Archive for the Top 5 Lists Category

Top 5 End of the World Films

Posted in Top 5 Lists on December 21, 2012 by myfavoritewasteoftime

One of the great things about movies, or really any hobby, is that a failed attempt at a concept can open up a trove of unforeseen wealth. Earlier this year a relatively bad movie came out called Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. It wasn’t so much of a bad movie as more of a solid beginning and a touching end with a made for tv road trip comedy in the middle. In it, Steve Carell and Keira Knightley meander through an inconsistent world of impending doom, trying to find some sort of peace before the apocalypse. The concept is more or less trying to tell the story of how a couple of every day Joes/Janes could try to survive in Deep Impact or 2012 ,but without all the government connections. The last attempt to destroy an astroid headed towards earth has failed, and now an insurance agent and a flighty manic pixie dream girl have to figure out what to do with themselves. The film suffers from a writer trying to be a director. The entire movie reeks of scenarios and characters that must have seemed a lot better on paper. The balance of likely vs. unlikely-yet-forgivable simply does not weigh out. Despite of all of its flaws, I was drawn in by its attempt to portray the reality of the end of the world. One of my biggest gripes of big Hollywood films (especially superhero movies) is that it is almost always about saving the world. Whether it be from terrorist, natural, or an alien attack, the protagonist (Tom Cruise, or for the younger readers, Chris Hemsworth) is always trying to stop the end of the world as we know it. My jaded view of this all too cliche cinematic situation may be drawn from that fact that I can’t relate to it. It is not so much that I can’t relate to the concept of the world ending, but the fact that I know good and well that I could not even to begin to imagine that I could ever prevent it. That said, I can certainly imagine the world ending, and more so put myself right in the middle of it. (My inferiority complex would run wild at that point.) So after watching Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, it dawned on me that others before me must have thought of this, besides the writer of Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist. By golly, I was right. I quickly watched 5 movies that did a much better job with that premise than the movie that inspired me.

5. The Last Woman on Earth (1960) – Roger Corman

last_woman_on_earth

There are two different types of end of the world movies. The first type covers what happens leading up to the end of the world, and the second deals with what happens after the world ends. There are three movies that deal with both. Now, there are a TON of movies that deal with what happens after the end of the world. These are called “post-apocalyptic” movies. A lot of them feature zombies and/or a lot of dirt. Zombies will play no part in this list. Neither will Mel Gibson or Kevin Costner. This list is for either films that take place right before or right after the end of the world. In The last Woman on Earth, a fortunate trio are on vacation in Puerto Rico and decide to go scuba diving. While submerged and using their oxygen tanks, they survive some sort of act of god or man that renders the atmosphere toxic. They surface and find it hard to breath, but are able to survive on their bottled air until it is safe to breath naturally. The rest of the film unfolds much like a play, two men fighting for the attention and respect of what they believe is the last woman on earth. The beauty of this film is that it was produced for a very low budget, but is very effective in establishing a believable wasteland (if you can forgive a few twitching “dead” extras). This was not only one of my favorite screen writers’ (Robert Towne) first script, but he also stars in it.

4. The Day After (1983) – Nicholas Meyer

The Day After

Have I mention how depressing of an endeavor it was to create this list? The phrase “feel good” has no place in this discussion. After watching any one of these movies the viewer is left with an overwhelming feeling of “Well, shit, we’re all just going to die anyway”. Which, to be fair, can be a positive epiphany if you have a decidedly confident outlook on life going into it. For those of us who tend to view glasses as more empty, movies like this can shed light on the more bleak sides of our existence. None more so than the 1983 made for TV movie, The Day After. The story follows a small Kansas town leading up to, during, and after an all-out nuclear attack. This was the brain child of then ABC Motion Picture president, Brandon Stoddard, after being inspired by another uplifting family film, The China Syndrome. He made it his mission to not only inform the American public of the threat of nuclear war, but show them (to the best of his corporate abilities) exactly how the aftermath of said war may look. Using the best special effects that were available at the time (which unfortunately didn’t stand the test of time), the director of Star Trek II: the Wrath of Khan, and almost all of the townspeople of Lawrence, Kanas, Stoddard managed to do just that. With a cast of principals that would fit in any Altman film, we watch the lead up to and eventual destruction of the mid-west. But just when you think it is going to end, it keeps going and we get to watch all of the survivors slowly die of radiation poisoning while trying to maintain some sort of normalcy. And when I say “die slowly of radiation poisoning”, I am not talking about what you would expect from your typical ABC family feature. There is not just a few coughs and then you’re gone. No, we get to see these victims not only slowly lose weight and their minds, but skin, teeth, hair and everything else that I can only imagine comes along with radiation poisoning. As you can probably guess, this TV-exec turned-hippy did a fair amount of battling with pretty much everyone else involved on the topic of how much gore and despair was appropriate for network television. I’ve heard tell that there is a good deal of footage (8 1/2 minutes) that has a higher body count and more brutal burns. I am not the only one that got bummed out by this film, Reagan watched it and wrote in his diary (which I really hope was adorned with hearts and flowers and pictures of Leif Garrett) that it was “very effective and left me greatly depressed.” Well done, Stoddard.

3. Miracle Mile (1988) – Steve De Jarnatt

Miracle Mile

The moral of this new wave tale: never be late for a date. Anthony Edwards stars as a wannabe jazz musician that is punished for cellphones not being invented when the power goes out and his alarm clock doesn’t wake him up in time to go meet his soul mate (Mare Winningham) at the diner she works at. He shows up much much too late but decides to wait it out with the regulars at 4am. While attempting to out-creep the creeps, he takes a call from a pay phone hoping that it is the girl he stood up (again, being punished for cell phones not yet being invented). Instead of the girl of his dreams, it is a frantic soldier calling from some bunker in Nevada exclaiming that he can’t believe that they actually fired “it”. Edwards initially takes this for a joke, but the rant is followed by a gunshot and a stern voice telling him to forget everything he just heard. Turns out the world may or may not be obliterated in 70 minutes depending on whether or the phone call was real, and Edwards will do anything he can to get back to this girl he’s just met before it does. As the film progresses and the rest of LA quickly picks up on the impending doom, the sense of panic builds at a very surreal pace as the sun begins to rise. The mix of smog and neon are almost supporting characters in this musky and dusty paranoiac romance. You will definitely never look at the La Brea Tar Pits the same way again.

2. Last Night (1998) – Don McKellar

Last Night

When Seeking a Friend for the End of the World came out earlier this year there were more than a few film critics that called foul play, due to its uncanny resemblance to this Canadian independent drama. On the outside, this resembles your run of the mill day-in-the-life indie ensemble drama. We follow half a dozen or so individuals as they plan events for their final day. Amongst them you have a guy using his last day to check off every item on his sexual bucket list, a lady that is desperately trying to get back to her newfound lover so they can take matters into their own hands, a middle age energy worker (beautifully underplayed by fellow Canadian director, David Cronenberg) who can’t leave his job until he personally reassures all of his customers that their power will remain on until the very last moments, and another guy who will do everything in his power to watch the world end far away from other people as possible. The factor that sets this film apart from other end of the world movies is that the actions of the characters, while being quirky at times, are completely believable and for the most part understandable. The tone and the pace that McKellar sets is so perfect that, for the most part, you forget about the end of the world part of the plot at times and are more interested in the story lines unfolding. A great end of the world movie should make the viewer want the world that the filmmakers have created to continue, you can’t really say that for Michael Bay films.

1. On the Beach (1959) – Stanley Kramer

On the Beach

I am officially upset with all of my film nerd friends that were aware of this film and have been keeping it to themselves all these years. Set in the near future of 1964, World War III has left all of the northern hemisphere either destroyed by nuclear devices or uninhabitable do to radiation levels. Survivors of the war have relocated to Melbourne, Australia where they attempt to reinstate their pre-war lives. Scientists argue drunkenly over whether winds will bring the radiation south or not as the remaining populace live out their days in nervous decadence. A team of American sailors are sent on a mission in the last remaining submarine to find out if there are any other safe places on the planet and if there are pockets of unknown survivors. Much like The Day After (and another depressing movie that I love called When the Wind Blowswhich easily could have made this list) this film attempts to capture the atmosphere of what life is like before the inevitable happens. In this film, Melbourne is in a state of denial and dread similar to Berlin before the Russians invaded in 1945. Their nation has made their bed for them and now the must lie in it. The population knows that it is just a matter of time before they are all going to be exposed to radiation poisoning, but very few are willing to accept it. One of the most iconic shots in the film is a banner in front of the library that simply states “There Is Still Time… Brother”.  The fantastic cast features Gregory Peck as the captain of the submarine who refuses to believe that the family he left behind in America is dead. Ava Gardner plays a lush who tries and convince Peck that she is his best option for companionship. A pre-Pyscho Anthony Perkins has one of the best scenes, involving a young sailor attempting to explain to his wife the proper way to euthanize herself and their newborn in the case that he doesn’t return from the mission. I am not going to claim to be a Fred Astaire expert, but I can’t imagine that he ever delivered a better (or more heart breaking) performance in his career than he does here. He plays an Australian scientist who is the voice of reason, albeit a drunken one. He keeps track of the geiger meter and is one of the few in the city that is willing to speak out about the impending doom. Throughout the film he menders between hilarity and sorrow whilst trying to convince those around him that there is no hope. Based on the 1957 Neil Shute book of the same name, this film was well beyond its years and rivals even Dr. Strangelove as one of the best anti-war films of its (or any) time.

http://www.tcm.com/mediaroom/video/191963/On-The-Beach-Original-Trailer-.html

BONUS FEATURE:

Top Five End of the World Songs!

