Sunday, 27 November 2016

Darkman II: The Return of Durant (1995)

The comicbook character that was never actually a comicbook returns in this straight to video/made for TV-esque romp. Originally created by Sam Raimi but serving as executive producer on this sequel, his influence is still a strong presence. The film starts out in much the same way as the original with the same styled title/credit sequence along with a brief recap of the events that took place in the first movie. This is basically a highlight reel of the first film but with new scenes shot with Arnold Vosloo that replicate original scenes with previous lead man Liam Neeson. Overall this opening doesn't really help the movie as it does look very 'made for TV-esque'.

So despite the cheap looking start the movie does actually get into gear pretty fast getting back to Raimi roots. Director Bradford May actually does a sterling job in recapturing that Raimi style that we all know and love from the original and the Evil Dead franchise. You all know what I mean, that kind of cheap looking, tacky, sleazy visual flare with very simplistic yet effective special effects. Its hard to describe but Raimi has the knack of making genuinely authentic looking shabby comicbook flicks. This movie also feels very similar in tone to 'Robocop 2' I think, with the over the top, anarchic violence and gallows humour. The beginning of the movie also seems structured in a similar way, showcasing a short action sequence with some faceless criminals who aren't part of the main plot. Its literally just a quick set up to show that Westlake is now a Batman-esque vigilante stopping crime.

In said sequence Westlake/Darkman confronts a fleeing criminal. When the crook fires his gun at Westlake he calmly holds up a manhole cover to protect himself. But surely the randomly fired bullets could of gone anywhere and the crook could easily of shot him elsewhere after he lowers the cover. Typical early 90's superhero silliness really. The crook then blurts out 'what are you?!', Westlake/Darkman replies coolly, 'I'm just a concerned citizen', before taking the perp down. A perfect Batman 89 rip-off moment and a perfect piece of cheese no doubt. What's kinda amusing though is essentially Darkman is just some bloke in bandages (wouldn't a balaclava be easier?), wearing a black trench coat and a black fedora, yet the crook acts as if he's some kind of mythical superhero.

So now Westlake is living under the city in some abandoned railway line or subway or something, he even has his own railway/subway train thing that he flies around beneath the city with. Of course there is absolutely no explanation as to how he manages all this without getting discovered or how he even got down there and set it all up so don't question it. He funds all this by stopping criminals who just happen to have stolen large sums of cash, so he pinches the loot off them to use for himself. So essentially he's also stealing money or using stolen money on himself which is still kinda wrong...right? Anywho Westlake is still trying to create a synthetic skin that won't disintegrate which is the entire basis of this sequel. Once again Robert Durant (who somehow survived from the first movie with no explanation) is the thorn in his side. Long story short, Durant needs a large building to start up a weapons factory to become powerful once again. The building is already owned by a scientist (who is also working on synthetic skin) and his sister who won't sell up. Westlake teams up with said scientist because his research is getting good results. Durant kills said scientist so he can put pressure on the sister to sell the building. Westlake tries to defend the sister and stop Durant.

Its a pretty predictable pattern for this movie in all honesty, they haven't really stayed too far from the original premise. Bringing back Durant seems like a big stretch seeing as he was basically killed in the first movie, but I guess Larry Drake was such a good baddie they needed him back at all costs. Durant's small crew of henchmen are a wondrous example of classic 90's stereotypical cliches. All white males that look and dress like greasy yuppies straight off the set of 'Wall Street'. In fact none of them are in the least bit threatening at all, they are clearly more for comedic relief and buffoonish if anything. Arnold Vosloo steps in for Liam Neeson and does a surprisingly good job! I really expected the acting to be dire and with little heart and soul but Vosloo does fit the bill nicely. Naturally you shouldn't expect anything epic as this feature is a pure slice of trashy comicbook hokem which I'm sure the actors were well aware of, but it all works nicely.

The makeup for Westlake is once again very good but not quite as good as the original movie. The detail is there but Westlake's face isn't quite as moist and raw looking, it looks a bit more rubbery this time around, but still decent. Action is satisfactory, nothing to shout about, nothing overly grandiose, mainly fisticuffs. Like the first movie its limited by budget and does look a tad cheap at times, but it all adds to the charm of the franchise really. Its fun watching Westlake utilise his synthetic skin to become a double of the various baddies (although this happens in the first movie also), its quirky, stupid, slapstick-esque fun for sure. But ultimately it makes no sense in the finale as he's swapping masks willy-nilly, I thought it was a time consuming process to put these masks on?

With its tongue firmly planted within its cheek, this movie certainly achieves what it set out to do, and that was to try and stand side by side with the original. Yes this movie isn't great by any means, but it is just about on par with the first in my humble opinion. The visuals, the gritty seedy trashy atmosphere, all the usual comicbook tropes such as struggling with inner rage, an underground lair, hero shots, shadows etc...Its all here and it all looks like a solid continuation from the first flick, which again is kinda surprising. Yes you could say Darkman II is basically repeating itself by having Westlake kill Durant and his henchmen all over again, and you'd be right. But at the end of the day if you liked the first then I'm sure this will suffice.


Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Crack in the World (1965)

Hell of a title huh, there's a big the world. The thought springs to mind, how in the hell did Earth manage to get a big ass crack in it?? The further thought springs to mind, how will the characters in the movie get around this?? Surely all this would be down to a major earthquake or some kind of natural disaster right? Nope, its mankind messing with nukes again, because that was the go-to plot device for everything back in this era, apparently.

So some scientist types are trying to tap into the Earth's mass of geothermal energy by drilling deep into the Earth's core, in Africa, for molten magma. They are doing this because the energy source down there would revolutionise industry and technology in general. Everything is going swimmingly until they hit a snag, a layer of dense material (of some kind) that they cannot break though with their drills. So after much deliberation and arguing, its decided to use an atomic bomb to try and crack this barrier so they can proceed to the core. What could go wrong I hear you say? well that's where the films title comes in. Yes that's right, the atomic blast causes a gigantic crack to slowly emerge in the Earth which begins to tear across both land and sea causing all sorts of problems. Could this be the end of the world?

K so firstly, firing a nuclear missile down a hole into the Earth's core?! are you guys flippin' nuts??!! OK OK, so after all the boring technical talk it could work in theory but...oh dear, you all missed the big hydrogen reservoir in the local underground vicinity. Thusly this turns the atomic blast into a much more powerful thermonuclear blast, which begins to split the Earth in two, yeah that's a pretty big human error right there folks. But wait! you were also warned by the goodie scientist type bloke that many years of previous nuke testing underground (wut??!!) may have also weakened the underground crust, and a huge crack could result if this project continues. Meh, never mind that, we need that energy, carry on! (why not just go through a volcano? or is that too stupid?).

By all accounts this is a boring disaster movie for the most part, truth be told. Much of the run time is spend with the main cast (and lots of extras) as they ponder over facts, figures and lots of large maps. The base of the organisation that is heading this dodgy project is set underground in a large metallic/rock based lair, very much like a villains base in a Bond movie. There are lots of similar looking sets with maps, lockers, tables, desks and rock formations on display, but mostly maps. Most of the time we watch the actors walk from room to room in conversation, either in good spirits, moody or serious, and then they usually look at a map or two, comparing stats. Most other times we watch the three main protagonists (Dana Andrews as Dr. Stephen Sorensen, Janette Scott as Dr. Maggie Sorensen and Kieron Moore as Ted Rampion...who looks like an early Scott Adkins) all arguing between each other because they are all caught up in a love triangle (ugh!). Gotta love those 60's safari-esque outfits Moore is wearing, all beige too...nice!

In all honesty the only decently exciting sequence in the entire movie is when Rampion and co have to shimmy down inside a volcano to plant a second nuke. The reason being they try to stop the growing crack with another blast...always with the nukes in these American films. This is actually a really good, tense sequence that not only looks decent but has the obligatory death which you just know is coming. Even so, said death is actually quite disturbing and alarming, you don't see anything too graphic of course but it just makes you sweat a bit, gets you thinking too. There are also some little touches that really set the atmosphere, such as Rampion's protective glove beginning to melt as he touches the metal cage around the nuke. You actually feel quite relieved when the remaining team members get out of the volcano.

Of course the grand finale doesn't fail you either, in terms of scope at least, although its not as tense as the volcano interior sequence. You get to watch the frantic escape from deep down as the entire underground base starts to collapse as the crack starts splitting off a huge chunk of the Earth. The devastation of the base is pretty good with lots of on-set chaos and falling debris, they clearly shook that set to bits. Other effects range from the usual usage of models, rear projection, superimposing, stock footage etc...Much of the sets and models are solid but as expected any really glossy visual effects tend to look hokey these days, probably mind blowing for the time though.

You can clearly see this movies visuals and ideas have been inspired by other movies/pop culture of the era. The sets are very very Bond-esque. Dana Andrews actually looks like a Bond villain with his grey hair and craggy features, where as Kieron Moore is the epitome of a suave but gruff action hero. The plot is similar to 'When Worlds Collide', the volcano action sequence has seemingly been taken from an episode of Thunderbirds, and both Moore and Scott starred in sci-fi classic 'The Day of the Triffids'. All together the feature is the perfect concoction of 60's culture. But is it any good? well yes and no. The build up is admittedly pretty dull, sure the plot is intriguing but the movie lurches along in a lackluster fashion for the most part. Things obviously get more exciting once the crack emerges but even then we don't get to see that much carnage (except for a model train crash), it all seems quite watered down really. In the very end the finale might be grandiose science fiction on paper but the film clearly can't really pull it off, the technology for the day just can't do it justice and it just looks crap. The fact its all in colour highlights how crap it all looks really, where as in black and white some flaws could be hidden. Its a long drawn out disaster porn flick and in my opinion not one of the better offerings, its not terrible by any means, just a bit cumbersome.


