A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 270 – Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie

Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie – November 25th, 2010

Once upon a time, back when MST3K was on Comedy Central and they were still airing it at a decent hour instead of 2-4 in the morning, US Thanksgiving was marked by the Turkey Day MST3K Marathon. It varied in length, but a few years were over 24 hours, starting the evening before and going through the night until the following midnight. I was really the only MST3K fan in my household, so any time I got to watch was in between helping with the meal, eating, and being sociable with family. And then Comedy Central sort of abandoned the idea, and then MST3K moved to SciFi and they did a short marathon one year but it was never quite the same. We’ve done Turkey Day marathons of our own, reconstructing what we can of some of the older ones from our own collection. This year, however, we decided to pick the one MST3K item in our collection that qualifies for this project.

I’m not sure if I’ve explained the importance of MST3K to myself and Andy in previous reviews. Please excuse me if I have. We’ve got 269 reviews behind us and I might well have mentioned it before but it’s really quite relevant here. While Andy and I didn’t meet because of MST3K, we certainly got to know each other better because of it. I’d brought some tapes to school to loan to a friend (one of them was Cave Dwellers, with Ator from Ator the Fighting Eagle, actually) and he saw them and asked whose they were. We hadn’t spoken much before that and it sparked a great conversation and many more followed. Once we started dating it was an easy conversation topic. Andy bought me an MST3K t-shirt and stickers for Valentine’s Day one year while we were dating (the shirt has now been signed by most of the cast). We used to stay up until 2am to watch episodes together and we both joined the fan club. I know a hell of a lot about a few television shows (The Avengers and The Prisoner come immediately to mind) but MST3K is my thing. I’ve seen live shows, gotten stuff signed, had my picture taken with the cast, gone to a miniconvention (missed the Conventio-con-expo-fest-a-ramas due to college). I love the show and so does Andy and it’s something we’ve shared since well before we started dating. So when this movie came out? We were there in the theater on opening night.

Ultimately I think we saw this movie three times in the theater (and once in a small theater during the overnight movie marathon our high school did every year). Once was opening night, once was with Andy’s father, and once was with a friend of Andy’s. Prior to seeing the movie we’d seen a lot of the show and we knew it quite well, so we weren’t going into this blind. I honestly don’t know how many people went to see the movie in the theater who didn’t at least know how the show worked. I imagine it would be a little confusing if you had no idea what to expect. But then, this movie wasn’t made for those people. It was made to bring MST3K to a big screen. The sets are bigger, the camera gets to move around, everything just feels a bit more expensive. Including the movie Mike and the Bots riff on.

I’m going to break this into a couple of sections, because this is a bit of a unique movie to review. Really, it’s two movies. There’s Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie, and then there’s This Island Earth embedded in the middle of it. The format of the show is echoed in the movie, meaning that there are breaks in This Island Earth for Mike and the Bots to goof off on the satellite, and then the bulk of the movie is made up of them watching a film and making fun of it. Every MST3K episode has a movie in it, and when it comes to the television show, the vast majority of them are either laughably or painfully bad.

So let’s talk about This Island Earth. It’s actually kind of a sci-fi classic. I know around when they were making this movie there was an ad played on Comedy Central where Mike Nelson commented that the movie wasn’t really very classic and mocked it a bit. And I get where he’s coming from. There’s ridiculous pseudo-science and the aliens have these bizarre foreheads that no one comments on and there’s the rubber bug alien who’s wearing what look like khakis and yes, it is all very silly to watch it now. That being said, compared to some of the other movies they’ve done? It’s a masterpiece! Sure, the acting is overdone and I find the main character, Cal, to be about as emotive as a brick. The plot is somewhat lacking and the climax doesn’t really resolve anything. Aliens kidnap two nuclear scientists in hopes that they’ll be able to help find a way to fuel the alien planet’s defenses, but when they arrive an attack is in progress and the humans go down to the planet just long enough to say hi to everyone before they escape and the planet’s destroyed. It’s fairly perfunctory and kind of pointless. So I get it. But really, it’s at least five or six rungs up the ladder from something like The Giant Gila Monster or The Creeping Terror. But really, that works for a theatrical release. In the event that a casual viewer of the series, or someone who doesn’t know the series well at all went to see it, this wasn’t one of those movies that the riffing only makes barely tolerable. It’s a big cheesy 1950s sci-fi adventure and they mock it just enough.

One of the first things I noticed about the movie riffing in the movie was that it was slower paced. This was intentionally done, actually. Since this was a theatrical release, they realized that people would be watching it with other people, and not in an environment where they could videotape it and play it back to catch things they missed. It wasn’t going to re-air unless they paid to see it again, and it would be the same potential situation all over. People would, hopefully, be laughing. And if the jokes came in faster, things would get missed. Consequently, to a fan of the series it may seem to be a little less packed to the gills with references and prodding and the like. Because it is, but that was so everything could be heard. Granted, there were still things I missed in my first viewing, but not so many. That, and the shorter running time than most episodes, mean we don’t often put this in, choosing one of our many episode DVDs instead. But the riffing in this movie is still top notch stuff. There are jokes we reference all the time and moments we love. And they even riff on their own credits, which is fantastic.

