Friday, December 10, 2010

Over the last couple of years I have been, from time to time annoyed by a old memory of something I had seen in the cinema when I was a kid. A couple of vague images of jewels, men in red suits and some sort of ray gun - and an even more vague impression that it was a comedy of some sort. Tonight, quite by chance I trip over this:

And suddenly I'm 12 maybe or 13 years old again, in the balcony of a cinema in France, being utterly baffled. I was on an exchange trip. A French kid stayed with our family for two weeks and then I went over there to stay with his family. I think the idea was we would learn some of each other's language and make lifelong friendships that would mean we would never go to war with France again. As plans go it wasn't bad... I don't remember us going to war with France since I went - but I didn't learn much of the language, and I couldn't stand the arrogant little twerp I was paired with. What I did do was get drunk at the local pub, fall in love with a girl called Isabel, and get my hand down her friend's knickers (the friend's name, I'm ashamed to say, I don't remember) - and I also seemed to have gone to the cinema to see a rerun Italian superhero movie. My adolescence went downhill from there.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

There are times when I know I'm getting old. One such moment came a couple of weeks ago at a drama workshop. Ilona who was taking the class told us all to pair off and stand facing each other 'about three feet apart'. A couple of the girls there, in their late teens I would guess, looked blank. "Just under a metre," I explained. Light dawned.

Another happened today. Listening to an otherwise interesting programme on Radio 4 about the little-known 1969 war between Honduras and El Salvador, I heard 'an expert' opine that the 1969 war between Honduras and El Salvador was so little-known because it had happened at the same time as Apollo 11 was on its way to the moon. Fair enough. Holding a war when the world's media is preoccupied with events off-planet might easily relegate your war to a footnote. I'm not arguing with that. What I object to is that he didn't say "Apollo eleven", he said "Apollo two". Rocky II, Godfather II, Apollo 11. Makes sense. Mind you he was "an expert" on football and therefore almost certainly pig ignorant about everything else. Though you would have thought someone in the BBC would have spotted it and tweaked it before it went out.

I'm feeling a terrible urge to write to Anne Robinson. "Dear Points of View, Oh Why oh why...."*

* moment number III.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

So, it's cold. It hasn't got anything like above freezing for the past week and we've got no snow to play in. This means the ground gets really really cold. Without the cuddly blanket of insulating snow that the rest of the country is enjoying the ground here is just getting colder and colder. Having the sun disappear behind a mountain at about 1 pm doesn't help either.
Our water main froze sold then thawed. It had burst. Gush! gush! gush! Tomorrow I will be driving to the Fort to buy some piping and other bits and pieces, then spending the rest of the day wrestling it all under my floorboards, freezing my nuts off as I crawl around in the couple of inches of semi-frozen water down there.
But you don't want to hear about that do you? You want to read about all the crappy movies I watched last month.... I know I do.

  1. The XYZ Murders (1985) - aka Crimewave. The Coen Brothers had just made Blood Simple, Sam Raimi had just made Evil Dead, somehow everyone involved thought this was going to be their first mainstream hit. The co-producer, Bruce Campbell, nicely summed up the resulting mess, in his book If Chins Could Kill;
    Overall, Crimewave is a lesson in abject failure - no matter how you slice it, the film was a dog, and everyone involved can pretty much line up to take forty whacks. As filmmakers we failed to execute a misguided concept and our studio refused us the benefit of any doubt
  2. Æon Flux (2005) - stylish bit of comic book fun which I enjoyed far more than I was expecting to.

  3. Day Watch (2006) - over-long, sloppy, incoherent mess of a sequel to Night Watch. In which the forces of Good and Evil do stuff, phone each other's mobiles every couple of minutes, and do lots and lots and lots and lots of unexplained mystical and CGI heavy SFX stuff for no particular reason (other than they did it in the first one which did make some sort of sense - or at least far more than this one). Somewhere buried under this barrage of wiz-bangery is a piss poor excuse for a story that stops every now and then to strain for laughs - which it fails to get. Even the usually sure fire laugh a minute body swap gag where our hero is thrust into a woman's body - only to pitch the woo to his own girlfriend - oh! the lesbian titillation! is so ineptly done you wonder why they bothered. The only mildly amusing bit in it was the moment when suddenly, at the height of all the mayhem and apocalyptical destruction, one of the characters just stops time. Sorry! What? Time. Stoped. Hero in peril, it's the end of the world and with no particular effort a character just stops time in its track. All I could hear in my head was Christopher Plummer, as the Emperor of the Galaxy in Star Crash, declaiming, "Imperial Starcruiser - Halt the flow of time!". It's the sort of crap Get out of Jail Free Card scriptwriters could pull out of their arse for 1970s, who-gives-a-shit? Italian SF movies - and Plummer had the decency to do it wearing a floor-length gold cape and an imperious wave of the hand. Here? Time just stops. 'Okay, were at the end of the movie. We can't think how to end the show so we'll just stop time and let our hero use the magic dingus ('The Chalk of Fate' no less) to put everything right.' Utter fucking pants.

  4. The Killer Shrews - doesn't get any better with a second viewing

  5. Easter Parade (1947) - never seen it before and was pleasantly entertained.

  6. Den brysomme mannen (2006) - aka The Bothersome Man to us Anglophones. Weirdly funny (I laughed on the first cut without a word of dialogue having been spoken), slow, surreal allegory of something; Hell? Purgatory? or, as one astute and convincing reviewer on IMDb would have us believe, everyday life in Norway?

  7. Twisted Brain (1974) - aka Horror High. Feeble Jekyll and Hydealike in which a nerdy high school type develops a drug that turns his guinea pig into a cat killing monster and himself into a rampaging beast who kills everyone who torments him, padded out with some tremendously vacant scenes in which nothing much happens at all. Set in the sort of American high school that has an oil-drum full of concentrated sulphuric acid in the biology lab, and props that conveniently rotate themselves 180º between shots to make it easier for people to impale themselves. Some seriously dreadful music too. Really the most terrifying aspect of the whole movie was waiting for the next music cue.

  8. White Zombie (1932) - plodding Bela Lugosi melodrama which had some bravura opticals. There were some terrific use of wipes to create split-screen effects but the script and acting were terrible. Or are terrible. I don't know how it played at the time but it looks insanely dated now. Lines like:
    "Surely you don't think she's alive... in the hands of natives? Oh no! Better dead than that!"
    don't help. I am constantly intrigued by acting styles in old movies. In the early days of sound there was a whole range of gestures and attitudes which have just vanished over the years as actors struggled for 'naturalism'. The knuckle bite of repulsion. The outstretched arms walk of helpless yearning. The holding the invisible basketball of beseechment. All gone.

  9. Farewell, My Lovely (1975) - not bad, not bad at all. I've been not watching his one for years because I am so fond of the original (well the Dick Powell version, there was an earlier version but that doesn't count) but I needn't have worried. Robert Mitchum is perfect in the part.

  10. The Wizard of Oz - (again) and I nearly cried at the end (again).

  11. Alien Vs Hunter (2007) - a fuckawful piece of shit straight-to-video Asylum knockbuster 'Starring' Dedee Pfeiffer which amazed me by being even worse than the two other Asylum knockbusters I've seen. I didn't think that it was possible to make something shoddier than Journey to the Center of the Earth but they had. THE only redeeming feature of the disk is on one of the extras where Dedee Pfeiffer in a 'making of' piece describes the 12 day shoot as even worse than guerilla movie making' "This," she says, "is baboon film making." And with that remark she cemented herself a special little place in my heart. (All together now: Aaaah!).

  12. Red Planet (2000) - The first manned mission to Mars goes tits up. The movie fell to pieces before the end of the opening credits, the plot had more holes than a lace doily, and Terrence Stamp forgot to act - probably deliberately. He did play most of his scenes with Val Kilmer (the 'star' of the show) and was, presumably, instructed to make Kilmer look good. (As evidence for this almost certainly libellous assertion I'll point at a deleted scene included on the DVD where Stamp is playing opposite another actor and almost looks interested in what he is saying.) Another £1.20 (inc. postage) wasted on eBay. I really should learn shouldn't I? If it's going for £1.20 (inc. postage) on eBay there's probably a very good reason!

    Red Planet
    has more than its fair share of SF movie illiteracies and dead pure stupid moments but the one that made me really spill my gravy* while watching it tonight was the moment when heroic Val Kilmer - having walked for 19 hours across the Martian desert, survived attacks from a killer robot, an ice storm with temperatures of -50F, killer exploding nematodes, and all the rest, finally reaches the 30 year old Russian unmanned explorer which is to be his salvation. (It failed to launch see, so if he can hot-wire it and sit in the box on top where the Russians were going to shove rock samples, he might just make it into orbit - just in front of the mother ship piloted by Carrie-anne Moss five minutes before she has to burn the big engines and blast for home, because if she doesn't there won't be enough fuel to get back etc... - its one of those movies.)

