Saturday, July 30, 2011

Cowboys & Aliens & Movie Critics

While the final score is still settling, Cowboys & Aliens looks to be scoring around 44% positive on Rotten Tomatoes, which begs the question of how critics could be so far off. Because Cowboys & Aliens kicks ass.

Despite often being reviled as the lowest form of life on the planet, professional movie critics - on average - tend to be right about most movies. The Tomatometer is, more often than not, an accurate indication of whether a movie is good or not (though due to calibration issues it is less adept at correctly identifying how good or bad). However, every now and then, it is dead wrong.

The Middle Room exists to consider such anomalies in the hopes of identifying them in advance, and, while we're at it, potentially uncovering valuable insight into the abnormal psychology of the professional movie critic.

The key to understanding Cowboys & Aliens is that it's not what it appears to be. This isn't to say it isn't a western/SF crossover, which it certainly is, but rather that it isn't a dark and troubling movie. Rather, this is an exciting summer action/adventure movie set in a mash-up of science fiction and western tropes. In tone, this is closer to Pirates of the Caribbean than The Dark Knight. At times, it's downright campy, though never in a cloying way.

It is, above all else, a hell of a lot of fun.

We submit that the movie critic - or, to be fair, approximately 56% of movie critics - are mentally incapable of grasping this.

Certainly, the average critic has no problem handling mash-ups: we're relatively certain they teach that in film school. However, it seems to us that many critics are only able to view a movie within the framework they believe it's supposed to exist in. So, if they believe they're watching a sci-fi/western, they are unable to appreciate or even recognize that they're viewing a kick-ass adventure movie that's more comedy than horror.

It's not their fault: it may be a disability.

Cowboys & Aliens was made to be a pleasant experience. If you're unable to accept that it's not Predator, you'll be disappointed; it's far closer to Predators. It's summer entertainment at its best, which isn't to suggest it's unintelligent. In fact, quite the opposite: there's an art to making good popcorn flicks, and this does so extremely well.

Once again, Favreau has produced something that's simply joyous to watch. Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig are fantastic in the movie for the same reason Robert Downey, Jr. was fantastic in Iron Man: they're clearly given room to play with their characters and the world.

On a five star scale with Pirates at the top, Cowboys & Aliens earns a four. It's fantastically entertaining, and is - at present - our favorite live-action movie of the year.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Give Us Your Worst, Part 11: The Spirit

This one almost slipped through the cracks of The Middle Room. We never saw it in theaters, though at one point we'd planned to do so, and we hadn't gotten around to seeing it on DVD. When we were planning this project, this movie had certainly come up, but then we'd somehow forgotten it along the way.

It wasn't until we were skimming the listings at Hulu that we stumbled across it. We put it on immediately, lest we forget once more.

We've seen many bad movies in the past month, many awful ones. We've seen movies so dull we could barely remain awake, so painfully stupid, we couldn't comprehend how they came into existence. Indeed, many of the movies we've already seen were worse than Frank Miller's adaptation of The Spirit.

But this is the only movie we've seen that was blasphemous. Will Eisner's The Spirit comics occupy a key place in the history of the medium: they are widely seen as the first truly literary superhero comics. They elevated the genre itself and inspired a generation of writers.

To say this failed to do them justice is an understatement so cynical as to be meaningless. This is their inversion, a sickeningly twisted revision that turns the Spirit into the very thing the comics were rising above: cheap, exploitative garbage. The worst kind of pulp. And, perhaps, the single worst work to bear Frank Miller's name.

And, given his writing on All-Star Batman and Robin and The Dark Knight Strikes Again, that is certainly saying something.

There's no mystery as to how this film came about. Miller had worked on Robert Rodriguez's Sin City, where he'd been credited as a co-director. There, he must have seen a world of film production far different from Hollywood blockbusters. Rodriguez's sets are famously fun, as are his movies. He's known for producing films quickly and cheaply, which he does by - let's be honest - cutting corners and not sweating every detail. Regardless, he's proven time and time again that he's able to make solid, entertaining movies at a fraction of the price of larger studios.

