Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Random Movie: Up in the Air (2009)

As we had discussed in a previous episode, I had a general distaste for movies that were Best Picture nominees as they seem to be pretentious and boring, much like another George Clooney movie that I did not care for. This movie, much like the director’s previous effort Juno, make me rethink Up In the Air but with reservations.

As we are introduced to Clooney’s Ryan Bingham, we are thrust into his world of constant motion. He works for a contracted firm to break the bad news to workers that they are now unemployed. This job requires frequent traveling to the point that a vast majority of his time is spent in airplanes and hotels. He is for all intents and purposes a voluntary vagrant and he enjoys it. This is all threatened when fresh graduate Natalie Keener tries to revolutionize his industry by telecommuting and saving all of the travel expenses. As Ryan takes Natalie on the road to show her what she is getting into, he meets Alex, another wayward traveler with the same penchant for loose relationships in various locales. As Ryan mingles with the two ladies, he begins to question his life choice to stay distant.

This movie worked well on a number of different fronts. I have never refuted the belief that Clooney is not only very charismatic but a very good actor. Even in his other efforts, even if I did not like the overall film, he delivered a good performance (obviously, Batman & Robin excluded). Even here, this is a character that in lesser hands would have been the bad guy as he is fairly dismissive of family and relationships and also fires people for a living. While the effect that this job takes on him is not really addressed (that is reserved for Natalie), he does not come across as the smug, arrogant asshole that we’ve all sat on the other side of a desk with. His counterpart with a vagina Alex, played by Vera Farmiga, is equally compelling but we are left in the dark as to her story or life before she and Ryan connected.

The real standout though was Anna Kendrick playing the young ideologue. I would argue the film is really her character’s as Natalie is the only one out of the three who really have a full character arc. The script, written by director Jason Reitman, almost cleverly sidesteps the weight that the story would normally carry as it is certainly more relevant now than in the mid 2000s when it was developed. But Natalie acts almost as the moral check to Ryan who has been doing this for the better part of a few decades. The thing that I did not expect was the lack of change for any of the other characters. In a way, you could say their futures are ‘Up in the Air’.

In a typical film, you would expect Ryan to abandon his fleeting ways to settle down with his equal. And while ||| SLIGHT SPOILER IF YOU’VE NEVER SEEN A MOVIE BEFORE ||| that doesn’t happen, the path the characters take lead you to believe everything will end happily with love and flowers and champagne and all of that standard bullshit. Ryan, who also makes a killing on giving speeches advocating the abandonment of family and relationships and anything that might tie you down, does have a slight change of heart especially as he interacts with Alex and his neglected family. And I must say it is quite touching to see two people so isolated from the world other than on airplanes and hotel lobbies get together essentially throwing out the rules and dictates from the past some-odd years of their lives.

So far, so good right? The direction by Reitman was quite good, proving that just like Juno (I haven’t seen Thank You For Smoking) that he can create fairly realistic characters and situations that are quite entertaining. For a movie that is more or less people conversing and reflecting on their lives and their pasts, the film as a whole was quite enthralling. The problem comes from the same place that I had with Juno. While I can see the obvious benefit to this movie as a whole, after watching it I cannot say I have any real desire to see it ever again. Now, to be fair this does not mean I would actively avoid it. But only if I caught it on a midday TNT screening could I see myself watching this film another time.

It is not a bad film at all. It has good acting, good direction, and hell … even Jason Bateman and Zach Galifianakis. But, like Juno, it does not seem to carry any real weight to it beyond it’s seemingly pretentious acclaim. While I feel it tries, the film does not convey the eye-opening undertones of something like American Beauty. I would fathom this is not a movie destined to be highly regarded in the next decade. Like many others before it, it was a good movie for the time but it will fall out of flavor within the next few years. Jason Reitman will still continue to make great movies. George Clooney will still have a very commanding on-screen presence. And, if she can ever get away from that sparkley-vampire series, Anna Kendrick will be one of the great performers to watch in the coming years. Maybe yet another viewing would change this but I can’t say I am really in a great rush to revisit.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Random Movie: Best of the Best II (1993)

Considering the fact that I have not seen Best of the Best 2 in at least ten years, the fact that I remembered the majority of what goes on is impressive. What is equally impressive is how I still find this film to be, like the original, somewhat laughable but an excellent exercise in martial arts films and damn entertaining. My previous love for this movie (maybe just a tad more than the first) may exclude this from being a totally impartial review but live with it.

Years after the conclusion of the first, the three decent members of the US karate team have bonded to the point that they have become true friends and even opened up a karate studio together. The dumb one out of the bunch, Travis, decides to take part in an underground martial arts ring in Las Vegas, not for honor but for money. Sadly, Travis is killed in the ring by Brakus, a big sweaty German with big pecks and his body is found floating by the Hoover Dam. When the police refuse to take action believing the death to be accidental, our remaining heroes from the first Alex and Tommy break in and rough up Brakus’ face. This leads to the order to kill Alex and his son and bring Tommy to fight.

Where the first movie was about honor and teamwork, this installment was centered around brutality and revenge. In many ways, of the old martial arts movies that I used to watch as a kid, they were more like this one as opposed to the first. Sure, there were honorable characters but often they were dragged into situations fighting for their lives or for vengeance. As such, this film feels less original but it also is not bound by the under-dog team feel that was jettisoned from the first. The scenes at the underground lair, The Coliseum, drive this home as we swap proud countrymen for bloodthirsty snots from the west coast who are as willing to order a death as they are a refreshment of their drink. This portion could be interpreted as a commentary on violence in entertainment and the savageness of mostly civilized moms and dads. However, this is not a George Romero movie, this is Best of the Best.

