Wednesday, April 30, 2008

WORST MONTH EVER: The ExtenZe Experience

There are certainly worse infomercials out there, but one that holds a special place in my heart is the one for ExtenZe, a male enhancement product. If you don't know what that means, the infomercial is helpful enough to say that it enhances "a certain part of the male body." And if you still don't know what that means, the infomercial is helpful enough to say that it's "you know, male enhancement?" ExtenZe likes to be subtle, it's obviously a very classy company. It's these subtleties where the true art of the ExtenZe infomercial lies. ExtenZe's premise is to sell you that you're watching a talk show called "Sex Talk" (sounds real, right?), which tonight is on the topic of 60% of American women dissatisfied with their partner's size (no source needed, it's scientific!).

Wow, that's a lot of hair. And a lot of belt.

Not only do the talk show hosts focus on captivating subjects, but they can also barely speak ("those man on the street interviews were ... great"). But don't just take their word on ExtenZe, let's follow Big Belt out on the street!
Excuse me, could you stand next to this 59-year-old man and pretend you're his girlfriend? $30?

On the street, Big Belt interviews some random couples, and much to our amazement not only do the men she talks to know about ExtenZe, but they're using it. And not only are they using it, but it really, REALLY works. One man goes so far as to say ExtenZe has made him "a heck of a lot bigger." Not even a Jiffy Pop would make me use that adjective, so this must be some kind of improvement.
This woman is a little too eager to explain how well ExtenZe has been working.

After the street interviews, we're treated to a tender dinner table scene between a wife and a husband who just opened his free sample of ExtenZe. She's not familiar with male enhancement, but when her husband says "you know, male enhancement?" she quickly catches on. The wife replies "wow, just how much enhancing does ExtenZe do?" with the firmness of a mother catching a child setting a cat ablaze.
"Are we talking David Cronenberg territory here? And I don't mean 'eXistenZ', I mean will your penis become like a talking typewriter or some kind of fleshy gun that shoots cancer?"

If you're still not convinced about how ExtenZe can turn your life around, consider the final segment where three "brave" women have volunteered to answer humiliatingly mundane questions about sex.
Why are there all these ashtrays stacked on the table?

Because their past partners didn't measure up, these women may never love again. One even came equipped with a poorly devised analogy: "It's like waiting your whole life to see your team go to the series, and then they ... drop the ball!" One way to read this line is that her partner had to have one of his testicles removed after having sex with her hundreds and hundreds of times over the course of her life.

What makes the ExtenZe commercials even better is how many angry customers the company has. Checking out Infomercial Scams, ExtenZe seems to follow the business practice of stealing money once a person gives them their credit card number. Here's a good example of the numerous complaints:
I ordered this product with the intent of simply trying the 7 day sample and some Indian woman talked to into buying some porn dvds and a travel service. I received the product and after the 7 days tried to cancel but with no luck. I called several times and they kept saying they were going to call me back at 11 am which they never did. I asked to speak to a supervisor and when on the phone with him he said he has no information on my account and does not know any other numbers I can contact. I then looked at my bank statement and saw that I got charged 49.41 and 1.49 by the company and the 7 days isnt even up! I contacted my bank and they say that they are filing a claim and will refund my money. I am going to pursue legal actions next on this faulty business because they literally steal your money without you knowing. The 7 days is a scam and is false advertisement.
There's almost 50 complaints just like that on the site. If they're able to charge so many credit cards through the free sample offer, it's no wonder the infomercial is playing round the clock late at night!


Thanks for celebrating the worst with me all through April. Worst Month Ever was my first stab at a big theme event, and I appreciate all the readers who helped make it a success.

Monday, April 28, 2008

No more Gene Hackman movies?

Has it really been four years since Gene Hackman has been in a movie? Yup, and that number is only going to get larger now that he has unceremoniously announced his retirement. It's by far the longest gap in his acting resume, with the closest being a couple of two year spaces between credits in the 80s and 70s, though he was unquestionably involved in multiple projects during those years. It's sad seeing Hackman say he "hasn't worked in four years," because at the same time we have Al Pacino in 88 Minutes and Robert DeNiro in shit (substitute recent DeNiro movie of your choice). Hackman rarely dominated a movie the way those actors did, but he carried quite a few. Can you name all the great Hackman roles and movies without going to his IMDB page and finding four or five you missed?

He's had an amazing career that began when he broke into television work at age 30. No silver spoon or family pedigree here, Hackman was apparently raised in a broken home and subsequently joined the Marines at 16 after lying about his age. This comes as no shock, as Hackman has barely aged in his acting career and probably looked about 28 when he walked into that recruiting station. After watching the new Bonnie and Clyde DVD a couple times, I forgot how old the "young" Hackman looked, because he's had pretty much the same look for the past 40 years. Maybe not a famous look, but one that allowed him to ably fill roles ranging from good-hearted (Hoosiers, Young Frankenstein, The Poseidon Adventure) to absolute evil (Superman: The Movie, Prime Cut, Unforgiven). Plus he has that voice. My God, that voice. Is it evenpossible to do a Gene Hackman impression?

While it's not exactly his last movie, I'm going to consider his titular role in The Royal Tenenbaums to be his farewell performance. It might just be my favorite Hackman performance, and it's easily his funniest. As Royal Tenenbaum, Hackman plays the reprehensible and lovable patriarch who can tear a family apart and bring it back together. Hackman didn't have too many opportunities to show off his comedic talent, but he does it here with almost every line:

"Anybody interested in grabbing a couple of burgers and hittin' the cemetery?"

"I'm very sorry for your loss. Your mother was a terribly attractive woman."

"I've always been considered an asshole for about as long as I can remember. That's just my style. But I'd really feel blue if I didn't think you were going to forgive me."

Wes Anderson obviously knew how to utilize Hackman for a role that pretty much carries his best movie. That was seven years ago, and only three years after its release, the roles apparently dried up. I respect Hackman's decision to avoid a career playing old judges, grandfathers and generals, but I also have hope that a meaningful project will come his way one of these years.

