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Supergirl

Supergirl

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Today, I’ll be covering one of the most infamous superhero films of all time: 1984’s “Supergirl.”

“Supergirl” was directed by Jeannot Szwarc, who is best known for directing “Jaws 2,” as well as a number of television shows in recent years (including episodes of “Supernatural” and “Bones”). The script for “Supergirl” was written by David Odell, who also wrote the screenplays for “Masters of the Universe” and “The Dark Crystal.” His writing career on films understandably didn’t survive the 1980s.

The cinematography on “Supergirl” was provided by Alan Hume, who racked up over 100 cinematography credits over his career. His works include “A Fish Called Wanda,” “Octopussy,” “A View To A Kill,” and “Return of the Jedi.”

The effects team for “Supergirl” included Alan Barnard (“Krull,” “Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade”), Peter Biggs (“Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”), Brian Warner (“Superman,” “Hudson Hawk,” “Alien 3”), Ken Morris (“Willow,” “A View To A Kill”), Peter Dawson (“Gymkata,” “Batman,” “Full Metal Jacket”), Michael Dunleavy (“Event Horizon,” “Gladiator,” “Aliens”), and Ron Cartwright (“Space Truckers”).

The score for “Supergirl” was conducted and composed by Jerry Goldsmith, who created over 250 film compositions over his career, including scores for “The 13th Warrior,” “Small Soldiers,” “Mulan,” “Gremlins,” “Congo,” “The ‘Burbs,” “First Blood,” “Alien,” “Poltergeist,” and “Logan’s Run.”

“Supergirl” features an impressively deep cast, headlined by newcomer Helen Slater in the lead role. The accessory cast includes such notables as Faye Dunaway, Peter O’Toole, Mia Farrow, Brenda Vaccaro, Peter Cook, and Marc McClure (reprising his role as Jimmy Olsen from the “Superman” movies).

supergirl6The story of “Supergirl” follows the hero as she leaves her home in search of a mysterious lost energy source, which she tracks down to Earth. While hunting it down, she has to learn how to adapt to human customs and blend in with the world.

“Supergirl” is, in fact, canonical with the famous “Superman” series of films starring Christopher Reeves, and iterations of the screenplay intended for him to appear as Superman in either a cameo or supporting role.

supergirl4With DC recently relaunching a combined cinematic universe, it may just be a matter of time before Supergirl gets another chance at a big screen adaptation. Currently, there is a CBS television series being created around the character, which may or may not ultimately tie in to the cinematic universe.

Helen Slater made a number of appearances on the hit television adaptation of the Superman story called “Smallville,” in which she played Superman’s mother, a nod to her earlier role as a Kryptonian in “Supergirl.”

Interestingly, two distinct cuts of “Supergirl” exist. One is an “international” director’s cut that only premiered on home video years after the movie’s release, while the other is a significantly trimmed version that was theatrically released by TriStar after Warner Brothers shelved it.

The casting pool for the character of Supergirl apparently included notables such as Melanie Griffith and Brooke Shields, which makes it all the more impressive (and perplexing) that it ultimately went to an unknown name. Likewise, the character of Selena was pitched to Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda, and Goldie Hawn before it was ultimately (and infamously) taken on by Faye Dunaway.

supergirl1The screenplay for “Supergirl” reportedly had to go through a good number of rewrites, each with drastic story differences around the inclusion and exclusion of specific characters. One of the producers (Alyssa Cartagena) was apparently so unhappy with the script’s final form and the production as a whole that she was ultimately dismissed from the film, which was probably better for her in the long run anyway.

The original theatrical poster for “Supergirl” famously (and hilariously) features the Statue of Liberty in the background, holding her torch in the wrong hand. Of course, that is the sort of attention to detail you can expect from one of the worst regarded films of the 1980s.

supergirl3The character of Supergirl was created in 1959 by Otto Binder and Al Plastino, and is an immensely popular character in the DC universe. Much like Superman, she is a surviving Kryptonian who is given similar powers to Superman while on Earth. Unlike her film version, however, she has developed a good deal of depth over the years, and has gone through a number of reboots and character shifts.

