Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Gezzwot? It's the end of the month. And here are all the reasons I have no brain left in chronological order. You may be delighted to learn there are pictures of an elephant and Hitler's head in a jar down below.

-(MST3K) Dire.
- Interesting. (Fucking hell! One word reviews are easy to write!)
The Leech Woman
- Disappointingly had nothing to do with leeches.
The Giant Mantis
- Three movie producers got drunk one night. One had a copy of script of The Thing (Something unearthly, frozen in the ice for millennia, is thawed out and goes on the rampage), another had a copy of The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (Prehistoric beasty wakens and trashes half of New York) and the third had a copy of Them (Giant ants). As a drunken bet one of them ripped all three scripts apart, tore the pages in half, tossed them all into the air, and picked up a third of the mess. He then went out and shot the resulting pile of waste paper in a week. There is no other explanation for the The Giant Mantis (Giant prehistoric praying mantis is thawed out in the Arctic and trashes New York). None.Timecop
- Another thud and blunder comic book mess from Peter Hyams (Outlands, 2010 etc.) I really must stop watching his movies - Capricorn One was okay, I wonder what went wrong after that?
The Science of Sleep - I really don't know what to make of this one, I'll sleep on it.
- From a costume design point of view films made in the Eighties have not worn well. (The SF, Fantasy or period pieces, or anything involving the entire cast wearing uniform excepted). Any movie made in that fashion benighted decade which attempts to portray contemporary youth just looks like total pants these days - and probably did at the time (asymmetrical haircuts, shocking pink leggings and Spandex anyone?) Hobgoblins is the skidmarks in those pants. What made skinny women wear metallic Spandex leggings? Why? A whole generation women (all right maybe only Californian women) went round for years screaming LOOK AT MY SKINNY METALLIC ASS! - Why?

Hobgoblins is an extremely low budget (can you have a minus budget?), zero imagination rip off of Gremlins that manages to waste the entire thirty-seven cents they did scrape together on some dreadful, dreadful actors - I've only just thought of this but the actors might have been asked to pay to be in the movie - and a few glove puppets. The acting was off the scale of unconvincingly bad. Right off the scale. If this is the scale:*

Laurence Olivier| . | . | . | . | . | . | . | . |Oliver Reed| . | . | . | . | . | . | . |Porn Actor

Then this lot were over there by the bookcase ---> Not the book case near the desk that your computer is sat on, but the big bookcase in the other room with all the posh books you aren't going to read again but can't bear to get rid of.

Dreadful acting. I have seen more conviction and animation from high school kids turning up to drama club because they fancy one of the girls who comes (usually accompanying a friend who doesn't want to go alone). The direction wasn't much better - the director has made a whole series of films 'spoofing' the Police Academy series (that's right, you didn't misread, we're stirring up the real bottom feeders of the Hollywood food chain here.)

I love bad movies, I really do, but this one was painful to watch. It hurt.

* Or, if you prefer in Metric
Gérard Depardieu| . | . | . | . | . | . | . | Johnny Hallyday| . | . | . | . | . | . | . |Un Porn Acteur

Oh God! They made a sequel!

- Godzilla English style. See Tower Bridge smashed to a million pieces by a giant prehistoric dinosaury thingie awoked from the deep by a volcano off the coast of Ireland! See Big Ben Smashed to a Million pieces by a giant prehistoric dinosaury thingie looking for its young. See... you get the picture. A not unterrible mixture of King Kong (Find monster in exotic location - or Ireland - and ship it to heavily populated area and put it on display), Godzilla (Godzilla SMASH! Grrrrr!) and The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (again). Almost ruined by having a cute kid who empathises with the monster, and almost rescued again by some not bad 'Panic in the Street' sequences as the entire population of London flees the giant prehistoric dinosaury thingie by repeatedly running up and down the same street while being shot from lots of different angles. One thing British movies of the period did do better than American films of the period is the panic in the streets stuff. I suspect because no one in Britain had cars, and running away from something down a street, while being filmed with a hand held camera, is a lot more visually dynamic than hand held shots of a stream of cars on a highway driving away from disaster. British films extras of the day were also probably a lot less experienced than their US counterparts and the average Londoner of 1950s and early sixties probably had very fresh memories of what it was like to run away as buildings came crashing down round their ears. Just a thought.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)
- Friday night movie with the kids is sometimes a bit of a chore. Tonight, when Holly picked this as the film she wanted, my heart sank. I never was a fan of the original, no that's a fib - I hated the original*, I'm not particularly fond of Roald Dahl's books, and I have a love / hate thing going with Tim Burton (I alternate between adoration and disgust at his films. I want that part of my memory with Mars Attacks! in it wiped when the technology arrives) Charlie, I remember from the reviews at the time, was not particularly liked by anyone. One of those 'Pointless remakes'. I loved it! I was entertained, delighted, and amused. So were the kids.

