Monday, 4 January 2021

Transformers: The Movie (1986)


No this isn't the turdy Bayformer trash, this is the original animated movie from 1986. The original cartoon series that was based on the Hasbro toy franchise (before that a Japanese toy franchise from Takara) appeared on TV back in 1984 with a three-part miniseries introduction and then followed by the first season. After much success a second season followed that debuted in 1985. Once that had wrapped up along came 'Transformers: The Movie' which would lead into the third season.

Believe it or not but I have only recently managed to watch all of the first two seasons of the cartoon franchise (giving me insight into the story leading into said movie). The reason for this simply being, back when I was a kid I'd watch the cartoon but obviously I'd miss them from time to time. And being a kid you didn't really know about seasons/series or follow the stories that closely. You'd just watch the cartoon when you could and enjoy whatever you got, simple.

So basically, this movie takes place 20 years after the second TV series ended in the distant future of 2005 where the Decepticons have taken Cybertron. In the following battle on Earth the Autobots are virtually wiped out after a large-scale battle where they actually lose Optimus Prime. From there Autobot leadership passes on to Ultra Magnus as the Autobots try to regroup and hold off the Decepticons. In the meantime, a massive planet-sized being is making its way through space devouring planets. Eventually both Autobots and Decepticons must stand together (or try to) in order to stop the mighty Unicron from destroying their homeworld of Cybertron.

So despite the fact I hadn't watched half the cartoon series before seeing this movie it was still obvious that there were dramatic changes afoot. In the first battle on board a space shuttle, many of the regular Autobots that we had grown up with got wiped out! Yep that's right, Autobots Brawn, Prowl, Ratchet, and Ironhide all got blown away. Now this was shocking on many levels. Firstly it was shocking because we had been following these guys for what seemed like eons. We knew these guys, they were old school, we cared about them, sorta. To see them get shot down was quite astonishing frankly. Secondly, the fact that these guys got taken down with a few laser bolts was really really odd. Why? Because up to now all Transformers took laser blasts on a regular basis and either shook them off there and then or went to Ratchet for some medicare. Bottom line, up to this point Transformer warriors didn't die.

So we now had one-shot kills, plus Megatron mercilessly blew Ironhide's head off (gulp!), but another obvious change for this movie was the blatant introduction of various new characters. For two seasons we had a small selection of warriors that we had grown accustomed to. Admittedly I do recall it being a little boring just seeing the same old characters cartoon after cartoon and the obvious fact that I hadn't seen all episodes meant continuity was out of the window. Nevertheless, the introduction of new characters out of the blue was still welcome if somewhat confusing at times. Of course we all know now it was simply a cheap tactic to introduce a new line of toys. Ka-ching!

Of course, you can't help but ask where a multitude of old characters were and why they didn't show up in this movie. Where did the Protectorbots go to? What about the Combaticons? How about the Aerialbots? Where did Jetfire go? How about the Stunticons? Etc...Obviously it would be impossible to fit everyone in but it's also impossible not to wonder where the hell all these guys were. And I have to ask, why did Wheeljack and Ratchet make the Dinobots stupid? I never understood that. Dinosaurs were probably dumb creatures, but why make the Dinobots dumb also? Literally made no sense and served no real purpose to the Autobots.

Speaking of new characters, I never actually liked the new guys. The regular guys had a more angular look with traditional colours and vehicle modes. So apart from the odd cameo in various episodes (Dinobots, Insecticons etc...) many of the new characters we see on Cybertron have more futuristic vehicle modes with more outrageous colours schemes. Characters such as Arcee, Kup, Springer, Blurr, Hot Rod etc...all were visually unappealing to me then and still are today. The only new guy who seemed to keep a more retro appearance was Ultra Magnus and he was easily the best looking of the bunch, Things didn't get any better for all the other various robot characters we meet throughout. The Junkions weren't too bad but I have always hated the spikes thing they had going all over themselves. Looked a bit too Mad Max-esque to me. 

I really hated (and still do) the Quintessons design as it just looks impractical on every level. Why the need for multiple faces?? The Sharkticons didn't look like sharks, just fat bulbous robots with dinosaur-like club tails. And finally, the new robotic forms that the Decepticons got from Unicron were ugly in my personal opinion. Again they were all crappy looking futuristic designs with too many silly additions like bat-like wings and facial hair. Why would robots have metallic facial hair?? Many of these designs didn't look like they could transform into the vehicles they should be. With the original guys you could almost see how they transformed, that's why they were so cool because they actually looked like they could actually work. The new guys just became outlandish in shape and totally unrealistic, if you get me.

