well that her daughter got violated at his house and that the boy would go unpunished because of hubby's status.
However, the filmmakers obviously felt that the movie could not stand on its own so they added nudity and it gets ramped up as the movie progresses. First, we get an occasional topless shot, then a sex-in-the-shower scene, and then five straight minutes near the end of Jerilee and her latest boyfriend cavorting in the buff. Most of the shots are of Ms. Zadora herself (though we do get to see quite a lot of "Saturday Night Fever's" Joseph Cali) so they clearly thought her body was something special. She even has women coming on to her! Pia Zadora's not a dog, mind you, but she's certainly not attractive enough to have every man and woman fawn over her. The fact that her older, rich husband backed this movie makes it rather icky, as well.
Finally, the movie has an overall generic feel to it. Buildings are not named, the ersatz Oscar ceremony which bookends the film is simply called "The Awards," and one of Jerilee's books is shown with a white cover and blocky letters. Many of the film's songs have a bizarre anonymous vibe to them with simple, uncreative lyrics. Character names are rather dull and uninspired, except for Jerilee, but the movie undercuts even this by having her compete with another woman named Jerilee for a screen writing Oscar sorry, "Award." Not only are the screenwriters for this film out of touch with reality, they're woefully unimaginative.
This movie finally ended Pia's bid for movie stardom. What's strange is how much this movie seems to mirror Pia's own career. Both Pia and Jerilee married older, rich men, used them to get ahead, had their careers ruined at the end of the movie, and bared enough skin to make people call Pia's self-respect into question. Thankfully, those of us in the real world knew better than to give Pia an Oscar.
This cat should've stayed in the bag
After winning an Oscar for her performance in "Monsters Ball," Halle Berry gradually started to buy into her own hype and this steaming pile of kitty litter is the result.
"Catwoman" was, once upon a time, supposed to be Michelle Pfeiffer's movie due to her breakout performance as the legendary anti-villain in Tim Burton's "Batman Returns" but Michelle Pfeiffer wasn't really interested in reprising the role so it sat on the shelf. After a decade in Hollywood purgatory, someone got the brilliant idea to take a generic female superhero script and make it a "Catwoman" movie. After numerous rewrites and addressing a fat check to Ms. Berry, the movie began production in earnest. First people protested at the unusual casting choice then they protested at the exposed midriff costume design and it just got worse from there.
This movie goes so wrong in so many ways, the first of which is how fake everything looks. The movie is an overblown CGI mess. The unnamed city that provides the setting of the movie looks impossibly clean and shiny and has more towering skyscrapers than Manhattan and Tokyo combined. The woman who would be Catwoman gets rescued by fake cats on an unrealistic island after getting flushed down a sewer pipe that must be thousands of feet above the ground. They couldn't even allow Ms. Berry to do her own running and jumping and thus left THAT up to yet another unconvincing CGI clone.
The next failing of many is the plot. Oh Dear God, the plot. I can buy into the heroine-dies-and-gets-reborn story. It's the rest of the plot that's really awful. Catwoman must bring down an evil cosmetics company that is making poisonous face cream that is a) addictive, b) makes your face rot after discontinuation, and c) causes headaches after they try to murder her for stumbling onto their secret. This has to be the most suicidal corporation in existence not to mention the FDA would never allow such a product on the market in the first place.
In spite of everything, Halle Berry gives it her best shot, but she's given awful one liners and forced to act like an actual cat (at one point, she goes nuts over catnip, no really ) so I don't honestly believe any actress would've come out of this not looking stupid. Benjamin Bratt, the designated love interest, could pretty much be cut from the entire movie and you wouldn't notice. They do try to ratchet up some sexual tension between them though by having them dry hump on a basketball court in front of a bunch of kids while horrendous R&B music blares. I'm seriously not making this up.
The characters that do have personality are incredibly annoying. Catwoman, naturally is given a chubby comedic foil best friend, except she just ends up being annoying. This movie has all but guaranteed that Alex Borstein will probably be voicing Lois Griffin until she dies. She also has a camp gay stereotype friend, not that either of these people matter once the ahem plot kicks in. These people are meant to emphasize that Halle's character, pre-transformation, of course, is a mousy frump with no social life. However, Hollywood never seems to realize that even if you give a woman like Halle Berry a bad hairstyle and ugly clothes she will still look like Halle Berry. Frances Conroy gets stuck with a thankless mentor role, only this time as a Crazy Cat Lady.
