A riffing good time (and a review of “Starship Troopers”)

The Thinker by Rodin

If you are going to watch a bad movie, why not do it with laughs and commentary? It’s hardly a new idea but it sort of went away in 1999 when Mystery Science Theater 3000 died on what was then the Sci-Fi Channel. You may have slept through the 1990s if you don’t remember Joel Hodgson (1989 – 1993) and later Michael Nelson (1993 – 1999) and his crew of compatriot robots (Tom Servo, Crow and Gypsy) endlessly “riffing” (making fun of) bad movies from their “space station” usually parked on Comedy Central. You basically saw their silhouettes in the foreground while some dreadful movie generally from 1960 or earlier played in the background. Their wisecracking “live” commentary was usually great fun, and the films they “riffed” tended to be crap that the original producers didn’t care were riffed, mainly because they were now dead.

It had a good ten-year run but it definitely became less entertaining when Hodgson left the show and Nelson took up his slack. You can still find MST3K (as it is commonly known to its fans) online at the Rifftrax site. Rather than ripping off these riffs, devoted fans will get the DVDs instead, including whole seasons.

Or if you are more interested in the personalities than in the robots and the silly staged setting aboard a space station, you can watch Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy at your local theater instead. No you don’t watch them perform live, unless you are lucky enough to be in a city where they do this, but you can see their shows streamed live at many local theaters. You can also see rebroadcasts courtesy of Fathom Events. That’s what we did last night with maybe a hundred others (mostly local college kids) at our local Cineplex in Hadley, Massachusetts, where we enjoyed a rebroadcast of their 2013 riff of Starship Troopers (1997).

In some ways I do miss the robots because the personalities behind MST3K are now fifty-plus with bellies that generally precede them, often by a considerable amount. Their funding comes from devoted fans that sponsored their Kickstarter campaign. Presumably they also make money from these remote broadcasts. Seeing these riffs in a theater actually is better than seeing them alone, as you are more likely to laugh along. The tickets were a bit pricey ($12.50 each for us) but well worth the price of admission. This rebroadcast was typical: Mike, Bill and Kevin provided commentary in pop up windows on the right side of the screen whilst the movie occupied the rest of the screen.

Many of these bad movies can stand by themselves as stinkers without the commentary. That was certainly the case with Starship Troopers. I would have preferred to see it first without the commentary, then have gone back to see it with the commentary. Wow! Starship Troopers is really quite a stinker, and that’s not just because of all the oversized bugs that get dismembered! Allegedly based on the novel by the late Robert Heinlein, this is a movie only Donald Trump could love. That’s because with a few exceptions it stars an all-Aryan cast of trim and handsome men and puffed-lipped beauties with flawless skin, mostly blondes. You get an odd combination of “talent” like Jake Busey as Ace Levy with his famous spiked Marine haircut, Neil Patrick Harris as Carl, Casper Van Dien as Johnny Rico (perhaps the central character) and Dina Meyer as Dizzy who ends up in Johnny’s squad fighting together.

It’s hard to know when this convoluted plot is supposed to take place, but it’s presumably at least a hundred years in the future. The “federation” (our world government, with a vaguely Nazi-like symbol) is apparently at war with distant bugs from other worlds. We send vast spaceships across the cosmos to do battle with them, but for the most part we send in storm troopers to dry class M planets who use machine guns at close range to destroy these oversized insects. Strangely enough, fighting in these wars seems to be optional, as is the case for our young heroes here, who fight to kill bugs and to become “citizens” as opposed to being a lesser boring “civilian”.

What you get in this movie is weird vision of the future, shot in 1997 that epically fails to imagine what the future will look like. We still play football, but in indoor gyms with silver footballs where they keep score on 1990s technology dot matrix clocks. There are weird scenes of kids stomping on insects, Dizzy losing her lunch during biology class, where students dissect the insects from other worlds. Rue McClanahan in there in a bit part as their teacher wearing weird looking sunglasses. You also get an odd scene where teacher, also a veteran, points with the stub of his arm.

You get a space opera that basically makes no sense, but with tons of gore and CGI. These new recruits are off for the ride of their abbreviated lives, and that’s because most of them will end up dead with insect stingers through their innards. I’ll stick to being a civilian, thank you. You get a planet Earth apparently overwhelmingly Caucasian, even in Buenos Aires where the flaxen haired Johnny is apparently from. Given their short mortality, one can at least rise quickly in rank. It helps if you don’t mind seeing lots of dismembered storm troopers or having your brains sucked out by these insects.

The plot basically makes no sense at all. Carmen (Denise Richards) wants to be a spaceship pilot but I guess they haven’t invented shields yet. Worse, all these spacecraft stay in close proximity to each other, so they are frequently crashing into each other. Their tactics for defeating the bugs make no sense. It’s clear their machine guns are not quite up to the task and only occasionally does their air force (space force?) drop a bomb. A brave trooper will occasionally get an opportunity to lob a grenade down a bug’s throat, but mostly they are dismembered or pierced long before then. The bugs sure look lethal, but not so much if you are pretty. At the end of the movie Carmen gets a stinger through the chest but walks away firing back.

So Starship Troopers can stand on its own and doesn’t need the riffers, but the MST3K crew keeps the one line commentaries coming so quickly it’s hard to appreciate just how appalling this movie actually is. So lesson learned. Next time I got to one of these events, I’ll try to see the movie first and then enjoy the movie with the riff, its own special art form worthy of enjoyment.

And we’re likely to be going frequently as they release a new movie riff or a rebroadcast about once a month. It’s a highly entertaining way to spend an evening with fellow bad movie compatriots and an opportunity to get out of the house. Fathom Events is clearly exploring a new revenue model for movie theaters that might just give live events some competition to these bloated Hollywood features.

