Category Archives: Movie Review

MOVIE REVIEW: “Day of the Dolphin” (1973)

What a strange, laconic film this is! Seriously: It starts out relaxed, doesn’t move very far, and takes its own sweet time getting there. Also, it picks an odd place to end, proving Welles’ old saw about the difference between tragedy and triumph being where you decide to stop telling the story.

In a nutshell – and believe you me, it doesn’t take a very big nut to hold this film – we’ve got George C. Scott as a marine biologist living on an island off the coast of Florida with his surprisingly-but-not-inappropriately young wife, a bunch of interns, and a couple dolphins. The star of the research facility is “Alpha” (“Fa” for short), a dolphin born in captivity and raised by humans without any contact with his own kind. As a result, he’s “Learned to speak people talk” as they say in Pokemon. Specifically, he can speak English, a bit, though it’s kinda’ hard to understand. He can understand English, too. A good corporation is funding the research in exchange for the tax dodge it provides, while the evil Paul Sorvino is posing as a reporter trying to gain access for some nefarious purpose or other.

As Fa has hit puberty, they give him a girlfriend, “Beta” (“Bea” for short). George and Mrs. George (Played by his real-life wife Trish Van Devere) are called away from the island by the company, and one of the interns gets a call from George saying the dolphins are to be loaded on to a yacht that’s gonna’ show up soon. When George and Trish get back to the island, they find Fa and Bea gone, along with one of the interns. Then the evil Paul Sorvino appears and explains – in a pretty good twist, actually – that he’s not evil, in fact the company and the intern are evil. They’ve kidnapped the dolphins for some nefarious purpose, and Paul Sorvino was actually trying to keep them from it. In the second good twist of the movie, we find that Sorvino *AND* the Corporate Goons are both working for the US government, albeit opposing factions.

The bad guys train Bea to place a bomb on the president’s yacht, which will kill him. Fa escapes, and George explains that bombs are designed to kill, so Fa warns Bea. The two of them plant the bomb on the bad guy’s yacht instead, which blows up and kills them in what results in one of the funnier uses of the “S-word” in early 70s SF. The movie doesn’t end, there, however. We get about another fifteen minutes or so where our heroes – George, Trish, Paul, and the interns – realize that the corporate goons aren’t going to let them live because they know too much. Sorvino basically bails on ‘em as a plane carrying gunmen approaches. George and Trish drive Fa and Ba away, then go hide in the woods, waiting to die.

The End.


Wow, that’s kind of a downer, isn’t it? This would be a great kids film were it not so glacially paced, didn’t have profanity, and didn’t end with everyone dying and the dolphins coming across somewhat like abandoned babies in the wilderness. It’s a weird film. It really is. Really, I could have summarized it in less space, and if we’re honest the stuff of note that actually happens in each act is haiku length, but it’s padded out to 90 minutes.

Thing is: despite that, it’s an engaging film. The sedate qualities give it an almost verite feel, or maybe a documentary feel. Not exactly, it’s not intended to be like that, but everything just takes so long that you kind of feel like you’re waiting along with these people for stuff to happen. It’s not an art film, it’s not really taking the long Russian road, but even by 1973 standards it’s pretty slow. It’s not surprising it was a bomb.

There’s also an interesting disconnect between the sweet, adorable, baby-talking dolphin (Bea never learns to speak) and the generally misanthropic feel of the movie as a whole. George C. Scott is playing a man who doesn’t like men, and prefers the company of fish. His wife takes an even dimmer view of corporate America. Paul Sorvino – who’s great in the movie, but seems a bit like a straight Nathan Lane this time out – is a government spook who’s perfectly content with the fact that he’s sent out to kill other spooks, and that they’re coming after him. The idea being that there’s a sort of perpetual undeclared civil war in the government. I actually like that idea. It’s got some potential legs, even if it’s crazy 1970s paranoid. The fact that the government tries to kill the president, and then tries to kill everyone who found out about it is, once again, just crazy ‘70s. At one point George and Trish discuss the fact that they’ve made Fa like us, and kind of doomed him to our miserable sort of existence in the process.

As Prometheus myths go, it’s sort of interesting. Generally it’s “Don’t take fire from the gods because they’ll kick your ass.” In this case, it’s more like “The gods give you fire because they like you, but it just ends up hurting and there’s nothing they can do to stop it. Sorry.”

In fact I sort of admire the movie for giving us a perfectly acceptable happy ending, and then spending fifteen minutes tearing it apart. I found myself wondering if saving the president *was* happy as it cost the good guys their lives, and wasn’t any too good for the dolphins. I guess the climax of the film is happy in that Fa and Bea survive, and they really are innocents caught in this, but their being released out into the sea is pretty jagged and heartbreaking. Earlier in the film, George said Fa only talked because he loved him and his wife, but in the company of others of his kind, he’d quickly stop, he couldn’t teach others, and that it required a lot of effort for him to do it. It’s not hard to extrapolate from that to the idea that a dolphin raised entirely by people isn’t going to survive in the wild. Perhaps Bea will take care of him, but I think the kids are screwed, really. Yeah, a chance for survival is better than certain death, but still…

The movie is interestingly nebulous with regards to animal sapience. George says that all he’s really got is a dolphin approximating human speech while responding to some verbal cues. It could be training. Clearly it’s more than that, but it may not be *THAT* much more. It can be argued that Fa isn’t much more than a dog that can say “I love you.” I do think we’re supposed to believe he’s intelligent, but the part that interests me is that he’s clearly not nearly *AS* intelligent as humans. He’s an adolescent dolphin, so he’s probably not going to get much smarter than he is, but he seems to think and act on the level of a three or four year old kid. Factor in the obvious environmental differences and all, and he’s still skewing very young and/or not amazingly bright. Like 50 IQ, or thereabouts? A genius for anything other than a human, but by our standards not much.

Acting is, on the whole, pretty good. Well, heck, it’s got George C. Scott, and apart from that sitcom where he was the president, I’ve never really seen him give a phoned in performance. He’s not always great, but he’s always fully engaged, you know? I’ve never really seen him play a smart-guy-scientist-type before. Makes me want to watch some more of his roles.

To my surprise, we actually still had a presidential yacht in 1973. It was the “USS Sequoyah” and it was sold in 1977 by Jimmy Carter. Man, we could have used some exploding dolphins in those days, huh? Anyway: the pictures I found make it apparent that the *Real* presidential yacht was a piece of crap compared to the one in the film.

Edward Herrmann is in this movie, basically being very young and very skinny. He’s best known from “Gilmore Girls” and “The Lost Boys.”

The motorboat that Scott et all use to get to and from the mainland is called the “Erewhon.” That’s a 19th century Utopian satirical novel that is so obscure I occasionally think I must have hallucinated it. Thus the name really popped out at me. I really should review that book here some time…

This movie was written by Buck Henry. Yeah, *THAT* Buck Henry. Mike Nichols, the director, is most famous for “The Graduate.” He’s also a stand-up comic. Furthermore, this movie was based on a French novel which was, allegedly, a comedic parody of the cold war. All of which strikes me as odd since the film is so doggedly un-funny (Apart from one really great bit of scatology referenced above.) Just weird.

On a personal note, I’ve occasionally mentioned how seeing things I used to like, but haven’t seen in 30 or 40 years puts me in the same room with an earlier version of myself, right? Well I used to love this film as a kid – cute talking dolphins, what’s not to love? – and it was on TV constantly. I assumed I’d be hanging out with young me in no time, but, no. Apart from “It’s hard for them to do it” and “Fa love pa” and the scene where Fa heads off Bea, I honestly didn’t remember a lick of it. Weirdest thing. Also, the parts I did remember are far, far, far, far longer in my memory than in the actual film. This makes me think I must have been crazy young, with a little kid’s kinda’ goofy time sense.

Bottom line: This is an interesting film, but only just barely. It’s not really worth putting any effort into finding, but if you stumble across at 3AM when you’re riddled with insomnia, you could do worse than watch it.

MOVIE REVIEW: “The Good, The Bad, and the Weird” (2008)

“The Good, The Bad, and the Weird,” is just about the most amazing Korean film I’ve ever seen. It’s a sprawling, insane love-letter to spaghetti westerns in general, and “The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly,” in particular, as you’d expect from the title. It’s also strongly influenced by Raiders of the Lost Ark, and, believe it or not, The Road Warrior. (Which I suppose brings things full circle, since The Road Warrior is basically a postapocalyptic spaghetti western by design).

The plot only superficially overlaps with its more-or-less namesake. Basically, “Hey, there’s a treasure, lets go get it,” and three characters who can’t be trusted and don’t like each other trying to beat the others to it. It culminates in a three-way Mexican standoff. (Manchurian standoff? Despite being Korean, this movie takes place in Manchuria in 1939, very shortly before World War II breaks out.) That’s a pretty broad comparison, though, and most of what actually happens in the film has nothing to do with the Eastwood flick. For instance, at no point in this movie do we diverge from the plot for a half hour to help the Confederate army blow a bridge to slow the Union advance.

