Movie Review: ATTACK OF THE KILLER TOMATOES!

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attack of the killer tomatoesNAI Entertainment
1978
PG

“We have convince the little housewife out there that the tomato that ate the family pet is not dangerous!”

 

For years, I’ve been seeking out this particular no-budget ultra cheese fest that is Attack Of The Killer Tomatoes!. Ever since spying the old VHS cover at the local Applause Video store back in the 1980s, and repeatedly being denied a rental by the parents (despite the PG rating). Yeah, I had an interesting childhood, there. Anyway, that title stuck in my head for years, kept fresh–no pun intended–with spinoff sequels and a short-lived cartoon series. I even watched the first sequel, Return Of The Killer Tomatoes, a few years ago on Netflix. But it was the original ultra low-budget horror/sci-fi/comedy/musical from 1978 that was my holy grail, the one I wanted to watch, simply out of sheer morbid curiosity. Finally, it was recently that I was able to watch this elusive flick by way of Amazon streaming. So, I giddily settled down and prepared for the worst.

I have to admit, even I was barely prepared for what transpired. Attack Of The Killer Tomatoes! is a level of bad that will leave you wide-eyed and jaw-agape with trying to decipher what just happened.

The story involves a sudden uprising of attacks made by tomatoes. It’s right there in the title. As the American government tries to calm down a panicking citizenry, a team of specialists is put together to stop the tomato uprising. The plot thins as they try to infiltrate the tomato hordes, and uncover a conspiracy behind everything that’s happening. There’s also a news reporter hounding the crack team. Nothing seems to stop these tomatoes…nothing, except a certain hit pop song that is so terrible, even the sheet music will cause them to give up and die.

Watching this movie was almost a spiritual experience. Attack Of The Killer Tomatoes is a bad movie. And it knows that, and gives zero cares anyway. The acting is bad, the jokes are cringe-worthy, the songs even more so, and the editing and story will confuse you more often than not. When the end credits roll, you will be left with more questions than you came in with, along with a strange tingly sensation that is the signal that your brain gave up partway through and started playing Minecraft over in the corner while you inexplicably continued to watch it to the end. In short, Attack Of The Killer Tomatoes is so bad, everyone needs to watch it. Behold, the epitome of so-bad-its-good cinema. Throw it on some night with friends, along with various tomato-themed items for the full effect. You’re welcome.

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Movie Review: GREMLINS 2

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Movie Review_ GREMLINS 2Warner Bros.
1990
PG-13

“They put me on at 3am. People who are awake at 3am aren’t afraid of the Wolfman. The only thing that frightens those people is sobering up and going to work.”

The rules are the same but the laughs are bigger and the thrills are better. This time Billy and everyone’s favorite Mogwai, Gizmo, must face off against a new batch of Gremlins that definitely think New York is their kind of town.

There’s no denying that the original Gremlins is a classic. It managed to take a standard horror movie premise and turn it into a whimsical Christmas gem, which remains so to this day. So, of course it was inevitable that it would get a sequel to cash in on all the merchandising…er, movie magic that it’s spawned since. The only problem being that they waited six years to actually make one. And while the suits at Warner Bros. and Amblin Entertainment managed to get the original director Joe Dante to make the sequel, Dante had no interest whatsoever to do so.

And who could blame him? The story in the original Gremlins was wrapped up nicely, with Mr. Wing walking off into the night with Gizmo, back to the safety of his shop, after a night of terrifying wackiness. Gremlins didn’t really need a sequel. And on the cusp of the Summer of 1990, we got a sequel, whether we wanted one or not. And boy howdy, what a sequel.

I don’t think anybody was prepared for what we got when we sat down in the theater seats, awaiting the second installment of mogwai wackiness. If we were expecting something like the first one, we were sorely disappointed. Instead, we were treated to a biting satire of sequels in general, as well as a gleeful deconstruction of the first Gremlins movie.

We begin this movie with the death of Mr. Wing, along with the demolition of his shop, forcing Gizmo to vacate and suddenly finding himself the acquired property of scientists working in a New York high-rise business building owned by the Clamp Corporation. Coincidentally, this is where Billy and Kate from the first movie have ended up working at, and manage to rescue Gizmo. Of course, it’s just a matter of time before two of the Three Rules get violated, and soon the entire business building is overrun by the nasty scaly gremlins. And one of ’em has gained some super-intelligence and has plans for world domination.

