Monday, December 30, 2013

Only now does it occur to me... BLUE CHIPS

Only now does it occur to me...  that BLUE CHIPS is all about setting new standards.  One is the O'Neal/O'Neill standard:  never before or since have Shaquille and Ed put aside their spelling differences and graced the screen together. 
Then, there's Nick Nolte, setting a new standard for how we "storm out of a room."  Before BLUE CHIPS, we only had "slamming the door," "dropping the mic," and "throwing your drink in someone's face" at our disposal.  Nick Nolte boldly adds "wreaking havoc on a water cooler" to the list.  I know I'll never storm out of a room the same way again!


 
 
 
 


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Film Review: JINGLE ALL THE WAY (1996, Brian Levant)

Stars: 2.9 of 5.
Running Time: 94 minutes.
Tag-line: "Two Dads, One Toy, No Prisoners."
Notable Cast or Crew:  Arnold Schwarzenegger (COMMANDO, PREDATOR), Sinbad (FIRST KID, GOOD BURGER), Phil Hartman (SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, PEE WEE'S PLAYHOUSE), Rita Wilson (SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE, FRASIER), Robert Conrad (THE WILD WILD WEST, YOUNG DILLINGER), Martin Mull (ROSEANNE, MRS. DOUBTFIRE, O.C. & STIGGS), Jake Lloyd (THE PHANTOM MENACE), James Belushi (THE PRINCIPAL, RED HEAT), Harvey Korman (THE STAR WARS HOLIDAY SPECIAL, BLAZING SADDLES), Richard Moll (NIGHT COURT, HOUSE), Yeardley Smith (MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE, HERMAN'S HEAD), Curtis Armstrong (BETTER OFF DEAD, RISKY BUSINESS, REVENGE OF THE NERDS, ONE CRAZY SUMMER), Paul Wight (the wrestler known as "The Giant" and "The Big Show").  Written by Randy Kornfield (EIGHT-LEGGED FREAKS, SWEET REVENGE).  Directed by Brian Levant (BEETHOVEN, PROBLEM CHILD 2, THE FLINTSTONES '94).  Produced by Chris Columbus (HOME ALONE, ADVENTURES IN BABYSITTING).
Best One-liner:  "WHO TOLD YOU YOU COULD EAT MY COOKIES?!"

JINGLE ALL THE WAY.  A film which lives on in infamy, and perhaps rightfully so; featuring the rubbery facial contortions of Arnold Schwarzenegger and the raving line readings of 90s institution and bad-sweater-expert Sinbad; a film which first brought STAR WARS pariah Jake Lloyd to national attention;

a film which combines the lowbrow slapstick of HOME ALONE, the aesthetics of the POWER RANGERS, and the general, ineffable awkwardness of, say, a live action FLINTSTONES movie.  This film truly is a product of its progenitors:  from Brian Levant and Chris Columbus, masters of block-headed 90s comedy and makers of PROBLEM CHILD 2, THE FLINTSTONES IN VIVA ROCK VEGAS, SNOW DOGS, and THE NEW LEAVE IT TO BEAVER....  and, well, what did you expect?


Except it's sort of...how do I put this?... it's... not that bad.  And yet it is.  It exists in a phantom dimension of film-logic, an indescribable plane where quality becomes meaningless, where we accept that something like this can and does, in fact, exist.  It's the variety of film that induces throughout the thought that (THIS IS TERRIBLE! TERRIBLE!) and yet, as the end credits roll, you're left with the sense that yes, not only could it have been a lot worse, but that you genuinely enjoyed it.  Chalk it up to bad nog, the magic of the holidays, or the irresistible pull of Schwarzenegger doing his best impersonation of a living cartoon... it's a minor Christmas classic.

Not quite on part with, say, your DIE HARD or your BATMAN RETURNS or your GREMLINS, but I think we can still find a place under the tree for it, maybe way in the back next to the STAR WARS HOLIDAY SPECIAL, CHRISTMAS EVIL, and JAWS: THE REVENGE.

And now, ten reasons why JINGLE ALL THE WAY is not quite so shameful and ignominious as to ruin Christmas:

10.  Let's just get this one out of the way.  Whether you caught JINGLE ALL THE WAY on its original theatrical run or on cable or if you've been crank-called by the Arnold Schwarzenegger soundboard, you undoubtedly know and love the sheer, unadulterated beauty of "PUT THAT COOKIE DOWN!  NOW!"
 
