Young Winston (1972) review-a tale of two Churchills

Even though historical biopics traditionally clean house during Oscar season, this genre of film can be downright insufferable if handled incorrectly.

In the past, a lot of filmmakers have been tempted to fit the totality of a person’s life and accomplishments into a single feature-length runtime, which can result in a bloated script and laughable use of old-age make-up.

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Director Richard Attenborough and screenwriter Carl Foreman attempt to sidestep these problems in Young Winston (1972) by focusing on a specific period of Winston Churchill’s life: from his childhood to his time in the military to his early years in British Parliament.

While the pair are mostly successful in crafting an accessible take on a larger-than-life figure, they do stumble a bit when it comes to the overall storytelling, which prevents this film from achieving “all-time classic” status alongside other historical epics like Lawrence of Arabia (1962).

Young Winston’s biggest strength and weakness lies in its narrative structure that is broken up into two distinct halves.

The first part is more of a coming-of-age story/domestic drama featuring Churchill’s academic struggles and his dysfunctional relationship with his parents.

Hour two is an all-out war movie that showcases some pretty awe-aspiring recreations of events like the Battle of Omdurman and Churchill’s involvement in the Second Boer War.

While both sections boast some tremendous performances and prestige production values, the opening 60 minutes fall a little short in terms of introducing the audience to Churchill as a character.

Don’t get me wrong, the basics are all there, with the future UK Prime Minister being framed as an unsure young boy who is trying to follow in the footsteps of his father (who was a tremendously successful politician in his own right).

Plus, his sense of alienation is really hammered home thanks to some compelling work from Robert Shaw and Anne Bancroft, who do a great job of portraying parents struggling to relate to their son.

However, the problem is that the first hour of this film dedicates far too much time to these supporting players, without giving the titular character any real time to make a big impression.

I’d estimate that at least half of the scenes in the first act of Young Winston feature Shaw and Bancroft exclusively, with the various child actors playing Churchill being shuffled off to the side.

Again, it’s not like these scenes are bad or anything (quite the opposite actually), but I did get the impression that the filmmakers tried to smuggle a backdoor biopic about Lord Randolph Churchill (the father) into a film that’s supposed to be about his son.

As a result, Young Winston feels a little bit unfocused at first, with most of the protagonist’s motivation being vocalized by other characters rather than being dictated by his own actions.

Another puzzling narrative choice introduced in the first half of this movie is the filmmakers’ use of overlapping narration, which is something I haven’t seen (or heard) since watching David Lynch’s screen version of Dune (1984).

Just like in that film, Young Winston features voice-overs from multiple different characters, who are meant to provide exposition and spout off about how great/terrible the main protagonist is.

I actually counted each time a new omniscient voice popped into the story and tallied over 10 narrators by the time the credits rolled.

Not only is this lazy storytelling, but layering the movie with so many conflicting narrators results in a really jarring movie-going experience that broke my immersion on multiple occasions.

Now, with all that bellyaching aside, Young Winston eventually finds its footing and picks up tremendously during its second half.

For one thing, Attenborough really gets to flex his talents as an action director, using dynamic camera movements and strategically placed extras to give the last formal cavalry charge in British military history its proper due.

Later on in the film, Attenborough outdoes himself in the action department by staging a truly nail biting sequence in the Second Boer War, where Churchill and his squad have to escape an ambush by pushing over a derailed train car.

But outside of all that bombastic war spectacle, Young Winston’s biggest asset in its second half is actor Simon Ward, who finally gets to take centre stage as an adult version of Churchill.

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Despite the fact that this is his first leading-man role, Ward is completely comfortable in front of the camera and finds the right emotional beats to carry the audience from scene to scene.

He showcases some pretty impressive range throughout the film’s runtime as well, effortlessly transitioning from a nervous British schoolboy to an up-and-coming politician who easily captures the attention of his colleagues in Parliament.

Ward also doesn’t rely on doing a simple impression of his real-life counterpart to carry the story, which is a pitfall that a lot of actors fall into when they’re cast in a biopic.

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Instead, he actually commits to playing a character, whose doubts and insecurities are eventually overshadowed by his sheer determination to make his mark in politics.

Of course, a lot of this character depth came be attributed to screenwriter Carl Foreman, who does a really great job of fleshing out all of the film’s major players.

Even though this approach leads to some clunky storytelling early on, everything eventually clicks into place once Ward gets to command the lion’s share of Foreman dialogue in the film’s second half.

That being said, I got the impression that the screenwriter was a little too enamored with his real-life subject, since there are select moments in the film that come across as fanboy wish fulfillment.

For example, Churchill easily guns down a bunch of enemy combatants in one of the first scenes of the movie, even though the character has very little field experience at this point in the story.

Moments like this could be chalked up to the fact that Foreman chose to base his screenplay on Churchill’s 1930 autobiography My Early Life; a book that is bound to contain at least a couple exaggerated retellings of real-world events.

So anyone walking into this film expecting any kind of critique about the less savory elements of the Churchill’s legacy, like his views on race and imperialism, will be sorely disappointed.

But judging it as a film, and not a historical document, Young Winston definitely succeeds more than it fails thanks to some very talented people working in front of and behind the camera.

It may not pack the same visceral punch as any war film directed by David Lean or Stanley Kubrick, but Attenborough still knows the right places to invest his time and money on screen, which would serve him well in future large-scale biopics like Gandhi (1982).

And with over 60 depictions of Churchill existing on film and television, Young Winston at least stands out on a superficial level by focusing on an period of his life outside of World War II.

The entertainment industry constantly acts like modern history only revolves around this one conflict, and any movie that breaks from that trend is a breath of the fresh air.

Verdict:

7/10

Corner store companion:

McVitie’s Digestive Biscuits and Tetley Earl Grey Tea (because it is the most British food and drink combination I could think of)

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Fun facts:

-Release date: July 21, 1972 (UK), Oct. 10, 1972 (US)

-Box office gross: $ 4,687,000 (US)

Young Winston was nominated for three Oscars at the 1973 Academy Awards, including Best Screenplay, Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design. Simon Ward also won the Most Promising Newcomer (male) award at the 1973 Golden Globes.

-Ward went on to reprise his role as Winston Churchill in the 1994 Turkish television miniseries Kurtulus.

-Malcolm McDowell was originally slated to play the lead in this film, but repeatedly declined the role.

-Outside of portraying Churchill as a young adult, Ward also provides the voice of a middle-aged Churchill who narrates large chunks of this film.

-Besides helming Gandhi (1982), Richard Attenborough directed several other high-profile biopics later in his career, including Chaplin (1992) and Grey Owl (1999).

-Surprise cameo: Sir Anthony Hopkins makes as short appearance at the end of the film as David Lloyd George, one of Churchill’s more prominent political allies who also served as the UK’s Prime Minister between 1916 and 1922.

The Ladies Man (2000) review-a pretty limp comedy

In the modern sphere internet movie critics, one of their favourite recent punching bags is the (relatively) new phenomenon of social media influencers starring in feature films or ongoing series.

“Oh look,” they say over a glass of Cognac. “Somebody decided to remake Airplane with noted corpse vlogger Logan Paul. How very pedestrian.”

“You think that’s bad?” another would chime in while polishing their monocle. “Check out this hospital drama where the entire cast is made up of Tik Tok stars.”

While these commentators are not wrong, I think their analysis often falls short in terms of putting these entertainment properties in the right historical context.

After all, out-of-touch movie executives have always been on the lookout for some flash-in-the-pan celebrity that they can turn into a star overnight, no matter what era of film we’re talking about.

Take, for example, SNL Studios’ output from the late 1990s and early 2000s, since this production company specialized in using middling characters from the late-night sketch show to headline theatrical releases.

