Movie Review: PIRATE RADIO

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pirate radioFocus Features
2009
R

“The way I look at it, the world couldn’t survive without my comedy, and who’s going to have the moral backbone to play the Seekers when the mood is right?”
“They’ve split up.”
“I intend to celebrate the back catalogue.”
“I intend to stop you doing so.”

It’s 1966–pop music’s finest era–and a bunch of ramshackle DJs play rock & pop 24 hours a day, broadcasting from Radio Rock, an infamous pirate radio ship in the North Sea. On board arrives 18-year-old Carl, which is instantly plunged into a serious of hilarious and life-changing adventures and misadventures. His mother thought the boat would straighten him out–a spectacular mistake!

I don’t often watch non-horror movies. And I don’t always often watch non-horror movies that exist in the genre of “comedy”. And if you’re expecting some kind of wry attempt at that particular meme, I’m afraid you’re going to be sorely disappointed. Anyway, once in a while I do fancy a nice funny ha-ha movie, especially when it involves my long-time hobby as an on-air DJ enthusiast. And despite the lackluster hype blurb on the back of the DVD case, taking a gander at the list of actors staring in this flick was enough to get me to check this movie out. Bill Nighy? Nick Frost? Kenneth Branagh? Philip Seymour Hoffman? I figured I was in for a treat.

So, I should really point out to those who weren’t aware (or cared), that Pirate Radio was the name of the movie that was given to the American release. This being a British film, over across the pond (as they say), the movie is known as The Boat That Rocked. I’m unsure as to which one would be the optimum title overall. I mean, the original title has that subtle British quality of pun. But, the American title kind of plays off of our current obsession with pirates. Eh, pointless bunny trail, this. Let’s get to the movie, shall we?

Set in the height of the Swingin’ Sixties, the story mostly takes place on a ship that’s anchored in the North Sea, a ship that broadcasts all the rock n’ roll you can handle on a 24-7-365 basis. You see, the BBC doesn’t believe that the morally corruptive devil music that is rock and/or roll should be officially broadcast over their airwaves, so this nautical pirate radio popped up to fill that much needed void in everyone’s lives. It is on this derelict barge that young Carl was sent to after being expelled from school, as his godfather runs the station. One has to wonder what kind of rehabilitation his mother was expecting a boat full of quirky rock n’ roll dee jays with a rebellious streak to give, but needless to say it doesn’t take long for the staff to take Carl under their unorthodox tutelage, showing him how to stick it to The Man with rock n’ roll…and have lots of fun doing it. Less wackiness ensues, as does hijinks on the high seas, I guess.

In execution, Pirate Radio (or The Boat That Rocked, depending on what country you’re reading this at) seems less of a narrative and more of a series of situations thrown together that don’t really advance a story in the traditional movie watchin’ sense. This seems more a collection of snippets from a failed situation comedy thrown together, with some footage of a bit of a plot filmed to give the movie more of a narrative.

It’s not to say Pirate Radio is a bad movie. It’s highly entertaining, with some fantastic performances from the mostly-British cast working off each other wonderfully. The movie got quite a few chuckles, a handful of chortles, and a couple of outright laughs. The soundtrack is fantastic, featuring a lot of deeper cuts from the era. It does drag a bit at certain areas, though, and the sub-plot (for lack of better word) of the government minister’s various attempts to shut the boat down seemed more shoehorned in as an afterthought.

Overall, Pirate Radio was an entertaining, if disjointed, period comedy. It’s worth a rental look, at the very least.

Movie Review: GODZILLA (1998)

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godzilla 1998TriStar/Columbia/Sony
1998
PG-13

“That’s a lot of fish.”

Yeah, let’s just go ahead and get this long-standing regret of the past out of the way. It’s been ignored by your Uncle NecRo for long enough: it’s time to finally get the review of 1998’s Godzilla out of the way. It’s been festering for so very, very long, really.

Yes, nearly twenty years after the fact, we can look back at this as the poo emoji it is. But, I swear to all reading this, for the months leading up to the release, the prospect of a modern American take on one of the most iconic monsters in cinema history was just bloody exciting. Keep in mind, for those of you too young to remember, the mid-to-late 1990s, in terms of Summer Blockbusters, were kind of a dark time. But, this Godzilla had a couple of things going for it: Model CG effects, and Roland Emmerich–still hot off their success of Independence Day–handling things.

