Thursday, August 3, 2017

Film Friday: Ghostbusters: Answer The Call (2016)

I'm always leery of watching a parody of a classic film because there is always the danger that the parody will expose that one problem you always overlooked and suddenly you can't see the original without seeing the parody. There's no danger of that here, however. This film steals every single idea from Ghostbusters and a few from Men in Black, but handles them so poorly you'll never connect it with the originals. What? This wasn't a parody? Huh. Ok. What was it then?

It was a cash grab.


The story starts with a chick professor not getting tenure at her college because she wrote a book about ghosts a decade ago. This is not even close to believable. To fix this, she goes to the fat chick to make her stop selling the book at Amazon. Fat jokes ensue as Fat Girl argues with the Chinese delivery man. A minute or so into this, we have our first fart joke, which Judd Apatow's ghost turns into a female-front-side "fart" joke. And we're off on our magical journey.
From this point, we meet the lesbian chick and the black chick and we go through every single plot point from the original Ghostbusters film only done far less interestingly and far less competently. In a series of scenes, the girls get fired from their college, move into a new building, get a car, round up a ghost, do a much-used crowd surfing joke, hire a stupid secretary, meet the mayor, and fight the villain. As they do this, we are bored with treated to an origin story of every piece of hardware, every bit of music, every character, and every original image from the original Ghostbusters. We are also abused with treated to cameos from each of the original characters in the first film. In fact, there are so many it starts to feel like that is why they made the film.
Eventually, they beat the villain while blowing up a building in New York City and then the film ends with them as ambiguous heroes while Eyecandy Boy eats a sandwich and you wonder how to get the time you lost back.


So where do we start to discuss this turd? Well, let's start with this. If you thought Bridesmaids was great, then this is probably the film for you. It's vapid, childish, tired and completely stolen. No new ground will be trod. The scenes bump together reasonable well, and they do so without asking you to use your brain. They just lurch from fat jokes to black jokes to fart jokes to sexism jokes to "I's so stupid" jokes. Good times. There is no dramatic tension to ruin any of it for you, and no demanding plot you need to keep track of. This is a film for retards.
For the rest of you, here's the deal. The film is watchable in the sense that most mindless ripoffs are. The scenes make sense in the order in which they are shot. The characters act like they are in the movie. The story moves from start to finish and wraps up without any huge mistakes. The effects are a step above what you see in the made-for-Sci-Fi-Channel films. And to keep you entertained the director steals every singe idea or image from Ghostbusters and a couple from Men in Black and dangles them in front of you to keep you from walking out. Oh look, shiny.

That said, the film is desperately not funny. Like most of the other films these losers have done, it is ad-libbed for the most part and none of them really have the skill to pull that off. I truly don't remember a single laugh. The jokes are awful and have no relation to the story: the fat girl is fat! the gay girl is gay! the black girl speaks ethnic gibberish! he's wearing glasses without glass... OMG?! He does logos, but they stink... they stink! The Chinese food arrives fast because they work above the restaurant! OMG that's funny! A minute long moronic argument about whether you can put a cat back in a bag after it is out of the bag. Ouch my sides! Please stop!

The villain is so forgettable you keep forgetting who he is until he appears on screen again... and even then you don't care. The characters are non-existent. The plot is for nought. You start to feel dirty about how much they steal, and ironically they are being nasty to most of it. They have real anger for the original film.
So what about the politics? This film is pretty despicable in that regard. It shits all over the original with tremendous anger and it does so in the name of a sort of vague "gurl power" theme. The girl power thing is a fraud though. These women are not competent. They don't prove that they can do anything. They don't start a business. They have no camaraderie. They don't invent anything. They don't prove anyone wrong. They don't even catch a ghost. There is not a single clever moment that makes a legitimate social commentary point. Instead, there are female genitalia "queef" jokes, males being hit in the dick, and a group of neurotic women claiming they can do "it", whatever "it" actually is. If this were the model of how women want young girls to act, how they want males to act, or what they think women can do, then women are in much worse shape than anyone knew. It's a bit like defining masculinity through Paul Blart Mall Cop.
The marketing of this thing was deeply deceptive as well, but we don't need to go into that. Suffice it to say that Paul Feig is a lying sack of shit who thought that agitating feminists, gays and blacks with an invented assault by haters was the best way to market his hack film. Hey black people, Gillette wants to restart slavery... buy Schick.

To put a fine point on this, this film is everything they said it was and worse. It is offensively political, but stupidly so. It is stolen. It is awful, almost beyond description. It is the raping of an existing property purely for profit with no care whatsoever about the people who will be suckered into seeing this film.

Skip this one.
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Thursday, July 13, 2017

Ten Reasons ‘Terminator 2: Judgment Day’ Just Ticks Me Off

by Rustbelt

Ah, remakes. Who doesn’t love ‘em? Wait. I’m sorry. That’s a typo. Let me start again… Ah, remakes. Who isn’t sick to death of ‘em?

Over the last few years, we’ve had quite a few discussions over the plethora of remakes churned out of Hollywood in the hopes of cashing in on the public’s love of the originals. Many of said chats have been negative. But at least those remakes are sensible enough to admit they’re remakes. What about films sold as legit sequels that are, themselves, just remakes? I give you my latest light-night rant: “10 Reasons Why Terminator 2 Just Ticks Me Off.”

(Warning: 30+-Year-Olds may find their childhoods hurting over the next few paragraphs. You’re been warned.)

Number 10: Inappropriate Catchphrases

In the original Terminator, (‘T1’), Arnie’s scant lines were used by a killer robot trying to pass for a human. These auditory attempts at banter often come off as awkward because robots don’t understand human behavior. For the humans who interact with the T-800, conversation could either be understated (when the Terminator just repeats what the punks say), over-the-top (when it swears through the door at the janitor), or even when the legendary “I’ll be back” comes off as more mechanical than threatening. However, the humans’ reactions make the scenes work. The punks ridicule the machine, before he brutally attacks them; the janitor decides it isn’t worth it to mess with a guy who sounds like he’s p****d off; and the cops are blown away when Arnold drives a car through the door to gain entry. Ah, Ray Bradbury, you were right: “Science fiction is about advances in science and technology and our human reactions to those advances.”

Unfortunately, in T2, everything is forced in order to come off like a typical action movie. That brat John Connor teaches the bad-ass machine to say “no problemo,” “chill out, d***w**,” and… “Hasta la vista, baby?” It’s one thing when John McClain says that, because Die Hard films are set up to feature his light-hearted quipping against a dangerous situation. But as a follow-up to the sci-fi horror of T1, T2’s misunderstanding of tone looks like a case of ADHD.
Did Cameron think this would be a good way of lightening things up? Did he not realize that trying to make the audience laugh during scenes meant to be tense can actually ruin the tone? Or does he understand this concept about as well as George Lucas?

Look, the Germans do not say, “Guess vhat? You’re all going to DIE! Zay nacht-nacht!” before machine-gunning the prisoners in The Great Escape. The Predator didn’t mutter, “Set me free, why don’t you, babe?” before self-destructing. Such catchphrases might have earned a chuckle in the writing room or marketing meetings. But for a movie selling itself as deep and tense, they come off as an unwanted Adam Sandler belch or Looney Tunes quote by a wrestler that wrecks a promising premise.
Number 9: This Time, It’s Impossible to Connect with Sarah

In T1, Sarah Connor is a classic protagonist. She’s a waitress- a typical job for a woman in her 20’s still trying to start a career. We see her at work, at her apartment, and hanging out at night. Then she learns that women with her name are being killed. This is followed by attempts on her life and learning her would-be killer is an uncompromising, indestructible automaton. And how does she react to all of this? She panics! –just like most of us would probably do. Throughout the film, we feel for her, root for her, and cheer for her because we can see ourselves behaving similarly.

This is impossible in T2. In this film, we learn that Sarah has gone vigilante (which most of us would never do), has had training from rogue green berets (again, which most of would never do), and is living the survivalist lifestyle (like the maniacs on the political fringes). She might as well now be an alien.