Things go a little better this time around on the acting front. As I said in my review for the original Best of the Best, the worthless members of the US team were dispatched leaving behind the more central characters and a bit more focus. Chris Penn is again the weakest link on the acting front of the heroes but he is easily surpassed by the talents of Ralf Moeller who seems to be channeling a combination of Schwarzenegger and some other foreign big sweaty villainous types. Eric Roberts is much better this go around with only one cringe-worthy line but we can chalk that up to trauma over his friend dying. Even Phillip Rhee is just a tad better this time although it is still apparent that he is a fighter first and actor second. But wait! This movie has the king of over-the-top: Wayne Newton playing himself, just under a different name as the Coliseum’s announcer. What more could you ask for?

How about violence? Yep, we get that in spades in this one. While the actual fighting was limited to the last act of the first movie, there are plenty of hand-to-hand fighting scenes frequently and mostly with good results. Even more fun than watching Tommy transcend the ranks of the fight club by kicking the crap out of the other challengers (most in bone or face breaking ways) is watching the duo tear up the random army of club security guards. As they have been expressly forbidden to carry firearms, they are no match for the pairing of Alex and Tommy as various members are thrown through windows, over railings, and into priceless vases. Yessir, these random explosions of violence were certainly lacking in the first film.

From the gunfights and explosions to the blood spatter over a plate glass window to the less horrible acting, I would say this is a slightly better movie than the first. Now, as I have pointed out the two are quite different in tone and intention but I will guess that if I saw the original fifteen times in my life, I’ve seen this one just one or two times more. I am a fan of senseless movie violence and while this is not on the level of RoboCop or Commando, there is just enough to satiate my desire for it. Plus it was written by the guy who played Walt Cummings on 24! As soon as I return this Netflix disc, I am buying this sucker for my collection.

Mini Scum: Let's Go to Prison

You would think I would like Let’s Go to Prison. Directed by Bob Odenkirk. Features Will Arnett, David Keochner, Chi McBride and Dylan Baker. Written by Thomas Lennon. But I don’t. Perhaps it’s because it is a comedy that I laughed at once. Maybe it’s because Dax Shepard is in the majority of it. Maybe because it is incredibly boring. Whatever it is, it sucks. Yet, Comedy Central insists on cramming it down my throat 4 times a day, like they do with Idiocracy (also featuring Dax Shepard).

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Mini Scum: Syriana (2005)

Welcome to a new series on Movie Scum aptly titled Mini Scum. Here, we discuss and review a movie in 100 words or less because it does not warrant a normal random review.

I’m not adverse to a movie that takes the slow approach toward its resolution. What I am not a fan of is movies that ride along for two hours (!) before a hastily written ending which does not make a lick of sense. Syriana has the star power with Clooney and Damon especially but they are fairly dull and just small pieces of the boring cog of the story. This screams to be an important Oscar movie and with two awards it succeeded. But being acclaimed does not make it a good movie. Stick with Jack Ryan instead for political espionage.

Random Movie: Wolf Creek (2005)

I have found that the opening crawl of a film saying "Based on True Events" means not only will the story be 90% fiction with a smidgen of reality but it will not be good. You might notice I did not file Wolf Creek under horror. While this is the common genre the film is placed in, I feel it is more of a dramatic thriller ala Breakdown or Vanishing. While there may have been some horrific moments in this film, it is not horror in my estimation.

Set in 1999 Australia, Wolf Creek follows three backpacking kids as they make their way through the heart of desolation. Our trio, played by Nathan Phillips, Kestie Morassi, and Cassandra Magrath, set off to Wolf Creek, the site of a meteor crash. After their hike, they fall victim to the old plot trick, the non-working car. Seemingly a nice stranger comes along with the offer to help them fix the car and get back on the road. Sadly, the kind stranger is not as benevolent as he seems. Needless to say, this is forty minutes in and I have spaced off already.

If there is one good thing to say about the movie, it is shot beautifully. The openness of the Australian landscape is very nicely captured from the sunrises to the roaming wild animals and even a flock (or whatever) of kangaroos. Perhaps there was an attempt to contrast the beauty of the wild to the savageness of man but I could have missed that. My main issue with the movie was that it took so long to get to anything worthwhile. Now, I have no problem with a movie that takes the slow-burn approach to ratchet up to something worthwhile. The problem was, the script was so predictable that anyone could see where it was going (especially as you expect to see a villain somewhere within the back half of the movie).

John Jarratt's antagonist is one of the better portions of the movie. One minute, he's spouting off cliched lines* and the next he has a girl chained up to do whatever with her. This is a man who lives in the wild, does what he wants, and never gets caught as he appears on the surface to be just another Aussie with an odd sense of humor. When the shit hits the fan, he is downright nasty in his deeds but remarkably sloppy for someone who from the newspaper clippings appears to have done this a lot. One of the three kids is dispatched quite nicely, one is merely shot to death, and the third escapes and lives to see another day. What kind of intelligent serial killer is this?

If the final forty minutes of this movie were isolated, expanded a bit, and given a different ending, this could have been a fairly decent movie. But as the fifty minutes leading up to that were so bloody boring, even some of the more graphic scenes later were diluted resulting in a movie that feels like a stranded/Saw wannabe with no clear direction. But at least the outback was nice.

*I propose a boycott of the phrase "If I tell you, then I'd have to kill you."

