Worst of 2018: The Happytime Murders

The Happytime Murders

Today, I am continuing my Worst of 2018 coverage with the oddball puppet movie, The Happytime Murders.

The plot of The Happytime Murders is summarized on IMDb as follows:

When the puppet cast of a ’90s children’s TV show begin to get murdered one by one, a disgraced LAPD detective-turned-private eye puppet takes on the case.

The Happytime Murders was co-written by Todd Berger, who is perhaps best known for his bizarre dark comedy, It’s A Disaster.

The director for The Happytime Murders was Brian Henson, who previously directed Muppet Treasure Island and The Muppet Christmas Carol. Notably, he is the son of Jim Henson, beloved creator of The Muppets.

The cast for the movie includes Melissa McCarthy (Ghostbusters, The Heat, Spy, Tammy), Elizabeth Banks (The Hunger Games, Power Rangers), Maya Rudolph (Inherent Vice, Away We Go, Bridesmaids), Leslie David Baker (The Office), Joel McHale (Community, Ted), and Michael McDonald (MADtv).

The cinematographer for the film was Mitchell Amundsen, who also shot CHIPS, A Bad Moms Christmas, Odd Thomas, Jonah Hex, Now You See Me, Transformers, and Wanted.

The score for The Happytime Murders was composed by Christopher Lennertz, who also provided music for films like Pitch Perfect 3, Sausage Party, Uncle Drew, Baywatch, and Horrible Bosses.

Sesame Workshop filed a lawsuit against the production over the tag line “No Sesame. All Street.” claiming that it tarnished their reputation. The production company behind Happytime, STX, claimed that the advertising was clearly distinct from Sesame Street, and the suit was eventually thrown out. Afterwards, some TV spots for the film started with “From the studio that was sued by Sesame Street…”

When this film was announced, many noted the stylistic similarities to notable previous films, such as Peter Jackson’s vulgar puppet movie Meet the Feebles and the hit crossover animation / live action film noir, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?.

The Happytime Murders was a financial flop, bringing in only $20.7 million on a $40 million budget. Critically, it didn’t fare any better, as it currently holds a 5.3/10 IMDb user rating, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 23% from critics and 41% from audiences. Peter Travers of Rolling Stone went so far as to say that the film might be the worst of the decade, and numerous critics listed it among their worst films of 2018.

The biggest problem with Happytime, without any doubt, is that it is just not funny. The film tries to lean on the raw absurdity of featuring puppets in a lude plot, but there isn’t much mileage to get out of that. The film is almost entirely gross-out humor, with little in the way of thought or care put into the writing. The result is a shallow, uncompelling story laced with what might pass for humor at 2am to a thoroughly inebriated person with a deeply-buried puppet fetish.

What is odd about all of this is that Happytime boasts a really good cast of comedic performers. This is basically raw proof that performers, regardless of talent, can’t save underlying bad writing.

When it comes down to it, this film just shouldn’t have gotten the green light to start with. The very foundation of the premise was begging for failure. What I don’t understand is why anyone thought this would work, to the tune of $40 million. As a niche project by Adult Swim, I could maybe see something like this if the budget could be kept to a minimum. However, I just can’t imagine this even breaking even with the money put into it, and I don’t know why anyone thought it would. The best I can figure is that this was someone’s passion project (Henson?), who was well-connected and wealthy enough to make it happen regardless of criticisms. Regardless, it should go without saying that this film is an atrocious bore, and I can’t even lightly recommend it to the depraved – they almost certainly have better things to do than this.

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Worst of 2018: Venom

Venom

Today, I’m kicking off my Worst of 2018 coverage with the divisive quasi-Marvel movie, Venom.

The plot of Venom is summarized on IMDb as follows:

When Eddie Brock acquires the powers of a symbiote, he will have to release his alter-ego “Venom” to save his life.

The screenplay for Venom was written by Jeff Pinkner (The Amazing Spider-Man 2, The Dark Tower, Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle), Kelly Marcel (Saving Mr. Banks, Fifty Shades of Grey), and Scott Rosenberg (Kangaroo Jack, High Fidelity, Con Air, Disturbing Behavior)

Venom was directed by Ruben Fleischer, who previously directed the films Gangster Squad and Zombieland, as well as episodes of Santa Clarita Diet, Superstore, and Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis.