If I am to believe Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, the soundtrack to the apocalypse should feature lots of over-the-top melodramatic songs revolving around love pushed to the most extremes imaginable. If you can’t survive on pure love and that alone, if you need air, food, or pretty much anything else, then apparently you are a poser. Also, if you love someone, you are not allowed to stop physically touching them. Here are a few it missed.

5.Perry Como – Till the End of Time

4. Freda Payne – If You Love Me

3. Mina – No Arms Can Ever Hold You

2. Connie Francis – I Will Wait for You

1. Skeeter Davis – End of the World

Top 5 Worst Actor Replacements

Posted in Top 5 Lists on February 24, 2012 by myfavoritewasteoftime

Whether it was intended from the start, or becomes inevitable, the question of a sequel comes up after any film is successful during its initial run. If the answer is yes, then the common practice is to try and bring back as much of the previous team to the follow up, so as to trick audiences into coming back as well. If you lose too many of the original players, the sequel runs the risk of separating itself from its source, possibly alienating its base audience and their much desired money. That said, many times it is impossible to bring back all the same elements, due to schedules, egos and such. So what is a producer/writer to do? Logic would dictate that if you can’t get an actor back to play a crucial role, then you simply write out that character and switch the focus of the story. Again, this is what logic would state, seeing that trying to a put different face to a character and expecting an audience not to be indignant is a bit ignorant. However, logic has no place in Hollywood. More and more it has become an excepted technique to simply swap out an actor in a sequel when the previous one has become all high and mighty (and/or dies) and chooses not to return. In some cases it has become a right of passage (James Bond, Batman, Superman) and in other cases it has been for the better (Maggie Gyllenhaal in for Katie Holmes in Dark Knight, Don Cheadle in for Terrance Howard in Iron Man 2). But the majority of the time it turns out to be a mistake caused by producers that found themselves against a wall. Here are a few of the worst cases.

5. Aladdin: the Return of Jafar – Dan Castellaneta replacing Robin Williams as “the Genie”

It is a time-honored tradition in straight to video sequels of animated blockbusters to replace the big-name actor. The thought is, if  you don’t actually see the person behind the voice, you can just get a D-list actor who sounds like the person they are replacing. There is one big reason why this particular example of voice recasting makes an appearance on this list— they make reference to it in the actual movie. As anyone who was alive in the early 90’s will recall, (spoiler alert for those that didn’t happen to have a childhood) at the end the first film Aladdin uses his last wish to make genie free from the shackles of slavery. So when he returns from “seeing the world” he points out that this time around he just doesn’t have “the magic” anymore now that he isn’t a proper genie. This translates to, “Hey kids, don’t worry, you’re not crazy. But the genie does sound different, and don’t expect him to do as many pop culture references and impressions that make no sense in ancient Mesopotamia or Egypt or India or wherever the hell Agrabah is supposed to be located.” What makes this even more insulting is that Dan Castellaneta (aka Homer Simpson) is an extremely talented voice over actor and does a pretty descent job of filling Robin Williams’ spastic shoes. Apparently this change pissed of soccer moms something fierce because not only was Robin Williams back for the 2nd sequel Aladdin and the King of Theives, but Disney made his return the central selling point in the advertising for it. In case you were wondering the reason behind Williams’ absence from the Empire Strikes Back of the Aladdin series… As a favor in an act of response to the studio support and eventual success of Good Morning, Vietnam he did the original for scale under the pretense that his name not be used in advertising for the film and that the character of genie would not take up more than 25% of the poster space (Williams had another film, Toys, coming out around the same time and didn’t want to compete). Disney/Touchstone Pictures went back on their word on both and Williams was not all too happy. So in came Castellaneta. Dan actually did record dialog for the third film (and went on to voice the genie in the TV show and “Kingdom of Hearts” video games) before Robin was convinced ($$$$$$$) to come back to the series. One last little piece of trivia about The Return of Jafar, it was the first straight to video sequel that Disney produced. Meaning that you can thank its success for creating such bastardized sequels to Disney classics as Lady and the Tramp 2Bambi 2Cinderella 2Jungle Book 2101 Dalmatians 2 and so on and so on. I am still waiting with bated breath for Condorman 2. 

4. Robocop 3 – Robert John Burke replacing Peter Weller as James Murphy/RoboCop

This is a pristine case of diminishing returns. As the Robocop movies/TV series meandered along, the fewer of the original players were involved. As with many of his films, Paul Verhoeven’s original film is an under-appreciated satire on consumerism and nationalism (at least someone understands). It was a fantastical vision of a capitalistic future where industry and the police state are one and the same. The lines between humorous and horrific, as well as informative and exploitative, are almost perfectly tread. But all was lost with the two sequels that were completely mishandled by the most overrated man in the comic book industry, Frank Miller. Mr. Misogyny himself is largely responsible for the downfall of the Detroit hero. He wrote both of the just downright bad sequels. Peter Weller came back for the first of the two atrocities, but after the unpleasant experience/outcome of Robocop 2, he decided not to return for a third helping. It is pretty obvious that the producers figured that the character is more machine than man, and that since he had a helmet that covers almost 3/4 of his face during the majority of the movie, who really cares who wears the suit? The problem was that the part of the original movie that kept the audience emotionally invested in Robocop was that fact that there was still a human element/face buried under all that technology. Once you replace that human/face, turns out you lose a lot of that connection. Despite the loss of the original director (though Empire Strikes Back director Ivan Kershner was an inspired choice) and an awful script, the 2nd Robocop movie is still watchable because Peter Weller is still giving it his all in the role (and honestly, Tom Noonan always makes for a pretty satisfying villain). However, with the loss of Weller and an even worse script, there is nothing connecting the viewer with the original story in the last of this descending triology. You mine as well just watch live action series Robocop: The Series and Robocop: Prime Directives or even worse, the animated series Robocop: The Animated Series and Robocop: Alpha Commandos, because you’ll have about the same amount of emotional investment with the main character as you do in Robocop 3. With all that said, I should note that much like the replacement in the previous entry, I am a big fan of Robert John Burke. He has had very notable performances in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, No Such Thing and “Generation Kill”.

3. Major League 2 – Omar Epps replacing Wesley Snipes as Willie ‘Mays’ Hayes

Right off the bat, it should be noted that I am a recent reborn and unabashed paramour of the game of baseball. The first Major League is one of the most purely enjoyable films I have ever seen. I could easily sit down and watch that film whenever it is suggested. So it was with a heavy heart that I recently sat down to reexamine the head shaking experience that is Major League 2. On the surface and in execution, it is not all that bad of a movie. The premise of the year after the honeymoon season is not a misstep. The plot twist of Wild Thing Ricky Vaughn embracing the pressures of the corporate world wasn’t necessarily a bad decision. Hell, they even got most of the old band back together. The problem is that they didn’t get the whole band back together (that and they tried to pass a film that was released five years after the original as being “the next season”). By the time they got around to making the sequel, Wesley Snipes was a full fledged movie star and had very little interest to revisit one Willie “Mays” Hayes. That character called for an uninhabited performance that required a mixture of naiveté and ego that only the precise talents of an idiot like Wesley Snipes (who couldn’t get it together enough to pay his taxes) could pull off. They mistakenly casted an actual actor as his replacement. And while Omar Epps is no Laurence Oliver, and this is going to be a very backhanded insult, he is too good of an actor to take over in this role. In the sequel, Hayes has taken full advantage of his new found success and has dabbled in acting. He is nursing a leg injury obtained during filming and decided that he is now a power hitter opposed to a lead off base stealer. He of course, inevitably, fails at both and eventually has to return to the same position he had in the previous installment to find success. This example of actor replacement brings up another common problem with this technique, the constant reminder that this is just not the same performance that the audience is used to. Whenever the character of “Willie Mays” Hayes is on screen, all I can think is “That’s not Wesley Snipes, that’s not Wesley Snipes, that’s not Wesley Snipes…” Believe me, no one wants that mantra stuck in their head.

