Monday, June 30, 2014

Saturday Night Live Season 20 Reviews - Episode 6: John Tuturro/Tom Petty

“Let’s roll another joint.”

It’s A Wonderful Newt

5 Stars: The ghost of Richard Nixon shows Newt Gingrich what life would be like if he never became Speaker of The House

After last week’s lack of political humor in an election week, we get a really biting political sketch.  I like when the host appears in the cold open but John Turturro’s bizarre take on Nixon took me a second to figure out who he was, but then again who in the cast could have played Nixon?  Adam Sandler?  Jay Mohr? If Norm MacDonald could have done it I would be on board for that.  You have to think that when Newt Gingrich joined the media spotlight, SNL producers knocked on Farley’s door and said, “Congrats on the gig, you’re needed for a wig fitting.”

This was a real attack on Newt, he is really an evil man and this sketch doesn’t pull any punches.  Without Newt getting elected, Martini’s gun shop turns into an abortion clinic and Newt’s anti-cripple bill never passed.  They also get a real hard dig in at Nixon, saying he’s burning in hell.  My only problem with this sketch, which happened last week too, is that it is too well written for a cold open.  The ending of Farley yelling “Live from New York” is awkwardly timed.  I would have put this as the lead off sketch, but what do I know?

John Turturro Monologue

4 Stars: Turturro has to get in the Quiz Show booth to see if he’s capable of hosting

This is a standard monologue of mocking the reason why he’s hosting.  Here Turturro gets into the Quiz Show cube and answers questions about what the host usually says on the monologue.  His sweating was funny and I like his stunned expression when he’s searching for an answer to menial questions, like it’s great to be here in blank blank city.  It turns out the other competing host was Joey Buttafuco.  I mean he’s certainly a terrific actor and a national treasure and all, but what the hell was he doing there?

Eych! Hairball medication commercial - A rerun from last season

I never understood why SNL shows reruns of commercials.  I can get behind it if the show is running short and you throw it in at the end of the night, but to start the show off with a repeat, especially one with a voice-over from Phil Hartman, who isn’t on the show anymore, just feels lazy.

Christopher Walken Psychic Friends Network

1 Star: Walken and other celebrities want to be your psychic friend?

I was never a huge fan of Mohr’s Walken impression but that doesn’t matter because I don’t understand the concept of this sketch at all.  Walken hosts a celebrity psychic friends network with McKean as Gary Busey, Garofalo as Juliette Lewis and Turturro as Walken’s younger brother Eugene and the phone isn’t ringing.  Walken then asks people to call and give directions to their house, and if anyone wants to watch this and tell me what the premise is, be my guest, I’ve been trying to type an explanation for about 10 minutes and now I have to rewind because I’m halfway through Weekend Update now and missed a sketch.

Why are they psychic friends when they don’t know anything?  Was the idea to just gather creepy celebrities, or… this sketch is destroying me.  Why does Christopher Walken want to know directions to everyone’s house?  OK, I’m done thinking about this.

Addendum: After reading Jay Mohr’s book, “Gasping For Airtime”, it turns out that this sketch first appeared last season and is the same premise.  Apparently this was originally written by Mohr and Rob Schneider and after watching the original incarnation…still have no idea what this sketch was about.  This was apparently done at Turturro’s request because he wanted to showcase his Walken impression, but why psychic friends when they don’t even pretend to be psychics?  Mohr would later put his Walken impression to better use with an advertisement for Skittles later in the season.

Phone Etiquette

2 Stars: A man wants to talk to the person his wife is on the phone with, but she keeps hanging up

Here’s one of those classic SNL sketches that takes one joke and repeats it over and over again.  I call them lather, rinse, repeat sketches.  Sometimes that’s OK if the joke is funny but the joke here is that Garofalo keeps hanging up the phone.  It’s a premise that could have led to funny material but instead the sketch ends with Mike Myers playing a Chinese character like he did last episode.  I then wondered if the whole point of this sketch was to showcase Myers doing a Chinese stereotype and then I wondered if this was racist or not.  Then I wondered if I’m racist or not.  Then I wondered why this once promising episode suddenly fell down the crapper.

Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers - “You Don’t Know How It Feels”

Here we go, you can’t go wrong with 90’s Tom Petty.  After last week’s f-bomb from Michael Stipe we get Tom Petty singing about rolling another joint, something that the music video for this song censored.  And just like that, my attitude has picked up because I know Weekend Update is coming up after this delightful song.

