Muppets Most Wanted

Yay! After some rather dismal movie trips (“a bad day at the movies is still better than a good day at work” – K.S.), I got to take my wife and granddaughter to Muppets Most Wanted.

Muppets Most Wanted

Muppets Most Wanted (2014) – Rated PG

Flush with their revival’s success, Kermit the Frog and his friends are approached by Dominic Badguy to go on a world tour. Unknown to them, this is all part of the sinister plan of Constantine, the world’s most evil frog, to become the greatest thief of all time. After making sure that Kermit is jailed as himself, Constantine impersonates him to use the Muppets’ tour as cover for his scheme. While Sam the Eagle and Inspector Jean Pierre Napoleon investigate, the Muppets find their boss seems strangely changed even as Kermit desperately attempts to escape to stop the impostor.

One Line Review: More fun than good but isn’t fun what you are looking for?

Huge credit needs to be given to Jason Segel for reviving this franchise. The Muppets was not perfect but was highly humorous, full of heart, and was the first to feature a human character that mattered. It was the best Muppet movie since the original, The Muppet Movie. After The Muppet Movie, subsequent Muppet outings were increasingly dependent on gimmickry and had less heart.

Obviously a successful relaunch begets a sequel and thus Muppets Most Wanted was born. I hesitate to call Muppets Most Wanted a good movie but it is certainly an enjoyable one, particularly if you have a little one with you.

James Bobin, who directed The Muppets, returns as director as well as co-writing Muppets Most Wanted with Nicholas Stoller (who was also a writer on The Muppets). They clearly have a love for The Muppets. There are nods to earlier Muppet films and several nods to the original television series.

Comedians Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell, and Tina Fey are the main non-Muppet actors and they handle the comedy well, delivering good lines and pratfalls without taking too much from the Muppets themselves. There are a slew of hilarious cameos with my favorite being Danny Trejo. Look for Tony Bennett, Sean Combs, Ray Liotta, Salma Hayek, Celine Dion, Lady Gaga, and a host of others.

Besides focusing on Kermit and Miss Piggy, the script finds ample time to highlight Sam the Eagle, Animal, The Great Gonzo and Walter. Fozzie seemed a little shortchanged.

Muppets Most Wanted is not as good as The Lego Movie but it is a lot of fun. If you go, don’t forget to submit your ticket stubs for Disney Movie Rewards points.

Best part: The Seventh Seal joke

Worst part: The preview scene where Danny Trejo says “wokka-wokka” wasn’t in the movie (unless I missed it when I took the four-year-old to the bathroom).

 

B-B-B-Bad to the Bone – Stalled on Zombie Hunter

Zombie Hunter is currently available on instant Netflix.

Zombie Hunter

Zombie Hunter (2013) – Not rated

When a street drug turns junkies into an army of zombies, Hunter finds himself with nothing but a beat-up car and a trunk full of guns and booze. Eventually, he stumbles across a small band of survivors.”

Let me start by letting you know that Danny Trejo is NOT the Zombie Hunter. Hunter is played by bland pretty boy Martin Copping. Copping does a monotone voiceover for much of the film. Danny Trejo, in spite of the advertising, is barely in it.

OMG. We were just introduced to the first female character and she has a voiceover too. Augh! Besides the rather annoying voiceovers, the director has a penchant for stopping the film to throw up a screen filling word or phrase like “Fast Lane Debbie”.

They begin Zombie Hunter by describing that the new drug is more popular than marijuana, in spite of it being an injectable – so even before the zombification, we have thrown reality out the window. The writing does not get better.

The special effects are dreadful. I guess my median standard is can my daughter the makeup artist do better. I’m guessing the effects here were done by a first year cosmetology or drama student.

Hunter is shot early on for no apparent reason as it is obvious that he is not a zombie since he is driving a car.

Zombie Hunter tries for a campy vibe but is just plain awful. K. King is the writer, director, and producer and those are his sole imdb credits.

Stalled

Stalled (2013) – TV-14

A sad-sack janitor, appropriately named W.C., is cleaning the ladies’ room when the zombie apocalypse breaks out at the office Christmas party. Taking refuge in a stall, the unarmed, defenseless W.C. makes a final stand against the undead.”

Stalled has some of the same limitations as Zombie Hunter but Stalled really is campy in a fun way. Sure Stalled has a very small budget, no name stars (the closest is Mark Holden who was in Captain Phillips and World War Z this year), and very limited locations but it makes the best of its scenario.

