Friday, 31 March 2017

Journey to the Beginning of Time (aka Cesta do pravěku, CZ, 1955)

Although this may sound like your typical Doug McClure type romp, is it in fact something a little more original. Directed by the famous Czech animator Karel Zeman, the film is actually more of a documentary first and an adventure second. The plot surrounds a group of four young boys in a boat who journey down a river and into a mysterious cave. When they emerge from within the cave they find themselves back in time in a primeval landscape. As they slowly travel down the river they soon realise they are in fact travelling back through the Earth's various time periods, back through time, to the beginning of time itself.

Interestingly, the movie I am reviewing here is in fact the American version from 1966. This US version has a different title, has obviously been dubbed and has new footage added. The footage was shot in 66, New York, and gives a different opening (and ending) for the four boys (obviously a different cast of boys). Here they go to the American Natural History Museum and, apparently, all fall asleep together (or imagine together?) and have the same dream, the dream being their boat trip through time. That being said, the film also seems to hint at the possibility of a Native American statue possibly hypnotising or casting a spell on them, it isn't too clear.

Anyway the Czech film was originally called 'Cesta do Pravêku' and you do see the majority of that film with the US version, its just the beginning and end that are cut. I have titled my review with the US version/part English translation simply because that is probably how its best remembered. The 1966 US footage of the boys for the beginning and end of the film is generally fine. The two sequences blend in relatively well, although I'd like to see the original film footage too.

This film was quite unusual for the time due to its documentary angle. Aimed squarely at children the film is more of an educational feature rather than an all out adventure. Yes there are sequences of exploration and danger for the four boys, but essentially each time period, with its own unique inhabitants, is discussed or narrated by the boys to relay information to you, the viewer. Most of the time the boys are drifting along in their longboat, a safe distance from the various mammals and dinosaurs they witness. At times they do get into minor trouble, they do come ashore and they do explore further interacting with some creatures and plant life. There are no dinosaur battles, guns, human fatalities, blonde dames or atomic bombs in this feature.

Apart from the unique educational aspect of the film, it was Zeman's fantastic stop-motion animation that was the real crowd-pleaser. Turns out that Zeman was a master of stop-motion, the European equivalent of Ray Harryhausen. His combination of stop-motion clay models and 2D hand drawn profile images was pretty ingenious and new at the time, I think. Where many Hollywood movies would use stop-motion models for their monsters or beasties, usually against other models or a matte painting, Zeman actually combined the two. So what you would see is a static hand drawn profile image of a dinosaur, but with a stop-motion head and neck (all against a small model set and rear projection live action shot of the actors). It sounds very basic and cheap but believe me it looks great and you'd never notice it, you'd swear you were looking at a full model. Zeman would also combine static paintings of creatures and their landscapes with just one lone fully animated model.

Not just content with that, Zeman and his crew also created numerous full sized puppets for some dinosaur sequences. Generally this would simply be a full sized head or body for some close up shots. There are two sequences of a dinosaur head and mammoth body breaking the water which are basic puppets. Zeman and co also created full sized prehistoric plant life, one prehistoric lizard thing that looked like a Muppet, and one full sized dead stegosaurus which looked really fantastic. The four boys inspect this dead dinosaur, the scale of the body along with the paint detail is really impressive. Not only that but it did get me thinking, did a certain Steven Spielberg see this film and copy this scene?

So it turns out that Zeman was a master of animation and visual trickery, but he also drew inspiration from others. For the most part Zeman got his visual inspiration from famous Czech paleoartist Zdenêk Burian. Burian was/is well known for his incredible artwork surrounding all manner of prehistoric life and ecosystems. Pretty much all of the 2D matte painting and dinosaur profile work was based off Burian's imagery. Its clear to see if you compare Burian's artwork with the films prehistoric landscapes, much of the films imagery looks like animated artwork.

Concerning the plot, well naturally I did find myself asking why on earth these boys didn't ever turn back, I mean surely you'd maybe have a look around and then go back through the cave right, for safety reasons. But no, off they go, cruising down the river into the unknown and eventually camping out! Not too sure where they got the wood from for that campfire either, seeing as they were in an ice age. Now I think of it, how did they not freeze to death?? (they're wearing shorts). OK, so its all completely ridiculous how these boys don't actually end up getting eaten, bitten, stung or mauled to death by some prehistoric monster, poisonous insect or early plant life. I guess we should look past that, but hey after all, these are 50's kids, a lot tougher than kids today, more world savvy too, probably.

 I was genuinely taken aback by this film and its visuals. Granted the film quality wasn't too good and if you saw this on bluray I would imagine all the tricks and faults would be easily exposed. But the sheer scope along with obvious care and attention to detail is astonishing. The four boys do a sterling job with their acting considering they are mostly acting against nothing and this is a 1955 film (acting not always too good). The story is as basic as it gets but again it doesn't matter because firstly, its supposed to be educational, and secondly, its all so wonderfully charming and gorgeous to look at. Any stop-motion fan needs to see this its as simple as that. Some of the animals and creatures we see are admittedly a bit jerky, a bit rough around the edges (on close up), but most are superbly created and animated (a galloping herd of giraffes for one).

This film is unique in many ways, its an eye-opener and a very pleasant surprise. If you're expecting rampaging dinosaurs fighting other giant insectoid-like monsters with screaming damsels, I hear you and I understand your cravings. But no, this is not the film you're looking for. This is virtually like one of those films you would watch inside a museum or theme park. You are presented with mammals and dinosaurs actually normally in their proper environments, as observed by the four boys. It offers some simple thrills but its mainly for teaching or introducing the young to the fascinating world of palaeontology (with the information known in the mid 50's).


Monday, 27 March 2017

The Amazing Transparent Man (1960)

Again we have an...ahem...amazing movie title with a pretty sweet poster. It looks more like a children's adventure book cover, one of those 'choose your own ending' type books (remember those?). It also has a nice noir-esque/comicbook vibe about it, overall an attractive and imaginative design.

So you could be mistaken for thinking this plot might be a tad similar to the classic 1933 film 'The Invisible Man'. Well you're not too far off but naturally this plot is somewhat different for copyright reasons obviously. Basically a former US army general (Krenner played by James Griffith) wants to take over the world with an army of invisible soldiers. He already has a machine that can make objects invisible (with the help of a stereotypical eastern European scientist type bloke, Dr. Ulof played by Ivan Triesault), but he needs further materials (nuclear) to perfect it. Said materials are rare and the only ones he knows of are under lock and key deep within government facilities. So his plan is to break out a brilliant safecracker (Joey Faust played by Douglas Kennedy) from jail, so he can steal the materials required whilst being invisible.