Friday, 18 November 2016

Sausage Party (2016)

I read some time ago that it took Seth Rogen a long long time to get any studio interested in making this crude feature. Is that surprising? no not really, considering that adult rated movies have only just come back into fashion thanks to a few other successful flicks (God bless that red and black jumpsuited superhero). Yet this naughty idea is so perfect its amazing it took this long for a studio to green light such a move. Of course the idea of a mocking/spoof/parody of the kids animated genre isn't new, we did get that with the Shrek franchise, albeit for the family. But the idea of a full on adult animation which openly takes the piss out of the current Pixar/Disney/Dreamworks crop of features is nothing short of sheer genius frankly. I mean come on, who wouldn't wanna see an R rated movie along the same lines as 'Toy Story' or whatever.

So the story is set within the present day I believe, but in this universe all food and drink are sentient beings. It seems that all food, drink, food related products, cleaning products...basically everything you would find in your supermarket, is alive and can communicate with each other (humans don't see this, all they see are inanimate, lifeless objects). They all live in the supermarket, within their isles which each form small communities of sorts, and cohabit in a universally happy way. They live their lives according to a simple religion or belief, that humans are Gods that will choose them and take them away to a promised land, the great beyond. Of course little do they know that they are in fact being taken away to their doom, to be eaten or used. One thing leads to another resulting in a small band of foods fighting for their lives as they try to discover the true behind the so called human Gods and the great beyond. Are their beliefs true or a complete crock of shit?

Visually this movie isn't really anything to shout home about, in fact its pretty basic looking when compared to various other major animated flicks. Yes it looks nice but it kinda reminded more of a straight to DVD type movie if anything. Some of the characters look down right childish like the main protagonist Frank, who is a sausage (or frankfurter?), Sammy the bagel, Teresa the taco etc...These characters (well all of them) are literally food (or whatever) with a set of eyes and a mouth on them, its extremely basic. Not that you could do much more design wise to be honest. Yet some of the characters were pretty good and looked like they had more time spend on their creation. Firewater the old bottle of liquor, Kareem the lavash and the excellent Gum and his little electric wheelchair, clearly based on Stephen Hawking. I think the worst looking character that just didn't work (for me) was the second main protagonist of Brenda the hot dog bun. I can see how it might have been tricky to give a hot dog bun a face did this character look stupid...and creepy.

But hey who are we kidding here, this movie was never about the visuals, that was never the films main purpose. The movie was always gonna be all about the adult humour, how risqué it could be, how far it could push the boundaries of good taste and general political triggering, you know all the good stuff. On that front the movie is a complete success. Comparisons with South Park are gonna be inevitable here, and I don't blame anyone for saying so. It is indeed highly amusing to see and hear little CGI animated characters that look like something outta of a kids flick, using brutal profanity left, right and centre. But not just the usual words, oh no, we're talking an entire spectrum of naughty words and filthy innuendos. Heck at some points its not even innuendo, they just say it and mean it!

'look how tight I am'
'I've never been opened up before'
'put your meat in my bun'
'I'm filling you!'

Added to that is the devastatingly accurate contemporary political satire which springs up throughout the movie. For example the use of Jewish food products and Middle Eastern (Muslim) food products all stuck together on one shelf, in one aisle, and arguing over the space allocated to them is both predictable and genius. Yes of course the food characters are all cliched stereotypes and their problems are directly taken from present day issues which is all kinda easy comedy to be sure, but it just works in this presentation. Seeing these cartoonish little characters argue over such issues relating to our current political climate is funny and also highlights how idiotic these issues really are. Its a double whammy of comedy whilst bringing delicate problems to the forefront and shining a light on them. Its like, hey look at this! look how inane this really is.

Nothing is really safe in this movie with everything attacked and dragged through the mud. You have a box of grits that is clearly supposed to be a black male who is angry at the crackers for taking his shelf space. Various jokes about specific religious groups such as a poke at the Jewish community and Twitter at the start. Firewater the liquor is based on a Native American so there are various digs at immigration along with racism. The entire plot is virtually a play on Christianity, God and the Bible, which is played out in a small hand drawn animated sequence which explains how foods see humans, the foods beliefs and how they had been tricked for so long. A devilishly simple yet witty attack I might add, brilliantly executed. The start of the movie sees a fantastic parody of the Normandy invasion in 'Saving Private Ryan' with the various food products getting killed in horrific ways when they all spill from a shopping cart. Obviously I'm not saying the Normandy invasion is anything to be amused by, but the parody here was very clever. And lastly of course all the characters you see, as mentioned, are outrageous racist stereotypes, unashamedly so.