While I’ve already talked at length about Bruce McCulloch’s Superstar (1999), Reginald Hudlin’s The Ladies Man (2000) suffers from largely the same problem, where the central protagonist cannot sustain a 90-minute runtime.

The story itself centres around Leon Phelps (Tim Meadows), a self-professed love guru who dishes out dubious sex and relationship advice over late-night radio.

When Phelps’ show gets thrown off the air due to lude conduct, the “ladies man” is forced to re-evaluate his priorities and figure out how he wants to spend the rest of his life (and with who).

Meanwhile, a mob of angry cuckolds is roaming the streets out for blood since Phelps secretly bedded all their wives and girlfriends.

Having never watched a Leon Phelps sketch before popping in this DVD, I was pretty baffled as to why this character was popular in the first place (to the point where SNL execs thought he could carry his own movie).

Outside of saying raunchy things at inappropriate moments, and dressing like a Soul Train reject, Phelps doesn’t have anything else substantial to offer in the comedy department, which puts the film on extremely shaky ground.

The whole movie I was waiting for Meadows to move past spouting grade school sex jokes and reveal an extra dimension to his personality, but that time never came.

Instead, all of Phelps’ character growth is boiled down to his evolving relationship with his producer Julie (Karyn Parsons), even though that romantic turn is telegraphed from a mile away.

The writers try and give this character a little more depth by providing him with a backstory at the very beginning of the movie, but this flashback doesn’t really play into anything later on and just serves as filler for a movie that’s only 84 minutes long.

Phelps’ status as a lothario and master seducer also left me scratching my head.

Even though Meadows is a good-looking guy, he carries the same kind of cheesy bravado of a pre-teen boy who just discovered his first chest hair, with cringy pick-up lines that wouldn’t even work during happy hour at Chili’s.

It would be one thing if the writers framed Phelps as a kind of Johnny Bravo character, who talks a big game but constantly gets rejected.

But judging by the sheer amount of the scorned husbands and boyfriends who what the “ladies man” dead, Phelps’ obnoxious style of courtship is irresistible to the opposite sex, apparently.

This sloppy writing creates a disconnect between the character and the audience, since we’re never given any opportunity to see him as a person who could potentially operate like this in the real world.

Of course, these shortcomings could be tolerable if the jokes were at least funny, but The Ladies Man severely fumbles in this department as well.

While the movie did elicit a chuckle from me here and there, most of the gags were dead on arrival because of how lazy and predictable they are.

For example, 25-minutes into the film Phelps scores a short-lived gig at a Christian radio station; a scenario that any half-baked writer could spin into comedy gold.

Unfortunately, they only thing this crew could come up with involves Phelps interviewing a nun who spouts off a bunch of unintentional double-entendres like how she is going to “assume a missionary position” in “Bangkok.”

The film’s running gags don’t fair any better, since most of them involve taking tired concepts and completely driving them into the ground.

One of the worst examples of this involves Will Ferrell’s character (one of the cuckolded husbands), whose repressed homosexuality is tied to his affinity for Greco-Roman wrestling.

In fact, the film is so devoid of imagination that some of its supporting players spontaneously break out into a poorly choreographed musical number just to fill up two minutes of screen time.

Just to be clear, I have nothing against raunchy sex jokes or “LOL SO RANDOM” humour, but those elements need to be presented with some level of finesse in a feature film. Otherwise, I might as well be watching a “funniest nut shot” montage on YouTube.

With that being said, The Ladies Man does at least contain a couple decent supporting characters that help make the movie’s surrounding mediocrity a little more digestible.

The strongest of these is played by Billy Dee Williams, who doubles as Phelps’ mentor and the story’s narrator.

Not only are Williams’ silky tones welcome in any movie, but the writers also sneak in some decent fourth-wall breaking jokes where the actor’s monologue constantly gets interrupted by other characters in the film.

And Karyn Parsons is really grounded and likable as Phelps’ assistant Julie, so much that you wonder why she is wasting this quality performance on a film that has barely enough material for a five-minute sketch.

In the end, The Ladies Man’s biggest shortcoming is that it fails to justify its own existence as a star-making vehicle for Meadows, who never really got another chance to be a leading man after this movie flopped (both critically and financially).

However, this isn’t entirely the comedian’s fault, since not even a more versatile performer like Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock or Jamie Foxx could make this sub-par material sing.

But if Meadows wanted to bring a character like Leon Phelps back in 2020, the door is definitely open for him on an online platform like YouTube, where seemingly every celebrity is spending more and more of their time because of COVID-19.

Just don’t be surprised if such a move is met with scorn and derision by the internet commentators I mentioned earlier, since there’s nothing that these folks love more than tearing down a mainstream actor moving in on their territory.

Verdict:

3/10

Corner store companion:

Compliments Wieners (because it they’re short, cheaply made and don’t leave you satisfied)

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Fun facts:

-Release date: Oct. 13, 2000

-Budget: $24 million (estimated)

-Box office gross: $13,743,212 (worldwide)

-According to Wikipedia, Tim Meadows appeared as Leon Phelps on SNL a total of 15 times between October 1997 and October 2000. His last appearance as the character took place on Oct. 7, 2000 (a week before the movie was set to premiere).

-At the time of this movie’s release, Meadows was the longest running cast member on SNL, having been with the sketch show since 1991. His record was surpassed in 2005 by Darrell Hammond and again in 2017 by Kenan Thompson.

Surprise cameo: Julianne Moore makes a brief appearance as one of Phelps’ former flings who has sex with him in a full clown regalia. This role took places two years after Moore was nominated for a Best-Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in Boogie Nights (1997).

The Ladies Man is also the title of a 1961 comedy starring Jerry Lewis, who stars as a nervous young man trying to overcome his fear of women.

Musical highlight: “Sweet Thing” by Rufus and Chaka Khan (because the title of the song is the pet name that Phelps gives to all of his lovers)

The Perfect Man (2005) review-rotten to the core

Sometimes, a movie fails because of poor execution, where a good idea on paper isn’t successfully translated to the screen.

Mark Rosman’s The Perfect Man has an entirely different problem, since its foundational premise is completely faulty and causes the rest of the film to collapse in on itself.

This romantic comedy stars 2000s teen idol Hillary Duff as Holly, a young girl who is tired of having to move across the country every time her mom (Heather Locklear) breaks up with her current boyfriend.

When the family relocates to New York City, Holly vows to find her mom [insert movie title here], even if she has to conjure such a person out of thin air.

So, under the tutelage of a local restaurant owner (Chris Noth), this plucky teenage begins writing her own mother love letters in the hopes of keeping her happy and staying in one location for a longer period of time.

I’m sure you’ve already picked out the massive flaws in this premise, but I’ll spell it out anyway.

For one thing, the movie tries to position Locklear as a relatable single mom who is simply unlucky in love and just doing her best to raise her girls (Duff also has a younger sister played by Aria Wallace).

However, WHAT KIND OF MOM FORCES HER FAMILY TO MOVE EVERY TIME A NEW RELATIONSHIP DOESN’T WORK OUT?!

It would have been way more understandable if Locklear’s character lost her job, giving her at least a financial incentive to uproot her daughters and force them to severe their current friendships.

But no. She just has a terrible taste in men and her children must suffer the consequences, apparently.

And it’s not like this has happened only one or two times either. The film establishes early on that Duff’s character regularly updates a travel blog that details her every move across the country, which means that this process must repeat every couple months.

And keep in mind, all these problems are established in the first five minutes of the film, which doesn’t set a great precedent for the remaining runtime.

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The next line of bullshit this movie expects us to swallow is Duff’s hairbrained scheme to stay in New York permanently, since it involves setting her mom up with a suitor who doesn’t exist.

