Movie Review: WORLD’S GREATEST DAD

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world's greatest dad
Darko Entertainment
2009
R

“I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone. It’s not. The worst thing in life is ending up with people who made you feel all alone.”

  • Robin Williams stars as Lance Clayton, a man who has learned to settle. He dreamed of being a rich and famous writer, but has only managed to make it as an unpopular high school poetry teacher. His only son Kyle is an insufferable jackass who won’t give his father the time of day. He is dating Claire, the school’s adorable art teacher, but she doesn’t want to get serious, or even acknowledge publicly that they are dating. Then, in the wake of a freak accident, Lance suffers the worst tragedy and the greatest opportunity of his life. He is suddenly faced with the possibility of all the fame, fortune and popularity he ever dreamed of, if he can only live with the knowledge of how he got there.

Bobcat Goldwaith. He’s a rather brilliant comedian, but I think he may be an even more brilliant movie maker. I’m not talking about the movies he was merely an actor in (the less said about Hot To Trot, the better…which reminds me, I need to do a review of Hot To Trot). No, I speak of the movies he’s written, directed and/or produced. These happen to be what you would call “uncomfortable dark comedy”, meaning he manages to take really, really uncomfortable topics and situations, and manages to make you laugh despite that squicky feeling in the pit of your stomach. But, lest you think he’s just being crass for crass’ sake, he actually crafts some subversive meaning underneath all the morbid humor.

I listened to an interview with Bobcat Goldwaith on a local radio morning talk show here in Omaha back in the day, and he was describing World’s Greatest Dad to them, when it was the newest movie he had made at the time. I remember thinking, “this is really, really dark and morbid. I must find this and watch it.” Of course, it tanked at the box office, but I managed to rent it when it was finally released on DVD.

So, Lance Clayton (Robin Williams!) is a high school English teacher and frustrated writer, who is also a single father to his son Kyle (Daryl Sabara!), a 15-year-old misanthrope with a very, very unhealthy addiction to porn. Things are not going well at the high school Lance teaches at: his son is on the verge of being booted out due to his behavior, his romantic relationship with another teacher at the school is utterly pitiful, and another kid is hanging out at his house to avoid his alcoholic mother. Oh, and one night Lance discovers that Kyle has died by way of autoerotic asphyxiation. Too soon to make an INXS joke? Yes? Okay, then. To avoid the stigma of the way he died, Lance then makes it look like Kyle committed suicide. Soon thereafter, the fake suicide note Lance wrote on his son’t computer to complete the facade is published by one of the students on the school’s newspaper, and that strikes such a cord with everyone that suddenly all the students that hated Kyle (which was all of them) started claiming to have been BFF’s and raving as to how deep and intelligent he was. This inspires Lance to strike while the iron’s hot, and write a fake journal that was supposedly his son’s before his death, and publish it. This becomes a phenomenon, and Lance finally gets the adoration he’s always wanted because of this. However, things start getting kind of out of control when he starts gaining national fame and celebrity, and there’s one student that thinks this is kind of fishy. Then, when the school principal decides to rename the school library in Kyle’s honor, things come to a head, and Lance says “I quit” in the manner I really want to go out on: by swimming naked in the school’s swimming pool.

So, let’s go ahead and address the proverbial elephant in the room, here. At the time when I watched this, we were maybe five years away from Robin Williams committing suicide by hanging himself. We had no idea this was going to happen, obviously. For me, this does make it hard for me to want to re-watch World’s Greatest Dad. But, it really shouldn’t, as this isn’t a movie about suicide. It’s a movie about loneliness, the craving for love and acceptance, and the lengths at which we will go to achieve all of this. This is the late, great Robin Williams at his peak best, emanating a pathos that gets under your skin, and while what he does is rather underhanded and despicable, you still get the sense that he did it all out of love for his son, who, it should be pointed out, was not the most lovable kid going. There’s an understatement.

Overall, World’s Greatest Dad is a brilliant dark comedy mixed with solid drama that, unfortunately, many won’t be able to get past the first half hour to truly appreciate. Trust me, though, when I say that you should definitely stick through the movie. It’s one that doesn’t merely go for the feels…it uses the feels as a speed bag while chomping on a cigar and blowing the smoke in your face. Highly recommended.

