This is a blog which primarily gives some attention to movies that I find were overlooked (for whatever reason) or are simply underrated. I also comment on other, mainly movie-related issues as well. I welcome any suggestions for films to be added to this distinguished list.

One word of warning: The films listed below contain spoilers, so caution during reading is required.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Agony Booth review: Licence to Kill (1989)

This article looks at the most controversial entry in the James Bond series.

Here now is the Licence to Kill review that I initially planned to write before Sir Roger Moore’s passing.

If any entry in the James Bond series can be described as “polarizing”, it’s this one. Some love it for its intensity and for the way it does something different with the Bond formula, while others dislike it for precisely the same reason.

Adding fuel to this fire is the fact that this was Timothy Dalton’s second and final appearance as 007. After Sir Roger officially hung up his Walther PPK with A View to a Kill, Pierce Brosnan was originally chosen to take over the role in the 15th Bond picture The Living Daylights. However, this led to renewed interested in Pierce Brosnan’s TV series Remington Steele and his contract for that show prevented him from taking the role. This eventually led to Dalton taking on the 007 mantle instead.

However, some fans (unfairly or not) were miffed that Brosnan was denied the role that seemed destined to be his, and so they almost made it a point to pick on Dalton’s Bond from the get-go. Daylights itself is entertaining enough, but just as there were fans who criticized Sir Roger for his lighter take on Bond, so too were some quick to point out that Dalton was trying too hard to be serious. And that fire was definitely fueled when Daylights proved successful enough for Dalton to reprise his role as Bond in Licence to Kill.

The film begins with Bond and his buddy Felix Leiter (David Hedison, who previously played the role in Live and Let Die) en route to the latter’s wedding. Their trip is deferred when DEA agents arrive, telling Felix they have a chance to capture a ruthless drug lord named Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi).

After his henchman Dario (Benicio Del Toro, long before his Oscar win) cuts out the heart of the sap who was shagging Sanchez’s lady friend Lupe (Talisa Soto), Sanchez attempts to escape to Cuba by plane. But Bond manages to hook a cord onto it from the chopper that he and Felix are on. After that, the two pals parachute down to Felix’s wedding below, and cue title sequence.

During his interrogation, Sanchez informs DEA agent Ed Killifer (Everett McGill) that there’s a $2 million reward available for anyone who busts him out of prison. At the same time, Bond is enjoying Felix’s wedding reception. Actually, a bit too much I’d say, as he’s blatantly kissing the new Mrs. Leiter, Della (Priscilla Barnes). The newlyweds also give Bond a lighter with a flame that can go super high.

After Killifer stops by to wish the newlyweds well, he begins to transfer Sanchez to Quantico. But this trip doesn’t last long as Killifer KOs the driver of the truck, which eventually enables the drug lord to escape.

That night, Bond is bidding Felix and Della farewell after 007 politely refuses Della’s offer of her garter. This leads to a nice bit of continuity as Felix tells his wife that Bond was married once. But as is the case with all action films, the bad guys leap out of thin air just as the main hero disappears. Felix is knocked out and taken to what looks like an aquarium. Sanchez appears, and Felix is shocked that Killifer is involved in this, before Sanchez lowers Felix into a tank with a shark.

Felix curses Sanchez as the shark begins to munch on him.

The next morning, Bond pulls into an airport and learns that Sanchez has escaped (I guess it didn’t make the news sooner). He quickly bolts to Felix’s place, only to find Della dead and Felix mangled with a note saying, “He disagreed with something that ate him.” (The same thing happens to Felix in the novel of Live and Let Die).

Dalton gives us his Oscar Scene of Anger before Felix painfully stirs. Bond quickly sends for an ambulance, and a doctor says they’ll have to wait to see if Felix recovers.

With his pal Sharkey (Frank McRae), Bond finds the aquarium, which is owned by Milton Krest (Anthony Zerbe). Investigating further, Bond finds cocaine hidden beneath maggots. 007 soon gives these maggots a nice feast when he disables a security guard before tossing him into the box with the maggots. Bond then disposes of another guard by throwing him into a tank with an electric eel.

Killifer then holds Bond at gunpoint, telling him to go to the shark tank where Felix was mangled. But Sharkey’s unexpected presence allows Bond to toss Killifer into the tank instead, along with the $2 million he got for changing sides.

This investigation leads to Bond’s boss M (Robert Brown, in his final appearance in the role) personally making an appearance to order Bond to drop this matter and go on to his next assignment. But Bond feels obliged to continue, given his history with Felix, and tenders his resignation. When M orders the surrender of his weapon, he quickly escapes and becomes a rogue agent.

Bond later sneaks into Felix’s home and uncovers a CD full of classified info that only he and Felix knew about. This CD reveals that only one of the informants on Sanchez is still alive: ex-CIA pilot Pam Bouvier (Carey Lowell). The next day, Bond discovers Krest’s ship, the Wavekrest (which comes from the Bond short story “The Hildebrand Rarity” published in the For Your Eyes Only collection). Bond sneaks onboard and confronts Lupe, whom he recognizes from earlier in the film when he and Felix captured Sanchez. But all she offers him are her wooden line readings. Bond then discovers that Krest’s men have killed Sharkey, which leads 007 to kill those men before escaping with $5 million.

Bond traces Pam to a bar where he brings her up to speed. But Dario (who must be bad, since Pam says that the Contras kicked him out) and his thugs arrive to cause trouble. A shootout occurs before Bond and Pam escape in a speedboat. After some mandatory arguing, they agree to go to the fictional Republic of Isthmus to get Sanchez. And yes, this scene ends with the two of them making out in the boat (it’s a good thing Dario and his gang didn’t chase after them in one).

We next cut to London, where M chews out Moneypenny (Caroline Bliss, making her final appearance in the role) for making so many typing errors. I realize she misses James, but this makes me wonder how her job performance would have held up if his marriage had lasted longer. M also discovers that she’s been tracking Bond’s movements, and just flat out tells her that there are men on their way to Isthmus to intercept Bond. This plot exposition gives her plenty of info to pass along to Q (Desmond Llewelyn) over the phone.

James and Pam arrive in Isthmus, and Bond’s sexist nature proves as strong as ever when he informs a hotel maître-d that Pam is his secretary. The two later go to Sanchez’s estate, where the drug lord meets him after Bond chats with Lupe (making Pam jealous), and impresses everyone with his gambling skills. As he clandestinely views Sanchez’s office, Bond basically sweet-talks the drug lord into employing his services.

When he and Pam return to their hotel to discuss the matter, they’re informed that Bond’s uncle is awaiting them in their suite. Assuming the worst, Bond and Pam get ready, only to discover that the uncle is Q. Despite Bond’s protests, Q convinces him to use his gadgets.

One of these is toothpaste that’s a plastic explosive. This is just the thing Bond needs to get through the armored glass that lines Sanchez’s office. He’s also given a “signature gun”, which is a sniper’s rifle that only Bond can use.

After a “comedic” moment where Pam takes the master bed, forcing Bond and Q to sleep in the same room (with different beds, thankfully), Bond prepares for his hit on Sanchez the next evening. He stealthily places the toothpaste while Sanchez is hosting drug dealers from other parts of the world. Just as Bond prepares to set off the toothpaste, he sees Pam chatting with Sanchez’s head of security Heller (Don Stroud). The toothpaste blows away the glass, but Bond’s shot is disrupted by agents who turn out to be from the Hong Kong Narcotics Bureau. They take him to a warehouse where one of them, who was posing as one of Sanchez’s guests, angrily tells Bond that he may have fucked up an attempt to get Sanchez which the Hong Kong guys had been planning for years. To add to 007’s bad luck, an MI6 agent named Fallon (Christopher Neame) appears with orders from M to bring Bond back. Before either he or the Hong Kong guys can do anything else, Sanchez’s men ambush them, killing everyone except an unconscious Bond (what a surprise!), who’s next seen waking up in a fancy bedroom.

As with many of the other Bond films, this leads to a moment where Bond dines with his opponent. He informs Sanchez that he was once a British agent, and that the previous night’s attack must have been by people on the hunt for him. Sanchez encourages Bond to relax at his place for the night. This, of course, leads to him sleeping with Lupe after she silently tells him she loves him.

When Bond returns to his hotel, he violently asks Pam WTF is going on. She tells him that Heller was about to make a deal with her that would have resulted in Sanchez’s capture. That is, until Bond took his shot. So that makes this two attempts to capture Sanchez that Bond fucked up! The only thing overshadowing the irony here is where this will lead in the end.

But Bond’s not one to let his fuck-ups get in the way of getting some action (of all kinds). He infiltrates Sanchez’s warehouse while Pam and Q cover for him. The former does so by distracting Sanchez’s middleman, a TV evangelist played by (wait for it) Wayne Newton!

Bond temporarily gets Sanchez off his trail by framing Krest when he places the stolen $5 million on the Wavekrest. In the film’s grisliest moment, Sanchez kills Krest by sticking him in a decompression chamber until his head explodes (Zerbe would go through something similar years later in Star Trek: Insurrection).

But Dario finds Bond out, and after setting fire to Sanchez’s cocaine lab, Bond is placed on a conveyor belt that leads to a rock shredder. But Pam shoots Dario, allowing Bond a chance to toss him into the shredder instead.

As the fire spreads, Bond and Pam also find Heller’s body while Sanchez escapes, with our heroes following him by plane. Three of Sanchez’s four tankers are destroyed, and the drug lord and Bond fight on top the remaining one before it goes down a hill. Both combatants survive, but as Sanchez is ready to hack Bond with his machete, Bond pulls out his new lighter and torches his opponent.

The film ends at a party, where Bond is chatting on the phone with a recovering Felix (who doesn’t seem too broken up over the fact that he’s now a widower). Here now is the film’s biggest WTF Moment when Felix says that M wants Bond to come back.

