Friday, July 15, 2005

It Came From the Bookshelf! Pete Von Sholly's Morbid

Morbid by Pete Von Sholly
Dark Horse Books $14.95

Morbid is a hoot for fans of old sci-fi monster movies and comics, of which Von Sholly is obviously himself a particularly fervent aficionado. This slim (about 100 pages) volume contains up to date examples of the heretofore generally unimpressive ‘fumetti’ genre, which basically means photo-comics. Us old-timers might remember such examples as the comics based on Horror of Party Beach that used to be advertised in Famous Monsters of Filmland.

While often emphatically satiric, the tone is affectionate, even when the individual stories genuinely become, on occasion, somewhat disturbing. The inspirations range from old giant bug movies to EC comics, with a heavy seasoning of Lovecraft. Von Sholly really knows his stuff, and his attempts to reproduce the stiltedly bombastic speech patterns heard in old sci-fi movies when they attempted to be profound are note perfect:

”Never try to become something you are not, my friends! For you may become something you will not wish to be… I mean something you wish you had not become! For it is far better not to be that which you may come to be sometimes! I know!”

Von Sholly’s technique involves using a recurring cast of actors wearing various appropriate costuming and striking the necessary poses, photoshopped with some truly nifty schlock monster creations. If we’re luckly, another five or ten years will allow Von Sholly to actually turn his tales into little movies. I know I’d buy a DVD from him.

A second volume is also out. I'll have to track that down.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Super Ex...

One of the apparent side benefits of the recent flood of comic book movies have been films featuring non-established superhero characters. The Incredibles is one such, but I also saw the trailer for Sky High, about a high school for kids with superpowers (imagine a sitcom version of the X-Men mutant academy), over the weekend and it looked suprisingly good.

Meanwhile, a film that will supposedly see screens in the future is Super Ex, starring Owen Wilson as a man who dates a superheroine, only to have her use her powers to screw his life up after he dumps her. If handled correctly, that could be a hilarious spin on the 'gf from hell' trope. While I generally find Wilson's surfer dude persona pretty obnoxious--I prefer his brother Luke--I would like to see this work.

Wilson is also up to play the titular role in the Secret Life of Walter Mitty remake, a role long bandied about for Jim Carrey.

Sitting by the schlock of the Bay...

Michael Bay, that is. Just watching the previews of his films, such as for the upcoming The Island, gives me a headache. I mean, no film should so blatantly rip off plot elements from Logan's Run. (And it's not like I'm overly picky--I'm considering seeing The Dukes of Hazzard, for instance, if the reviews don't just suck.) However, he obviously appeals to a great many people.

In any case, what is sure to be Bay's masterwork, a live-action film based on the old Transformers show--which I sure will less than meets the eye--has already claimed the July 4th weekend...in 2007!

Per RottenTomatoes.com: "DreamWorks head of distribution Jim Tharp stated, "Under the direction of Michael Bay, and with Steven Spielberg executive producing, we know that "Transformers" is going to be the kind of explosive action movie that is perfect for the height of the summer movie season. By staking our claim on the 4th of July, 2007, we ensure that we not only have the time to make this movie the way it should be made, but also to build excitement and awareness leading up to its release." "


I just hope you fans can wait two years for this epic to hit the screens.

At the Movies: Fantastic Four

I doubt I have anything to say about the FF movie that hasn’t been said in a zillion other places, but if that were the standard, I’d not only have to shutter the blog, but my website as well.

I have to admit, its been a while since I was just blown out of the theater by a movie—I mean years—and I’m not really convinced I’ll even see anything again that will have the raw impact on me of a Die Hard or Aliens or The Killer. Every once in a while you still see something pretty amazing, like a Spider-Man 2. However, we seem to be hitting near perfection in special effects and stuff, and thus won’t even have those generational upgrades in movie technology to keep us interested, at least until we get to real 3-D stuff or something else that radical.

In any case, the buzz on this movie wasn’t great, and the director (Tim Story of Barbershop and Jimmy Fallon’s Taxi) seemed a really weird choice, and the casting was off (Alba was a concern, and the ages of the characters, clearly defined in the comics, were completely screwed up) and so on and so on…

Long story short, I tried to bring low expectations to the movie, so as to maximize the chance that it would be better than I had anticipated. And…mission accomplished. The movie was better than I feared; not great, but a solid, three star movie by my estimation. And given my investment in an FF movie, I could have been made particularly cranky.

