Even More Really Bad Movies

Another birthday, another bad movie roundup! Let’s get started!

Beowulf

beowulf psotre

As an English major, I felt it was my sworn duty to see this movie. Boy, did I regret it. True story: when I was a sophomore at Seattle Pacific University, we read Beowulf in one of my British Lit. classes, because of course we did. I knew that this movie had been around for a while, but I had never seen it, so one day I hopped on a bus to downtown Seattle and bought the DVD from Borders (back before Borders went out of business. RIP Borders). I brought it back to my dorm room on the sixth floor of Hill Hall, and when I tried to watch it THE DVD FREAKING FROZE right when Beowulf’s mother (who, you might recall, was played by naked animated Angelina Jolie) emerged from the water. Try as I might, I could not get the stupid DVD to work.

So a few days later, I hopped on another bus, went back to downtown Seattle, and exchanged my faulty DVD for a new one. This one worked, miraculously…or perhaps not so miraculously, since I hated the movie. That DVD I worked so hard for contained a movie that totally sucked, and that DVD has sat on a shelf in my bedroom unwatched ever since.

Gamer

gamer psotre

I’m pretty sure I bought this DVD from that same Borders in downtown Seattle (I bought a lot of DVDs in college, probably due to my complete absence of a social life) and yeah, this movie also sucked. I do like the premise, though: In the not-too-distant future, there are these real-life video games where players control actual people in kill-or-be-killed deathmatches. Picture Call of Duty, but with real people instead of virtual avatars. It’s an agreeably wacky premise and there are some fun, crazy action sequences to go along with it, but the movie ends up being just too weird and unnecessarily convoluted for its own good, and it ends up being pretty hard to care about as a result. The movie was made by the same guys who made the completely-bonkers Crank movies, and includes all the over-the-top action but none of the momentum of those ludicrous ficks.

Ghost Rider

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Here’s an infamous stinker that gave me a title for a couple posts I did a while back, about Comparative Exponential Religiosity Crap. This movie is a mess: the villains are lame, the plot is boring, Nic Cage is…well, Nic Cage. What else needs to be said? At least the special effects are decent, but as anyone who watched the last Transformers movie will tell you, special effects can’t always save a movie. Bafflingly, this movie got a sequel a few years ago from the guys who made Crank and Gamer, which by most accounts was even worse than the original. I haven’t seen it and have no desire to. I guess not every Marvel character is a guaranteed recipe for success, after all.

Godzilla (1998)

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I liked this movie when I was a kid, but I have since seen the error of my ways. This movie was so bad that Toho, the Japanese production company that has made all the Japanese Godzilla movies, bought the rights to the appearance of the character as he looks in this movie, renamed him Zilla, and proceeded to ruthlessly mock him in their own Godzilla movies. Do yourself a favor and watch the epic Japanese film Godzilla Final Wars, which includes the priceless line “I knew that fish-eating monster was useless,” spoken after this much-hated version of Godzilla gets his ass handed to him.

The Matrix Revolutions

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Continuing from my previous bad-movie installment, here’s another epically bad trilogy-capper. Between this and the third Pirates of the Caribbean movie, you could write a book called “How not to end a movie trilogy.” Overlong and utterly incomprehensible, this movie was enough to make most people wish the Matrix series had ended after just one movie. The only part of this movie that was even remotely memorable was the part where Keanu Reeves punches Hugo Weaving in the face in super slow-mo.

Terminator Salvation

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For some reason that I now find utterly incomprehensible, I used to like this movie. Having rewatched it recently, I have now scientifically determined that this movie is awful. It’s boring as hell, there’s not much action, not many Terminator robots, and no reason to care about any of the characters. For all of its flaws, at least Terminator 3 had a strong sense of purpose. This fourth Terminator movie has no driving force behind it at all, it just spins its wheels for two hours and ends anticlimactically without any sense of having accomplished anything. Even poor old Christian Bale couldn’t save this movie from becoming a generic and quickly-forgotten action flick.

Parker

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I feel a bit bad including this one here, since I am a big fan of Jason Statham, but this movie is just boring. The action sequences are admittedly pretty good, but the characters are so thinly-drawn and the plot so dull that it basically sinks the entire movie.

