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.

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.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Agony Booth review: How influential are film critics?

This article focuses on something I've wondered about often.
Recently, director Brett Ratner claimed that the relative failure of Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, which his company RatPac Entertainment co-financed, can be solely blamed on the website Rotten Tomatoes.

For those not in the know, Rotten Tomatoes collects all possible reviews of any given movie. A film is then classified as “fresh” if 60% or more of the reviews are positive. Likewise, films with 59% or lower positive reviews are classified as “rotten”. Batman v. Superman holds a 27% rating on the website.

This little tiff got me thinking about something I’ve sometimes wondered about: just how influential are film critics when it comes to a film being a success or a failure?

Rotten Tomatoes rep Jeff Voris responded to Ratner’s criticisms, saying that the “Tomatometer score, which is the percentage of positive reviews published by professional critics, has become a useful decision-making tool for fans, but we believe it’s just a starting point for them to begin discussing, debating and sharing their own opinions.”

Ratner is not the first Hollywood player to blame a film’s failure on critics. When The Lone Ranger (which holds a 31% rating on Rotten Tomatoes) bombed in 2013, Johnny Depp, who played Tonto in the film, pointed the finger for its failure not at the screenwriter, or the producers of the film, but those who pointed out how stupid it was.

“I think the reviews were written when they heard Gore [Verbinski] and Jerry [Bruckheimer] and me were going to do The Lone Ranger,” Depp said at the time. “They had expectations that it must be a blockbuster. I didn’t have any expectations of that. I never do.”

I find Depp’s lack of expectations hard to believe, since the film was made by the same people who made the Pirates of the Caribbean series. Hence I, like many others, was expecting The Lone Ranger to actually be as successful as those films. Hell, I’d say the main reason it bombed was because it was too much like the Pirates series.

Lone Ranger producer Jerry Bruckheimer chimed in, basically agreeing with Depp. “I think they were reviewing the budget, not reviewing the movie,” Bruckheimer said. “The audience doesn’t care what the budget is — they pay the same amount if it costs a dollar or 20 million dollars.” He added that the film is “one of those movies that whatever critics missed in it this time, they’ll review it in a few years and see that they made a mistake.”

While I think the only thing funny about the film was the stupid bird Depp had on his head, both Depp and Bruckheimer, like Ratner, are wasting their breath. I’ve certainly heard a number of people over the years say they don’t listen to critics. I’ve even felt the need to check out some movies despite every review saying that the movies are awful. But there are a number of films that make huge amounts of money regardless of what the reviews may say.

One example of this is 1991’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, which was savaged by critics for not being as fun as the 1938 classic The Adventures of Robin Hood, in which Errol Flynn played the title role. (For the record, Thieves holds a 50% score on Rotten Tomatoes.) Most of the criticism was reserved for Kevin Costner, who played Robin Hood. Many said that he was too American for this very British role. Costner, who at the time was riding high off the Oscar-winning success of his directorial debut Dances With Wolves, would later be given a Razzie Award for his performance.

However, none of this kept Prince of Thieves from becoming the second biggest hit of 1991, trailing only Terminator 2: Judgment Day. I’ve always felt that this was because while, acting-wise, Costner certainly didn’t hold a candle to past Robins, the movie itself was exciting, with great action and wonderful supporting turns from Morgan Freeman as Robin’s Moorish friend Azeem, and the late, great Alan Rickman as the Sheriff of Nottingham. Another nice touch was Sean Connery’s cameo as Richard the Lionheart, which was meaningful because Connery memorably played Robin Hood in 1976’s Robin and Marian. In addition, the film’s song, “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You”, sung by Bryan Adams, became a chart-topping hit and was nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Song. (It lost to the title song from Beauty and the Beast.)

Other movies which have become massively successful in spite of bad reviews include the 1978 Clint Eastwood comedy Every Which Way But Loose, and its 1980 sequel Any Which Way You Can. Both of these movies involve Clint doing the tough guy routine he does so well, only this time with an orangutan named Clyde.

