Tuesday, November 25, 2014

First Spaceship on Venus [Der schweigende Stern] (1960)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

It seems that the 50s and 60s produced a few good movies.  Those decades, unfortunately, also produced a lot of really bad movies.  I don’t know if standards were lower or if it was simply that easy to get a movie to market.  I submit into evidence First Spaceship on Venus.  The movie takes place in 1985 and starts with an alien device from the explosion in Tunguska, which was originally thought to be a meteorite.  Instead, it’s some sort of memory device that scientists have somehow determined that came from Venus.  It seems that it was part of some advanced probe.

Since there’s been no contact from Venus in the intervening decades, an expedition is assembled and sent to our sister planet.  No one can figure out why Venus has been silent nor does anyone know what to expect once the expedition gets there, but they must go.  Once they get there, it looks like Venus is desolate.  The atmosphere is thick and unbreathable.  There are no signs of life, but there are structures and things that look like large insects, but turn out to be information-storage devices.

Right before landing on Venus, the language expert decoded what’s on the alien device.  It turns out that the Venusians were planning on wiping out all life on Earth as a precursor to colonization.  The expedition can’t contact Earth; they must either carry on expecting unfriendly aliens or go home without any answers.  The expedition does go to Venus, but soon realizes that everyone is in mortal danger.  Thus, they decide to get off the planet with all deliberate speed.

I’ll admit that the story was very good.  It was based on a book by Stanislaw Lem, who also wrote the book that was turned into Solaris.  Regrettably, the actual movie wasn’t made that well.  A lot of time was spent getting the expedition together and a lot more time was spent actually getting to Venus.  The trip between planets really seemed to drag.  Yes, the people spent time either doing work or getting along, but I thought a lot of it could have been cut out.  Not a lot of time was actually spent on Venus looking around, which could definitely have been developed.

Apparently, there were different versions released.  I got this as part of a ten-movie set; the information on the back of the box gives the runtime as 78 minutes and the year of release as 1959.  According to IMDb, it does look like there were longer versions released in different countries, which leaves me wondering what was left out.

The dubbing was bad, but not distracting.  From what I can tell, it was originally released in German and translated into English.  This explains why the dubbing looks decent in some areas, but totally off in others.  I didn’t notice it in most scenes, but there were a few where it was extremely evident that it was a dub.

The special effects were nothing special.  There were a few scenes on Venus where we had gasses floating around.  If you look closely, it looks like a static image was used.  You don’t notice the gas swirling at all.  The transfer also left a lot to be desired.  The movie is in color, but there were a lot of segments that had a heavy blue tint, almost to where they appeared to be in black and white.

I’ve come to not expect much of science-fiction movies from the 50s.  I’ve found that it tends to be kind of hokey.  The world of 1985 that this movie has shows an international team of people working together.  There’s a black man and a Japanese woman as part of the expedition, which I suppose isn’t impossible.  (After all, we do have an international space station.)

Still, much of the science seems simple by today’s standards.  The ship has artificial gravity and everything, but no mention is made of the fact that Venus’s atmosphere is much denser than ours.  Also, the ending was relatively weak.  I expected some great moral revelation or something.  Instead, when the ship gets back to Earth, it’s just some sad faces and a few words on what happened.

I’ll admit that my perspective is a bit skewed.  This is part of a ten-film set released by St. Clair Vision where the company had to pay little or nothing, meaning that this is the bottom of the barrel.  Still, there had to be better movies out there.  I’d like to think that if I was making this movie, I’d have done better.


Monday, November 24, 2014

Hell Comes to Frogtown (1988)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

I saw They Live a while ago, which had Roddy Piper in it as a man who had a special vision. I did a search to find some of the other movies that he’s been in; that’s how I found this one. Hell Comes to Frogtown is about Sam Hell (played by Piper) and his part in helping to repopulate the world.

You see, humanity finally brings itself to push the button and cause massive radiation. This has two very negative side effects. One is that frogs mutate into much bigger frogs that can walk and talk and wreak havoc on the world. The other is that most people are rendered sterile. That’s where Hell comes in.