Of course there's a bit more to this story. The invisibility doesn't hold out for long periods, its a bit shaky, hence the rare nuclear materials needed to perfect the machine. Also Faust doesn't really want to do the job for Krenner but Krenner blackmails him with threats of turning him over to the cops (even though he broke Faust out). There's also Krenner's dame (Marguerite Chapman) who Faust tries to charm into double crossing Krenner, and the fact that Krenner has Dr. Ulof's daughter locked up to keep him in line (although that specific plot device goes nowhere).

So we are talking about an invisible man here, what are the special effects like? Well they're sparse that's for sure, this ain't no special effects bonanza. Much of the film surrounds the various characters planning stuff, we get very little invisibility action. What we do get are some floating items on wires that represent Faust carrying them, and a very brief sequence where Faust becomes visible and invisible again during a bank raid. This optical effect is corny as hell for sure but actually quite effective and decent looking considering this is such a schlocky feature. Although it does raise the simple problem that while Faust is invisible, the item he is carrying is not. So surely people would see this floating item and suspect it floated out the door.

We also see the moments when Faust is turned invisible whilst under the machine (invisibility ray), and the practice runs with a guinea pig which are again nicely done. The little sequence shows the guinea pig slowly losing full visibility one layer at a time, skin, then bone structure, then nothing...invisible. We also see some marvellous acting against nothing, such as fights with an invisible foe, the odd chat with a blank space and doors opening themselves.

I think the main problem with this movie is the lack of action and the lame plot. For a start Krenner wants to conquer the world with an invisible army, but why? and how will he achieve this exactly? Faust could quite easily kill Krenner when he becomes invisible, he does threaten Krenner but for some reason doesn't kill him. Dr. Ulof seems pointless as he's only there to work the machine and dish out scientific exposition. Again Faust could of killed Krenner and used Ulof to assist him with his invisibility issues. Ulof would be happy to help seeing as he hates Krenner for kidnapping his daughter, I'm not really sure why everyone doesn't just bump Krenner off. Krenner's dame Laura also comes across as useless because she does nothing really, I'm not even sure what her character motivation was. She wants money and power clearly, hence she hangs around with Krenner, but she helps Faust go against Krenner does that help her??

Krenner also has a bodyguard (or hired muscle) in the form of a cowboy fella called Red. Apparently Krenner has told Red that his son is imprisoned in Europe and only he can get him out. No idea what his son is supposed to have done, how Krenner knows his son or how Krenner could get him out, I presume another breakout. So Red obeys Krenner like a good little bitch. Of course Krenner is lying and when Red discovers this he does nothing, absolutely nothing, the character merely exits the movie and is never heard from again. No clue why this character was in the movie.

Both Griffith and Kennedy really go for it in this movie that's for sure. Kennedy does actually put in a decent performance as the bad tempered criminal who's only looking out for himself. Griffith is suitably slimy as Krenner, in fact he has a face you just wanna slap. Kennedy was actually quite a big strapping chap in this movie where as Griffith is very slender, so its still odd that Faust never beats this guy to death because he probably could. I'm also pretty sure Griffith (in character) accidentally slaps Chapman across the face at one point in a moment of brutal 1960's misogyny.

This is an odd movie in general. The plot is really patchy and never really goes anywhere with conviction. Most of the characters don't really seem to have a goal. Krenner seems to own this lovely huge house and just wants to take over the world because of reasons. Whilst Faust is just a grumpy bloke who seems ungrateful that Krenner bust him outta jail and doesn't know what to do with his life. The fact that the movie still manages to end with an atomic explosion is also hilarious frankly, its like every movie in this era had to include an atomic explosion (with no consequences) no matter what. To be honest its not totally unlikable, there is a charm to this pulpy nonsense, its just comes across as rushed and not well thought out. But with dialog like...'you know what one of these bullets will do? Rip out your spine and roll it up like a ball of string', how can you not like to some degree?


Friday, 24 March 2017

Devil Girl from Mars (1954)

Sounds juicy huh, the poster helps with a full length image of female character Nyah (Patricia Laffan) in an all black, skin tight catsuit, rawr! Laffan actually wears a black mini skirt and black stockings in the movie, so no catsuit. Better or worse? Hmmm...its all good.

OK back to Earth with a bump. The plot for this movie is clearly from the mind of a (possibly horny) male. Nyah of Mars lands on Earth for one sole purpose, she is looking for youthful, strong males to take back to Mars in order to boost the planets dying male population. Why are the men dying on Mars? Possibly from being fucked to death by dominant girls like Nyah? (oh my!). No, there was a battle of the sexes and somehow the women won. This also led to all males on Mars becoming impotent, why? Possibly from having their balls crushed underfoot by the dominant ladies? Perhaps, I don't really know, but these sexy space ladies go around dressed in these ultra dominant, ultra sexy looking outfits. I guess I could cope with that.

Although Nyah isn't specifically on Earth for sex slaves, that's immediately what springs to mind because you just can't help it. And straight away the movies plot is totally compromised because you don't care about the humans or their problems, you just wanna go with Nyah back to Mars to be her personal doormat. K, back from the bathroom, had to splash some cold water on my loins. Right so Nyah lands in the remote Scottish Moors and comes across an inn with various occupants. Each occupant has a different story behind them which is completely and utterly of no interest believe me. Nyah must decide which human to take back to Mars and what to do with the rest, and that's pretty much it.

So straight away, why doesn't Nyah lift off and go elsewhere with more humans to choose from? This inn is owned by an elderly Scottish couple (one of whom is played by Dad's Army star John Laurie) who are of no use, and various other random people of various ages. Of course the women are of no use so that's three people out, this leaves Nyah with little choice really. A loud mouth American, an elderly professor (always a professor), a child, a convict and a hunchback. Slim pickings right there, maybe fly to a bigger town Nyah? Oh and she kills the hunchback with her sex ray...I mean ray gun! So that pretty much leaves her with only two men to choose from, oh man the tension!

