Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Justice League Pop-Tarts!

Fighting for truth, justice and sodium acid pyrophosphate.

By: Jimbo X

The reviews are rolling in for the much ballyhooed Batman v. Superman flick, and well - when the best thing you can say about it is that it didn't produce any mass shootings like the last Caped Crusader movie, you know people have been let down something fierce

While the long-awaited Bats vs. Supes movie may suck harder than an short-circuited vacuum cleaner, at least the critical flop gave us some pretty interesting merchandise. Case in point? Kellogg's limited-time only Justice League Pop-Tarts, which are obviously lead-ins for the upcoming Avengers rip-off that will likely be just as shitty as BvS, if not an even more colossal clustefuck. 

So, how do these newfangled Justice League Pop-Tarts work, you might be asking? Well, I am glad you did. As it turns out, they are more or less your garden variety toaster pastries (right down to the nauseatingly basic frosted strawberry flavor), but with a pretty big twist: each Tart has an iconic D.C. Comics character embossed on it. 

Let's take a closer gander at these suckers, why don't we? Well, too bad, because we're going to anyways. 

As you can see, these exclusive edition Tarts are part of the "Printed Fun" lineup, which in the past has included toaster pastries emblazoned with edible MLB logos and a whole slew of seasonal iconography. Strangely, the box also boasts a Team U.S. Olympics logo, which I thought was really weird until I realized it was 2016 and the Summer Olympics are being held later this year in Brazil. In that, I guess it makes a lot of sense to posit the image alongside The Flash, whose defining characteristic is that he's fast as fuck. You know, like a long-distance runner and shit? Eh, maybe it's just a coincidence ... but probably not

The back of the box features the big seven of the DC Universe ... albeit, with Cyborg filling in for the Martian Manhunter, because to Kellogg's, apparently green lives don't matter. Interestingly, there are only six featured bios on the back of the box, and take a wild guess which of the seven featured characters doesn't get his own overview? Go on, guess. Take a wild shot. Well, if you said "the only black guy," you sir, are correctamundo. And probably racist, too, but who's counting? 

Probably my favorite thing about the product was the side bar on the box, in which it appears Aquaman is giving you a quick primer on how toasters work. I don't know what's funnier; that a character known for hardly ever emerging from the ocean depths somehow has the fundamentals of contemporary kitchen appliances down, or that Kellogg's assumed there would be people in the 21st century with no goddamn clue how Pop-Tarts worked. Regardless, combine the two and you have yourself a recipe for the LULZ en masse. 

So more or less, the Pop-Tarts are kinda like baseball or Pokemon cards. You really have no clue what kind of character you are going to get on your pastry, and presumably, Kellogg's mass produced a whole shit load of the less popular characters and intentionally kept the supply of the more iconic heroes short so kids would get all excited about finding Supes or Batman after having to chew through 17 Aquamen. 

To be fair, the artwork here is pretty solid (talk about post-post-modernism - celebration of toaster pastry drawings.) The characters, for the most part, look pretty good printed on the Tarts, but the quality of the pressing fluctuates. Some are very vibrant with colors that almost seem to leap out at you, while others are fairly faint and a little smeary. 

It appears that the Tarts feature multiple prints of the same character - as in, pastries depicting individual heroes striking different dramatic poses. Por exemple, we've got Aquaman here (rocking the old school Super Friends short hair look, directly contradicting the character's Rob Zombie-like appearance in the DC cinematic universe) trying to jump off the frosting and grab the consumer's face AND a shot of said character ready to toss a trident through somebody or something's ass. I am not sure how many different variations there are of each character, but I'm guessing there are probably a few different permutations for each headliner floating around out there - I mean, I can't imagine fucking Aquaman being the only character to get the multi-pose treatment here.

There were some surprises in the mix, too. Among them was the inclusion of a Supergirl-branded pastry, which is kinda' out of left field seeing as how not only is she not usually thought of as a Justice League character but also because she isn't featured anywhere on the product packaging. Then again, maybe Kellogg's confused her with Wonder Woman and went ahead and mass produced this Tart on accident? Methinks this one has the makings of a new consumer urban legend, no? 

Of course, Kellogg's did take the low road on a few pastries. I mean, what could possibly be lazier than just printing the fucking Justice League logo on a dollop of rock-hard frosting and calling it good? 

Well, I suppose I can think of at least ONE thing that's lazier: printing a barely two-inch Superman insignia on a pastry and taking the rest of the day off. Shit, at least printing out the Green Lantern emblem would've required a LITTLE bit of effort, guys. 

A product meant to cash in on Batman v. Superman, you'd be pleased to note that, yes, there are indeed a few Pop-Tarts in the lineup depicting the Man of Steel and the Caped Crusader. Interestingly enough, however, in a box of no less than 16 different pastries, I encountered just one Tart each of Supes and Bats. Meanwhile, I pulled out no less than FIVE Aquaman Tarts, and fellas, you don't know what a "disappointing breakfast" is until you've had to chow down on multiple Arthur Currys when all you wanted was ONE goddamn Flash with artificial fruit filling. 

