Friday, October 20, 2017

Hoodwinked! (2005)

Some things work only if they’re done well.  When someone tries to make it a True Daily Double on Jeopardy!, they’re a genius only if it works.  If not, they’ve got their work cut out for them.  The same goes for something like using fairy-tale characters.  If it’s done well, it’s something can be used to the movie’s advantage.  If not done well, it can turn people away.

Hoodwinked starts with the final scene from Little Red Riding Hood.  Red Puckett is at her grandmother’s house, but it’s not Granny Puckett that Red is dealing with.  It’s the Wolf W. Wolf wearing a Granny mask.   Red is no fool; she’s on to him.  Suddenly, a Kirk the Woodsman comes crashing through the window.  Cue the police, who tape off the area and start interrogating the various suspects.  Fortunately, Nicky Flippers happens to be walking along.  He’s a frog who has a knack for solving crimes.  He starts asking the right questions.

Nicky starts with Red, who works for Granny.  Granny runs a successful snack business.  Red had just found out about the Goodie Bandit, who has been stealing recipes.  Fearing for Granny, Red took the recipe book to Granny’s house, only to have several issues.  This includes meeting Mr. Wolf and Twitchy.  She manages to  lose Wolf and make it to Granny’s, only to find Wolf impersonating Granny.

Nicky then interrogates Wolf, Nick and Granny in that order.  Each interrogation adds more detail to the overall story.  (For instance, Wolf is actually a reporter, with Twitchy being his photographer/assistant.)  After Nicky is done asking questions, some secrets come out, but not the identity of the Goodie Bandit.

The use of the Riding Hood tale was unnecessary.  I get that retelling classic stories has almost become a genre unto itself, but that doesn’t mean you need to do it yourself.  It doesn’t really add anything to the plot.  Sometimes, it’s done with the intent of showing what really happened, either figuratively or literally.  Some characters, like Sherlock Holmes, were based on real people.

Some cases may use the characters to give a sense of back story.  It’s not intended as a direct sequel to the story, but rather to use the story to let us fill in details.  When SyFy did a miniseries based on The Wizard of Oz, we knew the story of Dorothy and The Wizard.  We could see comparisons between the new characters and the old.  The new story is written around the old one.

Here, we’re using the characters in name only.  You could have generated new characters and basically told the same story.  Using fair-tale characters doesn’t add anything new except maybe the chance for a throwaway joke or two.

And then, there’s the animation.  It’s not at all like anything that I’ve seen before.  This might put off anyone that’s new to CGI.  I got used to it pretty quickly, but others might not be so fortunate.  (At least with the animation, you can take a look at a trailer to know what to expect.)

I’d say that it’s low budget, but the movie at least has some recognizable names behind the animated faces.  (Anne Hathaway voices Red while Glenn Close voices Granny.)  Even with this, the actors aren’t necessarily recognizable.  I’ve seen David Ogden Stiers in enough roles that I would recognize such a distinctive voice.  It wasn’t until I started looking up the movie that I realized who it was.  If you skipped this movie, you could be forgiven.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Dark Signal (2016)

Laurie Wolf is not a happy woman.  She’s looking for a job, as she was recently terminated by a radio station.  In fact, she’s going in to do her last show.  Her technician, Ben, has invited Carla Zaza on the show.  Laurie isn’t thrilled, as Carla is a psychic.  She wants to play her own play list and just finish out her time.  (Ben eventually convinces her, as letting Carla on would anger the station’s management.)

We also have Ben’s friend, Kate.  Kate would go for the final airing of Laurie’s program except that she has to help Nick.  Nick tells Kate that he’s going to collect money from some rich guy who won’t pay up.  All Nick needs Kate to do is sit in the car and maybe get rid of anyone who shows up.  It sounds sketchy, but Kate needs the money for her son.

All of this sounds easy enough, even with a serial killer out there on the loose.  Wouldn’t you know, things go sideways.  Carla apparently makes contact with a spirit.  Laurie is skeptical at first, thinking that Carla and Ben are playing some joke, but they try again, getting better results as they go on.

Even Kate has her scary moments.  A man knocks on the window of her car and offers to help her out.  Kate tries to get rid of him, eventually telling him that her boyfriend noticed some escaped livestock on a neighboring property.  She knows that Nick is withholding information.  If that’s not enough, he stops answering his phone.  Oh, and there’s one too many faces in Kate’s selfie.  (That’s not even the scary part.)

I’ve never really liked scary movies, per se.  I’m not the kind of person that likes scares.  Those that aren’t scary tend to be hokey, so it’s nearly impossible for me to win.  However, I wanted to watch a scary movie or two in anticipation of a possible Halloween rush.  I’m not even really certain what I expected here.  Part of it was that I recognized the actor playing Ben, Gareth David-Lloyd from Torchwood.

I think part of it is that it’s not quite a thriller and not quite a horror movie.  It has supernatural and paranormal elements, but not to the point that it’s a true paranormal movie.  There’s not a real mystery element, either.  The serial killer is mentioned early in the movie and all but forgotten about until the end of the movie for the big reveal.  Instead, we get a few mild scares that you can sort of see coming.

This is kind of like a campfire story you might tell your friends.  It’s entertaining, but it’s not the kind of thing you watch if you were looking for big frights.  It’s more like the supernatural and horror elements are simply plot elements.  This isn’t to say that it’s bad.  I don’t recall ever being bored with the movie.  With a little reworking, it might even resemble a decent Twilight Zone episode.

The other thing is that there are two stories that don’t really work well together.  It’s like it came from two separate stories that couldn’t quite hold their own as a movie.  We get the sense that they’ll both come together, but there’s no real need for that.  Had these stories been done as part of a TV series, each could have worked separately.

It’s kind of hard to place this film with an audience.  It’s not the kind of film that’s meant to give you nightmares unless you’re frightened very easily.  Then again, it’s hard for me to judge someone’s tolerance for scares if I’m not meeting them face to face.  Those that don’t like horror are probably going to stay away from this and I don’t blame you.  It’s still maybe something you’d want to avoid right before bed.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

13 Demons (2016)

Many years ago, back when Dungeons & Dragons first started, people didn’t seem to understand it.  Younger people seemed to like playing it and older people seemed to read something sinister into the game.  There were implications that it was satanic or caused suicide.  At some point, there was a rumor that people that played it had detached themselves from reality, either before or after starting the game.  Like autism and vaccines, there was no causal link.  Dungeons & Dragons had not loosened anyone’s grip on reality as far as anyone could prove.

13 Demons takes its plot from that basic premise.  What if there were a game that could somehow cause people to think that they were living the campaign?  Three friends start playing a game called 13 Daemons.  The basic rules are what you’d expect of such a game.  Each player moves a token around a board per several arbitrary rules.  (You’re not allowed into red areas unless you roll a certain number.)  The game has a strange smell, further compelling the friends to do something else.  They do eventually get into the game, only to go further down the rabbit hole.

We know that they go all the way because the movie starts in a police station with two of the friends being interrogated.  I’ve always hated that plot device because it either means that the movie is giving away the ending or its setting us up for some strange twist of events that let the characters get out of their mess.

In this case, knowing the history of role-playing games, I don’t expect the main characters to be that smart.  They’re all stoners that don’t seem to have much else to do.  In their first session, they play the game straight through until morning, possibly longer.  Over several weeks, they really get into the game.  They do eventually have their psychotic break in the form of a strange laser show.  A news report implies that they may have killed someone, an assumption backed up by the police interrogation.

Most of the movie takes place in the one room.  We don’t even know if it’s the parents’ basement or if one of them somehow managed to hold a job long enough to get their own place.  This leads me to another problem I had with the movie:  We don’t really develop a bond with any of the characters.  They’re all losers and we basically go into the movie expecting them to kill someone.  Granted, marathon sessions aren’t unheard of, but you’d think one of them would mention needing to get to work or to procure some food.

There’s no reason for us to develop any empathy for the characters.  The whole thing is like some cautionary tale your mother might tell you when you first show an interest in such games.  Is the writer trying to show how silly the whole thing is?  Is this what parents believe will happen to their children if they get into the dark, evil world of D&D?  Or is it written by someone who thought they could make a decent movie out of it?  It’s implied that the cause of the mental break was mold or some other actual agent.  However, the three friends are no less delusional and the game was no less banned several decades ago.