In general this movie plays out in a very simplistic manner, and it goes like this. Nyah enters the inn and jabbers on about how powerful she and her race are and how she will do as she pleases. The scared locals look and listen intently and then when Nyah leaves they discuss what to do. Then Nyah will come back into the inn sometime later and pretty much do the same thing again, the locals listen and then when she leaves they continue with their chatter about what to do and various other mundane side plot issues of relationships and whatnot. Then Nyah will enter the inn again, but this time she might take someone back to her ship to show them around or show them her personal killer robot. Then said person or persons will go back to the inn and talk about what happened and so forth.

Honesty this is the most boring sci-fi thriller I think I've ever seen. All the people in the inn are dull as dishwater and they literally don't do anything of interest throughout the entire movie. The only tiny bits of interest involve Chani the robot (pre-Robbie the Robot!) who shuffles around and disintegrates things, and the part where Nyah zaps the hunchback with a grin on her sexy face. Other than that the whole thing looks and plays out like some amateur theatrical production. Although, credit where credits due, the space ship model effects were quite good, ditto the space ship set which was pretty big. Chani the robot was basic but reasonable as was the ray gun effects. But the finale explosion for the alien craft was one of the best explosions I've seen in these early films. It looks like they shot a small sequence with clouds of smoke expanding, or possibly a liquid.

There are many problems with this movie, the fact that nothing actually happens, there are set ups that don't go anywhere (Chani the robot), the fact that Nyah lands intent on grabbing a male but spends so long in doing so and merely walks back and forth between her ship and the inn. It all seems so pointless really, after everything has played out Nyah finally decides to take one male back with her only for that male to (somehow) sabotage her ship and its blows up. What a waste of bloody time! Presumably the political message here (for the time) was focusing on gender equality, but I'm not really sure that comes across as it feels more like a male fantasy to be honest (outfit much?). The movies title and poster are misleading, as per usual, as they both lure you in with promises of cheap thrills. I suspect back in 54 Nyah's outfit probably was a thrill (it ain't too bad now) but that simply can't bail this stale offering out.


Tuesday, 21 March 2017

World Without End (1956)

Or as its also known 'Flight to the Future'. Poster reflection time again, these old classics tend to have either really striking posters, really mundane or really obscure and shitty. What the hell is going on with this movies poster?? I genuinely can't make it out, I can see a clock face, a rocket and what looks like a human figure, its all a terrible blurry mess of colours, abstract images and shapes.

Moving on to the plot, yep its another repeat plot we've all seen and heard before. In fact this plot is so familiar the estate of H.G. Wells threatened a lawsuit against this movie (dunno how that turned out) and its not hard to see why. Its essentially a time travel flick involving a group of four men on their way back from a reconnaissance mission to Mars. On route to Earth something goes wrong with their ship as it accelerates with incredible speed knocking out its crew. The ship later crash lands on a planet which the men discover to be Earth hundreds of years in the future. After some exploration the four men eventually discover that the human race was probably wiped out by an atomic war leaving two types of people. One race of primitive mutants that live on the surface, and one race of normal intelligent people that live underground in a civilised society.

So yes you can clearly see the very close similarities between this and H.G. Wells timeless classic, plus a whole host of other movies that share the same premise. Seriously almost every movie I review from this era is generally surrounding a small group of people made of up scientists, professors, doctor and military types. Most of which are young men with an older male and one lone female for sex appeal. Its a common trait of these movies and the time, just gotta accept it. Although this plot narrative of finding a society of intelligent people living apart from a society of mutants is getting mighty stale folks. Anyway, in this movie you have Commander Dr. Eldon Galbraithe (Nelson Leigh), Radioman Herbert Ellis (Rod I need to point out the link here), engineer Henry Jaffe (Christopher Dark) and scientist John Borden (Hugh Marlowe).

To kick off the cockpit interior on the crews ship is actually nicely done. All four men face away from the camera to give the illusion of the shape of the ship, which is unique. All four men sit in these large leather looking swivel chairs that do fit in with the whole cockpit vibe, I like the way they were able to move the chairs into a horizontal position also. The controls, dials, gauges etc...all look quite realistic with a decent looking dashboards, considering what some other offerings have looked like. They actually look like they might do something other than just light up and flash. Then in between two of the men there is this telescope looking piece of equipment that is mounted on some kind of moving swivelling base. Not sure what it was exactly, it looks like it may have been taken from some type of military vehicle and obviously added for flashy effect, and it works.

So the ships interior looks pretty swish all things considered, I was impressed. Alas things take a massive nosedive when the ship starts to careen out of control into gauge busting speeds. The model effects for this sequence are truly laughable. The model rocket is fair enough, although basic, but the way they literally throw this model around to simulate the turbulence as it accelerates is plain ridiculous. It genuinely looks like a child is in charge of this model as it thrashes about. I honesty thought of Ed Wood when watching this small sequence.

Much of the movie is taken up with the four men trekking around on the future Earth looking for clues. Then once they discover the mutants we get quite a bit of hokey fights and (cap) gunfire that somehow never seems to hit anything despite being virtually point blank range. Things really start to get hokey (and admittedly somewhat dull) when the men discover the underground race of humans that all dress in medieval attire it seems. Of course all the men are weak, skinny, ugly and clearly out of shape, whilst all the women are stunningly gorgeous and fall instantly in love with the outsiders (of course). But this isn't enough for our four burly men oh no. They want to live on the surface, go back to their ship and basically rock the boat on these people's simple idyllic lives. Its at this point where every male watching would probably ask themselves, would I live out the rest of my days getting sucked off by these hot gals, who are totally enamoured with me, in this underground city of plenty? Yes...yes I would.

What follows is legitimately boring I'm afraid, much of the spiel involves the men talking to their ladies trying to get them to understand how trapped they are. Then they talk to the city elders trying to convince them how trapped they are. At first everyone ignores them, then there's a bit of a kerfuffle with one jealous city adviser trying to stitch the four men up over their weapons. That gets quickly resolved and surprise surprise, all the elders now agree with the men, its time to go to the surface. But in order to do that they must fight off the mutants, so the city people help engineer weapons (a bazooka) in order to blow all those mutants to hell.