At no point in the story does Duff’s character divulge how she is going to bring her plan to its natural conclusion, which would have to involve producing some sort of flesh-and-blood man (or at least a robot duplicate).

Instead, she just writes more and more love letters to her mom and eventually moves into email and instant messaging, since that was still a relatively new flavour of courtship in 2005.

This dumb plan isn’t even called into question by the various people who help Holly carry out this scheme, including her nerdy love interest (Adam Forrest) and street-mart best friend (Vanessa Lengies from Popular Mechanics for Kids).

I understand that the movie would have no conflict if Duff’s character concocted an air-tight plan to begin with, but the fact that the movie’s screenwriters never bothered to spell out any sort of endgame is pretty insulting to the audience.

Plus, the mechanics of Duff’s plan to court her mother via an imaginary proxy comes across as extremely creepy, especially when she starts sending Locklear messages online.

If this wasn’t a PG-rated movie aimed at teens, then Duff’s character definitely would have been forced to exchange increasingly lurid emails with her mom.

Now, I don’t usually get hung up on a stupid plot point here and there when watching a romantic comedy (or any genre of film, really). But the people behind The Perfect Man make it impossible for me to suspend my disbelief, since any remotely enjoyable element in this movie is tangled up in a web of dumb plot.

For example, Chris Noth is his usual suave self in his role as Duff’s unwitting Cyrano de Bergerac, and he really makes you believe that he holds all the secrets to wooing any woman.

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In fact, one of the film’s best scenes involves Duff hilariously unloading a bunch of her teenage angst into Noth’s lap, since he is the first male authority figure she’s been able to confide in for a long time.

But, of course, this cute moment is undercut by the Three Stooges-esque hijinks that immediately follow, where Duff has to prevent Noth and Locklear from bumping into each other in a public place (she previously used his likeness to accompany one of her letters).

Even the legit chemistry between Duff and Forrest can’t escape the plot’s gravitational pull.

Despite establishing a charming back-and-forth early on, it’s only a matter of time before Duff’s love interest gets involved in her idiotic ruse by imitating Locklear’s secret admirer over the phone.

And it’s not like the film has some tight direction or great cinematography to fall back on either.

In fact, most of the shots in this movie come across as extremely flat and uninteresting, like something you would find in a Hallmark or Lifetime Channel movie (albeit with more recognizable actors filling up the screen).

A lot of the character writing isn’t above that low standard either, with side players like Carson Kressley’s flaming gay waiter coming across as particularly annoying.

And the less said about Lengies’ terrible Brooklyn accent the better.

Ultimately, I get the distinct impression that The Perfect Man was put into production solely to capitalize on Duff’s rising star in the early to mid-2000s, without giving too much thought as to how each moving piece would work as a whole.

And while I haven’t seen any of Duff’s other movies or TV shows from that period, I can’t imagine those pieces of media being bad at such a bedrock level.

Judging by the trailer to The Lizzie McGuire Movie, at least the premise of that film doesn’t revolve around the teen idol seducing a family member over the internet.

Verdict:

3/10

Corner store companion:

Chips Ahoy! Sour Patch Kids cookies (because it’s a complete failure at a conceptual level)

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Fun facts:

-Release date: June 17, 2005

-Budget: $10 million (estimated)

-Box office gross: $ 16,535,005 (US) $ 19,770475 (worldwide)

-The story behind The Perfect Man was partially inspired by the life of screenwriter Heather Robison, who sold her first script to Universal Studios in 2004.

-Duff received a Golden Raspberry nomination for her performance in this film and Cheaper by the Dozen 2. She inevitably “lost” to Jenny McCarthy for her role in Dirty Love.

-Mark Rosman directed Duff in 11 episodes of the Lizzie McGuire TV show before helming The Perfect Man.

-Unexpected cameo: Dennis DeYoung, the former lead singer of Styx, makes a brief appearance as the lead singer of a Styx cover band.

-The filmmakers behind The Perfect Man shot an alternate ending where Holly and Adam (her nerdy love interest) meet up at a comic book convention instead of heading to a school dance.

-Musical highlight: “Collide” by Howie Day (plays during the movie’s obligatory sad montage at the end of act two)

Superstar (1999) review-is a comedy supposed to make your skin crawl?

I don’t think it’s controversial to say that Saturday Night Live has an extremely spotty track record when it comes to producing feature films.

For every classic like Wayne’s World (1992) and The Blues Brothers (1980), the late-night titan could dish out bonafide clunkers like Coneheads (1993) and Blues Brothers 2000 (1998) as well.

Bruce McCulloch’s Superstar (1999) definitely falls into that latter category, since this film spent way more time creeping me out than making me laugh.

The film stars Molly Shannon as Mary Katherine Gallagher, a Catholic high school student whose only ambition in life is to become a Hollywood “superstar” so that she can parley that fame into getting her very first kiss.

While Gallagher’s awkwardness makes that task seem impossible, she finally gets the chance to shine when her school puts together a talent show, where the grand prize is getting to work as an extra in an upcoming movie.

Now, I’m no SNL scholar, and I’m certainly not an expert on Shannon’s run with the late-night sketch show between 1995 and 2001 (that program came on way past my bedtime).

But even though I had no idea who Mary Katherine Gallagher was, I went into this film with an open mind, thinking that Shannon and fellow SNL-writer Steve Koren crafted a movie that would illustrate why this character deserved the big-screen treatment in the first place.

Well, if their goal was to introduce me to a new horror movie villain who is more disturbing that Norman Bates and Hannibal Lecter combined then mission accomplished.

If I were to describe Mary Katherine Gallagher using only three words it would be “severely emotionally disturbed,” since she consistently yo-yos between being hyperactive, aggressive and withdrawn in pretty much every scene.

While this quirky behavior is mildly tolerable in the first five minutes of the film (which is, coincidentally, the average length of an SNL skit), Shannon’s gimmick grows increasingly creepy and unnerving with every passing moment.

When she isn’t breathing heavily or making out with inanimate objects, Gallagher seems to be harboring some deep-seated homicidal rage that’s bubbling right beneath the surface.

The only way she can relate to her fellow humans and their emotions is through re-enacting scenes from old movies, which creates a rift between her and the other characters that isn’t endearing at all.

It also doesn’t help that the writers make her simultaneously behave like a nymphomaniac and a small child; two things that should never go together in a screenplay unless you’re making a critique of bad character writing.

And while the film’s plot is designed to get the audience to root for a nerdy underdog, I couldn’t help but think that this story could be easily turned into a serial killer movie with some selective editing and a new score.

Now, I get that director Bruce McCulloch probably made Gallagher creepy and unnerving on purpose, since he and his fellow compatriots from The Kids in the Hall reveled in putting these kinds of depraved weirdos on TV.

But the reason why a lot of these skits work is they were over in a couple minutes, meaning the audience doesn’t have enough time to think about how these characters would function in the real world.

By exposing us to someone like Mary Katherine Gallagher for over an hour, your mind can’t help but think about things like how many dead cats she keeps buried in her backyard.

Besides that, everything surrounding the film’s main character isn’t much to write home about either.

The plot is paper thin and beyond cliched, featuring a lazy talent show finale that’s served as the climax for an endless number of other high school comedies.

Except for Will Ferrell as Shannon’s love interest, pretty much all the other side characters are completely forgettable since they aren’t given anything to work with.

And the vast majority of the film’s sight gags lack serious imagination, barring some brief detours into dated movie parodies and dream sequences that feature Ferrell as God.

Of course, all of these shortcomings could be forgiven if Superstar consistently made me laugh throughout its runtime. But beyond the first five minutes, and a few decent lines from Ferrell, this movie is a giant comedy dead zone until the credits role.

