Sunday, June 18, 2017

Jem and the Holograms (2015)

“You're internet famous. That's like the second best thing to being actually famous.“ – Kimber, Jem and the Holograms

YouTube has been a big part of the online world since it hit big in the mid-2000s.  Anything could be found there.  Some of the earliest webseries were uploaded to the site.  Many conspiracy theories can be found by searching the YouTube basement.  There are also music videos galore.  That’s where this week’s movie comes into play.

Jem and the Holograms was based on the animated series Jem from the 1980s.  It followed a girl named Jerrica (Aubrey Peeples) as she became a popular recording artist with her sisters as her backing band.  The whole reason that she was discovered was because a video was posted to YouTube of her singing and playing guitar in her bedroom.  Record producer Erica Raymond (Juliette Lewis) saw big money in the mysterious Jerrica and prepared her for stardom.  Along the way, Jerrica would find the traits within herself that would make a great role model to her fans and keep her grounded.

There were many problems with Jem and the Holograms.  The acting wasn’t the greatest and the story left a lot to be desired.  Some of it had to do with the relationship between the four sisters.  Well, two sisters and their cousins who were like sisters because they had all lived together from a young age.  They would bicker like siblings and make up because they could all sing.  Three of the sisters wanted fame while Jerrica only got into music to deal with her feelings.  The rapid rise to fame was unbelievable in a movie that attempted to ground itself in the YouTube fame world.  It reminded me of a similar movie, one which I watched a couple nights later.

What I want to write about this week are the similarities between Jem and the Holograms, and a movie from fourteen years earlier, Josie and the Pussycats.  At their core, the two musical tales told similar stories.  Young musicians quickly rose to fame and found that they needed their connection to each other more than any other part of their musical careers.  Josie and the Pussycats attempted other things within that story though.  These parts helped strengthen the movie to a level that Jem and the Holograms could never reach. 

But before I get into the deeper portions of the movies and how they line up with one another, I need to give a warning.  There will be spoilers for both Jem and the Holograms and Josie and the Pussycats throughout this post.  Certain key plot elements between the two movies line up and will be discussed because of their similarities as well as how they diverge.  To start things off, I will have to go to the beginnings of both movies.

Rise to Fame
The ways in which the characters rose to fame differed in each movie, though they had similar intentions.  Each of the bands were given a record deal based on their looks and based on the people in charge wanting to make money.  That’s quite the superficial way to go about things, but it’s fairly true to what I know about the business.  I’ll give the movies that much for realism.  The exact circumstances of the bands being chosen were unrealistic, though, and differed from movie to movie.

The writers of Jem and the Holograms put the focus on how YouTube can affect people around the world.  Jerrica was discovered through the online video site.  Her mysterious look and lack of any information about herself made her the perfect person for Erica Raymond to market.  To paraphrase what she said about the Jem persona, the modern world’s access to the internet and people’s ability to find any information they want has taken the mystery out of life.  Jem was the kind of mystery that was needed, and the kind that could be exploited.  Nobody knew that Jem and Jerrica were the same people outside of the record label and Jerrica’s family.  The mysterious look was what made her the ideal person to rise to fame.

Josie and the Pussycats did things a little differently.  Again, the band was chosen based on their looks.  The message of the movie was a little bit different, though.  After the band Du Jour went missing, Wyatt Frame had to find a new band to be the stars of his boss Fiona’s record label.  His decision of choosing Josie and her friends was made when he saw them and pictured them on the cover of an album.  Literally.  He took a CD case and framed it around them as he was driving.  The reasons for choosing them would be further explained later in the movie.

At the core of each movie was the idea that friends and family were more important than fame.  There was a specific portion of each movie devoted to this idea.  It all came from the origins, and bled into the climaxes.

After two live performances in Jem and the Holograms, Erica Raymond forced Jerrica into a solo contract, threatening her family’s financial well-being.  Jerrica signed the contract, which removed her sisters from the band.  Her search for the clues in a scavenger hunt that her late father set up for her led her to realizing that the contract didn’t matter.  Her family would come before anything.  She cherished her relationship with her sisters more than she could ever need money.  Family came first.  She didn’t want fame and fortune without being able to share it with them.

