Am I Not Turtley Enough for the Turtle Club?

The Master of Disguise is easily one of the worst comedies ever made. If not one of the worst movies of all time. Holding a rare 1% on Rotten Tomatoes (thanks to a single delusional critic). Yet somehow it wasn’t nominated for a Worst Picture Razzie. Bad movies from the 2000’s were a special kind of awful, but hating them is always tricky for me. I was 7 when The Master of Disguise came out. The trailer was all over the place and certain quotes were unavoidable. I only saw the movie once in school, but I wasn’t crazy enough to think it was good. The Master of Disguise is another Happy Madison production that Adam Sandler pawned off to a desperate comedian. Dana Carvey is normally hilarious on Saturday Night Live, but he should never be made the lead of anything. The entire 1 hour & 20 minute “movie” feels like a series of SNL skits strung together.

Basically an excuse for Carvey to play a variety of goofy characters with ridiculous voices. In case you’re wondering how hard they’re trying, the titular “Master of Disguise” is named Pistachio Disguisey. The clueless Italian waiter learns from his grandfather the magical ways of becoming another person. As well as slap fight while constantly saying “Who’s your daddy?” They manage to drag Harry Gould and James Brolin into the movie as his grandfather and kidnapped father respectively. Not to mention a variety of dated celebrities that the father disguises himself as. Data himself Brent Spiner plays the over-the-top villain Devlin who has a constantly repeating fart joke that happens whenever he laughs.

Since it’s a Happy Madison movie, of course Jennifer Esposito plays Pistachio’s hot love interest. Another uncomfortable running gag is Pistachio’s fascination with butts. The obvious selling point are the disguises that range from offensive to lazy to stupid to somewhat redeemable. Pistachio becomes an Indian snake charmer, a horny old woman, Tony Montana, Captain Quint, a literal pile of crap, a German, a sauve Brit, a cherry pie, and President Bush. The most infamous disguise will always be his baffling turtle costume for the Turtle Club. Despite the mercifully short runtime, the movie continues to drag on with endless bloopers and outtakes. If I’d seen it more as a kid, maybe I would call it a guilty pleasure, but The Master of Disguise is an unfunny movie to despise.

The Master of Disguise

Pistachio Disguisey in his turtle suit

Put the Bunny Back in the Box

Con Air is literally Die Hard on a plane and I love it. Between The Rock and Face/Off, I knew I needed to complete the Nicolas Cage 90’s action trilogy. I just wish I’d seen it sooner. Con Air is just as cheesy and far fetched as most movies starring Cage. Especially if it’s produced by Jerry Bruckheimer or directed by Simon West. This time Cage has an interesting Alabama accent and sports a glorious mane. Of course they play “Sweet Home Alabama,” but I never knew “How Do I Live?” originated from this film (or that it was Oscar nominated).

Cameron Poe is an Army Ranger turned convict who spends years in prison after defending himself from punks. He leaves behind his wife and unborn daughter who turns 7 by the time he’s paroled. Poe is transported on the titular Con Air airplane filled with murderous convicts. What could possibly go wrong? Aside from the guitar riff that plays whenever he does something badass, Cage isn’t the biggest overractor in the movie. The cast is loaded with familiar faces from the 90’s. John Malkovich is the insane, yet calculating Cyrus “The Virus” who organizes a prison escape. You got Ving Rhames as a black militant, Dave Chappelle as a coke fiend, Danny Trejo as a sex criminal, and several other criminals with their own trademark.

Steve Buscemi is a particularly fascinating serial killer who feels like he belongs in another movie. Poe’s only allies are his diabetic cellmate ironically played by Buba himself Mykelti Williamson and Rachel Ticotin as the only female prison guard. John Cusack and Colm Meaney take care of things on the outside as a feuding US Marshall and DEA agent. Although there’s an extended sequence at a landing zone and a tacked on climax on a firetruck, most of the action is on the plane. It’s tense, action-packed, and hilarious. The most memorable moment involves a criminal threatening the stuffed bunny Poe got for his daughter. Con Air gave Cage the perfect vehicle to unleash.

