Archive for the ‘Science Fiction’ Category

Movie Reviews 438 – The Andromeda Strain (1971)

June 13, 2020

The Andromeda Strain is one of those films that I can watch over and over again, and as it seemed it was on TV at least once a year back in the 2 channels only days, that was exactly what I did. Based on Michael Crichton’s first novel, this was also his first hit which ushered him in as the Hollywood science-writer wunderkind at the top of his game coming out with Westworld (as a screen play) and The Terminal Man in quick succession.

The film begins with a brief docu-drama preamble listing some pseudo-facts of scientists probing space for dust particles for study, but also also with a hint to biological-warfare research. With that as an introduction we then see two obvious government types spying on a very remote New Mexico town (population: 68) from afar. They are searching for a lost satellite when they notice that buzzards hovering over the town before they eventually venture in. Their last moments are recorded as dying screams over the radio.

This sets in motion Project Wildfire, a feared for and meticulously planned project to deal with the improbable but possible introduction of microscopic alien life on Earth. The brainchild of Dr. Jeremy Stone (Arthur Hill), he and a preselected chosen team of scientists are summarily rounded up and hauled to the secret Wildfire facility tucked away in the Nevada desert. There they are challenged to both find the particle and decipher the alien physiology as the clock ticks with the worry that it will spread across the globe before it can be contained.

The group consists of a feisty microbiologist (Kate Reid), a grandfatherly pathologist (David Wayne), and Dr. Hall (James Olson) a last minute backup replacement medical doctor who ends up being one of the most important given his marital status. For safety reasons, WIldfire is equipped with a failsafe nuclear bomb that is set to go off in the event of a contamination leak and based on the ‘odd man hypothesis’ should that alarm sound, only Dr. Hall has the capability to defuse the bomb.

If the tension among them solving the problem at hand weren’t enough, undisclosed medical issues, simple mechanical failures, communications disruptions, the cliché requisite decision needed by the president, and of course that bomb ready to blow ratchet the drama. More perplexing are the clues they have to work with, two surprising, yet seemingly complete opposite survivors found in the town. One is a newborn crying baby and the other is a semi-crazed old man. Both should be dead given the circumstance and yet the fact that they are alive prove that there is a solution to containing the organism.

This is a great techno-thriller that stands the test of time not only due to the realistic approach applied to science but by the all too real threat it presents. The production values spared no expense in creating a contemporary, yet highly advanced scientific complex that remains impressive watching it today. Moreover, most of the gadgetry and props are utilized within the plot and are not just added to impress us. The scientist undergo an admirably detailed, lengthy, multi-phase decontamination process as they descend through the complex, each successive lower level being biologically cleaner than the one above it. There are plenty of robotic remote manipulators, full body glove boxes, realistic successive video zoom magnifications, and some dazzling moving  three dimensional images of the life form. If it weren’t for the ancient teleprompter scrolls, teletypes and stencilled door markings.you’d hardly know this was a fifty year old film.

One thing that does belie it’s age is a number of shocking animal testing scenes with rats and rhesus monkeys. While many appear to die gruesome agonizing deaths, it seems that while they were really exposed to gases that knocked them out cold during filming, they did survive those scenes. Not for the squeamish for sure, but once again it does enhance the realism of the entire film.

The film plays with the notion that the entire ordeal was a byproduct of a military research operation into potential biological warfare weaponry and for added drama has a bit of a cop-out, open ended final scene. But the all too real scenario depicted, especially given this current pandemic, raises the spectre of a worse fate lest we not be prepared. One has to wonder if there really is a Wildfire lab somewhere out there. I hope so.

Movie Reviews 428 – Quatermass and the Pit (1967)

March 14, 2020

Historic Hammer studios became synonymous with horror for their prolific and highly successful Gothic films of that genre. But they also dabbled in a number of other categories – having roots in Film Noir no less – including science fiction, the most famous of those being their series of Dr. Quatermass films. Not surprisingly those films, based on the character of renowned scientist Dr. Bernard Quatermass, can fairly be called horror films with science fiction bases. Quatermass and the Pit, the third film in the series and the last one released theatrically, is considered by many – myself included – to be the best of the lot. As was the case for the previous Quatermass films (more on those later), the North American distribution removed the Quatermass name from the title, releasing it as Five Million Years to Earth.

Our story begins with a construction crew digging out a projected new subway station (or “Tube” as the locals now call it) in the heart of London. When they come across a few strange looking humanoid skeletal remains anthropologist Dr. Roney (James Donald) and his assistant Barbara (Barbara Shelley) are called in to assist with the removal and study of the specimens. With  commotion building over the controversial find due to their enlarged skulls, an on-site press conference is televised as the digging continues until workers encounter another metallic artifact.

Believing this to be some unexploded WWII ordnance (some of which still come up on occasion today) they call in the military expertise of Colonel Breen (Julian Glover) who at that very moment happened to be shooting down a pet project of Dr. Quatermass (Andrew Keir) in a ministers office. Despite Breen’s insistence that the metal is merely some old war relic the new find turns out to be impervious spaceship. As that investigation continues, Barbara and Quatermass research the history of the area which is found to have incurred sporadic outbursts of demonic visions by the residents through the ages.

A breakthrough is achieved when portions of the inner ship turns into a crystalline form and they recover three giant locust looking, decaying alien bodies. But there are no other clues other than some of those people working on or near the digs having visions and exhibiting loss of self control. Quatermass and Roney team up to use a state-of-the-art brain scanning apparatus wherein they are able to record a long ago war that was wagged on Mars. The significance of the find is shocking enough when they put all the pieces together, until they realize the sobering truth that the war is still ongoing.

