Manic

Manic

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This post is based on a viewer request, which is being filled due to a donation to the Secular Student Alliance via my campaign during Secular Students Week (June 10-17, 2015). Thanks to all for your contributions!

Today’s movie is Manic, an intense and realistic story about a group of young people being treated for a variety of mental illnesses.

Manic was written Michael Bacall (21 Jump Street, 22 Jump Street, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World) and Blayne Weaver (Honey 2, Weather Girl), who both also appear in the film.

The director for the film was Jordan Melamed, whose only other directing credit is a 2012 documentary called Futures Past. However, he also wrote the screenplay for Twelve, a 2010 movie by Joel Schumacher which he also served as producer on.

The cast of Manic includes Don Cheadle (Swordfish, Hotel Rwanda, Iron Man 2), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Brick, Looper, Inception), Zooey Deschanel (500 Days of Summer, The Happening), Elden Henson (Daredevil, The Mighty Ducks), Cody Lightning (Smoke Signals, Brick), and co-writer Michael Bacall (Django Unchained).

manic6The story of Manic centers around a number of patients in the psych ward of a hospital, who are all in the process of dealing with a variety of mental illnesses. As the movie goes along, some of the patients progress, others regress, and a handful of friendships and bonds are formed.

Manic features a handful of teenagers in the background who had actually been treated in institutions for mental illnesses, which adds to the realism of the setting and the tone of the movie.

Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt once again acted alongside each other years later in 500 Days of Summer, an acclaimed indie romantic comedy that immensely popularized both actors.

Manic notably premiered at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival, one of the most revered showcases of independent films in  the United States.

The reception to Manic was generally positive. On the Rotten Tomatoes review aggregator, Manic currently holds scores of 67% (critics) and a 79% (audience), alongside an IMDb rating of 7.4. Manic reportedly had a budget of $1.5 million, but it was only able to make less than $70,000 in a limited theatrical run.

One of the biggest criticisms I have seen of the film is the near-nauseating use of handheld camerawork throughout the film, which clearly didn’t sit well with many critics. However, I though it gave the film a more realistic style, and the shots occasionally served to make the audience appropriately uncomfortable and generally ill-at-ease. It still was distracting at points, but I didn’t see it as a negative for the film as a whole. Above all, this strikes me as a movie that was aiming for realism, and shooting with tripods and stabilizers might have served to take away from that feeling without adding anything of real value. Roger Ebert was particularly vocal about his disdain for the shooting style in his review:

Melamed and Hay made an unfortunate decision to use the hand-held style that specializes in gratuitous camera movement, just to remind us it’s all happening right now. There are swish-pans from one character to another, an aggressive POV style, and so much camera movement that we’re forced to the conclusion that it’s a deliberate choice. A little subtle hand-held movement creates a feeling of actuality; too much is an affectation…the camera style [of Manic} made me work hard to see it at all.

Manic serves as a fantastic showcase of acting abilities if nothing else, particularly from Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. While both actors have found their footing in Hollywood now, it is a shame to see Deschanel pigeon-holed into her “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” persona, which she can’t seem to escape. Manic makes it clear that she can do much more if given the opportunity.  Similarly, Joseph Gordon-Levitt shows a potential for violence and simmering intimidation in Manic that he rarely gets to utilize in his roles today.  He does use those qualities a bit in Hesher, however, which is also worth checking out. Cheadle also gets to showcase himself a bit, but his character definitely takes a back seat to the youth in the movie, and he has less of a resolution than any of the other characters in the movie.

The non-traditional plot structure for Manic makes it difficult to tell as an audience member where you are in the progression of the story, and it isn’t really clear until the third act that an end is anywhere in sight. At first this bothered me a bit, but it actually fits with the Sisyphean theme of the movie really well now that I have spent some time thinking about it.

manic5While this might be a mixed bag for some people, I like the ending to Manic. It makes an interesting point on what freedom is, a point that had been made throughout the story. It also provides an interesting foil for the memorable ending to perhaps the most famous movie about a mental institution, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. You can escape a physical institution, but as the Manic tagline suggests, “you can’t escape yourself.”

Overall, this is a very emotionally heavy movie that definitely isn’t for everyone. The shooting style and pacing could also turn a lot of people off, but the performances generally make it worth checking out. I’m not usually a huge fan of hyper-realistic cinema, but I thought the use of handheld cameras was a good decision here, and it is hard for me to imagine the movie without them.

If you are interested in checking this out, you need to know that this isn’t One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest or I’m A Cyborg, But That’s OK. This is neither a straight conventional drama or a romantic comedy against the backdrop of an institution: it is an honestly bleak and stark look at what dealing with mental illness as a young person can be like, and it doesn’t pull any punches. If that is something you want to see, then give Manic a shot.

