Wednesday, June 5, 2024

The Beekeeper

Oi! I keeps the Bees!

What's it about?

Tonight, I watched “The Beekeeper” (MGM/Miramax, 2024). Elderly Eloise Parker (Phylicia Rashad… Okay, the mom from “The Cosby Show.” There. Happy?) lives a quiet life isolated in her old farmhouse in rural Massachusetts, estranged from her daughter Verona (Emmy Raver-Lampman) after the death of her soldier son. Her only companion is Adam Clay (Jason Statham), a quiet man who rents space in her barn, tends the fields, and keeps bees on the property. This quiet life is interrupted when she receives a message on her computer telling her that a virus has been detected and her hard drive has been corrupted, along with a service number. Not knowing what to do, Eloise calls the number only to be taken in by a highly specialized group of scammers, who quickly get the trusting old lady to open her accounts for them, whereupon they steal everything, including two million dollars from a charity that she chairs. Upon discovering the theft and unable to cope with the loss, she ends her own life. When Clay discovers her body, he calls his former employers for a favor. His former employers turn out to be a highly secret government organization known as “The Beekeepers,” and their agents have no jurisdictional or legal limitations. Clay quickly tracks down the scammers, beginning a personal war that makes him the target of Verona and the FBI, private security forces, and maybe even the U.S. government itself.

The "Bee" team

Written by schlock-jockey movie extraordinaire Kurt Wimmer, who’s best known for his… let’s just say “questionable” remakes of classic movies (“Total Recall” remake, “Point Break” remake, “Children of the Corn” remake – you get the idea) and “Suicide Squad” director David Ayer (no, not “THE Suicide Squad,” the other, older, less good one) and filmed in the UK in 2022, it was released to theaters back in January of 2024 and went on to make a pretty tidy profit despite its limited budget.

While watching this movie, I had to wonder of Wimmer or someone close to him had been scammed by one of these detestable companies at some point, because they are basically shown as remorseless thieves and killers in their own right, while also being tied to a Q-Anon style conspiracy with the United States Government (represented by Jeremy Irons as former CIA director Wallace Westwyld, using an interesting accent) benefitting from the scam. Add to that the corrupt presidential administration shown in the film, and you begin to see the wheels of conspiracy nuts turning in the background of this movie.

A solid "Bee" movie

Is the acting good? Not really. Is the plot complex? No, not at all. The sets and locations are unusually bland. The bad guys are one-note villains for the most part, portrayed as irretrievably evil or at the very least greedy toadies. There’s not subtilty, no nuance, no grand scheme. With all this said, you’d think that I didn’t like this movie, but…

"Bee" ready, "honey!"

Look, this film isn’t going to win any Oscars. If you’ve ever seen a Jason Statham movie (outside of something directed by Guy Ritchie) then you know EXACTLY what this movie is going to be, and that is extremely action-packed incredibly dumb fun. Once the action starts going, you have Statham flexing his muscles as an unstoppable killing machine, but the movie leans into it in ways you wouldn’t expect, and it is tremendous fun for that alone. “Adam Clay” really isn’t a character at all: He does what he says he’s going to do with no pretense, and in the rare occasions he’s trying to be subtle and stealthy it’s strictly so that his quarry doesn’t run when they see him. I cannot state how much of a relief it is to see action played at a fast clip with absolutely NO slow-motion sequences to speak of (this is NOT a Zack Snyder movie, thank goodness).

Where can you find it?

If you’re a fan of cheesy movies, action movies, and just having a well-executed if extremely dumb time, check this movie out. It’s currently available for purchase on DVD/Blu-Ray and for rental or purchase on all major streaming sites.

Wednesday, February 14, 2024


Love in the Time of Dinosaurs

What's it about?

Tonight's nostalgia pic is "Caveman" (United Artists, 1981). In the year 1 zillion, B.C., a tribe of hunter-gatherers is struggling to survive in the harsh wasteland. The threats are many: Giant dinosaurs, huge insects, starvation, and not finding a mate! We follow the exploits of Atouk (Ringo Starr), a small yet clever caveman who has his heart set on a woman named Lana (played by Ringo's then soon-to-be wife, Barbara Bach).

