Sunday, March 28, 2010

Gymkata (1985)

I know I'm going to step on someone's toes by saying this, but unless the Summer Olympics are in full swing, most Americans don't really care about gymnastics. Gymnasts get a ton of press if they put forth an amazing Olympic performance, and once summer becomes fall, they fade back into obscurity. I mean, do you hear anyone still talking about Nadia Comăneci, Mary Lou Retton, or Kerri Strug anymore?

I bring this up because gymnastics had a hot period in the middle part of the '80s, mostly due to Retton's sudden popularity after the '84 Olympics. That hot period ultimately helped contribute to the 1985 movie Gymkata, a box office bomb that has spent the last twenty-five years in relative obscurity. It does have a small cult following, though, and this review will by my attempt to figure out why.

Gymkata take us to the tiny Middle Eastern country of Parmistan. All foreigners who visit the country must play "The Game," a lethal endurance race and obstacle course that hasn't been won in over 900 years. However, if a competitor can somehow manage to actually win, he will escape with his life and be granted one request. As the movie begins, gymnastics champion Jonathan Cabot (Kurt Thomas) has been recruited to play The Game by the U.S. government. If he wins, his request will be used to install a base in Parmistan as part of America's new missile defense system.

But standing in Cabot's way is Commander Zamir (Richard Norton), a high-ranking military official that secretly plans to overthrow Parmistan's king. Zamir also has the hots for Princess Rubali (Tetchie Agbayani), the king's daughter. But because she's also leading Cabot through Parmistan and assisting with his training, Zamir has developed a rival for her affections. So if Cabot wants to walk away victorious, he'll have to find a way to avoid Zamir's attempts to sabotage The Game and come out victorious.

Until you've actually seen it, you have no idea just how utterly stupid Gymkata is. It is a legitimate contender for the title of "dumbest movie I've ever seen." It's an amazing mishmash of bad ideas slapped together into one ugly car wreck of a movie. The big problem is that it just doesn't seem to know what kind of movie it wants to be. Is it a straightforward martial arts movie? Is it a political espionage thriller? Is it just a ripoff of The Most Dangerous Game? You get the impression that Gymkata wants to be all of these things, but it ultimately gets none of them right.

The man in charge is Robert Clouse, who previously directed the Bruce Lee classic Enter the Dragon. How do you go from something awesome like Enter the Dragon to something lame like Gymkata? In any event, Clouse's direction here is pitiful. It's uninteresting and dull, the editing is choppy, and Clouse's decisions when to use slow-motion come at weird, unnecessary times. You'd think he'd never made a movie before.

The other elements of the production are awful too. The prop knives, blades, and swords all look like cheap plastic, and the mediocre music (composed by Alfi Kabiljo) is way too repetitive for its own good. And I'm pretty sure the foley guy was hard of hearing and decided to jack the sound up all the way during the editing, because the sound effects are almost always way too loud. Listening to the movie almost becomes comical, to be truthful about it.

The writing for the movie is also pretty lousy. Written by Charles Robert Carner, the script is full of terrible dialogue and scenes that have no point at all. There's a ten-minute segment near the beginning that contributes nothing to the movie whatsoever, and it probably shouldn't have been written in the first place, let alone filmed and left in the final cut of the movie. And what about that fight scene where our hero uses a conveniently-placed pommel horse to kick the crap out of about two dozen lunatics? Who came up with that?

There's practically no plot, either. All the details you'll need to know are in the first fifteen minutes; everything after that is just there for the sake of being there. It's so anemic that you could barely say that there's any story at all. And I don't quite get why the government needed to send some random guy to play The Game. Instead of getting a Green Beret, a Navy SEAL, or someone with black ops training, they send in an untrained civilian. That makes a lot of sense, doesn't it?

Last on my list is the acting, which is bad all across the board. In the lead role is world champion gymnast Kurt Thomas, who is most certainly not an actor. His lack of acting ability is obvious, as he spends all the scenes that don't involve his athletic prowess looking like a deer in headlights. Thomas is out of his elements, and casting him was as bad a decision as the one to make Gymkata in the first place. It doesn't help anything that he's so scrawny that it's hard to take him seriously as an action star.

But as bad as Thomas is, he's the only member of the cast that makes an impression. Everyone else is so forgettable that Thomas may as well have been the only person in the movie. My primary example for this is Tetchie Agbayani, the movie's designated love interest. From the looks of it, all that was required of her was to stand around and look pretty, because she only three or four lines of dialogue. I'm not even really sure what purpose the character serves, which makes Agbayani's role in the movie pointless.

As our villain du jour, Richard Norton is so bad that every time he pops up, you begin thinking about all the other movies that you could be watching instead of Gymkata. I honestly stopped paying attention to him altogether after a while. That's the worst kind of bad acting, because I couldn't even bother watching him to make fun of him. I just wanted Norton to go away.

