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Rhinestone

Rhinestone

Today, I am going to take a look at the ill-conceived musical comedy flick, Rhinestone.

The plot of Rhinestone is summed up on IMDb as follows:

A country music star must turn an obnoxious New York cabbie into a singer in order to win a bet.

The screenplay for Rhinestone was co-written by star Sylvester Stallone (Rocky, First Blood) and Phil Alden Robinson (Sneakers, Field of Dreams). However, Robinson apparently took issue with Stallone’s many changes to his screenplay, and distanced himself from the film as a result.

Rhinestone‘s director was Bob Clark, whose list of directorial credits includes such varied films as Black Christmas, Porky’s, A Christmas Story, Baby Geniuses, and Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2.

The primary cast of Rhinestone is made up of Sylvester Stallone (Cobra, Tango & Cash, Demolition Man, Over The Top, Judge Dredd, Death Race 2000, Driven), country music star Dolly Parton (Steel Magnolias, The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas), Richard Farnsworth (Misery, The Two Jakes, The Natural), Ron Leibman (Auto Focus, Slaughterhouse-Five, Garden State), and Tim Thomerson (Trancers, Near Dark).

Rhinestone had two credited editors: John Wheeler (SpaceCamp, Rocky IV, Ladybugs) and Stan Cole (Prom Night IV, Black Christmas, Baby Geniuses, Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2). The cinematographer for the film was Timothy Galfas, who is best known for his work on Ralph Bakshi’s animated take on The Lord Of The Rings, but has done very little else of note on screen.

The musical score for Rhinestone was composed by star Dolly Parton, whose reputation as a writer and performer of country music is unparalleled. Her wikipedia page lists the following accomplishments:

25 RIAA certified Gold, Platinum, and Multi-Platinum awards, she has had 25 songs reach No. 1 on the Billboard country music charts, a record for a female artist (tied with Reba McEntire). She has 41 career top 10 country albums, a record for any artist, and she has 110 career charted singles over the past 40 years. All-inclusive sales of singles, albums, hits collections, and digital downloads during her career have topped 100 million worldwide. She has garnered nine Grammy Awards, two Academy Award nominations, ten Country Music Association Awards, seven Academy of Country Music Awards, three American Music Awards, and is one of only seven female artists to win the Country Music Association’s Entertainer of the Year Award. Parton has received 47 Grammy nominations.

Dolly Parton’s soundtrack for the movie produced two Top 10 country music hits: “Tennessee Homesick Blues” and “God Won’t Get You”.

Rhinestone is a unique twist on George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, a 1913 play in which a phonetics professor bets that he can train a low-born cockney woman to pass as a duchess at an official function. The story has been portrayed on both the stage and screen countless times since its debut, but Rhinestone‘s Americanization and country music twist on the tale make it stand out from the other more direct adaptations out there, like 1964’s My Fair Lady.

Rhinestone wound up with nine Golden Raspberry Award nominations, which are given out annually to the worst movies and performances of the year. Stallone managed to take home the distinction of Worst Actor, and “Drinkenstein” took Worst Original Song. The film was additionally nominated for such awards as Worst Picture, Worst Screenplay, and Worst Director.

Rhinestone was made on a production budget of $28 million, on which it took in a lifetime theatrical box office gross of $21.5 million, making it a notable financial failure. The reception to Rhinestone, if anything, was worse: it currently holds a dramatically low 3.7/10 IMDb user rating, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 15% from critics and 35% from audiences.

The biggest thing to note about Rhinestone is that everything good about the film boils down to Dolly Parton, and everything bad about it can be traced to Sylvester Stallone. It is like a yin-yang in form of a musical comedy movie. The musical score is absolutely solid, and is almost enough to float the film on its own. Likewise, Parton’s performance is honestly charming and likable, and she makes easy work of her banter. On the flip side, however, Stallone is especially wooden and unlikable in this movie, which is odd, since he rewrote the screenplay himself. Particularly during any key moments of banter, he just can’t make anything work. I think the guy just lacks comedic rhythm, which is absolutely necessary for this kind of role. Throughout the movie, he stumbles his way over words like he is knocking over barstools, and robs the story and comedy of any potential momentum.

All of those issues don’t even get into the most notorious issue with this film: the singing. Stallone is debatably a better comedic actor than he is a singer, and that is saying a lot for the man who brought the world Stop Of My Mom Will Shoot. His singing and performing is laughably terrible, which is interesting for a movie like this. Basically, he is supposed to be awful for most of the movie, and he does that task serviceably. However, when the story mandates that his skills improve, he isn’t quite up to that challenge, which challenges the internal logic and reality of the movie.

