Omicron Film Festival: A Recap
On January 7th, after I awoke with a sore throat that wouldn’t quit, I began to assume I had contracted the popular disease that’s all the rage, SARS-CoV-2. On January 8th, I tested positive for the sonofagun. It only then dawned on me that I would now be in solitary confinement for an undisclosed amount of time, effective immediately.
I got home, shut the doors, drew the curtains, donned a mask to protect the cat, cuz they say this variant is just infectious as the dickens, and did what any rational person who’s just found out they have the plague would do:
I hit “play” on the new Matrix movie.
What materialized was an impromptu, multi-day movie marathon, with the only rule for consideration being: “Don’t think too hard about the next selection”.
I have dubbed this undertaking the Omicron Film Festival, and this is my recap.
MATRIX RESURRECTIONS (2021)
I really set the tone of this endeavor by kicking it off with the
long overdue much anticipated next installment in the Matrix series. This picture is extremely long, incredibly convoluted, and supremely idiotic. It’s also irreverently self-aware in a way that was dumb but I didn’t mind.
Keanu is a depressed Thomas Anderson, now (or who always was???) the famous video game designer who created the original Matrix trilogy of games, which in this universe stand in for the trilogy of films we know from ours. But it’s all a simulation! Or is it? Honestly, who gives a shit. Keanu is literally playing a character who can’t believe he’s in another Matrix movie. Everyone else is also bad.
This movie could have been anything, and while I had no expectations, I guess I didn’t expect this. I don’t know why the story had to be so fucking tortuous, except I guess it wouldn’t be a Matrix sequel if it wasn’t. Overall, I enjoyed it.
Report Card: Shines brightest in the Entertainment Value department due solely to a certain je ne sais quoi. Performs adequately at best on any metric.
THE FACULTY (1998)
This is, bar none, my favorite Robert Rodriguez movie. I haven’t seen it in a long time, and I gotta say, it only gets better with age. If you thought the cast was lit in 1998, it’s so much better now. From Josh Hartnett as the genius flunkie with a bad haircut, to Elijah Wood as a helpless dork who musters his inner hero, the real joy comes from a supporting cast peppered with the likes of Salma Hayek, Piper Laurie, Usher, Famke Janssen, and Jon Stewart – as Professor Edward Furlong? What kind of inside joke is that?! I don’t get it, but I love it.
This movie has the rare quality of being exactly what it intends to be. A big part of its success rides on the coattails of Scream, which popularized the not-quite-a-parody, self-aware meta-satire horror subgenre. It’s like the Scream of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The characters’ in-universe awareness of the horror and alien movie tropes playing out before them lends the film an irony that tells you out loud how it’s subverting the conventions it uses. Plus, its depiction of high school is great. It’s a complete madhouse even before the aliens show up.
Report Card: Consistently high marks across the board. Some will accuse me of favoritism.
BATMAN FOREVER (1995)
I don’t like Batman. I think he’s a stupid hero. It doesn’t make any sense that a billionaire would be as tough as Batman. When you have infinite capital, there are much more efficient ways of exacting revenge on your foes than being a costumed vigilante. Plus, Wayne Enterprises presumably needs an engaged chairman, and Bruce Wayne must get shit for sleep, because Batman always works at night! Also, why are crimes always being committed at night in Gotham? And if Gotham City is an analog for New York, then what is Metropolis? Isn’t that also New York? What other city would Metropolis be? Or is Metropolis just completely made up? And if so, what kind of universe has a New York City, plus a nearby giant city that’s not New York? It just doesn’t make any sense.