When it comes to the stuff on the satellite, I am of two minds. I do love the expanded sets and additional views of the satellite’s interior. I love seeing Tom’s room and watching Mike use the manipulator arms is great. But much as I enjoy the bits that come in lieu of commercial breaks, it feels kind of weird to have them there for no reason. But I can’t complain too much. There’s some great stuff done in the breaks on the satellite. It’s really a pity they couldn’t use this set again, with the giant hamster wheel and Tom’s underwear collection and Crow’s hole in the hull (patched with a helmet). Then too, there were plenty of little jokes for the fans hidden in there, like Mike reading a copy of the old fan club newsletter, and the manipulator arms being named “Manos” and the little curl on the forehead of a mask on the last door to the theater.

When you get down to it, like I said before, this is a movie made for fans of the show. It was fantastic fun and I’m sure the Best Brains crew had a great time making it. Bigger sets, more expensive cameras and sound equipment, a bigger budget for rights to a film to riff on. Those are all great perks of a theatrical release. It was a thrill to see it in the theater. It made my geeky little heart so glad to sit there next to Andy, in a theater full of my fellow geeks, and see my favorite characters up there on the big screen. And tonight it was great to watch at the end of a Turkey Day full of good food and family. Happy Turkey Day to all.

November 25, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie

November 25, 2010

Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie

Happy Turkey Day to our fellow United Statesians. Traditionally in our household this day has been the home of the MST3K Turkey Day Marathon – something that Comedy Central did several years in a row around when Amanda and I started dating. Many of our most beloved and most watched episodes were aired as part of the Marathon and recorded for posterity by Amanda. We couldn’t think of any more fitting Thanksgiving movie therefore than this one – the only MST3K “episode” to have been released in theaters.

We saw this together in the theater on opening night. It was a fantastic time, surrounded as we were by other cheering, laughing MSTies. Our viewing was slightly marred when they had to evacuate the sold-out theater because somebody pulled the fire alarm near the start of the film. We had to all leave, wait for the fire department, and then file back in before they could re-start the film. (We have long speculated it was somebody from the back of the theater who wanted a better seat.) Otherwise it was one of the greatest opening night experiences I can recall. It’s all about the joy of being surrounded by people who have as much respect and anticipation for something. There was an enormous cheer for example when Crow delivered the line “Please say we get the Sci-Fi Channel. Please, please, please!” As there was for the “Manos” sign and musical sting on the controls for the manipulator arms on the SOL bridge.

This movie was filmed, as I recall, between Season Six and the extremely short Season Seven – just after Frank Conniff had left the show but before Trace Beaulieu left. It was a little odd at the time seeing Dr. Forrester without any side-kick after years of TV’s Frank and Larry before him. (Season Seven would feature Mary Jo Pehl as Dr. Forrester’s mother Pearl – a role she would fill for the entirety of the Sci Fi Channel run of the show.) Another thing that was strange about this movie is that it does not feature the iconic MST3K theme song – which has changed over the years as the cast changed but was always there – introducing us to the cast and reassuring us that it’s just a show and we should really just relax. Also missing is Cambot – the steadfast POV from which all action on the Satellite of Love is filmed. In this movie there’s a more cinematic feel to the SOL, which means that they chose to use multiple camera angles to explore the sets with more freedom.

At its core, however, the movie is faithful to the central theme of the television show. Dr. Forrester has Mike Nelson (played by Michael J. Nelson) trapped in a spacecraft orbiting the Earth and is sending him awful movies as an evil experiment. Mike’s only hope is to use his robot pals Crow and Tom Servo and his own wit to make hilarious fun of the movie so that it does less damage to him. There are no ad breaks, so no “commercial sign,” but the writers still found other ways to get the boys out of the theater so they could have other hi-jinks take place. In this particular instance the movie that they’re viewing is This Island Earth.

I confess that I have never seen the uncut and un-MiSTed version of This Island Earth. Going into this movie I knew only that it was considered a sci-fi classic and that it was featured in Allan Moore’s Watchmen books. The movie as shown in this treatment tends to jump around and doesn’t make a lot of sense and I’ve often wondered how much of that is due to the editing that the MST crew did to get it to fit into their time frame, and how much is due to the movie just being clumsily put together. I strongly suspect that it is the former, so I don’t really feel that I can comment on the quality of the movie within the movie. Oh, sure, it’s a fifties cheese-fest with hilariously bulgy-headed aliens, a funny looking bug-eyed monster, and more silly pseudo-science than you can shake a stick at, but I don’t think it’s actually all that bad. Still it does make for a fun MST episode.

Amanda and I have seen this movie probably hundreds of times over the years. We’ve bought it on VHS and twice on DVD. We’ve watched it when falling asleep at night more times than we can count. We had fun showing this at three AM during a twelve hour movie marathon at our high-school. The slightly punchy and exhausted crowd laughed uproariously throughout. (The biggest laugh, as I recall, was for the line “All the jerking around must have caused a flame-out” and Tom’s slightly uneasy “Should we be seeing this?”) The riffs are a little bit sparser than in a normal MST episode (the writers found when they showed it to test audiences that they needed to leave more time between jokes to give the entire theater time to laugh.) But it is one of our favorites.