Clearly, this style isn't as easy to copy as Miller must have thought. And he certainly does try to copy it, using the same blue screen/CG backdrops and costuming approaches. But there's nothing similar about the results.

This movie looks and feels like it was written and directed by a group of fourteen year-old boys, using their home computers for special effects. If you've spent any time on Youtube watching fan videos of the Matrix, you've seen things that look precisely like this.

Nothing about Miller's The Spirit is entertaining. The backgrounds blend together into a uniform grey, while the characters feel like cheap knock-offs. Miller re-writes the Spirit's origin, giving him superpowers and reducing him to a generic costumed avenger. He abandoned the Spirit's classic blue coat, opting for a black trench coat instead. Simultaneously, the character's mental abilities have plummeted, and he's been re-imagined as a lunatic.

Little is consistent - in one scene, the Spirit is worshipped as a savior; in another, a crowd is disappointed when he doesn't fall to his death. Characters are psychotic in one scene and rational in the next. The only real constant is the film's exploitation of women, but then Frank Miller has been consistent in that regard over his entire career.

This movie was boring. It was pointless. Stupid beyond belief. The jokes - and there were many - weren't remotely funny, and the story was bizarre and random.

It was, in a word, garbage.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Give Us Your Worst, Part 10: Hulk

In the interest of full disclosure, we were specifically going to skip Ang Lee's Hulk, as The Middle Room has never acknowledged it to be a bad movie at all, nor are we about to shift positions having just re-watched it. It is a strange movie, surely; a baffling movie, a flawed movie; and yet, it is engrossing and beautiful, artistic and fascinating.

Our opinion is actually within the mainstream; the movie scores a passable 62% on Rotten Tomatoes, and has a number of fans. However, a majority of them exist outside the geek community. When the 2008 reboot was released, geek goodwill towards Ang Lee's version evaporated, and the consensus within our circles migrated to the view that this was a horrible film.

Because The Middle Room exists to explore and strengthen this very community, and because that is the origin of our audience, we have decided to re-watch this film and consider what we feel works and what clearly does not. We also hope this will help us better map the boundaries between good and bad superhero movies, a goal we lacked when starting this project that has since appeared on the horizon.

First, the bad. We acknowledge many flaws with this film, beginning with the plot and characters. Considered narratively, Hulk makes little sense, particularly towards the end. Likewise, the two main characters, Bruce and Betty, are of little interest, though General Ross and Bruce's father are more interesting. Lee's decision to focus thematically on repression, rather than anger, is a clear miscalculation, as well.

With so many issues, how can we call this a good movie? While the script was broken, the direction - in our opinion, at least - was awesome. The visual component was spectacular, despite some dated CG. In fact, even this was well used. While most superhero movies attempt to transform their concepts into something that could exist in the real world, Ang Lee treats the Hulk like a comic book superhero, and unapologetically allows him to exist as he is. That he's a cartoon superimposed on a live-action world isn't a joke, because Lee doesn't treat him as a joke: he takes the concept, in all its absurd glory, seriously.

We can't think of another non-comedy live-action superhero film so courageous, and we love this movie for that.

On top of the Hulk himself, there's a sense of artistic style permeating every frame of this film. In this genre, the use of color is second only to Dick Tracy. The lab equipment has a super-science sensibility that sets the tone up front - this isn't our world; it's a far more interesting one.

And, more than anything else, we absolutely adore the panelling effect used to give the film the feeling of a comic book. Could this have been better integrated? Perhaps. But it works incredibly well, and we wish other directors would steal the idea when editing their superhero movies.

