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Monday, January 4, 2016

The Cat From Outer Space (1978)

You're probably asking yourself "Why on Earth is he reviewing a Disney movie about a cat?". I can assure you that your question is also your answer. I mean come on, it's about a talking cat from outer space who can fly in a spaceship and only cost me 99 cents at Goodwill- can you really blame me? The entire internet is essentially propped up by pictures of babies and cats, so just consider this as me doing my bit to shore it all up, okay?

Plot Synopsis: Spacefaring feline Jake makes an emergency landing on our planet and has only a few days to fix his ship (which by the way must be done with $120,000 worth of gold) or he'll be stuck here forever. Enlisting the help of oddball scientist Frank, His girlfriend Liz, and Frank's beer/sportsloving neighbor/colleague, considerable amounts of human/feline shenanigans commence forthwith. 

I know what you're thinking here, it's a kids movie, how complex can it get? Well not very but what's important here is how very unlike a modern movie for kids this thing turns out to be by the end. It even has doses of anti establishment lessons for your children. You think I'm kidding, right? The military (who of course take possession of Jake's craft with the gusto only they could manage- because it could be the RUSSIANS!) and a bunch of bumbling idiots who are the butt of many of the film's jokes. It might very well be intended as an extremely light hearted send-up of cold war paranoia, or maybe I'm just reading between the lines a little way way too much too much.

There's a goodly amount of jokes you really cannot put into a movie for kids anymore peppered throughout this thing. These include the neighbor /colleague who bitches about his wife wanting to watch something other than sports so he decides to watch it at our main character's house and continually drink his beers. When is the last time you saw a guy chugging brews while watching the game in a Disney flick? Did I just hear you say "Never"? This eventually leads us to Jake's need for 120K in gold. His collar lights up and lets him control anything and everything in his sight, so they decide to have the cat make the team they bet on win the games while they place bets with the local scumbag bookie. I should also mention Jake making a reference to being cooped up in a spaceship for five months after meeting Liz's cat Lucybelle. Yes, a feline sexual innuendo. What more can you ask for?

Yeah, you read that right. After a shenanigan involving Liz calling a vet friend over while Jake pretends to be sick to get Frank out of yet another date so they can fix his ship (and leaving him knocked out cold, unable to manipulate anymore games via the television), they take the next logical step- go directly to the bookie's scummy (and assumedly mob connected) pool hall. Jake eventually wakes up from his sedation and successfully manipulates the game, but yeah seriously- this is a movie for kids ala 1978?

Oh, I forgot to mention something: During all these escapades Jake & co. are routinely (both in regularity and ineptitude) spied on by Roddy McDowall, easily the most bumbling agent a movie of this caliber can muster. A movie like this simply cannot exist with a bumbling, shenanigan causing fool and McDowall doesn't disappoint, nose smashed up against windows in awe of what he witnesses and all.

The thing that surprises me the most about this movie is the surprisingly action packed climax where Jake and Frank chase down a helicopter (containing Liz and Lucybelle) in a biplane that Jake repairs with his collar. There's some really good stunt work in this sequence, involving stunt people hanging on between the plane's upper wing and a helicopter skid and even the helicopter bouncing its skids off the top wing which is a really dangerous and skills needed stunt just like in the film Capricorn One that came out only one week before this film did! It was a pretty ambitious stunt for a film with a 5 Million dollar budget, but for a Disney film with a budget undoubtedly a good deal lower it's a pretty impressive undertaking to say the least. I mean Disney stopped just shy of skid/wing contact but they were like inches away from each other, so you have to give them credit for doing it. Oh, and the biplace has a bunch of its fabric paneling missing leaving the frame exposed, talk about causing a lot of drag- that plane must have been a complete bitch to fly.

All this and a film score by Lalo Schifrin. It has a pretty long running time too, clocking in at 103 minutes. If this were made (or I shudder to think RE made) today , it would likely be both way shorter and probably mostly CGI if not completely animated. That in my opinion would take out a good dose of the fun this movie has by the bucketful. Not bad for 99 cents at Goodwill, if I do say so myself. It's nice to take a break from reviewing total bullshit/horror/exploitation/etcetera movies once in a while, and fuck it I like cats, so I call that a win/win scenario all around.

Go on, give it a go!

