Monday, April 26, 2010

Bachelor Movie Marathon, Part IV

Just this and one more post should cover all the movies I saw while my family was in California. In addition to the movies covered in Part I and Part II, I saw two more non-MST3K movies:

Battlefield Earth (2000)
I covered this film in an earlier post, but I thought I'd mention it again. In light of movies like The Final Sacrifice and The Blood Waters of Dr. Z, you can see why this one isn't really that bad. I'd been expecting an utter disaster based on what others had said about this movie. It turns out that I've watched (and enjoyed) much worse than this. Really, the worst thing I can say about Battlefield Earth is that it screwed up too many things to be a good movie but didn't screw up enough to be a so-bad-it's-good movie. It actually had some fairly well-done scenes, the most effective of which being the capture of the hero, Johnny. At this point in the movie the aliens are an unknown and ominous menace. Johnny is chased through the ruins of a mall by an enormous shadow firing a weapon at him (the slow motion ruins the scene just a little here). After being stunned, Johnny wakes up to find himself in a cage suspended under an immensely loud gunship flying over the ruins of Denver. Unfortunately, we are soon introduced to the Psychlos and learn that they're essentially Star Trek's Ferengi with a Klingon physique.

As for Battlefield Earth being Scientologist propaganda as some opponents of that church have claimed, I'm just not seeing it. The story resembles that of Independence Day more than it resembles any unique teaching of Scientology. And although L. Ron Hubbard's distrust of psychologists is well-known, and even though it's probable that the name "Psychlos" is not coincidental, I didn't really notice the Psychlos doing anything that would make any rational person believe that the movie was anti-psychology.

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988)
A roommate of mine at BYU once told me that I should see this movie. At the time, although I enjoyed MST3K, I didn't really watch off-kilter or non-mainstream movies for their own merits. I simply enjoyed Joel/Mike and the 'Bots' jokes at the film's expense. In other words, I probably would not have liked Baron Munchausen. Years later, however, I found it very entertaining.

The movie opens with a French-held town being bombarded by the Turks. Even under siege the show must go on, so the troupe of traveling actors that recently came to town puts on its production of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. The audience is greatly entertained by the exploits of the Baron (which are on par with America's Pecos Bill or Paul Bunyan legends) until the real Baron shows up and claims that all his stories are true. The Baron promises to gather his equally legendary companions to break the Turks' siege and sets off in a hot air balloon. The daughter of the acting troupe's owner stows away and soon discovers that the Baron's stories were accurate, although his companions appear to be too old or tired to be of much help.

The movie is generally whimsical but with occasional moments that are outright surreal (I'm still trying to figure out the ending). More than once the Angel of Death shows up to darken the mood. The only scene that just didn't work for me showcased Robin Williams, who spends most of his time on screen as the disembodied floating head of the King of the Moon. Come to think of it, I don't think Robin Williams is all that funny, especially when he's doing silly accents. Other than that, assuming you can tolerate its oddities, it's a fun movie.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Bachelor Movie Marathon, Part III

During my short period of bachelorhood, I watched several MST3K episodes in addition to movies without Joel/Mike and the 'bots making fun of them. Specifically, I watched the four episodes in the newly released MST3K Volume XVII, three episodes from Volume 1, and one episode from Volume 2. Thanks to Volume XVII, I endured the following:

The Crawling Eye (1958) - as shown on MST3K
This was MST3K's first network episode (the show was previously aired on a local TV station in Minnesota). Unfortunately, the jokes during the first season of the show came few and far between. Unlike later seasons, the comments made during the movie seemed a lot more ad-libbed and are a lot less funny. What made up for this, though, was the fact that their first season featured some of the best movies.

People attempting to climb the Trollenberg mountain in Switzerland are disappearing left and right. Those whose bodies are found are inevitably headless. A U. N. agent in Switzerland on vacation realizes that these mysterious events are similar to those that occurred in the Alps a few years ago. His friend, who happens to be in charge of an observatory in the Swiss mountains, agrees. The astronomer's theory that this is the work of alien invaders is soon proven true, and the agent and his friend find themselves sheltering the residents from the nearby inn in the astronomer's avalanche-proof observatory. Outside, enormous creatures with a single eye and multiple tentacles are trying to get in. The '50s didn't get a whole lot better than this.

The Beatniks (1960) - as shown on MST3K
After robbing a gas station, a rowdy group of "beatniks" (the way they're portrayed shows that the producers didn't really know what a beatnik was) stop by their favorite malt shop to hang out. One of the gang, Eddy, is asked to sing for his girlfriend, which gets the attention of a talent agent. Eddy's given the chance to perform on TV and becomes a sensation overnight. This causes a major rift in the gang and some serious trouble with Mooney, the psychotic member of the group. Just as it seems that Eddy has a chance for an honest and successful career, his past comes back to haunt him.

