Missed opportunities

STAR WARS EPISODE VII: The Force Awakens

2016: [See the plot of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope]

Setting: JJ Abrams’ throne room. Nubile young women carry sparkling wines, gourmet cheeses, and exotic fruits on golden trays. One man, Writer 1, kneels reverently at Abrams’ sandal-clad feet. Another man, Writer 2, stands further back and seems perplexed by the entire scene. 

Writer 1: Oh great JJ Abrams, creator of Alias and LOST, we come before you to hear what new creations you prepare to reveal!

Writer 2: …Yeah, hi JJ. You did say to be here at 1:30, right?

Abrams: Arise, my servants. Just as Felicity unleashed my greatness upon the Universe, so shall I now unleash a new cinematic vision upon the unsuspecting populace!

Writer 1: Glory be!

Writer 2: …We’re here for the specs on the new Star Wars movie. You know, fans have waited a long time for a good Star Wars – since 1983, in fact. We’re hoping you can deliver.

Abrams: Can I deliver! You’re speaking to the mastermind of Super 8 and Star Trek Into Darkness! Does that answer your question?

Writer 2: It actually raises more questions, for me.

Writer 1: Don’t pay him any attention, JJ. Just blast a hot load of Star Wars plot on us and we can die happy men.

Abrams: And so it shall be, my friends, and so it shall be. Envision, if you will, a strange alien galaxy full of adventure and magic, full of heroism and villainy, full of wonder and whimsy and romance and daring-do!

Writer 1: My God! It’s beautiful!

Abrams: But all is not well with this galaxy.

Writer 1: (gasps)

Abrams: Yes. The Empire has fallen, but a virtually identical force has replaced it, and the only things standing in its way are the New Republic and the Resistance!

Writer 2: Wait, hold on… the New Republic and the Resistance? What’s the difference between these two groups? What happened to the Rebellion?

Abrams: SILENCE! You’ll miss the best part… the Resistance obtains valuable plans that will help defeat the forces of evil. These plans are concealed in an adorable, spunky little droid, who ends up on a desert planet in the hands of a most unlikely hero.

Writer 1: It’s a triumph of the imagination!

Writer 2: I’m sorry… are we discussing the new movie? Because this sounds an awful lot like –

Abrams: SILENCE I SAY! Clench your buttocks, because you might lose control of your bowels when you hear this next innovative twist! Our heroes will be stalked by a black-clad masked menace who is skilled in the Force!

Writer 2: So, like, a Darth Vader-type character?

Abrams: Oh, God, no. Who wants to see that? This character will be a wispy young thing portrayed by some big-nosed long-haired emo-looking douche, and instead of choking people he’ll get all pissy and smash stuff when he gets upset.

Writer 1: My spine is tingling with fear!

Writer 2: I have to say, this villain doesn’t seem like he’s in the same class as Vader or even Darth Maul… will we have some really strong heroes to oppose him?

Abrams: Your hopes have been realized, for I have devised heroes destined to be just as legendary as Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi!

Writer 1: Oh my…

Abrams: BEHOLD! I give you… a girl and a black guy! KAZAAAAAAAM!

Writer 1: Holy SHIT.

Writer 2: This sounds kinda pandering, to me. I mean, what next, this random girl will turn out to be so incredibly bad-ass that Han Solo will say something like, “Kid, you’re a damn fine pilot, why don’t you join me on my ship even though it’s always just been me and Chewy…”

Abrams: Excuse me, “this random girl”? I put a scene in there where she fixes something on the ship! It’s like, “Oh, I re-routed the capacity through the auxiliary drive matrix” or some shit. Boom, instant street cred.

Writer 1: Oh, you’re the king, JJ, you’re the best there is, best there was, best there ever will be!

Writer 2: (Sighs) Alright, so the unlikely heroes are on the desert planet with the robot, what next?

Abrams: Well, you’ll never see this coming, but it turns out the evil militaristic space organization –

Writer 2: – like the Empire –

Abrams: – NOT AT ALL like the Empire – is commanded by a sinister, robe-wearing figure whose mind is as twisted and corrupt as his body!

Writer 2: …like the Emperor.

Abrams: NOT AT ALL like the Emperor! In fact, this evil mastermind’s name… IS

Writer 1: Here it comes.

Abrams: Supreme Leader SNOKE.

Writer 2: You’re kidding.

Abrams: SNOKE. Doesn’t that name just inspire fear and awe? Say it with me. Say, “SNOKE.”

Writer 1: I can’t! I’m that afraid of this guy!

Writer 2: It sounds like a sock puppet from a kids’ TV show.