Val Kilmer is a boring and emotionless Batman. He’s just a really bad actor. Jim Carrey as the Riddler is routine clownish fare that’s entirely typical and generally uninventive for this era of Carrey. Tommy Lee Jones is really the shining star of this film. He lays it on thick as Two-Face. I saw this movie in the theater, and I think it’s the first Tommy Lee Jones movie I saw. Then later on I saw The Fugitive, and I was like, hey, it’s Two-Face, I guess he does serious stuff, too. The film does have a pretty kickass soundtrack. Seal’s Kiss From a Rose is on this soundtrack, which really rocketed the song up the charts and is probably the single factor that led to all of us knowing who Seal is. So Batman Forever did make some cultural ripples, however unintentionally. But the movie is pretty much garbage.
Report Card: Performs strongest in Mise en Scene; all in all, it’s sort of a cool rendition of Gotham City.
Another film from 1995, and one I hadn’t seen in a long time. Needless to say, it’s a classic and a cultural touchstone for a certain generation. To tell you the truth, I was pretty bored. But I was also feeling quite sick, and I dozed off somewhere in the middle.
I first saw Clueless at my friend Jason’s house on home video when it first came out. His dad watched it with us, and afterwards he told us that while it was a cute movie, he wanted us to know that the part with the dope smoking was not cool. We nodded our heads solemnly, but really I was like, there was dope smoking in that movie? In my defense, the instances of dope smoking are relatively subtle if you don’t know what dope is.
Report Card: Honestly, I rated this film way too high on a lot of metrics. It doesn’t deserve the grade it got. But, I suppose that’s right in theme with the plot. Does not pass on merit.
I don’t remember if I’ve ever seen this film. And a year or two from now, I still might not remember if I’ve ever seen it. I think I’d probably need to see Bullitt four or five times before I’d be certain I’d never forget that I’d seen it. I must be missing something. This is a classic Steve McQueen picture. It won Academy Awards. But it’s boring as hell! Bullitt is a cop, and he’s trying to find some criminals, and there’s a whole lot of quiet sneaking around, and then car chases. The plot is not compelling. McQueen doesn’t give much range is his performance, instead seeming to rely solely on screen presence. The pacing is rotten. It took home the Oscar for film editing, so clearly I’m wrong. I found it almost interminable. The dialog is decent, I guess. Honestly I’m just grasping. All told, there’s nothing particularly bad about it; it just isn’t much fun, and I don’t feel urged to care that Bullitt’s friend died. I do not share in his journey.
Report Card: Performs adequately but not impressively on Performances and Emotional Beats. Comes up short on Entertainment Value.
GETTING EVEN WITH DAD (1994)
This picture is a vehicle for the iconic screen duo of Ted Danson and Macaulay Culkin, so you know there’s something for everyone to love here. Three jaded criminals, ringleader Ted Danson with a ponytail, sidekick Saul Rubinek, who you (I) may recognize as Henry Kissinger in “Dick”, plus a fat guy plan the perfect robbery, you know, One Last Score, and the plan is flawless – until Ted Danson’s kid (i.e., Macaulay Culkin) shows up and sticks a wrench in the whole thing.
I’m gonna tell it to you straight – they stuck to a formula with this one, and it works. You’ve got solid A, B, and C plots all interwoven, conflicts and dilemmas arising at the appropriate times, and a cast of archetypal characters that all perform their proper purposes. Plus, it’s a family comedy, so there are plenty of laffs to be had, often at the criminal characters’ expense. Pratfalls, hijinks, and one-liners. And to top it off, it’s even got the appropriate amount of heart. It’s a back-of-the-box recipe followed right down the line. You can like it or not, but you’ll be hard pressed to find something technically problematic with the structure. An installment in the tradition of The Epic of Gilgamesh. Plus, Ted Danson has a ponytail.
Report Card: An average student who proves that if you study hard, you can pass the test.
If you’ve seen any of the myriad installments of the Godzilla franchise, you could be forgiven for assuming the entire venture is drek. But the original Godzilla is a heavy and fascinating insight into the Japanese psyche, less than a decade after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It captures the fear and uncertainty of the effects of radiation on a people and the planet, with a giant monster the personification of that fear. Perhaps most compelling are the town council scenes, where a frightened and desperate community argues gravely with one another over the best course of action to address a mortal danger without a clear solution. Furthermore, it’s shot beautifully, in rich, contrast-y black and white, with shadows like pools of ink, and there are some fairly involved stunts and practical effects. It’s a film that takes itself seriously. Godzilla himself isn’t particularly frightening, but it sort of doesn’t matter. It’s everything he represents that’s important.