I remember sitting in the theater one evening, and the first teaser trailer came on. It just featured the foot, crushing a T-Rex display. But, that was all that was needed for me to get all sorts of fanboy giddy. Then, I saw the fisherman teaser trailer, and that pretty much got me starting a countdown to whenever that movie was going to hit theaters. And when it did, I went with a bunch of friends on opening night, Blue Oyster Cult’s “Godzilla” blaring from my car’s speakers for some cheesy build-up goodness, and settled in with expectations and excitement high.

I’ll spare you all the end results. Point is, it wasn’t pretty. To say I was disappointed would be a massive understatement. This was not Godzilla. A giant monster movie, yes. But Godzilla, it was not. And here is why:

While going through the standard “Dinosaurs are COOOOOL!” phase as a grade school-er, my all-time favorite dinosaur wasn’t the standard T-Rex, or Brontosaurus (which was still a thing back then, for any aspiring pedantic pseudo-paleontologist out there…and sorry about the arbitrary alliteration); my prehistoric boy was the Allosaurus. I don’t know why this smaller version of the T-Rex appealed to me more (forever cementing me as the “weird one” in grade school and beyond), but it just did. And the point of bringing up this seemingly unrelated childhood flashback is this: The 1998 Godzilla looked like an over-grown Allosaurus with a severe underbite, and not the classic Japanese icon that we know and love. This iteration of “Godzilla” was less Science Run Amok Metaphor and more Force Of Nature Spectacle; here, instead of being a monstrosity that we helped to inadvertently create biting us in the collective butts, this is a prehistoric iguana wanting to lay its eggs in Manhattan.

And that’s the major issue with this 1998 Godzilla: this isn’t so much a Godzilla movie, as it is a loose remake of a movie called The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms. Seriously, the plot to Godzilla ’98 is the same as that 1953 movie (which had the great Ray Harryhausen doing the stop motion effects).

So, anyway, if you happen to be one of the blessed ones who have not watched this iteration of Godzilla, here’s the synopsis: A giant mutated lizard beast arrives in New York and stomps around and does some major property damage, and then manages to allude the US military by hiding really good, somehow. So then they bring in Ferris Bueller, who’s an expert in radiation effects on animals and stuff, to bumble around awkwardly and say things like “that’s a lot of fish”, while his television journalist ex-girlfriends bums along with him and the French Secret Service to get in the way a lot. They find out that Godzilla is pregnant, because he/she can reproduce asexually I guess, and then stumble upon a bunch of Godzilla eggs, finally killing Godzilla, but then the eggs hatch and next thing you know we’re ripping off the Raptor chase scenes from Jurassic Park, and…by this time you’ve been struggling to pay attention through the many fake endings they make you sit through, and it just goes on and on and on and then ends on sequel-bait. That was the true terror, here.

Godzilla 1998 is an amazingly bad movie. It’s such a mishandling of a pop culture icon that I’m surprised Japan hadn’t declared war on us for doing this to their star monster. There are some cool parts to this, mind you; the whole rampage through New York City in the first reel was awesome, as was the part when Godzilla whipped out some classic atomic breath. But, that was all spent up early on in the movie. After that part, Godzilla goes away for most of rest, while we’re treated to a bunch of very uninteresting characters interacting while trying to find the main reason we spent money to watch this movie to begin with. And I’m well aware that, with the other Godzilla movies in the stable, the title character doesn’t really show up until the later part of the movies…but that’s the thing. Here, the big destruction part that everyone waits to see is gotten out of the way early on, so there really no reason to sit through the rest. Even by the time you get to the actual end of the movie, you’re feeling more than just a bit ripped off by the experience.

The ironic thing is, the obligatory Saturday morning cartoon series that spun off from this atrocity was actually a bazillion times better. Mainly because it seemed to understand the spirit of the original Japanese movies better than Roland Emmerich ever did. I would urge you to never watch this Godzilla…instead, check out the short-lived but ultimately superior cartoon version that takes up where the movie left off.