Con Air

Cameron Poe runs from an explosion

You Break My Record, Now I Break You

Bloodsport gave the “Muscles from Brussels” his big break. Jean-Claude Van Damme put all of his splits, high kicks, and tricks on display for the first time in this cheesy 80’s fighting flick. Bloodsport is a cult favorite that I was inspired to watch thanks to constant exposure to martial arts. Plus I haven’t seen enough action movies starring Van Damme. It doesn’t really matter how good of an actor he is. Frank Dux is a presumably Belgian soldier who learned ninjitsu from a wise sensei and uses it in a deadly Hong Kong fighting competition known as Kumite.

It sounds far fetched, but Frank Dux is a real person who claims everything in the movie is true. Frank’s only other conflicts are a pair of bumbling CID agents who want him back when he goes AWOL. The respectable Norman Burton and Forest Whitaker play the agents. The hulking Donald Gibb plays fellow American fighter Ray Jackson who befriends him and Leah Ayres plays the blonde reporter Janice who starts a last minute relationship with him.

Obviously the rest of the story isn’t as important as what happens in the Kumite. Bloodsport even popularized mixed martial arts. All fights are pretty awesome and accompanied by cheesy songs like “Fight to Survive.” Van Damme is crazy over-the-top, but not as crazy as his psychopathic rival Chong Li played by famous buff martial artist Bolo Yeung. Chong fights dirty until Frank gains the upper hand without having to see him. Bloodsport is badass.

Bloodsport

Frank Dux vs. Chong Li

It is the East, and Juliet is the Sun

O Romeo + Juliet remade. Thou art more beautiful in modern day. ‘Tis the finest way for teachers to introduce William Shakespeare’s immortal play to thine youth. School is where I and a great many in mine generation hath learned of the two star-crossed lovers. Director Baz Luhrmann is all style and borrowed substance. True to keep Shakespearean dialect in spite of contemporary change. ‘Twas the second of three in his own Red Curtain Trilogy. After Strictly Ballroom, Romeo + Juliet set the stage for a tragedy told in a manner not seen. Unless West Side Story be counted.

Fair Verona hath become Verona Beach. The Montagues and the Capulets art feuding gang members with the same petty squabbles. Before Leonardo DiCaprio found romance aboard the Titanic, he won the heart of the fair and beauteous Juliet. Romeo ’tis a beachfront pretty boy with a lust for trouble. After My So-Called Life, Claire Danes played Juliet with her head in the clouds. Both art more passionate with loving glances and tender kisses. The ball is an elaborate costume party that drugs and musical interludes do enhance. The balcony monologue is all the more loving in a pool where they swim. Be they wed by thine Father Laurence and helped along by Juliet’s nanny.

Their union is consummated through tasteful passion. Mercutio is in part black and possibly gay as Romeo’s friend now faces the longsword of a gun. Tybalt is ruthless and crazed with John Leguizamo in the role. Violent means lead to violent ends as police Captain Prince banishes Romeo. Paul Rudd is Dave Paris, the governor’s son betrothed to a saddened Juliet. When death cometh to Romeo and Juliet, ’tis made more tragic as Juliet awakens before her beloved Romeo is poisoned. Her happy dagger is a gun that ends this tale of woe on the saddest note I may ever know. Romeo + Juliet ’tis a hip young modern classic.

Romeo + Juliet

Romeo and Juliet profess their love

Wherefore Art Thou Romeo?

O Romeo and Juliet (1968), I write. William Shakespeare’s work hath ne’er sounded best. A tale of two star-crossed lovers told in years since past. The greatest love story of thine age is best suited for St. Valentine’s Day. Romeo and Juliet ’tis a tragedy taught in school that all should know by now. Mine own brother brought the 1968 interpretation to mine attention. In spite of countless retellings, this may in truth be the most definitive version. ‘Twas the final adaptation of a Shakespearean play nominated for Best Picture. Sir Laurence Olivier brought fine class to the opening narration.

Director Franco Zeffirelli truly captures an impassioned romance with a massive production set in fair Verona. Best Cinematography and Best Costume Design were worthy wins. Romeo and Juliet (1968) is an easy follow if thou art familiar with it. Threatened by thy feuding Montague and Capulet families, Romeo and Juliet risk love in a time of strife. They fall in love at the ball, recite famous monologues on yonder balcony, and are married with great haste. A 17 year old Leonard Whiting and 16 year old Olivia Hussey art real teenagers who bring the Bard’s immortal words to life.

