Monthly Archives: December 2011

Gutenfilm Presents: A Christmas Beeracle: Santa Clause 3

Part of my reasoning behind this most recent bad movie endeavor is to try and top last month’s horrible series of vampire romance films.  There was little doubt in my mind that I’d be able to do it, given what I already know about what is out there. The first film, The Nutcracker, and now this one, now push all of the doubt out of my mind. This is going to suck.

The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause is another inexplicable sequel to the series about how Tim Allen accidentally killed Santa Claus and took his place (merry Christmas!). This time, Scott Calvin/Santa Claus (Allen) is worried that his pregnant wife (Elizabeth Mitchell) is going to deliver her baby on Christmas Day, conflicting Scott and his delivery of toys, which is behind schedule. To make matters worse, the annoying Jack Frost (the annoying Martin Short), jealous that he does not get a holiday, is interfering by putting up “Frostmas” signs around the world. To avoid banishment, Frost begs Santa for one more chance, and is allowed to help prepare for Christmas. Naturally, Frost sets about destroying and messing up everything he can in order to ruin Christmas (complete with Short overacting his ass off) and trick Santa into uttering the Escape Clause, which will reverse time (exactly back to the point where Scott became Santa, for some reason) and allow Frost to take Santa’s place. While all this is happening, Scott is trying to juggle his chaotic family life and not doing so effectively.  This whole family thing, which gets old remarkably fast in its merciless attempts to hammer into my head that it’s bad to let work come before family mmkay and takes well over half of the movie to discuss, was way too hamfisted to be anywhere near resonant.

"A ham and a turkey for Christmas" as one critic put it. Well said.

It’s literally an hour into the film before Jack Frost actually enacts his evil plan of tricking Scott into uttering the Escape Clause “I wish I had never been Santa at all” (or something along those lines). Frost takes Santa’s place and over the course of twelve years turns the North Pole into an amusement park. The next few minutes is something along the lines of Biff’s nightmare version of Hill Valley from Back to the Future Part II: the world is commercialized, people in Scott’s life are bitter and depressed, and Scott is powerless as Frost has the entire North Pole in his pocket. Scott has to figure out how to trick Frost into uttering the Escape Clause (the manner of which is so heavily foreshadowed there is literally no tension whatsoever) so he can reclaim the mantle of Santa Claus and fix the North Pole and prove to his family that they matter, crudely bookending the film’s theme of putting family before work. It doesn’t help that once he gets to Frost’s North Pole, it takes Scott roughly .001 seconds to learn the error of his ways. It’s probably the movie’s biggest fault: in its irritating vendetta to drive home how much of a jerk Scott is, it forgets about the main plot and tries to shoehorn it into the last twenty minutes of the movie, effectively pushing aside the moral it worked so hard to establish.

Since Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause is a “comedy”, there has to be “comical” things, which include direct-to-DVD-grade wacky sound effects, farting animatronic reindeer (and, might I add, the most horrifying demonic wide-eyed robot reindeer I have ever seen in my life), and a few dozen shockingly bad puns (four of which are included on the back of the DVD box). This being a Disney film, there also has to be even more direct-to-DVD-grade wacky sound effects, overeager line reading, enough magic dust to coke up a legion of pixies, and a disgusting, excessively happy gushy everybody’s-best-buds-and-family-and-oh-hey-there’s-the-swell-of-happy-music ending. What’s even more amazing is that it actually had a run in theaters.

I hate Martin Short even more now.

Unsurprisingly, nearly everyone involved in the film appears to wish nothing more than the most horrible death upon themselves, with the exception of Tim Allen and Martin Short, who consistently try to outdo each other in terms of overacting. I have to hand it to Tim Allen for giving it his best effort, sticking with this franchise through to the end. Martin Short appears to be relishing the chance at being a villain, or he has mental problems, or both. Either way, both actors ham it up completely. Some of the kids in the story also earnestly deliver their lines, and I have to wonder if kids’ movies are getting markedly worse or if I just didn’t notice all of this when I was younger.

I kind of want to go back to the original Santa Clause and see if I still find it amusing, because this one certainly is not. It simply tries way too hard to wring laughs from the audience. A question is answered with “none of your ski’s wax”. After being called “willful and malicious”, Frost asks if they meant “skillful and delicious”. The Sandman is always sleepy. In an attempt to conceal the identity of the North Pole, the elves are referred to as short Canadians. The attempts at humor are so painful I truly felt sorry for the actors that had to say them.

The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause was not offensively horrible as it was just idiotic, unnecessary and poorly made. The script is quite bad and is very poor at pretty much everything it attempts to do, but I didn’t despise the movie, it was just really bad. I feel like I’ve been jaded by the traumatically awful Nutcracker. Nothing will live up to that one, although a part of me hopes that it does. I need more awful movies for this. Don’t think I’m defending this movie, though: everyone involved should be ashamed, because it was still a mess and certainly a worthy entry for A Christmas Beeracle.

Spencer Breslin is not impressed.

Gutenfilm Presents: A Christmas Beeracle: The Nutcracker

I humbly present Christmas Beeracle, named on a whim and conceived even quicker. Similar to last month’s Twi Hard, and relevant to the season, I will this time watch the most horrible Christmas movies I can find. I’ve already got several candidates and the trailers for each are already showing signs of toppling the high bar of poor quality set by the Twilight films. Beginning the project is award winning director Andrei Konchalovsky’s The Nutcracker: The Untold Story. Sporting a 0% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and having grossed less than $200,000 in the U.S. box office, this film seemed tailor-made to be a part of this sort of feature.

The Nutcracker: The Untold Story, known theatrically as The Nutcracker in 3D, is one of the worst big-budget movies ever made. It’s worse than Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and all of the Twilight films put together. It’s every bad idea and misconceived twist on a beloved tale shoved into a two-hour nightmare with all of the grace and enthusiasm of an unrehearsed high school play on opening night where no one even cares.

The film, which felt to be around five hours long, opens with the young Mary (Elle Fanning), who decides to start writing a Christmas card to her father but is interrupted when her brother begins burning an ornament, because he is apparently the Christmas version of Sid from Toy Story except less creepy and more of just an annoying child who has no place in this story. Mary is sad because her parents are leaving on Christmas Eve to do whatever it is that rich couples do in family films to leave their rich children in incredibly expensive adventurous mansions.  Enter Albert Einstein (Nathan Lane, sporting a horrible wig and tragically trying way too hard), who has literally no reason for being in the movie as a character, brings the children a large dollhouse with dolls that each have their own little story and will probably be characters later in the movie (spoiler alert! They do!). He gives the children the Nutcracker doll (because a movie based on the original story legally has to include the actual Nutcracker) and sings a song about relativity. This is approximately fifteen minutes into the movie.

RELEVANT

After her brother is fast asleep, Mary gets up to talk to her Nutcracker, and is surprised to find out that not only does it talk back, it appreciates that she treats it like a living thing. Instead of wonder what Uncle Albert put in the Christmas Eggnog, Mary follows the Nutcracker’s instructions to put some pillows on the floor so that it can fall off of a high shelf onto them. This, for some reason, will allow the Nutcracker to grow to child size and actually move. After all of that pointless nonsense, the Nutcracker takes Mary into the living room downstairs where the Christmas tree has become absolutely massive, the ornaments are alive, and the roof is gone, giving way to a starry sky. Mary wonders if perhaps they just got smaller, since everything in the room seems to have grown too, but the Nutcracker assures her that everything is relative (because we need a reminder that Albert Einstein is in the movie). He takes her to the dollhouse that Uncle Albert gave her earlier, and she sees that, surprise, the dolls are all alive.  Then they ride to the top of the tree, and meet a fairy who has Mary dance with some spirits, and then the Nutcracker turns into a prince because of reasons. Something about Mary believing he was real. But it gets so much more awful, and we’re barely a half hour into the film.

The Prince takes Mary to the top of the tree, which is so high that it is over the clouds. The Prince informs Mary that the city down there used to be his, before the Rat King (John Turturro) took it over. There is then a flashback of a massive machine smashing through a building and blowing up a few others, before opening up to reveal an army of Nazi rats. You read that correctly. Take a Nazi, remove, the Swastika, and add Rat makeup and you have these guys. Cut to the Rat King himself, who snaps his fingers to make a jazzy Rat band to appear behind him and play some music while he sings his villain song, as a handful of rat soldiers start dancing, and the Rat King electrocutes a shark he has in a giant tank. I have to imagine that this is some sort of pitiful James Bond villain reference.

This actually happens.

Also, the Rat King intends to burn all of the children’s toys so that the smoke blacks out the sun.

Let me reiterate. The Rat King wants to steal the toys of all children. And burn them in a giant furnace. So that the smoke from the fire blacks out the sun. This is a PG-rated children’s film, by the way. Parents, have fun explaining to your tykes why those poor men are being forced to shovel coal while the whole city rains ash. That’s not even to mention the rest of the Nazi undertones in the story and the mess of other misconceived ideas, such as armored rat dogs, motorcycles with machine guns, flying machines with legs, and some startlingly bad rat puns.

It does kind of feel like a stage production, with exaggerated characters and elaborate costumes. But this production style clashes horribly with the post-apocalyptic Holocaust style of the rest of the film, making for dreadfully forced overwrought performances squished against a startlingly dark backdrop of what is essentially a Nazi regime. Uncle Albert, as the movie insists on calling him, kind of-sort of narrates the film and breaks the fourth wall two or three times tops, which begs the question of why they even wanted to do that in the first place (the first time he does is to remark that he thinks someone is following him, turns around and sees no one, and expresses his disappointment that no one was following him). I think what this film’s problem is is that there are countless ideas stacked on top of each other until the entire movie collapses under its own weight. Also, it’s really stupid.

All the story really needed was some war machines.

I was most disappointed with John Turturro. Turturro is a favorite of mine given his inspired performances in other films, but here he is barely trying. At times, he seems to be attempting to channel the spirit of a classic stage villain, jumping around and emoting with animated enthusiasm. At other times, he delivers lines with plenty of that quirky Turturro-ness, but it, like so much else in this film, feels horribly forced in the absolute worst way. There was literally a line in the movie that he delivers with utter intensity, and then stares at another character for a good second or two, much like someone would in a stage production when a line was forgotten. There’s a strong sense that the director decided to go with the first take of every scene and not bother reshooting anything no matter how bad it was.

The cinematography and choreography is a nightmare. I’ve seen no-budget student films shot better than this. Actors getting so close to the camera that they are out of focus, other characters half out of the frame, and some of the most dreadful ensemble dancing ever put to film are the order of the day. During another of Uncle Albert’s songs, the camera cuts to outside of the room where three other characters are eavesdropping with their ears to the door. The characters begin moving up and down in time with the music. It was literally the worst thing that has ever happened to me.

Speaking of songs (and this is one of the most egregious of the film’s faults), most of the music in the film is taken from Tchaikovsky’s works, whether from the original Nutcracker ballet or from other symphonies. Most of these works have no lyrics. Enter Tim Rice to do that. Most of these songs were never meant to have lyrics, and it shows. It actually feels like Tim Rice spent maybe twenty minutes on the entirety of the film’s music, with lyrics that barely make sense. I just remembered this, too: remember that song about relativity I mentioned earlier? Can you guess what the music for that song is? If you guessed “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies”, you’re correct. That’s right–the most well-recognized song in the Nutcracker ballet is forever bastardized as the tune for a song about relativity, sung by Albert Einstein.

It’s almost disappointing that I started Christmas Beeracle with this movie, because now I feel that nothing will be able to live up to its horror. I’ve already watched The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause, and while pretty bad, it’s does not warrant the same reaction of jaw-dropping horror that this does. We’ll see if the planned Santa Claus: the Movie, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, or Snow Queen can match it, though I honestly doubt it. The Nutcracker: the Untold Story is truly one of the most horrible movies I have seen in my entire life, numbing in its lack of quality and coherence, and worthy of its own place in quality representation terminology. Some movies are bad, but very few are Nutcracker bad.

Because why would we not include a giant pen in the movie?

Gutenfilm Presents: A Christmas Beeracle

With the resounding success of Twi Hard last month, I thought about ways in which I could build upon the idea and roll out a second edition of a bad movie series. My eyes traveled over to the calendar on my wall, and maybe it was a bit of Christmas magic, but a cold chill ran through the room and the calendar page fell down to read: DECEMBER. The reminder of my aging, and the idea for the next feature, both hit me hard, and I realized what I must do.

It was going to be a Christmas Beeracle.

While not a true marathon like Twi Hard was, this will still be a series of bad movies, this time with a Christmas theme. The objective now is to hunt down and watch the most horrible Christmas movies I can possibly find. Some of my plans are last year’s bomb The Nutcracker, The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause, Santa Claus the Movie, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, Surviving Christmas, and Snow Queen, if I can find them. As before, expect scathing write-ups of each as I see them. These movies are apparently so bad that hardly anyone liked them, and there is little if any competence in their production. Once again, we shall see how bad this gets for me.

Part 1: The Nutcracker: The Untold Story

Hall of Greats: The Big Lebowski

What is The Big Lebowski?

It’s a film about bowling and being carefree. It’s about White Russians and rugs. It’s about gangsters and misunderstandings.  And so very much more. It’s also the film I have watched more than any other film, ever. I’ve seen it dozens of times and I practically have it memorized.  But it’s so well-executed, timed so perfectly, and filled with such genius that it never gets old.

Concisely summarizing the labyrinthine plot of The Big Lebowski and still doing it justice is extremely difficult. The tone of the film is immediately set with a Narrator (Sam Elliot) speaking about a man.  It’s not long before Narrator starts rambling and loses his train of thought, and we’re brought into a grocery store where this man Narrator is talking about, Lebowski (although he goes by The Dude), is writing a check for 69 cents to purchase some half & half. The Dude (Jeff Bridges) spends his days and nights at the local bowling alley with his best friend, unstable Vietnam war veteran Walter (John Goodman) and idiotic sad-sack tag-along Donny (Steve Buscemi).  These men exist for bowling.  Returning home one night, the Dude is attacked by a pair of men demanding to know where their money is.  They commit what is apparently the cardinal sin in the Dude’s eyes: they urinate on his rug.

The interactions between the Dude and Walter are what drive the movie

According to the Dude, “this aggression will not stand” (he had just seen President Bush’s speech on the television earlier). It turns out that the gangsters had the wrong Lebowski: there’s another Lebowski, a millionaire businessman/philanthropist, whose wife owes money to the gangsters.  The Dude makes a trip to the Big Lebowski’s mansion to request a replacement rug. After enduring a long tour from Lebowski’s horribly spineless and neurotic assistant (a delightful Philip Seymour Hoffman), the Dude is denied his rug from the cold Lebowski, who labels the Dude a “bum” and kicks him out.  Of course, the Dude takes a rug anyway; his old rug “really tied the room together”.

What follows is a remarkable and impossibly elaborate series of events, spiraling downward into a fever dream of a misadventure. The Dude has his rug reclaimed by Lebowski’s estranged daughter Maude (Julianne Moore, exceptionally strange here), who makes paintings of vaginas. Lebowski’s wife is kidnapped and held for ransom by some German thugs, but not everyone is convinced. The Dude’s car gets stolen and apparently a young schoolkid & son of a famous television writer is the culprit. Millionaire adult entertainment moguls get involved. So much happens over the course of the film that it is impossible to detail completely.

Little ironic in-jokes are in no short supply here

Jeff Bridges is a marvel as the Dude. This is a role that feels as though it was tailor-made for him; he is the Dude. While the Dude is such a lazy, useless human being, there’s an endlessly endearing quality to him; he’s lovable in spite of being a a pot head, a slacker, and a complete idiot.  He’s barely self-sufficient, yet even though his talents don’t extend past bowling and making White Russians, he’s lovable. Similarly, John Goodman is perfect as Walter. Walter is John Goodman’s favorite of his roles, and it is easy to see why. Walter is a time bomb of tension, frequently exploding into anger and even pulling his gun over something as trivial as a bowling game. Yet, his hypervigilance from his time in Vietnam, his overeagerness to help out with the kidnapping situation (and subsequent botching of the case at every single step), and his aggressive Jewish faith make him a joy to watch. Everyone else is great, too.  Philip Seymour is such a spineless butler it practically inspires hatred. Julianne Moore in particular is completely out of her element as the completely bizarre art-obsessed feminist intellectual. One of the highlights is John Turturro as a strange and creepy bowler who calls himself “Jesus”, sans the Spanish pronunciation. As with all Coen films, the entire cast has fantastic chemistry and it always appears as though they are having a blast.

Dialogue has always been an extremely, almost unfairly high-quality element of Coen Bros. films. From the hyper-exaggerated Southern speak of Raising Arizona to the gently satirical script of Fargo, the Coens consistently deliver incredibly good dialogue.  There’s not a great deal of emotional depth to the script of The Big Lebowski, but the humorous lines are delivered at a breakneck pace and is about the closest a straight comedy has ever come to being pretty much all killer and no filler. While the story is rather inconsequential in the grander scheme, and that doesn’t really seem to be any reason for anything in the film, every line is carefully and meticulously laid out in true Coen fashion. Many of the conversations the trio has are utterly pointless in the way that only three middle-aged slackers could make them, but they make sense. It all works to the creation of the characters or the advancement of the plot. And in a movie where the main character says “man” over 130 times, that’s worth some credit.

"Has the whole world gone crazy? Am I the only one around here that gives a shit about the rules?"

Roger Deakins, long-time cinematographer for the Coens, once again does his job marvelously here, along with director Joel Coen.  Their visual style is distinct and pleasing. There is an air of meticulous handiwork in the visual style of the film, from the occasional peripheral oddity in the background of a shot, to the set design (the Dude’s apartment is a bizarre collection of things that one might find at a yard sale), to the elaborate dream sequences that are essentially a patchwork of visual imagery assembled from prior smaller cues from earlier (actually, the dreams are literally only composed of things that appeared earlier in the film, albeit much more artistically in the dream).  While the film is grounded in reality, there’s something ever-so-slightly off-kilter about it, as though it forgot it was no longer the 70s and still needs to catch up.  On top of that, the diverse licensed soundtrack headed by Bob Dylan’s “The Man in Me” is treat to listen to alongside viewing the film.

In a weirdly charming sort of way, The Big Lebowski is remarkably vulgar. The f-bomb, or some variation thereof, is used almost 300 times over the course of a two hour film. Strangely, it never feels as though the film is vulgar just for the sake of it. There are times when the vulgarity appears in nearly every line, but it seems to work with these characters. These frustrated, unlikeable characters throw the word around because that is who they are.  They’re not badass cops, they’re slackers that are beyond their prime and have done nothing with their lives. All of the characters seem to have something wrong with them, but watching them one-up each other with escalating idiocy is where the true fun lies.

Overall, what makes The Big Lebowski such a pleasant and entertaining is its quirkiness: it’s unapologetically strange, yet it never feels that it is trying to hard or being weird for the sake of being weird. It’s surreal like a Coen film should be: quirky without shoving an indie vibe down our throats. The characters are endlessly quirky without feeling forced or even exaggerated. It’s just the right mixture of the realistic and the surrealistic.  And it’s a total blast. The Big Lebowski is easy to find for cheap (and it’s streaming on Netflix).  For a true slice of cult classic greatness, look no further than this dark, screwball comic gem.

"Nobody f***s with the Jesus."

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