This movie has been a very pleasant way to end an exhausting and long Thanksgiving. For any fan of MST it is always fun to see the silhouettes in the theater seats making fun of yet another film. And for anybody who has somehow missed more than a decade of hilarious movie riffing that went on from 1988 to 1999 then this would be a perfectly fine way to introduce them to the concept. Happy Turkey Day everybody out there – I hope you all are happy, well, and full.

November 25, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 269 – Serenity

Serenity – November 24th, 2010

Sadly, we’ve had to give up on the bad-movies-in-sympathy-for-the-Desert-Bus-crew, what with Andy being ill and my need to bake tonight. And oh, I have baked. Pie is a wonderful thing. And so I have pie and an excellent movie and hopefully tomorrow we’ll have a Thanksgiving miracle and Andy will not be sick. In the meantime, we watched this movie while my pie baked (it looks so good and is in my fridge right now) and I found myself actually paying attention to it instead of paying attention to Desert Bus. I know it fairly well. Well enough that I could have easily let it run on the television while I paid attention to other stuff. And yet I found myself getting sucked back into it rather quickly whenever my attention wandered. It’s just not a movie I can let go in the background.

This movie had a hard job. For one, because it was a theatrical film following up a much-beloved and widely-believed-to-be-prematurely-canceled television show, it had to live up to that show for the fans. This is a difficult task for any film. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But it’s got to hit all the right notes and refer back to the show without making it feel like everything is just an inside reference or callback. It has to add something to the world and characters and appease the fans. And seeing as the fans of Firefly were and are particularly vocal, and rather internet-savvy, this was very important. And then on the other side of things, it being a theatrical release of a show that was canceled after a single season, there has to be the assumption that some people who might come to see it wouldn’t have necessarily seen all of the show. So it had to present the world and the characters – both rich and detailed – in a clear and concise manner for any potential new viewers in the audience. Granted, I don’t know if that was a real priority, and having seen all the existing episodes of the show myself before seeing the movie I can’t speak to how successful it was on that front.

If I’m going to be totally honest, I don’t really care how successful the movie is in introducing its content to new viewers. Chances were always slim to none that the show would come back, so this was sort of a capper on the world. Joss Whedon has stated that had the show gone to a second season the crew of the Serenity would have discovered part of this movie’s plot near the end of the season. So really, this movie is taking a season’s worth of backstory, another unwritten season’s worth of mid-story, and then condensing what would likely have been a large chunk of another season and pressing it into the compact space of two hours. It’s resulted in a remarkably tight movie full of action and twists and Joss Whedon messing with his fans, but it also means there’s a lot that happens. Enough so that I’m honestly not sure how well I’m going to do when it comes to summarizing. In order to summarize I feel like I need to go through the series too. And I really don’t have time or space for that, so let’s just assume anyone reading knows the setup.

The crew of the Serenity are a bit of a rag-tag group, which is much of their appeal as a group. And if the show appealed to you on their basis then the movie will too, because they’re all there. The movie starts out about six months after the end of the series, with Inara and Book off the ship and Simon threatening to take River off as well, thanks to Captain Mal’s insistence that she help them out on jobs. The opening bit with the ship making a rough entry and landing while Mal walks through the ship talking to each of his crewmembers in turn. The introductions are short and sweet, establishing characteristics and relationships within a line or two. And everything seems to be rather tame at first, with a heist and all, but soon the stakes get raised quite high with the introduction of the Reavers, a group of berserker types who eat people alive. They are wonderfully menacing, and are a key plot point for the whole movie.

The larger plot of the movie involves the good intentions of the Alliance (the big government-type organization of inner planets) and their desperate need to regain control of River Tam. River, being psychic and conditioned by the government to be a killer, is a risk the Alliance just can’t have running loose. She knows things. And so the Operative shows up, determined to find her and either recover her or kill her for the greater good. And we all know how things done For The Greater Good tend to turn out, right? The crew uncovers secrets the Alliance doesn’t want known and so doom is rained down upon the crew and those they count as friends.

It’s a brutal movie in places. People die. Joss Whedon doesn’t pull punches when it comes to killing off characters and he likes to twist that knife in. There’s a lot of effort made towards making it clear just how bad things have gotten. Bleak does not begin to describe things. Going into the climax of the movie it definitely feels as though anyone else could go down at any moment. I can’t say I like what happens and who dies. I don’t like it at all. But at the same time, I understand the point. I get it. And the mood it creates at the end is excellent. It’s grim and desperate and stark. The humor that marks the show as a Whedon production is much pared down and the characters all know there’s only a slim chance that they’re going to live through the final fight.

I’m not doing this movie justice, really, and I apologize for that. It’s the sort of movie I wish I had more time to work on a review for, because there’s a lot to it that makes it really fantastic. Sure, some people who aren’t big on Joss Whedon’s style won’t like it, but I happen to like his style. His writing is snappy and his characters are interesting and he came up with a heck of a world here, so I’m thrilled that he got a chance to present more of the story he had planned on before the show was canceled, and I’m thrilled it came out so amazingly well.

