I love Godzilla movies. I grew up watching both the Hesei and Showa movies on VHS, and actually remember waiting intently for some of the Heisei movies to premiere on video in the US. So, I have a lot of fond memories of watching old Godzilla movies.
With the recent Godzilla movie rocking the box office, a lot of the old flicks have been getting re-releases on blu-ray. Giddily, I’ve been revisiting a good number of them.
One of my favorites of the Showa era is “Godzilla vs Gigan”. There is a goofy human plot, lots of monster fighting action, cockroaches try to take over the world, Godzilla gets lines, Godzilla bleeds profusely, Godzilla loses a fight with a stationary object, Anguirus casually defies gravity, and the be-buzz-sawed Gigan gets introduced to the franchise. There is a whole lot to love/hate.
I can’t recommend this movie enough. Outside of “Godzilla vs. Monster Zero”, this is my favorite cheeseball flick from the Showa era of Godzilla. A lot of people point to “Godzilla vs Megalon” as the best of the worst of Showa, but “Megalon” doesn’t have cockroach aliens wearing human skin, or a Japanese Tommy Chong. It has nothing on this.
Trust me on this one, “Godzilla vs. Gigan” is well worth the watch. Unfortunately, I don’t believe it is on Netflix or online anywhere at the moment, but the DVD and bluray are readily available.
I haven’t seen a movie as thoroughly incompetent on every conceivable level as “Ben and Arthur” since I sat through “The Maize: The Movie”. “The Maize” is still worse by a long shot, but that is only because of all of the unintentional humor throughout “Ben and Arthur”. This movie is a treasure, the sort of good-bad movie that people are always digging for.
To start with, the acting in this movie is absolutely abysmal. All of the accessory characters are basically reading lines off of the page (in one case, I’m pretty sure they actually are), and the director made the incredibly poor decision to cast himself as the lead, despite not being able to act. The villain is played amusingly over the top, yet even he seems incredibly miscast as a extreme religious zealot. The fellow who plays Ben (a much smaller role than you would expect) is perhaps the only adequate acting performance, and he doesn’t exactly light up the screen. Given this was basically a home movie, there is no reason to expect top-notch acting here. I don’t want to put the movie against unrealistic expectations, but the acting is really laughable even with the bar set to limbo levels.
I mention that this is basically a home movie. I don’t know if that was the case, but it sure looks like it. There are no attempts at creative or interesting shots, so everything comes off as very basic and bland. Even some YouTube movies try to do interesting things with the camera. I imagine this has something to do with the fact that Sam Mraovich shared very few responsibilites on the movie, and would certainly have benefitted from a few extra sets of eyes on the shots. He is listed on IMDb as the writer, director, cinematographer, editor, producer, composer, casting director, special effects makeup, script supervisor, sound editor, and star. It sounds like he didn’t have to justify his decisions to anyone, which is not good when you are trying to make a movie. You generally need a lot of eyes working in tandem to make a good movie. A film almost always needs to be a collaboration. Whenever I see a movie with a name repeated constantly in the credits, it immediately throws up a red flag for me. Sometimes that is unavoidable with a low budget, but there is no excuse for doing essentially everything on a movie (like is the case here).
The plot to “Ben and Arthur” reminded me a lot of “Birdemic”, in that it is a message movie with no sense of reality or subtlety. Where “Birdemic” has environmentalism, “Ben and Arthur” has LGBT rights. Ben and Arthur as a gay couple who, as the movie begins, are planning to get married. A legal holdup for gay marriage in Hawaii throws a wrench into their initial plans, but they still ultimately tie the knot early on in the movie (making that obstacle mostly meaningless). The primary plot of the movie revolves around Arthur and his brother, a highly religious man who is determined to make Arthur straight. There are a lot of other things going on in the movie in no particular order, such as Ben’s ex-wife showing up for a scene to spout nonsense and wave a gun around, but primarily it follows Arthur and his brother as they become increasingly violent towards each other. I won’t delve too far into it, but it gets to the point where hitmen are involved and a priest gets set on fire. That sounds far more kick-ass than it is. Also, to say the least, the portrayal of Christians in this movie is not favorable.
The last third of this movie devolves into total chaos, becoming over-the-top violent and unrealistic. It reminded me of “Miami Connection” in how abruptly the otherwise more-or-less innocent characters became blood-thirsty killers capable of heinous acts. It is absolutely worth watching for the “WTF” factor alone.
This movie absolutely belongs in the IMDb Bottom 100, and maybe in even the top 10. It is easily in the ranks of “Birdemic” and “The Maize” in overall quality, and is a true spectacle in cinematic incompetence. Depending on your tolerance for bad movies, I think there is some great entertainment value here. It is kind of like “Birdemic” without the special effects. If that sounds like something you can handle, check out “Ben and Arthur”.
