Rupert Pupkin Speaks: "Bad" Movies We Love Guest Post: William Bibbiani ""

Sunday, June 24, 2012

"Bad" Movies We Love Guest Post: William Bibbiani

 William "Bibbs" Bibbiani is the Film Channel Editor over at Crave Online (www.craveonline.com). He is also one of the co-hosts of the wonderful B-Movies Podcast (http://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-b-movies-podcast/id427673712), which is a lot of fun. He is very active on twitter as well and can be found at @williambibbiani.


------------------------------------
Like most film critics I run into, I don’t really believe in “guilty pleasures.” If I like a movie, I have a quantifiable reason, even if it’s wholly subjective. So picking out a list of “bad movies” that I like is a tough one. I honest to god adore Step Up 3D, and I make no bones about it. The Transporter 2 is a wonderful piece of action filmmaking, damn it. Cherry 2000 is frickin’ brilliant, if I do say so myself. That list goes on. So to make it easier on myself, and to stay at least mostly true to the premise of this wonderful series, I have decided to focus only on films that are mostly bad.

The following movies have overwhelming flaws that I simply cannot deny, but also boast at least one saving grace that, for one reason or another, is all I can focus on when I watch them. Maybe they tackle some interesting issues in an otherwise awkward milieu. Maybe they’re funnier than they have any right to be. Maybe they have just one character or one scene that’s such a stand out that I forgive everything surrounding it. Maybe they’re bad, but I love ‘em anyway.

Don’t judge me. I was once like you.



Mars Attacks (1996)
I sometimes wonder if this film is a cruel joke played on the visual effects department. It’s so full of hate that I can’t imagine anyone enduring the year or more it must have taken to do all the CGI without turning into a serial killer.

Like the trading card series it’s based on, Tim Burton’s film takes immature joy in destroying the human race, but unlike the trading card series we actually have to spend time with the characters before Burton kills them. So in order for their horrific demises to be even slightly funny, he has to make every single one of them a total dickwad. The result is mean-spirited, overblown, bafflingly cast and, I’m sorry, really-really-really funny. I even like how we never really know why the Martians are attacking the first place. They act like they’re coming in peace, but only go nuts when a hippie releases a dove? Was that just to screw with our heads, or what? We finally make contact with life on other planets, only to find out that they’re all assholes. Just like us…


 The Curve (aka Dead Man’s Curve) (1998)
The Curve was the first movie from 1998 about an obscure college loophole that says if your roommate kills themselves, you get straight “A’s” for the rest of the semester. The second, which came out barely a month later, was the nearly unwatchable “comedy” Dead Man on Campus. Some folks remember that one, but only I seem to remember The Curve, which stars Matthew Lillard and Michael Vartan, who kill their roommate Randall Batinkoff to save their academic careers. In some ways, it’s rather bad: cruel, not particularly well produced and Matthew Lillard is, well, Matthew Lillard, but the sadistic way that he Leopolds Michael Vartan’s Loeb always stuck in my memory. Like when Lillard seduces Vartan’s big crush, Keri Russell, into giving him a blowjob while Vartan stares out of the slats in a nearby closet (he was waiting to jump out with a romantic surprise for her).

More importantly, The Curve has more twist endings than any sane movie should have. I haven’t seen it in a long time, but I think there are 35. Or maybe six, something like that. The movie defies ready categorization, but it feels more like a trashy teenaged Henri-Georges Clouzot knockoff than any of the other Scream-era thrillers of the late 1990s. I guess I sort of admire it for that audacity.


 Love’s Labour’s Lost (2000)
Kenneth Branagh can do wrong. We’ve all seen his version of Frankenstein, and if by some miracle you haven’t, I don’t recommend starting now. But one of his most endearing misfires was this attempt to adapt one of Shakespeare’s most weightless comedies into a musical, using classic songs like “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” and “The Way You Look Tonight” in place of soliloquies. The cast ranges from sublime (Branagh, Timothy Spall, Alessandro Nivola) to spectacularly wrong (Matthew Lillard, Alicia Silverstone). The production design often looks like it belongs in a community theater, and there was so little time to rehearse (or so I’ve heard) that most of the choreography looks like it belongs in a high school auditorium.

