BibleMan: Back to School

BibleMan: Back to School

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Today, I’m continuing my week-long marathon of the Bibleman franchise as part of Secular Students Week. If you make a donation to the Secular Student Alliance this week, and I’ll cover a movie of your choice.

“Back to School” marks the second episode of the original Bibleman video series, “The Bibleman Show.” Willie Aames is once again the title role of Bibleman, and also shares directing and writing credit for the episode. The rest of the team is pretty much the same from “Big Big Book”: C. Scott Votaw, Milt Schaffer, and creator Tony Salerno also have writing credits, with Votaw and and Chris Fann taking co-directing roles alongside Aames.

In the first episode of “The Bibleman Show,” “Big Big Book,” I understood the amount of singing involved. I mean, it was centered around a church musical. However, this episode also starts off with singing, but without the inherent, semi-reasonable justification. It is eventually explained that the same group of kids is going to be performing a similar musical at a local school (thus “Back to School”), but that bit of exposition has to be awkwardly forced into a scene in the form of a fake telephone call.

I can’t describe just how much my heart sank when it dawned on me that all of these original BibleMan episodes were going to be musicals. The fact that the kids in this episode aren’t even in an obvious venue to be singing makes it all seem much worse to me. To add to my frustrations with the whole situation, one of the songs, which takes place entirely in an RV, is specifically about a fictitious train:

Let’s take a trip through the creation
Head on down to the revelation
The train is waiting at the gospel station
so get on board the bible train

Could they not have come up with a song about a “Bible Bus?” That would at least be a closer comparison than a damn train. There is also alliteration to that phrase, which is perfect for this kind of lazy product. Why am I doing their job for them?

The primary villain in “Back to School” is Madame Glitz: a vaguely sinister, vain, and fame-obsessed woman who inexplicably knows Bibleman’s secret identity. She operates with the help of a henchman named ‘Mr. Thug,’ which is pretty much all you need to know about him. Her primary motivation seems to be envy over Bibleman’s popularity, so she plans to kidnap him to turn his fans against him. If that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to you, you aren’t alone on that.

“I love it when famous guys don’t show up! Then you can boo and hiss and stuff.”

-actual dialogue from “Back to School”

The story of “Back to School” once again focuses on a children’s musical performance, this time taking place at their local school (which I hope isn’t a public one, because that sounds like a separation of church and state violation to me). Bibleman is scheduled to appear alongside them, as he did in “Big Big Book,” but is kidnapped by Madame Glitz just before the show begins. Bibleman eventually prays his way out of his binds, terrifyingly imprisons Glitz in a television, and shows up in time for a grand finale with the kids.

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After watching “Back to School,” I think I understand why the direction for Bibleman was changed so quickly. It is really just more of the same of what was offered in “Big Big Book,” and there are only so many ways to replicate the same boring story over and over again. The villain is once again the highlight, and she is unfortunately hardly in the episode at all. The largest chunk of it is once again dedicated to the godawful children’s musical numbers, which were really testing my patience with this one. Also, somehow the dialogue seems to have gotten worse for this episode. My favorite exchange by far is right after the musical has completed, when two kids in the audience enthusiastically say to each other:

Kid 1: Wow! That was excellent!

Kid 2: Yeah! Seriously, comic books are tame compared to this stuff. I think I’m going to go out and get me a bible!

Kid 1: Cool idea! Me too!

It is like the producers’ fantasy-land version of America’s youth. Shame it didn’t work out that way for them, isn’t it?

I don’t recommend watching this episode, but it is available in its entirely on YouTube if you are just deathly curious. If you can’t resist, I implore you to at least skim through the songs, because you aren’t going to be missing anything with them. The only exception is, of course, “The Bible Train,” which managed to inexplicably fill me with hate and darkness.

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BibleMan: Big Big Book

BibleMan: Big Big Book

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Today, I’m continuing my week-long marathon of the Bibleman franchise as part of Secular Students Week. If you make a donation to the Secular Student Alliance this week, and I’ll cover a movie of your choice.

In 1995, the first ever installment of the Bibleman franchise came to be. “Big Big Book” kicked off the short lived initial incarnation of the series, called “The Bibleman Show,” and launched an evangelical quasi-phenomenon.

Willie Aames, who is best known for television shows like “Charles in Charge” and “Eight is Enough,” co-wrote, co-directed, and stars here as Bibleman, and is the person most publicly recognized as being associated with the show.