Abrams: Perhaps your impudent tongue will be silenced when I tell you that Snoke will be an entirely CGI character! Oooh, aaah, the magic of film-making!

Writer 2: Who’s going to play him?

Abrams: Well, he’s an all CGI character created after 2003, so…

Writer 1: Andy Serkis?

Abrams: Bingo.

Writer 2: Oh, come on. You know, JJ, the Star Wars franchise used to be a bastion of unrestrained imagination and creativity. This sounds like a tired old re-hash of every trope that we’ve seen a thousand times before. I’ve read Star Wars fan-fic more creative than this.

Abrams: Oh ye of little faith! Was it not I who rescued the Star Trek franchise via the never-before-explored avenue of TIME TRAVEL? Wait until you hear my finest plot innovation yet!

Writer 1: I don’t know if I’m worthy to hear this.

Abrams: It turns out that the non-Empire has… a gigantic space station capable of destroying entire planets!

Writer 2: …So, the Death Star.

Abrams: No, bigger than the Death Star. Like, colossally bigger. And, therefore, different and better.

Writer 1: That’s a fact.

Abrams: In a thrilling race against time, our heroes will have to infiltrate this massive space station, disable its shield, and attack its weak point for massive damage!

Writer 2: Wait, wait, wait… wait. This is literally the plot of both Episode IV AND Episode VI. You can’t be serious.

Abrams: Oh, can’t I?

Writer 1: JJ, I’m not blowing smoke up your ass when I say this… but you are literally the Jesus of franchise resurrection.

Abrams: And the best part is, all of this is set 30 years in the future, so we get to see the stars of these magical films of our childhood as haggard, wrinkled old sacks who can barely run for two seconds on screen! Remember hot Princess Leia in the slave costume? Well now you get to see her visage wracked by age, and hear her old lady denture voice!

Writer 1: It’s like all my dreams have come true at once!

Writer 2: In what world would anyone want to see the exact same story played out with vastly inferior new characters and old, sad versions of the original characters?

Abrams: You’re so short-sighted. You’re forgetting how legendary these original characters will be. They’re like mythical heroes now. Some people don’t even believe they exist. They’ll be like living legends, something out of a fairy tale.

Writer 2: 30 years in the future people don’t even believe they’re real? 1986 was 30 years ago. That’s like saying people today think Jack Nicholson and Ronald Reagan are just legends or fairy tales. How short are people’s memories in this universe?

Writer 1: Man, don’t you have anything positive to say?

Writer 2: Well… maybe it’s just growing pains. I’m sure the second installment will be better.

Abrams: I’ve already got an idea! It begins in this frozen wasteland…

Writer 2: I quit.

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THE STATION AGENT

Station Agent poster

SO QUIRKY!

2003 – ……….(squinting)……….(smoking)……….(brooding)……….

I wanted to like this movie. I really did. Netflix had it rated very highly, and it’s 95% “fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes (another reason never to trust that site). Unfortunately it turned out to be a dull, boring slog that feels much longer than its 89 minutes. I know, I know, it won all kinds of Sundance awards. It’s still bad. I knew I was in trouble as soon as it started:

ART.

ART.

Signs a movie is going to be bad: when the first scene is of a dwarf, standing alone on a rooftop, smoking.

Tyrion Lannister plays Fin, a train-loving little person who retreats to an isolated station after his only friend dies. Although the Netflix plot summary says that he intends to live the life of a hermit, it’s never really explained what he’s up to. Is he fixing the station up? Is he doing something with the abandoned train cars? Why does he like trains so much in the first place? We never find out. When I watch a movie, I usually expect my main character to have a motivation other than getting a book from the library and watching trains go by. Maybe I’m old-fashioned that way.

Nevertheless, Fin quickly runs into a purportedly delightful assortment of oddballs, including annoyingly chatty vendor Joe (Bobby Cannavale), depressed artist Olivia (Patricia Clarkson), and pregnant librarian Emily (Michelle Williams). There is no shortage of drama fodder here. Joe’s dad is seriously ill. Olivia’s young son has died and she’s separated from her husband, Mad Men’s John Slattery. The father of Emily’s baby is a deadbeat hick. These stories only lurk in the background, however, cropping up at irregular intervals but mostly buried by long, loooooo-o-o-o-ooong periods of silence and melancholy guitar strumming.

There are two kinds of scenes in The Station Agent: very short ones where the characters actually talk (but the talk is pointless), and very long ones where they barely speak (and nothing happens). Expect a lot of exchanges like this one, when Fin first meets Joe:

JOE: I’m Joe Oramas. What’s your name?

FIN: Fin.

JOE: Fin?

