Second Chance Cinema: Hot Rod (2007)

We have a theory that maybe, sometimes, a film gets such a bad rap early on that its reputation is unfairly spoiled for the rest of that movie’s history. This is Second Chance Cinema. We re-examine the most infamous films to determine whether its reputation is earned or not.

The difficulty in writing the Second Chance Cinema column is defending a movie that got a bad reputation and/or bad reviews. Yes, I’d like everyone to give Hulk or The Shadow or Lake Placid a second chance, but on the other hand, I can kind of sort of see why the movie got bad ratings.

By no means should you think I’m purposefully advocating watching bad movies. I support and truly believe each movie in this column is worth watching (1).

Which brings me to Hot Rod.

Much like the last entry in SCC, Hudson Hawk, Hot Rod is very much a love it or hate it movie. It’s the first feature length movie from The Lonely Island sketch comedy group (the masterminds behind Saturday Night Live’s Digital Shorts). Andy Samberg stars as a wannabe stunt man who is in constant conflict with his overbearing father (played by Ian McShane).

Here’s some reasons why you should give it a second chance.

The movie’s backbone is absurdity. Perhaps audiences and critics weren’t ready for that type of humor, but once you realize the movie is not taking itself seriously (and you shouldn’t either) it’s a hilarious movie. This is a movie that opens with Samberg and McShane beating the utter shit out of each other. The movie also contains one of my favorite ADD, Tim & Eric style, editing sequences.

Hot Rod is a fun throwback to 80s romp movies. The plot is lighthearted and moves quickly like comedies from the 80s. There’s no dead spots in the movie. The plot and jokes move at a pace that dictates to the audience, “you should be having a good time.” Anytime the plot is Character Must Do X to Raise Money for a Sick Family Member and “X” is something ridiculous, the movie is probably going to be a fun time.

It features an early role from Danny McBride. Even cast as a supporting character, McBride damn near steals the show. Speaking of stealing scenes, Chris Parnell shows up for only a scene or two and has one of the more memorable jokes in the whole movie. As does Will Arnett. The cameos and pop-ins from well known comedians is another reason to give Hot Rod another go around.

I get if you have already seen Hot Rod and decided it wasn’t for you. However, if you were thrown for a loop by the level of absurdity, or if you ignored the movie because of critics, then definitely give Hot Rod a second chance. It’s immensely fun and thoroughly ridiculous. There hasn’t really been a recent comedy movie like it. That uniqueness deserves your attention.

Harrison

(1)For example, I was extremely close to writing about The 13th Warrior. Upon rewatching, I realized the high esteem I held that movie to was only from the fog of nostalgia. In reality, it’s a meaningless movie targeted to 13 year old boys.

Guest Post: Women, Young Adult Literature, and Film

It’s always good to get outside opinions to liven up the air of discourse. This is the first in Movie Debaters series of Guest Posts. First up is Jocelyn, who will be discussing the future of women in cinema through the lens of Young Adult Literature.

When I was nine, the very first Harry Potter novel was released. I fell in love with the series instantly – a love that would transfer over to the films years later. But as my love for The Sorcerers Stone grew, so did my curiosity. Who wrote this addictive adventure of peril, mystery and friendship? Who could I blame for making me think that if I stared long enough at a pencil on my desk I could make it float? Who was this fabulous man! J.K. Rowling, as my mom told me, was actually a woman. She had used her initials to trick publishers and audiences into thinking that she could possibly be a man. The moment I learned this, even at that young of an age, I was a little upset by it. I didn’t understand why being a female author would get in the way of having your work published. I was, of course, only nine.

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Why Big Trouble in Little China is an Important Film

I hate to piggy-back on Harrison’s posts but last Tuesday he recommended one of my favorite films, Big Trouble and Little China. I know many of you are wondering why the “snob” of the site is backing a “strange and goofy” action from the 1980s? The answer lies in my mini bio. I can’t ignore the politics beyond the frame.

Harrison adeptly describes the film saying, “Kurt Russell plays the lead character, but he’s hilariously inept. He walks around with swagger and bravado, but the real hero is his sidekick, Dennis Dun. Dennis’ character is a nearly master swordsman who single-handedly takes on many of the threats they encounter.”

This is one of the reasons why I love this film. It takes a very traditional Hollywood convention and turns it upside down. You wonder what I mean?

You may be wondering what Avatar has to do with this. If you read an older piece I wrote about Avatar, you can see where the difference is between a movie like Avatar (or Dances with Wolves or The Last Samurai) and Big Trouble in Little China. In the former, a caucasian man will assimilate with an isolated group, or tribe of people eventually becoming an accepted and valued member of the tribe.

This is important to note because that caucasian man will eventually save or attempt to save the entire tribe, just like Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) in Avatar. It reinforces a weird Aryanesque mythology where primitive tribes need to be saved by a white savior. How does this work in Big Trouble in Little China? SPOILER ALERT. Don’t watch the tribute or continue below the video unless you want the ending of the film spoiled.