It’s absolutely no surprise to me, based on my knowledge of human nature, that such a tale full of metaphor and subtext would naturally be spun off into an endless slew of chincy, campy, soulless sequels.
Report Card: Performs consistently high on most important metrics. Greatest shortcomings are a fairly uninvolved story, and the fact that, while powerful in message, it’s not exactly a barrel of monkeys.
HARD CASH (2002)
In the first scene, which feels like we’ve just tuned into the middle of a movie, William Forsythe calls what is clearly a $65 chair a “ten thousand dollar chair”. Shortly thereafter, Verne Troyer climbs out of a toilet and shoots William Forsythe with a dart gun. The film goes downhill from there.
This is the second Val Kilmer appearance of the marathon, and, amazingly, I believe the first actor to feature twice. He plays a corrupt FBI agent opposite master thief Christian Slater in this direct-to-video piece of shit that is the same amount of fun as a hernia. An A.I. could have written a more inventive screenplay, and I’m not being facetious. Every line of dialog is so completely tired, it feels intentional. The performances are uninspired, to say the least. Christian Slater’s character drives a 2000 Camaro Z28, in the lovely “Mystic Teal” color, and they absolutely beat the shit out of it, which is probably the best part of the movie. His character also performs the lamest crash stunt I’ve ever seen, where he inexplicably jumps the Camaro over a flatbed truck and through a….. wall of empty Culligan bottles?
I hated this movie as much as any movie I have ever seen in my life. In that regard, it has plenty of competition, don’t get me wrong. But for all intents and purposes, it is the worst film of all time. I challenge anyone to find any merit in it anywhere.
Report Card: I have never seen this student in my classroom all semester. Decides to show up for the final exam. The fuck outta here. Don’t re-enroll; drop out.
THE GREAT ESCAPE (1963)
It’s not news that The Great Escape is a tremendous picture. It’s the allegedly true story of a massive allied forces jailbreak from a Nazi POW camp. It’s got a ton of heart, great characters, superb performances from a long list of Hollywood legends, high stakes, and quite a bit of humor.
The Elmer Bernstein score often seems incongruous with the gravity of the situation, especially on the front half of the film, making serious scenes feel like an episode of F Troop, but it finds its way once the stakes ramp up in the second act.
This is the second appearance of Steve McQueen, in a role I enjoy much more than Bullitt. Additionally it stars James Garner and Richard Attenborough, and two magnificent performances in particular from Charles Bronson and Donald Pleasence, who were both given fewer opportunities later in their careers to shine like they do here.
It’s really damn long, verging on a three hour runtime, which feels appropriate, considering the length of the characters’ imprisonment and the extent of their escape plan. It’s 20th Century epic cinema that manages to stay engrossing from start to finish, which, especially for the era, is a real feat unto itself. From director John Sturges, who cut his teeth on westerns and applies his knowledge of character and the human condition to this story with gusto.
Report Card: Performs in a league of its own; probably does not belong in this course.
BLACKBEARD’S GHOST (1968)
I’d seen this Disney live action picture once previously, when I was perhaps 7 or 8 years old. I rented it from Chain-O-Lakes video on a lark, and loved it. Naturally I remembered absolutely nothing of it except that it was a gem, an opinion I’ve never forgotten in 30 years.
Upon rewatch, I am absolutely not surprised that my 7-year-old self loved it. It’s pretty edgy for a family film! It’s got kissing, smoking, rum guzzling, firearms, gambling, comical histrionic outbursts, and wacky characters, including pirate ghosts and mobsters! What other film features swashbuckling debauchery alongside zoot-suited organized crime? I mean, really.