Overall, I think if you look up clips of the key songs in Rhinestone, like “Drinkenstein,” then you have hit the highlights of this movie. Between the songs, it really bogs down thanks to Stallone’s un-entertaining buffoonery and his loose grasp of the English language, and nobody deserves to sit through that. If curiosity has deeply gripped you, or you are just a fan of Parton’s music, then it might be worth digging this flick up. However, don’t expect too much.

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Anaconda

Anaconda


Today, I’m going to delve into one of the more notorious modern creature features: 1997’s Anaconda.

The plot of Anaconda is summarized on IMDb as follows:

A National Geographic film crew is taken hostage by an insane hunter, who takes them along on his quest to capture the world’s largest – and deadliest – snake.

Three writers were credited for work on the screenplay for Anaconda: Hans Bauer (Titan A.E., Komodo), Jim Cash (Dick Tracy, Turner & Hooch), and Jack Epps, Jr. (Top Gun, Legal Eagles, The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas).

The director of Anaconda was Luis Llosa, whose other directorial credits include The Specialist, Sniper, and Fire On The Amazon, among a handful of others.

The primary cast of Anaconda is made up of Jennifer Lopez (Money Train, The Cell, Gigli), Jon Voight (Baby Geniuses 2, Bratz, Coming Home, Deliverance, Mission: Impossible), Owen Wilson (The Haunting, Wedding Crashers, Marmaduke, Zoolander, The Darjeeling Limited, The Royal Tenenbaums), Ice Cube (Barbershop, 21 Jump Street, Ghosts of Mars, Friday, Three Kings, Torque), Danny Trejo (Desperado, From Dusk Till Dawn, Machete, Spy Kids, xXx, Con Air), Eric Stoltz (Pulp Fiction, The Prophecy, Jerry Maguire, Mask), and Jonathan Hyde (Jumanji, Titanic, The Mummy, Crimson Peak).

Anaconda‘s editor was Michael R. Miller, whose other movies include Mr. Destiny, The Marrying Man, Raising Arizona, Miller’s Crossing, Ghost World, Mr. Magoo, and Soul Plane.

The cinematographer for the film was Bill Butler, who also shot such films as Frailty, Jaws, Cop and A Half, Child’s Play, Grease, Rocky IV, Capricorn One, Stripes, and Can’t Stop The Music.

The musical score for Anaconda was composed by Randy Edelman, who has also worked on xXx, Son of the Mask, DragonHeart, The Mask, My Cousin Vinny, Ghostbusters 2, Underdog, and Balls of Fury, among many, many others.

The extensive team of special effects and animatronics workers for the film included common elements with such movies as Deep Blue Sea, Snakes on a Plane, Evolution, Species, Waterworld, Mimic, Leprechaun 4, The Island of Doctor Moreau, Class of 1999, and Demolition Man.

Rifftrax, a company made up of former hosts and writers for Mystery Science Theater 3000, held a live theatrical simulcast of Anaconda on Thursday, October 20, 2014, complete with a live commentary track of humorous riffs.

Anaconda racked up an impressive total of six Golden Raspberry Award nominations (which are given annually to the worst movies and performances of the year), including Worst Picture, Worst Director, and Worst Screenplay. It was later named as one of The 100 Most Enjoyably Bad Movies Ever Made in the Official Razzie Movie Guide.

Famed television actress Gillian Anderson was considered at one point for the lead in Anaconda, but ultimately had too many conflicts with filming The X-Files. Likewise, Jean Reno was apparently seriously considered for the antagonist role that went to Jon Voight.

The production budget for Anaconda was estimated at $45 million, on which it took in a lifetime theatrical gross of roughly $136.9 million, making it a significant hit. It thus wound up with a theatrical sequel (Anacondas: Hunt For The Blood Orchid), two television sequels (Anaconda 3: Offspring and Anacondas: Trail of Blood), and a crossover television film, Lake Placid vs. Anaconda.

Critically, however, the movie didn’t do nearly as well. It currently holds an unenviable 4.7/10 IMDb user rating, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 38% from critics and 24% from audiences.

Despite that reception, Anaconda had a handful of prominent apologists. Notable among them was Roger Ebert, who gave Anaconda a solid 4.5 star review, saying:

“Anaconda” is an example of one of the hardest kinds of films to make well: a superior mass-audience entertainment. It has the effects and the thrills, but it also has big laughs, quirky dialogue and a gruesome imagination. You’ve got to like a film where a lustful couple sneaks out into the dangerous jungle at night and suddenly the guy whispers, “Wait–did you hear that? Silence!”

While I think that Ebert was way too easy on the film, I can certainly agree with one aspect of his review: this movie is certainly entertaining. It is pretty clear from the beginning that everyone involved knew that they were making a popcorn flick, and aimed for entertainment value wherever they could. At the same time, there are certainly some places where the mark was clearly missed.