Weekend Update

5 Stars: “I guess being married to a homosexual pedophile wasn’t such a great idea”

We finally get the punch line to one of the most bizarre running jokes of all time.  David Hasselhoff comes out to talk about his world tour and Norm just wants him to prove his theory that Germans love him.  The Hoff’s performance wasn’t bad but having Norm pull out his mountain of evidence was the highlight of the segment.

Only lowlight was Mike Myers as Judge Ito, shamelessly relishing in his own fame.  Now I’m wondering if Mike Myers is racist.  I understand that if you’re doing an OJ sketch you need an Ito and they don’t have an Asian cast member but this is weird to have on Update when the pieces are either characters or excuses to do really good impressions.  Myers is just doing Myers in a beard and glasses down to the silly dance on the desk.  There’s a good premise here but after playing a Chinese guy this week and last week I can’t get past the fact that Myers is a white guy playing Asian stereotypes.

Best Jokes: Fergie, the duchess of York, turned down a role on Baywatch.  Now my research shows that Fergie is actually British, not German.  So while not proving, it certainly does nothing to disprove my theory, Germans love David Hasselhoff.

George Foreman says his autobiography will be an inspiration to anyone with a dream, while former heavyweight champion Michael Moorer wants his autobiography to be an inspiration for anyone who’s ever been beating up by an old man.

OJ Simpson revealed that Nicole Brown used to beat him up.  He also claimed that she and Ron Goldman killed him.

Ricki Lake was arrested for vandalism after demonstrating against fur.  She states that wearing fur is in bad taste.  She then returned to her studio where she taped an episode of her show titled: “Why Whores Get The Clap”.

Taxi Driver: The Musical

2 Stars: Martin Scorsese unveils his latest project, a musical version of Taxi Driver

When hosts do impressions I always wonder what came first, the chicken or the egg.  Did Turturro come in and say, “Hey, I got a killer Scorsese and a decent DeNiro” or was this a sketch in a writer’s head that just happened to work out?  His Scorsese is fun and high energy but his DeNiro doesn’t have the voice, although he does have the face down.  This is odd because Taxi Driver was 20 years old and the trend of movies becoming Broadway musicals hadn’t hit yet.  I don’t know if Turturro was doing this on purpose but he really can’t carry a tune and neither can the rest of the cast.  The songs could have been more fun because there’s really no joke here.  It also goes on way too long and the joke wears thin really quickly.  With a better concept, better songs and perhaps a different framing device this could have been classic, as it is, this is pretty forgettable except for the length.

David Spade performs the musical outro as Tom Petty with Tom Petty.  This isn’t a rateable segment but interesting and I like when they do these weird things in between bits.

Stop That

3 Stars: A talk show host annoyingly repeats everything his guests say

What the hell kind of idea was this, and how did it manage to work?  This is another sketch that repeats the same joke over and over but this time it built with each incarnation.  Turturro hosts a talk show but instead of interviewing guests he just does that annoying thing that kids do where they repeat the last thing you said until the guest says “Stop that!”

Turturro is all on board for this and instead of him just bringing on guest after guest, he takes a caller and imitates the dial tone and a classical guitarist and imitates the guitar.  The sketch didn’t really go anywhere but I’m so happy to have laughed after a while.

Jamaican Tourism

3 Stars: Jamaican resort workers are more than happy to cater to your every whim

A short little sketch that finally showcased the African American cast members.  There are some good jokes here and it got in and out quick.

Dr. Josh Levine Attack Ad

5 Stars: Dr. Ira Resnick launches a political attack ad on a rival dentist; his diploma is on the wall

This is a weird little bit which would have been better used a few episodes ago when the election was in progress.  I really like Turturro’s stilted line delivery and Elliott’s disgraced photos.

The Movie Club

3 Stars: Two weird brothers review movies on VHS

I actually enjoyed this for what it is, a chance to showcase Sandler’s goofy voice and mentally deficient characters. I would have liked to see more of what these two weirdos were about, but then again this season hasn’t been about character development.  Then it ended before it became too annoying.
My only complaint with this sketch is that we only got this oddball once.  It’s slightly hypocritical of me to say this, because I hate recurring characters, but I would have appreciated one more incarnation of this.  Who was their mom that was operating the VCR and what do these two brothers do when they’re not watching movies on VHS?  The joy on Turturro’s face when watching ‘City Slickers’ killed me.

