February 28, 2013

PUKE FICTION: Top 10 Movie Vomit Scenes

Little kids don't care where they spill the groceries. They don't have to clean it up.

After only a couple of days eating McDonald's food, Morgan Spurlock's experiment gets the best of him. It's not only nauseating, it's a little disturbing, too.

Lard Ass Hogan's intestinal revenge is just the kind of story a pre-teen would make-up just to amuse his friends.

Puke sprays from a spinning carnival ride like a lawn sprinkler. This just had to have happened in real life somewhere.

Several aliens brew some homemade stomach chowder, then commence drinking it, accompanied by the most hideous sound effects you'll ever hear...all courtesy of the guy who brought you The Lord of the Rings.

5. THE FLY (1986)
If I was forced to make a choice between death or watching my appendages dissolved by fly vomit, I'd had to think long and hard about it.

When you're willing to do something which makes you hurl on camera for the sake of entertainment...man, that's dedication to your craft.

3. APOLLO 13
Space really is the best place to lose your lunch. You don't get any on you.

Arguably the most famous vomit scene of all time, it would be #1 if it weren't for...

1. Monty Python's THE MEANING OF LIFE
The sketch in which the world's fattest man visits a restaurant, pausing to unleash gallons of projectile puke every few seconds, is so over-the-top it becomes almost surreal.

February 23, 2013

BLACK SUNDAY: Reality Sucks

Starring Robert Shaw, Bruce Dern, Marthe Keller, Fritz Weaver, Bekin Fehmiu, Steven Keats, Michael V. Gazzo. Directed by John Frankenheimer. (1977, 143 min).

So I was watching the Super Bowl one year, a little pissed that the Ravens were winning, when the lights in the Superdome went out. It stopped the game for about a half hour, meaning we had to sit through a lot more commercials than usual. But initially, a small part of me briefly wondered, Oh shit, I hope this isn’t another terror attack.

Remember the good ol' days before 9/11, when that stuff never crossed our minds and terrorists were simply Hollywood's go-to bad guys after the Russians outlived their usefulness? Without terrorists, we wouldn't have had such mindless fun as Back to the Future, Air Force One, True Lies and Nighthawks. Although Black Sunday took a potential terrorist threat on American soil far more seriously than most, it was promoted as yet-another 70's disaster movie. That's what got me to go see it, anyway. Hell, I even bought Thomas Harris’ original novel because the cover showed a blimp crashing into a stadium, terrified spectators fleeing in panic.

Since it was R-rated, I had to sneak into the movie at the Southgate Quad. I emerged two-and-a-half-hours later thinking it sucked. Where were the explosions, burning bodies and massive scenes of destruction? Even the heavily-hyped, climactic blimp assault on the Super Bowl was an effects-shitty let-down compared to the non-stop death and mayhem in The Towering Inferno. I was a kid who didn’t give a rat’s ass about terrorist plots or psychologically-unstable war veterans. I just wanted some spectacle.

"Damn...in Pittsburgh we only have to worry
 about zombies."

Black Sunday isn't a disaster movie, of course, and once I got over the truly inept special effects at the climax, I eventually had to admit the overall story was really great (and sadly prophetic). Bruce Dern (the 70's king of the on-screen looneys) plays Michael Lander, an unstable Vietnam veteran who now pilots blimps at sports events. He's got serious issues with damn-near everybody, and has the perfect chance to strike back with the help of Dahlia (Marthe Keller), a member of a Mid-East terrorist group, Black September. Together they devise a plan to attack the 80,000 fans at the upcoming Super Bowl by piloting a blimp into the stadium and using explosives to launch hundreds of thousands of rifle darts. Trying to prevent the disaster is Major Kabakov (Robert Shaw), an Israeli anti-terrorism expert who's nearly as ruthless as those he hunts down. Most of the film cuts back and forth between the terrorists putting their plan in motion, and Kabakov tracking them down, culminating in a climactic showdown in Florida on Super Bowl Sunday.

Back in 1977, the idea of terrorists attacking America on the holiest of holidays was inconceivable. I doubt most Americans seriously thought we'd ever be attacked on our own soil. Then 9/11 happened, and suddenly terrorists weren't just movie villains anymore.