While the Tarts themselves were rather unremarkable - literally, they are JUST your standard strawberry-flavored breakfast items - I could really get behind the "printed" concept here. I, for one, would love to see some NFL or NHL branded Pop-Tarts, but guys, you have GOT to step up the novelty factor here. Spraying some edible ink on strawberry pastry might be well and dandy for the Justice League license, but we KNOW Kellogg's has it in 'em to do some really extravagant LTO products - remember those bitchin' Spider-Man Tarts from 2012? So why can't they manufacture multi-flavored, super-ornamental Pop-Tarts tying in to other popular multimedia constructs? Take the WWE for example; can you imagine chomping into a peanut butter flavored John Cena Tart, only to unwrap another foil packet and finding yourself a green-sprinkled-bedecked oatmeal delight pastry emblazoned with the mug of The Undertaker? 

The potential is certainly there, and perhaps Kellogg's can better implement the hook when - or if - the newfangled Justice League movie ever gets released. Hell, I'll even take some lemon-lime Tarts to commemorate Suicide Squad as a warm-up, just as long as the gustatory weirdness is equal to or greater than the aesthetic weirdness of the product as a whole. 

And hey ... if all of this corporate-branding whoring somehow results in me getting to taste blackberry-flavored struddles shaped like Lobo, I reckon it was worth every misstep in the learning process along the way.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Nine MORE Insanely Violent Pro Wrestling Matches!

A heartfelt celebration of the carnival of cruelty and the pageantry of pain, complete with attempted murder in front of a live audience, Japanese people hitting each other with household goods and enough animal abuse to give Ingrid Newkirk five heart attacks in succession. 

By: Jimbo X

WrestleMania 32 is just a few days away, and on paper at least, it looks to be the weakest WM card in at least a decade. Triple H taking on Roman Reigns? Glorified backyard wrestler John Moxley against former UFC Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar? The Undertaker's 80-year-old-looking ass taking on Shane McMahon and his inability to throw authentic looking punches? That's supposed to be your marquee PPV for the entire year

Alas, while WWE's biggest show of the year is almost certain to disappoint, if you've got a hankering for some sublime in-ring carnage, all you have to do is point your clicker on over to the YouTubes and the DailyMotions and you'll bear witness to heaps of fundamentally absurd pro 'rasslin goodness. Sure, we've already covered some of the proletariat theatre's more befuddling and stomach-churning moments, but considering the sheer volume of wrestling madness out there (I could fill up an entire site with nothing but the batshit crazy things promotions in Japan are doing), I reckoned it was worth our collective whiles to trudge through the mass media abyss to unearth a few more sports-entertainment incidents that'll make you wonder why the divine being of your choosing hasn't smat the holy shit out of all of humanity by now. 

How inhumanely violent and/or idiotic can wrestling be, you may be pondering? Well, whatever your preconceived notions may be, I assure you - the bottom of the barrel is much, much worse than you'd ever liked to have known. 

So strap on your seat belts and turn off the part of your brain responsible for empathy, folks: it's time to revel in the absolute sickest, strangest and sociopathic recesses of the squared circle...

New Jack exacts revenge on an old ECW adversary by literally trying to murder him in public

You really can't talk about absurd violence in professional wrestling without bringing up one Jerome Young, a "talented" grappler from Atlanta who spent a majority of his career wrestling under the ring name New Jack. Never really a performer too keen on the whole "skill" and "athleticism" stuff, his shtick primarily consisted of mercilessly pummeling the crap out of foes with sundry blunt objects while "Natural Born Killaz" played on a loop for 20 minutes. While New Jack - believe it or not, immortalized in the song "El Scorcho" by Weezer - has no doubt severely injured many an opponent (among other highlights, he legitimately beat a man half to death with a baseball bat, severed an artery on an underage wrestler and was actually arrested for stabbing another man in the middle of the match), probably the closest he has ever gotten to actually murdering another person on camera came at Xtreme Professional Wrestling's 2002 event Freefall. There, he was involved in a scaffold match with Vic Grimes, an old ECW chum who severely injured New Jack during the infamous botched "Danbury Fall" in 2000 (which, it should probably be noted, resulted in New Jack being literally brain damaged and permanently blinded in his right eye.) Sensing now was his time to exact revenge, New Jack proceeded to launch Grimes 30 feet off the scaffold above the ring in their XPW tilt, sending his follically-challenged adversary crashing through several tables, bouncing off the ring rope and nearly being decapitated in the process. Rather than downplay the incident as an accident as would any non-brain-damaged sort, New Jack was far from shy about telling anyone who would listen that he did it on purpose - going as far as to state that he actually was trying to kill Grimes in the 2005 documentary Forever Hardcore

CZW ... where weed whackers are the biggest box office draw!

