Strange Cinema: Black Swan (2010)

This is part of an ongoing review series for the films featured on‘s Certifiably Weird list. My goal is to watch and review all of them (even if it kills me). These reviews may contain spoilers.

Black Swan (2010)
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, Barbara Hershey, & Winona Ryder

What’s it about?
Perfectionist ballerina Nina Sayers scores the dual role of the White Swan and the Black Swan in a production of Swan Lake, but the pressure begins to tear her apart, and soon she loses touch with reality.

Is it any good?
Let’s just get this out of the way: I have a huge girl crush on Natalie Portman. Her role in this film is possibly the best in her career at this point, and she definitely deserved that Oscar. So I’m a little biased, okay? But Black Swan is a great film for a lot of other reasons, too.

I’m a huge fan of Darren Aronofsky’s work. He’s one of those directors who knows how to make the mundane dark and mysterious, but not in a cliché way. Ballet in itself is not that terrifying, but if you add psychological terror (shifts in perspective, manipulation of shadows, time lapse), it can be very disconcerting. I wouldn’t call this a horror film, but it has the perfect amount of suspense and intensity.

The strongest aspects of this film were its contrasting themes of perfectionism and maturation. Nina takes ballet so seriously she has this machine-like precision that’s almost unhealthy. Everything she does is so structured, and her ultimate goal is to just let go. The sensuality and mystery of the Black Swan is meant to appear fluid, and though she does achieve this in the end, it ultimately destroys her.

The maturation theme isn’t as prominent as the perfectionism theme, but it’s still incredibly important in terms of character development. In the beginning, Nina perfectly embodies the innocent White Swan, both in the way she dresses and her personal life. I mean, the girl still lives with her mother and sleeps with stuffed animals. She’s childlike, and in order to become the Black Swan, she has to grow up. But she doesn’t just mature in her onstage performance–she also matures in her personal life. Nina dumps her collection of stuffed animals down the garbage chute and has a creepy one-night stand with Lily (Mila Kunis).

The dance scenes were incredible, especially the performance at the end of the film. And the symbolism was heavy (perhaps a bit too heavy?). When Nina falls while dancing the White Swan, that slip-up can be seen as her “fall from grace.” Her Black Swan ends up being perfect (and that shot of her with the wings is spectacular), but when she jumps from her perch as the White Swan at the end, that is her finally letting go.

Great film, great performances, and one weird twist. See it if you haven’t already!

Grade: A (for chilling performances and killer dance moves)
Weirdness Score: 8/10 (or, weird enough to make ballet frightening)

[Read the more in-depth 366 Weird Movies review here.]

Strange Cinema: The Triplets of Belleville (2003)

This is part of an ongoing review series for the films featured on‘s Certifiably Weird list. My goal is to watch and review all of them (even if it kills me). These reviews may contain spoilers.

The Triplets of Belleville (2003)
Director: Sylvain Chomet
Starring: Béatrice Bonifassi & Lina Boudreault

What’s it about?
Madame Souza trains her grandson, Champion, to be a professional cyclist and enters him in the Tour de France. But when Champion is kidnapped by the French mafia during the race, Souza must travel to Belleville to rescue him (with the help of three musical sisters and a loyal dog).

Is it any good?
When it comes to handing out awards for the best in cinema, the Oscars are fairly predictable. The Triplets of Belleville was nominated for Best Animated Film and Best Original Song (“Belleville Rendez-vous”), but lost both awards to much more obvious winners. In case you don’t follow the Oscars as closely as I do, this film lost to Finding Nemo and The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King in those respective categories. Yeah, those films had much bigger budgets (and names) attached to them, but neither of them had the charm of this little French number.

The animation style of The Triplets of Belleville is definitely unique. It’s hand-drawn, but it’s not Disneyfied or even remotely reminiscent of Japanese anime. The characters and the setting have such fluidity and the colors are muted, so they’re not too distracting. I love animation like this. Call me old fashioned, but I very much prefer hand-drawn cartoons to computer-animated ones. They just feel more genuine.

The plot is simple enough, but the delivery is probably what landed the film on the weird movie list. There is almost no dialogue, so much of the story is told through pantomime. But that approach definitely works because it strips away all the unnecessary chatter. We get each character’s quirks through their movements (i.e. the dog’s internal schedule with the train). And the triplets are perfectly characterized without having to say a single word (their singing alone is enough of an introduction to their personalities).