But… but… when Love’s Labour’s Lost gets it right, it’s a very sweet, likable film. Spall’s rendition of “I Get a Kick Out of You” is hilarious, and the final production of “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” always tugs at my heartstrings. It almost makes up for Alicia Silverstone’s terrifying rendition of “No Strings (I’m Fancy Free).” It sounds like she huffed helium in the soundstage, and not-so-secretly wants to kill you. Scarier yet, she’s super-duper happy about it.


 The Unnamable (1988)
H.P. Lovecraft enthusiasts are shit out of luck in the movie department. Oh sure, Stuart Gordon whipped out some good flicks, mostly based on Lovecraft’s minor works, but compared to even Stephen King there’s a shocking dearth of good stuff. The Unnamable is not “the good stuff.” It’s stodgy and lame, and the monster that the title refers to actually has a name, damn it (it’s “Alyda”), so I don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about. Plotwise, it’s a pretty standard affair: an old house in the woods with a terrible past keeps attracting oversexed teenagers to their doom. I’ve seen worse movies with the same premise, but still… yawn.

I’m going to come clean with you: I like this movie for one reason and one reason only, and that reason is namable. “Mark Kinsey Stephenson,” he’s called. He plays Randolph Carter, a character Lovecraft fans are intimately familiar with. Carter is a most unusual horror movie protagonist: a scholarly, practical type with no interest in the opposite sex (or the same sex, for that matter). He tells his friends about the haunted house, and when they pull the old “Let’s check it out” routine, Carter won’t even consider it because, well, what if he’s right? Why put yourself in a position to be devoured by even a hypothetical murder beast? And when the fit really does hit the shan, it’s up to Carter to save the day… by ignoring the screams of his dying friends and reading a long, boring book that might hold the key to stopping the madness. Or it might not. It’s an amazingly refreshing aspect of an otherwise
hackneyed film.

Randolph Carter got himself a sequel in The Unnamable II, which I haven’t seen, but have high hopes for. I’ll get to it someday.


Bloodmoon (1997)
Someone has been killing all the greatest fighters in the world (who all happen to live in the same town), and it’s up to serial killer profiler/martial arts expert Gary Daniels to take him out. The dialogue is bizarrely obtuse, the characters are either non-existent or distractingly broad caricatures (check out Frank Gorshin as the perpetually-angered Chief of Police), but the fight scenes are legitimately spectacular. Seriously, this is some of the most impressive martial arts choreography to come out of America in… geez, maybe ever. The movie surrounding those fights just happens to be undeniably – but highly enjoyable – crap. Any movie where the serial killer’s gimmick is cybernetic fingers – only two of them, mind you – is a winner in my book. And it looks like it was shot on a shoestring budget in 1985. I was literally shocked to learn that it was the product of the late 1990s. I really implore you to seek out Bloodmoon. It can’t become a cult classic until people start talking about it.


Dirty Work (1998)
Dirty Work stars Norm MacDonald and Horatio Sanz as lowlifes who start a “Revenge for Hire” business to pay for their father’s heart transplant. The plot couldn’t be more rote, and MacDonald has only one note to his performance. It may even be the brown note, but I don’t care. Director Bob Saget (yes, that Bob Saget) employs some oddly staccato comic timing that capitalizes on MacDonald’s deadpan persona, and the characters have just enough heart to make their disgusting behavior enjoyable. If nothing else, you have to see it for the hilarous prison rape sequence, or rather the aftermath, when MacDonald tells his attackers, “You fellas have a lot of growing up to do. I’ll tell you that. Ridiculous.” I go into a giggle fit just thinking about it.