2. Back to the Future 2 – Elisabeth Shue replacing Claudia Wells as Jennifer Parker and Jeffrey Weissman replacing Crispin Glover as George McFly

To be fair, there really wasn’t much that Universal could do in the case of the Claudia Wells/Elisabeth Shue situation. Wells backed out in order to care for her ailing mother and a replacement needed to be found. Shue was a moderate box office draw having had recent successes with Cocktail and Adventures in Babysitting, so it wasn’t a bad choice on paper. The problem I have with it is that when I was younger I thought Elisabeth Shue and Lea Thompson (who plays Loraine McFly in the series) were the same person. So the idea of Marty McFly dating a girl who so closely resembles his mom is just a little too Oedipal for my taste. At least the producers took the time to go back and reshoot the final scene from the first film shot for shot so it wasn’t so glaring that Jennifer Parker had shrunk by a few inches. The real travesty of recasting in Back to the Future II is that of the patriarch of the McFly clan. Professional one man freakshow Crispin Glover claims that the producers were only willing to offer him as much as half of what the other returning players were to receive. Glover simply would not stand for such injustice and declined to return as the weaselly and whimsical George McFly. Taking a note from the Ed Wood textbook of shitty filmmaking, the producers decided to recast the part with a guy who kind of looked like Glover and just shot him from far away and weird positions (like having him upside-down). Oh, and they also added prosthetics like a fake chin and nose in order to make Weissman look more like the actor he was replacing. Crispin was obviously pretty livid upon hearing of this and sued the studio for using his likeness. Because of this case, SAG now has rules against studios trying to pull such stunts.

1. Hannibal – Julianne Moore replacing Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling

Without a doubt, the worst sentiment that can result from the replacement of a key actor in a sequel is “Why even bother?”. Thus is the case with the final example of pointless recasting, HannibalSilence of the Lambs is one of only 3 films to have won the “Big 5” at the Academy Awards (Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress and Screenplay), the other two being It Happened One Night and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. It was a critical and box office darling and forever changed how American society would view psychological thrillers and fava beans. It didn’t take long for the studio to start thinking of getting the team back together for another season. All the main players were interested and the author of the original book began composing a follow up. As late as 1997 Jodie Foster was still being quoted in interviews as being interested in returning to her most famous role. So what went wrong? How did we get to the point were a sequel was released in 2001 sans one of its biggest stars and the original director? Basically, both of them thought that the story was crap and that it would be too blatant of a cash grab to do the project. You would think that it would be unheard of for a producer to suggested that a sequel be made to an Oscar winning film without the involvement of two of its most important players. Unfortunately, the producer at hand was megalomanic Dino De Laurentiis, and apparently from the start he was intent on simply needing Hopkins to continue the story. No matter how good of a film they may have tried to make, it would never be as good, or strike as big of a chord with audiences, without the involvement of Jodie Foster. And thus the question: why bother? Well, the answer to that is simple enough, money. And the most unfortunate part is that they didn’t end up producing a good movie. Despite man-eating pigs, a self-brain-eating Ray Liotta, an unrecognizably disfigured Gary Oldman and a genuinely moving performance by Giancarlo Giannini, Hannibal ultimately is an uncomfortable exercise in how not to make a sequel to a beloved classic. What makes all this slightly more intriguing is that Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter is actually a case of recasting as well. Silence of the Lambs is a loose sequel to the 1986 Michael Mann film Manhunter. In it Brian Cox plays the cannibalistic doctor (though for unknown reasons the name was changed from Lecter to Lecktor). De Laurentiis of course later remade this film as Red Dragon, with a CGI’d Anthony Hopkins as a younger Lecter.

Special Feature!

Celebrity Doppelgangers (aka: my “all white people look alike to me” list). As I mentioned above with Lea Thompson and Elisabeth Shue, I sometimes have problems telling boring looking white people apart. These are all groupings of actors that I honestly thought at one time or another were the same person:

Renee Zellweger and Joey Lauren Adams

So Joey Lauren Adams wasn't in Empire Records?

Dom Deluise and Paul Prudhomme

They had to be in on this.

Justine Bateman and Meredith Salenger

I just figured out these were two different people last year.

James Badgett Dale and Matthew Morrison

Boring White Dudes Unite!

Amy Adams and Jenna Fischer and Alison Lohman

I am still not convinced that this is not the same boring looking girl.

Top 5 Sequels That Never Happened

Posted in Top 5 Lists on November 15, 2011 by myfavoritewasteoftime

This begins a series of entries that revolve around sequels. They are a weird occurrence in cinema because it directly calls into question the value of profit over artistic virtue. Basically, is a sequel warranted simply to make a buck, or does the film at hand need a follow-up in order to fully flesh out the characters and story? That, and sequels tend to be where discarded ideas find a rebirth.

For this round I am going to be looking at a handful of sequels that either never came to be, or were not released as they were originally intended. I figured for every 10 sequels that shouldn’t have been made but did, there has got to be one that should’ve but didn’t. I am dubbing this the honorary History of the World Part II: Jews in Space List.

5. Buckaroo Banzai Against the World Crime League/Remo Williams: The Adventure Continues

Both of these were intended sequels to beloved cult movies from the 80’s that never came to be due to lack of interest at the time and budgetary limitations. The Remo Williams people had the balls to imply a franchise by calling their first movie Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins. The makers of Buckaroo went as far as to tease the sequel at the end of The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension!

... and ends.

Either way, the world has not seen either so far. For those not familiar with these gems of wannabe franchises, I am not going to go to deep into either because I don’t want to ruin any surprises. Just be aware that they are both extremely entertaining in their cheesiness and once you watch them, you are going to be really bummed that neither went any further in their adventures. Though it should be noted that there have been novels, comic books and even a video game centered around the Buckaroo Banzai universe. In the late 1990’s the Fox Network was even in preproduction for a TV series. And while a TV pilot was shot for a Remo Williams series, since then no one else has cared about him.

4. Mathilda (Sequel to Leon: the Professional)

Luc Besson’s Leon (also known as The Professional or Leon: The Professional or The Kings of Leon Are a Professionally Mediocre Band) is one of the most critically acclaimed and widely loved movies of the 1990’s. Since its release, and the emergence of Natalie Portman as an international icon, there have been countless rumors going around about a possible follow up that would centered around Portman’s character, Mathilda, and her life after the events of the first movie. Around 2003 there was an infamous rumor going around that Portman had officially signed up for the sequel, something that Portman’s reps quickly shot down. But as recent as last year she has said that she would in fact be open to the idea, but only if Besson was behind the camera. Besson himself has shot down rumors that a script had been written by a 3rd party saying that he would never let anyone else touch the story, but never went so far as to state whether or not he himself had written anything.

Ok, who ordered italian?

This year whilst doing promotional rounds for his movie Colombiana, director Olivier Megaton stated that he actually intended for his script to be the follow-up to Leon called MathildaHe claims that he had been working on the script with Besson for 12 years, but since there were problems securing Portman and with the original distributor allowing the rights to be used, too much time had passed and Megaton (I really need a birth certificate to believe that is this guy’s real name) should use the material for a new movie. Besson did produce Colombiana and the two filmmakers have a long history together, so his claim may carry some weight. While I honestly haven’t seen this new film yet, I am going out on a limb and guessing it doesn’t hold much water against its muse. In my mind, the actual sequel would have Mathilda going around doing hits for Daniel Aiello while playing dress up with the ghost of Leon.

For now, here is the trailer for the movie that was supposedly based on the idea for the sequel of Leon.

3. John D. Hancock’s Jaws 2

Yes, it is true that Jaws 2 is in fact an actual bonafide sequel, but not the one that was original intended. After the unheard of  $470,654,000 that Jaws brought in from a $9,000,000 budget, the producers were more than eager to attain the same kind of profit margins again. To helm this feature was theater director John D. Hancock, whose best known cinematic venture previously was the low budget baseball character drama Bang the Drum Slowly. Hancock spent a total of 18 months on the production of Jaws 2 before he was replaced by Jeannot Szwarc (later of Supergirl and Santa Claus: The Movie “fame”). It was said that Hancock was replaced because he was over his head. A small time theater director was unable to handle the pressures of a large scale action film, and new, more able hands were needed. This may be true, and the Jaws 2 that was released in the theaters of 1978 wasn’t a bad film. There were a lot of genuinely frightening, believable performances by some of the youths that were marooned off shore by the new pissed off fish.

Just when you thought it was safe to work on character development...

