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Monday, September 16, 2019

Scooby-Doo in Where's My Mummy? (2005) - Review

Being chased by ancient mummies is nothing new to the Scooby Gang, having encountered such bandaged monstrosities in the original series' episode titled “Scooby-Doo and a Mummy, Too,” and more recently in the episode “Mummy Scares Best” from the 2002 to 2006 series What’s New Scooby-Doo? But what Scooby-Doo in Where's My Mummy? mostly owes its existence to, would be the Brendan Fraser version of The Mummy — the producers of this animated movie even went so far as to cast Oded Fehr in a role almost identical to the one he played in that particular adventure film.


 The movie opens with a history lesson — narrated by Cleopatra (Virginia Madsen) herself — where we learn that after the Romans sacked Alexandria, Cleopatra fled down the Nile, vowing that she would protect the ancient treasures of her people, which entailed hiding them in a secret tomb beneath the Great Sphinx. She informs us that, “Within this tomb was an impenetrable maze of traps and secret dangers, forever guarded by an ancient horror. The army of the undead, a thousand mummified warriors awaiting the call to rise from the grave and defend Egypt’s last great treasure,” and then to top it off, she invokes the gods, “Under the golden crown of Isis I cast my curse, the Curse of Cleopatra, let it be written!”

 

Does this mean marrying Caesar was off the table?

Historical Note: Now, one can’t be expected to find much historical veracity in a Scooby-Doo movie, but this film takes historical ignorance to a whole new level. Though the burning of the Egyptian library of Alexandria was Caesar’s fault, it was accidental, and though it was done during the siege against Cleopatra's younger brother, Ptolemy XIII, the Romans were actually in support of Cleopatra over her brother. Yet this movie fails to even mention the likes of Caesar or Mark Antony, two key figures in Cleopatra’s life, and she certainly wasn’t known for building elaborate booby-trap-laden tombs, laying nasty curses, or even creating armies of the undead. Mores the pity.

 

This looks like a job for Ash Williams.

We then jump ahead a few centuries to find Velma (Mindy Cohn) working as an archaeologist for Prince Omar (Ajay Naidu) on his restoration project of the Great Sphinx, and it’s while working on the Sphinx that she uncovers an ancient necklace that reveals the hidden entrance to the tomb of Queen Cleopatra. And before you can say “Jinkies,” the rest of the Scooby gang arrives for a surprise visit — in a scene that kind of implies that Fred (Frank Welker) drove all the way to Egypt via The Mystery Machine — but the group is then shocked to find that Velma is reticent to let the gang investigate this latest mystery, citing it’s “too dangerous.” Which is very uncharacteristic of Velma “We have a mystery to solve” Dinkley. Unfortunately, Velma doesn’t have much time to make her case before a tomb-raiding treasure hunter named Dr. Amelia Von Butch (Christine Baranski) arrives with a mercenary team of G.I. Joe rejects.

 

Lara Croft’s lawyers will be in touch.

This is when things get messy. Von Butch and her gang march everyone down under the Sphinx where she quickly sets an explosive off to open the tomb, unleashing a curse made by Cleopatra: “A curse against those that defile this sacred tomb of the pharaohs. The Nile will fall and the desert will rise, the army of the undead will awaken, and all who enter will be turned to stone.” We’re talking your basic ancient Egyptian curse. Von Butch scoffs at the curse, but moments later, after being separated by the group, Prince Omar is found to have been turned to stone. It looks like we have a mystery on our hands.  Now, is there actually some credence to the Curse of Cleopatra, or could some person or persons unknown be pulling off an elaborate hoax? Only time will tell.

 

What a petrifying mystery.

Where’s My Mummy? is a Scooby-Doo movie that is simply chock full of suspects, but with the upfront criminality of Dr. Amelia Von Butch, it changes the show’s usual dynamic somewhat. It's quite apparent that Von Butch can’t be behind "Cleopatra’s Curse," because everything that occurs is against her own best interests, with legions of mummies trying to stop her at every turn, so who could be behind this Egyptian puzzle? When the gang first arrived, they ran into reality show host Rock Rivers (Jeremy Piven), whose show “Fear Facers” was canceled after it was discovered that he’d faked footage, so could he be back at it again, creating this elaborate hoax to get his show back on the air? Then we have the mysterious Egyptian nomad Amahl Ali Akbar (Oded Fehr), who keeps showing up in the nick of time; could his enigmatic helpfulness just be a clever ruse? And then there is Hotep (Ron Perlman), the leader of an underground hidden Egyptian city that Scooby and Shaggy (Casey Kasem) stumbled upon while fleeing the army of the undead, a city of people who have given up the modern world for the ancient one, and did I mention that Scooby-Doo (Frank Welker) is mistaken for the returning pharaoh Ascoobis?

 

Scooby-Doo tends to fulfill a lot of prophecies.

It’s this “Lost City” element of the movie that just doesn’t work; it’s a side quest that is clearly there simply to pad out the film's run-time — important because this movie actually had a limited theatrically release — and when Hotep is revealed to be a brilliant civil engineer named Armin Granger, who has been illegally damming the Nile River for his grand underground city, it basically comes across as a mini-mystery that Shaggy gets to solve on his own — which in itself is a nice little twist — but it has no real impact on the larger mystery pertaining to Cleopatra and her curse.

 

We do get a fun fight against a giant Scorpion.

Stray Observations:

• The songs that appear in this movie try really hard to sound like Alan Menken’s song from Disney’s Aladdin.
• During one chase sequence, Shaggy and Scooby take off on a flying carpet. That’s not Egyptian mythology, that’s Arabian you stupid hacks!
• When the Scooby gang first hooked up with Amahl Ali Akbar, they discovered that the Nile had dried up; this is pretty much impossible — the Nile is one of the largest rivers in the world, and if it had suddenly dried up, it would have devastated much of the continent, yet no one even bothers to investigate such a calamity.
• The Nile drying up also fits the part of the curse “The Nile will fall,” but we discover that it was Armin Granger who had diverted the Nile for his own purposes, and thus had nothing to do with Cleopatra’s curse, so that’s a clue. Also, even a fraction of the Nile’s volume would have overflowed Armin’s stupid Egyptian utopia.
• Our heroes come across a large catacomb full of Cleopatra’s mummified dead, and Daphne (Grey Griffin) notes that these mummies looked undisturbed, covered in a century's worth of dust, so it clearly wasn’t them chasing the gang up and down the catacombs. So there’s another clue.
• Velma is turned to stone just like Prince Omar, with that ancient Egyptian necklace still around her neck. Did this show just kill Velma?
• Cleopatra herself shows up, demanding that the infidels leave the tomb, and she then unleashes a plague of locusts. She must have been a fan of the Old Testament God ... or more likely the Brendan Fraser Mummy movie.

 

Cleopatra in all her mummified glory.

The movie concludes with a big battle between Cleopatra’s undead army and the people from the hidden city, who are now led by Daphne in a Cleopatra disguise of her own, all while Von Butch is sneaking to the chamber of Cleopatra to steal the priceless crown, which then causes the Nile River to burst through the tomb, flushing out all of its riches. Everyone manages to barely escape with their lives, which also includes an unconscious and waterlogged Cleopatra, and this leads to the grand unmasking.

 

“Velma?”

Turns out that Velma had planned the whole hoax, along with Prince Omar, in the hopes of scaring away tomb robbers. They’d used quick-drying cement to make copies of themselves to pass off as victims of "the curse," and Velma was able to create the swarm of locusts because she’d learned to breed them in her previous year’s science class — obviously not caring what a swarm of locust would do to the ecology of the region — and Omar and his workers became Cleopatra’s undead army. What doesn’t work is the fact that Velma kept her friends in the dark; letting them think she had been turned to stone, that’s just a dick move. Velma’s reasoning of “I knew it would be dangerous and I didn’t want any of you to get hurt,” just doesn’t wash, not when you consider the amount of peril the Scooby gang faces on a routine basis, and that she was surprised her friends would try to rescue her is all kinds of bullshit.

 

The Scooby Gang calls this kind of threat a Tuesday.

Velma being behind the hoax is a surprising reveal that makes Where’s My Mummy? a unique entry in the history of Scooby-Doo — it even caught me off-guard — but aside from that twist, there wasn’t much originality on hand (even the turning "victims" into stone gimmick was used in the episode “Scooby-Doo and a Mummy, Too” and everything else was borrowed from the Brendan Fraser movie). On the plus side, it really does have a fantastic supporting voice cast, with the likes of Virginia Madsen, Christine Baranski, Jeremy Piven, Ron Perlman, and Oded Fehr all giving it their best. That is one star-studded cast.

 

Final Observation: Let us consider the Scooby-Doo Disguise Trope.

One of the standard tropes in the Scooby-Doo series is when Shaggy and Scooby will put on some form of disguise to fool the monster, such as a hairstylist or chef — but being the monsters are nine times out of ten a guy in a mask, why would they react like the stupid beasts they are pretending to be? This trope is more egregious here as Cleopatrata is bloody Velma; how could she be fooled by this? Has the desert sun poached her brain? But the worst example of this is when Shaggy and Scooby dress up like female mummies to distract the undead army, and this somehow works?

 

Why would Omar’s workers become lovestruck?

I guess it's a case of cartoon logic, and something not to be questioned, and overall this places Where’s My Mummy? solidly in the middle of the pack when considering Scooby-Doo direct-to-video movies; it’s not a great entry, as the script is vastly flawed with logic gaps that will hurt your brain if you think about them, but as a whole, it was still entertaining and thus worth checking out.

Friday, September 13, 2019

The Banana Splits (2019) – Review

If you need proof that the 60s were a trippy-weird time one need only to take a look back at the fantasy shows created by the legendary Sid and Marty Kroft, with such bizarre programs as The Bugaloos, Lidville, Sigmund and the Sea Monster, and H.R. Pufnstuff to their credit - this was the live-action arm of the Hanna-Barbera children’s programming - and as nostalgia has been a key monetary element in many a movie it’s not surprising to see some modern filmmaker delving into that acid pool of kids programming, which brings us to Canadian director Danishka Esterhazy’s horror film The Banana Splits.


If you’re going to drink the nostalgia Kool-aide why not take things in a darker direction. This was clearly the thought process of the execs over at Warner Bros. Home Entertainment when it came to taking an old intellectual property, one that had been sitting on a shelf for decades, and giving it the old horror treatment. The basic premise of this particular update is that Hanna-Barbera children’s show The Banana Splits has somehow remained on the air for five decades – unlike in reality where it only lasted 31 episodes running from 1968-1970 – and this movie follows the adventures of a group of people who visit the studio to watch a live taping.  Needless to say, things go wrong.

 

Whatever you do, don't make eye contact.

We are first introduced to the Williams Family, whose youngest member Harley (Finlay Wojtak-Hissong) is a huge fan of The Banana Splits, and for his birthday the whole family is going to a live taping of the show. Along for the ride is Harley’s older brother Austin (Romeo Carere), your typical teen slacker who doesn’t get along with stepdad Mitch (Steve Lund), who is cheating on their mother Beth (Dani Kind) with his assistant at work, and finally there is Zoe (Maria Nash) a plucky classmate of Harley’s who is forced by her parents to join the Williams Family on this birthday outing, despite her having no love for such a "kiddie" show as The Banana Splits. Unfortunately for our little group things are not well in the world of The Banana Splits, just prior to taping the new vice-president of programming (Daniel Fox) informs the show's producer Rebecca (Sara Canning) that he is canceling the show, “The Banana Splits doesn’t really represent my vision for the network.” But unbeknownst to Rebecca and Steve one of the Banana Splits had overheard this bombshell and is the catalyst for all the horror that follows, you see, in this world version of The Banana Splits they are not a group of actors in costumes but instead they are fairly advanced robots built and programmed by a weirdly obsessive man named Karl (Lionel Newton), whose latest computer update to their programming included the command “The show must go on” which clearly runs counter to the whole “cancellation of the show" and thus it prompts the robots to go on a killing spree. See, totally logical premise. So what follows is basically Westworld but with more gore.

Note: At no point does the show bother to explain why the Banana Splits are robots and not just dudes in costumes.  It certainly can't be more economical than finding four idiots to work for minimum wage.
The fact that the original Sid and Marty Kroft designed creatures were creepy as hell – even as a kid back in the day I found them a bit off-putting – it almost seems natural for them to be turned into murderous beings bent on all types of carnage, sadly the movie doesn’t deliver much more beyond that the simple premise. Turning the corner of a dark hallway and suddenly seeing one of the Banana Splits, just standing there in creepy silence, would give anyone the shivers but on the third or fourth time this happens we reach the point when we viewer express the ample thought “I get it, they’re creepy, can we move on now?” Eventually, the film ramps things up as the show’s crew and guests are quickly dispatched in a variety of horrifying ways – killed by having a lollipop shoved down your throat being a particularly gruesome death – and director Danishka Esterhazy certainly doesn’t stint on the gore as we see many a patron being literally torn asunder.

 

Wheel of Misfortune?

Without the pop culture-centric nature of the movie The Banana Splits would be nothing but a footnote to the horror genre, the film coming across as a failed version of 'Five Nights at Freddy's' and not even getting a theatrical release, but there is something intrinsically fun about seeing something from your childhood become a walking nightmare – which is part of the charm of the whole Child’s Play series – and thus the element that saves the film from obscurity is the whole aspect of “Hey, I remember the Banana Splits, weren’t they kind of fucked-up?” and the screenwriters do spend enough time setting up the cast of potential victims so that we the audience can become a little invested in who lives and who dies.  The script by Scott Thomas and Jed Elinoff is greatly aided by a fairly talented cast, especially from the younger actors who carry much of the movie on their tiny shoulders. On the effects side, the “animatronic” monsters look scary as hell, with their dead emotional stares, and the bloody mayhem is well executed with practical effects.

 

Pure nightmare fuel.

Overall The Banana Splits is a fairly thin entry in the horror genre, one that relies a little too heavily on the novelty of an old kid’s show as a setting for all the gore and carnage, and it would have probably worked better in a shortened format - possibly as a special episode of Supernatural - but as the film does move along at a brisk pace with nary a wasted moment, with secondary characters are given just the proper amount of set-up before being brutally killed like cast-offs from a Willie Wonka tour, and when the credits role most fans will find themselves pleased with what Danishka Esterhazy and company where able to pull off.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Scooby-Doo! Return to Zombie Island (2019) – Review

The Warner Brothers Animation division has been making a lot of money from their direct-to-video movies over the years, a venture that really kicked into gear back in 1998 with Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island a film that took Scooby-Doo and friends into darker territories with an adventure that was genuinely scary, and though this was not the first time the Scooby gang had encountered real monsters – as it was promoted back then – it did set the tone for the next few animated movies to follow, and now we have this quasi-sequel titled Scooby-Doo! Return to Zombie Island which tries hard to recapture that original magic.

 
With Scooby-Doo! Return to Zombie Island we find the people over at Warner Bros. Home Entertainment have once again done the “Retcon Shuffle” as elements of Scooby-Doo lore are both referenced and ignored in almost the same breath. Now, fans of Scooby-Doo are more than used to continuity being thrown at the window with each series reboot or animated film that is released – how else do you keep a group of mystery-solving teenagers immortal – but as Scooby-Doo! Return to Zombie Island is a sequel to the 1998 movie the alterations to key character and story elements are more likely than not going to piss off those selfsame fans.

 

Nods to the original series will only get you so far.

This movie finds Mystery Incorporated being disbanded, an event that has happened multiple times over the run of this show and is now becoming a little tired, and the reason for this particular break up is once again laid at the hands of the local Sheriff (David Herman) who tells the gang, “Best to leave mystery-solving to the professionals, you guys have been running around looking for trouble for so long that you’ve forgotten how to just be kids. Open lemonade stands, playing kick the can, talent shows in the barns, sock hops, potato sack races.” Both Velma (Kate Micucci) and Daphne (Grey Griffin), for some reason, agree with Sheriff, stating, “He’s not wrong” which is all kinds of bullshit because if fifty years of mystery-solving has proven anything it’s that local law enforcement suck at their jobs, without Mystery Incorporated there would have been dozens of people scammed out of their fortunes. Then we get Fred (Frank Welker) stating that going on a vacation is a great idea, which is another strange thing to hear from this group as I'd be hard-pressed to remember when Mystery Incorporated was not on vacation.

 

I wouldn’t be surprised if their mailing address was this malt shop.