Our everyman -- er, I mean hero!

A smoldering Barbara Bach as Lana (she's the one on the left) 

There's just one problem: Lana belongs to Tonda (a very ripped-looking John Matuszak), the strongest caveman and the humorless leader of the tribe.
Matuszak, as usual, is a joy to watch.

Caught by Tonda after failing to woo Lana, Atouk is run off into the wasteland, where he re-unites with his injured best friend, Lar (Dennis Quaid).
Atouk and Lar

The two set off on adventures, meeting and uniting a band of misfits and outcasts along the way, including the well-meaning Tala (Shelly Long, in her very first theatrical role) and her blind father, Gog (played by the always hilarious Jack Gilford), who Atouk and Lar save from tar pits and dinosaurs.
Tala and Gog

Can the ever-growing tribe of misfits make it in the prehistoric world?

Some background

Written by comedy writers Rudy De Luca and Carl Gottlieb, you may be interested to know that the film was originally co-directed by Gottlieb and special effects guru Jim Danforth (who produced the stop-motion dinosaur effects for the film), Danforth allegedly left the project with a full third of the film left to finish because the Directors Guild of America refused to give him a co-directing credit that he was contractually owed (frustrating, seeing how the effects required nearly seamless integration of the animated footage and the actors).

Honestly, even claymation Ringo looks good!

A childhood favorite

My first exposure to this film was when it aired on HBO a few years after its theatrical release (I had to have been eight or nine at the time). As with most movies that HBO was able to acquire back then, they played it a lot, but I seldom ever turned the channel when it was on.

I love this movie.

This scene made me hungry for fried eggs. It still makes me hungry for fried eggs...

The good

What do you mean, "it's not scientifically accurate?!"

In case it isn't obvious by the cast and the screenshots, this is a slapstick comedy featuring a large amount of visual gags. Nearly the entire film is pantomime, with the cast doing a lot of physical and expressive acting, because, and I can't stress this enough, the characters in the movie speak in grunts and an adorable caveman language, with the one exception to the gag being Nook (played by comedic actor Evan Kim -- the only person of Asian descent in the cast), who seems to be a time traveler from contemporary times stuck in the distant past (not really, but it is pretty hilarious).
I remember him from the best part of "The Kentucky Fried Movie"

John Matuszak's Tonda is of particular note, as his huge physical presence and over-the-top enraged performances are perfectly interlaced with more subtle comedic tones when he's not throwing people. If you liked him as Sloth in "The Goonies" or as Ogre in "Revenge of the Nerds," you'll like him here (rest in peace, big guy). The beautiful Barbara Bach (who had trouble finding work after 1977's "The Spy Who Loved Me") as Lana is bronzed and ready for backstabbing as she gleefully torments the smitten Atouk.

The special effects are top-notch, and I would even say that by today's standards. This film is mostly a string of visual gags, and so the creature effects (even if they aren't "realistic") are hilarious.

I love this guy!

The expressions of the dinosaurs are fantastic, and even though they're really just stop-motion puppets they emote so expressively that they come off as cute as they are threatening. The abominable snowman creature is just a guy in a suit, but it's still a great balance of scary and funny, what with his exposed buns and the fact that it's played by acting legend and tall person Richard Moll.

The bad

Even though I enjoy it, that doesn't mean that it doesn't have its bad points (this is an early 1980s comedy, after all). Although it isn't quite as bad as some, there are some moments that haven't aged well. Primarily among these is the scene where Atouk tries to take advantage of Lana after she's passed out from a knockout drug mistakenly meant for Tonda. I found this distasteful.

Other "jokes" that don't quite land include the tribe of misfits being joined by minorities, the differently-abled, and by a couple of gay cavemen. Funnily enough, while this was played for "look at the freaks" laughs back then, it makes the movie more endearing now, as the misfit tribe treats them all as equals and seldom plays the diversity for laughs.