It could easily be argued that this version is very possibly a better version than the one that Hancock wrote. But a larger part of me can’t help but wonder how much better that alternate version could have been. In it, the town of Amity was in financial ruin, investors and tourists alike had been forced away both by the horrific memories and the fear of the return of the fin. The town was somewhat of a ghost town and taking from the original novel, the mob was brought in to help with the redevelopment. The overall tone of the film was to be a lot more grim and bleak. The idea was to focus less on the action and more on the characters. The return of the shark was to be a catalyst for the growth of the townsfolk of Amity. This was exactly what caused the producers to pull Hancock off the film. After a month of dailies, the higher-ups were concerned over the fact that the film itself was too blue. If Hancock would’ve been allowed to continue with his vision, then it might turned the whole franchise into a prestigious one, rather than what would eventually give birth to Jaws: the Revenge.

Here is the trailer for the Jaws 2 we all grew up on.

2. Roger Rabbit 2: Toon Platoon (also known as Who Discovered Roger Rabbit?)

This one really breaks my heart. Without a doubt, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? is one of the most enjoyable and downright entertaining films ever made. After the overwhelming success, both critically and financially, of the first film, there were very few people in Hollywood that weren’t expecting a follow-up. But over 20 years later, besides a few shorts here and there, the world has been deprived of any adventures from the Rabbits and Co. But it wasn’t for lack of trying. TV writer Nat Mauldin was hired and wrote a script for a prequel called Roger Rabbit 2: Toon Platoon that would act as a sort of origin story. Taking place in 1941, an 18 year old Roger Rabbit leaves his Kanas home once his parents let him in on the secret that not only is he adopted, but he is not even human, in order to find his real parents. What follows is an adventure that takes Roger from Hollywood to the front lines of World War II. Along the way he encounters a bright-eyed wannabe actor named Richie Davenport and Roger’s soon-to-be wife, then called Jessica Krupnick. In a rather ingenious plot twist, the future Mrs. Rabbit is kidnapped by the Nazis and turned into a Tokyo Rose type character, forced to broadcast anti-American propaganda to our boys overseas. While serving duty, Roger hears his sweetheart’s voice over the radio and goes AWOL with Richie and a few other new friends in order to save her. Once home from duty he is reunited with his real father, who in another stroke of pure genius, turns out to be none other than Bugs Bunny (though this would call into question the fact that while Bugs appeared in the original film, he was never referenced to have any relation to the title character).

The original Basterd?

One of the big reasons that this script was not put into production in the early 90’s was because of producer Steven Spielberg. Once he started work on Schindler’s List, Senior Spielbergo kind of got a bad taste in his mouth about getting behind a project that satirized Nazis (I guess we have that to thank for the Russian bad guys in that last Indiana Jones film). So began a never ending process of re-writes. Thought this is a project in theory is still alive. Super producers Frank Marshall and Kathleen Kennedy have been trudging along trying to get this vehicle of the ground for years. Unfortunately, budgetary concerns and unsatisfactory animation tests (or fortunately once you witness one of these tests) have kept it deep in the earth. As recent as 2009, original director Robert Zemeckis has said that he is still interested in reviving the franchise. Though he wanted to use the motion-capture technology that he utilized when ruining The Polar Express, Beowolf, and A Christmas Carol on not just the toons, but the humans too. Lucky public opinion has since wained on his “technological advancements” and Disney closed his ImageMovers Digital studios. And while Universal has since reopened the studio, the unholy balls to the wall complete motion capture Zemeckis movies seem to be a thing of the past.
I hate to say it, but at this point, it is my hope that this script (or anything closely resembling it) never gets made. The time has passed for a sequel to the original classic. It was the last hurrah for the days of 2nd cell animation interacting with the real world. While I would love nothing more than to see Roger and his comrades going head to head with Nazis, both carbon and cartoon alike, the emergence of CGI would tarnish the magic that once was. With Who Framed, the interaction between human and toon was not seamless, and that was the point. It was obvious what the filmmakers were trying to do, combine fantasy and reality in a way that the viewer wanted to believe was believable. With the technology today, that level of tactlessness between the two worlds is simply unreachable.

Here is that animation test that I refereed to earlier.

1. Tim Burton’s 3rd Batman Movie

I am going to go out on a very lonely limb and state that not only is Batman Returns Tim Burton’s best (ok, maybe it is a tie with Ed Wood), but is the best Batman film to date. It equally mixes campy comic book semblance (something that the Joel Schumacher films went overboard on) with gritty realism and violence (something that the Christopher Nolan films are going way too overboard on). I will go toe to toe with anyone and argue to the death that Michael Keaton is the best and most believable Bruce Wayne/Batman combination. With every sequential actor to portray the cape crusader, it is painfully obvious that it is the same rich guy in the papers that is wearing the pointy ears. But Keaton had the ability to play the dichotomy of both roles with a smoothness that would fool even the most experienced detective. I could go on for pages with this argument (and probably will, at some point), but I bring this up in order to fully flesh out the magnitude of the  injustice that the cinematic world was dealt when Mr. Burton dropped out of the 2nd Batman sequel.

The reason that the first Batman sequel was the finest is because Tim Burton had complete creative control over it. It was not as common place as it is now to sign actors and directors to multi-picture deals with meticulously stipulated sequel contracts back in the late 1980’s when the first Batman came out. So unlike today, when Samuel L. Jackson signs a 9 picture deal with Marvel to appear as Nick Fury for any damn spinoff they please, Tim Burton had no clause in his contract demanding he return. There for, when Batman became the monumental hit it was in 1989, there was no guarantee that the dark director would return to the dark knight. So when Warner Brothers came to him asking for a sequel, Burton had a one big demand: complete creative control. He was not too quiet about his disapproval with a lot of the creative decisions that were forced on him during the first film (apparently Tim Burton is not a big Prince fan), and would only return to the franchise if it was to be his own vision. Thus we have the amazingly dark, yet surprisingly fun, Batman Returns. Unfortunately, while this film made a boat load of money for the studio, there was a lot of blow back from parental groups complaining about the un-child-friendly themes and McDonald’s even pulled out of a promotional deal (studio executives get pretty pissy when you take away their Happy Meal toys). From the beginning it was rather apparent that a 3rd Burton Batman film wasn’t going to get very far. Burton expected to have the same type of control as he did previously and all signs pointed to an even darker vision. The studio was not all too thrilled with this and pushed back hard and in doing so lost the auteur that helped launch the lucrative franchise. They instead brought in Joel Schumacher and his neon paint and black lights and one by one, almost all of the players that stood behind Burton’s version dropped out.  What we ended up with was Batman Forever, which honestly isn’t horrible, but is pretty forgettable (unlike Batman and Robin, which is unfortunately very horrible, but you can’t forget it, no matter how hard you try).

Holy Progress, Batman!

Now lets discuss what could have been, Tim Burton’s plans for the 3rd Batman movie. It should be said that the timing on a lot of this is a bit hazy of where one actor stepped out and another stepped in. Also, it is very up in the air on how much of this would have played out if Burton stuck around. First off, Robin was actually intended to be in Batman Returns, but it was decided that there were already way to many characters in the film. However, this was not before a virtually unknown and unlikely actor was already cast and even went through costume fittings, a very young Marlon Wayans. Apparently Burton was not a big fan of the character to begin with, so he wanted to shake up the role and turn him into a young african-american mechanic. There was every intention to bring him in the fold for the 3rd film, but the studio wanted a proper Aryan for Robin, so in came whiter than white Chris O’Donnell once Schumacher was at the reigns. Wayans was actually paid for both films and recently talked about his theory on why the role was recast, you can’t have Robin with a bigger bugle under his utility belt than Batman. It is not completely clear whether Two Face would be in 3rd Burton film, but one thing was sure, if he was it wouldn’t have been Tommy Lee Jones under the makeup. Back in first Batman there was a cameo by a different actor playing the district attorney Harvey Dent, Lando himself, Billy Dee Williams. He signed on for such a small role in the original with the understanding that he would be brought back in a later sequel for the more hefty role of Two Face. Again, apparently there is no place for the negro race in Gotham and once Burton was gone, so was Billy Dee. And like Wayans, Williams’ contract had to be bought out in order to allow a white counterpart to ham it up to the cameras. There was another face as well that was planning on returning, that of Michelle Pfeiffer. It wasn’t a coincidence that Catwoman survived the first sequel (though, there were also rumors of a separate Catwoman movie starring Pfeiffer). One thing that both the studio and Burton agreed on was the inclusion of the Riddler as the main villain. Now this is were things get really fuzzy, but it was widely rumored that Burton wanted former Monkee Micky Dolenz to play the green clad menace. It is known that Robin Williams was offered the role, but turned it down, though it is believed that it was Schumacher that was the one that offered it. A final bit of casting was altered when the director’s chair changed hands, originally Renee Russo was in negotiations to play Dr. Chase Meridian. But once Michael Keaton left production (and a reportedly $15,000,000 pay check) because he wasn’t happy with the Burtonless direction the series was taking, the producers replaced her with the younger looking Nicole Kidman.

If I just wait this out, in a decade or so I'll get top billing.