As for the movie's pacing, while we can certainly appreciate why some find it boring, it's not a problem we've ever had. We find Hulk fascinating from start to finish, despite - and in some cases because of - it's flaws. Nothing about the end fight makes sense, and yet... there's something awesome about the Hulk fighting a lightning monster in the clouds, illustrated entirely by still flashes of comic-style images. Even when the story falls apart, it does so in the style of a comic book.

It's that style we find missing in most of the other movies we've seen in this series. If anything, Schumacher's Batman movies came closest, though they were pale imitations crafted by a hack who clearly understood nothing of what he was trying to adapt. Ang Lee, while perhaps not entirely grasping the Hulk, demonstrated a profound comprehension of the comic medium itself at a visceral level that's seldom been duplicated.

This is a movie about superheroes and comic books, a movie unafraid to showcase their impossible absurdity and unreal power. This is a flawed work of art, but a work of art, nonetheless.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Review: Captain America: The First Avenger

A movie like Captain America offers its viewers two choices: to either accept what is undoubtably an amazing experience which is truer and more appropriate to the character than we could ever have hoped for, or to pick apart the movie and find those aspects that hold back the movie.

Here in The Middle Room, we shall do both.

It is important not to overlook the forest through the trees. This is a period superhero flick, a World War II adventure following Marvel Comics's most archetypal hero through his origin. And it's a damn good one. This is Captain America in his own element, in his own time. It establishes him as part of his era, all while setting him up as a fish out water in The Avengers and his inevitable modern day sequel.

The action sequences are pure fun, and the power levels are spot-on. This is an old-school adventure story that hits the right beats and looks pitch perfect.

The characters are right. Captain America comes off as confident and unwavering, and not solely because of his transformation. The supporting characters and villains are likewise universally excellent, from Peggy Carter to the Red Skull.

And, most impressively, this ties everything that's come before it into a comprehensive package. Threads from all four prior Marvel Universe movies - Iron Man 1 and 2, The Incredible Hulk, and Thor - are connected in ways that miraculously enhance this movie, rather than bogging it down.

The action was exciting, the jokes were funny, and the tension was earned. As a movie this worked. As a period piece, it worked. And as a superhero film, it worked.

And yet, there was something bothering us, something that felt off. To be honest, it took us a while to put our finger on it. But there was certainly something missing.

There simply wasn't enough time in one movie to properly build Captain America's legend to where it needed to be. There were a number of montages showing Captain America fighting, but there was one too few. We needed to see him involved in more than one campaign against the Red Skull.

At no point in this movie did we see Captain America fight a single Nazi: only Hydra agents. And Hydra, we are quickly informed, no longer considers itself aligned with Germany. Strictly speaking, the Red Skull did far more damage to the Nazi agenda in the course of the film than Captain America. We needed the sense that Captain America fought in dozens of battles, not five or six. We needed to see him really become a leader and step into his own. We needed to see the world realize he was a superhero and realize Bucky was his sidekick.

Frankly, we needed three movies, not one. But that wasn't going to happen. Truth be told, this was already the movie we never thought we'd get. It was a gift, a nerd miracle.

And this was great. It was stylized, exciting, and fun. We've heard a lot of complaints coming from some critics that the last few Marvel movies feel more like trailers for the Avengers than movies in their own right.

And they're right. But remember how everyone used to say trailers were usually better than movies themselves? This is a two-hour long trailer for next year's Avengers, and that's kind of awesome, even if it really needed to be six hours long.

On the same scale as Iron Man, we'll award this a similar four out of five star rating.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Give Us Your Worst, Part 9: Swamp Thing

There is some dissension in The Middle Room over whether or not this movie belongs in this series at all. While it was certainly not a good movie under any meaningful definition of the term, neither is it objectively an awful one. In fact, it holds a 62% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes, a hair's breath above bad. This was actually what we disliked about the film.

The campy writing and cheesy action were, at times, kind of fun. And the costume, while clearly a rubber suit, was at least a decent looking rubber suit. The movie had a pulpy B-horror vibe that wanted to break free. Unfortunately, it was held in check by a director demonstrating his ability to Hollywood producers.