Like I said earlier, Gymkata does have something of a following, and its fans appreciate it as an unintentional comedy. Personally, I couldn't really find any sort of amusement in it. Outside of that really weird pommel horse fight scene, there's not much of anything that I could call entertaining. I really hate bad movies like that, too. If I can't mock it, why even bother at all? But that's Gymkata for you. As you've probably guessed by now, my final judgment is one star and a great big thumbs-down. Be warned: Gymkata is so dumb that it will make you feel dumber as well. I know I feel stupider for having seen it.

Final Rating: *

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Troll 2 (1990)

I've seen and reviewed more than my fair share of bad movies over the years. But there are a few notoriously bad ones that I've purposely avoided watching. I've spent a lot of time trying to keep movies like Gigli and Battlefield Earth off my personal radar. Their reputations have preceded these movies to the point that I want to stay away from them at all costs.

But there's one bad movie out there that I was legitimately afraid to watch. I'd seen a few short clips on YouTube, and those clips were awful enough that I wanted to run and hide at the mere mention of the movie's name. However, when I heard that it would be airing on a local TV station back in January, I had a moment of either courage or stupidity and sat down to watch it. And I knew then that I had to review it one day. Referred to by many as "the best worst movie ever made," it is one of those movies that actually does live up to the hype. That movie is Troll 2.

The movie focuses on the Waits family, a quartet of dimwits who are preparing for their summer vacation. Said vacation will take them to the tiny rural town of Nilbog, where they'll be swapping homes with a local family for a month. But because this is supposed to be a horror movie, you can pretty much guess that this vacation will end in deep hurting.

Joshua (Michael Stephenson) — the youngest member of the family — is visited by the ghost of his dead grandfather (Robert Ormsby), who warns Joshua that he must get his family out of Nilbog as soon as possible. It turns out that the citizens of Nilbog are, in actuality, vegetarian goblins in disguise. These goblins lure people to their town and transform them into plant matter before consuming them. And because he's the least moronic out of his family, Joshua has to be the one to save the day.

That's the actual plot of the movie. I wish I was making that up, because there should be no way that a movie like this should exist. It should be some kind of mythical being that people only think they've seen, like Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster. But it's real. I have seen it, been in the same room as it, and witnessed the horrors that appear once the movie begins.

I must warn you that there is no un-seeing Troll 2. It's like the evil videotape from The Ring. Once you see it, you can't go back to the way you were before. And until the day I die, I will be among those people whose souls have been forever marked by this tremendous failure. I can't change that. And I am poorer yet simultaneously greater for it.

But before we progress any further, I must state that not only do I want this review to be a critique of the movie, but I want it to be a history lesson as well. While the origins of Troll 2 have been told many times by many people, it is a story that I too must tell.

The movie began its painful existence as a standalone flick produced under the working title "Goblins." That title would have made more sense, considering that there isn't one single troll in the whole movie. Its distributor eventually gave the movie its official title apparently as a means to connect it to the completely unrelated 1986 movie Troll. It's like if I made a totally original movie about man-eating rabbits with the intention of naming it Killer Bunnies, only to be told that it would be renamed Gremlins 3.

It was directed by Claudio Fragasso, working here under his pseudonym, "Drake Floyd." Fragasso is perhaps best known among ultra-devoted B-movies fans as having written a number of Bruno Mattei's Italian exploitation movies. I've seen two of them, and they're really, really bad. But we're here to discuss Troll 2, which is also really, really bad.

Under Fragrasso's watch, practically every element of the production falls apart. It's hard to believe that he could not have known just how dreadful the movie would be. Could anyone possibly take Troll 2 seriously? If you do, either you were the guy who made it or you're insane. Hunt down clips on YouTube or do an image search on Google, and you'll see exactly what I mean. You'll turn up with terrible actors, special effects that look like someone bought a ton of dry ice and green Jell-O and decided to build a movie around it, and goblin costumes that are awful beyond comprehension.

Holy crap, do those costumes suck. They essentially consist of midgets dressed up in burlap sacks stuffed with padding, and having them put on cheap rubber masks that look like they were bought at a second-rate Halloween store. It's embarrassing to watch, and I'm sure the little people wearing them were embarrassed too.

Speaking of embarrassing, how about that script? Written by Fragasso and Rossella Drudi, it is full of hysterically awful dialogue, idiotic scenes and situations, and as much stupidity as you can cram into one movie. I just cannot begin to fathom what they were thinking when they wrote this.

The dialogue is incredibly awkward to say and hear, but it could be because it was written by two people who legitimately did not have a very strong grasp on the English language. But still, that doesn't stop it from being thoroughly awful. A lot of the dialogue makes it sounds like the characters are reading the stage directions from the script or describing what's happening on the screen. There's no way that any actor can make it sound natural.

Even if you can overlook the dialogue, everything else is so tremendously stupid that knowing somebody wrote it all down and thought it would make a good movie makes my head hurt. For example, did the goblins need to turn their victims into plant matter before eating them? Aren't man-eating goblins evil enough for a horror movie? I didn't see the need for an anti-vegetarian agenda, personally.

