A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 600 – King Kong (2005)

plKing Kong (2003) – October 21st, 2011

While watching this interminable bloat-fest I wondered – several times – why we own it. And the answer is an easy one: Peter Jackson. After all, we both loved all three of the Lord of the Rings movies and they’re super long adaptations of something else, right? Right! So, how bad could this really be? I probably wouldn’t have bothered to actually buy the movie. I would have been content to borrow it from work or something similar that didn’t involve keeping it around the house. Andy, however, as has been shown by the sheer number of things we own that neither of us had seen or knew much of anything about, buys movies like other people buy candy. So okay. Owning it makes sense, given the rules our lives seem to operate under. But that doesn’t mean we should.

I am so sorry, Peter Jackson, but this movie is bad. You made a bad movie, Petey. Even the presence of Adrien Brody on my screen for most of the movie wasn’t enough to save it. And given how much I enjoy watching Adrien Brody, that’s pretty sad. Part of it is that Jack Black was on my screen for about an equal amount of time, and that’s so much more Jack Black than I can handle at once. I’ve now exhausted my reserve of Jack Black Patience for another two years or so. This movie would have needed not just Adrien Brody but every other actor I adore, plus some cute puppies and kittens or maybe some fencing to offset the amount of Jack Black I had to sit through.

I would now like to share a series of messages I posted to twitter while watching this movie (specific responses to friends in regard to the movie excised):

  • 7:23 – I am already well beyond my tolerance limit for Jack Black and I’m only 20 minutes into King Kong. This is going to be difficult.
  • 7:58 – Well, Adrien Brody has his shirt off. Best thing in the movie so far.
  • 8:10 – I’m an hour and ten minutes in and there’s TWO HOURS TO GO.
  • 8:52 – How is this movie NOT OVER YET? What do you mean there’s more than an hour left? I’ve been watching it for a year now, I swear!
  • 9:02 – So much pointless CG action. So much pointless slow motion. WHY ALL THE SLOW MOTION?!
  • 9:09 – It’s over three hours long. Padding is the last thing this movie needed.
  • 9:39 – Says my husband: “You would think he’d go climb a building now. No. They go ice skating first. No, I’m not kidding.” THIS MOVIE, PEOPLE.

Really, why am I writing a review? That all should tell you my impression of the movie right there. It’s pointlessly long and slow and padded for no good reason. Aside from Jack Black, my most enduring memory of this movie is just feeling like it was never going to end. Like it had been so padded full of unnecessary action and chase scenes – done in slow motion – that it had become a huge beanbag pillow of a movie and I’d sunk into it and was never going to be able to get up. The original King Kong from the 1930s was under two hours long, so even if this movie does follow the plot point by point (I admit, I’ve never seen the entire original so I don’t know just how faithful it is in terms of plot points) it’s clearly trying to do more. And not just more, but lots and lots more. Like every scene and every moment and every line had to be bigger and more grand and more impressive. But really what that seems to have done is just made it take up more time. I’ve got no problem with big grand movies, but the big and grand here just feels unnecessary and frustrating. Get on with the story!

If you somehow don’t know the basic story of this movie, it’s not all that complex. A movie director who wants to film an adventure movie on a remote island heads off with his crew and his new lead actress. They arrive at the mysterious Skull Island and soon find it’s full of all sorts of dangers, like a tribe of people native to the island who ritually sacrifice women to a giant gorilla. They latch onto the lead actress and the giant gorilla takes off with her and it’s up to the movie crew to brave the perils of the island to get her back. Which they do, of course. Because the point of the story is more the gorilla than the girl. And they get him too and drag him back to New York where they put him on stage as a curiosity. He breaks free and tries to recapture the actress and it all ends in flattened gorilla when airplanes shoot him down off a skyscraper after he climbed up to be with the actress. And let me tell you, having Jack Black say the “twas beauty killed the beast” line from the classic? Made me so sad.

Now, in this version of the story, the actress falls in love with the movie’s screenwriter, who’s along for the trip because he hasn’t finished the script yet. From what I can tell, the character names are the same (Ann Darrow and Jack Driscoll) but Jack’s not a screenwriter in the original. I don’t really give a damn about that. Whatever his purpose is, he’s played by Adrien Brody and therefore my main reason for not tuning out completely for the entirety of this movie. He gets to go all action hero during the island segment of the movie, remaining determined to get Ann back despite giant leeches and vicious dinosaurs and a bunch of the crew getting killed and all. And the movie attempts to create this rivalry between Kong and Jack over Ann, and I’m pretty sure the purpose of that is to humanize Kong so his actions aren’t just animal reaction to Ann. That’s nice and all, but I’ve got a hard time sympathizing with him since he basically wants Ann because she’s the equivalent of one of those mechanical dogs that flips itself over as far as he’s concerned (no, really – she won him over by doing Vaudeville pratfalls). I mean, it’s terrible that he was taken from his home and drugged and paraded around in shackles. I’d be pretty fucking pissed off too. And I know that there’s a lot of talk about how the story can be seen as a metaphor for slavery, so humanizing Kong isn’t a bad idea. It’s just that even with the humanizing stuff in this version of the movie, Kong still wants to keep a woman as a pet and make her do tricks for him. I’m just not feeling that, okay?

Of course, the special effects are impressive. I’ll always give Peter Jackson credit for that. Technology has come a long way from the 1930s and with someone like Andy Serkis – who seems to have made a career of providing incredible motion capture performances – it makes sense to want to show off Kong himself and to show off all the work that went into creating Skull Island and everything on it. I get that. And I get that Peter Jackson loves the original and desperately wanted to make this new version something amazing and spectacular, but I almost wish it had been made by someone a little less in love with it. Or as in love with it but with a little less money at his fingertips. Because the combo of unbridled adoration and an enormous budget just made for an overly long effects bonanza, and while I like Peter Jackson, this movie just isn’t fun to watch.