There. It’s been reviewed. Now to take a long shower to wash the ick off of me for having to revisit this…

Movie Review: BETHANY

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bethanyUncork’d Entertainment
2017
NR

“You’re not just some stinky zombie, honey. You’re my stinky zombie.”

After Claire’s mother dies, she and her husband move back to her childhood home only to have the abusive and traumatic memories of her mother come back and bring unrest to the house. Unfortunately, Claire soon finds herself in a fog of past and present when her imaginary friend from childhood begins haunting her memories. What is this terrifying thing that is trying to reach out to her, and what does it want?

I first heard about the movie Bethany by way of an article on Cracked.com a few months ago. I can’t remember which article it was, as I usually read them first thing in the morning at work while waiting for my shift to start. I do recall, though, the author making a reference to his “friend’s movie” called “Bethany” which was the “best horror movie this year”, or something to that effect. I can’t be bothered to find the actual article for the sake of “accuracy”, so that’s why I’m using “quote marks” on this part. Sorry, not “sorry”. See what I did there? Anyway, because of that mention, I looked into this movie, and when it became available on VOD, I gave it a watch.

As to the claim of Bethany being the “best horror movie” going…no. Maybe, if I’m feeling generous, “watchable”. Certainly not “memorable”, at least not because it was a “good movie”. Let’s get into that, shall we?

So, there’s a lady named Claire, whose mother had just died and willed her the home she grew up in. So, she and her husband (who seems to be the grown-up bully kid in some Christmas movie I’m told I need to see otherwise I’ll die, or something) move in to begin a fresh new chapter in their lives. Only, almost the very moment they do so, Claire begins to experience all sorts of creepy things, things that no one else seems to notice. Then the flashbacks begin, and we see that her mother took her parenting advice from the movie Mommy Dearest. Also, there seems to be a ghoulishly masked apparition of a girl showing up here and there to add to the general wackiness, a girl that Claire seems to recall as being an imaginary friend growing up. Is the haunting real? Or is Claire going slowly insane? And why is Tom Green totally unrecognizable and playing against type?

On the surface, Bethany has some good ideas, and does manage to get a decent cast together (I was totally serious about funnyman Tom Green playing it completely straight here, which completely makes me rethink my opinion of the guy as an actor…while you might say Shannon Doherty is playing to type), and there were moments that, had I not seen them coming, could have been some very effective scares.

And that’s pretty much what regulates Bethany into the realm of “meh”: it’s a bit clunky, has some leaps of logic going on, and while one or two times I found a scene squeamish to watch (especially at the end, that involves a mask and a sewing needle), in the end you get the feeling you just watched a misfired attempt at making a stylistic remake of The People Under The Stairs.

Best Horror Movie of the Year? Er, no. Imaginatively unique? Again, no. Maybe if you’ve never seen a horror movie made before 2005. I don’t know how, but people like this exist. I give Bethany points for trying something different, beyond the general “haunting of…” style. But, the execution itself left something to be desired. Worth at least a watch, at least.

Movie Review: MANOS: The Hands Of Fate

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manos the hands of fateMill Creek Entertainment
1966
NR

“I am Torgo. I take care of the place while the Master is away.”

Everything that can go wrong does on a young couple’s terrifying vacation. Lost and unable to find an inn, they stop at the door of a mysterious house. They are told by the disfigured Togar that the Master does not like visitors, but with no other shelter in sight they decide to spend the night. Their presence ignites the fury of a Devil cult that preys upon their innocence. The family is forced to suffer interminable psychotic rituals. Unrest with the cult provides a chance for escape, but the Master will not free them so easily.

When talking about bad movies, there are certain ones that have achieved legendary status due to just how bad they are. Plan 9 From Outer Space. Trolls 2. Birdemic. The Room. These titles and more, so many have heard about, but few have been brave enough to venture into watching them, for fear of losing whatever tenacious grasp on their sanity they have. I have seen many, but one that I have put off for a very long time was one of the worst ones ever made, the subject of this particular review: Manos, The Hands Of Fate. But finally, my inner Movie-Watchin’ Masochist got me to watch the copy that came in one of those 50 Horror Movies for $20 packs. The horror. The horror. And not the good kind, either.

What we got here is essentially a movie that was made on a bet by a dentist claiming that making a movie was easy enough that even he could do it. So he did. With a local theater troupe, a hand-wound 16mm camera that could only take 32 seconds of footage at a time, and a budget that would make a shoestring seem like blockbuster money.

Manos: The Hands Of Fate tells the tale of a couple and their whiny young daughter and equally annoying doggie taking a drive in their convertible out in the desert, on their way to a vacation getaway in the middle of nowhere. Obviously, they get lost, and after getting worthless directions from a couple making out, and after driving and driving and driving and driving through many a cut scene, they end up even more lost, with twilight coming upon them, before stopping at a building they figure they could spend the night at. They’re met by an odd gentleman with an odd walk and an even more odd way of talking, telling them that his master doesn’t want them to stay there. But then he lets them stay there. Then the dog disappears, then the young daughter, then the curator of the building begins to creep on the wife, stuff happens, and then the aforementioned Master awakens, along with his wives, who then argue about letting the wife stay and be part of the cult’s harem or not. I wish I could say “wackiness ensues”, but I would be lying.

So, this movie was made, and was immediately lost to the void of cheep independent Z-Movie Hell, as nature intended. But, decades later, because humanity is being punished for our sins, the movie was rediscovered and given a mutated new life of Cult Status, due to its So-Bad-It’s-Good nature. I call it the Ed Wood Effect.

Manos: The Hands Of Fate has the magical effect of bending time and space, making you think that the running time is hours upon hours longer than it really is, and your perception of reality after watching it will make you stare into the void for hours afterwards, trying to process what exactly it was you just watched. Watching Manos: The Hands Of Fate made me want to re-watch The Room for something fast-paced and exciting. I hope you’re getting the point, here. Manos: The Hands Of Fate has the excitement of watching your Great Aunt’s old vacation videos. Even the MST3K working barely made it watchable. I happened to watch it without the help of the boys in the Satellite of Love. Watch at your own peril.

Movie Review: WONDER WOMAN

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wonder womanWarner Bros.
PG-13
2017

“I used to want to save the world, this beautiful place. But the closer you get, the more you see the great darkness within. I learned this the hard way, a long, long time ago.”

Before she was Wonder Woman, she was Diana, princess of the Amazons, trained to be an unconquerable warrior. Raised on a sheltered island paradise, Diana meets an American pilot who tells her about the massive conflict that’s raging in the outside world. Convinced that she can stop the threat, Diana leaves her home for the first time. Fighting alongside men in a war to end all wars, she finally discovers her full powers and true destiny.

So, by now, if you’re reading this, you fall in one of three categories: 1) you’ve already watched Wonder Woman (perhaps multiple times), 2) you have yet to watch Wonder Woman, as you’re still iffy about the possible quality due to the track record of the previous DC movies in the past couple of years, or 3) you’re trying to find something to be angry about to satisfy your inner sense of political self-righteousness. I wish I could say I was joking about that last part.

Anyway, Wonder Woman. Officially the fourth movie in DC’s Extended Universe, this one had the stigma of needing to be not as bad as the previous films turned out to be. I say this as the general overall perception of the previous films; you might recall that I ended up liking Man Of Steel a bit more than most of all fandom did. Batman v. Superman was a hot mess, while Suicide Squad was also a hot mess, but a far more entertaining hot mess. As such, by the time Wonder Woman rolled around, my expectations were rather low. All the movie had to do was not suck obnoxiously, and it would be the best DCEU movie of the bunch. And on that basic front, Wonder Woman succeeded. Boy howdy, did it succeed.