With the exception of the Riddler, the cast of the Burton version of Batman 3 was across the board better than what was produced. It makes me visibly shake my head like an idiot to think of the awesome chance that was blown when Timmy walked away from this film.

So yeah, we got instead.

On a final note, Mr. Schumacher recently let it slip that he was in pre-production on his own 3rd Batman movie called Batman Triumphant. This would’ve brought back George Clooney from Batman and Robin and would have pitted him against the Scarecrow (played by Jeff Goldblum) and Harley Quinn. It was Schumacher’s hope to try and bring Jack Nicholson back to the franchise as the Joker.

SPECIAL FEATURE!

Top 5 Sequels That I Am Glad Were Never Made:

Please keep in mind that all of these were actually in some form of pre-production at some point. If you don’t believe me, have fun looking them up.

5. Twins II : Triplets

4. Seriously Dude, Where’s My Car?

3. The Godfather 4

2. Forest Gump 2: Gump and Co

1. E.T. 2: Nocturnal Fears

Top 5 Satisfying Monsters in Cinema

Posted in Top 5 Lists on September 13, 2011 by myfavoritewasteoftime

Recently, I shelled out $10.50 to go see the new J.J. Abrahams’ Amblin tribute Super 8. I could go into a long diatribe about my thoughts on the film (which could more or less be summed up as: first half good, second half bad), but instead I’d like focus on the most glaring issue I had with this Spielbergian nostalgiafest: if you are going to make a monster movie, then that monster better be pretty damned memorable. And so far Mr. Abrahams’ is 0 for 2 in this category. Both in this film and in 2008’s Cloverfield, which he produced, a monster is the main catalyst of the story. Throughout the films we see glimpses of it and get plenty of over-the-top reaction shots of other people witnessing it, so we have a build-up in our imaginations that these creatures are going to be something spectacularly horrific. However, in both of these films, the ball has been unimpressively dropped. In Cloverfield the monster turns out to be this weird half-baked, dehydrated, albino mess that looks like an 8 year old made it out of modeling clay. At least that one was kind of original in its design, but in the case of Super 8, we are left with an amalgamation of rehashed imagery from past alien/creature features. I would be hard-pressed to find very many people who could accurately describe it in any detail even a couple hours after seeing the film– it is that unmemorable.  I have heard the case been stated that films like the ones that Abrahams produces are more about the journey then the destination. The anticipation is where the real joy lies, and the creature itself is merely an afterthought. While I agree that the tension leading up to the reveal of a creature that you have seen glimpses and flashes of is a quintessential part of a solid monster movie, the reveal had better be worth the wait. Without a properly memorable creature at the end of the journey, I can’t help but feel somewhat cheated. This got me thinking of which monsters throughout cinematic history have really brought the goods. The main criteria that I wanted to include is that the monster need to be hinted at and/or teased through at least part of the movie. There needs to be some type of build up to a reveal. Below is a list of 5 films that have creatures that are well worth the price of admission. (I have already tackled some films that could easily make this list in past subjects like Top 5 Practical Films and Top 5 Body Horror Films.)

5. The Trolls – Trolljegeren (The Troll Hunter) (2010) – André Øvredal & The Monster – Gwoemul (The Host) (2006) – Bong Joon-ho

I grouped these two films together because they have a few things in common. They are both recent foreign films, but they are also the only two films on this list that utilize computer graphics into their creatures. It is no secret that I am a huge fan of practical effects. As I have stated in previous posts, it is hard for a monster in a film to be memorable when it is CGI. Both of these movies do a solid job creating creatures that are more than believable. In Troll Hunter, we spend time in the mountains of Norway with a menagerie of trolls. Even though the viewer knows that they are watching a fictional documentary, we begin to believe in it. As viewers, we are all fully aware that there is no such thing as a troll, but as in any great monster film, we simply don’t care. Instead we let ourselves get lost in a world where these creatures get more grotesque and enormous as we get deeper into the nether regions of the Scandinavian wasteland. However, before we get to see said creatures, we witness their aftermath. Trampled trees, dead animals and fists full of slime lead the way until we finally start to get brief glimpses. And by that time, I, for one, had bought fully into the existence of these things, at least in the context of the world I was seeing on screen.

As in the previous film, in the Host we encounter the monster as the protagonists on screen do. We too are trying to grasp what exactly we are seeing as the people in the film are. Set in a modern day Korean metropolis, the film revolves around a family dealing with the loss of their youngest member at the hands of an aquatic behemoth. Created by the brilliant, and unfortunately now defunct San Francisco graphics house the Orphanage, the Host was the first example for me of an effective CGI monster. The film has a breathtaking sequence where, on a picture perfect sunny day, an entire population witnesses a monster dropping off of a bridge and proceeding to terrorize them. Unlike most films that feature predominately computer engineered creatures, this one does not rely on fast editing and shaky camera work to hide the flaws in the designs. Instead, we get beautiful slow motion shots that would make Sergio Leone proud.

4. The Creature – The Class of Nuke ‘Em High (1986) – Richard W. Haines & Lloyd Kaufman

The Class of Nuke ‘Em High comes from the delinquent minds behind the low budget classics such as the Toxic Avenger, Tromeo & Juliet and Terror Firmer. Lloyd Kaufman & Co. at Troma Studios have made an art out of making more of less, and never have they been more effective than with this gem from 1986. The element that puts this film on this list is that of surprise. The surprise of how well the monster looks in comparison to the rest of this campy classic. Given the budget, sets and quality of acting, you’d assume that the creature would just be a guy in a cheesy costume. And while that is case, it is one impressive and freaky looking cheesy costume. The film is a somewhat hybrid of the classic nuclear scare horror films of the 50’s and the post-punk youth-gone-wild films of the late 70’s/early 80’s. The honor students of Troma High are being transformed into bejeweled degenerates as a reaction to run off from the nearby power plant. Eventual tainted pot impregnates one of the students (that is the best way to describe it) and she “gives birth” to a demonic tadpole that will eventually turn into the aforementioned monster. If you are looking for a campy 80’s monster movie that delivers the “goods”, then look no further.

3. The Graboids Tremors (1990) – Ron Underwood

This and Child’s Play were the first two films I remember scaring me (and the latter was just because I owned a My Little Buddy toy at the time). For those impoverished souls who have not had the privilege of seeing this darling, I highly recommend you remedy that. The story takes place in a small mining settlement, appropriately named Perfection. Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward (a buddy combo that unfortunately has not been revisited) play a couple of local handymen that start to notice that their townsfolk are starting to get picked off one by one in more and more creative ways. By the time they figure out that giant underground prehistoric worms are the culprits, the town is surrounded and they must fight their way out with dynamite and over acting. As the sequels, the TV series and a recent made for TV ripoff (I would highly not recommend Mongolian Death Worm), the realm of oversized worms (and snakes for that matter) should be left to the practical effects wizards. The creatures are so impressive (though strangely look nothing like the one on the poster) that you may find yourself pausing the movie at times just to take it all in. This movie also did to large open spaces what Jaws did to water. This is like Arachnophobia  for agoraphobics. 

2. The Creature The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) – Jack Arnold

The youngest of the classic Universal Monsters, the Creature was a real game changer. All of his predecessors were monsters that were simply actors in make up. It was obvious that Bela Lugosi was Dracula, you could see Lon Chaney Jr. behind the fur as the Wolfman and Boris Karloff’s signature facial features shown through the bandages of the Mummy and the bolts of Frankenstein. But no one in 50’s America could be able to point Ben Chapmen out of a lineup after seeing him as the Creature. As one of the first examples of a full body suit, the Creature was one of the first times that an audience had seen a monster without a human face behind it. This created a sense of fear and intrigue that would pave the way for my number one over 20 years later. Unfortunately, like many monster films, the Creature was featured predominately on the poster, so the surprise is ruined for the movie goers. I would’ve loved to have had the chance to see this film without the spoiler. Jack Arnold does such a perfect job hinting and teasing with glimpse of the Creature, that by the time it is pulsating and lunging towards the camera, the audiences of the 50’s much have been wetting their pleated little britches.

1. The Alien Alien (1979) – Ridley Scott

With this blog I try and pride myself in bringing to light titles that are outside of the cinematic populace. I do my best to steer clear of films that could be found on AFI lists or in IMDB’s top 100. This is not meant as a form of elitism, but rather to give the films that may have just as much merit as those more well known a chance to have a larger audience (even if that is just an audience of one or two). That said, there are times and subjects where I can’t ignore a movie that deserves all the praise it can get. If you look on most top monster lists, you will find my number 1. To not include Alien on this list would be a serious blow to my integrity. From the pacing, to the lighting, to the score, to the sets, everything about the film is claustrophobic and terrifying, and that is well before we even see the alien itself. There are very few instances in the horror/sci fi cinematic world when something comes along that is original and changes everything after it, Alien is one of the those cases. Ever since this particular alien graced the screen, every alien since has in some way resembled it (included the unoriginal one in Super 8 that inspired this list).

