Movie Reviews 435 – M (1931)

May 22, 2020

German expressionist director Fritz Lang will forever be remembered as the man who brought us the silent science fiction classic Metropolis. But sometimes lost in the accolades are the many other remarkable films he gave us, one such being the singular letter titled M.

Starring future Film Noir star Peter Lorre (mister Cairo of The Maltese Falcon fame), M captures a city nearly paralyzed by the spree of a child murderer, the repercussions of which not only touches the routines of the common citizen but also the darker side of humanity. With a police force incapable of making any headway in the case, fears escalate and fingers are pointed for any act that seems out of place, even innocent ones that happen to put adults in contact with any child.

The increased vigilance from both the police and everyday civilians have an unintended but beneficial upshot: the sudden decrease in common crime. As the months drag on the hoodlum gangs feel the pinch and find themselves effectively out of business. But what can they do? The solution is to put their own manpower to do what the authorities seem incapable of doing, and that is to find this elusive child killer themselves.

Lorre plays the guilty party in this tale of vigilantism turned on its head. What begins as an intriguing mystery transforms into social commentary as two criminal elements, the child killer and the gangs who take him on, collide. Which is the greater evil? Lorre, the calculating perpetrator becomes the pitiful troubled soul forced to endure a mock trial, but given the judicial tools and exigencies he would have in a real trial. His prosecutors lay out their argument for punishment as would a bona fide judge and jury. However farcical, the proceedings and consequences are undeniably real. At the core is the argument of insanity pleas and the moral dilemma they present to victims. Lorre is sincere as he pleads the agony of his curse, his inability to control it, and how he himself is haunted by the ghosts of mothers. The final argument that “Nothing will bring the children back” is left to his court, and ours, to decide.

As are many films that emerged from post World War I Germany this film has all the innovative, stunning, avant-garde cinematography first developed by Lang and his colleagues. The German soundtrack just adds to the atmosphere. If you were wondering about that title, the letter is indeed relevant at one point in the story, but I will leave that for viewers to savour.

One of the most interesting features on the Criterion DVD set is an interview of the headstrong Lang, eyesight failing and wearing an eyepatch, recorded just before his passing by Exorcist director William Friedkin. There is also a segment that discusses how the film was edited over the years, some scenes reshot for different languages (Lorre speaking fluently French for that language’s release) and supposedly still missing footage.

Befitting the title, this one gets an “A” regardless of whichever version you come across.

Movie Reviews 434 – Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky (1991)

May 15, 2020

To say that there is some violence in Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky is like saying Jackie Chan knows a bit about martial arts, an understatement if there ever was one. Based on a Japanese manga and two subsequent animes. I’ve had this DVD for sitting on my shelves for years, but I was always under the impression that this was a ‘straight up’ martial arts film. An error on my part perpetuated by the fact that it had no discernible actor credits, and for that reason it regrettably languished in my pile until this week. The fact that this was something out of the ordinary escaped me as I frankly never noticed the somewhat obscure details on the cover hinting of weirdness, but to be fair the artwork on my DVD (not the poster shown here) looks more like a traditional combat film.

Once the movie begins however, all notions of ‘regular’ fly out the window. Set in the ‘future’ year of 2001 where penal institutions are corporately run (ironically semi-prescient I realize), Ricky (Siu-Wong Fan) is just arriving at a prison to the usual taunts and mistreatment by his new captors. But rather than taking it in stride he immediately lets it be known that he will not be messed with, whether it be at the hands of the corrupt guards or any of the jailbird gangs.

With the warden currently away on vacation the prison is under the command of gluttonous “Cyclops Dan” (Mei Sheng Fan) who has one removable bad eye (containing breath mints) and a double clawed prosthetic hand. From his food filled office with a sizeable collection of pornography videocassettes he directs the three prisoner cell block gang leaders, and more importantly, the illicit drugs they produce within the penitentiary walls.

Through a series of heartwarming flashbacks we learn how Ricky ended up in prison and how those events loosely tie into the gang members he ends up brawling in there. But as bad as it is at first, it is nothing compared to the battle that ensues once the warden himself returns to the prison and learns of this new superhuman prisoner who has destroyed his sideline narcotic operation.