Review: Ishtar (1987)

The Thinker by Rodin

We like the occasional bad movie and Ishtar has a certain reputation in this category. The problem was for years I could not find it. Netflix did not rent it. It stayed in my queue for years. This movie about two terribly bad and tone-deaf songwriters (played by Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman) getting a singing gig in Morocco sounded unique enough to sample, despite its reputed extreme stench. And then finally there it was on Netflix and I could stream it anytime I wanted to. Nonetheless it took a few weeks before we found the time and the motivation to sit down together in front of our entertainment center for this special “entertainment”.

Well!

My goodness!

Yes, Ishtar is a bad movie. But it’s the worst kind of bad movie. It’s not the kind that you can laugh at. It’s the kind of bad movie that feels like someone is jamming steel spikes into your head as you watch it. You have to wonder how many people simply walked out of the theater after the first fifteen minutes when this was in the theaters. (My guess is all but a handful.) Both my wife and I kept exchanging glances during this movie. We like a bad movie, but a “bad bad” movie? Our thumbs hovered over the stop button on our remote for most of the movie, but somehow we made it to the end. However, we could not endure the credits, which had we watched them probably would have been the only good part of the movie.

So no wonder this movie had been hard to find. It was likely that Beatty and Hoffman, when they saw the result, went on a vendetta to keep the movie from being seen at all, let alone make its way to video. Strangely, they both survived their debacles in this movie. Presumably those that subsequently hired them forgave them or (more likely) never saw the movie.

Thus truly you can skip this movie too with no feelings of regret that you missed some sort of classic bad movie. There are so many other candidates out there to enjoy, including my favorite bad movie made three years earlier and starring Tanya Roberts: the immortal Sheena where for 117 minutes you can enjoy an attractive blonde woman cavorting around the jungles of Africa on a horse painted to look like a zebra. If you do choose to rent Ishtar here’s some of what to expect. Warning: you may not be able to finish this review because just recapturing it is likely to make you feel the pain we endured for its 107 minutes.

The movie is all about Lyle (Beatty) and Chuck (Hoffman) and their collaboration as “songwriters”. They both have the itch but unfortunately neither has the least bit of talent. Neither of them can sing either. So it’s the worst of both worlds: songs or snippets of songs that make your teeth grate echoed by voices that would make you sound brilliant singing Karaoke. Truly, it’s like fingernails on a chalkboard, except while that lasts just a few seconds at most, this just goes on and on.

And their “characters” are the worst sort of pathetic excuses for human beings. You find yourself hoping they’ll get run over by a bus, or that someone will murder them so they don’t reproduce. Both Lyle and Chuck feel washed up, as they are middle aged (both Beatty and Hoffman were 50 at the time) which makes it hard to find an agent to market their “songs”. They hound a third rate talent agent played by David Margulies who finds them a number of very unattractive gigs. You know he’s a bad agent because no agent in their right mind would book these two for anything, so he is as talent deaf as they are tone deaf. Their choices are two very underpaying gigs: one in Guatemala and the other in Morocco. They choose Morocco because there is no civil insurrection going on there. Or so they think.

There is the CIA in Morocco, however. Emir Yousef (Aharon Ipalé) is busy doing what a lot of emirs do in that area: oppressing his citizens through martial law for his profit and he uses CIA agent Jim Harrison (Charles Grodin) to facilitate his dirty work because, well, communism! Nuff said. His subjects though are feeling rebellious, and that includes Shirra (Isabelle Adjani), a Muslim woman showing so little skin that both Chuck and Lyle assume she is a he. This leads to some painful to watch scenes, including one where Lyle frisks her and discovers “he” has breasts but he can’t put it together that he is a she.

Somehow Chuck gets recruited by Jim to be a CIA agent but what the Emir really wants is them dead, because Chuck sort of likes Shirra, to the point where at her direction he goes to find a man who will sell him a blind camel. This leads to scenes in the desert where they are supposedly going to find an oasis, but they are basically being sent into the desert to die, with a blind and recalcitrant camel. Much more really bad dialog between Chuck and Lyle happens in the desert, not to mention more explicit attempts to kill them by air. First though they have to do their act, and the tourists are apparently tone-deaf too and lacking in even a modicum of discernment to realize they are wretched. They applaud and Chuck and Lyle think they are a hit.

So if this is your idea of a comedy or entertainment, please go ahead and rent it. You may be the first human being to actually like the movie. This is pretty much the plot, such as it is, and it’s so thin it’s hard to understand how it was stretched out to 107 excruciating minutes until you realize it was padded with more and more heaping doses of excruciatingly bad dialog between these two talentless jerks.

I’ve never rated a movie a zero before. Trust me: this qualifies. It has no redeeming qualities whatsoever, not even a moment of humor that is even a tiny bit funny. Basically it is an intensely painful experience. It must have been equally painful to make, and it’s a wonder it made it into the theaters at all, however briefly.

Yech! Make that double yech! Avoid! Avoid! Avoid!

Rating: ☆☆☆☆ 

Review: Noah

The Thinker by Rodin

I was going to say this is a whale of a tale, but that would be a movie about Jonah. You may say to yourself after thirty minutes, water I doing here. You might also ask yourself what planet this Bible story takes place on because it doesn’t much resemble the Earth as we know it. Bible purists probably aren’t going to like it. The Muslims are being told not to see it. Atheists and skeptics will have a good chuckle wondering how any sane person could honestly believe this cockamamie story. And if the story of Noah, his ark and getting two of every animal species on it was not unbelievable enough, director Darren Aronofsky throws in some alien fallen angels that look like a cross between transformers and those rock critters from Galaxy Quest. At least they have cool glowing eyes.