November 24, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Serenity

November 24, 2010

Serenity

Yes, once again this is not a bad movie. We’re still watching Desert Bus but I couldn’t handle another bad movie today. So instead we’re watching a great movie. I’d like to start today with a story. Earlier this year, near the beginning of our movie-a-day project Amanda and I attended the first Pax East. It was a glorious coming together of geeks and nerds from all over the East Coast and parts beyond. At one point Amanda and I attended a late-night screening of sketch comedy by the people behind Desert Bus, LoadingReadyRun. This was around one in the morning, just before everybody was set to be kicked out of the convention hall, and when we arrived at the theater we found that a group of enforcers were already there watching episodes of Firefly. None of us, not the small audience who had shown up to see LRR and not the crew themselves, could bring ourselves to make them stop watching. Before we started our viewing we reverently allowed them to finish watching the episode they had been watching when we arrived. I tell this story to illustrate a point. Within the circles of people I respect and enjoy spending my time with there’s a kind of sacred quality to Firefly. Everybody knows that it was a great show that should have been given more of a chance to shine. Everybody knows that it was a sin that Fox cancelled the program before they had even broadcast all the episodes Joss had in the can.

This is that epic and legendary film that was made to rectify some of these grave sins. It’s a mighty task to undertake, but one that Joss Whedon pulled off with a great deal of class. The challenge is that there are so many things to be accomplished in a single film. He needs to re-introduce all the characters and the world they’re in for anybody watching the movie who was unfamiliar with the show. He needs a story worthy of this crew and this ship. And he needs to present some closure for those of us who were crushed by the show’s abortion and want to know how things were supposed to turn out.

In every way this movie is a success, at least for me. It has a huge, epic, sweeping feel to it. It has probably the most apologetically and brutally lawful evil character ever created. It has a few wonderfully cinematic moments that could not have been accomplished within the restraints of a television show. And all throughout it is clearly a Joss Whedon film in every way.

By far my favorite part of the entire film is the adversary that represents the oppressive government of the Firefly universe. Chiwetel Ejiofor plays the part with such complete dedication that it’s impossible not to get caught up in the battle of wills between Mal and the Operative. Here’s a man who freely admits that he is a monster, capable of killing innocent women and children in the pursuit of his goals. So dedicated is he to his cause that he is all the more terrifying because of it. He is not an evil man, he’s just a man absorbed by his faith. (I’m pretty pleased that he does not have the hokey blue hands of the agents in the television show.)

What do you want out of a sci-fi epic? A scrappy crew of mismatched people thrown together by circumstances battling a massive and oppressive government with unlimited resources? An awesome space battle? A totally kick-ass girl with psychic powers? Space-zombies? They’re ALL HERE!

My one word of warning would be that this is a Joss Whedon film. Of course this means that it has creative, snappy dialog that charms you and sticks in your head, which is good. But it also means that every character is mortal and could die at any moment, which can be slightly traumatic. If you, like me, are the sort of person who had to stop watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer when Tara was capriciously gunned down and cry for a week then you may have problems with some events near the conclusion of this movie. I fully understand the reasoning behind these plot choices – it’s important to ramp up the tension for the climax and drive home the point that in a Joss movie anybody is fair game – but that doesn’t make me like it.

I love the movie over all though. It does everything I wanted it to do and more. It is one of those movies I took great delight in recommending to my patrons at Blockbuster. It is a movie I would unreservedly recommend to anybody who reads this blog who enjoys the same kinds of movies I enjoy. Indeed I’d be kind of shocked to find that any of my friends reading this blog haven’t seen this movie already.

November 24, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 268 – The Princess Bride

The Princess Bride – November 23rd, 2010

Alas, tonight we are having to cheat a tiny bit, but for a thoroughly unavoidable reason. A couple of weeks back I had a nasty bug that knocked me down for a good couple of days, at least two of which were spent feverish and gross and achy. And then I recovered and Andy didn’t seem to be getting it and we thought hurrah! He’s missed it! And then no! The fever struck this weekend and it didn’t seem to be going away, so when I got home from work tonight we packed up a laptop and a notebook and headed off to the urgent care department at our local hospital to make sure nothing was lurking. Like pneumonia. The good news? No pneumonia! The bad news? Late movie and late reviews. But in the name of health, which I think is an understandable and excusable reason.

When we knew we’d likely be at the hospital for a couple of hours, making watching a movie difficult or impossible, we decided to watch something we knew by heart. Something beloved and wonderful and comforting. Something we could review before we watched it while it played in our heads. So we picked this movie. It is instantly recognizable. It is the sort of movie that people from many walks of life can quote from at length. You don’t need to be a geek to know or enjoy this movie. Hell, you don’t even need to really know the movie much to know the most common quotations and references. You can’t really escape this movie, even if you’re not particularly fond of it.

