Tuesday, November 18, 2014

BASEketball (1998)

BASEketball (1998)
Rated R
Starring: Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Dian Bachar, Ernest Borgning, Robert Vaughn, Yasmine Bleeth, Jenny McCarthy
Directed by: David Zucker
Tagline: Two guys invented a game... and turned the sports world upside down!
Running time: 103 Minutes

Quick summary (from IMDB): Two childhood friends are pro athletes of a national sport called BASEketball, a hybrid of baseball and basketball , and must deal with a greedy businessman scheming against their team.   

While absent-mindedly browsing through Netflix the other day, I happened to notice that BASEketball was back, so I watched it immediately. Because BASEketball is awesome. It's directed by David Zucker, one of the guys behind Airplane!, and starring the creators of South Park. It’s the second best movie featuring both Bob Costas AND Robert Vaughn

A few years back, I did a post about titled “Top Five: 'As Himself' Cameos”, and it could have been comprised entirely of cameos from this movie. As it was, only Bob Costas/Al Michaels and Reggie Jackson made the cut, but a case could be made for Robert Stack, Dan Patrick and Kenny Mayne and Dale Earnhardt to be included as well.

BASEketball is one of a handful of movies, along with Pootie Tang, Not Another TeenMovie, Super Troopers and Anchorman, that I will preemptively laugh while watching. I’ve seen them all so many times that I will laugh in anticipation of the joke that’s about to happen. I never really noticed that I did it until watching this movie. And it started as soon as I pressed play and saw Reggie Jackson in the opening scenes, I was laughing more than an hour in advance from one of my favorite lines in the movie. Watching BASEketball with me is probably a terrible experience for the other person, but I love it so much.

Back in college, I had a burned copy of the movie on CD that I used to watch all the time. I still have the disc, but the last time I tried to watch it, and copy the file over to my PC, it was all scratched up and corrupted. I was more upset than I had any right to be over a $0.10 CD-R not working.

For as much as I love what Tray and Matt have done in the 17-plus (!) seasons of South Park and the movie, it’s the non-South Park movies that I love the most. Cannibal: The Musical!, Orgazmo, BASEketball and Team America: World Police are among the funniest movies of the last two decades. Because of the breakout success of South Park and the timing of the release of BASEketball, it’s hard to overlook the similarities between some of the voices that Trey Parker uses in the movie. There’s the Cartmen-esque voice during one of his psyche-outs, and his Mr. Garrison voice when Coop is talking to Matt Stone’s Remer.

I was surprised to learn that one of my favorite parts of BASEketball is the song playing on the radio as Coop is driving. I laughed harder at that than anything else in the movie. It’s Parker singing, and I find it hilarious. Some of my favorite parts of their movies are the songs. Everything from Cannibal, “Now You’re a Man” from Orgazmo, and any of the songs from Bigger, Longer and Uncut and Team America. Parker just has a way with writing hilariously ridiculous, catchy songs that just worm themselves into my brain and I love it.

I know I probably tried to recreate BASEketball in my driveway, but it was damn-near impossible to do, at least for a 12 year old. It seems simple enough, playing basketball with baseball rules, but finding enough people who’ve seen the movie, understand the rules and want to play that way was way too difficult to every actually execute a real game. Plus we always ended up copying the psyche-outs from the movie rather than coming up with our own, with “Steve Perry” as the most frequently used.

I hope BASEketball doesn’t disappear from Netflix again, because I’d like to be able to fire up my PS3 and watch it whenever I want. Or I guess I could just buy the DVD.

5 out of 5 stars


Monday, November 17, 2014

The Guilt Trip (2012)

The Guilt Trip (2012)
Rated PG-13
Starring: Seth Rogen, Barbara Streisand, Adam Scott
Directed by: Anne Fletcher
Tagline: Get ready for one mother of a road trip.
Running time: 95 Minutes

Quick summary (from IMDB): As inventor Andy Brewster is about to embark on the road trip of a lifetime, a quick stop at his mom’s house turns into an unexpected cross-country voyage with her along for the ride.

I’m going to admit that I had absolutely no interest in watching The Guilt Trip when it came out back in 2012. I like Seth Rogen as much as the next guy, heck, I might have been the only person who didn’t hate The Green Hornet, but there was just something about a road-trip buddy comedy starring Rogen and Barbara Streisand that sounded incredibly off-putting to me. And yet, I watched it anyway. I waited nearly two years and made sure it didn’t cost me anything more than 95 minutes of my time. I was home sick, and had no intention of moving off of my couch for at least that long, so it worked out pretty well.

Getting past the initial apprehension I had about this movie not being funny (and it wasn’t), there were several additional hurdles for me to get over. For starters, Seth Rogen plays a scientist and inventor. I don’t doubt that Rogen is actually pretty smart in real life, otherwise he wouldn’t be as successful as he is, but playing smart really isn’t his strong suit. He makes a much better stoner idiot than he does a scientist. And I could never get over it.

And then there’s Barbra Streisand.

I have nothing against Barbra Streisand. She has just never been interesting to me. She’s a legend, one of the most acclaimed and famous people on the planet and one of seventeen people in the history of the world to go EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and an honorary Tony), but when I see her pop up in a trailer or hear about a new movie she’s in or a record she’s releasing, and my immediate response is “Meh.” I feel the same way about Bette Midler. There’s no denying the talent, but they just aren’t for me.

Before I watched the movie, I did not know that Barbra Streisand was born in 1942, during World War II. She was 70 years old at the time of filming, a full forty years older than Rogen, who is playing her son. And she looks maybe forty-five. Fifty, tops.
And that is the most interesting thing about the movie. Not watching Barbra Streisand tackle a 50 ounce steak. Not hearing her drop the one gimme f-bomb a PG-13 movie is allowed. Not watching her play drunk. And not hearing Rogen try to say smart, science-y things about his cleaning product. It’s the fact that Barbra Stresiand is seventy but looks thirty years younger.

I had a hard time figuring out who this movie was for. On the one hand, it’s a comedy starring Seth Rogen. As a thirty year old male, this should be squarely in my wheelhouse. But then you add in Barbra Streisand, whose last movie roles I recall were in the terrible Meet the Parents’ sequels, and the target demographic probably skews quite a bit older. Was I supposed to take my mom to see this movie? Cause I’m pretty sure she wouldn’t have liked it either.

1 out of 5 stars


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Nebraska (2013)

Nebraska (2013)
Rated R
Starring: Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, Bob Odenkirk, Stacy Keach
Directed by: Alexander Payne
Running time: 115 Minutes

Quick summary (from IMDB): An aging, booze-addled father makes the trip from Montana to Nebraska with his estranged son in order to claim a million-dollar Mega Sweepstakes Marketing prize.

I usually like to pride myself on watching as many movies as possible, and I will typically watch a new disc from Netflix within two or three days of it arriving in my mailbox. There have been times when a disc sat for a few weeks before I eventually watched it, but for the most part, I try to get them in and out as quickly as possible. The only movie to make it longer than a month without going watched was Dark Shadows, which sat for a month and a half before I sent it back to Netflix unwatched. In the four plus years since I’ve joined Netflix, that was longest a movie sat, and the only time I’ve ever returned a disc unwatched.

Nebraska sat on my TV stand for 63 days and was in serious danger of being returned to Netflix. The problem stemmed from the fact that my wife and I had a bunch of other things we were watching at the time – getting caught up on Game of Thrones and binge-ing season 2 of Orange is the New Black took up the vast majority of that time. But we also didn’t watch Nebraska because my wife showed no interest in it. I was thinking the combination of Alexander Payne and Bob Odenkirk would interest her enough, but she just never expressed interest in watching it. Her not wanting to see it contributed to my not watching it either, because I didn’t have a bunch of free time to sit through a nearly two hour movie on my own, nor did I have the drive to watch a black and white movie about an old man who thinks he won a million dollars.

Much like my wife, the idea behind the story wasn’t doing a whole lot to peak my interest. But the same could be said about Sideways and The Descendants, and I really like both of those movies (and Election). Given Payne’s history and the fact that I love both Will Forte and Bob Odenkirk, this should have been a no-brainer. Add in the fact that it was nominated for several Academy Awards, and I should have watched this movie months and months ago.

The delay in seeing it didn’t really affect my appreciation of the movie. I thought the acting, notably Bruce Dern, June Squibb and Will Forte, was fantastic and the movie looked amazing. I’m not sure what caused Payne to choose black and white for this movie, but it works. I don’t think this movie is half as enjoyable or as visually striking if it were in color. It added a layer of grittiness and set the tone for the movie.
Even with the great acting and the great cinematography, I don’t know that I really loved Nebraska. It was interesting and I was pretty entertained throughout, but I wouldn’t consider it one of the best movies from 2013. I think Dern and Squibb deserved their Oscar nominations and I wouldn’t have minded if Will Forte received some sort of recognition for his work and Payne is almost guaranteed to get nominated for Best Screenplay and Best Picture anytime he makes a movie, but I don’t know that Nebraska was the best work that he’s done. A solid movie, but not better than Gravity, Her, Dallas Buyer’s Club, The Wolf of Wall Street or (probably) 12 Years A Slave.

And of course it’s now available streaming on Netflix.

4 out of 5 stars


Thursday, November 13, 2014

Varsity Blues (1999)

Varsity Blues (1999)
Rated R
Starring: James Van Der Beek, Jon Voight, Paul Walker, Scott Caan, Ali Larter, Amy Smart, Ron Lester
Directed by: Brian Robbins
Tagline: Make your own rules.
Running time: 106 Minutes

Quick summary (from Netflix): When the Coyotes’ star quarterback is injured, second-stringer Jonathan Moxon is thrust into the spotlight. Yet Moxon is more interested in academics.

Back in 1999, when I was 15, there were only two things about Varsity Blues that anybody I knew cared about: The whipped cream bikini and the fact that the teacher was a stripper. That’s it. Nobody really talked about James Van Der Beek, other than calling Varsity Blues “that football movie starring Dawson’s Creek”. There was nothing about Jon Voight, football, Paul Walker, Scott Caan, Amy Smart or Ali Larter or Billy Bob. It was just the teacher and the whipped cream. As a fifteen-year-old kid who didn’t care about football, there was no other reason for me to watch Varsity Blues. Watching the movie for the first time as an adult, and they are two of the least interesting or important scenes in the movie. A whipped cream bikini just seems uncomfortable and gross, and teachers don’t get paid a whole lot, plus Miss Davis looks like she enjoys her second job immensely, so more power to her.

What stands out the most, even more than James Van Der Beek’s ridiculous accent, is the fact that a movie produced by MTV Films and released in 1999 dealt with the topic of concussions in football more than a decade before the NFL.

Varsity Blues presents a pretty realistic example of the effects concussions can have on football players, and the fact that coaches, players and trainers would willfully cover them up and ignore them as “just a part of the game”. There is no way Billy Bob should have been able to play in that game, let alone the rest of the season, especially considering how depressed he was and how upset he was because of the injuries, the sport and how his coach treated him. I had a mild concussion in high school from a basketball hitting me in the head and I ended up in the ER and wasn’t right for a few days, and that was just one hit. It’s crazy that a movie like this was light-years ahead of a multi-billion dollar professional organization like the NFL in terms of addressing the issue.

Varsity Blues is far from the greatest High School Football Movie, which would have to be either Remember the Titans or Friday Night Lights, depending on my mood. But Varsity Blues is actually a pretty solid football movie. It’s dumb, but it follows your typical football movie plot of star player gets hurt, unknown back-up takes over and leads team to success. Throwing in the overbearing and borderline evil (and probably racist) coach, the back-up quarterback who’d rather read Vonnegut than play football and the oversize offensive lineman with a series of concussions and you’ve got a better than it should be movie.

I probably ignored 80% of the movie when I first watched it back when I was a teenager, choosing only to remember the two most talked about scenes and hearing Dawson say “I don’t want you’re life” in the most drawled out Texas accent. And I probably remember the basic story more because it was spoofed in Not Another Teen Movie than I do from actually watching Varsity Blues.

4 out of 5 stars


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Bloodsport (1988)

Bloodsport (1988)
Rated R
Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Donald Gibb, Leah Ayres, Forest Whitaker
Directed by: Newt Arnold
Tagline: The true story of an American ninja.
Running time: 92 Minutes

Quick summary (from IMDB): Based on true events, Jean-Claude Van Damme makes his starring debut in this kickboxing extravaganza that follows American Frank Dux on his quest to become champion of a secret, dangerous martial arts contest called the Kumite. While searching Hong Kong for the event's arena, Dux must outfox U.S. agents who want him to work for the government rather than fight. But once he finds the venue, Dux faces the lethal, undefeated Chong Li.

Jean-Claude Van Damme does the splits seven times over the course of 92 minutes. SEVEN times. On purpose. In thirty years, I haven’t intentionally done the splits a single time. It’s just not something I am, or have ever been, able to do. And JCVD does it seven separate times. He is not a human being. A couple of times, he’s just hanging out, tai-chi’ing or something while in a full split. The best split is clearly in a fight scene, when he goes splits to nut punch. It’s such a devastating move, and he follows it up with kind of nudging the guy, who then falls over, defeated. It’s fantastic.

I don’t know how many times I have seen Bloodsport in my life. It’s upwards of a dozen times or so, but there’s really only one scene that sticks with me. It’s when Chong Li breaks that one dude’s leg. And it’s one of the hardest movie scenes for me to watch. It freaks me out everytime it happens. It even used to freak me out when I’d watch the edited version on TBS or TNT and they didn’t even show the bone jutting out from the dude’s shin. Even writing about it now has me squirming.

Re-watching the movie for the first time in years, I totally forgot how boring the set-up is. The first twenty plus minutes just drag on and on before any real action happens. I don’t care about JCVD’s flashbacks with his martial arts teacher and I don’t really care about his training. I just want to watch JCVD beat the crap out of dudes. Story really doesn’t matter in these movies. Just the fight scenes.

I was going to go through and rank each and every fight scene that was shown in the movie, but there were just too many happening far too quickly for me to keep up. But Chong Li was clearly the best fighter, with JCVD as a close second. Ox Ray Jackson is probably the second worst, because he doesn’t really have a fighting style other than being bigger and stronger than everyone else. The worst is most definitely the guy fighting in monkey style. But that’s really only because it seems INCREDIBLY racist to have a black guy fighting like that. If it were a real fighting style, I’d probably have less of a problem with it, but according to IMDB’s Trivia page, it’s not.

The final fight scene between JCVD and Chong LI is great. There is no way JCVD didn’t see Chong Li grab the salt tab out of his trunks, but he didn’t do anything about it. It’s like he knew he was a better fighter blind than he was with his vision. At one point, JCVD lands three successive spinning jump kicks to the face while completely blind. I could land a single spinning kick anywhere, let alone while jumping, and that’s with perfect (corrected) vision. Again, JCVD is not human.

I had no idea that Bloodsport was “based on the true life of Frank Dux.” I never stuck around for the credits when I watched it as a kid, and I probably wouldn’t have even cared. But as an adult, watching that movie, I refuse to believe that any of that was based on any actual, true events. None of it seems all that realistic or plausible, especially when Dux also claims to be a former CIA operative.

I was completely unaware of the three JCVD-less Bloodsport sequels that came out between 1996 and 1999. There is no way that any of them are remotely watchable. Bloodsport without Jean-Claude Van Damme seems cruel and pointless. Adding Pat Morita to the mix doesn’t come close to replacing JCVD or making the idea of watching any of the sequels sound appealing.

There is a rumored remake of Bloodsport in the works, but there is so little info on IMDB that I’m just going to pretend that I didn’t see it. What’s the point in remaking this movie? Who could possibly replace JCVD? That's just ridiculous. 

4 out of 5 stars