Friday, February 28, 2020
Tom Cruise is a wee man but a big star who's made fifty-some movies over the past forty-some years. Movies in which he has given performances ranging from the barely passable to the entirely adequate, interspersed with a lot of running. An awful lot of running. So much so that if you watch several of his movies in a row, which I made the mistake of doing, it's a bit like standing on the sidelines of a leprechaun marathon. (In fairness, Tom isn't above poking fun at his own Forrest Gumposity, as his Twitter bio describes him thus: "Actor. Producer. Running in movies since 1981."
He's also known for doing his own stunts, and even in this era of computer generated effects and environments, many of these feats are legitimately hazardous, and made possible only because Tom's in astonishing physical condition for a middle-aged man, and because he's purged himself of "body thetans" (alien ghosts which infest the human body, according to ancient 20th Century scripture).
So I think we can all agree there is much to admire about Tom Cruise. Personally, I respect his work ethic, his consistent record at the box office, and the hang time he got while jumping on Oprah's couch. But most of all I esteem his courage in releasing The Mummy and not--as I would have done--immediately retreating into the witness protection program.
The Mummy (2017)
Director: Alex Kurtzman
Writers: David Koepp and Christopher McQuarrie and Dylan Kussman (screenplay by) Jon Spaihts and Alex Kurtzman & Jenny Lumet (screen story by)
Well! Judging by the writing credits alone, this looks like a fun group activity. Perhaps some sort of occupational therapy administered in a hospice for the Terminally Overcompensated. Not that I’m bitter.
Anyway, don’t get your hopes up, as this is not, obviously, the 1932 Boris Karloff film. It’s not even the 1959 Hammer version starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Instead, it’s an actiony Tom Cruise take on the classic tale of an ageless, terrifying freak who stalks the modern world bringing doom and despair. There’s also a mummy in it.
10th Century England: A group of crusaders solemnly bury a knight, pausing to Bedazzle the corpse with a giant ruby. But before they can break into a chorus from “Spamalot!”, we cut to Present Day, where a huge machine digging the Chunnel gets lost and wanders into London, accidentally boring into the ancient tomb of the jewel-encrusted Knights of the Order of St. Liberace.
Now, I’ve seen a lot of horror movies, and any time machines or workmen dig up a forgotten old chamber, your odds of entertainment are at best 50/50. Sometimes, admittedly, you get Quatermass and the Pit (1967). But usually you get Omen III: The Final Conflict (1981).
Russell Crowe arrives with a large staff of silhouettes to take over the excavation. As they fan out through the tomb he places a call to the audience, but we refuse to pick up, and send him straight to Voice Over.
Russell informs us he's Henry Jekyll (yeah, I’m not gonna call him that) and would like to show us clips from the life and death of Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), who judging by her name is some kind of Egyptian internet provider.
Ahmanet was the only daughter of Pharaoh, and poised to inherit his kingdom when Pharaoh had a son. So she cut a deal with Set, the God of Death, who offered her extra irises for her eyes, a bunch of squiggly tattoos that look like that code from The Matrix, and a ruby-tipped dagger. She stabs her dad, then tries to bring Set into the world of the living by having sex with a guy and killing him, but she gets brought down with tranquilizer darts by Animal Control. They wrap her in bandages, seal her up in a casket, and bury her in the desert, which frankly seems like a much more efficient way of replacing an evil and incompetent leader than the Electoral College.
Present Day Iraq: U.S. Army Sergeant Tom Cruise is watching ISIS fighters shoot up Mesopotamian statues. Tom’s a looter (although he calls himself a “liberator” after receiving focus group feedback), and he’s heard that Russell is willing to pay handsomely for “Haram”, which means either treasure, or curse, because what's the difference? Jake Johnson, who’s been hired at Tom’s comic relief, spews some pissy exposition and bad jokes until Tom slices open his water bag so he’ll die a slow, agonizing death by exposure and dehydration. Both Jake and I are astonished by this; Jake, because he thought Tom was his friend, and I because I’ve never found a Tom Cruise character this likeable before.
Tom and Jake go down to the village, get shot at, lose their weapons, lose their shit, and call in an air strike on their own position, which breaks open “Haram. And since we just watched Russell’s Discovery Channel show earlier in the movie, we know this is Ahmanet’s tomb.
Then Dr. Jenny Halsey shows up to slap Tom and demand he return the map of Haram. It seems Tom seduced her, then burgled her belongings and stole the map while she slept. Already I like her, because if the script requires you to spend the night with Tom Cruise, sleeping through the whole ordeal seems like a smart way to handle it.
