California Dreaming

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I was gifted California Dreaming without preface – a blank disc in a white sleeve whose only words were “FREE-BONUS-FREE / YOUR VHS MOVIE / ON THIS DVD-R” – and I believe that is the best way to watch the film. So if you can risk it, just hit play; don’t rob yourself of the mystery. Continue reading “California Dreaming”

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Laser Mission

Plot Summary: The largest African diamond is stolen by Russians and kept in the Kavango by Cubans where a German physicist played by Ernest Borgnine is kidnapped because he can use the rock to make an atomic laser that might start World War 3.

Continue reading “Laser Mission”

Fatal Deviation

I know what you’re thinking. No, it’s not that Fatal Deviation. It’s not the filmed-but-never-released Speed 3: Fatal Deviation, where Sandra Bullock is stuck on a dune buggy speeding across the salt flats, forced to finish an entire coloring book, and if she ever goes outside the lines the whole thing is wired to blow! Vultures circle as she reaches for periwinkle, her face rips raw through the sandstorm, a skateboarding dragon stands before her as James Spader crowds her ear, “Ahhh yes, a daring choice, but toe the line, my sweet.” This summer, safety is a mirage, action has a new hue…

Sorry.

This is the Fatal Deviation where an Irish martial artist egotistically plays himself, in a movie he co-wrote, and if anyone on set tries to do anything that wasn’t done in a Van Damme flick he has a semi-coordinated, muscle-bound tantrum. Splits between chairs – check! Kicking a tree at the behest of your unassuming trainer – check! Standing on a dirt bike and firing a pistol – thank you, god, check!

James P Bennett’s Van Damme does differentiate itself in one key way – its pants. Bennett looks like a dog wearing boots for the first time, all the time. That may be closer to the truth than I imagine. Perhaps he felt the need to class it up for the movie and thought he’d check out this new-fangled denim he’s heard so much about, unaware that their comfort improves with wear. Either way I have something to say. Dear James, I love you from the waist down.

Quote me all you want, sexuality is the least of my worries. This movie opened a racial can of worms that will leave me more a social pariah than even my taste in movies. It’s not that I’m racist (I keep telling myself), but I can’t stop thinking, “If there’s an Irish Van Damme, is there a Canadian Brando?” – the horror eh – make’em an offer he can’t refuse d’er, hoser; “Is there a Steven Seagal of Botswana?” – stage direction: man looks at camera like idiot, has slick hair; “…or maybe an Australian Dennis Hopper” – boomeranged, sir! (Editor’s Note: some Santas do exist). Korean Fran Dresser, an Afghani Shatner? I can’t be the only one wondering who is the Finnish Devito. Alright, alright, I’m being racist, I’ll stop.

For a while I had this unconscious stereotype that gay people were inherently intelligent, having to overcome the stultified aspects of society on a daily basis. Which is ridiculous of course. It’s like assuming a Chinese individual is good at math; racism of grandeur is still counterproductive.

The fact that he’s Irish really has nothing to do with the movie. It’s merely a vague adjective for just how low the budget is. The village of Trim, in Navan, the county city of County Meath, Ireland, is about as far from drug lords and full contact fighting tournaments as I ever thought I would be. So unless Rick Steve’s is a liar, which he’s not, he’s too damn boring to ever tell a lie, Bennett doesn’t have much to work with here. Boy, can he make do. The man turns the sign outside a school into 50% of his back story.

What exactly happened in those ten years at St. Claude’s Reform School Bennett wisely leaves to the imagination. The fact that historic St. Claude La Colombiere, having spent his tertianship on high kicks, gave his final vow on the Fourth Heart of Efficient Grocery Shopping, gives us a pretty good idea, however.

So our recent graduate has packed his bag full of pictures, walked five minutes back into town, and is dead set on solving the mysterious death of his father. Spoiler alert: he watched it happen and just forgot.

It might be that they had the human decency not to ask a woman to take her shirt off (instead favoring a bare-assed man running in sandals); or that the complete lack of acting gave me some slight insight into the actors as people; or ending with a gag real shows just how much fun they had shooting this thing; but I can’t help getting that twinge of proud parenthood when I watch this wretch deconstruct. Wait… I know what it is. This is criticism of grandeur! I’m probably better off being racist than forming imaginary friendships with shit movies. Aaah, too late.

Fatal Deviation is 76 minutes of bonding over bad yearbook photos and reminiscing bad crushes with a smile. Cheers to Bennett and crew! The next Smithwick’s is on me.