So there you have it, seven more lousy movies. On another note, this is my 100th post! When I first started blogging a few years ago, I never thought I would someday reach 100 posts, and I want to offer my sincere thanks to anyone who has ever taken time out of their busy lives to read something I wrote. I can’t tell you how much that means to me, so thank you all very, very much.

Here’s to the next 100!

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2014: The Year in Villainy

Another year, another roundup of cinematic evil. Join me, won’t you, on this delightful whirlwind of dastardly deeds, evil acts, and cinematic scumbaggery.

Artemisia in 300: Rise of an Empire

2014 villains artemisia

One of my two favorite villains of the year, Artemisia was smart, tough, and determined. Hell hath no fury, as they say, like a woman scorned, and Artemisia is ample proof of that. Eva Green played her with ferocity and more than a little charm, which made her somewhat likable in spite of being evil. She’s the kind of villain you love to hate, and she’s my pick for best villainess of the year. It was a good year for Eva Green playing sultry comic-book villainesses, she was also deliciously evil in the new Sin City movie, so give her an honorable mention for that one too.

The Winter Soldier in Captain America: The Winter Soldier

2014 villains winter soldier

Few movie characters in 2014, good or evil, were as straight-up BAD ASS as this sonuvagun. Holy CRAP he was cool. A kind of Darth Vader to Captain America’s Luke Skywalker, he’s a cybernetically-enhanced super assassin who’s skilled, fast, and lethal. The fights between him and Chris Evans’ Cap were some of the best cinematic fights of 2014. Actor Sebastian Stan is under contract for (I think) nine films with Marvel, so you can be almost sure that he’ll show up at some point in the future. I, for one, am looking forward to seeing him again.

Jeanine Matthews in Divergent

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You don’t usually see Kate Winslet being evil, but I thought she was pretty good at being bad in Divergent. You knew she would turn out to be evil (especially if you read the books), but she didn’t overdo it, which I thought worked to the film’s advantage. Expect to see her again soon, since the film did well enough at the box office that the sequel was fast-tracked to March of 2015.

Electro, Rhino and the Green Goblin in The Amazing Spider-Man 2

2014 villains spiderman

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 suffered from a bit of Spider-Man 3 syndrome, in that it had maybe one too many bad guys. Although only two of them had character arcs, since Paul Giamatti’s Rhino was basically a glorified henchman, but still, the film as a whole was definitely a bit overcrowded. And I guess that some of their motivations for being evil were maybe a bit thin, but…oh, well. At least Electro’s flashy blue-white bolts of electricity were cool to look at. Sony is planning on making a whole movie devoted to Spider-Man baddies, so who knows what we’ll see from Spidey’s colorful rogues gallery in the future.

The MUTOs in Godzilla

2014 villains muto

I didn’t think of Godzilla as the bad guy in the latest movie that bears his name, he’s more of an antihero. The real villains were the Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms, otherwise known as MUTOs. Godzilla stops them from mating and making horrible horrible MUTO babies, which is something I think we can all be thankful for this holiday season. Thanks, Godzilla!

The Sentinels in X-Men: Days of Future Past

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I debated with myself a bit over who the real villain was in the latest X-Men flick. Was it Magneto? Mystique? Bolivar Trask? You could make a case for any of them, but for my money the only indisputably evil characters in the film were the Sentinels, which were so badass and so good at their job of mutant-killing that they pretty much ended the world, and it doesn’t get much more evil than that.

The Mimics in Edge of Tomorrow

2014 villains mimic

How do you defeat an enemy who can simply reset the day to prevent itself from being defeated in the first place? That’s the question posed by Tom Cruise’s latest sci-fi epic. The Mimics in Edge of Tomorrow were frightening and very, very original in appearance and design. Kind of like giant, robotic-looking, time-manipulating squid-creatures. I thought they were very cool, and they had a lot to do with making Edge of Tomorrow one of my favorite movies of 2014.

Ronan the Accuser in Guardians of the Galaxy

2014 villains ronan

Ronan the Accuser is an evil blue space warlord. Even if I had left out the word “evil” in that description and juts said that he was a blue space warlord, I’m sure you would have been able to fill in the “evil” part on your own. One of the things I liked most about Ronan was his Alan Rickman-esque way of saying things…very…slowly. I guess he’s not really all that much different from other cosmic warlords you may have seen in other sci-fi movies, but if you’re evil enough that it takes five protagonists to bring you down, then you’re doing something right. I mean, you know, from an evil perspective.