The premise is that our hapless protagonist, played by Dean Jones, moves to a southern coastal college town to coach the school’s failing Track & Field program. He’s met with derision by the rest of the faculty, who all think the track team sucks. Meanwhile, there are a bunch of old ladies who claim to descend from famous pirate Blackbeard, who are at risk of losing their historic hotel to the local mobster. Why there’s an organized crime syndicate in a small southern coastal college town goes unexplained, but we allow it. The mob boss is great, he’s a total opportunistic dickhead. Well, Dean Jones accidentally summons Blackbeard’s ghost, but he’s the only one who can see him. This, naturally, is the film’s primary gag. Blackbeard really gets on his nerves, so Dean’s always yelling at him, which, ya know, makes him look crazy. Anyway, Blackbeard and Dean finally settle their differences, Blackbeard straight up cheats to help the track team win their match, and then he helps our protagonists get one over on the mob and save the historic hotel. The last act is legitimately hilarious in a way that movies never are anymore. Also, the special effects aren’t bad.
It’s written by Bill Walsh, who wrote and produced basically every single Disney live action film you’ve ever seen from the 1950’s to the 70’s. Look at his IMDb. It’s kind of hard to believe.
Report Card: Any shortcomings are outshined by its general enjoyment factor. Hard to fault it for much when it exists almost entirely on outlandishness.
THE CASTAWAY COWBOY (1974)
Jumping forward six years to a perhaps even lesser known Disney live action joint, anything I can say about this one can be distilled to a simple Yyyiiikes.
I chose this one solely because it stars James Garner, making this his second appearance in the marathon. Let’s just say, it’s not his noblest character to grace the silver screen. To be honest, I’m not even sure why they’d think to cast the famously amiable Garner in this role of an ornery, prickly, cattle-wrangling racist, but it was the 70’s and maybe his agent wanted him to branch out into more detestable roles?
The basic premise is this guy washes up on the shores of Kauai (unclear if he’s an absconder or an accidental castaway?) and is taken in by a white lady and her adolescent son, the two of them operating a subsistence potato farm. They get along well mostly with the natives, all caricatures who speak cartoon broken English and wear costume Hawai’ian garb. But! There is one exception, and it’s the…. Evil chief? Hard to know. He wears a loincloth and war paint and chucks spears. It’s really that awful. This wicked Native doesn’t like the white people on his ancestral land, and Garner takes umbrage with this, so says things such as “here’s how we deal with your kind where I come from” before sucker punching him in the face, and bellowing “Now get off OUR LAND forever!” Meanwhile he becomes a father figure to the kid, wins the heart of the white lady, and teaches the otherwise hopeless docile natives how to work and not be lazy. It’s baldly atrocious. Plus the premise is boring and the dialog is generic. Boo.
This one was penned by Don Tait, who seems to have written every live action Disney movie that you haven’t seen, like some sort of Waluigi to Bill Walsh’s Mario. Good odds that The Castaway Cowboy was not the only culturally insensitive feature in his body of work. According to IMDb, he’s still alive at the age of 102. One wonders if his views have evolved. One subsequently assumes probably not.
Report Card: Was on the verge of failure all semester, then sealed the deal with a final paper on the merits of Manifest Destiny.
HOLLYWOOD HOMICIDE (2003)
Somehow I managed to never see this one until now. It seems like the kind of movie that would have been hard to avoid on some cable channel late at night over the past 20 years, but here we are.
Hollywood Homicide is an action/comedy buddy cop flick starring Harrison Ford as well as Josh Hartnett in his second appearance of the marathon. It’s a throwaway story with gags that don’t land and a mystery plot you can’t figure out how to care about. Ford is the jaded veteran cop who’s more interested in his real estate business than justice, while Hartnett wrestles with his own disillusionment and explores his budding desire to be an actor. It leans heavily on the most obvious tropes of Los Angeles “culture”, and has little to say beyond that. If it was a funny movie, all of that would be perfectly acceptable, but it’s not. There are no yuks to be had here. Harrison Ford is not funny. Sure, his most iconic characters tend to have some laugh lines, but think about it – what comedies do you just love Harrison Ford in? None. There are none. Including Hollywood Homicide.
