Sunday, November 30, 2014

They Came from Beyond Space (1967)

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

You wouldn’t think that meteorites hitting the Earth would be a big deal.  Objects fly through our solar system and tend to hit the outer planets, but do occasionally make it through to ours.  Most of those burn up in our atmosphere, but a few do manage to land on the surface.  When that happens, I wouldn’t think to send out a team of top-notch scientists to investigate.  So, what’s so unusual here?  The meteorites land in a chevron formation.

So, the team goes out.  Dr. Curtis Temple, unfortunately, has to stay back.  He was in an accident and has a metal plate in his head.  His doctor just cannot let him go on the expedition.  So, Dr. Temple stays behind and curses his misfortune.  The biggest find in his lifetime and he has to sit it out.

When the expedition arrives at the site, everything is as boring as you might expect.  They’re taking soil samples and rock samples biological samples and sample samples.  When they closely examine one of the rocks, they’re taken over by aliens.

The aliens apparently exist as energy; they can thus impose their will on someone and use the host’s memories to their advantage.  They can use the scientists knowledge of science to design a space ship.  When they need money, one of the aliens can go to the bank and empty out the host’s bank account or, better yet, take over a banker so that the alien can approve a loan.  They can take over other people for manual labor or whatever else they need.

Dr. Temple’s luck seems to change when one of the other scientists comes back and invites him to visit the site.  He’s assured that his doctor signed off on it, but he becomes suspicious when someone else takes one look at him and says that there must have been some mistake and kicks him out of the car.

Well, doctor’s approval or not, Dr. Temple is going out to the site to find out what’s going on.  When he arrives, his assistant/love interest, Lee Mason, comes to the gate and tells him to get lost.  Of course, it’s so unlike her that Dr. Temple is now very suspicious.  He has to find out what’s going on despite being chased off several times.

He does eventually make it on to the property and learns several things.  For starters, the aliens are building a large rocket ship that launches from a lake.  Second, he’s immune to the aliens’ mind control, presumably due to his metal plate.  Thirdly,  they have a large underground complex where they can hold him until they finish their nefarious plans.  (Speaking of which, they refuse to say exactly what those nefarious plans are.  Go figure.)

So, Dr. Temple manages to escape, take a few of the space pistols and abduct Ms. Mason.  He goes to a friend’s house hoping that the friend can help him.  By melting some silver trophies, they learn that it is Dr. Temple’s metal plate that prevents the mind control.  They also learn that the space pistols have a setting that will rid a host of the alien presence…permanently.  With this knowledge, they can hopefully rid the world of the aliens.

I bought this movie (yes, I paid money for it) as part of a ten-movie set.  All of the movies are public domain, meaning that St. Clair Vision (or its parent company) didn’t have to pay a penny for the rights.  I really wonder sometimes if anyone actually decides which movies to use or if they just take the first nine or ten movies that they can get a hold of.  They Came From Beyond Space wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t great either.

The film transfer was decent, but had frequent and obvious flaws.  Those of us that grew up in the 80s will remember seeing a movie in the theater towards the end of its first run or seeing the movie in a dollar theater.  If you waited too long, you’d see a movie that had lots of lines and blips, which were flaws in the actual film from having been run too many times.  It looks like they transferred the movie from one of these reels.  It wasn’t enough that I couldn’t watch it, but it was annoying.

Also, the visual effects left something to be desired.  The rocks glowed, but seemed low-tech.  Also, there’s was the psychedelic knock-out effect used whenever someone was stunned by the ray gun.  This may very well have been cutting edge at the time, but those that grew up on modern effects may laugh at this one.

I also wonder why there’s always one guy who’s immune and he always a theory as to why.  (The theory usually proves correct, or at least close enough to the truth to be of use.)  Also, the person who’s immune is usually the curious type, such as Dr. Temple.  Personally, if I pulled up at a gate and was told by several people (including someone I knew) to go away, I’d probably go away, even if I was suspicious.  If I really felt like pushing the matter, I’d probably get outside help at that point.  I wouldn’t wait until I was captured to consider getting someone.

Also, the movie is 90% buildup.  Now, I’m not saying that I want all the secrets given away in the beginning, but I don’t think that an 85-minute movie should wait until the last five minutes to tell the audience what’s going on.  Whenever Dr. Temple asks anyone what’s going on, he’s told something about the work being very important, but isn’t given any details.  He and his friend literally have to go to great lengths to get any answers.  Once the endgame is in play, the answers come all at once.

I’m not sure where the title comes from.  I mean, there’s the Earth and then there’s outer space.  What’s beyond space?  I don’t know.  At the very least, it’s an interesting way to waste some time.  For a movie released in 1967, it’s pretty good.  I just don’t think that it’s the best movie that science fiction has to offer. (full movie)

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Last Woman on Earth (1960)

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

Warning:  I am going to give away lots of details about this movie.  I even allude to how the movie ends.  If you're not into this, you might want to stop reading here.

