Showing posts with label First viewing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label First viewing. Show all posts

Saturday, May 18, 2024

Robo Watch: Five Nights at Freddy's (2023)




Watched:  05/17/2024
Format:  Amazon
Viewing:  First
Director:  Emma Tammi
Selection:  Dug and K

I have no children.  Thus, I have mostly managed to live my life without having to know anything about the phenomenon that is Five Nights at Freddy's as video game, toys, or - now - a major motion picture.  So, yes, I have not competed for my hypothetical child's attention over watching some emotionally stunted dipshit game streamer hoot and woo at this game.  Nor did anyone in my house get excited about this movie coming out.

It also means I will not ever respond to a movie when asked my opinion by saying "my kids loved it!"  Look, love your kids, and use your own criteria for what is good or not - but my personal opinion is not filtered through the sugar-fueled viewing of entertainment by people whose brains are still gelling.  

Also - If you ever want to know why the accountants and actuaries now running Hollywood want for everything to be based on existing IP, look no further than this movie, which had a built in audience and managed to take in $291 million on what looked to be about a $20 million budget. 

At the blog, you'll see me imply many a movie is pretty bad, but normally I want to leave room for the idea that something was not to my taste, or I may have had challenges as a viewer - and certainly want to acknowledge that movies tend to have fans, even if I am not one. 

But proving that something being popular or lucrative is kind of meaningless when it comes to how *good* a movie is...  friends, straight up: Five Nights at Freddy's is an awful movie. A successful, money-making, widely seen movie that was, honestly, a steaming pile.*  

So, here we are.

Friday, May 17, 2024

Even More Swashbuckle Watch: The Four Musketeers - Milady's Revenge (1974)



Watched:  05/16/2024
Format:  BFI trial on Amazon 
Viewing:  First
Director:  Richard Lester

The Four Musketeers (1974 or 1975, depending where you look) is basically just Part II of the prior year's Three Musketeers, which we just watched.  For a bit more on this, I'd start with that post.  

sigh

So, yeah.  This movie was a slog for an hour and change of the 1:48 runtime.  It's got all kinds of pacing issues, is kind of plot-heavy, decides to pack in some characterization the first film sorely needed, and then, after 3 hours of movie insisting this is all slap-stick goofiness, wants for you to take this stuff all super seriously, and to be a drama which matches the events of the novel.  

With most action-comedies, that's not a problem.  We've seen The Guardians of the Galaxy pull it together into a tear-jerking sequence that feels like a fulfillment of the prior parts of the movie, and we're all in when the action hits and character threads are resolved.  But with this movie, the pacing is so deadly, the motivations of characters so wishy-washy (I have no idea if that's a book or movie problem) and kookily disproportionate to the actual matters-of-state at hand...  I really was having a hard time knowing why anyone was doing what they were doing for the last 70 minutes of runtime. 

I'll not quibble with a nearly 200-year-old novel that remains popular, at least in the zeitgeist.  

What I will say is that this is a directing and editing problem.  And likely a problem conjured by the Salkinds' desire to have two box-office returns for the price of one.  

I'm not even sure if the acting in this movie is good or bad.  I mean, it's *good*.  Oliver Reed turns in some great sequences in this movie, and Heston reminds you he's got swagger to spare.  But it's so hampered by everything around it.  Faye Dunaway is likely good, but Milady is an exposition machine.  And the sequence in which she murders Constance is barely motivated, overly contrived (how did Constance not recognize Milady?  they were face-to-face in the prior movie for several minutes) and in the framework of this movie, feels pettily unmotivated.  

And how we're supposed to feel other than "okay, I guess all that happened" at the end of the film seems completely broken.  Constance was the driver for the entire second movie's A-plot, and her death is treated as a "well, that sucks" moment.  And then we're treated to a montage about all the good times from the past two movies.  It is super, super weird.  

I mostly just felt like these two movies should have been one movie.

I'm mostly glad I watched it insofar as I now feel like I've got a grip on what's in the novel, to an extent - I literally can't remember the Disney movie anymore.  And cultural literacy can be helpful!

But, yeah, once again, I can see how these movies have kind of gotten lost over the years, especially as new versions keep coming out.  Apparently there's another two-movie series that's got a second installment coming or arrives, is in French and stars Eva Green (!).  And I recall a sort of steampunk version was out in 2011 or so.