Conrad Stonebanks in The Expendables 3

2014 villains gibson

Say what you will about Mel Gibson as a person, I still think he’s a damn fine actor, and he looked like he was having a great time being evil in the third Expendables movie. I thought the movie as a whole was a bit dull to be honest, but Gibson was easily the best part of the movie for me. With a name like Conrad Stonebanks, your career options are pretty much limited to either professional wrestler or professional supervillain. Conrad Stonebanks made the right choice in Expendables 3, and we connoisseurs of cinematic villainy can be grateful for that.

President Snow in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part One

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Donald Sutherland’s President Snow deserves a shout-out for being reliably evil for three movies now. He seems to delight in inflicting psychological torture not just on the heroine of the movies, but on the nation he lords over as a whole. I always think he looks like a white-haired Satan, I mean just look at those arched eyebrows!! Downright devilish.

Shredder in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

2014 villains shredder

The Michael Bay-produced 2014 version of TMNT was certainly no masterpiece, but to be honest I still thought it was pretty damn entertaining, and I really liked the knife-shooting shredder. There was some evil plot to disperse some kind of chemical weapon over New York which was pretty inconsequential, I watched the movie yesterday and I’ve already forgotten the details, but hey, I can appreciate a cool character design when I see one, and I thought that Shredder was really fricking cool.

So there you have it, the cream of the crop of cinematic skullduggery in 2014. There are a lot of big-franchise movies due out next year, so we aficionados of evil have a lot to look forward to.

See you then!

The Return of the King

Confession time: when I was a kid, I loved Roland Emmerich’s 1998 Godzilla movie. Please don’t judge me too harshly, I was only ten when it came out and that movie was pretty much geared toward 10-12-year-old boys.

Sure, now that I’m older and (hopefully) wiser, I realize that the movie was pretty lousy. It didn’t really feel like a Godzilla movie, it just took a giant lizard monster and stuck it in New York to cause mayhem and destruction. If it hadn’t been called Godzilla, it could have been just about any generic movie monster. And there was that whole dumb subplot with the Godzilla babies, the less said about which the better.

So yeah, in retrospect, it was a pretty bad movie. But I was still cautiously optimistic about the idea of a new Godzilla movie. The first teaser trailer got me genuinely excited. I loved the vibe of apocalyptic doom the trailer had going on, and how it teased the big guy himself without showing too much.

Godzilla teaser poster

It also had a good cast and an intriguing director. The movie was directed by a fellow named Gareth Edwards, whose only previous directing credit was a low-budget indie called Monsters, and I’m always intrigued when Hollywood gives a big franchise to a relatively new director.

I was excited about Godzilla all last week, and when I finally saw the movie in 3D on Friday, I am happy to say that I came away happy.

Pacific Rim was one of my favorite movies last year, and it helped me realize just how much I enjoy the sight of giant monsters and/or robots duking it out amongst crumbling cities.

Pacific Rim was one of the most purely entertaining movies I saw in 2013, and the new Godzilla isn’t quite as much fun.

This is not to say that it’s a bad movie, however. The best way I can think to describe it is that, if Pacific Rim was The Avengers of monster movies, then Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla is the Batman Begins of monster movies: darker, grittier, more intense, maybe not quite as much fun, but still really good in its own right.

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Edwards takes a Spielberg-esque approach to the film, in that, much as Spielberg did in Jaws, he keeps the titular beastie off-screen for much of the film, to the point where the big guy almost seems like a supporting character in his own movie.

This is a little frustrating at times, since there were a few moments when the camera pulled away and I thought “No! I want to see that!” But limiting the title character’s screen time has the effect of making every one of his appearances have a lot more impact. Every time the G-unit shows up, his appearance feels like it has weight and significance, and isn’t just an opportunity to indulge in state-of-the-art special effects.

And the effects are awesome. Godzilla himself looks fantastic, and I never had a problem suspending disbelief whenever he appeared.

