why do we enjoy some bad movies and hate the others?

So you catch three hotel movies across three days because you’ve lost your mind with work and they crank in at 13%, 6%, and 14% on the Rotten Tomatoes cult. Is your quality of life improved or degraded? Well, it depends. At home you’d suffer because there’s so much else to do. But in a ditch hotel that for cost purposes is at a place where you can walk nowhere, where your boss has the only rental car and won’t share, and so you’re just killing time? Well, it can work. And so it did.

Say I get a movie at home and folks say it’s good, but it ain’t, then I get angry. When I get a movie at the hotel and I know it’s bad, and it’s bad, I can just laugh at the movie and enjoy it. Then I’ve killed off a section of the multi-day six pack and at least about 90 minutes of my evening. Then I can read some and go to bed. One night closer to going home.

And so on my latest lengthy epic journey at one point I caught two movies in a Texas hotel and the third one the day after in Wisconsin. They were Black Rose, Extraction, and Last Knights. Three movies that nobody has ever heard of let alone watched. None of these three films ever hit the American theater. They were available to my eyeballs purely out of Netflix’s desire to throw content at you.

So where did this leave me? Black Rose is not really good, but holds your interest. Extraction extracted my brain. I actually enjoyed Last Knights, I mean I really liked Last Knights.

Why? Let’s get into it! Because why not? Oh my, I’m such a loser!

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Black Rose

From a bunch of joint American and Russian production companies you’ve never heard of comes 46 year old Alexander Nevsky’s masterpiece in which he directs, writes, and stars. Nevsky is apparently a former bodybuilder. Black Rose is not his first starring role nor journey into the movies, but it sure seems so.

The plot is brutally simple, Russian girls are getting killed in LA. The LAPD can’t get it done. Nevsky is a Russian cop who’s brought in as a ringer. He teams up with LAPD reject and former time assassin Kristanna Loken in a bid to stop the serial killer, before he kills again, and time runs out, for another Russian woman, and she is murdered, by the killer.

It’s everything you would expect it to be. We get dialogue worthy of 1987’s best action flicks, Nevsky has several (like seven) long montage shots of him walking on LA beaches, investigating Russian businesses, and shopping at the local K-Mart. Nevksy is a loose cannon. Loken is the more scientific analyst. They get Adrian Paul to play the Chief, which is backwards, but whatever it works.

But it’s the mystery that actually holds your interest. For whatever reason, Nevksy’s likely use of Soviet weightlifter drugs did not inhibit his ability to write a decent murder plot. I always love a good mystery that keeps you guessing until the last moment. Even if after you know the answer it seems dumb. And boy does the villain’s final answer sure seem dumb. But, I was into it, I wanted to know the answer.

My biggest problems with this flick are that there’s not nearly enough action and Nevsky is too much like 1980’s robot Arnold. When I’m promised a bad action movie, I need stupid action. Nevsky only kills like three people in this whole movie. I think a car only blows up once. There might be six minutes of combined action available. I guess Nevsky was trying to be serious with his work? But come on.

Also, Nevsky seems to think that acting like robot Arnold circa 1982 (before he could speak English) is the way to go. He spends the entire movie with a mask of the T-100. He doesn’t even really yell at the bad guys. It looks like he popped motion sickness pills before each scene. I’ll try not to get into him too much on this, Arnold only became charismatic on screen once he knew the language, but it makes the flick less fun when the main character is a block of wood.

Overall, we’ll give it two stars.

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Extraction

Do you like money? Who doesn’t. I know for sure Bruce Willis does. Because it’s the only explanation for his presence in this garbage flick. This thing barely qualifies as a functioning movie. It’s got a plot, characters, and they have like things in the movie, like cars and buildings. But that’s about it.

There’s the CIA, spies, people get beat up, whatever. I think this line actually appears in the film, “Sir, I cannot eliminate the target as we have not determined where the package is at this time. We should consult our latest protocol.” Did I watch it? Yes. Did it serve its hotel purpose? Yes. Is it one of the worst I’ve ever seen?

