December 6, 2015

Fateful Findings

Neil Breen's Fateful Findings is the greatest movie ever made.

Directed by Neil Breen from a script by Neil Breen, Fateful Findings stars Neil Breen as Dylan Neil Breen, the world's greatest hacker who also has the superpowers of shouting incoherently into cellular phones, phasing through solid objects, and making movies that don't make any fucking sense. Director Breen's interpretation of screenwriter Breen is masterful, matched perfectly by the consummate professional editing of Neil Breen and the haunting soundtrack composed and performed by Neil Breen. Only producer Neil Breen could have assembled such a potent combination of talent to create this singular motion picture. If Neil Breen could see how perfectly Neil Breen has brought Neil Breen's vision from page to screen, Neil Breen would bestow upon Neil Breen the prestigious Neil Breen Award for Being Neil Breen, as voted for by the selection committee made up of Neil Breen.

Given that he has more talent in his bad white guy's Jheri curl combover than is present in the rest of the human race combined, Neil Breen eschews filmmaking conventions like editing scenes such that the audience has any idea how much time has passed, introducing characters by name or ever assigning them last names, having a plot or indeed a connection of any kind between scenes, and not kissing the actresses with all the raw sexual passion of a closeted homosexual trying to dispel tabloid rumors.

The film opens with Neil Breen being hit by a car, which is a wonderful way to open a film no matter how you look at it. We then cut to shots of people's shoes and then to awkward upward-looking shots of people in a completely different location, as we in the audience struggle to figure out where these people came from when in the long shots the street was clearly deserted. These non-actors (chosen by avant-garde director Breen for verisimilitude, no doubt) ask if he's okay approximately 30,000 times while no one bothers to answer the question or attempt to help in any way. My favorite guy emphatically declares that it was the Rolls-Royce that struck Breen down, which he knows because he saw the whole thing. Now, lacking the visionary genius of writer/director/producer/editor/Supreme Overlord of the Milky Way Galaxy Neil Breen, I thought maybe one of the other people there might turn to him and say, "Great Scott! You mean the Rolls-Royce currently idling right in front of us with blood dripping from its grill? I would never have guessed that was our dastardly culprit! It is indeed fortunate, my good sir, that you were somehow able to see the whole thing, despite not actually appearing in the earlier scene, else we might never have solved this conundrum!"

Instead, experimental nonlinear editor Breen intercuts the, er, "action" with shots of Our Breen's vaguely European wife/girlfriend/fuckbuddy/housemaid Emily shouting into her phone, "Dylan? Are you there? Dylan? Dylan, answer! Dylan! Dylan, are you there Dylan? Bueller? Bueller?" Now you might wonder how anyone, even a girl from the same indeterminate Eastern European country that gave us the barely-sentient scientist chick from Werewolf, could possibly still be shouting ineffectually into a cellular phone several minutes after any normal person would assume the connection's been lost. But since Neil Breen has the superpower of never losing his cell phone service, I think we can sympathize with Emily here. We can also sympathize with her because, like every other female character in this movie, visionary filmmaker/creepy pervert Neil Breen refuses to let her wear a bra at any time during the shoot.

So Our Breen is in the hospital, unconscious. His physician, the esteemed Dr. Unnamed, calls in a neurologist, an almost attractive blond who just so happens to be the girl Our Breen fell in love with when they were both eight years old. We know this because she's still wearing the same shitty Lucky Charms bracelet she wore back then, and later her notebook containing the words "It's a Magical Day" falls out of her pocket (open to the exact page with those words on it, no less) for Neil to find. See, she wrote those words in that old notebook (which looks to be in pretty good shape for the 20-odd years she says she's been carrying it with her constantly "for good luck") on the day she and young Neil found a mushroom, which turned into a box, out of which Neil took a magic rock. And then she put, um, something back in the box, and they left, and it turned into a mushroom again. A Magical Day!

Now, if you're thinking Dr. Object of Creepy Pedo Lust is here to use her expertise to save Our Neil, well, that's just what director Neil Breen and screenwriter Neil Breen wanted you to think. Our Neil don't need no stinkin' round-the-clock intensive care to treat what his doctor calls severe neurological damage. Instead, he just gets up and leaves the hospital on his own. Has he been in the hospital for a year? A month? A day? 20 minutes? An artiste cares not for these things. It's fortunate for Neil that he's magically healed himself, since there's apparently no one else in the ICU. No other patients, orderlies, receptionists--it's almost as if producer Breen couldn't raise enough money to hire even a single extra to wander through shot. Sure, he could  have slapped a lab coat on a grip and had him walk down the hallway with his back to the camera or something, but it's just that kind of pedestrian "real world" thinking that Neil Breen left behind when he ascended to the plane of existence in the multiverse reserved specifically for Neil Breen. Our Neil goes home and takes a shower, whereupon vaguely European wife-or-whatever Emily gets in with him and stands in the pool of blood collecting at his feet while they turn around in circles and then the scene ends.

Look, if you don't understand the deeper meaning and significance of this scene, I'm certainly not going to explain it to you.

In a manner that would send Tommy Wiseau into either a state of ecstasy or a jealous rage, conversations veer violently from someone confessing her crippling pill addiction to complaints from the same person that she isn't happy in her current career. Being one of exactly two staff in the ICU, Dr. Creepy Pedo Lust discovers Neil's absence and calls the other staff member, Dr. Unnamed, who declares emphatically "I'll check on it", hangs up, and leaves the movie, never to be seen again. After Neil's buddy is murdered by his wife, wifey also elects to no longer appear. Our Neil refuses to believe wifey's claim that buddy committed suicide, but that claim somehow drives Neil's wife-or-whatever Emily to herself commit suicide out of guilt, thus freeing Neil to bang Dr. Creepy Pedo Lust an impossible-to-figure-out amount of time later, since he's been in love with her since they were both eight, need I remind you. By the way, when buddy is murdered, his daughter offscreen teleports to the crime scene despite having been established as lying face down on a bed in a completely different room. This leads to a hilariously awkward scene in which wifey tries to prevent daughter from getting to the body while daughter struggles to get past her in a manner precisely as believable as a pair of angry dudebros being held back from engaging in fisticuffs by their skanky girlfriends in any given dive bar at 1 am on Saturday night in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Our Neil promises to blow the lid off government and corporate corruption, evidence of which he has obtained throughout the movie using his superior h4xx0r skillz. Are you asking what this has to do with Emily's death? Or Neil's reconnection with Dr. Creepy Pedo Lust? Or the murder of his best buddy? Or the daughter's topless swimming in Neil's pool and bathing in Neil's bathtub in an I-saw-American-Beauty-once attempted jailbait seduction of Neil? Because if you are, then frankly you need to go back to your Kurosawa films and your Christopher Nolan films and your Stanley Kubrick films and other such shallow fluff. You are not prepared for the True Art of a Neil Breen film starring Neil Breen from a screenplay by Neil Breen. The film ends with our hero standing in front of a hilariously bad greenscreen image of the Lincoln Memorial and revealing the incredibly vague but highly damning evidence he has uncovered of the crimes of those dastardly One-Percenters, while various government and corporate fat-cats step up and stand before the same horrendous greenscreen image and confess to crimes that are equally nebulous and ill-defined, followed by a cut to each fat-cat committing suicide somewhere else entirely in his or her own unique way. Then a government/corporate sniper takes aim at our hero, only to be Neil can continue a hero-exposes-corruption-through-endless-speechifying scene that would put Steven Seagal to shame. Roll credits.

Neil Breen is the most captivating artist of our time. His artistic creations will be revered and treasured for as long as cinema exists as an art form. Like every film made in France, Fateful Findings is pretentious, purposefully obtuse, and utterly lacking in meaning, coherence, and intelligibility. I shall not look up on its like again.

Wait...there are two moar Neil Breen films? Oh, bliss! Bliss and heaven.....

November 17, 2015

Revisit: Ninja III: The Domination

When your ol' pal Carl Eusebius was but a wee tot, he loved him some Japan. My age being in but single digits (my IQ of course was already immeasurable due to my godlike intellect), I loved four things: He-Man, Godzilla, Voltron, and ninjas.

Now you may have noticed that three of those things are Japanese, and all of them are completely fictional. Yes, in the early '80s Japan was still a mystical wonderland full of inscrutable little folk and their quirky habits, like taking their shoes off indoors and brutally subjugating neighboring countries. It was a more innocent time, before hentai, weeaboos, Pikachu and DESU. Ninjas were kind of like Batman before regular people liked Batman. They dressed in cool costumes, moved in the shadows, carried all kinds of gadgets like grappling hooks and caltrops, and kung fu-ed the shit out of guys. And they had fake-ass mythical weaponry that looked awesome despite having not a chance in hell of being actually effective in combat. Xena: Warrior Princess had her chakram, Batman had his batarangs, and ninjas had shuriken. That's a fancy Japanese word for a star-shaped knife ninjas threw at people to one-shot one-kill them. That's right, no matter where the "ninja star" hit you and penetrated up to one-quarter of an inch through your skin, you immediately keeled over dead. And if the ninja felt like getting closer, he had the ninja-to (that's Japanese for "ninja sword" desu), a shittier version of the katana that was cheaper to make since ninjas historically probably weren't magical superhuman assassins but were peasant bandits who resisted samurai rule by murdering samurai in ambushes, at least when they weren't waylaying and robbing upper-class people.

But we're talking movie ninjas here. The ones who could throw ninja stars and disappear in a cloud of smoke and scale walls barehanded and take off their masks and breathe fucking fire out of their fleshless undead skulls. And in the early '80s, your movie ninja was Sho Kosugi. For those few years that ninjas were king of young white boys' screens, Sho made a half dozen kickass ninja movies. Enter the Ninja. Revenge of the Ninja. Pray for Death. Nine Deaths of the Ninja. Rage of Honor. In the pre-Jackie Chan Rumble in the Bronx years, this was the best martial arts you were gonna get. While mainstream America had its Chuck Norrises and its Jean-Claude Van Dammes, we young lads who could actually find Japan on a map had Sho. He may not have been any better an actor than The Non-Presence That Kicks or the Muscles from Brussels, but as a martial arts performer, he was the best thing the Empire had until we discovered a little known place called Hong Kong....