While the film delivers thrills in many ways, some of the plot elements will induce head scratching unless a wide berth from any critical thinking. The special effects, while primitive and cheap, are at times impressive such as when the spaceship goes aglow with veined luminescence only to falter ineptly when showing obviously strung together ‘marching’ armies of aliens. And the high strung climax featuring mad mobs and high drama is idiotically resolved by basic electrical concept. And yet, this film manages to capture my imagination every time I watch it. The designs are daring even if they don’t live up to expectations. The grandiose meaning of the find and subsequent revelations are huge, even when they succumb to a mediocre resolution. If nothing else, you savour the best parts and thus can ignore the fragile framework.

For those who desire a greater taste of Quatermass, track down The Quatermass Xperiment and Quatermass 2 (respectively released as The Creeping Unknown and Enemy From Space for North American markets). Also keep in mind that these first three films were preceded by BBC serial teledramas which, while rarer, can be found on digital media. A fourth Quatermass TV film simply titled Quatermass was made in 1974, and another in 2005 but I have yet to see those, so you may want to check out other reviews first.

All based on Nigel Kneal original writing, I’d also recommend readers to seek out the published versions of the original scripts.

Movie Reviews 423 – Forbidden Planet (1956)

January 31, 2020

Ah, the classics! While Forbidden Planet is certainly one of the classics when it comes to 50’s Science Fiction films, the fact that it shares a number of elements from Shakepear’s The Tempest adds to its legitimacy to the term. Notably preceded by Destination Moon, Rocketship X-M and Conquest of Space as films that attempted to portray scientifically accurate depictions of future space travel, it nonetheless pushed a few boundaries forward and introduced us to  Robby, the first loveable (I liken him to a walking vintage washing machine) cinematic robot.

The story has the crew of Earth spaceship C-57D voyage to distant planet Altair IV with the aim to relieve the crew of a previous mission, only to find that the only remaining inhabitants are the evasive Dr. Morbius (Walter Pidgeon) and his striking daughter Altaira (Anne Francis). Morbius at first tries to convince the commander (Leslie Nielsen) that all is fine and dandy, and that they should just move. But then the encampment around the landed spaceship is breached by someone – or some thing – who managed to evade their security detail and destroy some of their equipment. Dr. Morbius soon confesses that an amazingly advanced society called the Krell long ago inhabited the planet leaving behind a vast underground city of running machines and contrivances whose functions Morbius has been trying to ascertain. Morbius himself was exposed to one of their devices that doubled his own cerebral functions. Adams explains that such a find needs to be studied by humanity but Morbius contends that mankind is not ready for this discovery and that he, and he alone, must study the treasure trove of knowledge left by the Krell. As Morbius battles with bouts of headaches, the encampment of the C-57D detect a creature visible only when it tries to make its way through the protective force field as the one that has been attacking them. The truth of what the creature represents is shocking in more ways than even Morbius could have imagined.

A film ahead of its time, Forbidden Planet presents a high brow concept using visually stunning sequences that stand up to this day. The color palette and background matte paintings by Henri Hillinck are reminiscent of Chesley Bonestell SF pulp art covers. The look and feel of most of the animated sequences and trick photography remain comparable in quality to modern CGi effects. While anyone today would swear that the acclaimed music score are feature sounds from a theremin (popular in the era), they were in fact created by specialized electronic circuitry (predating synthesizers) created and operated by Bebe and Louis Barren, and are prominently identified in the opening credits. And of course there is Robby the bubble headed robot with whirling gears, antennae, lights, grills, ribbed flex-hose arms which can only be described as a gimballed Vegas slot machine.

The film centers it story around Altaira, who having grown up with only Morbius as a guide, is innocent and naive to the ways of the world (and wearing skimpy clothing that must have been shocking in the 50’s). As the all male crew of the C-57D journeyed two years before arriving at Altair IV, most quickly ply their best pick-up lines on her. All except the commander who of course ends up being the one she falls for.

Highly recommend for Science Fiction aficionados, those who want something a little more intellectual than a simple BEM (Bug Eyed Monster) and perhaps Shakespearean scholars.

I should add that while perusing the extra features on my Warner 2010 Blu Ray release I was surprised to find that it included The Invisible Boy, a lower budget feature film that was released the next year in order to capitalize on the popularity of Robby.

January Movie Marathon – 2020 Edition

January 24, 2020

Time for my annual 31 Movies in 31 Days challenge that I’m glad to report was successful with one caveat. In past years these were January challenges where the movies had to be watched during the month alone. Suspecting that I would be a bit busier this year I cheated a bit by shifting the challenge to begin Christmas day,and gave myself 31 days from that point, so ending January 24th (today!), which also made more sense given that those interim days between Christmas and New Years are really prime relaxing viewing days. My suspicions were correct and even with the shift I just made my quota!

Unlike previous years where my movie viewing was across the gamut of genres and eras, my son and I decided to binge rewatch all the Harry Potter movies so the scale is slightly tipped in favour of those eight movies. But I think the others films preent are a nice variety regarding content and quality. In the order in which I watched them, here are my short reviews.

