Singularly united with everything from avant-garde art cinema to particularly slap-happy children’s television in its haphazard deconstruction of normality, Tommy Wiseau’s The Room is awful, but it is much more than mere irony. A textbook case in the value of logically inept cinema, The Room hedonistically exists in a state of blithe, blessed-out surrealistic irrationality, boldly and provocatively plunging forth without inhibition into a realm of new human possibility. Whether intentionally or by accident – and indeed, the intent of The Room has been the stuff of bad movie legend for many a year – this sort of implacably incompetent cinema is valuable not merely for cheap thrills but because, by buckling at basic competence and refusing to kneel before the platitude of human logic, it refuses to exist in a known or previously understood state. Rather than functioning obsequiously to modern society’s basic preconceptions of human action, rationality, and interpersonal relationship, Wiseau’s improbably disfigured creature joins many a great and many an awful film in daring to envision a ground-up reimagining of how humanity actually functions as a collective unit. Continue reading
It certainly takes courage to go toe-to-toe in a title match with the conclusion of George Lucas’ seven year bender from 1977-1983 where he ransacked everything Hollywood knew about entertainment and threshed them to his liking. Although in the case of Krull, courage is a virtue for the foolish. The court jester of our current subject is Peter Yates, a man of bolder vision than Lucas ever was and whose 1983 commercial misfire Krull amalgamates influences from disparate decades and cultures into an alternately raffish and bemusing conglomerate of headstrong style and stylistic insubordination. The two warring factions of the film beleaguered by an alien invasion might have been Lucas and Yates, except unlike in the film, Lucas chose not to forge a tenuous partnership with his fellow traveler but to banish him and wield the space-faring races for his own use like some sort of space-trucking, interspecies pimp. Continue reading
Jonah Hex is a film with the confidence, or the indiscretion, to cast its lot in with a doomsday plot revolving around small, orange balls touching big, black balls and spontaneously combusting in an orgy of flames. I can’t decide which pithy phrase to go with: “Science has gone too far” or “What will they think of next? Admittedly, “The best thing since sliced bread” is putting in a pretty game case for itself as well. The surly, salty pandemonium and go-for-broke conceptual and stylistic excess of a Neveldine and Taylor’s script (they of Crank fame) sometimes lays dormant in Jonah Hex, but there’s enough tomfoolery and slippery, ill-considered (or just plain not considered at all) goofiness that shines through in the end. That the screenplay, which was disowned by Neveldine and Taylor prior to film’s completion, is chopped and threshed into hectic, nearly free-associative beats somehow only buttresses the indescribable looney tunes antics on display. It’s like Wild Wild West gone off the deep end. Continue reading
Roger Corman’s films and their narratives were typically barely masqueraded Cinema of Attractions spectacles, experiential flights of fancy rooted in an insatiable thirst to expand the human eyes. What Corman understood, something many a better filmmaker has conveniently sidestepped, is that cinema lives first and foremost on the surface and with the eyes. The brain, the mind, the heart; they all draw oxygen from the senses, not the other way around. So many filmmakers ladle their cinema in a bath of surreptitious symbolism or overly-curated suggestion that they exist only, exclusively, in the abstract nebula of the intellect; the beauty of the art itself is often the aesthetics of appearance that prefigure and often elude the capacities of our mind define them. In attempting to explain everything, to append meaning and content to the deliciously provocative uncontainbility of nature and the senses, these filmmakers fail to grasp what is right in front of them for the taking. As Susan Sontag so eloquently wrote, in searching for the truth beneath the surface, they fail to see the thing at all. Continue reading
Superstar ‘80s film producers and delirium-slingers Yoram Globus and Menahem Golan took as their mission statement to make a buck at any all costs, assembling casts and crews that, incompetence or not, were uniquely qualified and gamely willing to pretend that their bare-bones make-money cash-ins were, in fact, real movies. Products they were, not only first and foremost but nearly exclusively, and 1987’s Masters of the Universe is also uniquely special for how unmitigated by common sense it is in its desire to synergistically appeal to every single facet of its audience’s cultural iconography in order to draw them to theaters and steal their money. More than anything, this is cinema-as-pop-culture-platonic-ideal, perhaps more than any single cinematic product I have ever laid eyes on. They don’t deserve credit for anything else, but Golan and Globus were intimately, almost defiantly, aware of the world that bred their films. Continue reading
A year later, I couldn’t resist. Much as I adore sacrificing myself at the alter of good cinema, the call of incompetence beckons me like a wolf. It’s time for another month-long exploration of some of the most criminal cinematic offenses in history. For those playing along, each film will be given two scores, one for its actual formalist quality and one for how divinely entertaining it is as an inebriated exercise in cinema at its most dumbfounding. We’re starting the month with two releases from the modern godfathers of bad cinema, Golan and Globus.
Even by the standards of mush-mouthed ‘80s mega-producers Golan and Globus, 1989’s Cyborg is inexplicably, improbably bad, descending in a feverish plunge of toxic awfulness and incomprehensibility that comes within spitting distance of the disfigured joie de vivre of earlier schlock progenitors like Jean Rollin. From the scorchingly constipated opening narration to the on-screen text informing us that our newest hellscape is “ in the future” (presumably a time-span discovered after much research on the filmmakers’ part), we’re in the realm of classified bad-movie company here. It should be protected as a national treasure, or at least investigated by the FBI to make sure no one is planning on stealing it today.
The opening sequence, a fetishistically slow-motioned action sequence comprised primarily of people walking horizontally across the screen, as if to prove they can do it, doubles as an exploration of Bush Sr. era strife (in my mind at least) and triples as a surefire claim that, in the great “Conan the Barbarian rip-off vs. Mad Max rip-off” debate of the 1980s, we are distinctly in the later camp. Or at least, the film seems to think it is. Based on Heidi Kaczenski’s costuming, it might as likely be a new music video for RATT. It clarifies something, although not much given the ramshackle, obviously dust-bowl nature of the film’s look, that the costumes and sets were originally intended to buttress a version of either Masters of the Universe directed by Albert Pyun or some godforsaken adaptation of the Spider-Man comic that I for the life of me can’t see in anything this film slathers on screen. Not even if I squint.
But Pyun, knowing his corporate masters Golan and Globus wouldn’t back down from finding some use for their investment (they were, after all, dynamite capitalists in the William Castle mold to say the least), ended up commandeering these costumes for a quickie film called Cyborg. This nearly accidental, DIY quality to the film’s production perhaps explains why the resulting film’s mise-en-scene is both non-specific (creating no cohesive world) and oddly effortful (the costumes look like someone, or some acid flashback, was putting in their version of overtime to imagine them, as cheap as the finished products actually are).
If the film actually boasts a commercial coup, it’s Jean-Claude Van Damme in one of his earliest American roles, the tentative nature of physical space in this film’s version of America allowing him carte blanche to retain his Belgian accent thankfully. He plays a … ahem … Gibson Rickenbacker, a hired fighter protecting a cyborg named Pearl Prophet (Dayle Haddon, sacrificing herself to lines like “I am a cyborg”) from a group of bloodthirsty pirates headed by Fender Tremolo (and suddenly, Gibson Rickenbacker seems like John Smith). Tremolo, for his part, is played by Vincent Klyn with the most pained bass moan of a voice I have ever heard. For the sake of argument, let’s take the film at its word when it says Prophet needs to get from New York to Atlanta so that she can provide much-needed information to a group of CDC doctors working on a cure for the plague that ravaged America.
Pyun’s most famous film, by far, is his next-year adaptation of Captain America (the holy text for bad pre-2000 superhero adaptations), but on the back of Cyborg, he should win a peace prize for distracting people from their real problems. Or at least his editor should. This is a fluorescently edited motion picture, abetted by a bewildering pastiche of montage that feels like Nicolas Roeg wandering the streets on a drunken bender, particularly during flashbacks to Gibson’s earlier life when the editing arhythmically seizures about in a gross parody of both Soviet montage and the post-traumatic mind’s inability to reason with crisis head-on. When you add in the fact that the film’s conception of the Eastern Seaboard is both irreconcilably antebellum and disarmingly retro-futurist, you have a film that is bewilderingly exasperated in trying to achieve something and dumbfoundingly incapable of completing its stated goals. Plus, and maybe it’s just the native Atlantan in me, this film’s hot-headed vision of Georgia could sure use a Mint Julep or two to cool itself down.
But, as any scholar of cinema knows, the best bad movies are united with the best good movies in that they are museum exhibits to a flaring passion for being themselves. It’s why William Castle’s work has lasted so long in the bad cinema consciousness – Castle clearly enjoyed the films he was making. Incompetent though they may have been, “hackwork” doesn’t cut it, and it doesn’t cut it for Cyborg either. Much like how the bowel-trembling inertia of Klyn’s performance threatens to give him hemorrhoids for his effort, Cyborg is clearly a film that someone put effort into, and twenty seven years later, that’s why its incompetence is not only notable but commendable.
How good is it?: 0.5/5 (we’re in rarefied company here)
Sure, but how “good” is it?: 4/5 (it has one of the most uniquely indecipherable visions of the post-apocalypse I’ve ever seen, and Klyn just pushes the whole affair over the edge)
How does one begin to discuss Heaven’s Gate, arguably the single most infamous film in the entire history of the medium, and this is with the likes of Cannibal Holocaust released in the same year mind you. Michael Cimino, fresh off his dueling Oscar wins for Best Picture and Best Director for The Deer Hunter, his famed dissection of American malaise and disconnect pre, post, and during the Vietnam War, was given an ungodly amount of money by a major production company to make his next film. He then proceeded to greet that money with a severe and aggressive lack of regulation or order. He went over budget many times, and nearly destroyed his production studio, not to mention doing his fair share to sour the relationship between Hollywood production companies and American New Wave directors and ending the great long chain of challenging, pulsing American films to win over both the box office and the critical consensus in the 1970s. Never again would a Coppola or even a Scorsese have almost unmitigated access to the Hollywood well whenever they wanted, and for the next decade, Hollywood drama would be reduced to arguably the most sanitized, antiseptic period in its entire history.