First, however, I think it is worth pointing out that the concept here is really good: river adventures can make for pretty damn cool movies. They offer an interesting mix of tense claustrophobia on board the ship with the constant presence of unknown, exterior threats laying just beyond the banks of the river. The combination can make for some really intense intrigue when done well. Examples from over the years include everything from Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo, to Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, to this year’s The Lost City of Z (which is totally worth seeking out). However, Anaconda has the distinction of botching this concept quite hilariously, and it all begins and ends with the curious and bizarre performance of Jon Voight.

While Jon Voight’s astoundingly awful accent is without question the biggest problem with his character, his mind-numbing performance goes far beyond that. Don’t get me wrong, whatever he was doing with that accent was probably shockingly racist, if anyone could have figure out what race he was trying to emulate. However, his physical performance and vocabulary are equally weird. I’m sure that the result was supposed to be mysterious and intimidating, like a more villainous version of Robert Shaw’s Quint from Jaws. Instead, Voight is just disgustingly off-putting: more like a subway masturbator than a terrifying, knife-wielding killer.

The eponymous anacondas have gotten a whole lot of flak from critics over the years. However, I have to say, the snake puppets and animatronics are totally servicable in my book. Outside of some odd jerking motions, they are still pretty convincing today. That said, the CGI snakes are a pretty stark contrast to them, and leave much to be desired during their sequences.

Overall, I think Anaconda is a pretty enjoyable ride. Jon Voight sort of makes and breaks this flick: he shatters any potential it may have had to be a legitimately good movie, but he also distinguishes it from from the glut of blockbuster mediocrity, and single-handedly solidified the movie as a cult classic with his outlandish performance. The presence of such a recognizable cast gives it some bonus points as well, because who hasn’t wanted to see Owen Wilson and Ice Cube bonding over snake-related peril? The added dimension of half-assed effects work and old-school puppetry makes the movie more than worth revisiting for a casual laugh for die hard bad movie fans and others alike.

Death Bed: The Bed That Eats

Death Bed: The Bed That Eats

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Today, I am going to take a look at a famously bad movie with a unique cult reputation: Death Bed: The Bed That Eats.

The simple plot of Death Bed: The Bed That Eats is summarized succinctly on IMDb as follows:

A bed possessed by a demon spirit consumes its users alive.

Death Bed: The Bed That Eats was directed and written by George Barry, and to this day has proven to be his sole film. However, a handful of the cast and crew went on to notable careers. William Russ, one of the actors, later appeared in Cruising, The Right Stuff, and wound up on the sitcom Boy Meets World. Editor Ron Medico went on to cut the cult creature feature Alligator, and had a significant career editing for documentaries and television after that. Cinematographer Robert Fresco wound up working on the 1980s revival of The Twilight Zone, and wound up working on a handful of documentaries as well. Last but not least, the special effects worker, Jock Brandis, went on to have a long career as a lighting technician and gaffer, working on movies like Videodrome, Scanners, The Brood, The Dead Zone, Maximum Overdrive, Blue Velvet, and Serial Mom, among others.

Famous comedian Patton Oswalt had a popular bit on his album Werewolves and Lollipops in which he obsesses over the inherent absurdity of the concept of Death Bed, and speculates what the inception process was like for the screenplay.

In 2002, Death Bed: The Bed That Eats received a remake in the form of Deathbed. The movie stars Joe Estevez (Soultaker) and was directed by Danny Draven, who has spent most of his career editing movies like A Talking Cat!?!, A Talking Pony!?!, Evil Bong, Ice Spiders, and The Gingerdead Man.

Death Bed: The Bed That Eats did not have an official release of any kind until 2004, over 25 years after its completion in 1977. Before that DVD release, Death Bed had been widely circulated online and via pirated VHS tapes, and developed its cult reputation. George Barry, the movie’s director and writer, allegedly forgot he had made it until he saw it online, and only decided to officially release it after seeing how much people enjoyed it.

Rumor has it that the lion’s share of the action in Death Bed was filmed on Keelson Island in Detroit, specifically in the infamous Gar Wood Mansion. The mansion was originally built by inventor Gar Wood in the 1920s, but sat empty for many years after his retirement. Starting in 1969, it became a renowned partying location, becoming a combination of a music venue and a counter-culture collective until it was shuttered in 1972. Only a handful of years later, the mansion suffered significant fire damage, and was eventually razed in the 1980s.

The company Cult Epics, which specializes in restoring and transferring cult movies to DVD and Blu-ray, released an updated Blu-ray version of Death Bed in 2014, which boasts a full commentary track with writer/director George Barry.

Recently, I had the rare experience of getting to see the officially restored Blu-ray version of Death Bed: The Bed That Eats in a theater, as part of a fundraiser for Cult Epics. Previously, I had only seen some rough clips of the movie online, and I was shocked at how clear the movie wound up looking on screen.

As you could probably gather at this point, Death Bed is pretty far from a cinematic masterpiece. That said, there are definitely some positive aspects to it: first and foremost, the effects. For each of the scenes where the bed consumes something/someone, there is a cut away to an amber-colored tank, which stands in for the bed’s interior digestive system. I’m not sure exactly how they did this, but I suspect they filled this tank with some sort of highly corrosive fluid, and dipped in objects on fishing line to show them digesting inside of the bed. At first, these shots are of things like an apple and a bucket of chicken, but the movie’s climax features a character’s hands disintegrated in the fluid, which actually looks pretty cool.

Outside of those effects shots, however, there isn’t much positive to say about Death Bed. Almost all of the dialogue in the movie is done in voice over, and is delivered in a sort of trance by a multitude of perspectives and narrators. The overarching plot doesn’t make a lot of sense, and is poorly conveyed to boot. The performances range from sleepwalking to possibly comatose, as most of the characters show no range of emotions or exhibit any kind of sensible reactions to the events around them. I’m pretty sure that fault doesn’t lie with the actors, though: the strange reactions and woozy behaviors were almost certainly part of the directorial intent, which was apparently to re-capture the surreal atmosphere of a dream. However, I don’t think it comes across quite as he wanted it to.

For me, this is the biggest question about Death Bed: how serious were they about this movie? While there are brief moments of knowing humor scattered throughout, including a sequence where the bed ingests a bottle of pepto-bismol, most of the movie plays as serious as a heart attack. It clearly isn’t as hammy as the name implies, and is a pretty far stretch from any kind of Troma or Full Moon b-movie. I usually describe this as one of the worst-executed art movies of all time: the atmosphere is way too self-important for it to fit in with the usual lot of b-movies and horror fare, and it certainly isn’t smartly profound or well-crafted enough to land in the Criterion collection. It is a unique little oddity that is unlike pretty much anything else out there, and worth giving a shot for that reason alone. While it can be a little dull at times, I think the ride as a whole is worth a ticket, particularly for b-movie and cult movie fans.

Worst of 2016: Gods of Egypt

Gods of Egypt

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Today, I am going to be kicking off an entire month dedicated to the worst films of 2016. First up is the controversial bomb, Gods of Egypt.

The plot of Gods of Egypt is summarized on IMDb as follows:

Mortal hero Bek teams with the god Horus in an alliance against Set, the merciless god of darkness, who has usurped Egypt’s throne, plunging the once peaceful and prosperous empire into chaos and conflict.

Gods of Egypt was directed by Alex Proyas, who is best known for movies like Dark City, The Crow, and I, Robot, among others.

The screenplay for the movie was written by the duo of Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless, who recently penned Dracula: Untold and The Last Witch Hunter, and wrote the script for the upcoming Power Rangers movie.

Gods of Egypt stars Gerard Butler (300, Olympus Has Fallen), Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Game of Thrones, Headhunters), Brenton Thwaites (Oculus, Maleficent), Geoffrey Rush (Mystery Men, Green Lantern, The King’s Speech), and Chadwick Boseman (Captain America: Civil War, 42).

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Richard Learoyd served as the primary editor for the film, after cutting Proyas’s previous movies, Knowing and I, Robot. The cinematographer for Gods of Egypt was Peter Menzies Jr., who has shot such films as Four Brothers, The 13th Warriors, Kagaroo Jack, The Incredible Hulk, and Die Hard with a Vengeance. Also of note among the crew was the production designer, Owen Paterson. His design credits include work on The Matrix trilogy, Red Planet, V for Vendetta, and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

The musical score for Gods of Egypt was composed by Marco Beltrami, who has had a number of high profile film scores over his career, including Scream, Snowpiercer, Blade II, The Hurt Locker, Jonah Hex, The Faculty, and Mimic.

This plot of Gods of Egypt is a heavily modified version of the Egyptian myth “The Contendings of Horus and Set”, in which the gods Set and Horus vie for the rule of Egypt. Set, played by Gerard Butler in the movie, was the Egyptian god of the desert, storms, disorder, and violence, and served as lord of the red land (essentially, the deserts of Egypt). His foil, the protagonist Horus, is played by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, and is the Egyptian god of the sky. Horus is the son of Set’s brother, Osiris, whom Set ursurped and murdered in his quest for power. Because of this, Horus and Set are at odds in Egyptian mythology, a conflict that is carries over into Gods of Egypt.

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Other Egyptian mythological figures who appear in the film include Ra, the sun god; Osiris, the god of resurrection and the afterlife; Thoth, the father of science, religion, magic, and the written word; Apophis, the enemy of Ra and lord of chaos; Hathor, the goddess of love and beauty; and Anubis, who was the lord of the underworld, and tasked with ushering souls into the afterlife.