Spider-Man 3 (2007)
Just to be clear, I don’t “love” this movie. Certainly it’s the worst big screen Spider-Man to date, at least until Amazing Spider-Man comes out (I have my fingers crossed, but we’ve all heard the rumors). Sam Raimi’s third adaptation of the classic

Marvel comic book character has too many villains and an awkward retcon that claims Uncle Ben’s real killer wasn’t the guy Peter Parker kinda-sorta-accidentally manslaughtered in the original film. You’d think a hopeless neurotic like Peter Parker would have a psychotic break after learning that. I’ll bet the only reason he was able to go on living after that guy’s death was the consolation that, well, at least he was a murderer. Nope. You’re responsible for the death of a (relatively) innocent man.

So yes, it’s poorly conceived, overly plotted and Venom, as I have said countless times before, has no place in a Spider-Man movie. It takes two acts to set him up in the first place, leaving all the “good stuff” shoehorned into the last half hour (at most) of the movie. Complete waste of time. So what do I like about this movie? Well, I’m sorry… I’m really, really sorry… But I love the musical numbers.

Ow! Stop biting! No, I’m serious. They’re ridiculous and have no place in a Spider-Man movie, that’s for sure, but I feel a strange connection to them. Or rather, I feel a strange connection to the odd mind of Sam Raimi, whose bizarro psyche thought that “Peter Parker goes bad” had to involve elaborate dance sequences. There’s a wonderful innocence to that mindset, and I actually think it’s rather appropriate to the hero’s personality that he just can’t “go bad.” He can only get embarrassingly confident. It’s kind of like how Jim Carrey turned into a Tex Avery character in The Mask because he had no capacity for evil beyond merry mischief-making and mild sexism. It makes Spider-Man 3 a bad movie, but it attracted me to the both the character and the creative mind behind the the film. So fuck you. I like Spider-Man 3. I don’t claim that it’s good or anything.


 Batman and Robin (1997)
I’m going to keep this brief, because I can’t deny that Batman and Robin is one of the most ludicrous failures in Hollywood history. All I will say is that if you ever get the chance to watch Joel Schumacher’s crapsterpiece in Spanish, you can squint your eyes and pretend that the worst Batman movie ever made is actually the best luchador movie ever made instead. It really helps, trust me. And if that doesn’t work, put on Schumacher’s commentary track and enjoy a 125 minute catharsis, because he literally spends the entire running time finding new ways to apologize. It’s almost hard to be mad at him after that. Almost.


Rockula (1990)
For some reason Rockula is the movie I get asked the most about, because I’ve championed this oddball musical on podcasts far and wide. It’s one of my favorite movies. Dean Cameron, my favorite 1980s comedy icon, stars as a 400-year-old vampire who also happens to be a virgin. He’s a virgin because he’s saving himself for his one true love, who’s constantly reincarnated and then killed by a rhinestone peg-legged pirate wielding a hambone. This time he’s determined to get it right. The object of his affection, Tawny Fere, is a 1980s pop star this time out, so Rockula decides to start a band of his own, featuring Bo Diddley and the late, lamented Susan Tyrell as backup. At one point, both Diddley and Tyrell wear bumblebee costumes. Thomas Dolby (“She Blinded Me With Science”) and Toni Basil (“Mickey”) co-star as the villain and Rockula’s oversexed mother, respectively.

Rockula is a very engrossing kind of bad. It’s not bad because it’s technically inept, or because the performances are particularly lacking. It’s bad because it has way too many ideas, many of which would have been laughed out of Hollywood’s least- reputable development departments. A vampire rapping about being a vampire and going out of his way to reference William Safire? A vampire whose reflection has a mind of its own, is a total horndog, lives in a mirror-mirror universe and can’t break into the real world until his loser “real” self gets laid? A line of designer coffins that sprout flowers when you stick a quarter inside? These are the product of a wonderful, deranged mind. Most importantly, it’s a very innocent one. It’s hard to watch Rockula and ignore how bad it is. It’s even harder not to enjoy the experience, because everyone involved and everything on screen, as hallucinogenic as it sometimes is, is imminently friendly.