Okaaay, Bond went rogue, which resulted in not one but two official operations against Sanchez getting fucked up big time. Plus, Bond’s actions led to the deaths of both British and Hong Kong agents. The only possible explanation for M welcoming Bond back with open arms must be that M is happy that he now has fewer checks to sign.

I can certainly understand why some Bond fans love this film. It has a deadly serious tone that contrasts with what the previous decade’s worth of entries established. One could definitely call this the polar opposite of Moonraker. That film brought out great spectacle with great flamboyance, and it was the latter that turned some fans off. Licence to Kill, on the other hand, has a lot less humor and a more mundane plot. Like Max Zorin in A View to a Kill, Sanchez doesn’t seek to conquer the world, just a certain aspect of it, and any people who die in their attempt to achieve that goal are merely collateral damage.

But just as Moonraker was accused of going overboard with the lightheartedness, many fans (myself included) thought that Licence went overboard in its attempts to be more mundane. By doing so, it comes across as downright boring in some scenes, and “boring” is something Moonraker cannot be accused of. Both Davi and Del Toro make fine villains, but the movie doesn’t seem to pick up the speed you think it would once Bond resigns and goes out on his own. I appreciate that the story is set into motion because of Bond’s friendship with Felix, which makes the viewers believe that it will lead to a nerve-jolting climatic confrontation between Bond and Sanchez (a la the fight between Bond and Grant in From Russia with Love). But no, said fight scene just consists of Bond whipping out a gadget that wasn’t supplied by Q and the villain quickly becomes charcoal.

What staggers me, however, is that those fans who love this film insist that it’s the closest to Fleming’s Bond. But as someone who’s read each book in that series more than once, I find it hard to agree with that sentiment. Not once did I imagine Bond to be as intense as Dalton plays him in either of his Bond outings. Now, before anyone says, “He’s closer to the books than Moore’s Bond,” as I once noted, both Connery and Moore gave the character a carefree aspect that I didn’t see in the books, which helped the film series become the great success it did. I can also say with 100% certainty that Bond never once frenched his BFF’s bride on her wedding day in any of the books.

This is not meant to knock Dalton, however. The success of the Bond films with Daniel Craig, who plays Bond in a similar manner, suggests that Dalton may have been ahead of his time with this interpretation. Both Connery and Moore’s Bonds thrived in a pre-9/11 world, whereas that tragic event made people crave more intense action heroes such as Jason Bourne. Craig’s Bond satisfied that desire perfectly (hence why some have called his Bond a Bourne knockoff).

In any case, Licence to Kill’s (relatively) lackluster reception coincided with legal issues that led to a drought of Bond movies for the next six years. During this time, Dalton resigned from playing Bond, which led to (for many) positive karma as Pierce Brosnan was finally able to play Bond when the series got back into production with Goldeneye.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Interview with Deborah Voorhees

This past week, my sister had another baby & I had the chance of chatting with the delightful Deborah Voorhees again.

Deborah Voorhees is best known among horror fans for her role in Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning (where she was credited as “Debi Sue Voorhees”) and coincidentally sharing the same surname as the film series’ murderous central character Jason.

But Deborah is also an accomplished writer, editor, and director. Her company Voorhees Films has produced numerous music videos and films, including the award-winning comedy Billy Shakespeare, which focuses on what may have happened if the famous playwright had been writing in modern times.

I previously had the pleasure of chatting with her for in 2014. While that publication is now defunct, the interview itself can be viewed on my blog.

In my second interview with Deborah, she discusses her new film The List, which horror fans can have a chance to participate in.

Tell us about your upcoming movie The List.

It’s about a serial killing socialite who creates a list of those who have wronged her and offs them one by one. It’s a horror-comedy, a blend of Psycho’s mystery and Dark Shadows and the comedy from Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead and John Waters’ Serial Mom and even some Young Frankenstein.

The List spawned from a 40-minute dark comedy called Catching Up. It’s about a widowed socialite who’s supposed to be helping an ex-con reintegrate into society, but her dark obsession with murder gets in the way of helping him.

I went black and white on the piece because black and white symbolizes fantasy, and Sally’s and Fred’s dark dialogue is so fantastical. When I first made it, I saw it as an experimental piece because it is a stage play put to film. It has the pacing of a theatrical play. Honestly, I had no idea I made something that horror fans would respond to, but I turned out to be so wrong. The reviews have been great. Apparently, I really didn’t know what I made. The fans have really responded to the dark dialogue. I decided to create The List literally while standing in the middle of the Texas Frightmare horror convention. So many fans told me how much they loved it that I knew I finally had the film I wanted to make for my horror fans. I decided to take the socialite to a whole new level, take her obsession to a full-fledged serial killer. A serial-killing socialite is just funny from the get go. Molly Wickwire-Sante played Sally so amazingly well that I am keeping her as my female lead in The List. She has this brilliant ability to change on a dime, go from charming to nuts in a millisecond.

I understand that fans can get a chance to take part in the film.

This is what I’m most excited about. This is actually a film that I’m doing specifically for my horror fans and horror fans in general. Without them, I wouldn’t make a scary movie. As you know, I am a huge chicken, so while I have seen some horror films, they are not on the top of my list to see. So without my fans encouraging me and sharing their love of the genre I probably never would have made a horror film. So I really owe this film to the fans. This is why I want them involved in all aspects from beginning to end. We are having several contests. One is a Best Kill contest. These ideas have to be comical and something unexpected with a twist. I will have a first, second, and third prize for the best kills. If I use someone’s kill idea, he or she will be credited in the film. We will have a Best Comedic Victim contest and a Meme Contest where fans can write a caption for a picture I will supply them with.

Our biggest competition is a chance to be murdered in The List. The outpouring of support has been amazing. I had no idea so many people wanted to die (laughs). This is our final competition, and for this, we will have a drawing. The winner will be flown out, put up in a hotel, and become a part of the cast for a day and be included in the film’s credits. To participate, people will need to be in the U.S., be at least 18 years old, and have the physical ability to work on the set for a long grueling day. [Ed.: Details can be found on the Voorhees Films website and on Facebook.]

One film you’ve directed that I enjoyed was Billy Shakespeare, which talks about the famous bard in modern times. Were you pleased with how it turned out?

This is another film where I didn’t know what I created. Someone told me that the film was a great romantic comedy, but I didn’t think of it as a romantic comedy. I thought I wrote a loving satire on Hollywood, but after being told it was a romantic comedy multiple times, I finally had to believe the fans.

There are pluses and minuses. Overall, I really enjoyed it and enjoyed making it. What was difficult was the amount of Shakespearean dialogue I used. Some couldn’t understand it. I’m glad I did it when and how I did it, but if I did it today, I would do it differently. I would probably work more on the plot rather than the jokes. The film has a lot of inside jokes. Probably a very small percentage of the population would’ve gotten all the jokes. You really can’t make a film that requires someone to be a professor of Shakespeare (laughs) to fully understand it. Overall, it was something I wanted to do and I love. Creating the film was my film school, and I loved every minute of making it. I couldn’t have made it with a more supportive and amazing cast and crew.

In addition, you’ve made a short film based on Othello as well as a music video based on Hamlet. Do you plan to bring any other of his plays to the screen?

It’s very possible. I love Shakespeare, and I love Devon Glover. We’ve done 3 music videos together. We’ll have to see. We showed the Hamlet piece at a film festival in England, Kenneth Branagh’s Shakespeare Film Festival. Hip Hop Hamlet and Othello also showed in Denmark at the Elsinore Shakespeare Conference celebrating the 400th year since Shakespeare’s death. I’m also looking at a modern interpretation of Othello as a thriller.

You’re obviously beloved for your onscreen work in films such as Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning. With all the directing you now do, do you ever consider acting again?

I won’t say no, but I like being behind the camera best. But for some reason, I think it’d be cool to play a very old woman one of these days. Maybe I will play something really scary as an old woman. In Billy Shakespeare, I played one of the witches, and that was a blast.

Are there any other types of films you plan to make?

I have a sci-fi film I’m working on right now. I also have two romantic comedies I’ve written and I have a ghost story I’m working on, as well as another horror spoof. I like the ghost and horror comedy genres a lot. I’ve always loved dark comedies. I also have a western in the pipeline and a thriller.

Are there any directors that inspire you?

Edgar Wright! Absolutely. John Waters. Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein is a mad genius piece. There’s not a cut that’s not just complete and utter perfection. I like Wes Anderson’s quirkiness a lot. Some of Tarantino’s stuff is too bloody for me, but I appreciate the dark humor in Pulp Fiction.

You obviously love Shakespeare, but what other authors inspire you?

Edgar Wright, who did Shaun of the Dead, and David Mamet. His play Oleanna is about a woman who accuses her professor of sexually harassing her. The most fascinating aspect is that everything she says is correct, but he didn’t sexually harass her. It’s a very intricate play. I saw it performed in Dallas when I worked with the Dallas Morning News. The interesting aspect to that play is that his guilt or innocence hangs on the actors’ performances. I love Hitchcock, the mystery and twists that go with Psycho and The Birds. I love romantic comedies, such as Sleepless in Seattle and When Harry Met Sally… and Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing.

Voorhees Films has worked with rock and folk bands. Are there any specific groups that you’d like to work with?

There are so many bands I would love to work with. Songs with stories. I love working with a band called Gleewood.

Deborah, you’ve had such great experiences as an actress, writer, and director. Do you have any advice for anyone who wishes to become as diverse as you?

I live by Picasso’s saying… this isn’t verbatim but basically he says, I spend my days doing that which I cannot do, so that I may learn how to do it. This is how I live my life. Everyday I do things that I have no idea how to do, so I can learn how. In filmmaking, there are so many roles that anyone serious about creating films must do the same. Learn, learn, learn. This doesn’t mean you have to go to college for filmmaking. Sure, college is a wonderful experience, but it is so expensive today. Is it worth it? If you have the drive and ability to learn on your own, do it. You can learn anything you want online and in numerous workshops from pros. Do the work. Write, shoot, learn how to shape your light. Do a music video. Get the camera out and work it and see what works and what doesn’t. There are so many artists who are teaching master classes. Masters like Steve Martin and Aaron Sorkin have online classes.