Noah is some weird mixture of science fiction and fantasy, on some parallel Earth perhaps. This presentation should be enough to keep both devout and skeptic away. It is all done with such ponderous seriousness that you feel kind of guilty if you think the whole thing is really quite goofy. After a while you might react like I did which was, What the heck, I paid $10 to see this movie, so I might as well get my money’s worth and Just how did they convince Russell Crowe to play Noah? (Likely they waved a lot of money under his nose.)

Skeptics like me believe most Bible stories are myths anyhow, which makes it all the more puzzling that so many Christians believe the Bible is the inerrant word of God. There are a lot of myths to choose from in the Bible, including the preposterous story of Jonah, but the Noah myth also refuses to die too. Christians though are likely to have a hard time with this interpretation. It goes far afield from anything in the Bible and leaves you with so many questions. For example, at the start of the movie the earth is pretty much a barren place: no water, no plant life to speak of, the descendants of Cain pretty much rule the known world, and yet the scrappy Noah, his wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly) and his various offspring and adopted offspring (including Emma Watson as Ila and Logan Lerman as Ham) somehow get by, wear clothing, find food to eat in a barren world (what are they eating, the lichen?) and somehow drink tea too.

The earth sure is an ugly place, but since it is occupied mostly by Cain’s descendants, it sort of fits, because they are a wicked lot, so wicked they’ve developed some decent technology, not bad for 10,000 B.C. or so. Noah and his small family are pretty much what’s left of the good side of Adam and Eve’s extended family. It’s amazing they survived with all the marauding brigands running around. No wonder with all the stress that Noah is getting visions: the Creator is warning of catastrophic floods and wants him to build an ark to keep the animals safe until the evil can literally be washed away. It’s time for Man, Version 2 and that’s Noah and his family, except Noah seems to get his signals crossed. At least this is true once his ark is afloat. Noah gets it in his head that they are not supposed to procreate either: Earth must be left to the innocent and sinless animals. And then his adopted daughter Ila, supposedly infertile due to belly wounds, gets pregnant. (And it must have been a fast pregnancy, because didn’t the voyage last just forty days and forty nights?) Noah becomes convinced that God is telling him to commit some infanticide once she delivers. It must have been PTSD from building that ark or something, because Noah is really at loose ends.

At least some things make a little sense. Those fallen angels sure are convenient, as is the seed given to him by his grandfather Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins) from the Garden of Eden. The seed starts a convenient forest, which provides plenty of lumber to build his ark and the fallen angels provide a lot of grunt labor and help protect Noah and his family from the encroaching hordes of Cain, overseen by a “king”, Tubal-Cain played by Ray Winstone. Tubal-Cain sure adds some excitement because he becomes a stowaway on the ark somehow. Yeah, I know it’s not in the Bible, but artistic license is allowed, even with Bible stories. Noah’s direction by God to kill his grandchildren was left out too.

The result is that Noah is a WTF sort of cinematic experience, all so deadly serious but still sort of cartoonish and easy to lampoon. Most puzzling of all is how the producers sold investors on this preposterous interpretation. It must be doing well enough since it’s taken in $178M worldwide so far at a cost of $125M to produce. The question is: why? The acting is decent if not a bit over the top sometimes, the special effects are great but the story is, well, quite a head scratcher. At least we get an Old Testament God. This was the angry God before God Version 2 arrived in the New Testament, in new garments, and all universal and lovey dovey. I must say I like God Version 2 better.

Noah thus is best viewed for what it is: entertainment. The less you know about the Bible and his story the more you are likely to enjoy it. But your audience may be like ours: a handful of people who when the credits finally arrived were scratching their heads and wondering why we went to see this movie in the first place.

However, if you like mindless entertainment with lots of gaping plot holes and you take your Bible with a bit of science fiction (after all, Ezekiel saw the wheel, a UFO?) it might be worth your time. I suspect most of you will be like our audience: sheepishly walking out of the theater and hoping that no one we know saw us.

In short, Noah is a bit of a turkey of a movie, but a tasty one. 2.8 on my four-point scale.

Rating: ★★¾☆ 

Second Viewing: Mommie Dearest (1981)

The Thinker by Rodin

There is something mesmerizing about those high eyebrows, artificially extended with makeup far up the forehead. The eyebrows hold a prominent part themselves in this cult classic movie, about the life of the actress Joan Crawford as seen through the jaded eyes of her adopted daughter Christina. They should really get top billing because they look surreal and quite frankly, make Joan Crawford look stunningly unattractive. Watching the movie Mommie Dearest again after thirty years (so long ago that I was unpartnered at the time), I had simply forgotten those mesmerizing eyebrows.

The autobiography by Christina Crawford that the movie was based on turned into an unexpected bestseller in the late 1970s, which made the movie based on the book a highly anticipated event. In the movie, actress Faye Dunaway portrayed the late Joan Crawford as an aging and fading Hollywood star. And what a job she does! Dunaway’s performance is unforgettable, not in a good way, but in a “grab you by the shoulders and shake you until you feel faint and fall on the floor” sort of way. Director Frank Perry must have been mesmerized by Dunaway too, who five years earlier made a star for herself in the blockbuster Network. It’s a director’s job to push an actor when needed or hold her back when necessary. Dunaway desperately needed to be held back in this movie. Instead we get a raw Dunaway playing a cleanliness-obsessed control freak Joan Crawford. The portrayal is so over the top that there is no way the real Joan Crawford could possibly have been this angry and this emotionally abusive.

At first Paramount tried to market the film as a drama, but when it went through previews it became apparent that a new marketing strategy was needed. For the most part audiences were stupefied by Dunaway’s runaway performance and eventually started laughing at them. So Paramount framed the movie as a comedy. Over time, the movie morphed into a cult classic that thirty years later has lost none of its peculiar charm. It never became quite the hit that The Rocky Horror Picture Show did, but for a while after the film itself faded from memory it could be found on midnight showings generally near college campuses. Patrons would show up in Christina Crawford dresses, often bringing wire hangers to dangle during the famous wire hanger scene, and sometimes paper mache axes. Axes? Yes, in just one of many memorable scenes, this one in her garden after learning her contract had been canceled by MGM, in the middle of the night Crawford cuts down a tree in her garden while making Christina and her adopted brother Christopher watch. The classic line? “Tina, bring me the axe!!!”

