Goom Ga Goom Hackalackalacka Goom

Several years ago, my phone rang. I saw on the caller ID that it was my friend Wilhelm.

I answered the call, “hi Wilhelm. What are you doing?”

“Hi Evyl,” he responded, “I’m not doing much of anything. What are you up to?”

“Well, I’m killing off some brain cells,” I confessed.

“Oh yeah?” Wilhelm was intrigued, “how’s that?”

So, I explained, “well, I’m drinking German beer, and we’re watching Spice World and then The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie.”

Wilhelm laughed, “Oh, you really are killing brain cells!”

Just as monks of yore are reputed to have self-flagellated, sometimes I enjoy watching a truly bad movie. However, I do not own a copy of Avatar. That’s over the line for me and I don’t have the patience to watch that much compressed bad movie for that kind of duration. It takes so much alcohol for me to endure that film that I’m going to start calling it The Last Bender. Movies based on video games are a pretty easy mark for bad content searches, with rare exception. A young friend of ours recently exposed his wisdom and said in conversation, “I’d rather watch Resident Evil movies than play the games.” Outside of the Umbrella Corp., we get the likes of Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter. The only line I remember from either of those films is when Johnny Cage says, “I’m in a hostile environment. I’m totally unprepared. And I’m surrounded by a bunch of guys who probably want to kick my ass… it’s like being back in high school.” Most of the time, video games make for terrible movies. Scrape the bottom of that ugly barrel, and you have Super Mario Bros.

***Spoiler alert! If you have spent the last two decades unaware of this movie, and you still plan to watch it, you might want to go take care of that before you read the rest of this. Or you know, skip the middle man and take my word for it that there are better things that you can do with 104 minutes of your life. In that case, read on.

As I may have recently mentioned, Teen Bot has gotten more into video games over the last several years, thus Jennifer and I have recently gotten more into video games. Last week or so, we came to the realization that he had not yet seen the steaming pile of a film that is Super Mario Bros. So last night, we looked it up on YouTube and gave it a watch. I had long forgotten exactly how bad this movie is. For years, when it would come up in conversation mentioned as a bad movie, I would come to its defense and proclaim, “it’s not that bad.” No, Evyl. It is actually that bad and then some. This film stands as a monument to the fact that you can start with a good cast, expensive special effects, and good intentions, and still wind up with a crappy film. I’m reminded once more of The Last Bender. The biggest problem with it is that it has almost nothing in common with the Nintendo games. It’s as though the writers took advice from Wayne’s World just a year or so earlier, when Noah Vanderhoff proclaims that kids don’t know anything and that they are easy to manipulate out of their money with crappy entertainment. I paraphrase of course, as I can’t find the actual quote with a quick internet search… *Squirrel!*

Throughout our viewing of SMB, I kept saying things like, “hey Teen Bot, in the games, did you ever notice how much Bowser looks like Dennis Hopper?”

And Jennifer would correct me, “King Koopa.”

“To-may-to, to-mah-to,” I would respond, “same guy.”

I reflected, “Daisy in this movie was a whole lot cuter when I was younger.”

“She is pretty cute,” Jennifer noted.

“Yeah,” I agreed, “but she was really cute the first time I saw this movie.”

Teen Bot simply laughed at his dorky parents.

“Hey Teen Bot,” remember in the games how the goombas were giant reptilian humanoids and not waddling mushrooms?”

“Hey Teen Bot, remember when you drive an electric car through a grungy underground city in the games?”

Teen Bot responded, “well, I guess it’s kind of like Mario Kart.”

“Yes, except completely not,” I said.

“Hey Teen Bot, remember in the SMB games when you had to recover a meter fragment from some scary chick in red latex at a club so Bowser couldn’t take over our world with it?

“King Koopa,” Jennifer said.

“Same guy,” I defended.

“Hey Teen Bot, remember all these weird people in the games?”

“Hey Teen Bot, remember in the games when Bowser was shooting a gun at you and you had to defend against it?”

“King Koopa,” Jennifer corrected.

“Hey Teen Bot, remember in the game when you shot Bowser with the Devo Gun and he transformed from a human to a t-Rex and then into Odo from Deep Space Nine and colapsed into green sewage on the ground?”

Jennifer corrected me, “King Koopa.”

“Actually,” I said, “I think he’s the President in this one.”

And yes, the Devo Gun was a pretty important plot device in the film. Evidently there wasn’t enough cannon material from the established game series to make a whole movie around, so they had to invent stuff like reptilian humanoids and the Devo Gun, which wasn’t fractionally as cool as a Dubstep Gun. But then, what is?

When we got to the scene where Daisy is imprisoned in the tower, and the cute little bipedal dinosaur wanders out from behind the furniture, chained with a metal collar, Teen Bot said, “what is that supposed to be?”

“I’ll give you a hint,” I quipped, “in the game you might ride him around and make him eat goombas and stuff.”

“Oh, it’s Yoshi?” he said.

“Yeah, but they might have gotten the scale a little off,” I replied.

Throughout the duration of the film, neither Mario nor Luigi stomp on a single turtle or mushroom. They do not collect any 1-ups or fireflowers or leaves or capes. Neither of them dons a frog suit or a tanooki suit. Not once do they pull a flag down a flagpole nor do they enter any castles. They don’t collect cards or throw turnips at the bad guys. There is a character named Toad, but he’s a minor character that gets turned into one of Koopa’s minions who goes rogue to help our ‘heroes’ escape. They may as well have named him Earl for as much continuity as they bothered with. I mean, he doesn’t even wear a ridiculous poofy hat!

“Hey Teen Bot, remember that random woman in the game who steals the meteor fragment so she can merge the worlds on her own?”