Special Feature!

Monster in My Closet  – (1986) – Bob Dahlin

Before there was Snakes on a Plane there was another ingenious descriptive titled movie Monster in My Closet. With a monster that looks like a combination of the Rancor from Return of the Jedi, the alien from Alien and a naked mole rat, this tongue-in-cheek comedy/horror from 1986 does a pretty reasonable job lampooning a lot of typical cliches that you will find in a monster movie. At least I think that was their intent. There is a good possibility that the producers just made a bad monster movie and made it funny in post.

Top 5 Filthiest Films

Posted in Top 5 Lists on March 4, 2011 by myfavoritewasteoftime

At first glance you may assume that this list is an accumulation of 5 of the most obscene films ever made. And while these 5 films are in fact all rather obscene, here I am using the other definition of the word: Covered or smeared with filth; disgustingly dirty. The 5 films presented below are covered with dirt, grime, grease, blood, and sweat to the extent that the audience may feel the need to shower after viewing. The actors (or puppets) and environments are so blanketed with foulness that spectators can almost smell and taste the decay.  In some cases, the appearance of filth is due to a low budget and high production temperatures, leading to a sweaty cast and set. Other times this effect was created by make up artists and set designers painstakingly recreating the unsanitary conditions of a garbage dump or a rundown diner. Most often, it was a combination of both. Either way, the creators of the following films went out of their way to beget a world of filth in order to bombard their audiences in ways that very few films have been able (or would want) to. I am dubbing this the “John Waters Memorial List”, because otherwise his films from the 60’s and 70’s would make up the entire thing.

5. The Funhouse (1981) – Tobe Hooper

If I thought about it long enough I am sure I could come up with a whole other list of “sweaty horror” movies. This one and the 3rd movie on this list would be at the top. Made in between the successes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Poltergeist, director Tobe Hooper attempted to depict the seedier side of the amusement circuit. A group of teenagers dare each other to spend the night in the funhouse of a traveling carnival that is town. After wandering the grounds and experiencing all that they had to offer, (including a redneck peep show, making fun of Madame Zena the fortune teller and a sideshow with genuine two headed and cleft palliated cows) the kids get high on dope and break into the soon-to-be-not-so-funhouse. They sit tight until after the “ride” closes and witness the ride operator paying Zena (not the warrior princess) to “pleasure him”. It seems our friend in the Frankenstein mask (did I mention that he is wearing a Frankenstein mask?) has some performance issues and gets angry when the fortune teller refuses to give him back his hard earned $100. Apparently, a profession in ride operating can really get to a person, because he loses control and kills Zena. The carnival barker (who is also the ride operator’s father) discovers what has happened and precedes to beat “Frankenstein”. During the scuffle the mask is torn off and a pale-fanged-red-eyed-cleft-headed (remember the cow?) monster is revealed. The unhappy couple realizes that they are not alone– And basically the rest of the movie is the deformed creature chasing the helpless youth around the funhouse, using various objects one might find in said house of fun to off them one by one. Right off the bat this film has a filthy tone to it. Traveling carnivals are disgusting places in the present day. One can only imagine the levels of grime that existed 30 years ago, before the country became was united by hypochondria. Mix that with the fact that it was filmed in the middle of summer in Miami and you have yourself a dirty/sweaty good time. A couple fun facts: apparently a handful of extras were accidentally left on a fully automated ride for over 20 minutes while a scene was being shot. Also, Dean Koontz wrote a novelization of the movie. Definitely not going to read that.

4. Meet the Feebles (1989) – Peter Jackson

It is every film geek’s favorite thing to point out to the average movie goer the fact that the Academy Award winning director of Heavenly CreaturesKing Kong and the wholly Lord of the Rings trilogy, got his start sculpting some of the most violent and disgusting images ever put on a screen. This is going to be a decidedly (and purposely) short review for no other reason than I honestly can’t even think to where to begin in properly describing this film. If you’ve never seen or heard of it, then you are either extremely lucky or extremely deprived depending on your taste. The movie is about a group of puppets that make up a vaudeville type performance troupe. Each character has their very own repulsive habit or secret. Whether it be date-rape, snuff films, nasal sex (yes, nasal sex), russian roulette, coprophagia or just a deadly case of syphilis, every member of The Feebles Variety Hour has something to hide. Unfortunately (or fortunately, again, depending on your taste) they are all spelled out in the most soiled ways possible. Unlike your average Muppet movie, where the puppets are spotlessly clean, these models are caked in the filth that surrounds them. Though, I can’t help to think that Jim Henson would be proud.

3. Graveyard Shift (1990) – Ralph S. Singleton

Very few animals are viewed by our society as filthy as rats, and they are on display in great numbers in this 1990 film. A drifter comes to a small industrial town in Maine. He soon finds work at a textile mill that seems to have a seemingly never-ending supply of job openings. His position consists of running possibly the most unsafe piece of manufacturing machinery ever created and picking off rats with his trusty slingshot and Pepsi cans (maybe my favorite example of product placement). After defending the honor of a fellow female worker at the hands of the comically evil Northeastern foreman, he involuntarily volunteers himself to a clean up crew. The crew’s job is to clean up what appears to be the worst basement in the world. Teaming with a toxic mixture of wooden furniture, stacks of paper, rats and standing water, it resembles what you would get if you combined every home from the TV series “Hoarders” into one disorganized and unearthly wasteland. The crew begin to find trap doors and stairwells that lead to new and more disgusting subterranean levels to this apparently ancient mill. I’ll stop here in the play by play as to not ruin any more of the odious surprises that this film has in store. All you need to know is that every square inch of this film is smeared in moistest filth imaginable. Plus you also have the always brilliant creepy Brad Dourif at his greasiest as a tobacco spitting exterminator who at one point recalls how he witnessed rats being used as tortured devices in Vietnam. The film was shot at the oldest yarn mill in America, so most of that antique dankness you see is genuine. It is based on a short story by Stephen King, and is a prime example of a rule that I stand by, short stories make for better films than novels do.

2. Street Trash (1987) – James Muro

Street Trash has the advantage in this category of having the majority of the movie taking place in an actual garbage dump. The movie is set in modern day (1987) lower Manhattan. A local liquor store owner uncovers a crate of bottles labeled “Viper” in his storage and decides to sell it to the neighborhood hobos for a buck a bottle. The only problem is that this beverage seems to turn its consumers into a frothy, bubbly blue mess. Well, I suppose the other problem is that a half pint of liquor is being sold for a dollar, so naturally all of the transients in the greater Manhattan area soon come flocking. Before too long there are dissolving puddles of bums with an adjacent bottle strangely appearing around the immediate vicinity of said liquor store. This is a fact that takes a local police officer the better part of the movie to figure out. Like Meet the Feebles, this movie is full of sexism, racism, rape, homophobia and all other types of features that make us humans what we are. But the amount of grim that is caked on every single surface area of this film is truly something to behold. Again, it helps that almost all of the main and secondary characters are homeless alcoholics that live in a junkyard (and like to play keep away with each other’s genitalia). The director, James Muro, is an accomplished camera operator who has worked on Academy awarding winning films such as Titanic and Dances with Wolves, so the film itself is surprisingly well made for such a low budget horror film. This factor means that the filth is just that much clearly captured. A great double feature with this film is 1985’s The Stuff. Another well made horror satire on the dangers of consumer consumption.

1. The Dark Backward (1991) – Adam Rifkin

The great John Waters aside, no film in the history of cinema has effectively been as filthy as The Dark Backward. Judd Nelson (Bender from the Breakfast Club) plays Marty Malt, a mousey garbageman that moonlights as the worst stand-up comedian of all time. His best friend is fellow garbageman, Gus (as played by Bill Paxton, who brings a whole new meaning to the phrase “unforgettable performance”). Gus is an accordion toting manic lunatic who has an affliction for morbidly obese (and sometimes dead) women and will consume literally anything. One day a small bump appears on his back, before he knows it that bump turns into a third arm complete with hand. The new appendage is both a blessing and a curse. His waitress girlfriend (Twin Peak‘s Lara Flynn Boyle) is freaked out and leaves him, but talent agent Jackie Chrome (Wayne Newton) is now suddenly interested in representing him and his new popular extremity. Unlike the previous four films on this list, this film’s disgusting look lies completely in the hands of it production designers. While the others embraced their grungy guise caused by the circumstances of low budgets (not that The Dark Backward had a budget of Spielbergion size), the creators of this movie purposely created these deplorable environments. Every floor, every wall, every object is covered with so much muck and plasma that you could make an imprint on any given surface. Whether it is a dinner, a comedy club, a talent agent’s office, a doctor’s office or a junk yard, without exception, each new setting has the same constancy of foulness. It successfully combines the griminess of New York and the greasiness of Los Angeles.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

The Cleanest Film of All Time!

