Hello! I'm John Laird. Sometimes I ramble about old movies here. For my opinion on current films (and music), visit www.sideonetrackone.com.

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Just as he said he would, Arnold Schwarzenegger came back.  I think there’s reason to be excited about anything new that the guy stars in, but let’s face it, he first needs to figure out a way to reprise a large handful of his roles from way back.  This, I’m sure, is probably unlikely to happen on the scale that I would prefer, but I’d be willing to call it even if someone could at least manage to get The Legend Of Conan made.  I know it would be stellar, and I have 71 reasons that could convince you to be on my side.  For now, though, let’s just talk the last entry in the series, Conan The Destroyer.

I love the way the film begins.  The story gets set via a voiceover, there’s a quick shot of Conan glistening in the sun, and then it’s off on an adventure!  OK, so there’s a little more to it than that, but it’s mostly stuff like Conan punching a horse, Conan punching a camel, or Conan gracefully swinging his sword around (this is not a euphemism).  Those are just silly details, though.  All you really need to know is that our titular character is told by the Queen (played by Sarah Douglas from Superman II) that she can resurrect his long lost Valeria if he takes her teenage niece, Jehnna (played by Olivia d’Abo from Wayne’s World 2) to retrieve a special jewel.  Naturally, this makes Conan’s muscles smile, and he agrees to do what must be done.

From there, to be honest, Conan The Destroyer is a pretty standard fantasy adventure flick.  He sets out, shit happens, he completes the quest.  The end.

What’s surprising about it, though, is the spotlight isn’t solely on Arnold.  Sure, he gets in his fair share of muscle flexing glory, but there’s also a lot of humor and action to be had by the other members of his team, which includes the thief Malek (played by Tracey Walter from Batman), the wizard Akiro (played by Mako from Robocop 3), the warrior Zula (played by Grace Jones from A View To Kill) and Jehnna’s bodyguard, Bombata (played by Wilt Chamberlin from the NBA).  I really liked this.  I felt as though it kept the film from just being a promotional vehicle for Arnold, and it did well to keep things light and entertaining.

Speaking of Arnold, his acting in Conan The Destroyer isn’t particularly good.  There’s a few hints of the on-screen charisma that eventually comes to define him, but here it’s mostly like watching a giant wad of muscles talk and punch things.

One last thing about the movie, there’s a scene that takes place in a forest where Conan battles a bunch of the Queen’s guards.  It’s silly and epic, and I just love the way that Arnold eats every moment of it up.  If for some reason you decide you only want to spend a few minutes with this flick, then jump straight to here.

So, should you see Conan The Destroyer?  Definitely.  Just don’t expect the semi-serious tone of Conan The Barbarian.

Useless Conan The Destroyer Fact:  Arnold Schwarzenegger put on an additional 10 pounds of muscle for the movie.

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I haven’t seen Red Dawn since before my teen years, so with the remake soon to be released, I was looking forward to checking it out again.  Naturally, things didn’t go as planned.  From what I remember as a kid, the movie features a bunch of teens kicking all kinds of ass.  From what I saw as an adult, there’s actually more right-leaning politics at work than frenzied communist-crunching action.  Oh well.  I still liked it.

Red Dawn wastes no time throwing the characters right into the mix of things.  The film is underway for maybe five minutes before invading forces are dropping out of the sky and mercilessly shooting confused and curious civilians.  You’re then treated to Jed Eckert (played by Patrick Swayze from Dirty Dancing) as he swoops in and saves his brother (Charlie Sheen from Major League) and a bunch of other schoolmates before heading out to hide in the some nearby mountains while - hopefully - help makes its way to their town.

The quick setup is nice, but I will say that once this happens the movie flops back and forth between being preachy and entertaining.  This is largely because of the overly obvious political statement that’s being thrown at your face like you did something wrong.  The filmmakers want you to think that an invasion would never happen if every citizen was armed.  And I don’t think they mean “armed” in the sort of way that indicates a gun locked away in a cabinet at home.  They’re talking weapons on people.  All the time.  Otherwise, we’ll be invaded and shot.  It’s fucking logic, you asshole!