Back to the animation (because it’s honestly incredible), I absolutely love the exaggeration in the background characters. Other than Souza, Champion, and the triplets, the characters have exaggerated features, and that’s what I like to see in a cartoon. Though it’s always impressive to see hand-drawn characters that look shockingly realistic, there’s something about cartoonish renderings that just looks so enchanting.

So did The Triplets of Belleville really deserve those Oscars? Well, that’s tough to say. If you always root for the underdog, you’ll probably answer “yes” to that question. But comparing this film to Finding Nemo is essentially comparing apples to oranges. Pixar/Disney films tend to win the Best Animated Film category, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore the other nominated films. Give the underdogs a chance. You won’t regret it.

Grade: A- (for exceptional animation and unique execution)
Weirdness Score: 8/10 (or, weird enough to be the first PG-13 rated film to be nominated for Best Animated Film)

[Read the more in-depth 366 Weird Movies review here.]

Strange Cinema: Escape from Tomorrow (2013)

This is part of an ongoing review series for the films featured on‘s Certifiably Weird list. My goal is to watch and review all of them (even if it kills me). These reviews may contain spoilers.

Escape from Tomorrow (2013)
Director: Randy Moore
Starring: Roy Abramsohn, Elena Schuber, Katelynn Rodriguez, Annet Mahendru, Danielle Safady, & Alison Lees-Taylor

What’s it about?
Jim gets fired from his job while on vacation at Walt Disney World with his family and begins to have increasingly disturbing hallucinations that may or may not be real.

Is it any good?
I had such high hopes for this film. Not only was it filmed illegally in Disney World, but it was also advertised as a biting satire of the entire Disney corporation. The buzz surrounding this film was so intense I just assumed it was going to blow my mind. I should really know better by now than to trust “buzz.”

Escape from Tomorrow is technically a horror film, but it’s really not that frightening. Sure, it has a couple minor scares (animatronic puppets on the “It’s a Small World” ride with demon faces is a little disconcerting), but there weren’t enough to make this film genuinely horrifying. I need more than just facial distortion and an ambiguous ending, Randy Moore.

I realize how risky it was to film this, but the editing is just terrible. The actors look Photoshopped on to stock footage at several points, and the explosion scene at Epcot is beyond ridiculous. And did I mention there’s a completely unneeded five-second intermission? This isn’t Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I doubt it was included for comedic effect.

The acting is just as bad. Roy Abramsohn was pretty good as Jim, but his wife was a bit of an over-actor. I didn’t really believe her anger because it just seemed out of place. And Alison Lees-Taylor as the unnamed other woman was just too much. Maybe that was intentional since she comes off as a cartoonish villain, but it was kind of a distraction.

I honestly couldn’t tell who was supposed to be the real villain in this film. There’s the other woman who kidnaps Jim’s daughter, but then there’s also the weird scientist inside Epcot who keeps Jim in a secret detention center. But the scientist isn’t torturing him–he’s just showing Jim his own imagination. What’s so evil about that?

The plot makes little to no sense, mostly because there’s just too much going on. Jim has hallucinations, becomes obsessed with following some French girls around the park, has a random affair with this other woman, gets kidnapped by an “evil” scientist, and eventually comes down with “cat flu.” What the hell was the cat flu supposed to signify?

I honestly believe Escape from Tomorrow would have worked better in the documentary style, much like The Blair Witch Project or Quarantine. It was already filmed guerrilla-style, so why not play that up more? If the scares were a bit more subtle, it could have been a lot more successful. As is, it’s just a film festival novelty by an ambitious filmmaker. And it’s amazing that Disney didn’t sue the shit out of Randy Moore.

Grade: D+ (for amateur filmmaking and a plot too convoluted to be frightening)
Weirdness Score: 8.5/10 (or, weird enough to make a family theme park seem a bit more menacing)

[Read the more in-depth 366 Weird Movies review here.]

Strange Cinema: The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

This is part of an ongoing review series for the films featured on‘s Certifiably Weird list. My goal is to watch and review all of them (even if it kills me). These reviews may contain spoilers.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
Director: Jim Sharman
Starring: Tim Curry, Barry Bostwick, Susan Sarandon, Richard O’Brien, Patricia Quinn, Nell Campbell, & Meat Loaf

What’s it about?
Brad and Janet get stuck with a flat tire and wind up at Dr. Frank N. Furter’s creepy castle, where they meet the doctor’s creation (Rocky) and experience a kind of sexual awakening.

Is it any good?
Widely considered to be the prolific midnight movie of all time, The Rocky Horror Picture Show is synonymous with cult films. Even if you’ve never seen it, you’ve at least heard of it. And if you haven’t seen it, you’re definitely missing out.