Friday, November 6, 2015

Death Of A Hooker aka Who Killed Mary Whats'ername? (1971)

Hello one and all, I am once again back once again to give you more glimpses into the underside of the film world. I've been trying to track this one down for a while (partially due to its frankly exploitative title seen on the Video Gems VHS release below), and because I have a soft spot for movies with very odd casting choices that you absolutely KNOW FOR A FACT will not add up to anything a lesser viewer could ever hope or dream (for another example of this, see my review of The Ultimate Warrior that I wrote ever so long ago). In this case it is the absolute dream team of Red Buttons and Sam Waterston. What could possibly go wrong?


Not much, but that's only because nobody was trying especially hard in the first place.

As is often the case with films of this grade, I cannot seem to find a trailer for it under either of its titles for you to peruse, My sincerest apologies, I always hate it when this happens for something so far below radar it might as well be pushing up daises, but so it goes.

PLOT SYNOPSIS: Somewhere in a grungy piece of old New York a prostitute is murdered in her apartment (hence the title). Enter Mickey Isador (played to flaccid im/perfection by Red Buttons), a once notable but now long retired boxer (who we are repeatedly reminded is diabetic, by the way) being released from the hospital from a bout with the flu. He is told to convalesce but as we pick up way later in the movie he was apparently reading the paper and was insanely bothered by the dead prostitute and that nobody cared, and seeings how he "knows what it's like to grow up in a place like that" decides he will solve it. Along the way he enlists the aid of his daughter, a wet drunk from a dive bar, and a secretive independent film maker (Waterston). You know how private citizen crime capers go, there isn't much more I can really say here.

We all know Red Buttons as a comedian, and sure he dabbled in drama here and there, but he must have really needed a buck to star in a two-bit gumshoe yarn like this one. He delivers some dry and ultimately tired sounding one liners a few times during the course of the film, but you can tell he isn't trying especially hard here so long as he got some greenbacks out of the deal (I warned you about that a couple of paragraphs ago, didn't I?). As far as Sam Waterston goes, he's not really in it very much and isn't exactly the most important secondary character, in terms of heavy plot value he might as well be made of mildly soggy napkins. The only reason I can see as to why he receives secondary billing on the front of the box is that in 1986 Video Gems was banking on people recognizing him from his part in 1984's The Killing Fields.

You have to hand it to the person who put together the cover art for this one. It really gives you the idea of some sort of madcap chase in the streets private eye crime thriller, doesn't it? Or maybe some sort of buddy cop movie? While as I have stated before, it is only a three weeks old but still in use scoop of coffee grounds version of either of these things while also being remarkably neither. But in the end, that's what is really great about 80's VHS packaging, am I right? A cursory glance at the back of the box (containing a nonexistent plot point I will tough on shortly) reveals the source of the portraits of Buttons and Waterston: two grainy ass and partially obscured stills of both actors.

Take a look below:

Two things one can glean from this:

1.) It is obvious that the artist took an image of Red Buttons' face in which one third of it is obscured by a phone.

2.) Somebody didn't bother to actually watch the film to see that Waterston actually has longer shaggy hair in the film, not a short on the sides hairdo.

As the still is pretty shitty I guess you can't blame the artist for taking some artistic license, but considering it is a 100% reverse of the shot from the film and he has a really bored and disaffected expression on his mug, you'd think they'd pick a better image for an action oriented cover, especially since the majority of the crime solving is either spent by Red all on his own, with the dead hooker's neighbor (who is also a hooker), or with his daughter.

One thing I am curious about is the title. Originally I assumed that Video Gems had changed the title for VHS release (as was common practice to make something pop off a shelf in the grindhouse tradition), but when I finally saw it the "Death Of A Hooker title" (in the glossy, puffy font on the box) is right there in the beginning credits inserted into the title sequence. When video companies changed titles there was always an obvious ported in on grainy video title  inserted into the titles of a film, so maybe this one had a good title and an exploitative one? Searching the VHS title on the internet returns the aka title I listed in the title for this review, so the jury is out to lunch on this one, with no clear answer in sight. Although: thanks to a Video Gems Showcase Collection catalog I have from 1982 however, I discovered it also has a clamshell case release a few years before this one but using the original (ie, the aka) title. Why they would release the film at separate times with separate titles? Who knows?

The ending really leaves something to be desired. Red Buttons sits in a near diabetic coma (as foreshadowed several times throughout the film) when he finds out who the killer is, and you aren't exactly sure if the killer gets caught or not as it is only hinted at by sound effects which could be either the cops or an ambulance coming to save Mickey. The box, in true rental fashion, promises a "Hitchcock style program" and I can say this falls pretty far from the mark.

