Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Hard Ride to Hell

Orginally posted at BeyondHollywood.com.


Three words. You only need to hear three words to decide if you’re interested in watching “Hard Ride to Hell.” You’ll either hear them and immediately decide that this is a movie you want to see, or you’ll hear them, pinch your eyebrows together, purse your lips, and shake your head, no, this probably isn’t the movie for you. Here are the three words: satanic, cannibal, bikers. If those are things you like, “Hard Ride to Hell” might be for you. If not, consider sitting this one out.

I thought about adding a fourth word to my list, immortal, but satanic, cannibal, bikers rolls off of the tongue much easier than immortal, satanic, cannibal, bikers. That’s too much of a mouthful, and I think the original trio sufficiently captures the essence of the movie.

A group of friends, their names and background aren’t important (one of women was in “Ginger Snaps”), are driving through the wilds of Texas in an RV. Like their names and stories, their destination and reason for the trip are entirely coincidental. All that really matters is that they’re young, attractive, and they stop overnight at a deserted campground in the woods. You can pretty much ignore the set up. The only thing that you need to know is that one of the young women recently miscarried and is sad about it. Everything else simply gets them where they need to be.

At the campground our team meets the obligatory creepy campground guy. This time it is Bob (Brent Stait), an ex Special Forces, travelling knife salesman in a wood-paneled station wagon. He leaves. They are alone. There is, of course, the now obligatory, “no cell phone reception” scene. (I liked it much better when horror movies didn’t have to account for the fact that everyone has a cell phone.)

When one member of the party stumbles upon a group of immortal, satanic, cannibal, bikers, led by Miguel Ferrer, mid occult ritual, things take a severe downward turn. If you’re of the group that enjoys movies featuring Satanists, cannibals, or bikers, you’ll already have a pretty good idea of how things will unfold.

“Hard Ride to Hell” feels like the second part of a drive-in double-feature from 1978. And I don’t mean that in the sense of movies like “Planet Terror”, or “Dead Snow”, where the campiness is super over the top and intentional. The film isn’t ironically self-aware, the characters don’t know that they’re in a horror movie, and no one is wearing a t-shirt from some semi-obscure slasher flick from the early ‘80s. I appreciate these things because nothing aggravates me more than some smart-ass running away from zombies while referencing George Romero. (That nonsense almost ruined “Dead Snow” for me.) I want a schlocky horror movie to just be a schlocky horror movie, I don’t want it to be a hipster’s imagining of other hipsters in a schlocky horror movie. I don’t care if they’ve ever seen “Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things.” I don’t care if they can name every actor who played Jason Voorhees in chronological order.

With two exceptions where there is some ill-advised computer generated fire, if the film print was grainier and faded with time, “Hard Ride to Hell” could have been made 30 years ago, and if it had been, today it would be widely hailed as a mild cult classic along the lines of “Psychomania”.

The plot is nowhere near original, but that doesn’t stop “Hard Ride to Hell” from being kind of rad. It has creepy rituals around a campfire presided over by Miguel Ferrer in a cloak. There is a vague kind of black magic that is somehow related to Alister Crowley and the Catholicism. Characters say awesome things like, “Could somebody tie off my stump before I bleed to death,” without a hint of ironic posturing. A priest punches a pregnant woman. Sure, she’s pregnant with the Anti-Christ, and possessed, but still, a priest punches a pregnant woman. And like I said earlier, there’s an ex Special Forces travelling knife salesman. These are all wonderful things.

Writer/director Penelope Buitenhuis isn’t concerned with things like motivation, set up, or continuity, and the characters are largely interchangeable. The film isn’t edited or structured particularly well. Miguel Ferrer gives roughly half of a good performance, which is the only competent acting, but eventually it feels like he’s given up and stopped trying.

In all likelihood, I’m the only person out there that enjoys “Hard Ride to Hell,” which is fine, my taste is questionable at best, but if the phrase satanic, cannibal, bikers appeals to you at all, give it a shot. It’s hard to go wrong with a movie that begins with Miguel Ferrer ripping a stillborn fetus out of the belly of a pregnant woman who is possessed by black magic.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Hard Revenge, Milly

Some unspecified disaster or environmental trauma has left Japan a post-apocalyptic wasteland, ruled by gangs of thugs. Tokyo is a wind swept desert, and Yokohama has regressed to futuristic version of the lawless Wild West.

