Movie Reviews 465 – The Wizard of Oz (1939)

January 15, 2021

I have to confess that I’ve never watched The Wizard of Oz until now. To some this may sound shocking given its popularity and taking into consideration my fondness for all things quirky and surreal, especially science fiction. Part of my disinterest is because it is such a famous film and original story and, as such, I’ve been exposed to snippets, stills and general discussions regarding the film as well as homages and parodies for as long as I can remember. It almost felt like I had seen it without actually sitting through a viewing. Other factors that have fuelled my indifference include the adolescent target audience of the story (it is based on a series of children’s books), and the fantasy aspects as I’ve always been more a fan of (hard) science fiction and horror when it comes to genres. Lastly and more tellingly, this film is a musical above all else, which again is not my cup of tea when it comes to films. (I have never watched The Sound of Music either to put it in context.)

Given its universal awareness, I won’t bother retelling the salient aspects of the story because it would be a wasted effort for the most part. Suffice it to say: Little girl Dorothy (Judy Garland) living on remote Kansas farm is swept up in a tornado with her dog Toto, land in a surreal fairy tale territory with Munchkins and wicked witches (Margaret Hamilton), acquires a set of ruby slippers and is soon joined by a cowardly lion (Bert Lahr), scarecrow without a brain (Ray Bolger) and tin man lacking a heart (Jack Haley) as they all follow a yellow brick road in search of a wizard overlord of sorts. Google the rest to fill in the blanks.

What I can say now having watched it is that, as suspected, there was not much new for me to enjoy. I had already seen the entire Munchkin sequence at some point or another and in fact was surprised that there was only that one sequence. I was under the impression that there would be a lot more than what amounts to little more than a song and dance routine. As for those ‘songs and dances’ for the movie as a whole it appears that with the exception of one (the tin man introduction), I had also already seen and heard them all. Not surprisingly, the one sequence I never saw was the weakest, which may explain why I had never come across it. The only major scenes that have never come up in film documentaries and such was the final meeting with the wizard, which was fairly anticlimactic given the lengthy build up to it. (Spoiler Alert: the Wizard was not omnipotent after all and does little more than give everyone a pat on the head.)

On a positive note, I can easily see why the film is so beloved to some, especially given the era it was released and the state of film-making at the time. The sets are glorious and imaginative and are as colorful as ever. I should point out here that my DVD was the 70th Anniversary  edition which was released after a lengthy, exhaustive restoration, and discussed in a featurette on the set. (No, I did not try out the ‘sing along’ feature on the DVD.) Even the makeup and special effects sequences (flying helmeted apes!) still hold up.

One aspect that I reflected on as I watched was how the film has been so ingrained in the arts and media, more so than I realized. Aside from some of the obvious attributions, my previous review of Zardoz in the post prior to this post one being one, and Under the Rainbow a bit earlier (both of which reminded me I should finally get around to watch Oz proper), there were some I had not really picked up on before. Only now do I see how the H.R. Pufnstuf kiddie show was a riff on Oz in so many ways. Or how the animated voice of Snagglepuss was just an imitation of Bert Lahr’s lion. (Truth be told, Bert Lahr used that voice and intonation all the time, so the lion was really Bert, not the other way around).

The question that I sought to answer when I watched this, namely do I ‘Need’ to see this, comes down to a resounding No. I was not bedazzled or surprised by anything I saw. There was little that was new, and those parts were not particularly entertaining. That is not to say it was a bad movie in any way, rather a victim of its own success, the pervasive media references slicing away at the significance of the film.

Oddly (to add one more oddity to such an odd movie to begin with), my DVD set has another film, The Dreamer of Oz, on the second, extra disc. This was a 1990 TV movie based on the life of L. Frank Baum who wrote Oz. I do recall watching it at the time, one surprising sequence of how Baum got to call it “OZ” being particularly unforgettable. I honestly have more interest in rewatching that than The Wizard of Oz.

One final note. The famous line “Click your heels three times and say ‘There’s no place like home.’ “ has much less of an impact in our current pandemic homebound state.