We don't fault Wes Craven for trying to make a solid flick, but the end result lacked impact. It feels small, tedious, and at times boring. Still, the absurdity of its villain is enough to salvage the movie, at least a little. We didn't feel like we got much out of watching Swamp Thing, and are left wondering if the movie would have had more of an impact had it been a worse film. Certainly, the best case would have been for the movie to have been given a fantastic script, but barring that, we'd almost have rather seen it directed by a hack who left us wallowing in its awfulness, as opposed to a competent director who dragged it up to mediocrity.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Review: Harry Potter and the Second Part of the Seventh Part of Something

We are not, strictly speaking, the world's largest Harry Potter fans. We have not read the books, and we didn't start watching these in the theater until the third movie. Similarly, while we have seen every Harry Potter film, we've seen each of them once. They are neither our favorite movies, nor our favorite genre films.

But, as geeks, they have certainly been good to us.

There can be little debate that the movies have been solid from the start, and further that they've improved over time. No other film series has managed half as many entries without at least one major misstep. Likewise, the fact the series has endured eight films without major cast changes earns it a mark of respect.

As the weekend draws to a close, it appears that the finale to Potter will claim the title of highest grossing weekend of all time. And, frankly, it earned the honor. This is the best movie of the series and one of the best films of the year. It hits the right notes, and delivers an experience that is nostalgic, engaging, and dramatic.

It's worth taking a moment to reflect on the rarity of a film series ending on its highest note. This is incredibly rare in film. In fact, we're at a loss to think of another case where more than two good movies culminated in a finale superior to its predecessors.

Both the Star Wars trilogy (we're doing Lucas the favor of ignoring the prequels entirely) and Lord of the Rings were good throughout (in fact, were quite a bit better than the Potter series), but both ended with films that fell short of their predecessors. The issue seems to come down to pandering: whether it's the Ewok village or a computer-rendered Legolas killing an oliphant and sliding down its trunk, these movies have a way of dating themselves.

But the end of Harry Potter contained nothing of the sort. In a sense, the series had gotten that out of the way during the first few installments. It had, to put it another way, grown out of it. Nothing campy was left; no matter how ostensibly silly aspects concept might have been, the producers accepted them and treated them seriously. The goblins, trolls, giant spiders, and dragons were elements of the setting and plot, but the film focused on the drama of the characters' lives.

If more genre films were made this way, our theaters would be a far better place.

The best scenes are small moments. Characters reacting to revelations realistically. Young characters we've watched for years finally growing up and coming into their own, while older characters let down their guard and show where they really stand and how they feel.

The fights are also good, though they certainly could have been better. If there's one area that could have been improved, this is likely it: the war was closer in scale to what we've seen in the Narnia movies than the Lord of the Rings. But the emotions were closer to the latter, which is far more important in the long run.

On a five star scale against nothing less than the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the second part of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows earns four. This is certainly the best live-action film we've seen this summer, and comes close to overtaking Kung Fu Panda 2 as best overall.

We'd tell you it's worth seeing this, but there's little point: we've seen the box-office estimates for the weekend, and odds are you've already gone.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Movie Review: Winnie the Pooh

A few months ago, when we wrote our annual Futures Market post, we made it clear that while we are excited about the finale of the Potter franchise (we'll get to it soon), we were far more excited that Disney was revisiting the Hundred Acre Wood. The months since then have changed nothing.

On opening night, we trekked to the theater, purchased our tickets, laughed at those in the crowded lines outside the sold-out showings of Harry Potter, and went in to enjoy the first true G-rated movie we've seen in years. Sure, Cars was technically rated G, but it was a G-rating enhanced with torture, murder, assassination, and dead bodies. Winnie the Pooh had none of these things (well, perhaps a little unintentional torture perpetrated by Tigger, but it was all in good fun).