    Anyway, arriving at the site of the 30 year old piece of shit Russian lander he prizes off a panel and fires up the 30 year old Russian computer within. Clickity-click! Aha here it comes now up on the screen...


    The Russians not only helpfully labelled everything on the outside of their unmanned lander in big letters, they also built in a 15 inch colour CRT monitor!?


    Why would anyone spend god knows how many gazillion litregallonunits of rocket fuel first launching, and then gently landing, a computer monitor on Mars?

    You will be glad to hear that neither the writer nor the director of this turd have made a movie since.

    *I'm not really sure I know what that metaphor means - but I like it.

  13. Atomised (2006) - The everyday story of two half brothers, both German, one a brilliant geneticist (and a virgin), the other a depressive neo-fascist high-school teacher who masturbates over his female pupils' homework. Two hours after the opening credits one of them is psychotic and the other is happy with his childhood sweetheart - and I didn't give a shit. The depressive neo-fascist high-school teacher who masturbates over his female pupils' homework is so repulsive you have no sympathy for him at all - even when his paraplegic swinger girlfriend commits suicide by throwing herself off her umpteenth storey flat balcony. And the brilliant virgin geneticist (pass the irony trowel will you, I think they missed a corner!) is so boringly bland and underplayed that they might as well have employed a photograph of him for most of the movie. The book on which this film is based is reckoned by some to be a true modern classic. I don't know about that but the film is a slow and tedious slice of soap opera. Actually I do give a shit. Here it is.

  14. Death Race ( 2008 ) - And what a crock of crap that was too. A remake of a Roger Corman movie that makes the original look like a masterpiece (which in its own small subversive way it was) and proves, yet again, my assertion that:
    'Any SF movie set in a prison is shit - not 90% of them but ALL of them'.
    In Death Race Jason Statham is sent prison for murdering his wife, a crime he didn't commit. Once he's inside we are told, via some incredibly clunky exposition, that he is an ace racing driver and he's given the chance by the warden to take part in the Death Race of the title. If he wins he walks free. Pretty soon it's obvious that the warden had Statham's wife murdered so he would be sent to her jail so she could make money from the televised races. The race is in three parts and takes up most of the 100+ minutes running time. Lots of explosions and lots of car crashes and lots of frenetic cut cut cutting. The script for this movie must have taken up four or five pages the storyboards by comparison probably looked like a stack of telephone books. But as the dialogue runs along the lines of:
    "Okay, cocksucker. Fuck with me, and we'll see who shits on the sidewalk."
    I'm pretty glad there wasn't more of it. It's the sort of movie that thinks it's funny to call a part of the heavily armoured racing car 'The Tombstone', just so that Ian McShane (in the Morgan Freeman part) can point at it and say 'Tombstone'. Ho fucking ho. It's also the sort of movie who is so concerned that it might actually be taken seriously by its knuckledragging target audience that at the end of the show there is an end title card telling us that car stunts are dangerous and not to try them at home. Well duh!

  15. Riverworld (2003) - 'Well poke me!' I thought, 'A movie based on a SF classic (albeit it one I didn't much like) I'll have a go at that.' My next thought was, 'I'll go get some popcorn'. It should have been 'Wait a minute... what's it doing on the notoriously crappy Movies4men channel'?

    Riverworld by Philip Jose Farmer is a storyteller's dream. In the first book of what became (for obvious reasons that will soon become apparent) a series, Farmer opens at the moment almost the whole of humanity, from the time of the first homo sapiens through to the early 21st century, is simultaneously resurrected along the banks of a river on an unknown planet. Basically Farmer can populate his stories with whoever he wants mixed and matched from any period in history and happily has Sir Richard Burton, Alice Hargreaves (the Alice of Alice in Wonderland), Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), King John, Tom Mix, Mozart, Jack London, Baron von Richthofen and Hermann Göring - interact with fictional characters in a quest to discover the purpose behind the creation of RiverworldRiverworld: the let's pretend it's a movie and not the pilot for a failed-to-materialize TV show, has a space shuttle pilot for a hero and the Emperor Nero as the villain. The river, despite being shown repeatedly in long shot as a river - you know, a RIVER - (an a pretty narrow on too) suddenly has crashing waves battering its banks and tides. Why? So the Emperor Nero (Mwahahaha!) can have our hero staked out at low tide, to drown as an offering to Neptune (don't worry, he was rescued by a seven year old girl - honest!). The resurrections in this version have been going on for 10 years prior to the start of the movie. Ten years in which the original arrivals have been able to knock up vast quantities of tools and machinery like a full-sized Mississippi paddle steamer - including some huge well-engineered cast iron gear wheels - and all sorts of wicked, fantasy-wank swords and spears, while living in the sort of rudimentary huts that movie set designers think look authentically 'medieval'. Some of the performances are TV movie adequate but Emily Lloyd (as Alice Lidell Hargreaves) turns in a hopelessly unconvincing attempt to act, really dreadful...

    Riverworld was remade earlier this year. The remake didn't spawn a series either.
    and their reincarnation. (End of cut and paste from Wikipedia... - and you thought I just knew stuff.) The

  16. Carousel (1956) - a deathly dull (a few nice moments) two hour long musical which left me yawning but daughter number one distraught.

  17. Queen of Blood (1966) - I'm not sure how many movies there are that can be summed up as 'the first manned mission to Mars goes (all together now!) horribly wrong', but I seem to have watched more than my fair share recently: Mission to Mars, Red Planet, and Battle Beyond the Sun. Queen of Blood is a low budget entry to the field that uses great chunks of technically impressive footage from Russian SF movies (including some from the source of Battle Beyond the Sun) and added a small dream-team, of low budget trash casting: Dennis Hopper, John Saxon, and Basil Rathbone. The end product is a short (81 min) and, at times, atmospheric and creepy little movie which makes me want to find more of the director's work.

  18. The Alien Conspiracy: Grey Skies (2002) - link goes to my IMDb review. It's too shitty even to mention here.

  19. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001) - Colons appeared to be popular in film titles at the turn of the century. Early (first?) use of motion capture CGI doing what Japanese SF does best: incomprehensible bollocks of a story, big explosions, and animated females with cute bums. And lots of vehicles which transmorphicate at the touch of a button to the sound of bucketloads of hydraulic machinery noises slapped on the soundtrack. High score on the eye-candy meter but not a lot else.
Next month ART!


Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Many many years ago (1993 or so) I worked as an extra on a movie. I spent several days lying around in a bog on a freezing hillside (it was late autumn) dressed in off the peg, medieval peasant rags pretending to be dead. (I was pretty good, I do inert very easily. I was a natural.) I then several days on the catering crew, peeling potatoes and making buckets full of Waldorf salad in the pitch black at 4AM. (I needed the money.)

A couple of years later the film emerged from wherever Warner Brothers had been trying to hide it and turned up in the Edinburgh Film Festival. I went to see it. I suspected it might be my only chance. (This was long before the days of everything being available via torrent, Youtube, ex-rental DVD, or even eBay.) The film was, I'm sorry to say, an incredible bore and to add insult to injury - I wasn't in it. Several days of near hypothermia and I wasn't even in the bugger.

Last night I found I was in it after all. Or at least in the cut that has been posted here on Youtube.

Just to save you from the pain of Vincent D'Onofrio's 'Irish' accent I'll tell you I appear around the 7:23 minute mark. Dead body carried on on stretcher screen left to disappear behind Robin Willam's shoulder centre screen. My entire on-screen movie career (to date). All two seconds of it - though I suspect I'm on longer in the widescreen version. And just for the record my 'Oirish' accent is bloody awful too.

Hello Mum!

Contemporary Variety Review

Monday, November 01, 2010

  • Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) - That was jolly fun.

  • House of Whipcord (1974) - Another chunk of low budget 70s British schlock from the same director as Die Screaming Marianne. It had a few nice, dark and claustrophobic, set pieces. The film almost built up a real working horror atmosphere but was continually shooting itself in the foot by undercutting all that with the hurried parallel story which was taken at such a clip that the actors seemed to be almost tripping over themselves to get their lines out - possibly before the film ran out in the camera.

  • O'Horten (2007) - three days in the life of a retired Norwegian railway engineer. Slow, gentle, sometimes funny. I'm trying to work out how to build to a joke about closely observed train drivers, but it's not that good a joke so I won't bother.

  • The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004) - Hmmmm. I wasn't disappointed exactly but I came away wishing I'd liked it more.