“The Good,” is a Korean bounty hunter who inexplicably dresses like a spaghetti western cowboy. Got the hat, got the duster, the awesome rifle, the quick-draw tie-down holster with six guns that never run out of bullets. He’s awesome. He’s also not in very much of the movie, as he’s, well, “The Good,” and Good isn’t nearly as much fun as evil or weird. If you haven’t seen TGTB&TU, Eastwood’s “Good” is only in relation to the other two. He’s not a nice guy. This film’s “Good” is, though, so he tends to be absent a lot. He’s an insurmountable badass, however, and has just about the most amazing gunfight ever a third of the way into the film.

“The Bad” is played by Lee Byung-hun, whom I’ve never heard of, but he just oozes “Movie Star.” Remember the first time you saw Chow Yun-Fat in “The Killer,” when he walks in with the suit and the sunglasses and the guns, and just *owns* the screen? I remember my wife saying “If he could speak English, he’d own Hollywood.” Well, Lee Byung-hun doesn’t quite have THAT level of grab-you-by-the-throat-and-force-you-to-pay-attention impact, but he’s darn close. He’s just flat-out evil here, and kind of inexplicably ’80s looking, with his New Wave haircut and his earring.

“The Weird” is oddly the main character. I know Eli Wallach got way more screen time in TGTG&etc than people remember, but his more-or-less equivalent here is the star: A not-very-bright crook with more ego than skills, occasional bouts of panic, cowardice, and an unexpected backstory that makes you wonder if his personality was real or just an act all along.

“The bounty on you is 300 Yon.”
“I’m only worth as much as a piano?”
“A used piano, at that.”

The movie deliberately bends time, with scenes that could come from any cowboy film, WW2 film, and chop-sockey flick playing side by side. It’s deliberately anachronistic, with the 80s rock star bad guy, cowboy good guy, and 1930s hobo comic lead, and this is deliberate, and a good choice.

Direction is very solid, though the steadycam gets a little too jittery in a couple scenes. Shot composition is nice. The action sequences are fantastic. There’s a fifteen-minute long chase sequence involving a motorcycle, a jeep, mongol horsemen, a gang of bandits, a cowboy, and the Imperial Japanese Army that just keeps getting bigger and bigger and more super-crazy-no-way gonzo over-the-top. It’s the kind of sequence that would make George Miller say, “I’ve wasted my life,” and start crying.

The score is gorgeous, too. It blends modern music, traditional East Asian stuff, and some very solid Ennio Morricone pastiches. It’s freakin’ awesome. I *WILL* find a copy of this for my collection.

My one caveat is that this is a pretty brutal film. Lots of blood, lots of splatter, some particularly vicious scenes with knives, two comedic-yet-really-gross skewerings. Not for the squeamish.

Just the same you guys, oh my gosh, this movie…! Wow.

SPOILER-FILLED MOVIE REVIEW: “Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens” (2015)

There’s a line in “Airplane II: The Sequel,” where Julie Haggerty says, “I have the stragest feeling that we’ve done this exact same thing before.” I had that feeling a lot during this film. While this move was touted as a kind of spiritual rebirth of the Star Wars saga, in fact it war more or a remake of the original 1977 film. Seeing as the last time we saw Luke, Han, and Lea 32 years ago was also a sort of half-hearted semi-remake of the 1977 film, I have to say I was pretty disappointed.

Lets run the checklist, shall we? Things “Episode 4” has in common with “Episode 7:”

– Opening firefight in which stormtroomers make quick work of the good guys: Check.

– Black suited uber-bad-guy introduced marching through stormtroopers: Check

– Cute robot with information vital to the good guys sent wandering off through the desert to find help: Check

– Desert planet: Check

– 20-ish protagonist living a meneial existence in the desert without parents, who years for something more: Check

– Millenium Falcon: Check

– Millenium Falcon caled a piece of junk: Check

– Millenium Falcon taking off in a hurry under fire from the desert planet: Check

– Millenium Falcon using it’s turrets to take out TIE fighters: Check

– Old Guy long past his hero days functions as mentor/father figure to protagonist: Check

– Old Guy is killed by black-suited bad guy: Check

– A Cantina scene: Check

– A Cantina band playing out-of-place music (In this case, reggae): Check.

– Another protagonist who decides to bow out of the action, but then gets shamed back in to it: Check


– A planet gets destroyed by the death star: Check.

– An Imperial general who’s somewhat at odds with the Black Suited Bad Guy: Check.

– A rag-tag rebellion: Check.

– A fighter battle to take out the death star, including fighting in a trench: Check.

– X-Wings, X-Wings, X-Wings: Check.

– Protagonist who begins to learn the ways of the force over the course of the movie: Check

– Light Saber duels: Check.

– Short goofy-looking alien with personal boundary issues espouces wisdom: Check.

– “This light saber belonged to your father:” Check.

– Awesome B-list 1960s actor in a small role: Check.

– Interrogations of the good guys by the bad: Check.

– Trash chute and/or compactor: Check (Though off-screen)

– Bad guys defeated: Check.

– Rebel base on a jungle-ish world: Check.

– “Death star is 15 minutes from firing:” Check.

– “I’ve got a bad feeling about this:” Check.

– Damn C3P0 being annoying: Check.

– Dishonest fat alien thing evidently runs desert planet or at least the chunk of it we see: Check.

– Running around inside, trying to escape from and/or sabotage an Imperial base: Check.

Honestly the list goes on and on and on and on. I don’t need to stop there, but I’m sure you get my point: This film was like a remixed version of Episode IV. There are also nods to the other two films, and one or two passive-aggressive stabs at the prequel trilogy.


Now, don’t get me wrong: not all of those things are bad. Despite finding the film to be a bit of a let down, there was some cool stuff in it, and I am glad I saw it, and I’m super-glad I saw it on the big screen. There is a lot to like here, burried underneath the fan service.

Every single shot involving the Millenium Falcon provides a lifetime of badassery. It really is the sexiest, coolest hunk-o-junk in film, and it really gets put through its paces here. I also like that it’s still showing signs of repairs made resulting from damage in Return of the Jedi.

I liked the bad guy. The trailers deliberately caused a subtle fake-out among the fans. We all thought “Oh, it must be Luke! Luke’s gone bad!” This is still plausible until about halfway through the movie. Even the dialog is pretty straight forward, it comes across as fairly ambiguous until the big reveal.

His backstory (What we discover of it) is interesting and tragic, and his onetime status as the great hope of the New Republic in to essentially a Vader-wannabe is interesting, and mercifully unseen. As to the wannabe-stuff, that’s not me being insulting: The openly state that he’s got serious inferiority issues regarding Vader’s legacy.

He’s also rather polite and engaging and talks a lot. Whereas Vader was imposing and silent and overpowering, this guy is more thoughtful, more introspective, and a fair deal chattier. He also lacks Vader’s self control. The most impressive part of him, though, is that while Vader was steadfastly evil, and grows more conflicted over the course of the orige-trige (Yes, I’m calling it that from now on. Yes, I stole it from Deal with it), our new bad guy starts out conflicted, but becomes more resolutely evil as the film progresses.

I like that Han and Lea didn’t have a happily-ever-after life. They’re old, they have a deep personal tragedy in their lives, split up, and kept going. Solo “Went back to the only thing he was ever any good at,” and Lea finally has a job. (Seriously: Why was she not running the rebellion in Return of the Jedi? She’s pretty much added baggage in that film, contributing nothing of any real note). While I’d rather have had Luke go evil (Which was something the Orige-Trige hinted at), him just having the heart beat out of him, abandoning everything, and leaving was a nice way to go. The new bad guy had a much more personal connection to The Big Three and his defection devestated all of them.

When the Black Suited Bad Guy is called by his real name – “Ben” – it’s a surprisingly “Oooh!” moment on several levels.

The Supreme Leader is an interesting new big bad. More questions than answers, but he’s already more interesting than the Emperor ever was. Less imposing, more interesting. Much the same as the new Black Suited Bad Guy, actually.

The new male lead, “Finn,” is actually a pretty fantastic character, too: he’s got a tragic backstory, being taken from his family and raised as a killing machine. He’s a coward, however, and deserts. He’s pretty much a coward through the first half of the film, just playing along to get away, but he’s continually forced – against his will – to man up. Finally, in the end, he is actually a hero…and immediately gets curbstomped. He’s charismatic, likeable, fairly smart, quick to adapt, a little desparate, and very unsure of himself. I liked the hell out of him. Also, the actor – British – does a great American accent.

