Sunday, November 25, 2012

Bumfights (2002)

Why, oh why, have we embedded into our brain cells to laugh or be entertained by the tragedy, pain, and misery of others? There must be some reason because Hollywood provides us with many opportunities to do just that. That’s why we get America’s Funniest Home Videos, the Jackass saga, The Jerry Springer Show (to some degree), and the endless supply of barbaric, lurid, torture porn horror movies.

OK, maybe that last one is a little looser, but you know how I mentioned Jackass? You know, the vulgar but hilarious juggernaut that swept a nation, particularly in the teenage or frat boy category, and influenced many others to cash in on their success? After all, people thought, it shouldn’t be hard. Just get a bunch of idiots, grab $20, and film those idiots doing stupid stuff, right? While I won’t go into how wrongheaded that mentality is, one group of people that possess that mentality is the creators of a short-lived documentary film series, Bumfights. Comparisons of this film to Jackass are inevitable, but unwelcome.

To be honest, I’ve only seen about 35, maybe 40, minutes of the film, seeing how when I watched it on YouTube, it was in four parts, but only the first three parts were uploaded. I presume the fourth part got removed for copyright violations or some bullcrap. But seeing how this film doesn’t have a cohesive, fluid narrative structure, I feel like it is apt to review this mongrel.

Plot synopsis? A group of unknown guys (the producers of this film) go around filming homeless men fighting or performing amateur stunts in exchange for rewards, particularly alcohol. There. That synopsis wasn’t very deep, but this isn’t that kind of film. While I probably shouldn’t do this, I won’t mention any of these people’s names.

The filmmakers of this gained notoriety when in 2006, producer Ty Beeson made an appearance on Dr. Phil and became the only person in the history of that show to be kicked off the stage. I saw the clips and it seemed harmless enough. Bums doing stupid stunts? It sounded like Jackass and I love that show. Dr. Phil just needed to get a sense of humor, I thought. After seeing this crap, I have a whole new respect for Dr. Phil and, in the holy heavens, thank him for kicking that dude off the set and for keeping his cool, as opposed to squeezing the life out of him, much like I wanna do.

The portrayal of bums is disgusting, to the utmost degree. These people view bums as drunk, vulnerable, toyetic morons. They, also, take it one step further by painting African-Americans in a negative light. One African-American is an annoying, fast-talking crack dealer. Another is a crack whore. All the others are moronic, violent, uninteresting, or all three. Is this seriously how they want to portray African-Americans? I sure hope not.

It is absolutely horrible what these bums have to go through. Now, some may say that these homeless people volunteered to be in this documentary and that they are performing these acts out of freewill and desire. Well, let’s take a second and look at Jackass. I know I said that comparisons to Jackass are unwelcome, but in order to convey how inhumane this reprehensible load of manure is, I have to. The Jackass crew is doing this stuff out of freewill and desire. They don’t care about a paycheck or fame. It is a major benefit, but they do it to amuse themselves.

The homeless people featured in this film and the other films in the franchise are doing this not out of want, but out of questionable need. If they do this, they’ll get money, alcohol, drugs, what have you. They’d prefer not to do this, but if they want this or this, they’ll do it. The Bumfights creators know it themselves. It is the cinematic equivalent of holding catnip way up high while your cat is reaching and struggling to obtain it. They aren’t volunteering. They are being taunted. This is sheer exploitation that demeans homeless people. I felt dirty while watching it.

Not only is the content crass, but it is listless and derivative. Fighting is a sure way to get the testosterone pumping in males, be it in real life or on television. Boxing and wrestling are two fine examples. They are cool because the participants are interesting beings and have a passion to just beat the crap out of the opponent. Not to mention their awesome fighting skills.

Real-life combat, outside of reality television, is a different story. While a real fight has an aforementioned passion vibrating in the souls of the fighters, it’s a different kind. Boxers and wrestlers have more of a determined “I’m-gonna-win” passion that gains momentum and intensity as the event goes on, which makes it so unrelentingly watchable. Real-life fighting that’s non-competitive has an angry, hateful passion with inner constraints that don’t allow any other feeling to pass and no creativity in the fighting moves. Seeing how it usually comes out of nowhere, it’s exciting, only for the time being. Therefore, making a whole documentary film that hinges on that heated, prize-deprived, goalless style of fighting is an ill-conceived plan.