Clearly, Cameron was playing to the feminazi crowd by replacing T1’s Regular Jill Sarah with T2’s Psycho Sarah. (A.K.A. the “impossibly strong, skinny girl” cliché, as KRS liked to call it.) He wants us to see the loony bin staff as bad for calling Sarah a menace to society and locking her up while rooting for Sarah because we’re told in advance that she’ll be proven right all along. And we’re supposed to stop thinking at “Look! She kicks butt!” while ignoring how she attacks every innocent person she sees. There’s nothing wrong with strong women in movies. There is a problem when the character we’re told to root for is a genuine psychotic and the people who locked her up were clearly right all along. And while I’m on this subject…

Number 8: The (Lack of) Morality in Cameronverse

James Cameron has a low, Marxist threshold for morality. In his movies, billionaires must always be evil and die because they’re too rich. People with nothing are always heroes because poor equals righteous. And methods be damned because the ends ALWAYS justify the means.

His lawyer, I’m guessing, would like you not to counter this with how Cameron is, himself, a billionaire. (Calling Operation Wall Street!) In public appearances, Cameron is a big, ocean-loving environmentalist who promotes peace and vegan lifestyles. Ah, how precious. On the side, he also supports eco-terrorism and his estate leaves a carbon footprint the size of Antarctica. And as he’s done to so many people, he’ll rip you a new one if you mention these contradictions to his face. Ends justify the means! Silence, pleb!

In T2, these attitudes are on full display. The characters are, of course, trying to save the human race from a future takeover by evil robots. That’s it. Stop right there. Don’t ask for any more justifications because that’s all you need. Because in James Cameron’s little mind, good intentions are all that’s necessary. His characters are allowed to rob, burgle, hijack, wound, maim, destroy property, assault, lie, threaten at the point of a gun, etc. as long as it’s in the name of accomplishing the goal. In T2, the ‘good guys’ do pretty much all of this and it’s okay because Cameron said so.

Strangely, there is one thing they’re not allowed to do…

Number 7: Sarah Connor is a Terrorist

In keeping with T2’s, ahem, ‘morality,’ you might have noticed the heavy-handed “do not kill” theme. Apparently, that’s the one crime good guys cannot commit because not doing so is what defines them as good guys. Committing every crime on the rap sheet of the Gambino Crime Family is fine as long as it’s in service of the goal of saving humanity from the machines’ prophesized takeover- even if it means burning down the village to do it.

Speaking of which, Sarah Connor is a mass-murderer and a terrorist. Yeah, I said it. Sarah should be locked up in the dungeons of Alcatraz with the key thrown away. The asylum doctors say that she tried to bomb a computer factory that she thought might eventually help create Skynet. You know, I can’t prove this, but I’d bet in the original script that Sarah blew up the factory and killed everyone inside of it.

Note: Of course, in the final film, they say no one was inside when the bomb was set to go off. This is absurd. No building like that will ever be devoid of people. The majority of employees might leave at night, but there will always be security, cleaning, maintenance, and delivery staff on hand to prepare for the next work day. Any successful structural bombing would automatically result in human casualties.

Furthermore, I’d bet that in the original draft that Sarah and the reformed Terminator killed several more people along the rest of the way. This is what terrorists do. And the public hates them for it, regardless of their stated reasons.

At that point in the pre-production process, I’d be willing to bet that someone speaking on the side of sanity told Cameron that if the ‘heroes’ had a higher body count than Jonestown, no one in the audience would care if they won or lost. And it seems Cameron took this advice to an extreme, pushing the ‘no killing’ theme to be dominant and get viewers to overlook all the other characters’ crimes- because they’re only trying to stop Skynet and Cameron said “that’s that. Stop asking questions. No one can be a terrorist as long as their intentions are good and match my views.”
Number 6: Sarah is the Cause of all of John Connor’s Problems

Okay. Last gripe about Sarah. I promise. Um, despite being the strong, knows-better-than-you-do superwoman that Cameron pushes her as, did anyone else notice that Sarah is, herself, the greatest threat to her stated goal of protecting John so that he can lead the human resistance in the future? Consider…

-She isolates him from society as he grows up, which would leave him socially maladjusted and indifferent to humanity. This upbringing is more likely to leave him despising society and not caring at all when Skynet attacks. So, instead of leading the uprising, odds are he’ll build his own fort in the mountains and look out for old number one à la Robert Neville in I Am Legend. (Robert Matheson’s novel, I mean. Not Will Smith’s awful movie.)

-She shields him from others and centers his life on hers. When she chastises John for rushing to the mental hospital and saving her from the T-1000, her stupidity is on full display. You’ve made him completely dependent on you, Sarah! You’re the center of his universe! That’s why he came. He’s behaving in a perfectly logical manner according to the way you raised him!

-Finally, after escaping the T-1000 by leaving his tiny search area (oh, don’t worry, we’ll get to that!), and taking refuge in Mexico, she drags the whole group right back into the danger zone of Los Angeles. If Sarah and Co. stay in Mexico, they’ll be safe. Movie over. But, no. The action film plot must be served! She heads to L.A., John follows her (again, behaving logically), and T-1000 gets an undeserved bonus chance to kill them. You go, girl.
Number 5: BTW, I Hate John Connor

And no, I’m NOT letting John Connor off the hook. It seems a certain Internet critic claims that T2 is better than T1 because the concept of a robot killing a child is more frightening than killing a grown woman before she can give birth to said child. That might sound okay on paper. But he’s wrong. Just like in The Boys from Brazil, this is the fallacy of saying the concept should be interesting enough. Well, it isn’t. And Cameron not only uses it as a crutch, but as a safeguard as he plunges the characters back into the Cameron School of Morality.

Remember when I said that T1 Sarah was actually relatable? It seems Cameron wants us to have similar feelings for John in T2. Only, there’s multiple problems. As I said, in T1 Sarah is Jill Q. Public. We identify with her. In T2, we see John skipping school, stealing from a bank, being a brat to his stepmother, (who, of course, is a typical West Virginia hick living in LA., so his treatment of her is all good and fine), and behaving like trash to everyone he meets. Uh, why am I rooting for this kid again? Well, according to Uncle James, “it’s because he’s the future leader of the resistance. Shut up.” But if I’m looking at this from a blank slate, he’s a criminal and if I spotted him committing these crimes, I’d want him thrown in the slammer.

It also doesn’t help that John emasculates the Terminator by teaching him the aforementioned asinine catchphrases and encouraging him to cry. Plus, he pouts and whines through the whole film like a grunge-era Bella Swan. Our future hero, ladies and gentlemen! Maybe I should just root for the T-1000.

Number 4: T-1000: Least Effective Killer Robot Ever

I just can’t catch a break here. I keep thinking about how in T1 Arnie’s T-800 had to search for information, ultimately using a phone book to look for ‘Sarah Connor.’ (This is due to, according to Kyle Reese, Skynet’s loss of 20th century records during the war.) This leads to the Terminator killing all the women he can find named ‘Sarah Connor’ (just whacking them all and hoping that eventually the actual target will be among the dead), while tracking down their addresses and collecting personal information. This makes the T-800 look smart, resilient, resourceful, and, above all, a nearly omnipotent predator who will find its prey, come Hell or high water.

In T2, the T-1000 simply commandeers a cop car, looks up John’s file on the vehicle’s Commodore 64, and ta-daaa!!! Talk about a copout (pun absolutely intended). Isn’t it fortunate that John already has a rap sheet? –complete with personal information? –and that T-1000 seemingly knew this and already knew were to look despite the loss of 20th century data and files in the future and…wait, that doesn’t make sense.

I can only imagine what might have happened if John didn’t have a record. Speaking of which, if Sarah and her friends knew of all possible ways to stay off the grid, why didn’t they just erase his file in the event of this very situation? Or, in the event of Sarah’s incarceration, couldn’t she- miss Ultra Resourceful- have found someone as willing and crazy as her to see to the job? Or why didn’t she teach John how to do this himself along with all the other self-resiliency classes? Maybe she forgot that lesson - or John inherited his mom’s judgment.