Clint was already known and loved for his tough guy roles by this point. So pairing him with an orangutan for laughs certainly raised many eyebrows. Many critics were quick to express their disgust with such a move, but Clint’s charisma and some genuine laughs helped make these two movies among Eastwood’s most successful.

I once noted that some summer blockbusters can thrive in spite of negative reviews, if they’re exciting. One thing both Batman v. Superman and The Lone Ranger have in common are that they are not exciting. In fact, I found parts of them quite boring.

There’s also the fact that, in the age of the Internet, film critics themselves are increasing in number. One of my colleagues once wrote that the internet has destroyed the influence of film critics. I can certainly understand that stance. Before anyone knew what the hell the internet was, people such as Siskel and Ebert were, for all intents and purposes, the biggest reference points when it came to how good a movie was. In this day and age, however, pretty much anyone who can type can go online and critique a movie. Perhaps the key difference here is that some critiques are not as thorough as Siskel and Ebert’s or others who may have been inspired by them.

This may be a reason for Ratner and Depp’s criticisms. They see certain criticisms that may not be well thought out, and deduced that all such criticisms of Batman v. Superman and The Lone Ranger must be just as unfairly harsh. But film critics can be instrumental in determining if a movie is truly worthwhile. For me, they give me an idea of what to expect from a film, even if I don’t entirely end up agreeing with their final assessments.

For instance, the film CHiPs, based on the beloved 1977 – 1983 TV series, was recently released. Based on the reviews that make up its 18% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, as well as its low box office take, I can pretty much deduce that the movie pisses on that show by resorting to stupid, unfunny gags. The fact that it was written and directed by its star Dax Shepard confirms my thoughts that he’s become just a poor man’s Adam Sandler (yeah, just let that depressing thought sink in).

But hearing Ratner and Depp complain, they seem to be comparing their respective movies to films that weren’t meant to be blockbuster hits. During his tenure on the TV series ER, George Clooney starred in the terrific movie Out of Sight. This film got glowing reviews from critics but didn’t do much in terms of making money at the box office. However, the movie was a nice rebound for Clooney after starring in Batman & Robin, and from there, he would go on to win an Oscar for Syriana. But Out of Sight wasn’t intended to be a franchise like Batman v. Superman or The Lone Ranger. So does this means critics are to blame for Out of Sight not making as much money as that same year’s Saving Private Ryan? By the logic Ratner and Depp are presenting, this is certainly the case.

In short, there is and always will be a place for movie critics. By blaming them for essentially doing their jobs and pointing out how bad a certain work is represents, for me, the height of laziness. This is because people such as Ratner and Depp think that bad things that are said about their work are the reason their work isn’t successful, rather than attempting to see if there’s any validity in such criticisms.

I’m not saying that people shouldn’t disagree with critics. Lord knows I’ve certainly done my share of that. What I’m saying is that pointing fingers in this manner is counterproductive. Disagreeing with critics is one thing, but actually saying they’re the ones to blame for a movie’s failure doesn’t do much to turn things around for filmmakers. Maybe examining the work being criticized to see exactly why it didn’t generate enthusiasm among audiences would be a more productive approach.

Movie criticism should be viewed for what it is, which is simply a tool to indicate how a work has turned out. It should not be the end-all-be-all of how a person responds to criticism of their work. Viewing criticism in this manner ends up doing more damage to said person’s credibility rather than any work they may put out.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Interview with Mika Boorem

This week, I had the pleasure of interviewing actress Mika Boorem. Her film credits include Along Came a Spider (2001) and Blue Crush (2002).

Mika Boorem has been an actress since childhood. Among her film credits are Hearts in Atlantis, Along Came a Spider, and Blue Crush. Her television work includes appearances on such series as Touched by an Angel, Dawson’s Creek, and The Ghost Whisperer. She was also featured in David Cook’s music video “Light On”. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing this young showbiz veteran.