The next advice is don’t wait for someone to give you permission to do your work. If you want to make a film, make a film. Make your mistakes, fall on your face. If you make something bad, that’s okay. You will learn and do better next time. If failure keeps you from trying again that’s okay, too. You’ve just learned filmmaking isn’t for you, but at least you tried. For those who push past their failures, awesome. Push on. Make your own way. When you do the work, and only when you do the work, do you give anyone a chance to notice you. And just maybe by the time you get noticed, you might not need anyone to greenlight a picture for you, because you will be able to do it yourself.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Agony Booth review: Stephen King's It (1990)

This is a review of a miniseries that first aired on ABC.
With a new cinematic version of Stephen King’s 1986 novel It due to hit theaters in September, I thought I’d take a look at the previous adaptation of that classic novel: a miniseries which aired on ABC in the fall of 1990.

Directed by Tommy Lee Wallace, who had previously directed the underappreciated Halloween III: Season of the Witch, this story begins with Maine librarian Mike Hanlon (Tim Reid) realizing that he must summon his six childhood friends back to their hometown of Derry when he discovers that recent murders of children are linked to a malevolent force which takes on the guise of a clown named Pennywise (Tim Curry). Mike and his friends thought they destroyed the entity thirty years earlier, and made a pact to return if Pennywise ever re-emerged.

Mike first calls Bill Denbrough (Richard Thomas), who’s now a best-selling horror novelist living in England with his actress wife Audra (Olivia Hussey). Mike’s phone call prompts Bill to remember when his younger self (Jonathan Brandis) gave his kid brother Georgie (Tony Dakota) a paper boat. George went out to play with it in the rain, only to be murdered by Pennywise when the clown tore his arm off, killing him. Ben’s recollection makes him quickly hop on the next plane to the States, to Audra’s confusion and dismay.

The next call is to Ben Hanscom (John Ritter), who’s a successful architect living in New York. Mike’s call quickly ends his romantic evening as Ben soon goes to the top of a building under construction, booze in hand, and reminisces about his younger self (Brandon Crane), who was harassed because of his weight by town bully Henry Bowers (Jarred Blancard). On his way home, having become smitten with new classmate Beverly Marsh (Emily Perkins), young Ben runs into Henry and his gang. They chase him down to a forested area known as the Barrens, where Ben eludes them, but not before Henry picks on Bill and Eddie Kaspbrak (Adam Faraizl). After the bullies leave, Ben befriends Bill and Eddie, and they agree to hang out together again. But as Ben returns home, he hears and sees his deceased father, inviting him to live with him in the sewers. Ben’s old man soon turns into Pennywise and this recollection prompts the adult Ben to tremble.

The third call is to the adult Beverly (Annette O’Toole), who’s a Chicago fashion designer. She receives Mike’s call after she and her abusive boyfriend Tom Rogan (Ryan Michael) are celebrating after making a successful deal for their business. When Tom strikes her for wanting to fulfill her promise to her friends, Beverly promptly kicks his ass and storms out. During her cab ride to the airport, Beverly reminisces about receiving an anonymous love note. Said note is from Ben, who watches from a distance as Beverly storms out of her house when her abusive father finds the note. Ben invites her to the Barrens where she meets Bill and Eddie. They are soon joined by preppy Stan Uris (Ben Heller) and comedic Richie Tozier (Seth Green, yes, that Seth Green). The six spend the afternoon building a damn which Ben has designed. On their way home, Ben notices the eyes Beverly and Bill are making at each other. That night, Beverly is washing up when she hears a voice in the bathroom sink. A balloon emerges from the sink and pops, splashing blood over her. She frantically informs her dad, but he apparently sees nothing amiss when he investigates. Beverly then assuages his doubts by saying that a spider came out of the sink. As her dad leaves, Beverly cowers in fear (both in the bathroom and in the cab) as Pennywise’s voice tells her she’ll die if she tries to stop him.

We next cut to Los Angeles, where adult Richie (Harry Anderson) is a successful comedian. Though he’s not laughing when Mike’s call comes through, and is soon vomiting in his bathroom. Richie’s flashback begins with the six friends watching the classic I Was a Teenage Werewolf at the movie theater. Eddie accidentally kicks popcorn onto Henry and his gang seated below them. Our six heroes bolt, but not before Richie spices things up by pouring his Coke on them.

At school the next day, Richie and Stan take note of how distraught their friends have recently become. Richie and Henry get into a brief scuffle, which is stopped by the principal, who orders Richie to get a mop to clean the mess up. Upon reaching the maintenance closet, Richie sees a werewolf that turns into a tormenting Pennywise. Racing back upstairs, Richie’s claims are (predictably) met with laughter.

The adult Eddie (Dennis Christopher), who runs a successful limousine business in New York, confesses to his overbearing mother that he must return to Derry. Despite her protests, Eddie promptly heads for the train station. En route, he reminisces about the time when his mom also told him to never take showers at the school gym so as not to get anyone else’s germs. But Eddie’s PE coach forces the issue, and we next see Eddie alone in the shower. The shower necks soon grow, pushing Eddie to the center of the shower. His asthma acts up when he sees Pennywise’s hand in the floor drain. The clown soon makes enough room to pop out and torment Eddie.

We next see Mike alone in the library reminiscing about the day he met his six friends. After his interest in Derry’s history unnerves his teacher, Mike is accosted by Henry and his gang. They chase him to where the other six kids are hanging out. Henry calls the seven “the Losers’ Club” and tells them to get lost, but they tell him to piss off by throwing rocks at the bullies. Henry leaves, promising to kill them. Mike thanks his new friends, and they celebrate by having a 1960s-style selfie with Mike’s camera. The “Lucky Seven”, as they now call themselves, next go through Mike’s book, which is a collection of town images his dad collected. They soon see that Pennywise figures in a number of pics from nearly two centuries earlier. One such picture comes to life in front of them, with Pennywise leaping forward, saying he’s their worst nightmare.

Mike’s flashback ends when he sees footprints in the library, along with a balloon, which pops. He’s frightened upon hearing Pennywise laugh.

The adult Stan (Richard Masur) is a real estate broker in Atlanta, Georgia. He and his wife are cuddling with Perfect Strangers playing in the background when Mike calls. When Mike informs him that Pennywise is back, Stan is unable to tell Mike that he’ll fulfill his promise to return, and after the call ends, he calmly tells his wife that’s he’s going upstairs to take a bath.

As he gets ready to do so, Stan flashes back to when he and the other prepared to go into Derry’s sewers to vanquish Pennywise. After some of them attempt to perfect their skills with a slingshot, Beverly is picked to do the honors when she gets perfect hits each time. The skeptical Stan is still unconvinced that Pennywise can be killed, but Bill produces silver projectiles that he says will do the trick if they believe they will.

Henry and his gang clandestinely follow the seven and soon kidnap Stan. But before they do him in, Pennywise emerges as a bright light and kills Henry’s two cronies. This gives Stan a chance to escape before Henry himself is left in a terrified state, his hair now white.

Stan reunites with his friends and they form a circle in order to combat Pennywise. But the clown quickly appears and is about to kill Stan when Eddie fights him with what he claims is battery acid. This gives Beverly the chance she needs to fire one of her spheres, which takes off a piece of the clown’s head, showing light beneath. Pennywise then forces himself into the sewer drain below, and after a brief struggle, seems to perish. Upon exiting the sewer, the seven make their pact to return to Derry if Pennywise isn’t dead.

The next scene is of Stan’s wife coming up to the bathroom, only to find her husband has slit his wrists. As she cries out, we see that Stan’s blood has spilled the word “IT” on the bathroom wall.

Part two of this miniseries begins with the remaining six friends reuniting. Bill visits Georgie’s grave and reunites with Mike, before Pennywise appears to them in a deck of Bicycle playing cards. Richie is tormented by It in the library, as is Ben when he returns to the spot near the sewers where he first saw It, and also Beverly when she visits her dad (whom It impersonates as a rotting corpse), and Eddie when he goes to the local general store.

Despite this terror, the six meet up for dinner at a Chinese restaurant and catch up, with Mike informing them that Henry was sent to an institution after he confessed to the killings 30 years earlier. Pennywise then prompts them to head to the library after their fortune cookies come apart in various sickening ways.

Once at the library, they learn that Stan is dead. When Mike opens his small fridge, balloons emerge before our heroes see what seems to be Stan’s head in the fridge. “Stan” greets them all before his voice becomes that of Pennywise, and a pouring rain comes down. The group form a circle to drive off It’s influence.

At the same time, Pennywise manages to get Henry out of his cell, but not before the clown renders Audra catatonic when she arrives in Derry to find her husband. Both go to the hotel that the six friends have regrouped at. Henry attacks Mike, while Pennywise distracts Ben in a scene reminiscent to one in The Shining by acting romantic with him using Beverly’s form (and I thought Frank-N-Furter making out with someone was nightmarish!). But the wounded Mike is saved by Ben and Eddie, with Henry killed in the brief struggle.

At the hospital, Ben and Beverly confess their love before they learn Mike will recover. In his hospital room, Mike tells Bill that he returned to the sewer a few years earlier and retrieved the silver spheres. But Mike’s five friends are still uncertain about combating Pennywise again, until Bill convinces them to do some soul searching.

While Richie remains reluctant, he joins the other four as they make their way down to It’s lair again. They discover Audra’s purse but press on, resisting the image of Georgie. Our heroes then find Pennywise’s hiding place, which is littered with many bodies hanging from the ceiling, including Audra. It then takes the form of a huge spider, which renders Bill, Ben, and Richie catatonic before Eddie works up the courage to distract it again. It then fatally wounds Eddie, giving Beverly a good shot, and freeing the other three. The wounded It scampers away, prompting all four to literally rip It to shreds before It can escape again.

