March 31, 2014

CINEMA 69: From Victory to Wunderland

A 1947 ad for the
Victory Theater.
Admission price:
 a whopping 40 cents
Three decades before it was unofficially rechristened Cinema 69, the Victory Theater opened in downtown Milwaukie, Oregon on August 18, 1942. This was the third in a chain of suburban cinemas in the Portland area owned and operated by local mogul Harry Moyer Sr.

Located on the corner of Main and Jefferson Streets, it wasn't as grand and opulent as nearby Portland's Bagdad or Broadway (which sometimes hosted gala, star-studded movie premieres). Compared to those immaculate palaces, the Victory was relatively small and humble, though the auditorium itself was one of the last new cinemas in the area to include a balcony. The theater's exterior was rather plain and unremarkable, its most noteworthy feature being the blazing-red neon V at the center of  the marquee, proudly lighting up the intersection. A bit more care was given to its interior design…an art-deco architectural style popular during the previous two decades.

This was back when communities surrounding larger cities still maintained their own small-town identity, before urban expansion began erasing boundaries and stuffing the spaces between with as many businesses, schools, apartments, malls and factories as we could squeeze in. Today, nothing separates Portland from its outlining communities…it’s a constant barrage of traffic lights, convenience stores, offices, malls, industrial parks, shopping centers, gas stations, neighborhoods and strip clubs.

But in 1942, Milwaukie was still relatively isolated, so the grand opening of its very first movie theater was a big deal indeed. Being that this was shortly after the beginning of America’s involvement in World War II (and patriotism was at an all-time high), the place was aptly named, and effectively exploited in a front page article of The Milwaukie Review:

The new Victory is keeping with the times, as its decorations carry the victory motif throughout, even the usherettes wearing uniforms that sport the red, white and blue. For the grand opening Wednesday, the building was decorated with buntings and the flags of the United Nations were flying from the marquee. Up and down Main Street, welcome banners and streamers were strung across the street.

The author of this article went on to write about “youngsters who are grateful for the chance to attend a show at home instead of having to go into the big burg to see the flickers.” Sounds a bit Barney Fife, but probably reflective of Milwaukie's small town pride at the time.
The Victory Theater in 1950, during Milwaukie's Centennial

The city of Milwaukie had a grand little theater of its own, meaning one didn’t need to make the trek into Portland to catch the latest Hollywood had to offer. At the same time, the Victory was still community oriented, hosting local talent shows, civics groups and guest lecturers, not to mention being the home of the annual Miss Milwaukie Pageant for many years.

The Victory was first part of a small chain called Suburban Theaters, then Neighborhood Theaters, then Community Theaters, actual ownership of the place changing hands several times over the years. But the Victory always did big business because, for decades, it was Milwaukie's only theater.

Then, in 1966, Harry Moyer's son (entrepreneur and former Golden Glove boxer, Tom Moyer) built the Eastgate, the very first multi-screen theater in the Portland area. While totally lacking the visual opulence of Portland's long-established cinemas (some of which were beginning to show their age), the Eastgate was bigger, more luxurious, more technically advanced and, most ominously, located in the suburbs where tiny theaters like the Victory thrived. In the ensuing decade, many Moyer multiplexes followed, including the Southgate, a boxy quad cinema erected a mere mile from the aging Victory, and where The Towering Inferno (one of the 70's biggest films) had its Portland premiere in 1974.

All the while, the Victory slowly became a run-down relic, a dirty, puke-colored shadow of its former self. Unlike Portland's beloved Bagdad, with its still-hip location and neon marquee shining as brightly as it did in the 20s, the Victory was a now squalid dump which sometimes showed porn films back when the genre was flirting with mainstream acceptance.
The early 1970s. Now called Cinema V, this was around
the time the place became my hangout of choice.

Around 1973, it was purchased by the Metro Cinemas chain and rechristened Cinema V. With it’s permanently sticky floors and once-plush seats now matted and frayed from thousands of butts over the years, Cinema V became a dumping ground for blockbusters after they enjoyed their initial theatrical runs before being sold to TV.

The theater also showed matinees of kid-friendly pictures as part of a summer movie program, where parents could purchase a booklet of tickets and drop-off their offspring to catch movies most of the adult world had already forgotten. It was around this time my family settled in Milwaukie and I was first exposed to Forbidden Planet, The Incredible Shrinking Man, The Green Slime, old Disney movies like The Love Bug and Blackbeard's Ghost, not to mention a plethora of Godzilla flicks. It was here that I fell in total love with, not just movies, but the act of going to the movies and the theaters where they played. While most kids built spaceships and weapons with their Legos, I constructed movie theaters, complete with seats, screens, balconies, box offices, concession stands and marquees. When the Sunday Oregonion arrived at our doorstep each week, I'd grab the entertainment section while scarfing down Cheerios to gaze in awe at the big, glorious ads showing what was currently playing, and the wonders soon to come. I often clipped-out the more impressive ads to pin on the bulletin board in my bedroom, whether or not the movie was actually any good (Beyond the Door may have been a cheap Italian Exorcist knock-off, but man, was that ad scary!).

Mom and Dad would occasionally take my sister and I to the Southgate for a family night out, but when money was tight, Cinema V came in handy because they could drop me off while shopping or attending a Portland Buckaroos hockey game. Because of its relative proximity to my house, my friends and I eventually started biking there ourselves once we were old enough.

For the longest time, the admission price was only 69 cents, and that was for two movies! 69 CENTS was perpetually plastered on its cracked and weathered marquee at least five times bigger than the movie titles themselves (which were almost always missing a letter or two). In fact, my friends and I had been calling the place Cinema 69 for years (snickering like Beavis & Butthead once we eventually learned the connotation of that number).

The popcorn from the snack bar was gummy and stale, the Milk Duds were rock-hard and likely left over from when the place was still called the Victory. The most appealing beverage choice was RC Cola, which always tasted flat, closer to syrup than real soda. But everything was just as cheap as the price of admission, so I never complained.

Even though the place was old, dank and had a big slit in the screen hastily repaired with masking tape, it was pretty awesome to be able to catch a movie just by rummaging through sofa cushions for loose change. Best of all, Cinema 69 never checked IDs (at least when Herb, a congenial old man, was manning the box office, which was pretty-much all the time). Hence, I was exposed to a lot of R-rated wonders before I was even able to drive.

