Tuesday, April 23, 2013

"O" is for Oz - The Great and Powerful

 Allow me to begin with a seemingly unrelated anecdote: the reason I was hesitant to write a full review of The Hobbit last December was that when I found myself describing it to friends, I almost always began by saying "well, it's not as bad as you've heard it is." Beginning a review from a defensive position is tricky, and I find it's much more helpful when you have the benefit of time and context to help support enjoying a film with strong assumptions about its quality or lack thereof (see Retro Reviews of Tron and Dazed and Confused, both of which refute the most common stereotypes surrounding the films.)

 Meanwhile, movies that are more recent exist in the echo chamber that is the internet, where everything sucks more than it might actually and movies that are considered to be very good to great will also suck in a year's time*. So movies that are good but not great or that generally succeed in being entertaining for the target audience - let's say, kids - from directors held to impossibly high standards are therefore "total crap" and "a waste of time."

 And so the Cap'n finds himself in the unenviable position of explaining to you that while Sam Raimi's Oz - The Great and Powerful is nowhere as good as we thought we deserved, it's still a mostly harmless bit of Disney-fied Raimi as anyone should reasonably expect. Considering that trying to make anything tied to The Wizard of Oz without anything specifically trademarked in the MGM film (which, let's be honest, is where more people base their knowledge of Oz than Baum's novels), it's an admirable, if flawed, end result.

  Being that it's a prequel, I'm guessing you know that Oz - the Great and Powerful doesn't have Dorothy or the Tin Man or the Scarecrow or the Cowardly Lion (well, the latter two in a form you'd recognize, anyway) but it does have a young version of the Wizard - Oscar Diggs (James Franco) is a carnival con-artists and serial ladies man who finds himself in the wrong hot air balloon during the wrong tornado in Kansas and ends up in Oz. You might have heard of it. He meets three witches - Theodora (Mila Kunis), Evanora (Rachel Weisz) and later, Glinda (Michelle Williams) - one of whom will be a Wicked Witch of the West by the end of the film. Can you guess which one?

 SPOILER - It's Glinda. Totally Glinda. Those bubbles are toxic, man.

 Since Oscar isn't the Wizard we know yet, that means he has some adventures with characters not appearing in that other Oz movie (and also not that OTHER Oz movie or the OTHER OTHER OZ movie - sorry Tik-Tok and Pumpkinhead), so we meet some other Baum characters or variations thereof, like Finley (Zach Braff), a talking money who wears a bell-hop's uniform, and China Girl (Joey King) who is thankfully not a racist stereotype but is instead a little girl made of china. Also there's Knuck (Tony Cox), who I mention because it amuses me that the only thing he really wants to do is play a fanfare and nobody will let him.

 They have adventures, etc, and then Oz becomes the Great and Powerful by slaying the Jabberwocky... wait. Wrong Disney reboot of a famous children's novel turned movie. Actually Oz - The Great and Powerful manages to resolve itself without a huge battle, which puts it a notch above similar relaunches of crap that was for kids but is now bad-ass action (Snow White and the Huntsman, Jack the Giant Slayer, Alice in Wonderland). There's some ingenuity and good old fashioned misdirection to Oscar's plan that logically places him where we remember the Wizard from that other movie we can't see the likenesses of characters from. Hence the "sexy" Wicked Witch.

 I know, I know - I'm making it sound as bad as you assumed it was. The truth is that Oz - The Great and Powerful does a few things very right and plays it safe in a lot of other ways, and the end result is pleasant but mostly forgettable. It's summer popcorn fare a little bit earlier than usual and I suspect children love it. Good for them. It's not a timeless classic but it's a LOT better than I was expecting considering Alice's Adventures in Narnia is its spiritual ancestor in this round of "what property do we have people remember fondly?" If Oz - The Great and Powerful HAD to happen, this is at least a better version of it than I'd anticipated. There are some nice homages to the film done within legal parameters and I appreciated the Academy Aspect Ratio that opens the film (black and white, full frame, not sepia. We don't want to upset the ghost of Louis B. Mayer!)

  Also, when you compare it to the Raimi-produced Evil Dead remake, Oz - The Great and Powerful is a LOT better!