“Ray,” the new female protagonist fills the “Plucky Girl” role nicely. Her backstory is considerably more ambiguous, but I presume she’s Luke’s long-lost daughter, given how quickly she develops her powers, and “Ben’s” quick and surprising concern when he learns there’s this mysterious girl running around. If so, a face-off between her and her cousin in the subsequent movies is a good storytelling choice. Her trippy flashback/flash forward scene when she first touches the lightsaber are very cool.

The battle where she’s captured is wonderfully higgaldy-piggaldy, well shot, and probably the best battle sequence in the entire franchise.

There were endless scenes of spacecraft flying low and fast over the water, and I ain’t complaining. All that was cool.

I liked the big stormtrooper “Seig Heil” scene.

The last scene, while perhaps as not as poignient as it they thought it was, was still pretty good.

Blowing up Coruscant? Pretty damn cool. “Take that, prequels!”

And of course, best of all: This is the first Star Wars film to have the correct number at the beginning.

On the other hand, there’s a good dal of stuff I didn’t like, or which didn’t make any sense.

First and foremost: I don’t like this “First Order” stuff. I get that there were still factions loyal to the Empire, and I get that some of them would obviously attempt to sieze power, but think about it: it’s been 32 years since the emperor died. That’s more time than the Empire itself even existed. It’s more likely the remaining forces would have simply gone pirate, or struck a deal by this point. What bugs me, though, is that of the various foes one could have chosen, this is about the least interesting one. In essence we’ve got the same exact conflict as in the Orige Trige: Imperials versus Rebels. Yawn.

Why did they do this? Because what Lucas never seems to have understood is that what fans want more than anything else is X-wings versus TIE fighters. And this is the excuse: Yawn.

And what’s the deal with the resistance? The Resistance is fighting the First Order, and they’re supported by The Republic, but evidently they’re not part of the Republic Military? What’s that all about? And why are they so ramshackle? Why wouldn’t the Republic’s own armed forces (Perhaps led by General Organia) be leading the conflict? That made no sense.

Normally I don’t say “How I’d have done it” in my reviews, but it struck me that a much cleaner, less convoluted narrative way to do it would be to have Lea in charge of the groups that root out loyalists like the First Order, and fight/contain/destroy them. She leads a group to attack the new death star (Excuse me: Starkiller) and then Coruscant gets destroyd and – “Oh my God, the government’s gone, the New Republic is destroyed, and we’re the only ones left!” – which would ratchet the tension up nicely. It goes from being just another mission to, “Oh crap!” very quickly.

The destruction of Coruscant probably should have gotten more chatter than it did. We don’t even get anyone freaking out. “Oh my God, the government and economy of the galaxy have just collapsed” or “Coruscant has been the capital of the galaxy since before humans even existed!” That kind of thing. Think about how freaked out we were when 9/11 happened. Now think how freaked out we’d be if it had been DC getting nuked instead. We should get some feel of that here.

Despite being the co-lead of the film and heir apparent to Luke, Ray doesn’t make much of an impression. She’s a serviceable lead, but she’s more defined by what she does than who she is. Likewise, “Bo,” the hotshot fighter pilot doesn’t make much of an impression. As these guys are apparently the central trio for this trilogy, I found that a little disappointing. Or maybe it’s just because they can’t keep up with Han and the much-better Finn hogging the spotlight.

How is it that “First Order” technology seems to have progressed – at least some – in the intervening generation, but the good guys are still using crap from the Rebellion? I mean, that stuff was supposed to be old already, back then. I know, I know, I know: Because we want to see X-wings versus TIE fighters, but a one-line explanation would have been nice.

Why wasn’t Lando in this film? We get every surviving character from the first film, plus Admiral Ackbar and Lando’s copilot from Jedi, so why not him? My prediction is that he’ll turn up in the second film because he turned up in the second film of the Orige-Trige as well. And is Wedge here? Probably he’s in one of the Rebel Base scenes, and I just didn’t notice him.

It was a sin to put Max Von Sydow in this movie, and then kill him off after three minutes of screen time. Seriously: What’s that all about?

Death Star 3 – “Starkiller” – seems to have a serious design flaw in that it eats a star to shoot. Since it’s a planet and not a space ship or space station, it can’t move to a new star. So they spent twenty years building a weapon that only has one or two shots, and then is useless?

Soooooo…Luke is Yoda now? That seems to be what they were setting it up as for the next film.

I was disappointed by the music as well. The original Star Wars music is honestly one of the high points of post-WW2 American cinema. It is just a fracking awesome score. Three awesome scores, really, all in the leitmotiff style, with lots of character and action themes, all overlapping and interplaying off of each other nicely. The Prequels weren’t as good. There was a deliberate choice to make the music less “bright” than in the orige-trige. As they’re all about the corruption of Anikin and the fall of civilization, that makes sense, and probably would have workd better if the movies hadn’t been seven-and-a-half hours of suckitude. However at least they had the “Duel of the Fates” theme, and that was pretty awesome.

In this film, it’s just not terribly inspired. We get the main theme, of course, and a slightly different arrangement of it over the closing credits, but apart from a few bars of the Imperial Death March, we don’t get any of the old stuff. No Lea’s theme, no Lea-and-Han theme, no Luke’s theme, not even some kind of ‘Duel of the Fates’ variation (Which would have been appropriate in a couple scenes). Instead the new film features…nothing. There’s no noteworthy personal themes, no cool imposing First Order theme to rival the “Dah-dah-dah” of the Empire. While it is still in the leitmotiff style, we have a bunch of non-entity musical pieces bouncing off of each other, and it doesn’t really do anything. We barely notice it.

Look, I know the current theory is that movie music isn’t supposed to draw attention to itself, but, pardon my French: Fuck that noise. This isn’t a cinematic adaptation of Barteleby The Scrivener here. This isn’t “Marie Curie Dies Of Cancer In The Name Of Science.” This isn’t freakin’ “Paris, Texas” where you can get away with Ry Cooder just noodling away on his guitar without accompanyment for two hours. This is Star Wars, dammit! The entire thing exists to be over-the-top and bombastic and awe-inspiring! This isn’t a tortured psychodrama, this is Flash Gordon! This is Buck Rogers! I’ll say it again: This is Star Wars! Go big, Mr. Williams, or just don’t bother coming out of retirement to do the next one.

That probably sounds disrespectful. It’s not really intended that way. He’s victim to the strictures of the times, and he’s also like 106 years old, so, you know, he might just have run out of music before he ran out of life, but this has always been one of the things I’ve looked forward to, and this is the first time he’s really disappointed me.

Finally we come to my biggest beef: This is not a very clean narrative. In storytelling terms it’s a bit of a jumble. Let me explain that:

In Star Wars, we start in the middle of the action, then spent a half hour following the droids around before we meet hero, we don’t get off the planet until the one hour mark, the third half hour is all about escaping from the death star, and the final half hour is the battle to destroy it. Very clean, very straightforward.

In Empire, we start off in the middle of the action, and Luke gets separated. He meets Yoda and trains, while Han and company do a very bad job of fleeing. They meet up at the end, and the good guys lose. It’s a more ambitious narrative, but it’s still a very clean one: together at the start, separate, contrasting adventures in the middle, meet up at the end. We meet a couple new friends along the way, expanding the cast, Han becomes a hero in his own right, and (Most impressively) structurally it’s basically a movie in reverse. Best of the bunch.

Then you get Jedi: it’s kind of a mess. We get 30 minutes of Raiders of the Lost Ark, followed by an unrelated, uninspired 90-minute remake of the first film where the movie ping-pongs between trivial, time-wasting shenanegins on Endor, and Luke’s audience with the Emperor. (The latter being the only part of the film that really works.) We have a big naval battle at the end which is pretty cool. The we’ve got the clumsily-shoehorned “Let’s kill Yoda for no damn reason” and “Luke and Lea are siblings, no, seriously, no foolin’!” thing, all because Lucas didn’t have another single damn idea in his head, and was exhausted, and just wanted done with the whole series.

The prequels were just a huge jumble. I won’t even attempt to boil any of them down. I’ll just say that there’s lot of running around back and forth for no real good reason, and none of it makes any sense.

This movie, sadly, follows the tradition of having a lot of running around to no great purpose. Desert planet to lush planet to Rebel Base Planet (Which looks mostly the same as Lush planet) to Death Star Planet, to Luke’s Planet Scotland, with some other crap on the side. We don’t need a travelog. We need a more focused story. Again: I seldom suggest changes, but why is there even a rebel base planet? Why isn’t Lea based out of Coruscant? That certainly would have more impact when it’s destroyed later on.

It’s also a little unclear who the hero is. The Orige-Trige is Luke’s story. All the other characters support him. I’m not really sure who the main character of the prequels is (Which is one of its many, many failings). In this one, I’m not sure. Is it Ray? Is it Fin? Is it Han?