Another thing I didn't quite get was the grandfather only appearing to Joshua. He keeps telling the poor kid that he has to do something to get the family out of Nilbog, but how is a ten-year-old kid supposed to do that? You'd think he'd try appearing to the parents too, so that Joshua wouldn't look like he's out of his mind. But the thing is, the grandfather actually shows up in Joshua's sister's mirror at one point, which you'd think would lend credence to Joshua's stories that he'd been talking to a ghost. But nope, they all think that she's on drugs and that Joshua's crazy.

And the stupidity doesn't end there! We still have to talk about the acting. The terrible, terrible acting. I'll just say right here that there is not one good performance among the entire cast. Part of that could be blamed on the fact that they were working with a crew who spoke little to no English, and were told to recite their dialogue exactly as it was written in the script. There's no way to get a credible performance out of that, no matter how good an actor you are.

But that excuse can only be stretched so far. At some point, you have to admit that the actors just plain suck. And if you've seen so much as one second of Troll 2, you'll agree with me when I say that its cast features some of the worst actors ever captured on film. The vast majority of the people in the movie were amateurs who have only Troll 2 on their IMDB profiles. They're pretty much people who were pulled in off the street and told they were going to be in a movie.

Let's use George Hardy, who plays the Waits family patriarch, as an example. He's not a professional actor, but a small-town dentist by trade. It's almost immediately evident that he has no acting experience whatsoever. But he is just so enthusiastic that he makes it hard not to enjoy his scenes. I mean, you can't watch the scene where he delivers one of the movie's more famous lines of dialogue ("You can't piss on hospitality! I won't allow it!") without smiling at just how cheesy it is and how committed Hardy is to the part.

But while a blanket statement of "these actors all suck" should be sufficient enough to describe the whole cast, there are a few people I wanted to mention specifically. The first is Margo Prey, who gives off the impression that she was high on something during filming. She looks and sounds totally spaced out, like she's on some other world. It's really weird and off-putting at times, actually.

The second performance I wanted to highlight comes from Connie McFarland. It may sound like I'm exaggerating, but McFarland is one of the worst actresses I've ever seen. Her line delivery is dull and lifeless, like she's just blandly reading her dialogue off cue cards instead of saying it like a regular person. Every second she is on the screen is just plain brutal, because she brings absolutely nothing to the table. McFarland is so bad that I can find no way, absolutely no way, to watch Troll 2 without laughing at her.

But the one person in the whole movie I wanted to point out the most is Deborah Reed, who plays Creedence Leonore Gielgud, the goblin queen. Yes, that's the character's name. I doubt that there is any actor or actress on Earth who could ever top Reed's overacting here. Not Bruce Campbell, not Reb Brown, not anyone. Her manic performance has to be one of the most insane things ever caught on film. She doesn't just chew the scenery, she chews the whole movie! Reed ends up dominating scenes she's not in. Her overacting is that insane.

If bad movies were an army, Troll 2 would be R. Lee Ermey in Full Metal Jacket. It's the bad movie that other bad movies want to be when they grow up. I caught it on television for the very first time late one night last year, and I found myself yelling at the screen, begging the movie to tell me why it was so bad while ultimately being left flabbergasted by the stupidity that comprises each second of its 94-minute running time. But the thing is, unlike a lot of the other wastes of cinema I've reviewed in the past, I cannot actively hate Troll 2. It's just too darn silly to earn the wrath and vitriol that movies like BloodRayne and Manos: The Hands of Fate brought out of me. But it is still one of the worst movies I've ever seen, no doubt about it. Thus, I can give Troll 2 no other rating but one star. It's totally worth seeing if you love bad movies, though.

Final Rating: *

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Lost Boys (1987)

This review is respectfully dedicated to the memory of Corey Haim.

With the recent success of the Twilight movies, vampires have become stylish. But while Stephenie Meyer's sparkly brood of emos gave them a shot in the arm in terms of popularity, vampires have always been around. Their roots go back centuries, and have been a part of pop culture for about the same time. Through books, comics, TV shows, and movies, vampires have been depicted in countless ways. Whether it's romantic, dramatic, horrific, or comedic, they've been a part of pretty much any style you can think of.

One of my favorite uses of vampires, though, came in 1987 with The Lost Boys. One of a series of movies that attempted to open vampires up to audiences of the '80s, it was also the first on-screen pairing of the duo that would become known as "The Two Coreys." And if you ask me, it's a heck of a movie, too.

Welcome to Santa Carla, California, a town whose reputation for violence and reports of missing people has earned it the nickname "the murder capital of the world." Among Santa Carla's newest residents are Lucy Emerson (Dianne Wiest) and her teenage sons Michael (Jason Patric) and Sam (Corey Haim), who haved moved there from Phoenix to live with Lucy's eccentric father (Barnard Hughes).