The character’s creation is credited to Tony Salerno, who also has writing and producing credits on this initial episode. The other two writers on the episode were Milt Schaffer and C. Scott Votaw, the latter of which worked in a variety of capacities on b-movies like “2001 Maniacs,” “Bikini Drive-In,” and Jim Wynorski’s “Dinosaur Island.”

The initial Bibleman costume used in “The Bibleman Show” episodes is pretty laughable, and was clearly constructed on a minimal budget. Compared to the shiny, chrome/plastic uniform that would show up in later episodes, it is amazing to see how far the show and the character came over the course of its run.

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“Big Big Book” doesn’t feature any sidekicks for Bibleman, who I assume start showing up in the later series. The villain is a pretty generic evil scientist with green skin, named Dr. Decepto, which is certainly a pattern for Bibleman villains as the show goes on. He isn’t quite as elaborate or offensive as many of the later antagonist, but the performance is plenty hammy enough to be entertaining.  He also has a great high-pitched evil laugh, which is always a plus.

The story of “Big Big Book” follows a group of children who are working on a bible-themed musical for their church. The planning isn’t going well, and a number of the kids want to quit, in order to not be embarrassed by a sub-par result. Bibleman shows up at a rehearsal, and tells the kids a story about a previous exploit where he prayed his way out of a hairy situation with Dr. Decepto. The story gives them the confidence to go forward with the show, which theoretically goes off without a hitch. Except, of course, for the fact that it sounds awful, but no one seems to care all that much. They are just happy that they went through with it.

“God’s probably sitting up there thinking: ‘Nice lame-o show, kids.'”

The content of the musical is of course ridiculous, and takes a handful of potshots at science education and evolution. It is pretty much exactly what you would expect from a Bibleman musical, honestly. Some of the kids straight-up cannot sing, which makes parts of it nearly unwatchable. The whole thing is kind of like a worse version of “Kidz Bop” for fake Christian music, if you can imagine such a thing. The musical section also takes up a huge chunk of the episode, which unfortunately (?) doesn’t have a lot of Bibleman in it.

The one fight sequence in “Big Big Book” is a blurry mess, and is almost as hard to watch as the musical. Bibleman notably doesn’t have the laser sword of the later episodes, instead using a traditional sword and shield.

If there is anything positive to say about “Big Big Book,” it is that it actually has some charm to it compared to the later episodes of the seriess, which attempt to be comedic and self-aware. It is still completely awful and beyond cheesy, cut it is at least an honestly made mess.

The theme song is also much different than what I am accustomed to hearing with the later episodes, which drift into a sort of pseudo-rock style. This initial theme song is pretty generic and forgettable, but certainly contributes to the heavy 1990s style of the episode.

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Speaking of which, the 1990s bleeds out of every pore of this video. The fashion, the hair, the music, the colors: all of it makes for an astounding flashback. The nostalgia factor of it all is actually pretty amusing, and might make the whole thing worth sitting through for some folks.

As you would expect, “Big Big Book” features awful acting from all involved,  and horrendous writing to boot.  However, the added ‘benefit’ of the musical is what makes this episode stand out from the pack that I had previously seen. Lots of Bibleman episodes feature a song, but this episode being centered around a children’s church musical makes it so much worse than any of the music offered with other episodes. It is nearly unbearable.

Brad Jones, better known as The Cinema Snob, took a look at this episode on his show “DVD-R Hell.” If you don’t want to stomach actually watching this, his overview hits the key points and highlights with his typical sardonic wit.

This is the first of the initial run of “The Bibleman Show” episodes that I have sat through, and I’m mostly just hoping (praying?) that the rest of these early episodes don’t feature as much cringe-inducing singing.

BibleMan Marathon (and Requests!)

June 10-17 is Secular Students Week, a week dedicated to the stories and work of the awesome students served by the Secular Student Alliance. The week also marks a big fundraiser for the organization (which I proudly support and work for), with a $20,000 challenge on the line if we can bring in 500 donations (of any size) over the course of the week.

ssalogoTo do my part, I’m going to be resurrecting my (God)Awful Movies segment with a bang: by covering the entire infamous video series of “BibleMan” over the course of the week. Also, I’m pledging to honor any coverage requests for people who donate to the Secular Student Alliance (through my fundraising page) over the course of the week. If you want me to cover your favorite movie, a movie you made, a training video you found on YouTube, a cat video, a movie you think I will hate/love, a horror film about killer rabbits, whatever: I’ll honor whatever you point me to. That doesn’t mean I’ll like it, but I will certainly watch and write about it. Caveat emptor, as they say.

