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Monthly Archives: March 2010

Puppet Master vs. Demonic Toys, a SciFi Original, marries two of Full Moon Entertainment’s previously straight-to-video properties in what I suppose is a dream match for bad movie lovers. It delivers the bad movie fun in spades, too, starting with the illustrious cast.

Corey Feldman takes over the role of patriarch of the Toulon family, long line of Puppet Masters to those familiar with any of the previous films of the franchise. While Feldman appears to be about 30 years old he also has a teenage daughter from his now defunct marriage. He accomplishes the illusion of advancing his age by growing a wispy goatee and donning a ridiculous wig with slight salt-and-pepper tones to it. His daughter, on the other hand, looks to be about 25, inviting unflattering comparisons to their respective ages. Feldman speaks every line in a rasp so grave and over the top as to put his Frog Brother even to shame. His performance of the terribly scripted lines is so far past over the top as to bring it into the realm of art. I’m not sure that a performance of this nature can be classified as bad when Feldman seems to be trying so desperately to bring this production to life. He gets very little help in the film, though, with its overdubbed Bulgarian extras rounding out most of the cast.

He has one counterpart in the film, though, in Vanessa Angel’s Erica Sharp, the Satanic, corporate, doll making mogul to Toulon’s angelic, independent, puppet making everyman. She wants Toulon’s formula to bring her dolls to life, the oddly named “Christmas Pals,” to do her bidding. Much is made of the countdown to Christmas and a few terrible ads are shown that do nothing to explain why this year’s must-have toys are a snarling bear, an ugly, sneering baby (also the film’s comic relief) and a creepily phallic jack-in-the-box. Angel’s acting in the film seems to serve only one purpose- to make Feldman the second most over the top actor on the set. I guess the director wanted every performance as big as possible and she certainly gives her biggest effort. Not that subtlety was warranted on a movie about puppets fighting demonic toys, you know. I also wonder if the part wasn’t written for someone much older than Angel. The film rarely takes advantage of the one thing for which she is normally cast, her looks. Her costumes cover her from head to toe in a number of scenes, especially her Christmas gown, which looks like something dreamed up by the tailor of Dr. Strange and Endora from Bewitched. You have to see it to come close to understanding. When she finally does try looking sexy, to seduce the ladies’ man Toulon, it gets even worse. The costumers took a weird green dress with tear away sleeves and glued candy canes and cotton balls to it. When a guy like me knows your fashion is bad, it’s beyond salvageable.

The stop motion and animatronics used in the puppets and toys are all hilariously poor. The lack of funds shows in every shot, cheapness in every movement. The toys look absolutely awful, though the charm of the original puppets remains. The design of them is actually quite good in that they are memorable. The classics are back, sadly minus the drill bit guy. I suppose for lack of animation budget he had to be cut.

The plot of the movie is barley worth mention. It’s an absurd demons-conquering-the-world plan revolving around toys, a hole to hell and Barbie’s Dream Iron Maiden, complete with red Plexiglas viewing window. Much is made of Toulon’s family secret formula, though it involves just mixing a drop of blood with a quart of cheap vodka and injecting it into the puppets via a veterinary hypodermic needle. You would think Hell-powered demon toys would be strong enough on their own but Sharp felt she needed that, as well as Toulon’s seed to carry on. She’s not alone. The lady cop that responds to a break in at his home falls for Toulon’s oddball, raspy charms right away as well.

To sum up, this movie is absolutely terrible in every way save one very important one: it is incredibly entertaining. The movie is filled with laughs from the dialogue to the puppets to the wooden and just inexplicable acting. The only thing not funny in it, of course, is Lil’ Baby Fart Gag, but we all know the rule of comic relief in movies such as this one. 1 star, but 4 for bad movie lovers

Enemy Mine has a surprising amount of depth and cleverness in presenting its situation and plumbing the depths of intolerance in Dennis Quaid’s Davidge. Given its release date of 1985, when Rambo II was the zenith of foreign relations as presented in popular culture, I expected Enemy Mine to follow something along these lines in its presentation. So, the depth given to Lou Gossett Jr.’s Jeriba was pleasantly surprising.

Davidge has a hatred of the Dracs, Jeriba’s race, which could probably have stood some backstory. His abhorrence of them seemingly comes from their ongoing dogfights in space but it still comes across as unnaturally deep. He and Jeriba, or “Jerry” as Davidge nicknames him, both crash land on an uninhabitable, forsaken bit of rock as the result of one such dogfight. Though they initially seek to continue their species’ conflict, the knowledge that no one is likely to rescue them and each is possibly the other’s only company for life forces them to cohabitate. I admired the fact that loneliness was used as a factor that influenced their bond, that something deeper than mere survival necessitated their camaraderie.

The most impressive thing about the script is the layering of prejudice initiated by the race of the Dracs. In just one character Davidge is forced to deal with racial, religious and sexual intolerance as a being from another planet teaches him about his religion. Dracs also have both male and female sexual characteristics and reproduce without partners, as evidenced in the film. Each of these intolerances is slowly whittled away as Davidge and Jerry come to know one another through simply having no one else with whom to spend time. Some of the naming details border on goofy, such as “Draconian” as a race or Jerry’s religious tome, which if I read correctly is called the “Talmud.”

Quaid gives a solid, well rounded performance as the bigoted Davidge, coming around well and not rushing the change in his character. Gossett gives a fantastic performance as the Draconian Jerry. He maintains a very unworldly accent and hissing pronunciation of the English he learns from Davidge. He portrays Jerry as a sympathetic, wise and even tempered figure, though he initially matches Davidge’s early abuses with his own. The third act introduction of space slavers takes the film into a bit of an unnecessary action set up, which is closer to what I expected going in than the more deep exploration of friendship and tolerance that comes from the first two acts. That said, it introduces the tragically underrated Brion James as the leader of the mining crew. His cruelty toward his Draconian slaves, one particularly close to Davidge, drives Davidge to do some really stupid things when attacking them. But James performance is enjoyable as always.

Enemy Mine was a refreshingly profound film for its time and subject matter. The characters were handled with respect and the Draconian race treated as something truly unique. The need to drive the action based climax drags down some of what was established but not enough to undo it, just slightly dull it. 3 ½ stars

I finished the latest episode of Modern Family today to a new discovery. I actually sort of like Phil, the dad character of the traditional nuclear family. Heretofore I found him and his whole family rather dull and riddled with cliché that got old when Everybody Loves Raymond was still airing. Claire, his wife, acts like he’s an idiot, and he repeatedly proves her right. But I’ll get back to them and talk about why the other characters constantly overshadow them in the series.

The gruff patriarch of the series, Jay (portrayed by the great Ed “Al Bundy” O’Neill), has divorced the mother of his two children and remarried Gloria. While she borders, at the very least, a stereotypical Latina she has enough good moments to balance out the character. Rounding out their household is Manny, her son from her previous marriage. He has a terrific dynamic with man’s man Jay, as Manny is so overly passionate, sincere and outgoing that he exasperates Jay. Basically Manny is a college freshman, but eleven years old and untainted with self-consciousness and bullshit. He also suffers the usual pubescent crises but in his own advanced way, wishing to be older than he can be physically or emotionally. He usually makes this family’s segments on the show, though appearances by his wayward father skew the relationship between his mother and Jay with a nicely portrayed awkwardness.

Jay’s son, Mitchell, is a gay man in what should essentially be a marriage with his partner Cam. Much allusion is made about the difficulties between he and Jay during his coming out, though they have a fairly good relationship in the current day. He and Cam have also adopted a daughter, Lily. He is uptight, prissy and often times an irritating bore. All of this actually serves the show, though, as it showcases the best character, Cam, to his best.

Cam may just be the best television character to come along in the past decade. So beset with contradiction is Cam that he seems to appeal to everyone and no one at the same time. The biggest queen on screen since Nathan Lane in The Birdcage, Cam also played linebacker in college and is an avid football fan. He attempts to bond with Jay over this in one episode with mixed results. That he tries so hard to please everyone also contradicts the way that he frequently does embarrassing things so unashamedly. His best moment was the episode that explored his clown background. Cam proudly reveals his past studying clowning and professionally performing, and wears his full makeup and costume to one of the children’s birthday parties. On the ride over Mitchell pumps the gas for their car because he doesn’t want Cam to be seen dressed this way. He gets into a confrontation with a jerk that bumps their car, however, and backs down. Cam gets out of the car and makes the guy apologize in what is probably the best moment in television in 2009. The guy is so bewildered at the thought of being assaulted by a gay clown (Cam makes their relationship known to him) that he immediately apologizes and backs off. If Cam hadn’t already been my favorite, with his endearingly odd and sweet personality, a threatened beating-by-clown would have sealed it.

The final family featured in the show is the more traditional one I mentioned, headed by Phil and Claire, Jay’s daughter. They have three kids, a typically self-absorbed drama queen of a teenager, Haley, the too-smart-for-her-own-good middle kid, Alex, and Luke, the weird kid. Their stories are generally the least interesting and most likely to be sitcom rehash. Listening to Phil and Luke this week, though, speculating what kinds of treasure they were likely to find both in and under the house, and what they would buy with the money they made selling it, was quite charming in its unbridled dorkiness. Claire is typically up in arms over something that isn’t right around the house and sorting it out while Phil offers up useless advice only to be scolded by her. While far from terrible, they’re just so easily surpassed by the better written characters in the show that they seem at times superfluous, and just included to balance out the eccentricities of the other two households.