Although a fairly standard juvenile delinquent film, The Beatniks is pretty decent; I actually cared what happened to the characters. It's unusual for any MST3K subject to actually make me care about its characters.

The Final Sacrifice (1990) - as shown on MST3K
The mad scientist who forces Mike and the 'bots to watch bad movies called this "the worst thing to ever come out of Canada". Hooded cultists chase some goofy kid and a former cultist named "Zap Rowsdower" around the wilderness of Alberta, trying to get their hands on a map leading to an ancient city built by some advanced race called the Ziox. The cultists' leader, Satoris, believes that a final sacrifice will raise the city and give his cult the power to rule the world. How this will happen when the cult consists of about two dozen guys with machetes and rifles is beyond me. Mike and the 'bots are hilarious as usual, but the movie is lousy.

The Blood Waters of Dr. Z ( 1975) - as shown on MST3K
It's well-known by B-movie fans that the more alternative titles a movie has, the worse it is. According to IMDB, this misbegotten film has at least five titles.

Dr. Leopold creates a chemical intended to mutate sea life into his own personal army to "take over the Universe" (with mutant fish? Do these people even know what the Universe is?). The only apparent effect of the stuff seems to be that it makes fish able to breathe out of water and walk on land. This makes them a nuisance, not a menace. In the meantime, Leopold transforms himself into an ersatz Creature from the Black Lagoon and goes on a distinctly lackluster rampage. Mostly he's trying to transform a human female into a monstrous mate for himself. The end is pointless and confusing, the movie's characters are utterly lifeless, obscene amounts of time are spent watching characters drive around, and the monster suit is downright embarrassing. Mike and the 'bots do what they can, but this movie makes even B-movie fans question their choice of hobby.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Bachelor Movie Marathon, Part II

My last post covered my first night of temporary bachelorhood. The second night I remember watching at least two movies. I may have also watched a Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K) episode, but those all kind of run together in my memory. Anyway, I did watch...

Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (2000)
I've never seen an episode of this animated series before, but the movie made me want to see more of it. Set in the year 2019, Terry McGinnis has replaced Bruce Wayne as the Batman. Wayne is still involved, but now he remains in the safety of the Batcave, coaching McGinnis through the headset of his technologically advanced Batsuit. The new Batman has his own rogue's gallery, including the Jokerz gang; a band of criminals who have taken the original Joker as their inspiration. McGinnis only knows the Joker as "the big one", Batman's greatest nemesis who died well before McGinnis ever became the Batman and the one that Wayne will never talk about. When the Joker reappears in Gotham, completely unaged since his demise, McGinnis finally coaxes the story of the Joker's death out of Commissioner Barbara Gordon; the former Batgirl. Twenty years prior, the Joker had kidnapped Tim Drake, the second Robin, and tortured and brainwashed him to the point of turning him into a mini-Joker. The Joker, confident that the brainwashing was effective, ordered Robin to kill Batman. With a maniacal laugh, Robin instead killed his kidnapper. Years later the Joker has apparently returned and it's up to Wayne's young replacement to figure out how to stop the supposedly dead villain.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)
The sequel to 2004's Hellboy, Hellboy II departs from the original's focus on cults and the Apocalypse and focuses instead on mythology. Millennia ago mankind fought against the armies of the goblins and the elves. The elves commissioned the goblins to construct an army of magical/mechanical soldiers to fight humanity. This army did its job so well and caused such a slaughter among the humans that the king of the elves vowed never to use it again. He divided the crown that psychically controlled the army between himself, his daughter, and a human king. His son, angry that his father would show such weakness, is determined to reunite the crown, reactivate the golden army, and destroy humankind once and for all. The only ones standing between the elf prince and mankind are Hellboy and the agents of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense. As it was in the original movie, the creature design is fantastic (the Angel of Death is by far the most fascinating). As for the story; it was pretty good, but it seemed a bit too lighthearted in comparison to the first movie. I hope that a third installment of the series (which is apparently in the conception stage) more closely follows the tone of Hellboy.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Bachelor Movie Marathon, Part I

A couple weeks ago my wife and kids spent some time with my family in California, leaving me to live the bachelor's life for a week and a half. I spent most of my free time watching movies that my wife would never want to see (I mentioned some of these movies in my last post). Here are the movies I watched on my family's first day gone:

The Last Dragon (1985)
Blaxploitation meets the Karate Kid. A friend of mine, who knows how much I like cheesy movies, recommended this one to me. Leroy Green (played by an actor talented in martial arts but weak in acting) yearns to obtain the final level of martial arts mastery; i.e., to achieve the "Last Dragon". Although Leroy appears to be learning a Japanese martial art, he dresses as a Chinese peasant. Along the way, he must face the evil Sho'nuff (who has proclaimed himself to be "the Master") and his gang of martial arts thugs as well as Eddie Arkadian, a wealthy arcade magnate. Sho'nuff is silly looking, but big enough and skilled enough to be intimidating. Arkadian, on the other hand, is pretty much the typical rich villain seen in most '80s movies. The movie's tone is all over the place, and I think most of the laughs are unintentional, but overall I was entertained.

The Fly (1958)
Definitely one of the best 1950s sci-fi horror movies and one I've wanted to see for a long time. Andre Delambre is a brilliant scientist whose teleportation device will revolutionize the world. Unfortunately his machine still has a few bugs in it and Andre has a bad habit of using his own pets and even himself as experimental subjects. Too bad he didn't see that fly come into the machine with him. That'll teach him to say things like "I'm just so happy to be alive" in a 1950s sci-fi movie.

Varan: The Unbelievable (1962)
Varan is one of Toho's lesser known monsters. The movie borrows liberally from Toho's more successful Gojira/Godzilla King of the Monsters; both open with natives believing the monster to be one of their gods, both feature a wise paleontologist in a major role, the Japanese Defense Force (JDF) is largely ineffective against either monster, and it finally takes a fictional superweapon to finish the monster off. Varan's roar is even a slight modification of Godzilla's. As is typically expected for a copy, Varan is nowhere near as effective as Godzilla. Not only have we seen it all before, but we've seen it done better. Unlike in Godzilla, Mothra, or Rodan, Varan's titular monster never gets to destroy a major city. Instead the climax sees the JDF battling Varan at more budget-friendly locations such as the beach and at an airport. The only real reason to watch Varan (that is, if you're only a passive kaiju viewer rather than a completist such as myself) is because the monster costume is pretty cool.

Hellboy (2004)
This is the only movie I watched that day that I had already seen. I needed a refresher since I intended to watch Hellboy II the next day. Near the end of World War II, an infant demon is brought into our reality by the Nazis in a last ditch effort to turn the tide of the war. The Nazis are defeated by American commandos and the demon, nicknamed Hellboy, is raised by a kindly professor specializing in the supernatural. Now Hellboy works for the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, protecting humanity from "things that go bump in the night". However, the Nazi's expert on the supernatural (Rasputin himself), is bound and determined to force Hellboy to fulfill his original purpose as the being that initiates the Apocalypse. Part of his plan involves the Beast of Resurrection; a hideous flesh eating monster that, upon being killed, spawns two more creatures. The plot is imaginative, the characters are interesting, and the creature design is great. And the moral of the story (that you are what you choose to be) is one that deserves repeating.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Bad Movies and Battlefield Earth

I'm a B-movie fan. This means that (to borrow Jabootu's term) I enjoy movies at "the bottom of the Cinematic Bell Curve". This doesn't mean that I don't also like good movies, just that I enjoy movies that differ wildly in quality.

Most B-movie fans have a single basic requirement of their movies; the movie must entertain them. If that entertainment comes in the form of unintentional laughter, then so be it. Thus, the worst sin a movie can commit (aside from being immoral, of course) is to be boring. This is why few B-movie fans tolerate bad comedies; bad comedies, by definition, are neither funny nor entertaining.

For many people I know, Battlefield Earth (I'll just abbreviate it as BE) is the worst movie they've ever seen. You may remember BE as John Travolta's pet project; a science fiction movie based on the book by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. The movie takes place in the year 3000 AD when humanity is entering its thousandth year or so of being enslaved by an evil alien race called the Psychlos. Travolta himself plays the primary villain, Terl, the Psychlo head of security. A human named Johnny decides to lead a rebellion to rid earth of the invaders. The movie is full of plot holes, it's filmed using bizarre camera angles and set lighting, the story is dependent on outrageous coincidences, and the dialogue and acting are ridiculous. The Psychlos are meant to represent an intimidating and brutal alien force, similar to Star Trek's Klingons (the Psychlos' language, costumes, and makeup even resemble those of the Klingons). However, their ultra-capitalistic, back-stabbing, profit-driven society more closely resembles that of Star Trek's Ferengi. At least Star Trek realized that the Ferengi were an absurd caricature and played them for laughs.

I didn't get around to seeing BE until this week (thank you, Netflix instant viewing!). So, what was my initial response to BE? To borrow the B-Masters tagline; "Meh. I've seen worse". I was actually disappointed that it wasn't as bad as I had been told. Heck, just this past week I watched The Skydivers, The Final Sacrifice, and The Bloodwaters of Dr. Z, all of which were significantly worse than BE. Unlike those other movies, BE met my most basic requirement; i.e., it kept me entertained the whole time. In addition, if you look really hard, you can actually see that BE could have been a good movie. It reminds me of the Batman franchise; in the hands of a hack director, with a lousy script, and constant outside interference (Travolta and his Scientology gang in the case of BE), you get truly disappointing movies like 1997's Batman and Robin. However, with the right movie-making elements you can get a great movie like 2008's The Dark Knight.


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