 
 

 9.  The team from Walter Hill's RED HEAT, reunited– Schwarzenegger and Belushi, together again!

Jim (he's only James in dramatic roles) shows up as a surly, underworld Santa with a warehouse of bootleg toys and an army of criminal Kris Kringles.

8.  The ensuing Santa Claus brawl, complete with candy cane nunchucks,

Arnie beating Santas with an oversized candy cane yard decoration, and an enormous berserker Santa (played by Paul Wight– the WCW's "The Giant" and the WWE's "The Big Show") who uses one-liners like "I'm gonna deck your halls, bub!"


7.  A (sort of) earnest attempt at an anti-consumerist message.
 JINGLE ALL THE WAY obviously focuses on last-minute holiday shopping and the diabolical marketing of the much-hyped "Big Toy" of the season, and though it never really aims any higher than slapstick, it still possesses a certain "ripped from the headlines" quality, what with the tramplings,
 
the macings,
 
and human beings acting like complete lunatics in the hopes of snagging overpriced, mass-produced rubbish.

Though, likely afraid of offending manufacturers or (gasp!) appearing even as mildly socialist as IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, the film undermines itself at several points.  For example, it places most of the anti-corporate polemic in the mouth of Sinbad, who raves maniacally and (dis)qualifies his statements with gems like "and I know what I'm talking about because I went to Junior College."  Furthermore, the idea that Turbo Man dolls were (and still are, I guess) actually sold subverts the ultimate, "family is better than consumer products" message of the film.  Ah, well.

6.  A nice bit by Chris Parnell (best known for SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, but in my mind, made a legend by his recurring role as "Dr. Spaceman" on 30 ROCK) as a gleefully derisive toy store clerk.


5.  In the tradition of such Arnie classics as COMMANDO and TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY, JINGLE ALL THE WAY sets an action sequence at a mall.


4.  And said action sequence culminates in Arnie stalking a bouncing superball all the way into a kiddie pit:

where his quasi-pedophilic countenance inspires mothers to beat him with their purses and bellow "Pervert!" in accusatory tones.

"IAHM NAAT A PUUHVERT."

3.  Schwarenegger cold-cocking an (animatronic) reindeer, which is just the sort of thing that probably wouldn't fly today.


 




2.  The brief appearance of 80s comedy standby and Cusack crony Curtis Armstrong as "Booster,"
 
the supremely hateable pink sabre-tooth tiger partner of Turbo-Man, who receives his wonderful, albeit completely undeserved comeuppance at the hands of sidekick-hating children.
 


1.  Which leads me to the final Christmas parade set-piece, featuring Phil Morris and Amy Pietz as pitch-perfect, Christopher Guest-ian local parade hosts,


 a ridiculous police float featuring a nutty, breakdancing trampoline cop (pictured: far left) worthy of being in the background of a Cannon Film,

and finally, the coup de grace– Arnie's turn as "Turbo-Man," played with a rubbery and childlike intensity

that reveals Schwarzenegger to be the biggest kid of all.  It is unclear if this is an acting choice or something inherent to his personality, but I think we all know the answer to that one.

Nearly three stars.

MAHHRRY CHRISSSMAS!

–Sean Gill

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Film Review: VAMPIRES: LOS MUERTOS (2002, Tommy Lee Wallace)

Stars: 2.5 of 5.
Running Time: 93 minutes.
Tag-line: "John Carpenter's VAMPIRES took you to the edge of terror...  now get ready to cross the border."
Notable Cast or Crew:  Jon Bon Jovi of "Bon Jovi",  Cristián de la Fuente (BASIC, DRIVEN), Natasha Gregson Wagner (GLAM, URBAN LEGEND, HIGH FIDELITY), Arly Jover (BLADE, THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO), Darius McCrary ('Eddie Winslow' on FAMILY MATTERS, TRANSFORMERS), Diego Luna (MILK, Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN).  Music by Brian Tyler (THE EXPENDABLES, FRAILTY).   Special makeup effects supervised by Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger.  Written and directed by Tommy Lee Wallace (member of the Coupe de Villes, STEPHEN KING'S IT, HALLOWEEN III, FRIGHT NIGHT PART 2).  Executive produced by John Carpenter and Sandy King (his wife).
Best One-liner:  "Okay, we got a sucker!"

In a familiar, darkened alley, Poor Man's Carpy continues:

"Watch anything good lately?"
–"Well, you know me.  That's all pretty relative."
"Anything worth mentioning?"
–"You saw VAMPIRES, right?"
"We watched it together.  How could you forget!"
–"Oh, yeah.  Well, did you know there was a sequel?"
"What?!  VAMPIRES 2?"
–"Not exactly.  VAMPIRES: LOS MUERTOS.  Straight to video.  And it was handled by Carpy's grade school buddy, designer of Michael Myers' mask, and general horror sequel champ: Tommy Lee Wallace.  He did HALLOWEEN III, FRIGHT NIGHT 2, and AMITYVILLE II, to name a few."
"I love HALLOWEEN III."
–"So do I.  So.  Do.  I."
"Was Carpy involved?"
–"Pretty much in name only.  He refused to go down to Mexico for the shoot.  Apparently he'd had some bad experiences.  But he and the missus (Sandy King) acted as executive producers."

"Does it have anything to do with VAMPIRES 1?"
–"Sort of.  It takes place in the same modern-Western-mythscape, where the Catholic Church offers bounties for slain vampires.  One character from the first film, Father Guiteau (Tim Guinee), is referred to– as recently killed by vampires.  We even get to see his tombstone.

Other than that, it could pretty much be a standalone piece, though it certainly rips off the plot of the first VAMPIRES:  there's a love interest who is a telepathic part-infected-vampire, a massacre of monks in a monastery, a motley crew of vampire hunters, a sidekick priest, and the main thrust is that a master vampire is looking for the same magical cross that will allow vampires to walk in daylight."
"But no James Woods?"
–"Unfortunately, no.  But instead, we've got someone even better:  Jon Bon Jovi."

[PFFFFFFFT]  "Holy cow!  You just made me do a spit-take!  JBJ?!?!"
–"Shut up, no one actually calls him that.  ...Right?"
"I do."
–"Whatever."
"JBJ in a vampire-hunting western?!  This is terrific!"
–"Well..."
"...I'M A COWBOY, ON A STEEL HORSE I RIIIIIIDE.  WAAANNNNTEEED...UNDEAD OR ALIVE..."

–"Okay."
"You see what I did there?"
–"Yeah."
"...STAKE THROUGH THE HEART, AND YOU'RE TO BLAME.  DON'T GIVE CARPY A BAAAD NAME..."

–"You're very clever."
"...GONNA LIVE WHILE I'M ALIVE, I'LL SLEEP IN A COFFIN WHEN I'M UNDEAD..."

–"That's pretty weak.  Did you get all that out of your system?"
"Probably not."
–"Well, it is interesting that you want to linger on Jon Bon Jovi, because this thing–"
"JBJ, you mean?"
–"Because this movie seems tailor-made for him, almost like the script and production were fashioned completely around him.  First off, he plays a vampire hunter named 'Derek Bliss.'  If that's not an ersatz rock star name, I don't know what is.   Then, he plays a Western antihero– just like in the song, 'Wanted: Dead or Alive.'

JBJ flashes his trademark 'sincere smile' and prepares to shimmy his fringe.


JBJ shows off the acting chops he learned on the Jersey bar circuit and prepares to slay some vampires.


He's always recording stuff with a video camera.  At first, I thought it was just his character's narcissism, but then I realized it might be a subtle nod to the black & white, faux-gritty, 'behind-the-scenes' segments that pop up in a lot of his music videos ('Living on a Prayer,' 'Wanted: Dead or Alive')

Such docurealism.

He's got a surfboard full of weapons (kind of like DESPERADO's guitar case of guns)

and one of his favorite vampire-slaying devices is a long spear, which he hoists around with ease.  I have no doubt this weapon was chosen because– hey: the man knows how to heft a mic stand.  A stake ain't much of a stretch."

"Wow."
–"Oh yeah, and he gets paid for his slays by the Van Helsing Group on 'the internet.'"