Okay for older kids, with caveats

Should you watch it with kids? Well… I don't know. That's up to you, but it is an eighties movie, and so here are a few red flags to watch for: 1.) The near-rape scene. There's no nudity, and it's pantomimed to be more puppy-love than "sexy," but it is there. 2.) On-screen death. It only happens once at the very beginning, and it isn't graphic or played for laughs, but it does happen. 3.) Bully culture. The cave tribe is depicted as a group of mean-spirited bullies and abusers. While it is played for laughs and they are dealt with by the end of the film, it's there and might be triggering for some children. 4.) The swear word. One of the very few English words in this film is a swear word. It's one of the grossest moments of the film in terms of visual humor, but might encourage your kids to start using it, so be aware that it's there. 5.) Drug use. There is a cannabis-inspired plant in the movie that is used as a knockout drug (not as a recreational drug, though), and a dinosaur is shown high at one point.

Outside of that, the humor is very straightforward and visual, with enough visual humor and a short enough run-time (only about an hour and a half) that it seldom drags and might be able to hold their interest.

Where can you watch it?

"Caveman" is currently streaming on Amazon Prime for free with a monthly subscription as well as on DVD and a 2015 Blu-Ray release.

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra

I Sleep Now!

What's it about?

In honor of its 20th anniversary, tonight's nostalgic pic is "The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra" (Fragmighty/Transom Films/Valenti Entertainment, 2004). Dr. Paul Armstrong (Larry Blamire) and his wife Betty (Fay Masterson) are on their way to a rented cabin in the middle of the woods. His mission: To find a meteorite made from the radioactive element atmosphereum for the advancement of science.

"Do you know what this could mean for science? It could mean actual advances in the field of science!"

Meanwhile, another scientist named Dr. Roger Fleming (Brian Howe) is in the forest looking for the nearby Cadavra Cave, the rumored resting place of the fabled Lost Skeleton of Cadavra (Larry Blamire again), which it turns out can only be revived by a radioactive element, atmosphereum.
Our villain.

Keep an eye on that science kit.

Meanwhile, a couple of aliens from the planet Marva named Kro-Bar (Andrew Parks) and Lattis (Susan McConnell) crash land on Earth, with only one thing that can repair their ship: The radioactive element known as atmosphereum.
I'm getting serious "Plan 9 From Outer Space" vibes.

Meanwhile, the aliens' mutant (Darrin Reed) escapes their ship and begins terrorizing the countryside, and it is highly radioactive with atmosphereum.
Yes, it's as funny as it looks.

Meanwhile, using the aliens' technology, Dr. Fleming creates the femme fatale Animala (Jennifer Blaire) to help him infiltrate the Armstrongs' cabin to steal the atmosphereum.
She's made from four animals!

Who will get the atmosphereum? Will the Lost Skeleton conquer the world? I don't know. Oh well.

Some background

This film is writer-director Larry Blamire's love letter to the low-budget sci-fi horror schlock of the 1950s, and it is virtually indistinguishable from the "Z movie" offerings of the time. Filmed with his family and friends on a budget of almost nothing, and partially on location at Bronson Canyon in Griffith Park, Los Angeles, CA (a popular cheap filming location for B movies -- and a few episodes of "Star Trek") with an era-appropriate black and white film grain.

Family: Jennifer Blaire (Animala) is Larry Blamire's real-life wife.

The good

The real star of this film is the script; it's so utterly ridiculous and the dialogue so circular, it instantly evokes the overwrought, earnestly stupid screenplays of the 1950s. The performances and line delivery are all extra hammy and appropriately bad, very fitting for the material. Little touches like Animala's hypnotic go-go dance elevate this to one of the funniest movies of the 2000s.

The filmmakers really knew what they were working on.

The soundtrack is mostly canned samples from old films, which works quite well.

The bad

Not everyone will appreciate this movie, and its middling critical reviews can attest to that fact. There's no high action (actors are seldom put into precarious situations that would require stunt people), and the dialogue's repetitive nature and the slow pacing (things that are hallmarks of this genre) can get old expediently if you're not into it.

The pinnacle of Hollywood special effects: You WILL believe that a skeleton can walk!

There also seems to be a percentage of the population that can't stand watching black and white movies, and if you're one of them then you're not going to have a very good time. Oh well.

Relatively safe for kids

This film is PG for (completely bloodless) deaths and some extremely light innuendo.

The intense mutant v. skeleton fight might be too much for younger viewers (maybe probably).

It is probably quite fine to watch with young children, though the reason this film is so funny will probably fly right over their heads probably. Oh well.

Where can you find it?

I reviewed my DVD copy, but "The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra" is available to stream for free on Tubi, and is available to rent/buy from multiple providers including Apple TV, Amazon Prime, and YouTube/Google Play.

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

The Black Cauldron

The original tagline was "Get Boned!" (not really)

What's it about?

Tonight's nostalgic pic is "The Black Cauldron" (Disney, 1985). In the ancient land of Prydain, an evil sorcerer called "The Horned King" (John Hurt) is slowly taking over,

Republicans: "Seems like a good dude!"

his bandit hordes and mythical creatures seeking out magical items and riches all with one goal: To find The Black Cauldron, a powerful ancient relic that can be used to raise an army of the dead.
Yes, the McGuffin this time is a giant heavy metal object. 

All he needs is a lead… Meanwhile, a young assistant pig keeper named Taran (Grant Bardsley) has dreams of being a mighty warrior, seeing his current situation as beneath him.

He has been charged by his master Dallben the Enchanter (Freddie Jones) to watch over a single pig, Hen Wen.
ONE PIG! One TINY pig!

Dallben, an enchanter with a magic pig he can't bother to take care of himself.

One day Hen Wen begins to act unreasonably frightened, scaring young Taran. Dallben reveals to Taran that Hen Wen has the ability to act as a scryer, showing events far away or even the future!
Hen Wen begins to tell the future.

Using Hen Wen's abilities Dallben discovers that The Horned King has discovered Hen Wen, and so he sends Taran with the pig into the forest to hide while he figures out their next move. Immediately, Taran gets distracted and loses sight of Hen Wen. Distraught, he runs into Gurgi (John Byner), a talking small furry creature who appears to be starving and who steals an apple from Taran before offering to help him find the pig.
Gollum by way of Fiverr.

They discover Hen Wen being dragged to The Horned King's castle, where Taran goes to get his pig, only to get captured and forced to reveal the pig's power to find The Black Cauldron.
ONE JOB. You had ONE JOB. 

Taran manages to help Hen Wen escape but is thrown into the dungeon for his trouble. He soon meets a princess named Eilonwy (Susan Sheridan), a plucky young girl with a magical glowing bauble,
"Don't ask me, I'm just a girl! Tee-hee!"

and Fflewddur Fflam (Nigel Hawthorne), a bard with a magical lyre (that ironically loses strings whenever Fflewddur lies).
A liar with a lyre.

Escaping the old castle with the help of a magical sword that Taran finds, the rag-tag group decides to find Hen Wen and The Black Cauldron before The Horned King does!
To be fair, the sword does all the work.

Some background

This is sort of the "black sheep" of the Disney family. It was an unmitigated failure. The total budget ballooned to over $44 million, and its total ticket sales worldwide amounted to less than $22 million. Disney apparently optioned "The Chronicles of Prydain" book series by Lloyd Alexander all the way back in 1971 but had an extremely troubled production. That pushed the original 1980 release date back five years. There were a lot of reasons for this, not in the least of which was that there was a power struggle for the visual style of the film which resulted in much of the original work being thrown out. Further problems were brought on by a new studio chairman (Jeffrey Katzenberg -- before he left to help found DreamWorks) who insisted that the film's ending be severely re-cut to edit out much of the gruesome undead army.

Some good

There's a lot to like about this film. While it looks a bit rough in spots (possibly due to the new crop of animators Disney used on this project, including future director Tim Burton), it's actually quite dynamic, with many action scenes featuring surprisingly complex camera movement and characters moving in 3D space. The cast is pretty good as well, with John Huston (who voiced "Gandalf the Grey" in Rankin/Bass "Hobbit" animated movies) acting as the narrator for the introduction. John Hurt's performance as The Horned King (who "Dungeons & Dragons" players will immediately recognize as a lich) drips with menace and bile. The backgrounds are appropriately run-down and natural, like you would expect in a medieval landscape.

Or a heavy metal album cover.

The ending sequence is the most surprising aspect of this film, the undead army being spooky, horrible, and terrifying, with some implied deaths as well.
Don't watch with young kids.

Some bad

It's not all good, though. There's plenty of bad things to sift through here, starting with Taran. Grant Bardsley plays the character fine, but the character is unlikable, being a daydreaming entitled incompetent whiner that we're stuck with throughout the film; BUT… He does learn his lesson by the end of the film, and that's something. As I mentioned before, for all the flash and dynamic aspects of the animation, it does look rather rough, with pencils showing through much of the paint. The story is crowded and unconventional. I know that it's trying to follow the books, but we're introduced to characters at a breakneck speed while others drop in and out of the film at random times.

The three witches are over-the-top, and brief.

Hen Wen, the main driving force for the first half of the film is absent throughout most of it, and almost entirely gone in the second half, for example. Other little touches (like Eilonwy's bauble) are presented without full explanation, and then seem to disappear when the animators have forgotten about them. Gurgi is presented as a sort of "discount Gollum" serving the purpose of the film's "cute marketable cash-grab," and I would hate him except that by the end of the film I actually felt something for him.
Oh, and these things. Pointless. Stupid. Marketable.

In short

Is it worth watching? Sure. It's one of those weird films where the highs never really reach the high that you want, the lows are never as bad as you expect them to be, and it's entertaining enough to be watchable -- but it's no classic.

Plus, nobody pets this wyvern's belly. He just wants to be a good boy!

Not for the very young

This movie is rated PG for scenes of undead mayhem, implied death, spooky imagery, and probably because Tim Burton worked on it.

Seriously, don't watch with kids unless you want them to sleep with the lights on.

Where can you watch it?

As of this writing, "The Black Cauldron" is available for streaming on Disney+.

Wednesday, January 17, 2024


A Tale of Two Connies

What's it about?

Tonight's nostalgic pic is "Coneheads" (Paramount, 1993). Alien interlopers Beldar (Dan Aykroyd) and Prymatt (Jane Curtain) have a malfunction on their spaceship while on their way to Earth to conquer the planet. The ship goes down in the ocean and the two are forced to swim to shore without weapons or the means to communicate with their home planet, Remulak. The two find that they know nothing about the local culture, but are forced to blend in until they can contact their superiors. Beldar uses his advanced technical knowledge to work as a TV repair man for Otto (Sinbad) and uses the opportunity to secretly construct a device to contact Remulak.

Ozzie and Harriet, if Ozzie and Harriet were immigrants. And horrific aliens.

He is informed that a space cruiser will be sent to Earth to pick up the two in seven "zurls" (which is apparently the equivalent of nearly two decades on Earth). Prymatt expresses concern and reveals that she is pregnant, to Beldar's delight. When Otto realizes that Beldar is an "illegal alien" he arranges a meeting with mobster Carmine (Adam Sandler) to get him some documentation.
Aw, he's so young! Also, not very funny.

Unbeknownst to everyone, the documents are being tracked by United Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) agents and their insane director, Gorman Seedling (Michael McKean).
This man is an absolute legend.

After the INS raids the aliens' trailer home, Beldar and Prymatt relocate to a new job (taxi driver) and a basement apartment, saving money to buy a home to raise their daughter in.
Driving Miss Drew-ey.

When the second INS raid fails and jeopardizes his promotion, Seedling makes tracking down the aliens his main priority. Beldar and Prymatt give birth to a baby girl and settle into successful suburban life, while their daughter, Connie (Michelle Burke) grows up as an earthling.
She's played as a normal girl in this interpretation, unlike the original sketches.

Can the family maintain their cover while waiting for rescue?

Some background

Wow this is *checks watch* THIRTY YEARS OLD NOW?! That can't be right. Why do my bones hurt?

This is based on the original Saturday Night Live sketches produced by Lorne Michaels and starring Dan Aykroyd, Jane Curtain, and Laraine Newman (as the original Connie) all the way back in 1977. There was an effort made before to revive the property (in the 1980s they made some new sketches with Phil Hartman and Nora Dunn taking over for Aykroyd and Curtain), and also make the property more mainstream (see my review of the animated pilot). This film took that humble beginning and made it a blockbuster special-effects-laden film with a $30,000,000 budget (an astronomical amount in 1993)! The ads were everywhere, and it was one of the first times I remember the restaurant chain Subway really leaning into commercial promotions (a Subway restaurant is even prominently featured in a scene). This film had a gigantic cast of well-known comedians and soon-to-be-famous stars.

How big were the stars? This background character swimming coach is played by Ellen DeGeneres.

It's funny, the gags are very visual, and it got absolutely totaled at the box office, only bringing in just over $21,000.000 worldwide, failing to even meet its budget. Even today the film is listed as "rotten" on, absolutely hated by critics and fans alike.

The good

Surprisingly, despite is cold by-the-numbers corporate veneer, I don't hate this film. I don't know that you can fault the cast for how bad it was received, as it has an astounding amount of Saturday Night Live alumni and NBC sitcom stars in the cast, and every scene and bit part had me pointing at the screen and shouting, "ooh! I know that person!" It delighted me, especially since it makes the aggressive aliens of Remulak seem just as clumsy, overconfident, and incompetent as their earthling counterparts (my favorite joke is when starship Captain Orecruiser, played by Garret Morris, accidentally hits the moon while pulling away from Earth and just pretends like it's normal).

Even if you don't know who Garret Morris is, you've probably seen him in something.

I like the "immigrants are people too" message, but it's not really delivered cleverly or leaned on as much as it could be.

The bad

The film doesn't have very many twists, especially in this day and age, and really just leans into its B-movie tendencies, but while its laughs are usually obvious it rarely goes for the guttural gross-out humor of most "Happy Madison" films, of which this shares some sizeable DNA.

This horrific scene at the dentist is about as bad as it gets.

The one sore spot for me is the sexual aggressiveness of Chris Farley's character "Ronnie," as he almost assaults Connie at one point, but it is played off as "normal" and "romantic" later on.
This character isn't great, but is typical of Chris Farley at the time. 

This is rather shockingly one of the shortest movies I've ever watched, clocking in at just 86 minutes from beginning to the end credit crawl. It might be dragging a bit in spots which is why it seems longer, but I couldn't say for sure; it seems like a normal length film despite its hastened approach.

Go ahead, watch it with the kids

This movie should be okay for younger viewers. It's mostly just a family sitcom with a few light horror elements that are all played for laughs. There's no swearing, although there is a lot of alien sex-talk and innuendo, but as most of the dialogue in these scenes is made up of nonsense words younger viewers might not gather what the scene is referring to even if they understand the tone.

WARNING: May contain questionable levels of Spade.

Is it worth watching? Eeeeh… Probably not. If you're familiar with the cast of SNL and the liked the original sketches it is well worth seeing. It's pretty inoffensive overall, and you might just get a laugh or two, but don't expect biting social commentary or to bust a gut from laughing so hard.

Where can you watch it?

"Coneheads" is available to rent or buy on most platforms, and is can be streamed for no extra cost with YouTube Premium (which is where I watched it), as well as for free with commercials on some other providers (like Pluto TV) at the writing of this review.