But Jenny gets her revenge when Tom’s commanding officer orders Tom and Jake to “get in the hole” with her. They discover a lake of mercury inside, which seems to scare the hell out of the musical score, and it spends the rest of the scene loudly fretting about our heroes suffering thyroid damage.
Jake robs the grave while Jenny drones on about how “It’s not a tomb. It’s a prison”, which Tom takes as his cue to shoot the chains away and free the monster. The ancient mechanism groans and hoists a huge sarcophagus out of the mercury, its lid carved with the image of a woman caught in mid-menstrual cramp. Tom has a vision of Ahmanet, clad in a filmy white dress, walking barefoot over rippling sand dunes until she suddenly appears before him and plants a grateful kiss on his lips for buying her tampons without bitching about it like most guys.
Jake gets bit on the neck by a camel spider so everybody gets in a cargo plane with the sarcophagus and takes off. Tom and Jenny have a lovers spat while Jake writhes in his seat, turns purple, and goes into respiratory arrest. Having witnessed his earlier attempts at comic relief, everyone else seems fine with this and just looks at their phones.
Jake’s feelings are hurt, so he stabs their C.O. Tom grabs a gun, and Jenny sensibly yells, “Don’t shoot in the pressurized aircraft!”, but Tom’s feelings were also hurt earlier when she implied he suffers from premature ejaculation, so he shoots Jake and the plane starts crashing. Into England. Even though they're in Iraq. Birds crash into the engines and the cockpit, but with no Captain Sully onboard, it looks like everybody’s about to die.
Again, don’t get your hopes up.
Tom wakes up naked in a Shake ‘N’ Bake bag, and looks confused. This will be a leitmotif for Tom throughout the film (not the nudity, the confusion). Then Jake appears and takes on the Griffin Dunne in An American Werewolf in London role of the decaying best friend who says helpful stuff like “You’re not dead…But you’re gonna wish you were.”
We’re way ahead of you, Jake.
They have one of those old married couple arguments about who shot who, then he tells Tom he’s cursed, and has no choice but to do everything the monster tells him to, and Tom looks more confused than ever because that’s usually his line when he’s recruiting for Scientology.
Jenny tells Tom the Mummy is looking for the dagger that can bring the God of Death to life, but the ruby (which I guess is like the battery?) was broken off and buried centuries ago with a Crusader. Which is good. But they just dug up a bunch of Crusaders, which is bad. Tom just stands there testing the limits of the human face’s capacity to look confused, so Jenny calls Russ, who tells her to bring Tom to London and he’ll show her how you really confuse some poor dope with exposition.
Tom storms out into the alley and meets the Mummy and her army of rats, who swarm Tom and basically do to him what the rats in Willard did to Ernest Borgnine. Fortunately for Tom, good actors apparently taste better, because the rats discreetly spit parts of him into their napkin and ask to be excused from the table.
Back at the airplane wreckage, Ahmanet is doing to the crash investigators what the naked vampire chick did to the astronauts in Lifeforce: kissing them and sucking out their essence, which gives her moldy, decayed flesh a Covergirl glow.
Tom’s curse starts to produce strange effects; as well as making him taste like shit to rats, he’s now endowed with a Mummy-finding GPS, and leads Jenny to Carfax Abbey, where Ahmanet is playing Spin-the-Bottle-and-Suck-the-Lifeforce. But she gets bored with that and entices Tom to play Horsey by sticking her butt in the air and scampering around the Abbey on all fours in a scene I really hope they don’t play when Sofia eventually winds up in the Academy Awards “In Memorium” reel.
Ahmanet mounts Tom cowgirl style and is about to pierce his heart and welcome the God of Death into his body, but she notices the ruby is missing from the haft of the dagger and you know how some girls are; if every little thing isn’t just perfect, suddenly they’re not in the mood anymore.
Russell’s troops drug Tom and take him to Prodigium, the monster-hunting service Russell runs, where Ahmanet is chained up and being embalmed with mercury because I guess this movie was sponsored by the Mercury Council? Mercury: It's Not Just for Thermometers Anymore! Anyway, like Handi-Wipes that runny silver snot has a Hundred and One uses.
Tom has another vision: Ahmanet is lying on top of him and they’re about to consummate their unholy love, but then she whispers in his ear “It burns!”, which ruins the mood because he’s already been slapped, died in a plane crash, and been eaten by rats; the last thing he needs is ancient Egyptian gonorrhea.
