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Archive for the ‘Reader’s Choice’ Category

Fantastically bad!

Johnny Mnemonic

Watching Johnny Mnemonic is akin to watching a train wreck in the sense that the train goes off the rails, flips twelve or thirteen times and then explodes in a massive conflagration akin to the sum total of all explosions in Michael Bay flicks.   It’s that bad.

Based (and I use that term loosely) on the William Gibson story of the same name, the film takes all the good in Gibson’s story and scratches it out in favor of a Hollywood love story and corporate greed.    Johnny Mnemonic bears little resemblance to the story it sprang from, much to the film’s detriment.   (More on that later.)

Johnny (Keanu Reeves) is an information courier in the future.   Since this is a movie featuring Technologically Advanced Dystopia, Johnny has neural implants that allow him to upload data to his head.    He takes a job transporting data from Asia to Newark, New Jersey – insert your own Hell joke here – and manages to massively overload his implants.   He has 24 hours to extract the data or his neural implants will enter an advanced state of seepage and kill him.   It puts a major crimp in Johnny’s plans that the data he has stuffed in his brain is the cure for a deadly disease that’s infected mass amounts of the world population.   An evil corporation named PharmaCom realizes that the cure they were holding will diminish their profits, since curing a disease is cheaper than treating the symptoms.   They hire the Yakuza to cut off Johnny’s head.   Add in a bodyguard named Jane and Johnny’s adventures around town become the explosive, shoot-y variety.

mnem

The movie is gaudy by even the standards of the ’90’s.   The visual effects of what the Internet looks like are over the top even in those days, using bright neon colors and geometric shapes.   It looks and feels like someone’s interpretation of the Internet through the design aesthetic of Body Glove clothing.

What makes the movie truly memorable is the insane supporting cast it’s got going on.  Udo Kier, Dolph Lundgren (as a nutso street preacher!),  John Spencer, Ice T (!) and Henry Rollins (!!) are all there.   It’s downright bizarre.  Lundgren plays a crazy preacher on call for the Yakuza who wields weapons like a cross-knife.   No, really.   And Rollins, he of the screaming anger and years of tours with punk band Black Flag (and later, Rollins Band and spoken word), plays a doctor named Spider.    Ice-T plays the leader of a gang called the Lo-Teks who aren’t low-tech in the slightest.

It’s really Reeves and Dina Meyer as the bodyguard Jane who play their roles with such a serious bent that it’s unintentionally comic.   The screenwriting doesn’t help, because let’s face it:   Keanu Reeves will never be a world class actor.   A great guy, sure, but not a great actor.   And the following rant does him no favors at all:

What starts out as a futuristic thriller devolves into complete and total insanity.   Somehow, even though both characters are completely devoid of personality, Johnny and Jane fall in love.    Henry Rollins sacrifices his life so that Johnny and Jane can escape.   (That’s always where the movie lost me, when Dolph Lundgren takes out Henry Rollins.   Does. Not. Compute.)    Johnny and Jane make their way to Lo-Tek heaven where a Navy-trained dolphin helps Johnny hack his own brain to broadcast the cure for this terrible disease to everyone on the planet.

I repeat:

A NAVY-TRAINED DOLPHIN HELPS JOHNNY HACK HIS OWN BRAIN.

It’s like some sort of Hollywood exec had an acid-trip and watched Discovery Science and came up with this idea.   (Jones the Navy-trained dolphin is in the story, but it’s still weird.   Weirder, actually, since the dolphin’s addicted to smack, but it makes sense in the context of the actual story.)

The last twenty minutes or so come off as entirely bizarre, too bizarre to be real or imagined, and it doesn’t help that Ice-T is playing Ice-T and Dina Meyer and Keanu Reeves are running around, emoting like blocks of ice, or that you realize the sum total of your investment in this movie rests on whether or not a fucking dolphin can help Johnny out or not.

In the story, Johnny acknowledges that he’s like a “bucket of water” that’s constantly emptied and refilled.   He’s tired of that existence, so he goes to Jones to get the data out of his head and instead of sending it out, Johnny, Molly (the Jane character in the story) and Jones sit on it.   Instead, Johnny and Jones hack out faint traces of previous jobs Johnny took from his neural implants and blackmail his former clients with the data.    Johnny and Molly become Lo-Teks, do whatever they want and upgrade Jones to a better tank and score him some heroin whenever he needs it.   I’m not kidding in the slightest.   And it makes more sense than what the movie gives us.

Gibson’s story is a bleak and brutal piece of work and while I understand that movies are made all the time that don’t adhere to the original works they stemmed from, Johnny Mnemonic feels drastically incomplete and wrong for not incorporating a lot more of Gibson’s edge to it as well as shearing a lot of the good stuff from the work.

That being said, Mnemonic is a fun relic to watch for the overacting and the gaudy set pieces, the numerous strange and weird actors that pop up in odd places and the general cheesiness of it all.   It’s a major Hollywood production that’s cheese-laden and wallows in its own overblown grotesqueries and, if memory serves me correctly, bombed at the box office.   It’s a weird movie to watch and it’s quite a bit of fun to laugh at and enjoy in a hideous, post-mortem sense.

However, if there’s anyone out there that unironically enjoys this movie, I do not want to know.   Good heavens, let me remain ignorant.

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It’s like Big!   But GIRLY!

13 Going on 30

13 Going on 30 isn’t a favorite of mine, but I can easily see how it could be a guilty pleasure.    It’s a fluffy morality tale about getting everything you thought you wanted and realizing it wasn’t worth it.

13 year old Jenna Rink is desperate to fit in with the cool girls at school.   Her friend Matty is kind and good to her, but Jenna spurns him and a gift he spent ages making her in favor of impressing the cool girls.   After an accident with some “wishing dust”, Jenna wakes up to discover she’s thirty years old and a successful magazine editor at her favorite teenage girl magazine, Poise.

What follows is a serious of slapstick and eighties jokes, since Jenna still acts as if she’s thirteen and is thrilled that she can drink pina coladas legally.   She helps liven up the failing magazine while learning that before her thirteen year old self was magically transplanted into the future, grown up Jenna Rink was really a very nasty person. 

Her best friend (the lovely and wonderful Judy Greer) is cynical, sharp tongued and mean to the hilt.   Jenna wonders what happened to Matty, so she tracks him down and discovers he’s engaged and they’re no longer friends.

13 Going On 30 rests on Jennifer Garner’s wide-eyed charm, which gets her through most of the movie.    The whole shebang gets trying toward the end because sitting through an hour plus of learning about how vile Adult Jenna was and how equally vile the best friend is gets tiring and depressing.   

I never got the Mark Ruffalo love until I saw this movie because he plays a brokenhearted guy who’s willing to still be friends with Jenna, even if she kicked him around something major.   

More than anything, 13 Going on 30 is a lesson wrapped up in the trappings of adult people doing the Thriller dance at parties and quoting Pat Benatar.   It’s more than a little cheesy given that it’s lecturing a bit on the values of family and friends over material things and status.   Of course Jenna gets to go back through the magic of wishing dust to her thirteen year old self and correct  her future self’s mistakes.    It slightly irritates me that of all the realizations that Jenna comes to – that her nice apartment and job are not worth the backbiting and bitchery she’s engaged in, that her adult self ignoring her parents is horrific to her – that it is a dude that makes her wish she could take it all back.

Garner, Ruffalo and Greer are really the best parts of the movie, but it’s also a treat to watch for the multiple ’80’s references (although you can fast forward through a creepy scene where Garner has a sleepover with “other” 13 year olds).  

It’s a little too fluffy and sugary for my taste; I appreciate fully the fact that someone could find this a guilty pleasure, but I’d rather watch Johnny Mnemonic.   (Could that be coming up next?!)

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Ah, George Hamilton, King of the Carrot Colored People.  (I hear Lindsay Lohan’s a countess.)

love_at_first_bite

Count Dracula (George Hamilton) has been evicted from his castle by a Communist committee bent on turning it into a training facility for Romanian athletes.   Dracula relocates to New York, which is no coincidence.   He’s finally fallen in love after 700 years with a woman that he’s only seen on the covers of fashion magazines.   With a loyal bug-eating manservant named Renfield in tow, he heads to the Big Apple to find the woman of his dreams.

He finds her, sure enough.   It turns out that she’s a supermodel named Cindy who has some extra baggage attached in a fiance who – naturally – is a descendent of Van Helsing.    

The movie really feels like a Mel Brooks production sans the slapstick, so I guess you could call it Mel Brooks-lite.    A lot of the jokes fall flat, but some are actually pretty funny.   And while George Hamilton portrays Dracula as a lovelorn guy vastly outof step with the times, it’s really Peter Benjamin as Jeffrey, the fiance who’s also a therapist, who steals the show.   The guy has fantastic line delivery and really works a part that could have been fairly lackluster into something quite funny.  Jeffrey constantly tries to both win back over the girl he loves and honor his family heritage by slaying Dracula with predictable but comic results – he gets locked up in the nuthouse and arrested.  (He spends his time in the psychiatric ward drawing pictures of Dracula in crayon with the title ‘Dracula SUCKS!’)

It shouldn’t be any surprise that Count Dracula overcomes the obstacles, gets the girl and flies off into the night, but he has a few humorous pitfalls before he does.  If you watch it, I’d have a healthy sense of no expectations beforehand so that the few bright spots really stand out.  It’s also fun with regard to the fact that there’s a large amount of name brand recognition – TWA, Kentucky Fried Chicken, etc. – so there’s a lot of, “Hey, remember when that looked like tht?”   Case in point:  Remember those old animated Raid commercials?   There’s one of those in this movie.

I’m not sure what makes this a guilty pleasure, but it was at least an enjoyable watch.

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I’ve reviewed Love Actually before (see here) but I went back and watched it again for Reader’s Choice.

Set a few weeks before Christmas and leading up to the big day itself, the movie examines the lives and loves of several groups of people, from family to friends and romantic relationships.  It’s a tricky thing to do, since Love, Actually  packs a lot of storylines into one little movie, but the film pulls it out quite well.