Gods of Egypt was filmed in Australia to stand in for the Sahara desert. While this was partially because of safety concerns, Australia also offers significant tax incentives to bring in film productions. Between these incentives and pre-selling international distribution rights, Lionsgate and Summit had very little risk involved with the project (rumored to be only $10 million), and almost certainly made a solid profit.

The title of the movie was modified in a number of markets to be Kings of Egypt, in order to avoid potential religious controversy and censorship. Interestingly, one of these countries wound up being Egypt itself.

Controversially, Gods of Egypt features no Egyptian actors, and hardly players any of African descent. This caused a significant backlash from internet figures and film critics, prompting a wave of apologies from the director and the studio. Chadwick Boseman, who portrays Thoth in the film, had the following to say to GQ about the movie’s whitewashing of Egyptian mythology:

“When I originally was approached with the script, I thought this [critique] might come up, I really did. And I’m thankful that it did, because actually, I agree with it. That’s why I wanted to do it, so you would see someone of African descent playing Thoth, the father of mathematics, astronomy, the god of wisdom…people don’t make $140 million movies starring black and brown people.”

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On the flip side, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who plays Horus in the movie, told The Red Bulletin his feelings on the controversy:

A lot of people are getting really worked up online about the fact that I’m a white actor. I’m not even playing an Egyptian; I’m an 8-foot-tall god who turns into a falcon. A part of me just wants to freak out, but then I think, “There’s nothing you can do about it.” You can’t win in that sort of discussion.

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Following the near-universal negative reception to the movie, director Alex Proyas did what most directors of prominent flops seem to do: he lashed out at film critics.

They can rip into my movie while trying to make their mainly pale asses look so politically correct by screaming “white-wash!!!” like the deranged idiots they all are….we have a pack of diseased vultures pecking at the bones of a dying carcass. Trying to peck to the rhythm of the consensus. I applaud any film-goer who values their own opinion enough to not base it on what the pack-mentality say is good or bad.

Gods of Egypt was made on a production budget of $140 million, on which it took in a lifetime theatrical gross of just over $150 million dollars. While this ultimately covered the production, the production budget number doesn’t take into account post-production and marketing costs. However, thanks to the pre-sales and tax incentives, the film was probably profitable when all was said and done, though not the blockbuster smash that was hoped for. It is interesting to note that Gods of Egypt only made $31 million of its total gross domestically: the movie had to rely heavily on foreign markets to even get to it’s ultimate lackluster take.

In keeping with the disappointing monetary take and pre-release controversy, critics and audiences had little positive to say about Gods of Egypt. Currently, it holds Rotten Tomatoes scores of 16% from critics and 38% from audiences, along with an IMDb user rating of 5.5/10. Peter Bradashaw, in his review of the movie for The Guardian, said:

It’s…fuelled with its own absurdity, like an ecologically unsafe type of diesel.

I don’t think I could have said it better, honestly. Gods of Egypt has an awful lot of problems that plague it from top to bottom. First off, it lacks a clear direction or mission, often shifting focus from one McGuffin to the next, such as one or the other of Horus’s eyes, or Ra’s staff. The writing also relies heavily on prior knowledge of Egyptian mythology, rarely introducing characters or elaborating on any objects, people, or beasts not at the very center of the primary plot. Ra’s solar barge is glossed over, as is his space worm opponent. Likewise, the rules of the afterlife seem rather convoluted and prone to change, and further, apparently the afterlife as whole is edible? Also, it is heavily implied that Horus’s powers were either magnified or manifested from his eyes, until it was revealed that they weren’t actually connected, and that his eyes are mostly irrelevant. However, his eyes are still magic and capable of blinding mortals.

While the design and appearance of the movie is impressive at first glance, the shiny veneer and immaculate production design are often ruined by shoddy CGI, even outside of the cringe-inducing action sequences (which I’ll get to shortly). One frequently used, yet inconsistently applied, digital element in the film is the size differential between mortals and humans. Sometimes, the gods appear only slightly taller than most humans, and in other scenes, they look like giants. I understand wanting to make the gods look superhuman, but unlike the impressive perspective work done in Lord of the Rings for the hobbits, Gods of Egypt never nails down the art of pulling this off effectively, and it mostly served to make my eyes confused for the first few minutes of the run time.

While watching the movie’s action sequences, I was reminded of the climactic fight between Superman and Zod in Man of Steel: in spite of all of the damage and punches being thrown, I was pretty bored after only a few seconds. The hits never look like they have weight, and the rapid movements and cutting distract from any kind of tension or compelling visuals. That said, there wasn’t much to see in the first place: the animal transformations of Set and Horus that appear in most of their fights just look goofy. They are a little too fluid and shiny to be tangible, and stand out like two big, cartoonish sore thumbs whenever they show up. This is really unfortunate, because they should be cool, and I’m willing to bet that their designs on paper were fantastic. Similarly, a 9-foot-tall Geoffrey Rush on fire fighting a space dragon should one of the coolest things you could ever see, but the result on screen just looks like a bad video game.

