May 242016
 

chloe_moretz_as_carrie___remake_poster_by_themadbutcher-d4uf9mm-e1345702948517

By: Bill Nelson

Welcome back, bad movie fans! It's time for another trip to the pit. Last week we we jumped into the Halloween season with the atrocity that is Darkness Falls. This week, I figured we'd continue the journey of terror and take a look at one of the newer releases on Netflix. Our film this week is the 2013 remake of the Brian de Palma masterpiece, Carrie. For those that care, Carrie was the debut novel of famed horror author Stephen King. It tells the story of Carrie White, a young woman who is tortured at home by her religious fundamentalist mother and abused at school for being different as she comes to grips with her burgeoning telekinetic abilities. King, who had been struggling as an author for some time prior to Carrie's publication had famously tossed the manuscript into the trash only to have it famously saved by his wife Tabitha who prodded him to submit it and the rest, as they say, is history.

While Carrie was both a surprise hit in both the literary and cinematic worlds, it left a lasting legacy in the horror world. While I was inwardly groaning when I read that it was being remade, I held out hope that it would be worthwhile when I discovered that Kimberly Peirce would be directing. Peirce, as the director of Boys Don't Cry, should have been the one to finally make Carrie into a work of terror with the touch of feminism that De Palma's vision hadn't quite captured. Instead we got yet another pointless remake of a famed movie.

To be fair, the remake is about as solid as you can get. Chloe Grace Moretz brings a willowy sadness to the character of Carrie. While she doesn't have the pitiful quality that Sissy Spacek did in the 1976 original, she is believable as the shy, lonely outcast who only wants to belong. She’s perhaps too pretty for the part, but that does little to impede her performance. Moretz's films over the years have largely been hit or miss. Personally, I think she has the potential to be an amazing actress, but thanks to her performance in Let Me In, she keeps getting lumped into roles for overly mature youngsters when her best parts allow her to be a kid and allow the maturity to shine through from there, a la Kick Ass and Dark Shadows. In Carrie she continues this tradition, her fidgets and awkwardness making Carrie feel real and her torment real.

The cast is rounded out by Judy Greer, who does a phenomenal job of playing the caring if slightly two-faced gym teacher Rita Desjardin, and Oscar winner Julianne Moore in the role of Carrie’s mother, Margaret White. Moore does a solid job in the role of the overly religious Margaret, but she's a pale shadow to Piper Laurie's unabashedly insane version of the same character in the original. It’s apparent that the filmmakers toned down the overtly religious Margaret and gave her a more compassionate angle in this version. I actually applaud that effort. It’s obvious that this version of Margaret ultimately believes that she’s trying to save Carrie but it ends up falling flat as we only get two scenes of Margaret without Carrie (though one of them still technically has her in it) to round this character out.

We also can’t ignore the film’s secondary protagonist, Sue Snell, played by the lovely Gabriella Wilde. She carries almost as much screen time as Carrie herself, and though much of the interaction between the two characters was eliminated, she handles her role well. She is given an unnecessary subplot that only comes up once midway through the film and isn’t referenced again until the very end, but beyond that her guilt is ultimately what propels the film forward and she does a decent job of playing the good girl who’s ashamed of giving in to her dark side. Ansel Elgort is appropriately charming as Tommy Ross, Sue’s boyfriend who is cajoled into taking Carrie to the prom. The scenes with him and Carrie are both tender and sweet and Elgort does an admirable job showing how surprised he is that he’s enjoying his time with Carrie. The film doesn’t quite go to the length that the original did and hint at a possible romance between the two characters, but it’s not far off. Finally, cast-wise, there’s Portia Doubleday as Chris Hargenson, our primary antagonist. Chris is the stereotypical spoiled teen taken to an extreme. Doubleday imbues her with a flair that makes it possible to understand why she’s one of the most popular girls in her school while making her raging bitch personality seem genuine. Ultimately, Chris ends up being evil for evil&’s sake instead of having a real progression, but it never feels out of character for her.

Now that I’ve raved about the cast for so long, I’m sure you’re wondering where the ball is going to drop on this film. There’s always something that turns a good film bad, isn’t there? In this case, it’s nothing glamorous. The film isn’t a train wreck and obviously the acting is more than solid. Instead, as is the case for most remakes, the film just isn’t original enough to warrant it’s own existence. While not the pointless endeavor that was Gus Van Sant’s shot for shot remake of Psycho, it’s very close. With the exception of an increased presence of social media that obviously didn’t exist back in 1976, 2013’s Carrie does very little that’s different from its predecessor. In researching the film prior to writing my article I did come across a few things that give me some hope there was a genuine reason for filming this new version of Carrie, though. In virtually all of the film’s marketing it was labeled as Kimberly Peirce’s reimagining of the original film. Since that is obviously not the case you have to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. The film was pulled from it’s original release date in the spring of 2013 for reshoots and an attempt to cash in on a potentially huge Halloween release. My research indicates that these reshoots were largely studio ordered and are likely what made the film a clone of the original version. If you pay close attention there are moments where we are introduced to characters who appear poised to do something in the film only to have them disappear, such as the boy with the camera in the library. He is in that one scene and doesn’t return again until the final carnage in the gym where he is given an oddly personal death for someone who only had one other scene in the movie. Also, the DVD/Blu-Ray release contains an alternate opening that shows Carrie has been developing her telekinetic abilities since she was very young. It’s small things like this that give me hope that there’s a director’s cut out there that shows us the unique vision that I know Kimberly Peirce is capable of.