The show ended with two more rival attack ads by competing dentists.  I would have preferred if this would have been a runner throughout the episode instead of jammed at the end.  It seems like they were hiding it when they really had nothing in the show before Weekend Update.  The re-run of this episode had another installment with Tim Meadows as a 3rd dentist but it didn’t make it into the live episode for time.


Did you know that Kevin Costner used real Indians in “Dances With Wolves”?  That must have saved him a lot of money on make-up.

Average: 3.7 Stars

MVP: Janeane Garofalo (It’s A Wonderful Newt, Christopher Walken, Phone Etiquette, Taxi Driver The Musical, Dr. Josh Levine Attack Ad)

Best Sketch: It’s A Wonderful Newt

Worst Sketch: Christopher Walken’s Psychic Friends Network

How I Would Have Lorne Michaels-ed It: This episode started off strong, then stumbled, then got its feet back.  If you swap the front half with the back half and sprinkle the dentist commercials throughout it would have been solid throughout.  Two bad sketches up front really killed the momentum.  I would have started with either “Stop That” or “Movie Club”, something that really showcased Turturro and then buried “Walken” as a 10-1 sketch.

Host Analysis: Turturro seemed to be having a lot of fun, which I like in a host.  Even though he kind of dominated this episode he really fit in well with the ensemble, if you take out the monologue and showed this episode to someone who never saw the show you could almost convince them that he was a cast member.

Final Thoughts: One thing I’m noticing in these episodes, even though we’re only 6 in, is how much they are letting the host dominate the proceedings.  I remember this season as the Sandler/Farley year but Farley wasn’t anywhere to be seen in this episode and so far this season Sandler has been relegated to the Update desk.  I can’t wait for this host domination to continue when we get seasoned professionals like Deion Sanders and George Foreman.

Up Next: Roseanne hosts and I think I watched this live but remember nothing from it.  I’m anticipating hating this episode but I hope I’m pleasantly surprised.  Going into it, I will say that I am not a Roseanne fan.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Saturday Night Jive, Episode Twenty Six - Jack and Jill

On this episode of Saturday Night Jive, we spend another week of hiatus watching an SNL related film, and this time its the notoriously bad Jack and Jill. Or is it? George and I make some unexpected discoveries and learn a lot about ourselves while delving into what many claim to be the worst Adam Sandler movie ever made (and that's saying something). We try to find the heart of the thing, applaud Al Pacino for his commitment, and retroactively forget to attach the theme song to the beginning of the MP3 file (sorry, my bad). Enjoy!


Friday, June 27, 2014

Schlockbusted #13: Stalled

I have the poster for Shaun of the Dead right above my bed. I look at it every day, which is why I know that the poster image for Stalled is a deliberate reference to it, which wouldn't be quite so obvious if the movie didn't also sport a shameless critical plug citing it as a worthy successor to the classic zombie comedy. Beyond that one image, the British sense of humor, and the lighter tone, the movies have little in common, but then that's probably more than enough to engender a comparison. For the record, no, its not as good, as if it could be, but that would be an unfair judgement for any movie, and for what it is Stalled is a surprisingly funny and I would say mostly original take on the genre Edgar Wright all but created ten years ago.

Wow. Has it really been ten years since Shaun of the Dead? It doesn't seem like it, especially since it was the first of a trilogy that only just wrapped up last year. I suppose with the glut of imitators having never really stopped since it premiered, its easy to forget just how long ago it was when we first saw a comedy about zombies done so effortlessly. Perhaps we have been seeking a worthy successor all this time without even realizing it. Stalled is not that. It is however very funny, and surprisingly heartfelt in the end, much more so than you would expect for a movie set primarily in the toilet of a Women's restroom. That would be the double meaning implied by the title, just clever enough to set up a movie that does quite a lot with such a small arena to work with.

The lead is W.C. (get it?), a janitor in an office temporarily waylaid first by some unexpected and possibly gratuitous lesbianism, and then just as unexpectedly by a horde of flesh eating zombies gradually invading the room just outside, leaving him trapped and, at least he thinks at first, alone. The many and varied ways in which he tries and fails to extricate himself from this situation provide the majority of the humor, mostly in watching him flail pathetically as each plan of escape blows up in his face, but the heart of the movie lies in his interactions with the only other major character, a woman he eventually finds out is hiding in the next stall over.

