Like (36 Chambers) or Fresh Cream, ‘Free Fire’ is a testament to the ensemble

The “fun” thing about transitioning to a “Do almost every movie I see” model of reviewing to a “Do it when I feel like it” model is it let’s me wax poetic about movies I actually have something to say about. Now that doesn’t mean I’m going to write anything transcendent or meaningful.

I’m just free to come and go as I please. Can’t promise that’ll translate to “better” posts all in all, but you may notice I am a bit more upbeat when I put them out.

Or not.

Who really cares?

Free Fire is a movie that’s been on my radar for almost a year now. I caught the trailer at a screening of Swiss Army Man (another A24 release) but there was no release date attached at that point. I guess it would be fair to say I keep my eye out for the A24 logo on just about anything really to be honest. A lot of that goes hand-in-hand with their remarkable track record, particularly in the low key genre films the studio distributes.

It must be said that I don’t think there is a company out there continually distributing mini-genre masterpieces at the same frequency as A24. I mean let’s look at some of their picks: Under the Skin, The Rover, Ex Machina, Slow WestMississippi Grind, The Witch, Green Room, The Monster and The Blackcoat’s Daughter to name just a few. And those are just what I’d consider their genre films. Least we forget they’re also behind bringing Room and Moonlight to the masses.

So it could almost go without saying that I was hoping for another home run with Free Fire, given not only A24’s interest in it and it’s brilliantly simple “I can’t believe this hasn’t been made before” premise but also the involvement of writer/director Ben Wheatley and just about every name listed in the cast. Having Martin Scorsese on as a producer only sweetened the pot as it were.

It may even be fair to say this paralleled my excitement levels for The Last Jedi, if not even surpassing it.

So was the hype met? Does A24 have another genre classic on their hands?

Unfortunately it falls a pretty sizable distance from of something I’d consider iconic. HOWEVER it is a ton of fun and a movie I could definitely foresee becoming a cult classic within a few years, played at 1 a.m. in dorm rooms around the country, the smell of herbal substances and Cheetos hanging in the air. And this is by no means a shot at the film. In a way I think that’s what it was going for. The plot never gets all that complicated and our characters aren’t exactly the most complex. What you see is what you get, and for what it is, it works.

The plot:

“Set in Boston in 1978, a meeting in a deserted warehouse between two gangs turns into a shootout and a game of survival.” – IMDb.com

The review: 

You look at bands like Cream or the Wu-Tang Clan; groups that made of considerable talent, with each individual member being a star in their own right.

Much can be said about the cast of Free Fire. 

We have Brie Larson for starters, who at 27 already has a much-deserved Academy Award. Props to Larson for not just cashing in, but continuing to strengthen her resume with massive blockbusters while still allowing herself to get her hands dirty with smaller films like this. She’s an actress I hope stays interesting as her career continues and even though she already has an Oscar, I hope we are far away from seeing her peak.

Then you fill in the gaps with the likes of Shartlo Copley, Cillian Murphy and Armie Hammer. All three of those guys are movie stars, turning in consistently solid work regardless of the quality of the project they’re in. Copley in particular is an actor who feels as if he should be on the A-list but opts to go for weirder, more memorable genre roles.

There’s handful of up-and-comers mixed with long-standing favorite character actors too. Standing alongside our marque talent we’ve got the MVP of last year’s Sing Street, Jack Reynor as well as Babou Ceesay, Enzo Cilenti, Sam Riley and Noah Taylor.

And who could forget Michael Smiley, or as he’s known in this household…

Possibly my absolute favorite thing about Free Fire outside of the bullet-ridden lunacy is that Wheatley doesn’t subject our lower-tier names to the sidelines. They’re placed forefront and center right alongside everyone else.

I am in no way accusing any one on this film of having an ego; this isn’t a Fast & the Furious movie. That’s a movie with stars, each with a contract I assume requires a certain allotted amount of screen-time, citing who gets to punch who and which person wins which fight.

I keep emphasizing this group effort because too often we see movies with large casts but they typically serve mainly to elevate one or two within the pool. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this mind you. I just truly appreciated how this movie didn’t have a star (singular); it has stars (plural). All our guys (and girl) feel equally integral to the story and they all elevate scenes rather than steal them.

In a movie like this, there isn’t a need for lengthy character development. Our cast of miscreants aren’t exactly the most lovable crayons in the box, if you catch my meaning. Setting the film in the 1970’s was another nice touch as it makes them think outside the box in terms of getting out of the shootout, providing at least the bare minimum of tension given they don’t have cell phone access. 

It’s a very silly movie with each of our characters serving as bullet sponges before they finally go down. For what that’s worth, I think that worked fine here for the most part. Sure, that kind of alleviates some the tension, knowing that your characters can’t really die at any moment instead straddling the suspension of disbelief as they take more and more damage without immediately bleeding out. 

This serviced the black, sort of wacky tone for me however, and I don’t think Wheatley and company were seeking any form of higher truth when crafting this movie. I could be wrong, but a movie like this isn’t going to solve many problems outside of entertaining you.And it does help that they DO actually seem to take damage with each hit, something I’ve harped on in the past. 

I guess that leads me to Wheatley himself. It’s been said many times before, but there is absolutely no consistency between this man’s films and I’m not referring to the quality. He may just be the most prolific director we have working right now. On the whole, I generally think most of his output is pretty damn spectacular. No, I’m speaking to the fact that all of his movies are widely different in terms of tone, look, approach, themes, etc. If you go in blind with no information provided as to what the connection is, you may be hard-pressed to determine what exactly the link is if forced to watch his library back-to-back. For example his last film, High Rise, dealt with big, lofty science fiction ideas. Where that film felt like Wheatley striving for Kubrick, Free Fire is his best take on Tarantino. The ending, in and off itself, might as well be a director nod to Reservoir Dogs and warehouse setting. Although this movie is much more violent and much less cruel.

Representing his first straight up foray into action, Wheatley does his best to keep the camera comprehensible before the bullets start zipping every which way. However, and somewhat disappointingly, he lacks the finesse of a John Woo.  Free Fire is more akin to a sloppy game of paintball with live rounds than a carefully orchestrated bullet opera.

Still, I guess some confusion keeps in tune with carelessness of our characters, who can’t even always remember who’s shot whom or which side to which they fall. Credit again to the uniformity of the stellar cast for keeping things light and falling perfectly in line with Wheatley’s black-comedic sensibilities, particularly Copley who may just represent a made in heaven actor-to-director match up Wheatley could draw upon for his future endeavors.

I think if I were to point to any sort substantial criticism to the flick, I’d say it lacks sequences. What I mean by that is I remember a handful of quick moments and lines, but the second half of this film is what equates to an extended action sequence. There’s not really any downtime and that sequence is largely made up of the following: characters shoot at each other for a bit mixed with some quips, the recover, change places and then shoot at each other again. Rinse and repeat about 10 or 20 more times. I’ll stress that the only point this kind of becomes monotonous is during the middle chapter where the threat of a sniper (or snipers?!) brings the momentum to an almost screeching halt as our characters are actually pinned down.

Wheatley’s prolific nature also serves as a double-edged sword as the film kind of lacks a director’s unique voice, something I was kind of hoping for.

I mentioned earlier how Wheatley likes to venture into new territory with each new film, which is all fine and well but that also means he lacks a definitive style. Compare this to other directors at (what I’d consider) Wheatley’s “precipice of mainstream” level like Jeremy Saulnier. Free Fire certainly has personality but its the personality of directors that influenced Wheatley, not Wheatley taking the proverbial baton and putting his own spin on it. At leas that’s how I interpreted it because, as I’ve said, I don’t really  have handle on what Wheately’s voice is exactly.

So Free Fire may not have blown my hair back in the way I wanted it to, but I still had plenty of fun watching it so in that it was successful. It’s something I’d fit in the category of “Hey gang! It’s 2 a.m. and we’re drunk. Let’s put on a movie.” And as far as I’m concerned, the world could always use more movies like that.

The 8th Wonder of the World: The Revolutionary Visual Effects of King Kong, and the 2005 Remake

For disclosure, I wrote this for a college film studies class.

Second full disclosure, I made a B+ on it. 

HOWEVER.

There is a new King Kong film out this weekend…

And sensing an opportunity to capitalize….I mean…discuss…yeah that’s it. Sensing an opportunity to discuss other Kong films, I thought I’d share this above average essay I wrote in college that just so happens to center on the big ape. I wouldn’t say it’s all that good per se. If anything, it’s overly simplistic. But given the fact I don’t really foresee posting stuff all that regularly anymore, this gives me a chance to at least get something else out this month. I have something in mind for the near future, but who knows if I’ll actually get to it….but I digress. 

Anyway, I hope at least one person finds this kind of maybe interesting? Maybe that’s being overly generous. I hope at least someone might glance of over it, see it’s too long and just leave. Is that too much to ask?! 

In his 1986 essay, “The Cinema of Attractions: Early Film, Its Spectator, and the Avant-Garde,” Tom Gunning coined the term “the cinema of attractions” in relation to early films. Before 1906, films were largely considered novelty attractions much like a roller coaster, or a haunted house. Their audiences were drawn to the new and exciting technology, with the thrill coming from the movement of the camera. In other words, the main draw was not necessarily the narrative because most films at the time did contain any form of traditional narrative, with notable exceptions including the films of Georges Méliès. However, even his films were heavily aided by the visual effects they utilized. As film technology evolved, so did the ability to tell narratives, and the special effects they could showcase.

 A common belief, both then and now, is that general audiences are not going to big-budget, effects driven films for substance. They come for the spectacle. Look to the recent revival of 3-D, for example. For the most part, the effects are dictating the story, not the other way around. However, when compelling material is combined with a team of talented artists with a vision, visual effects can transcend beyond some gimmick to sell tickets. When these effects are used as tool, instead of as a gimmick, a film can become a portal to another world, or house a beloved character that could not exist otherwise. In textual mediums, creating a character like this could be somewhat simple. The audience is asked to use their imagination to create this character in their heads. In film, however, this process can be trickier. You are asking an audience to accept this fictional character as an actuality. A number of factors have to work perfectly in order for general film goers to suspend their perception of reality just long enough to become invested in a character completely created by the use of visual effects. The performance no longer lies on the shoulders of one actor or actress, but a team of people behind the scenes. 

Over the decades there are numerous instances of a character created by visual effects finding mass acceptance by audiences, but there is one such character that has a unique distinction among his contemporaries. The two major film iterations in which he appears are also distinct for the same reason.  That character is King Kong, and the films are the 1933 original, and the 2005 remake.  These films share a plot, but also highlight the massive leap in visual effects technology between their two respective releases.  In her book, Tracking King Kong, Cynthia Erb calls Kong a “cultural icon,” and it’s hard to argue considering that the character has appeared in almost every facet of popular culture since his creation, becoming not only an icon of American cinema, but of the entire medium. The iconography of Kong’s last stand atop the Empire State Building has been etched into the public consciousness.  He is one of the most recognizable icons in movie history, and he could never have existed without the innovation of two different generations of visual effects , and the hard work of the artists that brought him to life.  This success completely legitimizes the use of visual effects in film.

It should be no secret that the original 1933 King Kong was the initial brainchild of one of its directors, Merian C. Cooper, but as with almost every creative process, it came in stages. It should also go without saying that the director’s vision could not have been possible without the assistance of various special effects pioneers. Ray Morton discusses Cooper’s initial idea for his proposed “ape picture,” as a combination of a longtime desire to make a film about gorillas, as well as a description of the newly found Komodo dragon by explorer W. Douglas Burden. Morton writes, “Cooper was intrigued by Burden’s description of the dragons and began imagining exiting scenes in which his gorillas would fight them. He planned to realize these scenes by filming the gorillas in their natural habitat (most likely in the Congo) and the dragons on Komodo and then intercutting the two, with some sort of artificial stand-ins used in joint shots.” Later, Cooper would go on to add various key elements to the narrative that can be seen in the final version of the film, such as the love story, the journey to a primitive island, and the tragic death of his simian hero in New York City.

The issues Cooper would have deal with while pitching Kong Kong would not only be how he intended to bring Kong to life, but also how he would create the world he inhabited. The director would go on to find a solution in a mixture of several innovative visual and audio techniques, not least of which was the stop-motion animation of special effects pioneer, Willis O’ Brien. Stop motion found its beginnings when early filmmakers attempted to make still two dimensional objects “come to life.” As Morton writes, “The motion picture image is an illusion created by photographing a series of individual still picture of a single moving subject one right after another in rapid succession a single strip of film. Each still picture captures an incremental piece of the subject’s overall movement. When the still pictures are projected onto a screen in rapid succession at the same rate of speed at which they were photographed, the human eye blends all of the images into one to create an impression of continuous action.” It was O’Brien that had the idea to apply this process to three-dimensional figures as well. Fueled by a life-long interest in dinosaurs, O’Brien shot a test film of a dinosaur fighting a caveman. In 1915, this test footage became The Dinosaur and the Missing Link, which was eventually picked up by the Edison Company for distribution. It wasn’t until 1925 that O’Brien and his team would first experience wide-spread acclaim for his work on the film adaptation of Arthur Conon Doyle’s The Lost World. This film was a massive worldwide success, and would eventually lead O’Brien to his masterpiece. 