I did have problems with the film, but not enough to really get into a snit about. Dr. Doom (never once named in the film; I guess it’s too ‘comic booky’) easily fares the worst, having been turned into an eee-vil financial tycoon—that’s fresh—who pines for Sue Storm (??), a plot element that traditionally applies to anti-hero and sometimes FF foe Namor the Submariner, not Doom.

Moreover, in the lazy manner of filmmakers, Doom’s ‘origin’ is tied into the FF’s, to save time and to add whatever it is that causes scriptwriters to always try to tie all the characters together into one big ball. [See the proto-Joker being the guy who killed Bruce Wayne’s parents in Tim Burton’s Batman.]

Finally, Doom is given somewhat lame super-powers of his own, rather than just having built an army of robots and relying on super-scientific deathtraps and his own self-created battle armor. Giving Spider-Man organic webbing was a major but justifiable character change—one that has been retrofitted into the comics—but having Doom’s ‘armor’ an ‘organic’origin is just dumb, and the ability to shoot electrical beams is pointless. Again, why not just battle armor?

Of the minor characters, I was puzzled when Ben Grimm/The Thing’s blind girlfriend Alicia seemed to say, “My name is Al-o-ee-sha” or something similarly convoluted, perhaps because she’s black all of the sudden. That doesn’t really matter—I mean, it’s pointless, but harmless—although I cringed at her assertion that God is a “She”, apparently meant as an indication of how quirky and Strong Womany she is. She’s barely in the film, but presumably she’ll play a bigger part in the sequels, especially if the Galactus/Silver Surfer storyline is used, and you’d have to think that’s a good possibility.

(Personally, I’d like to see a big Hulk/Thing battle, but Hulk is owned by another studio, so that won’t happen.)

Of the FF…

Sue is just another super-competent, You Go Girl! Type, but that’s no more a cliché than the mousy Sue of the old comics. (Although it means that her powers of invisibility don’t have the same psychological resonance.) Alba is certainly hot, and believable facing Doom, but the stale romantic triangle doesn’t do her any favors. I’d give Sue a B.

Reed is well embodied physically by Ioan Gruffuld, but has turned into a Hugh Grant sort of mild-mannered, tentative professor type. Of course, his problem with Sue is that he’s too insecure to Go After What He Really Wants (an idea already overused back when Fred McMurray played the Absent-Minded Professor), and their romantic travails are entirely too rote, and really not necessary. The Reed of the comics is no milksop, and his problems with Sue generally emanated from his being waaaay too involved into whatever project he was currently pursuing. If anything, he tended to be occasionally too autocratic. In the end, the comic book Reed is a lot more interesting than the movie one. I give him a C.

Johnny is fine, but I found his glory hound embrace of the rock star side of his powers entirely too puerile. That probably is how a guy in his early twenties would react, but it left me cold. (Among the things I would ‘want’ to be, a partying, pussy-chasing rock star is not one of them.) I wish they had left him a 16 year old, like he is—or at least was—in the comics, because it would have made his casual but deep cruelty to Ben and general yahoo obnoxiousness less repellent. On the other hand, I guess a lot of people keep that selfish child mindset a lot longer today. In any case, I’m sure that much of the audience completely identified with him a lot more than I did, so it’s hard to dun the film on that score. Still, I generally found him thoroughly unlikable much of the time.

Unsurprisingly, the best character in the movie is the Thing, both because he’s the most tragic character and because he’s played by Michael Chiklis, a fine actor. Chiklis is about perfect for the part (although Griffuld’s much younger age kind of screws up his and Reed’s traditional backstory), and acts through the prosthetic body suit to a remarkable degree. I liked the fact that he was brought about via a bodysuit rather than being a CGI creation, which was the intent at one point in the production. Chiklis, however, has said he wouldn’t have taken the part in that case. I give the film's Think an A.

The film’s best described as competent, but one advantage of superhero movies is that the second films are generally better than the first ones, as was the case with Superman, Burton’s Batman, X-Men, Spider-Man, etc. That’s because you generally have to waste a major portion of the first film laying out the origin story, and then often awkwardly segueing to the film’s major plotline. Moreover, by the second film the actors, etc., generally have a better handle on the characters, and the overall productions tend to be more confident. Then people not associated with the initial films are brought in and things take a plunge...but that's another story.

Fantastic Four is a decent start to a series to hopefully down the line will provide a really good movie or two. Let’s just keep Brett Ratner away from things.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

It Came From Netflix! Hour of the Gun (1967)

Ten years earlier, director John Sturges (The Magnificent Seven) had made a movie about Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday entitled Gunfight at the OK Corral. Starring Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas, it was a wildly popular film, although a recent viewing of it left me distinctly underwhelmed.