Fortunately, she can’t unleash the god of Death without the ruby. So naturally Russell’s men go dig it up so he can repair the dagger and stab Tom because it’s the only way to stop those Mission: Impossible sequels.
Instead, Russell accidentally transforms into Mr. Hyde and savagely, repeatedly, beats the living crap out of Tom. The scene is a pointless detour full of confused, flabby action that doesn’t advance the story in the slightest, but I know what I like.
Tom grabs Jenny and does wind sprints around town because while he may not be a good actor, you’re in no position to sneer at his resting heart rate. Ahmanet calls upon “the sands of Egypt” to blow through London, breaking windows and making the waistbands of everyone’s swimsuit feel gritty.
Meanwhile, down in the crypt, Russell’s men grab guns and prepare to defend the ruby, but Ahmanet commands the dead knights to fight for her. Weren’t these guys Crusaders who dedicated their lives to Christ and embarked on a holy quest? Why are they suddenly rolling over for this evil heathen bitch? I guess for the same reason the Moral Majority supports Donald Trump.
Jenny follows Tom into the subway and promptly drowns, but even though she’s dead, the long, lingering shots of her corpse suggest she still does quite well in the local wet t-shirt contest.
Ahmanet catches up with him and also beats the living crap out of Tom, and I mean really lays into him, throwing him around the crypt, breaking his ribs, punching him silly--it’s a dream come true. I mean, I don’t want to seem creepy or anything, but if there were a fetish site with this kind of premium content, they’d already have my credit card number.
Tom filches the dagger from Ahmanet, stabs himself, gets multiple irises in his eyes, and becomes a LIVING GOD!, just like Scientology promised. But then he remembers Jenny saying that deep down he’s a good man, so he beats the crap out of Ahmanet and sucks her lifeforce out of her mouth, then tosses her away like a used Kleenex.
Tom screams at Jenny, which allows her to shake off that whole death thing, and runs away as Russell intones, “Well, he’s a monster now. But sometimes it takes a monster to fight a monster.” Which is a stupid coda for a movie, but a great slogan for this fall’s Presidential debates.
Cut to the desert, where Jake tells Tom, “Hey, thanks for bringing me back to life.” Then he and Tom go for a horseback ride, like they’re at some sort of undead dude ranch, as we slowly fade to blech.
Friday, February 21, 2020
SCOTT! Why is "fisting" seen as taboo?I'm glad you asked. At its best, the hand -- along with its handmaidens, the fingers -- is capable of great beauty and subtlety, realizing the mind's loftiest ambitions and producing art, music, and the vast, enduring monuments of industrial and scientific progress, while the fist is regarded as the hand's dumber, drunker, more violent brother. Think of it as the Billy Carter, or Randy Quaid of the body. You may love the fist -- and in turn be loved by it, forcefully and greasily -- but you'd just as soon it not put in an appearance at Thanksgiving.
Thursday, February 20, 2020
Wednesday, February 12, 2020
NEW EPISODE! We discuss if Kristen Stewart is, as advertised, "a flat-chested elfin goddess"; if Cthulu should dress up in black leather and do an Elvis-style comeback special; the crazy climax of The Mandalorian; and our love/hate relationship with Picard.
Sunday, February 9, 2020
By Bill S.
The Academy Awards are airing this Sunday, but before we see who'll win the top prizes, it's time for the annual presentation of the SKELLY, awarded to the actor among the year's Oscars nominees has the most embarrassing prior role. The competition was pretty close--this year's candidates include stars who appeared in films that were nominated for Worst Picture of the Year in the very first Golden Raspberry Awards. It's hard to say whether the fact that they didn't win is a compliment or an insult.
7th Place: Scarlett Johansson
Scarlett's had a good year--she has two Oscar nominations, one for her lead role in Marriage Story and another for her supporting role in Jojo Rabbit. She began acting as a child performer in the 90's, which is also when she made most of her worst movies. In fact, it's hard to think of a child actor from that period with a more dismaying resume--while Anna Paquin was winning an Oscar, Christina Ricci and Kirsten Dunst were competing for the title of Cult Movie Queen, Scarlett was getting stuck in junk like...
Home Alone 3 (1997)
I'll bet you didn't know there even was a third Home Alone movie. (By that time, the franchise should have been called, "My God, We're Crappy Parents!") This one featured nobody from the first two films, which makes it less a sequel and more of a crappy ripoff. But at least there's no cameo by Donald Trump.