Regardless of age, both young actors canst be seen naked when their union is consummated. Wherefore ’twas allowed I know not? Only that great tragedy soon follows. Both lovers art given help by Friar Laurence and the nurse of Juliet. Mercutio ’tis the scene stealing jokester best friend of Romeo who meets the longsword of rival kin Tybalt. When the Prince sends Romeo away, Juliet is faced with the unmet love of suitor Count Paris. In spite of mine knowledge of their tragic deaths, the emotional weight ’twas just as effective. Romeo and Juliet (1968) is spoken with great sincerity.

Romeo and Juliet

Romeo and Juliet embrace on the balcony

Put Your Heart in the Game

Love & Basketball is the greatest decade spanning basketball romance movie I’ve ever seen. Not that there are any other movies like it. Love & Basketball had a dedicated cult following that I couldn’t ignore for very long. I mostly watched it thanks to my brother’s growing interest. It ended up being my favorite romantic drama with a predominantly black cast. Director Gina Prince-Bythewood based a lot of the story on her own life experiences. Spike Lee took a chance on her work by producing the movie himself. Love & Basketball was intended to be sort of a black version of When Harry Met Sally… and it shows in the best way.

Much like the always present game of basketball, events are separated into 4 quarters. The first quarter explores childhood. the second quarter explores high school, the third quarter explores college. and the fourth quarter explores adulthood. Monica and Quincy end up as next door neighbors with an adorable love/hate dynamic as they bicker, yet end up sharing their first kiss. The film does a good job of pointing out the differences between men and women who play sports. Quincy has his entire career laid out for him, but Monica has to fight while keeping her emotions in check. When Monica gets a makeover, Quincy starts seeing her as more than a friend and they hook up a lot sooner than I thought.

Sanaa Lathan and Omar Epps have natural chemistry thanks to dating in real life. Their relationship gets especially steamy in a strip basketball sequence. Of course their relationship gets complicated when their families and separate aspirations come between them. Quincy isn’t kept in good hands with Dennis Haysbert as his cheating professional basketball playing father ruining their family. Monica has her supportive sister played by Regina Hall, but her greatest obstacle is her unsupportive mother played by Alfre Woodard for the first time. As Monica and Quincy continue to diverge, a final high stakes game of one-on-one just might be enough to bring them together. All’s fair in Love & Basketball.

Love & Basketball

Monica and Quincy play basketball

Chubby Rain

Bowfinger showcases the ups and downs of filmmaking through a comedic lense. It’s yet another underrated movie within a movie that my mom recommended. Bowfinger is a cross between The Producers and Ed Wood directed by Frank Oz. Bobby Bowfinger is an optimistic B movie producer with dreams of directing his own hit film. So he comes up with a convoluted plan to film the ridiculously titled alien movie Chubby Rain with the hottest action star in Hollywood. The only catch is that actor Kit Ramsey has no idea he’s being filmed.

Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy are an unlikely comedic duo who do what they do best. Martin’s Bowfinger is determined, a little sleazy, but genuinely loves making movies. He’s supported by a motley crew of outcasts with their own hopes and dreams. There’s a loyal young actor, his accountant/screenwriter, an aging thespian played by Christine Baranski, cameraman played by Jamie Kennedy, and a whole crew of illegal immigrants. Heather Graham stands out the most as aspiring actress Daisy who literally sleeps with everyone on set to further her career.

Robert Downey Jr. has a brief but memorable role as a top Universal executive that Bowfinger tricks into making the movie with Ramsey. Murphy has a dual role satirizing himself as an overconfident, yet paranoid star who falls into Scientolo- I mean a totally fictional organization called MindHead. Terence Stamp is the perfect cult leader. Murphy is even funnier as Kit’s nerdy twin brother Jiff who stands in for him when they get desperate. His reaction to Daisy getting naked and running into heavy traffic are the funniest scenes in the movie. Bowfinger is for anyone who ever dreamed of making a movie. “Gotcha suckers!”

Bowfinger

Bobby Bowfinger hires Jiff Ramsey

Jivetime Jimmy’s Revenge

Hollywood Shuffle is an underrated satire that was way ahead of its time. Meteor Man himself Robert Townsend wrote, directed, produced, starred, and financed a lot of the movie himself. It’s all about how black actors tend to be depicted in Hollywood. Stereotypes ranging from playing a slave, a pimp, a butler, or a jive talking gang member. I’m surprised more people don’t talk about this movie. My mom recommended it and I’m glad she did. It’s a funny take on a relatable problem. Thanks to some influence from Keenen Ivory Wayans as a co-writer.

