The Once and Past King

I’m getting somewhat tired of only reviewing movies from the past decade, but I promise, I’m working on older film reviews, they’ve just been turning into essays from the amount of content. I put in and I will deliver as soon as satisfied.

That said, I stayed up all last night and decided to check out a movie that I had been meaning to see for a long while. It attracted with starring roles for cult movie phenomenon Bruce Campbell, a man who had one point in my adolescence been my favorite actor, and Ossie Davis, a veteran African-American actor who had also made an impression in his appearances in Spike Lee’s pictures to me. In addition, the director of one of my absolute horror buff pleasures, Phantasm, and helmer of the adaptation of one of my favorite books, John Dies at the End by David Wong, Don Coscarelli was the director to put the picture together.

But even if these factors weren’t in the movie, the premise would’ve been enough of a strange hook to begin with. Elvis Presley (Campbell) has been alive this entire time and living in a nursing home. Disillusioned by his fame and depressed over the divorce and estrangement of his wife and daughter, Elvis decided in the late 1970s to switch places with an impersonator to start a fresh life. Unfortunately, his impersonator, Sebastian Haff (also played by Campbell) had fallen into Elvis’ same vices and became the untimely statistic in 1977. Elvis, now believed to be Haff, had been injured later on and put into a coma, eventually ending up in the retirement home where nobody believes he is who he says he is, he gets no respect or dignity from his peers or staff, and his only friend is a senile black man who believes himself to be JFK in hiding from Lyndon B. Johnson (Davis).

Strange enough as a picture? Well, now a mummy is stealing the souls of everyone in the retirement home.
Yep.
This is one of those movies perfect to relax at midnight when you’re avoiding sleep. This is…

Easily B-movie fare that would fit Campbell and Coscarelli’s respective resumes, but there’s a deeper factor in Bubba Ho-Tep that warrants more than one viewing, more than one could say for a B-movie. It’s not so bad it’s good. It’s actually good enough to be surprising. The titular mummy’s presence is made known from the beginning (with humorous definition title cards setting the mood), but he doesn’t make an appearance until late in the game. Instead, we end up opening in on the aged Presley, watching his roommate die without a real drive, nor a real ability to do anything. Life merely flashes by him, as he sits in his cot.

With so much time on his hands now, the first major segment of the picture is dedicated to him reminiscing about what went wrong. This is the man who was ‘The King’. But he lost that peak in his life way before his supposed death. He’s got nothing left to him, nobody remembers him, the price of not wanting to burn out in the rock and roll life. It’s not much different from the treatment of his fellow nursing home residents, but their senility leads them to become oblivious (possibly on purpose). Elvis is the only one who has to deal with his existential dilemma, the fact and the embarrassment.

Bruce Campbell’s real acting chops come into focus at this picture’s first act, having him deal with the patronizing staff members who will only pretend to care, but in reality are just waiting for him and the other people in the home to die. He provides a believable and outright sympathetic Elvis Presley in his final agonizing years, no longer a legend but just a faded glory. However, the writing talent in the picture is sparked by a plot device that’s just as important and metaphoric in the film’s context as it is trashy in any other context: Elvis’ penis, which shares the same put-down qualities as Elvis himself at this state.

For this reason, Bubba Ho-Tep is one of those movie rarities that are hard to categorize into a single genre. A drama? Well, it doesn’t take center-fold. A comedy? It’s more subtle in that, even despite the ramblings of the elder characters. In essence, it depends on how you as an audience view the characters’ situations that defines the picture’s genre. A horror? Not until the second half really…

At this point, the victims become more apparent as they succumb to the ancient monster, only given the nomiker of ‘Bubba Ho-Tep’ by Elvis. Only ‘Jack’ seems to really have an idea of what the residents are facing. And the two protagonists band together to regain some of their old glory and die with their lost dignity, rescuing the souls of the deceased and defending the souls of the living.

Campbell and Davis’ chemistry make this picture a sure bait for anyone not buying the quirky plot, while the direction and special effects are low budget, which are definitely impressive for what they are, Coscarelli being the low-budget master he is. However, they both unfortunately date the movie a bit. The real call of the picture (other than Campbell’s spot-on performance – unusually without the camp and more stocked up on the sincerity) is Joe Lansdale script, a provision of a buddy monster picture that is surprisingly sincere and poignant despite it’s unconventional plot. The dialogue is hilarious without being of a showy sort, most of it bolstered Davis’ delivery.