There are some good things to say about a few of the performances, however. Chadwick Boseman’s hammy portrayal of Thoth is refreshing, and adds some genuine humor to the movie. Gerard Butler also seems really comfortable in the role of a heel, and I hope he continues on his path of villainous portrayals. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is the platonic ideal of a stone-faced, handsome protagonist, and his comedic banter with his co-stars is genuinely charming at points. However, there are also some less than stellar performances to be found, particularly among the cast of mortal characters. Brenton Thwaites, who plays the (I guess) protagonist Bek, is absolutely terrible, from his inconsistent accent to his awkward deliveries. His romantic interest, played by Courtney Eaton, is also far from stellar (again, a bad accent), but is relegated to basically being a McGuffin herself instead of an actual character with an arc or discernible traits. Speaking of which, the accents n this movie range all over the place: I kind of suspect that there wasn’t any kind of directorial edict as to what the Egyptians would sound like, so each actor did whatever they felt like.

I’ve said it before, but it is worth reiterating again: Gods of Egypt has a pretty damn cool idea on paper: the designs of the sets and costumes are ambitious, bold, and interesting, and the classic story makes for a solid base for a film. However, the execution here was way off the mark. Partially, I think this is because the necessary budget to pull off the number of creatures and sets required to meet the vision was beyond the production’s grasp, so the production team settled on a number of less-than-ideal versions that came slightly cheaper.

The insensitivity and lack of foresight in the casting, which has come to embody the impact and legacy of Gods of Egypt, is 100% the result of Hollywood thinking: they clearly didn’t anticipate the backlash, and just wanted faces they thought would be marketable with a relatively affordable price tag. Hollywood is still trying to catch up with the zeitgeist on whitewashing: Ghost in the Shell, Exodus: Gods and Kings, and Gods of Egypt are all indicative of that. Partially due to obliviousness, partially due to stubbornness, and partially due to a powerful, capitalistic drive, a whole lot of studios and producers have held on to the model of The Conqueror: “John Wayne can be Genghis Khan, because he’ll sell the tickets and that’s what people want!” The only way to change this is to keep chipping away at the profits of these movies: don’t buy a ticket, and complain on social media as loud as you can. Eventually, the financial losses and toxic word of mouth will lead to some changes. At least, we can hope so.

As far as a recommendation goes, there are some positives to the film, but they don’t come anywhere near outweighing the negatives. If you haven’t seen it yet, don’t. Or, if you are deathly curious, look up some clips. I just wouldn’t advise putting any money into seeing this.

Kangaroo Jack

Kangaroo Jack

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Today’s feature is a weird, mostly-forgotten movie that attempted to blend, mob comedy, a buddy road trip formula, and a talking marsupial: Kangaroo Jack.

The plot of Kangaroo Jack is summarized on IMDb as follows:

Two childhood friends, a New York hairstylist and a would-be musician, get caught up with the mob and are forced to deliver $50,000 to Australia, but things go haywire when the money is lost to a wild kangaroo.

Kangaroo Jack had three credited writers: Steve Bing (Missing In Action, Missing In Action 2), Scott Rosenberg (Con Air, High Fidelity), and Barry O’Brien (Hannah Montana, CSI: Miami).

The film was directed by David McNally, whose only other feature directorial credit to date is 2000’s Coyote Ugly.

The cast of Kangaroo Jack includes Michael Shannon (Man of Steel, Bug, Boardwalk Empire), Christopher Walken (King of New York, The Deer Hunter, The Dead Zone), Dyan Cannon (Caddyshack II), Estella Warren (Driven, The Cooler), Marton Csokas (Timeline, Aeon Flux), Anthony Anderson (Scream 4), and Jerry O’Connell (Jerry Maguire, Scream 2).

The cinematographer for the movie was Peter Menzies Jr., who also shot The 13th Warrior, Die Hard with a Vengeance, Four Brothers, and Gods of Egypt, among others.

Kangaroo Jack ultimately had three credited editors: John Murray (Drop Dead Diva, Entourage), Jim May (Goosebumps, Van Helsing, Cowboys & Aliens), and William Goldenberg (Heat, Gone Baby Gone, Argo, National Treasure).

Jerry Bruckheimer, best known for producing movies like Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop, Thief, Bad Boys, Con Air, The Rock, and Armageddon, was a key producer for Kangaroo Jack. The movie was even made under the banner of his production company, Jerry Bruckheimer Films.

The music for Kangaroo Jack was provided by Trevor Rabin, whose other film credits include Torque, Hot Rod, Deep Blue Sea, Con Air, and 12 Rounds.

