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Monday, October 24, 2016

USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage (2016) – Review

If you’ve heard of the historic sinking of the USS Indianapolis there’s a good chance you first learned of the event from Robert Shaw’s stirring monologue in Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster Jaws; and now decades later we get another, and vastly longer, retelling of the story by director Mario Van Peebles. Why any studio thought the star of Jaws: The Revenge was suitable for such a project is beyond me.


Tackling a true story outside of a documentary setting is always a bit of a balancing act when it comes to Hollywood’s depiction of historical events; it can either be powerful and thought provoking like Schindler’s List or mostly fabricated white-washing of the facts like in Mel Gibson's Braveheart. As both of those films earned Best Picture Oscars it’s clear that either method is quite viable.  Then you have USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage, a film that depicts the greatest sea going tragedy in the history of the United States Navy but with all the nuance and deftness of a Lifetime movie of the week. One tip future filmmakers may want to consider is that when you're making a film based on such a tragic incident you may want to avoid casting Nicholas Cage. In this film he’s not as entertainingly bad as he was in The Wicker Man remake, but he’s far from the level we saw in Leaving Las Vegas.


You’re just never sure which Nicholas Cage you’re going to get.

For those few of you not familiar with the events surrounding the sinking of the USS Indianapolis the basics of the story is that the Navy needed a fast ship to deliver key components that would make up the atomic bombs that would be dropped on the cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki; it was a top secret mission so that when the Indianapolis was sunk shortly after delivering the bomb it was never reported missing. Some 300 of the 1,196 crewmen went down with the ship leaving the survivors to the mercy of the sea. With few life rafts, and many without life-jackets, the remainder of the crew were set adrift where over the next four days they had to survive the elements as well as shark attacks. These facts the film covers quite well, but then to fill out its bloated two hour and seven minute running time we get lots of extraneous crap we really didn’t need.


Case in Point: One pointless love story with a dash of swing dancing.

Of course it’s important for a movie to explore the characters prior to the horrific event that will be central to the story, so that we will care more about them when the shit hits the fan, but in this case all we get is fifteen minutes of two dimensional caricatures that includes; a love triangle between two sailors and a pregnant girl, a racial fight between a white and black sailor that lands the two of them in the brig together, and finally a wheezily gambler who needs money to cover his gambling debts. None of this are particularly interesting and none of it adds anything much to the story, and certainly not helped by the community theatre level of acting…strike that, I’ve seen community theatre actors with ten times the level of talent than what is on display here. When this film isn’t trying to force a love story into a film that clearly doesn’t need one Mario Van Peebles tries to reference the biggest grossing love story/disaster movie ever made, Titanic. When the ship is struck by several torpedoes we see its stern rise high into the air before the ship eventually breaks in two, just as we saw in James Cameron’s movie but not something that actually happened to the Indianapolis. Peebles even throws in a shot of a CGI sailor falling from the stern to bounce of the guns on the way down, much as Cameron did with one of the Titanic passengers bouncing of the ship’s propeller.


"I'm king of the world!"

The movie also throws in completely unnecessary information about the Japanese use of Kaiten, manned torpedoes that were basically aquatic versions of the Kamikaze pilots that Japan used towards the end of the war. The fact that at no point were Kaiten torpedoes used against the Indianapolis is apparently unimportant, but padding this film’s runtime is. In one of the many useless scenes we get USS Indianapolis Captain Charles B. McVay III (Nicholas Cage) explaining to his second in command that he isn’t bothering with the standard protocol of piloting the ship in a zigzag pattern because with these types of torpedoes it would be a useless gesture, and that making the best possible speed is their best course of action. This was not the case at all. In fact McVay orders were to "zigzag at his discretion, weather permitting" and at the time of the sinking he felt it was unnecessary. He was also under the impression that there was no submarine activity in the area because Naval Command failed to inform him that a ship had been sunk in the vicinity just six days prior.


The real villain of the piece, government ass covering.

The last third of the film deals with the court-martial of Captain McVay; citing his failure to evacuate the ship in a timely fashion and endangering the crew by failing to follow the “zigzag” protocol. This was basically a kangaroo court set up to land the blame on a hapless scapegoat because the Navy screwed the pooch in so spectacular a fashion that resulted in the missing ship not being reported. Declassified records later showed that three stations received the S.O.S. distress calls from the Indianapolis, however nobody acted upon the call. One commander was drunk, another had ordered his men not to disturb him and a third thought it was a Japanese trap.


The prosecutor even brings the commander of the Japanese sub that sank the Indianapolis to testify, but that man actually backs up McVay’s case stating that zigzagging would not have saved his ship, the Japanese sub was just too close. The film eventually ends with McVay committing suicide, a tragic end to a man and a career that deserved so much better, but the film does leave out the fact that McVay’s was re-instated, eventually achieving the rank of Rear Admiral, and that his suicide didn’t take place until 1968 after his wife had died of cancer. All understandable changes under the “dramatic license” statute, but what the film fails to do is make us really care, which is the real crime here.


We do get Tom Sizemore overacting with his severed foot.

But what about the sharks, isn’t this movie supposed to be about man versus sharks? In this the film is pretty accurate as it depicts the fact that most of the deaths were attributed to exposure, salt poisoning and thirst, with the dead being dragged off by sharks. The amount of sailors actually eaten alive by sharks was fairly low, and this movie probably handles that aspect fairly well; now as for how the sharks look in this movie, well that’s another matter completely. Some shots of the sharks gliding effortless among the floating sailors look pretty good, but then when we do get an attack it often looks like cut scenes from the Jaws Unleashed video game.


We’re talking Sharknado levels of bad CGI here.

Where USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage fails is in that it never really captures the scope of the tragedy; out of the 880 men who survived the sinking only 317 were rescued and at no point in this film did I ever get the feeling of that number. At most we see a couple dozen men floating around, nothing suggesting the real scale of the disaster. So between the poor characterization of the people, the level of bad to terrible acting, and the godawful CGI effects on display here, there isn’t really much to recommend. It’s not even entertainingly bad as I found myself checking my watch much too often. The drama and pathos that Robert Shaw managed to convey in few short minutes in Jaws Mario Van Peebles failed to achieve in two hours.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Thuvia, Maid of Mars: Edgar Rice Burroughs - Book Review

as160408aWinning ones true love is a difficult thing, if you find yourself in a story written by Edgar Rice Burroughs it’s about four times as hard. In the fourth of the Barsoom books Burroughs sets aside the heroic John Carter and instead we have his son Carthoris fighting across the desert lands of Mars. First published in 1916, in the pages of All-Story Weekly, Burroughs drops the first person narrative device that he utilized in the previous three books and adopts the standard third person narrative as we follow the adventures of Carthoris and the beautiful Thuvia of Ptarth.