He’s also a hell of a lot bigger than in previous incarnations, which leads to city-leveling destruction (Honolulu, Las Vegas, and San Francisco are all thoroughly owned. The poor old Golden Gate Bridge seems to be a frequent casualty in monster and disaster movies. I’m pretty sure it bit the dust in Pacific Rim too).

Godzilla size

It’s also no great spoiler (since it was in the trailers) that Godzilla battles a few other massive beasties in the movie. These are called MUTOs, which stands for Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism. I won’t spoil too much about what they are or what they’re up to, except to say that the movie spends almost as much time developing their story as it does Godzilla’s.

And it’s a good story, too. It incorporates a lot of the nuclear fears that were a big part of Godzilla’s origin story and which were largely glossed over in the 1998 version. It pays tribute to 1954’s classic original Godzilla while still putting its own spin on it.

The human characters, unfortunately, aren’t quite as captivating as the giant monsters. They’re not unlikable or anything and I generally didn’t have a problem rooting for them, they’re just kind of bland. Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kick-Ass) and Elizabeth Olsen do what they can, but their characters are kind of thinly written (Coincidentally, both actors will be in Avengers 2 next year, playing brother and sister instead of husband and wife).

The supporting cast fares better, with Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) as the tormented father of Taylor-Johnson’s character, whose wife was killed in a nuclear reactor meltdown under mysterious circumstances. Also present is the great Japanese actor Ken Watanabe (Inception) as a scientist tracking Godzilla and his ilk. I would have liked to have seen more of him and of Monarch, the mysterious organization he works for, but there was plenty of other stuff going on in the movie so I didn’t mind too much.

Godzilla bridge

And, despite Godzilla himself being kept in the shadows for much of the film, the movie is action-packed. There are numerous close calls and tense encounters, all of which are characterized by palpable suspense and top-notch effects work. The HALO jump sequence showcased in the trailer I linked to above was a definite highlight, and probably my favorite scene in the movie.

It’s a harrowing, heart-pounding sequence, and it puts the viewer right there in the middle of the action. The incredibly ominous soundtrack and striking visuals make the scene feel like something out of Dante’s Inferno, a descent into a creature-filled hell. It’s one of the most intense and memorable scenes I’ve seen in 2014 so far.

Godzilla jump

The movie did a really great job of capturing what it would actually feel like to be a tiny, puny human in the middle of a giant monster attack. The sense of scale of the monsters is really impressive. Humans are used to being the most dominant species on the planet, and this movie did an incredibly convincing job of turning that on its head.

The epic final monster battle, while it takes a while to arrive, is well worth it. Edwards clearly understands the need to reward viewers’ patience, and he does so in spectacular fashion with a city-demolishing final battle that showcases the big G in all of his immense, terrifying, fire-breathing glory. It’s a great sequence, and it really differentiates itself from other, similar movies.

In Pacific Rim, for example, the biggest action sequence takes place in the middle of a brightly-lit, rain-drenched city, full of vivid neon colors. By contrast, Godzilla’s final battle takes place in a city darkened by EMP blasts, and much of the light comes from the fires raging throughout the city. Again, think of the bright colors of The Avengers versus the darker color palette of Christopher Nolan’s Batman films.

Godzilla is the granddaddy of giant monsters, and Gareth Edwards’ film pays fitting tribute to his legacy. At the end of the movie, as the great beast returns to the briny deep from whence he came, I found myself itching for more.

And more is coming, because the G-unit stomped the competition on his opening weekend, proving that people still like giant monster movies, and that the name Godzilla still carries weight. Hopefully Edwards will be involved in the sequels, since the guy clearly knows what he’s doing.

One of my first posts was about the original Godzilla, which is a movie that still retains much of its original power, so check that out if you’re interested. The Criterion Collection edition is well worth picking up, it even has cool packaging that unfolds into a little pop-up Godzilla.

Godzilla criterion

On an unrelated note, yesterday, May 18, marked the two-year anniversary of my first blog post. Since that first post I’ve gotten more than 2,500 total views, which to me is mind-blowing. It still kind of amazes me to think that there might be people out there who are actually interested in what I write, so to each and every one of you I just want to say thank you very, very much.

Here’s to two more years! Thanks so much everybody!!

