Views & Reviews From Writer Steve Miller
Formerly Reviews and Stuff at Rotten Tomatoes, 2005 - 2009.

Currently Showing at Cinema Steve

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Day of the Turkey: Community College

It's Thanksgiving Day here in the United States... and at Cinema Steve, we celebrate with turkeys, just like everyone else. (It's just that these are turkeys that may not be worth giving thanks for..)

Community College (2012)
Starring: Jordan McSorley, Tim Dean, Jon Dean, Tommy Avallone, Brian Hagan, and Mike Hadfield
Director: Tommy Avallone
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

 Four friends (Avallone, Dean, Dean, and McSorley), drunken slackers who are eternal students at their local community college, decide to pull themselves together and graduate so they can get enough money to buy their favorite bar so it doesn't close.

 "Community College" is one of those low-budget comedies that will keep you watching because the cast is so enthusiastic about what they're doing and because there are just enough jokes that work you keep thinking the film is on the verge of coming together and turning out for the better. But, as is usually the case, you will, when the end credits roll, find that your hope was in vain.

The biggest disappointment with "Community College", though, is that I have the sense it could have been a much better film if parts of it hadn't felt as if it was created by someone as lazy as its heroes. There is an inconsistency in tone throughout the movie, as it keeps flipping back and forth between a semi-realistic comedy (ala "Back to School") and bizarre comedy (ala "Animal House" or even "Airplane"); the first time it happens, you think one of the characters is hallucinating... but no--there really is a guy in bar dressed like an octopus.

Further, there are numerous plot-threads and joke set-ups that are either left under-developed or so badly exploited that you wish writer/director/co-star Tommy Avallone hadn't bothered. The worst of these manifests itself in the much-vaunted bowling ability of Jonny-300, as when we finally get to the point where he goes bowling, there isn't even a real shot of him doing so. In fact, the only jokes/plot elements that felt fully realized in the film was the strange environment of the friends' favorite bar, and the rivalry that develops between them and a little girl and her father over lemonade stands. Everything else has a half-assed, half-baked feel to it.

Near as I can tell, "Community College" has had a six-year journey from its filming (in 2006), through screenings at festivals and direct DVD sales by the producers (around 2009), until it was finally picked up and released by distributor Chemical Burn in the summer of 2012 -- a step that may have been prompted by the critically acclaimed comedy series "Community."

"Community College" isn't a total loss. If you are desperate for entertainment, there are worse ways you could spend your time. Also, the Chemical Burn DVD is crammed with bonus features, such as music videos and some seriously twisted cartoons which you may find more worthwhile than the main feature. As such, while the main feature may only rate Three Stars, the overall package gets a Six for bonus features that are quite extravagant when compared to what is offered on most discs.

Note: This review was based on a preview DVD provided by the distributor, Chemical Burn.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Bringing ancient history to life (sort of)

Caesar the Conqueror (1962)
Starring: Cameron Mitchell, Rik Battagalia, Raffaella Carra, Ivo Payer, and Dominique Wilms
Director: Tanio Boccia
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

In 54 BC, Julius Caesar defied the will of the Roman Senate and led his army against Gallic rebels in a winner-takes-all approach to once and for all solidify Roman power over Europe. Standing in his way are forces led by Vercingetorix (Battagalia), a barbarian chieftain Caesar once showed mercy to, and Queen Astrid (Carra) of the Gauls... and if he fails, it will mean more than just the lives of him and his soldiers.

The opening credits of this film proclaim that it is based on Caesar's writings (specifically Book VII of "The Gallic War"), but it is based loosely on them. History is dominant at the film's beginning and kinda-sorta makes a reappearance during its third act, and the characters are mostly based upon historical figures, but the bulk of the story, with its evil queen and her lusty barbarian warriors, has more in common with your run-of-the-mill Maciste or Sword and Sandals film than the history of Caeasar's campaigns against the Gauls.

That said, "Caesar the Conqueror" is actually more entertaining than most Maciste/Sword and Sandal "epics." The director at the helm spent his entire career making movies like this, and this is perhaps one of his better efforts. The presence of historical figures also helps the film along, because I'm not certain it is even possible to make a boring movie that has Caesar as a major figure, as his coldblooded politicking married with his warrior's honor makes him both a hero and a villain in the story, all depending on what he is trying to accomplish at that time.