Two years ago Milly’s (Miki Mizuno) life was perfect. She had a husband and a baby, and she was happy. But everything turned to shit when they happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and encountered the Jack Brothers, the worst and most notorious of the gangs of drug dealers and criminals, on a day where they just felt like killing someone.

That is the heart of the story of Takanori Tsujimoto’s “Hard Revenge, Milly”. The film fits into the larger trend of hyper-violent Japanese gore/vengeance movies, like “The Machine Girl” and “Tokyo Gore Police”, to name but two of many. There is nothing super original here. It is a standard revenge plot; they killed Milly’s husband, burned her baby, mutilated her, and left her for dead. Unbeknownst to the Jack Brothers, she survived, and now, clad in the revenge movie uniform, a black leather trench coat that hides a dark secret, she exacts her revenge by picking off their goons.

“Hard Revenge, Milly” contains a lot of elements that you find in other films of this genre, like the aforementioned black trench coat, and a shotgun leg. The filmmakers don’t skimp on the ridiculous elements either. There is a headless body that still shoots, innumerable fountains of blood, holes blasted right through a torso, unnecessary freeze frames, and silly wire work in the climactic fight.

If you’re already a fan of these movies, “Hard Revenge, Milly” will be right up your alley. But while it is pretty standard fare, there is enough to make it stand out from the rest of the pack. Tsujimoto sets up the action well, despite what appears to be minimal resources (it is obviously shot on video, the cast consists of six or seven people, but he uses the abandoned warehouse settings to great effect), and the ridiculousness of the gore is over the top enough to be a lot of fun. The absurd, almost ludicrous violence of the main story is paralleled by Milly’s memories of the slaughter of her family, violence that instead of being comical is over the top in its brutality and cruelty. Amidst the cookie cutter vengeance yarn, there are some quirky, interesting moments, like Milly hiding a knife in a teddy bear, and using the severed hand of one of her victims to write, “Welcome” on the front of a building.

If nothing else, “Hard Revenge, Milly” doesn’t waste any time. Tsujimoto begins with an idyllic sunlit shot of Milly, with a voiceover as she talks of happier times. This image is immediately juxtaposed with a frenetic dismembering that sets the tone for the rest of the film. Milly’s story is told piecemeal throughout, through flashbacks and fractured glimpses into her memories. The entire thing is 45 minutes long, so there is scarcely any time to let the momentum ebb.

“Hard Revenge, Milly” is short, to the point, exactly what you expect, and, if you’re looking for something to fill 45 minutes of your day, it is worth a watch.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Slithis aka Spawn of the Slithis

First appeared on BeyondHollywood.com.


“Slithis” is finally on DVD! I’ve been waiting for this day since I was in junior high and stumbled across the already well-worn VHS copy at my local video store. Stephen Traxler’s 1978 film has everything a child of my era could want. Growing up I fully expected to be annihilated by a nuclear holocaust at any given moment, murdered in my sleep by Freddy Krueger, or wiped out by some massive environmental catastrophe, so any movie with a guy dressed in a rubber monster suit, loosely disguised as a cautionary tale about nuclear power and pollution, was right up my alley.

To be honest, I remember it not being very good, and decades down the line it doesn’t even hold up to my already under-inflated expectations. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t watch it.

Something is killing household pets along the canals of Venice (that’s Venice, California), leaving a trail of mutilated corpses along the banks. Before long, whatever it is isn’t satisfied with small game, and starts invading homes and devouring people. The police are convinced that these seemingly ritualistic killings are the work of a death cult. Personally, I miss the days when cults were widely viewed as frightening. High school journalism teacher/freelance reporter looking to make a name for himself, Wayne Connors (Alan Blanchard), doesn’t share the cop’s theory, and investigates the killings on his own.

Along with his trusty, hippy-dippy science teacher sidekick, Dr. John (J.C. Claire), and his wife, Jeff (Judy Motulsky, and yes, her name is Jeff), Connors tracks the real killer, an irradiated mutant, piecing together clues as he goes. He finds a strange slime left at one crime scene. Because Dr. John is a high school science teacher, he is up on his nuclear physics news, and identifies the substance as slithis, which is some sort of radioactive dirt caused by a nuclear reactor leak, that takes on the characteristics of whatever it touches. The radiation does something to the bacteria in the soil, altering it on a cellular level, and Connors makes the immediate leap that this particular instance of Slithis has evolved further than ever before, creating some kind of giant mutant beast thing. We know he’s right, but the cops don’t buy his hair-brained theory for a second, so he has to find some sort of actual proof. Imagine that.