Another aspect of this robotic universe I still can't get my head around is the apparent cannibalism and the fact that every lifeform seems to be robotic. So yeah, since when do robots need to eat other robots? Why would a robot need to eat anything? We know they need energon for 'food' or fuel so why do certain robots appear to eat each other? The Sharkticons seem to enjoy eating other robot lifeforms (at the behest of the Quintessons), but why?? Just for fun? For devilish pleasure? A fetish? Also, are the Sharkticons individual sentient beings or do they have some kind of mindless hive mentality? Unicron floats through space and eats entire planets, but why? Surely he only needs specific materials for food/fuel, not entire planets! Then there is the fact that every lifeform we see across multiple planets appears to be robotic, odd. Hell we even see a robotic Earth-like squid in one sequence.

Unicron himself was probably the most unique and impressive creation within this movie's new roster of characters. An entire planet sized transformer is pretty mindbloggling and the design was hella cool it can't be denied. Was kinda interesting in a perverse way to see that his innards was akin to a robotic hell of sorts. Obviously all sorts of mechanisms and whatnot but also lifeforms being executed in a huge vat of some bubbling erosive liquid was pretty disturbing. By this point the plot had gone somewhat awry truth be told and the ease at which the Autobots managed to destroy Unicron did seem rushed but hey. Have to point out that the death of Starscream was pretty epic here too. Again disturbing but also a real game-changer, much like the death of Prime, but we all know about that (it never bothered me).

Whilst I will gladly take this animated feature over any Michael Bay trash any day of the week, this was still a mediocre offering truth be told. Looking back there are many cool elements here, the animation is actually really sweet, and the fact that it is dark throughout does boost my overall rating. Add to that the stellar cast for voice work  (Leonard Nimoy and Orson Welles!) alongside the stoic regulars and really this should and could have been a genuine classic. Alas things didn't really work out that way. 

The plot is essentially nonsense and feels like 100% filler after the initial battle. Many characters are killed off for a new toy range...and that's it! They clearly struggled for ideas. Unicron should have killed everyone in the blink of an eye. Most extra characters are rubbish. The whole Quintessons part wasn't even needed really, that added nothing to the story. And to add insult to injury the soundtrack, despite being cool, felt completely out of place. Nostalgia is a curious thing isn't it. Don't get me wrong it's still a guilty pleasure of sorts and it's still better than anything Bay came up with. And when this movie kicks off to that rockin' 80's track over the opening credits, you'll swear to yourself that it's gonna be amazeballs. For some it will still be of course, but for me it doesn't quite hold up...on its own. Within the cartoon series it fairs a bit better, ahem, if you ignore continuity errors.


Friday, 1 January 2021

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum

Punch, shoot, kick. Wash, rinse, and repeat...for a third time. The first movie wasn't anything particularly original but it was a master class in fight choreography and stunts. Nothing much else, just that. The second merely gave us more of the same with a slightly beefed-up plot. Again nothing particularly original but it actually got more confusing. Now we have the third (but not final) entry. And once again its simply more of the same only ratcheted up to another level and with the plot getting even more convoluted.

Continuing from where the sequel left off sees Wick basically in deep doo doo for the unauthorised killing of a High Table crime lord and for doing it within the Continental Hotel. He has merely one hour before being labelled excommunicado and therefore open season to every bounty hunter in the world, literally. What follows is essentially a long drawn-out chase flick as Wick must escape America to find the Elder (the highest rank in this world of assassins) and get his hit status revoked. That's basically it, nothing more.

OK so the first movie was a solid gritty revenge flick. The second movie expanded a few ideas which was nice but it got slightly ridiculous and became CGI heavy. Now this third movie goes above and beyond into the realms of nonsense as far as I'm concerned. The first thing that bugs me is how insane this world has become since the first movie. We're now in a situation where Wick literally cannot turn a corner without some random gang of thugs trying to kill him. If not on foot then roaming motorbike gangs. The movie moves from one set piece to the next without any real sense of reality anymore, it's like a showreel. There don't appear to be any normal people in the city, no police, no emergency services etc...Fights break out, people are killed, blood gushes everywhere, no one bats an eye. Where are the police??? Do the High Table control the cops?