But all good things must come to an end, and the ninja craze ended quickly indeed. By 1984, the genre was already played out, and so of course schlock auteurs Golan and Globus chose this moment to ensure its final destruction by making a ninja movie of their very own. Take ninjas, mix in some aerobics, garnish with a dash of The Exorcist, and you have the death knell of the ninja film, or as I call it, Ninja III: The Domination.

What can you say about a movie that begins with, to quote a random IMDb person, "the greatest golf course ninja motorcycle helicopter massacre ever put on film." Yes, this movie begins with Evil Ninja murdering, uh, someone, in the middle of a public golf course in broad daylight. (You can see why these cunning assassins were so feared.) Our Evil Ninja proceeds to slaughter approximately 7000 cops who attempt to arrest him, using all of his ninja skills: throwing stars, swords, punching through steel, and editing the film so that motorcycle cops who have already been killed magically appear back on their bikes just in time to crash spectacularly into a river. Two cops in a helicopter, seeing about a dozen cops wiped out by this guy, radio their buddies to "proceed with caution". Proceed with caution?! How about calling in "Officer down!", ya mooks. These two guys politely ignore Evil Ninja as he climbs up a tree directly in front of them and then even more kindly fly very close to the top of the tree so he can climb up the skids and kill them.

Evil Ninja kills a few more guys until the script finally says the cops can tag him with their guns. They shoot him about 900 times but then foolishly creep slowly up on him to see if he's dead, causing him to immediately pop up and kill another dozen of them. The cops then shoot him approximately 185,000 more times, and this time, finally, he...throws a smoke ball and disappears. I don't know why he bothered to leave, really, since he's proven as vulnerable to gunfire as fucking Superman. While the voices of guys saying things like "Where'd he go?" are dubbed over the scene, the cops disperse to find Our Ninja, whereupon he pops up out of the ground(!). The cops being several entire yards away at this point, he slips away unnoticed.

Thus ends, ladies and gentlemen, one of the dumbest and most inept action scenes in film history. It's right up there with Future War's epic battle between Not Jean-Claude Van Damme and Cyborg Ron Jeremy, as they push empty cardboard boxes at each other.

It turns out Our Ninja is indeed kacked, though sadly not before he happens upon telephone linewoman and aerobics instructor Lucinda Dickey, a true thespian and star of both Breakin' AND Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo. He makes her grab his sword (his ninja sword, you pervs) while he mutters in Japanese, and so our Flashdance-Exorcist-Nine Deaths of the Ninja "plot" begins.

Every time Lucinda sees one of the cops who shot Evil Ninja to death, we see a flashback of Evil Ninja being shot over 9000 times, and in the next scene Possessed Lucinda murders said cop in some baroque ninja way. Somehow no one ever notices Lucinda's presence at each murder scene shortly before someone turns up dead, nor does anyone see her vehicle (a huge fucking telephone van, mind you) speeding either toward or away from the murder scene. At no point do the police make any connection between the guys getting kacked and the shooting of Evil Ninja, including a cop with moar body hair than fucking Sasquatch who stalks and harasses Lucinda until she agrees to become his mistress and seduces him by pouring V8 all over her breasts. Hairy Cop doesn't bat an eye when Lucinda complains of lost memories, missing time, and unexplained injuries even as his friends on the police force are being systematically murdered by what is clearly a professional assassin. He doesn't think it might be suspicious that she suddenly has a ninja sword that she really doesn't want him to examine. It isn't until he takes her to a Chinese Japanese medium (played by consummate professional Hannibal Chew), who causes her to talk all reverb-y and then transform into one of the worst dummies you've ever seen, that he finally gets a clue. Now convinced (I guess?) she's possessed, Lucinda tries to aerobics her way out of Evil Ninja's next possession attempt, crying "No, not again!" even though she earlier claimed not to remember the possession episodes, but Evil Ninja's sword-wobbling-on-a-string-in-a-laughable-attempt-to-appear-to-be-floating will not be denied, and Lucinda is possessed again in a scene that is absolutely not a complete rip-off of Sigourney Weaver's possession in Ghostbusters. (God, even mentioning that film on this blog gives me the heebie-jeebies.)

Fortunately, Sho, looking rather badass in his eyepatch, has been tracking Evil Ninja, who is revealed in a flashback to be the guy who killed Sho's daddy and took his eye. Being rather faster on the uptake than Hairy Cop, Sho realizes that Evil Ninja's spirit is loose and figures out where he'll strike next. Sho intercepts Possessed Lucinda--decked out in the Evil Ninja's spare set of ninja duds that he apparently kept in his secret cave and luckily fit her perfectly--after she caps another of the cops. Sho kung fus her into submission, but of course lets her go when he finds out she's, like, a girl. The cops arrive and arrest Sho as the culprit, even though he's currently nowhere near the crime scene and is dressed nothing like Possessed Lucinda and is wearing a large eyepatch that Lucinda clearly wasn't wearing and he has no weapons and is much taller and proportionally bigger than Lucinda. Other than that, though, it's an airtight case. Hairy Cop gets in the back of the police cruiser with Sho, who tells him to bring Lucinda and Evil Ninja's sword to "the old temple on the hill" (you know the one). Having seen this man exactly twice, one of which is when he's being arrested by his fellow officers, Hairy Cop immediately agrees to do this. He goes home and points his gun at his new squeeze, ordering her to go to the temple. You know, the old one. On the hill. That one.

Everyone arrives at the climax of the movie. Sho has Evil Ninja's body, so that way the white people can step aside while the Asian guys show their stuff. The last ten minutes of the movie are nonstop fighting, pretty decent ninja fighting for the time, as Sho fights first the monks of the temple (mind-mojoed by the Evil Ninja) and then duels with the Evil Ninja himself. Sho ends up sticking a knife through the top of EN's head (ew!), and Hairy Cop and Lucinda love each other, and the movie just sort of stops.

Ninja III: The Domination is unquestionably the dumbest movie combining aerobics and ninjas ever made. Fortunately, Sho went on to make Pray for Death, probably the best of the ninja movies. And, the year after Ninja III came out, the Schengen Agreement was signed, creating a passport-free zone in the precursor to the European Union. At least this movie did nothing to prevent that.

October 8, 2015

On the Subject of Love and Rutabagas: A Review of Cool as Ice

Imagine for a moment that an alien species, armed with only the most basic ideas about humans — that they have four limbs jutting out of their torso and a hole in their face that they use to emit speech — had decided to try and replicate early 1990s hiphop culture in a 90 minute film.  This would explain much about Cool as Ice.

At the very least it might explain a lot about the film’s protagonist, “Johnny”, played by the character of Vanilla Ice, played by the character of Robert Van Winkle, played by a person who may once have had hopes and dreams.  It might explain why he doesn’t seem to understand how clothing works, and why his attempts at dialogue wouldn’t pass a simple Turing Test.  It might even explain why his attempts at romance seems more like the behaviour of a murderous psychotic.  But can you really blame them?  I mean, those aliens got those face-holes just right!  That’s not bad for a race of hideous slime beings who communicate their abominable thoughts telepathically.

Assuming the makers of this film were human, I’m not sure what their excuse is.  Thankfully, this movie is so unspeakably over-the-top bizarre that you can’t help but watch it in thrilled amazement.

The movie opens by establishing a few key facts about Our Hero.  We see his awesome dance moves, and then watch as he gets the number of a hot chick... much to his friends’ chagrin!  Oh, Johnny! You’re incorrigible!  Then they all hop on their totally rad motorbikes and ride away into the night with no clear purpose, destination or luggage, and for no obvious reason beyond the fact that the film’s screenwriter must have seen The Wild One once as a teenager.  But this little bit of exposition has at least informed us that Our Hero, though himself Safely White, is cool enough to have Black Friends.  Duly noted!

Our Vanilla Hero and his Black Friends eventually arrive at a sleepy vanilla town where one of the bikes breaks down just long enough for the plot to play out, and they take up residence in the home of two elderly eccentrics who promise to fix it for them.  This is also the town where we are introduced to Our Hero’s love interest.  But I’ll get to her.

Judging by the reactions of these small town folk, they have never seen such dangerous and exciting people as Our Vanilla Hero and his Black Friends.  Their reaction falls just short of frothing at the mouth and convulsing, so taken aback are they.  In fact, half the fun of this film is how so very, very hard it tries to convince us of the greatness of “Johnny”.  Love Interest’s annoying little brother virtually wets himself in excitement every time “Johnny” enters the room, and we can practically feel the film-makers nudging us and gesturing at the screen: “Wow! That guy must be great!”  But, because we don’t exactly share the feeling, we find everyone’s instant loss of control over their bodily functions in his presence jarring and strange.  As if the film can somehow sense our skepticism, it seems to try all the harder.

And so we see him impressing all with his rap skills, mad dance moves, fighting ability, and the calm badassery indicated by the cryptic non-sequiturs that make up 98% of his dialogue.  The committee that originally constructed Vanilla Ice in 1990 is pulling out all the stops.  Did I mention he has Black Friends?  If I may be allowed to quote our protagonist: Awwwwwwww yeah!

Of course the real plot centres on his gentle wooing of Love Interest, an uptight good girl who has just been waiting for a bad boy with a heart of gold to come along and melt her frigid ways.  Instead, she encounters Johnny, a menacing lunatic who dresses like a birthday party clown and has no perceivable grip on reality.  Perhaps the most awkward thing about this movie is how every time they try to make “Johnny” seem like a dangerous bad boy, he comes across about as dangerous as a caged gerbil, and it’s only when they try to show his romantic side that he manages to exude a spine-chilling psychosis.