While a lot of that is due its repulsive protagonist, Shannon should be given some credit for taking on this kind of role in the first place, since she’s fully committed to make herself look as unhinged as possible.

And to her credit, this kind of edgy character work would prove successful in other projects.

During the same year this movie came out, Amy Sedaris achieved cult comedy status through playing 45-year-old high school freshman Jerri Blank in the Comedy Central series Strangers With Candy. Although, part of the reason why that show work where Superstar failed is because the creators of Strangers admitted that Blank was a disturbed person in virtually every episode.

And even though I loath Napoleon Dynamite (2004), it recycled Superstar’s plot to much better results, since the writers at least managed to capture a quirky snapshot of middle America oddballs that resonated with audiences.

All Superstar managed to do was kill the public’s interest in Mary Katherine Gallagher. Following the movie’s premiere in October 1999, Shannon would only portray the character one more time on SNL before leaving the late-night sketch show in 2001.

And since these SNL films are only made to boost the profile of certain intellectual properties, I don’t think that’s the result they were looking for.

These days, SNL relegates most of its cinematic ambitions to digital shorts and the odd pre-recorded skit, which is probably for the best.

Heck, that recent Joker parody featuring David Harbour as Oscar the Grouch generated more demented laughs in three minutes than Superstar could during its entire feature-length runtime.

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Verdict:

2/10

Corner store companion:

All the cleaning supplies in your residence (because you’ll feel unclean after watching this movie)

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Fun facts:

-Release date: Oct. 8, 1999

-Budget: $34 million (estimated)

-Box office gross: $30,636,478 (worldwide)

-Before staring in Superstar, Molly Shannon, Will Ferrell and Mark McKinney all previously appeared in the 1998 SNL feature A Night at the Roxbury.

-According to Wikipedia, Shannon played Mary Katherine Gallagher a total of 20 times on SNL between 1995 and 2015. Her last appearance as the character was Feb. 15, 2015 during the show’s 40th anniversary special.

-SNL produced a grand total of 17 films within the span of 31 years. Their debut feature was Mr. Mike’s Mondo Video in 1979 and their last was MacGruber in 2010.

-A large chuck of Superstar was filmed at the University of Toronto.

-Musical highlight: “Beautiful” by the Go-Go’s (plays over the film’s opening credits)

Bitter Victory (1957) review-war may be hell, but it sure makes for compelling drama

One of the most interesting things about Mill Creek Entertainment’s “5 Classic War Films” DVD is that the majority of its content is pretty subversive in nature.

Sure, something like Commandos Strike at Dawn (1940) is pretty clear-cut military propaganda, but entries like The Prisoner (1955) and Castle Keep (1969) are openly anti-war stories that showcase just how absurd and dehumanizing these protracted conflicts can be.

That’s a pretty impressive ratio considering that this product is designed to be sold to a decidedly older and more conservative demographic.

Nicholas Ray’s Bitter Victory (1957) operates on largely the same subversive level, and does a great job of disguising its real message by presenting viewers with visceral violence and potent melodrama on the surface.

The film stars Richard Burton and Curd Jürgens as two very different British officers in World War II, who are tasked with leading a raid on a Nazi outpost in Benghazi to retrieve some top-secret documents.

Of course, the operation doesn’t go exactly as planned, and the two men butt heads as their squad is forced to retreat across the Libyan desert to safety.

To make matters more complicated, Burton’s character previously had an affair with the wife of his superior officer (Jürgens) which drives an even larger wedge between them.

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The aforementioned clash of personalities between Burton and Jürgens is the absolute highlight of the movie, both from a writing and acting perspective.

The two characters are diametrically opposed in virtually every way except for the fact that they both wear a uniform, and screenwriters Ray, René Hardy, and Gavin Lambert do a great job of illustrating that fact to the audience.

Five minutes into the movie it becomes abundantly clear that Jürgens’ Major Brand is a careerist in the military, who is much more interested in handing out orders and appeasing his superiors rather than getting his hands dirty.

In fact, it’s quickly revealed that Brand has been relegated to a desk throughout most of his career, which doesn’t inspire much loyalty in his men when he’s expected to lead them behind enemy lines.

Conversely, Burton’s Captain Leith is an experienced academic and field researcher who speaks multiple languages and actively volunteers to go on this into a dangerous mission, rather than waiting to be told.

Plus, Leith’s compassion for the well-being of his fellow soldiers (and even some enemy combatants) easily eclipses Brand’s indifference to anybody who isn’t his wife.

This sounds like basic stuff on a scriptwriting level (and it is), but that solid foundation is taken to a whole new level thanks to Burton and Jürgens themselves.

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Outside of fully committing to their respective performances, these two actors also provide enough nuance and complexity to prevent their characters from coming across as broad stereotypes.

While Major Brand is cowardly and definitely not fit for command, you can’t help but feel sorry for him since Jürgens’ 1000-yard stare hammers home the idea that he knows he is way in over his head.

And even though Captain Leith is much more capable under fire, he does not come across like a stoic badass cut from the same cloth as Sgt. Rock or John Rambo (from First Blood: Part Two onwards at least).

In fact, Burton has this sorrowful look on his face every time he’s forced to commit an act of violence, which does a better job of highlighting the film’s anti-war themes than a lengthy monologue ever could.

Unfortunately, the same praise can’t be dished out for a lot of the film’s supporting players, who kind of fade into the background in order to make room for the two towering leads.

This is a real shame, since the cast is full of talented English actors like Christopher Lee (yes THAT Christopher Lee) who only get a few lines before they are shuffled off to the side.

However, maybe the disposable nature of all these secondary characters was by design.

After all, the filmmakers are really preoccupied with showcasing how these lower ranking soldiers are often forced into situations where they have no choice but to be sacrificial lambs so that officers like Major Brand can complete their objective and get a promotion.

Outside of the violent deaths that occur in the film’s main action sequences, Ray and his fellow screenwriters communicate this theme through much subtler means thanks to key strategic visuals.

One of Bitter Victory’s strongest lasting images is the practice dummies that litter the opening and closing of the film, which serve as stand-ins for the nameless soldiers who are simply used as pawns by the uncaring military machine.

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Of course, clever visuals can’t make up for some of the film’s more noticeable blemishes, like little production shortcuts that come hand-in-hand with such a modestly budgeted war movie.

For example, even though Brand’s squadron is supposed to air drop behind enemy lines, all the audience sees is a quick dissolve edit and a group of men packing up their parachutes on the ground.

I get that the filmmakers probably didn’t have the technology to properly capture a real HALO jump in 1957, but the least they could have done is spring for some cheap military stock footage.

And although this might be an unfair gripe, one of my biggest pet peeves in older movies is when characters get shot and they have to clutch their chest dramatically to make up for the obvious lack of an entry wound.

Again, I understand that squibs were not widely used in movies at that time, but this style of production always takes me out of a movie no matter how it is shot.

Outside of those small quibbles, Bitter Victory is still a hell of an engaging war movie that works on a variety of levels.

For those who just want to sit back and enjoy an old-school, men-on-a-mission type story with a love triangle sprinkled in, Ray and his fellow scriptwriters have you covered.

But if you want to dig a little deeper and find a film that is all about sticking up for individuals who are suffering under the thumb of an authoritarian institution, there’s still a lot to chew on.

This film also serves as a great follow up to Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory, which tackled nearly identical themes from that same year.

In fact, the only group who wouldn’t enjoy Bitter Victory is the masterminds behind the modern military-industrial complex, since they would realize that people have been on to their shit from the very beginning.

Verdict:

8/10

Corner store companion:

Spitz Sunflower Seeds (because you chew them up and spit them out, the same way that the upper brass treat lower ranking soldiers in this movie)

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Fun facts:

-Release dates: Aug. 28, 1957 (Venice Film Festival), Nov. 29, 1957 (UK), March 3, 1958 (US)

Bitter Victory is an adaptation of the book Amère Victoire written by the film’s co-writer, and WWII-era French resistance fighter, René Hardy.