Without a doubt the movie that is almost completely void of any filth is George Lucas’ masterpiece THX 1138.

Top 5 Cinematic Drunks

Posted in Top 5 Lists on February 4, 2011 by myfavoritewasteoftime

At first this seems like a pretty easy list to come up with. Just sit back, open a few beers, think of the all time party animals in cinematic history and phone this baby in. On the contrary, you will not find John Belushi from Animal House, nor will you find Mickey Rourke from Barfly. There will be no Nicolas Cage from Leaving Las Vegas, Jeff Bridges from Crazy Heart or Will Ferrel in Old School. Not because none of those are worthy of mentioning, but because like all of my lists, this is a compilation of my favorite films of said topic. Also, despite my affection for the hootch (I am a few drinks in as I write this in spite of a rather nasty cold that I have been battling), I tend to appreciate films that don’t glamorize or romanticize alcoholism. While I do enjoy films that indulge in fantasying other subjects, alcohol dependency is a topic that I prefer a more realistic approach to. One of the first memorable portrayals of a drunkard in my memory and in cinematic history was Charlie Chaplin in 1917’s The Cure. A few notable performances that are not mentioned in this article are Jack Lemmon in Days of Wíne and Roses, Susan Hayword in I’ll Cry Tomorrow, Jason Robards in A Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Richard Lewis in Drunks, Paul Newman in The Verdict and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Jack Nicholson in The Shining, Richard E. Grant in Withnail and I, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Peter O’Toole in My Favorite Year, Lee Marvin in Cat Ballou and of course Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas in Strange Brew.

5. Charles Winninger in Destry Rides Again (1939)

This addition covers two of my favorite film drunk cliches: the Old Western Drunk & the Town Drunk Redemption. I was tempted to go with better known performances of Dean Martin in Rio Bravo (Western Drunk) or Dennis Hopper in Hoosiers (Town Drunk). However, Winninger wins out in the end because he manages to encompass both cliches in one staggering blow. Set in the fictional old west town of Bottleneck that is run by a corrupt saloon owner. The righteous sheriff is gun-downed after too many questions are asked while a fixed poker game is being exposed. The saloon owner decides to appoint the town drunk as the new law in order to keep a firm grasp on the community. Unexpectedly, the current town drunk was once a deputy and calls upon his formers partner’s son to help clean up the town. Jimmy Stewart comes to town as the pacifistic gunslinger and Marlene Dietrich is the saloon owner’s flashy girlfriend. In a movie where he is surrounded by catfights, sharpshooting and two of Dietrich’s most famous songs (“Boys in the Backroom” and “You’ve Got That Look”), it is surprising how memorable Winninger’s performance is. He is able to be touching, pathetic and hilarious all at the same time. Character actors like Winninger are unfortunately, a thing of Hollywood’s past.

4. Billy Bob Thornton in Bad Santa (2003)

This spot was a toss up between Bad Santa and Walter Matthau in the Bad News Bears (1976). Both encompass men that are beyond their prime and lives forced to become entangled with children that they despise. Here we have Billy Bob Thornton playing a safe-cracker that under the guise of a seasonal Santa for hire, breaks into different malls’ safes every year on Christmas Eve. He is on the verge of drinking himself to death when he befriends a properly awkward boy and a bartender that has a particular fetish for Old Saint Nick.  Billy Bob has kind of made career out of playing drunks. It could be said that he is less acting and more living on screen. It is no surprise that Thornton went on to star in the god awful remake of Bad News Bears in 2005. I went with Bad Santa because of the level of realism (or should I say heathenism) that is able to be depicted. As inappropriate as it may be at times, Bad News Bears was still intended to be a family film. Bad Santa, on the other hand, does not have that hinderance to keep back the depravity. It is free to show our fun loving Santa doing all sorts of things that real full blooded American alcoholics that are dead inside and tired of living usually do. Such as having anal sex in dressing rooms, hitting on underage girls at pinball machines, beating up kids with their own skate boards, peeing himself in front of children, etc. The beauty of this movie (as well as the original Bad News Bears) is despite the licentiousness of his actions throughout most of the movie, you are still routing for the main character in the end. Three different cuts of this movie have been released. The first was the theatrical cut which is good, but giving its R rating is a little restrictive in its content. The 2nd version is the unrated DVD cut, unfortunately titled Badder Santa, which is more or less the same cut as the theatrical version with just a few extra scenes. The version I recommend to watch is the director’s cut. While more times than not films don’t warrant the additional director’s cut the receive (I’m looking at you Alexander), this one is an exception. The director’s cut is actually shorter and almost completely re-edited. Where the original and unrated versions are almost slapstick in nature at times, the director’s cut is slower paced and overall a more solid film.

3. Takashi Shimura in Shûbun (Scandal) (1950)

It may have seemed a little more obvious to go with Yoidore tenshi (Druken Angel) for number 3. It is a more highly regarded, and frankly better, Kurosawa film as a whole. Yet I went with this film solely based on the scene that I posted below. This is the best (most touching) drunken scene ever filmed. Shimura plays a morally deficient lawyer with a fatally ill daughter. He takes on a case involving two celebrities, played by Toshiro Mifune and Shirley Yamaguchi (who are the real stars of this film), that were photographed together and falsely accused of having an affair by a tabloid. He does his best to adequately represent them, but he is weak willed and tempted by greed to throw the trial. In the scene below it is New Years and Shimura is toasting to the new year and to him becoming a new man. He talks of how ashamed he is of a man and next year his daughter will finally will not look on at him as a disgrace. Aside from Shimura’s  moving performance, nearly ever single extra and bit part actor’s face is heartbreaking enough on their own. The only other scene that comes close to touching this one is Meryl Streep’s delusional musical number in Ironweed.

2. Albert Finney in Under the Volcano (1984)

I have always been a huge fan of Albert Finney, but felt like there was a movie out there that would make me fall in love with him. Under the Volcano is that movie. In it he plays a retired British diplomat in pre-WWII Mexico who has recently been abandoned by his wife. He has found solace in his drinking to temporally fill the void of his wife. His drunken purgatory is shattered when his wife spontaneously reappears the morning after he prays for her return. What follows is his battle coming to grips with the realities of what is left in his life and what he is able to live with. Finney plays this aging alcoholic with such poignantly reckless fragility that the viewer is unsure whether to feel sorry for him or those around him. He wanders in and out of the lives of his peers with a disregard for his actions and the effect they have on his surroundings. He stumbles through the landscape lapsing between a childish innocence laced with literally references and glimpses of the kind and respected man he once was. It would be interesting to compare this film to Arthur. Both include lovable British drunks stumbling through life, however one is a slapstick comedy and the other is a heartbreaking drama. Its like comparing Punk Drunk Love to any other Adam Sandler movie. Those familiar with the burrito shops of the Mission District in San Francisco will get a kick out of what represents hell on earth, a bar called El Farolito.

1. Ray Milland in The Lost Weekend (1945)

When this movie was screened for audiences it shed such an effectively negative light on alcoholism that the alcohol industry itself offered Paramount Pictures $5,000,000 not to release it. The film tested so poorly that the studio almost buried it anyway. Luckily they didn’t and it ended up becoming a huge box office success and winning Oscars for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. Milland plays a struggling writer that has lost much of his success professionally and socially due to his alcoholism. The problem is, despite the obvious hazards, he chocks up his writing ability to his inhibitions while inebriated. As he puts it in a brilliantly written speech to his bartender “It shrinks my liver, doesn’t it, Nat? It pickles my kidneys, yeah. But what it does to the mind? It tosses the sandbags overboard so the balloon can soar. Suddenly I’m above the ordinary. I’m competent. I’m walking a tightrope over Niagara Falls. I’m one of the great ones. I’m Michaelangelo, molding the beard of Moses. I’m Van Gogh painting pure sunlight. I’m Horowitz, playing the Emperor Concerto. I’m John Barrymore before movies got him by the throat. I’m Jesse James and his two brothers, all three of them. I’m W. Shakespeare. And out there it’s not Third Avenue any longer, it’s the Nile. Nat, it’s the Nile and down it moves the barge of Cleopatra.” That monologue perfectly describes the rational that so many addicts tell themselves everyday. Whether it be consciously or subconsciously, addiction is a crutch that so many people now, and maybe even more so at that time, depend on with the notion that it was the only way possible to function. At the time this movie came out it was still typical to see a near full bar laid out in every office across America. While other films had hinted at the troubles of booze, this was the first to show exactly how strong of a grip it can have on a person’s life. Dozens of films have tried since to accurately portray the horrors of addiction, and despite being produced 65 years ago, The Lost Weekend still holds up as one of the most resonating pictures on the topic.

Special Feature:

Now that you have dredged through the bowels of the worst of alcoholic imagery that Hollywood can dish up, here are the top five films about drug addiction!