When inflation reared its ugly head, the admission price eventually jumped from 69 cents to 99 cents, but I have to assume this pricing decision was based on the fact they simply turned the 6 upside-down and commenced with business as usual.
The old stomping ground, expanded to a tri-plex in the early
1980s and renamed Milwaukie Cinemas

God bless the second-run theater, an endangered species nowadays. There aren’t many of them around anymore. As it becomes cheaper and more convenient to watch movies at home, one by one, these theaters are dropping like flies. Sure, some still exist in major cities, but mostly after rechristening themselves theater-pubs, where hipsters congregate to pretend they enjoy microbrews that taste like socks, or cinema-arcades to groom young kids for a life of gambling addiction. Even the old Cinema 69 is now one of these, it's once-spacious auditorium chopped in half to make room for Skee-Ball and Whack-A-Mole. Movies alone are seldom enough to keep these places in business, even with an admission price less than a glorified milkshake from Starbucks. There are still a few second-run cinemas left which offer just movies, but I think it is just a matter of time before they are all gone. That’ll be a sad day.

As a lifelong movie fanatic, Cinema 69 was an important part of my formative years, and I sort-of grew up there. Not only was it my personal hang-out of choice, it was where I saw most of the movies, classic and not-so-classic, that are still some of my all-time (or sentimental) favorites, and where I was exposed to countless actors, actresses and directors who make movies such a wonderful escape for me. It was at this dilapidated palace that I developed boyhood crushes on Ann-Margret and Faye Dunaway, and inspired to try and be as impossibly cool as Charlton Heston, James Caan and Steve McQueen.  

Cinema 69 provided my first education in sex (on and off screen), terrorism, good vs. evil, creative uses of the F-word, the consequences of getting shitfaced and why one should never sit directly under a balcony. It’s also where I discovered giant spiders, boobs, demonic cars, zombies, grown-up cartoons, how to play Rollerball and the joy of watching shit blow up.
The old Cinema 69 today, now part of the Wunderland chain
of cinema-arcades.

Times marches on, of course. Friends come and go. Places we once haunted get crushed in the gears of time. I'm certain old Herb (who looked 99 years old back in the 70s) has since gone to that great box office in the sky. Ironically, the old Victory still marks the corner of Main and Jefferson, long after 20 screen megaplexes rendered the Southgate and Eastgate obsolete (the former was unceremoniously demolished, the latter became a Slavic church). While I’m personally happy it’s still showing lots of second-run movies at a reasonable price ($3.00 today), it isn’t quite the Cinema 69 in which I grew up. The original auditorium is full of teenagers playing Dance Dance Revolution, and the old balcony is a storage room. Movies are now regulated to the two 100-seat theaters that were added back in the early 80s, during which time the old Victory was rechristened yet-again as Milwaukie Cinemas.

While I truly miss the double features, matted seats, stale popcorn and ol' Herb's brown-toothed smoker's grin, at least my beloved old hangout is still there, which is more than I can say for most of the other time-ravaged relics from my youth.

March 30, 2014

SCANNERS and the Fate of Mr. Baggy Pants

Starring Jennifer O’Neill, Stephen Lack, Michael Ironside, Patrick McGoohan, Lawrence Dane. Directed by David Cronenberg. (1981, 103 min).

My family and I shuffled into Burger King for lunch one weekend afternoon, tired and hungry from running errands all day and thinking a quick bite was in order. The place wasn’t busy…just one older guy in baggy pants hovering over the lone open register, and two ladies gabbing with each other ten feet away, whom I assumed were waiting to order. So we stood behind them, patiently waiting our turn. After several minutes, these two chatterboxes made zero attempt to move forward. In the meantime, someone else came in and promptly stood behind Mr. Baggy Pants at the counter.

Perplexed, I asked these two ladies, “Excuse me, are you in line?”

One gave me a casual glance. “No, sorry,” before both stepped out of the way and continued their conversation, oblivious to the fact their self-absorption (and my courtesy) resulted in several minutes out of my life I’d never get back. Because I was with one of my kids, I refrained from blurting out, “Then what the fuck are you standing there for?”

Anyway, several more minutes later, the individual who had just come into the place and inadvertently cut in line grew tired of waiting for Mr. Baggy Pants to finish ordering. She left in a huff, probably wondering why the second register wasn’t open. We quickly moved forward, stomachs rumbling impatiently. Then I discovered what was taking so long…Mr. Baggy Pants had a half-dozen wrinkled Burger King coupons on the counter and was spending all this time trying to negotiate the best deal possible, repeatedly challenging the woman behind the counter with various coupon combinations in an apparent attempt to get his fucking meal for free.

Jesus Christ, he was buying lunch, not a goddamn car.

Mr. Baggy Pants continued glancing up at the menu, down at his coupons and back again. My blood came to a rolling bowl, tempered only by my wife's more leveled head. While I have nothing against people using coupons, if your effort to save a dollar or two impacts the lives of those around you in any way whatsoever, you’re an asshole, no better than an oblivious fucknut who drives ten miles under the speed limit on a highway, not-once checking his rearview mirror to notice the convoy of cars stacked up behind him.

It got worse. The two gabby ladies were part of Mr. Baggy Pants' family. They walked up to remind him of everyone’s special requests, gesturing to the seating area where three slack-jawed kids sat, staring at nothing in particular and looking like the simple act of breathing took a supreme amount of concentration.

“Oh yeah,” nodded Mr. Baggy Pants before turning back to the woman at the register (who had the patience of Job) to finally start ordering. Speaking slower than Ben Stein after a bong hit, he began to rattle off his order, every-single item being “extra-this” or “minus-that” or “can I substitute this instead of this and still use my coupons?”

The real kicker was his last item…a Whopper, minus everything except ketchup. After spending 10 minutes dickering like a flea market bargain hunter in order to save a few bucks, he orders a Whopper with nothing on it, even though simply asking for a couple of plain hamburgers would have been far cheaper.

When it was - finally! - our turn, we managed to rattle off our order in less than a minute, then got our cups, napkins and straws. Unfortunately, we made the fatal mistake of finding a table before filling our drinks.

