Sunday, June 28, 2020

Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966)

I’ve often wondered if it’s wrong to go through IMDb’s Bottom 100 list.  With access to several streaming platforms, I could probably find a few of them.  I have already watched Birdemic: Shock and Terror through the magic of Amazon Prime.  Several other titles are available for me there.  I can watch plenty more through Netflix, either streaming or on DVD.  If I tried hard enough, I could probably find all of them.  The question is whether or not I should.  Do I really want to subject myself to that many horrible films?

Eh.  Why not?

Some, like Birdemic, are tried and true stinkers.  There are no redeeming qualities.  If some effort was put into the project, it wasn’t to make a movie.  Others, like Manos: The Hands of Fate, do seem to have been an honest attempt to make a film.  This isn’t to say it wasn’t a stinker.

The movie starts with Michael and Margret on vacation.  They’re driving through the countryside with their daughter, Debbie, looking for the Valley Lodge.  We see all sorts of nice scenery.  They get pulled over for a broken taillight, but aren’t given a ticket.

Instead of finding their hotel, they come across a mysterious house.  The only occupant is Torgo, a man with a funny walk.  It’s only stated that he serves as the groundskeeper.  We never find out why he walks that way.  Michael pleads with him to stay the night.  Torgo eventually relents, stating only that Master won’t like it.  There’s also a strange painting of Master and his evil-looking dog. 

What follows is an hour of bizarre events.  Mostly, it’s Michael and Margret arguing over whether or not they should stay, but there doesn’t seem to be any way out.  They can’t find their way back nor can they make their way onward.  Also, Torgo keeps looking in on Margret, mostly without her knowledge.  He’d like to keep her as his wife, saying that Master has enough wives.  He also makes some creepy advances towards her. 
Debbie escapes only to find the evil dog.  They stumble upon Master and his wives.

Master and the wives eventually wake up.  They chew out Torgo for letting the family stay and slap him around as punishment.  The Maser decides that Margret and Debbie will become his new wives while Michael must be killed.  While The Master goes out to deal with Michael, the wives debate as to whether or not Debbie should be a wife.  They can’t kill her, but she’s just a small child.  She has no business being anyone’s wife.  This eventually leads to the wives pushing each other around and whatnot.

Michael, Margret and Debbie run, but realize they can’t escape.  They go back to the house, thinking no one would look there, only to find The Master waiting for them.  We then cut to two women driving in the same area.  They happen upon the same house only to find that Michael is the new groundskeeper.  Margret and Debbie have become The Master’s new wives.

So, there’s very little about the movie that makes sense.  How, exactly, did the family come across the house?  The Master doesn’t seem to like visitors and the family very much wanted to be somewhere else, so there was no reason not to help them leave.  If it was that big of a deal, you would think that Torgo would be sure to know the local roads.  This would at least facilitate unwelcome guests leaving as quickly as possible.

From what I’ve read, the camera used could only shoot 32 seconds of film at a time, which would explain some of the limited shots.  Still, filmmakers have been able to work wonders with little or no resources.  This shouldn’t be a limiting factor.

There was always that one kid in class that could always hit it out of the park.  Maybe they’d write amazing stories or be able to draw really well.  Yes, I know it takes practice, but this film is full of things that make you wonder, like blurry shots that never should have made the final cut.

Some movies are made by incompetent people with lots of money.  Others are made by competent people with limited funds.  This movie comes across as very amateurish.  The dialogue is very basic.  The music is like something you’d find out of the dollar store.  It’s like something you and your friends might put together one weekend if you borrowed a movie camera from a friend’s parents.

It comes across as a half-baked idea.  The basic premise isn’t that bad.  Getting lost like that could make for a good horror movie.  But the move isn’t a good horror movie.  It just goes nowhere.  There’s even a kissing couple that seems to be used as filler.  I’m not even sure why it was included, as the movie would have been just as good without it.  And to think, this movie spawned two sequels.  At least I have a remake to look forward to.


Friday, June 12, 2020

Birdemic: Shock and Terror (2010)

There was an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation called Skin of Evil, in which a race had taken all of their worst qualities and made a separate, sentient being out of them.  Armus was the worst that that species had going for them.  I think Birdemic is cinematic equivalent of Armus.  It’s as if someone took all the worst attributes of every other film and combined them into a single horrible thing.

The movie starts with Rod driving around town.  While stopping for lunch, he meets Nathalie.  (Specifically, he checks her out as she walks out, then catches up with her.)  They used to go to school back in the day.  He’s now a salesman who closes million-dollar deals and has stock options.  She’s a model who just landed a shoot for Victoria’s Secret.

It takes the entire first half of the movie for them to get together.  They go to dinner together.  They go to some sort of pumpkin festival.  He even meets her mother.  They finally find their way to a motel room.

This where the birdemic begins.  Several birds start dive-bombing the cars in the parking lot.  Rod and Nathalie meet Ramsey and Becky, who are also guests at the motel.  Everyone keeps calling the birds eagles, even though they look more like vultures.

The four of them escape in Ramsey’s van.  Along the way, they pick up two orphans.  This part of the movie is just the group running away from the exploding birds.  They occasionally meet people, who are there to either take advantage of them or offer some theory on why this is happening.