Now, I’m sure there are people who don’t like it. I don’t understand that, and I don’t agree, but I don’t know how I’d argue with it. Because really, this is quite well made. There’s excellent writing, good acting, fairly high production values. It would have to be a matter of personal taste, and I don’t argue with personal taste. After all, there are people who think Punch Drunk Love is brilliant and it pissed me off mightily, so yeah. Taste is subjective. It’s just the nature of it. So I would hope that those who don’t like it can just be secure in the knowledge that I, for one, won’t insist that they watch it one more time, just in case they magically like it this time! And in return, I would ask for no on to harsh my squee, okay? Okay.

Because seriously, I love this movie. It’s a sort of alchemical reaction of eminently quotable lines delivered by the perfect cast playing fantastic characters to the hilt in a story that incorporates absolutely everything. And really, it does have everything. The bulk of the movie is the story of Westley and his true love, Buttercup and how they’re parted and then have to face off with henchmen and villains in order to be together again. But it’s presented as a story read aloud by a grandfather to his sick grandson. The grandson starts out reluctant, but when his grandfather tells him that the book has “Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles…“ he says okay and before he knows it, he’s as wrapped up in the story as the rest of us, following Westley as he chases down Buttercup’s kidnappers, dueling with Inigo, wrestling with Fezzik, unwitting Vizzini and eventually facing off with the vile Prince Humperdinck. It is a thoroughly enthralling tale of swashbuckling and evil plans and true love and it not only has some fantastic plotty scenes, but some of the best cinematic swordfighting ever.

When I was in high school I did a lot of theater. Unfortunately my schedule never allowed me to take the theatrical fencing class offered by one of the theater teachers, but I hung out with everyone who did and I know for a fact that she showed the duel between Westley and Inigo as an example of amazing movie fencing. And really, watch it. It’s a wonderful scene. Mandy Patinkin as Inigo is absolutely fantastic and Cary Elwes gets to be dashing and witty. It’s wonderful to watch. So there’s the swordfighting, and that alone would make me happy to watch this movie. But there are also the lines. I think everyone gets something quotable, really. I could list them, but let’s face it, if you like this movie you know the best lines (okay, all the lines) already. The most well known are things like Inigo’s “My name is Inigo Montoya” bit, the wedding ceremony, and Westley’s “To the pain” speech, but everyone else gets a line that makes me grin. One of the first times Andy and I hung out together we ended up quoting Miracle Max and his wife together, spontaneously. And every actor delivers a great performance here. Mandy Patinkin, Cary Elwes, Robin Wright, Wallace Shawn, Andre the Giant, Christopher Guest, Chris Sarandon, plus cameos from Carol Kane and Billy Crystal? That’s a hell of a cast. And they mesh together brilliantly to produce amazing scene after amazing scene.

By the end of this movie, when true love triumphs and our heroes ride off on their white horses, it’s all just been so perfectly wonderful that I can’t help but smile as I listen to Mark Knopfler’s soundtrack. There is not a single thing about this movie that I dislike. It’s a fantastic movie. It’s a fairytale. It’s a book adaptation that is so perfectly crafted that reading the book feels like watching the movie feels like reading the book. It’s a melding of formats that is the sort of thing other book-to-movie adaptations strive to reach and usually miss. So, I’m sorry if it’s not your thing. It’s mine. And it’s a cultural touchstone that’s not going anywhere. It’s a classic. It’s perfect. And if I was going to watch a movie after getting home from an evening spent in a hospital waiting room? This is the best one to watch.

November 23, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

The Princess Bride

November 23, 2010

The Princess Bride

The flu that has been plaguing me for the last few days is starting to scare me. My fever hasn’t reduced and I’m weak and woozy from days of an over 100 degree temperature. So as a result I’m writing this review from the hospital, where I finally decided I needed to go since I didn’t seem to be getting better. Since the circumstances of my night are so awful we chose not to continue to watch awful movies in support of Desert Bus and have substituted one of our precious favorite movies.

There are a few movies that are so perfect, so wonderful, that we have reserved them for the absolute worst days. This is amongst the best of them. A movie that I, and practically every one of my friends, can recite from memory. Indeed one of my earliest memories of my wife involved waving goodbye to some mutual friends and doing the “Bye, bye boys. Have fun storming the castle” exchange. It’s one of the things that first made me realize that she was the kind of cool person that she is.

This actually works quite well as a movie to watch when I’m not feeling well, since it involves a grandfather reading a story to his sick grandson. All of the action and adventure and comedy in the movie is couched in this sort of device. I remember that when I first watched this film in the theaters I was irritated by the segments with the grandfather and grandson since they broke the flow and took me out of the fantasy, but they have grown on me somewhat. Mostly because in the years since falling in love with this movie I have read the book, and been completely blown away by how perfect the adaptation is. The concept of the book is that the story of the Princess Bride is a lengthy and baroque tome that the author’s grandfather used to read to him as a child. When he finally found it and read if for himself he was shocked to discover that the core tale of swashbuckling and adventure he remembered from his childhood was buried in lengthy minutia that his grandfather had omitted. So the book we have is the much edited version that concentrates on the adventure and expunges all the unnecessary trappings. So the flow of the book is very similar to that of the movie, except that instead of breaking off to visit Fred Savage in his bedroom the author will pause to explain that there’s a lengthy section omitted here regarding current fashion trends in Gildur.

