Thursday, July 29, 2010

Terminator Salvation (2009)

If you were a fan of action movies during the '80s, then there was no way you could avoid Arnold Schwarzenegger. Though he got his first real taste of fame with Pumping Iron, a documentary about his competition with Lou Ferrigno as they prepared for the 1975 Mr. Olympia bodybuilding competition, his big break in Hollywood came in 1982 with Conan the Barbarian. The movie was a hit, and Schwarzenegger was on the fast track to superstardom. He's done some of the biggest action flicks of all time, but arguably his most famous character originated in James Cameron's 1984 sci-fi classic The Terminator. The movie's success would spawn comic books, video games, action figures, a short-lived television show, and most notably, a batch of sequels.

Schwarzenegger returned for Terminator 2: Judgment Day in 1991 and Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines in 2003, but thanks to his job as the Governor of California, the eventual fourth movie in the franchise was forced to move on without him. With no Schwarzenegger to carry it as usual, Terminator Salvation hit theaters last summer, the twenty-fifth anniversary of the original movie. But would the movie be able to hold a candle to its predecessors?

The year is 2018. The nuclear holocaust known as "Judgment Day" has come and gone, and Skynet's genocidal war against the human Resistance rages onward. Among the soldiers of the Resistance is John Connor (Christian Bale), who is slowly on the path to becoming the great leader he was told he would be. During an attack on a Skynet base, John discovers that his enemies have been using human prisoners to develop a new type of Terminator made of living tissue. He realizes that Skynet is moving ever closer to the creation of the T-800 series, a full decade earlier than John had anticipated.

But he'll have to put that on the back burner, as there are more pressing matters at hand. Resistance forces have found a radio frequency that could be exploited and used to shut down Skynet permanently. In the process, they've also intercepted a list of humans that Skynet plans to eliminate within the week. At the tippy-top of the list are John, obviously, and a civilian named Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin). While the Resistance higher-ups are unaware of Kyle's importance, John issues a series of radio broadcasts hoping to locate and protect the teenager who will one day travel back in time and become John's father.

Meanwhile, death row inmate Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) has found himself in a world he does not recognize. Although he was supposedly executed in 2003 and had his body donated to scientific research, he has awoken with no memory of the previous fifteen years. The disoriented Marcus soon crosses paths with Kyle and his mute child sidekick Star (Jadagrace Berry), choosing to travel with them after they overhear one of John's radio messages. But they are quickly separated when Kyle and Star are taken prisoner during a Skynet attack.

Marcus encounters downed pilot Blair Williams (Moon Bloodgood) soon afterwards, and she escorts him back to John's base. Things get a little hairy, though, when he's injured by a magnetic landmine. When the base's medics try treating his wounds, they find that he's a unique amalgamation of human organs and robotic technology. John believes that Marcus is an infiltration unit sent to kill him, but is taken aback by Marcus's claims that all he wants to do is rescue Kyle and Star. Against his instincts, John must work with Marcus in order to make sure that Skynet is defeated.

I must admit that I approached Terminator Salvation with a bit of trepidation. I love the first two movies in the series, but Rise of the Machines was so thoroughly mediocre that it hurt my faith in any sequels that followed it. There was also the fact that it was directed by McG, whose prior directorial efforts didn't exactly paint him as the kind of person who would be a right choice for this franchise. But I was willing to give Terminator Salvation a shot, especially since I was left in need of some kind of Terminator fix after Fox cancelled The Sarah Connor Chronicles a mere six weeks before the movie's theatrical release. And you know what? It wasn't a bad movie at all.

Like I said, McG is at the helm here. I was a bit surprised when he was hired, because his entire prior body of work as a feature film director consists of only Charlie's Angels, Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, and We Are Marshall. Would you expect a guy who'd directed the Charlie's Angels movies to make a serious sci-fi/action movie about a human/robot war? But the truth is that he actually did a decent enough job. While there is no hiding that McG is a thoroughly mediocre director, his work here is perfectly acceptable. You get the feeling that he was trying to make the movie bigger than it really was, and in some instances, it shows. The action scenes are exciting and visually stellar, especially the sequence that begins with the giant Terminator attacking the 7-Eleven. (That's cooler than it sounds, trust me.) McG knows what kind of movie he wanted to make, and for the most part, I think he succeeded.

Unfortunately, I can't say the script was as good. Credited to Terminator 3 writers John Brancato and Michael Ferris, the script feels like they wrote two different movies and mashed them together. The two storylines — John's war against the machines and Marcus's search for redemption — never really gel together. It's as if Brancato and Ferris couldn't decide who the primary protagonist would be. It's really jarring to see one of the characters disappear for fifteen or twenty minutes at a time. Both stories would have been compelling enough had the movie been solely about one or the other. But with the focus being shared, it makes both of them weaker for it.

At least the cast tried their hardest. Though his work here was overshadowed by his profanity-laced tirade at the movie's director of photography, Christian Bale is very good as John Connor. The character is the linchpin for the entire franchise, and though Bale is almost too intense for his own good at times, he's still great in the role. He's just what the character needed.