Random Movie: Hot Tub Time Machine (2010)

I challenge you to find one person who does not enjoy a hot tub. Putting aside the potential health issues from prolonged use or extreme temperatures (thank you Michael Myers for teaching kids about the latter), a hot tub is relaxing and therapeutic and can make a kick-ass time machine. I would argue a Delorean is better as it can also function as a normal automobile, but the titular hot tub from Hot Tub Time Machine is running a close second.

Three friends, Adam, Nick, and Lou have seen better days. Now in their middle ages, they find their lives slipping away from the dreams and ambitions they once had. After Lou has a mishap (or potential suicide attempt) with car exhaust and a sealed garage, the three hit the road with Adam’s nephew Jacob to a winter ski resort that they kicked at in the old days. The first night there as the four are relaxing in the bubbling, heated water containment unit, a mishap with a Russian drink and the hot tub controls results in a transportation back to 1986, a crucial year for the friends at the same resort. They realize with the help of an old, sage hot tub repairman that they must not deviate from their previous actions for fear of a dramatic ripple effect to the rest of the world. As this is a testosterone-filled comedy, that doesn’t happen as the down-trodden men stuck in teenage bodies attempt to right their prior wrongs.

While there are certainly comparisons to be made to the Judd Apatow and Todd Phillips like-minded comedies, Hot Tub doesn’t feel like an Apatow movie or even The Hangover. For starters, the characters are pretty flat. Aside from what we learn in the first ten minutes about their lives, there is not a great deal of development about their current lives. This is not necessarily a bad thing as the characters are rather stock. Nick is the dreamer, Lou is the asshole, Jacob is the nerd, and Adam is the straight-man to counter the absurdity of the situation. The bulk of the film has the group reliving out their childhood but it might have helped to understand more about the consequences those first actions had on their next few decades and how the deviations would have helped or even hurt.

On the plus side, all of the characters are funny as hell and very aware of the implications for their situation. Several references to the time traveling adventures (and subsequent paradoxes) of The Terminator and the Stargate series help ground the film as the realistic interpretation of what would happen if these guys were actually transported back in time. Even knowing what they do about the butterfly effect (the theory and the movie), they still fuck up the space/time continuum for the sake of their own personal gain. Whereas Back to the Future preached for responsible time travel, Hot Tub throws all of that out the window as Nick and Lou try to hustle a crowd on the outcome of a football game and Adam avoids breaking up with a hot girl because it was a really stupid thing to do and it resulted in him getting stabbed in the eye.

Setting the movie in the 80s is a relative goldmine for the trends and fads from that period which are so laughable now, it is conceivable that someone might set up a retro reunion as one of the characters ponders early on. From the leg warmers, MTV showing music videos, and even good old cassette players, you did not necessarily have to be alive during the 80s to see the humor as this group of iPhone carrying, Google-using, modern men try to wrap their head around a group of people wearing bright neon ski-suits or using the old-fashioned Zack Morris phone. Of course, the soundtrack helps to drive the point home as well with a good heaping of cheese and excess is blaring during a good portion of the film. Having only visited the 80s in my much younger years, I’m sure there were more subtleties that escaped me but it is quite fun to revisit these modern day anachronisms.

If I had any complaints about the movie (other than the previous character issues noted above), it would be that the setting of the bulk hinders what the group can fuck up for the future. Obviously, the ski weekend serves the story well as an important few days for each of the guys but it would have been fun to see that expanded out of the small town, if only for a few more 80s jokes at the expense of Michael Jackson or the Cold War. With the film clocking in at a reasonable 100 minutes length, for some reason this seemed to drag on much longer as I was about ready for it to end about fifteen to twenty minutes before it actually did. While the laughs are bold and frequent, there were some portions that fall flat. This is normal for most comedies but the as the funny parts were quite good, the unfunny seemed to detract even more.

So, admittedly the movie is not as good as The Hangover but for a semi-raunchy male-driven comedy by someone other than Apatow, that is a lofty goal to reach. It does have more class than comedies of its bygone era, better star power and even Crispin Glover in what is likely a career-making role (if we consider he has not had one yet) and I suspect Hot Tub will play even better on repeat viewings with drunken cohorts. I am beginning to think the concept of unrated DVDs were created for movies like this.

Random Movie: Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead (1994)

Written by: PBF

Yeah, this is a lousy piece of crap. I stared at the screen trying to figure out why in the hell this movie was made. Watching this franchise is sort of like watching a dandelion on a very windy day; it starts out pretty enough, but eventually pieces of it keep flying off leaving an ugly thing in its place.

Phantasm III (which does not have the subtitle Lord of the Dead either time the title is shown) starts off with the same flashback to the first movie that was at the beginning of the second one. Only this time it includes parts from the second film, carefully leaving out James LeGros, who played Mike in the second. That is because A. Michael Baldwin has returned for the role (so has everyone else that were in the other 2). After the flashback we pick right up at the end of part 2. We see the Tall Man who was “killed” come out of the doorway to the other dimension and take his own dead body back there. There is a boring “showdown” in the graveyard with Reggie and the Tall Man. Mike ends up in the hospital where he has a dream about Jody, his brother that died in the first film. Jody apparently is now a sphere that can change from sphere to Jody and vice versa at will. Some piss poor acting goes by and the Tall Man takes Mike. Thus begins Reggie’s journey to get Mike back. Along the way, he picks up a kid named Tim and a woman that looks like Wesley Snipes. Her name is Rocky.