Still, as the film ended with the titular gun battle, there was a good half of the real life story left, and Sturges returned to Earp and Holliday with the obvious intention of being a bit more true to life than the malarkey-filled first film. Hour announces its intentions with at the beginning with a card reading “This is the way it really happened”, or somesuch. That proves incorrect, although the movie is quite a bit more accurate than Gunfight. (Of course, Gunfight as a retelling of the Earp/Holliday story is just slightly more accurate than, say, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes.)

The sequel starts rather than ends with the famous gunfight—which is not portrayed with perfect accuracy, but is at least much closer to the facts than the version that ended Gunfight—during which the McLaury Brothers and Billy Clanton are killed. This is witnessed by Billy’s urbane older brother, cattle rancher/rustler Ike Clanton (Robert Ryan), who had set things up as an attempted ambush.

Here, however, the gang known as The Cowboys is acknowledged, with a young John Voight appearing as real life outlaw Curly Bill Brocius, although here Clanton is misportrayed as the group’s leader. (Johnny Ringo, meanwhile, is nowhere to be seen, perhaps because he was un-historically killed during the OK gunfight in the previous film.)

Among the major Earp movies, and prior to the much more rigorously factual Tombstone and (even more so) Wyatt Earp, the movies tended to give the Clantons more weight than they really deserved. I assume this was to streamline the story—the Cowboys aspect really expands the historical cast and complexity of the tale—and because of the plotting neatness of contrasting a ‘bad’ family (the Clantons) against a ‘good’ one (the Earps, along with Wyatt’s surrogate brother Holliday).

In real life, the story of Tombstone revolved around the fact that, in simple terms, some of the town and most of the establishment supported the Earps’ sometimes heavy-handed efforts to civilize a rowdy cow town, and other segments of the populace preferred a more lawless atmosphere. Thus you had the Cowboys and their pocket County Sheriff, Johnny Behan*, on one side, and the Earps and the town’s mayor, etc., on the other.

[*As in Gunfight, Behan is represented, but by a fictional character, here named Bryan. I’m not sure why Behan got the kid gloves treatment, since many more real life people appear here under their real names than had happened in previous versions.]

After the OK Corral Gunfight, Morgan and Virgil Earp—Virgil, by the way, was the town Marshall of Tombstone, not Wyatt, although here, as was common, they switch that around—were ambushed. Virgil lost the use of an arm, and kid brother Morgan died. After that, the surviving Earps and their families made to debark to California, while Wyatt, after procuring the position of federal Marshall (and following another assassination attempt against the Earps), returned to Tombstone and cleared out the Cowboys, with Holliday riding as part of his posse.

There’s no doubt that Hour is a better movie than Gunfight, with an atypically grim James Garner—he never seems entirely easy playing exactly the sort of stiff-spined cowboy hero that was continuously mocked on his sly TV show Maverick—as a vengeful Wyatt and Jason Robards (a much more appropriate choice than the earlier Kirk Douglas) as Holliday.

Hour is a lot more accurate, too, although that leaves a lot of ground for fictionalization. One major fallacy is that it again posits Ike Clanton as the head bad guy, and the finale of the film has Wyatt traveling to Mexico to kill him. In real life, Clanton was killed years later by a guy whose detective credentials were a correspondence course diploma.

By the time this was made, Westerns were getting ‘mature,’ and the film is meant as a gritty look at what drove Wyatt. The film’s tagline, repeated twice verbally in the trailer, was “Hero With a Badge, or Cold-Blooded Killer?” In real life, the answer was, most probably, both. In any case, despite the attempts at presenting a more realistic take on Earp, the film today still seems naïve. They are entirely too on the nose about raising the issue of whether he was a one-dimensional good guy, as he’d always been played in movies and TV prior to this, or instead was driven by a thirst for revenge. Of course, nowadays we don’t buy the White Hat stuff anyway, and a man looking to get the guys who killed his brother seems pretty reasonable.

The worst scene in this regard is the most explicit about the subject, as Robards’ Holliday spells the whole theme out in a speech to Garner’s taciturn Earp. To anyone who knows the story, the idea that a gunsharp like Holliday would fear a lust for vengeance was corrupting his friend is laughable. In real life, Holliday helped Wyatt track down his opponents, and one doubts they ever intended to just arrest all of them.