FIN: Yeah.

JOE: Cool. Hey, your place around here?

FIN: Yeah.

WOW! Oscar-worthy screenwriting there. It doesn’t help that, due to how soft-spoken and mumbly the entire cast is, I thought his name was “Vin” the entire time. Since this movie features a little person, expect plenty of almost comically exaggerated moments where the crass and uncaring normal-sized people stare, point, make Fantasy Island references, and take pictures of him. A kid of about 13 or 14 yells,”Hey buddy, where’s Snow White? Grumpy or Sleepy over there, huh?” #1, a kid that age would never make that reference. #2, WE GET IT.

It's the make-out scene the public was craving.

It’s the make-out scene the public was craving.

The problem is, the movie wants it both ways. We’re supposed to hate the closed-minded locals who shun Fin because he’s a dwarf, but we’re supposed to love the “good” characters who seem to be drawn to him because… he’s a dwarf. Why else do they want to hang out with him? He’s not a particularly magnetic character. He’s not funny or charming. He barely speaks. It’s just poor storytelling (the acting, though, is very good across the board).

None of the storylines get wrapped up in any satisfying way. Will Emily leave her abusive boyfriend for Fin? Has Olivia really gotten over the death of her son? Will Joe’s dad be okay? What will Fin’s life be like at the station? Instead of a real conclusion, the movie ends with Fin asking when zeppelins were invented, which elicits the following exchange:

JOE: You can go down to the library and ask that little hottie [Emily].

OLIVIA: She is cute.

JOE: It’s the librarian fantasy, man. Glasses off, hair down, books flying.

FIN: She doesn’t wear glasses.

OLIVIA: Buy her some, it’s worth it.

THE END. What. The. Heck. This wasn’t a movie, it was two-thirds of a movie. I wanted Joe’s dad to regain his health and open a second food truck. I wanted Olivia to have an art show to signify her return to society. I wanted Fin to headbutt some hick in the balls and dance with Emily inside the train car he was secretly reconditioning this whole time. Instead they’re just sitting on the porch smoking, and the happiness they’ve found seems exceptionally tenuous and temporary.

More like The Station Lame-gent, am I right?

AXE GIANT: THE WRATH OF PAUL BUNYAN

2013 – Young adults at a first-time offenders’ boot camp discover the legend of the giant lumberjack Paul Bunyan is real, but is much more horrifying than they could have imagined.

Rejoice, my twos and threes of readers! After a lengthy starting-a-new-job-and-having-it-drain-all-my-creative-passion exodus, I have returned to help you answer life’s pressing movie-related questions. Foremost among these today is: how can a movie entitled Axe Giant: The Wrath of Paul Bunyan (or AGTWOPB) not be the greatest movie ever made?

Here’s the thing: bad movies are only good when they’re not supposed to be bad. It’s like watching someone pretend to trip vs. seeing a legitimate tumble – or, for instance, watching Sharknado as opposed to The Room. The key ingredient is the knowledge that the filmmakers were trying to make something good and failing gloriously in the attempt.

The makers of AGTWOPB consciously set out to make a cheap, bad horror movie. Tragically, they shouldn’t have even had to try. Paul Bunyan is really a gigantic, near-immortal mutant who goes on a bloody killing spree because some kid steals the horn of Babe, the long-dead blue ox? How can that turn into such a dull, lifeless, forgettable affair? In the interest of time (we’ve got a lot of ground to cover) I’ll run through my main complaints:

  1. There are too many characters with too little screen time. Who is the hero? We should know who to root for within 3 minutes of the opening credits.
  2. The deaths were not creative enough. Decapitations get old after three or four.
  3. There’s a pathetic shoehorned-in sympathetic backstory for Bunyan. I don’t care. This isn’t King Kong.

The only glimmer of hope I have is that the ending leaves things wide open for a Friday the 13th style sequel where Bunyan’s corpse could re-animate at the bottom of a lake. With that in mind, I’m proposing a big-budget, star-studded remake to turn this cinematic dump into the cash cow franchise it deserves to be.

Joe Estevez as Meeks
Axe Giant Joe Estevez The legendary bad movie actor plays a standard “crazy old coot” who warns the kids about Bunyan but then turns out to be sort of in league with him (I guess). Let’s upgrade to the most respected Estevez, Martin Sheen, who can re-capture some of his Spawn-era glory with a hammy turn here.

Axe Giant Martin Sheen

Dan Haggerty as Foreman Bill

Axe Giant Dan Haggerty

Foreman Bill is the guy who goes off to take a dump at the beginning of the movie after killing Babe the blue ox. We need a big, imposing brute for this role, and there’s nobody bigger or more brutish sans makeup than Ron Perlman. He’s down for anything.

