All posts by Bobby Lepire

Bobby LePire will watch anything once, much to his chagrin. He also hosts an annual "Bad Movie Party".

Terribly Fun Films: Hercules

Hercules (1983)
Hercules (1983)

Sometimes a movie has one scene, or sequence, that completely justifies the movie’s entire existence due to sheer awesomeness. This film has a scene of such magnitude: the Incredible Hulk throws a bear into space. He throws a bear…into space! Why are you still reading this review? Buy this movie and watch that scene right now! It’s gloriously stupid, impressively fun, and one of the best scenes in all of bad movie-dom. Yeah, it’s that kind of a film.

After the great success of “Conan The Barbarian,” hack director Luigi Cozzi (best known for “Starcrash”) continued that most noble of Italian film industry traditions: the cheap, quick knockoff. Before Lou Ferringo signed on to play the titular role, this was intended to outdo “Conan” on all fronts: more gore, sex, and carnage. But Ferringo wanted to preserve his family friendly image as much as possible, so the final product is very watered down. It most assuredly feels clumsily restrained, and on top of that, there’s a weird magical/sci-fi hybrid vibe throughout which all add up to quite an odd tone. Combine that with terrible, bargain basement special effects and costumes, and you have a bad movie that’s easy to love.

Ferringo, as Hercules, certainly looks the part. There’s a reason his most famous role is that of a gargantuan monster. But his acting here is Uwe Boll movie bad. When his dad is killed, the best Ferringo can come up with is sounding winded. It just makes him sound goofy, not grief stricken or angry. When he’s telling Princess Cassiopeia he loves her, he might as well be a dissatisfied gym teacher explaining how to jump rope for the thousandth time. He rarely has any inflections, but his enthusiasm during the climactic battle yields some decent results.

Cassiopeia (Ingrid Anderson) looks nice enough, even beneath the Burger King crown the costume designer gave her. She’s bland, though: never lively enough to make the audience understand what Hercules sees in her, nor make them care. Mirella D’Angelo plays the good sorceress Circe. To say her chemistry with Ferringo is akin to a plastic bag resting on top of a chair would be doing a disservice to the materials those fine items are made from. Neither sexy enough (presumably due to the newly restrained project) nor a believable romantic lead, she’s the worst actor here.

I’m not entirely sure what it is about bad movies that allow them to attract such crazily gleeful actors for their villains, like moths to a flame. But I am stoked that they do, because these crazy villains enhance their scenes at every turn. William Berger as King Minos is funny as hell. “Science! For the sake of science!” is uttered with the joyous exuberance of a school child telling their friends about the best Christmas present they received over the holiday break. While I would normally consider this an indication that he’s in on the silly nature of this venture, but I don’t buy that here. It appears Berger is only capable of expressing himself through crazy Nic Cage eyes and over enunciations of each and every syllable. It is dazzling!

Eva Robbins plays Daedelus, and she seems continually on the cusp of breaking character and laughing hysterically. Her contempt for the script is palpable and understandable. With such clunkers as “Soon, you (King Minos) will have to choose between science and the gods,” it’s not that surprising.

Movie, I am sorry to have to be the one to tell you this, but Minos knows 100% that the gods exist, and performs rituals to curry favor from them. He also believes that knowledge is the ultimate power, so why must he choose between either? They co-exist throughout this entire movie, thus the endgame makes no practical sense. The script’s weirdometer doesn’t end there:

  • Super Weird Thing #1: There are only three gods, and they live on the moon. Zeus, who creates Hercules out of star matter to balance out the sides of good and evil for the upcoming battle. Hera, whom is evil in this version because… because Hera never liked Hercules in the original myths. Her motivations are never clear. And Athena, looking like she stepped right off a Georges Méliès set, is just there; her characterization is weak to the point of being nonexistent.
  • Super Weird Thing #2: One of the very few heroic deeds from the classical myths the movie kept is Hercules having to clean special stables. Because that’s the one deed everyone remembers Hercules performing. Not the killing of a lion with his bare hands, or his trek to the underworld to kidnap its guardian, Cerberus: the freaking cleaning of the stables.
  • Super Weird Thing #3: The whole “throwing things into space” is a recurring theme throughout the film. Not only does a bear get thrown into the vast emptiness, but a chariot, a sword, and a rock also get tossed into the vacuum of the stars, in which humans can breathe just fine.

And the weird just keeps getting weirder. Daedalus dresses as if she’s an alien from a particularly cheesy 1950s sci-fi b-movie – which, granted, she kind of is. Her inventions are now robots, used to attack Hercules: there’s the bumble-bot, the hydra-bot, with only three heads which never grow back, and my favorite, the centaur-bot!

As briefly mentioned earlier, the special effects aren’t good. The space-thrown bear is just a guy in a terrible, ratty suit; it truly only enhances the glorious MST-ing that must happen while viewing this movie. The stop motion for the robots is clunky, and they’re plainly matted in via green screen. Pandora’s Jar (not a box!) from the opening is probably the worst effect of all. Obviously cheap molded plastic with holes cut out for lights, and it’s clearly sitting atop a glass pane in front of the space backdrop.

The craziest part of all is the pacing. The movie jumps from one set piece to another with little regard for filling the audience in on the story. It’s not until ten minutes or so from the end that we are brought up to speed. Thanks to a massive exposition dump, in what is easily my favorite set – the volcano temple on the planet of Atlantis (yes, you read that correctly, Atlantis is a planet in this movie) – things finally make some sort of sense. Upon repeated viewings, a few scenes are improved by having knowledge of the overall arc. Unfortunately, it’s organized in such a way that even then it’s too little, too late.

With bad special effects, worse acting, and a story that couldn’t be bothered to explain itself, this movie is bad. On the other hand: it has a centaur-bot, a minor deity dressed like she’s from a bad sci-fi movie, and most importantly, Hercules throws a bear into space to form the Big Dipper. I love this movie, and spreading its terribly fun, awfully good, so awesomely bad wonders!

Bobby Lepire

About Bobby Lepire

Bobby LePire will watch anything once, much to his chagrin. He also hosts an annual "Bad Movie Party".

Terribly Fun Films: Sinbad: Beyond The Veil Of Mists

 sinbad3Let’s start with a thought exercise.

Imagine all the “so bad, they’re good” movies you possibly can. Now, focus only on those that are important to the history and advancement of cinema. Have that handful in mind? Good. If any you’re picturing are live action, trash them. How many does that leave you? Be honest: probably none. This brings us to today’s review: Sinbad, Beyond The Veil Of Mists. It was the first animated movie to be made entirely with motion capture. Without what was learned during the making of this movie, we wouldn’t have Gollum from “The Lord of the Rings,” nor Robert Zemeckis’ career from the last decade. It’s peculiar that all of these much better movies hinged upon a movie this patently ridiculous.

Sporting an impressive cast — Brendan Fraser as Sinbad, Leonard Nimoy as the villainous wizard Baraka, John Rhys-Davies as King Akron, Mark Hamill as Captain of the Guard, and voice actress extraordinaire Jennifer Hale as Princess Serena — it’s surprising that this film didn’t have a wider release, or that it isn’t better known.

With a severely truncated production time, things were rushed during the production and several key members of the crew were fired during the all important post. The co-directors wanted two years for the film, and the producers gave them six months. However, due to a critical lack of cameras available to handle the performers (the cameras could only process four actors at a time, thus several action scenes were shot multiple times) or delineate the sets properly, and even fewer capable of ‘digital puppetry,’ the production went over schedule by a year. During that time though, higher quality, quicker cameras that were compatible with timecodes were created based on what the production had to overcome.

With its cast and importance to cinema history, just what makes this movie so bad? Some unwieldy dialogue, a seemingly confused performance, and the biggest sin of all, character animation. With all the technological issues, the terrible animation is understandable. But it’s also what makes this so much fun.

The plot is your typical Sinbad yarn: the evil wizard, saved from near death by the naive Princess Serena, trades bodies with the king. Serena hires Sinbad to help discover how to reverse it. It’s not dissimilar to Harryhausen’s last Sinbad hurrah, the under-appreciated “Sinbad And The Eye Of The Tiger.” And in several respects, this movie does things right. First and most importantly, the title character is quite spot on.

“I don’t know what books you’ve been reading, but the world isn’t flat. Hasn’t been for years.”

“You’re asking me, I’ve been lost since the manta ray cave.”

These two lines from Sinbad show a real understanding of how to create a true adventure story. The background designs and level of detail are also good, often overshadowing the lumbering character animation. Footprints left in the sand and reflections in the water add a weight to the world not found in the character animation.

But when a character grips anything — a rope, or a sword — there’s clearly a void between the item and the hand itself. Whether they’re dancing, running, or jumping, there’s a disconnect between the characters and the ground. The level of detail in the character animation is hilariously non-existent.  Elbows resemble silly putty, a detail that makes every scene amusing . Each movement is jerky and awkward. Considering that this production was created to show off what mo-cap can do, it’s notable that when there isn’t enough money or technology available, the final product stalls out despite the best of intentions.sinbad2

While little gestures that’d be almost unfathomable to render using typical animation techniques are captured, all the characters look clumsy and unrealistic. During the establishing shot of a tavern, it appears as though the character animations are looped. This gives everything a jarring, rigid look that is pretty ludicrous. The shape interpolation, used to render facial expressions, was either barely used or so rudimentary that it couldn’t help but pale in comparison to the well-crafted backgrounds. For instance, a desperate plea for help (“I just want my father back!”) is severely undercut of any emotional resonance due to the severely limited facial range. The characters have nearly the same expressions whether they’re meant to be scared, awed, frustrated, or happy. Couple that with the unimpressive voice acting from 95% of the cast and you’ve got a real groaner.

All of the minor characters sound as if they were rushed through the ADR to free up time for the bigger actors. This leads to some confusion, especially aboard the ship, since many of them sound indistinguishable from each other.

On the other hand, Nimoy overacts like a true champ and infuses his scenes with a breath of life that’s missing from many other parts. Fraser fares the absolute best. He injects humor, warmth, and a sense of thrill seeking that illustrates just how much everyone cared about this film. John Rhys-Davies and Mark Hamill are good, but if you didn’t know it was them, you probably wouldn’t guess it.

This leaves poor Jennifer Hale. As great as she has been throughout her career, she’s god awful here, sounding like someone doing a bad valley girl impersonation as opposed to a naive princess who wants to genuinely help.

The script doesn’t give Hale anything to work with, as her character has very little development. Aside from a few blunder-headed lines, the script’s big issue is its focus on showing Sinbad’s progression at the expense of the other characters. It’s too bad too, as with one solid rewrite this could have been an almost perfectly written adventure.

While terribly animated, the action scenes have a frantic, kinetic energy that leads to some fun. They’re also surprisingly bloody, especially during a demonic bat fight. The bats look gnarly and straight from the mouth of hell, which keeps things engaging.

Later a mystical underwater race is revealed, and they’re badass. A decent amount of thought was put into the design of their civilization and language. But those elements aren’t given enough time to be explored. At 85 minutes, and feeling quite rushed (especially closer to the end), time to slow down and explore what this new world means for our characters would have not only been welcome, but could have provided some necessary gravitas.

The ending is especially rushed. The climax involves Sinbad and Serena getting to her kingdom in time to stop the execution of King Akron (still body switched as Baraka), getting everyone to their proper bodies and living happily ever after. All of which happens in five minutes or less. This demands a solid ten minute sword fight scene, with rope swings, near misses, and the like…but we don’t get that. No thrills are to be had there.

In spite of honorable intent, some truly inspired moments, and my own personal preference for the adventure genre, the technology and time just weren’t present to make this film a success. The terrible character animation, bad lead performance, and rushed pacing do provide plenty of laughs, though. I hope “Sinbad, Beyond The Veil Of Mists” takes its rightful place upon the mantle of “so bad, they’re good” movies soon.

Bobby Lepire

About Bobby Lepire

Bobby LePire will watch anything once, much to his chagrin. He also hosts an annual "Bad Movie Party".

Terribly Fun Films: Pegasus vs. Chimera

M2203753Pegasus vs. Chimera is a ridiculously reworked Greek myth that lives up to its title. There is a Pegasus and there is a Chimera, and they fight, often. We have reimagined myths all the time, so what makes this title stand out? Well, as it turns out, just about everything!

In the prologue, we meet a teenage Belleros and his father hunting for some dinner. They stumble across a dragon and it attacks. Young Belleros acts quickly, but fumbles. The dragon charges, and the dad sticks an arrow right into its abdomen. After an awkward delay- the first telltale sign of the enjoyment to be had- the dragon goes down, and the father makes sure it’s dead. No wings, forked tongues, clubbed tails, nor any fire breathing. Looking like a mix of a hyena and a crocodile, the dragon is pretty neat from a design standpoint. The CGI however, is very sub-par, as it is throughout the movie; more on that in a bit. The opening ends with some of the emperor’s guards arbitrarily accosting the duo. The dad is killed.

The way it’s shot and edited makes this sequence so entertainingly bad. Implementing the oddest use of slo-mo for no reason, coupled with the worst shaky cam I have ever seen, the action is impossible to follow. There’s no sense of geography, and everything is shot so tightly that it’s quite hard to make out anything. Then there’s the aforementioned delay. The father shoots the dragon, and then we have a cut to the dragon running for two seconds before it falls down, severely injured. Finally, the CGI creature is infrequently in the same shot as the humans. The editing going back forth between the two disparate focuses of the scene just emphasizes how the humans and dragon aren’t sharing the same space, thus ruining the illusion of credible threat.

Having only gotten two or so minutes into the movie this far into a review might seem a tad off. But the opening exemplifies almost everything wrong with the movie: if you don’t find yourself smiling at the described goofiness, then this movie isn’t for you. If you are amused, or interested in how a movie can get bungled by a tweaked out editor, you are in the right place!

The bulk of the story takes place “many years later.” Belleros, now a grown man played with surprising dignity by Sebastian Roche, runs a blacksmithery. He and his young apprentice, Tello, are hired by Princess Philony to create weapons for an uprising against the evil emperor. In order to quell the rebellion before it gains momentum, the emperor has his wizard conjure up the Chimera to go around the countryside and destroy absolutely everything and everyone.

To combat this, the rebels go to the witch Mayda. She is given “a gift from the gods:” the Pegasus. Philony and Belleros travel around on Pegasus to find and stop Chimera and his evil overlords.

That’s the plot (in a broad sense), with some twists and turns left out so there are some surprises lying in wait for you. Clearly, it’s nothing special, but that in itself doesn’t make this bad movie worthy. But with lines like, “Now both our fathers have justice,” the dialogue by scribes Jeremy Levy, Angela Mancuso (one of my personal favorites for this type of fun schlock), and Kevin Commins is too kooky to ever sound believable.  And then there’s this bit:

Belleros asks Philony why she wants to help the rebellion: “For vengeance or justice?”

The princess replies: “Both.”

Which is forgotten as soon as it’s spoken. Yay for abandoned characterizations!

The direction is even more hapless than the script. In a nighttime sequence that is almost too dark to see, Philony murders a traitor. The emperor’s guards are maybe seven feet away and they completely fail to hear anything. It’s a wonderfully silly scene. The arty flourishes are just the cheez-whiz on the cheese cake! The poor use of speed ramping, combined with the piss poor editing just keeps things supremely riff-able throughout.

The best bits come when John Bradshaw’s attempts at stylish direction and the amateurish script converge into a glorious mishmash of stupidity. Belleros wakes up early in the morning to groom and feed Pegasus. They go from the secluded, sheltered woods, into a flat, open field. Belleros discovers how dumb that is because he’s immediately taken by surprise and captured. The action here uses the weird slo-mo and overwrought editing; between that and the stupidity of the script causing him to venture into the field, this might be the silliest scene in the movie.

Well, almost. Mayda, to help buy the leaders of the rebellion time, builds a pentacle out of twigs that Chimera can’t cross. After one attempt to do so, the monster pushes a tree down, which breaks the twig star, and bam: Mayda is defeated by a falling tree. Her magic was just successfully used to ward off one of the cruelest creatures ever summoned from the underworld, and it can’t handle a small tree. It’s a face palm moment, but it’s an amazing face palm moment.

But what of the title creatures? Chimera looks terrifyingly demonic with its burnt, scarred face. The horns are imposing and the tail is used as a weapon often, but the CGI is super cheap. Pegasus is a real horse when on the ground, sans wings. The wings are magic and only appear when needed.  They appear at the 20 and 30 minute marks, and they do get plenty of use, so one shouldn’t be disappointed there.

As I’ve mentioned continuously since the beginning of this review, the special effects are awful. The CGI creatures, mainly the Chimera, never seem to have weight or actually touch the surface of the various terrain they encounter. The flying Pegasus looks like a poorly stop-motioned Play-Doh model. The green-screened close ups of the flying are so ridiculously fake I laughed every time they occurred. With the CGI being so bland, the Chimera is rarely on the same screen as the human actors, so we get lots of POV shots from the monster’s vantage. During this, it’s quite clear the actors are just swiping at the air. It’s hilarious, and happens enough that it’s a constant source of entertainment.

As the evil King Orthos, Carlo Rota is an overacting genius. He’s almost on a Nic Cage level here: “Ooo, the man who wants to kill me!” is uttered with such delightful glee that no scenery is left unchewed. He’s the movie’s secret weapon. On the other hand, Nazeen Contractor as Princess Philony is just monotone. Whether she’s being flirty, revealing how her dad was killed, or feeling relieved at seeing her mom alive, Contractor has exactly one tone of voice- flat and disinterested. Luckily, she never gets boring, as it’s clear that she’s trying so damned hard. The extras fare even worse, especially during the action.

Between all the goofs, bad editing, and terrible cinematography, Pegasus vs. Chimera never failed to make me grin.

Bobby Lepire

About Bobby Lepire

Bobby LePire will watch anything once, much to his chagrin. He also hosts an annual "Bad Movie Party".