Sam Worthington plays the movie's other lead character, and he's okay, I guess. He's not terrible, but he's nothing to write home about. Worthington does carry a certain air of mystery about him that the character needed, but when it's all said and done, Worthington is just okay at best.And on a side note, I can't help but wonder how long Hollywood will keep trying to make Worthington a star. He's had this, Avatar, and the Clash of the Titans remake, and in all three, his performances have never reached above "average." He's not the most talented or charismatic actor out there, so why must this great experiment continue?

Rounding out the important players is Anton Yelchin, playing the role that Michael Biehn did so well in 1984. This was the second time in 2009 that Yelchin played a character someone else made famous, having previously taken over the role of Chekov in J.J. Abrams's Star Trek reboot. Yelchin was great in Star Trek, and he's great in Terminator Salvation too. His performance echoes Biehn's in a lot of ways, yet plays Reese as more vulnerable and inexperienced. That makes sense, considering where the movie falls in the franchise's timeline. Reese naturally wouldn't be the soldier he was in the original movie. But Yelchin puts the character on the path to who he'll become, and I appreciated his efforts.

Of the four movies in the Terminator saga, Terminator Salvation is most certainly not the best of them. It isn't the worst, either, so at least it has that going for it. While I definitely missed the presence of Arnold Schwarzenegger (CGI-created cameo notwithstanding), I felt it was a fine entry into the series. It's certainly a brave one, in any event. So on that usual scale of mine, Terminator Salvation gets three and a half stars out of five. And here's hoping that the franchise will eventually be back.

Final Rating: ***½

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Ready To Rumble (2000)

I became a fan of professional wrestling in 1993, not too long after the end of its boom in popularity that had began in the '80s. For numerous reasons, the industry had fallen into a sharp decline, one that it wouldn't pull out of for several years. It wasn't until the beginning of what's been dubbed "the Monday Night Wars" did pro wrestling start regaining the massive mainstream popularity it had enjoyed during the previous decade. With Ted Turner's World Championship Wrestling and Vince McMahon's World Wrestling Federation embroiled in a bitter ratings war for dominance of cable television on Monday nights, the period between 1995 and 2001 was one of the industry's hottest periods.

Seriously, once things really began to take off, wrestlers were everywhere again. They were turning up in video games, on toy shelves and T-shirts and the covers of magazines like TV Guide. Go to any random town on any random weekend and you'd probably see a wrestling show being held at the local high school gymnasium or National Guard Armory. And the towns that didn't get these shows had groups of kids willing to wrestle on trampolines in their own backyards. Pro wrestler Mick Foley's first two autobiographies even held the top spot on the New York Times bestseller list.

And in a case of history repeating itself, the Monday Night Wars saw a promotion release its own movie. Just like how the WWF had produced the Hulk Hogan vehicle No Holds Barred in 1989, WCW created Ready To Rumble in 2000. Even though WCW had their parent company, the AOL Time Warner media conglomerate, backing them up, it didn't stop Ready To Rumble from being a pure waste of time and resources. I've seen wrestling promoters try to make their audiences accept some really goofy crap over the years, but this movie actually makes me embarrassed to be a fan.

The movie centers focuses on Gordie Boggs (David Arquette) and Sean Dawkins (Scott Caan), a pair of dim-witted sewage workers who are the best of friends. They're also two of the biggest wrestling fans ever. They absolutely live and breathe pro wrestling. And for the record, their all-time favorite wrestler is Jimmy King (Oliver Platt), the reigning WCW World Champion.

As the movie begins, Gordie and Sean have procured tickets to a taping of WCW Monday Nitro, where King will be defending his title against "Diamond" Dallas Page (playing himself) in the main event. They just know that King will once again walk out victorious, but their hopes are quickly dashed away when Page and unscrupulous WCW promoter Titus Sinclair (Joe Pantoliano) conspire to screw King out of the title and drive him out of the business. Heartbroken over their idol's loss, Gordie and Sean formulate a plan to track down King and help him get revenge.

If you aren't a fan of professional wrestling, you more than likely have been and will continue to be blissfully unaware of the existence of Ready To Rumble. But those of us who were fans back in 2000 will remember it well. We don't want to remember it, but we do. There's no sense in dancing around it, so I'll just come right out and tell you the obvious: Ready To Rumble is a terrible movie. It's a waste of time, of effort, and of money that could have been spent producing a good movie. It's what happens when a wrestling company deliberately insults its fans while expecting them to buy into the crap they're shoveling down their throats.

At the helm is Brian Robbins, a former cast member of the '80s sitcom Head of the Class who went on to direct such timeless classics as Good Burger and Norbit. Robbins was just a year removed from his mediocre football movie Varsity Blues, and he digs himself closer to the bottom of the barrel with Ready To Rumble.

Frankly, Robbins's direction is flat, bland, and unexciting. It's just a bore to watch. I mean, if I weren't already a wrestling fan, I'd have probably given up on the movie ten minutes in. Robbins fails to add anything compelling to the movie, making me wish I could be watching regular pro wrestling on TV instead of this movie.