October 21, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 584 – Overdrawn at the Memory Bank

Overdrawn at the Memory Bank – October 5th, 2011

I really feel pretty bad about watching this tonight, but Andy suggested it and, well, I don’t really have any better suggestions. Though I do maintain that this is not so much a failing of our collection as it is a sign that we’re getting down to the end of the project and we’ve watched the vast majority of our really good movies. But then again, it’s hard to plan specifically for something like what to watch when someone like Steve Jobs passes away. We’ve burned through pretty much everything else that could be considered remotely appropriate and it was this or Real Genius, which we are saving for either The Worst Day Ever or the end of the project. So we went with this. Sorry, Mr. Jobs. You gave us revolutionary tech and we’re watching a made-for-tv movie featuring Raul Julia and stock footage of baboons. I am so ashamed.

As with pretty much every other movie we own that was featured in MST3K, I take responsibility for this one being in our home. We bought it on VHS when I was in college, more as a novelty than anything else. I mean, can you believe this movie was ever actually available on home video? It is probably up there with the weirdest stuff we own, just considerably cheaper in terms of production values than most of the others. It takes place in a future where everyone’s lives are controlled by an authoritarian government/corporation. One of the key points made is that regular people aren’t allowed to watch movies. They still exist, but they’re locked into a private database only accessible to the head of the corporation. The recreational activity of choice these days is called doppling. It involves having a little bit of tech implanted in your head that allows your consciousness to be stored in a cube and transferred into other things, such as animals. People dopple by spending a weekend riding around in the head of a lion or a horse or whatever. Meanwhile, their bodies are being taken care of at the doppling facility, stored in racks full of cots while bored technicians keep an eye on them.

The main character of the movie, Aram Fingal, is a programmer who’s bored with his job and his life in general. This sort of character is a stock figure in something like this. Obviously the dystopian setting requires that most people be subdued and willing to live with the monotony of lives controlled by the government and whatever basic amusements they’ve been offered. But Fingal isn’t. He wants something else. And he finds it by hacking into the movie database and watching Humphrey Bogart on his work terminal. It’s only a matter of time until he’s caught and reprimanded. And said reprimand? Comes in the form of an enforced doppling. Fingal hasn’t ever doppled before and he’s not terribly enamoured of the concept, but if he wants to keep his job then he’s got to do it. And all he can afford is three days in an old baboon.

Now, that sounds somewhat ridiculous, and it is somewhat ridiculous, albeit with a fairly decent core concept. But if you think for one moment that it’s not hilariously awful to listen to people say “Fingal’s dopple” over and over again? You are wrong and have no sense of humor. Just say it to yourself. Now say it again. Now say it about fifty times in the space of a minute or two. Now run some old National Geographic footage of baboons in the background and keep saying it. Congratulations. You have now made a reasonable facsimile of the first half of this movie, minus the late Raul Julia. To get the rest you need a somewhat modern looking office building and a seedy bar in which to re-enact portions of Casablanca. Also, a chroma key editing deck would help really set the mood. Give it that made-in-high-school feel.

No. I’m not joking. This is actually what this movie involves. The doppling facility loses Fingal’s body for a little while and the tech who was monitoring his dopple session has to talk him through the situation, keeping track of him while his consciousness is in the computer banks because they couldn’t keep it in the cube it was in while he was hanging out with the baboon. So Fingal starts making his own reality in the computer – very pre-Matrix, but lacking anything that made that movie cool. I’m sure some people would argue that the whole Bogart thing is cool, but no. No it’s not. It’s not remotely cool. I am so sorry, Raul Julia, but your Bogart impression kind of stunk.

Obviously since Fingal’s a rebel and a hacker and all, and now he’s inside the computers of the government/corporation, he’s going to muck around as much as he can, which worries the people in charge. So they try to get rid of him and he tries to get away from them and they have to find his body but that means inventorying the entire facility because apparently their organization skills suck hard. Seriously though, the reason this happened? Was because a kid on a field trip changed the tags on Fingal and someone else. And no one noticed. The only thing telling these people where each body belongs is a system of colored tags without any other identifying information on them and a kid on a field trip was allowed close enough to mess that up. For such an authoritarian society, they’re pretty sloppy.

There’s some really incredibly obvious foreshadowing early on, involving a vortex you have to avoid getting sucked into or you end up losing your consciousness completely. There’s a burgeoning romance between Fingal and the tech who’s been keeping an eye on him. And then there’s the stock footage and the Bogart impression and lots of cheap special effects and so on and so forth. While watching it I did a little reading up and found that it was one of three sci-fi book-to-tv-movie adaptations done by WNET/PBS in the 1980s. And that’s great! I’m glad someone had the idea of making sci-fi stories into tv movies or PBS at the time. As a kid I thrived on things like Doctor Who on PBS. But oh, oh the budget and the time period are so very obvious. The only remotely big name on the cast list is Raul Julia and let me be frank: This was not the performance of his career. And maybe the story reads better on paper, but on screen it just comes off as goofy, especially with people saying “Fingal’s dopple” over and over. It ends up being less a commentary on authoritarian governments meshing with corporations and controlling people’s lives and more a silly story about a ridiculous future.

October 5, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 557 – The Master

The Master – September 8th, 2011

Among our MST3K episodes from back when I was recording them off of Comedy Central we had one titled “Master Ninja 2.” And we watched it fairly frequently. Enough to know a bunch of the jokes. The thing is, we knew there was also a “Master Ninja 1” that they’d done before, but I’d never managed to catch it. I’d never seen it, though I’d certainly heard about it. And then Shout Factory released both episodes on professional DVD and we snapped them up. I do not recall if we bought this before or after we’d finally seen Master Ninja 1 with the MST3K treatment. All I can say is that if we bought it after, it was probably my fault and I am duly ashamed.

I admit, it’s not really a movie. It’s a pair of episodes of a martial arts television show from the 1980s. But after the show was cancelled pairs of episodes were released as movies, which is how MST3K did them. The conceit of the show is that a US soldier named McAllister stayed in Japan after the war and became a ninja. Then he gets a letter from his long lost daughter, heads for the US and meets up with Max Keller, a well-meaning troublemaker who drives around in a van with his hamster and gets (literally) thrown out of bars. Keller convinces McAllister to take him on as a student and off they go to get involved in super spy plots and labor disputes and corrupt police forces while they search for McAllister’s daughter. It is exactly as horrible as it sounds.