Ultimately, though, we have to look at this version of the film and it’s surprisingly decent, just completely unnecessary. Fans of the De Palma version will likely be better served watching it instead (both versions along with the equally pointless sequel are available on Netflix) but if you’ve never seen Carrie before this isn’t a bad version to watch. Just make sure and watch De Palma’s version at some point before you leave this earth.

Stank Ranking ­- – 5/10

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May 042016
 

Area-51-Cast

By: Bill Nelson

Welcome back for another round of bad movie sweetness. For those that actually keep up with the article, I apologize for our two week long hiatus. This was beyond control but I assure you everything is finally coming back together for the site to be able to provide the consistently high level of entertainment you’ve come to expect from us. Or, at the very least it won’t get any worse.

Anyway, this week we’re going to take a look at a filmmaker more than a movie. Our flick this week is 2015’s Area 51, written and directed by one Oren Peli. In 2009 Oren Peli was the golden boy of the indie horror scene with his crowd pleasing film Paranormal Activity. Paranormal Activity reignited a fascination with found footage films that had sort of died out with The Blair Witch back in 1999. Even more so, it proved to be a unique way to tell a haunted house story that put us even more in the place of the characters experiencing the scares by putting us behind the filter of a camcorder. While hardly revolutionary, Paranormal Activity proved to be interesting which is more than most independent horror flicks can claim these days. Flash forward 6 years, though, and we see that to date Oren Peli has directed exactly 2 films, the original PA and this week’s movie, Area 51. Hardly the career of a young, up and coming genre director. True, Peli has made a name for himself producing more than directing, but it’s a strange path for the director of one of the biggest horror films in the last 10 years to take. After watching Area 51, I think I’m starting to understand why this is the case. Peli is one of those directors who is gifted with big ideas but not quite talented to pull them off. The end result of Area 51 is this bitter taste of mediocrity with twinges of what could have been laced through.

Here’s the basic premise. Area 51 follows three primary characters: Reid, Darrin, and Ben. The beginning of the movie is actually a series of talking head interviews telling the audience instead of showing them how Reid went through a drastic personality change over the previous three months, going from an outgoing, athletic young man to an obsessed conspiracy theorist, and how these changes lead to the disappearance of the three young men. Then we are shown video footage of the young men at a party, drinking and partying when suddenly Reid disappears from the party during a short black out. He isn’t seen again until the other two are driving home and find him standing in the middle of the road staring off into space.

The movie then jumps forward three months to the weekend they disappeared. We’re shown that Reid has developed an obsession with alien visitation and abduction and has spent the last three months planning to sneak onto the military base known as Area 51 to prove that aliens have visited the planet. The rest of the movie is basically a series of misadventures as the trio tests and plays with their equipment, meets a comely young woman who claims her father was fired from Area 51 for asking too many questions and has documents showing where the secrets are hidden on the base, and finally the break in to the base itself.

The biggest problem with this movie is that it spends too much time spinning its wheels trying to establish a story but since the story is so thin to begin with it basically feels like you’re just watching a bunch of whiny, petulant kids film themselves for an hour. The most interesting part of the whole film, the exploration of Area 51, is also the least developed. We are shown revelations at breakneck speed but there is not time given to flesh them out or tie them back to earlier moments in the story, leaving a feeling like there is no consistent logic within the film.

I have to give props to two scenes in the flick, the white blood scene, where the characters find a lab like room containing several strange objects such as a black chunk of rock that seems to spin and levitate of its own accord and a bowl of white, blood­-like liquid in a bowl under a glass case. The white blood seems to react to the presence of the characters until it finally seems to try to attack them, which causes the rock to suddenly spin out of control and break from it’s container. The second is the saucer like ship they find shortly there after. The ship seems to react to Reid’s touch, opening up and allowing him inside. Once inside, Reid finds strange pod like containers that appear to have once housed living things and discovers that he can see out into the room where his friends are waiting but once he gets out finds that they couldn’t see him. Both of these scenes were likely not difficult to actually accomplish, but they elevate the effects of the movie, which to that point have been minimal at best, and create a certain wow factor. Since there’s no real connection to exactly why these things are important except ‘woo, alien!’ means that they don’t make the film better, though.

If you’re going to make a movie like this you need to spend more time developing the Reid character. After all, he’s the driving force for why the three characters are trying to break into Area 51 in the first place. In other words, we need more than barely five minutes of him partying to establish his original personality and more than talking heads to convince us he’s different. The Reid shown throughout the film doesn’t really seem all that different from the Reid at the beginning. He’s perhaps a little more driven and focused than Party Reid, but, considering how little we actually knew him at the flick’s start, this doesn’t really seem like that drastic a change.

Ultimately, Area 51 has some serious promise. The story needs some tightening to flesh out the remaining characters, particularly Reid, and to give us a reason to care that they’re storming Area 51 than just because. Also, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to tie some of the scares once they get to Area 51 back to things that we as audience members see from watching the video footage that the characters, who are supposedly doing the actual filming, aren’t able to see. Planting the seed for a scare means you get a bigger pay off down the road and don’t have to rely solely on jump scares to rattle your audience. So, to finally put a long story to bed, Area 51 is intriguing at times but comes across as Paranormal Activity’s younger, less interesting step­brother.
Stank Ranking ­- – 8/10

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Apr 202016
 

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By Bill Nelson

Well, folks, it’s Tuesday again. You know what that means, right? This week we’re going to take a look at one of last summer’s attempts at a blockbuster hit. I’m surprised that Brett Ratner hasn’t already ended up on Bad Movie Tuesday after the affront that was X-­Men: The Last Stand, but he really hasn’t been as active behind the camera in recent years as he was since his breakout success with the first Rush Hour movie in the late 90s. Here we have the wannabe action master taking on an honest to goodness sword and sandal epic. Let’s see what kind of fun we can have with it.