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Last Knights

Why? Why do I like this movie? Apparently folks hate it. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s well shot, has great acting, a good story that you don’t realize until like 3/4 of the way through is based off a classic Earth tale, and it’s different. As far as these sword films go, it’s done differently. Don’t let the foolish studio generated clickbait movie title fool you, the folks who made the film clearly cared. Why do we enjoy some bad movies and hate the others?

1) Acting: With Last Knights we get Clive Owen and Morgan Freeman. They don’t disappoint. Both of them are superb in this flick. These guys have been in some terrible, terrible movies, so it’s not like their Shakespeare’s ghost or anything, but they both give it a great effort and it pays off. Their characters effectively suit their acting talents. I don’t normally like Owen, but in this film he’s great, probably the most I’ve liked him in a role. Freeman is Freeman, you know what you get, and I’ve always liked Freeman. Contrast that with Extraction where Willis looks like he’s hungry and can’t wait for the scene to end so he can go get a sandwich. I’ve already talked about Nevsky. The other two leads in Extraction failed middle school drama and/or one or both of them are MMA fighters which is why they were cast, I can’t remember which.

2) Unique: I won’t blow the whole plot by saying that this is a different sword slashing movie. In the first five minutes you realize this. This is (by way of Freeman’s narration) a multi-racial society ruled by a cast of knights that’s different from your usual feudal / medieval structure. They also go out of their way to create a different look to this world. The costumes, the sets, the way people behave is about as far from Game of Thrones or whatever Viking stuff you can get. Even their swords look unique. When Hollywood can only generate films based on characters that were first created in 1936, it’s refreshing to see a film willing to do crazy stuff and take risks. Yes, ultimately you discover that the film is based on an ancient tale, but it’s so subtle and revealed so late in the movie that the surprise is actually welcome and exciting. It sneaks up on you and you’re happy that you recognize the tale that you’re now in.

3) Interesting Dialogue: In the first twenty minutes we get great scenes where Owen talks to some page, Owen and Freeman speak, Freeman meets the villain, and so on. Whereas Black Rose and Extraction have dialogue written at the fourth grade level, Last Knights had me rewinding scenes so I could watch them again. It wasn’t necessarily because the dialogue was fast paced or that I didn’t understand what was going on, I just felt like I wanted to rewatch it immediately. I almost never do this. You can tell they went through a lot of trouble to write sharp, exciting scenes right up front. You may have met Owen’s character only seven minutes prior, but you already know who he is, what he’s about, and already you like him and are rooting for him. And who can’t root for Freeman as the wise revered father of the realm? Did Nevsky entertain me? Yes. Was I ever actually rooting for him? Nyet.

Catch Last Knights if you can. Catch Black Rose if you’re bored or something. You can bin Extraction.  Will you love Last Knights as much as I did? Or is this just a fluke? Well, on the Rotten Tomatoes cult the audience reviews for these flicks (unlike the critic reviews) have a disparity. Black Rose gets 10%, Extraction 17%, and Last Knights jumps all the way to 46%. So clearly I’m not the only degenerate in the audience who liked Last Knights so much more. I say give it a shot, and feel free to blame me if it bombs for you.

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contemplating Sean Bean’s imminent demise

Sean Bean partially narrates this game I’m playing and it got me chuckling.  Once upon a time folks got to see Sean Bean brutally decapitated in Game of Thrones (that show I no longer watch).  This was the first of many main character deaths in that horror fetish of a series.  But at the time folks tried to rationalize what had just occurred.  I specifically remember saying to my brother, “It’s that much more dramatic because it’s Sean Bean.”

Wait, what?  That’s probably one of the dumber things I’ve ever said.  And man, do I spout some dumb shit.

For you see, Sean Bean does in fact die in everything he’s in.

