Saturday, August 29, 2015

25. B*A*P*S

The movie: B*A*P*S (Robert Townsend, 1997)

Have I seen this movie before? No.

How I saw it: DVD (via Netflix).

The recommender: Cathryn Chenkus

The rationale: I have seen this movie at least a dozen times. It's my feel-good, “I can always watch it because it's only on TV like once every 2 years” movie. You were correct in your memory that B*A*P*S used to be on Comedy Central all the time; that's probably where I first watched it. It stuck with me so much that whenever I have to say "LL Cool J" - which is pretty often - I just refer to him as "L L!" like they do in the movie (you'll see, and you may start doing it too).

It's your typical story of two likable, outgoing, but down on their luck women who want to better their lives so they move to L.A. and try to do it the honest way, but it just isn't working out for them. Desperate for money and on their last leg, do they scam a sweet, dying old man just to improve their lives? Well, you'll see. It has every predictable cliche you can imagine for this type of movie: the evil, greedy, WASP-y son wearing navy blazers, the Rodeo Drive shopping spree montage, the cameos from famous rappers of the time, outrageous latex outfits, bidet mishaps, "old white man tries out some stereotypical aspect of black culture and guess what, he likes it!" You know the drill.

Final disclaimer: Make sure you have some tissues. Not even trying to be funny, I cried twice the last time I saw this. Twice.

My familiarity with this movie: This is a top-notch rationale. I knew precious little about this film before reading it, and now I know everything I need to know. Her rationale has also been extremely helpful in positioning this movie in my mind as a classic “old white man encounters black culture” movie, one of the great genres of modern cinema. Also, it is the first rationale for this blog to contain the words “bidet mishaps.” I hope it is not the last.

Plot summary and trailer yoinked from Netflix and YouTube, respectively: “Nisi and Mickey are two "Black American Princesses" -- or B.A.P.S. for short -- who are Hollywood-bound and determined to star in a music video. Instead, they're roped into a scam concocted by the nephew of the video's director.”

What I thought of the movie: It was pleasant! Nothing groundbreaking, of course, and I will admit that there were a few times where my attention drifted. But all in all it was a funny and silly time, full of funny and silly characters. It’s a movie that’s content to let the biggest laughs come from a fuddy-duddy English butler saying things like, “You trippin’.” Which, to be perfectly honest, is v v funny. The movie made me think of a great quote by the great Desus Nice:

I generally don’t read reviews of the films for this blog before/while watching them, but the Wikipedia page made a point of noting that Roger Ebert, perhaps the greatest movie critic of all time, gave this film a zero-star review. He took issue with what he saw as the “offensive” depiction of the girls, although he also stated that Halle Berry’s character “looks like a hooker,” so that's cool, I guess. But his view of the film was largely reflected by critics, which I think is a bit unfair. It's nothing amazing, of course, but I can’t help but wonder why they missed, for example, how funny Halle Berry is here. She’s a great physical comedian! See the “bidet mishap” scene for evidence of this. That scene earns this movie at least one star all on its own.

A final note: the two girls’ erstwhile boyfriends come up with an idea for a “Page-A-Cab luxury cab service.” YO. IT’S UBER. SOMEONE SUE THE PRODUCERS OF THIS FILM. Maybe B*A*P*S was just ahead of its time.

Am I happy I took Cathryn’s recommendation? I got to see Oscar winner Martin Landau wear a Saturday Night Fever-esque white suit and disco dance with Halle Berry. I would not have seen that at any other point in my life. So, yes.

What’s next?

UPDATE: Former roommate of the blog (FROTB) Matt Gottilla suggests Predestination, which I have not looked up yet but imagine is a horror movie that will frighten me. THANKS ROOMS.

Friday, August 21, 2015

24. Girl Most Likely

The movie: Girl Most Likely (Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, 2012)

Have I seen this movie before? No.

How I saw it: Netflix Instant Watch.

The recommender: Eleanor Klibanoff

The rationale: The first time I watched this movie, TBH, I thought it was The Skeleton Twins. It wasn't. But I loved it anyway. It was charming, and absurd, and hopeless in a hopeful way.

OR SO I THOUGHT! According to Rotten Tomatoes (21%), Girl Most Likely is "largely witless," a "blandly hollow foray into scattershot sitcom territory." I don't know if I've ever mentioned this, John, but I did comedy in college. I know a thing or two about scattershot sitcom territory. And this is not that.

But, if it is… what does that say about me? Am I largely witless? Blandly hollow? A foray? This is not a movie suggestion, John. This is a cry for help. Cast down your judgment on this movie, and set me free from this mental turmoil. (And then watch The Skeleton Twins; it's really a much better movie.)