#1 – Dead Snow (2009) My second viewing of this Norwegian Nazi Zombie film was not as memorable as the first time I watched it at the Fantasia film fest years ago. A bunch of young adults shack up in a remote cabin for a few days of skiing the slopes when (surprise!) World War II era SS troops led by recalcitrant commandant disturb their snow bound vacation. Some fairly funny bits and I did love the Nazis popping out of the snow like Whack-a-Moles at and arcade.

#2 – The Pit and the Pendulum (1961)  As are all the Roger Corman Poe adaptations, this one is a very loose interpretation of the source material. But with Vincent Price and Barbara Steele headlining you really can’t go wrong. And damned if there really isn’t a pit and a giant human slicing pendulum in it and other interesting devices in a torture chamber.

#3 – Christmas with the Kranks (2004) Well I had to watch at least one Holiday film for this list, didn’t I? Sadly, there are a lot better than this one. Even Jamie Lee Curtis as the wife of a couple who decided to forego Christmas for a cruise couldn’t really raise my interest above “Meh.” Should have gone with other Christman movie standards like Die Hard, Gremlins, (Yes, those last two are Christmas movies!), A Christmas Story or It’s a Wonderful Life. I guess you could say this one left me Kranky.

#4 – Mommie Dearest (1981) The legacy of silver screen diva Joan Crawford is not so much her films as the events described in the tell-all book “Mommie Dearest” (adapted here) by her daughter after her death in which she revealed that her troubled childhood included beatings with coat hangers. It made headlines at the time and I can’t get it out of my mind that arch enemy Bette Davis must have loved every minute of it. Faye Dunaway nails it as Joan. (Disclaimer: No Nails were used in the beating of the children.)

#5 – Ransom (1996) Mel Gibson turns the cards on Gary Sinise, his son’s kidnapper by putting a ransom on his head rather than paying one, much to the surprise of his own wife (Rene Russo). A decent thriller although Mel is over the top at times as is the entire premise. Much better Gibson/Russo chemistry in Lethal Weapon 3 and Gibson is crazier in that one as well.

#6 – Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001) It’s been a long time since I watched the Harry Potter series. The first movie about the boy wizard, introduces us to Hogwarts, Dumbledore, Hagrid, Snape, McGonagall, those other meddling kids (Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley), a few muggles and not to forget: Quidditch!

#7 – The Night Strangler (1973) This was the second Kolchak TV movie before the The Night Stalker TV series. (I already watched The Night Strangler  pilot movie which started it all a month earlier). l Always wanted to watch the proto-X Files series and I’m finally getting around now 47 years later.  This one has Kolchak (Darrin McGavin) being aided by an exotic dancer (Jo Ann Pflug) solve the mystery of a recurring murderer popping up every few decades since the civil war.

#8 – Harry Potter and the Secret Chamber (2002) Harry, with the help of Ron, Hermione, Dobby the elf, Moaning Myrtle (not a porn star as you would be led to believe), and a book previously owned by Voldemont himself rescue Ron’s sister from the titular chamber. And of course more Quidditch!

#9 – Halloween (2019) I was very excited to hear that there would be another Halloween reboot after the dismal last entry in Rob Zombie’s reboot. The fact that Jamie Lee Curtis was returning in her original role sealed the deal. Now I have to admit that this was not as good as I had hoped and the slow, predictable start nearly had me give up on it entirely but stick with it to the end, bear some of the sillier aspects, and it does carve out a place for itself in the Halloween pantheon. At least it’s a lot better than some of the others.

#10 – The Rock (1996) When a bunch of uber-patriot elite Marines feel slighted by their country they take over Alcatraz and threaten to launch missiles they’ve set up on the isle of the former prison. Without any accurate blueprints and layout of the compound they ask a current convict Sean Connery who is also being screwed over to help.The plot is as convincing as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, but it’s Bad-Ass Connery so who cares?

#11 – Godzilla VS. Hedorah (1971) Read review here.

#12 – Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) Someone is out to kill Harry, Ron’s rat escapes, and there’s a werewolf. If nothing else, this was an excuse to get Gary Oldman into the storyline. And there’s a game of Quidditch against a team with the unlikely name of Hufflepuff.

#13 – The Thirteenth Floor (1999) Twists and turns galore as character’s jack-into a 1930’s virtual world with mols, cops, murder and mystery. Sure the effects are dated (even for that time) but this is all about plot and plotting and the truth is a doozy!

#14 – Red Eye (2005) Nearly the entire film takes place within the confines of an airplane as a hotel manager is coerced by a terrorist (Cillian Murphy) to make particular arrangements for a special guest.

#15 – Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005) Not just any Quidditch but nothing less than the World Cup of Quidditch. And then a Tri-Wizard tournament! Sounds like a lot of fun except for that Voldemort dude killing folks.

#16 – Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007) Harry Potter gets expelled from Hogwarts! Actually one of the better films in the series but (egads!) no Quidditch! Includes one of the most wasted character names in cinematic history: Nymphadora Tonks. Nuff said.

#17 – The Purge (2013) The Purge series of films set in a not too distant future America in which once a year, for 24 hours, people can kill one another to ‘purge’ pent up frustration (the thinking being that it’s somehow better in the long term). This first movie has an upper scale family being safely locked in their home until one of the kids decides to ‘save’ a stranger being hunted. But the stranger ends up being the least of their problems.

#18 – Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (2009) The ‘blood’ in the title must be indicative of the many fluids in the plot including love potions, poison, liquid luck, and mead. My least favorite of the series and more a setup for the ending in the next installment.

#19 – Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970) Read review here.

