Movie Review: MYSTERY MEN

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mystery men
Universal
1999
PG-13

“Why am I doing this again?”
“When you can balance a tack hammer on your head, you will dead off your foes with a balanced attack.”
“And why am I wearing the watermelon on my feet?”
“I don’t remember telling you to do that.”

  • When Captain Amazing, Champion City’s legendary superhero, falls into the hands of the evil madman Casanova Frankenstein and his disco-dancing henchmen, there’s suddenly a chance for the aspiring superheroes to show what they can do. They’re the Mystery Men…a ragtag team of superhero wannabes featuring: Mr. Furious, whose power comes from his boundless rage; The Shoveler, a father who shovels “better than anyone”; The Blue Raja, a fork-flinging mama’s boy; The Bowler, who fights crime with the help of her father’s skull; The Spleen, whose power is pure flatulence; Invisible Boy, who’s only invisible when no one’s watching; and The Sphinx, a cliche-spewing philosopher.

Nowadays, deconstructing superheros is kind of old hat. Movies like The Incredibles, Super, Megamind, and of course The Watchmen have us looking at superheroes in a humanizing light. It’s second nature now to want to get Superman on a psychiatric couch, rather than marvel at his feats of…well, superhero-ing. Yeah, that’s the best I can come up with before coffee.

Anyway, there was a period not too long ago, when movies deconstructing superheroes weren’t all that numerous. There were a handful, yes, but some would say that they were ahead of their time. 1999’s Mystery Men falls into that category.

Based on side characters created in Flaming Carrot Comics, the Mystery Men consist of blue-collar, B-list superheroes with questionable powers banding together to fight EVIL! Well, okay, more to the point, stumble about and fail upwards. The movie follows the standard Evil Threatens To Overtake City > Main Hero Gets Taken Out > Bunch Of Other Heroes Band Together > Training Montage With Legacy Mentor > Overcoming Personal Obstacles > Saving The Day kind of structure that’s familiar with any story involving superhero team-ups.

I recall watching this movie in the second-run theater I frequent in Omaha back in 1999. I was amused, but not really that impressed. The heroes here are quite inventive with their powers; I especially dug on The Bowler, mainly because she was played by Janeane Garofalo, and she carried around a clear bowling ball with a human skull embedded inside it. I was in love. That said, I think that the major downfall for this movie was the facts that 1) it was based on a really obscure comic book that not too many people have heard of, even within hardcore comic book fandom, and 2) this was still only a couple of years removed from the foul stench that was the Batman & Robin movie. Sure, 1998’s Blade was a step in the right direction, but we were still a year away from 2000’s X-Men, when we could love comic book superhero movies again.

Overall: While it’s a decent enough movie, Mystery Men doesn’t really warrant another rental watch. I might leave it on the channel it’s playing on if I happen to come across it on cable or something, but the chances of that happening in this internet age is slim to none. Otherwise, it’s worth at least one watch some weekend afternoon if you have nothing better to do.

Movies+Beer: BRIGHTBURN

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brightburn-banner

Brian, Andrea and James Classic took in a showing of the Superhero Horror flick Brightburn, then went to Sean O’Casey’s to talk about it…

Movie Review: GLASS

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glass movie posterUniversal Pictures
2019
PG-13

“What do we call you, sir?”
“First name, Mister. Last name, Glass.”

M. Night Shyamalan brings together the narratives of two of his standout originals—2000’s Unbreakable, from Touchstone, and 2016’s Split, from Universal—in one explosive, all-new comic-book thriller: Glass. From Unbreakable, Bruce Willis returns as David Dunn as does Samuel L. Jackson as Elijah Price, known also by his pseudonym Mr. Glass. Joining from Split are James McAvoy, reprising his role as Kevin Wendell Crumb and the multiple identities who reside within, and Anya Taylor-Joy as Casey Cooke, the only captive to survive an encounter with The Beast. Following the conclusion of Split, Glass finds Dunn pursuing Crumb’s superhuman figure of The Beast in a series of escalating encounters, while the shadowy presence of Price emerges as an orchestrator who holds secrets critical to both men.

After being surprised by how good the movie Split was, I found myself actually looking forward to the green-lit final chapter in M. Night Shayamalan’s superhero trilogy, which started with Unbreakable back in 2000. The trailers that finally were released did a great job in showing just enough to keep me intrigued about what the movie was going to be, while not really spoiling anything in the process. I even managed to get Brian+Andrea to come along and watch, and then we recorded a podcast about it:

SPOILERS!