Dan Palmer wrote the screenplay and story for this film as well as starring as W.C. The whole mood is not serious – after all this is the apocalypse occurring at a Christmas party and almost the entire movie occurs in the bathroom, much of it in two separate stalls.

I didn’t find Stalled to be laugh out loud funny (except Jeff from I.T.’s scene) but it was fairly amusing. I liked that W.C. isn’t really a hero – he spends most of the film hiding and hoping he doesn’t get caught, only fighting for his life when forced.

Seriously Just Don’t Bother – Super 40 Days and Nights of the Zombies

Ugh! The films I sit through for you, dear reader. The following films are currently available on Netflix if you are feeling masochistic.

 

40 Days and Nights40 Days and Nights (2012) – Not rated

“When a colossal tectonic shift causes the seas to rise 5,000 feet, microbiologist Tessa gathers together as much DNA as she can, while defense contractor Josh outfits a state-of-the-art “ark” in a desperate attempt to save every species on Earth.”

OMG I LOVE disaster movies and trust me this movie is a disaster. Asylum (run for your lives!) made this homage to Noah. Normally they pay a Dancing with the Stars caliber ‘star’ to appear in their films but this time they didn’t even bother with that step. Dialogue is dreadful, acting keeps pace with the dialogue, and the special effects look like they were rendered on TRS-80 CoCo. Asylum pictures are never worth your time.

Rise of the ZombiesRise of the Zombies (2012) – Not rated

“When the undead overrun San Francisco, a desperate group survives by locking themselves inside Alcatraz Prison and must gamble everything on finding a way to stop the zombie scourge before it’s too late.”

In 1977, actor Levar Burton was nominated for an Emmy for his role in Roots. Since then he starred in his iconic role as Geordi La Forge on Star Trek and has won 10 Emmy awards for Reading Rainbow. In 1980, actress Mariel Hemingway was nominated for an Oscar for her performance in Woody Allen’s Manhattan. In 2012, these two and perennial B-movie actor Danny Trejo ‘starred’ in Rise of the Zombies. What happened?

Rise of the Zombies certainly has a good premise – using Alcatraz as a modern refuge from the zombie apocalypse. Unfortunately it is made by Asylum. The special effects are bad (which is a step up from their usual awful), dialogue is atrocious, and you can tell who the name actors are because no one else can act. Absolutely not worth your time – I’ve yet to see the Asylum film that is.

Super CycloneSuper Cyclone (2012) – Not rated

“The entire East Coast of the United States faces the prospect of annihilation with a gigantic supercyclone bearing down on it. The only person capable of averting the catastrophe is a meteorologist with an untested plan for thwarting Mother Nature.”

Ack! Another Asylum feature. The terrible special effects show up in the first minute of the film with the poor acting immediately following. Our two real actors are Nicholas Turturro and Ming-Na. They fare no better than Mariel Hemingway and Levar Burton.

Step 1: Identify movie as an Asylum feature.

Step 2: Find something else to watch. *Click*

From Dusk Till Dawn

From Dusk Till Dawn is currently available on instant Netflix.

From Dusk Till Dawn (1996) – Rated R

“Robbers-on-the-lam Seth and Richard Gecko take an ex-preacher and his kids hostage. On a race to the Mexican border, they rendezvous at a cantina, not knowing the owners and clientele are bloodthirsty vampires in this ode to 1960s horror movies.”

“I’m not gonna drain you completely. You’re gonna turn for me. You’ll be my slave. You’ll live for me. You’ll eat bugs because I order it. Why? Because I don’t think you’re worthy of human blood. You’ll feed on the blood of stray dogs. You’ll be my foot stool.”

Director and editor Robert Rodriguez makes two separate movies here. The first is a criminals on the run saga which takes up quite a bit of screentime but then it morphs into a vampire survival tale. Although much of it is unprintable, Tarantino’s script has a lot of punch and great characters.

George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino play the outlaw Gecko Brothers. Clooney is firm, loyal and desperate as bank robber Seth but Tarantino is off-the-wall as his crazy brother Richard. They take a family hostage on their way to Mexico. The father is an embittered ex-priest, Jacob Fuller, played by Harvey Keitel. His children are Kate and Scott Fuller played by Juliette Lewis and Ernest Liu.

Rodriguez packs the movie with guest stars. Before the bar, John Saxon cameos as FBI Agent Chase. John Hawkes, Oscar-nominated for Winter’s Bone, has an early role as Pete the store clerk. Kelly Preston (Mrs. John Travolta) is a newscaster.