Now we live in an age where the Super Bowl is a very likely terrorist target. In fact, shortly after 9/11, the US Department of Homeland Security declared the Super Bowl a National Special Security Event (NSSE), right up there with presidential inaugurations, State of the Union Addresses and major political conventions (the Academy Awards and Olympics have been designated NSSE's, too).

So when the lights went out in the Superdome this year, a terror attack was the first thing which popped into my mind, however briefly, along with this movie. I think we were all just a tad relieved to hear it was just a power surge caused by Beyonce (though her half-time show could be viewed as an act of terrorism).

There have been countless films about terrorism, but Black Sunday was the first to depict a large-scale attack on America itself. Remember, shortly after 9/11, when newscasts and documentaries showed how the terrorists had been plotting this for years, and the painstaking measures taken to infiltrate the country & coordinate their plans before carrying out the attack? That’s essentially the plot of Black Sunday, too. The difference is, in 1977, it was just thriller fodder. Not anymore, and that’s a damn shame, because the movie itself is still a lot of fun. I simply liked it a lot more when I still believed nothing like this could possibly ever happen. And worse yet, Robert Shaw ain’t around to save us anymore.

The special effects still suck, though.

February 19, 2013

New Disc Review: LAY THE FAVORITE (Blu-Ray)

Anchor Bay Entertainment
Starring Bruce Willis, Rebecca Hall, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Joshua Jackson, Vince Vaughn, Laura Prepon. Directed by Stephen Frears. (2012, 94 min).

Dear Mr. Willis:

We here at Free Kittens are big fans. You can be a bad-ass. You can be funny. You are willing to check your ego at the door and take supporting roles in smaller movies. You obviously love what you do, and we love you for it. But damn buddy, you don’t have to say yes to every script that lands on your agent’s desk. I mean, of the six movies released in 2012 in which you appeared, only two of ‘em were any good (Looper & Moonrise Kingdom). Far be it from us to tell you how to manage your career, because you’ve done pretty well for yourself. But in our humble opinion, you should’ve passed on Lay the Favorite.

Of course, it’s easy for us to play Monday morning quarterback. We don’t make movies; we only watch ‘em. For all we know, the original script you were given was a hell of a lot better than what ended up onscreen. Lay the Favorite doesn’t seem to know if it wants to be a comedy, a quirky character piece or low-key drama. The story is all over the place, and even though this is based on a memoir by Beth Raymer, an ex-exotic dancer with a keen talent for numbers in the world of sports gambling (played in the movie by Rebecca Hall), nowhere are we ever really shown this supposed gift in action. In fact, it seems like a lot of key scenes are totally missing.

Or maybe you were attracted to your character, Dink Heimowitz, professional Vegas sports gambler with a superstitious streak. We can see why you’d initially want to play the role, since he’s congenial, confident and occasionally funny, but also somewhat emotionally vulnerable, especially regarding his relationship with his insanely jealous wife, Tulip (Catherine Zeta-Jones). But in Lay the Favorite, your character’s personality changes on a dime; one scene you’re showing Beth the ropes - with a bit of sexual tension thrown in - the next you’re throwing childish tantrums, breaking stuff and repeatedly firing her, then you're back to being the sympathetic mentor. The same could be said about all the other characters, too. Tulip is quickly established as a cast-iron bitch. Then, with no transitional showing her change-of-heart, we’re supposed to suddenly like her? And Beth, the main character? One second she’s trying to bed you down, the next she’s got a new squeeze who appears out of nowhere and she's back to treating you like a father figure.

"...and make sure they go light on the sauce this time."

Maybe you liked who you’d be working with, and indeed, the cast is an impressive one....Rebecca Hall, Catheine Zeta-Jones, Vince Vaughn, Joshua Jackson. Still, we have the feeling that fans of those actors are composing similar fan letters like this. Then there’s director Stephen Frears, whose resume includes some great stuff like Dangerous Liaisons, High Fidelity & The Queen. Perhaps his shining moments as a director overshadow the fact he’s occasionally made some crap, too.

Don’t get us wrong, Sir Willis...Lay the Favorite isn’t necessarily awful (well, not Hudson Hawk awful). You do a decent enough job with the character you were handed, as does the rest of the cast. There are even a few moments were we get to bask in your overall 'Willisness' (patent pending). But the movie just kinda rambles for 90 minutes without a single memorable scene or reason why, in the end, we should care how things turn out. And considering you are given top billing for a supporting role, we felt let down. Lay the Favorite is the kind of movie that might hold one’s attention for a few minutes when channel surfing on a dull Saturday night, but that’s faint praise considering Megashark vs. Giant Octopus was able to accomplish the same feat (at least with us).

As big-time fans, even though we are pretty certain you’ll never win any kind of Oscar other than a lifetime achievement award, movies like this are not worthy of your awesome talent at simply being Bruce Willis. We hope you take our advice in the spirit it is intended, and wish you the best of luck cranking out Die Hard 6.

Free Kittens

Special Features: Deleted Scenes

FKMG RATING: ** (out of 4)

February 18, 2013

A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD and the XD Ordeal

Starring Bruce Willis, Jai Courtney, Sebastian Koch, Culiya Snigir, Cole Hauser. Directed by John Moore. (2013, 97 min).
Walking out of this movie, I felt ripped off.

As a belated Valentine's Day gift, my wife (Francie) and I agreed to treat each other to a date in which she picked the restaurant and I chose the movie. As parents of two kids, we don’t get too many chances to got out on our own, so we made the most of the opportunity. She chose a sushi place we always enjoyed; a good choice since neither of our daughters like such cuisine. For the movie, I chose A Good Day to Die Hard because, hey, it's Bruce Willis kicking ass.

I'd read a few reviews of the movie, most writers hating it, the main criticism being it's Die Hard in-name-only. Well, of course it is. So were the previous two. Willis flicks like Red, The Last Boy Scout, Hostage and 16 Blocks could have been Die Hard movies, too, since he pretty-much plays the same guy in all of 'em. If A Good Day to Die Hard were titled Bruce Willis Blows Up Half of Russia, I don’t think critics would have been quite as harsh. But when you stick Die Hard in the title, you're creating audience expectations that'll never be met. Of course A Good Day to Die Hard doesn't hold a candle to the 1988 original. Neither does any other action movie, so making such an obvious claim is redundant.

So, as a sequel, is it any good? No. In fact, it's the worst of the bunch. The plot, involving some Russian baddies doing nasty things with uranium leftover from Chernobyl, is convoluted and dull, and there's no truly memorable villain we love to hate (Alan Rickman simply set the bar too fucking high in the original, though Jeremy Irons came close). This one also borrows the estranged family subplot from Live Free or Die Hard (this time involving McClane's son, who works for the CIA). And by now, McClane is no longer the tough-but-vulnerable cop trapped in a situation beyond his control...he's now an indestructable, one-man wrecking crew. And although there's plenty o' guns, crashes and shit blowing up, this one seems somehow smaller, less epic, than the other films in the series, not helped by the surprisingly short running time (all the others ran over two hours, this one clocks in at only 97 minutes).

Everything's better with boobs.

But as a pure action movie where Bruce Willis does his Bruce Willis thing, A Good Day to Die Hard ain't that bad at all. It's certainly better than a lot of the CGI-happy stuff passing itself off as action these days. Besides, sometimes you just want to spend your Valentine's Day watching things explode.

Still, my wife and I felt ripped off.

Hoping to save a few bucks by catching a matinee, I went online to select a showtime. It was playing at the Century 20 Theater at Clackamas Town Center, the mall near our house and close to the sushi place Francie chose. We were good-to-go. As parents, the two of us don't often get to escape on own, so we were looking forward to it...mindless mayhem and sushi, two of our favorite pastimes.

Our elation ended soon after we got to the theater. After telling the kid at the box office what we chose to see, he nonchalantly asked for $25.

What? 25 bucks? This is a matinee! I chose this time to save some cash!

“Why’s it 25 bucks?” I incredulously asked.

“The 3:00 showing is in XD,” the kid said.

“XD? What’s that?”

“It’s kinda like IMAX, but if you wanna wait for a regular showing, the next one is at 4:15.”

I was a little pissed, partially because I don’t have money falling out of my ass, but mainly because when I looked up showtimes, nowhere did it say anything about XD or that it included an inflated ticket price.

Exasperated, I turned to Francie and asked her if she wanted to do dinner first and come back for the 4:15 show. She shook her head and replied, “We’re already here. Let’s just go.”

XD is something dreamt up by Century Theaters, and stands for Extreme Digital Cinema (complete with the wildly scrawled red X in the logo to remind us how extreme it is). Extreme is an increasingly meaningless word (especially when shortened to Xtreme) used by PR guys for promoting anything from sports drinks to new football leagues. In this case, it is Century Theaters’ answer to IMAX, but when my wife and I entered the so-called XD theater to catch A Good Day to Die Hard, what we got from the inflated ticket price was a bigger screen, a movie-going experience which can be just-as-easily accomplished by simply sitting closer. In other words, XD is a gimmick created to lighten wallets, but really does nothing to enhance a movie. It’s a bigger rip-off than 3-D.

97 minutes later (120 counting all the trailers), me and Francie walked out feeling duped and short-changed. Yeah, A Good Day to Die Hard is a decent enough big screen flick certainly worth the eight dollar matinee price I was expecting to pay. But 25 bucks for two tickets? Jesus Christ, tickets to my first rock concert were only 10 bucks each, and that was to see Rush at the height of their popularity. As much as I love watching Bruce Willis blow shit up (as John McClane or not), this whole ordeal affected how I felt about the movie far more than its worth as an official Die Hard sequel.

To make matters worse, even though we’d gone there before and enjoyed it, the sushi restaurant we went to afterwards was shitty, too. Thank God Francie and I have a sense of humor, because talking about how shitty everything was made our date pretty fun.

February 15, 2013

6 Classics featuring Good Ol' CHARLIE BROWN

"You feel that sting, big boy, huh? That's pride fuckin' with you."
"I watched a snail crawl along the edge of a straight razor. That's my dream...that's my nightmare. Crawling, slithering along the edge of a straight razor...and surviving."
"*We've traced the call...it's coming from inside the house!*"

"I'm walkin' here! I'm walkin' here!"

"Let's dooo the Tiiiime Warp agaaaiiiiin!"

"You had me at 'Hello'"

February 13, 2013

MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE: An Analytical Thesis

Starring Emilio Estevez, Pat Hingle, Laura Harrington, Yeardley Smith, Frankie Faison. Directed by Stephen King. (1986, 97 min).

I have an English degree, which requires two inherent skills...the ability to write reasonably well and healthy talent for spinning bullshit. If you possess both, you can earn an English degree with relative ease compared to, say, trying to become an engineer. I'm not belittling my accomplishment or anything, but earning engineering credentials does open up a world of professional possibilities. What an English degree mostly does is allow you to get a job teaching English. Don't get me wrong...I love what my degree permits me to do, even if it mostly entails showing seventh graders how to put together a sentence which doesn't resemble a drunken Tweet.

English majors are required to read a ton of stories, novels & poems and analyze them to death, looking for symbolism or metaphor which may or may not have been the authors' intentions. There's a collegiate mindset that everything penned before the age of typewriters is inherently allegorical. Hence, guys like Guy de Maupassant, Jonathan Swift and William Faulkner are always held in high regard.

Regarding Faulkner, I had to endure an entire class dedicated to that guy's verbal vomit. After nine weeks, all I came away with was that he was a drunk who couldn't be bothered to proofread. Thank God I could bullshit, because even though I hated his work and couldn’t grasp anything he may have been trying to say, my papers made Faulkner sound like the greatest American writer of all time.

Bullshit goes a long way in college. One of my electives was a film study class, which I chose because of my life-long love affair with movies. I figured, at the very least, it would be an easy A and a nice break from the other required rigors I needed for my teaching degree. While I knew we wouldn’t be watching Die Hard, it wasn’t until I was sitting in class on that first day that I learned we’d be analyzing and writing about a bunch of old Japanese language films, primarily by director Akira Kurosawa. While initially a huge let-down, most of them turned out to be really great (my personal favorite was Throne of Blood). And of course, every film was supposedly loaded with themes and metaphors.

For our final, we had to pick a Japanese film from a list he provided, watch it, then compose an analytical essay comparing & contrasting its themes with another film or piece of literature. I chose Tampopo, a 1985 comedy that I at-least heard of. By this time in my educational career, my confidence level in the art of well-composed bullshit was at an all time high, but after watching Tampopo, I was a little vexed, partially because I hated it, but mostly because the only comparable movie that came to-mind was The Road Warrior.

For those unfamiliar with either movie, The Road Warrior is the second film in the Mad Max Trilogy, and takes place after an apocalyptic war has turned everyone into brutal scavengers, fighting for what remains of the world’s gasoline. The remaining civilized people enlist the help of Max (a former cop who lost his family), to guide them to safety. Tampopo, on the other hand, is a comedy about a woman who runs a noodle shop in Japan, but is unsuccessful, so she begs the help of a stranger to help her business succeed.

Aside from the reluctant lone-wolf hero, these movies have absolutely nothing in common, but what could I do, start over with another film? Like most college assignments, I waited until the night before the paper was due to even watch the damn movie. Still, I managed to vomit enough comparisons between Max and Goro (the hero of Tampopo) to bullshit my way through a 2,000 word essay about reluctant heroes. Turning it in the next day, I thought it was probably the dumbest thing I ever wrote for a class, and the professor was gonna think I was an idiot.

To my surprise, I got an A on the paper.

This was an epiphany for me, when I learned that in the world of English, there are no wrong answers. The only way to fuck up an assignment is to either take stories at face-value or scrawl your essay in crayon. As long as your bullshit is articulate, anything you write will be taken seriously. Who's gonna prove you wrong? And extra kudos if you establish a connection between the story and current, real-world, politically-correct issues, even if they wouldn‘t have been even remotely relevant at the time they were written.

In other words, earning an English degree largely requires you to put in-writing the same stuff you used to yak about with friends when passing the bong around. As a former drug user with a keen eye for signs someone else is a drug user, I am pretty sure a majority of my professors still rock & rolled all night and partied every day, looking for symbolism in things which were never created for analysis in the first place. As a free-thinking adult, I now know you can find symbolism and metaphor in anything.

"Hey...I got his wallet."

As evidence, I humbly submit Stephen King's sole directorial effort, 1986's Maximum Overdrive. In the film, after the Earth passes through the tail of a comet, all the machines in the world suddenly develop minds of their own and start trying to kill us. In King's original story, "Trucks," we are under attack by legions of 18-wheelers. But in the movie, even appliances develop insatiable bloodlust...electric knives, soda machines, lawnmowers, gas pumps, ATMs, etc. It is never explained, however, why the characters in the movie are still able to drive their own cars.

Just as Michael Jordan once proved being a basketball prodigy doesn't necessarily mean you can suddenly pick up a Louisville Slugger and swing-away in the Majors, King demonstrated that great writing talent doesn't translate into knowing what the fuck you're doing in the director's chair. As a huge Stephen King fan, I really wanted to love Maximum Overdrive when it oozed into my local drive-in, and declare him the all-time master of terror in all its forms. But alas, it pained me to say Maximum Overdrive was one of the most aggressively stupid movies ever.

Or is it? When I dust off my English major hat, Maximum Overdrive becomes a metaphorically-rich allegory, loaded with symbolism, irony, sexual imagery and cultural commentary. And since writer/director Stephen King isn't here to refute my analysis, whose to say I'm wrong?

For example...

The film begins with a goofy looking fellow (played by King himself) trying to withdraw cash from an ATM. Instead, the machine calls him an asshole, while the bank sign overhead repeatedly displays the message, fuck you. This is a commentary on the oppressive power our banking system repeatedly wields at the expense of the middle-class, who are helpless pawns at the mercy of corporate influence.

In the next scene, a drawbridge begins to lift on its own, still loaded with vehicles. While its operators are playing cards and picking their noses, a load of watermelons fly from a truck, smashing through windshields and killing the cars' occupants. For those who don't know, watermelons contain large amounts of citrulline in its rinds, a chemical which expands blood vessels much like Viagra does, thus increasing libido. Hence, the watermelons penetrating these windshields is an overtly violent sexual act. By the way, sexual metaphors go over big in college...professors seem to love anything even remotely phallic. So, for any potential English major reading this, if you can find some hidden dick joke in The Divine Comedy, your degree is assured.

In a blatant example of irony, the film is scored by the heavy metal band, AC/DC, whose very existence depends on electricity (which powers all of these malevolent machines), because they've never performed an acoustic song in their entire career.

The film is rife with social commentary on, not only our consumer culture, but vices which adversely affect both our physical and psychological well-being. The murderous video game, soda machine & ice cream truck are a direct symbols of addiction in the human condition. Here, King is showing us, not only are we slaves to our vices, said-vices will ultimately kill us. On a related note, the scene where a beer truck is blown up with a rocket launcher represents man’s ability to overcome said-vices. As for the toilet paper truck being blown up...hey, hundreds of rolls of flaming tissue raining from the sky is simply fucking funny because, hey, we use it to wipe our butts. Huh-huh.