The Warlord of Mars ended with John Carter being granted that title of Warlord by the four main ruling races of Mars, and with Dejah Thoris needing a break from being kidnapped the job of damsel in distress fell to Thuvia of Ptarth, who Carter had earlier rescued in Gods of Mars, and who by the end of the last book Carthoris had become rather enamored with. This book begins with Thuvia in the gardens of her father Thuvan Dihn, Jeddak of Ptarth, while there she is aggressively wooed by Astok, Prince of Dusar. She rebuffs his advances, but as he is your Snidely Whiplash type of suitor he doesn't take no for an answer, and when he dares to lay hands on her the shit hits the fan. Thuvia calls out for her guards but its Carthoris, the son of John Carter and Dejah Thoris, who arrives first and punches out the man who had the audacity to touch this fair princess. Later Carthoris professes his love for the princess but is shocked when she tells him that she cannot return his love for her hand has been promised by her father to Kulan Tith, Jeddak of Kaol, who is a friend of John Carter. This is your standard romantic fantasy stumbling block, with our hero having to prove to all that he is the one most worthy of her hand.

Raise your hand if you think Prince Astok is going to have her kidnapped, and then give yourself a cookie because of course he is. This general plot line has shown up in dozens of Burroughs stories; from the jungles of Tarzan to the depths Pellucidar to the distant forests of Venus, but it’s not these clichéd romance plots that make Burroughs the king of the genre it’s the worlds and the creations that populate them that bring readers back for more and more adventures. The Barsoom series stands head and shoulders above all others for its massive tapestry of races, creatures and startling inventions, and Thuvia, Maid of Mars is no exception. We learn that Carthoris had been visiting Ptarth to demonstrate one of the Barsoomian anti-gravity fliers that he had equipped with an auto-pilot of his own invention. With this new device the pilot can just plug in his destination, go and take a nap below, and the ship would fly and land safely without anyone at the helm. It even has anti-collision capabilities that will steer it around oncoming or pursuing aircraft. What’s really impressive is that Burroughs came up with these idea decades before they would find themselves aboard actual aircraft here on Earth.

Unfortunately when he explains that its system is tamperproof because of a unique key, which is required to access the navigation system, he is explaining it to a spy working for Prince Astok. The spy is able to make a copy of the key allowing the villains to rig Carthoris’s ship to fly out into the middle of the desert near the ruins of ancient Aanthor. When he awakes to find himself in such a strange location he doesn’t have much time to ponder what went wrong as he quickly spots Thuvia being carried away by a Green Martian. This wrinkle came to pass because Prince Astok planned to frame Carthoris for Thuvia’s kidnapping and had Thuvia brought to this location only to have his men set upon by a horde of Green Martians. The Kidnappers fail to stop the Green Martian and then they fail to stop Carthoris running off after her. Prince Astok had a bad plan and he should feel bad.


Of course Carthoris will eventually catch up with Thuvia’s latest abductor, and when he spots her in the clutches of Hortan Gur, Jeddak of Torquas, a particularly large and rather nasty horde of Green Martians, he decides rushing into to attempt a rescue would be suicide, and no help to Thuvia in the long run. Then he sees Hortan Gur strike Thuvia across the face and no son of John Carter could let that stand, so the young man charges across the desert to rest her from the vile Jeddak’s clutches. Lucky for him this particular horde of Green Martians was on one of their routine siege/attacks of the ancient walled city of Lothar located in a lost valley, and before Carthoris can be cut down by their superior numbers a massive army of bowmen storm out of the walled city. The residents of Lothar are fair-skinned humanoid race, but unlike the white Therns the Lotharians sport hair, and they also have a very unique gift, and is what makes this book really stand out. After the Green Martian Horde is driven away a much surprised Carthoris and Thuvia, who were sure they going to die caught between these two forces, enter this mysterious city and its there that they learn that the residents have the ability to create lifelike phantasms from pure thought, and that the army of bowmen they saw were mere creations of Lotharian’s imagination. The mounds of dead Green Martians attest to the lethality of these “phantoms” that can be felt, as well as kill.  That is for as long as the opponent believes them to be real.

If any of you have seen the 1970 Beneath the Planet of the Apes you will remember that James Franciscus and Linda Harrison found themselves in the clutches of a group of mutants who lived in the underground ruins of old Earth, and that they used their mental projections and mind controlling ability to keep others out of the Forbidden Zone. If the writers of that movie had read Thuvia, Maid of Mars I would not be the least surprised. But that isn’t even the most interesting thing about the Lotharians, there are two factions with different beliefs on how their powers work; one of them believing that eventually if you create something enough times it will eventually exist on its own, while the other faction thinks that idea is insane. Unsurprising the insane group turn out to be right for at one point Carthoris runs into Kar Komak, a bowman who was part of the "imagined" army that chased off the Green Martians, but when his brethren vanished he found himself still existing, if a little naked and unarmed. He of course teams up with Carthoris to help rescue Thuvia from whom ever had kidnapped her last. Kar Komak even discovers he has the same power to create deadly armies with his mind, which really comes in handy. I really hope this guy appears in further adventures.


I shouldn’t be too rough on Thuvia, though she does suffer from the same kind of kidnapping problems that plagued poor Dejah Thoris, because she has one very unique ability of her own that makes her stand out. Back in The Gods of Mars we learned that for some unknown reason she can control the banths, the great cats of Mars, and when her and Carthoris are tossed into a pit to be eaten by the god the people of Lothar worship she is pleasantly surprised to find out this particular god is just a very, very large banth. Having a monstrous cat as an ally certainly makes her a little less of a damsel in distress, well for as long as the big cat is around that is.

Marquez Banth

"Bad kitty, stop hogging all the glory!"

Thuvia, Maid of Mars may not have the most riveting story structure, and the villainous kidnapping plot against Thuvia makes little to no sense and goes nowhere, but the third act pit-stop in a city where they meet people who can mentally create anything they can think of, even to point of being able to survive on food that they mentally generate because the illusion is so good it fools the body, is just delightfully cool. Though the ridiculousness of that lends credence to the belief of one of the Lotharians in that maybe they are all just illusions, and that the last resident of Lothar had died years ago. I would have gleefully read a whole book based on these bizarre people and it's certainly well worth the time to read.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Blackbeard’s Ghost (1968) – Review

When one thinks of pirates today the Disney Pirates of the Caribbean movies readily leap to mind, and that swashbuckling viewpoint on piracy is certainly nothing new; from Errol Flynn’s Captain Blood to Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow Hollywood has glamorized the pirate life, and today we will look back at a film that took light-hearted pirate antics to a whole new level with Disney’s Blackbeard’s Ghost.

blackbeards ghost poster

Edward Teach aka Blackbeard was a notorious pirate who struck terror into the hearts of many a sailor, and he certainly sent more than his fair share of them to Davy Jones’s locker, but he was not the most blood thirsty of pirates, he was actually known for not harming hostages, it was his combat visage of a black beard braided with lit cannon fuses that surely made some men think of a career change the moment they spotted his ship Queen Anne's Revenge.  So basically not a character one would expect to see in a family friendly Disney movie. In 1965 American artist, illustrator and author Ben Stahl penned the novel Blackbeard’s Ghost which dealt with two young boys who accidentally conjure up the ghost of Blackbeard.  If I had a dollar for every time that happened to me...

Blackbeard's ghost book cover

In Stahl’s book Blackbeard was killed after failing to go legit, he got a pardon from the local Governor by offering to collect tolls from any ship trying to make port but when his toll collecting turned into basic pirating, and after much of his loot went into building his own tavern he named Boar's Head Inn, he was cut down in a massive battle with the navy. The Governor awarded the tavern to the man responsible for Blackbeard’s defeat and it was passed down through the family over the years until it was about to be torn down to make way for a new gas station. Two friends sneak into the ruins of Boar’s Head Inn and find a secret room that contains a spell book that unleashes the spirit of Blackbeard on the sleepy town of Godolphin. The boys didn’t use quite the right ingredients when they performed the spell and thus only they can see the ghost. The boys split their time hiding from the terrifying specter and trying to stop him from murdering the descendants of Blackbeard's enemies. None of this is in the Disney movie. The book reads like a Hardy Boys ghost story, with some nice historical context, while the movie it is “based” on is more of a series of wacky antics with the name Blackbeard attached.


Enter the ever affable Dean Jones.

Actor Dean Jones became a Disney staple with such classic films as That Darn Cat and The Love Bug and his appearance as the hero of Blackbeard’s Ghost is another of his roles where he plays that reasonable man caught up in some very unreasonable events. The movie follows Steve Walker (Dean Jones) as he arrives in the seaside town of Goldolphin to take up the position of track coach for the college’s incredible inept track team; he meets the lovely Godolphin professor Jo Anne Baker (Suzanne Pleshette), who is manning the kissing both for a charity bazar to raise money to save Blackbeard’s Inn, and he ends up winning at auction an antique bed warmer that has the spell to resurrect Blackbeard hidden in its handle.


I wonder what kind of rent they charge for staying in a matte painting.

We learn that Blackbeard’s then wife Aldetha was a witch, and for his philandering she cursed him to an existence in limbo unless he can perform a good deed. This is very different from the book where Aldetha Stowecroft was a local witch but she was not Blackbeard’s wife; she was befriended Blackbeard and his pirate crew while everyone else in the town shunned her. She ran the inn and her spell was not with evil intent but with the hope that someday he would return. So here we have Disney defaming witches again, it will be years before Disney tries to show them in a good light in such films like Maleficent. So the movie has your standard evil witch but then it also has your avuncular fun pirate in the form of Peter Ustinov’s Blackbeard.


“I’m the fun loving drunk pirate, not the murdering looting kind.”

What’s interesting is that Steve learned from the legend that Blackbeard (Peter Ustinov) had his wife burned at the stake but Blackbeard denies it, “I never put a taper to her, never! On a dull day I may have keelhauled a wife or two or else walked one of the edge of plank, but I never did it for spite. I might have done out of jest, to keep the spirit of my shipmates up.” Only someone with the acting caliber of Peter Ustinov could spout off such things and still manage to come across as goofily charming, and Dean Jones makes a great straight man. So the basic structure of the movie is that of a buddy comedy with Blackbeard trying to perform a good deed so as to escape limbo while Steve tries to get his track team ready for the big meet. It’s no surprise that the two goals will collide.


Blackbeard is full of team spirit.

The movie’s plot does have two conflicts; first is the fact that Steve doesn’t want Blackbeard’s help as that would be cheating, and secondly is the Daughters of the Buccaneers, elderly descendants of the pirate's crew led by the great Elsa Lanchester, are trying to raise enough money to pay off the Inn’s mortgage and prevent local crime boss, Silky Seymour (Joby Baker), from building a casino where Blackbeard's Inn stands. These plot threads meet when Blackbeard secretly takes the money earned at the charity auction and places it on bet for the Godolphin track team to win the meet. Steve at first tries to prevent Blackbeard from “assisting” the team but his ethics get sidelined when he realizes that a “greater good” is at stake here. They win the meet, much to a surprised crowd, but Silky isn’t too keen to pay up on the wager.


Goodfellas meets Disney’s Central Casting Department.

Blackbeard’s Ghost is your standard Disney family fare with a wonderful collection of talented character actors in service of script that if a little silly is at least a lot of fun. Much of the entertainment hinges on the chemistry between Dean Jones and Peter Ustinov and they do work of each other beautifully, and the love interest between Jones and Suzanne Pleshette is treated more as an annoyance to the plot than as something anybody really cares about.


Steve Walker has the standard boorish rival for the pretty professor's heart.

We get great comic moments with Blackbeard trying to drive a car and gleefully interfering in the track meet, and Dean Jones makes for a perfect foil to such antics. There is nothing ground breaking in this movie, but that isn’t surprising because at the time Disney Studios had a formula for their live action comedies that they rarely strayed from. This is a movie I can easily recommend for people of all ages, though the special effects may be considered rather quaint by modern standards, and I do hope that someday Hollywood decides to remake this one and base it closer to the source material. With the popularity of films like Super 8 and the Netflix series Stranger Things a new Blackbeard’s Ghost adaptation, with kids in the starring roles, could do rather well.


And they lived Happily Ever After.

Monday, October 17, 2016

PlayStation VR: Enter a New World of Console Gaming

With the PlayStation VR Sony has entered the ring of virtual reality, something we’ve only had access to in PC gaming with the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, but with this new system from Sony we get a slightly more affordable unit, and if not as sharp and immersive as its PC rivals it’s damn close. So if you don’t want to spend a fortune updating your computer to handle the gaming requirements needed for either the Oculus Rift or the HTC Vive the PlayStation VR is by far the cheapest option for good quality VR with motion control.


When one unpacks the PlayStation VR system you have to be ready for a bit of a set-up time; the system hooks up with no less than six cables, one of which takes up one of the two usb ports in the front of your PlayStation, which is a bit annoying but I'll get into that later, and then you have your camera to place either above or below your television set, and the whole thing should take about a half hour tops to get up and running. Tidying up and cable management is another story; if you don't want entertainment unit to look like a rats nest it may take longer.  The PlayStation VR headset screen has a 1920x1080 image, which is split down the middle to display a different point of view for each eye, making reading text quite easy. This may not be as sharp as either Oculus Rift or the HTC Vive but while in game play I found the PlayStation VR picture more than adequate. What PlayStation VR offers that neither Rift nor Vive can is the ability to render games at 120Hz as well as 90Hz which allows for a much smoother virtual reality gaming experience.


One of the nicest things about the PlayStation VR is the comfort factor; though heavier than its brethren the weight is balanced perfectly across your head so you don’t feel as if the headset is crushing against your face, and the only negative thing I can come up with about wearing this headset is that after a couple of hours of intense gameplay things get a bit sweaty. Now this could affect those gamers who tend play for six to eight stretches, but I doubt many people will try to pull off that amount of time in VR. I myself took several breaks during the day and thus suffered no eyestrain, headaches or derealization (the latter being the effect of the real world seeming unreal after long periods of being in VR), and thus a sweaty forehead was my only unfortunate side effect of my days of gaming.


Well, a sweaty forehead and heart palpitations.

As for the gaming experience itself I was completely blown away; the headset fits quite snugly to your face to prevent most light leaking in and what little light that does get in from below can be minimized by gaming in a darkened room, but if the game is good enough, such as Batman: Arkham or Until Dawn: Rush of Blood was, you will probably even forget you are wearing a headset after a while. What you don’t want to forget is your actual surroundings; most of the games that were released at launch have you in a seated position, so the dangers of you punching a wall is limited (I did bash my knuckles against my end table once), but there are games where you do stand up and move around, thus it is very important that you have a clear playing area. With the headset on you are “virtually” blind to the real world so make sure there is no danger of pets or small children wandering in while you are playing.


Suiting up as Batman will not protect you from falling over the coffee table.

I have a rather small gaming area, had to actually move my couch to the side to get back far enough to play Batman: Arkham, but with the ease of camera adjustment, and a little furniture rearranging, I was up and gaming with little to no problem. What is needed to play is a PlayStation Camera, the PlayStation VR system, and the PlayStation game controller, and though many of the games say that the PlayStation Move motion controllers are optional if you want a truly good gaming experience they are not.

Note: The PlayStation VR Launch Bundle includes the camera (which is required) and two Move motion controllers, and I'm actually looking forward to picking up the gun that is to be released next year, but speaking of accessories as I mentioned earlier one of the USB front ports is taken up by the processing unit which means you only have one port remaining to charge, and thus having a dedicated charging station becomes a must.


I’ve only tried a handful of games but so far my reactions range from “Wow, that was really cool,” to “Oh my god, that was the most amazing thing ever!” I actually got to be Batman, and for me there isn’t much greater joy than that. The biggest thing I took away from the VR experience is the sense of scale; when a London gangster is threatening you with a blowtorch in VR Worlds "The Heist" you are sitting there with this thug literally looming over you, and riding down the elevator into the massive expanse of the Batcave was mind-blowing (it even had the Giant Penny and the Dinosaur statue), and when a ghost pops up in your face you will scream in fright; during my playtime with Until Dawn: Rush of Blood I screamed so much my family upstairs wondered what the hell I was up to.


Horror games will be key to the success of virtual reality gaming.

So whether you want to solve a murder as Batman, battle one another in robot mech-suits, explore outer space in a variety of ships, or simply plunge into the depths of ocean to face killer sharks, the PlayStation VR will give you a gaming experience like no other. Now virtual reality gaming will never replace traditional gaming but what it does offer is an immersive experience that brings you not just closer to the action but in amongst it, and with a slew of great looking games in the wings I for one am excited with the direction console gaming is going.

Friday, October 14, 2016

The Warlord of Mars: Edgar Rice Burroughs – Book Review

Warlord_of_Mars-1919To paraphrase Mario Bros “Thank you John Carter! But our Princess is in another castle!” That line pretty much sums up the plot for this final installment in the opening trilogy of the Barsoom series. Our hero runs from one pole of Mars to the next trying to recover his stolen princess, all while carving a path of death and destruction before him, but with his princess constantly just out of his reach. First published in All-Story Magazine as a four-part serial between December 1913 and March 1914 The Warlord of Mars does wrap everything up rather nicely, it just seemed to take forever to get there.

When we had last left John Carter he had overthrown Black Pirates of Barsoom (aka The First Born), who live beneath the Omean Sea, placed his new friend Xodar to the throne as the new Jeddak of the Black Martians, but after exposing their goddess Issus as the vile pretender she was you’d think it would all be smooth sailing, you’d of course be wrong. Prior to Carter tossing Issus to her people, where she was to be torn asunder by the angry mob, she had ordered Dejah Thoris, Thuvia of Ptarth, and the Thern princess Phaidor to be locked in the Temple of the Sun, a room that rotates so slowly that the entrance is only accessible once a year. Worse is the fact that just as the door rotated away John Carter saw the jealous Phaidor lunge at Dejah Thoris with a dagger. Would John Carter have to wait a whole year to find out if his beloved was alive or dead?

While waiting for the door to become accessible again the throne of Helium is offered to Carter, he refuses it because the throne belongs to Tardos Mors, who along with his son Mors Kajak (father of Dejah Thoris) went missing while looking for Carthoris, who if you remember went missing while looking for his mother Dejah Thoris. I’m not saying the powers that be who rule Helium are irresponsible idiots, but they do spent much of their time getting lost or kidnapped. So John Carter sits his son on the throne as temporary Jeddak until his great grandfather can be found, he then returns to Kamtol, the capital city of the First Born, to await the day that will release his wife from the Temple of the Sun. While kicking back and waiting he spots suspicious activity from a First Born named Thurid, the man leaves the city in the middle of the night, not something any honest sane person would do, and because this a man that Carter had previously disgraced he decides to follow him.  After a long trek through underground passageways he discovers the man is meeting Matai Shang, the Holy Thern whose religion Carter had exposed as well. Carter overhears Thurid explain to Matai Shang that there is a secret entrance into the Temple of the Sun, and that they can rescue Princess Phaidor, who is Matai Shang’s daughter, and also get their hands on Dejah Thoris, their enemy’s one true love.


Thus begins a long series of events that will constantly put Dejah Thoris just out of John Carter’s reach. The minute our hero thinks he will be reunited with his beloved princess defeat will be snatched from the jaws of victory, over and over again. Cater and his ever faithful hound Woola will track them into Matai Shang’s temple, which will quickly be revealed to be a trap, they will escape and Carter will perform several acts of daring do, but alas he will always be delayed enough to let the villains escape with his bride.

Matai Shang, Thurid and Phaidor will then escape with Dejah Thoris and Thuvia as their prisoners, with John Cater again hot on their heels in a stolen flyer, which will then get shot down into the jungles of the equatorial Land of Kaol. The Jeddak of this land is one Kulan Tith who still follows the old religion propagated by the Therns, but when Matai Shang seeks asylum here he keeps the fact that he has in possession two stolen princesses, and that they are being pursued by a man who has killed thousands for far less valid reasons then stealing his wife. When John Carter arrives, after disguising himself as a blonde Thern, he saves a group of visiting dignitaries from an ambush (saving random people that will turn out to monumentally helpful is kind of his thing), but John Carter has a bit of trouble understanding how disguises work. When Carter is presented to Kulan Tith, and his heroic deeds are described, it doesn’t take Thurid or Matai Shang long to figure out that a Thern who can leap hundreds of yards through the air to lop the heads off his enemies is probably not a Thern. Twice in this book he has a disguise pierced by his trademarked skills that are known across the planet.


So Carter is unmasked but before his death sentence for heresy can be carried out Thuvan Dihn of Ptarth, who is Thuvia's father and was leading the group that Carter saved, stands up for Carter because he had learned of this Earth man’s heroic deed in saving his daughter’s life. When Carter informs him that Matai Shang is holding both Dejah Thoris and Thuvia prisoner Thuvan Dihn demands there release. Matai Shang of course denies the charges, but Kulan Tith promises their release if it is true. Because it is late Matai Shang does not want to wake up his daughter so he promises to hand over the girls in the morning. Everyone agrees to this. WTF? Why would Cater agree to wait one single second more to free his wife from the clutches of a mortal enemy? Well if he demanded her immediate release the book would be over, and that pretty much sums up the weakness of this novel. The drama surrounding this action packed adventure is contrived beyond belief.

And come morning it is of course discovered that Matai Shang and Thurid had snuck away with the girls in the middle of the night. Gullible thy name is John Carter. We are then treated to Carter and Thuvan Dihn racing off in pursuit where they will eventually cross the icy lands of the north and into the realms of the Yellow Martians, a race that was once a dominant species on the planet but who were chased into the icy wilds by the Green Martians. The Yellow Martians eventually reached the Carrion Caves located in the walls of an icy mountain range, defeated the Green Martians and left the millions of rotting corpses in the cave entrance to what would be their new home. These yellow skinned and black bearded residents of realm of Okar live in hothouse cities that are protected by invaders by a massive pillar that works as a giant magnet that draws any ship within reach to its doom. After a ship has been smashed against this massive device the survivors are quickly enslaved.


Note: John Carter continues to fail at understanding how disguises work as at one point while made up with yellow make-up and a fake beard he spots Dejah Thoris in a garden below where he is locked up. He makes the sign of love to her and his heart is crushed when she snubs him. It takes him forever to realize she turned her back on him because to her it looked like just another lecherous Yellow Martian hitting on her. John Carter may be the greatest warrior on two worlds but he’s not always the brightest.

Will John Cater and Thuvan Dihn finally be able to rescue Dejah Thoris and the beautiful maiden Thuvia? And what of Tardos Mors and Mors Kajak who have been missing for almost two full books now? Can our heroes survive the slavering jaws of the Martian Apts, the six limbed beasts that prowl the arctic wastes? Where is ever faithful Woola and what of Tars Tarkas and Cathoris? Can they launch a rescue in time, and if they do will the Helium fleet be dashed pieces by the giant magnet? All these question and more are answered in the action packed pages of The Warlord of Mars.


Note: As the book is written in first person one may find John Carter’s constant descriptions of his own amazing fighting skills to be a bit immodest, but there is one passage that kind of explains his attitude, “If sometimes I take too great pride in my fighting ability, it must be remembered that fighting is my vocation. If your vocation be shoeing horses, or painting pictures, and you can do one or the other better than your fellows, than you are a fool if you are not proud of your ability. And so I am very proud that on two planets no greater fighter has ever lived than John Carter, Prince of Helium.”  Who can argue with that?

Though this book does adequately close the trilogy the repetitive nature of the narrative is a bit tiring, and all the awesome action in the world can’t hide the fact that the basic story boils down to, “Women, what a headache, am I right fellas?” Dejah Thoris is depicted as a woman with spirit, and her love for John Carter is beyond question, but mostly it’s her unparalleled beauty that is her most dominant characteristic in these books as it’s the cause of her constant kidnapping, and the only reason she isn’t constantly being sexually assaulted by her captors every minute of the day is because they’re all too busy fighting amongst themselves about who gets her. That all said there is still a lot of fun to be had with this book, John Carter is still the charismatic action here we’ve grown to love, it’s just that the previous book was so damn good almost anything was bound to be a let done, and sadly this book is definitely that.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Bad Moon (1996) – Review

As a monster the werewolf is never going to win over its more glamorous cousin the vampire, in popularity and sheer volume the vampire movie has the werewolf beat fangs down, but I will always have a soft spot for the werewolf, you’ll never see them sparkling or brooding over schoolgirls.  As a result I’m always a bit thrilled when I’m able to catch a werewolf movie I’ve never seen before, but unfortunately most of the ones I’ve not seen are also not very good, case in point Bad Moon by director Eric Red.


Bad Moon is based on the book Thor by Wayne Smith, but the movie really has little to do with the source material.  I can understand not going with the book’s original title, the dog is named Thor, as it could confuse people into thinking the film is about either a Norse god or a Marvel superhero, but aside from it being about a visiting uncle who turns out to be a werewolf there isn’t much else in common with the book. The biggest difference is that the book is told from the point of view of the dog and unless the filmmakers were to go with goofy ass narration from the dog this probably wouldn't have worked, but sadly ditching that premise also removes what made the book unique and so good. In the book Thor considers himself a member of the family pack, with the human mom and dad being the alphas while the two children are below him in the pecking order, and when Thor senses the evil within a visiting uncle he is confused as to how to protect his pack from this strange new threat. Aside from Thor being a German Sheppard, and a werewolf/uncle visiting his family, there isn't much from the book that makes it to the screen. For one thing the family dynamic is gone as now it’s just a single mom and her son in danger, and the film seems confused as to whether we should be sympathetic to the creepy uncle turned werewolf or if were are supposed to want to shoot him in the face for being an evil bastard.


The movie does lean towards the “shoot him in the face” angle.

We are first introduced to the werewolf as we see photo-journalists Ted Harrison (Michael Paré) and his girlfriend Marjorie (Johanna Marlowe) making camp in the wilds of Nepal, the two head for their tent for a somewhat passionate lovemaking session, ignoring the Nepalese guides who can awkwardly hear everything, but then again sound must work differently in Nepal because when a werewolf attacks and kills one of the guides the two American idiots in the tent hear nothing. Sure having sex kind of focuses your attention but the blood curdling screams outside your tent should at least register a little, but eventually Ted notices a horrific shadow on the side of the tent and realizes the danger their in. This is a little too late as the werewolf then shreds the tent open and proceeds to then shred Marjorie as well.


Worst case of Coitus Interruptus ever.

Ted is savagely clawed by the werewolf (he’s never bitten so this version of lycanthropy diverges wildly from popular mythology even though later he claims that it’s a bite that causes the change), but he's able to reach his shotgun and he blows the werewolf’s head clean off. Like in An American Werewolf in London silver is not required kill a werewolf, but then the film starts getting dodgy with the full moon rules. Later in the film visiting Uncle Ted is sitting on the couch with his nephew Brett (Mason Gamble) as they watch the 1935 classic Werewolf of London, Ted laughs at the idea of a full moon being needed to trigger the transformation stating that, “Maybe there’s different kinds of werewolves but it’s my experience any moon will do the trick.” If we let slide the whole “my experience” bit, a thing that the mom (Mariel Hemingway) doesn’t catch as a red flag that her brother may be a tad nuts, this film constantly shows us that it’s a full moon, in fact this world apparently has full moons that last for days and days, so what the hell is he talking about?


“Sure I’m killing you during a full moon, but I'm doing it ironically.”

Note: The film Werewolf of London doesn't even have a werewolf that is triggered by the full moon, which makes Ted's ridiculing of this trope even dumber.

It’s fun when a film can play with the tropes of a genre, and making up your own rules to popular monster mythology is more than welcome, but you at least have to remain consistent with those rules. We see Ted running off into the woods at dusk to chain himself to a tree, but because he was delayed by having a starring contest with the dog he is too late, and he transforms into the werewolf before properly securing himself. Yet at another time we see Ted heading into the woods when the sun has pretty much already set, which means he should already be sprouting hair and trying to eat his sister.

Inconsistent lycanthropy isn’t the only magical thing in this movie, there's also Ted’s incredible teleporting trailer. Brett and his mom drive out to Timberline Lake to visit Ted at his trailer, where Brett finds a book on werewolves that looks as if it was borrowed from Rupert Giles, but stranger than that is the question, “How did this trailer get here?”


There is no car or truck in evidence; did he tow it here in werewolf form?

When Brett’s mom invites Ted to visit, telling him he can park his trailer in the backyard, we once again ask, “Just how is he going to get it there?” At no point in this movie do we see Ted with a vehicle.


 And there are clearly no access roads to this location, how did it get there?

Then during a live news broadcast from Timberline Lake, which tips off the mom that something dangerous is going on when the reporter mentions five hikers savagely being killed, but even more startling is that Ted’s trailer is clearly parked at the crime scene behind the reporter, despite the fact that’s supposedly still parked in her backyard.


Ted’s trailer is actually a Time Lord's Tardis.

The actual werewolf design in this movie is decent, but when we finally get to see the transformation they went with a mixture of the pumping air bladders from The Howling and the early morphing technology from Michael Jackson’s video Black or White video. To say the end result was less than convincing is being generous. What also failed to work in this movie are the performances; Michael Paré goes from tortured sobbing to moustache twirling villainy and it's ludicrously goofy, and then you have Mariel Hemingway’s comatose delivery of almost every line which raises such questions as, “How did she ever have a career, and was Superman IV: The Quest For Peace actually her best work?”


“Get the fuck off my son, or I'll call Nuclear Man!”

Hemingway is certainly not helped by the script which in one moment tries to show us how she is a sharp lawyer able to see through a traveling conman’s scam but then later, when she is snooping around Ted’s trailer, she finds gruesome photos of his dead girlfriend and a diary chronically his horrible battle with this strange disease that causes blackouts and that he hopes where medicine fails the love of family will cure, and this barely seems to raise a red flag with her.  And Ted seriously hopes to cure lycanthropy with love? Clearly stupidity runs in this family, but this scene raises a few more questions…

• Where did that photo of the dead girlfriend come from? Did photo-journalists Ted take it, if so he is one sick bastard, but if not is he just carrying around a crime scene photo of his murdered girlfriend? Either answer leads us to believe Ted is very messed up.
• Later the mom straight up asks him, “Where is Marjorie?” and he tells her that she’s in Seattle. So she now knows he is purposely concealing the fact that is girlfriend was brutally murdered, and yet she doesn’t confront him about it or at least ask him to get the fuck out of her house.
• The journal she found mentions that her brother is blacking out and waking up covered in blood that is not his own. I don’t care if the local police told her that the five dead hikers were killed by an animal, they died in the vicinity of a man whose girlfriend was savagely killed, and Ted apparently wakes up covered in other people’s blood.  That’s enough reason to ask anybody to, “Get the fuck out!”


Is it considered rude to ask a werewolf to leave?

Of course the mom isn’t the hero of the film, that would be the dog, but because the dog has been super suspicious of Ted all along the asshole uncle provokes the dog into biting him so that the mom is force to call animal control, and then Brett will have to sneak out at night to rescue his best friend while his idiot mom investigates the woods alone and unarmed. The Darwin Awards were invented for people exactly like her.


“Ted, what big teeth you have.”

Bad Moon does have some really fun werewolf moments, the gore alone will keep most fans of the genre happy, but the fact that we have less empathy for Brett and his mom than we do for any of the Friday the 13th dead teenagers does not help. Director/screenwriter Eric Red took a fun an original werewolf book, turned it into a standard monster film and then populated it with fairly uninteresting characters. This is a movie I can only recommend to die hard werewolf fans. If you want to watch a werewolf movie that is so bad its good check out Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf, it’s vastly more entertaining.

Monday, October 10, 2016

The Stepford Wives: From Book to Screen

The term “Stepford Wife” entered the world’s lexicon shortly after author Ira Levin’s book was published back in 1972, and I’d say more people are familiar with the term and it's meaning (i.e. a woman who seems to conform blindly to an old-fashioned subservient role in relationship to her husband) than they are with the source material it came from. There have been two theatrical adaptations of Levin’s book, and several made-for-television spin-offs, but the original novel remains as chilling and relevant as ever.


The original story is a hard thing to quantify; it’s mostly billed as a satirical thriller but there are definite science fiction elements, as for me I’d consider it a horror/mystery. This is one of those rare books that knowing the “terrible secret” from the outset only adds to the terror; knowing what horrible danger the protagonist is up against only increases the tension as you fly through the pages of this woman’s doomed journey. For those few of you unfamiliar with the story The Stepford Wives is about a family moving to the small town of Stepford, Connecticut and we follow the wife Joanna Eberhart, a talented photographer, as she slowly discovers this idyllic town may not be what it seems. That her husband joins a “Men Only” club immediately puts her on edge, which even in the 70s was considered an outdated concept by most.


Women check in but they don’t check out.

She befriends neighbor Bobbie Markowe, a spirited ex city girl like Joanna who arrived a couple months earlier, and the two marvel at the zombiefied hausfraus of Stepford. The pair befriend another woman, Charmaine Wimperis, who is like minded as they are when it comes to “wifely duties” and is even more outspoken about her not even caring for sex, “Look, I just don’t enjoy having a big cock shoved into me, that’s all.” Our duo is then shocked to learn that a month later she has torn up her tennis court so her husband could have a putting green. She had become just as docile and “pleasing” as the other women of Stepford.


“I just love squeezing the Charmin.”

It’s a this point Bobbie becomes convinced there is something in the town’s water supply that is turning women into men pleasing puppets, but of course it’s more insidious than that. Joanna and Bobby investigate further and discover that there use to be a strong woman’s rights group in town, and now the founder of the group, once a strong feminist activist, is now just a simple housewife only concerned with keeping her home clean and her husband happy. Bobby starts to panic and tells Joanna she is getting her husband to move them out of Stepford before it's too late, Joanna herself makes overtures about leaving to her husband, and he’s seems cool with the idea, only stating that it would be best to wait for the kids to be out of school before moving. Then when Bobbie comes home from a romantic getaway at a local spa with her husband Joanna is horrified to see that she has become one of the Stepford Wives.


And with an apparent boob job.

Joanna demands to move immediately but her husband insists she see a psychiatrist as her paranoia and fear is unreasonable. She sees the shrink, who tries to reassure her that chemical brainwashing of a population of women is not possible, and is given a prescription for tranquilizers. Soon after this Joanna starts to put the pieces together; all the members of the “Men’s Association” come from a variety of technological fields, with the president of the group an ex-Disneyland employee who designed the animatronic robots for the park’s attractions, she finally comes to the conclusion that women aren’t being brainwashed but that they are being replaced by robots. She tries to escape the town, having discovered they have taken her children, but is eventually cornered by the men. The men deny the accusations that Joanna is making about them, and they ask her if she would believe them if she saw one of the other women bleed. She agrees and they take her to Bobbie's house, and the scene ends as Bobbie brandishes a knife at her former friend.


Come on,” Bobbie said. “The men are waiting.

We then get an epilogue revealing that Joanna has now become a Stepford Wife as she glides blissfully down the aisles of the supermarket. That is a pretty dark ending, and the book’s slow build up to this moment is simply terrifying. This isn’t some evil alien race or supernatural power doing this, it’s being done by ones who were supposed to be loving husbands. The book is told solely from Joanna’s point of view; we never get a look into the Men’s Association or hear them talk about their motivations, and this is a smart decision on the author's part, what possible amount of dialog could explain a group of men deciding to murder their spouses and replace them with robots? The book is a clear satirical jab at the men of the time who were resisting the feminist movement and women’s decisions to explore life outside of the home; thus the men in this book are just shadowy figures with cold and cruel desires.

Note: Ira Levin also wrote Rosemary’s Baby, so basically I think he’s trying to say that men are assholes and not to be trusted.


In 1975 director Bryan Forbes, with screenwriter William Goldman, brought Ira Levin’s book to the big screen in what is a very faithful adaptation. Joanna Eberhart (Katharine Ross) and husband Walter (Peter Masterson) move with their two children from the big city to the charming town of Stepford, she befriends fellow newcomer to town, the sloppy, irrepressible and fun Bobbie Markowe (Paula Prentiss), and briefly hang-out with Charmaine Wimperis (Tina Louise) until she is Stepfordized into having her tennis court plowed under to make way for her husband’s swimming pool (not a putting green as in the book). The movie pretty much covers all the events found in the book and even adds in a few; when one of the Stepford wives is “injured” in a fender bender Joanna notices that the ambulance is heading in the opposite direction to where the Stepford hospital is located, and later at a party that same wife is then seen repeatedly stating, “I'll just die if I don't get this recipe.” This "glitch" is our first clue that robots may be involved. In the book we only suspect robots because of president of the Men’s Association Dale "Diz" Coba (Patrick O'Neal) being expert on robotics from his prior work at Disneyland, but in the movie the “glitches” and the attitude of them women quickly has the viewer suspecting what’s actually going on.


Also Dale Coba is a huge douche.

In the book and movie Joanna doesn’t believe his nickname "Diz" came from his working at Disneyland, stating, “You don’t look like someone who enjoys making people happy” and the film doubles down on the douchery by having Coba state, “I like to watch women doing little domestic chores.” As villains go he is one of the best, you just love to hate him, as he just oozes entitlement and menace.

One of the key differences between the book and this movie is that we occasionally gets scenes with Walter and the group from the Men’s Association while as I mentioned earlier the book is only from Joanna’s viewpoint. In the book Walter is more of a cypher, we don’t get to know much about him, and when he returns from his first night at the men’s club Joanna is awakened by him masturbating next to her. This implies that Walter was very turned on by the idea of his wife being replaced by a submissive robot, while in the movie we have a moment where Walter tells his wife that he really does love her, as if he isn't quite on board with having her replaced, and Coba at one point questions if Walter is really sure about Stepford. The movie Walter is made a little more sympathetic, for a man planning murder that is, while the book Walter is clearly a man just biding his time until his sex toy arrives.


“So she’ll do laundry and anal?”

The biggest difference between the book and the 1975 movie is the ending; where the book has Joanna meeting her end under the knife of robot Bobbie the film turns it around and has Joanna stab Bobbie, who then proceeds to not bleed and wanders around the kitchen glitching spasmodically. This kicks aside any doubts as to what is going on and motivates Joanna to find her children and flee for her life. When she goes home she finds her children missing and is forced to beat the information of where they are out of her husband, and he tells her that they are up at the Men’s Association, and like an idiot she believes him. This results in her being trapped inside the Men’s Association with Koba and her robot double.


 Going by the black eyes she’s either a robot or a demon.

The movie then ends as the book did with the robot duplicate of Joanna placidly purchasing groceries at the local supermarket, where we also see one of the newer residents and next victim of Stepford arguing with her husband, and thus the horrific cycle continues. As adaptations go this is one of the better ones, though not completely faithful to the book (as they are two different mediums that's really an unrealistic goal) but it captured the spirit of the Ira Levin’s novel perfectly. The only moment I didn’t care for was when “Diz” Coba confronts Joanna at the end telling her, “It's nothing like you imagine, just a, another stage. Think about it like that, and there's nothing to it.” This sounds more like something you’d hear from the pod people in Invasion of the Body Snatchers not from someone who is murdering women and replacing them with robots. Did he honestly think Joanna would suddenly realize being killed would improve her life? More likely he just loves to hear himself talk. Minor changes aside this is an excellent thriller with its only real fault being the pacing, at two hours it feels rather sluggish at times, but overall this a movie well worth checking out.


You can find the book or DVD in aisle three.

Worth checking out is not something that can be said of the 2004 remake by Frank Oz. This version of The Stepford Wives  is mostly known for the problems during film making, where absolutely no one was having a good time with some cast members even threatening to walk. It’s not easy to make a good movie, it doesn’t matter how many talented are people involved a lot can still go wrong, but in the case of this movie everything went wrong.


Where at times the 1975 version was a scene for scene adaptation of the book this remake is almost an in name only adaptation; Joanna Eberhart (Nicole Kidman) is no longer a mild mannered amateur photographer with hopes of making it big, now she’s a successful reality television executive producer with such idiotic shows as “You Could Do Better” where women leave there husbands so they can screw porn stars. The original book and movie was a satirically look at the battle of the sexes; taking a hard and nasty look at men who preferred their women barefoot and pregnant, while in this version women are, and I quote, “high-powered, neurotic, castrating, Manhattan career bitches” and according to the villain of this piece the world would be a better place without them.


“I’m totally not overcompensating.”

When one of her reality shows, where spouses choose between each other or prostitutes, results in one of the jilted men going on a shooting spree, Joanna is fired and has a nervous breakdown. Apparently a woman who has reached the top of her profession is still a brittle little girl inside. *sheesh* Her husband Walter (Matthew Broderick) quits his job as vice president of the Network and decides the best thing for their family, after Joanna receives shock treatment, is a change of scenery so they leave for the small gated community of Stepford, Connecticut. All the homes in Stepford are palatial mansions, with all the latest technological toys installed, which made me wonder just how two unemployed television execs are affording this, but let’s not let logic and sense spoil the fun. Walter seems to be enjoying the new surroundings, all the women are gorgeous and comment favorably about his “package,” but Joanna doesn’t seem to fit in. She still insists in dressing all in black and wearing pants while the Stepford wives wear flower print dresses and heels, even when doing aerobics. And yes, this looks as dumb as it sounds.


Dear Frank Oz, there is a difference between satire and outright stupidity.

Joanna has two allies in the war against conformity; Bobbie Markowitz (Bette Midler), a writer of such books as "I love You But Please Die,” and Roger Bannister (Roger Bart), a flamboyant gay man who has moved to town with his long-time partner and staunch republican. Roger replaces the Charmaine character from the original and it could have worked if it wasn’t such an over-the-top clichéd performance, and when he is changed, sporting a Brooks Brothers suit, he informs Joanna and Bobbie that, “I now know that being gay doesn’t mean a guy has to be effeminate or flamboyant, or sensitive. I’m no sissy.”


An openly gay republican running for the Senate? Yep, this is a fantasy.

The mystery element that is a highlight of the book is completely missing here; instead we are treated to our bumbling heroes stumbling around the Men’s Association like they were in an episode of Scooby Doo.  When Joanna discovers that Bobby has been changed like the others there is no foreboding terror, just bad comedy. I’m not saying there isn’t a way to turn a dark satiric thriller into a comedy but Frank Oz clearly didn’t have a clue as to how to pull this off, and the failed comedy isn’t even the film’s greatest crime, that would be Oz's abject cowardice. In both the book, and the 1975 movie, women were being killed and replaced by robots, and it’s clear that was going to be the case here as well, but then once again Frank Oz fell victim to test screenings. When he made the musical remake of Little Shop of Horrors he had the film end with the plants killing the heroes and taking over the world, but when it tested poorly he dumped that ending and tacked on a stupid happily ever after.


Seriously, who doesn’t prefer this ending?

Well the exact thing happened with his remake of The Stepford Wives; the women of Stepford were supposed to have been murdered and replaced with robots, but test audiences did not respond well to this so they did some reshoots and changed the ending. Now we are told that the women have had microchips planted in their brains and their bodies augmented to the ideal form (Or their chipped brains are placed inside clones. The movie refuses to be clear on this), and this allows all the women to be “saved” at the end of the movie by having the nano-chips deactivated. Extra footage was shot to work this "miracle change" but then they didn’t bother to remove earlier footage that clearly shows the exact opposite of this. When Walter is at the Men’s Association the leader Mike (Christopher Walken) tells one of the husbands to give Walter the $20 dollars he owes him, and the man does this by calling his wife into the room where she then spits out the money like an ATM machine.


This is stupid on multiple levels so let’s unpack it a little.

• The husband hands her his ATM card saying, “I need $20 you know the pin.” This implies that she is an actually ATM machine which means the local bank has to make daily drops of money to her.
• Reading an ATM card, internally entering a pin number, and then spitting out cash proves that this woman is a machine and not a brain chip controlled person or even clone.
• They do this all in front of Walter without the insurance that he isn’t going to freak out and inform the authorities.
• Walter’s reaction is, “She gives singles?

Neither the book nor the 1975 movie gets into how the Men’s Association picks its members but it is implied that the men are completely aware of the “women being replaced by robots” plan before actually arriving in Stepford; one can assume that the Stepford men feel out like minded individuals whose skills could add to their overall plans. Dropping this bomb on a recently unemployed television executive, right in the heart of their lair, is very careless. I guess we can assume if he reacted poorly they would have murdered him on the spot, but that just adds to the whole incredibly stupid part of their plan. That Walter’s true love for his wife is the town’s eventually undoing proves their vetting process sucks. Yet the idiocy isn’t over yet; after a tearful Joanna is lowered into the bowels of Men’s Association with her husband, to be turned into a fembot (or whatever the fuck these things are supposed to be) in their secret lab, we cut to her and all the Stepford wives serenely purchases groceries in their pastel gowns.


This is a nod and a fuck you to the original.

As it turns out true love won they day after all and Walter had just faked turning his wife into a bimbot, and while she distracted Mike with a waltz during formal ball he was able to sneak down into the lab and deactivate the nano-chips, because television execs are all well versed in neurobiology and the computer sciences involved. In fact he defeated the machine by simply repeatedly pounding on the key pad, and because this is a comedy we are supposed to accept this works. Yet this idiotic plot isn’t done with it's moronic reveals as Joanna then knocks Mike’s head off and he’s revealed to be a robot, and that the real orchestrator of Stepford is Mike’s wife Clair (Glen Close) who, like all the Stepford wives were at one time, was a powerful career minded woman who was so caught up in her work that she ignored her husband which resulted in him cheating on her. Clair then murdered her husband and his lover and then decided that the world would be a better place if she turned back the clock to a time before women were turning themselves into figurative robots. She chose Connecticut as a good place to start when she asked herself, "Where would people never notice a town full of robots?" After her moronic monologue she kisses her robot husband’s severed head and is electrocuted.


After this “shocking ending” you may need a stiff drink.

We are then treated to an epilogue where we find Joanna, Bobbie and Roger on Larry King as they inform the world that all the husbands are now serving a house arrest sentence in Stepford, and forced to do the menial chores they’d programmed their wives to do. I know this is supposed to be one of those poetic justice endings but it comes across as decidedly lame; these men committed what accounts to both physical and mental rape of their spouses, they should not be squeezing the Charmin they should be breaking rocks in Leavenworth. And what of the wives who we learned were all CEOs, judges and powerful movers and shakers in the world? Their recently chipped controlled brains are now in these genetically grown bodies, can they possibly return to their old lives? Would a Fortune 500 company risk taking them back? Are they even considered human under the law? Sure this is a stupid comedy, and I’m probably way overthinking this, but it’s clear the makers of this film but no thought into it at all. That they took a satirical story about threatened masculinity, that still resonates today, and then made the villain a woman. What the fuck?


This is what you get for making Dalmatian fur coats.

Women’s rights and the feminist movement have come a long way since the 70s, women are no longer expected to fulfil preconceived gender roles, but the fight isn’t quite over yet. Women are often still being paid less, and laws are continually being written to control the very rights to their own bodies, so a 21st century remake of The Stepford Wives would have still been relevant without having to make drastic changes to the story, hell at the time of this article most of the Republican leadership believes that America should go back to the carefree days of Leave it Beaver and Make Room for Daddy, so making a movie about the modern woman being “castrating career bitches” who are brought down by their emasculated husbands is just insulting.  That they were being manipulated by a woman, who simply wanted to go back to wearing chiffon, makes it even worse.  It kind of sends the message that, "Men aren't chauvinistic pricks, it's modern women who are the problem."  How this movie was originally supposed to end, before test screenings forced the director to hand over his balls, we may never know, and just how much responsibilities lies with screenwriter Paul Rudnick is another unknown factor. What we do know is that Frank Oz was at the helm of this disaster and he hasn't done much since.


Maybe Frank Oz has issues he’s trying to work out on his own.