This Jack Burton tribute shows many scenes of Jack’s ineptitude. He misses Lo-Pan with the knife, he gets stuck underneath an armored swordsman, he knocks himself out by shooting into the air. Does he kill Lo-Pan? Yes, but only after missing first. I would have to go back and check the movie again but think it’s only the sixth person Jack has dispatched the whole movie. He doesn’t save the “natives” but rather himself. It’s clear that Wang Chi (Dennis Dun) would be able to kill Lo Pan if they got into a sword fight. Another thing that separates Big Trouble from other “gone native” films is that Wang gets the girl of his dreams and Jack rides off into the sunset in his truck. Sure, there’s an attraction between Jack and Gracie Law (Kim Cattrall) but Wang is the one who gets the girl.

I don’t want to over emphasize the racial reading of the film. It’s also an early example of a genre bending Action film that includes martial arts, swords, gun play, an irreverent anti-hero and wonderful performances by both James Hong as Lo Pan and Victor Wong as Egg Shen. I just want you as a viewer to take a step back and realize that films are a powerful reminder of our culture. We need to realize that what happens in these films reinforce our cultural stereotypes and that the weird white man “out nativing the natives” plot line merits considerable revision.

Josh E.

Quick! Before it Expires: Unlikely Movies

This time on Quick! Before it Expires it’s a trio of unlikely movies ever to be seen again.

Shaolin Soccer

First up is Shaolin Soccer. It’s a movie that perfectly blends to unlikely film genres: sports and martial arts. Shaolin Soccer is a hilarious comedy about a former Shaolin monk who wants to promote his school of martial arts. In order to do so, he recruits fellow monks to enter an open soccer tournament.

Not only does the movie have fantastic action, the tropes of the martial arts movie are seamlessly grafted onto the sports movie. Each Shaolin monk has a fighting specialty (such as powerful kicks or fast hands) that translate into a skill on the soccer field. It’s great fun to watch as these two unlikely genres of movie are mashed up together.

The story is standard inspirational sports fare, but to see it in such a different light really amps up the quality. For the martial arts fans, there’s many subtle and not-so-subtle references to past martial arts movies (particularly the goalie who loves to emulate Bruce Lee).

Shaolin Soccer expires in 12 days.

Big Trouble in Little China

I don’t think there’s been a movie since 1986’s Big Trouble in Little China that is so unabashedly strange and goofy. The movie is about a truck driver (Kurt Russell) Who gets mixed up in an Ancient Chinese mystic cult.

The movie starts off slow but continuously builds on the strangeness until coming to a boiling point at the end. By the time the credits roll you’ve seen floating head monsters, one character blows himself up by holding his breath, epic sword fights, and a cult leader age in reverse.

The subject matter is strange, and so is the relationship of the protagonist to the story. Kurt Russell plays the lead character, but he’s hilariously inept. He walks around with swagger and bravado, but the real hero is his sidekick, Dennis Dun. Dennis’ character is a nearly master swordsman who single-handedly takes on many of the threats they encounter.

Big Trouble in Little China expires in 12 days.

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

Nicolas Cage’s career is built on top of playing unhinged characters. This can be for good (Raising Arizona) or bad (The Wicker Man). Even though the movie was just released and even though Nic Cage is still getting roles in movies, I don’t think any movie will showcase his craziness like Bad Lieutenant does.

Cage is a Lieutenant in the New Orleanian police department who during the floods of Katrina severely injured his back. His injury and subsequent drug addiction only fuels the fire of his character’s insanity. Over the course of the movie, Cage’s character extorts people, teams up with a money making venture with a drug lord, yells at old ladies, and gets into trouble with his bookie.

Part of what makes Bad Lieutenant such a great Nicolas Cage movie is that it was made by an equally crazy director — Werner Herzog. Both of their crazy tendencies combine together to make a movie greater than the sum of its parts. Unless Herzog and Cage team up again, I doubt there will be another movie like this.

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans expires in 12 days.

For a full list of movies expiring on Netflix, check out Queuenoodle. (There’s a ton of movies expiring in the next two weeks.)

Harrison

Predictions for Movies

Look, I get that everyone is excited for The Dark Knight Rises. I do. I’m excited too. Batman Begins and The Dark Knight are the pinnacle of superhero cinema. Nothing even comes close to the quality of those two movies. And now the final movie is being released? That’s grounds for a major celebration.

What I can’t understand is the amount of speculation and predictions circulating around the movie.

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Countdown to 2012: The Road

It’s 2012 and for anyone out there who buys into any conspiracy theories knows that it is the last year for human life to continue as we know it. I’m a fan of conspiracists and their theories and I’ve heard theories about 2012 ranging from Revelation to humans taking the next step in evolution into more perfect beings. So with the wealth of apocalyptic movies in the history of cinema I’ve taken it upon myself to determine what we should know about our post-apocalyptic future.

I’m going to review the Road, written by Cormac McCarthy, adapted by Joe Penhall, and directed by John Hillcoat. Some of you more dedicated readers know that way back into the recesses of the blog this post exists. I’m retooling this one and then will be releasing a post-apocalpytic review at least once a month.
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