All in all, though, the first season has been very enjoyable, funny, well written and acted and the characters are realistically portrayed. Everyone has their less than their best moments but no one is an outright ass, which is refreshing to watch, and the dialogue is clever without being precious. It’s been one of the better examples of what a sitcom can accomplish in the last few years of television. 4 ½ stars

Important Things with Demetri Martin accomplishes a very difficult task: it manages to translate the style of an offbeat standup comedian into a coherent, funny and entertaining television show. The show combines the best parts of Martin’s shows, his off the cuff ideas of things he wants to do or create or invent, the doodling style of his sketch pad drawings surrounds many frames and transitions, and he maintains a good rapport with the audience throughout. It looks like a great show just to attend live. The format of one idea explored through the series of sketches and audience moments supports his manner nicely while giving the show a free but tangible shape.

Though he is not a favorite, I do appreciate the sensibilities Martin brings to his performances and he impressively maintains them in his show. Even more impressive is that they translate to and never clash with the format of a television program, as he is unique as a comedian. I doubt a lot of comics could pull off the same sort of transition while maintaining their identity so solidly in the show’ overall atmosphere.

Martin is also complemented with a good cast, especially his most frequent costar, the always underappreciated H. Jon Benjamin. Benjamin saves potentially poor sketches and elevates good ones to great just with his presence. Sketches like the “Passive Aggressive 500 Meter” really show off how solid his support is. Everyone in the sketch adds something to its premise to make it better.

All in all, Important Things with Demetri Martin is a well executed and uniquely crafted approach to a sketch comedy show. I’m glad to see a network, Comedy Central in this case, show enough confidence in a performer to give him such free reign to pursue his vision. 4 stars harrybadface.com

Given the way that Hasbro has neatly absorbed the former Kenner M.A.S.K. toy line into their G.I. Joe Real American Hero line I wondered how many other plausible 1980s franchises could easily be co-opted into the same kind of fate. They also recruited some Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat dudes at one time but the 1990s don’t have the same goofy nostalgia for me so fuck them. So, because I’m bored and my flight is delayed and I’m too infant fatigued to focus on any real work, here goes some airport brainstorming.

Top 1980s Properties to be retconned as part of the G.I. Joe Real American Hero line:

The Karate Kid- The story behind this is that Cobra wants to brainwash the youth they recruit early on in their lives. They open a school under the supervision of karate instructor and covert recruiter John Kreese. The Cobra Kai Dojo (Coincidence? I think not.) churns out dozens of highly trained, ruthless young men per year who are eager to don the sea foam green of the Cobra Ninja Corps. To counteract this, G.I. Joe has established their own resident master, Mr. Miyagi, in the Los Angeles area. Though less prolific than Kreese, Miyagi turns out a higher quality of never-say-die recruit, perfect for Joe standards.

Joes: Four Pack of The Best Around including Mr. Miyagi, Daniel-San, Quick Kick w/ Blue Rising Sun shuriken sash and Hillary Swank as The Next Karate Kid, crane kicking beach post, waxing rags (on and off), fly catching chopsticks and Best of the Karate Kid cartoon series DVD

Cobras: Four Pack of Cobra Kai Dojo including Johnny, John Kreese, Cobra Ninja and the ponytail douche from III, body bags, mummy costume and More Best of the Karate Kid cartoon series DVD

Chances of success: Off the chain

TRON- As much as a Destro-headed Master CPU sounds pretty awesome, I have to deny this one. Mainframe and TRON riding laser cycles and hurling light Frisbees and jai alai balls at the Evil Red Program Sark and Dr. Mindbender just doesn’t sound- snap, you know what? I think I just talked myself into this one after all. Their mission is to defend an ARPA-net style network from Cobra espionage programs.

Joes: Four pack of TRON and the J.O.E.-Net Defenders, including TRON, Yori, the chick from TRON, Mainframe in yellow “hacker” circuitry and just because, Matthew Broderick from War Games, including light paddles, balls and Frisbees and a wireless keyboard for Broderick, and a TRON DVD

TRON Light Cycle Playset includes Blue Light Cycle and Bruce Boxleitner figure with blue cellophane “Light Walls”

Cobra: Four Pack of Cobra Net-Raiders, including Dr. Mindbender, the Evil Red Program Sark from TRON, Tele-Viper in green circuitry and a Destro-headed Master CPU figure, including red paddles, balls and Frisbees and a wireless keyboard for Mindbender, and a Behind the TRON Scenes special features DVD

Cobra TRON Light Cycle Playset includes Red Light Cycle and Red Guard figure with Red cellophane “Light Walls”

Chances of success: Incalculable

The Goonies– An all grown up squad of Goonies is recruited by the Joes for their past expertise to deal with Cobra’s newest recruits: The Fratelli Family!