-French-Swiss director Jean-Luc Godard championed Bitter Victory as the best movie of 1957.

-Nicholas Ray’s biggest claim to fame before helming Bitter Victory was directing James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause (1955).

-This film was nominated for the Golden Lion award at the 1957 Venice Film Festival, but lost to Satyajit Ray’s Aparajito (the second part of his famous Apu Trilogy).

Bitter Victory features two future Bond villains in its cast: Christopher Lee would go on to portray Francisco Scaramanga in The Man With the Golden Gun (1974) and Curd Jürgens became Karl Stromberg in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977).

-After serving a supporting role in Bitter Victory, Christopher Lee starred as The Creature in Hammer Studios’ The Curse of Frankenstein during that same year. In 1958, Lee hit the big time by taking on the lead role in Hammer’s Dracula and would go on to star as the horror movie icon another eight times.

 

Sweet Hearts Dance (1988) review-What a bunch of jerks

Likeable characters are the lifeblood of any light piece of entertainment, especially your standard romantic comedy.

After all, if we (the audience) can’t relate to the story’s leads why should we care about whether or not they get together at the end.

Despite featuring a lot of charming actors, Robert Greenwald’s Sweet Hearts Dance (1988) can’t seem to grasp that simple concept, since its cast is full of narcissists, pushovers, jealous lovers, and all-around jerks.

The film’s plot revolves around Wiley (Don Johnson) and Sam (Jeff Daniels); two lifelong friends who have chosen radically different paths in their adult lives.

Sam is the local high school principal and is just starting a relationship with the town’s newest arrival Adie (Elizabeth Perkins).

Meanwhile, Wiley and his wife Sandra (Susan Sarandon) have been married for 15 years and produced three children in that time.

Unfortunately, Wiley decides to leave his wife and kids after suffering a midlife crisis and Sam is forced to play mediator between the two affected parties.

Now, in order to make this premise work, the director and screenwriter really have to sell you on Johnson throwing away his family life, or else the rest of the movie pretty much implodes.

And while abandoning your responsibilities as a husband and father is a hard pill to swallow for a lot of audiences, this kind of selfish character arc can work if the filmmakers flesh out the serious ramifications of his decision.

Unfortunately, screenwriter Ernest Thompson doesn’t go there, and depicts this (theoretically) heart wrenching separation as a minor speed bump in the relationship that can be easily repaired.

In fact, it feels like Johnson never seriously tries to earn the forgiveness of his wife and children, since he spends most of the movie moping about the life he could have lead if he didn’t get married at such a young age.

To make matters worse, Sarandon’s anger at her estranged husband is disappointingly muted.

Even after he embarrasses her in public several times, which includes bedding a random bartender on New Year’s Eve, Sarandon’s character doesn’t have enough of a backbone to simply kick this loser in the dick and move on with her life.

Instead, she’s the one who makes the first move and attempts to reconcile the relationship, even though Johnson has done nothing to earn that level of respect.

These topsy-turvy character dynamics are especially hard to take since we live in a world where infinitely better divorce-dramas like Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) or Marriage Story (2019) exist, which do a much better job of making you sympathize with both sides of such a messy, painful process.

In Sweet Hearts Dance, the characters never come anywhere close to having a deep conversation that gets to the core of their marital strife. As a result, they come across as immature high school students going through a minor tiff, rather than two full-grown adults who are about to change their lives forever.

The supporting cast don’t come across much better.

While Perkins is going for sarcastic, Aubrey Plaza-level wit, she just comes across as being a mean-spirited cynic since her character isn’t given enough room to develop.

And even though Daniels is supposed to act as the voice of reason in his friend’s marital woes, he makes a bunch of extremely questionable decisions in his own love life.

Not only does he come across as a jealous psycho by giving Perkins shit after she sunbathes nude on vacation, but he impulsively asks his girlfriend to marry him even though they’ve only been going out for a couple months.

While this behavior could have been salvaged by injecting Daniels with some refreshing self-awareness, his romance with Perkins kind of putters out and their problems are never resolved in any meaningful way.

In fact, this film is full of half-baked ideas that could have been interesting if they were tweaked a little bit.

The most glaring example of this is how the film is structured, since early sections of the story are framed using major American holidays (Halloween, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc.).

But for some reason, the filmmakers abandon this festive sequencing after New Year’s Eve and decide to organize each subsequent story beat under title cards that read “Open House,” “Going Away,” and “Coming Home.”

I understand that the first few months of the year are short on noteworthy celebrations, but why in the blue hell did they skip over Valentine’s Day? You know, that one time of the year where sweet hearts usually attend a dance!?

It’s a shame that the script is as messy as it is, since all these actors have great chemistry.

Daniels and Johnson really sell you on the idea that they’ve been friends since grade school, with some of the best scenes in the movie involving them tobogganing, sailing, and threatening to beat up some local teenagers.

And even though their breakup and reconcilement isn’t well defined, Sarandon and Johnson at least feel like a married couple who are struggling to recapture the magic of their early relationship.

However, the film’s script can’t attain that same level of consistency, and the tone constantly flip-flops between light comedy and serious domestic drama without fully committing to either.

Because of this, I can’t get a beat on who this movie is meant for. It’s not sappy or wholesome enough for the Hallmark Channel and not edgy enough for the Sundance crowd.

Sweets Hearts Dance also doesn’t work as a date movie, since all this underdeveloped marital dysfunction definitely won’t put you and your companion in the mood.

My recommendation would be to watch this movie solo on a Sunday afternoon. That way you can turn down the volume and enjoy the film’s nice Vermont scenery while you vacuum and complete other weekend chores.

Verdict:

5/10

Corner Store Companion:

The Perfect Man milk chocolate bar (because it’s the closest you’ll get to finding a sweet romantic lead while watching this movie)

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Fun Facts:

-Release date: Sept. 23, 1988

-Budget: $ 9 million

-Box Office Gross: $ 3,790,493

Charmed actress Holly Marie Combs makes her feature film debut here as Johnson’s daughter “Debs.”

Sweet Hearts Dance director Robert Greenwald received a Razzie in 1980 for directing famous b-movie Xanadu. However, he was also nominated for an Emmy in 1995 for helming the TV miniseries A Woman of Independent Means.

-Greenwald eventually pivoted into documentary filmmaking and political activism later in his career, founding the media company Brave New Films in 2004. For the next 16 years, Greenwald dedicated his career to tackling hot button issues through documentaries like Uncovered: The War on Iraq (2004), Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price (2005) and Unmanned: America’s Drone Wars (2013).

-Surprise cameo: Vermont senator, and current U.S. presidential hopeful, Bernie Sanders makes an uncredited appearance handing out Halloween candy at the very beginning of the film. Sweet Hearts Dance was filmed near the city of Burlington, where Sanders served as mayor between 1981 and 1989. Sanders’ only other feature film roll is playing a rabbi in the 1999 low-budget comedy My X-Girlfriend’s Wedding Reception.

More American Graffiti (1979) review-a brilliant, acid trip of a sequel

Lately, it seems like the Internet’s most valuable currency isn’t Bitcoins or Instagram likes; it’s Star Wars hot takes.

One of the more thought-provoking topics to emerge from this ongoing discourse is whether or not the franchise suffered because series creator George Lucas wasn’t on writing duties or sitting in the director’s chair after he sold it to Disney.

While I don’t want to add to that speculation, I thought it would be interesting to talk about another much-maligned sequel to a Lucas property: More American Graffiti (1979).