Of course, when I first watched this movie in the theaters back in 1990, I didn’t really like it as much as the first one. Because, like pretty much everyone else, we were expecting something like the first movie, and were confused as to the tone and general absurdity of this one. While the concept of different style of mutated gremlins was cool (Spider Gremlin! Electo-Gremlin! Super-smart Gremlin with the voice of Tony Randall!), we also got a very thinly veiled jab at the movie industry’s need to do sequels that gleefully goes for the jugular. The Clamp Corporation is clearly a send-up of the Ted Turner mass media empire of the day, complete with a division that handles the colorization of classic movies. We have the late, great Christopher Lee as a mad scientist that stumbles upon the whole genetic splicing of the Gremlins thing. There’s also a wacky meta thing where the Gremlins apparently break into the theater you’re watching this at and breaks the film, causing Hulk Hogan to get rather annoyed at it. I am not making that up. Apparently, there’s an alternate take of this bit for the VHS release, but I’ve only really watched this at the theater when it was released, then on one of the premium cable movie channels at my grandparents’ place whenever it was on when I was visiting, so I only know the theater-centric version. And, to top it all off, the big climatic ending involves a musical number.

And it is just that kind of gleeful abandon and surreal absurdity that, over time, makes Gremlins 2: The New Batch to be just as good–dare I say, even better–that the original Gremlins. Because you cannot compare this with its original counterpart. This is a perfect example of comparing apples with pineapples. They both have the word “apple” in their names, but they are completely different fruits. Or, a berry and a fruit, if you want to get pedantic about apples technically being berries or whatever. What I’m trying to say is, Gremlins 2 is a different entity in and of itself.

So, watch and enjoy Gremlins 2, and admit to liking it. Just don’t try and compare it with its predecessor.

Movie Review: IDIOCRACY

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idiocracy movie poster20th Century Fox
2006
R

Welcome to AOL Time Warner Taco Bell US Government Long Distance. Please say the name of the person you wish to call.

Meet Joe Bowers. He’s not the sharpest tool in the shed. But when a government hibernation experiment goes awry, Bowers awakens in the year 2505 to find a society so dumbed-down by mass commercialism and mindless TV programming that he’s become the smartest guy on the planet. Now it’s up to an average Joe to get human evolution back on track!

Poe’s Law: an internet adage which states that, without a clear indicator of the author’s intent, parodies of extreme views will be mistaken by some readers or viewers for sincere expressions of the parodied views. Mostly, this is seen on the internet, when someone mistakes an Onion article for the real deal, and uses that as the basis for alarm and whatnot. It’s easily done, as the written word has virtually no way to convey the subtle nuances like voice inflection or body language to help indicate the proper “I’m being sarcastic” underpinnings. That’s why there are emoji’s and memes and stuff, so that no one on the interwebs will have to worry about “context” or “critical thinking” to make their brains hurt.

Which brings me to Mike Judge’s 2006 feature comedy, Idiocracy. I can’t remember if this one ever made it to the theater in Fremont, NE back when it was released; and I would have remembered if it did, as I worked at the Radio Shack that was in the same mall as the town’s movie multi-plex. To be fair, Idiocracy may have hit a bit too close to home to your standard Fremont dweller, so maybe it was a good thing that was never seen there.

Gads, the sarcasm is flowing a bit extra heavy from me today. I’d better get on with the review before I melt down.

Idiocracy is a brilliant satire. I wouldn’t go so far as say “genius”, but it’s definitely a brilliant piece of satire disguised as an absurdest comedy of sorts. It’s the kind of movie that makes you laugh at the absurdity of it all, but then, hours after the movie’s ended, the more you think about it, the more you come to find how the story and plot is beginning to resonate a bit more seriously, because you can totally see it happening one day. Maybe the movie just amplified and exaggerated the smaller things you come across and have to deal with every day in this real world of ours.

In the end, though, Idiocracy deserves inclusion in your movie library. You need to watch this at least once. Not because I think it’s an eye-opening documentary (it’s not)…that would be skirting close to the aforementioned Poe’s Law, there. Instead, think of Idiocracy as Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World filtered through National Lampoon. The good National Lampoon.

Music Review: THANK YOU FOR SMOKING

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Movie Review: THANK YOU FOR SMOKINGRoom 9 Entertainment
2005
R

“Michael Jordan plays ball. Charlie Manson kills people. I talk.”