But it isn't like he had any decent material to work with. Written by Steven Brill, the script is so incredibly stupid that I'm shocked that it can even exist. One of its problems is that the script feels over-reliant on tired toilet humor and jokes that simply are not funny. I can handle bad movies of any other genres, but bad comedies are just depressing and sad. I mean, the first joke of the movie is Gordie sticking his fingers up his butt, then making a convenience store clerk sniff them so he can trick said clerk into giving him a free Slurpee. That's how the comedy ball starts rolling here, folks. It just gets worse from there. If I listed every awful joke, we'd be here all day. But trust me when I say that there aren't a whole lot of jokes in the movie that are actually funny. Unfortunately, the funny ones are so few and far between that you'd struggle to say they're even there at all.

Another thing I didn't quite understand is how weird the depiction of wrestling is. During the match between King and Page at the beginning of the movie, they more or less come out and say that wrestling is rigged. King is heard whispering a sequence of moves to Page, and King's loss is due to the match's predetermined ending being changed without his knowledge. After that, wrestling is painted as being a legitimate athletic competition. Well, which is it? Is wrestling rigged, or is it real? I know you suck, Ready To Rumble, but you could at least keep your story straight!

Oh, and you know the whole thing with the sleazy promoter that screwed the champ out of the title by changing the ending of the match? Anybody who knows anything about pro wrestling history is gonna see what they're alluding to there. If Titus Sinclair isn't supposed to be a parody of Vince McMahon, I'll eat my hat. I guess this was WCW's way of getting some payback after the Ted Turner knockoff in No Holds Barred.

And bringing up the rear is the cast, who don't fare too much better either. Playing one of the movie's co-leads is David Arquette, who nobody will ever accuse of being a master thespian. In his defense, Arquette can actually be pretty funny when given the right material. But Ready To Rumble is so terrible that he wears out his welcome almost immediately. Get ten minutes into the movie, and you'll hate him. His co-star, Scott Caan, doesn't reach the same level of annoyance as Arquette, but he's still pretty awful. Caan is just plain not funny, simple as that.

As our token villain, Joey Pantoliano is sadly disappointing. I really hate saying that, since I'm a Joey Pants fan. But his work here is so rough to watch, made rougher by the terrible writing. It's a real shame to see good actors in bad movies, because I know Pantoliano can do so much better.

At least Oliver Platt manages to illicit a few legitimate laughs. Platt actually left me with the feeling that he's too good for this movie. He doesn't deserve to be in this crap, but at least he puts forth a watchable performance.

The last two years of WCW's existence were plagued with misfortune. A combination of sinking television ratings, drastic financial losses, and increasingly stupid creative and business decisions led to the company's eventual closure and sale to Vince McMahon in 2001. And among those aforementioned stupid decisions was Ready To Rumble. It's bad enough that it only made half its budget back, but it would contribute to one of the most idiotic moves in pro wrestling history. Shortly after the movie's release, WCW had David Arquette wrestle a match and win their World Championship as a promotional stunt. I am not kidding. His reign lasted only twelve days, but the absurdity of it was enough to haunt the dreams of more than a few wrestling fans.

And that's Ready To Rumble's ultimate legacy. It was in and out of theaters and quickly forgotten, with only stupid promotional moves stuck in people's memories. And really, Ready To Rumble is bad yet forgettable. You may totally hate it while it's playing, but at least you won't remember any of it. When a publicity stunt that made the movie's star a pro wrestling champion is more memorable than the movie itself, you know things have gone horribly wrong. So my final rating is two stars, and a suggestion: If you're gonna watch a wrestling movie, just go with The Wrestler. At least that one doesn't suck.

Final Rating: **

No Holds Barred (1989)

Of all the different forms of entertainment out there, one of the most bizarre is professional wrestling. What began decades ago as a way for carnival workers to scam unsuspecting people out of money has become outlandish characters staging choreographed fights in front of a paying audience. And despite the negative stigma that being a fan carries, I'll confess that I do watch pro wrestling.

I got into pro wrestling in 1993, as the industry was rapidly cooling off following one of the hottest periods in the business's history. Beginning with the World Wrestling Federation's partnership with MTV in 1984, a partnership that sparked what's come to be known as the "Rock 'n' Wrestling Connection," the '80s saw the the WWF (the industry as a whole) rise to heights that had never been achieved previously. The success of pro wrestling during the decade helped popularize sporting events — both legitimate and otherwise — on pay-per-view, and led to action figures, video games, the WWF getting prime time coverage on NBC, a Saturday morning cartoon, and wrestlers appearing on Saturday Night Live and on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

It was this unparalleled popularity that led WWF chairman Vince McMahon to try his hand at the world of making movies. If people like to see wrestling on television, they'd go see a movie about it, right? That's what McMahon thought, so it's what he gave us the movie No Holds Barred. Starring Hulk Hogan, the WWF's biggest star at the time and arguably the most famous American pro wrestler ever, the movie hit theaters in the summer of 1989 and helped build evidence for the case that McMahon should stick to the wrestling business.

No Holds Barred tells the story of Rip (Hogan), a wrestler who is so immensely popular that he has made the network that airs his matches the top dog in the ratings. That doesn't sit too well with Tom Brell (Kurt Fuller), the head of the World Television Network. Sick and tired of his network being in last place, he offers Rip a contract to wrestle exclusively on WTN. Rip refuses to leave his current employers and Brell refuses to take no for an answer. His network is going to ride the pro wrestling wave to the top of the ratings, by hook or by crook.