Indeed, this movie would have been marginally better if they had made it as a stand-alone story and not affiliated it with Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros. Granted, that would not have saved it as a film or made it anything that it is not already, but of many flaws, its most glaring is the fact that it is supposed to be a SMB story. IMDb gives it a marginally higher rating than Spice World, but I’d highly recommend the latter over the former if you are after some brain rotting entertainment. It is no small wonder that we haven’t seen The Legend of Zelda, Sonic the Hedgehog, or Metroid on the big screen or any other major title video games for that matter. SMB was the nail in the coffin for any such enterprises. Nintendo and Sega respectively, as well as many other game programmers heeded this film as a clear warning of the worst case scenario and said, “Oooooh no. We’re not going to let you do that to any (more) of our beloved core characters.” And for some reason, writing this post makes me want to grow my hair long, put on a flannel shirt and Doc Martens, and listen to some Nirvana or Cranberries while drinking Crystal Pepsi.

Life without HDMI

Well, almost.

For many years, Jennifer and I had an “entertainment system” that was cobbled together with a ~19-inch TV complete with knobs on the front, a VCR, and an old Radio shack AV receiver. We had a passive subwoofer hooked up through an old PA amp, and a quartet of speakers, an off-the-shelf pair, and a pair of homebrew towers in the front. When the VCR died, we replaced it with a DVD player. We didn’t have a lot of tapes, and the machines were similarly priced at the time, so we took the opportunity to upgrade. One year, we got a healthy tax return, a.k.a. white trash savings account, and upgraded from the tube to a multimedia projector. We painted a 91-inch screen on the wall with a special paint. We’re still using and enjoying our Optoma HD72. It’s only 720p, but it suits our needs for the time being. Around the same time, we picked up a Marantz SR4600. It was deeply discounted because the HDMI models had just come out. We didn’t feel like we needed the new hotness, but we still wanted excellent sound quality. The Marantz is one of the cleaner sounding solid-states that I’ve had the pleasure of listening to, but it became clear that we needed a good center channel speaker, which I sourced on the internet.

When the Playstation won The Great HD Format War, we picked up a Samsung BD-UP5000 that was on clearance at the local electronics money pit. We were able to pick up a few HD DVDs at the time, for little to nothing for the same reasons. For full disclosure in reference to the title of this post, we do have an HDMI cable running from this player to the projector, for video only. Even though the Marantz didn’t have HDMI ports, nor decoders for HD audio formats, it did have 8-channel discrete inputs to plug in analog auto, and the Samsung had 8-channel discrete output. So far, so good! My friend, Beej even gave me a pair of Marantz towers that she picked up at an estate sale so we could have true 7.1 surround.

Some time in there, we picked up a pretty nice laserdisc player at a garage sale, bundled with a small collection of discs. Well to be fair, we went through a few players before we wound up with our Pioneer CLD-D406, but for the sake of brevity, let’s say we picked up a laserdisc player. It’s an A/B side player that even has AC3 output for Dolby Digital. I wound up sourcing a Marantz DP870 to descramble the digital audio. This sound processor does a great job at that, but it has discrete 5.1-channel output. This is where we started running against a wall. We now had two units with multi-channel output, and only one set of inputs on the receiver. We don’t watch laserdiscs very often, and the only title we have that is in true Dolby Digital is Showgirls, which we rarely have a driving urge to watch. So, although this was a problem, it was not a huge one.

When Avatar came out, many of our friends, whom we respect, reported that it was a really good movie. Conversely, many of our other friends, whom we also respect, regarded this film as a giant, steaming pile of thinly veiled white guilt cliches. Naturally, we had to check it out. We rented the Blu Ray from the local store and settled in for the evening. Our Samsung wouldn’t play it. So, I went off to Samsung’s website to find that they had just rushed out a firmware update for our player, specifically to tackle the Avatar issue. With the update installed, we were able to *ahem* enjoy this film. And, by “enjoy” I mean facepalm, exclaim “WTF?!?!” and generally hate it, joining in the latter mentioned camp of our friends.

And, that firmware update was the beginning of a pretty crumby experience with our player. It had difficulty with almost all new releases from Disney and Fox. Subsequent firmware updates did nothing. I chatted with Samsung support, got nothing in return, and told them that I was tempted to avoid Samsung products from then on because of the experience. By this point, it was getting difficult to find a Blu Ray player that had alternatives to HDMI, and I was not about to buy a new AV receiver. I decided that I would work towards replacing the player with the next HTPC, which we started on last year for Christmas. My research indicated that playing Blu Ray discs on a computer was not without its caveats, and we still haven’t accomplished the task.

I knew that I was going to eventually have 8-channel sound coming from the HTPC. So, that makes three devices with discrete output going to a receiver that has one input. It was now time to get creative. I needed an 8-channel analog sound switcher. Somewhere I found such a device online, but it cost as much as a new receiver. I put my head together with my brother’s, and formed a plan. I took a dead Pioneer SL-PG440 single CD player and gutted it for the project. I drilled out the back of the box to mount 40 RCA jacks that I sourced on the internet.

holed

And, I even printed out an overlay to stick on the back of the unit to label the connections.

rearpanel

I shaved the front off the faceplate with my router table and rebuilt it with a sheet of dark colored plastic where a selector knob could be mounted.

frontpanel

I sourced some heavy-duty, Japanese-made, four-pole relays. These are discontinued new old stock, and are built like little tanks.

relays

I discussed circuit options with my brother, and let him put it together, as he has done a lot more of this kind of work than I have, and he’s got a good soldering station.

circuitcomplete

jacksinner

switchrear

When powered up, the relays make an authoritative “clack” between input sources. The switch has six positions, with the outer two wired as off, and the inner four switch between four input sources. I have not personally listened to sound through it yet, as I lack the cabling to wire it into the system yet. My brother has wired it for sound and reports that it is extremely quiet as far as noise is concerned, that it transmits the sound signal as if it is not even in line. This is exactly what I was after.