Finally, we wouldn't have a superhero flick without a villain. Since Halle Berry is not exactly an imposing figure, they wisely gave her a female villain to square off against. Unfortunately, they gave her Sharon Stone. A past-her-prime Sharon Stone. A younger Sharon Stone from "Total Recall" might have been convincing but instead we have the obligatory third act smackdown with opponents almost as mismatched as Steven Seagal beating up an unarmed, flabby, middle aged Michael Caine in "On Deadly Ground." It's almost as if the writers realized she made a lame sparring partner because they invent a new plot twist where it's revealed that the EVIL face cream also makes its user resistant to physical attacks?! Um Sure, why not? The movie stops making sense long before this revelation anyway.
Still, Catwoman inexplicably breaks through the villain's supposedly indestructible face mask, she falls to her death and the day is saved. And since we can't have any loose ends for the sequel the boyfriend has to go too.
Like so many other bad movies, you can't help but wonder why no one could see how awful this was. "Catwoman" would die a quick death at the box office and become a punchline for many years to come. I saw the movie at a discount theater and only did so because I was bored and had nothing to do that evening.
It was certainly the worst three bucks I'd ever spent.
Some people just don't know when to quit apparently
Mae West was, and still is, an icon. She had a swagger and a gift for naughty double entendres that both titillated and outraged the American public. She was a person who was not above using her feminine wiles to her advantage and she did all of this in her early forties at a time when Hollywood was even more unforgiving to middle-aged actresses. Even now, nearly a century after she burst onto the scene, her influence can still be seen in the likes of Madonna, Gwen Stefani and Cristina Aguilera.
However, by the time she made "Sextette," she was well over eighty and still trying so hard to be "Mae West" that she had devolved into a parody of herself. Decked out in a giant platinum blonde wig, slathered with enough makeup to attend her own funeral and long, bodice-covering dresses obviously meant to hide the ravages of time on her body and her increasing waistline, this was not Mae West. This wasn't even the same Mae West who appeared in "Myra Breckenridge" eight years earlier. This was some two-bit drag queen's impersonation of Mae West. Apparently, even the director for this film knew it too, as he bathed her in enough soft white light to make Barbara Walters envious.
You can argue all day long about whether a woman of such advanced age has a right to think of herself as sexy or whether or not the rumors about her using earpieces or being wheeled around the set are true, but the fact is, she just doesn't have it anymore in this film and it is just painful to watch. She has noticeable trouble moving, some of her lines seem off, and all of her songs are either obviously lip-synched or spoken-word numbers where she doesn't have to exert herself trying to sing. The fact that she has men young enough to be her grandchildren fawning over her only highlights the cognitive dissonance between who Mae West thinks she is and who she actually is.
The plot for this movie is ridiculous and doesn't pretend to be serious, so I won't go into much detail, just that Marlo Manners' (Mae West's character, as if it really matters) honeymoon night with her sixth husband (Timothy Dalton, would you believe) is mercifully interrupted by a parade of past ex-husbands, movie shoots, and world peace talks that have stalled because one of the ex-husbands is involved and wants one more night of passion with our geriatric sexpot before he'll make nice with the rest of the world's leaders.
Also there's a missing cassette tape that Marlo doesn't want anyone to get their hands on despite the fact that she was using it to record her autobiography. If you don't want people knowing about your past exploits, why would you record an autobiography? Why would you record them period? The plot only exists to build up Mae West as a memetic sex goddess anyway, so who cares?
I won't go into the acting too much either, except that Timothy Dalton does a surprisingly good job considering he's playing a man who's anxious to get into an octogenarian's pants. West herself seems to have lost her comedic timing in her old age which does lend some plausibility to the earpiece urban legend. Other standouts include a cardboard Russian stereotype played by Tony Curtis, a cardboard mobster played by George Hamilton and a cardboard camp gay fashion designer played by Keith Moon? Other bizarre casting choices include Ringo Starr as a prima donna film director and yet another ex-husband and Alice Cooper as a singing bellboy in a horrible wig that makes Mae West look good by comparison.