After Extreme Championship Wrestling went under in 2001, there was a big dearth in the North American garbage wrestling scene. Almost immediately, the northeastern indie promotion Combat Zone Wrestling rose to fill the void, complete with annual outdoor "deathmatch tournaments" that looked virtually indistinguishable from your garden-variety backyard 'rasslin set-up. With a cast of wrestlers somehow even less physically talented as ECW stalwarts New Jack and The Sandman, CZW in its early days had to really go for broke with the predetermined mayhem. Sure, we've seen barbed wire and fluorescent light tubes a million times, but say, have you ever seen a wrestler go after an opponent gasoline-powered lawn care equipment before? Such was the catalyst for the grand finale of CZW's first-ever Ultraviolent Tournament of Death in 2002, in which promotion hero Wifebeater (no, seriously, that was his name) broke out a weed whacker to finish off "Madman" Nick Pondo. The disturbing publicity ploy worked, however, as the wild and woolly incident immediately became an Internet hit and more or less put CZW on the map. Indeed, the iconic moment has more or less come to embody CZW as a whole, with the weed-eater finish being implemented time and time and time again ever since. 

CZW ... where hypodermic needles are fair game!

Of course, you can only watch people have their skin shredded off with lawn maintenance implements so many times before you are desensitized. With the weed whacker fu quickly losing its novelty, Combat Zone Wrestling had to come up with something fresh to freak out the masses - and since this is an industry where the working conditions routinely call for employees to be set on fire to earn a paycheck, I guess you could say the standard for shock had been raised and considerably. At 2009's Tournament of Death 8, grappler Thumbtack Jack (guess what his favorite office supply is?) decided to try something a little different in a contest against CZW owner DJ Hyde. In a "Jack in the Box" death match, Thumbtack brutalized his foe with the usual assortment of plunder - cinder blocks, glass window panes, your typical fare, really. But towards the end of the bout, however, he decided to break out a foreign object rarely seen in professional wrestling matches - a goddamn hypodermic needle, which he proceeded to shove through his opponent's cheek. Needless to say, the gruesome spot definitely made an impact on even CZW's hardened hardcore 'rasslin audience, with the medical instruments being trotted out by Thumbtack Jack in several subsequent matchups - including one bout where he decided to jam a syringe ALL all the way through both of his foe's cheeks and yet another where he stabbed his adversary with a hypodermic needle right on the sole of his foot

Big Japan ... home of the ever-popular Crocodile Death Match!

Perhaps due to excess radiation levels, wrestling in the Land of the Rising Sun has always been much, MUCH weirder than 'rasslin in the states. Interestingly, this manifests itself both in more realistic strong-style bouts where the wrestlers more or less beat the dog shit out of each other for real AND absurdist, self-reflexive comedy matches that are essentially satires - if not outright condemnation - of the pro wrestling biz as a whole. And then, there are bouts like this 1998 Big Japan Wrestling contest, which manages to be both irresponsibly violent and hilariously idiotic. For the most part, this bout featuring Shadow WX and Mitsuhiro Matsunaga - the latter kinda' looks like old-school WWF grappler The Ultimate Warrior, if he didn't take steroids and his diet consisted primarily of Hot Pockets - is  your standard death match. We've got people being crushed on barbed-wire wrapped boards, dudes being choked with baseball bats and a real crowd-winner involving a body slam onto a bed of razor-sharp spikes, but it's not until after the final bell sounds that things get really out there. That's when the refs put up a mesh barricade around the ring and the bout's loser, WX, is forced to wrestle a goddamn alligator (yeah, they billed it as crocodile, but we all know better.) Of course, it's an awfully petite alligator, all things considered, and WX - has no problem wrangling his cold-blooded challenger back into his container. The best thing about the match, however, is the palpable embarrassment displayed by WX, who has a look on his face like "this is the stupidest shit I've ever had to do in my entire life" throughout the whole regrettable affair. 

DDT presents the world's first Silent Match!

There is a fine line between idiotic and brilliant, and Japanese indie comedy fed Dramatic Dream Team (DDT) straddles the line better than anybody. It's kind of hard to tell whether the company is just plain offensive and stupid or if it is supposed to be some kind of sly commentary on the general offensiveness and stupidity of pro wrestling as a whole. While DDT has featured countless ideas that could be construed as both unfathomably stupid and subversively clever over the years - among other knee-slappers, one of their top performers for years has been an inflatable sex doll and they have the proud distinction of holding the first ever "gay or straight" match in the history of pro wrestling (which was essentially an "I Quit" match, only you had to make your opponent confess he was a homosexual) - but for my money, no match embodies the dual retardedness and genius of the promotion than the infamous "silence match" between NOSAWA and Muscle Sakai from 2007. What's a "silence match," you may be wondering? Well, it's a match where the competitors start off with three points, and every time they make an audible noise, they lose one. As a result, we get some truly inspired spots in this epic clash, including several moves performed in slow-motion, a mid-bout smoke break, brazen product placement for coconut water galore, a sequence where one of the wrestlers loses a point because he screams after his foe pinches his ass and the clincher - and quite possibly the greatest finish in any wrestling match ever: a grappler being disqualified for illegal flatulence. Forget Rauschenberg and Warhol and the rest of those dweebs; as far as I'm concerned, this is the real zenith of post-modern art. 

Japan ... where inanimate objects wrestle, and sometimes hold championship belts!