So in short, in avoiding purchasing a new AV receiver, my brother and I built a home theater electrical component from scratch. Now, we should be able to wire the discrete sound from the laserdisc sound processor, the HD DVD/Blu Ray player, and the HTPC without having to swap a handful of cables. And, I’ll have an extra input just in case we happen to pick up some other device that we have not yet thought of. Whenever I can manage to get it plugged into the system, I’ll let you know how it runs for me.

Oh, and back to the Samsung firmware issues… Jennifer’s parents gave us the new Die Hard movie for Christmas. When we threw it in the player, it did its annoying trick of sticking on the splash screen. After fiddling with it a bit and threatening to throw the player in the street, I checked the internet for a new firmware version. I didn’t expect to find anything as it had been several years since the last update. But lo and behold, Samsung released a new firmware version in October! I got that installed and we were watching Die Hard in no time flat. I’ve since been able to test the machine playing Tron Classic and Tron Legacy, two titles that have never worked on this player, much to my despair. So, the Samsung has a new lease on life and I’m not feeling quite as pressured to get the Blu Ray drive installed and configured in the HTPC.

Hey Look! Free Content!

Peter asks us what movies we’ve seen off of NPR’s 100 ‘cult films’ list.  Mine are marked in **bold**:

**2001: A Space Odyssey, Stanley Kubrick, 1968**
**Akira, Katsuhiro Otomo, 1988**

Angel of Vengeance, Abel Ferrara, 1981
Bad Taste, Peter Jackson, 1987
Baise-moi, Virginie Despentes, Coralie Trinh Thi, 2000
Begotten, E. Elias Merhige, 1991
Behind the Green Door, Artie Mitchell, Jim Mitchell, 1972
La belle et la bête, Jean Cocteau, 1946
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, Russ Meyer, 1970
**The Big Lebowski, Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, 1998**
Blade Runner, Ridley Scott, 1982
Blue Sunshine, Jeff Lieberman, 1978
Brazil, Terry Gilliam, 1985
Bride of Frankenstein, James Whale, 1935
The Brood, David Cronenberg, 1979
Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari, Robert Wiene, 1920
Café Flesh, Stephen Sayadian, 1982
Cannibal Holocaust, Ruggero Deodato, 1979
Casablanca, Michael Curtiz, 1942
Un chien andalou, Luis Buñuel, Salvador Dalí,1928
Coffy, Jack Hill, 1973
Daughters of Darkness, Harry Kümel, 1971
**Dawn of the Dead, George A. Romero, 1978**
Deadly Weapons, Doris Wishman, 1974
Debbie Does Dallas, Jim Clark, 1978
Deep Red, Dario Argento, 1975
Dirty Dancing, Emile Ardolino, 1987
Django, Sergio Corbucci, 1966
**Donnie Darko, Richard Kelly, 2001**
Don’t Torture a Duckling, Lucio Fulci, 1972
**Edward Scissorhands, Tim Burton, 1990**
Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals, Aristide Massaccesi, 1977
Emmanuelle, Just Jaeckin, 1974
Enter the Dragon, Robert Clouse, 1973
Eraserhead, David Lynch, 1977
**The Evil Dead, Sam Raimi, 1981**
**Fight Club, David Fincher, 1999**

Flaming Creatures, Jack Smith, 1963
Freak Orlando, Ulrike Ottinger, 1981
Freaks, Tod Browning, 1932
Ginger Snaps, John Fawcett, 2000
The Gods Must Be Crazy, Jamie Uys, 1981
**Godzilla, Ishirô Honda, 1954**
The Harder They Come, Perry Henzell, 1972
Harold and Maude, Hal Ashby, 1971
Häxan, Benjamin Christensen, 1922
Hellraiser, Clive Barker, 1987
The Holy Mountain, Alejandro Jodorowsky, 1973
The House with the Laughing Windows, Pupi Avati, 1976
I Walked with a Zombie, Jacques Tourneur, 1943
Ichi the Killer, Takashi Miike, 2001
In Bruges, Martin McDonagh, 2008
**Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Don Siegel, 1956**
Invocation of My Demon Brother, Kenneth Anger, 1969
**It’s a Wonderful Life, Frank Capra, 1946**
The Killer, John Woo, 1989
Lady Terminator, H. Tjut Djalil, 1988
**The Lord of the Rings, Peter Jackson, 2001–3**
**Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, George Miller, 1981**

Man Bites Dog, Rémy Belvaux, André Bonzel, Benoît Poelvoorde, 1992
Manos, the Hands of Fate, Harold P. Warren, 1966
The Masque of the Red Death, Roger Corman, 1964
**Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, 1975**
Near Dark, Kathryn Bigelow, 1987
Nekromantik, Jörg Buttgereit, 1987
**Night of the Living Dead, George A. Romero, 1968**
Pink Flamingos, John Waters, 1972
Piranha, Joe Dante, 1978
Plan 9 from Outer Space, Ed Wood, Jr, 1959
Re-Animator, Stuart Gordon, 1985
Reefer Madness, Louis Gasnier, 1936
Repo Man, Alex Cox, 1984
Ringu, Hideo Nakata, 1998
The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Jim Sharman, 1975
Rome Armed to the Teeth, Umberto Lenzi, 1976
The Room, Tommy Wiseau, 2003
Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom, Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1975
She Killed in Ecstasy, Jesús Franco, 1971
**Showgirls, Paul Verhoeven, 1995**
Soul Vengeance, Jamaa Fanaka, 1975
**The Sound of Music, Robert Wise, 1965**
**Star Wars, George Lucas, 1977–2005**
**Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, Todd Haynes, 1988**

Suspiria, Dario Argento, 1977
**Tank Girl, Rachel Talalay, 1995**
Tetsuo, Shinya Tsukamoto, 1989
**The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Tobe Hooper, 1974**
**This Is Spınal Tap, Rob Reiner, 1984**