Conclusion? I'd say it is OK at best. Not exactly a repeat watcher (for me anyway) when all is said and done.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Grim (1995)

Sometimes you write a vhs/dvd review blog for two years then stop, other times you come back because you are in the middle of watching a film so incredibly insipid that you cannot help yourself. Yeah, I am 33 minutes into this while typing it. I'm barely paying attention and haven't missed a thing in between typing and fisfulls of pizza rolls (combination kind, if you're curious, because that is infinitely more interesting than this) and home made guacamole.

Plot synopsis: Some bullshit having to do with an ancient demon that looks like a cross between the goblins from Troll 2 and Rawhead Rex but on a budget that would make Dollar Tree blush getting awakened by some assholes in their 20's with the lamest looking ouija board I have ever seen terrorizing them when they go back into the cave for lord knows why (something to do with the caves causing problems with the community above). Completely uninspiring occult-lite mayhem ensues forthwith.


Okay, now that I have finished watching it, I can come up with some very non constructive things to say. I will start with the only positiveish thing I can: It has an all to brief but sort of alright head squashing scene. That's it really. The score is composed of nothing but soulless MIDI keyboard orchestra, and acting that I would call wooden but wood isn't made out dog turds now is it?

Why does this film even exist? It makes soft core porn look like Citizen Kane. What's even more confusing is that the guy who directed this managed to make several other films after this. Even in the direct to video market I have a hard time believing that this made more than twenty bucks total since it was jismed out onto hapless video store shelves in early 1996. But really I could be wrong, way worse films have made a LOT more money than this one did in major theaters, so it wouldn't be surprising to learn that in the end this somehow turned a tidy profit.

See the equally shitty "Cover B" (opposite to the clearly labelled "Cover A" as seen at the start of this review) below:

It's worthwhile for me to note that since it has two covers, there is absolutely NO information regarding the film or its contents. What a.....Shame?

Why did I subject myself to this then? 1- My friend Jason gave it to me last week, how could I not? 2- for what I unknowingly now know was the reason I am writing a post on this blog again (lucky you, internet), and 3- it has a 1 star rating on imdb. You'll notice by the artwork in the picture above that this happens to be a screener copy, how it got past screener is anybody's guess, but for those of us familiar with them, they generally have a "for screening purposes only" message of one sort or another that pops up on screen from time to time. Granted I only half paid attention for half of t, but I only saw that message appear TWICE, and that was in the first half an hour. Even the company who marketed this (a heretofore unknown to me budget label named A-Pix Entertainment) didn't care enough to make sure nobody would bootleg it. But then again, why would anybody want to?

Tax write off anyone?

The two taglines for this, as I understand, are:
1. "Don't Mix This Movie And Pizza"
(correct, pizza is better used on movies that contain at least a bare modicum of entertainment value, why do you think I opted for pizza rolls?)
2. (as clearly seen on the box)"This Is No Fairy Tale..."
(correct, it "is no fairy tale", it's a  FESTERING BOIL OF WOULD-BE CINEMATIC DETRITUS)

In closing, all I can really say is: Don't.
Just don't.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Ator The Fighting Eagle aka Ator The invincible (1982)

Great fantasy movies are great. Do you know what else can also be great? Low budget rip offs of great fantasy films. This where every sleazy rip off movie aficionado's favorite director comes in: Joe D'amato. He's responsible for other not rip off of something else films like the glorious cinematic dung pile that is Anthropophagus (1980). Only a man with his eye so keenly on the profit margin of a total knockoff of Conan The Barbarian (also released in 1982, strange?) could ever manage to produce, along with two of its three sequels.

I can always come back to all that later, I think what all of you really want is to see the trailer:

For the eagle eye/eared viewer, you may notice that the trailer features a piece of music which sounds vaguely familiar but not quite how this one sounds. What is it? Oh I don't know, maybe a complete copy cat effort of the Conan The Barbarian theme?

Naaaaaah, couldn't be. Total coincidence (it is worthwhile to note that the music in question in the trailer does not appear in the actual film, talk about marketing genius).

In case you haven't already guessed, this review is going to regularly feature the term "rip off" and various synonyms. There will also be regular comparison to the film which begat this beyond bizarre gem of Italian daring-do, because quite frankly it is unavoidable (and for the sake of ease will be referred to for much of the rest of this review as CTB). The sequel has quite a few more parallels (maybe one day I will discuss that too) but I will point out a few of them but not all- as I' like to leave you with a few surprises.