For the most part, i found myself rather satisfied with this final entry in the trilogy. I had some theories that cropped up from watching the trailer, mainly wondering if this was all going to be like that episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer where she wakes up in a psychiatric ward and we’re left wondering what was the real world and which was the fantasy. Well…kind of yes, kind of no. Not to get into spoilery details (you’ve been warned), but the movie did a pretty good job story-wise throwing doubt as to whether these so-called super-powers were real or imaginary. Until the end, mind you, when the big twist happens and I was left wondering if I liked the way it ended or not. I’m still rather up in the air about that, and I probably won’t really come to a firm conclusion. I am, however, leaning a bit towards Didn’t Like Entirely, But It Doesn’t Ruin The Movie as far as the ending goes.

The movie itself is a nicely shot slow-burn, building up to a rather explosive showdown between Bruce Willis’s protagonist, and James McAvoy’s Beast personality. Everyone is great in their respective roles; however, it’s once again James McAvoy that steals the show with how deftly he’s able to switch different personality traits convincingly like that. Bruce Willis does a pretty good Bruce Willis, as always, and Samuel L. Jackson…well, what can I say? He’s the man. He plays the titular character pretty much catatonic for the first half of this movie, and still maintains a strong presence in the scenes he’s in. And when he actually does begin to put things into play, it’s just awesome to watch him work. There’s a scene where he is just watching The Beast take out a couple of guards, and he manages to act more with his face than many other actors can manage in entire movies.

Overall, though the movie did unravel a bit with the last 20 minutes or so, and I’m still not entirely satisfied with how things ended, Glass is still far better than it should be with a movie of this kind of scope. Glass could have been just another haphazardly slapped together sequel to capitalize on the popularity of the last movie; instead, there was attention paled to details that pretty much begs for more than just one viewing. However, I would probably recommend a matinee viewing, if you’re going to catch this in the theater. Recommended.

Movie Review: ATTACK FROM SPACE

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attack from spaceWalter Marley Enterprises Inc.
1964
NR

Back in the later part of the 1950s, there was a series of short films produced in Japan featuring a superhero names Super Giants. Note I said “a” – singular – superhero, that goes by the name “Super Giants” – plural. It’s one guy, who is also not so giant–he’s regular size. His origin story goes that he is a human-like being created from the strongest steel by the Peace Council of the Emerald Planet to destroy evil and restore peace in the universe. There were nine total short films in the series, all of which were purchased by Walter Marley Enterprises and Medallion Films for television distribution here in the United States.

Of course, here in the States, instead of showing them in their original cuts, we had to edit some of them together into movie-length features, renamed the main hero Starman, resulting in some completely bonkers sci-fi flicks. Attack From Space was one of those movies.

Featuring an edit of the 5th and 6th films in the original series, Attack From Space has our hero Super Gi…er, I mean Starman sent to Earth to protect us from the jerks from the Sapphire Galaxy, who want to conquer our universe. For what reason, I don’t know. Prime real estate? Closer proximity to Starbucks? Regardless, they want our world, and they begin by kidnapping Earth scientist Dr. Yamanaka and take him another satellite of EVIL! And it’s up to the goofy looking Starman and a couple of annoying Earth kids to save Dr. Yamanaka and the Earth from the Sapphireans’ Death Star! And no, that wasn’t a joke. They really have a “death star”.

Attack From Space is one of those mind-bendingly bad movies that you enjoy like one enjoys an old-timey Flash Gordon serial: by repressing your logic sensors and enjoying the weirdness in all its low-budget glory. Revel in the goofiest-looking superhero get-up you’ll ever lay your eyes upon. Marvel at the level of earnest cheese of the plot. Try not to have your head explode over the blatant abuse of logic. And remember to have all of your friends with copious amounts of adult beverages around when you watch this.

Movie Review: BATMAN & ROBIN

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batman & robinWarner Bros.
1997
PG-13

“What killed the dinosaurs? The Ice Age!”

So, here we are, at what is universally thought of as not only the worst Batman movie, but maybe the worst superhero movie ever made. I personally disagree with the later assertion (Catwoman? Barb Wire? Freakin’ Superman IV, anyone?); as to the previous — that this is the worst Batman movie — yes. I whole-heartedly agree that Batman & Robin is a rank pile of bat-guano. Pun intended.

Again, I watched Batman & Robin the weekend it was released. I went with my brother-from-a-different-mother Scott. We’re both aficionados of bad, cheesy movies; watching Batman & Robin was nearly our undoing. That’s right, people. I deliberately watch movies like Manborg, and this was the movie that nearly broke me back in 1997.