With Pennywise finally vanquished, a recovered Mike notes that Richie has resumed his career, Ben and Beverly are married, and Bill is attempting to bring Audra back. Just as the couple is about to leave, Bill gets the idea to ride with Audra on his bicycle, Silver. The fast trip down Derry’s streets revives her, and the movie ends with them embracing, traffic be damned!

As is often the case, the book is better than the movie. However, this adaptation certainly does it justice. The moments with our heroes as children do a slightly better job at capturing the spirit of the book, but the adult actors are fine, as well. My only complaint is the spider Pennywise becomes at the climax, which is cheesy, to say the least.

But the scene-stealer is definitely Curry, whose Pennywise deservedly became a beloved horror icon. Interestingly enough, this aired at virtually the same time Rob Reiner’s great adaptation of King’s Misery hit cinemas.

While the climax could’ve used a little work, this is a nice, spooky film and more worthy of its title than Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Agony Booth review: Batman (1966-1968)

With the recent passing of Adam West, this article looks at the classic TV series that became his legacy.
The recent passing of Adam West (and in such close proximity to that of Sir Roger Moore!) has already led to a beautiful tribute to him being written on this site by one of my colleagues. So I’d like to take this opportunity to look back at the Batman TV series which aired on ABC from 1966-1968 and became West’s legacy. Specifically, I’ll look at five aspects that made the show, and by extension West, so endearing to millions.

1. The theme music

Despite the later films from Tim Burton, Joel Schumacher, and Christopher Nolan, I doubt there’s anybody that can think about music relating to Batman without hearing this show’s theme song in their minds, even for a brief moment. My oldest niece has even chanted it in the past.

Neal Hefti’s “Batman Theme” instantly told audiences at the beginning of each episode of the series that they were in for a fun time. The animated title sequences which accompanied the music added to the fun. It’s no surprise that this theme song has been endlessly parodied in the decades since.

2. The villains

Of all the superheroes (whether from Marvel Comics, Dark Horse, or the Caped Crusader’s own DC Comics), Batman has always had the best rogues gallery. One advantage that a TV series often has over a movie series is that it can take its time developing numerous characters. The series understood that and took full advantage of its format to give us plenty of Batman’s adversaries in all their flamboyant glory. Both Frank Gorshin and Burgess Meredith, to this day, remain the definitive takes on the Riddler and the Penguin, respectively. This is because, unlike the subsequent movies with Jim Carrey’s Riddler and Danny DeVito’s Penguin, the series allowed Gorshin and Meredith enough time to truly create these characters.

Then there was the Joker, played in the series by Cesar Romero. While Jack Nicholson and later Heath Ledger would become acclaimed for their takes on this character, Romero was the first to prove that a criminal wearing clown makeup could indeed pose a threat that only a superhero could deal with.

In addition, this series gave us not one, but three actresses playing Catwoman: Julie Newmar, Eartha Kitt, and Lee Meriwether. All three were memorable in the role, showing great chemistry with West.

Newmar played Catwoman the most (in the show’s first two seasons), which is why she’s arguably the most remembered of the three actresses to play the role. But Kitt (who played Catwoman in the third season) and Meriwether (who played the role in the the 1966 theatrical film which premiered in between the show’s first two seasons) managed to be memorable in the role as well. Kitt’s Catwoman managed to break racial boundaries on TV at the same time that Nichelle Nichols’s Uhura was doing the same on Star Trek. While Meriwether only played the character in the movie, she did return in two subsequent episodes playing another character who, like Catwoman, was a love interest for Bruce Wayne. All three actresses did memorable work with the role because, unlike the Catwomen played by Michelle Pfeiffer, Anne Hathaway, or Halle Berry, they were never overshadowed by confusing plot lines or less interesting villains.

Like many later Batman films, this series often had some of its villains team up against our hero. Indeed, the 1966 theatrical film had Batman fighting the Joker, Penguin, Riddler, and Catwoman. The good news is these villainous team ups were always fun, with each bad guy having their chance in the spotlight.

There were also Bat-villains that were made specifically for the series. Of these, my favorite is Egghead, played by Vincent Price. The character was a bald-headed mastermind with a penchant for placing the prefix “egg” on any words he could (such as “egg-xactly”, “egg-xchange”, “egg-xplitives”, and “egg-xquisite”). Price had already become a legend by the time this series premiered, hence he was already known for his on-screen villainy. His genius in playing bad guys was, in part, due to how he was clearly having the time of his life whenever he was acting villainous on screen. Egghead was certainly one of the finest examples of that, making Price a perfect fit for this series.

3. The cliffhangers

For the first two seasons of the series, Batman aired two episodes on consecutive nights each week. The first episode would always end with Batman and Robin being captured and about to be done away with by the Bat-villain of the week. An announcer (Batman series creator William Dozier, who wasn’t credited for the narration) would then wonder if this would be the end of the Dynamic Duo before advising viewers to tune into the next episode, “same Bat-time, same Bat-channel!”

Yes, the desperate situation would be resolved within the first five minutes of the next episode, but this method succeeded in making the audience want to see that next episode.

Cliffhanger serials had been a staple of cinema throughout the 1920s-’50s, before the rise of television basically brought them to an end. There were even Batman serials in the 1940s. But while TV shows even in the ’60s occasionally had two-part episodes, none during that period could generate the wonderful sense of anticipation that Batman did for the next installment. Looking back today, one could argue that Batman doing this would pave the way for cliffhangers on future series, such as Dallas and Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The show would air only once a week during its final season, with mainly self-contained stories. But the episodes would end with a tag announcing the villain Batman would lock horns with the following week, once again whetting our appetites for the next installment.

4. Robin

While some comic fans hate the fact that Batman’s sidekick even exists, there’s no doubt that this character became Watson to Batman’s Holmes. As played by Burt Ward, Dick Grayson/Robin was a nice compliment to West’s Batman/Bruce Wayne. Some may hate how often he said, “Holy (insert word), Batman!” Heck, Batman Forever even parodied this. But I must admit, I did have fun trying to figure out how many times Robin could express astonishment in that way (turns out it was a lot, and happened in pretty much every episode).

That aside, West and Ward never failed to show great teamwork during the show’s run, making the POWs! and OOOFs! that would appear on screen when our heroes fought bad guys endearing rather than insufferable. This helped make the show truly a comic book come to life.

Even when the show added Batgirl/Barbara Gordon (Yvonne Craig) in its third season to revive ratings, Ward’s chemistry with West remained strong. They made the show’s simplistic morality as effective to kids as any after-school special. Heck, I’d say even more so, because what kid wouldn’t want to watch an after-school special with superheroes as the main characters?

ABC cancelled the series after three seasons and 120 episodes because of poor ratings. But NBC was willing to pick up the show for a fourth year. Tragically, the sets for the show had already been torn down before that deal was finalized.

5. Batman

None of the four strong previous points would have made this show a success had it not had a strong anchor in the lead role. West never failed in making Batman heroic and noble. While some may argue that later Batmans had cooler-looking Bat-suits, West’s Bat-attire was the textbook example of how to look super-heroic. His Batman was a perfect reflection of the optimistic spirit of the ’60s, as well as how Batman was presented in the comics at that time. The character himself became more lighthearted during the 1950s and ’60s, mainly because of concerns that superhero comics would be blamed for the corruption of America’s youth and come to the same premature end as grisly comics such as The Vault of Horror and Tales from the Crypt. So, whether you liked West’s Batman or not, you can’t say he wasn’t being true to the character as the comics portrayed him at the time.

While later Batmans were noted for being “darker” (in other words, less family-friendly), West managed to bring fun to the role by embracing how campy the proceedings were. While we may poke fun at some of the dialogue, West read those lines like nobody’s business (besides, I’m sure there are some people who would love to have Shark Repellent Bat-Spray at their disposal). His charisma made people actually want to play Batman themselves, something that none of the previous or subsequent Bat-actors managed to duplicate. In fact, the only one who came close was Kevin Conroy, who voiced the Caped Crusader on Batman: The Animated Series, which aired on Fox from 1992-1995.

West himself would voice a character on that series. In addition, he voiced Batman on several animated shows. This illustrates how, despite initial attempts to move past his superhero role, West would eventually embrace his legacy as Batman. This was proven when he and Ward played both themselves and their TV personas in the 2003 TV movie Return to the Batcave: The Misadventures of Adam and Burt. Gorshin, Newmar, and Meriwether also appeared in the film, which revolves around the heroes’ attempt to retrieve the Batmobile they used on their show after it gets stolen. The film itself is a wonderful look at how not only the title characters, but the whole cast could laugh at and embrace who they were.

As a result, West would continue to entertain and inspire millions.

Farewell, old chum! You shall be missed, and thanks for giving the world such great entertainment.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Sir Roger Moore: 1927-2017

This Agony Booth article is an affectionate look at Sir Roger and his legacy.
I was originally preparing to review Licence to Kill, the 16th (official) James Bond film and probably the most controversial entry in the entire series. However, the recent passing of Sir Roger Moore prompted me to change my plans.

In terms of the Bond films, I was introduced to the 007s of both Moore and Sir Sean Connery simultaneously. I remember seeing Moore’s Bond entries on the big screen while also getting myself acquainted with Connery’s whenever they aired on TV. As a result, I was able to understand why Connery is praised as the definitive Bond in many quarters, but also still develop an affinity for Moore’s.

