Sunday, March 31, 2019

Unpopular Movies That I Like Pt. 3

So if you've been following along, I kicked 2019 off by talking about so-called "Unpopular Movies" that I actually like, and think are good movies. I've endeavored to point out why they're NOT actually bad films, and why I enjoy them. You can find Part 1 and Part 2 here. So now, let's finish this project off (for now at least), with Part 3!

Film: Super Mario Bros.
Year: 1993
Director: Rocky Morton/Annabel Jankel

This is one of my many films I didn't get to see during my childhood, even though being a massive Super Mario addict at that young age, I would have loved to. I did get to see it a bit later though, and even though I surely noted all of the inconsistencies with the games, and sheer weirdness of the film itself, I still earnestly liked it. Obviously, I must've said to myself "This isn't how the Super Mario Bros. are", yet still didn't hate it. And considering the fact that I REALLY loved Mario in general at the time, that's saying something.

This movie is fairly notorious for being a "Bad Film", both because its production was a total mess, and because it is a very bizarre live action adaptation of a beloved video games franchise. The thing is though, just right out of the gate, I don't personally believe that ANY live action adaptation of Super Mario Bros. was ever going to really work. It's already bizarre source material, what with a couple of plumbers from Brooklyn, being transported to a magical land of "Mushroom People", and black magick Koopas, and floating blocks, and golden coins everywhere, etc. With THAT kind of set-up, I'm really unsure what people honestly thought a live action movie was going to be. To be fair, what got made was something no one really could have guessed at, but still. A cartoon movie, more akin to my beloved Super Mario Bros. Super Show, would have been the only way to truly adapt the games well.

Bob Hoskins makes a pretty good Mario.

The movie itself, was directed by the duo of Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel, who had already been known previously for the bizarre creation Max Headroom, and had together directed the neo-noir film D.O.A. Already, I think given the pair's background and penchant for "out there" material, the studio should have known what they might be in for. If they wanted something more "played straight", they might have wanted to pick someone else. As it was, the film went through a lot of rewrites, and suffered from a lot of script changes and battling between the studio and the directors. All of this lent itself to a very chaotic filming production, and it even led star Bob Hoskins to later claim this was the film of his that he hated the most, because he hated making it at the time.

Aside from Hoskins as the infamous Mario, the film stars comedian John Leguizamo as Mario's younger brother Luigi, and the ever-gorgeous Samantha Mathis as Princess Daisy (in the U.S. Princess Toadstool didn't yet have a name other than that, so they decided to lift the name Daisy from the Game Boy hit Super Mario Land). In the villain roles, they had Dennis Hopper as King Koopa, and Fisher Stevens of Short Circuit fame and Richard Edson as his "nephews" and lackeys, Iggy and Spike. All in all, a decent, albeit appropriately oddball cast.

The Super Scope is a dangerous weapon!

Now, admittedly, the movie is an incredibly weird, even surreal creation. Which, again, given the directors, isn't surprising. As seen above, King Koopa, instead of being a huge magical Turtle Dragon creature (aka Koopa), is a man. In the film's canon, when the meteor that (possibly) killed the dinosaurs hit, it ripped a hole in the fabric of space, and created a parallel dimension where the surviving dinosaurs, along with apparently fungus, evolved into very human-like people, with their own civilization and everything. Obviously, quite a far cry from the actual Mario storyline. And if you look above, you can also see what they did with the "Goombas" and "Koopas" of the film, transforming them from cute mushroom and turtle-ish monsters, into giant "devolved", tiny-headed things. For the "Mushroom Kingdom", the directors created a very near late 80s vibe, with a dark grimy city, almost like a Bizarro World New York. All things that, again, made it scream "Not really Mario!" Oddly enough, Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto, was once quoted as saying that he "appreciated the effort put into the film, but felt they tried to stick TOO close to the source material."

And it didn't help that the production was such a clusterfuck, as that certainly hampered the film from being all it could have been (as so often happens in Hollywood). BUT, while the movie certainly is a crazy mish-mash, I think it deserves to be said that considering HOW ridiculous the production was, the final product turned out FAR better, really, than it had any right being. In fact, of course going with the theme of these articles, I would not even call this so-called "Super Mario Bros." a bad movie, at all! It's a shame, to me, that Hoskins (and Dennis Hopper) hated this movie, and regretted being involved in it, because honestly, it's a very memorable and very entertaining work, on its own merits. Perhaps it was a completely happy accident that it turned out as good as it actually is, but that doesn't change the fact that, simply put, it IS actually rather good. that you?

 I would say that I was certainly a BIT disappointed upon seeing it at 12 or whatever years old, for the obvious Mario/canon reasons. But I would also say that I have come to appreciate the film more and more for what it is, as an adult. Disregarding the gory details of the film's production, the movie has a lot going for it. It has a coherent, though certainly surreal, plot. It has a good cast of actors who gave surprisingly heartfelt performances. The movie has a nice deliberate pace, and actually flows very well. And perhaps most importantly, it absolutely carries a distinct style and personality, all its own. I don't think there is a single other film quite like this one.

As far as I'm concerned, the people who "hate" this movie, or dump on it for being "bad", are mostly your pretentious film snob types. That doesn't mean there AREN'T valid reasons to dislike it, I suppose. But as I've happily pointed out, for many years, I think if you took this exact same film, but removed any Mario title or names or references, so that it WASN'T supposed to be an adaptation of anything, but was STILL the same lovably weird movie, it would likely have a far better reputation. In fact, I think it would unquestionably be a "Cult Classic", on the same kind of level as something like Buckaroo Banzai or Big Trouble in Little China. This "Mario" movie is a curious creature indeed, but I think it is overdue for a sincere second look by movie fans. 

Best Thing(s) About Super Mario Bros.: The chemistry and relationship between the Mario Bros., and their new friend Princess Daisy. And the overall oddball style/tone of the film.

Worst Thing About Super Mario Bros.: All that weird, slimy goddamn fungus everywhere! I think they took the whole "Mushroom Kingdom" thing a bit too literally.

Film: Star Trek V: The Final Frontier
Year: 1989
Director: William Shatner

To many, this is considered the "Worst Star Trek Film Ever Made". I would strongly debate that purely on how bad some of the later "Next Generation", and in my opinion ALL of the more recent "reboot" films have been. Compared to those, I think this is a masterpiece! But to back up for a second, the history of Star Trek V is an interesting one. After the late 80s hit (though notably odd) Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the original classic Trek crew found new life in the 80s, with four films during the decade. Two of those, The Search for Spock and my personal favorite, The Voyage Home, were directed by Spock actor Leonard Nemoy, who himself would find later directorial success with such films as the American adaptation of Three Men and a Baby. Shatner, feeling perhaps a bit left out, or maybe just wanting to stretch his own creative wings, wanted to direct the next film, and was allowed to. What followed, was easily the weirdest of the original movie series, and the final product, as noted, is considered by many to be "the worst".

A Vulcan with a BEARD? Nuts!

In addition to directing, Shatner also co-wrote the story concept of the movie. In it, the now-revealed older half-brother of Spock, named Sybok, has turned away from traditional Vulcan culture, which enforced logic over suppressed emotions, to instead embrace his emotions and passions, which include, as it turns out, trying to find the very nature of "God" itself. As I understand it, this plot point right away, for some Trek fans, "doesn't sit well", because it's a VERY spiritual overtone, in a traditionally science fiction series. But for one thing, it isn't as if the original series didn't at least somewhat touch on spirituality and the concept of "gods", and for another, the Vulcan people themselves, while highly logical and deeply pursuant of scientific exploration, also happen to be established as a very spiritual people, in their own way, as well. Hell, for that matter, the previous films in the movie series put MAJOR focus on Vulcan spirituality, shining specific spotlight on the concept of the "Katra", literally a piece of one's soul. So not only is it not out of place in the Trek universe, but it's actually a pretty interesting idea: a renegade "hippy" Vulcan, traveling the universe "In Search of God".

On top of looking for "God", Sybok also seems to have developed the distinctly unique ability, to somehow use his Vulcan empathic talent to "take people's pain away". By mind-melding with them, he somehow makes them feel freed from their inner demons and sorrows, by "sharing their pain", which leaves them feeling freed and euphoric. With this power, he amasses himself an army of loyal followers, who support his quest. In all honesty, I think that Sybok is one of the more interesting characters, and sympathetic villains, in the entire franchise. He employs some terrorist methods such as forcibly commandeering the starship Enterprise, yes, but he ultimately doesn't really want to hurt, let alone kill, people. In his skewed view of things, he wants to "enlighten" them and set them free. And beyond all that, actor Laurence Luckinbill, I think, does a fantastic job as the misguided spiritual crusader.

The heart of the story.

All in all, Star Trek V has an awful lot going for it. The classic cast, an interesting villain, and to me, most importantly, at its core are arguably THE best scenes in the entire series, of the relationship between the three principle Star Trek characters, Captain James T. Kirk, Spock, and Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy. Throughout the film, there are some really great, bonding and character building moments between these already beloved characters. For someone like me, who grew up on reruns of the original show and even the 70s cartoon, as well as these movies, that carries a lot of weight. I think that as a director, Shatner handled the plot and these more personal touches and moments very well. I'd say he does a fairly strong job overall, actually, as the movie is well-filmed, well-paced, and very professionally done. Even a co-star who he had a rocky relationship with, like George Takei, later gave him credit for doing an admirable job.

If anything, I'd say the fact that the studio actively sabotaged and undermined the budget and time he had to work with, effected it more than anything. Paramount was apparently too cheap to want to pay for Industrial Light & Magic to do the kinds of ambitious effects scenes Shatner envisioned, instead opting to take a lesser route. The studio, in yet another such case, also interfered a bit during the production, beyond cutting the budget. Perhaps the biggest criticism levied at this film, beyond the "spiritual" plot, is what many consider to be the anti-climactic climax. In Shatner's original vision, due to the being that Sybok leads them to, which turns out to most certainly NOT be "God", there was to be an epic final battle between the principle characters and stone giants brought to life from the planet itself. Instead, what he got to work with, was a floating glowy head that shoots deadly eye-beams, most of which he wound up cutting out because it looked sub-par.

One can only imagine what the film could have been, if Shatner had been allowed to fully make the movie he wanted to make. But even with Paramount's BS undermining him, I still think he turned in a classy finished product. All of the main original cast get their moments to shine, the scenes with Kirk/Spock/Bones are especially stellar, and if nothing else, the plot is very original and even a-typical. Many Trek fans shit on this film for being "Bad", but again, I'd not only argue that it's actually quite good, upon further reflection, I would personally say that it might very well be my second favorite of the classic movie series, behind Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. For a long time, the following and final classic Trek film, The Undiscovered Country, held that distinction for me, and in some ways I guess it still does. But I think the more personal scenes between the principle three characters, for me, might be what puts Star Trek V over the top.

Best Thing About Star Trek V: Easily the expanded/strengthened relationship between Kirk, Spock and Bones. Those scenes are gold.

Worst Thing About Star Trek V: Easily the shitty "God" head being at the end. The film, and Shatner himself, deserved more from the studio than that.

Film: Lethal Weapon 4
Year: 1998
Director: Richard Donner

I've mentioned before how 1998 was a hell of a year for movies. It is the year I saw THE most films in theater, topping 40 easily. Movies like Lost in Space, Dark City, Fallen, The Wedding Singer, My Giant, Almost Heroes, The Truman Show, Ever After, What Dreams May Come, etc., it was a year stuffed with decent to great films, and a wide variety between them to boot. And of course Lethal Weapon 4 was no exception. Directed by Richard Donner, hot off the heels of one of his best films, 1997's Conspiracy Theory, this would be the fourth and final installment of his famous action series. But I was surprised to recently learn, thanks to social media no less, that apparently some people consider it a "bad film". Out of all of the movies I've talked about in this series, just short of perhaps Die Hard With a Vengeance, none do I find more baffling to have such a designation than this one.

The only real criticisms I seem to have picked up on for Lethal Weapon 4, is that it's "overstuffed" and "too busy". So do these same people have the same criticism then for something like, say, Avengers: Infinity War? Because THAT was absolutely overstuffed and too busy, far more than this, for sure. The series added new characters over the course of each film, yes, such as Joe Pesci's ex-money launderer turned wannabe private detective, Leo Getz ("Whatever you need, Leo Getz!"), and Renee Russo's police officer Lorna Cole. And this movie added yet another character, Chris Rock's Detective Lee Butters, a new cop on the force who also just so happens to "secretly" be Roger Murtaugh's (Danny Glover's) new son-in-law. But that happens over the course of a series, you introduce new characters to keep things fresh and keep them from getting stale. So I'm not sure how valid of a criticism that even is.

Jet Li's first American film.

Otherwise, honestly, I don't know what the hell people who dislike this film or consider it "bad", especially if they're fans of the rest of the series, even want or expect out of it. As far as I'm concerned, it has a much stronger plot and is a better film, overall, than Lethal Weapon 3. It doesn't hurt that it was the only entry of the series that I saw in theaters. It also doesn't hurt that not only was it Jet Li's first American film, it was also MY first time seeing a Jet Li film, period. And it was quite an introduction, let me tell you! Li, who generally dislikes playing villains, is an excellent villain here, the "strong, silent" badass enforcer of the Chinese Triad, he is very effective, and naturally has great fighting scenes.

In addition to that, Chris Rock, just entering the hot period of his own film career at this point, is in classic form, and especially his interaction with Joe Pesci, adds a lot of humor. The relationship of Riggs and Murtaugh continues to deepen, and the sub-plot of both Riggs' girlfriend (Russo) and Murtaugh's daughter being pregnant, adds a deeper family element to the story. Is the plot busy and fast paced? Sure. But that goes for the entire series, even though I'd say that LW3 was perhaps the "slowest", having a smaller-scale plot involving the impacts of gang violence, etc. But seeing as how this entry was the final one, they clearly went out with an appropriate bang, and to me, it works really well.

The Captains.

The story involves criminals crafting an intricate plot to illegally gain money, which isn't too terribly different from the plot of any entry in the series, of course. But the twist of the Chinese Triad trying to move in on the American underground, is a fresh spin on things. And Jet Li being more of a martial arts bad ass, adds a fresh element versus simply more "bad guys with guns". Seeing this movie in theaters back in '98, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and looking at it now, while my opinion has fluctuated over the years, it might be my favorite of the Lethal Weapon films. There was a time when the second film was my favorite, but older me seems to find part four to be more entertaining now, over it's far-darker predecessor. And I suppose, perhaps, that is another reason people who dislike this film might use, is that it's absolutely the "lightest" film in the series. But again, I hardly find that a terribly valid criticism, as it still has its share of "dark" and serious moments, along with more touching, personal ones.

Overall, I think it's a great movie, and a fitting end to the franchise. For years, I had actually been somewhat hoping they'd make a fifth film. But thinking about it now, regardless of the actors' ages and the two decades it has been since this released, I just don't think there really is any call for another entry. I think this movie capped things off pretty well for all characters involved, which it really kinda feels like that was Donner's intention. The character of Martin Riggs (Gibson), has really grown and come full circle, from the borderline suicidal psycho that poor Murtaugh gets stuck with in the original movie, to now about to become a father and finally learning to move on from his past pain a bit. Even Leo Getz, while they still razz him and play jokes on him, finds himself being more accepted into the extended "family" that they've all become. And I think ultimately, that was the theme of this film, and perhaps WHY it's a bit lighter in tone: the bonds of family.

Best Thing About Lethal Weapon 4: Jet Li's bad ass antagonist.

Worst Thing About Lethal Weapon 4: I could always use some more Leo Getz. That's the biggest "negative" I could really come up with.


And that, as they say, is that, folks! I hope you've enjoyed my trip through the land of "Unpopular" movies, and I hope that perhaps I've helped turn some of you around on some of these fine films. I may return somewhere down the road with another installment, but for now, I feel like I've achieved what I set out to do. If you've never seen these movies, or even if you feel like giving them a second chance, please do see some of them. Or ALL of them! What the hell, right? Until next time.