 Speaking of Evil Dead movies -  I'm not sure why people are clamoring so much for Army of Darkness 2 when it seems pretty clear to me that, like he did from Evil Dead to Evil Dead 2, Raimi remade the film and Disney slapped a different title on it. Make no mistake, were this film to star a younger Bruce Campbell and not James Franco (The Ape), you'd be wondering why Ash was fighting flying monkeys and non Deadites. But how, you ask? Allow me to explain:

 Both Army of Darkness and Oz - The Great and Powerful have a protagonist who is basically a good guy but who has some serious character flaws. Both are sucked through a vortex to another time / place and they immediately agree to the assumption that they are the great savior everybody has been waiting for. They take advantage of this for a brief period of time before being sent off on a quest that will rid the land of evil, and subsequently fail to do what they set out to do (yes, the reasons are different, but stick with me). They rally a small group of willing locals to fight a witch they were somewhat to directly responsible in creating and use modern science to overcome their foes. The only difference is that one leaves and the other one terrorizes a lion he will one day bestow courage onto. Also another witch turns into the "Raimi Hag" after being defeated, and will eventually be crushed by a house.

 (I couldn't find "The Classic" but have heard it's somewhere in there, despite the fact that Raimi's Oldsmobile would stick out like a sore thumb in turn of the twentieth century Kansas or in the land of Oz)

 I'd like to point out that I disagree with the common held argument that James Franco is wrong for the Oscar Diggs / the Wizard but that Robert Downey, Jr. (initially cast) or Johnny Depp (approached after Downey left) would have been better choices. While hating James Franco is almost as in vogue as hating Anne Hathaway or Kristen Stewart, he brings the right kind of sleazy but affable charm to the role. I like that he has his con man act down, and he's a non-threatening sort of lothario - charming but ultimately incapable of much more than skipping town.

 Robert Downey, Jr. has, for all intents and purposes, been showing us what his version of Oscar Diggs would be like since Iron Man - and to be frank, his presence would be overpowering in this movie. He's sweep in to Oz like a human tornado, chewing the scenery and owning the place from the moment he arrived, and it would, quite frankly, rob the reveal of "the Wizard" at the end of much of its power.

 Similarly, bringing Johnny Depp in would for Oz - The Great and Powerful into one of two directions - either Oscar Diggs would end up an eccentric when the audience desperately needs a protagonist who is closer to normal or we'd end up with the toned-down Johnny Depp of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, a leading man he was never meant to play. You bring in Depp for eccentricity, because when he plays the straight man or is forced to carry a film like this without being quirky, it collapses on itself.

 Not to mention furthering the connections between Oz - The Great and Powerful and The Tim Burton Players Present Alice in Wonderland, which already share a studio and producers. So hate James Franco all you want, but shy of Bruce Campbell circa 1993, he's as good of a choice as Raimi could make.

 Finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Oz - The Great and Powerful's tangential connection to Disney's other Baum-inspired film, the traumatizing Return to Oz. Is Return to Oz a better movie? Well, it certainly elicits a stronger reaction from me than The Great and Powerful did, but that's because it scared the living daylights out of me as a child and some of the imagery (the hall of heads, the Mountain King) continue to haunt the recesses of my memory. Oz - The Great and Powerful mostly plays it safe instead of opting to give children nightmares, but one aspect of the film that I think gets overlooked is that it's still very much a Sam Raimi film - just in a context we're not necessarily used to seeing it.

 You need to wait no longer than the hot air balloon scene in the tornado to see the love that Raimi has to torment his leading man, as sharpened stakes of wood come at Diggs from every direction with ferocity and a sense of cruel glee coming from behind the camera. It continues throughout the film, after Diggs lands in Oz, although Raimi saves a bit for Bruce Campbell (who apparently managed to make it into the opening credits by spending the 60 seconds he has on screen by being beaten by Tony Cox with a stick). As I mentioned before, the return of the "Raimi Hag" was a nice surprise, although how I could have forseen him making a movie with witches and NOT including that, I don't know.

 For a film about goodness and light or some crap, the man in the title never really drops any of his misleading ways, right down to the establishing of his iconic throne room (I guess MGM couldn't prevent that one from happening, although the ruby slippers, Munchkins, and Flying Monkeys are absent or changed considerably). He's still a charming scoundrel, one that scared off one truly wicked witch and one that was basically evil because of him. While you can go home happy with your children, there's an undertone of cynicism in the film that I don't think gets attention.

 Since most of you will probably Redbox or Netflix Oz - The Great and Powerful (I can't believe I just used both of those as verbs), the hyperbole of internet complaining will be softened and you might even enjoy it. It's a trifle of a film, to be sure, and I'm not convinced we need more of these movies (don't tell Disney that), but it's honestly not as bad as you've heard. In fact, sometimes it's pretty good, or at least better than okay.

