A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Back to the Future III

July 7, 2010

Back to the Future III

I first saw this movie in a back to back trilogy marathon in the long vanished Hynes Auditorium. It was a really great time. We got t-shirts. At the start of the movie when Doc Brown made his trademark “Great Scott! exclamation the entire theater said it along with him and then exploded into cheers. Possibly having such fun at the premier colored my view of the movie. It’s hard to dislike a movie you’ve had such a good time watching.

The big advantage that this movie has over the second one is that it’s much more linear. It doesn’t involve twisted futures and paradoxes, it’s just a straight forward adventure story set in the old west. Marty has to go back to 1885 to stop Biff’s great, great grandfather from murdering Doc Brown. There are difficulties of course. The Delorean is out of gasoline so they have to find some other means of getting it up to 88 miles an hour using the technology of the day. And of course there’s Emmet’s forbidden love in the past for science fiction loving schoolmarm Clara.

I should point out that it seemed then and continues to seem now that Emmet was particularly thick when he refused to take Clara into the future with them. I mean, she’s supposed to have been dead in a ditch by then already. I suppose that in the service of the plot even Emmet Brown can be kind of dim.

Still – I enjoy this movie. It’s linear and predictable, but it’s still fun to watch. I particularly enjoy watching Christopher Lloyd as Emmet Brown in love. He’s all crazy google eyes and ridiculous grimaces. That and the whole climactic train scene at the end (which reminds me pleasantly of Buster Keaton’s The General – classic train stuff) really make the movie for me. Zemeckis even gets to do some special effects shots when Marty meets his own great great grandfather. (I have to watch the film again to see if I can figure out how they do the shot of Seamus passing the platter to Marty.)

So yeah, lightweight but fun. Fun even without a huge cheering crowd.

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July 7, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 120 – Ghost Rider

Ghost Rider – June 28th, 2010

I’m going to say this right up front so there’s no doubt as to why I enjoy this movie: Wes Bentley and his demon gang. That’s it. Okay, that’s not it completely, but it’s a good chunk of it. I’m a complete sucker for Bentley and guys who look like him (good cheekbones, dark hair, pale skin, blue eyes), and the whole elemental demon thing is always a direction I enjoy. Motorcycles are fun, as is fire. I mean, this should be a fun movie. It’s just lacking something. The things I love about it aren’t what should be the heart of the movie.

We begin the movie with carnival stunt rider Johnny Blaze making a deal with the devil to cure his father’s cancer, selling his soul in return for some clear x-rays only for his father to “mysteriously” die in an accident during a routine motorcycle stunt the next morning. Dang. That’s harsh, dude. But really, if you’re going to deal with the devil, you’ve got to go all Dethklock on him and make sure that contract is air tight. Anyhow, the devil totally kicks Johnny while he’s down, tells him it’s not worth trying to have a life or anything cause the devil owns him, and Johnny takes off out of town, leaving his sweetheart, Roxanne, behind. Again. Harsh.

Fast forward a ways and Johnny Blaze is now Nic Cage and a huge stunt star whose best friend and roadie is played by Donal Logue. He travels around, doing big motorcycle stunts and not dying cause the devil won’t let him, not making any attachments and being thoroughly miserable. And while he’s trying desperately to rekindle a romance with the girl he left behind when he was seventeen, the devil’s son has decided to put daddy out of business and gotten a little gang together to get a hold of a contract for a whole town’s worth of souls. Daddy calls in Johnny and thus we have our Ghost Rider, a motorcycle stunt man who really just wants a date with his old flame (get it? flame? right? GET IT?!) and the bulk of the movie involves a combination of Johnny trying to get out of the contract he made with the devil by trying to defeat devil jr. and his goons, and win over Roxanne while sporting a flaming skull head and wielding a chain whip and tasked with the job of judging the guilty and keeping Blackheart (devil jr.) at bay.

Maybe the problem lies with Nic Cage as an action hero. I like him okay in some roles, but he’s so laid back most of the time, it’s a weird role to see him in. I know he specifically wanted to play this role and I’m sure he enjoyed it, but I can’t really tell if it works. Maybe it’s that Wes Bentley steals the show for me. Maybe it’s that Wes Bentley’s coat steals the show even more. Maybe it’s that I really wanted to hear Henry Rollins’ Ghostrider on the soundtrack and it’s painfully conspicuous in its absence (to me, anyhow). Sure, there are things I like. I mean, it’s pretty cool that he learns how to deal with the whole bursting-into-flames thing by some Action Research! Actually, there are two action research scenes, and that’s pretty awesome. I do enjoy the climax and its lead-up, with the two Ghost Riders riding off into the desert, one on a horse and one on a motorcycle.