That same connection could be seen through Josie’s relationship to her bandmates in Josie and the Pussycats.  All three women had grown up as friends in the town of Riverdale (yes, Archie’s Riverdale).  Since Josie was the frontwoman, Wyatt tried to break her off into a solo act.  He did this by using subliminal messages (the evil plot of the film was subliminal messages) into a copy of the band’s new single and getting Josie to listen to it.  She turned against her friends.  Walking around town, the spell of the subliminal messages was broken because Josie saw pictures of her friends and began to suspect the music she was given.  Friendship conquered evil.  Together, the friends took down the evil plot and saved the day.

Female Studio Heads
Movies about female musicians and their bands becoming famous are odd in one similarity which is a female antagonist.  For some reason, having a woman in charge of the record company is a common trait for both Jem and the Holograms and Josie and the Pussycats.  It’s a similarity that didn’t need to be there but was anyway.  I don’t know if there are any other movies like this that also have the female villain.

Erica Raymond was the villain and person in charge of the record studio in Jem and the Holograms.  She started off good enough, offering Jerrica a record deal.  When Erica first appeared, however, her personality showed that she would be the antagonist.  She was rude to everyone around her and cared more about money than the happiness of the people in her life.  She was forcing her son, Rio (Ryan Guzman), to work in a way that he didn’t like.  She wanted Jem to break up the band and go solo.  All of this was because she was so focused on money that she didn’t notice the inspirational power of the band and the lasting effect that it could have.  It placed her at odds with the main characters, thus leading to her dismissal at the end of the movie.

Fiona was also dismissed at the end of Josie and the Pussycats, though for slightly different reasons.  Much like in Jem and the Holograms, it seemed like the head of the record label was focused on money.  Fiona was putting subliminal messages into the music of her popular artists in order to boost sales of different merchandise.  The trends would change regularly, and they would earn lots of money for those involved.  She was also complicit in trying to break up the band by convincing Josie to go solo.  In the end, Fiona’s master plan was to subliminally influence everyone to think she was cool, so the end goal was a little different.  She got ousted from her company, though.  The government, who was covering up that they were secretly in on the overall subliminal message plan, arrested her as a scapegoat.

Final Performance Telling the Moral
The big moment to end each movie was the final performance that was meant to play into the villain’s plans.  The final performance in Jem and the Holograms was meant to be Jem going out on her own and becoming the solo star that Erica Raymond wanted her to be.  Fiona’s big show for Josie and the Pussycats would have provided the “Fiona is cool” subliminal messages that she wanted.  Neither of these came to fruition.

When Jerrica and her sisters took the stage in their final performance, Jem stepped up to the microphone to talk to her fans.  She let them know that Jem was a symbol of the good in the world.  The character of Jem, who Jerrica was playing, was a representation of everyone’s uniqueness.  Each of her fans had Jem in them, and her presence was meant to inspire a better, more loving world.  That was the overall message of the movie.  Music’s ability to inspire people was at the core of Jem and the Holograms, particularly in the continuous inclusion of musical performances from YouTube videos.

The final performance in Josie and the Pussycats also involved the lead singer giving a message to her fans.  Josie watched as everyone followed her actions while she was on stage.  She put on her Pussycat ears.  The crowd put on the ears that they had purchased to help them listen to the music.  She took her ears off, and so did they.  Josie made sure to let the audience know that they should make their own decisions.  They shouldn’t be following her and allowing her to make their decisions.  She can be an inspiration to them, but they shouldn’t model their lives off of the stuff that she likes.  They should have free will.  She was basically telling her audience that they shouldn’t buy into the advertisements and consumerism around them.  They should be choosing what they want on their own.  She was laying out the overall message of the movie.

Jem and the Holograms and Josie and the Pussycats were very comparable as stories because of the many beats that they shared.  The band being friends/family plucked from their obscure lives, their going against a female villain, the villain’s attempt to make the lead singer go solo, the plan backfiring on the villain which causes her to be removed from her head position, and the moral of the movie then being spelled out to a concert audience were all story beats that happened in both movies.  They’re like an unintentional double feature from fourteen years apart.