 Can you choose something better? Of course you can - there are literally hundreds, if not thousands of fantastic films out there just waiting for you - but let's be honest with ourselves. We all like a little mindless popcorn fun every now and then, and this isn't going to ruin your day with nit-picking or insultingly stupid narrative decisions. And it's Sam Raimi, so if you're going to make your case that I should watch Evil Dead because his name is attached, the least you can do is meet me half way.

* True story - while reading the comments under a review of Oblivion, I learned that Wall-E is over-rated, that Tron Legacy is better than Prometheus, and that Wall-E ripped off Short Circuit, therefore Wall-E sucks. Also that Wall-E is shit and everybody hates it just like Christopher Nolan fuck that guy.

Monday, April 22, 2013

"N" is for The Night Porter

 I feel that you can hardly blame the Cap'n for taking his sweet time to watch The Night Porter. If you're one of the lucky everybody that hasn't seen Liliana Cavani's (Ripley's Game*) ode to self loathing and doomed relationships - for a very good reason - then I will give you just a taste of what you aren't missing. Criterion fans will no doubt want to put this back on the shelf with Salo and the other "Spine Numbers I'll Buy but Don't Actually Want to Watch."

 Speaking of which, I watched the Criterion disc - which shockingly has no extras - but didn't have access to the essay about why The Night Porter is worth watching, so I'm going to wing it. Instead of my normal "relatively well researched" review, I'm just going to reach blindly into the abyss that is The Night Porter's soul and reach several baseless conclusions. Why? Because even after I watched it, I still had to talk myself into not stopping The ABCs of Movie Masochism dead in its tracks. But seeing as the Cap'n does have such a thing as a "So You Won't Have To" category, it's high time I trotted it out again...

 The titular character is Max (Dirk Bogarde), who works in a Vienna hotel circa 1957. He prefers to live his life like a "church mouse," only exerting authority over subordinates at the hotel while fawning over regular guests. But that's because Max is harboring a secret - he's a Nazi, one who escaped at the end of the war and part of a small group dedicated to keeping their existence a secret. In order to do this, they meet in secret and work to have all traces of their deeds erased, ultimately purging their "sins" in a mock trial. Max's own "trial" is coming soon, but one chance encounter in the lobby throws his life into turmoil.

 Lucia (Charlotte Rampling) is visiting Vienna while her conductor husband (Marino Masé) is performing The Magic Flute at a nearby opera hall. When she and Max meet, they immediately recognize one another - she the daughter of a Socialist subjected to degradation and abuse at the hand of he, the "doctor" who used his position to film nude prisoners and sexually abuse them before execution. Lucia was the only one of Max's "patients" who survived. Max is fascinated, Lucia repelled, but their paths are destined to cross once more, despite the misgivings of his associates. She is, after all, the only link that exists between the life he had and the life in hiding he so desires.

 Let it be noted that my own distaste for The Night Porter is not universal - there are many who consider it to be a deep and thoughtful meditation on war crimes and guilt and nostalgia, and there's a section of the film that can only be called "Literal Biblical Allegory" involving Salome, John the Baptist, and Max's idea of a "gift" to Lucia. Plenty of the film is spent juxtaposing classical music, opera, and ballet with psychological and physical abuse on the part of the Nazis currently hiding in Vienna.

 I can only assume that nothing about The Night Porter is meant to be titillating, despite Rampling's state of semi-constant nudity in the mid-section of the film. Every scene between Rampling and Bogarde that hints at sexuality or eroticism is coupled with a corresponding flashback of Max sexual degradation of Lucia in the "medical facility" he operates.SPOILER ALERT) If it was meant to be shocking that she is ultimately as aroused by their shared history then the poster does a great disservice to that revelation. Advertising Lucia's fetishization as an SS sex-object might be effective to bring in crowds, but I strongly suspect that early in the film we're meant to identify her reaction to Max as traumatic and slowly build to the point where the flashbacks coincide with the present.

As it is,we come into the film knowing that Lucia returns to Max and that they resume their dance of sado-masochism (including broken glass, chains, and a sort of animalistic role playing). All of the flashbacks were merely a prelude, a history of Lucia's sexual awakening at the hands of the man who calls her his "Little Girl." It is also precisely at this point that The Night Porter runs out of steam.