As corny as the action sequences are, Siu-Wong Fan’s physique is impressive. While he is no Bruce Lee by any stretch, he does have the washboard abs and notable upper bulk to carry the part. But the comparisons end there as the fights are poorly staged, relying solely on the outrageousness and the resulting spurting fountains of blood for entertainment value.

It’s non-stop nails to the (obviously rubber) faces, fists through abdomens, exploding heads, popping eyes (I lost count), zapping electrical charges, dismembered limbs, and flying slabs of styrofoam concrete. You get the picture. There is a fleeting semblance of a plot and a hockey backstory explaining Ricky’s superhuman strength, but this is mostly one battle or torture scene to the next. Basically Ricky and the righteous inmates who cheer for him against the warden, Cyclops Dan and the three gang leaders, each of which has a notable combat specialty and who look like discotheque escapees. As an added bonus, all the dubbed dialogue is delivered in 70’s jive talk. I’m not sure if that was intentional or not, but it makes the film just that much more outrageous.

In a nutshell, Riki-Oh is an onslaught of over-the-top fight sequences featuring some of the most blatantly cheesy special effects and doused in gallons of corn syrup blood that will have you grinning more than cringing.

I was hoping that my Media Asia Group DVD would have some extra features with more information on the film itself but it only contained some trailers. The good news was that those trailers for the films (Heroes Shed No Tears, Last Hurrah for Chivalry, Duel to the Death, and Magnificent Butcher in case you were interested) were awesome, each more mind blowing than the last.

 

Movie Reviews 433 – King Kong (1976)

May 8, 2020

You know the story. A ship in search of some precious resource journeys to a supposedly secret mid-ocean island, perpetually shrouded by fog. When the crew make landfall they are surprised to not only find a race of wild natives, but the natives have enclosed their village within a towering fence and sing and dance praises to simian deity. The inhabitants are captivated by the young blonde and fair skinned woman who, through some odd circumstances, arrives with the ship’s entourage. The natives kidnap the woman, tie her spread eagled to an offering altar outside the perimeter of their enclosed village, and await the mighty beast King Kong. But Kong takes a shining to the beauty. In attempting to rescue her, the ship’s contingent capture the mighty Kong, and with visions of fortunes, bring him to the Big Apple, to show their miraculous find to the world. But Kong makes his escape, and with the girl in hand makes his way to the top of the Empire State building, only to plummet to his doom.

The original 1933 King Kong created a stir at the time of it’s release largely because of the then revolutionary stop motion cinematography by Willis O’Brien and has remained a cult favorite ever since. It wasn’t until 1976 that King Kong finally got a remake by none other than the flamboyant Italian Dino De laurentiis. The producer, known to be somewhat of a sensationalist with movies like Barbarella and Danger: Diabolik, also produced a vast number of mainstream movies after starting his career with Fellini films. Never shying away from thinking “Big” this King Kong would be different while still adhering to the conventional story.

Most notably this film substituted the then newly opened World Trade Center twin towers as substitutes for the Empire State building, a fact prominently featured in the magnificent John Berkley porter art – despite the highly exaggerated proportions added for appeal. When it came to production and the depiction of Kong himself, the big question was of course which type of technology would bring the gargantuan ape to life. Costuming and practical effects had come a long way since the original and so for the vast majority of the shots a costume developed by Rick Baker and Carlo Rimbaldi was used with Baker himself donning the suit despite not being pleased with the final product. While the evident man-in-a-suit is certainly a detraction at times, they compensated with a number of clever superimposed live action foregrounds and backgrounds and innovative angles. Some animatronics were used such as the mandatory ‘giant hand’ gripping our shrieking heroine (Jessica Lange in her first film gig), and even some embedded within the suit to better articulate facial gestures.

In this remake, made at the tail end of the 70’s energy crisis, the original mission of the ship is a search for a hidden oil reserve by a corporate climber (Charles Grodin) working for the Petrox corporation. Desperately needing a boost to his boardroom ambitions, he relies on a geologist’s (René Auberjonois) satellite research of the island whose very existence only recently came to light. Their plans are thwarted by Jack, a stowaway paleontologist (Jeff Bridges, unshaven here and nearly as scruffy as Kong) who is convinced that some huge animal is living on the island. The damsel-in-distress, a wannabe movie starlet, arrives via a mid-ocean drifting dinghy and immediately takes a shine to Jack to complete the eventual interspecies love triangle.

This film is a bit of hodgepodge in that while we do get the thrills of seeing a decent (but sometimes flawed) Kong, you really do have to put your brain aside to enjoy it and even then there are moments you just can’t help groaning. There is so much of an attempt to focus on Lange’s beauty that we have to accept that she arrives wearing a spotless, pristine black evening dress after being adrift for who knows how long. Her on-ship wardrobe thereafter is supposedly cobbled up from sewn sailor threads, but inexplicably that ends up being a pair of skimpy, snug denim hot pants. Kong’s handling of her includes an exhale breath blow dry after her taking a waterfall shower (think wet T-shirt contest) and literally stripping her at one point. Making matters worse is her ditsy horoscope revelations that include her “Crossing water and meeting the biggest person in my life”. So sexual is her presence in the film that she even has a silly line about how she was saved by Deep Throat. (Dig into the history of pornography to understand that one kids. Skip the Watergate references.)

On the positive side this was a successful showcase for the World Trade Center, now of course ingrained in all of us after the events of 9/11. Watching the ads for this film back then was the first time I became personally aware of the towers as I must have missed news of the plans to change the Manhattan skyline with them earlier. I love how the film cleverly integrated them by having Kong associate the towers with the two restraining poles of the sacrificial altar back on the island. On my visits to the towers in years before 9/11 I would always think of King Kong while standing on the observatory floors.

One last comment on this King Kong is that when the beast comes to his eventual demise, it is presented in a very shocking and bloody end. Given the fate of those towers it stands as a startlingly prescient moment.

Movie Reviews 432 – Evil bong (2006)

May 1, 2020

I’m a huge fan of B-movie producer, director and writer Charles Band and the many films he created with his mini-empire of companies, the most notable being Full Moon Features.  For those who aren’t familiar with his low budget movies – over 300 films and still going strong – he has a tendency to revisit titles that gain traction, creating such series’ as Subspecies, Trancers, Demonic Toys, and my favorite by far, the many Puppet Master films (the first six films in the series I reviewed here and here).

Now with Evil Bong I had no idea what I was in for other than what the title offered and as it was in one of those multiple film horror boxes (8 films on two disks, half being Band films) I did not even have a decent cover photo to rely on. But the title pretty much says it and as the title credits rolled to the tune of a Rasta-like score, the cast of unknowns ended with none other than the godfather of ganja himself, Tommy Chong so I knew I was in for a good, if not high, time.

A pointdexterish dweeb answering an ad to share an apartment ends up living with three airheads: a surfer dude, a jock, and disinherited wealthy washout. When one of the doobie boys comes across an ad in High Times magazine for a vintage, reputedly haunted bong he responds to the ad while dismissing the seller’s unusual warning. When said bong arrives it is an intricately decorative piece with a nondescript inlaid female face, but the boys are more interested in lighting her up than heeding any caution.

The surfer dude is the first to succumb to the bong’s trance, fiendishly smoking the skunk until his essence is spirited away to some mystical dimension strip joint! But the gals there give him more than a show and he soon succumbs to them, his body dying in real life back in the pad. As the other boys try to hide the body, they too soon fall prey to the bong’s life sucking aura, as the bong begins developing facial features and world domination ambitions. Their only hope lies with a stoner former owner of the bong (Chong) to destroy it.

While not as imbued with a more intricate plot as is found in most earlier Band productions, it nevertheless does contain some of his staples, notably some animatronic puppetry and buxom babes. As one can imagine there are plenty of corny dopey scenes (aside from the actual dope) including a variety of ‘killer’ bikini tops in the dreamlike strip joint that are used as the coup-de-grace killing of the victims.