I was ten when I saw Star Wars with my dad for the first time. Both of us were blown away. We went to Steak and Shake for lunch afterwards and talked endlessly about the film, and that conversation was the first time I ever heard the word “Sequel.” It was a great memory.

So now I’m 48 and I saw this one with my kid. We went to Steak and Shake for lunch afterwards, and, well, we really didn’t have much to talk about.

The End

MOVIE REVIEW: “Enemy Mine” (1985)

I saw this movie with my friend Scott Mead at a $1.50 triple feature about a year after it came out. (Really!) I’ve probably picked it up once or twice on cable since then, but not in more than 25 years. I thought it was really bland and boring, though it had one or two scenes that did jump out at me. On a lark, I decided to give it a shot, and lo and behold, I actualy kind of like it now.


In the 2080s humanity is at war with an alien species called the ‘Drac.’ Willis Davidge (Dennis Quaid) is a hotshot fighter pilot who gets shot down on an uninhabited, hostile world. Quickly he meets up with Jeriba, a hotshot Drac fighter pilot who’s also shot down. Initially at each other’s throats, they quickly realize that their only chance to survive is to work together, and over the course of a year or two on the planet the two become friends (Though neither really wants to admit it). Davidge learns to speak Drac, “Jerry,” learns to speak English. Their adventures are not particularly adventurous.

Eventually Davidge discovers human scavengers are mining a location a few days walk away, and are using Drac as slave labor. Though he could likely sign on with them and escape, Davidge chooses to protect his friend. He heads back to their camp and tells him he found nothing. Jerry, meanwhile, has become spontaneously pregnant (later. We’ll talk about it later. Wait for the observations!). Something goes wrong, and Jerry dies in childbirth, leaving Davidge to raise the baby.

Drac grow fast, so Zamis – the child – goes from baby to something about the level of an eight year old in about a year or so. Learning that there are scavengers on the planet, and wanting to see others of his own kind, Zamis heads off, and is promptly captured and enslaved. Davidge tries to rescue him, is shot and left for dead.

Davidge is discovered and rescued by his own ship. As soon as he’s patched up, he steals a fighter, flies back to the planet, rescues Zamis, and then we flash forward several years to when Davidge fulfils a promise to Jerry by helping the kid be Bar Mitzvahed.

The End


Despite its lordly $30 budget – which was huge by the standards of the day (Wrath of Khan cost $10 million, Empire Strikes Back cost $20 million) – this is a cheap looking movie. The sets are expansive, but bland and flimsy. The costumes are meh. The special effects would be pretty dowdy in a movie made in 1970. The Maurice Jarre soundtrack is…a soundtrack. With the exception of the football scene, it’s pretty uninspired. Most of this, I think, is due to it being a German production with an American cast. It’s a comparatively small country, and there just wasn’t much of a talent pool to make this glitzy and slick. It’s not that they’re incapable, it’s just that there’s probably more movie industry folks living and working in the city of Miami than there are in all Germany. That shows here.

The story is kind of timeless, and had this film been made in 1985 or 1965, it wouldn’t really have been any different, apart from the alien makeup not being as good. It’s a fairly low-key story. There’s only one dogfight, which is incompetently filmed (Seriously: They did it better on Battlestar Galactica seven years earlier for an insignificant fraction of the budget!), and that’s at the beginning. The rest of the film is essentially a character drama, and then there’s a mediocre fight sequence/set piece at the end. Basically, it’s not an actioner. It’s actually kind of a sweet little film, and that’s just not what audiences then – or now – are really looking for.

Still, you know what? It’s actually a pretty good movie. No, not ‘good.’ It’s ‘Nice.’

Quaid is a mediocre actor most of the time, and he’s mediocre here up until he gets shot down. From then on he gives a surprisingly solid performance as a basically decent guy who hates the alien he’s working with until his basic decency finally erodes his anger and racial prejudice. This is not an allegory for racism, by the way: his character has every reason to hate the Drac and the Drac have very valid reasons to hate humans. The fact that Davidge is, perhaps, not exceptionally smart is a nice touch, too, and prettyboy Quaid commits to the role, progressively getting more raggedy and bearded and longhaired and hermit-like as the story goes on. I also find it strangely engaging when he occasionally lapses in to his native Texan accent now and again.

His scenes of continued annoyance that Jerry is learning English faster than he’s learning Drac are pretty funny, as is his low-key condescension (“Hey, how about we open up a restaurant? I could ruin the food and you could scare the customers”). His fear of Jerry getting killed by the Scavengers is reserved, but obvious. His panic about Jerry possibly dying is appropriately fearful (“I’ll be alone here!”) The sequence where Jerry dies is genuinely moving. The scenes of him playing with the young Zamis are great – particularly the football scene – and the one where he has to explain to the kid why he looks nothing like him is similarly good. The bit where he’s learning to read the Drac bible (it’s the only book on the planet, and he’s bored) raised the hair on the back of my neck.

He reads a passage out loud, which sounds pretty much like something Jesus would say.

“I’ve heard this before, in the human scripture.”
“Of course. Truth is truth.”

Louis Gossett, Jr, really is a pretty great actor even if he has no clue how to choose a commercial film. Burried in about 20 pounds of latex, he is completely awesome as Jerry. He gets a lot of emotion out of a not-very-expressive face, and his twitch, reptilian manerisms are well done. Though we grow to accept him over the course of the film, he’s suitably creepy in the early scenes. He’s more laid back, and definitely smarter than Davidge. It’s unclear why he doesn’t kill the human when he has the chance early on, but I suspect it’s because he wants to use him as a slave. (Davidge is forced to do all the grunt work in the first act of the movie) His weird alien laughter is funny, as is him learning English profanities-first. His spasmodic not-at-all-human crying (No tears, convulsng head, weird body language) when he’s abandoned is not only believably alien, it’s also genuinely moving.

To quote Dr. Kyle, “As aliens go, this one is pretty alien.” The Drac are hermaphrodites. They are reptiles. They reproduce by parthenogenesis, and have no control over when it happens. They’ve got a seemingly-vestigial tail. They’ve got no nose, and twitchy little organs of some kind by the mouth. They tend to not move at all until something happens and then their reactions are too fast. Their language is guttural and involves lots of croaking and clicks. They only have three fingers, and it looks like six teeth. No nose. Tympanums for ears. They’re very well realized for a movie of this era.

One thing I really liked is the steadfast devotion to the nonsense alien language. The two characters can not understand each other at all at the start of the film. Now, in most movies we’d find a translator machine, or the alien would just coincidentally speak English for some reason. In this movie, however, we’re in the second act before they can really converse. It sounds tedious, and it might actually be (in 1986 I certainly thought it was) but this time out I liked it.

There is no mention in the film of what happened with the Drac war. Is it over? Is it going on? How did it end? Who won? Oddly, though the movie is (infrequently) narrated by Quaid, they abruptly switch to another narrator for the last 90 seconds.


This movie had a troubled production. About 45 minutes was filmed before the original director was fired, and they started over again with Wolfgang Petersen. None of that footage is in the film. In fact no one – not even Dennis Quaid – has ever seen it. You won’t see it here, either: The extras on this disc are limited to three – count ’em three – behind the scenes stills.

Once the film was done, the studio realized they had a bomb on their hands, and chopped about 22 minutes in order to cut their losses. (Shorter films = more showings per day = more money) This, too, has never been seen by anyone since Petersen turned in his director’s cut. Again, I’d love to see it; again I never will.

In the original novella by Barry Longyear (Which I’ve never read) I’m told that while Davidge was on the planet the war ended. He went back to earth and got a job translating old westerns into Drac. Then something happens with Zamis, and he’s off to rescue the kid. Now, obviously this movie never had anything like that in it, however something on that order could fit nicely in between the time Davvidge is rescued, and the time he goes AWOL.

In the film he’s rescued by his ship and leaves his ship two or three scenes later. I’m assuming that most of the stuff that got cut was from the ship, as his exit seems very abrupt. Add to this that the ship sets are pretty huge and get about five minutes of screen time. Clearly something substantial was chopped here, and explained away with a very forced voiceover. I think there was some denouement chopped from the point between when Zamis is rescued, and the Alien Bar Mitzvah scene, given that the time is glossed over by narration, and it’s a different narrator than they used in the rest of the film. Clearly something forced in post, when Quaid was no longer readily at hand.

This is not a great film, but it’s an unexpected success just the same. If you get a chance to watch it, do.

MOVIE REVIEW: “Space Station 76” (2014)

It’s a good thing I like set design, or I wouldn’t have been able to stay awake. Ok, that’s not entirely fair. I’m being glib. The movie wasn’t that dull, but it’s the kind of film that, were I to give a synopsis, would feel like less happens than actually does.

