Thanks to an email from one of my editors, I realized it was New Year’s Eve! Funny how that works out. These might be coming out a bit later than the norm, but I figured I would jump in on the whole “End of the Year” list thingy. First up, I’m going to cover my favorite horror viewing experiences of films that came out several years back!
I’ve been on a 70s sci-fi kick lately and have not been disappointed with a single one of my viewing experiences. I’m sure there’s a kind of reverse bias, but I love anything from that era that really went for it with story and special effects. I think about movies with wild concepts like this that are made these days and many of them either cut out some of the more difficult sounding scenes or tackle them with CGI that doesn’t look that great and doesn’t help. In At The Earth’s Core you’ve got everything from Pterodactyl-like protectors to a giant dog-like thing attacking the movie’s star with the oh-so-fantastic movie star name Doug McClure. Sure you can tell when the actors are working with a projection and that the monsters don’t work as well as they probably could have, but to me, that’s a lot more charming and real than CGI. I guess I’m just old fashioned that way.
I should probably talk about the movie’s story at this point in my review, shouldn’t I? McClure plays David Innes a rich guy bankrolling his one-time professor Dr. Perry (Peter Cushing) in an experimental drilling vehicle that’s supposed to break though the Earth’s core. As the pair take the machine on its first test run, they both pass out and wind up in a world within the modern world filled with the aforementioned monsters, but also normal humans like the lovely Caroline Munro (The Spy Who Loved Me, Starcrash) who luckily speak English. After a series of mini-adventures that split our leads up for a bit, they return in an effort to help free the people, stop the monsters and return home. It’s the kind of movie that might have been pretty common in the 70s, but one I haven’t personally seen much of. I actually just realized that it’s basically my beloved Planet Of The Apes under the ground with bigger monsters, but I’m still okay with that.
So, in addition to being an ambitious film effects- and story-wise, I also had a lot of fun with the characters. McClure is kind of a swaggering, old timey tough guy with buckets of charm, enough to make you think he might have a chance with Munro, even though he bares more than a passing resemblance to John C. Reilly. Better yet is Cushing, an actor I unfortunately have very little experience with aside from his turn as Grand Moff Tarkin. I know he’s a well respected actor who personified Sherlock Holmes for plenty of people for decades, but I loved his turn as the goofy, exasperated and supremely proper professor. Sure it’s an over the top character, but that can be fun when performed by an actor who really gets the idea and knows how to keep the balance.
I had a great time with this movie and hope anyone else who checks it out on Netflix will too. I don’t say this often, but I’d actually like to see this movie or one like it, made today. Just build lots of rad practical sets, snag some quality stars and make sure the CGI looks solid and I think you’d have a hit on your hands.
I Watch A Lot Of Movies will most likely be a recurring feature here on the blog because it’s a plain fact. Because I work from home and I like to have something on to either watch or listen to while I do so, I go through a lot of movies, shows, podcasts and records. Sometimes I give them their own write-ups, but sometimes I don’t have as much to say. So, IWALOM will be a kind of catch-all for the things I want to say a few words on. As it happens, I’ve been on a bit of a documentary going back to when I watched and wrote about Too Tough To Die and Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop a few weeks ago.
One of the more curious documentaries I’ve seen on Netflix Instant has to be Dalekmania (1995) which I assumed would be about the history of the Doctor Who baddies. Instead, as the subtitle explains, it’s actually the story of Daleks and the Doctor on the big screen. Back in 1965 Peter Cushing starred as a tweaked version of the character in a big screen flock that remade one of the few serials I’ve actually seen: The Daleks.
Much like the 1996 Fox-produced Doctor Who movie, the movie and it’s sequel, the awesomely named Invasion Earth: 2015, neither film is in cannon, but that doesn’t mean they don’t look interesting. Seeing a documentary based on a pair of films I’ve never seen was cool because it’s not like I had heard any of these stories before. The downside? The movies aren’t on any kind of Netflix so I can’t check them out, which is a little frustrating. It seems like everyone involved (and living) was interviewed and you also get to see a cool collection of Dalek and Who memorabilia from a husband and wife collector team. Worth checking out for Who fans even if they don’t HAVE to know about these flicks.
I was kind of disappointed by American Grindhouse (2010), especially after being so impressed by essentially the Australian version of this doc called Not Quite Hollywood. While Not Quite really seemed to just jump in and celebrate their schlocky movies, Grindhouse seems to take an almost clinical approach which saps some of the fun out of the proceedings. A big contributor to that feeling is how specifically they define “grindhouse.’ Instead of being about low budget movies sent to drive ins or cheap theaters, we’re told that an actual grindhouse was a theater that would never shut down or stop showing movies. Uh, okay. It’s the equivalent of someone telling you in great detail that what you’re blowing your nose in isn’t actually a Kleenex, but a facial tissues.