While the film is funny at times I will be honest and say that given the subject matter, which I felt would provide plenty of fodder for laughs, I felt it wasn’t as imaginative as I had hoped. Chong is well Chong, but minor roles by talents Bill Mosely and Phil Fondacaro are wasted here.

I was in a good enough mood to watch the entire end credits which surprisingly contained a trailer for the sequel Evil Bong 2: King Bong which honestly looked more interesting. And like so many other Band films, Evil Bong has developed into an entire series, eight to be exact (at least so far) if you count the Gingerbread Man Vs. Evil Bong crossover. Enough to satiate any craving and give you the munchies.

Movie Reviews 431 – The Invisible Man (1933)

April 23, 2020

Even with the limited availability to horror entertainment I had as a kid (in the form of a few comics, some hand-me-down Famous Monsters magazines, newspapers and two black and white TV channels), aside from Godzilla or King Kong, the monsters that gave me prepubescent hard-ons were undoubtedly the Universal studio monsters. But even among those classics there were the top triumvirate of stars, Frankenstein, Dracula and The Wolfman, and then there were what I consider the second tier in The Mummy and The Creature from the Black Lagoon. And last, but certainly not least there was The Invisible Man.

I’m not quite sure why The Invisible Man always got the short end of the stick when it came to popularity but I would assume that part of the reason was that it becomes a lot trickier trying to market something that you can’t even see. And that’s a shame because it does have a lot going for it.

Claude Rains is no Karloff or Lugosi when it comes to horror film repertoire, but as a mainstream actor his credentials are unquestionable being four time Oscar nominee of many classic films. Oddly enough he was cast here in this starring role, his first American film, solely for his voice, and as you listen to him in the film, you can understand why. Directed by Frankenstein director James Whale, The film was based on the HG Wells novel, but because Wells was unhappy with his adaptation of The Island of Dr. Moreau (filmed as The Island of Lost Souls) he was able to secure control over the script so it is fairly faithful to the source.

The central special effects, not merely makeup and prosthetics, which features a live and moving actor with seemingly invisible portions of his exposed body, required intricate filming techniques and is still remarkably effective today. No shortcuts are taken either as we not only witness articles of clothing coming on and off, but also the removal of rolls of bandages covering his head when not fully invisible. Of course there are also a few gimmick shots like a self propelled bicycle and others.

The mostly serious dramatic approach to the plot has a few well placed and timed comical sequences (shrieks really) highlighted by booze nipping character actress Una O’Connor and some Keystone Cops bungling. The plot, simple enough, is about a scientist who achieves a breakthrough in his research to develop an invisibility agent, but with the unfortunate side effect that it slowly turns him mad (a recurring theme that will remain prevalent in the sequels) and soon has him dreaming of world domination while at the same time seeking a cure to regain opacity – at least at first. His descent into insanity is peppered with maniacal laughs and by the end devolves into power crazed monologues.

My DVD box set from the Universal Monsters Legacy set included the four sequels including The Invisible Man Returns starring Vincent Price in the title role, but who much like Rains in the original we only get a glimpse of him at the very end. The third instalment takes quite a turn in more than one way. The Invisible Woman not only opted for a different perspective in gender, but went out for all comedy in a Three Stooges manner. I’m not kidding as Shemp Howard, the sometime Stooge when the original Curly died, has a minor role in this one. As a comedy you could do worse but it’s too jarring a change to really fit in with the series. It took World War II and patriotism to bring out The Invisible Agent in which the original Invisible man’s grandson disrobes to help the allies’ effort. This marked a return to a serious (if cliché) plot of Nazi maneuvering to get the invisibility serum and Peter Lorre as a Japanese foil. The last of the original series was The Invisible Man’s Revenge, easily the most inferior of the series, presenting a psychotic man who has been wronged by friends and seeking revenge with invisibility bestowed by a scientist. The only redeemable character is the scientist played by John Carradine. This box set also included Now You See Him, a great documentary on the making of the film, somewhat explaining how some of the effects were achieved, as well as some discussion on the sequels.

