Caught in the Draft (1941) review-we could all use a little Hope right now

While Bob Hope’s USO tours remain an indelible part of his career as a stand-up comedian, he would occasionally play a military man on the big screen as well.

A quick scroll through the actor’s lengthy filmography will reveal that projects like Give Me a Sailor (1938), Caught in the Draft (1941), Let’s Face It (1943), Off Limits (1952), The Iron Petticoat (1956) and The Private Navy of Sgt. O’Farrell (1963) all fit into this category.

However, David Butler’s Caught in the Draft feels a little bit different from the rest and not just because it became the fifth highest grossing film of 1941 (alongside Howards Hawks’ Ball of Fire).

After all, the United States would enter World War Two five months after this movie premiered, which gives this comedy a real “calm before the storm” kind of vibe.

Throughout the next four years, Hollywood pretty much became the unofficial propaganda arm of the military, with members of the Bureau of Motion Pictures exercising tremendous oversight in terms of what ended up on screen.

In this environment, it’s hard to imagine a film like Caught in the Draft getting greenlit without major changes, since most of the runtime consists of Hope and the cast using basic training as an excuse to chase women, slack off, and treat the whole experience like a giant farce.

But from a 2022 perspective, this sense of anarchic fun is what makes Butler’s film such an enjoyable watch and the perfect vehicle to showcase Hope’s unique flavour of self-deprecating humour and slap-stick comedy.

In terms of the overall plot, Hope plays a famous actor named Don Bolton, who accidently enlists in the military in a misguided effort to impress the daughter of an army colonel.

The kicker is that Don is terrified of loud noises and possesses all the negative qualities one would associate with a pampered celebrity, which doesn’t endear him to his superior officers at all.

But Don is still determined to make it as a well-disciplined soldier, especially since his love interest’s father agreed to let the pair marry if he can achieve the rank of corporal.

When it comes to structure, Caught in the Draft is actually very similar to Buck Privates (1941); the last movie I looked at on my “Wartime Comedies” DVD.

In that film, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello also get enlisted in the military against their will and pratfall their way through basic training for the bulk of the runtime.

Both movies even climax with a war games exercise that quickly spirals out of control, giving the respective protagonists an opportunity to prove their mettle without going overseas. 

However, Butler and his team manage to pull off this story with a little more clarity and gusto, since they had the confidence to really prop up their lead actor instead of shuffling him off to the sidelines (which is the fate that befell Abbott and Costello in Buck Privates).

As someone who wasn’t very familiar with Hope’s comedy until watching this film, it’s pretty obvious to me now why this actor was able to carve out a show biz career that lasted almost eight decades.

His vaunted reputation for being able to execute a variety of physical comedy ticks while firing off witty one-liners is well preserved here, especially with a character who is so accident-prone.

But what really impressed me about Hope is that his comedic chops still manage to shine through in some of the film’s more low-key scenes that don’t involve tanks or explosions.

The first 30 minutes of the film mostly consist of Don trying to worm his way out of getting conscripted in the first place, whether that means faking an injury or marrying one of his many former girlfriends.

While this is undoubtedly scummy behaviour, Hope manages to maintain some degree of likability through his boyish charm and quick movements, which make the most of scenes that mostly consist of dialogue.

But a leading man is only as strong as his supporting cast, and the film is definitely elevated by talented journeyman actors like Lynne Overman and Eddie Bracken, who portray Hope’s agent and driver, respectively.

The trio all have tremendous chemistry and bring a ton of energy to any scenario the screenwriters cook up for them, even if it involves something as mundane as peeling potatoes.

Dorothy Lamour should also be given a lot of credit for breathing some life into the film’s main love interest, since this kind of character archetype is so often completely devoid of personality (especially in movies from this era).

Instead, Lamour comes across as the perfect foil for Hope, using her quick wits and level head to immediately see through a lot of his buffoonery and zany schemes.

While this may sound like she’s being pigeonholed as a typical “female killjoy” archetype, Lamour actually serves an important role in the story, since her mere presence forces the immature male protagonist to actually grow up and take some responsibility.

It also helps that the film’s writers didn’t force these two together through dishonest means, quickly jettisoning any “love by deception” storylines before they get started.

And having already watched five Nicholas Sparks films for this blog, that was a very refreshing discovery.