After the success of The Lost World, its director, Harry O. Hoyt, began to work with O’Brian on a new script, titled Creation, for RKO Studios. Hoyt once again signed on O’Brien and his crew to work on the film’s special effects, and began to build models for several sequences for the film. The film’s script and test eventually crossed paths with none other than M.C. Cooper, who had been hired to do a studio inventory at the time. Cooper, who had little interest in the script, instead saw potential in the stop-motion effects that O’Brien and his team had created. Cooper would later say, “When I saw all the prehistoric animals they had lying around this studio, I decided to make my gorilla picture anyway – and make it right here.”  By using O’Brien’s animation, the studio could produce the film completely in-house, with no need for pricey and lengthy location shooting.  Soon, Creation was scrapped, and O’Brien began to work with Cooper on his new proposed feature film, which at the time, did not have a title.  Cooper was able to sell the film to RKO executives completely based off of a test sequence that used O’Brien’s models. Production soon began in earnest, and the film was granted an initial budget of $500,000, thanks to former RKO president, David O. Selznick, the film eventually found its title: King Kong

Cooper would soon share directing duties with long-time collaborator Ernest Schoedsack, who would direct most of the non-effect sequences of the film. As work began on the effects for the film, the two would complete another film for RKO, an adaptation of Richard Connell’s, “The Most Dangerous Game.” This production proved financially beneficial as Cooper and company were able to reuse the film’s jungle sets. On designing the title character, Cooper related,“O’ Brien built a miniature steel framework of a gorilla that had joints that could be locked into position so that you could get smooth movement when you animated.” After completing the framework, Marcel Delgado would go on to add rubber muscles that would bend and stretch realistically. This “skeleton” was then stuffed with cotton to produce an animal shape, and detail. It was then covered in prune rabbit fur. When it was completed, every feature of the miniature was moveable, weighed a little over ten pounds, and stood 18 inches high. In all, there were six miniature Kongs built, as well as full-sized sections of the ape for close-up shots, including a head, arm, and leg. For Kong’s movement, O’Brien and his animators observed gorillas at the Central Park Zoo in New York City, and according to IMDb.com, also drew inspiration from their directors for key sequences in the film. “Both Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack had been wrestlers, and they acted out the fighting moves for the battle between the T-Rex and Kong in the effects studio, before the animators shot the scene,” the site says. O’Brien, who had also been an amateur boxer in his youth, added several boxing moves into the fight scene. Cooper would also go on to act out Kong’s death sequence set on top of the Empire State Building. Cooper would later relate that the scene had to be redone due to Cooper’s initial overacting. Cooper said, “The first time I did it, I was too broad, too hammy, and they did it just like that. Well, it was the funniest damn thing you ever saw, that ape, pop-eyed, rolling, writhing, and clutching. We all had a good laugh and then I did it again for them, this time toning everything down, and this time they got exactly what I wanted.” Work on the animation was a slow process, and an increasingly frustrating one as the production moved into the summer months, making the non-air-conditioned stage comparable only to an oven. At one point, O’Brien’s hand developed gangrene from working with the various chemicals and moldy hides. While recovering, Cooper was forced to do much of the animation himself. 

Over the course of the film’s production, the issue of combing both the animation and the live action in a practical manner arose. Cooper and O’Brien would eventually devise an ingenious technique that would achieve a realistic blend of all the effects used in the film, that Cooper would later call “miniature projection.” As Cooper later explained it, “I would shoot my live actors going the motions of reacting to the beasts or Kong, or whatever, then these scenes would be projected on small-screens that Obie [O’Brien] had in his miniature sets. We would project a frame at a time, and Obie would animate the miniature action to match the live action.”  The technique of rear-screen projection was also utilized, pioneered by director, Georges Méliès, decades earlier. This process would give the actors something to react to other than their imagination and the director’s instruction while filming a scene. On their tireless collaboration, Cooper would later credit much of the film’s visual success to O’Brien. “O’Brien was a genius…Kong is as much his picture as it is mine. There was never anybody in his class as far as special effects went, there never was and there probably never will be.”

After nearly three years of production, King Kong was released on March 3, 1933, and was immediately both a critical and financial success. It would gross $90,000 its opening weekend, the biggest opening ever at the time, and save RKO from bankruptcy, according to IMDb.com. The film also saw numerous financially successful re-releases in 1938, 1942, 1946, and 1952. There were several iterations of the character in other films due to the characters status as public domain, including two from Japanese movie studio, Toho, and a remake produced by Dino De Laurentiis, known for being eccentric.

While not a critical success, the film found an audience, and would become a box office success. It would go on to win an Academy Award for its achievements in the area, something the 1933 original failed to do. The reason key reason it will not be discussed in great detail here, is that I believe it is an example of a film dictated by its visuals, and not the other way around. Both the original, and the 2005 remake, went through lengthy script construction and character development that allowed for collaborations between their filmmakers and their special effects teams during their respective  productions. While not perfect, the 2005 remake still obtains some of that magic the 1933 perfected. The 1976 remake seems to be a cash in, hoping to hook in audiences with its admittedly impressive visuals, but coming short in terms of story and depth. Laurentiis would go on to produce a sequel to the film, King Kong Lives, which had little success, and the character would remain theatrically dormant for another 20 years. 

In the late 1960s, a nine-year-old boy in New Zealand, named Peter Jackson, saw the original 1933 King Kong on television, and was inspired to create his very own films. He would even attempt to recreate the movie on a Super 8 film camera when he was 12. Many years later, Jackson became a world-renowned director, making films that were clearly inspired by the spectacle he had seen as a child, and would eventually be brought on to direct his own version of the story that had sparked in him a life-long love of movies. Jackson is quoted as saying, “No film has captivated my imagination more than King Kong. I’m making movies today because I saw this film when I was 9 years old. It has been my sustained dream to reinterpret this classic story for a new age.” Jackson was eventually brought on by Universal Studios, a company that had had a long gestating plan to release a remake of King Kong, in 1995 to discuss the possibility of directing a remake of 1954 film, The Creature From the Black Lagoon. Jackson turned the offer down, but knowing the director’s obsession with Kong, offered him a chance to write and direct a remake of his favorite film. Initially hesitant, Jackson eventually agreed to the position after he realized the position would just go to someone else and the film would be terrible. Jackson’s original script, that he cowrote with his wife, Fran Walsh, would differ from the 1933 film on several key story aspects, with the ultimate final product resembling the original film to a closer degree. Production was originally intended to begin at some point in 1997. The New Zealand based effects studios, WETA Digital and WETA Workshop, began a six month pre-production period in 1996. However, in February of 1997, Universal pulled the plug on the project after the market became flooded with other ape-related remakes, and Jackson along with WETA, began work on the The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

After the massive world-wide success of that series of films, Universal once again approached Jackson in early 2003 to try and tackle Kong once more. Jackson soon signed on again,  pre-production soon began, and thanks to the innovation of computer-generated imagery, or CGI for short, and the techniques that came along with it, Kong could be brought to life in a way the world had never seen before. 

If the 1933 Kong was a testament to the ingenuity and the of its effects team, cobbling together the limited resources they had at their disposal as well as creating completely new ones, the 2005 remake can be seen as a testament to Hollywood excess, fueled by the life-long fandom of its director. To a degree, this works in the film’s favor. Sporting a massive $207,000,000 budget, it was the most expensive film ever made at the time, and this further allowed Jackson and the effects team at WETA Digital to propel this movie into something bigger than Cooper or O’Brian could have ever thought of during the making of their film. Cooper’s Kong only faced one Tyrannosaurus, while Jackson’s fights three at the same time. Where Cooper had to cut his infamous spider-pit sequence for its graphic content, Jackson and his team lovingly reimagine the scene, and it really makes the viewer’s skin crawl. According to IMDb.com, the movie had the most number of visual special effect shots at the time of its release, at around 2400, along with over 800 miniature shots. The effects of WETA digital allow for almost a photorealistic effect on the creatures. The detail is so minute that one could count each and every one of the individual hairs on Kong’s body. Jackson was the equivalent of the preverbal kid in a candy store, and the director clearly spared no expense when it came to bringing his vision to life. 

In this iteration, the character of Kong is a complete special effect. However, thanks to the innovation of two techniques: motion capture and performance animation, bringing the character to life was no longer exclusively the job of the visual effects team, but also an actual actor. The animators working on the 1933 film had to hope that the movements they were painstakingly constructing were to the director’s satisfaction. Through motion capture, a performance can literally be translated beat for beat into a computer, and an animator can then translate that into the image that will ultimately appear in the final film in a product called performance animation. The two terms are often mistakenly used to represent the same thing, but are actually two different things. Alberto Meanche writes, “In short, motion capture is the collection of data that represents motion, whereas performance animation is the final product of a character driven by a performer.”

To help bring his Kong to life, Jackson cast actor, Andy Serkis, in the role of the titular ape star. The two had worked together in a similar context previously in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, in which Serkis played the CG character, Gollum. Jackson decided fairly early that he did not want his Kong to act human, so he and the visual effects team at WETA Digital studied hours upon hours of footage of actual gorillas both in captivity and in the wild, much like O’Brian and his team did in the early 1930s. Jackson and his co-writers on the script, once again Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, would even create a quasi-backstory for the character to add a sense of realistic legitimacy and character.

Likewise, Serkis drew much of his performance on studying gorilla behavior firsthand, even going so far as to travel to Rwanda to observe mountain gorillas in the wild, as well as spending hours interacting with captive gorillas at the London Zoo. This animalistic quality was very important to the performance Serkis wanted to provide the animators.  On bringing Kong to life, Serkis would say, “We didn’t want to anthropomorphize him to the point where we were explaining every single little gesture. Gorillas both in captivity and the wild have an enigmatic quality – a sense of disconnect, of otherness.” In other words, the key distinct between O’Brian’s Kong and WETA’s Kong, beyond a technical level, are the performances each gives. Due to the limited knowledge of gorillas in O’Brian’s time, the characteristic gaps are filled with more human qualities, i.e. Kong boxing with the T-rex. By 2005, mass amounts of new information on gorilla behavior had been collected, as well as seemingly infinite sources to gather it all from. The Kong in Jackson’s film is very much the amalgamation of a study of gorilla movements, and expressions on WETA’s part, as well as a study of gorilla behavior on the part of Serkis. After almost ten years on-again, off-again production, the film would eventually be released on December 14, 2005, and would be a finical success, as well as a critical favorite of the year, and would go on to win three Academy Awards in 2006, including Best Visual Effects.

The technological achievements of these two King Kong films are unquestionable, but the question remains: what is so special about them? What sets them apart from the hundreds of effects-driven films that were released after the 1933 original? Is there something beyond sheer spectacle that these films provide? M.C. Cooper maintained that “King Kong was never intended to be anything more than the best damned adventure picture ever made. What it is; and that’s all it is.” Perhaps it is something that simple, that the films are an example of “the right place, at the right time.” Both films certainly work on a purely spectacle level, and their respective directors made sure that their audiences were entertained; however, it is in my opinion that the films’ success all relates back to the character of Kong himself. King Kong is a compelling character. These films demand that their audience relate to a giant ape, and against all odds, both films successful put the viewer firmly on Kong’s side. Most movies monsters exist to frighten their audience, but in Kong, the audience experiences something similar to a kinship. We cheer when Kong triumphantly roars over the slain T-rex at his feet, and we weep when he is gunned down all for the sin of falling in love. When Kong dies, it feels like you’ve lost a friend. I think Dino De Laurentiis, producer of 1976 remake, said it best, albeit crudely, “No one cry when Jaws die, but when the monkey die, people gonna cry.”  This fictional animal became real character to audiences, thanks in large part to a mixture of compelling material, visionary directors, and a teams of incredibly talented visual effects artists working together to make films that stand the test of time. King Kong is an icon because of all of these talented individuals’ work. 

Cinematic Soapbox #3 – Two there must be: The beauty and flexibility of’Lone Wolf and Cub’ as a narrative device and influence

Welcome to “Cinematic Soapbox!” Much like the AV Club’s Scenic Routes, I will discuss a movie, scene, series of movies, series of scenes, genre or some other cinematic element, why I think it works and what it means to me. I am obviously not the level of writer that Mike D’Angelo is so don’t expect the same quality and thoughtfulness he brings to his column.

Last night I caught a screening of Logan, what is expected to be Hugh Jackman’s final turn as the character he helped define for well over a decade. In today’s world of constant reboots and re-castings, that’s a borderline ludicrous notion.

screen-shot-2016-10-20-at-9-36-11-am

Wolverine, as a character, is a very Eastern concept presented in a traditional Western fashion. He is often likened to a rōnin, or a samurai without a lord or master would travel the country-side as a sell-sword. This connection only strengthened by the fact that his swords are built into his hands. 

If this is indeed Jackman’s final hurrah so to speak, it’s makes complete and utter sense that this is the sort of story he would want to leave Wolverine behind with as it fits a the type of arc writers have been utilizing the character over the past three or four decades.

Now before I get ahead of myself, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty, that being the reason I’m writing all of this.

While I was watching Logan, it became clear to me that it wore a number of its influences proudly on its sleeve. Shane, Unforgiven, Mark Millar and Steve McNiven’s Old Man Logan arc, etc.

But it was the relationship between Logan and Laura that stood out the most to me, as was the intent of the movie once could surmise. That isn’t to say anything in the movie was specifically targeted at me but…you get what I’m saying.

This got me to thinking: where else have I seen this arc used so well before?

The answer?

Tons of places, particular over the past couple of decades or so.

For whatever reason however this particular format doesn’t seem to get mentioned a lot, or at the very least I don’t feel that many people I know seem all that aware that it’s a recurring story at all. And it isn’t a strictly cinematic story either. It’s origins rest in the page after all, and have transcended well beyond into television shows and video games.

For those unfamiliar with Lone Wolf and Cub, a 28-volume manga from the 1970s that has been adopted into everything from movies to stage plays, the gist is as follows:

lone-wolf

Written by Kazuo Koike and illustrated by artist Goseki Kojima, Lone Wolf and Cub begins when Shogunate executioner, Ogami Itto, is framed as a traitor by the agents of a rival clan. With his wife murdered and with an infant son to protect, Ogami opts for the path of a rōnin, with the pair adopting the moniker, “The Lone Wolf and Cub.” The two wander feudal Japan with Ogami’s sword now for hire, but all roads will lead them to a single destination: vengeance.

