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.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Kaze tachinu/The Wind Rises (2013)

When my brother came back into town recently, he gave me a few movies to rent.  Knowing that he and I both like Studio Ghibli movies, I also rented The Wind Rises.  It turns out he had already seen it.  I still ended up watching it, but he warned me that it was a little more political than he would have liked.  I’m not entirely sure that political is the word I’d use.

The movie is about Jirô Horikoshi.  As a young boy, he wants to be a pilot.  The only problem is that his nearsightedness precludes him from doing so.  So, Jirô does the next best thing; he studies so that he can design planes rather than fly them.  He reads about Count Giovanni Battista Caproni and subsequently has dreams about him and his designs.

Jirô graduates and goes to work for Mitsubishi.  He’s torn because he wants to design aircraft but knows that they’re being used for war, as Mitsubishi’s contracts (and Jirô’s projects) are for the Imperial Army and the Imperial Navy.  This is something he discusses with Count Caproni in his dreams.  There’s also the issue of Japan being 20 years behind Germany technologically.  It’s something that he and a friend discuss regularly.  Jirô has the chance to study German designs and it does help, but there’s still the gap.

I think this may be what my brother was talking about.  Jiro seems to lament that his country is so far behind.  There are several scenes where he talks about it.  Jirô did eventually go on to design several aircraft that, while not perfect, were used by the Japanese military.  However, the Japanese military is shown moving planes to the test site with beasts of burden.  The Japanese planes are made primarily of wood rather than metal and alloys.

I’m not sure how much of this is accurate.  Apparently, the account of Jirô’s life is somewhat fictionalized.  The use of animals for transporting the plane and the use of wood could have been true or they could have been hyperbolic.  I don’t know enough about Japanese history to be certain.  At the very least, it would seem that Japan has a bit of an inferiority complex.

I also found it odd that Jirô’s sister seemed to be angry all the time.  Mostly, it’s Jirô’s fault for not meeting up with her on time, but she didn’t seem to calm down.  I’m not sure if I was missing something.  It may be to contrast with Jirô’s always being calm.

It’s interesting to note that Miyazaki’s father manufactured parts for planes, which explains why so many Studio Ghibli films involve aviation.  It also explains why you may catch Miyazaki’s name on an airplane in one of his movies.  In fact, Miyazaki Airplane manufactured parts for the Mitsubishi A6M "Zero", one of the planes that Jirô designed.

I get that I’m probably missing a certain amount from a cultural perspective.  Still, it’s a great movie.  If you’ve seen any Studio Ghibli movies, you know that the animation is excellent.  I’ve heard that there’s a rule that animators keep the use of computers to a minimum and this is no exception.  There is a bit of war shown, even though it focuses on the design aspect of the plane.  There is some imagery that won’t be appropriate for small children and there are some subjects that they won’t understand.  The movie is rated PG-13, which seems about right.  Most teenagers and above should be able to handle the subject matter.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Moon (2009)

Colonizing the moon or another planet won’t be easy.  Any building will probably be designed for function rather than comfort.  You won’t be able to go outside due to lack of atmosphere.  If you’re among the first group to go, there won’t be many others going with you, so you’ll have a limited number of other people to interact with, if you have anyone else at all.

You don’t have to tell Sam Bell that, though.  He’s finishing up a three-year contract on the moon.  Two more weeks of monitoring a mining operation and he gets to go home.  His only companion is an artificial intelligence named GERTY.  Life is pretty boring for Sam.  The only ting of interest, in fact, is when something goes wrong.  For instance, he can’t communicate directly with Earth in anything resembling real time.  (This is due to an equipment failure.)

Things tend to get complicated when Sam notices people on the station.  Is he dreaming?  Are they hallucinations?  Either way, he gets distracted.  He wakes up with GERTY tending to him.  GERTY seems to be communicating with Earth, which should be impossible.  Answers are hard to come by as GERTY won’t let Sam out of the confines of the base.  It’s not clear why until Sam finds a reason to leave the base.

There’s that saying that you’re not paranoid if they’re really out to get you.  It’s bad enough that Sam has to spend three years without human company.  That’s enough to make anyone a little unbalanced.  However, as time goes by, he has more reason to believe that it’s not paranoia.

Take the fact that Sam’s job is to spend his entire three years alone.  You’d think that they’d send up a few other people just in case the AI isn’t enough.  It could be that Sam works for a really cheap company.  It could also be that people willing to work on the lunar surface are hard to come by, no matter how much you paid them.  It’s also possible that something more nefarious is going on.  (At the very least, is it morally right to isolate someone for that long, even if they agree to it?)