And here’s even a Funny Or Die skit where Sean expresses his desire for a piranha based doom.

Sean Bean is only 58 years old, but perchance before he hits 60, he’ll be attacked by aliens.  They won’t come to conquer Earth, they’ll just come for Sean Bean.  And he’ll probably be smiling.

“Oh, hay there lads, got a ray gun I see?  Well, make it slow, if ya can.”

we reaffirm our commitment to “giving it a hard time just for the sake of it”

The goons of humanity who try and remote control other people’s lives are shockingly transparent. So when the Communist Party backed a movie they placed supreme faith in, gee, who would have figured they’d lose their minds when it turned out to be the terrible, mindless, bad action flick everybody expected?

Beyond my original thoughts on all this, I’ll simply put down the international failure of this movie to two concepts:

1) Zhang got himself trapped (as many a good filmmaker has) by the power of special effects. Since computers allow him to do anything he wants, he lets his mind go insane. Simple decent scenes become a mesh of digital action nonsense so disconnected from reality that the audience can’t connect with the movie. It’s like watching a bad video game or seizure inducing Japanese anime. You don’t feel anything. See the Star Wars prequels or the Transformers films for similar forays into the awfulness.

2) Despite (1), a whole bunch of movies succeed in this format and make a ton of money, see Fast & Furious. I think the Red goons wanted The Great Wall to make an insane amount of money. If it did, it would have been a critical first step of an organic Chinese blockbuster. The problem is nobody cared. Folks probably saw the terrible trailers for this movie and were like, “eh, whatever”.

The movie debuts in America tomorrow. So I guess we’re about to find out just how dumb the American theatergoer is. If this movie makes $300M in the States, I’m moving to the Moon. But the Chinese theatergoer already figured this out, and they weren’t happy.

But hey, even though the movie sucks, it’s not the movie’s fault. But rather you, the viewer, who is wrong. Per The Economist, Xinhua (the Party mouthpiece) called the film “innovative” and accused online detractors of “giving it a hard time just for the sake of it”.

I’ll wear that appellation with pride. As I hope every Chinese citizen who rightly criticized this movie online will. We can’t let the goons control human lives. To the point that the bad, is made to be good. Just because they say so.

The question again, is can you make good art, a good movie when the Party is pulling the creative levers? I don’t think so. Zhang used to make great movies, when he was a rebel and against the Party. Now he’s a team player and the art is over.

I hope he learns from this, dumps the handlers, and goes back to making great films.

The Great Wall

Human actor plays medieval part in movie about aliens who got to Earth on an asteroid and attack once every 60 years. Eh, wait, what? Well, what could go wrong?

first the circus, then the zoo

When I was a young lad I looked forward to many things, Christmas cheer, birthday presents, sports games, Sicilian thug poker, and my ability to selfishly find ways to fold space and time. But I only ever kept a calendar checklists for one thing, the circus.

In retrospect I have no idea why. I mean, I love the circus, but it wasn’t like I was going to visit the Moon in a spaceship filled with supermodels. But for whatever reason, I would X off those days until I got to the O and got to go see the elephants and all those lunatic performers.

Well, so much for passing down that tradition. With the circus set to close, millions of children everywhere will have to find some other cool event to count down to on their smartphone’s calendar application powered by Google Android Colossus (your kiddy’s calendar schedule is privacy ad fodder for Google’s maw).

Could Ringling Brothers have survived in our Internets era?  Gee for all our sakes I sure hope so.  I really hope modern entertainment entails something other than freaking VR hooked directly to our brain stems while we foam at the mouth.

But what I do know is the circus’ death was accelerated by the animal rights folks.  Even the elephants were already scheduled to go away, well before Ringling Brothers threw in the whole towel.  What’s a circus without the elephants?

