There is, of course, no way this film can live up this poster.
Corman produced science fiction from the 80s it promises to be terrible but I've got to see it eventually. Amazing stuff!
Why would an article on this subject NOT include at least a note about such a unique show? Is it that there is still (and will always be) a prejudice against the genre? I know the show is a hit at least on a certain level as it has brought them viewers that would never have subscribed otherwise. And sales of the DVDs are solid too.
Hell! I’m probably reading too much into this. But it is odd.
Sometimes I see a movie and I know it’s not any good but I like it any way. Often it’s hard to explain what makes me like a terrible film but I think I have this one nailed down. ULTRAVIOLET strives very hard to be a ‘comic book’ film. I put quotation marks around ‘comic book’ because the writer/director has a very simple (one might even say simplistic) view of what a comic book is. For Kurt Wimmer a comic book is obviously about super powered beings that must overcome incredible odds to save the world. Period. Comic books are not about character, plot, intrigue, humor or even coherency- at least for Mr. Wimmer. Comic books are uncomplicated black & white stories in which the good guys kick ass and the bad guys are pure evil. Nuance is unknown and reflection is for wussies. As deep as a mud puddle, as logical as a hypocritical rationalization and as dumb as a clubbed puppy ULTRAVIOLET understands only one thing- ACTION! Mindlessly colorful action revved up to unbelievable levels and rammed right down the audience’s throat.
I think the only real reason this film exists at all is to fashion blindingly fast action scenes that attempt to show its intended jaded audience something it hasn’t seen before. And here is where it commits one of the cardinal sins of Hollywood Science Fiction cinema. It wants to do impossible things onscreen so it uses the catch-all ‘it’s the future’ idea to get away with completely ridiculous things. “We want our main character to run along a room’s ceiling shooting the Bad Guys ® on the floor so we’ll just throw out some pathetic techno-babble to ‘explain’ it.” With this sad method many filmmakers have put their poorly thought out ideas on the screen for folks like me to scoff at. And scoff I have!
Like any sci-fi geek worth my saltpeter I’ve spent hours cringing over the stupidity in even good science fiction movies to say nothing of crap like the STAR WARS prequels. So why did I like this film while turning my nose up at others? I guess it was because of the sheer audacity of Wimmer. I’ve been angered over and over by sad-ass screenplays that seem written by people that no longer read books. Indeed I think the reason so many films these days suck in the way they do is that most of the folks writing them NO LONGER READ. Anything. So when I realized that Wimmer was making nothing more and nothing less than a film version of a 90s Marvel comic I just laughed and went along for the ride. Don’t get me wrong- it’s DUMB! But at least it showed that the writer had read something even if what he read was terrible. And damned if I didn’t find myself enjoying it the same way I’ve enjoyed bad Marvel comics from the 90s- as slickly drawn bits of fluff with nary an original idea or concept in its overpriced pages. Just sheer forward thrust coming right at ya! Don’t think- just hang on!
So it’s a bad movie. Maybe even an epic bad movie if caught in the wrong frame of mind. But for me it was like seeing a crappy 25 cent tale done with $50 million and that was entertaining all by itself. But I do wish Wimmer would aim a bit higher with his next movie. I’m not asking for Dostoyevsky but he could do much better than Tom DeFalco. Much, much better.
The first of two episodes written by enfant terrible Harlan Ellison it’s also one of the best the show ever produced. Well written, well paced, well directed and wonderfully acted by a fine cast this is The Outer Limits at the top of its game. When the only complaint I can muster up is that the Soldier should have been afforded at least one change of clothes in the weeks he was confined you know things are good.