Throughout the history of pro wrestling two pieces of hardware - ladders and tables - have played pivotal roles in some of the pseudo-sport's most iconic moments. So, leave it to the ultra obscure Japanese promotion Saitama Pro Wrestling Company (SPWC) to give the oft-utilized instruments the venue to shine without all those sweaty meatheads around to soak up the spotlight that I believe we can all agree is rightly theirs to begin with. It's not a terribly exciting match, by any means (in fact, the whole shebang is over and done with in less than a minute) and one can't help but feel a little underwhelmed by the competitors - a mini-step ladder and not one of those 20-foot metal monstrosities and a table that, if I didn't know any better, was decorated in such a way as to mask the fact there may have been someone underneath it moving it around. Still, the energy from the crowd makes this nonetheless one of the most surreal matches (or condemnations) you'll ever see in the wild and woolly world of pro 'rasslin. Still a little too high brow for you? Well, you can always fire up the Internet and check out some of the DDT Ironman Heavymetalweight contests, which includes a downright indecipherable deathmatch parody in which a half dozen competitors (one of whom is inexplicably dressed like Ryu from Street Fighter II) job to the company's defending strap holder ... a six-foot tall ladder

Four words: Apartment Complex Pro Wrestling!

DDT is a company known for its, well, experimental, model. In addition to the kooky publicity stunts we've already drudged up (Home Depot supplies as champions, matches where the loser has to publicly announce he's gay, etc.), the promotion is also renowned for its extremely in-depth, pseudo-storyline-driven "matches" that take place well beyond the confines of the wrestling ring. In simpler terms? A wrestler shows up at a random place with a film crew, he tries to procure a service - like, oh say, visit a campground - only to have a million billion heels attack him in a long, winding single take movie/bout that often exceeds an hour in length. In 2011, DDT decided to embark upon their most ambitious - and perhaps, unintentionally brilliant - anti-match with an hour and a half long opus that saw star grappler Kota Ibusha (who, to those not in the know, truly is one of the best wrestlers on the planet), attempting to purchase a rental space (why he's dressed in his ring regalia while apartment hunting, I can't tell you.) For the next 90 minutes, he floats from floor to floor, encountering - and then beating the living dog shit - out of a whole host of bizarre characters, including, but not limited to, an S&M gimp we meet humping a birdhouse, a kickboxer who has tennis balls scattered all over his floor and probably not-of-age pron posted all over his walls and a guy whose sole possessions consist of inflatable pool toys and half-empty pots of water. It's even funnier once you realize that all of these wackos are actually pro wrestlers on the DDT roster - something tells me that you'd never see John Cena or Triple H agree to pretend to be homosexual lovers or have Roman candles launched at them for the sake of a comedic bit that's really more Jackass than Ring of Honor, which ultimately, makes the entire package all the more satisfying. Oh, and just wait until you get to the part with the impromptu watermelon eating-contest, the two-on-one brawl with the egg-throwing meth-manufacturing twins and the concluding rooftop battle, which may very well consitute the single greatest backyard wrestling match ever recorded on tape.

Big Japan ... home of the Grocery Store Death Match!

Sometimes, the squared circle is just too dang restrictive when it comes to absurd violence possibilities. Sure, you can throw a lot of weaponry into the mix, but at the end of the day, you are still stuck pretending to beat the shit out of each other surrounded by four ring posts and a bunch of rope. To really maximize the creative destruction, you've sometimes got to step outside the confines of the arena and turn the boring, banal real world we all know and love into a smorgasbord of unusual brutality. Hence, the premise of this infamous 1995 Big Japan bout featuring up-and-comer Kendo Nagasaki doing battle against no less than four veteran challengers. Sure, things start off normal (well, normal enough by Japanese standards), with the wrestlers duking it out in makeshift ring outside the entrance of a grocery store. Well, as anyone who has ever watching 'rasslin before can tell you, the shenanigans most certainly will not remain locked to the ring (here, just a rain tarp surrounded by chicken wire.) About three minutes into the contest, the competitors are already brawling in the audience and whacking each other with chairs, and then, the fruit stand fucking gets it. Things only get weirder from there, with Pepsi cans becoming weapons of mass destruction, a wrestler having his face slammed into raw chicken and a segment containing quite possibly the only instance of a figure four leglock being applied in a bakery in recorded history. Oh, and you're going to love the part with the projectile hot dog cart - it's a real crowd-pleaser, to say the least. As asinine as it all is, probably the weirdest thing about the whole affair is the post-editing, which includes the use of this really out-of-place melodramatic moments and a few fourth-wall breaking segments where the action stops and we see wrestlers being treated for their injuries. And after all the mayhem and madness - including a very Platoon-esque sequence where the camera surveys all the broken glass and crates the wrestlers created - all of the competitors drop the violent madmen gimmick and act chummy as can be, even helping one another shave their eyebrows. Maybe it's a super-duper subtle allegory for the relationships between the U.S. and Japan in the wake of Hiroshima or something - 20 years later, I'm still not sure how any of us are supposed to interpret this stuff

The first ... and hopefully only ... Alive & Dead Food Death Match!