We never see her until the very end, and the reveal represents a twist that I honestly didn't see coming (personally I was banking on her not being real, a symptom of his stress induced psychosis). Instead, he talks to her through a drawing he makes of what he thinks or hopes she looks like, and she fills in the rest with her voice and sardonic sense of humor. Its a burgeoning sort of romance that believe it or not had echoes of Her, and while the way it ends is maybe not quite as heartbreaking, don't be surprised if you don't get a little choked up by how it all turns out. I won't spoil it, except to say that its a somewhat tragic exploration of the often cruel side of office politics that sneaks up on you very nicely.

Speaking of office politics, there's a thread in this movie that goes mostly unspoken and adds so much appreciated nuance to what might otherwise have been a pretty broad comedy. The banality of office life is skewered in a very subtle way when you find that this is all taking place during one of those unbearably sad office Christmas parties, with the various zombified employees showing up in increasingly ridiculous holiday themed costumes up to and including a zombie Jesus Christ himself. Its barely commented upon and doesn't really factor into the plot too much until a somewhat bittersweet ending, but its the kind of little thing that can make a movie so much better when it isn't focused upon.

Stalled is available on Netflix streaming as of this writing and if you're a fan of Shaun of the Dead or any of the zombie comedies to come afterwards, you'd be remiss to not give this one a chance. If only for the accomplishment of being set in a bathroom stall and never in 90 minutes making a single poop joke until literally the last line of the film, its worth a watch. Sometimes it feels more like an extended sketch than a full on feature, but it never overstays its welcome and changes things up just enough throughout to keep you interested. Presumptuous advertising aside, Stalled is at the very least a loving homage to what has come before, and one of the better ones at that.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Schlockbusted #12: Zombie Hunter

You know those guys who like zombie movies just a little too much? I don't just mean the gore fiends like me who like the movies, good and bad, but the aggro types who like to think about how they would actually fare in a zombie apocalypse and visualize the prospect of smashing heads in a desolate wasteland with a glint of mad joy in their eyes. There's something just a bit creepy about someone who actually thinks that kind of world might have an upside; that a world gone mad is like a video game come to life with no responsibilities and plenty of excuses for mindless bloody mayhem. Sometimes those kinds of assholes make movies, and usually they turn out like Zombie Hunter

Zombie Hunter is about a Zombie Hunter named Hunter (fucking seriously) who walks around the post-zombified desert Midwest in a leather jacket clearly too warm for the weather, inner monologuing pointless cool guy asides to himself as he occasionally hacks away at undead beasts in between swigs of tequila. He has a dark and somber past that will be revealed eventually (spoiler: his family's dead and you won't care at all), but mostly he's just a badass who lives to be badass, as if a planet descended into Hell was always more his speed anyway, and the whole apocalypse thing was basically a net positive. Of course, when I say he's a badass, what I really mean is that the movie keeps telling you this without actually showing you; basically the Riddick model of storytelling. Oh, and you want to know the best part? Despite what you may have hoped based on the poster, this guy isn't Danny Trejo.

That's right. Danny Trejo, that actual badass ex-convict turned actor best known as the man behind Machete is not, contrary to what the advertising would have you believe, the main character of this movie. Oh, he's in it, for maybe about ten minutes of screen time total, and has maybe two legitimately cool scenes of him taking an axe to zombie heads and fighting a giant super zombie respectively, but because the people who made this movie don't quite understand that any hero put up against Trejo will always fail in comparison, our lead is some unknown white guy who grimaces like Snake Plissken without the eye patch and wishes he were half the man as the right Reverend Jesus (yes, that's Trejo's character's name, and yes, he should have been THIS ENTIRE FUCKING MOVIE!).

Zombie Hunter is basically wish fulfillment for zombie loving frat boy dick bags who think they'll turn into Clint Eastwood at the first site of the plague even though they only have a vague idea of who Clint Eastwood actually is. Our heroic cypher never flinches whether he's killing zombies or bedding the nubile young innocent girl among the band of the most annoying group of survivors you'll ever see in a zombie movie (and that's saying something). Personally, I would have gone with the slutty one instead, at least before she takes a chainsaw to the gut. Oh, and just so you know, this happens in a town called Dahmer, filled with psychopaths. Cause that's just so cool, right?