I can’t pretend to have a vast knowledge of TV directors of any era but I do know Gerd Oswald’s name. I noticed in my youth as I watched (over and over) the original Star Trek episodes that he was responsible for some for the better ones. When I saw his credit at the beginning of this show I was confident I was in good hands. Smooth and clean seems to be Mr. Oswald’s trademarks as a director. I noticed there are many scenes in which he would use a single set-up for a two or three character scene where the norm would be multiple shots. One of the best here is a three shot that has the linguist in the foreground with his back to the camera. He’s facing his wife and daughter who are framed to his right. Once the daughter’s part of the scene is over the camera pushes in to a two shot at just the right moment to emphasize the emotional exchange between the couple. It’s brilliant direction and completely seamless. Also Oswald seems to love putting the camera near the floor and shooting up at the actors. This appears to have necessitated the addition of higher than normal walls and partial ceilings for some of the sets- very different for television at the time but adding a great sense of confinement for the confused soldier. Even smaller details like the linguist’s son adapting the Soldier’s slang are well done where in less capable hands they might have felt forced. This is great science fiction TV and exactly what I look for from this series.
While it is a little creaky at the climax this is a near perfect episode that holds up to repeat viewings. It shows its age but, as with any good story, it can still delight an attentive audience.
The second season episode ‘The Brain of Colonel Barham’ is not one of the best the series has to offer. It’s not completely terrible but it’s not very good either, squandering a potentially great idea.
In the near future the military is planning for their first mission to Mars. The leaders of the project have decided that the first craft to venture there will be robotic. But to handle all the unforeseeable possible problems the robot needs to be controlled by a human mind. Top notch astronaut Colonel Alec Barham is slowly dying of a disease that ravages his body but leaves his brain untouched. It’s proposed to him to implant his mind in a machine and send him to the red planet. The egocentric Barham at first refuses but the idea of living forever finally sways him. Disregarding his wife’s feelings (much as he has for years) he agrees to the experiment over the objections of the project’s psychological expert Dr.McKinnon. The doctor fears that a man already so self-centered is a poor choice to use in such an experiment. As he predicted Barham begins to grow more arrogant and becomes able to control others. Somehow able to increase his brain mass he continues to gain power he becoming more dangerous until finally a confrontation takes place as our now mad brain attempts to kill his wife and Dr. McKinnon.
There are some interesting ideas floating around in this episode but none of them really come together well. The dis-embodied brain becoming all powerful is an old sci-fi staple but nothing great is done with it. I think that if we had simply gotten a speech or two from Barham that showed his gradual shift from man to madman we might have had a chilling show. It would have been nice to have some insight into his goals and his thinking as he made his attempt to control those around him. As it stands we have a half-baked story about a spurned husband lashing out at his wife over very little. And the relationship between the doctor and Mrs. Barham is poorly scripted as well with neither actor seeming to know what to do in their scenes together.
There are moments of clear and strong storytelling but they are few. The show starts well, introducing the scenario and remains good through the scene when the idea is proposed to Barham. The dialog here is good and the performances fine with the scene ending brilliantly as the presiding General verbally smacks Barham down. This opening segment shows us all we need to know about our main character perfectly even getting across the fact of his numerous marital infidelities with ease.
The second stand out moment is near the end when the General decides to talk to the now mad Barham to determine if he really is dangerous. The no nonsense ‘This crap is over’ attitude he presents is just what the flagging story needs right then. Of course, from there it limps home in a pretty obvious way but for a minute it seems like better things are coming.
This one is in the bottom third of Outer Limits shows and is probably best skipped unless you’re a completist- like me.
On an American military base in
Not a great episode but not a bad one either THE HUMAN FACTOR falls somewhere in the middle. The paranoid visions Brothers has of the alien monster reaching towards him out of the snow storm is the only ‘bear’ in the show and their final explanation is good, wrapping the tale up well. The story is well developed and flows well & logically from one point to the next. This episode benefits greatly from some good pacing and strong performances from Harry Gardino (Brothers), Gary Merril (Dr. Hamilton) and Sally Kellerman as the doctor’s secretary and lab assistant. All three actors are good with the standard TV close-ups really showing off their skills at complex emotions. Each of them has at least one scene requiring them to convey conflicting feelings with no dialog and they succeed every time. Good stuff!
The first successful use of the mind melding machine is between the Doc and his secretary. During their close contact her feelings for her boss become known. She loves
A good mid-range episode with some above average elements.
I’ve had a great love for the original OUTER LIMITS series since my childhood. I was only able to catch a few episodes from time to time as a kid but each one was wonderful. Since the show came out on DVD I’ve been going through the whole run kind of randomly and have decided to blog my impressions. For no good reason I’m starting in the middle of the second season but will be jumping around later.