So we have a sick young Fred Savage who is visited by his grandpa Columbo, and his grandpa reads him the story of The Princess Bride. It’s the ultimate swashbuckling tale of adventure in a fantasy land and it’s full of a wry wit that makes it such a joy to watch. More important than the tale of true love between the beautiful Buttercup and the farm-boy Westley, and the obstacles in their path is the constant witty repartee between the many wonderful characters in the movie.

This is the ultimate ensemble cast movie. Every single role in the film is iconic and memorable, and everybody has wonderful and quotable lines. Who could forget Wallace Shawn’s “Inconceivable!” or Mandy Patinkin and his “You killed my father – prepare to die.” or every single perfectly delivered line from the enormous and wonderfully mealy-mouthed Andre The Giant? And every one of those iconic moments and bits of dialog appears in exactly the same way in the book as well. I can think of only a couple small changes from the book to the movie – an extended sequence of Inigo and Fezzik breaking into the Pit of Despair and a slightly less upbeat ending to the tale because the book holds closer to the words of the Dread Pirate Roberts “Life IS pain, Highness. Anybody who says differently is selling something.”

Rob Reiner truly has a flair for this kind of adventure. I remember seeing promotional materials when this came out that made a great deal of the sword fighting for example. This movie features one of the most famous and wonderful fencing duels ever filmed. They talked a lot about all the training and choreography that went in to making it the best dual it could be. This is a special kind of fantasy film in that it doesn’t actually involve much magic. There’s the power of true love of course, and the miracle pill, and the ROUSes, and the Machine, but within the context of the world these all just fit and nothing seems exceptional about them.

The charm and joy of this movie is simply infectious. From the classic Mark Knopfler score to the brilliant screenplay, to the wonderful performances absolutely everything about this movie is thrilling and delightful. And this movie played an active part in my meeting my future wife. It made a stressful evening much more tolerable.

November 23, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | 2 Comments

Movie 267 – The Beastmaster

The Beastmaster – November 22nd, 2010

As we continue our bad movie marathon we can’t really be too picky about what we watch. For one, we do own all of these, so we’d be watching them anyhow. For another, the whole point of watching the worst of our collection (or rather, the worst we know about ahead of time) is to sort of suffer in sympathy for the Desert Bus crew. So really, something tedious is fitting. And while I am well aware that this movie is widely regarded as an action cheese classic, I can only get on board to a degree. It’s action cheese, to be sure, but it’s also not nearly as entertaining as other action cheese I can think of.

To be honest? I find Ator more appealing than Dar. Granted, I’ve made my feelings clear about guys with too many muscles, but it’s not just a looks thing. It’s a potential sexual assailant thing. Cause seriously, Dar? Meets his love interest by stealing her clothes and forcing a kiss on her. That’s pretty loathsome. He emotes like a block of wood and I think it’s probably for the best that he doesn’t do a lot of talking. I don’t like him much, though I guess he’s slightly more likable than Barry from Punch Drunk Love, but only because he has ferrets.

Despite all that, however, this really is a cinematic masterpiece in comparison to last night’s movie. Last night’s movie wasn’t a B movie. It was a D+ at best. Tonight would be a solid B- I think. There was money spent on this movie, both on sets and actors (they might not be A-listers, but hey, Rip Torn with a fake nose!), though I do maintain that they spent the costume budget on the animals instead, because goodness knows there wasn’t much material used to cover anyone’s butts. But there are special effects and some impressive creature makeup and costuming in places and someone actually wrote a script for it and got trained animals. So, there’s that. If only it didn’t feel so interminable.

So there’s your typical prince-in-exile sort of thing going on here, but with some bizarre twists. Dar is kidnapped out of his mother’s womb before birth (and carried in the womb of a cow) so that the evil priest Maax can try to avoid a prophecy that King Zed’s son will kill him. A dude who has no spoken name saves baby Dar and raises him to be all buff and they discover that Dar can communicate with animals. Then the bad guys show up and slaughter the village except for Dar, who vows revenge. Yay revenge! So off Dar goes, collecting animal friends like Pokemon. The thing is, I really felt like every section of this movie took an hour. I looked up at the clock all the time during this movie, hoping we were approaching the end, or perhaps the climax, maybe? And it was never quite as close as I hoped it would be. Dar meets up with Kiri, the woman he assaults who, of course, totally falls for him for no good reason (chicks obviously dig that sort of thing, and if you can’t tell that I’m being sarcastic you fail). After that he meets up with Seth and Tal, Tal being yet another prince in exile and Seth being his guardian. Together they break into the fortress where Maax is holding Zed prisoner and break him out and then things keep happening!

Really, there’s fighting, and then more fighting, and then running around, and rallying people to attack the city, and more fighting, and it just goes on and on and on. Each fight sequence feels like it’s a year long. And it’s not all that fast. I felt like I could see them counting off their fight choreography in beats. It felt labored at best. Really, the best parts of the movie for me were the animals Dar has with him (a falcon, a tiger and two ferrets) and the bit where he meets up with a bunch of bizarre bat people who hug people to death and suck all the life out of them. And the makeup and costuming for those bat people are really quite good. I liked them. So yes, the animals (aside from the poor tiger being dyed black) and the bat people? Fantastic! And really, I liked Seth and Tal, who both kicked a decent amount of ass.