The problem with reviewing this film is that I’m 100% biased in favor of it. I watched it religiously in middle school and even participated in a theater troupe’s performance of it in college (shout out to the Lost Flamingo Company!). I consider this to be a coming of age experience rather than just a spoof of old horror B movies.

So in order to give this movie a (mostly) objective review, I have to separate it from its cult following. But we’ll add that factor back in at the end to see if it really holds up.

Rocky Horror isn’t meant to be taken seriously. You’ll laugh at the awkward set pieces and the lackluster acting (even from a veteran like Susan Sarandon). This film satirizes B movies like The Bride of FrankensteinForbidden Planet, and Doctor X. The spirit of those early sci-fi films is perfectly captured, but Rocky Horror adds an extra element to the mix: unrestrained sexuality.

One of the most common messages of Rocky Horror is simply to “give yourself over to absolute pleasure.” Everyone has sex in this film–men and women, men and men, women and women, creation and creator, brother and sister (elbow sex counts!). And despite being a little over-the-top, this movie is surprisingly inclusive of all sexual expressions. It celebrates sexuality (something that was not unusual in a lot of other films in the ’70s), and doesn’t restrict it to heterosexuality. It’s not pornographic by any means, but you definitely get the hints.

The film itself is good for a few laughs and has an incredibly catchy soundtrack, but if you’re just watching it by yourself in your living room, it’s not the most entertaining movie.

BUT, if you add the enormous cult following and the audience participation, Rocky Horror is one of the best experiences you’ll ever have. If you ever get the chance to see a live performance of this or you get a chance to participate in it yourself, do it. You’ll have a new appreciation for this film and you might even have your own sexual awakening. Admit it, Tim Curry as Dr. Frank N. Furter is oddly attractive. I can say from firsthand experience that performing with a bunch of other Rocky Horror fans in nothing but lingerie and high heels is something you’ll always remember and cherish.

Grade: B- (without audience participation), A (with audience participation)
Weirdness Score: 8.5/10 (or, weird enough to make you question your own sexuality) 

[Read the more in-depth 366 Weird Movies review here.]

Strange Cinema: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)

This is part of an ongoing review series for the films featured on‘s Certifiably Weird list. My goal is to watch and review all of them (even if it kills me). These reviews may contain spoilers.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
Director: Michel Gondry
Starring: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Kirsten Dunst, Mark Ruffalo, Elijah Wood, & Tom Wilkinson

What’s it about?
After finding out that his ex-girlfriend had her memory of him erased, Joel Barish elects to have the same procedure, but as each memory of Clementine is erased, he realizes that the entire process was a mistake.

Is it any good?
Words can’t express how much I love this film. I first saw it when I was 13, and although it took a couple of viewings to fully understand, I was amazed by it. Eternal Sunshine is also one of the few films I’ve seen that can reduce me to tears every time I see it, which is quite a feat.

Before seeing this film, I was only familiar with Jim Carrey’s comedy career. I grew up watching him in movies like Ace Ventura: Pet DetectiveDumb and Dumber, and Liar, Liar, so seeing him in a serious role was quite a shock (this was before I got around to watching The Truman Show). But he’s not completely serious, which makes this role all the more enchanting. His character still finds humor in his situation, especially when confronted with the fun memories he shares with Clementine. But of course he gets emotional at all the right moments, and it’s actually believable. When he realizes his mistake in getting Clementine erased and he pleads with the people who can’t hear him (“Please let me keep this memory”)–I’m actually tearing up just thinking about this, to be honest.

Kate Winslet is also perfect in this film. Clementine is a great character because although she represents the manic pixie dream girl trope, she acknowledges how pathetic that fantasy really is and even reveals her own major flaws. She proves that the perfectly eccentric girl on the outside is just as fucked up as anyone else.

In fact, Eternal Sunshine is one of the very few films that shows a believable relationship. As Joel gets the memory procedure done, we see his relationship with Clementine in reverse, so the only things we know about them in the beginning are the things that caused them to drift apart. We see all their faults (Clementine has an uncontrollable temper exacerbated by her constant drinking, and Joel is just a pushover), and hear these characters vocalize the other’s faults in their recorded testimony. But by the time Joel reaches the sweeter memories of life with Clementine, the audience is rooting for them.

I’ve heard people complain about how difficult this film is to understand, but it’s really not that confusing. We’re not talking about Donnie Darko here (can’t wait to get to that review!). Eternal Sunshine is an unconventional love story with a reverse timeline. Director Michel Gondry, much like Terry Gilliam, is obviously obsessed with dreams and how the mind works. I hope I’m not alone in believing that Eternal Sunshine is his best film, hands down. Is it weird? Yeah, a little. But that’s probably why it’s one of the only romance films I’ve ever truly loved.

Grade: A (for knockout performances and a believable love story)
Weirdness Score: 7/10 (or, weird enough to make you think twice about forgetting your ex)

[Read the more in-depth 366 Weird Movies review here.]

Update and Massive List Project

Hello, dear readers!

I make it a point to post something every day on this blog, but alas, I’ve been lacking the past couple of days. My apologies! I figured I’d post a quick update on this blog for now, just to let you know what’s in store.

First, I’ll definitely be continuing with my Strange Cinema review series. Most of you started following this blog because of those reviews, so you’ll see more of them soon! I haven’t watched any other films from the list recently, so the next few reviews will be of films I’m more familiar with.

Second, I keep meaning to get some album reviews up so this blog won’t be just film reviews. Look out for some music-related reviews soon!

And third, I’m starting a massive project in the form of a list. I greatly enjoy making lists, and I know people like reading them. This one will be the 100 Greatest Songs of the 2000s. After seeing VH1’s list (and being incredibly disappointed by it), I’ve decided to put together my own list based on everyone else’s input.

So that means I need your input, readers! In the comments, please let me know which songs you think are the best of the 2000s. Keep in mind that each song’s release date must fall between January 1, 2000 and December 31, 2009. And I’d like to focus on singles only (that means no deep cuts). All genres are welcome, but make sure the songs you choose are fairly big hits.

The Strange Cinema reviews will continue throughout the week, but I can’t promise there will be an update every day!

– Sam

Strange Cinema: Naked Lunch (1991)

This is part of an ongoing review series for the films featured on‘s Certifiably Weird list. My goal is to watch and review all of them (even if it kills me). These reviews may contain spoilers.

Naked Lunch (1991)
Director: David Cronenberg
Starring: Peter Weller, Judy Davis, Ian Holm, & Roy Scheider

What’s it about?
This film has one of the most difficult plots to summarize, but it basically follows exterminator William Lee as he gets high on bug powder and hallucinates some of the most frightening typewriters ever portrayed on film.

Is it any good?
Not only is it difficult to explain this film, but it’s also difficult to determine whether or not it’s actually good. Based on William S. Burroughs’ novel of the same name, Naked Lunch is one confusing ride from beginning to end. According to Burroughs, the chapters in the novel are not meant to be read in any particular order, a sentiment David Cronenberg took to heart when he made this incredibly loose adaptation.

I’ve tried multiple times to read the book, but I’ve given up each time. Rather than finish the damn thing, I decided to watch the movie instead (a lazy choice, but perhaps a necessary one). Of course the film isn’t entirely based on Burroughs’ novel–it incorporates some of his other, more personal writings. This makes the character of William Lee much more comparable to Burroughs himself. Basically, Naked Lunch is Burroughs’ mind on drugs.

Drug movies are pretty hit or miss for me. Sometimes they’re brilliant (Trainspotting), but other times they try a little too hard to be “edgy” (Enter the Void). Oddly enough, Naked Lunch is the only drug movie I’ve seen that stands firmly in the middle. Cronenberg isn’t really trying to be edgy here–in fact, it feels like he doesn’t give a shit if he’s lost the audience or not. “Oh, are things starting to make some sense to you now? Fuck you, here’s a bunch of people sucking slime out of an alien bug’s phallic appendage.”

This is a pretty dark film despite the lack of a real plot. Peter Weller does a great job playing a stone-faced drug addict (he’s pretty much known for being expressionless, anyway), and he’s surprisingly calm when faced with all the fucked up creatures he encounters. I feel like I’d be much more upset if my typewriter turned into a giant talking insect.

Sure, Naked Lunch has an abundance of strange imagery, but does that make it good? Cronenberg did keep the Burroughs spirit, which is quite a feat. That alone should give the film some merit. And I did appreciate that the giant insects were puppets rather than CGI, which made them all the more frightening. So despite some low quality production and a completely nonsensical plot, I’d call this a good film. Granted, it’s not for everyone, especially if you’re expecting everything to be explained to you by the end. If you like William Burroughs and David Cronenberg, you’ll probably dig it.

Now maybe I can finally read the book.

Grade: B (for an ambitious take on a William Burroughs tale)
Weirdness Score: 9.5/10 (or, weird enough to make typewriters seem terrifying) 

[Read the more in-depth 366 Weird Movies review here.]

Strange Cinema: Sin City (2005)

This is part of an ongoing review series for the films featured on‘s Certifiably Weird list. My goal is to watch and review all of them (even if it kills me). These reviews may contain spoilers.

Sin City (2005)
Director: Frank Miller, Robert Rodriguez, & Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Jessica Alba, Benicio del Toro, Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke, Clive Owen, & Brittany Murphy

What’s it about?
Based on the graphic novel anthology of the same name, this adaptation follows several seedy characters in the fictional Basin City as they face corruption, murder, and revenge.

Is it any good?
It’s incredible how many of my favorite films of all time have made it on to the weird movie list. I was a bit surprised to see Sin City there, though. I suppose I’m a bit desensitized to it since I’ve watched it so many times, but it never really struck me as that bizarre. Sure, the color scheme is a little strange, but that’s only to make it look like a real graphic novel. And yeah, the story structure is a bit off. And there’s some cannibalism, a talking corpse, a genetically-altered pedophile with yellow skin…

Okay, so Sin City is actually pretty strange. But it’s probably one of the best graphic novel adaptations ever made. The director dream-team of Miller, Rodriguez, and Tarantino took some risks with this one, and everything turned out better than expected. Instead of sticking with one book in the anthology, they decided to incorporate three separate stories–The Hard GoodbyeThe Big Fat Kill, and That Yellow Bastard.

In The Hard Goodbye, mentally ill brute of a criminal Marv (Mickey Rourke) wakes up to find the only woman who ever showed him any kindness dead in his bed. Marv suspects foul play and dodges police on his way to find the real killer of his beloved Goldie. It turns out there’s a certain cannibal by the name of Kevin (Elijah Wood) who’s been killing and eating prostitutes, but he can’t be brought to justice because he happens to be involved with the powerful and corrupt Roark family.

Mickey Rourke was the perfect choice for Marv. He’s brutal, physically menacing, and kind of charming (in a psycho killer way). His story arc in the film is relatively short, but he steals every scene. He’s definitely one of the best characters in the film.

The Big Fat Kill follows Dwight (Clive Owen) and the prostitutes of Old Town as they race to cover up the murder of a cop, which carries the threat of the police, the mob, and a group of mercenaries taking over the girls’ territory. While I did enjoy all the shoot ’em up violence in this story, I did think the whole “girl power” idea of Old Town was a bit problematic. Sure, the prostitutes were able to stand up for themselves and created their own functioning society, but they’re still presented as male fantasies. They carry guns and wear leather and lace, but in the end, they still need to be saved by a man (Dwight). I would have liked to see a bit more autonomy.

The final story arc, That Yellow Bastard, is probably my favorite. Aging cop John Hartigan (Bruce Willis) tracks down a serial pedophile, but like Marv, can’t bring him to justice because he’s part of the Roark family. He saves little Nancy from being raped and gravely injures Roark Junior, but ends up being framed and sent to prison. Hartigan eventually gets out and searches for the now 19-year-old Nancy (Jessica Alba), but is followed by horribly disfigured Junior, who wants to rape Nancy and kill Hartigan as revenge.

Bruce Willis’ Hartigan is such a great character, and his final sacrifice for Nancy is frustrating, but ultimately makes sense. The romance between them was a bit creepy, but I guess every film-noir needs some romance.

Grade: A (for experiments in film noir and some of the most memorable characters)
Weirdness Score: 7/10 (or, weird enough to make you sympathize with a bunch of criminals)

[Read the more in-depth 366 Weird Movies review here.]

Sam’s Top 10 Guilty Pleasures in Film

While I may post a lot about critically acclaimed films on this blog, I can’t hide the fact that I enjoy shitty movies. Like most normal humans, I secretly laugh at fart jokes and get pumped for overly-choreographed fight scenes. Whether it’s bad acting or just a bad script, these films have always fascinated me, even though they hold the lowest of the low scores on Rotten Tomatoes (cult movies like Rocky Horror are not included). So here are my Top 10 Guilty Pleasures in Film. Feel free to add your own in the comments so I don’t feel too embarrassed.

10. Constantine (2005), dir. Francis Lawrence

I hesitated putting this film on the list because I genuinely think it’s great. The other films you’ll see on here are more obviously bad, but Constantine has a lot going for it. Keanu Reeves plays John Constantine, an exorcist born with the power to see angels and demons on Earth. In this world, angels and demon are forbidden to manifest themselves on Earth, but can possess and influence humans. Constantine finds out that Lucifer’s son, Mammon, is planning to break through to Earth and claim it as his own kingdom, so he must kill Mammon and restore the balance.

Constantine has a great premise and the visuals are fantastic. Keanu Reeves gets a lot of shit as an actor, but I thought he made a perfect Constantine. And Tilda Swinton as Gabriel? Now that was awesome. (Also, special shout-out to mega-babe Gavin Rossdale as sassy half-breed demon Balthazar.)

But not everything about this film is great. Casting Shia LaBeouf as the spunky sidekick was a poor choice because he’s just too annoying. And Rachel Weisz was a fairly dull female lead. At times, the special effects got a bit too distracting, and I think the film would have been slightly better if a little was left to the imagination. But despite the hate from the critics, I’ve got a soft spot for Constantine.

9. Airheads (1994), dir. Michael Lehrmann

This one almost got disqualified because I already have another Adam Sandler film on the list. But technically Adam isn’t the star of this movie, so I let it in. Airheads is the story of three loser musicians (Brendan Fraser, Steve Buscemi, and Adam Sandler) who hold a radio station hostage in an attempt to their song played on the air. Terrible premise, terrible acting, and terrible original music make for one awesomely bad guilty pleasure.

Casting Brendan Fraser, Steve Buscemi, and Adam Sandler as three best friends was a bizarre choice. Give them all long hair and some grunge-chic fashion sense and you’ve got the most out of place cast ever. This film came out at the height of the alternative rock takeover in the ’90s, so it’s really just a product of the times. And that’s probably why I love it.

The dialogue also sells it for me. Some of my favorite lines come from Steve Buscemi, who plays a totally immature douchebag (which is a drastic shift from the weird, misunderstood characters he normally plays). And when someone asks you who would win in a wrestling match between Lemmy and God, remember that it’s a trick question (Lemmy is God).

8. Bring it On (2000), dir. Peyton Reed

The fact that I enjoy a teen comedy about cheerleading shocks even my closest friends. Bring it On is your standard teen rom-com about a head cheerleader who needs to build the perfect squad and the best routine to win a national cheerleading competition. Everything plays out as expected, but there are some aspects that stray a bit from the norm, which is what I really enjoy.

First of all, the squad we’ve been following for the entire film doesn’t win nationals at the end. Most teen comedies have the main characters getting exactly what they want in the end, and although Kirsten Dunst gets her dream guy, her squad has to settle with second place. Second of all, Eliza Dushku as badass outsider Missy is a welcome addition to the cheerleader stereotype cast. And the routines throughout the film are admittedly cool to watch.

Bring it On isn’t a genre-bending film by any means, but it’s still a fun film. As someone who’s never been a cheerleader (or an athlete of any kind), I kind of wanted to join the squad by the halfway mark.

7. Rock Star (2001), dir. Stephen Herek 

I really love terrible music movies, especially when they star Marky Mark Wahlberg in tight leather pants. Rock Star is loosely based on the real-life story of Tim Owens, a singer in a Judas Priest tribute band who landed a gig as the singer of the real Judas Priest after Rob Halford split. Mark plays the Tim Owens counterpart, but the band he joins is called Steel Dragon.

The plot is pretty basic–Marky Mark gets a call from Steel Dragon, joins the band, does the typical “sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll” thing, realizes his bandmates aren’t the people he thought they were, and quits years later. There aren’t many surprises in this movie, but it’s just a fun ride, especially if you like ’80s hair metal. There’s also eye-candy in the form of Mark Wahlberg (in leather pants, as I mentioned before) and Jennifer Aniston.

The music is great, too. Unlike the purposely bad originals in Airheads, the songs in Rock Star are actually pretty awesome. The highlight is “We All Die Young,” which was originally by the band Steelheart. Holy power ballad, Batman!

6. Little Nicky (2000), dir. Steven Brill

Okay, there’s really no excuse for this film. I honestly can’t tell you why I like it because there really aren’t any redeeming qualities to it. The jokes are juvenile, the plot is ridiculous, and Adam Sandler’s character is beyond annoying. Michael J. Nelson (from Mystery Science Theater 3000 fame) called it the worst comedy ever made. It was nominated for five Razzies, including Worst Picture, but lost only because Battlefield Earth was also nominated the same year. I could go on, but I think you get the point.

I can’t defend Little Nicky, but for some odd reason, I actually enjoy it. I was torn between this and Billy Madison, but this one was way more embarrassing. Little Nicky was the beginning of the end of Adam Sandler’s comedy career. His more recent films are probably worse than this one, but I don’t actually like any of those.

Maybe it’s the dick jokes. Maybe it’s the endless amount of cameos, including Ozzy Osbourne and Henry Winkler (covered in bees!). Or maybe a small part of me still believes Adam Sandler is funny.

5. Thir13en Ghosts (2001), dir. Steve Beck

Back in the late ’90s/early 2000s, studios decided to remake all of William Castle’s classic horror films. The original 13 Ghosts was released in 1960 and it probably wasn’t nearly as bloody as this remake. The story is essentially the same as the original–ghost hunter Cyrus Kriticos captures twelve ghosts and seals them in his creepy glass house in the middle of nowhere, fakes his own death, leaves the house to his nephew, and by someone’s carelessness, all the ghosts are released and start wreaking havoc.

The reason why this film was a critical failure was probably because it wasn’t even scary. It was billed as a horror film, but minus a couple quick jumps, there really wasn’t anything frightening about it. It’s a bit predictable, and even when it tries to be original, the characters over-explain everything. You don’t need to tell me every single detail about Cyrus’ plan! Show me. The number one rule of storytelling is show, don’t tell. Give me visual clues! Let me figure it out for myself! The director didn’t need to dumb it down for the audience.

Despite all its faults, Thir13en Ghosts does have some interesting ghosts. According to the agonizingly long explanation in the film, each ghost represents a sign of the fictional “Black Zodiac.” Their origins aren’t revealed in the film, but you can find them in the DVD extras. Their backstories are fascinating, but I’m kind of glad they left those out. It would have made the film far too long.

4. Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000), dir. Ron Howard

I love Jim Carrey and I love Dr. Seuss, so of course I love this clumsy adaptation of one of Seuss’ best stories. It’s pretty crude for a film marketed towards children (the Grinch landing face first in Martha May’s cleavage was a bit too adult for the kiddies), but that’s what made it enjoyable for people of all ages. Yes, the classic cartoon is technically better (and much closer to the book), but this adaptation is bizarrely enjoyable.

I’ve come to realize that people either love or hate this one–there really isn’t any middle ground. If you hate it, it’s probably because of Jim Carrey’s over-the-top performance as the Grinch. If you love it, it’s probably because of, well, Jim Carrey. The man is the major element in this adaptation, and whether you enjoy it or not depends on how much you like watching Jim hamming it up for the camera. Personally, I think he did a great job. And I still laugh at most of the jokes (even the juvenile ones).

I still watch it around Christmastime and it honestly puts me in the holiday spirit (which is difficult). But if you want more reasons to hate this movie, check out Nostalgia Critic’s perfect review.

3. House on Haunted Hill (1999), dir. William Malone

This is another terrible remake of a William Castle film, but it’s slightly better than Thir13en GhostsHouse on Haunted Hill kept some of the campiness of the original while injecting some modern scares to amp up the plot. The story is simple–amusement park mogul Steven Price sets up a party in an abandoned insane asylum where each guest is challenged to stay the whole night, with a prize of $1 million at stake. Of course, staying the night isn’t as easy as it looks since the asylum is actually haunted by murderous ghosts. Didn’t see that one coming, did you?

As with most modern horror films, the acting is terrible and the characters are mostly unlikable. Though to this film’s credit, it does have some genuinely witty dialogue, especially between Steven Price (Geoffrey Rush) and his wife, Evelyn (Famke Janssen). But they really can’t make up for the other actors. Also, what is Chris Kattan doing in this movie?

But the reason why I keep coming back to this film is because it has some genuinely frightening moments. The scene in the sensory deprivation tank is beyond creepy, and there are plenty of smaller scares in there as well.

But the ending is probably the worst ending to any horror film. Taye Diggs screaming, “I was adopted!” and Chris Kattan’s ghost opening a window to fight off the evil spirits were just unneeded.

2. The Cell (2000), dir. Tarsem Singh

The Cell is so frustrating to watch because it could have been an incredible film. Part of why I keep watching it is because I’d like to believe that a better film will just appear to me after 1284924320 viewings. Sadly, that’s not the case. But I still enjoy it as it is, despite some glaring mistakes.

The cast is terrible. Just flat out horrendous. Why would you cast Jennifer Lopez and Vince Vaughn in a psychological thriller together? They’re strictly romantic comedy fodder! J. Lo was decent in her role, but this is probably Vince’s worst role ever. He was too stiff and emotionless, even for a hardened detective character.