Oddly enough, it’s as though the idea of everyone having a gun on them at all times actually seemed sort of crazy, so one more tidbit was added in order to make sure that all of Red Dawn was just insane enough to be plausible.  Not only should the world be packing, but registration is a terrible policy.  Why?  Because then a hostile force will find you, take your guns, and then steal your country.  It’s fucking logic, you asshole!

Regardless of your position on gun control, you have to admit that trying to push such an agenda through a movie about the United States being invaded by Russians/Cubans is kind of hilarious.  It can only appeal to the “what if” specialists that frequently visit campfires with Budweiser tallboys firmly clinched in each hand.  You know the kind.  They end and start every sentence with “well” and “man” and there’s always an odd amount of sighing.

When Red Dawn isn’t trying to get you to fight for your right to bear arms and kick ass, there’s good stuff to be had via the kids that make up the film.  Watching how they deal with the various points of escalation is what’s worth remembering.  There’s the initial shock of the invasion, then the realization that families/friends are dead/captured, and that’s followed by a desire to form the rebellious Wolverines and fight back.  Their reactions feel genuine and realistic, and since the group operates in movie land, they get the bonus of being able to look like unstoppable heroes (instead of getting instantly slaughtered, which is probably what would really happen).  I liked this a lot about the film.  Propaganda is flying all over the place in Red Dawn, but at its core it’s really just an underdog story that enforces never giving up.

So, should you see Red Dawn?  Sure, but you’re going to have to let the political messages roll off your back.

Useless Red Dawn Fact: For a while it was considered to be the most violent film ever released.

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Batman & Robin is a terrible movie.  I was hoping that I had forgotten how “hilarious” it is, but that’s not the case at all.  It sucks.  And I might forever be agitated by its existence.

Poor Joel Schumacher.  You just have to know that the studio came along and said “Look, Joely Joelman, Batman Forever was nice and made a lot of money for us, but you’ve got to finally dump all that dark shit.  This next flick has to get ALL the families in seats!”  And then, because Joel is Joel, he gave it his best shot.  Actually, to be honest, I think he just didn’t bother trying.  Batman & Robin features nothing of substance.  The entire film is made up of things that should be forgotten.  But, since we’re here to talk about the movie, let’s review.

Where Batman Forever tried to hide its dark tone with a bit of campiness, Batman & Robin puts its silliness front and center for everyone to see.  This is mostly evident in the trio of villains that includes Arnold Schwarzenegger (Twins) as Mr. Freeze, Uma Thurman (The Avengers) as Poison Ivy, and Robert Swenson (Bulletproof) as Bane.  Bane, in what seems to be a direct impersonation of anyone who might be watching, spends the movie groaning while the other two “bad guys” spew out one liners like there’s no tomorrow.  All of them are terrible.  Seriously.  There’s not one single funny line in the whole damn thing.

Unfortunately, the heroes also get to sport the goofy tone of the film.  George Clooney (Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind) is now Bruce Wayne/Batman, and when he’s not staring at the floor and flashing the sort of smile that makes him look like he’s trying to hold back tears, he chimes in with lines that makes shitty people everywhere want to fist bump.  Chris O’Donnell (Major Payne) as Robin and Alicia Silverstone (Clueless) as Batgirl have dialogue that’s slightly less infuriating, but both actors are wearing a huge “I try too hard” sticker on their poorly masked faces, and you can’t help but want to wish them straight to hell.

Oh, what’s that?  You think the bad cast and bonkers tone is all that plagued Batman & Robin?  Nope.  The story is also woeful.  This is probably because Akiva Goldsman (The Da Vinci Code) spent so much time messing up what could have been a good Mr. Freeze arch that he had to lift everything else from the previous films.  Just like Catwoman in Batman Returns, Poison Ivy is created after she catches her boss doing something illegal, and the he attempts to kill her.  But she comes back!  With special powers!  Surprising!  Or what about Batgirl?  She comes to live in Wayne Manor, finds out some stuff, and then just like Robin in Batman Forever, Alfred suits her up and sends her out to help take the villains down.  Wow.  Way to change the game there, Akiva.

Fuck.  I’m angry, and I’m ready to never think about this film again.  However, I have one more thing to note, and it’s that the production designs in Batman & Robin are tragically bad.  Gotham City is so well lit and colorful that it makes no sense for Dark Knight to work there.  And speaking of Batman, his costume has a massive cod piece, even more pronounced nipples than in Batman Forever, and it features a giant rubber-enhanced ass.  How did this ever happen!?  Stupid people making stupid decisions.  That’s how.