The opposite side of the specificity coin is that you actually get treated to lots of different kinds of movies than you might expect, going all the way back to the early days of film. The movie points out that, almost as soon as people figured out how to use movie cameras, they started pointing them at naked ladies. I actually learned this in either high school or college and was blown away at the time because you kind of assume that everything was super prudey back in the day, but in reality people are people and are always curious about things like that.
The film also boasts a quality group of talking heads including John Landis, Joe Dante, William Lustig and plenty of others. Everyone brings something interesting to the table, it’s just a broader table than I was expecting when I turned it on.
I probably wouldn’t have given a movie called Trumbo (2007) if not for the awesome image on this poster. A dude writing in the bathtub? I love it! The story found in the documentary is even more interesting. Dalton Trumbo was one of the infamous Hollywood Ten, a group of writers who were blacklisted for communist leanings thanks to McCarthy and the ridiculous red scare. He wrote movies like The Devil’s Playground, Roman Holiday, Spartacus, Johnny Got His Gun and plenty of others, some of which were credited to other writers who fronted for him and some of the other Hollywood Ten.
The doc has an interesting style that takes many of Trumbo’s writings and has famous actors do dramatic readings. I didn’t realize what was happening at first when people like Michael Douglas, Brian Dennehy, Paul Giamatti and others started doing these monologues in dark rooms, I was confused, but I soon caught on and enjoyed the method. Apparently, this film is based on the stage play of one of Trumbo’s sons, which makes that all make a lot more sense.
I like that Trumbo never lost faith or face, really, kept writing and later on didn’t seem too bitter about what happened. He definitely answered some questions with a sharp wit, but he didn’t seem bitter, which is inspiring considering the mountains of bullshit heaped upon him.
Like a lot of things on Netflix, I didn’t really know what Mayor Of The Sunset Strip (2003). For some reason I thought it was about a guy who was influential in the 80s metal scene on the Sunset Strip. It’s actually about Rodney Binginheimer, a dude who started out as a groupie in the 60s, met practically every rock star, got nicknamed in a Beach Boys song, became one of the most influential DJs in music history and is still kicking.
I found this story so fascinating because Bingenheimer is ridiculously damaged. Yes, he’s met every single important rock and roll musician since the medium was practically invented and yes he has (or at least had) a great deal of power in his business, but he is also a sad, lonely man with mom issues. The portrait painted is that of a man who prefers not to be in the spotlight, but absolutely expects to be just on the fringes now. It’s also the story of a man whose time as come and gone, though that’s not the main focus. Towards the end of the movie, the man with ridiculous hair tells the camera that he’s only got one night a week as a DJ on KROQ which clearly bums him out. The only time he expresses any real, obvious emotions happens in a scene where his radio protege finishes a show and Bingenheimer is pissed because he thinks the younger man has basically stolen his entire schtick.
For me, Mayor has two lessons to be learned. First, it shows me that anyone can become important. There was nothing truly special about Rodney Bingenheimer, nothing that would make him an obvious maven of a culture movement. But, he physically got himself where he needed to be and worked his way up to becoming ridiculously influential. That’s the American dream, right? Well, the second lesson shows what can happen if you don’t balance your life out. Even with all his power and influence, something about his personality didn’t allow him to capitalize on it too much and he has essentially faded out of prominence. The lesson is to both keep working even after reaching prominence, but also that all the importance in the world doesn’t fix your problems. You’ve got to work on that stuff on your own and it didn’t seem to me like Bingenheimer has done that.
As much as I’d like to say I finish everything I start, that’s just not the case. Well, it is professionally speaking, but not when it comes to watching movies and reading books. I can sit through some pretty bad nonsense when it comes to movies, but there has to be something keeping my interest for the hour and a half or more of time it takes to sit there and absorb the damn thing. The same goes for books, which I have an even shorter attention span for and take me longer to absorb. That being said, there are times when I give up and these movies and this book have made me give up…for now.
I was really interested in Demon Warriors (2007) for two reasons. 1) It’s a Thai movie and from the producers of Tony Jaa’s Ong-Bak and The Protector, two of the best action movies ever (even if they share very similar stories). And 2) It’s about people with superpowers. Seems like a pretty damn awesome combination to me. But, hey, it’s not. The story is overly convoluted with a story involving people who commit suicide only to come back with these fantastic, yet cursed powers. Most of them seem to be pretty bad dudes, but the most recent one is trying to recruit them for…something or other.
Between the story being nearly incomprehensible, having to sit through melodramatic subtitles (I watched it on Instant, so there’s no option of dubbing) and the complete lack of action, I had to turn this one off. I really gave this one the old college try. After falling asleep one night, I tried it again last night and just could not get into it. I couldn’t focus and the action was mostly uninteresting special effects and gun play, not the usual knock down, drag out fights I expect from the Thai action movies I’ve seen. It wasn’t as bad as Mercury Man, but way too boring to keep me invested.
I thought after watching the first four movies from my 50 movie drive-in collection it would be smooth sailing from there. Hell, Count Dracula And His Vampire Bride (1973) is a Hammer horror flick starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing set in 70s London, how could it be bad? Jesus, how could this boring turd by good? I should have read up on Hammer’s horror history on Wiki BEFORE I started the movie, because, thanks to that reading, I found out that this was Lee’s last Drac movie because he found it ridiculous. Here, here Lee!
The movie jumps from dudes wearing furry vests to women being seemingly tortured to old dudes hanging out to women being chained in basements to Van Helsing and eventually to Dracula, but by the time he finally showed up, I was so lost that I didn’t really care anymore.
It’s funny that I like vampire movies, but have yet to see a Dracula movie I liked, including the Frank Langella one. I definitely didn’t give this movie much of a chance thanks to it losing me so early and not showing me the main character, but I’ve got 45 more movies to get through and even after quitting I couldn’t think of enough to say for a Drive-In Couchfest write up.
The Card Player (2004) was yet another movie I was looking forward to watching. This time, it was because it’s a Dario Argento movie. I didn’t know anything else aside from that and the box art. After seeing Suspiria and Mother Of Tears and having, shall we say mixed feelings about both, I figured I’d be in for, if nothing else, one hell of a weird ride. Instead, Card Player turned out to be an overly long episode of CSI or Bones that seemed to telegraph the ending. I can’t tell you if that ending came to pass, but I would bet a small amount of money on it.
See, the idea is that there’s a serial killer who kidnaps random women and then gambles with their lives on online poker. For the most part, our POV is on the European cops’ side as they try to figure out who the guy is after not wanting to play the game the first time around and watching the girl get killed. It really does play out like a TV show you’ve seen a thousand times. They track down the best online poker player around and it turns out to be a kid. Later, the killer attacks the female cop in home. I’m guessing the killer succeeds and grabs her, then the male cop has to race to find her. Aside from not having any of Argento’s typical batshit elements, the film just seemed to plod along, never being better than any of the hour long TV dramas you can find anywhere on cable. The only Argento thing about the movie is that the corpses came floating up naked and they didn’t shy away from showing it. Though, after watching Bones, I’m pretty sure they could have gotten away with most of it on TV nowadays.
Slow burn books and I aren’t the best of friends. I’m a slow reader as it is, so if your book takes a while to really pick up and get interesting, then it might not be the best for me. Sometimes I’ll stick through a book like Brad Meltzer’s The Zero Game and come out loving the whole experience, but other times, I find myself in what I will now be calling a Michael Chabon situational where my love of a previous work can’t propel me through the murk of the current work.
Like every other geek who reads books without pictures I loved Chabon’s Adventures Of Kavalier And Clay. Eventually I found his book for kids called Summerland on sale at Building 19 and picked it up. I tried getting into it and it just never grabbed me. I chalked it up to me not really being the audience for that book, but I’ve gone back and read Roald Dahl books and really enjoyed them, so maybe that’s not the case. The same thing went for Yiddish Policemen’s Union. I was really jazzed when I saw it on the cheap at Barnes & Noble, but I found even more indecipherable than just about any other book I’ve ever tried to read.
For the first thing, the book’s about a murder in a Jewish settlement in Alaska that will be changing in the near future. The Wikipedia page tells me that this is based on an alternate history. Me not being Jewish and knowing squat about Alaska, I kept wondering what was real and what was made up for the book. That’s okay when in small doses, but when I’m trying to figure out if the entire world the author is building is fictional or just certain parts, it takes me out of the story. Another problem I had with the book is that so many of the terms come from Yiddish and, as I mentioned before, I don’t know Yiddish. Had the book included a kind of glossary or footnotes in the back, I’d be a little more satisfied, but those two things fused the book into a large clump of denseness that I kept wanting to get through to the mystery at the heart of things, but just never could. I haven’t completely quit on this one as the book does still sit on the floor next to my bed, but I have plenty of other books to occupy my attention in the meantime. After quitting on this one, I moved to Terry Prachet’s Soul Music which hasn’t really grabbed me yet either unfortunately. In fact, I’ve moved on again to reading a book of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short stories that I’ve been really enjoying so far, which is a relief because I was worried I might have been put off books without pictures altogether. Maybe I’ll go back and reread Kavalier And Clay when I’m done with this…or maybe I’ll work on the ever-growing pile under the bed.