And that brings us to the next point: this movie is a musical even better, a DISCO musical! This just wouldn't be a 70's period piece without bad musical numbers, now would it? The musical selection ranges from bad to hilariously bad from the opening number where Mae West's ego is massaged by a choir who declare her to be a "living dream" and compare her to Venus de Milo to Miss West mumbling her way through a disco-fied update of "Baby Face." The bellboys pay tribute to Marlo as she arrives to her hotel with a song-and-dance rendition of "Hooray for Hollywood" that comes off as a big lipped alligator moment due to how poorly set up it is and finally, we have the "duet" between West and Dalton of "Love Will Keep Us Together". I use the term "duet" loosely as Dalton caterwauls through most of the song while West occasionally wakes up just long enough to mumble a few words here and here.
Mae West wanted so badly to prove that she still had it by making "Sextette," but proved just the opposite instead. She was already in such bad shape that she would only live for two more years. However, despite the horrifying train wreck that this movie is, a part of me can't help but admire having the chutzpah to declare oneself sexually desirable at an age when most people are wiling away their days in a nursing home. I can't decide whether to be appalled or inspired when watching this movie.
Maybe it's both.
Moment by Moment (1978)
A "Moment" that John Travolta and Lily Tomlin probably want to forget
In 1978, John Travolta and Lily Tomlin were both riding high off major successes: Travolta with the back-to-back megahits Saturday Night Fever and Grease and Tomlin with an Oscar win for Nashville. Travolta soon expressed an interest in working with Tomlin and it was decided that they would make a movie together. After all, a collaboration between two respected and successful actors should've been a slam dunk, right?
Sadly that was not the case.
"Moment By Moment" instead became a rare epic misfire for Tomlin and sadly the first of many for Travolta. It proved to be such an embarrassment to all involved that to this day it has not seen a DVD release and MST3K was forbidden from featuring it on their show. Everything about this movie is just plain wrong.
Starting with the cast, the chemistry between Tomlin and Travolta is non-existent. It doesn't help that both actors have been followed by gay rumors their entire careers. Tomlin's lesbian lover even wrote and directed this thing.
Adding to the void of chemistry is the fact that the leads look alike with matching haircuts to boot. It gives their relationship a creepy mother-son vibe due to the age difference and the way they act toward each other does little to dispel this. Tomlin makes several motherly gestures and at one point before they "make love," Travolta puts his head in her lap and says, "Don't leave me." I almost expected his next line to be "Tell me a story, Mommy."
If the mother-son angle weren't disturbing enough, the script paints Strip (yes, that's Travolta's character's actual name) as an unrelenting stalker, repeatedly following Tomlin's character, Trish, around and showing up at her house announced despite receiving several dirty looks and being told to go away. Once Trish unconvincingly comes around, she treats like him dirt, not saying the "L" word and acting ashamed of him in public and he still comes back to her every time.
When Trish and Strip are not in the throes of sterile passion, they also act strangely. In addition to stalking, Strip spends the first quarter of the film acting like a hyperactive 5-year-old on a sugar high, babbling uncontrollably about utter nonsense. It is later revealed that his drifter status can be attributed to wait for it his parents forgetting his birthday. Two years in a ROW, mind you. Trish gets her own surreal moments, offering Strip a joint while naked in a hot tub and weeping over the undetermined fate of her ex-husband's pool filter. Her annoyance toward him also vanishes overnight after they consummate their union and they both quickly transform into lovesick fools.
The overall plot doesn't make much more sense either. Sure, May-December romances do exist but this one is just a little too far-fetched. Strip is a nomad with no prospects and shady friends and Trish, while wealthy, is no great beauty. Usually people like Strip who seek out these kinds of relationships are con-artists, a fact that Trish even lampshades.
Also numerous subplots are introduced and are either resolved offscreen or dropped completely. The most glaring examples are the unseen character of Greg, who supplies Strip with drugs, gets arrested, bailed out of jail and murdered, all offscreen and the identification of one of Trish's affluent friends as his killer which nobody does anything about. As mentioned before, Trish wonders if Strip is only after her money but this is never really explored. Trish is tormented by an ex-husband and consoled by a best friend who show up for a few minutes and don't really do anything important. The real kicker is the ending, where Trish and Strip decide to reconcile because the plot demands it, I guess.
The funniest part of it all is with the dangling subplots, bad acting, surreal dialogue, glacial pacing, limited sets and pointless characters, this movie almost comes off like a big-budget re-imagining of "The Room." All they needed was to have Trish's mother show up and casually announce she has breast cancer and screenwriter Jane Wagner could've sued Tommy Wiseau for plagiarism. At least the directing and editing are slightly more competent.