My familiarity with this movie: I fancy myself a big Wiig fan, but, apart from Bridesmaids, I haven’t seen much of her post-SNL cinematic output (not even The Skeleton Twins or her most recent oddball star turn, Welcome to Me, although both have been on my list for a while). I think she’s the best, I can’t wait for the new Ghostbusters movie, and we all should watch this right now.


Plot summary and trailer yoinked from Netflix and YouTube, respectively: “After staging an unsuccessful suicide to get her boyfriend's attention, a struggling playwright moves back home to live with her mother, her mother's boyfriend and a handsome lodger who sings with a Backstreet Boys cover band.”

What I thought of the movie: My main concern about starting this blog was that people would recommend movies that they really liked, and then I would hurt their feelings if I didn’t like them. Eleanor let me off the hook a bit in her rationale by mentioning that Girl Most Likely was critically panned, but I still feel bad saying this: I did not like this movie. It wasn’t awful: the acting, in particular, is actually quite good. But I have to agree that it’s a bit sitcommy, and I did not really find it funny or moving or all that interesting. I’m sorry!

The plot is pretty standard stuff. Wiig’s character, desperate to maintain her fancypants New York lifestyle because she’s embarrassed about her weird Jersey Shore upbringing, is of course forced to move back home and deal with her crazy family. (The family apparently lives in Ocean City, NJ, in which I’ve spent many a family summer vacation. It’s a dry town. No bueno.) If you’re hoping to watch Wiig experience some personal growth while marooned at her childhood home, then boy are you in luck!

The main problem with the movie is that supporting characters are less human beings and more personified lists of quirks. It's a very 2000s-indie-movie problem to have, and this movie has it in spades. Wiig’s brother, in particular, is one of the most awful indie-movie cliches I’ve ever seen. A crab lover stuck in a state of arrested development, he invents a metal exoskeleton to protect himself from a world, a la a crab. It’s positively Braffian.

The real shame is that Annette Bening is totally wasted (not in that way, but if her character were to get wasted in that way, she would have to leave Ocean City and buy booze just over the bridge in Somers Point) as Wiig’s wild mom. She swoops into her first scene, wearing a sequined dress and saying inappropriate things, and you want the movie to just be her and Wiig playing off each other, making things happen. And then it feels like she’s barely in the rest of the movie. There’s just so much other business to deal with: a subplot about Wiig’s father, whom Bening told her was dead; a subplot about Bening’s new boyfriend (Matt Dillon, not really engaged in all this), who claims to be in the CIA; a subplot where Wiig and Darren Criss get together (creating Darren Crissten Wiig, a joke that Eleanor had to cut from her rationale for space; she did comedy in college, folks); all the stupid shit with her stupid brother, etc. That’s what I think makes it feel sitcommy: because there’s so much stuff to fit in, everyone feels shallow, everything that happens is broad, and it all wraps up too neatly.

It's not completely predictable, though: some of the aforementioned subplots end in somewhat interesting ways. And Wiig livens up the proceedings as best she can, especially in her scenes with Criss. She gets us to tolerate a character that is pretty unlikeable, and since it feels like half her scenes involve her crying under a blanket, her performance singlehandedly establishes the movie’s hopelessly hopeful tone, as Eleanor put it. But in the end, it's kind of a mess. We never really figure out what the movie’s supposed to be about, or what lessons our protagonist is meant to have learned. It’s just disappointing, and I haven’t even mentioned yet that the title of the movie is hot trash. The title of the movie is hot trash.

Am I happy I took Eleanor’s recommendation? I'm gonna watch The Skeleton Twins and pretend that she recommended that instead. (I'm sorry again!)

What’s next?

UPDATE: Cathryn Chenkus suggests B*A*P*S, a film that I seem to recall frequently being on Comedy Central in the afternoon back in the day. I do not know what B*A*P*S stands for. TUNE IN NEXT TIME TO FIND OUT.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

23. Sex Drive

The movie: Sex Drive (Sean Anders, 2008)

Have I seen this movie before? No.

How I saw it: DVD (via Netflix).

The recommender: JP Uehlinger

The rationale: I just have no idea what to make of Sex Drive. For reasons I cannot fathom, this movie seemed to be on (in my apartment, anyway) nearly every hour of every day in the summer of 2009 (or 2010, I don't know. Shut up). I have thoroughly enjoyed every viewing, as have my roommates and Christopher J. Seneca. Yet outside of that small and devilishly handsome group, I don't know anyone else who has seen it. Really, anyone. I don't harbor any illusions that this is actually a good movie, but I'd like a Sex Drive virgin to review it and let me know how guilty I should feel about enjoying this film.