The more I think on it, the more I think it’s that the movie doesn’t do a good enough job setting itself up. Sure, it tells a good backstory for Johnny Blaze, but setting up Johnny is only half the plot. The entire thing with Blackheart and the devil and the contract they’re fighting for? And the intro and the last lines about legends of the West? It only barely touches on all of that. I get what it was going for. The closest it gets to linking everything is the scene I mentioned above with the two Riders. It’s a fantastic scene, even if not much happens in it. And the climax itself, taking place in the town whose inhabitants sold their souls, links it all. But up until then? It’s Johnny on his motorcycle in a big city. It’s the demons being demony in train yards and big cathedrals. It’s Johnny and Roxanne as a modern couple. There’s just so little set-up for the whole legend thing. It’s a big city superhero movie that wants to be a Western and it doesn’t manage it until the very end.

June 28, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 109 – Moon Zero Two

Moon Zero Two – June 16th, 2010

I’m rather amazed we have this. We own two copies now, one regular and one MST3K episode. The thing is, while it is dated and it’s got a lot of flaws, this really isn’t a horrible movie. It’s some decent hard sci-fi with a Western plot and it definitely had some impressive production values. Also, we love the soundtrack so very much.

This movie was released in 1969 and is apparently British, which I’d sort of suspected given the accents a lot of the minor actors have, but I’d never bothered to check on. Amusingly, the full version shows enough of one particular scene that we could identify Carol Cleveland as the hostess of one of the moon transports. Her part and a few of the others were cropped out as they’re not terribly essential to the plot, just to the character development of our hero, Captain Bill Kemp, who was the first man on Mars and is now salvaging space junk. When we meet him he and his engineer, Korminski, are bringing in a dead satellite and a bit of a tiff with a passenger ferry pilot lets us know that Kemp was once an important man, but has fallen from grace with the end of exploratory missions. Not wanting to be a passenger pilot, he’s turned to salvage and flies a beat up old ferry, the Moon Zero Two.

The main plot involves a millionaire named Hubbard and his plot to take over a mining plot on the far side of the moon in order to land a sapphire-filled asteroid on it, then claim the plot and mine the sapphire. Slightly far-fetched, yes, but it’s science fiction and really, the movie does spend more than a little time on the specifics of having to calculate orbits and trajectories and a key part of the plot is that the far side of the moon is hard to get in touch with, especially with the communications satellite dead (that would be the one hit by a meteor in the beginning). The secondary plot fits in with the main plot and involves the missing brother of a young woman who’s recently arrived on the moon from Earth. Turns out it’s his claim the asteroid’s being landed on and so Kemp ends up out there with Clementine, the young woman, and discovers that her brother’s been murdered. Hubbard catches up with them and threatens Clementine, kills a policewoman who’s sort of Kemp’s girlfriend, and forces Kemp and Korminski to finish the job he hired them for: hooking up rockets to the asteroid to crash it into the moon.

It’s sort of a complicated plot, but really, it works better than I’m probably explaining it. There’s some scenes in this version that aren’t in the MST3K episode, including some exposition that makes the plot make even more sense. It made enough sense in the truncated form anyhow, but with the additional stuff with Hubbard wanting the sapphire not to sell as gemstones but as insulation for rocket engines? And trying to tempt Kemp into throwing in with him as a pilot to Mercury? It not only makes sense in the overall plot, but it makes sense with Kemp’s character arc. See, Kemp desperately wants to explore. He goes on and on several times about his frustration with the Corporation, which runs the passenger flights to the moon, and how they’ve discontinued exploration. He talks about how some day someone will get to Mercury, but it won’t be him. And then Hubbard offers him that chance, but with the price of murder.

The other stuff that was taken out for the MST3K version is the stuff that makes it even more clear that Kemp’s a total player. There’s Elizabeth, the policewoman who’s been told to ground his ship but won’t because she cares about him and wants to give him a heads up. There’s Clementine, whom he’s rather smoochy with just an hour or two after Elizabeth gets killed, and then there’s Carol Cleveland, whose character doesn’t get a name in the credits (Kemp calls her something like Janey, but that bit was new to us) but has clearly been involved with Kemp in the past. Sure, not essential to the plot, but it does add some background and makes for some fun scenes showing more ridiculous moon fashion and Elizabeth’s bizarre ice palace apartment with faux cow hide blanketed bed.

So if the plot’s not bad, and the acting’s not bad (and really, I’ve seen so much worse), and the production values are high, and the soundtrack’s fun, what made this movie MST3K fodder? Well, it is so very 60s. I mean, we love the soundtrack, but it’s cheesy to the extreme. Very jazzy, with lots of sharp notes to punctuate tense moments. There’s an old adage that if the soundtrack’s doing its job, you don’t notice it. Not always true in my opinion, but in this case, much as we love the music it is so very intrusive. The MST3K crew comment on it a few times, asking why they’ve got a jazz quartet in the moon buggy with them. And there’s the hilarious fashions, which include day-glo wigs and vinyl leisure suits. There’s the fact that everything has “moon” as a prefix. There’s the zero-gravity fight sequence and the bizarre dancing girls in the bar, which has a different Earth-based theme every week (it cycles through south america, old west and something else harder to identify through the course of the movie). It gets goofy when it’s not being a serious space shoot-’em-up and the pacing can be odd. There are at least three scenes that feel like climaxes but then slow down to slo-mo moon/space scenes in between, so the tension disappears.

All that being said, I am so super happy that we own this and watched it tonight. Sure, I was supplying the MST3K riffs in my head (and okay, out loud too) through most of it, but I was also thoroughly enjoying what is actually a rather decent, if more than a little dated, science fiction romp.

June 17, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Moon Zero Two

June 17, 2010

Moon Zero Two

Amanda and I own a lot of MST3K. I’ve probably mentioned that. We go to sleep every night with one episode or another playing in our DVD player. This movie is given the MST3K treatment way back in season two, but it’s one of our favorite episodes, and we’ve long maintained that the movie itself is actually really good, so when we had a chance to snap it up (in a two-movie set with When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth) we couldn’t resist. This movie is a hard sci-fi bit of speculative fiction made way back in 1969 just after Neil Armstrong first walked on the moon. The “futuristic” moon fashions they wear in the movie are hilarious, and for the sake of simple film making they have gravity generators, but most of the science in the film is fairly accurate. Several EVA scenes take place (using wire work and upside down cameras to depict movement in free fall) and all of them take place in relative silence except for radio communication between the characters.

The year is 2021 and William Kemp (who, it transpires later, was the first man on Mars) is flying a broken down old space ferry from his base in Moon City because he doesn’t want to be a regular Corporation man. He dreams of exploring unexplored worlds, not doing safe passenger flights, but there’s no profit in it, so he’s stuck on the moon. When the pilot of another ferry of the same model of his experiences technical difficulties and crashes the Corporation wants to ground him lest he crash as well and give space travel a bad name (thus cutting into their passenger business.) So when he gets a contract to illegally land a solid sapphire asteroid on the far side of the moon for an eccentric millionaire he doesn’t really have a choice – he has to take the job. He needs the money to get a new ferry.

I should note that Bill’s ferry is very derivative in design of the Apollo lunar landers. Except that it has multiple floors and cargo space. There are also domed complexes on the moon where people live, and hilarious rotund moon buggies for driving around on the surface. And rubbery space suits galore. But for a movie featured on MST3K this film has a pretty significant budget, what with all the sets and props. And I’m glad I bought the un-Misted version too, because there’s actually a pretty cool scene near the end that was cut for time on MST where the chief villian explains that his plot doesn’t simply involve profit, but involves outfitting a new set of exploratory missions to lay claim to all those planets that the Corporation doesn’t fly to. He tries to tempt Bill with the promise of being able to explore again as he ought, and become governor of one of the new colonies.

The DVD packaging declares that this is “the first space western” and I don’t know if it is the first, but it certainly does have western roots. There’s a tavern bar brawl, a plot involving claim jumping, and the buggies, rather than coming from Wells Fargo, come from Moon Fargo. It makes me want to watch Outland. Which we don’t own, more’s the pity.

My favorite part f the whole movie, however, is its great jazz soundtrack. It’s all catchy tunes and blares of horns, and it really gets caught in my head. Particularly when I’m drifting off to sleep accompanied by trumpets and the melodious voices of Josh, Joel and Trace.

June 17, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | 2 Comments