That's not to say this film is perfect. There are some absolutely miserable stretches where we have to sit through under-rehearsed and under-budgeted battle scenes and performances so bland by some of the supporting cast that we desperately wish for Mitchell's Caesar to  come strutting back onto the screen, evenif just to tell us what he had for lunch that day. Another misstep that the filmmakers made was to have Caesar refer to himself in the third person whenever he is speaking of himself, retaining the stylistic flourish that the general used when he wrote his accounts of his battles. It makes Caesar seem a little comical at times when he shouldn't be... and I don't know that there's any historical evidence to support that Caesar actually did that constantly... Asterix and Obelix adventures aside.

"Caesar the Conqueror" is included in several DVD multi-packs, and I think it's a worthy addition to them all if you like the genre. I just don't think you'd be doing yourself any favors if you tried to watch it instead of reading actual books if you're doing a paper for school.

(If this sort of fictionalized history is something you enjoy, you might also be interested in "Oriental Stories, Vol. 1", a collection of novelettes by Robert E. Howard that I have edited. Click here for details.)

Friday, November 9, 2012

A two-part Ninja Epic!

Epic Lloyd and Ask-a-Ninja team up with Sam Macaroni for the most epic Ninja video ever!

Part One:

Part Two:

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

'Nacho Mountain' is an underdeveloped comedy

Nacho Mountain (2009)
Starring: Jay Larson, Kevin Interdonato, and John Charles Hunt
Director: Mitch Csanadi
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

When Keefer (Larson) is fired from his job and catches his girlfriend cheating on him with a transvestite, his best friend Meegosh (Interdonato) suggests that he uses his gift for consuming mass amounts of food to make a living. They set up an underground eating competition--Food Wars--and soon every big eater in the area is gunning for the champ. Including born-again health food nut Mayor Fingstahl (Hunt), whom Keefer must face in the do-or-die challenge of Nacho Mountain!

"Nacho Mountain" is a throwback to the 1980s and early 1990s to the sort of comedies that you could find on USA Up All Night and as every third release in the video store. It's raunchy, silly, and turn-off-your-brain dumb. It was actually just the sort of comedy I was hoping for when it showed up in my mailbox recently.

Unfortunately, just like the majority of those comedies from the 1980s, "Nacho Mountain" cannot be described as very good.

Basically, this is a sort-of "Extreme Fighting" parody infused with as many bodily function jokes as possible. It starts strong with Keefer's hilarious dismissal from his job, but aside from the isolated gag, the film never quite gets that funny again. The main flaw is with the weak script and flabby editing. Actually, I hope that aside from the eating competition scenes--which are generally very funny--that most of the scenes of the scenes were ad-libbed from loose a loose outline, because if they weren't, then this was a script that needed a second draft before shooting started. Too many of the jokes have kernels of something very funny buried within too much babble, crudeness, or literal bathroom humor. Examples that stand out as scenes that could have been very funny but just drag on is the one where Meegosh hits on a deaf girl at a bar, the one where Mayor Fingstahl and his cop henchman are in a sauna, and the one where Meegosh and Keefer are chatting while taking dumps in a public restroom. All of these had lots of potential, but they were in dire need of refining and condensing.

I also think that if a little more effort had been put into the script, the "Footloose"-style subplot lurking beneath the surface would have been  more fully developed to great benefit. There was also potential with Keefer's ex-girlfriend and her transvestite lover that was left unrealized.

As for the cast, stand-up comedian Jay Larson gives the standout performance in the film, and his supported nicely by Kevin Interdonato. I think if they have been working within a tighter script, they would both have been excellent, and I would be raving about this film instead of shrugging my shoulders with disappointment. Larson is a talented actor, and I hope to see him again in something better.

"Nacho Mountain" may be a movie worth checking out if you looked forward to "USA Up All Night" back in the day, or if you are having a seriously bad day and can do with a little cheering up--it is silly and stupid enough that it will brighten your mood if you have an appreciation for low-brow humor. I also think it deserves consideration for its outrageous central concept. It just isn't the movie it could have been.

Note: This review was based on a screening copy given to me by distributor Chemical Burn.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Pulling the plug

In the unlikely event that there's anyone out there aside from myself that might notice, I'm pulling the plug on Nine Days of the Ninja. My heart isn't in it--or in really much of anything at the moment.

There are some pre-programmed posts with videos that will be showing up, but no original reviews or art gallery posts.

Thursday, November 1, 2012