For those of you who don’t get out much, Burger King has replaced traditional drink dispensers with a computerized touch-screen machine that offers dozens of beverage choices. For example, the Coca-Cola button alone lets you choose from Coke, Diet Coke, Cherry Coke, Diet Cherry Coke, Vanilla Coke, Diet Vanilla Coke, Cherry-Vanilla Coke, Cherry-Vanilla Diet Coke, Lime Coke, Diet Lime Coke…you get the idea. There are also buttons offering an equal variety of Fanta, Sprite, Powerade and Minute Maid flavors. This particular Burger King had only one such machine, and guess who was standing there in front of us, cup in hand and hell-bent on hitting every single button to mull over the beverage choices…

…Mr. Baggy Pants, staring stupidly at the display screen as though trying to decipher alien code. In fact, our entire fucking food order was ready before he chose his drink.

On a side note, Mr. Baggy Pants & family also emptied out the ketchup dispenser. This wasn’t actually their fault, but the fact they got the last of the ketchup only added to my developing assessment that these people were polluting the gene pool.

Anyway, as we sat down to eat, Baggy Pants’ order came up (their 8 billion special requests may have had something to do with us getting our food first). While this family of mouth-breathers loudly chattered amongst each other or bellowed into cell phones, I watched in morbid fascination as Mr. Baggy Pants lumbered to the counter, picked up his two trays and returned. As he started to distribute the food to his brood, he bent over, his giant ass-crack peeking from pants just a few inches from the face of a guy at the next table. What’s distressing is the Baggy Pants family could have chosen from a number of empty tables far removed from everyone else, but decided to plant themselves right next to this poor bastard, who’ll likely never be able to unsee this stranger’s hairy ass whenever he orders another Chicken Sandwich.

The entire Baggy Pants family wolfed down their food in less than ten minutes, leaving all of their soiled wrappers, napkins, trays and ketchup containers behind for someone else to clean up.

At this time, I was convinced these were the worst people ever.

I was morbidly fascinated that an entire family could consist of such awful people, mostly because, in my rage at their total indifference to the world around them, I found myself longing for some movies to be real…

Meaning, if I were a Scanner, each head of the Baggy Pants family would have exploded, one by one, as they filed out the Burger King door.

Bye-bye, Mr. Baggy Pants!
Back in 1981, a Scanner was something different from the machine on your desk used to convert vacation photos you never look at into computer files you never look at. Thanks to director David Cronenberg, the twisted Canadian director whose current films display enough artistry to wow critics, but just enough nastiness to polarize audiences, a Scanner was someone with the unique ability to telepathically will someone to do what they want, or make them spontaneously explode.

Scanners was Cronenberg’s first movie to make a real impression on mainstream audiences, mainly due to an early scene in which megalomaniac telepath Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside, in the role which forever-cemented him as a go-to bad guy) literally wills another man’s head to explode. This gory (and still-convincing) scene has since-become iconic, partially because it’s symbolic of the type of body-horror Cronenberg later explored more graphically in films like Videodrome and The Fly, but mostly because absolutely no one in the audience knew it was coming (like the chest-bursting scene in Alien).

After that, the rest of the film consists of convoluted industrial espionage (with a terrible performance by Stephen Lack as Cameron Vale, the ‘good’ scanner trying to thwart Revok’s plan of world domination). Even the equally-gruesome Scanner showdown at the end is anti-climactic compared to seeing some poor rube’s head fly apart in loving slow motion. In 1981, sitting in a packed house at our favorite second run theater, Cinema V, that classic scene drew a myriad of noteworthy responses. Lots of people gasped, one lady ran from the theater clutching her mouth, while my buddy, Clay, pumped his fist in the air and roared, “YEAH!”

It's admittedly an audience-rousing scene, and for pure shock value, Cronenberg has never topped it.

Scanners is also one of the relics from my impressionable youth which still comes to-mind when confronted by people like Mr. Baggy Pants, whose oblivious self-absorption at Burger King made his every action so aggravating.

Some of us more maladjusted movie geeks have probably fantasized about being as cool and kick-ass as Snake Plissken, as quick-with-a-quip as John McClane or as hell-bent on revenge as Mad Max. But to have the power to make assholes' heads explode? Man, that’d be a priceless gift, one which I sometimes wish was bestowed upon me.

March 26, 2014

Blu-Ray Review: DEVIL’S DUE

Starring Allison Miller, Zach Gilford, Sam Anderson, Aimee Carrero, Vanessa Ray. Directed by Matt Botticelli & Tyler Gillett. (2014, 89 min).
Fox Home Entertainment

Found footage…movies made in this style are hard for me to view objectively for two reasons. First, what was once a fairly novel idea has been run into the ground (especially in the horror genre). Second, I automatically assume using found footage is more of an economic decision than a creative one.

Not that there haven’t been some good ones. The first Paranormal Activity is suitably creepy, Barry Levinson’s The Bay is timely and disturbing, and Apollo 18 is an underrated gem (though admittedly, I’m in the minority on that one). Because of the nature of those films, found footage was a logical choice, a major part of the stories themselves. But most of the time, it’s a lazy and distracting way to get things done cheaply.

Like so many found-footage films before it, Devil’s Due is a tired reminder that the genre has over-stayed its welcome. It’s essentially Rosemary’s Baby presented through home movies and surveillance cameras. Newlyweds Zack and Samantha return from their honeymoon in the Dominican Republic and learn they are expecting. Of course, there is something wrong with their bun in the oven (if you can’t guess what, then you need to see more horror movies). They are also being watched from the shadows by a group with a keen interest in this child (if you can’t guess who, then it’s obvious you have never seen a single horror movie).

"Honey...I swear I didn't know the camera was on
when we did this."
But originality isn’t necessarily a prerequisite for a good story (even the original Halloween wasn’t the first of its kind), as long as you put a unique spin on tried-and-true horror conventions. However, Devil’s Due tells the same old coming-of-the-antichrist tale, complete with all the usual tropes, and its use of found footage displays a total lack of creativity or imagination. Despite decent performances, a couple of impressive scenes and a few well-timed jolts, this is nothing we haven’t seen before.