This movie was just really really bad. Not The Children bad, but not far from it. There were way too many “dream sequences” and I put that in quotes because I think they some weren’t dreams, just hallucinations induced by the Tall Man. A couple of times we hear, “Don’t believe everything you see,” implying that they are visions. The main thing that bothered me about this one is that there was a lot of comedy in it. Too much in fact. It was distracting. It was also shitty comedy that was not funny which ruined whatever Coscarelli was trying to do by inserting that much of it in the film. One thing that was hilarious, and I am not sure if it was intentionally funny, was a sign at a gas station. It listed several guns, which I assumed were sold there like, Baretta and Colt. At the bottom, it said “Q-Tips.” Once again, not one person can act. There’s even those cheesey lines. Something about, “Don’t lose your head,” when someone’s head is cut off. Just nothing like the first one. Also, some pretty poor writing. Tim brutally murders 2 people of this 3 person gang. After witnessing this and getting a gun, the third person still does not kill him. Rather he tells him to freeze or something, leaving himself wide open to be killed, which he promptly is.

This is not a good installment. I am glad that there is but one left, as I can’t say that I even liked watching it knowing that I could rip it apart later. The story is a bit worn this at this point, and frankly should have stopped at the first film.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Random Movie: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

Written by: PBF

If you were not already aware, this is not a true story. Tobe Hooper purposely leads you to believe that it is. The closest thing to reality in this film is that Leatherface does some of the same things that real life killer Ed Gein (who inspired Psycho) did. That is all.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre follows a road trip of 5 friends: Sally and her wheelchair bound brother Franklin, her boyfriend Jerry, and 2 friends Pam and Kirk. They are going to Sally and Franklin’s grandfather’s grave, as it may have been vandalized and/or robbed. There has been quite a bit of that activity lately. During the trip they pick up a rather disturbing hitchhiker and end up having to ditch him. They pull into a gas station only to find out it has no gas, but is expecting a delivery later. They make it to an old family home and decide to hang out until they can go back for some gas. The events that follow are quite unnerving and horrific.

This film is truly a masterpiece from start to finish. Right from the start, you get the feeling that you are in for an unpleasant ride. Eerie music and images right away, John Larroquette’s disturbing narration and skeletal “art” all in the first 5 minutes of this thing really set the tone for the rest of it. It also has this grainy, kind of documentary look too it as well, as if to back up the claim that this is a true story, but it also sort of implants the idea that this is completely believable (which it actually is; nothing in it is the remote bit fantastical or implausible). I should at this point mention that I bought this on Blu-ray, which has been restored and remastered, but still has that grainy look intact, which is good. This film perfectly balances gore and suspense. Not too much of either one. I really cannot accurately describe the level of terror in this film without swearing: Fucking disturbing. Sally’s incessant screaming through the latter part of the film really intensifies the terror. Marilyn Burns was fantastic as Sally, almost forcing her fear through the screen. Leatherface, the one that wields the chain saw, does not fuck around either. He doesn’t lumber and mysteriously disappear for a few minutes, he chases you down. I also loved that you continuously hear the chain saw, even when off camera, and you can tell how close Leatherface is by how loud the chain saw is. I wouldn’t say the acting is horrible, but it is not the best. However, that fits in just right with the documentary feel of this film. And, can I just say that the end of this film is awesome. It doesn’t wrap a bunch of story up, it just stops where it stops. Other than mentioning that the deaths were quite gruesome, I do not wish to get in to who dies and how. I want you (if there is anyone left who hasn’t seen this yet) to watch them all unprepared. During one of the killings, I did clench my teeth scowl my face a bit as it was quite brutal. If you have not seen this, I urge you to.

Many people consider Tobe Hooper’s classic horror to be one of the best ever made. Wes Craven, Steven King just to name a couple. It has its obvious influence on films like Halloween and House of 1000 Corpses and many many others. Even today, it holds up as a violent, brutal, horrible and yet completely engrossing film.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Random Movie: Best of the Best (1989)

While this is not quite so random after the airing of our last episode, it was almost serendipitous that Best of the Best was begging for me to watch it on Netflix the night of filming. It was quite random that it came up at all from PBF and I discussing Chuck Norris’ Sidekicks. As a child, I was involved in martial arts and devoured a number of cheeseball movies, a shocking number of which starred Sasha Mitchell. This however was the best of the best (I know, that was dumb).

Eric Roberts stars as Alex Grady, a former champion in martial arts who has since been forced into retirement due to injuries, as he and others attempt to prove themselves as … well, I was going to quote the title but nevermind. The film progresses as each of the members are chosen and must undergo the arduous training of sit-ups and James Earl Jones barking at them to challenge the victorious South Koreans in a martial arts tournament. In the process, we see their home lives, their struggles and challenges, and their relative victory as they combat their personal demons.

Now, in the above sentence, I say they but I really mean Roberts and co-star/producer Phillip Rhee. Even though the team is five strong, only Roberts and Rhee are really given anything to do other than take place in a montage or get sweaty in a ring fighting. For a film which has directly on the poster “A team is not a team if you don’t give a damn about one another,” this movie really jettisoned the team to focus on the two leads. Now, this is not a bad thing per se as they were the only members of the team with a real backstory or any real reason to care for them. Although Chris Penn’s character has a fairly large but very understated character arc as he goes from being a selfish ass to being a caring member of society, the other two are worthless and were rightly cut out for the sequel.