Moore was actually one of the initial actors sought for the role when Harry Saltzman and Albert Broccoli began the Bond series with Dr. No. But Moore was prevented from slipping into Bond’s tuxedo at that point because he was already signed on to do the TV series The Saint. When Connery sat out making the sixth Bond entry, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Moore’s name was again brought up, but his TV schedule kept him from signing on. Television again kept Moore from agreeing to play Bond again for the follow-up Diamonds are Forever, because he agreed to star in the TV series The Persuaders, which Moore helped develop.

The fact that Moore was an early contender for the role from the beginning made it seem inevitable that he would finally be able to play 007 in the eighth Bond film, Live and Let Die.

Unlike George Lazenby (who played Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service), Moore was willing to play Bond for several movies. This allowed audiences to accept Live and Let Die on its own terms, while On Her Majesty’s, for a time, was dismissed by some because of the behind the scenes drama of that picture (check out the way ABC basically butchered the picture when it originally aired on TV, and you’ll see what I mean). While comparisons to Connery’s Bond were naturally inevitable, the success of Live and Let Die was the first true example of people willing to accept a new 007.

As with Connery’s reign as 007, Moore’s third outing in the role is often cited as the height of his tenure. Like Goldfinger, The Spy Who Loved Me perfectly balances the use of state of the art gadgetry with moments of genuine suspense. The villains, music, and theme songs of both films are also exceptional. While Spy bears no resemblance to Fleming’s novel of the same name (in fairness, this was due to Fleming’s wish that only the title be used when it came to making a movie of that specific book), both films are true to the character.

As I mentioned earlier, Licence to Kill is probably the most controversial Bond picture. While that’s a discussion for another time, in recent years, I’ve found myself wondering if the word “controversial” could also be applied to Moore’s Bond. Yes, all seven of his Bond movies were financially successful; however, there have always been 007 fans, even in those pre-Internet days when his tenure of Bond began, who have expressed their displeasure with his Bond films, specifically with the lighter touch he brought to the role. Some have also shamelessly pointed out Moore’s age, as he remains the oldest actor to strap on Bond’s Walther PPK (he was 47 when making Live and Let Die).

In regards to the rants about being more light-hearted: while I agree that giving the villainous Jaws a girlfriend in Moonraker was stupid, Moore himself retained his 007-suaveness throughout his films. One of my favorite moments of his films is in Octopussy, Moore’s sixth Bond picture, in which 007 must disguise himself as a clown in order to stop an A-bomb from destroying a circus full of people. The idea of Bond dressed as a clown by itself sounds ridiculous. However, Moore’s terrific job at projecting both anger and fear helped make this scene a truly suspenseful moment.

I must also point out a memorable moment in Moore’s fifth Bond movie, For Your Eyes Only. In this film, Moore manages to shoot the assassin Locque (Michael Gothard) before Locque runs him down with his car. The gunshot hits Locque in the shoulder, causing him to lose control of his vehicle, which ends up precariously hanging over a cliff. Bond calmly walks over to the car containing the helpless Locque and reminds the assassin that he murdered one of his colleagues, before sending Locque to his death by kicking the car over the cliff. Moore had reservations about his Bond performing such an act, but Eyes director John Glen convinced him that this would be a wonderful, intense moment—a moment which showed that, like Connery, Moore could play Bond as ruthless as well as charming.

One of my colleagues wrote a nice review of the second Bond film From Russia With Love a while back. That review correctly points out that Robert Shaw’s Grant was such a great character because Shaw himself matched Connery when it came to the intensity he could bring to the role. A nice parallel in the case of Moore’s Bond is Sir Christopher Lee’s Scaramanga, the title character in Moore’s second Bond flick, The Man with the Golden Gun. As with Connery and Shaw, Moore and Lee share wonderful scenes and exchanges of dialogue. Moore even gets one of his best lines in that film with, “When I kill, it’s under specific orders from my government… and those I kill are themselves killers!” As a result, I actually want to laugh when I hear people criticize Sir Roger’s Bond for being “too silly”.

The age issue was inevitable, considering that Hollywood has always been notorious for its ageism. Heck, people poked fun at Connery’s age when he agreed to reprise Bond for the pointless Thunderball remake Never Say Never Again. As the 1980s got underway, Moore made news for his attempts to exit the Bond franchise. The fact that Cubby Broccoli managed to get the actor to sign for his last three Bond pics shows that the producer had great trust in Moore’s star power, regardless of his age. Moore even did some of his own stunts in the aforementioned Octopussy.

Putting aside the fact that Connery’s 007 was known for his witticisms, Fleming’s Bond stories themselves are basically exaggerated, romanticized versions of Fleming’s own career in British Intelligence. While the books themselves may not have as many witty lines as the movies, both succeed in generating elegance as well as intrigue. I’ve even read interviews with several real-life intelligence operatives over the years stating that Bond makes their profession out to be a lot more exciting than it actually is.

Also, considering how the Bond films would get bigger budgets with each outing (unlike other film series), having Bond actually go into space in Moonraker was only a matter of time, if you ask me. While I’m happy that the subsequent entries were literally more down to earth, taking Bond to the stars seemed to me a nice one-time gimmick (some may say timely, considering that the American space program was running strong at the time).

Hence, Moore’s Bond is, overall, not much more of a deviation from the Bond books than Connery’s. In addition, while a movie should certainly adhere to the source material it claims to be based on, deviations can also be beneficial. I’ve read all of Fleming’s Bond books more than once and I’ll no doubt do so again, as they’re entertaining. But I find that Moore (and Connery) brought a carefree aspect to the character that wasn’t present in the books. and this aspect helped the movies become successful.

Sir Roger ended his 12-year Bond career with A View to a Kill. While that film has its critics, it also has a great title song by Duran Duran, terrific villains played by Christopher Walken and Grace Jones, as well as a nice role for Patrick Macnee, who repeats the chemistry he had with Moore when they respectively played Dr. Watson and Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock Holmes in New York.

While Moore’s post-Bond career never received the acclaim that Connery’s did, he managed to get some good films under his belt. My favorite of these is perhaps The Wild Geese, with Moore, Richard Burton, and Richard Harris making a great team as the title mercenaries who find themselves trapped behind enemy lines thanks to the very person who hired them.

But Moore became most proud of his work with UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund. With the encouragement of his friend Audrey Hepburn, Moore joined the organization in the early 1990s and traveled the world helping children living in poverty get the chance at a better life. He also fought for animal rights by working with PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), even narrating a video for the organization.

Moore’s charity work would make an even bigger impact than his acting work, which is why he was knighted in 2003.

He even found a way to interconnect his acting fame with his charity work by hosting an auction of James Bond memorabilia in 2012. The proceeds from this auction raised nearly $1 million for UNICEF. This led to Moore receiving the organization’s first UK Lifetime Achievement Award.

Whether you like his work as Bond or not, there’s no doubt that Moore helped ensure that 007 wouldn’t just be a fad of the 1960s. The fact that he would end up making the same number of Bond movies as Connery (seven) certainly says something.

Moore’s subsequent work would also prove that he wasn’t just an actor, but a true humanitarian as well.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Agony Booth review: Jaws: The Revenge vs. Superman IV: The Quest for Peace

This article looks at the respective fourth entries in the Jaws and Superman series, which, like their immediate predecessors, were released the same year.

As I noted in a previous article, both Jaws 3-D and Superman III were not only released in the same year but marked, for all intents and purposes, the beginning of the end for the series they were part of.

However, both series ended up being given one more shot to get back into their fans’ good graces. In addition, like their immediate predecessors, the respective fourth entries in the Jaws and Superman franchises were both released in the same year. But while 1987 also gave us classics such as The Princess Bride, RoboCop, and Spaceballs, both Jaws: The Revenge and Superman IV: The Quest for Peace ended up being anything but classic.

So, which is worse? Let’s find out.

Jaws: The Revenge (1987)

I once noted that I Still Know What You Did Last Summer has a ridiculous title. This film, on the other hand, has a ridiculous tagline: This time, it’s personal!

After the trip to SeaWorld in Jaws 3-D, this film brings us back to Amity. We see not only the two Brody sons again (who are played by different actors) in different professions now (yes, this film ignores its immediate predecessor, not that I blame it), but also their mom Ellen (Lorraine Gary, reprising her role from the first two Jaws pictures). The Brody paterfamilias Martin has died because the late, great Roy Scheider was smart enough to leave well enough alone when it came to his most famous role.

Michael (now played by The Last Starfighter himself, Lance Guest) is a marine biologist with a wife and daughter. His little brother Sean (Mitchell Anderson) lives with his mom and his fiancée, making ends meet by following in his old man’s footsteps as the police chief.

As Christmas approaches, contrivance leads to Sean going out to sea to clear a log from a buoy. The shark of this movie then appears and kills him.

It’s at this point that the absurdity of the film’s tagline begins to emerge. Ellen is convinced that the shark deliberately targeted Sean. For the rest of the film, she continuously refers to the beast as if it was some sort of Jason-esque serial killer. Ellen even blames it for inducing the heart attack that apparently killed her husband, even though he was the one who killed the sharks of the first two movies.

Despite the fact that his mom clearly needs therapy, Michael talks her into joining him and his family down in the Bahamas. While there, Ellen becomes smitten with a carefree pilot named Hoagie (Michael Caine). But wouldn’t you know it, that same damn shark has managed to find its way down south and attempts to pick off the rest of the Brody clan.

This leads to Ellen finally taking a boat herself to go mano a mano with the shark along with Michael, Hoagie, and Michael’s coworker Jake (Mario Van Peebles). The stupidity that follows has to be seen to be believed. The famous blooper of Hoagie emerging bone dry from the ocean is only a blip compared to the headache of how the heroes manage to finally destroy this shark before the film ends with Ellen and Hoagie flying off together. Some cuts of this film even have Jake becoming shark food, while others don’t.