Granted most of the fights are still well done but with this being the third movie things are getting a tad repetitive...and daft. In one early fight Wick and his enemies just happen to stumble into some kind of museum full of weapons behind glass, lots of glass. As said we get more motorbike jousting, and speaking of jousting Wick actually fights on horseback this time too. Original yes, but signs of desperation for originality? Yup. Still not sure what this place was in the middle of New York that had an open stable. I also failed to see how the bad guys couldn't bring Wick down when they were on motorbikes.

Another issue with the fighting was once again the heavy use of CGI for almost all blood. I understand that it's probably more cost effective instead of using actual live squibs but boy does it look crap. That's the difference between old action flicks and modern ones. Then add to that the simple fact that Wick is nigh on invincible no matter who he fights or how badly injured he is which I just can't get on with. Plus I just can't believe how useless everyone is in this movie. No matter who the bad guys are they are useless, depending on the scene. All the bounty hunters are useless. All the elite High Table henchmen are useless. All the elite assassins are essentially useless but manage to offer somewhat of a battle. All the Continental Hotel men are useless. You'd think the Continental staff would be badass all things considered, nope. Oh yeah and when the hotel is announced as deconsecrated it was full of people, next scene its empty! Apart from a handful of useless staff members. You'd think there would have been many more staff members ready to defend the premises. And when I say useless I mean Stormtrooper levels of useless, no matter how much weaponry they have.

How come the top echelons/the Elder of the High Table are a bunch of Arabs in a tent in the middle of a desert? Seemed a bit random. I'm guessing this entire sect of assassins possibly dates back to the medieval period? Twas also amusing how Wick managed to survive walking through said desert without any food or water to find said echelons too. Before that we got some pointless scenes with Halle Berry, in an obvious Caucasian wig, as an old friend of Wick who helps him get info from some other pointless character to find the Elder (seemed like totally drawn out filler). Essentially this was just an excuse to have a strong female character fight sequence...because equality. This merely exposed how bad these fight sequences can be when you have someone who doesn't really do movies like this much (the fight choreography becomes obvious). It was also an excuse to add some dog action in there which was also stupid because how did those dogs not get shot??

And finally, yawn! We get a big fight sequence between Wick and yet more so-called elite assassins from the High Table led by Zero (Mark Dacascos). This tiresome affair takes place in some hall of mirrors setup or something. It's an entire floor within a skyscraper made of glass, for no apparent reason. But you can guess one thing, its decked out with tonnes of glass just right for throwing people through, ugh! Clearly using ideas from Bruce Lee. I should also point out that The Bowery King (Lawrence Fishburne) is back again simply to set up the story for the inevitable fourth movie.

And thusly in the end we go right back to where we started. Winston and co help Wick, the High Table seem to give up and offer a deal, Winston seemingly betrays Wick to save his place of power within the hotel. So does this mean it's back to Wick versus everyone yet again? Possibly, although I'm sure Winston and co are merely covering their true intentions and will possibly help Wick in taking down the entire High Table organisation (with the help of Laurence Fishburne's artful dodger types) in the fourth outing.

So yeah, I don't really get the hype over this franchise. Probably because I firmly believe it shouldn't have become a franchise. The first movie was a simply gritty affair, it didn't need any more, it didn't need milking (think 'Taken'). But since then we've gotten two more movies and they have taken the whole idea into this inane videogame-esque world where reality has gone out the window. Sure it looks pretty and the fights still look good (for the most part), but this is the third movie people, and they're doing another one! Geez!


Monday, 28 December 2020

Time After Time (1979)

It appears I have stumbled across another Twilight Zone-esque film. Once again this feels more like an extended episode of said show (or many similar shows) which isn't necessarily a bad thing's hard to get away from thinking that. Twas directed by Star Trek's Nicholas Meyer though, one of his earlier offerings, which I found intriguing.

The Plot: It's pretty straight forward. Famous British science-fiction writer H.G. Wells has invented a time machine. Around the same time the notorious serial killer Jack the Ripper is on the loose in London. One evening as Wells entertains dinner guests police knock on the door. It appears the Ripper has struck again and might be in the vicinity. After some investigating it appears that one of Wells dinner guests could be the Ripper. But before you can say 'he's gonna escape in the time machine'...he escapes in the time machine. The Ripper sends himself into the distant future of 1979 and it now falls on Wells to go after him and bring him back to face justice. What follows is your typical out of time adventure as the British gentleman from 1893 must navigate San Francisco circa 1979 to find the hideous Victorian killer. 