The movie is, above all else, charming. Disney has thrown out decades of cloying Pooh movies and television shows made to cash in on the franchise, and returned stylistically to their original shorts. The animation is more or less as it was, and the voice casting is topnotch. John Cleese's narration was fantastic, and Craig Ferguson's casting as Owl was inspired. Not surprisingly, though, the movie was stolen by the legendary Bud Luckey, whose interpretation of Eeyore surpassed even the original.

This feels like a sequel to the "Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh," and, aside from a brief CG-fueled dream about honey, it looks like it could have been released in the 1970's. It's as funny and sweet as it should be, and it's a pleasure to see this style of animation back on the big screen.

That said, there was certainly room for improvement. The movie is based on three of Milne's original stories, but rather than keep them separate, the script drops the chapter structure and fuses them together, ostensibly into a single narrative. That the individual plot-lines never coalesce isn't an issue - Pooh endures because of the strength of its individual moments, not its overarching story - that they abandoned the opportunity to retain the segmented chapters of the original is a bit disappointing.

In addition, neither the music or songs pack quite the punch we wanted. Nothing is offensively bad, but neither does it connect. The score, in particular, tries too hard to be something new. If the animation is classic Pooh, why not the sound? Why not use the original compositions?

Ultimately, though, for fans of the original, this is pure nostalgia. It's beautiful and light, hilarious and gentle. On a five star scale relative to the original, we award this four.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Give Us Your Worst, Part 8: Batman & Robin

It is commonly accepted as fact that, between Schumacher's two painfully awful Batman movies, this is the worst. We're not entirely sure this is fair, as the movies are, on some level, so different as to be incomparable. It is something like choosing between a rotten, worm-ridden apple and molding, maggot-infested orange. Precisely like that, as a matter of fact.

Objectively, as a work of anti-art, this is unquestionably worse. If badness is quantified mathematically, there can be little question that Batman Forever has far less of it than Batman & Robin; by a magnitude of 6.7 Ratners*, in fact, according to our calculations.

However, because of the concentration of badness, this was actually less boring. Make no mistake: there were still long, dull, mind-numbing sequences which had us eying our cyanide pills (in accordance with human rights requirements, we handed them out in The Middle Room prior to starting this series of articles), but it was actually slightly more engaging than its predecessor.

Upon watching Batman & Robin, there are questions that spring to mind. Questions like, why? How? And does this prove God's nonexistence and that we live in a cold, meaningless Universe devoid of care and compassion?

The Middle Room will seek to answer these questions, to the extent answers are possible.

First, "Why?" This is the most troubling of the three, by far. We have two possible explanations, though neither is particularly comforting. It is possible that Batman & Robin was actually the movie that Joel Schumacher wanted to make. In fact, in hindsight, it seems like Batman Forever may have reflected Schumacher being stifled by producers holding him back. Perhaps Batman & Robin is a window in its creator's psyche, unfiltered and unconstrained.

If this is indeed the case, Schumacher should be institutionalized to protect the public.

As impossible as it may seem, however, the alternative is even more distressing. What if Batman & Robin was the movie Joel Schumacher believed the world wanted? What if he made it for us?

The level of cynicism this hypothesizes lies far beyond the boundaries of mere nihilism. Indeed, there is neither word nor concept for this, nor should we wish there to be.

Our second question, "How?" is no less baffling. Movies have producers, editors, and readers. That no one stopped the movie from being made seems utterly impossible in hindsight. Even if the producers couldn't perceive what was happening, we find it surprising that none of the camera operators, cinematographers, or key grips sabotaged the picture to save the public and the iconic characters.

The only answer seems to be momentum. Somehow, the movie, fast-tracked into production, was finished before there was time to reflect. And once it was done, nothing less than madness must have compelled the company to release to the public.

The Middle Room's third and final inquiry concerns the non-existence of any benevolent power in the Universe. Having just finished watching Batman & Robin, our members are in full agreement: Cthulhu fhtagn.