How would you feel if you were the last woman on Earth?  How would it feel if you were one of several men competing for her attention?  Harold, Martin and Evelyn get a chance to find out.  They're on vacation in Puerto Rico when everyone else in the area dies.  It looks like the oxygen just disappeared.  Since they were diving, they have their own personal supply of oxygen.  After about 30 or 40 minutes, the oxygen returns, meaning that they don't have to rely on SCUBA gear for survival.

They look around the hotel to find everyone dead of oxygen deprivation.  They can't get an operator, so they're left to assume that everyone's dead.  Instead of waiting around for the stench to become too much, someone suggests finding somewhere else to stay.  So, they find a house that happens to be stocked with plenty of canned food.

It doesn't take long for Martin to start liking Evelyn.  Martin is nice and Evelyn likes him.  The problem is that she's married to Harold and Harold is a jerk.  Harold basically tells Martin, "I'm married to her and you're not, so get lost."  When Martin starts to get physical with Evelyn, Harold's response is, "Seriously, though, get lost.  You can even take the car."

Well, Martin does get lost and he wants to take Evelyn with him.  In the ultimate show of chest thumping, Harold goes after them.  That's his wife and he's not letting her go, even if the world has come to an end.  I don't want to totally ruin the movie for you, but lets just say that things don't end well for Martin.

There have been a lot of end-of-the-world and last-whatever-on-Earth movies.  Some were good.  A few were even worth watching.  This one was good, but not that good.  For starters, I always find it hard to believe that either one person or one small group got lucky.  Here we have a tropical island where only three people were SCUBA diving?  Even if that were so, I have to think that there was someone else out there with an oxygen tank or something that they could have breathed through for a little while until the crisis stopped.

Also, while there was a lame attempt to contact the mainland, I think that the trio gave up too easily.  Personally, I would have sent up some flares or something to let people know I was there.  I would have put a message in a bottle.  They even had access to at least one boat that they could have used to actually go to the mainland.  Instead, they worry about how it's not the right time of the year to go that far on the water.

Really, most of the script is just a way to keep the three people together so that two of them can fight over the third.  Harold is not a nice guy.  He was involved in a lawsuit over how he made his money.  The money's gone, so the only thing he has left to hold over anyone's head is Evelyn.  The only person left to have Evelyn held over his head by Harold is Martin, who really does seem like a nice guy.  So, it's good against bad with Evelyn in the middle.

Most of the dialogue swings from "What's the point" to "Let's ignore the problem completely" before going back to "Well, I guess humanity is pretty much screwed."  It's kind of depressing in that respect.  Instead of maybe reflecting on what was actually lost or commenting on the human condition, the characters either fight amongst themselves or fret over how there's nothing that they can do to repopulate the world with just three people.

The movie is mostly safe for kids.  What bodies we see are just laying there.  There are no zombies nor are there any really scary situations that arise from the dead people.  (The worst of it is the talk about the stench.)  There are some adult situations.  As you might imagine, with one woman left, sex is an issue that both men are thinking of.  There is also some fighting.  It's not major, but it is there.

This is low-budget in the extreme.  There are no real special effects to speak of with this movie.  Most of it is just three people, probably to cut down on the need for extras.  Sets are also kept to a minimum.  From what I've read, the director was also making another film in the area and decided to set this movie in Puerto Rico to save money.

I came across this movie as part of a ten-movie set.  I think that the people putting this film together went for the cheapest version out there.  The video transfer wasn't the best.  It looks like it suffered from old age.  This only adds to the low-budget look.  I'd imagine that there are better versions out there.

I wouldn't really recommend buying the movie.  It's only 71 minutes, so you're not giving up a lot of time, but it's not really worth spending the money on.  If you can get it free on demand, streaming online or as part of a set, I'd say go for it.  Otherwise, don't bother. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Project X (1987)

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

WARNING:  I’m going to give away major details about the movie.  If you haven’t seen the movie and don’t want to find out the big plot twist, this isn’t the review for you.

Project X is one of those movies I saw a long time ago.  The movie was released in 1987, when I was only 11 years old.  I remembered that it was about chimpanzees being used as test pilots and the moral objections that come with that, but that was about it.  I finally got around to renting it from NetFlix.

The movie opens with Teri training a chimpanzee named Virgil to sign.  When her project loses funding, Teri is told that Virgil will be sent to a nice zoo to live out his days.  By “nice zoo”, of course, they mean a Military research facility.  Around the same time, Jimmy Garrett gets himself in trouble and is reassigned to the said Military project.  Being that it’s one of those need-to-know projects and Garrett doesn’t really need to know that much; all he’s told is that he’s to help chimpanzees learn to use flight simulators.   Every so often, he sees one leave, but they don’t come back.

Garrett does well enough that he’s let in on a little more information about the project.  Here’s the big twist:  It turns out that the chimpanzees are being experimented on.  Each chimpanzee is eventually  put in a flight simulator.  After a few minutes, he or she is hit with a lethal blast of radiation.  The point is to see how long a pilot could last if he’s hit by radiation.

Garrett has concerns about this.  First off, is it ethical to expose a living being to lethal doses of anything without their knowledge or consent?  Also, pilots will react differently to being exposed to radiation, especially depending on whether or not they know what’s happened to them.

The script was very well written.  Garrett finds himself in a situation where he should have known, but couldn’t really ask questions.  There’s also some moral ambiguity, even though you will probably find yourself clearly on one side or the other.

There is the issue of consent, given that Virgil signs and the other chimpanzees could be trained to do the same.  They do have intelligence and are very closely related to humans genetically.  Is it fair to send them in to a lethal situation not knowing what they’re doing or what the benefit is?  There’s a reason that humans weren’t used.

Don’t come in to this expecting a comedy or a family movie.  It’s not.  This is not Ferris Bueller’s Day off.  If you haven’t seen this movie and don’t know what’s coming, it will definitely blindside you, even though you know that something big is coming.  (This is also an issue for Garrett, as he should have seen it, himself.)

This isn’t to say you shouldn’t watch it.  It does bring up the issue of animal cruelty and the effectiveness of doing research on them.  Even though they’re so close, they don’t always react the same way as humans.  It was a very good movie and portrayed the chimpanzees sympathetically, which I suppose is the point of the movie.

I’d hold off on letting children watch it.  I don’t think many younger children would fully understand what was going on.  There are also some violent scenes towards the end, which might frighten some children.  It would be safe for teenagers on up. 

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 he has three 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.

IMDb page

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.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Wir sind die Nacht [We Are the Night] (2010)

I’ve never hidden the fact that I have a thing for vampires, particularly of the female persuasion.  When I came across We Are the Night on Netflix, I decided to add it to my queue.  Here was a movie about vampires with three attractive women on the cover.  Add to this that it was available streaming and it was just a matter of time before I got around to watching it.

The story goes that Louise, Charlotte and Nora are the three female vampires you see in Netflix’s image.  One night, Lena stumbles upon a rave that they’re throwing.  Louise sees Lena and knows that Lena is the one that she’s been looking for.  Louise turns Lena first chance she gets.  This makes Lena a little nervous.  To have some random woman bite you is strange.  It’s not like she has many people to turn to, though.  She’s out on parole and doesn’t really want to make waves.  So, she goes to sleep and wakes up to discover that she has no reflection.

So, she goes back to try and find Louise.  Louise lets her in on their history.  The three women rock and roll all day and party every night.  Being undead, they can do whatever they want.  Coke?  Won’t kill you.  Sex?  You won’t catch anything.  In fact, the movie starts with Louise, Charlotte and Nora killing everyone on a plane and jumping out the airlock.  That pretty much sets the tone for the movie.

You don’t necessarily see a lot of killing or sex.  Much of it is implied.  This isn’t to say that it’s not an interesting movie.  Louise & Co. don’t turn men.  They feel that men are arrogant pigs and any male tendency is only amplified by being a vampire, making them a pain to have around.  So, yeah.  It’s all about four vampire women having as much fun as they want.  They steal sports cars.  They bribe a security guard to let them into a high-end store.  They do drugs without any regard for consequences.

This does draw the attention of the police.  Lena is sold to a pimp, expecting her to feed off him.  It doesn’t go as planned and they have to kill him and torch the evidence.  The problem is that they leave a living witness, who reports the incident to the police.  The police are able to piece everything together and find the four vampires.  They have a plan to leave town quickly, but it‘s not enough.  The police have them surrounded.  Will they escape or is it the end for the vampires?

One thing that gets me about vampire movies is that they always tend to use a few clichés.  I’ll admit that I expected this coming in to the movie, but I always feel compelled to bring these up.  The most obvious is the use of mirrors.  Yes, I understand that we need a way for someone to either identify themselves or someone else as a vampire and the easiest way to do this is to look in a mirror.  It’s easy and effective.  Still, I could never figure out what it was about a mirror that prevented a vampire from being seen indirectly.  You can see them.  They cast a shadow.  This means that they should also have a reflection.

Bursting into flames in sunlight is another one.  At least this one can be explained as an Achilles’ heel.  You’re given all of these neat powers like quick regeneration and super strength.  There has to be a down side.  I guess combustibility isn’t that hard to believe.  Sunlight is pretty powerful and there does seem to be some variation on this.  (For example, vampires might only be hurt by sunlight or can use sunscreen.)  It also gives the vampires an obstacle.  Then again, the main reason I watched this movie was to see four beautiful female vampires.  Vampire movies end up being horror or soft porn, depending on the male-to-female ratio.

I also got it streaming, so I can forgive a few inconsistencies.  Yes, the constant partying and increasing body count do catch up with them.  I do find it odd, though, that they were so careless suddenly.  Lena is the new addition.  The others have been around long enough to start counting age in centuries.  They should have learned to better control their impulses.

Overall, it was definitely one of the better movies that Netflix has available to watch online.  If you have Netflix, I’d recommend checking it out.

We Are The Night – IFC Entertainment - IFC Films

We Are The Night - Official Trailer [HD]

Transcendence (2014)

I’m usually a good judge of whether or not I’ll like a movie based on the coming attractions.  When I saw the coming attractions for Transcendence, it looked interesting.  A guy is able to upload himself to a computer.  I was thinking it would be about all the horrors that might ensue from having a human mind freed from the constraints of a human brain.  The movie wasn’t anywhere near what I expected.

Dr. Will Castor is said guy.  He’s an expert on AI.  He’s even had success copying the brain of a nonhuman primate to a computer.  Not everyone likes his work.  They fear what they don’t know.  Some are so afraid that they confront and shoot him.  Castor survives the bullet, but not the radioactive material it was laced with.  He’s forced to upload himself to a computer.

But is it really him?  We have no way of knowing if it’s his consciousness or just a program using his memories.  Will’s widow, Evelyn, is convinced it’s him.  Others, not so much.  The group behind the shooting are after her and the AI.  They’re even able to turn his friend to their cause.  Still, Will (in AI form) is able to set up Evelyn with more money than she’d ever need.  She uses the money to build a complex to house Will’s AI, allowing him to make all sorts of medical breakthroughs.

Things turn sinister when it’s revealed that by treating people, Will is able to absorb them into a collective consciousness.  Evelyn can’t stand the thought of losing what remains of Will.  Everyone else sees the inherent danger.  Eventually, she comes around, but the odds of her being able to help don’t look good.

For those of you that don’t like spoilers, I should warn you that the movie starts with the final scene, making it somewhat obvious that things don’t end well.  I’ve always hated this movie because I’m constantly wondering what brought the movie to that point.  I’m always trying to read things into everything.  It doesn’t really work well here.

Also, I know I’m not the first person to point out that the movie is kind of derivative in many respects.  Fear of AI is nothing new.  Could Will help people by curing all manner of problems?  Yes.  Could humanity lose its humanity?  Maybe?  Is it really Will?  As I said, there’s no way to be sure.

Also, the idea of uploading consciousness has been seen in The Lawnmower Man, Max Headroom and Caprica.  The idea of assimilating people has been done with Star Trek’s the Borg and Doctor Who’s Cybermen.  If you are the kind of person that really likes science fiction, you’re going to notice parallels to other movies and TV shows.

That was my big thing here.  I don’t feel like the movie did anything new with any of the ideas.  Actually, I don’t feel that the movie did much of anything with any of the ideas.  Most of the movie is Will in computer form.  The other characters are worried about what this could mean.  The most obvious threat is that he could absorb all of humanity and/or bring about The Singularity.  There isn’t much said about this other than it’s happening.

There are other issues that could be explored here.  Will is a nice guy.  What would happen if a dictator had uploaded himself?  Also, power corrupts.  Will is shown as being a little more aggressive, but at no point does Evelyn ever state that it’s gone to his head, so to speak.  Will is able to do almost anything he can think up.  What would stop him from becoming a dictator?  Is it better to stop him out of fear of him becoming ruler of the world or do you let him help people?

The movie seems like an episode of The Outer Limits stretched too far.  Where does humanity end and technology begin?  How do you stop someone who could easily become unstoppable?  The movie touched on these subjects, but not very well.  It was a 48-minute concept that the writers had to stretch to two hours.  It seemed forced.

Ultimately, the movie fell flat.  I kept waiting for the action to start and it didn’t.  There was no suspense.  There was nothing to make you think or feel for the characters.  Once Will is dead and uploaded, he’s not really shown as being in any danger.  The danger lies with Evelyn, who’s effectively being held hostage.  However, she has a nice-looking place to live and enough food and water to last her indefinitely.  The only problem is that she’s at Will’s mercy.  The movie presents the issue, but doesn’t deal with it.

I had used a free Redbox code to rent the movie.  I’m glad that I didn’t have to pay money for it.  It ended up being a disappointment.  It ended up being a movie in desperate need of a direction.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Cherry 2000 (1987)

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

Warning:  I’m going to give out major details about this movie, including the ending.  If you don’t like spoilers, this isn’t a good review to read before seeing the movie.

In my review of Dune, I started by saying that there were three kinds of movies.  You have movies that are easy to understand, movies that require some explanation, and those where no amount of explanation will help.  This is the third kind of movie.

The movie starts off with a man and what appears to be a woman.   They’re having dinner, although she’s not eating.  After dinner, it turns into a Viagra commercial with the two of them getting busy on the kitchen floor.  I don’t know if it’s carelessness or if the dishwasher is jealous, but the dishwasher overflows and shorts out the woman.  Yes, she’s a sexbot known as the Cherry 2000.

The man’s name is Sam Treadwell.  He takes the Cherry 2000 in to be repaired, but that’s an impossibility.  They haven’t made that model in quite a while, so getting parts is out of the question.  Even replacing her outright is going to be difficult.  On the mechanic’s advice, Sam takes her memory chip and sets off to find a tracker.  The tracker should be able to take him in to The Zone to find an abandoned sexbot factory.

Sam finds and hires Edith Johnson, played by Melanie Griffith.  They have to travel a great distance into The Zone, which is inhabited by lawless hooligans that will shoot at you if you come into their territory.  (No one ever said that getting to or inside the warehouse was going to be easy.)   Edith hooks up with Six-Fingered Jake, who happens to be Edith’s uncle or father or something.  He was said to be dead, but he really just wanted out of the business.  He’s now in to selling toasters.

When they set off to find the factory, they’re attacked.  Sam is taken by the group of local crazies led by Lester.  Sam is told that Edith and Jake are dead, but they were able to tow Edith’s car in.  Sam’s ex, Ginger, is there.  (You don’t understand… She changed her name.  Don’t worry; I don’t understand, either.)  The locals live in what appears to be an abandoned motel or something.  Another thing:  Lester apparently really hates trackers.  He hates them so much that when he discovers that they have one among them, he puts the tracker up against a wall and shoots him with an arrow.

The big form of entertainment with them is the Hokey Pokey.  I have no idea why they do this.  Maybe this was the Most Annoying Song in the World before the Macarena became popular.  I guess that really is what it’s all about.  The group allows Sam to stay, but Sam doesn’t want to stay.  He wants his beloved Cherry back.  Lester mentions having several units, but lacks the chip to make them work.  I don’t know if he’s serious or if he’s just testing Sam.  Either way, Sam decides to torch the place and run when he discovers that Edith and Jake aren’t really dead.

Before they can get to the factory, they meet up with some old friends of Jake and Edith.  Like many old friends in a dystopian future, one of them sells the trio out to Lester, who’s now really out for blood.  Sam and Edith are able to escape by plane, but poor Jake is shot in the back.

Sam and Edith finally find the factory.  Somehow, Edith knows exactly where the factory is, how to get into the factory and where in the factory the sexbots are kept.  It takes a few minutes for Sam to find the exact model he needs.  This is just enough time for Lester and his cronies to show up.  Oh, and Ginger is there, too.  She brought sandwiches.

Sam finds the correct model, inserts the memory chip and is happy to see his Cherry returned to him as if nothing happened.  As they escape, Sam begins to realize what a ditz the Cherry 2000 is.  He thought he knew what love was, but would rather have Edith.  Sam starts to leave with Cherry, but comes back for Edith so that they can ride off into the sunset together.

This is one of those movies that you’ll be left wondering what the f__k just happened, even if you’re paying attention.  I’m really wondering if the writers were using LSD.  The Hokey Pokey scene is just so strange that they had to be on something.

Also, sex is apparently heavily litigated.  When you go into a bar for casual sex, you apparently need a contract and a lawyer to look it over.  (Look out for Laurence Fishburne in this scene.  If you blink, you’ll miss him.)  I’ve heard of being screwed over by lawyers, but this is a bit extreme. The fact that you’d need an oral clause should tell you something.  Between this and Ginger, I can see why Sam is dead set on finding a new Cherry 2000.

It always bothers me when a piece of well-crafted machinery breaks down so easily.  You have a female-looking robot who I’m assuming was made to resemble a woman in every detail.  The Cherry 2000 was supposed to be very good -- they just don’t make them like that any more.  So, why is it that she was done in by soapy water?  Even if this were a possibility, why would someone who loves said robot be so careless as to ignore the dishwasher?  You’d think that Sam would realize that Cherry’s about to bite the dust and do something to save her.  I know that this is why we have a movie in the first place, but he could have made an effort.

Speaking of reasons why we have a movie, why is it that the item in question is always so hard to get?  Either it’s in a remote part of the country that has roving bands of rabid idiots or it’s heavily guarded in Fort Knox.  If it seems easy, that’s because the target item isn’t really there.  It was moved someplace or destroyed.  It’s never that easy.

This is a hard movie to recommend.  It’s not at all good.  It looked to me like the producers had to remove entire scenes to make the movie come in under time and/or budget, giving it a rushed and disjointed feeling.  However, it’s not so bad that I’d recommend watching it to see how bad it is.  Yes, it’s listed on  Yes, it deserves to be listed there.  I’m just not sure I can recommend wasting your time on it.  This truly is a movie that will leave you wondering why.

Dune (1984)

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

There are some movies that you watch and you can understand.  There are some movies that require a little explanation or background information.  Then, there are some movies that you watch and have no idea what the f*#$ is going on.  Dune is the third kind of movie.

I had wanted to watch it because it was one of those movies that everyone kept talking about as being so great and everything.  When it came on one of the cable movie channels, I decided to record it.  Now, let me state that I saw the shorter version of the movie.  There is a longer version, which I would assume explains more.  Both versions are based on Frank Herbert’s book of the same name.  This is probably why I didn’t understand most of it and I accept this.

That being said, this incarnation was a bit confusing.  It takes place about 8000-9000 years in the future.  Humanity has spread throughout the galaxy and has the ability to travel very quickly.  What makes this possible is a substance called Spice.  (Spice also has mind-altering capabilities, as well.)  Spice is grown on only a planet called Arrakis (a.k.a. Dune) and whoever controls that planet controls pretty much everything.

The movie starts with some worm-like creature confronting the Emperor about something that the Emperor is plotting.  The worm gets the Emperor to admit everything, allowing him to go through with his plan if only he kills Paul for him.  Paul is the son of the Duke and his house is set to take over Dune.  It’s not clear at first why an assassination of Paul would be necessary, but there’s a prophecy that Paul will liberate the people of Dune.

The movie seems to drag at first, with Paul traveling to Dune from his home planet.  There’s a lot going on, including battle training.  There’s also a sisterhood, of which Paul’s mother was a member.  This sisterhood, Bene Gesserit, manipulates bloodlines.  It seems that Paul was supposed to be Paulette, but his mother decided to have a boy.  (Apparently, they can just do that sort of stuff.)  I wasn’t exactly clear on why it was important that Paul be a girl rather than the next child.  I’m assuming that it was covered in more detail in the book.

When Paul gets to Dune, there’s a power struggle.  His house takes over the planet, but the old house manages to get it back.  Paul knows that there’s some connection between the giant worms and Spice, but he can’t put his finger on it.  There were a lot of voiceovers used as exposition.  (I’m wondering if this was an easy way to introduce information from the book.)

At the very least, most of the acting was good.  (You may recognize Sting, Dean Stockewll and Patrick Stewart.)  I wish I could say the same for the rest of the movie.  The film quality looked like something out of the early 80s.  The music and special effects were of similar quality.  In some areas, the plot seemed to drag and in others, it seemed to be rushed.  Some characters were important, but had little screen time or explanation.  It also seemed like the movie bounced around in some places.

I nearly shut it off several times.  I had little idea what was going on most of the time.  Even after reading reviews and going to IMDb, I’m still a little confused.  I don’t really even know how others understood the movie.  I’m wondering if I should look into the longer version or if I should just read the book. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009)

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

It’s not often that I get to see an animated film in theaters.  I have to wait until school starts to even consider it.  There are some, like Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, that I want to see in theaters because they’re released in 3 D.  (Fortunately, it was released just after the start of the school year.)

The movie is about a man named Flint Lockwood.  He’s been an inventor since he could pick up two things and put them together.  (His mother was always more understanding of this than his father.)  Tim Lockwood wants his son to do something more practical, like get a job.  Flint’s not ready to give up inventing.  Yes, he takes a job, but manages to invent a machine that can turn water into food.

This is good for a town that has way too many sardines.  (The local sardine-packaging plant shut down, leaving the residents with plenty to eat.)  If all goes well, Flint will be able to dial up any food that he wants.  As you might expect, Flint’s initial experiment fails.  Not only does he embarrass himself, but there’s no food from water.  At least, not yet.

Eventually, a weather system moves in and starts pouring food on the island.  Everyone is happy.  Flint has gone from being the town joke to a hero, surpassing ‘Baby’ Brent in popularity.  (Baby Brent was the baby used in advertising for the packaging plant, his only claim to local fame.)

People are making all sorts of requests, from spaghetti and meatballs to filet mignon.  It isn’t long before problems start appearing and Flint realizes he has to shut everything down.  Not so easy for a town that has become dependent on his invention and an invention that doesn’t want to be shut down.

The movie is pretty basic.  You have an unlikely hero who eventually has to make a difficult choice between finally being successful and doing the right thing.  It’s meant more for a younger audience.  (The movie is based on a children’s picture book.)  There are a few references that adults will get, but I can see a lot of adults feeling like they were dragged to see the movie.

I enjoyed watching it; don‘t get me wrong.  I have to admit that if I had to pick a movie to show adults to get them hooked on animation, this probably wouldn’t be it.  It’s a little too generic and safe to show that animation has the same range as live-action films.  The appearance of the characters was very exaggerated and cartoonish.  I could see this turning a lot of people away from animation.

It’s easy to identify with a main character that’s isolated.  He has a lot of good ideas, like spray-on shoes, that don’t work out.  Flint just wants to be accepted.  Even the love interest, Sam Sparks, is an intern looking for her big break as a reporter.  The mayor of the town is looking to recapture past glory with an amusement park, but co-opts Flint’s invention.  (Not exactly the acceptance that Flint wanted, but he’ll take it.)

The story is simple, yet entertaining.  At 90 minutes, it’s not too big of a commitment.  If you have kids or you like animated movies, I’d recommend renting it. 

2009: Lost Memories (2002)

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

I came across this movie while looking for time-travel movies. While it does have time travel, to call it a time-travel movie may be a bit misleading. The actual time travel doesn’t come in until the end of the movie.

It’s actually more of an alternate history movie. The story starts with a rundown of that alternate history. Instead of Korea gaining independence from Japan, it remains part of Japan for an additional hundred years.

The focal point is the assassination of Hirobumi Ito in 1909. From what I can tell, Korea was annexed shortly after his death, but regained independence in 1945. In the movie, someone had found a time machine that allowed them to go back and save Ito, thus keeping Korea under Japanese rule permanently. The movie begins with a rundown of all of the other things that occurred in the changed history. For instance, Japan allied with the U.S., who dropped a bomb on Berlin instead of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

The movie takes place in 2009, hence the first part of the title. Two agents with the Japanese Bureau of Investigation (one Korean and the other Japanese) are investigating a break-in at a museum. A group seeking Korean independence staged the break-in. It isn’t until later that Sakamoto (the Korean agent) realizes what they’re after. It takes him a little longer to realize why.

I really liked this movie, even though it wasn’t exactly what I expected. The dynamic between the two officers was interesting. They go from being best friends to bitter enemies. It was a little difficult for me to understand this. Maybe I was missing something, but they had been friends for many years. By the end of the movie, they were almost ready to kill each other.

Parts of the movie seemed to have a little too much violence. It’s not so much that I don’t like violence. The problem was that some of the action scenes didn’t really seem to fit in. They were also filmed strangely and may seem a little odd to some viewers.

I found that not knowing the history took a little away from the movie. Viewers (like me) that don’t know the minutiae of Asian history may be a little lost, but it doesn’t really make the movie impossible to watch. You’ll just find yourself asking a lot of questions, like who Ito was.

Still, I find myself giving the movie five stars. I really did like it. I don’t know that everyone would like it, but I have found myself recommending it to people. If you come across this movie in the video store, definitely rent it. 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Particle Fever (2013)

The Higgs boson walks into a church and is immediately asked to leave.  The Higgs boson asks, “But, without me, how can you have mass?”

The Standard Model of physics states that there is a set of fundamental particles, quarks   There are also fundamental forces, each with their own carrier.  Electromagnetism, for instance, has the photon as a force carrier.  Scientists have been able to confirm predictions made by the standard model, but some work remains to be done.  (I don’t think a graviton has ever been confirmed experimentally.)

Particle Fever follows part of the work done to confirm the Higgs Boson, which is said to be responsible for mass.  Part of the movie shows the Large Hadron Collider and the problems that arose during the planned experiments.  Some go well, but others have to be delayed due to parts breaking.  (Nothing ever goes entirely as planned.)  The other part of the movie deals with the background information.  We’re presented with different theories on what the Higgs Boson might look like and what different results might mean for the scientific community.

The movie isn’t particularly heavy on the science.  Someone who made it through science in high school should be able to follow what’s going on.  The movie is primarily about the search and the people who want to find it.  There is some science.  There is some basic stuff on what the Standard Model is.  We also learn why the specific details of the Higgs Boson is important.  If it’s on the lighter side, there would still be more to figure out about the universe.  If it’s too heavy, it would mean that there’s little left for us to confirm experimentally.

One of the problems with documentaries is that you often know the outcome.  If you’ve been reading the paper or watching the evening news, you’ve probably heard that the experiments were successful.  (I doubt I’d be ruining the movie for anyone by stating that.)  the movie at least shows what it was like doing the work.  When all you see is a headline and a brief article, you may not be aware of how the whole story went down.  The documentary gives is able to go into more detail and show some of the people that made it happen.

I haven’t met many people that are particularly interested in science.  As long as the GPS works, we tend not to worry about how understanding relativity helped make that happen.  The Internet and the World Wide Web came out of a need to share information.  Interestingly, CERN put up the first Web site.  I always wonder if they realized that it would evolve into a place to find pictures of cats.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Unbelievers (2013)

Some movies are so great, you could spend hours extolling their virtues.  There are some so bad, you could spend days picking them apart and still not be satisfied that you found everything wrong with it.  Then, there are some that are neutral.  Somehow, you manage to watch the whole thing, but you’re left wondering why.  I came into The Unbelievers thinking it would be some sort of documentary or something on Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss.

Instead, it came across like Chariots of the Gods in that it was just a bunch of random footage strung together.  We get to see one of them talking on a radio show.  Next, we have someone giving a telephone interview.  (We only get to see their side of it.)  We get to see Adam Savage of Mythbusters fame and Penn Jillette, among others, speaking at a rally that Dawkins and Krauss also spoke at.  It’s almost like someone had a bunch of really great footage from other projects, but they didn’t know what to do with it.  Instead of throwing it all out, they gave it to someone to edit together.

This is where it’s going to be difficult to recommend watching this.  There’s no real plot and there isn’t enough of anything for it to be interesting.  I’m not even sure what the context was for each situation.  It’s almost like a best-of album or highlight reel.  It would have been nice if we had been able to see maybe one or two full interviews or lectures.  Instead, we’re off to the next engagement before we can form any interest in what’s going on.

I found this movie on Netflix through their streaming service.  I’m not sure if the DVD comes with any special features, but it would have been interesting to watch the movie with some sort of commentary track from either Dawkins or Krauss (or, preferably, both) explaining what was going on.  There’s so much potential here.  I thought this was going to be something about the advantage of science, as both men are advocates of reason.

This is something you’d probably watch out of desperation after you’ve gone through most of your other streaming options.  In this regard, I’m not entirely upset that I watched it.  At least I didn’t have to wait for it to be mailed to me.  As for my recommendation, It’s kind of like what the police might say in a move crime scene.  Move along.  Nothing to see here.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Creature with the Atom Brain (1955)

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

In my quest to find really cheesy and bad movies, I came across The Giant Claw.  When I ordered it from NetFlix, It was paired with The Creature with the Atom Brain, so I decided to see if I could get an extra review out of it.  I have to admit that this movie is better than The Giant Claw, but not by much.

The plot is simple.  A gangster that’s supposedly in Europe makes his way to America and teams up with a German scientist who’s working on some sort of mad-scientist project.  With the gangster’s funding and the scientist’s  knowledge, they find a way to reanimate dead bodies that they’ve stolen from the morgue.  In return for the funding, the gangster wants to use the bodies to kill those that put him away.  It sounds like a great plan.  Someone ends up dead and you were nowhere to be seen.

This is where it gets strange.  The reanimated bodies are controlled from a computer back at the lab.  The person controlling them simply looks at a monitor to see what they’re doing and speaks into a microphone to command them.  (The zombies retain no memory, but know how to follow commands.)  The dead body can speak, but is always in the voice of the person controlling them.  It’s not clear why this is or how the zombie knows what’s an order and what’s to be spoken.

What got me most was that the police noticed a connection after two homicides.  Somehow, they knew that some sort of creatures were involved.  The identity of the gangster is worked out not to long after that.  Granted, they had finger prints from dead people and radioactive blood.  That would be a little obvious, but of the first two murder victims, one was a district attorney and the other was a gangster.  It seemed a bit rushed.

The science is somewhat good, but nothing on par with today’s stuff.  The forensics lab apparently consists of a small centrifuge and a basic microscope.  Also, the scientist becomes radioactive despite wearing protective clothing.  He’s so radioactive, in fact, that he’s able to make a beer set off a Geiger counter after a few seconds of exposure.  I don’t know if that’s how radioactivity works.  It seems more like a way to have the police know that where the scientist was.

I think most people, having seen today’s big-budget movies, would not be impressed by The Creature with the Atom Brain.  This is the kind of movie I’d expect either on a specialty movie channel or something that the broadcast networks might show late at night.  In fact, I don’t know if they release it alone any more.  If you wanted to get just this movie, you might have to find it on VHS at a garage sale.

At 69 minutes, it was just the right length.  On a side note, I’ve always wondered why people in movies like this never become alarmed at someone talking in a monotone voice.  If someone came up to you and started speaking in a flat voice, wouldn’t you become just a little worried?