Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Guest (2014) – Review

A lone stranger arrives at a quaint homestead, he just needs a place to stay and is willing to help out for room and board, but when threats to the family arise this lone stranger is revealed to be an avenging angel of badassery.  If you’ve seen the classic western Shane, or let’s face it any one of countless other western, this is a very familiar trope, but what if that lone stranger turned out to be a murdering psychotic sociopath who is just as likely to bite the hand that feeds it as its enemies? This is the premise behind director Adam Wingard’s excellent 2014 horror/thriller.
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Some spoilers below.
The Peterson family are going through some tough times as their son Caleb has joined the ranks of the fallen in the war over in Afghanistan. Laura Peterson (Sheila Kelley) is almost paralyzed by grief over the death of her son, and she is not getting much support from her alcoholic husband Spencer (Leland Orser).  Their two kids Luke (Brendan Meyer) and Anna (Maika Monroe) both have problems of their own to deal with; Anna has a drug dealing boyfriend and Luke is mercilessly bullied at school. Enter David Collins (Dan Stevens), a recently released soldier who arrives at the Peterson home claiming to have been friends with Caleb, and who has arrived to fulfill the last wishes of his dead friend by delivering personal messages to the family.

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Who would doubt that face? He looks like Captain America.

David is the epitome of charm and politeness; he quickly works his magic on the whole family and is invited to stay for a few days, but almost immediately you’re going to start noticing some red flags as the story enfolds. You see David is very good with the ultra-violence. At first this is cause for the audience to almost burst out giggling with glee as David brings the beat down on the group of school bullies that had been harassing Luke, or when he slams an asshole ex-boyfriend’s head into the hall at the speed of a striking cobra. It’d be kind of like finding out your new best friend was Jason Bourne.

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Who has a certain set of skills.

What puts us on edge is that the incredible speed at which David takes down his opponents is only matched by the cold brutality of the attacks. Sure, those football jocks had it coming for picking on poor Luke, but then when strange deaths start piling up Anna starts to wonder, “Just who is David?” A picture on the Peterson mantelpiece clearly shows that David was in Caleb’s unit, but when Anna calls the military to get some information on him she is told he is dead. Sadly Anna is the lone voice of reason as her parents and Luke are completely won over by David.

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And really, who could argue with abs like that?

When the military, led by Major Caver (Lance Reddick), finally show up looking for David we are completely caught on the fence as to which side we should be on. We the audience both route for and are appalled by his actions in almost equal measure because we are hardwired to respect and enjoy seeing someone good at their job, when that job is kicking ass so much the better, but when David crosses the line he really crosses the line. This is a movie that has you laughing at the absurdity of the violence one minute then gasping at the horror of it the next.

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"Do you think Nick Fury could use a stand-in?"

This is an incredibly fun horror/thriller that almost defies categorization, which we can chock up to the excellent genre busting script by Simon Barrett, Adam Wingard's sharp direction, and the amazing performance by Dan Stevens. Really the entire cast does fantastic work here.  This film has the covert military organization and badass killing machine aspects of the Bourne Identity, David’s emotional detachment during his fights is very reminiscent of The Terminator, and the last act is straight out of a Slasher Film. So basically I’m saying this film has it all.  If you don’t find it immensely fun and entertaining then you are probably missing the point. This is a must see movie.

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Note: Their high school has the most amazing Halloween dance set up ever!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Tarzan’s Fight for Life (1958) – Review

With a title like Tarzan’s Fight for Life you’d think the film would be some kind of Lifetime movie of the week type story with Tarzan fighting for his life against cancer or something, but actually it’s about Tarzan's fight against superstition.  This was the final feature for producer Sol Lesser, and the last Tarzan film to portray Tarzan as a broken English speaking lunk head, well, the last one until we get Bo Derek’s Jane frolicking through the jungle with slab of beef Miles O’Keefe. Speaking of Jane, she’s back for this outing.  Though this time out she’s not given much to do other than look pretty and suffer from appendicitis. Also Tarzan and Jane have legally adopted another white jungle boy, which has me asking the question, “With all the different jungle boys these two have gone through wouldn’t Child Services have been notified by now?”

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The movie begins by introducing to us a very worried Anne Sturdy (Jil Jarmyn), she wants to get the hell out of Africa because the local natives are being incited to fight against the medical practice run by her father Dr. Sturdy (Carl Benton Reid). It seems Futa (James Edwards) the witch doctor of the Nagasu tribe, is jealous of how his people respect the medicine of the white man, and not his brand of Jungle Magic. Anne’s fiancé Ken Warwick (Harry Lauter) is just returning after a two years absence, he was off getting his medical degree, but when she brings him her concerns of the danger they are in, and tells him of how scared she really is, he basically pooh poohs her fears and condescendingly replies, “I’m sure things aren’t as bad as you say.