366 DAYS OF METAL: “The Sting Of Death” (Abandoned Mortuary)

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Movie Review: WALK HARD The Dewey Cox Story

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Walk Hard The Dewy Cox Story movie poster
Columbia
2007
R

“This is crazy, Dewey. Ain’t nobody gonna wanna listen to music like this. You’re standing there, playing as fast as you can, singing like some sort of punk!”

  • One of the most iconic figures in rock history, Dewey Cox had it all: the women (over 400 served), the friends (Elvis, The Beatles), and the rock n’ roll lifestyle (a close and personal relationship with every pill and powder known to man). But most of all, he had the music that transformed a dimwitted country boy into the greatest American rock star who never lived.

Something seems to have happened to the satirical comedy movie genre. Some time in the turn of the 21st Century, somehow the comedy movies that were spoofing other areas of pop culture were getting lazy, going more the zany route than actually well-crafted tongue-in-cheek spoof. Take, for instance, the classic Airplane!, and compare that to the likes of Epic Movie. Yeah, see the difference? Now, I’m not saying that every spoof comedy movie made in the 80s and 90s was comedy gold; but even the worst ones from that era (*cough* Spy Hard *cough*) had more meat to them than a lot of these dime-a-dozen blockbuster spoof movies nowadays.

Excuse me a minute, while I yell at the squirrels to get of muh lawn, dagnabit.

Anyway, all old man bellyachin’ aside (I just said “bellyachin'”…yep, I’m officially old now), I will say that not every spoof comedy movie made after 1999 is crap. Take, for instance, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. This is a movie that was made some time after the Johnny Cash biopic Walk The Line, that stared Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon as Johnny Cash and June Carter, respectively. But, rather than just spoof Johnny Cash’s early life, Walk Hard also includes some hilarious shots at the history of rock n’ roll, blues and country music pop culture in America all together.

We begin the story with a young Dewey Cox (John C. Reilly!) accidentally cutting his brother Nate in half in 1946. The trauma takes his sense of smell, but then he discovers that he has an affinity for the blues. Later, he preforms a song at his school talent show, which results in his father kicking him out of the house for playing “that Devil music”. So he leaves with his 12-year-old girlfriend (I should maybe point out that Dewey’s 14 at this time, although that may not lower the squick factor much), marry and have a baby. While working as a singer in a nightclub, he catches the ear of a record exec, who has him record a couple of tunes: a rockabilly rendition of “That’s Amore” (it doesn’t do well), and what would become his signature song, “Walk Hard”. The later song becomes an instant hit–literally, like in 35 minutes of its recording–and next thing you know, Dewey finds himself a rock n’ roll idol, and next thing you know he’s caught up in the lifestyle, trying drugs and sleeping around on his wife. Then his mother dies while dancing to one of Dewey’s records, which causes him to start using cocaine, and this is about the time when he meets choir-girl Darlene Madison (Jenna Fischer!), who he records several hit records with while falling madly in love with. So they get married…only, remember he’s still married to his first wife? Yeah, that doesn’t end well, and then he’s jailed for drug possession. After his stint in prison, Darlene returns to him, they move to Berkeley during the counterculture movement, takes LSD with the Beatles, then becomes obsessed with recording his masterpiece. The band leaves him due to his growing erratic and abusive behavior, and Darlene then leaves him for Glen Campbell (ouch). After some more rehab and a visit from the ghost of his brother, Dewey now hosts a variety show in the 70s, manages to reconnect with his estranged father in the most bizarre way possible, he gets a visit from one of his many illegitimate children, which causes him to want to reconnect with family again, regains his sense of smell, and then reconnects with and remarries Darlene. Again. Suddenly he’s popular with the young kids again due to rapper Lil’ Nutzzak sampling “Walk Hard” for his song. He gets a lifetime achievement award, reunites with his band, and finally composes his masterpiece song. And then he died three minutes after that. The end.

Overall, as a pop music history junkie, who loves watching documentaries about music and bands whether or not I like them*, Walk Hard was a great send-up of rock n’ roll biopics and documentaries all together. John C. Reilly once again proves his comedy chops as the lead. Taken as a comedy itself, it’s pretty over-the-top but still rather funny. I would say that Walk Hard is up there with comedies like the immortal UHF and Spaceballs. Recommended.

