Sunday, June 21, 2009

Street Fighter

I like a lot of bad movies. I don't even mean that in an ironic "ho ho, the poor quality of this movie amuses me!" sort of way. I just have low standards, and if a movie is at least able to hold my attention for its duration, I'm usually willing to be pretty forgiving about whatever flaws it might have. I would never have attempted to watch so many movies based on a video games if I didn't have a pretty high tolerance -- some might even say an affinity -- for crap. With that said, Street Fighter is terrible, and I've been putting off writing this revue because I felt I'd already wasted too much of my life on it. So this is going to be a bit of a quickie.

This movie sat on my head and beefed. I couldn't tell you what the plot is, except that it involves M. Bison being dictator of a fictional country that looks like Thailand, and he's got some hostages, and a bunch of people named after characters from the video game Street Fighter II kill him and rescue the hostages. I guess that's pretty much it, actually, so just imagine that padded out to 102 minutes.

Along the way, you'll see all your favorite characters, like E. Honda, the Japanese sumo wrestler fat guy in a Hawaiian shirt; Dhalsim, the stretchy-limbed yoga master scientist; Chun Li, the undercover Interpol agent from whose mighty legs no one can escape TV news reporter; and Guile, the all-American Air Force colonel Jean-Claude Van Damme.

Highlights include Raul Julia's over-the-top performance as M. Bison, a sequence with a "stealth boat" that can turn invisible (as long as you ignore the hundred-foot wake trailing behind it), Jean-Claude Van Damme saying "I'm cunting on you," Zangief acting stupid, and Chun Li in handcuffs. Lowlights include pretty much everything else.

Perhaps I would be more receptive to this movie had I not recently seen the far superior animated movie based on the same source material, but probably not by much. It's just a really dull movie. To its credit, it has some pretty good production design and cinematography. One perplexing thing is that for a movie called Street Fighter, there's very little actual street fighting, or even martial arts of any kind. More often the action sequences are ridiculous stealth boats and military guys getting tossed over railings. I wouldn't really expect that that's what people would go to a Street Fighter movie to see.

I feel like if you're making a movie out of a video game that doesn't really lend itself to being made into a movie (i.e. most games), there are a couple of approaches you could take. You can be really faithful to the game, pandering to its fans and satisfying them but likely alienating everyone else, or you can just try to tell a good story that's only loosely based on the game, which is probably more likely to result in a good movie but may piss off the very people you were hoping the license would attract. This movie is somewhere in between: it takes a lot of liberties with the source material, in the service of a crappy, boring story. What's the point, I ask you?

But according to Wikipedia, this monstrosity actually grossed 99 million dollars and was considered a commercial hit, proving once again that I have no idea what I'm talking about.

Next time:
a brief palate-cleansing non-video-game-movie interlude:
The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai

followed by

Mortal Kombat

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Double Dragon

Two movies into my video game movie watching experiment, I was still feeling pretty confident. I'd expected to be subjected to an endless stream of mind-numbingly terrible movies, but so far, they'd been tolerable, sometimes even enjoyable. But as I prepared to do Double Dragon, I started to become aware of a sense of foreboding. The DVD was long out of print, and the only copy I was eventually able to find was in pan-and-scan -- both of which struck me as signs that this movie was a likely contender for the Film Anti-Preservation Society. Would this be the first real obstacle on my journey?

Plot: Thousands of years ago, a Chinese king made a magical medallion that does something cool if you've got both halves of it, but one of the halves was recently stolen by a ninja (or something) who, in a shocking reveal, is really a scrawny blonde chick who's working for Robert Patrick. He wants to get the other half so he can do evil stuff, but it's in the possession of Satori Imada, the legal guardian of Billy and Jimmy Lee, martial artists skilled in the ancient "made you look" and "noogie" techniques.

The movie takes place in "New Angeles" in the distant, post-apocalyptic future (2007), where the streets are overrun by gangs, including the cast of Michael Jackson's "Beat It" video and the mutant bikers who crashed Gary and Wyatt's party in Weird Science (they've now recruited Gary into their gang -- but it's not Anthony Michael Hall; it's the guy who played him in the TV series). The gangs are opposed by the Power Corps, a bunch of vigilantes led by the ultimate bad-ass, Alyssa Milano.

Robert Patrick discovers that the Super Lee Bros. have the other half of the medallion, despite Satori's brilliant hiding place (hanging from Billy's neck in plain sight as he walks up to Robert Patrick and says, "What's goin' on? Nice hair, dude."). After a tediously zany action sequence including making a guy lose his footing on gumballs and fall into a baby carriage, the Lees escape from the T-1000's henchmen, but they run into Abobo, the leader of the mutant bikers, whom he's pumped full of super-steroids or something and turned into a giant puffy freak (but he seems pretty happy about it). Also, Robert Patrick blows up Satori, and if we knew or cared about her in any way, that might have meant something.

Robert Patrick goes on to kill some guy from the mutant bikers, which immediately endears him to them and they give him control of their gang. So the bikers, mimes, and Angus Young ambush the Lees. (Note: When I say "bikers," I mean it; they literally ride bicycles.) After a drum solo of a boat chase scene, they eventually escape again.

Let's move this along. The Lees and Alyssa Milano go to Robert Patrick's headquarters and get attacked by a zombie basketball player possessed by Robert Patrick (I forgot to mention, the half of the medallion that he has lets him possess people and turn into a shadow and stuff). Billy and Alyssa escape with the medallion, but Robert Patrick holds Jimmy hostage. Abobo leers at a postcard of a girl in a bikini, then sees his reflection and sheds a single tear.

The mimes attack the Power Corps hideout with Jimmy possessed by Robert Patrick. They fight, blah blah blah, eventually Robert Patrick gets both halves of the medallion and turns himself into two gorilla demon things with swords. Things look bad, but then some stuff happens and the Lees get the medallion and combine their powers to form Captain Planet. Actually, it just gives them red and blue ninja costumes, then Jimmy possesses Robert Patrick and makes him slap himself. And -- apart from a lame gag about letting Abobo drive because it's really Billy possessing Abobo but oops, no, it really is Abobo and he doesn't drive very well -- that's basically the movie.

Observations: There are certain flaws in this movie. I would even go so far as to say that it is not a good movie. I haven't played very much of Double Dragon the game, so I can't really comment on how faithful this is, but there's a point in this movie where Jimmy kicks in an original Double Dragon arcade cabinet, which seems like a pretty good metaphor. (It also raises a lot of questions about why that game would exist in the reality of the movie.)

I can't put my finger on exactly why, but Double Dragon's several big action setpieces -- ostensibly the reason the movie exists, you'd think -- feel very cheap and boring and seem as though they're just padding out the time between story points, except the story is pretty inconsequential too. The big question on my mind after watching it is: why? Why make this movie? Why would Robert Patrick and Alyssa Milano agree to be in it? Why did Paul Dini have a writing credit and why is the writing still so bad? Why the bizarre cameos from Vanna White and Andy Dick? Why the crappy 3D computer graphics at every possible opportunity? It's all very confusing to me.

The movie's one redeeming quality is that it doesn't take itself too seriously. Even though I can't think of anything that was actually funny, I just got the sense that the actors were having a good time making it. Maybe that's not true, but if not, they faked it pretty well. I guess maybe it's not a good thing if the filmmakers are enjoying themselves more than the audience, but hey, it was endearing. Also, Alyssa Milano looked pretty hot. So two redeeming qualities, I guess.

Ultimately, though, even Alyssa Milano's ass is not nearly enough to save this movie. It's quite bad, and I can't recommend seeing it for any reason, really. Even on an ironic level it's not particularly amusing. It's probably for the best that this one is left to rot in out-of-print hell.

  • "Eat some fist, butt-heads!" -- one of the Lees
  • "Those guys are gnarly." -- Billy Lee
  • "Hey, broom-head! We're gonna sweep the floor with your skull." -- Billy Lee
  • "Your incompetence sticks needles of flesh in my honor." -- Robert Patrick
  • "You'll never find the dragons." -- Satori, seconds before Robert Patrick finds the dragons

Next time:
Street Fighter
(the live-action one with Jean-Claude Van Damme and Raul Julia)

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie (Sutorīto Faitā Tsū Mūbī)

Unlike the last video game movie I revued, Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie delivers exactly what it promises. If you've played Street Fighter II for more than about a minute, you probably have a pretty good idea of what this movie is going to be, for better or worse.

One of the first shots is of a street, and shortly after that, we see two guys fighting on or near it, hence, "Street Fighter." This pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the movie. We then spend about an hour being introduced to various characters while getting little sprinkles of exposition about the actual plot: the terrorist organization Shadowloo is recruiting street fighters to train as assassins. Their leader, Vega, has his heart set on recruiting Ryu Hyabusa, a fighter whom their cyborgs have identified as having a power level of OVER THREE THOUSAAAAAND (2,000 is supposedly the maximum). Ryu is wandering the globe, getting into fights and having homoerotic flashbacks about training with his rival/friend/maybe more?, Ken.

(Note: In the U.S. version of both the game and the movie, M. Bison is the big bad, Vega is the guy with the claw, and Balrog is the boxer. In the original Japanese versions, Vega is the big bad, Balrog is the guy with the claw, and M. Bison is the boxer. They changed it for the international release so Mike Tyson wouldn't sue. I watched the Japanese version, so I'm using those names.)

Meanwhile, Interpol agent Chun-Li, who has a grudge against Vega because he killed her father for some reason that's never explained, is working on trying to take down Shadowloo. To this end, she enlists the help of U.S. Air Force guy Guile, who has a lot of angst but ultimately doesn't do anything.

During this part of the movie, we're also introduced to Cammy, Fei-Long, T. Hawk, Dhalsim, E. Honda, Deejay, M. Bison, Zangief, and Blanka, but none of them are really part of the story except Cammy and E. Honda, and even they don't do much. Which is fine -- it would get pretty unmanageable if they tried to give every character something to do -- but it does feel like there's a lot of time spent on introducing all these characters for essentially no reason. (Fei-Long even tells Ryu that they'll meet again, but they don't. Maybe they were trying to set up a sequel?)

Anyway, eventually we get to the part we've all been waiting for: the infamous Chun-Li shower scene. For a long time this scene was cut out of the American release of the movie, but as a film purist, obviously I had to track down the uncut version. I have to say it doesn't live up to the hype at all. There's a brief shot of a pair of rather unrealistically proportioned animated boobs. That's it. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but I don't see what made it so important that we Americans not get to see it for so long.

Back to the plot: this is where things actually start to happen. Vega has sent Balrog to kill Chun-Li, so after she gets out of the shower, he jumps off the ceiling and attacks her. Though she takes a beating, she manages to throw a sofa at him and kick him through the wall (presumably to his death), but then she goes into a coma or something just as Guile shows up too late to be useful.

Ken proposes to his girlfriend, but the whole time he's thinking about Ryu. "Ryu, I'm tired of waiting for you," he thinks. But then he gets captured by Vega, who sneaks up on him in a giant jet that can hover and, in a trippy scene, uses his "psycho power" to exploit Ken's feelings for Ryu and take control of him. Vega tracks down Ryu and makes Ken fight him. Guile tries to fight Vega, but misses every punch and a sonic boom, then falls off a cliff (as do E. Honda and M. Bison).

Anyway, as you probably could have guessed, eventually Ken's love for Ryu overcomes Vega's mind control, and the two of them team up and hadouken Vega into his jet, which explodes, and Interpol or the Air Force or somebody blows up Shadowloo. Guile is led to believe that Chun-Li is dead. He says to what he thinks is her corpse, "I took revenge on Vega as I promised," which is kind of funny when you consider that what he actually did was get knocked off a cliff by Vega after not damaging him at all. But it turns out Chun-Li isn't really dead; she's just playing a rather cruel joke on him, so he strangles her (pictured).

Ryu and Ken split up at a Stuckey's, both agreeing it's best. They'll "settle things with each other" the next time they meet (wink wink, nudge nudge). Ken leaves with his girlfriend in their convertible, and Ryu the fighter walks down the street. The end!

...OR IS IT?! Out of nowhere, Vega appears and tries to run Ryu over with a huge truck! I know that sounds like something I would make up, but that's really how the movie ends! It's a classic horror movie surprise ending, not at all appropriate in tone with the rest of the movie. It's great!

I spent more time summarizing that plot than I expected, but there really isn't that much else to talk about in this movie. Like the game, it's pretty much just a series of loosely connected fights. The fights are pretty cool, though, if you're into that sort of thing, and the animation is decent (though I feel like the characters are a little too muscular (I don't like men with too many muscles)).

Like I said before, my main gripe is that the movie spends so much time showing us characters who turn out to be pointless. It's cool to be able to say, "hey, look, it's that character that I like" and all, but it's just a whole lot of time before the story gets going, spent on exposition that never pays off (the Zangief/Blanka fight scene is particularly pointless, as it's the only time those characters ever appear and they don't interact with anyone else).

There is, as far as I can tell, no moral or theme to the story. It's just a bunch of stuff that happens. So... I really can't think of much else to say. If you like Street Fighter II, you probably wouldn't dislike this movie. I don't feel like it was a complete waste of my time, but I doubt I'll ever think much about it again. I have no strong feelings about this movie one way or the other, except that the ending is hilarious. It's probably not worth watching the whole thing just for that and the shower scene, though.

Next time:
Double Dragon

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Super Mario Bros.

Two of my passions in life are video games and movies. For some reason, though, these two great tastes have a history of not tasting great together -- whether it's games based on movies or movies based on games, the end product is usually not very good, at best. It's almost as though the two forms of media are different and stories created for one medium can't easily be adapted to the other. But they keep trying, and this phenomenon is endlessly fascinating to me.

In that vein, I'm embarking on a new project: I shall attempt to watch every movie based on a video game (or at least all of them that I'm able to obtain), and I will report my findings here. In practical terms, this means I'll be watching a lot of crappy movies. That's okay, because I kind of like bad movies, but who knows, maybe a gem or two will sneak in there. And maybe, just maybe, we'll learn a little something about ourselves.

And what better place to start than the infamous Super Mario Bros.? To the best of my knowledge, this was the first feature film based on a video game, and the game upon which it's based is one of the most successful and influential of all time. The film was not as successful or influential. Time magazine called it one of the top ten worst video game movies -- a claim I find somewhat dubious considering what's come out since (I guess we'll find out over the course of this feature). Mario fans were not pleased because the movie deviated so far from the games, and non-fans were like, "what the shit is this?"

I saw Super Mario Bros. in the theater upon its release in 1993, and my primary complaints were that the Goombas were too tall and Luigi didn't have a moustache. I still stand by those complaints, but the movie has actually grown on me since then. Sure, it takes a lot of liberties with the characters and story of the Mario games, but it's not as though the games were known for their compelling narratives in the first place, and the world the movie presents is interesting enough in its own right.

The premise, as explained in the first two minutes by pixelated cartoon dinosaurs and Dan Castellanetta doing a cheesy accent, is that 65 million years ago a meteorite hit the earth, and while in our world this event killed all the dinosaurs, it also created a parallel dimension in which they survived and eventually evolved into creatures that look exactly like humans and speak English but are actually reptiles. That dimension is now a totalitarian dystopia ruled by the crabby despot Koopa, who deposed the benevolent king some time ago. To protect their infant daughter and some magical rock, Princess Daisy, the queen dropped her off on the steps of a church in Brooklyn (in our dimension) shortly before being killed, and Daisy was raised as a human.

In the present day, Daisy meets the struggling plumber brothers Mario and Luigi Mario. Luigi is immediately smitten with Daisy, so when she gets kidnapped and dragged into the other dimension by Koopa's goons so that he can use her to merge the dimensions and rule both worlds, the Marios follow and (spoilers!) eventually rescue her and overthrow Koopa (and as an added bonus, the Marios' unscrupulous plumbing rival gets turned into a chimpanzee in a suit).

So the story is nothing to write home about, but I think this is somewhat made up for by the texture and attention to detail in the world the movie presents, particularly if you're a Mario fanboy. The movie takes familiar ideas from the games and twists them in all sorts of interesting ways, like turning Toad into a street musician/political prisoner and Big Bertha (the giant red fish that can swallow you whole even if you're big (nmiaow)) into a large woman who tosses armed grannies off balconies. The Mario Bros. get their amazing jumping abilities from special mechanical shoes called Thwomp Stompers. Snifits drive garbage trucks, Bob-ombs wear Reeboks, and a Super Scope becomes a de-evolution gun. Plumbing, pipes, and mushrooms also figure prominently. Some of these interpretations may be a bit silly, but at least they're creative, and you can't accuse them of just cashing in on the Mario name with a generic action movie. Not everything works, but I give them an E for effort.

The downside is that the story is kind of a mess and the characters pretty flat, but again, that's true to the source material and I wasn't really expecting anything more, so it's hard to get upset about that. But the pace is quick, the setpieces are varied, and there's a whimsical score (as in music, not high score! ha ha because it's a video game movie, get it) and some funny lines.

It may not be great, but I think Super Mario Bros. is actually a cut above many of the other live-action kids' movies of its era in many ways. Its main problem is just a matter of expectations: if you go in expecting a faithful adaptation of the game, you're probably going to be disappointed (and it doesn't seem unreasonable to expect that, considering the movie's title). I'm not sure whom this movie was made for, but I think it's safe to say that it wasn't the majority of the people who saw it. But if you go in with an open mind, I think you'll find a fairly enjoyable "live-action thrill ride" that doesn't deserve the heaping helpings of scorn it continually receives. (It also helps if you're ten years old.)

Next time:
Sutorīto Faitā Tsū Mūbī
Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie)

TSLOTAT update

Hey gang. You may have noticed I haven't posted a The Secret Life of the American Teenager revue in five months or so, even though there have been a bunch of episodes since then. I'll level with you: the show has lost a lot of its luster for me. I watched the rest of the season but just wasn't inspired to write about it. There started to be a lot more emphasis on Amy and Ben and not enough zaniness and girls taking off their shirts that made me like it at first.

In case I never get around to doing full revues of the episodes, here's what I can remember happening since the last revue (spoiler warning!): Adrian fucked her brother, Jack mentored some kid and some stupid stuff happened, Amy gave birth, and George and Ashley moved out of Amy's house and into one next door or across the street or something. That's pretty much it.

The show is coming back in a couple of weeks. I'll keep watching and see how it's shaking out. I'm interested to see what the hell they're going to do now that the show's entire premise has run its course. If it's anything interesting, maybe I'll start up the revues again, who knows.

In the mean time, I intend to try to bring the Jawsome Olde Tyme Revue back to its roots with revues of various other stuff. We've got a few things in the works. So watch this space!