Saturday, February 18, 2006

The First Annual Chuck Awards!

Ladies and Gentlemen, it's been a big, big year of bad, bad movies here in our little corner of the Internet. As the first anniversary of Bitter Dregs approached, I thought that the best way to celebrate would be to have a slack-ass awards show, rehashing some of the best and worst of the films I've reviewed in the past twelve months. I'll be handing out little gold Chuck Norris statuettes for outstanding achievements in the field of badness. And so, without further ado, please join me in a round of applause for all of tonight's honorees.

In the category of Least Special Effects...
Several of this year's films displayed an impressive commitment to crappy special effects. There were the snake hand-puppets and Richard Chamberlain action figures of Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold. There was the world's worst stop-motion animation and Christmas-light galaxy of Star Crash. And who could forget the extremely fake yet totally disgusting goblins of Troll 2? However, Dark Universe, with its alien creature that resembled nothing so much as a tower of feces, continually pushed itself to come up with special effects it had neither the budget nor the creativity to adequately realize.
And the Chuck goes to: Dark Universe!

In the category of Best Death From Rocket Launcher...
There were two heavy contenders for this award: evil terrorist leader Rostov from Invasion U.S.A. and evil gang leader Fraker from Death Wish 3. Both met their makers thanks to rocket-propelled grenades, and both made funny faces while doing so. While Fraker wore the more humorous expression as he was exploded, Rostov's existential cry of anguish before his impromptu cremation truly made the climax of Invasion U.S.A. unforgettable.
And the Chuck goes to: Invasion U.S.A.!

In the category of Most Traumatizing Freudian Moment...
No contest here - when little Joshua Waits of Troll 2 stumbles upon his naked mother being eaten by goblins, the award was in the bag. It's like the "primal scene" times four. I'm not sure what the underlying psychoanalitic meaning of such a scene is, but I'm guessing the screenwriter needs some serious therapy. And not just lying on a couch for some analysis, I'm talking about old-school electric shock or something. Even with my admittedly twisted appreciation for bad cinema, this scene had me thinking, "man, I would have been happier if I'd never seen that."
And the Chuck goes to: Troll 2!

In the category of Worst Screenplay...
Seemingly written by someone who spent their life in a dark basement on a steady diet of bad action movies and cheap skin-flicks with no exposure to what we might call "reality," the screenplay for Hell Squad is the year's most nonsensical. You can imagine the original copy, written in crayon, stained with cheeseburger grease and damp from spilled beer, being passed excitedly among the emotionally stunted chronic masturbators who produced this film. If you've ever wondered how many scenes of Vegas showgirls in a giant bathtub is too many, here is your answer.
And the Chuck goes to: Hell Squad!

In the category of Biggest "Huh!?!" Moment...
In a movie saturated with "huh!?!" moments, the climax of Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold took things into another dimension of badness. I can still recall sitting there, mouth agape, eyes staring, brain shutting down, as one of the most unbelievably ill-conceived sequences in film history sullied my t.v. set forever. Watch for yourself and you too will find yourself uttering a five-minute stream of "huh? What? But that's not... No, no, no... Huh?!? Wait a minute... How did... What!?!..."
And the Chuck goes to: Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold!

In the category of Worst Score...
A good score can really enhance a film, providing a sense of mood and adding to the emotional content in a subtle way. If a score is bad enough, however, it can undermine the intended mood and even distract from the action. This was definitely the case in Spacejacked. I can't think of another film whose music so completely disregards what is happening onscreen. You wouldn't hire Rammstein to score your tender and heartwarming coming-of-age film for the Lifetime Movie Network, and likewise, if you are producing an action-packed outer-space movie you should NOT hire your cousin's amateur jazz trio to do the music.
And the Chuck goes to: Spacejacked!