  • Frightmare (1974) - The third Peter Walker I've watched this week (I bought a boxset). Better constructed than the previous two. British movie acting of the 70s, as exemplified in these films, was really weird. Lines were delivered very briskly and clearly enunciated - even though the words arrive at a hell of a clip you don't miss any - but there's precious little acting going on behind them. It's all very mechanical. Mind you, the audience for this sort of thing wasn't paying to see acting going on. They were paying to see tits and arse and gory violence. Personally I could have done with more T&A and less GV - if only because it would have meant I spent less time looking at hideous 1970s clothing.

  • Robots - repeat viewing. Lots of eye candy and a few nice jokes but a paper thin story.

  • The Raven (1935) - Karloff and Lugosi in a totally bonkers and mercifully short (61 mins) second string Universal horror. Dreadful dialogue despite, or because of? there being eight screen writers involved? who knows. It did have a couple of flashes of genius though. Best lines came in this brief exchange between Samuel S. Hinds as Judge Thatcher and mad, Poe obsessed, Doctor Vollin played to the hilt by Bela Lugosi. The doc has the judge strapped to a slab in his high vaulted cellar - he has annoyed the doc by suggesting that his daughter might be better off without a psychopathic Rumanian weirdo in her life. From the ceiling a curved blade on a complex mechanism swings to and fro - it's the mad doc's recreation of the device from The Pit and the Pendulum...

    Judge Thatcher

    (Looking upwards in dread)

    What's that?

    Doctor Vollin

    A knife.

    Judge Thatcher

    What's it doing!?

    Doctor Vollin


    Which is a cracking bit of writing in anyone's books. I wish the rest of the show had been up to it.

  • Micmacs (2009) - Jean-Pierre Jeunet. I've not seen all of M Jeunet's films but the ones I have seen (Amelie, The City of Lost Children, Delicatessen) I have thoroughly enjoyed but this one just left me cold. The story seemed really unfocused and the quirky oddnesses that litter his movies just came over as very contrived and striving for a cuteness that they just didn't deliver.

  • Mission To Mars (2000) - Looks great. Some good work went into the design here, decent cast, some really seriously good camera work; De Palma does a nice line in long tracking shots which let the actors act knowing their performances aren't going to get completely fucked over line by line in the editing - and a script that stank the screen up. A seriously rotten script with every moment of tension or awe, or anything that wasn't mechanically technical, signalled by having the characters saying "My, God!" in a variety of intonations. Terror? "ogodogodod!", Wonderment "Ohhh my gahd!" et bloody cetera. There was lots of other less irritating stuff to laugh at too. Like a supposedly tense moment when the ship is hit by a meteorite. All the air is being sucked out into space. No one can find the hole. The air pressure inside the seriously huge interior of the ship (it's like a sports hall in there) is dropping by percentage points per second. No one can find the hole. Where's the hole? Someone goes out in a suit to see if he can see the air venting out from the outside. A character inside - whose helmet has been conveniently smashed, thus adding the impetus to the whole finding the hole thing (if his helmet hadn't been conveniently smashed everyone would have just suited up and fixed things in their own time) has the brilliant idea of squirting a tube of Dr Product Placement Pepper into the air. Follow the liquid! The soft drink floats in the weightless conditions and disappears into a crack in the panelling! "The hole's in section whatever!" Hole gets fixed. Huzzah! And all this happens in silence - apart from the music and the "Oh my Gods!" of the characters. There's brazzilions of gallons of air per cubic second being sucked out through a narrow gap and it doesn't make any noise at all? No thin whistling that would have given the game away perhaps?

    Shortly after this our gallant crew abandon ship, form a conga line, and jump to a passing satellite to the sound of raucous laughter from the gallery.

  • 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957) - Ray Harryhausen animated Venusian monster on the loose in Italy. I fell asleep after about fifteen minutes, woke up again half way through, and again at the end. Even in my befuddled state I managed to join the dots and discovered I hadn't missed much.

  • The Spiderwick Chronicles ( 2008 ) - Friday night Onigiri and Movie Night choice of number one daughter. It was 'a bit scary - but good'.

  • The Simpsons Movie (2007) - that was fun. I'm now going to have the Spider Pig Song going round in my brain for a week.

  • Gilda (1946) - Rita Hayworth? Fwaaaaaar!

  • The Brain That Wouldn't Die (Feb 15th 1962) - And back to the crap. The Brain that Wouldn't Die is your typical everyday story of deranged doctors, hideous mutations, crippled lab assistants and disembodied heads. It starts with a seriously creepy opening. A real chiller. The screen is black then this female voice plaintively whispers “Let me die… Let me die…!”. It's nicely creepy twelve seconds and probably the best bit of movie making in the whole film.

    Dr Bill Cortner (brilliant medical man who has been pilfering body parts from his hospital and has a secret lab in his father's old country 'place') receives an urgent call. 'Something dreadful has happened'. In response he drives like a maniac to his lab only to crash the car, decapitating his fiancee in the process. Horrified he retrieves her head from the burning wreck, wraps his jacket around it and spends the next two and a half minutes (a fair chunk of a 70 minute movie*) running through the countryside with the head clutched to his chest like a rugby player making for the touchline. Run run run. He stops occasionally to do some acting: puff pant I'm tired! (wipe arm across forehead to indicate sweating and move on...), oh my god! what's that? Blood? My girlfriend's head is leaking!, stumble on steps leading to house, so tired, I'm in pain must get up... must sit down again... no! get up... etc. etc.

    Kurt, his crippled assistant, opens the door... he stumbles in bundled head cradled like a baby... and then comes one of those bad movie moments that I live for.


    What's happened to you?

    Dr Bill

    A terrible accident...

    Got to save her... Got to save her...


    What is it? What have you got here?

    Dr Bill

    Kurt, please! Sterilize the tubes

    and instruments, quickly!


    What are you going to do?

    Aren't you going to look in the

    closet first?

    Needless to say the doc saves his girlfriend's head and then, not bothering to wait and see if she's at all grateful (she isn't), rushes out to find her a decent body. This involves him driving around following girls, going to strip joints, and ogling the contestants in beauty contests before finally lighting upon a lesbian photographic model with serious facial disfigurements (oh the irony!). Meanwhile back at the lab the head and the monster in the closet have become friends, and after a bit of cajoling, the monster rips Kurt's arm off. Doc arrives with a drugged model, finds Kurt's body and after throwing a sheet over it and putting his next victim on the operating table, does the thing that all mad scientist's yearn to do and backs up against a door with a small hatch in it about face height with a homicidal monster on the other side - a homicidal monster, please note, that he knows has just ripped the arm off his long time assistant. Grab! Scream! Fight! Door off hinges, something highly volatile gets knocked over and the whole place goes up in flames. The only survivors at the end are the mutated monster in the closet and the lesbian near body donor. The End.

    *Though I do seem to have watched a seriously cut version. IMDb lists it as 82 minutes and there is also, apparently, a 92 minute version which contains the same amount of story but more of the strippers and sleazy ogling stuff.

  • Fiend Without a Face ( 1958 ) - "We're facing a new form of life that nobody understands. I believe it feeds on the radiation from your atomic plant - and that it's evil!"

  • Brides of Dracula (1960) - The usual Hammer nonsense. Looks great and has loads of atmosphere but don't stop to think about the story. I had never really noticing how damn hansom Peter Cushing was before. Athletic too. He did a lot (if not all) his own stunts here.

  • Battle Beyond the Sun (1964) - Roger Corman made a bit of a habit of buying technically impressive but ponderously doom-laden Eastern Block SF movies and then totally screwing them up by re-editing, inserting new footage, and generally buggering about with them. This time the film was Небо зовет (Nebo zovyot) a two hour ponderous doom-laden Russian epic about a total failure to land on Mars. It's amazing how often Russian SF movies end in glorious but noble failure, (this time the Imperialist Capitalists' rival mission to the Red Planet got in the way by having to be rescued en route). Corman didn't do the chop jobs himself, he was always surrounded by eager young wannabees desperate for any kind of screen credit and this time he gave the job to a young and hungry lad called Francis Ford Coppola. Everyone has to start somewhere. But as someone pointed out to me when I was an eager (but not so young) wannabee working for the man. "Yes, a lot of famous people started out with Corman. But they got famous after they left."