Ron Perlman Axe Giant

Thomas Downy as Sgt. Hoke

Axe Giant Thomas Downey

He’s “the jerk.” The movie blew a real opportunity with this character, a guy who’s such a bastard that he makes up a song about what a bastard he is and forces everyone else to sing it. Unfortunately, Hoke just isn’t given time to blossom. This role is an opportunity for a badass actor to really ham it up and chuckle at himself, meaning it’s perfect for my long-dreamed-of Steven Seagal career revival.

Axe Giant Steven Seagal

Amber Connor as CB

Axe Giant Amber Connor

She’s “the good girl” among the no-good kids at the boot camp. This is the perfect role for a young up-and-comer who needs all the exposure she can get – think Jennifer Lawrence in Last House on the Left. As a matter of fact, hell, let’s just go with Jennifer Lawrence. It’ll give her a chance to prove that her “golly gee I’m so excited to be meeting all the big movie stars because I’m just a regular ol’ gal” routine is as genuine as we all know it isn’t.

Axe Giant Jennifer Lawrence

Tim Lovelace as Tanner

Axe Giant Tim Lovelace

He’s “the sheriff” and CB’s dad. Another of the movie’s many maybe-heroes. We need a washed-up older guy who still has convincing tough guy credentials. Call in Gary Busey before he succumbs to that stroke he’s been working on the past 20 years.

Axe Giant Gary Busey

Jesse Kove as Zack

Axe Giant Jesse Kove

He’s “the other jerk,” the sullen kid everyone hates who turns out to maybe have a bit of a heart before the end. When you think “jerk everyone hates,” you think Shia LaBoeuf, right? Yeah, I did, too. Just look at him. Jerk.

Axe Giant Shia LaBeouf

Kristina Kopf as Ms. K

Axe Giant Kristina Kopf

The goodhearted counselor who is the yang to Sgt. Hoke’s yin, Ms. K is the third member of the movie’s confusing “too many heroes” triumvirate. What we need here is an older, halfway-respectable actress who just doesn’t care anymore. Clearly, as evidenced by her role as Young Hillary Clinton in those awful-looking Divergent movies, Kate Winslet fits the bill.

Axe Giant Kate Winslet

Jill Evyn as Trish

Axe Giant Jill Evyn

She’s “the red-haired slut” and fulfills (barely) the movie’s requisite topless scene. Since she has red hair I was going to suggest replacing her with Bryce Dallas Howard

Axe Giant Bryce Dallas Howard

…but since she also shows her boobs, I’m going to go with Kat Dennings. Just… because.

Axe Giant Kat Dennings

Clifton Williams as Marty

Axe Giant Clifton Williams

We’ve come to “the black guy.” This character doesn’t do much, save for one scene where he screams and cries mournfully. Therefore, the actor most perfectly equipped to portray Marty is Will Smith’s Son. I’m not going to bother to look up his name.

Axe Giant Will Smith Son

Victoria Ramos as Rosa

Axe Giant Victoria Ramos

Again, as the cast’s requisite “non-white woman,” poor Rosa is rather neglected in the screenplay. She is Hispanic, however, and therefore we have no choice but to cast Michelle Rodriguez in the part.

Axe Giant Michelle Rodriguez

Chris Hahn as Bunyan

Axe Giant Chris Hahn

Nothing against Mr. Hahn, but we’re going to need to power up and cast Kane Hodder, a.k.a. Jason, as the monstrous mountain man.

Axe Giant Kane Hodder

I would also accept Andrew Bryniarski.

Axe Giant Andrew Bryniarski

For now, though, if you want an entertainingly bad movie with almost the exact same plot, check out Grizzly Park.

ZOMBIE MOVIE DOUBLE FEATURE – 7/21/14

Dead Snow – 2009

A ski vacation turns horrific for a group of medical students, as they find themselves confronted by an unimaginable menace*: Nazi zombies.

*I can imagine the menace pretty well.

This is one of those movies where the zombies run and make animal noises. I’m a purist: I prefer the ones that shamble and moan. It’s also a Norwegian movie, which I’ve loved since Trollhunter. There’s just something about that dialect that grabs me and won’t let go.