The Emersons aren't in Santa Carla for long before they're drawn to the town's thriving boardwalk. Lucy gets a job at a video store, while Sam wanders into a comic book shop. It is there where he is introduced to the Frog brothers, Edgar (Corey Feldman) and Alan (Jamison Newlander). A pair of self-appointed vampire hunters, the Frog brothers give Sam a stack of horror comics that they claim will teach him all he needs to know to stay alive in Santa Carla.

He rebuffs their offer, but the duo will soon have to come to his assistance. During a trip to the boardwalk, Michael meets and falls for a fetching young woman named Star (Jami Gertz). He ends up drawing the attention of the gang Star fraternizes with, a group of punks led by David (Kiefer Sutherland). David takes a quick interest in Michael and welcomes him into their gang.

The morning after his initiation, however, things are different. The family dog hates him, he's sensitive to sunlight, he's unusually aggressive, and oddly enough, he has no reflection. Sam puts the clues together and realizes that his brother is turning into a vampire.

Sam seeks out the Frog brothers, who immediately choose to kill Michael. Naturally, he doesn't want to kill his brother, vampire or not. The only other option is killing the lead vampire, which they think should return Michael back to normal. While Michael tries fighting off the bloodlust that comes with his developing vampirism, he, Sam, and the Frogs arm themselves to the teeth and prepare to do battle with David's posse of bloodsuckers.

A lot of movies have tried blending horror with comedy. Few are actually good, but I will go on record saying that The Lost Boys is one of them. The balance between its two major elements isn't precisely even, but neither the horror nor comedy is disappointing. And while I will admit that the movie is not perfect, it still hits all the notes it intends to and when it's all said and done, it's a genuinely entertaining movie.

Believe it or not, the movie was directed by Joel Schumacher. Yes, the same Joel Schumacher that would direct Batman Forever and Batman & Robin ten years later I know what you're thinking, but The Lost Boys does prove that he actually is capable of making a good movie. He actually does a respectable job at the helm, though he is guilty of going a little overboard with some elements.

At his disposal is practically every trick out of the "MTV circa 1987" playbook, all of which he puts to good use. Assemble the cinematography, the lighting, the set design, the costumes, and the editing, and you have a vampire movie that looks and feels like a music video of the era. It looks slick and stylish, with a lot of energy that makes the movie a blast to watch. I honestly can't argue with Schumacher's work.

The movie is not without its flaws, however. I'd actually say that the weakest part of The Lost Boys is the script. Rewritten by Jeffrey Boam from an original screenplay by Janice Fischer and James Jeremias, the script is awfully light, to the point where just about everything but style is secondary. There honestly isn't much in the way of story or character development, but I guess that's to be expected from a movie that puts style over substance. You don't really notice it until you start analyzing the movie, but everything else is so entertaining that it's not that big a deal.

It helps that the cast is so good that you don't notice the flaws during the movie. Playing the crucial role of Michael is Jason Patric, who spends a lot of the movie brooding and looking mysterious. I actually thought it worked in the movie's benefit, and if I could change one thing about The Lost Boys, I would have made the entire movie about him. The movie would have been much more intriguing if the whole thing had been a straight horror flick about Michael becoming one of the vampires and trying to regain his humanity.

The late Corey Haim also does a fine job in his role. He plays Sam exactly how you'd expect someone his age (at the time) to act. He tries acting all cocky in front of the Frog brothers as he adjusts to his new home, and when the whole vampire thing goes down, he gets spooked to no end. Haim is believable in the part, and I really enjoyed his performance.

And then there are the Frog brothers, as played by Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander. Both Feldman and Newlander deliver all of their dialogue in the same super-serious deadpan manner, making the characters much more entertaining. You get the feeling that they're playing the Frogs as trying to be tough even when they're not quite sure of what they're getting themselves into. If that's the case, then I totally bought it.

Playing the designated villain is Kiefer Sutherland, who had just started appearing in American movies when The Lost Boys was released. It was this movie that thrust him into the spotlight, and if you watch it, you can see why. Sutherland shows that it's possible to be both frightening and very cool at the same time. He's so damn good in the role that you almost want to become Michael, or at least understand why all the other vampires would want to hang out with him.

The rest of the cast also make their own contributions, even though their roles aren't so substantial. Dianne Wiest is likable and sweet in her role, while Jami Gertz's understated performance shows why the Michael character would fall for her in the first place. And while he sadly doesn't have enough screen time to make an impression, Edward Hermann (who plays Lucy's boss) is obviously doing his best. But of all the actors in the movie, the one I enjoyed the most was Barnard Hughes. He's hilarious, stealing practically every scene he's in. I double-dare you to watch this movie without laughing once at Hughes's jokes.

I must admit, though, that The Lost Boys isn't the best vampire movie ever made. And depending on your personal opinion, it might not even be the best one of the '80s. But it's one that is definitely worth watching. It's an enjoyable movie with some effective scares and some truly funny moments. I'd much rather watch a vampire movie like this over Twilight and its sequels. So if you're tired of the vampires that are popular nowadays, give The Lost Boys a shot. You can't go wrong with it.

