Tuesday, November 22, 2016

"Major League II" - The Sequel I Should Hate, But I Love

Major League II

*The main purpose of Why Do I Own This? is to take a movie from my personal collection and answer that question. I then decide whether or not to keep the film.

**I cheated a bit and purposely chose this movie for my next review because of the timeliness of it. The Cubs recently beat the Indians in the World Series. I'm a lifelong Cardinals fan (and Cubs hater), so I wanted to watch the Indians win. Unfortunately, they only win in the movies.

I'll go ahead and get this out of the way: I own Major League II because I love it, and there is no way I'll be getting rid of this one (I will probably get rid of very few of these, honestly, since I always end up realizing why I bought them in the first place). Major League II is a special movie for me and my friends. I grew up playing baseball, and this movie came out when I was ten years old. My friends and I would watch this dozens of times over the years (to the point that we would get in heated arguments about some of the dialogue [the conversations between Pedro Cerrano and Tanaka were hard to follow at times]). Perhaps this is why the goofier tone of this PG-13 film appealed to me a bit more than the R-rated original. Looking back, it's clear that the original is the superior movie, but because of nostalgia this film holds a special place for me.

As far as plot goes, Major League II sticks to roughly the same formula as the original. The Indians, though successful by the end of the last film, have already lost their way by the next season and are just as bad, if not worse, than last year. Actually, there's no point going over the plot because this movie completely recaps the first movie at the beginning. I kind of love that. It's like a "previously on" that TV shows do. Some movies could benefit from that. Like the Divergent series, for example. I caught the most recent one on HBO the other day and had no idea what was going on. A Major League II style recap would have done wonders for that movie. 

Anyway, there's no point in writing some proper review of this sequel that most people have forgotten. Instead, I'm just going to list all the stuff that I love, and that my friends and I still quote on a regular basis.

  • Right off the bat, you know you're in for a treat with the classy Roman numeral for the II. In an era that now frowns upon numbered films, it's nice to look back at a time when sequels weren't ashamed to be numbered. But the Roman numeral is a lie, this is not a classy movie.
  • Bob Uecker. The more I re-watch these movies, the more I realize he's the best part. His sobriety at the beginning of this film is troubling, but the Indians suck bad enough to make him fall off the wagon pretty early on.
  • "Nice jacket." Not sure why, but when Charlie Sheen notices Jack Parkman for the first time, he makes this comment. It's just a stupid thing to say, especially since he's not saying it to Parkman, but instead saying it to Omar Epps.
  • Speaking of Omar Epps, he is playing the Wesley Snipes role this time around. Normally a casting change like this would be annoying, but in Major League II's most 4th wall-breaking moment, Snipes is made fun of for abandoning this comedy to focus on being an action star. Honestly, I would watch the fake action movie Epps's character made with Jesse Ventura. You can't beat those one liners: "Mine fell the hardest!" "Mine are the deadest!" "Ha ha ha!" 

  • Also, this was my first introduction to Epps. Without this film, I would not have enjoyed this moment from Dracula 2000 nearly as much:

  • "Upside down!" As I'm writing this, it just occurred to me that Richard Schiff played the director of the commercial Charlie Sheen was screwing up.

  • "Who used heart attack?" "Me...(collapses from heart attack)" James Gammon became a rage monster in this movie, and I love it. His performance in the first film is funnier since he's less animated, but he's still hilarious amped up in this one. The goofy scenes when he's sneak-listening to the final game still crack me up.
  • My favorite Bob Uecker lines: "Welcome back to Major League Baseball...sort of." "Oh shit." (His on-air reaction to what appears to be a home run.) "Baker steps in. He's 0 for...I don't know. Who cares?" "You know I used to hate Parkman when he was with the A's? It's funny how a new uniform can change your attitude about a guy. (Off mic): He's still a dick!" "Dorn's 0 for the century against this guy. But he has several foul tips."
  • Speaking of Jack Parkman, David Keith played a great asshole. I still wish David Keith would team up with Keith David for a buddy cop movie or a Funny or Die video or something.