Anyway, what could T-1000’s backup plan have been? Standing on the side of a highway, holding a picture, and asking drivers if they’ve “seen this boy?” Of course, we’d have to question how he’d get the picture.
Number 3: And Just When You Thought T-1000 Couldn’t Be More Ineffective…

Not entirely Off Topic…but did you ever see that Star Trek: TNG episode where Picard is engaged in the deadliest battle of wits: a treaty dispute? Okay, I’ll explain. The Federation is handing some planet over to an alien race, but they first need to remove their own citizens who were never informed, apparently had no say in this, and are ready to fight for what’s rightfully theirs. The aliens want the planet and intend to immediately massacre said citizens, all the while beating the Enterprise crew over the head into diplomatically-enforced impotence with respective treaty.

In the end, Picard finds a loophole. Because they’re at an impasse (well, not really; the idiot negotiators never considered that these citizens would defend their property and defy their EU-style government), he nominates a neutral party to intercede. (Uh, wouldn’t that be the first thing you do in a diplomatic impasse?) However, he selects the Grizzelas, who are currently hibernating. (As in grizzly bears! Get it? Clever! Funny! Not.) Completely outmaneuvered, (though actually not acting rationally and demanding a third party who might actually be awake and available), the aliens give the Enterprise time to enact galactic eminent domain and forcefully move the citizens from their rightful homes and into solar section 8 housing, probably on Planet TheBronx.
Now, what I want you to take away from this is how dependent Picard is on the TNG writing staff. If the citizens aren’t written as (eventually) submissive and the aliens as lacking in logic, he has no leg to stand on (as is the case for most of Next Generation). Also, it’s clear he didn’t read the treaty beforehand- en route to a dispute about said treaty. Or bring a negotiator who knows the treaty. Or a negotiator who helped write the treaty. How in the Hell is this guy an accomplished, revered, and celebrated flagship captain again? OK, OK, back to the subject at hand…

In T2, T-1000 shows just as much creativity as Captain Unenlightened. Consider that, after losing his prey following the incident at the mental ward, he basically vanishes from the film for a while. He just seems to drive around disguised as a motorcycle cop and listening to the police bandwidth. Uh, was that his plan? Was he just going to drive around in circles around Los Angeles, wait for the moronic heroes to commit a crime, hear about it over the radio, and then pounce? And yes, just L.A. Remember! He’s tuned into the LAPD bandwidth and is only hearing about events within that jurisdiction. Theoretically, he could just end up in a literal loop, driving in circles around the City of Angels until Judgment Day (ha! ha!) while the heroes live it up in Tijuana. So, just how is he going to accomplish his mission and, for that matter, get back into this movie?
OK. That makes sense. Hand of Cameron. Got it.
Number 2: More Missed Chances and Plot Holes than a Side Street in East St. Louis

Now, we come to the scene where Sarah invades Miles Dyson’s house, blowing it to bits and nearly killing everyone because she thinks that killing computer genius Dyson will prevent Skynet from existing. She only stops because John arrives (?) and reminds her that killing is the only crime that can revoke her good guy status in the Cameronverse. And, yeah, they blow up Cyberdyne to stop Skynet and end up in a high-budget CGI remake of the chase scene from T1, in which, just like before, they wind up at a factory for the climactic showdown.

Although, the idea of Sarah killing someone to change the direction of the future sounds promising. I mean, she’s so driven. It’s like she can’t be compromised or bargained with. And with the gun pointed at Dyson’s head, it’s like she can’t feel pain, or pity, or remorse. It’s almost as if she absolutely won’t stop, ever, until Dyson’s dead. Sounding familiar?! It’s as though her obsession has gone full circle and she’s becoming what she hates and…
All right, enough with decent storytelling. Now, despite the protests of a certain, allegedly self-omniscient director, I have just a few questions about all of this. Without further ado…

-How did Sarah, while shooting spray through darkened windows and walls, destroy everything in Dyson’s house but not wound anyone?

-How is it that no neighbors heard a fully automatic weapon being fired and immediately called 911? (I mean, I know this is L.A., but that would be louder than most weapons normally used there.)

-So, assuming the attack isn’t reported and given the above, where could an excluded home, far from any neighbors who could potentially hear the gunfire, be found in L.A. proper? (This is important! See below.)

-When the T-1000 arrives later on, it can be inferred that he heard of the situation over the LAPD police band. But if that’s the case, it means that the shooting was reported. So, why are there not dozens of cops and detectives putting up yellow tape and investigating the scene?

-OK. I’m guessing this wasn’t reported. I guess the house must be isolated in the hills and far away from any neighbors. But since no such isolated home likely exists anywhere within the jurisdictional boundaries of Los Angeles, where in the name of Cecil B. DeMille is this house?! How would the T-1000 be aware of this when the helmet and motorcycle he stole is tuned into the LAPD?

(And, no! Saying he knows to change from one police band to another is a fallacy. Remember, Skynet lost all files on human life and functions during the war. With that setup, T-1000 wouldn’t know what to do- i.e. switch frequencies.)

-But- solely for the sake of argument- if T-1000 is, in fact, outside LAPD jurisdiction and has switched to an outside frequency, why, when examining the house, does he get a report of a terrorist attack- at Cyberdyne- within said aforementioned LAPD jurisdiction?

-And just for the nerds…if T-1000 is heading to Miles Dyson’s house because he calculated that Sarah would most likely try to destroy Cyberdyne and Skynet via Dyson and so headed for Dyson’s house to finish her and the others, how did he know how long to wait for Sarah to be back in that part of California before heading there? Shouldn’t he - like the T-800 reaching a similar conclusion about Sarah’s mom in T1 and heading to that location immediately - have gone there right away and just waited for Sarah to arrive? It’s not like not like he got any other clues during said time period. Even Mitchell knew to park outside Cummins’ home and stake him out. (Good God! Did I just use that slovenly pig as a positive example?! I need help.)

Uh…Hand of Cameron? Laws of the Mechanics of the Timing of Action Movies? Wand of Gamelon? Sol pulz? Food for thought.

Number 1: From Where Did the Terminator Universe Truly Spring?

You know what? I’m not really sure any more if James Cameron truly was the force behind the original Terminator film. What if he just gets down-the-road credit? What if there was another force- Light or Dark Side, your choice- behind this tale?
(No, I’m not talking about his feud with super-litigious author Harlan Ellison. It’s Cameron’s fault for drunkenly stating that he “ripped off Ellison” and giving the cantankerous jerk all he needed for a successful lawsuit.)

So, perhaps it’s just the Four Loko talking, but I’m heading down into the black abyss of the human mind inhabited by freaks, fanatics, and illuminati-induced insanity. So, if you’ll indulge me, I intend to seep into my Alex Jones/Oliver Stone/Robert Slatzer shadow self and find the true conspiratorial forces behind the original Terminator movie!

What? You think I’m crazy? Well, in most cases, you’d be right. But hear me out. I know that, according to Cameron, the genysis of this franchise came to him in the form of a dream featuring an evil robot walking out of flames while he had a headache. But what if that’s just cover? What if the differences between the horror/sci-fi Terminator and the action/sci-fi Terminator 2 are too vast for them to be the work of the same director?
T1 Opening Theme
Some Other Opening Theme
A parallel can be found in Cameron’s officially documented career. The original Alien was directed by Ridley Scott and is a horror/sci-fi flick centered around a haunted-house-in-outer-space plot. The tension comes from intelligent characters unsure of what to do as they’re hunted by a monster with no way to escape. In Cameron’s sequel, Aliens, tension is replaced by drawn-out action sequences as characters act stupidly in order to lengthen the plot and keep the movie from ending prematurely.
Another T1 Theme
Another Theme
Oh, Cameron characters. As I’ve said already, T1 has relatable, fleshed-out characters whose actions we can see ourselves taking. I’ve talked enough about Sarah. So, let’s not forget about Kyle Reese. In a basic Cameron film, he’d be a stereotypical soldier. (cough, cough Avatar, cough, cough) But in T1, he jumps when he hears machines working, (a nod to his own time); appears remorseful when he looks at L.A. and comprehends its impending destruction; and genuinely looks like a man who, after a lifetime of war, finds true peace for the first time ever during his one night with Sarah. I ask you, is Cameron really capable of creating a character this complex? I think not.
Some Other T1 Theme
Some Other Theme
I mean, the styles of the two films contrast completely. T1 is dark and brooding, creating a subdued atmosphere of foreboding doom. The minimalist score perfectly complements this by evoking the correct emotions for each scene. T2 takes place in either broad daylight or over-lit nightlight. Having a T-800 as a bodyguard takes away any chance the T-1000 has of being a looming menace. And the music is largely overdone and misplaced. (“Bad to the Bone” certainly did its job of making the T-800 a joke and lessening its bad-assery.)
Yet Another T1 Theme
Yet Another Theme
Yeah, I know. This all sounds far-fetched. But how could two movies- T1 and T2- be so different- a sci-fi horror film and a sci-fi action flick- and be the product of the same guy? Much less the same franchise?
Go ahead. Call me crazy. You might say a director’s style changed as he chose to focus on shoving his politics down the audience’s throat as opposed to decent storytelling. You might say a director chose to rely on CGI, childish plots, and pathetic dialogue as he focused on manipulating audiences as opposed to entertaining them. You might even say he lost his artistic soul and eventually only cared about making more money than J.P. Morgan, John Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie (pronounced Car-NAY-gee), and Charles Foster Kane combined. Well, you know what?! I say YOU’RE all crazy! No director would do such things! This IS a conspiracy, I tell you! The public must know! It’s time for-----