Joes: Five Pack of The Goonies, including Mikey, Data, Mouth, Chunk and Pirate Sloth, with sword and pirate hat, boxing glove belt, skate shoes, half of One-Eyed Willie’s new treasure map, broken David statue and Baby Ruth candy bar, and Goonies R Good Enuff music video by Cindy Lauper DVD

Cobra: Five Pack Cobra Fratelli Family, including Ma, Robert Davi and Joe Pants Fratelli, the Headman and a Cobra Tele-Viper, with pistols, machine guns, half of One-Eyed Willie’s new treasure map and Girls Just Wanna Have Fun music video DVD, also by Cindy Lauper and also featuring Captain Lou Albano

Chances of success: Good Enuff

Mr. T­- This one is a little different. It has no Cobra counterpart because what could they come up with to be the equal of Mr. T? You’re damn right nothin’. He shows up when he’s needed in his van and he leaves when he feels like his job is done. Which is when everything is demolished.

Joes: Mr. T and the Toughest Van in the World Playset includes a Mr. T figure with welding kit, tool box, machine gun and the dog with a Mohawk wearing gold chains from the cartoon because that’s still awesome, urban camouflage custom van with machine gunner nest, DVD copy of The Toughest Man in the World

Chances of success: 100%, Sucka

Breakin’- My scenario revolves around Cobra’s scheme to close all youth rec centers, thus ensuring bored youths making trouble and becoming ripe for recruitment as juvenile delinquents. The Joes are forced to counter this measure with an equally goofy plan: to put their own troops in the streets to ensure that these rec centers are kept open. Mainly this stems from my desire to see a three pack of Turbo, Ozone and Special K who come with real parachute pants accessories.

Joes: Four Pack of Body Rockin’ Commandoes, including Turbo, Ozone and Special K with pop out parachutes in their pants and Snake Eyes from that episode where he busted out a breakdancing routine of his own, sheets of cardboard and figures with Pop-Lock Grip feature, and Breakin’ DVD

Cobras: Four Pack of Electro Rock Takeover, including Corporate Raider Tomax and Xamot (in suits), Poppin’ Taco and Breakin’ Machine B.A.T. with Cobra logo dance mat and Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo DVD

Odds of success: Wicked

I had heard from numerous sources that the best part of watching Paranormal Activity in theaters was seeing the audiences’ reactions to the film. I can now verify that it would have to be, as this is the dullest movie I have seen since its predecessor in over-hyped, inactive, home-movie-shot horror, The Blair Witch Project.

It starts off introducing us to Micah and Katie, a newly living together couple. Micah is utterly unendurable about running his video camera 24 hours a day, even when Katie is on the toilet apparently. She eventually starts to whine about it, then finally snaps and puts him in his place. This will have to suffice as dramatic tension in the film for a good, long spell. Oh, and there may be some demon presence that Katie forgot to mention before Micah agreed to move in, in case you thought the lady less an ass than the gentleman. But this is less involving in the movie than their strained and incredibly boring living situation. What it amounts to for the first 55 minutes is a little bit of off-camera activity, mostly some noises like a house settling.

Normally I don’t care to do this to a film, but considering the giant rip-off ending of PA, I have no qualms about comparing the hell out of it to TBWP. PA doesn’t even have the decency to wander around and get lost in the woods. It just sits at home, waiting for something to happen. Finally, at that 55 minute mark, the demon makes his presence known. He spills some flour in the hallway. Though quaking in terror, our intrepid couple refuse to abandon the home in which they now make one another miserable. Then Katie gives us an exasperating ending, even knocking over the camera as she does so, a la Blair Witch.

The whole movie was just so terminally uninteresting that if you saw it in a theater you would be forced to watch your fellow moviegoers for some actually activity, paranormal or otherwise. Not one of the allegedly frightening things the demon does happens onscreen, and then consists of random noises, spilt dry goods and a visit from a demonologist so terrified of the its presence that he immediately vacates the premises. But that is all background to Micah and Katie’s relationship for the most part, and they are boring as hell. He’s so self absorbed that he never turns his camera off and the only thing I remember about her is she withholds demonic information. They’re the worst kinds of horror movie characters: the ones you can’t wait to see dead.

There’s nothing engaging about the movie’s security camera footage look either. It looks like any vlog from any random site for the most part. This could just as easily been on someone’s myspace page. Maybe more so, as myspace must be haunted given how quickly everyone ditched it. I can’t think of a thing to recommend this movie as even its premise is no longer new, having been created in 1998. I’m not sure why a filmmaker would revisit something so flawed in the first place that it eventually led to Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2. Recommend to avoid. 1 star