Here is a bit of an unusual situation: I’m going to write about a movie I haven’t seen.
“Gunday” is a 2014 Bollywood movie that hasn’t been made available in Region 1 (or in English) yet. However, it managed to sink all the way to the lowest spot in the IMDb Bottom 100 almost immediately upon release. Seems fishy, doesn’t it?
Well, the folks at FiveThirtyEight took notice, and used their beautiful data-mancy to dig into the story of how (and why) “Gunday” has taken a dominating position in the basement of the IMDb Bottom 100. Check it out here.
First off, the high number of votes on IMDb for “Gunday” is the result of a social media campaign lobbied against the film. Apparently, there is a particularly offensive depiction of the Bangladeshi revolution in the movie that rubbed a lot of people in the wrong way. In order to bring attention to this (?), some activist Bangladeshis tanked the movie’s IMDb page with 1-star reviews by the thousands. From the FiveThirtyEight post:
“Gunday” offended a huge, sensitive, organized and social-media-savvy group of people who were encouraged to mobilize to protest the movie by giving it the lowest rating possible on IMDb. Of “Gunday’s” ratings, 36,000 came from outside the U.S., and 91 percent of all reviewers gave it one star.
This brings up one of the central issues with the democratic, open-to-all nature of the IMDb’s ratings and rankings. What prevents this sort of mob-influence situation from dishonestly inflating/deflating a movie’s score?
Although there have since been numerous complaints about the down-voting of “Gunday,” IMDb doesn’t seem to be discounting the plethora of low ratings, or at least not yet. IMDB’s head of PR, Emily Glassman, told me that while the site has several built-in safeguards to prevent ballot-stuffing, the policy is not to delete or modify individual ratings from registered users.
“Our approach is not to focus on individual titles or incidents, but to analyze this behavior whenever it occurs and to apply any new learnings to strengthen our voting mechanism, so that the resulting improvements affect all titles/votes in our system rather than just the ones specifically affected by these isolated situations,” she said.
That all sounds appropriately vague and mysterious for the IMDb. Their qualifications for the Bottom 100 are still generally unclear, and have apparently changed a number of times in the past based on the archived lists I’ve found. Currently, a set quota of 1500 votes is needed for a film to qualify for the list, but there are other vague qualifiers that are not explicitly stated. For comparison, this is the formula used to determine the other end of the spectrum, the IMDb Top 250:
= weighted rating
= average for the movie as a number from 0 to 10 (mean) = (Rating)
= number of votes for the movie = (votes)
= minimum votes required to be listed in the Top 250 (currently 25,000)
= the mean vote across the whole report (currently 7.0)
The Bottom 100 likely utilizes a very similar formula, although I’ve found different rumors about variables. Just as the quote suggests, I imagine IMDb tinkers with their formulas and ranking system quite a bit, so it is anyone’s guess as to just how the IMDb Bottom 100 precisely functions. I am interested to see if any action is taken to prevent this sort of vote-bombing in the future, and whether “Gunday” will hold that #1 Bottom 100 spot long enough for me to actually get a copy of the film. Who would have thought that this shitty movie challenge would tie into geopolitical activism, algorithms, and statistics so heavily?
I’m planning on watching “Gunday” and reviewing it on its own merits once I can get a hold of a copy with subtitles, but I can’t say for sure when that will be. In the meantime, I figured its rapid plummet to the bottom was interesting enough to justify covering.
“Hobgoblins” is almost certainly the lowest of the low-budget “Gremlins” knockoffs. The cult-classic status it has now can mostly be attributed to Mystery Science Theater 3000, but I actually thought it was one of the better movies they covered on the show. It is clearly an amateur movie, with scenes going on longer than they should and the low budget making itself known at every opportunity. However, it is pretty far from unwatchable given the circumstances. Considering how cheaply this movie was made, it is hard to hold most of the big issues against it. Even then, there is still plenty to justifiably complain about here.
First off, the monsters themselves look horrible. They are clearly mediocre hand puppets, but that is probably the best they could put together with no money. There are some great hammy moments when the Hobgoblins are attacking or being attacked, but they look so goofy that there is no way to be afraid of them. In “Gremlins”, the gremlins at least looked disturbing and vile, and could be bought as evil creatures. The hobgoblins just aren’t convincing enough or treated with significant gravity by the characters for them to be frightening. Consistently, the hobgoblins fail to put up any kind of fight once they are discovered. The only thing they have going for them in the movie is that they are good at hiding, and can disappear(?) when it is convenient for the plot.