Worst winner ever

We have a winner in the Worst Sweepstakes Ever: reader Stephen Huss of College Station, Texas! In addition to having his email randomly selected, Stephen correctly noted that Kim Basinger in My Stepmother is an Alien is indeed the Worst Alien Ever. I think I watched this movie about three times after it was released on video, but all I can remember is Basinger's alien having a one-eyed monster in her purse and a scene where she eats batteries. This nugget from IMDB pretty much sums up the movie: "Revealing mistakes: When Celeste and Steve first have sex, Celeste reveals her left armpit twice. And both times, the poor tape job covering her breasts can clearly be seen." If you're still unclear about things, check out the one-sheet below.

Stephen is the proud owner of the Alien Nation: Ultimate Movie Collection DVD set. Thanks to everyone who entered the contest, hopefully I can do more of these in the future.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

WORST MONTH EVER: Bad Scenes from Good Movies

Not even the best movies can bat 1.000, and I'm here to tell you about a few cringe-worthy scenes in some of my favorites:

Ghostbusters -- Ray's dream

My favorite part of Ghostbusters has always been the montage following their encounter with Slimer -- seeing them as guests on Larry King, across the magazine covers (the illustrated Atlantic cover is brilliant) and going from job to job. And yet, such a strong sequence ends with a thud, as we see a ghost apparently enter Ray's dream and give him some ecto-lovin. I can live with this scene's concept, but it plays out all wrong and ends up feeling like a deleted scene. As a dream there are endless possibilities, but what we're given is neither funny, scary or creative at all. Is Ray supposed to be Napoleon? Why not a ghost nightmare with some dark humor, or some Zool foreshadowing? Even worse, Dan Akyroyd's acting is terrible (as it is for most of the movie, unfortunately -- see his memorized line delivery in the scene after their firing from the university), his reaction to the ghost's friendly gesture is more 10-year-old virgin than "cool, a slutty ghost!"

The Dirty Dozen -- Divisional maneuvers

Until I read Steve Carlson's recent review of this movie, I was afraid I was the only one who didn't get this scene. Steve's right: director Robert Aldrich does too little with this sequence, which should be one of the movie's best moments. The Dozen are ordered to prove themselves in a vast war games operation, and Major Reisman (Lee Marvin) backs his men by saying not only will they exceed, but his unit will win the operation outright. We immediately see that the bastards' plan is to play both sides, carrying red and blue arm bands to apparently sneak into enemy territory undetected. It's a needlessly complicated sequence, and Aldrich leads you to believe that something amazingly clever is about to happen. Their eventual triumph is somewhat inventive, but far from impressive since it appears' the enemy HQ is defended by three or four soldiers and a single jeep. If they already were outnumbering the enemy, why not just bull rush them? Much more could have been done here, especially since there is almost no action or stunts.

Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring -- Galadriel goes gonzo

Maybe the strangest scene of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy. While the rest of the saga looks like a billion bucks, for a few seconds it becomes a Ronnie James Dio video. Staying in Lothlorien, Frodo has a key encounter with the Elfen queen Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), who offers him a glimpse at the future. Shaken by what he has seen, Frodo unexpectedly has to protect the ring from Galadriel, who nearly gives in to temptation. For a moment Galadriel falls prey to the ring's evil, and that's where the wheels start to fall off: to show how evil Galadriel has become, the frame rate is slowed down, her voice sounds like something from Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and she glows with the quality of PhotoShop. Surely there was a better way to do this without looking like a junior college production of Holy Diver.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre -- Howard's end

This scene isn't necessarily bad, it's just the lowest point in a fantastic movie. After parting ways with his gold mining partners, Howard (Walter Huston) finds himself in a Mexican Valhalla, where he is worshiped by all and even has healing powers. Sure it's nice to give the old guy a good send off, but I agree with Roger Ebert when he says these scenes "belong in a lesser movie." I'm not sure what a more appropriate cota for Howard would be, but almost anything would have been more realistic than what we have.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom -- Dr. Grabass

I know, I know -- Temple of Doom shouldn't be listed here, as these are good movies, right? But as a lifelong defender of Temple, I have to point out the scene that makes me want to offer my own heart to Kali. It's well-documented that George Lucas (and to a lesser extent, Steven Spielberg) does not do comedy well, and the same could be said for romance. So when these two get together, it's bound to be bad. At Pankot Palace, we're subjected to a tortuous experiment in battle of the sexes comedy. To repay Indy for giving her an apple, Willie (Kate Capshaw) throws herself at the archaeologist's feet, and he reciprocates by beginning an avalanche of ever-worsening innuendo that would make a morning FM deejay reach for the "eject" button. "Mating rituals"? Kill me. If that's not bad enough, we're supposed to believe that a man would walk away from casual sex because of how annoying she is. The story demands that some kind of conflict develops between Willie and Indy, but what results is similar to a porn scene being aborted because the man forgot to take his shoes off.

Friday, April 25, 2008

COMING OUT SUMMER 2011: 'Prisoner 57-AA124900'

FRIDAY SCREEN TEST: Dylan (aka Fletch)

Call him Dylan, or Fletch, or even Dr. Rosenpenis -- but don't call him easily amused. The man behind Blog Cabins: Insanely Important Film Reviews is one tough critic -- he tosses around the top honor on his splendidly-designed ratings scale like it's the Ultimate Nullifier (wow, where did that come from?). Fletch casts his skeptical eye on many new releases, and also spreads the wealth to television and movies that don't exist. Fletch must also be commended for his philanthropic work on the Web, namely his founding of The Large Association of Movie Blogs (the LAMB). This ever-growing movie blog union brings together some of the smartest people in the world for fun group activities, and generally acts as a great way for film bloggers to network and spread awareness of their sites. Next LAMB project: build a subterranean refuge in case a wayward asteroid deprives our planet of life -- and film critics.

EARLIEST MOVIE-WATCHING MEMORY: 'Since I have a terrible memory as it relates to my childhood, I'm going to be really generic and say that it was watching Star Wars every time I got sick. My mom insists I watched Benji when I was sick, but I don't believe her (and Star Wars just sounds a lot better).'