Hercules actually became something of a surprise hit when it came out last summer. Of course, that has more to do with the popularity and likability of its star, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, than the actual quality of the film. The film itself isn’t so horrible it’s unwatchable, just wildly uneven. The Rock’s charisma carries huge portions of the film that would have fallen flat otherwise.

For those that don’t know, here’s the breakdown. In Greek mythology, Hercules is the son of the king of the gods, Zeus, and a mortal woman name Alcemene. Hercules is blessed with the strength of a god but is hated by his step­mother, Zeus’s wife Hera. Hera does her level best to kill Hercules throughout his entire life, finally forcing him to face a series of trials in order to earn his place among the gods on Mount Olympus but sabotages them in the hope that he dies. In the myth, Herc succeeds and is raised up to Mount Olympus, but the movie takes a slightly different tack.

Instead of presenting the mythology of Hercules as fact, it takes a step back and reimagines Hercules as a mortal man who has developed a reputation for fantastic feats of strength and battle prowess. Seeing the power behind this as a weapon against his enemies, Hercules has played up his own mythology to make himself seem unbeatable, gathering a cadre of warriors who fight with him from the shadows to make it seem as if he is nigh unstoppable. It also reinterprets the myths surrounding Herc slightly, making you stop to think about what they might really have represented in real life. For example, when turning in the heads of the Hydra, it is revealed that they are actually the heads of men wearing reptilian masks creating the implication that the Hydra was actually a gang of thieves using the story of the beast to scare people.

This actually works a lot to the flick’s benefit because it rounds out Hercules a bit and keeps you from seeing him as a completely infallible character. Plus, since the film intentionally keeps the actual parentage of Hercules a secret, it turns into a playful mystery as to whether or not he is, in fact, a demi­god. The problem is that the movie really doesn’t give you any hints one way or the other whether the gods actually exist. They are spoken of as religious figureheads throughout the film, but there aren’t any specific moments where you can point and say that happened because of a god. It plays it straight until **SPOILER ALERT** Hercules needs to be a god in order to defeat his enemies. He’d performed several feats that, while not physically impossible for a mortal man, were at the far fringes of one’s limits, over the course of the film but suddenly in the last act he’s shown doing things far beyond the abilities of any human being. For me this was what ruined the film because, while the scenes were spectacular, they went against everything we’d been shown for the previous hour and a half.

The acting is about as tongue in cheek as you can get from the main crew. The Rock gives his usual grin and pummel performance that works so well for him. Quite frankly, there aren’t really any action stars in the newer generation that are as adept at handling both the action and the comedy as well as him. Rufus Sewell gives a borderline scene­ stealing performance as Autolycus, reimagined from the greatest thief in Greece to a Spartan warrior who fights alongside Hercules. Quite frankly, he gets most of the best one liners in the flick. Ian McShane plays an elderly mystic warrior fighting alongside Hercules as well and whatever good lines Sewell doesn’t get he chomps right down on. They along with The Rock make up the best parts of the movie. It’s the villains that drag it down acting wise. John Hurt may be British acting royalty, but he’s woefully miscast as a king seemingly looking out for his people’s best interest while working his own agenda and Joseph Fiennes is givn far too little screen time to even bear mentioning The action sequences are solid and the battles are well shot if occasionally a little confusing. Ratner is clearly more comfortable directing these types of scenes than in developing any kind of story or building his characters beyond stereotypes, but he lacks Michael Bay’s skill for crafting a ballet out of chaos.

It’s kind of sad in a way. I went into this movie expecting to hate it and as I watched it found myself really wanting to like it. By the time it was done, the best I could say was that I didn’t hate it. I enjoyed the way they played with the nature of mythology. I just wish that Ratner and his team had committed more to that aspect. It would have been fun to have teases that the gods were present throughout the movie without actually saying they were responsible for anything. All in all, though, this is an average action flick without anything in it worth really remembering.
Stank Ranking ­- – 7/10

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Apr 052016
 

Lazarus-Effect

 

By: Bill Nelson

Today we’ll be taking a look at 2015’s The Lazarus Effect, starring Mark Duplass, Olivia Wilde, Sarah Bolger, Evan Peters, and Donald Glover. The basic premise of this movie reminds me a bit of the old old Kevin Bacon/Kiefer Sutherland/Julia Roberts thriller Flatliners. In that film a group of medical students decide to test the idea that there is life after death by temporarily stopping their hearts and then allowing themselves to be resuscitated at the last possible safe moment. In The Lazarus Effect we trade out med students for pharmaceutical researchers who are working on a drug that maintain brain activity for extended periods of time in the absence of oxygen with the hope that they can extend the time available to resuscitate someone without permanent brain damage, however, their drug (which they call the Lazarus serum) seems to have the ability to reactivate electrical activity in the brain even after extended periods without oxygen, essentially giving them the ability to resurrect the dead.

Mark Duplass and Olivia Wilde head the film playing Frank Walton and his fiance, Zoe Mcconnell, who originally developed the serum while Evan Peters and Donald Glover play fellow scientists working on the project with them. Sarah Bolger plays a videographer brought in to document the strange turn their research has taken. After successfully bringing a dog back from the dead the team spends a few days monitoring the creature. Strangely the dog’s body seems to heal itself of disease such as cataracts clouding its eyes. It also seems alternately reluctant to respond and overly aggressive. The dog also exhibits odd abilities that only the audience is clued into initially. Eventually the university gets wind of the research the team is doing which is in violation of the grant they are operating under and all of their research is taken by the pharmaceutical company that owns the grant in an all too brief cameo by the great Ray Wise. The team, fearing that their contributions in the development of this seeming new wonder drug will be ignored, sneak back into their laboratory seeking to document one last experiment to prove they originated the Lazarus serum. Tragedy strikes when a power surge leaves Zoe dead. Zack, overcome with grief, demands they use the serum on her and, of course, all hell breaks loose.