Thursday, May 16, 2024

Kurosawa Watch: Sanjuro (1962)





Watched:  05/16/2024
Format:  Criterion
Viewing:  First
Director:  Akira Kurosawa

Well, I watched Kurosawa's follow up to Yojimbo.  Sanjuro (1962).  

The movie sees the return of Toshiro Mifumbe as the nameless ronin - who takes on the name "Sanjuro" so folks aren't calling him "my guy".  

He's stumbled this time upon a group of nine samurai who have found corruption within the clan, but targeted the wrong guy as the source of the problem, ratting him out to the actual source of the problem.  They're about to get killed by said bad-guy when "Sanjuro" steps in, saves their skins, and joins their cause.

Look, Yojimbo was lightning in a bottle.  It felt like a western in its way, introduced the nameless ronin, and - structurally - lays the groundwork for a lot of what's to come.  Following up with a sequel by rejiggering a movie in pre-production to include the lead from the last movie was always going to be a little dodgy.  

So, it's not that Sanjuro isn't a good movie - it clearly is.  It's just not Yojimbo.  It's the difference between how an A+ feels versus a B+.  You don't get many A+'s.

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Kurosawa Watch: Yojimbo (1961)



Watched: 05/14/2023
Format:  Criterion
Viewing:  First
Director:  Akira Kurosawa

So, I've decided to finally watch (a) some Kurosawa and (b) some samurai movies.  

I'm always a little embarrassed by certain gaps in my film-watching, and this is certainly one of them.  I've only seen, I think, three Kurosawa movies, and none of them in this millennium.  It's been a while.   And I just never get around to any samurai movies in my every day life.  Which is bananas.  Samurai movies have more or less paved the way for a huge portion of modern pop culture, in dozens of ways - from Star Wars and the warrior priest Jedi to anime to the various codes even our antiheroes live by (see:  Le Samourai).  Heck, even Samurai Jack was clearly supposed to be a particular flavor of movie samurai dumped into the future.  I have thoughts of whether all of Cowboy Bebop exists because for some reason this Japanese Western has a jazz score.  

They're socially acceptable action movies amongst film snobs, which... I will have comment upon.  

Yojimbo, in particular, was of interest as I was well aware it was Leone's inspiration for For a Fistful of Dollars, released just three years later.  And I've loved me some Spaghetti Westerns since at least college (when Jamie and I started dating, I had a Man With No Name poster on my apartment wall).  But, of course, the similarities between Yojimbo and, at minimum, Dashiell Hammett's Red Harvest, are impossible to ignore.  There may be some Glass Key in there as well.  Which - go watch Miller's Crossing sometime and come back to me for your "compare and contrast" writing prompt.

It should be noted that learned people have disputed the Red Harvest claim, focusing on The Glass Key, to which I say "you're clearly wrong, my guy."

But credit where it's due:  Hammett may have created the (frankly, very good, very readable) books upon which Yojimbo is based, but I think Kurosawa was the one who wound up influencing film and made the concept part of the zeitgeist.

Let's just be super clear up front:  I loved this movie.  

I'm mad I put it off for so long.  I think I've watched every Godzilla movie at least once, and most of them twice, so subtitles and Toho are not a problem for me.  There is just not a good goddamn reason I put this off for so long, and now I'm going to drive everyone nuts by just watching samurai movies for a while, and you can all deal.

Sometimes you just come to a movie, and you say "every choice here is exactly right.  This is the way this story should be told.  This is the perfect way to shoot this.  The dialog is great.  The beats are dead on.  The score is nuts and *perfect*.  And the lead is the most charismatic SOB I've ever seen."  

By the way, for some reason in high school, I rented Kurosawa's Dreams even though I had no idea what it was, what it was about, who Akira Kurosawa was, etc...  It was in, and I judged a book by its cover.  I really need to see that again.  But what I recall is that the movie's visuals were almost overwhelming.  And I can't say enough for the work here.  Young film-makers go watch this.  Take note.  Watch how Kurosawa frames shots, uses levels, deploys the wind, shoots through obstacles.  How he doesn't linger on violence for violence's sake - when it happens its sudden, and brutal and - from our lead - lightning fast.  And then compare that to the first face-off we see between the rival factions.  