After the first manned Mars mission ends in catastrophe a second team is sent three years later. Unsure of what caused the destruction of the first mission the four man crew is very cautious. But when a crewman disappears screaming in agony as soon as he’s out of sight of the other astronauts they begin to fear an invisible killer lurks on the red planet. Gradually the men discover what we lucky viewers have known all along- that the nearby expanse of sand is a sea in which a vicious clawed monster lives. Drawn to movement or the smell of blood this shark-like beast is clearly enjoying its tasty new snacks from another world!
Over the past few days I’ve watched a number of horror films as Halloween approached. One of the nice things about the fall is that everyone seems to try to put out new DVDs of old horror movies and this year the new line of Elvira discs was a welcome addition to the market. Giving you the option of watching the full uncut movie with or without the hostess adding her two cents worth these DVDs are a cheap way to see pretty good copies of some rarer flicks.
Writer/director/editor Milton Moses Ginsberg would be the man to blame for this one I guess. He’s apparently still alive according to the Internet Movie Database so maybe someone can get hold of him for an interview. I’d pay good money to hear some reminiscing about this odd turd.
MURDER ROCK (1984) - Later period Lucio Fulci giallo. Someone is killing off the best dancers in a class from which the top students will be offered prestigious jobs. A wily police detective suspects someone in the school but can’t pin the murders on anyone- not even the people with the most to gain. This one has always had a bad reputation because of the terrible 80s music that permeates the story. It’s true the Flashdance style tunes are abysmal and unintentionally funny but they don’t make the film any less solid as a good thrill tale. The murders are fascinating and the amount of nudity on display is ……plentiful. Handled like a throwback to the 70s heyday of the great Gialli the killer is inventive and lucky with an identity always hovering just out of sight until the end. Well done if not brilliant and a welcome return to form for Fulci at a time he was being regularly attacked. The man could really make exciting cinema. (3 stars)
WILD ZERO (2000)- When is a film not very good but a whole lot of fun? When it’s this one, baby! Best described as ‘Japanese Rock ‘n’ Roll band VS. A Bunch of Zombies’ there isn’t a logical moment to be found anywhere in its 90 minute running time- and that’s just fine. Completely insane from beginning to end it must be seen to be believed. Flying saucers swarm about the Earth somehow causing the dead to rise and eat the living. It’s up to Guitar Wolf and a few friends to battle these evil things and play loud rock ‘n’ roll at the same time. It’s as if someone had too much money for a music video shoot and just went berserk. The Farm Film Report guys would have loved this movie! (2 &1/2 stars)
A HOUSE OF MAD SOULS (2004)- A ghost story from
BEAST OF BLOOD (1970)- Now that the
VISITING HOURS (1982)- Lee Grant plays a television talk show host and commentator who stands up for people she thinks have been wronged. Her latest crusade focuses on a battered wife convicted of an attempted murder of her husband. This stance so angers the nearly silent character played by Michael Ironside that he breaks into her house, kills her housekeeper and tries very hard to filet Miss Grant. It seems he hates women because of his strict upraising but since he seems to hate blacks, Mexicans and anyone who isn’t staring back at him from the mirror its hard to figure out his fixation on this poor lady. At least he’s an equal opportunity hater. Anyway, Grant spends the bulk of the movie in the hospital as Ironside continues to try to kill her. I have to be honest and admit the reason I rented this is because William Shatner plays Grant’s boss so I was hoping for a bit of Shatnerama. Didn’t get any of that- in fact the Shat Man is quite good throughout, But it was nice to see his toupee glisten in the stage lights. The film itself isn’t bad but it isn’t very good either. It’s a competently made, middle of the road film. Nothing special. (2 stars)
SERIAL KILLING 101 (2003)- I checked this out because Tom Weaver (yes that Tom Weaver!) recommended it in his Fangoria column. In an attempt to impress a cute classmate (singer Lisa Loeb who’s too old for the part), high school senior Casey tells his guidance counselor that he wants to become a serial killer. He gets the girl’s attention but even with her help he’s less than successful at becoming a killer. The pair runs through a checklist of serial killer traits, none of which describe Casey, but they forge ahead anyway to often amusing results. Meanwhile the local murders of teenage girls might be the work of a real serial killer and Casey’s choice of future vocation marks him as a suspect. He starts putting his newfound knowledge to use to find the killer but does he want him as a mentor or to stop him? Although the film is never as funny as it could be it’s still pretty damned good. The film has a great cast giving it their all and one corker of an ending. Recommended. (3 stars)
THE EYE (2002)-- Hong Kong scare film in Cantonese with English subtitles. A woman blind since the age of 2 is given a cornea transplant that restores her sight. It also seems to give her the ability to see ghosts! The film is quite good and packs an emotional punch even though I feel it gets a bit unfocused at times. Also, there are leaps of story logic that I might understand if I were more in tune with the culture. As it stands I wanted more info on a couple of topics but the strength of the story won me over completely. Directed by Hong Kong filmmakers the Pang brothers who will be making their American horror debut soon with THE MESSANGERS. Good stuff for adventurous viewers. (3 stars)
BONEDADDY (1998)-- Rutger Hauer is a retired Chicago medical examiner turned crime novelist. His newest book is a fictionalization of his most famous unsolved case involving a serial killer that taunted the police by sending them the bones of victims. Publication of the book brings the killer back out to play but everyone but Hauer thinks it must be a copy cat. Femurs start showing up and the finger bone of suspicion points to someone new every ten minutes but as the suspects narrow it looks like it might be someone very close. Hauer is very good playing the world weary egomaniac who is respected but disliked by everyone he knows. This is a better than average Canadian made thriller with a pretty good script. Nothing earth shattering but I like watching Rutger in a lead role. He’s a natural. (2 & 1/2 stars)
BODY PARTS (1991)-- I had wanted to see this movie for years and its out on DVD now so I finally scratched the itch. Too bad. The movie starts well with Jeff Fahey losing an arm in a car accident and getting a replacement from a convicted criminal. The film has brief moments when it’s OK but it consistently veers into crap territory and become so completely unbelievable that I was rolling my eyes for the last 20 minutes. It has a few interesting ideas floating around but the game cast including Brad Doriff and Kim Delaney can’t save it. It’s a shame since the core question of where in the human body ‘evil’ resides is worthy of a good horror film. This just ain’t it! (1 star)
AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION (1982)- Has there ever been a good Amityville film? This one is a prequel telling the supposedly true story of the family that was murdered in the house. Kind of entertaining in a laugh-at-it kind of way. The family would have had to be idiots to not notice the supernatural things happening 5 freakin’ minutes after they walk through the door! Invisible grasping hands, floating furniture and free flowing blood from the walls are only a few of the tell-tale signs of EVIL that these folks ignore to their detriment. Actually the film seems more of a take off on THE EXORCIST than anything else although they do spice it up with incest and an abusive father. Entertaining for many wrong reasons this one also has the great scene of a lawyer trying to defend his client with a plea of Demonic Possession! Love it! (2 stars)
Each October I watch as many horror films as possible within those wonderful 31 days. Not that I ONLY watch horror films during the month of All Hallows Eve but I go out of my way to see a lot of them while carving pumpkins and dressing up as a ghoul for costume parties. The other night I watched my DVD-R of TALES FROM THE CRYPT (1972) and got into a discussion with friends about those great old Amicus anthology horror pictures. Very few of them are available on DVD and that seems a crime. This is the perfect season to enjoy those movies with their multiple stories, dry sense of humor and twist-in-the-tail endings. I have the British release of DR. TERROR’S HOUSE OF HORRORS (1965) but I think the only ones out on this side of the pond are ASYLUM (1973) and THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD (1970). There’s a real market out there for these babies and I can think of quite a few that some enterprising company should consider for next October. There’s the already mentioned TALES FROM THE CRYPT; VAULT OF HORROR (1973); FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE (1973); TORTURE GARDEN(1967); and TALES THAT WITNESS MADNESS (1973). Hell! I've never seen TALES THAT WITNESS MADNESS!
Of course, I realize that one thing that might be standing in the way is the tangled rights and ownership mess with EC Comics from which many of the stories from these films originated. But surely there’s enough money to be made to get things moving. Please!
SEED OF CHUCKY (2004)- I have a checkered history with the Chucky series of films. I liked the original quite a bit but had never bothered with the sequels until a few years ago brought BRIDE OF CHUCKY. Directed by Ronnie Yu (famous for THE BRIDE WITH WHITE HAIR) I loved it- a delight with tongue firmly in cheek and plenty of wit. I was worried that a sequel to that film might falter but to my surprise this one is just as much fun. Residing more in the horror/comedy area than in just horror this shows a love and affection for the genre while making jokes for anyone with a sense of film history. Chucky and his bride Tiffany have birthed a son that doesn’t really have that killer instinct so prized by his parents. Also unsure as to his gender poor Glen (or Glenda) tries to fit in but complications ensue. Jennifer Tilly is great and John Waters has a very funny small role as a paparazzi. (3 stars)
THE BOOGEYMAN (2005)- Boy, was I surprised by this one. I had heard that this film was nothing too great with most reviews agreeing that it wasn’t anything more than OK. While I don’t think its fantastic this little gem is more than just OK and in some ways is actually damned good. A young man is haunted by an incident in his childhood. On a stormy night his father was pulled into a closet and taken away by The Boogey Man- the same ghoul his dad told him scary stories about. Even though years of therapy have helped him accept the idea that his dad just left his mom that night and was never heard from again the poor guy still fears the night and closed doors. When his mom passes away over the Thanksgiving weekend he goes back home to confront the house, his memories and possibly the Boogey Man. Smarter than I expected and gorgeously filmed this is a short little scare film with a gentle creepiness that really works. They aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel here- just make one heck of a nice autumn supernatural tale. Recommended. (3 stars)
MIMIC 3: SENTINEL (2003)-- Not bad and a definite step up from MIMIC 2. The movie is simply REAR WINDOW with giant bugs and it’s done pretty well. It succeeds by remaining a small story told with a minimum of fuss and keeping the running time to a brief 75 minutes. Good acting from a strong cast that includes Lance Henrickson and Amanda Plummer. Stay away from the commentary track on the DVD, as it will make you want to smack the director for being poorly prepared to discuss the film. (2 & 1/2 stars)
HIGHWAYMEN (2004)-- A pure road revenge film that could have been made in the 70’s. The only thing that feels modern about it is it’s slick production values. It’s good but not great with no real flaws but also a certain lack emotional depth that kind of mutes the effect. Colm Feore plays a homicidal manic whose chosen weapon of murder is his big green Cadillac El Dorado. Jim Caviezel is the man who lost a loved one and is tracking the bastard down while using Rhona Mitra as victim bait. The stunt work is very good and thankfully avoids the ‘car crash equals explosion’ BS that plagues so many movies. It’s always nice to see a retro vigilante film that seems born out of the mean-spirited cycle started by DEATH WISH. For my tastes there just aren’t enough of them! (3 stars)
THE DARK (1979)- I’d heard of this film for years but had never watched it. I remember the VHS box sitting on the shelf of the local video store when I was a teenager. The amazing cover art did call my name once or twice but I was always able to resist. Turns out I was right to fight the urge to sit through this turkey. Terrible barely begins to cover it. The film’s dialog is so awful that I’m surprised that the actors agreed to speak any of it. And you can tell they all knew this was a dog because every single one of them phones in their performance. Usually good actors like Richard Jaeckel, William Devane and Keenan Wynn are terrible. There are line readings here that wouldn’t have passed muster for a 16mm student film. And the direction couldn’t be more pedestrian! It’s as if most the crew fell asleep during filming and just used what ever had made it to the print stage. Special mention should be made of the atrocious score that is one of the most unintentionally funny things I’ve ever heard in a horror film. Someone whisper-moaning ‘The Daaaaarrrk’ over synth throbing is just hysterical. Of course, there’s a lot of history about the original director being fired (Tobe Hooper?), the changing of the killer from a madman to an alien (!!) and everything being rushed- but STILL. The script alone was reason enough to stop filming. A re-write might have gotten it up from ‘crap’ to ‘passable’ but I doubt it. It would have been best to bury the whole idea and sew the ground with salt. As Beth said, “ That was a big turd!” You got that right. (1 star)
THE RETURN OF COUNT YORGA (1971)-- Maybe a little better than the first Yorga film although neither is top tier vampire cinema. I love Robert Quarry as Yorga with his smart-ass answers to stupid questions in the first few scenes. His performance is great even though the slow motion shots of him running toward victims with both arms outstretched are a little silly looking. The best segment is definitely the ending, which is suspenseful and manages a nice shock before the end credits. Well done, low budget movie. (3 stars)
PATRICK (1978) -- Good, solid sci/fi horror film from
STARSHIP TROOPERS 2: HERO OF THE FEDERATION (2003)-- I’m one of the few, the proud, the fans of the first film. I loved its black humored satiric take on Heinlien’s rah-rah patriotism and the fact that most people miss the social commentary only makes me happier. That type of intelligent vitriol can rarely be maintained so I was unsurprised when they didn’t even try. More of a horror film than anything else, the story centers on a small number of troopers trapped behind enemy lines on a bug planet. Holing up in an abandoned fortification they slowly discover they’ve been infiltrated by a new kind of bug that takes over a human host body. Poorly written, poorly directed and just generally crappy this is one to avoid. If not for the pretty good special effects I would have dozed off. (1 star)
BEYOND RE-ANIMATOR (2004)-- The joy is gone. While I consider the original a classic and loved the madness of the first sequel this third trip to the well comes up dry. Herbert West has been in prison for his earlier crimes for 13 years when he is given the chance to continue his experiments behind bars. It’s great to see Jeffery Combs playing the cold-blooded West again and the movie has flashes of fun but it never comes together. A mess, but at least it leaves the door open for another sequel that might be better. Produced in Spain and at times the (funding mandated) need to have a mostly Spanish cast is a major hindrance. (1 & 1/2 stars)
GINGER SNAPS BACK: THE BEGINNING (2004)-- While I really liked both of the first two GINGER SNAPS films this one just doesn’t quite make it. It’s not bad but it has many elements that felt too 20th century for me to take the 1815 setting seriously. Still, there’s a lot in the film to like, including the ending. This one tells the tale of how the werewolf curse came to be loosed on the countryside (i.e. Canada) by events surrounding a pair of orphaned sisters attacked by beasts in the woods. Brought into a lycanthrope-besieged fort by an Indian warrior they try to survive and rid themselves of the shape changing disease. (2 & 1/2 stars)
THE HITCHER 2: I’VE BEEN WAITING (2003)-- This unnecessary sequel isn’t in the same league as the original but it isn't the disaster I expected either. C. Thomas Howell returns as the poor sucker scared forever by Rutger Hauer’s serial killer John Ryder. Still troubled by the past he and girlfriend Kari Wuhrer return to the Texas crimes to lay old ghosts to rest. Unfortunately they run across hitchhiker Jake Busey who Howell immediately suspects is Ryder reborn. Busy is great doing his patented psycho performance capped by the scene in which he removes his own finger to appear innocent. The movie isn’t bad but it isn’t great either. It is beautifully photographed and well paced but succumbs to the common sequel problem of following the original too closely. By the time a character is strung between a tractor-trailer and a truck you know they couldn’t top the first film’s darkest moment. Also it has one nagging ‘Oh, give me a break’ moment near the climax that should have been rethought. Overall, not bad and worth seeing for the sharp opening sequence at least. (2 &1/2 stars)
A SCANNER DARKLY- The first animated adaptation of a Philip K. Dick story that I’m aware of turns out to be one of the best. The film follows the tale of undercover cop Bob Artor (Keanu Reeves) as he wallows in the shallow end of the drug sub-culture searching for criminals worth busting. There is very little wrong with this film and it is fantastic on nearly every level. Capturing both the detail and feel of Dick’s novel it remains very close to the book…..probably too close for it to have been a financial success. While it is very funny the downbeat ending assures it of escaping the imaginations of most of the slack-jawed mouth-breathers that would go to see this film because of its ‘drug’ plotline. This is a smart and thoughtful movie that will wear well over the years. Easily one of the years best so far.
Although the Summer isn’t quite over yet at the local multi-plex I think its time for an overview (brief though it may be) of the movies. I caught a good number of films this blistering season and while there were some good things out there on the whole it wasn’t a great year. I’ve already posted about POSIDON and MISSION IMPOSSIBLE 3 both of which were OK without being at all memorable. Maybe that start should have warned me….
X-MEN 3- I refuse to call it X3- It’s the third X-MEN movie not the third movie entitled X. Easily the weakest of this ‘trilogy’ of movies. It should have been the crowning achievement but the loss of Bryan Singer made sure that just wasn’t gonna happen. The resultant film is good, a solid effort but it lacks the human touch of the first two and the feeling of competence behind the camera that Singer is capable of. Even with a hack director the story is still pretty damned good but I can’t help but feel that a better movie was possible- one that would have wrapped up things in a more satisfying and smart way. As it stands, X-MEN 3 felt like there were some things left out that might have improved the characterizations which are unfortunately paper thin. Perhaps a longer cut will be offered at some point on DVD. The actors did their best, I think, but were ill served by the weaknesses that might have been fixed with a more hands-on creator. More thought needs to be expended next time on character motivation and relationships. It’s easy to blow things up—it’s harder to make us care who might be blown up.
SUPERMAN RETURNS- This is what Bryan Singer jumped ship to make. Is it good? Yes. Is it great? Sadly, no. Superman returns from a five year absence to find Lois with a son, Lex loose and the world maybe not needing a Super Dude. There are a lot of great things in the film and overall I like it a good deal but there are problems. First, it is a bit TOO much of a re-hash of the first two Superman film from the 70’s. I know that this was done as a direct sequel to those to movies but there are a few too many copycat scenes here. The script even provides some good reasons for the scenes but they are still unnecessary. Don’t get me wrong- I liked the film but once again I felt like some vital pieces of the story had been left out of the picture. While sitting in the theater I thought there seemed to be gaps in the natural flow of the movie and afterwards a little online checking confirmed this. More than 25 minutes were trimmed to get it to a more marketable length. I’m sure we’ll get to se this missing material eventually but I’m beginning to dislike the fact that what I’m seeing theatrically often ISN’T the finished film as the creators want. Must we always wait for the Special Edition DVD to watch the full movie? Dammit! I would have loved the Krypton stuff, the new romantic relationship Ma Kent has, the scenes between Clark and his mother and anything else they had on tap. This stuff makes these movies richer for me and I don’t really care about the length. Oh- and for future reference—its time to retire Lex Luthor as the Superman villain of choice. Might I suggest Brainiac, The Parasite, Metallo, Toyman, Myzplytyk, Darksied or even Doomsday. There are a host of good Superman stories to tell. Luthor’s bizarre infatuation with real estate was good once but reusing it for this film was really pushing it.
As far as the George Pal film- I feel much kinder to it than I used to even though its second half feels impoverished and rushed. My first viewing of it in my teens resulted in shrugged shoulders with the only lingering after effect being the itch to read the books. The regrettable camp feel is always going to anger me but the cast is pretty good with Ely doing a fine job. I must admit that if a nice DVD was available I’d pick it up- especially if there were some nice extra goodies covering the history of the character.
I know, I know--- But I can dream.
I’ve been a fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ most famous creation since I was a boy. Like many other kids with an appetite for adventure fiction I read the first of the Tarzan novels and fell in love with the stories of the orphaned nobleman raised by gorillas in the African jungle. His adventures fighting predatory beasts, harassing Arab poachers, finding the occasional lost city and battling nefarious bad guys seeking various treasures thrilled me page after page. It’s because I loved the Tarzan of ERB that I could hardly stand the Tarzan of Hollywood.
In BRAIN FROM PLANET AROUS our man Agar plays Steve March, a geologist working with his partner Dan (Robert Fuller) in the desert southwest. They’ve been getting odd fluctuating gamma radiation readings (!?) centered miles out in the desert and Steve insists they check it out. Once there they track the readings to a newly formed cave and are attacked by Gor-the titular brain from another world. This evil alien kills Dan and possesses the body of Steve with the intention of using his incredible destructive mind powers to take over Earth, launch an invasion of his home planet and molest Steve’s fiance Sally (Joyce Meadows)- not necessarily in that order. Steve constantly tries to fight off Gor’s control to little effect but Sally and her father become very concerned about the spasms of pain that accompany his attempts. They ridiculously decide to travel to the desert cave and there discover Vol, another brain from Arous sent to recapture the fugitive Gor. Vol explains how to kill the mad brain and just before he’s able to take over the world Sally gets this information to Agar who takes an ax to the criminal cerebellum.
Almost too fun to be believed this is a classic so-bad-its-good movie. The story is incredible with characters doing hysterically illogical things simply to advance the plot. I’m still trying to figure out why a geologist would be given clearance to attend a major nuclear test or how (or why) geologists were monitoring ‘gamma radiation readings‘. But honestly the rest of the movie could be totally boring and would still be worth seeing for the insane final scene. The sight of John Agar ax-whacking an oversized brain dangling from clearly visible wires is one of the most hilarious things this side of PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE. The film had to be fun for Agar as well since he gets to play two roles- good guy and bad brain. He does a good job as both but it’s the evil moments that really shine. Rarely is he more entertaining than in the sequences in which he convinces assembled world representatives of his power and issues his mad orders complete with diabolical laughter. Brilliant! Highly recommended for these who like their popcorn movies spiced with cheese.
To be continued........
In THE MOLE PEOPLE (1956) Agar plays Dr. Roger Bentley an archeologist working on a dig somewhere in Asia. (That’s as specific as the film gets!) He finds a tablet fragment with indications of Sumerian origins and then comes across an ancient oil lamp that points towards a local mountain. Agar along with Hugh Beaumont mounts an expedition to the summit and after much stock climbing footage they reach a high plateau scattered with crumbling Sumerian buildings. After a member of the group falls into a deep crevasse the men descend into the mountain and make the archeological discovery of the century- a living Sumerian settlement cut off from the world for thousands of years! Most of the population has become albino with extremely pale skin and sensitivity to bright light while some have ‘devolved’ into hideous mole like humanoids. The mole men are used as slave labor and treated horribly. Using his still functioning flashlight Agar convinces the rulers that he’s a messenger from one of their gods and starts romancing one of the Sumerian ‘throwbacks’ i.e. a normal looking woman named Adad (Cynthia Patrick) with a great hair stylist. Finally Agar and Beaumont instigate a Mole man rebellion making good their escape with Adad in tow.
Long before I knew John Agar by name he was one of my heroes. He was the guy that took a cattle prod to the Gill Man, found a hidden underground civilization and blew up a giant spider in the desert- all without breaking a sweat! The fact that my adolescent mind could combine these three different movie roles and thereby turn Agar into a kind of superman is probably because he played similar characters in many films. Some might say they were often the EXACT same role. He was usually the smart, stoic, smiling fellow that could be counted on when the Mole Men attacked or a were-creature was stalking his fiance. These movies weren’t always very good (and Agar didn’t appreciate them at the time) but as film nuts in the 21st century have discovered his genre movies are always entertaining even if not for the reasons originally intended! Agar’s first foray into fantastic cinema was a sequel to the classic CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON. It’s not his best genre film but it did give him a key contact for later greatness.
Picking up a year after the first film REVENGE OF THE CREATURE has a couple of stalwart scientists types return to the Black Lagoon to capture the monster. Using dynamite charges (!) to subdue him they transport the amphibian back to Florida and set him up in Ocean Harbor for scientific study and public viewing. Ichthyologist Helen Dobson (Lori Nelson) and fellow scientist Professor Clete Ferguson (John Agar) begin trying to both communicate with the Gill Man and romance each other. Their romance is a bit more successful probably because Agar doesn’t poke Nelson with an electrified prod every ten minutes as he does the Creature. Finally the poor aquatic beastie manages to break free, kill a few folks and run off into the open water with gunmen in hot pursuit. Once again he has his sights set on a female and this time it’s Miss Nelson he goes in search of, putting her new fiance Agar on the offensive!
To be continued.......