The movie ends when some doves come over and magically get the eagles to stop their attacks.  I’d say that the birds fly off into the sunset, but they don’t.  They spend several minutes just hovering there.  Birds can do that in this movie.  They can hover by flapping their wings once every few seconds.  Of course, if they can explode on impact, hovering isn’t that unbelievable.

I really think that very minimal effort was put into this.  IMDb estimates the budget at $10,000.  That’s not a misprint.  It’s not $10,000,000.  They spent $10,000 on everything.  This might explain why they use a van with the paint peeling off.  I’m not sure if this includes the actors’ pay.  It’s also possible that they weren’t paid.  The acting was stiff and choppy.  It was almost as if they had just gotten the script the day before and had just enough time to memorize the lines.

Many of the scenes are overdone or unnecessary.  When Rod finally gets his stock options, we’re treated to a few minutes of the employees clapping and congratulating each other.  There’s another scene in which Rod buys solar panels.  I think the only reason this exists is to promte the idea of spending $2000 on green technology.

I may have already mentioned how bad the CGI is.  I think they used the same vulture for all of the birds.  The same could be said of the doves.  It looked like it was the same animation, offset by a second or two to make it less obvious.

Shock and Terror is the perfect subtitle for this movie.  It’s shocking how terrible it is.  It’s so bad that you’ll be in terror as you watch it.  There are no good parts.  There are no redeeming qualities.  Consider that the movie lists “Supporting Casts” in the opening credits.  This movie deserves to be on IMDb’s bottom 100 list.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Space Force (Season 1)

Upon hearing that President Trump wanted a space force, I’m sure many of us wondered what that might look like.  You might be excited to go into space.  You might think it’s a waste of time.  Maybe you’d sign up, or have someone you’d like to see permanently stationed there.  (Would that make The Sea of Tranquility into the next Siberia?)

Either way, our friends at Netflix gave us Space Force.  When General Mark R. Naird is promoted, he assumes that he’ll be taking over the Air Force from his predecessor, General Kick Grabaston.  Both Naird and Grabaston are surprised to find out that this isn’t the case.  The President has created a new branch of the military, which is to be headed by Naird.  He and his wife and daughter are thus sent to Wild Horse, Colorado.

A year later and things are not going well.  Wife Maggie is in jail for an unspecified crime and daughter Erin is resentful for being stuck in the middle of nowhere.  Also, his parents are in failing mental health and he has the pressures of a new branch of the military weighing on him.  There are all manner of setbacks and he doesn’t always get along with members of the scientific team.  Plus, General Grabaston would love to absorb Space Force and get its budget.  Talk about getting it on all sides.

I often wonder how much of a TV series or movie is fictionalized.  The hope here is to get some laughs.  Some may come at the expense of The President, who is painted as a tweet-happy idiot.  Many will come at the expense of the military, who can be aggressive at times.  The scientists are overly cautious, as Naird points out early on.

I think there is a little bit of hope here.  For all of Naird’s shortcomings and problems, he is someone who is willing to learn.  He comes into conflict with the head scientist, Dr. Adrian Mallory, about once per episode.  Mallory usually has a point and Naird comes around to doing the right thing.

Naird is someone who plays by the rules, probably because he doesn’t know what else to do.  He’s faithful to his wife because that’s what a husband does.  He took a vow to be with her and her alone.  He tries to help his daughter, which isn’t easy.  And he’s commanding a new division of the military.  There may be protocol, but it’s still new.  You know he’ll hit the mark eventually.  You also come to feel for him when he misses.

Considering how the season ends, it will be interesting to see how a second season unfolds.  (At the very least, I want to find out what happened to the Chimpanzee.)  I am also wondering what Maggie did to wind up in prison.  I’m guessing it wasn’t deemed necessary to be disclosed to the audience, but might serve for a good laugh if we find out it was something minor.  (It’s stated that she’s looking at another 40-50 years.)  I would look forward to season two as much as I might look forward to an actual space force.

Monday, June 08, 2020

The VelociPastor (2018)

Now that I have access to Amazon Prime, I’ve been finding all sorts of new movies to watch.  This includes a lot of the lower-quality movies.  I’ve watched Birdemic and Manos: The Hands of Fate, both of which were pretty bad.  I do think each movie was honestly trying, though.  Both wanted to create a quality product that just didn’t measure up.

Then, there’s The VelociPastor.  It would appear to not take itself too seriously.  It doesn’t necessarily poke fun at other horrible movies.  Rather, it revels in its own incompetence.  Rather than aim higher than it can achieve, it asks what it can do with what it has.  It may not be the funniest you’ve ever seen, but it is good for a smile or two.

The movie is about a pastor named Doug Jones.  (No relation to the actor of the same name.)  When he sees his parents killed in a fiery car crash, he loses his faith and goes off to China to see if God can still find him.  Instead, a dinosaur claw finds its way into his possession.  Now, when Doug gets angry, he turns into a velociraptor who will often eat the offending party.

