Bizarro Masterpiece Theatre: Kung Pow! Enter the Fist

 

Film: Kung Pow! Enter the Fist (2002)

Written by, Starring, and Directed by: Steve Oedekerk

 

The great (and frustrating) thing about this sendup of martial arts cinema is that it’s actually two movies in one.  The first style drowns in CG, offering ham-fisted renditions of a murderous cow, a kung fu baby, and a tongue which has its own tongue.  Oh, and there’s a lady ninja with one boob right in the center of her chest, which is kind of unsettling.

The second aspect of Kung Pow! is much more interesting, involving the restoration and appropriation of an old Hong Kong martial arts flick known as Tiger and Crane Fist.  Director and star Steve Oedekerk warped and cut this classic into all that modern footage, making a new tale of a Chosen One (that’s his name) out of the old video.

What’s weird is the contrast in restraint between the film’s two styles.  While Oedekerks’ original footage looks rather lame and brash in its technophilia, the subtle way he inserts his face onto the hero of Tiger and Crane Fist is very well executed.  On first look, one might miss some of the Easter eggs planted into the old footage, such as a Hooters storefront and a crap music aficionado who gyrates to the anachronistic tunes coming from the ghetto blaster on his shoulder.

The thing that really sells Kung Pow!, however, is Oedekerk’s use of dialogue.  With the exception of Titty-Cyclops, every character in the film was voiced by the director.  The film becomes something of a Mystery Science Theatre episode, with Oedekerk’s brilliantly silly lines encompassing almost all of the film’s hilarity.  A conversation between Chosen One and his sexually demented sensei, which was probably a routine bit of scenework in Tiger and Crane Fist, becomes wholly absurd in the best way.  Likewise, any scene featuring the dastardly Master Betty (the villain formerly known as Master Pain), is rendered brilliant due to Oedekerk’s revoicing the brutal gang leader as an adorably creepy dweeb.  Master Betty is the best.

If Kung Pow! has one point to make, it is that dialogue and context in film are at least as important as the visuals.  If you can get past all those crappy 21st Century visuals in this film, it can be quite a joyous little parody, on par with the Fistful of Yen chapter of Kentucky Fried Movie.

 

Bizarro Masterpiece Theatre: Beavis and Butt-Head, Vol. 4

 

That Mike Judge has returned to where his bread was first buttered and resurrected Beavis and Butt-Head to self-satirize yet another MTV generation is cause for celebration.  This collection of the show’s first revival season shows that this isn’t a mere retro-humping cash grab; in fact, Judge’s years of work on the more straight-laced King of the Hill has clearly made him a better storyteller, and the evidence is that these new stories of his bastard boys are some of the best Beavis and Butt-Head tales to date.  Beavis and Butt-Head are the same chuckling, hopeless white trash they’ve always been, and their misadventures are no less pointless or destructive as before, but now there’s definitely a much smarter sense of comedic timing in their antics.

Watching Beavis spaz out into his caffeinated alter ego Cornholio and become a cult’s messiah may feel sort of inevitable, but the twist in which he gets bored and unknowingly sets his loser friend Stewart up for hot culty group sex is kind of a nice payoff.  Showing Beavis and Butt-Head as unwitting pawns of the Intelligent Design and anti-Planned Parenthood movements makes for some bizarrely pointed social commentary.  (In the latter, the pair take a Jesus fundie’s assertion that a women’s health clinic is a whorehouse seriously and enthusiastically, with delightfully painful results.)  The episode in which Beavis and Butt-Head confuse a field trip to an old timey tourist village with time travel results in some hilariously dim-witted attempts at causing time paradox.

Yet the best episodes are the same now as before, featuring the idiots rambling around town with no agenda, warping their environments with their askew worldviews.  Nothing in this collection was so delightful as the episode in which Beavis and Butt-Head reacting to a supposed apocalypse by raiding a 7-11, or the one when they simply wandered around the mall like gleeful teenage perverts, or Butt-Head making fun of Beavis for the rest of their lives because an onion made him cry.