 I suppose that I am missing some great metaphor at the heart of The Night Porter's second half, which involves Max and Lucia locked up in his apartment without food or contact to the outside world, for fear that his associates will kill her (and, undoubtedly, him). Their life in hiding is some bizarro world version of living in terror of the threat of Nazis during World War II, and I suppose on some level it makes sense, but it's predicated on a moment in the film that the audience desperately needs for the second half to have any impact.

 Remember that Max thought Lucia was dead, or at the very least that he'd never see her again. It's unclear the chronology of the flashbacks, but I'm going to venture a guess that the scene where's she's prancing around the SS nightclub singing (in German) while wearing an officer's hat, pants, suspenders, and nothing else, is at the apex of her assimilation into Max's fantasy world - the point that The Night Porter hints at and that Tinto Brass' Salon Kitty makes explicit - the decadence of the so-called "pure"Aryan army.

 What we never see, however, is the point at which the two are separated, and the circumstances that divide their twisted union (some might argue her brainwashing and sexual manipulation - she was supposed to be very young according to conversations between the Nazis in hiding), so reuniting as adults and making the determination to stay together (particularly on her part) loses any potency. If you want to argue that Lucia is exercising any sense of "agency" in the second half of the film - particularly as it lurches toward its inevitable conclusion - it might help to understand how she reacted to the end of the war, to liberation.

 It's clear that the Nazis aren't above killing anybody who could tie them to their war crimes, and Max kills the only man who could identify Lucia to his compatriots. The problem is that once the film shifts from twisted erotica to a game of "cat and mouse," Cavani injects no suspense into the proceedings. Instead we endure their slow starvation as we await the inevitable, which comes in a wholly expected way with little to no dramatic heft. If anything, we are relieved that The Night Porter is finally over, that the evil men who don't want to answer for their crimes kill off two people who found love - albeit a warped sense of "love" or co-dependency - in order to remain in the shadows.

 After nearly two hours of self loathing, degradation, abuse, sexual torture, and casual murder, all set to operatic tones and classical music, it's a relief to see them gunned down together. Now if only I cared that being reunited was significant to them. Oh well, I said I wanted to watch something I hadn't reviewed, and now I remember why I never wrote about it in the first place. Sometimes even the Cap'n doesn't have anything interesting to add to the discussion...

 I'll be back much sooner than it took between "M" and "N" with a look at a children's movie from the director of some of the most violent horror films you're likely to see. If you've paid attention to the clues in earlier reviews, I suspect you'll guess what it is.

 * No shit - she made Ripley's Game twenty eight years after The Night Porter, which is going to sound awfully coincidental when we get to "P"...

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Bad Movie Night Recap (Part Two)

 Welcome back to Cap'n Howdy's coverage of Bad Movie Night 2013! If you recall, when we last met I left off with A Gnome Named Gnorm, which came to look like the proverbial skidmark on the underwear of life compared to our next film...


 "But wait," you say, "didn't you just watch Expect No Mercy? Wasn't it the 'E' in The ABCs of Movie Masochism?"
  Why yes, as a matter of fact, I DID just watch Expect No Mercy, and if you'll recall, I was so impressed at how awkwardly amazing the film was that I immediately programmed it into Bad Movie Night's lineup. It was my actual "first selection," even though I told everybody that the next movie we'd be watching was (and we'll get to that shortly).

 Nothing changed about my initial review at all, although I did have the satisfaction of seeing the film with people who didn't know what happens when a dated action movie with no connective tissue dropped right into their brain pans.

 As I hinted at last night, Hard Ticket to Hawaii second string character / sports caster Jimmy John Jackson turned out to be more than just a bit player in an Andy Sidaris skin flick. By 1995 he'd graduated to lead villain in Expect No Mercy, which I didn't know three weeks ago. It turns out that a long mane of hair and a willingness to remove your shirt is all it takes to move up the ranks of B-Movie stardom (just ask Julie Strain) and in the 8 years between flicks, Larson had developed both skills. Oh sure, you say, it must have been his starring role on Tarzan, bu I suspect it was because Jalal Merhi (Talons of the Eagle) saw him and thought, "well, Matthias is busy, so let's get that guy."