Now it may or may not be important that I preface with the fact that I have not seen EVERY SINGLE ITERATION of this story. I’ve read a handful of the manga and seen maybe two or three of the films. I am not a scholar. I am but a humble internet voice with a blog that sports 3, possibly 4, recurring readers.

You’re welcome to chalk it up to personal preference, but let’s walk through some of the most recognizable instances of this formula and just how successful they’ve been.

It’s a model that traditionally sports two arcs for our main characters:

  1. Wolf, or the old master, is typically in search for some form of redemption or peace. Their lives have been defined by blood shed, with their only goal now to not only keep themselves alive but also the lives of their respective wards. They are often emotionally closed off when we meet them, having been through hell. As the story progresses, we peel back the layers as their young ward reminds him or her of the good person at their core. This character is typically male. Maybe as we attend to automatically assign a masculine connotation to qualities such as “gruffness” and “world-weariness.” It’s by no means a rule. It’s just something that happens to recur a lot in these stories.
  2. Cub, or the young accomplice, represents the new generation or a break from all the violence his or her master attempted to flee from. By the end of the story, this character must make a choice: continue down the path of violence or break the chain altogether. There’s often the recurring narrative choice to have this character be female. Once again, it’s not universal. Just a commonality.

These two characters also typically find themselves in a similar predicament: the younger individual is stuck in a hostile and unfamiliar world in which they are (often) highly unprepared to tackle solo and a world the older individual is all too familiar with. This can mean a path ravaged by the effects of some form of apocalypse or one simply laden with real-world dangers.

The appeal of such an arc is that it really allows for close examination to its two main characters. One (typically) carries the emotional baggage of a violent past whereas the other may provide for levity and in doing so open up the former for development.

Now I’m not going to touch on every example I think of that fits this narrative. To do so would lead to an overly long post that would touch on the same things over and over and over and over and over again. Think of this is as the Lone Wolf and Cub breakfast sampler, where I try to hit on how wide-ranging and re-occurring this story as well as how it continues to remain fresh and narratively engaging in spite of how many times creators dust off the cobwebs on it. I mean, just look at all the quality examples I don’t get to on this thing such as Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.

And I don’t do this to point out something to the effect of “No new stories,” or “Originality dead?” I feel as if I come off as some sort of pretentious grouch that repeats those sentiments over and over again so fear not. I’m not

I do it to highlight a tried and true formula that works and works well when viewed through different prisms. Least you forget, this is story that came to us from Japan but has transcended beyond borders. Not only that but it’s a story steeped in centuries worth of Eastern mythology and pop culture.  If anything, it speaks to the power of story-telling which if you know a single thing about me it’s how lame and uncynical I get about just how goddamn essential story-telling is to the human condition.

Also SPOILERS for all discussed, Nick.

Road to Perdition

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Let’s start off with a cheat just to get it out-of-the-way, shall we? Road to Perdition is also based on a comic. You know what that comic is based on? You guessed it. Lone Wolf and Cub. I guess “homage” would be a more appropriate term, but you get the point.

In this instance, the story is transplanted from feudal Japan to 1930s American Midwest. Simply switch out samurai with gangsters and you’re there. Moving on….

All kidding aside, Road to Perdition may sport a similar structure to its predecessor but its themes couldn’t be more different for the most part. Tonally, this movie is much more subdued and goes out of its way to not canonize its violence, with most of the violent and bloody acts occurring off-screen and those that do appear as quickly as they would in the real-world. Whereas Lone Wolf, in adaptations such as Shogun Assassin, is so cartoonishly violent that you can’t help but laugh and cheer.

Perdition is a statement on violence and its consequences; a journey to hell and back again.

 Michael Sullivan, Sr.chose a path of violence in his youth and now considers himself to be irredeemable. He fears the same path for his son, Michael Jr., who seems enamored by his father’s exploits. However, as he attempts to shield his son from his past, the more harm he does. It’s why he  It’s only when the two are forced on the run does a bridge of communication open between them. Their shared tragedy bringing them closer together.

Adventure Time 

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Speaking of shared tragedy it’s not as if this show needed any more adult themes, amiright?

Now there are a lot of episodes of Adventure Show, and multiple that feature these two characters so let’s limit our scope to just two: “I Remember You” and “Simon and Marcie.”

At the core of this arc (which is also on-going) we have Simon Petrikov, or the man who would be Ice King, and Marcy, who will one day become the Marceline we all know and love. Before that though, we had a simple man losing his mind and a little girl with no home or family just trying to make it through a world torn asunder by “The Great Mushroom War.”

As we know, the roles eventually reverse with Marceline becoming Simon’s caretaker. (She’s not all that hands-on, but Ice King really isn’t all that much of a threat is he?) It’s a relationship unique to the others on here as we essentially learn about it in reverse. When we first meet Ice King and Marceline, they are already in the form they’ll carry for a majority of the series. There’ll be room for growth, (something not particularly easy to do with two characters that are for all intents and purposes are immortal), but they stay relatively the same in regards basic traits, strengths and vices.

With her vampirism serving as an oh so subtle allusion to clinical depression and his crown being a flat-out stand-in for a neurotic disease such as Alzheimer’s or dementia,  the two have their fair share of vices between them. So the reveal that the two have a shared past, while somewhat a shock at first, made sense.

The beauty of it all however is how this arc (as modeled on Lone Wolf) adds complexity to pre-established characters, information we didn’t even know we needed.

The tragedy at its core being two-fold: the tool giving Simon more time is slowly but surely driving him crazy, providing a very gut-punchy view of the lunacy that comes to define him later. That, in turn, leads him to all but forget just about all the memory of his former life, including his time with Marceline.

But in that there is hope.

Marceline may miss the way Simon used to be, but she’s still going to love the person that he is. She knows more than his name; she knows his true soul, and she’ll never forget that, even if he does.

And that hope grows brighter with each episode. The two even reunited (briefly) in a later season.

It’s an ongoing story and I’m interested to see where it goes, and hope for a satisfactory conclusion to their shared arc. Speaking of…

The Last of Us

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Here’s another obvious example.

The beauty and uniqueness of this relationship is how quickly Ellie becomes a necessary part of Joel’s journey. Unlike many of her colleagues on this list, she is far from helpless having had her own bought with fighting to survive well before having met Joel. This is the only world she knows after all, having been born before the Cordyceps epidemic that nearly wiped out all of humanity.

And she’s by no means a master at her craft either. That’s what separates her from characters like Hit-Girl for example. She’s sloppy in more ways than one, and she hasn’t been completely indoctrinated into the uncaring world around her due in part to her having nothing else to compare it to. The Apocalypse is her normal.

The same can’t be said for Joel, a man clearly still in mourning over the loss of his daughter twenty years before the game’s plot kicks in. He’s been operating at half-capacity ever since, simply survive as it is all he really has left.

The two become surrogates for one another. For Ellie, Joel represents a family she hasn’t experienced yet or at the very least some form of normalcy. For Joel, Ellie represents a second chance and could quite literally (and cynically) be considered a replacement kid.

It’s also an interesting relationship because, as with the original Lone Wolf and Adventure Time, it’s one we will get to see evolve. A sequel was announced a few months back, and it was initially news that filled me with a mix of both excitement and hesitancy.

I feel as if we left Joel and Ellie at such a narratively fulfilling place; a place so satisfying I wasn’t all that interested in seeing where it went beyond, “The End.” Sure, in retrospect, the door was left wide open for future stories, but lighting only strikes ever so often and rarely does it strike twice.

But I’ll admit, there is an overwhelming interest in seeing how these two advance particularly the Joel fibbing JUST A TAD about the fate of the Fireflies at the end of the first game.

Leon: The Professional

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The detriment in this one is that there is a hinted romance between our two characters, something I can’t really get around in terms of its ickiness. To be fair, those romantic feels come from the younger side and there are not (to my interpretation) reciprocated by the older.

This is also the only example I’ve included that doesn’t take place in an automatically hostile environment. I mean it is fair to say that Matilda didn’t really have a choice in the matter in terms of the shitty family she was saddled with. That’s the thing with families. A lot of time, people just have deal with the cards they’re dealt.

The lesson to be learned here is finding roots, not letting yourself be dictated by the wind…or in this case crazy, violent mobsters. Leon takes charge at the end, seeing the path laid before Matilda should she keep falling further and further into his world and sends her away, providing a chance for a (somewhat) normal adolescence.

Game of Thrones

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Now for a young girl that probably has NO CHANCE for an even somewhat normalized adulthood…

For my money, this is the best character pairing this series has glued together to date, both in the books and on the television show.

Ser Sandor Clegane, aka the Hound, is hardly the first character to get saddled with “baby-sitting” Arya Stark, but he is buy-and-large the character to produce the best story-telling results from her narrative thus far, which is no small statement.

She doesn’t become a better fighter with the Hound. We aren’t treated to any hokey training montage in which

She doesn’t particularly learn how to play the game either.

So what does Arya gain from a season’s worth of travels exactly with such a brute?

By the end, she is armed with something arguably a lot more useful tool than a new technique or insight into warfare and that is the utter unjust and uncaring nature of the universe.

Your oh-so-great sword teacher, the purported “First Sword of Braavos?”

He was (allegedly) killed by a shit fighter who happened to have armor and a better sword.

This kindly farmer who gave us food and shelter, and offered us honest work?

His farm is in the middle of an active war zone, and will probably be killed before the end of the week so might as well steal his money as it’s as good as stolen anyway.

No, I would say this is a particularly GOOD lesson per se but it is a necessary one; particularly for Arya, a girl from a house that put honor above all else. And where did that get them? Two dead parents, two dead siblings and a house in ruin.

Now the Starks are well on their way to a comeback, but in Season 4 (the season this interaction took place) they were all but kicked out of the game, on the run or held hostage.

So who better to give Arya a much-needed reality check on the way things work. She’d definitely seen some shit in the previous three season, no doubt about it, but she still held on to the antiquated “good and honor prevails” mumbo jumbo instilled in her from birth.

It’s also worth noting where these two leave each other, their roles essentially revered. Arya is now cold, looking to escape and leaves the Hound to suffer and die from his wounds in a fight he fought specifically for her. It’d be a stretch to say the Hound is all that different from where he started but he is more hopeful. Having survived, we later learn, he is more open to the kindness of others.

Logan

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I guess it’s kind of important I touch base on the inspiration on this article, huh?

I mentioned before Wolverine, as a character, is very East-meets-West kind of package, and no where has that been more evident than in Logan, an iteration of the character that could have easily been played by Clint Eastwood if the film came out 20 years ago. There are multiple gunslinger references peppered throughout, with Shane actually viewed by the characters and then quoted later. The plot also mirrors Unforgiven  in more ways than one.

He’s the most desperate we’ve ever seen him with his healing ability on its last legs and the adamantium grafted to his skin slowly killing him. He’s also paired with a dementia-ridden Charles Xavier, who tags a long for a good portion of this film. The film is at its most engaging however when it gets down to its central relationship between a man and his clone.

Laura (also known as X-23 in the comics and animated series) is somewhat comparable to Ellie in that she comes with her own baggage, with the difference being that she mirrors Logan’s powers. She even has two extra claws located in her feet. It may be derivative, but she is in essence Logan’s Mini-Me.

The interesting aspect in this instance is that Laura is a clean slate. She has baggage but its like a purse compared to the unending luggage of her clone daddy. She represents Wolverine’s literal second chance. It is in her that the Lone Wolf comparisons become evident.

Near the end of the film, Logan tells Lauren, “Don’t be what they made you.” It’s simple statement, but speaks volumes.

Both are weapons; designed to kill, kill more, sleep and then kill again. Whereas Logan nears the end of his life, Laura is right at the beginning of hers, and in her lie a crossroads. Does she follow the path of the bitter warrior defined by violence, hallow and full of regret, or something closer to a path of peace? Can there truly be “peace” for someone who’s committed such violent deeds.

This is where the R-rating really aided the story-telling, something I don’t want to come off as shallow for endorsing. It’s really, really, REALLY satisfying to see a Wolverine film in which the character is allowed to fulfill every inch of his violent potential. But it’s even more satisfying that it was allowed to happen in a story that actually called for it.

Just like Perdition, that violence wears on the soul; something I don’t think would have been nearly as effecting in a neutered-for-mass-appeal PG-13 cut.

We need to see the path of a VIOLENT man, the consequences made evident in severed limbs and heads, and the potential for what could happen to Laura should she allow it to define her life as well. The world of Wolverine, Xavier and the X-Men is fading away. The choice is up to Laura and her generation to decide what becomes of mutants, and by extension, humanity.

As Whitney Huston once sang…

All that glitters: 5 (RECENT) Egregious Oscar Acting Snubs

egregious

adjective

Definition: outstandingly bad, shocking

Ex: The fact that Nick does not know what this means is egregious.

Sorry about that folks. Context is everything I suppose. Suffice to say, I know my audience. And that is typically an audience of one. He knows who he is.

The….(looks to see what number we’re at)…89th Academy Awards are this weekend and I’m here to capitalize…I mean…shoot….um….coincide. Yeah, I just happened to think of writing this AND the Oscars just happened to fall on the same weekend in which I finally put it out.

So yeah as with any competition there are going to be varied opinions on who should win and why…this post is one of those opinions. It’s by no means more educated or valid. It’s just mine.

So…

That means it’s objectively the best one.

Why only 5, you may ask? Well I’m lazy.

You caught me.

(I almost get TOO much milage out of that clip.)