Mika, what inspired you to become an actress?

I started acting at a very young age. I was put into theater to help overcome shyness. It wasn’t something I necessarily chose from a young age. It’s what I’ve always known and the discipline and structure I was raised with since I was a young child.

One of your film appearances was in Along Came a Spider, which starred the legendary Morgan Freeman. Any thoughts on working with him?

What a blessing that was. I feel so fortunate to have worked with such greats as him. To just be in the presence of someone who is a master of their craft and to watch them work is a real gift. I feel exceptionally blessed to have had that experience.

You also appeared in the music video for “Light On”. How was that different from acting in movies or TV?

Music videos seem to operate at a much faster pace. Also there is no dialogue from the actors, so the director is very specific with the shots and emotions they are looking to portray. Working with Wayne Isham—who has directed some of my favorite music videos, i.e. videos for Bon Jovi, the Rolling Stones, etc.—was really really cool. If you’re going to do a music video, he’s the top guy and who you want to do one with.

Are there any actors or actresses you hope to work with?

There are so many. The talent pool is large with a lot of variety. There is one thing that has really struck my interest recently. My friend John Vogel sent me a script that centers around a young man with special needs. I love the idea of actors with special needs receiving a platform to perform on and this is a movement I’d like to support.

Are there any types of films you especially like?

I love all films. I think each one contains something special. Films are a collaboration of a collective of artists. And just that in itself is really phenomenal. That being said I really enjoy narratives where it feels like the actor is revealing something personal about themselves. Something secret, or private that maybe the audience connects with. I love the idea that a film can make people feel more connected to, related and a part of a community because of the themes and ideas that are represented in the film.

Do you have any favorites of your film and TV roles?

All have been individual experiences and I appreciate each one differently. My favorite role is my next role.

Your most recent film, Dweller, is currently in pre-production. Can you tell us anything about that?

I cannot at the moment.

You are a co-founder of the charity MadaKilonga, which helps children in Madagascar. What inspired you to help create it?

Education empowers the people. Through education the people can help each other and empower themselves.

Last year, you directed and co-wrote the short film Love Thy Neighbor. Do you find directing as fulfilling as acting?

Directing is a unique experience. I enjoy working with all of the artists and hearing their visions. I found it to be very collaborative.

Do you have plans to direct or write other films?

Yes. I just finished directing a full feature. Currently it is titled Hollywood.con. This film is a comedy based around a Hollywood production company trying to make the next big Mayan film. I’m very excited to share this piece with the world. Keep your eyes peeled!

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Agony Booth review: TNG's most underrated episodes-Part II

This is the second half of my list of Star Trek: The Next Generation's most underrated episodes.
Here now is the second half of my article in which I name the 10 most underrated episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Click here for part 1!

Season 5: “Violations”
This episode is quite a little chiller. The Enterprise is giving a lift to a trio of telepathic aliens known as Ullians: Inad (Eve Brenner), Tarmin (David Sage), and his son Jev (Ben Lemon). These people do their telepathic thing by probing one’s memories in order to flesh out any forgotten or scarcely remembered bits. This is demonstrated in the beginning when Tarmin helps Keiko O’Brien (Rosalind Chao) remember something from her childhood.

During dinner with the crew, Tarmin proves as overbearing as Lwaxana Troi (Troi herself even says as much later on) when he embarrasses his son in order to make his point. But Troi cheers Jev up later, saying that he’s not the only one with an annoying parent. That night, as she prepares for bed, Troi slowly becomes overwhelmed by a memory involving Riker, whose place in the memory is soon taken over by Jev. As he assaults her in the memory, Troi falls into a coma.

Riker deduces that Jev was the last person to see Troi before she conked out. Obviously pissed off, Riker promises an investigation after questioning him. But later, alone in his quarters, Riker becomes overwhelmed by a memory in which an emergency in Engineering resulted in a crewman’s death. Riker lapses into a coma as Jev guilt trips him about it.