King of the Monsters

I like foreign films. Some people don’t like reading subtitles. They prefer to watch and listen, not read dialogue. This is certainly a fair point, but subtitles have never really bothered me. Sure, I generally prefer to not have to read subtitles when I watch a movie, but every once in a while I kind of enjoy it. It’s fun to step away from big-budget Hollywood films every once in a while to see what other talented filmmakers around the world are up to, and I have found the results to be frequently rewarding. John Woo’s “Red Cliff” and Takashi Miike’s “13 Assassins” are both extremely epic and badass, and could easily rival most American summer blockbusters. And the Swedish version of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” was so good that many people wondered, myself included, if it was necessary to remake it at all (though for the record, I thought that David Fincher’s version was also quite good).

All of this is to say that when I was at Barnes and Noble last week and saw the Criterion Collection DVD of “Godzilla,” the original Japanese classic from 1954, I knew I had to pick it up. This was something of a stretch for me, since I don’t generally watch a lot of older black and white films (although “The Mark of Zorro” with Tyrone Power and Basil Rathbone was a favorite of mine when I was a kid). I wondered what the viewing experience would be like, nearly sixty years after the film was originally released.

And I have to say, it was a lot of fun. There’s something charmingly old-school about the kinds of practical effects used in older films like “Godzilla.” The big lizard was actually played by a guy wearing a suit, and while it does look somewhat cheesy by today’s standards, it is also oddly convincing, since you know that there was a real person in there, as opposed to a mass of computer-generated pixels. I don’t mean to knock modern special effects, it’s just that watching a movie like “Godzilla” really helps you see how far technology has advanced.

And like I said, there’s something oddly convincing about old-school special effects. It feels genuine in a way that modern effects don’t always. I really don’t have a problem with modern CGI effects, but filmmakers these days tend to use them as a crutch. Take Michael Bay, for example, who throws as much flashy-looking action at the screen as he can in an attempt to cover up the fact that there’s nothing really going on in terms of a plot that actually resonates or characters you actually give a damn about. I enjoyed the robot-fighting action sequences in Bay’s “Transformers” movies in a popcorn-munching sort of way, but it’s kind of hard to care sometimes since it all-too-often feels like there’s nothing  at stake if you don’t care about the plot or the characters.

That’s not the case with Godzilla. The story still really resonates in a way that I hadn’t anticipated. I knew that the idea behind Godzilla was partly a response to the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that ended World War II, as well as continued nuclear testing in the 50’s. This context gives “Godzilla” a lot of emotional heft, since the situation the characters find themselves in manages to feel really genuine, despite the fact that there’s a giant monster wandering around smashing things.

There are a lot of images in the film that are very striking: a post-attack view of a destroyed and burning city is chilling, and it’s hard not to be affected by the sight of a child wailing hysterically as a parent is carried away on a stretcher. There’s one scene in particular during one of the big Godzilla-attack sequences, that shows a mother cowering in fear, holding her three children and saying, “We’re going to see Daddy now! We’ll be with him soon!” that’s heartbreaking. Scenes and images such as these give the film a sense of poignancy that I honestly hadn’t been expecting.

“Godzilla” is a true classic. The big lizard is surprisingly relevant, and it’s really no wonder that the original film has spawned dozens of sequels. Godzilla is memorable in a way that Michael Bay’s Transformers are not. There are things that stick with you from “Godzilla.” After you’ve watched “Transformers” the whole thing is kind of a blur, nothing specific really stands out as worthy of being remembered, which is not the case with Godzilla.

I don’t want to seem like I’m picking on Transformers in particular, like I said I enjoyed them for the most part. They’re good, mindless popcorn entertainment, which I really don’t have a problem with, but they’re also one of the best examples of the kind of style-over-substance filmmaking that seems so prevalent these days. Popcorn entertainment is great, but every once in a while you just want something more substantial. That’s part of why Christopher Nolan’s Batman films, for example, have become so popular: they combine blockbuster action and spectacle with genuine heart and intelligence in a way that many other blockbusters do not. That’s another reason why I liked “John Carter” so much, since I felt that it was able to achieve that same balance.

So if you’re looking for a fun old-school sci-fi flick that just might make you think a little, check out “Godzilla.” It’s still a great movie, and it makes me feel obliged to end this post with a giant monster sound, so here goes:

BBBRRRRRAAAAAAAARRRRRRGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a movie to watch.