LAST DVD YOU BOUGHT: 'It was actually a boxed set of Coen Brothers flicks. I already owned Fargo, but getting Miller's Crossing, Blood Simple, Barton Fink and Raising Arizona along with another Fargo for forty bucks sounded like a nice deal to me.'

IF YOU WERE A TCM GUEST PROGRAMMER, WHAT THREE FILMS WOULD YOU CHOOSE TO BEST REPRESENT YOUR TASTES, OR A FAVORITE GENRE OR THEME: 'Well, I ask people on the LAMB to pick their three favorite movies, so I guess I ought to do the same myself, regardless of how unfair of a question it is. I'm going to go with Fletch, Pulp Fiction and Fight Club.'

FAVORITE GROSS-OUT MOMENT: 'It's certainly not a favorite, but the standout gross moment that comes to mind is seeing waaaay too much of Bill Macy's ass in The Cooler.'

WHAT MOVIE ARE YOU ASHAMED TO SAY YOU HAVEN'T SEEN, AND WHAT'S YOUR EXCUSE: 'Where to begin? I've been loathed in the past for my take on older movies (though I've given ample reasons why), but I'll narrow it down to It's A Wonderful Life.'

The Big Sleep
The Big Bus
The Big Hit -- 'Up until Strange Wilderness, I had never walked out of a movie, but the one that came closest previously was The Big Hit. What an abortion of a movie.'
Shaft's Big Score.


LAST TIME YOU WERE AT A DRIVE-IN, AND WHAT DID YOU SEE: 'Austin Powers in Goldmember. Though I don't recall watching all that much of it...'

FILM ERA OR GENRE YOU'RE A LITTLE OBSESSED WITH: 'The 90s. Fitting, given my age (31).'

LAST TIME YOU VEHEMENTLY DISAGREED WITH SOMEONE OVER FILM: 'A friend of mine at work, who is likewise a lover of Office Space, has the gaul to say that Idiocracy is one of the worst movies he's ever seen. This coming from a person that loves Con Air and The Rock more than anyone over the age of 14 should be willing to admit.'

FAVORITE BOOK ON FILM: 'Entertainment Weekly. Shoot me - I read more magazines than books.'

DESCRIBE THE FREQUENCY OF YOUR FILM INTAKE: 'At least six movies in theaters per month, and scads more on TV, with a couple rentals thrown in to boot.'

THREE THINGS YOU'VE LEARNED FROM WATCHING MOVIES: 'Never get less than twelve hours sleep; never play cards with a guy who has the same first name as a city; and never get involved with a woman with a tattoo of a dagger on her body. Now you stick to that, and everything else is cream cheese.

'Brownie points if you know who said that without looking it up.'

Email DVD Panache if you are interested in being featured on Friday Screen Test.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


Hey, remember Alien Nation? Pretty cool Fox series that was actually better than the movie it was based on? OK, but do you remember the made-for-TV movies that followed the series and were even more awesome?

If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, then you should enter the inaugural DVD Panache reader contest. Nice DVD people have allotted me a copy of the brand new 3-disc Alien Nation - Ultimate Movie Collection to give away, and I want you (YOU!) to win it. Many of us go through life never winning anything -- even I still have stinging memories of watching my brother receive a $25 Nordstrom gift certificate after winning a Ninja Turtles coloring contest, and buying a sweet watch that had a wind surfer as the second hand. Why did I mention that? Because like that coloring contest, there is no second place in WORST SWEEPSTAKES EVER. It's winner take all -- just like life, baby.

OK shut up, how do I win?

First of all, you have to act fast. This isn't one of those dilly-dally, put-it-off-until-I-get-a-job kind of contests. Before 11:59 p.m. Eastern on Saturday April 26, you need to send me an email telling me what the worst movie alien is. I will randomly draw an emailer to win -- that means the clever person who chooses Philo from UHF will have the same chance to win as the dumbass who says Jeriba from Enemy Mine (it's Louis Gossett, Jr. as an alien, how can that not put a smile on your face?). My email is oneadamrossplace at

If you're not familiar with the Alien Nation TV movies, this set contains five movies broadcast between 1994 and 1997, with the first one (Dark Horizon) picking up right where the series left off. The movies are on DVD for the first time, and the set contains commentaries from director Kenneth Johnson and a variety of featurettes.

WORST MONTH EVER: Most embarrassing pistol-whipping

Dear WORST Magazine

My most embarrassing moment is also my most painful moment. It started innocently enough on a Saturday afternoon as I joined my buddies Chuck and Bruce in looking at the engine of my Corvette while drinking Cokes. I don't know what we were looking at, we just figured it's the kind of thing young men in the early 1970s were supposed to do.

So then this Italian thug starts walking up my driveway, and I give him the customary, "what the fuck do you want?" And instead of scaring him off, this line only agitated him, and he pulls a pistol out of his waistband.
He proceeds to give me the beating of my life, and doesn't even stop while I yell "sorry!" or "stop!" I would have expected Chuck or Bruce to step in and help me, but you know they were holding Coke bottles, so what are you going to do?
And finally when I think this bludgeoning is over, he gives me one last smash to my nose -- which was number 8 on the day if I counted correctly.
And what kind of world are we living in where a guy gets pistol whipped in his driveway? Was he too scared of me to try and use his bare hands to beat me within an inch of my life?
Then he pointed that gun at Chuck and Bruce -- hey pal, they were just drinking Coke, they didn't try to hit on your girlfriend!
Oh ya, that's the other thing -- this guy was mad at me for hitting on his wife. But if you ask me, it was more her hitting on me, what with that tennis outfit and all. Never seen the guy again, but if he comes back, I'll be ready.
--Name withheld.

Monday, April 21, 2008

WORST MONTH EVER: Your host for the evening, Frank Booth

"Why do people like Frank exist?"