Fortunately, both actors would recover from this fiasco. Tomlin learned her lesson and made a return to comedic form in "9 to 5," and Travolta would come back too, though it took a few more years for him. However, if you're looking for a bad Travolta film to laugh at, I would suggest "Battlefield Earth" as this movie, while having a few unintentionally funny moments, is rather slow and boring. See it once mostly for the curiosity factor.
Heavy Metal (1981)
A celebration of sex, drugs, rock and roll... and boobs, of course
I can't really say what it is I like about this movie. It's got plenty of storyline flaws, characters who behave in an extremely implausible manner, gratuitous nudity and animation that makes the old Looney Tunes cartoons look like The Lion King. By all accounts it should have turned out horrible but instead the grittiness and wild storytelling is actually part of its charm.
Heavy Metal is an anthology of stories that range from gritty noir ("Harry Canyon") to wacky comedy ("So Beautiful, So Dangerous") to straight out gore ("B-17"). They are all tied together rather loosely by the presence of an evil green orb called the Loc Nar. It narrates these random stories to a hapless teenage girl it considers its arch-nemesis.
The film opens with an astronaut returning to earth in a flying convertible. He makes it home to present the previously mentioned green orb as a gift to his daughter only to have it threaten his daughter after melting him into goo. My main problem with the opening segment is that the Loc Nar chooses to tell the girl about all the evil it has perpetrated rather than melting her as it did her father. Of course, if it did that, we wouldn't have a movie. Also some of the faces she makes come off too goofy to take seriously.
The film switches to the first story, "Harry Canyon," a 50's film noir transplanted to a futuristic New York in decline with a gruff cabbie in place of a gumshoe. He is thrust into the action when a girl gets into his cab to escape from gangsters who just murdered her father, the current owner of the Loc Nar. While it's my favorite of all the stories, the problems come from the girl's behavior. She decides to have sex with Harry Canyon within minutes of meeting him and watching her father die; a reaction usually reserved for porn movies. Then she turns against him after she gives the Loc Nar to the gangsters despite there being no foreshadowing that she would do something like this. Perhaps most disappointing is that this is the way the story ends. Harry kills the woman in self defense and drives off to adventures that we will never know.
On to story #2, "Den." This one is more of a fantasy where an 18-year old nerd finds the Loc Nar in his backyard and is teleported to an alternate universe where he is transformed to a muscle bound hero who gets tasked to defeat an evil warlord and, of course, rescue a superhot naked girl. I really enjoyed this story and John Candy's voice-over lends some much needed laughs after the downer resolution of "Harry Canyon." This one also seems to have a more satisfying ending. The only thing I can't understand is why the Loc Nar would include this story as it clearly made Den's life BETTER.
The third story is "Captain Sternn," the story of a lowlife criminal who bribes a meek man to give false testimony at his trial. However, the Loc Nar has other plans and causes Hannover Fiste to hulk out and chase after the titular scumbag. Despite the premise, this is the most light-hearted episode up to this point. It also seems to end before it really gets going. Surprisingly there are no naked women to be found either.
The next story is "B-17," a claustrophobic horror tale about a WWII pilot trying to survive a plane full of zombie comrades reanimated by the Loc Nar naturally. This story is highly effective in its gore and scares and has, by far, the best ending. Once again there are no naked women and there is also little spoken dialogue but it does just fine without them. This is the strongest segment, storywise anyway.
After the brief segue to full on horror, "So Beautiful, So Dangerous," seeks to lighten the mood. We have a sexy secretary who is accidentally beamed aboard an alien spaceship piloted by two stoner aliens. She also finds love with a robot of all things. I'd consider this one to be the weakest. The woman is annoying, the thought of robot sex requires too much suspension of disbelief and I was actually disappointed that the story abandons the far more interesting plot thread about mutations once the spaceship shows up. Also the Loc Nar doesn't do anything evil here and appears as a bauble on the secretary's blouse. How did she get it? Why didn't it kill her? Finally, we conclude with "Taarna," a stoic fantasy involving a mute, but impossibly gorgeous warrior woman and a city of violent thugs mutated by the Loc Nar. All in all, it's a good story with a good ending except for the beginning where Taarna takes an eternity to get dressed while the city that summoned her gets completely slaughtered.