This movie starts out well and really engages you thanks to the time dilation aspect of the story. Unfortunately the whole thing quickly crumbles into a mundane, by the numbers affair which you'll swear you've seen before (because essentially you have). The whole underground city full of beautiful women thing is so flippin' cliched and stupid, even if it is a wicked fantasy. And like I said before, most normal blokes would probably be quite happy to live there so the plot isn't urging or helping you to support the main protagonists in any way. You just think they're idiots. Obviously down to budget restraints you don't see anything much of this underground world, merely a few rooms that look like something from the world of Aladdin. Even exterior shots and sequences don't really feel like they're expanding the story. There are no matte backgrounds or models of ruined cities or anything to give some depth, it all feels so limited and small.

Bottom line there is really no motivation for these underground people to come and live on the surface. They have a fantastic set up underground with plenty of food and water, warmth, comfort etc...and they are fully able to exit their caves and go outside, they're not trapped in any way. So really there's no real point to the main plot. The aspect of reproduction and how these people aren't doing enough of it doesn't really make much sense either. How does living on the surface make any difference? OK in the end they adopted all the kids from the mutants once they were defeated but that doesn't change anything for the future, nor does the inclusion of these four outsiders from the future. I guess the idea is the four outsiders will have stronger children and will help the weak underground dwellers expand in the future. Being outside will presumably lead to healthier children in the future too. I also assume the mutants die out because who cares about them right? pfft!

Yeah so overall the plot seems poorly thought out in my view, trying too hard to possibly ride the coattails of other successful movies. Compounding the issue further is the fact that the entire movie is so bland looking, there is nothing here to grab your attention in any way. Ironically the acting is actually pretty good from all four main leads, Rod Taylor especially going all in when attacked by the most obvious giant foam rubber spider at one point. Did I say attacked? I meant when it was clearly thrown at him by someone off set. Yeah that's probably the highlight of the movie right there.


Sunday, 19 March 2017

The Angry Red Planet (1959)

Oh boy I have been trying to see this well known classic sci-fi for a long time, the poster alone got me all excited. But lets just reflect on that poster quickly shall we. K so the poster clearly shows the huge infamous alien monster that this movie is famous for. So I kinda expected this big beastie to be the movies main antagonist you know...wrong! Nope alas its not, they clearly tried to make people think that and I can see why, but its not, such a pity.

OK so the plot, its the usual thing, its been repeated over and over and for some reason it still kinda works! But the main difference with this movie is the story is told in flashbacks by the female character after the entire event has occurred. The crew were thought to be lost in space but the ship turns up outta the blue. Eventually the remaining crew members are brought down to Earth and treated. Dr. Iris Ryan (Naura Hayden) recounts what happened on their fateful mission.

A small team of astronauts are on the first manned exploration mission to Mars. Well I say astronauts (oh boy here we go again), but actually its the usual mix of military types, professors, specialists and doctors in science and chemistry or whatever. Naturally the team consists of three men and one female, the bit of totty on the side if you will (bit of casual sexism for you there Sir). Once reaching Mars they encounter many dangers and an alien city, but before they can investigate anything properly the team come under attack from the planets various lifeforms. Eventually they are forced to leave after suffering two casualties. Mars apparently a hostile celestial body in space.

The first thing you notice about this movie at the start is the large amount of stock footage used. As we watch the Earth based teams trying to bring the rocketship MR-1 back down to terra firma its easy to point out the stock footage, very easy. In all honesty the film is edited and cut together relatively well in these early scenes, and they do try to blend the stock footage with the live action footage. Unfortunately the obvious differences in film quality, lighting, equipment etc...lets this down, but kudos for trying. As for the interior of the MR-1...well its a bit of a disaster truth be told. This could be one of the worst spaceship interiors I've seen, it literally looks like a large square room in any random building. Many of the controls and gauges are on vertical cabinets against the wall, they have literal doors and windows and a few control panels in the middle of the room. It looks like an office for a 1950's newspaper company.

After the usual shuddering effect of the camera to indicate the landing on Mars, the crew pretty much stand around and debate for quite some time. Eventually they venture out onto the surface and once again we get a red tinted effect on the film. This does work as we've seen before but this time it somehow effects the films quality. There's a clash between the red tint and the footage causing a nasty blur effect all around everything which does actually limit visibility at times. I'm unsure if that was always there or if its just a fault on my copy or down to the age of the film. Anyway Mars turns out to be a barren red desert with spots of lush jungle! Within said jungle there appears to be lots of life such as large man-eating plants people. Damn good job the crew have this big gun thing that somehow turns its target into ice or whatever (its actually called a freeze ray, I kid you not).

Eventually (always eventually) the crew stumble across the first alien nasty, the huge spider/bat/rat thing which has to be one of the greatest alien creations ever. Now this thing was actually a large puppet combined with a smaller puppet and some stop motion animation. Even though this thing moved like a limp brick, and you could see the wires moving it, and its face was frozen in one expression, and its claws dragged along the ground hilariously...its still fecking awesome. Honesty its actually a really creepy design and I just wish it had more screen time in this movie to kill someone. Of course that would be hard seeing as it was a large immobile puppet but still, would have been cool.

Its later on that the crew finally discover an alien lake with a vast city on the other side, teasing you the viewer with anticipation. Well cork it bucko because we never get to the city, we never find out who really lives there and their history or anything. The reason being because the crew are attacked by a large piece of jelly with one big rotating eye when they try to cross the lake. Granted its another brilliant alien beastie and it kills one crew member by digesting him in clear view of the others (great stuff with nice effects), but you want the crew to reach the city dagnabbit. I should point out that like some alien plants earlier, the city is actually a hand drawn image, a very good hand drawn image but clearly a drawing. The whole alien city aspect is just one side plot that never really goes anywhere. We do actually get brief glimpses of an alien city dweller, the presumed intelligent life on Mars that inhabit the city (a very bad and crudely made three eyed alien suit), but again it doesn't go anywhere, you don't find out.  We are basically left asking many questions and itching for more exploration.

A few more camera judders and its blast off! Back home to Earth, but not before the main lead crew member gets infected by the jelly monster and the eldest crew member kicks the bucket from a heart attack...original! We then come full circle and back to Dr. Ryan who has been recalling the events to the military types and doctors. At first you think the bloke with the infected arm might cause some kind of alien disease that could begin to wipe out mankind, ending the movie with a cliffhanger...nope, they cure it. So what can I say about this journey to the wilds of Mars, its certainly an eye opener. I was left disappointed by the misleading movie poster and the fact that so much is dangled in your face yet left unexplored and up in the air. The film needs a sequel it seems. Yet despite that its still a solid hokey sci-fi adventure with lots of creatures, some pleasing visual effects and plenty of those cliched stereotypical characters we all know and love so much from these golden oldies.