Here’s the rundown: Batman (now played by George Clooney) and Robin (still played by Chris O’Donnell, but sporting a costume more in keeping with Nightwing) go up against the nefarious Mr. Freeze, who’s stealing the diamonds from the Gotham natural history museum to help power up his suit needed to keep him alive. Meanwhile, at a Wayne Enterprises lab in Brazil (wow, his corporation can be found anywhere), a Dr. Isley is helping to develop the Venom drug under Dr. Woodrue (hey, shout-out to the Swamp Thing, nifty), which leads into the creation of the hulking Bane. Then Dr. Woodrue tries to kill Dr. Isley, which only results in turning her into Poison Ivy and destroying everyone and everything in the lab, except for Bane, who is essentially her muscle, escaping to Gotham to wreak havoc on Wayne Enterprises. Meanwhile meanwhile, back at stately Wayne Mannor, Alfred Pennyworth’s niece, Barbara Wilson, surprise visits. Both Poison Ivy and Mr. Freeze crash a charity event attended by the Dynamic Duo, Robin starts getting all angsty with Batman, Alfred is dying from the same affliction that Mr. Freeze has, and Barbara stumbles upon the Batcave and becomes a nipple-less Batgirl. They all team up and defeat Poison Ivy, then head out to stop Mr. Freeze from freezing Gotham and making horrendous ice-based puns. They arrive at the spot a bit too late, is attacked by Bane, where Robin and Batgirl take him out, while Batman stops Mr. Freeze with hope for finding a cure for his wife. Also, a few punches. Gotham is de-iced, Alfred is cured (because of course he would be), and we end on the silhouettes of the three heroes running away from this awful movie. The end.

Batman & Robin is a glorious train wreck that is still talked about 20 years after the fact. It’s easily the worst superhero / comic book movie to have been released in 1997, and that was the year that the live-action Spawn movie was released. The camp is turn up to past 11, with every opportunity for puns exploited to full effect. If you groaned at the idea of Bat Shark Repellent from the 1966 Batman movie, you’re going to love things like the Bat Credit Card, pop-out ice skates in the boots, the numerous ice-based puns and one-liners that Arnold Schwarzenegger chews up and spits out at an 87% efficiency rating. To say nothing of the head-scratching decisions this movie decided to go with. Batgirl is now Alfred’s niece, and not the daughter of Commissioner Gordon? Bane is a meat-headed, non-articulate muscle regulated to Poison Ivy’s bodyguard, instead of the criminal mastermind who broke Batman in the comics? The Nightwing costume for Robin? George Clooney? Truly, Batman & Robin is the worst Batman movie ever made…

…and yet, I can’t not watch it whenever I stumble upon it. It’s horrible, yes, but it’s gloriously horrible. For the same reason I love the 1960s Adam West Batman series, I will watch Batman & Robin just to glory in the campy badness. Really, to quote a better Batman movie, Batman & Robin may not have been the Batman movie we wanted, but (for 1997) it was definitely the Batman movie we deserved for the time. Recommended to watch at least once.

Movie Review: BATMAN RETURNS

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batman returnsWarner Bros.
1992
PG-13

“Actually, this is all just a bad dream. You’re at home, in bed, heavily sedated, resting comfortably, dying from the carcinogens you personally spewed in a lifetime of profiteering. Tragic irony or poetic justice, you tell me.”

So, now that the world knows my thoughts on the 1989 Batman movie (and if you somehow missed it, it’s right here), you’re probably wondering if I happen to harbor the same “meh” reaction to the sequel, Batman Returns. Well…yes and no. And as always, there a long-winded story behind this.

Unlike the first Batman movie, I actually watched Batman Returns in the theater when it came out in the summer of 1992. And upon my first viewing of the movie, I wasn’t all that impressed. Looking back there were some factors that lent to that: The big one probably being expecting an action movie based on a comic book character. I was not expecting a really dark comedy disguised as an action movie.

It’s Christmastime (even though the movie was released in June, but whatever, it’s Christmas now), and after a flashback featuring a surprise Pee Wee Herman, we meet Salina Kyle, the rather put-upon secretary of Gotham business magnate Max Shreck, a man who, as the name suggests, is a very power man who probably fades away when the sun comes up. After accidentally discovering some nefarious doings Max’s company was involved in, Max personally pushes her out of a multi-story window, where she presumably dies but then brought back to life by ally cats. Meanwhile, there’s a deformed weirdo that dwells in Gotham’s surprisingly elaborate sewer system, calling himself the Penguin working with Shriek to become Mayor of Gotham. Between that and the appearance of Catwoman in the mix, Batman has his hands full this go-round.