I’ve limited myself to acting because well that’s seems to be really be the only awards of the night many seem to pay credence to. I mean I’m sure I could bore you with how we often take for granted the less glamorous screenwriting and technical categories, but….shit, I already lost some of you.

Before you leave, I’m also excluding what could have been candidates for this year’s race as I can only be somewhat relevant, you know? I want this to be an exercise in healing, a means of airing long-held bitterness for awards I was never personally up for or had a say in who won what exactly.

So that means Amy Adams’ work in Arrival will not be getting a mention, no matter how deserving it may be. Also important to note, these are not the MOST egregious snubs of the past few years. Just five egregious ones. Also it’s just my opinion and what do I know? I kind of liked Green Lantern.

Performances (off the top of my head) I would have added had I had more time:

Albert Brooks, Drive (2011)

Tom Hardy, Locke (2014)

Scarlett Johansson, Under the Skin (2014)

Benicio del Toro, Sicario (2015)

Jake Gyllenhall, Nightcrawler (2014)

Hugh Jackman, Prisoners (2013)

Liam Neeson, The Grey (2011)

Géza Röhrig, Son of Saul (2015)

Andy Serkis, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

James Franco, Pineapple Express (2008)

Essie Davis, The Babadook (2014)

Ralph Fiennes, The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

Simon Pegg, The World’s End (2013)

Mads Mikkelsen, The Hunt (2012)

Oscar Isaac, Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)

Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina (2015)

Nina Hoss, Phoenix (2014)

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Let’s get some “snobbery” out of the way first, shall we?

Phoenix is a little German movie from a few years back that certainly got recognition in some pretty prestigious circles. However it was basically passed over in every regard by the Academy; perhaps most tragically shunned was the performance of one Miss Nina Hoss.

Nelly is a woman who reflects her surroundings. A Jewish cabaret singer who (barely) survived the horrors of the Holocaust who finds herself in the rumble that was once Berlin, her shattered face mirroring the utter destruction surrounding her. She’s on the search for her husband who may or may not have betrayed her to the Nazis as to save his own skin. Suffice to say, she eventually finds the guy but he does not recognize her as her face is a dented shell of what it once was. However she does look JUST enough like her old self to fit into a scheme he has formulated to get ahold of her inheritance. Noir-ish adventures ensue with twists and turns to be had by all, all culminating in the final scene in which the truth is finally revealed.

Basically the final scene is as perfect as any ending in any movie ever made, (Hyperbole, much?) and at its center is Hoss. She leaves us with almost nothing yet everything that we need. Much like her mother country, Nelly is a little roughed up but she will shoulder on. The subtle yet triumphant rebirth harkens back to the legendary bird from whom the movie receives its title.  This isn’t to say Hoss’ output in the rest of the film isn’t up to par. If it weren’t, this scene would not be one iota of as strong as it is.

Suffice to say, I think Hoss gives one of the best performances of the past few years here and the fact she didn’t even get a nomination (in a year that was kind of lacking looking back) is a shame.

What would have been her Oscar clip (SPOILERS):

Sharlto Copley, District 9 (2009) 

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Another thing I harp on is the gross under-representation of genre films each and every year in the acting categories. I’m not exactly sure where the hesitancy stems from either. Take District 9 for example. It got a Best Picture nod, and a handful of nods for elements such as visual effects. Deservedly so, I might add. However Copley got no Best Actor attention. I don’t even remember him being in the conversation.

It’s a real talent to all at once take an unlikeable character and make us emphasize with him or her as well as sell body horror without coming off as hokey. Copley seems to do it effortlessly with his turn as Wikus van de Merwe.

It’s kind of standard to have the arc of an unlikeable guy, make him see the light and ultimately join the side of the angels. van de Merwe doesn’t exactly fit that mold to a tee however. Copley ensures he remains the still, basically selfish, unwilling participant he was throughout but we get more shades of him along the way. He is capable of empthy for these, as he puts it, “fookin’ creatures.”

I love that. Also his ability to sell the whole “I’m becoming a bug man!” thing flawlessly and empathetically don’t hurt neither.

What would have been his Oscar clip:

Charlize Theron, Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

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Let’s keep this “South African actors/actresses snubbery” train going by doing away with the pretense that anything I’m saying is at all snobby particularly in comparison to the body of voters we’re talking about.

Mad Max: Fury Road was one of those rare instances of a big budget action movie’s quality being so apparent and loud, I can only assume the Academy was begrudgingly forced into including it in the Best Picture race.

There was one category it was woefully overlooked for. You guessed it. Acting. I know that was pretty tough but we got there in the end.

Now both Tom Hardy and Theron would have been strong candidates for their respective roles in the film, but Hardy got his due that year with a nomination for The Revenant.  And to be fully fair, Theron received her’s back in 2003 with Monster. That was a well-deserved win. So it’s certainly not as sad as it would have been otherwise, but Furiosa is the first truly iconic role Theron has ever gotten to sink her teeth into.

What would have been her Oscar clip:

Lee Byung-hun, I Saw the Devil (2010)

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Oh no! More foreign cinema!

One could argue that Choi Min-sik had the flashier role of the two leads in Kim Jee-woon’s 2010 slasher. After all, he is the titular devil and the man is deserving of at least a little Oscar attention for his snub of basically the performance upon which he will be most remembered in Oldboy. Of the two however, in this particular film, I favor Lee.

It should really come as no surprise that this film was overlooked. It’s pretty exploitative at parts and not in like a fun, Grindhouse way. More like a borderline torture-porn way. And for a lot of the runtime, Lee plays Agent Kim as steely as one would expect from a man seeking revenge. It’s the film’s final act however where consequences begin to take shape in a way that I did not expect.

It’s the final, haunting shot I think should have at least brought Lee into the conversation. Gone is the badass we thought we knew, replaced by the weeping shell of a man whose life has been utterly decimated by quest for revenge. It’s appropriately harrowing and I think it’s a performance that all at once grounds and elevates a movie that could have been exploitive trash if handled by less skilled hands. Luckily I Saw the Devil features some of the best talent South Korea has to offer, Lee being one of them. Now if only Hollywood would follow suit and start putting him in more interesting roles!

What would have been his Oscar clip:

Tom Hanks, Captain Phillips (2013)

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File this one under the “No duh” category, if you please.

Much like our previous contender, Hanks’ snub is basically equates to the utter power of the performance he gives in the film’s final scene. Like Lee, Hanks doesn’t give you a hero triumphant. He presents our main character made broken, the trauma of the film’s event’s enveloping him in a tidal wave of grief and emotion as the the film cuts to black. We aren’t provided the comfort of knowing everything is going to be fine.

What would have been his Oscar clip (obviously):

Scarlet Johansson, Her (2013)

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This is one I’ve been on the fence for for quite a while, and have been in at least two or three debates on the topic believe it or not. Hard to believe I was able to fit it between my hectic schedule of staring at nothing and slipping slowly into narcissistic madness.

The funny thing is though, I was initially AGAINST the idea of the inclusion of a voice over performance. That should be it’s entirely separate category. But if her nomination brought more attention to voice over acting as whole? Well, I can get 100% behind that wholesale.

It’s important to note that Johansson was not even the first person cast in the role. Samantha Morton had recorded all her dialogue (and was even on set for all of the scenes between Theo and Samantha) before director Spike Jonze opted to recast her. Jonze said, “It was only in post production, when we started editing, that we realized that what the character/movie needed was different from what Samantha and I had created together. So we recast and since then Scarlett has taken over that role.”

That speaks to both the power of casting (another role that should get some form of Academy recognition) as well as Johansson’s ability to effortlessly slip into the role.

There’s this annoying notion that voice over acting is “easier” than traditional acting as one simply goes to a booth to record. They can wear pajamas to work, you guys.

The thing some don’t seem to acknowledge is how alienating the process can be. I mean typically it’s just you can the voice director and various behind the scenes folks in a booth with a few hour sessions for a week or so. You don’t typically even meet the other actors until after the process is over. (Johansson’s case takes this a step further as she wasn’t brought in until the main production had already finished.) This leads to many actors simply phoning in their roles for an easy paycheck. It’s really easy to spot lazy voice work. (Looking at you, Chris Rock.)

Johansson’s output here is anything but lazy.

What would have been her Oscar clip:

‘John Wick: Chapter 2’ is a more than worthy, albeit kind of bloated, follow-up to its predecessor

It’s been a year since Deadpool came out.

….

….

That doesn’t tie into the review proper at all.

More like a statement on the general passage of time, and how something something you don’t look around you might miss something something.

…..

…..

ANYWAY.

I’m still feel as if I’m reeling from the concussive wave of shock that assaulted my body with overwhelming quality in the form of John Wick back in 2014.

Show me someone they went into that first movie “knowing” it would be a new action classic and I’ll show you a liar. On the surface, that movie had a lot going against it. Mid-September release date, Keanu Reeves as the lead and a somewhat stupid on paper premise did not bode well. But low-and-behold, we have arrived at a sequel and it is one of the most anticipated releases of the year.

I didn’t do a full-review for the first film, but I think a lot of its strength is that initial shock I just mentioned. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great movie and I daresay about as perfect an action movie you’re likely to find in this day and age. But no one knew it would be AS good let alone outstanding.

And I loved, loved, LOVED being proved wrong because that next to never happens with movies any more. Surprise is a cinematic currency of increasing value in the Age of the Franchise and John Wick just might represent a renewed hope for new, fresh Western action cinema. The fact that it’s joining the big leagues with a sequel is all-at-once exciting and worrying. You can only make one first impression after all and diminishing returns are something each series faces at one point or another.

Keanu doesn’t age!

The joke?

Remember the joke that Keanu Reeves  doesn’t…um…age?

You’ve heard that one right?

Like you’ve seen the pictures?

keanu-reeves-is-he-immortal

See?

I’m doing the bit.

From the beginning….about the…the passage of…um…time.

It’s like a gag.

Fuck it, start the review!

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The plot:

“After returning to the criminal underworld to repay a debt, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) discovers that a large bounty has been put on his life.” -IMDb.com

The review:

I’d be quick to compare John Wick: Chapter 2 to The Raid 2. It’s quasi-startling at how many pros and con (singular) the two share. Both are sequels to surprise action films released relatively close to their predecessors. Both are longer than their predecessors due to more world-building. Both up the ante by noticeable margins both in scope and action. Both are ultimately really, really, REALLY great but ultimately come just a hair short to their respective predecessors due in part to said world-building.

Where John Wick kept things relatively simple with its “gang kills man’s dog, man goes on rampage” premise with bigger assassin-centric universe playing a more supportive role, Chapter 2 covers a substantial amount of ground in its somewhat bloated runtime by bringing its world-building to the forefront.

If the worst thing I can say about a movie is, “It was just a bit too long,” you’ve got yourself a pretty, damn good movie. You’re ridin’ high, fine as wine, havin’ yerself a Big N’ Rich time.

Wait, what?

Sorry, I’m just getting distracted all over the place here.

Like I said, my only real “issue” with the film comes right down to preference in pacing. Whereas the earlier film built momentum through domino effect, its sequel prefers to stack its cards all at the top and letting them fall to pieces by the second act for the 40 or 50 minute equivalent to cinematic jenga. Nothing wrong with that at all. I just felt winded by the time John reaches the kingdom of panhandlers, led by Laurence Fishburne (Matrix reunion!!!!!!!), and could have either used a more substantial break rather than MORE information to access right before getting back to business. It was too much of a good thing for me in some respects.

It’s almost frustrating in a way. The film does just about everything I could ask for in a sequel. World-building, interesting new characters, etc. It’s a buffet of riches, and yet I still feel it could have been scaled back to some degree. I don’t know. Simply put: the film was just a bit too long for me personally.

That was the negative, so lets focus on the positives (PLURAL) because there are a ton.

Once again, the action (the main attraction) is utterly sublime and entertainingly surreal.

Gunman take suppressed shots at one another unnoticed in a crowded subway station.

Blood splatters the blank walls of an art gallery like Pollock painting.

We also finally get to see what kind of damage John can really do with a pencil.

I was a little worried that since only one of the two directors from the first film (Chad Stahelski to be specific) would be returning for the second outing. Like maybe the other guy (David Leitch) saw something wrong with this film and jumped ship. The two former stuntman only have Wick as their directing credits so it’s not like the Cohen Brothers splitting up but I feel its fair to say there could be concern that the magic might have been lost without the full band getting back together. Consider any worries I (or maybe you) had dead and buried. Stahelski is as apt at every in presenting action in way that is at once exciting and comprehensible. Believe it or not, you can in fact have your cake and eat it too in this instance.

Characters take damage here, and every bit is just so wonderfully kinetic that you find yourself wagging your finger at other filmmakers that seem to think we like spazz attacks rather than steady, competent camera work. The filmmakers want you to gawk at the stunt-work and revel in the back-breaking work they put into their set pieces. Wick fights a gun-totting Harry Potter, his various firearms proving far more effective than any wand or staff. (I’d say let there be a drinking game in which shots are downed with every headshot Wick fires off, but those are supposed to be fun; not death sentences.)

Reeves cements Wick as an anti-hero for the ages. Much has been said about Reeves acting abilities, or arguably lack-there-of, but I argue, and have argued for years, he’s fucking phenomenal in the right roles. I guess you could really say the same for any actor or actress, but Reeves is an absolute testament to this simple fact: CASTING MATTERS.

He bounces off so well against a much livelier cast of characters because this is a man who’s, at his core, dead inside. This second film really represents more of a descent for John whereas the first film really was just about revenge. He’s forced back into the game as it were by Santino D’Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio), a member of the Neapolitan Camorra, an old frenemy who will not accept “No,” as an answer. Soon, John is off to perform yet another seemingly impossible task and wouldn’t you know it? There’s a double cross and old John Wick finds the candle burning on both ends….on both ends…..the candle is burning on….John Wick? Candle. Guys?

