Archive for the ‘Science Fiction’ Category

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.


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 453 – The Monolith Monsters (1957)

October 9, 2020

King Kong started the trend and by the 1950s giant monsters were rampant on movie screens everywhere. But once the lion’s share of the zoological checklist had been covered (ants, leeches, spiders, crabs, praying mantis, colossal man, 50 foot woman, apes, serpents, and gila monsters to name a few favourites) movie studios needed something new. Thus was spawned one of the oddest of the jumbo sized objects to terrorize mankind: rocks!

As crazy as the title sounds The Monolith Monsters is actually a fairly good movie when compared to many of its oversized brethren mentioned above.

A geologist working for the Department of Interior in a remote town situated within the Southern California desert comes across a strange looking rock which he brings back to his lab. While confounded as to its classification, he stows it on his bench before retiring for the night. As he sleeps a windstorm causes a flask of water to douse the rock and before our very eyes it slowly begins to grow and form a miniature mounting tower. Come the following morning the geologists his colleague arrives to find the office in shambles and the geologist turned to stone!

The rock, a fragment of a meteorite that recently crashed nearby, has two perilous properties, each with devastating fatal consequences if left unchecked. While handling of the material initiates a process in which body matter solidifies to rocklike material it is the second attribute that is the more terrifying. As water makes the rocks grow into towering structures that crash under their own weight, the broken shards are also propelled which distribute the rocks into an every larger area. Given this growth pattern a rainstorm threatens to have the monoliths, so far contained within a narrow mountain range, break out unimpeded and unleash an unstoppable continental cataclysm (contrary to the suggestion in the film that it would be worldwide).

Between all the scientific jargon among those trying to understand what is going on, Dave Miller (Grant Williams) the head of the office enlists the aid of the local country doctor and the town authorities. The urgency is heightened by a young catatonic girl, the sole survivor who witnessed the destruction of her farm, now showing signs of stiffening like the initial geologist. To spice things up we have the local school teacher (Lola Albright), Dave’s love interest,  who joins in on the race for answers.

As surprising as it sounds, some of the best parts in the film are the ones featuring the rocks. While the special effects used for both the miniature variants showing the growth spurts and the later majestic mountain sized crystalline structures that shoot out of the Earth use obvious filming techniques, they are quite realistic and fun to watch. As is almost always the case in these B movies, a solution will be found in the end (and a huge hint is provided right at the beginning of the film) but the sleuthing process is still fun to watch. Less convincing or credible are the suggestions of people slowly stiffening up as they turn to stone, but the plot does not focus on that so much as to take away from the menace of the spreading. Viewers will also get to see an archaic Iron Lung machine, what was then the height of medical marvels, a device all too prevalent due to the polio outbreak at the time and hopefully something we can avoid despite anti-vaxxers blight ignorance of the past.

An undeniably solid film with a chemical reaction climax, this film rocks!

Movie Reviews 444 – I Married a Monster from Outer Space (1958)

August 6, 2020

Marriage is one of those long term commitments that you really have to consider wisely and make sure you have chosen a lifelong soulmate, a person you know from the inside out. But sometimes even the most arduous scrutiny can be thwarted when, for example, your groom to be is abducted and replaced by an alien entity the night before the nuptials.

Such is the case when newlywed Marge (Gloria Talbott) notices something has changed in Bill (Tom Tryon) the moment they tie the knot. While outward appearances have not changed, gone is his easy going demeanor as well as his passion for her. Instead she finds that her husband is now distant, quick-tempered and worst of all, reluctant to engage physical affection. There are other things too, like his fascination with storms and how dogs seem to take an immediate dislike to him. But her concerns are dismissed by those she tries to reach out to.

I Married a Monster from Outer Space is a poor man’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, with less sophistication in a script that isn’t as taut, less frantic pacing and not nearly as visionary or novel in concept. However it has a few things that make it worth the watch. The story is a little more layered in the ‘aliens want to colonize Earth’ department with a conceptual twist that would later be swiped and reversed in Mars Needs Women. And while there isn’t a lot of it, the budget special effects work well and add a nice touch of genuine horror to the science fiction centric plot. In place of oozing pods we have a cool enveloping smoke sequence when humans are ‘assimilated’ by the aliens. The film also makes good use of ‘negative film’ when the aliens are portrayed, a technique that will be used often in later years and one that fans of the original Outer Limits television series will be all too familiar with. But by far the standout special effects are the glimpses of the alien ‘faces’ overlaying their human subjects whenever there is a lighting strike. The design of those faces and the aliens as a whole, with crisscrossing masses of musculature, is downright freaky.

With decent performances by the cast, especially the principals, there is enough mystery and intrigue in determining who are the ‘converted’ humans that are now aliens, Andromedans to be exact.. That said, the logic does fail completely in some scenes, notably one where a fellow ‘assimilated’ alien visits Bill who feigns ignorance when directly told to report to ‘the ship’ given other facts about the aliens dictate that he should have known immediately.

The ending is posse predictable but with a twinge of sympathy for the aliens, but as a whole the film is decent  nostalgic popcorn sci-fi horror fare.

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’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.