Ie:  Try to appreciate visual storytelling in film.

So what do you say about a movie that's more or less already universally loved?  

I dunno.  I'm kind of glad Jamie didn't watch it or I'd be competing with Toshiro Mifune now, and I am not winning that battle.  

Go watch this movie.  

Next up:  Sanjuro

Sunday, May 12, 2024

Swashbuckle Watch: The Three Musketeers (1973)

we're literally missing a whole Musketeer here - D'artagnan isn't a Musketeer


Watched:  05/11/2024
Format:  Prime
Viewing:  First
Director:  Richard Lester

Huh.

So, I'm kind of surprised this movie isn't more of a thing here in the US.  Or hasn't had a longer shelf life.  But I have thoughts on that.  

I've not ever read Dumas' The Three Musketeers, and my knowledge of the material comes primarily from having seen the 1993 Disney version with Oliver Platt, Keifer Sutherland, (checks notes) Charlie Sheen (?) and Chris O'Donnell looking incredibly out of place.  If a 31 year old memory serves, that movie was not at all about the same things as this movie.

If that movie were a star-studded affair, it barely holds a candle to the cast of this film.  Oliver Reed, Richard Chamberlain, Frank Finlay, Michael York, Faye Dunaway, Raquel Welch, Christopher Lee, Charlton Heston, Geraldine Chaplin, Roy Kinnear, Simon Ward - and, apparently, Sybil Danning?

Thursday, May 9, 2024

Jarmusch Watch: Night on Earth (1991)



Watched:  05/09/2024
Format:  Criterion
Viewing:  First
Director:  Jim Jarmusch

This is one I remember seeing advertised via trailers on VHS tapes of indie movies you'd rent in the early 90's.  But somehow I never got to it back then, and I think, having had now seen the movie, that's okay.  I think I would have gotten the vibe back then, but as a suburban kid from Texas, I would have missed the experience of riding in cabs, which I had not really done back then, and wouldn't do until the end of college.  

Generally, I'm not sure how much I support "auteur" as a concept.  Film is a collaborative medium, full stop.  But I do get it a bit more when you look at a writer/ director like Jim Jarmusch.  Small, talky indie movies that rely almost entirely on actors handling the scripts Jarmusch puts in their hands.  And the rest is the vibe he creates around those actors.  

Night on Earth (1991) is an interesting but of what became the explosion of indie film that carried the decade (not that we didn't have huge blockbusters, too).  Essentially five, unrelated stories, but all with the similar points of taking place in a cab, between sunset and sunrise, somewhere on the planet (LA, New York, Paris, Rome and Helsinki).  It's short vignettes, in rough real-time as cabs pick up a client and the interaction that ensues.  

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Geology Watch: Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008)




Watched:  05/08/2024
Format:  Max
Viewing:  First
Director:  Eric Brevig

So, this movie feels like an experiment, and given the year of release, 2008, Journey to the Center of the Earth might well have been Hollywood floating all the latest toys and the concept of "movie as amusement park ride" more than they were trying to make an actual movie.  But they also still wanted to be Hollywood, so, while it does feel almost like a Cliff's Notes version of a movie, it does have a legit star in Brendan Fraser.   

First - it's clearly intended to be seen in 3D.  And like other 3D features - from Creature to the Black Lagoon or Friday the 13th 3D, there are clear set-pieces intended for the experience that just look weird on my regular ol' flat TV.  Things are basically hurled at the viewer from time to time.  You get it.

Second - I checked, the movie was also an early entry for use in 4DX or whatever they call it.  This was when some theaters decided to add fancy-assed chairs that rumbled and maybe moved, and sprayed water in your face (no thanks).  And there are multiple places that the movie feels like it should be part of a ride at Universal Studios or something.

I'll editorialize and say:  I think this is a perfectly fine avenue for Hollywood to pursue.  It would be weird for many-a-movie, but I think there's a market for thrilling movies that are a bit of an interactive experience.  I would come up with a new name for the experience to differentiate it, but I would strap in for a Star Wars movie about X-Wing pilots zipping about.  Or car chase movies.  Or running around Tokyo whilst Godzilla strolls around.  But I don't think they'll work like a normal movie, and we just don't know what that would be, yet.