 

 

 

Road to Revenge (Get Even)

It is true what they say, two wrongs don’t make a right. It only takes one – John De Hart.

What kind of man is De Hart? His first internet search was, “members only jacket swap-meets in Henderson County.” When Dogpile came back empty-handed, after double-checking his solitude, he followed with, “what food makes the best tasting burps?” Always good for a few candy bars when the Little League kids do their fundraiser. He “straightens up” the garage. Pees wide leg stance, staring straight ahead; prides himself on never hitting the seat. His work stories fill you up past the brim, go for so long, by the time you break off (fourth attempt) his breakdown of “due by due west” and which way the parking stalls should be facing, you have to walk away verbalizing your disbelief as if it’s the only way to relieve the pressure of all the words that have been force-poured into your head.

He’s a man that can look himself in the mirror. There he sees the raw, thousand-faceted diamond the world has chance robbed itself of. A master sensei spin kicking across the sunset’s auburn glow. A soft spoken enchanter of ever slippery femininity. A man of the people whose chides and quips are the perfect garnish to every dish: a light chuckle butterflys around the room to the hearty syncopation of the chef’s guffaws, the waiter bows in admiration. A self-contained artist blushing refusal among the barroom usuals thirsting for revelation, for his vital melodies. Yes, there in the mirror reflecting the twin infinities of his rodent gaze he sees a man that gets things done and doesn’t take shortcuts.

There certainly aren’t any shortcuts on the Road to Revenge, plenty of one way streets and dog legged cul-de-sacs though. Forty minutes in, the title screen is still your best compass of an overarching plot. De Hart duck-duck-ducks off about six lefts before he gooses us with the titular right of revenge. But what a rich tapestry he weaves on his pegged loom: leather pants so tight you get shots of warped cod piece and a waft of blatant nut crack.

Don’t get the wrong idea with all this johnson talk, the movie has not liberated its gender roles. Men make the world go round while women are sex objects and victims. And yet hilariously, Road to Revenge passes the Bechdel test (now if that doesn’t silence strict Bechdel pedants, nothing will). Don’t worry about digesting these broader issues, De Hart ladles them, and just about everything else, with his patented atonal quiverings to help the medicine go down.

In an effort to spoil as little as possible I’ve probably given the appearance that De Hart is the only attraction. Far from it. Your villain is a dirty cop turned dirty judge, drug lord, satanist and petty liar, named Normad. I repeat, named Normad! Is that not enough?

Let me ask you something very important (sic) is it half full or is it half empty?… No, no, it’s water.
   -Wings Hauser

 

Trumping that by orders of magnitude is De Hart’s best bud Huck Finney, a dysfunctional ex co-worker whose life is in free fall. Wings Hauser (whom discerning indie fans might recognize as the wheelchair bound man in Rubber) gives an inspired performance considering the material. Tasked with bringing to life a recently divorced ex cop with an angry streak, who sees the light after drinking bleach, and reforms his life with the story of his namesake Huckleberry Finn, Hauser brings an uncomfortable level of believe-ability. Any level of method acting used on Huck Finney is worrisome to say the least. I certainly hope he did it by choice. If not, give me a call, Wings. De Hart is in violation of OSHA regulation Subpart E – Means of Egress under 1910.35 – Compliance with alternate exit route codes. Add to this De Hart’s non compliance of Subpart N – Materials Handling and Storage 1910.184 – Slings (see scope Whether t’wood be nobler), and we’ve got a slam dunk case.

I think I’ve proven I’m just the man to defend you against the real Normad. Revenge is sweet but a punitive track suit is sweeter, and we’re gonna milk him for all he’s worth, Wings! Give me a call either way because I want to schedule the ceremony for your Lifetime Achievement Award. I was going to give you Best Supporting Actor in a B Movie but what would that mean? You had better semiotics than Angelika Jager’s Valaria? A wider range than the football from The Room? You outshined Bloodsport‘s maroon man panties snapping to Van Damme’s plump little boom-boom? Granted the latter is pretty impressive, but what wouldn’t look good on that pert schpenukhus?* The point is, Wings, you have no true peers. Lifetime Achievement. Mission accomplished.

Yes, mission accomplished, except we still haven’t gotten any revenge and we’re running out of time. Let’s zoom into De Hart’s 10th grade mind.