Acting wise, this movie was nothing special. But considering it had a theatrical release and had some fairly renowned stars, it was a bit of a let down. Roberts has been in the shadow of his uglier sister for quite some time and it seems like only now has he began to break out from dreck like Sci-Fi (or SyFy) originals or the like as he was quite atrocious and over the top in this. Rhee (according to the Bible: IMDB) has not been in anything else since the end of the Best of the Best franchise and I really cannot say we are missing too much. Even the normally good James Earl Jones (Exorcist II notwithstanding) is merely a caricature of other hardass sports coaches who do nothing but yell and dictate until the inevitable change of heart in the final reel. The rest are barely worth mentioning besides Chris Penn who did a passable, but still laughable job with the random Texan from Miami. Sad to say, I think Kane Hodder out acted them all.

I will say it was quite engrossing to watch the five misfits transform into a team through their personal differences and begin to respect one another. One minute we are in a gym in LA for tryouts and the next we are in yet another gym as the team begins to bond, work out, train, and do all sorts of stuff like that. It is in the middle that we get the beef of the movie as we learn Alex is holding onto this opportunity as salvation of sorts out of the blue-collar life he leads now and Tommy (Rhee’s character) is fighting the man who killed his brother in the same league years before. This is where the leads show off their acting chops … or completely overdo it in my opinion. But it is still nice to have some sense of characterization other than a fighter driven to win.

The ending though is where the movie really comes together. An hour of buildup leads to some pretty good fight scenes between the Americans and their Asian counterparts battling for supremacy. This gives us a break from the mediocre acting (save for a classic Eric Roberts moment) to focus on people kicking ass. While it is unfortunate that the South Koreans ending up winning, we all win as the victors shuffle over to their challengers to commend them for their good effort and showmanship. As I said, if you’ve ever seen any underdog sports movie before, then you can merely substitute karate for football or the Mighty Ducks and you have a good idea of what this movie is about. Just add James Earl Jones.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Random Movie: Real Men (1987)

Written by: PBF

There’s a funny thing about Real Men. Almost every “review” of it mentions that every other review of it states that it is a bad movie, but that current reviewer disagrees. I have yet to find these negative reviews.

I will try to make this plot summary as simple as possible. It is quite ridiculous. Due to an accidental chemical spill that we only hear about, all life on Earth will be dead in 5 years. The CIA have been negotiating with aliens for years and it is discovered that those aliens have a “good package” that will reverse the process started by the spill. They also have a “big gun” that can destroy a planet. The good CIA agents want that package and the bad agents and Russians want the big gun. A rendezvous is arranged to meet the aliens and the good agents have what keeps being referred to as the vital map, that shows the meeting spot. The aliens require a glass of water for the package or the gun, whichever is decided upon. At the beginning of the movie, agent Pillbox, played by John Ritter is doing a run through of the meeting and is killed. Agent Nick Pirandello, played by Jim Belushi, is assigned to enlist Bob Wilson, who is also played by John Ritter, because he looks just like Pillbox and it is “too late to get anyone else.” Wilson is an insurance salesman, who lacks self confidence and is basically a loser. He is married and has 2 kids. Pirandello is a cocky, womanizing jerk-bag, but a damn fine agent.

This movie should not be any good at all. In fact, it probably isn’t. But it is just so damn funny. There is a scene where Pirandello first meets Wilson in his garage and is explaining who he is and what’s going on. Pirandello spends the majority of this dialogue assembling a gun out of items in the garage, such as a band aid tin, part of a vacuum, a wire hanger and a bunch of nails. This scene is one of the funniest scenes I have ever witnessed. Both Ritter and Belushi are very funny in this movie, Ritter playing more the straight man. They work very well with each other, much like another movie that pairs two comedic actors in a highly improbable scenario. It is this pairing that makes the film watchable as the movie ignores all logic and laws of plausibility. It is completely insane. Russians break for lunch during a shootout, Pirandello’s dad has a sex change operation in Sweden, there is a unit of the CIA called the Clown Unit in which bad agents dress up like clowns so that they are not recognized, Wilson runs around pointing his finger and thumb out like a gun yelling, “bang!” Then there are the huge plot holes: The Russians and the bad agents spend the movie trying to get the vital map from them, yet end up at the meeting spot and are waiting for them. Also, Pirandello states that they are giving the aliens the water in a glass with a presidential seal on it for “publicity.” He states the if the glass is seen around in space, it will be good for them. However, the alien gives the glass back. Oops. That aside, it is just a really funny movie that must be watched just to hear the clever banter between the two. Here is one of my favorite bits:

Nick: I’ve got some good news and some bad news.

Bob: What’s the bad news?

Nick: There’s no way out of here alive.

Bob: What’s the good news?

Nick: It doesn’t look like we are gonna be here much longer.

I guess the point of this movie is to show you the transformation these two go through. Bob ends up being a hero, full of confidence and Nick ends up being a sensitive man in love. Yeah, I don’t really care about that.

You’ll have to keep in mind that this movie was made when the Russians were bad and sex change operations were only available in Sweden. So, when you see things like John Belushi’s hair, “don’t make a big thing out of it.” I cannot in good conscience categorize this movie as crap. It is just wicked funny, and so much so, the idiotic plot does not matter.