Reading the animal rights folks coo over their victory makes me sad.  Wow, that circus sure was a lot of fun.  No more.  For you see, taking an animal from the wild (where nature is a vicious wheat thresher) and giving an elephant a longer life expectancy and quality of life while brining young children joy and knowledge of nature is barbaric.

I might be (am) a lunatic.  But I’ll just go say this right now: first the circus, then the zoo.  Every animal rights argument that you can apply to the circus, equally applies to the zoo.  Now that the haters have claimed one scalp, why would they stop?  I’ll just say (roughly) that within three decades or so zoos will be severely curtailed and/or closed.

And kids will only get to see a tiger or lion in a book, on their smartphone app, or on a safari for the ultra-rich.  To the activists I would say, think folks don’t care about nature now?  Wait until they close the zoo and kiddies can only see apes in books.

manipulation and that guy’s castle

The new gig requires me to commute via train for the first time in over a decade. I suppose I’ll write more about this later, but given yesterday’s delays now’s not a good time. But lately on almost every train car wall or station ad booth are these new posters for the upcoming season of The Man in the High Castle. This is the second season of the Amazon show that I’ve heard is quite good. I’ve not yet swallowed the pill and donated my psyche to Amazon Prime so I haven’t seen it yet. It’s on my list though.

Here is an example of one of the rarer posters they’re using:

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I use the term rare, but I’d say north of 80% of them are this other poster:

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I may have a demented brain but the first thought I had when I saw this poster for the first time was the guy behind this marketing campaign is a genius. I want to conscript his talents to solve some of my more pressing life’s problems, like how to get my dryer to function more efficiently. For you see, I’m entirely certain that the 60 million Americans who voted for Hilary upon viewing this poster are going to immediately associate this visual concept with Trump.

You’ve got New York, you’ve got Nazis, you’ve got a motto about changing the future, and no other extraneous information presented to contradict this initial impression. For example, they could have shown an Imperial Japanese guy in the lower left corner too, but that would take away from the implicit message. Also, if you look very closely as I did this morning, there is a man in Lady Liberty’s head. Face-to-face with this poster, I swear it looks about as close to Trump’s face as they could make it without it being overt.

Again, I haven’t seen this show, but I’m pretty sure it has nothing to do with Trump or anything related to the election. But advertising is about impressions. Once those 60 million folks decide to go check out what The Man in the High Castle is, at least some portion of them will decide to stick around and actually watch the show. I wonder how many of them will also realize that in doing so, they were being skillfully played by the Giant Octopus in Amazon.

Manipulation is a creepy thing. I’d like to think I’m not paranoid, but perhaps I am. Or perhaps I’m just insane. Or both. Every news article I read, or ad I see, or whatever, I’m constantly asking myself what the hidden message is. Because like it or not, impartiality doesn’t exist, if it ever did. Somebody wants you to do something or think a certain way for their own (or their cause’s) benefit. Free person that you are, you have to be watchful.

As another example, I’m sure most of you saw this news and social media push of the Santa who had a young boy die in his arms. What a heart tearing story for the Christmas season. Well, it turns out that it probably wasn’t true. But if you’ll remember, this was front page news earlier in the week. On only in a few places will you find the retraction. So a whole ton of people who read and believed, are never going to find out that they were played by this maniac.  I only found out it was fake because I read Deadspin for NFL purposes and this was on the margin.

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Unrelated photo of manipulator

Hey speaking of Nazis and manipulation, also in the news today was that Austria has decided to forcefully procure Hitler’s birthplace.

I guess there’s a lot of history behind this place and the lady who owns it. But for years it seems the Austrian government was paying her straight cash in an effort to prevent various modern Nazi groups from renting it to hold séances with Hitler’s ghost. So now Austria will seize it, buy out this lady, and do something with it. I’m sure they’ll either blow it up or turn it into a memorial for all of Hitler’s victims. Either option works for me, I guess. I mean, it’s just a building. It’s not actually Hitler, so who cares?