6th Place: Joe Pesci
Joe made his movie debut as "dancer at the Peppermint Lounge" in the 1961 film Hey, Let's Twist. He wouldn't make another film for 15 years, although he did release an album in 1968, "Little Joe Sure Can Sing"(under the name Joe Ritchie). Raging Bull finally brought him name recognition, and along with it steady acting gigs, and an Oscar for his role in Goodfellas. While I'm tempted to name 8 Heads In a Duffle Bag as his most embarrassing role (the title would be reason enough), I'll instead pick the other unnecessary sequel to Home Alone...
Home Alone 2: Lost In New York (1992)
In which Pesci, Daniel Stern and Macaulay Culkin reprised their roles from the first film, and Brenda Fricker played Jane Darwell playing the Bird Lady in Mary Poppins, for some reason. This was the one where Donald Trump made a cameo. When the movie aired on the Canadian Broadcasting Company in 2014, Trump's scene was cut. Five years later, he took this as a political swipe. He then went on to praise Clark Gable for all the great roles he's been getting.
5th Place: Charlize Theron
Charlize made her film debut as an uncredited extra in Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest (I didn't even know there was a second one.) Her first credited role was in Two Days In the Valley (1996). She always seemed on the verge of landing a "breakthrough" role before her decidedly un-glamorous role in Monster finally proved she was more than just a pretty face. Before that, the quality of her films was erratic, some good, some bad, and some...just a waste of her time and ours, like...
Sweet November (2001)
The movie tells the story of a man (Keanu Reeves) who begins a month-long romance with a woman (Theron) who's revealed to be terminally ill. It's a remake of a 1968 movie that starred Anthony Newley and Sandy Dennis. That version was pretty bad, so I'm not sure why anyone would remake it. Perhaps in the hopes of improving it? Well, they failed on that score. I'd still recommend the bad original, if only because the supporting cast included beloved soap star Marj Dusay, who passed away last month.
Incidentally, in addition to Charlize Theron and Margot Robbie receiving Oscar nominations for their roles in Bombshell, the movie is also nominated for Best Makeup & Hairstyling. I think it deserves to win, not for turning three beautiful blonde women into three other beautiful blonde women, but for turning John Lithgow into Jabba the Hut's uglier, more repulsive cousin.
4th Place: Brad Pitt
Brad got his start acting on television, with his first credited role being on the daytime soap "Another World". He also appeared on "Growing Pains" twice, first as a love interest for daughter Carol, then as a rock star idolized by younger son Ben. (I mention the characters to underscore the fact that he had minimal interaction with Kirk Cameron, and so maintained his will to live.) Just about every actor who began working in the 80's has appeared in at least one dumb teen comedy, one dumb slasher flick, or one of each. Or, in Brad's case, a movie that was both:
Cutting Class (1989)
In this movie, a bunch of characters are getting killed at a high school, and Brad becomes a prime suspect before it turns out to be exactly who we expected it to be in the first place. Also, Martin Mull stumbles around the woods aimlessly, and his connection to the story remains a mystery to us until the very end. Every adult character in this thing is completely obnoxious--they'd make the ones in a John Hughes movie cringe. When I watched this movie (which you can find in its entirety on YouTube) I honestly couldn't tell whether it was supposed to be a horror movie or a spoof of one. I could, however, tell it was really stupid.
3rd Place: Anthony Hopkins
Anthony's first movie role was in The White Bus (1967). He'd done some television work prior to that. As you might expect with any actor who's been working for over 50 years, he's had his share of career ups and downs, and the biggest drop would be...
A Change of Seasons (1980)
In this movie, Hopkins plays a married college professor who begins an affair with a student, played by Bo Derek. When his wife of 20 years (Shirley MacLaine) finds out, she begins having an affair with a younger man (Michael Brandon). They all wind up in a vacation cabin and...oh, just watch the trailer.
I suppose they were aiming for a sophisticated bedroom farce. All they needed was, you know, wit and sophistication. And characters who talked and acted like normal human beings. The screenplay for this thing was written by Erich Segal, of all people, and he did have to say he was sorry this time.