At the bar, makeup artist Tom Savini plays Sex Machine. Makeup artists Greg (Walking Dead) Nicotero plays Sex Machine’s friend. Director Robert Rodriguez pops up as a bandmember. Fred “The Hammer” Williamson plays Frost. The lovely Salma Hayek plays Santanico Pandemonium (and dances with a snake for you fetishists). Cheech Marin plays three roles: a border guard, Chet, and Carlos.

The criminals on the run saga is pretty good, mainly due to Tarantino’s funny script. It takes awhile to get to the vampire portion of the movie but once there, Rodriguez makes it a non-stop roller coaster ride of vampire destruction. Special effects are good and fun, with the vampires perishing in a myriad of ways. They use a lot of green blood to get some of the killings past the ratings board (an old trick).

People Watch: The wonderful Michael Parks plays Texas Ranger Earl McGraw. He would reprise that character again in Kill Bill parts one and two as well as both segments of Grindhouse (Planet Terror and Death Proof). He also plays writer Ambrose Bierce in From Dusk Till Dawn 3.

Sequel-itis: What happens when you take a franchise and get rid of director Robert Rodriguez, writer Quentin Tarantino, and actors Harvey Keitel, George Clooney, Salma Hayek, and Juliette Lewis? The straight to video back-to-back sequels – From Dusk Till Dawn 2: Texas Blood Money (1999) with Robert Patrick and Bo Hopkins and From Dusk Till Dawn 3: The Hangman’s Daughter (1999) with Michael Parks. The only connecting thread is Danny Trejo but the sequels are not very good.

Desperado – South of the Border week

This is South of the Border week. We will be featuring movies taking place in Mexico. Desperado is currently available on instant Netflix.

WATCH: Desperado (1995) – Rated R for strong bloody violence, a strong sex sequence and language.

“This south-of-the-border action flick picks up where the indie hit El Mariachi left off. Seedy drug lord Bucho (Joaquim de Almeida) is responsible for killing the girlfriend of El Mariachi (Antonio Banderas) and for injuring the musician to a point where he can no longer play the guitar. Seeking revenge, he goes in search of Bucho, and a showdown ensues between the rivals — but not before El Mariachi meets the lovely Carolina (Salma Hayek).”

“Bless me Father, for I have just killed quite a few men.”

Robert Rodriguez again writes, directs, produces, and edits for Desperado. Taking on so many tasks allows him to make films for a lot less.

Here he had $7 million to work with. This allowed him to work with a number of name actors and use a lot more real guns than in El Mariachi (which used squirt guns for many of the scenes).

Desperado is nominally a sequel to El Mariachi though it rehashes much of the plot and themes from the original (a la Evil Dead II).

The second bar fight is absolutely hilarious and is obviously very heavily inspired by John Woo. It is a very elaborate setpiece with a wonderful standoff. Rodriguez keeps his action frantic without being confusing (something that has become all too common these days).

Antonio Banderas is very charismatic as the Mariachi. This is the best role I have seen him in. He even does all of his own guitar work including “Cancion Del Mariachi” at the beginning of the film.

Salma Hayek is gorgeous and fun as Carolina. There is a hilarious scene  where she crosses the street and two cars behind her crash because they are watching her. I like it because she holds her own and is not just the love interest.

Robert Rodriguez stated that when they filmed the sex montage sequence between Salma Hayek and Antonio Banderas, everyone on the crew showed up.

Joaquim de Almeida plays our villain Bucho. This is essentially the same role Moco (Peter Marquardt) played in the original. Bucho is a boss much like Moco and dresses all in white just like Moco. Joaquim replaced Raul Julia, who had to drop out due to health reasons.

The supporting cast is absolutely marvelous.

Cheech Marin and Quentin Tarantino have a lot of fun with their humorous roles.

Steve Buscemi plays the conscience of the Mariachi. The role is so tailored to him that the character is actually called Buscemi. Originally he was to have been the pick-up guy but a new role was written for him when Tarantino decided to cameo.

Danny Trejo plays a knife-wielding assassin, Navajas. This is a very similar character to Azul in El Mariachi. Danny is finally going to headline a movie. Robert Rodriguez has made a feature-length movie out of his fake Grindhouse trailer, Machete and it is currently in post-production.

Carlos Gallardo returns from El Mariachi. This time he plays Campa, a friend to El Mariachi.

I highly recommend this quintessential action movie unless gore bothers you. If you enjoy this and El Mariachi then stick the final film in the trilogy, Once Upon a Time in Mexico, in your DVD queue.

People Watch: Actually not so much a “people” watch as a prop watch. The crotch gun that Carolina finds in the guitar case is sadly never used here. It is however used the following year in From Dusk Til Dawn (by Tom Savini no less).

