Yakmala: Battle of the Year

We lost a lot of good men on that hill.

I always thought of breakdancing as something existing in the increasingly graying depths of my youth in the ‘80s. I figured it went the way of crimped ponytails, wearing eight pairs of socks at once, or Walter Mondale. Turns out, breakdancing is still a thing people do, only now it’s called “b-boying.” Like anything with a vaguely homoerotic name, Hollywood turned it into a movie, with the sports-like competition of Battle of the Year.

Tagline: The world is watching

More Accurate Tagline: Maybe one guy is watching, and not for the reasons you’d hope.

Guilty Party: While this looks like the product of some cynical studio head glomming onto a trend and making a movie, this is actually a bit of a passion project. Director Benson Lee made a documentary called Planet B-Boy, and turned it into this movie. And just in case you didn’t know a documentary called Planet B-Boy existed, this film is only too kind to namecheck it for us, with one character rapturously referring to it as their Bible. That kind of unmitigated hubris is just what we need to turn a soulless studio picture into a bizarre misfire.

Synopsis: The Battle of the Year is the biggest breakdancing competition in the world, and it’s held in France. Despite America being the origins of both hip hop music, breakdancing, and the KFC Double Down, Team USA has failed to place for, like, ever. This panics hip hop mogul Dante Graham, whose entire company is built off the idea of hip hop being cool. It might not be the best business model.

His solution? Get his old buddy Sawyer (Josh Holloway), fresh off the island, and have him turn a team into champions. And yes, it’s not literally Sawyer from Lost, but fuck you, that makes this movie like 100% better. In the endless scenes of him haranguing his dancers, just once I wanted him to be like, “Live together, die alone!” or “You hear those whispers in the trees? The Others learned to b-boy from the Smoke Monster!”

The Smoke Monster defeats Mr. Eko in a high-stakes b-boy battle.

Sawyer kicks Dante’s team out, and holds an open audition to get the best b-boys from all over the country. He picks ones with issues that can be cheaply solved by the third act. They all have ridiculous aliases, and honestly, I’ve seen this thing twice and still can’t remember them all. It’s worth noting the “best” of them is Rooster, played by noted pile of semi-sentient shit Chris Brown.

At this point, Sawyer just decides to do whatever any hard-ass coach has done in any sports movie. There should have been a scene of him watching Hoosiers and taking notes. Anyway, these guys work out their issues — Rooster and MRA-hat Guy (not his real name) make peace, Homophobe and Gay Guy get along. And they’re a team! I guess, I mean, They’re dancing.

So it’s off to the Battle of the Year in France, where they face off against the best teams from all over the world. And the movie really drops the ball here. I was hoping to see some really over-the-top stereotypes of each country. Like the French b-boys dancing in berets while indifferently smoking, or the Germans having a disturbing fascist art installation and pooping on each other, or the Japanese all dressed like schoolgirls fighting giant monsters.

The team to beat is Korea, and wouldn’t you know it, the underdog USA ends up going up against them in the finals. The competition is super close, with the Dream Team losing by a single point because the screenwriters rented Rocky the night before. Hey, there’s always next year!

Life-Changing Subtext: If you work hard and get along, you’ll lose less badly.

Defining Quote: Sawyer: “It’s been an honor, Rooster.” A little context here. After the final cut was made, Rooster hurt his leg trying to perform a risky maneuver in slo-mo to impress a visiting b-boy. So as he’s limping out of the dorm, unable to go to the Battle of the Year, Sawyer says this.

I singled it out because no one has ever followed up “It’s been an honor,” with “Rooster.” Never. If you know a Rooster, his career opportunities are pretty much limited to petty conman, guy who buys beer for underaged kids, and prison rapist. That’s it.

Standout Performance: This belongs to Josh Peck, who plays Sawyer’s assistant coach, Franklyn-with-a-Y (he says this so much it qualifies as a catchphrase). The incredible thing about this performance is he manages to say every line like he’s not only deaf, but somehow also hard of hearing.

What’s Wrong: Despite the dancing, this is a sports movie. The key with making a good sports film is that the audience needs to understand the sport in question for the next hundred or so minutes. They never bother to explain b-boying, so it’s utterly impossible to know who’s doing better in any competition. Instead, the movie will cut to Sawyer, FwaY, and choreographer Stacy (Caity Lotz, before those White Canary dollars started rolling in), looking upset.

Flash of Competence: That said, some of the dancing is pretty cool. Unfortunately, Benson Lee has a crippling montage addiction. These quick cuts make the scenes less impressive and harder to follow. You hired breakdancers (and Chris Brown). Get a wide angle lens (and someone to kick Chris Brown’s ass).

Best Scenes: FwaY’s origin story is truly baffling. He’s mostly there for reaction shots. The camera cuts to him after nearly every significant moment, and he’s usually squinting into the middle distance, pursing his lips, like he’s really thinking hard about what that interviewer from Tiger Beat just asked him. Anyway, when he gushes over Sawyer about b-boying, Sawyer sensibly asks if he’s one. FwaY says no, citing his religion/ethnicity. “Jews. We’re rhythmically challenged. We’re stripped of our swag at the circumcision.” Which… what is he implying about the rest of the team? How much does he know?