5. Drugstore Cowboy (1989) – Gus Van Sant

4. Permanent Midnight (1998) – David Veloz

3. Jesus’ Son (1999) – Alison Maclean

2. The Man with the Golden Arm (1955) – Otto Preminger

1. Requiem for a Dream (2000) – Darren Aronofsky

Top 5 Classic Christmas Horror Films

Posted in Top 5 Lists on December 25, 2010 by myfavoritewasteoftime

Many of us know how the holiday season can be scary in various ways. Whether it be the stress of shopping, the deadlines at work, or just the umpteenth tween heartthrob whining through another unwanted version of “All I Want For Christmas”, the holidays can drive even the most mild-mannered pacifist to thoughts of carnage. No matter how much holiday spirit you have flowing through your veins, eventually everybody has their breaking point. And starting in the 1970’s, filmmakers took full advantage of this societal tendency and began producing movies that feature death and destruction around the day of days. These typically focus on a certain individual who equates Christmas with childhood trauma, snaps, and turns to murder to help fill the parental void in their soul. (Imagine if Norman Bates had the Night Before Christmas read to him every night as a child.) In recent years there has been an onslaught of holiday films that tend to lean towards the paranormal or monstrous side of horror. Titles such as Jack Frost (not the one with Michael Keaton), Santa Claws, Silent Night Zombie Night, One Hell of a Christmas, Christmas Nightmare, the Gingerdead Man (both 1 and 2) and Santa’s Slay may all have their moments, but I am going to focus on the more “classic” holiday horror films. To avoid the impending argument I am going define “classic” as being before 1990, I am sorry for how old that may make you feel. I was tempted to put Scrooged on this list because it is my favorite Christmas movie. While it does have some horrific sequences in it, it is, alas, not a proper horror film.

5. Gremlins (1984) – Joe Dante

Gremlins comes in at number 5 not because it is any less of a movie than any of the films that preceed it, but because it does not contain the typical Christmas Horror plot points that I mentioned above. Instead of a crazed man-boy picking off the residents of a town, we have a batch of scaly green baddies doing the honor. Taking place during the days leading up to Christmas, a traveling salesman decides to give his son a furry little creature called a Mogwai (voiced by Howie Mandel) that he picked in an antique shop in Chinatown. Instead of going off about all the rules of owning a Mogwai and what happens if you break those rules, I’ll just stick to what is relevant to this list. Plus I’d be pretty surprised if you are reading this and haven’t seen Gremlins. You can kind of look at this movie as a cautionary tale on giving pets for Christmas. No matter how good your intentions, you are playing with fire and there is a good chance that someone is going to end up in tears, or pieces. It is also chockfull of satire on the consumer culture of the 80’s and how it turns us into little green monsters that function only with the most primitive of natures. But there are two scenes in this film that really put it on this list. The first involves the protagonist’s mother being attacked by a gremlin in various rooms of their house whilst “Do You Hear What I Hear” plays in the background. The second has Phoebe Cates’ character retelling a story from her childhood that involves the death of her father in a chimney during a Christmas stunt gone wrong.

4. Black Christmas (1974) – Bob Clark

From the director of the beloved A Christmas Story (as well as Porky’s and Rhinestone) comes another holiday movie with a slightly different feel. The plot of this film is pretty close to When a Stranger Calls, except instead of just Carol Kane getting freaked out by a heavy breather, we have Margot Kidder, Olivia Hussey, Andrea Martin and a handful of other students. It is the week before Christmas and one by one the residents of a sorority house are slowly disappearing as obscene phone calls become more frequent. For what seems to be the millionth time, John Saxon plays the local policeman. As in all 70’s horror films, this one epitomizes the concept of law-enforcement ineptitude, who were apparently unable to protect or serve during the entirety of that decade. Also, like a lot of 70’s horror films, this one presents a handful of potential persons that could be the murderer, none of whom actually turn out to be the culprit (don’t worry, I really didn’t give anything away with that piece of information). The movie itself is actually a pretty solid film, the only reason that it is not higher up on this list is because of the fact that besides the occasional carol and/or wreath, you kind of forget for the most of it that it takes place around Christmas. Initially this was supposed to be a bigger production starring the likes of Bette Davis, Malcolm McDowell and Gilda Radner. The “killer” POV shots were accomplished by the cameraman strapping the camera to his back and creeping around the house.  The director has a “cameo” as the voice behind the lewd phone calls. This was recently remade, but I am not about to give that a chance, though Andrea Martin does have a small part in it.

3. Don’t Open Till Christmas (1984) – Edmund Purdom

Apparently the issue of Christmas trauma is not solely an American problem. This horrific little tale is a British production and makes almost no sense. But in the end that doesn’t really matter much. What does matter is that some sadistic killer is going around the streets of London killing anyone that is dressed like Santa that may come across his path. Whether it be at a swinger Christmas party, outside a bar or in a strip joint, if you are dressed like Santa, you are fair game. His weapon of choice is stabbing, but he is not opposed to using a grill or axe if needed. There is somewhat of a plot that involves a daughter trying to find her father’s killer and a possibly corrupt police sergeant. But all that really matters is that every ten minutes or so someone else in a Santa suit dies in a new fun way. It gets to the point, by about 30 minutes in, that when you see a new Santa you start looking around at his surroundings and trying to guess how he is gonna get it. Apparently different parts of this movie were directed by two different directors, yet that still doesn’t explain how disjointed this movie feels. That said, it is worth seeing for the fact that it really will change the way you look at anybody dressed as a Santa. Whether it be a guy at the mall or a hipster on a pub crawl, you won’t be able to help but envision them getting a knife to the gut. There are two different drinking games you can play with this movie. The obvious, which is whenever Santa dies, you drink. But if you want to get even drunker, drink whenever they cut to a shot of the “New Scotland Yard” sign. You’ll be getting your stomach pumped in no time.

2. Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984) – Charles E. Sellier Jr.

The last three movies on this list have one thing in common besides killer Santa Clauses. They all are centered around Christmas related childhood trauma. But this one kind of takes the cake. In 1971 young Billy Chapman not only has to undertake one of the creepiest visits to an old folks home ever, but also witnesses both his parents being murdered at the hands of a carjacker in full Santa regalia. Cut to a few years later and Billy raises a few eyebrows on the faces of the nuns at the Catholic orphanage he resides at by drawing pictures of decapitated Santas. And of course like any good nun, she tells him that punishment is necessary and good and proceeds to beat the snot out of him with his own belt. There is a hilarious scene where Billy is forced to sit on Santa’s lap and promptly punches old Saint Nick out. By the age of 18 Billy is working at the only logical place, a toy factory. And naturally he goes morally crazy and starts to punish and reward those around him in the guise of his mortal enemy Santa. The previous movie and this one both attempt to have some sort of message about morality, but it all gets lost in the blood letting, which is just fine with me. Not surprisingly, this movie was heavily picketed by groups of mothers with too much time on their hands. Something about an axe wielding homicidal Santa just doesn’t sit right with suburban housewives. Siskel and Ebert scolded the filmmakers by name on air. So far there have been four sequels made. Most memorable are part 2 (which I believe holds the record for most footage of an original film recycled in its sequel, at just under 40 minutes) and part 5 starring Mickey Rooney.

1. You Better Watch Out (Christmas Evil) (1980) – Lewis Jackson

You want the best, you’ve got the best. The most messed up and therefore greatest Christmas horror film of all time, You Better Watch Out, or as you may know it, Christmas Evil. The plot of this movie is kind of a mix of the previous two movies. What makes it so memorable is how surprisingly well acted it is. Given a better director the movie could have been something more than just a cult classic. It is a perfect middle ground between Taxi Driver, Falling Down and A Miracle on 34th Street. All around nice guy and toy factory pushover Harry Stadling believes in the spirit of Christmas. Unfortunately, no one around him except kids feels the same way. Pushed to the edge of sanity by the lack of respect he gets and holiday joy he feels, he finally takes the plunge and super glues a beard on and assumes the role of Santa. He not only goes around and punishes those that have wronged him, he also goes to hospitals and gives out toys to needy children. Brandon Maggart plays the role of Harry with such conviction that he gives a humanistic touch to a role that would normally just be played for scares. The relationship between Harry and his brother is also something that sets this movie apart from it’s peers. His brother is the only one that suspects that there is something wrong, yet he doesn’t just write him off as crazy. And instead of just being a side note in the movie, this relationship is the driving force. There is so much heart put into these two performances that it is a shame that a director like Sydney Lument or Norman Jewison couldn’t have gotten their hands on this material. One of the biggest outspoken fans of this film is John Waters. He recently recorded commentary for the film calling it the greatest Christmas movie ever.

Special Features:

For those of you who may be confused about what happens in which horror movie, I have made a graph below that may help. Enjoy.