Plot synopsis: The story begins with an ancient legend involving a spider cult ruling the land for something like 1,000 years. It states that a mighty warrior by the name of Torren (for some reason spelled Thorn on the back of the box) will come forth to challenge them but will ultimately fail. His son will be a mighty warrior named Ator who will destroy the mighty high priest of the spider and free the land once again. Funny how an ancient prophecy can be so specific that it features exact names that apparently nobody would fake anybody out before it becomes true by naming their kids that, anyways back to the movie- Torren "casts his seed upon the wind" (didn't make that up, will discuss after plot is described) and young Ator is born. He is taken to a foster family by a wigged skeezoid named Griba who silently watches over him as he grows up. Later on follows a quest to rescue his wife to be (awkwardly the daughter of his adopted parents), where as the legend explains to you at the start, concludes with Ator winning out over the evil spider cult and restoring freedom to all the land.

There, now I can go on to point out the parallels. You'd like that wouldn't you? Let's face facts, I really beat around the bush with the plot synopsis (but don't I usually?) as what I really want to write about are the overarching similarities with CTB. Actually the first place the similarities begin is on the box for the tape itself.

Take a look below at a section of the image you saw at the very start of this review:

Yes I know fantasy movies pretty much have the same cover when taking a jab at the success of Conan, but this being one of the earliest that I know of really goes for it in a subtle yet tremendous way courtesy of one particular element. It's as if D'amato was attempting to challenge the far superior and better made CTB single handedly. Notice that helmet there, buried in the earth at the highly idealized image of Ator's feet? Tell me it doesn't resemble the helmet Conan wears on the poster/vhs cover (which by the way is only briefly seen during the pit fighting sequences early in the film)? It's not an exact match by any means but the resemblance is striking.

Decide for yourself:

At any rate, the art is done in the truest traditions of low budgeted Italian exploito cinema. He not only is not this ripped, but he also never wields a multi ended morning star, wears that insane cloak, has a scantily clad brunette nymphette as a side kick (we touch on the movie sidekick in a bit), and also doesn't have a cool sabertooth tiger as a battle beast. Instead he has a bear cub that somebody painted a skunk stripe on its head. Misleading? Not particularly, but a cute bear bear cub instead of a cool sabertooth tiger is pretty lame if you ask me.

Consider my hands up in the air.

 This film features a lot of plot exposition that is simply thrown at the audience with no explanation, such as the secret talismanic weapons Ator must find. Some of it might have been told to me before but it is a Joe D'amato movie so probably not, speaking of Joe (allow me if I may, to completely diverge from the topic at hand for a hot minute if you will)- it's a good time to mention that he uses several aliases in this particular production. While that's nothing unusual for many a director who finds themselves on a budget, for D'amato (whose real name by the way is Aristide Massaccesi, so far as we are all aware anyway) this was standard operating procedure, which including the D'amato alias equals 40 odd names, several of which were used on more than one production. Fella has a history of sometimes sketchy behavior if you look around, just sayin'.

Now that that is off of my chest, I can afford to be fully on topic again. Like I was saying there's some tools Ator needs to obtain to defeat his foe that aren't really revealed to you until he is close to going to get them. One is the sword of Torren, which when spoken about sounds like they are saying Turin (you know, like the shroud). The other (I'll just spell it the way it sounds) is the shield of Mordor. I swear they say Mordor, just like in The Lord of the Rings. Anyways all it is is a mirror with a handhold on back that summons shadow warriors when uncovered. Kinda cool and kinda lame at the same time but it is there so what are you going to do? After he gets it he has to fight his way out of a cavern of dangerous sword wielding blind men. Don't ask, just watch it.

While there are similarities to CTB aplenty in this film, I will just mention three that immediately stand out in my mind (I also promised this review like a week and a half ago) and leave the rest for you to discover on your own should you decide to watch it for yourself (which I recommend doing, by the way, because why the hell not?). I'm typing these stream of consciousness, so there's no semblance of chronological order, not that it really matters all that much, right? Don't worry about it.

Maybe the biggest similarity is giving him a blonde lady sidekick who is a warrior/thief much like Sandahl Bergman's character in CTB. The only differences being that while not stellar, Sandahl is by far the better actor (which says A LOT) and actually has blonde hair, unlike the really terrible drag wig the lady in this is wearing. She couldn't act her way out of a wet paper bag, so it is probably for the best that she isn't in it for more than say a third of the movie. It also doesn't help that she has a lame character name like Roon, but what more can you really say about that? Both Ator and Roon have would be witty one liners (much like our heroes in CTB) but there is no love affair between them. I'll get to that at the end of the review. There's more to the pairings that is similar, but I don't want to give it away as the goose needs to live so you can have the golden egg and eat it too.