Making a whole documentary film that hinges on that style of fighting with homeless people inserted into it is an ill-conceived plan on a whole other level. Aside from the obvious saddening feeling that is generated, there is no other emotional response or subtext and after, say, three fights, it becomes numbing to the senses. Plus, at times it is ambiguous whether some of the people are homeless or not. I know not all homeless people are the dirty, unkempt archetype, but I heard some of the fighters are teenagers. Are those just punks or teenagers kicked out of their homes? Either way, they still remain less than compelling.

This film balances out that fighting footage with the aforesaid stunts in a similar fashion of the Big Brother videos. For those who don’t know, Big Brother was the magazine that eventually evolved into Jackass. The magazine used videos to promote itself, I guess. They combined skateboarding clips and stunts, some of which would be used in Jackass. The stunts in those videos were intriguing. The stunts on Bumfights are dull and pathetic.

Most of the stunts are so tame that I could do them. Those stunts I am referring to usually involve bums running into stuff. The idea, I guess, is for them to hurt their heads, but it seems relatively safe and restrained. Other stunts draw unavoidable parallels to Jackass. There are, maybe, three stunts that I found to be creative. 

Also, shockingly enough, the filmmakers squander potential. For example, this film marked the beginning of the appearance of Rufus, who I suppose is idealized to be the Bumfights mascot. Rufus is awesome, but yet they treat him like he's the bastard step-child of the film by making him do amateurish, unimpressive, underwhelming stunts. To make it worse, in the middle of this stunt compiling, they add a visual non-sequitir where a goat urinates. I am aware that Jackass did non-sequitirs, but it added to the charm and gleeful surrealness of the show. Here, it adds to the film’s incompetence. These filmmakers haven’t earned the right to do a non-sequitir where most of the stunts that make sense in the film’s context fall flat to start out with.

One stunt that left me baffled and scratching my head was a certain stunt where a bum dressed in a dog costume. He brings its tail to the front, presumably to make it look like he’s holding his weiner. He swings it around and then goes over towards a child, still swinging it. While I am all for shattering the boundaries of political correctness and conquering social taboos, isn’t there a line between the audacious and the tasteless? What were they thinking?

What surprised me was that homeless people didn’t perform a majority of the stunts. Many stunts are performed towards homeless people. Scenes like those evoked a quote from beloved film critic Roger Ebert. When he was doing his television show, he stated that he believed that “humor works if you make fun of somebody’s character, but not if you make fun of their status." 

Then, as I thought of that quote, I was reminded of how Jackass did pranks on unsuspecting individuals so seamlessly. The secret was their hidden logic. The pranks that were performed didn’t affect the victim or victims on a physical level. It affected them on an emotional level, unless the prank was among the Jackass cast. When the Jackass crew went out in public for a prank, they were prescient in that they knew they’d receive a visceral response from people, be it tolerant, irritated, scared, frustrated, or befuddled. That logic can be applied to pranks, in general.

Then, I thought of the fact that they involved homeless people for their pranks. I can think of two occasions: 1) Street Fishing and 2) Skid Row Santa. However, Street Fishing wasn’t directly towards homeless people, even though it would be simple and obvious for it to go that route. It affected everyone. When we see a dollar on the street, our first instinct is to pick it up. Maybe we could use that to buy someone or be one step closer to paying your monthly bill. As far as Skid Row Santa, that was a prank in concept, not execution. The idea that Santa would go to Skid Row to give food to homeless people is pretty damn absurd. However, when seen on television, it adds an uncovered layer of poignancy, compassion, and humanity that many fans thought to have been non-existent.

Treating a homeless person like an animal or spray-painting their sleeping bag in the middle of the night, while it may be creative in the filmmakers’ sick little minds, is not funny. These filmmakers have no humanity or compassion towards their subject. They are cruel, immoral, money-grabbing sadomasochists.