Looking back, I think I liked a decent amount of this movie, but the hero was painful and tiresome and unpleasant, which is a frustrating thing. It keeps this movie from being a classic to me. That and somehow I missed seeing it in my copious viewing of Up All Nite and the Channel 56 Movie Loft. How? I don’t know. I saw Red Sonja and Conan the Barbarian at least twice each, and this one? Nope. So it’s just not one of my personal classics. And I refuse to feel guilty about that.

November 22, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

The Beastmaster

November 22, 2010

The Beastmaster

Another B-movie tonight in honor of Desert Bus. Yesterday’s movie about the son of a hero who was prophesied to destroy an evil priest naturally reminded us of this movie about the son of a king who is prophesied to destroy an evil priest. There’s a strange sort of genre of eighties fantasy adventure. On the big budget side you have the Conan movies, and on the low budget side you have things like yesterday’s Ator movie and the Deathstalker movies. And somewhere in the middle you have things like this movie and Krull with better than average budgets and some recognisable faces. These movies share a lot of common tropes such as evil priests/wizards and big muscle bound heroes who hack and slash their ways through many foes and tend to blend into each other after a while.

This movie is actually a pretty major step above Ator. All the actors speak English for one thing. The make-up is pretty well done. (Particularly the creepy vampire people – who would later appear in Titan A.E.) The fight choreography is less laughable than in the Ator movies. There aren’t really any special effects, but there are some fun pyrotechnics and, as the title would seem to indicate, an awful lot of trained animals doing tricks. I was also somewhat thrown by the fact that the sweeping orchestral score is almost identacle to the Battlestar Galactica theme. I kept expecting to see Cylon fighter craft swooping over the hillside in battle formation.

Our chunky hero and subject of today’s prophesy is Dar – played by Marc Singer in a loin cloth. I will say that I think Miles O’Keefe is slightly better as a chunky hero that Marc Singer. Not that Singer isn’t quite well sculpted here, but he just doesn’t have the joy for this cheese. He’s all blank stares and strangely square white teeth. His foe is the ever versatile Rip Torn with braids and a Gandalf nose. He eventually acquires as an ally in the worldly warrior Seth played by John Amos. You know, I’d have rather seen John Amos as the Beastmaster… he’s a far better actor and generally more fun to have on the screen.

Amanda and I made a number of Macbeth references at the start of the movie. It starts out with some frighteningly hot-bodied crones telling Rip Torn’s Maax that he will be killed by the unborn son of the king. So he sends one of his crones to steal the unborn child (by magically transplanting the child to the womb of a cow) but before she can slay the tyke she is killed by a passing do-gooder who adopts Dar. (Dar was from his mother’s womb untimely ripped, you see.) Dar eventually discovers that he has an unnatural ability to communicate with wild animals. (Thus the Beastmaster – though in reality he’s more of a BeastBuddy – he doesn’t command the beasts so much as work with them.)

There’s a third party in the movie that somewhat muddies the plot but is essential to the climactic end battle. There is this horde of masked warriors who don’t seem to have anything to do with the king or with Maax – they just show up near the start of the movie to slaughter everybody in Dar’s adoptive village (and his dog!) Then they don’t show up again for a couple hours until for some reason they invade the city after what should have been the ending of the movie. This leads to a massive battle scene with a ton of fire and horses and such. (I had to wonder at the time why the Beastmaster never used his animal befriending powers to take over the enemy horses. I suppose he’s just not too bright – which explains quite a lot of the movie.)

I like a good fantasy film, but for some reason they are few and very far between. Maybe it’s just easier to churn out movies that involve scantily clad people swinging swords at each other. This is not a good movie, but it is not a horribly awful movie either. Indeed it was good enough to spawn two sequels and a televison series, so it must have been a success. I am sad to say that we do not own Krull – because it would be my natural inclination to watch that movie next… we’ll just have to watch some other crappy movie tomorrow.

November 22, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 266 – Ator the Fighting Eagle

Ator The Fighting Eagle – November 21st, 2010

If you read yesterday’s reviews you know that we’re sort of on a bad movie streak right now while the folks over at Desert Bus for Hope play the most boring video game ever (that would be Desert Bus) in a charity marathon. It’s sort of a solidarity type thing, even if we can’t directly raise money for the children (though we can point people in their direction and mention that they will dance and sing and put things on their heads for donations). We’re sharing their pain in spirit. With that in mind, we’re watching this piece of trash tonight.

Now, why do we own this? Well, you see, there’s an MST3K episode called Cave Dwellers. It was one of the first episodes I managed to get on tape so I could watch it again and therefore I probably know it better than I know almost any other episode. The movie is about an old dude who creates a magical macguffin and then immediately decides the world isn’t advanced enough for it and it needs to be destroyed. To do that he sends his daughter off to find Ator, a muscle-bound warrior who lives at the Ends of the Earth. Another guy with a big mustache and a silly helmet shows up and demands the macguffin, Ator fights a bunch of dudes, there’s a big snake puppet and eventually he invents a hang glider. It’s all incredibly silly and right at the beginning is a flashback scene that describes Ator’s prior adventures.