There was a good idea behind Jem and the Holograms, and as this post showed, it took cues from a better movie.  The inspirational aspect of it was solid, as were the musical performances.  Where the movie went wrong was in the smaller moments.  The movie tried to seem grounded yet the relationship stuff between the characters was cheesy.  It worked in Josie and the Pussycats because the movie leaned hard into the on-the-nose cheesy stuff.  Jem and the Holograms tried to shy away from the hard lean, and ended up with a tonal mishmash that didn’t help matters at all.  The potential was there to create something great.  But the cheese and the grounded reality didn’t mix well.  There was no synergy.
Now let’s get to some notes:

  • Jem and the Holograms was suggested by two different people.  @erincandy suggested it.  She has already suggested many movies to the Sunday “Bad” Movies: Glitter, Ghost Storm, Zombeavers, Dead Before Dawn, and Bigfootvs. Zombies.  Then there was @jaimeburchardt, who previously suggested Houseof the Dead, Monster Brawl, Simon Sez, Alone in the Dark, Double Team, and Theodore Rex.
  • Jem and the Holograms featured actor Rick L. Dean, who could previously be seen in Beverly Hills Chihuahua 2 and Valentine’s Day.
  • Jackie Tohn, previously from Return to Sleepaway Camp, appeared in Jem and the Holograms.
  • One actor from Fant4stic, Kristian Favors, showed up in Jem and the Holograms.
  • The lead of Jem and the Holograms has been in a Sunday “Bad” Movie before.  Aubrey Peeples was also in Sharknado.
  • Finally, Jimmy Fallon played himself in Jem and the Holograms.  He was also in Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star.
  • Have you seen Jem and the Holograms?  Do you think my comparison to Josie and the Pussycats was fitting? You can discuss this stuff in the comments section.
  • The comments can also be a place to put suggestions for future weeks of the Sunday “Bad” Movies. I like to hear what you think I should watch as I continue my bad movie journey.  Twitter is another place where you can let me know about movies I haven’t watched yet.
  • I have a snapchat where I sometimes share bits and pieces of the movies I watch, as well as some other random stuff.  Add me.  Jurassicgriffin.
  • A big movie is coming up next week for the Sunday “Bad” Movies.  The movie itself might not be too well known, but it is going to mark a milestone for the blog.  It will be the first documentary that is an official Sunday “Bad” Movie.  I’ve watched one documentary before, called Best Worst Movie.  That was a bonus post to go along with Troll 2.  Next week’s official movie is The Parking Lot Movie, a movie about a bunch of parking lot attendants at one parking lot in Virginia.  It’s something.  I’ll tell you about it next week.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Marine 5: Battleground (2017) and The Marine Franchise in the Sunday "Bad" Movies

The Sunday “Bad” Movies have been going on for nearly 240 weeks, and it’s starting to feel like there truly is a history to the blog and the movies I’ve watched for it.  Take a look at the movie I watched for this week's post, The Marine 5: Battleground.  This action franchise produced by WWE has been a part of the blog since the first year.  When I was choosing movies to watch and write about in that first year (which was a little different than the way I do it now), I decided to check out the John Cena film and its two direct-to-video sequels.  I have since watched the fourth one when it came out in 2015, and the fifth installment which came out earlier this year.

There have been some other movies where I’ve watched a sequel in a post after I had watched a different installment in the franchise.  I’ve seen two of the Friday the 13th movies for different posts, one in the first year and one in the second.  The same could be said for the Evil Bong movies, where I watched one at the end of the first year and one at the end of the second.  There was even a time when I watched Jack Frost one Christmas and watched Jack Frost 2 another Christmas.  But for some reason, The Marine has been my favourite franchise to return to.

The franchise began back in 2006 when WWE decided to push their big star, John Cena, into films.  He played a discharged marine who chased some diamond thieves who kidnapped his wife.  It wasn’t the strongest start.  The movie was a mess of two tones, a straight action movie and a comedy.  Neither of the tones fit well together, though they have in other movies.  It was as though the writers didn’t know how to blend the action and the comedy to make anything satisfying.  There were great moments within each, but they couldn’t come together.  John Cena also wasn’t great in it.  He has improved since then, appearing in many more movies and giving better performances.  His first feature film starring role, however, was not good.