Monday, May 6, 2024

Ape Watch: King Kong Escapes (1967)




Watched:  05/06/2024
Format:  BluRay
Viewing:  First
Director:  Ishiro Honda

I tend to think of myself as someone who would like nothing better than a movie about a giant ape and a robot in the shape of a giant ape duking it out in Tokyo.  Literally, this should check all the boxes for me, but I think I hit the wall as far as Kaiju-tainment for a minute, or else this movie was as dull as it felt.

Honestly, the production history of this movie is more interesting than the final product, which seems impossible when this if your villain.  

he's got panache and joie de vivre!

But the movie has too much plot for it's own good, and I think the editing needs some help.  At just over 90 minutes, it feels like 180 minutes at times.  

My reading tells me that this was some oddball effort fired off by none other than Rudolph-wranglers Rankin-Bass, who were making a King Kong cartoon at the time, that when I saw stills, I think I recall seeing as a small child.  I guess Rankin-Bass - who were outsourcing some animation efforts to Japan - went to Toho, after Toho made the 1962 film King Kong vs. GodzillaRB and Toho jointly went to Universal, and since everyone likes money, they went ahead and made the movie.

I've only seen the US cut released by Universal - Toho has a slightly longer cut they released in Japan - and of course this version is dubbed, with one of our two American-born performers overdubbed by someone not them.  I assume real US kaiju aficionados have their Toho copies, but not I.

Anyway, the plot is that an un-named Eastern-hemisphere country has sent Madame X to work with Dr. Who (yeah, I know) whom she has hired to mine for the mysterious Element X (which I think is probably super-uranium).  Who has stolen plans from a clever... submarine leadership team? to build a giant replica of the legendary King Kong in order to perform the mining.  This is not a sequel to the prior King Kong vs. Godzilla film, but hints that the 1933 OG Kong film was inspired by a real gorilla-guy, and that's OUR guy here.  

That same submarine team, made up of actor Rhodes Reason and his more handsome counterpart, Akira Takarada, hang out a lot with Lt. Susan, the ship nurse, played by Linda Miller (who has some fun interviews online).  


CINEMA



Anyway, there's some stuff that echoes OG Kong, way too much espionage/ James Bond inspired stuff.  Madame X is up to no good.  There's ape hypnosis.  I dunno.  It just goes on and on before we finally get to the big ape fight, which is pretty good, tbh.  Who doesn't want to see that?

The budget on this film seems high.  The detail on the Kong suit is good (if goofy) and the sets are many and highly details, for man and kaiju alike.  And Dr. Who's capes couldn't have been cheap.  And Madame X's couture was excellent. 

I think this one demanded to be watched with other people, and I watched it solo.  This was a mistake.  I may make Jamie watch it with me later this year.  

Sunday, May 5, 2024

Stunt Watch: The Fall Guy (2024)




Watched:  05/04/2024
Format:  Alamo Drafthouse
Viewing:  First
Director:  David Leitch

Certain parties will say "you only went to see this because Hannah Waddingham was in it," and to those people I say "how dare you?" and "it was a major reason for me to go see this movie, but not the only reason."  

It's been an odd weekend for me, movie-watching wise, as I feel like I'm stuck in "did you get the reference?" land - from Unfrosted to this film to the one I forced people to watch, Sharknado 4: The 4th Awakens.  And, really, The Fall Guy (2024) is one of the more explicitly textually meta movies I can recall.  

The Fall Guy ostensibly borrows from the 1980's TV show (starring Lee Majors, Heather Thomas and Douglas Barr) about a stunt man who worked as a bounty hunter between gigs.  But aside from using two character (first) names from the show and the color palette on a truck, the film really doesn't have much in common with the program other than the lead being a stunt man.  The Lee Majors show was part of our family's viewing habits, and I have fond memories of it, but in that vague way one remembers liking something when they were eight years old.  I don't remember many details.

Saturday, May 4, 2024

Cereal Watch: Unfrosted (2024)




Watched:  05/03/2024
Format:  Netflix
Viewing:  First
Director:  Jerry Seinfeld

It's almost impossible to discuss this movie or not get a soft clucking of tongues for watching Unfrosted (2024) since director Jerry Seinfeld made some ill-advised comments about "woke" and "comedy" this week.  I won't get into it all here, but, yeah, billionaire comedians who haven't had to pitch anything since the 1980's probably shouldn't be weighing in.