  • "May you be mounted by a rabid dog." I used to say that line a lot, and once got in trouble at school for saying that to a friend in the hallway in front of a teacher. I bet I'm the only person who ever got sent to the office because of Major League II.
  • Roger Dorn's pinch hit (bean), followed by his refusal to allow a pinch runner was great.

  • "Paid attendance today is...1,412." Seriously? Do you realize how few fans that is? And this team made the playoffs the year before! Cleveland fans (in the movie world) are crazy fickle.
  • Now that we know Randy Quaid is a crazy person, I'm convinced he just thought he was going to actual Indians games. That said, how insane a fan is he? Charlie Sheen is right on the money when he calls him a maniac. Only a maniac would show up to every single game just to trash his former favorite team. 
  • Cerrano's swinging balls home run trot was mimicked hundreds of times during my high school baseball practices.

Okay, that's enough. I could go on until I point out every minute of this movie. And that's crazy. It's not a very good movie. It's basically a carbon copy of the first film, but toned down and with a few roles reversed. In fact, the R to PG-13 rating usually annoys me to no end, but it doesn't bother me with this movie. The fact that this first film feels like a real baseball movie, and this sequel is the cartoon version of it doesn't bother me. Honestly, if this movie came out just three or four years later than it did, I would probably despise it. But it came out at the perfect moment for me, and it will always stand out as an example of how nostalgia can influence your opinion of a movie forever. When I want to watch a good baseball movie, I watch Major League. When I want to feel like a kid again, I watch Major League II.

New(ish) Movie Thoughts
The Neon Demon - I feel like I need to watch this again before I weigh in on it, but here goes anyway. I love Nicolas Winding Refn, so I liked The Neon Demon, but I wasn't blown away by it, like I was with Bronson and Drive. It's definitely an interesting watch, though. The visuals and score are as good as you've come to expect from Refn. The movie itself is even stranger than I expected, however. By the end, I realized (maybe incorrectly) that I was a watching a black comedy that makes fun of all the cliches about beauty. "It's what's on the inside that counts." If you remember that saying (which is mentioned in the film), then the ending becomes darkly hilarious. Also, Keanu Reeves is in this, for some reason, playing a scumbag motel manager. My initial thoughts were borderline negative, but I'm going to watch it one more time, and it won't surprise me if this ends up being one of my favorite films this year. Refn's films just have that odd effect on me.

Jackie - I'm starting to get awards-season screeners, and this is one of the higher-profile ones I've received so far. Natalie Portman is great as Jackie Kennedy, but the film was a bit too focused on the assassination of JFK for me. I thought the film would be a bit more broad and deal with her life overall after the assassination. Instead, it focuses on the week or so after the event. You can't fault a movie for what it set out to do, though. I just didn't feel that this focused of a story warranted a full-length film. That written, Jackie is still an effective film. The way it is shot and the music created an eerie, almost horror movie vibe, which was interesting. Definitely worth a watch. Just know what you're watching. I went in blind, and it disappointed me a bit. Perhaps if I knew what to expect, I would have liked it more.

Sausage Party - Believe it or not, I received an awards screener for this, too. I loved it. It's everything I thought it would be. Also, after finally watching it, hearing stories of clueless parents letting their kids watch even a minute of this crack me up even more. This movie earns its R-rating. 

The Birth of a Nation - This movie was supposed to be a big awards contender until an old rape trial resurfaced involving star/writer/producer Nate Parker. He was found not guilty (though the co-writer of the film was initially found guilty in the same case and eventually sought an appeal that didn't happen when the victim chose not to testify again), but the damage has been done. Any allegations of rape need to be considered seriously, but I do think Hollywood is being a bit hypocritical here. Roman Polanski has won an Oscar (which he couldn't show up to accept because he would be arrested), yet this man, deemed not guilty, is being ostracized and his film largely dismissed. Honestly, I would not consider The Birth of a Nation one of the best films of the year, but I don't think it should be judged the way it has been lately. As for the movie, it's certainly an effective story of slavery, though it felt amateurish at times in performance and production (possibly due to budget constraints). Also, even it pales in comparison to 12 Years a Slave, even if it shouldn't be looked at side-by-side with that film. The movies have been released too closely together to not compare them. Though Birth is more about rising up against racial injustice as a unified group and 12 Years was the story of a single man. Either way, this is a film people should watch and judge by what's onscreen. 

Monday, November 7, 2016

"Insomnia" - The Forgotten Film in Nolan's "In" Trilogy

*The main purpose of Why Do I Own This? is to take a movie from my personal collection and answer that question. I then decide whether or not to keep the film.

This one of those movies I forgot I owned and nearly forgot existed at all. This is surprising since Insomnia is directed by Christopher Nolan, and it's a pretty good movie starring Al Pacino, Hilary Swank, and Robin Williams. Compared to Nolan's other films, however, Insomnia is quite plain. There is no superhero (The Dark Knight trilogy), no space travel (Insterstellar), no magic (The Prestige), no narrative trickery (Memento), and no dream manipulation with zero-G fight sequences (Insterstellar).  (To be fair, there's also Following, but to my shame, I have yet to watch Nolan's first film.) Insomnia is easily the most traditional film Nolan has made, for better or worse. I do like Insomnia, and rewatching it was interesting since it had been so long, but it is definitely my least favorite Nolan film, and definitely the lesser of his "In" trilogy of Insomnia, Inception, and Interstellar. (Pretty sure that's not an actual trilogy, but it's weird that he's made three movies that start with "In.")

So why did I buy this? Well, looking at the case, which is one of those half-cardboard/half-plastic jobs from the early days of DVD when you had to look closely to see if you were buying the full screen or widescreen edition (I always tried to go with widescreen), I noticed some sticker residue over the barcode. Then I remembered where I got this movie: the local videostore. The sticker residue was from the low quality stickers the store used to cover the original bar code, which bothered me enough to remove it. (I'm weird like that. I also make a point to remove the security device from every movie I buy.) My local video store, a Video Vault that eventually became a Movie Gallery before closing, used to sell their old DVDs. They were usually overpriced, but if you bought four, you got the fifth for free, which made it a slight deal. Insomnia was definitely that fifth, free DVD. 

It's not that the film is unwatchable after a first viewing, it's just that, for me, it's only worth watching again once you've forgotten most of the plot. That's not enough rewatchability to warrant a purchase. But since I did rewatch it, I guess I should weigh in on it. 

The two main performances are the main takeaway from watching Insomnia in 2016. Pacino has long since lost legitimacy, but back in 2002 (when this film was released) he still appeared to be trying. Interestingly enough, Insomnia would be the perfect film for him to make today, since the role calls for him to basically sleepwalk. Pacino's detective is suffering from the titular insomnia, since he's covering a murder case in Alaska during the season when the sun stays up around the clock. He looks rough, and plays the part perfectly. He also employs his talk quietly then EXPLODE technique to good effect before it became a joke. And while I haven't seen all of his movies since Insomnia, I still think it's safe to say this is his most recent great performance. 

The true star and reason to watch this movie, though, is Robin Williams. After his unfortunate death two years ago (it does not seem like it's been two year already), most people pointed to his Oscar-winning performance or to a performance they loved from their childhood. Insomnia went mostly unmentioned, which is a shame. Williams turns in a creepily calm performance that is vastly more interesting than a typical murderer role. Williams will be remembered for his more antic performances, but it's his work in films like Insomnia that is truly impressive. 

Mentioning that Williams's character is a murderer might seem like a spoiler, but that's what makes this film stand out slightly from the pack. The film is not concerned with who the murderer is; the focus is on the individual morality of the three leads. This applies to Swank, too, who I don't have much to write about because her character, the starstruck local cop, is the least interesting of the three. Watching these three characters wrestle with their consciences and actions is much more rewarding than simply pointing to a character and saying, "They're the killer!" 