There is a certain efficiency to the movie.  You have two main characters, Sam and GERTY, who make the bulk of the story.  There’s even a minimal number of secondary characters.  The only other movie that comes to mind as being similar is Timecrimes.  It’s possible to tell a story well with very few characters and sets.  In fact, I could say that Moon used too many sets.  Having more of the movie take place in the lunar base could have added to the sense of claustrophobia that Sam would have felt.

Most of my issues are technical, though, and are to be expected.  The first one that I noticed was in saying dark side of the moon.  The moon has phases from our perspective, meaning that the dark side rotates.  I know I’m not the first to point out that it should properly be referred to as the far side of the moon, as the moon is tidally locked.  The other issue is lunar gravity.  I could see the structures having artificial gravity, but it seemed like Sam experienced normal gravity outside the base.  I’ll admit that both of these are relatively minor points.

The movie is 97 minutes, which seems about the right time.  It doesn’t feel rushed at all, nor does it seem like there’s a lot of filler.  There are a few cases where I was able to see things coming.  If you watch movies and television enough, you’ll be able to catch some of the foreshadowing.  I didn’t see many of the big plot twists coming, though.  How much you enjoy the movie will probably depend on how much you can let stuff like that go.  If you know someone who likes to ask questions during the movie, don’t watch this one with them.

Monday, September 04, 2017

Get Shorty (1995)

I usually know what to make of a movie’s plot.  I may not always like it or completely understand it, but I have some sense of where the writer is coming from.  Get Shorty is an unusual movie in that I’m not entirely sure what it’s supposed to be about.  Is it just a comedy?  Is it some sort of satire?  Is it supposed to be some sort of indictment of the movie industry or an in joke?  What’s the story?

It starts with Chili Palmer in Miami.  He’s a loan shark who works for someone out of New York until he dies.  Suddenly, Chili finds himself working for Ray ‘Bones’ Barboni.  Ray means business.  He wants Chili to collect on a debt owed by a dry cleaner.  Chili points out that the dry cleaner in question is dead.  That’s not Ray’s problem, considering that he had a wife who’s very much alive.

The wife reveals to Chili that her husband is very much alive in Las Vegas  Chili manages to collect the money and pick up a side job in California.  So, Chili travels to Hollywood to meet a producer named Harry Zimm.  Harry has problems of his own.  Chili’s job came from a casino that Harry owes money to.  On top of that, Harry blew $20,000 of his investor’s money.  Chili and Harry become fast friends, but they still have to worry about the investor, Bo Catlett.

Part of my problem may be that the story is a little complicated.  The movie goes from East Coast to West Coast very quickly.  If you blink, you might miss a few important details like I did.  There are also a lot of subplots going on.  Chili has Ray to worry about.  Harry has Bo to worry about.  Bo has a drug dealer named Mr. Escobar to worry about as well as the DEA.  All the while, Chili and Harry want to make their own movie based on the movie’s events so far.  They just have to convince Martin Weir to star in it.  I can’t blame you if you get a little confused by it.

There do seem to be a few jabs at actors and writers.  I’m not sure how much of this I’m supposed to get.  Selling the story within the story allows the characters to comment on the story-making process.  Martin talks of getting inside a character’s head, although he doesn’t seem to be that good at it.  (It’s not that he’s a bad person.  He just seems to lack empathy.)   Since most of us aren’t privy to how a movie is made, I don’t know how much of the conversations went above my head.

I also wonder how much of it is dated.  One of the running gags was Chili getting a minivan from the rental agency and having to make the best of it.  The movie came out when minivans were a big thing.  Now, it’s SUVs.  I’m not sure if the joke would play out the same way.  (I suppose it’s better than a station wagon.)

It’s interesting to hear some dialogue about Miami in the beginning of the movie.  I would like to point out that when Chili mentions Biscayne Boulevard and Federal Highway, he’s actually talking about two different stretches of US-1.  In Miami-Dade County, US-1 is called Biscayne from Downtown north.  When you reach the Broward County line, it becomes Federal Highway.  Just a little bit of trivia there.

I’m not really sure who the movie is going to appeal to.  There is a certain off-beat element to the story.  I remember liking the movie years ago when I first saw it.  I don’t remember how I felt about it specifically.  I just remember a few scenes.  Having watched it again, it was still entertaining.  I’d probably wait a while before watching it again.