#20 – First Strike (1996) Jackie Chan dishes out his usual “Chan-anigans” as a Hong Kong cop helping the CIA nab an arms dealer in Australia and meeting up with some Russians. I think they were going for International appeal.

#21 – The House that Dripped Blood (1971) Read review here

#22 – Dead Reckoning (1947) Humphrey Bogart has to track down his best friend and fellow former paratrooper after he ditches at a train stop just before the to are set to receive prestigious war medals in Washington. Following a byzantine set of clues (including a false name to begin with) he finds that his buddy was an accused murder on the run. But why did he suddenly go back to the scene of the crime and them seem to disappear altogether. Bogey has to rely on his buddy’s former gal (Lizbeth Scott) but can he even trust her? (prosecution witness?)

#23 – Duck Soup (1933) You can never go wrong with The Marx Brothers’ vaudevillian humour. Between Groucho’s fire-a-minute witty one liners, Harpo’s voiceless antics, and Chico’s accented haggling and scheming, who needs a plot? But if things like that are important to you, Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho) is sworn in as the new leader of Freedonia to remedy their cash shortage, while his brothers are bumbling infiltrators sent in from a rival country hoping to start a war. I won’t mention Zeppo.

#24 – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 (2010) Harry and his friends ‘jump the shark’ with this entry in the series. What began as a fun, interesting saga with great characters has transgressed into a dark, repetitive here as they set up the finale in Part 2. And not even one damn Quidditch game (although a Snitch figures prominently in the plot).

#25 – Romeo Is Bleeding (1993) A greedy cop (Gary Oldman) earns a little extra side income by tipping off the mob on informant hideout information but things start to go wrong when they take out an informant about to spill their secrets but also take a few cops with them in their assault. Not only can he not back out of their little deal, but he is now being forced to take out one of those informants on his own. But Mona (Lena Olin) is no mere informant, but a mob hitwoman who took out the previous informant and a roomful of cops. Intense, action packed, saucy and sentimental.

#26 – Forbidden Planet (1956) Read review next week here!

#27 – The Money Pit (1986) Mid-eighties rom-com where a young couple (Shelley Long and Tom Hanks) are suddenly in need of a place to stay and chance upon a mansion that needs a little work but is surprisingly within their limited means. But as all “too good to be true” parables their fortunate find ends up putting a strain on their relationship as their dream house begins to crumble before their very eyes. Corny but fun.

#28 – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (2011) I must admit that my disappointment with part one of this finale was fully redeemed with this satisfying ending. All the questions, some looming since the very beginning, are answered here although not always to fan’s hopes. Which is as is should be. My one complaint was that a lot of scenes seemed to be pilfered directly from other blockbusters including Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. How many times must we see hordes of evil creatures descending on an isolated hamlet backstopping the forces of good? How many times must we see the two most powerful characters, good vs evil, deploy mystical weapons against each other, streaming in mid air (conveniently in different colors), to determine which is stronger?

#29 – Charlie Chan in Egypt (1935) One of nearly fifty movies featuring the illustrious pulp-era Chinese sleuth (the first few being silent era films and many of the others now lost). Hard to believe that it’s been nearly 40 years since the last, loosely based on a real life Hawaiian detective of Chinese descent. Scored ten DVDs last week so I’ll be enjoying a few more. This one even has Stepin Fetchit who only adds to negative stereotypes depicted in these films. (The DVDs even include a warning lest some be offended.)

#30 – Watching the Detectives (2007) Not the Elvis Costello song but a film about a versed film buff (Cillian Murphy) who owns and runs a low key video rental store whose life gets turned around when he meets quirky Violet (Lucy Liu) who lives her life on the edge, moment by moment while playing sophisticated, agonizing pranks on him. Some pacing irritants but the characters make up for it. I must confess that I just loved all the movie references bantered between all the video store employees although the message of the film is to abandon viewing and start to live instead. Disingenuous as had I done that I wouldn’t have watched this film.

#31 – Fury (1936) This was Fritz Lang’s first American film after escaping an increasingly Nazi led Germany. Spencer Tracy is a hardworking, honest man saving every penny so that he can get married to the love of his life. But life throws him a curveball just as he has finally saved up enough and is on his way to meet his fiance when he is thrown in jail suspected of being a member of a group of kidnappers that have taken a child. As word of the capture spreads across the grapevine, the overzealous townsfolk have made up their mind and storm the jailhouse which is soon engulfed in flames. Miraculously managing to escape the inferno, the innocent man, now out for blood himself, decides to lay low as a number of the lynch mob are put on trial for his murder having established that they had the wrong man. Great suspense and pathos.

Movie Reviews 420 – Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971)

January 3, 2020

Every now and then Godzilla is more than a giant dino-lizard stomping on cardboard buildings and miniature toy tanks at the foot of Mount Fuji. His humble beginnings in 1954 was nothing less than a symbolic warning of the dangers of nuclear power using thinly veiled references to the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bomb drops as well as other actual tragic events such as the Daigo Fukuryū Maru. But over the years his solemnity has wavered, sometimes regressing to the point of being little more than kiddie oriented comic relief. But look a little closer and there are others inklings of social commentary sandwiched in between the bursts of atomic breath and tail wagging destruction.

While the world continued to fret as the superpowers continued the arms race buildup towards the end of the sixties, another new, man made threat was rearing its ugly head. The smokestacks of factory furnaces and the mass consumer desire to have a car in front of every house was taking a toll on the planet. Pollution. The air was filled with smog and the oceans were filled with oil slicked flotillas of garbage. Once again Godzilla was called on to deliver a message.

Godzilla vs. Hedorah (AKA Godzilla vs.The Smog Monster) has our heroic behemoth fighting off a creature born in the Japanese waters from particulates that not only live and grow but combine to form a single entity. A scientist and his young son come across an oversized tadpole-like creature and within days news coverage in the area start reporting that a much larger creature is menacing the coast and destroying ships. The kid’s wishes that his hero Godzilla comes to their rescue come to fruition, but ol’ Zilla has his hands full as the creature undergoes multiple, ever-bigger transformations from the ‘tadpole’ to a flying raylike monster and finally an oversized bug eyed pile of slimy detritus.

Facing a barrage of fiery balls of ooze, a corrosive trail and a sulfuric mist, Gozilla seems overmatched, and while they do have a plan of action, the authorities and bumbling army don’t seem to be much help. But together, man and Godzilla must put Hedorah down with nothing less than the fate of the world at stake.

Social commentary aside, this movie boasts a number of oddities including a few cartoon animated sequences (sadly not good ones) and a few songs, one melodically sung in a delightfully psychedelic night club. I have no idea what the lyrics meant but with the superimposed images I was pretty sure it delivered a sombre message matching the movie’s theme.

The rubber suited battles are as fun as always and the variant designs of the Hedorah evolutionary stages are truly unique in terms of monster originality. There are some exceptionally rare human carnage and gory wounds, even bodies melting into skeletons, but the more horrific images are those of litter strewn seabeds and black spewing smokestacks.

So where are at now with pollution nearly fifty years since this movie was released? The good news is that the air, while still hazardous in places and on occasion just as unhealthy, is nonetheless noticeably a lot better than it was. While we have cleaned up our parks and cities some of that garbage has not only ended up in the oceans but has created the Great Pacific Garbage Patch – it’s never a good thing when it actually has a name – twice the size of Texas. And of course today we have yet another man made global issue in Climate Change which is worse and even harder to remedy (if even possible at this point).

I’d like to think that perhaps Godzilla needs to be summed for yet another mission saving our collective asses but we didn’t seem to take much notice last time he tried.

Movie Reviews 397 – King Kong Escapes (1967)

June 22, 2019

It’s King Kong. It’s Kaiju. Kraptastically Keen

It was as early as the third Godzilla movie in 1962 that the Toho studio creators of the world’s most renowned giant dino-lizard realized that the gargantuan gorilla Kong would be a suitable (“suit”. Get it?) character to join their oversized menagerie. King Kong vs. Godzilla (note who got first billing?) had the highest box office return to that date. It was a huge hit but it took another five years before Kong would get his get his own solo Toho feature in King Kong Escapes.

And what better way to feature Kong than to pit him against a robotic Mecha-Kong? Surprisingly, the Mecha version of the King predates the introduction of Mecha-Godzilla (and all the other Mecha versions of other monsters in the Toho universe) by over a decade. The story itself was cobbled up from an early joint US Japanese animated kong series called The King Kong Show produced by Rankin-Bass. Some readers will be familiar with Rankin-Bass as the animation company known for their stop motion animation specials like The Little Drummer Boy and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and some other Saturday morning cartoon shows. But with Kong as the star this production would be far removed from the typical Rankin-Bass sweet and angelic tales.

Directed by Inoshiro Honda ( the human “God” behind the Godzilla franchise) it blends a retelling the original King Kong story and a touch of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea all centered around the dueling Kong with his robot doppelgangers.

The intro has US commander Carl Nelson (Rhodes Reason) piloting a sub with second in command Jiro Nomura (Akira Takarada) on an expeditionary mission to the remote island Mondo when they come across Kong. As in every Kong movie there has to be a young woman who soothes the beast and in this case that role falls to Lt. Susan Watson the crew’s doctor (Linda Jo Miller, who ironically had to be redubbed in English by another voice actor).

As soon as that intro is done we switch to an evil scientist in a hidden artic lair who aims to mine the ultra rare “Element X” (insert an “Oooh” and “Ahhh” for shock and reverence). The wiry grey haired Dr. Who (Hideyo Amamoto) – not THAT Dr. Who – has built a giant Mecha-Kong to do the heavy mining in the inclement environment, the robot being built based on plans stolen from none other than Nelson himself. (This fact strains credulity since the robot’s stature and features exactly mimic those of Kong but Nelson just discovered Kong for the first time five minutes ago) Supposedly possession of Element X (“Oooh!”) can be used to build a world dominating nuclear arsenal, but Dr. Who does not want this for himself but rather for the leopard print wearing oriental Mata Hari who I don’t recall ever being named in the film itself but varyingly credited as Madame Piranha or Madame X (Mie Hama). Representing some evil aligned country (also never explicitly called out) she is funding Dr. Who and the mining mission. But when Mecha Kong fails after a few minutes of mining as exclaimed by Dr Who “Magnetic Mass has destroyed his circuits!” they set their sights on getting the real Kong to do their digging.

After a nifty abduction of Kong, hypnotizing him to obey their commands (yes, hypnotizing him!), Kong extracting himself from the trance, the evil Dr. Who kidnaps the lovely Watson for a different leverage against the ape. Meanwhile Madame Piranha tries to seduce Nelson until everything unravels, Kong kick the living daylights out of the tin ape and eventually walks into the sea under a beautiful sunset.