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Thursday, May 11, 2017

Guest Review: Manchester by the Sea (2016)

by Koshcat

I recently watched Manchester by the Sea, which won the award for Best Screenplay, starring Casey Affleck, which he won a Best Actor Academy Award. It was written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan who also wrote Gangs of New York.

The plot is fairly straight forward. (Spoiler Alerts) Lee Chandler (Affleck) has experienced a horrible tragedy losing his family. He is more than depressed and has completely checked out of life. He now works as a janitor for minimum wage and living quarters which is a small, one-room, basement apartment in Boston. The only time he feels anything is when he drinks too much and then picks unnecessary fights with strangers. Prior to this he was life-loving, loved his wife and kids, and spent glorious times with his brother, Joe, and nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges), on their fishing boat. Since the tragedy, he has cut off just about everything and everyone from his previous life. The only tether is to his brother, Joe, who won’t allow Lee to totally cut him off.
His brother has been diagnosed with a heart condition where he is occasionally hospitalized and, when that happens, Lee will return to temporarily take care of Patrick. Patrick’s mother is an alcoholic and unreliable as a parent. The movie starts with Lee getting a call that his brother, Joe, is in the hospital with a myocardial infarction. He quickly leaves to see his brother but it takes him about 90 minutes to get from his home to the hospital. Unfortunately, he doesn’t arrive in time and his brother has died. It is now his responsibility to deal with his brother’s estate and discovers that his brother has made him Patrick’s guardian.

When Lee had left town, Patrick was a young boy. Now he is a 16 and firmly entrenched in the Manchester community with multiple friends and activities. His dream is to take over his dad’s boat. Lee has trouble with the responsibility thrust upon him but more importantly he struggles with the pain and memories of his past, told through flashbacks. Patrick refuses to leave Manchester and move to Boston to live with his uncle. Patrick is also in contact with his estranged mother, who has dried out, and arranges a meeting with her. However, it doesn’t go well.
Lee is trying to find a way to stay in Manchester. It was his mistake that led to his children’s death. While many, including his ex-wife and mother of his children, have forgiven him, there are others, including himself, who cannot. In the end, he has found a way to allow Patrick to stay in Manchester. Lee can’t move back but has found a job much closer and is looking for an apartment with an extra bedroom so Patrick can visit. The end shows Lee and Patrick on now his boat fishing much like they did when Patrick was a boy.

I thought this movie was very well written, directed, shot, and acted. It is not an uplifting story but more similar to the movie Ordinary People. While the ending doesn’t have some incredible redemption or uplifting message, it does give just a glimmer of hope. Lee is heart-broken and in pain. Everyone he has loved has either left or been taken from him. He loved Patrick as a son but fears more pain if he allows himself to get too close. Why should he? He will just suffer more pain and it is easier to be numb. Dealing with numb people is very frustrating because you feel like just shaking them really hard with a couple of good slaps to wake them from their stupor. However, it is a very effective defense mechanism. What makes this movie uplifting is Lee is going to try. It isn’t much but it is a sliver of an opening. He tells Patrick that he can’t move back. That is different from won’t. He wants to be there for Patrick but it is too painful. However, he wants to be in Patrick’s life. Initially, Patrick doesn’t understand primarily because he is self-centered teenager but at the end he matures a little and accepts what Lee will give him. More than accepts-he embraces it. This is growth, maturity, and reality. Healing from a tragedy like they have endured is in small steps. And as each small step is met with a positive outcome, it makes it easier to make the next one. Also, if the small step doesn’t work it is small enough that you can try again. Patrick is forced to grow up too fast but has people in his life who want to help and support him. Lee made sure the foundations are in place. Patrick’s wants are egocentric but not unreasonable. Lee cannot take on the responsibility and possible pain of being Patrick’s father. However, he can be his friend and eventually perhaps his uncle again.
Reading reviews on Amazon, people are all over the place on how they felt about the movie. A third thought is was one of the best movies ever and a third thought is was one of the worst. If you liked movies such as Ordinary People, you will like this movie. I do agree with one reviewer who mentioned that you have to have the right frame of mind to watch it. He had watched it twice and hated it the first time. The second time he was more open about the movie and loved it. There have been articles written as to why some people like movies that make them feel sad and it has to do with being compassionate. Movies like these seem to make people feel more compassionate about others around them who are in pain. It is thought that this compassion helps make a stronger sense of society by bringing us closer to one another.

I haven’t seen the other movies where actors were also up for an award, but Casey does a great job going back and forth between the two different lives. Personally, I think Casey is a better actor than his brother and he continues to improve. In addition, he generally favors smaller, more intimate movies rather than big block busters. This may have to do with personality differences between the two brothers. Before Matt Damon went off the deep end, he gave an interesting interview. He stated that after he and Ben became famous, Matt had trouble dealing with the fame. He married a non-celebrity woman and they have 3 children. They tend to keep their private life out of the lime-light. According to Matt, Ben is just the opposite. He thrives in the public eye and doesn’t seem to let negative press about his private life bother him. We may be trying to judge Casey against his brother, which probably isn’t fair to either.
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Saturday, March 11, 2017

Film Friday: Sausage Party (2016)

This is going to be short. That is all this movie deserves. I was looking forward to this one. The commercials were brilliant at making this look like a clever and funny film. It’s not.

The idea behind this film is quite promising. All the things you buy in the grocer store are conscious. They think people are gods and that Heaven is where you go when people buy you. They are about to find out, however, that life with humans is a hellish horror movie as they will find themselves cut up, baked alive, used to wipe butts, etc. A great idea.

It’s too bad nobody competent worked on the film.
Do you want to know what this film is like? Imagine six of the douchebag-iest teenagers you’ve ever met. These are the kind of retards for whom low-hanging fruit is unobtainable Shakespearian brilliance. Now imagine said douchebags deciding to take this idea and work it into the raunchiest thing they can come up with. Yep. Every sentence is flooded with hate-filled cusswords. Every “idea” – I hesitate even to use the word here – is about sex... but not sex in the sense that normal people know it. Imagine a gang of uneducated Mexicans standing on the street corner shouting obscenities at hookers.

There you have it. This was Sausage Party.

Oh look, he’s a hotdog. Did you know that means he’s shaped like a penis? Ha ha ha! Fuck dude, that’s fan-fucking-awesome-tastic. Fuck. Hey, she’s a bun. “Get it? And she’s sooooo fucking tight.” Fuck that's brilliant, you c*nt bitches! That’s fucking hilarious, motherfucker. Fuck, dude. That’s fucking comedy gold, fuckers.