Also, and I never thought I'd type these words  Seth Green just crushes it as Ezekiel.

My familiarity with this movie: I’m usually up on these sorts of films, but I’d never heard of this movie until JP suggested it. Apparently I’m the only one, because I’m reliably informed that it’s a premium cable staple. You’d expect me to know this, given my summer of sitting at home all day doing nothing.

It’s hard to resist a movie that’s on all the time. That movie, for me, has historically been Will Ferrell’s basketball comedy Semi-Pro, which I maintain is a masterpiece. Check this out, y'all, it's so great:

We don't even GOT corn dogs! Unbelievable.

Plot summary and trailer yoinked from Netflix and YouTube, respectively: Eighteen-year-old Ian Lafferty sets out on a cross country road trip of a lifetime with his best friends Lance and Felicia in order to lose his virginity to a red-hot babe he met on the Internet. [Editor’s Note: Oh sweet Lord.]

What I thought of the movie: The classic formula for a movie pitch is “X meets Y.” If the pitch meeting for Sex Drive did not include the phrase “American Pie meets Road Trip,” then I know nothing about Hollywood. (I say that having never seen the movie Road Trip. I was out on the Tom Green era.) Because that’s what we've got here. Lots of humiliating sexual hijinks + a crazy road trip = the movie. It's v formulaic. 

The predictability, while worth noting, is far less important to me than the fact that I didn't really find it very funny, although I'll certainly admit that it had its moments. Those moments almost exclusively featured Seth Green playing a sarcastic Amish. (JP is spot-on about this, by the way: he’s by far the best part of the movie. I was definitely in on the Seth Green era.)

But, on the whole, I found Sex Drive pretty irksome. Our virginal protagonist, who I will refer to as Offbrand Jason Biggs, is at times your stereotypical awkward nerd who’s clueless about sex, and at other times he’s using phrases like “she wants me to give her the D.” (I would offer a feminist critique of this movie, but that would be like offering a feminist critique of the Trump campaign: we’d be here for hours, and really, what’s the point?) 

He’s surrounded by a cast of characters that are almost all unlikable or unrealistic, or both. His friend Lance is a smooth-talking bro who effortlessly beds multiple women during the movie. Let me make this clear: the movie wants us to view Lance as both a genuinely cool dude and a genuinely convincing Lothario. With this in mind, you will be shocked to learn that the character of Lance is played by actor Clark Duke. Here is a picture of Clark Duke:

It's just... very strange.

Other characters in the film include Offbrand Jason Biggs’s best friend, Felicia (spoiler alert: they realize they're in love with each other at the end, because that's contractually obligated to happen in any movie where a guy and a girl are best friends in high school), and his homophobic bully of an older brother, played by James Marsden. When I first saw Marsden burst on screen in this movie, rocking frosted tips and bellowing the f-word (not the four-letter one), I instinctively thought, “Oh wow, a pre-X-Men James Marsden! How about that?” And then I realized: this movie came out EIGHT YEARS AFTER X-Men. MARSDEN, WHAT ARE YOU DOING. 

Also, Marsden’s character spends the entire movie saying terrible things about gay people, but guess what he finally comes to realize at the end of the movie? If you shouted “HE’S GAY” at your computer screen, you are correct, and please stop shouting that in your office, your co-workers are very alarmed.

Despite all this, I guess the movie isn’t that awful. There’s plenty of sexy treats to keep folks interested. These treats include a scene involving soiled underpants, a scene involving an appendage being affixed to the front of a mascot costume, and a scene involving an unfortunately public involuntary bodily reaction to some naked ladies (trying to keep it PG here, folks). There’s also some far more scatological stuff that I can’t even begin to translate into PG. A condom gets flicked onto a lady’s head at one point (a bit that is done far better by Daniel Radcliffe in Extras). And there's plenty of high-quality Amish material.

So if you’re into that sort of humor (and I am, every now and then, not not marginally amused by that sort of humor), there’s certainly a lot of it here for you. I can see myself sitting around on a lazy Sunday afternoon with the lads and having it on for at least fifteen minutes, before turning it off and watching several episodes of Frasier on Netflix as a palate cleanser. What more can you ask for?

Am I happy I took JP’s recommendation? To answer his question: JP should feel mildly guilty for enjoying this film. I definitely would have preferred Semi-Pro. Do yourself a favor and check out Jackie Moon’s hit single, “Love Me Sexy.” A masterpiece, I tell you. (Someone watch that movie and tell me how guilty I should feel for writing all this.)

What’s next?

UPDATE: Eleanor Kilbanoff, who I'd argue is very much the Kristen Wiig of NPR (with apologies to Renee Montagne), recommends the Kristen Wiig film Girl Most Likely.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

22. Twin Dragon Encounter

The movie: Twin Dragon Encounter (Paul Dunlop, 1986)

Have I seen this movie before? No.

How I saw it: VHS (!), procured by the recommender.

The recommender: Pat Ambrosio

The rationale: I originally saw this film after my freshman year college roommate rented it from the (now-closed) Hollywood Video in Tenleytown. It changed my life. When John started this blog, my first and only question was, "Does the blog have the capability of watching a film that is only available on VHS?" I later learned that the Twin Dragons directly sell DVD copies of Twin Dragon Encounter (and its sequel, Dragon Hunt) through their website. You should all go there and buy one.

My familiarity with this movie: This movie, like recent blog choice Jeremy’s Family Reunion, lacks a Wikipedia page, so I had to do some outside research to get up to speed. And my God did I go down a rabbit hole of insanity here.

So the twins alluded to in the title of the film are Michael and Martin McNamara, the real-life owners of the Twin Dragon Kung-Fu & Kick-Boxing Club of Toronto. Here is a picture of Michael and Martin McNamara:

Let’s look at that picture again:

Now, just for fun, let’s look at a picture of the professional golfer Corey Pavin:

I urge you to check out the McNamara brothers' bonkers website, which mainly deals with their fight against the government of Ontario on the legality of martial arts or some nonsense. The main takeaway here is that the twins, two goofy-looking Canadian men with bushy mustaches who own a martial arts studio, are the heroes of this movie. Oh, and they're playing themselves. I can't wait.

Pat brought the VHS over on a Saturday afternoon, and we watched it with FsOTB Lauren Gardner and Micah Lubens. By the way, the VHS comes with the following:

I don’t know about you, but I think it was v nice of them to include the free-bonus-free your VHS movie on this DVD-R.

Plot summary yoinked from IMDb: “Identical twin brothers on vacation are faced with an unexpected battle when their getaway spot is invaded by mercenaries. Using their martial arts expertise, the twins wage war against the invaders in order to free their kidnapped girlfriends.”

What I thought of the movie: There’s just so much to unpack here, so I feel the need to get right into this. A loud noise could intermittently be heard on the soundtrack as we watched the movie, a noise that I can only describe as a “machine-gun fart noise.” (Pat informed me that this was the case when he was watching his original Hollywood Video copy of the movie, so it wasn’t a problem that's specific to this tape.) The machine-gun fart noise often rendered the dialogue unintelligible, and so during the first scene of the movie, set in a dimly lit park at night, I realized that I was watching a movie (on VHS!) that I was barely able to hear and see. And I couldn’t wait to barely be able to hear and see what was going to happen next.

The scene in the park shows the twins rescuing a girl from being assaulted by a gang of toughs. A few things of note here: I was soon to learn that every fight in the movie is shown in slow-motion, accompanied by drawn-out grunting noises (along with the machine-gun fart noise). The slow-motion also means that we can see that all the punches and kicks thrown in this movie don’t actually land. After rescuing this girl, the brothers slowly stroke her hair in a wildly creepy way, and she says, “How can I ever repay you?” Or at least I think she said that (machine-gun fart noise). It's a deeply troubling way to start a film.

The opening credits ensued. Here are two pictures we took as they rolled:

Keepin’ it casual in the editing room.

BILLY BUTT OH NOOOOOOOOOOO. Billy Butt’s songs are tremendously '80s-y. The chorus of “Right to Fight” is: “You gotta fight for the right to fight.” Billy Butt > the Beastie Boys. Also, if you’re fighting for the right to fight, then you clearly didn’t need to be granted the right to fight in the first place.

After the credits, we see an extended sequence of people vigorously exercising in the Twin Dragon studio. (It’s worth noting how this movie functions essentially as a 79-minute commercial for the brothers’ studio/the brothers themselves.) Among the brothers’ many pupils are two comely lasses of virtue true, whom we soon learn are their girlfriends. One of them is the girl they saved in the park, the girl who had no idea how to repay them. Looks like she found a way!

The four of them leave (in two different Twin Dragon vans, one for each couple; the vans are adorned with what is presumably the actual address and phone number of the Twin Dragon Studio) for their vacation. They stop at a diner en route, at which point a group of truckers start insulting them for literally no reason. The twins take it outside and ambush the truckers in slow-motion (and when I say "ambush," I mean that an impartial observer might assume that the twins are the bad guys here), and after the deed is done, one of them says, in a comical faux-Chinese accent: “Confucius say: when fighting truckers, nail suckers!” My God. We are TEN MINUTES IN and our heroes are rapey racists with dubious morality. And they're Canadian!

Upon their arrival at the lake, we meet “The People’s Private Army,” a group of people wearing fatigues that live in the woods or some nonsense. They hate our heroes for… literally no reason, again. Every person in the movie wants to kick these guys’ asses, and their motivations are never, ever explained. It’s wonderful.

Even better: the leader of this private army is played by an actor named “B. Bob.” B. BOB. This is what B. Bob looks like. B. Bob rules the People’s Private Army with an iron fist, creating havoc wherever he and his men go. He’s pure evil: very much the Joseph Kony of mid-1980s Ontario.

So our heroes tangle with the Army a couple times, with B. Bob being particularly menacing toward the two ladies, but they’re still managing to enjoy their vacation on Twin Island (presumably named for them). The guys continue to seem like jerks; it’s clear that they’d rather spend time chopping wood together (not a euphemism) than spending time with their girlfriends. (Also, despite the presence of a nude-ish lady on the cover of the VHS, and the fact that the brothers told the girls that the wildlife on the island included “two horny wolves,” there is no nudity in the film. If you missed the last part of that sentence because you were throwing up at the thought of these guys saying the words “two horny wolves,” I completely understand.)

There are no fewer than four (4) montages in this 79-minute-long movie, montages that but for Billy Butt's brilliance would feel like tremendous wastes of time. There are also a fair number of extraneous scenes with no bearing on the central conflict between the twins and B. Bob’s boys. At one point, the four of them encounter a black bear in the woods (it's implied that the boys arranged this as a prank for the girls, somehow). It’s quite a tense scene. The twins pull their guns, the music intensifies… and then we cut to the twins on a canoe, fishing. What happened to the bear!

Eventually though, we know B. Bob and the Army will meet the boys in a final confrontation. Yet despite living in a world that is full of people who want to fight them and harass their girlfriends for no discernible reason, the twins leave the girls alone in the wilderness multiple times. And when the girls finally do get kidnapped, it takes the twins a very long time to put together what happened. The key piece of evidence is that B. Bob has taken a Twin Dragon poster from their cabin, which begs the question: why would they bring a poster of themselves on vacation! (Side note: in perhaps the best scene in this or any movie ever made, after kidnapping the girls and bringing them back to his camp, B. Bob has two of his soldiers hold up the poster and then KARATE KICKS IT right in the twins’ faces.)

The twins use their full arsenal of tricks to cut through the People’s Private Army like butter: kung fu fighting, a bow and arrow, an ATV and a hovercraft (!) that they’d previously hidden on the island, and big guns that they use to shoot up the empty camp (but not to shoot any actual people). Finally, after dispatching dozens of the soldiers, they rescue the girls and have B. Bob and his remaining men at gunpoint.

And then they put down their guns to fight them with kung fu. WHY. This allows B. Bob to immediately recapture one of the girls and abscond with her into the woods. Some dragons! They eventually get her back, shooting B. Bob in the hand with an arrow (Katniss Everdeen-style) before he escapes on a helicopter seaplane (edited, thanks to Pat: HOW DID I FORGET ABOUT THE SEAPLANE). (I really hope he appears in the sequel, Dragon Hunt, although I'm not sure if he does.) And then we cap it all off with what appears to be the music video for Billy Butt’s “Faces,” which is just highlights of the movie, including several of the fight scenes shown at normal speed. End of film. Take a deep breath.

So I honestly have no idea what to make of any of this. It’s almost too much to take in. The how and why of this movie are beyond mind-boggling: Micah and I just tried to explain all of it to FOTB Joe Kirkwood, and we failed miserably. It makes me wonder if any of you are following this at all, and if you can't, who can blame you? Twin Dragon Encounter exists on another plane of existence from just about every other movie I've ever seen. It's truly astonishing. All I can do is urge you to see this film, to read their website, and to grow a bushy mustache and become a kung fu master with your twin brother in Canada. It'll be worth it.

Am I happy I took Pat’s recommendation? If any of you get Dragon Hunt on DVD and recommend it for the blog, I will give you $50.

What's next?

UPDATE: The Babylon Warriors, dominant in the world of DC-area floor hockey, are now dominating the blog's recommendations, as JP Uehlinger suggests the teen road-trip sex comedy Sex Drive. As I was typing that, I realized that the title is a pun. This does not bode well.