“Slithis”, aka “Spawn of the Slithis”, is one of those movies that where most of the cast has only this lone film on their acting resumes, so don’t expect any virtuoso performances, but you weren’t, were you? The only name you might recognize in the credits is Mimi Leder, who served as a script supervisor, but went on to direct some big budget action movies of her own, most notably, “The Peacemaker” and “Deep Impact”.

The story starts off in standard monster movie form, with some monster’s-eye-view shots, and the end is pretty kickass, in a pseudo-“Jaws” kind of way. But the middle wanders around aimlessly while Connors interviews homeless guys and takes soil samples looking for any shred of evidence that will prove his wing-nut theory. At one point we spend fifteen minutes getting to know a sleazy mustachioed gentleman and the young girl he picked up at the turtle races (if the reality of “Slithis” is to be believed, turtle racing was a big deal in late ‘70s Southern California youth culture), only to watch them get eaten, or “Slithised” as I like to call it. No one cares about the names and back-stories of the Slithis fodder; we just want to see them get eaten. There are a lot of moments like this that are unnecessarily long. It feels like writer/director Traxler had the beginning and the end when he started shooting, but the body of the film was eluding him.

However, in the midst of all this shiftless drifting, there are little gems, like a grizzled homeless man being interviewed on TV saying, “I sleep sometimes in the john down there by the beach. Them stalls ain’t got no locks on ‘em, you know.” Pure gold.

“Slithis” isn’t a great movie. No one will make that argument. Hell, I won’t even try to tell you it’s a well-made movie. And while it isn’t quite as awesome as I remembered, it has moments where it is a whole lot of fun. If you can slog through the middle, the end is well worth the wait. And in my book, it’s hard to go wrong when you have some jackass running around in a latex costume that looks like a Ninja Turtle’s ugly cousin.

Slaughter Island

Originally published at BeyondHollywood.com.


At first glance, “Slaughter Island” looks like it is going to be nonstop gore covered T&A from start to finish. Now don’t get me wrong, you will see your fill of Japanese girls in bikinis splattered with blood, there is certainly no shortage of that, so if that’s your jam, you’re good. But somewhere along the line, director Hisaaki Nagaota manages to make a pretty decent horror movie that fits in nicely in the teens-in-the-wilderness/slasher/mystery killer type genre.

A group of ten friends who loosely think of themselves as an adventure club, though their adventuring primarily consists of partying on the beach, travel to a deserted island. Perhaps this is the mysterious phantom island that local legend tells about, the one that appears and disappears without warning, the one that no one has ever returned from alive. It makes for a good, creepy ghost story as the teens sit around the campfire.

Before long the teens start dying off one by one. Is there someone else on the island? Is it the island itself that is killing them? Are they dealing with something they can stop, or something supernatural that they have no chance against? When their boat disappears they find themselves stranded, with no hope of rescue since the skeevy guy, Nabuo, who led them to their doom, neglected to tell anyone on the mainland where they were going. Right away you know they’re screwed.

Nagaota takes a standard set up and tweaks it enough to make it interesting. The killing/haunting/whatever you want to call it is actually pretty original. I’m not going to tell you what it is because that will ruin the entire movie, but watching it, “Slaughter Island” does a nice job being creepy and creating an atmosphere of suspense and dread.

“Slaughter Island” is a good example of filmmakers doing a lot with a little. There isn’t much to this film. I don’t mean that in a derogatory sense, but it is true. Here are the elements the film contains: teens, beaches, woods, and blood. There are no sets aside from a campfire and some tents, no effects except blood, and a small cast, but they still manage to make a decent movie. The film focuses on story instead of eye-catching gimmicks and unnecessary frills, and the end result is that much stronger for the emphasis.

This feels like a movie that a group of friends could have made quickly for little money. Normally when I say that I mean it as a negative, but here it works, and they produced something worthwhile.

The one aspect where the film’s minimalism might be a detriment is in the appearance. It is obviously shot on video with little to no industrialized lighting. This leads to a dreary, monochrome color palate. The colors are muted and blend together into a dull, lifeless background. Even bright colors, like yellows and pinks, somehow melt into the blues and greens and browns of the scenery. Sure this makes the blood pop that much more, the vivid red stands out in sharp contrast to everything else in the frame, but it makes the rest of the film appear flat and bland.

There are ultimately some unanswered questions in the story, like the implied connection between Nabuo and the island (at one point he claims to be “the guardian of the Island”), but in the end, they prove to be unimportant.