*Apart from much missed Roy Kinnear.
Terror From The Year 5000
- so incredibly fucking terrifying is the terror in Terror From The Year 5000 that I managed to fall asleep at least six times while trying to watch it. This is some sort of a record for me. I would start to watch the film - and wake up at the DVD's menu screen. Then I would convince myself I was awake and would stay awake long enough to watch it through and start the movie again, fast forward to where I last remembered being - and then wake up at the menu screen again. It got really annoying but I was determined to finish the film. I wasn't going to let it beat me. It took me three days.

Terror from the year 5000 tells the story of a maverick scientist, ably assisted by his standard issue beautiful daughter*, who is communicating, via his basement time machine, with beings from 3000 years in the future. (We know it's 3000 years in the future because in a hilariously classic piece of misguided Bad Movie science, the Carbon 14 results on an artefact brought through the machine show a negative reading.) Inevitably a being from the future comes through the machine in the guise of a beautiful woman in a (not badly done) shimmering catsuit - except she's not beautiful at all She's an UGLY mutant woman! She has just peeled the face and uniform off a passing nurse to fool them - though she strangely retains her shiny, sexy space shoes which gives our heroine a clue that SOMETHING IS NOT RIGHT! So, future mutant girl needs someone to go with her to the future to father a generation of non mutant ugly women. There's a fight. Things explode. I wake up again. I think that's what happens I'm not going to try and watch it again to find out.

The movie does however have one really worthwhile moment of note. Doors in cheap movies have always held a strange fascination for me. The possibilities for continuity errors aside** - because of the piecemeal nature of movie making, it may be hours, days, or even weeks between an actor getting from one side of a doorway to another - and ignoring all the deeper meanings that doors can represent in movies "Frankly, my dear I just don't give a damn." would be a much less wonderful line if Rhett Butler hadn't been standing in a doorway when he said it - there are sometimes some very odd things to be noticed about the way doors are placed or hung in the set.

Terror From The Year 5000 contains a corker. The scene is a corridor. Two doors screen right, blank wall screen left (though this latter fact is not important). Because of the mechanics of the plot someone in the room nearest the camera has to see someone sneaking into the room furthest away from the camera without himself being seen.

To achieve this simple aim the film-makers made the odd decision to have the door to the furthest away room open as you would expect a door on a corridor to open; away from the corridor, into the room. Villain opens door. Villain enter room. The room nearest us in the corridor, the room from which the observation of this act has to happen, has the door hung so that it opens out INTO the passageway. Nobody hangs door so they open out into corridors. It's probably forbidden in every set of building regulations ever written. It's dangerous for one thing, imagine walking down a corridor when someone comes out of their room in a hurry - Whack! You run into the door. It's also ugly. It just looks wrong - yet it happens all the time in films just so that people can hide behind them and not be seen. The most famous example I can think of is in Double Indemnity.

Off the top of my head I can think of three ways of staging this shot so that it doesn't need the second door opening outwards:
  1. Have one of the doors on the other side of the corridor. Villain opens one door, hero opens the other and watches him. Both are clearly visible to the audience and, as the villain has his back to the hero the assumption is easily made he is unaware that he is being watched.
  2. Both doors open inward, Hero opens door, presses back to the jamb and turns profile on with a look of intense concentration. He can't actually see the villain from that angle but he's the hero ; the audience wants him to see so will suspend disbelief long enough for him to see round corners for a few seconds.
  3. Inside his room the hero carefully opens the door slightly. Cut to point of view shot, framed through the half-open door, of the villain entering the other room. (Hanging a mirror on the blank wall opposite will make 3 & 4 a lot easier to shoot.)
  4. Swap the rooms. Make the room the villain has to enter nearer the camera. Hero can then be in the 'upstage' room and and when he comes out, as long as the villain doesn't explicitly turn around to look at him, the hero could stand in plain sight and watch - he do squat jumps and cartwheels if he wanted...
I have now spent more time thinking about one single shot in a crappy 1958 drive-in piece of shit than I have on Kurosawa's entire output. Time to recalibrate my critical priorities I think.

*I think they get given away in universities - "Here's your Degree in Frontier Science, Professor Misguided, don't forget to pick up a daughter as you leave"...

** Admit it, we all get a cheap thrill from spotting continuity errors.
  • Solyaris
    - Okay that's me reset. God, I love this film. I have no idea what the characters are on about half the time but I just get sucked into it each time I see it. I first saw it when I was about 16 and have been hypnotised by it ever since. Right, back to the crap...
    Agent for H.A.R.M.
    - (MST3K) Inept spy caper with a virtuoso performance of toe-curling smarmyness from Peter Richman - you don't know the name but you'll know the face - he's one of those 'Special Guest Star' villain of the week faces and he has been appearing on TV shows for the past fifty years.

    He's been in everything from Knight Rider, Dynasty, Charlie's Angels Quincy M.E. to Beverly Hills, 90210 and beyond. He's a reliable solid working actor. I have no idea what he thought he was doing in this 1966 low-rent Secret Agent bandwagon turkey. I mean I know what he was doing appearing in the movie, he was getting paid (I hope). He was paying the rent, as jobbing actors have to do by taking whatever comes along and hoping there's something better next week. I mean I just have no idea what he was doing as an actor. It's a weirdly wrong performance. I think he was going for suave and debonaire - but missed. Spectacularly so. His character is supposed to be one of those cool, sexually magnetic, post-Bond superspy spies but because of a zero budget, zero imagination script, some oddly hung doors (see above), and some weird costuming (he wears a lemon yellow cardigan for most of the movie), he comes over as just incredibly, creepily smug. Fascinatingly hypnotically creepy. So creepy I found myself replaying bits just to watch some of his weird little mouth twitches and eyebrow movements over again just so I could enjoy the thrill of eewwww! disgust as he did it again.

    The Giant Spider Invasion
    - (MST3K) Another cheapo independent 70s drive in dross. Giant spiders from another dimension invade Wisconsin when a `miniature' black hole' that creates a `space warp' falls from the sky and sucks in mammoth alien-spiders from another dimension. Worse than it sounds, the world is eventually saved by a Something Very Scientific (but totally unexplained) dropping from a helicopter, and a flare gun fired by a portly, aged Nasa scientist.
    The Creation of the Humanoids
    - What a peculiar, flawed little gem! Amid all the dross I do turn up the odd odd film of weird genius. This is one such. Judged by any criterion this film shouldn't work at all. The script is insanely wordy and there is hardly action to speak of, for 75 minutes people just stand in a row across the screen and woodenly deliver screeds of expositional dialogue towards each other, often without any cuts or camera movements - sometimes, when there are cuts, the off screen dialogue is delivered by the other actor/s so straight and flat (almost as if they were just prompting) that it appears the editors either had no idea about sound editing or the director had given them nothing to edit together. The sets are minimal and flat, the costuming cheap, the score electronic 'Space Age' ooooeeeness seemingly unrelated to anything happening on screen.

    So far, so what? Sounds like every other cruddy 1950s / 60s lo no budget SF movie - it even starts with a montage of stock footage nuclear explosions. But what actually arrives on screen is an odd mix of genuinely novel SF ideas (I particularly liked the Human / Robot 'marriage' idea that sees one of the characters transferring aspects of her personality to a robot and then falling in love with the refection of herself) and a stream of philosophical ponderings and anti-prejudice messages that must have been mind-blowing to a teenage drive in audience of the time (if they had managed to stay awake long enough to see them). The plot has our central anti-hero character (an anti-hero in a cheap 60s SF movie in itself is a major oddity) is one of the leaders of a quasi-militaristic, group with growing influence over the police and government, dedicated to the preservation of MAN in a world where the already tiny population of a post holocaust Earth is declining due to radiation induced mutations and sterility. The group sees the ever more sophisticated Robots as a threat and agitates against them (think Brownshirts and Jews). Our 'hero' discovers a robot disguised as a human being and suspects a plot to replace real humans with replicas, then is told his sister is living openly with a robot she is in love with. He goes to visit her to put a stop to that sort of disgusting behavior and meets a friend of hers. There is an immediate bond and the two fall in love - we discover (before they do) that both he and the girl are robot replacements implanted with false memories (this film was made in 1962, six years before Philip Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep was published), and the final shots hold out hope that the human race will allow themselves to be resurrected, one by one, in near indestructible robot form and that robots will soon have the ability to reproduce much in the same was as humans do now... cue end title...

    It's all pretty woodenly done and some of the writing is dreadfully dull but there are more SF ideas thrown out, and assumptions made, in this movie than in any dozen other more mainstream SF movies of the period. The film is unsurprisingly (but amazingly) adapted from a novel by Jack Williamson (at the time - as now - it was rare for Hollywood SF movies to be based on existing works). The movies main problem is that it looks just like it. A novel filmed.

    Apparently this was one of Andy Wahol's favourite films. It'll stand another watching.
  • Madmen of Mandoras (aka They Saved Hitler's Brain)
    - hooo boy! Any film that starts with an opening shot like this...

    ...contains Hitler's head in a jar...

    ...lets tourists enjoy the marvels of South American civic pride...

    (The heroine's exclamation of delighted wonder on seeing this truly shoddy bit of set building, meant to be the awe inspiring fountain in the capital city's central plaza, is a magnificent piece of acting - almost as good as the bizarre moment when an evil Nazi vents his frustration by throwing a book at a lamp shade...

    And my pedantic, nitpickily joining the dots brain just loves the crappiness of the set here. Just look at that brickwork. Two sheets of brick effect cladding with a piece of wood nailed over the joint to disguise the fact they don't line up properly.

    Other delights include:

    Our director not even attempting to create day for night shots - so we end up with our hero squinting in direct sunlight telling his wife it's almost midnight..

    A character delivering the line (with urgent seriousness): "They have the gas!" without cracking up.

    An actor inadvertently giving away one of the 'secrets' of stage fighting by punching thin air, missing his intended target by a good foot.

    An interminable establishing shot of a building which only by a process of deduction could be worked out to be an Airport terminal - we get plenty of time to work it out too, the shot is held for a good twelve seconds (doesn't sound long does it? but just go stare at your watch for twelve seconds...) Turns out the reason the shot was so long was to disguise the fact that the plane that is about to land is not the same plane we saw taking off a couple of shots ago. Same type, different paint job.

    Did I mention it had Hitler's head in a jar?

    When he was a child, this man wanted to be an actor.

  • Dumbo
    - When I was a child the first film I ever saw was Dumbo - I was about four years old. It is still my favourite Disney movie (which is not difficult given that I loath most things that the Disney Corporation came to symbolise and produce). I keep forgetting how short it is, it seems somehow to be missing a third act. The first half of the Pink Elephants on Parade sequence is one of the most brilliantly trippy bits of animation I know. It's a pity they chickened out a bit for the second half of it.
  • Dreamscape
    - Meh. Sometimes the search for undiscovered masterpieces amongst the dross turns up movies which are neither. This is one of them. : Christopher Plummer, Dennis Quaid, Eddie Albert, Kate Capshaw, Max Von Sydow all doing their jobs but nothing to get excited about. Worth the 25p it cost in a charity shop.
  • Minority Report
    - Meh with a really big budget and lots of special effects disguising the fact that the film was no way as complicated as it was pretending to be (it felt it had to explain the central mystery to the audience twice, just in case we didn't get it). My OFFS ('Oh For Fuck's Sake!') button was well and truly pushed when our hero, standing in a swimming pool clutching the woman precog he is about to kidnap, escapes from his encroaching relentless pursuers by pulling the (previously unmentioned) emergency plug out of the plughole in the bottom of the pool - a plughole so large that two people can vanish down it - AND NONE OF THE RELENTLESS PURSUERS THINKS TO JUMP DOWN AFTER HIM! Coincidentally, the second Max Von Sydow film of the night.
  • Humanoids from the Deep - Roger Corman Tits 'n' Gore schlock with nothing to recommend it apart from the word 'Humanoid' in the title and the line: "Get off your antique manners - I'm a professional scientist!" which got an unintentional laugh. Noticeably crappy sound editing too.
    War of the Colossal Beast (aka Revenge of the Colossal Man)
    - Last seen falling off the Hoover Dam after being bazookad in the breadbasket, 60 foot high radiation victim Col. Glenn Manning, disfigured and unable to speak in anything other than bestial grunts and howls - thus neatly disguising the fact that he is being played by a different actor to the one shown in the vast amount of footage reused from the original, turns up in Mexico eating the contents of delivery trucks. Returned to the US he escapes twice before electrocuting himself to death in three strip Technicolor - which comes as a pleasant shock at the end of a black and white movie...


    Well they can't keep him here as.

    if he were - some sort of - cattle!.

    Army Bloke:

    It's just for the time being. I'm

    afraid the world doesn't think of a

    sixty-foot man the way a sister does...
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