Last time I reviewed Battle of the Damned, and it may have sounded like faint praise when I commended that film for simply getting the basics of a zombie action movie right. Zombie Hunter is why the bar is so low as to make Battle of the Damned a highlight of the current state of this genre. Its technically well made, at least in the sense that the zombies look gross enough and the blood spills when and where its supposed to, but there's just a sort of ickiness to the whole thing that pervades it even before the ickiness you're supposed to feel in these movies. When it ceases to be about terror, when living among the dead stops being a bad thing, it doesn't become a good thing, and it isn't fun, no matter how much glee those onscreen might take from the carnage. Especially when you kill off Danny Trejo ten minutes after you introduce him.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Schlockbusted #11: Battle of the Damned

Well, it's another year, and another trilogy of random zombie movies from the recent past. This time around we've got zombie fighting robots, zombie fighting janitors, and zombie fighting Danny Trejos, which we also had last time come to think of it, but fuck it, who doesn't want as much zombie fighting Danny Trejo as we can get? First up, its Battle of the Damned, a surprisingly entertaining and mostly traditional zombie action flick that does the basics right and doesn't try anything too fancy, that is, until the army of robots come out of nowhere. And I mean out of nowhere, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Battle of the Damned was most likely sold as Dolph Lundren Vs. Zombies, or at least it could have been. That's why I bought it anyway, and for the most part, it delivers on that promise. Lundren is one of those 80's era action heroes who strangely never got his due, at least to the same extent as a Van Damme or a Stallone, and while I highly doubt a movie like this is going to do anything for him, its a pretty good showcase of his largely overlooked talent. Now, granted, like most of his ilk, dialogue and pathos aren't really his strong suits, but when you need a guy to believably kick ass and swagger his way through a horde of the undead, or vampires or mutants or whatever, Lundren's got the muscles and the jaw line for it, and unlike some of his more famous contemporaries, I can actually understand most of what he says, which is always a plus.

This battle finds Lundren as a mercenary commando sent into an Asian city that I'm pretty sure wasn't specified by name, perhaps for the best as its due to be fire bombed to burn out the waves of zombies currently keeping it a quarantine zone. Lundren's mission is to find the missing daughter of the Biotech tycoon who inadvertently unleashed the disease and bring her back at all costs, only to find that she refuses to leave, having forged a connection with a group of survivors who aren't part of the mission and who would only slow them down. Again, plot isn't what we came here for, and what little there is is well balanced with Lundren's fists and feet smashing into zombie faces. Its obviously a low budget production with minimal make up effects and some less than stellar CGI in the second half, but for what it is and what you want, there's little to complain about.

One of the challenges with a movie like this is making the survivors interesting enough that they come off as more than just zombie fodder waiting for their inevitable gory deaths, and Battle of the Damned actually excels on this score, at least relative to most low budget zombie trash that typically misses the mark. A good cast allows for the kind of human drama and moral ambiguities that a zombie outbreak can create, and the movie spends just enough time establishing this rag tag group and their cowardly self serving leader that when the conflicts play out in the way you expect they will, they're still satisfying because they don't just feel tacked on or perfunctory. What does feel tacked on is the fucking robots. Oh yeah, I forgot. There are fucking robots in this movie, for like no reason whatsoever.

Okay, that's not entirely true. I know the reason why they're in the movie, or at least I have a pretty good guess. I assume they're here because the production staff had the CGI models and robot suits already built, perhaps for another project that fell through, and just decided to fill out some of the running time and save money on the sly. They literally just show up to punch zombies, explained in one throwaway line as coming from an event that has nothing to do with the zombies or anything, and then they're just there until the end, because won't it be cool to see robots fighting zombies? And it is, frankly, but they could have done a lot more to set this up. Because the rest of the movie is so watchable, I can forgive this, even though it feels like two zombie movies wedged together, if only because it leads to the best line in the movie, when the leader of the survivors begs to be taken along after he's fucked them all over, justifying his pessimism in Lundren's abilities by asking - "who the fuck just finds robots?"

Who? Dolph fucking Lundren, that's who. Battle of the Damned doesn't break the zombie movie mold or do anything really special, but it does what its supposed to do right, which wouldn't be high praise if so many shitty straight to VOD zombie flicks didn't fail so miserably on such a regular basis. The standard is low, but this movie doesn't even struggle to meet and exceed it and does enough to get any zombie fan engaged within the first few minutes. Its at times cheesy and silly, but never to the point of winking to the camera outside of one recurring catch phrase, and its a hell of a lot more entertaining than, say, World War Z, or any of the more recent high profile zombie movies I can think of. Probably only worth it for devotees, but since I am one, I appreciated the effort.