After the stories are concluded, the wraparound plot concludes in case you forgot about it. The Loc Nar explodes, taking the house with it. However, the girl escapes where Taarna's bird shows up to whisk her away and her hair whitens indicating she is Taarna's ancestor or reincarnation or... who knows? The ending makes little sense but it's not the main attraction here anyway.
"Heavy Metal" is a fun escapist fantasy that knows what it is and makes no apologies for it. Even though it's not the most expensive or the best looking movie, it more than makes up for it with its passion and unencumbered approach to storytelling. If you're looking to have a good time, definitely check it out.
Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (1997)
I really wanted to like this, but...
I still remember seeing this movie. At the time, I was enamored with all things Mortal Kombat and I greatly enjoyed the first film even though I knew it wouldn't sweep the Oscars. So when the movie theater I worked at put this poster up I just KNEW I had to see it. And I did.
Thus it is with great trepidation that I write this reluctant review. I really wanted so much to like this movie but... I just can't.
Where to begin? Well, obviously for those who saw the first movie, some key players got Darrined. Sonya, Johnny Cage, and Rayden are all played by different actors. The only problem I had with the new actors was the usual disappointment of getting attached to the originals. Believe it or not, I actually preferred the new Sonya as she seemed more badass and true to the original game character design. Johnny isn't around long enough for you to hate him and James Remar is OK, but he's no Lambert. If only Sandra Hess had been in the first one instead of the lame Bridgette Wilson.
The plot is just all over the map in this one. Rules are established then broken without explanation. Plot twists are introduced then forgotten. There's mystic nonsense about elder gods, Kitana having to reunite with her mother to save the world, Shao Khan being able to do whatever he wants because of Kitana's mother, finding your inner animality and Rayden giving up his immortality. Liu Kang is given three tests by a magical Native American but the movie forgets the other two and apparently courageousness means being able to resist a hot woman in a bikini. Sonya rescues Jax who has been given bionic metal arms because... your guess is good as mine. SubZero shows up to offer assistance to the heroes at a later time but later never comes. Kitana gets to play damsel in distress. Motaro and Sheeva hate each other but we have no idea why. Rain gets killed because he didn't make his victims suffer enough. Nobody seems to wonder where the rest of the people on earth disappeared to. Jade turns traitor because the script says so, I guess. Most people also cite that Johnny Cage is unceremoniously killed off at the beginning but his death was actually a plot point in MK3 (the game was on MK4 when the movie came out) so I can understand why they did it. The rest of it, who knows?
The dialogue and acting are just bad. It's fitting that Shao Kahn and Sindel are king and queen because in terms of acting, they are made of ham. Musetta Vander gets such awful dialogue that one wonders if she wasn't overacting on purpose and Brian Thompson is impossible to take seriously because of his scene-chewing delivery and less than imposing stature. Both Rayden and Sonya feel the need to comment on new hairstyles and the importance of personal hygiene in the middle of an apocalypse. Jax is another stereotypical black dude with attitude and Irina Pataneva (Jade) once again proves that walking down a runway does not automatically translate into acting ability.
I would comment on the other characters' acting ability but therein lies another problem: most of the characters aren't on screen long enough to actually act. Characters are thrown into the middle of the action, most without proper introduction only to be killed or forgotten seconds later, some of them without even fighting. Outsiders to the Mortal Kombat game franchise will have no idea who most of these people are and fans of the games will only see their favorite characters long enough to say "Yep, that's Baraka," "Yep, that's Mileena." The movie ends up being a cavalcade of cameos due to the disproportionally short running time and does the already flimsy plot no favors.
Every bad movie, of course, has one area that it excels at in terms of badness, and while the above examples are certainly worthy contenders, the special effects truly get the ultimate razzie here. I'm not one to pick on special effects too much but even I could tell these were bad. Highlights include the laughably bad CGI wall monster, the green screen lab explosion, the shapeshifter showdown between Liu Kang and Shao Kahn that looks straight out of the mind of Ray Harryhausen, and Motaro. Just... Motaro. They say that an actual Sheeva fight was originally planned but scrapped due to budget constraints. Judging by the effects they actually DID keep, that was probably a wise decision.
