Friday, March 20, 2015

Cool Cat Saves the Kids (2014)

This blog was born out of my love for accidentally great films, like Robot Monster, The Room, and Troll II.  As time has passed, my portfolio has diversified, but my heart still beats for z-movies.  Which is why I'm so happy to meet Cool Cat:


Cool Cat lives in California with his human dad (addressed, weirdly, as "Daddy Derek") and cat mom.  California, land of freaks.  Cool Cat is presumably a child, since he is friends with children named Maria and Madison, and since he references his teachers in the dialogue.  Enough backstory.  We open with music that's similar to that of Troll II's party scene and this bodes very well.  Cool Cat answers the phone by barking, "Hello, this is Cool Cat!  Who are you?  And what's your name??!"  This seems to be an crude reaction, but maybe it's foreshadowing since Cool Cat and his friends will soon be getting bullied via phone.  Meet Butch the Bully: 


His dialogue is sometimes hard to decipher, as I think the kid has a speech problem.  Giving the bully a speech impediment, Cool Cat Saves the Kids?  You are so meta.  This is how bullies bully these days: "Maria has pretty hair, so I'll text her it's ugly!  Ha ha ha!"  The "ha ha ha" is a direct quotation, as Butch lacks the cackling skills of most movie villains.  Young Maria receives a text that says, "You're ugly and your hair looks like rat hair!"  I'm no fan of bullies, but that is a pretty sick burn.  Note that the bully is a little chubby.  No problem, lots of actors are, but nearly every scene involves him running in a very agonized way.  It's like this movie about anti-bullying is actually bullying the one kid with a different body type.  META.
 

The bullying sort of escalates and Cool Cat is targeted and again hysterically overreacts ("Dogs are my friends!  Identify yourself!").  Butch finds a can of spraypaint and Cool Cat gasps, "He's about to graffiti our neighbor's wall!"  The movie is insistent on making "graffiti" a verb and we also get a line about "kids graffiti-ing all our sandboxes!"  Don't get too attached to the vandalism and bullying storyline, though, because the movie jumps topics midway through, as Cool Cat is invited to a parade in Hollywood!  And you're in luck, because we get to watch him prepare TWO special songs for the parade!!!  Sample lyric: "Cool Cat wants to play that drums!"


"Is that an Eddie Van Halen guitar?" you ask.  And this movie answers "yes!" with loving close-ups of autographs on the body and hands way too high on the fretboard.  Just to drive the point home, we get dialogue about how it was "autographed by the Van Halen band back in the 1980s!"  Presumably, this movie is aimed at children, but the pop culture references are so dated.  Maybe a kid might know Van Halen, but would any kid be able to parse "Isn't the Smokey and the Bandit car pretty?"  It would just be meaningless gibberish to a millennial.


The parade business drags on and on until we finally welcome the return of bullying to this film.  Some luckless celebrities get drafted into action here, leading to the solid gold line, "That darn Vivica A. Fox and Erik Estrada messed it up!"  Fox advises the kids to yell at bullies like an insane person until they go away.  In the Cool Cat universe, this strategy totally works!  I love these scenes and am using "OH NO! They put lies on the Internet??" for my work stuff.


What had previously been a goofy melodrama gets way more serious as a gun is introduced in the last fifteen minutes of the film!  This part of the movie seems painfully ironic now, as Butch is not immediately shot to death by a policeman, even though he is holding a pistol.  "Cops are our friends!"  Butch does get a great parting line in one of his arrest scenes, "I'm a bully and I'll be back!"


Let's hope so!  Cool Cat manages to avoid the turgid plod that afflicts too many of these films.   There are some slower moments (parade footage, why God why), but generally there's always something new and outrageous just around the corner.  If this doesn't dethrone The Room, it at least outpaces the overpraised Birdemic and execrable Sharknado.  Please visit director/producer/writer/star Derek Savage's webpage for all your Cool Cat, Trolly the Trout, and Bible Birdie merch.

***1/4

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Return to Oz (1985)

Judging by the financial stats on IMDB (this didn't even make half of its $25 million budget back), it seems that audiences in 1985 were just not buying an Oz movie that mostly ditches the Scarecrow and Toto, but does include a talking chicken, a flying couch, and electroshock therapy.  It's 1985's loss.   And Disney's!  


A sort of amalgamation of two L. Frank Baum Oz books, Return (despite Internet rumors) is pretty definitely a sequel occurring in the same universe as The Wizard of Oz.  Firstly, it is named Return to Oz.  Also, the first part of the film involves Dorothy's transfer to a terrible psych hospital because she cannot sleep and won't stop talking about her trip to Oz.  Through stormy happenstance, Dorothy delivers on the title's promise and returns to Oz. 


But first we spend some time in Jodorowsky's Dune.  This Oz is a much more barren and bleak place than the sugar-sweet Wizard.  Dorothy and her talking chicken Billina traverse a desolate landscape, finally arriving at an Emerald City in which the residents have been turned to stone and replaced by monstrous dandies called Wheelers.  


The film could be read as a prolonged series of jokes on audiences who expected something conventional.  Instead of dancing munchkins, we get decapitated statues.  Rather than cowardly lions, we get a flying machine made out of a couch and a moose's head and a dusty, portly clockwork robot.  All of this is straight out of the Baum books, but people generally won't read and weren't prepared for the shock of so much unfamiliar territory.


Thirty years later, the virtues of Return are easier to see.  As with the books that inspired it, this Oz doesn't flinch from shadows—it remembers that the beloved original had witches and flying monkeys, and makes sure to toss in similarly upsetting characters.  Return realizes that fantasy aimed at children needs menace and general weirdness.  This movie frequently dives way into psychedelia and dreamlike visions.  A talking pumpkin calls a nine-year-old "Ma".  An evil queen keeps a room full of spare heads, then later whips a chariot pulled by wheeled men.  Rocks are killed by eggs.  All of this is realized with no expense spared—the effects, for 1985, are glorious and the set design in this movie makes it worth watching despite the flaws.


Okay, the flaws.  Some elements of the books were tweaked, but it might have been nice to see even more monkeying before this hit the screen.  It's perfectly fine in fiction to shrug the shoulders and say, "Oh, yeah, PS, eggs are poison."  But in a film, we're watching scenes unfold for a long while and aren't sure what's happening until after the fact.  This would have been much tighter if some of the middle portion had been clipped as well, though it would be a shame to lose those long scenes of Mombi's palace.  I would have loved to have seen General Jinjur and her all-girl army shoehorned in, but the film's already kind of bloated as it is.


But!  You should still check this one out.  As a sequel/retread, it ties Showgirls 2 for brazen insanity and it's much more endearing than Sam Raimi's joyless Oz treatment.  "I have always valued my lifelessness." 


***