The movie can’t really sustain the emotional heft of “man’s dog is killed, said dog was also last connection to dead wife” so it makes the wise decision to pretty much forgo that all together. Instead it just doubles down on everything else that made the first one work so well, namely that aforementioned action and fantastical assassin-filled world-building.

And instead of devolving into some sort of gritty, brooding slodgefest revenge films seem to be defined by, this weirdo franchise opts to shed blood in the light and fully embrace the wackiness of LITERALLY anyone being an assassin.

Speaking of blood, let’s talk about the new blood. I’d say this is probably something this film aces over the last. Sure, there are less women (only one speaks substantially as I recall and the other is a mute) but I’m not sure this movie is setting out to say some sort of larger statement on feminism. In fact, I don’t really think there are many topical sentiments to be had at all here….other than assassins seems to be everywhere.

Fuck, we’re getting a little too social conscious here.

Back on course.

I really felt a better sense of presence from the supporting cast this time around. I don’t want to go beat-for-beat with each one, but we can break down one. Um….Common!

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Now Cassian is not  THAT developed per say but neither is our title character. The film does a lot with a little in this regard. There’s clearly a history between he and John and you get that with like next to no dialogue on the subject. I love how these movies go about characterization. There’s not an ocean of depth to them, but there really doesn’t need to be. Unlike…oh let’s say Rogue One…the movie isn’t all that dependent on a super strong cast of characters. They really just need to be memorable TO AN EXTENT. And the film and its cast achieves that largely. Ruby Rose’s silent Ares may even be a shining star in this regard as I remember a hell of a lot more about her than I do about…give me one second I’ve got to look it up….Jyn Erso. Ares says LITERALLY nothing, communicating via sign language, but it’s yet another “mountains out of molehills” situation.

Now hopefully we can file “Tyler overly cares about digestible yet interesting characterization” away for the foreseeable future. We’ll put it next to “Did you know mainstream horror largely sucks” or “Action heroes need to get beat up more.”

I also loved where this film leaves Wick. No spoilers but needless to say: he’s not probably not going to be having a great time if and when we catch up with him in Chapter 3.

So…there you have it.

John Wick 2 is great. I’d even go so far as to say it’s amazing. Sure, it could use some trimming around the edges but how I can really chalk that up to anything more than personal preference. I’m old and I have a hard time with most movies over an hour and a half.

It’s like the first film is a hearty appetizer. Yeah, you’re hungry for more but once you get halfway through the main course you’re ready to explode. However, if you’re a fan of the first outing, you’re going to love this one. Not a doubt in my mind on that.

‘Split’ paves the way for the long awaited M. Night Shyamalan “return to form” once thought to be a pipe-dream

I’ve said some…less than kind things about the canon of M. Night Shyamalan. I’ll admit it. I stand by them. To clarify, I have nothing against the man personally. But let’s be clear:

Signs – Watchable but not a good movie.

The Village – A promising start, all undone by uneven pacing and a weak twist.

The Lady in the Water – Misguided and completely forgettable.

The Happening – Utter garbage on almost every front.

The Last Airbender – Possibly the worst adaptation of ANYTHING I have ever seen, and the drop off point in terms of my Shyamalan viewing. (The more I read about the production however the less Shyamalan seems to be at fault in this instance.)

With exception of The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, I don’t think Shyamalan has a single film to his credit I’d consider good. The vary on the scale of adequate to outright terrible. His first two aforementioned films however are so strong that there was always a tiny, rapidly dying flame I’ve carried that he’d at some point get his mojo back. Unbreakable in particular, an INCREDIBLY underrated superhero flick that was largely overshadowed by The Sixth Sense. 

From the offset, I wanted to write this one off too. To be frank, I probably would not have even given it a shot were the word-of-mouth not been as strong as it has been. 

And in this one, brief instance: that word-of-mouth had some solid validity to it. Having now seen the movie, I can say it’s easily the writer/director’s best in well over a decade and actually provides a glaring light of quality in a January typically designated as a dumping ground for studios.

Just to be clear: I’m going to avoid spoilers here. I’d normally say, fuck it. But we’re talking about an M. Night movie here. The man has built a career on his twists. While I’d argue the one in Split isn’t all that earth-shattering, particularly if you are well-versed in the man’s other films (HINT, HINT), I’ll still keep it an air of mystery as the rest of the internet appears to have done so.

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The plot: 

“After three girls are kidnapped by a man with 24 distinct personalities they must find some of the different personalities that can help them while running away and staying alive from the others.” – IMDb.com

The review: 

The film’s main strength, as is the case with many I find, is its relentless likability achieved by just how bonkers it dares to go. For my money, Split is the campiest, funniest movie Shyamalan has ever gone and the movie is only made better for it. It’s really impressive as the movie walks a very, VERY fine tight-rope between

It’s also the first in well over a decade to play to its writer/director’s main strengths. An oxymoron to be sure. Similar to Sense and Unbreakable, the film operates on a relatively low budget but what it lacks in fund it more than makes up with  with in sheer confidence. I didn’t see The Visit, but from what I gather it is similar in that it represents M. Night getting “back-to-basics.”

It goes a step further by waving away the overly-somber atmosphere of those earlier two films. Don’t get me wrong. There are some heavy things are work here with child abuse only being the tip of the proverbial iceberg, but the movie never really loses sight of how goofy its initial premise is and at the very center is a complex, wacky, layered performance from James McAvoy.

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Without an actor like McAvoy, someone really unafraid to commit while also dedicate the time to making each personality distinct, the movie would have crashed and burned like so many others in  Shyamalan’s canon. Films, by their very nature, are collaborative in nature. One thing goes wrong, it could spell disaster for the entire production. Now, I understand this is incredibly obvious but I only say it to make a point. This movie stands on the shoulders of McAvoy and his success is its success. There’s just no way around that.

Is his performance(s) Oscar-worthy? I don’t think I’d commit to that necessarily, but it is a performance worth commending and dissecting. We don’t see all 24 personalities that make up Kevin, but the 4 or 5 that are showcased are fully-developed, understandable characters. Much more than any that appeared in Rouge One. You get a feel for who these characters are through tiny, at-times exaggerated, non-verbal actions rather than extended, monotonous monologues explaining who they are.

It should also be noted that the movie is gorgeous. Shyamalan recruits It Follows cinematographer Mike Gioulakis, who allows scenes to simply play out in extended, single-take shots. I had forgotten how good Shyamalan is at establishing tension and simply allowing it to play. He’s finally teamed with a cinematographer with a natural gift for it as well with the results being tiny wonders and a testament to the “less is more” approach to horror.

The movie has more than its fair share of issues. For one, I’m not sure all three aspects of the story gelled all that cohesively. We get Kevin’s adventure with his three-kidnapped victims as well as his interactions with his therapist Dr. Karen Fletcher (Betty Buckley), who is not convinced everything is fine with her most fascinating patient. We also get flashbacks regarding a nightmarish hunting trip taken by one of the three girls Kevin has kidnapped, played by The Witch‘s Anya Taylor-Joy. I don’t know. On the whole, all three narratives are fine but I feel like there could have been some trimming, particularly to the overly gratuitous flashbacks, and the film would not have lost all that much. To speak anymore on it however would be trimming the border of spoiler territory however.

I will say that the flashbacks really hammer home the themes of trauma and mental illness that I think Shyamalan is going for (much as he did in The Sixth Sense), and for that it gets a pass if only for being well-intended. I just feel as if there was a way to convey the information we get from them as subtly as we learn about each of Kevin’s personalities.

Another case could be made that the other two girls in Kevin’s clutches (played by Haley Lu Richardson and Jessica Sula respectively) are largely pointless. I argue however their purpose is supported by their final fate in the film, but once again…

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So, there you have it. Split is by no means a classic, but it represents something that warrants discussion and that is a hopeful return to form for a director that is long in need of one. It’s a movie that unabashed trashy, all while being much smarter than it initially lets on. In other words, my favorite kind of genre-movie.

Ken, PATRICK and Tyler’s 2016 Schlockmas Spectacular Episode III: Boyz Evolution

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We’re three years in, people.

How exciting is that?

Relatively?

Kind of?

Fine.

Anyway, yes we are at three-full years of watching a bad movie weekly and it’s been a hoot to say this least…well, on good days anyway.

For those not in the know, my friends Ken…

Last confirmed sighting since 1994.

Last confirmed sighting, circa 1994.

…Patrick…

File photo.

File photo.

…myself…

fnf

… and any number of guests convene to “willingly” witness some sort of cinematic catastrophe. We’ve done two write-ups in the past which you can find here and here.

Why, you may find yourself asking.

Well…

Hm…

I think…

No…

Maybe it’s….fun?

Yeah, let’s go with that.

Now before we can get into the meat and portos (see Greasy Strangler), we must honor all of the classics we gave our (debatably) valuable time. What you are about to peruse are the 80 -count ’em 80 – movies we watched throughout the year. My contribution is attaching the trailer for each film which you can watch by simply clicking on the title. Pretty simple, right?

What follows is much more valuable. My associates have also rated each and every one of these films with care. There opinions align in some cases and differ in others, but they generally give you a consensus of whether the film in question is actually worth your time for your own viewing pleasure.

While Ken’s rating system is pretty standard, Patrick’s system is potato-based meaning it is a tad bit more complex. Once you go through a few though, you’ll get a pretty good grip on how it works.

Ken’s System:
A++ Must watch / Own

A+ Really good. Pretty much anyone would enjoy a viewing

B+ Not Bad. Not good, probably had a few great moments, but overall nothing stand out.

C Pretty forgettable. Maybe a good moment or two showed up, but generally not worth your time.

D Bad

F– I hated this. I hated this so much.

Patrick’s system will be explained by the man himself.

I’ll join in later on when we get to the “best” of the “best” for the year.

So…let’s do this.

THE SHADY 80

1. Picasso Trigger

Ken: B+

Just stick with the original great, Hard Ticket to Hawaii

Patrick: BABES! BOOMERANG BOMB! and passionate love making. The usual Andy Sidaris film which is always a fun and enjoyable action packed movie. This movie gets a nice tater tot rating on the potato scale.

2. Milk Money

Ken: C

One of the most uncomfortably strange movies we watched this year. It didn’t even have a musical number.

Patrick: This is one creepy Ed Harris movie. A group of horny kids around the age of twelve pay a prostitute to show them her goodies.. to which she does! Unfortunately, the prostitute falls in love with one of the boy’s dad. The movie has a happy ending, but not as bad as I expected this movie to be. This movie gets an average rating of a baked potato with no toppings.

3. The Happening

Patrick: BORING. There is nothing scarier than being killed off by plants. The planet decides to kill off all humans by releasing a cryptic neurotoxin that causes the victim to commit suicide. A man does jump in front of his own riding lawn mower, which was rather pleasing to see. On the potato scale, this movie gets a stale rating of unsalted french fries. It’s ok, but you are left wishing you chose differently.

4. Fifty Shades of Grey

Ken: C

Patrick: Holla! It’s time for that sexy wet movie. Honestly, the movie sucked. It was not as hot and wild as I had wished for. Also, fake pubes. On the potato scale, this movie receives a potato salad rating. I don’t like potato salad at all, but a lot of other people do.

5. The Core

Ken: B+

If only for the rage that it instilled in Patrick.

Patrick: No! No! No!. No thank you to the core.. This movie was not fun to watch and made my brain hurt so much. I could say a lot about this movie, but I choose not to instead. Stay away. On the potato scale, this movie receives a nasty, dirty, soil covered raw potato.

6. The Wizard

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Ken: B+

Power glove!

Patrick: Unfortunately this movie is not as the title suggests. The Wizard is not at all about an amazing magical man, but instead about some kid using his weird brother to win it big. The big brother uses his weirdo little brother to win a Nintendo tournament and such. Meh. On the potato scale, this movie receives a baked potato that isn’t cooked all the way. I wanted to enjoy it, but couldn’t because of the losers that made the film.

7. Dangerous Men

Ken: B+

Patrick: Hooray! Back to enjoyable bad movies! A husband and wife are on the beach when some bikers kill the husband. The wife pretends to fall in love with the only biker left and they journey to a hotel from some wet action. The naked, now widowed wife, walks out of the bathroom naked to make love to the biker.. all of a sudden, she pulls a knife out of her butt cheeks and kills the biker! Movie gold! Go see this movie, it was great! On the potato scale, this movie receives a great rating of McDonalds’ French Fries. So tasty!

8. Pocket Ninjas

Ken: D

Long and boring.

Patrick: Weird chin Robert Z’Dar is in this movie. This movie contained terrible kid fighting karate scenes and terrible training montages. On the potato scale, this movie receives a boring rating of a baked potato with just one dollop of sour cream. It was ok, but I wanted it to be more.

9. Exterminator 2

Ken: C

Never delivered on the initial awesomeness of the violence in the opening scene.

10. Event Horizon

Ken: C

Too long.

Patrick: Scary space movie. Basically you’re average space adventure. It’s all good and then everything begins to go wrong. On the potato scale, this movie receives a boiled potato. There is not much to it and it’s not very fun to consume.

11. Obsessed

Ken: A+

Beyonce fights the crazy monster lady at the end!

Patrick: Woo! One of our first crazy obsessed lover movies! The Office character, Charles Minor (Idris Elba), is married to Beyonce.. Some crazy girl tries to get wet with Charles Minor and eventually Beyonce kills the crazy stalker/lover. On the potato scale, this movie receives a half loaded baked potato. I was satisfied with what I got, but wouldn’t hurt my feelings if given more.

12. The Greasy Strangler (NSFW)

Ken: A+

Strangely a good movie. Everyone ended up legitimately enjoying it. Its literally insane and one of the most bonkers plots. But it was somehow entertaining.