Linguistically, we all acknowledge the term "death match" is a misnomer. Yes, they are indeed bouts in which performers intentionally mutilate and maim each other, but unless New Jack is one of the participants, I think it's safe to say that attempted homicide is never the core objective of the contests. That's what makes this 2010 tag team hootenanny between Jun Kasai and the Great Sasuke against the Brahman Brothers (the guys who pelted Kota Ibusha with ketchup in the Apartment Complex Death Match discussed above) such a hideously intriguing prospect - it's probably the only match out there that actually DOES involve the mass killing of living creatures as a part of the match stipulations. One part screwball comedy and one part Cannibal Holocaust, the thirty minute or so bout includes the use of several sea creatures as weapons; there's a spot where a snapping turtle bites one of the competitor's noses and a pretty gosh-dang hilarious bit where another performer smacks the shit out of another with a live octopus. Granted, your mileage may vary on the entertainment merits of such madcap mayhem, especially if you are one of those PETA-types that think you can't even sneeze on a kitten without committing a capital offense. That said, by the time the competitors start throwing flaming fish heads at one another and stomping live lobsters and lizards to death in the ring, you really, really have to start questioning the sanity of the Japanese citizenry. Once a fairly accessible bout on the YouTubes, finding the infamous Alive & Dead Food Death Match nowadays is a real chore, and it's pretty much impossible to stream anywhere online (since, in the wake of a bill authorized by Barack Obama in 2010, it's potentially material considered obscene under U.S. law.) Having now taken a near-urban legend status, this bizarre beyond interpretation throwdown remains one of the most talked about - yet rarely seen - "death matches" in the annals (anals?) of professional wrestling. 

And yeah, until we start actually killing people on purpose for our amusement, it's about as sadistic and unsettling as wrestling is going to get, I reckon. 

Thursday, March 24, 2016

"Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday” – A No-Frills Review

A few thoughts on the Netflix original movie - which, as you probably guessed - is supremely gay

By: Jimbo X

Of all the nearly-forgotten media relics to revive, why Pee-Wee Herman? 

Indeed, in today’s new idea-strapped pop cultural wasteland, no property is too obscure or outmoded to resuscitate, just as long as it has some semblance of familiarity. Hence, the entire justification of Fuller House’s existence and why we’re getting sequels to The ConjuringNow You See Me and Independence Day this summer. 

The case of Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday is especially interesting in the fact that the character/intellectual property, for all intents and purposes, has been dead ever since Paul Reubens got caught spanking his monkey in a porno theater in 1991. Rather than revisiting the 1980s Saturday morning program Pee-Wee’s Playhouse described by Douglas Rushkoff in his tome Media Virus! as more or less gay camp sanitized for the ankle biter set – this Netflix re-do is very much a sequel to the last Herman outing, 1988’s Big Top Pee-Wee. Alas, this newer film eschews a lot of the weird, phantasmagoric imagery that made Tim Burton’s original cinematic Pee-Wee foray so memorable, instead delivering a more straightforward absurdist romp with a lot more blatantly homoerotic subtext than the already remarkably homoerotic TV show

The film begins with an E.T. parody, in which the titular character – Reubens, by the way, looks nearly identical to himself circa 1985 – says farewell to an alien pal named Yul. The dream sequence, which sets up Pee-Wee’s wanderlust, segues into the expected Rube Goldberg opening, which eventually dovetails into the thick of the plot. Pee-Wee – by convention, we have no idea how old the character is really supposed to be – works at a diner in a stereotypically perfect Norman Rockwell/Pleasantville burg. He spends his days gleefully reading pulp novels about scuba cops and jewel-stealing sharks and avoiding the advances of the well-stacked librarian, but one day, Joe Manganiello waltzes into the restaurant and asks for a milkshake and he and Pee-Wee bond over a mutual love of the same candies (their agreed-upon favorite is a miniature root beer barrel they like to poke with straws.) Uh, subtext much, guys? Manganiello advises Pee-Wee to bust out of his no-horse, 1950s-ish utopia and invites him to his upcoming birthday bash gala in New York City. 

Of course, thanks take an unexpected detour as soon as Pee-Wee hits the road. First, he’s abducted by a trio of all-girl bank robbers (one of whom is also named Pee-Wee and kinda-almost-sorta has a romantic subplot going on with him) who later hit him with pillows while they dance with male strippers. After that, he winds up hitching a ride with a traveling salesman (his biggest seller are magnetized grocery bags you can leave on top of your car to prank people), only to get freaked out by a snake-themed tourist trap before being taken in by a farmer with nine fairly unkempt daughters (hooray for fat-shaming!) and is nearly cajoled into marrying one of them (his escape is facilitated by pretending to be a cowboy, naturally.) From there, things get even more chaotic, with Pee-Wee introducing the Amish to balloon farts and roughing it up with a rugged outdoorsman who is actually a disgraced certified public accountant with daddy issues. There’s also some brief bits about an older lady with a rocket car and a soul-singing groups whose hair is shaped like the continental U.S., but eh, they never really go anywhere. 