Thankfully for bad movie buffs, the film is full of moments like this, with my favorite near the end when she tells the board of directors of Pepsi Cola, “Don’t f*** with me, fellas!” Yes, child abuse is just one of Crawford’s way of letting off a little steam, and there is plenty of child abuse to observe. Normally watching incidents like this would leave you feeling sick or shaken, but they are so over the top that it is hard not to laugh instead. Curiously, while you hear lots of crying and wailing from Christina and Christopher in these scenes, it occurs mostly off camera.

The plot gets curiouser when Christina becomes a teenager and Joan ships her off to boarding school. Some innocent kissing with a boy at the school sends Joan ballistic, and Christina is shipped off to a nunnery while Joan suffers through a number of relationships, only one of them results in marriage. When Joan isn’t ranting and raving, playing psychological tug of war with Christina, or feeding her own vanity, she is obsessively cleaning pretty much anything, or she is busy drowning her feelings in alcohol and cigarettes. When as an adult Christina makes a modest name for herself in a soap opera, then has to have an ovarian cyst removed, big mama insists on stepping in to her role on the soap opera, just for a while, until she heals. You just want to hide under a rock during that scene. Apparently the child abuse of poor Christina extended even into adulthood.

Just wow! The result is a movie that is so over the top that it is something of a jaw-dropping hoot, a huge and garish fireworks show for cinemagoers to revel in. While Dunaway generally gets all the camera time, Diana Scarwid’s portrayal of Christina is also memorable. Her adoptive mother seems to be rubbing off on her. At the end of the movie when Christina and Christopher realize she left them nothing in her will, her brother states that she got the last word, as always. Suddenly we see a twitchy look in Christina’s eye. You can see her starting to pen the biography in her mind.

Bad movie fanatics, if you haven’t seen Mommie Dearest, you simply must! It remains a classic in its genre, every bit as bad, if not more so, than any review you can read about it. Rent it.

Review: The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988)

The Thinker by Rodin

Perhaps this twenty-year-old plus movie could be more accurately called, “The Unbearable Duress of 151 Minutes of Watching This Film.”

Granted, if you do make it to the end there is a whole lot of terrific eye candy to help pass the time. For the ladies, there is Daniel Day-Lewis as Tomas, a brilliant Czech brain surgeon who you get to see mostly naked during his many, many lovemaking scenes. There is even better news for men, or anyone attracted to the female form. Because Tomas is very generous with his passion, and he enjoys getting to know as many attractive women in the biblical sense as possible, even after he is technically married. Two big loves of Tomas get plenty of screen time either partially or fully undressed and I must say both Sabina (Lena Olin) and Tereza (Juliette Binoche) are stunning in and out of their clothes. Who needs porn when you can drool over such exquisitely beautiful women? There is even a sort of lesbian scene between them near the end of the movie, which, I’m sorry, just does not work. However, I do like to see two women getting naked and seducing each other, I just expected it would more likely be on a porn site.

If The Unbearable Lightness of Being had been marketed as a movie about a satyr bedding as many women in the 9-10 scale as possible, perhaps I would have a higher opinion of the movie. Alas, no, this is a movie with pretensions. It begins in Czechoslovakia just before the Russian invasion in August of 1968. All is fine for Tomas, who is not only a brilliantly successful surgeon but has his choice of any woman he meets, who instantly fall for him. Then the Russian Army inconveniently invades his country and the movie is supposed to get all serious.

Only it doesn’t really get serious. The Russian occupation is something of a tangent to the main theme, which is Tomas’ bed hopping and infidelity. Can Tomas really get serious about any woman? Indeed, he can, just as long as she does not expect fidelity. This becomes a real problem for Tereza, a barkeep at a resort he visits who naturally falls madly in love with and convinces him to marry her. Nor can Sabina keep her body off his once he has a ring on his finger. Neither can any of the women, once he looks at them with his dark and sexy eyes. Whether his country is or is not being occupied, whether living under the yoke of oppression or in freedom in nearby Switzerland, Tomas simply has to keep poking women. That’s what he does. He just loves everything about women, except I guess respecting their feelings for fidelity. Oddly, though with all that messing around, he never makes anyone pregnant.

Perhaps in the hands of a better director (although Philip Kaufman does not usually turn out dreck) this movie could have worked. Unfortunately, casting Daniel Day-Lewis as Tomas was a really bad choice because while Day-Lewis can look stunningly handsome, when the part requires something other than a dazed, gosh aren’t I lucky to be bedding so many beautiful women look, he cannot deliver. All he can do is be an exceptional surgeon, bed beautiful women and keep a half sincere smile on his face, even when Russian tanks are rolling down his street. The film is supposed to show Tomas growing as a human being, but Day-Lewis never delivers. It is all implied, you just never see it or feel it. Instead, you realize Tomas is a very vapid human being, which I doubt is what comes out in the book. After a while you have to pity the women he seduces, for while they are under his spell any common sense they have goes right out the window.

So, if you watch this movie you may well find yourself reacting much like me, “What the hell?” What was the point of making this movie? Granted, spending nearly three hours seeing stunningly beautiful women either partially or fully naked is not a bad use of my time, I just got the impression that there was supposed to be more to this movie than eye candy.

Despite attempts to make us think there is more than this, there is not. The film would make great soft-core pornography. Leave the sex scenes in and take the rest out and both the men and the women would be happy. It’s all that other stuff in between the sex scenes simply does not work, like those odd scenes of his farmer friend who carries around a pet pig.