Obviously despite the fact this film uses real historic people the story itself is completely fictional (duh). But I did like how Meyer fit this fantasy into a realistic timeline. I should quickly point out that Meyer's screenplay and this film is actually based on an actual book of the same name and year (1979). As I was saying, the film takes place in 1893, two years before Wells would actually write his famous time-travelling story in 1895. Thusly in this film Wells invents the time machine for real, has his chaotic adventure, and then follows it up by writing the story.

As for the chaotic time-travelling adventure, well it's a tad predictable and tame really. Wells is portrayed by a young Malcolm McDowell who, unfortunately, doesn't really pull it off in my opinion. For starters he doesn't really look the part with an obviously fake moustache, blonde hair, and he's far too slim both in stature and face. Secondly he comes across as a complete drip frankly, not that I know anything about the real Wells as a young man but McDowell's performance felt so soft and timid. On the other hand there are plenty of nice little touches from McDowell such as examining surfaces made out of new materials (to him). Trying to work out how to open a car door. Trying to understand the difference in 1979 speech patterns etc...I like that he struggled to get along for a time and had to sell bits and pieces of his attire to raise cash for food. That felt like people had actually thought about this instead of some stupid easy get-out clause (like him meeting a hot girl straight away who just takes him in and looks after him).

On the flip side the Ripper (David Warner) conveniently doesn't seem to have the same issues, that we see anyway. Maybe it's because he's the villain but things don't really seem to faze him as much. He seems more intent on continuing his killing streak in this new futuristic world. This was something that bugged me because why would he do that? I get that he's a psycho but he managed to escape from his murderous past and obvious eventual presumable capture and has given himself a fresh new start. Yet he gets straight back to killing again which would presumably land him right back in the same eventual outcome, capture and imprisonment. Many serial killers are supposed to be quite intelligent, apparently. Well this doesn't come across as a logical move to me, surely he'd be amazed by the future and wanting to discover more about that? I dunno.

Time travel is of course a very hard subject to tackle because who knows how one might react to a whole new world with new inventions. Especially from someone in our distant past because with basic things (to us now) like plastics, travel, architecture, communication etc...would be mind-blowing to them. It might not be too bad for people in our present going forward because we would be more likely to adapt to greater technology, maybe. 

Have to mention the casting of Mary Steenburgen as Wells love interest here. In all honesty her performance isn't exactly ground-breaking but it's the circumstance that's interesting. In this film she plays a 20th-century woman who falls in love with a man from the past and eventually follows him back in time. In 1990 Steenburgen played a character from the past who falls in love with a man from the future and eventually follows him into the future ('Back to the Future III').

There are many things in this film that are quite quaint these days. The main factor of course being the distant future being 1979, one year after I was born. This naturally makes everything incredibly dated to the point of hilarity whilst watching. The outfits David Warner wears in some scenes are priceless. The young girl wearing literal transparent trousers in front of Wells was bizarre as I've never seen that before myself. The fact that the US banks were happy to exchange British currency from the 1800's! Really?? All the cars and technology we see throughout the film. I also liked the obvious visual homage to the 1960's time machine with this film's time machine. Actually I thought this offering was better and had more of a sensible look really. This time machine actually had a little pod you sat in that would protect you from any possible dangerous effects of travelling through time. The fact the time machine in the old 1960's version was essentially an open sled always bugged me.

So anyway the film predictably moves along and we watch the Ripper kill various women only to eventually kidnap Wells love interest in order to obtain a special key from him. Said key is one of two special functions on the time machine. This key stops the machine from automatically going back to its time of origin, which would result in any time traveller being stranded. Without said key the machine won't go at all, I think. Not really sure why anyone would build this function into your machine. The same could be said for the second key. Apparently when you remove this important key it sends the time traveller hurtling into time and space and unable to be saved. This was something I still can't quite get my head around. I assume you have to be in the machine for this to work, but I don't get how the removal of this key sends you into oblivion. And again, why would you build this into your machine?? Seems dangerous.

Anywho overall this film is an enjoyable little time-travelling romp that any time-travelling TV series would be happy to showcase during its run. Admittedly this film would merely be seen as generic time-travelling filler for any TV series, I mean there's nothing ground-breaking here to be honest. It's a very simple story with a very simple outcome that could be retooled for any number of characters from any number of time periods. Think along the lines of 'Quantum Leap' I guess.


Saturday, 26 December 2020

Mr. Destiny (1990)

Believe it or not but there was a time when James Belushi was actually a pretty big movie star who popped out quite a stream of solid comedies. None of these movies broke the box office or anything but they were steady flicks that, for a time, consolidated Belushi's position as a decent funny man. I have strong fond memories of seeing Belushi flicks on the shelves at our local video shop and always picking them up knowing they would be a good time (hopefully). It was only in his later years that Belushi would, as most actors do, move towards more adult material, sadly.

So what's it all about? Well it's the old 'what if' scenario. What would have happened if one small moment in one's life had been different. This movie is essentially a Twilight Zone episode...which is great. Larry Burrows (Belushi) entire life has been marred by the fact that he struck out during his high school baseball championship game back when he was 15. He continually ponders about how his life could have been so much better had he hit the ball and won that game. Well on one fateful night Larry gets his wish via a mysterious bartender in a mysterious late-night bar.

I guess the first thing that struck me about this story is the fact that Larry's current life isn't actually all that bad. I think the story would have had a stronger punch to it had Larry's life been a tad harder or more miserable. I understand that he's supposed to be this average guy...but was he? He is married to a beautiful wife (a pre-'T2' Linda Hamilton), has a nice home, a decent well-paid job, and is generally a well-liked chap. OK he loses his job prior to meeting the mysterious bartender but at no point does he ever seem very concerned about it, in fact he's pretty chipper about it. Clearly he's got good enough qualifications and experience to walk into another job and has plenty of money in the meantime. So his continual yearning about that fateful game merely seems rather pathetic really, like get the hell over it man!

The next thing that struck me was how someone's life could be so dramatically different purely because they won a baseball championship back in high school. OK yes I understand this isn't supposed to be a deep movie, it's a charming little fantasy, but still. So just because he hit the ball and his team won the game his life went down a path of continuous glory? To the point that he became the President of a major company, became a millionaire, and married the hot girl in high school he lusted (and still does because he still knows her) after? Suspension of disbelief yes, but it still makes you think.

Speaking of this company, a sporting goods company, it also seems wildly unrealistic that Burrows alternative life would be SO incredibly lavish by just being the company's President. This company works in sporting goods distribution which seems like it could be a big deal sure, I'm not a business expert. But the size of Burrows house, the interior decor, his assets etc...are more on par with a member of a Royal Family! It's also incredibly frustrating to watch Burrows essentially get fed up with his newfound lavish lifestyle and eventually feck it all up. Again I can understand he would miss his actual wife and have memories etc...but come on! You are now set for life with another beautiful wife and a top job, there's no way you should screw this up, just enjoy the ride.

I have to mention the cast here because it's actually pretty impressive. This did come out in the cinema I believe, although possibly just in the US. Granted a few of these actors were pre-A star status but it's still quite surprising to see such a roster of stars. Here in the UK I think this was merely a straight to video job. Apart from Belushi and Hamilton you have Jon Lovitz as Burrows old schoolmate. Rene Russo as Burrows alternate reality wife (the hot girl he had a crush on in high school). Hart Bochner as the dastardly antagonist who is trying to take over the company (more of a subplot). A post-'He-Man' Courteney Cox in a completely pointless role. And Michael Caine as Mike the mysterious bartender, which kinda felt like a miscast to me.

Overall I did enjoy this charming tale of alternate realities and time travel. Yes the entire thing is wholly predictable and doesn't really offer anything in terms of originality. Yes some of the characters are pointless and towards the end the shady character played by Hart Bochner does take the plot a bit too far towards comic villainy. And yes it does get a bit too schmaltzy in places. But hell what do you expect here? The movie is basically a loose modern retelling of 'It's A Wonderful Life' and one of those safer cutesy 'Twilight Zone' episodes. It's a feel good flick that doesn't really need to go too deep with explanations but does get you thinking just that tiny bit.


Sunday, 20 December 2020

Sword of the Valiant (1984)

Another 80's flick that I had never heard of but was drawn in by the quite amazingly hokey looking movie poster. I mean look at it, a huge sword emblazoned across the middle with various character images hand-drawn to either side. And is that Sean Connery I see on the right? Why yes it is! The only well-drawn (recognisable) face on the poster I might add. Connery's casting elevated my interest...along with the glorious cheesiness on display.