Earlier in the film Ator's village gets attacked by a group of horsemen and his parents get savagely murdered (sound familiar?). This is where another bit of film rippery occurs. I am a sucker for film scores now and then, and couldn't but notice that the piece of music that plays during the scene is a direct mimic of this track from the score for Star Wars that plays over the scene where Luke finds the smoldering Jawa sandcrawler. Similar imagery, similar music. Coincidence? I wouldn't bullshit you on this one.

Watch the Ator, but listen out for this:

The bad guy also happens to be a man of African descent who has a respectably low timbre in his voice and also worships a beastly creature. Only this time instead of turning into something cool like a giant snake he is the keeper or whatever for a small tarantula army that crawls on him often and a very VERY hokey looking gigantic spider puppet that builds somehow not at all sticky when extricating someone from it but sticky when you fall onto it webs that consist of very well woven together rope. He's much less of a Thulsa Doom as he is a Thulsa D'oh.

So yeah about that no love affair thing I mentioned while talking about Roon, Ator's heart belongs to another he says. This other awkwardly happens to be his sister (but he's adopted so in this fantasy world it somehow isn't considered weird when you are adopted and grow up with someone as a sibling and you want to marry them. not. weird. at. all.). He has to rescue her so he can get married and blahblah. Here's proof of their awkward interaction just below, along with proof of that damn skunk striped bear cub:

Nope, NOT WEIRD Ator.

While I can't find video proof of this I might as well tell you to stick around until the end of it as the end credits theme is sung pretty much to the tune of and has similar lyrics to the theme to the James Bond movie For Your Eyes Only. NOT KIDDING.

Don't believe me?

Watch it! With all of the ridiculous fantasy costumes featuring chest medallions and furry boots how can you really go wrong? There is also some A class fantasy dialogue that I don't dare give a line of away without you hearing it first.


You heard it here first, maybe.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

After Hours (1985)

Everybody knows who Martin Scorcese is. We best know him for his Mob films and his grittier fare such as Taxi Driver but my favorite era of his was a magical point in the mid 80's I will hereby refer to as his "gonzo period". He made some real top notch (and dark!) comedies during this period of time that for casual fans either take the back burner or have disappeared from consciousness entirely. After Hours is one of these mostly forgotten gems from the cinematic nether regions of 1985.

Trailer anyone?
And yes, the film is just as frenetic as this trailer would lead you to believe.

Plot synopsis (or the best I can do? this shit really IS nuts): Paul Hackett (Griffin Dunne of An American Werewolf In London fame) has a job in a big mid 80's New York conglomobusiness as a word processing guy (you know, back when computers actually were rather difficult to use). He obviously hates his-no pun intended-programmed day. He decides to blow off some steam later that night by reading some Henry Miller at a coffee shop, only to find a beautiful woman named Marcy (Rosanna Arquette) chatting him up. Getting her number and retiring to his apartment, he calls her and begins a dowardly spiraling journey into the night of NYC full of art weirdos, burn cream, suicide, and enough crazies to fill hell's handbag.

Make no mistakes- this movie is really nerve wracking to watch. I don't recommend it to anyone that has anxiety problems because this movie is a tense situation from end to end and you just might wind up bursting into flames midway through it. I fidgeted like you wouldn't believe. I also sat completely stiff for ten plus minutes at a stretch for a good part of it.  Nail biters need not apply here.

There's a serious seat of the pants energy in this film that I find lacking in Scorcese's work in the formula we are presented with in After Hours. The editing is super hectic. Tons of snap zooms and quick shots, coupled with practically every style of cinematic lighting ever dreamed of. I don't think I have seen another film quite like it, certainly no other film in the catalog of Mr. Scorcese looks anything even remotely like it. I hope you are curious by now, because I don't know how much further I am willing to tip the hat as you should really be as surprised as I am as to how this film occurs.

The film was made as many genius things are- out of necessity. What do I mean by this? Scorcese had been trying for a good while to have a version of Nikos Kazantzakis' novel The Last Temptation Of Christ come to fruition (he had optioned it back in the 70's), and after the first attempt at production fell through in 1983 poor Martin was devastated. He needed a project that he could just do quick and dirty, experimenting all the way. Tim Burton was originally slated to direct this, but when he caught wind that Scorcese was interested he stepped aside. One wonders what the film would have been like had Burton taken it. Maybe similar but definitely not like this I think.