Their is so much goofy goodness to enjoy I hardly know where to start. Special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya’s (also responsible for Ultraman) space age vehicles and the mecha resemble those of Gerry Anderson’s marionation shows like The Thunderbirds while the dubbing delivers a bonus with Dr. Who being voiced by Paul Frees whom seasoned kids will instantly associate as the voice of Boris Badenov from The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.  Kong of course has battles with other mesozoic monstrosities including a giant snake and T-Rex wannabe. And there are timely touches like Madame Piranha whipping out a transmitter from her Jackie-O pink pillbox hat. All to a score has a few riffs off Akira Ifukube’s famous Godzilla March.

So when your mom tells you you can’t what yet another Godzilla film and playing another round of Donkey Kong is out of the question you now know where to go.

Movie Reviews 392 – Danger: Diabolik (1968)

May 17, 2019

Some of you may recall my review of Les Diaboliques the magnificent French thriller by director Henri-Georges Clouzot starring Simone Signoret. That film had it all. Dynamic performances. European easygoing, yet thought provoking pace which at the same time delivers a nerve-wracking murder plot.  A love triangle with a unique feminist twist. In a nutshell a groundbreaking classic.

Well the similarly titled Danger: Diabolik has none of that. And yet…

Sculpted from a completely different cinematic mold, this Italian production based on a fumetti (Italian term for comics) was brought to us by Dino De Laurentiis, the man who also produced  such campy fare as Flash Gordon, Conan the Destroyer, King Kong (the World Trade Center version), and notably in this case Barbarella. In the right hands, in this case being director Mario Bava, the patriarch of Italian horror cinema (Black Sabbath, Black Sunday and Planet of the Vampires), this cult-favorite anti-hero is faithfully transformed from print to screen without losing any of the outlandish premise, characterizations or artistry of the source material.

Thwarted by every attempt to capture him, Diabolik (John Phillip Law) and his statuesque sidekick Eva (Marisa Mell) stage elaborate high priced crimes across the land much to the chagrin of police inspector Ginko (Michel Piccoli) who also has to placate the politicians (one being everyone’s favorite gap-toothed comedian Terry Thomas) as he tries to apprend the headline grabbing foe. As Diabolik keeps one step ahead of each trap set – and making off with the bait – Ginko turns to another criminal, mobster Valmont (Adolfo Celi, the eye patched SPECTRE agent in Thunderball) to help him by capturing Eva. But one daring plane jump and a few theatrics later (including death itself) Diabolic and Eva are reunited only to fall for Ginko’s surprise backup plan. But does a molten gold body cast really spell the end of Diabolik?

Part Austin Powers with all the James Bond gadgetry, part Phantom of the Paradise, Bava’s colorful cinematography and use of fisheye lenses delivers an action packed story with all the rampant zaniness of the 60’s wrapped in the flamboyant fashion of the times. Speaking of the cinematography, comic readers will recognize how the framing of many shots in the film are indicative of comic panels, sometimes in the most clever ways. Aside from Andy Warhol zeitgeist, viewers will revel in Diabolik’s secret, subterranean lair, second  only to the Batcave. One thing that you probably could not pull off today is the concept of a sympathetic terrorist, but during the counterculture movement, this was palatable to a degree. All this and a music score by maestro Ennio Morricone to boot!

My Paramount DVD contained an exceptional special feature documentary in which comic artist, Stephen Bissette (clearly a huge fan of the film and original comic) presents many details that went into the adaptation, in some cases from original panel to scenes. And you have to check out the Beastie Boys Body Movin’ hommage video track.

January Movie Marathon – 2019 Edition

February 1, 2019

My annual tradition of cramming in (at least) 31 movie viewings during the month of January continued this year. It was a closer call getting in the required viewing (only one film over the target this time) mainly due to all that excess snow this year having me out shoveling instead of watching. Here’s a brief review of what I watched this year.

1) Anatomy of a Murder (1959) – Jimmy Stewart plays the small town lawyer hired to defend what is supposed to be an ‘open and shut’ murder case. Dealing with the evidence and facts isn’t as hard as dealing with the accused’s lovely wife. If all that wasn’t odd enough, consider that this is a comedy by director Otto Preminger.

2) Comic Book Confidential (1988) – A great documentary featuring the radical independent comic creators of the time. Lots of legendary creators (Crumb, Miller, Pekar,  Kurtzman, Eisner) with other not so familiar names. The best part is MAD’s Bill Gaines reminiscing about the pre-code EC days.

3) The Day the Fish Came Out (1967) – (see full review here)

4) Lifeboat (1944) – Only Alfred Hitchcock can get away with an entire movie set on a lifeboat adrift at sea after a Nazi U-boat attack. Of course he also manages to throw in a murder. Dazzling portrayal of the self centered journalist by Tallulah Bankhead (dahling!). It’s Hitch. It’s great.

5) Rock ‘n’ Roll Frankenstein (1999) – Greedy record producer decides he can make the greatest Rock star ever by piecing together the parts of legendary dead artists. The plot sounds a lot better than it is.

6) The Pursuit of Happyness (2006) – Will Smith plays the ‘down on his luck’ portable bone-density scanner salesman who earns a shot as a stockbroker intern, but has to live on the streets with his son in order to possibly get the job. The usual Smith goody-goody, “live your dreams” stuff.

7) Columbo: Double Exposure (1973) – Hey I’m slowly going through all the Columbo TV movies! Columbo nabs murderer Robert Culp, a motivational researcher, by using the same subliminal image video technique he learned from the perpetrator himself.