Final Rating: ****

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Sherlock Holmes (2009)

Crime stories have long been an enduring part of popular fiction. Tales of criminals and the do-gooders who bring them to justice have been around in some form or another since near the end of the eighteenth century. And of the different types of crime stories, detective stories have been among some of the most popular. Elements of the sub-genre can be seen in police procedurals like the CSI and Law & Order television franchises, while the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Scooby-Doo's gang of meddling kids, and Batman are all household names.

But of all the detectives to have been seen in fiction, it is perhaps Sherlock Holmes who has made the biggest impact on the genre. Created by author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in 1887, Holmes has become almost synonymous with the concept of fictional detectives. The influence that Doyle's famous sleuth has had on pop culture over the last 133 years is quite impressive, as even TV shows like House owe a certain debt of gratitude to Sherlock Holmes.

Some people were a bit taken aback, however, when Warner Bros. announced that it would be making a Sherlock Holmes movie. The trailers and the casting are what really stunned them, because it was completely unlike what they expected. But you know what? It turned out to be one heck of an entertaining movie.

Three months have passed since Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) handled his last case, and the boredom has been driving him batty. It's only compounded by the fact that his friend and sidekick Dr. John Watson (Jude Law) is ending their partnership so he can settle down and marry his fiancée (Kelly Reilly).

Holmes's life starts to get interesting again, however, when he's visited by Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams), an old flame and con artist who was the only person to have outwitted him. She comes to Holmes asking him to locate a missing person on behalf of a mysterious benefactor, a task so simple that there has to be something sinister about it.

The search for this missing person ends up crossing paths with a much more pressing mystery. You see, Holmes and Watson had once assisted Scotland Yard in apprehending a serial killer named Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong). Before he was hanged for his crimes, he predicted that his execution would not stop him from taking more lives. It seems his prediction has come true, as Lord Blackwood has apparently risen from the grave and resumed his murderous ways. His ultimate goal: to overthrow the British Parlament before moving on to the rest of the world.

Now is the time when I must confess that I am thoroughly unfamiliar with Sherlock Holmes. I was aware of him, Dr. Watson, and Moriarity, sure. But having never read any of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's novels or short stories, and having seen no other adaptation, I had no compass with which to gauge how I felt Holmes should be depicted.

That said, I think my general ignorance in relation to Holmes may have worked in my favor, because it allowed me to see the movie for what it was: a fun adventure movie. Purists can complain all they want, but I got exactly what I wanted to see out of Sherlock Holmes. It was exciting, entertaining, and just plain fun. And what's so wrong with that?

Guy Ritchie is at the helm here, and his direction is slick and stylish. He puts the movie's production values and Victorian-age affectations — from the art direction to the costumes to even Hans Zimmer's Oscar-nominated score — to good use, combining it with the fantastic cinematography to create a movie that is splendid to look at. Ritchie crafts the movie in such a way that he keeps the viewer engaged once they're sucked in, moving at a quick enough pace that there are rarely any lulls in the action or humor.

It also helps that Ritchie also has a very capable cast to work with. Robert Downey Jr. is nothing short of wonderful in the title role, playing Holmes as a smirking rogue whose intelligence has given him something of a superiority complex. Like with many of Downey's recent movies, he's obviously having a ball working on the movie. That's part of what makes him so much fun to watch. He's engaging and likable even if Holmes can be kind of a prick at times. And I know some of the purists may complain, but I thought Downey was perfect for what the movie wanted to do.

In the role of Holmes's loyal sidekick, Jude Law is a lot of fun too. While he and Holmes approach their roles differently, they work very well together. Law's low-key acting makes him a great foil for Downey's intensity, playing Watson as someone more than willing to trade barbs with Holmes.

I also quite liked Rachel McAdams as the flirtatious yet devious Irene Adler, but her performance is a bit lightweight when compared to her co-stars. It doesn't help that the role doesn't feel as strong as it could have been. Irene is supposed to be capable of outsmarting Holmes, yet you never get the impression that she's more than a typical love interest. She also comes across as being a bit too modern for a Victorian-era woman, and she only seems to exist to establish the villain for Sherlock Holmes 2. But regardless, I thought McAdams did as good a job hanging with Downey and Law as she could.

Rounding out the main cast is Mark Strong as the villainous Lord Blackwood. Strong actually spends very little time onscreen, and when he does appear, his performance is hindered by a character that isn't as well-rounded as he could have been. I'll get into the character later, but thanks to how poorly Blackwood is written, it causes Strong to be inconsistent. Sometimes he's actually rather creepy, but feels stiff at other times, like he's just going through the motions. He's okay enough, I guess, but I thought Strong could have tried a little harder and overcame his character's shortcomings.

