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. Hmm...you 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.