“Slaughter Island” may not be the best, or most frightening, movie, but it is pretty good. With minimal resources, the cast and crew manage to make a horror movie that, while not groundbreaking in any sense, is original enough to be entertaining and worth a look. This is proof that a decent idea can translate into something worth watching, regardless of budget.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Somtum

This originally appeared at BeyondHollywood.com.


“Somtum” has all the potential in the world, but ultimately ends up as kind of a mess.

Nathan Jones (“Tom-Young-Goong”, “The Condemned”) stars as Barney Emerald, a down on his luck Australian giant, who wins third place in a contest. This is one hell of a contest because third place, the bronze medal, is a trip to Thailand. That’s not a bad consolation prize. A life-long loser, Barney thinks his luck has changed. He couldn’t be more wrong. On his first night of vacation he gets drugged, robbed, and left barefoot and shirtless in a foreign country with no money and no passport.

At 6’11 and 360 pounds, Jones is a towering freak of a human being. His life has been nothing if not interesting. At one time he pulled off a string of bank robberies, and was one of Australia’s most wanted men. In prison he became a power lifter, and before a back injury, suffered in an arm wrestling match, he was a promising newcomer on the world strongman scene. Then he had a brief career as a professional wrestler, and now he acts in action movies, usually in bit parts as a tough guy the hero has to fight. In “Somtum”, however, he plays a gentle giant. He’s big, clothes don’t fit him, he snores, children often mistake him for some sort of monster or ghost, he appears comically large riding down the street on a scooter, you know, the usual trials and tribulations of the overly large.

Half naked, wandering the unfamiliar streets of Thailand, Barney runs into a young girl, Katen (Narawat Techarathanaprasert), while she flees from some thugs she ripped off. Even though Barney is enormous, he’s a pussy, and gets thoroughly trounced for trying to help.

Katen is an orphan and a hustler. A pickpocket and petty criminal, she lives with Dokya (Sasisa Jindamanee), a Muay Thai prodigy, and her mother, who runs a local somtum restaurant. Calling it a restaurant is being generous since it is more like a food shanty on the beach. Dokya can handle herself, but her mother hates that she fights, and makes her promise that she won’t, in or out of a ring.

The sisters feel bad for Barney, you know, since they got him beat up and all, and take him in. Barney is like a giant, dopey puppy. Think a Mastiff or Great Dane. He’s huge, but has no idea how big he is, or how much damage he can do. That is, until the girls feed him a plate of somtum. Apparently Barney doesn’t deal well with spicy food. He turns bright red, starts to hallucinate, and goes into an uncontrollable berserker rage, leveling the food shack in the process.

Now they need money to fix the restaurant. Barney is a loser with no friends, so he can’t get anyone back home to send him money. Their next idea is to have him fight in an underground fight club, but he’s just as adept at fighting as he is at everything else. He can’t dance, so he can’t become a stripper. Finally, they decide that Dokya will fight at the fight club, and in order to convince mom, Katen lies to her, telling her it’s a dance contest, while Dokya thinks mom has given her okay to fight.

The story gets convoluted and meanders around from scene to scene for a while. Some bad guys are involved in jewel heist, the fight promoter is crooked, Katen is a conniving little shit who makes every situation worse through lies and deceit. “Somtum” is more of a collection of scenes than a coherent plot. And because of that, most of the movie feels entirely directionless.

Once you get towards the middle of the movie there is more action throw into the mix, but it takes 40 minutes or so to arrive at this point. Even though there are guns and criminals present, “Somtum” is still obviously aimed at a younger audience. The fight scenes are sound, but, until the climactic fight, most of them belong to the same comic, slapstick family that you get in the less serious Jackie Chan movies.

Dokya’s sequences are solid, but Jindamanee is a junior national Muay Thai champ, so she can actually fight her ass off. At one point she has to fight a grown man in the ring and beats him down even though he cheats. Dan Chupong (“Ong-Bak 1, 2, and 3”) shows up for like five minutes, but he’s basically just in the movie to have one fight, which is good, but then he disappears from the narrative.

Aside from those two instances, the rest of the fights try way too hard to be funny, like one that features an excessive amount of papayas. And even in Chupong’s fight, when a bad guy grabs a knife, every jab or thrust finds a way to slice vegetables or dice onions like they’re preparing dinner. The forced attempts at comic relief get old quick.