– – –

A cardigan symmetry sits knowing 90 minutes is the perfect film like the Great Gatsby is the book. “Jonathan, you’re next.” Mr. Gardner dandies through this junior English class stroking his beard, as drunk on himself as a plum. De Hart stands shuffling ratty loose leaf. Exactly three pages, by assignment, to show Heather the wit and imagination; show her full force what has been held to stutters in the presence of her tight sweaters and the curve of her… her, her butt. Some cretin like Zach says ‘ass‘ in his mind. So below her. Now it’s his time.

His eyes widen, attempting to express the vastness, you can’t imagine! And he begins, muscle tense, narrating, singing his song as if by gunpoint. Heather pops a gum bubble. She’s looking at me! A wad of paper arcs the classroom. Gardner, pacing, gives a cuff upside the head. These shits aren’t worthy of Fitzgerald.

The real problem is John was so proud of all his set pieces that he couldn’t drop a word, not even the random ones about his poodle. Now he’s two and a half pages in and he’s got to bring his message home, to, to that heart nestled like a bird under those two tight, fuzzy… no no no!

He spaces out his words in emphasis. Happily… Ever… After… and returns to his desk. Soaring. No! Like a lion. Languid, proud, power proven.

It made no sense. He was a very serious, energetic lion, underfed apparently, drowning in those god damn khakis that zip into shorts, paws shodden with Airwalks. But proud nonetheless, walking past Heather without a single flutter. Ever hopeful.

– – –

Many stories pivot on the indomitable will, uplifting us with a man’s obstinate dream. And I don’t think it gets any more bull-headed than John De Hart waning nostalgic over his poached potential. So move over Shawshank Redemption, The road to Revenge is the most life-affirming statement of our time.

 

*Yiddish word for an attractively contoured male rectal carriage. Derived from shtup and tukhus

What Makes a Movie “Bad” – What Makes a Bad Movie “Good”

If you’re looking for a good bad movie then you’re already on an ironic quest; you probably didn’t pause before watching Death Bed: The Bed That Eats, and think, “Well isn’t that a silly way to describe something, good bad,” because you wanted to watch a bed eat people. Well carry on intrepid dumpster diver! But for the virginal wayfarer, stifling an amazed chuckle as stringed birds circle over head, with one maidenly foot hesitating over the great pool of schlock filled with sharks jumping themselves, consider the following to be two helpful hands shoving you full force in the back. Now swim!

What do we mean when we say, “a good bad movie?” 

By bad we mean the movie is dysfunctional. Good is referring to our enjoyment of the movie. So taking all the cuteness and fun out of the statement we have, “an enjoyably dysfunctional movie.” When your average person talks about a movie they use one word to refer to all of this and more. How was the movie? Good. And this response is the combination of critique and emotion and impulse, in any chance ratio. So be mindful of what exactly we mean by the words good and bad as we progress lest we be logically forced to appreciate the Twilight series.

What makes a movie bad?

To answer this question we must first define what a movie is. A movie is a statement made combining sight and sound. Through comedy, drama, horror, through as many means as the written word, a movie, like all statements, bares the weight of implying a truth (even a lie implies a truth, albeit one factually unsound, sarcasm an ironic truth, etc.) The fact that all statements imply a truth is what solves the Liars Paradox  (“This statement is false”), making it simply a contradiction (akin to, “I went north south”), and what helps us to understand if we’re laughing at or with a movie.  Even if it’s as base as, “boobs and guns are cool,” as fictional as, “damn it feels good to be a gangster,” or as simple as, “wouldn’t it be funny if… ,” the fact that a movie has a goal is all important.

All movies are meant to find its intended audience and to captivate them. I call a movie bad that fails to accomplish these goals. I call a bad movie good when it fails to find its intended audience but captivates its inherited one.

There are endless subjective arguments to be had over what is captivating about a bad movie, from babelfish dialogue crossing into a concussed noir to the weightless ballet of a sloppy fight scene, and never ending hairs to split over what hits or misses its mark, but it is important that we have a starting point for such discussions. The latter is especially critical. Countless lists confuse Troma flicks or Andy Sedaris with the Rooms of the world. As unsuspecting as it is on paper, there is a stark difference between the awesomely stupid and the stupidly awesome.

Let’s take a look at a few famous examples.

The Room:

Intended Audience – Everyone. Similar to that of any drama. More specifically, adults with an interest in relationships.
Inherited Audience – Fans of terrible cinema, voyeurs of spectacle.

Conclusion – The Room is a movie whose aspirations are artistically pure but whose expression is flawed. The enjoyment of movies in this category easily crosses into schadenfreude. There is no self parody taking place; a movie in this category cannot be faked.