The reception to the “Supergirl” movie was incredibly negative, and the film was nominated for two Golden Raspberries for Faye Dunaway and Peter O’Toole’s performances as the worst of the year. The movie currently holds Rotten Tomatoes ratings of 7% (critic) and 26% (audience), as well as an IMDb score of 4.3.

supergirl2“Supergirl” had a lifetime gross of just over $14 million in its theatrical run. However, the budget was estimated at $35 million for the picture, making it a significant financial failure when all was said and done.

The biggest problem with “Supergirl” by a significant margin is the writing. The dialogue, the plot, and the characters are all just awful, and it is frankly amazing that this was the product that resulted after five re-writes. Particularly, all of the women come off as excessively simplistic and infantile, specifically Dunaway’s Selena and Supergirl herself. I’m not sure if the characters were intended to be funny, but the way they are written just doesn’t work at all. As much as Dunaway was disparaged for her work in “Supergirl,” she actually seemed like a strong point for me, if for no other reason than she put some intensity and passion into the ridiculous role.

supergirl5Overall, “Supergirl” suffers a lot not just from the writing and acting, but also from some incredibly slow pacing, which is a problem that can kill any film that would otherwise be entertaining. The highlights of the film are probably worth looking up, but in general it is far too slow to be an entertaining watch. Faye Dunaway is about the only saving grace to the film, and her absence is notable when she isn’t on screen.

For bad movie lovers, “Supergirl” is probably worth giving a shot for the experience of it, and for the highlight moments. However, general audiences probably won’t want to hang around for the whole trainwreck, and could very well doze off somewhere in the second act.

Abraxas, Guardian of the Universe

Abraxas, Guardian of the Universe

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Today on the Misan[trope]y Movie Blog, we’re going to take a look at the 1990 Jesse Ventura sci-fi movie, “Abraxas, Guardian of the Universe.”

The writer and director of “Abraxas” is one Damian Lee, a B-movie writer, director, and producer who is still working today. His most recent flicks include a handful of smaller films: “A Fighting Man” (2014), “Hit it” (2013), and “A Dark Truth” (2012).

The cinematography on “Abraxas” is credited to three different people, which brings up some questions about the production. The first listed is Curtis Petersen, a veteran camera operator and b-movie cinematographer, who has well over 100 credits to his name (including “Rocky III,” “Rocky IV,” and “Look Who’s Talking”). Also credited are Mark Willis, a now-prolific camera operator working on television series such as “Hannibal,” “Copper,” and “Reign,” and Keith Thomson, another camera operator for whom “Abraxas” was one of his first ever credits. Given that there isn’t much information available about the film’s behind the scenes operations, it is anyone’s guess as to why all three men are credited, but I suspect that there was probably a dismissal at some point.

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“Abraxas” features a handful of cheesy and cheap special effects, but they tend to work pretty well for the purposes of the movie. The special effects team doesn’t have a whole lot of credits between them, but I did notice that they all worked on the 1995 Roddy Piper movie “Jungleground,” which apparently features a lot of the same accessory crew as “Abraxas.” I’ve had that movie sitting in my collection for a good while now, so stay tuned for some coverage of that flick in the near future.

The music on “Abraxas” is really odd, featuring a significant number of strangely placed saxophone solos. The composer of the score was Carlos Lopes, who worked on the 1980s revival of “The Twilight Zone,” as well as a handful of smaller features over the years.

Apart from Jesse “The Body” Ventura, the wrestler turned actor turned politician, the cast of “Abraxas” notably features Sven Ole-Thorsen as his rival. Thorsen is fantastic ‘heavy’ character actor who has appeared in films like “The Running Man” (also with Ventura), “Twins,” “Gladiator,” and “Red Heat,” among many, many others. Both men are famously good friends with Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose film “Terminator” was a clear inspiration for “Abraxas.”

The rest of the cast on “Abraxas” is primarily filled out with unknowns, with the exception of the then-married couple of James Belushi and Marjorie Bransfield. “Abraxas” proved to be Bransfield’s only significant film acting role, as she hasn’t any credits since the mid-1990s. Belushi, bizarrely, is credited as “Principal Latimer,” the same name of his character in the 1987 movie “The Principal.” Whether his bit role was meant to be the same character is up for debate, but it certainly makes for an interesting little fun fact.