Rampant materialism is a theme prevalent in George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. King explores this as well, using the Happy Toyz truck (with its Green Goblin grill) as the defacto leader of this machine uprising, and a symbol which poses the question, “Do we own our things, or do they own us?”

King includes some personal values/philosophy in the film as well. By constantly groping the hitchhiker he picks up, the traveling Bible salesman demonstrates the hypocrisy of organized religion. Then there’s the fact that the few remaining characters only manage to survive this ordeal with a cache of illegal weapons found, King’s obvious declaration of his support for the Second Amendment right to bare arms. And, most tellingly, we learn King is an evolutionist, as shown when several characters escape the marauding machines in a sailboat; this symbolizes man’s return to the very waters which nurtured and nourished him before he eventually crawled from the sea during the earliest stages of our evolution. If King were a creationist, God would have simply zapped all these fucking trucks into oblivion with a lightning bolt or something. The movie would have also been only five minutes long.

As for the question of why these characters are still able to safely drive their own cars throughout the entire movie? Well, shit...I’ve got nothing. Forget all that English major bullshit I just said. Maximum Overdrive really is just a dumb fucking movie, with one great scene of a kid being squashed by a steamroller.

February 12, 2013


Starring Elizabeth Rohm, Yancy Butler, Paul Nocholls, Poppu Lee Friar, Benedict Smith, Robert Englund. Directed by Don Michael Paul. (2012, 90 min). 
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

The original Lake Placid was no classic, but great fun watching a fairly respectable cast show up in the kind of movie American-International used to crank out in the 70s, albeit with a much bigger budget. And thanks to a witty script by David R. Kelly, it was arguably the most intentionally-funny monster movie since Tremors. For me, that sense of humor was what set Lake Placid apart from others of its ilk, something lost on the direct-to-TV sequels which followed.

Like the two previous sequels, Lake Placid - The Final Chapter dubiously premiered on SyFy. And, like most of the micro-epics that show-up on that channel each Saturday night, it was filmed on-the-cheap, loaded with crappy CGI, fake gore, scantily-clad teenagers hired for how well they fill out a bathing suit, and peppered with a few token famous faces whose glory days are obviously behind them. And there's nothing wrong with that. If you keep your expectations low, movies like this can offer a goofy good time.

But the problem with this one, as well as the other two Lake Placid sequels, is the original reveled in its own ridiculousness and was never intended to be taken seriously, which is what ultimately endeared it to so many fans of big-budget trash. But here, aside from some admittedly-funny scenery chewing by Yancy Butler (who appeared in Lake Placid 3) and Robert Englund (the Christopher Walken of B movies), the only fun the viewer will derive is in how god-awful it is.

"Hey...there's my keys."
At least when Universal followed up Tremors with straight-to-DVD sequels, the same sense of self-aware humor of the original remained, even if their budgets were obviously smaller. There's no reason why a low-budget Lake Placid sequel couldn't be just as fun (even without Betty White spouting F-bombs). But instead, we get a plot that makes so sense whatsoever, lots of idiotic characters, phony-looking crocodiles appearing out of nowhere to make gory kills when the story starts to lag, and of course, plenty of teenagers ready to get topless. Worst of all, the overall tone is actually kinda serious.

I dunno...to me, the original Lake Placid was above all that. This one plays like it was inspired more by Alexandre Aja's remake of Piranha than its source material, but even Aja's Piranha had a healthy, self-aware sense of humor. As for me, regarding lead actress Elizabeth Rohm, best-known from her stint on Law & Order, the main thing I walked away with from this movie was "This was the best job you could get?"

In the end, Lake Placid - The Final Chapter offers up some gratuitous gore and nudity, and it's always fun watching Robert Englund show up in yet-another movie where he obviously knows how dumb it is. But he's a poor substitute for Betty White's wonderfully-obscene appearance in the original. This film is sadly just another cheap-ass time-killer (destined to appear in Wal-Mart budget bins within a few months) whose makers totally forgot what made the original Lake Placid so fun in the first place.

FKMG RATING: *1/2 (out of 4)

February 5, 2013

BLUE THUNDER: The Problem with Gratuitous Nudity

Starring Roy Scheider, Malcolm McDowell, Daniel Stern, Warren Oates, Candy Clark, Joe Santos, Anna Forrest (as the gratuitously naked lady). Directed by John Badham. (1983, 109 min).

