As I mentioned in my earlier reading-themed post, the month of May can be an overwhelming one, cutting down on my (already somewhat pared-down) viewing habits. In fact, of the three things I’ve seen in the past few weeks, two of them were re-watches, and the other was a TV show. More to the point, though, all three were pretty terrible, to different degrees – it’s just that one of them was awesomely terrible, and is impossible not to enjoy.
But let’s get the bad ones out of the way. Maybe the biggest disappointment was the second season of Hap and Leonard, which took everything good about the first season, largely lost it, and turned what was left into an absolute mess. I’ve been pretty vocal about my love of Joe Lansdale’s Texas noir series and its glorious heroes; with its great dialogue, memorable characters, and simple plots that pack a wallop, the series is a genuine treat, and the first season showed a lot of promise that they’d manage to capture the books’ spirit. Even better, the second season is based off of the second book of the series, Mucho Mojo, and that book was undeniably better than its predecessor; the story was fresher and richer, the themes darker and yet more resonant, and the dialogue snappier. Sadly, little of that makes its way to the series, which even manages to squander the great rapport between James Purefoy and Michael Kenneth Williams by keeping them apart for large stretches of time. Worse still, the series overcomplicates the story to an absurd degree; while the book focuses on a series of missing black children, and finds the time to dig into the depths and pain of that story, the series tosses in a corrupt judge, an origin tale for Hap and Leonard, a carnival, and even some wrongful suspicions on Leonard, despite none of it really fitting in or making sense. There are still scattered moments that show what could have been – an early parade of mothers with missing children is quietly devastating, and any scene with Irma P. Hall as the neighborhood matriarch is a joy. But in general, this feels like people who misunderstood much of what made the books good, and couldn’t figure out what to focus on – in other words, prime ingredients for a bad adaptation. What a letdown. Rating: **
While we’re talking bad adaptations, let’s talk about Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which I re-watched for the first time since its theatrical run, having just recently finished the book with my kids. Now, to be fair, I’ve never been the biggest fan of the Potter films; they’re adequate, to me, but never great films; with the possible exception of Azkaban, they’ve always felt like elaborately performed books on film, with little effort made to bring any cinematic skill or imagination to bear. And yet, even by that standard, Goblet of Fire is surprisingly awful, destroying any sense of pacing or coherence in favor of a slew of disconnected scenes that feel all over the place. (That apparently I liked this movie upon a first watch is a bit embarrassing now.) It’s not so much the fact that Goblet removes so much from the book that’s a problem; it’s the fact that the scar tissue left behind is massively distracting, the resulting plot holes bewildering, and the pacing absolutely unforgivable. For instance, while it makes sense from a time perspective to not show the Quidditch World Cup, the choice to build up to the match and abruptly cut away is maddening, resulting in a whiplash moment that’s more distracting than helpful. But that’s emblematic of the film’s problems, given how it lurches unevenly from bit to bit, taking the book literally without ever considering whether or not it would make for an interesting – or even coherent – film. It doesn’t help either that so many of the performances are so out of sync with each other; while I love Brendan Gleason pretty whole-heartedly, and he has at least one fantastic sequence (the unforgivable curses lesson), he’s often playing to the rafters, and he’s not alone. The whole thing is a frustrating mess, and maybe the lowest point of the series apart from Chamber of Secrets – maybe even worse. Rating: * ½
Of course, sometimes you can’t judge a film solely based on little things like “quality,” “writing,” “dialogue,” or “logic.” If you did, how could you enjoy a film like Road House, which has to be among the dumbest films ever made, a fact that has no bearing whatsoever on how much fun it is to watch. From a tai chi-practicing bouncer – excuse me, a “cooler” – played by Patrick Swayze to a mustache-twirling villain played by Ben Gazzara in a gloriously hammy performance. (Doesn’t hurt that, as far as I can tell, Gazzara’s main motivation in the film is “be a jerk”.) Oh, and did I mention Sam Elliott, who cruises into the film just to hang out and be Sam Elliott (nothing wrong with that)? Look, Road House is, to put it mildly, absolutely ludicrous, but that’s where the joy comes from – no other film could mix in monster trucks, throat tearing, polar bear taxidermy, homoerotic martial art trainings, and an absolute boatload of 80’s excesses, and come up with anything half this entertaining. Road House is, by any standard, “bad,” what with characters going off in catchphrases, absurd set-pieces, and a tenuous, at best, grasp on reality. But it’s also laugh-out-loud funny throughout, gloriously entertaining, and absolutely stupidly awesome, and I’m pretty sure everyone involved knew it and went for it anyways, without ever winking. It’s a good way to wrap up a stressful work week, and a wonderful thing to see with an enthusiastic crowd. Rating: Awesome