After stumbling across the No Count Bar, an extraordinarily rowdy saloon, Brell gets the idea to create his own wrestling show, one that focuses on violence as a stark parallel to the family-friendly wrestling show Rip appears on. This new wrestling show, brilliantly titled The Battle of the Tough Guys, soon becomes a hit thanks to a brutal, seemingly unstoppable fighter named Zeus (Tom "Tiny" Lister, Jr.).

Though Rip initially ignores the challenges issued by Brell and Zeus, he is unable to any longer when Zeus beats Rip's brother Randy (Mark Pellegrino) so badly that he's left in a wheelchair. Rip agrees to battle Zeus on a special episode of Brell's show, but will he be able to defeat his foe and defend his brother's honor? Well, yeah, of course he will. Duh.

Anyone who has seen No Holds Barred over the last twenty years will be able to back up my belief that it's nothing more than a cheap vanity project, a vehicle built for no reason beyond promoting Hulk Hogan. And it wasn't a very good one, at that. If it was supposed to kick-start Hogan's acting career, then it only led to movies like Suburban Commando and Mr. Nanny. And if it was meant to help promote pro wrestling, then that makes no sense. The only people who would actually sit down and watch this movie, even back in 1989, would be people who already watched wrestling in the first place. I can't imagine non-fans seeing commercials for No Holds Barred and getting excited to see it.

At the helm is Thomas J. Wright, who has spent pretty much his entire career as a television director. No Holds Barred is one of his very rare forays into making feature films, and I wish I could say he made the best of it. But alas, he doesn't. His direction makes the movie feel generic and uninspired. It's like Wright wasn't even trying. I know that there was no reason to go all out and make something flashy, especially considering how awful the script and the acting are. But couldn't Wright have at least put forth some sort of real effort?

Like I said, though, I can almost understand why Wright might not have really cared. It's kinda hard to make a good movie when you don't have much to work with. Let's take the script, for example. It was written by Dennis Hackin, who has done absolutely nothing of note before or since. And judging by No Holds Barred, maybe his tiny résumé is a good thing.

The problem with Hackin's script is that it's so unbelievably stupid that it hurts my brain. There's the abysmal jokes (Rip literally scares one of Brell's goons so badly that said goon poops his pants), the awful dialogue (Brell's repeated use of "jock-ass" as an insult), and the utterly silly plot that leads to an even sillier climax. We're expected to believe that instead of pressing criminal charges or filing a lawsuit after Zeus renders his brother a quadriplegic, the only way Rip can get satisfaction is via a wrestling match? That's bullcrap. (Then again, I've seen that same result play out in actual pro wrestling storylines too.)

But those aren't the only stupid elements of the script, oh no. Let's use the villain as an example. Not only is Brell a horribly written character, but anyone who knows anything about the wrestling business will recognize him as a really bad parody of media mogul Ted Turner. Turner had purchased the WWF's main rival at the end of 1988, and I guess Vince McMahon couldn't wait to take a shot at him. I'm surprised that McMahon didn't tell Hackin to include a reference to Brell owning a baseball team in Atlanta too.

I mean, I understand the movie needed a villain, but couldn't they have used just Zeus by himself? Tiny Lister will never be accused of being a good actor, but as far as wrestling movies go, Zeus would have been a far more compelling bad guy than a parody of Ted Turner. It just makes the movie come across as if it is unsure whether or not it wants to "break kayfabe," if I may use some wrestling jargon.

But enough of all that, however; let's move on to the cast. If The Wizard was a feature-length commercial for Nintendo, then No Holds Barred is a feature-length commercial for Hulk Hogan. I mean, if you actually watch the movie, you won't see Hogan playing a character. Instead, what you will see is Hogan doing his typical wrestling shtick. But then, considering the plot of the movie, I'm surprised they didn't just go ahead and list "Hulk Hogan as himself" in the cast roll call in the credits.

And really, did anyone at the WWF at the time think Hogan starring in a movie was the best way to promote their champion? I ask that because he's a legitimately terrible actor. Any time he is required to show any sort of emotion or pathos or actually, y'know, act, he sucks on toast. I won't try to be nice about it or try shying away from it, because you just can't polish a turd. He's honestly one of the worst actors I've ever talked about on this blog. There is nothing good about his performance at all. Nothing. And the fact that Hogan has not only been in more movies, but was actually the star of some of them, makes me a little sad inside.

The rest of the cast doesn't fare too better either. Joan Severance — who plays a corporate spy hired by Brell to seduce Rip — is boring and forgettable, while Mark Pellegrino is... well, he's pretty boring too. He doesn't bring anything at all to the movie, especially not talent. And in the role of the villainous Brell, Kurt Fuller chews the scenery so much that he leaves teeth marks. His overacting wears itself out, though, leaving me wishing that Fuller and his character would just go away. The only actor who doesn't totally suck here is, oddly enough, Tiny Lister. He's not a very good actor either, but all he has to do here is stand there and look like a beast. And boy, he can do that like a champ.

If you ever want a reason why people think pro wrestling is stupid, track down a copy of No Holds Barred. It is an unmitigated failure on every single possible level, which is compounded by the fact that the last two decades have not been kind to it at all. It's aged so unbelievably badly that as each second passes, the movie becomes more and more tiresome to watch. Someone must have realized that, because No Holds Barred has yet to receive an official DVD release. You'll only ever be able to see it if you download it online or track down a VHS copy of it somewhere. I guess Vince McMahon has lumped it it with the World Bodybuilding Federation and the XFL in his list of failures that he wants to pretend never happened to begin with. And really, I wish I could pretend I'd never seen it too.

Final Rating:

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Paranormal Entity (2009)

I am continually amazed by the existence of The Asylum. These innovators of the "mockbuster" have somehow managed to stay afloat on a business model of nothing but cheesy knockoffs of mainstream movies. I usually just ignore their movies, since they generally aren't anything I'm interested in.

But a couple of them have caught my eye, however. One was Monster, which I reviewed this past Sunday. The other was Paranormal Entity, a rather blatant attempt to cash in on the unexpected success of Paranormal Activity. I don't particularly know why Paranormal Entity grabbed my attention, but when I saw it was available on Netflix's "Instant Streaming" feature, I figured I'd give it a shot.

Welcome to the home of Ellen Finley (Fia Perera) and her twentysomething kids, Thomas (Shane Van Dyke) and Samantha (Erin Marie Hogan). For some time now, something supernatural has been making itself comfortable in their house. While they initially thought it was the spirit of the recently-deceased family patriarch trying to communicate with them, they've found that it instead wants to cause them problems. It's relatively harmless at first; phones ring with nobody on the other line, dishes in the kitchen are broken, the TV turns on and off on its own.

But as time goes by, the spirit becomes much more agitated. It is especially drawn to Samantha, who is actually physically attacked by it. However, none of the Finleys will be safe when the ghost escalates its malevolent behavior.

While I can see how someone could have an opinion of it that differs from mine, I thought Paranormal Activity was great. Granted, it has its flaws. It's not a perfect movie. But I felt it was effective enough and accomplished what it wanted to do. Paranormal Entity, on the other hand, isn't so great. It's not as bad as Monster, but it's still pretty lame. They aren't hiding the fact that it's supposed to be a Paranormal Activity clone, with quite a few scares and scenes lifted directly from the movie it's copying. They don't even replicate the scenes that well, either.

The odd thing about it is that there are no production credits whatsoever. There are no credits for a crew or cast at the end of the movie, or even the Asylum logo. Even The Asylum's website lists the credits as "not available." But thanks to that glorious series of tubes called the Internet, I've found some names and can do a more accurate review.

Serving as the movie's writer and director is Shane Van Dyke, who I felt did a really disappointing job on both ends. As a director, Van Duke could have done a lot better. There are precious few real scares, and very little tension or suspense to speak of. Anything he does do right, I've seen done better elsewhere.

What gets me is how utterly cheap the movie looks. Oren Peli made Paranormal Activity on a reported budget of 15,000 dollars, but Van Dyke's budget must have been whatever change he found under his couch cushions one weekend. The whole movie has an artificial feeling to it. The home furnishings looks like they were on loan from a furniture store, and the house looks like one that a real estate agent would put on display in new neighborhoods. The house doesn't feel lived in at all. The shelves are all empty, there are no personal touches to anything, and they even have one of those plastic security covers over the thermostat.

I also got a laugh out of some of the smaller things. The night-vision scenes don't even resemble night-vision, instead looking like someone slapped a funny color filter over regular footage. And that noise that indicates the ghost is doing something? It sounded like a plane was flying overhead, or a loud air conditioner was turning on. I don't know why I thought that was so funny, but I couldn't help but giggle every time it happened.

As a writer, Van Dyke continues to disappoint. Not only does he only give us half an ending, but he barely feels like he's making any sort of effort to create his own movie. Like with my review of Monster, I must admit that I shouldn't be upset when a mockbuster totally rips off a movie. But after a certain point, when does a movie stop being a clone and start being a remake? I mean, after a while, I started wishing I was watching Paranormal Activity instead.

And let's not forget the gigantic plot hole. (Beware yon spoilers!) It's stated outright at the beginning of the movie that Thomas was arrested for raping and killing Samantha before killing himself in prison. But at the end, it's stated that Thomas was killed by the ghost too. I cannot explain how little sense that makes. Was the editor not paying attention to that? Did they not have anyone overseeing the movie's continuity? Sigh...

The only thing left for me to review is the cast. That shouldn't be too hard, considering that there are only four people in the movie, and one of them has probably less than five minutes of screen time. And to be perfectly honest with you, the cast is disposable. Van Dyke is especially disposable, as I don't think we ever even see his face through the whole movie. The only actor who I felt made any sort of impression was Erin Marie Hogan. Her performance isn't anything spectacular, but it's believable. Hogan is better than the movie deserves, in any event.