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A thrown spear immediately punctuates what an asshole he is.

A group of warriors working for Futa attack them, scaring off the native porters, and then they proceed to tear open all the packages containing valuable medical supplies. Lucky for Anne and Ken our favorite jungle hero was nearby, and Tarzan (Gordon Scott) leaps into the fray. With decisive action and brute force Tarzan easily sends the Nagasu warriors packing, but keeps Ramo (Woody Strode) who is Futa’s number one henchman, for interrogation purposes. He learns that Futa has declared that white medicine is now taboo, and with the recent death of the kindly Nagasu chieftain, who was rather progressive thinking when it came to modern medicine, things look bad for our heroes.

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Ramo doesn’t take crap from honky ape man.

This is one of the more plot heavy entries in the Tarzan series, as there is really a lot going on here. Tarzan returns home to find that Jane has appendicitis, so he and their newly adopted jungle boy Tartu (Rickie Sorensen) must paddle Jane (Eve Brent) down the river and back to Dr. Sturdy’s clinic. They must portage around a large waterfall that results in Jane being left alone for a minute and her life being threatened by a python. The fight between Tarzan and the snake is just embarrassingly bad. All Tarzan had to do is walk over and pick up Jane and carry her to safety, python's are not known for their lightning speed attacks, but instead he walks over and picks up the snake. Poor Gordon Scott almost got killed by this thing, and it took six crew members to pull it off him.

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Tarzan learned to wrestle by watching Bela Lugosi in Bride of the Monster.

Also at the clinic is a young Nagasu woman who Tarzan rescued from the clutches of a crocodile.  Tarzan had taken her to the clinic against the wishes of Futa, causing more animosity between Tarzan and the Futa. Dr. Sturdy does his best to save her but because Futa had recently forbidden his people from giving blood donations, and with not enough of her blood type for a transfusion, the poor girl dies. Futa, thinking this makes for a perfect opportunity for revenge, hypnotizes the grief stricken husband of the dead girl into sneaking into the clinic to kill Jane who is recovering from from her appendectomy surgery. He is foiled by a sharp eyed Tartu, and then killed by one of the doctor’s native helpers. Things start to really look bad for Futa when the late chief’s young son becomes stricken with the same illness that killed his father, a malady that Futa was unable to cure with his tribal potions. If Futa’s magic fails again, and the boy dies, the villagers will most certainly vote for a new witch doctor. Ramo comes up with the brilliant idea of sneaking into Dr. Sturdy’s clinic, stealing some white man’s medicine, and then giving it to the young boy under the guise of his “Jungle Magic.”

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I have a cunning plan.

Ramo sneaks in to the clinic, knocks one of Dr. Sturdy’s helpers unconscious, breaks into a medicine cabinet, and steals a bottle labeled in bold red letters, VIRULENT POISON. Not since Dr. Frankenstein’s idiot assistant grabbed the wrong brain have we seen such catastrophic failure in medical thievery. When Tarzan learns of this he races into action to stop Futa from poisoning the kid, but Futa has ordered that the Nagasu lands be closed to all outsiders, so Tarzan must stealthily make his way in.

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Sadly, it doesn’t quite work out so well.

Of course Tarzan will break free in time, poor idiot Ramo gets eaten by a lion, and when Futa is confronted by Tarzan, just as he is about to give “his medicine” to the boy, he tries to prove his medicine is fine by drinking it himself. Needless to say this ends Futa’s career as a witch doctor, and his time here on Earth.

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“I may have made a tactical error.”

This is a decent Tarzan movie, if not one of the more action packed ones, but it’s theme of science versus superstition is handled fairly well, and doesn’t constantly hammer the “ignorant savages” angle too much. The scenes that bothered me were the ones where Tarzan has to have how a thermometer works explained to him, and Jane giving him a hard time for not recognizing that she is wearing a new dress. She asks, “Notice anything? And he looks around bewildered.

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“You’re just like every other man. I have a new dress, silly.”

Do we seriously need Fifties sitcom wife versus husband stuff in our jungle adventures? But overall director H. Bruce Humberstone gives a decent entry in the series, with solid characters and a strong story. The use of location footage, including Gordon Scott riding a giraffe, would have worked better if they used the same film stock of the rest of the film, as it is the difference that is rather jarring. The location footage is dark and grainy while the studio stuff is bright Technicolor.

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Maybe a tad too colorful in spots.

ing against the ignorant superstitions of the local natives. 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Battlestar Galactica: The Man with Nine Lives – Review

Television shows, and which actors appear on them, has changed quite a bit over the years. There is no longer the stigma attached to it as there was back in the Seventies and Eighties. Today big time movie stars are regularly appearing on such shows as America Horror Story, True Detective, and Game of Thrones without giving it a second thought, but that was certainly not the case in the Seventies when the only time you saw a major movie star on the small screen was when “an aged and retired” movie star was making a guest appearance on an episode of The Love Boat or Fantasy Island.  I believe Angela Lansbury single-handedly emptied out the Hollywood Hills Retirement Home by getting her old friends work on Murder She Wrote. Which brings us to tonight’s episode “The Man with Nine Lives” which guest stars the legendary Fred Astaire. Long after putting up his dancing shoes Astaire stepped onto the Universal lot because his grandchildren were huge fans of Battlestar Galactica. Thus one of the Hollywood giants brings just a little more class to our space adventure.

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This episode begins aboard a shuttle craft heading for the Rising Star, the one luxury liner in and amongst this ragtag group of ships. One of the passengers is Chameleon (Fred Astaire) who is literally charming the pants off Siress Blassie (Anne Jeffreys) while trying to avoid paying the shuttle porter the required fare. You see, Chameleon is a con man, and he’s broke. This is almost exactly the same character he played in Irwin Allen’s The Towering Inferno; an aging con man with a heart of gold.

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Just looking at the picture and I want to hand over my money to him.

Meanwhile on a military shuttle from the Galactica Starbuck (Dirk Benedict), Apollo (Richard Hatch), Boomer (Hebert Jefferson Jr.) and Jolly (Tony Swartz) are also heading over to the Rising Star to spend some of their hard earned money at the casinos and lounge acts. Once again I question how an economy can function when your home worlds have been destroyed, and all that is left is a few thousand people cramped aboard a bunch of spaceships. Apollo complains that Starbuck’s new gambling system is going to cost him another weeks pay, but who exactly is paying the Colonial pilots? That we’ve seen ships overloaded with starving survivors of the Cylon invasion and overstocked pleasure ships like the Rising Star makes one surprised that they haven’t had uprising that would make the French Revolution pale in comparison.  Hell, this could have led into a cool steerage versus first class battle years before Snowpiercer.

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Sure people are starving, but look at those awesome dancers.

A pall is thrown over the festivities when three Borellian Nomen walk into the main lounge. Boomer is shocked by this as this race is not known to socialize with other humans. Of course the real reason they are aboard the Rising Star is not to party but because they are on a Blood Hunt, a ritualistic vendetta they perform against an enemy. In this case their prey is the lovely rogue Chameleon, but because Nomen stick out in a crowd like a turd in a punch bowl Chameleon spots them quickly and slips out of the room. The youngest of the three Nomen spots their fleeing prey and recklessly draws his laser bola. This is bad because once activated they cannot be turned off and will eventually go critical and explode. Boomer intercedes and orders the young Nomen to throw the bola at a support pillar so that it can discharge harmlessly. The Nomen claim is was an accident and promise to leave on the next shuttle.

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Borellian Nomen, great hunters but not so good on the whole stealth aspect.

Realizing the great danger he is in Chameleon immediately slides into self-preservation con mode. While flying over on the shuttle he had watched an inflight broadcast of an interview with Starbuck where he learned that as a child Starbuck was an orphan found wandering in the thorn forests on Caprica, near an agro community called Umbra, after a Cylon attack. Chameleon tracks down Starbuck and begins the Big Con. He tells Starbuck and Apollo that he works as a genetic tracer, someone who can reunite orphans with their relatives using genetic tests. He casually mentions he got into this business when his wife was killed during a Cylon raid on Caprica and how his son went missing. When Starbuck learns that Chameleon is also from Umbra he immediately leaps to the conclusion that Chameleon is his dad. His puppy like enthusiasm is quite endearing.

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We need to go back to the Galactica, I’ve got twenty-four Father’s Day cards waiting for you.

So they all head to the shuttle bay to get back to the Galactica where they can run tests. On the way out they pass the three Nomen who have been waiting in the departure lounge. Boomer, angered that they didn’t leave after they promised to, has the young Nomen arrested. Maga (Lance LeGault), the head Nomen, realizes their trail now leads to the Galactica and that the only way onboard is to sign up to join the Colonial Viper service.  Somehow this works.

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You’d think a ship at war would have a tad more security.

Later on the Galactica Cassiopeia (Laurette Sprang) runs the first stage of tests and tells Starbuck and Chameleon that, “Well, you’re both from the same planet, and from the same tribe, and you’re at least related within ten generations.” Now she adds that at least a hundred other people in the fleet match this genetic criteria, but still that is one bloody awesome coincidence. Chameleon needed Colonial protection and just so happens to pick a pilot that came from the exact same neighbourhood he did, which is downright astronomically insane considering this is from a society of multiple worlds. Both Apollo and Boomer suspect that Chameleon was using Starbuck to escape the Nomen, but when Chameleon pushes to have the further testing done right away it makes them pause. When Starbuck hears that Apollo had a security background check done on Chameleon he completely flips out and dissolves their friendship.

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  “You may have saved my life countless times, and are like a brother to me, but because you have no faith in my dad our friendship is over!”  Starbuck, Drama Queen.

Starbuck and Chameleon have a nice heart to heart in a Viper launch tube where Starbuck informs his “dad” that he is going to resign from the fleet so he can make up for lost time. This seems like rash action, but before Chameleon can dissuade from this career path they are attacked by the two Nomen. Starbuck and the Nomen exchange laser gun and laser bola fire, but just as things look bad for Starbuck, Chameleon fires the Viper’s guns down the launch tube, knocking both Nomen unconscious.

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Turns out the laser bolas just aren’t that effective of a weapon.

This is when we find out that Chameleon, during one of his many occupations, discovered that the Nomen were hoarding supplies in the hopes of building a Viper of their own. Chameleon posed as Captain Dmitri of a livestock ship, and the Nomen paid him to smuggle enough livestock to live on for yahrens. Eventually the Nomen discovered they were being conned and went on a Blood Hunt. While all this is being settled Cassiopeia reveals to Chameleon that he really is Starbuck’s father. Holy felgercarb, but that is some immense bullshit. This no longer a case of astronomical coincidences, but must be the machinations of the gods. Chameleon begs Cassiopeia to not tell Starbuck because than the fleet would lose a great pilot, and so Chameleon leaves promising Starbuck that he will stay in touch.

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Never to be seen again.

The Nomen are interesting villains, and their dark skin and ridged foreheads pre-date the bumpy headed Klingons in Star Trek: The Motion Picture by a year, but what makes this episode thoroughly enjoyable is down to how awesome Fred Astaire is. The chemistry between Astaire and Dirk Benedict is simply fantastic, and if they’d somehow managed to work in a plot that wasn't so ridiculously contrived it could have been one of the better episodes of the series. As it stands its only entertaining on the merits of Astaire and Benedict, and not the script.

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Note: For some reason Fred Astaire's character's name is Chameleon but is pronounced Sha-ME-lee-on, as opposed to Ka-ME-lee-on.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf (1985) – Review

I love werewolf movies. That being said even I have to admit that there really isn’t that many good ones out there.  An American Werewolf in London and the original The Howling are still considered by most as the best in the genre, and they were made way back in 1981.  Sure we’ve had few decent werewolf movies since then, but overall it’s been a pretty fallow subgenre of the horror film. Now both An American Werewolf in London and The Howling had sequels, but whereas the sequel to An American Werewolf in London was lame and immediately forgettable the sequel to The Howling was so bizarre, and so over-the-top wierd, that one can’t help but admire the sheer audacity of it all.

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It also had several titles including Howling II: Stirba - Werewolf Bitch.

This movie opens with the funeral for Karen White, who was the television reporter and main character in the original, and who had been bitten by a werewolf, turned wolf on camera, and then was shot by her best friend. Strangely this movie will not explore any repercussions of those events. When she was shot the network immediately switched to a commercial so most of the viewers may have chocked it up as some kind of gimmick, but what about her friend who pulled the trigger, did he go to jail for murder? Did all the employees of the news station sign non-disclosure agreements stating that if ever an employee turned into a werewolf on air they would never discuss it with the public or authorities on pain of lawsuit? Her on air sacrifice was a noble attempt to expose the existence of werewolves, yet it is completely jettisoned in favour of an ancient Transylvanian werewolf sex cult.

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Forgive them father. They know not what they do.

Of the seven sequels to the original Howling the second film is about the only one that has any connection to the original, but just barely. Director Philippe Mora had asked the studio if he could go off and do his own thing with the series, and they agreed.  But then why bother having even the briefest tangential connection to the original if you are going to jettison everything that it set up? Karen White’s brother Ben (Reb Brown) is attending the funeral along with Jenny Templeton (Annie McEnroe) an apparent colleague of Karen’s. While at the service they are approached by Stefan Crosscoe (Christopher Lee) who informs Ben that, “Your sister is a werewolf.” Not was but is. Turns out that the werewolf that bit Karen was from the original strain of werewolves dating back to an ancient sorceress by the name of Stirba (Sybil Danning), and werewolves of this bloodline cannot be killed by a mere silver bullet. They must be killed with a stake made of titanium. Uhhhh...what now? I know there is no hard and fast rule to the mythology of werewolves but that is just bizarre.

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For it is written: the inhabitants of the Earth have been made drunk with her blood. And I saw her sent upon a hairy beast and she held forth a golden chalice full of the filthiness of fornications. And upon her forehead was written: "Behold I am the great mother of harlots and all abominations of the Earth."

God bless Christopher Lee. Seriously, only some one of Christopher Lee’s calibre and gravitas could pull off the insane amount of dialogue and exposition he puts forth in this film, not only that but he even came up with some insane bullshit of his own to save the production. You see the film was mostly shot in Czechoslovakia, and when the studio finally sent over the werewolf costumes director Mora was quite dismayed to see boxes labeled Planet of the Apes, sure enough it was full of old ape suits. When he called to complain about the difficulty of making a werewolf movie with ape costumes they hung up on him.  So it was Christopher Lee to the rescue by suggesting they shoot a scene where Stefan Crosscoe explains that apes are a genetic step between man and wolf. Thus they were able to get by with shitty ape costumes that they could then intercut with footage of proper werewolf make-up they’d shoot later back in the states.

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Christopher Lee; genius and a damn good sport.

Crosscoe returns at night to the cemetery to drive a titanium stake through the “corpse” of Karen White when Ben and Jenny show up to stop him. Just as Ben is about shoots this crazy man, who is about to desecrate his sister’s corpse, wolf arms burst out of the coffin. Ben quickly shoots the werewolf, never once bemoaning the fact that he just murdered his sister, and then he and Jenny quickly join Team Crosscoe in the hunt for Stirba. This script does not seem to care for such things as character motivation or logic, and the writing is certainly not aided by the actors playing our heroes.  To say that Reb Brown and Annie McEnroe give two of the worst performances in screen history may sound a bit hyperbolic, but at times you can swear Christopher Lee is contemplating staking himself through the heart to get away from them. Note: Lee had previously worked with Reb Brown in Captain America II: Death Too Soon, so he should have had an inkling of what he was getting himself into.

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Reb Brown, a side of beef that walks like a man.

After catching and interrogating one of the werewolves that were stalking our heroes they follow the exotic werewolf Mariana (Marsha A. Hunt) to Transylvania, home of Stirba the ten thousand year old werewolf sorceress. Philippe Mora and crew got a lot of good production value shooting in the various churches and castles of Prague, and the locals hired to play the creepy villagers and werewolf coven give it their all and then some. When we first lay eyes on Stirba’s court one can’t help but think we are looking at a prequel to Eyes Wide Shut, and according to make-up effects man Steve Johnson the extras didn’t quite understand the “pretend” element of acting when it came to the orgy scene.  When the directed yelled cut, the sex kept on going.

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Where do I sign up?

For the most part Crosscoe ditches his American sidekicks, and who can blame him, so we are saddled with many scenes of Ben and Jenny bumbling around Transylvania in scenes that serve no point to this movies supposed plot. We get the two of them checking into a creepy hotel where they are given room 666, which even lunkhead Ben thinks is odd as the hotel doesn’t even have six floors. At one point Ben goes off with a dwarf by the name of Vasile (Jirí Krytinár) who helps him locate Stirba’s castle. Sadly things don’t go well for poor Vasile as he loses the special earplugs they wore to save them from the siren song of Stirba's hypnotic spells.  This gets him possessed and later tossed out a window by Ben. You know you’re in a classy production if it has dwarf tossing in it. And Stirba doesn’t take that kind of shit lying down and has her gargoyle staff come to life to mouth rape one of Crosscoe’s cronies, and makes others explode in a gooey mess.  Let's recap; Christopher Lee is hunting a ten thousand year old sorceress whose coven members can only be killed by titanium stakes, she has the ability to mesmerize with her voice, she can bring inanimate objects to life, and she has Force Lightning.

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Are we sure this is a werewolf movie?

When we first meet Stirba she was an ancient crone that is rejuvenated by sucking the life force from a young woman like some kind of succubus, than later she is ordering her chief henchman Vlad (Judd Omen) to bring Mariana to her for a little tête-à-tête, and then tells Vlad to make love to the new “daughter” while she watches.  We are never given an end goal for Stirba; does she want to take over the world? Or maybe she just wants to hook up with her Crosscoe, who during the final showdown, is revealed to be her brother. Basically her entire purpose in this film is to be sexy and weird.

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So…um how about a ménage a trois with a little bestiality in there for good measure?

This is not a good movie. One could go so far as to say this is an insanely terrible movie that should have been strangled at birth, but by god is it entertaining. I’m not sure what this says about me, but I had so much fun watching this piece of filmic absurdity that I can’t help but recommend it. Now this movie is certainly not for everyone, but if you have a penchant for the bizarre, love Christopher Lee, and think Sybil Danning is the quintessential B-Movie goddess, then this film will have you giggling like a school girl. And really, Howling II is all about Sybil Danning whose every cell screams sexual freedom and power. Only she could pull off wearing a leather outfit studded with copper straps, chic sunglasses, all while petting a stuffed wolf from a throne of bones.

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Hot, bizarre and incredibly dangerous.

Christopher Lee is on record for saying he did this film because though he’d made hundreds of movies, many of them in the horror genre, he had never made a werewolf picture.  He has since apologized to Joe Dante for being in this one. Sure, as a sequel to the Joe Dante original this film is utter crap, but as an orgy of the bizarre there is much to offer here. From the goofy ape-werewolf costumes to the script that doesn’t make a lick of sense, to the horrible performances by Reb Brown and Annie McEnroe, this film has all that a bad movie lover could want and more.

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All hail Queen Danning!

 

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Tarzan and the Lost Safari (1957) – Review

See Tarzan in glorious COLOR. This MGM Tarzan movie was the first one to be filmed in colour, and though it boasts being shot on location in Nairobi, British East Africa, none of the actors left the sound stages in England. Gordon Scott returns for his second outing as Tarzan, yet once again Jane is missing in action. 
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Tarzan and the Lost Safari opens with a group of socialites flying across Africa after attending a wedding between an African prince and an American heiress. On board the plane are as follows; four time divorcee Gamage Dean (Yolande Donlan), hangover sufferer Carl Kraski (George Coulouris), society columnist "Doodles" Fletcher (Wilfrid Hyde-White), pilot Dick Penrod (Peter Arne) and his long suffering wife Diana Penrod (Betta St. John) who will show up again in Tarzan the Magnificent. Dick and Diana are in midst of personal feud over Dick’s aeronautic wanderlust, and seem to be heading for divorce, and because Dick is a complete dick he takes his frustrations out on everybody by flying the plane way too low to, “Get a good look at the wildlife.”

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That’s not flying low, Dick. That’s driving through the jungle.

Sure enough this stunt ends in disaster as the plane flies into a flock of flamingoes and crashes. (Note: In the 1984 Sheena: Queen of the Jungle movie the Jungle Queen takes out a plane with a flock of flamingos. So apparently flamingos are a serious menace to aviation in Africa.) Meanwhile Tarzan (Gordon Scott) was relaxing nearby when the plane gets into trouble. Because we are still in the “Tarzan is an ignorant savage” portion of the series he calls the plane a “Skybird.*sheesh*

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Tarzan just lion around.

Tarzan finds the plane precariously positioned at the edge of a deep gorge and immediately swings into action. He and Cheta manage to get the occupants out just before it tumbles off into the abyss, but then for some bizarre reason he disappears into the trees to watch them from afar. Tarzan has never been the shy hero before so this makes zero sense, other than to provide Diana a reason to wander into the jungle looking for their rescuer to only then get captured by a group of savage Opar warriors.

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These do no look like the Opar warriors from the books.

Tarzan dives into the fray, but while he’s mucking about wrestling with a one of the Oparians Diana is spirited away. It’s here we meet the film’s chief villain, Tusker Hawkins (Robert Beatty) a hunter working with the Opar people in the hopes of getting his hands on a bunch of their ivory. The Oparians want the five survivors of the skybird as sacrifices for their lion god. Hawkins tells the head warrior that he will lead the group into an ambush if the Oparians promise tons of ivory as a reward, and of course let him keep Diana as well.

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I’m betting he has “Evil White Hunter” written right on his passport.

Tarzan finally arrives only to find the Opar warriors gone and Diana “rescued” by Hawkins. Diana was unconscious during the deal making so she thinks Hawkins is a good guy, but Tarzan smells something dark and fishy about the man. The trio make it back to the rest of the group and then argue about whether to wait for rescue or to strike out for the coast. Hawkins of course encourages the trek to the coast as this leads right by the Opar village and the planned ambush. Tarzan is not keen on that idea and becomes even more suspicious of Hawkins’s complete lack of fear of the Opar warriors. In and amongst all this action and high drama we still have to put up with the comedy stylings of Cheta the chimp.

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Who is revealed to be a bit of an alcoholic.