Back in the United States, he saves a prostitute named Carol from a mugger.  She repays Doug by sleeping with him, which immediately makes him uncomfortable.  Between killing and breaking his vow of celibacy, he’s not sure what to do.  After he kills Carol’s pimp, she convinces him that maybe he’s meant for vengeance.  It’s a great way to take out lots of bad guys.

What follows is a bunch of stuff that you know shouldn’t be taken seriously, but kind of makes you wonder.  Instead of a car explosion, we get a cue to use VFX Car on Fire.  Instead of China, we get some guys in a forest that could be anywhere.  There seems to be a fuzzy line between genius and apathy.  (For instance, using “priest college” instead of seminary.)

It’s a low-budget parody of low-budget movies.  Sure, there are others that have done it better.  Kung Fury and Kung Pow:Enter the Fist come to mind, but I don’t think the movie is striving for greatness.  It’s not going to be mistaken for high art.  It brings new meaning to the saying, "Glory is fleeting, but obscurity is forever."

Sunday, June 07, 2020

The Vast of Night (2019)

There seems to be this border region between good and bad movies.  It’s somewhat difficult to define.  A movie could be undone by any number of factors.  Having talent and money don’t necessarily promise a great movie.  It could have everything going for it and still fail due to bad timing.

Then, there are movies like The Vast of Night.  I get the sense that the movie is trying to say something.  It seems like one of those esoteric pieces that uses tricks and techniques to say things.  Is the writer being deliberately vague or was it just not written very well?

When I saw it available to stream on Amazon, I decided to give it a shot.  I like exactly that sort of sci-fi movie.  It seemed to maybe take itself a little too seriously, but that was ok.  I have 89 minutes to spare.  Why not?

I’ll tell you why not.  The movie seems to take itself way too seriously.  It’s presented as an episode of a Twilight Zone-type show with a narrator that sounds exactly like Rod Serling.  (The fictional town is even called Cayuga.)  It starts with Fay and Everett leaving a basketball game to go to their respective jobs.  (She’s a switchboard operator and he’s a DJ.)

When Fay starts having technical issues, she calls Everett.  Some calls are being dropped and other lines have some weird noise on them.  So, Everett broadcasts the noise, asking if anyone can identify it.  What follows is a sort of X-Files wannabe plot line, where Fay and Everett go chasing down little green men.

Unfortunately, the movie never goes anywhere.  You might think that the movie leaves things open to the viewer.  I would counter that by saying the movie suffers from lazy writing.  Close Encounters of the Third Kind left things open to the viewer.  It had the same basic plot, but captured the viewers’ attention.  It at least had direction and gave us something to think about.

The Vast of Night doesn’t have that.  It’s almost like Close Encounters for beginners.  It lacks any sort of tension or suspense.  There’s no legend versus reality.  It’s just two people telling their stories and part of one is secondhand.

It’s a shame, because the movie is great on a technical level.  It has great production values and is well acted.  It just lacks any sort of a hook.  I think most people are going to be bored with this before the main story gets going and I can’t even say that there’s anything wrong with that.

Thursday, June 04, 2020

The Garden of Words (2013)

Takao Akizuki doesn’t have a great home life.  His mother is either there or not, depending on her mood.  His father isn’t in the picture.  He’s basically being raised by his older brother, who will be moving out soon.  This leaves the 15-year-old to skip his morning classes, but he only does so on rainy days.

While skipping class, he goes to Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, where he meets Yukari Yukino, aged 27.  They strike up a friendship.  She has problems of her own, but it’s not clear how far they go.  She seems to subsist on beer and chocolate, as she claims that’s all she can taste.

Takao is more open, telling Yukari all about himself.  He wants to be a shoemaker, which he isn’t good at and can’t really afford.  She’s rather reserved about things.  She seems interested in (or at least tolerant of) Takao.  Despite the age difference, he develops feelings for her, which she doesn’t really reciprocate.

It’s one of those interesting movies that I kept putting off.  It was only 46 minutes, but there was something about the story that didn’t quite strike me as interesting.  Even after watching it, I wouldn’t describe it as something I’d normally watch.

The story is more about an unrequited romance and a boy who’s being forced to grow up.  He meets a woman much older than him who is uncertain that she ever really grew up, herself.  The CGI is also heavily computer animated.  It almost seems real in some places. (I’ll admit that this is coming from someone who is used to Studio Ghibli.)  Despite the method, there is an attention to detail, which is appreciated.

My one complaint is that Takao seems to be the only character that seems to have much detail.  I suppose the lack of development for Yukari is deliberate.  We kind of need that for the big reveal later on.  To have such a compact story does work on a certain level.  It puts the focus on Takao and his life.  Everything else works in relation to him.  Even when he takes Yukari’s measurements, it doesn’t seem sexual.  He’s honestly interested in becoming a better shoemaker.

I didn’t find the age difference disturbing.  I suppose most teenagers have had an adult that they had a crush on.  It wasn’t until much later that we realize why it would never happen and Yukari does handle the situation with grace.  (For concerned parents and teenagers, there’s nothing objectionable about their relationship.)

It’s not perfect, but the movie is an enjoyable way to pass an hour if you have the time.  It’s exactly the kind of movie I like having on Netflix.