Thursday, July 29, 2010

“When you get into trouble, you really jump off the top board, don’t you?”

So, 1969 was a pretty cool year. It had the Moon Landing, The Italian Job, the Cuyahoga River catching fire again, Monty Python’s Flying Circus and Sesame Street began airing, Led Zeppelin releasing their first studio album and Judy Garland…oh. Well, it wasn’t a perfect year. But speaking of Moon Landings, 1969 also had Hammer Studios, famous for their cult classic B-grade horror films like the Christopher Lee Dracula movies, release Moon Zero Two, a B-grade sci-fi movie with no horror elements whatsoever.

So, after a rather likable animated credits sequence (and the shockingly catchy theme song) that effectively tells us the Moon was colonized sometime in the late 20th Century, we find our hero, formerly the first astronaut on Mars and now the pilot of an old salvage craft called Moon 02 (DUN DUN DUN!) making a living on the Moon. Then we also find a a young woman arriving on the moon to find her prospector brother and shady rich guy with henchmen that is plotting to crash an asteroid laden with sapphire into the Moon and claim it. You better believe these plots intersect and our hero ends up caught in the middle.

Captain William H. Kemp: James Olson plays our receding-hairlined hero (and would later star in The Andromeda Strain). He’s cranky for the entire film, which I guess is understandable since he went from being the first man on Mars to a junk salvager on the Moon.

Clementine Taplin: Catherina von Schell (or Catherine Schell) plays an Earth girl who arrives on the Moon to find her brother and find a job. Unfortunately, she hasn’t heard from her bro in a while and nobody on the Moon seems to have seen him in a while either. She hires Kemp to go look for her him. Obviously the love interest. She also gets stuck wearing some pretty terrible headgear at times too.

Korminski: Ori Levy plays Kemp’s Russian engineer and sidekick. Quick with some deadpan delivery and a reasonably impressive moustache. He’s much less cranky and comes through in a pinch several times, which makes him the badass of the film.

Sheriff Elizabeth Murphy: Adrienne Corri (who was in A Clockwork Orange as the woman in the infamous “Singin’ In The Rain” scene.) plays a Moon cop who’s got a history with Kemp but doesn’t trust him when he starts taking jobs for a bad guy. She also gets saddled with a silly hat.

J.J. Hubbard: Warren Mitchell is our Villain, a goatee and monocle wearing crime boss who intends to crash an asteroid filed with valuable sapphire into a specific area on the Moon and claim the salvage rights on it and make a fortune. Wears a red spacesuit, since everybody who isn’t Kemp or Korminsky are color-coded for your convenience.

Harry: Bernard Bresslaw plays J.J.’s dimwitted henchman. Little more than dumb muscle, he’s a big guy who keeps getting yelled at to not fire his gun in pressurized domes. While he’s a bit slow on the take, he’s actually reasonably quick on the draw. Wears a green spacesuit.

Whitsun: Dudley Foster plays J.J.’s other, smaller henchman who ends up explaining a lot of stuff to Kemp about how they’re going to do stuff. Wears a yellow spacesuit.

Frequent Monty Python collaborator Carol Cleveland was also in the movie in a small role.

Directed by Roy Ward Baker, the movie is very clearly low budget, but does still manage to look presentable…in a Swingin’ Sixties sort of way. Spacesuits look like spacesuits, The Moon 02 craft is similar to the Apollo landers and while the effects are low budget there’s nothing like a critical effects failure though the moon bug rovers come close since they look like the Oscar Meyer Weeniemobile.

Michael Carreras as writer and Martin Davidson, Frank Hardman and Gavin Lyall on story. The script is essentially a Western with British actors with a Sixties aesthetic, only set…IN SPACE! Which really is as weird as it sounds. However, the story stays committed to that conceit and carries that frontier attitude throughout.

Original music by Don Ellis and the bulk of the soundtrack is taken up by a swingin’ jazz sound with some elements of bebop. The Main Theme, however, which plays over the main credits and crops up throughout the film, is a big, brassy number that will forcibly lodge itself in your ears and Never. Ever. Leave.

Here, listen for yourself.

Moon Zero Two is not a good movie. However, for reasons that continue to baffle me, I kinda…liked…it. Quite a bit. Sure, my exposure to it was through MST3K, but I still kind of liked its goofy charm. Well played, Hammer Films; you’ve just convinced me to check out your B Horror films.

Can't find a trailer, but this is a decent taste of the film.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

“Who is this woman who walks through the She Zone with male scum?”

Once more it is time to delve into the realm of bad movies. Today’s nugget of fool’s gold is a 79 minute abomination from 1986 called Robot Holocaust.


So we’re on a world/planet/general area called “New Terra.” Apparently it is the distant future and things are very different since the robotic uprising of ‘33. Finally, robotic beings rule the world. And by “rule” I mean, live in a big building with an even bigger basement called the “Power Station” and use humans (called “airslaves” because of their need to breathe air) to actually produce the power the robots need to exist.

Or, as the movie puts it in the title narration: The World had been brought to its knees by the


What follows is a plot that lifts heavily from Star Wars AND Conan, and we get some guy from the Wasteland leading a group of ragtag misfits (and a some expendable nameless redshirts) on a mission to find the Power Station and kill/destroy/deactivate the “Dark One.”

Whatever, it’s dumb.

Neo: Norris Culf plays a wastelander who can breathe the poisoned air. Yes, he’s a character named “Neo,” but I’m certain that’s mere coincidence. Anyway, the character has no personality, is somehow able to telepathically communicate with a robot (only does this once, of course) and knows occasional survival tricks when they are beneficial to the plot.

Klyton: Joel Von Ornsteiner (who according to IMDB went on to get a PhD and is apparently a prominent forensic psychologist who’s been a guest expert on various news agencies) plays a robot pickpocket with shades of C-3PO. A “Freebot” (which apparently means “Expositionbot”), he becomes Neo’s sidekick, provides “comic relief” and explains plot points from time to time. Probably has the best robot costume out of the bunch, but that’s damning it with faint praise. All things considered, not THAT annoying, but that is also not saying much.

Jorn: Michael Downend plays a scientist who’s developed a way for humans to survive going into a choking fit when the robots unleash poison gas on the air slaves to keep them in line. He gives himself up to the robots in order to save a bunch of other humans and spends most of the movie in various states of interrogation.

Deeja: Nadine Hartstein plays the daughter of Jorn who is also immune to the gas. Determined and very easy on the eyes, she is also the first person to join up with Neo & Klyton, though she tends to get into peril quite a lot.

Nyla: Jennifer Delora plays the leader of an Amazonian tribe of man-haters that live in the, I shit you not, “She-Zone” which is marked off with something that looks like a “no men’s room” sign. Quite hot, she is a bloodthirsty action girl who goes on the front lines with the rest of the heroes and only joins when she is defeated in combat by one of the nameless redshirts and not the actual hero. That indignity aside, if anyone is the badass of the movie, it’s the lovely, antisocial Nyla.

