Saturday, July 26, 2014
Ming the Merciless, played marvelously over the top by Max von Sydow, is the cruel ruler of Mongo. Ming has recently discovered earth and has been having fun tormenting our beleaguered world by slowly drawing the moon towards it. A former NASA scientist, Dr. Hans Zarkov, is the only one on earth who believes the strange natural disasters Earth is suffering are an alien attack. He plans to use a personal space ship--just go with it, folks--to find the source of the attack. Zarkov is played by Topol, who visibly spends the entire film wondering how he could have fallen so far from starring in Fiddler on the Roof a few years prior.
During an unpredicted eclipse/bombardment of natural space debris, Zarkov’s assistant chickens out on taking the flight with him. Fortunately, the bombardment causes a commuter plane to crash into Zarkov’s observatory. The plane is carrying Flash Gordon, New York Jets’ quart back, and dale Arden, a travel agent. The two are played by Sam J. Jones and Melody Anderson. The characters survive the crash unscathed. Their careers do not survive the film, however. Zarkov shanghais the two into his ship. Off to Mongo they go.
Thus begins one of the strangest combinations of silliness and inappropriate subject matter to which I have ever bore witness. Hardly anything can be taken seriously. From Zarkov building his on space ship to Flash utilizing football plays to battle Ming’s minions, the film is simply absurd fun. The silliness to which I have just referred does not include the psychodelic backgrounds, uneven production values, or the fact Dale is considered the most beautiful woman anyone has ever seen even though she looks like your average fourth grade teacher from Nebraska.
Then there is the inappropriate elements. I am certain I do not have to remind anyone of the famous scene in which Ming’s daughter, Aura, endures a bareback whipping for interrogation while her father eats popcorn and gleefully watches. This scene, along with Princess leia chained to a giant slug while wearing a metal bikini, created an entire generation of perverts with terribly warped views on women. Speaking of terribly warped, there is also plenty of other instances of light bondage, implied sexual slavery, and even the presumably unintended hint of an incestuous relationship between aura and Prince Barin, who becomes Ming’s successor because he is the ‘rightful” heir. Tell me that does not mean he is Ming’s son!
Aside from the kink, there is plenty of cringing moments of terror. We witness Zarkov’s birth from a first person perspective during a torturous memory drain. If you are eager to know what it is like to be shot out a birth canal, look no further. If you have ever had a fear of reaching into a dark hole and being bitten by some nasty critter, they have that covered, as well as an attack from a giant, under the ground dwelling spider. You might not sleep too well for a while after watching this film.
Amd all the bondage, weird sexual situations, and bad acid trip sequences, flash manages to untie the princes of Mongo against Ming, save the earth, and win dale’s heart. All this in spite of his room temperature IQ. I suspect he has been playing football without his helmet.
I am not down on Flash Gordon. It is a guilty pleasure favorite I must watch every few years solely to remind myself someone thought it was a good idea to make the crazy thing. Hiring queen to record the score only adds to the fun. The band definitely came up with some stirring music. I defy you to keep the theme some from rattling around your mind after you have heard it.
Rating: *** (out of 5)
Thursday, June 19, 2014
Carell plays the title character, a longtime Las Vegas magician who has lost sight of how much performing magic excited him in his younger days. Part of the problem is the world of professional magicians has passed him by in favor of performers like Steve Gray, played hilariously by Jim Carrey, who have turned magic into a performance art of self-abuse. In spite of encouragement from his partner Anton and assistant Janue, played by Steve Buscemi and Olivia Wilde, respectively, Wonderstone cannot get it all together until he meets his original inspiration in a nursing home.
I do not care to spoil much of the story. Anyone can probably fill in the blanks regardless. Yes, it is predictable Wonderstone gets his groove back and wins out over the self-torturing for attention magicians and wins the girl. It is not the story that makes the film worth watching. It is a half dozen or so gags from the supporting cast. I would like to single out Carrey. I am not a huge fan of his, but I can appreciate how he is willing to forego top billing in order to play a character well suited to his talents. His Steve Gray is a definite highlight right until the end when his act catches up with him.
Wilde is lovely as ever. Her character is the heart of the film. Can she carry a movie herself? I could see her as the leading lady in a romantic comedy.
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is not a great film. It is not even a laugh riot. But the characters, save for Wonderstone, are charming but it is a big problem when the title character is least interesting. Watch for Buscemi doing his thing as the put upon Anton. Watch for Carrey putting his sugar high comedic delivery to good use for once in a blue moon. Watch for Wilde as a sweetheart who can play a role without showing off skin. The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is not a classic, but it is frivolous entertainment worth seeing at least once.