I also am not bothering to read reviews.  There's just too much room for too many factors to color opinions on Seinfeld instead of the movie itself.

But Fridays are for goofy movies at our house, and we'd planned on Unfrosted on its release for a week or so.  

Friday, May 3, 2024

Scorsese Watch: After Hours (1985)




Watched:  05/03/2024
Format:  Criterion
Viewing:  First
Director:  Martin Scorsese

I have massive gaps in my Scorsese viewing - just huge, unforgivable gaps - and this movie was among the missing pieces.  I've been intending to watch it since watching the one-off episode of Ted Lasso, "Beard After Hours", which, to me, is one of the best episodes of TV ever produced.  And, you will guess, took inspiration from this movie.

The movie was pitched on the Criterion Channel as part of a collection of movies that happen over one night, and I assume After Hours (1985) was the first one they put on the white board when working out the idea.   It's the rare Scorsese comedy, steeped in 1980's-ness - maybe specifically New York 1980's-ness - and has a cast that is both very of the era, and maybe helped make some careers.

If Woody Allen made kids think that moving to New York was going to be all upper-middle-class shenanigans and politely having sex off-screen, Scorsese was tuned into other neighborhoods, and what happened in the city that never sleeps after Woody had turned in for the evening.  

Griffin Dunne was riding a wave of "maybe this guy is our next star" around this period, as a sort of charming everyman.  How and why these things pivot is anyone's guess.  He's kind of perfect in the role here, a guy who just works a dull office job in what we'd now call data entry, and who - despite his relative youth - is already pretty jaded.  He can't even feign attention when his trainee (Bronson Pinchot!) starts talking about his *real* aspirations.  

Monday, April 29, 2024

Lupino Watch: The Big Knife (1955)




Watched:  04/29/2023
Format:  TCM Noir Alley
Viewing:  First
Director:  Robert Aldrich

I'd been meaning to watch The Big Knife (1955) for at least the past year through a few different channels.  Fortunately, Eddie Muller programmed the film as part of Noir Alley over on TCM.

The film is based on a play by Clifford Odets*, a playwright who had his own bad experience in Hollywood.  And, in many ways, feels very much like a filmed play.

My interests were Ida Lupino and Jean Hagen related, as both appear in the film, and I'd read Lupino was quite good in this (she is).  But it's an all-star cast, with Jack Palance as our lead - a successful actor who is a piece of studio machinery but who once had nobler aspirations for acting, film and theater.  Rod Steiger is astounding as a studio chief who needs Palance to sign a seven year contract, and Wendell Corey is similarly great as his fixer (a la Eddie Mannix).  Shelley Winters plays a would-be actress with information about Palance that's a big problem.

This is, by far, the best acting I've seen Palance do in any of the handful of films in which I've seen him.  He's not limited to general weird malevolence, or a bruiser of some kind.  He's a thoughtful guy juggling a lot of things and maybe just in over his head - and I bought him through the whole film.

In my opinion, this movie is very, very good, if a product of its time - not that the story doesn't work or even feels irrelevant.  It's more that the ending felt telegraphed in a mid-century drama sort of way.  But that doesn't make it bad.  I still felt like it worked, and was managed brilliantly.


Lupino just being rad as hell


This write-up is brief because I'm genuinely in a "I have no notes" mode with this one.  The story, performances, limited set, etc... all worked for me.  And Ida Lupino looked smashing, and was terrific.  And if you ever doubted Hagen, now's the time to see her once again nail the assignment.  

I'll take Muller's reasoning for why it's noir, and throw the tag on it.    



*who I've seen cited as the basis for Barton Fink




Sunday, April 28, 2024

Horror Watch: Ghostwatch (1992)




Watched:  04/28/2024
Format:  AMC+/ Shudder trial
Viewing:  First
Director:  Lesley Manning


So, I was watching the Half In the Bag guys discuss Late Night With the Devil, and they brought up a BBC TV special (that for our purposes I'm calling a movie) from 1992.   I'd heard of Ghostwatch and seen it cited multiple places over the years, but I couldn't say exactly where or when.  What I recalled was that, much like the Mercury Theatre's famed War of the Worlds Halloween radio play that emulated a real broadcast, Ghostwatch did same on BBC, but with video, presaging both found footage movies like The Blair Witch Project, and the frenzy for supernatural investigation reality TV shows that I feel started with Ghost Hunters (which I watched, and there's a whole arc there).  