MedTech, the agency responsible for repopulation, takes notice when Hell leaves a trail of pregnant women wherever he goes. That makes him qualified for their mission. The leader of Frogtown has kidnapped several women, all of whom also are capable of bearing young. It’s Hell’s job to go in, rescue the women and impregnate them in no particular order.

Spangle, played by Sandahl Bergman, will be responsible for making sure he gets there and back safely. With them is Centinella, played by Cec Verrell. (Centinella is a gunner.) The three of them have a plan, albeit a strange one, to accomplish their mission. Then again, the entire movie is strange. (Yeah, that’s basically the plot outline. I can sum it up in two sentences: Hell has to impregnate as many women as possible. He even has to rescue a few in the process.)

Because of the nature of the plot, the movie had a lot of sexual overtones and even some nudity. Sure, the frog costumes were kind of funny, but it’s not a movie for children. The MedTech lab had a few signs that adults might find funny, such as one advocating not using condoms. (“The future of the world is in your hands.”)

The movie wasn’t really that great. There were a few good lines, but nothing memorable. This is a great B movie. We’re talking major low budget here. It looks like the script took all of an hour to write. (The leader of Frogtown is Commander Toadie.) Most of the casting must have taken place in the Playboy Mansion. (I found it odd that all of the women that Sam Hell had to impregnate were very attractive.)

If you happen to catch this movie on TV or if you can buy it as part of a package deal, go for it. Otherwise, I don’t think it’s worth your time. Since it does have some redeeming qualities, such as unintentional humor, I might give it three stars. Nah, it’s only worth two.

I leave you with this one question: Why is it that all random genetic mutations on non-humanoid life forms result in a humanoid-looking being?

The Amazing Transparent Man (1960)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

I’m now officially seven movies through a ten-pack of public-domain science-fiction movies.  The trouble with these multi-packs is that most of the movies are real stinkers.  An example is The Amazing Transparent Man.  The movie starts with Joey Foust escaping from prison.  He jumps into a car with a woman and they drive off.  As you might expect, the police have set up roadblocks.  Faust makes it past the checkpoint by pretending to be asleep.  The woman says that he’s tired, so the officer simply lets them pass.

The woman drives Joey back to the residence of a former major, Paul Krenner.  Krenner wants to use Faust to steal some radioactive material.  You’d think that would be difficult, but Krenner has Dr. Peter Ulof in his attic.  Dr. Ulof has developed a way to make living organisms invisible.  Ulof will make Faust invisible so that Faust can walk right in to the facility and just take the material.  (This is why Krenner needs Faust; Faust is a safecracker.)  If Faust turns him down, there’s always the police reward, which is just as good with Faust dead or alive.

Faust agrees, but isn’t the most loyal test subject.  He quickly realizes that he can rob banks just as easily as he can steal the radioactive material.  When he goes to rob the bank, he realizes that there’s a downside to the invisibility.  It starts wearing off before he can leave the bank.  He eventually makes it back to the house, frees the doctor’s daughter and tries to make everything right.

All I can say is that this is one mess of a movie.  IMDb lists the budget at an estimated $100,000.  I have to wonder if that’s in today’s money.  (The movie was released in 1960.)  The acting is over the top, the dialogue is well below par and the concept isn’t really used well.  I mean, Krenner gets a criminal to do his dirty work.  Yes, he needs a safecracker, but there had to be at least one other person out there with the required expertise.  It seems odd that he has to get the bottom of the barrel to steal something that he needs so much.

Then, there’s the scientist.  Most scientists seem to be evil.  There are some that are good, but they’re either trying to protect a loved one.  (I guess it’s usually easier to have the evil scientist so you can cut out the middleman.)  We get to see how easy it is to bust the daughter out of the room.  You can’t tell me that no one was willing to help the scientist and his daughter escape.

I also found it odd that the radioactive material was so poorly guarded.  Joey was literally able to walk in, open the safe, grab the stuff and walk out.  You’d think that they’d have more than two or three guards on duty or a better security system.  At least keep the location secret.  It just seemed too easy to me.