Finally, while this is Nolan's least interesting film, visually speaking, it is still above average in the style department. The locations make for beautiful and interesting backdrops, but the editing and camerawork have the lasting effect, as Nolan attempted to put the viewer inside Pacino's troubled, tired mind, and he succeeded. 

I covered why I bought this film, but why do still I own it? Before I rewatched it, I would have said this movie had no place in my collection. But now, I've decided to keep it. Partly, it's because I'm a Nolan completist (I consider him one of my favorite current directors. I rewatched Insterstellar [my favorite of his "In" trilogy] recently and was surprised at how interesting and effective I found it after my fourth viewing.) I'm mainly keeping it because of what I realized when I rewatched it: this film is very interesting once you've largely forgotten it. So I'll hang onto it and watch it again sometime around 2026.

New(ish) Movie Thoughts

Deepwater Horizon - The second film in Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg's trilogy of true American stories (the first being Lone Survivor and the next one being Patriots Day) is just as well-made and effective as you'd expect. It's refreshing that Berg and Wahlberg (no relation) tend to focus on the event itself rather than the aftermath, especially since this event in the news was almost solely about the environmental impact. The disaster on the rig itself is worthy of its own film, and it hits on every note a film should. There's nothing flashy or very remarkable from a filmmaking standpoint; it's simply a good, effective film about a tragic event.

The Girl on the Train - This one disappointed me a bit. I liked Emily Blunt's performance, but the film overall felt like a slightly bigger budget Lifetime movie. I give it a few bonus points for a surprisingly gory scene near the end, but this film simply did not work for me. I didn't hate it. I'm just indifferent to it. Full disclosure: I did not read the book beforehand, and do not plan to after seeing this adaptation.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016


*The main purpose of Why Do I Own This? is to take a movie from my (too) large collection and answer that question. I then decide whether or not to keep the movie.


For this week, I went to my sci-fi shelf and came away with M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs. Re-watching this movie, a favorite of mine upon its release in 2002, is a perfect reason for doing these reviews. I watched this movie plenty of times soon after I purchased it fourteen years ago, but I had not watched it for years since then. I wondered if it held up, especially since Shyamalan fell from grace soon after this film (he’s made a comeback of sorts lately) and people were retroactively judging his early films more critically. It turns out, at least for me, that Signs holds up.

The main reason for my love of Signs is the basic premise: an alien invasion movie set in a secluded area. Alien invasion movies usually show a scene or two at a farm or other small town setting, but rarely do they completely take place there. “Signs” went for intimacy in a genre that typically goes big and broad, and the emotional payoff is much more satisfying than any explosion.

Nostalgia also plays a factor in my love for this film (and most films in my collection). My friends and I loved this movie when it came out. We thought it was creepy and funny, and we even admitted that it got to us on an emotional level (late 90s/early 2000s Mel Gibson has that effect on me). So watching this movie takes me back. The moments that gave me chills (the cut to a shadowy alien standing on top of the barn) still work. And the scenes that made me laugh (“Excluding the possibility that a female Scandinavian Olympian was running around outside our house last night…”) still work. And, I’ll admit, I still teared up at the end. Any movie that can do that the first time and the tenth time I see it is special.

When dealing with a movie from a few years ago, it’s impossible not to think about what has happened to the actors and filmmakers since the film came out. While watching this, I mainly thought about what changed for Joaquin Phoenix, Mel Gibson, and M. Night Shyamalan.

Joaquin Phoenix has been a favorite of mine since I noticed him in 8MM. His work a few years after Signs took an interesting turn. He devoted a year or so of his life pretending to leave acting to pursue a rap career as part of a hoax for a fake documentary. The documentary was definitely unique, but it turned out to be more of a waste than anything. Thankfully, he’s back now, and has recently turned in great performances in Paul Thomas Anderson’s last two films, The Master and Inherent Vice.

As for Mel Gibson, everyone knows what happened with him. His multiple, offensive outbursts, both public and private, nearly ended his career. For many, he’s still an unwelcome presence. Despite the public opinion about him, he has returned as well, though to a lesser degree of success than Phoenix. He has acted in a handful of features, but he does have a new directorial effort, Hacksaw Ridge, that appears to be an Oscar hopeful. Still, watching this movie made me pine for the pre-controversy days of Gibson.

Writer/director M. Night Shyamalan went through a rough phase, too, but his was based entirely on his work. After Signs, which does not have a twist (unless you count an alien movie actually having aliens a twist), he went back to the well with The Village. It turns out people were done with the twist endings of Shyamalan. Looking back, The Village was judged a bit too harshly, but it is definitely beneath Unbreakable, Signs, and The Sixth Sense. But he went way too self-indulgent with his next movie, Lady in the Water, which failed to find an audience. Then the wheels fell off with The Happening, which is laughably bad (I still regularly make fun of Mark Wahlberg playing a science teacher in that film [“Don’t you guys want to know what’s goin’ on with the bees?”]). The Happening was followed by The Last Airbender and After Earth. That unholy trinity made many write Shyamalan off. But The Visit received generally positive reviews, and his newest film, Split, is earning high praise at film festivals. Still, much like Gibson, I view this movie with sadness, knowing that it was an end of an era for an interesting filmmaker. But hopefully he keeps his current streak going.

Why do I own this? I loved it in 2002, and I love it in 2016. I even like the opening credits, and I remember kind of hating them the first time I saw this. So this is that rare movie that has improved with age. I’ll definitely be keeping this one.

New(ish) Movie Thoughts

Captain America: Civil War – I finally got a chance to see the biggest movie of the year. I liked it, of course, but it didn’t blow me away. I think I’m getting Marvel fatigue. Still, it’s enjoyable, and everything about it works. I really enjoyed the new Spider-Man. I can’t believe I’m looking forward to a third incarnation of Spider-Man already, but somehow I am.

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping – This is The Lonely Island movie that bombed a few months ago. I love The Lonely Island, therefore I love this movie. I’m not much on reviewing comedies, even briefly. Basically, if you like The Lonely Island, you should love this. Simple as that.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Why Do I Own This? "Universal Soldier: The Return"

Universal Soldier: The Return

So far, not so good. My intentions with this new series of reviews was to lower the amount of DVDs I own, but my first review required me to actually add one to my collection. For these reviews, the plan is to go to a shelf of DVDs I own (there are twelve shelves to choose from) and blindly choose one movie. So I decided I should go with the shelf with all of my Jean-Claude Van Damme movies, since he is my favorite 80s/90s action star. I closed my eyes and came back with a “classic” bad Van Damme movie: Universal Soldier: The Return. It had been a few years since I had watched the DVD (part of the reason for this project is to possibly get rid of movies I haven’t watched in years), so I was looking forward to revisiting it. But it wasn’t meant to be as I opened the case to find it empty.

My first thought was to just switch movies, but I dismissed that because now I was interested in Universal Soldier: The Return. Then I considered streaming it, but it wasn’t available on Netflix. But when I checked the streaming options on Amazon, I came across something even better. For the bargain of $3.99, I was able to not only replace my copy of Universal Soldier: The Return, but also add Knock Off, The Hard Corps, and Second in Command to my Van Damme collection. The set is laughingly subtitled “Hollywood Hits,” which is funny since The Return and Knock Off combined to make $20 million, and the other two movies weren’t even released in theaters. So after a bit of a hassle, I was able to re-watch Universal Soldier: The Return.

Sadly, that’s where anything remotely interesting ends. This movie is bad, and it’s barely bad enough to get a few laughs out of. The story is basically 2001 for dummies. SETH, a supercomputer in charge of the Universal Soldier program, goes rogue and plans on taking over the world. Van Damme, a former Universal Soldier, or UniSol, must save the day. The specifics of how to stop SETH make very little sense. There’s something about overheating the computer or not overheating it; it’s hard to tell, and it doesn’t matter. The story is just there to justify an army of UniSols trying to kill Van Damme. Oh, and, of course, Van Damme must save his daughter, even though for most of the movie it seems like he’s forgotten she exists.

The action should be the saving grace of a movie like this, but it’s incredibly bland. A bunch of guns are shot and stuff blows up, all set to late 90s heavy metal music. It almost feels like stock footage used for any number of straight to DVD action movies from this period. Van Damme’s scenes should make things more interesting, but he’s on autopilot in this one. There are the required roundhouse kicks, but he mainly just runs around looking confused.

The boring action wouldn’t be that bad if some obvious character work had been explored. For instance, the UniSol program takes dead soldiers and reanimates them into controlled killing machines. I can’t remember what happened in the last film that allowed Van Damme to return to normal, but that is easily the most interesting part of this movie. Is he immortal? How can he have a child? Shouldn’t he be more of a fish out of water since he technically died during the Vietnam War? But all of this is washed over when Van Damme’s love interest asks about the program and just shrugs it off as normal. If someone tells me they are a zombie of the Vietnam War who is able to procreate, I am going to continue that conversation. Anyway, the film would have worked much better had the focus been on Van Damme’s character and his past. Instead, it doesn’t really matter that Van Damme used to be a UniSol.

There are a handful of funny moments that make the film bearable, though. The most blatant one involves the wrestler Goldberg, who from what I can tell plays himself in the movie since he does a few of his signature wrestling moves. Goldberg is used as comic relief throughout the movie to little effect, but one scene has him attempting to jump from a rooftop into the back of a truck. After he jumps, Van Damme moves the truck forward so Goldberg falls to the ground. It’s the “Oh, s***!” that Goldberg blurts out at the last second that makes it funny. By the way, when that is the most memorable and enjoyable scene in the movie, you know things are bad. There are more moments, but they are not worth explaining. Well, maybe that part when a computer gives someone the finger...that was sort of funny and definitely stupid.

This is still a Van Damme film, however, which means I actually kind of like it. Even though his English is somehow worse in this than earlier films, the dude can still carry a movie, at least in my eyes. I’ve never been able to explain why I love his movies so much. I just do. Some people like Seagal; some like Norris; I like Van Damme.

So why do I own this? I’m a Van Damme fan. If the price is low enough, I’ll buy any movie the guy has made, which is why I’ve now bought this garbage movie twice. So as I continue this series of reviews, I will return to the Van Damme shelf from time to time to reaffirm my love of his films, good and bad. But next I promise to pull from a shelf that might have a movie I end up getting rid of.

New(ish) Movie Thoughts: Since it takes me so long to finally watch new movies, instead of writing full reviews I’ll start writing short thoughts about recent movies I’ve seen at the end of these articles.

Suicide Squad – This movie had its moments, but overall I thought it was too messy tonally and otherwise. My main issue was with how tame it was. There’s a scene in which Harley Quinn breaks a window to steal something, and the straight-laced commander says, “Seriously? What the hell’s wrong with you people?” To which Harley responds, “We’re bad guys. It’s what we do?” But is it? When I think of a villain, I don’t think of petty theft. It’s like when someone tells you their friend is “crazy” or “hilarious,” and then you meet them, and they only act crazy or funny because people say they are, but you can tell they’re just plain people. That’s what Suicide Squad is: the plain people of the movie world pretending to be different. Did that make sense? Oh well, it did to me.

The Lobster – My favorite film of the year so far. It’s definitely the movie that I will praise but not necessarily recommend. The easy way to recommend this (or not recommend it) is to say if you don’t like “weird” movies then skip it. If you like things that are different, check it out. It’s about a world in which you’re turned into an animal if you can’t stay in a relationship. It is insane, interesting, disturbing, hilarious, etc.

Nerve – This is that movie that came and went a month or so ago about a social media dare game gone awry. Surprisingly entertaining and filmed with an internet style that didn’t feel annoying or gimmicky, Nerve is definitely worth checking out. It gets a little too preachy about internet bullying near the end, but there is still a message there that people need to hear as our internet society gets more and more acidic.