There's an early scene in Blue Thunder where LAPD chopper pilot Frank Murphy (Roy Scheider) breaks-in his new partner by flying out to Encino so they can peep in on a young beauty who does nude yoga in her living room every night. The two hover outside her spacious epic-windowed mansion, gawking while she stretches and contorts in ways most guys can only dream of their wives doing.

I had a big problem with this scene. Not because it is totally gratuitous, having nothing to do with the plot, or because it is completely implausible (who isn't gonna hear a goddamn helicopter right outside their window?). The problem was I went to go see this film with my then-wife, who had an unbelievably ugly jealous streak.

When I first met her, that jealousy of other girls was initially flattering, and I sort-of enjoyed reassuring her she was the only one for me. But it got worse (especially after we were married). Pretty soon I was berated if my head even turned in the general vicinity of a good-looking woman. It didn't stop there. If one of my co-workers was even remotely attractive, she thought I wanted to sleep with her. At her worst, not-only did she assume I wanted to do her sister, but my own cousin, too. I'm still not sure where she got the idea I was this insatiable horndog and perpetually prowling for pussy.

This insane level of jealousy applied to entertainment as well. Unless I wanted to engage in another knock-down, drag-out fight, I could no longer listen to Pat Benetar because I once made the mistake of saying she was good looking. My wife's mindset made going to movies a dicey endeavor as well, especially R-rated ones. If even a single breast popped up onscreen, I'd have to answer for it, as though I chose movies based on their boob-count. Regarding Blue Thunder, you wouldn't believe the explaining I had to do. That gratuitous-but-brief early scene is the only one which is remotely sexual, but my wife was convinced that, not only was I getting off on it, it was the main reason I wanted to see the movie. She was totally pissed at me for enjoying the movie at all, which is too bad, because Blue Thunder is one of those awesomely-dumb 80s action flicks which isn't remotely plausible, but the action and performances at least keep you amused while you're watching.

"Yeah...it's a Rolex."

The government has developed a new, state-of-the-art, super-spy helicopter. It can see through walls, fly silently, look down dresses, and blow the bejeezus out of everything in its path. What better person to test fly it over one of the biggest cities in the world than a psychologically unstable Vietnam vet?

Roy Scheider is Frank Murphy, an L.A. cop who patrols the skies at night, thwarting robberies and peeping into naked women’s windows. In his spare time, he checks his sanity with his wristwatch. He’s entrusted to fly the new copter, nicknamed Blue Thunder, to see what it can do, during which time he discovers the Army has nefarious plans for the bird. It’s never made too clear exactly what evil the government wants to accomplish with a helicopter, but that doesn’t stop them from trying to kill Murphy. Leading the charge for Frank’s demise is Colonal Cochrane, played by a perpetually bug-eyed Malcolm McDowell.

Blue Thunder has a very high “oh, come on!” quotient, with a ludicrous story, one-dimensional characters and gaping story holes. However, much of that is negated by a truly fun climactic air battle over L.A. between Murphy and Cochrane, where buildings explode, planes are shot down, and a copter is taken out by a freight train (though no one, including our hero, seems concerned about all the massive collateral damage). Director John Badham, who never made a smart movie in his life, deftly handles these action scenes with considerable skill. He’s also aided by a great cast; Scheider is terrific (though he’s played so many cops in his career that he probably phoned this one in), as is Warren Oates (in his last role), who manages to make the most out of his cliched angry police captain character.

As dumb as it is, I loved Blue Thunder and all its fiery mayhem, maybe the coolest action movie I'd seen at the time since Raiders of the Lost Ark. But walking out of the theater afterwards, all my my wife had to do was hiss, "Betcha loved those tits, din't ya?", and I was immediately deflated, my elation totally smothered as I was forced yet-again to defend myself. It never occurred to her, if I was that into tits and ass, I could've just bought some porn.

She wouldn't speak to me the rest of the way home, and I'm pretty certain I ended up apologizing for a scene I had no idea was coming. This particular spat was the sole reason Blue Thunder never became part of my movie collection until years later.

And you know what's ironic? In the end, she was the one who eventually ended up cheating on me.