Bobby Taylor is an aspiring actor who auditions for the unfortunately titled movie Jivetime Jimmy’s Revenge. He tries to follow his dreams despite the obvious stereotypes expected from the predominantly white production crew. It’s especially funny seeing theatrically trained actors saying such ridiculously over-the-top lines. Bobby quits his job at a hot dog stand, but has plenty of support from his little brother, mom, and girlfriend. It’s mostly his grandmother who causes doubt for whether it’s right to degrade yourself for the sake of a job. It’s a simple message for a fairly straightforward 82 minute movie.

Honestly the movie would be about 50 minutes without the many hilarious daydream vignettes in between. I couldn’t stop laughing at the “Black Acting School,” the black version of At the Movies called “Sneaking into Movies” should be its own show, and the noir style short film Death of a Breakdancer felt very authentic. If the movie were made nowadays, it would be far too heavy handed. Hollywood Shuffle knows how to confront serious issues with a sense of humor.

Hollywood Shuffle

“Sneaking into the Movies”

Make Your Own Legend

Dolemite is My Name and being a good biopic is its game. I always know when Eddie Murphy is making a movie, but he hasn’t made nearly as many as you might think. After several misfires, Murphy took a 3 year break from acting. Dolemite is My Name redeemed his career with a role he was born to play. Rudy Ray Moore was also a black comedian who sang, did R rated stand-up routines, and went on to make movies. I was curious to see it on Netflix, but I knew I didn’t have the background knowledge that my parents did. So my brother and I watched Dolemite and The Human Tornado the same day we watched Dolemite is My Name.

It’s a like a Blaxploitation version of Ed Wood or The Disaster Artist. A passionate filmmaker that doesn’t realize how bad the movie they’re making is. Moore developed the character Dolemite from stories he got from homeless people. Leading to the bankable spoken word poems he was known for. His records were sold underground since they were too filthy for the radio. Though the movie is just as vile, there’s something inspiring about Moore persevering no matter how many times he’s told no. The rest of the cast is just as believable whether they believe in Moore’s vision or not.ย Mike Epps and Tituss Burgess play his friends who help the production of Dolemite.

Da’Vine Joy Randolph inspires as Moore’s equally unlikely co-star Lady Reed. Keegan-Michael Key plays the theatrical writer, Craig Robinson plays the local composer, and Kodi Smit-McPhee plays one of several film student crew members. Wesley Snipes really steals the show as the eccentric, yet doubtful director D’Urville Martin. Other familiar faces like Snoop Dogg or Chris Rock also make an appearance. The filming process is the most hilarious since they bring up a lot of the same questions I had. Dolemite is the main focus, but scenes from The Human Tornado are included as well. Dolemite is My Name made a name for itself.

Dolemite is My Name

Rudy Ray Moore makes a deal for Dolemite

Watch Out Mister… Here Comes the Twister!

The Human Tornado feels more intentionally bad than accidentally bad. Dolemite was far from high art, but I don’t expect that from Blaxploitation. Rudy Ray Moore fully embraces his Dolemite identity for an even crazier sequel 1 year later. With a title like The Human Tornado, you’d swear this was a superhero flick. Everything about Dolemite is exaggerated. He speaks in spoken word poems more often, his sexdrive is in overdrive, and all of his kung fu fights in the climax are sped up.

As for the movie, the picture quality is worse, the editing is ridiculous, and I’m pretty sure they dubbed a lot of the dialogue. Dolemite now finds himself finishing a comedy tour, but dealing with more blatantly racist police officers. He flees to California with his friends and a particularly flamboyant hostage. A young Ernie Hudson plays one of his friends, but I still don’t recognize most of the cast. Dolemite has to save his friend Queen Bee from a gangster and rescue two of his girls from kidnappers.

The R rating is exploited even further with more uncomfortable violence (mostly directed at women), almost constant profanity, and just about every actress getting naked whether it makes sense or not. I know you’re not suppose to take it seriously, since they throw in stuff like an out of nowhere sex fantasy. The Human Tornado is a whirlwind of nonsensical ideas.

The Human Tornado

Dolemite does kung fu

Preceded by: Dolemite