Speaking of which, the plot actually has some promise in this movie. If there had been a better director on board and some money attached, there are the makings for a mediocre movie here. I like the idea of monsters that can manipulate their victims’ perceptions, but the concept is poorly executed here. Something that doesn’t make sense in this movie is why the victims always die at some point in the fantasy. In the beginning of the movie, the first victim appears to die due to tripping(?) while in his fantasy. It is later explained that the victims just sort of mysteriously and coincidentally die while in their fantasies, but there is never any clear connection made as to why the hobgoblins are killing the people (always by proxy). Do the fantasies power them? If so, why kill the people? Are they predators? Then why don’t they eat the victims? Are they just sort of sadistic? Why? In an episode of the show “Supernatural”, the protagonists run into Djinn on a handful of occasions, who induce hallucinations / dream states to lull their victims, during which they are leeched of their blood. They do a much better job in the show of explaining why the monsters are inducing hallucinations (to steal blood), showing how the monsters create the hallucinations (a toxin), and showing how the victims are ultimately killed (exsanguination). Those things are all important for the audience to know, and are all missing from this movie. I think that was a pretty serious error for this movie that shouldn’t be excused as a rookie mistake or a result of the low budget, it was just short-sightedness or laziness on the part of writer/director Rick Sloane.
I’ve already mentioned that there are a handful of scenes that drag on for too long in this movie, but apart from those (Club Scum and the Rake Fight, for instance), I didn’t think the shots were too horrible in general. There was a little bit of creative framing to fit in the hand-puppet monsters at times, but they didn’t exactly have any other options on the table. I do think the director made plenty of errors and failed to make a good movie here, but it did come out more or less watchable. I think the really shallow writing and thin plot were bigger issues (not to mention the budget/monsters), but since the writer was also the director here, all fault goes to Sloane. I am curious as to why there were so many attempts to inject humor into the movie (they all failed), and if that was initially in the script or added in as an audible after the monsters turned out so badly. All of the “funny” moments felt tacked-on / forced, so that would make sense to me. I’m not sure whether that’s worth applauding for trying to make lemonade from lemons, or criticizing for doing so poorly. If the humor was intended that way to start with though, then that is just jarring, crappy writing.
Speaking of crappy writing, the dialogue in this movie is miserable. All of the characters are unlikable and sound like they were written by a 13-year-old, all with juvenile motivations and the collective depth of a kiddie pool. Characters in this movie can be described as stereotypes straight out of “Cabin in the Woods”, which might be status quo for this kind of movie, but it lazy none-the-less. The actors are definitely not good, but turning any of these lines into something passable would be squeezing blood from a stone.
“Hobgoblins” may not be the worst of the MST3k features, but it is definitely bad. I’m tempted to say that it isn’t so bad as to justify a Bottom 100 spot in the IMDb rankings, but I think it cuts pretty close. The crappy monsters, bad dialogue, and generally lazy writing/filmmaking are all worthy of it, but I am tempted to give it the same lenience I would afford a Troma movie, just because it clearly doesn’t take itself seriously. That doesn’t excuse the flaws, but it might give it a reasonable pass as far as Bottom 100 consideration. Given that there are no Troma pictures in the Bottom 100, I’m tempted to think that the IMDb masses would agree. However, the MST3k label is guaranteed to take the rankings for any movie, so I think this one is primarily a victim of that stamp of disapproval.
I don’t think I’ve hated a movie with this kind of a fiery passion since “Pledge This”. Really.
“Fat Slags” is apparently a film based on a vile, vulgar, and popular (?) British comic. I had never heard of it before, but apparently it does have a following, because the fan base evidently didn’t like this movie very much. I can’t speak for the source material, but this movie is primarily fart jokes, fat “jokes”, sight gags, and sexual “humour”. It is astoundingly lazy and low-brow, yet manages to be regionally esoteric as well. There are constant references to British pop culture that international audiences just could not care less about, which is a bad idea when you are writing a script with the intention to make money.
I admittedly didn’t do much research on this movie before doing my video reaction to it (above), and I’ve been a little surprised by what I’ve found now that I have. I assumed that I watched an unrated DVD cut that came after a PG-13 theatrical release, which is not an uncommon tactic these days for sexual / gross out movies. It is nearly impossible to distribute or make money on an R or NC17 comedy in theaters, because it cuts off too much of the potential audience. So, to sell DVDs, the filmmakers / producers add in jarring and unnecessary nudity to the movie after the theatrical release and advertise it as “uncut” or “unrated”. Given how unprompted, unexpected, and jarring all of the nudity was in this, I assumed that was the case here. In fact, this film never made it to the US in any form. The MPAA never had the displeasure of sitting through this. If you have a Region 1 copy of this movie, it is a bootleg. This movie was so destroyed by critics upon release in the UK, it never managed to cross the English Channel, let alone the Atlantic. Thank goodness.