The first episode in this pair is the first episode of the series. So we get an introduction to Keller and we get an introduction to McAllister and we get the rundown on the premise for the show. It’s all horribly contrived, but I will give the movie credit for not trying to claim that Lee Van Cleef, who played McAllister, was Asian. Granted, the way they explain the whole ninja thing feels terribly forced, but there’s at least a little effort there! They work it into the plot, such as it is! So, that’s something. And that’s about all this has going for it. Well, that and a few of the single episode cast members ended up having actual acting careers or had already had careers. In this first installment we have a young Demi Moore, for example, and in the fourth episode George Lazenby showed up. But that’s about it.

The first installment has the obligatory introductions, then promptly tosses Keller and McAllister into a dispute between a family that owns an airfield and a land developer who wants their property. There’s a skeezy police officer who assaults Demi Moore, the airfield owner’s daughter, and there’s a lot of fighting and corruption and arson. Honestly, the plot just isn’t that interesting. None of the plots are that interesting. They’re stock conflicts, usually with a pretty young woman for Keller to flirt at (I’d say with, but it’s not like any of them are sticking around so the chemistry doesn’t matter much). Someone will threaten them. Someone will underestimate McAllister. Then there’ll be a fight where McAllister uses his ninja skills to save the day. There you go. This first episode totally sets the tone, if the four episodes I’ve seen are an indication of what the other nine are like.

The second section follows right along, with an extra dose of McAllister’s mysterious past. From what I could tell, he seems to have defied ninja tradition and now his former student is out to kill him? I could be getting it wrong. I usually watch this through a filter of riffing and when we started the second part on the un-MSTed version we have we realized something was very wrong with the disc. First, our DVD player refused to play it, continuously defaulting back to the menu. Second, the XBox refused to play it too. We were finally able to get it running on Andy’s computer, but the sound was about three seconds behind the action. Turns out this makes a movie hilarious in some moments, when the dialogue ends up matched to the wrong person, and incredibly hard to watch for the rest. Now, to be fair, I’m sure we paid pennies for this and the old “you get what you pay for” axiom holds true, so I’m not mad that the movie’s out of sync. On the other hand, whereas I might have been willing to put in some effort to pay attention to a decent movie if it was out of sync, this movie just isn’t worth the bother. So I payed the barest minimum attention necessary.

I’m pretty sure the plot involved a club where drinks are served and talented dancers dance getting shaken down for protection money by a Yakuza gang who actually want to own the club and therefore force the former owner’s daughter to rake in money for them by dancing. Also, there’s a sister in a wheelchair who is of course not at all jealous of her dancing sister except she totally is. I would expect no better of a show this sloppy and dated. McAllister and Keller get involved, have the sister in the wheelchair deliver the ransom for the dancing sister, then there’s the obligatory martial arts fight. Oh, and the sister in the wheelchair takes a few steps at the end. Why was she in the wheelchair? Why did McAllister’s “just buck up and believe in yourself” crap work? Who knows! It’s not like the show cared or anything. It’s all there for the big poignant moment at the end anyhow.

Having seen this much of the series, some of it without the humor that makes it bearable, I’ve got to say I wonder how it lasted even thirteen episodes. I do prefer the third episode over all the others, but that’s really neither here nor there when it comes to what we watched just now. With a pilot like that first section with Demi Moore, how did this get greenlit? I guess martial arts were a thing at the time and Keller was played by Tim Van Patten, son of Dick Van Patten, so presumably the combo of family contacts and Lee Van Cleef convinced someone it was worth taking a shot on. But what’s even more unbelievable is that it was ever repackaged as movies and released. And we bought one! I don’t find this as gut-twistingly offensive as some things we own, but I do apologize. I’m sorry. I don’t know if it was really me who put it on the pile, but I’ll take the blame. It’s the least I can do.

September 8, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

Fahrenheit 9/11

September 3, 2011

Fahrenheit 9/11

It’s a little early, yes, but we wanted to watch this movie before September 11th so that we could quickly wash the bad taste from out mouths and go back to forgetting Michael Moore exists. I think it’s safe to say that Amanda and I have both been dreading watching this movie. It’s in our collection, so we have to watch it, but that doesn’t mean we like it. It’s sensationalist hate-mongering, and I say that from my position as one of the most politically liberal people I know. I bought it because, well, it’s the big documentary that purported to expose Bush’s incompetence in the face of the events of September 11th and I wanted to see what its argument was. Sadly it doesn’t really have an argument – it’s just speculation and hearsay that is given some gravitas from an association with one of the most dreadful events to occur in my lifetime.

As with everyone who was around ten years ago I have vivid and painful memories of September 11th 2001. My very first reaction when I heard about the attacks on the World Trade Center was to comment to Amanda and our friend Gary “Well, Bush got his war.” My feeling has always been that the events of September 11th saved the Bush presidency and were the best possible thing to happen to him and his allies in the Republican party. I have always felt, and this is purely speculation on my part, that if Bush and company had known about the September 11th attacks beforehand they would have every reason to allow them to go forward.

George W. Bush was a joke as a president. He desperately needed an excuse to go to war, and I’ve always known that. I very much doubt that there will ever be anything approaching hard evidence to show complicity in those attacks, though. Certainly this “documentary” is not damning evidence of any kind.

Michael Moore is not in the habit of carefully crafting a well reasoned argument or presenting evidence to support his point of view. Instead his shtick is to combine tangentially related human interest stories (such as the Oregon state trooper who works part time to monitor the coastline and is not trained to stop terrorist attacks) with sensationalist stunts (like reading the Patriot Act through a megaphone while riding through the streets of Washington in an ice cream truck.)

What frustrated me most about this movie the first time I watched it was how scattershot it is. Moore has no attention span as a film maker. He edits drunkenly from war torn Iraq to Marine recruiting in poor Chicago neighborhoods to wounded soldiers at Walter Reed – but he never stays anywhere long enough to actually build any coherent picture from these little stories. There are a lot of powerful human moments here, but they’re overshadowed by Moore’s ham-fisted attempts to wedge them into his poorly reasoned attempts to link Bush to all these atrocities. It sickens me because it’s not just manipulative – it’s using the stories of these innocent people to further Moore’s manipulations.