Now, if you aren’t familiar with BibleMan, here is the rundown: it was a long-running home video series that starred an evangelical superhero in a garish armored outfit. Each story followed a vague biblical lesson, and often featured musical numbers, awful special effects, inane plots, and over the top villains. It has achieved a bit of cult status, and has been referenced and parodied in shows like “The Venture Bros.” and films like “Super.”

“BibleMan” initially starred Willie Ames of “Charles in Charge,” who was eventually replaced in the later installments. It managed to spawn a number of touring live performances, a video game, and some licensed merchandise that is still floating around out there somewhere.

One of the things that I enjoyed during my time as a secular student at the University of Alabama was the occasional ironic viewing of “BibleMan.”  A lot of people I knew grew up with the costumed crusader, who is a common presence in children’s programming in evangelical churches (which, as you might imagine, are numerous in the area). For many, college is the first time that they could look back and laugh a bit at some aspects of their religious upbringings, and BibleMan always made for a prime therapeutic target.

Of course, it isn’t all funny. Some of the lessons and content in “BibleMan” teach (explicitly or implicitly) xenophobic, anti-semitic, and anti-scientific rhetoric. I have made it a personal policy to buy any copies I find at buy/sell/trade stores (which doesn’t profit the BibleMan folks), in order to do my part to keep them out of the hands of kids.

In any case, the Secular Student Alliance helps build and sustain communities for young atheists, agnostics, humanists, etc. on college and high school campuses across the United States, much like the one that I was in at the University of Alabama. We also, as an organization, strongly support interfaith and progressive cooperation on campuses (LGBT orgs, Feminist groups, etc). If atheism isn’t your bag, that’s all cool by me! We aren’t out to destroy churches or shame the religious: we’re trying to be constructive, by building communities where they didn’t exist previously. I think many religious folks take for granted the advantages and benefits of having a natural community around their faith: it gives them a social network, a meeting spot, and a pool of people you can potentially lean on in times of need. That is the sort of thing we are building for the not-so-religious across the country, in cooperation with organizations like Openly Secular.

Regardless, enjoy the ride through BibleMan over the next week! If you can spare it, toss a couple of bucks to the Secular Student Alliance: it’ll help us (and more importantly, our students) out a ton. If you do, I’ll cover a movie of your choice. Again, here is my campaign page for donations. Just shoot me an email at mail@misantropey.com, and I’ll be sure to do your bad movie bidding.

Blood Diner

Blood Diner

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Today’s feature is “Blood Diner,” a peculiar little horror-comedy from the late 1980s that involves cannibalism, blood sacrifice, and veggie burgers.

“Blood Diner” was written by Michael Sonye. Sonye was primarily an actor, appearing in films such as “Surf Nazis Must Die,” but wrote a handful of b-movie screenplays, including “Cold Steel” and “Star Slammer.”

“Blood Diner” was directed and produced by Jackie Kong, who only had a handful of credits in the 1980s. She was also involved in the schlocky films “Night Patrol” and “The Being.”

The cinematography for “Blood Diner” was done by Jurg V. Walther, who has worked on such (not-so) esteemed films as “Daniel Der Zauberer,” “Zombie Nation,” “Joysticks,” and “Hot Dog: The Movie.”

The music for “Blood Diner” was composed by Don Preston, who did the music for most of Jackie Kong’s films, as well as “Eye of the Tiger” and “Android.” He also interestingly provided the synthesizer work for the score to “Apocalypse Now.”

The editor on “Blood Diner” was Thomas Meshelski, who also cut such horror films as “Puppetmaster” and “TerrorVision.”

The “Blood Diner” effects team included Larry Arpin (“Maniac Cop,” “Maniac Cop 2,” “Maniac Cop 3,” “The Dentist”), Loraiana Drucker (“Friday the 13th Part VII,” “The Blob”), Bruce Zahlava (“Dead Heat”), Michael Hyatt (“Leprechaun”), and Aaron Sims (“From Beyond,” “The Spirit,” “Baby’s Day Out”).

One of the executive producers for “Blood Diner” was Lawrence Kasanoff, who is best known for producing movies like “Mortal Kombat” and “Class of 1999,” but also infamously directed the animated disaster that is “Foodfight!”

Most of the cast of “Blood Diner” is made up of actors who have appeared in no other films, or at most just a handful of other similarly low-budget horror movies. Usually movies like this seem to have one or two players who eventually found some form of success, but that isn’t the case here.

blooddiner3The story of “Blood Diner” centers around two cannibal brothers who co-own and operate a diner. They plan to resurrect an ancient God with a massive blood sacrifice, under the guidance of their newly resurrected undead uncle. Their preparations (namely the mass killings) attract attention from the police, who race against the clock to foil their plans.

The reception for “Blood Diner” was unsurprisingly negative, though not as poor as one might expect. It currently holds a rating of 5.0 on IMDb, along with a 53% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes.

“Blood Diner” was apparently initially intended as a sequel to Herschell Gordon Lewis’s “Blood Feast,” but the idea was scrapped before filming commenced. However, the plot similarities certainly remain for the sake of homage and parody.

A few parts of “Blood Diner” play for genuine laughs, such as the opening radio interruption warning listeners about an escaped killer in the area. However, most of the comedy feels added in after the fact, like this was meant to be serious horror, but half way through they realized how ridiculous it all was and tried to laugh off their incompetence. The result is a quasi-parody that rides the line between mocking and truly becoming the thing it is trying to make fun of. The humor is also pretty lazy on the whole, like it was concocted on the fly by people who don’t make a living in comedy.

Something else that can’t be ignored about “Blood Diner” is the musical score, which is the deadly combination of being both really terrible and extremely loud. The sound editing is straight horrendous, to the point that the music manages to overpower the outlandish acting on screen at times (or at least that was the case on my copy).

Speaking of which, ‘hammy’ doesn’t even begin to describe the acting in “Blood Diner.” Everyone seems to be over the top in one way or another, like all of the characters are trying to out-weird or act over each other. There is also some god-awful child acting in the introduction sequence that ranks up there with some of the worst that I have ever seen.

If there is anything positive to say about “Blood Diner,” it is that the cast of characters is certainly colorful, and makes for an odd and surreal world for the story to take place in. One of the key accessory characters, for instance, is a rival diner owner who is also a compulsive ventriloquist. There is also a group of explicitly vegetarian cheerleaders, a Hitler-themed professional wrestler, a talking undead brain, and a popular craze of nude aerobics.

blooddiner2One thing I still don’t understand about the plot is why the brothers pretend that their cannibalistic product is vegetarian, apart from the fact that it seems to be a popular fad in the world of the movie. It just strikes me as a little too easy of a ruse to spot, and they couldn’t possibly keep it up for too long for logistical reasons alone.

The God-raising ritual itself (the “blood buffet”) is the most bizarre section of the film by far. The Frankenstein-ish patchwork vessel for the deity is genuinely unsettling and bizarre, and the entire sequence plays like an intense fever dream. The nightclub setting is pretty much perfect for the finale, and the awful music is up to 11 throughout the whole sequence. The film is probably worth watching for that alone, because it is a spectacle of awfulness.

blooddiner4Overall, “Blood Diner” is a damn strange movie. As I said before, it rides a line between being parody and an earnestly terrible film, which makes it all the more intriguing to watch. How many of these moments were meant to be funny? Were they meant to be funny in the way that they are funny? The finale sequence alone makes it worth the watch for bad movie lovers, but I’m not totally sure how casual movie goers would react to it. It certainly isn’t dull, and has a lot of gore and ridiculousness to go around, but it also doesn’t quite have the same charm of the bad movie “classics” that everyone loves, which I think is because of the elements of intentional humor within it. If you are looking for a deep cut for a bad movie night, this could make an interesting pick. Better yet, it is entirely available on YouTube.

The Singing Detective

The Singing Detective

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Today’s feature is the surreal musical “The Singing Detective,” starring Robert Downey Jr. and Mel Gibson.

“The Singing Detective” was initially written as a BBC series by Dennis Potter, who also wrote the screenplay which ultimately led to this movie adaptation. Potter actually did suffer from extreme psoriasis, just like the lead character in “The Singing Detective.” Unfortunately, he died of cancer almost ten years before this film of his work was made.

“The Singing Detective” was directed by Keith Gordon, an actor who has directed a handful of pictures, such as “Mother Night,” “Waking the Dead,” and “A Midnight Clear.”

The cinematographer for “The Singing Detective” was Tom Richmond, who also shot such films as “Chopping Mall,” “Killing Zoe,” “Stand and Deliver,” “Mother Night,” and “House of 1000 Corpses.”

The editor on “The Singing Detective” was Jeff Wishengrad, who had worked with Keith Gordon on “Waking the Dead” and “The Chocolate War,” and also cut the horror film “Sorority House Massacre.”

The significant makeup effects team for “The Singing Detective” was composed of members of Captive Audience Productions, which is best known for doing movies like “The Passion of the Christ,” “Bicentennial Man,” “A Beautiful Mind,” and “Van Helsing.” The team included Anita Brabec (“The Hunger Games,” “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind”), Tom Killeen (“Red Planet,” “Spider Man 3”), Keith VanderLaan (“Son of the Mask,” “Van Helsing,” “Kull The Conqueror”), Greg Cannom (“The Pit and The Pendulum,” “Space Truckers,” “Jingle All The Way,” “Captain America,” “Highlander II,” “It Lives Again”), Corey Czekaj (“The Master of Disguise,” “Avatar”), Mark Nieman (“Foxcatcher,” “Big Momma’s House”), Pam Phillips (“Sideways,” “Bones”), Sam Sainz (“Toys,” “RoboCop 3”), and Patty York (“From Hell,” “Secret Window”).

singingdetective2The visual effects for “The Singing Detective” were provided by WhoDoo EFX, a company which also worked on such films as “Charlie Wilson’s War,” “The Stepford Wives,” and “X2.” The specific credited workers were Helena Packer (“The Last of the Mohicans,” “Tank Girl,” “Twin Peaks”) and Mark Ritcheson (“The Tuxedo,” “Anamorph”).

The special effects team for “The Singing Detective” was made up of Scott Blackwell (“24”), Jeremy Hays (“League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,” “State of Play,” “Tiptoes”), and David Peterson (“8MM,” “The X Files,” “Monkeybone,” “The Adventures of Ford Fairlane”).

The cast for “The Singing Detective” is headed by Robert Downey Jr. (“Iron Man,” “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang”), Mel Gibson (“Lethal Weapon,” “Signs,” “Braveheart,” “Mad Max”), and Robin Wright (“House of Cards,” “State of Play,” “Unbreakable”), with the accessory players filled out by Adrien Brody (“The Pianist,” “Predators”), Jon Polito (“Miller’s Crossing,” “The Man Who Wasn’t There”), Katie Holmes (“Phone Booth”), Carla Gugino (“Sucker Punch,” “Watchmen”), and Jeremy Northam (“Mimic,” “The Net”).

singingdetective3The story of “The Singing Detective” takes place primarily inside the mind of a troubled, bedridden author with a debilitating skin condition, who increasingly lives inside a hallucination of one of his stories, where he lives as a dashing detective who also sings at a local night club.

Robert Downey, Jr. and Keith Gordon apparently met while they were both filming the Rodney Dangerfield comedy film “Back to School,” in which they both portrayed young characters.

The screenplay for “The Singing Detective” spent years rotating from studio to studio, with directors such as Robert Altman and David Cronenberg at one point or another expressing interest. Rumor has it that Altman was set to cast Dustin Hoffman as the lead, whereas Cronenberg had his eyes set on Al Pacino.

“The Singing Detective” was made on a budget of nearly $8 million, but grossed less than 350,000 in its limited theatrical run, making it a significant financial flop. The reception wasn’t much better: it currently has a 5.6 rating on IMDb, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 39% (critics) and 41% (audience).

“The Singing Detective” has a number of similarities to another Keith Gordon movie that I really like: “Mother Night,” adapted from the Kurt Vonnegut novel. Both stories center on an awful but oddly sympathetic protagonist being put through the ringer of life’s harshest struggles. However, “The Singing Detective” doesn’t pull off the same gravity as “Mother Night,” which benefits greatly from being shot starkly and in uniform shadows. Campbell from “Mother Night” is also a little more realistically portrayed as a human in deep pain, and isn’t constantly thrown into surreal hallucinations and manic musical numbers (which is not a fault to be leveled at Downey).

Speaking of which, Robert Downey Jr. is a particular highlight to “The Singing Detective,” and uses his typical sarcastic, frenetic charm to great effect. However, it is also combined with a pained bitterness and instability to create an incisive and paranoid character.

“The Singing Detective” is a little too incoherent to work effectively, but it is also oddly not quite surreal enough, either. I would have been fascinated to have seen Cronenberg’s or Altman’s takes on the story, because I think either of their styles would have fit it fantastically. Altman would have relied on character interactions, whereas Cronenberg could have turned it into something like “Videodrome” with a film noir twist.

This story just isn’t suited for casual moviegoers at all, and the advertising seemed to be done in a way that would trick people into the theater, which is a clear recipe for a disaster reception. The campaign certainly didn’t portray the movie as what it is: a depressing, cynical hallucination. It seemed like the advertising team just saw the title, and tried to sell the movie on that alone. Honestly, who wouldn’t have expected a jukebox musical noir from something called “The Singing Detective?”