And really, the script could have used a wee bit more polishing when it comes to some things. Credited to Michael Robert Johnson, Anthony Peckham, and Simon Kinberg from a story by Johnson and Lionel Wigram, the script is rather anemic when it comes to telling a story and making its villain look credible. On the topic of the villain, I will admit that there are moments when they make Blackwood look quite clever. But by the end, he's just your typical megalomaniac. Doesn't every stereotypical villain scheme to take over the world? Come on, where's the originality in that?

Moving on to the story, there doesn't really seem to be much of one. The whole thing seems to be a series of moments where they expect Ritchie and the cast to go out there and take care of business on their own. I really don't know how they managed to stretch the movie out to two hours when there's only ninety minutes of plot. All the padding in there is the script's biggest flaw.

In the script's defense, though, I did like the sequences where Holmes would rattle off each step in a sequence of moves he would need to use to win a fistfight. They're really neat and show just how clever Holmes can be even in combat. The only bad part is that there are only two of these moments, both of which happen relatively early in the movie. I don't know why they dropped it, because there were quite a few moments when the idea could have been used. It just seems like it wasn't used to its full potential, and I hope they reprise it (without going into overkill) in the eventual sequel.

But even if the story is flawed, I still thought Sherlock Holmes was a lot of fun. Yeah, the diehard Holmes fans might not care for how Guy Ritchie and crew have interpreted the character. That doesn't stop the movie from being an entertaining ride from start to finish, though. It's definitely worth your time if you haven't seen it yet. So on the usual Sutton Scale, I'll give Sherlock Holmes four stars. It's only elementary, my dear readers.

Final Rating: ****

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Room (2003)

I've been writing these goofy little reviews for a few years now, and I've discussed over two hundred movies in that time. Some of them were pretty good, and some of them were pretty bad. And some of them were okay. But there's one movie that I can't even begin to describe. It's a movie that, as the saying goes, must be seen to be believed. It's a movie so completely, utterly incompetent that if Ed Wood were alive today, he'd feel a little bit better about his body of work. The movie in question is an obscure little flick titled The Room.

If you've never heard of it, don't feel bad. Most normal people have no idea this movie even exists. But it's slowly developing a cult following, thanks in large part to a series of successful midnight showings in Los Angeles. These midnight showings have even spawned audience participation similar to The Rocky Horror Picture Show. But while Rocky Horror isn't really all that bad of a movie, The Room is so terrible that it's ridiculous. It is so laughably awful that it challenges your sanity with each passing moment, and by the end, you won't be the same as you were when you entered.

This is normally the point in the review where I would do a plot synopsis, but I'm not sure if The Room has a plot. The whole thing is scene after scene of surreal nonsense that never goes anywhere. But I guess I'll take one for the team and try to make sense of this insanity. From what I can ascertain, The Room is about a love triangle involving three of the most banal characters ever captured on film.

One of these characters is Johnny (Tommy Wiseau), an overly melodramatic weirdo whose bizarre European accent is thick to the point of nigh-indecipherability. There's also Johnny's fiancée, Lisa (Juliette Danielle), who spends pretty much the whole movie sitting around doing nothing. She's been dating Johnny for either five or seven years; I'm a little fuzzy on the exact number, since the dialogue often contradicts itself. But whether it be five or seven, that still doesn't change the fact that Lisa's been having an extended affair with Mark (Greg Sestero), Johnny's best friend. I know he's Johnny's best friend because we're told this little bit of information approximately eleven trillion times over the course of the movie. That's the basic plot of the movie, I assume. But it's so horrifyingly monotonous and repetitive that there is nothing even remotely resembling a story.

As I said in the opening paragraph, I cannot accurately describe The Room. It's kinda like this: Have you ever overheard someone say something that upset you for no other reason than because you thought what they said sounded stupid? Now imagine a handful of people that made you feel that way for an hour and a half. That's The Room. The entire movie is a bunch of terrible actors saying things that can and will hurt your brain, and it's a pain that never, ever ends. Ever. Not even when the closing credits start rolling.

Why must the memory of this awful movie torture me so? My only hope of purging it is in the writing of this review, because The Room is one of those incredibly rare movies whose existence I continually fail to comprehend. I've seen it with my own two eyes more than once, and yet I still cannot believe that this movie was actually made. It is perhaps the most epic train wreck ever captured on celluloid. And just like a real train wreck, you may not want to look, but you feel compelled to regardless. It is, in short, a movie that is mesmerizing in its inadequacy.

The Room is the brainchild of Tommy Wiseau, who directed, wrote, produced, starred in, and even self-distributed this masterpiece of cinematic ineptitude. The movie may be hopelessly terrible, but I guess I should applaud Wiseau for having faith in his project. He funded and created the whole thing, and even leased a billboard in a prominent part of Hollywood for no less than five years so he could promote the movie. (I wish I was making that billboard thing up. Google it if you don't believe me.) But while I respect Wiseau for doing it by himself, I'm still flabbergasted by how bad the movie is. There are no words in any recorded language that properly describe the sheer idiocy of The Room. I'm having a hard time even trying to decide where to start critiquing the movie, because every facet of it is so staggeringly bad.