I have to assume that the book the movie is based on has a lot more merit than the film, so if given the choice read the book and skip the movie unless you find yourself alone and need to get off. If so there will be plenty of licentious behavior by extremely beautiful people to light your fire.

2.5 on my four-point scale.

Review: Suburban Sasquatch (2004)

The Thinker by Rodin

How bad can a movie be in the 21st century? It can be so bad that you, who probably never tried to write or direct anything, can make something better than the 2004 direct to video “movie” Suburban Sasquatch.

With a movie this bad it is hard to know if it was made intentionally bad or whether the auteur behind the film Dave Wascavage may have honestly thought he had a gift for writing and directing horror movies. I think I can safely say that Hollywood will not be calling Dave Wascavage. One thing is for sure: the movie has Dave’s fingerprints all over it. It is full of various friends of Dave, none of whom are actors. It is also full of Dave’s relatives, including his grandmother. Dave is also in his own movie in at least two roles, one as a fisherman who ends up on his backside in a creek and later on wearing a ridiculous blond wig that I suspect he borrowed from grandma. It is written, produced, directed and has very “special” effects by Dave Wascavage. Seriously the scroll at the end has Dave’s name in most of the credits. Suburban Sasquatch is something bordering on genius on how to create a myopic, intensely bad “film”. In short, if you are a bad movie buff, you had better try to get it. And yes, you can rent it from Netflix.

Wascavage is apparently vying to be the Edward D. Wood of 21st century auteur cinema. Wood, as dreadful as his films like Plan 9 from Outer Space and Glen or Glenda were, at least had some general sense of direction. For example, in any scene the director draws an imaginary line across the scene. The camera stays on one side of the line. This is to prevent the viewer from getting confused, for example, having person A on the left side of the frame in one shot and on the right side in another. Wascavage obviously never studied cinema, so he feels free to confuse the viewer. Naturally, Wascavage was also the cinematographer. So you end up with very unusual camera framings. For example, if a person were looking stage right, most cinematographers would frame the actor on the left. Wascavage though throws convention out the window and feels free to put the person on the right side of the frame looking right while leaving a whole lot of nothing on the left of the frame.

Perhaps Wascavage was channeling director Phil Tucker who in 1953 released the turgid dreck Robot Monster on unsuspecting cinemagoers. In Robot Monster, we had a guy wearing a gorilla suit who was supposed to be an alien from outer space. You could tell from the space helmet on his head. In Suburban Sasquatch we have Sasquatch as a guy in a gorilla suit as well, except his mouth never moves. Sasquatch only says one thing, which sounds sort of like “roar” kind of garbled in a couple of changing pitches.

Wascavage did all of his own special effects so we get really crappy effects, such as of a car window being digitally shattered. His tightly edited sequences, such as you can see in the video insert, demonstrate that even the most basic aspects of directing are blithely ignored. As Sasquatch unexpectedly assaults a car, we see sequences of the car both moving and the car standing still.

The blood and guts effects in the movie are hilariously awful. They are so fake that not even a preschooler would be fooled. Sasquatch is really good at ripping off people’s limbs. When he rips off a guy’s arm, it is painfully obvious the real arm is stuffed under the guy’s coat. The limbs clearly come off a mannequin. You can tell from the pins in the socket joints.

As for the acting, there is none, of course. Sue Lynn Sanchez as the Indian Talla at least sounds sincere and speaks coherently. Dialog is rambling, frequently improvised and rarely makes much sense. There are times when the actors seem to be reading from an off camera script. As for plot, well, apparently Sasquatch decides to terrorize areas in suburban Pennsylvania where Wascavage lives because that’s what he does, except it is not the least bit terrorizing. Moreover, this Sasquatch can fade between visible and invisible. Bullets seem to have no effect on him. It takes the brave Indian woman Talla, wearing a short skirt and living, not in a teepee, but in a cheap tent from Wal-Mart in someone’s back yard, to hunt down Sasquatch with her spear and magic helmet, er, sorry, wrong cartoon, her bow and arrow, that looks like it was bought from Toys R Us.

The plot comes with an intrepid reporter who is constantly berated by his editor. It also includes a sheriff who moved to Pennsylvania to escape a Sasquatch that had been terrorizing his old neighborhood. Who could make this up? It makes absolutely no sense, but nothing about this movie makes any sense. It is laughingly bad in every respect, but perhaps it reaches its nadir with the dialog, which is rambling and rarely makes much in the way of sense.

This is essentially a movie made by a guy using any relative, friend and casual acquaintance he can con into “acting” for the price of a few beers. To call it amateur is to praise it. I have seen amateur movies and amateur theater and sometimes amateur can be good, or at least have good spots. (The Blair Witch Project comes to mind.) Nothing about this movie is commendable.

Like Craigslist Casual Encounters, it is a complete waste of time. However, it is instructive into just how badly some piece of crap like this can be made. It fails spectacularly on every single level.

I am really hoping this was made to be a bad movie. If so, Wascavage is a genius, but it feels too authentic to be a deliberately made “bad” movie. Watch the extras on the DVD and see Dave’s grandmother explain her role. It sure sounds like it was done with some pretense that it might ascend from the gutter. If only it were good enough for the gutter. This “movie” really rests in the sewer.

If you are a fan of bad movies like we are, you should definitely see it. If you are looking for an excuse to get drunk and laugh, Suburban Sasquatch will do the trick. Otherwise, anything you can do will be a better use of your time, and this includes picking your nose.

My thanks to my nephew Ryan for introducing me to Suburban Sasquatch. It appears that there is a genetic predisposition for bad movies in my family that has been passed down to the latest generation.