You don’t see many of the murderous acts, but this is not a movie for children.  It’s evident what’s going on, at least to an adult.  At the very least, a small child would probably be confused by the movie, especially if they have no concept what an RPG is.

The funny thing is that this kind of movie is what I had hoped to specialize in here.  It’s the kind of movie that’s bad, but not so bad that I can’t sit through the whole thing.  Keep in mind, though, that I’ve managed to make my way through a lot of bad movies.  I watched Abraxas: Guardian of the Universe.  I watched Future War and Star Crystal.  I even sat through Winterbeast.  This isn’t quite like any of those, but it’s still bad.  I’m actually debating over whether or not I should put this on a ten-worst list.  If I have a need for a specialized list, like Ten Movies in  Need of a Massive Rewrite, this would make the list.

That’s seriously all it needs.  The effects and the acting are at least passable.  I can forgive a low budget.  (IMDb reports that this one had a budget of $1,000,000.)  However, this looks like the theatrical version of a homework assignment rushed at the last minute.  This movie is a short 1:20.  A little more meat and we might have had something.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

American Fable (2016)

Sometimes, we find ourselves with a difficult choice.  The correct option isn’t always immediately evident. Gitty, an 11-year-old girl, finds herself in that situation when she finds a man in a silo.  The silo happens to be on her family’s property.  The man is named Jonathan.  He’s well dressed and wants help, but is hesitant to let Gitty get her father, Abe.

What’s she to do?  The easiest solution is to find the key for the lock and to get some books.  She can’t find the correct key, despite bringing with her any key she can find.  She does get some books from the library, which she leaves for Jonathan to read.  They spend the next several weeks talking to each other.  We initially assume, correctly, that Abe is involved with Jonathan’s captivity.

You might wonder why she doesn’t get help.  I still wonder that.  Martin may be her brother, but he’s still a major jerk, for lack of a more-polite term, so he can’t be trusted.  She finds out that the family farm isn’t as safe as Abe had been letting on.  Her parents are maybe not the best option, either.  She at least brings food to Jonathan and keeps him company until Martin finds out about it.

By this point, little is done, although we know she has options.  Gitty has rope to get herself in and out of the silo, although no attempt is made by Jonathan to get out this way.  She eventually finds an axe, although no attempt is made earlier in the film; only when it’s imperative that Jonathan get out.  She also makes no attempt to use the axe on the outside of the door, which would be easier than the inside.

The situation reminds me a joke about a preacher who finds himself surrounded by rising water.  Before the flooding begins, the area receives several warnings over TV and radio, which he hears.  Convinced that God will protect and save him, he stays.  As the waters start to rise, a man in a canoe comes by and offers to take the preacher to safety.  Again, the preacher is convinced that God’s protection is all he needs.  After the waters have driven the preacher to the roof, a helicopter comes along and offers to take the preacher away.  Again, the preacher refuses, adamant that God will rescue him.

The preacher subsequently dies and ascends to the pearly gates.  When he meets St. Peter, the preacher demands to speak with God right away.  The preacher asks why God did nothing to save the preacher’s life.  God responds, “What are you talking about?  I sent you a warning, a canoe and a helicopter.  What more did you want?”

It’s stated that Jonathan and Gitty have spent several weeks getting to know each other.  I can’t believe that she made no attempt to get Jonathan out.  She could easily have called for help, either by phone or through several other characters we see.  There’s that old gimmick of sending a letter that never gets sent or is somehow misdirected.  We don’t even get that.

The problem is very subdued.  Neither Gitty nor Jonathan seems to be distressed by the situation.  Ok. So the movie is called American Fable.  Maybe there’s supposed to be some sort of allegory going on.  I would take several issues with this characterization.  First, a fable tends to have all sorts of mystical elements, like talking animals.  The movie had none of that, despite what the description may have said.  Second, fables tend to have an obvious moral lesson.  American Fable was almost the opposite.  I didn’t really know what I was supposed to get from this.  Am I to assume that not liberating Jonathan was the correct thing to do?  Is it even fair to put this choice on the shoulders of a child?  The movie didn’t really deal with any of this.  Yes, the farm is relatively isolated, but there were other things she could have tried.

My biggest problem is that I started seeing the plot holes rather than the story itself.  For instance, Gitty kept bringing Jonathan things.  It’s hard to imagine that no one in her family noticed.  Granted, she was probably taking stuff back with her, but she probably left the books for Jonathan to read.  One would assume that either Abe or someone else would have checked in on Jonathan and noticed the books or some other item that Gitty had left.

For that matter, I don’t think it was explicitly stated whether or not Abe was feeding Jonathan.  Abe was working with someone else, so it’s possible that there was a miscommunication, but Jonathan might have starved without Gitty’s intervention.  She’s not bringing him snacks.  She’s bringing stuff like bread and water, for which Jonathan seems grateful.

As for the library books, Gitty states that she has them for two weeks.  If I’m interpreting the timeline correctly, Jonathan has them for about that long or maybe longer.  (There was a line where Jonathan says, “These past few weeks” to  Gitty.)  No mention is made of Gitty trying to get them back to the library or the library calling about them.   This would have made a great way for Gitty to be found out.

I did enjoy the movie, but it required a small amount of suspension of disbelief.  The entire kidnapping aspect seemed too easy and too underplayed.  The entire movie is understated to the point that it almost seems implausible.  We even have a final scene that seems to throw on a level of ambiguity.  Upon seeing the final scene, I could only wonder what it was that I had just watched.

Monday, October 16, 2017

O Menino e o Mundo/The Boy and the World (2013)

Cuca is a young boy.  He lives on what appears to be a farm with various animals to play with.  Also present are his parents.  One day, his father leaves on a train to find work, which understandably upsets Cuca.  He eventually tries to see where his father went only to end up being rescued by an old man.  The man picks cotton for a living, but is eventually sent home when he’s too sick to work.  Cuca then travels some more and sees people working in a factory.  Cuca gets to see the city and all its many residents, but seems to stick to one resident in particular.  Cuca has an epic adventure, witnessing parades and even a battle between musically generated birds.

When I first started watching the movie, I was a little worried because I couldn’t see the captions.  I knew the language wasn’t English, but I wasn’t sure if the captions weren’t working of if I couldn’t see them against the white background.  It turned out that what little dialogue the movie had was reversed Portuguese.  Instead, the movie relies on it’s distinctive animation style to tell the story.  There is a little bit of live action towards the end of the movie, which fortunately isn’t that distracting.

There’s also a lively soundtrack with many of the notes being represented by little dots of color.  (This is how we end up with a fight between the two birds.)  With most movies, the music is in the background.  Here, it’s almost like a companion for Cuca, who uses a particular tune to remember his father as much as he uses a picture of him and his parents.

During the opening credits, I saw Gkids.  I almost shut it off until I realized that children’s movies aren’t off limits.  I’ve enjoyed lots of animated movies that were probably meant for children.  The movie has a PG rating in the United States, but there’s very little that would be inappropriate for children.  I think the worst of it might be the son being separated from his father for most of the movie.  Cuca has a sense of adventure and wonder, but there are times when despair shows through.  Things are simple at home, but become more complicated when more people are around.  It’s easy to become lost in a crowd.

I’m glad I stuck around to watch the end.  I would say that overall, it’s an upbeat movie.  It has its moments of distress, but what good story doesn’t?  What kind of movie would we have had if Cuca had just stayed on the farm?  If anything, it probably would have been a short one.  The fun of the movie comes in seeing Cuca react to and deal with his new environments.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Powers of Ten (1977)

The new Philip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science opened a few months ago.  Back before it moved to its current location, it was located right at the southern end of I-95.  I remember going there as a child a lot.  One of the things I remember was this dark room with a film called Powers of Ten, made by Charles and Ray Eames.

The concept is simple.  It starts out in  Soldier Field in Chicago with a couple having a picnic.  The filed of view is a square with text on either side.  On the left shows the distance, vertically, in numbers.  (We start with a square one meter by one meter.)  On the right side is the same information, horizontally, in powers of ten.  (Instead of 1 meter across, it’s shown as 100 meters.