Thriller: A Cruel Picture, Bo Arne Vibenius, 1974
Thundercrack!, Curt McDowell, 1975
El Topo, Alejandro Jodorowsky, 1970
The Toxic Avenger, Michael Herz, Lloyd Kaufman, 1984
Two-Lane Blacktop, Monte Hellman, 1971
Two Thousand Maniacs!, Herschell Gordon Lewis, 1964
The Vanishing, George Sluizer, 1988
Videodrome, David Cronenberg, 1983
The Warriors, Walter Hill, 1979
Witchfinder General, Michael Reeves, 1968
Withnail & I, Bruce Robinson, 1987
**The Wizard of Oz, Victor Fleming, 1939**

So, I counted 23. Not too bad. For someone who doesn’t make it to the theater and doesn’t watch teevee, a quarter of the list is a pretty good run, I’d say. But, I’m with Peter. I’m surprised that some of these are on the list. There are a few that I didn’t select because I think I’ve seen them but just don’t remember them. Yeah. That’s totally worthy of ‘cult’ status! :P

The Expendables (with Massive Spoilers)

Overall impression:

In a nutshell, this movie was made to make Sylvester Stallone feel like a bad-ass action hero one last time before his 65th birthday. The previews boast of a cast full of past and present action movie actors. In reality, several of those were no more than brief cameos. The screenplay was co-written by Stallone, who also co-produced, directed, and starred in the film. Yeah, this flick was basically his way of junk-greasing his own ego. It looks like his last hurrah, and seems like he wanted to take out as many action actors as he could with him. I shall henceforth refer to the film as “The Expendable Movie”.

What Happens:

The exhaustive storyline is that a group of elite-force type mercenaries (The Expendables) are contracted to overthrow a dictator of a banana republic (El General). Said dictator is largely a puppet leader backed by a jilted CIA agent gone drug lord. Stallone and another member of The Expendables scout out the island to determine whether the job pays well enough for the work that it will take to complete. In the process, they meet the beautiful daughter of the General and are found out by the bad guys. They leave a swath of fire-storm fed destruction across the island and determine that the job is not worth the money. Once back at home, Stallone has a pang of conscience and decides that he must save the girl. Meanwhile, an unstable Dolph Lundgren who was just excused from The Expendables is contracted by the General and the former CIA dude to infiltrate and exterminate his former boss, Stallone. A fight on home turf ensues ending in the apparent death of Lundgren’s character. With his last breath, he repents to Stallone and tells him everything. Meanwhile, Jason Statham’s character discovers that his girlfriend has taken to another man in his most recent, month long, mysterious absence. Stallone announces that he is going back to the island and nobody else needs to feel obligated to do so. Predictably, the entire team assembles to aid his invasion. On their second trip to the island, they load everything up with C4 (which magically appears in armloads when they are ready to administer it), and kill bad guys with an assortment of weapons that share a triangular range between standard U.S.G.I.-, gun range mall ninja, and silly exaggeration of Future Weapons. There’s quite a bit of a fist fight between Stallone and Steve Austin. When our heroes are cornered between the ex-CIA’s men and the General’s soldiers, the General himself makes a statement (directly over them no less) to his men that he’s had a change of heart and plans on kicking out the Americans that have oppressed them (presumably CIA dude and his cronies). Former CIA dude chose this moment to assassinate the General, and all hell breaks loose. The Expendables are caught in a three-way battle between the soldiers and the American gang. This is when Stallone pulls out a rather large detonator switch (which must have been uncomfortably hidden in an orifice somewhere), and the rest of the movie is basically explosions, burning puddles of fuel, and raw body count. In the end, our heroes have lost no men (including Lundgren, who has a miraculous recovery and turns back to the proverbial Light Side of The Force), and Stallone saves the day. The singular surprise in the ‘plot’ is that he didn’t kiss the girl when he was leaving the island, but did promise that he would return. She was presumably left behind to cure the ills of her home with her pure heart and wise leadership. Upon their return, Statham finds that his replacement has hit his ex-girlfriend. So, he goes to the playground and beats him up along with the other bullies. That’s about it. After about the first ten minutes of set up, there are no surprises, but the entire screenplay kind of flows in all the most obvious directions. Well, besides Stallone not making out with a woman a third of his age – I really didn’t see that coming, given the context of his character.

Notable Characters:

Sylvester Stallone has never been an attractive man, in my opinion. But, he has really not aged well. His characteristic saggy eyes, crooked nose, and Novocain lip are even more pronounced in The Expendable Movie. In the film, Sly plays Barney Ross, leader of the mercenaries. He’s a caricature of a big action hero, with old skin stretched over it. He’s a tattooed, motorcycling, jewelry-wearing, gun blasting bad boy who can pull himself out of the water into a lifting-off airplane by its door-frame while wearing body armor. He dual-wields a pair of 1911s and has a SA revolver which he carries in a SOB holster which he’ll whip out to palm-fan a last-resort burst of lead at the bad guy. Carrying his M4 rifle, as with his 1911s, he aimlessly, carelessly, and wildly waves the muzzle around. Rarely does he ever appear to look for a sight picture or even pretend to exercise any kind of trigger control. This is of course consistent with Stallone’s typical, sociopathic, Hollyweird liberal, double standard on guns – even though he’s good enough to carry a gun, nobody else is. Although in his mid-60′s, it takes help from multiple men for Steve Austin overpower the grunting and snorting Stallone. Many of the other characters spend much of the movie talking about how big and bad he is. This was actually some of the better acting that I’ve seen from Stallone, which isn’t saying much.

Bruce Willis, playing Mr. Church meets with Stallone and Arnold Schwartzenegger playing Trench for a short scene towards the beginning of the film. Church presumably represents the CIA and wants to hire a team of mercenaries to flush the island dictator. Trench is the leader of a rival team. Church wanted to meet with the two of them to determine who would be best for the job. There was a little playful banter between Stallone and The Governator, and Willis got in a few pointed threatening statements, but that was about it for these two big names in the film. I imagine that Stallone dragged on the pants leg of each of these men for weeks until they relented and agreed to do the uncredited but much flaunted cameo.