The casting of this film is really spot on, I simply cannot stress that enough. Look up the list and you will see what I mean. Not one of them is the least bit unmemorable, and their performances only serve to stoke the melting pot of frustration that is the film itself. I should mention that Teri Garr is a total babe in this movie as a Monkees obsessed mod girl, the lady has taste. So is this the movie for you? I cannot rightfully say, but if you enjoy a film that has enough tension to choke a camel (like I do) then this is definitely something you should poke your nose into.

Also, I highly recommend getting this DVD edition of it as it has some really neat special features, including a description of the unshot but would have been super raw ending sequence. I like the way the films ends just fine (it is over all way less psychedelic and more fitting than the alternate one) but catching a glance at what could have been is always a joy.


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Miracle Mile (1988)

I was told repeatedly over a number of years that if I loved nuclear apocalypse movies then this was one I needed to see. I finally did see it, and my only regret is not being able to unsee it. At first I thought "hey I'm glad I watched this just to find out its deal" but a few days later it became "this movie blows and I am going to tell the internet why I think so in selfish and base terms". For those of you out there that actually like this film, that's okay by me- you can keep it.

Plot synopsis: Harry (Anthony Edwards of Top Gun fame) meets Julie (Mare Winningham) at the La Brea tar pits and immediately falls in love with her. They spend a sappy romantic almost John Hughesian day together and set up a date for later that night. The power goes out in Harry's apartment so he misses the date (via a HUGE PLOT GAP I will discuss momentarily) and showing up to the coffee shop he leaves a message on her answering machine explaining what happened. Shortly after he hangs up the pay phone begins ringing and he finds the caller (who has misdialed at the worst possible moment) is attempting to warn his dad about the nuclear holocaust that will begin in roughly 50 odd minutes. All hell and insipid mushy love bullshit that would never ever actually occur begin to take place.

Like I mentioned, I have heard from various friends over the years that this was a cult film I needed to see. Too bad all of them were (in my opinion anyway) completely wrong. This movie could have been really honestly good in the most disarming of ways, but really got done over by what seems to me to be the screenwriter/director's (both the same person for this film) unwillingness to really go for it and leap off the edge. Starting out the film paces like a mushy love story which made me very weary indeed, but then the whole pay phone thing throws the film on its head and I was really hoping for it to continue on a maddeningly fast trip downwards into the hell that we all imagine would ensue from the knowledge of catastrophic nuclear armageddon, but...


Sure we do get that for a little while, with lots of jarringly illogical actions by the main characters peppered in to make things unentertaining as possible, but the director goes back to the ridiculous and overused idea of "love conquers all". No it does not, sorry bub. In fact, the way this film was handled made it come out to be nothing more that an apocalyptic date movie. It's like dudes who want to act like they are in to bleak shit want to take their girlfriend who isn't to something they can both enjoy so they pick this.


A better title for this film, once all of its romantic trappings are considered, would have been "Love Is Nice". It's almost as if the initial idea for this story was a very bottom of the barrel boy meets girl affair but considering how incredibly worn out that story is it was decided to take the unfinished middle and lackluster end of the nuclear war movie also being scribbled on cocktail napkins at the same time and combine them into one movie that was worse than if both were watched separately.

I had better give you some nitty gritty to back up these accusations, as painful as they are to recount. First things first- the HUGE PLOT GAP I brought up a bit ago: Yes the power in Harry's apartment fails so his alarm clock doesn't work. How is this a problem you ask? HE WASN'T USING A PLUG IN CLOCK. Willing suspension of disbelief is often a very important part of stories that use extreme plot elements like nuclear war, but if you think I'm so fucking stupid that I won't notice the fact that the prop master couldn't spend the extra $4.99 to get a plug in style alarm clock to carry your story to fruition (because the alarm not going off in the first place is what propels this story to its unfortunate conclusion) then you are dumber than you think I think you are. It was a very potent warning sign that this film would not turn out as I had initially hoped.

What else? Well there's a lot but I shut most of it out of my memory in the wild and likely unattainable hope that some day I will forget about this train wreck, so I will narrow it down to a couple of things for the ease of explanation. Harry really fucks up his nuclear escape plan six ways from sunday. How?

(In no particular order, in case you are curious. There are lots more ways than this sure, but these two stick out in my mind most of all)

1) By continuously separating from Julie and saying "Wait here I'll be right back".

THAT SHIT NEVER WORKS IN REAL LIFE, EVEN AT A GROCERY STORE WHEN THERE IS NO NUKE THREAT. Seriously, you tell someone you are going off to grab a tin of pinto beans while you are shopping at Fred Meyer and you tell them to wait for you by the ice cream you are currently standing in front of and they wander off almost immediately making what should have taken thirty seconds go into a fifteen minute long search to find them so you can get back to proper shopping. Why are you doing this to us over and over Harry? Oh yeah I know why- because you're an ignoramus, that's why. That or more likely the screenwriter wasn't nearly creative enough to find a different way to build tension or flesh out what was likely (sans craptastic fluff like this) a 70 minute movie with hum drum "I have to go find this person because I am an idiot and didn't take them with me on my pointless errand" type garbage. Never ever separate in moments of crisis- EVER.

2) By telling everybody about it creating a general atmosphere of insanity and desperation because they want to bring someone with them too.

Everyone he beseeches for help winds up discovering what is about to happen (or at least a version of it because Harry is a lying sack of shit who doesn't even tell the girl he is madly in love with that he has known for like 12 hours the actual truth) and immediately says "I need to get this or that such person". The problem with this is he has less than 50 minutes to get the hell out of dodge and LA is fucking HUGE. How on earth could any of this even work? Think about it for a second.

Try as I might to find the original first draft of the script in hopes that it provided a better bleaker story, I was disappointed. Considering the fact that this film was being touted around Hollywood for a good ten years before it was made and was referred to as one of the best unmade screenplays in 1983 by American Film magazine you would think it would have been posted somewhere by someone. Nope. I can only assume the story sucked this bad the entire time and that was why no studio would pick the thing up. That and the fact that the screenwriter put a clause in there that he would get to direct it. Considering that Steve De Jarnatt (there, I finally gave you his name) had never directed anything before it is unsurprising everybody turned their noses up. Maybe I should have mentioned that bit earlier, but I didn't want to give you any ray of hope for the proceedings here.

I have to say it- the choice of filming locations made me bored as hell. Plenty of films have used bits and pieces of this iconic section of Wilshire Boulevard but it just added to the boredom for me. Granted some of the locations used appeared in movies that came later (which unlike this movie, are actually entertaining in some regard), but I just don't care about would be iconic southern California architecture. Maybe I just don't like affluent rich people areas of cities- yeah, maybe that is the problem because I for one am usually broke. Johnie's Coffee Shop for instance hasn't been open for anything but filming business since 2000. I won't lie I wouldn't half mind drinking a malted in there but it will never happen. There's a page entry for it where three people give some reports on what's what.

Perhaps the best one reads as follows:

"Pretty sure this place is only used for filming. I live right by it and have only seen homeless  guys peeing on it. Never seen it open, although they do run the lights on the sign at night, my guess is it's an effort to drum up more film business."

The ending is just so sappy and ridiculous I am surprised I didn't taste bile surging up my throat in protest. It was composed of all this mumbo jumbo of our two would be lovers slowly sinking into the mire of the La Brea tar pits and going on about how they will either be preserved by tar to be found by a future race or something (DUMB) or turned into diamonds if they get a direct hit from a nuke so their atoms will be smashed together forever (DUMBER). Even a room full of monkeys hammering away at typewriters couldn't come up with this...

There you have it. I think now is an appropriate moment to give you a very brief rundown of what I would do in the event of an impending nuclear war that I by extreme serendipity of the worst possible kind. As I am disabled by Multiple Sclerosis in real life and to go any appreciable distance over say a block on completely level ground I will give you two separate scenarios based on that and if I were able bodied.

Here goes:

A) Make-believe able bodied me
-Probably panic a bunch.
-not try to lie to everybody I force into helping me
-not tell anyone to "wait here I'll be right back"
-Probably be selfish and just leave everyone I know and love behind as survival instinct (no matter how displaced) kicks into full gear
-or sit there and wait to be atomized

B) Real life disabled me
-Probably panic a bunch
-Hope I might find some way of escaping knowing I will likely die a horrible slow death from nuclear fallout
-go hang out with my girlfriend if I had one at that particular moment
-or sit there and wait to be atomized

Face it- nuclear war would be pretty messed up and the rawest of raws. If you don't believe me watch the really excellent BBC TV film Threads made in 1984 for what is likely a very realistic portrayal of what a nuclear strike on Britain would play out like. Expect a review of that in the future when I manage to track down a copy of this rather scarce and bleak gem of television history.

That's about all I have to say about this movie. I don't consider this to be underrated as some online reviews state, and calling it a cult film I feel gives it credit it richly does not deserve. How this has an 86% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes I will never ever know come to think of it. Watch it if you are curious, but don't expect anything worthwhile out of this farce. That's all there really is left to say about it. You be the judge, but you were warned ahead of time.