For those of you who don’t know, the original American Graffiti (1973) was Lucas’ big claim to fame before he created the most popular media franchise in the history of human civilization.

But in stark contrast to the sweeping scale and sci-fi bombast of the original Star Wars, American Graffiti is a small, intimate coming-of-age story that centres on a group of California youth in 1962 who just graduated high school and are on the cusp of early adulthood.

The film follows these kids during one hectic night and morning, where they get into street races, fall in love, and decide if they even want to go to college, all set to a period-appropriate rock ’n’ roll soundtrack.

Thanks to Lucas’ uncanny ability to capture the sights and sounds of the early baby boomer generation, the film went on to gross $140,000 million off of a $777,000 budget, which paved the way for the Hollywood outsider to bankroll his ambitious space opera.

I don’t have to tell you what happened when Star Wars (later dubbed Episode IV: A New Hope) finally came out in May 1977, but suffice it say that Lucas got very busy, which forced him to put other projects on the backburner.

Because of this, when a sequel to American Graffiti was in development Lucas only served as an executive producer (and uncredited editor), handing off directing/writing duties to Bill Norton.

Rather than just rehash the same format, Norton decided to take this sequel into new and interesting directions, following the original film’s characters (except Richard Dreyfuss’ Curt) across four different New Year’s Eve celebrations from 1964 to 1967.

When More American Graffiti was eventually released in 1979, it was savaged by critics, with many calling this new structure “confusing,” “pointless” and “a mess.” Currently, the film holds a 20% rating on Rotten Tomatoes (based on 10 reviews) and a not-so-great 5.3/10 user rating on IMDB.

Having recently watched this film for the first time, I do wish people would give More American Graffiti a second shot, since it’s genuinely one of the most creatively ambitious sequels I’ve ever seen.

First let’s talk about the film’s aforementioned structure.

Going into the movie blind, I’ll admit that splitting the story into four segments did catch me by surprise and took some getting used to.

Not only do these storylines happen simultaneously (constantly switching back and forth) but they’re also shot in their own unique style and aspect ratio.

The opening segment in 1964 follows now professional drag racer John Milner (Paul Le Mat) and is shot using a wide angle, stationary camera that was typical of 1950s exploitation cinema.

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Terry the Toad’s (Charles Martin Smith) attempts to survive the jungles of Vietnam in 1965 are captured using a handheld, 16mm camera.

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The psychedelic adventures of Debbie Dunham (Candy Clark) in 1966 San Francisco are probably the most experimental sections of the film, since the director utilizes multiple split-screen camera angles to depict the character’s wild, drug-fueled hippie lifestyle.

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Thankfully, the movie settles down for the final segment in 1967 California, where the buttoned-down, domesticated Steve and Laurie (Ron Howard and Cindy Williams) get swept up in a violent student protest.

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After cycling through this process a couple times, you’ll quickly find that this visual style is not just some dumb gimmick.

In fact, this kind of filmmaking elevates More American Graffiti from being a cheap, cash-grab sequel to something that expands on the story of the original while also maintaining its own unique voice.

For one thing, these contrasting filmmaking styles kept me engaged through the entire 110-minute runtime, since there was always something new and exciting to gawk at.

At the same time, Norton manages to exercise some restraint in the editing department and gives each scene just enough room to breathe before jumping ahead in time.

The contrasting aspect ratios also do a great job of telling you what year it is without the need to artificially slap a distracting title card on the screen every time the setting changes.

Plus, on a creative level, I just have to admire the balls it must have taken to greenlight such a weirdo sequel in the first place.

I imagine the filmmakers were seriously tempted to simply replicate the structure of the first film, where all the action takes place within a couple hours. Maybe the characters from American Graffiti come back together for a high school reunion or a wedding, and hijinks ensue from there.

But instead, Norton and company decided to split these characters up (for the most part) and scatter their stories across different stretches of time and geographic space, robbing the audience of the warm nostalgic comradery that made the original American Graffiti so popular in the first place.

To bring the conversation back to Star Wars for a second, that was a very Rian Johnson move.

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But the fractured nature of More American Graffiti serves a very specific thematic purpose, since it’s meant to reflect the tumultuous, divisive nature of the United States in the 1960s.

Not only are most of the characters thrust into some of the biggest political and cultural touchstones of that era (like Vietnam, the hippie music scene and student protests) but we, the audience, view them all happening at the same time.

And while this mixture of sights and sounds can be slightly disorienting, it paints a really beautiful picture a bunch of people trying to find their way in an increasingly complicated and chaotic world.

Film critic Nathan Rabin actually sums up the experience better than I ever could in a write-up for The Dissolve, saying: More American Graffiti is about the fracturing of a culture, and the simultaneously exciting and terrifying freedom of that splintering.”

Even if you hate this stylistic approach, most American Graffiti fans will at least appreciate the sequel’s stellar soundtrack.

Following up the original’s famous set list is no easy task, since it featured pioneering rock ’n’ roll figures like Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly.

However, Norton managed to cultivate a set list that perfectly encapsulates how that same genre of music evolved throughout the1960s, with songs from counterculture icons like Bob Dylan, The Doors, Simon & Garfunkel, and The Byrds.

The film’s cast is equally strong, which is impressive considering they could have easily phoned in their performances for (if we’re being honest) a sequel that no-one was really asking for.

Instead, these actors, thanks in part to Norton’s script, are fully committed to injecting new depth into their characters.

High school nerd Terry the Toad finally grows a spine in the jungles of Vietnam. Debbie’s impulsive personality finally bites her in the ass and she is forced to take on more responsibility. John realizes that his “cool guy” status from high school is quickly fading. Meanwhile, Steve and Laurie’s conservative values are put to the test when they witness the horrors of police brutality first-hand.

I’m also thoroughly impressed with how Norton managed to recruit pretty much all the major players from American Graffiti to reprise their roles, even down to minor characters like the members of the Pharaohs street gang.

Heck, he even got Harrison Ford to make a brief cameo as Bob Falfa even though the next Star Wars movie was looming on the horizon.

To bring this conversation back full circle, I guess watching More American Graffiti was exactly the palette cleanser I needed after sitting through The Rise of Skywalker.

Instead of playing it safe and relying on cheap nostalgia to tell your story, this Lucas sequel decided to challenge its audience by going way off the reservation and taking some real creative risks.

Of course, this approach didn’t really work out in the short term, given the thrashing it received from critics at the time.

And More American Graffiti definitely has its fair share of rough edges that even I can’t excuse, with some obvious production gaffs (like obviously fake props and a visible camera man being in frame at one point) that somehow making it into the final cut.

But I’ll definitely take a messy film full of heart and interesting ideas over a glorified corporate line item any day of the week, although I’m worried that Disney is choosing the latter approach when it comes to all their newly acquired intellectual properties.

Oh, and on an unrelated topic: here’s my 50-page master’s thesis on why The Last Jedi is [content redacted].

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Verdict:

9/10

Corner store companion:

Salt & Vinegar, Barbecue, All Dressed, and Ranch Crispers (so you can enjoy four distinct flavours for each section of the film)

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Fun facts:

-Release date: Aug. 3, 1979

-Budget: $3 million

-Box Office Gross: $15,014,674

More American Graffiti served as Ron Howard’s last major film role. After this movie wrapped, the actor would only appear in television before transitioning into directing, producing and voice-over work only.

-The filmmakers attracted thousands of extras for the movie’s climactic drag race scene by promising them free Star Wars toys.

-Bill Norton would go on to carve out a nice career for himself by directing television, including episodes of The Twilight Zone, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Buffy: The Vampire Slayer and Angel.

-Musical highlight: there are so many great tracks to choose from, but I’m going to have to go with Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” which plays over the closing credits.