[*my favorite one being the VH1 Behind The Music episode of Oasis…not because I like their music (I don’t), or found the history all that interesting, but for the fact that, even though the brothers spoke English, they still had to have English subtitles to be understood]

366 DAYS OF METAL: “Divine Amnesty” (7 Horns 7 Eyes)

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366 DAYS OF METAL: “Kiss Of Death” (Dokken)

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366 DAYS OF METAL: “Throwin’ Bones To The Wolves” (Mainline Riders)

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Movie Review: RETRO PUPPET MASTER

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retro puppet master
Full Moon Pictures
1999
PG-13

“Ilsa, this is Cyclops, Blade, Doctor Death, Drill Sergeant, Pinhead, and Six-Shooter.”

  • Andre Toulon’s days before he became the Puppet Master were spent running an avant-garde puppet theater in pre-World War I Paris and loving Ilsa, the beautiful daughter of the Swiss ambassador. When he witnesses the heinous murder of Afzel, an Egyptian sorcerer, who has stolen the “Secret of Life” from an ancient god, Sutekh, he is forced into a life and death struggle with the servants of Sutekh who have kidnapped Ilsa. In a final confrontation, Toulon and his Puppets must make a stand against the deathless power of an ancient god–in order to save the woman he loves.

You may think that, since I’m a well-established fan of cheesy horror movies, that I would be familiar with Full Moon Entertainment’s Puppet Master series. Set your collective faces to “stunned”, because I am not. Oh, I’ve seen the myriad of titles setting on the video shelves, and came close to checking one of them out on more than one occasion. I don’t know why I held off for so long to go down that particular franchise rabbit hole. Maybe due to my traditionalist sensibilities–Freddy, Jason and Pinhead as the unholy trinity, all others pale in comparison. That kind of thing.

We begin things in 1944 in Switzerland (according to Wikipedia, this movie takes place just after Puppet Master III: Toulon’s Revenge, in case that matters to continuity geeks), and the titular Puppet Master, Andre’ Toulon, is on the run with his little homicidal puppet friends. He stumbles upon the wooden head of one of his old puppets at an inn close to the Swiss border, and begins to wax nostalgic to his youth, circa 1902. The rest of the movie is a flashback to that time, beginning in Cairo, Egypt, where a really, really old Egyptian sorcerer named Afzel has stolen the secret of life (42, or something like that), and after taking out a couple of mummies dispatched by the Egyptian god Sutekh (Seth to his closest buddies) to steal it back, he sets off for Paris. As you do. Meanwhile, in Paris, a young Toulon is putting on a puppet show version of Dante’s Divine Comedy at a theater. In the attendance happens to be the daughter of an ambassador, who is obviously the forced love interest in this movie. Outside of the theater, Afzel is being beaten by a couple of thugs that were hired by a couple of other mummies dispatched by Sutekh to go after the fugitive, and is rescued by both the ambassador’s daughter and Toulon. Afzel decides to give Toulon the Secret to Life, by making his puppets come to life, resulting in the creation of Pinhead. After being roughed up by the Ambassador himself, Toulon returns to the theater to find the the mummies managed to break in and kill everyone inside, so he begins to put the victims’ souls inside his puppets. After another stand-off with the henchmen, he boards a train to escape, only the henchmen kidnap the ambassador’s daughter, so he takes his living puppets and goes to mount a rescue. A battle of…something ensue, Toulon taunts the henchmen with the sacred scroll containing the secret to life (I still say it has a big 42 scrawled on it), they fend them off, and Toulon and the girl rides away in the train together. Back to 1944, and the puppets re wondering what happened to the OG puppets, and then Toulon sets up some sequel baiting. The end.

Maybe Retro Puppet Master should not have been the one to watch as a first-time sampling of the franchise, but after watching this, I really have no desire to watch any of the other movies. I realize that Full Moon movies are generally cheesy low-budget fair, but most of the time, at least they’re somewhat entertaining. This movie, it was just painful to watch. Dull, uninspired, badly acted, and clunky. I’m going to pass on this franchise for now.

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