But that doesn’t mean that all the writing decisions are top notch.

Even though I laughed pretty consistently through the film’s 82-minute runtime, there were a couple dated jokes that did dampen my enjoyment somewhat.

Outside of an unfortunate reference to The Jazz Singer (1927), this movie also contained a couple period-specific jokes that will leave modern audiences scratching their heads.

The most egregious of these cultural/political deep cuts is a jab at the failed 1940 presidential campaign of Republican nominee Wendell Willkie, which probably felt like a dated reference even for 1941 movie-goers. 

It also must be said that the film’s third act and denouement feel pretty rushed, although that same complaint could be lobbed at a lot of Hollywood’s output during its Golden era.

However, those minor weaknesses can be largely brushed aside due to the treasure trove of snappy lines and well-choreographed physical gags that Hope and company bring to the table.

In the end, it’s really difficult to wring any meaningful analysis out of this kind of well-executed comedy, so the best compliment I could pay to Caught in the Draft is that it simply works at a core level.

And for anyone who is worried about the film feeling like a star-studded recruitment ad, the setting mostly comes across as cinematic window dressing or an excuse for Hope to ply his trade with military-themed props and costumes.

This career decision turned out to be quite prophetic, since the actor started to perform in front of US troops on a regular basis when the nation entered World War Two shortly after the film’s release.

Those were difficult times to be sure, with the globe being plunged into such a far-reaching conflict, but I’m sure Hope was able to provide these soldiers with a small sliver of comfort through his comedy stylings.

And now that Europe is in the middle of another self-destructive war that threatens to draw in the rest of the world, we could all use a little Hope in our lives, even if it is just for an hour and twenty minutes.

Verdict:

8/10

Corner store companion:

Kraft peanut butter and Premier Plus crackers (because it just works on a fundamental level and doesn’t require a lot of explanation)

Fun facts:

-Release date: July 4, 1941

-Box office: $2.2 million

-Between 1941 and 1991, Hope took part in 57 different USO tours. Because of this, and his various other contributions to the American military, Hope became an honorary veteran of the US Armed Forces in 1997 (six years before his death).

-Outside of Caught in the Draft, Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour starred in many other films together over the years, including all seven entries in the popular Road To … series (1940-1962).

Caught in the Draft contains multiple references to real-life Hollywood stars in its script, with Hope name dropping director Cecil B. DeMille and actor Gary Cooper at one point. The writers even make a weird meta reference to Hope’s co-star by having the actor describe her as looking like “Dorothy Lamour with clothes on” within the film.

-Outside of acting, vaudeville and performing at USO shows, Bob Hope was also best known for being a recurring host at the Oscars, having fulfilled this role 19 times (more so than any other entertainer).

Caught in the Draft can be watched in its entirety on YouTube right now.

The Lucky One (2012) review-Sparks on autopilot

After watching Scott Hicks’ The Lucky One (2012) last month, I finally polished off my 5-Film Nicholas Sparks Collection from Warner Brothers.

Having never indulged in any of Sparks’ romantic dramas before purchasing this DVD set, I was originally bracing for a pretty miserable movie marathon based on bad word-of-mouth and poor critical reception across the board.

However, running through all five films has proven to be a much more well-rounded viewing experience in terms of quality, with distinctive peaks (The Notebook, A Walk to Remember), valleys (Message in a Bottle) and plateaus (Nights in Rodanthe).

With this in mind, I was hoping to end this journey on a high note with The Lucky One, especially since this project boasted another attractive cast and picturesque American setting.

Unfortunately, this film also turned out to be a greatest hits compilation of all the worst elements of the four previous entries in this collection, with cheesy dialogue, ludicrous plotting and flat characters who belong in a cartoon.

Because of this, my initial journey into the world of Nicholas Sparks ended with more of a whimper than a PG-13 rated bang.

In case the trailer didn’t make it clear, the eponymous “Lucky One” of the story is Logan (Zac Efron), a US marine who miraculously survived several near-death experiences during a recent tour of Iraq.

Logan believes that his good fortune is due to a random photo he found in the dirt moments before a mortar shell killed several of his squad mates.

After returning state-side, Logan vows to find the woman featured in this photograph, eventually stumbling upon dog kennel owner Beth (Taylor Schilling) in a sleepy Louisiana town.