I really wish I could be more detailed with my favorite scenes, but I refuse to in the sense of recommending this picture with a 9/10. For its few flaws, it still shines as a gem of a picture.

On a final note: I stuck around watching the credits in the dark and when it came to the copyright policy, I saw (probably in a tongue-in-cheek nod to Phantasm) the clause threatened criminal prosecution and the wrath of Bubba Ho-Tep. My eyes widened…

… I was watching a pirated copy. I apologize, Coscarelli, if you read this. I have myself purchased previously a DVD copy of Phantasm and a VHS copy of Phantasm II legitimately and intend to buy this movie now (having deleted my pirated file). Please don’t set neither Bubba Ho-Tep or The Tall Man on me.

What would the King do? Bribe you with a Peanut Butter and Banana Sandwich.
Also, adding Reggie Bannister to a picture has my vote.

FLASHBACK: Two Movies I Really Tried to Like That I Couldn’t.

Author’s Note, July 2017: Remind me in a bit once I’m done writing about Raimi’s trilogy and the new Spider-Man Homecoming to actually write a REAL review for The Amazing Spider-Man, because while my feelings haven’t changed much on the movie… man, reading 20-year-old me’s writing is fucking awful. I sound like an idiot. And 2400 words?! What the fuck am I, Charles Dickens here?

In 2012, I didn’t really have many movies I was looking forward to. I had taken to watching more classics and oldies than looking out for any coming attractions. I was surprised to realize that Ben Affleck and Paul Thomas Anderson came out with new movies, though I jumped on them immediately. I was not excited about The Avengers as such a concept of a film sounded unwieldy (though I was pleasantly surprised upon seeing the movie) and The Dark Knight Rises as I knew the movie would not be worth the hype that occurs. In fact, the upcoming Spider-Man reboot was the only movie I had expectations for. I thought it was way too soon to do a movie on the Osama bin Laden search, despite being under the direction of Kathryn Bigelow. And although I had been following Rian Johnson and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s next collaboration after BrickLooper was not a movie that I was going to rush to see if I had no time.

The only three movies I was legitimately anticipating were two movies whose pre-production and production I had been following out of rabid fandom: Prometheus (out of my rabid fandom for Alien), Django Unchained (out of my Tarantino fandom) and a movie I had been surprised to find was being made… John Dies at the End.

My expectations to John Dies at the End were foolish. I won’t say it was a bad movie, but Don Coscarelli, a director whose made movies I have undying love for like PhantasmBubba Ho-Tep and Incident On and Off a Mountain Road, is a guy who can only make movies that are good enough. Not great, not fantastic, but good enough to pass off the story and maybe have a bit of style and humor to it. It’s a result that probably has to do with unwieldy yet ambitious production and budget problems. Coscarelli is probably at best a more independent Terry Gilliam without the reputation.

It may work for the other films, but when reading the original book by David Wong, John Dies at the End is a tale that requires larger than life, fantastic elements. It’s a tale about two guys basically finding a gateway to a darker world through a drug. You cannot just half-ass that. The Coscarelli humor is somewhat adequate, but it’s not the humor of the book – the absurdity, the banality, the true invincibility of the titular character’s jackassery. At the same time, it has to be legitimately frightening. It’s part of the atmosphere. It can’t be hallucinatory, because the things David and John encounter are real. The threat is real, not in the mind.

And the bigger thing is just that the story is more serial-esque but with an arc. If anything, it fits more as a TV series, but how do you really pitch such a series?
Very small changes are forgivable, a dog who is the central character of the story has been changed in sex and renamed to a punny ‘Bark Lee’. A significant battle in the Luxor casino at Las Vegas has been removed – disappointing but understandable because of budget.

Other changes are pretty hurtful… They take out a huge twist in the story that defines the book, they made the lead female character Amy more of a love interest than anything else and there ARE NO CHAIR JOKES!!!! None!!!

These are not story changes that Coscarelli should take all the blame for himself, but David Wong as well, who has taken responsibility and explained why he insisted on the changes from book to movie. I’m only having a problem with it due to my attachment to the book to be honest.