This film is a horror classic that, counter to the implication of the title, offers a lot more than the eye can see. Well worth a watch.

Death Has Many Doors – Fredric Brown (1951)

April 17, 2020

I stumbled upon Frederic Brown’s work as a teen when I came across a copy of his insanely funny novel Martians, Go Home, a book noted as much for its great cover art featuring a bulbous nosed green Martian by artist Kelly Freas and used for many years now as the logo of Toronto Library Merrill Collection. I was immediately taken with his laid back style of writing and sought more. Discussing the author with friends back in those pre-internet BBS days, I was informed that I should also give some of his mystery books a try as well, as he was much more prolific in that genre.

Death Has Many Doors is but one of his noir mysteries featuring the nephew-uncle team of private investigators pounding the pavement in Chicago. The young, handsome Ed Hunter takes center stage as he chases cases with his uncle Ambrose, or just “Am”, a teamup used in a series of Brown’s novels as he did in the earlier The Dead Ringer.

One of the things I like about Brown is his tendency to add things slightly out of the norm and in this case he dipped slightly into his Science Fiction bag by making the suspected murderer a Martian. Of course this needs some explaining.

In the classic noir opening scene we have a lovely girl, the requisite ‘dame’, enter the PI’s office making a claim that she believes she will be killed and wants Ed to help her. The twist is that she believes she will be killed by a Martian who has already phoned her and divulged his intentions. After failing to convince the woman to seek psychiatric help he gets involved despite himself, and sure as you can say “Take me to your leader” the woman soon dies under mysterious circumstances.

With no plausible explanation for her death Ed does a bit of digging into her past and family but that only deepens the mystery as it also reveals that there was no clear motive for anyone to kill her. Things get even more interesting when the ‘Martian’ rings Ed and hires the Hunters to solve the mystery, and provides some good, clean Earthly cash to do the work. If that weren’t enough to entice him, the woman’s knockout, look-alike sister seals the deal until another death only deepen Ed’s resolve.

I have to admit that the reveal for the focal murder ends up being highly contrived, and only hinted in the last few pages. Worse is that the science behind the explanation is also quite questionable. But these stories are all about the ride to the end and given the age and the pulp factor, it delivers the goods. In true gumshoe fashion, there are plenty of cigarettes and salacious bits that are just as smoky, all without being graphic or explicit.

Brown was notable for setting many of his stories with newspaper publishing background, which I believe he worked in at some point, and carnival settings, such as that in The Deep End. For his science fiction, Brown was a master of the short form and I would highly recommend From These Ashes which collects all of his short stories. Science fiction Genre fans will certainly recognize his story Arena, which was adapted for both the original Star Trek TV series (the one with the lizard like Gorn) and as an Outer Limits episode which was slightly more faithful to the story. Whatever your tastes, mystery or science fiction, do yourself a favor and give Brown a try if you haven’t already.

 

Movie Reviews 430 – The Boy in the Plastic Bubble (1976)

April 9, 2020

Is this pandemic isolation getting you down? Things can be worse you know, even from an isolation point of view. Consider the people who have the Severe Combined Immunodeficiency genetic disorder. Immortalized on Seinfeld in the hilarious “The Bubble Boy” episode, this was not the first time the disorder was featured on television. That credit indirectly goes to another television comedy show.

Soon after the sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter hit the airwaves it made a stars out of the dysfunctional students in inner the city high school class featured in the series. The studio execs at host network ABC singled out John Travolta in particular for greater stardom, and he was soon cast in the starring role of the made-for-television movie The Boy in the Plastic Bubble.

The story is about Tod (Travolta) a boy born into a family with a genetic predisposition to the disorder, his fate being determined pre-birth and confirming his parents worst fears. After living a few years in isolation in a hospital, his parents (played by “Brady Bunch” dad Robert Reed and Diana Hyland) research and convince his doctor (Ralph Bellamy) that with an elaborate similar setup he can be brought into their home. But with all the provisions and barriers, the boy grows up shielded and distant from anything normal and becomes a news and media sensation for his every move.