But the premise had so much potential that I have to give the film bonus points (and they almost eclipse the mark-down for J. Lo and Vince Vaughn). Jennifer’s character, Catherine, is a child psychologist who specializes in an experimental therapy technique, which allows her to enter the minds of her comatose patients. Once a prolific serial killer falls into a coma, the cops take him to Catherine and ask her to enter his mind and find out where to find his last potential victim before it’s too late. Of course, the serial killer’s mind is a dark and dangerous place, and it’s perfectly portrayed as a disturbing wonderland of unimaginable horrors. Director Tarsem Singh was inspired by the Nine Inch Nails video “Closer” and artwork by Damien Hirst.

I just wish this film had a better cast and a better ending. I don’t wish for remakes very often, but I could live with a remake of The Cell.

1. Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002), dir. Jay Roach

Those who know me know how much I love this film. I know every word, every dance move, and every pop culture reference. And even though this is supposed to be a “guilty” pleasure list, I don’t really feel that guilty about loving Goldmember.

The first two films in the Austin Powers trilogy are arguably better in terms of comedy and execution, but I really latched on to Goldmember when it came out. It’s a bit more ridiculous than International Man of Mystery and The Spy Who Shagged Me, and to me, that’s definitely a plus. Dr. Evil and Mini Me singing a parody of Jay-Z’s “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)”? Check. Britney Spears being outed as a fembot and eventually destroyed by Austin’s sexual prowess? Check. Goldmember being unable to pronounce the word “father,” thus resulting in one of my favorite jokes in the film? Check and mate.

It’s silly, raunchy humor and nothing more. This isn’t a comedic masterpiece by any means, but much like The GrinchGoldmember still makes me laugh every time I watch it.


Strange Cinema: Evil Dead II (1987)

This is part of an ongoing review series for the films featured on‘s Certifiably Weird list. My goal is to watch and review all of them (even if it kills me). These reviews may contain spoilers.

Evil Dead II (1987)
Director: Sam Raimi
Starring: Bruce Campbell, Sarah Berry, Dan Hicks, Kassie DePaiva, & Richard Domeier

What’s it about?
Ash and his girlfriend Linda take a trip to a cabin in the woods, but after uttering an incantation from the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis, an evil force is unleashed and only Ash is left to save the day.

Is it any good?
Widely considered to be one of the greatest horror films of all time, Evil Dead II has enough blood and gore to rival just about every other horror franchise out there. But the brilliance of this horror schlock-fest lies in its execution. Evil Dead II, much like its first installment, isn’t meant to be frightening in the traditional sense–its strength is in the ridiculous visual gags and beyond cheesy dialogue. And the fact that Bruce Campbell is a B-movie god doesn’t hurt, either.

Technically, Evil Dead II isn’t really a sequel. It has almost the exact same setup as the original Evil Dead, released in 1981. Instead of having an entire group visit the cabin in the woods, only Ash and Linda show up in the sequel. Of course, the ending is completely different, but the characters and the setting are exactly the same. This makes Evil Dead II a half-sequel, half-remake hybrid. But most fans agree that it’s the best in the trilogy (though I did thoroughly enjoy Army of Darkness).

So what makes this messy, mindless parody so good? Well, for one thing, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. That’s the trap that a lot of horror films fall into–they try too hard to be genuinely frightening and end up looking too forced and clumsy. The bad horror films out there unfortunately outnumber the good ones, but let’s be honest–a truly genius horror film is difficult to make nowadays. You can say you’d make a better one all you want, but’s it’s tough to get all the elements lined up correctly.

Sam Raimi wasn’t interested in making a serious horror film, but used the right elements in his parody. He’s got the isolated setting, the clueless young characters, the catalyst for all the mayhem (the Necronomicon), and the unseen evil force that manifests itself in countless surprising ways. It’s a cliché setup, but that’s part of what makes it funny. The rest of the comedy comes from over-the-top violence, sassy deadites, and just about everything that comes out of Bruce Campbell’s mouth.

There are too many great scenes to list here, but some of the highlights include Ash getting attacked by his own possessed hand (who flips him the bird after the battle), the bizarre laugh-riot with a room full of inanimate objects, and the iconic chainsaw-attachment surgery (“Groovy”).

The gore is ridiculous, but buckets of fake blood have never been funnier. Raimi tried to recapture the magic of his Evil Dead days with 2009’s Drag Me to Hell, but it just fell short. Evil Dead II is quite possibly the funniest film on the list (at least out of the ones I’ve seen so far), but it’s definitely not for the squeamish.

Grade: A- (for excellent parody work and Bruce Campbell’s chiseled jaw brilliant acting.)
Weirdness Score: 8.5/10 (or, weird enough to make you laugh at a dismembered hand.)

[Read the more in-depth 366 Weird Movies review here.]