Allow me to describe their first meeting.  Our Hero comes upon Miss Goody Two-Shoes out horse-riding in a field near the road.  Taking advantage of a conveniently located motorcycle ramp (a prevalent feature in our Johnny’s world), he immediately leaps into the field and terrifies the horse, causing Love Interest to be thrown off.  She is plunged to the ground, where her neck is instantly snapped.  The rest of the film revolves around Johnny and his friends burying her body in a nearby field and then living out their days haunted by the guilt of what they have done.

Ha ha ha just kidding!  Her neck unsnapped, Little Miss Uptight tells our Johnny a thing or two before storming off in a sexy huff.  Never before has one of Johnny’s attempted manslaughters resulted in anything other than a lady’s undergarments firing off into the stratosphere, and this new challenge is too much of an allure to deny.  And so it begins.  Or to quote our eloquent Lothario: “Yep yep, she likes me.”

Though myself no expert in romance, this I do know: if your love interest manages to just barely survive your first encounter with her spine intact, then you’re off to a good start.  But Our Hero is no first-timer in the ancient dance of seduction.  To seal the deal, he also seizes the first opportunity to steal her organizer.  You can’t properly stalk win a lady if you don’t know where she’s going to be 24 hours a day, you dumb n00bs!

Naturally, Love Interest has a douchey boyfriend.  As all terrifying stalkers true romantics know, a hot girl’s boyfriend is always a douchey prick, from whom it is your task to save her.  She needs to drop that zero, and get with the hero!  And so she is slowly, but surely, romanced by Our Hero as he nearly kills her, steals her personal information, and then breaks into her bedroom to watch her sleep.  What’s hotter than a guy who literally will not take no for an answer?  Well.. other than a sparkling, Mormon Vampire who literally won't take no for an answer?  When she wakes up to find him in her bedroom, he slips an ice cube into her waiting mouth and watches the water trickle down from her lips.  I’m not sure the scene quite works, but to be fair to the film-makers it’s always a tricky balance trying to fit your graphic underaged girl rape fantasies into a PG pop music star vehicle targeted at 12 year olds.  It’s just hard getting the tone right, you know?

Meanwhile, a subplot is awkwardly inserted into the story in order to add tension, and (spoilers ahead!) to give Our Hero a chance to save the day.  Michael Grossman (AKA the dad from Family Ties) is given a series of increasingly dark scenes to reveal a secret that he had been keeping from his family: he is a former cop, now in witness protection.  A foolish decision, played out in a moment of loving pride for his daughter, puts him on the local news.  This single act of carelessness places his entirely family in danger as his identity is made known to two ruthless criminals.  Family Ties Dad watches helplessly as his carefully constructed life crumbles all around him.

If that last paragraph seems oddly out of place in tone and content, then, yes, you have been paying attention.  Especially since it’s clear that Family Ties Dad was not informed that this movie was supposed to be cartoonishly surreal.  He plays these scenes straight, leaving us thinking “Oh yeah, acting exists!” but also making everyone feel slightly uncomfortable.  It’s worth keeping in mind that our introduction to this same, dark, brooding father character is a sped-up hallucinogenic fever-dream that shows him gleefully reading the newspaper in fast-forward.  Instead of a DVD commentary, this film needs a chart on the side of the screen displaying exactly how much coke the film-makers had snorted into their faces before shooting each scene.

Up until now, Family Ties Dad was Johnny’s foil, the strict dad who’s too square to let his hot daughter date a dangerous bad boy.  I guess we’re supposed to root for Johnny, but as this dark subplot plays out we’re left thinking that he’s probably right to be protective of his family when a 20-something stranger comes out of nowhere and starts stalking courting his teenaged daughter.  When Johnny sees the same TV interview that captured the criminals’ interest, he glares menacingly at the screen as his Love Interest appears on the screen.  As a viewer, I sure know which threat I’m more concerned about.

If you’re as tired of the film’s “plot” as I am, allow me to jump to the end: the plot concludes when Johnny saves the day by making use of yet another conveniently located motorcycle ramp to crash into the abandoned construction site where Love Interest’s kidnapped brother (oh yeah, that happened) is being held.  This is the same sexy construction site (aww yeah!) where Johnny and Love Interest once spent a romantic montage.  Yes, that happened too.  You assume correctly that annoying little brother immediately loses control of his bladder when he sees his hero Johnny, and the film concludes with a tiresome rap/dance sequence.  You may not have noticed, but this movie stars Vanilla Ice — the rap star!

But the plot really doesn’t matter.  The real mystery at the heart of this film is why it’s so goddamn fun to watch.  Part of it is, of course, the macabre pleasure of watching the career death of a carefully constructed human consumer product with literally no charisma.  But I swear that most of the fun comes from that alien quality of the whole production.  The fun doesn't come only from the fact that the film has a star who seems convinced the entire spectrum of human emotions can be expressed by raising his right eyebrow and holding it there as long as he can endure.  It also comes from how the characters who do seem to be reasonably sane seem totally unfazed whenever they're suddenly plunged into scenes of disconcerting madness, like the acid trip moments with their eccentric elderly bike repairmen.  Strangest of all is the dystopian Sugar Shack, where all of the teenagers dress like stereotypes from a 1950s nerd convention and stare off sadly into the distance.  Marty McFly ACTUALLY going back to 1955 seemed less out of place than Our Hero appears in this weirdly unexplained club.

The strangest moments come from the few actors who accidentally give convincing portrayals of human behaviour.  This makes the vertigo-inducing weirdness of the rest of the movie seem even stranger in contrast.  Kristin Minter, playing Love Interest, actually gives a half-decent performance as a girl experiencing her first real love/lust, and comes across as both likeable and attractive.  But whenever the gibbering loon that is “Johnny” appears in the scene as the object of that affection, the effect is about as strange as if his role had been played by a sentient rutabaga.

So why is this movie so fun?  Well, just think... a movie about a rapping rutabaga winning the love of an ordinary teenaged girl?  Who wouldn’t want to watch that?

September 7, 2015

The Cold Equations

The Cold Equations is the greatest movie ever, if only because it features the gruesome death of possibly the most slap-worthy character in the history of cinema.

The Cold Equations was produced by the Sci-Fi Channel back when it had a dignified name and tried to create actual content instead of Sharknado. It's a fairly straightforward re-telling of the classic '50s short story on which it's based, with everything you'd expect from a '90s sci-fi cheapie: uneven acting that ranges from bland to atrocious, shockingly cheap sets and costumes, even cheaper special effects that manage to be embarrassing despite appearing for upwards of 1 minute total of the 93-minute running time, and an evil corporation doing evil things for money, and also to be evil. All very routine, except for that character I mentioned. We'll get to that.

The short story is an effective little yarn, written by a fellow named Tom Godwin in 1954, very short and very direct. A man is delivering a supply of desperately needed medical supplies to an off-world colony in a spaceship carrying precisely the amount of fuel it needs to reach its destination. He discovers a girl named Marilyn who stowed away in an attempt to visit her brother in the colony. Stowing away is illegal because of the whole no-spare-fuel thing and, since carrying extra weight means death for all aboard, the penalty is ejection into space (though the government neglected to explain that last part, meaning the poor girl thinks she's only in for a fine or a brief stint in jail). So our man Barton is ordered to dump the bitch toot-sweet, not just to save his own hide but also to save the millions of colonists soon to die of whatever disease it is they have. Once she recognizes the gravity of her situation, Marilyn is permitted to speak briefly with her brother on the wireless and then willingly enters the airlock.

Now, some people hate the story because of how contrived the situation is. It's bad engineering not to have any margin for error, and it's pretty ridiculous that the government wouldn't make it clear that the punishment for stowing away is death. But these kinds of criticisms miss the point; the plots of a lot of short stories, if you take a few moments to think about them, don't really hold up. Generally short stories quickly limn a set-up and then deliver some sort of emotionally shocking conclusion. The gut impact is the important part. Think of "A priest and a rabbi walk into a bar..." type jokes. Why are they there? Who cares. The set-up is just there to get you to the punchline.

Viewed that way, "The Cold Equations" can work on a number of levels. You could see it as a meditation on the futility of human action, its downbeat conclusion a rejection of the old "Damn it, we'll find a way!" kind of story that always has the main characters finding a solution just in time. You could look at it as a rebuttal to the notion that technology will inevitably overcome any problem nature throws at us *coughclimatechangecough*. Or maybe it's a comment on how people (Barton and Marilyn), no matter how competent, are at the mercy of others' incompetence (the engineers who designed and built the spacecraft) or bureaucratic corruption and negligence (the decision-maker who okay'd the ship's minimalist design). Or perhaps it's a story of human morality--one person sacrificing herself to save countless others. Or of responsibility--that your actions may have unintended consequences, and you just have to deal. Or a number of other interpretations I haven't thought of.

What it wasn't was the story of a horrible selfish bitch who keeps your eyes glued to the screen in hopes of relishing her slow and painful death.

As noted, the movie follows the story, though they have to stretch it to feature length by adding in a movie dystopia (somehow spaceship travel runs entirely on the backs of a vague exploited underclass, and the smallest violation of any law for any reason is harshly punished), a corporate greed subplot (it turns out the medical supplies are in fact a vaccine to prevent a disease the colonists haven't got yet), and, yes, a goddamn love story. Apparently if a film doesn't feature somewhat attractive people sucking face and declaring their love and willingness to die for each other--despite the fact that they've known each other for a grand total of about two hours--then we cretinous imbeciles in the audience will scratch our thick monkey craniums and change the channel. All this I expected (like the love story), or at least wasn't surprised to find (once it became clear the government/corporation was eeeevil, I suspected the medical supplies would turn out to be bogus). What really torpedoes the movie is the character of the girl, inexplicably named Lee in the movie.