The narrator explains that as we zoom out, the distance across the square increases by one power of ten every ten seconds, so that after one second, we’re at 10 meters, then 100 and so on.  After a few minutes, we make it to 1024 meters, which makes our entire galaxy no more than a distant point of light.  We then zoom back in reducing a power of ten every 2 seconds until we’re back to 1 meter across.  We then work inward until the field of view is 10-16 meters across.

The entire film is a short 9 minutes, but it imparts the sense of scale quite well.  We go form a normal size to a very vast scale, then down to a very small scale.  The movie was made in 1977, which probably would have made for a smaller upper and lower limit, but it’s still pretty vast.  The last few lines of the narration point out that the film covers 40 orders of magnitude.  It’s a bit much to comprehend, even after watching the movie.

While I grew up watching the film a lot, I don’t recall many other children mentioning it.  In fact, I only recall having a conversation about it once where the other kid mistook the narrator’s voice for the voice of Winnie the Pooh.  (To be fair, Phil Morrison does sound like the voice from the Disney films, but I don’t think he ever actually voiced the character.)  The web comic xkcd did reference it once, which I would take to mean that the film has a certain amount of prominence.  However it’s not the kind of thing I’d expect to see on TV or even on Netflix.  (You can rent this film as part of a DVD set, but I don’t think you can get it streaming.   I have seen it on YouTube, though.)

It’s worth noting that there was an earlier version, released in 1968.  I haven’t seen this one yet, although I imagine it might also be available through YouTube.  I have seen both offered on one DVD through Amazon, so I know that both versions are available.

I still think of this short every so often and go to watch it on YouTube.  Maybe one day, I’ll get around to purchasing it on Amazon.  I wonder if it was carried over to the new science museum.  If I ever get the chance to visit, I’ll have to check it out.

Official site (Eames Office)

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Conspiracy Theory: Did We Land on the Moon? (2001)

There are a lot of different conspiracy theories.  One holds that the Earth is flat.  Another would have us believe that Elvis didn’t die of an overdose.  There’s no shortage of theories surrounding the assassination of John F. Kennedy.   One of the more prevalent is that we didn’t really land on the moon.  Instead of sending astronauts to our only natural satellite, NASA sent three people up only to bring them back down and subsequently broadcast footage from a soundstage.

This so-called documentary is sort of a primer on all of the evidence people bring up when trying to support the claim of a hoax.  For instance, there are no stars in the background of any of the pictures.  If you’ve ever tried to take a picture at night, you may or may not get stars, mostly because stars require a longer exposure to show up.  NASA had the exposures set low, meaning that stars weren’t going to show up.  Another claim is that details can be seen on surfaces that fall in a shadow.  Any good photographer knows how to play with the settings to get this effect, with or without additional light sources.

I don’t really want to go into all of the evidence people use to call the moon landing a hoax.  There are sites that can go into greater detail and list everything.  I’d be here all day responding to everything.  Instead, I want to focus more on the actual program.  As I said, it’s more of a few basic questions the producers would have you ask.  Some of these come from a lack of understanding of things like physics.  For instance, why would a flag wave in an environment that lacks an atmosphere to blow it around?  While planting the flag, the astronaut imparts momentum.  The lack of an atmosphere means that there’s nothing to stop the flag from moving around.

Some of it is convincing at first glance.  It’s pointed out that several pictures have crosshairs that aren’t fully visible.  People have taken this to mean that photos were altered.  This is explained as the emulsion bleeding between two highly contrasting colors.  Another point is made that two mountains are very similar, despite being several miles apart.  This could be a trick of the eye.  The lunar surface doesn’t have the same variation Earth does.  Very similar doesn’t mean the same.

The thing is that there’s never been any hard evidence.  There were hundreds of thousands of people involved in the mission, either directly or indirectly.  It’s also been almost fifty years.  You’d think someone would have noticed something revealing.  Someone would have come forward and said something.  Given the scope of the mission, there would be something incontrovertible.

I’ll admit that absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence.  Is it possible that the mission was faked?  I can’t prove otherwise.  However, I don’t think this documentary was meant to persuade anyone.  It seems more like it’s meant to pander to those who already believe it.  Instead of presenting something convincing, we’re instead asked how to explain what many people would perceive as an inconsistency.  (It‘s along the lines of, “Oh, yeah? Well, how do you explain this?”)   The fact that any evidence is so easily refuted would have me side with NASA not having faked the moon landing.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Yume to kyôki no ôkoku/The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness (2013)

Some documentaries are straightforward.  You’re presented with information meant to teach you about a given subject.  Others, not so much.  The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness takes a look behind the scenes Studio Ghibli Primarily, the movie focuses on the production of The Wind Rises, which was Hayao Miyazaki’s most recent attempt at a final film.  (He had previously announced his retirement several times before only to direct another movie.)

Another movie, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, is mentioned, only because it was in production at the same time and was supposed to be released at the same time as The Wind Rises, although The Tale of Princess Kaguya is shown as having too many delays.  Thus, the documentary focuses on The Wind Rises with The Tale of the Princsess Kaguya having a small role.

It starts with a meeting about how merchandising sales and not having released a movie in the previous year.  It shows storyboarding, animating and voicing the movie.  The parts showing the animating didn’t seem to focus on too many people, although you get the impression that there’s a much larger team at work.  Likewise, only the Japanese voice of the movie’s main character is shown.  Those producing the movie knew that they wanted Hideaki Anno to voice Jiro Horikoshi, although they weren’t sure if he’d be available.  No other recording for the voices are even mentioned.

The movie also has segments with Miyazaki talking about things like the Fukushima disaster.  In one scene, he responds to a letter from someone and talks about his father.  Other parts of the movie cover the history of Studio Ghibli, as well as Toshio Suzuki and Isao Takahata.

It comes across almost like a bonus feature for The Wind Rises, as there is a lot of behind-the-scenes footage.  This doesn’t mean that you have to have seen The Wind Rises.  If you’re a fan of any of the studio‘s movies,  you’ll want to watch this movie.

My mother once asked me if knowing more about a movie takes away from the enjoyment.  I have been known to watch the bonus features when I have a chance and will also read the trivia section on IMDb.  I don’t think this would take away from watching The Wind Rises at all.  Since you get to see some of Miyazaki’s opinions on certain topics, it does give you insight in to his personality.  It might affect your opinion of him as a person, but it didn’t affect my ability to watch his films in the future.

It is worth noting The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness doesn’t have many heavy spoilers, although some information about the movie is mentioned.  You see scenes from the movie being voiced and animated.  I don’t think there would be enough to ruin the movie nor does there seem to be any assumption as to whether or not the viewer has already seen it.

People unfamiliar with animation and Studio Ghibli probably won’t get as much out of this.  In fact, I could almost see the documentary being used for a class on animation.  We sometimes think of studios and directors being something mythical and we can forget that actual people are involved in the making of a movie.  There’s also the business side of movies.  Merchandising can bring in a lot of revenue.  (There’s a reason lunch boxes were so popular in the 1980s.)  If you’re interested in Studio Ghibli, I’d watch this documentary.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

En duva satt på en gren och funderade på tillvaron/A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence (2014)

Netflix has a pretty interesting selection of movies available for streaming.  They have (or have had) major movies, such as The Matrix.  Some are less familiar to American audiences, like First Squad.  What you may not know is that there’s a list of subcategories for Netflix’s selection.  This is how I found out that they have a decent selection of art house movies.  One of these art house movies is called En duva satt på en gren och funderade på tillvaron, or A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence.

The movie is a series of (loosely) related scenes.  Several feature two traveling salesmen, Sam and Jonathan, who are just trying to sell some novelty items that no one seems to want.  Two scenes feature a man waiting for someone who is apparently not going to come.  One early scene has a man dead on a cruise ship; someone points out that the food’s already paid for, so they can’t put it back for sale.