As a teenager Tod is relatively intelligent and well learned, developing an interest in space exploration and sciences. He spies frequently on his next door neighbour Gina (Glynnis O’Connor) one of the few kids he grew up with however infrequent and distant they interacted with one another. The urge to break out of his shell (as well as hormonal calls) soon embitters Tod until he gets the bright idea to attend school via a remote TV monitor and camera system (naturally being placed in Gina’s class) eventually even attending in person using a space-like self contained environment suit.

Of course he falls for Gina who isn’t exactly as enamoured by the idea and worse, goes along with some friends mocking Tod and his condition. With promises that there may eventually be a cure for his condition or that he may slowly develop an immune system on his own, Tod has to make some tough decisions.

As television movies go, you can certainly do worse than this but it does have some cringe worthy dialog and corny scenes, the pinnacle being when Tod is introduced to lunar astronaut Buzz Aldrin. I found it particularly funny that even at that young age and at the very beginning of his career there was already a scene in which the later Saturday Night Fever star was cutting some nifty dance moves despite being solo.

Adding to the 70’s vintage video is a theme song by prolific and acclaimed singer, songwriter and actor Paul Williams and even a brief appearance by “Throw Momma from the Train”’s Anne Ramsey. And speaking of Mommas, offscreen loverboy Travolta had a real life tryst with Hyland (that’s right, the woman playing his mom, not his love interest), reputedly having her die from cancer in his arms just a little over a year later.

Unfortunately my DVD contained such a lousy source or transfer that it was almost like looking through a bubble myself. And for the record, there is no scene in which The Bubble Boy plays Trivial Pursuit so we’ll never know if “The Moops” is the correct answer to  “Who invaded Spain in the eighth century?”

Tall Tales of the Weird West – Axel Howerton and R. Overwater [Ed.] (2017)

April 2, 2020

While picking up a bunch of books last year’s at Can-Con I was piqued by the magnificent cover art of Tall Tales of the Weird West and more so the subject matter. While I enjoy a good western movie every now and then, I’ve never read any western literature, nor have I felt particularly inclined to up until then. But throw in the word “Weird” in the title and I was immediately open to the possibilities and so decided to take this one for a ride.

Here’s a quick recap of the stories and a summary.

The First Rodeo  (Jackson Lowry)

When a bunch of rowdy ranchers stop for some grub and a drink at a saloon diner the tall tales about the “first rodeo” start flying as each of the boys try to outdo each other and vie for bragging rights.  But the humble host of this diner has his own version of that first rodeo and he has the boys beat by far. Time wise that is.

 

Bloodhound (C. Courtney Joyner)

A lazy and scared sheriff decides to deputize the young office sweep to capture a killer rather than doing the job himself. Taking the challenge to heart and every ounce of puny energy he can muster leads the deputy on a five day hunt for a prey that is no mere killer. Not even human really.

 

Rosie’s Chicken and Waffles (El Cuchillo)

Barricaded against an attack by a swarm of chupacabras, Zeke can only think of his beloved Rosie. But can he get back to the safety of the woods before they git I’m? Gotta admit, if nothing else this certainly qualifies as a weird story.

 

The Gifts of a Folding Girl (Scott S. Phillips)

A pair of half-wits are held up in a cabin by a posse outside and must rely on some magic dust one of ‘em got from a Navajo gal. Of course with that kind of tribal juju it all comes down to the incantation, so you really don’t want to make a bad choice of words.

 

You Are the Blood (Brady Cole)

Short, rather uninspiring tale about a kid holed up with his “master” vampire as a town of fangsters have Cowboys roll in to clean up.

 

Dinner in Carcosa (Allan Williams)

A post-Depression insurance adjuster finds a barn to hole up in for the night with his companion horse when he is surprised to find an entire family living in a previously missed house right next door. I found it to be a very engaging story but with a rather abrupt ending.

 

Cold Eggs and Whiskey (R. Overwater)

Relying on neither any classic theme or monster, yet is both weird and horrific. A wandering dandy who stays around when a train accident leaves him stranded in a small town. Earning room and board from a widow and her son, a relationship develops. But something is amiss. This slow brewing story has a great ending to a novel ailment. Despite a problematic chronology, it’s one of the best stories in the lot.