Her bizarre jealousy actually screwed me up for awhile after our inevitable divorce. When I began dating again, I briefly forgot that it's okay to acknowledge if someone else is pretty, and normal partners don't assume you're gonna spend all your waking hours pining for that person (or their body parts). I'd sometimes sit in the theater on dates hoping no nipples would appear (how weird is that for a guy?).

I've since purchased Blue Thunder on DVD. Technically, it's a bit dated now, but still a fun movie. As for my current wife, I'm happy to say she doesn't like it either, but this time because of all the massive plot holes. She isn't at-all concerned whether or not I'm spending my waking hours fawning over some brief onscreen boobage.

February 3, 2013

New Disc Review: THE MASTER (Blu-Ray/DVD)

Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Laura Dern. Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. (2012, 138 min). www.anchorbayentertainment.com

I know almost nothing about Scientology, only that this so-called religion involves the belief we were dropped off here by aliens, and that Tom Cruise is its poster boy. I know even less about Scientology’s founder, L. Ron Hubbard, other than he also wrote a lot of shitty sci-fi novels (if you think the movie, Battlefield Earth, was bad, try plowing through the 1,000 page book).

I think most folks see it more as a cult than a true religion, but since lot of high-profile celebrities are card-carrying Scientologists, this cult gets a lot of attention (mostly negative).

Many claimed The Master is a thinly-disguised account of Hubbard and the religion he created. Writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson has said, although the character of Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) was partially inspired by Hubbard, The Master is not the story of Scientology and its founder. Still, a lot of folks pointed out the similarities between “The Cause” (as it’s called in the film) and Scientology, making it hard to watch the movie without reaching the same conclusion. In fact, drawing such comparisons makes it more watchable.

In the film, we follow Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), recently discharged from the Navy at the end of World War II, as he drifts from woman to woman, job to job, never really fitting into post-war society. He’s also a raging alcoholic, often mixing his own concoctions out of household chemicals. After one of his homemade brews poisons a co-worker, Quell stows away on a ship rented by Dodd, a charismatic writer, philosopher and founder of a quasi-religious group called “The Cause.” For reasons not entirely clear, Dodd takes an immediate liking to Quell and places him high in the ranks his growing entourage, despite the misgivings of his family, who see Quell as an irredeemable & dangerous drunk. For the most part, Quell remains fiercely (sometimes violently) loyal to Dodd, even though we get the impression that he often thinks the man is as full of shit as his critics do.

You look like The Flying Nun in that outfit.
The Master is one of those movies which rides on the backs of its actors. Both Phoenix and Hoffman are phenomenal. When the two of them share the screen (which is often), the movie is fascinating, especially since neither character appears to have all their marbles. It’s easy to see why they (as well as Amy Adams, playing Dodd’s zealous wife) are nominated for Oscars. On the other hand, while we marvel over the performances, for a character-driven story, none of these characters are even remotely likable. Quell is the same drunken sleazeball at the end of the movie that he was at the start; Dodd is outwardly charming and charismatic, but there’s menace bubbling under the surface that borders on disturbing. And that’s fine, I guess. I don’t have to like who I’m watching in order to find them interesting, but spending 138 minutes with them is about 40 minutes too many.

My main problem with The Master is that the story moves in fits and starts. When focused on Dodd’s ramblings and The Cause, it’s compelling. But there are also several points where a scene really starts to get interesting, but is either cut short or sabotaged by Anderson’s need be ambiguous & arty. For example, one scene has Dodd as the center of attention at a get-together, and just when we think he’s going to spout more of his loony-but-fascinating philosophy, instead he breaks into song while Quell pictures every woman in the room completely naked. Yeah, I know the scene is supposed to solidify where Quell’s head is at, but that was already well-established before.

But again, the performances carry the movie, making The Master worth checking out at least once. Phoenix has never been better, though he looks like hell...gaunt, aged and hardened by life. Even better is Hoffman, who straddles a fine line between confidence and paranoia. It’s one of the more subtly creepy performances I’ve seen in a long time.

While I’m convinced “The Cause” itself is supposed to be a none-too-flattering view on Scientology, it could arguably represent any cult-like religion. Either way, I seriously doubt Mr. Cruise has this particular film in his home video collection.

BLU-RAY SPECIAL FEATURES: “Back Beyond” (outtakes, additional scenes); “Unguided Message” (behind-the-scenes short); “Let There be Light” (1946 documentary by John Huston about WWII vets); teasers/trailers.

FKMG RATING: **1/2 (out of 4)