Thursday, 16 March 2017

King Dinosaur (1955)

Move over Godzilla and King Kong, welcome to the planet Nova where there are lots of giant...umm...iguanas, yeah, take that. Yeah the poster makes this look like a Godzilla type flick but really it isn't, alas.

OK so you might think the plot to this would be obvious, well it is and it isn't. For some reason a planet moves into close proximity of the Earth, close enough for 1960's humans to reach after some tech building. This is the planet Nova and amazingly it appears to be just like Earth. So a team of astronauts are sent to explore Nova (three blokes and one woman, usual thing). Once they touchdown on Nova they discover that its basically a virtual clone of Earth. There are trees, water, animals, plants, a breathable atmosphere...the works! Its only as they start to explore deeper into the lush wilderness that this new world unleashes its hidden secrets. And by that I mean the planet is home to large reptiles just in case you missed the flippin' poster (ugh!).

The beginning of this film is pretty bad I'll be honest, you like stock footage? well you'll like this then. Honesty the first like...10 minutes of the movie is stock footage whilst having the plot narrated to you. Sure the stock footage is interesting like most old black and white stock footage, but my God its a cheap and tacky move to pull, real Ed Wood type stuff. Eventually once all the corny narration and stock footage has finished we are slung straight into it, we're already on planet Nova as the astronauts are stepping out onto the planet surface.

Planet Nova, the most convenient plot device ever. A planet that, somehow, just moves into our galaxy, just close enough to Earth for reasons unknown. Not only that, this planet is teeming with life, water and a breathable atmosphere, the perfect home for humans. Now when I say teeming with life, I mean the exact same lifeforms you'd find here on Earth such as armadillos, alligators, snakes, various birds, bears, sloths, elk or reindeer etc...Of course no alien planet would be complete without some form of monsters. Planet Nova doesn't let you down as there are...umm...giant alligators, giant armadillos, giant wasps? (I think it was) and a giant mammoth?? Wut??? I should point out that almost all of these creatures are stock footage.

Of course the main beasties on the planet are the giant iguanas that terrorise our human protagonists. Unlike all the other creatures these iguanas are actually not stock footage but in fact real live action footage of iguanas on sets/models. Admittedly the sets/models they bound across are merely rocky terrain set ups, nothing spectacular. The actors are shot on a separate plate with the iguana footage behind them on a rear projection. When this isn't happening we simply get footage of the iguanas doing what iguanas do, interspersed with shots of the humans reacting. This effects method has been used before on many other fantasy movies and while it can be visually effective at times (when the reptiles sit still against a nice background for instance), generally it looks all wrong because the iguanas simply move too fast to be supposed ginormous monsters. They generally look too obvious as small lizards on model sets, no proper illusion of weight.

The big question is why does Planet Nova have all these typically Earth bound creatures? Not to mention Earth-like trees, plants, soil...and prehistoric creatures. Lets not go there OK, just sit back and enjoy the nonsense. Anyway so the astronauts spend most of their time just lounging around and doing whatever. They leave the safety of their ship, go off into the wilderness and set up a camp? Wouldn't it be safer going back to the ship? Whilst at this camp they are attacked by a giant wasp or ant and an alligator, yet they still remain at the camp. Luckily they seem to have everything they need to survive on this alien planet, a rifle, plasters, bandages, a raft, errr...tinned food. Seriously they have a huge spaceship with advanced technology, why the fuck are they living like the Swiss Family Robinson and not using the ship??

So eventually they go off to check out a mysterious island shrouded in cloud. Spoiler alert, this is where all the nasty monsters live, the change in music denotes this in case you're not sure. So the brave male leads the screaming female into the jaws of death and back again, whilst also avoiding that pesky mammoth. But the only way to escape these giant alien iguanas is to blow them to kingdom come. Luckily the astronauts have an atomic bomb for just such an occasion. They set the bomb and run like crazy. Luckily they manage to just get clear of the atomic explosion that wipes out this entire island and every alien lifeform on it. Good job they had that raft to escape in time.

So effectively, the humans have landed on this alien world, explored it, discovered a shittonne of life...and then blown half of it to pieces with an atomic bomb. All in a days work for the human race huh. One has to ask what the point of exploration was if they were just gonna nuke everything at the first sign of danger. We don't find out what happens after this of course. No clue how the blast affects the planet later on, if the humans go back to wipe out more alien life so they can colonise it, or maybe they just use it as a vast hunting ground for sport. I think this movie is kinda depressing really, it shows how destructive humans are and exposes all our bad traits (for the time, but have we gotten any better?). There is little to praise really, the effects are pretty sparse, nothing special at all. The acting is poor, WAY too much stock footage, like the most ever! No effort for the alien planet visually, they literally went out and filmed in the countryside somewhere and plot is ludicrous. The only decent thing about this movie is the wicked title.


Monday, 13 March 2017

Rocketship X-M (1950)

As was typically common with these old sci-fi beauties this movie is also know as 'Expedition Moon' and 'Rocketship Expedition Moon'. This movie was also the first outer space flick made directly after WWII, bit of movie knowledge for you there.

The plot involves a small group of astronauts that will undertake a mission to the moon. Well I say astronauts but actually one is an ex-fighter pilot, Floyd Graham (Lloyd Bridges). One is a physicist and the designer of the RX-M, Dr. Karl Eckstrom (John Emery). One is an astronomer, Harry Chamberlain (Hugh O'Brian). One is a flight engineer, William Corrigan (Noah Beery) and one is a Chemist and assistant to Eckstrom, Dr. Lisa Van Horn (Osa Massen). Their mission is to simply reach the Moon, but halfway there the rockets give up leaving them floating in space, something to do with the fuel mixture? Anyway after rejigging the fuel consumption from different tanks they are back on the move again. Problem is when the engines fire the rocket blasts out of control at great speed knocking the crew unconscious. They awake to find themselves in orbit around Mars.