Getting back to shockingly less than absolutely terrible acting, Jason Statham really opened up his acting abilities in this film and made three facial expressions instead of his standard one! In different scenes, he managed to look pissed off (as we’ve come to expect) and hurt, and happy! Statham played Lee Christmas, a knife-flinging brawler who challenged his knife throwing against Stallone’s single-action shooting multiple times during the movie.

Jet Li played Ying Yang (I know, I know – who the hell named these characters anyway). Ying Yang is predictably the martial arts expert in The Expendables who uses caricatured Kung-Fu motions for every action (including the requisite swishing sound effects) throughout the film. He is obsessive about his diminutive stature and uses it as an argument that he should be paid more than the other mercenaries. Although his martial arts are impressive, he often finds himself helpless against the brute force of the larger characters. Although surrounded by men taller than himself, he was the giant if you count acting abilities. I’m saddened that Li even agreed to do this insulting role. He is so much more talented an actor than that.

Dolph Lundgren plays Gunner Jensen, who gets fired from The Expendables for acting recklessly and outside of the group’s code of ethics. Upon dismissal, he ominously tells Stallone that he won’t cause any trouble because he’s “a nice guy”. Gunner Jensen has a particular beef with the diminutive Ying Yang. Gunner is probably the character with the least surprises, including his betrayal and death, and his resurrection and repentance in the end.

Eric Roberts plays James Monroe, a two-dimensional former CIA agent gone cocaine drug lord. He operates the island using a team of American thugs who influence the military force on the island to keep the people in submission.

Steve Austin plays Monroe’s hired muscle, named Paine (I know – again with the silly names). He does a lot of posturing and head beating in the movie until he falls into a puddle of burning jet fuel in his final fight.

David Zayas plays General Garza, who is the only character in the film with an actual internal conflict. After years of oppressing his people, first on his own and then under the thumb of Monroe and the other Americans, he decides that his pure-hearted daughter was right after all. He comes around to an upright moral position just before his demise, for a Darth Vader-esque death.

Giselle itié plays the beautiful, kind daughter of the general. In her one-track mind, she believes in good triumphing over evil even in the worst of odds. She refuses to flee the island, thinking that she can make a difference with her presence.

Mickey Rourke plays Tool, the lovable, wise womanizing tattoo artist that gives council to The Expendables.

And, I’ve saved the best character for last: Terry Crews plays Hale Caesar, who is the support character for the most important character, his AA-12 shotgun, which nobody has heard of despite being a 28-year-old design. In The Expendable Movie, the AA-12 is louder and more devastating than any other weapon, including M4′s, AK47′s, RPG’s, hand grenades, and belt-fed machine guns. It shoots a mythical, 12-gauge round that stabilizes with spring-loaded tail fins, that explodes upon impact. This fully-automatic shotgun fired hundreds of explosive rounds from only two drum magazines and was light enough that Caesar was able to haul it all over the jungle and through the palace, and finally had to drop it to make his escape from the exploding palace.

Final thought:

Don’t pay full-price to see The Expendable Movie. Wait until it’s in the dollar theaters, or out on rental. Make sure you are boozed up first. This flick would be fun to watch with a group that was pretty well buzzed. Other than that, it’s kind of a waste of time and money.

Avatar? Airbender?

I am vaguely aware that my son often watches this show on Cartoon Network or maybe Nick (I believe) called Avatar. I’m not one of those disconnected parents that sees the T. V. as the babysitter, and have watched this show with him on multiple occasions. It seems like an innocent enough fantasy story with nothing that I find terribly objectionable in it, but I find it so mind-numbingly boring that I couldn’t tell you who the characters are or anything that they’ve ever done. What I’m watching for is to make sure that some stranger isn’t filling my kid’s head with crap that he doesn’t need. I heard somewhere that they were making a live-action, silver-screen, feature-length version of this show, and I know that he’s going to want to see it. Then, I started hearing these rumors about Avatar hitting the theaters this weekend. “Great,” I thought, “Let’s take kiddo to a matinee on Saturday and check out this little flick. So, I looked into it a little.

So, what’s with the blue people? I don’t remember much about the show, but I don’t remember blue people. the chick looks pretty hot, if you can get over the weird eyes. Actually, that’s kind of… Wait a minute! Marines? I don’t remember Marines being in the cartoon, much less the central characters. Where’s the munchkin with the arrow tat on his gourd? I’m not sure this is the same movie that I’m thinking of at all!

My lovely wife then explained to me that I was confused. It’s James Cameron’s political propaganda picture Avatar that’s coming out on 12/18/09, which has absolutely noting to do with the cartoon that I don’t really remember. She explained that the movie that I was thinking of is The Last Airbender coming out this Summer.

Airbender? Really? I thought the show was called “Avatar.” I had pizza last night and have been bending air all morning. Does that count? Still, that looks a whole lot more like I think it should. Apparently, I’m not the only one that thinks this is a little confusing.

This is just too weird. When they come out with the live action version of Ghost in the Shell, will they name it “Innocence” due to a copyright technicality? Will there be some random pile of special effects and heavily-weighted agenda message coming out half a year earlier that steals the title by legal technicalities? What about Cowboy Bebop? Is there nothing sacred in Hollyweird anymore?

Huh. I guess I just answered my own question.

On that note, let’s watch a Cowboy Bebop teaser!

I REALLY hope they don’t F this one up.