And I can sing the entire soundtrack. “Lived with his mother for 300 years/Bought his new cape at the neighborhood Sears/It’s not a bird, not a plane that you saw/Crashing into that solid brick wall/It’s Rockula!”
*Watch ROCKULA on Netflix!


Test Tube Teens from the Year 2000 (1994)
Ah, Skinemax. It was an important, seminal part of my adolescence and I suspect my generation is the only one that’s going to feel that way, thanks to the overwhelming preponderance of actual pornography available on kids phones these days. These kinds of movies are still getting made, but none of the contemporary ones I watch see to have the same near-competence as something like Test Tube Teens from the Year 2000. Or maybe Bikini Car Wash Company, but I like this one slightly better.

Two generically good-looking dudes from the far-off year of 2000 (the movie was made in 1994) feel stifled in a society that’s outlawed sex. Even thinking about sex is a crime, so it actually seems pretty reasonable that our two heroes would go to the trouble of traveling back in time to change the course of history. And get laid, like for realz. The concept is ridiculous, and the cast is mostly bad (it’s a Full Moon production, so they were able to nab Morgan Fairchild and Ian Abercrombie to class up the joint), but more jokes hit their mark than you think they would. And I’ll always remember that one of the characters says their turn ons include “Etruscan limericks” and their turn offs are “black socks with sandals,” because the exact same curious predilections are mentioned in Petticoat Planet, a less-watchable sci-fi sex comedy about an astronaut stranded on an alien world populate entirely by hot female cowboys. Both films are directed by David DeCoteau, so I guess those are just his little obsessions. Creepy, no?


 The Spirit of ‘76 (1990)
Directed by Rob Reiner’s brother and co-written by Francis Ford Coppola’s son Roman. Costume designer Sofia Coppola. Featuring performances by Mark Mothersbaugh, Olivia D’Abo, Moon Unit Zappa, Leif Garrett, Tommy Chong, Julie Brown and Rob Reiner. Nobody’s heard of it, because The Spirit of ’76 is truly profound silliness. The future is rife with anarchic chaos, so David Cassidy and Olivia D’Abo decide to go back in time to 1776 to retrieve a copy of the Constitution and restore order, only to wind up stuck in 1976 instead. Two things about that: first, 1776 was The Declaration of Independence (the Constitution, as we know it, wasn’t adopted until 1987), and second, even if they did get a copy of the original Constitution, they’d be bringing slavery back. So yeah, this movie wasn’t thought out very well.

But by god do I think it’s funny. It really is a loving and affectionate mash note to the cultural weirdness of the 1970s. I particularly love the scene where a car almost crashes into a Pinto, which explodes anyway. Everyone really seemed to be having a good time on screen, which I think often feels like bad filmmaking. Audiences are sadistic that way. Christian Bale starves himself for The Machinist and we all applaud him for it. Olivia D’Abo at her sexual peak has fun doing the hustle and we roll our eyes. I take this movie for what it is: ridiculous, wacky, and intensely stupid fun. And based on the premise, a pretty neat double feature with Test Tube Teens from the Year 2000.


 Early, Early Roger Corman Movies
Like (I think) most of my generation, my introduction to the work of Roger Corman, as a director at least, was through episodes of “Mystery Science Theater 3000.” While MST3K nevertheless remains one of my favorite television series, I think they were a little unfair to the guy. Sure, his budgets were distractingly nonexistent, most of his actors made wood seem expressive, and the monsters were laughable at a passing glance… where was I?

Oh yes, I actually, unironically like them. Especially the early years, before he got good enough to whip out a handful of legitimately strong Edgar Allan Poe adaptations in the 1960s. Corman’s early work plays like precocious student films, like the Super 8mm silliness that Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson made in their backyards, except Corman was obsessed with feminism and had access to Beverly Garland. I’m especially fond of Gunslinger, a star vehicle for Garland and a legitimately progressive film for its time. She plays the wife of a wild west sheriff who takes over the job after he’s slaughtered in the first scene. She puts on some pants and cleans up the town, winding up in a surprisingly strong (albeit awkwardly dialogued) romance with the man hired to kill her, played by the (occasionally) great John Ireland.