Paranormal Entity is one of those bad movies that is watchable, yet still manages to annoy you with how dumb it is. If you're not a fan of the "found footage" style of horror movie, then you'll probably skip it altogether anyway. But if you do dig that sort of thing, just stick with Paranormal Activity instead. Paranormal Entity isn't the worst of the two Asylum movies I've seen thus far, but that doesn't stop it from being a tremendously bad waste of time.

Final Rating:

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Monster (2008)

I've seen more than a few bad movies over the years. I've seen three Uwe Boll movies. I've seen DC Comics crank out Steel, Catwoman, Batman & Robin, and Superman IV. I've seen movies like The Room, Gymkata, Hobgoblins, and Manos: The Hands of Fate. But oddly enough, until recently, I'd never seen a movie from The Asylum.

For those of you who have yet to discover The Asylum, they're a Hollywood production company that specializes in "mockbusters," low-budget knockoffs of mainstream hits. Released straight to video shelves just before the theatrical releases of their mainstream counterparts, The Asylum's mockbusters are usually only watched by rubes who don't know the difference and people who know The Asylum's track record.

But as I said, it was only recently that I first saw an Asylum movie. After I happened to buy the Blu-ray of Cloverfield this past May, I suddenly felt compelled to hunt down its Asylum equivalent, Monster. I don't know why, but stupid ol' me had to run down to a local video store that was going out of business and buy their copy of Monster on the cheap. And holy crap, everything I'd heard about The Asylum was right.

Monster follows Sarah (Sarah Lieving) and Erin (Erin Sullivan), a pair of American sisters who have arrived in Tokyo to shoot a documentary about global warming. They aren't there for long, however, before Japan is rattled by what is believed to be the aftershocks of a massive earthquake that struck the country recently.

But as you may surmise from the movie's title, they're something much worse. These quakes are actually a precursor to the arrival of a tremendous beast, a gigantic octopus come to lay waste to Tokyo. Caught in the bedlam, Sarah and Erin document the chaos with their camcorder as they desperately hunt for safety.

Want to know my opinion of Monster? Take all of my complaints about Cloverfield and multiply them by a million. The Asylum practically got all the same things wrong as Cloverfield did, only they do it worse. If you want to see someone turn a mediocre movie into a crappy one, go rent Monster.

The sad part is that it's not one of those bad movies that's a catastrophic failure, either. It's not a BloodRayne or The Room kind of bad movie, where it's so bad that it sends me into a frenzy. It's one of those bad movies where, once it's over, you say, "Okay, that just happened. Whatever." I really don't like that particular type of bad movie, because at least the really crappy ones can inspire some sort of emotional response. The really bad ones, I can end up writing 2,000+ words about how much they suck. But not Monster. It's just kind of there.

But I guess I'd better get into just what makes the movie that way, so let's get started. At the helm of this sinking ship is Erik Estenberg, who has Monster listed as his only credit on his IMDB profile. His work here is really lame, showing an extreme lack of imagination. I know Estenberg was only hired to make a cheap knockoff of Cloverfield, but he could have at least tried making it watchable.

Then again, Estenberg is hindered by the movie's obviously meager budget. The movie looks like it was filmed in the Little Tokyo section of Los Angeles instead of Japan, making it feel cheap and artificial. But the budgetary limitations are even more obvious in how the monster is depicted. In Cloverfield, you rarely see the monster. Estenberg takes this one step further by never showing the monster. You see a tentacle here, a tentacle there. But that's all you ever get to see of the monster. Whenever it appears, it's obscured by really fake-looking camera malfunctions, or appears off-screen and has its attack narrated by whichever characters are in front of the camera at the time. I know there probably wasn't enough money in the budget to do any tremendous monster effects, but geez, it's like nobody wanted to bother.

I also thought the screenplay, written by Asylum co-founder David Michael Latt, was seriously lacking. I know that he didn't have to do anything creative, but did Latt have to tank it so badly? It's like he didn't even want to try. I mean, was it so hard to come up with something beyond "some people with a camcorder meet a monster in a major city"?

And did the characters have to be as bad as Cloverfield's too? The two main characters in Monster aren't totally unlikable, but they still tend to get annoying. Their whole routine of telling everyone they encounter that they're Americans gets old really quickly. But then again, they almost have to tell everyone what country they're from. I mean, I thought the two white girls who don't speak a word of any language other than English were totally Japanese at first.

All that's left for me to critique is the acting, which shouldn't be too hard, considering that there's only two major players in the movie. And to tell you the truth, neither Sarah Lieving or Erin Sullivan are really worth writing about. It's not that they're bad, they just aren't very good. The fact that the characters are so poorly written doesn't help anything, either. I think that with better actresses, it might not have been so bad. But Lieving and Sullivan just weren't strong enough to carry the whole movie by themselves.

I was familiar with The Asylum's reputation before I saw Monster, but nothing could have readied me for the amount of sheer failure that was displayed on my TV screen. Monster fails at being a monster movie, it fails at using the "found footage" gimmick, and it fails at being entertaining. It's not even a good bad movie. If it were like Uwe Boll's movies, where you can have oodles of fun mocking them, then I'd have been okay with it. But as it stands, Monster is just your run-of-the-mill crappy movie that I'll probably never give a second thought to. And I can't believe I actually paid good money to own a copy of this on DVD. What's wrong with me?