This film is loosely based on the 14th-century poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and is also the second adaptation of the poem by director Stephen Weeks. Interestingly Weeks also recast Ronald Lacey in exactly the same role in this version. 

The plot revolves around a mysterious knight clad in green armour (Sean Connery) presenting himself within King Arthur's court one winters night. The knight offers a challenge to any brave willing knight, one attempt to behead him. After that the Green Knight would have his chance. Naturally nobody steps forward...until the young squire Gawain (Miles O'Keeffe) accepts the challenge. Gawain beheads the Green Knight only to find it has no effect as the decapitated body merely picks up the head and puts it back upon its shoulders. The Green Knight then decides (after recognising Gawain is still very young) to allow Gawain one year to solve a riddle in order to save his life. And that's it! Gawain must then set off on his somewhat random quest of solving the Green Knights curious riddle in order to avoid getting his head cut off in one year.

So yes the plot is rather odd and with little explanation to anything. Alas one must expect this seeing as it's based on a 14th-century poem, albeit loosely. The most obvious question is who or what is the Green Knight? Clearly this knight is some kind of supernatural being. A messenger or tester of men from another world or beyond the grave. He presumably goes around offering these challenges or tests to men in order to see who is worthy of life...or something like that. Why was his armour green? Well after some minor research it seems in old English folklore green represented nature, mythical creatures and witchcraft. So you can see how that would match with the mysterious Green Knight. In this film the knight also has some kind of stag horns on his head which points towards Paganism and Celtic culture, I think. Again all supernatural elements.

Then you have to question the 'beheading game'. I mean seriously, what kind of game is that?! Surely it wouldn't last too long after the first bloke has a hack at the other. Admittedly after some more minor research, it appears that this insane act is merely a trope of medieval romance and not an actual leading sport from the time of yore (I think).

This film is packed with oddities and various mythical easter eggs as it were. Sir Gawain's first trial is a battle with the infamous Black Knight, a character that has popped up in all manner of material. His reward for defeating the dark knight is to be led to the hidden city/realm of Lyonesse (a mythical stretch of land between Lands' End and the Isles of Scilly consumed by the sea). There Gawain meets with another mysterious character, the Lady Linet, who gives him a magical ring allowing him to disappear. She is later kidnapped by a lustful Prince and it falls upon Gawain to rescue her etc...

Problems do abound with this feature unfortunately. The casting is in places impressive and twas clearly a coup to land actors like Connery and Peter Cushing, both of which do fit their roles pretty well. Cushing as the regal Senechal to the lustful Prince and Connery as the towering Green Knight. Both his Scottish lisp and bushy facial hair a big plus factor here. His clearly sexualised suit of armour has to be seen to be believed. On the other hand the casting of O'Keeffe as Sir Gawain felt awkward and wooden. Sure he had the bod but he definitely couldn't act too well and that blonde wig was terrible! He looked like a Ken doll. Wilfrid Brambell pops up in his last onscreen role looking every bit the scruffy medieval peasant type. And then there's the poor man's Brian Blessed, John Rhys-Davies, as a Baron.

To be honest, the film doesn't really look that good either. Whilst filming took place in various locations with actual castles used (France and Ireland) which definitely looked great, overall the film looked fake. It seemed to differ from scene to scene. There are some scenes inside castle walls which looked really authentic with old period looking wooden storefronts, flags, banners, candlelit halls, and whatnot. There are some scenes where knight armour looked pretty decent and genuinely metallic, and there were some costumes that looked realistic. But overall much of the production looks a bit tinny and plastic with stupid wigs and glittery makeup. 

The less said about the score the better methinks, talk about B-movie. And then there's the ending, it just ends, just like that. Sir Gawain rescues Lady Linet, she turns into a dove and flies away back to Lyonesse. We then get a lingering facial shot of Gawain as he looks sad, and in mid-head movement, the film stops and ends. So what happens? Dunno, but can't Gawain just go back to Lyonesse to see Linet again? The original poem is completely different here.

So overall the plot has been tinkered with to make a relatively cohesive plot but unfortunately it simply comes across as generic whimsical fluff. It seems much of the original poem's themes have been jettisoned for a more simplified, trope-laden fantasy. Whilst not a bad film, it's not particularly engaging either.


Sunday, 31 May 2020

The Phantom Planet (1961)

Like many of these oldies I chose this purely based on the absolutely epic title. After that I then followed up with a touch of research into the plot and looked at some images on Google. I quickly came to the conclusion that yes, this is a movie I must watch.

Plot you say? Well allow me to enlighten you. It's the futuristic year of 1980 and mankind (and by that I mean the US) is now firmly set up on the moon. Alas there seems to be a problem, a few US astronauts and their ships have gone missing. So the stiff short back and sides Colonel orders a two-man search party. The surprisingly blonde Capt. Chapman (Dean Fredericks) and Lt. Makonnen (Richard Weber). It's not long before this young all-American duo suffers damage to their ship from a meteor shower which forces them both outside to try and fix it.

During this spacewalk Chapman is knocked-out after a meteor-like particle pierces his oxygen hose. Something that you'd think would kill him pretty quickly but nonetheless. Makonnen manages to get him back inside the ship before he is also struck by a meteor-like particle which sends him floating off into the cold depths of space. Sometime later Chapman comes to and finds the ship being drawn down to a large asteroid, forcing him to land. Upon landing and still suffering the effects of his incident Chapman exits the ship and collapses. He briefly awakens to notice tiny six-inch tall aliens approaching him, before passing out again.

No this isn't a space set Gulliver's Travels, but it is very much a blend of The Twilight Zone and the original Star Trek series. Basically these little aliens (Rhetonians) are trying to keep their existence (on the asteroid Rheton) secret from other lifeforms mainly down to their superior technology (gravitational control). So naturally Chapman isn't allowed to leave. But naturally Chapman wants to escape despite being welcomed into the alien race with his choice of attractive female companions. Yes it's at this point I must mention that the aliens do in fact look exactly like humans, because of course they do.

It's also at this point that I should point out that when Chapman lifted the visor on his space helmet, the alien asteroid 'air' or 'atmosphere' was breathable and instantly shrank him down to the alien's size. So obviously I needn't point out the complete lunacy of this. Firstly, asteroids do not have an atmosphere to breathe, and secondly, even if it did why would it instantly shrink a lifeform to the exact size of the aliens? In fact, why are the alien that big anyway??

As you might expect Chapman does start to settle in with his new alien hosts but all the while he is scheming to escape. And again as you might expect there is romantic jiggery-pokery afoot as one attractive alien female wants to get in Chapman's pants but this makes one of the male aliens jealous (cos he wants to get inside her knickers). Naturally this leads to some stern but polite language between the pair and eventually the alien custom of battling to the death in the movies main Star Trek moment. Think Kirk vs Spock but way way more crappy and without that classic tune.

Anyway after all this cliched nonsense (Chapman wins the battle but doesn't kill the alien cos basically he's a decent chap) we eventually get to yet another plot detour. Turns out this little human-like alien race has enemies. Enter the incredibly cliched rubbery monster-esque alien race called the Solarites or 'fire people'. Because the technologically advanced goodie race of aliens look like humans, whereas the baddie war-obsessed alien race look like large bug-eyed bipedal lizard monsters. Oh and the ships they fly seem to That are actually engulfed in flames? I guess that's why they're called fire people...monsters. Fun fact, the Solarite we see in the movie is Richard Kiel in his first film role.

Long story short, with Chapman's help the Rheton's beat the fire people and all is well with the universe. Chapman is now allowed to go back to Earth when the very conveniently timed US spaceship arrives in orbit. Chapman crawls back inside in spacesuit and automatically grows back to his regular human size because...he breaths in atmospheric gases from Earth?? Huh?? Firstly, why would Earth 'gases' undo the shrinking process? And secondly, how was there any Earth 'gases' left inside his suit when his visor was left open this whole time!

There are lots of solid goofs and cringeworthy moments to be found. The fact that the astronauts move quite normally when doing their spacewalk. Also, neither of them are actually tethered to the ship, they are 'walking' freely. In fact there doesn't seem to be any attempt at the effects of zero gravity at all which is most amusing. Why didn't Chapman's spacesuit shrink with him? It's things like this, the goofs, the errors, are exactly why we (the fans) watch this stuff. Glorious.

Overall this is definitely an entertaining bit of sci-fi hokem which definitely gets more and more ridiculous as the plot goes on. The introduction of the Solarites was but the icing on the cake frankly as I didn't expect that. The movie does have some nice effects here and there and the costumes, mainly the spacesuits, are well done. Set wise it's as you might expect with everything looking rather flat and obvious but it does the job. It's mainly the space sequences that showcase the thoroughly enjoyable clunky effects at their best. It was also surprising to see a blonde male lead as often you get a tall dark handsome hero. Fredericks hair definitely gave him some much-needed edge. So yeah, this space mystery adventure pretty much provides you with everything you could want in a cheesy old black and white early 60's peek into what life would be like in 1980.