Troll 2:

Intended Audience – Fans of camp and rollicking horror flicks.
Inherited Audience – Fans of terrible cinema.

Conclusion – Troll 2 wants to circle us around the campfire and entertain with some tried and true imagination: an interesting setting, an eerie atmosphere, a surprising turn of events. It is not setting a high bar for itself, however any of its failures are unintentional. The differences between successes and failures for such movies may not be distinct; they may both happen multiple times in the same movie. Budget and personnel constraints often create unique opportunities for each. Most best bad movie’s fall into this category.

Hard Ticket to Hawaii:

Intended Audience – Fans of terrible cinema, fans of camp.
Inherited Audience – Fans of terrible cinema, fans of camp.

Conclusion – Entirely self aware, tongue firmly planted in cheek, Hard Ticket to Hawaii has few, if any, artistic motivations and can only fail if it fails to entertain you. For all of the similarities to Troll 2 (acting, special effects, etc.), its intention to be ridiculous entirely changes the experience. On the whole they are less surprising and eccentric, which may effect your enjoyment. Often base and crass, movies in this category are quintessentially “guilty pleasures”.

Big Trouble in Little China:

Intended Audience – Everyone. Fans of action and adventure.
Inherited Audience – Everyone. Fans of action and adventure.

Conclusion –  As long as you don’t need your movies to be serious, Big Trouble in Little China provides characters with depth, a transportive, imaginative plot, and memorable dialogue. While frequenting the territory of camp, it never lets itself off the hook; uses it as a tool not an excuse; has a goal in mind and strives towards that goal in earnest. As you cover up momentary cheesiness and step back, you see logical steps towards Indiana Jones, The Princess Bride.

 Twilight (Series):

Intended Audience – Young adults. Fans of romance and fantasy.
Inherited Audience – Young adults. Fans of romance and fantasy.

Conclusion – Like Hard Ticket to Hawaii, technically speaking, Twilight is a “good” movie. Just keep in mind that the use of the word good thus far has simply meant functional: it found its intended audience and captivated them. It has been well documented that the English language is insane. The same word can have a half dozen strikingly different contextual meanings. We love drink specials, we love puppy yawns, we love bubble wrap, but not as much as we love our mothers, which isn’t to say we make love to our mothers, because then we’d be lovers… We say Twilight is good in this instance, but by good we mean something a little different. Something closer to… killpaindeath. There! Twilight is a killpaindeath movie.  I suppose I could have been making up new words this whole time but this post is far enough up its own ass already.

There you have it, a guide to circling the drain with me hand in hand!

Russian Terminator (aka Russian Ninja)

The following is my review/preview of Russian Terminator, followed immediately by its translation into the loosely gripped English of the movie. 

I worked in a call center for one long year, the last six months of which were spent with no downtime between calls. By the time I got done with a shift I barely had the will power to microwave hot dogs and drool obscenities at the eager fools on Wheel of Fortune who solve too quickly.  But I fought the good fight and slew the pastel happiness of each and every 400 or $600 winner with the half chewed chunks of my O. S. C. A. R. The point is, I was what I ate and I dreamt the same way: with a nutrition-less pink sponge, soggy with stress and sodium and the mundane.

It was the same dream every night. I was stuck in a stop-and-go commute and every time I tried to stop my breaks failed, or threatened to fail, barely catching, giving, and sliding. I’d white knuckle the wheel with held breath, foot slammed to the floor, only to tap the back bumper of a fellow commuter at a speed that threatened damage without offering the respite of either hopelessness or assurance. And then it would begin all over again, or continue, or whatever it is dreams of this nature wish to do.

Russian Terminator is just such a dream. Writer/director Mats Helge must have worked in a call center. His figurative dreams of being a photographer dashed. Sexually frustrated; considered the dreaded “friend” to his buxom, cross-aisle cube mate. Constantly harassed, alternately, by his male and female managers for the files they had assigned him. Get the files! Get the files! And in the meantime asking the same four questions of his on-the-phone script. Amongst this god damn insipid friction hold music was his friend. “Can I put you on hold?”, you have no idea. Then the muzak variants of Chopin in a Jefferson Airplane would blur his eyes into another calender daydream. An oasis of compartmentalization hovering just over the monitor. Red days scheduled on, Blue days scheduled off. But never enough blue to swallow the red. It was all bruised into a string of purple, of trying to relieve the stress. Rubbing the band where his headset rests. Black days, snow, randomly appearing. True friend. Snow. Draped in black.