Crusher examines Keiko to see if she could potentially experience any side effects, but discovers she’s fine. Before the doctor can continue further though, Jev puts her in a coma after forcing her to relive the moment when Picard showed her the body of her husband Jack (Doug Wert).

Eventually, Troi awakens but can’t remember much. Jev offers to assist her with that, and probing her mind, frames Tarmin as the perpetrator. But shortly afterward, LaForge and Data deduce that Jev is the real culprit, and with Worf, detain him just as he’s about to assault Troi (for real this time).

While we know who the guilty party is from the start, and while the climax is a bit too obvious, this episode still does a good job at delivering jolts. The memory flashes experienced by Troi, Riker, and Crusher are nicely done, and LeVar Burton and Brent Spiner are given a chance to show off their nice buddy chemistry as LaForge and Data attempt to get to the bottom of things.

Season 5 & 6: “Time’s Arrow” / “Time’s Arrow, Part II”

This cliffhanger two-parter, part one of which concluded season 5, and part two of which begins season 6, is unique in TNG’s run in that it’s a stand-alone adventure. In contrast, “The Best of Both Worlds”, “Redemption”, “Descent”, and “All Good Things…” were each pieces of a bigger puzzle.

Returning to Earth, the crew finds Data’s head among some ruins beneath San Francisco. Further analysis indicates that it’s been there since the 19th Century. They also find evidence of other extraterrestrial interventions among the ruins and go to the planet which may house said aliens. Despite Picard’s attempts, Data vanishes and finds himself in 19th Century San Francisco. Among those he encounters are Samuel Clemens (Jerry Hardin) and even the younger version of Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg) from that period.

Guinan agrees to help Data track the aliens traveling to this time period. At the same time, Part I (and the fifth season) concludes with Picard and the others, sans Worf, following Data.

Part II has everyone reunited and learning that the aliens are coming to this tme period in order to feed off the energy of human beings, specifically those dying of cholera, hence anyone finding their bodies can just blame the disease for it.

As with The Terminator, the very event the time travelers hope to avert occurs anyway. But unlike that classic 1984 film, things end on an upbeat note as Data gets his head reattached (albeit one with five centuries of dust on it), the aliens are defeated, and the crew and Mark Twain are back in their own times.

I’ve heard numerous complaints from some fans about this one since it aired. For instance, there have been complaints of too much technobabble, as well as questions about how Picard and company acquired the period clothes we see them wearing when Part II begins.

But this romp is never boring, with Hardin delightfully chewing the scenery. Regarding the wardrobe, I’ve always assumed they got the clothes the same way Kirk and Spock got their clothing in “The City on the Edge of Forever”: they stole them (or they could’ve traded in their normal clothes, that works too). As for the technobabble complaints, oh, please! The technobabble here is no worse than it would be in the later time travel two-parters “Past Tense” and “Future’s End”.

One of my colleagues said it best: It’s certainly not a wildly original time travel premise, but it’s competently done.

Season 6: “Birthright, Part I” / “Birthright, Part II”

This two-parter begins as a crossover with Deep Space Nine, which was in the middle of its first season at this point. The Enterprise arrives at the station for a Bajoran aid mission. Bashir comes aboard to use the ship’s computer to scan a recently found device. As he, Data, and LaForge analyze it, the machine shoots a bolt of energy knocking Data out. However, Data still experiences seeing his creator Dr. Soong (also played by Spiner) before he’s reactivated. Encouragement from Worf prompts him to go over his experience, and convincing LaForge and Bashir to repeat the accident, discovers that Soong had a dream program built into him.

At the same time, Worf is approached by a Yridian (James Cromwell) who informs him that his father is still alive and living in a Romulan prison camp. Worf is incensed at the thought of his old man being taken alive, but his words to Data prompt him to seek his dad out regardless.

