REVIEW: BAD TEACHER: THE TV SERIES

MAIN CAST

Ari Graynor (For a Good Time, Call…)
Sara Gilbert (The Big Bang Theory)
Ryan Hansen (2 Broke Girls)
Sara Rodler (The Future)
Kristin Davis (Atomic Train)
David Alan Grier (Jumanji)
Madison De La Garza (Desperate Housewives)

NOTABLE / RECURRING GUEST CAST

Brett Gelman (30 Minutes or Less)
Colin Hanks (King Kong)
Yara Shahidi (Alex Cross)
Stuart Allan (Son of Batman)
Alison Miller (17 Again)
Virginia Williams (Fairly Legal)
Andrew Leeds (Bones)

CBS’ adaptation of Bad Teacher throws so many talented people at the question of how to turn the Cameron Diaz movie into a TV show that it will inevitably come to a point where it’s at least relatively good, if not excellent. The show’s cast is headed up by the reliably entertaining Ari Graynor, who shows a surprising talent for being an amusing reprobate here, but she’s ably backed up by the likes of Ryan Hansen, Kristin Davis, David Alan Grier, and secret weapon Sara Gilbert—who’s basically playing her character from The Big Bang Theory, but with better lines. And the series has been brought to television by the writer Hilary Winston, best known for her work on Community and Happy Endings.bad-teacher-premiere-ratingsOne of the secrets of TV comedy is that nine times out of 10, if you just get enough funny people together and let them work at it long enough, they’ll come up with a reliably entertaining and funny show In its first three episodes, however, Bad Teacher isn’t quite there. It comes close on enough occasions that it’s an enjoyable watch, but it’s struggling with the question all sitcoms built around awful people struggle with: How do you find a way to make a terrible person not just funny but somehow identifiable to the audience? For Bad Teacher to work, the audience has to, on some level, want Graynor’s Meredith Davis to succeed in her quest of tricking the school she teaches at into thinking she’s qualified for her job. But because Meredith is such a superficial, shallow, and self-obsessed person, the show’s core ends up feeling rotten, even as its many surfaces are often hugely entertaining.The key change from the film version of Bad Teacher is that the sitcom turns Meredith into a fraudster who fakes her credentials, taking a middle-school job so she can hit on the rich fathers of her students. Winston leans heavily on her Community experience here, and she’s letting Meredith play a page right out of the Jeff Winger-playbook, in that she thinks this is only a temporary thing and doesn’t want to get too attached to her fellow teachers or students. The difference, however, is that if Jeff doesn’t get with the program, he only hurts himself. If Meredith continues down her path, she’s ostensibly depriving her young charges of a valuable education. It’s a problem Bad Teacher has yet to solve in its first three episodes, despite Graynor’s considerable talents at delivering flippant dialogue with a hint of acid wit.The answer to this is so predictable that it ends up shooting the show in the foot. Meredith, inevitably, will learn in every episode that she really does care about her students or fellow employees, and she’ll use her considerable life experience and street smarts to help them navigate the tricky labyrinths of social situations, even if she’s not giving them the best education in social studies. It’s a formula that’s worked for so long that it’s become threadbare, and Bad Teacher seems so perfunctory in its approach to this particular story point that the episodes inevitably run out of gas in their third acts. They’re much more amusing in the early going, when Meredith is misbehaving and the other characters are being kooky. Inevitably, Bad Teacher will reach a point—just as Community did—where its protagonist isn’t looking for an escape route from her situation in every sports car that pulls up to the school, and it will almost certainly be a stronger show at that point.Despite the structural problems, there are considerable delights in each one of these episodes. All of them contain a handful of belly laughs, and the dialogue is sharp and pointed even when it’s not riotously funny. Graynor is a treat, and the supporting cast surrounding her—both teachers and students—finds new notes to play in familiar types. Gilbert and Hansen, in particular, offer up new spins on the socially maladjusted nerd the hot girl takes under her wing and the stand-up guy hiding in plain sight whom the heroine will inevitably end up with. The show benefits whenever they’re on screen, particularly when they’re sharing the screen together as a couple of unlikely oddball friends. Surrounding adult actors with kids is always a gamble, but Bad Teacher has a bunch of unexpectedly funny 11- and 12-year-old students to offer quips and occasional sight gags. Even better, Winston and her writers seem to be quickly figuring out exactly what sorts of gags all of their talented actors are best at delivering, which is a good sign for the show’s long-term health. Plus, any time it seems like the show is introducing something that will be drawn out for seasons to come, it’s just as quickly dispatched. That’s encouraging as well.bad-teacher-premiere-ratingsSadly Bad Teacher lasted 13 episodes and was pulled very quickly, had the series been given time to shine, I believe it would of been a huge hit.

12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS REVIEW: BAD TEACHER

CAST

Cameron Diaz (Sex Tape)
Lucy Punch (into The Woods)
Jason Segal (How I Met Your Mother)
Justin Timberlake (Freinds With Benefits)
Phyllis Smith (The 40 YEar Old Virgin)
John Michael Higgins (Yes Man)
Eric Stonehnart (Modern Family)
Thomas Lennon (17 Again)
Nat Faxon (Tammy)
Alanna Ubach (Still Waiting…)
Paul Feig (Sabrina: The Teenage Witch)
Molly Shannon (Scary Movie 4)

Positioning itself as the academic answer to Bad Santa, Jake Kasdan’s Bad Teacher threatens a schoolyard tussle but refuses to hit below the belt. Screenwriters Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg dish up shameless misbehavior but never approach the depravity of the earlier film — probably a smart choice for the movie’s box office prospects, which are solid, but one that places a certain tier of shock-hilarity out of reach.

Cameron Diaz comes to the picture ready to offend. Her eyes have never been harder, and on the rare occasion that the script offers her a line like “I’m gonna suck your dick like I’m mad at it,” she spits it out convincingly.

But for all her desk-stashed booze and inappropriately tight skirts, the movie offers Diaz a pretty bland badness. She plays Elizabeth Halsey, a teacher desperate to land a rich husband and quit her job; having decided that a fresh pair of breasts would help with that, she embarks on a series of petty moneymaking schemes to buy implants. She cajoles parents into paying her for “private tutoring,” pawns the contents of the lost & found and embezzles from a fundraising car wash made vastly more successful when she uses her cutoff-clad body as a chamois.

Justin Timberlake is amusingly ingenuous as the wealthy but dimwitted newcomer Elizabeth hopes to seduce, though (with the exception of one bizarre dry-humping gag) the movie doesn’t exploit his capacity for self-mockery as well as Saturday Night Live sometimes has. The purposeful tortoise to Timberlake’s peppy hare, Jason Segel steals scenes as the gym teacher who keeps flirting despite Elizabeth’s many rejections. The picture’s most entertainingly unhinged element, though, is Lucy Punch, whose overachieving social studies teacher seethes with a goody-goody neurosis that threatens to erupt as she watches her colleague get ahead despite treating students like animals. Happily showing more restraint than she did as the lustful stalker in Dinner for Schmucks, Punch makes a highlight out of what could have been a tiresome role.

Concocting the inevitable redemption for a character as intentionally unsympathetic as Elizabeth is a challenge, and the script doesn’t quite rise to it. It points in the right direction during a field-trip scene, where her contempt for a student’s romantic cluelessness convincingly motivates an act of kindness.

But there are a couple of steps missing between that moment and the relative maturity with which Elizabeth eventually weighs the contest between the milquetoast millionaire and Segel’s earthy schlub. Barely an hour and a half long, the film could have spared a few minutes to sell her turnaround.

REVIEW: DRAGON WARS

 

CAST

Jason Behr (Roswell)
Amanda Brooks (Flightplan)
Robert Forster (Jackie Brown)
Craig Robinson (This Is The End)
Aimee Garcia (Robocop 2014)
Chris Mulkey (Whiplash)
Billy Gardell (Mike & Molly)
Holmes Osborne (Donnie Darko)
Matthias Hues (Star Trek VI)
Derek Mears (Friday The 13th 2009)

Here in the UK it is called DRAGON WARS, although confusingly it is called D-WAR in North America and WAR OF THE DRAGONS in the Far East.


The plot, as you may have guessed by now concerns Dragons, although you don’t actually see a “proper” one until the final few minutes of the film. The Blu-Ray casing boasts that it cost over $75 million to make, although a few minutes watching confirmed my suspicions that a very large proportion of this went on the large quantities of CGI used with whatever pocket change was left over going on the actors.


Basically the plot is as follows. In order for a wyrm to become a dragon, it first has to be chosen by heaven then wait for a chosen girl to become 20 so her lifeforce can merge with it. This is great for the dragon, but not so great for the girl who then as far as I can see dies.


As is revealed in a flashback within a flashback the last time this could occur was 500 years ago, but followers of a bad wyrm attack the village where she lives to try and grab her first. Oddly they only check for the woman after nearly wiping the village from the surface of the earth, obviously not thinking that the chosen one is just as likely to get flattened by a giant fireball from the skies as anyone else.  Although she is captured, she and her lover take their own lives before she can give her life force to anyone, and so the stage is set for a rematch 500 years later in what is presumably Los Angeles. Things start ominously with a giant snake munching down elephants at the local zoo, then it appears elsewhere in the city (how does it get around without being seen?) Then a man dressed a bit like Shredder in TMNT attacks Sarah after she is rescued by the hero from the hospital where she has been incarcerated but fails in his attempt when he is hit by not one but two automobiles in what is one of the films funniest moments.


Undeterred by this failure, he raises an army of obese lizard things with missile launchers strapped to their backs and of course many smaller dragons, which appear to be Raptors with wings and finally the bit that the entire audience has been waiting for begins – the US Army Vs The Dragon Ninjas.


The computer-generated birds breathe fire on people. The computer generated helicopters empty round after round on the relentless computer generated snake. The snake lunges at computer generated cars and slings them hundreds of feet. The cameras whoosh between skyscrapers and plummet with burning helicopters and dying flying raptor-thingies, and the audience can relax and realise that they are finally getting their money’s worth. If only the quality of the CGI was matched by the real life extras which are surely the worst that I have come across in a modern film. They scream, run waving their hands above their heads and in general look very pleased to be on the big screen. Equally poor is the script and continuity, neither of which make any sense as the plot leaps from one scene to the other and plotholes big enough to swallow several dragons whole – the FBI manage to find the girl within a few minutes of entering the city and its crowds of fleeing citizens and the evil snake which may look impressive but passes up several easy opportunities to eat the heroine and achieve immortality. Observant viewers may notice that the same helicopter pilot appears to die several times…


The ending is pretty bizarre, the means by which the main bad guy being defeated being down to his stabbing the hero in the relatively small mystic pendant hanging round his neck as opposed to anywhere else in his body and ends pretty suddenly leaving the audience both baffled and slightly unsatisfied.

REVIEW: BLADES OF GLORY

 

CAST

Will Ferrell (Zoolander)
Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite)
Will Arnett (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)
Amy Poehler (Mean Girls)
Jenna Fischer (Slither)
William Fichtner (The Dark Knight)
Craig T. Nelson (The Incredibles)
Romany Malco (No Ordinary Family)
Nick Swardson (Bolt)
Luciana Carro (Falling Skies)

Professional figure skating is a subject so ripe for cinematic satire that it’s truly a wonder that ‘Blades of Glory’ is first big budget comedy to exploit it. The costumes, the music, the pageantry, the preening — as much as we may watch in awe as the enormously talented athletes create magic on the ice, it’s hard not to also stifle a giggle at the grandiose excess of it all.

Much the same way he did with formula one racing in “Talladega Nights” Will Ferrell lampoons the sport to great effect with ‘Blades of Glory.’ This fantastically silly, utterly preposterous comedy was the sleeper hit of early 2007, grossing over $100 million and for once delivering all the laughs its trailers promised.

Ferrell stars as Chazz Michael Michaels, an uber-hetero world-class figure skating champion (and adult film star, but nevermind that). After a on-rink run-in with his rival, the angel-cheeked skating prodigy Jimmy MacElroy (Jon Heder, not straying too far from his classic ‘Napoleon Dynamite’ persona), both are stripped of their gold medals and permanently banned from men’s single competition. However, after a few desperate years stuck on the has-been, quasi-celebrity skating circuit, the two find a loophole that will allow them to qualify as the world’s first all-male pairs team.

Here is where ‘Blades of Glory’ could have simply been another of those one-joke movies — nothing more than a series of cringe-inducing homophobic barbs about how funny men in tights are. But if ‘Blades of Glory’ isn’t exactly high-brow, Ferrell and Heder find just the right tone in satirizing not “gayness,” but instead the male discomfort with the sexual stereotypes of “effeminate” sports like figure skating. Ferrell in particular creates such a hyper-masculine alpha male in Chazz — one who’s overcompensating to a ridiculous degree, that it becomes truly inspired social commentary. ‘Blades of Glory’ is actually quite astute, even sublime, in skewering male anxieties.

The film also doesn’t limit itself to obvious satire by having a field day with the highly-competitive nature of Olympic sports. Fulfilling the villain requirement are Stranz and Fairchild Van Waldenberg, a brother-sister team of rival German skaters who will do anything to defeat Chazz and Jimmy. As played by Will Arnett and Amy Poehler (who also happen to be married off-screen), they’re like Boris and Natasha on ice, twirling their mustaches as they hatch a series of increasingly bizarre schemes. It all leads to an extended chase sequence, as Stranz chases Chazz over ice, through a crowded shopping mall and finally onto the rink in a madcap bit of lunacy that is one of the movie’s highlight sequences.

If ‘Blades of Glory’ were only spandex and slapstick, however, it probably would have been nothing more than a second-rate “SNL” sketch that quickly wore out its welcome. But typical of Ferrell’s more recent penchant for humanistic comedy over sheer satire, he sets the tone for the rest of the film by plumbing some genuine (if completely ridiculous) pathos out of these larger-than-life characters. When Chazz is forced to endure a stint inside a giant furry animal costume in the kiddie spectacular “Grumlets on Ice” (a pitch-perfect parody of those awful Icecapades shows), he somehow manages to make it simultaneously sad, touching, and hilarious. Indeed, we will come to like all of the characters in ‘Blades of Glory,’ because however over-the-top they may be, there is a kernel of recognition to even their most outlandish behavior that rings true. Of course, ‘Blades of Glory’ is ultimately impervious to critical analysis, because it aims to be nothing more than just a very funny movie. It takes a sport that just cries out to be made fun of, hits the laugh bull’s-eye more than it misses.

REVIEW: SMASH CUT

 

CAST

David Hess (Swamp Thing)
Sasha Grey (The Girlfriend Experience)
Michael Berryman (The Devil’s Rejects)
Eay Sager (The Wizard of Gore)
Herschell Gordon Lewis (Living Venus)

Smash Cut isn’t a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination but is good for what it is – an homage to Herschell Gordon Lewis, for those who don’t know Herschell was the guy who invented gore and made a wide range of trashy exploitation films in the 60’s and early 70’s, anyway this does feel a bit like the sort of film he’d do if he were still making films, granted the gore is cheesy, the acting a bit off and the plot disjointed but that’s just what we’d expect of such a film.

The plot is simple – a director whose films are really crap accidentally kills a lap dancer and decides to use the body parts to improve his special effects, this of course leads to more killings to get more parts and to cover up his crimes, the killer is played by cult favorite David Hess although in this film his malice is not nearly as extreme as usual and his straight razor is absent, Michael Berryman, Ray Sager and even Herschell Gordon Lewis himself all get small cameo’s.

With a tacky but enjoyable style, some deliberately cheesy and daft characters and situations and some underlying commentary on the whole art versus business debate of film-making its worth a watch for fans of Herschell or Troma.

REVIEW: RED RIDING HOOD

CAST

Amanda Seyfried (Ted 2)
Gary Oldman (The Dark Knight)
Billy Burke (Twilight)
Shiloh Fernandez (Evil Dead 2013)
Max Irons (The Host)
Virginia Madsen (Sideways)
Lukas Haas (Inception)
Julie Christie (Finding Neverland)
Michael Hogan (Battlestar Galactica)
Shauna Kain (X-Men: The Last Stand)
Adrian Holmes (Arrow)
Christine Willes (Dead Like Me)
Michael Shanks (Stargate SG.1)
Kacey Rohl (Hannibal)

Red Riding Hood Movie Review
Catherine Hardwike’s film is much closer to the 1984 movie “Company of wolves” (based on Angela Carter short stories) than to the original Charles Perrault tale – and like the former, it is definitely not for children.


The cast. Amanda Seyfried is excellent as Valerie, a young girl who reached the time to be married and gets from her grandmother a red cape as wedding gift. The name Red Riding Hood is never used in the movie, everybody calls her just Valerie – but we of course know better… Amanda Seyfried wears this red cape with a great grace and the effect (especially for the male public) is quite pleasant. It is even more pronounced when the snow falls. Shiloh Fernandez and Max Irons give a good performance as two young village men, wild, bold and violent Peter and shy, peaceful and more sophisticated Henry, who both want to marry Valerie. Those two rivals and sworn enemies both have their good and bad points and with the time Valerie will have more and more trouble to choose between them.

Virginia Madsen plays Valerie’s mother – her character, although secondary, is quite important for the plot so pay good attention to everything she says. Julie Christie is Valerie’s grandmother, who lives in a house deep in the forest, away from the village – and she is (obviously) even more important to the story.  Michael Hogan (who is well remembered for his role in “Battlestar Galactica”) plays village’s reeve, a fearless no-nonsense man, who trusts his faithful silver dagger and is not afraid of the wolf. Gary Oldman plays an inquisitor, Father Solomon, whose body and soul were once so terribly hurt by a werewolf, that he devoted his life to destroy those monsters. As usual for Gary Oldman’s characters, Father Solomon is barking mad and definitely not a good person but he is clever and quite consequent and credible in his fanatism.
A special mention goes to Billy Burke, who plays the small role of Valerie’s father, a burned out, heavily drinking wood cutter, used and worn out by the hardships of life and constant struggle with poverty. And finally there are Shauna Kain, Carmen Lavigne and Kacey Rohl as Roxanne, Rose and Prudence, Valerie’s best friends and young Cole Heppel, as Claude (Roxanne’s brother), a retarded village boy. Those characters, although minor in the beginning of the movie, also have some important role to play.The views of the mountains and the forest in this film are amazing. The village is extremely well designed, as are the costumes of the villagers and the soldiers who came with Father Solomon. This movie is visually very pleasant. The third good point is the plot, which is not stupid at all. The main mystery is very skilfully kept until the end. And the ending itself is a very good one – especially for anybody who knows Angela Carter’s short stories about wolves, werewolves and Red Riding Hood.But the best thing in this movie is the general atmosphere, which is frequently quite erotic, when in the same time there is absolutely no sex and no nudity. Somehow, the simple presence of a flock of nubile girls and young men who court them and the always present menace of a half human Beast which enjoys preying on young females is enough to generate the very special mood of this Red Riding Hood. Amanda Seyfried, her blond hair and her red cape contrasting with the virginal white snow certainly contribute a lot to this atmosphere. There are some violent moments in this film, but here also it is much less brutal than “Company of wolves”.

REVIEW: RED SONJA

CAST

Brigitte Nielsen (Terminal Force)
Arnold Schwarzenegger (Conan The Barbarian)
Sandahl Bergman (Xanadu)
Paul L. SMith (Dune)
Ernie Reyes Jr. (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2)
Ronald Lacey (Raiders of The Lost Ark)
Pat Roach (Willow)
Terry Richards (Star Wars – Episode V)
Sven-Ole Thorsen (Mallrats)

It is hard to revisit the 1985 sword and sorcery film Red Sonja with any sort of freshness. The movie, historically, has been comically criticized for decades and stands as an example of Hollywood´s eagerness to cash in on previous genre successes. There is even a quote from the films “star,” Arnold Schwarzenegger, about Red Sonja being the worst film he has done and is now used as a punishment for his kids. Where do I go from here? Where does anyone go from here? My previous review of Fire and Ice basically lauded the sword and sorcery film genre as an escapist vehicle unfettered by story and conceptual flaws. Could the same sentiment hold up under the weight of a poorly executed blockbuster? Could the same sentiment hold up to probably one of the worst fantasy films ever made?

 

Red Sonja is a character best defined by comic books written by Fire and Ice / Conan writer Roy Thomas along with one of my favorite fantasy artists Barry Windsor Smith. The character was loosely based on a variety of pulp heroines pioneered by short stories from Robert E Howard. Red Sonja, now, stands as the female equivalent to Conan and shares the same fictional universe during the Hyborian Age. The important thing to remember about sword and sorcery is that despite instances of brutal violence carried out by demonic aggressors and less than favorable clothing for both genders, females have a surprisingly fair amount of power. Barbarian heroines are just as strong as males and can make decisions and carry the plot without male involvement. Despite a ridiculous amount of sexual exploitation, sword and sorcery breaks the majority of female stereotypes and did so years before other fantasy genres. This is important to remember when watching the cosmic disaster known as Red Sonja.

To investigate why Red Sonja is so bad one has to look at individual aspects of the film. The story is not the problem as Red Sonja’s plot is standard sword and sorcery revenge involving magic, immediate scope, and visceral adventure. In fact, I am trying to think of a film genre less simplistic than sword and sorcery. A green glowing magical orb is sought after by a group of roving warriors while an evil Sorceress, Queen Gedren, uses it to conquer kingdoms. The film´s heroine is hellbent on revenge after seeing her family slaughtered by the aforementioned sorceress. Pretty simple. There may be a comic duo planted for laughs but all in all standard. While the costume design is silly bordering on psychotic and its action sequences are quickly approaching narcoleptic, Red Sonja could have been an enjoyable film. Its critical weakness does not rest in any one part, but rather many aspects executed together cause its downfall. One of the most cited examples of Red Sonja´s ineptness is the acting, which oscillates between laughable and embarrassing.

The wooden exchanges between characters merely drag the plot further much in the same way a mortally wounded human would lurch across a floor gasping for air. Scratch that. Dungeon. Bridget Neilson, who has the muscular build of a fine heroine fails to outact an 8 year old side character and the underwater machine serpent sent to kill her. Take this and combine it with a universal battle over which antagonist, the evil Queen Gedren or her smarmy advisor Ikol, is more uninteresting and ridiculously dressed. Do not forget characters placed on set with no logic or reason or ones that would have made the series more interesting if more was known about them and you have a colossal trainwreck of a film. Scratch that. Horsewreck. It is also important to realize this does not make the film truly terrible. what makes this film truly terrible is the attempt of a feminist agenda. Scratch that. Sabotage.

Aside from the already stated sword and sorcery base of a strong female character, Red Sonja, the film, continuously undermines any instance of a female lead doing anything without the help of a man. This aspect is seen in most fantasy films but becomes more obvious when Red Sonja is supposedly centered around the plights of a strong female. Whether or not saved at the last second by Lord Kalidor from Lord Brytag´s men or narrowly escaping the collapsing castle saved only by the combined brute strength of two sweaty men holding up heavy things, Red Sonja fails to convince the audience she wouldn’t choke on her food or stab herself with a fork if not fed by a strong male. It is important to note that I do not strive to pick out themes of feminism within fantasy films. It is an interesting field of thought, but a film can exist without critical analysis. My cross section into this film is because Red Sonja’s waffling between feminism and misogyny is so abrupt the analysis is almost inescapable. Rather than silently attempt to create a female Conan, Red Sonja stmblefucks its way to the winners circle taking the trophy for the strangest blunder one has ever put to film. The universal orphanage fire that is Red Sonja has not, however, derailed any longevity of its protagonist. Red Sonja, the character, is still seen in better written media and fawned over at comic and fantasy conventions by both men and women.