Rather than telling Beth the real reason why he showed up out of nowhere Logan applies to work at the kennel instead, allowing their romantic relationship to blossom on top of a healthy foundation of lies.

Of course, the flimsiness of this premise is suspiciously familiar to Message in a Bottle (1999), where the main character of that film also withholds the truth in order to get closer to a potential lover.

While Efron is not nearly as creepy or manipulative as Robin Wright was in Message, his character’s decision to lie by omission still comes across as being an extremely lazy way of manufacturing conflict.

After all, one of Logan’s defining characteristics in The Lucky One is that he is an honest and good-natured hunk, which doesn’t gel at all with the deceptive nature of his meet-cute with Beth.

I know screenwriter Will Fetters was bound by the constraints of the original source material, but judging by the Wikipedia summary for Sparks’ 2008 book he already changed around the basic plot structure for this movie adaptation. So, from where I’m sitting, a couple more tweaks couldn’t hurt.

For this hypothetical re-write, Fetters should also look at revising the other major antagonistic force in this story, which is Beth’s divorced husband Keith.

While actor Jay Ferguson is no stranger to playing jerks on TV shows like Mad Men, here he’s given absolutely nothing to work with portraying a romantic rival who is more warthog than man.

Basically, every negative trait you could associate with a jealous ex is put into a blender and poured into this character’s mould to make Efron look even better by comparison.

Outside of being physically and emotionally abusive to the mother of his child, Keith is also written to be a spoiled redneck who uses his status as the town sheriff to bully and intimidate people he doesn’t like (knowing full well that his judge father will absolve him of any wrongdoing).  

This character is so comically evil that he even points a loaded gun at Efron’s dog near the end of the movie, an action that should put him on the shit list of every viewer who isn’t an outright serial killer.

But despite this, the filmmakers also attempt to give Keith a rushed redemption arc at the tail end of the story, even though such a development isn’t earned or organic in the least.

But spotty writing is far from the only thing weighing The Lucky One down.

On a technical level, this film is littered with awkward cuts and weird editing decisions that give the proceedings a very amateurish feel.

At times it seems like the filmmakers simply lost certain footage during post-production, forcing them to splice certain scenes together without all the connective tissue.

For example, there’s one moment where Beth tells Logan about a treasured memory of her dead brother, where he sealed up one of her books in a brick wall.

However, this revelation lacks a lot of emotional impact on screen since the director didn’t include a close-up of the object in question, making it look like Schilling is staring at nothing.

In terms of acting, most of the cast actually turn in a respectable performance given the subpar material they have to work with.

Riley Thomas Stewart is particularly impressive as Beth’s nine-year-old son Ben, who outshines a lot of the adult actors in terms of presence and charisma.

Blyth Danner also gets saddled with some of the best lines as Beth’s sassy grandmother, reminding me, once again, of Message in a Bottle and how Paul Newman steals that movie in a similar, gender-flipped role.

While Efron does a decent job of playing the strong, silent type, it’s a shame he couldn’t decide on an accent to really anchor his performance.

Most of the time he sounds like your typical California surfer bro, but every once in a while he decides to deliver his lines with a Southern twang for some reason.

And as good an actor Efron can be given the right project, he’s not talented enough to save some of the Harlequin Romance novel-level dialogue he’s asked to spit out, like when he tells Schilling that “You should be kissed every day, every hour, every minute.”

But then again, that kind of corniness is what makes these movies (and the books they’re based on) so successful.

Having sat through five Sparks adaptations now, I’ll admit that there is something very appealing about how these different filmmakers lean into this highly romanticized material so unapologetically.

Through populating each movie with endless sunsets, vast aquatic scenery, vintage vehicles, and impossibly beautiful people, they’re able to create the perfect breeding ground for a love story that isn’t confined to a specific decade in late 20th century America.

The Lucky One is no different, with director of photography Alar Kivilo doing a lot of the heavy lifting to create that signature look and feel.

But unlike some of the better films in the Sparks canon (The Notebook, A Walk to Remember), this 2012 entry doesn’t have a strong enough script to elevate this unmistakably shallow subject matter.

