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.
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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)).
Jane, the owner of the Pandemonium Art Gallery where just about all of my originals have been exhibited, made an announcement that the gallery would close at the end of July; while it’s apparently earned its own keep, it cuts into her more successful ventures such as her Youtube painting channel. Alas, I shall actually have to find a new basket for all of my eggs.
But in the meantime, here are the (most likely) final two pieces that I’ll exhibit there:
The Galvanic Golem:
… and Effigy:
Rogue One (2016) – The universe of Star Wars is now so broad in the public consciousness that we can start telling — not just for fanboys, but for the general viewing public for which a $200,000,000 budget makes sense — the ancillary stories of the people caught in the huge conflicts. In other words, we can now tell the “war stories” from that milieu, just as have for decades from the Civil War, WWII, Viet Nam, etc. (There are probably more Millennials who can tell you who won the war with the Empire than can tell you who won the Civil War, anyway.) This could easily devolve into the “continuity porn” with which fan-ficcers often occupy themselves, but here it’s a refreshing novelty: a Star Wars prequel which doesn’t contradict what has already been established.
Rage of the Yeti (2011) – For the first half-hour, I had the bizarre sensation of watching two movies at once. In one, Yancy Butler and several other people in a whited-out sound stage, all wrapped in Arctic clothing that renders them unidentifiable and indistinguishable, fight a handful of bad CG Yeti in medias res as they try to get from their camp to an abandoned Canadian base; we can’t see half the action, we’d rather not see the other part with the embarrassingly bad Yeti, and we don’t care about the whole of it. In the other, a pair of witty devil-may-care artifact thieves are in a gun-bristling standoff with a bunch of armed museum guards until a guard’s phone rings, and it’s for the thieves to abandon their mission and come to the rescue of Yancy Butler’s team. Then the two halves of the story come together, and it’s nothing but bad CGI, people acting like they know which way they’re going in a whited-out Arctic wasteland without consulting a compass, and more bad CGI.
Jackie Chan’s First Strike (1996) – The JackieMatic 9000’s computer-generated version of a Jackie Chan movie: mistaken identities, worldwide locations, humorous stunts and creative use of props and surroundings in several combat scenes, which also yield out-take footage of Jackie being injured. If you enjoy Jackie Chan movies generally, you will generally enjoy this movie. If you don’t like Jackie Chan movies, you will not enjoy this movie.
Movies Seen Recently: American Ninja 2: The Confrontation, Django vs. Sartana, For a Few Dollars More
American Ninja 2: The Confrontation (1987) – I guess after the events of the first movie, Armstrong (Michael Dudikoff) and Jackson (Steve James) were designated as the Armed Forces’ official inter-service ninja busters, because this movie sees them being transferred from the Army to a small, undisciplined Marine base in an unnamed tropical country (actually shot in South Africa) where Marines have been disappearing, and springloaded guys in black pajamas have concurrently been seen. I’m guessing that one of Steve James’ requests for the sequel was that he got to show off more of his own martial arts skills — of the two starring actors, he was the one with the real skillset (Dudikoff was actually a dancer) — to the point that he clearly overshadows Dudikoff’s ass-whupping exhibitions. On the other hand, it’s pretty clear that the producers were happy with Dudikoff’s level of cinematic ninjutsu: In the final battle, in which Armstrong wears an obscuring hood the whole time, it’s still pretty clear that Dudikoff’s doing most of his own fighting instead of being switched out wholesale for a fighting double a la Enter the Ninja (1981). (I guess he really couldn’t have done it like in Enter the Ninja, because the evil ninja he fought in that last battle was Mike Stone, who was Franco Nero’s uncredited ninja double in Enter the Ninja! It’s a small ninja world after all!)
Django vs. Sartana (1970) – This has the feeling of one of those low-budget action movies that proclaims “Starring STALLONE (Frank) and NORRIS (Mike)!” Here, a generally law-abiding gunslinger named Django (who bears absolutely no resemblance to the Franco Nero character) is convinced that another gunslinger named Sartana (who at least wears mostly black like the “real” Sartana, but isn’t at all clever and looks like a shaved Neanderthal) set up Django’s brother Steve as the fall guy in a bank heist, when both Django and Sartana are being misled by a third party. The plot’s spread pretty thin, and there are attempts to extend the running time with the kind of expansive tableaus that give westerns their visual power… except that it’s shot poorly, and the scenery isn’t great. All in all, pretty forgettable.
For a Few Dollars More (1965) – I haven’t watched this in about twenty-five years; it had been so long that all I could remember was the hat-shooting scene between Eastwood and Van Cleef, cementing the spaghetti western genre as one of macho alpha-male pissing contest. (I hadn’t even remembered that the “music box/pocket watches” was from this movie.) Notable here is just how much more money Sergio Leone was given to play with than with A Fistful of Dollars — from roughly $200,000 to $600,000 — and it shows: the train, the multiple city sets, etc. But it’s still a movie shot with the same sensibilities: the Old West is a otherworldly neverland of masculine power struggles, set against a stark, existential landscape. And it’s freaking me out that Lee Van Cleef was a full five years younger than I am now when this was shot.
And yes, I have been on a spaghetti western of late, so expect more of the same to come.
Movies Seen Recently: The Curse of Frankenstein, Eliminators, Sartana’s Here… Trade Your Pistol for a Coffin
The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) – This was the first of Hammer Films’ Frankenstein films (which led to their other signature “classic monster” franchises, Dracula and the Mummy and thus cementing their reputation as a horror movie company), as well as being the first film to pair the classic duo of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. It also gives us the next step in the evolution of the character of Dr. Frankenstein from the fickle Prometheus in Shelley’s original novel, to the ambitious egotist who eventually learns at least a little about the error of his ways in the Universal franchise (before being replaced by sons, cousins, and unrelated scientists), to Hammer’s version: a completely remorseless antihero, driven by ambition to meddle with Things Man Was Not Meant To Know, no matter who or what gets in the way. Hammer’s franchise followed successive exploits of the good doctor, as opposed to Universal’s focus on the creature itself, and the success of the series largely rest on Cushing’s appeal.
Eliminators (1986) – A lukewarm offering from Charles Band’s Empire Pictures (in other words, not nearly as good as Re-Animator (1985) or Trancers (1984), but not nearly as bad as Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn (1983) or Ghoulies (1984)). The Mandroid (Patrick Reynolds), a a fighter pilot who crashed and was reconstructed by Abbott Reeves (Roy Dotrice), spends almost the entire movie returning to Reeves’ evil lair that he escaped from in the first five minutes. Along the way he picks up a pre-ST:TNG Denise Crosby as a good robotics scientist, Andrew Prine as a wanna-be Han Solo river rat, and what the heck — let’s throw in a ninja! Oh, and there’s something about time travel in there too, but by that time you really don’t care anymore.
Sartana’s Here… Trade Your Pistol for a Coffin (1970) – Taciturn gentleman gunslinger Sartana (this time played by George Hilton) gets involved in the macho pissing contest that is the Old West according to spaghetti westerns. Every one of the characters listed below is in cahoots with, and simultaneously double-crossing, every other character over waylaid shipments of gold dust:
- Sabbath/Sabata, aka “The Gayest Gun in the West” (seriously — he wears a white suit with lavender embellishments, rides carrying a parasol, and talks about his mother more than Harvey Fierstein)
- Mr. Spencer, who owns the mining company and looks remarkably like James Last
- Baxter, Spencer’s right-hand man
- Mantas, the bandito chief
- Trixie, hotel-owning madam
As far as you could tell from this movie, the only honest people in the West were the bartenders — and they were always getting roughed up, forced to put their faces in spittoons, etc.
A well-shot, well-paced adventure. Just don’t try too hard to unravel the plot.