Maximum Overdrive Recap

Jamie

Hello students. Welcome to Dr. Smadbeck’s lecture on Trucks and its adaptations. I am the foremost authority on this subject as I’m actually the only person currently alive that has read the original short story by Stephen King, watched its first adaptation known as Maximum Overdrive, and the 1997 Canadian TV Movie that returned to the original title of Trucks. Let’s begin.

There is nothing in the short story that screams “I must be adapted.” Nothing. The story simply details a bunch of people hanging out in a truck stop while driverless trucks prowl about outside. People die, they end up pumping gas for the trucks (becoming their slaves), and end the story contemplating whether one day they may once again be free from their new masters. Like most Stephen King tales, the story is somewhat abstract in its creepiness. It makes one confront a fear that they may not have even known they had (like the helplessness that would go along with our own creations turning against us).

So you might expect that Stephen King (the director of his own adaptation) must have looked at this particularly abstract scary story and thought “I’ll have to jazz this up to get this to work on screen.” You would be wrong. As King is wont to do, he instead made an nearly exact replication of his work. Few details were added other than a shitty explanation for why the machines have come to life (answer: Earth passing through the tail of a comet… cool beans, bro). It was boring, it was silly, and it had a terrible ending. Worst of all it just wasn’t any fun, and that’s usually what I love about King. A pulpy 50’s feel.

Anyway, you’d think it couldn’t get worse. You’d be wrong again, because I then watched Trucks, a TV movie adaptation of the same work that originally aired on the USA network back in 1997 (egad! What has my life come to?). Oddly, I had a sneaking suspicion that whoever made the film ripped off Maximum Overdrive as several key elements, which were not in the original source material, appear in the TV movie. How little creativity do you need to have to steal from the adaptation that absolutely tanked? Even odder? I think this absolutely terrible TV movie managed to have a better ending than the major motion picture (double egad!).

I also have a more minor gripe I’d like to voice. Emilio Estevez is understandably cool as ice in this film. He looks cool, he seems cool, he is cool. A short time into the film a girl enters his life. She looks cool, seems cool, and is cool as well. They are basically the heroes. They run around saving people. She seems tough as nails and so does he. It’s perfect. It was one of the few things working in the film. Obviously, though, they end up boning (why wouldn’t they? They are both rad). Immediately after boning our once badass chick is no longer running around saving people. She throws on a short skirt, kisses Emilio, and tells him to be safe. She stays behind waiting for him to come back and kiss on her some more. It’s super duper lame. What happened to the badass chick that I liked so much?! It was really infuriating. From what I’ve read it was actually a conscious choice by the producer Dino De Laurentiis. He told King to stop dressing her in pants and to have her just be a typical girl in a short skirt for guys to ogle. Talk about having an old fashioned feel. Guess Dino never saw Alien.

With that I’ll conclude the lecture. I hope you’ve learned enough to never have to watch either of these films.

Patrick

‘Ello everyone! Maximum Overdrive?! More like Movie That Patrick Derides! Weak, but I think this is a historic moment, the first Bad Movie Title Pun (BMTP) with my name? Maybe. Anyways, I hated Maximum Overdrive. Oops, spoiled it one sec:

  • The Good – I liked Emilio. I liked Laura Harrington. Some tense moments, although few and far between.
  • The Bad – I hated this movie (there it is). Let’s see. Most of the acting was terrible. The entire movie is bookended by title cards explaining (unnecessarily) an origin for the machines awakening. The movie looks like it was made in 1975. By extension, this movie had the opportunity to have seriously sweet practical effects, but I’m convinced King as director waylaid any hope of pulling off anything interesting. The ending was straight hot garbage.
  • The BMT – Not really. I mean, for street cred purposes sure. But in general I would never really want to watch this film again. Borderline I guess.

But that kind of exemplifies the problems we often have with watching films from the 80s for BMT. Context. In context what did people think of this film in 1986? It really does look like it was made in 1975, it looks like Jaws. Did people notice that? Were 1980s horror fans going in and just baffled by the quality. Or was it just a shrug and a “not very scary, kind of boring” attitude. Without context for me it makes this movie very puzzling. I don’t like the movie either as a movie or as a BMT film. It satisfies Bad Movie Street Cred (BMSC) and nothing more.

Game? I do actually want a remake. I think there is something here with one simple change. Play it straight to start. Hey we can just wait out the trucks. They’ll run out of gas. Whatever is causing this will end. But no. The machines get their energy elsewhere, they don’t need gas. Show them rebuilding their fallen brethren. Evolving into better machines. Until it dawns on our protagonists that they are doomed. This movie comes across as silly without a sad ending unfortunately.

Cheerios,

The Sklogs

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The Tuxedo Recap

Patrick

‘Ello everyone! The Tuxedo? More like The Tuxe-don’t!!!! No time to waste, I got BMT Theories to attend to:

  • The Good – I am nearly always charmed by Jackie Chan. The ending was a solidly entertaining twist on a tired trope (the guy finally getting the girl he fawned over in the beginning, asll you need is confidence!). Some of the practical effects were genuinely impressive (if terrifying for a kids movie). The directing choices showed passion (this is becoming a theme)
  • The Bad – The plot is linear but convoluted, so weird that it make suspension of disbelief nearly impossible. They utilize wire-work in such a way as to make me not enjoy the one thing I should be enjoying in a Jackie Chan film (martial arts), unbelievable and not fun same as in the Medallion. Hewitt was a bland sidekick (more on this later). The entirety of Jackie Chan pretending to be James Brown, the scene is a travesty to filmmaking in general. The directing choices are out of date (diagonal wipes for scene transitions? What is this, Star Wars?!).
  • The BMT – Yes, although Jamie and I disagreed a bit on the exact level. If you recall the actual number is 50+ (amazing). Jamie thinks that is about right. I thought this was more like a 30-40. Really just bonkers crazy, but it ain’t no Medallion. Which brings me right to my game.

Welcome to BMT University and a new edition of BMT Theories where I give you a probably terrible theory on bad movies. Let’s roll out the main big budget Chan movies/franchises between ‘98 and ‘08: Rush Hour, Shanghai Noon, The Tuxedo, The Medallion, and Around the World in 80 Days. These all have three common denominators besides Jackie Chan. First, martial arts. Second, a kind of ridiculously convoluted plot. Third, a companion, someone who can make fun of how Jackie Chan looks, speaks, and is in general (comedy!).

My Theory: you can pretty much just rank these movies by the interest of the companion. Chris Tucker and Owen Wilson are a bit neck and neck, but I go Owen Wilson all day (and I like Shanghai Noon over Rush Hour, so there). After that we have The Tuxedo, Hewitt did an admirable (although overly silly/bland) job in the role. The Medallion had Lee Evens in a perpetual gay panic, so that was not a great look. And then Around the World in 80 Days had Steve Coogan sleepwalking around Epcot Center-level sets. Voila, it works!

I do think this movie was slightly better than The Medallion which is where the 30-40 BMeTric assessment comes in. I think The Medallion is 50+, but this one was saved slightly by Hewitt. I’m excited to see how the theory holds up with Spy Next Door where Jackie Chan is paired with three children.

Jamie

As usual I allowed Patrick to tell the story of The Tuxedo to our loyal audience, while I concerned myself more with some of the underlying themes and characteristics that interest us in the BMTverse. Briefly I’ll say that I thought The Tuxedo was bonkers. A great BMT film. Really hacked to shit in editing, super odd pacing to a confounding story arc, and a scenery-eating antagonist extraordinaire. I liked it a lot. Some might disagree.

I’m tired of making up fake book adaptations. Instead, I’ll play a new game called BMysTeries. The Tuxedo provides a perfect opportunity for me to talk way too much about one of my favorite BMT subjects: the setting. I love settings. I find it fascinating to try to figure why particular films are set in particular places. Is it necessary that Chill Factor take place in Montana? Nope. Could have been Small Town, U.S.A., but they chose Montana. Why? Hard to say. But it’s easy to see why New Year’s Eve takes place in New York. Interestingly it’s rare for us to watch a film that doesn’t have an identifiable setting, and even rarer for a film to go out of its way to obscure where it takes place. The Tuxedo is one such film. How do I know it’s not set anywhere? Well whenever I watch a BMT film I always look for evidence pointing to where a film is set (I’m a weirdo): license plates on cars, landmarks, business cards, etc. In The Tuxedo every license plate was the same: “The Great State” listed on top, “Freedom” on the bottom. Additionally, the home address of one of the characters is shown explicitly on screen no less than three times. The state on the address? LI. A made up state abbreviation! Perhaps an underhanded way of implying Long Island = New York… but hard to say as the town names are all made up. You have to give the film credit for going all in on not having a setting. But why? It’s the question I’ve been asking myself all week. Why? Why is it important that the film have no setting? I could understand having fake license plates (cheaper?), but a fake state abbreviation doesn’t save anything (other than saving you from having to specify a setting). It’s a BMysTery. BMysTery #1: Why do settingless films not have a setting?

I will be researching this topic for future entries. Perhaps if I collect enough datapoints, I’ll be able to figure out the benefit that The Tuxedo gained being set in The Great State of LI. For now it’s a spooky mystery.

Cheerios,

The Sklogs

A Thousand Acres Recap

Jamie

It’s not that bad! It’s not that bad! Every once in a while we at BMTHQ stumble across a film that, for whatever reason, was underappreciated at the time. This doesn’t mean that the films were good by any means (looking at you Freddy Got Fingered), just that it seems odd that they got such bad reviews. A Thousand Acres is one of those films. Perhaps it was due to the fact that it was based on a beloved (at the time) book or maybe it was because there was a bit of drama in the pre- and postproduction stages of the film. I don’t know. All I know is that this was essentially a straight adaption of a book I loved (read: good story) which some really good acting. Could it have been better? Sure, there is a bit of a tonal problem when the film seems to set out to be a family film (or at least a film about families) and then shift into the realm of incest. But despite that shortcoming the rest of the film seemed perfectly reasonable. At the very least it shouldn’t have ended up at 23% on RT. That seems ridiculous.

Alright, it’s been a little bit since our last MonoSklog so you can thank A Thousand Acres for providing a gem for this week. I call it Mi Hermana [EDITOR’S NOTE: Link to video has been removed for rights reasons] (I don’t think we used that one yet). That is some serious staring-at-each-other-and-crying action. I can’t wait to use that in my regional theater auditions and shush the casting director if he doesn’t let me stare and cry long enough at the end. “It says 40 seconds of staring and crying God damn it and that’s what I’m going to do! Geez! Can’t an artist get a break in this town!”

Before I throw it to Patrick I would like to note that this is not the first film involving incest that we’ve watched for BMT. Not even the first on the map. That would be Georgia Rule, set in the great state of Idaho. And thinking about it, that film also suffered from a significant tonal problem as it vacillated between a family comedy and incest… And with that I’m out.

Patrick

It’s not that bad! It’s not that bad! ‘Ello everyone. A Thousand Acres wasn’t that bad:

  • Actually, I rather enjoyed it. Sure some of the complex ideas from the book seemed to have been slightly lost in translation, but the performances were, dare I say, excellent?
  • I had two (minor) complaints. First, a little boring. It isn’t the most exciting movie you’ll ever watch. Second, Colin Firth’s character probably played a bigger role in the book, but in the movie the character just kind of melts away after the climax of the film. I understand the point of the character, but the movie as written kind of doesn’t need him.

That’s it! That’s the complaints. I’m not sure why it got such a poor reception at the time. I think a few years later and this guy does just fine. Whatever, not my problem, and a poor poor (but necessary addition) to the map (for another example, see this week). Since this is so short let’s get really into some BMT:CSI:SVU, non-Thousand Acres addition.

[NOTE: The following discussion was fleshed out in later posts, and then collected into this Institute post. I’ve removed the plots because, for the most part they are old and non representative of the ultimate analysis, but left as mch of the discussion as possible for archival reasons. Enjoy!]

So in the past few months I’ve become more and more fascinated by IMDB user ratings. The value is enigmatic, but I can’t get over how useful a measure of “popularity” is in assessing potential BMT candidates. The thing is it can’t be used for 2015 films because films gain a ton of their lifetime votes in their first year of release. So, using the way back machine (the internet archive) I’ve been collecting the IMDB vote and rating trajectories from the past. Rough, but kind of fascinating.

But … there is something weird. Baiscally there is an inflection point in 2011, so what is happening? That inflection point is often there regardless of the age of the movie. At first I thought it was a cult-film thing with Grandma’s Boy … but Big Momma’s House isn’t a cult film. Then I thought maybe it was something to do with non-US users, but the proportion of votes coming from outside the US has been steadily rising since the early 2000s, no weird bump in 2011. Then I thought maybe bots. It could be bots, but you’d think since they have to “trick” bots into thinking they are voting by actually recording (but ignoring) their votes that you’d see a larger and larger discrepancy between the calculated rating and real rating, but nope, nothing special in 2011.

I’m now convinced the answer is simple: 2011 marks a point in time in which smartphones became effectively universal, and a point in time in which IMDB upgraded their site, the iOS app was launched, etc. A point in which IMDB went from auseful tool (for people who knew about it), to basically the first resource people access. Looking at Google trends for IMDB you do see this weird bump around 2011. It is subtle, but it is there. It appears to coincide, indeed, with their app going “universal”. So then, if you look at a films which have been pretty stable over time it still seems to get the same bump!

Phew … Cheerios,

The Sklogs