What follows is your standard jungle trek with Tarzan leading the group between numerous perils; killer crocodile, lethal spider and the ever present Opar warriors tracking them. With no Jane we get a bit of flirting between Tarzan and Diana, but it doesn't really go anywhere and she eventually reconciles with her husband.  When Hawkins leads them into the gorge that was to take them out of Opar territory they are shocked to find it blocked with rocks that must have been carried into it during a flash flood. Tarzan’s keen eyes reveal that this flood happened quite a while ago so Hawkins must have known he was leading them into a cul-de-sac. The treachery exposed Tarzan quickly divests Hawkins of his guns, places him under guard, and then he heads off to find another route.

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Seems our story has reached a dead end.

But Hawkins has a few more tricks up his sleeve and the Opar warriors sneak into the gorge through a concealed tunnel and capture our rather ineffectual heroes. Hawkins has them all bound and led through the tunnel while ordering two Opar men to stay behind to ambush Tarzan. You may have noticed the slight flaw in this plan, mainly the whole Two Guys left behind to handle Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle. Needless to say it doesn’t go to well for those suckers, and Tarzan and Cheta are able to reach the Opar village.

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My friends must be located somewhere down in that matte painting.”

This is where the film really shows some good Tarzan stuff as he sends Cheta on a stealth mission into the village with a lighter, uses captured Opar drums to fake a message stating that Tarzan has been captured and that Hawkins has betrayed them, and is planning to burn the village. Hawkins is a bit shocked at this turn of events as the entire Opar village moves against him, he tries to proclaim his innocence, but when the village bursts into flames, due to Cheta’s well used lighter, his goose is pretty cooked.

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Do not screw with Tarzan or he will burn your bloody house down.

Tarzan is able to free his friends, and he leads them to the suspension bridge that connects the village to the mountain pass, but the fire burns through it just as Tarzan and Hawkins are halfway across. It breaks free and slams down against the cliff face. Poor Hawkins catches a spear in the back, but Tarzan is able to climb to safety and escape with his pals.

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At least no one was trying to yank out his heart while he was trying to climb.

Director H. Bruce Humberstone put together an excellent Tarzan tale, even if he still has that stupid inarticulate simpleton shtick, but we get to see Tarzan use his jungle smarts and cunning to win the day.  So I’ll call that a win. Another interesting element here is the use of several things from the books, used pretty almost completely incorrectly but it at least showed us that someone involved at least heard of the books. Now in the books there is a place called Opar, but it was not a native village, it was a lost outpost of Atlantis ruled by a blonde priestess and populated by savage animalistic men.  Now the most egregious mistake this movie makes is in the scene where Tarzan talks to Diana about his parents dying and how, “Kerchak the great ape, she found me.” WTF! Kerchak was the leader of the apes and Tarzan’s number one nemesis, certainly NOT his foster mother.  He was found and raised by the she-ape Kala. Kerchak wasn’t even Kala’s mate, as it was incorrectly shown in the Disney animated version, and Tarzan eventually killed him to become Lord of the Apes.

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Shown here in this awesome cover art by Neal Adams.

Those quibbles aside this is a solid Tarzan adventure, well worth checking out as it starts to show the series going in the direction of a much smarter jungle hero than what we’d been getting for decades, and making Gordon Scott one of the best Tarzans in the film canon.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Battlestar Galactica: War of the Gods – Review

Battlestar Galactica’s entire premise is based on the idea that man’s origins lie in the stars and not on Earth itself, kind of a “Screw you, Charles Darwin!”  That idea is certainly nothing new as such books as Chariots of the Gods exposited such theories; powerful beings from space with godlike abilities even popped up in several episodes of the original Star Trek, so an episode where the crew of the Galactica run into some gods was kind of inevitable.

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The episode begins with your standard space patrol, only instead of consisting of either Apollo or Starbuck it is led by Bojay (Jack Stauffer) and three anonymous pilots, making this more or less a “Red Shirts” patrol. Silver Spar Squadron was about to return to the fleet when they encounter strange lights that fly around them at incredible speeds.  The Viper pilots do their best to evade the strange “ships” but then a larger ship of pure light appears behind them. They are given no chance to escape as a sonic attack incapacitates them as well as their craft, and in a blinding flash of light they are gone. How can ships travel at such amazing speeds? Who could be behind such a powerful attack, and why?

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Shouldn’t this be hovering over Devils Tower?

Needless to say the Galactica is quite concerned when shortly after hearing a distress call from Silver Spar Squadron it vanishes from their scanners. While all this drama was going on Apollo (Richard Hatch), Starbuck (Dirk Benedict) and Boomer (Herbert Jefferson Jr.) are playing a game of Triad, a sport that is a mix of basketball, football and handball.

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And is also the most embarrassing looking sport.

Boomer is a bit depressed as his team, the Blue team, has never been able to defeat Apollo and Starbuck’s Gold Team, but before he can get too maudlin Colonel Tigh (Terry Carter) arrives to inform them all of an emergency meeting in the War Room. At the meeting they find out about Bojay’s missing patrol, and a seismic disturbance on a nearby planet that could be connected, so Apollo, Starbuck and Sheba (Anne Lochart) are sent to investigate. We don’t see Boomer at this briefing so I guess he went back to his bunk to cry over his lost game. When our trio arrives at the lifeless planet they are shocked to discover wreckage of what once must have been a massive spacecraft, but more surprising is they run into a survivor. He calls himself Count Iblis (Patrick Macnee) the lone survivor of an attack by his enemies that he only describes as “Great Powers” and has no idea how he survived the crash. Iblis immediately arousing Apollo’s suspicions because not only do none of their sensors detect him as a lifeform he somehow managed to survive that crash without even getting his hair mussed.

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Takes a lot more than slamming into a planet to ruffle Patrick Macnee.

Apollo gains more reasons to dislike Count Iblis as Sheba is clearly under his spell, and when they all return to the Galactica things get worse as Iblis begins to seduce much of the fleet, in one way or another. Count Iblis offers to use his infinite knowledge of the universe to help them find Earth and keep the fleet safe from those strange ships of light, with one small caveat, they must make him their leader. When Adama (Loren Greene) tries to get some straight answers about who Count Iblis is and just what are these “Great Powers” that were pursuing him are he gets vague answers like, “They are infinite and beyond comprehension.” This obvious bullshit puts Adama on edge but the rest of the Council of Twelve eat it up with a spoon, especially when he promises to work three miracles; the first two being deliver their enemy, and accurately plot the course to Earth.

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Getting into Sheba's pants is not considered a miracle.

He has already proven he has some power by making the crops on the Agro ship bloom rapidly so as to feed the starving masses of the fleet, and then when Baltar (John Colicos) shows up on the Galactica for some kind “Truce Talk” it really seems that Iblis can fulfill his promises. What is frightening is that Baltar recognizes Count Iblis voice as being that of the Cylon Imperious leader, but for that to be the case Iblis would have to be thousands of years old. The Council don’t seem to worry about stuff like that and sentence Baltar to life imprisonment. Iblis visits Baltar in the brig, walking through the locked door as if he were a ghost, and telling him that “All is not lost.”

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Baltar turns out to be just low rent evil by comparison.

Count Iblis proceeds with his campaign of winning over the hearts and minds of the fleet; using his powers to grant Boomer’s wish that his team would win against Apollo and Starbuck, and then throwing a major bender that gets half the fleet drunk. When the strange ships of light return most of the pilots are too hungover to answer the call to battle stations. Count Iblis berates them for their condition and it’s only Adama arriving in time that prevents Apollo from trying to strangle the bastard.

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Wrestling with the Devil.

Adama explains his theory to Apollo that those ships of light could be angels and that the ship that crashed on that desolate planet could have consisted of “Fallen Angels” And of course the Devil is exactly who Count Iblis is, and if you knew your Arabic you’d know that Iblis is Arabic for Satan and would be way ahead of these guys. Adama sends Apollo, with Starbuck tagging along, back to site of that crashed ship to find some proof of just who Count Iblis is. Sheba, madly infatuated with Iblis, follows our heroes but is finally confronted with the truth of Iblis' character when he miraculously shows up and tries to kill her before she can find out the truth. But Apollo jumps in the way and is killed instead. Starbuck shoots at the Count but his laser blasts just pass through him, but also reveals his true visage.

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Behold the face of evil.

Starbuck and Sheba load Apollo’s body into the shuttle for their sad trip back to the Galactica but before they reach the Battlestar they are captured by the ships of light and brought on board. Turns out Count Iblis is only allowed to strike down willing followers and that shooting Apollo was a big no-no to these other dimensional beings. When Starbuck asks why beings of such power would bother with the human race he is told, "You are now, what we once were. What we are now, you may become." And because if his selfless sacrifice Apollo is returned from the dead to become either Lazarus or Jesus.

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"Hey Apollo, can you change water into wine now?"

This was an excellent two-parter with the confrontations between Lorne Greene and Patrick Macnee being the stand-out element here. The seduction of Sheba by Count Iblis was also well done and super creepy with both actors doing great work with their parts. The stuff with Baltar was kind of interesting, but him coming to the Galactica to get help because he himself was worried about the Ships of Light seemed really out of character. The only real complaint I have is that it is never explained why the “Angels” grabbed the Viper patrols in the first place, at the end they are all returned with no memory of the events, so what was the point? Apollo, Starbuck and Sheba also are returned with their memory a bit fuzzy but they had exact co-ordinates for Earth imbedded in their memories. So that was helpful.

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We are left with one final question, "What does God need with a space ship?"