So yeah, that’s the movie. If it sounds predictable, it is. The only real differences between this and Flatliners is that everyone in Flatliners tries the experience of dying and all of them eventually deal with what they brought back from the other side. Here, only Zoe dies and no one really knows how to deal with her. The talent is strong in this cast, particularly Wilde and Duplass who elevate the dull, early part of the movie to the point that you almost think it’s going to be better than it really is but the truth is none of the people appearing in this flick deserved the level of crap that it descends to.

So why, if there’s so much talent here, is the movie that bad? True, predictability in and of itself doesn’t make for a bad movie, just a boring one. The Lazarus Effect commits one of the most cardinal of cinema sins by not committing to a genre. It’s ok to be a hybrid genre and at times that appears to be what The Lazarus Effect is going for, but it never quite gels the thriller aspects of the story with the horror. By the time the film abandons the psychological build up that’s been occurring for almost the entire movie and gives itself over to full balls to the wall supernatural horror it’s too little too late. There are some definite flashes of story potential here and there but overall this is just not a good movie. In fact, it’s the worst that a horror movie can be because it’s boring. At least if it had been so bad it’s kind of funny there’d have been a reason to watch it.

Stank Ranking ­- – 8/10

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Mar 292016
 

screen-shot-2012-06-12-at-4-51-50-pm

 

By: Bill Nelson

This week we’re going to take a look at one of my all time favorite bad movies, Saving Silverman. Trust me, if you’re in the mood for a stupid laugh or two, this is one of the best flicks for you. Released in 2001, Saving Silverman stars American Pie’s Jason Biggs along with Steve Zahn and Jack Black as a trio of life-long friends with a shared obsession for Neil Diamond. Biggs plays Darren, an unlucky in love retirement home entertainment director, who ends up hooking up with Judith, played by Amanda Peet, a domineering psychologist who completely takes over his life as their relationship progresses. Zahn and Black, fearing the end of their friendship with Darren and their overall way of life, make progressively more insane attempts to break the couple up, finally settling on kidnapping Judith with the intention of getting Darren to hook up with his high school crush, who has returned to town with the intention of becoming a nun.

Basically, the movie is about as dumb as it sounds. I don’t even really know how to get across just how ridiculous the movie gets. There are serious pacing issues and a complete and utter lack of logic throughout the entire flick. If you try to take this movie seriously you’re going to end up either hating it or get the worst migraine imaginable, possibly both. It’s best just to turn your brain off and enjoy the ride.

Seriously, a movie where the main characters worship Neil Diamond to the point that that they have a cover band for him is worth your time. Steve Zahn proves once again that he’s an underrated comic presence. He throws himself whole-heartedly into whatever role he gets. I really wish he had a bigger presence these days because he’s one of those guys who can make a dull movie better with just the way he delivers a line. Jack Black is his usual over the top self, but it works, especially once his character becomes convinced he’s gay. The verbal banter between him and Zahn is puerile gold that elicits plenty of chuckles and the occasional belly buster.

The real scene stealer is the inimitable R. Lee Ermey. Ermey is famous primarily for his role in Full Metal Jacket as a tough as nails gunnery sergeant. He’s basically made career out of playing different variations of this same characters. In Saving Silverman, he plays the main characters’ former high school football coach, who, despite being insane, is looked up to as a hero by them. In the story, he convinces Zahn and Black that they need to kill Judith once she figures out who’s kidnapped her. Later, he breaks them out of jail and takes them on a high speed race to save Biggs’ Darren from marrying Judith where he ultimately also comes out of the closet and ends up with Black’s character at the end of the flick.

So, there you have it. A quick, easy flick to ease yourself out of the horror flick season and start getting ready for the holidays. Thanksgiving and Christmas are just around the corner and, trust me, there are plenty of opportunities for bad movies there. Today, though, just sit back, queue up some Neil Diamond on your music player of choice, and watch Saving Silverman. You’ll be glad you did.

Stank Rating: – 7/10

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Mar 252016
 

Day_4_The_Punisher_1989-970x545

 

This week, your heroes are taking up the ranks of the badass vigilante role and talking The Punisher! But we’re not talking about the new one, we’re talking about the rocking Dolph Lundgren in a role that was meant for him! Sure, there’s a bit of talk on all the punisher’s, but nothing beats the schlock fest of 1989’s The Punisher. Learn why there is no skull logo, what made Dolph more comfortable, and why there hasn’t been a really “great” Punisher movie. In our second segment, we drop a top 5 for the ages! It’s all about Comic Books we want as films! Don’t forget about our contest!

Intro Music Courtesy of https://mathgrant.bandcamp.com/track/space-blocks as provided under the Creative Commons License: Attribution, NonCommercial, Sharealike – If this Podcast were to reach commercial status, this theme would be replaced.

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Mar 232016
 

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Bad Movie Tuesday: Darkness Falls

By Ozzy Nelson

Welcome back, bad movie fans!  Have I got a treat for you, just in time for the Halloween season.  Today we’re going to look at Darkness Falls, a 2003 ghost story romp that fails to scare.  Directed by Jonathan Liebesman, who’s best known for butchering numerous franchises from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles through Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes production company, the film attempts to give us a new movie monster to haunt the pantheons with idols like Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers, and Jason Voorhees.  However, like most attempts to build a franchise around a monster, they fail in pretty much every respect.

Darkness Falls is set in Darkness Falls, Massachusetts and centers around a local legend of a widow named Matilda Dixon.  Dixon loves children and earned a reputation as the the ‘Tooth Fairy’ for her habit of giving gold coins to the children of the town when they lose a tooth.  However, a fire leaves her heavily scarred and extremely sensitive to light.  She becomes a recluse, only going out at night and wearing a porcelain mask whenever she does.  One night two children fail to return home and the town goes into a panic.  They lynch Dixon thinking she’s done something to the kids and with her dying breath she curses the town.  The next morning the children return unharmed and the townspeople bury Matilda Dixon and the reason for her death in shame.  However, for the last 150 years, whenever a child loses their last baby tooth the ghost of Matilda Dixon visits them and, if they see her face, she kills them.

The biggest problem with this film is an overall lack of a story.  There is an intriguing back story but instead of developing it they jump right into the meat of the story.  There is no character development and even less actual good acting.  The thing is they treat the story like a monster movie, but it would have worked better as a ghost story.  A successful ghost story works on at least two levels.  First, it needs to be a mystery that slowly reveals the nature of the haunting.  Second, it needs to build its scares slowly.  Too much of the Tooth Fairy is revealed too soon for her to ever be truly scary.  What scares we do get are derivative and largely unimaginative, pointless jump scares that you can see coming a mile away.

This film was scene as a launching point for Emma Caulfield who, at the time was something of a breakout star on TVs Buffy the Vampire Slayer, playing the wonderfully droll ex-demon Anya.  As a character, Anya played to Caulfield’s strengths.  She could be vulnerable and tender when needed, but what made her work was her ability to say whatever comes into her head without any kind of verbal filter and fail to understand why it’s inappropriate, which comes from living hundreds of years as a vengeance demon without actually living among the humans she slaughtered.  In other words, Anya was witty and silly all at once and could muster a steely resolve when needed.  In Darkness Falls, Caulfield is reduced to a helpless woman who is utterly reliant on everyone around her to save her from the terror that surrounds him.  She has no spunk, no wit, and very little charm.  She’s just a pretty face to look at as the film races to a conclusion that makes little to no sense.

There are some very good creature effects in the movie, though they fail to capitalize on anything interesting in a movie that should have had fun playing with how light is used considering its their primary antagonist’s only weakness.  Still, the Tooth Fairy is solidly constructed and the few scares in the movie are because of this.  All in all, there’s little to recommend in this film, but it’s a good flick to start your Halloween with.  It follows a similar premise to James Wan’s Dead Silence, which is a far superior film, but it does a good job of getting you in the mood for much better scares to come.

Stank Ranking –  – 9/10

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Mar 082016
 

johnny-mnemonic-big

By: Bill Nelson

Every once and a while, a studio thinks a film is going to change the world in some way. Sometimes it does, but only rarely. More often what we get is an overblown mixed bag of a flick that usually falls so far from the side of good that it’s all the studio can do to distance itself from the mess. Thus we come to Johnny Mnemonic in our journey through bad movies worth checking out. This was a 1995 actioner from Sony Pictures starring Keanu Reeves, Ice-T, Dina Meyer, Henry Rollins, Dolph Lundgren, and Udo Kier and based off of the classic cyberpunk short story by the legend, William Gibson. It was adapted for the screen by the author himself and directed by Robert Longo, an American painter and sculptor making his directorial debut. At the time, Keanu was still riding the high of his recent hit, Speed, and Dolph Lundgren and Udo Kier were still decent box office draws. The rest of the cast was made up of largely unknown or unproven screen actors, though both Ice-T and Henry Rollins had highly successful music careers that carried built in fan bases. Sony must have felt that with a young, hip cast and an adaptation of an iconic work of science fiction, whose ideas were just starting to come to fruition in the real world, nothing could go wrong. Instead, the film was ravaged by critics and only made back about 2/3s of its $30 million budget.

Going back and watching the film over 20 years after its release is a little weird. Technology has come so far in such a short time. There are references to 120 and 320 gigs being a lot of data and, though it really is a significant amount, it’s tiny when you realize that the terabyte is becoming the new minimum. The film shows successful video phone technology repeatedly, and, though that wasn’t exactly impossible in 1995, it was costly and difficult to do. Now we all carry phones capable of doing it without a second thought. Additionally, cybernetic implants play a crucial role in the story. Today, though we’re far from the neural implants in Johnny’s brain or the tech that gives bodyguard Jane her strength and speed, we do have artificial hearts and robotic limbs for amputees. And all of this was predicted almost entirely by one man. For those that don’t know, William Gibson coined the term cyberspace. He is credited with being the first to accurately predict what the internet would essentially become. This was all back in the 80s, when very few people knew the internet existed and even fewer were using it. Let’s face it, the internet was invented in the early 80s but didn’t become public until the late 80s and early 90s and it wasn’t until the turn of the century that it became a true power in the world. That said, even today we’re still hitting landmarks with the technology that Gibson and his peers predicted 30 years ago.

So what is Johnny Mnemonic, then, and why did it fail so badly? Well, Johnny Mnemonic is the story of a courier who carries black market data in an implant in his brain to avoid detection. Johnny’s trying to get out of the business and have his implants removed in an effort to regain memories that he gave up in order to get the implant in the first place. He is convinced to take one last job so he can afford the procedure. However, the data he is carrying far exceeds his storage capacity and he has only a short time to remove it before it ends up killing him. To make matters worse, the data is being hunted by its original owner, a pharmaceutical company called Pharma-Kom, who have contracted the Yakuza and a cybernetic religious zealot known as the Street Preacher to hunt him down and retrieve it no matter the cost. The film is ambitious in its depiction of a corporate run dystopian world, but fails to really capture it. Instead, it suffers from the ‘telling instead of showing’ problem. We’re told corporations run the world but the only company we see is Pharma-Kom and only through the eyes of one mid-level executive. We’re told there’s a war brewing between the technophiles and the luddites, called lo-teks in the film, but outside of a single instance where they try to take over a television signal and are immediately shut down at the beginning of the movie, we primarily see the lo-teks just wanting to be left alone.

Also, the acting is terrible. The only props go to Udo Kier and Dolph Lundgren, both of whom approach their roles with their usual manic zeal, infusing them with character even as they spew out the worst possible dialogue. That being said, you do see some early hints of the awesomeness that Keanu would carry into the role of Neo in The Matrix 4 years later. If he could have just lost that surfer accent completely for the film I might have held his performance in a little higher regard. Henry Rollins is also fun in the role of Spider, a street doctor who ends up getting some of the best lines in the movie.

While the technology used in the flick doesn’t hold up to the story it’s trying to tell, it is state of the art for its time. You have to think that if the story had focused on the technology at its heart instead of squandering the brilliance of William Gibson on a mindless action flick, the film would have been worlds better. Still, it’s not without its charm. If for nothing else than it’s the only film ever made based on Gibson’s work and the joyful, manic gleam in Dolph’s eyes when he plunges a massive, cross-shaped knife into just about anyone he can grab, this film deserves to be watched.

Stank Ranking –  – 8.5/10

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Mar 022016
 

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By: Bill Nelson

The year was 1999. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace had yet to come out and blow…I mean underwhelm…our puny little minds. The time seemed perfect to start another space franchise. So the powers that be landed on Wing Commander. Yes, that Wing Commander, the popular 90s space flight simulator series, got made into a movie. Bet you don’t even remember it came out, right? You can thank Star Wars and a little film called The Matrix for that, though they honestly didn’t have to work very hard to dwarf this heap of a movie.

Wing Commander the movie tells the story of Christopher ‘Maverick’ Blair (yes, they even stole Tom Cruise’s call sign) and Todd ‘Maniac’ Marshall, two fighter pilots carrying news of a recent attack by the evil Kilrathi (cat­like aliens bent on conquering Earth) that may have compromised the secrecy of our planet’s location to their new post. Their new ship, the Tiger Claw, has been commanded to take on the suicide mission of slowing down the massive Kilrathi fleet while the rest of the Earth’s ships scramble to get back to the planet to defend her. Along the way Maverick and Maniac bump heads with commanding officers, deal with their heritage, and make really bad jokes at the expense of Top Gun. Seriously.

Despite having a significantly higher female count the film definitely seems like it’s trying as hard as it can for the same level of machismo. The problem is that even by 1999 standards everything on this film looks dated. The aerial battles are clearly miniatures with bad CGI effects and when we do see cockpits that’s all we see so there’s never a sense that the fighter pilots are actually in space. The interiors of the space ships mostly look like large boiler rooms. And when we finally see the Kilrathi, which doesn’t even happen until the final act of the film, they look like a snarling version of something you’d want to pet, cute but vaguely evil looking and not really the villains you’d been hoping for.

The acting is both interestingly international and wildly uneven. Tcheky Karyo brings his usual dependable intensity and Jurgen Prochnow does his best to chew the scenery in what is basically the Michael Ironside role of the movie, however David Suchet (of Poirot fame) seems out of place as commander of a battleship and David Warner (the scientist guy from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Secret of the Ooze) is just flat out underused. Then there are the two leads. I like Freddie Prinze, Jr. I really do. He has charisma that works well with certain types of projects, like his appearance on TVs Psych where he plays a former geek trying to hide his nerdy behavior from his smoking hot wife, but this movie was just not a good fit for him. He brings a decent level of pathos to his character but there’s just not enough of a reason for us to care about his back story for it to matter. And Matthew Lillard. Can’t forget about him. He is simultaneously the best and most annoying things about this movie. Maniac seems to be the only character in the movie that goes through a genuine arc, though I would argue it’s solved a little too easily. Still, it’s almost as if when the movie wasn’t sure what to do next that meant it was time to punch in a standard late 90s Matthew Lillard gag and believe me they get tiresome.

The film’s biggest problem, though, is an overall lack of action. For an action film most of the movie is rather uneventful. The few battle scenes we see are really too clunky to get a sense of wonder and excitement and too much time in general is spent simply sitting around on the ship(s). You’d think that a movie based on a series of video games that helped to revolutionize video games would be given better treatment. The sad thing is that I can actually remember liking this movie way back in the day, even owned a copy of DVD. Of course, I think that can be blamed on my crush on Saffron Burrows, but who knows, maybe kid me saw a gem that old me can no longer see. Whatever the case, this movie is a fun trip down memory lane but little else.

Stank Rating –  – 9

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Feb 242016
 

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By: Bill Nelson

Well, bad movie fans, it’s time again for another glorious trek into the wasteland of cinema. This week we’re going to take a look at the 2014 reboot of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie series. There’s a lot to talk about with this movie but it helps to know the history. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were created in the early 80s by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird as a response to the gritty stories that were starting to turn up in comics at the time, essentially satirizing the more realistic stories by filtering them through the most fantastical characters. While the comic was never a major hit it developed a massive underground following and eventually spawned multiple popular animated TV series and a successful film franchise, though there hadn’t been a live action entry in the series since 1993 and only the computer animated TMNT released in 2007 to keep it alive.

Then, in 2009, Nickelodeon acquired the film and TV rights to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles from Mirage Studios. Almost immediately rumblings began about a new began to echo through Hollywood. The trail to a new film was a strange one as Nickelodeon partnered with Platinum Dunes, the production shingle for action director Michael Bay. Bay, who is most widely known these days for his film franchise based on the Hasbro robot toy series Transformers, had developed a reputation over the years for his ability to choreograph action sequences like ballet but wasn’t well regarded for his ability to generate a deep, character driven story. Almost as soon as Bay’s involvement was announced stories began to leak regarding major changes to the Turtles origins. Bay had announced that the new film would be called just Ninja Turtles and that the turtles would actually be aliens who resemble humanoid turtles. With a collective groan every Turtle fan around the world bemoaned the fact that Bay was about to do them what he had done to the Transformers. A leaked script that found it’s way online in 2012 did little to assuage fans’ fears despite the filmmakers’ assurances that this was just an early draft of the film that was rejected as soon as Bay and his team came on board.

So now we finally get to the finished project. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is actually not the horrendous affair you’ve probably been led to believe but it has more problems than it needs. It acts as a new origin story for the Turtles and their master/father figure, the rat Splinter. Originally Splinter was a rat raised by Japanese immigrant Hamato Yoshi and learned the ways of Ninjitsu by watching his owner practice from his cage. He then passed the art down to his ‘children’, the turtles, after they are all exposed to a mutagenic glowing green ooze in the sewers of New York following an attack by a ninja known as The Shredder that left Splinter’s owner dead. Now the Turtles and Splinter were exposed to the ooze in a lab where they were being experimented on by none other than April O’Neil’s father. When a fire breaks out in the lab a young April rescues them and releases them into the sewers where they continue to grow in both size and intelligence. However, it turns out that the mutagen is actually a cure for a terrible chemical weapon that O’Neil’s father’s partner, Eric Sacks, had developed with the intention of using the cure to make a fortune with his partner, the head of a crime organization called the Foot Clan…a ninja warrior known only as The Shredder.

So yeah, this isn’t the same Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles my generation grew up with. Personally, I don’t have a problem with the unnecessary connection between April and the Turtles so much as that the Turtles are practically background characters in their own movie. We don’t get a good look at them until nearly a half hour into the flick and even once we see them the story continues to focus on Megan Fox’s April and her intrepid investigation instead of the actual heroes of the movie. This is the same problem that Bay’s Transformers films suffer from and it’s a bad one. By focusing on the human characters the Turtles never get the chance to be anything more than caricatures. Raphael’s rage makes zero sense without proper context as do Raphael’s nerdiness and Leonardo’s determination. Even worse was Michelangelo’s horniness. Obviously, the Turtles are teenagers, they think, act, and feel human so it makes sense they would be attracted to human women just due to their exposure to our media but the constant pervy nature of Mikey’s personality is grating and creepy.

Truthfully, I can get into a lot more, like how radically different the Turtles look compared to previous incarnations or how ridiculous the Shredder’s outfit was, but after spending most of the article bashing the movie I think it’s worth mentioning some of the good. Basically, the flick is a bit of fun, pointless summer popcorn fare. When they are onscreen together the Turtles are entertaining and the mo­cap allows for a much greater and more realistic range of motion than any of the original live action films offered. The voicework is phenomenal, particularly Tony Shaloub of Monk fame playing Splinter. While he doesn’t bring quite the same gravitas that the now disgraced puppeteer Kevin Clash did in the first two productions, he brings a more lively version of Splinter to the table. On the live action side, Will Arnett kills every scene he’s in as Vern Fenwick, a character originally created specifically for the 80s animated series as a foil for April O’Neil. Arnett’s natural smarmy nature and sarcastic one liners keep the movie afloat when the Turtles aren’t present.

The movie itself floats along on most shoestring of plots, basically acting as a springboard from one set piece to the next but the script remains lively and it never takes itself too seriously. I mean, yes, I would have preferred the grittier, almost film noir style that the original 1990 production had, but as far as candy coated surface level remakes go, this one isn’t exactly unwatchable. Despite my better judgment, I’m actually serious to see where the sequel takes us. I mean with Stephen Amell cast as Casey Jones and famed Madea director Tyler Perry set to play  classic Turtles villain Baxter Stockwell along with the addition of fan favorite cartoon only characters Bebop and Rocksteady you almost have to at least see what they’re going to do. Well, that’s about it for today. Tune in next week for your next dose of Bad Movie Tuesday.

Stank Rating – Stank Rating:  – 7

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Feb 172016
 

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By: Bill Nelson

The Wachowskis were once among the most visionary directors in Hollywood. They started out as a screenwriting duo, penning the highly underrated Sylvester Stallone/Antonio Banderas vehicle Assassins, then moved to directing, igniting the screen with the smoldering performances of Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon in Bound. Bound set them on a collision course with legendary producer Joel Silver and all of a sudden Hollywood was never the same. The Matrix was a film that in many ways came out of left field. The story was based on a comic book series of which almost no one had ever heard. The marketing was intriguing but did little to explain why we should see it. In large part, The Matrix owes its success to a lack of knowledge. The internet was still young enough in 1999 that movie spoilers were virtually non-existent, the Wachowskis, though rising stars, didn’t have the name power to immediately be hounded because of a flick they were making. The Matrix was one of the last movies to be made where word of mouth following its release was just as crucial to its success as any pre-release marketing and it sky-rocketed the Wachowskis’ careers into the stratosphere even as they were still developing their skills. As a result, I believe, their later films suffered. They were expected to deliver mega-blockbusters with every new film but no one factored in the fluke factor of The Matrix’s success.