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If you ask me, let’s manipulate the shit out of this place. Oh, the modern Nazis want to use it for their rally? How about we let them. The following manipulation shall occur in designated order:

1) The Austrian government announces the property has been purchased by an obscure billionaire known only as Herr Schmidt.

2) Herr Schmidt announces on clandestine Nazi message boards that he actually worships Hitler and the property is thus now open for visits by the faithful.

3) Special keys are handed out via covert mail for those diehard Nazis who wish to visit. They are provided instructions on how to access the property.

4) When they get inside the house, various patriotic Nazi signs direct the acolytes to the special room. For example, they could just repurpose the High Castle poster with Lady Liberty. And various signs reading, “This way to worship our Fuhrer.”

5) And they all get inside the special room, and it turns out it’s just a place with a bunch of chain guns.

6) We get robots to clean up the room.

7) Repeat as required, until no longer required.

And thus, the world would be rid of the extremely small portion of humanity who are so worthless that they still believe in a Nazi message that was destroyed 70 years ago. So let’s give the Nazis what they want, and we’ll just use the house for this other purpose. It’s win-win.

The dude in the castle is not Hitler or Trump or fake Santa whatever, it’s Herr Schmidt. We are Herr Schmidt. We carry on the legacy of the war 70 years ago that made sure The Man in the High Castle concept never happened.

I don’t care about robots

So there’s this Westworld thing that premiered over the weekend that’s supposedly pretty good.  It’s got a great cast, it’s likely well shot, slickly made, and probably fairly entertaining.  HBO is sure hoping it’s the next Game of Thrones.  But I don’t care.  I’ll not be watching.

So last year there was this Ex Machina movie that was supposedly pretty good.  They said it had a great cast, interesting dialogue, and a strong plot.  I didn’t see it.  I don’t care.

I don’t care about robots.  The very thought of the concept on screen just bores me.  I’d loosely heard about Westworld and was mildly interested.  I worship Westerns and was hopeful that HBO was going to attempt another go at the genre.  There’s a lot of room left to still make something as good as Deadwood if people actually tried.  But then I read Westworld was about a robot theme park.  When I heard this, I immediately fell asleep due to boredom by osmosis.  My dogs had to revive me with smelling salts.  They still won’t tell me where they got them from.

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Yeah lady, I know.  I’d need a nap too.

I already know how Westworld is going to play out.  The robots will become more human over time and contrast themselves with the barbarity of the humans who made and abuse them due to our own primal nature and we’ll have to see in the robots what it really means to be human and maybe some of the humans in the television will see the robots and remember what’s it’s like to be human and for you see philosophy and the human psyche are concepts that transcend, … [sleeps]  [sleeps]  [dogs dart over with salts]

Oh, that and graphic violence and gratuitous nudity.  You need that in smart psychological dramas too.  There’s apparently a vicious rape scene in the very first episode of Westworld.  Don’t believe the HBO lie that it has anything to do with the plot or some high minded concept.  It’s there for shock value and eyeballs.  As is the overall level of brutality and nakedness.  Apparently Ex Machina had an excessive amount of nudity and violence as well.  I’m sure that was just a coincidence.

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Yeah lady, I know.  I’d need a nap too.

Robots are not human.  They will never be human.  So the very idea of spending multiple seasons watching Westworld and trying to develop some kind of intellectual connection with a robot character is beyond my comprehension.  How can you relate to or root for a character that’s not really alive?  I’d feel more remorse killing a spider in my bedroom than watching some robot get hurt on screen.  If I was forced to watch Westworld with a girl on the couch, and she starts talking about how she understands the trials of Robot Emma and finds the show entertaining, I’d likely remark in my most deadpan condescending voice imaginable, “Why?  It’s just a fucking robot.”  And that’d be that relationship, and I’d have to begin a new online search.