It pains me to have to trash this movie. I wanted so much to like it. I really did. But even as I watched it in the movie theater a week after opening, the whole thing just felt off. It almost played out like a parody or cheap knockoff of the first film. I also couldn't help but noticing that after the first weekend, the audience had all but vanished.
Perhaps I should've taken the hint.
Cool as Ice (1991)
The Iceman Sucketh
Almost every couple of years some pop star seems to get bitten by the acting bug and the results are usually disastrous. Mariah Carey tried it, Britney tried it, Cristina tried it, and Madonna tried it... repeatedly.
And thus brings us to this review. Cool As Ice was an "acting" vehicle for soon-to-be one hit wonder Vanilla Ice. For a year back in the early nineties, the world was his oyster. He had an inescapable chart-topping single and sold over ten million records. All in all, not bad for a guy that nobody will admit to liking nowadays. This movie was the apex of the zeitgeist surrounding him and pretty much encapsulates everything that people loved, and HATED, about Vanilla Ice.
First of all, this movie is funnier than most comedies. It's hard to decide what I found funnier; the bad acting, the surreal montages, the silly dialogue, Naomi Campbell singing. Take your pick.
Vanilla Ice plays Johnny Van Owen, not that it matters since he's playing himself. His "performance" is the stuff of legend. Every line of his is so poorly delivered, yet paradoxically given so much conviction that he's a fountain of memeworthy dialogue: "Drop that zero and git with the hero," "I got to go schilng a schlong," "lookie, lookie, lookie, I got Kat's black bookie." and his inadvertent catchphrase, "Yup yup." I crack up just thinking about them.
As if this wasn't enough, the film treats him as though he is this deep, misunderstood individual. We are treated to filler scenes of him riding his motorcycle through the desert and staring off pensively into the distance with added emphasis given to his loud leather jacket with random phrases like "sex me up," and "down by law," scribbled on it. Other pointless scenes are devoted to suburbanites gawking at him and spontaneously breaking into dance on people's lawns.
The movie soon decides it needs something for him to actually do, so it gives him a cold, snooty, love interest, who he meets by running over her horse. She is understandably angry but all our reckless doofus can say is "she likes me." As for the actress, she does an OK job, but her characterization is rather disturbing. Her preppy boyfriend manhandles her frequently, and Vanilla, the man she's meant to be with, runs her over, steals from her, and breaks into her house while she's asleep. Apparently, stalking and physical abuse are a turn-on for this girl.
The other players in this celluloid tragedy range from bad to laughably bad. Michael Gross looks and sounds bored to death, the brother and the boyfriend's line deliveries are wooden. The extras must've been on loan from the set of "Troll 2". Special mention goes to the mobsters (yes, Vanilla Ice fights mobsters in this movie) who make the "Home Alone" burglars look scary. Never have I laughed so hard at a kidnapping. Then there's the hilariously awful bar band that manages to make Vanilla Ice sound good. And finally we have the bizarre old couple with the even MORE bizarre house. They were so entertaining and morbidly fascinating that I honestly think they deserved a movie of their own.
Fortunately you don't have to focus too much on the acting as the film is filled with numerous montages that are either hilarious, surreal, or both. In addition to Ice's introspection scenes, we have the Winslows' introduction scene which is played at chipmunk speed and might as well have been set to "Yakety Sax." Then there's the scene where Ice and Kathy exchange a line of dialogue and then start hopping around an unfinished house only to exchange more empty banter before more jumping and lather, rinse, repeat.
The plot treads no new ground here: good girl falls for bad boy. However, it is the inclusion of mobsters that is truly inspired. And it's all because the father is an idiot. Despite being in hiding for 20 years, he appears on TV allowing the mobsters to find him. Then the mobsters attempt to abduct Kathy by trailing her three feet away in their car with the headlights on. The father assumes that Ice is in cahoots with the mobsters based on an earlier bar fight that he didn't even witness. Kathy instantly believes him and dumps Ice in the next scene. Later the annoying brother is kidnapped and the parents assume Ice is involved. Finally Ice saves the day by using his superhearing to determine that the boy is at the same construction site where he had his falling-in-love montage. You can't make this stuff up.
There is one silver lining to this movie though in that it actually helped one person's career instead of destroying it. The cinematographer, Janusz Kaminski, would go on to work with Steven Spielberg . He deserves it because even though many of the shots are silly, they do look great.
I just wonder if Spielberg ever teases him about it.