The story of “Abraxas” follows the title character (Ventura), a space cop, as he tracks down his former partner, the ruthless Secundus (Thorsen), who is fostering plans for domination of the universe. The pursuit lands both men on Earth, where Secundus impregnates a woman with a “comater,” which will apparently hold the key to the “anti-life equation” once it reaches maturity. Abraxas is faced with the decision of whether to kill a child, or run the risk of having Secundus’s plans come to fruition.

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Apparently, this is space sex

As far as criticisms of “Abraxas” go, the attempts at comedy in the film merit a bit of shaming. All of the attempted jokes fall flat, and don’t fit in with the rest of the movie at all. I’m not sure what exactly inspired the attempted inclusion of comic relief in the movie, but I think it would have been better off either leaving it out entirely or committing more fully, and perhaps getting a comedy writer to do a pass on the script. When you just go half-way, you run the risk of having awkward, stilted moments in the middle of a serious movie.

Something that “Abraxas” engages in that is a minor pet peeve of mine is confusion over idioms. Almost any time a robot, alien, or person out of time is featured in a movie, it seems to be mandated for the script to attempt at least one joke about how the outsider doesn’t understand linguistic peculiarities. This isn’t inherently awful, but it has certainly been done to death. Also, particularly with aliens and humans displaced in time, there is no reason for them to not be familiar with the concept of idioms. For example, if I am speaking in another language with someone, and they mention a phrase that doesn’t seem to make much sense, one of the first things I will assume is that it is an idiom that I am not familiar with. People don’t naturally react to unfamiliar idioms by getting exasperated, it just doesn’t happen. And why not have the aliens use their own idioms, poorly translated into English? That’s at least a mildly better way to deal with the issue.

“Abraxas,” in true b-movie fashion, features a number of great, cheesy effects. In particular, there are a couple of solid head explosions scattered throughout the film, as Secundus’s favorite method of execution seems to be overloading people’s brains to the point of exploding. There are also some classic animated lightning / electricity effects that are sure to incite some nostalgia for b-movie fans.

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Surprisingly, the central child actor  (the “comater”) is actually pretty solid in this film, which may have a direct correlation to the fact that he has almost no lines. Personally, I would be in favor of this being standard procedure for child actors. In all seriousness, the child is really effectively expressive without using his voice, and actually builds up a little bit of an air of menace by the conclusion of the film, as his powers become more honed.

Something that becomes evident very early on in “Arbraxas” is that the film features far too much internal voice-over, kind of like the awful cut of “Blade Runner” taken to a distant extreme. The monologues aren’t even limited to Jesse Ventura’s lead character: at times, both the villain (Secundus) and the love interest (Sonia) offer brief internal thoughts and narration, which is both lazy storytelling and a really confusing way to shift the audience’s POV.

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Something that I have seen take a bit of criticism about “Abraxas” is the set and production design. While it is visibly cheap without any doubt, I actually thought that the work was pretty impressive, and made a little go a long way. It even sort of made sense in the story for the aliens to be comparatively only somewhat more technologically advanced, so they still use keyboards and simple computers. The intelligent armbands are a little bit of a leap, but how different could they possibly be from Siri?

If there is anything that I really dislike about “Abraxas,” it is the romantic subplot. Jesse Ventura just doesn’t seem up for the challenge of an emotional role, and he seems awkward and uncomfortable whenever that is what is required of his character. I thought that the story would actually have been more interesting if his mercy had come from a developing compassion for life in general rather than because of a specific attraction for one woman. It seems that would have made him a better foil for Secundus, and kept things from getting too bogged down emotionally.

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Overall, “Abraxas” is definitely a fun good-bad movie worth giving a shot. It quite in an elite class of good-bad, but the film is entertaining enough to hold your attention, while also being plenty awful on a number of levels.

Stuart Gordon Spotlight: “The Pit and The Pendulum”

The Pit and The Pendulum

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Welcome back! We are at the tail end of the Stuart Gordon Spotlight here at Misan[trope]y Movie Blog, taking a look at 1991’s Edgar Allan Poe inspired “The Pit and The Pendulum.”

“The Pit and The Pendulum” marks yet another collaboration between Dennis Paoli and Stuart Gordon, a combination that proved successful over the years. Just as with “Dagon,” Gordon specifically takes on the directorial role, leaving all of the writing work to Paoli (at least in the credits).

This adaptation of Poe’s acclaimed short story is by all accounts a heavily altered version of “Pit and the Pendulum,” and even includes a highly modified version of another Edgar Allan Poe story, “The Cask of Amontillado,” thrown into the middle. Outside of the setting and the eponymous device, this version of the tale is virtually unrecognizable from the original incarnation. In that way, it is somewhat similar to “The Black Cat,” another Poe adaptation Gordon would take on years later. Both concern themselves very little with the source material, which isn’t inherently a bad thing in my opinion. However, I think both films attempt to add in too much extra content, which is something I will get into later.

“The Pit and The Pendulum” had a famous film adaptation done in 1961 starring none other than Vincent Price, and was notably directed by B-movie legend Roger Corman. In the years since Gordon’s 1991 take on the story, another adaptation was created in 2009 by yet another B-movie notable: David DeCoteau. However, his version was significantly less well-received, holding an astounding 2.9 rating on IMDb at the time of this writing.

The cinematography on the movie was contributed by Adolfo Bartoli, who did a significant amount of work for Full Moon Features throughout the 1990s. His credits include a handful of “Puppet Master” sequels, as well as “Demonic Toys” and “Prehysteria.”

The music on “The Pit and The Pendulum” was unsurprisingly provided by Richard Band, brother of Full Moon Features head Charles Band, who produced the film. Richard Band has contributed music to two Stuart Gordon features since “The Pit and The Pendulum”: “Castle Freak” and “Dreams in the Witch House.”

The set and production design of “The Pit and The Pendulum” was provided by Giovanni Natalucci, who worked on a number of previous Stuart Gordon features like “Robot Jox,” “Dolls,” and “From Beyond.” Personally, given the low budget, I think a splendid job was done creating a believable enough set and appearance for the Spanish Inquisition.

The cast features a score of recognizable faces for Stuart Gordon fans and general film buffs alike, including Lance Henriksen (“Aliens”), Jeffrey Combs (“Re-Animator,” “From Beyond,” nearly everything by Stuart Gordon), Oliver Reed (“Gladiator,” “Tommy”), Jonathan Fuller (“Castle Freak”), Stephen Lee (“Dolls”), and Mark Margolis (“Breaking Bad”).

pit5 pit6The story of “The Pit and The Pendulum” follows a young couple in Toledo, Spain during the heat of the Spanish Inquisition. They wind up on the wrong side of Torquemada after an incident in which they attempt to save a young boy from being flogged. From that point, the two try to survive a variety of tortures while Torquemada faces challenges to his reign of terror, both from internal and external sources.

This version of “The Pit and The Pendulum” was apparently the result of the second attempt by Stuart Gordon to adapt the work onto the screen. Apparently, years earlier, Gordon intended to make a movie from the story, but with Billy Dee Williams and Peter O’Toole in key roles. This reminded me a little bit of how “Dagon,” which was initially set to star Jeffrey Combs, got put on the back-burner in favor of “From Beyond,” and wound up staying there for over a decade (meriting a recasting).

This adaptation certainly takes a number of liberties with the story of “The Pit and The Pendulum,” but one of the most interesting inclusions was a modified version of the sword of Damocles, an ancient Italian anecdote about the heavy responsibility of leadership, told via the image of a great sword held by a hair above a throne. I thought this worked well here, particularly given the similarities of the images of the hanging sword and the pendulum blade. However, I wish the sword had been used more cleverly and effectively in the story, though it does play in as a plot device.

“The Pit and The Pendulum” was released straight to video by Full Moon Features, meaning it never had the opportunity to make money back in theaters. The budget was estimated at a low $2 million, so it probably did well enough to meet production expectations. Given the method of distribution, the film didn’t get a lot of attention. Nevertheless, it currently holds an IMDb rating of 6.2, and Rotten Tomatoes scores of 56% (critic) and 41% (audience). However, I found that those low numbers were a bit deceiving given: of the 9 critic reviews counted, at least one of the ‘rotten’ reviews admitted that the movie wasn’t bad, but was just underwhelming for Stuart Gordon. I agree that this isn’t great for Stuart Gordon, but on its own, it isn’t an awful horror movie. I’d say it justifies the middling score it has accrued on IMDb, but not the significantly lower metrics from Rotten Tomatoes.

When it comes to positives about “The Pit and The Pendulum,” I have to start with pointing out the performances. Lance Henriksen always plays a great B-movie bag guy, and his Torquemada is no exception. Jonathan Fuller is also pretty solid as the lead in the story, particularly in a few moments where he laughs off torture attempts to throw off his adversaries. Jeffrey Combs, as always, is fantastic in his minimal background role, and just about steals the show in a couple of moments. That said, in spite of the good performances, I definitely had some issues with this movie.

pit3Something about the opening of the film confused me out of the gate: the movie starts with Torquemada ordering the flogging of a long-deceased corpse. It almost plays as physical comedy, watching a dried corpse a la “The Crypt Keeper” being flogged into pieces. I have to assume this was intentional on the part of Paoli, but I don’t understand how this bit of absurdity plays in with the rest of the film tonally.

pit4I don’t think anything about this film took me aback as much as the inexplicable inclusion of actual witches, who are shown to be capable of telepathy. I assumed that the inquisitors were wrongfully accusing people of witchcraft, not persecuting an actual subset of witches within the Spanish population. I’m sure there were some Pagans and such in the area in real life, but even real Pagans aren’t actually magic, as the witches are portrayed in this film. I just can’t wrap my head around the logic of their inclusion, outside of providing a handful of minor plot devices to move the story along. It just seemed so astoundingly unnecessary to me: like the old saying goes, “when you hear hoofbeats, think of horses not zebras.” Why on Earth are the people accused of witchcraft in this movie actually witches? It makes more sense for the story that Torquemada is just randomly persecuting people on the slightest whim. Does the fact that these accused witches are actually magic mean that the inane selection process used by Torquemada’s men actually works? I mean, come on. That’s not only outlandish, but it is counter to the entire story.

Something else that bothered me about the story (in relation to the inclusion of actual witches in it)is what the ultimate message of it was. It obviously takes a strong stance against Torquemada’s religious violence in the Inquisition, but it is unclear why that is. Maria could be representative of the purer, better form of Christianity, which initially seemed to be the case, but then she developed witchcraft-based telepathy. What are we supposed to make of that? Is witchcraft/paganism the right way to go, as they were wrongfully persecuted by the Christians? Are the Catholics on the right track, as the Vatican attempts to shut Torquemada down? The only thing that is clear at the conclusion is that Torquemada is bad, and everything else is left muddied.

Worse yet, one of the great and defining strengths of “The Pit and The Pendulum” was its reality-based sense of terror and dread. This adaptation, with its inclusion of magic, telepathy, witches, etc., managed to turn what should be something realistically suspenseful into a tale that borders on being fantasy-based and generic.

Personally, I think that this story would have worked better in a shorter form, similar to the hour-long format of “Masters of Horror.” Paoli clearly struggled to flesh the story out enough for a feature: he wound up making additions that weakened the film, and ultimately inflated the movie just enough to throw the pacing off and void the suspense. To be fair, though, Paoli was tasked with making a lot out of very little, as the short story source material isn’t exactly rife with plot details. For what he had to work with, he did manage to build a narrative around a very narrow tale.

pit1Overall, “The Pit and The Pendulum” is entertaining despite its lack of focus and general bizarreness. The performances are all pretty great, and I liked the production design for sure. I feel like the script tried to do a little too much, and the third act just didn’t play as strongly as it should have. The sleep spell (and all of the witchcraft) was beyond out of place here, and Torquemada’s hallucinatory (?) confession scene just didn’t feel satisfying enough. This would have been a more interesting and compelling story without the supernatural elements in it, given that it is never well developed and is just completely unnecessary (or worse, antithetical) to the story.

I don’t recommend going out of your way for it, but it is a good enough watch for horror fans. If you happen to stumble across it, there is plenty here to make it worth your time in entertainment. Otherwise, this isn’t a must-find essential entry in Stuart Gordon’s filmography.

Stuart Gordon Spotlight: “Stuck”

Stuck

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Welcome back to the two-week spotlight on director Stuart Gordon! Next up is 2007’s “Stuck,” a strange thriller pulled straight from tabloid headlines.

“Stuck” was co-written by Stuart Gordon and a fellow named John Strysik, who previously worked on 2002’s “Deathbed,” which Gordon produced. The story is loosely based on a incident that occurred in 2001, in which a woman hit a homeless man with her car, and then hit him in her garage, assuming he was dead. The screenplay changes a number of details significantly, but the general premise is based on the outlandish tale, which received a good deal of press coverage at the time.

The cinematography on “Stuck” was provided by Denis Maloney, who rejoined Stuart Gordon after working together on “Edmond” a couple of years beforehand. The music for “Stuck” is also provided by a returning crew member from “Edmond:” Bobby Johnston, who also worked on Stuart Gordon’s “King of the Ants” some years earlier.

The cast of “Stuck” includes some notable faces from Academy Award Best Picture winners, notably Mena Suvari of “American Beauty” and Stephen Rea of “The Crying Game.” The accessory cast includes Lionel Mark Smith (who also appears in Gordon’s “Edmond” and “King of the Ants”), Russell Hornsby of “Grimm,” and Stuart Gordon’s wife Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, who once again plays a curt medical professional (as she did in “Re-Animator” and “From Beyond”).

stuck5 stuck1The reception of “Stuck” was pretty mediocre: it has a 72% critic score and a 55% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, along with a 6.5 rating on IMDb. However, the box office totals on the film were particularly awful: it grossed less than 100,000 dollars in a brief theatrical run on a estimated budget of $5 million, making it a financial failure.

stuck2Personally, I feel like “Stuck” is a pretty solid low-budget thriller, and builds suspense well throughout the film. I didn’t think there were any glaring flaws, but there also isn’t much about the film that makes it stand out from a crowd.

“Stuck” does feature some really good performances, particularly from Rea and Suvari. However, just like the rest of the film, they don’t really leave a lasting impression. I also found that the characters didn’t seems very realistic, which is odd given the source material is (theoretically) reality. I will say that you can’t help but empathize with Rea’s character, and that Suvari’s character becomes increasingly despicable as the story goes on, to the point that she is damn near demonic by the end of the film.

stuck6“Stuck” still has a little bit of Stuart Gordon’s trademark style despite the shift in genre, with some cringing gore moments (notably a sequence where a dog chews on someone’s exposed bone) and a little bit of dark comedy interspersed throughout. Oddly, though, judging by the trailer it was marketed as a straight comedy, which is not even close to accurate, and almost certainly blindsided any audiences going in based on that summary and hook. The trailer almost feels like a parody cut of out-of-context moments from the film, and is surreal to see after watching the actual movie. Here is another look at that:

Overall, I appreciate that “Stuck” is yet another attempt by Stuart Gordon to step outside of his usual genre boundaries. I found it to be a little bit better than “Edmond,” which takes a similar tone and atmosphere, and it is certainly leagues better than the train-wreck that is “The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit.” It certainly doesn’t belong in the top tier of Gordon’s works as far as entertainment value goes, but it is also more of a clear-cut thriller than most of his other works. I enjoyed it, particularly for its small budget, and think that the criticisms of it are a bit harsher than is merited. It isn’t a masterpiece, but it is a pretty solid watch with some good performances.

 

It’s A Disaster

Clerk’s Pick

Clerk:
Brock, Video Central (Columbus, OH)
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Movie:
It’s A Disaster
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Pitch:
“A bunch of people are at a dinner party when some sort of biochemical attack occurs, and they all wind up trapped together. They don’t like each other very much, so it doesn’t go very well. David Cross is in it, and it is a definitely worth a watch.”

Background:

“It’s A Disaster” is a dark comedy written and directed by Todd Berger, following a number of contentious couples who are trapped at a brunch by an unfolding chemical disaster.

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Todd Berger

Todd Berger has an assortment of writing, acting, and directing credits for things such as “Kung Fu Panda: Secrets of the Masters,” and “Southland Tales.” His most acclaimed film apart from “It’s A Disaster” is the only other one on which he has served as writer/director: “The Scenesters,” another dark comedy that he did 3 years prior to “It’s A Disaster.” It is about a serial killer who targets hipsters, and a vigilante plot to stop him. That film won a number of awards at film festivals such as Slamdance and the Phoenix Film Festival, but didn’t get a whole lot of exposure beyond that.

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“It’s a Disaster” has a number of recognizable faces in the cast, such as David Cross (“Arrested Development,” “Mr Show,” “The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret”) and America Ferrera (“Ugly Betty,” “End of Watch”). However, the majority of it is made up of members of the comedy troupe The Vacationeers, who specialize in comedic shorts and features (including Todd Berger’s other feature film, “The Scenesters”).

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Reception of “It’s A Disaster” was mixed: despite a number of awards at film festivals (New Orleans Film Festival, Bendfilm Festival, Edmonton International Film Festival), Rotten Tomatoes has it scored at 77%, with a critic’s average rating at 6.3. The audience score is 59% with an average score of 3.4, and the IMDb user rating is 6.5.

The film’s poster, lampooning the historical Kitchener / Uncle Sam recruitment posters, is probably as well regarded, if not better, than the film itself. The image of a man in a hazmat suit with a glass being ominously thrust towards the observer ties in incredibly well with the film’s plot and tone. If that doesn’t get you to watch the film, then it probably isn’t meant for you.

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Review:

“It’s A Disaster” is very heavy for a comedy, even a dark one. It bounces from being a more-or-less lighthearted tale of bickering, cheating couples to incorporating murder plots and contemporary fears of domestic terrorism. It is still good without any doubt, but the tone is far from steady or even.

David Cross, as expected, is fantastic in the film. He is one of the funniest actors out there today in the realm of black comedy, and this film really allows him to show some of the range of what he is capable of. The rest of the roles in the movie are pretty clear-cut, though they definitely all devolve into different shades of panic over the course of the film.

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The writing, particularly for the dialogue, is fantastic. The characters definitely have distinctive voices, and their interactions are always entertaining. In a film with a number of twists, there are also some great subtle hints threaded throughout the film in the dialogue, which is always good to see. That said, the characters become increasingly cartoony and unbelievable as the story moves on, but I think it adds to the surreal feel of the film as a whole, so it isn’t excessively distracting.

When it comes down to whether I can recommend “It’s A Disaster,” it is really a tough call. As I mentioned, this is a really heavy film that deals with a horrifying situation as the plot progresses. The interpersonal humor is all pretty funny for the bulk of the film, but things get exponentially more bleak in the last act. If anyone is a big fan of David Cross (particularly “Todd Margaret”), then this film is a must see. In general, I think anyone who can handle “Todd Margaret” would enjoy this film, as the tones are definitely similar.

Plotopsy Podcast #1 – Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy

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Welcome to the first episode of Misan[trope]y’s (Plot)opsy Podcast! My name is Gordon Maples, writer of the Misan[trope]y Movie Blog and a somewhat obsessive film buff.

Here on the (Plot)opsy Podcast, you can hear yet another dude on the internet talk about movies. More specifically, I will be looking at the narratives behind movies: their cultural contexts, the startling personalities around them, and the curious production paths that led to their creation. I am going to focus on memorable films, both good and bad, new and old. I intend to be joined by guests in the future dissections, but today, on the pilot, you just have me. Welcome to the (Plot)opsy. Scrub up.

This first feature I am covering is the smash hit “Guardians of the Galaxy” by Troma alum and generally awesome weirdo James Gunn. Listen to the whole episode below:


Direct Download

Here are some relevant images to go along with the episode:

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“Tromeo and Juliet” was the film writing debut of James Gunn, a Troma flick primarily in iambic pentameter that he wrote while interning with Troma Pictures. Rumor has it that he was paid $150 for the screenplay.

 

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James Gunn co-wrote a book with Troma head Lloyd Kaufman detailing the history of Toma Studios

 

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Yondu from the source comics (left) and the film (right, Michael Rooker)

 

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Vin Diesel’s best known voice work is as the eponymous Iron Giant from the animated cult classic. His part as Groot in “Guardians” is highly reminiscent of the lovable giant robot.

 

Winter’s Tale

It may come as a bit of a surprise to some, but I don’t actually make it to movie theaters particularly often. I spend most of my time digging around through used DVD bargain bins and looking for deep cuts online, and it tends to be a much cheaper way to find much worse movies in general. However, sometimes a movie will hit theaters that gets my attention. So far this year, one in particular caught my eye and got me out to the big screen.

Winter’s Tale

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This was the feature directorial debut for Academy Award-winning writer Akiva Goldsman, and is also the worst thing he has been involved in since he penned the pun-saturated script for “Batman & Robin”.

yeah, that one
yeah, that one

“Winter’s Tale” is a highly well-produced, visually striking, rambling assortment of nonsense. If I hadn’t known Akiva Goldman did the screenplay, I would have sworn that Deepak Chopra had a hand in writing the dialogue.

The story is as vapid in content as it is vague and enigmatic in details, which leaves viewers not familiar with the acclaimed source material very much out of the loop. There is a point early in the film where Russell Crowe’s antagonist character mentions in passing to a perplexed henchman that Colin Farrell’s magically-appearing (and flight-capable) horse is actually a dog. When the henchman inquires further, he is shot down by Crowe as if it were foolish to question the claim that the magic horse is actually a dog. That is kind of what sitting through the film is like: it sporadically spurts nonsense claims and dialogue, and doesn’t care if the audience is following along or not. As a general rule, you should aim for your film to make more sense to the casual observer than “Donnie Darko”, at least if you you are trying to sell it to a general audience.

Dog = Horse. What are you not getting here?

I don’t want to spoil the many, many entertaining nonsensical occurrences in this movie for anyone who hasn’t seen it, but I can guarantee that this is going to be a film that will be recalled for quite some time in discussions of big budget bad movies. It doesn’t even sound like it has the excuse that “47 Ronin” did of behind-the-scenes turmoil: this film is just the product of pure incompetence. Specifically, I think that incompetence on the part of the writing and directing is primarily to blame here. So, Akiva gets all the credit for this disasterpiece.

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Without spoiling too much, let’s go through some highlights that actually happen over the course of “A Winter’s Tale”:

-inexplicable appearance of magical flying horse

-character orders a spotted owl in a fancy restaurant

-magical tuberculosis with no physical effects, not contagious

-magical horse is actually a dog

-Satan is a Jimi Hendrix enthusiast

-stars are actually dead people

-everyone gets exactly one (1) miracle

-Russell Crowe’s drunk Irish impression

-Colin Farrell’s ridiculous hair

-character turns into a snowman upon death

-cheap CGI monster effects to contort faces

-the tearing off of a man’s face, after which a character plays with his blood

-magical GPS jewels

-polite romantic conversation over tea with a home invader

-baby is abandoned in the ocean inside of a model boat

-death by sex

-uncredited, plot-important cameo by a famous actor who has no business doing a bit role in this movie

-riding a horse into space

The whole movie layers ridiculous dialogue onto preposterous premises, and fails to create the magical realism style that was needed for this story to work. It appears that all of the actors take their roles seriously, which enhances the unintentional comedic effect for the movie in my eyes. In particular, Russell Crowe’s performance is completely ridiculous. There are moments where he sounds like a drunk, evil leprechaun. Despite how poorly it comes off, I think he was actually trying at the role, but it winds up being a scenery-chewer through and through despite what I can’t help but assume was a serious effort.

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The movie is going to be coming out on DVD in June, but in the meantime I recommend checking out the many reviews that have come out about the movie. How Did This Get Made? did a good episode on it, and The Cinema Snob’s Midnight Screening was a blast if you ask me. If I recall correctly, they both go into spoilers though, so be warned.