What I particularly loathe about this film is their need to make it hip. They want to slather themselves with all of this mindless violence and bar-lowering humor and yet want to think it fits in with pop culture and the social norm. There are scenes where, out of nowhere, a hot chick pops up on screen on a bed, posing sexually. Do we know who this girl is? No. Are we ever told? No. Does she play any important role in this film? No. So why is this chick in the film? Is the film trying to say that chicks are aroused by brutal violence and homeless people making a fool out of themselves? 

And, I hate to bring my male tendencies and instincts into this review, but they don’t even give us a nude scene with her. They tantalize us with one, but the girl has her lady bits covered. I don’t mean to sound misogynist, but let me get this straight. You can show all of this mindless, sickening crap, but showing a shot of a naked woman is going too far? Great logic, guys!

Another thing that frightens me about the film connects to an interview with Ty Beeson that preceded the segment of him getting the boot on Dr. Phil. The interview ended with the words, “It’s a sick world.” Hearing that made me ponder as to whether his warped, twisted mind has led him to believe that his films are actually a social commentary on the way society treats homeless people, a wake-up call of some sorts. 

Social commentary and wake-up call, my ass. This film has no insights in the problems of a homeless person. It glamorizes violence, humiliates and disgraces homeless people, and extracts the most vile, execrable, nihilistic values in order to pander to its audience, which probably fall in the lowest common denominator of society, and to self-indulge itself.

Yes, nihilistic. Consider a caption that precedes a Bumfighter sketch that reads, “Very few bums were harmed in the making of this sketch. All were released back to its natural habitat.” NATURAL HABITAT? Are you shitting me up the ass? You think the habitat they live in is natural? The unstable climate? The garbage they have to eat? The many fingers pointing at them with disgust and contempt? You think they want to live a homeless lifestyle? I know this supposed to be a joke, but it’s not freaking funny! You calling them animals? They put up with all of your crap and you insult them and give them a few measly dollars for some crack? Do you think that’s generous? Nothing in this film is generous! It’s evil, psychotic, and deplorable!

However, what may be the worst thing about this film, beside the fact that it’s ugly, cruel, despicable, vulgar, malicious, heartless, and is devoid of laughs, humanity, charm, or competence, is that it’s deadening. Not only is it emotional shallow, but it is hollow, empty, and barren. There’s nothing to feel about this film. Nothing. At least Jackass evoked a sense of committed camaraderie. It isn’t merely a jaw-droppingly misguided, morally disturbed, and profoundly disgusting film; it is also just a waste of time and space. And, surprisingly enough, that may be the biggest insult of all.

RATING: Three-quarters of a star out of four (I thought about giving this film one star, but that’d be complimenting it)

P.S. Today, I had a double dosage of crap. Not only did I watch one of the worst films I’ve ever seen, but I also saw one of Nickelodeon’s worst television shows, Marvin Marvin. I don’t review television shows and I’m not going to. I’m just giving you a gist of it and saying that Lucas Cruikshank has sold its soul. What became one of the quirkiest, provocative, and funniest stars on the Internet has deteriorated into starring in one of the worst shows I’ve ever seen. Ditto to Nickelodeon. What started as an innovative television network for children that produced joyfully surreal live-action shows and groundbreaking animated shows has delved into rote, unfunny, clich├ęd, by-the-numbers, labored, trite teen-com fare. Recently, iCarly, one of Nickelodeon’s best shows, ended its five-year run. What better way to celebrate the end of that really funny show than by beginning the airing of one of Nickelodeon’s worst? I normally wouldn’t give attention to a bad TV show. I’m just doing it as a way to warn you and to hope that we can get this stupid show off the air. I’d give it a high 1 star, just because it delivers intermittent laughs, rarely though.

Monday, November 12, 2012

A Night at the Opera (1935)

Over the years, the general public has had their guts consistently busted from the various comedic duos that can be traced back to the decades. Comedic duos like Abbott & Costello, Laurel & Hardy, Cheech & Chong, Beavis & Butt-Head, and so on and so forth. However, as the old phrase says, “The more, the merrier!” After all, why was I Love Lucy such a hit? Because aside from Lucille Ball, there were three other actors that fit into the comic spotlight. Why was Friends such a hilarious show? Because the main cast consisted of 6 people. That means 15 dynamics (counted them myself, folks) and infinite comedic possibilities. However, I’m getting sidetracked.