This line is what Blue Velvet is all about for me. We accept that bad people exist, its but what about the people who scare them? Who populates the nightmares of serial killers? David Lynch's villains are the answers to these questions, as they operate on a level of evil you never knew existed, and like Jeffrey says -- they do exist. For Blue Velvet's most memorable sequence, Jeffrey (Kyle MacLachlan) experiences the worst night of his life, serving as the night's entertainment for Frank (Dennis Hopper) and his cronies. I haven't seen Hostel or its torture porn brethren, but I will still say that Frank's "joy ride" with Jeffrey is the best (worst) torture scene of all time.

Lynch carefully sets up Jeffrey's encounter with Frank by having the naive lad witness his terror beforehand. As he hides in the closet in Dorothy's apartment, he sees a nightmare unfold before him, with a domineering creature controlling an innocent woman and forcing her into horrific acts. Frank's bizarre fetishes and psychological weapons are on display for Jeffrey, who is paralyzed in fear and cannot even think of rescuing the victim he had just met. Jeffrey is so troubled by what he saw that he can barely relate what happened to Sandy (Laura Dern), and searches for words to explain Frank's evil. But Jeffrey's fear is subdued by hubris, as his life has probably never been better since returning to his hometown of Lumberton: he's involved with a high school beauty, playing the role of macho private detective, and is even enjoying an affair with a dangerous older woman. That Jeffrey dares to enter Dorothy's apartment again, knowing there's a chance Frank could enter again, speaks volumes of how much he's enjoying his situation. Jeffrey may have been on a personal high after his second rendezvous with Dorothy, but his night would soon enter a cataclysmic decline after opening the apartment door to leave.

"He's a good kid, Frank."

Since Lynch had established how much Jeffrey fears Frank, at this moment we need no convincing about how petrified he must be at coming face-to-face with his nightmare. Minutes after glowing with pride, Jeffrey can barely speak, and even Dorothy tries to hide behind the door after hearing Frank's voice. You can see the spark in Frank's eyes as he sees Jeffrey for exactly what he is and how he could be primped as another submissive doll. Frank's game is to slither his way around something valuable in your soul, and constantly dangle it in front of you so he can lead you where he pleases. With Dorothy it is her son, and Frank instantly realizes Dorothy herself can serve this purpose with Jeffrey.

Frank's "friends" may be trapped in a similar web, because even though they appear to enjoy themselves with the man, they also are skittish around him and sometimes act as horrified as anyone else at what he does. They seize on Jeffrey and start wearing him down in the car, knowing he is defenseless and not wanting to appear weak in front of the other jackals. Jeffrey can do nothing but play along as their pinata.

"Goddamn you are one suave fuck!"

At Ben's house, the night enters a realm of surreal trauma that has never been equaled. You can either laugh at this scene or look at it with Jeffrey's stone faced expression. It's hard not to giggle at lines like "Be polite!" or "Do you want me to pour it? No, I want you to fuck it! Shit yes, pour the fucking beer!", and equally difficult not to hold your breath as Frank continues to test Jeffrey's endurance and pain threshold. This scene is my favorite of any Lynch film, as he manages to turn a grungy apartment into an oddly beautiful retro nightmare. The director's trademark lamps bring a warm glow to everything, and there are so many strange sights and occurrences going on that it's impossible to take them all in with one viewing. To name a few:

--"I'm Paul!" x2
--Ben's dutiful, obese attendants who look like they belong in 1962.
--Lynch's amazing frame composition that manages to keep several characters easily in view without the screen feeling crowded.
--Dean Stockwell's other worldly performance as Ben, creating a character that defies explanation or description. Possibly the only person with more strange fetishes and mannerisms than his friend Frank.

It's also a credit to Lynch that the scene can be taken seriously at all with so many bizarre happenings and dark humor on display. It doesn't seem possible that something can walk a tightrope between nightmarish horror and profane humor, but what goes on at Ben's does exactly that. Jeffrey's nightmare doesn't end until after another terrifying trip in Frank's car, where he unwisely stands up to the monster. His ability to summon this courage gives viewers hope that there is an end in sight for the Worst Person in the World.

One last thing about Ben's, what the hell is that thing on the couch behind Frank?

Saturday, April 19, 2008

WORST MONTH EVER: Worst Cup of Coffee

When my son Aiden starts watching movies in a few years, he'll probably have at least one pressing question while we're watching a pre-1990 film:

"Dad, what's wrong with everybody's hands?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, they're empty -- shouldn't they be holding at least one 16 oz. cup made of partially recycled paper?"
"Actually son, there was a time when there were fewer than 50,000 Starbucks locations. So people usually drank their coffee at home, or at a Dunkin' Donuts or Waffle House."

Today there might be a Starbucks built in to every San Francisco police precinct, but back in 1968 when a hardened detective needed to get going before 11 a.m., he had few options. In Bullitt, our introduction to the title character shows us exactly how badass and unorthodox he is through his choice of coffee (this is assuming the viewer is unfamiliar with Steve McQueen, because otherwise you would know exactly how badass Bullitt is just by the actor portraying him). Awakened extra early (after 10 a.m.), Bullitt is cranky -- and to make things worse he has a square suit from downtown walking around his apartment giving him orders. Only one way to remedy this situation: the worst cup of coffee imaginable.

Let's dig out the last few traces of instant coffee from this old jar with a worn off label, probably rolling around under his bed after the last time he had to get up early. Wait, we never see him put water in his mug -- does he just keep water in that mug in the event of an early wake up?!
And he doesn't even walk over to the stove to boil water, he uses -- what do you even call that? Do they still make those? You just plug that thing in and stick it in your instant coffee? It's obviously a very safe and reliable piece of hardware. Actually, Bullitt probably fashioned it himself using an old lamp.
It's good that clothes, not coffee, make the man. How long until that chase scene?