It was pretty hard to figure out what the characters’ names were, so I named them by their basic character traits: Cool Guy, Nerd Guy, Fat Guy, Joke Guy (males), Blond, Brunette and Hippie (females). Oh, and Cool Guy’s girlfriend, who gets killed in the first two minutes, is Sara. Everyone is heading up to Cool Guy’s cabin for generic goofing and boozing. Conveniently, a grim mountain man shows up to warn them that a ruthless gang of Nazis fled to this area with all their ill-gotten WWII booty and froze to death. Turns out that their loot (which fits into one container the size of a cigar box) is hidden right beneath the cabin. (Insert wacky trombone sound effect)

The first 45 minutes are actually pretty effective, with just the right mix of atmosphere, build-up and gore. Just a few notes: can we NOT have horror movies where the characters discuss other horror movies? Scream came out in 1996. We don’t still need to be doing it. There’s also an odd scene where the Nerd sits on the Hippie’s hands, blindfolds her, and starts to smother her with a pillow. I’m not even trying to be funny – I don’t understand the point of it. It’s almost as weird as the later scene where Cool Guy eats a sandwich that is comprised of one piece of bread and a slice of cheese.

WHAT IS THIS???

WHAT IS THIS???

The Nazi zombies use their own brand of BEAST VISION:

I'm not impressed.

I’m not impressed.

The best scene in the movie revolves entirely around the outhouse (I often find this to be the case). Fat Guy stands up, and the following dialog is heard: “I’m going for a shit.” “Best of luck!” It’s solid gold. Fat declares, “I’ll be back” in English, which sounds weird. He does his business and has time for ONE WIPE of toilet paper before Brunette enters, mounts him, and presumably does the whole deal right there on the seat. I just couldn’t get over the fact that he only wiped once. The odds were really against him getting everything on the first pass.

Unfortunately, the final 45 minutes really fall flat. When the Nazi zombies show up in force, they start to lose all their creativity. They do the “let one of the survivors see the dead friend’s head” gag, and they go to the well on the “a bunch of zombies grabs a guy and tears him apart” thing TWICE. They also appear to be brimming with fresh blood and viscera, judging by the stuff they’re constantly spewing out of their mouths. That’s odd, if they’ve been frozen up there for 70+ years.

Things jump the shark when the Boss Zombie (Orjan Gamst) shows up and starts using BINOCULARS to direct his zombie troops (including a squad of mini-boss SS zombies). Then it vaults the whale when the Boss Zombie leans back and bellows “ARISE!” to summon more zombies from the snow to help him.

...Okay.

…Okay.

In terms of overall quality, I enjoyed this Nazi-oriented feature a lot more than Captain American: The First Avenger. They actually showed swastikas in this one.

Last Love – 2013

A look at the life-changing connection between a retired and widowed* American philosophy professor and a young Parisian woman.

*And zombified.

This is one of those movies where the zombies talk. I’m a traditionalist: I like my zombies inarticulate. Then again, this is definitely not your typical zombie movie.

I have to hand it to this one: they don’t wait a second before getting down to the zombie action.

The embodiment of living death.

The embodiment of living death.

WHAM! The first shot is of our main zombie. I don’t know how they got him to do it, but Michael Caine is without a doubt the most distinguished actor to ever portray a zombie (even more than Dead Snow‘s Orjan Gamst). Our very first scene shows him crouched over his last victim (I presume). It’s apparently his wife, which really adds a tragic element to the story. He’s so intent upon trying to feast on her corpse that policemen literally have to drag him away. “I won’t leave her!” he snarls. “I won’t leave her!” Caine is truly one of our finest actors; he convinced me that he was a bloodthirsty monster.

As one might expect, Caine’s portrayal of the living dead is a little different than what we might be used to. He talks (although it’s definitely a mumble-y kind of talking), dresses himself and goes out to restaurants. I guess this is supposed to be sad, seeing the zombie still retaining enough of its humanity to go about its daily routine. The weird thing – this is a French movie, after all – is that people don’t seem phased by having a shuffling, saggy-looking old zombie in their midst. Is this a commentary on how we are all, in a sense, zombies? It’s a little over my head.

One complaint: this movie moves much too slowly. When Caine begins stalking his next victim – a young woman named Pauline – it takes him forever. He moves in with halting, awkward conversation, gaining her trust, I guess trying to lure her away on her own. But Caine appears to retain some scraps of morality – it’s almost as though he doesn’t want to kill her. You can tell he’s struggling with himself not to get too close, as though the smell of her young, vital flesh might be enough to send him over the edge.

The predator and its prey.

The predator and its prey.

There’s also an older woman that he stalks for the first third of the film, but he’s more interested in the younger Pauline. The older lady disappears eventually, and I have to conclude that Caine ate her.

This movie is a real mind-bender. Oddly, Pauline seems almost hypnotized by the specter of death constantly lurking around her. Then again, is not death itself seductive? I was on the edge of my seat for literally every scene where they were alone, wondering whether this was the moment that Caine would bite her throat out. Actually the body count was a little on the light side for a zombie film… Caine doesn’t even butcher her boyfriend.