One example of a beloved comic duo that broke from the two-person shackles of Hollywood is the Marx Brothers, which was a family of five brothers, but only four of them shared a comedic link. While Zeppo was part of the group for a short run, the group hinged on the three prominent men: Chico, Groucho, and Harpo. What most people think of to be the quintessential Marx Brothers film…is Duck Soup. But A Night at the Opera is a close second. Of their large catalog of films, I’ve only seen this and A Day at the Races, the latter of which I need to re-watch. While this may be subject to change, A Night at the Opera is the better one of the two, though not an immaculate work of cinema.

Surprisingly enough, the plot of this film is kinda hard to describe. So, instead of me straining my mind in order to describe it, I’ll give you snippets from two different plot synopsizes. The first one is from the back of the MGM VHS release of the film and the second one is from IMDB:

  • “Groucho’s outrageous business schemes bring Milan’s finest opera stars to New York, with some unexpected stowaways on board…”
  • The Marx Brothers take on high society. Two lovers who are both in opera are prevented from being together by the man's lack of acceptance as an operatic tenor. Pulling several typical Marx Brothers' stunts, they arrange for the normal tenor to be absent so that the young lover can get his chance.” (Written by John Vogel).

The Marx Brothers are simply on point in this film. They have impeccable timing, keen sensibilities, distinct quirks, and a rapport that acts as a deeply amusing call-and-response relationship. Chico is certainly serviceable, especially during the previously mentioned call-and-response sequences, but the other two encompass this film. Groucho Marx is equipped with a rapid-fire barrage of wisecracks and fulfilling punch lines augmented by his expressive, cartoony face and wry, ironic persona.

However, Harpo is the best of the Marx brothers. Not just in this film, but in general.  He depicts and elicits a childlike innocence that no one can touch, with the exception of Lucille Ball. He never speaks, but his facial expressions are so flexible that, like the best silent comedians, any emotion he’s feeling is properly portrayed.

It is also phenomenal to see the Marxes’ versatility, particularly Chico and Harpo. Not only are they funny and sincere actors, but also musically, my fracking God are they incredible! When Chico plays the piano and when Harpo sits down at his harp, not only is the audience entranced (and I mean the people in the film, as well), but they, themselves, are entranced, as well. Not by themselves, but by the power of music and the feelings it can evoke. When they perform on their trusty instruments, they break out of their goofy, over-the-top personas and become themselves, passionate, steadfast, and honest. It always leaves me awe-struck.

However, as much as I applaud the Marx brothers on their comedic abilities, if a script wasn’t present, their abilities wouldn’t be worth a damn. They’d be just meandering through the movie while improvising and one-upping themselves, all in the name’s sake of a laugh. However, with sturdy direction by Sam Wood and a screenplay penned by George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind, scenarios are crafted that are broad, unrestrained, thoroughly inventive, and consistently funny. Scenes such as the stageroom bit and the Russian aviator moment are timeless comedic gold mines that will be beloved as long as there are people breathing here on good old Earth.

Now, the reason why this isn’t an unquestionable classic is because there actually are a decent amount of flaws. First of all, with the exception of the Marxes’ musical moments and the climactic opera scene, the musical sequences feel forced. Plus, they don’t have the stirring quality of a typical MGM musical. Even the opera scenes are less that compelling (yes, even the climactic opera scene). To my credit, though, I’m just bugged by opera, period.

Not to sound sexist, but when dudes sing it, I actually enjoy it, mostly because that deep vocal quality is more emotive, penetrating, visceral, vehement and gripping. There are very few times that I actually enjoy a woman singing opera. Not to say that women aren’t good opera singers, but I just hate that pretentious, gaudy, “look-at-how-many-high-notes-I-can-reach” style of singing; the style that is most typically possessed by women. It pulls me out of whatever emotion they are trying to communicate in whatever incomprehensible language they’re using. Again, no offense.

Even though I like male opera singers better, the male opera singer in this film wasn’t even effective. It’s doesn’t bug me that he’s a tenor. It just bugged me that he was toothless and polished. Oh, I’m sorry. I forgot to go into depth about the romantic subplot involving Riccardo (the aforementioned tenor opera singer), played by Allan Jones, and Rosa, played by Kitty Carlisle. Actually, my decision to not go into depth with that subplot was preconceived. It never takes off; it brings the film to a screeching halt, and is not clearly developed for me to give two craps.

Also, at times, the editing is uncomfortably choppy. I understand it’s the 1930s and all, but the editing could’ve used a little tune-up. Also, call me an old-fashioned, status quo loving Conservative is you must, but I wish this film had a more cohesive story. It kind of takes me out of the film if I don’t know what I’m supposed to be rooting for or invested in. However, the main purpose of a comedy is to make you laugh. Did I laugh? Yes. And with its breakneck yet tentative pace, witty screenplay, and joyous performances, I definitely recommend spending A Night at the Opera.

RATING: Three-and-a-half stars out of four

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Updated Version of VH1's 100 Greatest Songs of the 90's

OK, if you read my site (most likely you don't, but let's pretend, for my sake), you know that I am a movie dude. Hell, my site's called Stephen the Critic. So, you are probably wondering what's up with this post. Well, while I do love movies, I, also, love music. One of the other occupations I wanna be is a singer. I am doing this post because opportunity knocked for me to do this and I gladly open the door.

Here's the story. A while back, on a website called Stereogum (VH1 has this list as well), I saw the full list of VH1's 100 Greatest Songs of the 90's. I have them all on my hard drive because I wanted to be immersed in all of holy Nineties-ness. The 90s, in terms of music, were pretty much a more competent version of the 80s, not to say I don't love the 80s. The 80s was more revolved around rock, pop, rock-pop, and pop-rock. The 90s were more revolved around hip-hop, alternative rock, hard rock, and pop that became more bubblegum and marketed to a younger fanbase, particularly teenage girls. The 80s and 90s, both, had some awesome songs and some songs that were awesome, in a laughable, guilty pleasure yet catchy way.

Anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself. Last night, I decided, for the hell of it, to watch the actually television special of VH1's 100 Greatest Songs of the 90s. It was fun to watch...except for one thing. I was watching the special and some of the spots had different songs that what I read on the original online list. I guess that's the Internet for you.

Now, to the credit, I heard that some of the songs were recently added, but, anyways, the 97, 78, 51, 32, 13, and 10 spots had different songs from the previous Greatest Songs of the 90s list I read from VH1. So, I decided to check to see if anyone revised the list online or made a new list with those spots. Needless to say, my results came up barren.

So, I decided to give my fellow readers an unprecedented opportunity: to give you the list, as it was presented on VH1. I could just name the changes of the list, but, let's be honest, you have probably already read the list or never read the list, at all. So, just for heaven's sake, I'll just give you the full list and let you, the readers, pick around the changes I mentioned earlier. So, here it is, starting at #1 and working our way down (I know some of you want it reversed, but I'm too lazy to reverse it):