 

Death is Daily (Craig Garrett)

A nice story in which ogres both live with and battle mankind. One particular ogre comes to live with a widow and her son – yeah, two stories in a row with a widow and son – as he contemplates whether he has a soul and if he is doomed to damnation. The most lovable ogre since Schrek.

 

The Horse Always Gets it First (Axel Howerton)

Booze runner and his horse on the run are backed into a canyon corner when they come across an alien spaceship. But this is not an alien story at all. But they do find something in the ship that will transform them. This is as much the horse’s story as it is his “master” who, it turns out isn’t his master at all. So says the horse. This one will pull a bit on heart strings.

 

You’ll notice many odd things about this anthology edited by Axel Howerton and R. Overwater not the least of which they both have their own contributing stories. But that is explained somewhat in the afterword including a claim that a large number of authors here (supposedly ‘big names’) have opted to use nom-de-plumes instead.  Regardless, the werewolves, vampires, zombies and others offer a heck of a lot more that befit the “Weird” and I think everyone will find most of these enjoyable.

Published by Coffin Hop Press – the same folks who brought us Rocket Ryder & Little Putt-Putt Go Down Swinging – I should point out that the lovely cover art I mentioned (and shown here) was created by Tom Bagley, is that of the 2nd edition.

Movie Reviews 429 – Mildred Pierce (1945)

March 26, 2020

Film Noir fans are all too familiar with the cliché beginning of a movie in which someone is shot (often in the dark), uttering a name or phrase, and then dying in a pool of (unseen on screen) blood, leaving audiences to figure out the murderer. In the case of Mildred Pierce, the man who dies whispers “Mildred”, is indeed her husband, and we see her fleeing the beach house scene of the crime, even managing to lock in someone who arrived minutes later with the hopes to pin them to the murder. Cliché aside however, nothing is as it seems, or to be precise, nobody is really as they seem in this Noir classic.

Starring in the title role, Mildred Pierce not only revived Joan Crawford’s then flailing career but earned her an Oscar, all later to be undone with the release of her daughter’s book and the film Mommie Dearest. But that’s another story.

Playing largely as one lifelong flashback we see how doting mother Mildred separates from her first husband Bert (Bruce Bennett) after he loses his job, makes do with a job as a waitress – much to the chagrin of her vain daughter Veta (Ann Blyth) – and with the help of Wally (Jack Carson) her former husband’s business partner, slowly builds a chain of successful restaurants. Eventually falling for and marrying wealthy heir Monte (Zachary Scott), her one driving force was devotion to her daughters Kay and Veta. When Kay sadly dies at a young age, all her attention, and money, go to Veta’s happiness.

Now putting all that into context of the murder. The victim is her husband Monte, Wally is the one Mildred briefly tries to entrap to take the rap, and Bert, her first husband surprisingly and out of nowhere turns himself in and confesses. Mildred is stunned to find that she isn’t even a suspect. In trying to solve the murder mystery none of this makes sense taken at face value. But taken from a different angle, largely hinted at throughout the film as the characters are peeled back to reveal their true dispositions (hint: often the opposite of what we believe at first), in the end everything makes sense as the killer is revealed.

Crawford donning her signature epaulette shouldered dresses is remarkably solid, although I confess I thought she was even better in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?. While I can’t say the script was anything stellar, the story itself and the manner in which the mystery is built up does make this a riveting film. Welcome additions include Eve Arden (better known for her sitcom Our Miss Brooks) as a feisty waitress who works up the ranks in Mildred’s enterprise and Butterfly McQueen as Mildred’s servant.

My Warner.- Turner 2005 DVD with remastered transfer also contained the documentary Joan Crawford: The Ultimate Movie Star on the flip side, which I would also heartily recommend for those wanting to learn more of this former diva. Almost as long as the movie but well worth it for details on her legendary feud with arch rival Bette Davis alone.