Rating: *** (out of 5)
Thursday, June 12, 2014
It is a real shame I chose Head to kick off the end of the blog hiatus. It is an even bigger shame I gave into a masochistic whim and watched this acid trip of a film again after twenty years or so. I was one of those kids who got hooked on the Monkees when MTV aired their television series in a couple of weekend marathons back in the mid-'80's. I had no idea until much later the Pre-Fab Four hated the goofiness of their show wanted to be more edgy, so they made a movie to show off all the creative talent stymied by television and record producers. The result is less than stellar.
Six screenwriters are credited. Such a large number usually means myriad rewrites, but in this case, it means a wild weekend of the Monkees smoking pot with producer Bob Rafelson and Jack Nicholson--yes, that Jack Nicholson--while banging out a script. It shows, too. I suspect one is required to be high in order to appreciate the disjointed narrative--such that it is--and psychodelic imagery. Maybe if you are one who cranes his neck to look at the aftermath of car wrecks, you can fund some enjoyment in it.
The big question is whether the Monkees succeeded in proving they have something of value to say on their own. The answer is no. There is the typical anti-war propaganda typical of hippie rock in the late ‘60’s. I can even give some credit for likening the American view of war as a sporting event. But having Peter Tork repeatedly tackled but a football player in a battlefield trench is too much for me. Ditto for Micky Dolenz using a tank to blast an out of order drink machine in the middle of the desert. Thankfully, you do not have to dwell on the absurdity of these scenes too long before long sequences of half naked girls gyrating to loud music offer a distraction.
If there is any discernible theme throughout Head, it is the Monkees struggling to assert their identities as free artists against corporate control. The film is a stream of consciousness bounce between various movie themes--war, western, sports, etc. During each, the Monkees break out through the fourth wall only to find themselves back in a film under the director’s control. Peter finally figures out what is going on--breaking out of his television persona as the dumb one--but the others find his assertion that the mind cannot distinguish between reality and a shared fantasy is dismissed as rambling Eastern philosophy. With no way to free themselves, the Monkees do the only thing they can--commit suicide by jumping off a bridge. But even this is a trap. The Monkees land in an aquarium being driven by the director so the band can be storeed for future movies.
Thankfully, that never happened. The general failure of Head is often attributed to a misleading marketing campaign that did not capitalize on the Monkees’ fame. But I think fans are grasping at straws with that one. The fact is the movie is simply not that good. The Monkees are trying to be edgy rather than actually being edgy. You cannot fake that sort of thing. The Monkees are a bubblegum pop band. They just cannot pull of artsy.
I am generally down on the film, but every Monkees fan ought to see it at least once. If for no other reason, watch it to know why the monkees faded away so fast when they decided they were serious artists who needed to do their own thing. They may have believed they were constrained by commercialization, but they were actually propped up by it instead.
Rating: ** (out of 5)
Wednesday, September 12, 2012
Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Monday, September 10, 2012
Sunday, September 9, 2012
Saturday, September 8, 2012
Stargate Atlantis over at Eye of Polyphemus. the current episode is the second season’s “Epiphany,” an episode which features a monster created from the negative emotions of a small settlement. What better time to pull out the Dvd of Forbidden Planet and review the film from which the plot element was likely lifted? Forbidden Planet is a retelling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest set in space. The film follows a military crew set out to discover the fate of the ship Bellerophon, which disappeared twenty years ago. In mythology, Bellerophon killed the monster Chimera. In Forbidden Planet, the monster kills all but two people, Dr. Morbius and his teenage daughter, Altaira. Captain Adams, the allegedly swashbuckling hero of the film, woos Altaira while unraveling the mystery, such that it is, of the id monster’s identity. We cannot forget Morbius’ robot assistant, Robby, who has become a staple of science fiction since his debut here. Watching Forbidden Planet is like taking the World of Tomorrow tour at Disney World wit a vicious, invisible monster on the loose. One minute you are being introduced to a retro idea of a future appliance, and in the next someone is being torn apart by some critter no one can identity. Contemporary audiences would not have the patience for this sort of thing. They would demand a quick set up in order to get to the monster attacks. Even I think the pace could be picked up, but as a history buff, I enjoy the vision of the future filmmakers envisioned back in 1956 enough to not count the instructional video aspects as much of a detriment. Oh, do not get me wrong…Morbius drones on and on about everything from his house to what happened to his ship to Robby to the Kell and all their technology. Forbidden Planet is very much high on exposition rather than visuals. It is an interesting point when you consider the movie was nominated for an oscar in special effects, but lost to The Ten Commandments. Deservedly so, in my opinion. While I will often gripe good science fiction films rarely earn critical recognition beyond their technical aspects, even
special effects were superior. Forbidden Planet was released in the wrong year, folks.