For a found footage film to be truly effective, there has to be a logical reason for it to be presented that way. Here, the Zack character carries a video camera around 24/7, compelled to film every single moment of his and Samantha’s life. It’s a lazy plot device for scenes which, in reality, nobody would ever feel the need to document. Because of  that, Devil’s Due takes forever to get even remotely interesting. For at least the first 30 minutes, we feel like we’re watching home movies made by relatives who think we’re actually interested in what they did on their vacation. And when the ball finally does get rolling, it takes a unimaginative path we've traveled before.

EXTRAS: (unavailable for review)

(OUT OF 5)

March 23, 2014


Starring Tom Atkins, Stacy Nelkin, Dan O‘Herlihy. Directed by Tommy Lee Wallace. (1982, 98 min).

My wife and I were at Big Lots one day in the pet supply section. She suggested getting our dog, Murphy, a little bed to put in the corner of our bedroom where he often chooses to sleep. I agreed, enamored with the idea of our little pooch enjoying a warm, secure place to call his own, and a definite improvement over the cold floor. We found a soft, plushy mat that was reasonably priced, then headed home. 

Excited to see what Murphy thought of our gift, I quickly moved his toys from the bedroom corner, laid the bed down and called him in. 

After a couple of quick sniffs, Murphy hoisted his leg and peed on it before trotting from the bedroom, making it immediately clear he was not impressed. 

I just wasted twenty bucks. 

At first I thought, you ungrateful little shit. But that was me being momentarily guilty of assuming we were on the same page, which people and pets never are. When people receive a shitty gift from a loved one (like when my grandmother gave my wife and I matching sweatshirts for Christmas which pictured cuddly kittens with the words, ‘Best Friends’), we tend to remain congenial until said-gifters leave the house. Animals aren’t equipped with the same tact.

They aren’t gifted with speech either. It ain’t like I was able to ask Murphy if he wanted a doggy bed, nor would he be able to reply, “No, Dave, I’m good.” Unbestowed with tact or speech, upon inspecting this gift he didn’t ask for, Murphy communicated the only way he knew how…with urine. As pissed as I was (no pun intended), part of me had to admire Murphy’s innate ability to convey what he was thinking without a single word. He clearly made his point with the simple hoist of a leg, which is more than I can actually say about most people. 

Dogs aren’t the only species able to communicate through bodily functions. My cats keep other felines away with a flick of the tail and a quick spritz of piss. Then there are Monkeys, who take this concept of communication to another level. Because they’re bipedal and blessed with thumbs, monkeys can really voice their displeasure by flinging handfuls of their own poo. 

Unlike our pets and primate cousins, evolution has allowed humans to abandon the use of body waste to express ourselves (well, most of us, anyway). That’s mostly a good thing. I shudder at the thought of my wife getting the last word in an argument with an arsenal of ass ammo (I’ll take the silent treatment any day). And while freely peeing outdoors is one of the most liberating perks of being a guy, being required to stave-off intruders by regularly squirting all over my property is a burden my bladder ain’t prepared for, though it would justify drinking more beer (I know,'s my sixth one, but I'm doing it for you and the kids).

On the other hand, presidential debates would be a lot more entertaining. Rather than a war of words, they could engage in a war of waste…whoever pelts their opponent most wins.

And you know that oblivious douchebag at work who manages to make everyone’s job just a little harder? Rather than waste your time confronting him with words he won’t hear anyway, it stands to reason that a barrage of butt nuggets would send a stronger message. It would also be supremely difficult for him to come up with a reasonable retort while being pummeled with shit.

Strategically-tossed turds can be worth more than a thousand words.

Consider what you’re reading right now. Some of you are probably wondering just when the hell I’m actually going to start talking about Halloween III, the only film in the original franchise which isn’t about Michael Myers slaughtering people in his hometown of Haddonfield. If we were locked in a room together and you were forced to listen to my verbal vomit, wouldn’t you consider whipping a turd in my direction to declare your impatience, especially if you think Halloween III is a great film and are anxiously awaiting someone to confirm your good taste?

This kid can't get "Let it Go" out of his head.
Halloween III has its small share of admirers who applaud the attempt to do something different with the brand name, but it’s not a great film. Plotwise, it’s arguably the dumbest in the entire franchise (which is saying a lot). Tom Atkins plays Challis, a boozing doctor vexed by the gory death of a former employee of Silver Shamrock, the company which produces a popular series of Halloween masks. The victim’s daughter, Ellie (Stacey Nelkin), comes along, convinced something is amiss and plans to head to Santa Mira (where the Silver Shamrock factory is located) to find out what’s going on. Even though he’s a practicing surgeon at a hospital, and the Shamrock employee’s death has no significance on any other patient, Challis decides to drop everything and tag along with her. Admittedly, I might have done the same thing because Nelkin is pretty easy on the eyes, though this plot development does not explain Ellie’s out-of-the-blue sexual attraction to Challis at a motel in Santa Mira. Hey, I’m willing to accept a lot of mismatched Hollywood hook-ups for the sake of a story (even Harrison Ford and Anne Heche), but while Tom Atkins is a fine character actor, not only is he twice Nelkin’s age, he’s beady-eyed, pockmarked and looks like that creepy uncle in every family who reeks of Old Spice and hugs his nieces just a tad too long. Challis and Ellie’s sudden motel tryst seems more like a reason to show her boobs than character development. 