Even though the movie tries to establish some depth early on by making a big deal about Logan’s PTSD, that important character detail is all but abandoned as soon as the romance with Beth gets fully underway. 

So in the end, The Lucky One doesn’t have a lot to offer besides some purely superficial elements that one can already experience by staring at the film’s generic theatrical poster.

And while this did represent a sour conclusion to my first foray into the world of Nicholas Sparks, I remain mildly interested in seeing how his six remaining movie adaptations turn out.

After all, this franchise is successful for a reason, and I feel like I’m getting closer to cracking that code with every new screening.

Verdict:

4/10

Corner store companion:

Carnaby Sweet marshmallow hearts (because it’s some cheap, sugary crap that should only be consumed around Valentine’s Day)

Fun facts:

-Release date: April 20, 2012

-Budget: $25 million (estimated)

-Box office: $60,457,138 (domestic), $99,357,138 (worldwide)

-While The Lucky One received mostly negative reviews from critics, the film picked up a number of Teen Choice Awards (choice movie actor-Efron, choice movie-drama) and a single People’s Choice Award (favourite dramatic movie actor-Efron). Riley Thomas Stewart was also nominated for a Young Artist Award for his performance in this film as Schillings’ son Ben.

-The Louisiana house where Beth lives was re-used for the 2014 Nicholas Sparks film adaptation for The Best of Me.

-Outside of feature films, director Scott Hicks has a history of helming documentaries and music videos for the Australian rock band INXS.

Musical highlight: “The Story” by Brandi Carlile (plays over the end credits)

Smokey and the Bandit II (1980) review-a sellout sequel

Few movies have captured the zeitgeist quite like Hal Needham’s Smokey and the Bandit (1977).

Not only did this road action comedy include cultural touchstones like muscle cars, CB radios and country music, but the film’s breezy attitude and blatant anti-authoritarianism was pervasive in many other pieces of media that were popular at the time.

As such, Smokey and the Bandit became the second highest grossing film of 1977 behind George Lucas’ Star Wars, which also featured a colourful cast of characters trying to deliver some precious cargo under the eye of buzz-killing fascists.

Of course, nothing good lasts forever, and the rebellious spirit of the 1960s and 70s quickly turned to corporate pandering in the 1980s, where Wall Street and Reaganomics were the new flavour of the day.

Unfortunately, Needham also decided to sell out at the very start of the decade, making an uninspired sequel to Smokey and the Bandit that contains almost none of the charm or energy that made the original film so special.

One of the most immediate problems with Smokey and the Bandit II (1980) is its plot, which doesn’t even try to mix up the formula.

Just like last time, Bo “Bandit” Darville (Burt Reynolds) is tasked with delivering a big rig worth of illegal product to a client in record time, all the while dodging members of local law enforcement like Texas sheriff Bufford T. Justice (Jackie Gleason).

In order to pull this job off, Bandit enlists the help of his best friend Cledus (Jerry Reed) and old flame Carrie (Sally Field), who also serve as his moral barometer along the way.

The only major difference to the plot here is a matter of aesthetics, with Bandit and his crew delivering an adult elephant instead of 400 cases of beer.

A couple new characters are also thrown into the mix for good measure, including a shouty Dom DeLuise who adopts one of the worst Italian accents in cinema history.

But honestly, the uninspired nature of the plot could have been palatable if Needham also replicated the fun, easy-going tone of the first film, while maintaining his trademark automotive stunt work that thrilled audiences back in 1977.

Instead, Smokey and the Bandit II is mostly a slow, plodding affair that sidelines adrenaline-pumping car chases in favour of bad slapstick comedy, which sometimes comes across as an attempt to appeal to a younger demographic.

For example, a lot of the scenes involving the adult elephant are ripped right out of a live-action Disney movie, with an accompanying score that relies way too heavily on farty brass instruments to artificially pump up the humour.

Another consequence of writing a literal elephant into the script is that the characters have to make a pit stop every five to ten minutes to check on her wellbeing and participate in more unfunny schtick.

Because of this, the film’s pace consistently grinds to a halt, with any kind of impressive vehicular destruction being pushed far into the background.

To give you a better idea of what this dynamic looks like, the first genuine car chase in the movie takes place at around the one-hour mark and is over before you can blink.

