Monthly Archives: April 2014

Hyde Park on Hudson

HydeParkHudsonPosterBill Murray as President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Laura Linney as Daisy Suckley
Elizabeth Marvel as Marguerite LeHand
Samuel West King George VI
Olivia Colmon as Queen Elizabeth
Olivia Williams as Eleanor Roosevelt

Presidential sex scandals have always been a good source of comedy and drama. And British filmakers are often good at comedy and drama. So you’d think a drama with a bit of comedy about a President Franklin D. Roosevelt sex scandal that was produced by two Brits would be a home run, right? Alas, I don’t see that as being the case.

Bill Murray plays FDR. And he does a very good job at it. I always thought this would be possibly the most difficult of presidents to impersonate, given that he had an almost contradictory combination of the understanding of blue collar voters (pretty necessary for a Democrat in an era in which his party owned the South but struggled with academics and other professionals) and a blue blood heritage, but Murray does as well as you could hope for. Laura Linney also does quite well as Laura Linney, the mistress and doomed lover of Roosevelt. Unfortunately, none of the extras are particularly compelling. They’re OK, but nothing special. Hence, we have the first indication of the mixed bag that is this movie.

Hyde Park on Hudson focuses on FDR’s affair with Daisy Suckley, his cousin and confidante. To its credit, the movie does do a good job of showing us how this kind of relationship would work. We see the two falling for and not being able to get enough of each other. This is further helped by shooting techniques. It’s obvious that the crew knows how to do a romantic movie, for the pacing and camera angles capture the affection between Franklin and Daisy. Moments of humor, such as Franklin almost veering off the road when taking Daisy on a drive because he’s too caught up in the heat of the moment, are also nice touches.

HydeParkHudson1

I think we have a right to know how often our President was asleep on the job.

We also get a good sense of what was going on at the time. World War II was taking Europe by storm, and the fear* that America will be sucked into this conflict whether it wants to be or not are on display. More to the point of this movie the supporting cast shows us how the affair between FDR and Suckley was kept secret. It’s amazing how many people it turns out knew about it.

*If this seems surprising, please understand that America wasn’t always interventionist. In fact, it rarely was before the Cold War. When FDR demanded that Adolf Hitler halt his aggression, many Americans saw this as the first sign that we were about to get into a war that was not our own.

Unfortunately, this ethical side of drama is lacking here. As noted before, many of the film’s creators are British. What does that matter? The British, like most Europeans, seem to cheerfully accept the affairs of their leaders as something they can’t control. That’s not the case here in the States. I’m not saying we should have impeached a President over a blowjob, but the fact is that we tend to frown on our leaders committing adultery. You really wouldn’t know that from this movie. Other than Daisy’s realization that Franklin may not love her based on the other mistresses that he had, not all that much is made of the obvious ethical compromises.

HydeParkHudson2

“What do you mean I’ve overstepped the bounds? I’m the PRESIDENT, Goddamit!!!”

Hyde Park on Hudson gets the romantic tension right, but the script’s lack of understanding of moral repercussions of this affair don’t feel quite right. It isn’t a bad presidential docudrama, but it’s no Lincoln, that’s for sure.

Overall: 6 out of 10

Cool World

CoolWorldPosterKim Basinger as Holli Would
Gabriel Byrne as Jack Deebs
Brad Pitt as Frank Harris
Charlie Adler as Nails
Candi Milo as Lonette
Maurice LaMarche as Dr. Vincent Whiskers

I am a child of the 1990s. That was the decade of edgy entertainment that offended some but pleased many. TV shows like The Ren and Stimpy ShowBeavis and Butt-head, and South Park, a skyrocketing of profanity in movies (GoodfellasCasinoThe Big Lebowski, etc.), and the birth of the Mortal Kombat and Grand Theft Auto games occurred in this decade. It was a period when artists finally beginning to push the envelope. Result? Profanity, grossness, sex, violence.

Unfortunately, this was sometimes used in an attempt to make up for a lack of talent. Case in point, Cool World. This movie has developed a cult following, but I really don’t understand why. It is a weak effort that tries to make up for that with adult content.

Why would anyone be scared of mafia mice? I think you just need a stomping boot and a rag.

Why would anyone be scared of mafia mice? I think all you need is a stomping boot and a rag.

We begin in 1945. World War II veteran Frank Harris and his mother get in a motorcycle accident. Frank’s mother dies, and Frank himself ends up passing into The Cool World. In 1992 cartoonist Jack Deebs is pulled into The Cool World by a doodle of his, Holli Would, who wants to be real in the real world. You see, a doodle becomes real if he/she has sex with a real person. We are also told that The Cool World is a cartoon world in which every doodle ever created lives. You can’t die there, but nothing feels as vivid as in the “real world.” Also, everybody seems to be messy and ill-mannered, again, keeping with the ’90s. Other than that, though, things are really hard to figure out. Take Holli’s brief trip back to the Cool World to say goodbye to some friends after becoming real. Going there wasn’t shown as being easy up to this point. Cool World is very much a “just go with it” kind of movie.