Jingle All the Way 2 (2014) review-needs more Sinbad

For reasons that continue to baffle me, Jingle All the Way (1996) has sort of become a new holiday classic amongst my fellow millennials.

I know the potency of 90s-stalgia is overpowering to a lot of people in my age demographic, but the reality is that this comedy is aggressively mediocre and is mostly remembered for its cast, which included Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sinbad, Phil Hartman, and a pre-Episode I Jake Lloyd.

It’s possible that the plot even resonated with some parents at the time, since it involved two rival dads (Schwarzenegger and Sinbad) nearly killing each other to get their hands on the season’s hottest toy.

The influential meme economy also might have given this film some extra room in people’s collective memory now that there are more YouTube remixes of Schwarzenegger spouting the line “put that cookie down” than I care to count.

However, I do find it comforting that Gen Z movie buffs won’t remember Jingle All the Way 2 (2014) with the same resonance, if at all, because it’s just as bad as the first one but without the budget, weirdness, or Hollywood star power to pull the wool over people’s eyes.

Despite its name, Jingle All the Way 2 is a sequel in name only, since it doesn’t feature any characters from the original film.

Instead, we’re saddled with fake redneck Larry the Cable Guy acting out the same basic plot, where a father tries to secure his child’s affection during Christmas by buying a toy that every other kid is after.

To the filmmakers’ credit, they didn’t try and replicate the original story beat for beat, choosing instead to mimic its overall concept and structure, which left screenwriter Stephen Mazur plenty of room to fill in the blanks.

The problem is he decided to clog the runtime with a bunch of half-baked shenanigans that would barely prop up a half-hour of network television.

I hate to give the original Jingle All the Way any sort of compliment, but at least that movie had momentum. At least you were kind of invested in the cutthroat rat race between Schwarzenegger and Sinbad that served as the backbone of the story.

While Cable Guy is saddled with his own parental rival (his ex-wife’s new husband) in this straight-to-video sequel, their back-and-forth never really rises above passive aggressive sniping until the very end.

As a result, all we’re left with is the film’s attempts at physical comedy, which involves Larry getting electrocuted, thrown off a mechanical bull, and beaten up by old people.

While I’m not above a good prat fall or quality nut shot, these gags aren’t even well executed as the timing seems to be off by a couple seconds. It’s almost like the filmmakers thought they were shooting a TV sitcom and left room for canned audience laughter to be added in later.

Of course, the shift in quality between the two films is directly tied to the difference in budget, with the 1996 entry having the financial backing to pull off lots of grand spectacle.

For example, one of the film’s most memorable sets pieces features Schwarzenegger getting into a brawl with a bunch of black-market toy dealers before it is broken up by an entire precinct worth of police officers.

In Jingle All the Way 2, this same scene is staged between only a handful people, including a sparse trio of cops.

While having a small $5 million budget is a definite disadvantage, that doesn’t excuse the sheer level of incompetence on display from the screenwriter and director.

From a writing perspective, Mazur doesn’t even know how to structure this simple story, since one of the supporting characters blurts out the film’s moral 24 minutes in. After Larry is directly told that his daughter will love him no matter what, how are we, as an audience, supposed to remain invested in the story?

By revealing this information this early on, all we have to look forward to is Cable Guy’s manufactured working-class charm for the next hour.

In terms of providing fun holiday visuals for kids, I wouldn’t even recommend playing this movie on mute, because it mostly looks like shit.

The filmmakers made the baffling decision to shoot this movie near Vancouver, which isn’t known for its traditional festive scenery even in mid-December.

And since the Jingle All the Way 2 crew didn’t have the resources to transform soggy Langley into a winter wonderland, the production design looks rushed and slapped together, like they bought a bunch of discount holiday decorations the night before principal photography began.

Say what you will about the Christmas movies they mass produce for Netflix and the Hallmark Channel, but at least they put their money where it matters: set dressing and ambiance.

The people behind Jingle All the Way 2 couldn’t even be bothered to find a frozen lake for an exterior shot of an ice fishing shack and just provided a static image instead.

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This is seriously a shot from the movie.

Even basic technical stuff like scene transitions are noticeably cheap, almost like they were ripped straight from Microsoft PowerPoint.

The only thing I can really say in the sequel’s favour is that the child actress who plays Cable Guy’s daughter (Kennedi Clements) is actually pretty charming and is a way better performer than Jake Lloyd in the original (although, in retrospect, that’s a pretty low bar to clear.)

Otherwise, the rest of the movie is a complete comedy dead zone and its mere existence as a low-effort, cash grab sequel emphasizes the absolute worst elements of the holiday: naked commercialism dressed up as a wholesome family entertainment.

The original Jingle All the Way is guilty of the same thing, sure, but the filmmakers behind that movie managed to inject some energy in the proceedings, something that this follow-up is sorely missing.

And I never thought I would type these words in any context, but this sequel desperately needed some Sinbad to liven things up.

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Verdict:

3/10

Corner store companion:

Lindt Lindor chocolates (because you deserve to consume something of quality while watching this dreck)

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Fun facts:

-Release date: Dec. 2, 2014 (straight-to-video)

-Budget: $5 million

-Mercifully, Larry only shouts his signature catch phrase “git’ r done” once in this movie.

-Following Jingle All the Way 2, director Alex Zamm would go on to helm a bunch of regal holiday movies, including A Royal Christmas (2014), Crown for Christmas (2015) and A Christmas Prince (2017).

Jingle All the Way 2 marks the feature film debut of Anthony Carelli, better known as WWE wrestler Santino Marella, who plays Larry’s best friend Claude.

Jingle All the Way 2 is the 31st film that was produced by WWE Studios.

-Around 2014, WWE Studios made a habit of producing straight-to-video movies featuring intellectual properties from other companies. Outside of Jingle All the Way 2 (20th Century Fox), they also released Leprechaun: Origins (Lionsgate) and Scooby-Doo! WrestleMania Mystery (Warner Brothers) in that same year.

Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot (1992) review-just as bad as you remember

I honestly find no joy in dogpiling on a universally reviled piece of 90s media, mostly because there’s nothing really left for me to add after all this time.

Case in point: Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot (1992) has been an industry laughing-stock ever since it was released and remains a stain on Sylvester Stallone’s illustrious career.

Not only did the film “win” three big Golden Raspberry awards, but critics across the board absolutely torn it apart, with Roger Ebert famously calling this action-comedy “one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen” twice in a single review.

Even Stallone holds nothing but contempt for this project. In 2006 interview with Ain’t It Cool News the actor pegged it as “maybe one of the worst films in the entire solar system” and that “a flatworm could write a better script.”

The movie-going public also remained largely ambivalent to this star-studded vehicle, since the film only regained 63% of its $45 million budget at the domestic box office (although it did go on to gross around $70 million thanks to international audiences).

But my guiding philosophy is that every famously bad movie is worth a revisit just in case I end up finding something worth recommending (check out my write-up of You Light Up My Life for proof of that).

However, in this instance I’m going to have to fall in line with the critical consensus, because Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot fucking sucks!

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The film’s plot follows Stallone’s tough-as-nails LAPD police sergeant Joseph Bomowski, whose world is turned upside down when he gets a visit from his overbearing, elderly mother Tutti (played by Estelle Getty from The Golden Girls).

When Tutti witnesses a murder on the streets of Los Angeles, Joe is forced to keep her around for a longer period of time and tolerate her excessive mothering as he tries to catch some illegal gun dealers.

Of course, the two eventually team up to nab the bad guys and to make sure the screenwriters have an excuse to shoehorn the movie’s title into a cringe-inducing line of dialogue.

Like Stallone pointed out in that 2006 interview, the film’s biggest offense is its script.

Even though the two leads have decent chemistry, the “overbearing mother-exasperated son” dynamic gets old quickly and doesn’t develop past something you would see in a two-minute SNL sketch.

You never get a real sense of where this familial dysfunction came from or why Joe has allowed it to continue well into his adult life. There’s some passing mention of Joe’s father dying when he was a kid, leaving Tutti all alone to raise him, but it’s not explored in any significant detail.

Beyond that, around 95% of the jokes land with a dull thud, since the screenwriters only find two things funny: Stallone getting embarrassed and Getty using harsh language occasionally.

For some reason, they also thought it was a good idea for this Golden Girl to quote lines from Dirty Harry and The Terminator, which is the comedy equivalent of your own mom tagging you in an outdated meme on Facebook.

Additionally, the screenwriters have a tough time keeping Getty’s character consistent in terms of her intelligence.

Despite the fact that Tutti showcases pretty impeccable crime detection ability, she still can’t grasp pretty basic stuff like how it’s not a good idea to wash your son’s service weapon in the sink.

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All these script writing problems culminate in the film’s finale, where (SPOILERS) the filmmakers expect us to take Tutti’s side and castigate Joe for being too uptight.

Even though the ending is meant to be heartwarming, I couldn’t help but think that none of their underlying problems were resolved and that Joe is going to turn into Norman Bates somewhere down the line.

If it seems like I’m spending way too much time analyzing this movie’s shallow script, it’s because Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot doesn’t bring anything else interesting to the table.

Not only is Roger Spottiswoode’s direction flat, but all of the side characters are boring carboard cutouts and the music seems like it was composed by a computer program set on “default.”

Admittedly, some of the stunts and practical effects are well done. There’s a particularly impressive scene during the film’s climax where Stallone drives a big-rig truck into an airplane propeller.

But those moments are few and far between and don’t make up for the rest of the movie being a total misfire.

Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot also isn’t hilariously bad enough to be put in the same category as other famous 90s disasters like Cool As Ice (1991) or Batman and Robin (1997).

Say what you will about those latter two films, but at least the people behind them had a vision and managed to produce something that was entertaining in terms of how misguided it was.

This Stallone vehicle is pretty lifeless by comparison, since the filmmakers never take any risks and just rely on recycling a bunch of tired buddy-cop clichés instead.

So does Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot earn its status as one of the worst high-profile movies of that decade? Maybe.

But will I ever watch it again to gleefully gawk at the sheer level of incompetence that managed to make it on screen? Definitely not.

Verdict:

3/10

Corner store companion:

Glad garbage bags (because this movie is trash)

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Fun facts:

-Release date: Feb. 21, 1992

-Budget: $45,000,000

-Box office gross: $28,411,210 (US), $70, 611, 210 (worldwide)

Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot officially “won” three Razzie Awards in 1993 for Worst Actor (Stallone), Worst Supporting Actor (Getty) and Worst Screenplay (Blake Snyder, William Osborne, William Davies).

-The 20th episode of The Simpsons’ 18 season is titled “Stop! Or My Dog Will Shoot” in reference to this film.

-Unexpected cameo: Ving Rhames plays one of the thugs that Stallone takes out in the opening scene of the movie.

-Director Roger Spottiswoode would recover from this giant flop by directing some much better action films in the future, including the 18th entry in the James Bond franchise Tomorrow Never Dies (1997).

-Arnold Schwarzenegger famously tricked Stallone into starring in this film, feigning interest in the project in order to get his big screen rival to audition. Schwarzenegger confirmed this story during a recent interview with Jimmy Kimmel in October of this year.

The Terror (1963) review-the only thing scary about this movie is how cheap it is

Before we get started let me make one thing very clear: I did not walk into Roger Corman’s The Terror (1963) expecting to see opulent production values.

I was fully aware of Corman’s status as an iconic B-movie director/producer ahead of time and adjusted my expectations accordingly.

But even if I grade this gothic horror film on a curve it’s is still dreadfully boring, confusing, and not scary in the least.

The plot itself follows a fresh-faced, 26-year-old Jack Nicholson, who plays a French soldier in Napoleon’s army who gets separated from his regiment and wanders into a spooky castle occupied by the reclusive Baron Von Leppe (Boris Karloff).

There, Nicholson’s character becomes obsessed with a young woman (Sandra Knight) who resembles the Baron’s dead wife and he attempts to unveil the mystery of what happen to her and why.

And that’s about as succinct a synopsis as I can provide, since the film’s story is all over place and never really provides concrete answers as to what’s going on.

One of the biggest plot points that drove me crazy is the Nicholson’s love interest (Knight), since it’s never clearly established if she’s a zombie or a ghost.

Despite disappearing at random times like an apparition, she also talks about being “possessed” and under the influence of a local witch.

She also might have the ability to Animorph into a hawk, although (again) the screenwriters never make that clear.

Legend has it that Corman only filmed four days worth of footage with Karloff before handing the reins over to a handful of other second-unit directors to bring this film up to feature length.

There was apparently no real script during this part of production either, which probably explains why so many important plot points later on in the film come across as being an afterthought or improvised.TheTerror2

Corman’s corner cutting approach to filmmaking also affects the way the movie looks, since he apparently just re-used some of the same sets from his previous project The Raven (1963).

Because of this, the filmmakers never really establish a consistent mood or atmosphere, and it just feels like they’re throwing any kind of horror movie set dressing at the wall to see what sticks.

It wouldn’t surprise me if Corman recycled old costumes as well, since Nicholson’s period appropriate military garb really clashes with the Hugh Hefner-style robe that Karloff wears most of the time he is on screen.

But those aesthetic discrepancies are the least of the movie’s problems, since The Terror is also littered with shoddy filmmaking techniques like bad ADR, obvious day-for-night shooting, and shockingly incompetent scene transitions.

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The only element of the film that doesn’t come across as being cheap is its score, and that’s only because Corman’s production company found an inexpensive way to record it in Germany.

Now, all of this could be forgiven is the movie wasn’t painfully dull.

But I’d guess that 70% of the runtime features Nicholson and Karloff walking around dark hallways looking confused, with the occasional telegraphed jump scare thrown in to keep the audience awake.

And since the two actors aren’t given any consistent direction, their performances come across as being completely lifeless, with no clear motivation driving their characters’ actions.

Admittedly, there is some novelty in watching Nicholson play a handsome, leading man since most of us have only seen perform him as a balding, middle-aged reprobate.

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Unfortunately, that element alone can’t salvage the fact The Terror is a barely qualifies as a movie, with a story that goes nowhere and production values that are on par with a high school play.

Now, this whole diatribe isn’t meant to crap all over Corman’s legacy, since the man’s definitely earned his stripes as a trailblazer in the world of independent cinema.

But it’s obvious that this film didn’t receive his full attention, since he couldn’t even be bothered to come up with one of his trademark zany titles like Angels Hard as They Come (1971) and Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959).

Anyway, Happy Halloween and Hail Satan!

Verdict:

3/10

Corner store companion:

Candy Corn (because it’s barely food, the same way The Terror is barely a movie)

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Fun facts:

-Release date: June 17, 1963

-Five second-unit directors were ultimately tasked with finishing this film after Corman wrapped-up his four days of shooting. This group included Francis Ford Coppola and even Jack Nicholson himself.

-Not only were Nicholson and his co-star Sandra Knight married during the production of The Terror, but Knight was pregnant with the pair’s only daughter, Jennifer, as well.

-IMDB credits Roger Corman with producing 415 films between 1954 and today. He’s also responsible for directing 56 films in his career, with his last full-length feature being Roger Corman’s Frankenstein Unbound (1990).

-If you Google “The Terror,” make sure you don’t get this film mixed up with the AMC horror anthology series of the same name.

The Terror is currently in the public domain, which means you can watch the whole movie on YouTube.