Kai: Andrew Howarth plays a loin cloth garbed fellow who was the most recent male to trespass into the She-Zone. Apparently the punishment for that is to be stripped down, “forced” to mate with the women, have his tongue cut out and “destroyed.” Sure, the tongue cutting out part sounds rough, but on the bright side, he doesn’t have any dialogue. Doesn’t sound like such a bad deal, really. Actually, it sounds a lot like…

And speaking of Snoo Snoo…
Valaria: Angelika Jager plays our main villain, the servant of the Dark One who spends most of the movie in tight fitting clothing getting chewed out by the Dark One and scheming. She’s really hot but has a fairly thick accent. And then there’s the “Pleasure Machine” which, well… It’s really weird and for the MST3K version, most of it was edited out for television. Because boobies.

Torque: Rick Gianasi plays an evil robot underling of the Dark One who looks a lot like a lobster-man-robot-thing in a cape. Not exactly threatening, but apparently he’s the Dark One’s hands-on guy for killing humans and stuff.

The Dark One: A disembodied voice (not listed in the credits) that is apparently the overseer of the evil robot society. He only shows up in the Power Station and only in one big room/level. We never see him, so we’ve no idea what he is. Mostly he just yells at his henchmen to do their jobs and then screws them over anyway because he’s a jackass.

Directed by Tim Kinkaid (who in addition to a few other low budget 80s movies has written and directed a staggering number of gay porn films under the pseudonym “Joe Gage,” which is another sentence I never thought I’d ever write)

Visually, the movie isn’t very good. The costumes are generally bad with the humans wearing somewhat tattered fur/faux fur (which tend to emphasize the cleavage of the buxom females) and the robots looking slightly better (all five of them). There are also some shitty mutants that attack the heroes in a random encounter. There are also the monsters, which aren’t very good either (there’s wall worms that are essentially sock puppets and a web beast that is one arm of a giant spider puppet).

Written by Tim Kincaid, the story follows an on-rails plotline with dialogue that often doesn’t work right. One character will ask a question and the reply will either cryptically avoid an answer or explain an unrelated plot point. Characters will wander off for no valid reason. One could spend hours picking apart the flaws with the story and I don’t really have the patience to do so right now. Since a picture is worth a thousand words, I’ll use this instead:

No, context wouldn’t help it make sense.

Synthesizers with occasional orchestral touches. None of it is very good or memorable and all of it apparently lifted from older B-movies. Which would explain the sudden shifts in score.

Robot Holocaust itself is just plain bad, but actually looking it up after watching it led to a case of “too much information.” I know I’m a weirdness magnet, but I think something went *ping* in my head as I was writing this.


Closest thing to a trailer I could find.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

“If he weighed 90 pounds instead of 180, he'd be a Colonel and a public hero and you'd still be a Captain.”

Goodness, is it time for more cinematic schlock? Why yes, I think it is. Today’s Cold War gem comes from 1953 and was something that science fiction legend Robert A. Heinlein effectively disowned, so you know it’s a winner. Here’s Project Moonbase.

In the distant future of 1970 the USSF (United States Space something-that-begins-with-F) (and their tight fitting skullcaps, t-shirts and bicycle shorts) will be sufficiently advanced enough to have orbiting space stations shaped like Frisbees from which a module will finally perform a survey mission to evaluate the possibility of putting a man on the Moon. However, the enemies of FREEDOM and AMERICA (who aren’t outright stated to be the Russians, but it’s a movie from 1953, so you do the math) will be plotting to destroy the space station and sneak a saboteur onto the project. Can the two legitimate astronauts on board the Magellan Space Module prevent that disaster while sorting out their own unresolved sexual tension?

Yeah, that’s it. That’s the plot. Apparently it was intended as the pilot of a TV series, but when it got expanded into a feature film, Heinlein didn’t take kindly to the changes and disowned it.

“Dr. Werhner”: Larry Johns plays both the actual scientist and the damn dirty fifth columnist who impersonates him. There’s not a whole lot to the character other than he’s a spy who’s not exactly thrilled to be a bad guy who answers to a guy who looks like a cross between Bob Hope & Michael Ironside.

Major Bill Moore: Ross Ford plays our square-jawed hero who wants to be the pilot of the survey craft, but because of politics, he gets bumped to co-pilot in favor of his not-quite girlfriend, not-quite ex.

Colonel Briteis: Donna Martell is the pilot of the Magellan and while a capable astronaut, politics had a part to play in her swift promotion. Still, she’s the only character that has any real kind of backstory/motivation, and she also looks pretty good in those shorts, so what the hell, she’s our badass.

Directed by Richard Talmadge, the film is about what you’d expect from something like this. The astronaut costumes aside from the space suits are ridiculous and the spacecraft are absurdly obvious low quality models. The USSF space station (SPACOM, apparently) looks too much like a Frisbee to be mere coincidence.


Still, the rocket effects aren’t that bad, just obviously fake. There are also some gratuitous split-screen effects on the space station to represent the wacky gravity of the station. Think “Lionel Ritchie Dancing on the Ceiling” only with white people and no dancing.

Robert A. Heinlein and Jack Seaman on story/screenplay duty. There is actually nothing good I can say here. Dialogue is bland, characters are flat and the story is dull, dull, dull. It’s as though Heinlein wasn’t even trying. It is a long 63 minutes.

The original music by Herschel Burke Gilbert is about what you’d expect for a Sci-Fi B-Movie. Nothing more, nothing less.

Well, the Moon Landing (which is, of course, as phony as a heliocentric solar system) took place in 1969, so the movie was only off by 1 year. So…I guess that’s… good…? I don’t know, I’m fishing for compliments. Briteis is cute?

Look, this is just a really, really, really boring Sci-Fi movie. There’s no craziness, no memorable characters, not even laughably bad special effects failures. It’s just a big bag of boring. The only way this could possibly be enjoyable is if three people were watching it and making fun of it.

Hmmm….I’ve heard of that somewhere before.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

“Gee whiz, as long as you’re sitting here, I don't even want to think about slime people!”

Now stop me if you’ve heard this one before: A city becomes enveloped by a thick fog out of which come strange monsters who kill people and the heroes are a small group of survivors from different walks of life who are desperately trying to keep on living.

No, it’s not The Mist! It’s a film made 44 years before that drab disappointment bored me to insane laughter. It’s 1963’s own boring wall of gray, The Slime People.

So our hero, a sports reporter, is flying his single prop plane into Los Angeles and almost crashes when he passes through a thick fog. Landing, he finds the airfield completely empty and wonders what the hell is going on when a station wagon pulls up. Inside are a scientist and his two nubile daughters (because scientists always have nubile daughters in these kinds of films). Mr. Scientist has been trying to figure out what’s been going on with the fog that pops up at night and through the miracle of an expository newsreel the heroes find, the audience learns with them as apparently some kind of seismic whatever has pissed off a race of subterranean Slime People (DUN DUN DUN!) who have invaded LA, slaughtered thousands and erected some kind of solid fog wall around the city that is keeping the US Military out. So now it’s up to our plucky survivors to figure out a way to tear down that wall before the Slime People somehow manage to lower the dew point in LA permanently so they can live on the surface in a foggy, slimy paradise. If any of this sounds exciting, get ready for disappointment.