As a strength to the movie, even though they had less time to flesh out the lead characters of David and John, the actors who played them really understood who they were. I didn’t feel like I was watching an attempt at recreating David and John, I felt like I was actually watching David and John.

My advice to those interested: Watch the movie and then read the book if you liked the movie. You won’t be as disappointed with the movie as I was if you read the book after the fact and it will really fill in the details for a lot of other things that had to be shortened for movie’s length.

Now get ready, because a rant is about to ensue…

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The Amazing Spider-Man on the other hand, I was initially disappointed. I was intrigued by the idea of a new Spider-Man film and was intent on seeing it. When I first saw it, I thought it was whatever, but not a terrible movie. But the reviews came in, lower than the first two Spider-Man films, but higher than the terrible Spider-Man 3. And all my friends were seeming to like it. And then, they started saying the movie was better than Raimi’s trilogy – they started claiming Raimi’s trilogy always sucked. Nevermind the sudden internet about-face, I thought there was nothing spectacularly good or bad about the Amazing Spider-Man. But I figured, I’d give it another shot… I’d see if I could catch what I was supposed to be missing and they were catching.


The Amazing Spider-Man is not just an overhyped movie, it’s a very bad movie. There’s in actuality, after watching it again and again, nothing whatsoever of cinematic merit in it. My attempt to watch it again to find the good in it backfired. I only found more bad.

I’ve had times when I went against the public opinion to not like a popular movie… I was not a fan of CrashTransformers (albeit the 2nd and 3rd movies were bad and everyone knew it) or a good portion of Tim Burton’s work (though I have lightened up on him)… But I understood there was at least some merit in these films that allowed for their legacy, even The Dark Knight RisesThe Amazing Spider-Man does not have that. At all. It does not have anything of quality in it. There has never been another time I was so certain people were eating up shit since The Walking Dead TV series started and everybody claimed it was the best show ever made.

So, let me start with the obvious…
1) The most underdeveloped romantic story I’ve seen in films. I haven’t seen From Justin to Kelly or Gigli yet, and I have no intention to, so I’ll be fair and not say it’s THE most underdeveloped romance in all films but giggling and staring at each other does not constitute chemistry.
2) Peter Parker is a brooder all around the movie. Before Uncle Ben even dies, he’s brooding like a punk. People all around me say that this is the Spider-Man they’ve been waiting for, but that’s not Spider-Man. They say Spider-Man has to be an asshole, Spider-Man has to make jokes…

Look, Spider-Man is not Spider-Man because he makes jokes. If you get mad, Raimi’s Spider-Man didn’t make jokes, you may as well be mad at Christopher Nolan’s Batman because he didn’t do that Dracula thing he always does with his cape…

 

Pictured: That Dracula Thing… I can English!

You know what makes Spider-Man Spider-Man? The fact that he’s not an asshole. The fact that he legitimately means well everytime. He’s human with faults, but Uncle Ben taught him to be a better person and his death spurs him into taking on hefty responsibility in life. He doesn’t love his life, but he doesn’t brood 24/7. A gritty Spider-Man would not work, just as a gritty Fantastic Four does not work. Peter Parker’s a legitimately good guy who wants to do the right thing.
Anybody who claim Spider-Man is an asshole or his only defining feature in persona is his smartassery (which is done to offset the weight he feels put under)… These people don’t know what they’re talking about at all.

Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, in my opinion, are better actors that Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst… But man, Andrew Garfield’s acting in this film, he made me want to punch Peter. Every damn time… they barely glance over his scientific knowledge and they make him look like a modern Edward Cullen.

3. The story was rushed. The origin was rushed, Flash Thompson was inconsistent in his treatment of Peter, the chase for Ben’s killer went nowhere, the romance was rushed… and when they killed Captain Stacy, I just went ‘Wow, that already happened?’… Then, I look at who wrote the script and I figure out why… James Vanderbilt: his portfolio does not seem to understand development or pacing. Zodiac is the one credit that actually seemed satisfactory. Alvin Sargent wrote all Spider-Man scripts… that’s fine whatever, but he made mistakes too. And Steve Kloves wrote the Harry Potter films… which I despise with a passion for their lack of understanding how to properly adapt works of literature into cinema (Granted, I really really love the books, like anybody who grew up reading them, and I have a warm reception towards the movie of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – So, I’m not anti-Harry Potter at all).