  • Blood Suckers (1972) - sometimes you get the feel of a movie in the first few moments. Even if the director is wrong footing you and deliberately making you think the film is about one thing, and then making you realise later it is about something else entirely, you will have a fair idea what you are in for very quickly. Quite often you can tell within a very short time how good or bad the movie is too. With Blood Suckers you know before the opening shot has finished that what you are watching is deliriousfully fuckeduply awful. By the end of the opening sequence the film has racked up more crashingly bad edits than the average crap movie maker will use in a whole feature. Bad edits that had characters jumping around the set like lottery balls. An exhaustive few minutes internet research let me know why. Apparently the film suffered real financial problems. (The money ran out / was withdrawn before they had finished shooting.) The film was shelved and a couple of years later the distributors assembled what footage there was into as good a shape as they could get, slapped on a voice-over narration to cover the gaping chasms in the storyline, and then added a six minute drug-fueled orgy sequence. This sequence got them up to a decent 83 minute run time and gave them a legitimate excuse to put some tits on the poster - at which point the director (whose previous credits included Gonks Go Beat) got his name taken off. Which is a pity, because the orgy sequence (available as an extra in the Prism DVD version, available from all good Poundland shops) is the best thing on show and far better made than the rest of the badly acted, badly staged incoherent dross that surrounds it. I know I may be slightly biased here but, even putting aside my abiding fascination with boobs, the orgy sequence is a masterpiece in comparison. Highlights include watching John Steed (sorry Patrick McNee) chase a buxom vampire up a hillside on a donkey, such shoddy lighting that a central black character appears as a silhouette for most of the movie (they couldn't afford one reflector!?), and David Lodge (one of Spike Milligan's cohorts in several series of Q "I was in Cockleshell Heroes") as a Greek general.

  • Creature from the Haunted Sea (1961) - a Roger Corman comedy notable only for having the endearingly dumbest monster committed to film.

  • The House of Mortal Sin (1976) - aka The Confessional Murders, another from the Peter Walker boxset, this time a twisted tale of murder and - well, more murder. This time the twist is the sexually frustrated psychopathic killer is a Catholic priest and his victims include his own mother. By far the best of Peter Walker's films that I have seen. Plotwise it's a load of bollocks like all the others but he really got the atmosphere right with this one, helped by a terrifically weird location; the interior of the presbytery is a character itself. Wonderfully claustrophobic dilapidated and creepy. Very good on claustrophobic and hemmed in is Mr Walker, things go a bit tits up when you can actually see what's happening on the screen and there's dialogue but some nicely creepy stuff going on here. Most wonderfully creepy though is an actress I had never consciously come across before owning this box set. Sheila Keith. She appears in several of Walker's movies playing similar roles - nice kindly, middle-aged woman who turns out to be: a cannibal with a penchant for attacking her victim's skulls with electric drills to get at the juicy bits (Frightmare), running a secret private prison and hanging the women inmates for offences as trivial as stealing a piece of bread (House of Whipchord), living as a housekeeper to a priest she has been in love with for 30 years - and torturing his senile mother on a daily basis all the time, and finally in

  • The Comeback (1978) - she lures a pop singer, played by Grammy award winner Jack Jones, into her house and starts to drive him insane by killing his estranged wife and leaving bits of her around the place for him to find. And for good measure, bricking up his new girlfriend (Pamela Stephenson) in with the mummified remains of her long dead daughter. In the end though she is accidentally killed by an axe wielded by her husband, played by Bill 'Compo' Owen. Not as engagingly weird as it sounds, there is a limit to the number of times I can watch what is essentially the same couple of shots of an American crooner going to sleep and then waking up in the middle of the night, getting out of bed, clumsily putting on his dressing and opening his bedroom door. This film reached that limit about half way through. I may never want to see an American crooner get out of bed ever again. Except maybe Rudy Vallee, I think I could stand to watch Rudy Vallee get out of bed.
  • Tuesday, October 05, 2010

    Here's a little (713 words) SF short story I wrote last night.

    Knock... Knock...

    I got nothing against aliens. Some of my best friends have got too many eyes and leave slime trails around the office. The one thing about aliens is that most of the time they tell you the truth. Something to do with those universal translator things getting confused. If the circuits can't match up the words with the body language and the brain wave patterns they just fritz up. It means we humans can't lie to them either. This is a good thing. Most humans have trouble reading other humans' body language, trying to pick up subtle non-verbal clues from a hairy jelly on legs just never going to happen. Consensus is that The Universal Peace is glued together by the shortcomings of the translators. Basically you know where you stand with an alien - which is upwind if you can. Most of them smell dreadful.

    So, one day after work, I'm sitting in Dino's bar, next to the air conditioner, when Flygol slithers in. Flygol's a Gumph - one of those blue spongy lizard things with all the tentacles. He sees me drinking whatever it was I was drinking (Dino claimed it was whisky) and he gets himself a whatever it is he is drinking (which looks like moose snot with lumps) and comes over and joins me.

    His translator box squawked. "Greetings, fellow wage-slave worker-unit," he said.

    "Salutations fellow downtrodden toiler," I replied. "And how are things in the Department of Lengths?"

    "Superb as always. No deaths for at least three days - a new safety record!"

    "Now that is good news - another drink to celebrate?"

    The Gumph swished his moose snot and tossed it back. As usual I managed to avert my eyes. I once had the misfortune to see a Flygol's mouthparts extrude themselves into a glass and empty the contents. It was not an experience I ever wish to repeat.

    "Most assuredly!" he said. "More drinks!" He banged his glass down. "Dino! Another one of these," he pointed at my glass "and another one of those - whatever they are."

    Several whiskies and snots later we were hammered. We had exhausted the rituals of company small talk, segued neatly into company gossip, and were past that and deep in the realms of upper management character assassination when Flygol suddenly said, "That reminds me: Why are all Xynumbians dyslexic?"

    "No idea," I said, "Why are all Xynumbians dyslexic?"

    "They can't help it. It's genetic. It's in their DAN!"

    It took me a moment to notice that he was obviously awaiting a response. And a longer moment to realise that he had told me a joke and that it was slightly funny. I laughed. It seemed to satisfy him.

    No alien had ever told me a joke before.

    I told him one back.

    I said, "How can you tell a Banavian Gussic from a Fromb?"

    Flygol's translator was silent for a moment then made a query noise.

    I hit him with the punchline. "Because the Gussic freems a bentel!"

    Flygol fell off his stool. His palps flapped. He floundered around gasped for air. He vented acetylene. He was in paroxysms of what I hoped was laughter. (If he was dying, the Department of Length's safety record was screwed again.) After a few minutes of flapping around on the floor like a fish having a fit, he regained his composure and crawled back up the stool, wiping away fluids leaking from a couple of orifices as he came.

    "Because the freems a bentel..." he repeated, "very good, very good. I'll have to remember that one." He toyed with his glass a moment then leaned towards me. I was polite; I held my breath and tried not not pull away too far.

    "New model translator," he said, tapping it, "Prototype. Built-in cognitive dissonance filters. Very hush hush. Is a secret."

    I drunkenly patted his nearest tentacle. "Don't, pal, worry," I hiccuped "I won't tell."

    "Good chap," he said. "Good chap, I've always liked you. You know, for a human, you're all right. Yes, you are all right... You're my pal, you are. "

    His eye-stalks levelled with my face and we matched gazes.

    "But if you ever lay a hand on my sister...."

    We both fell off our stools this time.


    Friday, October 01, 2010

    I found it in Daddy's pocket - so it's MINE!

    Oh god! another month gone and all I have done that's worth mentioning to the world is watch a load of crappy movies... Well.... er... I defrosted the freezer today - that's about as exciting as it gets around here at the moment. Actually it was quite exciting. Eben has a mania for shutting doors at the moment and that includes freezer doors, even when Daddy has his head in the way.

    Every crappy movie I have watched in September with copious opinionated bletherings and a couple of pictures of under-dressed women.
    1. Next (2007) - I think I've found my Turd of the Month already and it's only the 2nd. I really have to stop watching Nic Cage movies. It was his turn to fuck up a perfectly good Philip K Dick story (I'm sure there's a list list in some Hollywood producer's office and Dick's stories are dished out to people to go screw up; "Nic, How you doing? Listen, I got a 30 page short story here about a post-nuclear war world in which genetic mutations are ruthlessly suppressed. The first Homo Superior is discovered: a lion-maned, golden-furred, totally silent creature that appears to have the ability to see into the future - it'll make a great modern day action thriller with French terrorists planting a nuclear bomb in LA. Sound good? Let's talk.") The only things that have survived the trip from page to screen are the characters name and the foresight gimmick. The rest is pure Hollywood bullshit. At least it was short. 96 minutes.
      Barbarella ( 1968 ) - a masterpiece of High Trash. - well if you can High Art, why can't you have High Trash? Total nonsense from start to finish with a paper thin plot as ultra-hotty space bimbo Barbarella:

      is assigned to track down missing scientist Durand Durand (sic - Simon le Bon got it wrong) but you don't watch Barbarella for the story, you watch Barbarella for the opening sequence where Jane Fonda gets naked in free fall, you watch it for the scene where Durand Durand (still sic) has Barbarella strapped into his Excessive Machine, planning to kill her with pleasure - but the machine gives up first and bursts into flames, much to Durand's distress. "Have you no shame!" You watch it for incredible dialogue like this exchange as Barbarella is shown her winged lover dangling spread-eagled from a frame:


      (Holding a ray pistol to
      the Great Tyrant's head)
      De-crucify the angel!