Translation from television to film is always a bit tricky, as television shows are typically structured to follow a much longer arc than movie. In this case, the story of “The Singing Detective” specifically doesn’t lend itself well to the act structure of a film (at least for mass audiences). I was reminded a lot of Anthony Hopkins’s “Slipstream,” in that it lost itself in being profound, drifting right off into incoherence, and the slow pacing certainly didn’t do that any favors.

The production of “The Singing Detective” probably should have done new renditions of the songs featured in the film, as the lip syncing just doesn’t come off right, and isn’t particularly consistent either. The old tracks also keep the sequences from being truly distinct or charming, which they really could have been. The writer, Dennis Potter, was apparently adamant that the actors not sing the songs, so the lip syncing was actually specifically written into the script. This brings up another issue, in that the writer (or in this case, his will) may have had too much influence on the production (usually they have almost none), and thus muddled the vision. In any case, I guess what they did here is still better than “Viva Laughlin,” the failed musical television show (which was also adapted from an acclaimed BBC series) in which the actors bizarrely sang over the original tracks. It could always be worse, right?

Mel Gibson, to my shock, is actually pretty good here, and is nearly unrecognizable with the makeup effects. He doesn’t usually step outside of his comfort zone, so this was interesting to see. This was also a few years before he went completely off the rails, while he still had some real talent before sliding into self-parody. Robin Wright is also pretty great, as she always seems to be. She might be one of the most under-appreciated consistent performers in the business, even when in mediocre-to-awful movies.

Overall, “The Singing Detective” is a thoroughly flawed but interesting watch. The performances and direction are good, but the writing seems to be missing something to push it over the edge. Given the resurgence of both Robert Downey Jr. and Robin Wright in recent years, it is interesting to go back to. However, if you are just looking for pre-“Iron Man” RDJ performances, go to “Less Than Zero,” “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang,” or “True Believer” before this one.

S. Darko

S. Darko

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Today’s feature is yet another in a long tradition of unnecessary and reviled sequels: 2009’s “S. Darko.”

The director of “S. Darko” was Chris Fisher, who has primarily done work on television shows like “Warehouse 13” and “Person of Interest” as a producer and director.

The writer for “S. Darko” was Nathan Atkins, who has worked as an assistant editor on shows like “Masters of Horror” and “24,” but has also written a handful of TV movies like “Abominable Snowman.”

The cinematographer on “S. Darko” was Marvin V. Rush, who is a veteran director of photography on television shows such as “Hell on Wheels,” “Star Trek: Enterprise,” “Star Trek: Voyager,” “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” and “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.”

The editor and co-producer for “S. Darko” was Kent Beyda, who also cut films such as  “Jonah Hex,” “Jingle All The Way,” “Fright Night,” “Humanoids of the Deep,” and “Gremlins 2.”

The producers on “S. Darko” included Sundip Shah (“Double Dragon,” “Sudden Death”), Jim Busfield (“Bad Ass,” “Bad Ass 2”), Ash Shah (“Frankenfish,” “Space Chimps 2”), and one of the producers of “Donnie Darko” in Adam Fields.

The music for “S. Darko” was composed by Ed Harcourt, who has also scored the documentary “For No Good Reason” and the 2007 film “New York City Serenade,” but it best known as a mildly popular British indie musician.

The cast of “S. Darko” is headlined by Daveigh Chase, one of the few returning elements from “Donnie Darko.” The rest of the cast includes Ed Westwick (“Gossip Girl”), Briana Evigan (“Step Up 2: The Streets,” “Sorority Row”), James Lafferty (“Oculus,” “One Tree Hill”), John Hawkes (“Congo”), and Jackson Rathbone (“Twilight,” “The Last Airbender”).

sdarko3Richard Kelly, the writer and director of “Donnie Darko,” dismissed the creation of “S. Darko” before it was ever even released, saying:

“To set the record straight, here’s a few facts I’d like to share with you all—I haven’t read this script. I have absolutely no involvement with this production, nor will I ever be involved.”

The creation of “S. Darko” was apparently made possible due to the dissolution of Newmarket films, which produced the original “Donnie Darko.” This apparently left the rights up for grabs, which the company Silver Nitrate jumped on to create “S. Darko.”

“S. Darko” wound up getting an abysmal reception from critics and audiences alike, earning Rotten Tomatoes scores of 0% (critics) and 18% (audience). The film currently holds a slightly higher IMDb rating of 3.7, which is still very much negative.