The Amazing Spider-Man could’ve went into places Raimi never went to, it could’ve brought new life to the comic book film, but instead it played out as a lifeless script treatment of a high school drama.

The biggest gripe I have is with what The Amazing Spider-Man claimed they were bringing to the table turned out to be absolutely empty promises. Norman Osborn’s disappearance was laughably obvious by the sudden showcase of the shadowy bust they had in the OsCorp tour.

Are you fucking kidding me? Is that a whole obnoxious ‘I’m gonna deliberately not show you the face because I want to be incredibly mysterious as a picture’ instead of being unassuming about the whole deal and letting the ambiguity flow naturally?

Curt Conners’ transformation into the Lizard was actually a well-treated part of the story, particularly with his being ridden on by Irfan Khan’s character, but then his whole plan to flood the city with that mutation cloud was once again, worse than the more cliche comic book villain schemes I’ve seen since I was a child… At least the Green Goblin, despite a bad design, had a personal vendetta with everyone he targeted.
The worst part, the biggest crime, was the sudden focus on the parents. There’s three reasons why it was absolutely appalling to use.

1) They don’t say anything about his parents. They act like they’re a big part of the story, but by the end of the movie, nothing is known about them except Richard worked for OsCorp with Connors. Nothing jaw-dropping out of that. Then they make the mid-credit scene in prison to laugh at us, teasing like they have more to say… when there was nothing said to begin with. By the end of the movie, I polled all of my friends who loved The Amazing Spider-Man (ie. Everyone who saw it for some reason – including my brother who I saw it with) to name the parents of Peter Parker. Half of them were able to name Richard as the father, nobody except one guy could name Mary as the mother.

2) It doesn’t matter. It just doesn’t. Richard and Mary Parker left Peter’s life and they never returned and it never affected Peter in the comics (it had weight in the Ultimate Spider-Man universe, but never so severe). For all intents and purposes, Ben and May Parker are Peter’s parental figures. They were the ones who shaped Peter into the man he became, not his parents… which leads me to the third reason.

American Gothic… it is not.

3) They downplayed Ben and May’s role at this point. Their importance to Peter’s life was absolutely nullified. Instead of feeling the pull I felt when I saw Ben die in 2002’s Spider-Man, I instead thought ‘Huh, they shot him already?’ in 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man.

It was an bloodless picture that thought just from its existence it was going to change the Spider-Man game the way Batman Begins did to the Batman game and instead, it came off as movie that was all the bad parts of the Ultimate universe and the Harry Potter stories. It was created only to make money and retain the Spider-Man copyright for Sony Pictures and everybody fell for it and ate it up. It’s very insulting to the intelligence of the audience because it’s obvious they half-assed this movie.

At this point, it goes far beyond I just don’t like The Amazing Spider-Man. It goes far beyond Raimi’s Spider-Man 1 and 2 being my favorite movies. I’m trying to avoid comparison.
I’m making a certainly childish move to a degree, but one I feel completely justified in… The Amazing Spider-Man was a bad movie. A very bad movie. It has it’s hype phenomenon going for it, solely because it’s the new version… Everybody’s going to eat it up because they like teenage angst and think it equals cinematic emotion. I’m that guy trying to explain that Soylent Green is people and whatever… I’ll be the pariah, but everybody’s wrong if they say there’s something of quality in The Amazing Spider-Man.
I will forever fight this until it dies down.
It’s not like you can say The Amazing Spider-Man was more accurate to the comics – that’s not the case. In fact, it goes a lot backwards in comic book accuracy than forwards or makes the same leaps that Spider-Man made. The only accuracy added was the web-slinging device. That’s one item of accurate delivery and even then, Parker steals it in TAS as opposed to building it.
You certainly can’t say it’s because it’s the Untold Story. It wasn’t. It wasn’t everything told in Spider-Man as an origin.

At least John Dies at the End was funny.

Wait, no, The Amazing Spider-Man was better because 3D!

EDIT: So, I just read that the sequel to The Amazing Spider-Man will feature Jamie Foxx as Electro and possibly Paul Giamatti as Rhino. DEAR ODIN, this series fucking reeks of stunt casting – Martin Sheen, Sally Field, Denis Leary, C. Thomas Howell, Irfan Khan, Rhys Ifans and now this… this is only done to use big-name stars without respect for character.

Okay, I’m done now, I promise.