Kong: Skull Island (2017) – Another mechanically competent blockbusterish movie-flavored factory product, with maybe some humans involved. I have a list of complaints — the soldier stranded on the island for decades was too well-fed, we spend way too much screentime with an isolated soldier who ends up dying off-screen, there’s no way that pterodactyls that size would have enough lift to snatch up a grown human and then pull him apart in midair — but my biggest complaint is how hard everyone tried to keep away from the central “Beauty & the Beast” motif of the original and preceding two remakes (there’s a nod to it, but it felt grudging). Mostly it had me wondering, “Did Tom Hiddleston ever imagine he’d be an action star?”
The Soldier (1982) – I tried to watch the whole thing, really I did; I made it to about the two-thirds mark before my apathy became active and finally turned if off. Ken Wahl is a super-secret CIA agent called “The Soldier” who only gets called when Russian/terrorist world-shattering plots are so boring that they threaten to put the entire Earth to sleep. Writer/director James Glickenhaus does nothing to be proud of, and he should have taken editor Paul Fried into an alley and beaten him to death with a tire iron. Thrill to the walking-into-the-room action, the unloading-the-truck action, the bureaucratic-discussion-around-a-table action, the putting-chemicals-in-a-lightbulb action, the standing-in-a-ski-cablecar action… The icing on the cake is the boringest score Tangerine Dream ever composed, which is saying something.
At the Earth’s Core (1976) – Everything about this movie demands an exclamation point: Doug McClure in his “manly everyman” mode! Peter Cushing as a hilarious, pip-pip-ever-so-British inventor! Caroline Munro, looking good while being good to look at! Directed by Kevin “The Land That Time Forgot/The People That Time Forgot” Connor, from a novel by America’s best bad novelist Edgar Rice Burroughs! Paper-mache rocks! Rubbery man-in-suit evil telepathic parrots! Rear screen projection everywhere you look! You can’t call it good, but you also can’t call it boring.
A recap for those who don’t follow me on Facebook: I just filled up another sketchbook, so I’ve been posting daily scans out of that sketchbook all this last week. (Actually, the sketchbook prior to that was abandoned halfway through — it was a leather-wrapped thing with handmade paper that held pencil so poorly that nothing was scannable.) Here’s a week’s recap.
When last we spoke about my assemblage art, I passed on the sad news that the Pandemonium Art Gallery in Ogden would be closing. The new news is that, at the very end, the Pandemonium got new owners, who closed for the month of July to revamp it. Tonight is the official reopening (it’s the First Friday Art Stroll for all the Ogden galleries, so art lovers will be out and about), and just last night I finished this new piece for the occasion:
Horror Hotel (1960) – A mostly not-silly movie saddled with a silly title (its alternate title, City of the Dead, is more respectable if no more accurate), its main problem is what I call “The Psycho Flaw,” i.e., establishing a protagonist and then killing that protagonist an unconscionably long time into the movie (oops, spoilers!). Compounding the problem is the fact that, once the initial protagonist is dead, our joint replacement protagonists are two douches who are introduced in a fashion to raise the ire of any reasonable person: They make snide remarks about the beliefs, and basically laugh in the face, of Christopher Lee regarding witches and Satanists and related folklore. Let me repeat: They diss Christopher Lee to his face. It doesn’t matter if he’s playing a good guy or a bad guy; there are some actions which a character cannot undertake and still be sympathetic.
AvP: Alien vs. Predator (2004) – There was no need for this movie to contain nearly so much deliberate stupidity. If one were to play a drinking game with the contradictions to either franchise’s then-current canon, one would be in danger of braindeath: “But don’t Predators like heat and shun cold?” “Why’re we going from facehugger to chestburster in 15 minutes?” “Can’t Aliens smell when a host is infected, and leave it alone?” etc… If not braindeath, one would certainly be inebriate to the point of missing all the other problems:
- The Predator race literally engineer humanity to be Alien hosts, yet they inecplicably leave the planet alone entirely for millennia except to come back at random to hunt non-Alienated humans like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny Glover.
- Our archeo-everything expert identifies the prehistoric hieroglyphics as a combination of Egyptian, Cambodian and Aztec (despite the fact that the spoken Nahuatl language didn’t start coalescing until the 7th century AD and had barely formed a “true” writing system before Columbus), which he then can read flawlessly.
- Not even five minutes goes by between our Ripley stand-in saying that the first rule for all these utter Antarctic neophytes is never ever go anywhere alone and the nebbish expert-in-whatever wandering off alone.
- Predators apparently sport a mix of metal weapons, some of which don’t react to acidic Alien blood and some of which do — and for no sane reason, they constructed the Alien Queen’s manacles out of the latter.
- Aztecs hold the number ten in high regard (actually, they were more partial to four, five and their product twenty)… and knew what a “minute” was, so they could schedule things ten minutes apart.
I want to say that this movie shows the kind of studio/producer input that results in “great” ideas that only the idea-haver thought were great, but the idea-haver is also the check-writer: Things like, “Let’s set it in Antarctica but never let anyone’s breath be frosty!” Or, “Let’s have the stone passageways all scramble and reset themselves promptly every ten minutes, except when they arbitrarily don’t!”
Everything I’ve heard says that this is the good “Alien vs. Predator” movie, with Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem being the bad one. That makes me very, very sad.
The 5-Man Army (1969) – Peter Graves makes his requisite “TV Star’s Summer Vacation Spaghetti Western” (see also William Shatner in White Comanche) in this combination of The Magnificent Seven, a heist movie, and (naturally) Mission: Impossible. Graves as “the Dutchman” puts together a team of four specialists (including spaghetti western stalwart Bud Spencer) to rob a Mexican train on behalf of the revolutionaries. Fun in a not-too-ambitious way, and Graves’ utter lack of acting ability isn’t nearly as apparent as in most other projects he did.
Mega Python vs. Gatoroid (2011) – Given that Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus (2009) relied entirely on the novelty of (a) the title and (b) the stunt casting of Debbie Gibson (a flavor of stunt that was mimicked in the next year’s Mega Piranha starring Tiffany), Mega Python vs. Gatoroid follows the same formula-slash-shtick: Low-rent CGI creatures, plus a catfight between Debbie Gibson and Tiffany! What’s missing is any discernible level of Give A Crap. The plot is plodding, the characters are unlikable, and of the entire special effects, there is a single prop snake egg that isn’t lousy CG. I’m all for milking a lucrative trend — these people are trying to maximize ROI, after all — but when the trend made money in the first place solely on novelty, there is a mathematical limit to how many times you can return to that well.
The Great Wall (2016) – The nine-days’-furor over Matt Damon starring as Token European Hero in a historical fantasy about the Great Wall of China made about as much sense as the general uproar over Jackie Chan starring in Rumble in the Bronx (hint: sarcasm, ‘cuz there wasn’t one). It’s just a dumb popcorn movie that tells us up front, “TOTALLY NON-HISTORICAL,” then puts the smelly-but-rugged European together with clean Chinese warriors of both genders in color-coded armor like medieval Power Rangers, in order to fight an arbitrary alien creature horde that the Great Wall was designed to keep out. There’s a perfunctory by-the-numbers character arc for Matt Damon, and waaay too many subtitled scenes in which a character then translates into English what was just said in Chinese (and we just read).
9 (2009) – As much as I dislike anything with Tim Burton’s fingerprints on it, he’s only credit here as one of four producers (plus two co-producers and three associate producers). And Johnny Depp has no role in it. But as much as I wanted to like it, this story of a goodhearted ragdoll (voice of Elijah Wood) wandering a post-apocalyptic wasteland, arguing with other ragdolls and accidentally reviving the mechanical intelligence which made the wasteland in the first place is remarkably unsatisfying — it’s built around a mystery that simply isn’t answered in the end, nor is there anything that really qualifies as a “conclusion”; if this had been a live-action movie, I would just assume that the production had run out of money and had had to cobble together a non-ending a la Albert Pyun’s Knights (1993). And, of course, the ragdoll that’s both instinctively reactionary and authoritarian clothes itself in the appearance and behaviors of religion (voiced by Christopher Plummer, who went on to play essentially the same character in Priest (2011)).