This is definitely a waste of an hour.  The main problem with this movie is that it takes a somewhat decent premise and just totally butchers it.  I think that it could have been done way better.  If you see this movie by itself, don’t get it.  They only way I could see watching it is if you caught it late one night or if you got it as part of a 50-pack of movies for $5.  It’s in the public domain, so I’m sure that there’s no shortage of options. 


Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues (1955)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

Many years ago, I got a bunch of these multi-movie sets distributed by St. Clair Vision.  There was one that had 10 science-fiction movies and boasted over 13 hours!  One of those movies was The Phantom From 10,000 leagues, which accounted for 80 minutes of that amazing running time.  The idea was to write reviews of these movies in the hopes of making my money back.  If you recognize St. Clair Vision from some of my other reviews, you know that I should have been a little more cautious.

Part of the problem is that St. Clair Vision took advantage of public-domain titles, meaning that they could keep costs at a minimum by presumably not paying royalties.  They seemed to also put minimal effort and money into restoring many of the titles that they released in these sets.  You’d think that they’d at least find some decent titles, but they couldn’t even be bothered to do that.  The Phantom From 10,000 Leagues seems to typify everything that St. Clair Vision did wrong with these sets.

The movie takes place in California.  It starts with some bodies washed up on the shore, horribly burned with their rowboat severely damaged.  (Due to poor picture quality, you wouldn’t know except that people keep commenting on it, but more on that later.)  Doctor Ted Stevens is sent in to investigate.  He finds Professor King, who is doing research during his institution’s off season.  It’s so secret that not even his secretary, Ethel, doesn’t know what’s going on.  All Ethel can tell Dr. Stevens is that Prof. King locks himself in his office most of the day.

Dr. Stevens decides to do a little investigating in the ocean.  He uses the same charred rowboat, presumably with a new coat of paint, to see what’s going on.  He finds a guy in a lizard costume guarding some sort of light.  The guy in the costume is supposed to be the phantom from the title and the light is supposed to be some sort of mutant-forming radiation.  (In all honesty, I feel bad for the guy in the lizard suit.  It must be hard enough getting into costume like that, but to have to do all of your scenes underwater must be unbearable.)

Professor King’s assistant, George, does seem to have some idea of what‘s going on.  He’s working for some mysterious woman that wants him to steal King’s research or something.  George’s main interest seems to be killing (or at least trying to kill) people by harpooning them.  You may wonder why he uses a harpoon. I was wondering the same thing.  I don’t think he’s that bright.  He leaves the harpoon out for someone to find, complete with lots of his fingerprints.

Add to the mix Lois, Professor King’s daughter.  Dr. Stevens seems to take an interest in her, which she reciprocates.  When he’s not trying to figure out what’s going on, he’s usually spending time with her.  She doesn’t know what’s going on, either.  Eventually, everything is figured out, sort of, and taken care of, sort of.  The movie was so bad, I’m already trying to block it.

This is one of those movies that just had to be low budget.  (IMDb lists it as $100,000.  Assuming price doubles every 20 years, this would be about $750,000 in today’s money, roughly speaking.)  For instance, the same rowboat is used over and over again.  Also, the acting seemed pretty stiff, even though many of the actors seem to have been in other projects.  (This may be generational.  The movie was made about 60 years ago.) Another thing was that it seemed like a lot of people went diving without any sort of gear.  I don’t know if it was too hard to get, too expensive or just wasn’t common in the 1950’s.  Maybe they had spent all of their prop money on the rowboat.

The visual aspect was really bad.  Saint Clair apparently made no effort to restore the image at all.  The picture would go from very dark to blindingly bright.  This is why it was difficult for me to tell how obvious the burns were on the boat and people.  That’s how bad the film quality was.

The next time I get around to doing a worst-of list, I will probably put this movie on that list.  I would not recommend buying the movie.  I wouldn’t even waste a free Redbox code on it.  The only way I’d recommend watching it is if you get it as part of a set, like I did, or you can get it streaming. 