While Needham does try and compensate for this imbalance by staging a massive demolition derby for the film’s climax, it’s too little too late by that point, and the entire exercise feels like a waste of time.

However, the movie’s poor pacing pales in comparison to the way Needham and his screenwriters treat their principal characters, some of whom have devolved into complete cartoon characters.

Burt Reynolds’ Bandit, for instance, receives an unflattering comedic makeover in this sequel, being portrayed as an incompetent clown and drunk as opposed to the charming rogue that audiences were introduced to in the first film.

While exploring a new layer of Bandit’s personality sounds interesting on paper, the filmmakers’ approach here is completely misguided, since they repeatedly subject this supposedly rugged hero to a bunch of humiliating skits.

This isn’t helped by the fact that Reynolds seems to be completely disengaged with the material, constantly smirking for the camera like he is reprising the character for an episode of SNL instead of a big-budget sequel to a sleeper hit.  

Sally Field’s character isn’t done any favours by the screenwriters either, since they backtrack on all the development she underwent in the original film.

If you’ll recall, the entire plot of Smokey and the Bandit revolves around Field hitching a ride with a complete stranger to get away from marrying Sheriff Justice’s son Junior, since he repulses her that much.

However, she’s back at the altar with Junior at the beginning of the sequel like nothing happened, because I guess the screenwriters couldn’t think of anything interesting to do with her except hit the reset button.

To make matters worse, Field’s character doesn’t contribute anything meaningful to Bandit’s smuggling operation once it gets underway, beyond serving as his love interest and becoming an increasingly vocal backseat driver.

At least Jerry Reed comes away from this sequel relatively unscathed, with his best friend character still coming across as down-to-earth and relatable despite all the over-the-top shenanigans surrounding him.

Unfortunately, not even some decent chemistry between the three leads can save Smokey and the Bandit II from being a lazy, cash-grab sequel, where it feels like the cast and crew all showed up due to financial obligations rather than some creative drive.

Reynolds even straight up admitted this in a 2016 interview with Ain’t It Cool News, calling himself and Needham “whores” for signing on to this project in the first place.

Even though critics shared Reynolds’ disdain towards this sequel, audiences still showed up in droves, making Smokey and the Bandit II the eighth highest box office draw of 1980.

However, everyday movie-goers must have sensed that Needham’s heart wasn’t really in it anymore, since the action-comedy franchise would never fully recover in terms of its popularity.

Not only did Smokey and the Bandit Part 3 (1983) fail to retain much of the first two films’ cast and crew, but all future “Bandit” projects would be banished to the realm of mid-90s made-for-tv movies.

And while a new tv series is apparently in development, no real update has been given out to in almost a year, which says to me that this project may never see the light of day.

In this sense, Smokey and the Bandit II serves as a cautionary tale for ambitious filmmakers who would rather cash in on their intellectual property than pump it up with some creative passion: it probably won’t work out in the long run.

Verdict:

4/10

Corner store companion:

President’s Choice Virginia Variety Party Peanuts (because … the movie features an elephant, I guess. Hey, if the filmmakers aren’t going to put any effort into their craft, then why should I?)

Fun facts:

-Release date: Aug. 15, 1980

-Budget: $17 million (estimated)

-Box office: $66, 132, 626 million (worldwide)

-The film’s demolition derby finale was reportedly one of the biggest collective car stunts in movie history at that point. According to IMDB, it involved 60 stunt people, 100 cars and 18-wheeler trucks, and $250,000 worth of damages.

-Bandit’s 1980 Pontiac Trans Am is given its own credit at the end of the movie. The car is billed as “Son of Trigger,” which is a reference to actor Roy Rogers’ horse. 

Smokey and the Bandit II was released under the title “Smokey and the Bandit Ride Again” in the UK, New Zealand, and Australia.

-Surprise cameo: While the film is littered with real-life country singers, the most amusing cameo actually belongs to former Pittsburgh Steelers stars Terry Bradshaw and “Mean” Joe Greene, since they get to act as literal roadblocks for Bandit.

-Musical highlight: “Texas Bound and Flyin’” by Jerry Reed (it’s no “Eastbound and Down,” but this fun little number still grabs your attention at the very beginning of the film).

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.

Pill

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.

Noth2

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)

IMG_0126(online)

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)

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.