8) The Children (2008) – Not as frolicky fun as “Girls Gone Wild” but this horror is basically “Kids Gone Wild”. Lots of bad shooting choices makes one wonder where this movie is going for most of it (not in a good way) and the payoff just isn’t there at the end.

9) Lords of Dogtown (2005) – Docudrama capturing the birth of the competitive skateboarding scene on the beaches of Venice California in the mid 70’s. Don’t let the subject matter deter you if you’re not into that scene. Between all the Ollies and Halfpipes, this one packs a punch. Gnarly!

10) This Gun for Hire (1942) – One of the few Veronica Lake – Hollywood’s peek-a-boo girl – films I’ve seen. Not Film Noir at it’s finest to say the least. Lake is embroiled in a murder mystery centered on a chemical formula and WW2 traitors.

11) The Head (1959) – (see full review here)

12) Dead Poets Society (1989) – Robin Williams is the marquee star but this movie is clearly about the young boys in his class at an Ivy League seeding school who learn to “Seize the Day” against all odds. Carpe Diem!

13) 12 Days of Terror (2004) – Drama depicting the summer of 1916 New Jersey shark attacks that supposedly were and inspiration for Peter Benchley to write Jaws. Enough of a bite to watch, but it is a TV movie so keep those expectations in line.

14) Ice Station Zebra (1968) – The cold war goes frigid when a crucial satellite component ends up in the frozen Arctic and both the East and the West race towards Ice Station Zebra to recover it. The good guys can only get there by submarine but, as expected, not everyone on board are who they appear to be.

15) Paranormal Activity 4 (2012) – This fourth installment in the series of movies in which the story of household spooks activities are conveyed purely via the video feeds of home monitoring systems is the one where they ‘Jumped the Shark’. Really nothing new here despite it being something of a sequel to PA3.

16) Witness for the Prosecution (1957) – (see full review here)

17) Billy Elliot (2000) – Little Billy discovers that his interests lay not in the proud boxing tradition of his family, but in ballet, much to the chagrin of his father who is in the midst of England’s notorious coal miners strike just trying to keep the family together.

18) The Secret of Santa Vittoria (1969) – What is the secret of Santa Vittoria? Millions of bottles of wine. Anthony Quinn is the bumbling, reluctant mayor of the little Italian town who must hide their horde from the encroaching Nazis during WWII.

19) The Giant Behemoth (1959) – Even Britain was getting in on the Giant Monster kick of the 1950’s. While they did not use rear-projection footage of pet lizards and the stop motion animatronic was not much better.

20) 13 Going on 30 (2004) – Jennifer Garner plays the girl/woman who wakes up one day to discover that she has gone from a pubescent teen to a grown woman overnight. Honestly Tom Hanks did it better in Big in the 80’s.

21) Ghidorah: The Three-Headed Monster (1964) – Goofy Godzilla goodness in which Godzilla, Rodan and Mothra (larval form as the original Moth died in the previous movie) take on the new bad boy on the block King Ghidorah. In preparation for the return of Ghidorah in this year’s May release of Godzilla: King of the Monsters

22) House of Strangers (1949) – Edward G. Robinson plays the family patriarch who works all his life to build a successful local bank but his overbearing ways has taken a toll on his family, the and nearly costs his favored and most devoted son everything.

23) Doctor Who and the Daleks (1965) – This was the first of two Dr Who films made by Amicus which starred the great Peter Cushing and the world’s first chance to see Daleks in color. Who and crew take the TARDIS on its first voyage to a far future post-apocalyptic Earth where the last few remaining Daleks are still fighting the handful of humans.

24) The Bodyguard from Beijing (1994) – Your typical “feds have to bodyguard a witness to a mob murder” plot where Jet Li is the all-business master protector and Christy Chung is the beautiful, rich, overbearing damsel he has to keep alive. And of course at the end they are in love.

25) The Werewolf Versus the Vampire Woman (1971) – (see full review here)

26) The Jerk (1979) –  Steve Martin’s first feature film where he took his brash, daring stand-up comedy and came up with a dimwitted man on a rags-to-riches-to-rags journey to find himself. I still get a kick of him discovering his ‘special purpose’. Silly but still funny.

27) Hellboy (2004) – I hear that there will be another Hellboy movie coming out this year. But without Ron Perlman, John Hurt, or director Guillermo del Toro. No chance in Hell it’s as good as this original.

28) Born to Kill (1947) – Film Noir great Lawrence Tierney in a movie in which the title says it all. He’s a lowly con man who wants it all and doesn’t blink an eye snuffing out anyone who crosses him or just rubs him the wrong way.

29) Black Snake Moan (2006) – Odd film in which a weathered black man (Samuel Jackson) takes in a battered promiscuous young white woman (Christina Ricci) to get both her and himself back on the right track of life.  (I hope to have a full review in the coming days.)

30) Timecop (1994) – Jean Claude Van Damme at his barely comprehensible thespian best. Which isn’t a whole lot. Well at least it’s a Science Fiction time travel story which JCVD mumbles through.

31) The Right Stuff (1983) – I decided to revisit this movie about the original Mercury astronauts on the 50th anniversary of the tragic Apollo 1 fire. Great film but if you have a chance read Tom Wolfe’s book that was the source for the script

32) The Spirit of St-Louis (1957) – I started with Jimmy Stewart and it was only fitting that I ended this month long blitz with another of his films. Aside from the fact that Stewart was nearly twice the age playing Charles Lindbergh, the story of the first solo transatlantic flight remains a classic.