Tom Gregory: Robert Hutton is our Hero and a Sportscaster by trade. Now, to the movie’s credit, they actually kind of have him do something that ties in to his trade at one point. One night, the survivors are in a TV studio and he tries to broadcast a warning using a TV camera. Of course it doesn’t work, but at least they pretended to have his backstory be relevant in the main action. Other than that, he’s the main character and for some reason becomes the leader of the group.

Professor Galbraith: Robert Burton is the older man of Science who spends the movie trying to figure out a way to break down the wall (I’m only sparing you the trouble of watching this by telling you it’s table salt).

Lisa Galbraith: Susan Hart is the older, brunette daughter and aside from being the main driver of the crew, she and Tom Gregory develop a thing, because this is exactly the kind of movie to shoehorn in an obligatory romance subplot or two.

Bonnie Galbraith: Judee Morton plays the younger blonde sister and speaking of obligatory romance subplots: she and the young marine start up a thing too, though to be fair, that romance makes a little more sense since they’re both very young and hormonal. Late in the movie, Bonnie ends up getting kidnapped by the slime people, apparently as a lure to the other humans, but this makes no sense in the context of the rest of the story since our would-be Monster-Americans have been on a take no prisoners kick.

Cal Johnson: William Boyce plays a young Marine who is one of (if not only) the few military survivors in LA. He’s useful since he’s got some guns, but he’s also something of a habitual coward, so I guess that makes him a glass badass.

Norman Tolliver: Les Tremayne plays an eccentric, reclusive writer who is first seen carrying a goat around. ‘Cause he’s eccentric and wacky. He’s a latecomer to the group and adds absolutely NOTHING aside from a warm body for the slime people to kill to give the other characters the semblance of emotional response to it. Although, to his credit, he hams it up big for the brief time he’s around.

The Slime People: Apparently over half of the movie’s budget went toward the design and manufacture of the Slime People costumes, and you know what? For a 1960’s low budgeter, they’re pretty decent. Described as having scales and a covering of slime (hence the name) they are able to effectively conquer LA despite their primary weapons being spears. That makes them pretty badass relatively speaking. Unfortunately, the fog accompanies them whenever they’re on screen, so you will never, EVER get a good look at them.

Best picture I could find.
Robert Hutton directed as well (and this was the actor’s only directorial effort). Now, the movie’s bad, no doubt about it, but let’s take a good look at why. The acting and writing are par for the course for B Movies, but the visuals, that’s where it really falls apart. We’ve got a fog. Not just any fog, but a thick, floor-to-ceiling blanket whenever the slime people are on screen. Yes, I get that it’s their shtick, but by the end of the movie, the fog gets so thick that it obscures EVERYTHING on screen in a sheet of gray so the big, climactic fight scene is nothing but a bunch of voices shouting and slime people gurgling.

It actually looks like this at points.

Now to go on a bit of a tangent, this is one of the major reasons I hated The Mist too (though admittedly, the talent involved in making that movie is much, much, much, much better). There are monsters hiding in the fog that want to kill you, that’s an old idea, but in both of these movies, said fog is a giant wall of obscuration that stretches on and on and on (worse in Slime People since it also obscures the foreground). It is completely uniform, not particularly dark and in no way is it menacing for a viewer. Imagination is a key component of something scary and filling the screen with one color works fine for brief moments, but as the foundation for the entire feel of the movie it gets boring fast. The eyes have nothing to do during lulls in the action (if they can even see the action) which is just boring and evaporates the tension. I’m not saying fog is a complete no-no in visual storytelling. I’m saying that wall-to-wall fog is. Case in point for good fog usage: the old Universal Horror movies. In those films, the quasi-gothic art style is enhanced by the occasional gloomy fog that oppressively hovers and swirls near the ground. It has depth. It has distance. It obfuscates without obscuring the scene, hiding sections of the locations but allowing the eye to soak in enough detail to piece together a place in the mind. It hides just enough to let the viewer fill in the hypothetical rest of the image.

Now I never want to write about the use of fog ever again.

Blair Robertson & Vance Skarstedt on script duties, and, well, it’s the standard platter of B Movie elements. The Slime People can be your standard metaphor for mankind’s hubris for tampering with the laws of nature or something since they are provoked into invading the surface. Or something. I don’t know, it reminds me a little of the many, many times the Fantastic Four fought the armies of the Mole Man. It’s not really worth looking too closely at since the story elements, while not exactly good, aren’t anything that hasn’t been seen before.

Lou Foman, Paul Sawtell & Bert Shefter deliver a fairly standard, inoffensive score for this kind of film.

So yeah, The Slime People. It’s bad and you can’t really see anything for most of the movie. And it has the same basic plot as The Mist. And it has the same visual reason why I was bored by The Mist. So apparently today’s lesson is that horror movies that overdo it on the fog machines are bad. And it only took me 1300 words to get there!

Holy shit, the trailer actually shows more clear shots of the slime people than the actual movie.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

“Yes! To be like the hu-man! To laugh! Feel! Want! Why are these things not in the plan?”

Hooboy. There’s bad movies, and then there’s epically bad, head scratching, WTF inducing piles of offal that make you wonder how they ever got released. Years ago, I saw a pseudo-documentary compiling clips from old, bad movies called It Came From Hollywood, and the few seconds of screen time from our next feature were lodged in my brain. Thanks, brain. For that I’m going to increase my alcohol consumption to punish you. It’s time to take a look at one of the most infamously bad movies of all time, 1953’s Robot Monster IN 3-D!! Well, in 2-D at least.

So we’ve got a kid who’s big into science fiction playing around in a “space helmet” with his sister and they run into some archeologists looking around in a cave, then their mother and older sister find them and have a picnic. Riveting. Then the kid wanders off back to the cave and the lightweight falls down when there’s a flash of lightning (or something), then we cut to incredibly random shots of reptiles from other movies, both real and stop motion, fighting with each other. Then the kid wakes up and is almost spotted by the monster of the film, who emerges from the cave (which is his base apparently, since there’s a bubble making machine at the entrance) and has a conversation with his overlord, where the audience finds out that all but eight human beings have been wiped out by the Robot Monster (DUN DUN DUN). The kid runs back to his family, who are holed up in a ruined building and we learn that his older sister, his dad and his dad’s assistant are scientists trying to find a way to beat the monster. Oh, and since the dad & assistant were the archeologists from the beginning, it’s not really a spoiler to say that this entire movie is a dream sequence when the movie lays it out for you.

Johnny: Gregory Moffett plays our young kid hero. In the beginning section, he’s just a sci-fi obsessed kid, but in the dream he’s a really dumb protagonist who keeps wandering off into danger and at one point, decides to confront the monster and ends up spilling all of the beans about how his family survived the death ray that killed 99% of the population. Way to hand the bad guy the nails for the coffin, kid.

The Professor: John Mylong is an archeologist in the framing sequence and the kid’s father in the dream, where he developed a serum that would’ve granted humanity immunity to pretty much all diseases but only had time to test it on 8 people. Hmmm… 8 test cases, 8 survivors… Also, he’s got a German accent for no story reason whatsoever (other than perhaps the actor himself being Austrian).

Mother: Selena Royle (misspelled Royale in the credits), is Johnny’s mother and…that’s about it.

Carla: Pamela Paulson plays Johnny’s annoying little sister. The best thing I can say about the character is that she gets strangled by the villain late in the picture.

Alice: Claudia Barrett plays the attractive older sister who’s also a scientist. She ends up being really important since she catches the villain’s eye, if you know what I mean (only if you’re also picturing a guy in a gorilla costume carrying her around the hills which YOU SHOULD).

Roy: George Nader plays the young male scientist assistant who, in the dream sequence, is Alice’s boyfriend/fiancée/only viable mate.

Ro-Man: Played by George Barrows and voiced by John Brown, this, I’m afraid, is our badass. A man in a gorilla costume with a plastic diving helmet & antennae. With the help of a bubble machine and some stock footage, this is the creature that wiped out humanity. And he gets to work on finishing the job until he discovers Alice, and his Ro-Man heart starts to question his mission to wipe out all the hu-mans. He takes orders from the Great Guidance, which is the same costume (and voice) with a slight variation.

Man, low budget doesn’t even begin to describe this movie. Supposedly shot in a matter of days, they didn’t even have the money to afford a full space monster costume, so director Phil Tucker got his friend George Barrows to wear his gorilla costume with a different headpiece. Then there’s the sequences of dinosaurs and lizards fighting, which is just old footage from One Million B.C. and Flight To Mars and makes ABSOLUTELY NO SENSE IN THE CONTEXT OF THE FILM. NONE!!!

Although apparently the 3-D effects were quite decent back in the day, so, uh, hooray?

Let's see Ro-Man again...

The screenplay by Wyott Ordung is pretty bad, but I can see what they were going for; a post apocalyptic tale of humanity’s struggle to survive against a race that unreasonably hates it (there’s probably a Cold War metaphor in there somewhere), and I have to give that plot some credit for guts. After all, it kills off a defenseless (and really stupid) girl and then kills the young hero type guy with the strong implication that the Ro-Man finally does wipe out humanity. But of course the framing device lets us know that it’s only a dream right from the start, so they kind of backpedal on that apocalypse pretty quick.

Or do they???

Well, yeah, they do. It’s the kind of story that would make sense as a short story, but not as a 66 minute piece of schlock.

Oh man, Elmer Bernstein, what were you doing slumming it here? Oh well, at least the music for this pile was good.

Well, it’s short, I’ll give it that, but honestly, Robot Monster is easily one of the worst movie’s I’ve ever seen. This is definitely Z grade cinema, right here. It just stumbles right into "so bad it's good" territory. This is one of the big ones, right up there with Ed Wood's stuff & Manos the Hands of Fate.

Boy, that trailer text sure does sell you a bill of fare.

Friday, July 16, 2010

“I like this ship! You know, it's exciting!”

Regarding Science Fiction, it’s hard to ignore a franchise like Star Trek. Gene Roddenberry’s baby dates back to 1966 and spans six television series and eleven motion pictures (of varying quality). At some point, I would love to go through the movies in proper order, but for the time being, I’ll settle with the most recent one, 2009’s sequel/reboot (it gets complicated), the simply titled Star Trek.

So in Stardate 2233, the United Federation of Planets Starfleet ship USS Kelvin encounters a big storm in space from which emerges a gigantic ship crewed by Romulans that are really pissed off at Ambassador Spock. Long story short, the Kelvin gets destroyed but the survivors, including a newborn James Kirk manage to escape. Some time later, on the planet Vulcan, a young Spock gets made fun of at school for being a half-breed Vulcan/Human and he punches some bitches out for it.

Fast forward to some even more time later and Kirk is now a troubled youth living in Iowa and stealing his foster-dad’s Corvette, listening to the Beastie Boys, getting chased by cops and getting into bar fights. A Starfleet captain recognizes him and challenges him to live up to his father’s legacy and join Starfleet. Not having much else to do, Kirk does so.

Still later, the Romulan ship returns and the bulk of Starfleet goes to investigate and get seriously wrecked. Since it was running late to the battle because of the rookie crew, the USS Enterprise quickly becomes the Federation’s last, best hope against a really pissed off time traveling Romulan. As you can tell, there’s a lot of ADVENTURE!

James Tiberius Kirk: Chris Pine plays the Kirk as a brilliant but directionless young man who’s not so much pissed at the world but more looking for a place to shine. Turns out Starfleet is exactly where his brash bravado and two-fisted approach to “conflict resolution” are a perfect fit. The only problem is he doesn’t have much use/respect for the appropriate chain of command, which pisses off all kinds of people throughout the film, including Spock.

Spock: Zachary Quinto and Leonard Nimoy (it’s complicated) both play Spock. Nimoy is Ambassador Spock, from the future (it’s Star Trek, get used to time travel). Young Spock is a promising young Starfleet cadet who is a brilliant science officer and quickly rising up the ranks. And then about midway through the movie something serious and spoilery happens that really strains his ability to keep his cool, logical self in control.

Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy: Karl Urban plays Dr. McCoy as a cantankerous and ornery doctor who signed up with Starfleet to get away from an ex-wife. Grumpy enough to be comedic, but Bones is no mere sidekick and instrumental to getting Kirk aboard the Enterprise.

Nyota Uhura: Zoe Saldana plays the Enterprise’s communications officer and kind of has a thing going on with Spock.

Hikaru Sulu: John Cho doesn’t get a whole lot to do as the helmsman Sulu, but he does get a badass fencing scene with a telescoping sword.

Pavel Chekov: Anton Yelchin plays the very young navigator. Not in the movie much, but he does get some good jokes with the Chekov tendency to swap ‘v’s with ‘w’s.

Montgomery “Scotty” Scott: Simon Pegg (who’s done some awesome things that I would love to write about here eventually) is a latecomer to the ship, but Scotty is a hell of a lot of fun in the movie and gets some great lines.

Nero: Eric Bana plays our Villain. A Romulan from the future, he’s really mad because his homeworld (in the future) was destroyed, and he blames Spock for it. He’s got a giant mining spaceship, a crew of likeminded Romulans and a doomsday weapon that he intends to systematically destroy Federation worlds with. Not the most complicated villain out there, but Bana does well with the material, chewing scenery furiously.