Movie Reviews 464 – Zardoz (1974)

January 8, 2021

While saddened upon hearing of the passing of Sean Connery this year, what first passed in my mind was not any of his acclaimed notable performances, or even his iconic suave James Bond big screen debut. Instead, the first thing that came to mind was a ponytailed Connery brandishing a bandolier in knee high boots and wearing not much more than a flaming red loincloth in Zardoz, one one the funkiest Science Fiction movies of the ’70s.

This vision by writer/director John Boorman (who gave us Point Blank and Deliverance before this), it is set in a post-apocalyptic divided Earth where the downtrodden masses are enslaved and hunted by an army of barbaric, horse-riding ‘Brutals’ who idolize their god, Zardoz. As seen in the opening sequence, Zardoz is a massive stone head that floats down from the clouds and spews guns and ammunition through it’s gaping mouth to the Brutals so that they can continue to subjugate the destitute slaves. In return the Brutals load the head with food grown by the slaves, a cycle that continues periodically.

Zed (Connery) is an inquisitive Brutal who questions the order of things and hides within Zardoz to learn the truth after such a resupply visit . As Zardoz journeys skyward Zed comes out of hiding and finds an oddly clothed figure at the rim of the stone lip who he subsequently kills. Upon the stone landing Zed finds himself in an advanced society village of intellectuals . These ‘Eternals’ debate as to whether Zed should be studied, or as Consuella (Charlotte Rampling) urges, killed. Zed learns of other groups living with the Eternals such as the Renegades (elderly Eternals who have lost their way) and the Apathetics who are nothing more than shuffling zombies in a trancelike state.

The Eternals, immortal and who regenerate from new embryos upon death, are themselves infertile. We also learn that the Eternal that Zed killed earlier while riding the stone Zardoz was in fact leading on Zed to learn about the past. By guiding him to rummage through old buildings, in particular a library, Zed learned the true meaning of “Zardoz” but blocked it from his mind.

This is a great new age film and clearly a product that could only have been made in the psychedelic ’70s. While a bit heavy handed and confusing in terms of philosophical message, the novelty alone makes it worth watching. Filled with ambiguous monologues and diatribes – ” Zardoz, your God who gave you the gift of the gun. The gun is good. The penis is evil. ” –  we still get the gist of it all and it does prance along (sometimes with topless female riders) at a pace quick enough to be entertaining. As fascinating to watch as it is bizarre, it’s a bit of an acid trip worthy of doctor Timothy Leary. (“Turn on, tune in, drop out.” and all that.)

While my DVD did feature a commentary track by Boorman that I’m sure I would have enjoyed to hear and learn what the point was for many of the more bizarre scenes, I really wasn’t up to watching the whole thing over again, so that’ll have to wait for another day. The only other ‘extra feature’ of note was some of the old radio ads. While I never really bother with those radio ads, I was curious in this case and was glad I did. The familiar sounding voice turned out to be none other than Rod Serling, which I found to be remarkably fitting.

 

Model Build: Toybiz Hulk

January 4, 2021

This is another model from the “it’s cheap and will be a good kit for learning” category and that latter portion turned out to be quite prophetic as there certainly was a lot of learning going on. For starters, this was my first try at airbrushing. This ‘cheap’ Hulk kit also provided a number of obstacles, some of which I was able to overcome successfully, others that I will be better prepared to tackle next time.

Known more for their line of action figure toys, this Toy-Biz model was from a line of 1:12 Marvel characters kits put out in the late 90’s which included Thor, Wolverine, Rhino, Venom, Storm, Captain America, The Beast, and two different molds of Spider Man. While I can’t comment on most of the others, the fact that I found and bought not only this Hulk but also the Captain America kit going for $5 at Walmart within a year of their release speaks for itself.

Just looking at the box art it is clear that there are aspects to the figure detail left to be desired. Even for a face like the Hulk’s that is supposed to be ‘ugly’, this particular face mold would have benefited from some much needed prettying up. But at that price it was too hard to resist and seemed perfect for me to practice with a few things, most notably using the aforementioned airbrush for the first time.