So, should you see Batman & Robin?  Never.

Useless Batman & Robin Fact: Three different Six Flags parks debuted new themed rides in conjunction with the release of the film.

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And then, it was the beginning of the end.  Joel Schumacher’s first attempt at a Batman movie didn’t exactly go well, but my recent revisiting of it made me realize something - Batman Forever is not that bad.  In fact, I know that it could have been much worse (see next week’s review of Batman & Robin).

Aside from Michael Gough (Dracula) as Alfred, all was altered for Batman Forever.  Val Kilmer (Top Gun) is now Bruce Wayne/Batman, Nicole Kidman (Days Of Thunder) is a new love interest named Chase Meridian, and there’s a double villain bill made up of Tommy Lee Jones (The Fugitive) as Two-Face and Jim Carey (The Mask) as the Riddler.  Also, you get Chris O’Donnell (Vertical Limit) as an adult orphan nicknamed Robin who desperately wants to be Batman’s sidekick.

In all honesty, the cast is okay.  However, the tone of Batman Forever ruins even the most solid of performances in it.  Gone is the darker feel of the first two movies, and in its place is an almost wacky touch.  As I watched it, I felt like Schumacher put together something of substance, but then he went in and added a variety of campy sound effects and a bad score to see whether or not a person can actually shrug off their shoulders out of pure frustration.

Seriously though, just take a good look at Batman Forever, and what you’ll find is a movie that’s not as family friendly as it would like for you to believe.  Bruce Wayne/Batman is having psychological issues that stem from repressed memories of when his parents died, Robin’s entire family is killed on screen, Edward Nigma/The Riddler has waited his whole life to impress Bruce Wayne, and then he fails miserably when he finally gets his chance.  There’s even a jab at society for being too trusting of the “latest and greatest” forms of entertainment.  Oh the potential for twisted glory!

But, alas, it was not meant to be.  Batman Forever is a movie trying its best to appear to be a goofy, fun experience.  The Batmobile is absent of anything intimidating and now looks like it belongs in “Cars That Can Also Double As Night-Lights” magazine.  How is that damn thing supposed to be useful to a guy who uses the dark to his advantage?  Furthermore, on the aesthetic point, the Riddler’s question mark outfit is a bit silly, but it’s not anywhere close to matching the ridiculous look of Two-Face, who looks like he fell in a vat of 90s colors.  And then there’s the dialogue.  Not all of it is terrible, but its trying to simultaneously be campy, inspirational, and intense, and that just results in a mess.

There is one particular spot where Batman Forever succeeds, though, and its with the actual presence of Batman.  Burton never seemed too interested in the character, but Schumacher isn’t afraid to show him off.  Batman is on the screen almost immediately, and he does things that are actually cool and worth doing a little fist pumping for.  I really liked this aspect of Batman Forever, and I thought it prevented the movie from being unwatchable.  After all, a Batman film should at least seem like it wants to feature Batman, right?

Batman Forever is too all over the place to be considered a good movie, but I certainly don’t think there’s an issue with calling it an interesting failure.

So, should you see Batman Forever?  Yes.  If you’re in the right mood.

Useless Batman Forever Fact:  Marlon Wayans was originally set to play Robin, but he was let go and replaced with Chris O’Donnell.

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In doing a “review” of Tim Burton’s Batman, I found that it’s actually not that great.  It feels sloppy, pieced together, and the very Joker-heavy story lacks any real depth. Batman Returns, however, is a calculated ride on a bizarre roller coaster that wants to weird you out as much as possible, and I’m a little bummed I haven’t made more of an effort to revisit it over the years.

Aside from Michael Keaton (Gung Ho) and Michael Gough (Corpse Bride) as Bruce Wayne/Batman and Alfred, Batman Returns largely features new faces.  Danny DeVito (Twins) is Oswald Cobblepot/Penguin, Michelle Pfeiffer (Dangerous Minds) is Selina Kyle/Catwoman, and Christopher Walken (Pulp Fiction) is a shady businessman named Max Shreck.  It’s a good, interesting cast, and all of them are given plenty of room to shine in the epically cooky story that makes up Batman Returns.