Friday, April 18, 2008


Andrew James is the founder and editor of Movie Patron, where you can find lots of new reviews, and also Andrew's Top 110 -- which begins with Johnny Dangerously and ends with Pulp Fiction. Andrew has an energetic, conversational style of writing, and is even brave enough to get in front of the camera for video reviews -- like he does with Be Kind Rewind. Andrew also lends his talents to Row Three, where he contributes reviews and helps host a frequent podcast. Row Three has an active community of commenters and contributors, which makes for a lively atmosphere. In his bio, Andrew admits to sacrificing his social life for "spending all his free time reading, writing and researching about film," not to mention an appreciation for Grey Goose gimlets. Make that two gimlets, bartend, only pour mine with gin -- Beefeater!

'My mom loves this story. As a fairly ADD kid, my parents were leary about taking me to the theater for the first time. But something possessed them to take me to Star Wars when it was re-released in 1979. Fidgeting in my seat, probably constantly asking what we were doing there and how long I'd have to wait for something to happen. That was until a star destroyer went over my head with lasers blasting for what seemed like forever. My parents missed the entire movie as they sat smiling and laughing at me with my mouth literally wide open and drooling and not moving a muscle for the entire two hours. I still have vague recollections of that screening.'

DVD YOU BOUGHT: 'Just picked up Todd Field's In the Bedroom. After the magnificense that was Little Children, I had to step back and re-watch his previous effort. Plus, Marissa Tomei is pretty easy on the eyes.

IF YOU WERE A TCM GUEST PROGRAMMER, WHAT THREE MOVIES WOULD YOU CHOOSE TO BEST REPRESENT YOUR TASTES, OR A FAVORITE GENRE OR THEME: '1) A Clockwork Orange - for its oddity but also amazing dialogue, art direction and unique directing style. 2) Cinema Paradiso - some of the best film ever made is not in English. 3) Die Hard - film snobs like some good action once in a while too; and Die Hard is as top-notch as action gets.

FAVORITE GROSS-OUT MOMENT: 'That's a tough one. Of recent memory, I'd say that the head-on car collision in Grindhouse: Death Proof is pretty bad-ass. Or, call it bad taste if you want, but I love it when the guys gets sliced into hundred of tiny cubes by the laser barrier in Resident Evil.

WHAT MOVIE ARE YOU ASHAMED TO SAY YOU HAVEN'T SEEN, AND WHAT'S YOUR EXCUSE: Space Balls - It's the movie EVERYONE has seen but me. No excuse really. It's on cable every day and being a huge Star Wars fan and a kid growing up in the 80s/90s, you'd think how could I miss this? But I have never seen it. Never seen It's a Wonderful Life either.

Sleeping Beauty -- 'The film has some wonderful animation for its time and a terrific villain. I've never seen the whole thing from start to finish.'
Death Wish.

FAVORITE KIND OF MOVIE TO REVIEW: 'A really great movie. The perfect movie. That very rare 5 star film. They're so much fun to review because (a) they're easy to review and (b) it feels good coming up with all of of those positive adjectives and (c) I love to convince people to check out something that I know they'll love. '

'I think I saw a double bill of Resident Evil 2 and i,Robot. They both pretty much sucked and I don't think the girl I was with at the time and I watched much of either movie. Yeah.'

'Vampires. Even the shitty Vampire films I really enjoy. John Carpenter's Vampires? Yup. Nosferatu - remake and original? Yup. But I'd say my favorite is Interview with the Vampire. Nearly a perfect film for what it's trying to accomplish in terms of style, costuming, acting and tone. I will say that I also LOVE good sci-fi. And I mean GOOD sci-fi. When it's done well (e.g. Contact, Alien, Invasion of the Body Snatchers or Back to the Future) it can't be beat. '

LAST TIME YOU VEHEMENTLY DISAGREED WITH SOMEONE OVER FILM: 'My idiot friend thinks Hard Candy is one of the worst films of all time. Clearly he's not fit to be part of the human populace.'

FAVORITE BOOK ON THE SUBJECT OF FILM: 'I actually haven't read all that many. Surprisingly enough, The Idiot's Guide to Movies, Flicks and Film is a pretty informative and interesting read. I also liked I Hated, Hated, HATED This Movie by Roger Ebert.

DESCRIBE THE FREQUENCY OF YOUR FILM INTAKE: 'Too much to ever have a girl fall in love with me. One full movie per day (more on the weekends). Ususally two theatrical screenings per week.


1) If someone says "let's split up;" don't.
2) Sadly, the book is probably better.
3) Quite honestly, all the problems in your world can instantly disappear if you're seated in a theater in front of a great movie.

Email DVD Panache if you are interested in being featured on Friday Screen Test.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

WORST MONTH EVER: Worst Alternate Ending

To Live and Die in L.A. has a lot going for it: a catchy title tune by Wang Chung, Willem Dafoe at his creepy best, one of the best car chases of all time, and ... by far the worst alternate ending ever conceived. If MGM had gotten its way and replaced director William Friedkin's original ending, it's hard to imagine a good movie crashing and burning in only a few minutes' time. Included in the Special Edition DVD of the movie that came out a few years ago, the alternate ending of To Live and Die in L.A. plays like a good Family Guy flashback -- too good to be true, for all the wrong reasons.

Before I break down the alternate ending, let's remember the ending as it is, which has helped separate the movie from the countless other cop dramas of the 1980s. After tirelessly chasing counterfeiter Rick Masters (Dafoe), secret service agent Richard Chance (William Peterson) may finally have his man after securing enough dough to get close to the criminal and catch him red-handed. Chance is posing as a client, although Masters has hinted that he knows of his real identity. Chance and his partner John Vukovich meet up with Masters, produce the cash and try to arrest him, but things quickly go bad as Masters' bodyguard pulls out a shotgun and shoots Chance in the face. Masters escapes, but Vukovich traces him to a warehouse where the law eventually prevails. The movie ends with one of the decade's best closing lines, as Vukovich tells his late partner's sexy informant "you're working for me now."

Awesome ... right? The closing line, along with the shocking death of the lead character makes for a memorable ending, but the studio didn't see it that way. According to the DVD, MGM didn't think audiences would want to see Chance die, so Peterson filmed a new ending: Instead of Chance getting shot in the face, he would only get shot in the gut at point-blank range, survive, then he and Vukovich would be relocated to a remote Alaska outpost and all is happily ever after. After seeing this horror, a disgusted Friedkin ordered the original ending restored...
... and the world is a better place. Chance's survival is bad enough, but the Alaska twist would have been on par with a Bridge on the River Kwai ending where the Japanese train screeches to a halt before hitting the bridge, and the conductor yells "This just in -- the war's over!" Relocating the characters to Alaska seems to be an attempt to wash over the two men's egregious misconduct, but why that sly smile by Chance? Does he think the secret service will just forget about them? Wouldn't the FBI still be a little peeved that they killed one of their agents? Watch for yourself, and see why Friedkin's firm stance on his ending may forgive the director for making Blue Chips, The Guardian, The Hunted, etc. (Also, take a look at Friedkin's bio, notice how his movies steadily declined after L.A.? Did his objection to MGM have anything to do with that?)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

WORST MONTH EVER: Worst of 2007 (Part II)

You know that person who can't seem to utter one word that's not drenched in sarcasm? And this sarcasm isn't even the funny kind, but rather just the way they know how to talk? Southland Tales is this person, and it's just one of the movie's maddening shortcomings that add up to make it one of the worst movies of the year, and one of the biggest disappointments in a long time. At some point in time I was excited about this movie, and why not -- it would be director Richard Kelly's long-awaited follow-up to his breakthrough Donnie Darko, with a bigger budget and cast. Donnie Darko worked because it combined an intriguing web of science fiction with a youthful late 80s innocence, against the backdrop of a wonderful soundtrack and numerous memorable scenes. I'd like to believe that at some point Southland Tales had a few of these same qualities, starting with a good sci-fi story, but in Kelly's attempt to add socially relevant themes and quirky characters and ideas, the project was slowly distilled into pure, unintelligible garbage.

If you make it to the end of Southland Tales, there's a few sci-fi story elements that come together somewhat and may pique your interest, but many people will turn the movie off after two hours of watching The Rock trying to act confused, Cheri O'Teri waiting for something funny to say and Justin Timberlake waiting for his video inside the movie to begin. There's also a lot of news reports desperately trying to add sight gags (such as gratuitous Bud Light sponsorship, which is frequently revealed to look just like water ) and many attempts at porn jokes. Somewhere under all of this is a movie about a mysterious, fantastic new energy source that promises to revolutionize the world, and the hope and paranoia that spring from it. But this represents ultimately such a small part of the movie, and is buried under attempted political commentary, bad jokes and lots of yelling. Through all this, Kelly has made the decision to have all the dialogue and action done in a half-hearted Christopher Guest kind of constant satire, and it never works. You feel like the characters want to say something clever, but there's nothing there -- and the few times a promising joke comes up, it's mostly ruined by bad timing.

After reading the multitude of bad reviews this movie received, I was still interested to see it because of Kelly, who I thought had a long career ahead of him. Now? Outlook not so clear. Shooting on Southland Tales was delayed over a year, and by the time it premiered at Cannes 2006 Kelly still had unfinished special effects that required more money. Distributor Sony agreed to give Kelly more funds in exchange for cutting down on the film's length (originally 160 minutes trimmed to 141), but the final effects still look mostly terrible. Kelly started writing the project shortly before 9/11, but radically changed it after the attacks. What was once about blackmail, a porn star and a few cops had morphed into a six-part sci-fi saga and (in Kelly's words) "a musical in a post-modern sense of the word in that it is a hybrid of several genres. There will be some dancing and singing, but it will be incorporated into the story in very logical scenarios as well as fantasy dream environments." Told in six parts, the final three would be Southland Tales and the first three published as graphic novels.

Kelly's project didn't cost anyone too much money, but the director himself may bear the most pain as he obviously had plenty of pride and imagination invested here. Most disappointing to his fans is the fact that Kelly's memorable style from Donnie Darko is mostly absent in Southland Tales. One of the few recognizable traits of the director contained in the movie is his eye for oddball casting: Wallace Shawn, Curtis Armstrong and Zelda Rubenstein all get plenty of screen time -- and is that Christopher Fucking Lambert driving an ice cream truck full of guns? Okay. Donnie Darko had Patrick Swayze and Katharine Ross, but those choices seemed to make sense with the overall tone of the movie -- having Curtis Armstrong stand in the background as a would-be henchman just feels dumb.

If there's one element of Southland Tales that tells you everything you need to know about what kind of movie it is, consider its closing line: "He's a pimp, and pimps don't commit suicide."

Monday, April 14, 2008

14 years of Turner Classic Movies

Fate is a strange beast. Today I decided to check out the Wikipedia page for Turner Classic Movies and discovered the anniversary of its creation is ... April 14! Surely this must be a sign from the weird hat-wearing dude on TCM's logo that a tribute to the channel is in order.

According to the aforementioned Wikipedia page, it was in 1994 that TCM was born to supplant TNT as the Turner Empire's flagship purveyor of its immense film catalog. The channel's traits reads just like a cinephile's late-night If I Ran the Zoo ramblings: "It won't have any commercials! No re-colorization! It'll have authentic aspect ratios! Diverse programming! An informative host! And after midnight we'll have nothing but ass, ass, ass!" Okay so some of us have different ramblings, but the channel remains a film fan's dream come true. And really, have you ever stopped to think about just how good we have it with TCM?

Sometimes it hits me, like the realization that it NEVER pops up a graphic to tell you what movie you're watching (probably a goodwill gesture to those who still tape record off it for their home library). Or that TCM's catalog is so vast that its programming never becomes predictable? Contrast that to American Movie Classics (AMC), where in the past two months I've surfed past it to find Robert Redford's by-the-numbers Brubaker no less than FOUR TIMES? It's also nice to see how seriously TCM treats a movie's original aspect ratio, for example The Night of the Hunter was the subject of The Essentials this weekend and was presented in its OAR of 1.66:1, as opposed to the movie's full frame treatment on DVD.

TCM has played a huge role in my life as a film fan. I have always enjoyed classic movies, but it wasn't until I got my first DVR in 2003 that I really started to discover film noir, classic westerns and the best directors and actors. Being able to set recordings and save them for later transformed TCM for me from just another channel to a virtual on-demand service of classic films. I've seen movies on TCM in that time period that I now consider among my favorites, such as Point Blank, Laura, Fort Apache, The 39 Steps, The Wrong Man, Tomb of Ligeia and The Unknown. While my house is temporarily without a DVR, it's actually increased my appreciation for TCM since I now just turn it on to see what's playing and have watched a few movies I probably wouldn't have recorded (I was surprised by The Buccaneer in the channel's Charlton Heston tribute).

It's a tall order to uniquely program 24 hours of movies, but an even greater tribute to TCM's attention to detail are the introductions and trivia by Robert Osborne and Ben Mankiewicz for almost every movie. Both men treat their jobs like they're setting up a movie being shown in a living room, and come off as enthusiastic film scholars, not actors reading cue-cards. New wrinkles to TCM have been TCM Underground, an after hours psychotronic sampler (featuring the channel's premiere of Suburbia this weekend) and ongoing invitations to guest programmers, who join Osborne and explain why they picked the three films for that evening. The latter brings out the best in Osborne, and is continually entertaining because of the diversity of the guests -- tonight was Alex Trebek, and Evander Holyfield was a recent participant.

Such improvements to TCM can only mean the future is bright, but I have one crazy idea that could throw the cinephile community on its ear: TCM HD. Can you imagine turning on your TV and finding The Adventures of Robin Hood in 720p? Or The Haunting? Or Marnie? The way I see it, TCM exists because it acts as a 24-hour commercial for DVDs -- which would explain why other major studios have opened up their catalogs to the channel. This would make sense for HD, because it would show what black and white can look like in high definition, and motivate more people to upgrade to Blu-Ray.

Well, it's another dream. Happy 14th, TCM.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Shot through the heart, and who's to blame?

Arbogast not only informs, he also inspires! Arby's latest post got me thinking, so much so that my thoughts could not be confined to a mere comment. The masked one wonders aloud about shotguns and horror films, and when the two became joined at the lead-filled hip. It's a great observation, as it seems for the past decade or two the shotgun has become the must-have horror prop, replacing the torch and mysterious village of past eras (another question: when did vampires start making that noise when they gnashed their teeth? You know the noise, and I'm pretty sure Bela Lugosi never made it).

I started thinking about shotguns and film and came up with two more questions: 1. Was horror the first genre to catch on to the coolness of shotguns? 2. Why do shotguns work so well in movies?

With the first question, I thought back to my favorite film shotguns: Mad Max's pistol-gripped double barrel, used to cerebral smashing effect in the final chase of The Road Warrior; and Sarah Connor's iconic one-armed pumping of her street sweeper in Terminator 2. Those were good guns, but did they truly set the bar? My thoughts eventually took me back to one of my favorite movies that contains probably the most influential violence of any film:

Notice the Bunch's choice of firearm? Yesssss. In terms of guns, The Wild Bunch is best remembered for Bill Holden's pry-it-from-my-cold-dead-hands performance on the Browning M1917, but the legendary opening parade shootout is bombastically opened by a chorus of shotguns. In one shot, we see Ernest Borgnine operating a shotgun at a rate of speed that appears physically impossible -- apparently pumping and shooting in one motion. To list the ways The Wild Bunch revolutionized the Western is a post unto its own, but one of Sam Peckinpah's radical additions to the genre has to be his characters' dismissal of the traditional pistols. One of the most obvious Western canons was a six shooter or two on our hero's hip, but these renegades are interested in staying alive, and that means mowing down rows of bad guys in black hats.

On to the second question: why shotguns? My view is that shotguns are easier to work with in terms of action direction, and they satisfy today's audiences' desire to see bad guys get their due a few times over. Getting shot by a pistol is old money -- either the character clutches a chest wound and slowly dies, or the female character later treats the man's shoulder injury. A machine gun reaks of Cannon productions from the 80s, with villains sustaining numerous hits and reacting to each one with appropriate over-acting. A shotgun delivers more drama because it can blow off a limb (RoboCop) or head (Dawn of the Dead), or simply launch a character off-screen.

There's also the matter of re-loading a shotgun. Feeding in a stream of shells one-by-one builds more tension and looks more satisfying than simply grabbing a fresh magazine (or pitifully re-filling a revolver's chambers). And then there's the pump-action, the ch-chk! as Arbogast puts it. There was a time when characters set the hammer on their pistol for dramatic effect, but what good is a simple click when you can have an empowering pump-pump? And I think part of the pump action's appeal is that it seems practical, even people who have no experience with guns can probably see themselves pumping a shotgun.

I see the shotgun's run going for another decade, but what will the next "it" firearm be? I'm holding out hope for the wrist-mounted mini crossbow.

Friday, April 11, 2008


James Frazier seems like a character in a made-for-TBS sitcom -- he's a recent graduate and professional film critic in a small Iowa town. All that's missing are a couple of crazy roommates and a more sitcom-friendly name like 'Gus.' He also has a blog, James' Mad Grasp for Relevancy, which would be hard to translate into the sitcom mold, but no matter. James is able to mix posts about current events and frustrations in with his excellent reviews, and he even keeps a handy list of every film he's seen over the last seven years. And for reasons explained below, you would be advised to stick near James if you ever find yourself at a party with him.

EARLIEST MOVIE-WATCHING MEMORY: 'The movie-watching experience that has left the strongest impact on my memory was my first viewing of Star Wars in 1988. My dad put in a VHS copy of the film that he’d taped off HBO and my conception of the cinema changed forever. The spaceships, the shooting, the incredible setting, and those unforgettable characters impressed on my tiny brain that movies could be a pleasure unrivaled by any other.'

LAST DVD YOU BOUGHT: 'The last DVD I bought was the Blu-Ray Blade Runner Ultimate Edition. For years I’ve been a hard-core Blade Runner fan, even playing through the 1997 adventure game a dozen or so times until I reached every possible ending. I’d all but given up hope of ever seeing every edition together in one box, so when this was released, I jumped at the chance to have it on Blu-Ray.'

IF YOU WERE A GUEST PROGRAMMER ON TCM, WHAT THREE MOVIES WOULD YOU PICK TO BEST REPRESENT YOUR TASTES, OR A FAVORITE GENRE OR THEME: 'I’ve actually considered holding a film screening series at the University of Northern Iowa (where I’m a grad student), and have thus thought a lot about what would make an interesting display of my beloved films. I figure that I’d want to showcase some of my favorite flicks from the 1990’s, the decade I spent my childhood in. I’d pick Hard Boiled, the film that got me transfixed on the cinematic gun battle, Sling Blade, the perfect evocation of the South that I grew up in, and Welcome to the Dollhouse, that creepy and bitterly funny portrayal of what a fucking nightmare it is to go through junior high as an unpopular geek.'

FAVORITE GROSS-OUT MOMENT: 'I’m admittedly not much of a fan of the gross-out, but one that sticks in my mind is the part of Hannibal where the title-character fed Ray Liotta’s FBI man his own brain. Later, he feeds this to a child, and that’s just so fucking wrong in the right kind of way.'

WHAT MOVIE ARE YOU ASHAMED TO SAY YOU HAVEN'T SEEN, AND WHAT'S YOUR EXCUSE: 'Gone With the Wind is possibly the biggest movie of all time, yet I’ve never sat down to watch it, despite owning the DVD. That’s not so much the shameful part as is my excuse: I don’t feel like pumping four hours into it. This coming from the man who has seen every season of 24 during day-long viewing sessions.'

Red Dawn -- In theory I should be very fond of an anti-Communist, anti-gun control piece of propaganda, but those parts of Red Dawn really sucked. The brief bright spots were the moments that hinted at what a horrifying thing an enemy invasion is, as well as the hardships of launching guerilla attacks on a superior enemy force.
Red Heat
The Man With One Red Shoe

FAVORITE KIND OF MOVIE TO REVIEW: 'My favorite to review is that kind of film that really blows me away, though I only get to do this a few times a year. On the other hand, most of my readers claim to love my take-downs of garbage like Charlie Bartlett, and like most writers I enjoy getting praise, but I don’t want to merely be a put-down artist, so the great films are my favorite.'

'There was a drive-in theater in my town (Cedar Falls, IA) that closed when I was in high school. The only time I ever went to it, they screened Gone in 60 Seconds, that ultra-lame Nic Cage car chase pic, and Dinosaur, the CGI Disney flick that likely would have been my all-time favorite film when I was six.'

ERA OR GENRE YOU'RE A LITTLE OBSESSED WITH: 'I haven’t been able to become obsessed with any particular genre or era because there is so much I haven’t seen. It’s not really a genre, but one of my party tricks is where I’ll have someone name an actress, and I’ll proceed to list all of her nude scenes, what year the film was made, how good the scene was, and a list of other details.'

LAST TIME YOU VEHEMENTLY DISAGREED WITH SOMEONE OVER FILM: 'I have a friend who thinks No Country For Old Men is absolute earth-shaking genius, while I gave it a mere 3.5 stars out of 5. He took the news well, but when I told him that I thought it was the 6th best Coen Brothers film, he became livid, denouncing my ability to assess film. Thank god he wasn’t my editor anymore!'

'Though I’m tempted to say Film Art: An Introduction by David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson, the book I crack open the most is Roger Ebert’s The Great Movies. Despite getting progressively shaky over the past couple of years, Ebert remains my role model and inspiration for writing film reviews in the first place.'

'My two reviewing gigs require that I see at least two films in the theater a week, sometimes three. Depending on my workload at school and how willing my friends are to go out drinking, I watch from three to six movies a week on DVD and TV. I used to think this was a lot until I started talking to other online critics, at which point I realized that I must drink and screw a lot more than most of them do.'


1. That every significant event in history occurred in either Los Angeles or New York City.
2. That guns run out of ammunition only at dramatically appropriate times.
3. That most women wear their bra after sex, except for the ones I’ve slept with, strangely enough.

Email DVD Panache if you are interested in being featured on Friday Screen Test.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

WORST MONTH EVER: Most awkward sex scene (Belgian subcategory)

No Sam, enough is enough!

Verifying my claim to the suckitude of April is the fact that I haven't been able to post the last few days, due to professional obligations. And speaking of "sucking" in the literal sense, Jean-Claude Van Damme's first foray into onscreen steamy "romance" is full of that.

Featuring his unofficial first sex scene, Nowhere to Run has very little going for it since Van Damme is reduced to beating up corporate henchmen trying to absorb Rosanna Arquette's house. It's surprising that Arquette continued to act after this traumatic experience: not only does she have the privilege of a weird full-frontal scene and the soon-to-be-described sexual assault from Van Damme, but her character is named "Clydie." Van Damme plays "Sam," who meets Clydie's children after being spied skinny dipping (to set up a series of penis jokes) and looking at porn in his tent (classy!). Sam meets Clydie after peeping into her bathroom while she's getting in the shower. Of course these events lead up to a romantic interlude, where the director apparently gave Van Damme the instructions of "go!"

In this most awkward of sex scenes, Sam looks not at Clydie, but at her nipple and he looks at it like a young child looks at his lolly. Sam acts on this youthful lark, and proceeds to treat Clydie's nipple like a plate of chicken wings. While her chest is being assaulted, Arquette has a look of "can someone get this pig off me?" combined with "was this in the script?" Van Damme is focused on the meal in front of him, seemingly telling Arquette "this is how we do it in downtown Brussels, baby!"

As you might expect, this whole ordeal is painful and almost embarrassing to watch. The scene might be explained by Van Damme's inexperience in this area of film, but the director may have very well been speechless by what he was watching and Arquette then threatened legal action if she ever had to have further on-set physical contact with Van Damme.