The most interesting thing about this film is the cast. The supporting lineup is actually pretty wild. It features performances from Bruce Greenwood, Keith David, Lou Diamond Phillips, and Dwight Yoakam, as well as other recording artists-cum-actors Andre 3000, Kurupt, Master P, and Gladys Knight. This is a back pocket roster for the next round of “Six Degrees of Josh Hartnett”.
Report Card: Consistently performs below expectations. Should consider another major.
MUPPETS FROM SPACE (1999)
Having watched A Muppet Christmas Carol over the holidays (a perfect film?), I’ve got a fresh basis for comparison in my mind, and Muppets From Space is by no means one of the finer Muppets films. It’s a rather threadbare story with the premise that Gonzo learns he’s of an alien race, but he’s got to navigate the threats of the government in order to communicate with his brethren.
With that important disclaimer out of the way, it’s still a Muppets movie, so it’s easy entertainment. Never a franchise to skimp on human stars, this roll call is sort of hilariously 1999, with the likes of (fat!) Jeffrey Tambor; Rob Schneider; David Arquette; Ray Liotta, people!; a fledgling Kathy Griffin; and Hulk Hogan, who is so 1999 he is officially credited as Hollywood Hogan. One thing that particularly impressed me is that when Gonzo’s brethren finally arrive from outer space, their spaceship is really good! I was mesmerized. Some real effort went into the depiction of their interstellar transport, and I appreciated it.
The Electric Mayhem cover Kool & The Gang’s most detestable ditty “Celebrate”, and as the Muppets are wont to do, make it better than the original.
Report Card: Mostly suffers from its own previous successes. The Muppets bar is high by 1999, and this one doesn’t quite meet its own standard.
THE DAVINCI CODE (2006)
So, I didn’t watch it. At all. I turned it on, and then I barely ever glanced at the screen. I was so unaware of it that it was 15 minutes into auto-playing Angels & Demons before I realized it had ended.
That said, I did subconsciously hear the entire movie, and it was bad. Just terrible. Irredeemable. Not worth the expenditure of electricity it took to power the television. I can’t say much more about it than that, but my judgment is swift and final.
Report Card: Not recognized. Disqualified. Automatic F.
TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY (1991)
This entry is unique in that I’ve seen T2 upwards of twenty times. I’m not even sure why I chose to watch it. I think I was so deep into the marathon at this point that exhaustion consumed me and it felt necessary to go with something familiar. This is also the second (and first) Edward Furlong appearance of the marathon.
What is there to say about T2: Judgment Day? It’s the best Terminator. It’s also one of two good Terminators. The first Terminator is a classic in its own right, but it’s also clearly just a testing ground for James Cameron to develop technology that will dazzle audiences in the sequel.
I suppose since it’s included here, I’ll take this opportunity to compare T2 to Getting Even With Dad. Here too, we have ourselves a very competent screenplay. It is absolutely formulaic as a motherfucker. Sure, it’s novel in its story, but pay close attention to the structure of the screenplay and it’s almost… machined. You see, this is what James Cameron does. He doesn’t actually care about story. He just knows that a perfectly formulated story holds audiences’ attention. So, being a maniac, he studied the absolute hell out of the replicable technical facets of screenwriting as an essential ingredient to his box office secret sauce. Notice how little character or charm any Cameron films have. They’re just technically superior. T2 is a much better screenplay and motion picture than Getting Even With Dad, because James Cameron perfects his crafts mathematically. None of it computes in his soul, but that is immaterial. It’s akin to how a computer “understands” language. It’s all just 1s and 0s, man.