 Whatever really happened (but secretly, it was that), Wolf Larson's Warbeck is the glue that keeps Expect No Mercy together. Not to demean Merhi or Billy Blanks, but a movie is only as good as its villain, and this one could deliver his lines. I know, that's setting the bar awfully low, but the "banter" during the following car chase says more than I could ever dream of:

 Attaway to move up in the world, Wolf Larson. I'm not being sarcastic, even if it still sounds like I am. I am totally going to watch Tarzan and L.A. Heat some time very soon.

 Speaking of tenuous connections, I knew (but had forgotten) that Warbeck's number 2 bad guy in Expect No Mercy, Damian, was Anthony De Longis, who was in the next movie we watched. Before graduating to Virtual Arts Academy whip assassin, De Longis put on some heavy metal to play Blade in Masters of the Universe, a movie some people remember as being "that He-Man movie with Dolph Lundgren" but most don't remember at all.

 I was surprised at how many people keeping tabs on Bad Movie Night had never even heard of Masters of the Universe. As previously discussed, I lived through the 1980s and can actually remember when it came out, and also that I did not see it until it came out on home video. I think it was at a birthday party / sleep over and that we also maybe watched A Nightmare on Elm Street.

 Masters of the Universe deservedly has a reputation of "not being very good" and that's probably an understatement, but in no way is this shameless ripoff of Star Wars and Superman as bad as contemporaries like Howard the Duck or The Garbage Pail Kids Movie. You can actually watch Masters of the Universe and not feel embarrassed 90 minutes later. Hell, I can't even make that promise about watching Legend or Willow*.

 So Dolph Lundgren is He-Man, which it turns out is much sillier when someone in a movie says it than when a kid in the back yard does, but at the outset of the movie he is not the "Master of the Universe." Maybe his domain, at least as far as we know, but Skeletor (Frank "I'm in that movie with the robot" Langella) has moved out of Snake Mountain and into Castle Greyskull (it seems more appropriate - am I the only person here who thinks that?) and He-Man and Duncan (John "Major Dad" Cyper) and Teela (Chelsea "Flight Attendant in Commando" Field) run across Gwildor (Billy "Legend" Barty), who has a key that opens sparkly corridors to other worlds. Kind of like in Supergirl, if I remember at all (I don't).


 So they end up trapped in the throne room in a laser fight with Skeletor's stormtroopers and use the key to escape to Earth, which is presumably in the same universe as Eternia or the title would be misleading. (Gwildor implies that Earth is one "eon parsec" from Eternia, so you do the math on how close they are). Here they meed Courtney Cox, who was about to leave her middle-American small town life to dance on stage with Bruce Springsteen in New Jersey until He-Man and company get tangled up with her soon to be ex-boyfriend Kevin Corrigan (played inexplicably by Robert Duncan MacNeill and not Kevin Corrigan). They end up with the "key" that doubles as a bitchin' keyboard with what sounds like the music playing in every Carmike movie theater promo.

 I'm not sure how useful swords would be in a laser-based battlefield, but everybody seems to carry both so what the hell. Who am I to question Cannon Films or the production team of Golan / Globus and Edward R. Pressman? Only just now did I learn that the original shoot finished without an ending to the film and that (I'm guessing) the fight between He-Man and Skeletor (in gold armor) was finished months later. I wonder if that's when they decided to let James "Principle Strickland from Back to the Future" stay in Eternia with a bride we'd literally never met before in the film.

 Masters of the Universe works largely because of its combination of 80s cheese and dumb fantasy trappings, which by themselves don't always work, but when you can boast that you're the template for Beastmaster 2, it's not such a bad thing to be He-Man.

 And then our final movie was Shit Coffin.

 I tried mightily to get the crowd into the unnecessary but inevitable remake of Friday the 13th, which is,  by the way, not the worst Platinum Dunes cash-in on a familiar name (coughANightmareonElmStreetcough), but it was to no avail. They turned on it quickly, and the tone went from jolly to vicious. This is what I get for trying to talk people into watching the movie as Blogorium regular Dr. Atomic wanted (a parody of Friday the 13th films) instead of what it is (a soulless money-grab based on brand recognition). It didn't work, and I don't think anybody really enjoyed Shit Coffin.

 They enjoyed the explanation of why Cranpire renamed it "Shit Coffin" - there isn't one, but when you watch the movie it just seems appropriate - and to some degree the stunt casting of CW stars in major roles. But as a slasher film that repeatedly subverts even the barest minimum of your expectations? Nah, not so much.