At the end, Barney finally figures out how to fight, and in the sprawling battle he has with three other giants, they entirely dismantle an entire airplane. Jones is good at being enormous and frightening, and these moments are his best in the film. It’s a lot to ask of him to carry a whole movie sicne his acting chops are questionable, and his career will probably be best served by sticking to parts like his role in “Tom-Young-Goong”, where he mostly has to flex, yell, and fight. That’s where he is at his peak, and he could have a long and prosperous run in action movies. They always need another big, scary guy.

There are some good moment in “Somtum”, but overall the story lacks focus and drive, the plot is too jumbled, and the comedy is forced and not all that funny.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Power Kids

This originally appeared at BeyondHollywood.com.


Fuck “The Karate Kid.” Am I the only one who has a problem with the fact that, in a movie called “The Karate Kid,” he goes to China and learns kung fu? Looking at the box office returns from this past weekend it certainly looks that way. Why didn’t they just call it “The Karate Kid Learns Kung Fu”? Then I would have no problem with it.

My irrational anger notwithstanding, if you want to watch children fight, instead of wasting your time on this latest Hollywood rehash of one of my precious childhood memories (and on the same weekend at the “A Team” retread no less), you should watch “Power Kids”.

“Power Kids” is a product of Prachya Pinkaew (“Ong-Bak”, “Tom-Young-Goong”) and his Baa-Ram-Ewe production company, and translates the adrenalin fueled, Muay Thai action of his previous movies to kids. “Power Kids” is full to overflowing with adorable little children, who could beat the living hell out of me, running around, jumping off of things, and throwing flying knees. That’s why I love Thailand. American’s national sport is baseball, while theirs is the one of the world’s most brutal martial arts.

Wuth (Nantawooti Boonrapsap), Pong (Paytaai Wongkamlao), Catt (Sasisa Jindamanee), and Jib (Nawarat Techarathanathanprasert) are all students who live at Master Lek’s (Arunya Pawilai) Thai Boxing academy. I’m not sure where their parents are in all of this, but the only time any of their progenitors are mentioned is in relation to Pong, whose father is a famous country singer/comedian (Petchtai Wongkamlao, Dirty Balls from “Ong-Bak”, and also his real life father), but only appears in the film via photograph.

Despite being happy-go-lucky, junior badasses (they come together to beat up a giant muscle-man in a slapstick scene that shows their unity through groin pummeling), these kids have all the standard kid problems, bullies on four-wheelers, drunken Americans, the big RC-car race tomorrow, and, most pressing, congenital heart defects. Wuth’s younger brother, Wun, has a bad heart and collapses while fleeing some neighborhood toughs. The good news is that the doctors have found a suitable donor organ for transplant and are prepared to perform the operation, just in the nick of time. The bad news is that a group of heavily armed insurgents has taken over the hospital where the heart is, “Die Hard” style.

In four hours the heart will become unusable, so the kids know exactly what they have to do. They don’t even blink. Without pausing they invade the hospital, and the rest of the movie is little kids launching themselves off of things with reckless abandon, and bludgeoning fully grown soldiers, which is exactly as awesome as it sounds.

It is pretty obvious which of the child actors can actually fight. Most of the real action is delegated to Wuth and Catt, whose stunts and fight sequences are impressive for anyone, let alone kids this age. Pong and Jib are generally left to run around and evade the bad guys by hiding under a sheet next to dead bodies in the morgue. Pong is the comic relief, though his shtick wears thin after a while. The climactic fight between Wuth and Catt and the rebel leader (Johnny Nguyen, “Tom-Young-Goong”) in this narrow hallway, is a fitting final battle, and it includes the craziest action of the movie.

The kids are headstrong and brave, but this isn’t “Spy Kids” (which, despite the fact that no one believes me, is an incredible movie in it’s own right). The kids don’t single-handedly take down an armed insurrection and save the day. They’re not commandos, they don’t have a bunch of gadgets, they’re just kids. Also, unlike an American movie, these kids are actually in danger. They get shot, kicked, and beaten, and when this happens, they bleed their own blood. When guys with guns chase them, you feel like there is a real chance that you may see a kid get shot.

The end comes together too tidily to be entirely satisfying, but, unlike a lot of films featuring children, “Power Kids” avoids being overly sentimental and ending on a freeze frame of a group hug.