Model build: Aurora Godzilla

March 19, 2020

Every boy growing up in the seventies built plastic models at some point or another – now a lost art of sorts – and I was no exception. Aside from the usual selection of cars and planes, for a science fiction and horror geek like myself the coveted models were the Aurora series of monsters. The first one of those that managed to get my grubby little hands on was either the Creature from the Black Lagoon or the ‘Glow in the Dark’ Godzilla. (I can’t be sure exactly which but I know these were my first two.)

With nostalgia and ‘rarity’ of these models today, prices for original, unbuilt kits have been in the stratosphere for years. Thankfully, licensed re-issues by companies like Polar Lights and Playing Mantis have made some of them accessible in recent years. My luck in acquiring one of those was even better about 15 years ago when I stumbled upon a pile of Aurora 2000 re-issue Godzilla kits for an incredible measly $5. I knew even then that it would be ‘a while’ before I got to build it, but finally managed to get to it these last few months, sparing a few minutes here and there.

Unboxing the kit revealed bright green molded parts with two extras (upper right arm and “Godzilla” placard) and none missing.

Unboxing kit

Now as much as I love these kits in their “out of the box’” design, they do have a number of shortcomings that become noticeably visible when looking at the model from anything but a front view. Forgivable for a young builder but I knew I wanted a number of modifications to suit my tastes. For better or worse, here are the details of my long awaited Godzilla build, or re-build to be more precise.

While pretty decent in terms of body and scenery this kit has a few unfortunate design aspects when it comes to the head in particular. The eyes are bad enough but even worse is the V shaped head top. Looking nothing like any of the dozens of Godzilla film variants, I knew that I would tackle that first, and luckily this was an easy fix with a few layers of putty, then ‘raking’ over the last layer to try to get some of the lizard skin texture back.  I forgot to take a good ‘before’ profile photo to provide comparison with my finished head so you’ll just have to trust me that it looks a lot better.

Next up was the mouth which did not have an upper palate. This was remedied with a cutout plastic that roughly followed the counters along the inner ‘teeth’ line held place with some foam backing until it was secured with epoxy to which I was even able to give some texture before it completely dried. Another easy fix really.

Palate buildup

The one thing that immediately becomes noticeable as you change from anything other than a front view is that a number of the background damaged buildings are hollow without even any roof, much less floors in between. While some like the rightmost buckled steeple-top look great as is, others are mere unfilled, open ended ‘boxes’. Worse, those that had openings in the middle also had lower building sections that were empty clear to the base. To remedy these deficiencies I used temporary foam cubes to glue in appropriately sized plastic rectangles, slightly recessed to create exposed floors. Then, to add even a bit more realism, I added a few walls on those. Now I realized that the walls I added did not conform to the relative size (I’m not that good) but it certainly looked better than before.

Buildings

For Godzy himself I decided to putty and texture the areas where the arms and legs join the torso since the sharp angles did not make anatomical sense. The hardest part was trying to match the texture of the rest of the body, which was not uniform to begin with.

Front and back views (completed)

When it came to painting I was faced with one of the more controversial aspects in the Godzillaverse. Is Godzilla grey or green? Portrayals vary in licensed materials and even in some of the films. While the licensed creations tend to be green variants, most of the films stick to the drab grey and so I opted for that, although I confess I’m still mulling that decision. With a grey primer giving me a nice base a few darker washes seemed to suffice. Had I been a bit more experienced I would have added selective shading, but I’m not there yet.

Side views (completed)

The buildings presented some unexpected challenges in paint selection. I wanted to use common building colors but that makes the diorama rather dull especially with Godzilla being a grey behemoth already. Aside from the usual washes and dry brushing I added flames and embers and smoke blackened a few areas. I coated the ‘fire’ hotspots with some Pledge to add some gloss. Thankfully the last addition, the “Godzilla” placard display allowed me to give the final build a bit of much needed vibrancy.

In the end, I think I was partially successful in what I aimed to make but happy enough with the results. Still a bunch of areas I could improve on, but learned a few things along the way and had fun building it.

Hope you liked it and I am looking forward to comments and critique (I can not only take it, but need it) to improve my still limited model building skills.