If there is a problem with the revival of Beavis and Butt-Head, it’s that everyone is now in on the joke.  Like the metal bands they revere, age has made these two moron savants respectable.  Where once Beavis’ wide-eyed pyromania had to be hushed and up due to a kid supposedly self-immolating in imitation, and the pair’s destructive tendencies had to be preceded by a Don’t Do This At Home disclaimer, our twitchy friends are once more given free reign to smash shit and shout that fire is cool.  (Beavis also makes a few references to being molested, which comes off as disturbingly comedic.)  And today, I doubt that anyone howls that Beavis and Butt-Head is poisoning the youth of America.  People have finally caught on that the show is at its core Looney Tunes in human form, giving it an aura of benign slapstick.

Where this becomes a problem is when Beavis and Butt-Head know they’re cool.  Despite being from a time when MTV had total control over youth pop culture, the old series wasn’t big on name-dropping pop culture to prove its cred.  Instead, they cheered for the awesome videos and verbally mauled everything that didn’t pass their standards of cool.  As such, the show became something of a musical tastemaker in its own right.

Today’s Beavis and Butt-Head are much more with the times and behind the curve.  They riff on Twilight.  They reference Grand Theft Auto.  They know the entire cast of Sex and the City.  (Sure, that knowledge is only used to suggest a mash-up sequel to Sex and the City and The Human Centipede, but still).  Worst of all, they watch a lot of Jersey Shore.

A few blessed music videos show up for Mystery Science Theater-style mockery in Volume 4, but far more often, the modern Beavis and Butt-Head watch a lot of shitty MTV shows.  I know that between the old series and now, MTV all but killed off music videos ‒ which, by the way, isn’t to say that the art form no longer exists ‒ but having Beavis and Butt-head instead make fun of MTV’s post-video programming isn’t an adequate replacement.  No matter how fine the ridicule, it’s not biting or edgy.  It’s redundant advertisement.

Furthermore, flooding this show with clips from those shows ‒ even if it’s to burn them with some pretty genius wit ‒ makes this show secondary to those ones.  The fifth time I heard Beavis and Butt-Head refer to The Jersey Shore’s “Smoosh room,” I began to wonder if I was watching a commercial for those guidos, juiceheads, and gorillas, if the true goal of reviving Beavis and Butt-Head was merely to raise the profile of all of MTV’s other shit.

I watch the old series for the video mockery first and the cartoon episodes second, and in the new series my preferences are somewhat reversed.  Nonetheless, the new series is a much more clever, focused, and polished animal than its wild beast predecessor.  Take that for what it’s worth to you, but there is a great humor in noting that a show once hailed as a sign of pop culture’s apocalypse is now one of pop culture’s best shows.

 

Bizarro Masterpiece Theatre: A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge

This picture pretty much sums up the whole movie.

Film: A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985)

Director: Jack Sholder

Starring: Robert Englund, Mark Patton, Clu Gulager

Written by: David Chaskin

In discussions about the Nightmare on Elm Street series, this gem invariably gets brought up and described as the queer one.  That label is absolutely correct.  Even the creators of the film have gone on record to marvel at how they ended up making a gay Freddy movie.  I don’t know how all the blatant gay innuendo in Freddy’s Revenge got past them, though; there’s so much that the viewer starts seeing such metaphors and subtext that might not exist.  Look!  That clock on the stairway is rather phallic!  The teacher’s giving a lecture on the colon!  There’s a cardboard box in the guy’s closet that says Probe!  Uh huh huh huh huh.

Beyond all those grasping connections, however, is a lot of very real manly subtext.  Our hero Jesse has an awesome dance number to the sultry tune of “Touch Me (All Night Long)” in which he prances about in gold lightning bolt shades, closes a dresser drawer with his swiveling, supple ass, and gyrates around with some wooden popgun thing thrusting from his crotch.  He also ends up shirtless and sweaty a whole lot, with the film offering many loving shots of his bird chest and tighty whities.  He finds his best friend after the other doofus depantses him during a game of baseball and the two roll around the diamond locked in buttcrack mortal combat.

The issue of Jesse being possessed by a mass murdering child killer always seems to be mentioned in the most pervy ways possible.  “Something is trying to get inside my body,” our hero moans to his doofus buddy as he pleads for Doofus to watch over him as he sleeps.  Doofus, being obliviously awesome, responds: “Yeah, and she’s female, and she’s waiting for you in the cabana, and you wanna sleep with me.”  Said female, a Meryl Streep-looking ginger who serves as the film’s real hero, usually comes off as kind of a beard in the midst of all this machismo.

Yet the easiest thing to bring up is the sadistic gym teacher who hangs out at “queer s&m joints downtown” and operates as the Casey Affleck-meets-Mark Hamill-looking hero’s authority figure nemesis.  Oh, and the film makes it pretty clear that Teach plans to rape our hero as well.  Yeah.

He seemed like such a nice guy.

Following one of our hero’s midnight freakouts, he heads to the local queer bar in question ‒ which is really more of a punker bar for freaks of all orientations.  He’s looking for a beer but finds the leather-clad gym teacher, who busts him with an unwholesome gleam in his eye.  Teach drags Jesse to the gym in the dead of night and makes him run laps, after which our hero is pushed into a stack of folding chairs and told to hit the showers.  While Jesse is gamboling around naked and weepy in the dark, steamy shower room, our heroic gym teacher lurks in his office, amassing physical education paraphernalia by which he obviously plans to tie up our hero and have his way with him.

Unfortunately, Teach runs afoul of a Freddy Krueger poltergeist, who hurls all the balls in the office at his face (uh huh huh huh huh).  After this, Teach finds his bondage jump ropes turned against him, and he is dragged into the shower room and tied splaying to a pair of faucets.  After that, he’s stripped naked, and then the Freddy poltergeist grabs a towel and whips that gym teacher’s ass till it’s lobster red.  After all this degradation, the real Freddy emerges from the shower room steam and gives Teach a few razor-claw swipes, but at this point the quick death feels a bit anticlimactic.

Like most of the franchise films which followed the original Nightmare on Elm Street, Freddy’s Revenge runs the risk of losing all its horror cred and becoming a campy, Adam West’s Batman sort of slasher film.  This flick is certainly in the running to be named the main offender of the bunch, but coupled with all the dude on dude silliness are some pretty sweet horror moments.

It’s clear that the creators of this film didn’t quite have the Freddy Krueger formula down yet.  Besides looking like more of a shadowy, melting Hindu instead of the stock bright burned hawk he’d later become, Freddy isn’t his usual wisecracking ghost of the subconscious who murders people in their dreams.  In fact, he doesn’t kill anyone who isn’t fully awake, and he’s not much for quips here.  Instead, he becomes a rampaging real-world monster who has real-world supernatural powers, and when he Caesarian Sections himself out of Jesse and busts up a pool party with claws and fire, he actually gets pretty terrifying.

There was one moment, however, which makes no sense.  Bookending the rest of the film are two scenes featuring Jesse on a haunted schoolbus that goes off the rails.  Watching the film, I blankly accepted these scenes, but my girlfriend saw the flaw in the logic.  “Doesn’t he drive a car?” she asked.  “Why would he be on a bus?”  Why, indeed; our hero drives a beaten up old clunker known as the Deadly Dinosaur, rendering mass transit unnecessary.  Sure, you don’t know that at the beginning of the film, but you do at the end.  Maybe Freddy’s just an idiot.

Bizarro Masterpiece Theatre: Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter

Film: Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)

Director: Joseph Zito

Starring: Corey Feldman, Crispin Glover

Written by: Barney Cohen

Of all the Friday the 13th films, this, the fourth and not even close to final chapter in the series, is undoubtedly my favorite.  I get so pumped about the greatness of this film that a friend and I once drunkenly made a joyous theme song to celebrate it.  If you can sing the words “Friday the 13th: Part Four” in C major, then mention the two stars listed above, and then hit repeat for about ten minutes, well, congratulations, you’ve learned and mastered a new song.

This is one of the best horror flicks ever made.  The story’s pretty standard: a group of perved-up teenagers set up shop in a cabin on evil Crystal Lake, and Jason comes looking for blood.  For some reason, there’s a single parent family next door to the party, and the family’s two kids end up being the heroes as the other kids get picked off.  Yet there’s a lot going for this film which sets it apart from the usual hack and slash.

It’s got a brutality that is genuinely disturbing rather than gory slapstick, most notably thanks to the effects work of the great Tom Savini.  It’s infested with hormones like a rat has fleas, but Jason Voorhees’ horny victims are so well fleshed out that the heroic amount of tits and ass in this film doesn’t feel like it’s there to obscure bad acting or a poor story.  My main criteria for judging a horror film’s quality is whether the victims’ deaths leave a void in the film’s world, if there’s a sense of humanity that lessens with each demise.  Part Four easily passes this test.

Three characters in particular stand out.  A very young Corey Feldman serves as the brilliant Lil’ Tom Savini who soon gets unhinged and heroic.  Displaying both adorable glee and seething fury, Feldman is just captivating in every scene he’s in, and it was probably clear at the time that he was gonna be huge.  Feldman’s dog Gordon is also pretty awesome, and he is easily the smartest character in the film.  When the bodies start piling up, this strangely named canine randomly hurls himself through a second story window and is never seen again.  Gordon had clearly had enough of that shit.

However, the very best thing about Part Four, the thing which has earned this film its place in Bizarro film legend, is the performance of Crispin Glover.  He plays the teen group’s awkward dweeb who morphs into a ladykilling dancing machine.  Glover’s biggest moment ‒ perhaps of all time ‒ is his titanic dance scene, set to the dulcet tones of the same hair metal band which wailed out the theme song of the old, cartoon Transformers movie.  Watching Glover move is like watching a majestic (twitching, flailing, avant-garde) eagle soaring on film.  Only Napoleon Dynamite could spazboogie so well.  As the story goes, Glover took no direction here; he simply busted out the same dance moves he was already using in Hollywood clubs.  Crispin Glover, a dancing weirdo genius?  Perish the thought.

The only letdowns to this film and its inevitable, non-final sequels is that Feldman’s character, who ends Part Four as a cracked survivor, doesn’t put on Jason’s hockey mask and unleash his own bloody rampage as was teased.  That, and they didn’t make an entire movie about Crispin Glover tearing up the dance floor.  Nonetheless, Part Four is glorious, worth every drunken song created in its honor.

Bizarro Masterpiece Theatre: Jingle All the Way

I'm not a pervert!

Film: Jingle All the Way (1996)

Director: Brian Levant

Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sinbad, Phil Hartman

Written by: Randy Kornfield

Sometimes when I go out trolling for the five dollar bargain DVDs which patronize my forays into cinematic absurdity, I feel like kind of a dick.  It’s not that I feel bad about making fun of these flicks and celebrating their ridiculousness.  For one, anything that costs over a million dollars to make deserves savage, savage mockery for any and all shortcomings it may have.  More importantly, I actually enjoy finding things in these totally alien and/or lowest common denominator movies that appeal to my warped sensibilities.  Consider this column a series of exercises in celebrating buried treasure and/or not being offended by entertainment.

Still, there are moments when, upon uncovering a true Bizarro gem, I get a tingle of mwahaha villainy at the thought of unleashing said film upon myself, my friends, and whatever small fraction of the world reads my ramblings.

With all this in mind, I felt like a huge dick when I found Jingle All the Way, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s bid at creating the most epic Christmas movie of all time.  It wasn’t so much because Schwarzenegger was making a Christmas movie; I’ll watch the Governator in pretty much anything and not complain.  You know what you’re getting, anyway.  Yes, I would have loved to see him in his Mr. Freeze getup from Batman and Robin, his absolute zero heart finally warmed by a hero who may or may not be wearing a benippled suit.  But the reality of this film, Schwarzenegger brawling with other suburbanites to get his chronically disappointed son the year’s equivalent of the Tickle Me Elmo doll, I can live with.

No, my dickhead shame came from the idea of watching a Sinbad movie.

Actually, let me get something out of the way before I go off on Sinbad.  Schwarzenegger’s sad bastard son is played by Jake Lloyd, a kid who would have faded gracefully into child actor heaven alongside the Alex D. Linzes and Curly Sues of the world had George Lucas not decided to cast him as Lil’ Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.  I have this awesome mental picture of George Lucas, sitting down for a nice Christmas movie with his family in 1996 and putting on this instant classic.  At the moment when Jake Lloyd gets on the phone and hollers at his old man for being an absentee parent, I picture George Lucas throwing his bowl of popcorn to the floor, leaping to his feet, pointing at the kid onscreen and screaming “That’s my Darth Vader!”  I don’t know if that’s how things went down, but if this moronic thought has any basis in truth, this silly Christmas movie actually has a dire and far-reaching effect.

Behold the horror of Sinbad.

Okay, back to Sinbad.  As a boy raised by stand-up comics, I loathe Sinbad.  In particular, I remember watching one of his comedy specials as a child, seeing him saunter around a stage dressed in the fluorescent overall spawn of M.C. Hammer’s pants, going off about the difference between black mamas and white mamas (the answer: whuppins).  It was the blandest stand-up I ever remember watching.  Since then, Sinbad has always struck me as a jumpy, poor man’s Bill Cosby, without the imagination, storytelling, or wit.

I say all this because Sinbad is awesome in this flick.

Obviously, Schwarzenegger’s the focus; in fact, he takes up way too much focus.  His woes are typical in a Christmas comedy.  He must save his family with the power of presents, stop the pervy neighbor (Phil Hartman, playing with creepy banality) from hitting on his wife, and take on an army of bad Santas who want to “deck his halls”.  Okay, seeing Schwarzenegger fight a giant Santa and a midget Santa at the same time is pretty amazing.

Sinbad’s rival toy-hunting parent is so marginalized and second-tier that we never even see his kid, the child whom he’s fighting for and who (spoiler alert) ends up with the super awesome toy of the season.  Lil’ Darth, beaming with restored family joy, needs not his super dandy action figure, so he hands it off to Sinbad, who but minutes before (spoiler alert) almost killed him.  And yet there’s no payoff from the other kid, neither the bright-eyed joy from getting Super Awesome Toy 1996 nor crushing loss at knowing that dad’s going away for a long, long time.

It’s in keeping with Jingle All the Way’s theme of rabid Christmas consumerism that not only does the film not care about anybody’s problems but those of Schwarzenegger’s family – nobody else but his family really seems to exist.

With the limited time the film affords him, Sinbad does everything he can to be memorable, and he succeeds.  He’s the guy who (accurately) questions the Christmas gift racket, unlike Schwarzenegger’s hapless, overcompensating dad.  Yet Sinbad, who somehow shows up at the same diner where Schwarzenegger is recuperating from his latest misadventure, takes a swig of tucked-away booze and also notes that his neighbor, who received Super Awesome toy 1974, is a billionaire.  Sinbad’s postal worker didn’t, and thus isn’t.  This is a pretty incredible leap of logic.

The postal worker part comes into play when Sinbad pulls out a loaded package and blows up a room full of cops!  Yeah!  Jingle All the Way actually makes Sinbad a domestic terrorist!  Of course, the devastation is later revealed to be some harmless Wile E. Coyote grade charring, but there’s a second after one sees the explosion where one thinks: “Holy crap!  Sinbad just killed a bunch of guys!”

In the final stretch of the film, Sinbad and Schwarzenegger have their final showdown over Super Awesome Toy 1996, and Sinbad ends up in some green Martian superbrain getup reminiscent of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.  While in this epic conflict, Sinbad does the best thing that happens in this movie.  First, he uppercuts a pink saber-toothed tiger wearing a shiny gold thong, played by the great Curtis “Dudley ‘Booger’ Dawson” Armstrong.  After dispatching this interloper, he pursues Schwarzenegger’s kid and his Super Awesome Toy through a crowded Christmas parade.  When he reaches the part of the stream populated by walking Christmas ornaments, Sinbad shoves over a guy dressed as a present and screams: “Get out of my way, box!”  It’s meant to be a throwaway scene, but the absurdity is genius.

 

 

You know, I definitely wouldn’t have enjoyed Jingle All the Way as much if Sinbad wasn’t in it.  I may have to revise my standing opinion on his work, even if I never change my mind about his Hammer Pantsuit.

It’s a Christmas miracle!

 

 

(As a super awesome amazeballs bonus, behold this epic tune from Schwarzeneggercore band Austrian Death Machine, referencing the ball pit scene from Jingle All the Way!  I give you… “I’m Not a Pervert!”)

 

Bizarro Masterpiece Theatre: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians

The Grand Mal Face of Christmas.

 

Film: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)

Director: Nicholas Webster

Starring: John Call, Leonard Hicks, Bill McCutcheon

Written by: Glenville Mareth

 

There are a lot of stupid Christmas movies out there, so I’m not going to say that Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is the most ludicrous holiday film out there, but it’s certainly in the running.  The B-movie production values and the bizarre premise of Santa meeting extraterrestrials certainly give this flick a healthy dose of ridiculousness, though beyond the idea of sci-fi Santa, the plot is your conventional God bless us, everyone.

The element which pushes this masterpiece into the plaid is Dropo, an embarrassing specimen of Martian man who may be the greatest crackhead in cinematic history.  Characterized as “the laziest man on Mars” and looking like a cross-eyed green version of Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation, Dropo bumbles and violently twitches around the spaceship sent to kidnap Santa and bring joy to the children of the red planet.  Of course, once Santa and some wayward Earth kids get on the Martian expressway, this bumpkin idiot starts glowing with the innocence of a child with massive head trauma.  He helps the earthlings fend off some bad green apples, Santa infects everyone with the spirit of Christmas, and due to a severe lapse in judgment Dropo becomes the Martian Santa Claus.  I feel sorry for them.

I’ve never seen epilepsy captured so convincingly on film.  Dropo’s manic, chinless antics at times become frightening in their intensity.  Half of the time I expected members of the crew to run into the shot and put a spoon in his mouth.  This is not the man I would entrust with the seasonal happiness of a potted plant, much less an entire planet.

My vote for Martian Santa Claus would go to Cousin Eddie from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation 1 and 2, played by the great Randy Quaid.  Heaven knows he needs the work.

 

Bizarro Masterpiece Theatre: Pee-Wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special

 

Film: Pee-Wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special (1988)

 

 

I’ll pretty much put up with anything that Pee-Wee Herman has to offer with a big stupid grin on my face.  I’m not saying that the inevitable Christmas special that came out of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse was any different, but I will say that there were a few moments while I watched this extravaganza when I wondered what the hell was going on.  It’s certainly not half as triumphantly horrible as the Star Wars Holiday Special, though I’d have traded at least half of the special guest stars wandering through the Playhouse for one bartending Bea Arthur.  I would, however, gladly keep Pee-Wee’s opening segment featuring a dancing choir of Marines.

The logical place to start discussing all the madness is at that legion of guest stars.  Halfway through watching the Del Rubio Triplets prance around in the snow and croon out “Winter Wonderland,” I realized that I was watching what was supposed to be a kid’s show.  It would be a very strange child who would give a rat’s ass about any of these guest stars, save maybe Magic Johnson.

Here’s a list: Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello serve as Pee Wee’s slave labor; Little Richard whines about not being able to ice skate; Whoopi Goldberg, Dinah Shore, and Oprah get blown off by Pee-Wee via Picture Phone; Cher mysteriously shows up and demands to know the Secret Word before creeping off like a creep; K.D. Lang flails around in song like some cracked-out Lady Elvis; Joan Rivers is onscreen for about five seconds; Zsa Zsa Gabor hangs out with a cow; professional plastic surgery victim Charo twitches out a song; and Grace Jones sings “Little Drummer Boy” in a tit-suit.

What child wouldn’t be irrevocably scarred by this star-studded cast?

CHRISTMAS.

Of course, between the brief strobe flashes of old-timey celebrities there’s the usual half-assed story about learning the true spirit of Christmas.  In this case, it involves Pee-Wee not being such a greedy bitch that every other child on Earth is forced to go without presents.  Of course, he comes around and gets to ride off with Santa, blah blah blah.

The real conscience of the show is professional nogoodnik puppet Randy, who pulls the plug on the Christmas tree and rails about the shallow commercialism of the holiday.  Naturally, Pee-Wee quickly shuts down this unrest by showing him a video of white kids portraying the nativity in front of a bunch of Asian kids, which is somehow enough to calm Randy’s rebellious spirit.  Lame!

Still, I’ll take Pee-Wee’s Christmas celebration.  Most importantly, Pee-Wee’s in it.

 

Bizarro Masterpiece Theatre: Corky Romano

 

Film: Corky Romano (2001)

Director: Rob Pritts

Starring: Chris Kattan, Peter Falk, Chris Penn

Written by: David Garrett, Jason Ward

 

I’ve come to develop a theory that Chris Kattan is the closest thing the latest generation has come to replicating Don Knotts.  This is in no way meant to be an insult.  The world needs more spastic, bug-eyed man-children busting out sweet karate moves and tripping over everything in sight!

Kattan carries on this fine cinematic tradition as Corky Romano, the grinning idiot exile son of an ailing mobster who bumbles his way into infiltrating the FBI on his dad’s behalf.  His brothers, a rage-filled illiterate and a rage-filled closet case (the latter played by the always wonderful Chris Penn) roundly abuse and belittle their returned sibling to his breaking point.  There’s a great moment at the beginning in which Corky moves to shake his reading-impaired brother’s hand and the scholar instead fills his hand with a fart.  It’s played very highbrow.  Pops Romano, squintily portrayed by Peter Falk, spends most of the film laid up in bed, passively condoning the abuse before a halfhearted good guy turnaround at the end.  Of course, there’s a girl in the Bureau, a couple of treacherous bastards on both sides of the law, and everyone improbably gets behind Corky as the story progresses.

The story may be typical, but I think Chris Kattan is hilarious as the false Agent Pissant (pronounced Pees-ahnt, because, you know, it’s French!).  He’s clearly game for any ridiculous thing the script asks of him, whether it’s dressing up as a girl scout or a skinhead, badly firing an assault rifle, giving CPR to a dog, or delivering a coked-out speech about crimefighting to a room of kids.  Perhaps the film’s best line has Corky suddenly screaming to the kids: “I should buy a boat!”

No offense intended toward the Great Chris Penn, but this film would have been pretty dull without Kattan jittering around at the helm.  I really like this man’s work, and I’d like to see a lot more keyed-up awesomeness from him.  Make it happen, Hollywood!

 

Bizarro Masterpiece Theatre: Stephen King’s The Shining

 

Film: Stephen King’s The Shining (1997)

Director: Mick Garris

Starring: Rebecca De Mornay, Steven Weber

Written by: Stephen King

 

I’ve made it no secret that I really dislike Stanley Kubrick’s version of The Shining.  By the time I watched it all its horror moments had become cliché, but after reading Stephen King’s much better source material I’ve come to hate it pretty thoroughly.  What was supposed to be a story about a family trying to keep itself together and a father trying to overcome alcoholism and pull his life together became in Kubrick’s hands an artsy horror shitshow featuring Jack Nicholson as Wolfman Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall as a mousy, goggle-eyed fashion atrocity.  If Nicholson’s Joker and Duvall’s Olive Oyl were swapped in for their characters in The Shining, no one would be the wiser.  Sure, it’s fun to watch Nicholson go nuts and abuse his family, but he’s not exactly my go-to actor for sympathetic characters, which was what his role should have been.

I’m not the only one who thought that Kubrick crapped all over Stephen King’s book.  King himself had a lot of hate for the film.  Years later, this culminated in his creation of a better, fuller miniseries version.  The miniseries form, usually about three or four times as long as a feature film, has usually been better suited for adapting King’s better-known books, and this version of The Shining maintains that trend.

Still, casting, not length, makes this version superior.  The decidedly not wolfish Steven Weber makes for a great Jack Torrance, and watching him descend from flawed but well-meaning dad to grinning, bloody monster (appropriately enough, he’d have made an awesome Joker) is more gripping than Nicholson playing Nicholson.  Rebecca De Mornay plays Wendy Torrance as she was written: a young, good-looking mother whose default setting wasn’t as her husband’s emotional punching bag.  Their psychic son is still played by a creepy kid, in this case a chubby, bowl-cutted kid who seems incapable of closing his mouth (I ended up referring to him as Cheeks).  Still, I’ll take this kid over the shaggy creep from the original who talked through his finger and had all the acting chops of a stroke victim.

I also really liked the horror elements in this version.  In addition to actually explaining why the Overlook Hotel was a hellish purgatory (instead of Kubrick’s waving his dick around and cramming random spooky shots together), the ghosts in the place are both restrained and horrifying when allowed to break loose.  The rotting chick in the forbidden room is actually kind of terrifying, as opposed to the old hag who tricks Nicholson into making out with her and laughing at him afterwards (it was pretty funny).  The head ghoul is an awesome shade of Dracula who owns any scene he’s in and is genuinely menacing.  I’m also really glad that the evil hedge animals made the cut, instead of being replaced by a lame hedge maze in which Nicholson gets tricked (again!) and freezes to death.  Oh yeah, the ending is a little better, too, which is to say that it actually has one (even if it is pretty sappy).

Suck it, Kubrick.

 

Bizarro Masterpiece Theatre: Fubar 2

Film: Fubar 2 (2010)

Director: Michael Dowse

Starring: Dave Lawrence, Paul J. Spence, Andy Sparacino

Written by: Dave Lawrence, Paul J. Spence, Michael Dowse

 

My favorite Canadian hosers of all time are back!  (Sorry, Rowsdower.)  The successor to the great Fubar reunites the world with Terry and Deaner, the Beavis and Butt-head of the Great White North.  Their noble philosophy of partying their asses off and givin’r has not waned in the long years between the first film and the second, though the sequel does lead toward a resolution of sorts.

There is something confusing about this film.  The first Fubar was presented as a faux-documentary in which the filmmaker died after performing the wussiest bellyflop in human history.  I’m not sure if Fubar 2 is meant to be the same breed of Spinal Tap or not.  Occasionally people speak to the camera, and their names are listed on-screen, but more often than not people act as though the camera is not there.  There’s definitely no evidence of a camera crew.  More disturbing, when the dead filmmaker pulls a Jacob Marley and appears before Deaner in a Christmas vision, it’s caught on tape.  So if Fubar 2 is meant to be a documentary, it’s one that has evidence of the afterlife – which may or may not be more important than the misadventures of two rowdy Canucks.

The worst part of Fubar 2 is that Terry sells out for poontang.  Here’s another thing I don’t get about the movie: he starts hooking up with a burly strip club bouncer who quickly becomes a shrieking, gold-digging shrew who screws around on him and gets pregnant with somebody else’s kid, but all of a sudden Christmas comes and she becomes a saint.  There’s no transition in this; one minute she’s a bitch and the next she’s a sweetheart.  Sadly, Terry puts up with it.

The best part of Fubar 2 is Tron, the whipped pal of Terry and Deaner’s from Fubar who flew off the wagon, ditched his bitch, and resumed his responsibilities as a one-man wrecking crew.  He’s kind of a turd when Terry and Deaner come around his work buddies, but by and large the man does not screw around.  The film’s opening scene shows Tron storming onto the scene by running over a tree with his truck, after which he has a rap attack and demolishes Stately Terry and Deaner Manor with a chainsaw.  His slow decline into a drug-fueled depression over the story’s progress only makes him more awesome.  Tron funkin’ rules.

Deaner is as sage as always, dispensing Socratic pearls of wisdom such as “Knowledge of non-knowledge is power.”  He also sings a wicked cover of Boston.

While it doesn’t eclipse the first film, Fubar 2 is pretty goddamn epic.

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