In his review of the Star Trek: Voyager episode “The Cloud”, YouTuber SF Debris mentions that the reason the shark targets the Brodys in this movie, according to the book’s novelization, is because of a voodoo curse. He calls this a “voodoo shark”, referring to something stupid that can only be explained away by something just as stupid, comparing it to Voyager being able to use its holodecks because its power is incompatible with the ship’s other systems (hence, giving the regulars an excuse to play on the damn things even though they’re supposed to be struggling to survive).

As stupid as the novelization’s explanation sounds, no explanation for this plot point could have given Jaws: The Revenge a chance to be watchable, let alone good.

This movie also became an example of nepotism, as Lorraine Gary, who was married to Universal’s then-President Sid Sheinberg, becomes the central focus here. In fairness, Gary herself stated that she agreed to play Ellen for a third time because of the money she was offered.

Caine’s appearance here proves that even legends have bills to pay, as we all do. Ironically, he won his first Oscar (for Hannah and Her Sisters) during the production of this movie. Happily, this film wouldn’t keep him from winning a second Oscar over a decade later (for The Cider House Rules) and being knighted not long after that.

Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)

Christopher Reeve’s fourth and final outing as the Man of Steel is certainly more political-minded than its predecessors (more on that in a moment).

Needless to say, our hero is depressed over how the arms race is going (ironically, this film was released the same year Reagan and Gorbachev signed the historic INF treaty, which banned medium-ranged nuclear missiles) and decides to singlehandedly rid the world of all its nukes. Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman), having just broken out of prison thanks to his nephew Lenny (Jon Cryer) gets wind of this and creates a nuclear powered supervillain called Nuclear Man (Mark Pillow). What follows is basically a rehash of Superman fighting Zod and his minions in Superman II. Naturally, Superman defeats Nuclear Man (by dumping his atomic-powered ass into a power plant reactor, of all things), sends Luthor back to prison, yadda yadda yadda.

After the disappointment of Superman III, Reeve was content with never donning the famous tights and cape again. While he sought other roles, producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind sold the rights to the series in 1986 to Cannon Films, which made its name during that decade making mostly action flicks.

Considering that the Salkinds took the series into a direction fans weren’t happy with, the chance of new blood in the franchise might have given people hope that it could be restored to greatness. Alas, Cannon was beginning to reach the end of its lucrative run as the ’80s drew to a close.

In his autobiography Still Me, Reeve states that Cannon didn’t give this project priority because of budget cuts the studio made. But even budget cuts can’t excuse a poor script, and as sad as this sounds, part of the blame for that script must go to Reeve. He was enticed into reprising his most famous role for a fourth time when he was promised he could have a hand in script development (the screenplay itself was written by Lawrence Konner and Mark Rosenthal). In addition, Cannon promised to finance any non-Superman film of his choice. The good news is that film was Street Smart, which earned Reeve’s co-star Morgan Freeman his first Oscar nomination.

But while Reeve, who was liberal with a capital L, was a wonderful actor, his writing (at least in the case of this movie) proved to be less than stellar. I don’t want to say that politics in a Superman story couldn’t have worked, but it was handled in the wrong way here. Many have made comparisons between Superman and Jesus Christ. I had no issue with such comparisons in the original movie because they weren’t drilled into our heads. Here, however, it’s a much different case in regards to the way Superman decides to disarm the world with absolutely no response but thunderous cheers by all the countries of the world. Having a film lean closer to one side of the political fence is one thing, but this film does it in such a simplistic manner that the final product is just as mindless as many of the other films Cannon put out.

There are also other scenes, such as Nuclear Man capturing newspaper mogul Lacy Warfield (Mariel Hemingway) for no reason and flying her into space, without a space suit! Even dumber is Clark once again revealing he’s Superman to Lois (Margot Kidder) and later kissing her to wipe her memory of it—again!

Put all this nonsense together, and it’s not surprising that Superman IV was even less successful than its immediate predecessor.

Reeve himself continued acting, with perhaps his most memorable role in his post-Superman years being the period piece The Remains of the Day. He then became a real-life superhero following his horse riding accident in 1995, which rendered him paralyzed. Reeve would later use the incident to assist in research to help others with spinal injuries, a crusade he remained dedicated to until his passing in 2004.

Like Caine, Hackman would emerge from this fiasco to win a second Oscar (in Hackman’s case, for Unforgiven).

Which is worse?

Both of these films officially killed their respective series. But, as Reeve wasn’t the first actor to play the Man of Steel, there have been other actors who have donned the cape since then. Movie-wise, we saw the Man of Steel again in Superman Returns (played by Brandon Routh) and later in Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (played by Henry Cavill). But like Superman IV, none of these films have managed to achieve the greatness of the original Superman.

We have yet to see a fifth Jaws movie, but we have seen a number of Jaws-esque movies since 1987, such as Deep Blue Sea, the Shark Attack films, and even a remake of Piranha, which had a sequel of its own. So I guess we can say “close enough” there.

As with the third entries of these series, Jaws: The Revenge must be christened the worse of the two. This is because, like the aforementioned I Still Know…, it’s just one scene of stupidity after another. In addition, while certainly flawed, Superman IV still has heart to it (Kidder even has a bigger part this time around); heart that was sorely lacking in all subsequent Superman movies.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Agony Booth review: Jaws 3-D vs. Superman III

The respective third entries of the Jaws and Superman series were both released in 1983. Neither is held in high regard by fans, and this article goes into which is the worse of the two.
1983 gave us classic films such as Return of the Jedi, Octopussy, Sudden Impact, and the Stephen King triple-punch of Cujo, Christine, and The Dead Zone. Among the year’s films that weren’t so classic were, in an interesting coincidence, the respective third entries of the Jaws and Superman series.

It goes without saying that the first entries of these two series are classic movies. Both Jaws 2 and Superman II were successful as well (although I didn’t much care for the former), which inevitably led to third installments. But those third installments are regarded by most as the point when these two series began to decline creatively.

So, which is worse? Let’s take a look.

Jaws 3-D (1983)

The first two films take place in the fictional town of Amity. This entry attempts a change of pace by setting the action at SeaWorld in Florida. The main characters here are Martin Brody’s grown up sons Mike (Dennis Quaid), who works at SeaWorld, and the visiting Sean (John Putch).

The two brothers are enjoying a weekend at said amusement park with Mike’s colleague/paramour Kay Morgan (Bess Armstrong) and Sean’s new girlfriend Kelly Ann Bukowski (Lea Thompson). But, wouldn’t you know it, a great white shark has shown up in the park to cause trouble. This time, however, the shark has a reason for causing havoc. The park employees manage to catch a smaller shark, which turns out to be the offspring of this film’s monster. The fact that the little shark dies while in the park’s custody doesn’t help matters, either.

As with the previous entries, there are characters who are skeptical about the arrival of such a massive killing machine. Among them is the park’s manager Calvin Bouchard (Louis Gossett Jr., just after he won his Oscar for An Officer and a Gentleman). This film has a Quint-like character as well in the form of hunter Phillip FitzRoyce (Simon MacCorkindale).

One thing leads to another and people, including FitzRoyce, get killed, etc. The shark dies again, of course, but in the most ludicrous way possible. During the climatic scene in the park’s underwater control room, the shark smashes through the glass and wiggles its head through the opening to devour whoever it can. But Mike suddenly sees the partially-eaten FitzRoyce in the shark’s mouth, holding a grenade no less. If any ending shouted deus ex machina, this is it.

And what was the point of this shot, anyway?

Superman III (1983)

Business tycoon Ross Webster (Robert Vaughn) blackmails his employee Gus Gorman (Richard Pryor) into using the computer skills that he got out of nowhere to control the world’s oil supply. When the Man of Steel (Christopher Reeve) intervenes, Webster tells Gorman to find some Kryptonite they can use to kill him. Instead, Gorman creates synthetic Kryptonite that turns Superman into a super-jerk. This leads to the film’s most memorable sequence, when Superman splits into two beings, one good and one bad. The two proceed to duke it out before Good Superman triumphs and goes off to battle Webster, now controlling a super-computer that was built from the Arby’s napkin scribbles Gus keeps in his pockets.

When this super-computer produces the correct type of Kryptonite, Gorman turns against Webster and saves Superman. The Man of Steel manages to destroy the super-computer, saving the day.

Which is worse?

Jaws 3-D is basically its two predecessors but relocated to SeaWorld. I’ve read a couple of reviews of the film that said the film’s only saving grace are the early scenes between the Brody brothers and their lady friends. Indeed, the cast itself is pleasant enough. I actually chuckled at the moment when Mike and Kay startle Sean and Kelly as the latter two lovebirds are getting cozy in the water.

It’s once we get into the scenes that were the draw of this picture in the first place that everything turns into déjà vu. The fact that the park employees basically asked for trouble by capturing that little shark in the first place doesn’t help. Hence, it’s actually easier to side with the shark this time around.

Additionally, the film was released during the brief resurrection of 3-D in the early ’80s. But Jaws 3-D is quite dull with or without the 3-D. The previous year saw the release of Friday the 13th Part III, which is quite entertaining even without the 3-D, and like many of the other entries in the Friday the 13th series, it did a terrific job at emphasizing the “fun” in “dumb fun”.

As with Jaws 2, the footage of the shark is excessive here, making it easy to see why it became a punchline in the sequels. The scenes with the tourists seeing body parts as they tour the SeaWorld aquarium lose whatever potential they may have had, because it clearly looks like people walking in front of a cheesy green screen effect.

An interesting side note: the producers of the first two Jaws pictures, Richard D. Zanuck and David Brown, were asked to produce this installment as well. But they wanted to go a different route and make the third film a spoof picture titled Jaws 3, People 0. But Universal wanted another straight scare fest, which led to Zanuck and Brown bowing out. The irony here is that the final picture actually made some people laugh, but for all the wrong reasons.

One could say that Superman III suffers from the opposite problem. It doesn’t rehash anything from its two predecessors, but goes in a more lighthearted direction. That, in itself, is not the problem. After all, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home was more lighthearted than its predecessors, but that movie worked because the humor was never forced and fit naturally into the story.

Superman III‘s attempts at more humor, however, go wrong because they’re just cheap gags and nothing more. Some saw Richard Pryor’s casting as a bad omen for the film, but I thought his bits were the funniest of the film, even if they added nothing to the story. As mentioned earlier, his computer skills come out of nowhere, especially considering that the movie begins with Gorman looking for a job. It was other parts of the movie, such as Webster’s sister Vera (Annie Ross) basically getting Borgified by the super-computer, and the two traffic lights fighting each other that had me going “WTF?” even as I watched the film when it originally came out.

Many fans have stated that the film would have been better if the super-computer had turned out to be Superman’s nemesis Brainiac. I can certainly understand that stance, as we already had Lex Luthor in the previous two films, so why not use another classic Superman villain? Instead, we get a moment that’s literally a video game as Webster attempts to stop Superman with missiles (complete with the same sound effects used by the arcade games of the time).

The moments where Superman is fighting himself are memorable, with Reeve clearly having the time of his life playing a bad guy. By itself, this idea could have conceivably carried the entire movie, had it been done with more care. Instead, all the evil that Superman does is confined to blowing out the Olympic torch, straightening the leaning Tower of Pisa, getting drunk and sleeping with Webster’s assistant Lorelei Ambrosia (Pamela Stephenson). And no, I haven’t forgotten him ripping open that tanker and spilling its oil into the ocean, but the setup is contrived anyway and nothing is done with this plot element (wouldn’t other tankers have come to assist, rather than just having those guys sit there until Good Superman comes by to fix everything?).

Clark’s scenes with his Smallville sweetie Lana Lang (Annette O’Toole) are also pleasant. So it was fitting that O’Toole would later play Clark’s mom in the series Smallville. These Clark/Lana scenes do somewhat mar the touching Superman/Lois scenes of the previous two films, not that it concerned Superman producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind, who were pissed off that Margot Kidder took them to task for firing original Superman director Richard Donner, and punished her by giving Lois only two scenes in this installment.

Although the Salkinds put out the equally misguided Supergirl the following year (Reeve was offered a cameo as Superman in the film, but declined) and then went on to produce a Superboy TV series, Superman III would be the last Superman feature film with the Salkinds’ involvement. This may have been a good thing, were it not how all the subsequent Superman movies (and I don’t mean just Superman IV) turned out. Like the four Star Trek movies with the Next Generation cast, Superman III has some good ideas that are unfortunately outnumbered by the bad.

While both of these films are held in low regard, neither series was finished just yet. Both of them would get their respective fourth entries in 1987, which would drag down their legacies even more (but that’s a story for another time).

Of these two third entries, though, I would say Jaws 3-D is the worse of the two. For all of Superman III‘s faults, it still had the elements that could have potentially made it a great movie. Jaws 3-D, on the other hand, has decent early scenes involving the people we’re supposed to identify with, but nothing exciting emerges from that setup.

Superman III also has the edge in that its computer-related material proved to be the inspiration for the classic comedy Office Space. A bad movie that ends up as the inspiration for a good one is certainly noteworthy.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Agony Booth review: Voyager vs. Xena

This article looks at two of the worst series finales ever.
In 2001, just a few months prior to the tragedy of 9/11, two series aired their final episodes: Star Trek: Voyager and Xena: Warrior Princess.

Although ratings for Voyager had dropped considerably during its run, the series remained UPN’s highest-rated show (which isn’t saying a lot, considering what else that network gave us). It also became the last Trek show to be a continuation of what started with Star Trek: The Next Generation, as the next Trek series, which debuted on UPN shortly after 9/11, was the prequel series Enterprise.

Xena was a different story. The title character (played by Lucy Lawless) first appeared in a trilogy of episodes of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. She initially attempts to kill the demigod, but during the course of said trilogy, dramatic turns emerge involving the army she’s leading. Xena eventually agrees to join Hercules to fight her own army, becoming a hero in the process. The first season of Hercules concludes with Xena and Hercules, who have become romantically involved, bidding farewell to each other as she goes off to embark on a new journey of heroism and redemption.

The first episode of Xena’s own series, “Sins of the Past”, aired in the fall of 1995. Xena returns to her home village to reconnect with her mother, only to find it under siege by the warlord Draco (Jay Laga’aia). But Xena thwarts him with the help of a spirited young girl named Gabrielle (Renee O’Connor), whom Xena had rescued from thugs earlier in the episode. The episode concludes with Xena agreeing to allow Gabrielle to travel with her.

It didn’t take long for Xena to become a hit series in its own right. So much so that by its third season, the show was dominating the ratings over both Star Trek: Deep Space Nine as well as Hercules (to the annoyance of Kevin Sorbo).

Both Xena and Star Trek: Voyager premiered in 1995, and both shows aired their series finales in 2001. Unfortunately, both finales were massively disappointing. But which one was a bigger letdown? Let’s find out.

Star Trek: Voyager: “Endgame”

Voyager‘s finale concludes the ship’s seven-year trip back to the Alpha Quadrant. It actually begins 16 years after the previous episode (“Renaissance Man”) with an older Janeway, now an admiral. As her fellow crew members celebrate the tenth anniversary of Voyager getting home, she embarks on a daunting plan to travel back in time in order to help Voyager get home quicker.

We see Janeway’s reasons for doing the time-travel/reset button motif Voyager became infamous for. It turns out Tuvok is in a mental institution, and Chakotay and Seven of Nine are both dead.

With a time travel doohickey that some Klingons pulled out of their asses, Janeway travels to the end of Voyager‘s seventh season in a shuttlecraft that can armor up like the Batmobile. She informs her younger self that a cloud full of wormholes that was guarded by Borg ships has a passage that can take them straight home. Captain Janeway is open to this at first, but then gets pissed off at her older self when the crew discovers the route home is part of what’s called a “transwarp hub”, which contains other wormholes leading to other sectors of the galaxy.

This prompts Captain Janeway to get the hell out of the area and also order her crew to find a way to destroy the hub. The captain’s reasoning is to stop the Borg once and for all (which makes the crew’s previous Borg encounter “Unimatrix Zero” pointless, as the civil war Janeway attempted to start there obviously didn’t happen). But Admiral Janeway is adamant that they should use the hub to go home immediately, and to that end, she informs her younger self that Seven will die three years later on a mission, and Chakotay, who’ll be married to Seven by then, will be depressed forever afterward (not that he ever seemed happy on the show in the first place). And on top of all that, Tuvok will succumb to a mental condition unless he receives a cure that’s only available in the Alpha Quadrant.

Needless to say, the crew finds a way to (as Captain Janeway puts it) have their cake and eat it too. Admiral Janeway boards the Borg ship and gets assimilated by the Borg Queen (Alice Krige). But it all turns out to be a trick, as Voyager manages to (somehow) blow up everything Borg and arrive home, just as the end credits come up (literally).

Xena: Warrior Princess: “A Friend in Need”

Xena‘s finale begins with Xena and Gabrielle enjoying a starry evening. For some reason, Xena decides that a change of scenery is in order and recommends they go to Egypt (I guess she liked the pyramids during her previous visit there in “Antony & Cleopatra”).

They’re interrupted by the appearance of a young man named Kenji (Mac Jeffrey Ong), who informs Xena that a woman from Japan named Akemi (Michelle Ang) sent him to find her. On the boat taking them there, Xena informs Gabrielle that she first met Akemi while in China with her lover Borias (Marton Csokas). Xena and Akemi eventually became friends, with Xena teaching her that famous pinch, to Gabrielle’s chagrin, as she was never taught it.

Our heroines arrive to find the city of Higuchi in flames and surrounded by an army. They and Kenji swim to shore. As they save the city, Xena further reveals that Akemi’s father is Yodoshi, who is an evil ghost who enslaves the souls of the dead. Xena also states that Akemi killed Yodoshi, but then committed ritual suicide for doing so. This led Xena to fulfill Akemi’s wish, which was to take her ashes to her family shrine. En route, however, townspeople attempted to stop Xena, which led to Akemi’s ashes ending up in a gutter. This led to Xena grabbing a torch to fight off the angry mob, which in turn led to the city going up in flames.

In the present, Xena elects to fight the approaching army alone, and allows herself to be killed by Yodoshi’s general Morimoto (Venant Wong) in order to fight Yodoshi. Gabrielle soon realizes that Xena is dead when she finds Xena’s severed head and learns of a method that can restore her to life. But that method must be used before the sun sets.

But even as a ghost, Xena is able to fight armies practically with one hand tied behind her back. However, as this is the final episode, there’s a twist. After Yodoshi is vanquished and Gabrielle attempts to revive Xena, the Warrior Princess stops her. She informs Gabrielle that the souls of those who died when she accidentally set Akemi’s town on fire must be freed, and that’s only possible if Xena stays dead.

Saddened, Gabrielle begs Xena to not let this be, but Xena assures her she’ll always be with her (although it sounds like Xena will be with Akemi more). As the sun sets, Xena fades away. The series concludes with Gabrielle on a boat telling Xena’s ghost that she’ll go to Egypt (hopefully Gabrielle will at least keep in touch with her sister). Xena repeats her spew that she’ll always be by her side, as the boat sails off.

Which finale was the bigger letdown?

By the start of its seventh season, Voyager and disappointment were as common a combination as spaghetti and meatballs. So it’s not really surprising that “Endgame” was simply a rehash of all the things that didn’t exactly endear the series to Trek fans, such as time travel, technobabble, making the Borg less scary, visuals tossed onto the screen just because they look cool, and of course, that infamous reset button.

The only difference is that this time, the ship actually makes it home. But even any impact that may have had is diminished by the fact that we barely see the ship in the Alpha Quadrant. The ending credits of the episode are shown and the episode fades to black when we barely see Voyager coming towards Earth.