***********************************************************************************************************POST INITIAL POST UPDATE (Timed at or around 2:35pm Pacific time): I forgot to mention that this movies has a surprise appearance by Denise Crosby, most famously known as Tasha Yar from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Terrific, but not enough to make this movie good.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Invaders From Mars (1986)

When I finally got to see this movie (I seem to remember watching it as a kid, but only actually SAW it when I saw it in 35mm a while back) I thought for sure this was a movie every self respecting sci-fi/horror fan loves to bits. Unfortunately my smug sense of who likes what couldn't be further from accurate on this one. As such, I am here to defend its honor for anyone who cares to read this.


FUN! The plot to this movie is pretty cut and dry but I suppose I will give indulge myself. Young David Gardner has a very active imagination. When he sees a giant UFO land over the hill from his house one night, his parents wave it off as a simple nightmare. As the days go by his parents- followed by all the adults (and at least one kid too) that he sees- begin acting very strangely and all seem out to get him because he knows what's up with the invasion. Enlisting the help of the school nurse (the only adult he can trust, played by the legendary Karen Black), David sets out to right what has gone horribly wrong.

That plot synopsis I just wrote kinda sucks, but I rewrote it three times already and am just going to let it be and hope that you trust me here because the movie is actually pretty fun to watch. How many movies can you name where a school teacher gets taken over by evil aliens and gets eaten by their creepy looking soldiers in one tremendous gulp? Anyways, it seems that a decent majority of the moviegoing public really didn't seem to care very much about this film when it was released. The film barely made half of its budget back, and critical response was and generally still is rather lukewarm towards it while the public opinion (based upon my own research) seems to be very mixed and in some cases inaccurate (more on this in a hot minute).

I think one of the bigger reasons this film failed in the box office was that our good old bottom of the barrel friend Cannon produced it (for you readers who have been here since the beginning of this blog you might remember my reviews of two other Cannon films- The Hitcher and Allan Quatermaine and the Lost City of Gold) and for any of you out there savvy to the stuff this company churned out you will know it was done on the cheap end of the scale nine times out of ten.

Lucky for us, Tobe Hooper was at the helm of this picture and he has absolutely no fear of budgetary constraints and pulls off a pretty impressive picture. He is a film maker that in my opinion thrives on such constraints. The original 1953 version of this film had the budget of a pint of potato salad at Fred Meyer (which adds to its schlocky entertainment value to the maximum) so to give this the budget of a major blockbuster would have made it look completely ridiculous. The estimated cost of production is in the 12 million dollar mark (sadly, it only managed to make about 4 million in theaters, but Cannon nearly always recouped its losses in home video rentals and sales anyway). With the crazy looking aliens, sometimes expansive sets, and for a bit some gregarious gunfire, one would think the budget would have been more in the 15-20 million area. Such is the glory of Mr. Hooper. I definitely don't like a lot of his films, but I can say this- they are all pretty well made.

Okay I got a bit sidetracked there but remember like a minute ago when I was discussing response to the film? When one looks it up you find a pitiful response in favor of it. I don't know what people are expecting when they see this besides i don't know, SOMETHING FUN, but they apparently did not find the pseudo intellectual HJ they were hoping for. One would be critic claimed the ending is a "middle finger to the audience". Whoever this fella is obviously has no idea that the original film ends exactly the same way. Middle finger indeed. I feel this is a film that somehow managed to slip through the cracks for 90% of the Earth's population.

I know this is a cult movie, but I wish it were one with a far wider audience than it has as I don't feel like it gets the respect it deserves. The casting is spot on, even Louise Fletcher (if you don't know who she is, you better google it immediately) is in the mix. I should also mention a Devo related cast member for all you you spoudboys and spuddesses out there- Laraine Newman. For those not in the know, she played Donut Rooter (daughter of Rod Rooter of Big Entertainment) in a few inbetweeners on one of their video collections. Anyways Devo time over. Suffice to say the cast is awesome.

I think people really have a problem with this movie because of the childish tone of the story. In case nobody noticed, the events are all viewed through the filter of a little boy, of course it plays out halfway like a cartoon. When you are about four feet tall the world is a very different place, think back on that for a second. You can't drive a car, and adults are already weird to begin with. Everybody needs to drop the logic and get with the program here, this movie is fun period.

The moral here?

Don't take things so damn seriously all the time and enjoy life once in a while.

That includes this movie.