Without spoiling too much of the movie, Pee-Wee does indeed make it to NYC just in time for Manganiello’s big birthday blowout, but as you probably imagined, things do end up going a bit awry. Rest assured, though, that the film has a happy – if not contrived – grand finale, with Pee-Wee learning the importance of friendship and travel. 

On the whole, Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday isn’t terrible. It starts off pretty strong and while nothing it truly riotously funny, it will make you chuckle a time or two. The pacing is solid as well, but the big thing holding this one back is the supporting cast. Stacy Keach and Nicole Sullivan (aka, what’s-her-name from Mad TV) are both wasted in complete throwaway roles, and none of Pee-Wee’s cast-mates really stand out as interesting, nuanced characters. Especially grating is Manganiello, literally playing himself, as the object of Pee-Wee’s budding bromance; of course, everything has to remain platonic on the surface level, but all those fantasy sequences where he and Pee-Wee ride piƱatas and speak Spanish to each other in slow-motion cannot be read as anything even remotely resembling hetero subtextually OR contextually. 

Reuben definitely does his part to make the character work, and his standalone performance as the Reagan-era throwback ALMOST holds the film together. I know the producers were trying to give the film a low-budget, anticlimactic feel, but the meat of the matter is that virtually nothing happens in the movie. It’s basically just the main character floating from one weird dialogue exchange to the next, and really, none of those interactions are all that interesting. 

Ultimately, the movie is just an excuse to break out the grey tux and red bow tie one last time. It has its moments, to be sure, but nothing leads to a truly satisfying complete cinematic experience. The entire film, I just kept thinking to myself how much it reminded me of the narrative in Joe Dirt, which is most certainly NOT the kind of thing you want to have your motion picture compared to. 

Had the film maintained the surreal campiness of the TV showor even Herman’s pell-mell stage productions – the end result could have been a much more entertaining, if not downright subversive, offering. As is, though, Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday is little more than a fleeting retro piece, a warm-over that only slightly makes you wax nostalgic for the late 1980s and early 1990s. 

That is, until you realize – just like the Pee-Wee character himself – that some things are better left buried in the fog of adolescence recollections. 


Two Tofu Dogs out of Four

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

B-Movie Review: "Going Bananas" (1987)

It's a Cannon family production from the cocaine-fueled '80s starring Dom Deluise, J.J. from Good Times and a talking monkey ... that can also fly airplanes and jump 30 feet in a single bound. 

By: Jimbo X

Sometime in the 1980s, Cannon Film Group co-founder Menahem Golan met with the handlers of Clyde the orangutan - Clint Eastwood's co-star from Any Which Way You Can and Every Which Way But Loose - to discuss a potential movie deal. As immortalized in the fantastic 2015 documentary Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films, before Golan made a decision on whether or not to ink Clyde's contract, he turned to his publicist and asked her the most important question anyone could ask a media relations subordinate:  

"Would you fuck this monkey?

And from her reply stems Going Bananas, a downright bizarre - yes, bizarre even for the 1980s - family opus that makes even colossal genre misfires like Nukie and Mac and Me look like subdued G-rated offerings by comparison. As you probably guessed, no, Golan never locked Clyde down to a picture deal, so instead, he did what any Israeli B-movie kingpin worth his (Dead Sea?) salt would've: he hired a midget, put him in a chimp suit and said "good enough."

Alternately known as My African Adventure, the flick - brought to us by the same folks who gave us such immortal B-movie classics as The Last American Virgin, Cobra and of course, Death Wishes two through four - is a rare detour from the notorious production company's usual slate of hyper-violent neo-conservative revenge dramas and cornball ninja opuses. Alas, while the film lacks bare breasts and/or Chuck Norris shooting Viet Cong rebels or invading Ruskies in the face at point-blank range with missile launchers, the film does make up for it - to a certain extent - with one of the weirdest premises for any family flick ever. 

One of these actors went on to a have a lengthy,
respectable career as a bit player in several big budget
Hollywood productions. The other is Dom Deluise.
The film starts with a shirtless kid named Benjamin (no, the film isn't directed by the same guy who did Clownhouse, thankfully) walking around on a boat. The captain tells him that Africa is beautiful, despite being - and I quote - "the darkest and cruelest" of continents. That's our cue for Benjamin's overprotective guardian - played by THE DOM DELUISE - to enter the fray. He tells the kid that wearing slippers won't be enough to save him from the perils that await them in Africa and makes Benjamin put on a coat. Then the captain tells them their safari guide will probably wind up eating them. 

Flash ahead to an unnamed village in an unnamed country, with elephants running around everywhere and people chanting and blowing fire like circus acts and selling baby tigers at the market like they were run-of-the-mill vegetables. Enter our safari guide, Mozambo the Second - or just plain Mo, for short - who welcomes Fatso and the wide-eyed youngster to the plains. Oh and the tour guide is played by none other than Jimmie "JJ from Good Times" Walker, which already makes this the greatest ensemble cast in movie history.