With only 25 parts in total including the circular base, the build is fairly straightforward with little need for instructions. The one thing that neither the instructions nor the box picture were clear on was the placement for some of the background accessories but that was easily remedied by some online references to other built kits. As far as fit was concerned the pieces were surprisingly well aligned except for one area and that was where the feet join the legs. As the feet positions on the base are clearly defined, gluing the legs to the feet in those exact positions exposed some serious gaps. I used some regular glue to first have those fit together and then supplemented the joints with bondo and later Tamiya putty. I learned that too much bondo, while a great, strong filler for smaller gaps, can easily be susceptible to hairline fractures which is exactly what I got later when trying to glue the completed figure to the base. Luckily my hairline crack was exactly that, hairline thin, so hardly noticeable, and I was able to apply Tamiya Extra Thin glue to seep into the fracture. I guess you can say the “Achilles Heel” of this kit is more like an “Achilles Ankle”.

For painting I primed everything with some left over ‘rattle can’ primer, and then started airbrushing (all Tamiya acrylics) the body with a black preshading.

While worried that the preshading was too aggressive the first coat of green on the body looked great which was a huge relief to me. Unfortunately I soon learned that the second coat almost wiped out all the preshading which I eventually had to go back and airbrush over the base green. The second color was the purple pants which I applied after covering the areas to remain green, including my first use of Silly Putty as a mask on the holes in his pants. I did not use tape as a mask but learned that there are limits to using the Silly Putty for smaller protrusions that need masking. So not perfect but not bad for my first attempt.

 

 

The next thing I painted was the white shirt. Here I learned my most valuable lesson. Tamiya paints are really not good for brushing. The first strokes are fine but the problem is that any stroke over paint already laid down creates immediate ripples. I had to wait for the paint to dry, applying one brush stroke at a time, and repeat only after waiting to dry again. I also thought I could easily touch up airbrushed areas with a brush but could immediately tell the difference between the two. I later did my best to blend in touched up areas with some Pebeo acrylics that I mixed on a ‘wet pallet’ box I made. Again, not perfect but it did look a bit better than the first touch up with the Tamiya right out of the jar.

All the accessories and the base were painted using cheap craft acrylic paints with both washes and some dry brushing. I tried various different colors and tones for the rocks for as much variety as possible and they came out great. I added some sand over PVC glue to some areas of the base and tint of greed for mosses and a few actual dried mosses. I could not figure out whether the pedestal looking structure on the right side of the base was supposed to be a broken lamppost or something else so I tried variations of white and grey until I got a look I liked. (I still can’t quite figure out what that is supposed to be.)  While most builders opt to paint the bent metal construction “I” beam at the back grey, I knew right away that I wanted mine “rust red” (the color they are manufactured in) to which I then added my own rust, both as washes and dry brushing. I found many references online of people creating their own rust application by soaking a ball of steel wool with vinegar and made a batch of that. I found that the vinegar alone did not do the job as quickly as some sources claimed so I added salt to the mixture which did the trick. After letting my batch of DIY rust decompose it was good enough for some light touches on my “I” beam. It’s unfortunate that it is hidden at the back of the model like that and I briefly considered repositioning it to be more prominent, but in the end gave in to the intended spot.

To finish off I just applied Tamiya semi-gloss clear.

I can’t say I’m thrilled with the end result but it does look better than some of the pictures here. The pictures obscure some of the detail in the shirt which looks completely white no matter how I tried lighting and camera settings. I hope to make a simple camera ‘light box’ for better pictures in the future.

 

Movie Reviews 463 – The Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954)

December 30, 2020

I already discussed in my review of The Invisible Man the so called ‘second tier’ of classic Universal studios monsters after the triumvirate of Frankenstein, Dracula and The Wolfman. Not only does The Creature From the Black Lagoon fit into that second tier, but many fans consider it the top second banana so to speak, superior to its peers, even The Mummy.

Based loosely on folklore of a reputed man-fish in the amazon, the story was conceived by the movie’s producer and was released in both 3D and regular formats as the novelty of 3D was wanning. It was an instant hit that spawned (see what I did there?) two successive sequels each following year. While the film series was short lived, the ‘gill-man’ has remained a consistent cult mainstay ever since.

A geological expedition comes across a fossilized webbed hand and upon being presented to marine biologist Dr. David Reed (Richard Carlson), he is able to convince his boss Dr. Williams (Richard Denning) to back an expedition deep into the amazon jungle. Joined by Reed’s assistant and girlfriend Kay (Julie Adams), the expedition hires out an old, worn-out trawler operated by a salty captain. Upon some of the hired hands being attacked right at the beginning, the captain tells the academics of reputed sightings of a living relic of the prehistoric creature.

Once they get to the lagoon it becomes clear that Williams is not as interested in study of the creature but more the monetary benefits of bringing him back alive. The creature not only proves to be elusive but equally intelligent and the expedition soon finds themselves as the prey rather than being the hunters.

The film is known for some of it’s great underwater scenes, the most notable featuring the blissfully unaware Adams lithely swimming and doing acrobatic maneuvers while the creature is mere inches away and swimming in parallel. The design of the reptilian monster is all the more admirable given that it had to be underwater most of the time, and in fact seems out of place in the few scenes it is on land, which is how it should be. There are some nice touches like seeing the pulsating gills and an inflating/deflating mouth when breathing above water and even the glazed look in it’s beady eyes when immobile, much like a frog.

The plot has a bit of a throw-in challenge to Reed’s affections for Kay by Williams and a hint of a Beauty and the Beast angle, but thankfully those are not dwelled upon. There is a bit of scientific analysis punted around to validate the creature’s existence but the main events are clearly the battle of wits and muscle between the party and the creature.

The legacy of the creature is still going strong today, most recently by Guillermo del Toro who upon seeing this film decided he wanted to make his variant of the gill-man. The resulting The Shape of Water not only sweeped Oscar nominations in 2018, but won the coveted pinnacle Best Picture award (as well as Best Director for del Toro and two other Oscars).

My viewing of this DVD was from the Universal Monsters Legacy box set so I was able to watch the sequels Revenge of the Creature and The Creature Walks Among Us, the latter being a creature morphing into a human. The rule of declining returns applies to these sequels, but I still found them entertaining when taken with a bit of salt. Perhaps salt-water in this case.

Canadian Dreadful – David Tocher [Ed.] (2019)

December 27, 2020

I picked up the Canadian Dreadful horror anthology the last time I was at a convention (remember those gatherings we used to have in the pre-pandemic ‘before days’?). I always like to have a few non Stephen King short stories around and having and reading Canadian centric ones seemed perfect for these non-personal interaction times.

If the title and the awesome ‘skullified’ fall maple leaf were in any way unclear, this is strictly Canadian horror by Canadian authors. While all the stories are set somewhere in Canada and the many nooks and crannies in between, or A Mari usque ad Mare (that’s “From sea to sea” for those of you who failed both Canadian history and Latin classes). These locale connections are tenuous at best, not more than a mention in the stories, and not especially significant or essential to any story plot. Still a nice touch to ground them somewhat.

I can truthfully say that I enjoyed them all without even one klunker in the bunch. Most do fall more in the realm of ‘dread’ rather than true ‘horror’ making the title particularly apropos.

Here are my very brief, one liner descriptions/reviews to give but a taste of what to expect.

 

Aranzazu Banks (Robin Rowland)

A part-Cthulian terror grips a man and his cat in a boat off the coast of Prince Rupert. Beware the beauty of bioluminescence.

 

Centre Ice (Caitlin Marceau)

What if Shirley Jackson were a Hockey Night in Canada fan? The fate of a small town hockey team’s winning streak depends on who is running the arena concession stand. Probably the most Canadian in content as few others can understand the importance and social influence of minor hockey teams for small towns.

 

His Cold Coffin (Tyner Gillies)

Just a hint of a ghostly appearance in this tale of friendship between a recently fallen man and his best friends. Not dreadful in the sense of horror but rather in the sense of friendships lost and found.

 

Memories of Miss Mindy Tulane (Jen Frankel)

In this second nautical oriented tale a woman who sees ghosts is drawn to an antique shopkeeper with the answer to many of her questions. Draws upon both the Titanic and Halifax disasters.

 

Nowhere Time (Pat Flewwelling)

A lost young woman’s ethereal wandering intersects with memories of loved ones long gone. Both haunting and touching.

 

Rebecca Raven (David Tocher)

A young man on a trip remembering his lost love reluctantly picks up a hitchhiker gets drawn into the reverie of First Nations legend and dark truths.