Upon initial watching, I have to say I wasn’t very impressed with Batman Returns. It was just a little too weird for my tastes back then. Of course, as time passed and my tastes and sensibilities developed to what they are now, Batman Returns grew to become my favorite of the four Burton / Schumacher-era Batman movies. I’ve grown to appreciate the darkly Gothic weirdness, the bizarre twisted take of the comic book superhero world. The take on the Penguin here is gleefully terrifying, Catwoman proves to be a perfect foil to Batman (though I found myself wondering more than once how she could actually movie in that vacuum-sealed costume), and Gotham itself is a fever dream of a nightmarish Wonderland architecture. The fact that it is set during Christmas just adds to the ambience.

Overall, if you’re going to watch only one of the four Burton/Schumacher Batman movies, I recommend Batman Returns. Now, to relive the horrors that were the two following Batman movies…*shiver*

Movie Review: BLACK PANTHER

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black pantherMarvel Studios
2018
PG-13

“If you say one more word, I’ll feed you to my children! I’m kidding, we’re vegitarians.”

It’s been ten years since Marvel Studios kicked off their own private Cinematic Universe with Iron Man. Hard to believe we’ve come this far, with far more hits than misses under their belt. And here we are, finally with a proper introduction to the Black Panther.

It probably goes without saying (but I’mma say it anyway) that my familiarity with the Black Panther is rudimentary at best — a superhero king of Wakanda, a small reclusive east African country which is deceptively more advanced than advertised, due to being situated on the only deposit of Vibranium in the world. Of course, this knowledge of the comic character was gleaned more from the various Marvel encyclopedias and comic book online resources than having actually collected the comic books themselves. But, that goes for most of the Marvel character movies, really.

With the Black Panther, I’ve learned my lesson with the other Marvel movies I initially passed on watching in the theater due to my stupid notion that, since I didn’t care about the comic books themselves, I wouldn’t really like the movies, and went to see this in the theaters with the Exalted Geeks on opening weekend, and let the movie speak for itself, to entertain or not, all on its own merits. And once again, Black Panther proved to be not only entertaining, but manages to be more than the sum of its parts.

The story of Black Panther takes place immediately after the events in Captain America: Civil War; T’Challa is heading back to Wakanda to attend his coronation as king and officially take up the mantle of the Black Panther. His first act as king is recovering a bit of stolen Vibranium from the same black market arms dealer that was disarmed (literally) in Age Of Ultron. They capture the arms dealer, but then he’s broken out of custody by a mysterious missionary with a Wakandan ring. The mystery of this particular individual vexes T’Challa, until the mystery guy shows up explaining that he’s the son of the previous king’s brother who was slain in the movie’s opening flashback. He goes by the name of Killmonger now, and he’s now here to challenge T’Challa for the throne. And things go well…for Killmonger, who tosses T’Challa over the edge of a deep chasm, and immediately implements some changes in the way things go in Wakanda. Namely, by supplying Vibranium technology to other countries, and taking over the world. You know, the usual supervillain stuff. Oh, and he also has the special plants that provide the Black Panther powers destroyed. Because…I don’t know, he was planning on living forever, I guess? But, fortunately, one of the plants is secretly saved by T’Challa’s remaining family, and is taken to an independent tribe where — surprise! — T’Challa is not dead, but is in a coma! Yeah, kinda saw that one coming, really. So then, he gets better, thanks to that plant, and it’s off to liberate Wakanda from Killmonger with an EPIC BATTLE SEQUENCE! Then there’s the mid-credits and end-credits scenes, then you can go use the potty and go home.

I’m starting to sound like the proverbial broken record with these things, but I’ll repeat it anyway: despite not having much interest in the comic books this movie was built from, Black Panther proved to be far more interesting and entertaining than it should have been. There are several very compelling characters in this movie, not just the title character, which lends to a depth in the story beyond the standard good guy vs. bad guy formula. Of course,this is a Marvel movie, and not just a character piece, and the action scenes more than provide the adequate adrenaline fix. Just the casino scene alone is worth the price of the admission, but then the ending battle will leave you needing a cigarette, even if you’ve never smoked in your life. I have to say that, as far as favorite characters go, the two that I loved were the returning Ulysses Klaue, who pretty much stole every scene he was in with his manic glee, and Shuri, T’Challa’s younger sister, who also steals the scenes she’s in with her snarky wit and intelligence, and while not only is the movie’s Q-like inventor of all the gadgets, but proves she can kick butt along with the best of them.

With Black Panther, we have a movie that left me with my jaw gaping open on more than one occasion. The visuals are gorgeous, the characters have depth beyond archetypes, and the action will leave you breathless. Is Black Panther the best Marvel movie of the bunch? Eh, I still contend that Guardians Of The Galaxy 2 is still the best, but Black Panther cuts a very, very close second. Highly recommended to watch while it’s still in the theaters.

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