Speaking of the tale being told, like Batman, there isn’t a whole lot of Batman in the movie.  Fortunately, this time Burton does put some effort into trying to hide this.  He tosses in Selina Kyle/Catwoman, who’s an infinitely more exciting love interest than Vicki Vale since she’s essentially pursued by both Bruce Wayne and Batman.  He also gives the film a quick pace that almost keeps you from noticing that neither Bruce Wayne or Batman show up on the screen until about 30 minutes into the overall runtime.  His intentions are still obvious, of course - Batman Returns is more about the “villains” than anything else.

Discarded as a child, Cobblepot has long lingered in the sewers with his bizarre-looking followers, a fleet of penguins, and a bundle of gadget umbrellas.  Naturally, he yearns  to hatch an evil plan, so he kidnaps Max Shreck and sets about trying to get out of the gloomy depths of Gotham City and into the warm hearts of its residents.

Burton sort of tricks you into thinking that Cobblepot just wants a mixture of love and power, but his actual plan is twisted (and fairly scary) and you don’t know it’s happening until he says what he’s prepared to do.  So, as the movie glides along you’re treated to him actually playing everyone like a “harp from hell.”  Cobblepot commands sympathy from all involved (citizens and you, the viewer), but he’s absolutely disgusting.  The man is sexually charged to an unnecessary level, he has sharp, pointed teeth, and he’s wildly violent.  His presence alone makes Batman Returns dark, but it’s the addition of Catwoman that makes the movie undeniably weird and fun to watch.

While there’s a intriguing amount of playfulness to the Catwoman character, I found the most interesting thing about her to be that she’s handled in a literal fashion.  Some “cat burglar” skills are hinted at, but mostly Selina Kyle becomes Catwoman after she gets pushed out a window, lives, and gets swarmed by cats.  She then takes on stereotypical cat traits - drinking milk, cleaning herself, owning nine lives, and randomly clawing things for no reason at all.  It’s all so strange, yet oddly sexy, and you can’t help but feel like maybe there’s something wrong with you for perking up whenever she slinks onto the screen.

In other words, in Batman Returns you get an actual cat-woman (minus the fur) and an ugly monster of a man, and both are more interesting and compelling than the title character.  Tim Burton is a ballsy, tricky man.

So, should you see Batman Returns?  Absolutely.

Useless Batman Returns Fact:  Annette Bening was originally cast as Catwoman, but she had to give up the role after getting pregnant.

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I’ve seen Tim Burton’s Batman more times than I count, but I think my most recent viewing registers as the only time I’ve sat down and watched it with a critical eye.  My findings were surprising - the movie is good, but there’s less to like than I ever considered possible.

Michael Keaton (Multiplicity) stars as Bruce Wayne/Batman.  The character isn’t all that different than what you’d normally expect, he’s Bruce Wayne when Gotham City needs a billionaire, and Batman when they require a masked man in a rubber suit to beat up criminals.  Also appearing on the screen, the butler Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Gough from Sleepy Hollow), photographer/love interest Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger from 8 Mile), and the villainous Jack Napier/Joker (Jack Nicholson from Wolf).

As for the story, it’s a simple one.  Jack Napier kills Bruce Wayne’s parents in front of him and causes the creation of Batman, and Batman in turn creates the Joker when he accidentally drops Jack Napier in a vat of chemicals.  They then fight over Gotham City and the attention of Vicki Vale.

Did I say simple?  I actually meant convenient.  Batman plays in a way that feels cobbled together and driven by a slew of convenient plot devices.  Yes, the tone of the film is superb - it thoroughly reeks of the edgy kind of dark fun that most movies can’t figure out how to deliver.  The story, however, just isn’t there.  The “you made me” bit is probably the most obvious piece of evidence, but then there’s stuff that seems thrown in just to keep things moving.  For instance, Vicki Vale essentially being told by Alfred that Bruce Wayne is Batman.

This “slapped together” feel also goes for the characters, who really lack any sort of depth.  Bruce Wayne mostly just walks around with an inquisitive (and somewhat slightly annoyed) look on his face.  You never really get why he’s doing what he’s doing.  The film just tells you that he should be Batman, and that alone takes out part of the fun of watching anything based on the Caped Crusader.  Vicki Vale is a solid love interest, but is she more into Bruce Wayne or Batman?  It’s never made clear, as her preference seems to be swayed by whatever the scene needs.  And Alfred?  Well, I’m not too sure as to why he’s even around.  This forces Batman or the Joker to shine, and it’s actually the latter that gets it done.

The “reception” section of the Wiki page for the film notes that Burton was criticized for seeming more interested in the Joker than Batman, and I think that might actually have some truth to it.  When the green haired bastard is on the screen, the film is better.  This is partly due to Jack Nicholson’s inspired work, but mainly it’s because the Joker is given the most to do.  In addition to him trying to take down Batman and earn Vicki Vale’s love, there’s also subplots involving him and the mob, and his plan to kill citizens by putting toxic chemicals in hygiene products.  All of this truly does make for a great time, but the title of the film is Batman, and that character needed much more attention than Burton was willing to provide.

It’s not all bad, though, I do love the tech in the movie.  Batman’s gadgets are clunky and look real, and I’ll always dig the super long (and unable to turn corners without a grappling hook) Batmobile.  I also enjoy the late 80s stylings, especially the blips of Prince’s music that actually made it onto the soundtrack.

So, should you see Batman?  Yes.

Useless Batman Fact: Bill Murray was considered for the lead role.

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The Stuff!  It’s probably too early in this review to be yelling at you, but The Stuff is one of those movies that periodically screams its title at you, so I’m just setting the appropriate tone.

Set in 1985, The Stuff is about an ice cream-like substance that has taken the world by storm.  Everyone loves it.  Actually, they don’t just love the Stuff, they crave it like nothing else.  Naturally, such popularity has the ice cream industry living in a frozen, but delicious world of fear, and so they hire an industrial saboteur named David (Michael Moriarty from Law & Order) to find out what the Stuff’s secret formula is.

But wait!  There’s more!

In addition to following David around as he attempts to aid the ice cream industry, you also get to watch a kid named Jason (Scott Bloom from Smokin’ Aces) as he tries to convince his family and hometown that he’s seen the Stuff moving and generally being obtuse.

The movie could have done without one of these story-lines, and believe it or not, it’s actually the industrial saboteur thread.  The David character is an annoying, mumbling prick with a bad Southern accent, and there’s never a single moment where you want to root for him.  Even his allies (a black man racistly named Chocolate Chip Charlie, a love interest, and a militia leader) come and go in a way that makes you wonder if they like being around the guy at all.

So what does this leave?  Not a lot.  Jason’s story has the potential to be terrifying, but there’s just not enough time dedicated to it.  To be honest, this is a shame (and the definition of a missed opportunity), as The Stuff would have been great had it centered around a kid on the brink of insanity as he tries to save his non-believing world from dangerous ice cream.  Oh the potential!

On the bright side, the bad acting and general randomness of the plot and its characters provide plenty of laughably bad moments.  One of my favorite bits is that the film is riddled with little jingles that, while catchy, are really out of place.  I think they wanted these TV spots to be satirical or something, but they do more to come off as pleas for some sort of post-release merchandising campaign.  Because, you know, wouldn’t we all want to eat something that’s based off a movie where the product is alive and possessing people.  Speaking of the possessed, they had me chuckling a lot.  Mostly because when people get “taken over” their bodies become easily crumple-able, and all I could think about was a world of ice cream zombies that are really easy to defeat.  Talk about scary, right?  I also greatly enjoyed that the sentient Stuff is never actually defeated.  The world just decides to ignore it.  Such a decision could have been this Grindhouse-esque film’s attempt at providing a message to society about making a choice to get away from what the corporate man is selling, but my guess is that when it came down to discuss the end someone just leaned over and went “what if … nothing.”  And then, while holding a pint of ice cream that had been lazily wrapped with a Stuff label, director Larry Cohen slightly nodded yes.

If someone wants to sit down and write a remake of The Stuff, I’m in.  It’s definitely a movie that deserves a second shot on the big screen.

So, should you see The Stuff?  Sure.

Useless The Stuff Fact: Arsenio Hall was almost cast in the movie, but New World Pictures didn’t think he was recognizable enough.

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The 90s were an interesting time for comic book movies.  There were far less recognizable adaptations than in the 2000s, so a good number of the non-super popular characters of the world got a shot at fame.  Some efforts like Blade, The Rocketeer, Darkman, The Crow and TMNT were well received, while others like Judge Dredd, Steel, The Shadow, and Spawn had folks everywhere baking up frownies.  Naturally though, not everything can only be considered either awful or amazing, and there were some films like Dick Tracy, The Mask, and The Phantom that were just plain OK.

Billy Zane (Titanic) stars as the Phantom, a masked, purple suited hero that lives in a jungle far away from where he could ever possibly be useful.  Seriously.  What the hell is he doing way out there?  The film hints that he’s some sort of immortal protector of the world, but he’s always off in his cave doing nothing.  Saving people is a full time job, you asshole!

Anyhow, the Phantom is pretty good at shooting and punching people, but his edge comes from the fact that he’s helped by a wolf named Devil and a horse that goes by Hero.  So, when the villainous smart ass known as Xander Drax (Treat Williams from Miss Congeniality 2: Armed And Fabulous) attempts to rule the world by finding and uniting the three Skulls of Touganda, the Phantom is the only one who can get the job done.  Of course, it isn’t an easy task to complete, and along the way he gets distracted by a love interest (played by Kristy Swanson from Buffy The Vampire Slayer) as he swoops in and out of danger in an almost proficient manner.

I know my words so far have been laced with sarcasm, but I did actually enjoy revisiting The Phantom.  It has all the things you want out of a comic book movie - it’s well shot, the FX are good, the pacing is brisk, and the acting is cheesy, but solid.  Unfortunately, it’s also just a big, goofy flick that’s easy to scoff at since there’s just so much that doesn’t seem to have any sort of point.

And I’m not talking about the fact that the Phantom wears a silly purple outfit.  Whatever, I can dig it.  I admit that I don’t get how those colors help him in the jungle, but I respect his choice.  I’ll even give the guy a pass for lazily throwing out one-liners that are only occasionally funny.  I will, however, not support his poor decision-making skills.  If there’s a trio of magical skulls that can help someone rule the world, maybe you should make sure that two of the three aren’t in easy to find and obtain locations.  If you’re going to have a secret cave base, don’t make the entrance an entire side of a cliff that looks like the logo that’s on everything you wear.  What’s that, your plane is running out of fuel?  Land it in the open field beneath you!  Jumping off onto your horse is an unnecessary risk, and that’s only going to make you harder to insure.

The one other thing about the film that slightly bothers me is that the tone is all wonky.  Zane, Swanson, and Catherine Zeta-Jones (she plays a tough, bad girl who finds her soft side) seem to be doing their best to keep things a little serious, but Williams’ Drax is so bizarrely over the top that every time he showed up I would imagine him transforming into a cartoon character and hitting the Phantom with a hammer.  There’s also our hero’s dead father (Patrick McGoohan of Scanners) who keeps appearing from beyond and giving advice.  This should have been fine (I mean, it worked in Star Wars), but the character seems to be there more for comic relief than useful info.  So, when he pops in during a dramatic moment and then sounds like the sort of father that drinks a lot of cheap beer and fumbles around in the jungle all day, it puts a fairly goofy spin on things.

The Phantom is a movie that feels like it was “this” close to being great.  Too bad it bombed at the box office.  They may have gotten it all right on the second try.

So, should you see The Phantom?  Yes.

Useless Phantom Fact: Bruce Campbell also auditioned for the lead role.

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I’ve always loved Sylvester Stallone, but I have to admit that Over The Top is probably one of his worst films.  It’s just a ridiculously lame concept.  A father/son road trip flick that culminates in an arm wrestling tournament?  No.  That shouldn’t exist.  But it does.  And the best part of the whole damn thing is that while you watch it you slowly start to notice that the movie features zero effort from everyone involved.

In Over The Top Stallone plays Lincoln Hawk, a trucker with a unlikely mix of issues in his life.  He’s in great physical shape, he looks good in a hat, and he appears to be a favorite to win an arm wrestling tournament in Las Vegas.  However, on the flip side of that, his truck looks like it’s about to fall apart, his face only contorts to either a mopey look or an intense grimace, and Mike (David Mendenhall from Pound Puppies), his kid who he hasn’t seen in 10 years, is now being thrust into his life.