Patrick: Dun! Dun! Dun! DUNNNNNNNN! GLORIOUS! The best movie of the freaking year and is at the TOP of the bad movie list for me. This movie is extremely funny and very greasy. Not only is the movie funny, but it has one of the best soundtracks to have been made! I don’t want to give too much away, but go see this movie. Stay greasy. On the potato scale, this movie receives a fully loaded baked potato with gold flakes!

13. Species

Ken: C

Patrick: A monster lady wants to lay eggs and reproduce, but she is being hunted down by a group of people at the same time. The movie was alright and was your basic bad movie. On the potato scale, this movie receives a baked potato with your choice of one topping.

14. Body of Evidence

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Ken: B+

Because why wouldn’t you cast William Defoe as your lead in your romantic thriller. Pretty entertaining from a “wow this is bizarre” way.

Patrick: William deFOE or deFRIEND and Madonna make some supper hot candle wax sex scenes. Madonna is being charged with murder and hires Defoe as her lawyer. A lot of sex takes place and Defoe’s wife finds out and at the same time Madonna is found not guilty. She admits to Defoe that she is guilty and Madonna eventually is murdered. On the potato scale, this movie receives a sexy potato, because this movie was super sexy.

15. Deadly Friend

Ken: A+

The robot acting was pretty funny and the last 20 minutes end up being EXTREMELY ENTERTAINING.

Patrick: A fun movie with a young guy that builds a robot while in school. The young guy, Paul is friends with this neighbor girl Samantha. They pull a prank on their evil grump neighbor lady and the old lady shoots Paul’s robot. Samantha eventually gets pushed down the stairs by her abusive father and is declared brain dead. Paul makes Samantha into his robot and they have all sorts of fun. Samantha throws a basketball at the grumpy neighbors head, causing it to explode! One of my favorite death scenes from this list of bad movies this year. On the potato scale, this movie receives a Burger King french fries. Not as good as McDonalds, but still a great choice!.

16. Underworld

Ken: B+

Too much lore.

Patrick: Yucky! I only saw the last thirty minutes of this movie and that was more than enough. Not fun at all. On the potato scale, this movie receives a nasty raw potato with those sprouts growing.

17. Underworld: Evolution

Ken: C

Wait, more Lore that compounds on the others? I thought the one guy was special, but now that guy can do it too?

18. Underworld: Rise of the Lycans

Ken: B+

Wait this was a little more entertaining, but we went back in time? I’m getting more confused, but it kept me entertained at least.

19. Underworld: Awakening

Ken: C

MORE LORE… Wait who is the good guy?

20. Chopping Mall

Ken: C

Surprisingly a C. There was no actual chopping. A few of the murders were cool and I was really excited when they revealed they [the robots] had lasers, but it was a little long.

Patrick: An alright bad movie, with mall security robots that go ba-ba-bad! The security robots turn on the humans left in the mall after closing time. This movie had fun death scenes, but very unintimidating robots. On the potato scale, this movie receives a tater tot with old cheese. Seems good, and may taste ok, but it should be better.

21. Soul Man

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Ken: D

This movie is literally insane.

Patrick: A movie with a rich white college student doing black face! You sort of new it was coming, but kept hoping it wouldn’t happen. The positive thing this movie had going was James Earl Jones as a professor. I could only picture Darth Vader every time he spoke. On the potato scale, this movie receives an uncomfortable moldy potato.

22. Dreamcatcher

Ken: D

Too long and too boring.

23. Ghost Ship

Ken: B+

Too realistic. The whole time!

Patrick: Nick Witte’s favorite movie, as he has a ghost ship movie poster! This movie is a pretty bad movie, besides the awesome opening death scene! Just about everyone on the cruise ship gets beheaded by a wire! Woo! Also, Tyler insists the evil character wasn’t a ghost, but he is! On the potato scale, this movie receives a mashed instant mashed potato. Taste like crap.

24. Supernova [EDITOR’S NOTE: THIS SPORTS A LEGENDARILY BAD TRAILER. WOULD RECOMMEND.]

Ken: F–

I didn’t realize napping was an option.

Patrick: Terrible movie. It was a hour and a half too long. Baked potato laced with Benadryl to put me asleep.

25. The Black Ninja

Ken: C

I did like how he was credited as himself. Also he was a ninja and a lawyer!

Patrick: A lawyer who doubles as a black ninja! This movie was a fun bad movie and I enjoyed watching it for the most part. On the potato scale, this movie receives a mashed potato with white gravy. Not the best bad movie, but it was still enjoyable.

26. The Roommate

Ken: C

Not quite insane enough. It had its moments. But the SNL short is better.

Patrick: Lame.The worst stalker bad movie we watched this year. Basically two college roommates, but one turns out to be a crazy lady. If you want to watch a stalker movie, don’t see this one. There are much better stalking movies on the list of bad movies we watched this year. On the potato scale, this movie receives a baked potato with no toppings. Bland and not fun to consume.

27. XXX

Ken: C
Surprisingly not that memorable for me. I know Vin Disel was in it. That’s about all I got.

28. XXX: State of the Union

Ken: B+

While a weird version of the first one, somehow Ice Cube made it more entertaining?

Patrick: Basically the same as the first XXX movie. Action! Action! Action! Not much to say about this film. ICE CUBE WAS HIDING IN A REFRIGERATOR!!!!! On the potato scale, this movie receives a hash brown with ketchup. Not my favorite thing in the world, but I had no problem with it.

29. Dragonball: Evolution

Ken: D

I only know the lore from the “Abridged Series” and even I was getting angry.

Patrick: As a Dragonball Boy, this movie made me cry. It made me cry so many sad tears. This was not a fun movie to watch and I advise you to STAY AWAY. I didn’t expect this movie to do one of my favorites any justice and it lived up to that expectation. On the potato scale, this movie receives a manure covered potato.

30. Hello Mary Lou:Prom Night II

Ken: C

Too many breaks in between the murdering. The murdering was good, but too much dead air.

31. Ernest Goes To Jail

Ken: B+

Surprisingly entertaining? It was really dumb, but it set out to be. Also we got one of the best “HDTGM” moments out of this one. Also we got to see one of our insane skits basically acted out on TV.

Patrick: Did you know a man can absorb a large amount of electricity and not die? That is what happens to Ernest in this lame movie. It wasn’t the worst movie w watched all year, but it wasn’t the best by far. On the potato scale, this movie receives a mashed potato with no gravy.

32. Transcendence

Ken: F–

SO BORING.

Patrick: I had hopes that this movie would turn out alright, but boy was I wrong. This Johnny Depp thriller (not really) slowed down time and became one of the longest feeling movies I have ever watched. Put this movie on before bedtime and it will help you sleep. On the potato scale, this movie receives a potato that you look at, but can’t eat.

33. Warriors of Virtue

Ken: B+

Won back over by the evil villain once again!

Patrick: I was honestly hoping that this movie was going to be a cool movie about a kid and a Chinese chef, but the movie decides to take a different turn. The kid goes into a weird fantasy world with very strange kangaroo people. This movie was weird and I don’t know how I feel about it. On the potato scale, this movie receives a potato casserole. Strange stuff.

34. Bloodsport

Ken: A+

Pretty entertaining. Violence was great. Dialog was insane. Multiple hilarious moments.

Patrick: Fun karate movie! Jean-Claude Van Damme takes home the tournament and becomes a karate boy. I’ve always wanted to be a karate boy myself. Good action movie with a lot of fun fighting. I was hoping the evil Chong Li would have taken home the karate gold. On the potato scale, this movie receives a baked potato wrapped in bacon. Mmm Mmm good.

35. Exit Wounds

Ken: D

I couldn’t remember which one this was. I knew it was bad though.

Patrick: Steven Seagal movie. Bang bang. Action Action. On the potato scale, this movie receives a half loaded baked potato.

36. Burlesque

Ken: C

There were some funny moments, especially towards the end and their finances. Who knew how big of deal air rights were!

Patrick: More like Burle-boring. A very long and drawn out movie that I would have rather not seen. Somehow someway air rights? Are brought in to play. On the potato scale, this movie receives a raw potato.

37. Revenge of the Ninja

Ken: A++

This is a grade-A “Bad Movie Night Movie,” a continuation of our first Ninja Movie. The fights were hilarious. The acting was amazing. I had a great time with this one.

Patrick: WOO! Ninjas! ART GALLERY WITH COCAIN DOLLS! This movie is packed with plenty of action and plenty of death! This up towards the top of the bad movie list for me. On the potato scale, this movie receives a salty salty McDonalds french fries.

38. Dune

Ken: F–

This one is probably not that bad for other people. But I hated this one. How did they manage to tell me 16 million times that Akarris was the Desert Planet, but they forgot entire plot points like how important the knife fight at the end was going to be.

Patrick: Ken’s favorite movie of the year! This movie may be ok at best if you haven’t read the book. If you have read the book, then…I’m sorry. Stay far away as possible. This movie was pretty bad for me, especially after enjoying the book myself. Thanks whoever directed this movie. On the potato scale, this movie receives a stupid three week old potato salad.

39. Bratz

Ken: B+

Surprisingly entertaining. This was a really long movie [almost 2 hours], but it actually didn’t feel that bad. Sometimes whenever a movie embraces its insanity it works out well.

Patrick: I still to this day do not know if this movie was actually made after the Bratz dollz? Basic teenage girl drama. One of the Bratz girls makes fun of a blind guy that plays piano (He may have been deaf or blind, who knows, who cares). This movie was actually better than I thought it would be. On the potato scale, this movie receives a baked potato with a side of salt.

40. Fateful Findings

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Ken: D

Neil Breen strikes again. And this one was just kinda boring and didn’t even have the insane plot like the others to rest on.

Patrick: I’m not sure what to say here. The second Neil Breen movie that we saw last year and luckily this movie didn’t make any of us sick as did Double Down. It was strange. On the potato scale, this movie receives a plastic potato.

41. Cradle 2 the Grave

Ken: C

Better than the other one for some reason? These movies didn’t make a huge impact.

42. Warcraft [EDITOR’S NOTE: For my full review, click here.] 

Ken: B+

Entertaining, but not a good movie.

43. Hackers

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Ken: A+

There is a reason why this crazy movie is so often recommended on many bad movie lists. It’s great to see whenever someone tries to figure out what the future is going to be like and then misses the mark so badly.

Patrick: Pretty much a movie based on Ken’s work life. 1000100 Pretty terrible movie and I was hoping it was going to be much better than it actually was. On the potato scale, this movie receives an elementary school grade tater tot.

44. When the Bough Breaks

Ken: A+

Entertaining throughout. Crazy lady was nice and crazy. The plot was bonkers. It was pretty entertaining.

Patrick: Woo! Another crazy lover/stalker movie! This was my favorite crazy lover/stalker movie of the year. The evil stalked lady was definitely crazy and made a lot of crazy stalker faces that I enjoyed. The ending fight scene was pretty spectacular as well. On the potato scale, this movie receives a ¾ loaded baked potato.

45. I Am Here…Now

Ken: C

This one has the insane madness you want from a Neil Breen movie. He was like a robot jesus? It also has the insane madness you want from a Neil Breen movie, in that you don’t want any of it.

Patrick: The strangest Neil Breen movie that we saw this year.. I can’t really tell you what the plot of the movie was, besides humans are bad for the earth? I think? I rate this as the second best Neil Breen Movie, with Double Down being his best product. On the potato scale, this movie receives a Mr. Potato Head.

46. The Thing With Two Heads

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Patrick: This movie was pretty fun to watch and was overall enjoyable. An old rich racist white man is dying and pays to have his head sewn onto a convict in jail. Unfortunately for him, his head is sewn on a black guy’s. They ultimately don’t get along and get into a crazy chase by the cops. Ultimately, the plot wraps itself up in literally the last thirty seconds of the movie.. Overall a fun movie to watch. On the potato scale, this movie receives a potato chip rating. Crispy!

47. Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot

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Ken: B+

Shot like a horror movie. Really creepy throughout. It was a bizarre experience, but pretty funny.

Patrick: This was a strange Sylvester Stallone movie. Stallone is a cop and his old mother comes to stay with him for a while. His mother shows nude baby photos to Stallone’s coworkers and talks about his little boy parts. Weird movie, but oddly not the worst. On the potato scale, this movie receives a baked lays potato chip.

48. Death Wish 3

Ken: B+

Infestation of the creeps!

Patrick: CREEP! Fun fun movie! Old man goes to war with a street gang and when I say war, I mean WAR. The old man brings about as much weaponry as you’d see in a Rambo movie. I would put this movie near the top of the list. On the potato scale, this movie receives a ¾ loaded baked potato.

49. Independence Day: Resurgence

Ken: C

I wanted to like this a lot, but it lost a lot of the magic of the first one. I had fun with it. But it didn’t *quite* get the speech right.

Patrick: MEH. Not much to say. Not very good. I actually can’t remember the plot. On the potato scale, this movie receives a meh-potato.

50. Cry_Wolf

Ken: C

It had a few good moments. Again though, a little too realistic for my taste. I must admit the “reveal” occurring in the police station was really entertaining.

Patrick: Another one of Nick Witte’s favorite movies. Pretty much a rich kid school where murder happens among friends blah blah. On the potato scale, this movie receives a Nick Witte-shaped potato.

51. Streets of Fire

Ken: C

All I remember is it had a ring of fire and I hated the improve at the end.  [EDITOR’S NOTE: Ken is relating the Jet Li/DMX vehicle, Cradle 2 the Grave.]

Patrick: Not as interesting at the title leads on. Sexy and gritty. Kidnapping and a motorcycle gang. On the potato scale, this movie receives a potato salad. BORING.