Not sure how he filmed his own dream but cheers! We get a mildly dusty movie with just enough continuity to really baffle you; an opening shootout that brings tears of joy; plenty of celebrity look-a-likes (from Kenny Rogers to Rocky Rococo); a refreshing lack of sexual exploitation; a chase scene more convoluted than the Scooby-Doo doors; and to top it all off, dialogue written as by a multilingual 3rd grader. Hey, that’s still one hell of a third grader. I’d be proud. Here you go Timmy, here’s a pterodactyl sticker of a run-on review!

Translation:

I worked on phones for twelve months. It was busy. When I got home, I was tired. Almost too tired to eat the hot dog, and fuck you Wheel of Fortune! But I still did. I did eat the hot dog, Oscar. The hot dog was in my brain. 

Every night I am dreaming about driving. The breaks in my car are not good. I had white knuckles and couldn’t breath. I would kick the floor and tap my friend the computer quickly. I threatened him with speed. I had this dream over and over, of this nature. 

Russian Neen-yah is just a dream. Writer/director Mats Helge also worked on the phones. He couldn’t be a picture taker. He had an angry penis, thought his co-worker with breasts. His managers annoyed him with files. “Get us the files! How do we say, they are important!” He kept asking his four questions on the phones. He loved to be held while on the phone. “You don’t know how to hold me”, he would say about being held on the phone. Chopin’s music and airplanes from Jefferson each made his eyes water. There were red days and blue but black was better. Black was a snow day. If you saw his face you were his enemy, unless you were a woman. 

I don’t know how he filmed his dream but cheers! A dusty movie that is confusing; the gun shots at the start will make you happy; people look like celebrities (from Kenneth Rogers to Stony Pizza); the Gatorade of exploitations; and on top, me. I’m a hell of a third grader. I be proud. I am Timmy, I have a dinosaur sticker to prove it. Boyfriends can walk themselves home!

The Galaxy Invader

A psychological master thesis. The Galaxy Invader is the shirt rending tale of alcohol abuse, its terrible combustibility and the damage done to the familial framework.

I should know, I live in Wisconsin; where the brandy old-fashioned narrowly lost to the mosquito (via arm wrestling match) for election as our state bird. As an aside, in case you’ve begun a misguided flirtation that our local politics stray from the status quo, don’t. We had months of obnoxious televised hype over-salting the cracks of our favorite sitcoms. Mosquito flung mud among his smiling, photo shopped entourage (a crayon box of ageless minorities), ensuring us Old-Fashioned was a heartless elitist with precisely zero concern for the provision of safety nets beneath the underprivileged. Brandy O. F. Esq., meanwhile, draped by the staunch conservatism of his family wreck room’s wood paneling, spun shovel full after wormy shovel full that Mosquito was a vile slayer, a vamp burrowing deep into the tender necks of the unborn for their ever delicious stem cells.

The blood rush and division of entrenched politics is fitting for a film that forces its audience all over the spectrum. You’ll grow a bleeding heart as human life is placed two notches below perspiring, fridge entombed, luncheon meat; you’ll become as pleated and dogmatic as a televangelist for fear that the abundance of homo-erotic tension between a professor and his one time student will turn into some well hair brushed face sucking; you’ll become like Ross Perot, in love with the sight of Jimmy Stewart’s cousin zig-zaging through underbrush.

I’m sorry, were you expecting a Galaxy Invader? Nothing doing. This clumsy, rubber, punching bag is just one more thing for a family to argue over (after Scrabble and who should get the wheel barrow); just one more thing for greedy ham’n’eggers to swoon over like high school touchdowns. With no motivation or back story, the galaxy invader might as well not even be in the movie, let alone be its title.

A more accurate title? Let’s see… Vangelis Untunes a Casio, no no no, A Wheelbarrow for a Grapefruit, wait, how bout, Cross-training With Bernard Stewart, I got it, Pulled Punches, The Deep Ditch of Dysfunction, Bitching at J.J., Isn’t It Amazing How Much the 80’s Look Like the 70’s.

Well any of those names might be perfectly fitting for you, but if you’ve ever felt the clammy hand of alcoholism fondle your will to live, if you live in Wisconsin, where squirrels drop intoxicated from boughs overhead like the rotten fruit of our lager drenched hearts, then you know there is only one name for it: The Galaxy Invader.