While this movie is disposable crap, no one told the composer. When the (far more appropriate) dance music isn’t blaring, it reverts to an orchestral score. And this guy had to have thought he was scoring Schindler’s List or something. For a scene whose entire suspense is “Will Rooster, who we’ve known for 30 seconds, make the team?” this music sounds like it’s playing a last-second rescue of the little kids from Auschwitz.

When Caity Lotz shows up as the choreographer, everyone is utterly baffled she’s a woman. Is this a thing? Can women not breakdance? I really don’t see how. It’s not like she’s circumcised or anything.

Transcendent Moment: The movie transcends whenever it insists we take b-boying seriously. My favorite is right before the prelims when Team USA has to take on Team Russia to qualify (thus prompting the late second act meltdown all sports movies need). Sawyer hisses at his team: “The Russians are synchronized. Disciplined. Precise.” It sounded like he was ordering a tank advance into Stalingrad.

Hitler never prepared his men for Russia’s slick b-boy moves or awesome gun-related teamwork.

In many ways, Battle of the Year is the successor to classics like Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo. Only instead of the modest goal of saving a community center, this one opts for the venal pleasures of money and glory. I thought the ‘80s was the materialist decade.

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Tread Who Perilously Hiatus

Just a reminder that Tread Who Perilously is on hiatus until July 23rd. When we return, Justin will be subjected to stories from the remaining Doctors, including:

  • The TV Movie
  • The Krotons
  • Time-Flight
  • The Gunfighters

And because Tom Baker was in the part long enough to appear in TWO terrible episodes based on the Minotaur legend, we will also be watching “Underworld”.

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Early Thoughts on Arkham Knight

Warning: The following is going into a gigantic spoiler for Batman: Arkham Knight. It’s a big story point and if you haven’t played the game, you probably should not read the following. Even my set-up will give you a pretty good idea of the spoiler, so tread carefully.

Batman says "fear spoilers, fear me!"

Batman says “fear spoilers, fear me!”

Before I start, I do want to say the first hour of Arkham Knight is intense and fun. The Batmobile takes some getting used to, but its a pretty good addition to the Arkham game play, which is otherwise mostly remains unchanged. The combat mechanics are familiar and quickly racking up a 35 hit combo felt good. The setting is massive and though the Batmobile makes it easy to get around, I still like gliding above it all. Gotham has never been more beautiful. New missions, like fighting off drone tanks, are challenging and fun. Foiling Two-Face’s bank heists are a highlight. Overall, it is quite an accomplishment (at 43% of the game played & 50% of the main story). But like so many other games these days, Arkham Knight contains an unfortunate story point that has marred the proceedings … Continue reading

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Yeah, Leave It Here – Ep 2: Crazy Stupid Love

Welcome to Episode 2 of “Yeah, Leave It Here.” Today’s movie is 2011’s Crazy Stupid Love. SEE a bunch of different plots that add up to little in the way of real consequences! MARVEL at Josh Groban being a shitbag before he actually became a shitbag! WONDER to yourself: “Was that Kevin Bacon?” Also, Queta comes up with an idea for a companion film to this movie.

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In Your Faith: Episode 2 – Does Your Mom Know You’re Down Here?

The lighter side of religious extremism continues as the group discusses the upcoming Comic-Con Panel, Satanist Missionaries on the streets of Hollywood and Chick Tracts. Rob discusses the loss of a friend because marriage is now available to all. Facing the Duggars takes a surprise turn as Josh comes home and the Buzzer watches over us all. Host: Rob. Guests: Justin, Clint, Kami, Erik.

Click here or subscribe to The Satellite Show on iTunes.

Also: If you’re going to be at Comic-Con International: San Diego join the In Your Faith crew and guests Nick Marino and Reverend John Polite for Sunday Morning Funny: The Lighter Side Faith-Based Comics; a panel moderated by Jessica Tseang in which we discuss well-meaning but artistically challenged comic. And perhaps some not-so-well-intentioned as well.

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Lifetime Theater: A Deadly Adoption

There’s an element of hubris in my reviewing Lifetime’s most recent release, A Deadly Adoption. By the time this post is published, more virtual ink will be spilled over this than any Lifetime movie ever. Yet I’ve carved out a regular feature on this blog for learning big important lessons from pop culture flotsam, and I can’t let the most buzzed-about Lifetime movie pass unremarked on.

When it leaked that Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig were making a Lifetime movie, visions danced in all of our heads of the truly insane parody these two would come up with. The writer, Andrew Steele, the same guy behind Casa de mi Padre and Ferrell’s pitch-perfect send up of late-‘70s prestige miniseries The Spoils of Babylon, only cemented that. What we all forgot is that comedians, at their core, are trolls. They do things that make them laugh and nothing makes them laugh harder than an unexpected prank.

It’s pretty easy to see their intent. Ferrell and Wiig didn’t want anyone to know about A Deadly Adoption. The whole point of it was to be something people stumbled upon organically and wondered what the hell was going on, or at least when two of the funniest people alive would make with the comedy. By leaking, it turned into an event, which ironically enough made it a non-event. It was no longer an odd little curio randomly found by Lifetime stalwarts and bored people at home on a Saturday. Now it was two movie stars no doubt making a perfect parody of a Lifetime movie that would double as the must-see comedy of 2015.

But here’s the thing: they were not making a parody of a Lifetime movie. They were making a Lifetime movie.

And, to their credit, it’s nigh perfect. From subtle things like the bright lighting, the stagey direction, and the musical cues, to the more meta elements like stilted performances from aging stars. Even the script is Lifetime-exact, where a couple suffers an easily-filmed and light-on-the-stuntwork tragedy, and brings a younger and hotter woman into the house to help complete the family. She turns out to be insane (of course) and forces this mild suburban couple into a deadly confrontation. The biggest problem with the movie is its saggy second act, when the novelty has worn off and the plot machinations begin to take over. Which is a problem more than one Lifetime movie suffers from.

When the predictable “oh this is so crazy” response came out the next day, complete with listicles celebrating the most ridiculous moments, I came to one escapable conclusion: most people don’t watch as much Lifetime as I do. And I have to live with this. Seriously, that synopsis sounded as familiar to both of my readers as it did to me when it unfolded. Why? Because it’s the plot of The Nightmare Nanny. Almost exactly, down to the character beats.

I’m not trying to go all Lifetime Hipster on you, mostly because if that’s a thing that exists, I might need to drink a gallon of turpentine. What I’m saying is that I believe Ferrell, Wiig, and Steele watched all of these and more in an effort to hew as close to a standard Lifetime movie as possible. They were so close to the formula that A Deadly Adoption, produced in part by the mad genius behind Anchorman  and The Other Guys, isn’t even in the top five most insane Lifetime movies I’ve reviewed.

This is what restraint looks like.

In fact, they’re so interested in playing it straight, Ferrell never gives one of his signature line readings. You know the ones, where he’s angry, upset, and maybe a little frightened by what’s going on around him. The closest he ever comes is when he periodically reminds his wife that their daughter Sully (named because they expect her to grow up into a beefy Bostonian stevedore, I guess), has a specific kind of diabetes. The jokes and homages are there, from the maddeningly vague awards for philanthropy that adorn Ferrell’s office, to Wiig’s organic fruit and bakery business, to the reassurance it’s all based on a true story. But they’re all subtle enough to miss, and targeted at those who understand the language of Lifetime.

The showiest performance belongs to Jessica Lowndes, who plays the dual-named (She turns out to be impersonating a woman she might have killed. See? Nightmare Nanny!) surrogate Bridget/Joni. Because she’s the crazy one, the nubile young woman invited into the house to wreck it, she’s allowed to go full Nicholson. She’s not bad, as these things go. A good Lifetime Villain Meltdown is a skill they can and should teach in acting classes.

The oddest part from the perspective of a Lifetime stalwart such as myself, is the fact that Ferrell is the star. Wiig is perhaps not as big a name, but she headlined a movie everyone still likes (Bridesmaids) and she delivers an unironically good performance in it, nailing both the big comedic moments and crafting a believable character. Yet Ferrell gets most of the hero parts. He rescues Wiig from a carbon monoxide trap in the garage (the shot of him holding her as the garage door rises is the movie’s best), overcomes his fear of water to pursue Lowndes after she’s kidnapped Sully (no doubt plying her with Natty Lite and Red Sox tickets), and even stands in the way of a speeding SUV. While it’s Wiig who ultimately kills the threat to her home, Ferrell is by far the more active of the two.

It’s also unusual in that Ferrell’s character actually does cheat on Wiig. After she lost the baby by falling into three feet of water — yes, ridiculous, but totally on par for Lifetime — Ferrell descended into alcoholism. He goes on a series of book tours which are apparently all in hilariously seedy bars. On one of these he meets and has sex with Lowndes, who of course gets pregnant and loses the baby. I’m guessing by falling onto a pond. Most of these movies are made with the reassurance that, don’t worry, no matter how enticing the young lady is in the house, no matter how much she may want to stake her claim, the man will remain true. While he was drunk, and Wiig forgives him, he did hit that.

So what did we learn? Don’t stand on rotten docks. Do a thorough background check on any hot young women you allow into your house. And always be familiar with the dangers of diabetic ketoacidosis.

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Tread Who Perilously: Episode 4

whoErik and Justin conclude their first series of Tread Who Perilously with “The Horns of Nimon”, a story from the classic series Erik has called “the worst Doctor Who story.” Does he still think that’s true? Justin praises Romana and rates the companions he’s seen so far. Douglas Adams’ involvement in the story is examined as praise be the Nimon. Saldeed becomes one of our favorite villains and Justin tries to wrap his head around the utter lunacy of the entire endeavor. But, what’s in the distance for Series 2? Is there a Time-Flight? A Rani episode? The TV Movie? Time will tell … it always does.

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