Forcing the Yridian to take him to the planet, Worf finds that his father is indeed dead, but there are other survivors of the massacre which took his parents, and they’re peacefully living with Romulans on this planet.

Tokath (Alan Scarfe), the Romulan who oversees this world, informs Worf that he took pity on the captured Klingons and arranged for them to live their lives on the planet in peace. He’s even taken the Klingon Gi’Ral (Cristine Rose) as his wife, with whom they have a daughter Ba’el (Jennifer Gatti).

Worf’s attempts to escape fail, but he begins to leave an impression on the young Klingons that are now being raised here, including Ba’el. Eventually, Tokath decides to execute Worf to keep the peace he’s built, but the young Klingons stand up for him and declare their desire to leave.

The plot with Data is nicely wrapped up in Part I, leaving Part II exclusively focused on Worf, with only two scenes on the Enterprise. Some have understandably taken Worf to task for breaking apart a peaceful settlement. At the same time though, Worf’s stance is understandable, as the young Klingons have no idea of the heritage they have, which in one sense reminds me of how Native Americans were made to essentially forget their heritage when they were forced onto reservations. Even Worf’s resentment of Romulans is changed slightly when he tells Ba’el he loves her even though she’s half-Romulan.

The final scene, in which Worf deliberately lies to Picard in order to preserve the honor of the survivors, and Picard’s subsequent “I understand,” also hit home.

Both Data and Worf’s storylines would get memorable followups (“Rightful Heir” and “Phantasms”).

Season 6: “Lessons”

All the Trek series have, at best, a hot and cold track record when it comes to love stories. TNG was no exception, with such stories ranging from bland (“Aquiel”) to downright awful (“Angel One”). So maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that when DS9 began to pair off some of its main characters in its later seasons, the results weren’t exactly must-see TV.

One exception to this, however, was Worf’s relationship with his baby mamma K’Ehleyr (Suzie Plakson). She only appeared in two episodes (“The Emissary” and “Reunion”), but her impression was immediate and her chemistry with Dorn palpable. The character’s shocking death in her second appearance would lead to, as far as I’m concerned, Worf’s finest moment on either TNG or DS9.

A close second to that stellar pairing, though, is this episode, which finds Picard falling in love with his new head of Stellar Sciences, Lt. Cmdr. Nella Daren (Wendy Hughes). What makes this one special is that these two actually get to know each other before declaring their love. The ending of the episode, in which they part, is also poignant, as Picard realizes that he can’t bring himself to potentially order Daren to her death if they remain together on the Enterprise.

As with Dorn and Plakson, the chemistry between Stewart and Hughes is wonderful. But my favorite scene is one I was actually hoping would be in it. It’s the moment when Picard tells Daren of how he acquired his flute by recalling the events of TNG’s masterwork “The Inner Light”. Kirk uses his bravado to make women fall for him, while Picard uses continuity.

Season 7: “Dark Page”

This is the second episode focusing on Lwaxana Troi which actually made me think more highly of her. The reason for this is that, like “Half a Life”, the story here puts her in a vulnerable position.

Troi’s mom is visiting the ship in order to communicate with a race called the Cairn. This race only communicates telepathically, so Lwaxana is onboard to help them speak verbally. She develops a close bond with the young Cairn girl Hedril (a then-unknown Kirsten Dunst). But soon, Lwaxana begins to have a nervous breakdown, even snapping at Riker at one point.

Not long afterward, Lwaxana falls into a coma. With the help of Hedril’s father Maques (Norman Large), Troi telepathically enters her mother’s mind in order to help her. But Lwaxana drives her daughter out of her mind. Troi’s subsequent finding that her mother deleted several years worth of entries in her journal leads her to re-enter her mind. It’s then that she discovers that Lwaxana has been covering up the existence of Troi’s previously unknown older sister Kestra (Andreana Weiner), and that Hedril’s resemblance to Kestra triggered Lwaxana’s breakdown.