Cool World uses a combination of live action and animation obviously inspired by 1988’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit. But while great care was taken to make that movie’s mixture look convincing (I’m not going to say “believable” of a partial cartoon), the same cannot be said of Cool World. Lighting is inconsistent and even the movement of animated characters is sometimes sloppy.

The acting is pretty poor. By no means is it an accident that Frank came to The Cool World in 1945, because most of the human actors talk like characters in a 1940s movie. Do they pull it off? Not really. With a few exceptions, the acting is pretty poor, perhaps because the actors seem embarassed. A pre-household name Brad Pitt turns in a particularly awful performance here. Today, I’d say that Pitt is… above average, actually. But still way better than in this flick.

CoolWorld2

Jack and Frank here are in The Cool World, but how animated does the background look?

Since Kim Basinger’s character is named Holli Would, the humorous wit of The Cool World filmmakers is all too clear. Groin kicks, dick jokes, lame grossness, and every Vegas cliche in the book are how they try to make you laugh. And fail. Among the bad comedy is some guys building a several-stories-tall tower of random crap so they can see Holli and Jack having sex. Just terrible.

The ending seems to have a message that we all need a healthy fantasy life as long as it doesn’t get overboard, but if so, it fails. Part of this is because things get more out of hand than ever in the last ten minutes or so. Jack becomes a doodle that is a Superman wannabe, which seems odd, given that he was quite a flawed character up until then.

Cool World is a good concept. The idea of a edgier attempt at what worked marvelously with the aforementioned Who Framed Roger Rabbit had promise and probably still does. But flawed animation and awful comedy make for lousy execution. I’m sorry to say that Cool World is best forgotten. And yes, I recognize how hypocritical that makes this review.

Overall: 3 out of 10

Call of Duty: Ghosts

CallofDutyGhostsTitle My reviews have finally moved to the next generation. Recently I bought myself a Playstation 4 and three games for it. Call of Duty: Ghosts, is one of them. Having played through it, do I think I had a good time? Sure. But there are better games in this series.

Plot: 7 out of 10

A very intriguing plot… for a CoD game not set in World War II at any rate. CoD: Ghosts is set in an almost apocalyptic world in which the player is a member of a covert ops group known as the Ghosts. The bad guys are the imperialistic Federation and its prime representative is Gabriel T. Rorke, a former Ghost himself who was turned bad by torture and hallucinogens.

CallofDutyGhosts1

By land or sea, much of CoD is still a game of Follow the Leader.

While the story could certainly use some work, character interactions work pretty well. The respect everyone has for a veteran leader that everyone calls dad is well-done, along with the rivalry between Rorke and the Ghosts.

Graphics: 6 out of 10

Grading this is a challenge, since the next generation is new to me. But I feel as though the graphics are the weak link of CoD: Ghosts. They’re not badly done or anything, but the PS4 version (which I’m reviewing, as you can see in the Game Reviews page) looks rather last gen. The one impressive graphical effect is the blood splatter when you make a kill with your dagger. Unfortunately that will no doubt look so-so when a gore powerhouse (a new Mortal Kombat, maybe?) makes use of the PS4 and Xbox One’s capabilities.

Is that an Uruk-Hai?

Is that an Uruk-Hai?

Sound: 8 out of 10

Voice acting is fantastic. The music isn’t memorable, but it’s good enough.

Gameplay: 7 out of 10

This game is a mix of tactical shooting and stealth. There’s some nice gimmicks for a few missions that have you floating in space, swimming in the deep sea, and playing as a mentally controlled German Shepherd, Riley.

Down, boy!

Down, boy!

The rest of the game either has you doing either the old shoot-and-cover routine or sneaking around. There are no problems with this, but little new is added to the table. It’s good but no more than that.

Challenge: 8 out of 10

Fairly challenging and of above average length. I died a number of times trying to get through this game. That said, most of those were stealth levels where you’re as good as dead if spotted. That doesn’t say much about the A.I.

Overall: 7 out of 10

Compared to past games that functioned essentially as launch titles for new consoles, CoD: Ghosts is not going to be remembered the way Super Mario Bros.Super Mario 64, Call of Duty 2Halo: Combat Evolved, or Sonic Adventure are. Still, it’s a good game. Just not a great one.

Blood in a NES game???

BloodNES1Nintendo is well known as the most family-friendly of the three current video game console makers. Older Nintendo fans often have a problem with this. In fact, if online debates were all you had to go on, you might be lead to believe that the evidence is inconclusive. While I agree that acting as though “Nintendo only makes kiddie games” is the ultimate trump card is ironically immature (anyone want to argue that The Wizard Of Oz or The Lion King’s target audience makes them bad movies), to deny that Nintendo focuses on children is just stubborn. This is a company that did not allow Mortal Kombat Fatalities in its version until after the Sega version of the first game badly outsold Nintendo’s, and did not allow the enemies in the Super Nintendo version of Wolfenstein 3D to be Nazis. Nintendo has always counted Mom and Pop among its most critical consumers and isn’t above censoring third party games to please them.