They missed out on a lot of chances for great zombie moments. When Caine decides to shave his beard, I wanted to see him shaving off little bits of his flesh, too, and I figured the next scene would be him shambling along, blood dripping down his chin, teeth showing through his ravaged cheeks. But they really skimped on the special effects and makeup.

Make note: Last Love features the only romantic boating scene in a zombie movie.

Things really go off the rails in the second half of the film. Caine attempts suicide, but instead of blowing his brains out, he takes pills. No wonder it doesn’t work. His son and daughter show up, and it’s almost as though it becomes some sort of French absurdist comedy. I didn’t like it. The son and daughter do seem mad about Caine killing their mother (or at least they’re mad about something), but why are they so casual about the situation? They make nary an attempt to slay him. It really strains credibility.

My interest was re-awakened, however, when we see that the SON is also moving in on Pauline. Woah. What a twist, right? Even though I didn’t fully understand it – is the son supposed to be a zombie too? – I loved it. The two of them are clearly locking horns over who gets to feast on Pauline’s organs. Despite my hope for a real zombie vs. zombie battle to close things out, the ending was still touching. With what is perhaps the last vestige of his human feelings, Caine gives up his last victim – his last love, if you will – to his son. The film ends with the son escorting Pauline into the distance where, I must assume, he slaughters her.

The haunting final image of "Last Love."

The haunting final image of “Last Love.”

If you ask me, these films could have benefited from a little name swapping. Dead Snow should have become Last Snow, and Last Love should have been called Dead Love. Honestly, it would have reinforced the whole zombie aspect, which was a little hard to pick up on if you weren’t looking for it.

SASQUATCH – 6/18/14

2002 – After finding the mutilated bodies of the crew of a downed plane in a forest, a rescue party realizes there’s something deadly in the woods with them.*

*This gives away a key plot point not revealed until an hour into the movie
So, due to my five-star rating of Snow Beast, Netflix suggested that I might want to watch this one too:
Sasquatch posterOh, YELL YEAH! Look at that monster! Look at those FANGS! It looks like a cross between Julia Roberts and a werewolf! “They found the missing link… and it’s not friendly”! This is going to be INCREDIBLE!!!
Sasquatch the squatch
… dammit.
Yeah, that’s the Sasquatch. Guy with some black face paint and an out-of-control neck-beard. The best part is, you have to wait until the last minutes of the movie to even see it! Most of the time it’s just shadowy glimpses (which look nothing like that sorry dollar store rip-off costume) and ominous grunting sounds. I don’t understand it – did they blow their budget on the non-existent special effects and community theater cast? There isn’t even any hair on the arms! Could they only afford 33% of a costume?
The first sign of trouble comes within the first five minutes of the movie. I was expecting to see something called Sasquatch, but when the opening credits start to roll I saw this:
Sasquatch titleTHE UNTOLD”??? That makes it sound like a Lifetime channel Jerry Sandusky biopic. At first I thought this movie was going to do some Tarantino-style “chapter titles,” but no, apparently The Untold is the actual title of the movie. It’s appropriate, because I endured untold amounts of boredom to watch this.
The plot is this: rich guy Harlan Knowles (who everybody calls “Mr. H” – shouldn’t it be “Mr. K”?) finances a “rescue mission” because his daughter’s plane went down in the Canadian wilderness. There’s a sub-plot involving some kind of genome-mapping device or some such foolishness, but it’s halfhearted. He is accompanied by the following characters: the Nerd, the Jerk, the Whore, the Native Guide, and the Other Girl.
Two of those characters will die. Duuuuuuh, guess which ones? As the Native Guide loads up their equipment, the Jerk yells, “There’s gear in there that costs as much as your house!” Yep. He’s dead from his very first line – but if you think it’ll be a satisfyingly quick death, think again. Nobody gets knocked off until 59 minutes into the movie. The rest involves them trooping through the woods, blurry slow-motion effects, and samples of the Sasquatch’s own brand of Beast Vision:
Sasquatch beast visionFACT: no creature in the history of Earth has seen things like that. How would you be able to tell what anything is when you view the world through a photo-negative fishbowl? It’s just absurd, and the filmmakers use this technique constantly.
The whole time you think there’s a chance that Harlan’s daughter might have survived, but as the plot summary itself points out, everyone in the plane was already killed by the ‘Squatch. Why? Because when it crashed, the plane landed directly on top of its mate, which just so happened to be standing in that exact spot in IN THE MIDDLE OF THE VAST WILDERNESS. This is truly the most ridiculous plot contrivance in cinematic history. Actually, no. It’s the fact that the Sasquatch can dodge bullets. Seriously. In one scene they shoot at it, and it ducks behind a tree before the bullets can hit it. So we’re to believe that these creatures are Matrix-level fast, but can’t dodge A PLANE?
This movie was a tragedy. What a wasted opportunity! Imagine how great it would have been if, instead of searching for his daughter, Harlan’s company had decided to open some kind of luxury mountain cabin getaway in the Sasquatch’s territory? “You can’t open this monstrosity there, that’s the untouched wilderness! Think of the ecological impact!” “I can open my resort anywhere I want, I’m Harlan Knowles!”
Instead of being killed right away, his daughter could be a plucky college student interested in wildlife. The Sasquatch could be fighting to protect its home rather than brutally killing essentially innocent people. It could knock off vacationers left and right, and you wouldn’t feel bad because they’re rich. Maybe in one scene some guy could carelessly litter, tossing a soda can into the woods that rolls down a little hill and right up the the foot of the Sasquatch! Oh, shit. They find the guy’s battered corpse in a tree with the soda can stuffed in his mouth. The movie could end with a real touching moment – Harlan arrives to rescue his daughter, whom the ‘Squatch has kidnapped, and he’s going to kill the creature… until he sees an adorable baby Sasquatch and realizes that it was trying to defend its children, too. Harlan could learn an important lesson at the end, sort of like kindly old John Hammond from Jurassic Park.
But no. This is all we get. Next time I’ll write about a movie I actually liked.