Final Rating: *

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Death Bed: The Bed That Eats (1977)

I've reviewed nearly 250 movies in the last seven years, movies that have ranged from awesome to awful. But none of them are as bizarre, as weird, and as confusing as Death Bed: The Bed That Eats.

Read that title again. Go on, I dare you.

I'm not making that up. There is a real movie titled Death Bed: The Bed That Eats. It sounds like it should have been one of those fake trailers from Grindhouse, but trust me, this movie exists. I've seen it, and can tell you that it is very real. There's nothing that could ever possibly prepare you for a movie like this, and I'm not sure of how to properly introduce a review of it. I guess the only way to do it is to jump right into this and tell you about the bizarre movie that is Death Bed: The Bed That Eats.

My usual routine is to do an introductory paragraph, then move into a synopsis of the movie's plot. But the thing is, Death Bed has no plot. I know I've joked about certain movies having a plot so thin that it's practically nonexistent. But Death Bed literally has no plot at all. At least, there's no plot that I could see, anyway. It's as if somebody just came up with the title and didn't bother with anything else. So instead of a plot synopsis, I guess I'm stuck detailing the movie's basic concept.

There once was a demon that fell in love with a woman. He took human form so he could be with her, and created a bed in which they could be intimate. She died while they were together, and the demon's tears caused the bed to become possessed. Those who come into contact with the bed are consumed by it, and as the movie progresses, we're privy to a number of victims being eaten by the death bed. Yes, it's as stupid as it sounds.

I honestly don't know what to make of Death Bed. It is so bizarre that I can barely even comprehend its existence. The movie should not be real, and yet it is. But it almost wasn't however. Though it was filmed in 1972, a print of the movie was not made until 1977 (thus the date at the top of this review). While pirated bootlegs of the movie would circulate, Death Bed would not get any sort of official release until it hit DVD in 2003. Between the start of production and the DVD release, three decades passed. How is that even possible?! I've seen a few movies that sat on the shelf for a year or two before being released, but thirty? Holy crap.

Then again, maybe Death Bed wasn't released. Maybe it escaped instead. The movie is like some kind of experimental film school project, something meant to be seen by no more than a handful of people. It's so odd, so surreal, that I couldn't possibly imagine anyone believing that it would be commercially viable.

Death Bed was written, produced, and directed by George Barry, who had to be on some serious psychotropic drugs when he conceived this monstrosity. His direction was so lackluster that I got the feeling that he wasn't sure what he was doing, and the script's narrative structure makes no sense (which may be the byproduct of Barry making the bold choice to avoid telling a story). With the lack of story, all that's left is merely a bunch of sequences loosely stitched together for no other reason than "just because." It's so utterly frustrating that it makes my head want to explode.

If anything's for sure, it's that when Barry assembled his cast, he didn't hire any actors. He must have hired a bunch of random people who drove by the set just before filming started. There's barely any dialogue, but there's still a wealth of terrible performances to be found. They barely react to anything that happens to them, unless you're counting indifference or dull surprise. The best example of this is when one character (played by William Russ, the dad from Boy Meets World) has the skin on his hands removed to the point that all that's left are the bones, and all he can do for the entire rest of the movie is stare at them in disbelief. Come on, man! Shouldn't you be screaming or something? Are you on sedatives or something?

Anyway, I'm not going to break the actors down individually like I usually do, because they all put forth the exact same dumb performance. Believe me when I say that all of the actors are probably better off wallowing in obscurity.

And really, the whole movie will probably remain obscure forever as well. Sure, Patton Oswalt did a routine about the movie on one of his albums, but I doubt Death Bed will ever be the cult classic that other bad movies are. And I can't recommend the movie even to fans of bad movies, unless the curiosity completely overwhelms you. And obviously, I'm going to give it one star. I know this review may not be much, but what do you expect from a review of a movie called Death Bed: The Bed That Eats?

Final Rating: *

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Spirit (2008)

Among comic book fans, there are certain writers and artists that are held in very high esteem. People like Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko are all cited as important figures within the industry. But few are as respected as Will Eisner. Eisner began his career as a cartoonist in the 1930s, and as the years rolled by, he would become one of comicdom's most influential creators. The industry's version of the Oscars are even named the Eisner Awards in his honor. But for all his contributions, perhaps his most famous is "The Spirit."

A do-gooder whose stories combined heroics, crime stories, and noir, The Spirit made his first appearance in a special supplement in newspapers published by the Register and Tribune Syndicate on June 2, 1940. This supplement ran until 1952, and The Spirit has appeared in more traditional comic books ever since, having called DC Comics home for the last several years. Although the character isn't exactly among the A-list comic book characters that have earned widespread mainstream recognition, The Spirit is a character that has managed to endure.

The Spirit finally managed to venture into Hollywood on Christmas Day in 2008, after spending nearly seventy years on the printed page. But despite having famed comic book writer and artist Frank Miller at the helm and a few big name actors in the cast, the movie ended up being a pretty resounding flop at the American box office. I'm pretty sure there's a good reason for that, too.