OK so this being made 19 years before man first set foot on the moon for real, you can forgive them for not getting things quite right. That coupled with the fact there is of course suspension of disbelief required and artistic license used. Nonetheless you can't help but giggle at the oh so quaint ways showcased in this classic. For starters the five explorers are literally your everyday type people. Sure they're highly skilled intelligent people in their chosen fields but that's it; Dr. Eckstrom is obviously too old for this shit and Corrigan is obviously too overweight.

My initial reaction when the five board their rocket was, hey! where are their spacesuits? Yep in this movie the team all wear what look to be aviator type attire, leather jackets and cargo/combat pants. Not a space helmet or any kind of specialised apparatus amongst them. All the scenes whilst inside the rocket feel like a war movie, they could all be inside a submarine, bomber or tank because the set and props seems to be constructed around that premise. Again unsurprising given the era. The sets do look good though I'll say that, the big port hole windows, bunk-beds and such are amusing but who cares. Its also amusing when the lack of gravity inside the rocket kicks in causing objects to float...accept them apparently. Oh and no more than five minutes or so after the rocket takes off they're all walking around like no ones business (laugh out loud!).

The general science and astronomy is all over the place in this movie but to be fair, as said before, they probably just used tonnes of artistic license. I'm sure the director and co didn't really think this way. For example they plan to reach the Moon within a day (or even hours!), but when the rockets engines go nuts they end up reaching Mars within hours! Not entirely sure how long the crew are unconscious for but I don't think it was days or anything. I'm still not overly sure why the engines went berserk in the first place, something about adding the Earth's orbital velocity to the rocket, and the fuel mixture?? Still, the trip to Mars and back is a quick one in this universe.

So they reach Mars and somehow still haven't burnt up all their fuel, oxygen, food and water. They decide to land and look around, as you spacesuits!!! No helmets, no nothing, yes its one of those sci-fi classics where you can walk around on other planets unaided. All they use are aviator breathing masks (or gas masks?), binoculars, oh and they have guns too, in case of naughty aliens. Low and behold what do they find? an ancient alien civilisation wiped out by war (darn pesky atomic bombs again) and savage aliens intent on killing them with rocks (would you Adam n Eve it!). Despite that silliness they do a relatively good job with the Martian surface. Sure its clearly some desert in California but with a nice red tint on the film it actually looks quite good.

In all honesty what can I say about this gem? There is an astronomical amount of hysterically bad inaccuracies to be found here, I know I haven't covered all of them because there are too many. The acting is a joy to watch as the cast do their best to make this nonsense seem thrilling. Clearly Emery as Eckstrom is having a ball with all his technical space jargon, I could listen to it all day. Then you have the comedic relief in Corrigan who is from Texas and keeps going on about bloody Texas. He also comes across as rather stupid for someone on this mission. As for Bridges, well you can see that future 'Hotshots' tomfoolery shining through, plus he still looks old even though he's young. Quick kudos for Morris Ankrum simply because he's always awesome in these flicks.

The special effects are naturally hokey as hell but they do job. Its mostly a character driven plot confined within sets which are pleasing visually. Although there are some nice matte paintings for the Martian surface and the rocket on Earth. The sexism on display at times is hilarious in the fact that its so blatant yet obviously acceptable for the time; and the finale is actually quite bleak which was surprising. I don't think you can go wrong here if you're a fan of corny 50's science fiction. This has got to be one of the best.


Saturday, 11 March 2017

Mechanic: Resurrection (2016)

The first movie was a remake of the classic 1972 Charles Bronson thriller starring Jason Statham...and was reasonably acceptable to remake, I guess. Of course they then got carried away (as always happens) and thought it would be a good idea to make a sequel to said remake...of the original 1972 classic. Now everyone knows this would all end in tears and complete failure...accept the makers of this movie it seems.

So once again we have yet another movie all about a super agent type bloke that is virtually invincible and that's about it. Bishop (Statham) is now living in Brazil after faking his death in the last movie. He is approached by some bad guys who work for another bad guy (Crain played by some bloke called Sam Hazeldine) who wants Bishop to kill three specific people. Bishop refuses, a fight breaks out, Bishop wins and escapes. Bishop is now living in Thailand (as you do) when he rescues a sexy blonde (Jessica Alba) from some drunk bloke. Turns out she has been blackmailed by Crain to meet up with Bishop and seduce him so Crain could then fake her kidnapping so he would carry out the hits. Well low and behold, in time, Bishop and Gina (Alba) do fall for each other and low and behold Crain's goons turn up and kidnap them both. Now Bishop must carry out the three hits to save his new girlfriend...zzzz.

Seriously could this be anymore cliched and predictable? Who wrote this? How did they even get paid for this unoriginal tripe?? How did this even get a green light for f*cks sake?! For starters this doesn't feel like an action flick, oh no, this feels more like a holiday destination video. The camera work is honesty stunning, Thailand, Rio, Sydney, Malaysia etc...all look beautiful, wonderful. If you're watching this on a good TV in 1080p, 2K, 4K or whatever, then these exotic locations will burst through your screen into your living room in bright, sharp, crisp, vivid colours. I lost all interest in the films plot and was more interested in the possibility of going to one of these places for my next holiday. What's more all the scenes on the beach in Thailand are enough to make you sick. The most perfect beaches you've ever seen in your live, the most perfect weather, and everyone in shot is tanned and beautiful (with the exception of Statham perhaps).

What actually happens in the movie is of course ridiculous and crap, but that really shouldn't be any surprise. For Bishop's first hit he must infiltrate a prison in Malaysia, well get himself locked up. He does this by acting drunk and being a bit rude to a Malaysian cop. Apparently this is enough to get you banged up in this horrendous maximum security prison that looks like it holds the type of people that have eaten someone. All these hits have to look like accidents by the way, as you can guess this doesn't really seem to happen in my opinion. Pretty sure the first hit would look like someone strangled and suffocated the guy...because that's what he did.

The second hit is what you see on the movies poster. It involves Bishop having to scale the outside of a skyscraper in order to break a glass bottom swimming pool that overhangs the building. In all honesty this is probably the best part of the movie because you see a lot of technical hitman type jiggery-pokery as Bishop works out how to make it look like an accident, and then how he manages to scale the outside of the building. But Tom Cruise this ain't, its all greenscreen and CGI. Once again the hit goes without a flaw but I'm pretty sure the guy could have gotten out of the pool in time.

