Threads

Threads

If you haven’t heard of the 1984 film Threads, you are certainly not alone. There aren’t many BBC made-for-television movies that are talked about at all 35 years after their airing, let alone have wide name recognition after all of that time. I wasn’t made aware of this movie until I was in college, and it was part of a class I took on The Cold War. I remember it being covered along with The Day After, as examples of Cold War nuclear fears manifested on film. As you can imagine, it is a pretty bleak affair, as summed up in its IMDb synopsis:

The effects of a nuclear holocaust on the working class city of Sheffield, England and the eventual long-term effects of nuclear war on civilization.

Recently, Nashville’s Belcourt Theatre held a one-night theatrical screening of this nightmarish speculative vision of the aftermath and carnage of nuclear war – something that is a rarity for television movies. This is was my first time watching the film in its entirety – my class only included clips as I recall.

To begin with, this is an emotionally potent piece, even today – I can only imagine what it was like to watch contemporaneously. Screenwriter Barry Hines put some real effort into creating a wide cast of tangible and grounded characters – some likable, some not – before literally obliterating them in fire, ash, and languishing torment. While the early segments felt unnecessarily lengthy and banal when I was watching them, I didn’t realize how much I was connecting with the dull and realistic humanity of the characters until they began vaporizing.

The film’s director, Mick Jackson, did a handful of theatrical movies following Threads, including Volcano and The Bodyguard, but this is almost certainly his most lasting work. While it isn’t necessarily remarkably shot or edited, it is immensely affecting as a complete package. The combination of Hines’s writing, shocking makeup effects work, and a handful of key performances is a gut-punch of a cautionary tale.

That said, I’m not sure if I can recommend it. It has some pretty serious pacing issues due to its unconventional structure, inconsistent and often unnecessary narration, and is nowhere near the realm of entertainment. For people interested in Cold War history, I think it is a great watch, and it can be a great call to action towards denuclearization, but it is also definitely a product of its era. This isn’t going to have the impact on someone today as it had in 1984 – there’s too much distance between the viewer and the threat now. This was designed very particularly for a contemporaneous audience, and I think that is something that definitely comes through today.  Personally, I am glad I watched Threads, despite its flaws. However, I don’t think I’ll ever watch it again, either.

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IMDb Bottom 100: 4 Years Later

It has been a long while since I went back to my initial project here at the blog: watching and reviewing the entire IMDb Bottom 100 list of movies.

For those that weren’t following the blog back then, I gave myself a year to get through the entire list of movies. However, there wound up being some intriguing difficulties with doing so.

First off, the list is based on live rankings, so it is in constant flux. Movies come and go off of the list with significant frequency. After all, the list measures the public perception of the worst movies of all time, and that is undoubtedly going to change over time.  For instance, Saving Christmas and Gunday popped on the list while I was going through it, and a few movies I covered dropped off.

Another long-standing issue with the list is a matter of accessibility – because of how the ranking system works, only a small quota of votes is needed to qualify a film for the list. This opened the door for some films with only limited, regional distributions to crack onto the list, which were basically unattainable for people in other areas to view (like A Fox’s Tale, The Tony Blair Witch Project, and Danes Without A Clue). To make up for this, I found some archived versions of the IMDb Bottom 100 rankings, and covered a handful of “alumni” to fill in the gaps. If you are curious, I even made my own subjective ranking of the films I covered from the list.

I’ve only officially gone back to the IMDb Bottom 100 once since I completed my challenge at the end of 2014, to cover new list addition Theodore Rex. One of my readers recently asked me if I was keeping up with the latest rankings – admittedly, that answer is essentially “no.” However, I did take a look at the current rankings, and something major stuck out to me – not only are there a ton of new films, but almost all of those inaccessible films are now off of the list. I’m not sure if this is due to a change in the list’s qualifications, of if IMDb community members manually voted them off the list with unwarranted high ratings, but someone taking on this challenge now would have a much easier time of it.

Here are the films that have cracked the IMDb Bottom 100 (and held their position) since I wrapped my challenge in 2014. Movies that I have covered have their reviews linked.

Code Name: K.O.Z.
Dragonball: Evolution
Meet the Spartans
Who’s Your Caddy?
Date Movie
Jaws: The Revenge
BloodRayne
Kazaam
Rollerball
Left Behind (2014)
The Human Centpede 3
Catwoman
The Emoji Movie
Daddy Day Camp
Barb Wire
Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation
Spice World
Vampires Suck
Police Academy: Mission to Moscow
Crossroads
The Starving Games
The Master of Disguise
Far Cry
Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd
Scary Movie 5
Feardotcom
The Room
The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl 3-D
Batman & Robin
Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star
The Wicker Man
Superman IV: The Quest For Peace
Spy Kids 4
Mortal Kombat: Annihilation
The Fog (2005)
The Open House
Race 3
Dragon Wars: D-War
Fifty Shades of Black
Dungeons & Dragons
I Know Who Killed Me
You Got Served
Speed 2: Cruise Control
The Avengers (1998)
The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas
2001; A Space Travesty
Piranha 3DD
The Love Guru
In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale
Street Fighter
Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li
Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever
The Cat in the Hat
Dance Flick
The Adventures of Pluto Nash
Swept Away
Stan Helsing
Exorcist II: The Heretic
The Human Centipede II
Beverly Hills Chihuahua
Caddyshack II
S. Darko
Norbit
Prom Night (2008)
Fifty Shades of Grey
Enes Batur Hayal mi Gercek mi?
Furry Vengeance
Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2
Plan 9 From Outer Space
One Missed Call
Extreme Movie
Material Girls
The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure

I’m not going to say that I’m going to go back to cover all of these new additions to the list – you couldn’t pay me enough to sit through that many parody movies, and I simply don’t have the free time that I used to – but I will say that a good number of these were already in my mental queue. Rollerball is a movie that I have intended to cover since I started the blog; Blair Witch 2 has been on my short list since I saw the GoodBadFlicks defense of the film; Kazaam is on my imminent list of movies to cover due to the whole Mandela Effect controversy, and plenty of others here have my attention.

I can say this though – I’m going to be paying attention to this list again. I have a feeling that it’ll give me some ideas.

Spontaneous Combustion

Spontaneous Combustion

Today, I’m going to take a look at Tobe Hooper’s bizarre 1990 film, Spontaneous Combustion.

The plot of Spontaneous Combustion is summarized on IMDb as follows:

A young man finds out that his parents had been used in an atomic-weapons experiment shortly before he was born, and that the results have had some unexpected effects on him.

Spontaneous Combustion was co-written and directed by Tobe Hooper, who was responsible for classics of the horror genre like Poultergeist and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. However, he is also known for some of his later, cheesier works, like The Mangler, Lifeforce, Invaders From Mars, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, a couple of which I have previously covered here on the blog.

The cast of Spontaneous Combustion includes Brad Dourif (One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, Mississippi Burning, Deadwood, Child’s Play, Senseless, Dune, Body Parts), Cynthia Bain (Pumpkinhead), Jon Cypher (Masters of the Universe), William Prince (Spies Like Us, The Stepford Wives, Network), Melinda Dillon (Harry and The Hendersons, Magnolia, Close Encounters of the Third Kind), and Dick Warlock (Pumpkinhead, The Abyss, Halloween II).

The cinematographer for the film was Levie Isaacks, whose other credits include The Guyver, Tooth Fairy 2, The Dentist, Leprechaun, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation, Children of the Corn II, and numerous episodes of shows like Tales From The Crypt, Dawson’s Creek, CSI:NY, and Malcolm In The Middle.

The editor for Spontaneous Combustion was David Kern, also who cut Maniac Cop, Maniac Cop 2, Maniac Cop 3, It’s Alive III, and Class of 1999 II, served as an additional editor on Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Monster Trucks, Kong: Skull Island, and Captain America: Civil War, and was a sound editor on Purple Rain, Hook, and Rush Hour.

The musical score for the film was composed by Graeme Revell, a prolific film scorer whose credits include The Crow, Daredevil, Sin City, Pitch Black, Freddy vs. Jason, From Dusk Till Dawn, Suicide Kings, Street Fighter, Tank Girl, Hard Target, and The Craft, among many others.

The team of effects workers on Spontaneous Combustion included William Tony Hooper (Demon Knight, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2), Stephen David Brooks (The Mangler, Spaceballs, Lifeforce), Michael R. Jones (Ghostbusters, The Return of Swamp Thing, I Come In Peace), and John Dykstra (Star Wars, Spider-Man, Lifeforce, Batman & Robin).

The inspiration for Spontaneous Combustion is the phenomena of spontaneous human combustion (SHC). This is a term to describe cases where a human body combusts without an apparent external source of ignition. In contrast to the claims of the film, reported cases of SHC are very uncommon, to the point that there is significant doubt that the phenomena exists at all.

Brad Dourif’s character in the film is shown to have the power of pyrokinesis, which is defined as the ability to create and control fire with the mind. In reality, this alleged psychic ability has never been proven to exist, but it comes up relatively frequently in fictitious works, such as comics like The Fantastic Four and The X-Men, cartoons like Avatar: The Last Airbender, video games like Street Fighter, and books/movies like Firestarter.

Critically, Spontaneous Combustion mostly went under the radar. What reviews do exist, however, aren’t particularly positive. The film has an IMDb user rating of 4.6/10, and a Rotten Tomatoes audience score of 18%. A Spin magazine review of the movie referred to it as “incoherent,” claimed that it “moves too fast for logic,” pointed out the “too many subplots” and “icky, ridiculous effects,” but nevertheless concluded that the end product is still “a lot of fun” despite the movie’s low quality, likening it to Troma films.

I certainly can’t argue that there aren’t problems with Spontaneous Combustion. However, there are quite a few things I liked about this weird little movie. Chief among these positives is the performance of Brad Dourif – he is a pretty fantastic character actor to start with, but this is just perfect casting. The guy always seems at least low-key pissed off, with a dash of biting wit on top, and that mixture works perfectly for this fiery character. Dourif pretty much carries the movie on his own, and to his credit, he is able to do it.

Another huge positive to this film is its concept – this is just a damn cool idea, and something that doesn’t hit the screen very often. Pyrokinesis is pretty cinematic, and allows for some cool effects work. More importantly, though, the intersection of theme and character here is fascinating. As opposed to scientists who are undone by their own inventions, like a Dr. Jekyll or a Dr. Brundle, Dourif’s character here is a victim of someone else’s madness. He’s not burdened by a karmic system for his misdeeds or hubris – he’s unjustly cursed from birth. While he does give in to a clear anger problem, he is forced into this emotional (and physical) combustion by external sources – like the constant deceit from those around him –  which is a lovely irony given the technical definition of SHC.

It may be a minor point, but I also love that the film is effectively book-ended by the song “I Don’t Want to Set the World On Fire” by The Ink Spots. This is a song that has been used quite a bit in movies, television, and video games, but I think it particularly fits well here. It can be interpreted thematically as indicative of the fact that Sam never desired to have his abilities, nor did he desire to go on his eventual fiery rampage – again, these were externally thrust upon him. It is also a neat aesthetic foil for the tone of the film – it is a calm, romantic song, set against a frenetic and furiously violent movie. My only complaint is that I wish it was actually at the end of the film – instead, it comes back just prior to the falling action.

Still, this is far from a great movie. It is founded on some ridiculous fears of nuclear energy and unfounded beliefs in SHC, which put it on pretty shaky footing for me. The writing also doesn’t always logically hold together, and some performers (Dourif) make the dialogue work much better than others. That said, I think this is a totally serviceable deep cut for fans of bizarre science-fiction horror movies. Dourif’s performance and the effects work are worth seeking it out on their own, in my opinion.

Leprechaun: Origins

Leprechaun: Origins

Today, I’m going to look at a particularly loathed horror reboot: 2014’s Leprechaun: Origins.

The plot of Leprechaun: Origins is summarized on IMDb as follows:

Two young couples backpacking through Ireland discover that one of Ireland’s most famous legends is a terrifying reality.

The director for Leprechaun: Origins was Zach Lipovsky, who had previously done directing work only on television movies and short films. However, he has gone on to since direct more consistently on television, and is currently attached to a Kim Possible movie.

Taking over the role as the eponymous Leprechaun in the film is professional wrestler Dylan Postl, also known as “Hornswaggle.” Postl has been wrestling for WWE since 2006, and has no other notable acting credits. His association with WWE is likely what got him the role, as the film was produced by WWE studios, which has frequently cast notable wrestlers as actors. Past examples of this practice include John Cena in 12 Rounds, Kane in See No Evil, The Rock in The Scorpion King, and Steve Austin in The Condemned.

The cinematographer for Leprechaun: Origins was Mahlon Todd Williams, whose other credits include 12 Rounds 3, See No Evil 2, and numerous episodes of the television series Legends of Tomorrow.

The editor for the film was Mark Stevens, who also cut The Final Destination, The Number 23, 8MM, Batman Forever, Phone Booth, Freddy vs. Jason, and Batman & Robin, among other films.

Allegedly, star Dylan Postl has never seen a Leprechaun movie, and intentionally didn’t view them after getting the part – he didn’t want his performance to be influenced by the one given by Warwick Davis.

Speaking of Warwick Davis, he apparently wasn’t asked to be involved with Leprechaun: Origins, and has public stated that he would have loved to have reprised his role.

In 2018, Syfy announced that it would be making its own Leprechaun reboot, to be released in 2019. One again, Warwick Davis was passed over, with the role instead going to Linden Porco. However, the tone of the film is reportedly going to be more in line with the original run of Leprechaun movies.

Leprechaun: Origins was widely loathed by critics and audiences alike: it currently holds highly unenviable review statistics, like a 3.3/10 IMDb user rating, and Rotten Tomatoes scores of 0% from critics and 9% from audiences.

In his review of the film for IGN, Cliff Wheatley wrote:

the main characters are so bland that you won’t know their names before they start being offed by the so-called leprechaun. I know B-movie characters are meant to be cannon fodder, but watching cardboard cutouts getting eaten isn’t all that much fun.

This review points out one of the biggest problems with this movie – there is nothing here for an audience to latch on to. There’s nothing inherently wrong with having “cardboard cutouts” making up most of the cast, but something in the film has to give the audience a reason to pay attention. For a lot of slashers, that comes in the form of creatively gore-y demises for the aforementioned cutouts. For the Leprechaun films, though, that engagement has also come from the goofy charisma and rhyming schemes offered by Warwick Davis. Hornswaggle, in this ill-fated reimagining, doesn’t have a chance to win over the audience in the same way. This is because his character is now merely a growling, humorless, feral monster – solely a mechanism for murder.

The fact that this film totally lacks cheesy tone of the original Leprechaun movies says to me that the production had no understanding of what made those movies unique and beloved by fans. My suspicion is that WWE came up with the idea for this movie specifically because they had Hornswaggle – a little person with an Irish stage theme – under contract. This wasn’t a movie made with an intention or vision beyond a capitalistic desire for revenue, and that comes through in the dispassionate final product. It is kind of ironic that this movie was fueled by greed alone – it sounds to me like the kind of thing that would put someone on a murderous leprechaun’s shit list.

On the whole, this is a boring, gruelingly unimaginative horror film, that sits in stark contrast to its predecessors in the franchise. There honestly isn’t a single thing to recommend about it – this is a total and complete failure of a movie. However, it might whet your appetite for a goofy Leprechaun classic – Leprechaun 3, perhaps?

Jennifer’s Body

Jennifer’s Body

Today, I’m going to take a look at the 2009 horror-comedy Jennifer’s Body.

The plot of Jennifer’s Body is summarized on IMDb as follows:

A newly possessed high school cheerleader turns into a succubus who specializes in killing her male classmates. Can her best friend put an end to the horror?

The screenplay for Jennifer’s Body was written by Diablo Cody, who previously won an Academy Award for Juno.  Her other works have included the television shows United States of Tara and One Mississippi, as well as the movies Young Adult and Paradise.

Jennifer’s Body was directed by Karyn Kusama, who also directed the films Aeon Flux, The Invitation, and contributed a segment to the anthology film XX.

The cast of Jennifer’s Body includes Megan Fox (Transformers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), Amanda Seyfried (Les Miserables, Mamma Mia, Mean Girls), Johnny Simmons (Scott Pilgrim vs The World, The Perks of Being a Wallflower), Adam Brody (The O.C., Yoga Hosers, CHIPS), Juan Riedinger (Narcos), J.K. Simmons (Whiplash, Spider-Man, The Accountant, The Ladykillers), and Chris Pratt (Jurassic World, Parks & Recreation, Guardians of the Galaxy).

The cinematographer for the film was M. David Mullen, who also shot The Love Witch, Akeelah and the Bee, The Astronaut Farmer, and numerous episodes of television series like Big Love, United States of Tara, Get Shorty, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and Mad Men.

Plummy Tucker served as the editor for Jennifer’s Body, and also cut the films Aeon Flux and The Invitation for director Karyn Kusama. Notably, Tucker also served as editor for the miniseries 11.22.63.

The music for the film is credited to both Theodore Shapiro (Tropic Thunder, Trumbo, Semi-Pro, Blades of Glory, Idiocracy, Old School) and Stephen Barton (Call of Duty 4, Titanfall).

The town in the movie – Devil’s Kettle – is named after a waterfall in Minnesota’s Judge Magney State Park, which flows into a massive pothole, seemingly into nothingness.

As a tie-in to Jennifer’s Body, a graphic novel was made that expanded on a number of the background characters in the film, and revealed additional details about the monster.

The monster/demon that possesses Fox’s character in the film is, based on its stated details and description, a succubus – a monster from folklore that takes the form of a women, and practices predatory seduction.

The screenplay for Jennifer’s Body was named to the 2007 Black List, which is an annual honor given to a handful of unproduced screenplays deemed to be of high quality. Other screenplays on the list also made it to the screen, such as Selma, The Road, Source Code, Slumdog Millionaire, Zombieland, The Wolf of Wall Street, Doubt, The Revenant, and The Town.

One element of Jennifer’s Body that was covered widely in the media was a kissing sequence between stars Megan Fox and Amanda Seyfried. Both actresses spoke publicly about the scene, as well as writer Diablo Cody. While many assumed that this sequence was included due to pressure from producers for marketing purposes, Cody has claimed that it was always part of the screenplay, but was sensationalized by audiences and the media:

“if the two protagonists of the film were a guy and a girl and in a particularly tense moment, they shared a kiss, no one would say it was gratuitous. But the fact that they’re women means it’s some kind of stunt. It was intended to be something profound and meaningful…Obviously we knew people were going to totally sensationalize it.”

 

While the kissing sequence was apparently in line with Cody and Kusama’s vision, the marketing for the film was almost certainly not, and is what most people attribute the film’s critical and financial failure to. At least one critic blamed the film’s poor reception on “misguided, boy-targeted marketing,” and the film’s co-star, Adam Brody, publicly indicated his displeasure with the campaign, remarking:

“I do think it should win a Razzie for Worst Ad Campaign Ever. Seriously. They couldn’t have done a worse poster or trailer if that’s what they fucking set out to do.”

Financially, Jennifer’s Body proved to be far from a blockbuster: in its lifetime theatrical release, it brought in a box office total of $31.5 million on a production budget of $15 million. Critically, it didn’t fare well on its release: it currently holds a 5.2/10 user rating on IMDb, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 43% critics and 34% from audiences.

That being said, Jennifer’s Body is in the midst of a critical re-assessment, and is being revisited by many. Recent articles in publications like Bloody Disgusting and Cosmopolitan have encouraged viewers to give the film another shot, now that the film’s marketing campaign is a distant memory.

It goes without saying that there is a weird mismatch between the film’s marketing and its actual content, and that almost certainly had a huge influence on its critical and financial success. However, when the film is separated from its context, there are still some notable issues that hinder it.

To begin with, I think that there is definitely some potential to the concept behind Jennifer’s Body, but many of its core elements have definitely been done much better in other films. It Follows uses anxieties and sexual terror adeptly, The Faculty utilizes a high school setting for a horror film ideally, and A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night take a similar, predatory adolescent girl and does much more interesting work with the concept. While I do like some of the trope subversions in Jennifer’s Body, such as establishing teenage boys as the targeted victims, it is only addressed once in the film. This is the sort of detail that could have been played up more, and delved into effective satire of the way society treats young women. Those little details can be the difference between a mediocre movie and a good one, if you ask me.

Another issue with this film is its tone. While horror-comedy can be an effective combination, the director has to play a balancing act to pull it off. Here, Cody’s dialogue style creates a distinct tonal mismatch in what is visually a very dark and somber film, which might have been righted in the hands of a different director. There are a few good lines (“lasagna with teeth”), but her writing doesn’t work as well here as it did with the more light-hearted Juno, at least not with the way this film is shot. Frankly, Jennifer’s Body doesn’t fully commit to comedy or horror, and vacillation between them takes nuance to pull off well, which is lacking here.

As far as the performances go, I found Fox to be perfectly decent in her role, though it is definitely more limited than you would imagine – she’s nearly a tertiary character. The real weight of the film is on Seyfried, who does her best to make Cody’s dialogue sound organic. However, she doesn’t handle it nearly as well as Ellen Page, and it comes off as stilted at times.

Personally, I found the most distracting element of the film to be the soundtrack. The selections of contemporaneous alternative music dates the movie, and the selections frequently don’t fit the atmosphere of their scenes. It is pretty obvious that the film was shoehorning in a tie-in soundtrack, in an attempt to bring in an additional market to the theater. Unfortunately, on a rewatch many years later, it definitely hurts the film. At the time, I’m not sure how distracting the music would have been, but it definitely stands out now.

Overall, I think Jennifer’s Body is a pretty mediocre movie that squandered some great potential, even without a poorly-conceived marketing campaign. That said, I think people should give it another shot – particularly women. I suspect there is more here to resonate with for women viewers, which is part of why the male-centered marketing didn’t make sense in the first place. If you think the concept sounds interesting, give it a watch.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Today, I’m going to dig into the less-than-beloved comic book film, X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

The plot of X-Men Origins: Wolverine is summarized on IMDb as follows

A look at Wolverine’s early life, in particular his time with the government squad Team X and the impact it will have on his later years.

The screenplay for X-Men Origins: Wolverine was written by David Benioff (Game of Thrones, Troy) and Skip Woods (Sabotage, Hitman: Agent 47). However, uncredited rewrites were also done by James Vanderbilt (Zodiac, White House Down, The Amazing Spider-Man) and Scott Silver (The Fighter, 8 Mile).

The character of Wolverine first appeared in The Incredible Hulk #180 in October 1974, and was created by the trio of Len Wein, John Romita, and Roy Thomas. Prior to X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the character had appeared in the previous X-Men films, and would go on to star in two quasi-sequels to this movie: The Wolverine and Logan. On the small screen, the character has appeared in a litany cartoons, and is one of the most recognizable and popular Marvel superheroes.

The director for the film was Gavin Hood, who also directed the films Ender’s Game, Tsotsi, and Eye In The Sky.

The cast of X-Men Origins: Wolverine includes Hugh Jackman (X-Men, The Prestige, Prisoners), Liev Schreiber (Scream, The Manchurian Candidate, Spotlight), Danny Huston (21 Grams, The Aviator), Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool, Deadpool 2, Green Lantern), Dominic Monaghan (Lost, The Lord of The Rings) and Taylor Kitsch (Waco, Battleship, John Carter).

The cinematographer for the film was Donald McAlpine, whose credits include Romeo + Juliet, Ender’s Game, Predator, Mrs. Doubtfire, Nine Months, Peter Pan, and The Time Machine.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine had two credited editors: Nicolas De Toth (Stoker, Live Free Or Die Hard, Sum Of All Fears, Bicentennial Man) and Megan Gill (Eye In The Sky, Ghost In The Darkness, Tsotsi).

The music for the film was composed by Harry Gregson-Williams, who also provided music for the movies Blackhat, The Town, Cowboys & Aliens, Gone Baby Gone, and the video games Metal Gear Solid 2 and Metal Gear Solid 3.

Prior to the film’s official release, a workprint copy was leaked online before the addition of much of the effects work. This leaked version was greatly criticized by fans online, and the studio blamed it for the film not taking in a higher total gross once it did release.

The negative fan reaction to the film, particularly to the portrayal of the fan-favorite character Deadpool, led to a groundswell movement lobbying for Ryan Reynolds to get his own movie to portray the character. It took years to muster studio support, but thanks to a demo leak that further riled up fans in support, Deadpool ultimately released in 2016, with a sequel two years later. Both films freely and specifically criticize X-Men Origins: Wolverine, with the second film going to far as to rewrite and re-enact a scene from the film.

Hugh Jackman specifically recommended and advocated for both his co-star, Liev Schreiber, and the film’s director, Gavin Hood, for their parts in the production. Despite this, Hugh Jackman was ultimately disappointed with the final product of the film.

The character Gambit had repeatedly been cut from previous X-Men movies, despite his wild popularity among fans. However, as with Deadpool, fans were less than pleased with his appearance and behavior on screen. Also, as was the case with Deadpool, fans have been lobbying for a solo Gambit movie for years since the disappointment of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, though progress on the film seems to have indefinitely stalled.

Brian Cox, who played the character of Stryker in X-Men 2, and Tyler Mane, who portrayed Sabretooth in X-Men, were both turned down for reprising their roles in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, despite both actors indicating interest.

Reportedly, conflicts between the studio and Gavin Hood were extreme throughout the production, to the point that a mediator had to get involved to ease tensions.

Will.i.am of the band The Black Eyed Peas is a huge fan of the X-Men, and particularly of the mutant Nightcrawler. Despite not being an actor, he was given a role in the film, as well as a Nightcrawler-esque character to portray.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine was a box office success, taking in $373 million on a $150 million production budget. However, the studio regarded this as an under-performance, citing that the leaked workprint siphoned interest away from the theatrical release.

Despite the ticket sales, the reception to the film was mixed-to-negative. Currently, it holds an IMDb user rating of 6.6/10, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 37% from critics and 58% from audiences. In the years since the film’s release, however, with the popularity of the Deadpool movies, X-Men Origins: Wolverine has retroactively earned a reputation as a complete failure, and an embarrassment to the franchise.

To begin with, there are some positives to X-Men Origins: Wolverine that are absolutely worth mentioning. First off, Liev and Hugh have fantastic chemistry, and light up the screen whenever they have the chance to work off of each other. I don’t even think there is a debate that Liev is the definitive portrayal of Sabretooth on film. Likewise, Ryan Reynolds got his chance here to show off his Deadpool skills. Without his brief scenes as Wade Wilson in this film, there is absolutely no way that the Deadpool films get made. So, even if you can just appreciate this as an audition tape, that is a positive worth mentioning.

Now, on to some major points of criticism. First off, I think one of the biggest issues with the film is the performance of Huston as Stryker. This is a film that could really use a good, compelling villain. Making things even harder, the same character had just been portrayed brilliantly by Brian Cox, who pulled out all of the stops to give one of the better villain performances in a comic book movie. Huston, on the other hand, just feels like a slimy bureaucrat – he isn’t menacing or imposing, and he doesn’t telegraph hatred or loathing as effectively or hauntingly as Cox did in the previous portrayal. The result is a huge gap in the film, where there should be a compelling central antagonist.

Another huge issue with the film is the contrast between early sequences and the rest of the film. I personally found that the introductory sequences were significantly more interesting than the rest of the movie. As an audience member who had already seen the previous X-Men films, I can confidently say that I would rather spend time with Wolverine while working with a black ops squadron, or Wolverine while fighting in wars through the ages, than watching a Wolverine story unfold that we already know the details of and ending to. The Weapon X story, after the events of X-Men 2, is just paint by numbers – there’s not really any stakes to a story the audience already knows, which is part of why prequels can be quite tricky. The movie should have introduced some more compelling new characters and relationships, but the ones that it attempted just had no effective gravity. The most colorful and intriguing characters are unceremoniously dispatched or neutered within just a few screen minutes of their introductions.

Another significant issue with Origins, and one that was pointed out with criticisms of the leaked workprint, is that it was laden with unwise and poorly executed effects. The Blob, for example, looks terrible, to the point that the fat suit comes off as comical. More importantly, the crucial adamantium claws on Wolverine look jarringly unconvincing, due to an over-reliance on computer generation to render them, when props would work far more effectively. However, for the most part, I found the effects to be less distracting than I expected: looking back now, years later, it isn’t so different than any bad CGI from the mid-2000s.

Perhaps the true coffin nail for this film was baked into its (capitalistic) intention to please fans. Including characters like Deadpool and Gambit had to have been done due to the popularity of those characters. Unfortunately, the key crew didn’t have any knowledge beyond that – there was a lack of understanding of characters, and what made them popular in the first place. The consequence of this ignorance was the massive backfire that ensued, which hurts the reputation of the film to this day. Haphazard fan service attempts simply don’t cut it these days – die-hard fans now demand fidelity and vision, rather than just cameos and facades that merely allude to their beloved source materials.

All in all, Origins is basically a mediocre popcorn action movie. I think it is hated more today than it really should be, due to the production so badly mishandling fan service. While the movie is definitely not good, it also isn’t a complete disaster by any means – Jackman is still fun as Wolverine, Sabretooth is an improvement, and the brief Wade Wilson moments are great. We Hate Movies refers to this sort of film as a “hangover movie”: a film you can have this on in the background while nursing a hangover on a Sunday morning: it requires neither attention nor energy to consume, but is just enough of a pointless spectacle with highlight moments to be tolerable. It is still not a recommendation from me, though: this is a movie that is probably best to leave it where it is.

Ivy On Celluloid: Accepted

Accepted

For today’s Ivy On Celluloid, I’m going to look at the portrayal of higher education in the 2006 comedy, Accepted.

The plot of Accepted is summarized on IMDb as follows:

A high school slacker who’s rejected by every school he applies to opts to create his own institution of higher learning, the South Harmon Institute of Technology, on a rundown piece of property near his hometown.

The screenplay for Accepted has three credited writers: Adam Cooper (Exodus: Gods and Kings), Bill Collage (Assassin’s Creed, Allegiant), and Mark Perez (Game Night, The Country Bears).

Accepted was directed by Steve Pink, a writer and director who also worked on the films High Fidelity, Hot Tub Time Machine, Hot Tub Time Machine 2, and Grosse Pointe Blank, and the shows Santa Clarita Diet and Cobra Kai.

The cast of the film includes Justin Long (Tusk, Drag Me To Hell, Waiting…), Jonah Hill (The Wolf Of Wall Street, War Dogs, 21 Jump Street, Moneyball), Maria Thayer (State of Play), Blake Lively (The Town, The Shallows), Anthony Heald (Red Dragon, The Silence of the Lambs), Lewis Black (The Daily Show, Inside Out), and Kellan Lutz (The Legend of Hercules, Twilight).

The cinematographer for Accepted was Matthew F. Leonetti, whose shooting credits include Star Trek: First Contact, Santa’s Slay, The Butterfly Effect, Hard To Kill, Action Jackson, Red Heat, Weird Science, The Bat People, and Dragnet.

Accepted was edited by Scott Hill, whose other cutting credits include Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2, Bruce Almighty, Evan Almighty, Here Comes The Boom, and Zookeeper.

In 2011, a loose Bollywood remake of Accepted was made, titled F.A.L.T.U.. It used many of the same elements as its predecessor, but changed the setting of the film. The world “faltu” in Hindi translates to “useless” in English.

Accepted was made on a budget of $23 million, on which it took in $38.5 million in its lifetime theatrical release. Taking into account advertising and post-production costs, the film probably wasn’t terribly profitable. Critically, the reception to Accepted was mixed. On Rotten Tomatoes, it holds scores of 37% from critics and 72% from audiences, alongside an IMDb user rating of 6.5/10.

As far as college comedies go, this is one of the more bearable ones that I’ve come across. There is still a lot of crassness and sexism to be found, to be sure, but it didn’t make me as livid as a lot of other college comedy films.

When it comes to the portrayal of higher education in Accepted, this is a movie that deals with some issues that most college stories don’t necessarily touch on, like what the minimum requirements for a university are, what the purpose of higher education is, and what fraud looks like in this realm.

The story of Accepted takes place in the state of Ohio, though the specific location is fictitious. Harmon College, as it is portrayed, it not a real institution in Ohio, though it could be a stand-in for any number of the many universities and colleges in Ohio. Interestingly, there is a Harmon College that exists within the University of Central Missouri, but it isn’t an autonomous institution.

A number of other higher education institutions are mentioned but not seen in the film. Oddly, some of these are real universities, whereas others are not. For instance, B is rejected from “Ohio State College,” which is clearly meant as a fictional stand in for the Ohio State University. Rory, however, is rejected from the very real Yale University, and an unnamed character is shown celebrating an acceptance into Princeton University.

At one point, the topic of B’s admissions essay comes up. Apparently, his essay was themed around how he “doesn’t have a clue” what to do with his life, which his sister claims is part of why he failed to get accepted anywhere. Later in the film, it is shown that B is pretty good improvisational speaker, and is able to weave complicated deceptions and inspirational speeches from thin air. At his core, he is a gifted storyteller / huckster, which is a skill which might have helped him out with his essay. In an article in the US News & World Report, it is stated that individualism, likability, and vivid storytelling are all key components to a successful and effective admissions essay. Personally, I think that if B had channeled his existing skills, he might have been able to concoct a brilliant essay that would have possibly compensated for his insufficient grades. However, it sounds like he couldn’t muster any genuine passion for his applications, which probably came through in his writing. That – rather than just his topic of choice – likely contributed to his inability to stand out in the admissions review process.

In an early scene, B tries to break his rejection news to his parents by arguing that it is “financially irresponsible to go to college.” This is not an uncommon line of thinking, particularly as the cost of schooling has continued to rise, and success stories of tech industry drop-outs have circulated and enchanted countless budding entrepreneurs. However, his parents immediately shoot him down, with his father stating that:

Society has rules. The first rule is, you go to college. If you want a happy and successful life, you go to college. If you want to be somebody, you go to college.

This is an interesting example of a generational divide when it comes to perceptions of higher education. People who went to college decades ago probably still hold on to the belief that a college is a sort of guarantee of a high quality of life, and the absence of one is a guarantee of the opposite. There was definitely a time where achieving a college degree alone was enough to raise someone’s social status, when it was a far less common achievement. Now, however, it isn’t that simple. College is an opportunity for learning and connections that can eventually lead to more than that. It isn’t, by any means, a guarantee of success.

Something that has always bugged me about this film is the apparent absence of community colleges. In theory, any number of the South Harmon students could have gone to a community college, as they are generally open enrollment. Many students who don’t get into the school they want, or can’t afford the price tag, will take community college classes and later transfer to another institution. While this pathway is definitely not flawless, it has proven viable for more than a few students over the years, and is likely preferable to not taking classes at all. If acceptance (as opposed to rejection) is what South Harmon students were looking for, community colleges is where they could have found it.

B’s sister, who is apparently a pre-teen, is shown to be already preparing for college admissions despite her young age, in the hopes that she will “have a shot.” Their parents are supportive of this, which is becoming increasingly common. In the hopes of standardized test successes and any potential advantage in applications, children are beginning college preparation younger and younger.

One of the central characters of the film, Daryl, is said to be an all-state quality wide receiver. However, at some point, he winds up with a prohibitive injury, which leads to his promised football scholarship being reneged. Prior to the formation of South Harmon, he is left completely adrift, without any clear options.

This is a very real issue that faces college athletes: any injury could not only spell the end of their scholarship, but in some cases the end of a potentially lucrative career as well. A single injury can stand between multiple millions of dollars worth of contracts, and being left with nothing but immense debt and a vacancy where a college degree should be. Consider the story of University of Oklahoma basketball player Kyle Hardrick, who suffered an injury shortly into playing at the university:

As Hardrick tries to resume his career, he has been unable to obtain a medical hardship waiver, something he needs to regain a year of college eligibility. His family has been stuck with tuition bills since his scholarship was not renewed. And with those bills unpaid, he also can’t get his academic transcripts from Oklahoma to transfer to another school.

“You believe that your child will be taken care of on and off that court throughout their college career,” said Valerie Hardrick, Kyle’s mother, at a congressional roundtable discussion last week. “My insurance does not cover all of Kyle’s medical bills.”

With scholarships renewed on a year-to-year basis, stories like Hardrick’s emerge every year across the country.

In an article titled “The Most Evil Thing About College Sports” on Slate.com, Josh Levin writes:

An athletic scholarship is not a four-year educational guarantee. What few college sports fans—and not enough college recruits—realize is that a university can yank that scholarship after one, two, or three years without cause. Coach doesn’t like you? He’s free to cut you loose. Sitting the bench? You could lose your free ride to a new recruit.

[One] roster management strategy, seen often at AlabamaLSU, and other SEC schools, is to rescind a promised scholarship just before the student-athlete’s freshman year.

Daryl’s is not unlike the other stories described here. If anything, he is somewhat fortunate to have been injured prior to getting to college, when a lot of debt could have been on the line.

The character Rory in the film faced another rejection scenario – she applied to only one highly-selective college, and didn’t get in. In this case, her target was Yale University. In her words, her rejection was due to “too many rich kids with mediocre grades and well-connected parents this year” applying for admission this year, meaning there was no room for her. In 2017, Yale was among the most selective of colleges, accepting between 6% and 7% of applicants. Even with an immaculate application, there was no guarantee for Rory’s admission to the school. That said, there is a long history of elitism and admissions bias in the Ivy League and other top-tier institutions, so she is probably not entirely off-base with her assumption. Almost certainly, a child of a trustee of donor would have gotten preferential consideration over here, in one way or another.

When initially designing their fake college, this first steps the gang makes are to design fake acceptance letters, as well as a facade website. Some people might thing that this is beyond belief – surely people would just Google the school and look at the website, and immediately get fishy?

Recently, I read a fantastic book on fraud in higher education called Degree Mills: The Billion-Dollar Industry That Has Sold Over A Million Fake Diplomas. Shockingly, both fake degrees and entirely fake institutions are really common, and people fall for them absolutely all the time. A couple of examples of entirely fake institutions that conferred fake credentials for years were LaSalle University in Louisiana and Columbia State University, both of which took in millions upon millions of dollars in profits before being shut down. Records of fake universities even go back all the way to the 14th century:

So many new universities opened, the University of Paris begged the pope to stop them…because some of the newer ones, more interested in making money than offering education, got into the business of…selling admission…and eventually the selling of degrees themselves.

Bear, J. & Ezell, A. (2012). Degree Mills: The Billion-Dollar Industry That Has Sold Over A Million Fake Diplomas. p. 34

Even more disturbing than how profitable and prolific fake universities are, is just how easy it is to get a hold of one of their degrees. In 1984, just to see how easy it really was, U.S. House of Representatives staff took $1800, and used it to buy a doctorate from the fake Union University in Los Angeles. The fake degree was written out to Rep. Claude Pepper, thus making him, nominally, “Dr. Pepper.” Taking it a step further, the staff members then made up their own fake university, and displayed to the House of Representatives how easy the process was (Bear & Ezell, p. 38).

The biggest difference between South Harmon Institute of Technology and most fake universities in real life is that “real” fake universities rarely, if ever, have a physical campus. Today, almost all fake universities utilize the internet as their primary platform, whereas they previously did a lot of their business over the phone through cold-calling. The audacity and impracticality of trying to pull off a false campus is clear from watching Accepted: the whole process is unbelievably complicated and tenuous. After all, imagine how much easier it would have been for B to concoct an online college: he wouldn’t have had to invest in a location, wouldn’t have had to improvise in his interactions with students, wouldn’t have had to deal with the liability of housing students, etc. However, this gets into another interesting aspect of the film – the guidelines for accreditation, as outlined in the climactic hearing with a state accrediting board.

As stated in the film, there are two sets of qualifications needed for SHIT to earn accreditation. First:

The state defines a college as a body of people with a shared common purpose of a higher education…that’s us, with the word ‘higher’ kind of loosely defined – B

As B notes, SHIT loosely qualifies as a college based on this definition. Thus, the team has to meet three additional stated requirements for accreditation – they have to prove that their college has a facility, a curriculum, and a faculty. While they ultimately provisionally pass accreditation by the skin of their teeth, there are a whole lot of problems with this whole process.

First off, the state does not accredit colleges. That work is done by independent accrediting agencies, such as the Higher Learning Commission or the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges. So, the entire basis of the hearing is bizarre and inaccurate.

Here is an example of the guidelines that an accreditation agency, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges Commission on Institutions of Higher Education, uses. It has 9 general standards for accreditation, each of which has between 5 and 49 specific points beneath them. NEASC states that each of these standards “articulates a dimension of institutional quality”, and that “serious weaknesses in a particular area may threaten the institution’s accreditation.” There is, to be blunt, no chance that B and company could have weaseled their way through an actual accreditation process by one of these rigorous agencies. Their ad hoc institution simply could not meet these sorts of qualifications, given the amount of red tape and planning that would be necessary for the process.

In the film, the villainous President of Harmon College is shown to be planning an expansion of the campus into the impoverished surrounding area, in order to build a ceremonial gateway. This is something that actually happens as well – the University of Southern California, for example, recently expanded further into the low-income neighborhood of Inglewood, though it was in order to create more student housing.

Lewis Black’s character in Accepted was said to have once been a college Dean, but apparently “resigned” by sending bag of dog feces to his university’s president many years before the events of the movie. Regrettably, I wasn’t able to dig up any similar instances of over-the-top resignations of Deanships. However, in some ways, Black’s character’s opinions on and frustrations with the state of higher ed echo that of former MIT Dean Christine Ortiz, who left her Deanship in order to start an innovative, experimental university called Station1 that would forego traditional classes, classrooms, or departments.

The curriculum design that is shown at South Hampton is, to put it lightly, as bizarre as it is non-rigorous and disgusting. Some classes, as far as I can tell, consist of only leering at women, or learning skeevy pick-up artist tricks (“Hitting on Strippers” stands out). In fact, a huge number of the shown classes are centered on the study of “girls,” (not to be confused with women’s studies) as the primarily-male student body was able to design all of the course offerings. Other classes included real arts-based teachings, like wood carving, music, sculpting, fashion design, and the culinary arts, but most of the classes are shown to be effectively either nonsense, immensely creepy, or both.

One of the key selling points for South Hampton Institute of Technology in the film is that there are no traditional grades. In reality, there are some colleges that have tried to circumvent the stresses and anxieties that come along with traditional grading. Reed College, for example, records letter grades, but doesn’t release them to students. The rationale is that students can then focus on intellectual and academic pursuits instead of aiming for just a letter grade.

At one point, it is revealed that the student population of the South Harmon Institute of Technology is roughly 300. This is a very, very small student population, to the point that it would comfortably land among the smallest higher education institutions in the United States, most of which are seminaries or highly specialized art, music, or architecture schools.

As a film, I’m not a huge fan of Accepted. That said, I appreciate that it is different than most college movies, and deals with different issues related to higher education. It also actually feels like a movie that the cast and crew enjoyed making, which doesn’t always seem to be the case with these. Still, I feel like there was far more satiric potential with this movie than was ultimately tapped into by the production. As far as a recommendation goes, I think I can lightly recommend it, with a distinct caveat for the shallow, crass, sexist content of the school’s curriculum.

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