I guess I should follow my usual routine and lead off with Wiseau's direction. Wiseau supposedly culled together six million dollars to make the movie, a number that absolutely blows my mind. There is no way this movie cost that much money to make. It looks like a cheap softcore porno movie, for crying out loud. (And that's no joke. I actually thought it was a softcore porno during my first experience with the movie, when Cartoon Network aired it as an April Fools' Day joke during their "Adult Swim" programming block last year.) I honestly think that the budget must have gone into camera equipment, keeping that billboard up for so long, and paying the licensing fees for the use of "Happy Birthday To You." Because beyond that, I don't have the slightest idea how Wiseau could have possibly spent six million dollars on this. That money sure as hell isn't on the screen.

And if any of that money went into the cameras, you'd think he could have afforded to hire someone to actually pay attention to whether or not the shots were in focus. He obviously didn't have someone doing that on set, because quite a bit of the movie ends up looking blurry. I can only assume that nobody noticed that the shots were out of focus. That's just astounding. I mean, Manos: The Hands of Fate got pretty much everything wrong, but at least Hal Warren managed to shoot the movie in focus! Wiseau couldn't even get that right!

Beyond that, Wiseau's direction is full of odd decisions. For example, actor Kyle Vogt quit halfway through production, and was replaced by Greg Ellery. Instead of going back and reshooting Vogt's scenes with Ellery in his place, Wiseau had his new actor do the scenes Vogt had yet to film and expected us to believe that there was no difference. Ellery is credited as a separate character, but the fact that he just shows up and acts like he was there the whole time is just insane. Wouldn't it have made more sense to redo all of the other scenes so it would have been consistent?

Another odd decision involves some scenes that take place on the roof of a building. That wouldn't have been so bad if Wiseau hadn't handled it so strangely. Instead of filming the scenes on an actual rooftop in San Francisco (where the movie takes place), he shot them on a set built in a Los Angeles parking lot and used green screen effects to add ugly, unconvincing shots of the San Francisco skyline to the background. It just feels dumb. Surely securing a filming location in the real San Francisco wouldn't have taken up too much of that supposed six million dollars. It wouldn't have improved the movie any, but at least it would have saved it from some cheap PhotoShop job.

His script is remarkably nonsensical to boot. And it's not just the preposterous dialogue, either. The whole thing is just an amalgam of infuriatingly pointless scenes and gaping plot holes. You would expect the revelation that Lisa's mother has cancer would be a huge plot point, yet it's never mentioned beyond one scene. The line is even delivered in such a nonchalant way that makes it seems like it's no big deal to begin with. An ancillary character runs afoul of a drug dealer he owes money to, but once the scene is over, the character's debt and apparent drug problem are summarily forgotten. The stock reply for all their problems: "Don't worry about it." Cancer and owing money to a violent drug dealer are nothing to worry about? Okay, Tommy, if you say so.

There's another scene where Johnny's friends show up in tuxedos. There are some vague references to Johnny's wedding photos, but none of it makes any sense since there hasn't even been a wedding yet. The whole thing becomes moot since they just go out to some back alley and play football while standing three feet apart. Why? I don't know. I'm not sure Wiseau knows either.

But while we're on the topic of the script, I wanted to talk about the characters. There are two I want to focus on specifically. The first of is Wiseau's character. Johnny is a fantastic guy who would do anything for his friends. He's an absolutely wonderful person, and there isn't anyone who'll hesitate to say so. The praise for Johnny is practically ubiquitous, even coming from Lisa and Mark as they go behind his back. Gee, I wonder what Wiseau was trying to say here.I've also heard people suggest that The Room may be somewhat autobiographical, that Wiseau had his heart broken by an ex-girlfriend who was sleeping with one of his friends on the side. Whether that's true or not, I have no idea. But if it is, shame on her. Her infidelity caused Wiseau to vent his frustrations and heartache with one of the worst movies ever.

The other character I wanted to talk about is Denny, played by Philip Haldiman. Denny is perhaps the most socially awkward character I've ever seen. He's supposed to be a college student (and has both his tuition and rent paid for by Johnny, further proving his supposed sainthood), yet he acts like he's six years old or something. He's got that drug problem that is mentioned all of once as well as having an unrequited crush on Lisa (to the point that he'll bluntly ask if he can kiss her), and when he interrupts a potential romantic interlude between Johnny and Lisa, he reveals that he "likes to watch" before instigating a pillow fight. That's not cute, it's creepy and weird. I'm not sure how any of the other characters tolerate him, to be honest. I've read a lot of articles about The Room that theorize that Denny may have some kind of intellectual disability or mental defect. But my guess is that he was raised by wolves from birth until just before the beginning of the movie. That's the only explanation that I can come up with for why Denny is so awkward.