Captain Christopher Pike: Bruce Greenwood plays the first captain of the Enterprise (which is a great continuity nod to the original pilot episode). He’s also the guy who’s pulling for Kirk to join Starfleet. He gets some good moments.

George Samuel Kirk: Chris Hemsworth (who will be Marvel’s Thor) is only in the movie at the beginning, but damn does he make an impression. After the captain of the Kelvin is killed, George Kirk gets a really fast promotion and evacuates the crew, including his wife who is going into labor. He then proceeds to take the much smaller and damaged Kelvin on a suicide run at Nero’s ship (which apparently causes enough damage that Nero’s unable to do any rampaging for almost twenty years) to cover the escaping shuttles. And what does he do on this last ride? He’s talking to his wife and they’re agreeing on a name for their son. That is BAD ASS and a serious contender for one of the manliest death scenes of the decade.

And there’s a cameo by Tyler Perry (yep, that one) as a high ranking Starfleet officer.

Directed by J.J. Abrams (and I’ll admit that his stuff is kind of hit-&-miss for me. I have never had any desire to see Lost but I rather like Fringe, so go figure) with Daniel Mindel as director of photography and the wizards at Industrial Light And Magic as the primary effects guys. Visually, the movie really goes to town. Action and character development are key here and there’s not a lot of downtime because the villain wants to destroy planets and he can do so in a matter of minutes. The cast works well together and the action sequences are damn entertaining, and there’s a lot of them. A freewheeling spirit of ADVENTURE! abounds.

Star Trek created by Gene Roddenberry with this script by frequent Abrams collaborators Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, and they nail a fantastic balance between a straightforward Sci-Fi ADVENTURE! yarn and throwing in a ton of Star Trek continuity nods that show they’ve done their homework. Dialogue is great, the pace is spry and they throw an interesting spin on familiar characters. And the time travel storytelling device? That’s nothing new. Something like a third of the Trek movies used it. Here they use it to justify the new continuity of the reboot, which is another nice touch.

Original score by another frequent Abrams collaborator, the very reliable Michael Giacchino and also integrating at the end the original Star Trek theme by Alex North, which was a fantastic touch.
Sound effects supervised by Ben Burtt, so you know the movie sounds fantastic.

Considering the rocky history of Star Trek films (and the fact that the last few were just plain not good) the reboot could have very easily gone into “bad fan fiction” territory. Happily, Star Trek does not, and while yes, it looks to the original Star Wars movies for that spirit of ADVENTURE!, that’s not a bad thing, especially since the Prequels certainly didn’t. Totally recommended.

And simply because it amuses me:

You are now freaking out. Manually.

The Blog Is Dead! Long Live The Blog!

Ok, so I had a review ready to go for the J.J. Abrams Star Trek (short version: it’s fun), but I’m holding off for a bit because A) I’m running out of my backlog for movies that aren’t schlock and B) I’m at one of those transition phases where time and effort really should be diverted elsewhere and this week it really hit me that I had a choice to make about my “RMWC Reviews” Side project because the review format I’ve been working with for the last year is no longer viable or all that fun for that matter. I mean, I have a long list of reviews to write for films that I saw like four months ago. I look at that list and think “I REALLY don’t want to sit down and write a long review for Stripes because there’s not that much I want to say about it.”

What started out as a side project to deal with writer’s block has itself ironically fallen victim to writer’s block. Yeah, crazy, huh?

So the choice is either kill the project entirely because I’ve sunk a whole lot of words into something that doesn’t pay and I have no idea how many people are actually reading my ramblings OR I could throw in a compromise and work in a truncated, less strictly structured style that kind of goes back to how this blog was before I hit on the formula I’ve been using for the past year.

Lucky for you, I’ve chosen the way of compromise for two simple reasons.

1) I still end up watching a ton of movies and I am still learning a ton from them. Which is good, because it’s made me so much more aware of plotting and structuring my own scripts. Dialogue I’m comfortable with, but plotting has been tricky a lot of times and really, that’s where my true passion lies. As much as I have fun writing about the results of other people’s creativity, I’d much rather be working on completing my own creative projects (some of which are actually getting close to production and really deserve more of my attention right now). But thinking critically about the visual storytelling process (either films or video games) helps me as a writer, so that’s a good reason to at least keep my toes in the water.

2) It is incredibly cathartic to go on a rant every once in a while and simply vent out artistic frustration on a bad, bad movie. Some of the most fun I’ve had writing for this was in taking things like First Knight or the Star Wars Prequels to task, and there are certainly other films that deserve that treatment. And I definitely still want to do another Octoverride this year, despite the insanity of 31 consecutive days of posting.

To encapsulate things in an awkward metaphor: Castle RMWC is still standing, but over the next few [insert unit of time here], it’s going to go through some remodeling. For the next few weeks the reviews might not be on a regular schedule and they will most definitely be shorter in most cases (although the schlock films I rather like writing in the current style and would likely bring it out of mothballs on special occasions). I’d like to throw more videogame nerdiness into the mix and maybe do some spotlight features on subgenres, like crotchety rant about the current lamentable state of vampires in cinema. Conditions permitting, I’d even like to do some video postings, but that is going to require a bit more effort than sitting down and typing out some clever words. It’s just an idea but we’ll see how it shakes out.

So I guess that about does it. As always comments, criticisms and requests are welcome. Requests are definitely something I’m serious about looking into. For instance, if you want me to review Napoleon Dynamite, let me know (and likely let me borrow a copy since there is no way in Pluperfect Hell that I would watch that again AND pay money for it)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

“Our Lady of Blessed Acceleration, don't fail us now.”

I’m just going to say upfront that I unconditionally love 1980’s The Blues Brothers. I think it’s a work of comedic genius that is eternally watchable. BUT, let’s take a little look at why this movie based on an SNL skit works as well as it does.

Well, one Jake Blues is released from Joliet Penitentiary just outside of Chicago on parole and is reunited with his brother, Elwood. Both find out that the orphanage where they were raised is being foreclosed and feel a sense of duty (and good ol’ Catholic Guilt) to raise the money to save the place. Legally being the catch. After a divine revelation, they decide to reform their old band for a charity concert and hilarity and ADVENTURE! skip hand-in-hand through the greater Chicagoland area.

“Joliet” Jake Blues: John Belushi plays the (slightly) more caustic brother (I say slightly because they dress alike, speak alike and have the same expressionless looks on their sunglasses covered faces). Jake is the one who gets the idea to get the band back together.

Elwood Blues: Dan Aykroyd plays the more laid back brother. He’s the driver of the Blues mobile (an old decommissioned cop car). Collectively, the brothers are unquestionably badass.

Curtis: Jazz legend Cab Calloway plays the guy who practically raised Jake & Elwood as kids (and gave them their fashion sense). Performs his classic “Minnie the Moocher.”

The Mysterious Woman: Carrie Fisher plays a young woman who periodically shows up to try and kill the brothers in various ways.

Burton Mercer: John Candy plays Jake’s jovial parole officer who gets caught up in the chase.

Head Nazi: the late Henry Gibson (a comedy vet and one of the main players on “Laugh-In”) plays the leader of a group of Illinois Nazis that swear violent revenge against the Blues Brothers.

The Blues Brothers Band: Okay, deep breath and here we go: Steve “The Colonel” Cropper, Donald “Duck” Dunn, Murphy “Murph” Dunne, Willie “Too Big” Hall, Tom “Bones” Malone, “Blue Lou” Marini, Matt “Guitar” Murphy and Alan “Mr. Fabulous” Rubin. All of them are real, legitimate musicians and all of them have nicknames.

There’s also a bunch of cameo appearances including Frank Oz, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, James Brown, Chaka Khan, John Landis, Twiggy, Paul “Pee Wee Herman” Reubens, John Lee Hooker, Pinetop Perkins, Steven Spielberg, James “Uncle Phil” Avery, and even Mr. T.

John Landis with cinematography by Stephen M. Katz. It’s all well suited to comedy. Chicago has a generally scruffy look to it in the film, which fit’s the mood, and Landis does a fantastic job keeping the movie flowing at a nice, quick pace even as the movie heaps on random musical numbers, cameos and characters pissed off at the Blues Brothers. And of course car chases. The climax features one of the great cinematic car chases, so that’s a major plus.

Dan Aykroyd and John Landis wrote a script full of quotes and memorable scenes. The plot may not be deep, but it makes up for it in width (if that makes any sense).

No original score, but the film is loaded with a killer blues-centric soundtrack. Take a look at that list of cameos above. Pretty much if any of those names sound like musicians, they were involved in a musical number. As a fan of the blues, the soundtrack is killer.

Yes, the movie is mostly an excuse to showcase car chases and blues music, but it does those things so well and features excellent acting that it transcends that simple premise into absurd comedy gold. I kind of wish the review was more in-depth, but honestly, you have no excuse to not have seen this already. Required viewing.

Yes, I know it's for the DVD. Youtube won't let me embed the theatrical trailer.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

“What does it mean I’m stacked?”

The early years of the Space Race are an interesting time for science fiction. Since not a whole lot was actually known about the effects of space travel on human bodies, you get all sorts of out-there ideas about what it can do to people, and in the land of schlock, the consensus was “bad things.” 1963’s The Crawling Hand mixes that in with a little bit of corrupted youth themes for a fresh pile of bad movie.

So the space program is sort of going well. The US has managed to put a couple rockets on the moon, which is good. Unfortunately, the astronauts sent up there never made it back home, which is bad. On the latest rocket, the oxygen runs out and the pilot is presumed dead, but the guy manages to send a transmission begging control to blow up his rocket before he gets back to earth. They do so, but little chunks of debris (and astronaut) manage to survive reentry, including his arm. Naturally, this arm is found by our Hero, a fairly ordinary med student who gets possessed by the hand and starts trying to choke people out. I mean, what else were you expecting it to do?

Paul Lawrence: Rod Lauren is our main character, a typical med student and a fairly ordinary guy. He’s dating a hot foreign exchange student (okay, so he’s not that ordinary), lives in a boarding house and, well, he’s pretty boring until he finds the hand on the beach one day with his girl. Then he starts acting like a drug addict in those after school specials; severely antisocial, holed up in his room most of the time, always mad and prone to trying to choke out people for no reason other than blind rage.

Marta Farnstrom: Sirry Steffen (a former Miss Iceland) is Paul’s girlfriend, a Scandinavian foreign exchange med student who’s visiting her scientist grandfather in the states, which sounds like “Dear Penthouse…” should accompany that sentence. And yes, she’s “stacked” as the kids used to say.

Steve Curran & Dr. Max Weitzberg: Peter Breck & Kent Taylor are space program guys who are trying to track down the wreckage of the rocket they blew up at the beginning. They don’t really do much relevant to the actual plot, despite showing up a lot to share exposition and be “important.”

Sheriff Townsend: Alan Hale Jr. (yep, the son of Little John and the Skipper of the Minnow himself) is the town sheriff who’s a fairly friendly fellow, until people start ending up choked.

Mrs. Hotchkiss: Arline Judge is Paul’s landlady and the first (and actually only) victim of the crawling hand to die. For some reason, she sleeps with chinderwear.

The Crawling Hand: The movie needs a badass, and here it’s a severed astronaut arm. Yes, ARM, so the title is a blatant lie. Anyway, whatever life form the astronaut encountered in space possessed him and sent him into a berserker rage, and apparently that same life form is capable of continuing that animating force even after being severed from the central nervous system. That’s dedication, right there, though the movie never asks the question “why?” Why would a presumably bacterial alien life form that can exist in the vacuum of space drive people into violent rages specifically and not, oh, I dunno, hunger or lust?

Herbert L. Strock (who in addition to a lot of TV work directed B films such as I Was A Teenage Frankenstein which I’m sure doesn’t live up to the potential of the title) directed this and well, there’s not a whole lot specifically bad about it, actually. It’s decently shot and competently edited, just not particularly engaging. Still, the scene where a possessed Paul breaks into the soda shop after closing and tries to choke the eccentric comic relief owner to death is actually pretty decent.

So, original story by Joseph Cranston, Robert M. Young & William Idelson with the screenplay by Idelson and Herbert L. Strock. The story is what it is, and I suppose you could read a little into the metaphor of youth corrupted by drugs, but there’s not much of it there. Dialogue is “meh” and while there are a few comic relief characters (the ambulance drivers, the soda shop owner) that are memorable, the main cast are all incredibly boring people when the hand isn’t trying to murderize them.

Original music by an unaccredited Marlin Skiles and its about what you’d expect. There’s also “The Bird’s The Word” performed by the Rivingtons that plays during the aforementioned soda shop assault.

The Crawling Hand isn’t actually that bad for a terrible movie. The cast is boring, the dialogue is bland, but the idea of a homicidal severed arm choking people to death is at least memorable. Nothing remotely close to good, but memorable in a so bad it's good way.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

“We are the Neo-Humans. Bow down before us.”

I’m…not entirely sure what I just watched.

Wait, let’s break it down a bit. Earlier this year a game called Tatsunoko vs. Capcom came out for the Wii that in addition to including characters from Mega Man, Street Fighter and other Capcom franchises, also included a large number of characters owned by Tatsunoko, a company with a long history of anime. Stateside, probably their most recognizable series, Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, was adapted into Battle of the Planets. Anyway, the Tatsunoko characters are all pretty much unknown over here, but in the game they kick ass, so naturally I looked them up and learned that several of these venerable series have been both updated/rebooted or made into live action films. One of the more popular series, Shinzō Ningen Kyashān, (Neo-Human Casshern) is about a badass cyborg who fights legions of robots with his bare hands, so I guess it’s kind of like Magnus Robot Fighter, only with a robot dog ally and without a tiny skirt. In 2004, a live action movie, simply titled Casshern came out and, um, it’s really weird.