 

Relentless (Repo Kempt)

A ghostly tale of two best Inuit friends and a hunting trip gone tragically wrong. Chilling in temperature and tone, a friendship can only go so far.

 

Sins of the Father (Colleen Anderson)

Finding out your father was a serial killer is bad enough, but what do you do when you find that your desire to make it up for it to mankind manifests as an irresistible supernatural power? Distinctly different in tones, the great start but goes a bit astray at the end.

 

Snow Angel (Nancy Kilpatrick)

Simple yet chilling story of a woman’s survival in the remote northern wilderness after being stranded in a snowbound camper when tragedy compounds the situation. Canadian horror veteran Kilpatrick delivers an icy cold reality.

 

The Delivery Boy (Judith Baron)

Even a simple pizza delivery can turn into a nightmare when the destination is a ghostly derelict house with a witchy customer intent on satisfying her mandrake daughter’s desires. Decidedly a lighter side of horror with nice comedic touch.

 

The Mansion (Karen Dales)

Things go bump into the night as the restaurant manager of a former Victorian mansion tries to get some last minute work done. Or should I say last minutes?

 

Two Trees (Vanessa C. Hawkins)

Extreme poverty, murder and Merfolk at the foot of the Bay of Fundy. Chilling but not at the hands of the mystical creatures as you would expect.

 

Stag and Storm (Sara C. Walker)

More fantasy than horror, a tale of literal broken hearts, a lost soul and the true ruler of a remote forest and its critters.

 

The Sound of Passing Traffic (Joe Powers)

An ill advised shortcut leaves a driver stranded to face the elements and wildlife which happens to include a Sasquatch-like creature. My only problem with this story is the misconception of how GPS systems work and their non-reliance on cell networks.

Model Build: Model Build: Hobby Craft Co-Rupt

December 22, 2020

Not a great kit and not a great build, but I thought I’d post this blog on my Hobby Craft Co-Rupt model if only because this is such an obscure kit and very little can be found online about it, much less detailed pictures. Other than a few minor touches, I essentially completed this model nearly nine months ago, but those ‘minor touches’ proved to be a larger pain in the neck than anticipated.

As I explained in my previous post regarding my “RAM” build, this model was acquired at the same time in the mid 90’s and is another from the same line of the Hobby Craft ‘Net Warriors’ series. These cheap kits are poorly molded and only passable in terms of fit. While I only recently set myself up with an airbrush and all the paints and accessories needed for that, this one was done by hand brushing craft acrylic paints with the exception of the use of cheap ‘rattle can’ metallic spray for the primary blue basecoat.

The pictures I managed to snap do obscure some of the detail and at least the actual completed model does look better in reality.

One of the things that bothered me was that despite this kit having one optional articulated arm for an alternate pose, it only has one implement, that ‘gun’, to have the figure hold within its hands. While not bothersome in itself, it did mean that the other hand would have a gaping empty hole within the fist which clearly implies something missing. I thought it would be easy to kitbash some sort of technical instrument to put into the one idle hand but whatever I tried just did not come off right and I eventually gave up. Luckily, I can someday revisit it and cobble up something to put in there in the future.

Not including the base, the only real mod that I did include was the addition of a transparent ‘window’ to the searchlight atop the figure’s helmet. While not shown on the box art, this kit surprisingly came with a little girl to accompany the mecha-waldo robot. My biggest problem with this kit was how to handle the humans, as their faces had barely any facial protrusions, and were nothing more than flat surfaces for eyes that needed to be painted on.  I’m sure the intent was to have oversized Manga/Anime eyes but I certainly did not want that. I did my best but knew that it would be the weakest point as my free-hand painting skills, especially on such a small scale are abominably poor. Luckily the helmet can be closed to obscure the operator figure and the girl is optional can be eliminated completely.

I found a decent flat rock to use as a ‘wall’ for the diorama, sprinkled glued various sand mixtures and dried moss, and just added touches of color to both. The robot and figures have both washes and dry brushing to give a little more realism. I intended to add a ‘tree’ overhanging the figure and even collected a few bush-like flowering tree seed pods but after drying them out their shapes just weren’t a good fit.  Had the model been more detailed I would have added more weathering and ‘rust’ effects, but in the end I decided it was just not worth it for this poor kit.

Movie Reviews 462 – The Guns of Navarone (1961)

December 18, 2020

There is a long list of World War II movies that are considered classics such as The Great Escape, The Dirty Dozen and Stalag 17, all favorites of mine that I can rewatch over and over. While I had heard of The Guns of Navarone many times over the years, I only got my hands on a DVD recently in order for me to finally judge where this entry sits on that illustrious list.

Based on an early Alistair Maclean novel and loosely based on the real life Battle of Leros, the film storyline is essentially one of those daring,near-impossible missions foisted on a small group of soldiers in an act of desperation. In this case about 2000 British soldiers on the island of Kheros in the Aegean Sea find themselves cut-off and surrounded by Axis forces about to bear down on them. What prevents the Allied forces from rescuing the men are the titular guns of Navarone, two mighty radar controlled cannons. A small fleet is dispatched to rescue the men but that hinges on the guns being put out of commision and failure to do so would not only end with the capture of the stranded troops, but decimation of the rescue convoy.

A team is quickly assembled to take out the guns before the rescue ships arrive. Led by a Major (Anthony Quayle) the crux of the team consists of Captain Mallory (Gregory Peck) whose mountaineer skills are required to tackle the first hurdle, a daunting 400 foot sheer drop cliff and Cpl Miller (David Niven) as the explosives expert for the coup-de-grâce upon reaching their target. If dealing with a suicide mission were not bad enough for Mallory, he also learns that another member will be Andrea Stavros (Anthony Quinn), a man that has sworn to kill Mallory because of a previous operation.

The mission is filled with surprises, suspicions, unexpected setbacks that continually have the team scurrying. After their intended contact on the island has been replaced by the contact’s daughter (Irene Papas) and another mute resistance fighter (Gia Scala), they must advance by blending in with the local Greeks amid a wedding feast in the village plaza. At every turn, the Germans seem to be one step ahead, but who, if anyone, is the traitor among them?

As is often the case, the people working behind the scenes are as interesting as the films they make. Producer and screenplay writer Carl Foreman was one of the blacklisted victims of the McCarthy era Hollywood witch hunts which forced him to immigrate to England. There he worked on Bridge over the River Kwai based on the book by Pierre Boulle the original author of the Planet of the Apes novel. Director J. Lee Thomson would later go on to direct the last two installments of the original Planet of the Apes franchise, the first film screenplay having been written by Michael Wilson, yet another Hollywood blacklisted writer.

It took me a while to appreciate the nuances of what first starts out as a cookie-cutter thriller but by the end I was impressed with the layers of treachery and deceit and action filled finale.

I followed-up this viewing with the 1978 sequel Force 10 from Navarone starring Harrison Ford and Robert Shaw. While not nearly as endearing as the original it did bring back some of the memorable characters from the first.

Movie Reviews 461 – 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)

December 11, 2020

It’s hard to imagine the impact of the release of Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea today, but to say that it was a game changer at the time is an understatement. While most people know that Walt Disney started the company with the release of his animation shorts and later feature length animation films like Fantasia and Cinderella, it was always a dream of his to make a live action film and this was his first and the biggest gamble by the studio by far. Not only was it going to be in color (an expensive innovation at the time), but he spared no expense in getting a headline cast and making sure that all the marvels including underwater footage, a lavish submarine set and incredible creatures, not only looked stunning but credible at the same time. And it nearly bankrupted the studio.

Adapting the Jules Verne classic novel, the first thing they needed to do was to develop an actual plot from the source material which was largely a sequence of short meandering adventure episodes without any actual arching story. I read the book as a young teen and enjoyed it in that capacity but even my fogged recollections fail at any discernible story.

Beginning in Victorian era San Francisco, the resulting screenplay has sailors spouting tales of a sea monster as the explanation for a recent mysterious string of missing ships. In search of an answer, an expedition is led by a professor Aronnax (Paul Lukas) and his trusty apprentice Conseil (Peter Lorre). On the brink of giving up after months of fruitless searching their ship is suddenly attacked and the two academics along with Ned (Kirk Douglas), a fearless harpooner, are taken aboard the ‘monster’ submarine Nautilus commanded by the brilliant and enigmatic Captain Nemo (James Mason).

While praise is lavished on Nemo for his marvelous submersible invention and other wonders within, Conseil and Ned quickly assess the captain’s aberrant rational state. Evidently a former prisoner along with his crew, Nemo has no qualms in taking innocent lives along as he metes out what he considers as justice to those guilty of killing his family after failing to coerce Nemo to reveal his secrets under torture. Now prisoners themselves, the trio have one last chance at freedom when Nemo visits Vulcania, his own hidden island.

While the entire cast all deliver fine performances the real star of the film is the retro-steampunk Nautilus and its dizzying array of meshing gears, riveted steel plates, brass machinery, portals, valves, and pumps. While primitive to today’s photography, the underwater footage was extraordinary at the time and remains captivating to watch due to the primitive diving apparatus.

I was able to get the dual DVD Special Edition set which contained a near feature length documentary on the history of the film and the many hurdles that had to be overcome which were almost as fascinating as the film. Genre fans will note the commentary from Forrest J. Ackerman, Bob Burns, artist Vince Difate, and writers Samuel Delaney and Greg Benford to name a few. As most of my interest lay in the actual design of the Nautilus itself I learned how art director Harper Goff threw together the design as an amalgam of a shark and alligator and the many varied sized Nautilus models and sets used for the film. It also had lots of information on the many locations used for filming, the intricate matte paintings made and problems associated with filming “Esmeralda” the seal.

One of the most prominent scenes in the film and featured on most variants of the movie poster is the battle with a giant squid clutching the deck of the submarine. The scene filmed with the original design of the creature turned out to be a disaster and it had to be redesigned from scratch at an enormous cost to an already bleeding budget. But the success of the film would be quashed with what they had so there was little choice to either seek additional funding or mothball the entire film at a great loss. Luckily they secured funding, the revamped squid looked great and upon release the film, the most expensive film ever made at the time, was a resounding success. For better or for worse, Disney has been making live action movies ever since. Had it been a failure Disney more than likely never would not have survived and we would have had a very different Hollywood mega-media corporate environment that we have today.

I must say that a few niggling aspects aside this film still stands the test of time and delivers both the adventure story it intended and now a nostalgic reminiscence as well.

Movie Reviews 460 – Innocent Blood (1992)

December 3, 2020

Comedies often resort to mixing elements that are immiscible, like oil and water, and having them collide to generate laughs.  Director John Landis was well versed and successful with the formula for such films as Trading Places (rich vs. poor) and Animal House (nobility vs. plebeians).  For Innocent Blood he cast a wider net and made a horror comedy in which a vampire accidentally transmogrifies a mobster kingpin to join the undead, and consequently raises the prospect of him passing on the superpowers that go along with being a bloodsucker onto his underlings and henchmen.

Marie (Anne Parillaud of La Femme Nikita fame) is a conscientious and benevolent vampire roaming the streets of Pittsburgh who carefully chooses her victims, sparing good souls and feasting only ‘less admirable’ human specimens. Venturing out onto the streets for new blood only when absolutely needed, she also makes sure her victims do not fully transform into vampires themselves and end up cursed as she is and creating more victims in their wake.

It is on such a feeding-time night stroll that she bumps into ‘wiseguy’ Gennaro (Anthony LaPaglia) as a group of mafiosi leave a restaurant. But sensing Gennaro’s inner righteousness she spares him, instead ending up getting a Limo ride from the don himself, “Sal the Shark” Macelli (Robert Loggia). She has no qualms taking a bite out of him when given the opportunity, but is interrupted before she can deliver a permanent death. Whisked to a mortuary and awaiting an official autopsy, Sal awakens and soon realizes that he no longer has to worry about hindrances like knives or bullets. He then latches onto the idea of turning his own men into vampires eventually creating an unstoppable ‘famiglia’.

Gennaro it turns out, is not a hood at all but an undercover cop who had been working for years to take down Sal’s operation. But recent events have exposed his infiltration and he now intends to fulfill his quest despite being thrown off the case. He finds a surprise helping hand from Maria trying to undo the damage her own actions have unleashed.