TNG wasn’t the first series to dig up the “previously unknown sibling” cliché, and, as Sherlock recently proved, it wasn’t the last. But I enjoyed this episode for the wonderful scenes between Sirtis and Barrett, and for giving us more info on Troi’s background, as she rightfully takes center stage in order to save her mother.

Fittingly, this was Lwaxana’s final appearance on TNG. But she would appear twice more on DS9, and in her final appearance on that show (“The Muse”), there’s a nice bit of continuity in which Lwaxana talks about Kestra with Odo.

This wasn’t an easy list to compile. In fact, I can think of other TNG episodes that could be added. For example, season 5’s “The Perfect Mate” was good for the nicely understated way that Picard begins to fall for Kamala (a then-unknown Famke Janssen) and it has nice scenes between Picard and Crusher, which today serve to remind us that the absence of scenes between these two is one of the major reasons why the four TNG films ended up sucking big time.

Another is season 6’s “Frame of Mind”, which is nicely reminiscent of Roman Polanski’s film Repulsion, with Riker in the Catherine Deneuve role.

Still, as I mentioned in Part I of this article, with so many episodes, it was inevitable that some would fall under the radar.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Earth Girls are Easy (1988)

"Okay, I'm going to show you something that's going to totally change your life, completely, forever. Okay?"
"Well, in that case, let me get a cigarette."
-Valerie Gail and Candy Pink.

Celebrities and divorce basically go together like peanut butter and jelly. I must confess, though, that there are been some celebrity couples whose divorces made me a bit sad. One such couple was Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis. These two made three films together during the 1980's. The first was the so-so comedy Transylvania 6-5000 (1985), while the second, and most famous, of their teamings came the following year with The Fly. The two would actually get married during production of this, their final, movie together.
Davis plays manicurist Valerie Gail, who is currently having trouble in the romance department, thanks to her philandering boyfriend Dr. Ted Gallagher (Charles Rocket). Despite the efforts of her co-worker Candy Pink (Julie Brown), Valerie is having trouble turning her frown upside down until, one day, an alien ship crashes into her swimming pool as she's sunbathing.
This ship is manned by Zeebo (Damon Wayans), Wiploc (Jim Carrey) and their captain Mac (Jeff Goldblum), all three of whom basically look like Wookies doused in different food coloring.
After her inital, understandable fear, Valerie agrees to take the trio in until they can fix their ship. With Candy's help, our outworlders get a makeover at the salon the ladies work at, so they can blend in more easily with society in the interim.
A night on the town leads to Zeebo making the moves on the local ladies at a disco, while Wiploc and Candy engage in some fun of their own. But later, Ted returns to try to make amends but then darts off again after seeing the company Valerie is now keeping.
Valerie's sadness prompts Mac to try to make her feel better. After some hesitation, Valerie ends up having sex with him.
The next day, with repairs on their ship almost complete, Valerie and Mac learn that Zeebo and Wiploc, along with Valerie's slacker neighbor Woody (Michael McKean), have been arrested after unknowingly robbing a convenience store. Mac gets himself arrested as well so he can help them out.
After a police chase, Zeebo and Wiploc are taken to a hospital, where Ted discovers how alien they truly are. Fortunately, Mac and Valerie manage to convince Ted he's delusional in order to help Mac's shipmates escape.
Ted later stops by Valerie's again and, in order to help Mac and the others take off, she tries to stall Ted by agreeing to go to Vegas to marry him.
Mac is heartbroken, but, once everything is ready, launches their ship. Valerie then realizes that she really loves Mac and tells him she wants to return to his world, a request he happily grants.
Like The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), this is a musical with science fiction elements in it. But I actually found this more enjoyable than Rocky Horror mainly because it makes no attempt to gross the viewer out like that film did with its dinner scene and the protagonists here are a bit more lively.
Both Wayans and Carrey would go on to success with the TV series In Living Color, and their subsequent film success is one reason why this movie has the cult following it does. Hey, if Rocky Horror can get such a following, this movie should be able to.