Where they should go for this vacation quickly becomes a sticking point as Shaggy (Matthew Lillard) astutely points out that every amusement park they've ever visited has turned out to be haunted, the zoos are full of demon animals, and theaters being always menaced by phantoms, so he insists they stay right here – in the malt shop – and watch their favorite television show hosted by Elvira Mistress of the Dark (Cassandra Peterson). Staying in a malt shop is certainly not an ideal vacation spot, unless your Shaggy and Scooby of course, but fate takes a strange turn when Elvira announces that the winner of trip to a “Tropical Paradise” is none other than Shaggy Rogers, but suspicions are raised when Elvira mentions, “Shaggy is allowed to bring up to three guests with him and one pet.”  A little bit on the nose there.  Could a mystery be in the offing.

 

“Is my pointless cameo over? Has the check cleared?”

Unfortunately, suspicions must be put on hold as the gang has promised Shaggy and Scooby that they would not be looking into any mysteries, no matter how oddly convenient and suspicious things sound, which leads to a rather tired and overlong bit where mounds of evidence is thrown into their collective faces – which if true could put the team in real danger – that they must ignore all for the sake of their promise to the two idiot slackers of their group. The gang's forced obtuseness is just insulting, as they not only ignore the fact that this tropical vacation is reached by taking a ferry down a Louisiana river to a swampy island, an island that seems to have a few plastic palm trees randomly planted around, but they also ignore the fact that “Moonstar Resort” is clearly “Moonscar Manor” from Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island and that the staff bare more than striking resemblance to the Cat People from that adventure. Yet, even when zombies attack Shaggy and Scooby, who were waiting for a massage, we get Velma spouting off stuff like, “As a woman of science I know there are no such things as zombies,” and Fred suggesting that it could have been other guests with mud masks on.

 

There is keeping a promise and then there is abject stupidity.

Sadly, it turns out that these zombies are fake and that resort manager Alan Smithee (John Michael Higgins) is actually a movie director who used this "Tropical Paradise" contest as a ruse to lure the Scooby gang back to Moonscar Island so that they could star in his “found footage” movie. Apparently, Alan came across Velma’s blog and was intrigued by her Unsolved Capers section, where he found the “Tale of Zombie Island” to be rather intriguing and thought it would make for a great horror movie, yet Daphne is quick to point out, “But Zombie Island wasn’t unsolved, the cat people disintegrated and all the zombies went back to an eternal rest,” but Velma pipes in, “There is nothing you just said that sounds unsolved,” and that is the crux of the problem I had with Scooby-Doo! Return to Zombie Island as this film turns Velma into some idiot denier who ignores the evidence of her own eyes.

 

Is she is also a Flat Earther and a Holocaust Denier?

To say that Scooby-Doo! Return to Zombie Island was disappointing would be a vast understatement as it took one of the greatest Scooby-Doo mysteries and then pissed all over it, not only was Velma a victim of character assassination but we also spend way too much time with Fred bemoaning the loss of the Mystery Machine – he’d sold it when the group decided to give up mystery-solving – and then poor Daphne is given almost nothing to do at all but stand around like a pretty piece of furniture.

Much of the film’s running time is all set up for this zombie movie – wonderfully titled Zombie Teenagers and the Island of Doom – and then more time is wasted when the gang decides to go along with the production and willing star in the film. Which begs the question, “Why didn’t Alan Smithee just straight up hire them in the first place?” Tricking them to the island and terrorizing them with zombies would have opened him up to a major lawsuit not to mention he’d also need the Scooby gang’s permission to release a film that they star in, making this whole premise completely ludicrous and a time-waster, that is until the real mystery starts to unfold. That’s right folks, there is more afoot than just an idiot director making a zombie movie.

 

“We're ready for our close-up, Mister DeMille.”

You see, the filming of Zombie Teenagers and the Island of Doom is soon interrupted by a group of ferocious cat people who seem hellbent on chasing after our heroes throughout the hotel - as would be expected in a Scooby-Doo mystery - and the remainder of the film is spent with the Scooby gang running in a panic from set to set-piece, all to nice pop music montage, a clear nod to the original chase sequences from Scooby-Doo Where are You! but this is too just a hoax, as it is revealed that the cat people are just a trio of masked treasure hunters who were trying to scare everyone away so that they could hunt in peace for Captain Moonscar’s buried treasure. Not only is this lazy but it seems to justify Velma’s “There are no real monsters” belief, and this is just terrible, and though a fourth cat person is left unaccounted for, to keep the idea of a true supernatural threat at least a little alive, it is still an insult to fans of the original movie.

 

The whole plot of this movie smells fishy.

Stray Observations:

• This is a sequel to Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island but it retcons the Scooby gang to be back in school and that Daphne’s stint as host of her own show “Coast to Coast with Daphne Blake” was now some student internship, even though we were originally told her show ran two seasons, and it also completely ignores Velma having a book shop and Shaggy and Scooby’s brief stint as custom inspectors.
• In the past when the gang has given up mystery-solving Fred has just repainted The Mystery Machine, so there is no real reason as to why he’d feel forced to sell his beloved van. Though in the DTV movie Scooby-Doo and the Curse of the 13th Ghost, when the gang was forced by the Sheriff to retire Mystery Incorporated, Fred sold off the Mystery Machine, which made no sense then and doesn’t here.
• The name Alan Smithee is an official pseudonym used by film directors who wish to disown a project and the people behind this movie should have adopted it as well.
• Fred is given a stunt double but for some reason no one else gets one and you’d think Shaggy would be more in need of a double than Fred, but worse is the moment when Fred tries to do a stunt himself,  a simple jumping through a window stunt, but he runs into the wall next to it instead. Now, Fred has been portrayed as a bit thickhead at times, and his being strangely trap obsessed a key character trait, but having him be physical inept is so very wrong.
• The actors who Smithee had hired to play the resort’s staff vanish into hiding during the cat people attack, but they are never seen again.
• Alan Smithee has the pendant that once belonged to Simone Lenoir, but where did he get it?
• In this movie, Moonscar’s treasure is found buried in the subterranean lair of the cat people, but it had already been found by Shaggy and Scooby in Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island and it wasn’t down in the lair.
• The fourth cat person being left a mystery isn’t so much a hook for a possible sequel as it is either a case of lazy writing or a cheap attempt at placating fans of the original movie.

Note to writers of Scooby-Doo: You can’t spend an entire movie debunking the previous movie and then throw fans pathetic scraps such as this.

Not only was the writing of this Scooby-Doo mystery subpar, with its rampant character assassinations and bad continuity at every turn, but the animation was nowhere near as good as the original movie, which was made over twenty years ago, as the animation here is mostly flat and uninteresting, gone are the darker spookier tones that we saw back in ’98.  Overall I found Scooby-Doo! Return to Zombie Island to be nothing more than a simple cash grab that shamelessly tried to ride the coattails of a classic Scooby-Doo adventure, there is nothing on display here to make this a movie worth recommending.

 

The gang pulling off a hoax of their own was the film's one and only highlight.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

It Chapter Two (2019) – Review

Don’t play with your food. If any advice were to be given to the murderous entity known as Pennywise the Dancing Clown that would be it, don’t play with your food. It’s just not going to end well for the villain. This adaptation of Stephen King’s 1986 horror opus continues where the 2017 movie finished off, with the now much older versions of our heroes returning to Derry for their final showdown with It, and once again director Andy Muschietti has assembled a stellar cast of actors for this big sprawling conclusion, and I do mean big, clocking in at two hours and forty-nine minutes this chapter is almost as long as the entirety of the two-part miniseries that aired back in the 90s.


Taking place twenty-seven years after the Losers’ Club last took on the evil creature known as Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgård) we find that the old gang have long since gone their separate ways; Bill Denbrough (James McAvoy) is successful author who has trouble with coming up with endings to his books that his readers like. Eddie Kaspbrak (James Ransone) works in the risk assessment business, while still trying to stifle his neuroses. Ben Hanscom (Jay Ryan) has lost weight and is now fit and successful architect, Beverly Marsh (Jessica Chastain) is fashion designer who has moved on from having an abusive father to having an abusive husband, Richie Tozier (Bill Hader) is a stand-up comedian, touring the nation with his acerbic wit, and then there is Stanley Uris (Andy Bean) living a quiet life with his wife, until he gets that fateful call from Mike. You see, Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa) has remained in Derry, Maine, and thus he is the only one who remembers their battle with Pennywise as well as their blood promise to return if it turns out that Pennywise wasn’t as dead as they’d all hoped he was.

 

"Here's Clowny!"

Like the television mini-series the key problem with It Chapter Two is that moments with the children are what makes this story work best and the stuff with the adults often tending to feel like so much filler, and one shouldn’t have filler in a movie that is almost three hours long, which is why Muschietti decided to fill as much of the run time of chapter two with flashbacks of them as kids. It's as if the director has to constantly remind us "Remember those kids, weren't they wonderful?" Unfortunately, this leads to things being a tad jarring for whenever the movie flips back out of one of those flashbacks, and into the present, we are reminded how much more we preferred our time with those plucky kids. Now, don't get me wrong, the adult cast does splendid work here, with James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, and Bill Hader being particular standouts in this chapter, but sadly nothing their characters do actually amounts to anything…well, aside for facing off against Pennywise at the end I guess.

 

"Should we try singing Kumbaya?"

Another key problem with It Chapter Two is there is no solid narrative structure, as we had in the first film, this time out we get the adults being sent on side quests to find “tokens” personal items that will be required if they are to win against Pennywise, so the story is continually derailed by our heroes splitting up to have these terrifying solo adventures, all of which are meaningless and have no bearing on the film’s conclusion. Which leads to final failing of It Chapter Two, it’s not all that scary. We get Beverley fighting an old hag, Bill encounters Pennywise at the same sewer opening that took his little brother, Eddie is attacked by the old leper from the previous film and Richie is menaced by the town’s giant Paul Bunyan statue, and though some of those sequences are quite effective (not the Paul Bunyon one) sadly they're not all that scary either - I don’t count jump scares - and much of that comes from the narrative point of view, a child being attacked by a leper is terrifying but the same thing happening to an adult…well, not so much.

 

Can you buy an adult falling for this?

Setting all that negativity aside I will say that the film is beautifully shot, the acting is universally great across the board – though some of the CGI to make the younger actors look the age they were back when they filmed Chapter One was a bit distracting – and Bill Skarsgard is still downright chilling as Pennywise the Dancing Clown, and if the film’s scares don’t quite live up to the previous entry the visuals are still top-notch, and I particularly loved the nod to John Carpenter’s The Thing “You’ve got be fucking kidding” but sadly the lack of tension throughout the film made this entry seem like a four hour film not a three hour one, and that’s not a good thing.

On a final note I will say that It Chapter Two was an even greater departure from the source material than the previous film, not that I expected to see a cosmic space turtle who vomited up the universe but at three hours in length it’s shocking how much they still left out – yet managed to put in an overlong cameo with author Stephen King – and the film’s conclusion felt more like something you’d have seen on an original episode of Star Trek, with Kirk and the away team mind fucking with some supercomputer or all-powerful space entity. It Chapter Two is not a bad horror film, and there were some very effective moments, it’s just wasn’t all that scary and with its excessive length, it can seem like a bit of a chore to get through at times.

 

"Anyone feel like going for waffles?"

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Aloha, Scooby-Doo! (2005) – Review

In this eighth entry in the series of Scooby-Doo direct-to-video movies we find the members of Mystery Incorporated venturing to the paradise state of Hawaii where we will see, as sure as shooting, a mass amount of cultural insensitivity around every turn. In 2003’s Scooby-Doo! and the Monster of Mexico we had the misappropriation of El Chupacabra – it being a Puerto Rican urban legend not Mexican – and now with Aloha, Scooby-Doo! it looks like the writers didn’t even bother to do any research on Polynesian gods or monsters at all but instead, they just created everything from whole cloth.


In one of the rare moments of fiscal responsibility the writers of this movie explain that Mystery Incorporated had received an all-expense-paid trip to Hawaii, thanks to company called "Goha Aloha" who want Daphne (Grey Griffin) to design new swimwear for them, but shortly after arriving – though not before some “Come visit Hawaii” travelogue moments – the gang learn of a monster attack at the location of the “Big Kahuna of Hanahuna Surfing Contest” where a young woman named Snookie (Tia Carrere) had been carried off into the jungle by the tiny demonic minions of the evil spirit Wiki-Tiki, where she would apparently be sacrificed to the island's volcano. Local surfer Little Jim (Ray Bumatai) believes that the spirit is angry with the fact that the surfing contest has been opened to mainlanders, instead of for natives only, as had been the tradition for centuries.

 

Didn’t these guys once menace the Brady Bunch?

Nobody has ever accused the writers of Scooby-Doo of cultural sensitivity but ten minutes of research would have pulled forth numerous Hawaiian deities and monsters to use, so what is the point Wiki-Tiki? Now, I’m not calling the writers of this movie racist as such, that sounds a little harsh, but what I am calling them is very, very lazy, and things kind of go downhill from here – not helped by voice actress Grey Griffin doing double duty as local shawoman Auntie Mahina with her terrible faux Hawaiian accent – but my key complaint with Aloha, Scooby-Doo! isn’t about the show’s poor track record with ethnicities but instead with the incredibly obvious mystery on hand. The show does trot out various suspects for the Scooby Gang to ponder over but none of them really pass the smell test, first we have Jared Moon (Adam West), the man who hired Daphne to design swimwear but is now making a killing selling anti-Wiki-Tiki amulets, and then there is Mayor Molly Quinn (Teri Garr) who is responsible for opening the surfing contest to mainlanders and is also running for re-election. Next on the suspect list is real estate developer Ruben Laluna (Tom Kenny) who is apparently trying to build “Coconut Beach Condominiums” on supposedly sacred ground.

 

This guy is only guilty of bad taste.

Now, on a positive note, these direct-to-video movies have been treating Daphne a lot better than she has been in some of the earlier runs of the series, we do get her accidentally falling backward through a secret passageway but this movie takes it as a positive, but she really shines when Fred (Frank Welker) suggests that one of them should enter the surfing contest to lure out Wiki-Tiki and as Daphne the groups best surfer she quickly volunteers. Later, while crossing a rickety rope bridge that is right out of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, she uses her dental floss to swing herself across the gorge when the bridge breaks, and later she shreds some massive waves as she takes on Waki-Tiki during the movie’s grand finale.

 

Daphne Blake, hanging ten against angry spirits.

As mentioned there really isn’t much of a mystery, with both the Mayor and realtor having more to lose from a monster harassing the locals than anyone else – tourists and voters not being too keen on evil spirits and human sacrifices – but our intrepid gang of mystery solvers has to at least go through the motions of sussing out the real culprit. Manu Tuiama (Mario Lopez), the top native surfer and boyfriend of the missing Snookie, offers to take the gang to his Auntie Mahina, the local shawoman who lives deep in the jungle, but while trekking through the dense foliage Manu disappears, seemingly grabbed by Wiki-Tiki as another human sacrifice. They eventually find Manu’s aunt, who directs them to search the tunnels beneath the volcano, and the gang then spend the next few minutes running from the little tiki minions or Wiki-Tiki himself.

Stray Observations:

• Velma (Mindy Cohn) slides under a slowly closing temple door, reach back through to grab her fallen glasses, is a nice homage to the opening scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
• The tunnels lead to a massive ancient temple beneath the volcano, which is pretty damn idiotic as no person in their right mind would build a temple under a volcano, active or not.
• They discover a large device that dumps water into the volcano’s core to cause steam, which caused the locals to believe the volcano was no longer dormant.
• The Scooby Gang find themselves in a portion of the temple that is full of snakes, a clear reference to the Well of Souls from Raiders of the Lost Ark.
• Shaggy (Casey Kasem) and Scooby-Doo (Frank Welker) come across the skeleton of Gilligan from the television Gilligan’s Island.

 

The mate was a mighty sailor man.

As a surprise to everyone, everyone that is except Velma, it’s revealed that Wiki-Tiki was Manu and that he had faked his abduction and has been the one wearing an elaborate Wiki-Tiki costume and that the little tiki demons were remote-controlled robots built by Manu’s partner-in-crime Snookie, whose real name is Pamela Waewa, who is not just a surfer groupie but also an expert in rocket sciences and robotics. Under her real name they had been purchasing all the land that the terrified locals were rapidly selling off, and they would have gotten away with it too, if not for those meddling mainlanders.

Further Observations:

• Pouring water into a dormant volcano to fake it being active is not a geologically sound idea, and it certainly wouldn’t cause the earthquakes that occurred throughout this movie.
• Manu explains that their real estate scam came about because being the “Big Kahuna” doesn’t bring in much money, but doesn’t being expert in rocket science and robotics open up better career options other than faking evil spirits?
• Wiki-Tiki is seen breathing fireballs but Manu’s costume clearly had no way to generate such an effect.

 

Did Manu eat some Five-Alarm chili before the big fight?

Aloha, Scooby-Doo! will go down as one of the lesser entries in the direct-to-video Scooby-Doo market and though the animation is fairly solid – nice vibrant colours to depict the beauty of Hawaii – as well as the Scooby Gang as a whole being all written quite well, with Daphne the stand out while Fred may be coming across a little too thick-headed at times, but as a mystery it’s a bit of a dud and left me rather cold. To this movie, I have only one thing to say, Aloha

Friday, August 30, 2019

The Peanut Butter Solution (1985) – Review

Meriam Webster’s Dictionary defines non sequitur as “an inference that does not follow from the premises” which, funnily enough, could also sum up the premise for director Michael Rubbo’s film The Peanut Butter Solution, a film that constantly has the viewer wondering what the hell is going on. Now, I’ve seen some pretty weird kid’s films in my day, including such classics as The Dark Crystal and Return to Oz, yet this film about ghosts, out-of-control hair, magical paintings, and peanut butter really takes the cake; those other films may contain some creepy and bizarre imagery, and some very weird happenings, but The Peanut Butter Solution may have you questioning the sanity of all those involved.


The plot of The Peanut Butter Solution — and I’m being very loose with the word “plot,” here — deals with an 11-year old boy named Michael Baskin (Mathew Mackay), who is coming to grips with the fact that his sister Suzie (Alison Darcy) is now running the household while their mother (Anna Vitre) has gone off to Australia to deal with the death of her father, and their struggling artist father (Michael Hogan) is too busy in the attic trying to get some paintings done for a new show to worry about anything else. When Michael’s best friend Connie (Siluck Saysanasy) mentions an abandoned mansion that burned down the night before, our young hero is eager to check it out, which leads to him encountering something so horrifying — which later would be labeled “The Fright” — that it results in him waking up the next day completely bald.

 

Could this be how Lex Luthor got his start?

It turns out that a homeless couple, Mary (Helen Hughes) and Tom (Griffith Brewer), had died in a house fire, a pair who Michael had previously been kind to before they’d shuffled off this mortal coil, and, feeling guilty about scaring this nice kid bald, the two ghosts show up at his house, in the middle of the night, with the recipe to a magical formula for hair growth, the main ingredient, of course, being peanut butter. As in many of Grimm’s fairy tales, such magical assistance comes with strict rules where deviations from them can result in tragedy, and so, of course, Michael uses too much peanut butter and he quickly has to deal with the consequences.

 

From bald to having a train of hair with one easy oops.

As if a kid with hair that would make Rapunzel jealous wasn’t weird enough for you, the film also has an insanely bizarre villain, in the form of Michael’s public school art teacher (Michel Maillot), known simply as The Signor. This complete psychopath of an art teacher berates and even tears up the artwork of his students if they so much as even think of using their imagination, ranting at poor Michael, “I’ve told you a thousand times, no imagination, only what you see!” What kind of school would hire such a person to teach art, you ask? Well, later Signor is called to the Principal’s office, where she informs him that she’s had her doubts about him and she's done some checking; “I found out that you've been kicked out of two schools, that you've faked famous paintings, and that you've changed your name and appearance four times. AND you claim to be Rembrandt's great-great-great-great grandson.” She rightfully fires Signor, but we're left wondering how in the hell did he get that job in the first place.

 

Was there a job notice for “Crazed and Criminal Art Teacher Wanted” posted somewhere?

This is when things get even worse for poor Michael. Not only is he expelled from school for being a distraction — his hair having to be constantly clipped during class is found to be rather annoying — but he is quickly kidnapped by Signor who, having learned of Michael’s amazing hair, decides that he could use this magical hair to create magical paintbrushes, that he could, in turn, sell to local art suppliers. If that bizarre twist wasn’t enough to get you scratching your head in wonderment, well we also get Suzie and Connie going all Nancy Drew to discover what happened to Michael and twenty other children who have gone missing. You see, Signor has set up a sweatshop staffed with kidnapped children, who bemoan the fact that, "We have to make 500 brushes a day, or we don't eat!" Connie eventually locates the hidden magical paintbrush factory/sweatshop, having hidden inside Signor’s van during one of his deliveries, but he is quickly captured, and while there, he learns from the other kids that the paintbrushes are so powerful that they paint whatever their user imagines, without need for detail or neatness, and that you can even enter the paintings themselves.

 

At this point, the film has either won you over or broke your brain.

Learning that the idea for The Peanut Butter Solution stemmed from bedtime stories that writer/director Michael Rubbo told his son was the least surprising thing about this whole enterprise, as the movie does seem like some bizarre stream of consciousness, where someone is clearly making up shit as he goes along. The whole film is structured like a waking nightmare, with events unfolding with seemingly no rhyme or reason, and if there was a moral to this story, it’s more than a little muddled. Aside from providing common-sense advice about taking medical assistance from ghosts or that school hiring practices need to be quite a bit more thorough, it doesn’t really have a clear message for kids.

 

Stay in school kids, or this could happen to you.

The Peanut Butter Solution is clearly not your average kid’s flick, bouncing from one bizarre moment to the next at the drop of a hat, but the film does have a lot of heart, and I think most young viewers will get a kick out of the misadventures of Michael and his friends. The Peanut Butter Solution may have been made in the 80s, but by its very "out there" nature, it doesn't really date itself, and it also includes two songs from the then 17-year-old Céline Dion, which ended up being the first English-language songs she ever performed, so for that alone, some people may find this film worth checking out.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Scooby-Doo! and the Loch Ness Monster (2004) – Review

Cryptozoology is the pseudoscience and subculture that aims to prove the existence of such creatures as Bigfoot, El Chupacabra, and the Loch Ness Monster — a class of scientists that have even less credibility than Mystery Incorporated when it comes to tangling with real monsters — and being that Scooby-Doo and the gang have already encountered Bigfoot in “The Ghost of Bigfoot” back in the 70s series The New Scooby-Doo Movies, encountered El Chupacabra in Scooby-Doo! and the Monster of Mexico, and even ran into Nessie in the episode “The Loch Ness Mess,” in the New Scooby-Doo Movies and back as far as the original Scooby-Doo Where are You! (with the episode “A Highland Fling with a Monstrous Thing”), where Nessie makes her first appearance. I guess the producers of Scooby-Doo! and the Loch Ness Monster thought that three times was the charm when it came to this particular monster.


With Scooby-Doo! and the Loch Ness Monster, the globetrotting continues as we have Mystery Inc. traveling to Loch Ness, Scotland to visit Daphne’s (Grey Griffin) cousin Shannon Blake (Grey Griffin but with a Scottish accent), who is hosting this year’s Highland Games at Blake Castle. Unfortunately, the games are in danger of being canceled due to the recent attacks by the Loch Ness Monster, but with Fred’s (Frank Welker) trap abilities, and Velma’s (Mindy Cohn) scientific sleuthing, the gang just may save the day — that is, if Shaggy (Casey Kasem) and Scooby-Doo (Frank Welker) can get over their fear of monsters and haggis.


Geography Note: There is only one castle located on Loch Ness, and that would be Urquhart Castle, which Blake Castle was clearly made to resemble. Also, once again, Fred spares no expense when it comes to bringing the Mystery Machine across the globe.

As mysteries go, Scooby-Doo! and the Loch Ness Monster is one of the lesser entries. We may get a plethora of suspects, but the truly “guilty” party is never in doubt. First, we have Dockmaster claiming that Shannon’s planned games have “Disturbed the spirit that haunts these waters;" second, there is Del Chillman (Jeff Bennett), a Loch Ness Monster enthusiast and amateur cryptozoologist who drives around in his van that he has named “The Lockness Monster Machine;” and thirdly we have Professor Fiona Pembrooke (Sheena Easton), a scientist who has staked her whole career on proving the monster exists, even though, as Velma points out “It has destroyed your career, demolished your scientific credibility, and devastated you financially.” Finally, we have Sir Ian Locksley (Jeff Bennett), who has arrived to be the head judge of the games, but is also the director of the Scottish natural history museum and Fiona’s old boss. Locksley is a staunch denier of the existence of the Loch Ness Monster, and he fired Fiona for spending all her time “Chasing after imaginary monsters.”


The monster is, of course, fake, and continues in the Scooby-Doo tradition of being a mechanical contraption that looks amazing — performing feats like destroying stone castle towers — but is later revealed to be less than impressive, and clearly incapable of doing what we saw it accomplish throughout the movie.


There is no way that a van draped with a green tarp was remotely the thing we saw chasing the Mystery Machine through the bogs. This is called cheating the audience, but because the intended audience was children, this was considered okay. I tend to disagree.

Stray Observations and Clues:

• Velma comments that over the years, the Loch Ness Monster had been sighted several times traveling on land. Since when has Nessie ever been considered to be an amphibious dinosaur?
• During water attacks, Nessie makes a mechanical humming sound, as if made by an engine. I wonder what that could mean.
• Fiona lends the Scooby Gang her boat so that they can track down the monster, but if she’s all fired up to prove Nessie is real, why isn’t she going out with them? As Alice in Wonderland would say, "Curiouser and curiouser!"
• Locksley lends the Scooby gang a million-dollar mini-submersible so that they can investigate underwater caves. That’s pretty goddamn generous; I wouldn’t trust these guys with a ten-speed bike.
• The beast, when on land, leaves massive footprints, but later when revealed to be just Del’s stolen van covered in a green tarp — poor, delusional Del — it is never explained how those tracks were made.
• In the water, it is supposed to be a pedal-powered submersible — operated by you know who — but at the size shown here, this is clearly impossible.


The person behind the Loch Ness Monster is, of course, Professor Fiona Pembrooke, and this whole hoax — which also included her hiring a couple of local lads to steal Del’s van and make a giant Nessie puppet — was all to convince Locksley that the monster was real so as to enlist his aid in finding it. Now, as preposterous as the nature of this hoax is, and it is pretty unbelievable, it’s kind of nice that we end up with a movie where there is no actual villain; there were no crooks trying to scare away locals to pull off some real estate scheme or recover Confederate gold, just a silly scientist trying to salvage her career so that she could eventually prove that Nessie does really exist. It’s kind of sweet.

 

You have to give Fiona an “A” for effort and ingenuity.

There are quite a few fun moments in Scooby-Doo! and the Loch Ness Monster, and the standard “Run from the monster” sequences were well-executed — though Fiona will owe Shannon quite a bit of money in damages as some of those sequences trashed Castle Blake — and the banter and comedic antics of our group were in rare form, with Fred being especially amusing throughout the movie’s running gag of the Mystery Machine constantly falling in the loch or being wrecked by the monster. Scooby-Doo! and the Loch Ness Monster certainly doesn’t break any new ground, but it is easily one of the more entertaining entries during this particular era of straight-to-video movies.


Note: When Shannon gives the Scooby Gang a tour of Castle Blake, we learn a bit about the history of Daphne’s ancestors: “For centuries the Blakes have been falling through trap doors, finding secret passageways, getting kidnapped, and getting caught in traps of our own creation. The Blakes have been famous for being — how should I put this…danger prone.” That is some nice meta-backstory right there.