Zany Miscellany

Over the past month I’ve watched a number of films and TV shows that didn’t really light my creative flame. A few brief thoughts about each of them:

GHOSTBUSTERS 2 (1989)

I remember going to see this one at my home town’s little movie theater because I got some kind of “perfect attendance” award at school.

Watching it now, it doesn’t measure up to the original Ghostbusters (1984) at all. The scene that baffles me is when they detect intense spirit activity beneath a certain street. They decide to investigate – by dressing up as construction workers, jackhammering through the street, and lowering Dan Aykroyd into the sewers on a winch. Was that the most efficient plan they could come up with? Where’d they get the equipment? Where’d they get the costumes? Did they think nobody would notice?

TUCKER AND DALE VS. EVIL (2010)

This is sort of The Man Who Knew Too Little of horror movies – a couple of well-intentioned mountain folk are on vacation at a remote cabin, and a bunch of college kids get slaughtered in a series of hilarious-yet-deadly misunderstandings. One of the hillbillies tries to explain it to a suspicious police officer: “There we were minding our own business, just doing chores around the house, when kids started… killing themselves all over my property!”

The horror genre (and slasher films in particular) has been deconstructed and parodied endlessly. It would almost be shocking to see one that doesn’t wink at the audience the whole time. The next revolution in horror movies may be making movies that are actually scary again.

SCANDAL (2012)

My main takeaway from the first episode of this series is that Olivia Pope is tough. Like, really tough. She’s a no-nonsense working lady. She has to carry her balls in a wheelbarrow. She out-maneuvers Russian mobsters. She brushes her teeth with a grill brush. She solves murders. She drinks ipecac straight with no chaser. She tells the President to wait for her.  She created Napster and bitcoin and knows what really happened to Flight 370.

I had to object to one scene, though. When Olivia confronts the President about lying to her, he does the slow “I’m going to kiss you” approach, backing her into a corner (insert requisite Bill Clinton reference). She says, “Do not touch me. Don’t touch me. Please don’t…” He touches her. Then they breathe heavily into each others faces for a few seconds and kiss. Then she tries to get away and he does it again. I know that, as viewers, we’re supposed to find this “hot” and “seductive,” but to me it seemed… how should I say it?… rape-y. In the extreme, actually.

Again, I know that, as viewers, we’re supposed to think, “Oh, well, she’s saying not to touch her, but secretly she’s attracted to him and wants him to.” That’s obviously what the President thinks. So it’s okay to force yourself on someone if you’re convinced they secretly mean the opposite of what they say. It seemed like a pretty murky message for a show with such a strong female lead.

MONSTERS (2010)

When I turn on a movie called “Monsters” that purports to be about two people lost in an area swarming with giant alien monsters, there are a number of things I don’t want to have happen. I don’t want there to be a lot of shaky camera-work that makes it hard to tell what’s happening. I don’t want there to be some cheesy message about how people are the “real” monsters. I don’t want to go through 45 minutes of the movie without seeing any monsters. I don’t want to see only a couple blurry shots of the cheap CGI monsters until the very end. I don’t want there to be interminable scenes where the lead characters talk about anything BUT the monsters. I don’t want the lead characters to die at the end, making all that development pointless.