Upon being told that her actions have doomed not only Barton but the colonists (including her own brother, let's not forget), Lee's response is to flatly refuse to leave and to berate Barton for wanting to murder her. Now, this might be an understandable initial response, but here's the thing: She does this for the entire movie. She demands that Barton instead lighten the ship's load enough to make up for her 108 extra pounds. (You weigh a little more than a 108.) Barton makes clear that The Company built the ship without any unnecessary weight to save on cost, since it's a disposable vehicle for a one-way trip, so there's nothing to jettison. (Why the company would care about costs, given that it has no competitors and also serves as a totalitarian government, is naturally left unexplained.) In fact, in the pre-flight checkout, Barton was 2 pounds over weight because he was carrying a portable music player, which he was required to leave behind. Lee then suggests ditching his cargo, prompting Barton to tell her what he's carrying. Once she understands the cargo is medical supplies that must be delivered in order to save an entire colony of people (again, including her brother), Lee attacks Barton and attempts to jettison the supplies to save her own ass.

Now, I was already totally fine with spacing this bitch in the first place because she's so goddamned annoying, but really, we're now beyond the pale. What the makers of this film don't seem to understand (and neither do the morons on the IMDb, who gave this piece of shit decent reviews and particularly loved the pluckiness of the female lead and the "romance" of it all) is that Lee is the villain here. In any decent action movie, science fiction or no, the person fucking over the innocent to save his own hide is the bad guy, and the hero fights against that person. Remember in Aliens when Burke locks himself in another room and refuses to let the other characters in just to save himself? Remember what happens? Burke escapes LV-426 while the other characters die horribly, right? He flies home sipping caviar while the credits roll?

Oh that's right, he gets an alien proboscis through the fucking face because that movie didn't suck.

This movie, on the other hand, continually tries to get us to sympathize with Lee. She's plucky, you see, so she starts tearing the ship apart to find extra weight to throw out, while Barton stands there and doesn't grease her stupid ass. Turns out there's a shit-ton of extra weight that can safely be thrown out of this ship built without any unnecessary parts in order to minimize weight and cost for its one-way trip. This includes a first-aid kit the size of a goddamn suitcase and the insulation that keeps the occupant of the ship warm. The latter is torn off of every wall and thrown out with absolutely no adverse effects. Okay, I'm being totally unfair. Lee at one point does say she feels a bit chilly and rubs her arms a little. Why yes, she is dressed solely in a "sexy" tank top while Barton's in a full-body space suit, so I guess the corporation that built this ship without any unnecessary parts in order to minimize weight and cost for its one-way trip wanted to make sure under-dressed "hot" female stowaways would be nice and warm in the few minutes they're on the ship before they get blasted out of the fucking airlock for breaking the law. Those corporate bastards, always concerned about the bottom line.

There's also enough food for two people, even though the trip takes three hours tops. You don't get fucking peanuts on a budget airline for a three-hour trip, yet this one-person spacecraft built without any unnecessary parts in order to minimize weight and cost for its one-way trip has full meals! For two! And there's a functioning space toilet. For a trip lasting upwards of 180 minutes. I guess the Department of Defense contracted this thing.

Lee finds enough stuff to toss to offset half of her weight (good thing she knows moar about the ship than Barton, who said there was nothing they could afford to lose--what a dope!). Man, Barton ought to be pissed that he wasn't allowed to bring his two-pound music player earlier. But now they're really out of stuff to drop (yes, really for reals this time), after Barton again rejects her demand that he dump the supplies. About this point I started to fantasize about Laura Roslin showing up on the ship, whispering sweetly to Lee that everything will be okay, and then airlocking the bitch without a second thought. Alas, Mary McDonnell didn't feel moved to descend from Mount Olympus and save this poor sinner, and I began to panic at the thought of there being 45 more minutes of this crap left to go. Our two zeroes have a heart to heart, where she tries to go all I'm a member of the exploited underclass, this is your fault (lolwut), why don't you buck the system and defy your orders (and thereby ensure both our deaths, though she doesn't say that part), yadda yadda. Then she tries to choke him to death with her bootlace.

You know, nothing makes me fall in love with a woman faster than having her attempt to strangle me from behind with an old shoelace. "At the moment my vision began to fade out and I felt my major organs shutting down, that's what I knew she was the one for me. Ah, the memories."

Barton turns the tables on her and carries her unconscious to the airlock as I cheered at the screen and made some popcorn. At the last moment she wakes up and begs him not to do it, even as he's stuffing her in and sealing the door behind her. But he hesitates, and I shout profanities at the screen; there are 30 minutes of this movie left and I realize this Sci-Fi channel shitfest doesn't have the balls to space the bitch. No, I'll be forced to watch some contrived scenario that allows one of the most truly loathsome characters I've ever endured to survive the movie.

Blah blah they figure out the medical supplies are bogus, so they dump them. Then they fuck so we know they love each other, with all the passion they've built up over the last two hours of shouting, punching and elbowing, beating into unconsciousness, and choking with shoelaces. Once they dump the supplies, the ship is under the required weight, but oh noez! That was the calculation from 2 hours ago, but now they've traveled those 2 hours overweight, so now they need to lose another 100 pounds to make it! Nobody could've seen that coming, certainly not the highly-trained spaceship pilot! Well, and me, and about 20 minutes into the movie. You know a sci-fi film is shit when its grasp of actual science is worse than mine.

So we get the scene where Marilyn Lee talks by wireless with her brother (whose performance blows the doors off the two leads', though that's not saying all that much), and then....YES! FUCKIN' A! WOOOOOO! DIE BITCH DIE!* etc. etc. as she finally, finally gets airlocked. I can honestly say I've never been so happy to be proven wrong by a film, nor so happy to see someone die. Nor am I likely to be ever again, at least until Roose Bolton gets a knife to the dick and wears his balls as a hat. The North remembers.

Time to get to the end of this crap. There's a framing story I haven't mentioned before because it's only (kind of) relevant now. The corporation has been investigating the loss of the medical supplies, interviewing characters in the movie, and now they're finally bringing in Barton to pronounce sentence upon him. This dastardly dictatorship, prepared to send miners into an area where a deadly fungus grew just for profit...okay, only after they had a vaccine to inoculate them first. Which they provided free of charge. That presumably cost a great deal to develop, mass-produce, and deliver to the colony--look, shut up! They're evil, alright? The Party or the Corporation or whatever Evil Gubmint it is punishes this brazen act of defiance with...

...wait for it...

...fifteen years in prison! Oh the horror, the horror!

Look, I'm not saying 15 years in prison--or any time in prison--is a cakewalk, but really, I expect more from my humanity-controlling greedy totalitarian dystopia corpo-governments. At least make him love Big Brother and then kack him, or something. Sheesh! You guys really suck at brutal totalitarian dictatorship. Mao Zedong would've executed Barton, his family, his dogs and cats, his goldfish, his neighbors, anybody who met him or wanted to meet him or saw a picture of him one time or thought maybe they might've seen him somewhere 'cause he's got that kind of face that just seems so familiar...and you give the guy a lousy nickel-and-dime in minimum security white-collar resort prison?

And of course, it's implied that this small act of defiance in the name of getting laid freedom will somehow inspire others to bring the corporation down and awaken liberty throughout the universe. Sure.

Fuck this movie with a chainsaw-shaped dildo.

*Actual things I shouted at the screen in glee, probably confusing, not to mention annoying, my neighbors.

May 30, 2015

Hong Kong 97

Hong Kong 97 is the worst John Woo fan film you've never seen. It's got it all--hitman main characters, lots of guys getting shot, lots of slow-mo, guys firing two guns whilst jumping through the air, exaggerated blood bursts, a girl who disapproves of the hero's hitman lifestyle but loves him anyway--and all executed in the most amateur and inept fashion possible.

Naturally, I loved it.

The film is so desperate to be a Woo picture that it's set in Hong Kong itself, and some scenes are even shot there. That's right, Albert Pyun--one of the worst cheapo directors working today--was so determined to make his own version of A Better Tomorrow that he actually got some poor production company to fund location shooting in Hong Kong. Well, exteriors at least. Every time we go inside a building, you can bet we're now in the Philippines, because there it's much cheaper to hire guys to clutch their chests and fall over.

The film opens on a tuxedo-clad T-1000 in a godawful hairdo on the eve of Hong Kong's handover to the fuckin' ugly reds while vaguely "Chinese" music plays. I assumed he was in the tux because it's the night before the handover, but nobody else is dressed up, so I think he's dressed like that just because it looks cool. He's also wearing a duster, since, you know, Chow Yun-fat wore a duster when he shot up the gangsters in A Better Tomorrow. He takes a boat to a Hong Kong restaurant I've been to, though when I had dinner there, I don't recall there being a topless hottie gyrating just inside the front door. That's probably because, as noted, he didn't actually go into the restaurant, instead magically teleporting inside a completely different building somewhere in the Philippines.

The T-1000 acquires his target, a military honcho in full uniform(!), and draws his pistol on the naked gyrating lady(?). She rather graciously moves out of his way so he can shoot the honcho. Good thing she didn't panic and freeze so that he couldn't get a clear shot! He takes out the honcho's two bodyguards (I guess?) in slow-mo with exaggerated blood bursts, and man, Hard Boiled this ain't. He then draws a bead on the honcho's blond female companion, and...leaves. Okay, so he doesn't want to shoot her because she isn't armed? Or because he knows her? Or he doesn't shoot ladies? Or...what? Later dialogue will establish he's a super bad-ass assassin who kills strictly for money and has no compassion. So why didn't he cap the bitch, especially since she was the only one in the place who unquestionably got a clear look at his face? I'm absolutely sure this was unintentional on Pyun's part, but it really comes across as he doesn't want to shoot a fellow member of the Master Race.