The infuriating thing is that I actually believe that Moore is right. George W. Bush was a terrible President with an agenda that resulted in thousands of deaths. He drove our country into the ground and lined the pockets of the ultra-rich who put him in power. This movie doesn’t do a very good job of building a case for that though, although I can tell that this is what Moore is trying to say. God dammit, Michael Moore you obnoxious self-satisfied rabble-rouser: stop agreeing with me!

September 3, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

Movie 535 – Laserblast

Laserblast – August 17th, 2011

As one might have gathered from my previous reviews, I am a die hard MST3K fan. I saw the movie in the theater opening night. I used to stay up until two in the morning to watch episodes when Comedy Central had banished it to super late night (a two hour show that starts at 2:00 ends at 4:00 – keep that in mind). I’m a card carrying fan club member. I attended a minicon to see the final episode before it aired. I’ve got a Tom Servo gumball machine with Joel, Kevin and J. Elvis’ signatures on it. Joel Hodgeson called me a nerd. Fan. Girl. That? Is the sole reason we own this movie. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that is the sole reason anyone owns this movie, including the people involved in making it. It’s that sort of movie.

Granted, I’ve only seen the episode once. Maybe twice. It was the last of the Comedy Central episodes and at the time it was uncertain what would be happening to the show. Resurrection on what was then the Sci Fi Channel was a longshot and the end did feel like it was The End. So we don’t put it in much. Therefore we don’t see this one much. And after watching it tonight without the benefit of snarky commentary from the pros, I have to say I’m glad we have a good reason to avoid putting it in because my goodness, this movie stinks. It’s a horrible movie from top to bottom. I don’t even know how to explain how bad this is. It’s just bad.

Andy has theories about just why this movie was made, but I really don’t know if I buy them. Maybe it was given more money for the reasons he suspects. Maybe it was actually marketed because when it came out there was an interest in sci-fi that hadn’t been there before. I have no idea. All I can say for certain is that this movie is the sort of sci-fi movie most sci-fi fans wish didn’t exist as it gives the genre a bad name. It’s horribly paced, terribly written, full of unlikeable one dimensional characters and the hero gets blown up by aliens and that’s actually a good thing. I feel ashamed on behalf of the person who came up with this story.

We begin the movie with a green alien with shaggy hair getting run down by some turtle-looking aliens who I swear must have inspired the look for E.T. They kill him but oddly don’t bother destroying the giant gun he had with him, instead leaving it in the desert for some poor hapless schmuck to find. And of course one does! Said poor schmuck is Billy, who would be emo had emo been around in the 1970s. As near as I can figure out, he’s a loner and considered an outsider by his peers because his mother frequently abandons him to go on swank vacations with friends. Otherwise there is no real clue as to just why this guy is so reviled. He gets stopped for speeding at one point and the cops – clearly peers from school a few years back – tease him about his mother going away. Is this a thing? Was it a thing? Is it supposed to imply that his mother’s a swinger? A prostitute? Who cares. The movie sure doesn’t.

So to cope with the loneliness he feels when his mother goes off on vacation, Billy tries to hang out with his hot girlfriend. But his hot girlfriend’s wacky grandfather chases him off and so he takes his van out into the desert to dick around for a while. And dick around he does! With the gun from the beginning! Now, for the rest of the movie, I’m merely describing what I assume is going on. The movie is rather vague for most scenes and offers nothing much in the way of plot exposition or details on how or why anything happens. Things just happen, and you’ve got to accept that or turn the movie off or do what I do and pretend it’s not actually playing on my television.

Using the alien gun apparently turns one into an evil alien, which seems like it would be a drawback in marketing but I’m not an alien so what do I know? After Billy picks the damn thing up and bounces around the desert, aiming at sagebrush, he takes the gun home and proceeds to get possessed by it and use it to explode the car of the bullies who sexually assaulted his girlfriend. And either I’d forgotten the sexual assault scene or the MST3K version severely truncated it cause yeah, that was an unpleasant surprise. But I’ll give Billy and the alien gun credit for first taking aim at sexual predators. If the gun was actually like, a weapon that turned a mild mannered human into a superhuman rapist hunter? I’d be down with that. Alas, that’s not the case. He ends up destroying a whole lot more stuff for no particular reason. Just because the gun’s possessing him, I guess. He kills the doctor he goes to because the gun made a little metal thing appear in his chest and the doctor took it out to examine it. Or maybe the necklace the alien was wearing did that? I don’t know. He never put on the necklace but it appears on him whenever he’s possessed.

Eventually, after alien-Billy blows up a whole lot of stuff and causes tons of destruction, the aliens from the beginning show up again and kill him like they killed the other guy with the gun. Maybe he started out as a lonely teen whose mom left him to go have sex in Mexico too? Or whatever the alien equivalent of Mexico is? This time I think the aliens actually manage to destroy the gun, so that’s that. Oh, and there was a government agent hanging around trying to find Billy and the gun and if I had to guess I’d say that the original alien with the gun escaped from the government and they’re tracking him down and the girlfriend’s grandfather might know something about it, but that doesn’t have any bearing on what actually happens on screen.

The acting is just shy of abysmal, which is bizarre considering it has a few actors with known names, like Roddy McDowell and Keenan Wynn. Oh, and Eddie Deezen. The writing is obviously poor since the movie doesn’t bother telling the audience anything. It doesn’t even really imply. It just puts stuff out there and leaves it for later and then later never comes. The claymation turtle aliens aren’t bad, but they feel bizarrely out of place in this movie. Like, someone spent all the money for this movie on two named actors, a shitload of explosives and the claymation and hoped a movie would come of it all. I guess it did, because this exists, but really, I don’t know if that counts.

August 17, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | 2 Comments

Laserblast

August 17, 2011

Laserblast

Amanda and I had plans to watch the Rifftrax live presentation of Jack the Giant Killer in the theater this Wednesday. Sadly it appears that it is not playing in our local theater, or they’re sold out already, so we found ourselves denied our little dose of Mike, Kevin and Bill making fun of a cheesy movie. Instead we chose to watch yet another movie that would not be in our collection were it not for our love of MST3K.

I blame Amanda for this movie. She snatched it up when she was working at TLA because it was famously the last movie riffed by Mike and the bots on Comedy Central. However, we have only watched that episode once before because it was so sad and upsetting to have our favorite television show come to a close like that. (Of course the show came back on the Sci Fi channel, but there was a long and uncomfortable period of uncertainty before that.) Our recollections of this movie were fuzzy.

I remembered the stop-motion turtle aliens. I remembered the necklace that gave the hero in the movie a rash. I remembered the irritating presence of Eddie Deezen. I did not remember Keenan Wynn as the crazy vet with an obsession about alien invasions. I didn’t remember the pot-smoking policeman. I had generally forgotten how poorly put together and aimless this film is.

Some of the movies that showed up on MST3K over the years actually had some redeeming qualities, but this is not one of those movies. It’s a sad collection of disconnected scenes masquerading as a movie. The plot revolves around an alien weapon found by a nihilist country hick in the desert after a rampaging green gunman is killed by a pair of turtles. The turtles in question are the coolest thing in the movie – all stop motion, and they deliver some of the best performances. By comparison their human counterparts are surprisingly wooden.

There’s Billy Duncan, who is depicted as somewhat of an anti-social rebel, who finds the abandoned alien firearm. There’s his girlfriend Kathy who just wants him to get along with other people and drags him off to a friend’s birthday party. There’s Eddie Deezen as a slimy, whining rival of Billy’s who challenges him to drag races and tries with one of his slimy friends to molest Kathy. There’s an annoying pair of comic relief patrol officers who pull Billy over for speeding. There’s a secret government organization that is seeking something in the desert and suspects that Billy has something to do with it.

The alien gun only works, you see, when used in conjunction with an amulet that Billy wears around his neck. This amulet corrupts him, however, turning him into a sort of emaciated incredible hulk who is green with high cheekbones and white contact lenses. This monster goes about killing all the hateful and annoying people in Billy’s life – mostly by blowing up cars with his laser gun. Of course Billy has no recollection of these episodes and can’t understand why everybody seems to be against him.

In the end he converts completely into the green monster and somehow ends up on a Hollywood backlot street set where he proceeds to blow everything up until the aliens from the beginning show up and kill him, saving us from the movie and providing blessed relief.

What’s peculiar about this movie is that it clearly has some kind of a budget. The aliens look cool. There are a LOT of explosions, with cars igniting all over the place. There are even some recognisable actors, most notably Roddy McDowall, and I can’t for the life of me figure out why. My suspicion is that the creators of this film used the excitement about Star Wars, which came out the same year as this, to raise funds for their film saying that they were making a sci-fi epic of some kind. I feel bad for any backers duped by the promise of easy money from a Star Wars style film when this movie is what their money bought. (My theory is based on the fact that Star Wars is mentioned in the dialog at one point and the rampaging monster Billy blows up a Star Wars billboard – probably a sign in the minds of the film makers that their masterpiece was going to blow Star Wars out of the water.

Let us be clear. This movie is no Star Wars. It is an unappealing mess of a movie filled with pasty seventies backwood country hicks. No that we’ve watched it for the project I expect that I probably will never watch it again. Oh, and Leonard Maltin gave it two and a half stars.

August 17, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 524 – Jaws: The Revenge

Jaws: The Revenge – August 6th, 2011

I had heard things about this movie. Not good things, I assure you. Just, things. Andy explained to me that it actually bore the tagline “This time, it’s personal.” Which has to be a joke. It’s a joke, right? This whole movie is a joke? I can’t think that it could possibly have been made seriously. The people responsible had to have known they were making something thoroughly ridiculous. It’s a movie about a shark hunting down members of the Brody family and attacking them, from Amity Island in New England to the Bahamas. How can anyone involved have looked at that plot idea and looked at the prior movies and not realized they were making a joke? They can’t have. It’s impossible.

While talking about the movie with Andy, I mentioned that it’s possible to read this movie semi-seriously if one assumes it’s all happening inside the head of Ellen Brody, Chief Brody’s wife. The movie starts out on Amity Island, where Sean Brody has taken his late father’s place on the island’s tiny police force. It’s Christmastime and he’s about to spend the evening with his mother and his fiancee when he gets called out to deal with a log that’s stuck on one of the channel markers. Apparently this was a trap set by the shark, which snaps his arm off as he reaches out to move the log, then gobbles him up. Overcome with grief, Ellen is convinced to join her elder son, Michael, and his family down in the Bahamas for the holiday. Where the shark again appears, this time coming after Michael, his daughter Thea and Ellen herself before Ellen kills it.

Throughout the movie Ellen has nightmares and frequently obsesses over her remaining son and his family living near and working in and around the ocean. She begs Michael to give up his research on conchs and take a teaching job somewhere safely inland. And when the shark shows up near the boat Michael and his research team are working on, ignoring the rest of the team in favor of going after Michael alone, Ellen knows something has happened even though she’s not at all nearby. She tells Michael that the shark’s killed both his father and his brother, to which Michael responds that his father died of a heart attack. Ellen claims that it was fear of the shark that gave him that heart attack. So this is my theory: While this movie could well be just poorly plotted and ill-conceived, cashing in on the franchise and trying for cheese but falling just short of it, it’s also possible that someone had some sort of purpose and was going for a psychological thriller concept.

Oh, I’m not saying it’s well done. I mean, if the psychological thriller aspect was intentional, then it was very poorly executed. It almost makes me wish that it had been intentional and that someone had managed to pull it off. After all, even though this movie is clearly ignoring Jaws 3 in its timeline, we’re still talking about a family that’s had more than its share of close calls with sharks. I can easily see Chief Brody camped out up in his shark watch tower, year round, thermos of coffee and a shotgun close at hand, obsessing over the shark for the rest of his life. I can see that sort of obsession taking its toll on him and on his marriage. On his wife. On his children. So his wife obsessing to the point of fantasizing that her entire family is in danger from the shark? That she’s the one who ultimately saves the day? Toss in the burgeoning romance between her and the pilot who brings them to the Bahamas and I could buy that. I want to buy that.

Unfortunately, even if someone involved with the movie did have that idea at some point in the making of it, it wasn’t really incorporated into what ended up on the screen. According to some reading I’ve done on the movie, apparently the whole revenge thing and the shark’s obsession with the Brody family was supposed to be due to a witch doctor using voodoo to kill them all off. I like my version better. It’s at least less culturally offensive. It does rely on the old “it was all a dream” trope, but that’s the least of this movie’s problems, to be honest.

I won’t say that the performances are bad. They’re adequate. Same for pretty much everything here. It’s all just adequate. Which means that there’s nothing to elevate the absolutely laughable plot to something other than bad. And they’re not self-aware enough about what sort of movie they’re in to take it to cheese levels. I mean, this movie has Michael Caine in it as the pilot who flirts with Ellen Brody. This movie has Michael Caine! And the best I can say about it is that the scenery is pretty and the performances don’t suck. And that it has Michael Caine, whom I do adore no matter what. I hope he made decent money from this and I wish it had been a better movie. I wish it had tried to go in one way or another, fantastically bad or chillingly good, because bobbing along in between just makes for a mess that nothing – not even Ellen Brody’s gigantic shoulder pads – can save.

August 6, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 521 – Deep Blue Sea

Deep Blue Sea – August 3rd, 2011

This is a terrible movie. I want to make it abundantly clear that I enjoyed maybe a total of five minutes of this movie, which leaves about 100 minutes that either bored me or irritated me. Andy, on the other hand, loves it. He told me today that we’d be watching a relatively good bad shark movie. And it’s fine that he enjoyed it. I get that he likes that it pisses on a few conventions and does some unexpected stuff. But it just didn’t cut it for me. In fact, it killed any enthusiasm I had for the rest of Shark Week and while I would normally now be writing my my review for yesterday’s movie – which I was too wiped to do yesterday and too busy to do today – I cannot manage it. Somehow this movie has sucked all the shark joy from my life. That’s pretty impressive. And pretty sad.

I think, perhaps, it’s that I found this to be a lazy movie. It flouts some conventions, but then it gives up. It’s got some comic relief, but then it gives up on that too (though I’m grateful for that). It tries for the intelligent monster thing, then forgets about it. It doesn’t bother to make the vast majority of the characters interesting at all. I’d almost say that last is intentional. After all, the movie attempts to surprise you as to who’s going to get chomped on by the sharks, so why do any character building to let you know who’s bait and who’s not? No, apparently it’s far better to just leave everyone as ciphers so we have no clue who’s doomed. Unfortunately this has the consequence of leaving the surviving characters totally uninteresting. How could they not have realized that would happen? There’s a couple of lines that might be character development for them, but when about two lines are all that I can recall when it comes to character development, that doesn’t speak well of the characters.

Now, I will give this movie a tiny bit of credit when it comes to the flouting conventions thing. There are four actors in this movie whose names I recognized, one of whom is a well known name, and of them two of them die and in rather short order. There’s a moment where you fully expect everyone to rally together to escape the lab they’re trapped in and then chomp. That’s cool. That was one of the entertaining moments for me. And I rather liked their techie character so whenever he was on screen I tried my best to pay attention. Alas, that’s not enough to make a movie enjoyable to me. Most of the movie was a series of scenes of flooding corridors and shark attacks in enclosed spaces. It was noisy and messy and unpleasant to watch.

The plot is a typical one. Working on the whole “sharks don’t get sick” concept, a bunch of scientists have been experimenting with sharks for medical research. But in order to get what they need they had to make the sharks’ brains larger. To do that they broke some laws or whatever and now the sharks are smarter than the average shark and they want a pic-a-nic basket. And by pic-a-nic basket I mean lab full of tasty scientists. They luck out with a hurricane, which strands the tasty scientists. One of the sharks had injured the lead tasty scientist and mid-storm the medical helicopter can’t winch him up in and he drops to the water where the sharks use him as a battering ram. Obviously the sharks planned it all! I realize the whole scientist-as-battering-ram thing isn’t typical, but the set-up of scientists creating monsters, then having to fight them when they become stranded alone with them thing is. And I suppose it was only a matter of time until the smart sharks started slamming themselves against the giant glass windows of the underwater portion of the lab and the hurricane was just lucky for them.

Anyhow, once the storm hits and the sharks break open the biggest window the movie is just one big mess. Aside from the convention flouting right at the outset of the disaster, everything seems incredibly typical. The place floods a bit, someone gets eaten, then the rest of the group moves on and get somewhere, which starts to flood and then someone gets eaten again and so on and so forth. Every so often we get some scenes with the comic relief and his foul-mouthed parrot until the parrot gets eaten and the comic relief meets up with the rest of the group. Then there’s absolutely no break in the monotony. Flood flood flood, chomp. Flood flood flood, scream. Flood flood flood, chomp.

Part of what made it so difficult for me to follow or care about was the visual quality, which was terrible. According to the movie’s trivia, it was filmed on super 35. I find this difficult to believe, since it looked like it was filmed on VHS. It was like watching a particularly badly filmed television show. Andy claims some of that is the television we’re watching it on, which didn’t have the sorts of inputs from the DVD player that he wanted. I claim that there is no way the television made the movie look like something off the BBC in the 1980s. I did a little reading on 35 and apparently processing can make a huge difference in its final quality, so I blame that. And then there was the sound, which Andy also blames on the inputs. But again, I think it’s still shoddy work on the part of the filmmakers. Every crash, splash and crunch – and there’s a lot of all of those – sounds like the same level. The resulting cacophony makes it impossible to follow the dialogue and I just plain stopped caring. After all, I’m pretty sure the movie didn’t care.