We learn Benjamin is the son of a U.S. senator and Dom does all sorts of racist shit, like spray disinfectant all over Mo's cab and nearly trample a woman lugging around bananas to death for no discernible reason. Then an old white hobo and all the villager kids start chasing after Mo's cab, because I guess there isn't a whole lot going on in Africa, circa 1985.

A police car shows up, even thought it's really just a normal blue car with a sticker on the side reading "police." Enter a corrupt official and an old white dude in a pimp suit who appears to be an exotic animal trade kingpin. He bribes the official, who tries to sell him a snake while he is at it. Uh, I guess they are supposed to be the film's central bad guys, I take it? 

We get stock footage of giraffes and zebras and gazelles rollicking about in the savannah, followed up by a long sequence where a lion hops on top of the taxi/jeep and its tail keeps disturbing Dom while he tries to take a nap. The kid asks to stop so he can go see some monkeys and an elephant steals Dom's lunch.

Dom's rifle accidentally goes off and the monkeys flee. But one appears to get injured while jumping out of a tree. The kid rescues the primate - which is obviously a midget inside a monkey costume - and the simian won't stop following them. He chases the jeep, and Dom sprays the monkey with bug repellant. Dom throws an apple at him (I assume it is a him, anyway) and the monkey retaliates by kissing him full on the lips like in a Bugs Bunny cartoon.

Following some completely needless footage of ostriches running in slow-motion, the jeep crashes. Dom loses a tooth in the collision, so Mo takes him to visit the village witch doctor (err, witch dentist, I suppose), who wouldn't you know it, is also Mo's uncle. In one of the weirdest scenes in any children's movie ever, Dom receives a shot of "novocaine" via blow-dart and and the witch dentist slowly jams a primitive looking drill - powered by a morbidly obese villager on a bicycle - into his mouth. It may not be as freaky as the boat ride in Willy Wonka, but it is nonetheless some seriously disturbing fare for a kids' flick. 

Is it just me, or does he kind of look like Danzig a little?
The monkey steals more of Dom's food (noticing a pattern here?) and at a check point, the monkey starts, well, monkeying with some gun-toting guards whom, naturally, suspects the trio are animal traffickers. The three are taken to the office of the corrupt police guy from earlier, who lets them go but keeps the monkey. Of course, the monkey goes on a rampage (among other HIGH-larious bits, he steals the official's toupee) and escapes. He reunites with his three human pals, who - for absolutely no discernible reason whatsoever - decide to dress him up like an old woman and take him to a fancy restaurant. 

The waiter doesn't understand what Dom means when he says he is so hungry he could eat a horse and then the monkey slaps the shit out of a dude who tries to sexually harass it. It hides under a table and keeps stealing the police official's cake. His dinner date - a circus owner who keeps talking about how he needs a new star attraction - takes note as the ape starts swinging from the ceiling fan and stealing even more people's toupees. Naturally, this leads to an all out donnybrook, with people getting hit over the head with trays and glasses being thrown all over the place - complete with Dom hopping on a table like a see-saw and using his tremendous girth to send a man flying outside a window like a rocket ship. 

The four are arrested again, but for people locked in a dungeon in a third world prison state, they seem to be taking it rather well. Ben decides to name the monkey Bonzo - boy, I wonder where he got THAT name from? - who can now pronounce the word "banana." Dom knocks out a guard and the four make a run for it. JJ and Dom get apprehended, but Ben (who really does look a lot like Frankie Munoz) and Bonzo manage to evade the authorities.

Ben buys a ticket for another safari to Bonzo's old refuge. JJ and Dom are released from prison and return to their taxi\jeep ... which, despite being unattended out in the city streets for hours, hasn't been robbed blind. Ben and Bonzo frolic in the jungle, with the monkey declaring his love for the young boy. As in, he literally tells him "Bonzo loves Ben." 

They swing from trees together while majestic, romantic music plays. Then, Ben falls into a crevice and is knocked unconscious. Scorpions start crawling all over him, and for some reason, even after he regains cognizance of his surroundings he is unable to, you know, just sort of brush them off his shirt. Bonzo lowers a vine into the crevice, saves Ben from the arachnids (or are the crustaceans?) and lifts him out of the abyss with a makeshift pulley. Bonzo gets Ben some water and, hey, what do you know, here comes Dom and JJ just in the nick of time. 

The kid has a fever so they take him to a mission hospital. Bonzo visits him and rubs Ben's forehead and sings a song about how much he loves him. Police raid the hospital and try to locate Ben and the monkey. Bonzo is apprehended and taken to the circus, where Ben instantly spray both his circus captor and the police chief with seltzer. 

Ben gets some ice cream and watches a circus parade go down the street. Of course, the main attraction is Bonzo, and watching him pulled around in a chain with a choker around his neck makes him cry. Uh ... symbolism, much

Of course the monkey can fly a plane. I mean, if he can
speak English and jump 30 feet in the air, he might as well
have the fundamentals of aviation down, too. 
The trio breaks into the carnival - with FUCKIN' rifles. Even the kid is packing a long gun. The pimp suit-clad animal slugger from earlier introduces the clowns, who, of course, are Dom, Ben and JJ. They do a routine and the police realize they are impostors and that's when the three begin their efforts to reclaim the monkey.