Review: Cthulhu (2007)

The Thinker by Rodin

Word among my wife’s circle of friends was that the 2007 movie Cthulhu was wretchedly bad. If you are bad movie fanatics like we are, this was reason to place the movie on our Netflix queue. No question about it, Cthulhu is a stinker of a movie. However, it languishes somewhere between mediocre and abysmal. I have seen much worse than this, but certainly not recently.

Perhaps I would rate this clunker lower if it were not that some of the actors actually seem to be trying. Jason Cottle plays Russ, a reputedly brilliant university professor in the Pacific Northwest who is reluctantly drawn home because of the untimely passing of his mother. That and there is the small matter that Armageddon is at hand. While we see him driving home to the funeral, we hear on the radio all these terrible things about the end of the world, like rising sea levels and global anarchy. Not much of it is actually borne out on film though because that would, like, cost money, although the budget was big enough to include one overturned car.

Russ turns out to be gay, which is fine by him, but not so fine with his weird dysfunctional family. Russ’s domineering father is particularly unhappy with his sexual orientation but as we learn later it is not because he is particularly homophobic. Nor does he seem particularly broken up by the passing of his spouse. Russ’s sister Dannie (Cara Buono) tries to play family peacemaker, but everyone at the old homestead seems very concerned about Russ passing on his DNA to another generation. That’s pretty hard when the idea of making love to a woman gives you the hives.

Russ does find himself rather curious when one evening he sees a row of hooded priests, looking like they came out of The Da Vinci Code, climbing out of boats and into an old warehouse along the wharf. Curiosity leads him inside where he finds outlined on chalk on the floor the names of many of the townspeople. What could it possibly mean other than they were being cheap? Should we care?

For someone who seems to want to rush back to academia he seems to ask many questions and spends inordinate amounts of time in and under creepy warehouses. Part of his motivation for hanging around is to catch up with an old family friend, whom he conveniently seduces. Through his friend, he learns about a mysterious book that could explain all the weird things going on in town. A clerk at a convenience store warns him to stay away from the old warehouse by the wharf. However, if he is crazy enough to investigate the place would be please look for her younger brother who disappeared some years earlier?

It turns out what Russ really has to worry about is Tori Spelling. Tori plays Susan, the friend who allegedly harbors the old book that explains the weird things Russ is witnessing. Tori’s presence in a movie is almost an imprimatur of its badness. She is sort of like Adrienne Barbeau’s was in movies a few decades back, and she comes with Barbeau’s ample cleavage. Susan has a husband who is conveniently paraplegic and sterile. In fact, his visit is a setup because Susan is on a mission to become impregnated. Of course not just anyone will do, as we learn later. It’s got to be Russ.

So Susan plays the role of hussy. This one seduction scene is very strange and is perhaps the comic highlight of this lowlife movie, rendering what is probably the silliest scene filmed in the last decade. Fortunately for bad movie buffs, there is plenty more here to wallow over. The movie is tangentially related to H.P. Lovecraft’s horror stories wherein Cthulhu apparently is a pulpy, tentacled head surmounted a grotesque scaly body with rudimentary wings. No such critter is manifested here of course, as there was no budget for that, but there is a sort of Swamp Thing scene at the very end of the movie. Russ’s father and his kind live near an island off Antarctica and spend most of their long lives in the ocean. They apparently manifest as humans from time to time, and use human females to procreate. Yeah, this is pretty convoluted but it explains why Susan is putting the moves on a gay guy.

The movie suffers from the classic symptoms of a bad movie: no budget to speak of, mostly unknown actors, an incoherent script, dialog that doesn’t make much sense and a director (Dan Gildark) that doesn’t give much of a damn. What’s puzzling is that in spite of these problems some of the actors are trying to do something with the material. It is all for naught but perhaps it somewhat immunized them from having careers completely destroyed. Every actor is entitled to at least one clunker. Unfortunately, this one sinks like deadweight.

Cthulhu then comes across as something like a Coen Brothers movie if the brothers were drunk while making the film. It is undeniably an odd little movie. Do not spend too much time trying to connect the plot points because you really cannot. Marvel instead that even though this is a really bad movie, it could still be plenty worse.

If you like an occasional bad movie though, this is definitely one to add to your list.

Review: The Prophecy (1995)

The Thinker by Rodin

What a confused muddle of a film! What a waste of time! I would say that this film was a waste of money too, except obviously they did not spend much money on it. Presumably, in 1995 actors like Viggo Mortensen and Christopher Walken could be had without producers digging too deeply into their pockets. No need to shoot in a fancy Hollywood studio either. Pick some washed up town in the west with an abandoned copper mine, and a dilapidated school that could probably be rented for a couple hundred bucks. Viola! A set! Fill the rest of the movie with actors and actresses who rarely go beyond television like Amanda Plummer and Virginia Madsen. I doubt they paid them more than union scales.

Bloom County Comic Strip

Next, keep your fingers crossed. Hope that more than twenty years after The Exorcist was released that there will still be enough of a market for people being possessed by spirits to line your investors’ pockets. Come to think of it, The Exorcist was pretty dreadful too but at least it was novel. The Prophecy though is not the least bit scary, though at times it is a wee bit gross. You may find yourself looking at your watch and asking yourself, “Is it over yet?” I know I did.

If however like my wife and I you are connoisseurs of bad movies, this is one may be worth renting, although one viewing should be enough. Here is the plot as best I can figure out. When God distanced himself from Lucifer and his group of dark angels, Lucifer got really pissed. He has been working hard since to get the big guy’s attention. What he needs to get God’s attention is a soul belonging to a recently deceased citizen of this washed up town. It inhabits the body of an officer who while fighting in the Korean War also engaged in a little harmless cannibalism. Apparently, to exchange a soul you have to do it through the mouth. The Angel Simon (Eric Stoltz) has the duty to retrieve the soul from the body of this ex-cannibal, with the help of his wild-eyed sidekick Jerry (Adam Goldberg) who apparently is already dead, sort of.

Simon for some reason is one of the good angels. In trying to keep the soul away from the Angel Gabriel (Walken), whom I always assumed was one of the good angels, he has to redeposit into the body of another living person. He picks a young girl named Mary (a virtual no-name actress named Moriah ‘Shining Dove’ Snyder). She is in turn a pupil of the very radiant and hot (in a girl next door kind of way) Katherine Henley (Virginia Madsen). Henley teaches to a diminished set of students of all ages in this washed up copper mining town. Most of the classrooms are boarded up, but some of the students like to hang out during recess in a creepy classroom upstairs. It is here that Mary stumbles upon Simon.

Mary quickly discovers that having the soul of an evil cannibal does not agree with her. She quickly gets sick and is taken back to the reservation where she is attended to by her Indian grandmother. Detective Thomas Daggett (Elias Koteas) has the dubious privilege of figuring out what is going on. It helps to move the plot along that Detective Daggett at one point nearly became a priest, and only left because while he was about to be ordained he saw visions of dark angels.

At least the angels in this movie are not one-dimensional. They have a perverse sense of humor, which must have evolved from being so long out of God’s favor. That is likely why Walken was hired for his role as Gabriel. Lucifer (Viggo Mortensen) does not show up until near the end of the movie. In what is supposed to be a climactic scene, but which is not the least bit scary, the bad angels converge at a place where an Indian shaman is trying to extract the evil soul from the body of poor, innocent Mary. She never pukes like Linda Blair in The Exorcist, but she does spit out stuff from time to time. That will have to do.

When the angels show up, the movie often feels more campy than serious. The movie’s main problem is that you simply do not care about any of the characters. We might have felt sorry for poor little Mary if we actually learned enough about the girl to care about her. We do not. The characters are more cardboard than real so it is hard to give a damn about any of them.

Oddly enough, the movie must have done well enough because The Prophecy 2 was released in 1998 and Mary reappears in The Prophecy 3: The Ascent. I have to assume that enough moviegoers enjoyed Walken’s humorous approach toward playing Lucifer to want to see him in the role again. That mystifies me because he was not that good in the original. I have to assume the original was so cheap to make that sequels were not risky.

I wish I had been prophetic enough to warn you away from this movie. If your taste in bad movies goes toward the campy kind, see it. Otherwise, give it wide berth.

Two Movies to Avoid

The Thinker by Rodin

While I wait for inspiration to blog on more compelling topics, I can at least do the public a service by urging you to stay away from two spectacularly bad movies. Remember: you have been warned.

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994)

I recently blogged about the movie To Wong Fu: Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar (1995). This was a surprisingly amusing and well-done movie about three drag queens trying to drive cross-country to compete in a national drag queen contest. A year before this movie came out another Australian movie, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, also starring three drag queens on an adventure was foisted on the public. I doubt it was widely seen in the United States, thank goodness. In the case of this film, Priscilla is not one of the drag queens, but the name of a beat up bus that Bernadette, Mitzi and Felicia take across the Australian desert for a gig the city of Alice Springs in Australia’s remote Northern Territory.

If you were ever wondering what it would be like for Hugo Weaving (best known for his portrayal of Agent Smith in the three Matrix movies) to play a drag queen, this movie will satisfy your curiosity. Let me save you the trouble though and tell you: ridiculous. I would hasten to add that he undoubtedly makes the worst drag queen on the screen, except he is assisted by two other drag queens, one played by Terrance Stamp, who is even worse. The only drag queen that is passable in this movie is Felicia, played by Guy Pearce.

While Sydney apparently can tolerate drag queens, the folks in the heartland are a predictable bunch of homophobes. The exception may be a group of Aborigines they encounter in the latter half of the film. I like to think that these outbackers are not so much homophobes as people who cannot stand seeing three drag queens do such a miserable job of portraying drag queens. In To Wong Fu: Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar, at least these gals looked like ladies. These three do not come close and Bernadette and Mitzi are frankly remarkably ugly drag queens. As in To Wong Fu: Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar, their vehicle breaks down in an inconvenient spot and they have to try to get by with the locals. Since they break down literally in the middle of nowhere, mostly this means a lot of lizards. They eventually do make it to Alice Springs where we discover Mitzi has a wife and a son.

I am amazed we made it through the movie. I will confess that the sight of Felicia, propped on top of the bus as it moves through the desert, with a train tens of feet long flowing in the desert wind, was a spectacularly strange site and one my burning eyes would like to purge from my memory, but cannot. This is one drag queen movie (and there are not many) to not come within a dozen clicks of. Stay away!

Fool’s Gold (2008)

The airlines are truly in hard times when they put dreck like Fool’s Gold (2008) on as “entertainment” on a three and a half hour flight from Washington Dulles International Airport to Denver International Airport, which was where I saw it. Tess (Kate Hudson) is married to Benjamin (Matthew McConaughey), a walking calamity of a husband who within the first five minutes of the movie manages to sink his wife’s boat while he explores underwater for treasure off the Bahamas. Apparently, Benjamin has only a few talents. One of them is making love and the other is finding (and ultimately losing) deep-sea treasure.

They end up getting divorced but fate of course keeps them together because while the boat sank Benjamin just happens to find a piece of treasure that suggests he and his now ex wife can find dozens of treasure chests hidden in or around the Bahaman island. To make ends meet, Tess works on a yacht serving food to a multimillionaire named Nigel played by Donald Sutherland. Nigel is the unfortunate father of an extremely attractive Valley Girl named Gemma (Alexis Dziena), who manages to be more annoying than McConaughey, which admittedly is a hard act to follow. Naturally, Benjamin, through many implausible scenarios, manages to convince Nigel to facilitate his treasure hunt.