The basic concept grabbed me: It’s an obvious parody of those early ’70s mid-budget SF films like Silent Running and whatnot, as well as TV series from the same period. Well, “Parody” is what the trailer led me to believe. In actual fact, it’s more like an homage. Parody is supposed to be funny. This film, while it is a comedy, is on a simmer so low that the differences between it and ‘drama’ are largely notional. There are a few noteworthy funny scenes, such as where Misty confesses her love for her Robot Psychiatrist. He protests. She turns him off, then cuddles him and continues to talk to him. It makes absolutely no difference in their sessions.

The plot is where it lost me, though. It’s basically one of those suburban malaise flicks, also from the early ’70s, where everyone is disaffected and screwing each other’s wives and neglecting their kids. This, for no reason whatsoever, is set in space. Again, it’s more homage than parody, and apart from gay Captain Glenn’s repeated suicide attempts, it’s mostly laugh-free.

But ok: two unrelated genres from the same general time period mashed up. I’m cool with that. It’s got potential. It sort of doesn’t work, but points for trying.

I’ll try to make this as non-dull as possible: The Space Station is essentially a truck stop. People pull in to refuel and get a shower. Liv Tyler arrives as the new executive officer. The position was vacated when gay Captain Glenn and the previous exec had a bad breakup. Glenn is closeted, and evidently somewhat in denial as well. Oh, and he’s a drunk. And suicidal, probably from a combination of both the breakup and the denial. Liv quickly befriends Sunshine (Age 7) the only child on the station, and immediately runs afoul of her shitty mom, Misty. Misty is completely self-absorbed and manipulative. Her husband, Neil from White Collar, is a blue collar schlub who works in maintenance all day, and is the only one who ever seems to have something to do. Oh, and he’s got a robot hand wich I swear is a Nintendo NES glove. Live and Neil develop a chaste crush on each other, while Misty and Steve (The neighbor) have sex a lot. She won’t let Neil touch her, though. Steve’s wife, Donna, is Misty’s best friend, and you see where all this is going, right?

It culminates at the Christmas party, where an asteroid narrowly misses the station, but destroys a shuttle packed full of Steve and Donna’s stuff. (They were going to move in the morning) Nothing is really resolved, though it’s implied that Liv and Neil are going to get together.

Damn. It really DID seem like even less than happens onscreen, and let me tell ya, brother: nothing much happens onscreen.

Liv is her pretty, reseved self. Matt Bomer is, as always, effortlessly charming, and he played a blue collar joe better than I would have expected (I’m used to him playing spies and art thieves and what have you). Marissa Coughlin plays Misty as, basically, Katherine Heigl. I say this because I thought she was Katherine Heigl until the closing credits, and that’s sort of the go-to choice on unlikeability these days, isn’t it? Kier Dullea literally phones in his cameo. But wait, he’s credited, so it’s not really a cameo, is it? Just there to pad out the names on the marquis.

Patrick Wilson is pretty great as gay Captain Glenn, and he seems to be the only one who got the memo about this being a comedy. He jumps between pointless anger, questionable competence, worldweary depression, and extreme frustration when his suicide attempts fail.

I’ll recount them because they’re the best part of the movie, and who am I kidding? No one’s actually reading my review, much less gonna watch this flick.

1) He attempts to electrocute himself in a bathtub. The station computer immediately spots the power surge and reroutes the energy elsewhere so he doesn’t even get a twitch.

2) He attempts to asphyxiate himself, but the station computer immediately spots the problem and vents all the bad air out of the room.

3) Wow. I’ve already forgotten the third one. It was pretty funny, though. Well, I guess not that funny if I’ve blanked on it in less than an hour, but you get my point.

The best part of this movie, as I said above, is the set design. Space Station 76 is Moonbase Alpha. Same backlit walls, same color scheme, same colored light scheme, same window designs, personal quarters are the same, with the same mod furniture and bric-a-brac. The few space ships we see in the film are essentially hommages of ships from other shows. The shuttle that gets destroyed at the end is essentially the Alien’s modular shuttle from “V.” The ship that Liv arrives on is essentiall the Starfire from “Jason of Star Command.” There’s some geodesic dome garden scenes that are obviously an homage to the Valley Forge.

There’s some nudity and two scenes of fake masturbation, and flagrant use of Tod Rungren on the soundtrack. Any or all of those may offend some viewers. Also it annoyed the crap out of me that the script didn’t seem to understand the difference between a space station and a space ship.

Bottom line: it’s just pointless and dull, but not actually bad. Just ‘why bother?’ I can’t recommend it lowly enough.

MOVIE REVIEW: “Orson Welles’ Don Quixote” (1992)

Orson Welles’ Don Quixote

This is a damn-near unwatchable movie. On my first viewing, I immediately fell asleep. On my second attempt, I immediately fell asleep. I awoke, ate a taco, and tried again, assuming I was all slept out by that point.  I made it through that time, but I admit I had to fast-forward through vast tracts of this thing.  I had kind of the same problem with “It’s All True,” and that was only 30 minutes long, but this, this, hoo boy,  this is a two-hour turd.
 It’s hard for me to say that, since I’m a huge fan of Orson Welles, but at the same time this is really not an Orson Welles film.
I should explain. the explanation is actually more interesting than the film itself:
Back in 1955 CBS or ABC or whomever approached Welles about doing a half-hour TV show. He jumped at the chance. He pitched an evidently off-the-cuff idea about Don Quixote somehow traveling through time and ending up in modern-day Mexico. The network loved the idea, and shot a few scenes on location, but then, being an Orson Welles project, it fell apart. The network abandoned it, and that was that.
Welles re-tooled the idea, and decided to do a retelling of Don Quixote set in modern-day (late 1950s) Spain. There was no time travel involved. Quixote was simply a modern-day Spaniard who went nuts reading stories about the knights of old, decides he is a knight, enlists the aid of a local moron, and goes around having comedic adventures generally culminating with him getting the shit kicked out of him. But then, being an Orson Welles project, it fell apart.
The concept may sound silly, but it’s actually very clever. See, the hook about the novel, which we tend to miss nowadays as the novel is so damn old, is that knights and chivalry and all that stuff had already gone extinct by Quixote’s own time. The old man was crazy. Welles wanted to emphasize this by basically telling the identical story in present day. Pretty clever, right? If Orson wiped his nose on his sleeve, the stain would be more creative than anything I could ever come up with in my whole life. The problem was, of course, that he wasn’t a closer, and, as I said, being an Orson Welles project, it fell apart.
In Spain he filmed most of the movie around 1957. He does not appear to have had a finished script, and made up a lot of stuff on the fly. He did not feel the need to do a directly literal representation of the story because we all know the story, and much of it is cliche. For instance, his film lacked a “Tilting at Windmills” sequence. Its analog had the Don going to a movie, and being confused by the epic battle onscreen. Confused, he jumps up on the stage and starts fighting back, hacking the screen to bits, terrifying the audience, who go stampeding out, while the kids in the audience cheer.
The actor playing Quixote was clearly not healthy, so he asked Orson if he could please film all his scenes in a block. Obligingly Orson did so. The script thing didn’t matter too much as Orson generally worked without sound in the second half of his career, dubbing most of the dialog after the fact. This allowed him to change his semi-nonexistent script whenever the whim struck him.  (For an example of how well this works, check out “The Trial” starring Anthony Perkins sometime)  Then, being an Orson Welles project, it fell apart.
The actor playing Quixote died.
Rather than recast or reshoot, it appears to have become a puzzle for Welles. How to complete the film? He had all of Quixote’s scenes, or near enough as to make no difference, so he appears to have expanded Sancho’s role, rewriting around stuff he had in the can. It’s like Ed Wood writing “Plan 9 from Outer Space” around the two or three minutes of Bella Lugosi he had in the can, only on a massive (And presumably competent) scale.  It stopped being a normal film, per se, and became what Orson called “something like a novel, done for my own amusement, and to be taken out and worked on in my own good time. And when it is done, I will call it ‘When are you going to finish Don Quixote?'”  He shot more scenes in Spain, a few some years later in Italy, possibly some more in the ’70s, and he continued to tinker with the thing up until he died in 1985 when, being an Orson Welles project, it fell apart.
What was the plot? Well, basically an elderly lunatic and his pet village idiot get the shit kicked out of them repeatedly for acting anachronously. What was the point? Dunno, but clearly there was one. In one iteration, the story ended with Sancho and the Don going to the moon. “Then we actually went to the moon, and that ruined things for me.” At another point it ended with them blowing up in an atomic explosion.  What was his vision in 1975 or 1981? No clue, but probably quite a bit diferent.
If I had to guess – which of course I do – I’m going to assume the point of it all was a study of people’s willingness to go along with violent insanity, which was kind of a major theme in the middle half of the 20th century for very obvious reasons. Not a message – Welles hated making ‘statements’ in films – but more an exploration of how far someone will go to ignore the madness of another.
You know, or not. It’s not like he told me.
In fact, it’s not like he told anyone. He made offhand comments like the ones I quoted above, but they changed quite a bit over the years after rewrites and re-rewrites and more shoots and a couple bottles of wine and a year off to try to find financing for some unrelated project or another that inevitably fell apart because, it being an Orson Welles project, it falls apart.
Given that people kept taking his movies away from him and editing them without his say (The Magnificent Ambersons, A Touch of Evil, Mr. Arkadin and….ah, go look it up yourself. The list goes on and on), he deliberately mislabeled film cans, and misnumbered the reels and stashed them in his houses and with friends all over the world. When he died, he was the only one who knew where they were, and what sequence the stuff was supposed to go in.
His long-term girlfriend/muse, Oja Kodar (Not her real name. He just made it up one day when filming The Trial) decided to try to assemble the film. Using her own stash of footage, and what she could scour from storage units and boxes in the basement,  she combined this with other footage other people had in a noble (And possibly cash-grabbing) attempt to finish “When are you going to finish Don Quixote.”
Problem #1 – the footage was shot at random times in 35mm, 16mm, and possibly 8mm. Whatever Orson had handy at the time. Hence wildly inconsistent picture quality
Problem #2 – nobody knew the damn story.
Problem #3 – one of the guys who Orson entrusted some of the film to refused to let Oja have it. Specifically, he had the batch involving the movie theater sequence I told you about above.
They set about trying to polish a turd anyway, and here begins the actual movie review portion of this movie review. It’s also where it stops being interesting.
There is exactly one good scene in this: Don Quixote is riding along and sees a woman on a Vespa (It’s actually Orson’s then-wife). He goes batshit and attacks it, while Sancho keeps trying to explain what it is, and the woman fights him off.  “Say, this isn’t so bad,” I though.
nope. Nope, nope, it’s terrible. virtually unwatchable. Definitely unwatchable at normal speed. It is so bad that everyone who’s seen it who knew Orson has said that it is *not* his movie.
You want proof? Ok: there’s a Tilting At Windmills sequence.
Yeah, that’s right. Since they couldn’t use the Movie Theater sequence, they went ahead and put in the only sequence Orson specifically said he didn’t want in his movie. It’s worse yet: they actually sent out a second unit to get footage of windmills, dubbed some dialog about them turning in to giants, did a cheesy CGI-manipulated image of a windmill growing and starting to change shape, threw in some cheezy stills.  Ugh. It’s just terrible.
Gross Gott im himmel, this is just an awful film. How does it fail? Let me count the ways:
1) Picture quality is just all over the place, owing to the random film stock used. Much of it appears somewhat degraded.
2) The dubbing his hilariously bad. Some of it was done by Orson himself (As I said, he tended to work silent), but most is done by random talentless goofuses who often don’t even come close to synching up with the lips. It’s actually worse when Orson shows up voicing Sancho for a scene or two, because, well, partially it’s awful because Sancho randomly changes voices, but it’s also terrible because a few moments of good dubbing only serve as seasoning to point out the flavor of the bad dubbing.  The same is true of the somewhat random and intrusive narration.
3) The film is too freakin’ long by half. I’m not exaggerating. You probably could have made an interesting – but not really *good* – hour long film out of the available material. Padding it up to 90 minutes might be acceptable, but Good Lord, two hours? Two Hours?
They used EVERY SCRAP of second unit footage they had to pad this misbegotten bastard out. There are endless long shots of horses and riders moving slowly along the horizon, with voiceover dialog. There’s a sequence of Quixote attacking some creepy Catholic ceremony involving priests or whatever that look like KKK members at a rally. It sets up forever, and then pays off instantly and embarasingly like a 16 year old on prom night. There is a sequence that goes on for more than ten minutes in which Sancho wanders around a festival, attempting to ask where he can find a TV.
Everyone here who thinks Orson intended between ten and fifteen minutes of his movie to be about a halfwit trying to find a TV, raise their hands.
No? I didn’t think so.  Obviously it was intended for a montage or something. But they whole megila is in here. As such
4) it is really, really boring. It took me three tries to stay awake.
5) There’s no real soundtrack beyond the badly dubbed dialog. No music, little foley or sound effects. It sounds antiseptic.
6) In order to connect scenes that weren’t intended to go together, much of the dialog was obviously made up by whomever assembled this mess, and isn’t authentic to the project.
7) The editing is choppy as hell. It feels like it was done by a first year communications major, or a Public Access TV tech who’s on his first solo flying the editing board. Having been both a first year communications major AND the director of a Public Access show, I know what I’m talking about there. It sucks. If it’s Orson Welles, but it looks like something I could have chopped together, then it sucks. Remember: I’m a guy who hosted and produced a local TV show where a Barney impersonator slaughtered a child on TV.
Ah, the 90s.
But I digress:
As if all this isn’t bad enough, they STILL don’t have enough material. Thus they created a film-within-a-film subplot in which Orson Welles himself turns up, making a movie about Don Quixote. This is composed entirely of archive footage of Orson from various different periods in his life (Seriously: His girth changes massively between shots), but it comes to nothing. And it makes no logical sense.  And one of the things we know for a fact is that Orson had no intention of appearing in this film. They may as well have shot a short feature about Battlestar Galactica and crammed it in the second act, and it would hve fit just about as well.
Finally, one of the intriguing things in both versions of the film (The TV script, and the extant footage of the movie) was Dulcinea. In the novel, she’s the town whore, but Quixote is convinced she’s some noble, virtuous lady to whom he owes his heart and gallantry and that kind of hoo-hah. In Welles’ versions she’s a young girl. There’s nothing romantic about it in this version, she’s just a child, and he’s child-like with senility and Sancho is child-like in his idiocy, so they form a sort of heroic and innocent trio. Well, since the movie theater sequence was cut, Oja (or whomever) decided to cut every single scene involving the girl. Hence one of the major characters is gone, and in her place we have the Don going on about his love for a character we never see, and Sancho repeatedly implying that she’s the town whore.
The script *appears* to be mostly from the “Go to the moon” phase. I base that on the moon turning up in dialog a lot, and Sancho buying a telescope at one point. The final line of dialog is Quixote saying “There’s nothing wrong with technology, just with people allowing themselves to be governed by it.”  Where did that come from? Then the movie abruptly stops, we get some more random second unit footage, the narrator tells us that Orson’s ashes were scattered over Spain, and, being an Orson Welles project, it fell apart.
The end.


(Partial) Movie Review: “Mad Max: Fury Road”

Mad Max: Fury Road. Owing to circumstances I’d rather not go into, I only got to see about 1/3rd of the movie and then I had to leave. I was never in a position where I could just sort of relax and let the movie I’ve been waiting for for 15 years absorb me. Hopefully I’ll be able to see the full thing while it’s still in theaters, but I kinda doubt it.

My review of what I saw, spoiler-free as possible (Meaning I’m not revealing anything important, or that wasn’t in the commercials, and I honestly don’t know how it ends)

* Max narrating his own backstory in the beginning is a mistake. His lines are goofy, and he’s a better character when he’s inscrutable.

* Max does not make a good showing for himself in what I saw of the movie. He rolls his car in a chase not 5 minutes in, is taken prisoner, and basically does nothing of note for the first 45 minutes. They do haul him around for a good reason.

* this time out, the bad guys are a sort of motorhead norse pagan religious cult run by a guy named “Immortal Joe.” They’ve got a huge enclave of maybe 30,000 people in the desert, and at least two other towns or outposts. Joe, and his warriors, all appear to have varying degrees of radiation sickness.

* There’s no particular shortage of gas or bullets, as compared to “The Road Warrior”

* The main character is Furiosa, at least in the part I saw.

* The chase scenes – what I could see of them – were pretty impressive.

* There is more CGI in the film than I was led to believe. It’s not gratuitous, but it is a little obvious.

My first impression was that it lacked the sleek narrative cleanliness of The Road Warrior, which is still the best postapocalyptic movie ever made. The story is more involved than just gay bikers vs. hippie refinery townsfolk. The cult idea is super-neat, and Immortal Joe’s armada made me hoot with glee at its over-the-top nature, but on the whole the scale of the movie is too big and it felt cartoonish to me.

I mean, the world didn’t fall apart long ago. Less than 5 years, but they’ve had time to carve this huge sculpture into a sheer cliff face and build a fortress/palace behind it? And the facemasks and Furiosa’s apparently-working cybernetic arm? And the apparently-well-developed religious establishment? Some of it is just plain goofy. It’s also just too BIG compared with what we see in The Road Warrior, and the implicit impression that this is the first time Max’s seen any kind of organized stuff since the world ended. Compared to this, though, the whole refinery deal is small potatoes

So when does this take place? Well, I think the official continuity is “Don’t worry about it,” but internal clues put it between “Mad Max” and “The Road Warrior.” Why? Max still has his V8 interceptor (Which he rolls, but we do see a quick shot of it being rebuilt), Max is still crazy (He wasn’t anymore after The Road Warrior), He doesn’t have his dog yet, and, uhm, yeah, I guess that’s about it, really. There’s about 5 years between Mad Max and Mad Max 2 (About 2 years IRL), so I’d say this takes place maybe in the middle of that period, or a bit before. Call it “Mat Max 1.5”

Interesting note:

Miller always insisted that whatever destroyed the world was *NOT* a Nuclear War, because “If there was a nuclear war, no one would survive at all.” He maintained this even in the third movie, despite mentions of “Hard rain,” and someone trying to sell irradiated water. (Water can not hold a radioactive charge, but whatever.) In *THIS* movie, it’s clearly post-nuclear-war. The bad guys all seem to have radiation sickness, and we get a quick glimpse of the shockwave of a nuclear blast. So WTF?

MOVIE REVIEW: “Journey II: Mysterious Island” (2012)

his is, I think, the first time I’ve ever reviewed a move that’s a sequel to a movie I never saw. I toyed briefly with the idea of watching “Journey to the Center of the Earth” (2008), but then I thought ‘eh, it’s a Brendan Fraser film. If I’m going to waste my time re-watching Brendan Fraser films, I’d much rather watch ‘Blast from the Past.’ Then the impetus was lost. Then I forgot both films – “Center” and this new one – existed. Then I took a nap. Then I thought “Holy crap! I don’t have any new content today! C’mon kids, we’re going to the mall!”

So here we are.

Now, if I appear to be taking this flippantly, it’s deservedly so. This is a “meh” film with a capital “M” – a way-overdue sequel to a movie nobody much cared for in the first place, with only one returning cast member from the previous film. Which is kind of a plus for me, as it means this is a fairly standalone sequel.

Josh Hutcherson (19) plays “Sean.” He went to the center of the earth when he was 15 or so, I guess, and that’s really all I got from the backstory. And there’s some vague shuck about his dad abandoning the family. I’m assuming that means an acrimonious contract negotiation with Brendan Fraser, but, hey, I didn’t see the previous movie. For all I know he got eaten by a giant clam or something.

Anyway, he’s a troubled teen – as shown by an entirely gratuitous motorcycle chase – and he’s bailed out by his stepdad, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (39, but honestly looking older). Sean gets an encoded message from his grandfather (Michael Caine [78]), who’s been missing for several years. I have no idea if this is related to the first movie or not.

Anyway, in a genuinely giddy little scene, Sean and The Rock quickly crack the code, compile a map, and figure out the location of “The Mysterious Island.” Faster than you can say “Jumpcut” they’re in Palau, chartering a helicopter owned by Luis Guzman (55) and Vanessa Hudgens (23).

They quickly find and crash on “The Mysterious Island,” roam around a bit, get attacked by a giant iguana, get rescued by a surprisingly geriatric-looking Michael Caine (Still 78), spend the night in his bitchin’ tree fort, and then spend the rest of the movie wandering around through various greenscreened backdrops. This film has a budget, so it’s not a Roger Corman film, but it certainly has Cormanesque levels of “Walking Scenes” in it.

First we’re taken to the lost city of Atlantis, then it turns out the island is sinking quickly, so they decide to head to Nautilus and escape that way. There’s a chase sequence involving flying bees that seems to have come straight out of a “Honey I shrunk the Kids IV: Honey, I Have Indiscriminately Shrunken and/Or Enbigulated Some Of Our Children At Random.” Then, as the film is running kinda’ short, they pad it out with an irrelevant subplot where the dude from House of Buggin’ attempts to steal gold away from an exploding volcano. In between all these bits, Vanessa Huggins stands around looking nonthreateningly chesty and/or bootylicious, as the situation requires.

Then they all escape on the Nautiulus which, disappointingly (1) does not have Jose Ferrer slumming aboard, and (2) works perfectly despite having been submerged for 140 years. Flash forward, Vanessa and Sean are boyfriend and girlfriend and apparently in college back in the ‘States, The Rock and Sean are chums, Guzman is now running a successful underwater charter tour business on the sub.

Michael Caine shows up, pulls out a copy of “From the Earth to the Moon” and suggests they all go there in the third sequel.

The End


This is a pretty “meh” film as I’ve said. My own interest in it – which evaporated quickly – was based on the fact that “Mysterious Island” (The book) is a sequel to “20,000 Leagues Under The Sea,” and not in any way related to “Journey to the Center of the Earth.” So I was kind of fascinated by the idea of a sequel that involved the Nautilus bu…eh, you know what? Nevermind. None of that matters.

The concept is that Jules Verne’s stories were all true, at least partially, so these movies are sequels to his novels. Is if fan fic when the source material is public domain? I dunno. Anyway: not a horrible conceit. You could do worse. You could certainly do better, though. This was a pretty tepid and uninspired outing.

Intriguingly, in the one genuinely interesting scene in the movie, our heroes discover that Robert Louis Stephenson’s “Treasure Island,” and Johnathan Swift’s “Liliput” and Verne’s “Mysterious Island” were all the same place, as related by different authors. This is a neat idea and a great hook which, alas, they drop almost instantly with no real payoff.

Acting: I like “The Rock.” He’s phoning it in here, though. And he really is starting to age. Michael Caine is phoning it in as well. On average, if you took Nickelodeon-level Teen Nick acting, and subtracted Disney Channel Teen Sitcom acting, you’d end up with a difference we’ll call “Keanu” for no particular reason. Now, if you were to take average Teen-Nick level sitcom acting and *add* one Keanu to it, you’d have the level of acting on this film. It’s, on the whole, acceptable, and ever-so-slightly better than an episode of Victorious, but it’s not really ‘feature’ level. Better than “Hotel for Dogs,” but then that’s Teen Disney Minus-One-Keanu. Luis Guzman is the comedy relief, playing it in a kind of infantile style that’s instantly irritating.

The 3D is meh. One of my kids complained that we don’t really get to explore any of the neat locations we see. Atlantis, for instance, is pretty cool for the 3 or 4 minutes it’s onscreen. The whole story is both padded out and rushed at the same time. It’s good matinee fodder for 10 year olds, and there’s not a bad word in it, but it’s pretty bland.

I guess my biggest disappointment is the generally low cool-factor here. I mean, seriously, you’ve got a Jules Verne story *and* this whole “Secret History” thing going on, and you cant’ make that fun? What’s wrong with you? Sheesh!


1) They seem to hope that kids will actually read Verne’s books after seeing the movies. This is a nice idea.
2) Kudos for pointing out that Nemo was Indian (From India), which is not commonly known (ANd in fact, was only introduced in the second book. Originally hew as Polish.)
3) 20,000 Leagues and Mysterious Island (Books) both have Atlantis in the Atlantic Ocean, as does Plato. In this book, it’s in Polynesia. Likewise, the Mysterious Island itself was in the Atlantic, but here it’s in Polynesia as well. No explanation given.
4) The design of the Nautilus here was really disappointing. It wasn’t reminiscent of the books, nor any movie version, nor was it particularly steam punky, nor submariney at all. Just kinda’ bland, but with some brass and wrought iron. Also: The Nautilus didn’t have electric lights or Torpedoes.
5) Islands don’t sink and raise like clockwork. Certainly not on a 140-year cycle like they say here.
6) Seriously: what’s a Greek city doing in Polynesia?
7) Island Dwarfism and Island Gigantism make an appearance here, which is cool, but they completely misunderstand and misrepresent the phenomenon, which is less cool.
8) Assuming the island is sinking every 140 years, and then coming back up 140 years later, why does it have elephants on it? Where do they go when it’s under water? Big cave? Tread water? What?
9) Island Dwarfism/Gigantism doesn’t affect sea creatures since they’re not *on* an island.
10) If Atlantis has survived a few thousand dunkings prior to this one, why did the city get wrecked this time out, but not before?


Once upon a time I was a groomsman in a wedding party I didn’t want to be involved with in the first place, because I really didn’t like the bossy woman my friend was marrying. The bride then talked the groom into talking me into going on a date with one of the bridesmaids, whom I’d never met, and wasn’t terribly interested in by reputation (“Oh, you‘ll love her! She‘s so smart and funny, just like you! And she likes weird music, like you do and she‘s short, just like you like ‘em.” “When have you *Ever* known me to go out with a short chick?” “Oh, yeah, well…and…uhm…she‘s funny!”) I met her and found her to be almost-passably attractive, but with a big ass and she insisted on wearing sweatpants out to dinner, and there was something weird going on with her hair, and she was just kind of bitchy all night long because she didn’t want to be there, either. It goes without saying that she was not funny at all. Not even remotely. In fact, it was almost as if she was a visitor from a strange planet where humor wasn’t even a *concept.* Then, at the end of the night, I lied about having a nice time and tried to give her the old handshake because I *Really* didn’t like her by this point, and I certainly didn’t want my lips anywhere near her. She just sneered at me and walked off, without even so much as a nice, snarky “Well at least the food was good,” she went grunting off into the night.

This movie is a whole lot like that.

There’s a sense of the tedium that comes only from social obligation. There’s a kind of eye-rolling ennui at work here that can only properly be expressed in terms of interminable bad dates, endless discussions of art history spewing from the mouths of pretentious-yet-cute undergraduate girls who don’t actually know anything about it, or equally endless discussions of music theory from people who *do.* This is the Dennys-at-3AM of movies, more stupendously boring than a Jim Jarmusch flick, as unblinkingly dead-eyed as “Rumblefish” and “Paris, Texas” combined.

This is not a date movie, rather this is a bad date movie, a bad date that just won’t freakin’ end! You didn’t want to be there in the first place, you know where it’s going – nowhere – you know how it’ll end – badly – and you’ve got that paperwork due on Monday, and you just can’t get this thing to go any faster, and it just keeps dragging on and dragging on and – Oh, good grief, is she calling the desert cart over? – and you’re hoping those raccoons you saw in the parking lot could somehow get in here and attack her. Then it dawns on you: This isn’t just boring, it’s *advanced* boring!

So of course I’ve seen this movie at least eight times.

Premise: First Rocket To The Moon, carrying a crew of five, including one surprisingly attractive woman for a film of this sort. En rout to the moon, they have some technical problems, and black out, only to wake up “Days” later (But completely free of any stubble) in orbit around Mars instead. (Because evidently the Moon and Mars are closer than Lincoln and Omaha) They land, find the remains of a once-advanced civilization which blew itself up in atomic wars (Oooh! Social commentary!), then get attacked by cavemen. (“Foolish humans! Your superior weapons and intellects are no match for my hairy back and my ability to hurl rocks in random directions!”*). The survivors attempt to fly back to earth, but screw up, and the Lloyd Bridges and the surprisingly-attractive chic profess their love to each other and die in a fiery crash.

That’s pretty much it, but goes on for 77 minutes. Now, I know I’ve poked wise at these inexplicably-short movies in the past – the last two have clocked in at around 63 minutes – but I think I repent and recant my earlier comments: I much prefer a movie that bores us in one big horse-pill, than one that ladles out boredom over a much longer period of time. Yeah, I realize an hour and seventeen minutes isn’t really all that much longer than sixty three, but subjectively, man, it’s just way too much. And bear in mind: I’m the guy who *likes* Russian cinema!

I don’t get the need for it, really. I mean. I can’t think of anything they do in this movie that they couldn’t do just as badly in far less time. Oh, and it’s got the guy who played James Garner’s dad from “The Rockford Files” in it.

All this is made vastly more tedious by the nonexistent and ludicrous science in the film, and their laborious need to *explain* everything before they actually did it. Remember: this is 1950, before most audiences even knew what a rocket was. (“Is it some kind of string? I heard it’s string. Is that it?”) These explanations are grueling and long, and yet they still manage to get darn near everything wrong in them.

Avoid! Avoid! Avoid!

If, however, you’re a glutton for punishment, Neorandomizer found me this link, so you can watch it here The entire thing is also on Youtube in the MST3K form here: but even that is darn-near unwatchable, even though it’s the first appearance of TV’s Frank.

*-That’s not actually a quote from the movie. I made it up. I had plenty of time to make stuff up during the movie, because NOTHING HAPPENS!


I was just thinking the other day how I’m kinda’ tired of American B-movie SF. I mean, I enjoy it, don’t get me wrong, but occasionally you just need a little variety, you know? A different perspective? A bracing little bit of spice, just to season my steady diet of Steak and ‘Taters. We’ve done a fair amount of foreign SF films in the past, viewing films from Denmark (… ) The Soviet Union (… and… ) Japan (… ) England (… ) and – Sigh – Italy (… and… ).

I felt the yen for something different, the urge to jump over the fence, and resolved that I’d watch the first foreign SF film I came across, regardless of what it was. And of course the first movie I found was – sight – Italian. Now, I like a good bad movie as much as the next guy – quite a bit more than the next guy, actually, unless ‘the next guy’ happens to be in a mental institution – but, man, Italy. Italy always kicks my butt. Still and all, I thought ‘well, how bad can it be? There’s got to be *Some* good Italian SF film somewhere, right? This could be it.’


There was this movie called “Meteor” in the late 1970s. ‘78 or ‘79, I think. It starred Sean Connery, Natalie Wood, Martin Landau, and Brian Keith. Not a great movie by any stretch of the imagination, kinda’ dumb, basically a disaster flick, mostly forgotten today, apart from being Ms. Wood’s last movie before drowning (And she’s got a near-drowning scene in the movie, disturbingly enough) but if you’ve seen it, you’ll probably recall it as a fun waste-of-time little movie all things considered. Basically a big hunk of rock was plummeting to earth from space, and the US and USSR had to put aside their mistrust to use their weapons of destruction to save the world.

I’m pretty sure they were ripping off this movie.

There are significant differences, of course. First and foremost among them is that while “Meteor” is amiable enough way for a 12-year-old boy to wile away an afternoon, this film just sucks. Seriously. No fun at all. It just sucks. There’s a couple other differences – in Meteor, the rocks is falling to earth as the result of a natural catastrophe, whereas this film posits the same thing as being entirely our fault. Naughty humanity! Wicked! Bad! Have you learned nothing from Prometheus and Frankenstein (The Modern Prometheus)?

The Plot: The US, UK, and USSR have inexplicably put aside their hate and mistrust and have built an international space program, which – even more inexplicably yet – they’ve based in Italy. They’re about to launch the first man into space and thence to the moon, so they select a character who’s dubbed by Shane Rimmer because everyone likes him. He was in The Thunderbirds! And Space Truckers! (… ) So he launches, and then the rocket goes all screwy for inadequately explained reasons, so the astronaut comes back to earth – Italy, actually – but the rocket exits stage left and evidently causes the buckle on the asteroid belt to break – again, it’s inadequately explained – and so a bunch of asteroids are falling towards earth. This is about halfway through the movie. They expect – for the hokiest of reasons – that the moon will take care of the problem, so they sit around doing nothing for the next quarter of the film, apart from preparing for earthquakes, tidal waves, stock footage, and smog which will result from rocks hitting the moon. (Again: Inadequately explained). Of course this doesn’t happen, and many/most of the asteroids are still falling towards earth.

In a surprisingly realistic turn of events, the space agency had pretty much just hoped the problem would go away, and had no backup plan. One of the Russians goes nuts and screams that the rocket was just another missile to destroy things with. The body inhabited by Shane Rimmer realizes they can use nuclear missiles to destroy the asteroids, so the US, USSR, and presumably France and England race to prepare for this. All the calculations are being done in Italy, however. The Russian guy goes goofy again and shuts down the air conditioner that cools the “Calculator” doing the trajectory computations. This causes the thing to stop working (That’s…actually reasonable!) and refuses to turn the AC on again because he’s sure this is the judgment day, and, I dunno, I guess he hopes to give God a hand or something. Again: Inadequately explained.

So then he electrocutes himself like a dope, the missiles launch in a tediously long scene of stock footage – including one completely crazy-looking rocket that I’ve never seen before at 1:16 ito the film – followed by a fairly impressive FX sequence of scores of rockets in space plunging into the asteroid. Despite us having been told repeatedly that there’s thousands of these things heading towards earth, in the end there’s only one.

The End.

Now, it’s a popular conceit among people who dislike crappy SF to believe that the problem with these films is that they focus on the effects and avoid the real human drama. In fact, no one who watches these films would ever say that. In fact, the problem isn’t that these films avoid human emotions, it’s just that human emotions are really, really stupid. Seriously. Half the running time in this flick is dedicated to two completely unconvincing uncompelling love stories about flat, boring, people. Really the problem here is that they avoid the story in favor of some bland people making goo-goo eyes at each other. Dull. “Only Love Pads The Film,” as Joel and the Bots said.

Though I expected bad because this is an Italian film, I was fooled by the first few minutes, which are actually pretty briskly paced. Unfortunately, from there on out, it’s kind of like Xeno’s paradox of the egg – where to get to the ground the egg has to fall halfway there, then it has to fall half the remaining space, then half the space that remains after that, and so on, thus the egg never quite hits the ground, and the movie never ends.

I’d say avoid it, but if you don’t want to, then you can watch it here