In between all these Bishop does try to rescue Gina from Crain's super posh yacht out at sea. He locates the yacht, gets on-board and manages to wipe out a good number of faceless henchmen. Alas he is eventually caught, given a good slap with some verbal from Crain, and then sent on his merry way to carry out hit number three. So basically, this entire rescue sequence was completely and utterly pointless filler that didn't amount to anything.

The last stage on this videogame escapade sees Bishop going up against arms dealer Max Adams played by a very old Tommy Lee Jones. In order to make Jones look somewhat hip and trendy he wears bizarre clothing, some stupid coloured circular glasses and has some earrings. But because Jones is an A-list star they can't just have him killed off, so he teams up with Statham's Bishop to take on Crain. This naturally leads to the big final showdown on Crain's posh yacht where Bishop this time wipes out all of the faceless henchmen and (spoilers!) kills Crain. He does this without really breaking sweat or taking any injuries because he's got his invincibility cheat code switched on. You wanna see a one man army situation, well it doesn't get much more one man army than this crapola.

I think you gotta be a hardcore Jason Statham fan for this one. Don't get me wrong I enjoy a good action flick and I've got nothing against Statham, but the man makes the same shit over and over and over again. He's becoming the new Steven Seagal but with bigger budget flicks. Every damn movie he makes he's either special forces, or an undercover super agent, or an ex-special forces/ex-military/ex-super cop or whatever, with super martial arts skills of course. I mean honesty, did the movie really need to take place in exotic locations across the globe? Or was that just the excuse to enable everyone to get a super extravagant holiday that's all paid for, plus you get a wage and you can call it 'work'.


Monday, 6 March 2017

Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

Mel Gibson apparently never got the memo from Tinseltown. The man who was blacklisted by Hollywood has slowly, over the years, kept plugging away with various projects that could almost be seen as giant middle fingers to the industry. Its almost as if Gibson has upstaged Hollywood by displaying just how damn good of a director he actually is. You can almost feel the awkward shuffling in seats as the Hollywood top brass realise what they've been missing out on for the last ten years or so. Yes Mel is back with another corker, a biographical war epic based on actual events from the Battle of Okinawa, WWII, 1945. And yes its loaded with religious connotations as you would expect.

So briefly, based on the actual events in the life of one Desmond Doss, a Seventh-day Adventist from the state of Virginia. After getting into a scrap with his younger brother and nearly killing him by accident, Doss turns to his religion and completely renounces violence of any kind. Years later he meets up with Dorothy Schutte, a nurse at the local hospital. Doss slowly gets into a relationship with Schutte whilst slowly gaining an interest in medical procedures, helping the wounded. With the outbreak of war, both Doss and his brother enlist in the army much to the distress and anger of their father. Upon reaching boot camp in South Carolina Doss quickly discovers that his aversion to using any weapons based on his religious beliefs, does not go down well with his commanding officers or fellow recruits.

After beatings and unfair abuse from his drill Sergeant (on orders from the commanding officer), Doss is eventually brought up on charges and pending a court martial. Luckily Desmond's father manages to avert his imprisonment with a letter from his old WWI buddy who is now a very high ranking officer. Doss is therefore allowed to train as a medic and go into battle as he pleases, unarmed. Its whilst in the thick of battle on the island of Okinawa that Doss displays great courage, strength and compassion for not only his fellow troops, but the enemy as well.

So lets just dive straight into the main crux of this movies story, the fact that Desmond Doss refused to carry, use or even touch a weapon because of his religious beliefs. Now apparently this is all pretty factual which amazes me frankly. I mean good on this guy for standing by his beliefs (God knows how that would go down these days) but holy bananas! I can see why his fellow recruits and officers grew so tired of his bullshit. All through the training sequences in this film I was frustrated, the fact that Doss refused to even touch a weapon just frustrated me. Not because I'm a gun loving lunatic but because I just couldn't get my head around the fact that this guy wouldn't hold a weapon. In peace times sure, understandable, but during WWII?! How the literal flip did this guy survive I just don't know.

In order to gain a pass for some leave every soldier is required to pass basic training, which included weapons training. Doss obviously hadn't completed this and is refused his leave pass by his commanding officer. Doss explains that he intends to get married on his leave and begs for the pass, but he is refused. Doss is told he can have his pass if he can just prove that he can handle and load a rifle...Doss refuses. I was like...DUDE!! TAKE THE GUN AND DO IT FOR THE SAKE OF YOUR WIFE!! Even when it came to facing a court martial (which I believe didn't actually happen, it never went that far), the man still wouldn't handle a weapon. His wife is there in tears as he sits in a military jail awaiting trial, his commanding officer and drill Sergeant all begging him to just hold a weapon, just once...and he still refused. I was literally biting chunks out of my sofa cushion. Yes there are principles but there is also a bit of common sense, come on!!

Like other military flicks I actually found the training section of the film (at the start) the most engaging. Yes I know that might sound strange but meeting all the different soldiers we will be following, finding out what type of persons they are, meeting the predictably stern and shouty drill instructor and watching him abuse the men etc...its kinda fun. Its here I will give kudos to Vince Vaughn who gives us a wonderful performance that was totally unexpected. I never saw Vaughn in this type of role, never in a million years...and he's really good! OK sure the entire segment is essentially a complete rip-off from 'Full Metal Jacket' with the various soldiers and their silly nicknames. Plus Vaughn's drill Sergeant isn't a million miles away from R. Lee Ermey's drill Sergeant truth be told, but its all good and he's easily the best thing in the movie for me.

The actual war segments of the film, well half of the film, are of course the real meat and potatoes. Here we see the young Doss risking life and limb to save his fellow compadres from certain death, all the while without a weapon upon him. Its insane to actually think this guy actually did this, it almost seems like fiction to be honest. We see numerous amounts of men getting cut to ribbons by machine gun fire in seconds. Men getting blown to smithereens left, right and centre, bodies everywhere, its hell on Earth. Yet despite all that, skinny Doss sprints across the barren wasteland, ducking and diving, dodging danger like a ferret and never getting hit. He finds one man after another, treats them, carries them back to safety, hell he even gets forced down into the Jap underground tunnels and treats a soldier down there! All without being discovered, getting injured or even seen! This is why at times I felt like I was watching a superhero origins flick.