But the more I try to make sense of that madness, the faster I'll end up with irreversible brain damage. So let's move on to the last facet I have to cover, the acting. I don't want to; I'd rather just skip it and rush to the end so I can move along with things that don't bother me so much. I mean, if you haven't seen The Room, then you have no idea how truly awful the acting is. The cast is so bad, so mind-bogglingly terrible, that it makes Elizabeth Berkley's performance in Showgirls rival Meryl Streep. But I've already come this far, I guess I'll have to keep going. Ugh... why do I do this to myself?

If I must critique the cast, let's start with the movie's star and creator, Wiseau. It's hard for me to fathom just how terrible he is. The really sad part is that he's so sincere about it that it only makes him look worse. He obviously believes in what he's doing, but when your acting ability and material are so poor, self-confidence won't get you anywhere.Wiseau's super-melodramatic style is the source of enough humor, but when combined with his thick European accent and his tenuous grasp on the English language, you can't help yourself but to laugh at him. I hate saying that, but it's true. I honestly cannot watch a single second of Wiseau's so-called acting without giggling maniacally and asking myself if he really expects anyone to take him seriously. His body language is wildly animated to the point of making him look like a madman, and his line delivery feels not of this earth. Wiseau supposedly re-recorded much of his dialogue in post-production, which makes his screen presence feel so strange that even now I wonder if he's actually a real person. He just can't be... can he?

There are other people in this movie too, but Wiseau is so outrageous that he completely overshadows everyone else. But as much as he dominates the movie, I really should point out some of the cast's remaining members. They're just as guilty of being in this movie as he is, after all.

Playing the female lead is Juliette Danielle, who — from what I can tell by this movie alone — is certainly no actress. You get the feeling that they just pulled her in off the street, handed her a script, and told her to start saying her lines. It looks like she's just following whatever directions Wiseau gave her some of the time, while spending the rest of the time looking like she'd rather be doing anything else on the face of the planet. And all of the time, she's not good in any sort of definition of the word.

I must admit that I do feel a bit sorry for her, almost to the point of pity. According to an interview I read with one of her co-stars, she was apparently only 18 years old when the movie was filmed, and was stuck in the unenviable task of doing a sex scene with Wiseau on the first day of filming. It's one of the least erotic things I've ever seen, to the point that it's borderline nightmare fuel, and this poor girl had to be a part of it. The guy looks like what would happen if one of the monsters from Gremlins was trying to disguise himself as a human, and judging by how the scene looks, it appears as if he was trying to make love to her belly button. So either Danielle's a real trooper or she has no sense at all, because I would have walked right off the set and never looked back.

And playing the third point of our convoluted love triangle is Greg Setsero, who also worked as the movie's line producer, helped with casting, and was credited as one of Wiseau's five (!) assistants during production. I guess Wiseau couldn't do everything, which is kind of a shame because it would have been funnier if he had. Anyway, back to Sestero. Similar to Danielle, Sestero's delivery is stiff, like he wasn't prepared to actually be in front of the camera. Though since I've heard he was roped into acting only three days before filming started, maybe that could be expected? Either way, Sestero doesn't really make much of an impression as an actor. He's not the worst actor in the movie by a long shot, but I can't say he does anything worth watching either.

But really, I can say that about pretty much the entire cast outside of Wiseau. None of them give any reason to pay attention to them. That's probably why none of the reviews posted online mention anybody outside of The Room's creator. With the exception of Dan Janjigian, who is actually pretty good as the drug dealer that Denny upsets, the rest of the cast are just kinda there. But then again, if you were stuck in this movie, would you bother putting forth any sort of effort?

Even the movie's soundtrack fails. Not only is Mladen Milicevic's score terrible, but the various songs that are heard throughout The Room all sound like the absolute worst of mid-'90s R&B slow jams. It's as if Wiseau wasn't satisfied with just a bad movie, so he needed bad music too. The worst offender is a song called "You're My Rose," which sounds like somebody with no singing talent doing a really bad karaoke version of a TLC song. But I guess if the movie was going to be a pain to watch, it was going to be a pain to listen to too.

If you ever hear someone shrieking in terror for no immediately discernible reason, it's probably because they've seen The Room and have been left traumatized by how truly horrendous it is. But for all the negative things I've said about it, I cannot recommend The Room enough. You have to see this movie. You need to drop everything you're doing right now and find a copy of it. Go to Amazon.com and buy it, sign up for a Netflix account and rent it, or even download a bootleg if you have to, because you must see this movie. I say this because I don't want to be alone in my pain. Before seeing The Room, I didn't know it was possible for a movie to be both wretchedly stupid and unbelievably brilliant at the same time. But Tommy Wiseau has given us proof that it can be done. And not only can it be done, but it can be made into an art form. I can't justify giving it any higher than one star, but it is a movie beyond star ratings or even critiquing in general. The Room simply is.

Final Rating: *