In the category of Most Revolting Screen Romance...
There was an all-you-can-eat buffet of repulsive romances in our films this year - one need only think of Vanilla Ice slobbering on his prim paramour in Cool as Ice to experience a shudder of nausea. The on-screen pairing that made my skin crawl more than any other, though, was that of the "Skinny Guy" and his reasonably attractive girlfriend in Dark Universe. When ol' Skeletor peels off his shirt to reveal his cadaverous ribcage and smirks as he makes flirty remarks to the poor woman acting opposite him, I could barely contain my bile. I know it's a bad movie and all, but they crossed the line with this one.
And the Chuck goes to: Dark Universe!

In the category of Best Bad Actor...
This award goes to the bad actor with the year's most memorable and/or entertaining performance. It seems only fitting that we award this Chuck to the man for whom the award was named. He had four brilliantly bad performances in our films this year, the most outstanding no doubt being his portrayal of swamp-dwelling badass Matt Hunter in Invasion U.S.A.. Of course, there was also his role in Forest Warrior, in which he performed brilliantly in both human and animal forms. He is truly a craftsman of the rough-hewn, action-movie hero.
And the Chuck goes to: Chuck Norris!

In the category of Best Bad Actress...
It was a bit harder to make the selection for this one. There were several bad actresses who turned in memorable performances this year. In the final analysis, the one that has stuck with me the most is Mary Beth Rubens, who played the over-sexed grease monkey Jill in Firebird 2015 A.D.. She brought a certain grubby eroticism to a role that could easily have been totally forgettable (much like the rest of the movie).
And the Chuck goes to: Mary Beth Rubens!

In the category of Worst Good Actor...
This award is the flip-side of Best Bad Actor, and is intended for the "reputable" actor with the most atrocious performance of the year. We can argue over the definition of "reputable," but I consider an actor who has worked in respectable films and is known to at least be capable of a decent performance qualified for this award. Admittedly, there weren't that many of these guys in our movies this year, but I feel I must punish James Earl Jones for his work in Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold. He's such a good actor - he should know better than to take roles like this. Umslopogaas is an even worse character than his Thulsa Doom from Conan the Barbarian, and you can tell he knows it. Shame, James Earl Jones, shame.
And the Chuck goes to: James Earl Jones!

In the category of Worst Good Actress...
To find the worst "reputable" actress of the year, we don't have to go far - she and James Earl Jones share the degradation in Allan Quatermain.... Sharon Stone, playing Quatermain's sidekick/girlfriend Jesse Huston, instantly begins to grate on the nerves. She seems to scream every line, either in terror or frustration depending on the situation. Stone can throw down a pretty good performance, but after this one it's surprising she ever got another chance.
And the Chuck goes to: Sharon Stone!

In the category of Worst Bad Picture...
You might think that this would be the hardest choice of all to make, but I have a simple litmus test in this category that made the decision relatively clear-cut. I asked myself which movie I would least want to see again, and one film stood out above all the rest. That film was Alien Warrior. As someone who actually likes bad movies, I can appreciate incompetence in filmmaking. Alien Warrior had plenty of incompetence, but its inner spirit - its "soul," if you will - was so malignant that I wanted to hose down my VCR after watching it. It was the one movie this year that I was actually kind of sorry I watched.
And the Chuck goes to: Alien Warrior!

In the category of Best Bad Picture...
On the other end of the spectrum, the film that I would be most likely to watch again was also easy to determine. With its wacky imagination, upbeat spirit, and sexy heroine, Star Crash was by far the most enjoyable film of the year. It could never be mistaken for a "good" movie, but it was so much fun that you can't help but love it. I feel sure I'll be watching this one many times in the years to come.
And the Chuck goes to: Star Crash!

In closing, I'd like to thank everyone for all the support I've gotten over the past twelve months. I always appreciate it when you let me know you're reading this stuff. In the new year, there will be a plethora of new bad movies, and I'll be adding more images to the reviews to help you faithful readers get a true sense of the badness. I also encourage all of you to get out there and watch some bad movies for yourselves. Pop the popcorn and let's all share the pain!

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Review: Forest Warrior (1996)


The time: the late 1800's. The place: a beautiful mountain in the Pacific Northwest. The Chuck: a brave mountain man named McKenna. The action: McKenna dwells in the pristine forest land given to him by an Indian chief, the father of his bride. Unfortunately, his bride is now deathly ill and McKenna is rushing to bring back medicine to save her life. In the dark of night, exhausted from his journey, McKenna is ambushed by loggers who want to plunder his land. He fights them valiantly, using an old Indian fighting technique called Karate, but even his mad combat skills cannot deflect bullets, and McKenna finds this out the hard way.

Having been shot several times, McKenna rolls down a very long hill and falls off a cliff into a river. His body washes up on the shore, where a forest spirit in the form of a bear spots him. Realizing right away that this was no ordinary human, the bear spirit, along with a wolf and eagle spirit, use their magic to grant McKenna a new life as one of them. McKenna becomes a forest spirit and guardian of the mountain. As such, he can take the forms of the three animal spirits who saved him as well as his manly original form. As the years pass, McKenna intervenes whenever humans endanger his forest land and he quickly becomes the stuff of campfire stories.

Fast forward to the present day. A small lumber-oriented community has grown up around the mountain, but Tanglewood (the forest where McKenna once lived) has been left largely untouched. Until now, that is. Greedy half-wit business tycoon Travis Thorne has gone behind the backs of the townsfolk and made arrangements to begin logging Tanglewood. Thorne's flunkies, under the command of a mean-spirited bully named Williams, begin surveying the forest when they encounter some suspiciously precocious children.

These are the self-proclaimed "Lords of Tanglewood" - a group kids from town who ride their bikes into the forest to play and have wacky adventures. Their base of operations is a treehouse the size of Charles Foster Kane's Xanadu, where they are allowed to camp out without adult supervision. Here is a brief breakdown of the kids and their general characteristics: Justin: short, geeky but self-assured - the brains of the operation; Austene: the lone female - pretty and tough but with a tender side; Logan: doe-eyed, curly-topped runt - the heart and soul of the group; Brian: oldest member - long blonde hair, slightly arrogant, probable future stoner; Lewis: generic kid with no distinguishing traits - possibly a relative of one of the producers.

The kids stumble across Williams and two of his men as they are about to shoot a bear cub. Austene yells at them to stop, which they do, but only to turn their menacing attentions towards the children. The Forest Warrior takes this as his cue to appear (in human form) and administer an 1800's-style ass-whooping to Williams and company. He congratulates Austene for her bravery, then disappears.

Williams reports the trouble to Thorne, who suggests that the presence of those darned kids will continue to be a raspberry seed in his molar unless their treehouse is destroyed. He sends Williams back to Tanglewood to do the dirty deed. While the kids are off fishing, Williams plants no less than a dozen sticks of dynamite under the treehouse and sets a timer to blow the place to kingdom come. Austene happens to come back early and is nearly transformed into pretty, pigtailed chunks. Luckily, the Forest Warrior is there to save her, bringing her back from death with magical glowy lights.

It's an easy task for the townsfolk (even these townsfolk) to figure out who was responsible for the treehouse bombing, and the Sheriff also learns about Thorne's plans to begin his illegal logging operation. Sheriff Ramsey, along with Austene's frequently drunk dad Arlen, and local store-owner and friend of the children Clovis, form a small posse and go after Thorne. Meanwhile, the kids are way ahead of the adults, setting booby traps for Thorne and his men in Tanglewood.

Thorne, rather predictably, falls victim to the pint-sized insurgents and ends up battered, bruised, and covered with poison sumac. His punishment continues when he encounters the Forest Warrior, who gives him one last chance to repent his evil ways. Thorne foolishly resists and is savagely beaten by our hero. When the Forest Warrior transforms into a bear, Thorne suffers a psychotic breakdown and is carted off to jail babbling incoherently. The Forest Warrior gives Thorne's logging crew a sound thrashing just for good measure, and Tanglewood is safe once more.


In Forest Warrior, we find Chuck Norris cultivating the family-friendly side of his screen persona. No guns or knives with which to fight the baddies this time - just Chuck's fists and feet of fury along with some magic powers. The role of minor deity seems to suit him; the blank stoicism that typifies any Chuck performance fits this character nicely, and who among us hasn't longed to see our nation's greatest living actor transform into various forest creatures? I know I have!

It's too bad that the Forest Warrior doesn't have more scenes in the movie that bears his name. The kids are the real protagonists in the story, and the F. W. only bobs up now and again to save their bacon. The child actors here are acceptable if generic, although Austene is the only one whose character is very developed.

I have a theory that when the producers of a film such as this one contract with an animal training company for the non-human actors, the filmmakers get access to all of the animals the training company has for a flat rate. That would be the only logical explanation for the appearance of - in addition to the bear, wolf, and eagle that the story actually calls for - a bear cub, a snake, a badger, a raccoon, two varieties of owl, a skunk, a toad, and a flying squirrel. About a third of the movie consists of shots of these various and sundry creatures, and you can almost hear the producers saying, "well, we paid for the damned things - let's get some use out of them."

The most insufferable moments in Forest Warrior are probably the two instances of the infamous "montage set to music." You know they're coming in a movie like this - you can smell them a mile away. It's an easy way to add valuable extra minutes to a film's run time, which explains why it's such a pervasive device. The first one is an unremarkable sequence showing the kids riding their bikes from the town to the forest, set to a blandly cheerful song called "Summertime." The second is brought on when Logan broadcasts a Little Richard-style rock song over the walkie-talkies of the loggers, causing them to jump down off their trucks and dance around, playing air-guitar with their chainsaws. The combination of the terrible song and the visuals of pudgy loggers gyrating around results in a feeling of squeamishness and a tendency to distractedly pick lint balls off the arm of the couch. At least for me.

As far as notable supporting actors here, there are a few C- and D-listers who might be of interest. Roscoe Lee Browne, who plays Clovis, has done quite a bit of work in television roles, as well as voice work (he was the narrator in the movie Babe, for instance). Another well-known face from t.v. popping up in Forest Warrior is Loretta Swit ("Hot Lips" from "M.A.S.H."), who plays Shirley, mother of Brian and Logan. Wil Shriner (host of a morning t.v. talk show in the late 80's) makes a cameo, and Austene's dad Arlen is portrayed with scenery-chewing emotion by Michael Beck, who also played the country-fried Dallas in Megaforce. Yeah, the casting director was dredging pretty far down in the sea of actors, but you don't want your supporting actors to be bigger stars than your star, and when your star is Chuck Norris, there's only so much farther down the list you can go.

Travis Thorne is about as cartoonish as a villain can get. Maybe it's the cigar; maybe it's the Yosemite Sam clothes; maybe it's the way his eyes bug out when he's berating his henchmen; I'm not sure. The fact that he seems to want to cut down the forest just for the sheer pleasure of doing it makes him seem a trifle over-the-top to me. Forest Warrior almost reaches the realm of parody when Thorne has his climactic encounter with our hero. Instead of the Scrooge-like conversion from evil to good that you sometimes see in movies like this, Thorne goes completely off the deep end and is last seen in the midst of a schizophrenic break with reality.

Every children's movie needs a good message, and Forest Warrior definitely comes through in that department. We learn that it's wrong to destroy God's creation, and secondly, that if anyone is caught doing it, they need to have their ass handed to them. Yes, violence IS the answer! Woo hoo! The Forest Warrior passes this valuable lesson on to little Logan towards the end of the movie when, after having beaten Thorne's henchman Williams to a pink pulp, he lets Logan deliver the death blow. If only all children could have the experience of kicking a badly wounded adult in the face, what a wonderful world this could be!

Final Analysis

Forest Warrior is far from a perfect film. A stupid plot, cliche script, and mediocre acting all work against it. The saving grace is our man Chuck. The Forest Warrior is one of his most interesting characters, and it's well worth suffering through the drudgery of the rest of the movie just to see him beat up the bad guys while transmogrifying into bears and eagles and such. He can even bring people back from the dead, for crying out loud! For anyone who already suspects that Chuck is God, this will be your confirmation. If there's something missing in your life - a void that you've been unable to fill with knowledge, booze, drugs, and sex - then go forth to your local video store, and be baptized in the Church of Chuck! Amen.