Monday, 25 May 2020

Unknown World (1951)

So I found myself craving some classic black and white science fiction once again, after a prolonged period of modern-day crap (it just gets worse). Having a stroll through whatever a simple Google search would find me, I came across this little number. I read the plot, it sounded sweet, so here we go. I might add this movie is available to watch on You-Tube, so go watch it now.

At a rather compact 74 minutes this movie can't hang around too long, yet it does. As you might expect with many of these old flicks the start of the movie is one long narration explaining the current situation of mankind at the time. This narration is intertwined with scenes as the key characters set up the basic plot. Nonetheless this entire setup does take around the first five minutes of the film. Add to that the usual long period of talking and debate amongst the key characters and other background characters as they decide on what to do.

So what is the plot? Well you've probably guessed the basis seeing as this is a 50's flick. Yep it's all based around atomic bombs again, ugh! Bottom line, Dr. Morley (Victor Kilian) is concerned about mankind if a nuclear war were to start. So he manages to create a small team of various experts in order to burrow down into the Earth in order to find a safe haven just in case. At first he can't get the funding, but then he does via a rich young tycoon type (Bruce Kellog) and all systems are go. 

Yes this is essentially an early Doug McClure movie minus the gloss. The team of experts are all men with one attractive woman, which seems to be (an amusing) contractual part of all these old adventure movies. And as you might expect there is the obligatory tension between a couple of the male experts over the lady. The vehicle they use has a neat little name, a Cyclotram. Essentially a pod-like featureless submarine with a big drill nose. As you might expect visual effects are pretty basic and what you see is an obvious small model being tugged along. The interior is a simple layout with all the characters sat neatly behind each other. There are various dials and pipes on the walls as you might expect. Although it amused me how there only seemed to be a few other quarters, very little space for seven experts. Where's the toilet?? No need for a kitchen in this futuristic vision though as everyone is living on tiny pills that constitute a meal. 

Anywho after much adventuring around underground and the death of a few experts from toxic gas and one falling into an abyss, the team discovers a vast underground cavern. This cavern is yet again everything you might expect from a silly fantasy flick. Firstly it's enormous, like a valley with its own mountains, ocean, desert, nice climate, convenient light reflected off the phosphorescent cavern roof, and a weather system. And secondly, it's conveniently absolutely perfect for human life to survive. BUT there is one small problem, for some reason this cavern renders all living things sterile. The pregnant rabbits which the team brought gave birth to dead rabbits. This is of course makes no sense because the rabbits were pregnant before they reached this cavern and I don't believe they were fed anything from the cavern. So just being in the cavern made them sterile? Does that mean the humans are now sterile? Something in the air is that powerful? Oh I should also point out flaw number two, no dinosaurs.

Unfortunately this apparent oasis turns out to be an oasis for the dead. Humans could probably live and prosper but would not be able to have children and would die out after one generation. Thing is old Dr. Morley doesn't accept this and still has hope as he thinks life on the surface is doomed anyway. Morley has also lived through two wars so he holds little affection for mankind as it is. But before you can self-destruct, a volcano erupts and seemingly destroys everything. Morley is depressed and allows himself to be killed whilst the others escape into the underground ocean. They happen to surface just by an inhabited island, lucky huh.

Watching this on You-Tube probably didn't allow for the best visual representation but the movie still managed to entertain me. Naturally the effects are limited and quaint but still utterly charming. The view through the cyclotram cockpit summed up the corny charm. Portions of the movie were filmed in and around various real caves in America which definitely helped. The huge underground cavern seemed to be a matte painting and a very nice one at that. As already explained model shots were pretty basic but they do the job. The cast seemed to be taking things seriously which also helped sell the adventure, unlike their rather dapper attire and juvenile equipment but it's all good.

Of course the science is silly and of course it's all very hokey, but movies like this paved the way for your modern-day blockbusters. How many big CGI spectacles have taken inspiration from old movies like this eh. Fans of things like this know what they're getting into, you don't need me to tell you this stuff is great. Just a shame there weren't any monsters, this movie actually took a more intelligent route, surprising really.