This movie, above everything else, is lazy. Everything about it reeks of minimal effort: the acting, the sound editing (goofy cartoon noises abound), the shots, and most importantly: the writing. The writing goes for every low-hanging fruit it can get its hands on. It makes “Car 54, Where Are You?” look like a George Barnard Shaw work by comparison. The plot tried to be satirical towards celebrity media and fashion at times, but it lacks any kind of subtlety or consistency. You can’t criticize fashion for being shitty to overweight people and then spend the rest of your movie laughing at fat people breaking scales and farting. You just can’t do that.
Perhaps worst of all, Dolph “The Punisher” “Ivan Drago” “Professional Badass” Lundgren debases himself by making a cameo in this movie. Here is the whole scene. Let me know how much you laugh. Also, please note all of the sound editing.
I absolutely hated this movie. The writing was not unlike the Paris Hilton movies I’ve seen for this challenge in regards to crassness, but it managed to be cluelessly esoteric for anyone not from the British isles at the same time. Also, “Pledge This” at least had a handful of “WTF” moments that oddly amused me. No such luck here. It was incredibly offensive for a multitude of reasons, and borderline infantile it its failed attempts at humor. Despite ok production values outside of the cartoonish sound editing, the general tone-deafness of this idiotic display merits it a spot in the IMDb Bottom 100. Worst of all, it nearly ruined Dolph Lundgren for me. Fuck you, “Fat Slags”. Maybe if I can find a copy of “I Come In Peace”, Lundgren can be fully redeemed in my eyes.
The biggest takeaway from this movie is that you have to put in some damn effort and use common sense sometimes to make a successful film. You will be happy to know that this movie killed writer William Osborne’s career, and director Ed Bye has been relegated to television work. Also, Dolph Lundgren has an amazing quote about his involvement in this film:
“How did I get involved in Fat Slags (2004)? That’s a good question…I’d ask that agent of mine, but he’s sunk in the Thames River.”
Ah, justice. You know what? I would watch a revenge movie where Dolph picks off everyone involved in the making of this wretched film. Sign me up.
Welcome to the latest installment of Bargain Bin(ge)! I spend a lot of time in the bargain bins of used DVD shops all over the country looking for potentially forgotten or overlooked cinematic atrocities, and I document all of the highlights here.
Today I’m featuring a spectacular failure to adapt a popular (and personally beloved) anime to film, a local 80s movie that has rightfully been forgotten to time (but “launched” a lauded film career), a low-budget deep-sea creature-feature, and a Lucio Fulci “Django” knock-off. Let’s get started!
I am a huge fan of the “Mobile Suit Gundam” anime franchise, and have been for well over a decade. That said, I have been aware of this live action stinker from 2000 for quite some time. Like most Gundam fans, I try to pretend it doesn’t exist. Unfortunately, it does, and I found it in a bargain bin just a couple of weeks ago while I was on a business trip. I’ve never watched it before, but just from the trailer I can tell that this is going to be a painful experience. I think there should just be a standing policy that anime shouldn’t be translated into live action unless someone really knows what they are doing. Director Graeme Campbell still does a fair number of made-for-TV movies and work on various series, but it doesn’t seem that he’s been able to cut it in the big time. Likewise, the writers have credits on Sci-fi shows like “Mutant X” and “Tripping the Rift”, but not much else to speak of. A number of the actors have gone into voice acting or B-level TV and movie work, which are the most successful stories to come out of “G-Savior”.
For those unaware, the “Mobile Suit Gundam” franchise has a following in Japan not unlike “Star Wars” does here. It is absolutely huge, and has been consistently produced in one form or another since the original series debut in 1979. A number of the series were cut in order to be released theatrically in segments, and are actually pretty impressive. So, to have a live action “Gundam” whiffed on so badly was a huge disappointment.
Realistically, you just couldn’t do a convincing mech live-action movie until pretty recently. Stuart Gordon’s “Robot Jox” in 1989 wasn’t quite impressive enough with audiences, and that was the best mech movie on the table for decades. With the recent successes of “Pacific Rim” and (ugh) “Transformers”, I’m curious if we’ll see someone pick up the baton and try another go at “Gundam” on the big screen in the not-too-distant future.
This one is a bit of a local stinker. Filmed on location in my hometown of Huntsville, Alabama at the US Space and Rocket Center, the whole film oozes the essence of the 1980s, including featuring an unnecessary robot companion a la “Rocky IV”. Both of the screenwriters have almost no other credits before or after this, outside of a couple of unimpressive Christian movies. Director Harry Winer has done a fair amount of TV work in the decades since this film, but never managed to break out in films (I expect for good reason). Proving that some were capable of getting away from this beast with a successful career, this was cinematic debut of Academy Award nominated actor Joaquin Phoenix. How about that? The cast also includes such sort-of notable names as Kelly Preston, Lea Thompson, Tate Donovan, Terry O’Quinn, and Tom Skerritt, who have all had at least respectable acting careers. I’m mostly just looking forward to that good ol’ child acting from Joaquin Phoenix. Here’s a taste:
To give you a sense as to how successful this movie was, director Dan Milner only directed one more movie after this feature (of his three total), and then concluded his career as an editor for “Popeye the Sailor Man” and “Bozo: The World’s Most Famous Clown”. So, it didn’t exactly take off. However, this lowest-of-the-low B-movie supposedly has a lot of entertainment value to it, along the lines of a Roger Corman flick. I’m always on board for a cheap monster movie, so I’m hoping this has promise.
Ah, Franco Nero. What a beautiful, beautiful man. I’ve talked about him way, way back when I covered “Django (1966)”, but haven’t really come across him since then. However, he is in “Omega Code 2”, so the isn’t the last I’ll see of the gorgeous original Django. As for “Massacre Time”, this flick came out stateside in 1968, despite being made in 1966. Directed by infamous filmmaker Lucio Fulci, who would a decade later film a zombie fighting a shark in his notorious cult classic “Zombie”, and written by prolific Italian filmmaker Fernando Di Leo, this movie looks as spaghetti as spaghetti movies get. As you would expect given the success of “Django”, this movie was sold and distributed as a clone/knockoff to play off of Nero’s leading role in the film. The movie even went by such names as “Django: The Runner”, “Django: Der Hauch des Todes”, and “Djangos seksløber er lov” in various foreign markets. I’m quite looking forward to this one, and have my fingers crossed that it will be a good (massacre) time.
In my latest foray into my local movie store’s bargain bin, I managed to turn up an interesting DVD, titled “The Animated Passion”:
Of course, I had to pick it up. It is a Bargain Bin(ge) / (God)Awful Movies crossover!
It turns out that the DVD is actually two different short animated movies. They appear to be sort-of related, despite one having a 1988 release and the other 2004. They also look pretty much identical in style, with only minor differences. They are similar enough that I had trouble distinguishing them as different movies, especially given that “He Is Risen” occurs chronologically immediately after “Worthy is the Lamb”. With a little cutting, they could be the same movie easily. Seriously, tell me if these two clips look like they are from different movies:
Both movies are directed by Richard Rich, who is mostly known as one of three directors on “The Fox and The Hound”. Most of his career since that time has been dedicated to religious animated movies like these. Judging from the quality of these movies, I’m not so sure that was by choice. The biggest surprise I found, primarily because there is no promotion of it on the box whatsoever, is that “He is Risen” was written by acclaimed Sci-Fi / Fantasy author Orson Scott Card (of “Ender’s Game” fame). According the IMDb, he did a fair amount of that back in the 80’s. I suppose that isn’t so surprising given his much-maligned opinions on homosexuality, but I was still taken aback to see his name on screen.
As soon as the first film (“Worthy is the Lamb”) started, there was a lengthy disclaimer on screen about the fact that people from multiple faiths would be depicted, and that no offense was intended to anyone. That sent up a red flag off the bat for me, as it would anyone. As it turns out, it was quite justified. The depictions of Jewish people in this movie are, to say the least, not good. The voice actors go way over-the-top, and the character designs / animations are not flattering. All of that said, the fellow voicing Caiaphas was one of the few highlights in the whole film. He was capital-A “ACTING”. The only people who ever came close to him in hammy-ness were the guys doing Pilate and Judas, fulfilling the age-old tradition of over-the-top bad dudes. In contrast, the guy voicing Jesus sounded like he was about 85 years old. He was soft-spoken, elderly, and was about the least charismatic voice in the cast. This seems to be a running problem with depicting Jesus in just about anything: he always comes off as incredibly boring. I guess that’s the Christian idea of perfection?
The animation in both of these movies is…sub-par. In particular, most of the male characters have identical beards/mustaches, which makes telling people apart nearly impossible. There were also a lot of moments where the motions seemed jarring, like they were cutting corners by skipping frames. There were instances where the animators clearly didn’t know what they were doing, such as when anyone’s feet were in motion on screen, or if any characters were depicted crying. There is also a horrifying moment where sheep are shown in a state of panic during an earthquake. The animators’ attempt to depict sheep mouths looks like nightmare fuel.
While watching these, I specifically remarked that this is the worst animated feature I had seen since the Titanic animated movies. After doing research, it turns out that the voice actor for Caiaphas was in BOTH of those Titanic animated flicks. Even better, he was the rapping dog. Really.
The next huge problem with these movies requires some context. Check out this passage from the back of the box:
Your family will enjoy these two movies, appropriate even for young children…These high-quality, scripturally accurate stories will completely captivate children
Let me break down the issue into two key phrases from that passage: “scripturally accurate” and “captivate children”. These movies pull scripture and dialogue straight out of the King James Bible. There are no colloquialisms here, and no attempts to make the features kid-friendly outside of not animating blood. These movies are pretty damn verbose, and astoundingly boring to boot. Outside of the unintentionally entertaining voice acting by the bad guys, this was a chore. I watched these with a couple of friends who I’ve been riffing on movies with for years, and the room was silent for most of the running time. If we couldn’t find much entertainment here, kids are going to tear their eyes out.
If you happen upon this DVD in a bargain bin, I can loosely recommend picking it up. Both features are pretty straight-forward at face value, but the voice acting and animation are bad enough to get some amusement. Also, there are some horrid sing-a-longs on the DVD that use the same animation. In fact, they seem to be discarded scenes from other features, because the characters move their mouths as if they should be speaking, but there is no dialogue for them. Instead, the sing-a-long track is playing, which at first made me think that the characters were singing. I suppose that is one way to make up for a lost audio track or a spare bit of footage? I think they are only on the DVD to fill up all of the empty space on the disc, because combined both features probably don’t crack an hour of run time.
“American Ninja 5” is another one of those movies that I enjoyed way more than I think I should have. It is absolutely mindless, the plot is nonsense, and there is even an abysmal child actor in the middle of the action to boot. Despite all of it, I really enjoyed this film. It is cheesy, but in all of the good ways that I want a ninja movie to be. The only huge issue with the movie is the PG-13 rating, which goes back to some truly baffling production decisions behind the scenes of this feature. Those odd puppeteering decisions I think are the real reason this movie seems to be so reviled.
I’ve mentioned before how nerd rage / existing fandoms can be a blessing or a curse depending on how they are treated. Whereas “Super Mario Bros” made baffling creative changed over the process of translating the source material to a new medium, “American Ninja 5” is not the result of such a dramatic translation: it is a sequel to other films, which have their own following. However, there were huge changes made in this movie that understandably perplexed and annoyed “American Ninja” fans. Characters’ names were changed, continuity with previous films was brushed off, the violence was toned down for a PG-13 rating, and the a young child was injected into the center of the franchise a la “Indiana Jones”. These decisions make a lot more sense when you discover that this movie was never intended to be part of the “American Ninja” series. The name “American Ninja 5” was tacked on to the movie after the fact for two reasons: 1) Producers’ hopes it would increase sales, and 2) the lead actor’s association with the existing franchise. I doubt that they ever considered that fans would turn on them for the changes.
The movie itself was actually pretty enjoyable for me, specifically because I don’t have any vested interest in the franchise. I have never seen the other “American Ninja” movies, so I didn’t have any expectations walking in. If you can separate the movie from its title, this is a way better family-friendly ninja movie than anything in the “3 Ninjas” franchise. The fights are generally well choreographed, and there are plenty of over-the-top aspects that make the film entertaining to sit through. The primary antagonist ninja has a mullet, a massive gold medallion, and a “Manos: The Hands of Fate” cape. What more could you want? Even the child actor is way less aggravating than I expected going in.
Don’t get me wrong, “American Ninja 5” is a bad movie. There are massive leaps in logic, terrible dialogue, and way too many indistinguishable characters. There is even an astounding number of blatant product placements for the Sega Game Gear. Really.
However, this is way better than just about everything else I have watched recently. It has genuine good-bad qualities: earnestness, overloaded action, hammy acting, hilariously bad dialogue, tropes and cliches by the dozens, a plot thinner than the film itself: things that I can appreciate. The rage at this movie, which is justified, mostly deserves to be leveled at the production team off-screen. If you can trim off all of the baggage this movie has behind the scenes and in the title, you can have some real fun with it. In any case, I thought it was a delightful surprise, and can highly recommend this as a good-bad feature.
“The Omega Code” is pretty much what you should expect of a theatrical release by the televangelist extraordinaires at the Trinity Broadcasting Network. It is a conservative, evangelical trash script played out by mediocre actors under the hand of an incompetent director, all for the lowest possible cost (and it shows). “Omega Code” in particular plays off of the popularity of conspiratorial thinking and the general public anxieties surrounding the year 2000. The plot is focused around the thoroughly debunked conspiracy theory of “The Bible Code”, and (of course) the book of Revelations. The movie covers all of the Christian apocalypse themes that you would expect, with some conservative talking points thrown in for good measure (the UN is totally horrible, you guys). Just going by the Christian apocalypse beats, there’s the makings of a half-interesting end-of-the-world movie here, admittedly. However, this attempt was pretty badly whiffed on a number of fronts.
First off, the screenwriting is horrible. The dialogue is all excessively heavy-handed, every line oozing with self-importance. Nothing is subtle or inconspicuous at all, and that problem starts with the words that are on the page. The plot becomes completely unbelievable pretty damn quickly, unless you live in a conservative fantasy-land of constant fear. Part of the blame there has to go to the directing and the acting, but I don’t know how anyone could have made this script acceptable without dramatic re-writing. That said, the acting isn’t getting off without a mention.
I’m not sure whether I love or hate Michael York’s performance in this movie. He goes from half-likable politician to mustache-twirling villain in a heartbeat, but does play a hammy evil role pretty impressively. Still, it is impossible to take Austin Powers’s boss seriously as (spoilers) the Anti-Christ. He is just way too over-the-top and goofy throughout the movie to consider a legitimate villain, and moments where he is supposed to come off as menacing play out as ridiculous. However, at least he isn’t Casper Van Dien. Or, to a lesser extent, Michael Ironside. Ironside, for one, is completely wasted in this movie as a one-dimensional B-villain who mostly exists to fire guns (occasionally) and smoke cigarettes (menacingly). He must have gotten a hefty paycheck, otherwise I can’t imagine why he would have considered this bit role. Van Dien, on the other hand, is given far too much responsibility in this film. The whole movie is essentially resting on his shoulders, which is an apocalyptic plan if I’ve ever heard of one. His acting, as usual, is just abysmal. His line deliveries are awful throughout the movie (I wouldn’t rely on him to deliver a pizza), and whenever he is depended on to really show his capabilities, he reveals his internal vacuum of talent to the world. Early on in the movie, his character is giving a motivational speech, which is supposed to set the tone and background for his character (as well as the premise for the movie). He needed to really convince the audience of his charisma and speaking abilities in that scene to sell his character, and he fails quite astoundingly. It essentially starts the whole movie off on the wrong foot.
To the movie’s credit, the special effects are not horrible for the financial constraints they were working with (the finale still looks pretty crappy, but I won’t harp on it). However, that’s definitely semi-polished brass on the Titanic that is this movie. The acting and writing in particular just drag this whole production down, to the point that it has sort of a cult following as a good-bad movie. In any case, it certainly failed in its intent to evangelize to the conspiracy theory crowd. The movie did its damnedest to do so though, injecting unnecessary computer-magic and millennium-related bits into the background here and there. In particular, the final shot of the film mentions the millennium as a new beginning (after Satan is defeated and all that jazz). The movie did do pretty well in the South preaching to its own choir, not unlike “God’s Not Dead” and a handful of other evangelical religious movies over the years. However, it has cemented itself as a bargain bin staple in recent years, right next to all of the Kirk Cameron “Left Behind” films. It did manage to spawn a comparably crappy sequel, which I intend to check out sometime in the near future. “The Omega Code” was briefly in the IMDb Bottom 100 some years ago, and still boasts an impressively low IMDb score at 3.4. I’m not super-surprised that it isn’t down there any more, as religious movies sort of live in their own dominion that most just try to ignore. At the same time, they do have their target audience, and those folks are going to relatively inflate the scores for movies like “The Omega Code” on any democratic ranking sites (such as IMDb). The movie certainly has a low enough quality to dwell in the Bottom 100, but not too lowly I don’t think. Little things like sound editing, cinematography, and continuity were adequate, which gives it a leg up on films like “Birdemic” and the MST3k movies in the Bottom 100 ranks. There is some fun to be had with this movie, but it isn’t on the top of my list for a good-bad watch.
I recently wrote in to the popular bad movie podcast Bad Movie Fiends (BMFcast for short), asking about their general thoughts on the IMDb Bottom 100. I just checked out their most recent episode on “I, Frankenstein” last night, having totally forgotten about the email, and it turns out that they responded to it in the show! It starts just after the 1:24:00 mark towards the end, but I’ll list some key excerpts below:
[on the IMDb Bottom 100]
“It is a good representation of the most publicly well-known bad movies”
“One of the problems with the Bottom 100 is that a lot of people vote MST3k movies on there, but you are watching those movies through different means…if you are sitting in a room with three guys who are ripping the shit out of a movie, it is going to alter your opinion of it a little bit…it bothers me that a lot of that list is MST3k movies, but there is shit like Foodfight and Theodore Rex on there*, which deserve to be there”
“Because of crowd-sourced stuff, an Indian movie called “Gunday” is at the worst spot on IMDb due to a political thing…a twitter campaign to take it to the bottom of the Bottom 100″
“My problem with that whole list is that so much of it is the painful shit that you don’t want to sit through. That is truly the worst, but we look for entertaining bad. That is always our goal”
“It used to be movies like “Plan 9” and “Manos” at the top, and then everyone was like “OMG Birdemic”, and it gets to the top 10. Then it levels out..and it starts dropping out of there.”
“My recommendation to you, Gordon, is do not do this solo. Do not take this journey alone. Don’t. It will only end in pain. When you are solo, it hurts. It hurts bad.”
“I don’t trust [The IMDb Bottom 100]. The community as a whole can’t agree on what a bad movie is…I wouldn’t go by that Bottom 100 list, and watch them just because they are bad movies…those things are pain”
“If you are going to keep on this path, skip the comedies…a bad comedy has nothing left. For the love of god skip comedies. They will all be “Disaster Movie”, don’t do it”
*Foodfight isn’t on the Bottom 100 currently due to not meeting the vote quota criteria. Theodore Rex has a low enough score and enough votes, but is not in the ranking due to unlisted criteria.
Overall, they responded almost exactly how I expected. They brought up the flaws of an open democratic ranking system, the recent “Gunday” controversy (I’ll cover that in a future post), and the over-representation of features from MST3k in the Bottom 100. They also specifically caution against bad comedies, which is something I learned pretty damn quickly (but I’m not skipping them, that’s cheating). Bad comedies are, 99 times out of 100, irredeemably awful with very little takeaway value. Then again, this challenge is supposed to be difficult, after all.
One aspect that I do find interesting about their responses is something I consider a sort of…philosophical difference between what they do and what I do here. The BMF guys are, with their show, specifically chasing down good-bad movies, using their sliding scale of 5 bags (bad) to 5 Jox (good, from “Robot Jox”) to rank everything they watch. They specifically go after lesser-known movies more often than not, and aim to raise the profile of what are basically diamonds in the rough: amazingly good-bad movies that have either been popularly forgotten or overlooked. I think that is a kick-ass goal, and something I am working on doing myself eventually with the Bargain Bin(ge). It isn’t very often that people find those golden good-bad movies, and you never quite know where they are going to come from, so all the more power to them for doing the leg work on digging them up. However, finding good-bad movies isn’t my goal with going through the IMDb Bottom 100. By nature of the voting quota for the list, movies in the IMDb Bottom 100 are already relatively well known, so it wouldn’t really make sense to use the list for that. There is still the chance that I will be surprised here and there (and I have been), but that isn’t the idea behind the challenge.
While the democratic system of the Bottom 100 has significant drawbacks, it also means that this ranking of bad movies is compiled by the quasi-consensus of the internet mob: the list has a zeitgeist to it, and a sense of cultural relevance. The fact that it is constantly updating actually fascinates me, whereas the BMF team sees that as a sort of weakness to the list. I think that it needs to be fluid to keep up with the times: just look at the archive rankings that I dug up from 2004, and check out the immense change that the list has undergone in that time. The will of the IMDb voting mob is ever-changing and fickle, and can be influenced by the times. I don’t think the Bottom 100 should be though of as a concrete and final list, but more like a sort of bad movie barometer for current trends.
So, there is a sense that the IMDb Bottom 100 has cultural relevancy to it, and that definitely influenced my interest in taking on this challenge. However, that’s also not the whole reason why I am doing it. This is where the real philosophical difference comes in: I like watching bad movies. Not just good-bad movies, but all bad movies. If a movie doesn’t have that special charm that makes it so bad it is good, that doesn’t mean I won’t watch it. With that sort of movie (“The Maize: The Movie”, for example), I just take a different approach to it. Instead of enjoying the spectacle like a good audience should, I approach watching these crap movies more like you would approach an autopsy. I want to understand what went wrong with it, and what dysfunctions were fatal to the film. I want to know who/what killed it, the cause of death, and perhaps the motivation (if it is known). I like knowing how movies tick, and there are a lot of aspects to film-making that are invisible to the audience unless something is going wrong. As someone who doesn’t have a film background, I like learning these things by reverse engineering bad movies and poking at their flaws, so I can better understand what makes good movies good. I still absolutely adore good-bad movies, but I’ve learned how to approach bad-bad movies as well. The IMDb Bottom 100 offers a variety of films that have failed in countless different ways, and I’m personally interested in digging into that sort of thing. It may be difficult to watch through them at times, but I always wind up getting something out of the experience when all is said and done.
Lastly, I chose to do this challenge to force me to write regularly and become ever-so-slightly more competent at video editing. And, of course, just to say that I did it. That alone is a good enough reason for me.
Also, I’m over half way done now. Might as well stick it out.
If any of you BMFers come across this, keep being awesome, and thanks for the response!
Reviews/Trivia of B-Movies, Bad Movies, and Cult Movies.