There are many things I don’t like about the movie – Colin Firth, Hugh Grant, that obnoxious “Colin Goes To America To Have Sex With Girls In Wisconsin” interlude – but since this is Reader’s Choice – Guilty Pleasures, I might as well own up to the cheesy fun in the movie.

Part of what I think makes the movie a secret pleasure is how obvious it is that the movie is so damn emotionally manipulative in many ways.   There are the rare stories (Laura Linney’s storyline and Alan Rickman/Emma Thompson’s storyline) that are the exception, but more often than not, the woven tales of Love Actually are little more than sentimental pieces designed not even to tug but wrench on your heartstrings. 

I guess that it’s helpful that Love, Actually has one hell of a cast.

Bill Nighy is practically perfection as Billy Mack, a washed up, no-filter rock star who basically begs and grovels for the public to give him a number one hit at Christmas.   The only faulty thing about his storyline is the weird bromance with his manager tacked on at the end, but that can easily be forgiven.

And Alan Rickman as the emotionally cheating husband and Emma Thompson as the crushed wife are wonderful.   I think it’s because it injects a healthy dose of reality into what is otherwise a rose-colored view of love, especially when you count the cornier aspects like the cue card admission of love and Colin Firth learning Portugese and yes, Liam Neeson encouraging his stepson to go crazy nuts overboard for a fellow classmate.  

Likewise, Laura Linney’s storyline about sacrificing one love for another kind is equally sad and sweet.   Linney, Rickman, Thompson and Nighy carry a lot of the movie on their shoulders, because Colin Firth and Hugh Grant are too busy playing Colin Firth and Hugh Grant.  

There are some filler stories; while the stories about the porn actor stand-ins is oddly endearing, it’s forgettable and boring.   Liam Neeson’s storyline about a widower raising his lovestruck stepson is sweet but ultimately kind of creepy and strange if you think about it really hard.    And the woman Rickman’s supposed to be emotionally cheating with is so devoid of emotion that you can’t help but wonder what Alan Rickman sees in her.   She attempts to pull off a slow, smoldering seduction.   It comes out more like someone with slight brain damage being flirty.

Even with all the cheesy and mediocre stuff packed in and the previously mentioned abysmal Colin Goes To America storyline, Love, Actually is a romantic comedy that I enjoy quite a bit.  Between the random cameos (ahoy, Billy Bob Thornton as the President, and hello there, Rowan Atkinson) and the fine juggling the director does to interweave the stories together as well as one could expect, the scenery chewing and actual good work of the aforementioned actors is a joy to watch.   And truth be told, most of us feel a little sentimental around Christmas.   Love, Actually asks some suspension of disbelief from the viewer, but hey, why not … it’s Christmas.

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Here are your top 20:

  1. Bring It On
  2. Constantine
  3. 13 Going on 30
  4. Johnny Mnemonic
  5. Drumline
  6. Pee Wee’s Big Adventure
  7. Bram Stoker’s Dracula
  8. Down With Love
  9. Four Rooms
  10. Phantom of the Opera
  11. Hackers
  12. Hudson Hawk
  13. Cool Runnings
  14. Love at First Bite
  15. Big Trouble In Little China
  16. Love, Actually
  17. Empire Records
  18. Real Genius
  19. Face/Off
  20. Top Gun

We’ll start after Tarantino Week, which is August 17 – 21.   Thanks to everyone who submitted and voted!

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Get your #2 pencils out, ’cause this is multiple choice.  You get FIVE selections.   The twenty movies with the most votes go on the slate to be viewed.   (Um, please vote, people?  That’s the only way this’ll work.)

Oh, and remember …

choose wisely

(I couldn’t help myself.   Honest!)

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Here are the submissions so far:

  • High School Musical 3
  • Bring It On
  • A Walk In The Clouds
  • Constantine
  • 13 Going on 30
  • Johnny Mnemonic
  • Drumline
  • A Walk To Remember
  • Biodome
  • Pee Wee’s Big Adventure
  • Uncle Buck
  • Adventures In Babysitting
  • Van Helsing
  • Bram Stoker’s Dracula
  • Down With Love
  • Four Rooms
  • Mona Lisa Smile
  • The Phantom of the Opera
  • Where The Heart Is
  • Baseketball
  • Escape from LA
  • Joe Dirt
  • Josie and the Pussycats
  • Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers
  • Alien vs. Predator:  Requiem
  • Joe’s Apartment
  • Hackers
  • Cabin Boy
  • Hudson Hawk
  • Dude, Where’s My Car?
  • Let It Ride
  • Cool Runnings
  • City Heat
  • Love at First Bite
  • Zorro The Gay Blade
  • Big Trouble In Little China

Edited to add:

  • Love, Actually
  • Confessions of a Shopaholic
  • Empire Records
  • Real Genius
  • Face/Off
  • Young Guns 2
  • Top Gun
  • U.H.F.
  • A Boy and His Dog
  • Rock ‘n Rule
  • Curse of the Queerwolf
  • Jeffrey
  • The Forbidden Zone

    If you still have a movie you want to submit, drop the title in the comments.   You know the drill.

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