2nd Place: Kathy Bates
Kathy made her movie debut as an unnamed "audition singer" in the 1971 film Taking Off, in which she was billed as "Bobo Bates". She played supporting roles throughout the 70's and 80's, in both film and television, but was making a name for herself on Broadway with lead roles in "Night, Mother" and "Frankie and Johnny in the Clare De Lune". Her role in Misery finally made her a movie star, and that of course led to her getting better roles. It also led to a friendship with director Rob Reiner, which may explain why she took a small part in his worst film (and hers):
This movie tells the story of a young boy (Elijah Wood) who, fed up with his parents, decides to divorce them and set off to find new ones, encountering, each time, one dumb ethnic caricature after another. Kathy Bates plays an Eskimo lady who sends her father (or father-in-law, it's not quite clear) to drift off on an icy raft to his death because he's outlived his usefullness. This is supposed to be...funny? The movie is full of scenes like that.
How bad is it? Well, it inspired the following review from Roger Ebert:
"I hated this move. Hated hated hated hated hated this movie. Hated it. Hated every simpering stupid vacant audience-insulting moment of it. Hated the sensibility that thought anyone would like it. Hated the implied insult to the audience by its belief that anyone would be entertained by it."
Gene Siskel didn't like it either, and Richard Roeper called it one of the 40 worst films he'd ever seen, saying it was "the most difficult to watch from start to finish. I have tried twice and failed." Five minutes would be enough of a challenge.
This movie also marked the feature film debut of then nine year old Scarlett Johansson, so I guess she's not only a dual Oscar nominee, but a dual SKELLY nominee. (She said that when she was on the film set, she knew intuitively what to do. But I guess she resisted that urge to flee.)
Which leads us to this year's winner and...
OH, MY GOSH, WE HAVE A TIE!
For this first time in the history of the SKELLY Awards (all eight years of it) I couldn't declare one winner. It was simply too close to call, so our TWO lucky recipients are...
AL PACINO and TOM HANKS
Pacino made his film debut in Me, Natalie (1969), and became one of the most acclaimed actors of 1970s. But in the 80's he seemed to suddenly hit some career slump, only to rebound in the 90's. I'm not exactly sure what happened--why he spent the entire 80's in one disappointing film after another--but it began with his first 80's film, which was also his worst:
In this grisly whodunit/character study, Pacino plays an undercover cop investigating a series of murders. The killer has been targeting gay men, all of whom are part of an underground "leather" scene. As a movie, the picture was a confused, gruesome mess, and it was impossible to figure out whether his character was being drawn into the world of sex clubs, was repelled by it, or if he might, in fact, be the killer.
But the movie's actual badness wasn't the only reason to award it the SKELLY. Crusing was inspired by a real-life series of murders, and when the movie went into production, a lot of LGBT activists, including the reporter whose coverage of the murders led to the movie being greenlit, were outraged, and began protesting the film while it was still in production. They felt, with good reason, that it presented the gay community as sick, twisted, deserving of violence. They also feared it might lead to violence against them.
It's easy to forget today, but until very recently, there were very few movie depictions of LGBT people, and positive portrayals were even fewer and far between. So when pictures like The Detective, Freebie & the Bean and Cruising come along, they add insult to injury. In addition to being an insult to audience intelligence.
Tying with Pacino for this year's SKELLY award is Tom Hanks, who made his movie debut in He Knows You're Alone (1980). Before becoming a movie star, he did a lot of TV, including the sitcom "Bosom Buddies", which was funnier than it had a right to be, thanks to the chemistry between Hanks and Peter Scolari, and a fabulous all-female supporting cast. He also did guest spots on "Family Ties" and "Taxi". And then he made what may be the single goofiest film of his career:
Mazes and Monsters (1982)
This made-for-TV movie centered around a group of college kids involved in a role-playing game called "Mazes and Monsters", similar to "Dungeons and Dragons". It seems hard to believe (to the point of being ridiculous) but back in the 80's, there was a growing fear that role-playing games could be dangerous. When the kids grow bored with playing the regular game, one of them suggests acting it out, turning it into a live action role-playing game. And that's when the movie goes from dumb to straight-up, bugfuck insane, because Tom Hanks' Robbie begins to lose touch with reality, and starts to believe he is his game character. I guess we can look forward to another story about the dangers of being in an acting class, a danger his co-stars have clearly avoided. (Chris Makepeace, as a kid with an I.Q. of 190 and a hat collection that exceeds that, seems to be acting as badly as he can on purpose--nobody could be that bad by accident). The ending of this thing is one big WTF?
You can find the entire movie on Youtube, if you're starved for unintentional laughs. You may wind up overdosing.
Congratulations and condolences to all the winners.