But hey, titillation is a big part of most horror films, so as creepy as this sex scene is, I was willing to accept it. Other details were tougher to swallow. For example:
  • That Silver Shamrock is run by an old man named Cochran (Dan O’Herlihy), who’s nefarious plan involves resurrecting the Gaelic ritual of Samhain by killing trick-or-treating children, though it is never explained how killing kids accomplishes this.
  • That said-plan can be accomplished by using a TV image of a blinking pumpkin, which triggers a microchip hidden in the labels of Silver Shamrock masks, each one powered by a shard cut from one of the giant rocks stolen from Stonehenge. Each rock from Stonehenge weighs 25-50 tons, making it impossible to transport one from England to California without being noticed.
  • That the success of this plan relies on every kid, not only wearing a Silver Shamrock mask, but planting themselves in front of the television at exactly the same time, which is impossible. While the big Silver Shamrock Giveaway is going on in New York at 9:00 PM, most kids in LA are just getting ready to go out trick-or-treating.
  • Finally, what exactly does Cochran actually hope to gain from all this?
Of course, if you dig hard enough, you can find an equal number of plot holes in any movie, leaving some of you to wonder why I’ve chosen to fling my metaphoric poo at Halloween III. A good question when you consider, despite the plot holes I just listed, Halloween III isn’t actually all that bad. In fact, there are literally hundreds of cinema suppositories more deserving of my rectal wrath than this one. The biggest problem with Halloween III is that it's called Halloween III.
But remember that, in 1982 (when the film was released), the popularity of slasher horror was at an all-time high, mostly thanks to the original Halloween. We kids understandably assumed anything titled Halloween III would provide more of the same. Instead, we got a deliberately-paced, moody tale of robots, witches, dark magic and old folks trying to save the day. Not a single killer in a Shatner mask to be found! If I'd have made my point back in 1982 by throwing my own shit at the screen, I’d have been tossed out of the theater (and probably arrested), but at least there’d be no ambiguity regarding my opinion.

But that was simply my first impression. Murphy eventually warmed-up to his new bed, and now sleeps on it every night. Whether it was grudging acceptance or a change-of-heart, the bottom line is he no longer feels the need to piss on it. I feel similarly about Halloween III  today. Despite its faults, I learned to accept it as a pretty decent film, so I guess its a good thing we've evolved from our poo-flinging ancestors.

March 18, 2014

Blu-Ray Review: FROZEN

Starring the voices of Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Santino Fontana, Alan Tudyk. Directed by Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee. (2013, 102 min).
Disney Home Video

It took awhile, but Disney has figured out how to combine their classic brand of storytelling with cutting-edge computer animation. Part of me is in mourning, because it’s highly unlikely we’ll see another traditionally animated movie from them again. But at the same time, films like Tangled and (especially) Frozen still have that classic Disney “look” to them. With these films (and even Wreck-It Ralph, to a lesser extent), Disney currently owns Pixar in more ways than one.

Maybe we’re even in the midst of a second “Disney Renaissance.” Some of you might recall when The Little Mermaid breathed new life into the studio after decades of forgettable kiddie fare. Creatively inspired, they proceeded to crank out some of their greatest animated features, culminating with The Lion King, which quickly became the biggest animated film of all time. Then Pixar came along and changed everything. Disney’s brand of animation became formulaic and rote, while rivals like Dreamworks jumped on the CG bandwagon. Disney initially tried their hand at computer animation, but forgettable flicks like Chicken Little and Bolt paled in comparison to Monsters Inc.,Finding Nemo, Shrek and How to Train Your Dragon.

"STOP! In the name of love!"
Then Tangled came along, Disney’s first real attempt to return to the type of storytelling they do best (classic fairy tales), and their first film worth seeing in theaters in over a decade (much like The Little Mermaid in the 80s). Wreck-It Ralph followed, becoming a Who Framed Roger Rabbit for a new generation. While Pixar finally began flirting with mediocrity with Cars 2 and Brave, Disney was suddenly back in a big way.

If Tangled is to this century what The Little Mermaid was to the late 80s, then Frozen is today’s Lion King, the epic culmination of lessons learned from the films which proceeded it, resulting in a movie which isn’t arguably different, but far more ambitious. Like The Lion King, its box office and cultural impact is huge. Even if you haven’t yet seen Frozen, you probably know “Let it Go” by now, since it's the most insanely-catchy movie tune since…well, “Hakuna Matata.” In addition, Frozen recently passed The Lion King as Disney’s most successful animated film (and currently the 19th biggest movie of all time, inflation not taken into account).

"Oh, I get it...the doctor can't find his pen
'cause it's where his thermometer should be!"
Is the film actually worthy of comparison to The Lion King? Yeah, sort of, since they tell a similar story…someone is banished from their kingdom, and while in exile, they learn to accept who they are, gather strength from their epiphany and return to save the day from those with a nefarious agenda. It's a time-honored trope, which both films masterfully retell. However, “Let it Go” notwithstanding, The Lion King is still musically superior. On the other hand, Frozen does not rely on celebrity stunt casting, choosing instead to cast people whose voices best suit their characters. As awesome as The Lion King is, we’re acutely aware of the actors themselves, which admittedly does suck us out of the story at times (“Oh, hey…that’s Whoopi Goldberg!”). Then again, many characters in Frozen are generically rendered and resemble those from Tangled, while every Lion King character is distinctly unique.

I guess it’s obvious I hold The Lion King in the highest regard of any animated Disney film. It’s remains the standard by which I’ve judged all of their subsequent efforts, CG or otherwise. Overall, Frozen doesn’t quite reach those heights, but it is arguably their best animated film since then, raising hopes that we’re in the middle of a true second Disney Renaissance.

For more of our unique insights on Disney’s Frozen, check out FKMG’s previous essay, Frozen and the Disney Junkies.


  • “The Making of Frozen”
  • D’frosted: Disney’s Journey from Hans Christian Andersen to Frozen
  • Deleted scenes
  • “Let it Go”: Two music videos
  • “Get a Horse”: Taking a cue from Pixar, this wonderful animated short, featuring Mickey Mouse, preceded Frozen during its theatrical run.

(OUT OF 5)

March 17, 2014


Starring Kaya Scodelario, Jessica Biel, Alfred Molina, Frances O’Connor, Jimmi Simpson, Aneurin Barnard. Directed by Francesca Gregorini. (2013, 96 min).
Well Go USA Entertainment

Looking at the artwork and synopsis on the cover of The Truth About Emanuel, you’d naturally assume it’s some sort of psychological thriller or supernatural ghost story. That assumption would be wrong. While there is indeed some haunting imagery and an occasionally eerie music score, it’s actually a deliberately-paced  - sometimes arty & pretentious - psychological drama of two young women emotionally scarred by tragedy.

Emanuel (Scodelario) is a moody 17-year-old living with her father (Molina) and stepmom (O’Connor). Even though she never knew her personally, Emanuel has never gotten over the death of her real mother, who died during childbirth. She’s emotionally cold to her stepmom and repeatedly torments her father by making him recall the events surrounding her mom’s death. Meanwhile, she begins dating Claude (Barnard), a relationship that’s tumultuous, to say the least.

"...then the doctor says, 'If I'm holding my
thermometer, where the hell is my pen?'"
Then free-spirited single mother Linda (Biel) moves in next door, who looks uncannily like Emanuel’s mom (a plot point played-up in the synopsis, but has no real baring on the story). Linda looks and acts like a new age hippy (she’d fit right in selling hemp clothing at a Saturday market). Wanting extra cash, Emanuel volunteers her services as a babysitter, but discovers Linda has a dark secret regarding her baby (a plot point I wouldn’t dream of giving away, but let’s just say Linda has a few loose screws). But rather than turn away, Emanuel develops a loving relationship with Linda that she never could with her own family, because both have experienced loss which had a huge impact, not only on their lives, but how they interact with others. The film ends with an emotionally-poignant resolution, where the viewer assumes they’ve both finally come to terms with the tragedies which have tormented them.

Once I lowered my expectations and accepted the fact that The Truth About Emanuel isn’t a thriller (with it’s overly-symbolic scenes involving water, it obviously aspires to be an art film), I found it sporadically interesting, particularly the scenes involving Emanuel and Linda alone together. We feel a true friendship and mutual develop between them, even when no words are spoken, to the point where outside characters become almost intrusive. Speaking of which, I could have done without the subplots (i.e., Emanuel’s relationships with her family, co-worker and Claude). Maybe I’m missing something, but even though I’m sure this was built in to contrast her friendship with Linda, Emanuel mostly comes across in these scenes as a shallow, unlikable, emo teenager incapable of looking beyond herself. The climax of the film has a lot of emotional heft and a great payoff, but it takes so long to get there that I can’t help but think the whole thing would be more effective as a short subject, without the subplots weighing it down.

But despite its misleading ad campaign, arty pretensions, padded running time and clumsy asides, The Truth About Emanuel has a good story worth checking out at least once. It features effective performances (Biel has never been better), deft direction and a few wonderfully surreal moments.

Interview with director Francesca Gregorini
Deleted Scenes

(OUT OF 5)

March 14, 2014

Blu-Ray Review: SAVING MR. BANKS

Starring Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Paul Giamatti, Colin Farrell, Bradley Whitford, Jason Schwartzman, Annie Rose Buckley, Ruth Wilson. Directed by John Lee Hancock (2013, 125 min).
Disney Home Video

After watching Saving Mr. Banks, I’m a bit surprised it received only a single Oscar nomination (Best Score, by Lionel Newman). No, it wasn’t the best picture of the year, but considering the Academy can select up to ten films, but only chose nine this year, it was certainly worthy of that tenth spot. Maybe it isn’t as gritty, quirky or intense as the other somber selections, but it’s beautifully shot, well-written and features terrific performances (Emma Thompson, in particular).

Maybe it was because of how the story itself is told, which chronicles the quasi-antagonistic relationship between Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) and author P.L. Travers (Thompson) during his attempts to convince her to sign-over the film rights to her novel, Mary Poppins. I’ve read some criticisms that Saving Mr. Banks is too whimsical, too Disneyfied and perhaps an overly-romanticized account of what really occurred. It has been well-documented that Travers never cared for Disney’s iconic version adaptation of her novel, but you wouldn’t know it from this film.

"Double-Tap! Zombie stays down!"
Or maybe it was because the movie isn’t really about Walt Disney himself. The man is easily one of the most intriguing people to ever work behind the scenes in Hollywood, and the Academy has historically loved biographical tales of major players in the movie business. But even though Disney is a major part of Saving Mr. Banks, this is Travers’ story, and it isn’t a true biography of her either. Instead, we’re introduced to a frankly-snobbish writer, contemptuous of Americans and fiercely-protective of the characters she created, to the point where she is a constant thorn in the side to those at Disney Studios trying to bring her only world-renowned novel to the screen. She initially comes off as arrogant and difficult. We don’t like this woman at all throughout the first half of the movie. But through flashbacks showing her upbringing in Australia and the relationship with her loving-yet-alcoholic father (Colin Farrell, who’s never been better), we understand why she’s so protective of the novel and its characters (Mr. Banks, in particular). We also learn why her book was so near and dear to Walt's heart for so many years.

Walt's forced to stand in
line at his own theme park.
I don’t know whether or not this is an accurate depiction of what happened on the Disney lot back in 1961, nor do I care. For all I know, Walt Disney himself was one of the most abusively-powerful, heartless and greedy pricks ever to stalk Hollywood. Do I want to see that side of him? Hell, no, and I find it hard to believe anyone else does either, which is why Tom Hanks (incapable of hatred from anyone) is perfect in the role, even though he looks nothing like Walt.

Saving Mr. Banks makes no claims of total historical accuracy. It remembers it’s supposed to be entertainment first, history lesson last. As such, Travers & Disney (and every other supporting character, for that matter) are wonderfully-realized creations who touch us on a personal level, no matter how far-removed from their world we might be. Their story is poignant and charming, with a bittersweet, nostalgic tone underlying everything. Unless you’re a complete cynic (like the Academy apparently is), this is a hard movie to dislike.

The Walt Disney Studios: From Poppins to the Present (a sentimental look back at the studio during the last few years of Walt Disney’s life)
“Let’s Go Fly a Kite” (cast & crew members sing the famous song in honor of its composer, Richard Sherman, who plays along with them)
Deleted Scenes

(OUT OF 5)

March 13, 2014

BAD WORDS First "Insta-bee" Launches!

Jason Bateman once again proves that grownups can get their Spelling Bee on too! If you have Instagram and know how to spell a thing or two, head over to @BadWordsMovie on Instagram and compete for your chance to win $4,000 cash and the title of the first ever “Insta-bee” champ by spelling the word correctly in the comments section!  You have seven opportunities to win BIG! May the words be ever in your favor. Nerd.

Mashable has the scoop HERE

BAD WORDS opens in select theaters March 14th and expands across the country on March 21st and March 28th

March 12, 2014

MOVIES IN HAIKU: The Desolation of Blog

The Dude's rug...pissed on!
It tied the room together.
His journey begins.

Dumb, dangerous stunts;
Legions of morons inspired,
Cleansing the gene pool.

Village under siege;
Seven samurai cowboys save the day!
Thanks, Kurosawa.

Being Jesus sucks...
Whipped, thorned, nailed and speared to death;
Christian torture-porn.

The poor giant ape,
Not killed by planes, but beauty...
Like most married guys.

March 11, 2014

AIRPORT 1975 and an Introduction to Irony

Starring Charlton Heston, Karen Black, George Kennedy, Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., Susan Clark, Helen Reddy, Sid Caesar, Myrna Loy, Linda Blair, Gloria Swanson, Dana Andrews, Erik Estrada. Directed by Jack Smight. (1974, 106 min).

Time for the Lightning Round, kids, where the points can double!

Think fast…Linda Blair! When you hear that name, what’s the first movie that pops into your head?

Any title other than The Exorcist? If you’re of a certain age, unless you’ve lived in a pop culture vacuum during the past 40 years, of course not. If you aren’t of a certain age, you probably don’t know who the hell I’m talking about.

As a public service to the latter, Linda Blair rocketed to stardom for her performance as Regan McNeil, the demon-possessed child in The Exorcist. She was 14 at the time, and like most child stars flushed with instant success, she went on to do almost nothing anyone remembers or gives a damn about (OK, a few of us might remember Exorcist II: The Heretic, one of the great comedies of the 70s). The few times Blair’s name has crept back into public consciousness since then have been Exorcist-related, either movie spoofs or appearing as herself in horror-based reality shows.

More than any other actor involved with that classic 1973 film, Linda Blair is synonymous with The Exorcist. For a time in the mid-70s, Blair was the true face of horror, so much so that when she appeared in Airport 1975 a couple years later, the irony of her role was not lost on me, even though I’d never heard the term, ‘irony.’ But as someone once famously said, “I can’t define pornography, but I know it when I see it.”

Airport 1975 was part of the Holy Trinity of disaster films released in 1974, The Towering Inferno and Earthquake being the other two. All three were box office smashes, which of course encouraged Hollywood to milk the genre dry over the next few years. Airport 1975 was the only sequel of the bunch (the original Airport, released in 1970, was more like a soap opera than a true disaster movie). But in another example of irony, Airport 1975 plays like it's inspired more by The Poseidon Adventure than the original Airport, eschewing many of the soapy subplots to focus on the action, which involves a mid-air collision between a 747 and a small twin-engine plane. The pilots are either dead or injured, leaving it up to crossed-eyed stewardess Karen Black to pilot the plane until Charlton Heston can drop in for a rescue (via mid-air transfer); we can’t allow a woman to land the plane, can we? Much of the movie’s budget must have been used to secure the all-star cast, because Airport 1975 looks like it was made on-the-cheap. There were made-for-TV movies with more convincing special effects.

"Hey, it supposed to be this soft?"
As a die-hard disaster buff with limited personal resources, I didn’t actually see this film until a year later, when it was the bottom half of a double bill at the trusty old Cinema V, a second-run theater within biking distance of my house. Even though I hadn‘t-yet seen The Exorcist, I was already well-aware of  its legend (audience members fainting, barf bags, nasty-ass dialogue spewed by a kid our age). And obviously, I definitely knew who Linda Blair was.

So when she showed up in Airport 1975 as a sunny, nose-scrunching, perpetually bubbly child in need of an organ transplant, I laughed. It’s a terrible performance. But the true irony comes later, when a nun, played by popular 70s singer Helen Reddy (whose hit, “I Am Woman“ was a clarion call to feminists worldwide), shows up to sing to her. We’re watching a religious figure serenade someone famous for violating herself with a crucifix.

I got a lot of chuckles out of that. In fact, me and my friends started talking back at the screen at the time, grunting “Your mother sucks cocks in Hell!” whenever Linda Blair showed-up in every scene afterwards.

Historically, there's been wonderful stories rife with irony. Who didn't love the tragicomic outcome of Guy de Maupassant’s “The Necklace,” or the twist endings of Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone episodes?

The only thing better than irony is accidental irony, like the casting decisions made for the entire Airport franchise. After all, Dean Martin was a pilot in the original Airport, even though he was as renowned for his drunkenness as his singing or acting ability. And what about Christopher Lee, known worldwide as Hammer Films' greatest villain, cast in Airport ’77 as the most helpless and sympathetic character in the movie? Then there’s George Kennedy as Joe Patroni, the only character who appears in all four Airport films. Even though he’s arguably the least attractive main character in the franchise, he’s the only one who appears in a sex scene (a tryst with a hooker in Airport ‘79). By the way...yeech!

Linda Blair is only a few years older than me, so I kinda grew up with her. She’s still pretty damned adorable, by the way. If I were to bump into her now, aside from asking her to be my bride, I’d inquire if she ever grasped the irony of her role in Airport 1975, and whether or not she had the urge to blurt-out “Your mother sucks cocks in Hell!” while Helen Reddy was serenading her.

March 10, 2014

Blu-Ray Review: 12 YEARS A SLAVE

Starring Chitwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Lupita Nyong’o, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Sarah Paulson, Brad Pitt, Alfre Woodard. Directed by Steve McQueen. (2013, 134 min).
Fox Home Video

Lucy, my youngest daughter, came into the room about half-way through this movie, plopped on the couch and asked what mom & I were watching. I told her it was a film about slavery and, based on the disturbing scenes of cruelty thus far, added that she might not want to see this. I was reluctant to make her leave because she was already learning about slavery in school. At the same time, 12 Years a Slave is often pretty relentless, and while I did let her stay, I insisted she close her eyes during the lengthy and brutal whipping of Patsey.

Towards the end, Lucy said, “Wow, white people sucked back then.”

Yes they did, though I don’t believe that was the message of the film.

I’m still not sure how to feel about 12 Years a Slave, the Oscar-winning account of the darkest chapter in American history. I hear folks mentioning it in the same breath as Schindler’s List and The Passion of the Christ, another historical epic which pulls no punches in depicting man’s capacity for evil and cruelty. This is the kind of film critics and supporters urge everyone to see (regardless of age), a cinematic history lesson most moviegoers feel more obligated than excited to endure.

"I'm tellin' ya, sir...2012 was not his fault!"
The subject matter alone made it a shoe-in to win a Best Picture Oscar. Was there ever any doubt? The Academy loves stuff like this. A few members even admitted they selected 12 Years a Slave for Best Picture without actually having seen it; they didn’t want to endure the film themselves, but knew the subject matter was important. It makes one wonder if the same thing happened with other “important” films which took home a Best Picture trophy in the past, which might explain how Dances with Wolves managed to beat out Goodfellas in 1991.

I’m kinda making it sound like the movie sucks, which couldn’t be further from the truth. 12 Years a Slave isn’t the emotional sledgehammer of Schindler’s List, but not as shamelessly manipulative as The Passion of the Christ, either. It is quite a harrowing journey though, sometimes infuriating, sometimes heart-wrenching and (with its scenes of physical and psychological cruelty) sometimes tough to watch.

Because the widespread evil of slavery is simply too overwhelming to tackle on a large scale without coming across as a history lesson, director Steve McQueen wisely chooses the Spielberg route, making it a deeply personal story of one man. In this case, we follow Solomon Northrop (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man who’s duped by opportunistic con men, who end up selling him down south. What gives the movie emotional heft is the fact Solomon is as shocked at the treatment of slaves as we are. He’s also forced to hide the fact he is well-educated and far more intelligent than his owners in order to survive, during which time we watch him endure one all kinds of degradation. I can’t count how many times I wished Solomon would suddenly go-Django on everyone’s ass.

But again, that isn’t the message of this film. In fact, I don’t believe there is a message. Nor should there be. Simply presenting Solomon’s story as he originally wrote it says far more about the ignorance and inherent injustice of slavery than a heavy-handed message shoved in our face by a less-skilled director.

When it was over, I looked over at my wife and said this was one of those movies I‘m glad I watched, but would never need to see again. And we both agreed it’s something probably everyone should watch at least one time. When Lucy asked why, my wife simply replied, “Hopefully, so nothing like this never happens again.”

But alas, I’m reluctant to agree with the Academy. 12 Years a Slave is a good film, an important film. And yeah, I suppose it’s one of those movies everyone should see. Was it the best film of 2013? If historical and social relevance is the sole criteria, then yeah, and those Academy idiots who didn’t bother to watch it are justified. It certainly earned all its nominations (especially Lupita Nyong’o, who deservedly won for Best Supporting Actress), but awarding a Best Picture statue for sheer nobility is wrong-headed. From a pure artistic standpoint, setting aside the subject matter, there were better nominated movies this year.

EXTRAS: (unavailable for preview)

(OUT OF 5)

March 8, 2014


Starring Asta Paredes, Catherine Corcoran, Zac Amico, Vito Trigo, Stan Lee, Judah Friedlander, Lemmy Kilmister, Debbie Rochon. Directed by Lloyd Kaufman. (2013, 85 min).
Anchor Bay Entertainment

There are cult films, then there are Troma films, which are really there own little genre.

Troma Studios’ heyday was during the 80s and early 90s. They managed to crank out two bonifide cult classics during this time (The Toxic Avenger and Class of Nuke ’Em High) which were symbolic of most of their product…low budget splatstick loaded with gore, gross-out gags, nudity, sex, political-incorrectness, outrageous plots and over-the-top characters. Along the way, Troma became a brand name among fans of this kind of stuff.

But, like hair metal, Members Only jackets and wine coolers, Troma never actually went away, but the popularity of their sleazy brand of cult movie mayhem faded as fans grew up and moved on to other things.

So I suppose Return to Nuke ‘Em High (ominously subtitled “Volume 1”) can be seen as a comeback by Lloyd Kaufman (Troma’s co-founder), who chooses to direct this belated sequel as though nothing has changed, perhaps thinking absence makes the heart grow fonder. Hey, it worked for Meat Loaf, who dropped his bombastic Bat Out of Hell II album a full decade after the rest of the world embraced grunge & rap, and it still sold a gajillion copies. Sometimes, if you wait long enough, the pendulum can swing back your way, making all your old tricks seem new again.

Hence, Return to Nuke ‘Em High is a calculated attempt to appeal the same audience who loved the films from Troma’s glory years. All the necessary ingredients are here: extreme gore, lots of sex, gratuitous nudity, lesbianism, vomiting, penis jokes, tit jokes, vagina jokes, drug use, bizarre characters, references to other Troma films (including a cameo by Toxie), bad taste, animal cruelty, guns, masturbation, heavy-handed satire, punk rockers, more penis, tit & vagina jokes, disgusting behavior, intentionally-amateurish performances, a gratuitous cameo by Motorhead’s Lemmy, dumb slapstick gags, ambitious-but-phony special effects and silly musical numbers. And did I mention all the penis, tit & vagina jokes?

"Who farted?"
All which brings me to my own personal problem with the film: I was never able to shake the feeling that everyone involved was trying way too hard to be outrageous. Attempts to shock or offend its audience come across as juvenile and pandering. For every scene which manages to be deceptively clever, there are at least three or four which are insultingly stupid (such as the morbidly obese guy who frequently shows up to flash his gelatinous girth for the sake of a cheap laugh).

As stated before, this is subtitled “Volume 1”, which I initially thought was simply a clever joke (poking fun at the current trend of milking a popular franchise for all it’s worth, like Twilight and Harry Potter). But indeed, this truly is only the first half of the film, abruptly ending as a “To be continued” card flashes on the screen. “Volume 2” is supposed to be released later this year, which will conclude the story (such as it is).

Still, as blatantly dumb as it is, Return to Nuke ‘Em High isn’t boring, the absolute worst sin a film can commit. Part of its appeal lies in the conceit that a willingness to go too far is reason-enough for its existence. There’s also a dubious sense of desperation prevalent throughout the film (like a Motley Crue comeback tour) that is sort-of fun to watch. We see lots of the same old gags that might have been shocking two decades ago, but today, they are mainly a comfort to those who might have grown up with this stuff.

Audio commentary with various cats members
Audio commentary with Lloyd Kaufman and producers Justin Martell, Matt Menjourides, Regina Katz and co-writer Travis Campbell
Featurettes: Casting Conundrum; Pre-production Hell with Mein-Kauf (man); Special (Ed) Effects; Cell-U-Lloyd Kaufman: 40 Years of TROMAtising the World
Music video
Trailer for Volume 2

(OUT OF 5)