 So Shit Coffin is, it turns out, just a Shit Coffin. I'm glad that I didn't show them Shit Coffin 2 (the considerably less watchable Nightmare on Elm Street remake) or take everybody to see the violent but otherwise pointless Evil Dead remake.

 Oh, did I not mention that I watched Evil Dead? Huh. Must have skipped my mind. Well, maybe I can sneak in a review of that before I get back int the alphabetical mayhem. It would be appropriate, considering what "O" is for...

 At any rate, despite a rather underwhelming finish, I had a great time with Bad Movie Night and I hope everybody else did, too. It seemed like spirits were high, and nobody had to drink Hobo Bug Juice this year!

 Now I just have to figure out what I want to do next year.... Hrmmm.... Supergirl...

* "Did the Cap'n just make fun of Willow? Someone decree a Nerd Fatwa** on the Blogorium!"
** Also, I know what fatwa actually means, so if you need to do that by all means be my guest.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Bad Movie Night Recap (Part One)

 A big chunk of my time away from the ABCs of Movie Masochism has been putting together a feat of REAL movie masochism. I haven't had a proper "Bad Movie Night" in several years, but the basic idea is to put together some of the best of the worst, get some nearest and dearest to come over, and subject them to an all day marathon of movies you would never choose to watch of your own volition.

Sometimes I've been known to cheat - the first Bad Movie Night began with a "field trip" to see Crank 2: High Voltage, but we immediately followed it up with The Giant Claw. Perhaps you've read about The Giant Claw somewhere on this blog. The following day we watched Batman and Robin, Mac and Me, Troll 2, Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky, and the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special. So, uh, the bright spot was clearly the worst subtitles ever on the super-violent Riki-Oh. And I like The Story of Ricky.

 Actually, I like The Giant Claw too, and in some twisted way, anything else that makes it into Bad Movie Night. On some level you have to be able to enjoy these movies, or there's no point in watching them. The trick to why Ed Wood movies and Mystery Science Theater 3000 are so successful isn't that the movies are bad and easy to make fun of - it's that the films are charmingly dumb in their own right. There are plenty of terrible movies I'd never show because we'd all be bored and grow angry at the movie, like when we tried to watch the remake of The Wicker Man at Summer Fest, or any time I've tried to get through The Room.

 With that in mind, I had to program this year's Bad Movie Night with schlock that had gaping plot holes, unfortunate sidekicks, gratudity, and wooden line delivery. Would you like a brief run down of eleven hours worth of terrible decisions? Let's look at the first half of the "night"...

 We started with She Devil, which is not the Roseanne movie but a much better (relatively speaking) film from 1958 about the dangers of tinkering in God's domain. Scientist Dr. Scott and his benefactor physician Dr. Bach live together in Stately Wayne manor like an alternate version of The Dark Knight Returns starring Adam West and Burt Ward. Anyway, Dr. Scott has been experimenting with fruit fly serum to cure well, all diseases. It worked on mice, a rabbit, a cat, a dog, and a cheetah. Well, the cheetah looks suspiciously like a panther, but they work that into the plot.

 Dr. Scott talks Dr. Bach into letting him try the serum out on a woman dying of tuberculosis, and it turns her into Wolverine. Well, Wolverine minus the claws but with the ability to change her hair color at will, which comes in handy because her newfound lease on life comes with the desire to kill people for no good reason. Despite being literally the only other people on Earth who know what this "She Devil" can do, our intrepid men of science can't put two and two together for most of the movie, but it doesn't stop Dr. Scott from hooking up with her (in front of the panther!).

 She Devil is filled with "SCIENCE!" in the best possible way, a rambling, semi-coherent plot, and the most improbable car crash you'll ever see, unless you normally see cars driving backwards over cliffs. From the era where all you needed was a "science"-y gimmick to sell a B-Movie, She Devil is exactly the way to start something like this.

 After that, because bad acting and incomprehensibility aren't unique byproducts of the 1950s, we watched 1987's Hard Ticket to Hawaii, from skin flick auteur Andy Sidaris. If you didn't frequent USA Up All Night or late night Skinemax, I guess there's a chance you missed out on Picasso Trigger or Return to Savage Beach, but Sidaris specialized in pointless nudity, an over-abundance of plot threads, and truly bizarre plot twists.