Watching this movie felt like a waste of my time. It has a few brief moments of fun and cheese but they’re fleeting at best. It’s an attempt to take a thoroughly typical, predictable and boring movie and inject some interest into it. For Andy, it succeeded enough to entertain him. For me, it failed miserably and bored me immensely. And I find it irritating when a movie so clearly doesn’t care if I’m bored. It makes me resentful. Hopefully the rest of our Shark Week will be better. And I don’t mean that I hope the movies will be good. Just that they’ll be more fun than this piece of drek.

August 3, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 508 – Captain America (1990)

Captain America (1990) – July 21st, 2011

Why yes, to celebrate the opening of the new Captain America movie we are watching something so very sub-par that I’m pretty sure it’s on a different scale entirely. We figured hey, we’re not going to be able to go to a midnight opening and we probably wouldn’t get to see it at all until Sunday, so we should do our own thing! And while we had considered watching this the day we go to see the new one, if that’s Sunday then it’s impossible. We have special plans for Sunday and the entire coming week. Because I am on vacation. And we have long movies to watch. Turns out we’re going to see the new movie on Saturday, but that decision was made after we’d put this in and the damage was done.

This is a terrible movie. The first time I watched it was for an online riff chat some of the old AOL MST3K fan community did every so often. We’d all rent the same movie, start it at the same time and gather in a chat room to make fun of it together. And all I remember about this one was that it was absolutely ridiculous. And I remembered correctly! It is ridiculous! It is a bizarre mish-mash of a movie, full of things I suspect are canon and things I am damn sure don’t even have a passing acquaintance with canon. It has a couple of decent concepts that I could have possibly gone along with, but they’re cobbled together into this mess of a movie.

First of all, I would just like to point out that the origin this movie gives the Red Skull is suspiciously similar to the one the X-Men movies have given Magneto. Except where I really think the Magneto origin is done well and I especially appreciate the expansion of it in the newest movie, this movie doesn’t bother with subtlety and therefore it sucks. I mean, yes, the Nazis were, as a party, a terrible force that destroyed so many lives it’s sickening to think about numbers. And within the party there were scientists and soldiers who did even more unspeakably horrible things. And they make really good villains for anyone to go up against in a movie because there is no question that they are Bad Guys. They’re simple and the audience will know, without a doubt, who to root against. But where Magneto’s origin gives him some depth of character because his actions are so clearly connected to his experiences as a child, in this movie the Red Skull is just a guy who was tortured by Nazis and decided to run an assassins club (which I’m sure Martin Blank would scoff at) after the war. What’s the point of giving him any sort of origin there? I’m no Cap aficionado but I did a little poking around none of the incarnations of the Red Skull seem to have this sort of origin story. And it’s a brutal one! Kid’s torn away from his family who are then all brutally murdered in front of him before he’s taken to a secret lab and experimented on.

Not that the backstory for the Red Skull never comes into play again. His initial scene with his family and the piano and all ends up being a key point in the climax. But it’s a key point that comes in unconnected to anything else in the movie between the first scene and the last. How do we make the villain panic? Make him face the trauma of his youth! What trauma? Um… family murdered by Nazis! That’s much better than actually having Captain America defeat him otherwise! And why do we need a trick to make the villain panic when we’ve got a perfectly good superhero right there? Because Cap’s never been able to defeat him before in that one time they faced off just after Cap was given all his super strengths and all before he was buried in Alaska and hibernated for thirty years. So obviously he wouldn’t be able to defeat the villain on his own! After all, why have him spend any time training or anything like that after he’s dug up and revived when we could have a montage of him traveling cross-country by freight cars set to a power ballad ostensibly about his old girlfriend?

It just feels so strange, watching this movie, realizing that some of the most ridiculous things done in it are there because of poor choices very early on in the movie. The whole traveling montage isn’t really necessary to establish that Steve Rogers still thinks his old girlfriend, Bernice, is waiting for him. It’s several minutes of power ballad lyrics about “memories of you, girl!” when something far simpler would have done just fine and that screen time could have been used to establish Captain America gearing up for facing down his hastily-established nemesis. It could have been spent on said nemesis, even! Give him something else to justify that first scene! But no. Power ballad and freight cars.

One concept I really quite liked here, but felt was absolutely horribly done, is President Kimball. Back in the day, when Steve Rogers became Captain America and first encountered the Red Skull and saved the White House from a rocket meant to destroy it, little Tom Kimball sees him and is forever transfixed by this red, white and blue clad figure with an A on his helmet. And then little Tom Kimball grows up to be the president who is then kidnapped by the Red Skull and saved by his childhood hero. I kind of like the idea that Cap returns to this one man’s life. And I like Kimball. He’s the scrappiest president ever, getting into it with his captors and stealing some acid from the lab where they’re preparing him for a brain implant that will give the Red Skull complete control over him. He pretty much frees himself, really. To be honest, Cap’s kind of useless here. His major talent is faking being carsick so he can then steal a car (he does this twice – someone, tell me this is not canon, please). The trouble is that we get a scene of Kimball as a kid, and then we get spinning newspapers and voiceovers detailing his political career and rise to the presidency. It’s not even worthy of the montage label. It’s a demi-montage. More like a scrapbook. Why spend time on that? Why not just go from the kid in Washington, catching a snapshot of Captain America saving the day, to the adult in present day Washington, looking at said snapshot? That would tell us all we need to know along with the same name for the character.

The whole movie is like this. Somewhat decent ideas played out in horrible ways, with montages and power ballads and clumsy writing. Oddly enough, once Cap and his old girlfriend’s daughter, Sharon, get to Italy, I think the movie goes a lot better. Sharon’s clearly the cleverer of the two, speaking Italian, finding information about the Red Skull’s origins, acting as a decoy for the bad guys so Cap can break into the Red Skull’s fortress. What does Captain America do? He feigns carsickness again and then scales a wall. President Kimball and Sharon, on the other hand, are breaking out of their cells and duking it out with baddies, hand to hand. But at least there are no montages. There is a piano on the outer wall of the fortress, which I remembered very clearly but had no real context for this time until hey, there it was! But really, it’s all just bizarre dressing for this sad mess of a movie. I’m not even dignifying the Red Skull’s “fiendish” plot by describing it. The movie’s ending doesn’t even really work (what, the detonator stops working if the person holding it falls down a cliff?) and neither does the rest of it.

