December 31, 2013


Starring Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine, Red Buttons, Carol Lynley, Roddy McDowall, Stella Stevens, Shelly Winters, Jack Albertson, Leslie Nielson. Directed by Ronald Neame. (1972, 117 min).

New Year's Eve used to be a big deal. Well, not-so-much a big deal as an excuse to get completely shitfaced and engage in the type of douchebag behavior I would never dream of any other time unless it was a college road trip or bachelor party. Back then, New Year's Eve was one of the best days of the year, meaning New Year's Day ended up being one of the worst, though not quite as bad as those poor souls onboard the SS Poseidon.

After I met Francie (my future wife), I still celebrated the new year with similar hubris, and even though I'd still wake up with dry heaves and a pounding skull, at least I no longer had to try and remember the name of the person I woke up next to.

In the years after Francie and I got married, the novelty of going out and partying on New Year's Eve slowly began to wear off. At first it was because we couldn't find anyone to watch our kids, but eventually it was because we'd rather spend that time with them. When my oldest daughter, Natalie, was around nine or ten, me and her started ringing in the new year by watching SyFy's annual Twilight Zone marathon (Francie was usually in bed by's been several years since she was even awake at the stroke of midnight).

But, alas, Natalie has outgrown TV nights with Dad, and Lucy (my youngest) is more into zombie flicks and Spongebob Squarepants than classic Rod Serling. So of late, I've spent the turning of the new year alone.

Well, not quite alone. I've since started my own little tradition of watching The Poseidon Adventure on New Year's Eve.

This movie was the real start of the 70's disaster movie trend, laying the blueprint which would be followed by subsequent films: a brief set-up, then the big crisis, followed by various Hollywood stars forced to deal with the dilemma, half of whom will die. While 1970's Airport had some elements of the disaster formula, the main focus was on various characters and subplots. Not so with The Poseidon Adventure, which skips most of the formalities and gets down to the business of killing people. The real stars of the movie are the special effects team and set designers; the film looks great, and while the effects may seem a bit quaint in the wake of Titanic, they are still pretty impressive.

Don't tell me how to act...I was in The French
fucking Connection
The story is a simple one: On New Year's Eve during her final voyage, the SS Poseidon is hit by a massive tidal wave which capsizes the ship. Most of the passengers are in the ballroom celebrating the new year, and when the wave hits, they are tossed about like rag dolls, falling through glass, getting squashed by tables, pianos, dinner carts, etc. The few survivors, led by Reverend Frank Scott (Gene Hackman), must now make their way through the capsized ship to reach the hull and hope for a rescue before it sinks for good. It ain't a great film (if you don't agree, you haven't seen it lately), but if you can get through the laughably bad first thirty minutes, The Poseidon Adventure offers a guilty good time, with such destructive thrills as underwater explosions, passengers getting pummeled by torrents of water, and Shelley Winters' dress hiking up to reveal her massive underpants (during which time you’ll want to gouge your eyes out).

The movie also introduces several elements to the disaster formula that would become standard in later films: the character who exists solely to contradict every idea the hero has; the Oscar-baiting song interlude; the “company man” whose obsession with the bottom-dollar threatens everyone; dozens of extras whose collectively stupid behavior in the face of danger kills them all; the couple who falls in love (or rekindles their love) just before one of them dies; the totally obnoxious kid you wish would die but almost never does.

Just to show you how dull my New Year's celebrations have become, I don't simply pop The Poseidon Adventure into my Blu-Ray player and kick back; I wait until exactly 11:35:19 PM on New Year's Eve. I've timed it so when the clock strikes midnight in my living room, it's midnight on the Poseidon, because it happens 24 minutes and 41 seconds after the movie starts (right when the disaster hits). While my neighbors are outside lighting firecrackers or banging pots & pans, I'm watching an ensemble cast experiencing a much worse New Year's Day than I am.

Sure, there are more exciting ways to ring in the new year. Thirty years & twenty pounds ago, if someone showed me how my future-self celebrated this holiday, I'd be laughing my ass off, shaking my head and screaming "No fucking way." But hey, for a middle-aged movie geek like me it's fun, and at least I don't wake up in a strange place with a twisting hangover and wondering if I should find a drug store on the way home to take care of that insatiable itch in my groin.

And if you think this sounds like a dull way to spend New Year's Eve, I'll have you know this old party animal might just liven things up this year by watching the remake, Poseidon, instead. In that one, midnight strikes exactly 14 minutes and 23 seconds into the movie, and it's Fergie who does the countdown (I'll bet she ain't visiting your house this year). Not only that, I wouldn't be subjected yet-again to Ms. Winters' gelatinous underpants.

December 27, 2013

FROZEN and the Disney Junkies

Starring the voices of Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Santino Fontana. Directed by Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee. (2013, 108 min).

I’m the lone male in a houseful of girls, my wife & two daughters, Disney junkies all. Technically, our dog, Murphy, is male, but he lost his giblets roughly thirty seconds after discovering the carnal pleasure of humping things, so he doesn’t really count. For the most part, we’re very happy and I seldom feel alienated by the fact I’m the only member of the household still hanging onto his own giblets. I’m a loving father who’ll do almost anything to make my family happy.

Case-in-point…when the opportunity for a family movie night recently arose, the three of them shouted out “Frozen!” before I could open my mouth to suggest anything else. Personally, I was hoping to check-out Thor: The Dark World since we all liked the first one, but I should have known better. They are all junkies, and the idea of passing up the latest Disney fairy tale would be like throwing a heroin addict's needles away. I love my daughters more than anything in the world, but something tells me we’d have at least considered seeing Thor if there was just one more pair of giblets in the voting process.

"Hey, buddy...that's not a carrot."
So Frozen it was.

Sure, I like animated Disney movies. Who doesn’t? One of the things which first endeared me to the woman who became my wife was when, while we were still dating, she wanted to see the re-release of Cinderella. I found that charming…a super-hot girlfriend who’d rather watch a Disney drama than Dirty Dancing. Once The Little Mermaid kicked off the so-called ‘Disney Renaissance,’ we caught Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King & Pocahontas before kids were even in the picture. With rare exception, animated Disney movies are like James Bond films, sure bets you’ll get your money’s worth. But also like Bond, a sameness soon developed in Disney films which tended to suck some of the excitement out of seeing them. This was especially true for all the movies following The Lion King, Disney’s last film that was truly awe-inspiring, a perfect menage-a-trois of story, imagery and music. Subsequent films followed the same formula, and sure, they’re fun, but there aren’t any real surprises…kinda like going to McDonald’s.

Still, we saw them all, especially after kids became part of the picture. My daughters, Natalie & Lucy, became hooked on Disney long after I wanted to kick the habit. If I had remained single with no kids, I’m certain The Lion King would’ve been the last Disney film I’d have shelled out money for. I'd be clean right now. Now there are times I almost dread each upcoming Disney epic. Not because these films aren’t worth seeing, but being a junkie is expensive...and there are some things a family man never stops paying for. As any loving parent can attest, treating your family to a Disney movie itself is often just the beginning…

Frozen is admittedly a wonderful film, more-than-worth the price of admission, which was 40 bucks for four tickets, then another 25 for one tub of popcorn and four sodas. That’s a total of $65, but something told me I wasn’t done emptying my wallet just yet. My kids loved it, and now obsessed with all things Frozen. As Lucy, Natalie and their mother ballyhooed the movie on the drive home, all I pictured were dollar signs fluttering from my open wallet like moths - Frozen dolls, Frozen T-shirts, Frozen video games, Frozen pajamas, Frozen soundtrack album, Frozen fruit snacks, Frozen posters, Frozen sneakers from Payless Shoe Source, Frozen lunch boxes, Frozen flamethrowers, etc. You get the idea.

And this is a road I’ve traveled before…

I’ll use The Lion King as a prime example, since it is probably the most personally-expensive film I’ve seen in all my years as an ardent movie-goer. My wife and I first saw it when it was released in 1994, a year before our first oldest daughter, Natalie, was born. Tickets were roughly seven bucks each. Not bad, especially when you consider today’s prices. We both loved it, of course, and in my humble opinion, it is still Disney’s all-time greatest animated film. Little did I know that the initial $14 admission was just the beginning. The following is a list of all my personal expenses related to The Lion King since 1994:

  • The Lion King on VHS (granted, this was my own purchase, but Francie was pregnant with Natalie and Disney had a way of making you feel like a shitty parent if you didn’t have all their classics in your collection): $30
  • The Lion King soundtrack CD (again, my own purchase, because the music is great): $15

So far, not all that much of an expense for such a great film, but just check out what happened just a few years down the road, once my kids followed that dark path into addiction:

  • Timon & Pumbaa Christmas ornaments: $12
  • Simba & Nala Christmas ornaments: $15
  • Pumbaa stuffed animal (including several stuffed grubs for him to much on): $20
  • The Lion King on DVD (after Natalie watched our VHS copy so often the tape eventually broke): $30
  • Lion King pajamas: $25
  • Lion King sneakers from Payless: $20
  • The Lion King soundtrack again (because we somehow lost the first copy and Natalie loved the songs): $15
  • Various Lion King-related coloring books, notebooks, key-chains, trading cards, stickers and Happy Meals: an estimated $100 over several years.
  • The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride (a 1998 direct-to-DVD sequel, the kind of low budget garbage Disney loves to pump out for kids whose parents can’t say no): $25
  • The Lion King 1 ½ (yet-another direct-to-DVD sequel released in 2004, which we ended up buying a few years after our second daughter, Lucy, became a Disney junkie): $25

Counting the initial price of admission, that’s a grand total of $346 I have shelled out over the years for The Lion King. I’ve since repeated this process to a lesser degree with Lilo & Stitch, Mulan, Tarzan and Tangled (and don’t even get me started on the Pixar movies and the Christmas when we spent over $100 buying Lucy all the Radiator Springs play sets from Cars).

Perhaps you’re saying to yourself, “Well, you could always draw the line and say no.” As a rebuttal, I offer this:

If you’re a parent, you’ve seen this face, and just try saying no to it. On a side note, isn’t it a little ironic that a screen shot of a Dreamworks film best-sums-up what it’s like living in a house of Disney junkies?

But I’m not really complaining. Living in a house of Disney junkies sometimes makes Christmas shopping easier (though not cheaper). Regarding Disney’s latest Daddy Wallet Drainer, I’ve gotten off pretty light so far, only purchasing Elsa and Anna figurines for Disney Infinity game, a total of $35. No dolls, action figures, t-shirts or coloring books. Then again, I ultimately ended up paying for The Lion King over the course of two decades, so maybe the other shoe just hasn’t dropped yet.

December 22, 2013


Every website and blog dedicated to movies trucks out their annual year-end lists, so why should FKMG be any different? We tried to do something a little different than the usual 10 best and worst, especially since we spend most of our time on this site living in the past. At any rate, here's our 2013 year-end wrap up of the good, the bad and the ugly...

BEST MOVIE (given the limited tastes and finances of your humble FKMG staff): I hate to admit this, but considering all of the films I couldn’t wait to see (World War Z, Star Trek into Darkness, Man of Steel, Monsters University, etc.), The World’s End was the most fun I had at the movies all year.

TWO HOURS OF MY LIFE I’LL NEVER GET BACK: 21 and Over was the most painfully pandering and laughless movie of the year. Simply a dumb-ass rip-off of The Hangover (written by the same guys), this is the kind of movie that’ll appeal to anyone who simply thinks seeing someone vomit in slow motion is the height of humor.

DISNEY WALLET DRAINER OF THE YEAR: I have two kids, both girls, which means (when you count my wife) I was outvoted 3-to-1 when it came to choosing a film for a recent night at the movies. Hence, we went to see Disney’s Frozen. Don’t get me wrong…Frozen was a fine film, but as any loving parent will confirm, with Disney movies comes Disney toys. Since my kids loved it, the cost to me doesn’t stop with movie tickets & popcorn. Guess how much I spent Frozen-related shit for Christmas this year?

A SUMMER BLOCKBUSTER THAT DIDN’T INSULT YOUR INTELLIGENCE: While not exactly subtle with its message, Elysium is the kind of adult dystopian sci-fi we get precious little of these days.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: Despite lots of flash, spectacle and CGI action, Man of Steel was so dull, by-the-numbers & uninspiring that I actually fell asleep a few times. Considering the talent involved on both sides of the camera, this was a huge letdown. The final act is more like enduring a Transformers sequel than an updated origins story (which we didn't actually need in the first place).

MOST PLEASANT SURPRISE: Based on the trailers alone, I’d have preferred eating glass than enduring The Croods, which looked like cynical, regurgitated crap with blatant stunt casting. However, it turned out to be beautifully animated and pretty damn funny. In my humble opinion, this was the best animated movie of the year, and the ‘fire’ scene alone is worth the price of admission.

MOVIES WHICH WERE BETTER THAN THEY HAD A RIGHT TO BE: Olympus Has Fallen, The Wolverine, This is the End, The Heat, The Last Stand, Evil Dead.

BIGGEST JACKASS: The old bat who sat behind me during The Heat and wouldn’t shut the hell up. She was oblivious to everyone around her, even the people she came with…just talking at the movie for the sake of hearing her own voice. Every time she opened her mouth, all I pictured was a cock-eyed Pomeranian with its tongue hanging out the side of its mouth.

BEST DIE HARD RIPOFF: White House Down is gloriously stupid, but also fast-moving, loaded with action, intentionally funny and closer in spirit to the original Bruce Willis classic than A Good Day to Die Hard (ironically the worst Die Hard rip-off).

SCARIEST MOVIE: Few modern horror movies are truly scary, but The Conjuring provides more tension, suspense, dread and jolts than any movie since Poltergeist. This is fun, old-school horror from start to finish. Since the language, violence and nudity are kept to a minimum, I don’t recall another movie given an R rating simply because of how scary it is.

BEST GRATUITOUSLY VIOLENT MOVIE: Dark, bloody and nearly CGI-free, Evil Dead is loaded with enough cringe-worthy moments to placate even the most jaded gorehound. One of those rare remakes which not only pays homage to the original, but surpasses it in many ways. This one also deserves an award for the BEST POST-CREDIT SCENE, which any fan of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead series will love.

MOST BLATANT CASH-GRAB (tie): XD, which stands for ‘Extreme Digital Cinema.’ This wallet-drainer, Century Theaters’ answer to IMAX, has been around for awhile, but my first experience was when I was forced to pay $13 for a matinee screening of A Good Day to Die Hard. What I got for my extra cash was a bigger screen, something I could have accomplished a lot cheaper simply by sitting closer. Equally-obnoxious is The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, the bloated second installment of a franchise that has no business being a trilogy. When all is said and done next year, Middle Earth die-hards will have shelled out a total of $30-40 to watch a nine hour movie based on a 300 page book (and that’s if you go alone). Suckers.

BAD TASTE AWARD (PENDING): Actor Paul Walker died just before Fast and Furious 6 was scheduled to be released on home video, at which time we were saturated with commercials magnanimously touting that portions of the disc sales would be going to Walker’s charity, Reach Out Worldwide. I don’t want to pass undue judgment, but exactly how much of the proceeds are going to said-charity? Maybe it’s because I’m cynical, but unless 100% of the profits go to Walker’s charity, this smacks of a tasteless attempt to capitalize on his death to boost DVD sales. I truly hope I’m wrong.

EPIC FAIL AT STARTING A NEW FRANCHISE: The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones plays like a greatest hits collection of young adult movie tropes, yet I seriously doubt if even the most undemanding teenagers are anxiously awaiting the next installment (if there even is one).

WE’LL MISS YOU: Peter O’Toole, James Gandolfini, Paul Walker, Joan Fontaine, Roger Ebert, David R. Ellis, Michael Winner (director of Death Wish), Blockbuster Video, Ray Harryhausen, Richard Matheson, Dennis Farina, Karen Black, Ed Lauter, Hal Needham.

BEST GEEK DEBATE: My oldest daughter loves the Thor movies because of Tom Hiddleston as Loki, while her BFF loves Chris Hemsworth as Thor. Let the battle of teen lust begin.

BEST NEWS: 1) John Williams will be composing the score of Star Wars Episode VII. 2) The upcoming remake of Robocop is beginning to look like it might actually be pretty good. 3) We here at Free Kittens don’t give a damn about the general consensus…casting Ben Affleck as the Caped Crusader in the highly-touted/feared Batman vs. Superman mash-up is intriguing. The guy directed and starred in Argo, for chrissakes…it’s time to forgive him for Daredevil.

WORST NEWS: 1) Even though it‘s mostly finished, George Miller’s long-awaited fourth film in the Mad Max franchise (Mad Max: Fury Road), isn’t scheduled to be released until mid-2015. 2) James Cameron has announced his three sequels to Avatar will be filmed back-to-back, a bold and tremendous undertaking, especially since the novelty of his use of 3-D has since worn off to the point where few movie-goers really remember the original film all that fondly. 3) A reboot of The Naked Gun franchise was recently announced, staring Ed Helms. Really?

FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, PLEASE STOP: Tyler Perry, Adam Sandler (and all his friends), M. Night Shyamalan, Jason Friedberg & Aaron Seltzer, Peter Jackson (or at least consider leaving Middle Earth), Vince Vaughn, Marvel Studios (before you run your brand name into the ground).

SIGN OF THE APOCALYPSE: Despite being hated by damn-near everybody, Grown Ups 2 made more money than 12 Years a Slave (one of the most-lauded films of the year).

December 16, 2013


On the eve of last Christmas I turned out the lights;
I tucked in my daughter and wished her goodnight.
“Tomorrow is Christmas!” she uttered with joy
“When Santa brings presents to good girls and boys!”

“That’s right, little princess,” I replied with a grin
“But you must be asleep for Saint Nick to come in.”
With a smile and a giggle, she closed her eyes tight,
Trying her best to fall asleep for the night.

After closing her door, I walked down the hall
To where my wife snoozed, oblivious to all.
I climbed into bed without making a peep
And stole back some blankets for a warm winter’s sleep.

As I began to drift off, my mind wandered free;
I pictured my little Natalie, circling the tree,
Gasping with joy when she saw her new bike -
A thank you from Santa for leaving cookies he liked.

I heard a sudden noise - it came from downstairs.
Could it possibly be there was someone down there?
I opened my eyes and stifled a scream;
I heard it again - not part of my dream!

I climbed out of bed and ran ‘cross the floor
And gingerly opened my top dresser drawer.
Heart beating madly, and quaking with fear,
I pulled out the gun I got for Christmas last year.

As my wife snoozed away, thinking all was well,
I crept to the hallway and loaded some shells.
Determined to prevent being totally robbed,
I was gonna put a cap into this thieving slob.

From atop the stairs, footsteps I could hear
Of a man trying to rob us of our Christmas cheer.
I crept down the steps, cursing my bad luck;
Dammit - that bike cost me one hundred bucks!

I saw a black shadow, bent over the tree;
Consumed by his task, he didn’t see me.
Raising my pistol, I drew careful aim;
I squeezed off a shot, screaming, “Here comes the pain!”

With a big burly grunt, he fell to the ground,
And I roared in triumph, having put the perp down.
From upstairs my wife cried, “Hey, are you okay?”
I said, “Never better, ‘cause I saved Christmas day!”

I began to breathe easy, thinking all would be right,
But all of that changed when I turned on the light.
I stared at my victim and became suddenly sick;
Rolling ‘round on the floor was good ol’ Saint Nick.

Through angry clenched jaws, he stared up at me;
Clutching his wound, he screamed “You shattered my knee!”
I rushed to his side and cried, “I didn’t mean to!”
With an agonized breath he roared back, “Screw you!”

A cry from behind - and I turned to see
My horrified wife and a bawling Natalie.
“Daddy shot Santa!” she wailed in surprise;
My wife simply glared with hate in her eyes.

My mind in a panic, I threw down my gun
And ran to the phone to call 9-1-1.
My wife yelled at me, “You yuletide louse!
I knew this would happen with a gun in the house!”

I heard coming sirens, then a knock at the door;
As I answered it my kid cried, “I love you no more!”
“Report of shots fired!” said a cop in dismay;
And then he saw Santa, knee bleeding away.

Drawing his sidearm, he said with a frown,
“You shot Father Christmas and you’re goin’ down!”
I said, “I’ll explain, please listen, for God’s sake!”
He said, “I’ve busted some bastards, but you take the cake.”

They slapped me in handcuffs and hauled me away
For shooting Saint Nick and ruining Christmas day.
My wife sold the bike to pay for court costs,
Then into a filthy cell I was tossed.

I’ll always regret the shot that I fired,
For Santa said, “No more,” and then he retired.
I’m now serving time, doing twenty-to-life
With a cellmate named Bubba, who calls me his wife.

Copyright 2013, D.M. Anderson

December 15, 2013


Starring Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley, Alice Braga, Diego Luna, William Fichtner. Directed by Neil Blomkamp. (2013, 109 min).

Neil Blomkamp’s District 9 was a terrific surprise that kind-of came out of nowhere…intelligent, satiric & gritty adult sci-fi with a timely theme, something we don’t get a lot of these days. For his next film, I wondered if Blomkamp, this time armed with bankable stars and a huge budget, would simply grab the brass ring and pump out another brainless summer spectacle, or continue in the same vein as his groundbreaking feature debut. Fortunately, Elysium, while not quite as fresh as District 9, is a worthy follow-up. It is similar in look, theme & tone, and easily the smartest sci-fi action picture released during a year rife with them.

This one takes place roughly a century in the future, and Earth is an overpopulated, disease-ridden cesspool. The wealthy have since left the planet to live on Elysium, an massive Utopian space station guarded by zealous elitist Delacourt (Jodie Foster), who goes to extremes to keep common folks Earthbound. Matt Damon plays Max, an ex-con now trying to make-do as a factory worker in Los Angeles (which looks a lot like the alien shantytown in District 9).

"Hey...could you come over here and pop this?"
After being exposed to a lethal dose of radiation on the job, Max has only five days to live unless he can get to Elysium, where every home is equipped with a Med-Bay, which can cure any injury or disease within minutes. The problem is most people who try to illegally immigrate there are either deported back to Earth or shot out of the sky upon approach. Desperate, Max seeks out his old crime boss. In return for a shuttle ticket, he agrees to track down and steal computer info (which can potentially wipe-out the existing files kept on everyone) from one of the Elysium elite who runs the factory he worked at. To do this, Max is surgically altered with a sort-of exoskeleton which increases his strength and allows him to download the files right into his own head. But things don't go quite as planned; Max is able to download the files, but they are encripted, so accessing them will kill him. Meanwhile, Delacourt needs those files too (in order to attempt a coup for total control of Elysium), so she enlists psychotic mercenary Kruger (Sharlto Copley, in a scenery-chewing performance) to bring Max in alive.

This is intriguing, suspenseful stuff, even after a gratuitous love-interest is thrown into the mix (Frey, played by Alice Braga, who has a daughter dying of leukemia, rendering the outcome somewhat predictable). While Elysium delivers its socio-political message with the subtlety of a mallet, it's a smart story punctuated by violent action, spectacular special effects (which seldom call attention to themselves) and mostly-interesting characters. I say mostly because the main antagonist, Delacourt, is fairly one-dimensional (we know she's a cold-hearted bitch before she even opens her mouth). Foster is usually one of the best parts of any movie, but here, her bizarre accent is unnecessarily distracting (and exactly where the hell is she supposed to be from, anyway?). However, as Max, Damon does a great job giving us a main-character whose both heroic and vulnerable, not-to-mention a bit morally ambiguous.

Despite its minor flaws, Elysium is also similar to District 9 in the sense it's a film that will stick around in your mind a lot longer than the usual sci-fi shoot-em-up. It's premise, action and emotionally-satisfying story are worth visiting more than once, making this disc a must-own for fans of intelligent, grown-up sci-fi.

ENGINEERING UTOPIA: Creating a Society in the Sky
COLLABORATION: Creating the Performances in Elysium

(OUT OF 5)

December 10, 2013


Starring Francia Raisa, Mike “The Miz” Mizanin, Will Greenberg. Directed by Gil Junger. (2013, 73 min).

If you see this disc sitting in a Wal-Mart bin this holiday season, check out the cast (pro-wrestler,“The Miz,” is the most famous face), examine the credits (it’s produced by WWE Studios) and read the plot (the ‘bounty’ in the title applies to bounty hunters, not a holiday of plenty). This obviously ain’t It’s a Wonderful Life. It’s not even Jingle All the Way. A TV movie produced for ABC Family, it’s only a notch above the syrupy holiday sugarfests Hallmark Channel craps out in abundance each year. However, this one does have the added bonus of fistfights, car chases and gunplay, tropes decidedly absent from Miracle on 34th Street.

Francia Raisa plays Tara, a school teacher who’s trying to forget her past while keeping it secret from her fiancée (Will Greenberg), said-past being part of the family business…professional bounty hunting. When a hoodlum she once put-away escapes and vows revenge, she runs back home to her family and, with their help, tries to re-apprehend him. Things get complicated when her fiancee follows her, and an old flame who’s part of the family business (“The Miz”) shows up, who still carries a torch for her.

Hilarity is supposed to ensue, and sometimes it does. Tara’s gung-ho mom and dad (an obvious parody of Dawg, the Bounty Hunter) are amusing, and some of the mafia tropes are chuckle-worthy. But for the most part, Christmas Bounty is a predictable and forgettable made-for-TV flick, loaded with plot holes and probably cranked-out in a couple of weeks. As the marquee name in the cast, “The Miz” is enjoyable enough, but not required to do much more than flash a charming smile and crack a limb or two; it might even disappoint WWE fans that he’s not really the star of this film.

However, Christmas Bounty moves at a brisk pace and, at 73 minutes, doesn’t overextend its welcome. Lovers of holiday film fare will roll their eyes at how dumb it is, both the concept and execution, and it’s likely anyone interested in a film like this already know it isn’t about to replace A Christmas Story as an annual family tradition.

3 Featurettes:
ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS: WrestleMania Casting Call
HANDCUFFS & HANDBAGS: The Style of Christmas Bounty

(OUT OF 5)

December 6, 2013

SATURN 3 and The General’s Lament

Starring Farrah Fawcett, Kirk Douglas, Harvey Keitel, Ray Dotrice as the voice of…Harvey Keitel. Directed by Stanley Donen. (1980, 88 min).

I had a friend in school named Tony, who did most of his thinking with his pecker, even before he learned how to use it (with anyone other than himself, that is). The only things that ever seemed to be on his mind were girls and sex. He wasn’t very discreet about it either. When girls in our class weren’t looking, he’d stick his tongue between two fingers and wiggle it at them. He had an endless cache of the filthiest jokes I ever heard, and knew more synonyms for female body parts than there are stars in the heavens. And, like a lot of guys who viewed themselves as sexual studs, he gave his dick a nickname: The General. I gotta admit, it was always pretty damn funny when some sweety passed by in the halls or at the mall and Tony would snicker, “Well, she just earned a salute from The General.”

Then there were the famous females of that era who earned similar salutes from The General - Linda Carter, Loni Anderson, the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, Olivia Newton John - and many of their posters adorned his bedroom walls. But he carried a special torch for Farrah Fawcett. He had a lot of her pin-ups, including her most iconic, posing in that red, one-piece bathing suit, her high-beams threatening to poke an eye out. That one had a place of honor on his wall, right over his desk.

It goes without saying that Tony never missed an episode of Charlie’s Angels.

When Farrah Fawcett graced the cover of Playboy in 1978, I imagine that, for Tony, the clouds parted and the heavens sang. His dad even bought him a copy of that issue, briefly making me think Tony had the coolest parent to ever walk the Earth. Anyway, although Farrah did look mighty fine on the cover of the magazine, Tony was pretty deflated when it turned out she didn’t actually appear nude in any of its pages.

Fast forward a few years, during which time new hotties began to grace our bedroom walls (I worshipped at the alter of Deborah Harry, while Tony found room for Catherine Bach sporting her Daisy Dukes) and Farrah had quit Charlie’s Angels to pursue a movie career. She’d done a couple of movies nobody cared about, but Tony’s infatuation with her was rekindled with the release of Saturn 3 in 1980 because he heard that this was the movie where she finally gets naked.

The film came and went in theaters in the blink of an eye and turned up on HBO about a year later (premiering at midnight). At that time, almost no one had cable TV, and HBO was a luxury afforded to those willing to pay for a dildo-shaped antenna on their roof, which my parents did. Me and Tony were both around 15 or 16 at the time, well past the age most kids did sleepovers, but he was one of my long-time best friends, so when he invited himself to spend the night so he could check out Saturn 3, I had no real problem with it. And, to be honest, even though Farrah was never my favorite Angel (I was always partial to Kate Jackson), seeing her au naturale piqued my curiosity.

"By the power of my mind, I COMMAND YOU TO DISROBE!"
Saturn 3 is 88 idiotic minutes of movie mega-cheese, piggybacking on the success of by Star Wars & Alien. In this one, Fawcett plays Alex, a young, naïve researcher who lives at a space station on Saturn’s third moon with her colleague/lover, Adam (Kirk Douglas, who’s thirty years older!). Their existence is idyllic…alone together, solving Earth’s ills by day, rolling in the sheets by night, with no one else around to inform them that their relationship is really fucking creepy. Enter Benson (Harvey Keitel), an unstable sort who shows up with his uber-robot, Hector, to try and make the place more productive. Benson’s not welcome here, especially after he develops the hots for Alex (Who can blame him? Certainly not Tony). But Hector is not your usual robot; he functions on living brain tissue, that brain being Benson’s, who’s an obvious pervert and psychopath. This means Hector is also horny and homicidal, but since Benson didn't see fit to equip Hector with a little General of his own, the poor, frustrated machine has to settle for being merely homicidal.

Farrah, as NOT seen in Saturn 3.
Too would've made a great
Saturn 3 isn’t a very good movie, but it had the chance to be at one time. It was produced by ITC Entertainment, which had also released the budget-busting flop, Raise the Titanic. That film's cost resulted in Saturn 3's budget being severely slashed, and it shows. There were also a few somewhat infamous scenes deleted from the final cut, the goofiest being Kirk and Farrah tripping on ecstasy, and Farrah struts into the room wearing the mother of all galactic S&M outfits. The whole scene looks like something lifted out of Barbarella and was still used in promotional trailers.

Still, it's sort-of fun if you keep your expectations low. I had no expectations at the time, but Tony certainly did, meaning he was yet-again disappointed. Sure, we caught a bit of boobage, but saw a lot more of Kirk Douglas’s sagging old butt than Farrah’s titillating treasures. Lying on the family room floor in our sleeping bags, I remember Tony pounding his pillow after the movie was over, complaining that “we didn’t see any snatch!”

I wasn’t too concerned about how short-changed Tony felt, mainly because it was two-in-the-morning and I was tired, but also because there was something about the Benson character that bothered me…he looked suitably evil, but sounded funny. It wasn’t until a few years later that I discovered Harvey Keitel actually had a thick Brooklyn accent and his lines in Saturn 3 were dubbed by Ray Dotrice.

Fast forward several more years, and although I haven’t talk to him in decades, I’m sure Tony had since-been able to finally sate his Farrah fix with later Playboy issues, when she truly did get naked. As for me, Saturn 3 is another one of those films I watched as a kid that isn’t very good, but have a nostalgic attachment to. It’s also a bit sad that Kirk Douglas was older when he made Saturn 3 than Farrah was when she died.

December 2, 2013

Blu-Ray Review: THE SMURFS 2

Starring Neil Patrick Harris, Brendan Gleeson, Jayma Mays, Hank Azaria & the voices of Katy Perry, J.B. Smoove, Jonathan Winters, Fred Armisen, Christina Ricci, Anton Yelchin, Alan Cumming, George Lopez, Jimmy Kimmel, Paul Reubens, Shaquille O’Neal, Jeff Foxworthy. Directed by Raja Gosnell. (2013, 105 min).
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

I had my youngest daughter, Lucy (9), help me review this because I’ve never been what you’d call a Smurfs fan. The first film, which I still haven’t watched, looked about appealing as Cocoa Puffs & Ketchup, and this sequel (which I had no idea anyone really wanted) didn’t look any better. It still sticks in my craw that a lame 80’s Saturday morning crapfest has its own movie franchise (The Smurfs 3 is on its way), yet no one will give the Looney Tunes another shot at big screen glory.

But I know I’m not its target audience, hence my insistence that Lucy sit on the sofa to endure The Smurfs 2 along with me. As someone who isn’t familiar with the Belgian comic books or the TV show, she had no inherent bias, so who better to view it objectively? Still, she was a little reluctant because, A) she never expressed any previous interest in either Smurf movie, and B) Good Luck Charlie was on. When I told her it was either The Smurfs 2 or the Broncos vs. the Chiefs on our big screen TV (which everyone in the family fights for control of), Lucy gave in.

"I chose the blue pill."
In The Smurfs 2, Gargamel (Hank Azario) is now a famous magician in Paris, using previously-ill-gotten Smurf juice to create his illusions. But he’s running low and plans to kidnap Smurfette (Katy Perry), who knows the formula. After she’s taken, Papa and a few other Smurfs, along with human assistance from Patrick (Neil Patrick Harris), wife Grace (Jayma Mays) & estranged step-dad Victor (Brendan Gleeson), set out to rescue her. A few new marketing opportunities characters are added to the mix, Vexy & Hackus, two Naughties created by Gargamel.

What follows are the good, the bad and the ugly of The Smurfs 2, as reviewed by Lucy and myself:

The Good:
  • The number of celebrities providing voices for the Smurfs is staggering. There’s a lot of fun to be had by simply trying to identify who’s who.
  • Neil Patrick Harris is a great actor, making a brave choice by playing the material with a straight face.
  • While it’ll never be mentioned in the same breath as Who Framed Roger Rabbit, The Smurfs 2 is better than all the Scooby-Doo movies.
  • Lucy actually enjoyed the movie immensely. She laughed a lot and had a great time (so much for passing this thing off during the annual Secret Santa party at work).
The Bad:
  • It’s kinda sad this is Jonathan Winters’ final role (voicing Papa Smurf).
  • If you hated the Smurfs in the 80s, this movie will not change your mind.
  • The attempts to make Smurfs “hip” are as clumsy and embarrassing as I suspected they’d be.
  • What’s Brendan Gleeson doing here? Does he owe back-taxes or something?
  • If you’re a parent whose kids want you to sit and watch movies with them, you’ll feel like hiding this disc in the couch cushions after only a couple of viewings.
The Ugly:
  • Despite the adequate CGI, The Smurfs are ugly, bland and boring creations. Aside from the hair (facial or otherwise), it’s impossible to differentiate one from the other.
After the movie was over, I gave Lucy control of the TV. By bizarre coincidence, she found the first Smurfs movie playing on Cartoon Network. As a born-again fan, she was ecstatic. I, however, was not among the converted. Other than those who carry a nostalgic torch for these innocuous blue critters, I’m assuming few other parents will be either.

Featurettes: Daddy’s Little Girl: The Journey of Smurfette, A Puurrfect Companion: Azrael’s Tail, The Naughties! The Tale of Hackus & Vexy, Evolution of the Naughties; “Surf-O-Vision 2” App; Deleted Scenes; Mini Movie: “The Legend of Smurfy Hollow.”

(OUT OF 5)

December 1, 2013


Starring Amber Heard, Michael Welch, Whitney Able, Anson Mount. Directed by Jonathan Levine. (2006, 90 min).
Anchor Bay Home Entertainment

Kind of an interesting story behind this one…

It was actually completed in 2006, but several distribution issues kept it from being released in America for over seven years. In the meantime, star Amber Heard has become a minor sex symbol and director Jonathan Levine began making a name for himself with films like 50/50 and Warm Bodies. But unlike Levine’s subsequent crowd pleasers, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane is a dark, violent slasher film similar in look and tone to the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Heard plays the title character, a shy-yet-popular high school girl who turns everyone’s heads; all the boys do indeed seem to love Mandy Lane. In fact, one guy really really loves her, and proceeds to torture and kill everyone around her during a weekend party at a cattle ranch. One-by-one, secondary characters meet violent ends. But unlike typical slasher fare, we’re made aware early on who’s behind it all: Emmet, her former best friend, and a social outcast ever since he coaxed a bullying classmate into jumping from his roof into a pool, getting killed in the process.

The world's easiest obstacle course.
Though loaded with many of the usual slasher tropes - hunky douche bags, nubile hotties, bad behavior preceding violent death, token black guy as an early victim - this ain’t a modern horror movie aimed at the mallrat crowd. In fact, it isn’t really a horror movie at all, even though great care has been taken to make it look like it oozed from an era when films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre dominated drive-in screens. It is, however, a brutal revenge film with a climactic twist I wouldn’t dream of giving away (which I admit I didn’t see coming, but after a bit of reflection, makes total sense).

As an homage to the sleazy spectacles of yesteryear, it’s obvious Levine has done his homework. He also does a great job establishing each and every character in early scenes. I guess the biggest problem is that, with the exception of Mandy and local ranch-hand Garth, none of these characters are even remotely likeable. We can accurately predict who’s gonna die, and don’t feel much when they finally do.

But that great twist ending goes a long way toward making us forgive the film’s clichés and shortcomings (perhaps even convincing us it’s a much smarter movie than we initially assumed). Is All the Boys Love Mandy Lane a great film? No, but it is a dark, well-directed homage to another era. With hindsight, it isn’t surprising that Jonathan Levine has gone on to bigger and better things.

EXTRAS: Commentary by director Jonathan Levine.

(OUT OF 5)

November 30, 2013


Starring the voices of Adrian Pasdar, Fred Tatasciore, Dee Bradley Baker, David Kaye. Directed by Eric Radomski & Leo Riley. (2013, 71 min).
Marvel Studios

Maybe the problem is with me, but I kind-of expected this to be better. Maybe I thought, since Marvel Studios is more-or-less the Pixar of superhero movies, that even a direct-to-video animated quickie like this would be undemanding fun, sparked by a bit of the wit and character detail that makes their blockbusters so amusing.

While Heroes United isn’t terrible, it is pretty bland, despite consisting of nearly wall-to-wall action. It’s essentially one prolonged battle, pitting Iron Man & Hulk against Zzzax, an energy-born monster who becomes stronger with every power source it comes in contact with. The story only slows down long enough to allow our heroes to get-in a few wisecracks from time to time.

Maybe part of my problem is I’ve grown accustomed to these characters as depicted in the theatrical films. There are fleeting attempts to present Stark as the amusing, sarcastic rogue we’ve grown to love (but here, voiced by a guy who sounds like he‘s still in high school). But I hated how Hulk is depicted. Here, he’s Hulk the entire time, even when he isn’t angry, and hearing him engage in coherent dialogue (including wisecracks) during the film flies against what Marvel has done thus far to establish him as a barely-uncontrollable wrecking crew.

"Hey, man...there's a bathroom just down the hall,
for God's sake."
I also had a problem with how Stark, Hulk and Zzzax continually narrate their every move (even if no one else is around), much like the superhero cartoons I grew up with in the 1970s. In fact, the entire movie plays a lot those old shows, aimed for the kiddie crowd who are apparently too stupid to follow the plot unless it is continually explained to them. This would be generic Saturday morning fodder thirty years ago if not for the CG animation.

Speaking of which, the CG is the biggest thing working against it. All the characters are blandly rendered, drained of any of real expression. We’ve all seen CG animation done better, even for television. I personally think this film would have been more fun if done in the limited style which has worked for DC shows all these years.

But maybe my biggest problem is my age. Watching this, I can see how a seven or eight year old kid would enjoy it…the film’s loaded with flash & action. Parents may roll their eyes at the lame attempts at humor, but kids will chuckle here and there, especially at racy comments like ‘balls for brains’.

And I guess, since this is obviously aimed at children, my comments are redundant. Still, it’s kind-of a shame, being that Marvel’s blockbusters try to appeal to everyone, and there’s no reason their less ambitious projects couldn’t try to do the same.

Marvel “Intermissions”: A fun feature you can access when you hit the pause button. Marvel Team-Up with Ryan Penagos & Joe Q: two Marvel guys who discuss various previous Marvel comic team-ups.
Marvel Mash-Ups: Old Marvel TV clips with new dialogue, much like CN’s Sealab 2021.

(OUT OF 5)

November 25, 2013


Starring Lily Collins, Jamie Campbell Bower, Robert Sheehan, Kevin Zegers, Lena Headey, Kevin Durand, Aidan Turner, Jared Harris, Jonathan Rhys Meyers. Directed by Harald Zwart. (2013, 130 min).
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

My oldest daughter bakes great cookies, the best I ever tasted. I’m not sure how she does it. I’ve tried baking cookies using the same ingredients, but mine don’t turn out as good. Similarly, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, yet-another attempt at a franchise based on a series of popular young adult fantasy novels, strives to be another Harry Potter or Twilight (and obviously inspired by both). It has most of the same ingredients, but like my cookies, a checklist of ingredients is no guarantee that the end result will be the same. City of Bones is very similar to how my own cookies taste…not terrible, but nothing special either.

It’s almost as if the filmmakers obsessively studied other YA franchise cookbooks to create a checklist for their own movie: Attractive emo chick…check. Smoldering emo boy…check. Ongoing love triangle…check. Costumes which are likely available at Hot Topic…check. Ominous signs & symbols foretelling dark times ahead unless we can stop it…check. Werewolves & vampires…check. A magical world which exists right under our noses…check. Hyperkinetic fight scenes…check. Spectacular CGI that would have knocked our socks off 10 years ago…check. A resolution which blatantly leaves the door open for the next installment…check.

Someone could use a breath mint.
All these tropes and more are thrown into a mixing bowl, along with an overly-convoluted plot in which our heroine, Clary (Lily Collins), learns she’s more than your average teen. She’s a Shadowhunter - half-human, half-angel - placed on Earth to protect the world from demons (with a bit of help from some local New York werewolves). It’s a decent enough concept, if a bit unoriginal. But originality isn’t a necessary ingredient if the characters are interesting. However, we’re given no real reason to give a damn about them. Sure, everyone is pretty and dresses cool (I can imagine Collins and Bower making undemanding tween hearts flutter), but it’s all window dressing. Say what you will about the Twilight films…as goofy as they are, the characters are pretty well-rounded.

So we end up with a movie with a bloated running time which plays like a greatest hits collection of scenes from other YA franchises (with a little bit of Evil Dead tossed in), and is ultimately forgettable because it offers nothing new. Like my daughter’s cookies versus my own, it isn’t terrible, but nothing special compared to what came before.

SPECIAL FEATURES: Bringing Them to Life featurette (cast & crew discuss the characters); Descendants of the Cup (a look at the stunt work and action); deleted scenes; music video, “Almost is Never Enough,” by Ariana Grande & Nathan Sykes.

(OUT OF 5)

November 24, 2013


Starring Blake Freeman, LeRoy Tessina. Directed by Blake Freeman. (2013, 90 min).
Wunderkind Pictures

There are two things which have diminished the power of the documentary today. The first is Michael Moore. The man is a terrific filmmaker. His films are eye-opening and entertaining, but also deliberately one-sided and polarizing. His in-your-face, ambush-your-opponent style rallies his believers and infuriates his detractors. There’s no middle ground, which means his films are not documentaries in the purest sense. The second is the boon of reality TV, where its so-called subjects are obviously playing up to the camera, most of whom are well-aware that the more outrageously they behave, the further they can extend their 15 minutes of fame.

Because of this, one tends to take a cynical approach anything passing itself off as a documentary. We ask ourselves how much of what we’re watching is staged or scripted, whether or not it simply exists for us to laugh at the stupidity of others. There have been a lot of such movies in recent years, the best being The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, which manages to tread the fine line between ridicule and empathy for its subjects.

Blake Freeman’s film, A Journey to Planet Sanity, tries for a similar vibe, but with diminished results, mainly because our overall cynicism forces us to question how much of what we’re watching is genuine.

Freeman is the director and de-facto star of the film. He meets a gullible old rube (LeRoy Tessina), who’s spend countless amounts of money over the years on phony psychics and alien-abduction devices. Then the two go on a road trip of Southern California as Freeman accosts these folks with obvious, for-the-camera sarcasm. After meeting each of these people (including one who claims to be able to foretell one’s future by examining their feces), Freeman’s comments are often very funny. But cynically, I found myself wondering how much of it was staged.

The film takes a darker turn in the final third, when we’re made aware that Tessina’s obsessions threaten to totally disrupt his life, since he can no longer afford his mortgage  payments. After learning Tessina has a rudimentary talent for painting, Freeman suggests throwing together dozens of sloppily-thrown-together pieces of so-called abstract art and displaying them in a gallery, where pretentious hipsters will shell-out thousands for them.

This is where I began to call bullshit of the film, where it suddenly switches from being an amusing look at phony psychics, then tries to shove in some drama with Freeman’s noble efforts to save Tessina’s house, while poking fun at an entirely different culture. I’m sorry, I find it hard to believe that, no matter how pretentious these so-called art aficionados are, that they’d be so easily duped by paintings slathered together in ten minutes.

I dunno, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the film depicts things exactly as they went down, and I’m simply too jaded by decades of Michael Moore manipulation and reality TV rhetoric to be able to accept it at face value.

But even if it’s all bullshit, is the film entertaining? Yeah, sort of. Freeman’s a truly funny guy, and his commentary is often quite amusing. Tessina is definitely a likeable sort (we surely do not want him to be as gullible as he appears in the film). I think it’ll help if you approach a movie like this with a totally open mind and far-less cynicism than I was able to.

A Journey to Planet Sanity premieres in theaters 12/6/2013