 I could give you the breakdown of what happens in this film that involves two Playboy Playmates / DEA agents / Travel Guides / Witness Protection Program members / Super Spies, but it would take up the rest of the post. It involves diamonds, espionage, drug dealers, remote controlled helicopters, not knowing how to use nunchucks, a quad-rocket launcher, and a "contaminated" snake that ate "cancer infested rats" and is loose on the island. Also a sportscaster with four names (Jimmy John Jim something or other) that ended up being the bad guy in a movie we watched later, a transvestite bartender, and a quad-rocket launcher. Oh, and a guy doing skateboard tricks with a blow up doll.

 And that's the truth. For the highlights, watch Red Letter Media's breakdown of Hard Ticket to Hawaii.

After pointless nudity and excessive plot, it was time for the "kids movie" portion of Bad Movie Night, and I selected a movie I'd never heard of, A Gnome Named Gnorm. It turns out there's a VERY good reason I'd never heard of it before, despite a cast of well known actors and a director that any fan of sci-fi and horror will recognize by name: Stan Winston.

 Yes, the Stan Winston that designed the Predator, the Terminator, the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, as well as The Monster Squad, A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, Galaxy Quest, the Penguin in Batman Returns... yeah. The same one you thought I couldn't possibly be talking about. A Gnome Named Gnorm wasn't his first film - it turns out Pumpkinhead was - but it was the last full length feature he directed, and now I know why.

 A Gnome Named Gnorm (or Upworld) is... uh... well, it's a "buddy cop" movie starring Anthony Michael Hall and a partially animatronic gnome that's the creepiest goddamned thing you'll ever see. It's as though Winston saw The Dark Crystal and thought, "I could make a Gelfling look more realistic" and nobody told him what a horrible idea that would be. Because it is. The first fifteen or so minutes spent with Detective Gallagher (Hall) and Gnorm are cringe-inducing because of how creepy that thing is.

 Now, I'm no expert on children's movies, but I did grow up in the 1980s so I saw a LOT of movies with dumb kid humor. Mac and Me may well be a 90 minute commercial for McDonald's and Coca-Cola, but it knows its target audience and goes for the saccharine plot at every opportunity. A Gnome Named Gnorm can't possibly be for children, but I don't know who the hell would want to watch it, even in 1990.

 To wit: the film begins with an undercover sting operation involving a drug lord name Zadar (not played by Robert Z'Dar, although the Maniac Cop himself IS in the film*)  where Hall ends up being knocked out and the other cop is BLOWN UP in a playground. In fact, Gallagher is only interested in Gnorm because he's a MATERIAL WITNESS TO MURDER. Seriously. All the crap about Gnorm and the "lumen" that people keep stealing or the fact THAT HE'S A GNOME doesn't seem to factor into most of the story. Nobody seems to notice or at the very least care that Gnorm isn't human.  For a while I was convinced that Hall's character was insane and that Gnorm didn't really exist.

 But he does and there's a lot of wrangling between Gallagher's old partner (Claudia Christian) and his chief (Jerry Orbach) and his new partner (Mark Harelik) who Gnorm somehow gets to strip naked before the gnome makes his escape (I must have looked away because I honestly don't know how that happened). There are more murders, a car chase involving a hearse (with full funeral procession behind it) a good samaritan trying to revive the corpse, crotch biting, implied sexual favors, hooks up the sphincter, and a fist fight that wouldn't be out of place in A Christmas Story.

 You know - for kids!

 It's worth mentioning that the plot is coherent enough that Blogorium regular Cranpire was thanking A Gnome Named Gnorm for at least making sense after the last two movies. But then it was time to hit them with the whammy bar...

 Join me tomorrow for the second half of Cap'n Howdy's Bad Movie Night. It only gets better... well, depending on how you look at things.

 * Okay, not AS the Maniac Cop, but considering where this movie goes, it honestly wouldn't be THAT surprising.

Monday, April 1, 2013

"N" is for The Notebook

 Nah, I'm just pulling your chain. It's for something I'll regret much more than that: The Night Porter. So I'm going to try not to slow down too much, but the Cap'n's social calendar is picking up a bit, so the ABCs might be spread out a bit more for parts of April. It's why I pushed so hard to get to the halfway point before March was done, but never fear; I'll be done by the end of the month. While technically cheating, I've already watched "O" and "Q" and once I've subjected myself to The Night Porter, you'll find out what they are. I'll continue to post them in order, even if the opportunity comes to watch them by skipping around.

 I figured it would be cruel and unusual to all of us to let Ryan Gosling win, so while you're waiting for The Night Porter, here's an April Fool's Day past.