“S. Darko” was made on a budget of just under $4 million, and only received a limited theatrical release in Europe, earning a minimal gross. However, the movie apparently wound up at least making back its budget due to DVD and on demand sales.

Samantha Darko StillsOne of the first things I noticed about “S. Darko” was that the soundtrack is notably weak, which was a key strength of the original from the very first scene. I’m sure this was partially because they didn’t want to spend money to license anything, but the music in “Donnie Darko” was more important than just providing background noise: it helped set the time period and the style, things that “S. Darko” seems totally tone deaf to.

Likewise, I thought that the cinematography and general tone was just off for this film. “S. Darko” lacks the surreal touch of “Donnie Darko,” and wound up looking more like a cheesy ghost story than a trippy time travel mind-bender. Even the writing on the characters and their portrayals failed to build the same level of intrigue as the original film, which managed to create an interesting cast of characters despite not spending much time on any particular person outside of Donnie. “S. Darko,” on the other hand, presents a veritable parade of cardboard cutouts, lacking in any distinct depth or emotion.

“Donnie Darko” has a dedicated cult fan base, as most people know. This sequel was surely made because someone thought that more money could be squeezed out of the dedicated “Donnie Darko” loyalists, which of course backfired on them terribly. The whole feel of the production reminded me of “American Psycho 2,” in that it is only tangentially tied to the original, and desperately tries to imitate the quirks of its predecessor like a child awkwardly fumbling with the new found power of speech. The whole movie feels like a clueless mockingbird imitation of “Donnie Darko,” trying to hit the essential beats that make up the tune. From watching scene to scene, you can practically see the writer’s line of thinking:

“Donnie Darko” had a rabbit mask, so we need a rabbit mask.
“Donnie Darko” has a book about time travel, so we need a book about time travel.
“Donnie Darko” had a car crash, so we need a car crash.
“Donnie Darko” had an arson, so we need an arson.
“Donnie Darko” had CGI chest-worms, so we need chest-worms.
“Donnie Darko” had television portals, so we need television portals.
“Donnie Darko” has an object falling from the sky, so we need an object falling from the sky.

sdarko5Every little detail feels like a parallel imitation from the previous movie, to the point that this list could just go on forever. I would challenge readers to a drinking game based on these observations, but I don’t want to be held liable for any untimely deaths.

I liked “Donnie Darko” well enough, but the movie does not make any sense, despite what some die-hard fans might claim. Likewise, “S. Darko” doesn’t have a shred of coherence, but it lacks the style and performances that were key to “Donnie Darko” to make up for the layers of nonsense.

“S. Darko” is one of the most boring movies I have ever sat through, and I am including ancient exploitation movies, Coleman Francis flicks, and the dullest of parody films in that count. It is excruciatingly dull and painfully derivative, to the point that you will try to manifest a nonsense form of time travel to erase it from existence. I can’t recommend it as a good-bad watch, because there are just so many better ways to spend just under 2 hours of a day.

Legend of the Dragon

Legend of the Dragon

legendofthedragon3

Today’s flick is an obscure martial arts / snooker comedy starring Stephen Chow: “Legend of the Dragon.”

“Legend of the Dragon” was produced and directed by the actor Danny Lee, who appeared in such films as “City on Fire” and John Woo’s “The Killer.” As a director, Lee primarily made action movies like “Dr. Lamb,” but drifted into the realm of comedy with “Legend of the Dragon” and “The Eight Immortals Restaurant: The Untold Story.”

“Legend of the Dragon” was written by Kam Fai-Law, a frequent collaborator with Danny Lee (“Dr. Lamb,” “The Eight Immortals Restaurant: The Untold Story”), and a man named James Fung, who received story credit.

The editor for “Legend of the Dragon” was Chung Yiu Ma, who also cut such films as “From Beijing With Love,” “Butterfly & Sword,” and “Flying Dagger.”

The two stunt coordinators for “Legend of the Dragon” were Corey Yuen, who provided stunts for “Drunken Master,” “The Expendables,” and “Transporter 3” (and even directed “The Transporter” and “No Retreat, No Surrender”), and Wah Yuen, who worked on “The Way of the Dragon,” “The Chinese Connection,” and “Enter the Dragon.”

legendofthedragonThe other credited producer on “Legend of the Dragon,” aside from Danny Lee, was fellow actor Parkman Wong, who co-starred with Lee in “City on Fire” and “The Killer.”