If it hadn’t been for the Sunday “Bad” Movies, I probably would have stopped watching the series right then and there.  The first had left a sour enough taste in my mouth that I wouldn’t have wanted to continue the exploits of marines saving the day, as imagined by WWE.  It was the only theatrical outing in the entire franchise, so things would only go down from there, right?  The quality of the direct-to-video sequels would just be worse, right?

The Marine 2 was released in 2009 and had Ted DiBiase Jr. taking over the lead role.  He played a different character, this time a marine sniper who was on vacation when terrorists took over the resort he was staying at.  He was the only person not taken hostage and had to go Die Hard on the place in order to keep the hostages safe and take down the terrorists.  Gone was the comedic side of the first movie.  What was left was the most solid action outing of the entire franchise.  The direction by Roel Reiné highlighted the brute force that DiBiase’s wrestler body had, and didn’t try to go too far over the top with it.  The movie had explosions, but it felt more grounded and real than the first.  The punches had impact.  The kicks felt painful.  It worked.

Knowing how the sequel had improved upon the problems of the first with a better tone and grounded action, I was interested in seeing where the third installment would go.  The one thing that had been lacking was an interesting lead character.  John Cena and Ted DiBiase Jr. were believable as the tough marine types who would be hard to take down.  But their characters existed solely as an action hero saving his wife.  There was no real depth to the characters.  As a viewer, you didn’t know too much about them.  Well, I guess you did know a little bit about Cena thanks to the beginning scene where he was starting a new job as security in some building.  But you never felt like you got to know the character on any deep sort of level.

Mike ‘The Miz’ Mizanin took over the lead duties when The Marine 3: Homefront rolled around in 2013.  He came into the series for the first movie in which they gave a main character some real depth to his personality.  Jake Carter (Mizanin) was a marine who had recently returned home after his tour.  He had anger issues and was very protective of his family.  These anger issues made the character more than the white knights of the previous two installments.  He was flawed.  When his sister was kidnapped by an extremist terrorist, Jake did whatever he could to save her.

In terms of the overall series, the third instalment provided the best story with the best character work.  The main character was no longer a flawless hero able to do whatever he wanted to save people.  He had anger problems that would cause him to do things differently.  The FBI was involved to the point of trying to keep Jake from saving his sister.  Not because they wanted the sister to not be saved.  They simply didn’t want Jake risking his own life.  It felt like more than the simple action movies that the franchise was known for, and still remains the best overall writing of any of The Marine movies.

The third movie ended my original watch of the franchise.  It was a triple feature that I wouldn’t soon forget.  And that’s where I thought the series was going to end.  It was a three and done thing, kind of like the Jason Statham Death Race series.  I would be pleasantly surprised in 2015 when The Marine 4: Moving Target was released, again starring Mike Mizanin.  Though the movie wasn’t nearly as good as the second or third outings, I was still happy to have a new movie in The Marine saga.

The Marine 4: Moving Target was the first time that a lead actor and character returned to the franchise.  Jake Carter was back, though this time, he was working in private security.  He was protecting a whistle-blower while the company she worked for sent mercenaries to kill her.  It was a fairly simple story that took place mostly in the woods.

That might have been the biggest issue with The Marine 4: Moving Target.  Having the action take place primarily in the woods didn’t give a lot of variety to what happened.  Everything looked the same, and the location was tired.  So many movies, particularly low budget movies, use forests and wooded areas as the backdrop because of how cheap and easy it is to film there.  The abandoned boat setting of much of the third movie’s action felt a little fresher.  The second movie was all about sneaking around a resort, which gave a variety to the locations.  And the first movie involved a lot of travel through a lot of different locations including rivers, woods, a jewelry shop, and a factory/boatyard thing at the end.  The primarily wooded location of the fourth felt boring compared to the other movies.

One thing that The Marine 4: Moving Target did bring to the series was a wider cast of wrestlers.  It wasn’t too much wider, but it was the first time that a Diva was in a WWE movie.  Summer Rae played one of the mercenaries sent out to kill the whistle blower.  There’s not much to say about her performance.  There was some physicality to it, but that was about it.

The Marine 5: Battleground, this week’s Sunday “Bad” Movie, expanded on the WWE casting by having about half of the major characters being played by wrestlers.  The 2017 release featured Mike Mizanin returning for his third time as Jake Carter.  He was now working as an EMT.  During one of his shifts, he and his partner were called to a heart attack report at the parking garage of an amusement park closed for the season.  When they arrived, they realized that it wasn’t a routine heart attack.  Instead, they were helping a man with a gunshot wound escape from a biker gang.

One of the more notable wrestlers that had a role in The Marine 5: Battleground was Mike Mizanin’s wife, Maryse Ouellet.  She didn’t have a large role.  She was a woman who Jake Carter saved from a trapped car early in the movie.  Other wrestlers with larger roles, as members of the biker gang, included Heath Slater, Curtis Axel, Bo Dallas, and Naomi.  This led to some solid fights, with choreography inspired by the wrestling backgrounds of the actors.  Bo Dallas, whose real name is Taylor Rotunda, had the biggest role of any of the wrestling newcomers.  He played the primary bad guy.  He wasn’t the leader of the biker gang, but the one that went after Jake Carter first, and the last to be taken down.  His performance was entertaining.  There was an animalistic menace to his biker gang member that made for a captivating battle between him and Jake Carter.  The performance that Dallas gave was reminiscent of David Patrick Kelly’s performance in The Warriors.  He had the same mixture of tough guy and whininess that made him stand out among the other standard gang members.

The fifth instalment of The Marine franchise was a major comeback after the disappointment of the previous outing.  The parking garage setting of the majority of the movie didn’t give a huge variety in visuals, but at least provided a sense of where the characters were in relation to everything else.  It’s also a location that isn’t so overused.  It felt semi-fresh.  The action didn’t stay there the entire time, either.  It moved out into the amusement park and eventually into a building that was under construction.  There was never time to get tired of the settings before being given some new visuals.  It didn’t hurt that they were trapped in the parking garage, unlike in number four where they weren’t trapped in the woods (they were just being chased through them).  It gave a different angle that helped give a better feel to what was going on.

Some of the stuff I’ve written might have sounded like gibberish.  I may have covered some points more than once and rambled on longer than was necessary.  The thing is, I’ve enjoyed The Marine franchise more than not.  Three of the movies have been highly entertaining and among my favourite action movies of the past decade.  They don’t try to go so far over the top that everything looks fake.  They also aren’t too far grounded that it feels too real.  The movies have found a spot in a heightened reality that makes the action have a realistic impact while also featuring some spectacle.  I’m looking forward to any future movies made in the franchise.

The Marine series has come a long way since it began.  After a mess of tones, the franchise stripped the comedy out to leave some entertaining action.  They have only kept going since then, adding some story elements, while also utilizing other wrestlers to keep the action interesting and somewhat unique.  There aren’t a whole lot of action movies that do what The Marine movies do so well.  That’s why I’ll be waiting for the sixth movie.  And when it comes, I’ll be sure to add it to my lineup.
Let’s leave off on a few notes:

  • Here’s the post for the first three movies in The Marine franchise.  Here’s the post for the fourth.  Here’s the post for the Death Race movies.
  • I mentioned Friday the 13th: A New Beginning, Jason Goes to Hell, Evil Bong, Evil Bong 2: King Bong, Jack Frost, and Jack Frost 2: Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman.
  • As I already said in the post, Mike Mizanin was in The Marine 3: Homefront, The Marine 4: Moving Target, and The Marine 5: Battleground.
  • Charles Andre appeared in The Marine 5: Battleground.  He can also be seen in Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever.
  • Finally, The Marine 5: Battleground featured Mark Acheson from the movie Alone in the Dark.
  • Have you seen any of The Marine movies?  What did you think of them?  Let me know in the comments.
  • You can also use the comments to let me know about any movies that you want to suggest.  I’m always up for hearing about movies that I might not have considered including in the Sunday “Bad” Movies.  Another place to find me for suggestions is on Twitter.  Hit me up.
  • Sometimes when I’m watching bad movies, I share clips of them on snapchat.  Add me (jurassicgriffin) if you want to see movie clips, movie lists, the piece of wood I have at work (his name is Clarence), or other weird things.
  • Next week is a week where I’m going to be seeing another music movie.  It’s about four sisters who end up in a band.  Jem and the Holograms will be coming up in seven days.  You’ll see what I have to say about it then, so I hope you’ll join me here for that post.  See you next time.