Whilst the film is amazingly accurate and harrowing at the same time there were still things that nagged me. Some of these were really quite blatantly obvious too such as the knife that one soldier gets stuck in his foot right at the start of training...yet this doesn't go anywhere. The dude has a big hunting type knife stuck in his foot. Drill Sergeant Vince Vaughn sees it, pulls it out and the man goes off into training? No treatment for that then?? Whilst Doss is up on the ridge pulling injured men to safety and lowering them down the cliff, even though other soldiers have noticed this, no one feels the need to climb up and help him? Then there was the fact that these soldiers at the bottom of the cliff, apparently, didn't report any of this till much later. Which we find out later in the film when it eventually does get reported that someone is lowering bodies down the cliff. Lastly, I don't know how accurate everything is in this film but the ending did seem very Hollywood-esque to me. Expected I guess but I would of preferred a more down to earth approach which it may or may not have been admittedly.

This is a Mel Gibson movie and by now I've come to expect greatness from old Mel. Was this great? well yes and no to be fair. I did enjoy the movie, it did engage me and it was at times emotional, but its not the greatest war film I've come across even though its very good. Its obvious the religious aspect is probably what attracted Gibson to the story in the first place, and he certainly makes the most of it (Doss getting lowered down the cliff face at the end being the clear symbolic religious highlight for sure). But that aspect doesn't cloud the movie if you're worried about that. The film is ferociously violent once the fighting kicks in no doubt about that, is it the most violent war film I've seen? Hmmm...maybe, not too sure. Kudos to Garfield for his portrayal of Desmond Doss, he clearly went all out and lost weight to fit the bill, not only that he does look like the man too. Admittedly I wanted to slap the guy across his cheeks half the time but I guess that's a performance well done. I should also give kudos to Hugo Weaving as Desmond's father with a truly gritty, bruising performance showcasing the man's many demons.

At the very end we get some real archive footage of the real Desmond Doss being awarded the Medal of Honour by President Harry S. Truman. Desmond himself, Desmond's younger brother Hal and one of Desmond's commanding officers Jack Glover.


Saturday, 4 March 2017

Multiplicity (1996)

This quirky little gem was directed by Harold Ramis which, at the time, came across like a bright spark in an otherwise dull period. His last success had been the Bill Murray comedy 'Groundhog Day' back 1993, and since then offerings had been a bit limp ('Airheads, 1994). Then you also had the resurgence of Michael Keaton. Now up until this point Keaton had actually been doing very well since his last big outing as Batman in 1992. Films like 'The Paper' and 'My Life' had shown Keaton could be a very good serious actor, he didn't need the Bat to help him out it seemed. Nevertheless Keaton hadn't made a good comedy since 1989 in 'The Dream Team', so could he still deliver?

Upon a first glance this looked like another weak comedy, even worse...a romantic comedy! I recall seeing trailers in cinema back in the day and completely brushing it aside as soppy trash. Yet the plot to this gooey nonsense is actually pretty solid. A busy construction worker is finding it hard to juggle his work with his personal life, he's suffering from stress and taking it out on the wrong people. On one of his jobs at a science facility Doug (Keaton) stumbles across Dr. Leeds (Harris Yulin)...and his clone. Yes this scientist has perfected the art of cloning humans it seems and offers Doug the chance to clone himself so he can sort his life out. The idea being there will be two Doug's, one for work and one for family. After a few hiccups everything goes swimmingly and before you know it, Doug gets another clone to help out around the house. Its obvious where this is headed, eventually one of the clones gets a clone and before you know it Doug's life is getting a bit hectic again. Can he now juggle his work, family and three clones?

So as I said the idea behind this is actually really neat. It makes you think, wouldn't it be cool to have a clone of yourself that you could send to work so you could bum around. Indeed the movie actually doesn't offer up any negative aspects of this idea, it generally works out pretty well for the protagonist. You half expect one clone to turn out all psychotic or something and Doug needing to vaporise him or whatever. But no it doesn't go down that dramatic route, instead each clone takes on one of Doug's traits. One is more of a mans man, one has Doug's feminine side and one is like a young child...and a bit simple.

This allows Keaton to showcase his comedic skills with different performances for each clone, and it works nicely. Clone one (Lance) is a great foil to Doug with his brash masculinity, lack of tact and slobby habits. Clone two (Rico) is very amusing with his soft over sensitive nature, complete knowledge in and around the kitchen and his sharp dress sense. Lastly clone three (Lenny) is the least funny to be honest as he merely does stupid slapstick type things and acts like a child. To be brutally honest I don't even think the movie needed this character, should have gone with a different trait if you ask me. If you removed clone three it wouldn't really make any difference.

Looking back the special effects now are laughably poor I'm afraid, although not always. Seeing as there are four Keaton's you can imagine there's gonna be a lot of greenscreen and split-screen here. Again as you can imagine this being a 1996 flick most of these effects, now, do look ropy. There are some terribly obvious stark black lines around Keaton in some scenes with other clones, not only that but there is also really obvious light issues between the characters (presumably greenscreen effects). Not all look that bad, some scenes look quite good where shots have been digitally layered together or when Keaton has obviously interacted with a stand-in and then they replaced that with another Keaton character. All the clones in the car at the end, Doug pouring Lenny some Coke, all the clones on the couch in the living room, all great looking effects scenes.

Obviously there are always gonna be questions and nitpicks because that's what I do. The house that Doug and his family live in is YUGE! I know this guy is a team leader in construction and I know Americans do live in big houses compared to us here in the UK, but Jesus! This place even has a second small house at the bottom of the garden! Is that an the American version of a shed or something?? Then you have Dr. Leeds and his cloning lab. How is this guy not world famous by now with his human cloning? Surely perfecting this kind of scientific breakthrough would be big news.

Yes this movie is horribly dated now, which is really scary for me because as said I remember seeing the trailers in the cinema. Keaton is a great comedic lead but boy does he look out of date and so very 90's in this (no shit!). The way he dresses is sooo 90's its lovely, its like watching Friends again. The overall comedy is very agreeable in general. At times wickedly good, at times hit and a miss, at times cringeworthy and over the top. Andie MacDowell plays Doug's wife which is one let down because she's so flippin' useless in my opinion, all teeth and nose. But I do love this movies premise, its clever and presents great opportunities for witty visual comedy (just like 'Groundhog Day'). In general this is a great little flick that suited Ramis to a tee. It offers some genuine laughs and a nice easy-going, laid-back experience. Comfy viewing.