So, we’ve got the aftermath of some kind of war with the Eastern Federation on top, but still on a heavy military footing because of a large resistance movement. Heavy industrialization and all kinds of fallout has led to widespread urban creep and pollution and things kind of suck. However, one scientist discovers things called “Neo Cells” that work pretty much like ‘roided up stem cells and this means great things for the organ transplant field. Anyway, this scientist’s son enlists in the army and ends up getting killed by a booby-trapped baby (which is a pretty crappy way to go). Now, before we get to the obvious destination of this plot point, there’s a lot of moody dramatic scenes of the son’s ghost kind of hanging around the city and seeing his family members react to the news that he’s a corpse.

Regardless, a mysterious lightning bolt strikes the Doc’s lab and turns to stone (don’t look at me). This somehow causes all the body parts swimming in a Neo Cell bath to get active and start bonding together, creating a large number of now-alive-and-covered-in-muck people that then get mostly gunned down by the military since the government are assholes. A few manage to escape the troops and head into the mountains where they find a house/mansion/castle filled with inactive robots. Back in the city, the Doc finally puts his son’s corpse into the bath and brings him back to life.

So our resurrected hero gets a containment suit because his body is highly powerful but unstable and this happens in the nick of time, since the Neo-Humans come back with their robot horde to wreck shit up.

And that’s only what happens up to the halfway point. It’s a loooong movie.

Tetsuya Azuma/Casshern: Yûsuke Iseya plays our Hero. He starts off as a nice young guy, got a fiancée that he loves very much, a prominent scientist father and then he heads off to war where he participates in some very, very bad things and dies. But he gets better. Better than better, even! He gets super powers, like the ability to move hella fast and punch through robots! And brood! Yeah, there’s a lot of brooding and navel gazing in between punching the hell out of robots. And he spends some time as a ghost, which is never really explained.

Dr. Kotaro Azuma: Akira Terao plays Tetsuya’s caring but rather grim father. He’s the leading expert on Neo Cells and despite that strained relationship with his son, still loves him enough to bring him back from the dead. Gets some interesting plot twists down the line.

Midori Azuma: Kanako Higuchi plays Tetsuya’s mom. A gentle, kind woman who’s going blind (I think), she gets caught up in the craziness of the power struggles.

Luna Kozuki: Kumiko Asô plays Tetsuya’s beautiful, kind girlfriend. She figures prominently in a large number of scenes and gets some nice development. Her father is a robotics scientist and he is the one who actually builds the badass containment suit for Tetsuya.

Burai: Toshiaki Karasawa plays the Antagonist of the film. He’s a Neo-Human, recombined from body parts in a vat, he’s also really, really pissed about the Eurasian government being colossal jerks and gunning down helpless Neo-Humans. He upgrades to the leader of the robot legions, gets a badass red cape and becomes one hell of a complicated and sympathetic main villain. And certainly the film’s biggest badass.

Barashin: Jun Kaname plays a tall Neo-Human who gets into a killer swordfight with Casshern.

Sagurê: Mayumi Sada plays the hot Neo-Human working with Burai. She’s got a temper, that one.

Akubon: Hiroyuki Miyasako (at least, I hope I’ve got the credit right for this) plays the most interesting Neo-Human henchman. A hunchbacked mute who’s actually just a gentle guy with really crazy eyes, he’s very protective of Luna.

Kazuaki Kiriya was director, director of photography and lead editor (damn!) and it was part of that wave of films that heavily used chromakey, like Sky Captain, 300 and Sin City. And like those films, you can definitely tell that most of the movie was filmed on a set. HOWEVER, what Casshern does differently is that it does an incredible job of translating anime visual tricks to live action. That means we get crazy camera angles, we get sudden art shifts where things just switch to black & white for various scenes and yes, we get live action speed lines, which is both silly and awesome at the same time. The visual design is sort of like V for Vendetta meets Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, meets Fritz Lang’s Metropolis with a hefty dose of gloomy Russian industrial architecture and a whole lot of Nazi symbolism in the military’s uniforms.

Really though, what the movie does best are high intensity and very, very insane action sequences. However, for the running length (142 minutes for the original cut), it could’ve definitely benefited from at least one more action scene to help break up the melodrama.

Characters created by Tatsuo Yoshida, writing by Dai Sato & Shotaro Suga & screenplay by Kazuaki Kiriya (man, he’s all over the place). Anyway, the story is a fairly grim and serious affair that doesn’t really seem to follow the original premise very much. Here, Casshern isn’t a cyborg per-se, and he doesn’t have his trademark helmet or sidekick dog Friender that can turn into a jet or whatever (though both of the latter do get continuity nods). Characters are fairly standard and while there are a fair number of interesting plot twists, they do kind of venture into plot hole territory from time to time (like where the hell do those stone lightning bolts come from?). You also get the anime standard themes of War = Bad. Nuclear War = Worse. War with Giant Robots = F’ing Awesome (okay, so that last one is an unintentional side effect)

But there is a problem with the story. Tonally, this is a very dark, grim, brooding and serious film. Perhaps too serious for a movie based on a 70s cartoon about a guy having ADVENTURES! where he karate chopped robots in half. There is a lot of fantastical imagery on the screen, but outside of the action scenes, there is no sense of wonder to go along with it. Well, see for yourself:

Dig that crazy 70's collar.

Original music by Shirô Sagisu (who did the music for the anime classic/notorious mindfuck Neon Genesis Evangelion) and during the action sequences, the music really kicks into gear. Outside of that, Ludwig Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” permeates the film’s quieter moments. And the movie’s theme song “Dareka no Negai ga Kanau Koro” is by Hikaru Utada.

Casshern is a very, very interesting movie to watch. Very well made and visually incredible in many ways, I can’t wholeheartedly recommend it because it does tend to move too slowly in a large number of places when it really should'nt have to. There’s also the ending which is really, really weird (even compared to the rest of the movie). Still, I did like it quite a bit despite the flaws, so…sort of recommended for the adventurous out there.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

“Last I heard you were gonna have a talk with some fellas. Next thing I hear one of them's dead.”

Hey look, another Bruce Willis movie. This time starring in an American remake of Kurosawa’s Yojimbo that isn’t A Fistful of Dollars. Well, what it lacks in Sergio Leone, it makes up for in Christopher Walken. Here's 1996's Last Man Standing.

So it’s a small border town in Texas during the Prohibition. Our hero drives into town and by chance, finds a small gang war going on between Irish and Italian bootleggers and wouldn’t you know? One of the Irish guys pisses him off and there’s a duel. Our hero wins and finds himself stuck in town with two gangs that alternately want to kill him and get him to work for him. Sensing a quick buck, our anti-hero decides to work for both gangs, playing them off each other, until a Texas Ranger comes into town with an ultimatum: in ten days there had better be only one gang in town, otherwise the Rangers will wipe out both of them.