After a prologue scene where Diana Prince receives a special package from some guy named Bruce Wayne, we’re taken back to the Greek island of Themyscira, the home of warrior women called the Amazons, at a time when she was a precocious little tot who wanted so badly to be a warrior like everyone else, but her mother–Queen Hippolyta–would rather she pursue a more mundane existence, for her own good. Diana’s aunt, however, disagrees with the sentiment, and begins training the young girl in secret. In time, though, they are found out, which leads to…Diana getting even more training. And after a surprise hint as to Diana’s true nature, in comes the first male to visit Themyscira since ever, with WWI pilot Steve Trevor crashing into the coast. After Diana rescues him, the Germans soon invade, causing havoc and, after interrogating Trevor, Diana decides that Aries, the god of War is behind this World War (under the guise of German General Ludendorff), and sets off to kill him to bring peace to mankind. After a brief stint in London, Diana, Trevor and a motley crew travel to the front lines, where Diana wastes no time in invading No Man’s Land, takes out a machine gun nest, whups a bunch of Germans into submission, and punches a tower (the tower loses) to liberate a small Belgium village from the occupation it was under. However, General Ludendorff decides to wipe out the village the next day with a big ol’ Mustard Gas bomb, which pisses Diana off even further, and she goes off and manages to kill Ludendorff…only Ludendorff isn’t Aries. In a twist that everyone saw coming miles away, the real Aries shows up, he tries to explain that mankind isn’t under his spell, that mankind is capable of all sorts of atrocities by themselves, which clashes with Diana’s sense of altruism, which leads to a big fight with lots of damage and ‘splosions and stuff. Meanwhile, Trevor sacrifices himself to save London from being hit with a cargo plane full of Mustard Gas, Aries is defeated, and we flash back to current times where Diana decides that the power of love will blah blah blah, something-something I’m Wonder Woman now. The end.

It took them a few times in this shared universe of theirs, but DC has finally stumbled upon the formula for making a superhero movie feel like a genuine superhero movie. The tone and feel really brings back the sense of (no pun intended) wonder that Richard Donner’s Superman The Movie did, where you’re watching and manage to go beyond seeing some actor dressed as Wonder Woman, and believing it really is Wonder Woman. With maybe the exception of the CGI heavy boss fight at the end (yeah, it did feel like a video game cut scene), the two-and-a-half run time didn’t seem that long at all.

I went into Wonder Woman expecting it to fail, and wound up suddenly having hope for the other DC movies coming up after this. We’ll see. In the meantime, if you still haven’t seen Wonder Woman, go do so now while it’s still in theaters. Assuming you’re reading this while it still is.

Movie Review: FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM

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fantastic beastsWarner Bros.
2016
PG-13

“I don’t think I’m dreaming.”
“What gave it away?”
“I ain’t got the brains to make this up.”

The year is 1926, and Newt Scamander has just completed a global excursion to find and document an extraordinary array of magical creatures. Arriving in New York for a brief stopover, he might have come and gone without incident, were it not for a No-Maj (American for Muggle) named Jacob, a misplaced magical case, and the escape of some of Newt’s fantastic beasts, which could spell trouble for the wizarding and No-Maj worlds.

I am not a Harry Potter fan. There, I said it. I have nothing against the series of books and films, and I acknowledge the phenomenon for what it is. I’ve never read the books, but I have watched all of the movies. When you date someone who is a massive fan, watching the movies was inevitable. They’re not bad. Not planning on reviewing them any time soon, mind you; what I’m trying to get at is, the Harry Potter series isn’t really my thing, and I hold no animosity against anyone who does. I write this for the benefit of anyone thinking of taking to whatever social media they use to call down fire on me for not liking what you like, therefore I must automatically hate it. Don’t be stupid.

Now that the disclaimer has been made, let’s move on to the first spinoff movie set in the Harry Potter Universe, Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them. This one, I actually kind of wanted to see when I first saw the trailer at some other movie I was waiting for to start. I understood it had its basis in the fictional text book in the main Harry Potter movies (remember, I’ve never read the books, so I personally can’t use those as a point of reference), with the story surrounding the adventures of the man who eventually would write that text book. The reason why I had an interest in see it was due to it being set in the early 20th Century New York. I am a sucker for period pieces, especially when united with sci fi and fantasy like this.

The movie itself, which I did see in the theater on opening weekend, turned out to be rather enjoyable. While the trailer makes it look like Fantastic Beasts & Where To Find Them is about a search for a bunch of magical creatures that have escaped and are roaming about in 1920s New York. And, at its base, it is…but this being part of the so-called Potterverse, there’s a bit more than that, with the search for the fantastical beasts being more of the incidental bit that leads to the overall wackiness that ensues.