The overacting and shallow stereotypes in this movie are excruciatingly difficult to endure. I know women swoon over McConaughey, but he is one of these pretty boy actors who basically cannot act. Here he serves merely to put eye candy on the screen for the women. This movie allows him to showcase all his stereotypes in all their gratuitous excessiveness. Perhaps he did “act” in the sense that he fit his stereotype to a tee. All the over the top acting, screaming and high pitched voices, as well as the transparent plot, made getting through it a real challenge. However, my flight was so long and so boring that I had little alternative. So I have watched it so you do not have to. Poor Donald Sutherland looks like he would rather be having a root canal. Frankly, I would have too. I hope he was paid well. The only fool’s gold here are the fools who pay to see this tripe. Don’t you be one of them. There are bad movies worth seeing for their badness. This is not one of them. It just reeks of mediocrity. If it arrives on HBO, change the channel. I don’t care how muscled McConaughey is or how much you may think Kate Hudson is cute and charming. Life is too short to squander it with trash like this. Yech.

Review: Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death

The Thinker by Rodin

I have been trying to see this movie for years, but it simply was not stocked at our local Blockbuster. This is not surprising. Released in 1989, it was made on a shoestring and just for cheap laughs.

However, now that I have belatedly joined Netflix, I have access to a whole range of obscure (as well as grade B and C) movies that were unavailable for easy rental before. This campy movie became my very first Netflix rental.

My family enjoys a bad movie now and then. We have a small collection of truly rotten movies, from classic bad movies like Plan 9 from Outer Space to more obscure bad movies, like the absolutely must-be-seen-by-any-bad-movie-aficionado Sheena (1984). (Sheena stars Tanya Roberts as a blonde, blue-eyed jungle warrior who runs around Africa on a horse painted to look like a zebra.) We were introduced to some of these movies via the classic Medved Brothers bad movie books published in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Perhaps ten years ago I was hunting through a bargain basement bookrack and came across Video Trash & Treasures by L.A. Morse. If you have any interest in bad movies, this book is a must read, providing you can find it. It is an exhaustive review of ghastly grade B & C horror and science fiction movies from the 1980s. Many of these movies were rip offs of rip offs and were designed to earn its producers a few quick bucks at very little expense. They were often made with unknown actors and terrible directors. Irreverently written, the book remains a surprisingly fun read.

It was Video Trash & Treasures that mentioned Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death as one of its favorite and schlockiest B movies. As an almost imprimatur of its low quality, it features the bosomy Adrienne Barbeau. Those of us of a certain age will remember her from the Maude TV series of the 1970s and the movie Escape from New York (1981). This movie, unlike Sheena, was made to be campy. In this aspect is succeeds rather well.

Shannon Tweed plays Dr. Margo Hunt, a professor of feminist studies at a Spritzer University, which comes complete with a big, phallic shaped building. The government pays her a visit to persuade her to visit the Avocado Jungle that, by the way, consists of much of southern California. It is controlled by the radical feminist Dr. Kurtz (Adrienne Barbeau), whose band of women, as you might suspect, have unorthodox eating practices. They like to hunt down, kill and consume any men that happen to wander into the jungle. Well, apparently not all men. There is a small tribe of subjugated men who spend their time being wimps and making potholders for the women. As a professor of feminist studies, Dr. Hunt is arm twisted into going into the Avocado Jungle to persuade Dr. Kurtz to give up. The government wants to remove these radical feminists from the avocado jungle because, of course, avocados are critical to our national security. If these radical women agree to surrender, the government will give them all free condominiums!

Of course, Dr. Hunt will not go into the jungle alone. A Valley Girl boy-crazy student of hers named Bunny (Karen Mistal), who seems to be embracing feminism as her latest fad, wants to come along too. On their way, they stop at a biker bar to select a male guide. This turns out to be, of all people, Bill Maher. Apparently, he has had a nose job since this movie was filmed.

The rest of the plot does not really matter and believe me you will not care how it turns out. The question is whether the cheap laughs and humor make it worth a rental. If you are someone who appreciates schlocky movies, the answer is clearly yes. Shannon Tweed actually turns in quite a nice performance as the measured, always respectful but of course drop dead gorgeous feminist professor from Spritzer University. Much of the humor though revolves around Bunny, who has to wear everything in pink and is not amiss to wearing pink high-heeled shoes while traipsing through the Avocado Jungle. Adrienne Barbeau does not show up until halfway through the movie. All the jungle women are, of course, drop dead gorgeous and, with the exception of Ms. Barbeau, cannot be older than 25.

The movie does slowly fade after the first highly amusing fifteen minutes. Once we understand that Buffy will always wear pink, for example, the humor has less of an impact. Still it is amazing that with such a silly plot this movie can keep you chuckling for its ninety minute running time. It includes a finale swordfight between these feminist professors that is one of the least convincing of all time. Considering that it looks like a movie made for less than $100,000 it delivers a lot of laughs. Having finally seen it though, I felt that one viewing had scratched the itch completely.

For me, a movie like this one that tries to be campy is generally not quite as humorous as a movie designed to be serious but which becomes a fiasco that slimes everyone in it. That is why, while I will remember and laugh over certain scenes in Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death for many years, Sheena will remain forever on my DVD rack. (Watch Sheena online here for the cost of a short commercial.)

So pick up Sheena first, since it is more likely to be available anyhow. Otherwise, yeah, go ahead and rent this movie. While the humor is sometimes strained, it is often hilarious and it manages to stay at least amusing throughout. If you keep a private stock of schlocky movies, this is definitely one to consider purchasing. Just be aware you probably will not reach for it very often.

There is some brief nudity involving gorgeous topless women at the start of the film, otherwise there is nothing here that will give offense. I do not recall a swear word in the whole movie.