I guess Stallone could have done a lot with such a layered character, but he mostly looks bored out of his mind in nearly every scene.  There’s a lot of mumbling, and all of his interactions with Mike feel like there was someone standing off-camera going “this time, try to look interested.”  It’s unfortunate, really, and the movie suffers because of it.  On the bright side, since Stallone wasn’t the only person that didn’t seem all that into actually making the movie, it zooms right by in convenient “let’s just not explain anything” fashion.  Even the arm wrestling portions (there’s technically only two) don’t bother to offer anything real.  Stallone’s Hawk seems to be good because he’s able to properly combine an intense face, a backwards hat, and a hand move that sort of looks like it should be considered cheating.  Is that really all it takes?  I mean, that just makes the whole sport seem unimpressive.  Way to make me care!

In the end, though, Over The Top does at least feature the three key items to every Sylvester Stallone movie.  The first are crazy character names.  Obviously, there’s Lincoln Hawk, but there’s also Bull Hurley, Smasher, and John Grizzly.  Secondly, there’s a catch phrase that serves as the theme of the movie.  Here it’s “the world meets nobody halfway.”  Lastly, there’s a song that encompasses the aforementioned theme, and in Over The Top it’s Kenny Loggins Meet Me Halfway.  To be honest, the phrase and the song seem like contradictions, but they both feature the words meet and halfway, so perhaps it’s that sort of thing where you round up or whatever.  In any case, while these things aren’t surrounded by quality parts (like in most of the Rocky flicks), you have to give Stallone a high five for sticking to the formula.

So, should you see Over The Top?  Of course.

Useless Over The Top Fact: David Mendenhall won Razzies for “Worst Supporting Actor” and “Worst New Star” for his work as Mike.

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I wasn’t expecting Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze to delight me as it did when I was a child, but I did think my viewing experience (my first since at least the 90s) was going to go a little smoother.

The movie immediately hand-tosses you right into the action, which actually isn’t a joke since the opening sequence features a bunch of people eating pizza.  You’d think this means the Turtles are now trend setting teenagers, but the sequel, oddly enough, seems to be taking place directly after the first flick, and the world is still none the wiser.  Everyone in NYC just walks around woofing down pizza all the time, I guess.

Once the love of pie is fully established, you’re then treated to a quick setup.  The Turtles are living with their reporter friend April O’Neil so that they can avoid the remnants of the Foot Clan, and Shredder isn’t dead.  Apparently, getting crushed in a trash compactor doesn’t affect a guy in a large metal suit.  You also get introduced to Keno (Ernie Reyes Jr from other roles you don’t know), who has been brought in because the Casey Jones character was way too cool.

From there the movie makes it clear that it has no interest in keeping the edgy approach of the first entry in the series, and instead it goes totally kid friendly.  This, unfortunately, forces the Turtles to only be a whirling shit storm of annoying catch phrases.  Also, because of the goal to make children happy, you never at any point feel like anyone might get hurt.  There’s even a plot point lifted from the first movie that sees Raphael running off on his own, but this time instead of almost dying he just gets tied up and grunted at.  And the final battle?  Super Shredder kills himself after what’s maybe a minute of silly banter.  Sad.

There are a few things I like about the movie, though.  There’s an odd amount of underlying hints at masturbation and the Turtles coming of age.  Donatello is always rubbing the end of his staff, Michelangelo tells a poster with a model on it that he can’t wait to be alone with her, and there’s an especially awkward moment near the beginning where Splinter is involved in what seems to be a cum joke.  It’s an overall lazy attempt at also trying to appeal to teens, and for some reason I appreciate it.  Another pleasant item is when the Turtle-friendly Keno notes that the Foot are looking for any and all teens with martial arts experience.  Because, you know, when fighting large mutant turtles that carry weapons, the best way to take them down is with kids that go to karate class once a week.  It’s a totally ridiculous concept.  Lastly, there’s a scene where Shredder finally unleashes his mutated dog and turtle, but they go full retard and he just spends what seems to be half an hour yelling “they’re babies!” over and over.  It’s similar to Darth Vader’s “Noooo!” at the end of the last Star Wars prequel, but funnier.

So, should you see Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze?  No.

Useless TMNT II Fact: The film was censored in the UK because nunchuks are a forbidden weapon.

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