Personally, I found the film more interesting as a look at the evolving Hollywood portrayal of Earp and Holliday than anything else, although again it’s quite a bit better than its immediate predecessor. Once more, though, both Tombstone and Wyatt Earp are hugely better movies, and gigantically more accurate to boot. And John Ford’s earlier My Darling Clementine might be filled with as much Hollywood bushwah as any version, but at least it’s a great film. Sturges’ films still have their fans, but I don’t expect their circle to grow larger with the years.

Weirdest movie news in a while...

Cinescape.com reports that Sony Pictures has confirmed a slate of sequels, for such films as I Know What You Did, Like, What was that?, Eleven...no...Ten?...Whatever Summers Ago (not: may not be title actually used); Hollow Man II in which the danger is not just from an invisible man (sit down--he's a rouge gov'ment spOOk gone wrong!) but from the eeee-vil guv'ment itself; and...

sit down...

Road House 2. Seriously. "The film will start where the original left off and will once again be about a tough bouncer hired to tame a rowdy bar." No word on whether Swayze will be returning to the role, but it wouldn't be that much later of a sequel than that one to Dirty Dancing several years ago.

I'm assuming these are all going straight to home video, but still, it's a schlockfest.

More DVD announcements...

Per the invaluable DVDdrive-in.com:

"This October, Sony will release some classic horror films, as well as some thrillers and sci-fi titles just in time for Halloween. First up is THE MAN WITH NINE LIVES, a 1940 effort starring king of horror, Boris Karloff. Next is the 1967 Amicus Anthology TORTURE GARDEN, starring Peter Cushing, Jack Palance and Burgess Meredith, and directed by Freddie Francis. Through Sony’s acquisition of MGM’s library comes THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE, an AIP release which stars Jody Foster and Martin Sheen. Other October Sony titles include: THE DARK BACKWARD, Tony Richardson’s DEAD CERT, JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH (assumingly the 1976 Spanish film), MONSTER HIGH, MORTURARY ACADEMY, Sean Cunningham’s THE NEW KIDS, OMEGA DOOM, PULSE and ROBOT JOX. Sony is also announcing a newly remastered Special Edition of THE FOG. Street dates and more info to follow."

It's great to see another of Karloff's 'mad scientist' movies hitting DVD. Torture Garden is not the cream of the anthology crop, but might be worth a rental. Little Girl is a pretty intense psychological thriller starring a *very* young Jodie Foster being threatened by young child molester Martin Sheen. Of the rest of the titles, they're basically junk, but I guess I'll have to pop for the SE of The Fog, assuming the new stuff justifies replacing my original disc.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Coming to a DVD near you...


One of the joys of DVD is that it’s a much less cumbersome and expensive format than VHS, meaning that lower unit sales are required to break even and go into profit. This allows fannish companies to come into existence, run by people who are actually interested in the films they release, meaning they put a lot more love and care into the materials than a big company would, assuming they’d even release such obscure films.

One example of this idea is Media Blasters, who among other films, has been releasing DVDs of non-Godzilla oriented Toho science fiction titles, including The Mysterians, Matango (aka Attack of the Mushroom People), Dogora and Varan. Their discs include gorgeous widescreen transfers, the original Japanese language tracks, and plenty of goodies.

One new company is Dark Sky Films, a cult movie arm of MPI, which promises top-notch releases of cult movies. In August they will be releasing the dilieriously barouque West German production of The College Girl Murders, featuring a hooded monk-like figure who kills his victims by breaking their necks with a bullwhip. This is one of a run of German campfests very loosely based on the gothic works of author Edgar Wallace (known by buffs as ‘krimis’), and a title I’ve been waiting to see again for quite some time. Future titles supposedly include such prime junk as Horror of Party Beach (YES!), Werewolves on Wheels, Terror Beneath the Sea, The Flesh Eaters (no longer with Retromedia, as previously announced), Curse of the Living Dead, and other stuff. I hope this company stays afloat.

Meanwhile, NoShameFilms, a house dedicated to Euro schlock, will be releasing the uncut-for-the-first-time Big Alligator River (aka The Great Alligator) in all it’s gory glory, along with several Giallo flicks.

Finally, Blue Underground has announced a box set of the Blind Dead movies, Now Totally Uncut & Uncensored For The First Time Ever On DVD!" This thing looks packed, and is due out in September.

New on DVD (the week of July 12th)...


Prize of the Week: Hercules/Hercules II: The Adventures of Hercules. Both of the hysterically funny ‘80s Star Wars ‘influenced’ Italian Lou Ferrigno Hercules movies, now on one disc for under $15. Marvel as the mighty Son of Zeus fights the robotic “Hydra, the Three Headed Guardian of Hades!” A must buy. The must less funny Ferrigno Sinbad of the Seven Seas will be out too.

Coming Close Behind: The Garbage Pail Kids Movie, a legendary fiasco starring Anthony Newley and doll-characters that were gross-out parodies of the Cabbage Patch Kids. Stuff like this used to be released in theaters.


Objectively Good Stuff:

Bill & Ted’s Most Excellent Collection: Both of the surprisingly funny Bill & Ted movies, along with a third disc of extras, for under $20. Apparently Keanu didn’t find time to appear in the feature length retrospective documentary, proving again that he’s an ass. Also check out…

Freaked, a sadly unknown but quite funny marvelous comedy from Bill & Ted’s Alex Winter. It’s a two-disc set.

Love at First Bite: Actually funny parody of old Dracula movies, starring George Hamilton as the Count.

Night Moves: Top-notch cynical ‘70s private eye affair, starring the typically brilliant Gene Hackman. Few actors ever could communicate so much with a look. Watch his face when he listens to a man admit he slept with a hot piece of jailbait, who ends his confession by noting, “There outta be a law,” and a repelled Hackman replies, “There is.”

Scarecrow: Revered ‘70s art house flick (also then it was considered mainstream, which is why the ‘70s were a great time for movies) starring Pacino and Hackman in the glory of their youth.

Unfaithfully Yours: Preston Sturges comedy about a conductor who considers bumping off his wife when he believes her unfaithful. Steer clear of the ‘80s remake with Dudley Moore.


Schock:

The Adventurers (1970) Typically turgid soaper based on the magic literature of Harold “Lonely Lady” Robbins. Classic kitsch.

Dogora: Media Blasters has impressed lately with a series of non-Godzilla Toho sci-fi discs, and I have no doubt this one will be just as good.

The Magic Sword: Emminently cheesy and fun sword and sorcery pic from Bert I. Gordon (!).

Party Animal: Inexplicable cheap-ass cult gross-out comedy that some find hilarious.

Soggy Bottom USA: Country fried redneck antics with a bizarre b-movie cast: Jack Elam, Ben Johnson, Don Johnson, Chloris Leachman, Lane Smith, P.J. Soles, etc.

Tales from the Crypt, Season One: Not my bag—I think The Hitchhiker is much funnier—but the show certainly has its fans.

Titus Season 1 & 2: Another cult TV favorite.

Oh, the Humanity...

So last night I’m flicking around the TV channels (just local, as I don’t have cable), and came across an entirely generic teen romance soaper starring, to quote my thoughts, “I think that may be Freddie Prince Jr.,” (it’s actually Prinze, I guess), and “I think that’s that one chick who was the hot older sister on Seventh Heaven.”

I was right in both cases—which made me fairly depressed, in a way—and since I’ve never seen a movie with Freddie Prinze Jr., in it, I don’t know whether he seems semi-retarded all the time or just in this movie. (Checking in on the IMDB, I see the film has lots of other vaguely familiar kid actors in it, not one of whom I’d have recognized: Matthew Lillard, Jason Gedrick, Brittany Murphy [although she does play Luanne on King of the Hill), etc.)

Anyway, I watched for a short while because Prinze’s ‘character’ was on a baseball team, and I dig baseball. I didn’t see much of the movie—because I’m not Super Masochist Man—but it was obvious that She Was Rich, and He was the Poor Blue Collar Kid of the Guy Who Cut Her Dad’s Lawn, But They Loved Each Other, but Her Rich Arrogant Dad Wanted Better for Her…blah, blah, blah.

As I watched, though, what really appalled me was the horrifying supporting cast. In this case, the supporting cast was horrifying because it consisted of a seemingly endless parade of actors who are entirely too good to be playing nothing parts in a Freddie Prinze Jr., movie. Look! Bruce Davidson! Hey! Brian Dennehy! Wow! Fred Ward! Gee! John C. MacGinley! Pow! Beverly D’Angelo!

I mean, I understand trying to add a little heft and class to a lightweight movie by casting one too-good-for-the-joint actor the mix, but this one had five! And since there were so many of them, none of them—as far as I could tell from the amount of the movie I saw, although I doubt I’m wrong—had a part nearly substantial enough for even a fine actor to do anything with. Basically, it was quite obviously an easy paycheck movie for each of them.

Someday all these fine actors will be dead, and we’ll all be left to wonder why so they all had to squander their gifts in utterly worthless crap like this.