If I took Late Night With the Devil to task for not sticking with the bit, and it making things not work as a movie (and keep it from ever feeling scary) I'm doubling down on that idea.  Ghostwatch is clearly staged - the line delivery is too smooth, things are happening quickly and conveniently, etc...  But, dammit, they commit to the bit.  And they hired presenters instead of actors in key roles.

A few things that make this work:  the show originally ran on BBC on Halloween night 1992.  We were only a few years away from TV stunts like Al Capone's Vault at this time, wherein cameras would go live to some extraordinary event (although as someone who watched the vault business live, I can say - it could be a tremendous bust).  The show was hosted by Michael Parkinson, a legitimate television presenter.  This would have been a bit like having Barbara Walters host your made up Halloween special here in the US.  And they also have real presenters Mike Smith in studio and Sarah Greene as their reporter in the field - and Smith and Greene were well known TV presenters/ personalities already in 1992. 

Friday, April 26, 2024

Horror Watch: Late Night With The Devil (2023)



Watched:  04/25/2024
Format:  AMC+/ Shudder on Amazon (free trial)
Viewing:  First
Director:  Cameron Cairnes/ Colin Cairnes

When I saw the trailer for Late Night With The Devil (2023) I was pretty jazzed, or as jazzed as I get about trailers for horror films.  Most horror trailers just look to me like "here are people who are in a place where they do not feel safe, and, indeed, they will now be murdered, but the good part is how and why".  And I could not be more bored seeing a group of people trapped and about to be murdered.  Unless it is death by angry animal.

But the trailer for Late Night With the Devil was something novel - a period piece about a latenight talk show and then stuff gets out of control because they are messing with forces they do not understand.  On TV.

So, two things struck me before the movie began.

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Franken Watch: Lisa Frankenstein (2024)




Watched:  04/23/2024
Format:  Peacock
Viewing:  First
Director:  Zelda Williams
Selection:  Joint household

First, it was someone on social media who pointed out the title to Lisa Frankenstein (2024) is less random than it appears and is maybe a reference to Lisa Frank products, and I think it's great, and maybe part of the winky "we're not going to explain everything to you dummies" vibe this movie has.

One thing social media has accomplished is that you've shoved generations of people together who normally would not have opportunity to speak to one another about pop culture minutia.  And through this, I've become acutely aware of how media and a few other artifacts can give a very peculiar idea to subsequent generations about what things were really like.

As someone born squarely in the mid-70's, the 1980's loom large in my head.  And of the things made in the years since the 1980's that tried to recall that era - this one may have actually stuck the landing in ways that I have to assume were incredibly off-putting to The Kids(tm).  This is not their dad making them watch their greatest hits of the 1980's.  

The movie is hovering in the mid-40's on Metacritic and over at RT a 51% critical score, with a 42% with top critics.  I'm not exactly sure how or why, but the people giving this movie bad reviews kind of uniformly seem to have missed the gag of 1980's trash/ underground cinema.

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Adventure Watch: Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959)





Watched:  04/22/2024
Format:  Fox Movies
Viewing:  First
Director:  Henry Levin

I've not read the original novel of Journey to the Center of the Earth, and until viewing this movie, I'd never felt particularly guilty about that or questioned it, but it's kind of kooky that I had not read it.  I'm a fan of Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and have been since I was a small kid - whether you mean the Disney film, the book, or what my mother reports was likely a kid's adaptation she read me when I was 5 or 6 that she even recently was relating to me how enthused I was about the book.

When it came to the novel of Journey, I had the basic gist down from a lifetime of absorbing pop culture.  Science folk find a hole, wander about, figure out there's all sorts of crazy stuff under the surface, like an ocean and dinosaurs.  Which should sound real familiar-like to fans of Legendary's Monsterverse franchise/ the latest Kong and Godzilla team-up film.  So, yeah, hope you're enjoying a fresh, new 160 year old concept.  

Anyway, that guilt about my poor reading habits seeped in about five minutes after starting the film of Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959), and I got a taste of the ol' adventure-spirit that could fill a splashy all-ages sci-fi movie in 1959.  But I also remembered how much I enjoyed the book of Twenty-Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, and, anyway.  I'll give it time and then read the book.

First:  This thing looks insanely expensive for 1959.  Massive sets, period setting, maybe 1/3rd of the movie on the surface before we see any caves, and lots of matte and other visual FX.  Plus, James Mason as the lead, Pat Boone(!) as the young scientist/ admirer of Mason's daughter, and Ms. Arlene Dahl playing about ten years older than she was at the time of shooting.  Some scenes have boat-loads of extras. 

Monday, April 22, 2024

Toho Watch: The War of the Gargantuas (1966)




Watched:  04/21/2024
Format:  Max
Viewing:  First
Director:  Ishiro Honda

Not as well remembered as the Godzilla movies from Toho, the same studio also made a few "Frankenstein" movies.  If, by Frankenstein, you mean "here's a giant, sort of stupid looking guy in a furry outfit and hideous mask".  I, of course, didn't look up what order to watch these in, so this is the second one, and I have not yet seen the first.  

However, I'm a clever fellow, and I am pretty sure I followed along.

The War of the Gargantuas (1966) follows the tale of a "Frankenstein" appearing in Japan after they believed the Frankenstein they'd previously dealt with in Frankenstein vs. Baragon was killed.  Well, apparently Frank was dropping cells that grew into new monsters, also called Frankensteins, because sure.

The first on to appear is green, and alternately referred to as "Gaira" or "The Green One", because he is green.  And comes from the sea.  And he hates lounge singers.  And the Japanese Self Defense Force.  A second Frankenstein comes down out of the mountains, and is dubbed "Sanda" (and is usually actually just called "The Brown One").  

The two fight while, per usual, the guys in military uniforms and stern men in gray suits ponder what they should do, while our hero seems to know what to do.  Now, weirdly, our hero is Russ Fucking Tamblyn.  And he is having an absolute blast.  

The best part of the movie is that is also has Kumi Mizuno, who has a large role, partnering with Tamblyn as his feisty sidekick.




You can also count on seeing several other players from the Toho company.  Man, getting in with them must have been an okay gig for a bunch of years there.

Somehow more so than other Toho kaiju films, this one really is just two monsters shrieking and fighting for about 50 of the 90 minutes of the movie.  Tamblyn and Mizuno run around behind them for a while, but eventually they get sidelined.  And you will get very, very tired of what seems like a loop of shrieking monsters and buildings crumbling.  THAT SAID, the sets are pretty great on this one, and they came up with interesting set pieces - maybe because the actors are confined within the same amount of kooky latex needed to make Godzilla happen.  

All I can say is, I saw it, I was glad for Russ Tamblyn, and Kumi Mizuno should be in everything.





Sunday, April 21, 2024

70's Sci-FI Watch: Rollerball (1975)

the image that looked back at you from every video rental shop in America in the 1980's



Watched:  04/20/2024
Format:  Amazon
Viewing:  First
Director:  Norman Jewison
Selection:  Me

I very much recall the 1980's and wandering the sci-fi aisles of video rental stores where we never, ever rented Rollerball (1975).  When you'd bring up the movie with someone of age to have seen it in theaters, mostly they hadn't.  So all we had to go on was a box which was Jimmy Caan with a spiked glove.  And if we wanted movies about sci-fi athletes, which we really didn't, we'd watch Solarbabies.  It was a different and stupid time.

But, yeah, we just never picked it up, even when the film was remade in 2002 by John McTiernan (from my reading, the remake is more or less a completely different movie that happens to include the same sport).  

Parts of the movie are exactly what I'd expect.  It's sort of The Kansas City Bomber, but they added a whole bunch of kooky stuff to Roller Derby to make it violent.  Motorcycles, a big metal ball, spiked gloves... stuff like that.  The game is played in a future world where the corporations have taken over, completely.  Cities now exist to serve specific corporate interests.  

Example:  the team we're following is Houston, which is an Energy town, and, man, is that uncomfortably close to the truth.