Back in Hong Kong, the T-1000 "exits" the restaurant, again making it perfectly clear that what we just saw didn't actually take place therein. (We can see through its windows that the dominant color inside the restaurant is red, while the previous scene was conspicuously blue/green.) He jumps into a boat piloted by (we'll soon see) his lover, and they speed away. Then we see a guy in an office somewhere speaking German while a reporter from Blank Gray Wall News tells us about the murder in the most stilted and robotic fashion possible.

Cut to our second set of breasts in 90 seconds. Being a shitty B movie before the widespread availability of Internet pornography, there's a lot of tits in Hong Kong 97, which is just about the only aspect of the movie not cribbed from John Woo. The T-1000 is railing his girlfriend, who I have to say is a good bit hotter than Ming Na, though I may be a bit biased since the actress playing her is pretty enthusiastic in her simulated sex with the humanoid robot Robert Patrick. (Ha! It is a funny, because Robert Patrick was the T-1000 in Terminator 2!) Anyway, I guess Patrick's a-murderin' got their juices flowing, eh? Eh? Now, Ming Na hasn't appeared yet, but she's 3rd-billed in this stinker and the only actress in the opening credits I've heard of, so she will be Patrick's love interest. That's just how these things work.

Girlfriend notices a group of ninjas(!) about to attack them, so we get another slow-mo John Woo ripoff shoot-out. And this time, yes, Patrick has two guns, though he can't fly through the air since the set isn't big enough and we might see the little Patrick.

So for those keeping track, in less than 3 minutes, we've already had two naked Asian ladies and two John Faux gun battles. (Yes, the ninjas have guns, though they apparently skipped the part where they learned to aim them.) You can't say Pyun didn't give his audience what they wanted. If only his audience wanted a good movie.

The shoot-out ends when Girlfriend kills the last ninja to enter the room, whereupon both she and Patrick seem to realize the scene is over and walk over to the broken window the ninjas came through (by a total coincidence giving us another look at their bare asses). Hey guys, how do you know there aren't more ninjas coming? Do ninjas always travel in groups of six, so you knew once you got all six, the scene was over? And really, having just been shot at by assassins, should you be parading around naked in front of a window? Having successfully fought off this *cough* deadly attack, the happy couple exchange some truly inspired terrible dialogue.

He: "Are you alright?"
She: "Yeah. But should [sic] get out of here, dis greatly [sic]."
"I'm sorry, I really wasn't expecting any of this."(!)
"Yeah, is it not strange for such a swift attempt at retribution?"

Well, I don't know, your murder was reported on Blank Gray Wall News before you even got home, so this retribution doesn't seem particularly swift for this universe.

Cut to the Hong Kong Club. (You know the one.) Inside is....oh lord. It's Brion James, doing a fucking terrible English accent. Now as anyone who's read my Blade Runner review knows, I love me some Brion James, but a posh Englishman? No. James is a heavy, and he's very good at it. He's not an upper-crust British gentleman. Even his accent agrees with me, since it occasionally abandons him. The German guy from earlier is also there, and apparently these three are former super-spies who are now super assassins. We know this because they openly discuss Patrick's recent murder in the locker room of the tennis club. Okay, I'm being unfair. Any time they notice someone nearby, they look at him suspiciously and stop talking, only resuming their fervent whispering once the person has gotten at least 3 feet away. Clearly these guys are pros.

A fourth man is also there, played by the Dollman himself, Tim Thomerson(!!), who is friends with James and Patrick (but not German guy, I guess, since Herr Walk-on disappears from the movie at the end of this scene). Despite his close friendship with the two, Thomerson apparently doesn't know they're professional assassins. Cut to the three men in the sauna talking about meaningless bullshit. Why is this scene in the movie? I'll give you three guesses, but here's a hint: Each of our three zeroes is supplied with a naked Asian lady to massage him.

The three then go to visit their friend? associate? business partner? acupuncturist? Whatever. They go visit Wong (how original), rolling up to the gate of his home in an SUV. Workmen outside the gate do workmen stuff in a way that absolutely doesn't look suspicious at all and I'm sure is perfectly legitimate and not going to lead to another shitty action sequence. The gate doesn't open, so Patrick gets out and shouts, "Wong! Wong" at the gate. Still no answer. All three guys clamber out of the SUV and discuss how weird it is that Wong doesn't answer. Patrick catches up to the audience (in this case, me) and realizes an ambush is imminent, so he opens the back of the SUV and starts handing everybody guns. Yes, including Thomerson, the guy who isn't an assassin and has never held a gun in his life. Once the three men are well armed (Patrick himself sports an Uzi), the workmen then reveal that, ah-ha! They're bad guys. Shootout ensues. I have to say, it was awfully nice of the bad guys to let Patrick finish distributing the guns right in front of them before they struck. Because otherwise it would've been really unfair.

Long story short (too late!), Patrick has to go on the run, so James takes him to the one place the bad guys--well, the badder guys, I guess--won't look for him: his old fiance's house. Yeah, they'll never suspect a guy on the run might turn to his Ex-Girlfriend Who Still Obviously (and I mean obviously--we're talking Ming Na here) Carries a Torch for Him. She isn't home when he breaks into her apartment, so when she comes home, she immediately starts kicking his ass. Ha! But the joke is, she didn't mistake him for a burglar but knew it was him all along and is kicking his ass because she's mad at him for leaving her. Har fucking har. Okay, she hasn't actually said any of that yet, so I might end up with a lot of egg on my face when I continue the movie...oh, I'm right. Get me a hotline, baby, I'm psychic! They angst a bit about their past relationship, during which Ming Na's quaint old Chinese granddad, sporting his best Charlie Chan "Oh, so solly" phoney-baloney accent, lets us know that he's totally okay with her boyfriend being an assassin-for-hire, because he treats her well.

It turns out granddad is an enemy of the Communists, so he and Ming Na are making sure to get out before the handover. After some endlessly tedious dialogue that I'll spare you, she asks Patrick to come with. He notes that "the tanks roll in a midnight", but she retorts that it's only 8:00, so he has plenty of time before their flight out of Hong Kong "in a few hours"(!!!). Uh, last time I checked, a few is "three or four", meaning she can't possibly mean a flight leaving earlier than 11:00. That's cutting it just a bit close, don't you think?

Shots ring out, to which Ming Na doesn't react so Patrick can tackle her to the floor. Gun drawn, he--um, genius, the slide's locked. That means no bang-bang. (This guy's a pro?) False alarm, though. It's just two revelers on the street randomly firing pistols in the air. Where do these guys think they are? Detroit?

Patrick goes...somewhere, and there's moar tits (come on, now) and another shootout. A white hitman puts a pistol to Patrick's head and says there's a huge bounty on him. Then he lets him go because of the professional code of the assassin(!). Okay, whatever, dude. I guess "paid assassin" doesn't mean what I thought it meant. Again, it really just comes across as white people, who in this movie mow down Asian guys by the dozen, not wanting to kill each other. Patrick gets picked up by his buddies while Thomerson bitches about not being told that Patrick was a hitman. James finally shuts him up by revealing Patrick's Secret Pain while Patrick meanders around outside the car, getting back in at the precise moment James finishes the story. It's almost as if he read the script and knew when James would finish talking. James speculates on how the bad guys found out about Patrick, since he'd never left a trail before. Patrick gets indignant. "I didn't leave a trail this time."

Didn't leave a trail this time, you say? Now, I've only seen the movie once, so I might be wrong here, but I do believe he left something of a clue this time. What was it? Give me a second here to remember.....Oh, yeah. It was the blond woman you left alive after she got a clear look at your face, you asshat!

It turns out Patrick has agreed to run away with Ming Na and granddad. Um, what about the girl you were railing like 24 hours ago? The one who piloted your escape boat and saved your ass from the ninjas when you ran out of bullets? Nevermind that, we've got another shitty action sequence to get to. Cut to the three boarding the plane. Since the movie's only half over, we know he's not getting on that plane. Hmm, let's see...Thomerson and James are also there, and Thomerson can't fight, and this is a John Woo rip-off, so...can anyone not see where this is going? Do I need to draw a diagram for you?

Suddenly, just when we most expect it, the bad guys attack! Patrick, being the pro, immediately leads Ming Na and granddad away from the plane and over to James's car. Um, you were standing right outside the door of a fucking plane. Just get on the plane and leave, you asshole. Thomerson grabs two pistols and runs towards them. Gee, I hope the elderly untrained bureaucrat won't--oh, there he goes. Pathos, etc.

Our remaining murderous hitmen heroes seek another way to escape, never mind they voluntarily left the fucking airplane waiting to take them to safety. They meet up with Girlfriend from the opening scene. Turns out she's both Patrick's fuckbuddy and his student in a-murderin'. She greets him with a kiss, as Ming Na reacts with (I think--we're talking Ming Na here) a look of jealousy. Hey, remember what I said about Ming Na's billing in the credits? I hope Girlfriend has been keeping up with her life insurance premiums.

Moar bad guys attack as they flee to a boat. Girlfriend stays behind to cover their escape, because she "has another way out of the city". Oh noez, I really and truly hope she doesn't die tragically saving the others--oh, she does. Pathos, etc.

In an interlude, Ming Na asks Patrick to tell her about Girlfriend. Oh, you mean the one you just stole him away from? The one who just died to save your candy ass? You want him to tell you about her, as if you give a shit? Because you will end up with Patrick when this piece of shit is over, never mind that this woman who meant so much to him (he gets all emotional talking about her--well, as emotional as Robert Patrick can manage) just got kacked like an hour ago. The Plot-o-Matic 3000 will have it no other way.