John Smith: Bruce Willis plays our stone-faced man without a past. He’s headed down to Mexico for reasons unknown, but he seems to be leaving Chicago. A tough guy, he does have a soft spot for women and helps several of them get away from the town throughout the film. I’m not entirely sold on the idea of Bruce Willis, an action guy with comedic charm, channeling Clint Eastwood’s humorless stoicism.

Joe Monday: William Sanderson (a veteran character actor) plays the town bartender and probably the most honest, likable guy in town. He lets Smith rent out a room and becomes a valuable source of information and scuttlebutt.

Sheriff Ed Galt: Bruce Dern (another veteran character actor) plays the town’s crooked sheriff. Kind of a jerk at first, he comes to not-hate Smith eventually since he finds the two gangs outsmarted by one guy somewhat amusing (and with the Rangers breathing down his neck, sees John as a guy who can do the sheriff’s job for him).

Fred Strozzi: Ned Eisenberg plays the head of the Strozzi gang and the first gang to hire Smith. Smith returns the favor by seducing Strozzi’s girl Lucy (Alexandra Powers).

Doyle: David Patrick Kelly plays the head of the Irish gang and he’s a lot more on edge than Strozzi. He’s also really paranoid about people looking at his girl, Felina (Karina Lombard), something Smith capitalizes on.

Hickey: Christopher Walken plays Doyle’s top enforcer, a cold-blooded killer with a nasty reputation, a hoarse voice and an appreciation for the Thompson submachine gun. Hickey is also the only crook who starts to figure out just what Smith is doing, which makes him pretty damn badass.

Captain Tom Pickett: Ken Jenkins plays the Texas Ranger who comes into town with the ultimatum. It’s a one-scene appearance, but come on, it is totally awesome seeing Bob Kelso with a big moustache bossing around Bruce Willis.

Directed by Walter Hill with Lloyd Ahern as director of photography. The movie certainly looks good. Visually, it’s a cross between a Western and a gangster flick, so that’s rather fresh. The action scenes are often brutal and it is quite entertaining watching Mr. Smith gunning down hoods with dual pistols.

Alright, so the screenplay is by Walter Hill and based on Yojimbo by Akira Kurosawa and Ryûzô Kikushima (which in turn has some similarities to some Dashiell Hammett novels that aren’t The Maltese Falcon or The Thin Man). While this film doesn’t have any glaring plot holes or whatever, it certainly feels a bit on the recycled side, probably because Yojimbo & A Fistful of Dollars are both so very well known. Big shoes to fill and all that. The atmosphere of this film is also surprisingly dark, with a lot of death, destruction and unhappy people. Things get pretty bleak at times.

The original music by Ry Cooder is…very 90s, and not really in a good way. Eschewing the big orchestral or jazz sounds that you would expect of a movie like this, a lot of synthesized elements dominate the soundtrack. Moody, sure, but kind of an ill fit for this kind of movie.

There’s not much to say about Last Man Standing. It’s all right I suppose. I didn’t regret watching it and there were a few cool action scenes, so it did what it sought out to do. The cast was full “hey it’s that guy” moments and Willis & Walken both did adequately with the material. However, there isn’t a whole lot this movie does that isn’t done better by other films. This is the kind of forgettable movie that goes great with a hangover; interesting enough without having to tax your brain too much. Not really recommended.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

“Whoever you are, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”

This next one will be…interesting. 1951’s A Streetcar Named Desire is a cinematic classic based on arguably the most popular play by Tennessee Williams, a playwriting titan of the 20th Century. But the thing is, I’ve never been particularly big on Williams’ work. He’s certainly a good writer, but his plays never really connected with me, possibly because I had to write an essay on The Glass Menagerie back in High School that was a chore, a bore and not very good.

Like I said, this will be interesting.

A former schoolteacher who fancies herself a southern belle falls on hard times and “visits” her sister in New Orleans and moves in. Her sister’s loutish husband isn’t exactly keen on this idea, and the small apartment they live in becomes an emotional powder keg. You bet your ass DRAMA ensues.

Blanche DuBois: Vivien Leigh does an excellent job as the main character. Blanche is about as flawed as a self-centered, self-styled Southern Belle can get. She shows up claiming to be just visiting and doesn’t leave and the reasons for her arrival in New Orleans are slowly revealed. A brilliant actress, she says a lot with her eyes.

Stella Kowalski: Kim Hunter plays Blanche’s sister. She’s been living and working in the Big Easy for a long time now and is expecting a baby. She’s sympathetic, but as the story goes on, she shows some pretty glaring character flaws herself.

Stanley Kowalski: Marlon Brando throws down one hell of a performance in this. Stanley is a straightforward, hard drinking tough guy who can sit with the palest of white trash. At the beginning, he’s kind of befuddled by Blanche’s arrival but slightly amused by it. His interactions with Blanche start off harmlessly comical, like watching a chimpanzee at a typewriter. But guess what? Stanley is a complete asshole and Brandon really hammers that home by the end of the movie.

Harold “Mitch” Mitchell: Karl Malden plays one of Stanley’s poker buddies. He develops a soft spot for Blanche, goes out with her a few times and is a pretty decent guy. He even stands up to Stanley in a few points, which is pretty damn badass.

Directed by Elia Kazan (who also directed the stage version that most of the film’s cast played in) with Harry Stradling Sr. as DP. Visually the movie is striking. The set design is great, the lighting outstanding and there are some truly iconic scenes, like the famous “STELLLLLAAAA!!” moment, to be found in this film. But, and this is a big one for me, the movie felt like it dawdled in a lot of places. A LOT of places to be honest, with some scenes going on interminably well after the point was made.

Based on the play by Tennessee Williams, adapted by Oscar Saul and screenplay by Tennessee Williams. Williams wrote a lot of stuff about the miserable lives of common people and this is no exception. There are no heroes in this story and everyone has some pretty enormous flaws. We get some really gritty character development too. I never got into Williams, but he is a good writer.

Original score by Alex North and the use of music in this film is fantastic. The main theme is a haunting, gloomy and very “New Orleans” kind of sound and numerous smaller themes pop up throughout, fading in and out and its only by the end of the movie when you realize their significance. I can’t say more for fear of spoiling the impact of it, but the music and how it is used in this are incredible.

A Streetcar Named Desire is a technically accomplished, excellently acted, musically brilliant movie that…for some reason, I didn’t like. It’s not a question of enjoyment, since this is not the kind of story you read/watch for pleasure, but aside from the moments I thought were genius, I just kept on wishing for the movie to get on with it. This is odd. On paper, this is a great movie, but in the actual act of sitting through it, I kept looking at my watch hoping for the 122 minutes to pass quicker than they did. I was not riveted to the screen, though possibly this may have been a side effect of watching Casablanca immediately before Streetcar. This is an important movie on its merits, but I was not engaged by it.