Venom is based on a popular Marvel comics character of the same name that first appeared in The Amazing Spider-Man #300 in 1988. The character was created by Todd McFarlane and David Michelinie as a new, villainous form of the sentient black-and-white Spider-Man costume debuted in 1984. Since then, the character has gone through multiple incarnations, and oscillated between being a villain and anti-hero in various plot lines.

The cast of the film includes Tom Hardy (Mad Max: Fury Road, The Dark Knight Rises, Inception, Locke), Michelle Williams (Manchester By The Sea, All The Money In The World), Scott Haze (Midnight Special), Reid Scott (Veep), Jenny Slate (Obvious Child, Bored To Death, Zootopia), Riz Ahmed (Nightcrawler, Four Lions, The Sisters Brothers), and Woody Harrelson (Kingpin, True Detective, Seven Psychopaths, Zombieland, Rampart).

The cinematographer for Venom was Matthew Libatique, who has shot such acclaimed movies as Black Swan, A Star Is Born, Iron Man, Phone Booth, and Requiem For A Dream.

Venom employed the work of two editors: Maryann Brandon (Alias, Super 8, Passengers, Star Trek, How To Train Your Dragon) and Alan Baumgarten (The Lawnmower Man, American Hustle, Trumbo, Zombieland, Lifepod)

The film’s music was composed by Ludwig Göransson, who previously provided scores for Black Panther, Creed, Fruitvale Station, Death Wish, and Creed 2.

Venom had a lengthy, tumultuous production history. The film was originally envisioned as a spin-off from Sam Raimi’s widely-reviled Spider-Man 3. Shortly after the Spider-Man films were rebooted, however, the film was announced once again, though this time within the continuity of the rebooted series. Following the release of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Sony announced that Venom would be a part of their Spider-Man Cinematic Universe. Following that film’s lackluster reception, however, Sony and Marvel decided to collaborate on another reboot of the Spider-Man films, which placed Venom in limbo once again. Ultimately, Venom was produced as a “tangent” to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, though the exact relationship of the character to Spider-Man and other Marvel properties has yet to be properly clarified.

The actors Alan Tudyk and Jackie Earl Haley were at one point considered for Woody Harrelson’s role as Cletus Kasady / Carnage.

Director Ruben Fleischer has stated that he wanted Venom to look tonally different from other contemporary comic book movies. According to him, he “wanted to make a darker, grittier, kind of edgier comic book movie that also has a strong horror element…Those were the aspects: darker, edgier, grittier.”

Before Riz Ahmed was ultimately cast as Carlton Drake / Riot, actors such as Matt Smith and Pedro Pascal were considered for the part.

The trailers to Venom met with uniquely negative reactions from fans. First, the initial trailer was criticized for lacking the iconic Venom suit. Additionally, many fans went up in arms over characters’ pronunciations of the word “symbiote,” which many felt was indicative of a lack of familiarity with the source material and history of the character.

Despite the reticent fan reaction to the trailers, Venom was a box office hit, taking in $855.5 million on a production budget of $100 million. However, the critical reception to Venom was mixed. While it earned decent marks from audiences, including a 6.8/10 IMDb user rating and Rotten Tomatoes audience score of 84%, it was frequently named on year-end “Worst of 2018” lists by critics, and earned a dismal 28% Rotten Tomatoes score from critics. Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times even referred to the film as “a tone-deaf, uneven and maddeningly dumb clunker,” echoing the critics’ consensus regarding the film’s awkward humor and tonal issues.

Speaking of which, it is hard not to take note of the odd moments of humor and attempted banter that pepper the film. While this is certainly reminiscent of the comic origins of the character, it doesn’t translate very well in this film – perhaps more adept hands could have pulled it off, like more comedic-experienced actors and sharper dialogue writing to boost them.

Tom Hardy’s performance in this film is perplexing. His line deliveries and accent are odd, but also evidently very specific and crafted. He clearly had inspirations for his performance, but they don’t necessarily feel appropriate for this character. Brock, thanks to Hardy’s performance, comes off as a bit of a prat-falling doofus, as opposed to the brooding and motivated reporter he was clearly written as. I’m not sure if this was necessarily miscasting per se, but I think the director should reigned Hardy in and given some guidance in a different direction.

A key problem I found with this film were the visuals – while they are certainly in line with the director’s stated vision, I found them to be a little bit too dark. This isn’t necessarily an issue in all cases, but for this movie, where a number of characters are amorphous black-colored CGI monsters, having a dark palette and general design often makes it difficult to tell what is happening on screen. If you ask me, the Venom costume at least needed some kind of more visible contrast (like the prominent white from the original comic design, residual from the Spider-Man suit).

My biggest issue with this film is something that is difficult to pinpoint – I just found the whole package to be a bit bland and uninspired. On top of the already outlined issues, the villain was unremarkable, the effects and stunts felt unspectacular, and the story and character relationships were both a bit lacking. Pretty much every element of the film was at least a wee bit sub-par, and the sum follows suit.

Overall, this film could have easily been much worse. It isn’t particularly good or a stand-out by any means among its comic book movie peers, but I’d certainly take this over Suicide Squad, Batman v. Superman, or the Ang Lee Hulk adaptation. Despite some iffy dialogue, Hardy’s odd performance, and the muddy visuals, it is a watchable enough flick. I’m not sure if I would recommend it to any but the most staunch of Venom fans, but it would be a bearable HBO watch if you were captive in a hotel room.

Worst Movies of 2018

Howdy loyal followers! Now that 2018 is well into the dirt, I wanted to, once again, shine a spotlight on the publicly perceived worst films of the year.

Once again, I want to re-emphasize that this is a list I generated based on public perception, and not objective quality. I chose to measure this by compiling 15 currently published year-end “Worst of 2018” lists (from sources like The AV Club and Variety), then I tallied up how often each film appeared. It is a pretty simple and data-driven way to make this sort of list, and gives a rough idea of how widely despised individual films were.

Even more so than last year, there was very little consensus among the various rankings. Between the 15 lists I compiled entries from, 103 individual films received tallies. For the sake of brevity, I am only including the films that appeared most often in this post. However, as always, the full spreadsheet of films and sources is available here.

As with the past two years, there was no runaway “Worst Movie of 2018.” The two films with the most tallies were only on 10 of 15 lists (66.66%), which means that they were left off of an entire third of popular year-end lists. On top of that, there was a tight cluster of ties, with 18 movies earning enough tallies to crack the Top 5.

If you are curious about what past rankings looked like, feel free to check out my Worst Movies of 2017 and Worst Movies of 2016 posts.

Now, without further ado, here are the publicly perceived worst movies of 2018:

  1. The Happytime Murders / Gotti
  2. Venom / Life Itself / Fifty Shades Freed
  3. Robin Hood
  4. Mile 22 / Dark Crimes / Slender Man / 15:17 To Paris
  5. Winchester / Overboard / Truth Or Dare / Death Wish / Show Dogs / Death of a Nation / The Cloverfield Paradox / Peppermint

The Stuff (Throwback Post)

This is a repost of a previously published review. The Stuff is the only movie I have covered through a blog post, a podcast, and a video, and I even discussed it with Larry Cohen himself once – it is definitely a favorite. Due to my wedding/honeymoon, as well as hectic grad school scheduling, I’m taking some time off from weekly posts. See y’all in the new year! – Gordon

The Stuff

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Santa’s Slay (Throwback Post)

This is a repost of a previously published review. Due to my wedding/honeymoon, as well as hectic grad school scheduling, I’m taking some time off from weekly posts. – Gordon

Santa’s Slay

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Today’s feature is a holiday-themed horror-comedy: Santa’s Slay.

Santa’s Slay was written and directed by David Steiman, who was Brett Ratner’s assistant on Red Dragon and Rush Hour 2, and also worked on Inspector Gadget, What Lies Beneath, Cast Away, and The Family Man.

The cinematographer for Santa’s Slay was Matthew F. Leonetti, who shot movies like Accepted, The Butterfly Effect, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, Red Heat, Action Jackson, Commando, Species II, Dragnet, Weird Science, and The Bat People, among many others.

Santa’s Slay featured two primary editors: Julia Wong (Extract, Good Luck Chuck, X-Men: The Last Stand) and Steve Polivka (Teen Wolf Too, Law & Order: SVU, Justified).

santaslay2The team of producers for Santa’s Slay included filmmaker Brett Ratner (Rush Hour, Red Dragon, Hercules), Andreas Schmid (Perfume: Story of a Murderer, Lord of War, Lucky Number Slevin), Matthew F. Leonetti Jr. (The Mechanic, Evil Dead, Oldboy), Sammy Lee (Monster), Stewart Hall (Running Scared), John Cheng (Horrible Bosses), and Andreas Grosch (Lucky Number Slevin, Lord of War).

Th effects work on Santa’s Slay was done by a team that included Prudence Olenik (Prom Night II), Leo Wieser (Shanghai Knights, Ginger Snaps II), Bob David (Android Apocalypse), Eugene Gogowich (Inception, Brokeback Mountain), Neil Krause (Tideland), Chris Aronoff (Giallo), Beverly Bernacki (State of Play, From Dusk Till Dawn 3, Robot Jox), Joshua D. Comen (Soul Plane, Riddick), Jamison Scott Goei (Dracula 2000, From Dusk Till Dawn 2, From Dusk Till Dawn 3), Anthony Ivins (Son of the Mask, The Spirit), Laura LeFaivre (Aeon Flux), Debbi Nikkel (Spaceballs, Armageddon), and Marlo Padon (Freejack, Con Air, Flubber, Total Recall, The Abyss).

The musical score for Santa’s Slay was composed by Henning Lohner, who also provided music for movies like In The Name Of The King: A Dungeon Siege Tale, BloodRayne, and The Ring Two.

The cast of Santa’s Slay includes professional wrestler Bill Goldberg (Universal Soldier: The Return), Douglas Smith (Big Love, Terminator Genisys), Robert Culp (Xtro 3, Silent Night, Deadly Night 3, Goldengirl), Emilie de Ravin (Lost, Once Upon A Time), Saul Rubinek (Warehouse 13), and Dave Thomas (Strange Brew, Coneheads, Rat Race), along with brief cameos by James Caan (The Godfather), Chris Kattan (Corky Romano, A Night At The Roxbury), Fran Drescher (The Nanny), and Tiny Lister (Dracula 3000, No Holds Barred).

The plot of Santa’s Slay is summarized on IMDb as follows:

Santa Claus is actually a demon who lost a bet with an Angel, so he becomes the giver of toys and happiness. But when the bet is off, he returns to his evil ways.

Santa’s Slay isn’t a particularly beloved movie: it currently holds a 43% audience aggregate score on Rotten Tomatoes, along with an IMDb user rating of 5.4.

santaslay3The idea behind Santa’s Slay is admittedly pretty amusing: that Santa Claus is actually a demonic Norse warrior, bound to serve children by a sort of curse. Honestly, if there is anything positive to say about Santa’s Slay, it is that Santa looks awesome, and it offers plenty of slasher movie deaths at his hands.

On the other hand, Bill Goldberg isn’t much of an actor, and fumbles his way through countless one-liners throughout the movie, as do the less interesting protagonist characters. The dialogue writing across the board is pretty awful, and contains a lot of half-assed attempts at humor that don’t come off very well, so it is hard to lay all of the blame on the actors there.

Overall, Santa’s Slay is a fun enough holiday slasher movie, even if it does wink a little too much, and is a bit lacking in the humor department. The opening scene is fantastic for its cameo density, and, as mentioned previously, Goldberg looks awesome in his rugged, demonic Santa suit. I wouldn’t go in expecting too much from it, but I think this is a fun enough movie to watch with a mixed crowd of casual movie goers and bad movie aficionados alike.

For more thoughts on Santa’s Slay, I recommend reading the always amusing Something Awful review post, and also check out the video on it over at Good Bad Flicks.

The Punisher (Throwback Post)

This is a repost of a previously published review. Due to my wedding/honeymoon, as well as hectic grad school scheduling, I’m taking some time off from weekly posts. – Gordon

The Punisher

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Today’s movie is a lesser-known early Marvel comic book adaptation: 1989’s The Punisher.

The Punisher is a character who was initially created by Gerry Conway, Ross Andru, and John Romita, Sr. for Marvel, and he was debuted in The Amazing Spider-Man issue #129 in 1974. 1989’s The Punisher marked his first appearance in a film, though not his last: two other high profile movies were created with the character in 2004 (The Punisher) and 2008 (Punisher: War Zone), and a television series starring the character is currently on Netflix as part of the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The writer for The Punisher was Boaz Yakin, who also penned From Dusk Til Dawn 2, The Rookie, and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, and also directed movies like Remember The Titans and Uptown Girls.

The Punisher was directed by Mark Goldblatt, who is best known as the proficient editor of such movies as Predator 2, Enter The Ninja, Humanoids From The Deep, Piranha, Super Mario Bros, The Howling, Commando, The Terminator, and Terminator 2: Judgement Day. The Punisher is one of only two feature-length directorial efforts by Goldblatt, the other being the buddy cop zombie flick Dead Heat.

The editor for The Punisher was Tim Wellburn, who also cut the Stuart Gordon flick Fortress and the BeastMaster television series. The cinematographer for the film was Ian Baker, who also shot such movies as Queen of the Damned, Evan Almighty, and Roxanne.

The musical score for The Punisher was composed by Dennis Dreith, who has worked as an orchestrator on movies like The Rock, Jurassic Park, and Misery.

The visual effects for The Punisher were done by one Roger Cowland, who has worked on such films as Babe, The Piano, Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, and The Howling III.

The Punisher special effects and makeup teams included common elements with movies like The Matrix, The Road Warrior, Street Fighter, Fortress, Crocodile Dundee II, Razorback, and Mad Max, among others.

One of the producers for The Punisher was Robert Mark Kamen, an accomplished action movie writer who penned screenplays for such movies as Taken, The Transporter, The Fifth Element, Lethal Weapon 3, and The Karate Kid.

The cast for The Punisher includes Dolph Lundgren (Masters of the Universe, Dark Angel, Rocky IV), Louis Gossett Jr. (Iron Eagle, Jaws 3-D), Jeroen Krabbé (The Fugitive, The Living Daylights), Barry Otto (The Great Gatsby, The Howling III), Nancy Everhard (DeepStar Six), and Kim Miyori (Metro).

THE PUNISHER, Louis Gossett, Jr., Dolph Lundgren 1989.The plot of The Punisher follows Frank Castle, an ex-cop turned vigilante who hunts down and executes members of the mafia and other criminal figures. After 5 years of his activities, the local criminal scene has weakened considerably, but the vacancy also attracts the interest of a foreign criminal power: the Yakuza. After the Yakuza attempts to seize the remaining operations of the mafia by kidnapping the surviving leadership’s children, Castle winds up making strange allies through his efforts to save the children and put the Yakuza down.

punisher4Reportedly, most of the fight choreography for the film was done with full contact, given professional martial artists were hired for the fighting roles instead of stuntmen. Dolph Lundgren did most of his own stunts for his role as well, given his martial arts background.

The Punisher is one of the best known “Ozploitation” action movies: meaning it was filmed in Australia, and done with extreme violence on an exploitation level.

A sequel to the movie was at one point planned, but the production company (New World Pictures) wound up going bankrupt before it could happen.

The Punisher interestingly did not theatrically release in the United States, due to the aforementioned bankruptcy of the production company. However, it managed to distribute to theaters internationally (at least, in places where it wasn’t outright banned), and popped up on home video shortly thereafter.

The beginning of The Punisher features a thinly-veiled version of John Gotti, one of the most well-known gangsters of the modern era. In 1989 (the year of this film’s release), he was still two years off from his ultimate conviction and incarceration, but was very much a public and recognizable figure as a crime boss. While the character isn’t explicitly named John Gotti in the movie, he is referred to as “The Dapper Don,” a well-known nick-name of Gotti’s.

The reception to The Punisher was generally negative: it currently holds Rotten Tomatoes scores of 28% (critics) and 32% (audience), along with an IMDb rating of 5.6. However, it has a dedicated cult following in spite of the bad reviews.

punisher3The Punisher has a great grimy look and feel to it, which is definitely a credit to this being an exploitation-style action movie. Honestly, I think this ambiance fits The Punisher as a character better than the other adaptations, though I don’t hate either of those films as much as some people do. As weird as Lundgren’s casting might seem at first glance, I think he nails the spirit of the character pretty well. Also, it is hard not to appreciate that this movie isn’t an origin story, and that the plot the screenwriter came up with is actually pretty cool, and deals with a realistic consequence of the presence of a Punisher-style vigilante.

punisher2I have never understood why so many people vocally hate this movie. The absence of the iconic skull image is certainly notable, but that actually strikes me as pretty minute on the grand scale of things. This movie is over-the-top violence and action, which is basically what the spirit of The Punisher is all about. Dolph even does a pretty good job with his lines, which is likely the result of him being given permission to rewrite them for his comfort level. I feel like it is a real shame that Goldblatt hasn’t directed any other movies, as both Dead Heat and The Punisher are entertaining flicks that have become cult classics.

I definitely recommend checking this movie out, as it is probably the best of the Marvel movies made before the modern era of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Sony’s Spider-Man flicks, and Fox’s X-Men franchise. I think b-movie and action fans in particular will enjoy this adaptation, perhaps more so than die-hard fans of the comics.

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