There once was an ambitious police officer named Denny Colt (Gabriel Macht). Presumed to have been killed on the job, Colt was mysteriously reborn with an uncanny ability to quickly recover from any injury, no matter how grievous. He now exists as "The Spirit," a masked vigilante determined to protect his beloved hometown of Central City.

Unfortunately, doing so will not be easy. The Spirit must contend with the villainous Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson). The Octopus's latest plan: to obtain a Greek amphora that supposedly contains the blood of Heracles, which is rumored to grant immortality. As The Spirit follows the trail of his arch-nemesis, he soon crosses paths with Sand Saref (Eva Mendes), an old flame who became an international thief after they parted ways and is also after Heracles's blood. The Spirit is forced to deal with problems from all sides if he wishes to successfully stop The Octopus.

If you want to know why The Spirit bombed at the box office, I'll tell you: the movie collapsed under the weight of its own stupidity. It's one of those movies where things keep happening for no reason other than to fill the time between the opening and closing credits. There's no particular rhyme or reason to any of it. It merely exists for the sake of existing.

The movie honestly feels like Frank Miller was trying to do a really bad parody of himself. Nearly all of the elements are there: the movie is shot in a style similar to Sin City, the heroes are hardboiled, the villains are over-the-top, the women are either femme fatales or sex objects, and the dialogue is trying way too hard to be snappy. The only thing he left out were prostitutes.

As a director, Miller is adequate, I guess. I mean, he isn't horrible, but his inexperience is evident. But The Spirit marks only his second directorial effort and his first venture into filmmaking by himself, so I guess that's to be expected.

Like I said, Miller chose to use the same visual style that he and Robert Rodriguez employed with Sin City, something I felt was off-putting. I mean, yeah, it worked wonders for Sin City. That was an awesome movie. But the same cannot be said for The Spirit. The style feels forced and just plain contrived. There's no real reason for it. To be perfectly honest, I thought it would have worked better had Miller ripped off Dick Tracy instead. That would have made The Spirit a lot cooler, if you ask me.

Miller also handled the writing duties and like a lot of his recent comic books, he left a lot to be desired. As I said before, it feels as if Miller was doing a parody of himself. The pseudo-noir dialogue is really cheesy, there's practically no character development at all, and the movie in general is pretty much nonsensical. Each scene feels like its own thing.

I mean, the whole thing is utterly preposterous. Why do Octopus and his sidekick keep showing up in different wacky costumes? What's with that whole bit where they're decked out in Nazi regalia and look as if they were doing a Third Reich version of the opening scene of Patton? Did the movie need a belly dancer named "Plaster of Paris" that badly? Why is this movie so chock full of nonsense? Why?!

And I can't say that I understand the inclusion of the character played by Jaime King. King plays a siren-like personification of death that repeatedly calls out to The Spirit. These scenes didn't really serve any sort of greater purpose that I could see, beyond padding the movie time. They don't really add anything to the movie, and perhaps would have been better had they been left on the cutting room floor.

Miller's screenplay also includes some of the dumbest things I've ever seen in a movie. For example, look at Octopus's gaggle of cloned goons (all played by Louis Lombardi). They're supposed to be comic relief, but there's nothing really funny about them. Miller's dialogue isn't that good either, with tired jokes and dumb one-liners that try to be cool and aren't. It's a shame, really. I mean, wasn't Frank Miller a good writer at one point? What happened?

The cast is watchable, but even the best actors couldn't elevate this material. It feels like they're slowly being dragged down into the mire even while they're trying their hardest. Gabriel Macht puts forth a silly yet amusing performances as our titular hero. Given the way the character is written, it's kinda hard to take Macht seriously. But you know what He's a real trooper. He's fun and entertaining in spite of how stupid the movie gets sometimes, and it's actually a little bit better because of it.

As our villain, Samuel L. Jackson would have won the gold medal if overacting were an Olympic sport. Imagine the most over-the-top, outrageously hammy performance you've ever seen. Jackson runs circles around that in The Spirit. I mean, it's insane. Granted, practically every scene he's in involves something ludicrous, but Jackson cranks the lunacy up to eleven.

Playing Octopus's sidekick, the lovely femme fatale Silken Floss, is Scarlet Johannson. I can't say I was particularly impressed with her performance. Johannson's line deliveries were droll nearly to the point of being wooden, which only leaves her looks as a reason to pay attention to her.

The last of the movie's primary cast is Eva Mendes, who I didn't really care for either. Mendes's problem is that I felt she was simply trying too hard. She was trying to hard to be the cool, cunning sex kitten that she nearly became overbearing. After a certain point, I was just hoping the movie would just forget she was in it and go back to being goofy.

The Spirit is not a good movie. It's actually pretty bad. But it's oddly charming, too. I don't quite know why, but the movie is so dumb, so unrelentingly, unapologetically bizarre, that I can't say I hate it. The truth is, as bad movies go, The Spirit is actually pretty fun. Dumb fun, but fun nonetheless. Oh, and Mr. Miller? If you so desperately wanted to make a comic book movie, I'd have rather you called Robert Rodriguez and made Sin City 2 instead. I'm just saying.

Final Rating: **