Random Movie: Wing Commander (1999)

Written by: Digger

Where were you when you first realized that there was no hope, and never will be any hope, for movies based on video games? For me, well, I was in the movie theater watching Wing Commander. This thing is a huge, steaming pile of weapons grade crap. I will concede that this wasn’t the first video game movie I saw that was utterly terrible. Super Mario Brothers, Street Fighter, and Double Dragon were all released many years before this and every one of them is completely irredeemable. The difference is that the Wing Commander franchise actually had a chance to be a pretty good movie for many reasons. First of all, this film was written and directed by Chris Roberts, the same man who produced and directed several of the video game installments. Secondly, the games were famous for their cinematic full motion cut scenes that featured several established Hollywood actors like Mark Hamill, John-Rhys Davies, and Malcolm MacDowell lending their talent to the projects. Thirdly, and finally, a story about fighter pilots in space battling evil aliens should translate very easily to the big screen. This film, at the very least, should have been on the same level of quality and entertainment as The Last Starfighter.

Our story begins in the future, obviously, and humanity has been flexing its manifest destiny muscle for some time by establishing colonies across the galaxy. Through its exploration efforts the human government, known as the Confederation, has managed to piss off a race of giant cat people called the Kilrathi (ten years before Avatar) and we are now neck-deep in a war against them. All of this story is explained in little sound bites as we scroll over a map of the galaxy that appears to have been drawn by 16th century pirates. Seriously, I think that explorers charting out star systems IN THE FUTURE would have a better means of documenting their discoveries than inking them on stained parchment.

Our first glimpse of spaceship-on-spaceship violence is when the Pegasus base, a station built into the top of an asteroid is bombed, Pearl Harbor style, by about half a billion Kilrathi ships. I’m not sure why a military outpost that seemed so vital to the Confederation’s war efforts didn’t have any scanners or patrols that would warn them of a massive enemy fleet approaching, but, for what ever reason, the station is caught completely off guard. Plot hole aside, this would be a great way to start off a science-fiction action adventure film, except the audience never really gets a good look at the action. Our point of view is either several kilometers above the station looking down with barely visible flashes of what I can only assume are explosions ripping through the base, or inside the station’s tiny command center as a bunch of officers talk in great detail about the extent of the destruction the enemy is raining down upon them. Hey, director, how about showing the audience some of that awesome devastation your characters keep talking about. The cat army eventually boards the station and, in what seems like a good decision, the director does not give us a good look at the terribly fake-looking cat people suits. He’s saving that reveal for later. The Kilrathi manage to get their kitty paws the station’s navigation unit, which looks suspiciously like a car battery, and blow up the rest of the station.

We then cut to the bridge of a space cruiser that might as well be named the USS Exposition. There, Admiral Tolwyn, played by David Warner, lays out the plot of the rest of the movie for us. After receiving the distress call from Pegasus station, we know that the Kilrathi fleet has the coordinates to Earth and can get there in 40 hours. The main Confederation fleet, which seems to be dicking around well outside the major theater of war, won’t be able to reach Earth for 42 hours. So, ticking clock established, the Admiral sends a coded message to a transport vessel en route to the Tiger Claw, the only carrier between Earth and the Kilrathi fleet. So we cut to the transport ship on its way to the Tiger Claw when the terrifying realization suddenly hits that this is, in fact, a Prillard movie. For those of you not familiar with the term, a Prillard movie is one that stars both Freddie Prinze Jr. and Matthew Lillard. If there is anything that will turn off the predominately young male demographic that plays the Wing Commander video games or goes to see sci-fi movies, it is a double dose of the most annoying teeny-bopper poster children of the late 1990’s.

On this transport ship, Freddie Prinze Jr. as Lieutenant Blair (the hero from the video games) sits around in some red pajamas fingering his weird necklace while Matt Lillard as Lieutenant Marshall (also from the games) stares off into space with a dopey expression on his face. A dirty space Frenchman, played by Tcheky Karyo, enters the command deck to receive the coded transmission and then changes course to fly through a black hole to get to the Tiger Claw faster. Nothing really happens here except for dirty Tcheky talking to Blair about his bling and how it has something to do with the Pilgrims, whoever those are. Anyway, they make it to the Tiger Claw and Blair manages to piss off his commanding officer ‘Angel’, Saffron Burrows, within three minutes of arriving by sitting in the cockpit of a fighter that belonged to Lt. Chen, a pilot that recently died. Chen must have slipped in the shower or choked on a muffin or something because his starfighter, that still bares his call-sign on the fuselage, is surprisingly undamaged. Blair’s necklace also seems to upset a lot of other people on board the ship including Commander Gerald, Jurgen Prochnow, because it signifies Blair as a Pilgrim. Pilgrim must be space-talk for mutant because not only can Pilgrims navigate through the cosmos with what can only be called super-powers, but everybody hates them because a long time ago Pilgrims were at war with regular people. So, the Commander of the Tiger Claw gets the message that they must find and delay the Kilrathi fleet to buy the Confederation time to set up defenses around Earth. So maybe now we can get to some dogfights or some big ship battles that might be entertaining. No. In fact, we don’t get to see any real starfighter action until the 50 minute mark. Imagine if the people playing the video game had to wait almost an hour to start flying around in space fighting enemies. And where in the hell is Malcolm MacDowell? He was in the game. It’s not like he hasn’t been in bad movies before. The only explanation I can think of is that director Chris Roberts didn’t want him in his film. Even in a supporting role, Malcolm MacDowell would have made this movie ten times more enjoyable. But no, he’d rather have Matthew Lillard chewing scenery and making goofy faces. I cannot stand Matthew Lillard. He is a truly wretched actor, and the way he looks reminds me of Beaker from the Muppets.