Even more damning are the lengths Admiral Janeway is willing to go to in order to make things better. Yes, she’s basically saving three of the regulars from a tragic fate, but she’s also erasing 26 years of history in the process. At the beginning of the episode, we see the daughter of Naomi Wildman at the Voyager reunion. This young girl has now been erased from history thanks to Admiral Janeway’s actions. There’s also the fact that all the crew members who died during the course of the series before “Endgame” don’t get so much as lip service here. At least when Superman turned back time to bring Lois back to life in the original 1978 movie, it was only a matter of moments. That, and the great job Christopher Reeve did at putting the needed angst into the scene, allowed audiences to accept that moment in the film, even though it was ludicrous. “Endgame”, however, is basically an amplification of Janeway’s blatant disregard for others, only this time it’s on her own personal whim and not due to any Starfleet regulations.

Ironically, Xena‘s finale is actually the more disappointing of the two. Because while “Endgame” is basically the same old/same old, “A Friend in Need” basically spits in the face of everything the series established. Xena and Gabrielle’s friendship became the core of the show (and the subtext many took from that relationship only added to the appeal). So it’s quite disheartening when Xena tells Gabrielle that she must leave her, even though previous episodes would’ve gone out of their way to have the two remain united.

There’s also the fact that, with this show taking place in Japan, we have another Xena backstory that Gabrielle knows nothing about, even though one would think she and Xena know all about each other by this point. And why didn’t Xena ever teach her the pinch, anyway? Also, considering that this series had its share of story arcs, this sudden trip to Japan just comes out of nowhere. In contrast, both the finales for TNG (“All Good Things…”) and DS9 (“What You Leave Behind”) felt like the culmination of those respective series.

At the time of Xena‘s run, I frequently visited the show’s official message boards. Within days of airing, “A Friend in Need” generated such discontent from fans on that board that I’m surprised the whole website didn’t implode. An exaggeration, yes, but I honestly doubt there was a single Xena fan who tuned into the finale expecting to see her decapitated.

Xena was definitely the better show, and perhaps this is what makes “A Friend in Need” all the more terrible, and definitely the worse of the two finales.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Agony Booth review: I Know What You Did Last Summer series

This article looks at what is probably the most famous of the slasher movies Scream inspired, and which also turns 20 this year!
The success of Scream, like that of Halloween before it, led to imitators. Scream basically resurrected the slasher film after it had been dormant for over half a decade. That resurrection, as it turned out, also included the stupidity that (consciously or not) was a hallmark of the sub-genre.

Perhaps the most successful of the slashers that Scream inspired (which really isn’t saying much, as the wave of slashers in Scream‘s wake didn’t last as long as those inspired by Halloween) was I Know What You Did Last Summer. Like Scream, this film was penned by Kevin Williamson, who actually wrote this picture prior to Scream, but basically kept it in a drawer until Craven’s film became a huge success. Also like Scream, the main protagonist is played by an actress who first became famous for her role on the TV series Party of Five, making further comparisons to Scream inevitable.

But, again like Scream, this film’s success would lead to sequels, each becoming dumber than the last. So let’s look at all three films comprising this series.

I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)
Released the same year as Scream 2, which was also penned by Williamson, this movie, like Valentine, was based on a book that the finished film basically pissed on.

This movie’s Party of Five alum (Jennifer Love Hewitt) plays Julie James, a recent high school grad who’s celebrating one 4th of July evening with her boyfriend Ray Bronson (Freddie Prinze Jr.), her best friend Helen Shivers (Sarah Michelle Gellar, who was at the time making her mark playing the title role on Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Helen’s boyfriend Barry Cox (Ryan Phillippe). As they drive home from their night of fun on the beach at the North Carolina fishing town they call home, Barry’s drunken state leads to Ray accidentally hitting a man with their car.

Despite Julie’s protests that they should come clean and alert the police, her three friends end up agreeing to just dump the body at a nearby dock. Alas, the body turns out to be not so dead and attempts to fight them off before being dumped in the water. This leads to our quartet (including Julie, reluctantly) agreeing to never mention the incident.

A year later, a depressed Julie, who has since separated from Ray, returns home from college, where her grades are not the best. She receives an anonymous letter containing the title message. Connecting with her three friends, all of whom are conveniently still in town, Julie attempts to find out who the person who knows their dark secret is. At the same time, said person begins to torment our quartet even further with methods that include murder.

Like Valentine, this movie was credited as being based on the book of the same name. But this film does a slightly better job at capturing its source than Valentine did. I say slightly, because this didn’t stop the book’s author, Lois Duncan, from condemning the movie.

The best part of the film is the beginning when our four heroes have their accident. Their fear and the manner in which they turn on each other is interesting, and helps the movie stand out from previous slasher films. After this point, however, it’s easy to understand the reason for author Duncan’s objections to the movie. This is because after Julie gets the letter and reunites with her friends, this film becomes just one dumb slasher cliché after another. For example, Barry never once has a moment where he’s likeable. He even tells Julie and Helen, his former girlfriend, that they look like “shit run over twice” (is it any wonder that Reese Witherspoon would later dump his ass?). Hence, it’s not surprising that Barry becomes one of the victims. Other victims the film telegraphs a mile away include not only Helen, but her bitchy sister Elsa (Bridgette Wilson), as well as sad sack/asshole Max (Johnny Galecki, before he would go on to the equal hell of living under the same roof as Sheldon Cooper).

There’s also an overstated attempt to cast suspicions that Ray may be the perpetrator. And when Julie is finally face to face with her adversary (Muse Watson), we learn that he was their hit-and-run victim, who himself had committed murder that very night. That last tidbit apparently makes our heroes’ (I’m using that word generously here) hit-and-run incident apparently alright.

The fact that this film’s most famous scene (Julie venting her frustration by shouting out to ask what the killer is waiting for, with the camera strategically placed on Hewitt’s chest) is noteworthy, but not in a way that exactly makes the movie lasting art. The fact that her venting is not noticed by anybody despite taking place in a suburban street is proof that this film is just another dumb slasher movie (at least Friday the 13th had the excuse of taking place in an isolated campground miles from anywhere).

I guess I should also mention the ending where the killer, Ben Willis, turns out to be still around. But the fact that the movie asks us to side with people whose moral upstanding is dubious makes that tidbit a mere flea bite leading to the inevitable sequel.

I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (1998)
I’m going to get this out of the way first: this film’s title is better suited for a Saturday Night Live sketch (shouldn’t this been two summers ago, anyway?). Perhaps that, in itself, should have prepared us for how moronic (even by slasher standards) this film is.

Some throwaway dialogue early in this film suggests that the first film’s final scene was just a dream. But Julie and Ray are still presumably being targeted by Ben, with Julie having brief episodes such as awaking from a dream with a screaming fit in the middle of one of her classes.

As Helen and Barry are both dead now, they’re respectively replaced here by Karla (Brandy Norwood) and her boyfriend Tyrell (Mekhi Phifer, who should’ve known better). There’s even an additional character, Will Benson (Matthew Settle), who’s smitten with Julie.

With Ray’s fishing career apparently taking up all his time, Julie agrees to go with Karla, Tyrell, and Will to the Bahamas, which Karla won a trip to via a radio contest. Ray later decides to surprise Julie by going to meet her there, but his trip is cut short when Ben appears and puts Ray in a hospital. He later escapes and somehow hijacks a boat to take him to Julie.

At the same time, this quartet’s trip to their hotel soon becomes another cliché upon cliché, with Tyrell being every bit the asshole that Ray was, and with many appearances by suspicious characters (among them Jeffrey Combs, who also should have known better) whose sole purpose is to die.

In another plot twist that’s no surprise, Will turns out to be Ben’s son, which he reveals in a revelation scene that’s basically a rip-off of the one in Scream. We also learn that Ben actually set up the radio contest that gave Karla this trip, which is almost (almost, mind you) as convoluted a scheme as the Emperor’s plan to take over the galaxy in the Star Wars prequels.

Heck, this film even gives us a copy of Julie shouting out to Ben with, once again, the camera placed to show off Hewitt’s cleavage. The only real difference this movie has with its predecessor is that Helen is still alive at the end. Scream 2, while it had its share of dumb moments, was genius compared to this mountain of stupidity. So we shouldn’t be surprised that there wouldn’t be a third film in this series, at least not involving anybody connected with the previous two movies.

I’ll Always Know What You Did Last Summer (2006)
Someone at Dimension apparently decided that a third entry in this series was called for, which led to this direct-to-video flick. Nobody from the previous two movies was involved with this one, and there’s only one story connection with the previous films (which I’ll get to shortly). This clean slate may have presented a nice opportunity to build this series from the ground up and even make it something good as a result. Alas, this film is really nothing special either.

This time, the focus is on five friends: Amber Williams (Brooke Nevin), her boyfriend Colby Patterson (David Paetkau), and their friends Zoe (Torrey Devitto), Roger (Seth Packard) and PJ (Clay Taylor). This quintet pull a prank at a carnival with Roger donning the Fisherman suit and hook Ben used. Soon, though, PJ winds up dead and Colby convinces the others to keep things a secret (oh, boy).

A year later, Amber starts getting texts with the “I Know…” message. She and Zoe inform Colby, but he tells them to basically fuck off, even disbelieving Amber’s later claims that she was attacked. Needless to say, the killer turns out to be Willis (now played by Don Shanks). Like the previous two films, you can pretty much tell who’s going to get it and what the last scene will be.

The first I Know… has a good opening act before going quickly downhill. I Still Know… simply inundates the viewer with its relentless stupidity from beginning to end. I’ll Always Know… is just plain dull. The lack of any generous views of Hewitt probably doesn’t help either.

There’s been some talk in recent years about a reboot of this series. But considering that reboots of Halloween, Friday the 13th, and A Nightmare on Elm Street haven’t exactly eclipsed their respective originals, I’m not exactly holding my breath here.