Con Air – Do Not Get on That Plane week

This is Do Not Get on That Plane week. Con Air is currently available on instant Netflix.

WATCH: Con Air (1997) – Rated R for strong violence and language.

“When the government puts all its rotten criminal eggs in one airborne basket, it is asking for trouble. Before you can say, “Pass the barf bag,” the crooks control the plane, led by creepy Cyrus “The Virus” Grissom (John Malkovich). Watching his every move is the just-released Nicolas Cage, who would rather reunite with his family. The action climaxes with an incredible crash sequence in Las Vegas.”

“Make a move and the bunny gets it!”

“What if I told you insane was working fifty hours a week in some office for fifty years at the end of which they tell you to piss off; ending up in some retirement village hoping to die before suffering the indignity of trying to make it to the toilet on time? Wouldnt you consider that to be insane”

Okay recommending this movie I realize that I should have a category for Guilty Pleasure. For everything it gets right, it gets something wrong.

This is the first film directed by Simon West. None of his other films so far have been any good (Tomb Raider? The Generals Daughter?) and yet this one is chock full of great action and sort of great performances (more on that later).

We are not even five minutes into the movie when Cameron (Nicolas Cage) is attacked by three thugs who threaten his wife, deface his uniform, and beat him. Clearly they deserve the smackdown. Of course Cameron, a former Army Ranger, allows them to surround him in a rainy parking lot and begin beating him down without initially fighting back which seems quite odd.

The action is fun and pretty much non-stop. The acting is the real reason to watch this movie. They got a great cast and Simon West appears to have told each of them that they should go flat out with their acting. The actors do not seem to interact so much as they try to outdo each other.

Nicolas Cage overacts his heart out. His performance will leave you cringing at times but it does give him a certain charisma. They also take plenty of opportunities to show off his pecs and abs. Even his hair is given plenty of screen time and real estate.

Our other hero is a sandal-wearing U.S. Marshal, Vince Larkin. He is played by John Cusack who is clearly having a lot of fun here. He continually twits rival DEA agent Duncan Malloy played by Colm Meaney (Chief OBrien on Star Trek TNG/DS9 – his keychain has a Star Trek ornament on it).

We know that Malloy is not a hero because the first thing he does is arrive in a very expensive sports car and park in the handicap spot.

Hannibal Lecter from Silence of the Lambs was such a part of the cultural zeitgeist by this point that they base not one but two of the felons on his character (Cyrus and Garland).

Cyrus is our main villain and is overplayed to perfection by a scenery-chewing John Malkovich. He is riveting and stands out above the other overactors. His number two is Ving Rhames as Diamond Dog.

Even the minor villains are all chosen for their flamboyance. Comedian Dave Chappelle plays Pinball (humorously of course). The excellent character actor Danny Trejo plays rapist Johnny 23. M.C. Gainey plays white trash Swamp Thing.

Strangely the only actor in the whole movie who seems restrained (and that is only in comparison to the other actors) is Steve Buscemi who gives a delightful performance as Garland Greene.

The actresses are actually restrained (literally in one case). Rachel Ticotin plays a guard and Monica Potter is the love interest, patiently waiting for Cameron to come home. Neither is given much to do – perhaps because they did not overact?

The action is fabulous and almost as over-the-top as the acting. Almost every airplane trope is covered here – emergency takeoff, crash landing, fight in flight, body falling from airplane, landing gear stuck, etc.

I have to say a few words, but only a few, about the plot. The plot is utterly ridiculous – any description of it reveals plenty of plotholes. The dialogue is alternately wonderful and cringe-inducing. The film steals liberally from Flight of the Phoenix, Silence of the Lambs, and others but definitely has its own sense of identity.

I did like that almost the entire movie takes place on Bastille Day.

Con Air was actually nominated for two Academy Awards. Diane Warren was nominated for best song for “How Do I Live”. Con Air was also nominated for Best Sound. Unfortunately it ran into the juggernaut that was Titanic.

I cannot in good conscience call this a good film but I do recommend it because it is a huge amount of fun.

People watch: Powers Boothe does an initial voice-over showing love for the Rangers.

Anaconda – Size Matters week

In honor of the wonderful Valentine’s/Birthday/Father’s Day/Christmas present my wife gave me, I am featuring giant things this week. Today it is a giant snake. Anaconda is currently available on instant Netflix.

Anaconda

PASS: Anaconda (1997) – Rated PG-13 for intense adventure violence, and for brief language and sensuality.