Even when you think things couldn't possibly get any more offensive, whammo! the finale slaps you across the face with an all out sexual orgy. Now you might be thinking how cartoon food products having sex could possibly be dirty or X-rated, well its possible. Don't get me wrong its nothing that's gonna blow your mind if you're an adult, but watching a piece of fruit suck off a turnip, or seeing a banana getting wanked off is...pretty bizarre frankly. It doesn't so much look X-rated, its the simple suggestion that's X-rated, and funny. But why is it even in here? It doesn't really add or bare any relevance to the plot. Well just because they can I guess, because they were able to get away with it, so there.

But overall is this an actual good movie or simply a case of morbid curiosity in seeing animated filth and profanity. To be honest I'd say the latter and that's because unlike South Park the characters aren't really engaging and the film lacks depth and scope. I didn't really like or care about the characters, they were just there to tell the story and get killed horribly. As for the story, well its obviously really stupid, sure the cutesy parodies are well done and all but lets be honest here, its idiotic. But overall this was indeed a simple case of watching a movie just to see what all the fuss was about, to see cartoon pieces of fruit n veg swearing and fucking each other. To see racism and sexism played out in your face, with silly characters, and having an excuse to laugh at it. In this current political climate I think this movie does wonders by allowing people to simply (hopefully) let off some steam, sit back, relax and just laugh at this nonsense. So yes its a relatively clever flick which offers up fun chunks of controversy which you can enjoy, but its nothing more than that really. Beyond the headline grabbing controversy its a bit of a one-trick pony really.


Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Skiptrace (HK/CN/US, 2016)

Wow, didn't think they made stuff like this anymore! I feel like I just got back from 1995 after watching some lame, mismatched, double team, buddy action flick. Instead its 2016 and somehow I'm still watching some lame mismatched, double team, buddy action flick. Take the title, its some kind of jargon for tracking people basically, although you can just as easily use the word 'tracking' but I guess that doesn't sound as cool. The title isn't even that relevant to the movie frankly, pfft!

Anyway so this is a Jackie Chan movie, so that inevitably means lots of slapstick action and gymnastic-esque martial arts, the usual routine. The guy he gets awkwardly partnered up with is Johnny Knoxville, so right away you know that Chan is the more straight laced of the duo, whilst Knoxville will be the jackass (no pun intended). Sure enough, Chan plays a by the books Hong Kong cop who's after Knoxville's character, whilst Knoxville plays a loud, brash, bumbling American conman on the run.

For such a basic plot its certainly convoluted in its execution. Bennie Chan (Jackie) is after a crime boss called 'The Matador' who he believes is responsible for his old partners death (and he's a crime boss). The man in question being Victor Wong. The daughter of Bennie's old partner (Samantha) works at a casino which is owned by Wong and also happens to be the same casino where conman Connor Watts (Knoxville) manages to rinse a load of money. Wong believes Samantha helped Watts in this scam so she's in trouble with him. So Bennie must track down Watts in order to help Samantha to prove she wasn't involved. But Watts has been kidnapped by Russians because he's in trouble with them for getting a crime bosses daughter pregnant.

At the same time! Watts also witnessed the murder of a woman at the hands of Wong before being kidnapped by the Russians. So Wong is also after Watts (as well as Samantha) because this murder was all recorded on a phone that Watts still has. So Bennie must travel to Russia to get Watts, then bring him back to Hong Kong to clear Samantha, at the same time using the phone to nail Wong for a murder whilst also trying to prove he's this Matador character.

The first action sequence is set within some Russian factory and sees Bennie taking on all the henchmen whilst Watts is all tied up (long story). As you would expect in a Jackie Chan movie, he is able to fend off all enemies without killing them in his usual circus routine. At the same time Knoxville's character is completely bound and is solely dependent on Chan getting him outta trouble. This involves Chan bounding around the place trying to keep the immobile body of Knoxville/Watts from coming to harm by rolling, throwing, tumbling, pushing, hoisting him all over the shop. I know this is a Chan movie so I know this kind of thing is expected but it was just lame, I'm sorry but it was. I can't even say it was impressive, more juvenile and ridiculously fake looking. It doesn't help when Knoxville is obviously being replaced with a stuntman and Chan clearly isn't moving as fast as he used to or doing anything as remotely dicey.

The whole movie progresses in this fashion, from one obviously fake looking set piece to the next. In between that we get what looks like a selection of simple tourist videos highlighting the natural beauty of the east (mainly China). Seriously I know the Chinese market is massive now and everyone is sucking up to them big time but this was such an obvious move by the Chinese side of this production. Don't get me wrong this isn't a heinous act or anything, some of the landscape shots within China are awesome, stunning, but they don't really add anything to the movie and just feel like mini holiday adverts. But back to the so called action scenes, they suck, they are literally terrible and not amusing in the slightest. After Bennie manages to capture Watts he must escort him back to Hong Kong. But because Watts is an A-hole he burns Bennie's passport meaning they are unable to fly. So Bennie decides they must make their own way on foot...all the fecking way to Hong Kong...from Russia, yeah.

So this takes up the bulk of the movie, watching these two buffoon their way across Russia, Mongolia and China. This involves crap predictable action scenes on a major river, high jinx on a cliff face with extremely bad CGI and greenscreen effects, various escape attempts by Watts but always being caught by Bennie; sleeping naked together in a cave, a few fisticuffs with Russians (yep they're after the duo too); and spending time in a native Mongolian camp where they all end up singing Adel songs. During this time the duo never manage to change their clothes, eat or drink properly or get sleep much. Yet they somehow manage to arrive in Hong Kong alive with their clothes spotless and dry.

The finale throws the usual plot twist in your face which you do kinda smell coming when we see Wong getting killed by an unknown baddie. Other than that its just business as usual with yet more boring gun fights and martial arts between various faceless characters. This entire movie just feels so damn dated its unreal, the problem is its not even a good hark back to the old days. Jackie is clearly too old for this shit and can no longer whizz around defying death. Knoxville is just a redneck idiot who can't act and I still have no idea how or why he's still in the movie business at this point (also, how much makeup is on him in this?!). The action is awful and slow, the humour is weak and cliched. The plot is a total mess and as I've already said the biggest sin is that it doesn't even feel like an actual movie half the time. The only plus points I can give are for the visuals of rural China and Mongolia, other than that the whole thing is as predictable as seeing the end credit bloopers of Jackie hurting himself.


Thursday, 10 November 2016

Reptilicus (DK/US, 1961)

Well its not often you come across a mainstream Danish flick, let alone a Danish monster flick, and yet here we are. Interestingly there are actually two versions of this movie, a Danish version directed by Poul Bang and an America version directed by Sidney Pink. Apparently the same cast had to do the same scenes both in English and Danish, which seems a bizarre decision. The American version also had new scenes shot with extra gore, more dialog, removed original Danish scenes and dubbed over the Danish actors. The Danish version had more shots of the young cast in swimsuits for one scene, and more comedic relief from Danish comedic actor Dirk Passer. Overall the US version seemed to cut out more footage whilst adding weaker stuff in the process.

But what's it all about? I hear you say, well take a guess. I think this basic idea must be the most over used idea in movie history. Some Danish miners discover an ancient fossil (part of a tail) deep underground, frozen; they quickly fly it to Copenhagen for various old scientist blokes to examine. No one knows what it is but they know to keep it frozen. Alas some dumbass allows the fossil to thaw because he leaves the door open to the cold room. When this is discovered the scientists realise the fossil is regenerating, somehow, so they just let this happen apparently. Before you can say holy Godzilla rip-off! the creature has fully regenerated, escapes and is now running amok in downtown Copenhagen. Yes it really is that simple.

Now let me just start by saying there will be some piss taking here because this movie was pretty bad, but I do this in a loving way. So the effects, my God the effects; the monster in question is simply a marionette on strings/rods. I'll just let that sink in there, yes that's right its a puppet...and boy can you tell. The creature is supposed to be a cross between a large reptile and a Brontosaurus I think, but it comes out looking more like a skinny, tatty dragon. The monster lurches around some very obvious model sets and merely slams into them with its head, causing them to topple over likes models do. Another silly factor being you only ever see its head and neck at any one moment (unless you see the Danish version which has a flying monster), we never really see its body. This makes it even more obvious that its a puppet because you can almost see the marionette rods popping out from behind the models.

The film suffers from that aspect where some shots actually look OK, but others are bloody terrible. Now if you're watching the US version you will also see extra footage specially added by the Yanks or whoever. That being green acid which the monster spits at the hordes of Danish troops. The acid in question is actually a very crudely superimposed effect that has been tacked on after the films completion. One minute you see a shot of Danish troops, the next some green goo seems to hit the camera lens and apparently the troops in question are dead. Along with that is probably one of the most horrific effects I've come across. The monster manages to scoop up some poor Dane and eat them, but the human in question seems to be an actual paper cut out or crayon-like drawing of a person. It clearly doesn't even go into the monsters mouth because its clearly a tacked on horrendous effect. It happens fast but its so so bad looking it sticks out by a good country mile.

What makes everything so stupid is the fact that the monster can't be killed with traditional methods. The reason being if a limb is lost or a chunk of the beast comes away, apparently that piece of monster will start to regenerate itself into yet another monster...because reasons. So there is no way in hell that you could possibly try to blow it up or shoot it or whatever. Cue a shit load of stock footage and real footage of troops firing guns, machine guns, tanks, anti-aircraft guns...the whole fecking enchilada. The monster even retreats into the sea at one point but they still go after it...with depth charges! (oy vey!). Yet despite this constant (and I mean constant) bombardment from the Danes the monster never seems to get hurt or loose any body parts. Hell it doesn't even rampage that much, merely sits behind buildings and slams its head into things as if its retarded or something. In the end the monster is poisoned but not before a limb is blown off leaving the film open ended.

So other than the hilariously bad monster sequences what else is there? Well there are a whole load of scenes inside a main HQ type room where military leaders and scientists discuss things whilst Copenhagen gets crushed. This happens often, blokes standing around in suits and uniforms; with a large map with little toy soldiers on it, talking in a gruff manner. The more serious we act, the more shit gets done. But the really good bit, the highlight of the show has to be the travelogue section. Yes midway through this extravaganza we are treated to a sequence where some of the characters enjoy Copenhagen (more specifically Tivoli) by day and night. This overly long sequence shows us various landmarks in Copenhagen and generally what a great place is it (before its ruined by a gigantic reptilian dinosaur). It all ends in a nightclub in Tivoli with a musical number that has also accompanied this visual holiday brochure the whole time.

I saw the US version here so I can only wonder at how superior the Danish version might be (ahem!). This is really one of those tight corners you tend to get forced into when reviewing these old cult sci-fi/horror/monster flicks. On one hand the movie is generally complete garbage, none of it makes any real sense, nothing adds up and it honesty looks dreadful. Yet on the other hand some of the effects are quaint and charming, the acting is so bad its enjoyable and finding gaping plot holes is fun. I can't really give this a top score because it is legitimately poor (the modified US version anyway), but it just about makes it into the 'so bad its good' bracket.


Tuesday, 8 November 2016

The Time Travelers (1964)

Since watching this I found out that this movie actually inspired the classic TV series 'The Time Tunnel', which I do recall as a kid. It also inspired the movie 'Journey to the Center of Time' which I have not heard of before. The main difference here is the time machine in question is a rather stupid looking large flat TV screen or monitor, in the later TV series it was a neat looking black and white, hypnotic, cylindrical tunnel.

I think the plot pretty much explains itself really, or at least you can guess. Some whizz scientists are working on a time viewing device which would allow them to look into the past (or future) as if watching your TV. Sounds kinda stupid doesn't it...and you'd be right! (How could you watch events in the past unfold through a screen, whilst on your side the year/time remains the same?). The machine in question is drawing way too much power it seems and the scientists are told to shut it down. Naturally before they do this there is an overload of some kind and the view screen fixes on an unknown desolate landscape (which turns out to be a future dystopian Earth in 2071). It is then discovered that the screen has somehow become a portal into this unknown future and of course, one by one, they all go through. What do you think happens next? That's right! the portal shuts down and they are trapped in the dystopian future. Luckily they come across some people, oh no they're just a rampaging mob of angry mutants. But luckily they also stumble across some other people who just happen to be peaceful geniuses that explain everything, that was lucky!

It turns out that Earth has been decimated by nuclear war (what else) and is no longer habitable. So the plan is to build this space rocket and blast all of the remaining decent folk to this distant planet orbiting the star of Alpha Centauri. At first the time travellers are offered a place on board the ship, but after a weight ratio issue is pointed out it turns out they cannot. Instead the future cave dwellers offer to help reconstruct the time viewing screen and reopen the portal. So the race is on to complete the ship and rebuild the time viewing screen before the goodies get overrun by the hordes of mutants after their food supplies.

This is literally the epitome of the classic family fantasy adventure genre, mixed with all the cliched tropes and cliches. You know, the type of flick you'd see on ITV during a lazy bank holiday afternoon. You have virtually everything you could ever want right here: the overly used bleak dystopian future, mutants, underground civilisations, time travel, robots, spaceships, talk of other worlds and of course the old nuclear element. It might seem like overload but somehow it all fits in and works, these old movies somehow managed to do that. Certainly no chances of not getting bang for your buck back in the day.

But seriously, it is amazing to read about this movie and not think it sounds like utter garbage. I mean in all honesty there are a lot of issues with the movie, silly issues, obvious plot holes and continuity problems. As I've already said the entire idea of a large TV screen that can view the past (or future) is just inanely daft. Then once the screen turns into a portal they all go through the damn thing; running off into this unknown landscape! I mean sure I understand the curiosity of the situation but surely the last person should of stayed put, you know just in case the too late. The mutants they find are yet again a bunch of bald males because that seems to be the default look back in the 50's and 60's. Whilst the regular unmutated folk they meet are all good looking, white and dressed in beige.

The good guys are also the usual team of scientist types you always see in these types of movies, with some great names. You have the tall, dark and good looking male leader of the bunch, Dr. Steve Connors (Philip Carey). A younger male who also serves as comedic relief, Danny McKee (Steve Franken), and the attractive female Carol White (Merry Anders). But what sci-fi flick from the 50/60's would be without the stereotypical old bloke with facial hair in a white lab coat, Dr. Erik von Steiner (Preston Foster). On the flip side the good guys they discover living underground are also a stereotypical bunch of people ranging from attractive women and good looking young men to various ageing blokes with facial hair. They also have created an entire army of robots to assist them down there, robots that are eerily human when they move and scarily similar in looks to fetish sex dolls. Their heads and mouth sections look a tad naughty if you ask me, maybe that's just me.

Anyway questions do arise pretty quickly when you see all this. Like how the feck did these people manage to build all this shit?? Where do they get all the raw materials from? How could they possibly manage to build a flippin' space rocket?! Who makes all their clothes? Do they have toilets and a plumbing system down there too? Why do they have a disco? Yes that's right I did say disco, at one point one sexy female (complete with knee high boots) shows McKee this musical instrument thing with disco lights. Its so bloody 60's its unreal, brrr! Anyway much of my complaints were erased once the iconic John Hoyt strode on screen. Yep the silver fox of many classic old sci-fi flicks is the leader of this bunch of 60's beige wearing techno wizards. His name...Varno, Dr. Varno...bloody stupid name innit? Is it me or does it sound a bit similar to the classic Dr. Eric Vornoff ('Bride of the Monster'), in fact it seems like there's a general influence in this movie with that name.

The visuals in the movie are generally what you would expect from a product of the 60's. Overall its a very colourful feature with pink robots (which enhances their sexual visage in my opinion), colourful control panels with lots of flashing lights, various shades of jumpsuits for the future folk and bright quirky looking equipment. The actual effects are basic and crude but generally pleasing to the eye and of course charming by today's standards. Lots of nice model work, tonnes of set and prop work, back projection, matte paintings and some pretty decent live action effects too. At one point a robot is pinned against the wall by a spear chucking mutant. The other mutants then proceed to tear the lower half of the robots body away leaving the torso (still alive) dangling off the wall. This was a very Romero-esque moment for me and it actually looked great. Obviously an actor was peaking through a hole behind the wall and the lower half of the robot was fake, twas quite dark, highly effective and totally unexpected.

I'm not gonna lie about this movie (have I ever?), but to look at it, it generally looks like an episode of any 60's TV series like Star Trek or indeed the movies own spin-off. That's not to say that's a bad thing, it is cute looking but at the same time wholly cheap and very dated...except for a few brief moments. Everything about the movie is pretty much by the books and as you would expect from such a feature such as the acting and various oddities. Like how did the mutants topple the space rocket exactly? How tight is John Hoyt's jumpsuit?? But on the other hand the films director (Ib Melchior) certainly takes the story seriously. The explanation of weight ratios which resulted in the time travellers being unable to join Varno and co on the rocket seemed pretty well thought out and logical. Also the time paradox ending certainly had some thought behind it with the whole overlapping of your own past notion, although I'm still not sure how the plot would loop as it does, or did it?? (genuinely unsure). Its a shame Melchoir kinda spoilt the film by having a ridiculous moment where Franken's character McKnee breaks the fourth wall. I get this guy was the comedy aspect and probably to grab the youngsters attention (the disco scene) but it really pulls you out of the movie.

In the end you get what you expect even though the movies poster is completely inaccurate (usually the case for these old flicks). It doesn't really feel like a movie and it is admittedly very basic in general, but gosh darn it its a lot of fun! As I originally said the movie gives you a lot to deal with, it crams tonnes of content into the plot so its impossible to get bored. Strangely it never seems to feel overstuffed and walks that tightrope between fun and fail amazingly well. In essence its the corking plot that saves the day (along with Hoyt), its ambitious, daring, bleak and open ended. Essentially this is a perfect sci-fi fantasy adventure that encompasses loads of elements, I defy anyone not to enjoy this.


Friday, 4 November 2016

Beyond the Time Barrier (1960)

This American cold-war era movie is probably one of the most stereotypical examples of an American cold-war era movie I've seen in a long while. Luckily its a stereotypical cold-war era movie with a stereotypical time travel element and stereotypical mutants to boot! Basically an American test pilot flies an experimental new jet fighter to sub-orbital spaceflight...successfully I might add. But when he returns home, yep you've guessed it, he's somehow been zapped into the future and, yep you've guessed it, the future is a dystopian one. Much of what he sees is scorched earth, ruins, accept for a single citadel. He is swiftly captured and hauled before the supreme leader where the revelations come thick and fast, well almost.

We soon discover that its the year 2024. Earth's atmosphere has been virtually destroyed by nuclear weapons testing that allowed cosmic rays to penetrate through back in 1971 (cautionary tale much!). This resulted in a cosmic plague that drove many underground whilst others chose to stay above ground for some reason. The ones that remained above ground became mutants, the ones that went underground remained generally OK accept they all became mute and sterile. The only persons seemingly able to speak are the supreme leader and his second in command, whilst the supreme's granddaughter Trirene is mute but also telepathic and possibly not sterile for some reason. Why this plague caused people to become mute and sterile but nothing else is a mystery, why Trirene is seemingly not sterile and telepathic is also a mystery, and why the supreme leader and his second in command can speak is yet another mystery. None of these mysteries are solved, deal with it.

Well one mystery is solved and its not really a mystery. The reason Trirene is not sterile is so this movie can have a sexual charge to it surrounding the extremely cute and beautiful young actress playing Trirene (Darlene Tompkins). Its like any old sci-fi adventure fantasy you remember, there was always a sexy lady for the hero to save and fall for, and here is no different. Trirene is not sterile and the only chance for this future race of humans to survive (there have been no births for twenty years). In other words cue the all male fantasy of being held captive in an alien world and being forced to have sex with a beautiful female, eventual death by sex.

The main crux of the movie has pilot Major William Allison getting to grips with this dystopian life, seemingly preparing to stay in the future, until he meets three other people who have also come from different time periods. Together they all establish a plan to try and escape the citadel, reach Allison's jet and go back to a point in time where they can stop the nuclear testing. Naturally this will incur many obligatory twists and turns with characters trying to stab in other in the back, which is admittedly all the more exciting and quite dark in places. I have no clue who all these actors are but they do play their roles well it must be said. Robert Clarke is believable as the confused pilot lost in time, whilst the three other time travellers successfully engage and confuse you with all their technical jargon. Yes its all cheesy as hell but in that enjoyable way.

The only people who don't really cut the mustard are the young Tompkins who obviously doesn't speak (mute remember) which doesn't really do her any favours as she comes across as a bad mime. Then you have the supreme leader played by Vladimir Sokoloff who was clearly pretty old at the time and kinda sounds like he's struggling to remember lines (plus his over accentuated body language!). Not wise to expect much from the array of extras that make up the mutants and citadel folk, yeah kinda cringeworthy background acting going on.

The movie was obviously made on a bit of a shoestring budget judging by the limited visuals. Apparently it was filmed in an old exhibition park or building and it tells! The sound is terrible as all actors footsteps can be heard loudly as they proceed through scenes, the echo issue is pretty bad. On one hand that does give the citadel notion a sense of real depth but obviously on the other hand it just sounds amateurish. The set dressings aren't too bad though, production designer Ernst Fegtè uses a triangular/pyramidal look for everything which is unique for sure. Again with many films like this the black and white hides a lot and makes everything seem more realistic in a sort of happy accident type of way. There is also a quick bit of matte painting utilised which looks OK. Shooting in an actual abandoned airbase for initial scenes of Allison landing in the future looks good, as does his flight suit, everything else from costumes to equipment is fine and does the job.

On the whole this movie is one of those types of films that is kinda frustrating to watch because of silly plot holes and cliches (although for its time not quite so). For example none of the citadel folk believe Allison is from the future, OK why not take them to your bloody jet fighter! Aarrgghh!! All the women seem to be rather tasty in this citadel, why is that I wonder, curious. All the mutants are simply bald middle aged blokes, no women or children it seems, because bald men are more scary. Many bits of footage are repeated during action sequences to pad out the runtime and make everything appear bigger, alas its obvious. Stock footage! not a lot of it but...obvious stock footage!!! The supreme leader is old and wise, his second in command is gruff, fat and...fat, whilst the other time travelling scientists are generally from eastern Europe because eastern European folk are more dubious and suspicious obviously. The jet fighter experiment which Allison completed was apparently also carried out by the other time travellers, hence why they're also stuck in 2024. But this begs the questions, how do they keep fudging this experiment up? don't they learn anything? Why do they keep doing it?? How come all these people all landed in the same place in the same year of 2024? And why would flying the jet back in the opposite direction mean you can travel back to where you came from perfectly? Seems kinda convenient no?

That being said this movie has a fantastic little plot going for it, and yes that is despite all the cliches and plot holes. Look beyond all that and you have a great little traditional, time travelling, science fiction yarn that wouldn't look outta place in The Twilight Zone TV series, or any other similar series. The self contained plot may be leaky in places but on the whole its tight and highly effective with a good little band of actors and a lot of heart. The other reason this is so good is because it gets your mind working, it gets you thinking about the possible time disruptions and effects of what happens, what Allison achieves and why he suffers as he does in the end. These types of sci-fi stories are always good for getting you well and truly confused about what, where, how and why? Sure it looks cheap in places and maybe it would have worked better as a TV episode or part of an anthology movie, but you can't deny its ambitious, thought provoking and fully engaging.