 

 

Movie Reviews 370 – Seconds (1966)

November 24, 2018

I vaguely recall reading about the movie Seconds in some older Science Fiction film books over the years and also have run across it being discussed in some Horror forums but have not had the chance to watch it until now. Now having seen it I can understand how it loosely fits both genres and in fact can very much be considered a psychological thriller, and even more surprisingly an art house film as well. This one certainly fits many niches and delivers the goods for each one.

A well-to-do elder businessman finds himself nearing the end of a fruitful career but in loveless marriage and with nothing to show for his life when he gets a call from a supposedly dead friend with an interesting offer. It is the opportunity to drop out of life completely (including a having a faked death) and to undergo a radical rejuvenating surgical procedure that will transform him into a young man again, ready to start life anew.

At first Art Hamilton (John Randolph) is incredulous that Charlie (Murray Hamilton) is indeed his deceased friend an must be convinced. But once satisfied he enters a nefarious world of secret messages, covert transport, hidden offices, and a secretive corporation behind it all

While still a bit reluctant, he buys into the hard sell by “Mr. Ruby” (Jeff Corey) and after a prolonged session of surgeries and physical therapy emerges as Tony Wilson (Rock Hudson), complete with a fabricated background and home in an isolated resort to slowly integrate into his new life. He finds it difficult at first but a chance encounter on a beach with a vibrant young woman (Salome Jens) slowly changes his mind. Maybe he can adapt and enjoy life again? All goes well until a party is held at the resort where a little too much alcohol has Tony slipping out a few things about his past, breaking a cardinal rule of those who are ‘seconds’. Suddenly everyone there turns on him, but he is able to slip out and make a run.

The corporation eventually tracks him down and after a lot of discussion agree to another ‘rebirth’. But as he is shuffled into a room of men that seem to just pass the time, he runs into Charlie who is also waiting for another rebirth himself. Only when Tony is told that he is about to get his turn again does he discover one of the conditions that the corporation needs to address in order to perform their ‘service’. And Tony fits the bill.

This film has the semblance of a prolonged old Twilight Zone episode complete with some drawn-out ambiguity and mystery and ending with a crashing finale. All that but with the higher production values and a few other differences. One glaring difference is the abundant group nudity in a particular Woodstock-esque scene (hey, it was the sixties) that ends up being a turning point for Tony. There certainly was never any of that in the Twilight Zone!

Story aside, the cinematography is mesmerizing with lots of lens effects and the use of innovative, but highly appropriate angle shots and lighting. Some may get a kick seeing Will Geer (grandpa on The Waltons) and Richard Anderson (Oscar from The Six Million Dollar Man) in small but critical roles.

A top notch, somewhat obscure Science Fiction thriller that is quite riveting. Despite the title truly a timeless movie.

Movie Reviews 367 – The Final Countdown (1980)

November 2, 2018

A few years before Swedish rock band Europe had a mega-hit with their song The Final Countdown I was sitting in a movie theater watching Kirk Douglas (101 and still kicking today I should add) in one of his last major starring roles. But The Final Countdown here is a bit of an oddity both for what we seen on screen; a Sci-Fi film which included Martin Sheen, Katherine Ross, Charles Durning and James Farentino – none of which you would associate with the genre including Douglas – and offscreen based on a behind the scenes revelation that I happened to pick up reading the credits.

The plot is simple enough. We have a modern day (well 1980 modern day) atomic powered US aircraft carrier, the Nimitz, with a full complement of supersonic jets, all armed to the teeth operating off the coast of Pearl Harbor when then are engulfed by a sudden unexplainable fierce magnetic storm vortex which appears to have brought them back in time. But not just any date. They are brought back to December 6th 1941. The day before the infamous surprise attack by the Japanese on the US naval base there which annihilated the entire US Pacific fleet and which forced the US to enter the fray of World War II.

This was an event that clearly changed history and now the captain (Douglas) must decide whether he should use the might of the carrier and aircraft at his disposal to circumvent the attack and alter history. Despite the fact that many lives will be clearly be saved by circumventing the attack, the change will also have an impact on how the war plays out. Would that mean the hindering or delaying the US involvement would allow the Axis to win? Not an easy decision to make regardless. I guess you’d call it a lose-lose proposition.

Star power aside, what makes this movie a fascinating watch is the powerful footage of both the carrier and it’s dizzying array of aircraft. Even after all these years the footage caught is quite mesmerizing. The production crew had almost full access to the ship and it is evident that many of the action scenes were clearly staged to showcase their capabilities. You can easily call this an armed forces recruiting device and I’m sure that was the intent in providing that special access in the first place.

Where the film does falter is how the eventual conclusion on what to do is practically hoisted into the plot after having a decent buildup of suspense. It’s a cheap cheat only partially rescued by a small time-anomaly final scene.

And that behind the scenes surprise I mentioned? While perusing the credits I happened to notice the name of Lloyd Kaufman listed as associate producer, production manager and even a minor playing role. Could this be THE Lloyd Kaufman of Troma studios fame who gave us such classics as The Toxic Avenger, Class of Nuke ‘Em High, and Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead? Yep, the one and only. Turns out that this was the movie that was the tipping point that turned him away from mainstream studios and embark on his now legendary B movie career.

Fun to watch for sure, despite the mediocre handling. And if nothing else you can play ‘spot Uncle Lloyd’ while watching some pretty amazing acrobatics.