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Swordfish

Clerk’s Pick

Clerk:
Max, Video Central (Columbus, OH)

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Movie:
Swordfish
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Pitch:
“Believe it or not, it isn’t because Halle Berry  is topless in it. I really like John Travolta’s speeches about movies (and how those sequences are shot). The movie also basically gives away the ending early on, but in a way that you don’t realize it, and it still comes off as a twist. I think it is a more clever movie than it gets credit for, and is worth revisiting.”

Background:

Swordfish tells the story of the planning and execution of an elaborate and technologically advanced heist. The protagonist is a notorious hacker, who has just served a 2-year prison sentence. He is roped into the heist by a mysterious mastermind to handle the programming behind the scenes, but is never given the whole story of what the heist will entail. Of course, the plot features a number of twists and misdirections, and a hearty quantity of explosions.

Swordfish was written and produced by Skip Woods, who has also provided screenplays for Hitman, Sabotage, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, A Good Day to Die Hard, and The A-Team. The director for Swordfish was Dominic Sena, who was also behind such movies as Gone in 60 Seconds, Season of the Witch, and Kalifornia. Likewise, Swordfish was edited by Stephen Rivkin, who has also cut films like Stealth, Avatar, Blackhat, and My Cousin Vinny.

Swordfish required a massive visual effects team due to the complicated nature of a number of the sequences. The team included common elements with films like Avatar, Jingle All The Way, Tank Girl, The Italian Job, Speed, The Abyss, Fight Club, Monkeybone, Minority Report, Judge Dredd, Deep Blue Sea, Cloud Atlas, Jupiter Ascending, and Mystery Men, among others.

The music on Swordfish was provided by Paul Oakenfold, an acclaimed DJ who has had remixes featured in movies like The Matrix Reloaded, Collateral, and Shoot ‘Em Up, and Christopher Young, who has composed scores for films like Sinister, Drag Me To Hell, Spider-Man 3, The Core, and Rounders.

The cinematographer for Swordfish was Paul Cameron, who also shot movies like Deja Vu, Man on Fire, Collateral, and the remake of Total Recall.

The cast of Swordfish is pretty deep, and includes the likes of Hugh Jackman (The Prestige, X-Men, Van Helsing), John Travolta (Battlefield: Earth, Face/Off, The Punisher), Halle Berry (Catwoman), Vinnie Jones (The Midnight Meat Train), Don Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda, Iron Man 2), Sam Shepard (Stealth, The Right Stuff), and Zach Grenier (Fight Club, Mother Night, Deadwood).

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Swordfish was nominated for a Golden Raspberry award, which are dishonors given out for the judged worst films and performances of the year. Specifically, John Travolta received a nomination for Worst Actor for his work on Swordfish and Domestic Disturbance, but lost out to Tom Green for Freddy Got Fingered.

The reception to Swordfish has been mixed over the years. Rotten Tomatoes, which primarily tracks contemporaneous reviews of movies from critics, has it at 26% aggregate score.  However, IMDb, which tracks reviews continuously from its user base, has it at a significantly higher 6.5 rating.

The budget for Swordfish was estimated to be just north of $100 million. It managed to make a profit on that with a worldwide theatrical gross of just over $147 million, though expectations for it were clearly higher. For comparison’s sake, The Matrix managed to make well over $400 million worldwide on a smaller budget.

Halle Berry reportedly received an extra $500,000 on top of her salary for the movie to do her topless scene, which she apparently agreed to in order to overcome her fear of on-screen nudity.

The opening explosion sequence was, at the time, one of the most complicated visual effects shots in Warner Brothers history. It utilized much of the effects technology that was popularized in The Matrix two years earlier, and required the use of 135 cameras.

Swordfish released just months before the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and is oddly prescient about some of the issues that would follow the event. Notably, Hugh Jackman’s character is said to have hacked into U.S. government files to sabotage a mass program of illegal surveillance of citizens, a program that actually began occurring after 9/11, and was exposed by Edward Snowden.

Review:

First off, Swordfish features too much color filtering, to the point of being obnoxious. That might not have been too distracting at the time, but after years of CSI television shows beating that particular dead horse, it is impossible not to notice. As with many other aspects of the movie, I’m sure this was done based on the influence of The Matrix, which I’ll get to more in a bit.

This might be a bit of a surprise, but I don’t hate John Travolta in this. I always enjoy his hammy acting, particularly in things like The Punisher and Face/Off. However, the writing for his character is incredibly pretentious and sleazy, which I am sure was at least partially intentional. Regardless, he is really easy to hate, but whether that is a positive or a negative is up to the viewer.

In general, the writing for the movie feels edgy for the sake of being edgy, and gives off a tone of pretending to be cooler than it actually is (not unlike Hackers, a similarly computer-themed flick). Everything about the dialogue just comes off as “trying too hard,” which isn’t a vibe you want your movie to give off.

