This week I saw four films. Two of them were fantastic and two were bad. I'm a firm believer that one cannot truly appreciate great cinema without watching terrible movies as well!
Pulp Fiction (1994)
Pulp Fiction is the second Quentin Tarantino movie I've seen. I had watched Reservoir Dogs before and really liked it, so I was looking forward to this film and luckily it did not disappoint. Although Pulp Fiction has been heavily ingrained in popular culture to the extent that I was already familiar with some lines and and scenes, I was completely engrossed and found this to be an amazing film.
The weakest part of the film are the scenes featuring Bruce Willis' character talking to his wife as the movie's pace slows down to a near halt. I understand that the scenes in the hotel room were necessary and the pay-off was certainly worth the slow set-up. Although Tarantino managed to pull off a dialogue heavy movie where even conversations about a five dollar milkshake were fascinating, the chemistry between Butch and Fabienne just wasn't there.
It is hard for me to pick a favorite moment as I loved the entire movie but Christopher Walken's cameo and the scenes with Harvey Kitel were pure gold. Now I need to see more Tarantino movies!
I usually don't give a movie a perfect score upon my first viewing but had to make an exception here. Adaptation is proof that films can be incredibly entertaining as well as great works of art with something to say at the same time.
Nicolas Cage was amazing in a dual role as the Kaufman twins, Charlie and Donald. I have only seen a few of his movies but Cage seems to be an actor who is only as good as his director and script. To be fair this is the case for most actors (with guys like Bela Lugosi and Vincent Price being exceptions) but Cage played down to the material in The Wicker Man (2006) so much that I could barely believe this is the same actor. Although I had never heard of Chris Cooper before, he won a well-deserved Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role as John Laroche.
I though it was pretty clever how Being John Malkovich, made by the same director (Spike Jonze) and writer (Charlie Kaufman), was incorporated into this movie. The reason for this was because Charlie Kaufman not only wrote the script, but is also main character in Adaptation. Spike Jonze has only directed three feature films thus far so once I see Where the Wild Things Are I'll have seen all his movies. Hopefully he will make some more! While Kaufman has written more movies than Jonze, Being John Malkovich and Adaptation the only films he has done that I have seen so far.
While all aspects of this movie were great I was most impressed by the writing. The title itself, "adaptation," has a double meaning as it refers to adapting material to another medium as well as how people adapt to life. In the film, Kaufman is trying to write a screenplay adaption of the book The Orchid Thief and then writes himself into the script. The book is a real book and Kaufman wrote Adaptation under similar circumstances! The movie is incredibly meta and even deconstructs how screenplays are written. Kaufman use of himself as a character in his own movie reminded me of how Philip K. Dick did the same in his VALIS novels, which isn't surprising since Kaufman is a PKD fan.
It is worth noting that although Adaptation is credited as being written by Charlie and Donald Kaufman, in real life Charlie does not have a twin and Donald does not exist. That didn't stop Donald from also being nominated with Charlie for an Oscar for best adapted screenplay!
Cyborg was directed by Albert Pyun, who has made tons of low-budget B-movies and direct-to-video films. Pyun is the guy who directed the 1990 Captain America movie as well as Alien from L.A., which was featured on MST3K.
Cyborg stars Jean-Claude Van Damme in one of his earliest film roles. Van Damme's character, Gibson Rickenbacker, must help a cyborg get to a group of scientists in Atlanta as she is carrying the cure for a deadly virus which has ravaged mankind. However, an evil gang leader kidnaps the cyborg to use the cure for themselves. As you could probably guess, this movie rips off Escape from New York and The Road Warrior on its way to being a generic post-apocalyptic film. The only real difference is that Rickenbacker is a martial artist. But if I wanted to see that I would just watch Bloodsport again. Although this is a bad movie it is still watchable. The fights and special effects (such as explosions and the robotics on the cyborg) were actually pretty good. I was able to see this in High Definition and was amazed with how good it looked, especially considering it was a low-budget movie made over 20 years ago. The outside scenes looked like they could have been filmed today!
What really made this movie bad was the acting and writing. While there isn't too much dialogue the acting is over the top, even for a movie like this. The basic story makes sense but I still don't understand how Rickenbacker and the girl caught up to (and actually got ahead of) the gang. The gang traveled to Atlanta on a boat while Rickenbacker followed them by foot! Rickenbacker's back-story was interesting although derivative, but had jerky editing that made the flashbacks confusing at first.
If you like bad cinema, post-apocalyptic movies, or are a hardcore Jean-Claude Van Damme fan, you will enjoy this. Otherwise just watch Escape from New York and the Mad Max movies instead.
Abraxas, Guardian of the Universe (1990)
Jesse "The Body" Ventura is an interesting person. The man was a Navy SEAL, pro wrestler, actor (I enjoyed his role as Blain in Predator), governor of Minnesota, television host, and author. During Ventura's film career he made the mistake of "starring" in this truly terrible film.
Pretty much everything that can go wrong in a movie went wrong in Abraxas. The acting is awful and the dialogue is repetitive and silly. The film's story is incomprehensible, but I'll try to explain it.
An alien cop named Secundus (who has Arnold Schwarzenegger's accent) comes to Earth and rapes a woman with his hand who then gives birth to the child five minutes later. Another alien cop (these cops are called "Finders" although I don't know why) named Abraxas (Jesse Ventura) sends Secundus to space jail. These space cops can live for thousands of years but it is never explained how this is possible (are they androids?) and has no relevance to the plot. Five years later, Secundus somehow escapes to Earth so that the child (called a "comater" though again, never explained why) can give him the "anti-life Equation," a concept stolen from Jack Kirby's comics. Abraxas must stop Secundus with help from his "VD box," a rip-off of Ziggy from Quantum Leap, that is attached to his arm. Confused? Join the club.
The "VD box" is just unfortunately named. You would think that somebody would have realized that when most people hear "VD" they think "venereal disease." In this movie VD is supposed to stand for "vibrational detection," which is almost as bad now that I think about it! At least lines such as "My box has VD, trust me" and "Members of our force were taught to avoid VD" are unintentionally hilarious.
Abraxas features random music that never fits the scene and always feels out of place. The head-scratching camera work, editing, and directing make you wonder if the crew rushed the production or simply showed up on set drunk everyday. This movie is incredibly dark, and I mean that literally. Lighting is almost non-existent except for some outdoor scenes. Usually it is so dark that it is hard to see anything! James Belushi has a cameo as a school principal which he did as a favor for his wife at the time who was in Abraxas as Sonia. Despite Belushi being in this movie there is no intentional humor in this movie at all and the tone is always serious. Many B-movies realize how ridiculous they are and try to have some fun with it but Abraxas takes itself way too seriously. Oh, and while I'm at it, Abraxas liberally rips off The Terminator and shamelessly uses the word "terminate" many times. This movie failed in every way possible.
Luckily I watched the RiffTrax version which features a hilarious commentary by Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett, and Tom Servo of MST3K fame. RiffTrax usually makes fun of recent good movies so its nice to see the RiffTrax crew go back to some classic MST3K material. Although this movie is terrible, I do recommend the RiffTrax for some great laughs. Check out the RiffTrax sample for Abraxas here.
Abraxas is not a well-known bad movie like Plan Nine from Outer Space, Manos: The Hands of Fate, Troll 2, or The Room but it should be up there (or more appropriately "down there") as a craptastic classic of truly awful cinema.