BloodNES2

Nintendo version

Which is why the image at the top of this post shocks me. It’s from Ninja Gaiden II, and the blood you see draining along the floor is of the main villain, The Jaquio. Basically, he’s just been killed for the first of three times (don’t ask) and is bleeding out. This leaves me with two questions:

1.) Why didn’t the media wolves bark? The Call Of Duty games get negative attention over less blood at a time, and they warn you with “M” ratings. This particular game was made back in the day when almost all console games were made for children. Yet I have never heard of this creating controversy.

2.) How did it get Nintendo’s approval in the first place? Remember that this company has a long history of censorship and strict quality controls (in these days a third party could only release five games a year or no license), but somehow Tecmo got away with lots of blood.

So holy water? No. Nazis? No. Death moves? Until after the Genesis version of Mortal Kombat has kicked ours in the sack, no. But enough blood for ten men spread across the floor?

BloodNES3

I admit, maybe this article was just being mean to Nintendo for overlooking that blood scene. And maybe I briefly took a sneak attack at the media because it blames every tragedy short of Hurricane Sandy on video games.

Nevertheless, here’s what I want you to do the next time a game is censored or the media makes a big deal out of sex and violence in games. Facebook, Tweet, blog, or whatever the above picture of The Jaquio bleeding. You might want to add something about how even though the little kids saw it, not only did the world not end, it barely took notice.

Oh, wait. They’ll rebut that the 1992 LA riots were because of this game, not the acquittal of those corrupt cops. Shit.

Manos: The Hands Of Fate

 

ManosTitleTom Neyman as The Master
Hal Warren as Michael
Diane Mahree as Margaret
Jackey Neyman as Debbie
John Reynolds as Torgo

I had heard about how Manos: The Hands Of Fate was supposedly the worst movie ever made. So I decided I would see how bad this movie really is and maybe do a review of it and WOW!!! What I had pictured in my head was nowhere near as horrible as what I got! Good God, if you took the combined awfulness of Leprechaun: In the Hood and Super Mario Bros. (the two movies as of now that I gave 1s), you wouldn’t be quite the disgrace to cinema that director/star Hal Warren is.

Where did Warren come from? Turns out he was a Hollywood outsider who made a bet that he could make a movie with a friend, then raised money to make a movie. That movie was Manos, which played in few theaters and fell into obscurity. That is until Mystery Science Theater 3000 riffed it. It has since developed a cult “following.” But I’m sorry to say that I watched the purest version of the film, and I need Tylenol. Bad.

Manos1

This may be one of the first catfights in cinema.

Manos is a mid-20th century horror movie about a man named Michael and his wife and daughter who get lost and wander into a haunted house. And is it scary! But not scary because of the monsters and spooky timing. No, scary because Warren was no director and had no idea what he was doing. There is not one aspect of this movie that is not a major league train wreck!

What you’re getting yourself into becomes clear in the opening minutes of the film when you see Michael’s view of his car driving. This goes on for an entire minute. Warren greases things up with jump cuts to show the landscape changing, letting us know that this is taking awhile. A couple of these shots appear to show driving that should cause an accident but apparently doesn’t. Mind you, this begins roughly five minutes into the damn thing!

Unfortunately, the acting is significantly less well-polished than the filming. Every performance is absolutely atrocious! The worst would be John Reynolds as Torgo, He often pauses before he’s supposed to speak for no apparent reason, can’t maintain an even flow of voice, and sometimes says something that contradicts something else that he just said. This is where Warren’s inexperience stops being an excuse. Didn’t it occur to him to re-shoot these scenes? On the other hand, maybe these are the improvements.

Manos2

He does look like he’s about to fall asleep…

Torgo serves The Master, who has to be the most unconvincing horror villain ever. They do a huge build-up that made me believe I was going to see a way-cool villain, or more accurately, what was intended to be a way-cool villain.

Manos3

Instead, he’s an apparent ComicCon geek.

The Master proves to be no Darth Vader. He’s not even Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze. He acts in a very cliche and unconvincing way. Not Torgo unconvincing, but certainly below the bottom of the ordinary barrel

Following some pointless and frankly nonsensical bickering between The Master and his wives, he decides to make a new wife out of Margaret. This leads to a bunch of horror cliches and nonsense. The movie ends in an incredibly unsatisfactory, ergo, fitting, way. Michael is shooting at The Master with his pistol when we cut to morning. We soon see who won the fight that we didn’t actually get to see. You know, I feel no need to elaborate on what’s wrong with that.

After having sat through the Chinese water torture that is this movie, I realize the dangers of morbid curiosity. I actually doubted what some said of Manos. But it’s no wonder everybody loves to hate this movie. A lot of “worst movie ever” picks on the Internet (like Highlander 2: the Quickening and Catwoman) cannot begin to compare to this movie. It is truly in its own realm of suckiness.

Overall: – 7 out of 10