So where are we? Half way through the film and we get our first major engagement between the Tiger Claw and the Kilrathi. As far as the special effects are concerned for this part, they aren’t all bad. Sure, they haven’t aged well, but some shots of ships swooping by the camera are convincing enough to get by. The real failure of the visuals here is in art direction. None of the spaceship designs used in the film are distinct or iconic in any way. The Rapiers that our heroes fly around in look like the front half of existing aircraft (the props were, in fact, built from scraps of British jets) and the Tiger Claw itself looks like giant metal almond. Our heroes manage to blow up a few enemy ships and then go hide next to an asteroid to avoid taking more damage from the enemy fleet. Then, we get a hilarious moment where the dirty transport captain, who was actually a military intelligence officer all along, tells everyone on the bridge to be quiet so a Kilrathi destroyer won’t find them. I hate to break it to you, Tcheky, but you’re not on Das Boot. The enemy won’t be able to hear anyone on your ship because SOUND DOES NOT TRAVEL THROUGH SPACE, you moron. The fighting from earlier and a bombardment from the destroyer has damaged the carrier’s life support which they say needs fuel cells to be repaired. A boarding party attacks an enemy ship to secure its fuel cells as Blair, a pilot, is sent in with the marines armed with a rifle to shoot up some badly made and poorly lit Kilrathi puppets. In all honesty, they look more like otters than cats. Blair finds the car battery, I mean, Pegasus Navcom and gets the Intel on where and when the enemy fleet is attacking Earth. So Blair has to fly this info back to the Admiral and uses his Pilgrim powers to navigate through a quasar and save the day. Wow, this movie is just as painful to remember as it is to watch. It has destroyed my expectations that there will ever be a good video game movie and left me with nothing but questions. How come everyone in space aside from Blair and his buddy had a European accent? Why were the Kilrathi so inept that their major offensive is thwarted by one Earth ship? And where in the bleeding hell was Malcolm MacDowell?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Random Movie: Law Abiding Citizen (2009)

Written by: PBF

Law Abiding Citizen is cool. I did not expect to enjoy it that much, but I rather did. It’s not necessarily the type of movie I would seek out. Someone suggested that I watch, and so I did.

I will first post this: *****SPOILER ALERT***** I do this because this movie has a certain progression and some events that would be a surprise to you might be ruined by this review. I don’t know that for sure, so I post that alert just in case. Read on if you like, but if you do and get pissed, it is now your own fault.

Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler) is the victim of a home invasion in which he watches his wife and daughter die. The men are arrested and are prosecuted by ADA Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx), who has a 96% conviction rate. Not convinced that he would win by prosecuting based on evidence and Shelton’s testimony, Rice arranges for one of the men to testify against the other, in exchange for a 10 year sentence, while they seek the death penalty for the other. Shelton is quite bothered by this as he wants both of them punished fairly (as he sees it), but as you may have suspected, Rice wants to protect his conviction rate. So that is how things pan out. The man that gets the death penalty is not actually the one that committed the murders. That one got the 10 years. He eventually gets out, and thus begins Shelton’s reign of terror on everyone involved with the case, starting with his family’s murderer. I should also mention that Rice, also happens to have a wife and daughter.

Let me first say, that Gerard Butler was pretty good. I guess I was expecting some flashy action flick, and therefore sub-par acting, but I was wrong. This is more of a suspense thriller, and Butler did a great job. Everyone else in the cast, Foxx included, were fine, but nothing really outstanding. I would even argue that I did not really connect with anyone in the film other than Butler. I also found myself a little bothered by the pace of the film as I thought it was kind of choppy. I don’t think I completely bought the ending of the film either. But I overall thought this movie was good. I thought the idea was clever, and I liked the notion of us kind of rooting for a good guy that turned bad, and then getting pissed at him. The ride that we are taken on is fun (albeit morbidly) and keeps you interested the whole time, wondering what may happen next. And even if you think you may know what will happen, there’s no guarantee that you will know how it happens. I will say that this is not a movie to watch for it’s aesthetic value. It is pure entertainment, but well done in that regard.

This film probably could have been done better, but it is solid enough to just sit down and enjoy with a lot of movie snacks and a couple of people.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Random Movie: Wild Hearts Can’t be Broken (1991)

Written by: Digger

I grew up in a family with two sisters. As an unfortunate result, I, through no fault of my own, ended up watching a lot of movies as a child that had horses in them. These films ranged in quality from the somewhat respectable The Man from Snowy River to the absolutely hideous My Little Pony Movie. Somewhere in the middle of all that is the memory of a film that my sisters watched a lot, and I mean a lot; something like two or three times a week. It’s called Wild Hearts Can’t be Broken and is about, get this, professional horse diving. The subject of this film always baffled me as a child and, even today, I can’t quite get my head around this concept. Apparently, if this movie is to be believed, during the great depression people were so bored out of their skulls that a woman jumping onto a horse’s back and then falling into an above-ground pool was seen as grade A entertainment. From what I understand, this story is based on the real life events of Sonora Webster Carver, so I guess people were, in fact, that bored.

Wild Hearts Can’t be bothered with a shorter title opens with or heroine Sonora, played by Gabrielle Anwar, as an orphaned child growing up during the depression and going through a defiant phase in her life, punctuated by a scene of her cutting her own hair… rebelliously. After she gets into some trouble breaking a fence, she runs away from her mean old aunt to join the circus and be with horses all the time. I’m guessing that every twelve-year-old little girl is supposed to relate to this, but I was born with a Y chromosome, so I liked dinosaurs instead. There, she meets up with some weaselly red-headed kid slinging hot dogs and a professional horse-diving troop lead by Doctor W.F. Carver, played by Cliff Robertson, the poor man’s Sam Elliot. In all fairness, Mr. Robertson is this film’s only cast member who, after this feature, retained something resembling a career in acting. His son, Al Carver, is played by Michael Schoeffing, who you may recognize as the studly guy from Sixteen Candles. Anyway, Sonora wants to join up with the horse diving team and decides that the best way to present herself as a valuable asset is to annoy the living hell out of Dr. Carver until he finally breaks down and takes her on as a stable hand.

As the group travels from town to town, they acquire a energetic, and somewhat feral, horse that nobody can handle. Sonora can relate to the free spirit of the psychotic animal and, to prove to Dr. Carver that she can do more than clean up horse crap, decides to tame the wild horse with the help of Al and a handy training montage. She then shows Dr. Carver that she has tamed the beast, whom she has named Lightning, and that she is ready to become a horse diver herself. Dr. Carver is mildly impressed, but tells Sonora that she must learn to mount the horse while it is moving to become a proper horse diver. So, in the second training montage in just as many minutes, we get to see Sonora crash into the dirt about fifty times as she constantly fails to mount Lightning while he is running. I think this is meant to convey her unwavering determination, but I was too busy laughing to care about that. Bloodied and beaten, she does eventually get the hang of it. Not to be upstaged, the team’s caddy horse diving prima donna Marie thinks that she too has what it takes to ride the Lighting. The horse, sensing her smug, superior attitude, instantly catapults Marie off his back and onto the ground. Since their star performer is now injured, Dr. Carver begrudgingly lets Sonora take center stage, or center platform eighty feet in the air, in their next horse diving extravaganza.

After Sonora finally becomes the horse diver she always wanted to be, we still have about half a movie left. The story meanders around for the rest of its running time, but does take some pretty dark turns as we see yet another montage of several fairs and circuses closing down, Dr. Carver dies of a heart attack, Lightning gets sick and Sonora becomes blind. Even with all these awful occurrences, Sonora still sticks it out as a horse diver, Al carries on his father’s legacy of horse-based entertainment, and we learn through a little end movie narration that the two eventually get married. I think there was some kind of romantic subplot going on between Sonora and Al that justifies this, but I can’t be sure. I’m actually very startled at how much of this movie I do remember. I can’t in good conscience recommend this flick to anyone unless you have a daughter or you, yourself, are really into horses, and montages.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Random Movie: Popcorn (1991)

While PBF may hold the record for most random and ridiculous number of movies seen in theaters, I saw Popcorn at the tender age of nine in my local cinema. It is surprising that for the hundreds of movies I've seen over the years that I recall absolutely nothing about, I still remembered the basic gist of this and even remembered who the killer was. Not bad for a movie that I saw only once almost twenty years ago. Although to be fair, if you've seen any horror movie at all, you'll guess who the killer is within the first fifteen minutes of the movie.

Here we have a group of college kids, film students of course, who decide to resurrect a defunct vintage movie theater and host a marathon of cheesy horror and sci-fi movies complete with gimmicks that tie into them. We have a giant mosquito flying through the theater during the mutated atomic monster flick, electrified seats during the poor man's Shocker movie, and a foul odor piped into the hall for the cleverly titled The Stench. All of these things have little to do with the plot except to create a jovial atmosphere for the patrons which leads up to their interaction in the finale. While getting the theater in shape (courtesy of the patented 80s montage), the crew discovers a little known film called Possessor which was screened as the director killed his family and burned down the crowded theater. As the event gets started our final girl Maggie, played by semi-scream queen Jill Schoelen, thinks the director is still alive and stalking her friends at the cinema.

Now, to back up to a previous point, the writer of this film Alan Ornsby who was also replaced early on as the director, was either too lazy to plant more red herrings (or any for that matter) about the identity of the killer or it was intentional as the killer is "revealed" with more than a third left in the movie. Thus, it's not really a whodunit but more about the killer's ultimate motivations which really are not that difficult to figure out. I wouldn't be giving much away to say it relates to our lead girl, the quirky guy who looks a little too old for college, the quasi-famous actress who appears in about ten minutes of the film, and the aforementioned final movie. When Toby (I'm sick of continuing to type "the killer" and you people aren't going to see this movie anyways so why bother) finally reveals his connection in a way overly-neurotic exposition, things get real batshit crazy as he tries to reenact the last screening of Possessor.

There are so many things wrong with this movie that I could not begin to give all of the gaffes the justice they deserve. I'll start by saying the acting was just horrendous. The nameless, topless female fodder from any 80s horror series enlists far more depth and realism than any of the actors in this. The only exception may be Ray Walston but he in less than three minutes of film so he doesn't count. I really can't see the draw of Schoelen who was in quite a few 80s horror "classics" but I'll chalk things up to just a bad situation for everyone involved. I actually was quite hopeful at the beginning of the movie as there was one good scene with some decent scares in the first few minutes with Dee Wallace-Stone in the abandoned old theater. But that scene came and went far too quick and we were back with the inept coeds at the movies which had no surprises whatsoever. Even the kills were bland as one occurred off-screen, one was just stupid (dude locked in a bathroom stall doesn't think to ... climb under the door), and two were in the same exact manner. The only offing which had promise (dude in the wheelchair gets fired) was overshadowed by really horrible effects.

To be fair, I wouldn't call this movie crap. A bit more laziness or ineptitude could have easily steered it in that direction but it ends as a very cliched horror film which felt more from the 80s than the early 90s. Perhaps everything was supposed to be tongue-in-cheek but I didn't get that feeling ... but it failed anyway.