As the Vice President of and the chief spokesman for the Academy of Tobacco Studies, Nick Naylor is the best at what he does. Which happens to be being the public spokesperson defender of smoker’s rights, providing information for the “other” side of the Big Tobacco hot button. Basically, he’s a spin-doctor, a devil’s advocate in this era of Truth.com propaganda. Emphasis on the “devil” part. And he’s got his hands full, with an uptight senator, a backstabbing boss, smarmy Hollywood execs, a rich (and dying) tobacco baron, a conniving (and rather comely) newspaper reporter, and- probably his biggest challenge of all- his son, who worships him as a hero…

I must say, I completely enjoyed this movie. It’s the kind of dark comedy that pokes fun at both sides of a hot-button topic (this of course being the anti-smoking and anti-Big Tobacco wackiness that’s been going on of late). On the one hand, you’ve got this guy who’s clearly made out to be a detestable antihero, yet he’s so charming and charismatic, you can’t help but like the guy and see things his way (even if you strongly disagree with what he represents). Then, you’ve got the Senator and crusaders looking to curb the sale of something that poses a potential health risk in humans, and they’re made out to be rather uptight with an “ends justifies the means” attitude with their crusade. No one is made out to be clearly good or clearly evil. It doesn’t shove any side of the moral issue down your throats. It simply presents both sides of the smoking issue…

…in a tongue-firmly-in-cheek, satirical and darkly funny way. It made me think, and also used the absurd to point out the absurd. To whit, I loved how, in one crucial scene, smoking actually saved Nicks life. Now that’s good ironic satire…

Most of the actors handled their parts very well…save for, perhaps, Cameron Bright, who you may remember as the young psychotic brother in the movie Butterfly Effect (at first I mistook him for Jake “DON’T CALL ME ANIKAN SKYWALKER!” Lloyd…I mean, he had the cheeks goin’ there…it was an easy mistake, really…and the same acting chops). His overall delivery was like that of a first-day-on-the-job outbound telemarketer still getting the hang of the script reading part, it was that wooden and lifeless. Otherwise, great movie, without all that needless moralizing going on…recommended…

Movie Review: BORAT

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borat20th Century Fox
2006
R

Borat is a gregarious journalist from Kazakhstan who’s proud of what he portrays as his misogynistic, racist, poverty-stricken and backward homeland, which he touts in his broken English as the “No. 1 producer of potassium in all world.” The Kazakh Ministry of Information sends Borat on a special assignment to the “US and A” so he can document on camera insights from “the greatest country in the world.” But after arriving in New York City, the overly friendly outsider gets hit with a Mack truck-size reality: Not all Americans are forthcoming, nor do they take kindly to some of his “people’s” ways of life. Stranger-In-A-Strange-Land level wackiness ensues with a vengeance…

To describe this movie, I would liken Borat as one of those faux-documentary style movies by Christopher Guest (This Is Spinal Tap, Best In Show, A Mighty Wind) done by South Park creators Parker and Stone to get the general idea of what’s in store. This movie is incredibly offensive, racist, and irreverent…in other words, it’s freaking hilarious. Really, it’s more on the level of using the absurd to point out the absurd. Pretty much from the first moments of the movie to the final reel, I was taken on a gut-bursting tour-de-force of “I can’t believe he went there, and I can’t believe I’m laughing at it” hilarity, tears streaming down my face and my stomach cramping from the excessive doubling over in laughter. What makes this work is the fact that hardly anyone he interviews or interacts with are in on the joke. Some of the reactions are quite telling, to be sure. I loved the movie. This isn’t really for anyone who’s easily offended, or can’t separate satire from real life…unless you’re like me, and consider all of life to be one dark satire. Either way, I loved it…

Movie Review: STAN HELSING

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stan-helsing-officialAnchor Bay Entertainment
2009
R

“Say, this is a fantasy. You don’t walk out on a fantasy like that.”

There’s a difference between horror movie comedies that are spoofs and satires. And I do prefer satires over spoofs, really. You can tell the difference over the quality. Look at a movie like Shaun Of The Dead or Suck (satire), and compare it to the Scary Movie series, or Vampires Suck (spoofs) and you too will understand.

In the case of Stan Helsing, this movie falls squarely under the “spoof” heading. And it’s not just me; the actual opening credits have the words “A Spoof” in them. The nail in the coffin has to be the inclusion of a couple of Scary Movie alums: Kenan Thompson and the once-great Leslie Nielsen, who can’t seem to get anything other than parts in sad spoof movies like these anymore.

So, essentially, the story of Stan Helsing involves a slacker video clerk (played by the chowder-headed son-in-law on the TV show Reba) trying to get to a party on Halloween night with his best friend and their dates, only to get lost along the way and encounter a bunch of weird chaps and monsters, eventually winding up in a ghost town and discovering that he’s a decedent of Van Helsing, and has to do battle with a bunch of spoofs of horror movie monsters.

Like the Scary Movie, um, movies, Stan Helsing is chock full of unfunny and forced “humor” that’s been a staple of these kind of movies since the beginning of the 21st Century. The acting is the usual over-the-top “I’m in a comedy and I’m being wacky!” type you would expect, and the script is rife with juvenile and crude non-funny stuff that only 13-year-old potheads would appreciate. I don’t think I ever really laughed at all while watching this. And the worst blow to this are the “spoofs” of the modern horror monster classics: Pinhead (“Needlehead”), Michael Meyers (“Michael Crier”), Leatherface (“Pleatherface”), Jason (“Mason”…they weren’t even trying, were they?) and Chucky (“Lucky”…oh, for crying out loud, here). The sad thing is, “Mason” here is played by Ken Kirzinger, the guy who portrayed Jason in the Freddy Vs. Jason movie…you know, the Jason with the “sad, poetic eyes”? Yeah, that guy. SHAME.

So, yeah. Stan Helsing is an utter waste of 90 minutes. Avoid this smelly mess.

Movie Review: IRON SKY

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iron-sky-movie-posterEntertainment One
2012
R

“All presidents who start a war in their first term get re-elected.”

The Nazis set up a secret base on the moon in 1945 where they hide out and plan to return to power in 2018.

Once in a while, there comes a movie that has a premise that pretty much guarantees that I shall watch it, probably with some of my like-minded friends.  Shaun Of The Dead, Snakes On A Plane and Zombieland spring to mind.  And Iron Sky had the same kind of premise that meant that I was going to be joining with a couple of the usual movie watchin’ suspects by the time it reached our neck of the woods.

Two words: Moon Nazis.  Oh, the trailer Nex sent me looked so promising – a bunch of descendants of the Third Reich that somehow managed to escape to the dark side of the moon near the end of World War 2, and set up base there, biding their time building up invasion fleets and a doomsday weapon for the right time to return to Earth and take over.

The year is now 2018, and the current United States President – who looks, sounds, and acts suspiciously like a former Alaskan Governor…although she’s never named – has, in a desperate act of political manipulation, sent the first African American to the moon, only to have him accidently stumble upon the Moon Nazis (gads, I love saying that). Obviously, the Moon Nazis (giggle) think that the Allied forces on Earth are mounting an invasion, so they decide to expedite their own invasion.  But, before they do that, the send the ruthless and ambitious Klaus Adler, who is next in line to be Moon Fuhrer, to prepare for the invasion.  Ham-fisted political satire ensues.

Now, I consider myself an equal opportunity satirist.  And when it comes to political satires, you might say I’m multi-partisan.  I take kind of a Mark Twain kinda philosophy when it comes to politics.  Problem with political satires is, most of them tend to be one-sided with things, coming off almost like a propaganda movie disguised as a clever comedy.  When done right, though, it can get anyone laughing at themselves, despite their personal philosophies and such.

Iron Sky, fortunately, didn’t come off as a movie with an agenda.  There’s a lot of over-the-top caricatures, and the contrast between old school Nazis versus  modern American political image spinning (I’m not quite sure if the Madame President character was identified with a particular party technically, but you can probably make an educated guess).  There were quite a few chuckles to be had in this movie, as at Iron Sky’s heart lays a black comedy.  I enjoyed thing like how the Moon Nazi’s technology was pretty much stunted and remained in, for lack of a better word, a steampunk style, and when finally confronted with something as simple as Astronaut Washington’s iPhone, their minds are blown.  And how, when confronted with the preliminary Moon Nazi invasion (I just can’t get tired of typing that…Moon Nazi, Moon Nazi, Moon Nazi…ahem…), the President embraces their ideologies as being similar to good American values.  Also, SPACE BATTLES!  ‘SPLOSIONS!  And an ending that would make any fan of the movie Dr. Strangelove shed a tear in admiration.

Mind you, Iron Sky isn’t a perfect movie.  I did think it ran a bit longer than it should have, and there was less focus on the sci-fi goodness, and more on the whole political ideologies and such than I could handle without thinking, “Guys, co’mon.”  But, it was a much better movie than what it could have become.  And also, Laibach scored the soundtrack.  In the end, Iron Sky was a decent movie.  Not exactly what I expected, but it amused me for a couple of hours.  After that, though, I wouldn’t really put it up there with the likes of Dr. Strangelove.  I am amused by how there’s a lot of outrage against this movie online, from both those who thought this was too  anti-American, or too pro-American.  Heh.  I’ll give it points for that.