Out for blood, Patrick and James go to take down the bad guys once and for all. (James got a hacker to figure out who they were earlier in the picture.) Ming Na is also there, even though she's also completely untrained. Blah blah shooting, blood bursts, Filipino guys clutching their chests and falling over, the blonde woman from the opening sequence appears.....and is immediately gunned down by Patrick. Pyun gives us a flashback we don't need so we'll remember who blondie is, a flashback that is longer than she's onscreen before Patrick kacks her. Well, that was some payoff.

But, there's a traitor! Can you guess who it is? Seriously, I want you to guess. Ha! You'll never get it. It's the German guy who had like four lines and disappeared 3 minutes into the--oh, you guessed that. Oh. Ohh. Ohhhhhhh--

This prompts James to turn on Patrick as well. I would like you to know that I totally believed this and in no way expected that James was faking and was in fact getting Herr Traitor to lower his guard so he and Patrick could shoot everybody. So I was completely stunned when that's exactly what happened, let me tell you.

The film ends with everybody shot in the arm. Seriously, Patrick, James, and Ming Na all take gunshots to the arm. Then they ride off into the sunrise on the boat, as Patrick and Ming Na kiss. Aw, they've reconciled, what must be hours after Girlfriend rather conveniently sacrificed herself for their True Love. Excuse me, I think I'm getting a bit misty....

Is Hong Kong 97 terrible? Well, I already said it's directed by Albert Pyun, so we know the answer to that question. But if you're like me--and God help you if you are--and love bottomlessly awful John Woo ripoffs, you'll enjoy. I give it the Official Carl Eusebius Shit Seal of Approval.

April 30, 2015

Revisit: Masters of the Universe

Now that we've heard Five Good Things about it, it's time to rip into this piece of shit.

With Star Wars VII: The Apology on the horizon, it may be hard to remember what it was like to be in the '80s. Star Wars was bigger than Jesus, and oh man the rip-offs just kept a-comin'. (Then again, Star Wars is still being ripped off in the '00s. Ah, the moar things change...) What else was big in the '80s? A little Filmation animated series called He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, that's what. Well, maybe "animated" is a little strong, we are talking Filmation here. Based on a line of dolls action figures, He-Man was the story of a mild-mannered weightlifter locked in endless struggle with an animated skeleton wizard. Now if that doesn't say Star Wars to you, then you possess a modicum of decency, meatbag. If you're really into the '80s--and God help you if you are--you'll immediately realize that this movie should have ripped off Conan the Barbarian.

The plot, such as it is, in brief: On the planet Eternia, Skeletor (Richard Nixon), dressed in his finest Emperor Palpatine regalia, has finally captured Castle Grayskull, the home of the powerful Sorceress and the center of all Good in the universe. He was able to do this because of the Cosmic Key, a magical teleportation device invented by Gwildor (Noodles MacIntyre), the Odious Comic Relief alien, that allowed him to teleport his entire army inside the Castle, bypassing its defenses. As he drains the Sorceress's power, Skeletor waits for the Stars to Align So He Can Gain Ultimate Power, blah blah, you know the drill. The only hope for the forces of Good is He-Man (Ivan Drago), the ripply muscle-y barbarian arch-nemesis of Skeletor. He-Man leads the remaining resistance forces, apparently consisting entirely of two other people, Man-at-Arms (Major Dad's boss) and his daughter Teela (Chelsea Field). Skeletor, recognizing the power of the Key, also desires to eliminate Gwildor to prevent anyone else from having one. Unfortunately, for him, Gwildor already has another Key, and as the resistance and Skeletor fight for possession of him, he activates it, but without carefully programming the coordinates for a destination. Can you guess where He-Man and Co. end up in their random teleportation somewhere in the universe? Perhaps an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet orbiting a small, unregarded yellow sun far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the galaxy?

Ah yes, it's the "fantasy heroes come to Earth" money-saving plot, favorite of tight-fisted movie producers the world over. Because the script says so, our four zeroes all end up in the same 20-square-foot area while the Key itself ends up miles away (?), where it's found by Kevin (Tom Paris), the boyfriend of Julie (TV's Monica), a high school senior with a painful past. Because the Key plays music when you key in coordinates for teleportation, Kevin, an aspiring musician, believes it to be some kind of synthesizer and monkeys with the buttons. This allows Skeletor to detect its activity using his own Key, and in a shot-for-shot, line-for-line copy of the scene in The Empire Strikes Back where Darth Vader dispatches bounty hunters to track down Han Solo, Skeletor dispatches bounty hunters to track down He-Man. Fortunately for our zeroes, Gwildor has another doohickey that lets him track the Key as well, and so it's a race to get to Kevin, who has no idea that both an S&M bear and a coterie of Star Wars alien rejects are converging on his location. Along the way, Kevin picks up Mr. Strickland. Hilarity ensues.

Masters of the Universe sucks donkey balls. I've already mentioned that the movie follows the shitty comics nobody read rather than the hit TV show (whose day was already over by the time this turd flopped into theaters in 1987). I've already mentioned the shameless steals from Star Wars--the wardrobe (faux-Stormtroopers, Skeletor's look and use of Force Lightning), the plot points (bounty hunters, Skeletor falling down a never-ending shaft that's inexplicably in his throne room), the action sequences (hero uses sword to reflect laser fire back at his attackers). The acting is generally pretty bad. Among the heroes, and I shit you not, only Mr. Strickland provides anything like a fun performance. It's his standard schtick, but he does it well, and his character is the only likeable or believable one in the bunch, both in his initial skepticism of aliens and monsters and a magical teleporting synthesizer and in his subsequent dedication to getting the slackers to eat lead once undeniable proof is presented to him. As for the rest, Ivan is a charisma-free void, once again reminding the haters why Arnold Schwarzenegger was a genuine movie star. Ivan's He-Man is so flat and bland he fades into the background, something that should never happen to a character named He-Man, for Christ's sake. As the ass-kicking female counterpart to He-Man, all I can say is Chelsea Field is no Sandahl Bergman. I know the script doesn't give Noodles any funny lines, but his stupid "comic" voice doesn't help matters. When it comes to short actors, not only is he a looong way from Peter Dinklage or even Warwick Davis, he's down in the pig trough with Danny fucking DeVito. TV's Monica and Tom Paris and their soap opera crap belong in another movie entirely, and by God I wish they'd go back to it.

The only place this movie even begins to measure up to Conan the Barbarian--again, the '80s classic this movie should've ripped off--is in the villains. I've talked enough about the two lead villains. As for the bounty hunters, Beast Man is unrecognizable, more a cross between Chewbacca and the Wolf Man than anything inspired by the cartoon. Blade has a pretty good sword fight with He-Man, somewhat suckified by being ineptly shot and edited. Saurod, the lizard guy, is pretty creepy-looking (and so of course he's the one Skeletor elects to kill as punishment for the bounty hunters' initial failure). But, because this movie sucks, the villain that probably gets the most screen time and is the primary antagonist for much of the film is Karg, the most annoying and doofiest one of all.

Look at him. Fucking look at him. He's Gunner Nelson after 3 hours in a tanning bed. And he's got a hook-hand. That's a hook. Where his hand should be. In a world that has laser guns and teleportation across the goddamn universe. What is this guy, a fucking pirate of the high seas? All he does the whole movie is shout ineffectual commands at minions who are already doing what he's shouting at them to do in his gravelly voice that sounds like your great-aunt who smokes two packs of Marlboros a day. And no wonder nobody listens to him. He's like 3 feet tall, shouts incoherently while pointing off in the distance, and orders you to do shit you're already doing. Who made an Initech middle manager the head of a mercenary team? Boba Fett this guy ain't.

Masters of the Universe blew so hard it sent Cannon Films on the road to death. Good riddance, says I. There may be no film studio in history that produced so many shit movies as against not even a single good one while blithely continuing to soldier on. It must be pretty impressive, in a pathetic kind of way, to labor at making movies for 15 years without making even one that was worth a damn. Masters of the Universe may not be Ninja III: The Domination bad, but Christ, it's a slog.

Enough of that, I need a new target for my wrath against crap I liked when I was young and dumb. know, I did like Ninja III....

April 17, 2015

Revisit: Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is the story of how Alan Rickman can single-handedly redeem a shitty motion picture through sheer force of personality and comic timing.

When Kevin Costner came in at #2 on my list of worst actors in the history of ever, I had this to say about him: "Will be remembered long after his death for delivering the worst Robin Hood of all time. Russell Crowe weeps nightly that his awful Robin Hood will be forgotten while Costner's lives on." I said this because it is absolutely true. The Robin Hood Costner gives us in Prince of Thieves is the unquestionable worst Robin Hood ever. The anthropomorphic fox Robin Hood was more believable. You gave a better performance as Robin Hood when you were 8 years old running around your backyard with an imaginary bow and arrow. Yes, you, even if you're a woman. That's how bad Costner's performance is. It's not just the worst Robin Hood performance in the history of film. It's one of the worst performances period, of any role, at any time, in any medium. It's lazy non-acting that would give William Hurt pause. Orlando Bloom would tell him to step up and act for fuck's sake.

Have you ever tried to put on an English accent? No matter how bad? So bad people didn't even know what accent you were going for? Congratulations, you put in more effort than Kevin Costner in Prince of Thieves. I mean, he doesn't even try. It's so obvious it provided the only funny gag in Robin Hood: Men in Tights. Costner refuses to adopt an accent, refuses to emote, refuses to fucking act. He doesn't even puff up to the level of an epic fairy tale. Instead, he's the mumblecore Adam, wheezing out his lines like he's trying to clear his lungs of ennui. I can think of no one less appropriate to play possibly the most free-spirited, swashbuckling hero in the Western canon.

The only miscasting that comes within a country mile of Costner's is that of professional Jack Nicholson impersonator Christian Slater. What's the deal with this asshole, anyway? I mean, he fails to embarrass himself in one good movie, and that's a career? Slater has exactly one acting technique: He copies Jack Nicholson's distinctive vocal cadence. That's it. That was enough, in Hollywood in the 1990s, to make you a star.

Let's pretend, for a moment, that what the world needed was an actor whose whole schtick is imitating another, better actor. That doesn't explain what the hell he's doing in a Robin Hood movie. I like Jack Nicholson. Hell, I love Jack Nicholson. You could even say I want to have Jack Nicholson's babies. Violent, womanizing babies perpetually high on very fine-grade cocaine. But Jack Nicholson is not a background presence, nor is he appropriate for period pieces. You don't cast him as Richard III or the First Emperor, because he's too modern. A '60s hippie? Right on! A hardboiled '70s private eye? Okay. A murderous hotel caretaker in the '80s? Bam! A hardass Marine colonel in the '90s? Sure. A pathetic sadsack in the '00s? Yep, you can put him there, too. Where you can't put him is in fucking Robin Hood, with Little John and Friar Tuck and Maid fucking Marian. So of course the jokers behind this clunker cast not Jack Nicholson, but a terrible impersonator of Jack Nicholson. What's next, raiding MADtv roll call to cast your movie? Oh wait....

Slater plays Will Scarlet, Robin Hood's long-lost bastard younger brother. Because that's just what the Robin Hood legend needed, right? I guess it's fitting, though, to cast an anachronistic actor like Slater (who simply screams "I'm from the '90s", even more than Neo in Dangerous Liaisons and Bram Stoker's Fucking Not Dracula) in an anachronistic role like Will Scarlet, who's all butthurt about Robin not accepting him as a brother and hates him for it for most of the movie. As if the bastard son of a noble in 12th-century England would harbor that as his Secret Pain. And against Robin, even though it was their father that refused to acknowledge him. He's lucky Robin doesn't have him executed for claiming to be Lord Locksley's son, which is what would've happened in that period if some random asshole suddenly told a lord's legitimate son that he was his illegitimate brother. Instead, Will is resentful and generally dickish to Robin before tearfully revealing The Secret, after which they hug while sappy music plays. It's medieval times, by way of early '90s angst!

I guess I have to say something about the two good performances--well, one good and one brilliant. Morgan Freeman is good in the film as Azeem, the Moor who owes Robin a life debt for breaking him out of prison (though this one can be repaid by saving Robin's life, which Azeem thankfully does so Freeman wouldn't have to come back for a sequel). He's not great, though, and I have a theory (that I absolutely cannot prove) that Freeman did this on purpose. Once he realized that Costner was either unwilling or unable (or, as I suspect, both) to actually act, he decided (correctly) that giving a moving, powerful performance would both 1) show up the movie's star and 2) fail to jive with everyone else on screen. Now Freeman, at least before he was forced at gunpoint to appear in Olympus Has Fallen and thereafter stopped caring about movies, was incapable of giving a bad performance, but he made sure not to be too good here so as not to emphasize how godawful Costner is.

The same cannot be said for Alan Rickman as the Sheriff of Nottingham. Director Kevin Reynolds (who would fail to learn from his mistake and go on to direct Costner's lifeless corpse in Waterworld) must have mistaken Costner's lethargy that threatens to tank the entire movie for an artistic decision to make the Robin Hood legend "more realistic" (meaning grim, gritty, and no damn fun at all), so the Robin/Merry Men/Sherwood Forest scenes are all dour, drab, and dingy. Rickman, on the other hand, apparently decided to sod this movie and instead star in his own, better movie. All of his scenes are lively, funny, and endless entertaining. He's both devious and hilarious, slimy yet somehow charming at the same time. Rickman is hardly ever onscreen with Costner (so much so that I wonder if his contract specified a limit to his interaction with the sack of shit in the title role), so he didn't have to worry about showing Costner up or matching the flat nonperformances of everyone else. Or maybe he just didn't care. Either way, the film lights up into being almost decent every time Rickman appears, then sinks back into malaise as we get back to the "action" of Costner not emoting while Freeman struggles to be as bland as it's possible for him to be in order to match. When the Sheriff kidnaps Marian to force her to marry him, it beggars belief that she wants to be rescued by Robin. One of these two men is an international sex symbol, no matter how bad a haircut the filmmakers gave him for this movie, and the other is Kevin Costner. Marian only ends up with Robin because the Scriptmonster demands it.

Every movie could use more Alan Rickman in it, this one more than any other. Dumb as I was when this movie came out, even then the Sheriff was my favorite character and I missed him whenever he wasn't onscreen. Way to understand movies less than a grade school kid does, Hollywood filmmakers. Yes, the kid we're talking about here is me, but it doesn't take my then-undeveloped godlike intellect to tell that Kevin Costner is worse than dick cancer and you should never under any circumstances allow him to be in your movie. We're talking about a man who built a movie around himself as a cowboy and still got blown off the screen by Val fucking Kilmer. That's right, Costner couldn't do a better cowboy that Iceman. It's safe to say that this is when you pack up your balls and leave acting behind.

Mr. Costner, I know you're a cretinous humanoid automaton who used his clout to suppress a decent cowboy movie in favor your own personal shitty one, but as a self-appointed guardian of good taste, I have to impart to you one singular truth: Your movie is bad, and you should feel bad.

April 15, 2015

Down Memory Lane

Your old pal Carl Eusebius wasn't always a bitter, cantankerous old man. No, I was once a bitter, cantankerous child. Though my taste was never so bad that I liked a Michael Bay movie, it was still pretty goddamned bad. There were plenty of shitty movies during the '90s that I liked because I was young, stupid, and ignorant.

I mean to revenge my(younger)self upon these movies. This new series will rip the shit out of crappy movies that I, for reasons lost to the sands of time, actually liked as a dumb teenager.

So join your old pal on this jaunt down memory lane, as I show just how stupid I used to be before my Transfiguration into the semi-divine being I am today.

February 22, 2015

Five Good Things about Masters of the Universe: Number 1, Skeletor

Every Masters of the Universe review, contemporary and retro, will include 2 points. One, it's a piece of shit. Two, Skeletor is fabulous.

After hiring Ivan Drago, Tom Paris, TV's Monica, Noodles MacIntosh, and Major Dad's boss, schlock kingpins Golan and Globus decided they'd better hire an actual actor for at least one role. And, like another genuine actor surrounded by stiffs so wooden they had to fend off beavers throughout the shoot, Frank Langella understood exactly what kind of performance this movie needed and gave it a great one. I don't have much use for children, but thank God both Langella and Raul Julia had rugrats who convinced them to star in a shitty children's movie, because each actor's pitch-perfect camp is desperately needed to keep the audience from slipping into a coma.

Langella, slathered in what has to be the most immobile face make-up in the history of movies (that as a bonus makes him look nothing at all like an animated skeleton), still manages to give a performance that overshadows the entire movie. How the hell he can emote at all using only his eyes, voice, and barely imperceptible chin movements I can't pretend to know, but he creates a genuine comic book villain that no amount of low-rent stormtroopers or bad synthesizer music can contain. When Man-at-Arms responds to Skeletor's threat to kill the Sorceress by defiantly shouting "You dare threaten her life?" and Skeletor thunders back, "I dare anything. I am Skeletor!", you see that Langella, if only at that moment, really believes he's an evil animated skeleton wizard. And for that same moment, so do you.

Great villains, if there's nothing to balance them, warp the movie around them. So if you're going to have Hannibal Lector in your movie, you'd better have Clarice Starling, too. If you don't, then Lector takes over the movie and you realize you'd rather have the psycho villain win and kill everybody. As wonderfully entertaining as Langella is in the role, it's also irritating, because these clods don't deserve to oppose Skeletor. When Skeletor brings He-Man back to Eternia in chains, leaving He-Man's idiot friends behind on a primitive and tasteless planet, that's how the movie should end. Skeletor ought to win, if only because he's the only one having any fun at all. Kind of like Alan Rickman in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.

Actually, exactly like that.

The best scenes in the movie, it's no surprise, are between Skeletor and Evil-Lyn. I could write about them, but thankfully I don't have to. Instead, I'll just end this review with El Santo of 1000 Misspent Hours and Counting doing it for me.

"Frank Langella looks like he's having the time of his life as Skeletor, unleashing all the Big, Hammy Evil...[Meg Foster] and Langella are so good at playing off of each other. Watching them, you get a much stronger sense of their characters' history together than anything in the script itself even faintly suggests, an impression of two people (for lack of a better term) who have known each other for years and have whatever passes among the diabolically evil and thoroughly untrustworthy for a strong and stable on-the-job friendship. Indeed, Langella and Foster get the best moment in the whole film, right after Skeletor interrupts an unexpectedly gentle interlude with Evil-Lyn in order to vaporize Saurod in the usual arch-villain 'making an example of failure' bit. Evil-Lyn, standing beside Skeletor’s throne, offers her opinion on how best to deal with the others, at which point Skeletor grabs her, drags her down to stand with the surviving bounty hunters, and informs her that she’ll be in command of operations on Earth from now on. 'I was not suggesting that I go,' she says, to which Skeletor retorts, 'Then you should not have spoken.' It doesn’t sound like much, but it's all in the delivery: Skeletor's sternly affectionate confidence in Evil-Lyn and her ability to accomplish what Karg could not, Evil-Lyn’s complete lack of confidence in the very same thing, the enormous danger inherent in having someone like Skeletor believe that you're good at your job."

So there you have it, Five Good Things about Masters of the Universe. There are any number of smaller things, too, like the fact that it provided James Tolkan a paycheck. (I hope you're sitting down, but he plays the role of a gruff, belligerent authority figure who bullies the young protagonist.) But these are the top 5, which are almost enough to redeem the whole misbegotten enterprise.

Movie still sucks ass, though.

February 15, 2015

Five Good Things about Masters of the Universe: Number 2, Evil-Lyn

Everything about Evil-Lyn is right: the costume, the hairstyle, the performance, the voice, the smoldering sexual tension with Frank Langella, those eyes. Evil-Lyn is the only character the filmmakers got exactly right. He-Man's a stiff, Man-at-Arms and Teela are unrecognizeable, the Sorceress is old and English and doesn't turn into a bird or even wear a bird on her head, Skeletor's make-up is terrible, Beast Man is a mute lion furry, Karg and Blade and that...lizard...guy aren't even from the series, Battle Cat doesn't even get to be in the movie--but they got Evil-Lyn right.

I don't know who decided to cast Meg Foster in the role, but that person deserved a raise. And to think the filmmakers seriously considered making her wear contact lenses to hide her eyes. All the other things I mentioned help, but it's really her eyes that set Evil-Lyn apart. She doesn't seem to belong in the movie, which is why the character works. She's truly otherworldly, in a way that the lion furry, the lizard man, the goofy muppets, and the guy with an immobile mask for a face aren't. She's mysterious and sultry, and totally believable as Skeletor's dark companion. I mean, she's got evil right there in her name!

Her best scene is every scene she's in, but my personal favorite is when Skeletor gains the Power Cosmic and totally doesn't share it with her: She leaves. That's right, she's all, "Smell ya later" and jets. No scream of rage, no continuing to fight He-Man even though she has no quarrel with him at this point, no foolish attempt to charge at possibly the most powerful being in the universe at that point--she just blows the joint. Now of course, there was no sequel to this movie, because it blew harder than an episode of The O'Reilly Factor. But it was a great sequel set-up, with Evil-Lyn abandoning Skeletor to his fate, still out there, waiting for the time to strike, in a way far more subtle and devious than ol' Bonehead ever managed.

And then they fuck it up with a post-credit sequence showing Skeletor not dead. Hel-lo! You already set up the sequel, dipshits. Evil-Lyn. She left when the heroes were incapacitated and Skellie was having a space orgasm, remember? Oh that's right, you don't remember, BECAUSE THIS MOVIE IS FUCKING STUPID!

I can't believe there's no scene of Evil-Lyn trying to seduce He-Man. Probably because nobody would buy him turning her down.

February 13, 2015

Five Good Things about Masters of the Universe: Number 3, Eternia

Apart from the faux-Stormtrooper armor of Skeletor's guards, the look of the movie's planet Eternia is pretty rad. For not much money (and with no CGI), they create a rather interesting alien planet and pull off some snazzy shots. French artist Moebius, who lent his considerable artistic talent either directly or indirectly to the visual designs of Blade Runner, Alien, and Dune, did some impressive conceptual work. The film opens on a nice matte painting of the exterior of the iconic Castle Grayskull, and most of the first act takes place within, on what is really a neat set. Think the Emperor's throne room in Return of the Jedi, complete with a dangerous and highly unnecessary bottomless shaft for the black-robed, white-faced lightning-shooting evil wizard to fall into, combined with the Emperor's throne room in Dune.

He-Man gets a great introduction. Skeletor, having taken Grayskull, believes he has won. (And, were it not for the contrivances provided by the screenwriters' trusty Plot-O-Matic 3000, he has.) This being the case, he occasionally makes bombastic announcements to the "people of Eternia" as their new ruler, in which his giant face is holographically projected (presumably) all around the planet. Against the background of Skeletor's colossal face declaring that "Those who do not pledge themselves to me shall be destroyed!", He-Man appears in the foreground, tiny and alone on a rocky outcropping, his ripply muscle-y Dolph Lundgren back to us, staring grimly (I assume) at this evidence of Skeletor's seeming victory. This shot says everything we need to know just by the visuals. Rebels, Empire. We get a sense of how small and ill-equipped the Rebels are and how large and powerful the Empire Skeletor is.

They then immediately ruin this nice moment by showing He-Man fighting men in reflective padded armor shooting laser guns while he uses his sword to deflect their blaster fire back at them. Hmm...where have I seen that before?

But hey, if you're gonna steal, steal from the best, amirite?

Of course, because this movie sucks, we almost immediately leave Eternia and spend the rest of the movie on boring old Earth, that primitive and tasteless planet. But for a few early scenes, man, they were really onto something.

February 11, 2015

Five Good Things about Masters of the Universe: Number 4, He-Man gets captured.

It's so cliche even Austin Powers made fun of it. Roger Ebert gave it a name: The Fallacy of the Talking Killer. Not only does it appear on the Evil Overlord list, but it appears several times.

The villain has the hero dead to rights. All he has to do is pull the trigger. "Bang. Dead." to quote Scott Evil. But he doesn't. He has to kill the hero in some elaborate way. Or he has to kill him after he has destroyed all that he holds dear. Or he has to explain his plan first. Or he has to kill him after he attains ultimate power in the universe.

Which is to say, he has to let the hero put his escape plan into action so we can have a crowd-pleasing end-of-the-movie fight scene.

The wrong way to do this is how it's down in every James Bond movie ever: a naked plot contrivance. The villain can't kill the hero because then the hero would be dead and the movie would be over. The right way is to give the villain a reason to keep the hero alive.

Now if you're a hack fraud, you'll say, "But Carl Eusebius, you just gave reasons! The villain can't kill the hero because of his hubris. He has to triumph in such a way that blah blah" shut the fuck up. "The villain is arrogant" is not a reason, it's a plot contrivance. A reason comes from a character. It's called "motivation". Every character in your story has to have it, else your story isn't about human beings or anything like them. If a villain is so arrogant that he'll risk his own life due to his arrogance, you have to set that up. It has to emerge from the villain's character. Let me give you two examples from movies that don't suck. One movie is great, and the other is good in a schlocky action kind of way, just to show you that "action" doesn't mean "dumb".

In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, the titular villain doesn't personally have Kirk in his sights, but he has a man who does, Captain Terrell. Terrell informs Khan that he has Kirk at phaserpoint and also has possession of the Genesis device, so that Khan is free to take the device at any time. Khan, being a villain in an actual movie, immediately orders Terrell to execute Kirk, since, as he puts it, "First thing's first." Terrell is too good a person to gun someone down in cold blood, even under mind control, so he fails to do so. Kirk then taunts Khan, demanding that he face him personally. Khan, being a villain in an actual movie (did I mention that part?), correctly suspects that he has nothing to gain by doing this. At this moment he is in control; going to Kirk's location means fighting on Kirk's terms, not his own. Instead, he can destroy Enterprise and leave Kirk permanently stranded. This victory would be poetic (and we know Khan is a cultured man who would appreciate the poetry of his vengeance, since he quotes Milton and Melville at the drop of a hat), because Kirk has earlier abandoned Khan and his wife. What better way to revenge himself upon Kirk than to consign him to the same fate?

At the end of the film, Kirk is back on Enterprise, which in its current state is much weaker than Khan's Reliant. To make up for this, Enterprise flees into a nebula, where both ships will be crippled to the same degree. Khan rather wisely again refuses to fight on Kirk's terms. But Kirk knows Khan, the kind of man he is. Because The Wrath of Khan is a great film, it now inverts the earlier situation that led to Enterprise being crippled in the first place. In that situation, Khan approached Enterprise as a friend, since Reliant is a fellow Starfleet ship, while refusing to make contact to avoid giving the game away. One of Kirk's officers quoted a regulation requiring defensive action against any ship, even a Starfleet ship, that has not been successfully contacted. Because Khan knows Kirk well, he correctly guesses that Kirk will ignore this regulation and instead rely on his own judgment. This allows Khan to cripple Kirk's ship by firing without warning on a defenseless Enterprise.

But now, at the end, it's Kirk's knowledge of Khan that will in turn lead to Khan's crushing defeat. Kirk gets on the line and taunts Khan, this time not angrily, but mockingly. "I'm laughing at the 'superior intellect'", he says with barely concealed mirth, purposefully using Khan's own language to goad him. Khan then makes the fatal decision to enter the nebula, where he finds only defeat and death.

The second film I've already talked about, but fuck it, here it is again. In Commando, the villain Bennett has Matrix at gunpoint, as he holds the latter's daughter hostage. Matrix plays on his knowledge of Bennett's psych (they were in special forces together for many years) to get Bennett to discard both the gun and the girl and fight Matrix as an equal. In a shitty action movie, this would work because villains are dumb. But here it works because Commando carefully lays the groundwork for it to work. Bennett is shown to take pleasure in killing with knives rather than guns, so he can see his victims' eyes as the life oozes out of them. Bennett is repeatedly shown comparing himself to Matrix, claiming they are equals and superior to the common soldiers around them. Even if no one else were around to see it, if Bennett defeated Matrix only because he had his daughter as hostage and the gun, he would always have that doubt: Was I really better than him? Because Bennett has been measuring himself against Matrix for a long time, only by beating him "fairly" can he be sure, in his own mind, that he's really the best. Even then, Bennett's no fool. Once he realizes Matrix is winning and he manages to locate the discarded gun, he doesn't hesitate to use it. Wanting to be the best is one thing, but he's not dying for it.

So it is for Masters of the Universe. As the film opens, Skeletor has won. He's captured Castle Grayskull and the Sorceress. All he needs to do is to drain her power and wait for the stars to align and he gains ultimate power in the universe or whatever. The forces of good have been reduced to a ragtag resistance force, with He-Man as its charismatic leader. When Skeletor sends his forces out to capture He-Man, his right-hand woman Evil-Lyn inquires why he doesn't order them to kill him. Skeletor replies, "If I kill him, I make him a martyr, a saint." Instead, he plans to capture He-Man, utterly break him, and parade this shattered and dejected enemy leader in front of the world, to demoralize all his followers and discourage anyone else from being one. See, that's a reason not to kill the hero, at least not right away.