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Phantom Planet (1961)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

Warning:  I’m going to be giving away a lot of details in this review.  If you don’t want to know every last detail, you might want to stop reading now.

In the future, it always seems like we have some sort of space travel.  In some cases, we’ve explored the galaxy.  In others, we’re just starting out.  In the Phantom Planet, the year is 1980 and the United States Air Force has a lunar base and is sending out people to have a look around.  When several ships go missing, the commanding officer pulls Capt. Frank Chapman off the Mars mission to go out looking for answers.

He and his navigator, Lt. Ray Makonnen, follow the flight plan exactly, but Chapman has a feeling that sticking to the exact course won’t do anything.  So, they deviate and are promptly hit by a meteor shower.  When they go out to fix the damage, they don’t use any sort of tether. Makonnen is able to save Chapman, but pays the ultimate price when he’s sent drifting off into space.

Due to an oxygen leak, Chapman passes out.  He awakens to find Makonnen gone and the ship being pulled into a large asteroid.  He makes a recording for posterity as he lands on the surface.  After crashing, he passes out only to awaken to some really small people.  We’re talking smaller than his helmet people.  After breathing in their air, Chapman shrinks to their size.

In an effort to defend himself, Chapman assaults one of the people.  He’s tried and convicted only to be handed down the horrible sentence of being able to walk freely among the native population.  He’s told that he can’t go back.  When he presses the issue, he’s told that his spacecraft has been sent off into space.

Rhetton is the name of the planet and the people of Rhetton are very advanced compared to Earth.  The reason they’re so small is that the atoms in their world have electrons with tighter orbits, meaning that everything is more compressed.  (I think this is supposed to explain why Chapman appears to shed so much mass.)  They have the ability to control gravity, which lets them move the planet around at will.  They also have the ability to synthesize food, which explains how they can live on a barren planet.  (It doesn’t explain how they evolved there, though.)

Chapman is given the choice of two women to marry.  Both Zetha and Liara are attractive women.  Zetha, however, is mute.  Thus, she can’t flirt with him making Liara the seemingly better choice.  Liara’s main drawback is that she’s also the object of affection of Herron.  Herron challenges Chapman to a duel to the death.  Chapman wins, but spares Herron’s life.

As a sign of gratitude, Herron offers to help Chapman to escape.  Yes, his ship is missing, but his suit is still around.  If he breathes in some oxygen from his suit’s tank, he’ll return to normal size.  The real challenge is getting the Rhetton close enough to the lunar base that someone notices and comes to rescue Chapman.  Before that can happen, the Solarites attack.  It seems that they’ve noticed Rhetton’s advanced technology and have wanted it ever since.  Will the people of Rhetton defeat the Solarites?  Will Chapman get back to Earth?  You’ll have to watch to find out.

Overall, the movie was pretty good.  Being a product of 1961, there are a few things that people will notice when watching it today.  First, the project is handled by the Air Force.  From what I understand, the Air Force was a frontrunner for the space program until NASA was formed in 1958.  I’m wondering why the Air Force was used.  Even if it was based on a book or short story, it wouldn’t have been that hard to change a few words.  (I suppose it’s possible that the program is run by NASA and staffed by the Air Force.)

One thing that I found on IMDb is a goof wherein Chapman’s ship, when landing on Rhetton, is pointed sideways and going full blast.  This would normally defy what we know of physics not to mention that a ship probably wouldn’t land this way.  It occurred to me that Chapman didn’t really want to land on the planet.  Instead, the people on Rhetton pulled him in against his will.  The sideways-pointing rocket was probably more of an attempt to escape.  The real question is why the people of Rhetton didn’t just deflect his ship and send him flying off in some other direction.

Another issue, also pointed out on IMDb, is that there’s seemingly normal gravity when Chapman and Makonnen go out to fix the ship.  Either they used magnetic boots (which they didn’t seem to) or they should have used a tether.  I know that they’ve mastered gravity on Rhetton, so I think it’s safe to assume that they can manipulate the planet’s gravity to suit their needs.  As for the lunar base and the ship, I’m assuming that since we’ve mastered space flight, we’ve also managed to create artificial gravity.

The acting was a little wooden throughout most of the movie.  The aliens can get away with it, being that they seem to live in a relatively sterile society.  There’s no mention of what they do for fun.  I didn’t see any night clubs or malls or anything.  You’d think that Chapman would get bored and ask if there was a movie theater or something.

While the Solarite ships looked pretty fake, the Solarite costume looked pretty decent.  It did seem like the actor in the suit was having problems as if his visibility was severely limited.  (Notice that the actor hesitated when walking down a few steps.  I don’t think this was the character being cautious.)  Many of the caves also looked like they were made from Styrofoam.  I have to wonder if people of the time accepted this as cutting-edge special effects.

I don’t know that I’d go out of my way to rent this.  If you get it as part of a larger set, like I did, or if it comes on TV, I’d say watch it.  There are worse ways to spend 82 minutes.  The only thing of any interest here is that clips from the movie were used for a La Quinta advertisement.  You may remember the series of ads where La Quinta took a few clips and dubbed over them.  If you’ve seen the ads, you should recognize the scene they used immediately. 

Green Lantern (2011)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

Comics tend to serve as source material for movies and TV.  It makes sense.  You have a well-developed universe to draw from and there’s usually name recognition to draw people to the theaters.  Yes, there have been notable failures.  The backing of a big studio doesn’t always mean success.  I’ve liked comic-based movies, such as the Men in Black series and the recent Batman movies.  On the other hand, I do remember some of the less-recent Batman movies and I’ve caught parts of Catwoman.  I’m kind of on the border about Green Lantern.  The production values and acting are good and it’s not over-the top silly, but it just doesn’t seem to come together.

For those that haven’t heard of the comics or seen any of the related TV shows, the Green Lantern Corps protects the universe from various major threats.  The green energy associated with sheer willpower was harnessed and used to form 3600 rings, each given to a different individual in each of 3600 sectors.  At the start of the movie, Abin Sur is the protector for Sector 2814, which includes Earth.

Abin Sur crashes on Earth while fleeing Paralax.  Critically injured, he sends the ring to find a new Green Lantern for Sector 2814.  That man is Hal Jordan.  Hal is brought to the shipwreck and given the ring and accompanying lantern and told to take the oath, which he eventually does.  Hal buries the body of Abin Sur, albeit not very well, and goes home, not realizing what he’s gotten himself into.

Well, he’s taken to the Corps’s home planet/headquarters of Oa.  There, other Green Lanterns fill him in on what the ring is and does.  He begins training, but Sinestro basically sees him for the pathetic loser that he really is.  Sure, he looks good in green.  Yes, he can fly a plane and do things that no one else will do.  However, if some super powerful villain is threatening Earth, that villain isn’t going to cut Hal any slack.

Hal quits the Corps, but keeps the ring and lantern.  It isn’t until his love interest is in danger that Hal realizes what being a Green Lantern is all about.  He’s able to single-handedly defeat the bad guy when others have failed.  The other Green Lanterns realize that Hal Jordan may be worthy of the ring, after all.

Part of my problem with the movie is that there was too much setup.  With other superhero movies, you have some introduction, but not much.  We see Batman lose his parents. We see Superman raised as Clark Kent.  Most of those movies were the good guys dealing with the bad guys.  Here, most of it is Hal Jordan trying to come to terms with being a Green Lantern.  It’s a pretty high bar that’s been set for him.  His being selected as Green Lantern was an act of necessity.

The actual fighting of the enemy seems to take a very short amount of time.  There are a few battles between the enemy, Paralax, and more-established Green Lanterns, mostly to show how bad this guy is.  Then, Hal has to defeat him alone.  (Yes, having the new guy take on such a powerful opponent seemed strange to me.)  The movie seemed more like a vehicle for the CGI to me.  We get to see Hall Jordan turn into a Green Lantern.  We get to see him make a racecar and track to save someone.  Yes, the CGI is good, but it’s not enough to carry the movie.

I remember seeing a sequel on IMDb.  I don't know if it was cancelled or if I'm imagining things.  I was curious to see how it would have turned out.

Official site (Warner Brothers)

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Brother from Another Planet (1984)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

There are three main reasons I watch a movie these days:  I like the coming attractions, it’s a movie I saw a long time ago or it’s a Z movie that I have to see to believe.  I came across Brother From Another Planet while looking for movies to stream through Netflix.  I had seen it about 20 years ago.  I was in a community-service program called AmeriCorps; One of the things they did for Corps members was having a movie night.  (I recall this movie and The Milagro Beanfield War being two of the selections.  I don’t recall what the criteria were, though.)  The movie had been released about ten years prior to that, in 1984.

The movie is about a humanoid alien that lands on Earth.  He looks like you’re typical African-American male, hence the name of the movie.  His ship crashes and he’s badly injured, but he’s able to make it to the safety of a bar in Brooklyn.  The regulars there start to trust him when he fixes a video game.  They realize that he has a skill, so he gets a job fixing video games.  They also set him up with a place to live.

Things are going pretty well for The Brother until two well-dressed white guys show up asking about him.  The people at the bar claim not to have seen him, but he gets kicked out of his place, as his landlady doesn’t like people asking questions.  The Brother manages to see a good deal of Brooklyn, including an overdosed druggie.  This leads The Brother to hunt down the guy responsible.  (One of the scenes I recalled was a scene in which The Brother uses his eye as a remote-surveillance device.)

This is one of those movies where low budget doesn’t mean low quality.  If you’ve watched a lot of television and movies, you’ll recognize a few of the actors, including Joe Morton.  You have a good, relatable main character played by an actor who shows that you don’t have to speak to get your point across.  It’s not heavy on the science fiction, either.

I will say that it’s a strange movie.  Netflix lists the movie as a comedy, but I don’t think of it as being a comedy in the traditional sense.  (One definition that I heard was that difference between a comedy and a drama is that in a comedy, none of the main characters die at the end.)  It’s not really the kind of movie where you’ll find yourself laughing.

I’m not sure it’s a movie for children.  It’s not gory or anything, but The Brother is called Three Toe by his pursuers for good reason.  It’s not overly disturbing, but it’s the kind of thing that could stick in a child’s mind.  (How is it that no one notices the tree toes, though?)  There’s also the drug scene to worry about.  Primarily, though, the movie does deal with issues of race and other things children probably wouldn’t catch.

It does look dated, but I’m not holding that against the movie.  I don’t think you could really do better with more of a budget here.  I’d recommend watching this movie, especially if you have Netflix and can stream it.  When I first watched it, Netflix didn’t offer an option for DVD.  It does look like it is now available on DVD, although that has a way of changing.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Thale (2012)

I have to wonder how many movies there are out there that I’ll never come across.  It’s hard enough distinguishing yourself from the countless scripts that never even make it into production, let alone find any sort of release.  With all manner of movies being released, there are so many that I will hear about and get around to watching.  This is why I tend to review a lot of foreign and independent movies.  Maybe I’ll be able to introduce someone to an enjoyable movie that the might not otherwise have come across.  Thale is a movie I came across while looking at movies on Netflix.  I’m not sure if I came across it while browsing titles they have streaming or if it was recommended to me after watching another movie.

The movie is about two guys that clean up crime scenes for a living.  Well, actually, Leo is the professional.  He invites Elvis along to help when his partner needs to take some time off.  This is most evident when we see the two of them working.  Leo is obviously desensitized to it while Elvis spends much of the beginning of the movie vomiting.  (Elvis would probably rather be doing something else, but he’s short on cash.)

This changes one day when they find a woman at one of their job sites.  Elvis wanders into the basement and comes across her in a bath of a milky liquid.    Leo calls it in, but backup won’t arrive for a while.  This leaves the two of them to watch her.  You wouldn’t think this is so hard except that she’s mute.  And they make some unusual discoveries, like audio recordings of a man, presumably the deceased, who was also presumably caring for the woman, named Thale.

It’s not explicitly clear how she came to be in his care or what their situation was.  We don’t get to hear much of the tapes, but Thale is a touch telepath and is able to impart some images to Elvis.  We also have a group of people hunting Thale and others like her.  IMDb lists the leader as Hvittkledd, which translates as White Dressed.  Mr. White is apparently able to track her using biometrics.  He is very interested in taking her with him.  She’s a huldra, but not like the others that the movie shows.  Others of her kind are also apparently in the vicinity, although they don’t appear to be that aggressive towards Elvis and Leo.

The movie reminds me of Timecrimes in that there aren’t many characters and the story is easy to follow.  I’m glad I was able to get this streaming.  It’s a short movie at only 76 minutes, but I think the simplicity worked for the movie.  There were very few parts that dragged and I think the movie would have suffered if it had been stretched out.  It was also not like many other movies that I’ve seen.  This might be because I’m accustomed to American movies.  This may be typical of Norwegian movies.  (Yes, the movie is subtitled.)

In that regard, I’m not sure how much is lost in translation.  I’m not sure that there’s an analog for the creature in American folklore.  Also, the movie listed on Netflix as a horror film, but it’s not really what I’d call horror.  I’m sure if I watched the movie with someone familiar with the background, they could point stuff out that would have gone right over my head.

I could see this movie being hit and miss with a lot of people.  I might have viewed it differently if I had watched it another day.  It’s not a particularly suspenseful or action-packed movie.  It is, however, only 77 minutes.  The movie is able to tell a story in a short amount of time.  With a little tweaking, we could have a viable pilot for a TV series.  IMDb has Thale 2 listed as in production, so the story does go on.  I’d be interested to see what happens next.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Heisei tanuki gassen ponpoko [Pom Poko] (1994)

In Japan, there’s a creature called the tanuki. (According to Wikipedia, there seems to be some variation on what a tanuki is, but the English translation has them incorrectly as raccoons.) The movie starts out in the 1960’s with the tanukis’ habitat slowly being taken over by development. They know that they have to band together to prevent this, but tanuki are basically lazy and playful. Life is just one big party for them.

Once food starts becoming scarce, they know that they have to get their act together and do something. The decide to declare all-out war on humans. Everything they try backfires. The problem stems from the fact that their only real skill is shape shifting. They’re able to scare off construction workers, but it isn’t long before new workers are found and the new workers aren’t as easily scared.

They manage to get help from a far-away colony of tanuki, but even this doesn’t help. They stage a parade that makes a lot of people fearful enough to shut down the construction, but this is undone by the owner of a local theme park that takes credit for it, saying that it’s a publicity stunt. This puts them in a real bind. Tanuki are dying and those that are still around end up in various factions, each having different ideas on how to handle the problem.

In the end, I felt that the movie was too long, even though it ran about two hours. I can’t find any particular point that the movie should have ended or any parts that could have been cut out, but there were several points where I found myself wondering how much of the movie was left. I could have seen the movie being split up into a miniseries or a TV show.

I’ve been watching a lot of Studio Ghibli films. Usually, I can be pretty certain that I’ll like anything with the Studio Ghibli name on it. Pom Poko has been the only one that made me step back and think. The primary reason is that the male tanuki have very obvious testicles, which are translated as ‘pouches’, and the females have breasts. This caught me off guard and may cause parents to question whether or not their children should be watching this. (The male tanuki use there are able to morph their testicles into various things like parachutes.) At first, I was wondering if I was seeing what I thought I was seeing. In retrospect, it wasn’t a big deal. Overall, it didn’t play a major part, but is probably responsible for the PG rating.

It’s hard to let that overshadow the fact that it was still a good movie with a great message. This is a problem going on around the world. The movie shows how animals need their habitat and are often forced to live in a human world. The tanuki are forced to do something while humans basically ignore them. I would recommend this movie, but would advise you to watch it before letting your kids see it. Even though the movie was directed by Isao Takahata, don’t expect a movie like Grave of the Fireflies.