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Cinema File #362: "The Other Woman" Review

There have been a few times in my brief career as an amateur online film critic when I have been tempted to be lazy (or if you prefer, lazier than normal) and simply throw out a pithy, one word review for a film and move on. Sometimes, as in the case of the new anti-romantic comedy The Other Woman, I think it doesn’t even have to be a word, but maybe just a guttural sound encapsulating my immediate distaste for the thing. I was thinking Ack! summed this one up pretty well, though I would want to stress that even though this movie is an insulting sop to appeal to modern women, I do not reference the catchphrase of the comic strip character Cathy as any sort of feminist statement, ironic or otherwise. It is purely an authentic visceral reaction to how terrible this movie was. Ack!

The Other Woman finds Cameron Diaz thankfully sans leopard tattoos, Rihanna-esque accent, and windshield fetish, now a hotshot corporate lawyer dating a dashing Game of Thrones alum, only to find that her new lover is a married man. When her accidental discovery also alerts the wife to the man’s infidelity, the two set off on what one would think would be a whirlwind adventure to get revenge, and in so doing find themselves and togetherness and so forth. I’m sorry, but even describing the lazy cliche-ridden story that this movie tries and fails to be is just too tiresome. I’ll take a movie with a skewed, two wrongs make a right morality if its done well, but if you’re going to go down this road, you have to know that it means working that much harder to make your characters if not redeemable, then at least likable in their shady behavior, and not one member of this rapidly ballooning cast comes even close.

I get the feeling that, much like Diaz seems to see herself generally in comedic roles, The Other Woman has a somewhat over-inflated sense of how funny and endearing it is. It spends so much time establishing a caustic Odd Couple style relationship between its two (and eventually three) leads that it almost forgets about the part where their friendship is defined by their mutual hatred of another person. By the time we actually get to the revenge (i.e. what’s supposed to be the point of the movie), it only happens after they find and befriend yet another Other Woman, and then only in a perfunctory montage of pranks like laxatives in drinking water and hair remover in shampoo. Instead of giving us anything substantially amusing that’s inherent to the premise, it lingers on extended, and I’m guessing mostly improvised character beats that only make sense if they serve to make you care about the people involved, which I defy anyone to even try.

Would you believe that Nikki Minaj’s extended cameo as a sassy secretary is probably the least offensive performance in the movie? Its the kind of stunt casting reminiscent of Kim Kardashian’s very similar role in Tyler Perry’s Temptation, and actually happens twice in this movie, as we also get the completely useless addition of (clearly not a natural actress) Kate Upton. Considering how little she adds to the film both in terms of talent and plot necessity, if this weren’t so clearly being marketed exclusively to women I’d almost suspect her only purpose was to serve as eye candy for men who couldn’t get out of seeing this as a date movie. I hate to cast that sort of sleazy aspersion on a film without knowing for sure, but her character is literally introduced in a slow motion Baywatch style run down the beach, and she’s given nothing else to do but look pretty for the rest of her screen time.

Correction: Also serves to increase my blog's hit count.

And then there's the ending. I'm hesitant to even bother with a spoiler warning, as any self-respecting fan of movies should know at least vaguely how this is all going to end up after the first five minutes. The girls are going to get together and exert their Girl Power and the evil cheating husband is going to be publicly revealed for what he is and get his long awaited comeuppance. The only twist here is in the severity of said comeuppance, which has Nikolaj Coster-Waldau literally walking through pane glass walls and breaking bones in a sort of gruesome slapstick routine right out of the darkly satirical hyper violent Three Stooges movie that only exists in my head. Had this ending actually fit with the movie, or rather, had the movie fit with this ending, it might have been immensely satisfying, but as it is, it comes completely out of nowhere and in its disjointed failure only serves to remind the audience of what a train wreck this entire affair turned out to be.