The major flaw with Forbidden Planet is the lack of mystery. There is no possibility anyone could be responsible for the death of every on the Bellerophon but Morbius. Altaira would have been too young. The wife is a possibility for the Bellerophone deaths, Robby was created after Morbius arrived on the planet. It is very clear from the beginning Morbius is responsible. A red herring or two would enhance the mystery greatly. By enhance, I mean actually create some. The revelation the monster is a projection of Morbius’ id is not much of a reveal, but I will grant the climactic sequence with morbius and adams with the id monster banging on the walls is highly effective even today.
I must mention, too, what I suspected might not work, but did. Adams is played by a young Leslie Nielsen. I do not recall exactly when I first saw Forbidden Planet--too young to appreciate it, I am certain--but it was certainly after watching the absurd comedies of Nielsen’s later career. The guy carried around a gag device which simulated flatulence to use during interviews, for heaven’s sake! I am not even certain I made the connection between Adams and The Naked Gun cop back then, but Nielsen was at one time considered a dramatic actor. I assume Viva Knievel! ruined all that. Adams strikes me as too much of a rigid military officer who cannot make any decision without consulting his superiors rather than the pre-James T. Kirk he is supposed to be, but I am too impressed Nielsen can play the role at all to complain.
Forbidden Planet stands the test of time for any true science fiction fan and/or cinema buff who can appreciate the style of films made in various eras. Forbidden Planet is ’50’s science fiction to the core. Could anyone get away with an Earth space ship being a flying saucer these days? Doubtful. The Daleks can pull it off, but who is going to dare question them? Daleks have no concept of elegance.
Rating; *** (out of 5)
Friday, September 7, 2012
my personal blog. We shall mercifully deal with the former reason here. WarGames is my generation’s--that is, the one that grew up in the ’80’s--dire warning of nuclear annihilation. It is our film because it main theme of late col War paranoia and fear of advanced technology running away out of control is wrapped around the conflict of kids versus adults. It is a kid,, David Lightman, (Matthew Broerick) who inadvertently sets the world down the path of nuclear destruction because of adult frailty in decision making it is young Lightman who comes up with a solution to the problem, not the least of which is youthful optimism breaking down a despondent pessimism, and a kid’s game of tic tac toe which saves the day. It is not the adults in charge who save the future. WarGames is about hacker/slacker Lightman. He is a shiftless techno whiz who constantly cuts school, but uses his computer skills to award himself high grades anyway. Lightman believes he has hacked into a software developers batch of unreleased games when he begins playing Global Thermo Nuclear War, but he has actually hscked into a new AI at NORAD called WOPR. Because of his “gameplay,” NORAD believes the Soviet union is mobilizing against the United States and makes preparations for a first strike that will initiate World War III. WOPR was put in place, as is established in a long, tedious opening sequence about the humdrum daily routine at NORAd, when one of the men in charge of launching the missiles refuses to do so when given the order. The decision is then handed over to WOPR in order to take human emotion and doubt out of the equation. But as the film establishes, it is human emotion that eventually saves the day. Lightman is arrested by the FBI. Upon learning what he has inadvertently done, he escapes to fin the creater of WOPR. He is Dr. Stephen Falken, now living under an assuming name as a completely despondent reclusive. His wife and son have recently been killed, and believing the human race is inevitably on the path to killing itself, says the world can burn. Lightman and his girlfriend, played by Ally Sheedy back when she and Molly Ringwald took turns in such roles, convince Falken he can change things. World War III is averted whenWOPR is convinced to play tic tac toe against itself. After numerous draws, WOPR learns the concept of futility. The only way to win the game is to not play. I was afraid with all the advancements in technology over the last 29 years, WarGames would be laughably dated. Maybe a viewer more tech savvy than I am thinks it is. But from my perspective, the technology takesa back seat to the personal themes involved. WarGames is a human drama about how advancing technology created supposedly to better our lives--in this case, eliminate human error to ensure survival in a nuclear war--can get away from us by removing the human factor. In this day and age when everyone everywhere is texting and the average teenager spends four hours a day online, the question of who is really in charge when it comes to technology is still an apt one. I will grant you a lot of my positive feelings towards WarGames have to do with nostalgia. It has left a big impact on my entertainment choices when it comes to science fiction and war stories. WarGames is definitely a product of its time. If you did not grow up in the ’80’s, the Cold War threat of the bomb dropping any day now probably seems silly. Nevertheless, the central message of WarGames is still worth hearing. The film itself stands the test of time. Rating: **** (out of 5)