Interestingly this comedy sports an R rating, a rarity for that genre, due to scenes of Maria prancing totally nude. But if there were any doubts about it being a comedy the casting of Don Rickles as Sal’s legal beagle should put those thoughts to rest. Other offbeat casting choices that mirror the content include everyone’s favorite Muppetteer Frank Oz (with the unmistakable voice of Bert, Fozzie Bear and Yoda), a cameos by horror stars Dario Argento, Tom Savini, Linnea Quigley, Sam Raimi and even Forrest J. AckermanAngela Bassett plays Gennaro’s boss and you can also check out Tony Siroco, David Proval and Anthony Sisto as goombas long before they were reunited in similar roles in The Sopranos.

The casting is evidence of Landis’ reverence for horror cinema classics and those homages are also seen on the various background television sets playing horror classics throughout the film that you can enjoy as an added drinking game. There is plenty of carnage among the chuckles if any of the aforementioned weren’t enough to warrant a view.

Vampires can also learn a lesson or two such as if you’re going to eat “Italian”, watch out for that garlic.

Movie Reviews 459 – Samurai Fiction (1998)

November 27, 2020

Nobody will ever accuse Japanese filmmakers of not pushing boundaries and trying new things and Samurai Fiction is another fine example of that. The similarity in title to Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction is no coincidence although it has more in common with the maverick director’s Kill Bill duology. The primary homage of this black comedy however is for that country’s celebrated samurai films of old going back to the Akira Kurusawa classics, even going so far as to be filmed in black and white. With a bit of a twist of course.

The tale begins when a rogue samurai named Kazamatsuri (Tomoyasu Hotei) kills a fellow clan member and runs off with a coveted sword given to the clan by a shogun. The clan’s chief councilor is hesitant to send a recovery squad but his son Heishiro (Mitsuru Fukikoshi) and his two best friends decide to retrieve the sword themselves. The self proclaimed ‘Three Stooges’ catch up with Kazamatsuri and promptly get their collective asses whooped before a stranger can put a halt to the fight. The wounded Heishiro is taken in by the interloper Hanbei (Morio Kazama) and his daughter Koharu (Tamaki Ogawa) but only after one of Heishiro’s friends dies at the hand of Kazamatsuri. As Heishiro recuperates Kazamatsuri takes up with a den of gamblers run by Lady Okatsu (Mari Natsuki) who tries to lure him as a business partner. When word gets back to Heishiro’s father of Kazamuri’s whereabouts he sends two ninja assassins to try to get Okatsu to poison Kazamuri.

As you can see the plot is quite convoluted but the one outstanding question that never gets answered is why did Kazamatsuri steal the sword in the first place and why won’t he just give it back? The stark contrasts between the solemn Kazamatsuri persona and the flighty Heishiro is just a sample of what makes this film so odd and hard to peg. More interesting is the background of the noble Hanbei and his ‘daughter’ (note the quotes) which does get addressed. Fans in Japan would have instantly recognized the casting of Hotei, a celebrated rock star there, and unsurprisingly the musical soundtrack reflects that with rollicking guitar riffs overlaying the traditional taiko drums. Despite the Tarantino influence there is not a lot going on from a martial arts action point of view, what little fighting shown being almost slapstick in nature.

The opening credits include a ‘part 1’ subtitle which may have been another nod to Tarantino’s Kill Bill ‘parts’ but a ‘part 2’, Stereo Future was supposedly filmed a few years later although there doesn’t seem to be much information regarding its content, at least none that I could find and director Hiroyuki Nakano has since gone on to directing documentaries

One thing that had me stumped with a Matrix Red Pill, Blue Pill like choice was when I first opened my dual DVD case. The DVD sleeve, sparse to begin with, makes no mention of it at all but there staring me in the face were two discs exactly like one another except one with a red label and the other a white label. Even a quick online search eluded me as to what was the difference so I had to plop it into my player to confirm that it was just a bunch of extra features (“Making of”, trailers, etc) along with the colorized versions of some select scenes.

This was clearly a work of passion for the director, however I would say a tad overambitious. It’s not bad but not as polished as I was hoping.