It's not dissimilar to plenty of other sci-fi set-ups, where a wealthy elite sit at the top pulling the strings, and everyone else is happy with the world they're in, but our hero stumbles onto the plan/ evil machinations of the elite.  The problem with Rollerderby is that, actually, aside from our lead character's life, everyone else seems fine?  I mean, I don't love the world they present, and people are dying playing this goofy game, but...  literally everyone else in this movie is playing along.  There's no Fahrenheit 451 group of folks quietly or loudly resisting.  There's no masses starving and miserable like Soylent Green.  I don't like the idea of a corporation providing me with a new girlfriend every six months, but no one seems pretty bent out of shape with it, no matter how weird or dehumanizing.

Saturday, April 20, 2024

J Lo Opus Watch: This Is Me... Now - A Love Story (2024)



Watched:  04/19/2024
Format:  Amazon Prime
Viewing:  First
Director:  Dave Meyers
Selection:  K


One of the things they'll tell you in some creative writing classes is "write what you know", but they'll also tell you "don't write a story based on your life and just swap the names out, because now people reacting to a story are reacting to you".  JLo did not receive this advice.

So, what happens when a person who has been wildly successful for decades for things she got good at in her mid-20's, and who lives mostly surrounded by sycophants, decides they want to pen a not-at-all disguised analog of their autobiography as a sort of Moonwalker-esque extravaganza?  

There is *a lot* going on in This is Me... Now (2024), the sort-of-film/ musical video montage/ visual media spectacle which is 100% the creative product of Jennifer Lopez and everything that suggests.

Spoilers:  It will not make you walk away thinking "wow, she's a humble, grounded person" in any way.  And not even really in the fun way that you watch Mariah Carey passing through this plane.  But the thing is absolutely, mind-bogglingly engaging.  You simply cannot believe this thing exists, and with all the resources (her own money!) spent on it, that this is what JLo decided to do.

And I cannot recommend it enough.

Monday, April 15, 2024

Noir Watch: The Sleeping City (1950)

This poster is a liar, and sells a movie that this movie is not



Watched:  04/15/2024
Format:  Criterion
Viewing:  First
Director:  George Sherman
Selection:  It is I

This has the feeling of an article or short story ripped from the headlines and turned into a movie, but I guess was an original screenplay.  Curiously, Richard Conte starts the film by  directly addressing the camera as himself, explaining that they had actual access to Bellevue Hospital where the filming occurred.

Admittedly, the location shooting provides a certain believability and grit to the movie, as does the look inside how hospitals were functioning in 1950 - with direct throughlines to how they work today.  

The film opens on a young doctor murdered by an unseen assassin as he paces near the hospital, clearly distressed.  Unable to find a motive for the murder, a suspect, etc...  the cops decide to plant their own inside the hospital.  And, here, you need to suspend disbelief.  Conte, 40 here and looking at least that old, plays a cop posing as an intern.    The hospital lets him come in as a doctor with a couple of years of "Pre-Med" under his belt and having had served in medical units during the war. 

Placed in the Trauma Unit, he partners with Coleen Grey, the head nurse, and the two hit it off romantic-stylez.

Apparently doctors would room *inside* the hospital, which seems problematic for any number of reasons, but must have been a real thing.  Conte's roommate first says he's leaving medicine and marrying Peggy Dow, which sounds like a plan, but he soon winds up dead.

SPOILERS

With the new angle, Conte digs into what's happening, and figures out that the wacky elevator operator is actually front man for a bookie.  And being a clever fellow, he knows how to set things up so that the doctors get in over their head, and have to start stealing drugs in order to pay off debts.  Once that starts, he squeezes them.  

Oh, and Coleen Grey is in on it, using her cut to pay for a sick kid's treatment and then getting in over her head.

The movie itself is... fine.  It's helped immensely by the location shooting, borrowing from The Naked City's concept of you are there! to lend credibility to the proceedings.   And the actual architecture of Bellevue is put on display.  

Buying that a hospital would allow a cop to pose as a doctor is a monumental leap of faith - the liability seems insane, not to mention the ethical lapse.  And that no one sorts out the fact he doesn't quite know what he's doing...  Like, seems folks would notice that.  Or you'd hope they would.  But Conte is a favorite around here, and I liked him in the part.

Peggy Dow is only in the film for a scene and change, but she does make an impression, and I was impressed with Grey's entire portrayal, especially her final scenes. 

I can't really say why the movie wasn't my favorite - maybe it takes too long to sort out what's happening and the mystery wasn't all that gripping.  But the location and the back 1/3rd of the movie make it worth checking out as more than a curiosity.