Kangaroo Jack received an animated sequel, Kangaroo Jack: G’Day USA!, which went direct to DVD in 2004. This sequel was more in line with the film’s advertising campaign: it was focused on the kangaroo’s shenanigans, and lost all of the adult humor and themes of its predecessor.

kjack3Australian character actor Adam Garcia has an uncredited role in the movie as the voice of Kangaroo Jack. Garcia was previously in director David McNally’s feature Coyote Ugly, three years prior.

Kangaroo Jack astoundingly only received one Golden Raspberry nomination, which was for Christopher Walken’s supporting performance. Interestingly, even that was only co-nominated with Walken’s role in Gigli, which was likely the true reason for the recognition.

Kangaroo Jack wasn’t without its victories, however, At the annual MTV movie awards, Kangaroo Jack won the prestigious Blimp Award for “Favorite Fart In A Movie.”

Inspired by the marketing campaign of Snow Dogs, the producers of Kangaroo Jack decided to focus their marketing efforts for the film around a brief hallucination sequence involving a talking kangaroo, despite the fact that the movie’s plot had nothing to do with talking animals. Initially, the movie’s title was Down and Under, and it was intended to be a hybrid of a mob comedy and a road trip movie. Once the movie was edited together, however, the producers realized that it was an absolute mess, and panicked over what looked to be a bomb. Ultimately, the studio put up the cash to shoot additional footage and create CGI kangaroo sequences, so that the film could be recut and marketed effectively as an animal feature.

Somewhat surprisingly, this deceptive advertising tactic worked, at least to a point. On a production budget that ultimately reached $60 million, the film managed to take in $88.9 million over its lifetime theatrical run. However, outside of incredibly young children, nearly everyone hated the movie. Currently, it holds a 4.4/10 IMDb user rating, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 8% from critics and 28% from audiences.

Kangaroo Jack is by no means a good movie. In fact, it is an unequivocally terrible movie. The CGI that was intended to salvage it at the time now looks incredibly dated. The humor ranges from dully crass to gay-panic offensive. The chemistry between the players, particularly the leads, is utterly nonexistent.

However, there are two good things about this movie: Christopher Walken and Michael Shannon. For reasons I will never fully understand, both of these men decided to put themselves into the zone for this movie.

Shannon, doing what he does best, is goddamn bone-chilling, even despite being given the role of a mustache-twirling cartoon. At this point, I’m convinced that Shannon could elevate even Snidely Whiplash into a icy-veined cinematic terror.

Walken, on the other hand, manages to turn what could have been hack-y comedic dialogue into something that is actually worth a laugh. His character, a mob boss, is basically a cardboard cutout, except for the fact that he is trying to expand his vocabulary, and is prone to malapropisms as a result. In the hands of just about anyone else, there is no way that ritualistically reciting the definition of “amorphous” into a recorder, or misusing the term “plethora” in place of “anathema,” could be funny. Walken, however, finds a way to make that shit work, at least in some small way.

There are a couple of ephemeral moments in Kangaroo Jack where only Walken and Shannon are on screen. If I were to come across a genie’s bottle right now, I might just waste that precious first wish on making this movie about them, and thus extending these precious moments of respite from the unrelenting parade of farts that is the rest of this movie.

kjack2Kangaroo Jack is a mess, and I can’t recommend that anyone go back to give it a second glance. It has been forgotten for a reason. If you happen to be one of the people who has fond memories of this from your childhood, I first highly recommend that you apologize to your parents and/or guardians, and then advise locking this movie up in a dusty guest room closet of your memory palace.

Cobra

Cobra

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Today’s feature is the Sylvester Stallone vehicle, Cobra.

The plot of Cobra is summarized on IMDb as follows:

A tough-on-crime street cop must protect the only surviving witness to a strange murderous cult with far reaching plans.

The screenplay for Cobra was penned by the Academy Award winning screenwriter and Academy Award nominated actor Sylvester Stallone, who also starred in film. His career as both an actor and screenwriter has had a fair share of ups and downs: flops like Judge Dredd, Rhinestone, and Driven, cult classics like Demolition Man, Rocky IV, Cliffhanger, and Over The Top, the label-defying homo-erotic buddy cop masterpiece Tango & Cash, and genre-defining flicks like First Blood and Rocky. In many ways, he is a genre unto himself.

The credited director for Cobra was George Cosmatos, who also directed the films Leviathan and Rambo: First Blood Part II, and was questionably credited with directing Tombstone after the initial director was dismissed. However, much like with Tombstone, there is some question as to whether his credit on Cobra is legitimate.

Beyond Stallone, the cast of Cobra includes Brigitte Nielsen (Red Sonja, Beverly Hills Cop II), Reni Santoni (Dirty Harry, Rain Man), and Brian Thompson (Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, Doctor Mordrid, Lionheart).

The film has two credited editors: Don Zimmerman (Galaxy Quest, Half Baked, Over The Top, Rocky IV) and James Symons (Tank Girl, Fortress 2, Rambo III, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III).

The cinematographer for Cobra was Ric Waite, who also shot On Deadly Ground, Red Dawn, and Footloose, among others.

cobra2The music for Cobra was provided by Sylvester Levay, who also composed scores for Hot Shots! and Mannequin, and worked in the music departments for Howard the Duck and Scarface.

Cobra was produced in part by the legendary Cannon Group duo of Yoram Globus and Menahem Globus, who produced such films as Enter The Ninja, Over The Top, Masters of the Universe, Superman IV, Breakin’, American Ninja, The Apple, and Lifeforce, among many others.

The screenplay for Cobra is very loosely based on the novel Fair Game by Paula Gosling. Part of why it barely resembles the alleged source material is because Stallone added in numerous elements that he had come up with for his rewrite of Beverly Hills Cop, before he was ultimately dismissed from the project in favor of Eddie Murphy.

cobra4The initial cut of Cobra clocked in at over two hours, and reportedly featured much more violence and a far more fleshed-out plot than what ultimately made it to theaters. First, the decision was made to trim the film in order an extra theatrical screening each day in the theaters, in the hopes that the profits would be inflated. Even after these cuts, however, the MPAA gave the film an X rating. After that, lots of the violence was further toned down or removed to make it more palatable for distribution. The final theatrical release of the film clocked in at 87 minutes, meaning that over half an hour of plot and violence was omitted since the initial director’s cut. While this version has never received an official release, a work print does exist, and has been distributed underground.

Sylvester Stallone’s character in Cobra, Marion Cobretti, is named after John Wayne, whose real first name was Marion.

The iconic knife featured in Cobra was custom-made for the production by Herman Schneider, an acclaimed artisan knife-maker, and was intended to be distinct enough to stand out.

cobra5It is widely rumored that Cobra was actually directed by Sylvester Stallone, and that credited director George Cosmatos essentially performed the duty of a producer. At this point, this is generally accepted as true, given the number of crew who have claimed as such over the years.

Cobra was ultimately nominated for six Golden Raspberry awards, which are annually given out to the judged worst films and performances of the year. These included citations for Worst Director, Worst Actor, Worst Actress, Worst Supporting Actor, Worst New Star, Worst Screenplay, and Worst Picture.

The car that features prominently in Cobra is a customized 1950 Mercury that was actually owned by Sylvester Stallone. Replicas were made for the various stunt scenes throughout the movie that were indistinguishable from the outside to the casual viewer.

cobra3The poster for the film Another WolfCop is a parody of the iconic poster art for Cobra, and features the distinctive elements of a red background, reflective sunglasses, dark clothing, and a laser-sighted handgun aimed casually upwards.

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Apparently, Stallone was a complete nightmare to work with during the filming of Cobra. In many ways, he was at the height of his powers, and was on a permanent ego trip. He refused to speak to most of the cast and crew, and spent most of his time flirting with his co-star and eventual wife Brigitte Nielsen instead of performing his duties. His antics regularly delayed scenes, and generally created a negative working atmosphere.

Apparently, Cobra had a slight influence on the cult hit Drive. Both the director, Nicolas Winding Refn, and the star, Ryan Gosling, are big fans of the movie, and Gosling modeled some of his character’s mannerisms after Cobretti, including his chewing habit (though the match is replaced with a toothpick).

The production budget for Cobra has been estimated at $25 million, on which it grossed $160 million worldwide over its theatrical run. This made it significantly profitable, though people tend to look back on it as a failure. This is probably because Cobra got a mostly negative reception from both critics and audiences. It currently holds an IMDb user rating of 5.7/10, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 13% from critics and 42% from audiences.

Cobra might the most “Sylvester Stallone” of the horde of 1980s Sylvester Stallone movies: it is stylistic to a point, cool, fun, shallow, and almost entirely mindless. It is just about everything you could possibly want from this era of Stallone.

That said, the bizarre plot has some interesting potential to it. The antagonistic cult is way more interesting than Cobretti, but doesn’t get a whole lot of focus. Apparently, this was something that was lost in the initial studio cut of the movie, prior to the second MPAA necessitated cut. I’m kind of curious to see the work print because of this: the extra violence might make it a more fun watch, but I’m curious how much the further focus on the cult might help the film’s story.

As far as action movies go, this is one of the coolest ones from a visual standpoint that you’ll come across. What it lacks in cerebral content and sensibility it almost makes up for with a fascinating mastery of color, a litany of violent deaths, and some pretty damn cool stunts. In general, I think it is a solid recommend for action movie fans. Even the shitty acting and bad line reads sort of suit the tone and style of the movie. If you need to let your brain check out for a bit, this is one way to do it. Just don’t listen too much or look too hard, and there is something to appreciate here.