So, we have this misfit wizard traveling the globe, documenting the titular fantastic beasts in their natural habitats, arriving in New York for one of his stops, where he suddenly finds his suitcase–where he has his collection of fantastic beasts–was accidentally switched with a similar one owned by a would-be baker wanting to get a small loan to open a bakery. So now, instead of the fantastic beasts, the suitcase is filled with baked goods. Also, a marsupial with a TARDIS-like pouch and a thing for shiny items has escaped. The Baker and the Wizard team up to find the escaped critter, they run into a member of the American branch of the Magic Police, who have their own hands full with…something. Bigger. Soon, the Wizard, the Baker and…not the Candlestick Maker (and her sister) find themselves tied up with a bigger conspiracy within the magic community, one that has ties to a certain wizard school across the pond in England. Whimsical wackiness and wanton destruction ensues.

So, overall, yeah. Rather enjoyed Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them. Everyone was good in their rolls (though I got a nagging feeling Eddie Redmayne was trying to channel Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor for his portrayal of Newt), the effects were good, and the story itself kept my rapt attention throughout the course of the run time. Taken on its own merits, Fantastic Beasts ranks as a memorable fantasy flick that should be checked out at least once.

Movie Review: BAD KIDS OF CRESTVIEW ACADAMY

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Movie Review BAD KIDS OF CRESTVIEW ACADEMYSony
2017
R

It’s four years later, and a new group of students has been placed in Saturday detention at the infamous and prestigious Crestview Acadey. When Siouxsie, sophomore ‘undercrust,’ crashes the party to avenge her sister’s death, a Saturday detention reserved for the privileged seniors of Crestview Academy turns into a date in hell. It’s not long before a naive pussycat lover, gay drug dealer, smokin’ hot preacher’s daughter, squeaky-clean senator’s son, and the uninvited younger outsider find themselves locked-up in school with no way out, wondering who (or what) has set them up. Hilarity and suspense ensue while each ‘bad kid’ pits one against the other, and one by one each falls victim to absurdly gruesome ‘accidents’ while trying to escape.

On the strength of the better-than-it-should-have-been Bad Kids Go To Hell, I decided to immediately watch it’s sequel, Bad Kids Of Crestview Academy, as kind of a back-to-back double feature. The result was…well, I’m not surprised, let’s just say.

I’ll just come out and say that Bad Kids Of Crestview Academy is a lackluster sequel, and kind of a mediocre movie in and of itself. We have the same basic premise of the first–weekend detention with a whole new bunch of stereotypes kids, only one of them has infiltrated their upper crust clique’ to solve the murder of her older sister at a party.

Mind you, things are a bit more subverted with the plot when compared to the first movie, as the kids never get to the library (it’s locked and no one knows the security code), and the whole conspiracy hinted at in the first one is more to the fore here. And there’s no implication of any kind of “hauntings” here, just a bunch of serial killer offings of everyone until the culprit is revealed in the third act, with the remaining movie kind of losing steam until the end.

It really says something that the best parts of this movie involved brief scenes with Sean “Still Working After Lord Of The Rings” Astin, taking over from Judd Nelson as Headmaster Nash, who hams it up with cheerful abandon. Outside of that, we have characters who lean more towards annoying rather than quirky, there are so many flashback scenes injected in the main narrative that it would give Quentin Tarantino a headache, and the big reveal of who’s doing the killing is revealed rather early in the movie (not that we didn’t finger the culprit early on just by virtue of having seen so many of these things to begin with…also, there’s a scene that not-so-subtly gives things away if you pay attention), turning the rest of the movie into a siege movie for the last third.

Bad Kids Of Crestview Acadamy was “Meh”. I didn’t enjoy it as much as the movie it was a sequel to, but at least it didn’t try to just rehash the entire plot of that one. This movie needed more involvement from Sean Astin, for certain. Watch it if the thought of not seeing the sequel gets you twitchy, otherwise you can just skip this one.

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