52. Samurai Cop 2: Deadly Vengeance

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Ken: A+

Again not nearly as good as the original. But it was insane. And it learns at least an A with Wiseau’s scene alone.

Patrick: If you think you need to see Samurai Cop 1 before seeing Samurai Cop 2, you’re wrong! It comes on hot and heavy nears the top of the list of bad movies. It’s time to solve a bunch of assignation mysteries! The movie involves fun action sequences and a pretty bad wig. Good movie! On the potato scale, this movie receives a Curly Fries!

53. Lion and the King

Ken: C

Bad. Very Bad. But the funny voices all done by what seemed like one person was pretty entertaining. Should not exist.

Patrick: Lion King rip off. Weird animation. Avoid. On the potato scale, this movie receives a raw potato.

54. Suburban Commando

Ken: B+

Hulk Hogan is bonkers!

Patrick: An alien that looks like a human lands on earth! Hulk Hogan is that alien! Hogan makes friends and then has to save the earth from the aliens chasing him! Fun movie and no way it was going to be bad with Hulk Hogan being an alien fighting other aliens! On the potato scale, this movie receives a Waffle fries! Strange, but satisfying.

55. Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf

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Ken: A+

Sometimes a movie has no idea whats it’s doing, but it goes full-force anyways. These guys got vampires and werewolves mixed up, but man was it entertaining.

Patrick: Count Dooku attempts to a cult of werewolves in Transylvania. I enjoyed this film and it was pretty fun to watch. Especially the sexy werewolf queen. Mmmhmm. I think I remember seeing a werewolf orgy at some point. The film is pretty absurd, but enjoyable. On the potato scale, this movie receives a chili cheese french fry.

56. The Boy Next Door

Ken: A+

This was an interesting twist on the genre to say the least. It was pretty hilarious seeing how the handled the situation.

57. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

Ken: D

Long and weird and they apparently didn’t even stick to the stuff right.

Patrick: Lame. This movie was lame, especially the giant ship shaped as a sword. On the potato scale, this movie receives a manure covered potato.

[I would like the record to reflect that this movie is terrible and I hate anyone that may like it. As the graphic novel upon which it is based is one of my all-time favorites, I thought it only fair we watch it as I made Ken sit through Dune, one of his favorites.] 

58. Night of the Lepus

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Ken: F–

Gross and dumb and long. Its another “how did you not see how un-scary and bad this was right away?” situation.

Patrick: RABBITS THE SIZE OF CARS! Terrible CGI or whatever, but pretty funny to see killer Lepus (rabbits). On the potato scale, this movie receives a tasty mashed potato with brown gravy.

59. Five Across the Eyes

Ken: F–

If Bear was even less exciting…

Patrick: This may have been the worst movie on the list for this year. The movie was shot with a terrible video camera. No lighting and no microphones. Terrible acting. Similar to a movie written as a high school film project. Avoid this film at all cost. On the potato scale, this movie receives a not worthy of a potato rating.

60. Inferno

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Ken: C

It had some insane moments. I liked the drone. I liked when he had amnesia attacks. I liked how it didn’t feel like it had to answer all of the questions it posed.

Patrick: Another one of Tom Hanks’ DaVinci mystery-esque movies. The movie was pretty bad, besides the point when Hanks’ is being chased by a drone! Scary stuff. Overall, the movie had a lame plot and was pretty confusing. On the potato scale, this movie receives a tater tot that has been smashed with a hammer.

61. Jem and the Holograms

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Ken: D

Too long.

62. Stephen King’s It

Ken: B+

Really, really, really, really, really, friggin’ long. And the acting was annoying a lot. And weird. But not terrible somehow? Still way too long.  

Patrick: If only this movie was made with an R-rating. For a horror movie, it was not scary at all. No blood or gory deaths. The clown seemed to be more of a joke then anything. The movie was VERY long and felt like forever. On the potato scale, this movie receives a baked potato with the sides sitting on the table next to you, but you can’t use them.

63. Fair Game

Ken: C

The majority of this movie was boring and not that great, but the villains / main plot was nuts which was pretty entertaining. Their very loose grasp of technology also provided for some laughs.

Patrick: A movie about a sexy lawyer lady and a boy cop she falls in love with. The KGB are hunting down the lawyer and the cop boy is trying to protect her. A Baldwin brother plays the cop. The KGB uses a body heat detector to see if the copy and lawyer are in a hotel. Baldwin is not seen, but only because he is taking a cold shower.. The movie was alright, but was very wet and sexy. On the potato scale, this movie receives a chili tater tots.

64. The Shadow

Ken: C

All of the arguments of how and when the mind control worked made this one entertaining enough to watch.  

Patrick: Alec Baldwin plays a vigilante. The movie had alright special effects, but could’ve been much more with an exciting plot. On the potato scale, this movie receives a potato salad please.

65. Devil Dog Hound of Hell

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Ken: B+

The cult involved was really funny. Everyone acting scared of this adorable puppy / dog was great. It was a pretty great time.

Patrick: A cult does some spells and a dog becomes possessed. The offspring of the evil dog gets adopted by a family and turns out to be evil as well! Terrible scary monster scenes. Terrible movie. On the potato scale, this movie receives a rotten potato.

66. Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas

Ken: D

Preaching for the sake of preaching. Also I had a pretty good Christmas. It didn’t really feel like it needed to be saved.

Patrick: This movie sucked the holiday cheer out of me. The movie is pretty much about the attack on Christmas. Don’t watch it unless you want to become Mr. Scrooge. On the potato scale, this movie receives a potato sprout rating.

67. Leonard Part 6

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Ken: B+

It’s weird to see a movie get so off the rails and to see so clearly that there was no guidance on what should and shouldn’t happen.

Patrick: Bill Cosby is an ex CIA agent and becomes reactivated on one last mission. Such a strange movie, as Cosby is doing action scenes. Terrible action scenes at best. The funniest part is when an evil guy in a wheel chair gets tipped over into a vat of chemicals, but his fake prosthetic legs are still attached to the chair. On the potato scale, this movie receives a baked potato with old sour cream.

68. Hell Comes to Frogtown

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Ken: B+

Crazy plot. Terrible acting. Insane-o frog people.

Patrick: A very strange movie with famous wrestler Rowdy Rowdy Piper. Piper is one, if not the only, man in the world able to reproduce. Basically he’s enslaved and has a chastity belt on. If he removes the belt he explodes, but the purpose of him is to repopulate. Very odd film, I don’t remember liking the movie or hating the movie. On the potato scale, this movie receives a tater tot rating.

69. Barb Wire

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Ken: C

A weird weird movie. It had some funny parts. The acting was bad enough to be great a few times.

Patrick: A movie with Pamela Anderson beating people up. She is wet and sexy like she usually tries to be. Pretty bland plot and fighting scenes. The positive is when a rather large man gets blown up with a grenade. On the potato scale, this movie receives a boring baked potato.

70. Bride Wars

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Ken: C

Just someone else get married like 3 hours later! You could save so much money! Also I thought you [the two leads] were supposed to be friends!

71. Drive Thru

Ken: C

It had some funny moments like whenever they got mad at him for being crazy and acting like a clown with his job of acting like a clown.

Patrick: Pretty lame movie about a drive thru serial killer getting revenge. Not much to say about the movie, besides it being your basic cheesy horror movie. On the potato scale, this movie receives a dirt covered potato.

72. Demolition Man

Ken: B+

This was a pretty entertaining movie. Seeing the “future” was often pretty funny. Lots of fun arguments about stuff like the [bathroom] shells and their dates.

Patrick: An alright Stallone and Snipes movie. My only real gripe is renaming murder as murder death kill.. Overall fun fighting and Stallone may have made love to his own daughter? On the potato scale, this movie receives a salty waffle fry.

73. Half Past Dead

Ken: C

A Steven Seagal movie.

Patrick: Another Steven Seagal film. Pretty similar to the other Seagal film we watch. A bunch of action and fighting, not much to the plot, but overall an ok film. On the potato scale, this movie receives a unseasoned french fry.

74. Gods of Egypt

Ken: D

Long and boring, but it had at least a few moments to laugh at. I am sad we had to watch it in theaters and that means we couldn’t talk.

Patrick: TERRIBLE. Probably the worst movie I have ever paid to go see in the theaters. Boring plot and the fight scenes were just as bad. Stay away from this new, but awful movie. On the potato scale, this movie receives a raw potato.

75. The Covenant

Ken: C

Terrible movie with lame magic and lore that thought it was cooler than it was. It was fun laughing at them trying to take themselves seriously.

Patrick: Supernatural horror-thriller about high-school kids fighting with supernatural powers. A bunch of flying scenes and frat boys fighting with almost Dragon Ball Z ki blasts. This movie sucked and was not fun at all. Although, I did barf (not even kidding) at the scene with a bunch of spiders. I’m sure Ken will mention the incident. On the potato scale, this movie receives a spider potato.

76. The Time Machine (I found at a Yard Sale)

Ken: D

This movie is best summed up by the scene where you see a man go into the kitchen, get a glass, get orange juice, pour it into the glass, drink the entire glass of orange juice, and then put everything back. Just no. The future stuff was semi-funny though.

Patrick: Go into your kitchen and pour yourself a glass of OJ. Continue to drink that glass of OJ for 2-3 minutes straight, all while doing nothing else. That is exactly what happens in one of the scenes of this awful movie. Some very very crappy green screen close ups of mineral caves made me want to have diarrhea. On the potato scale, this movie receives a moldy potato. Nobody should have to consume such a thing.

77. The Order of the Black Eagle

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Ken: A++

Basically if I got to write a movie with no one telling me anything was a bad idea.

Patrick: A MONKEY DRIVING A TANK! A MONKEY WEARING A TUXEDO! This movie has it all, but not according to movie grump Nick Witte. This movie also has an evil resurrected Hitler and banditos. A very fun movie with fun action scenes and monkeys. On the potato scale, this movie receives a fully loaded baked potato! This movie is superb!

78-79. God’s Not Dead and God’s Not Dead 2

Ken:

GND1 – C

Preaching to the choir. This felt like yelling in a echo chamber to me. It did have a really, really funny “villain” in it however.

GND2 – D

More boring preaching to the choir.

Patrick: Vomit alert. A movie about religion and talking about God in schools. Goes to court and blah blah. The Duck Dynasty gang is in the movie if that tells you anything. Worse than the first in the series. On the potato scale, this movie receives a baked potato laced with laxatives.

80. Street Fighter

Ken: A+

Had some great moments, mostly from Zangief. The bad acting and fighting was entertaining enough to tide me over through the rest of it.

Patrick: The video game is much better than watching this lame movie. The movie itself has some decent fighting scenes, but overall pretty bland. On the potato scale, this movie receives a baked potato with no toppings.

THE BEST OF THE WORST

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WOULD RECOMMEND (BEST MOVIE): 

Ken: The Order of the Black Eagle

Who wants Nazis? Banditos? Secret Agents? Ninjas? Laser grids? Tanks? Gun Fights? Hilarious Jokes? Paper Machete Hitler’s skull exploding out of his face? Great action sequences at the end where one guy for sure got hurt?

ALSO DID I MENTION THERE WAS A BABOON WHO DROVE A TANK AND WORE LITTLE SUITS THAT MATCHED THE MAIN CHARACTER AND HE MADE FUNNY FACES AND ALSO DID I MENTION THAT A MONKEY DROVE A TANK

A MONKEY

DROVE

A TANK

Patrick:The Greasy Strangler

By far the best movie.

Tyler: Howling II: Your Sister Is a Werewolf (also known as Howling II: Stirba – Werewolf Bitch) 

For me, the all encompassing nature of any given bad movie is key, i.e. just how much insane things are there to talk about. The Howling II is a proverbial holy grail of discussion. The fact that werewolf lore is traded in favor of that associated with vampires. The multiple werewolf orgies we’re treated to. The theme that is hammered in our ears time and time again. Christopher Lee’s involvement. All of this is just scratching the surface of all that there is to explore.

The favorites of my colleagues are similar in this regard. Howling II won out for me partly due to just wanting to shine a light on another phenomenal entry into my bad movie vernacular. I’d seen the first movie quite a while ago, but harbored absolutely zero interest in looking into any of its sequels. It took seeing YouTuber JonTron had covered it to get me onboard. So I’d like to extend a personal thanks to him on that front. The film is 80’s in all of the right ways (and in some of the worst), all while offering more than it’s fair share of water cooler moments after. A definite must-see.

NOT EVEN TO MY WORST ENEMY (WORST MOVIE):

Ken: Transcendence

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I started to put a number of other movies here, but I kept coming back to Transcendence.
I hate boring movies; looking at you Fateful Findings.
I hate movies that don’t get anything right; looking at you, Dune.
I hate movies that should be better than they are, Dragonball Evolution.
I hate movies that just shouldn’t exist; looking at you, Five Across the Eyes and I am Here… Now and Lion and the King, and Night of the Lepus and The Time Machine (I found at a Yard Sale).

For some reason though, Transcendence was allllll of these at once. They had a lot of money for this obviously. They had people who knew what they were doing. They had people who knew how to make movies. And yet it was sooooooooooo boring. And soooooooo long. And there wasn’t anything fun or funny to latch onto in it.

I know for a fact I’ve listed worse movies up there. But for some reason I just HATED this one.

Patrick: Five Across the Eyes

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The worst person to film a movie ever.

Tyler: God’s Not Dead 2 

I fear this is going to come off as, “Well of course the atheist hated the Christian movie.” Well, if accusations are thrown my way I hope my two theist friends can also attest that this movie is indeed terrible and devoid of any true, entertainment value whatsoever.