The other circus performers chase after them, leading to some high-flying shenanigans with the trapeze artists - complete with Bonzo attempting to KILL several pursuers by dropping 50 pound sandbags on their heads. Everybody cheers when the monkey rides a horse (an ode to Planet of the Apes, perhaps?) and he does some slow-motion trampoline stuff for no reason whatsoever. 

The three run towards a plane while police shoot at them. They skyjack the ride and the circus people continue to chase after them in their cars. Oh, and I should probably note this: THE FUCKING MONKEY SOMEHOW KNOWS HOW TO FLY AN AIRCRAFT. 

The three make it back to the port, with the local villagers still chasing after the biplane probably because they haven't had food in a while but all these people care about is their damn selves and their monkey and they are too distracted to realize all of the poverty going on around them. Dom tells Mo to come visit him in NYC, but he won't because Central Park is too dangerous - burn!

Ben wants Bonzo to come to the States with him, but Mo tells him he has to stay in Africa because it his home (uh, is that supposed to be taken as something of a pro-segregation message?) There is a tearful farewell, but it is interrupted by the circus people, who are running over fruit carts in cars that almost look like the General Lee, but not quite. Bonzo hides in a vase, an elephant sprays the circus owners with bacteria-soaked mucus and Bonzo bops the animal smuggler over the head with a gourd ... AND THEN HE LEAPS 30 FEET ACROSS A HARBOR INTO BEN'S BOAT. With Dom, Ben and Bonzo on the boat, Mo flies overhead on a biplane. We get a fade-out keyhole shot of Bonzo saying goodbye, and a final freeze frame of Ben and Bonzo hugging as the end credits doth roll. 

Shockingly, Going Bananas wasn't the E.T.-sized hit Cannon anticipated. I couldn't find any hard data on the film's box office take, but I think it is safe to assume it was pretty low. Calling the movie's reception tepid would be a gross understatement; as of March 2016, the flick has an incredibly low IMDB score of 2.8 out of 10. For comparative purposes, Uwe Boll's BloodRayne, that disastrous 3D "re-imagining" of Night of the Living Dead from 2012 and even the cult 1950s misfire Robot Monster chalked up at least a 2.9. 

The film itself, obviously, is based on Tamar Burstein's story Ben, Bonzo and Big Bad Joe (which, yes, was the same inspiration for the much-maligned Ronald Reagan movie Bedtime for Bonzo, you probably already deduced.) It was helmed by Israeli director Boaz Davidson, whose directorial oeuvre includes guilty pleasure sleaze-ball '80s mini-classics Hospital Massacre and The Last American Virgin, although he has probably had more success as a producer, having worked on films like the Nic Cage The Wicker Man remake and the 2008 Rambo re-do.

You really don't need me to tell you about career trajectories of Dom and JJ, but you might be surprised to know the actor who played Ben, David Mendenhall, went on to do a ton of voice work for a whole host of crappy late-80s cartoons, including The Centurions and Potato Head Kids. Oh, and he also played Sly Stallone's kid in Over the Top, a role that earned him not one but TWO Razzie Awards for lackluster acting. Really, the only person connected to the film that's had consistent film work since was the guy who portrayed Bonzo - Kenyan actor (and Warwick Davis stunt double!) Gurdeep Roy, who played ALL of the Oompa-Loompas in the 2005 Willy Wonka reboot and Keenser in the JJ Abrams Star Trek movies. 

So, yeah, there really isn't much left to say about the movie. It's a crappy, poorly-made, poorly-acted and poorly-paced film that hardly feels like it had much of a script (which, considering it was "penned" by Cannon head honcho Menahem Golan, probably isn't too far from the truth.) Even compared to the really, really bad "family movies" from the epoch - yes, even stuff like Nukie - it just feels flat and lifeless. There's really nothing nostalgic about the film whatsoever, no Reagan-era trappings that evoke even the subtlest sense of retro-reverence. Instead, it's just a boring, indistinguishable, extremely droning C-movie that's ONLY notable for it's weird cast and haphazardly structured narrative ... and yes, one extraordinarily creepy-looking monkey. 

Take it from a guy who has spent more hours watching bad movies on purpose than most professional film critics have spent watching any type of movie - Going Bananas isn't just bad, it's the absolute worst kind of bad; the wholly unremarkable kind of awful that's not just inept and amateurish, but altogether uninteresting. 

An amusing terrible movie - i.e., something like International Guerrillas - is one thing, but downright boring terrible movies like Going Bananas? Not only is it a waste of 90 minutes, it's waste of carbon, electricity and - pending how deeply you try to invest yourself into the numb-skull narrative - perfectly good brain cells, to boot. 

So is there any rational reason to see this movie? Well, outside of witnessing how to not make a low-budget cash-in, I can't think of anything. No matter your impetus for screening Going Bananas, however, I can assure you this: you sure as hell won't be entertained by anything you witness.