For my sake, do me a favor. Skip “The Karate Kid Learns Kung Fu”, and watch “Power Kids” instead. You’ll thank me for it later. “Power Kids” are way better than all of the Fresh Prince’s kids combined. And it’s short. The entire film, credits included, times out at 73 minutes.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Get Him to the Greek

This was originally posted at BeyondHollywood.com


Someone needs to have an intervention for Jonah Hill. He looks like hell. His friends should sit him down and show him a career retrospective of Chris Farley as a cautionary tale. It isn’t just that he has gotten really big, he was always a stout young fella, but he does not look well in Get Him to the Greek, a loose sequel to 2008’s Forgetting Sarah Marshall, where he once again teams up with director Nicholas Stoller, producers Judd Apatow and Jason Segel, and costar Russell Brand.

Brand reprises his role as over-indulgent rock star Aldous Snow, who is recently off the wagon with a vengeance. Hill plays Aaron Green, not his role from the first movie, a low-level, idealistic record company employee. Right away you can tell that he’s in the business for the love because he has a wall of records in his apartment. This, of course, is cinematic shorthand for “this character listens to college radio”, a fact that is shortly reinforced when he name drops Mars Volta. Apparently the t-shirt and poster on the wall weren’t enough.

Aaron wants to enjoy the fringe benefits of his job, like a wild after party at Jay Z’s house, where his coworker, Aziz Ansari (who I like for the moment, but who I know that I will hate in six months after he is in every movie—see the cases of Seth Rogan and Jack Black, who I also used to enjoy, but now make me cringe) winds up with glitter on his dick. Instead of partying and having fun, Aaron is stuck at home with his perky doctor girlfriend Daphne (Elisabeth Moss), who just wants to sit on the couch and watch “like a hundred hours of Gossip Girl”. He puts up a pleasant fa├žade, but is completely miserable in his home life.

Puff Daddy, who, like The Rock, I will never be able to call his given name, plays Sergio, the head of the record company, looking to increase profits. He gives Aaron the chance to fulfill a lifelong dream, to meet his idol, Aldous Snow, and escort him from London to Los Angeles for a concert. Daphne, however, wants to move to Seattle to follow her own dream. Aaron acts like a jackass, and they break up right before he leaves.

All of this build up is tedious and takes way too long. It’s heavy handed character development that delays the main narrative thrust, and most enjoyable part of the movie, the drug and alcohol fueled trek across the globe. The subplots with Aaron’s relationship with Daphne, and the parallel story with Snow and his ex, are forced and overly cumbersome. It is unneeded sentimentality, and even though he hooks up with multiple girls on his trip, he has some sort of epiphany that isn’t based on anything real, and tries to win her back. The emotion isn’t earned, and watching it, you ask why. He wasn’t happy, she wasn’t happy, they were emotionally dead, and despite what the movie tries to tell you, it feels formulaic, and like the wrong decision.

This is where Apatow’s hand is most clearly visible. Apparently it isn’t enough for a movie to just be funny, it has to be touching at the end. It worked in The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, and Superbad, but it is really distracting in Get Him to the Greek. Forgetting Sarah Marshall is earnest and sweet, which is where it derives most of its charm, and they should have left it in that movie instead of trying to cram it in here. The happy ending feels obligatory.

The movie is most fun during the hazy party montages. Hill and Brand show off a frenetic energy as they bounce around the screen like carnival visions of excess. Their chemistry carries them through a series of excellent adventures, which are offset by more low-key moments, usually where the two are in transit from city to city, and further punctuated by a couple of dark scenes. Aldous going through heroin withdrawals reminds Aaron, and the audience, of the brutal, ugly side of this seemingly light-hearted lifestyle of endless partying. It is rough, and he looks like he has been slapped across the face when he realizes what’s going on.

Hill does what he does well, play a chubby smart ass with a good heart (except for the fact that he’s generally a prick to his girlfriend). He follows the exact same arc as his character in Superbad, so he’s not stretching himself at all here, but he’s personable and fun to watch, and that’s what people want to see.

From what I’ve seen of Brand, in movies, stand-up, and his hosting duties, he seems to be a one trick pony, but thus far in his career that one trick is pretty good, so I’m still on board. He is one of those actors that you look at and wonder if he is just playing himself, if he is playing a persona he created, or if he is actually acting. Either way, he plays a drug addled rock star with a certain zest, but, like I mentioned earlier with Aziz Ansari, the act is going to wear thin before too long. And “white African space Christ” is kind of brilliant.

And Puffy is also good. I heard he was good in Monster’s Ball, but I’ve never seen him act before, so the experience was strange to me. Sure his character is partially a spoof of himself, or at least of his public persona, but he is solid, and obviously having a lot of fun on screen. After he shows up in Las Vegas, it turns into the best scene of the entire movie, and at one point he tells the guy from the Neptunes that he looks like Carlton from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, a reference that will always earn points from me.

Ultimately, Get Him to the Greek is fun, but seriously flawed. The core of the movie is solid, but there are far too many superfluous subplots and asides that are a waste of time. Most of the emotional weight is strained and artificial, to say the least, and the entire film should have been much more streamlined. Seriously, the lone Napster joke isn’t enough to justify the amount of screen time given to fucking Lars Ulrich. But still, if you’re into any of the movies this crew has made, it is worth watching.

The Karate Kid (2010)

HE GOES TO CHINA AND HE LEARNS KUNG-FU!!!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

MacGruber

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that MacGruber of all movies would pose an intellectual quandary for me. It’s inexplicable, like the time I got choked up at the end of The Wedding Singer, which, though a commendable movie, is hardly worthy of tears.

Here is my problem. I went to see MacGruber (part of me can’t believe I willingly admit this) last weekend, and I have been putting off writing about it because, well, I can’t figure out how to write about it. I find myself unable to take a stance on the movie. After watching a movie I’ll often say something about how I enjoyed it while I was watching it, but I never have to think about it again. MacGruber certainly fits into this category, but not only do I never have to think about it again, I find myself unable to think about it. I know I watched a movie, but it is as if it didn’t stick.

There hasn’t been a movie based on a Saturday Night Live sketch in ten years, and it’s been way longer than that since there was a good one. I for one am glad that they stopped trying to squeeze ninety minute movies out of three minutes worth of material. SNL had an edge about it when I was young. It was where Bill Murray and John Belushi came from. Chevy Chase and Dan Akroyd were still funny then. They were known for pushing boundaries and doing new things. The fact that it was on so late added to the feel, but when I was in junior high and started to watch the show regularly there was an adolescent air of danger. The show was relegated to the middle of the night, almost like it was banished, and it was an accomplishment to stay up through an entire episode.

But, like the movies SNL spawned, it hasn’t been good in a long time. And in the pursuit of a greater level of honesty, watching the shows of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s that I have romanticized in my mind, they weren’t very good either.

Now why did they pick the MacGruber sketches to make a new movie? Did they somehow become ridiculously popular and I missed it? That is certainly possible. I’m not exactly plugged into the pulse of popular culture. Bu still, I have to ask why? They aren’t funny. Not even a little bit. They’re fucking awful. I do like Will Forte, but that is based solely on bit parts in 30 Rock and How I Met Your Mother. Everything else he’s ever done is a worthless pile of garbage, including the MacGruber sketches.

That said, MacGruber the movie is far better than I expected it to be. And I remember laughing in the theater, but I for the life of me I can’t remember a single specific thing that I laughed at. The cast is decent. They score points with me for including Powers Boothe, who plays it straight as a military higher up. Ryan Phillippe is passable as a straight-laced sidekick. A bloated Val Kilmer plays the bad guy. I don’t even hate Kristen Wiig in this movie, and I fucking despise her. I don’t personally want to hit her in the face, but I do want someone to punch her in the face. Come to think of it, that’s a pretty good illustration of how bland and harmless this movie is. I didn’t even hate people that I hate.

At least they didn’t waste a lot of time with character or plot. Ten years ago Val Kilmer killed MacGruber’s wife on their wedding day. More recently he stole a nuclear missile and is going to nuke America. MacGruber has to come out of retirement to stop him. That’s it. You know exactly what is going to happen at any given moment. Knowing what you now know about the story, imagine what you think the plot is going to be. You’re probably right.

Even the profanity, and I love me some profanity, is middle of the road. I can’t tell if the filmmakers think they’re doing something shocking (it feels like that’s what they’re trying for), but even that aspect of the movie entirely forgettable. It is no longer shocking to have the protagonist say absurdly (and I use this word lightly) dirty things during a sex scene, it’s been done before, many times, and done better.

It is mind blowing how completely innocuous this movie is. It is not good. It is not bad. Sure, it is way better than Cop Out, fuck that movie, but at least I had something to say about Cop Out. I hated it. Sitting through that pile of human offal made me angry. However, when I think about MacGruber, I feel absolutely nothing.

All I can say with absolute certainty is that MacGruber is a movie.

LAST MINUTE ADDENDUM: I just remembered one thing. MacGruber does have a lot of Under Siege/Roadhouse style throat rippings, which is good. But this positive element is offset by the failure of a number of running gags that take up too much time and space (the one with his MacGruber’s car stereo is vaguely humorous the first time, but the subsequent dozen times it pops up will make you cringe), thus the complete evenness of this movie is maintained.

RIP Rue McClanahan

You will be missed, dear friend.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Mega Piranha

Mega Piranha is amazing. I’m not going to get into the story or plot or the lengths the producers go to hide the fact that Tiffany (yes, that Tiffany) has packed on a few pounds since her teen-pop-tart days. None of the usual stuff is important. None of it matters when you’re trying to decide whether or not to watch Mega Piranha.

You probably already know whether or not you’re going to watch it just from the title, but here are a few things that may further influence your decision. One, a guy who looks like a lost O’Connell brother bicycle kicks a dozen or more flying genetically engineered super piranha. Two, there are genetically engineered super piranha the size of buildings. Three, if you are lucky enough to have the actual DVD and don’t just stumble across it on SyFy late one night, you will see some unnecessary boobs in the opening scene. There is nothing particularly special about these unnecessary boobs, but when you watch “Making of Mega Piranha” feature in the bonus material, the line producer (who, despite having never worked on anything of any value to anyone ever, seems to think that he is hot shit) tells the story of how these unnecessary boobs came to be. Turns out that the crew was in Belize and “needed” a couple of actresses to go topless. (Apparently I was wrong and the boobs are actually quite important to the movie.) They were having trouble finding local actresses willing to remove their tops, a reticence I completely understand, so line producer went to a whorehouse and bought two prostitutes who had no problem letting a bunch of foreigners film them naked on a boat while pretending to be eaten by genetically enhanced fish. (It is probably not the weirdest thing that they’ve been asked to do.) So, whilst watching Mega Piranha, know with certainty that the unnecessary boobs in the opening scene are not just unnecessary, they belong to prostitutes, real prostitutes. You aren’t just looking at boobs, you are looking at hooker boobs.

If none of that makes you want to watch Mega Piranha, then you probably don’t want to watch it. But be honest, you never had any intention of watching it anyway, so why lie? On the other hand, if any of that sounds like a good time, if you watched and enjoyed Mega Shark Vs. Giant Octopus or any of the Boa Vs. Python movies, or if you’re high right now, then Mega Piranha is exactly what you should be watching.

The movie starts out bat-shit-crazy, and spends the next 90 minutes getting more and more gloriously absurd. And the end doesn’t really end. Sure, the movie stops, but nothing is actually resolved. I’m not spoiling anything, you’ll know exactly what’s coming, but all the heroes accomplish in the end is a momentary reprieve. They don’t kill anything or stop the marauding band of piranha. All they do is stave off the inevitable for a few minutes, and in reality (I know, I know, I shouldn’t look for logic in a movie called Mega Piranha starring Tiffany as a geneticist) while they’re all busy hugging and celebrating, a swarm of very hungry fish would likely be devouring most of Florida.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Epic Movie

I was bored. Really, really bored. Which is hard to do, because I’m entertained by pretty much anything you put in front of me. I’m easy. If it’s on TV, I’ll probably watch it.

So there I am, bored, on the couch, a little sick, a little groggy, and what do I stumble upon? Epic Movie, that’s what.

Now there are some great spoof movies. Airplane!, I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, and Not Another Teen Movie (which is the last great spoof movie—if you don’t believe me, watch it, that shit is gold) spring readily to mind. Epic Movie does not belong in the same category with any of these other movies. Realistically I didn’t expect it to be good. I didn’t even expect to laugh much. But, especially in my semi-delirious state of mind, I thought I would laugh a little. Yeah, that didn’t happen. Instead I just got sad when I remembered that Crispin Glover is in this movie for some reason. That was a bummer.

After watching Epic Movie I felt bad about the choices I’ve made in my life that led me to the moment where I thought, “maybe I should watch Epic Movie.” Even by my extraordinarily low standards this movie is a waste of time. It isn’t funny, the jokes and references are forced and awkward, and that’s all the time I’m going to devote to thinking about it, otherwise I may start to cry.

In the future, when time travel is available to the general public, I fully intend to go back to the moment in my living room right before I pushed play, and stop myself from making this terrible mistake. I want to erase this ugly chapter from my memory. My life will be better for it.