Each scene is supposed to be commentary on society, although it’s just absurd enough that I’m not really sure where each is going.  Sam and Jonathan are at least relatable, as it’s easy to relate to a difficult task.  However, it gets repetitive to the point where I’m not sure if that was supposed to be saying something.  (They keep hawking the same items in the same order using the same spiel.)  There were also several scenes where someone was saying, “I’m happy to hear you’re doing fine.”  Each scene has the line (or some variation) uttered at least once.

In each scene, the camera doesn’t seem to move.  If a room is used more than once, the angle may change from one use to the next, but each time we see a particular skit, it’s shown from an unchanging direction.  The colors are also very muted.  There’s nothing vivid about any of the buildings or scenery.  Even outdoor scenes where it’s a bright, sunny day, we don’t get the full vibrancy you’d expect from a bright, sunny day.  This flows over into other aspects, such as the acting.  The dialogue is delivered in a very simple, subdued, almost monotone fashion.

Most scenes probably won’t evoke that much emotion.  Taken together, you do get a sense of a story, even if it is haphazard and disjointed.  Life, like the movie, isn’t usually interesting or straightforward.  Context does matter for something, but not always.  And you’re not always going to understand what that context is.

This is one of those movies that most people will shut off early on.  Those that don’t may or may not regret it.  (If you tend towards big-studio productions, you’ll probably be shutting it off relatively early.)   It leads with three displays of death, including the one on the boat.  In another scene, people are led into a large metal cylinder; when it’s closed, a fire is lit beneath it.  Instead of screams, you hear eerie music.  There are a few dark, depressing elements to the movie.  To say that it’s not a movie for children is an understatement.  It’s not even going to be a movie for most adults.

The movie is the third in a trilogy by the director.  Netflix doesn’t currently have either of the other two streaming, although it looks like they are available on DVD.  From what I’ve read, the other two are similar to this one in that they’re short, loosely connected skits about the human condition.  There doesn’t seem to be any connection between the three movies in terms of characters or dialogue, so it’s possible to watch them out of order.  I’ve added them to my queue, although I’m not sure how soon I’ll get around to watching them.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Beyond the Gates (2016)

Bob Hardesty had a thing for VHS.  His never really accepted DVD, even though he ran a video-rental store.  After Bob’s disappearance, it’s up to his two sons, Gordon and John, to pack everything up and presumably do something with all of the VHS tapes.  Gordon has brought with him his girlfriend, Margot.  While cleaning out the store, the two brothers get to talking.  It’s been a while since they’ve seen each other, as Gordon left town while John stuck around.  They may have grown apart, but they both remember being in the store as children.  One thing leads to another and they find a VHS game, which is like a board game with a video to go along with it.

It seems innocuous enough.  There’s room for four players, although it‘s just John, Gordon and Margot.  They’re supposed to get instructions on game play from the video, which is just the head of a woman named Evelyn.  It seems somewhat boring at first, but gets somewhat scary when Evelyn seems to know stuff that’s a little too particular.  They eventually come to realize that Bob may be trapped inside the game.

The game is played by collecting several keys.  Each mission to do so involves a gruesome choice, usually revolving around having to kill someone.  The first one is somewhat innocuous.  They have to get a key out of a small doll.  What they don’t realize is that it’s connected to John’s friend, Hank.  What they do to the doll also happens to Hank, leading to a rather unusual scene in a bar. 

John, Gordon and Margot are conflicted.  On the one hand, they’re smart enough to want nothing to do with the game.  On the other hand, they want to get Bob out of the game, if that’s at all possible.  They visit the store where Bob got the game, only to find out that they are, in fact, obligated to finish the game once they’ve started.  They even try throwing the game away, only to have it reappear.

They eventually go through with the game, realizing that the alternatives aren’t that desirable.  They end up in an alternate dimension where they have to face off against the spirits of Bob, Hank and another character.  Winning gets them back to their own dimension, where they realize that they may have saved Bob’s soul, if not his body.  Gordon and Margot leave shortly after, with John and Gordon now more friendly towards each other than before.

This isn’t exactly what I’d consider a horror movie.  It does have some scary/grim moments, but the movie doesn’t seem to play it up like I’d expect.  It’s almost like the movie is trying to be a satire of horror movies.  It’s somewhere between a serious movie and a movie that’s playing towards nostalgia.  The entire aspect of Bob Hardesty sticking by VHS would tend to reinforce that.

It’s not so much that I could see the stuff coming.  It’s more that I had to wonder why.  For instance, Gordon has odd experiences at 3:13 each night.  It’s never explained why that particular time.  Are we to assume that the 13 is some sort of bad-luck omen?  Even if that’s true, why 3:13?  Why not 5:13 or 12:13?

My biggest complaint was the acting, which seemed to be very subdued.  Even in tense scenes, it seemed overly calm.  It was like everyone was required to be on sleeping pills during filming.  I wonder if this was intended.  Everything about the movie makes it a solid B-movie.  I do think there was some satirical/nostalgic intent in making this.

I would probably avoid showing it to children for several reasons.  First off, there are some things that might scare children, such as people being killed.  I also think that the target audience here may be people in their 40s.  Specifically, it seems like it was meant for people who grew up in the 80s and 90s and would have had some concept of VHS and horror movies of the time.

It almost looks like it could serve as a backdoor pilot.  It’s mentioned that the game always manages to find its way back to the shop where it was purchased.  If done properly, I could see this being something along the lines of Friday the 13th: The Series.  You could have the game make its way to a new group each week and exploring some new issue.  Then again, some things are best left alone.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Der Fall X701/Frozen Alive (1964)

It’s often difficult to judge other places because you’re often doing so by comparing it to where you live.  If you live in the south, you may see northern states as being cold in the winter.  Living in Florida, I might be envious of states that don’t get hurricanes as often, but other states have natural disasters of their own.  I don’t know that I could give up life in a major city.  The pace of a rural area wouldn’t appeal to me.

Likewise, when I judge movies of the past, I’m doing so against movies that have been released within my lifetime.   I’ve grown accustomed to a certain duration and pacing.  If I see a movie billed as a drama, I expect it to last a little over two hours.  When I saw the description of Frozen Alive, I expected one thing.  When I watched it, I got something completely different.

The back of the box described a movie where a scientist freezes his own body and ends up the prime suspect in the murder of his wife.  I expected the wife to die early in the movie and the scientist to have to spend a lot of the movie’s 64 minutes explaining how he was conveniently frozen at the time.  Instead, the movie is mostly setup.

Dr. Frank Overton is the scientist and he’s been working in cryogenics.  He and his partner, Dr. Helen Wieland, have had great success with chimpanzees.  They even win an award for $25,000 each.  Those that oversee their research aren’t that crazy about trying it on humans, but that is why they are doing this.  The hope is that one day, it can be used for surgical purposes.  If not now, then when will they test it?

Eventually, Dr. Overton decides to try it on himself.  He doesn’t wait for approval.  He doesn’t even tell his wife.  He just goes into the lab and has himself put into suspended animation.  That’s when his wife dies.  Unfortunately, things don’t look good for him.  The police go to the lab and are told about the experiment.  They may not like it, but they’ll have to wait for the good doctor to be revived.  By the time that Dr. Overton is conscious, his name has already been cleared.  (Most of the descriptions I’ve read for this movie, including the one on the back of the box, either state or imply that the doctor will have to defend himself.  This isn’t the case at all.)

The movie was somewhat difficult to follow, mostly because the audio was hard to hear at times.  I could follow the basic story, which is that Dr. Overton is usually working (with a beautiful woman, no less) and Mrs. Overton is usually cheating on him.  It’s not a happy marriage, which makes Dr. Overton a good suspect.

I’m used to the suspect having to defend himself and that defense usually makes up the bulk of the movie.  Here, the bulk of the movie is spent on the unhappy marriage and the work of trying to freeze people.  The actual suspicion part is maybe the last 15-20 minutes of the 64-minute running time.

Here’s the thing, though: The movie was released in 1964.  I find it hard to believe that such a basic movie of such poor quality was made so recently.  I get that crappy movies are made all the time, but this looks like something closer to the movies of a decade or two prior.   With this movie, it’s difficult to tell how much of it was the fault of the original production and how much of it is transfer quality.  Some of the movies I’ve been watching tend to have mostly third- or fourth-generation copies available.  A good transfer may not have been an option.