We turned it off after five minutes.
You know, I can’t help but compare this to South Park. South Park the movie was genius. They were known for pushing the envelop on television. And when they got to do the movie (Bigger Longer and Uncut... a circumcision joke in the title that most people miss), everyone expected they would swear a lot. So they did. But they didn’t just swear. No, they turned the idea of swearing into a social statement. Their characters swore with purpose and with panache. It was clever. It was funny. You couldn’t help but laugh when they swore. Heck, you went home singing the “Uncle Fucker” song. Every swear word in South Park was chosen for a particular purpose.

Sausage Party is just a bunch of retard douchebags trying to say something their little minds think is cool. It is Mexican day labor swearing at you on the street. Pathetic.
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Friday, February 3, 2017

Film Friday: Superman v. Batman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

I finally got the chance to see Superman v. Batman. Yee haw. What a ride... to nowhere.


Ok. This has some twists and turns, so take notes if you need to. The guy who founded Facebook wants to kill Superman because somethingsomething God. Wonder Woman is in the movie. Facebook tricks Ben Affleck into fighting Superman but he loses, so Facebook sends a generic blobby muscle creature to do it. Superman, Affleck and Wonder Woman kill it, and Superman fakes his death.
Got it? Don’t worry if you don’t, you’ll have about an hour long pointless fight scene you can use as time to think about it. You might want to bring a book.

Who's A Bad Boy?

So what can I say? DC sure knows how not to put together a movie. To sum up this stink-burger, it is fake liberal “drama” randomly sprinkled between tremendous sound and fury signifying nothing.

Here’s the thing. The back half of the movie is designed for idiots who like shiny lights. The front half of the movie needs to offer some explanation for the back half, or people complain. So the front half needed to figure out why Batman and Superman would fight. The answer, originally offered, comes from modern liberalism. Modern liberals are conflicted cowards (except when attacking people “who deserve it”), ergo they think that all heroes must be conflicted types who see the faces of the people “they killed” when they sleep. And naturally, "they killed" anyone they didn't save.
Indeed, the story starts with the public turning against Superman because people died whenever he tried to save the planet. Ergo, Superman is the menace... not the thing that would have killed everyone. That makes no sense except to snowflakes, but Hollywood is packed with snowflakes and “strong” women... the greatest snowflakes of them all.

So Superman is bad.
Now we need to hate Batman, so he brands a couple child molesters and rapists and that shows that vigilantes are just sadistic criminals who target other criminals, making them worse than the people they stop... the standard Hollywood view. “No one is above the law, unless it’s for the right reasons, and stopping criminals is not the right reason!”

So Batman is bad.

Now we just... huh. Crap. This explanation didn’t get us to where we need to be. //scratches head Wait! I know! Lex Facebook send nastygrams to Batman and Superman making them think... You know what? Let’s just cut to the fighting.
There were only two things that interested me in this film. The first was that the bad Senator who tries to make Superman a villain is a Democrat from Kentucky. Why a Democrat? Democrats are never bad. Hmm. Then it hit me. This was Affleck’s dig at his estranged wife, Jennifer Garner, a Democrat from Kentucky. LOL! Niiiiiice!

The other thing is this. The initial discussion of how the public could come to hate Superman offered a promising social commentary on modern cynicism. The problem was, it never fleshed it out. To do this, the film should have been smaller with Superman and Batman in closer contact and coming to dislike the other. The story should be told through assistants who represent the two positions. The cynicism needs to grow: cynical logic being used... increasingly self-aggrandizing armchair quarterbacking... the rise of conspiracy theories believed through confirmation bias and growing paranoia... a growing acceptance of extreme solutions and positions, leading to violence... and then the arrival of opportunism – journalists first, then academics, comedians and finally politicians. Team Batman falls for this, as does the vocal public. Team Superman understands genuine goodness, real logic, actual facts, and the importance of good faith. The fight starts until they remind Batman that the majority of the public isn't this stupid and doesn't deserve to be lumped with the sh*tbirds.

Unfortunately, that would make for a strong, emotional film... not a shiny stupid one. Hollywood also doesn't understand what Superman needs to understand; good faith, logic and lack of cynicism are like a foreign language to them. So Facebook’s plan it is!

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Thursday, January 5, 2017

Film Friday: Rogue One (2016)

Rogue One is a flawed, shallow movie with indifferent characters and barely the semblance of a plot. This movie is the See Spot Run of science-fiction. It makes The Force Awakens look like Moby Dick. But it was a lot of fun and I enjoyed it a lot while watching it, though I don’t really want to see it again. Ultimately, it doesn’t bode well for future Star Wars movies, however.

The Plot

The story opens with Imperial Weapon Designer Orson Krennic arriving in Scotland with a squad of troops to force genius scientist Galen Erso to come design the Death Star. Erso is played by Le Chiff from Casino Royale. Le Chiff buys time for his daughter Gin, er Jyn, to escape into the hands of Rebel “extremist” Forest Whitaker. Let’s call her GirlPower.
Fifteen years later, Rebel spy Cassian Andor, frees the now grown up GirlPower from prison on the desert moon Jedha when he’s searching for an escaped Imperial pilot who knows something about Le Chiff. Andor has a sarcastic Imperial droid he’s reprogrammed to help him. This is K-2SO, who says whatever he’s thinking and is quite fun, but doesn’t matter to the plot.
As Andor and GirlPower argue with Whitaker, the Empire test fires the Death Star at Jedha and blows up the planet in slow motion. Andor and GirlPower escape with the pilot along with this blind Chinese monk who is a total rip-off of Seraph from The Matrix II. Rebel command gives them the assignment to go “rescue” Le Chiff, which really means Andor is supposed to kill him. Le Chiff gets killed, but not by Andor, but he tells GirlPower where to find the plans to the Death Star first... Jamaica. They decide to attack the beach, against orders. There’s a battle. The story ends and they heavily sell the idea that this is seconds before the opening scene of Star Wars.
Gee, I hope you could follow all those twists and turns.

The Two Sides of This Film

Let’s start with the good. The film is fun the first time through. It is also visually stunning. It is a little dark and smudged at times, but overall it is very pretty when it gets going. The scenes on Scarif, on Jedha and anything Imperial are beautiful. The Rebel base on Yavin was exactly what it should have been. The CGI world of Eadu was kind of crappy Clone Wars-y, but it was forgivable because it was short.
The acting was passable. Though the fact I couldn’t remember anybody’s name was a bad sign. GirlPower was indifferent, but Andor was quite good. Krennic was good and had the only depth. Le Chiff was good, but was underused. It was nice in theory to see some of the Star Wars actors appear again in the combat scenes, but having a brain I knew exactly where they had taken these lines from the Star Wars attack on the Death Star and that felt cheap to me – they claim the lines are unused, but they are only unused in the Lucas butchered versions. The Vader scene lacked punch. The Leah scene was nicely done. The Grand Moff Tarkin stuff got his character wrong.

SarcBot was pretty awesome. He was probably my favorite character. Once again, Alan Tudyk did a phenomenal job of giving the perfect voice to a character; he’s perhaps the greatest voice actor of all time. The character itself was fun too. They did a great job of mixing machine and comic relief and little bits of awesome with him. It’s too bad his role was so small.
I really liked Seraph too, though he was in the wrong film. In fact, Seraph was a problem. Not only was Seraph stolen from The Matrix II, but he didn’t fit in this film’s world. Seraph had powers unseen before in Star Wars which nearly matched those of the Force. The felt wrong in this universe, which has always been presented as a realistic world except for the Force. This felt like a violation of the rules. Still, he was one of the most likeable characters and I liked watching him. Though, when the guy who shouldn’t be in your movie is the highlight, then you’ve done something wrong.
The plot existed. It was enough to make the film work given the special circumstances here, which is that we know the Star Wars world already and we know where this one would end, so it just needed to achieve a couple plot points. It could have used more plot, but it didn't technically need it. Still, it boggles the mind that a movie claimed to be “written by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy, from a story by John Knoll and Gary Whitta” could be so underpowered. How do four people write a story and yet manage to come up with less plot than an initial impression? There is no character drama in this film. No character development. There are no twists, no turns, no clever or unexpected moments. The plot is literally a straight line: learn about plans and go get them. There are no subplots, no twists, no growth, no ebb and flow, and no hurdles.

This is what worries me most. Disney is planning to spin Star Wars into a million new films and this is a very bad start. This film has no plot, no depth and no characters you give a crap about. It makes the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise seem like high drama. There was nothing original or innovative or even clever in this film. It was pretty pabulum.
Even the attempts to give it meaning were crap. You had the father-daughter relationship that generated about three lines of pretend motivation and otherwise generated nothing in the way of emotion or interest. If you weren’t paying attention in the first five minutes, I doubt you would even have known that Le Chiff was GirlPower’s father. You had this fake new cliché moment where everyone suddenly whines at Andor for whatever bad things he’s done on behalf of the resistance, only to have him give a passionless speech about how he lives with that everyday. Wahhh. For a guy whose character shows no emotions whatsoever, this was really an out-of-place speech. What’s more, why the other people he’s just saved and who have volunteered to go on this mission would lament the “bad things” he’s done is utter nonsense. This is New Liberalism not being able to grasp that heroes aren’t tortured souls.

If this becomes the formula then we are looking at some crap films ahead. We are looking at straight-line plots with indifferent heroes meant to echo the original Star Wars cast and who feel the need to give character-development speeches right before they blow something up for some reason you don’t care about. Not good.
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Thursday, December 29, 2016

Where Were You in ’87?

by ScottDS

Last year I jumped back 20 years but this time I’m doing 30 years again. I had forgotten how many classic movies were released in 1987. Of course, I was four years old and not aware of any of them, though several later became favorites, starting with the first two.

RoboCop – I still can’t believe Andrew prefers the second film to this one! For my money, Paul Verhoeven’s blood-soaked satire is a near-perfect movie. Volumes have been written about the film’s satire of 80s America and Verhoeven’s outsider perspective (not to mention the Jesus metaphors) but the film really works both as a corporate satire, but also as an old-fashioned western. What is RoboCop, if not a sheriff who’s come in to clean up the town? They don’t make them like this anymore: memorable characters, quotable dialogue, a heroic musical score, and at the heart of the film, a genuinely human story. The film was followed by two sequels, a cartoon, a low-budget TV series, a series of Canadian TV movies, and a forgettable remake. “I’d buy that for a dollar!”

Predator – One of the best “guy movies” ever made, Predator tells the story of Major Alan “Dutch” Schaefer who leads a Special Forces team into the jungle on a rescue mission, only to find out their enemy is not of this Earth. The Predator (designed by the late Stan Winston) has become one of our iconic screen monsters. The cast, including Carl Weathers, Jesse Ventura, Bill Duke, and future filmmaker Shane Black, is an absolute blast. McTiernan would follow this up with Die Hard and The Hunt for Red October and Shane Black is currently working on a new Predator film with his Monster Squad collaborator Fred Dekker. “I ain't got time to bleed.” This leads me to…

The Monster Squad – A box-office failure upon its release, this charming film has since become a cult classic. Fred Dekker, who was later sent to director jail after RoboCop 3, co-wrote and directed this story of a group of young nerds who have to battle the old Universal monsters. A wonderful “backyard adventure” in the Spielberg style (but without the success!) and the origin of the fan favorite line “Wolfman’s got nards!” I haven’t seen it in years but it’s just a fun movie. It’s also pretty un-PC: at one point, Dracula is threatening a young girl and screams “You bitch!!” to her face. Go figure…

Fatal Attraction – A classic I watched for the first time just recently. What amazed me was how casual Michael Douglas and Glenn Close are about the whole thing, at least at the start. They’re both adults, his wife and daughter are out of town, so why not have some fun? Of course, it’s not as simple as that. Some, including Glenn Close, have speculated that her character suffered from borderline personality disorder (BPD). Aside from the lack of cell phones, this movie is also dated in another way: it was released back when Hollywood made actual adult dramas, for adults, with adults acting like adults and not overgrown children. This film was the second highest-grossing film of 1987. Can you imagine that now? “I’m not going to be ignored!”

Moonstruck – Another perfectly pleasant film. Cher stars as a Brooklyn accountant who falls for the brother of the guy to whom she’s engaged. Norman Jewison directs a script by acclaimed playwright John Patrick Shanley (best known to me for Joe vs. the Volcano and, of course, Congo). Yet another classic I watched relatively recently for the first time. I’ve noticed that the best romantic comedies make it look easy. It’s difficult to make any movie, but romantic comedies… I mean, it’s just people. And we can all relate to these stories, whether it’s crazy relatives or getting over a bad breakup, or simply falling for someone who will never feel the same way. This is another genre that Hollywood doesn’t do much nowadays and I think it’s a shame. “Snap out of it!”

Broadcast News – I haven’t seen all of James L. Brooks’ movies, but I found As Good As it Gets to be a bit overrated. Needless to say, Broadcast News is considered to be not only a classic romantic comedy but also an excellent look at the news gathering process. Holly Hunter is Jane, a news producer with no personal life. Albert Brooks is Aaron, a long-time friend of Jane’s and a reporter who sweats profusely on camera, and William Hurt is Tom, a tall and handsome reporter who may have some problems in the ethics department. Another movie just about people trying to have a normal life in a workplace that’s anything but that. “Wouldn't this be a great world if insecurity and desperation made us more attractive?”

The Untouchables – One of Brian De Palma’s most successful movies, this is one I have to keep on when it shows up on TV. Kevin Costner is Elliot Ness, a Prohibition agent who goes after Chicago gangster Al Capone, played by Robert De Niro. Yes, the filmmakers (including screenwriter David Mamet) played around with history a little bit but the final product is just so much fun. Sean Connery won an Oscar for playing Malone, an old Irish cop who partners with Ness. Not only do Andy Garcia and Charles Martin Smith get in on the fun, be on the lookout for Patricia Clarkson in one of her earliest roles as Ness’ wife. The highlight is probably the Union Station sequence, De Palma’s homage to Eisenstein. “They pull a knife, you pull a gun!”

Dragnet – This is a total guilty pleasure! A comedic remake of/sequel to the original TV series, Dan Aykroyd was born to play Joe Friday, who loves to explain police rules and regulations in his trademark staccato. Tom Hanks, back when he was a “comedic actor,” plays his mismatched partner, the oddly-named Pep Streebeck. They’re tasked with investigating a series of arson fires and it all ties in to a Los Angeles porno king (a lisping Dabney Coleman) and a phony preacher (a wonderfully-sneering Christopher Plummer). There is actually an interesting idea here: when it comes to public outrage, one side can’t exist without the other. But it doesn’t matter – this movie is just bizarre, with cult rituals, a virgin heroine, and some pretty funny gags. “Pagans!”

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace – Oh boy. Two words for you: Cannon Films, who purchased the Superman cinematic rights from the Salkinds, and then proceeded to slash the film’s budget at the last minute. In this one, Superman decides to rid the world of all nuclear weapons (breaking Tom Mankiewicz’ rule that Superman shouldn’t get involved in real-world events). Lex Luthor seeks to profit from this and ends up creating one of the worst screen villains ever: Nuclear Man. Most of the effects are laughable and the plot itself is borderline nonsensical (45 minutes were cut)… but Reeve gives it his all, Hackman is always fun to watch, and the music score – what survived, anyway – is pretty great. “Destroy Superman!”

Spaceballs – Not nearly as witty as The Producers or as political as Blazing Saddles, this movie is still hilarious. Even people who haven’t seen this film are probably familiar with “Use the Schwartz!” Sadly, this film is sort of a time capsule. John Candy and Rick Moranis were staples of my childhood and while Moranis has been retired from Hollywood for years and currently lives in New York City, Candy left us much too early. Making sequels after a long period of time rarely works but this is one instance where I’d be interested to see what they do, especially with Star Wars back in theaters for all eternity. “So, Lone Star, now you see that evil will always triumph because good is dumb.”

Planes, Trains & Automobiles – Speaking of John Candy, another staple of my childhood who left us much too soon was filmmaker John Hughes. Sixteen Candles might be my favorite Brat Pack film but this is my favorite Hughes film period. Steve Martin is just trying to make it home for Thanksgiving when he befriends a loudmouth shower curtain ring salesman (John Candy) and shenanigans ensue. When my brother and I were younger, we re-enacted the “You're going the wrong way!” scene for dad's new camcorder. (At the time, my brother was short enough to stand on the driver's seat without hitting the roof!) A sweet movie and a holiday classic. “Those aren’t pillows!”

Empire of the Sun – Steven Spielberg’s dramatization of J.G. Ballard’s autobiographical novel features a young Christian Bale as a boy separated from his parents after the Japanese invade Shanghai at the start of World War II. This is one of Spielberg’s masterpieces and it’s a shame it’s not as well-known as Schindler’s List or Saving Private Ryan. Oddly, I tend to consider it alongside A.I. in that both films deal with parental separation and both leave me feeling uneasy by the end. (Is there a shrink in the house?!) Production values are top-notch, John Williams’ score is excellent, and look for John Malkovich, Joe Pantoliano, and a young Ben Stiller. “P-51! Cadillac of the sky!”

September – One of Woody Allen’s humorless melodramas – coming after 1978’s Interiors and followed by 1988’s Another Woman (the best of the three), September is a chamber piece and the plot is the usual Woody: upper-crust New Yorkers dealing with relationship drama and trying to make sense of a chaotic universe. The production history is more interesting: Woody cast the film, re-cast one role just a few weeks into production, finished the film, decided it didn’t work… then re-cast it and filmed it again! “It's hell getting’ older. Especially when you feel 21 inside.”

Lethal Weapon – Richard Donner’s film more or less reinvented the buddy cop movie. Mel Gibson and Danny Glover have excellent chemistry as Martin Riggs and Roger Murtaugh: Riggs is depressed and suicidal while Murtaugh is a normal family man dealing with turning 50. While investigating the death of a young woman, they discover a heroine smuggling ring run by Vietnam War-era mercenaries. The movie could’ve been a forgettable potboiler but Gibson and Glover elevate the material, the villains are genuinely menacing, and Donner’s at the height of his directorial powers. This film was followed by three sequels, a spoof (Loaded Weapon, which is actually pretty funny), and is currently a TV series on Fox. “I’m too old for this shit!”

Also: Adventures in Babysitting, Beverly Hills Cop II, The Big Easy, Can’t Buy Me Love, Death Wish 4, Dirty Dancing, Evil Dead II, Good Morning, Vietnam, Hamburger Hill, Hellraiser, Innerspace, Ishtar, Jaws: The Revenge, The Last Emperor, Less Than Zero, The Living Daylights, The Lost Boys, Masters of the Universe, The Miami Connection, Near Dark, No Way Out, The Princess Bride, Prince of Darkness, Raising Arizona, Revenge of the Nerds II, The Running Man, The Secret of My Success, Stakeout, Three Men and a Baby, Three O’Clock High, Throw Mama from the Train, Tin Men, Wall Street, and The Witches of Eastwick.
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Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Monsterpiece Theater: The Count Goes Just Plain Weird

by Rustbelt

By the 1990’s, bad was cool. (See e.g. nWo, ECW, Austin 3:16) Anything that wasn’t extreme was dull. (See e.g. any Mountain Dew commercial) The Macarena ruled and stoners determined culture. How did this affect vampires? Well, just when it seemed as though filmmakers had finally realized that Dracula is meant to be scary, they go pants-crapping crazy and make the story utterly unrecognizable. Blood-drinking became cool. Any connection between Christian faith warding off vampires was deemed unhip. And unless you were an uber-sexy teenager/twentysomething, it was wrong to fight vampires because you were ruining all the fun. I blame this all on Jess Whedon.

But before that annoying hipster got his turn, it was a member of the Movie Brats who turned vampire lore on its head. To get to the root of this, we’re going to have to go back a few decades.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula (American Zoetrope, 1992)

Probably the most famous play version of Dracula is the 1924 Hamilton Deane-John L. Balderson adaptation. Tod Browning relied heavily on it when filing his classic version starring Bela Lugosi for Universal in 1931. Over forty-five years later, the play reopened on Broadway with Frank Langella in the lead. This, of course led to the 1979 film starring Langella. However, the producers weren’t the only ones inspired by the play to make a bizarre new film version.

During the show’s run, screenwriter James V. Hart decided to take in the performance. Hart later recalled that on the night he was in the audience, (and apparently during the scene where the Count bites Lucy), he heard a woman in front of him mutter that, “she’d rather spend one night with Dracula dead than the rest of her life with her husband alive.” Hart went back and read the book. Interpreting virtually everything in the novel as a sexual metaphor for something, he eventually wrote a rough screenplay for his own adaptation. Years later, in 1989, budding Hollywood starlet Winona Ryder got a copy of the script and took it to Francis Ford Coppola -- the story goes that she was shocked that he listened to her since she had pulled out of the The Godfather Part III. Coppola liked what he read and decided to make his take on Dracula with one particular word in mind: weird.

Horror or Romance, You Make the Call

Bram Stoker’s Dracula starts off with something that never happens in the book: Count Dracula (Gary Oldman) claiming that he is Vlad the Impaler. He is shown fighting the Turks in…muscle armor? Then, after impaling his foes (recalling the Impaler’s real-life ‘forest of the impaled’), he learns the terrible news that his wife committed suicide when she was tricked into thinking he died in battle. In a chapel, he is told that her soul is damned for committing suicide and in a rage renounces God and declares himself blood thirsty, setting him on the path to becoming a vampire.
Note: Vlad the Impaler’s first wife did, in fact, throw herself from the battlements of Castle Poenari. The reason is unknown, but it’s inferred that because the castle was being besieged by the Turks, she killed herself out of despair.

The film then follows a similar plot to the Universal version, with Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reaves) traveling to Transylvania... and the weird is on. Everything is done to excess (cough, cough Peter Jackson). The ‘peasants’ in the coach seem dressed for Mardi Gras; the armor-clad coach driver looks like an enemy out of the Castlevania franchise; and when Harker encounters the Brides - one of whom has Medusa’s head snakes - it quickly becomes a scene out of Caligula.
The Count arrives in England and the script morphs from an LSD-fueled version of the Universal movie, to a hybrid of the Palance and Langella versions done in the Kabuki style. (Seriously! That’s what half the costumes in this movie were based on!) Dracula recognizes Mina (Winona Ryder) as his wife Elizabeta reincarnated and begins courting while feeding on her friend, Lucy. A near-insane Van Helsing (Anthony Hopkins) and the uptight vampire hunters begin to investigate.
Finally, after Lucy (Sadie Frost) and Mina have deep sexual awakenings after being bitten by the Count, the hunters chase Dracula to his castle where Mina turns on the group and nearly helps the Count escape. She only stabs and decapitates him as an act of mercy. Whew!
Dracula: Gary Oldman

I have a lot of issues with this version of the Count, though they really can’t be blamed on the actor. Coppola wanted everything to be as over-the-top as possible. This included giving Dracula a red evening gown complete with twenty-foot train and a Krusty the Klown style hairdo. The appearance is more laughable than frightening.
It improves somewhat in London, as the Count dresses like a nobleman. However, he wears blue-tinted John Lennon-esque glasses and cries purple tears. [insert your Prince joke here] I can’t help but wonder if Coppola was actually making fun of the character by this point.
Anyway, Gary Oldman is one of those rare actors who can almost seamlessly become different characters and make them believable. Here, he does what is asked of him: he uses a deep Romanian accent and acts creepy as the old Count in the castle. After drinking the blood of the crew on the Demeter makes him younger, he switches gears to sex-starved stalker, albeit one with a heart. I say this because as much as he wants to make Mina a vampire to be with him forever, he doesn’t want to damn her. However, she falls in love with him because…?

Oh, Let’s Just Say It: Twilight for Adults

Why does Mina love Dracula? Because he took her out? Because he’s a gentleman and won’t bite her? Does he sparkle in sunlight? Will he introduce her to the family? Will he take her to the prom? (Well they do dance.) Oh, let’s just say it: this is Twilight for Adults!
This just hit me in the course of writing this article: the Count and Mina in this movie are Edward and Bella! He loves her, but won’t bite her because it’s terrible to be a vampire. She loves him and wants him to bite her so they can be together forever. How precious. Maybe he’ll also compose a lullaby on the piano for her.

Even more amazing, Mina is actually more obnoxious than Bella. As I mentioned above, she turns on the group in the end. She warns the Count of their plans, tries to bite Van Helsing, uses vampire powers to help Dracula get to the safety of the castle, and then pulls a gun on her husband to keep him from killing the Count. Turncoat, I say! Traitor! Witch! Benedict Arnold!
How to Make Bram Stoker Roll Over in the Grave (Which Would be a Feat, Since he was Cremated)

Once again, Dracula is portrayed as a sexual liberator from traditional mores. I could rehash all of that, but I covered what I have to say on that subject in my article on the Palance and Langella versions. So let me detail other things I couldn’t stand:

- Even Coppola has admitted he doesn’t like the decision to cast Keanu Reeves. He claims the studio forced it on him. (He wanted Johnny Depp.) Reeves is wooden, uninteresting, and turns in one of the worst English accents of all time. Only three years removed from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, you can’t help but wonder when he’ll say ‘whoa.’ BTW, Ryder is almost as bad with her accent.
- Feminism or non-feminism? Coppola deliberately focused the script on Mina and Lucy. Both constantly undermine the male characters. Mina even berates Dracula for thinking the cinematograph is a scientific achievement, and claims Marie Curie would scoff at it. (Screw you, Edison!) Plus, both spend a good deal of the film sizing up the men as per their sexual abilities. (Does Lucy have any lines that can’t be interpreted as innuendo?) And, of course, both choose Drac as their ultimate dude because he shows them a good roll in ze hay. Is that really feminism? You know, I can’t tell anymore.
- Finally come the costumes. Yes, I know this movie won Oscars for costume and makeup, but the Academy also gave ‘Best Picture’ one year to ‘Shakespeare in Love.’ So much for credibility. It’s all so over-the-top, it’s ridiculous. I honestly couldn’t believe what I was watching. Like I said above, most of the costumes are based on Kabuki dresses. Everything else seems to be Victorian garb on steroids. (The ‘muscle armor,’ BTW, is completely made up.) Exactly how you make a horror movie where everyone dresses like clowns and ringmasters is beyond me.
Obligatory Find the Good

All right, except for Gary Oldman, I’ve been really hard on this film. (And honestly, I think he saves it from being a total wash.) However, this film has many defenders and I can see why. The sets are highly detailed, crafted, and well-lit. But art alone can’t make a movie. You still need story and character. Christopher Lee pointed out the scene where Oldman licks the blood off Harker’s razor and has a moment of ecstasy as he swallows it. He called that a nice addition and I agree. To that end, here are some good things I found in the script.

- The hunters are all here. This is the first movie to show all of the vampire hunters- Dr. Seward (Richard E. Grant), who proposed to Lucy, but was turned down, Arthur Holmwood (Cary Elwes), Lucy’s fiancé, and Arthur’s Texan adventurer friend, Qunicey P. Morris (Billy Campbell). Most movies reduce the group to one or two. It’s nice to see them all together, even if they are portrayed as inferior males. On that note, Anthony Hopkins is no Peter Cushing as Van Helsing. He was deliberately channeling his Hannibal Lector character for the role.

- There’s homage to the author. While walking through London, Mina passes an ad on a placard for the Lyceum Theater, where Bram Stoker worked as business manager. The placard further advertises Sir Henry Irving in Hamlet can also be seen. Irving made his reputation playing the Prince of Denmark.

- There’s plenty of actual dialogue in the film. Dracula, Harker, and Van Helsing use many lines from the novel in the film, particularly in the scenes leading up to, and taking place in, Castle Dracula. Harker quotes from the journal entries in the novel several times. It’s only when the plot changes into Twilight and Lucy’s nymphomania appears that Stoker’s words become lost.
- Tom Waits does the most outrageous performance as Renfield since Dwight Frye in 1931. He’s eccentric, unpredictable, and just plain crazy; a good friend one moment; a homicidal maniac the next. Let me amend what I said before: Oldman and Waits save the movie from being a total wash.

- And, yeah, I’ll admit: I like “Love Song for a Vampire.”
The Difference Between a Lost Chapter and a Lost Cause

In 1914, two years after Bram’s death, Florence Stoker published something odd: a book of short stories called Dracula’s Guest and Other Weird Stories. It’s widely believed that the title story is an excised chapter of Dracula. It goes like this:
An unnamed Englishman (presumably Harker), arrives in Munich on Walpurgis Night. Although warned not to go out, the Englishman walks out to an abandoned ‘unholy village.’ He finds a massive tomb with an iron stake driven through it. An inscription reads, “The Dead Travel Fast.” A hailstorm forces him into the tomb’s doorway and he accidentally opens it. Lightning reveals a beautiful sleeping woman inside. Just then, thunder frightens him away and another bolt hits the spike, destroying the tomb as the woman screams. Hours later, the man wakes with a ferocious-looking wolf licking his neck. A group of soldiers arrive, shoo off the wolf, and take the Englishman back to the inn. It’s later revealed that the man’s eventual host, Dracula, sent a warning to the inn to look after the man.

No one really knows why the story was removed from the novel. Theories range from the style (it’s not certain who the narrator is), to the length of the novel, to the scene just not fitting into the narrative. The evidence that it may be a removed first chapter comes from the original manuscript now held at the Rosenbach Library in Philadelphia. Lines scratched out in the manuscript seem to refer to events in Dracula’s Guest. Also, nearly all the chapters numbers are scratched out and subtracted by one. The lack of information about this piece only adds to its mystery.

I think it was a good choice to remove it. First, it allows Harker’s experiences to build as we follow his journey across Eastern Europe. And second, it can be inferred that the experience should better prepare Harker for his experiences in Transylvania. If he went through that and behaves the way he does in the novel, he’d actually look rather stupid dismissing every superstition instead of carefully investigating them.
But sometimes family isn’t your friend. In 2009, Dacre Stoker, professional gym teacher and great-grand-nephew of Bram, co-authored a book called Dracula the Un-Dead. In a case like this, you’d hope that talent might be passed through a family bloodline. Alas, this is not the case.

I won’t bother with a full synopsis. Suffice to say, the original group of vampire hunters has drifted apart by 1912. They’re all recluses or addicts of some kind. Anyway, the vampire Elizabeth Bathory (a real-life Hungarian countess who had village girls killed so she could bathe in their blood, which she believed would cause her to retain her youth), has arrived in London and is causing trouble. Quincey Harker (Jonathan and Mina’s son), gets help from a famous actor named Basarab (Dracula in disguise), and they attempt to find Bathory and destroy her.

This isn’t written as a novel; it’s written as an attempted screenplay pitch. The book’s last chapters move and climax like a Die Hard film. Dracula takes over the role of superhero as he and Bathory fight X-Men-style. It’s also revealed that the Count and Mina were great lovers and that the group misidentified the Count as the bad guy the first time around. And, oh, yeah: everyone gets killed along the way.

Dacre Stoker has claimed the book was an attempt for the Stoker estate to reclaim the property. I, for one, hope they’re kept as far away from it as possible.
It Seems the Dawn has Arrived

How time flies. Well, everyone, it’s been a nice few weeks this October. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed discussing the many faces of the vampire king with you. And like Gene Wilder told Mel Brooks on the set of Young Frankenstein just after the last day of filming wrapped, “I’m so happy. I don’t want to leave Transylvania.” Unfortunately, the time has come. When this is posted, Halloween will be over. Remember how the ghosts and ghouls in the Night on Bald Mountain piece from Fantasia return to their graves as sunlight shines through the clouds to the ringing of the angelus bell? Well, now, the vampires, too, must return to their tombs.

This year’s series of Monsterpiece Theater is complete. But it’s just a chapter. There’s always room for more.

“I trust your journey has been a happy one…and that you [enjoyed] your stay in my beautiful land. Your Friend, D.”

Sir Christopher Frayling’s “Nightmare! The Birth of Victorian Horror: Dracula”
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