“When deranged snake hunter Paul Sarone (Jon Voight) tricks a filmmaking crew (Jennifer Lopez, Ice Cube and Eric Stoltz) into taking him on their boat so he can hunt a giant anaconda, the group soon finds itself up the Amazon River without a paddle as they become prey for the reptile. With their captain incapacitated, the crew must battle not only the fearsome snake but the equally slimy, ruthless Sarone. Great cinematography marks this thriller.”

“Unique among snakes, they are not satisfied after eating a victim. They will regurgitate their prey in order to kill and eat again.”

As with most modern horror movies, the film opens with an attack. This attack is very well shot and conceived. It manages to be suspenseful without ever showing the titular Anaconda. Sadly the film goes downhill from there.

One of the many many problems the film has is with scale. One of the rubber/animatronic Anacondas is not the same size as the same CGI Anaconda. Of course they also don’t move in even close to the same manner.

Another problem the film has is a lack of understanding of snakes and Anacondas in particular. Yes Anacondas grow really big and yes they can swallow people (cattle for that matter). Once they eat a big meal like that they just lay around practically comatose for long periods while they digest. Also snakes don’t screech.

Then there is the matter of the other wildlife. There are no wild boars in the Amazon and rigor mortis does not set in immediately upon death. Wild monkeys are also usually not found tied to tree limbs. Hint: if you are going to do that, do not show closeups.

The most hysterical scene in the movie does not even a snake in it. At the 1 hour and 11 minute mark instead of another shot involving the boat leaving the waterfall, they simply play the shot backwards. Watch the waterfall in the background and you will see all the water leaping up the cliff. Talk about lazy cinematography.

Make no mistake – in spite of the impressive cast for a horror movie, this is the Jon Voight show. Jon Voight was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar in 1970 for Midnight Cowboy and won the Oscar in 1979 for Coming Home. He has had two more Oscar nominations since – one in 1986 for Runaway Train and one in 2001 for Ali.

Unfortunately here Voight chooses to adopt a funny accent and overact outrageously. He appears at the 10 minute mark and dominates the film from that point straight through to the end. That said his performance has far more life in it than the rest of the cast.

Jennifer Lopez walks through her role here showing none of the verve or charisma she would show in the following year’s Out of Sight. Eric Stoltz is good as her love interest but is removed for much of the film. This leaves Ice Cube to play the other hero without the impediment of romantic entanglement. His performance is as bland as Lopez’s performance.

Backing them up in smaller parts are a pre-Armageddon/Zoolander Owen Wilson and, in a link to yesterday’s film, Kari Wuhrer as the expendable couple. Character actor Jonathan Hyde (Titanic) appears as a primadonna and Vincent Castellanos appears as a red shirt.

The tragic mistake this movie makes is that it isn’t scary and it isn’t funny. It’s merely mildly entertaining, mostly for Jon Voight’s performance, and I can’t really recommend it for that.

People Watch: One of my favorite character actors, Danny Trejo appears briefly as lunch, I mean a poacher.

From Dusk Till Dawn

Prior to sending up exploitation films with Grindhouse, Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino filmed a vampire exploitation film called From Dusk Till Dawn. This movie is available on instant Netflix. The two sequels are not available but you aren’t missing much as Rodriguez didn’t direct the sequels and Tarantino didn’t write them.

From Dusk Till Dawn

WATCH: From Dusk Till Dawn (1996) – “Robbers-on-the-lam Seth (George Clooney) and Richard Gecko (Quentin Tarantino) take an ex-preacher (Harvey Keitel) and his kids hostage. On a race to the Mexican border, they rendezvous at a cantina, not knowing the owners and clientele are bloodthirsty vampires. That’s when director Robert Rodriguez (Desperado) abruptly switches from hostage drama to tongue-in-cheek, vampiric melee, creating a blood-stained ode to 1960s Mexican horror movies.”

This is a rude, crude and violent tale as might be expected from Tarantino and Rodriguez. Quentin Tarantino overacts as always but it comes off well here as do George Clooney and Harvey Keitel in more restrained performances. It takes a good long while for the vampires to show up but once they do, it’s a non-stop thrill ride. There are small, fun over-the-top performances from the lovely Salma Hayek, Danny Trejo, make-up wizard Tom Savini, and Fred “The Hammer” Williamson. The special effects are lavish and over-the-top and they take a page from the Evil Dead book and use green blood to help with the ratings board.

People watchers: look for cameos by John Saxon and makeup artists Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger and a small role by Michael Parks as Earl McGraw (a role he repeats in Kill Bill and both parts of Grindhouse).