The first film, while misguided, was ultimately harmless and stupidly enjoyable thanks in part to its villain(s). Sure, it completely mishandled in its portrayal atheism and the general “motivation” and “intention” of atheism as a whole. It went the full mile by also punishing said atheists by your typical cancer diagnosis and also a matter-of-fact death. Don’t worry though. These extreme circumstances brought them to the Lord, as it should be.

The same could not be said for its sequel which crosses the line from stupid, hot air propaganda to “Oh no…people really believe this shit” territory. And I’m not referring to religion. Thats all well and good. It’s the persecution angle that is put forefront and center here. It drops the ball in ever way imaginable in its portrayal of free speech, digging its grave only further by citing a bunch of real life cases I’m sure would have potentially made somewhat interesting films.

Not the case here.

This movie is a hateful cinematic circle-jerk of the highest caliber, presenting an argument that will in no-way sway people like me or in-between.

Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas gets an honorable mention, but it kind of feels like straight-up bullying to pick on a movie that stupid and tone-deaf as to how the world actually operates. You almost feel compelled to pat in on the back for being somewhat comprehensible.

BEST HERO:

Ken: The monkey from The Order of the Black Eagle

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HE FLEW A PLANE AND HE WORE A LITTLE SUIT AND HE DROVE A TANK.

Patrick: Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) in Death Wish 3.

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Tyler: Zangief (Andrew Bryniarski) in Street Fighter 

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Zangief is technically a villain throughout most of the overly, long runtime of the 1994 Street Fighter adaptation. He has a change of heart late in the third act however when he is informed that he has been in the service of the bad guys the entire time as well as that everyone, with the exception of him, receive regular paychecks. The proverbial “double whammy” if there ever was one. Upon this revelation, he switches allegiances instantaneously and helps our heroes escape a self-destructing base. He is finally seen celebrating the victory of good at the end of the film.

He also got the two best, legitimate laughs out of me, something no other movie we watched this year could match making Zangief the hero to beat in my eyes.

BEST/WORST VILLAIN:

Ken: Komodo (Angus Macfadyen) from Warriors of Virtue

This guy gets how to play a villain. He understands presentation. He understands comedic timing. And he understands how to be evil. He knew how to wear crazy suits. He also knew what kind of movie he was in which is always great. There is a 20 minute video on youtube of him. Watch it. It’s worth every minute.

Patrick: Adolf Hitler in The Order of the Black Eagle.

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Tyler: Mark Watson (C. Thomas Howell) in Soul Man 

No but seriously, this movie is horrifying and indefensible. Like, why?

Why?

Why?

Why?!

WHY?!

WWWWWWWHHHHHHHHHHHHHYYYYYYYYYYY?!

Hopefully you’ve already read the synopsis earlier but there should be no debate that Mark Watson is in no way, shape or form the hero of this story. He is a villain, to a level that is all the more uncomfortable looking back at his plot to get an exclusively black scholarship all the more cringe-worthy three decades later.

He isn’t punished either. He’s found out, yes, but he gets to keep going to school AND the girl he tricked into thinking he was indeed African American stays with him at the end of the film.

He simply learns that it’s hard to be black, I guess? I don’t know. It’s horrible and it’s racist and Mark is the worst. Like the worst villain conceivable outside of a mass murderer or the like.

BEST ACTOR:

Ken: The monkey from The Order of the Black Eagle

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HE WORE LITTLE SUITS AND HE LEARNED ALL THE MOTIONS AND HE WAS THE GREATEST

Tyler: Johnny James Gatyas as Robert Moore in The Time Machine (I Found at a Yardsale) 

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It takes a certain stock of actor to capture the attention of a populace while encompassing a static minute and half shot of drinking orange juice. Sorry, getting the orange juice out of the fridge. Pouring it. Then drinking it.

BEST ACTRESS:

Ken: Kristy Swanson as Samantha Pringle in Deadly Friend

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Lemme just say. The robot acting lessons paid off.

Tyler: Front row girl in Milk Money

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I guess I should give a smidgen of context. The full scene is below, but the gist is: Frank has to give a presentation on sex education. He recruits V, a prostitute staying at his house (that’s an insane can of worms for another discussion), to help him with an oral presentation his teacher has assigned him at the matter. He proceeds to lock said teacher (you know the one giving him the fucking grade) out of the classroom as he gives his presentation.

The “why” is pretty simple. The girl’s reaction to being told what a woman is so multi-layered that I need a thesis on the matter. Has she never thought about it before? Is this her first brush with adulthood? Has she just come to the realization that she too is in fact of the female gender? All good questions.

Has an actor ever done so much with so little?

No.

The answer is no and I will hear no debate to the contrary.

FUNNIEST MOMENT:

Ken: The spider scene in The Covenant 

Every once in a while we get really good at reading a movie. And every once in a while we call something a little bit too well. This happened with the spider scene in The Covenant. It was probably mostly the Chinese buffet before hand. But this moment was so funny it made Patrick throw up.

I’ll never forget everyone starting to yell “SPIDERS! SPIDERS!! SPIDERRRRRSSS!” as TONS of spiders came out of everywhere and Patrick telling us to stop and everyone yelling and screaming and chanting and Patrick saying to stop and us not believing him and then him sprinting to the sink and hearing him continue to laugh through the pain.

Patrick: Every time Big Ronnie/the Greasy Strangler (Michael St. Michaels) washed the grease off at the car wash in The Greasy Strangler 

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Tyler: The butt knife in Dangerous Men [EDITOR’S NOTE: See BEST KILL for more information.] 

MOST INSANE MOVIE:

Ken: Soul Man

EASY CHOICE. So most of the time my favorite thing to do while watching these movies is to crack up laughing imagining how at no point in the filming did someone say “Hey maybe this isn’t a good idea…”
It’s literally insane this never happened in this movie. Its literally insane that the first MOMENT they saw any footage for editing their reaction wasn’t “OH NO WHAT HAVE WE DONE WE SHOULDN’T LET ANYONE EVER SEE THIS OR SPEAK OF THIS AGAIN”

Patrick: The Greasy Strangler 

Tyler: Hell Comes to Frogtown 

A woman dances in front of a frog man as to arouse his three-pronged penis…and that’s somehow not the most insane thing in this veritable clusterfuck of a film.

Abandon hope all ye who enter.

STUPIDEST LINE OF DIALOGUE:

Ken: “Murder-Death-Kill” from Demolition Man

ANOTHER EASY ONE.
WHY DIDN’T THEY REALIZE IT WAS DUMB WHEN THEY SAID IT. WHY DIDN’T THEY REALIZE IT WAS DUMB WHEN THEY SAID IT AGAIN A LITTLE LATER. YOU CAN HEAR WHAT IT SOUNDS LIKE. YOU KNOW IT SOUNDS DUMB.
WHY DIDN’T THEY REALIZE IT WHENEVER THEY SAID IT AGAIN LIKE AN HOUR LATER INTO THE MOVIE?

I am impressed this made it into a Run the Jewels song though.

Patrick: Most likely something from Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas.

Tyler: “I’m making pancakes,” as delivered by Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) in Fifty Shades of Grey

This one probably falls back on to line delivery more than anything else as the line itself isn’t inherently stupid.

Johnson is typically a pretty capable actress, even lively at times. Unfortunately not even she can survive the overly dour 50 Shades which really could stand be a lot more trashy and self-deprecating in the way movies like Showgirls is. At least it could then fall under a “It’s so bad, it’s good” category. What is fall under something that is way more dour and self-serious than it has any right to be.

This stupid line-delivery is really the only thing I fondly remember from my viewing. Johnson delivers the line so joyously that I can’t help but smile.

BEST KILL:

Ken: Butt Knife in Dangerous Men [EDITOR’S NOTE: I cannot find a clip of this sequence on the internet so simply use my friends’ descriptions as added incentives to see the full movie as it is well worth your time and attention.] 

This was amazing. We saw her distract the guy and “accidentally” drop her meal and drop the knife. We saw the knife disappear. We saw her hiding something in her clothes. We saw them head up to the room. We heard her tell him she wanted a shower first. We heard her come back and tell him the very specific instructions to “lick her belly button while rubbing the back of her knees”. And then we saw she was just wearing a towel and a knife was no where to be seen.

BUT THEN IT WAS HID IN HER BUTT. SHE HAD THE KNIFE THE WHOLE TIME. AND SHE MURDERED HIM WITH IT.

The room immediately erupted into chants of “BUTT KNIFE BUTT KNIFE BUTT KNIFE BUTT KNIFE!!!”

Patrick: The scene in Dangerous Men where the naked girl walks out of the bathroom and pulls a knife from between her but cheeks and kills the motorcycle gangster.

Tyler: “Aaaaaaand BOOM goes the dynamite” from Deadly Friend

I really should also be praising the glory that is butt knife as it may be the most glorious moment in cinematic history. BUT. I’ve already spoken about it. Well, others have anyway. So I thought I’d shine some light on this gem. Context certainly helps here, but I’m going to let the magic simply speak for itself.

BEST “THIS IS STUPID” MOMENT:

Ken: XXX: State of the Union

Ice Cube hid in a refrigerator. ICE CUBE hid in a REFRIGERATOR
ICE CUBE HID IN A REFRIGERATOR!!!
We actually didn’t notice the sheer brilliance of this the first time around, but man when we did it was glorious

Patrick: The entirety of Dune

Tyler: The cult’s “anti-Christ” dog scheme in Devil Dog: Hound of Hell

This one is pretty cut-and-dry. Basically a satanist cult breeds some puppies which are possessed with the souls of Satan himself. They then pass around said puppies in order to spread evil, misfortune and all-around not-niceness.

It just seems like a really big risk to have the anti-Christ not only running around in dog form, but also relinquishing control of the Morning Star to unknowing families. What if the family accidentally kills the dog? Or they get the dog fixed? Or they give away the dog? Why not just have the anti-Christ be a person?

It’s not the most complex scheme of the year (looking at you, Cry_Wolf), but it just may be the stupidest.

BEST CRAZY STALKER MOVIE:

Ken: Obsessed

Mostly because at the end the stalker was essentially a crazy monster lady. Like it was shot from a horror movie and they were worried about her coming back to life and it almost seemed like you had to kill her with fire or something.

When the Bough Breaks was a close second, and might have won it if I hadn’t been burned so badly by the crazy lady not being in the crib. I don’t think I got more upset with a movie this year.

Patrick: When the Bough Breaks

John Taylor (MORRIS CHESTNUT) and Anna Walsh (JAZ SINCLAIR); 2am... John lets the last catering staff out... heads up to bed and hears music; John finds Anna playing music in the living room in Screen Gems' WHEN THE BOUGH BREAKS.

The stalker made good faces and was crazy.

Tyler: The Boy Next Door 

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Mainly citing this one just to say that, “Hey, boys can be crazy stalkers too.” And obvious sentiment really, but all of the other crazy stalker affair films we watched this year (5 in total) featured female villains.

It hits all the beats of the others, up to your standard flaming house/barn climax at the end.

And who could forget, “I love your mother’s cookies.” A line I’m sure will one day make it to AFI’s 100 Memorable Quotes List.

THE MOVIE TOO GOOD TO BE INCLUDED ON THIS LIST:

Ken: Warcraft

Warcraft wasn’t a great movie, but I didn’t think it was all that bad. It was a little long. The plot was predictable and not very inspired. But it looked pretty. It was cool seeing places from the game. The action pieces were decent enough. This wasn’t good, but I don’t think it was bad movie night bad either.

Patrick: The Order of the Black Eagle

Tyler: TIE Dune and Jem and the Holograms 

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On the surface this is going to come of as a total slant to Ken as these are the two movies he wanted to see least by a large margin. And in a way…yeah, it is. If anyone deserves a slant, it’s Ken Adams. You hear that Ken. I got your number and now so do at least 5 people who skim through this blog.

Anyway, yeah I gave it to two movies not because they are by most means “good” but there’s obvious merit in their respective productions. Both films, against all odds, looks incredible. Jem and the Holograms sports a scene in which our characters avoid capture by the police by jumping off a dock, into the ocean; their escape lit by the neon glow of a ferris wheel. The scene is so stunningly filmed, such visuals are almost heartbreakingly wasted here.

The same could be said for Dune, which sports production design that matches that of any other high-profile science fiction production during its era. Yes, Star Wars included. Sure, it’s dated to an extend but the stuff that’s good looks really, really, REALLY fucking good.

I think Jem’s main fault is failing to embrace the goofiness of its source material. There are hints here and there (the cartoon’s penchant for the identity crisis of its heroine) but it falls to heavily on “real world” drama, all while trying to have its cake and eat it too by the inclusion of a robot side-kick which is HORRIBLY out-of-place.

Dune’s is similar. I don’t really see a proper Dune adaptation ever truly succeeding in a studio system, at least a stand-alone film. While my mouth waters at the remote possibility of seeing Denis Villeneuve-helmed, Roger Deakins-lit Dune, I foresee it landing on the same soft dirt as this. There’s just too much ground to cover in too little time. David Lynch’s version is head-scratching because it not only over-explains some elements (shots every “spice” is uttered), it is completely vague in regards to others.

All that said, there’s something admirable about both these films and not necessarily as terrible as a grand majority of their 2016 peers.

FUNNIEST THING SOMONE SAID OR DID: 

Ken: Tyler realizing that The Greasy Strangler‘s sound track is the music that is always playing in Patrick’s head.

As soon as Tyler said this, I couldn’t stop laughing, and thanks to him I’ve had many hilarious times come up again whenever someone put the music on or starting to pretend to sing like it, and instantly cracking up again.

Patrick: Me puking during The Covenant.

Tyler: During Soul Man, our friend Chloe asked why a certain character was wearing a weird piece of clothing. The exchange was, and I’m para-phrasing here: 

Chloe: Why is she wearing that?

Ken: Why is he black?!