This is a movie that I’d recommend missing if you’re given the option.  This isn’t even the kind of movie I’d sit through to make fun of.  It’s just bad.  Apparently, there’s an 81-minut cut of the movie.  I don’t think the extra time would help.  It would just be another 17 minutes of waiting for the movie to end.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Lost World (1925)

Jurassic Park wasn’t the first movie about live dinosaurs in modern times.  Before Dennis Nedry ever laid eyes on that canister of embryos, Maple White got lost on a plateau filled with all manner of prehistoric reptiles.  The Lost World, not to be confused with the Jurassic Park sequel, is a silent movie based on a book by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  Several versions exist; the one I had available was the one running 64 minutes, which had been released in 1991.

The version I watched starts at a newspaper’s office.  A clumsy reporter named Edward Malone manages to land a story about Professor Challenger, a rather strange man.  He’s considered crazy because he’s put forth that dinosaurs still exist in a remote section of the Amazon Rainforest.  He holds a meeting, but bars any sort of reporter.  Malone manages to get in with Sir John Roxton, a friend of his.  At the meeting, Challenger announces that his intent is not to clear his name, per se, but to look for volunteers for an expedition back.  Both Roxton and Malone volunteer, as does Professor Summerlee.  Joining them are Paula White, Challenger’s butler, and a servant.

They find the plateau and soon discover that there are, indeed, dinosaurs.  Getting there and back will be tricky, as they need to cut down a tree to use as a bridge.  Shortly after arriving, a brontosaurus moves the tree so that it falls down, leaving the party stranded.  They see all manner of dinosaurs on the plateau, many of them fighting with each other.  Maple White’s remains are eventually found.

The party does manage to find a way back to their base camp and eventually return to London with a live brontosaurus.  This angers the people that Professor Challenger has gathered to show proof of living dinosaurs; they feel that they’ve been had once again.  However, the brontosaurus manages to find its way to a bridge that collapses.  The people rush to see the dinosaur swim down the river and presumably escape.

It’s not often that I get to watch silent films.  I’d imagine that many are old enough to have fallen into the public domain, but it’s not the kind of movie you’d see on HBO or Showtime, which tend to favor movies that were made a little more recently.  I would think that Netflix would pick up as many as they could just to have the additional titles available for streaming.  It is interesting to note that this was the first in-flight movie to ever be shown.

Having grown up with sound, it’s somewhat distracting to have to read the text on interstitial cards.  Characters would sometimes have conversations, leaving me to assume what they were talking about.  Any convention as to such dialogue has since been lost to me.  Some things, I could infer like greetings.  Others were probably small talk.  I would imagine audiences of the time would have a better understanding of what was being said.

As a silent movie, it relied more on visuals, which were pretty decent considering the age.  Today, we have a lot of stop-motion TV shows and movies, such as Robot Chicken.  It’s fairly easy to recognize stop motion.  At least here, it wasn’t obvious enough that I couldn’t suspend my disbelief.  Motion wasn’t that jerky, although it was unevenly paced in a few scenes.  It’s exactly what you might expect of a movie from 1925.  Scenes with live action against a stop-motion background were done almost seamlessly.  I don’t know how much of this is due to restoration and how much was part of the original technology, though.

Being that the movie is based on a book by a well-known author, I don’t think this movie should be that difficult to find.  I got it as part of a nine-movie set.  It’s exactly the kind of movie sets like this would be likely to include.  I don’t think it would be worth buying such a set just for this movie, but it is worth considering.

I think the biggest concern for most people will be the culture shock.  It’s definitely not the kind of movie you’d see today.  It does have the generic piano music that’s normally associated with silent films.  It’s obvious mostly during the moment between songs, but I didn’t find it to be too much.  I’ve grown accustomed to having a lot of dialogue, which isn’t really present here.

There’s very little that would be inappropriate for children.  The fighting between dinosaurs isn’t particularly gory.  There was an ape man that might be a little scary for very young children.  I think mostly, children might find the entire idea of a silent, black-and-white film to be either silly or boring.  It’s the kind of movie that a school might show the kids that couldn’t go on a field trip.  It’s expected to be safe rather than popular.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Things to Come (1936)

It’s difficult to judge a great movie.  Some are able to prove themselves relevant decades after their release while others have a social impact around the time release only to fade off into obscurity months or years later.  The movies my parents or grandparents liked or thought were great may seem quaint by the time the next generation comes of age.

Movies predicting technological or social advances tend to be problematic for this reason.  Sure, computers will get faster and smaller and will probably be much more useful in ten years.  It’s nearly impossible to predict their exact form.  For everything that Star Trek predicted, there are still things that haven’t come to pass or went in another direction altogether.  We have VR headsets rather than holodecks.  3D printing is sort of like a replicator, but I’m still waiting on something that can dispense something edible.

Things to Come was based on a story by H.G. Wells.  It stars in a place called Everytown on Christmas Day, 1940.  The threat of war looms, making it difficult for John Cabal to enjoy himself.  One friend, Harding, agrees.  Another friend, Pippa Passworthy, doesn’t.  Even if war does come to pass, it can’t help but stimulate the economy.

Well, war does come to pass that night, leading to decades of fighting with an unnamed adversary.  The Walking Plague kills half of humanity, leaving the rest in ruins.  Society degrades to the point where little, if any, technology still exists.  On May Day, 1970, an airplane lands outside the ruins of Everytown.  The pilot, none other than John Cabal, announces that the few remaining people with technical skill have banded together to reestablish society.  They’ve outlawed independent nations and have ended war.  Their new society is called Wings Over the World.

The Chief of Everytown wants none of that.  He’s not going to give up power so easily.  Wings Over the World is able to liberate John and the town, thus bringing them into the fold.  A series of images shows technology progressing and a new Everytown being built, this time underground.  Humans can produce their own air and sunlight as needed.  Everyone seems to live in peace.

Trouble doesn’t begin to stir until plans for a launch to the moon.  One segment of society doesn’t like the unending progress that humanity has made, instead preferring to maybe give it a rest for a while.  A space launch is dangerous, with lunar landings having proven fatal.  Why not hold off for a while?

Oswald Cabal and Maurice Passworthy are talking of sending another manned mission to the moon.  This time, it’s going to be a lunar orbit.  Their respective children make a case for going on the mission themselves.  A mob of angry people, not wanting the launch to proceed, force the launch ahead of schedule.  In the final scene, Cabal and Passworthy talk about the future of humanity.  What if we don’t progress?  What then?

I’m not sure how to judge Things to Come.  It has a strong anti-war message.  This makes sense in context.  At the time, war wasn’t far off.  This is something that the movie’s audience would have responded to.  Conflict is shown as destroying civilization whereas cooperation brings about progress.  However, progress isn’t perfect; unfettered progress can bring about conflict.

I’m not sure how much of an accurate prediction of the future the movie was supposed to be.  We have since landed on the moon, even doing a test orbit before putting someone on the lunar surface.  Some things were predicted with some degree of accuracy.  However, some things seem way off.  The final scenes take place in 2036.  I’m not sure we’ll be living underground in 20 years’ time.

I look at some of the predictions, like living underground, and wonder where they were going with this.  Underground cities might have some advantage, but it seems strange given the way that humanity actually went.  Predicting the end of civilization might seem a bit extreme, given that we’ve been able to survive two world wars.  However, World War II saw the destruction of cities and the deaths of millions of people.  The evens of this movie might not be that farfetched.

My biggest qualm with the movie is the quality.  From what I’ve read, several versions are still in existence and are of varying qualities.  I saw this movie as part of a nine-movie set; it contained the 97-minute version.  There were several parts that were of very poor audio and video quality.  I was able to make out most of the conversations, but I missed words here and there.  I wasn’t able to use captioning, which didn’t seem to come with the movie.