4 Movie Reviews from the Weekend

Jen and I have gotten way behind on our movies and TV, so we’ve been doing a little catch up. Over the weekend, we watched four films with mixed results…

Across the Universe – I didn’t expect much from this one, and it delivered accordingly. When the previews came out for this one, I thought that it looked interesting enough to give a watch. If you don’t like The Beatles’ music, you’ll hate it. If you don’t like song covers, you’ll hate it. If you don’t like weak love stories, you’ll hate it. If you don’t like musicals, you’ll hate it. Even if you like all of the above, I still guarantee nothing. It wasn’t so much a bad movie, but it was really, really weak. Example:

Granted, there’s something to be said about the artistic reinterpretation in this scene, but imagine sitting through TWO HOURS of this crap! More like Imagine There’s No Heaven! Sitting through this film makes it a little too easy! I have yet to see one of these stunts pulled off properly. Think Moulin Rouge.

The Bucket List – This was a really cute movie that drew a line between what matters in life and what doesn’t, as two terminal cancer patients come to terms with their mortality. It ends as a lovely story of redemption with many laughs and throat lumps along the way. Thumbs up. This movie would fit well in the collection that also contains Secondhand Lions, Big Fish, and Gran Turino. I would highly recommend it.

Journey to the Center of the Earth – This one exceeded my expectations in every way except for its ’3D capabilities.’ The cover claimed it to be a 3D movie, but 3D it was not. I feared that it would be yet another gross butchering of classical literature, and it was not that. Rather its plot was spun from the concept that key characters were fans of Verne’s work, and found that most of his writings told little-known truths about our world. Not an Oscar-getter, but a great kid’s movie! It had enough action and color to keep the kids busy, and a sexy pair of pants to keep some of the older audience’s attention!

My Bloody Valentine (in 3D) – Terrible with a capital ‘B’! I laughed so hard I nearly peed myself! The acting was abbysmal, the character development was… …well, there wasn’t any of that really. The slasher effects were corny and unrealistic, such as a teenage boy being stabbed through the back of the head with a miner’s pick-axe, which held his skewered eyeball out in front of his face (in 3D, no less) before he fell to the ground. Interaction between characters, and their reactions to their surroundings may as well have been written by a Vulcan. I would totally watch this one again, just for the giggles. The 3D effects were actually really well done. There was one short scene in which there was some very minor, distracting ghosting from the 3D effects. The biggest problem seemed to be that they blew the entire budget on the 3D effects, and had nothing left to pay for a script or actors. They tried to make up for it with some nudity, but it was a lost cause. Thus, often is born a comic masterpiece! That was the case with this one.

Wanted

To both my readers,

Last night, Jen and I watched Wanted. It was a fun, campy little flick. It was evident that nobody in the production of the film had so much as handled a real firearm before in their life. There were so many cringe-worthy mishandlings and safety violations, it was truly embarrassing. Then, there’s the whole ‘throwing bullets in a curve’ deal. Yeah. That was special. They explained it by telling us that the assassins can speed up their metabolisms to the point that they can move unnaturally fast. They fail to explain how this hyper-speeding of organic systems can overcome chamber allignment, barrel rifling, a projectile moving at 800+ feet per second, or, you know – physics. All that being said, it was actually a well-made flick, and if you can get past all of that ridiculous stuff, it is worth the watch. Please don’t run out and invest in the special edition Blu-Ray Disk or anything. But conversely, if it comes on TV, don’t throw a brick through your screen and run screaming out of your house, tearing at your eyes.

Jenni and I have agreed for years that Angelina Jolie is quite the physical specimen. I know that she’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I find her to be a truly beautiful woman. I find it difficult to complain about seeing her trot around in the buff on the screen. If I met her in real life, I’d probably be making a conscious effort to not act goofy. Granted, I wouldn’t forsake my family and run off to Brazil with her given the chance, but she’s a looker, for sure!

Towards the end of the film (and I’ll try not to give too many spoilers here), we see the heroine fall to the floor. I Googled, and tried to find a screen shot of the image in question, but failed miserably in the quest. When she collapses, there is an angle shown where her butt looks – well, kind of floppy. I don’t know if that’s a problem area for the actress, or it was simply a game of poorly-chosen angles, but it really doesn’t look good right there, for only a few frames.

As the screenshot changed, I blurted out to Jenni, “You have a better butt than Angelina Jolie!!!”

“What?” she looked at me like I had spinach in my teeth.

I responded, “Didn’t you see that?”

“OK,” she said, “You better back it up. I’ve got to see this!”

So, I complied. I wound the disk back a few frames and paused it. “See?” I pointed, and made a sound effect, “Boyioing!”

She cracked up, “Well, look at that!”

That really didn’t get me as many brownie points as I thought it would, but it was still fun.

The biggest tragedy with this movie was what I detailed in that first paragraph. The firearms handling and attitude toward shooting in general were flat-out hokey. Anytime some big-shot producer puts out the money to make a shooty, action-esque film, they ought to make sure there’s a firearms instructor on the payroll. There should be someone on the set, during practice and filming that has a clue how to handle a gun, and what they are and aren’t capable of. I know, I know – that would completely eliminate the explodey-head-geyser-of-blood-from-a-9mm screen candy, and it would mean that the characters would be reloading from time to time, if that strikes you as a negative. But, it would portray shooters handling their weapons like they knew what they were doing – and not like some unknowing, Hollyweird, lowfat, half-caf with Splenda latte-sipper. I’m just sayin’

UPDATE:

I was thinking about how disrespectful this post could come across, so I wanted to give a little addendum. My wife is a beautiful, sexy, intelligent woman, and I love her socks off! I am continually humbled at the fact that God put her together so perfectly, with me in mind. I can’t imagine that any other woman would have the patience or energy to come along with me on all of my insane adventures in life. I can’t imagine any other woman even close to Jenni in the looks department wanting to hang around with me. Beyond all that, if there were some such magical woman out there, I’m sure that she would not keep me mentally stimulated – and that one is a biggie! I think Jenni has a great butt (yup, better than Jolie’s!), however the most beautiful woman in the world who can’t keep up in conversation is like an empty eggshell. After eleven years together, we still stay up talking about this or that way too late in the night, just like a couple of stupid teenagers. I would hate for one instant to give anyone the impression that I’m not nutty-in-love with my wonderful wife. And, I would hate to make her mad because she thought that I was being disrespectful to her on the interwebtron. I meant nothing of the sort. OBTW – I don’t know whether she’s read this post yet, but I kind of doubt it.