Monsters does all these things. Do not see Monsters.

ROOM 237 (2012)

This was supposedly a documentary about the “meaning” of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (which was based on a book by Stephen King [which pretty plainly reveals the meaning of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining]).

One guy claims it was about the slaughter of the Indians. His proof: there is a picture of an Indian in the hotel. Another guy thinks that secret information will be revealed by playing the movie forward while superimposing the movie playing backward on top of it. A female critic… I don’t know, she shows off some maps she made of the hotel and thinks that a certain window couldn’t have been where the movie shows it to be. But the craziest one of all is the guy who not only thinks that Kubrick helped the U.S. government fake the moon landing, but that the movie is his hidden commentary on the inner turmoil he experienced in keeping this fact a secret from his wife. My only regret (other than watching this film) is that I was not high while watching this film.

There is a guy named Geoffery Cocks in it. Yes, I laughed.

The King’s Speech – 3/19/14

2010 – Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Screenplay, Best Directing and Best Lead Actor

Now, I’ve seen John Wayne’s The Cowboys, and in that movie John Wayne cures a kid’s stutter by yelling at him and getting the kid to yell back and swear. Boom! Stutter is gone, and the kid stands there crying and going, “I did it! I did it!” It took maybe two minutes, freeing up precious time for action, adventure, and the adorable kids dragging Bruce Dern to death behind a horse.

But in this movie, speech therapist Captain Hector Barbossa (Jeffery Rush) doesn’t cure the stutter of King George VI (Colin Farrell) in 118 minutes of screen time, OR in the several years over which the movie takes place. He gives him some pointers, has him do exercises, and talks about his childhood, but at the end of the movie the King gives a speech that still isn’t very good. Maybe he got better afterward, but we don’t get to see it.

The other thing that bothered me was that this had the flavor of a “buddy” movie like Lethal Weapon: You’ve got the stiff, pompous King and the goofy, eccentric Barbossa. It’s perfect. But they miss so many great moments that could have improved the film. There isn’t a single scene where Barbossa makes a crack about how all the guys at the office are attracted to the King’s wife or daughter. The King doesn’t once bellow, “Will you cut that out!” There’s no character called “the Chief.”

The movie does have TWO “buddies have a fight” scenes, but neither one ends up with them getting into a fistfight a la Rowdy Roddy Piper and Keith David in They Live. When the King finds out that Barbossa isn’t technically a doctor, the Captain gets him really riled up. I was thinking that a Cowboys moment was incoming. Maybe they were going to start throwing haymakers right in the middle of Westminster Abbey and the scene would end with them bloody and battered, clothing torn, but gradually breaking into chuckles and giving each other big manly hugs. The whole thing would have been a gambit by Barbossa to get the King to express himself. But nothing like that happens.

Another “buddy” movie moment they missed was sticking it to the Archbishop, who should ideally have been played by Shooter McGavin or the jerk reporter from Die Hard. He actively sabotages their friendship, and in the end he gets away with it. I think there needed to be a scene where Barbossa’s kids run amok in Westminster. The Archbishop could get so frustrated that HE starts to stutter, and Barbossa has to cure him. Sort of like when the chief elf gets a toothache in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Another thing I kept hoping for was for Winston Churchill to have a farting scene. Really, the actor didn’t look a thing like Churchill. He was more like super fat Alfred Hitchcock. Looking at him, you could just feel that, at any moment, he’d let loose. Just to prove that he’s a down-to-earth, likable guy. He could have done it when Neville Chamberlain was standing behind him at the end. The room would go silent for a moment, and Churchill would say over his shoulder, “Sorry about that, old boy,” and Chamberlain would do a slow burn because it reeks like Hell and cigar smoke.

The scene that really got me thinking was when the King sees a newsreel of Hitler giving a speech. You can tell that, even though he’s a Nazi bastard, the King envies Hitler’s speaking ability. The movie should have ended with a speech-off between the two characters. Hitler would really mop the floor with the King, but while he’s gloating, the King politely taps him on the shoulder, turns him around, and beats the shit out of him. He could say something like, “Make a speech about that, you Nazi s-s-s-son of a bitch.” Then – forget about the Archbishop – Hitler gets a stutter because he can’t believe a weak Englishman beat him. He can’t give any more Nazi rally speeches for the rest of the war, so England gets the upper hand and wins.

I find it hard to believe this movie won an Oscar for “Best Screenplay” when it missed so many golden opportunities.