July 21, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Captain America (1990)

July 21, 2011

Captain America (1990)

It’s probably pretty sick of me to admit that I’ve been looking forward to watching this movie for a couple months. We bought it as a kind of gag – something to watch when the new Captain America movie came out in theaters. I hadn’t ever actually seen this movie all the way through though, so the joke is somewhat on me. I had not anticipated quite how impressively bland and mediocre this movie really is.

I’ve been in the room while this was playing. It was (for some inexplicable reason) favoured by one of our co-workers at TLA for a while, so he was in the habit of putting it in the VCR there while we worked but I never paid it much mind. So I’ve seen bits and pieces of the movie, out of sequence, but I had no concept of the whole. It was probably a better way to see the film – the movie that I constructed in my imagination from the bits and pieces I saw was preferable to this jumbled mess.

I have to think that this movie was somehow influenced by the success in 1989 of Tim Burton’s Batman movie. Somebody figured they needed to act quickly to make a Marvel-based super hero movie to cash in on this huge audience for gritty dark comic book films. But make it cheap just in case the formula isn’t such a sure-fire thing. And have some comic book humor. And have some attractive women. The end result is a movie that doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be.

It starts out cool and gritty and dark. The Nazis in Italy in the 1930s (were there Nazis in Italy that early?) are working to perfect a formula that will make soldiers bigger, stronger and smarter. It’s not quite right yet, however, and has some unpleasant side effects. They decide to go to human trials anyhow and for their first human subject they choose a brilliant young prodigy. They recruit him to the cause by the simple method of forcing him to watch as they slaughter his family. Sure, who wouldn’t want to join them after that? So distraught is the project leader by this behavior that she defects to America.

Three years later we learn from a bit of ADR that the process has been mastered and that the Americans are ready to start human trials of their own. They have chosen for the honor a simple fellow with a slight limp (because the formula is supposed to cure ailments like polio and such) and an aw-shucks kind of wide-eyed naivete named Steve Rogers. So Steve kisses his steady girl goodbye and goes off to become a human guinea pig. Unfortunately a Nazi spy has infiltrated the secret lab (hidden under a diner) and during the experiment he shoots the scientist who had developed the super soldier serum, meaning that Steve is the only super soldier on the US payroll.

Almost immediately Steve, now dubbed Captain America is airlifted off to Nazi Germany to infiltrate a top secret missile base there. And just as quickly he proves that he’s not much of a super soldier as he gets his ass soundly kicked by his Italian counterpart – the super soldier prototype now known as the Red Skull (due to those side effects I mentioned.) The Red Skull straps Cap to a rocket aimed at the White House and is launched away. At the last possible moment Cap is able to bend the tail fin of the rocket enough to divert it so it crashes harmlessly in the frozen north somewhere, and Captain America is frozen alive.

All this is just the pre-amble to the movie though. The real film is about Captain America being defrosted in 1993 and having to cope with the much altered world he finds there. Now that sounds like it could have been a kind of groovy movie. If it had been Austin Powers. But instead the effect is that the climactic battle between good and evil happens about twenty minutes into the movie, evil resoundingly wins, and the whole rest of the film feels like an afterwards.

The only witness to the missile that almost hit the White House was a young boy who never forgot that strange man strapped to a rocket. That boy, through a montage of spinning newspapers, grows up to be Dick Jones, the slimy head of the OCP team that developed the ED-209 President of the United States. His best pal grows up to be a newspaper reporter obsessed with a conspiracy theory regarding a mysterious crime lord called the Red Skull who has been behind every major assassination in the last thirty years.

Here’s where things get a little confusing. The president is attending an environmental summit in Italy, and for some reason the Red Skull (who no longer appears red for some reason, but just looks kind of craggy) and his cabal of evil doers feel threatened by this summit, so they decide to kidnap the President and implant a brain control device of some sort so that they can rule the world. Muhahaha! Meanwhile, Red Skull sicks his psychopathic daughter and her empty eyed companions to kill the recently defrosted Captain America.

Cap is experiencing some culture shock trying to figure out the modern world. His steadfast girlfriend from the forties has moved on somewhat, getting married and having a daughter even though she still carries a torch for Steve. In a somewhat creepy move Steve promptly shacks up with his ex girlfriend’s daughter (which is somewhat okay I guess since the daughter is played by the same actress as the ex girlfriend? I don’t know.) Steve and his ex-girlfriend’s daughter promptly fly off to Italy to rescue the president (which caused Amanda to wonder where Steve got a passport on such short notice.) And over the course of another twenty minutes of faffing about the movie limps to its eventual end.

Clearly part of the problem is the conflicted nature of the movie. How can the same film have the brutal slaying of the Red Skull’s family, and the torture and murder of Steve’s old flame but at the same time contain cheesy attempts at humor like Steve’s repeated attempts to steal cars by feigning nausea. (How I wish I were kidding!) There are all these scenes in Italian with subtitles, which seems to indicate that they were attempting for a more mature audience, but then there’s the rubber American Flag outfit Cap wears that looks simply ludicrous. It’s like watching a battle of wills between studio executives who refused to relinquish power. Not good for a film.

Even worse, the title character is a pretty lame hero. This comes down partially to Matt Salinger’s portrayal. His Steve Rogers is such a big, gullible, lump of a guy that he barely seems capable of thought, much less heroism. He’s supposed to be this big super soldier but he spends the whole film lumbering around getting his ass kicked by flunkies. He doesn’t stop the missile launch. He doesn’t save his ex-girlfriend. He doesn’t even save President Kimball (the President saves himself thank you very much.) He gets shot at a lot and he throws his magic shield around, but as a super hero he leaves much to be desired.

I knew going into this movie that it wouldn’t be particularly good. That was kind of the whole point. And it’s far from the worst movie in our collection. It’s a big ugly mess though, and I found it kind of sad because there was some cool potential hidden in here. Hopefully we’ll go see the new Captain America movie in the theater on Saturday and that will help wash the memory of this one from my mind.

July 21, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment