About This Blog

A place to find my reviews not featured on epinions.com or horror-asylum.com, as well as opinions and lists on everything from movies to TV to music. It's all about me! Send hate mail to vegie18th@hotmail.com or just leave a comment beneath the posts. Review grading system assumes C+ is somewhere in the vicinity of a Passing grade or minor fail.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Review: Storm Over the Nile

 Anthony Steel is the soldier who resigns just as he and the men are about to go to war in the Sudan, thus earning him the dreaded four feathers indicative of cowardice. His best girl (Mary Ure) and her blustery General father (James Robertson Justice) are among those who turn their backs on him, whilst family friend Geoffrey Keen sympathises with the young man. He spends the rest of the film going the long way about redeeming himself, whilst snooty comrade Laurence Harvey (Steel’s chief accuser), who shares a fondness for Ure, goes blind during the war thanks to overexposure from the sun. Ferdy Mayne is excellent as a doctor, and Christopher Lee plays an imprisoned native.

1955 B-movie version of “The Four Feathers” (though unofficial) by director Zoltan Korda, who had previously filmed the same story (as “The Four Feathers”) back in 1939. Battle footage from that film is inserted here, but it’s not the cheap money-grab it sounds like. In fact, for a B-movie, it’s really quite good. This despite the awfully lacklustre lead performance by Steel and a wan Ure. Laurence Harvey (looking and acting a bit like Christopher Plummer) is much better, and there are superb performances by James Robertson Justice, a young-ish Christopher Lee, and especially Keen and the scene-stealing Mayne.

Worth a look, especially if you like this sort of thing. The screenplay is by R.C. Sherriff, Lajos Biro, and Arthur Wimperis (apparently taken verbatim from their “Four Feathers” script), from the A. E. W. Mason novel The Four Feathers.

Rating: B-

Friday, July 27, 2012

Review: Return to Oz

Dorothy (Fairuza Balk) is still obsessed with Oz, and is having trouble sleeping Aunt Em (Piper Laurie) and Uncle Henry (Matt Clark) take her to the mental asylum run by Dr. Worley (Nicol Williamson) to be treated. Dorothy doesn’t like this cold place, nor Dr. Worley’s scary psychiatric electroshock therapy machinery, and decides to do a runner. She accidentally falls into a river, and the next thing she knows, she’s back in Oz! Unfortunately, the once magical land of Oz has changed since Dorothy was last there. The Yellow Brick Road is no more. Her old friends apparently rounded up and imprisoned or turned to stone. Oz is now a run-down, ruinous place ruled by the Nome King (Williamson again). Dorothy finds herself menaced by the evil witch Mombi (Jean Marsh), and her freakish minions, The Wheelers. On Dorothy’s side are her talking chicken companion Billina, mechanical soldier Tik Tok, Jack Pumpkinhead (who is Mombi’s amiable stepson of-sorts), and The Gump, an animated moose head attached to a sofa that is given the ability to fly. Seriously. Dorothy must find the Nome King’s domain and save her friends, and Oz itself.

I have a history with this film, my earliest cinema-going memory. On original release, I was taken to see it at the cinemas around age 5 or 6, and it scared me right out of the cinema crying. I did the same thing watching “The Goonies”, apparently, but that one has become one of my all-time favourite films. I’m not even sure if I had seen the film again until just recently, at the age of 32. I didn’t scream or cry during my revisit of this 1985 film from director/co-writer Walter Murch (best known as an editor), but I am still convinced that this is The Film That Hates Children. Whether seen as a direct sequel to “The Wizard of Oz” or not (Murch claims not, but he might just be covering his arse), it is a joyless travesty to the “Oz” legacy and as far as I’m concerned, wholly unsuitable for children. I’ve heard that some didn’t have the experience I did, and many who actually did, but even watching this again in my 30s, I can’t for the life of me see how any child could be entertained by this cold, ugly, and thematically troubling film.

Based on the novels The Marvellous Land of Oz and Ozma of Oz by the original author L. Frank Baum, I have no idea whether it is faithful to the texts or not, but I do know that I felt like my childhood had been raped by this film. I was particularly offended by even the smallest hint that Dorothy’s previous adventures in Oz were the result of a psychiatric disorder. The film ultimately doesn’t go down that route, but even bringing it up at all, who the fuck thought that this was appropriate in a children’s film? If this film wasn’t intended for children, then don’t call it Return to Fucking Oz, because with that title, there are certain expectations of wonderment, magic, and childhood fantasies and adventures. This is a childhood nightmare (literally, for me). I think on the one hand it’s interesting to see an Oz gone to ruin and darkness, but on a kiddie level, it sucks. It’s absolutely no fun. I also don’t see why anyone would wait 46 years to give us another “Oz” film and have this be the end result. Forget whether it’s a good children’s film or not for a second, it’s just a poor film of any genre. Is this really the best they could do?

The film starts out ominously when we find out that Dorothy’s Aunt and Uncle are played by Piper Laurie and the perennially nervous-looking Matt Clark. If my primary caregiver was Carrie’s mum, I’d run off to a magical land of midgets and talking tin cans too! Laurie’s actually one of the better things in the film, but you’re still always on edge, waiting for her to start thumpin’ a bible or something. Fairuza Balk, aged 11 at the time (and looks about 8 or 9) hasn’t got a chance here. She’s certainly a million miles away from Judy Freakin’ Garland, not to mention a good 6 years younger than Garland was in 1939. That’s right, Dorothy got younger! So does the Yellow Brick Road have a Fountain of Youth kind of ability? Or is The Wizard just a really good plastic surgeon? A slightly Freudian Nicol Williamson is good as the psychiatrist (and he also plays the Nome King), but it’s with his scenes that I really started to have a problem. That scary-looking electroshock machine was one of the first things to unsettle me back in 85, I’m pretty sure. It looks positively demonic, and what purpose does it serve in a children’s film? Certainly no good purpose. These early passages of the film give off a vibe more akin to doing a psychodrama variant of “Jane Eyre”, totally wrong for anything containing “Oz” in the title (Yes, even the prison series). I’m sorry, but this is as child-friendly as “Flowers in the Attic”. Tonally this film is just too dark too often from the get-go, and it never recovers or offers much respite.

The film has seriously awful animation FX, even by 1985 standards, and it’s no wonder why it hasn’t been shown on TV much over the years. The Claymation rock-faces were much ballyhooed at the time (and earned an Oscar nomination for Will Vinton), but are the worst special FX in the entire film. By comparison, the change from sepia tone to Technicolour in the original is ILM-standard stuff (Fun fact: ILM did work on the film. Not very hard, though, it seems). Once the Wheelers turned up, I must say, dear reader, that the nightmares started flooding back. That electroshock machine stirred up vague recollections in my mind, but the Wheelers are still scary and freakish to me now. The actors playing them give off a Rik Mayall vibe at times, which probably explains why they’re so freaky. The mechanical soldier, Tik Tok, and talking chicken (who sounds like a talking parrot, I might add) are among the more enjoyable things here, but not enough to bring the film out of the bowels of hell. And then I revisited the moment where I, at age 5 or 6, basically lost my shit for real. Mombi, played admittedly effectively by Jean Marsh, is truly the stuff of nightmares. So profoundly a nightmarish effect did she have on me, that I realised this time something rather odd this time: In my mind all these years, I’ve confused my first grade teacher, Mrs. McLachlan, with Mombi. That is to say, because I was in the first grade around this time, and both my awful teacher and Mombi kinda scared me, in the passage of time, I seem to have confused Jean Marsh and Mrs. McLachlan (a total cow who constantly treated me like she didn’t want a physically disabled student in her class) for the same person. I assume I’m wrong and they probably looked nothing alike, but it was pretty interesting to uncover that long-held misconception after all these years. I was a weird and imaginative kid, OK? Anyway, with that slightly relevant side-trip into my bizarre mind out of the way, back to Mombi herself. I’m sorry, but a woman who switches heads is too fucking much for a 5-6 year old. My God, I don’t even know what is scarier, the headless body, or all those heads. Actually I do know, which: The heads. That’s because the precise moment I started crying like a baby is when one of those heads suddenly comes to life. Scary as hell as a kid, let me tell you. And then Mombi threatens to take of Dorothy’s head and use it for her own! That is just completely inappropriate, and frankly, extremely disturbing.

Aside from Tik Tok, there is simply no joy or sense of fun in any of this, for children or adults, for that matter, who will likely be bored out of their minds. Jack Pumpkinhead isn’t any better than Mombi, I’m afraid. Scarecrows scare crows, Pumpkinheads scare children, especially children who watch “Pumpkinhead”. It’s a cool puppet, but somewhat unsettling. Actually, the Scarecrow does turn up in this at one point, and being a puppet this time, it’s the scariest thing you’ll ever see in your entire life. It will haunt you as you sleep.

This is closer to “Pan’s Labyrinth” (a fine film not really aimed at kids) than “The NeverEnding Story” or “Pinocchio”, which were films that had scary parts but a lot of wonderful fantasy, magic, and fun. This film is a nightmare, and a pretty boring one at that. It contains no magic, no beauty, no charm, and no damn fun. It’s not even terribly colourful, aside from the ruby red slippers that the Nome King sports at one point (Is this what led Williamson to drink?). The shithouse ending is far too rushed, not to mention a rip-off of “Star Wars”. Worst of all, The Cowardly Lion is just a standard-issue lion, not even a talking one like Aslan. How do we know he’s cowardly then? He’s also a well below par Jim Henson-like puppet, I might add (And indeed Brian Henson did do the Jack Pumpkinhead design and voice). It’s so bad, you’re only able to see the top of its head. Budget cutbacks? I did read on IMDb that the Cowardly Lion, Scarecrow, and Tin Man were largely written out due to budget cutbacks, but that lion looks terrible. It looks like something that wouldn’t even cut it on “Fraggle Rock”. Beloved dog Toto, meanwhile, is a lucky bastard, only turning up for a cameo and saved the torture of a trip back to Oz. I guess he read the script.

This is awful and nightmarish, and one must assume that it reads better in Baum’s text than it appears on the screen. Some might admire the film in principle for going for a different vibe and that the tone is far more reminiscent of Baum than “The Wizard of Oz” was. However, anyone who actually watches the film surely must agree that it is a black stain on not only Walt Disney but the “Oz” brand, in terms of quality. Don’t mess with a classic folks, just don’t do it. The screenplay is by Gill Dennis (“Riders of the Purple Sage”) and Murch himself, who are clearly two sick puppies.

Rating: D+

Review: Jeopardy

While on vacation with his parents in Mexico, young Lee Aaker (star of “Rin Tin Tin” apparently) fools around on a wonky pier, and when dad Barry Sullivan attempts to rescue the kid from a serious injury (I would’ve let the foolish little shit to fend for himself, it was his own dopey fault...but I digress), he himself becomes trapped under the wreckage, and at further risk of drowning. Racing against the clock (four hours or so until the tide comes in), Barbara Stanwyck (quite good in what must be said is a slightly uncharacteristic meek part) must go for help. What she finds is sleazy escaped crook Ralph Meeker, who wants Stanwyck to drive him out of trouble with the law, and then maybe, if he takes a mind to it, he might possibly help her. He might also help himself to the vulnerable (but ultimately resilient) woman. And she, in turn, might just do anything it takes to get her husband and son out of trouble.

Unlike most people (particularly Leonard Maltin), I reckon this uneven 1953 John Sturges B-movie (from the A-level director of “The Great Escape”, “Bad Day at Black Rock”, “The Magnificent Seven”, and “Gunfight at the OK Corral”) concludes much better than it begins, not the reverse. The climax is really the only part where anything much actually happens, the rest is just build up- or more honestly, padding. It all starts out too slowly, with nothing going on (and nowhere to go, unless you wanted the film to run about 20 minutes long), but perks up when slimy Meeker (doing a pretty fair Robert Mitchum I must say) finally joins the party.

Well-acted (Sullivan’s never been a fave of mine, but he works really well with the kid, and Stanwyck- a definite favourite of mine- does well opposite Meeker), economically directed (though Sturges has done much better), but there’s just not enough material here (even though it only goes for about 70 minutes), you keep waiting for it to soar and it never really gets there.

The screenplay is by Mel Dinelli (“The Spiral Staircase”), from a Maurice Zimm (“Creature from the Black Lagoon”, “The Prodigal”) radio play. Only if there’s absolutely nothing else on TV.

Rating: C+

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Review: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians

The children of Mars feel miserable and neglected at Christmastime (Having been raised on Earth TV programming), and so the elders of Mars, led by Kimar (Leonard Hicks) and his distasteful cohort Voldar (Vincent Beck) decide to kidnap Santa Claus (John Call) and bring him to Mars. No, I’m not kidding. They even kidnap a couple of Earth kids too, in case they rat them out...or something. Bill McCutcheon plays the aptly named Martian Dropo, who is a bit light in the head and always screwing things up by accident.

Christmas is full of TV specials and films dedicated to the holiday, and I have a select few things I try to watch every year. Lots of people I know watch “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”, and whilst I enjoy that one, I prefer the trio of “The Muppet Christmas Carol”, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (though any other Rankin/Bass stop-motion special will suffice), and this 1964 oddity from director Nicholas Webster (who directed episodes of “Mannix”, “Get Smart”, and “The Waltons”) and writer Glenville Mareth (mercifully his only credit). I’m a sick bastard, OK?

I get the feeling that everyone involved might’ve intended this film to be a harmless kids film for the holidays (it even has the future Uncle Wally from “Sesame Street” Bill McCutcheon mugging away), but there’s one small problem: It’s one of the worst films ever made. A staple of many Worst Films of All-Time lists (including my own, at #9 and in between “Killers From Space” and “Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey”), this is a one-of-a-kind experience that might’ve been tolerable for kids as a 30 minute cartoon, but as feature-length, live-action it’s a cheap rip-off and deadly stuff.

If you’ve ever wondered why aliens are yet to make first contact with us, this film might explain why: They’re fucking morons who couldn’t find their arses with their antennae. Given how cheap this all looks, I wouldn’t trust the quality control coming from Santa’s Workshop either, and since the elves working for him look like little kids, one has to wonder if Santa’s Workshop wasn’t really a sweat shop! At the very least, they’re dwarves with fake pointy ears, which is enough to send Tolkien purists into apoplexy. Actually, there’s something fishy going on with all these Martian children anyway. Kemar’s kids don’t look very happy whenever their dad walks into a room, and I doubt very much whether it was pushing buttons all day that gave Santa a tired finger. I know, bad taste, but watch this film and tell me you don’t end up thinking the same things. There’s just something ‘off’ about it all. Then again, we’re talking about a movie about Martians kidnapping Santa, not to mention a movie with a putrid title song called ‘Hooray for Santy Claus’. Yes, Santy Claus. Even Burl Ives couldn’t have done much with that noxious little ditty.

Even if you accept this nonsense as tongue-in-cheek fare for the juvenile set, one still has to put up with the irritating performances by John Call and Bill McCutcheon, as well as one of the worst performances of all-time from Vincent Beck. I’m all praises for “Sesame Street”, but 20 seconds of McCutcheon’s work as Dropo and his comic stylings will have you yearning for the subtle acting of Jim Freakin’ Nabors. Shazam! I don’t normally find murder acceptable, but for Dropo, one might make an exception. He makes Jar-Jar Binks innocuous by comparison. Most irritating film character of all-time? Certainly he’s a contender.

Fun fact: Martians with facial hair (Vincent Beck) look ten times as ridiculous and are even worse actors than those without facial hair. Their helmets look like shithouse art projects too. Leonard Hicks isn’t exactly Laurence Olivier or anything, but he sure seems to have been inspired by the work of Charlton Heston with his vocal intonations. John Call must’ve paid the filmmakers to let him play Santa Claus here, either that or he boned the director. His performance is that dull, rather glum. In fact, he spends the whole film acting like he was just violently awoken from a nap. And this guy’s Santa? I know the dude works tirelessly, but where’s the holiday cheer? All credit to him and the other actors for one thing, though: They actually manage to keep straight faces throughout this shit, with Hicks and Beck deserving credit for not cutting up whilst engaging in the most incompetent and phony-looking fist-fight in cinematic history.

God this film is cheap, rivalling the work of Edward D. Wood Jr. (“Plan 9 From Outer Space”), at times. Forgive my crudeness, but the polar bear in this film is the most retarded thing I’ve ever seen on film, and I’ve seen Lou Ferrigno punch a guy in a shitty bear suit right into outer space! The giant robot is so cheap it wouldn’t even make it into the final cut of a “Godzilla” film. It’s the children I feel sorry for, that green makeup was probably a pain and I wouldn’t be surprised if it- and the film itself- scarred them for life.

Cheap, irritating, appallingly acted, and only fun on a derisive level. On any traditional level it’s one of the worst films of all-time, and mainstream audiences likely won’t care to see it. On a derisive level, it’s still one of the worst films of all-time, but might just also be worth watching if you’re in the mood for some unintentional fun. It’s one-of-a-kind at the very least, and there’s even a message...about turning off the TV sets...and...um...playing with Christmas presents or something? Yeah, beats me. Oh, and look out for the ‘Custume Designer’ credit. Hilarious.

Rating: F

Monday, July 23, 2012

Review: Battleground

Six stranded bank robbers (Bob Cymbalski, Mark Munro, Bryan Larkin, and Robert Nolan among them) are hiding out in the middle of nowhere after a successful job, biding their time until they board a plane out of the country. Unfortunately, they’ve stepped into the domain of a crazy Vietnam veteran (Hugh Lambe) who doesn’t take kindly to trespassers, and uses his military training to bump the well-armed bandits off one by one.

I don’t like ripping on low-budget films unless they truly deserve it, but right from the word go, this 2012 offering from director Neil Mackay (whose only previous film was a short film in 2004) and his co-writer Sean McAulay (a debutant) rubbed me the wrong way. It’s about a disgruntled Vietnam veteran picking off a bunch of bad-arse bank robbers who trespass on his land. Or something. But think about that. A film presumably set in the modern era, with a bunch of seemingly tough guys who are handy with firearms, being picked off by a guy who fought in a war in the late 1960s. He’d have to be in his late 60s at the very least, right? I don’t care how much of a crack shot this guy is, nor do I care about his home field advantage, there’s no way a retiree is bumping all these guys off. And even if it were plausible (say, if Rutger Hauer had the role), why make him a Vietnam veteran? Why not an Iraq War (either one) veteran? The same notion of being messed up psychologically could factor into things, and he’d be of a much more reasonable age. I just couldn’t get into this film due to that fact alone. Do we really need another lunatic Vietnam vet movie? It’s a terrible, terrible idea from two guys who have clearly seen “Rolling Thunder” and “The Prowler” way too many times.

The acting, surprisingly isn’t bad, and in fact, Hugh Lambe is good and creepy even if his character is implausible (He’s so old he might literally be Rube Goldberg). He sounds awfully Canadian, though. Actually, everyone does, because the film is Canadian. No one really has much charisma or presence, though burly Bob Cymbalski (as ‘Texas’) comes closest. The token chick is a major sticking point. She serves absolutely no purpose whatsoever, and doesn’t do a damn thing. What’s up with that?

The film shows off a nice use of locations, and it’s better lit and more colourful than a lot of low-budget films. Some interesting shot composition, and nice, if cheap splatter FX and makeup (the film is as much an action film as a horror film, though, if not moreso). I could definitely see a future directing genre movies for Mr. Mackay.

The film is better and livelier than the somewhat similar “Paintball”, but that central premise is just too tough to get around. It’s got 1984 written all over it, and it certainly shouldn’t have been made now. It’s not a bad film, but not a good one, either.

Rating: C