Report Card: Teacher’s pet. A very reliable but rigid student. Struggles with social interactions and intangibles.
OCEAN’S 11 (1960)
I like the remake. I like any Soderbergh heist movies. Turns out the Soderbergh film is not a real remake. It simply borrows the titular character to present a film that’s a lot more fun than the original.
For a story that takes place in glitzy Las Vegas, there sure is a lot of this movie that takes place in… conference rooms? Back exits of sound stages? I don’t even know. The sets are garbage. It’s not at all fun to look at, which, come on. It’s a Rat Pack movie that’s not a full-fledged musical. You gotta give us something.
But they really don’t. There’s some requisite shitting on Sammy Davis Jr. and a fair amount of chauvinism, without much of the more charming sides of the Rat Pack. But more than anything, it’s just not a very inspired story. The whole thing builds up to a heist that’s a yawn.
If you want a decent Rat Pack picture, I recommend Robin & The Seven Hoods. It’s a lot more fun, plus Sammy Davis Jr. goes ham with a tommy gun during a musical number and every single bottle of booze on the wall gets smashed.
Report Card: Caught smoking in the bathroom again. Given detention. Again.
As my fourth day of isolation neared its end, and I was starting to feel halfway healthy again, I rounded the marathon out with a peculiar one. Hooper is the story of an aging stuntman played by Burt Reynolds who’s still wild at heart but is sort of starting to face his mortality. It’s a late 70s Reynolds flick that by the cover I assumed would be a dime-a-dozen throwaway cowboy movie or something. It’s precisely the type of movie that I’d see on the shelf of the video rental store as a kid and just have less than zero interest in. Would rather do chores than have to sit through it. The boredom just dripped off the box. Somehow it would be directly next to Black Beauty. They’re not even the same genre, but this video store organizes the films by how boring they are. Yuck.
And, yeah, it’s nothing special, but truth be told, it was more compelling in its emotional beats than I ever expected. Sally Field plays Burt’s main squeeze, she’s really upset about Burt’s compounding injuries, and we all know Sally goes pretty hard in that regard. There’s also quite a range of emotion from Burt, hiding his hurt and fear while outwardly playing the jovial rascal. When he finally loses it at one point, he actually brings some gravitas to the scene. Finally, it being a picture about stuntmen, there are actually quite a few very impressive stunts throughout. It’s just kind of a 70’s stuntman demo reel.
There’s one scene in particular that’s just so fucking 70s, I can hardly stand it. They’ve got this armada of long ass cars, driving down the highway in a dangerously tight formation, passing Coors to each other through open windows, with Burt in the lead vehicle going 55 mph backwards. That’s a pretty dangerous stunt. Plus the scene is accompanied by the absolute dumbest song, “There Ain’t Nuthin’ Like the Life of a Hollywood Stuntman”.
Report Card: The class clown D-average student from whom we expected nothing surprised and impressed with a solid C+.
So, with all the grades in, it’s time to tally the final scores and official rankings. Keeping in mind that it’s essentially impossible for any film to score a full 100, we’ll be grading on a curve.
Reviewing these final grades, I find satisfaction in the unexpected. I knew the As were As, because they’re all ringers. I was certain Hard Cash would fail, and DaVinci Code can fuck itself. Did I expect mostly children’s films to dominate the Bs? Or for some forgotten Burt Reynolds joint to eek a win over Academy Award-winning film critic favorite Bullitt? And does it make any sense that Matrix Resurrections, which I actually enjoyed, ranks alongside Ocean’s 11, which I didn’t enjoy at all?
I don’t know, man. This grading system is hardly scientific. Frankly, speaking of science, I’m still puzzled as to how I caught COVID. I avoided it for two full years, but it finally caught up with me. I’m feeling quite a bit better now. The Omicron Film Festival has come to a close, and while we all hope it’s a one-off event and not the first annual, it’s been an education.
Now excuse me while I go, like, read a book.