My Take on Megan Fox

I understand that this weekend, Transformers 2 hits the theaters. I probably could not care less. I thought the original was a steaming pile of crap – fairly typical of Michael Bay films, in my humble opinion (with the exception of The Island which was a glorious fluke containing plot and character development). I have read less than glowing reviews of the sequel. It seems that people who like these movies pretty much only want to see the combined eye-candy of CG-rendered giant robots fighting and Megan Fox strutting her stuff. I think that’s pretty funny, as I don’t think that she’s really all that great-looking. Don’t get me wrong, I guess she’s kind of cute. Her eyes are a little close together and her jawline is a little manly for my taste. These are telltale signs of poor genetic stock the the reptilian corner of my brain. She does have some striking features, but not my style. Thanks anyway. I used to think that she was really stupid, and a terrible actress to boot. Yet, in an interview with Total Film, she was asked what she would do to stop Megatron if she met him in real life. Her response,

make a deal with him, and instead of the entire planet, can you just take out all of the white trash, hillbilly, anti-gay, super bible-beating people in Middle America?

First of all, Meg – can I call you ‘Meg’? in Middle America, we are not wife-beating, toothless, barefoot, religious zealouts that run around in our lifted 4×4′s looking for queers to beat up. You might be shocked to see how many of us out here aren’t ‘white.’ And, we prefer the term ‘redneck.’ It’s actually quite nice around here. If you had any experience of my part of the country beyond what you read in Grapes of Wrath before you dropped out of high school, you might have slightly less low-brow preconceptions. Yet, I digress.

Meg’s suggestion of sending Megatron here is actually quite sly. and I may have severely underestimated her. Sure, if the Decepticons stick to the big cities, they’ve got a whole bunch of sitting ducks to terrorize. But, if they came to the Midwest, they wouldn’t last half an hour! And yet, that wouldn’t make for a very good movie. We rednecks would give them a good old fashioned, country a**-kicking. If at that point they still didn’t want to play nice with us, we’d escort them off the planet and tell them “there’s more where that came from.” If they wanted to play nice however, they’d probably be welcome to stay for dinner before they went home. So, if you city slickers get in a pickle with any inter-galactic mechanical terrors, just do like Meg says and send them our way. We’ll take care of them.

The Transporter

One of my dearest friends, Sean, asked me if I had seen The Transporter 3. When I admitted that I had seen none of the films in this trilogy, he insisted that I should check them out. So last night, Jen and I rented all three and watched them back-to-back. They were entertaining, but no great feat of film-making. To me, they were basically a blend of Die Hard and The Hire with a little Dirty Harry and James Bond thrown in the mix for good measure. They also ripped off a fight scene from Romeo Must Die, in which Jet Li makes extensive use of a fire hose to clobber the bad guys. The biggest problem is that Jason Statham is not nearly as good an actor as Bruce Willis, Clint Eastwood, Clive Owen, any one of the multitude of Bonds, or Jet Li for that matter. Statham’s deal is that he’s a muscular, rugged-looking dude that’s pretty good with his martial arts – namely kickboxing. He’s basically today’s version of Jean Claude Van Damme. Character development in the film was nominal at best, adequate at worst. The plot lines in each of the three were decent enough to keep me watching. The driving scenes were pretty involved, although they peaked in unrealistic silliness in the second episode. Since Statham can’t mask his English accent, they should have pitched his character as being retired from the RAF instead of Army Special Forces. I would say that overall, the films get better in succession, if not increasingly far-fetched at the core of each story. As I said, they were entertaining enough. My biggest beef with Statham is his ability (or lack thereof) to make faces. Therefore, I submit for your approval The Many Emotions of Jason Statham:

StathamEmotions

Should Have Rented Iron Man.

This evening after work, Jenni and I decided to go out for a burger. We went to Coach’s, one of the few places left on the planet that will still reliably properly undercook a hamburger. As quaint as we are, we decided to rent a movie to watch at home after dinner. We don’t make it to the theater a whole lot for a multitude of reasons. There’s no gum or spilled soda on the living room floor, we don’t have to be fully dressed while watching, and the drinks are much cheaper and have more alcohol in them. So, Blockbuster gets more of our business than AMC. We don’t usually have the problem of a crying baby in our living room, and the random idiot talking loudly on the phone is extremely rare in our humble abode. Plus, there’s a magical ‘pause’ button for bathroom breaks, and I never feel bad about grabbing another drink.

So, we were at the rental place looking for a flick. My brother has told me that Iron Man is awesome, so I have been looking forward to seeing that one. I’ve also been curious about The Punisher. The former is rated PG13 and the latter is rated R, so we picked up The Punisher War Zone with the intent of reading more about Iron Man to see if it would be suitable to watch with our son at a later time. My lovely wife commented that she’s always up for a good action flick. I’m so sorry, Jennifer. I hope you can overcome the disappointment.

Hereafter, the movie shall be referred to as The Punishment, as nobody with a brain should be subjected to such torture. It was basically recycled bits of the original Batman and Batman Returns, but to trick you into thinking that you were seeing something original, they filled in the gaps with gore – and stupid gore at that! It was unoriginal, predictable, and campy – and not in a charming way. They really pulled out all the stops to make it as horrible a movie as possible. To call it a steaming pile is an insult to steaming piles in pastures around the world, and should not be tolerated. Granted, I never read the comics, but if you are a fan and it was an accurate representation, I’m terribly sorry, but you have no future.