Before female action heroes were fashionable, Beverly Garland made it look easy, getting into fist fights, shootouts and even embracing her sexuality – right after her husband’s death, no less – back when such things were really taboo. And I’m talking about the 1950s here. It’s crazier when you remember that Gunslinger is set almost a hundred ultra conservative years earlier than that. Objectively, it’s a bad movie, but in context it’s admirably ahead of its time.

I’d also recommend, if you can stomach its slowness, Teenage Caveman, a film about a nearly 30-year-old Robert Vaughn who rebels against his clan’s laws prohibiting science, exploration and questioning authority. The story, in a vacuum (it really is unbearably slow), is a powerful polemic against willful ignorance and blind adherence to tradition; and also, rather subversively, the notion that such ignorance might indeed be bliss. The twist ending predates “The Twilight Zone” by a year, and seems like just the sort of thing Rod Serling would have come up with… and written a heck of a lot better, but that’s neither here nor there.

I ramble. Watch some of Corman’s early crap (and make no mistake, on a technical level it’s almost all crap), and marvel as a na├»ve filmmaker with sociological ideas ahead of his time struggles, valiantly and vainly, to bring them across in Z-grade schlock. It’s fun.


 The Hot Chick (2002)
A lot of people enjoy, a little guiltily, a movie or two starring Adam Sandler, Rob Schneider or David Spade. They’re wall-to-wall stupid, and sometimes enough of the jokes work that we give it a pass. That’s not why I like The Hot Chick, a surreal and often rather unpleasant comedy about an attractive and popular cheerleader, played by Rachel McAdams, who switches bodies with a criminal lowlife played by Rob Schneider thanks to some voodoo mumbo-jumbo. All the awkward sex jokes you can imagine make an appearance, and a handful of them are kinda funny, but they don’t do anything for me. I like The Hot Chick because it’s a superficial mainstream sellout motion picture that touches upon real gender-based and sexual issues, and preaches total acceptance of alternative sexuality and healthy youthful experimentation.

Anna Faris plays the best friend of the McAdams/Schneider monstrosity, who realizes (as some of you have perhaps theorized in your own lives) that her hetero best friend would be her true love if their gender was different. And they go there. The McAdams/Schneider abomination has a little brother who keeps sneaking into their room and messing with their stuff. Eventually we find out he’s a young transvestite, and his family completely goes along with it. The only problem it creates is during the madcap climax, as they’re rushing to save the day, when the kid’s father tells him that if he’s going to wear high heels, he has to learn how to run in them. The McAdams/Schneider experience tries to express their love to their boyfriend, but he’s skeeved out by the advances of the school janitor (as they have come to disguise themselves). It’s not kneejerk homophobia the kid’s going through: we learn early on that as a child he was the victim of a sexual predator.

These are hardcore, serious issues we’re dealing with, and The Hot Chick is surprisingly understanding and progressive about them, when it’s not indulging in cheap shots at peeing standing up for the first time. It’s a bad movie but it had some interesting things on its mind, and because of that I consider it a minor marvel. So sue me.

4 comments:

Mark Ferguson said...

Bloodmoon was directed by Hong Kong's Tony Leung Siu-Hung. The bad guy is played by Darren Shahlavi from the UK. He is the bad guy in Ip Man 2 and he worked in Hong Kong in the early 1990's. Gary Daniels was in Jackie Chan's City Hunter. Bloodmoon has very decent fights for a film made in America. There is a poor quality copy of the film on youtube

btsjunkie said...

Man. These lists are killing me. My to-watch list is getting huge. I need to see THE CURVE now!!!!

Joe Martino said...

Love THE CURVE...btw - Artie Lange co-stars with Norm in DIRTY WORK not Mr. Sanz...

InkieCat said...

I almost put ROCKULA on my list! Hah! Good stuff!!