When we saw this? We knew it was Ator’s prior adventures and we did indeed need to obtain it. So we’ve got it. We tried to watch it once before and, well, we failed. I don’t remember if we turned it off to go do something else or if we had to go somewhere or if we just couldn’t cope. It’s sort of Ator’s origin story, but we knew better than to expect something epic and Batman-like. Instead we get incest and spiders. Okay, so there’s more than that, but really, it seemed to mostly be a lot of running around waiting for something to happen, but then nothing happens. Until the end. When things happen and then there’s a pretty song about love or something.

As I said, this is an origin story for Ator. According to the movie there’s a prophecy about a guy who’ll try to overthrow the evil high priest of the spider god, but he’ll die and a baby will be born bearing his symbol. Guess who’s born with said symbol? Ator! A mysterious man hides baby Ator with a nice family that already has a baby and Ator and his adopted sister grow up together and end up falling in love. The soldiers of the spider god priest show up and kill a bunch of villagers and kidnap Ator’s sister/wife during their wedding and off he goes to get her back. Along the way he meets a scantily-dressed thief woman and gets in fights and there’s a lot of almost-action. It’s bizarre. We’d watch and there’d be tense music and soldiers and… nothing. The scene would end and the movie would move on to another plot point which would be pretty much the same. Ator gets a fancy sword and a fancy shield and picks up his thieving side-kick and that’s about as much as I can say. The movie left very little impression on me overall. Aside from the Ator-marrying-his-adopted-sister thing.

The thing about this movie is that it’s not aiming high. It’s not trying to be the 2010 Clash of the Titans. It’s more on the level of the older Hercules movies and that’s where it wanted to be. To be honest, the costumes and sets are actually better in this movie than they are in the sequel. There’s a particular helmet in this movie that’s sort of shaped like a bird, and it shows up in the second movie – oddly since it’s not the same character – but it looks a lot crappier. It looks like when making this movie there was actual effort involved. Not a hell of a lot, but at least a modicum. This is not to say that this is a good movie. It’s bad, no mistake. But it could have been so very much worse. It could have been its sequel.

November 21, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Ator: The Fighting Eagle

November 21, 2010

Ator: The Fighting Eagle

“This exercise is working. I can feel it… here.”

Another painfully awful movie tonight. For the children. As I mentioned yesterday we’re watching some of the worst movies in our collection to show sympathy for the good people playing Desert Bus to raise money for Childsplay. Amanda and I are far more familiar with the sequel to this movie – Ator The Invincible – better known to MST3K fans as “The Cavedwellers.” We bought this – the prequel to one of our favorite MST episodes so because I am a glutton for punishment. I simply cannot resist a good bad movie.

This movie lacks the huge budget ambitions and star power of yesterday’s film. Instead it is a low budget epic fantasy filmed, I believe, in Italy and dubbed into English. More than anything else it feels like a low budget version of Conan the Barbarian. The movie starts out with a lengthy voice over prologue that attempts to set the scene. It is a time of magic and prophesies. In a poorly defined medieval time period there is a land that has been ruled for a thousand years by an evil spider priest. Only one man has ever attempted to defeat him, but the hero Turin was defeated. Still – there is a prophesy that his son will finally put an end to the spider priest. It is that son, Ator, whose adventures we follow today.

Body-builder and general pretty boy Miles O’Keefe plays Ator, a callow youth who knows nothing of his ancestry or destiny. He only knows that he wants to marry his sister Sunya. He is much relieved to discover, after telling his father of his incestuous intentions, that Sunya is not his sister after all. But on his wedding night Dakkar (the spider priest, who according to the titles plays himself) sics his minions on Ator’s village, killing his adoptive parents and kidnapping his sister/wife.

Ator is trained via montage by the mysterious warrior Griba, who wants to defeat Dakkar for reasons of his own, and then the “adventures” begin. Which is to say that he has a few random things happen to him. Most of which seem to have to do with people wanting to have sex with Ator. There’s an amazon tribe, a witch with a magic mirror, a bunch of undead soldiers (who do nothing at all), a madam at a tavern, a bunch of blind sword makers and their glittering charm shield. In spite of all the prophesies the movie is only really bookended by the confrontation with the spider priest with the rest of the movie padded out by encounters that have nothing to do with the movie. In a way I think it might have worked better as a serial or something than as a movie.

We found it impossible to watch this without MiSTing it. Not just because it is a funny low budget movie, but because it was summarised in its entirety in the prologue to the second Ator movie, which we have seen many, many times. Lines like “oh, he’s been gonged” and “he had never killed so large a puppet” just came automatically to our lips.

This movie was not as bewilderingly and possibly inadvertently bas as Battlefield Earth. It is simply an aimless low budget bunch of silliness that sets out to amuse us with its tale of adventure and magic, and pretty much delivers. You can’t expect great cinema from an Italian Conan movie – but if you can accept a lot of badly staged stage swordplay and a giant spider puppet that hardly movies and whose strings you can clearly see, then this movie might meet your needs.

November 21, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment