Greetings, gentle cineastes, to yet another edition of B-Movies Extended, the weekly article where William ’Bibbs’ Bibbiani and I, your (sometimes) humble hosts of The B-Movies Podcast, get to reconnoiter, expound, and bloviate on a topic merely brushed upon in the previous Friday’s episode. Our last episode (The Number 23) was chock full of wonders, as we were lucky enough to meet and discuss movies with Dr. Uwe Boll. We also covered, in brief, our experiences with the Los Angeles Film Festival, and reviewed Michael Bay’s clangy, overblown Transformers flick. It is this last point that we must revisit, dear readers.
Bibbs felt that Transformers: Dark of the Moon was, against his better judgment, a fun, entertaining thrill ride that made his inner 8-year-old wiggle about in sugar-and-explosion-addled glee. I thought it was simultaneously baffling, assaultive, and boring. But Bibbs brought up a good point, and indeed shed a bit of light on an often-neglected genre of cinema that is dear to all of us: Films We Would’ve Loved at Age 8. When we were children we didn’t have very good taste, necessarily, but we were passionate about what we loved. Not a one amongst us cannot point out a horrid cartoon show or ridiculous comedy film we loved as a child. How many young boys worshipped regularly at the animated church of Optimus Prime? That 8-year-old, in some ways, never entirely goes away, and it’s when we see some immature, colorful, shallow piece of schlock – one that we curiously realize we’re enjoying – that the little boy gets to run around again. They’re like the Sizzler of cinema. Haute cuisine for your inner child. Kinda crap for an adult.
In that spirit, here are a few recent films that my sophisticated adult mind rejected, and wrote intelligent critical reviews about, but my inner 8-year-old wiggled to see.
SPY KIDS 3D: GAME OVER (dir. Robert Rodriguez, 2003)
Before every last action blockbuster and obnoxious CGI animated film was being retrofitted for digital 3D, and before the success of Avatar, Robert Rodriguez, enthused lover of brand new digital film technologies, was doing his part to revive the 3D form with the third of his marginally popular Spy Kids movies. The film was presented in old-fashioned anaglyph 3D (the red-and-blue kind), so it didn’t even look as good as some of the cruddy digital retrofit 3D we see today, but there was something sincerely gimmicky about Rodriguez’s approach. What’s more, it was about a young boy (Daryl Sabara), about age 11, bodily entering a video game to rescue his sister from the multiple digital personalities of a wicked computer programmer (all played, curiously, by Sylvester Stallone). The film made no sense at all, and segued from one baffling colorful action set piece to the next without rhyme or reason. But there was something so wonderfully pandering about the film; it seemed to know the minds of children far better than most children’s films. As a result, part of me reacted very positively to this mess, and I had to admit my enjoyment.
D.O.A .: DEAD OR ALIVE (dir. Cory Yuen, 2006)
Out of the gate, D.O.A.: Dead or Alive, based on a popular series of video games, is predictable and stupid. Further analysis reveals that it is also sloppy and clichéd and perhaps too tame for its own good (there are about a dozen hot, hot ladies in the film, all barely dressed in bikinis, and yet there is no nudity or sex). But while I watched it (at age 27) I was filled with a powerful nostalgia for the days of my early junior high school career, when staying up all night with a friend, eating pizza, and trying to find the most illicit films possible on basic cable was considered the pinnacle of life’s combined experiences. D.O.A. is about a group of hotties (Devon Aoki, Jaime Pressly, Holly Valance, et al) being recruited by a mysterious billionaire (Eric Roberts) to compete in a fighting competition on a remote island. The story is a boilerplate Enter the Dragon rip-off, and the acting isn’t exactly stellar (Pressly notwithstanding), but there is something glorious about how bare-facedly exploitative the film is. It makes no apologies, teases you with the promise of nudity, has some pretty good fight scenes, and a sci-fi twist that will leave you pleasantly guffawing in comforting incredulity. If you’d like to recreate the days of your 12-year-old-boy life, this is the film to do it.
SPEED RACER (dir. The Wachowskis, 2008)
The first time I saw Speed Racer, the Wachowskis’ attempt to invent three new shades of electric purple, I felt battered and hurt. I felt like someone was trying to pour molten Skittles directly into my eye sockets. Can you taste the rainbow now?! The story was stultifying and confusing, and the characters were intentionally rock stupid, modeled, as they were, directly after the mold of the 1960s TV series on which the film was based. Needless to say, I saw the film a second time. There was something so purely and viscerally childish about the film. While it was clearly an experiment in style (and how successful it was is a matter for debate), there was an innocent, Slurpee-driven, candy-fueled youthful temperament to the film that I found strangely irresistible. Upon re-visitation, I found that Speed Racer plays less like a film you can enjoy now, and more like a bizarre peak into the future of blockbuster movies. Someday, all films will feature seizure-inducing bolts of neon cyan crackling across the screen. I know for sure that if I saw Speed Racer when I was, oh, nine, I probably would have insisted my parents drag me to it at least four or five times.
As it stands, I’ll just cherish my genuinely nostalgic memories of Gremlins 2: The New Batch.
FROM THE DESK OF WILLIAM BIBBIANI:
I think I’m through apologizing for my positive reviews of Transformers: Dark of the Moon now. The point has been made: it’s a crappy movie, but one of the best kinds thereof. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen was about five steps too far into the realm of nonsense and chaos. Transformers: Dark of the Moon is a measly two steps too far in comparison. Just enough to criticize the film fairly, but not so many that actual pleasure cannot be taken from the experience. It is not the first film of this kind, and I genuinely hope that it won’t be the last even though I do seem to take a lot of crap for speaking my mind about them.
Here are but a few such films that I had the gall to recommend to friends, readers and even complete strangers. Some hugged me for my trouble. Others sent me such dirty looks that you’d think I’d given four stars to German scheisse porn or something. I stand by these films, for the reasons I’m about to get into, but I also admit that, deep down, they’re total crap. Love and hate are two sides of the same coin, separated by but a scant centimeter of context.
THE AVENGERS (dir. Jeremiah S. Chechick, 1998)
The side effect of everybody eagerly awaiting Joss Whedon’s upcoming Avengers blockbuster is that everybody can forget Jeremiah S. Chechick’s epic failure to reboot the old BBC spy series The Avengers as a motion picture franchise. The name, at least, is once again safe. This movie was such a bomb that Chechik, who had previously helmed such popular flicks as National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and the culty rom-com Benny & Joon, has been relegated to TV ever since. Although he gets primo gigs on shows like Burn Notice and Gossip Girl, it’s easy to see why he never returned to features. The Avengers is, putting it kindly, a total mess. It’s awkwardly paced, confusingly told (supposedly an improved director’s cut is out there somewhere, but due to lack of interest I doubt we’ll ever see it) and most importantly it’s utterly bizarre. It’s that last part that I love so much. I don’t care if it makes sense so long as I can see Sean Connery in a pastel teddy bear suit, or Ralph Fiennes in a high-speed car chase with robot bees. Michael Bay’s Transformers movies have been rewarded for contrasting deadly serious action with peculiar incidental moments in between. The Avengers flips that around 180 degrees, packing quizzical action sequences right next to fairly straight-faced James Bond plotting, even if the exposition does come from an invisible dude. Weird stuff. Bad stuff. Stuff for my inner eight-year-old.
THE MUSKETEER (dir. Peter Hyams, 2001)
The Musketeer is one of the most feckless adaptations of Alexandre Dumas’s classic tale of adventure ever filmed. I loved it. It lacks dramatic heft, humor and even a speck of romance. I loved it. It’s the most dimly shot film since Manos: The Hands of Fate. I loved it. Why? Because it’s the only Three Musketeers movie with action choreography by Xin Xin Xiong, who brings dazzling craziness to a period in history in which fencing was still barely posh. Justin Chambers can’t carry a movie any more than he could the Great Pyramids, but he – or at least his stunt double – is a master acrobat who flies through a series of sword fights choreographed with spectacular precision. My eight-year-old self was hypnotized by the imagination involved in incorporating anachronistic but beautifully realized martial arts into the world of 17th century. My adult self was pissed off at the sloppy filmmaking, inert story, poor casting, the shoddy climax which seems like it was changed in post-production to allow for a happier ending and a show-stopping climactic duel which was borrowed wholesale from the classic martial arts epic Once Upon a Time in China (which Xin Xin Xiong also worked on). My eight-year-old self wins every time. This is some neat crap. Emphasis on the ‘neat.’
THE FANTASTIC FOUR: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER (dir. Tim Story, 2007)
I’m a comic book fan, born and bred, and as such there’s just no getting around the fact that Tim Story’s Fantastic Four movies are pretty much junk, albeit rescued on occasion by the excellent casting of Michael Chiklis and Chris Evans as The Thing and The Human Torch, respectively. Story’s first film was fairly unforgivable, occasionally getting the character dynamics right but hindered by a take on the “World’s Greatest Comics Magazine” that utterly neglected the (supposedly innate) sense of discovery and wonder by setting most of the film in an apartment building and relegating the action sequences to the kind of thing a beat cop would normally handle. Disorderly public conduct and a traffic accident? These are not the problems The Fantastic Four were meant to solve. But Don Payne, who would go to write the much-better Thor, sure as hell tried to make the second movie work. The eight-year-old comic book geek in me appreciated his attempts to fix Doctor Doom by sucking away all that sucked about him (except the casting, unfortunately) and make him the super-scientist egomaniac he always was. The nature of the conflict with the Silver Surfer led to some exciting action sequences (that mid-air chase kinda rules) and only the complete cop-out ending with Galactus ruins anything to a truly indefensible degree. The characters were even their quippy selves without sacrificing pathos, which is another point in its favor, but damn it, this movie still sucks. The most miscast members of the cast are still completely lost here (you know who they are), and frankly the fact that they came this close to doing a proper Galactus storyline and wussed out is painfully frustrating. And yet… whatever. This is the closest we’ve come so far to a proper Fantastic Four movie, and at least eight years of me liked it enough to allow a copy in my home.
WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE MOVIES FOR YOUR INNER CHILD?