The Wachowskis followed The Matrix with the less than stellar Matrix Reloaded and dismal Matrix Revolutions, then stayed out of the picture until it was announced they’d be re-teaming with Joel Silver on the big screen adaptation of long time anime fave Speed Racer. It seemed to be a match made in heaven, pairing the Wachowskis’ visual style with the unfettered zaniness of one of Japan’s silliest animes. So what went wrong?

In a lot of ways, we got the movie we were promised. Visually, the movie is astounding. The Wachowskis managed to capture the insanity of the races that make up the bulk of the original cartoon. Crazy contraptions and cut throat manuevers in tracks that defy the laws of physics amp up the excitement every time we see them and the directors wisely keep us focused on the action.

The problem of Speed Racer comes from a lack of story. Speed is wooed by a corporate sponsor with unclear but evil designs. Speed agrees only to seem to lose everything forcing him to work with rivals to get his family’s good name back. It’s about as thin as you can get and though the Wachowskis try to flesh it out with Speed’s guilt over the death of his older brother, there’s little driving this movie forward.

Of course we wouldn’t be talking about the movie if it wasn’t worth watching for some reason. The most obvious reason are the races. The visuals are spectacular and the cartoon racing gags actually translate quite well. Then there’s the casting coup of getting John Goodman as Pops Racer. Not only is he a perfect physical fit, but he brings a hopeful and exuberant yet world weary quality to the role. Goodman anchors the movie in a way that Emile Hirsch as Speed never quite does. Then there’s Spritle and Chim Chim. They are the most annoying characters from the cartoon and generally are in the movie as well, but they get the single best non-racing scene in the movie when they pretend to be ninjas while sneaking onto the villain’s plane in a poorly planned spying attempt.

There’s a lot to be desired for in the Wachowskis’ Speed Racer. Fans of the anime are right to hate it, but it’s not the horrible film the fanboys would have you believe. It’s the kind of mindless action movie that you can step back from the story and just enjoy the pretty scenery. Even an underused Christina Ricci and a poorly used Matthew Fox still make this a generally fun popcorn flick. The good news is that the Wachowskis’ stock is back on the rise. They continue to be among the best visual directors in Hollywood and with Jupiter Rising they stand poised to finally prove that The Matrix wasn’t a complete fluke. I don’t know about you, but I’m hoping that they do.

Stank Rating:  – 7

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Feb 102016
 

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Bad Movie Tuesday – Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension

By Bill Nelson

Well, last week got off to a rousing start with Dumb & Dumber To. After looking at one of Hollywood’s bigger bad movies, though, it seemed like it was time to take a turn down a more familiar route. Horror movies are the life blood of bad cinema. I’ve said it more times than I count and it just never stops being true. Why? Well, because they’re usually reasonably cheap to make and almost always return at least a modest profit. In other words, ever Tom, Dick, and Igor can go out and make a terrible zombie/alien/monster movie and, with little to no marketing, make a few bucks.

This week we’ll be taking a look at one of the movies I was really hoping would be good in 2015, Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension. By now, if you don’t know the basic premise of the series you’re probably new to the planet, but just in case here’s a brief primer. Spooky stuff happens while people are filming. People get freaked out and get super serious about trying to capture the spooky stuff on film more. The spooky stuff escalates and people die. To be less oblique, the Paranormal Activity movies are a found footage series of horror films. The initial film, written and directed by Oren Peli and starring Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat, was a surprise hit in 2009. Primarily the series follows an unseen demon (finally named Toby in Paranormal Activity 3) who torments various families in their homes. Of the six films produced in the series, only the first and third are really any good. The second one has a good twist ending that ties it nicely back in with the first but doesn’t do much to earn it. The Marked Ones stands as an interesting but ultimately dull side story to the main film series and the fourth one is just terrible. Where does The Ghost Dimension fall in this, though?

Ultimately, I would argue that this flick is actually a little better than the last main entry in the series, Paranormal Activity 4, but worse than pretty much everything else in the series. The story is more interesting, if only just barely, and the scares are a little more effective. It’s basic: a family finds an old box of videos in their attic showing the indoctrination of young Katie and her sister Kristi (the sisters at the heart of Paranormal Activity 1, 2, and 3) into the coven of witches introduced in the prior films. As the family watches the videos they make the eerie realization that, despite being filmed over twenty years earlier, the girls are somehow aware of their presence, reacting to things in the video that happen as they are being watched. At the same time, a presence begins stalking the house, attaching itself to the family’s young daughter, Leila. The presence, the invisible demon known as Toby, can only be seen through an old, highly customized camcorder found in the box with the videos. As the family realizes that their daughter is changing and something in the house has it in for them they begin filming everything that happens at night in order to find and put a stop to Toby for good.

There are some clever moments in the The Ghost Dimension. The ‘spectral’ camera is definitely put to better, scarier use than the infrared dots of the X­Box Kinect system in Paranormal Activity 4. And, while the movie never really shoots for anything more than jump scares, I will give them credit for being better handled than most modern horror flicks. The problem with the movie is that for all that it wants to be different and unique from the rest of the series while wallowing in the same tropes set up in those prior entries, it never really gets any further than a bad Exorcist wannabe.

I really, really wanted to like this movie. I remember discovering the first Paranormal Activity back in 2010 when it used to be on Netflix. It was late at night and pitch black except for my TV and I was thoroughly hooked by the simple premise and genuinely creepy atmosphere of the film. As the series aged, though, elements started popping up that could have made for an interesting mythology but were just never fleshed out enough to make sense. The Ghost Dimension was supposed to answer all the questions in the series and wrap it up with a bow, but I walked away still not quite sure exactly what the point was other than it had something to do with time travel. If you enjoyed the earlier films in the series, you’ll probably have some fun with this one but otherwise, you’re better off just watching the first 3 again.

Stank Ranking – 8.5

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