The biggest disappointment of The Other Woman is that there actually is a good movie buried somewhere deep inside this mess, but no one involved seems to know how to find it or has any interest in doing so. In my introduction I called it an anti-romantic comedy, and I largely mean that as a positive thing. This is a movie that is at least structurally perfect for a post-Frozen feminist sensibility in mainstream American cinema that I sincerely hope catches on, just in a better written, more entertaining form. It mostly eschews the temptation to saddle its characters with positive romantic subplots to contrast with the negative ones, treating the platonic all-female friendships as good enough for a happy ending, representing a shift in movies that slowly seem to be chipping away at the idea that female protagonists always ultimately need a man to be happy. It fails, but its still indicative of movement in the right direction. Or maybe its abject terribleness is actually a step back, but the train is moving so fast that it still feels like forward momentum. Not quite sure yet, but maybe we’ll get a better idea of the state of things when someone finally gets this right, which feels like its coming sooner rather than later.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Saturday Night Jive - Episode Twenty Five - Karate Dog!

This week on Saturday Night Jive, another week of SNL's hiatus leaves us watching yet another terrible movie featuring a former SNL cast member. This time its Chevy Chase again in Karate Dog, a kids film from 2006 where Chase voices the titular dog, who really doesn't do a lot of karate. We tackle the title conundrum along with other burning issues, like the utility of having three Poison Ivy movies, the amazing comic prowess of Oscar winner Jon Voigt, and just how much the last fifteen minutes of the movie make up for the painfully lackluster first eighty. Enjoy.


Thursday, June 19, 2014

DIRTY SONS OF PITCHES Episode 87, Now Available!

Hey gang, check out the latest episode of my podcast, The Dirty Sons Of Pitches. This week we talk about Doomed Romances inspired by the new film The Fault In Our Stars. We also talk porno movies, alot. Enjoy


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Book Learning' #4: The Shining - Stephen King Vs. Stanley Kubrick

Given the current critical consensus, it probably sounds strange to hear anything other than uniform praise concerning Stanley Kubrick's The Shining. Its easy to forget that when it originally premiered back in 1980, it wasn't so universally regarded as the classic it is today, representing one of the few Kubrick films to garner no Oscar or Golden Globe nominations and two Razzie noms (for Worst Director and Worst Actress, back before the tyranny of Sandler when that actually meant something). Of course, opinions have changed, with many considering it one of the best horror movies ever made if not one of the best movies in general, with even fans of the book forgiving its many transgressions despite Stephen King himself citing it as the only adaptation of his work he vehemently hates. Had you asked me my opinion before I recently re-read the book and re-watched the film, I might have ended up in that last group (loved the book, still liked the movie), but now, I can't even give the movie the charity of "decent for its time." Frankly, I'd go so far as to say it might be one of the worst movies ever made. Yeah, its that bad.

How do you make a two and a half hour movie with no story? How do you spend two and a half hours in a secluded environment with only three main characters and not bother to develop them as people at all beyond the most basic archetypes of unrepentant killer and innocent victim? How do you tell a story about dark supernatural forces exploiting an otherwise noble man's alcoholism without the nobility, while suggesting the supernatural forces might just all be in his mind? And how do you make it all so mind numbingly slow and boring? These are among the questions swirling around in my head as I watch Stanley Kubrick shit all over a book he must have almost certainly hated quite a bit in order to bastardize it this much for the sake of his weird autistic vision of a what a horror movie should be. Kubrick's process was famously exacting to the point of madness, and I can't help but wonder if many fans assume that because of this, there must be something here, and so they've just imagined greatness where it clearly isn't. Memes being what they are, the idea that this movie is good has gone viral, infecting far too many otherwise sensible people.

Okay, sorry, I'm getting ahead of myself again. First, I should talk about the book. Stephen King's The Shining has never been one of my favorite King books, though that's not to say I don't thoroughly enjoy it. Though he's so well known as a horror writer, I've always appreciated him more as a dark fantasy guy, enjoying the way he's built a shared universe over the years to reward long time fans. The Shining was written before he really got serious about that, but as a story on its own its still a great read that deserves far more respect than Kubrick ever gave it. King has famously suggested that elements of the story are somewhat autobiographical, written at a time when he was struggling with his own alcoholism and the effect it had on his own family. Whether he saw himself as the father or the son or both (not sure of the history there) is unknown, but its easy to see why he might have been offended by the treatment of these characters in the film knowing how much he identified with them. At its heart, the novel is about the tragedy of a loving family coming apart, but the film never bothers to invest in the characters emotionally so that you care about that, beyond the sudden visceral attack at the end of it.

It would be a valid criticism of the book to say that King perhaps identifies a bit too much with his characters, so much so that he sometimes tries too hard to excuse Jack’s alcoholism. The book often comes across as blaming the drink more than the addict who chooses to drink it, and the whole premise is in a way all about externalizing the damage alcoholics cause by introducing ghosts as a metaphor for life’s pressures that can send a good man off the wagon. Still, if King cares too much for the Torrance family, Kubrick doesn’t care nearly enough. He obviously has no sympathy for any of these characters, removing Jack’s redemptive arc to turn him from a man struggling against an urge towards monstrosity into a monster struggling to conceal itself under the veneer of humanity. By extension, Kubrick seems to assume that no self-respecting woman could ever stay with a man like Jack (having removed all of his redeeming qualities), and thus sees Wendy as having no self-respect whatsoever, despite her novel counterpart being an exceptionally strong female character, which is honestly sort of rare for a King book. And then there’s Danny, who you might be surprised to find out is actually supposed to be the main character of this story, considering how little he matters to it in the film version.

Of course, I suppose I can’t really complain about the lack of more scenes with Danny Torrance, considering just how fucking terrible the actor is. Yes, I know its kind of dickish to say that about a child actor, but its not like there aren’t enough good ones out there, and I only single him out first because as bad as he is, he’s the best of the bunch. That’s right, Jack Nicholson is even worse. The joke about Nicholson later in life was that he was always very good at playing Jack Nicholson, but he’s clearly trying to do that here and somehow can’t even pull that off. Seriously, watch either of the ballroom scenes where he’s talking to the bartender (or really any scene he’s in, but especially those two). He’s bobbing his head around like a fucking cartoon! Throughout the whole movie he alternates between goofy cornball antipathy to this blank stare that I guess is supposed to be creepy or foreboding, but just looks like he’s shat himself. His famous third act meltdown is, I’m sorry, ridiculous, and perhaps enjoyable for its camp value, but certainly not the legendary performance it is heralded as.

Oh, and maybe this is a bit picayune, but it seems to me that if you’re going to make a movie called The Shining, about a little kid who has a magical gift called the Shining, you might actually want to have this thing called The Shining in it. The titular power, crucial to practically every moment of the book, is completely superfluous in the film, not to mention incredibly silly in execution (yes, I’m talking to you stupid Tony voice and spittle seizure!). This is all only compounded by the shift in focus from Danny to Jack, as in the book it is Danny the Overlook wants because his powers amplify their own, whereas in the movie, the ghosts want...what exactly? Oh, its ambiguous, which I guess automatically means good. Fancy that. You could completely take out the supernatural elements of this movie with absolutely no consequence, which you might think is a clever thing if you’re a film nerd who reflexively sides with a filmmaker against the author, but if you’re going to do that, then just make an original movie about a psycho dad in a hotel and call it something else, like The Shitting, which is what this movie does in all of our mouths.

And you know what, frankly, it’s not even really all that well made on a technical level (yeah, I know, sacrilege!). Sure, there are a few great iconic moments like the bleeding elevator and the twins, but for every clever tricycle dolly shot there are about ten or so close ups of boring nothing that slowly pan out into wide shots of boring nothing. Yeah, we get it, its a big empty hotel, move the fuck on! The pacing in this movie is absurdly slow and it was a struggle to stay awake half the time. Maybe that was another brilliant Kubrickian trick, making the audience fall asleep so that when a loud noise wakes them up in the third act when stuff starts actually happening, you just fill in the gaps with a better movie in a dream like haze. Hell, the famous bathroom scene alone was so poorly directed I started to think I was watching a Tim And Eric movie, designed to be terrible on purpose. Hmm, wait a minute...

One of my favorite reviews I’ve ever written for this blog was for the Shining inspired documentary Room 237, and you can go back and read my previous opinion concerning the Kubrick film that I wrote at the time, having not actually re-watched the movie in quite a few years. I didn’t really buy into any of the crazy theories presented in the doc (except the one about boners, that one’s spot on), but if I could proffer my own after a more recent viewing of the subject film, I get the feeling that The Shining might just be Stanley Kubrick’s massive joke on his own fanbase. Could it be that he intentionally made a movie so bad just to see if his sycophantic film nerd fans would love it anyway just because he made it? Maybe not, but if that were the case, he certainly succeeded. This movie is as awful as it is overrated, too intellectualized, which isn’t to say too smart for dumb material, but rather too intellectual at the expense of any discernible emotional core. He took a story about the perversion of love and family, took out the love and family, and left nothing but the perversion. Though it has its flaws too, the novel clearly deserves its recognition as a classic of its medium. The film, not even close.
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