Just about everything about Swordfish‘s aesthetic and style feels intentionally derivative of The Matrix. I mentioned the use of color already, but the music, costumes, effects, and the prominence of computers/hacking in the story-line all combine to make something that looks and feels a little too familiar. This isn’t necessarily objectively bad, and isn’t as noticeable now unless you look into the context of the film, but at the time, all of these similarities would have stood out in bold to both critics and audiences.

Recommendation:

I have mixed feelings about Swordfish. At times, it is genuinely entertaining and interesting, but at others it is unbearably pretentious and hokey. The excessive vigilante patriotism also came off as weird to me, and just doesn’t line up with the hedonistic personality that Travolta’s character was laid out to have throughout the movie. This trait was apparently emphasized more in rewrites on the movie, which resulted in a handful of alternate endings.

If you like heist movies and can handle sitting through the tech nonsense of Hackers, The Net, and The Matrix sequels, then Swordfish is worth sitting through for the occasional good parts. I still think it is more bad than good, but there is definitely entertainment value to it on the whole.

I particularly recommend checking out the We Hate Movies podcast episode on the film for a more detailed walk-through of the movie, and a few other perspectives on the film as a whole.

A Simple Plan

Clerk’s Pick

Clerk:
Hannah, Video Central (Columbus, OH)

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Movie:
A Simple Plan

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Pitch:
“I like Sam Raimi thrillers. I like his horror-comedies too, but this and The Gift really stand out to me. He has an ability to utilize the setting in his stories, which is something that a lot of directors seem to overlook. I also generally like Billy Bob Thornton in things, though he seems like he is a bit of an asshole as a person.”

Background:

A Simple Plan was directed by the one and only Sam Raimi, who is best known for his uniquely shot horror-comedies like The Evil Dead, Army of Darkness, and Drag Me To Hell. He has also made some more traditional Hollywood fare in more recent years, like the initial Spider-Man trilogy and Oz: The Great and Powerful. I think many people forget that he went through a number of different genres over the middle portion of his career, like his action-western The Quick and The Dead and the standard sports drama For Love Of The Game. A Simple Plan, though well-regarded, isn’t associated as strongly with Raimi himself as many of his other movies.

The movie is based on a 1993 novel by Scott B. Smith, who also provided the screenplay adaptation for the film. Surprisingly, the only other screenplay work he has done was for the 2008 film The Ruins, despite how highly acclaimed his work was on A Simple Plan.

The cast of the movie includes Billy Bob Thornton (The Ice Harvest, Sling Blade, Bad Santa, The Man Who Wasn’t There), Bill Paxton (Slipstream, Predator 2, Frailty, Aliens), Bridget Fonda (Lake Placid, Monkeybone), and Gary Cole (Harvey Birdman: Attorney At Law, The West Wing, Office Space)

The music was done by the acclaimed composer Danny Elfman, who is one of the most recognizable scorers working today. His work on such films as Batman, Batman Returns, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and Beetlejuice have cemented him as one of the most unique and distinctively-styled composers out there.

The cinematography for A Simple Plan was done by Alar Kivilo, who also shot such films as Copper Mountain, The Blind Side, The Ice Harvest, Frequency, and Hart’s War.

A Simple Plan was nominated for two Academy Awards: best adapted screenplay and best supporting actor (Billy Bob Thornton). It raked in a number of other accolades, including SAG and Golden Globe nominations for Thornton, along with widespread recognition for the score and the screenplay. The film in its totality was nominated for such accolades as the Saturn Award, the Edgar Allan Poe Award, and the Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for Best Picture.

This movie took a number of years to actually get made after its initially publication as a novel, thanks to a number of changes to the cast and crew. One early iteration had Nicolas Cage on board to star, with Ben Stiller directing. Later on, names like Brad Pitt, John Boorman, Juliette Lewis, and John Dahl were attached at one point or another before the final cast and crew listings were settled.

A Simple Plan currently holds a 7.5 rating on IMDb, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 90% (critics) and 81% (audience). Despite the film’s acclaim, it failed to make back its reported $30 million budget, raking in just over $16 million in its domestic theatrical run.

Review:

First off, I have to note that Bill Paxton gets to show off some of his real talent in this movie, which always seems to come to the surface when he isn’t hamming it up in a sci-fi movie. Billy Bob Thornton might be the one who got the most acclaim out of this movie (and it was certainly deserved), but Paxton shouldn’t be overlooked. The way his character turns from being a staunch moral center to a fully corrupted criminal at break-neck speed is really astounding, and Bridget Fonda plays a fantastic Lady MacBeth in his ear throughout his fall.

 “You work for the American Dream, you don’t steal it.”

“Then this is even better!”

simpleplan3There is a historically tight relationship between Sam Raimi and the Coen Brothers (they worked together on both Crimewave and The Hudsucker Proxy), and this movie really feels like Raimi’s take on a Coen Brothers style movie. The atmospheric similarities to Fargo are impossible not to mention, especially given that Fargo came out just two years prior to A Simple Plan. Reportedly, Raimi even learned how to effectively film in the frigid elements thanks to the Coens. Despite the similar snowy aesthetics and criminal plots, the two films are very different sorts of movies. A Simple Plan is very emotional in its focus on the characters, and stays grounded in reality throughout the story. The characters in Fargo are a bit cartoonish, and create an atmosphere that feels somewhat more exaggerated than the world we really live in, but not so much so that it drifts into a realm that is beyond belief.

A Simple Plan might not be a great movie, but it is certainly a very good one. The performances from Paxton, Thornton, and Fonda are all notable, and the dialogue is really spot-on. The pacing is unfortunately a bit too slow if you ask me, and the story also never builds up quite enough tension for what the film seemed to require (at least, not until the explosive climax and conclusion). Raimi’s shots and imagery are a bit heavy-handed (the birds lack any kind of subtlety, for instance), but the film still looks great on the whole. Overall, it is an entertaining film to watch unfold thanks to the performances and the dialogue.

Recommendation:

A Simple Plan is basically Coen Brothers Lite: it has the same gist of the original, but not all of the content. There is a lot good going on here, and it certainly stands on its own, but it inevitably incites comparisons to Fargo, which is just a much better crafted film from top to bottom. I definitely recommend checking it out, as it is a solid dramatic crime thriller with some great acting and dialogue on all fronts. It is also thoroughly emotionally taxing, and the last third of the film is genuinely powerful.

C.H.U.D. II: Bud the Chud

C.H.U.D. II: Bud the Chud

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Today’s feature is truly one of the most unnecessary and strange sequels of all time: C.H.U.D. II: Bud the Chud.

C.H.U.D. II was written by Ed Naha, who also penned such movies as Troll and Dolls. However, he did so under a pseudonym: M. Kane Jeeves. The fact that a man who was willing to have his name on Dolls and Troll declined credit for C.H.U.D. II should say a lot about the sort of movie we are dealing with here.

The film was directed David Irving, who has directed such films as (Night of the Cyclone, Rumpelstiltskin, Sleeping Beauty). However, he had no previous experience with directing horror movies.

The cinematographer for C.H.U.D. II was Arnie Smith, who has primarily worked on biographical documentaries like Aldous Huxley: Darkness and Light, Bogart: The Untold Story, and The Unknown Peter Sellers.

The film’s editor was Barbara Pokras, who cut such memorable films as The Giant Spider Invasion and The Return of The Living Dead.

The producers for C.H.U.D. II included Lawrence Kasanoff (Mortal Kombat, Foodfight!, Class of 1999, Blood Diner), Jonathan Krane (Face/Off, Battlefield Earth, Swordfish), Simon Lewis (Look Who’s Talking), and Anthony Santa Croce (Monk, Tales From The Darkside)

The music for C.H.U.D. II was composed by Nicholas Pike, who worked on scores for a number of episodes of Masters of Horror (including Pick Me Up), Freddy’s Nightmares, It’s Alive (2008), and Critters 2.

The C.H.U.D. II effects team included Allan Apone (Evilspeak, Galaxy of Terror, Going Overboard, Deep Blue Sea), Douglas White (Merlin’s Shop of Mystical Wonders, UHF), Michael Spatola (Iron Man 3, Going Overboard), Bryan Moore (Dolls, Tremors II), Tim Huchthausen (Blind Fury, 1941), and John Fifer (Return to Horror High, Cyber Tracker).

The cast for C.H.U.D. II includes Gerrit Graham (Child’s Play 2, Chopping Mall), Brian Robbins (Head of the Class), Tricia Leigh Fisher (Book of Love), Robert Vaughn (Bullitt, The Magnificent Seven, Battle Beyond The Stars), Larry Cedar (The Gingerdead Man), Larry Linville (M*A*S*H), and June Lockhart (Troll, Deadly Games, Lost In Space).

chudii3The plot of C.H.U.D. II centers around a sole surviving experimental C.H.U.D., which was synthesized by the military from the original race of Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers in an attempt to create a super-soldier. However, the project was scrapped, and “Bud” was left in the care of a Center for Disease Control. At the beginning of the story, Bud is accidentally freed by some teenagers, after which he begins creating a new army of C.H.U.D.s, and generally causes havoc for the local townsfolk.

The reception to C.H.U.D. II: Bud the Chud was definitively negative at the time, though it has a bit of a cult following now. Currently, it holds an IMDb rating of 3.6, which is still impressively low.

chudii4This flick astoundingly takes place in a totally different genre from C.H.U.D., and the monsters don’t look remotely like CHUDs as they were previously depicted. There is just no way that this movie was originally written as a sequel to C.H.U.D., because there are just too many dramatic differences. To be generous, CHUD II is to CHUD what Return of the Living Dead is to Night of the Living Dead: the movies are not really related, though the previous film is nodded at here and there in the story of the “sequel”.

Speaking of which, what value was there to the C.H.U.D. name that it made sense to brand this random zombie comedy? It was a bit of a cult classic, but it was never a cash cow or particularly beloved to the point of being worth a sequel. Honestly, this makes more sense as a Weekend at Bernie’s sequel, and would probably be funnier that way. The protagonists in this movie spend a lot of time trying to use Bud to get a good grade in a science class, which fits way better in a silly comedy franchise than the sequel to grimy cannibal movie.

chudii2Regarding the monsters themselves, the CHUDs in C.H.U.D. II are really unimpressive. The zombie makeup here is mostly just pale foundation, eye pits, and messed up teeth. The original CHUDs are still cheap, but they are at least a bit eerie with their contorted faces and lantern eyes. There isn’t even an attempt to recreate them here.

I couldn’t very well forget to talk about the music in this movie, which is absolutely ridiculous. Bud, the Alpha CHUD, gets his own theme song, which plays constantly throughout the movie whenever the character is on screen.

Speaking of Bud, the character is far more intelligent and thoughtful than it was ever implied that CHUDs could be. This may be due to him being a synthesized, experimental super-soldier rather than a natural CHUD, but I personally think that was just a plot convenience used to explain away any inconsistencies with the first film. However, it is pretty funny to think of Bud the super-soldier CHUD dressed up as Captain America.

This isn’t an easy flick to recommend. It isn’t particularly fun as a comedy or as a b-movie, and clearly didn’t have a whole lot of care put into it. That said, it is certainly cheesy and hammy, and is probably worth giving a shot for bad movie fans. I just wouldn’t go in with any kind of high expectations, because this isn’t anywhere close to being a good-bad elite flick. Just in the realm of zombie comedies, there are far better options out there to dig up.

Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2

Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2

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Today’s feature is the particularly infamous bad movie Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2.

The two writers on Baby Geniuses 2 were Gregory Poppen (Chilly Christmas, The Prince and The Surfer, The Million Dollar Kid) and producer Steven Paul (Baby Geniuses, Karate Dog, Never Too Young to Die).

Baby Geniuses 2 was directed by Bob Clark, who is best known for directing movies like A Christmas Story, Rhinestone, Black Christmas, and Porky’s. Baby Geniuses 2 was sadly the last film he would direct, as he died in a car wreck shortly after the film wrapped.

The editor for Baby Geniuses 2 was Stan Cole, who also cut Baby Geniuses, Rhinestone, and Black Christmas for director Bob Clark.

Aside from co-writer Steven Paul, the producers for Baby Geniuses 2 included Eric Breiman (Bratz: The Movie), Jan Fantl (Slipstream (2005), Feardotcom), Rosanne Milliken (Tucker and Dale vs. Evil), Reinhild Graber (Boat Trip, Dracula 3000), and David Marlow (Lexx).

The music for the movie was provided in part by Paul Zaza, who has also provided scores for films like My Bloody Valentine, Prom Night, Porky’s, and A Christmas Story.

The Baby Geniuses 2 makeup effects team was composed of such people as Agnieszka Echallier (In The Name of The King, Hollow Man 2), Joel Echallier (Postal, Air Buddies, Dreamcatcher, Blade: Trinity), Julianne Kaye (Jack Frost 2), and Joan Issacson (Street Smart, Jacknife).

The special effects work on Baby Geniuses 2 was done by a group including Rory Cutler (The Mangler 2, Jennifer’s Body, The Fly II), Brant McIlroy (Scary Movie, Catwoman), Vittorio Palmisani (Fido, The Chronicles of Riddick), Cara E. Anderson (Marmaduke, Trucks, The Core), CJ Wills (Miracle), and Neil Westlake (Smokin’ Aces 2, Big Nothing, The Last Mimzy).

The massive visual effects team for Baby Geniuses 2 included elements from such films as Thor, Ghost Rider, Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, Elysium, Into The Storm, Josie & The Pussycats, Resident Evil, Deep Blue Sea, Baby Geniuses, Spider Man 3, Jingle All The Way, Hot Fuzz, Thunderpants, Spice World, Drag Me To Hell, and Event Horizon.

The cast of Baby Geniuses 2 includes Jon Voight (Bratz: The Movie, Anaconda, Deliverance), Scott Baio (Charles in Charge), Vanessa Angel (Kingpin), Peter Wingfield (Catwoman), Justin Chatwin (Dragonball: Evolution), and Skyler Shaye (Bratz: The Movie).

babygeniusestwo2The plot of Baby Geniuses 2 follows a group of young babies who stay at a local daycare, and speak in a mysterious baby language. They tell the story of a mythical Superbaby called ‘The Kahuna’, who appears to them shortly afterwards in order to foil an evil plot unfolding under their noses. With the help of their babysitter, the babies get kidnapped by Kahuna and are taken to his Willy Wonka-esque hideout, where they are subsequently turned into superheroes. Eventually the plot ends, and everyone is supposedly happy as all of the children’s memories are wiped.

Baby Geniuses 2 has become a mainstay at the bottom of the IMDb’s Bottom 100, and has held the bottom slot on more than a few occasions. As of this writing, it is sitting at #15 in the ranking.

Baby Geniuses 2 shockingly wound up spawning multiple sequels: Baby Geniuses and The Mystery of the Crown Jewels (2013), Baby Geniuses and The Treasures of Egypt (2014), and Baby Geniuses and The Space Baby (2015). As I understand it, all of these films follow characters established in Baby Geniuses 2 rather than Baby Geniuses, which have very little relationship to each other from a plot perspective.

Baby Geniuses 2 wound up with a total of 4 Golden Raspberry nominations, which are given out as a dishonor for the worst films and performances of the year. It racked up nominations for Worst Director, Worst Picture, Worst Supporting Actor, and Worst Screenplay, but it astoundingly did not win any of them, as they were primarily taken by Catwoman and Fahrenheit 9/11.

Baby Geniuses 2 had a budget of roughly $20 million, though it grossed less than $10 million in its theatrical release, making it a significant financial failure.

The reception to Baby Geniuses 2 was overwhelmingly negative: it currently holds a 1.9 on IMDb, along with scores of 0% (critics) and 19% (audience) on the movie review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes.

The bad visual effects and stunts work throughout Baby Geniuses 2 come fast and furious, and just look awful. The effects are all emphasized far too much for a movie that really didn’t require their presence at all. While the fighting scenes are laughable in their incompetence at first, that novelty dries up pretty fast as the movie drags on.

babygeniusestwo1The worst offense in this movie (in my opinion) is the dubbing work done over the babies, who were clearly directed to just randomly move their mouths. Any time you are relying on child actors you are running a big risk for your movie, but the fact that this was riding on baby actors absolutely doomed it (just like its predecessor). Unless you turn to butter at the sight of blithering babies, it is unbearable to watch.

If there is anything memorable about this movie, it is Jon Voight and his ridiculous fake accent. Voight certainly hams up his role to the max in truly bizarre fashion, but that is unfortunately hardly enough to make this movie watchable.

As far as the writing goes in the movie, there is a pathetic attempt at a plot twist that anyone over 5 could spot from a mile away. There is also a half-assed attempt to preach about how awful and lazy watching television causes people to be through the plot, while the movie is simultaneously a mind-numbingly awful movie. The dialogue is almost forgivable, given that babies are supposed to be the ones speaking for most of the film, but there are a number of instances where their vocabulary is far more advanced than it should be, throwing a wrench into any semblance of consistency in the dialogue writing. Most of the attempts at humor relate to poop and/or diapers, a topic which is retread over and over again throughout the film.

Whoopi Goldberg has a perplexing and unnecessary cameo in this movie that I still can’t quite wrap my brain around. She plays herself, and is apparently part of a network of militarized babies (or something), which makes exactly as much sense as it sounds like it does.

There is something that has bugged me ever since I first saw this movie: who was the intended audience for it supposed to be? I’m not sure if this would actually entertain children or babies, as it seems to emphasize the babies being supposedly cute more than anything else. I suppose if you are one of those people that turns to mush whenever you see a baby, this movie might actually have been made for you. In all seriousness, if watching babies be babies for an hour and a half seems like a raucous good time to you, then this movie is totally up your alley, and you should have at it.

For everyone else out there, I highly recommend not watching this movie. It is a horrible mess of a film with no redeeming qualities outside of Jon Voight, who might be worth looking up some clips of. I do suspect that there is a meta-plot to this movie about how it is actually capable of killing your brain cells, just in case you are the sort of person who wants to read too deeply into a movie about babies. However, I assume that I’m probably alone there.

Going Overboard

Going Overboard

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Today’s feature is the often-forgotten early Adam Sandler vehicle, Going Overboard.

Going Overboard was directed and co-written by Valerie Breiman, who went on to direct Bikini Squad and Love & Sex. Her co-writers were stars Adam Sandler and Scott LaRose, as well as the uncredited Adam Rifkin (Small Soldiers, Mousehunt, The Invisible Maniac), who also produced the film and appears in the movie.

The cinematographer on Going Overboard was Ron Jacobs, who, since 2000, has only worked in film as a driver and transportation manager. The editor for the film, Randy D. Wiles, has primarily worked on television shows over the years, like Quantum Leap, JAG, NCIS, and Tequila & Bonetti.

The music for Going Overboard was composed by Steven Scott Smalley, who has primarily worked as an orchestrator on films like Iron Eagle, RoboCop, Tommy Boy, Starship Troopers, Tiptoes, and Paul Blart: Mall Cop.

The special effects makeup for Going Overboard was done by a team that included Michael Spatola (Iron Man 3, Little Monsters, Never Too Young To Die), Allan Apone (CHUD II: Bud the Chud, UHF, Deep Blue Sea, The Avengers), and Mary Brando (Bachelor Party).

The cast of Going Overboard includes Adam Sandler (Jack & Jill, Grown Ups, Billy Madison), Billy Zane (Titanic, The Phantom, Critters, The Brotherhood of Justice), Billy Bob Thornton (The Ice Harvest, Sling Blade, The Man Who Wasn’t There), Scott LaRose (The Sixth Man, Booty Call), Ricky Paull Goldin (Piranha II), and Peter Berg (Battleship, Aspen Extreme, Shocker, Hancock).

The plot of Going Overboard follows an aspiring comedian working on a commercial cruise ship, who desperate tries to figure out the secrets to effect stand up comedy and self confidence.

Adam Sandler to this day doesn’t acknowledge the existence of this film, and doesn’t list it among the credits on his website. Considering the quality of movies that he is willing to claim, that speaks volumes about how bad Going Overboard really is.

Going Overboard is widely loathed by audiences and critics alike, and currently holds a rating of 1.9 on IMDb, landing it in the website’s Bottom 100 films. The Rotten Tomatoes audience score isn’t any better: an abysmal 11%.

First off, the cinematography on the film is just horrible, though part of that is justifiably due to the production trying to film the movie in the cramped confines of a cruise ship, which certainly isn’t conducive to it. However, there are long shots and bad angles that go much deeper than just the difficulties of the environment. The fact that the cinematographer didn’t wind up with any other credits is no surprise given the product here.

Going Overboard does a lot of unnecessary fourth wall breaking, with most of the instances acting as transitions or outright apologies for the poor quality of the film. The film literally starts with Adam Sandler breaking character to explain that the movie had no budget, and tries to lower audience expectations out of the gate. The fourth wall is later broken in desperate attempts for laughs throughout the film, but it never really works.

goingoverboard4It is interesting to see a pre-Saturday Night Live Sandler trying to take on a leading role. He is just as bad as he always is, but in a different sort of way. He clearly isn’t used to the spotlight in Going Overboard, and looks obviously uncomfortable with the camera on him. He also hasn’t worked out his trademark comedic cadence, though flashes of it pop up here and there throughout the story.If there is any trivial worth to the movie, it is to see how Sandler has managed to develop into his modern persona.

It doesn’t seem like anyone in the cast or crew of Going Overboard was putting in any real effort here. While the film was obviously filmed in a rush, it generally feels as if the motivation behind this movie is that the team wanted to go on a cruise together, and film along the way when they could.

goingoverboard2For being as despised as it is, I actually found Going Overboard to be mostly watchable. It isn’t funny, and it definitely has plenty of technical and writing issues, but the team behind the film clearly wasn’t working with anything to start with, and didn’t much care about putting out a quality product at the end of the day. So, it is hard to have any kind of expectations for this flick: it is basically a home movie. I’m not sure if the self-aware aspect of the film helps it or hurts it, but I do know that this is a film I would still take over anything in Uwe Boll’s or Uli Lommel’s filmographies. Basically, there are far worse movies out there.

I actually think that there is a potentially funny movie hidden inside of this film somewhere. I could imagine this plot with someone like Louis CK, a genuinely talented self-loathing comedian, as a cruise ship waiter who is down on his luck, with dreams of doing stand up comedy. I could see an effectively brash comedian like Dennis Leary or Dennis Miller as the washed up antagonist comic, relegated from his banner years to doing a cruise ship show. Seriously, there is a potential movie there.

The thing that makes this movie stand out, over anything else, is the inclusion of countless unnecessary characters. For instance, the Greek God Poseidon and infamous dictator General Noriega both feature prominently as characters in the movie. The plot also manages to go completely off the rails, eventually featuring a Panamanian hit squad that has a deep love of stand-up comedy. The movie ends with Adam Sandler hooking up with the demigod daughter of Poseidon, and the rival comic
drowning after being tossed overboard in what is essentially a mutiny. That sounds more like the way you would end some sort of Greco-Roman epic, not an Adam Sandler comedy vehicle.

goingoverboard3The bizarreness of the ending to this film, coupled with the unique incompetence behind the scenes, actually makes this whole mess relatively interesting to watch, in the same way that dissecting a mutated squirrel from Chernobyl might be.

I certainly can’t heavily recommend this movie, but it is one of the few bad comedy movies that I have ever gone back to rewatch. Most bad comedies try too hard to be funny, whereas this mess suffers from the exact opposite problem. It is certainly a unique movie, and I would at least recommend watching it for no other reason than that Adam Sandler doesn’t want you to.

Extra-Terrestrial Visitors

Extra-Terrestrial Visitors

extraterr2

Today’s feature is an E.T. knockoff called Extra Terrestrial Visitors, through it is better known by many as The Pod People.

The Pod People was directed and co-written by Juan Piquer Simon, who was also behind such films as Slugs: The Movie, Pieces, and The Rift. His co-writer was Joaquín Grau, who previously worked with Simon on Los Diablos Del Mar and Mystery On Monster Island.

The film featured two credited cinematographers: Ricardo Navarrete, a camera operator who worked on Solarbabies, Conan The Barbarian, and Guns of the Magnificent Seven, and Juan Mariné, who shot Pieces and The Rift for the director, Juan Simon.

The editor for The Pod People was Antonio Gimeno, who also cut The Werewolf vs. The Vampire Woman, Mario Bava’s Planet of the Vampires, and Slugs: The Movie.

The memorable music in The Pod People was composed by the duo of Michael Demer and Librado Pastor, neither of whom have any other significant film score composition credits.

The effects work on the film was done by Pedro Camacho (Slugs: The Movie, Pieces, Zorro) and Basilio Cortijo (Battle of the Bulge, The Trojan Women, Cthulhu Mansion).

The plot to The Pod People is immensely complicated, and follows a number of different threads. The main plot follows a young boy who discovers a mysterious egg in the woods, which he takes home with him. It soon hatches into a juvenile alien with telekinetic powers, leading to an assortment of shenanigans. Elsewhere in the woods, a traveling rock band comes across the adult alien that laid the egg, leading to an entirely separate series of shenanigans (that involves a lot more murder).

The movie was featured under the title of The Pod People in the third season of the cult television show Mystery Science Theater 3000, which has significantly contributed to the film’s popularity, and spread the use of The Pod People as its primary title.

Speaking of which, The Pod People is known by a ton of different release titles: Extra-Terrestrial Visitors, Tales of Trumpy, The Return of E.T., Visitor, and The New Extraterrestrials among them.

The reception to The Pod People online is significantly poor, likely due to its popular association with Mystery Science Theater 3000. It currently sits in the IMDb Bottom 100 with a rating of 2.1, and has a Rotten Tomatoes audience score of 15%.

The Pod People suffers immensely from a lack of focus, as it tries to balance two movie concepts that are diametrically opposed to each other. When it comes down to it, this movie should either have been primarily a child-friendly romp with a baby alien, or a cut-and-dry sci-fi alien slasher, but not both. This is clearly a case where the crew assumed the flick could be everything to everyone, but it just couldn’t pull it off.

The music throughout The Pod People is absolutely awful, but it is also probably the single biggest reason the movie is so memorable. The ambient synthesizer tones that play throughout the film are only matched by the ridiculous rock tune, “Hear The Engines Roll Now,” and MST3K crew managed to have fun mocking all of it.

extraterr1To the crew’s credit, the alien designs in The Pod People are certainly not what you would expect, and wind up looking genuinely unique without breaking the budget of the movie. The elephant-Sasquatches are still cheesy without any doubt, but you aren’t going to confuse them with any other movie monsters out there.

Bad editing and poorly paced screenwriting combines to keep The Pod People from ever getting a steady flow or rhythm to it, which makes it all the harder to sit through. The two main plot threads take a long while to converge, and the movie bounces between them a bit too much until they do ultimately wind up combining. I’m sure the crew didn’t realize at the time just how jarring it would all wind up being, but you would think that the editing would work to salvage the product moreso than it did.

As far as plot details go, I still don’t understand why Trumpy is telekinetic. The power doesn’t come into play at any other point, apart from to showcase some cheesy effects, and I can’t think of any practical use of the power for an adult alien. Trumpy’s mother also never seems to use it, which brings into question whether the adult aliens have the power at all.

Overall, this can be a pretty fun bad movie to watch if you have the patience to get through the halfway point. Once the two main plot lines converge, the pacing gets more bearable through to the conclusion. That said, without the MST3K commentary, the stretch of the movie between “Hear The Engines Roll Now” and the plot convergence is nearly unfathomably boring. That said, the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode on the movie is one of their best, and is worth checking out.