Movie Review

Have you ever watched a movie so bad that it’s good? Maybe you have a favorite, a guilty pleasure from certain times or places. A crap movie that, by virtue of nostalgia, or absurdity, you absolutely love. Then there are those shows you loved as a kid, recall fondly, but they simply don’t hold up to your adult sensibilities. Lately I’ve found that many of the movies and television shows I liked as a kid I now find boring, slow and predictable. Styles have changed.

We have entered a new golden age of entertainment.

Yes, I’ve heard this before with respect to specific media—movies, television, books—but it all comes down to writing. So many people are vying for so few openings that all the creative industries have bred cut-throat competition, where people write harder, explore deeper topics, expand non-traditional markets. All of this dog-eat-dog for our entertainment.

Then came a recommendation that opened my eyes to the gold all around me. One of those off-the-cuff suggestions that always go ignored. This time bordered prevailed. I actually watched what was recommended. I was not disappointed. This wasn’t a movie so bad it was good. This is a movie so bad it’s genius. A movie so fantastic it could only be written by a film student studying an era. Whether a spoof or an homage, this film did not simply copy movie themes of the 1980s, but captured the experience. As best as my young self can remember. Movies, television dramas and cartoons, music and comic books.

The writer (also the director and star—yeah, it’s that kind of a movie) embraced writing clichés much to my delight. 1985 Miami with a dystopian Lower East Side feel. Random shootings, burning buildings, overwhelmed police, business as usual.

Okay, first off, remember my last post about knock-out scenes? Well, this took the concept in a different direction that worked. The action star is battling a maniacal robot, then the tracking goes out. A detail only connoisseur of VHS tapes would appreciate. When the tracking comes back the fight continues hanging from the skids of a helicopter. Tracking goes out, comes back, they’re fighting on a crane, all guns and lasers, back and forth. Tracking goes out, comes back again, the hero crashes backwards into the Hubble Space Telescope (which entered service in 1990, but I’ll forgive the continuity issue.) Then the robot and hero are about to clash in front of a full moon when tracking goes out. At last the hero stands over and shoots the robot dead with a cool, dry one-liner at the end. The entire sequence took about forty-five seconds. The idea of cutting out the how and only showing greater and greater action moved an introductory scene out the way fast while using a characteristics of 1980s technology to do it.

My second favorite cliché—the hacker. He appeared out of nowhere and turns out to be the world’s best, of course. This movie hacker could even hack time, but things go wildly wrong. The skinny nerd with glasses, an awesome ‘80s mullet and a wispy mustache who slowly faces the camera when introduced to signify his importance nailed the weak camera work from so long ago. Again, whether a spoof or an homage, it worked for this show where it couldn’t have for anything else.

(Exposition warning) Computer hackers have become the wizards of urban fantasy, able to whip up fixes to keep the characters moving through a story with little or no consideration as to how. Some hocus-pocus, geek-speak and voila. It’s fun to listen to professional programmers discuss the unrealistic abilities non-programming writers bestow upon their fictional hackers.

Reflecting it does seem there were never more instances than in 1980s shows of buddies standing back to back, guns drawn, shooting in all directions. So this movie had to have a back to back scene. Make them scantily clad women, a Viking with an Uzi and a barbarian with a minigun. A MINIGUN! One rides a giant wolf, the other a tyrannosaurus rex. Throw in some heavy metal montages and how can this be anything but the greatest movie of all

barbariana-gif

Yeah, that’s the minigun.

 

time!

 

Plus Kung freakin’ Fu!

Whoa. Slow it down.

Got a little off topic.

Some people I’ve talked to absolutely hate this movie. I can respect that. The plot’s ill-defined, there’s action, but no tension and the wild characters make no sense. Even when the main character dies, there’s no sense of dramatic loss. He is eventually hacked back to life. And the bad guy (Adolf Hitler) escapes. Where’s the closure?

Despite those shortcomings this movie spoke to me. It hit on so much of my childhood. Video games, skateboards, boom boxes, even the fonts nailed it. The hero epitomized all the action stars into one. Sunglasses, red bandana, black leather jacket, collar turned up, laying casually on top of a Lamborghini in front of a giant palm tree framed sunset. More than the nostalgic imagery, the purposefully bad acting, the plot that did more to serve the scenery and the guns that never ran out of bullets made me consider how bad eighties action movies were written compared to modern works.

It’s probably not fair to compare 2010s movies to 1980s movies. Consider 1950s to 1980s. Movies in the 2040s will be magical compared to today.

Looking back there is so much to criticize about ‘80s action shows that seemed so awesome at the time. Shows now need more story, more justification, more intrigue, more choreographed flippy martial arts fights, better special effects, deeper character arcs. All that seems to get lost to time, to nostalgia until something so over the top comes out and shines a light on what has become unacceptable, but in a fun way.

Here’s a list of movies, shows and things that I thought I noticed thematic references to.

  • Immediately Buckaroo Bonsai for the sheer absurdity, though it lacked the same excuse-for-a-bad-movie-produced-by-cocain-addicts-to-score-more-cocain-money kind of feel.
  • Every 1980s movie featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Conan the Barbarian, The Running Man, Predator, Commando. Maybe not Twins.
  • Lethal Weapon.
  • The Warriors.
  • Rambo. Not First Blood.
  • Karate Kid.
  • Bruce Lee movies for the awesome numchuck (I know how I spelled it) action using the ripped off arm of a Nazi.
  • Miami Vice.
  • Knight Rider for sure.
  • Cartoons—Transformers, GI Joe, M.A.S.K. (Yes, there was a cheesy PSA on teamwork from a talking dinosaur at the end.)
  • Bits and pieces from tons of comic books.
  • In the background there was a Tron video game. How much money did I spend on that one…?
  • And my favorite—the old school skate board, though I wouldn’t ride one today. Too bulky.

And the name of this movie. The first movie I’ve ever reviewed for writing. The only live action film I’ve ever wanted to discuss. Hold on to your seats. It’s…..Kung Fury!

Go here. Watch. Laugh.

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Anonymous Book Review 9: Brilliant but Sloppy

Ahhh…. The realms of computer programming and the occult. Two oceans of which I have seen but drops. A couple beers with a few Wickens at midnight and fancy a dalliance in mysterious ways. Hit F12 at start-up and pretend to be a computer hacker.

This latest review follows a twenty something computer programmer who comes too close to opening a gateway to unspeakable evil and is thus coerced to working for the good guys in a secret bureaucracy. Fun. Seriously, this was fun.

Computer hacking? Check.

Occult magic? Check.

Obscure math and physics references? Check.

History’s greatest villains to detest once again? Check.

Copious pop culture references? Check.

Oh, did I mention all this is packed into 235 pages? This book had just about everything I could want in an story.

C and H 2Unfortunately, I had peculiar problems with this story. The main character was supposed to be a disheveled, slacker computer programmer cliché on one hand, then a super intelligent problem solver connecting the dots between machines, computers, mathematics, occult and history on the other. He was too much of everything. Too much of a slacker to change his clothes. Too quick with mathematic principles. Too smart about history. Too comfortable with occult practices without any acknowledgement of an educational background. At one point PhD lady-in-distress mentions a little about her secretive research and instantly the slacker recognizes all the ramifications, which in turn never plays out. She was simply the love interest he felt compelled to rescue. I really wanted some aspect of her research to affect the story’s outcome.

And then there was the knock-out scene. The situation is dire, blood-thirsty murderers have the lady, the main character makes a desperate phone call, bad guys are coming around the corner, then he wakes up in the next chapter with a headache, but otherwise safe and sound at home… on another continent. Crisis averted. Awesome action sequence avoided. That’s just bad writing.

There seemed to be details of amazing things glossed over until needed. A general overview of the magic system was C and Hdiscussed briefly without specifics. This became a scosh confusing when magic and technology intertwined, though there may have been an issue between my awesome F12 ability compared to the full programmer vocabulary used. I couldn’t tell what was real and what was fictional and it became distracting. I read it closely, but still felt like I missed something. I think the Author could’ve used fewer terms and define them clearer in context, or given a short dissertation. Something to differentiated the dominant system.

I must’ve skipped the history class necessary to follow the semi-antagonists. A little more exposition for us readers not intimately familiar with the specific interests of particular Nazi SS groups would’ve been helpful.

This story, written in the first person present tense, was made for popular culture references. Most of which I got. Pop culture references are fun and bring a real world feel to a story, though I thought the references often got in the way during narration.

One particular scene at the end made me reflect and conclude that much of this book was inserted afterthoughts instead of a cleverly crafted story. The main character’s two flat-mates, cliché nerds so absorbed in esoteric experimentation that they’d absentmindedly blow up their building, were dressed in leather and chains headed for the gay pride parade without the slightest hint or allusion that they were even in a relationship. The change was abrupt and out of the characters the Author had drawn over the previous 233 pages. That final scene along with the obligatory PSA could’ve been handled so much better. There was no point in leaving that scene for the last few pages. It could’ve added texture to the story if it came up early, instead it distracted from the proper ending.

No doubt about it, this was a fun story from an Author who knows how to write a world of his interests. I’ll read more by this fellow, but I think this book could’ve gone easily from pretty good to great with a few explanations moved forward and a main character with some flaw worse than mere shoddy hygiene. He should’ve had to work a little harder for the answers and relied on the specialties of his friends to a greater extent than drawing one day-saving analogy from a random experiment. Really the ancillary characters only existed for quirkiness.C and H 3

I could go on, but the brilliant book exasperated me in its sloppiness.

Read a story lately where characters fell flat in their perfection? Or luck saved the day, every day until all peril is routine? Share with a comment. I’d like to hear your thoughts on characterization.

Why can’t I get into this book?

            This story has everything. I should be loving it, but I just can’t get into this book! Monsters, magic, sword fighting, blood, guts, political strife and a fat, crude protagonist. What’s not to love? It’s an interesting premise and the characters are well drawn. The overall pacing goes fast, which I appreciate, even if it is at the scenery’s detraction. But something’s lacking, and the problems are not mine alone. At least one other person has indicated a similar hesitation with the book. I want desperately for it to get better, after all, it’s part of a trilogy.

            So what’s wrong? What’s keeping me from pushing it on my fantasy reading friends?

            This is maddening, but I think I figured it out.

            I don’t want to say it because the story is pretty good, but I have to. The problems are technical.

            First is a POV issue. Not that there are violations, but that I’m not sure who the main point-of-view character is. Two hundred pages in and there are six POV characters moving the story along in long winding chapters. I thought I knew who to follow, but the other perspectives have whittled away my certainty. So much time has been devoted to other characters, my connection with the fat protagonist has been divided into less than a fifth of the text. The first POV character is a no-name person in the prologue.

            Second, there’s not enough description of emotions. That aspect is very telling. Telling and not showing, in writer speak. Which culminates with a repetition of adverbs. The tendency has become distracting.

            Last thing, I swear. There’s a ton of author intrusion. Even in high tension fight scenes the author breaks the action to indicate information outside of the point-of-view character’s immediate perception as justification for feelings or actions after the effect has been established. Just chop the monsters, splash the guts then get into the introspection later at a slower point. Not during the fight. Please, not during the fight.

            I’m not a literary snoot. By and large these issues don’t bother me, but taken page after page, sentence over sentence they’ve become tedious and annoying to read through. They sap the tension from important scenes and remove me from the fantasy into a realm of excuses. I’m kept at arm’s length, told how the characters feel from a safe distance. The narrative style leaves me as an observer rather than a participant. I can second guess the characters instead of identifying with their dilemmas. I want to want the ugly girl, not just read that the guy is strangely (adverb) attracted to her.

            Okay, I’m done. It feels good to get that off my chest. These issues have bothered me for too long not to mention anything, but now I’ve got some reading to do.