"Who else shows up?  Anybody good?"
–"Well, a few quasi-notables show up to crash Bon Jovi's master's class in acting.  First, we have Diego Luna, now an award-winning and respected actor (MILK, Y TU MAMÁ TAMBIÉN) as Bon Jovi's scrappy l'il sidekick."

"I bet he learned everything he knows from JBJ."

–"Yeah, that's it.  We also have Natasha Gregson Wagner as the love interest/part-vampire assistant, fulfilling the Sheryl Lee role from the original.  Ms. Wagner happens to be the daughter of the legendary Natalie Wood, though it seems she inherited the lion's share of her acting ability from her aunt, Lana."

"Who's Lana Wood?"
–"She played 'Plenty O'Toole' in DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER.  And you'll recall that her line readings were so... creative that she had to be dubbed over in post."
"Oooh.  I see."
–"Eddie Winslow (Darius McCrary) from FAMILY MATTERS shows up, and infuses the movie with some mid-point badassery.

But then, after ten minutes of screentime, he falls victim to a vampire blowjob."


"Seriously?  Would you call that a (J)BJ?"
–"Oh, shut up.  He lurches along for a while after that, but he's already a 'dead man walking' and has already settled into the cliché of 'expendable black guy.'"
"That's too bad."
–"Rounding out the all-star cast is priest/poolboy Cristián de la Fuente, whom I correctly guessed has a more than extensive telenovela résumé."
I could never keep a secret from JBJ.

"Sounds like with this scrappy crew, he's... LIVIN' ON A PRAYER."
–"That's enough."
"So what else?"
–"There's a bunch of horrible CGI 'fast-forward' vampire action..."
"Why do they allow that to happen?"
–"I don't know.  Then the vamps mess up a bar like in NEAR DARK, so that's a nice vampire Western nod, but you'll probably just wish you were watching NEAR DARK instead.  But every once in a while something spectacular happens, like Bon Jovi dropping a one-liner like 'HEY VAMPIRE!'

And I guess it all ends up okay, cause the finale involves a slo-mo flying car and an exploding decapitated head."



"That's the kind of thing I can sink my teeth into."
–"Har har har.  Then I even listened to some of the Tommy Lee Wallace audio commentary.  I might be the only person in the world who'll admit it.  But I had to.  He talks about what it was like to direct JBJ– I mean, Jon Bon Jovi."
"See?  You just did it, too."
–"Hush.  Apparently there were legions of adoring fans everywhere they went.  And he had the problem of Bon Jovi doing a lot of overemoting.  Tommy told him to tone it down, to play everything smaller.  But Bon Jovi apparently learned a lot– he said, 'Tommy, thanks for letting me dare to suck.'"
"Is that a vampire pun?"
–"Stop.  Interestingly enough, Tommy Lee Wallace also goes on at length about how Carpenter makes films about Hawksian heroes, and he made a film about unlikely heroes."
"The kinds of heroes who live on a prayer?"
–"I said, cool it."
"ONCE UPON A TIME, NOT SO LONG AGO
TOMMY USED TO JUST BE A COUPE DE VILLE
CARPY USED TO THROW HIM A BONE
HE'S BEEN DOWN ON HIS LUCK...IT'S TOUGH, SO TOUGH

CARPY'S BEEN KIND OF RETIRED
THANKS TO BAD REMAKES, HE STILL BRINGS HOME HIS PAY
FOR LOVE, FOR LOVE

CARPY SAYS WE'VE GOT TO HOLD ON TO WHAT WE'VE GOT
CAUSE IT DOESN'T MAKE A DIFFERENCE IF WE MAKE IT OR NOT
WE'VE GOT TWO VAMPIRES FILMS
AND THAT'S A LOT
FOR LOVE– WE'LL GIVE IT A SHOT

WHOOOOAAA WHOAA, WE'RE HALFWAY THERE
OOOOH WAAA LIVIN' ON A PRAYER
TAKE MY HAND–"
–"Stop it!"
"But don't you get it?  The protagonist of 'Livin' on a Prayer' is actually named Tommy!"
–"I'm cutting you off."
"You can't cut me off– it's the holidays!"
–"Yes, I can."
"You can't stop me from picking the next movie, then:  JINGLE ALL THE WAY."
–"Dear Lord."

(to be continued)

–Sean Gill