It’s also worth noting that the copyright lapsed in the United States, but has since been restored.  This may make finding the movie more difficult, as it’s no longer in the pubic domain.  I wouldn’t go out of your way to find it.  If you can see it on television or through Netflix, you can give it a shot, but I wouldn’t expect to make it the entire way through on the first try.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Slipstream (1989)

Dystopian futures aren’t always explained that well in movies.  A writer has only a few hours to tell a story and they may not want to waste a lot of their time on things like long-winded historical monologues.  Take Slipstream.  In the beginning of the movie, we get a voiceover explaining that there was a cataclysmic event called Convergence.  It’s not explained what it was other than to say it was technological and that it ruined the Earth’s weather systems.

Now, the surface of the planet is subjected to intermittent winds that make life there difficult at best.  Present-day nations don’t exist any more.  Instead, there are isolated communities all over the place.  Some are primitive.  Others are strange.  Due to the new environmental conditions, people travel by plane.  Those that can navigate the winds do what’s called riding the slipstream.

The narrative starts with Byron on foot being chased by Will Tasker and Belitski in a plane.  They capture him by hitting him with grappling hook and pulling him off a cliff.  He lands unhurt.  They then take him to a diner where they meet Matt Owens.  Matt is you’re typical local lowlife that deals in items that are of questionable legal standing.  He has a grenade and a parachute that he offers to Tasker, who then identifies himself as a law-enforcement officer.

Matt is happy to give up the grenade in exchange for not being arrested.  He sees an opportunity, though, when he comes to find out that Tasker and Belitski are basically bounty hunters and that Byron has a nice price on his head.  (Byron is wanted for murder.)  He then kidnaps Byron and escapes, but not before being hit with a dart.  Tasker tells Byron that it’s poisoned.  What Tasker doesn’t mention is that it also implanted a tracking device.

So, Matt takes Byron off to see all of those strange cities that popped up.  The first stop is a place called Hell’s Kitchen, although I don’t know if this is a reference to the area in New York or if it’s just a coincidence.  Either way, Byron is able to heal a kid with cataracts.

Byron and Matt then travel some more and get lost.  They wind up in a city where the residents worship the slipstream.  The dying leader tells Byron that he was part of the problem that brought down society.  His followers then tie Byron to a kite and leave him flying in a storm.  When Tasker and Belitski show up, they reveal that Byron is an android.  They help Byron get down.  When Tasker is lost in the storm, Belitski lets Matt and Byron escape with the help of a woman named Ariel.

Ariel takes them to her home city, which is a buried museum.  She knows that they can help.  Byron admits that he did, in fact, kill someone, that person being the person that owned him.  (If I’m reading a few lines correctly, it was a mercy killing.)  He also has a dream of a promised land for androids at the end of the slipstream.  Not long after, Tasker and Belitski catch up with Matt and Byron one last time for a final confrontation.

One of the problems that I’ve had with post-apocalyptic movies is that they either oversell or undersell the apocalypse.  This tends towards the undersell end of it, but not to where it’s distracting.  The actual end of civilization isn’t as important to the story as you might think.  Instead, the story focuses on Byron and Matt trying to stay ahead of law enforcement.

The movie almost seems like a TV show.  Some movies I’ve seen seem like a backdoor pilot.  This seems more like someone had an idea for a TV show and decided to write the first few episodes as a movie.  I could see the slipstream as being the plot device that ties together each episode with Matt and Byron going from city to city, dealing with some moral issue in each episode.  With Tasker and Belitski chancing them, it would sort of be like the A Team or The Incredible Hulk.  They’d be forced to move on at the end of each story.

I probably would have watched this as a TV show or miniseries.  There’s a lot that’s not really explained, like exactly what Tasker and Belitski are.  They keep saying that they’re the law, but the term is vague enough that it could mean a lot of things.  We also don’t know the exact nature of Byron’s crime.  He’s said to be guilty of murder, but that also has some room for interpretation.  These are things that could have been explored in a longer format.

I think that’s the big problem with the movie.  It’s basically one big chase scene in slow motion.  I don’t think it’s even mentioned where Matt was supposed to take Byron to collect the bounty.  (It’s also not clear what the exact amount is; only that it’s assumed to be large.)  It seems like Tasker and Belitski were working for the equivalent of a national government, so Matt would probably have known where to go.  However, he initially seems interested only in staying ahead of those chasing him.  I think that the movie could probably stand a remake, either as a TV series or miniseries.  Even if it’s as another movie, the story could do with a few more details.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Lady Vanishes (1938)

There’s a saying:  You’re not paranoid if they’re really out to get you.  It’s easy for someone to dismiss someone else’s paranoia, but imagine thinking you’re caught up in a conspiracy.  Every turn of events reaffirms your suspicions and any evidence to the contrary is part of the cover up.

Iris Henderson is on her way home to get married.  She’s stranded at an inn for the night due to an avalanche along with an interesting cast of characters.  Charters and Caldicott are going to England to see a cricket match.   Gilbert Redman is a musician staying above Iris who plays his music way too loudly.  Miss Froy is a governess traveling home.

Miss Froy and Iris become fast friends, sitting across from each other on the train the next morning.  They even have tea together.  Iris falls asleep only to find Miss Froy gone.  All of the people that saw them together claim that Iris was alone.  Each interacted with Miss Froy to varying degrees.  Even the other people in their compartment have no recollection of anyone fitting Miss Froy’s description.

Gilbert agrees to help her.  They meet a brain surgeon, Dr. Hartz, who says that Iris may have suffered a concussion.  Miss Froy may be nothing more than a hallucination.  Shortly after the doctor’s patient arrives on the train, a new woman appears wearing Miss Froy’s clothing.  Oh, and they’re attacked by a magician, Singor Doppo.  Is Iris really paranoid?  Gilbert starts to realize that this mysterious Miss Froy may really exist.

I sometimes wonder why a particular cliché is used.  Here, we have one person who insists that someone else was onboard.  Others know it, although refuse to admit it for varying reasons.  (A couple on the train is married, just not to each other; they don’t want their names in a police report.)  If I had met someone on a train only to have them disappear, I might have just assumed that they had found another compartment to sit in.  Here, at least, it makes some sense.  There aren’t that many people that have seen her that it becomes implausible that they’d all deny seeing her.  The question isn’t so much if Miss Froy existed but how and why she disappeared.

It’s strange that Iris is the only one that is looking for Miss Froy.  Had the two not met at the inn, Miss Froy would have been in trouble.   Given the number of people staying at the inn that ended up on the train, I’d think someone else would have admitted to having seen her.  In fact, Iris leaves two friends at the Inn.  Had one of them gone with her, things might have happened differently.

I found that the movie took a while to get to Miss Froy‘s disappearance.  A good deal of time is spent at the inn establishing the characters.  Part of this may have had to do with the description on the back of the box, which only mentions the train.  When I first started watching the movie, I was wondering if I had selected the correct one from the menu.  (I got this as part of a 9-movie set of Hitchcock movies.)

It wasn’t that bad and was evenly paced.  There weren’t any parts of the movie that dragged at all.  Some of it seemed strange to me, which is due mostly to the age of the film.  The movie was released in 1938 in Great Britain.  Traveling across a country by train is a strange concept to most people today who usually fly, especially considering that several of the main characters are going to London from continental Europe.  Then, there’s the music, which seemed kind of simple to me.

I read that the movie was remade in 1979 and 2013.  It would be interesting to watch either one just to see how the story was handled in a more modern context.  I’m sure that there are aspects of the plot lost on me.  If you’re looking for a Hitchcock movie to watch, this would be a good one to try.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Shin Godzilla (2016)

There are few characters that are ubiquitous.  You’d be hard pressed to find someone who didn’t know who Dracula was.  When Robin Hood: Men in Tights made a reference to King Kong, it was safe to assume most people had heard of the name.  Godzilla is definitely up there in that pantheon of characters.  The fact that we would refer to an extremely belligerent woman on her wedding day as bridezilla would speak to that.

Shin Godzilla is the most recent of a long line of movies about the giant lizard.  (This is the 31st Godzilla film with only two not being released by Toho.)  It takes place in modern times, beginning with the Japanese Coast Guard investigating an abandoned yacht.  After a minute or two, something destroys the yacht and parts of the surrounding bay are affected.

Of all the people that know of this, only Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Rando Yaguchi thinks it may be a living creature.  Everyone else dismisses it.  That is until Yaguchi is proven correct.  So, a group of experts is assembled to deal with the creature.  Only the tail is seen, but it’s assumed that the creature is too large to come on land.  Right after the Prime Minister assures the public of this, we get our first glimpse of Godzilla in all his glory.

Godzilla immediately starts leaving a trail of destruction.  That isn’t even the least of the public’s concern.  There are large amounts of radioactivity wherever Godzilla goes.  There’s a pretty good chance that he’s powered by nuclear fission.  The U.S. government sends an envoy, Kayoko Anne Patterson.  She shares information that a zoology professor had been studying radioactive contamination and the resulting mutations; he predicted the appearance of a creature like Godzilla, but the U.S. government kept it from getting out.  The yacht at the beginning of the movie belonged to the professor.

It doesn’t take long for Godzilla to reappear, having increased in size.  Initial attacks on the creature prove useless.  After some damage is caused, Godzilla responds with a laser beam that emanates from his mouth.  This leaves even more radiation.

It’s eventually discovered that Godzilla has a cooling system that may be his downfall.  If they can get a serum manufactured, they might be able to stop Godzilla.  They’re up against a clock, though, as the UN wants to use a thermonuclear weapon on Godzilla.  Patterson is able to use her connections to buy enough time to develop and deploy the serum, which works.

Originally, the character had been a response to nuclear weapons.  Here, it’s more of a commentary on the Fukushima reactor’s failure.  Godzilla is the result of feeding on nuclear waste.  He has no specific ill will towards anyone.  He simply causes damage and leaves without regard for the surrounding area.  Most of the movie is about people dealing with the results, but there is also talk of politics and diplomacy.  One character is thrust into a leadership position, although he talks about whether or not he wants it.

On that note, Satomi Ishihara plays Kayoko Anne Patterson.  It’s said that she has ambitions to be president.  I’m not the first to point out that she has a heavy accent when speaking English.  The three requirements set forth for the presidency in the Constitution are that you have to be at least 35 years old, have resided in the United States for 14 of those years and that you be a natural-born citizen.  Having an accent wouldn’t preclude her from being president.  However, it’s never stated what her upbringing was.  It’s possible that she was born in the United States, but grew up overseas.

One thing my brother and I noted while watching the movie was that Godzilla initially looked sort of cartoonish at first, especially in the eyes.  The animation eventually improved as Godzilla went through various stages of development.  I don’t know if this was meant to reference earlier attempts at portraying Godzilla.  I haven’t seen any of the other Godzilla movies recently, so it’s difficult for me to tell.

I’ve never been a big fan of monster movies.  I’ve tended to avoid King Kong and the like, so it’s hard for me to compare this to similar movies.  It was at least enjoyable, mostly because it focused on stopping Godzilla rather than the destruction.  I’m not sure it would be appropriate for most children.  Godzilla can be pretty scary.  (You can probably find stills online to judge how scary this Godzilla might be for your children.)  There are also certain issues that will probably go over their heads.  I’d say it’s safe for teenagers and above.

IMDb page

Monday, September 25, 2017

Teenagers from Outer Space (1959)

It’s hard to say how aliens would regard us, if they had any regard for us at all.  When three aliens land on Earth, it’s for the sole purpose of finding a breeding ground for gargons, a delicacy on their home planet.  Thor doesn’t seem to hold Earth creatures in high regard.  When a dog approaches the ship, Thor kills poor little Sparky without so much as a second thought.  Derek, on the other hand, is more empathetic.  He finds Sparky’s tag and realizes that they may have just killed someone’s pet.  At the very least, this was a living being.  What right do they have to make this home to their food supply?  It may not even matter, because the gargon doesn’t seem to be doing well.

Thor very firmly points out that they are the supreme race.  Earth inhabitants are inferior, no matter how advanced we may be, and we can die like the inferior scum we are for all Thor cares.  You see, Thor and Derek come from a planet that doesn’t have concepts like family and friendships.  Yes, they have parents, but children don’t know who their relatives are.  The only reason Derek even brings this up is that he has this book about olden times when their race did have such concepts.

This angers Thor, who tells Derek that he’ll be put to death upon their return.  Thor contacts command, who tells him that Derek is the Leader’s son and is next in line to take over.  He’s to be brought back alive.  One gargan will be left behind, as per procedure, and Thor will chase after Derek, killing him only if necessary.  The remaining crew will take the ship back and return after a set period of time.

Derek wanders into town with Sparky’s tag and eventually finds place that Sparky called home.  He’s greeted by Betty Morgan.  She lives with her grandfather.  They initially assume that he’s interested in being a boarder, as they have a room to let.  Derek neglects to tell her about Sparky.

Betty was getting ready for a date with her boyfriend, Joe Rogers, but he has to cancel at the last minute.  He’s a reporter and has to cover a story about some reports of a flying saucer.  So, Derek goes with Betty instead.  Derek eventually shows the tag to Betty, which makes Betty want to see the remains of her dog just to be sure.

Thor is eventually able to track down Derek because of a gas-station attendant that recognizes the uniform.  After getting the address that Derek went to, Thor ends up killing the attendant for his trouble.  He also kills the guy that was kind enough to give him a ride into town.  (Thor’s instructions did include killing any witnesses.)

Derek falls in love with Betty.  He desperately wants to stay on Earth with her, but he comes to realize that it may not be possible.  He and Thor go back to the landing site where the Leader emerges from the spacecraft.  Derek is allowed to bring the ships in to land, which he does at full speed, thus causing an explosion.  He saves Earth and its inhabitants, who may never know what happened.

So, you may be wondering how I came across this gem of a movie.  Years ago, I was in the habit of buying these packs of movies.  This particular one was ten movies spread across three discs by St. Clair Vision.  What I would later come to realize was that these were all public-domain movies.  They were packaged by theme, with this set being sci-fi movies.  (Another one is a set of Alfred Hitchcock movies.)

The movie was released in 1959.  I’m not sure how the movie ranks among other movies of that year, but it looks like filmmaking has come a long way.  Take Thor’s death ray.  It’s supposed to work by vaporizing the fleshy parts of a living being, leaving only the skeleton.  We don’t actually see the effect on the target.  Instead, we see the target before cutting to Thor holding the ray gun.  When Thor uses the gun, there’s a bright light that looks like a reflection from a small mirror.  We then cut back to the skeleton of the target.

If you’ve ever seen a skeleton up close, you’ll know that the bones aren’t directly attached to each other.  There’s connecting tissue keeping the bones in place.  If everything else is removed, you’ll end up with a pile of bones.  It probably won’t look complete.  Sparky, I could see, as he may have been knocked on his side.  However, any human skeleton would probably scatter, especially if they were standing upright.

There’s also the issue of how a gargon was able to grow so large.  When the aliens first landed, it looked like you’re average lobster silhouette.  After a day or two, it had grown to something huge.  It had supposedly done this on the nutrients in the air.  How is that possible in such a short period of time?

Speaking of which, it’s almost impressive how they managed to make the gargon at all.  In the first scene, it looks like they may have used a real lobster or possibly a rubber mockup of one.  By the end of the movie, it looked like they were superimposing a shadow over regular footage.  It was somewhat fake looking by today’s standards.  It’s forgivable considering the age.

It’s not an overly complicated plot.  If you’re looking for hidden meaning, you’ll have to look elsewhere.  The characters aren’t particularly well developed.  Betty is a normal potential love interest.  Grandpa is a generic grandfather-type character.

I’d say it’s mostly suitable for children.  I think the only objectionable part would be that Thor kills a dog and several people.  As I said, you don’t actually see the death, but it’s fairly obvious that it happened.  The gargon wasn’t that scary to me and was shown only briefly.  It’s kind of difficult to judge how a small child might interpret it.  I suppose there are worse ways to spend 85 minutes.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Brain That Wouldn't Die (1962)

Dr. Bill Cortner is a mad scientist. Why would I call him mad? He’s madly in love with his fiancée, Jan Compton. Oh, and he does unethical medical experiments with body parts obtained by questionable means. One weekend, Bill and Jan are on their way to a country house owned by his father. Being the reckless driver that he is, he gets into an accident that decapitates Jan.
Normally, that would be the end of it, but Bill has this serum he’s been working on that will allow any body to accept any transplant. He’s able to take Jan’s head to the house where his friend, Kurt, has some new body parts waiting. They rush down to the lab and manage to revive Jan’s head. She immediately hates Bill for doing this and wishes to just die. Alas, Bill won’t have any of it. He has at most 50 hours to find Jan a new body. Oh, and he should probably mention the horrible monster in the closet.
So, he sets off checking out various clubs and whatnot. At a beauty contest, he gets the idea to use the body of a model named Doris Powell. Doris doesn’t go out much as she has this hideous disfigurement from a previous boyfriend. And by hideous, she means a relatively small scar on her face that’s well hidden by her long hair.
It’s actually perfect for Bill’s needs. He can use it to lure Doris back to the laboratory and the scar is on a part of her body that he doesn’t need. The problem is that Jan uses the horrible monster in the closet to kill Kurt. When Bill gets back, he covers the body only to meet a similar fate. The monster escapes with Doris’s unconscious body, leaving Bill, Kurt and Jan in a burning building.
Oh, where to begin with this movie?
The Brain That Wouldn’t Die, sometimes called The Head That Wouldn’t Die, was released in 1963. It’s hard to believe that we’re talking more than 50 years ago, but there it is. I’ve often wondered if audiences of that era were less demanding or if filmmakers just didn’t bother. I am getting this movie from a set of public-domain movies, so I’m not dealing with the best of the best. I’ll admit to that much. However, this is a pretty bad movie.
Just to be clear, I was born in 1976. There is some historical context lost on me. I’ve always known transplants being relatively safe. To hear a doctor brag about being able to perform transplants isn’t that amazing. I’m not familiar enough with medical history to know when this became the case. I know early transplants were problematic and patients would sometimes live for days or weeks afterwards.
To be fair, though, Bill’s breakthrough is a serum that would eliminate rejection of a donor’s body parts. The plot device allows Bill to save Jan and for the monster in the closet to exist at all. This brings me to another point. How is Jan able to survive? Bill has a time limit, which I’m assuming has something to do with Jan needing to eventually eat. However, without lungs, she can’t breath. She also shouldn’t be able to talk, for that matter.
Then, there’s Doris. I don’t think this character would fly in one of today’s movies. She has a minor scar that’s easily hidden, yet she doesn’t go out much. She’s vain enough to want it removed. If this movie had been made today, we’d need the scar to cover her entire face. Also, Doris apparently hates men only because it was a man who had given her a scar in the first place. Seriously? There might be something that I’m missing there. Being a man hater might have meant something different in the 1960s. That’s something that probably would have been left out entirely in a modern production.
Also, the acting seemed very strange to me. It wasn’t quite stiff and it wasn’t quite overly dramatic. It was almost like something you’d expect from a Saturday Night Live spoof of the movie. I know it’s not fair to apply modern acting standards to movies from other eras. I only mention it because most younger viewers will probably be turned off by it.
I’m not even sure this is a bad thing. This movie doesn’t have too many redeeming qualities. If you’re looking for a movie to pick apart, this is a good one. If you’re a fan of classic sci-fi movies, this might be worth a shot. If you buy a pack of 50 public-domain movies, don’t be surprised if this one is among them.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Blackmail (1929)

It’s usually difficult for me to say that I like a director. With some, their work tends to be similar enough that I can expect certain things from the movie. In other cases, their work may be so varied that it’s hard to tell much of anything about a movie of theirs. Alfred Hitchcock is difficult to pin down for a variety of reasons. I know a few of his works, like North by Northwest. The problem is that his work dates back to the 1920s. His earlier works were made in Great Britain and developed with what was then new technology. While Blackmail was being shot, sound became available for movies. Thus, Blackmail became Hitchcock’s first movie with sound.
The movie starts with Detective Frank Webber and Alice White going on a date. After arguing about what to do afterward, he storms out, leaving her to meet Mr. Crewe. While walking Alice home, Crewe talks Alice into going up to his studio. The two have fun until Crewe tries to kiss Alice. She refuses; he persists and tries to rape Alice, who kills him with a bread knife. She then collects any evidence of her being there and leaves.
Even though it was self defense, she walks around town all night before going home. The next morning, Frank is assigned to the murder of Crewe. He soon realizes that his girlfriend is the prime suspect. He hides what evidence she left behind and goes to confront Alice. After a few minutes, a man named Tracy arrives. He, too, can implicate Alice.
Tracy plays coy. He hints that he might want something, but draws it out for as long as he can. When Tracy realizes that he might not have the upper hand, he runs. After a chase, Tracy ends up taking the fall in more ways than one. Alice feels guilty, but Frank talks her out of confessing, as there’s no need.
The movie is almost 90 years old. I’d say it’s hard to believe, but it’s not really. If you’re coming off TV shows like CSI and Law & Order, Blackmail will seem very simple. Frank and Tracy each have a piece of evidence implicating Alice. Since both pieces of evidence were taken from the scene, I’m not sure how valuable they’ll be. It’s even stated that it would primarily be Tracy’s word against Alice’s. Still, I’m used to seeing the police and prosecutors having to worry about testing and whatnot.
Even the plot seemed a little thin. Frank and Alice’s date seemed a little drawn out. Even Alice’s time with Crewe seemed to take a little too long. The movie is 89 minutes; I spent a lot of those minutes wondering when the action would begin. Most of it is that I’m used to 2-hour movies that are heavy on dialogue and action. Since this was planned as a silent film, the writing style was considerably different.
If you’re looking for a first Hitchcock movie to watch, I’m not sure that this would be a good place to start, especially for a younger viewer. I think it would be too distracting comparing Blackmail to a modern movie. There was one scene where Alice and Crewe were walking up stairs. It seemed fairly obvious that it was a set designed solely for that shot. It’s strange to think how far technology has come, both forensically and theatrically.

Saturday, September 09, 2017

The Matrix Revolutions (2003)

Sometimes, leaving well enough alone can be a good thing.  The first Matrix movie could very well have been it and it would have been a great movie.  We have this revelation that humanity is really living in a simulated world.  A small band of people are fighting the machines that keep us enslaved.  Instead, it served as the basis for two movie sequels.  Instead of being all philosophical like the first movie, both sequels skewed towards action.

Matrix Revolutions picks up where Matrix Reloaded left off.  Neo is trapped in the computer world.  Agent Smith has found his way into the real world.  Also, the machines have sent sentinels to attack Zion, the city of humans freed from the Matrix.  If they can’t be defeated, Zion will be destroyed in a matter of days.

Normally, I’d go into plot review, but the bulk of the movie is the humans fighting the machines, this time in a more literal sense.  The movie begins with Neo having to be rescued from his disembodiment.  The machines are attacking the city, which is fighting back with guns.  Meanwhile, Agent Smith has taken over everyone in the Matrix.  The movie ends with Neo fighting Smith to the death and Zion being saved.  The machines will have to do without humans as a power source.

The first movie was a tough act to follow.  It had this big reveal that what the characters experience isn’t reality.  It’s a simulation that everyone’s immersed in since birth.  There really aren’t too many places you can go with that.  Matrix Reloaded did mention that this wasn’t the first attempt at it and that it’s been going on much longer than initially assumed.  Here, it’s more like, “Ok.  Let’s wrap things up.”

I’m not sure if the sequels were planned.  There was a four-year gap between the first and second movies being released with the second and third movies being released the same year.  It’s a pattern similar to the Back to the Future franchise, where the sequels weren’t planned, yet ended up being good.  For me, the Back to the Future franchise was due mostly to good writing and the right concept that had talented people behind it.  That kind of formula is difficult to replicate.

Here, it’s like some planning went in to it, but not very much.  It looks like one story that was split into three with only the first movie retaining any real substance or quality.  The second move got a little bit with the third movie there just to round it out.  Also, it’s very uneven.  It’s almost like three versions of the same story that were somehow reworked into a passable storyline.

If you’re looking into the Matrix movies, you could easily skip the second and third movies without missing anything.  Both movies are around two hours and at least have the possibility of being entertaining, but I wouldn’t necessarily rush to rent them.  If you never got around to watching them, it wouldn’t be a loss, either.