Once upon a time I used to be in the 1’s and 0’s business.  I hated it.  I will never go back.  But I’ve learned enough to know that artificial intelligence is a crock.  A robot can be programmed to solve math, play chess, or even enslave humanity.  I admit it could happen.  But at its most base level that doesn’t mean a robot can attain self-awareness.  It’ll still just be a machine programmed by a human to fulfill tasks, even if in theory it can also self-learn.  1’s and 0’s is not consciousness.  Humanity is not God.  A robot is not alive.

Just about the only time I think I’ve ever felt any sympathy for a robot on screen is Data, or Arnold in Terminator 2.  You’ll remember that factory scene, right?  Despite the fact that Arnold was bound for the path of an adulterous failed governor and Edward a coked out mess this whole exchange is just awesome, as is the whole movie.  The scene really gets to you.  Arnold’s generally a likeable actor and really does a good job of turning this faceless killing machine into a sympathetic character.  You laugh at him, you root for him, you’re sad when he dies.  This I cared about, sort of.  But in the end it loses its impact over time.  Because in the end after you’ve lost the initial first time edge of the power of this scene, you remember it’s just a robot.

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“I know now why you cry.  But I still don’t have a beating heart.”

The same basic concepts hold true for Data.  You care about him too.  You get to see him grow for seven years.  But I’ve always had this distant attachment with Data.  I can root for him, but have always felt him distinctly apart and separate from the other characters.  And, I guess once you’ve seen that robot development story done, it’s done.  Why bother seeing it done again?  That show was like 15 years ago.

In the end I suspect the way Star Trek told Data’s story is going to be infinitely smarter and more entertaining than anything Westworld can churn out for the masses.  And with 98% less nudity and bloodshed too.

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Oh man, do I sure miss the low key, intelligent, entertaining ways of this show.

On Nazi gold, trains, Wolfenstein, and Indy

So a pair of lunatics are digging up part of a Polish mountain thinking they’ll find a lost Nazi gold train in there. A bunch of smart dudes say there’s no train in there, but whatever, these two dudes are going to dig anyways. Good for them. At least they have a goal for their lives. I know I sure don’t. Maybe they’ll find a gold train, maybe they’ll find nothing, or perhaps they’ll just find an awfully large number of bugs. Or maybe they’ll find Mecha Hitler:

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Dude should have brought more than just a knife before digging up a Nazi tunnel.

 

 

The possible existence of said train is called local folklore or whatever. Meaning it might not have ever actually existed, but folks said it did. Or it became a rumor, a legend, worthy of exploration. Indiana Jones 5 needs this plot. Apparently Harrison Ford is going down this road again even though he’s now 89 years old. The fourth Indy movie is perhaps the worst thing I’ve ever seen. So Indy needs to get back to his non-awful-alien-movie roots. Who doesn’t hate Nazis? Indy sure does, he told us. The movie can still take place in the 1960’s, it just has to involve the gold train, Nazis, and somebody other than Ford to do all the punching.

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Remember when Harrison Ford / movies were this cool?

 

Hey speaking of hating Nazis, the latest games I’ve been playing are the two recent ones from Bethesda: Wolfenstein The New Order & The Old Blood. After being stuck in a bit of a rut playing games that ended up as shit, or had garbage endings, or got trapped in Open World Hell, I find these two games to be rather delightful and refreshing:

 

1) No Moral Ambiguity Bullshit – you get to shoot freaking evil Nazis

 

2) A Clear Plot – you fight to stop the evil Nazis

 

3) A Clear Objective – you don’t have to walk around an open world for 43 minutes trying to figure out what the fuck to do

 

4) A Decent Ending – bask in the glory of a video game that doesn’t have an ending bathed in weirdness, nihilism, total nonsense, or an attempt by the designers to appear smarter than you

 

So I’m calling it right now, the next Wolfenstein game needs this plot too. They find a Nazi gold train. Wind up plot. Go.

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We know Indy, we hate Nazis too.  So we follow your holy example.