First off, the firearms presentation was horrid. They pulled every cheesy, Hollywood firearms trick in the book. People would spin the cylinder on a double-action revolver which would return that ratcheting sound. Our ‘hero,’ Frank Castle carries a whole bunch of guns but seems to have an affinity for full-auto Berettas and Smith & Wesson X-frame revolvers. In one scene, a 9mm makes a .38-inch hole in someone’s head, and in the next scene, their head explodes in a spout of red liquid which is almost, but not quite entirely unlike blood. The two of us kept wondering when he would finally change magazines, as they all seemed to hold at least three times the ammunition that any of ours do. Of course, there was not a single example of good firearms handling in the movie, and bullets would ricochet off of the 1-inch bars that served as stairwell banisters as Frank Castle made his escape up the stairs. One bullet will kill an extra, but the ‘hero’ can absorb many and still fight on, albeit with a wince and a limp. In the final fight, Frank confronts an army of New York gangsters in an abandoned hotel with a full-auto AR fitted with a holographic sight, grenade launcher, and an evidently aesthetic compensator – even though a short-barreled shotgun would have been a far more appropriate weapon for the setting. Although there was what appeared to be a silencer on the rifle, its report was louder and sharper than any of his enemies’ guns – long or hand. They even went so far as to incite the mythical ‘gun-show loophole’ as a source for weapons for the vigilante. All this was humorous on the optimistic end, but more realistically, just plain sad.

Character development? What character development? We know that the villain, ‘Jigsaw’ became such because he was horribly disfigured by falling into a large container of something that would kill anyone else on the planet (much like the Joker). Jigsaw started life as ‘Bobby the Beaut’, an Italian-American pretty-boy, raised in a NYC mafia family. Our ‘hero’ put him in a glass-recycling tumbler and turned it on, which should have ground him up into kibble and pulp – but not Bobby, oh no! He was OK. Just scratched up.

Fortunately, and by his own declaration, he had ‘teh bestest’ plastic surgeon around! So, his doctor evidently had his five-year-old, retarded daughter put his face back together with carpet thread and staples. He was so mad about the faux-pas that he stabbed scissors through the hapless doctor’s skull. Then, he released his remarkably agile, but nuttier-than-a-squirrel-turd brother from the funny farm so they could go kill Frank Castle together. In the meantime, he had to go after the wife and child of the late, undercover agent that had been killed in their midst.

Oh, how the thick plottens!!!

Frank Castle feels a particular attachment to the widow and orphan, as they remind him of his own murdered family, and despite the fact that he killed the undercover agent (dad and husband) himself. So, the orphaned little girl attaches herself to him, the widow remains bitter and yet stable, and Frank goes on with his reservations and personal borders as he slaughters all the bad-guys in formulaic, Hollywood form. There’s a NYCPD employee whose been ‘helping’ Frank under the noses of the precinct for five years, and tracking the MILLIONS AND MILLIONS of gangsters executed in that time period. His name escapes me, but he’s kind of like Alfred with no balls. There’s a federal agent of some kind that was the partner of the dead undercover guy who comes around to Frank’s side at the very end and teams up with our Alfred. The partner has two faces – mad and really mad.

Then there’s ‘Micro’ Microchip, played by the guy that was Dennis Nedry in Jurassic Park, the guy that comes up with all of Frank’s cool weapons between taking care of his invalid mother (who gets murdered as we eventually see her with half of her head erect in her chair as the whole head had been earlier in the movie). And then, there’s Micro’s buddy who is a rehabilitated gang-banger that is now in the upstanding position of aiding and abetting a murderous vigilante – which is sooooooo much better than being a petty thug (stay in school, kids). He’s got three scenes before the nuttier-than-a-squirrel-turd mafia brother kills him with an unfortunately-located axe.

Toward the end of the movie, Jenni said, “He’s going to make him choose whether to save either the wife and daughter OR his friend.” I was thinking it, and we were SO right!

Of course, Frank figured out a way to beat the bad-guys anyway. It was pretty stupid. Frank skewered Jigsaw with a conveniently-placed spear, and threw him on a conveniently-placed fire, where his eyes burned and he died. No, I’m not just saying that. It’s the way it happened. For the last twenty minutes of this movie, I couldn’t stop laughing, and it wasn’t an enjoyable laugh.

When the credits came on, the words, “That’s an hour and a half that we’ll never get back,” came from my mouth. We seriously could have stayed home, watched The SpongeBob Square Pants movie, and taken turns hitting each other with blunt objects and it would have been more entertaining.

According to this movie: New York City must have the loudest, juiciest gangsters on the planet, as their weapons-barraged bodies would ‘splut’ and ‘sploosh’ well above the sound of gunfire. Gangsters are divided into embarrassing, insulting, racial stereotypes – the blacks hold their pistols sideways, the asian ones wear their hair long and straight, and the Russians use AK47s and drink from fine crystal (all of them are tattooed). Not to mention the fact that they have nearly an endless supply of gangsters – until they are all suddenly dead. New York cops have to be the stupidest, most incompetent saps in the world as all they would have to do is find that guy walking in the open with all the guns and they would have caught their vigilante. The human body holds about 50-gallons of reddish syrup at 80-psi. When this system is ruptured, it spouts out like Old Faithful. You don’t have to go through a background check to get a machine gun at a Virginia gun show. Gangsters are so stupid that you can band them together or pit them against each other with great and equal ease.

Would I recommend this movie? Watching it will make you say, ‘Yeah, vengeance has a name, but what did I ever do to deserve THAT?” The disk label artwork is pretty cool, so it would make a great coaster in a pinch. Don’t bother watching it. If you are that hard up for entertainment, try poking at a bodily orifice with a sharp object long before giving this abomination a watch. Suffice it to say that I didn’t enjoy this motion picture.