      The Great Tyrant:



      De-crucify him or

      I'll melt your face!

      You watch it because it's unalloyed pleasure from start to finish. Pointless, decadent, excessive, sexy and cheesy in equal measure without a single message or subtext - and now the usual fuckwits are doing a remake.

    2. The Odd Couple ( 1968 ) - I love watching Walter Matthau's face.

    3. Mission Stardust (1967) - aka ...4 ...3 ...2 ...1 ...morte - a brilliant title for a terrible film. A rewatch and it was as dreadful as I remember but with a wonderful last line which I fully expect to come across sampled on a Kid Koala track one day. "The experiment has begun..."

    4. The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953) - a lot duller and ropier than I remembered.

    5. Warriors of the Wasteland (1982) - Before it was a Frankie Goes to Hollywood track Warriors of the Wastelands was the title of this awful semi-homophobic/erotic Mad Max rip off.

      In a post-apocalyptic future (2019) a gang of ruthless religious psycho-faggots called the Templars kill everything that moves whilst wearing resprayed costumes from Starlight Express. Opposing them is one man, Scorpio, and his weird stalker boyfriend who has the endearing habits of firing explosive arrows into people's heads and misreading his lines. Together with a blond, blue-eyed, pre-teen boy genius they eventually get round to slaughtering all the baddies - a task so ludicrously easy you wonder why they never bothered before. Lots of phallic pointy things come out of cars and are inserted into other cars, people, or just shoot things. The 'hero' is captured at one point and is anally raped by his former boyfriend in front of an admiring crowd of men standing to attention while wearing crash helmets. (Every other shot in this movie is of cheap sublimated penises.) In the end our hero, wearing leather trousers and some seriously kinky transparent body-armor kills the head bad guy by, literally - would I lie to you?, screwing him up the arse with a giant auger bit at 200 miles an hour!

      Never have I seen such lame car chases - it's hard to feel any tension when our hero and villain are fighting on top of a converted golf buggy hurtling along at - oh, I'd say at least three miles an hour. For a film that features vehicles hurtling along at 'breakneck' speeds it's remarkable how far people don't travel in this film. The whole thing looks like it was shot in a quarry in two days.

    6. UFO: Target Earth (1974) - I like this film. I like it a lot. My copy came as a part of a 50 movie DVD pack of classic SF films that no one has ever heard of and, of the 30 or so movies in there that are actually watchable, this is the one I keep coming back to - some are just too fucking awful to sit through, even for a battle hardened crap movie veteran like myself. (We have pissing contests you know, "You watched The Alpha Incident? Chicken feed! I watched Evil Brain from Outer Space! Beat that, looser!" ) UFO: Target Earth is a truly bewildering movie. It is transcendent. Somewhere along the way it stops being a bad film and sends the viewer a hypnotic trance-like state in which you are almost convinced there could be some point to watching it in the first place if you had even the slightest clue what the hell was going on. I have watched it several times now and I'm constantly amazed by its awe dropping incomprehensibility. It has a couple of starts, a lot of middle and an overextended end but none of them appear to be connected in any way. One of the wonderful techniques writer director Michael A. DeGaetano uses to create his overwhelming sense of otherness is his invention of 'the incredible budget-slashing one-sided telephone conversation shot' in which we get to watch, and listen to, long held shots of a secondary character holding a telephone to their ear and talking to our hero who is not only never seen but also never heard. I don't know whether this was a deliberate attempt to bring some kind of documentary-like verisimilitude to the show or whether the actor playing the lead had become so fed up with the shoot that he had just fucked off home and was unavailable for any insert shots but it's beautifully dreadful stuff.


      The room is a vast hall full of wardrobe sized computers with big whirling cartwheels of magnetic tape. This is a real location. Not a set.

      Cut to:

      Close up of a noisy dot-matrix printer printing out something scientific-ish - for a very long time... (16 seconds - I counted.)

      Cut to:

      Close up on assistant scientist sat at a desk with a telephone handset crushed to his ear.

      "Yeah, we're printing out your data now to see how your fixes are plotted... how's it look?... it looks wild, man, really wild... "

      Cut to:

      Close up of the noisy dot-matrix printer still churning away.

      (Assistant continuing over) "...Yeah, we should have a pretty good idea about where you should place your sensors...

      Cut to:

      Close up on assistant:

      " ... exactly ... yeah on the opposite side of the lake ... you know as far away from the camp-site as possible ... umm hmmm ... yep ... just a minute ... (he looks up and holds out the receiver) He wants to talk to you ... "

      Cut to:

      Looming face of elderly female scientist. She takes the phone and slows the action right down by doing some 'real, long pause listening' acting between her speeches - which she reads off the script cunningly disguised as the computer printout she's holding in her hand.

      "Alan, I want to know, and if you can't be absolutely scientific in your answer at least be calm ... did the old woman actually report a break up of lights? ... hmm ... and the structural steel discolourations ... could that be the metaphysical mind of your companion at work? ... (look of concern - or constipation - comes over her face) ... there are guards? ... and no report from the army ... hmmmm ... yes ... I'd like to report this to Dr. Wheeler ... unofficially of course ... I'll tell him you phoned ... cha ... cha ... I know, I know all of that but I just can't ... you can do it without me ... you don't need me ... yes ... I understand all that and thank you but I can't ... I'll keep an eye on the printouts here and if you need more help I'll see what I can do ... yes ... yes, I'll think about it, Alan ... I'll think about it ... all right ... goodbye.

      Cut to:

      Another few seconds of riveting, full on, dot-matrix action

      Of all that verbiage the only thing that is of any import to the plot is the bit about Alan placing his sensors "on the opposite side of the lake" because it vaguely sets up Alan going across the lake to do something unexplained while something incomprehensible happens to his female friend back at the camp-site.

      Who the hell 'Dr Wheeler' is is a total mystery - this is the only time he's mentioned and doesn't appear in the credits. Maybe the actor playing him fucked off home before he got on the set.

      Most of the people who appeared in this film never made another movie. Whoever was playing Dr Wheeler was lucky - he managed to avoid appearing in this one.

    7. Cherry 2000 (1988 ) - Dang! Missed it by that much. Cherry 2000 is one of those movies that almost makes it. Stuffed full of weirdy goodness but never quite jelling. In a post (unspecified) apocalyptic world, a recycling manager from Anaheim goes in search of a replacement for his Stepford Wife like sex robot which fritzed out while he was making love to it on the wet kitchen floor. The only known supply of this particular model, the Cherry 2000 of the title, is located in a semi-buried casino somewhere in desert badlands. The badlands are controlled by a band of psychopaths who wear a natty line in Hawaiian shirts and pastel shorts and, when they are not shooting people in the head or throwing them off cliffs, are more than happy to dance the Hokey Cokey and eat sandwiches. To guide him across this dangerous terrain our hero hires Melanie Griffiths who wears a red wig and drives an early sixties Ford Mustang. Let the endless car crashes and gunplay begin....

      It's as bonkers as it sounds and it almost works. Reminded me more than a little of Circuitry Man and Buckeroo Banzii. It had that same funny deadpan oddness about the script. It's the sort of movie Tank Girl should have been. Some stunning locations, great stunt work and inspired (but weird) production design helped, but in the end it sinks under the usual B movie tropes of endless gunplay and the millions of disposable goons who couldn't hit their own face with a brick.

    8. The Sisterhood (1988 ) - Dear mother of god! What a terrible film. In a post-apocalyptic future the usual Mad Maxims apply. Bands of warriors, mutants, battered vehicles, a 'Forbidden Zone', machinery left in an underground bunker for hundreds of years starting at the touch of a button, blah blah blah, all the usual shit. This time though a band of free warrior women in hotpants and gold painted plastic headbands roam free defying the normal Gorian rules.

      It may have just been the dreadful transfer on the DVD I watched (which looked like it was taken from a much played VHS copy) but the sound on this picture is dreadful. You really could tell the sound guys did not have a clue where to point the mike. People's voices disappeared into inaudible mumbles whenever they turned away from the camera, people in long shot were having to scream their lines to be heard, and anyone on horseback was drowned out by the clatter of the horses' hooves, even when the horses were at rest and the riders were having one of their tedious exposition laden conversations. Every time I watch a crappy movie I try to come away having learnt something. (One of these days my Premium Bonds are going to come up and I'll be free to make my own crappy movie.) Today I learned if you are shooting a conversation between scantily clad underachieving actresses sat on horseback you put a fucking blanket on the ground for the horses to stand on and point the fucking microphone at the actresses' fucking faces! Advice I shouted at the screen several times but the director took no notice.

      I also learned that I can watch no end of shit if it features sweaty women toting semi-automatic weapons.

    9. Special praise has to go to one Jun Latonio who produced the incredibly dreadful 'original music' for the film - presumably by stealing the sound guys' good microphone and recording various video arcade games while he played them for a few hours.

    10. Who Framed Roger Rabbit? - meh!

    11. Il ritorno di Clint il solitario (1972) - aka The Return of Clint the Stranger and There's a Noose Waiting for You Trinity! and so on and so forth. A plodding spaghetti/paella western saved only by Klaus Kinski and Ennio Morricone who could, I suspect, between them save anything. Screw Chuck Norris. Even when they are obviously just doing it for the money and going through the motions (as they are here) they're still better than 90% of the material they work on. This had all the hallmarks of one of those films that no one gave a shit about.

    12. 42nd Street (1933, or 1932, depending whether you believe the opening or the end credits) - I introduce daughter number one to Busby Berkeley. Number one daughter is delighted, "This is ridiculous!". I spot a previously un(IMDb)listed continuity error - the door number on an apartment changes between shots. I am a deeply sad, sad, sad man.

      One of the extras on the DVD was a contemporary short puffing the movie and contains snippets from the title finale number - including a couple of shots of this guy who didn't make the final cut. I can only presume the footage was from a rough cut or pre-release edit. The shot of the two boys dancing in front of the theatre, off to this guy's left (screen right), that appears a few moments later is different from the released version too.

    13. Die Screaming Marianne (1970) - I've been reading a lot of interviews with, and conversation between, film directors recently; one thing keeps coming up, time after time, when well kent directors talk about the craft/art of directing and editing. They'll often refer to the 'rhythms' or 'beats' of a movie. I'm still really not totally sure I understand what they mean but I sure as hell know when it's missing. Die Screaming Marianne hasn't got a rhythm. It manages to both meander and stutter along simultaneously, some shots are held far too long, others seem to be cut ludicrously and abruptly short. An incredibly long 90+ minutes in which one of the villain's shirts is more horrifying than anything else that appears on screen.

    Friday, September 10, 2010

    You would have thought I would have been bored stupid by this by now but my on off stop start up down obsession with Lidl's packaging continues unabated:

    The Great German Fruit Photograph Shortage part 34.7.

    There is apparently only one picture of white grapes available to Lidl's design team. They've cunningly tried to disguise this fact by using it mirrored and slightly reduced in size on the mixed juice carton but here at JunkMonkey mansions we pride ourselves on spotting such things. (If we didn't pride ourselves on such things we would have to admit we we were sad obsessives with nothing else to do over the breakfast table but stare at cereal and juice cartons and try to join the dots.)

    And talking of obsessive compulsive

    It's Movie Time!
    1. Hustler Squad (1976) - a tacky, low-budget Philippino version of The Dirty Dozen - with tits! WW2. Four women with nothing to loose are recruited and trained to infiltrate a secret island brothel deep in the heart of Japanese occupied Somewhere Vague in the Pacific. Their mission: to kill four high ranking Japanese officers who will be there for a bit of R&R. What a boring movie. Next time I'll check my facts before I part with my hard earned 50p at a car boot sale. I got confused and thought I was buying Hell Squad - in which a group of Las Vegas showgirls undergo commando training and organize a rescue operation when a diplomat's son is kidnapped by terrorists. An easy mistake.

    2. Clash of the Titans (1981) - years since I've seen this and it has grown better than I remember it. Some wonderfully restrained dreamlike stuff aided by some great music.

    3. Fortress (1992) - More proof, if proof be needed, that seeing the words 'futuristic prison' should have you reaching for the eject button before you've even finished reading the blurb on the back of the box. Jesus wept! I'm sure there is a SF prison movie to be made but this is not it.

      The highlight of the movie for me was the moment when our genius hacker expendable character escapee sits in the control chair of the master computer. He's realised, before any of the other muscle-necked piles of sweaty testosterone that have escaped with him, that the computer is really running the whole show. He types frantically. After three attempts he has cracked the password. (This is despite the fact that the very supersmart AI with the sultry woman's voice knows that the escaped prisoners are in the control room. "Hmmm," thinks the AI. "One of my 'Neutron Cannons' just accidentally exploded into blue goo the only person authorised to sit in that chair; the room is full of escaped prisoners; but what the hey, they got the password right after three attempts - I'll let them overide everything..." ).

      Once he has gained access to the supercomputers' central core (DOS prompt and all) our hacker genius types something along the lines of "Load killer virus"... What? What killer virus? Nothing about any killer virus has ever been mentioned before now. Not a sausage. Not until the moment he starts typing anyway - making me think a) all computers in the future come with killer viruses ready installed and b) the scriptwriters were making it up as they went along. Anyway, the killer virus loads ('loads'?). The genius types 'execute' (making me think that the core of this thing is more likely to be a ZX Spectrum than anything else) when, suddenly, a bunch of zombie clone killer droids burst in and machine gun him from the chair. A dozen bullets rip through his torso. He falls forward. Our hero (it's Christopher Lambert - sorry) leaps up and blasts the zombie clone killer droids to bloo gue with his endlessly un-emptiable machine gun. Safe again for the moment they help the hacker up. Coughing blood he reaches to the keyboard - and hits the [Enter] key. The system crashes. In the hands of a grown up director this could have been an almost good joke, here it was just another piece of ineptness.

      And just how big is Christopher Lambert's forehead? it's huge! It's fascinatingly huge and very distracting. It's hard to take a Tefal Scientist seriously as an action hero.

      OMGA! * They made a sequel!?

    4. Dream Demon (1988 ) - This film is the result of an incredibly expensive version of the old I'm Sorry I haven't a Clue game 'One Song to the Tune of Another'. It's as if Humphrey Littleton had got a day job as chairman of British Screen: "Okay team, I want you to shoot Nightmare on Elm Street to the tune of Eraserhead but made in the style of an expensive TV commercial.".

      Bride to be Diana (played by the least of the Redgraves, Jemma) has a bad dream, wakes up and tells someone about it. Then she has another bad dream and wakes up and tells someone about it. She has yet another bad dream and wakes up... after about an hour of this I started to get just a wee bitty bored but then something happened! Jenny had another bad dream and woke up... and then she woke up again! Oooh! I was that surprised, I nearly woke up.

      If IMDB is to believed (and who am I to doubt it), the actress playing one of the leads as a young girl was four years older than the actress playing her as a grown up. Strange, but possibly true....

      Best line: "No." (As delivered by Timothy Spall while eating a Chinese takeaway. I know I'm not giving much away about the context but trust me; it was almost mildly amusing.)

    5. Red Sonja (1985) - Conan with tits (and possibly smaller than Schwarzenegger's). Dull sword and sorcery nonsense with some terrific costume design. I'll say one thing for Italian SF and Fantasy movies, the costumes are always great. Over the top, impractical, and possibly dangerous to wear - but they look great. Apart from the costume and set design, and Ennio Morricone's usual wonderful work on the soundtrack, there's not a lot else that's worth a second look.

    6. Flash Gordon (1980) - more great looking nonsense from same producer and possibly same costume/production designer as Red Sonja. (I did go to look it up on IMDb but kept getting distracted by discovering things like the fact that Robbie Coltrain was in it. He played "Man at Airfield", a non-speaking part; and that the priest in the Arboria sequence - where the future Chief Scout of Britain, Peter Duncan, is being initiated into the tribe - is played by John Osborne, the author of Look Back in Anger). Classy trash heaven.

    7. Lemora (1972) - An interesting, if ultimately less than satisfying, low budget Lovecraftian Southern Gothic vampire movie. Most of the cast never did much more than this one film - this is the Director's only film - all of which is a pity, because there is some good stuff in here; it's weird and eerie, dream-like and with just that little bit more of the elusive 'something' could have been a classic creepy movie. As it is it's an almost classic creepy movie which runs out of steam and finds it hard to disguise its limited budget at times.

    8. Telstar: The Joe Meek Story (2008 ) - I watch a movie that's based on real life and has no spaceships in! (Well, okay, one but it does also contain men recording the sounds of coins being dropped into a toilet!- as if that makes up for anything.)


      And it's pretty damn close to being brilliant.

    9. Repo Man (1984) - one of these days I'll get a decent copy of Repo Man, my VHS copy is getting a bit worn and tattered, if nothing else to see if there really is a scene I remember seeing once in which two characters talk about the joy of Doritos.

    10. Wonder Man (1945) - Danny Kaye film which was nowhere as funny as I remember but much more colourful. I remember it being in black and white. It isn't.

    11. Dungeons & Dragons: Wrath of the Dragon God (2005) - I haven't laughed so much in ages. It was like a parody of every overblown bollocky pseudo-medieval teenwank fantasy cliché in the book (or - as is common in this genre - three books). I especially loved the villain, played by Bruce Payne, who so wonderfully personified evil by dressing in black, assuming a gay smirk, and then doing pure Joey Tribiani style "sniff your own farts" acting. Amazingly awful.

    12. Detective Story (1951) - Kirk Douglas chewing up the scenery as he plays a tough, driven cop dealing with his inner demons and the astounding revelation that his wife had slept with someone before they were married. Nice moments from the supporting parts, a couple of whom were Oscar nominated, but the noise of Douglas' constipated gurnings just drowned them out.

    13. Build My Gallows High (1947) - (aka Out of the Past) Classic Noir directed by the great Jacques Tourneur. One of those movies where the twists and double-crosses just keep coming and coming. In the end the writer had backed our hero into so many corners that the only way to get out of the movie was to have him die. So he did.

    14. Mambo (1954) - Long forgotten Italian/American melodrama which has the odd moment of interest but which appears to have suffered badly at the hands of censors or distributors. The original run time was 110 minutes, the US release comes in at 94; fifteen plus minutes of something has disappeared. Shelley Winters' character looks to be an obvious victim of cuts. She plays the Lesbian leader of a dance troupe. We know she's a Lesbian because she has short hair, wears trousers, and is called 'Toni' - how many more hints do you need? Towards the start of the film, the heroine (Giovanna) and Toni are sitting together in a train. When Giovanna suddenly gets up to leave, Toni reaches out to stop her only to have her hand is angrily brushed aside. It's just a moment, but a very obvious one, and it hints at a much deeper relationship between the two characters than is delivered in the prolonged flashback that immediately follows. Giovanna joins Toni's troup after she is raped by a count and spurns the avaricious manipulative sleeze-bag boyfriend who set her up. Giovanna definitely goes off men in a big way. But instead of enjoying any deeply romantic and / or physical relationship with Giovanna, Shelley's character is reduced to a few shots of gazing adoringly at her from the wings, and a few routine moments of generic hard-driving, hard-driven backstage impresario acting. (Think Warner Baxter in 42nd Street and Anton Walbrook in the Red Shoes.)


      The showdown between the two women, when Toni forces Giovanna to choose between her dancing career (and, by implication, Toni herself), and the low-life ex-rape-setting-up lover who has just walked back into her life, makes very little sense without there having been any deeper relationship between the two women. Especially as Toni, having been rejected, rushes off in a state of distress and dies under the wheels of a speeding car - leaving the whole audience to sit there and wonder, "Where did that come from? Talk about over-reacting!". Giovanna, having seen her girlfriend squished under the wheels of a car goes to live with the sleeze-bag - then marries the count (who, being a haemophiliac dies when sleeze-bag gets into a fist fight with him) before maybe wondering if being a dancer is what she really wanted to be all along and rejoining the dance troupe. Jeeso! Make your mind up, girl!

      Not terrible but not really worth resurrecting as a long forgotten classicut don't take my word for it, go watch it for yourself. It's out of copyright and downloadable here:

    15. Mary Poppins (1964) - another of those films I have avoided for years but, after recently reading the book which I found to be quite odd and charming, and yielding to daughter number one's request for "Musicals with real people made in the last century." (Eight year old girls are weird) we sat down as a family to watch it. It was better than I was expecting and Dick Van Dykes' car crash of a (was it supposed to be Cockney?) accent was scab pickingly fascinating. I could have done with less singing and more story and daughter number one was disappointed that several favourite scenes from the book didn't make it to the screen.

    *British internet slang: OMGA - 'Oh My Giddy Aunt!'

    Saturday, July 24, 2010

    Another Snapshot from the Screenplay of my Life:

    We're in Sheffield. All of us. It's an annual ritual variously named (depending on which of us you talk to) as 'Do we have to?' or 'A holiday'.

    Part of the holiday - just in case there was any doubt about which camp I belong to* - usually involves a humungous amount of time traipsing around Meadowhall, shopping our socks off. Living in a wee, out of the way village in the picturesque splendour of the Scottish Highlands going and getting bombarded by a full, throttle in-yer-face onslaught of Western Consumerism is sometimes quite refreshing - for a bit.

    After a couple of hours of relentless shopping. Daisy and I got fed up. Merriol and Holly were tenaciously and methodically working their way through the sale rails of the already incredibly cheap Primark and had about another three acres to go. So Daisy and I found somewhere outside (and a little cooler) to wait for them to emerge:


    Where shall we go Daddy?

    Let's just sit here and watch people.
    They're fascinating. They're all different.

    ...and they're top of the food chain!


    * did I get away with it?

    Friday, July 02, 2010

    Blog posts to be avoided number 137.

    The more than usually large number of movies I have watched this month:

    1. Astro Zombies (1967) - for some reason I find watching John Carradine endlessly twiddle knobs and talk total pseudo-technobabble hypnotically fascinating. Every time I watch this movie there comes a moment when I start to doubt my sanity. Tonight it was the in the scene where John C and his (of course) hunchbacked assistant are preparing a corpse for revivification. I realised for the first time that the unexplained but very shiny piece of low budget equipment they were having obvious trouble strapping to his head is in fact - a lampshade. I was watching two grown men strapping a lampshade to someone's head.

    2. Android Apocalypse (2006) - Made for TV 'movie' set in the future where, after an unexplained ecological disaster which has left the whole world looking like a sand quarry in Canada, humankind lives, protected from the wasteland outside, in domed cities. A lowly manual worker is fired from his job and replaced by an android. The lowly worker hates androids; all his friends hate androids. The lowly worker kills an android in a fight and is sent to gaol chained to... go on, guess... yes, an android! (What a plot twist!) Anyhow the van in which they are being transported gets attacked by giant flying robots and they escape still chained together to be relentlessly pursued by... blah blah blah... What starts out as a updated version of The Humanoids, segues into a SFy version of The Defiant Ones, and then just descends into the usual explosionfest-driven melodrama in which abandoned cities ("What is this place?" "An abandoned city") are well stocked with piles of empty cardboard boxes for our heroes and villains to drive their 2004 model Jeeps into*.

      Now a little competition:

      You too can be a Hollywood (Canada) Scriptwriter!

      Here's the final shot of the movie: Android and lowly manual worker (no longer chained together), and lowly manual worker's wife are standing heroically looking down at the smouldering ruins of the evil android overlord's destroyed headquarters.


      Lowly Manual Worker's Wife:

      (To husband, indicating the android)
      Who is he?

      Lowly Manual Worker:

      (Use your skill, judgement and extensive knowledge
      of Hollywood cliché to fill in the final speech
      of the movie here.)

      Is it?
      • A. "I don't know; he just followed me home. Can we keep him?"
      • B. "My chiropractor."
      • C. "...He's my friend."

      Hint: Boak!

      *By which, of course, I mean they drive around in Jeeps that were made in 2004. They don't have a couple of thousand Dinky cars.

    3. Goodbye Gemini (1970) - Swinging London Psycho-Thriller (que'st que s'est? fa fa fa...) which would have been an awful lot better if the actors playing the leads had been ten years younger.

    4. The Princess Diaries (2001) - My heart sank when Daughter Number One picked this out. Disney + Princess? Oh Gawd. Please, no.... Being a father of two girls I should be getting used to this by now. I had seen The Princess Diaries before but it was a lot better than I remembered; there are some genuinely funny lines and some not bad acting. I was annoyed for a while by my inability to work out who Anne Hathaway was reminding me of - some of her mannerisms expressions were reminding me of another actor - towards the end I got it. She reminded me of Jeff Goldbloom - I think I need to get out more.

    5. Inland Empire (2006) - sometimes my habit of not looking too closely at the back of DVDs I am just about to watch - in case the blurb reveals too many plot points - is not the cleverest thing to do. I love David Lynch's weird dreamscapes. I love the bewildering sense of 'otherness' they create. Had I realised Inland Empire was three hours long I may have chosen another night to be baffled, frustrated and 'othernessed'. Three hours! Good god. I didn't dream last night. Lynch had done it all for me.

    6. Knowing (2009) - I'm an SF fan. I like SF. For the first half of this film it looked like I was watching a pretty interesting SF film which playing with ideas about determinism and predestination - at about the hour mark the tone changed and I realised I was just watching another CGI 'let's destroy everything in loving detail' Hollywood disaster cliché, and by the end of the second hour I was slack-jawed with disbelief as I watched heavy-handed Judeo-Christian Revelation tripe unfolding on the screen as shiny glowing angeliens took the 'chosen' children to the stars in giant silvery globe artichokes built to specs found in Ezekiel. (Cue beauty shots of two happy - presumably heterosexual - children running through beautiful untouched alien landscape towards a large Tree in the distance. The only thing that was missing were the names 'Adam' and 'Eve' tattooed onto their foreheads for the real knuckleheads in the audience who still hadn't got it.) This is all a great pity. Back in the days when he has less money Alex Proyas made some inventive movies The Crow and Dark City being best. (Dark City especially is great.) Now with a brazzillion dollars of CGI to play with he seems to have lost the point. There are some effective and tense moments in this movie but most of them are made so by camera work, editing, acting, and some (occasionally) damn fine music; all the old-fashioned, 'traditional' movie making skills in fact. When the CGI fills the screen it turns into a plodding bore. So boring and ponderous does this film become that at the end I was left wondering if there was something wrong with Nic Cage's testicles. After an hour of being bludgeoned with pixels flying in all directions I was more interested in the weird 'heroic' stance that Cage had assumed than in all the glowing shiny whirly, supposedly awe-inspiring SFX zipping about. Why was Nic Cage standing wide-legged like a Jack Kirby superhero cowboy? There was no reason for him to be standing like that. Even when he was talking to the less than convincing child actor pretending to be his son he stood like he was about to leap on a silver surfboard or pull out a Colt Pacemaker and shoot the bad guy*. I was glad when it was all over.

      *Or even a 'Peacemaker'.

    7. American Madness (1932) - Early Frank Capra movie in which Walter Huston plays a decent honest banker nearly bought to suicide by personal troubles, a run on his bank, and the machinations of rich financiers - only to be saved in the nick of time by all 'the little people' he has helped over the years rushing in to make deposits when everyone else was wanting to take their money out. It's almost a dry run for Capra's best-loved film It's A Wonderful Life. It's interesting but not great. A few nice sequences - the bank filling up with people wanting to take out their money, at first a trickle, then a flood turning into a packed and panicking mob was nicely done but a lot of it was pure melodrama most of it delivered in that incredibly rapid, machine-gun style delivery of the time. Your sure had to listen fast when people got excited in the 30s.

    8. The Thief of Baghdad - Alexander Korda.

    9. Galaxy of the Dinosaurs (1992) - somewhere beyond awful. Shoddy amateur crap that wasn't even terrible enough to be funny. To paraphrase Wolfgang Pauli; it was not even bad.

    10. The Bed Sitting Room (1968 ) - finally released on DVD! Though not quite in its original aspect ratio.

    11. Stranded (aka The Shelter 2001) - not very good attempt at a serious nuts and bolts hard SF story - ie no monsters - in which the first mission to Mars goes horribly wrong. Unable to lift off again, and with limited resources to hand, the crew do the maths and realise only two of them stand a chance of surviving till any possible rescue mission could get to them. This is a standard scenario from a thousand magazine short stories over the years. A scenario pits human vulnerability against the cold impassivity of the laws of physics. I have never come across this story played out so flatly and dully as here. After the opening sequence, when the ship crashes in a series of tiny scenes and brief single shots interspersed with great slugs of black - a editing technique that was supposed to induce tension and confusion but just made me wonder if my DVD payer was having trouble playing the disc - we are introduced to the members of the crew coming to terms with the reality of their new situation. After a few laughable bad attempts at working out how to survive - the most logical and sensible thing they do is dismantle the acceleration couches and take them outside because they won't need them any more - three of them decide to walk to their deaths (taking as much oxygen as they can with them!?) and leave the doctor and the engineer to wait for rescue. After an eternity of watching three people walking around in space suits with an orange filter on the camera - on Mars everything is red - the survivors find the remnants of an ancient civilisation, a mysterious ancient oasis of air, water and lichen, "from which we will be able to extract protein". The end. As stories go it's not the worst I've ever seen; it successfully avoids falling into any number of low budget SF traps and the hardware looks good but, dear god, the script is awful! At no point in this film did any of the characters look or sound like the top-notch technician scientists they were supposed to be. The first people to set foot on Mars? These people would have been the elite, the best and most capable astronauts the world have ever seen. What arrives on screen are barely sketched-in outlines of characters with no depth or consistency. Just to give one example: the doctor is supposed to be a Christian. She tells us that it is against her religion to commit suicide, she insists, against opposition from her fellow crew-members that the dead captain is buried in the "Christian manner" yet, when she gets her way and the poor stiff is dragged outside for the funeral, she doesn't say anything religious at his graveside at all, preferring instead to recite (from memory!) a long extract from Robert Falcon Scott's diary (written shortly before his death during his ill-fated expedition to Antarctica). This clumsily sets up the "'Tis a far far better thing," type noble sacrifice that is to follow but does little to create believable characters. There are token nods towards making some hard science - during an angry exchange one character suggests they make power by building a windmill, the engineer says the wind is too thin - end of discussion. Where's the detail? I'm not saying they should have stopped the movie and had a lecture about the relative densities of the atmospheres of Earth and Mars but SF movie audiences are well used to sitting through screeds of nonsensical techno-babble - 'Captain, if we bypass the tachyon emissions through the warp core shielding this may have the effect of reversing the cloaking device's polarity!' - why not have some real science for a change? Bad script. And some really odd direction too.

    12. Unknown World (1951) - which, despite all the crap I've watched after it, hasn't got any better since the last time I watched it five years ago.

    13. The Phantom Menace (1999) - nor has this.

    14. Starcrash (1978 ) - on the other hand just gets better every time I watch it. Okay, I know I'm redefining the word 'better' here but any movie that has Caroline Munro (best known to men of my generation as "you know, the sweaty bird from the Morgan's Rum adverts," and "the one with tits in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad") running around for most of the time in continuity defying leather space bikinis (not to mention the transparent space suits) has got to be worth watching fairly often hasn't it? My favourite line on this viewing was:

      Look! Amazons on horseback. I hope they are friendly!

      Oh to hell with it; it's weeks since I posted any pictures of semi-naked women on the blog - they Amazon's aren't friendly and here's Caroline struggling womanfully with them while saying "Let me go!" a lot...


    15. The Thing From Another World (1951) - a real cracker. The prototype 'trapped in a small set with a relentless killer-thing' that spawned a thousand reworkings but was never bettered (okay, Alien). It clips along, has some crackingly fast-paced, credible dialogue, a story that almost makes sense and doesn't outstay its welcome. It also contains one of the great lines of SF movie dialogue:

      An intellectual carrot... the mind boggles!
    16. The 6th Day (2001) - A Science Fiction Action Thriller which turned out to be not as awful as I was expecting - by a long chalk. The science fiction side of it was pretty well thought out - though the action side of it was pretty much by the numbers. A few of the jokes worked too. Not great, but does more than it says on the tin.

    17. The Dark Knight (2006) - One of the better quids I have spent at a car boot sale recently.

    18. Toto le héros (1991) - I seem to be rewatching a lot of stuff this month. Toto le héros is an odd dislocated movie which never really decides what it wants to be but is satisfying through whichever set of genre watching goggles you choose to wear. It's humorous, mysterious, funny, romantic (albeit incestuously) but above all very French.

    19. Faeries (1999) - a weird mishmash of CGI, model work and crappy Saturday morning cartoon style 2D animation with some major talent in the voice cast (Kate Winslet, Jeremy Irons, Dougray Scott!?). Written by someone whose biggest claim to fame must be that she was a "creative consultant" on Fraggle Rock, and directed by someone who once had a job as an inbetween artist on SuperTed. Not unwatchable - but as close as I ever want to get. The kids seemed to enjoy it.

    20. Attack of the 50ft Woman (1993) - Daryl Hannah remake. Somewhat underwhelming but a couple of nice lines - one of which I fully intend to work into the next script I write.

    21. Destination Moon (1950) - and

    22. Project Moonbase(1953) - in one evening. In less than two and a half hours I watch Robert Heinlein's complete output as a screenwriter. As a screenwriter he makes a good novelist.

    23. Young Einstein ( 1988 ) - one of my 'Top Ten Favourite Moves Not Many Other People Has Ever Heard Of'.

    24. Orlando ( 1992 ) - My umpteenth watching and I love it more every time I see it.

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    Copyright (c) 2004-2007 by me, Liam Baldwin. That's real copyright, not any 'creative commons' internet hippy type thing.

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