The cast of “Legend of the Dragon” is headlined by Stephen Chow (“Shaolin Soccer,” “Kung Fu Hustle,” “The God of Cookery,” “From Beijing With Love,” “Sixty Million Dollar Man,” “Fight Back To School”), and also features Teresa Mo (“Hard Boiled,” “Men Suddenly In Black”), Chi Ling Chiu (“Kung Fu Hustle,” “Journey to the West”), Ka-Yan Leung (“The Man With The Iron Fists”), and Wah Yuen (“City Under Siege,” “Australia,” “Game of Death”).

legendofthedragon2The story of “Legend of the Dragon” follows a young snooker player and martial artist who has to win a large snooker tournament in Hong Kong to save his home.

The plot of “Legend of the Dragon” centers around the popular game of ‘snooker,’ which isn’t particularly well-known in the United States. For those curious, here is the summary of the game from Wikipedia:

Snooker is a cue sport played on a table covered with a green cloth or baize, with pockets at each of the four corners and in the middle of each of the long side cushions. A full-size table measures 11 ft 812 in × 5 ft 10 in (3569 mm x 1778 mm), commonly referred to as 12 × 6 ft.

The game is played using a cue and 22 snooker balls: one white cue ball, 15 red balls worth one point each, and six balls of different colours: yellow (2 points), green (3), brown (4), blue (5), pink (6) and black (7).[4] The red balls are initially placed in a triangular formation, and the other coloured balls on marked positions on the table known as “spots”. Players execute shots by striking the cue ball with the cue, causing the cue ball to hit a red or coloured ball. Points are scored by sinking the red and coloured balls (knocking them into the pockets, called “potting”) in the correct sequence. A player receives additional points if the opponent commits a foul. A player (or team) wins a frame (individual game) of snooker by scoring more points than the opponent(s). A player wins a match when a predetermined number of frames have been won.

Snooker, generally regarded as having been invented in India by British Army officers, is popular in many of the English-speaking and Commonwealth countries,[5] with top professional players attaining multi-million-pound career earnings from the game.[6] The sport is now increasingly popular in China.[7] Touring professional players compete regularly around the world, the premier tournament being the World Championship, held annually in Sheffield, England.

As mentioned in the Wikipedia summary, “Legend of the Dragon” was made in the midst of the growing popularity of snooker in China, which has continued in the years since the movie’s release.

“Legend of the Dragon” features a cameo from Jimmy White, a world champion snooker player and dominant force in the game throughout the 1980s, who acts as the final challenger Stephen Chow must defeat to win the tournament.

“Legend of the Dragon” is a pretty obscure flick, and doesn’t have a whole lot of reviews because of it. However, the ones that are out there are relatively positive: it currently has a 58% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes and a 6.5 rating on IMDb.

“Legend of the Dragon” is primarily a slapstick physical comedy, but Stephen Chow sells the humor with boundless enthusiasm as his man-child character. What would be painfully hack-y with a different cast comes off as mildly charming with Stephen Chow at the head.

Given the experience of the director and the cast, it is no surprise that “Legend of the Dragon” features good fight choreography and action sequences. Even the snooker sequences are shot with a fair amount of tension, making something that is generally mundane anything but.

There is an interesting undertone of anti-capitalism throughout “Legend of the Dragon,” with much of the plot centering on the condemnation of gambling and profiteering. However, the ending is less clear on the point, with gambling ultimately saving the day, and compromises of traditional values being reached. There is definitely a message in the story about the cultural divide between mainland China and Hong Kong, particularly as the once-distant year of 1997 began coming closer, which would bring the highly independent and westernized island back under the fold of Chinese authority. The tensions between the comically traditional Master Chow and his material-obsessed brother plays to this divide, and their ultimate reconciliation and compromise give the conflict a peaceful resolution in the end.

“Legend of the Dragon” features a couple of really funny moments. For instance, after the climactic kiss, both characters instantly think they are pregnant. It is a great little stab at the sheltered, naive characters that always seem to feature in kung fu flicks. There are also a number of good jokes pointed at the fact that no one knows the rules to snooker, most memorably after the protagonist and his friends celebrate their victory in the final tournament before the match is actually over.

Overall, “Legend of the Dragon” is a strange but fun little movie, with some deep undertones beneath a veneer of childish physical humor. It isn’t particularly easy to find, but it is worth checking out for kung fu fans if you happen to come across it.

Given the film’s obscurity, you might be a little as to how I came across this oddball little flick. Video Central, the local video store that provides my Clerk’s Picks, was recently clearing out some excess inventory, and I picked it up from them for a couple of bucks based on the distinctive cover art on the DVD. I assumed that there had to be something worth watching inside, and thankfully I was right.