* Or 5.5 Greenaways, for our European readers more familiar with the metric system.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Give Us Your Worst, Part 7: Batman Forever

It would not be accurate to say that we remembered Batman Forever fondly, however our recollections were not altogether negative. Sure, we remembered this as a bad movie - a very bad movie, in fact - but we also remembered a sort of campy charm, of parts that were fun enough to offer some consolation despite how bad the rest was.

Our memory, it seems, is not infallible. This movie was, start to finish, an abysmal waste with no redeeming aspects whatsoever, aside from the song that plays during the closing credits (one of just two U2 songs we've a soft spot for). None of the moments we recalled favorably held up. Jim Carrey's Riddler, while almost a functional homage to Frank Gorshin, falls short and comes off as cheap, cartoonish schtick. The "Holy-rusted-metal" line: no longer funny.

Picking out individual flaws while watching this movie is akin to looking for a needle while swimming in a vat of needles (easy to find, because there seem to be needles sticking into your eyes). Tommy Lee Jones's Two-Face (renamed, for no conceivable reason, "Harvey Two-Face") is nothing more a facsimile of Nicholson's Joker, with all of Dent's psychological complexity thrown out in favor of maniacal comic relief. Chris O'Donnell's Dick Grayson is even worse: far too old for the role, he makes no sense whatsoever.

Meanwhile, Val Kilmer (who, by rights, could have been an inspired casting choice, were this a far better movie) as Batman acts without any degree of logic or reason. His motivation is ground into the dirt by a director who clearly lacks any comprehension of the character.

The love interest, Dr. Chase Meridian, is potentially more insane than any of the villains. In fact, the overall portrayal of women in this movie is outright sickening. As is the movie itself.

Ultimately, these complaints are trivial in the scheme of things. With good movies, character, plot, setting, dialogue, direction, cinematography and dozens of other factors are of paramount importance. But, we are learning that only a single question matters when it comes to bad films.

Was this interesting to watch in the least?

And, in the case of Batman Forever, the answer is no. It is a boring, pointless exercise in camp that is neither fun nor funny.

Soon we'll have to confront another question: is Batman and Robin actually worse?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

DVD Review: Green Lantern: Emerald Knights

Emerald Knights is a decent, though unexceptional, DVD. Like Gotham Knight, it's a loosely-connected collection of shorts designed to coincide with a feature film released in the theaters. Also like Gotham Knight, Emerald Knights feels rushed. Still, between the two, Emerald Knights is quite a bit better.

Most of the short stories are adapted directly from classic Lantern tales; in some cases, the scripts are almost verbatim. The DVD's main problem comes from tone. Understandably, the producers tried to tie the short stories together using a larger frame, which set the mood of the piece. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with that mood: they went with a darker, almost military science fiction feel, and there's certainly precedent for this in the Lantern Universe.

But that wasn't the right tone for the stories being told (or at least most of them). Similarly, Emerald Knights approaches the Corps with a similar philosophy used in First Flight (in fact, it's easy to forget the movies aren't in continuity, despite the presence of Sinestro). Once again, the rings are greatly reduced in power, playing up the science fiction and playing down the superheroism. We're of the opinion that the concept works best when the two are merged, but we respect that there's room for debate.

The standout story focused on Laira, a Green Lantern forced to choose between loyalty to the Corps and to her family. The story, while relatively generic, was well orchestrated, and the action sequences were exciting and fun to watch. The adaptation of Mogo's origin was also a welcome addition.

The worst of the bunch was the Abin Sur story, which did a great disservice to the comic it was based on. The original provided a sense of mysticism, which seems to have been excised from this setting. In place of the prophecy of The Blackest Night, we got a teaser for the Sinestro Corps War. While we'd love to see that movie made, it just doesn't have the same impact or poetry, and the story just winds up feeling pointless.

The movie's saving grace comes in the animation and designs, which are extremely strong. But, overall, the movie feels bogged down. Nathan Fillion, who should have been the ideal choice for Hal Jordan, feels wasted. Fillion is at his best when he's given room to have fun - so is Hal Jordan, for that matter. And this production just didn't leave room for fun.

Warner Bros. has released some phenomenal direct-to-DVD features over the past few years, several of which were better than most of what's shown in theaters. While Emerald Knights isn't a bad picture, it certainly wouldn't deserve a theatrical release. But, then again, neither did the live action Green Lantern.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Give Us Your Worst, Part 6: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III was something of a wild card: it's been so long since we last saw it, we'd no idea what to expect. Our memories were hazy enough that, despite our negative associations, we actually allowed ourselves the luxury of hoping this would offer, at the very least, a fun experience.

But we have learned better. In this world there is no hope, no joy. Because this is the world that produced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III.

While the second movie is certainly flawed, we found the experience of watching Secret of the Ooze an overall pleasant and nostalgic one. This is its predecessor's dark reflection: an empty, soulless look back at everything not worth remembering about the years we grew up in.

Every joke - almost every line - dates the picture, with references to everything from Wayne's World to Bill and Ted. This isn't a trip back to feudal Japan: it's a trip back to 1993. And it isn't a pleasant one.

The puppets and suits had been mixed in the first two movies; this time they're consistently awful. Even worse, Kevin Clash, the puppeteer who may have salvaged the second film single-handed, has been replaced with a pale imitation.

There was nothing intriguing, fun, or salvageable in Turtles III. Nothing. This was a tedious, boring production, not even a worthy sequel to part 2, let alone the original or the comic origins.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Give Us Your Worst, Part 5: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: The Secret of the Ooze

Turtles 2 was not, by any metric we're familiar with, a good film. It was badly acted, badly written, badly directed, badly edited, badly costumed, and... Vanilla Ice is in it. It is clearly a bad movie.

On top of that, it Turtles 2 came on the heels of what was actually a pretty good first movie, which took its source material seriously and did the best it could with a limited budget. In part 1, the characters had defined arcs, the dialogue was solid, and the pacing worked. All of that was abandoned in part 2 to make room for cheap camp and awful schtick.

Even if we hadn't remembered this going in, we perceived this fact early on: there was no mistaking this for anything other than a bad sequel trying to cash in on the franchise without a second thought about the dignity of the franchise.

This is why we tried so hard not to enjoy Secret of the Ooze. We're still trying to understand what went wrong.

Because we kind of liked it.

Perhaps it's that we saw this when it was first released in theaters and found ourselves caught up in the nostalgia of viewing it again. It may be a simple case of warped perspectives: we've seen some awfully bad movies in the past week, and it could be beginning to have an effect. Or maybe Secret of the Ooze really is one of those movies that's so bad it's good.

Whatever the cause, we enjoyed watching this a lot more than it deserves. We found ourselves laughing quite a lot; with or at the movie, it makes little difference. Even the dreaded appearance by Vanilla Ice was strangely entertaining in its dated stupidity.

It didn't hurt that, for all its faults, the movie retained Kevin Clash as the puppeteer of Splinter. Hand chosen and trained by Henson, Clash is a master puppeteer in his own right. He also seemed to be the one actor who refused to phone in his performance for this movie, opting instead to actually try. The puppet may have been replaced by a less interesting make, but Clash is topnotch.

We're hesitant to recommend this to others, but we will say we enjoyed revisiting this more than any of the other movies we've seen so far as part of this series. Not that that's a particularly high bar.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Give Us Your Worst, Part IV: The Quest for Peace

Time, on the internet, is relative. Of course, time everywhere is relative, but even relative time is relative when it's on the internet. It is, simply stated, relativity squared.

We offer this example. You, dear reader, are no doubt reading this a day or two after our discussion of Superman III. As such, you may be under the impression that we in The Middle Room watched Superman III, waited a proportionate amount of time, and then put on Superman IV.

This would be incorrect. No, our commitment to this endeavor is greater than that: we watched Superman three and four back-to-back, with only a short reprieve between films.

Such is the passage of time conflated and warped by the internet.

Superman IV (or 4, four, 5 - 1, or -e raised to the pi times i power divided by .25, depending on your preferred nomenclature): The Quest for Peace is an incredibly bad movie, except when it's not. There are very few instances where this exception applies, but we were surprised to find a few moments that seemed not awful.

Clark's visit to the family farm, for example, was fairly well handled, as was his conversation with Lois, when she remembered the events of Superman 2. That the scene ended with him wiping her memory once more undermined any impact, but in a movie this bad we don't expect anything good to last and take any such moments, no matter how fleeting, wherever we find them.

Likewise, we were impressed with some of how the movie approached Superman's internal conflict as he decided whether or not to rid the world of nuclear weapons. While it's tempting to dismiss this movie out of hand, this did touch upon themes that play out in several of comics' most significant stories: namely, what responsibility superheroes have to change the world, rather than just upholding the status quo, and where the line exists between hero and conqueror.

Unfortunately, the movie only touched on such themes, toying briefly with these ideas, then tossing them aside. Far more time was invested in Superman having to fake a double-date, with Clark seeing one woman and Superman the other, a sequence that tried to be intentionally funny, failed, and yet was so stupid as to be unintentionally hilarious anyway.

All of this, of course, was just setting the stage for a new Luthor-created supervillain, named "Nuclear-Man." Why the filmmakers went with so idiotic a creation rather than using an established idiotic Superman villain is baffling, to say the least.

The fights - indeed all of the effects - were bad; the blue-screen work among the worst ever made. Even the costuming is painful to look at: the stitching on the 'S' logo on Superman's cape is shoddy beyond belief.

Add to that an unparalleled level of absurdity and illogic - Superman fixes the Great Wall of China with his eyes, then later rescues a woman in the depths of space (no space suit, no air; he just catches her and returns her safely to Earth) - and it's easy to see why this is numbered among the worst superhero movies ever made.

To its credit, at 90 minutes, we found it easier to sit through than Superman III.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Give Us Your Worst, Part 3: Superman III

There are coincidences in this world; as often as not, we are indeed playthings of chance. But not this time. No, the alignment of the third and fourth installments of this series with the third and fourth installments of the Superman franchise is by design.

It was planned. Unlike, we suspect, the plot of Superman III.

The movie started innocuously enough as a comedy. The first few scenes came off as generic comedy. Great filmmaking, surely not, but nothing ostensibly worse than much of Superman II (which, we fear, is remembered more fondly than perhaps it deserves).

For a solid half hour, we began to wonder if Superman III was perhaps remembered less favorably than it should have been. The early scenes with Pryor start out funny, the Superman bits are serviceable as light comic adventure, and Lana is well portrayed.

But then something horrible happened. The movie kept going. While the first half hour was passable, the second is tedious. The third, outright painful. And so on, for the movie's (we're not bothering to look it up, so we'll estimate) eight hour runtime.

There was a brief reprieve when the movie integrated a variation of red kryptonite (obnoxiously colored green, to avoid confusing the audience) into the story. When an unshaven Superman began acting like a complete di...fferent person, the movie picked up some needed (if mostly unintentional) humor. Seeing Superman throwing back whiskey and flicking peanuts to break bottles in a bar was an enjoyable diversion.

Unfortunately, it couldn't last. When Superman returned to his benevolent ways, the movie began to bore us once more. A few good moments aside, Superman III was a combination of bad filmmaking and long length that creates a perfect storm. Unfortunately, we found ourselves caught in that storm, held by oath to finish the damn movie.

Perhaps Part 4 will be kinder to us.