01 Nirvana – “Smells Like Teen Spirit”
02 U2 – “One”
03 Backstreet Boys – “I Want It That Way”
04 Whitney Houston – “I Will Always Love You”
05 Madonna – “Vogue”
06 Sir Mix-A-Lot – “Baby Got Back”
07 Britney Spears – “…Baby One More Time”
08 TLC – “Waterfalls”
09 R.E.M. – “Losing My Religion”
10 Chumbawamba – “Tubthumping”
11 Pearl Jam – “Jeremy”
12 Alanis Morissette – “You Oughta Know”
13 Divinyls – “I Touch Myself”
14 Mariah Carey – “Vision of Love”
15 Red Hot Chili Peppers – “Under the Bridge”
16 MC Hammer – “U Can’t Touch This”
17 Destiny’s Child – “Say My Name”
18 Metallica – “Enter Sandman”
19 Beastie Boys – “Sabotage”
20 Hanson – “MMMBop”
21 Celine Dion – “My Heart Will Go On”
22 Beck – “Loser”
23 Salt-N-Pepa with En Vogue – “Whatta Man”
24 House of Pain – “Jump Around”
25 Soundgarden – “Black Hole Sun”
26 Eminem – “My Name Is”
27 Counting Crows – “Mr. Jones”
28 Ricky Martin – “Livin’ la Vida Loca”
29 Vanilla Ice – “Ice Ice Baby”
30 *NSYNC – “Tearin’ Up My Heart”
31 Radiohead – “Creep”
32 The Mighty Mighty Bosstones – “The Impression That I Get”
33 Spice Girls – “Wannabe”
34 Third Eye Blind – “Semi-Charmed Life”
35 Oasis – “Wonderwall”
36 C+C Music Factory – “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)”
37 Green Day – “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)”
38 Christina Aguilera – “Genie In A Bottle”
39 Goo Goo Dolls – “Iris”
40 Color Me Badd – “I Wanna Sex You Up”
41 Spin Doctors – “Two Princes”
42 Collective Soul – “Shine”
43 En Vogue – “My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get It)”
44 The Fugees – “Killing Me Softly With His Song”
45 Hootie & the Blowfish – “Only Wanna Be With You”
46 Shania Twain – “You’re Still the One”
47 Marky Mark and The Funky Bunch – “Good Vibrations”
48 Matchbox Twenty – “3 AM”
49 Jewel – “Who Will Save Your Soul”
50 Alice in Chains – “Man in the Box”
51 Craig Mack – “Flava In Ya Ear”
52 Sugar Ray – “Fly”
53 Naughty by Nature – “O.P.P.”
54 Joan Osborne – “One of Us”
55 Fiona Apple – “Criminal”
56 L.L. Cool J – “Mama Said Knock You Out”
57 Jay-Z featuring Amil and Ja Rule – “Can I Get A…”
58 Sophie B. Hawkins – “Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover”
59 Weezer – “Buddy Holly”
60 Bell Biv DeVoe – “Poison”
61 Sheryl Crow – “All I Wanna Do”
62 Live – “I Alone”
63 The Notorious B.I.G. (Feat. Mase & Puff Daddy) – “Mo Money Mo Problems”
64 The Presidents of the United States of America – “Peaches”
65 Digital Underground – “The Humpty Dance”
66 Edwin McCain – “I’ll Be”
67 Deee-Lite – “Groove Is In The Heart”
68 Will Smith – “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It”
69 Korn – “Freak on a Leash”
70 Jamiroquai – “Virtual Insanity”
71 Arrested Development – “Tennessee”
72 Barenaked Ladies – “One Week”
73 Marcy Playground – “Sex and Candy”
74 Cher – “Believe”
75 Kris Kross – “Jump”
76 Blues Traveler – “Run-Around”
77 Ice Cube – “It Was a Good Day”
78 Semisonic – “Closing Time”
79 Meredith Brooks – “Bitch”
80 Right Said Fred – “I’m Too Sexy”
81 Paula Cole – “I Don’t Want to Wait”
82 Geto Boys – “Mind Playing Tricks on Me”
83 The Breeders – “Cannonball”
84 Snow – “Informer”
85 Cypress Hill – “Insane In The Brain”
86 The Cranberries – “Linger”
87 Billy Ray Cyrus – “Achy Breaky Heart”
88 Duncan Sheik – “Barely Breathing”
89 Liz Phair – “Never Said”
90 New Radicals – “You Get What You Give”
91 Sarah McLachlan – “Building a Mystery”
92 Public Enemy – “911 Is A Joke”
93 Lisa Loeb & Nine Stories – “Stay”
94 Fastball – “The Way”
95 Montell Jordan – “This is How We Do It”
96 Nelson – “(Can’t Live Without Your) Love and Affection”
97 Los Del Rio – “Macarena”
98 EMF – “Unbelievable”
99 Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott – “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)”
100 Gerardo – “Rico Suave”

Wow, those were some pretty awesome choices, don't you think. I'm sure you all are wondering if there's anything I'd replace. Well, I haven't given it much thought. All the songs on there I like and I haven't thought about what my favorite songs of the 90s is. However, I'm curious to hear what you guys think of the picks. Before you come to murder me, this is not my list, it's VH1's! So, I'd like to hear if you would add or take away anything from this list and if you agree with the #1 pick or if there's another song you favor as the best of the 90s. Also, which list do you think is better? The original or the updated version? So, go ahead. Voice your opinion. I'm an open book. Later!

P.S. If you wanna see the original list and compare the changes, go to this link: