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Monday, May 30, 2016

X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) – Review

In this movie the mutant speedster Quicksilver saves a bunch of Charles Xavier’s gifted youngsters when the X-Mansion blows up. Sadly that is about the only true heroic moment in this film. Sure it’s fun seeing superheroes slugging it out with supervillainous counterparts or in the case of Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice and Captain America: Civil War  superheroes slugging it out with each other, but my question is that with all this massive carnage, supposedly on the behest of humanity, is that a good thing? Way back in the year 2000 Bryan Singer gave us the first X-Men movie, a film that most would agree really started the current superhero boom, and it dealt with the villainous Magneto’s plan of turning all the world leaders into mutants to further his pro-mutant stance, but now it’s sixteen years later and history seems to be repeating itself. Is humanity any better off? Or more importantly can we get an original script out of Hollywood?


A long time ago Superman was pulling cats out of trees and stopping California from falling into the ocean, but now the percentage of “average joes” saved is infinitesimal to the amount that are killed when a superhero arrives on the scene. Both BVS and Civil War tried to explore this issue to varying degrees of success, but now with X-Men: Apocalypse we get a movie that makes the message clear, “Kill or lock up any and all super-powered persons you can find!” Its films like this that makes it hard for anyone to side with Professor Xavier or Captain America as the defense of “Without superheroes the supervillains would cause even more destruction” is getting harder and harder to swallow.


Even if said supervillains are destroying more landmarks than invading aliens.

I found myself completely detached with most of the goings on in X-Men: Apocalypse, there just wasn’t much in way of emotional connections to any of these characters, and boy are there a lot of characters in this movie, so that when the credits finally rolled I just felt, “Meh.” I mean how many times can the world be on the brink of total destruction before one reaches the point of, “Fuck it, I don’t give a damn anymore.” I believe this all comes down to Hollywood always wanting to up the stakes for each movie in their respective franchises, and because upping the stakes emotionally isn’t enough they have to constantly blow shit up. But enough of my pontificating, let’s get down to the nitty gritty of X-Men: Apocalypse.


Enter Apocalypse.

The movie begins in ancient Egypt where we learn that an all-powerful being had positioned himself as a god among the Egyptians, but when some of the locals destroyed his temple, trapping him and his “Four Horsemen” inside, mankind was given a few thousand year respite from his tyranny. Flash forward to the 1980s and CIA agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne) accidentally awakens the “god” while investigating some Egyptian cultists. This god is of course Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) and he was the world’s first mutant. He immediately starts to recruit present day mutants to become his new horsemen, while overseas Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) is also recruiting mutants of his own but not for an army, they are for his school for gifted youngsters.


Those glasses means he’s gifted and not fashion challenged as one would assume.

I’d say over fifty percent of this movie is introducing us to mutants. We get Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) rescuing Nightcrawler/Kurt Wagner (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and Angel (Ben Hardy) from an East Berlin underground fight club that forces mutants to fight each other. Raven takes Kurt to see Caliban (Tómas Lemarquis) a mutant black marketer who runs some kind of Underground Railroad or something.

Note: In the comics Caliban was a member of the mutant group known as the Morlocks, and he'd eventually become one of Apocalypse’s Horsemen because he was offered greater power, but in this movie it’s his bodyguard Psylocke (Olivia Munn) who catches Apocalypse’s eye. One assumes her sexy outfit and cool purple sword were just too hard to pass up.


But can you blame him?

Meanwhile stateside teenage Scott Summers/Cyclops' (Tye Sheridan) mutant powers manifest while being tormented by a school bully, his ability to fire destructive optic blasts whenever he opens his eyes is something most schools will not overlook, and so his brother Alex/Havok (Lucas Till) brings him to Xavier’s school to learn to control this new and destructive power. While at this school he runs into Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) a young woman who is telepathic as well as telekinetic, and we get glimpses of their future together…that is if her dreams of the End of the World don’t come true. Meanwhile over in Cairo a pickpocket by the name of Ororo Munroe/Storm (Alexandra Shipp) is recruited by Apocalypse and he amps up her power which causes her to get her trademark white hair. As Storm is one of my favorite X-Men this change from her origin of being found by Xavier really pissed me off.


That Alexandra Shipp looks awesome as Storm does help ease my pain.

With Storm, Psylocke, and eventually Angel as his horsemen Apocalypse finds himself one mutant short. Lucky for him Magneto’s family had just been murdered so Erik (Michael Fassbender) is more than willing to get on the Destroy the World bandwagon. *sigh* Can we give Magneto any other motivation other than revenge for the death of a loved one? Worse is that in this movie he basically becomes a glorified flunky to Apocalypse.


“I am no one’s lackey.”

One of the greatest dangers in a comic book movie is the overloading of characters and exposition, and in this movie it’s just insane how much is dumped on us. Marvel Studios probably provided the best examples of balancing a team movie, but even they stumbled with Avengers: Age of Ultron. But with Marvel movies they try and keep the amount of new characters manageable while in X-Men: Apocalypse it’s just a mosh pit of people that we are never given enough time to care about. It doesn’t matter if Psylocke or Storm look as if they leapt straight out of the comic book, not if the results are characters that are basically two dimensional non-entities, and that’s me being generous. Cyclops and Jean Grey are given a bit more fleshing out, but much of it seems like set up for further movies and not really pertinent to the one were currently watching. In fact a lot of this movie seems like set up for further films and that Apocalypse is just the catalyst, and a rather boring one at that.


Though we finally do get bald James McAvoy.

Bryan Singer is a very talented director but this story, and the screenplay by Simon Kinberg (who wrote the craptuclar screenplay for the latest Fantastic Four movie), is just a bloody mess. At almost two and a half hours in length I felt every minute of it, and was almost exhausted by the amount of extraneous action and characters put into what is basically just another “Villain wants to destroy the world” plot. There is an entire sequence where William Stryker (Josh Helman) shows up to capture some of the mutants and take them to his secret base at Alkali lake, for those not familiar with X2 this is the place where Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) was given his adamantium claws and turned into Weapon X, and it has nothing to do with the current plot. It’s a completely unnecessary side journey just so we can get a Hugh Jackman cameo.


Wolverine is a badass, totally pointless here, but nevertheless a badass.

With the kind of cast on display here I expected better, and it’s clear that Jennifer Lawrence has become rather sick of this character as her performance bordered on the lethargic. Seeing Sophie Turner getting the chance to kick ass, after seasons of seeing her Sansa Stark getting dumped on, was rather nice, but I kept thinking of how the young mutants in X-Men: First Class were given a much better treatment than what Jean Grey, Cyclops and company got here. And again Storm was just bloody wasted in this film, and that is criminal. On the plus side the visual effects are stunning; Nightcrawler’s teleporting is portrayed decently if not as dramatically as it was in X2, and things did blow up really well. Hollywood has really got good at ripping cities from their foundations, and I’d be surprised if there wasn’t off the shelf software for such things now. But alas this all leads to X-Men: Apocalypse becoming another typical action film, all sound and fury signifying nothing. This is something I have come to expect from the likes of Michael Bay but not Bryan Singer.

Final Thoughts:
• Why did the pyramid have what appeared to be self-destruction devices? Did the slaves secretly incorporate this into the design?
• How did that accidentally shot arrow go through Magneto’s daughter far enough to kill her mother as well?
• Havok has the most stupid and pointless deaths ever.
• Magneto needs a trip to Auschwitz to remind him that humans are terrible.
• Stryker takes out a group of mutants with the some kind of anti-mutant gun, but later when Wolverine escapes none of his men are armed with such a device. Seems like bad planning.
• Quicksilver’s slow-motion running scene is again one of the best moments in the film.


“Sweet dreams are made of these. Who am I to disagree?”

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle: Edgar Rice Burroughs - Book Review

TarzanLordOfTheJungle-C1Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle is the 11th book in the series, released in serialized form in Blue Book Magazine from December 1927 through May 1928, but due to it's subject matter could have been titled “Tarzan and the Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.” We all know that Tarzan discovered the City of Opar, the lost outpost of Atlantis back in The Return of Tarzan, and has popped in to visit the high priestess and her minions from time to time, but that was only the beginning of Tarzan’s adventures with lost civilizations. From mysterious valleys ruled by intelligent gorillas to hidden away cites populated by Lilliputian warriors Tarzan makes it a habit of discovering lost worlds, and Tarzan Lord of the Jungle is another example of this favorite trope of Edgar Rice Burroughs.

The book begins with Tarzan having a relaxing afternoon sunbathing on the back of the mighty Tantor, but when Arab raiders try and shoot the elephant, not having spotted the Ape Man resting on his back, the elephant is spooked and Tarzan is knocked off by a passing branch as the beast charges away. Tarzan is of course rendered unconscious, and sadly this is a reoccurring theme when it comes to Tarzan. The amount of times he is accidentally knocked unconscious is staggering, with the worst culprit being Tarzan falling out of tree (usually because a branch failed to support him, or as happens later in this book a tree he is perched in is hit by lightning, which makes one wonder if the gods are against our hero), and this becomes kind of embarrassing. This stems from the problem of having created a character so badass that having him captured by anything less than overwhelming forces is improbable.  Instead Burroughs has Tarzan repeatedly knocked out so that he can wake up later, tied and imprisoned, so that he can then escape using his jungle wiles. I call this “padding out the story” and it rarely serves the plot to any relevant extent.



Tarzan himself could almost be considered padding in this book as he is far from being the main character here; that would be American photojournalist James Blake. After escaping from the cruel and duplicitous Arab raiders, who have ventured through Tarzan’s territory on a quest to discover the fabled treasure city of Nimmr, Tarzan encounters James Blake and Wilbur Stimbol who are on a hunting safari; Blake with camera, Stimbol with rifle. Stimbol is your standard “Big Game Hunter” that is found in many of the Tarzan books and movies, as he is a complete racist asshat who insults and belittles all the natives who make up the safari’s bearers. Blake on the other hand is a decent chap who eventually decides that their natures are too different and that it would be best if they split up the safari, but the problem with that is none of the natives want to be part of Stimbol’s group.
Stimbol first encountered Tarzan when he was trying to shoot a gorilla but not only does Tarzann rescues the gorilla from being shot he also saves the ape from the coils of Histah the snake. Tarzan than basically tells Stimbol to get the hell out of his jungle. Stimbol, being the ugly American, does not take to being talked to this way by a naked savage. Let’s just say things don’t go so well for Stimbol in this book. Even if Tarzan doesn’t personally wreck your shit jungle karma will get you in the ass.

During a severe lightning storm, the one that leaves Tarzan unconscious, *sigh* Blake is separated from his safari and ends up stumbling upon the entrance to the lost valley of Nimmr. Blake is first shocked to find a giant white crucifix in the middle of the jungle but that pales in comparison to him finding two black men dressed up as Templar Knights, and that they address him in such vernacular as, “Od zounds!” and “What has thou there, varlet?” Blake is taken into custody and brought before the prince who rules half of the valley. At first Blake believes he’s stumbled into a movie production but soon the reality of the situation becomes apparent and he settles into becoming a knight. Turns out the people of this valley where on their way to the Holy Land, to partake in Richard’s Crusade when their ship was run aground upon the shores of Africa. Upon finding this valley, which they dubbed “The Valley of the Sepulcher” half of the knights claimed that this concluded their mission and that they could now return to England, while the other half believed it was their duty to continue on to Jerusalem. This feud has gone on for seven and a half centuries, along with the belief that there valley is surrounded by Saracen hordes.

Blake, with some smooth talking, is able to join the ranks of the Knights of Nimmr.  With his skilled horsemanship, as well as modern sword fighting techniques, he does rather well for himself. There is of course a beautiful princess in this medieval world, and Blake is destined to fall in love with her. Our American hero will be forced to joust and sword fight many opponents to eventually win the heart of thy fair maiden, who in turn will at first spurn his love as is required by Burroughs Lessons of Love 101, but then will of course be kidnapped multiple times by various villains.

And what of Tarzan? Well he’s basically just wandering around the jungle; hanging with apes, riding Tantor, the usually Ape Man schtick, but eventually he will try and locate the missing Blake.  He'll have several encounters with the traitorous Arabs before finally finding himself in The Valley of the Sepulcher. Tarzan’s adventures in this book are easily the least interesting part of this book, well not as bad as the stuff with Stimbol and his pathetic shenanigans but nowhere near as fun as the stuff with Blake as bloody Knight of the Round Table.


James Blake is a fantastic character, the lost world he finds hearkens back to Burroughs’ other medieval tale The Outlaw of Torn, and is something the author clearly has more fun in writing about than just another simple Tarzan adventure. This "predominant secondary character" will become the norm for the remainder of this series as allows Burroughs to throw in some romance, a staple of his books, which is hard to do if Tarzan is the sole protagonist as Tarzan is very much still married.  With characters like Blake Burroughs is able to still do his “will they won’t they” love story. This book not only has a love story between an American photographer and a medieval princess but we also get a star-crossed romance between one of the Arab raiders and the Sheik’s daughter. This kind of explains Jane’s absence for many of these stories, she’s just not needed. In this book Tarzan himself is barely needed; that he, Jad-bal-ja the golden lion, and the Waziri warriors showing up at the end to save the day seems almost intrusive.


Burroughs obviously wanted to take another shot at a medieval adventure/love story, but as Outlaw of Torn was less than successful he decided to Trojan it in with a Tarzan story. This is still a very entertaining book, and a very fast read, but would it have been better minus Tarzan and instead dealt solely with Blake and the lost city of Nimmr? Probably, but there is still enough badass moments with Tarzan in this book to make his appearances worth reading, and not too much of a distraction.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Mighty Peking Man (1977) – Review

With the amount of hype being generated by the production of Dino DeLaurentiis’s 1976 King Kong remake it’s not surprising that A*P*E wasn't the only movie trying to cash in on the publicity, so a year later we got Shaw Brothers, the makers of Infra-Man, and their big ape film The Mighty Peking Man. While the big budget Paramount remake decided to go with a man in an ape suit for their Kong, because the 40ft robot they built could barely movie, the Shaw Brothers went with the suit idea because that’s just what Japanese monster movies use. And boy is the suit used for The Mighty Peking Man a doozy.  (Note: Still much better than the suit that was used in A*P*E)


The movie opens with a group of Hong Kong businessmen discussing the capturing of the mythical Peking Man who is believed to inhabit the Himalayan mountains. Promoter Lu Tiem (Feng Ku) tells us, in flashback form, of how the Mighty Peking Man appeared out of an explosive earthquake, devastating a nearby village despite the natives trying to defend themselves with catapults. And no I haven’t a clue as to why jungle natives had catapults handy. Unfortunately said catapults weren’t very usefull and Peking Man totally wrecks their shit, and then he destroys a mountain temple burying alive all the natives hiding inside.


I guess he woke up particularly cranky that day.

The businessmen realize that they’ll need a jungle explorer on their team if they hope to succeed and Lu Tiem knows just the man, "I know an explorer here in Hong Kong! He just lost his girl! He wants to get away!" I know that if I'm going into dangerous trackless jungle I want a heartbroken drunk to lead me.  The explorer in question is one Johnny Fang (Danny Lee) and Lu Tiem finds him drowning his sorrows at a local bar. We later learn that Johnny was engaged to Lucy (Pin Chen), an actress with a strong career mindset, and to advance her career she sleeps with Johnny’s brother who happens to be a television producer. Lu Tiem is able to convince Johnny to sign up on the hunt for Peking Man with a simple pitch, “"You're going to lead our expedition into the Himalayan jungle! You're the only one I trust!" Deciding that he can continue pickling his liver later Johnny agrees. We are then treated to your standard jungle safari dangers as our “heroes” are plagued with elephant stampedes, super-quicksand, and ferocious leg stealing tigers. And in case the audience hasn’t tumbled onto the fact that Lu Tiem is a bit of a dick when one of the native porters has his leg ripped off by the aforementioned tiger Lu Tiem shoots the man with the excuse, “He was suffering, why waste the medicine?” So he’s definitely no Albert Schweitzer.


Question: Are those natives in blackface or are they just filthy?

More porters die when they start to climb the mountain and Lu Tiem starts talking about giving up on the expedition, but Johnny is too determined to quit. Why, you ask?  I've got no idea, maybe he made a bar bet that he'd bring back the big one.  When they eventually find huge footprints, evidence that they are getting close, Lu Tiem’s dickishness reaches new levels as he sneaks out in the middle of the night, taking all the porters with him, leaving Johnny alone in the dangerous jungle. The next morning Johnny almost immediately runs into the elusive Peking Man, and is only saved from a stomping by Sheena Queen of the Jungle…wait no I mean by Samantha (Evelyne Kraft), a blonde jungle girl who turns out to be the Peking Man’s best friend. In another flashback we learn that Samantha’s parents died when their plane crashed in the jungle when she was a little girl, and she has been taken care of by Ootam the Peking Man ever since. So basically they lifted that plot element from Tarzan Finds a Son and just swapped out Ape Man with Giant Ape.


Samantha’s one-strap jungle bikini spends the entire movie giving us nipple peaks.

Johnny and Samantha fall in love to a horrible 70s love ballad while manhandling a leopard, and at times the leopard looks either disgusted at his situation and at others about ready to rip someone’s face off. Later Samantha is bitten by a cobra, which is then killed by her leopard friend, but she is only saved when Johnny is able to suck out the poison and make some medicine from leaves provided by Ootam.

This really hurts her credibility as a jungle goddess and makes one wonder how she survived out here all these years. Johnny is able to convince Samantha to return with him to civilization, and to bring Ootam along. Her immediate agreement with this idea must have something to do with Johnny’s sexual prowess as her decision is so sudden as to almost give the audience whiplash. Samantha says goodbye to all her jungle friends, and the trio head for the nearest Indian city.


“One more day of this and I’d have eaten both of them.”

When they reach civilization they straightaway run into Lu Tiem, and for some reason Johnny doesn’t punch the traitorous asshat in the face. It’s as if being abandoned to die in the jungle is one of those “Well wadda ya gonna do” things. So apparently all is forgiven, and with dollar signs dancing in his head Lu Tiem books a freighter that will carry them all to Hong Kong. Samantha is not happy with the fact that Ootam must be chained to the deck (everyone is worried about a giant ape getting anxious and floundering the ship), but even if the reason for him being chained is sensible everyone, including Johnny, is a bit of a dick about it. Worse is that Lu Tiem forces the captain to sail into a typhoon so as to not lose anytime and booking dates for Peking Man.
Ootam even saves them from being stuck on the rocks, but how is he thanked?


“If not for the courage of the fearless ape, the Minnow would be lost.”

While Ootam is saving the day Johnny and Samantha make out in the rain and right in front of the big guy. Now earlier in the jungle the big dumb ape had peaked in on the two of them making whoopee, so I’m wondering just why Ootam is putting up with any of this, and why Johnny isn’t toe jam by now. When they eventually make it to Hong Kong Ootam is chained up to multiple tractors because giant-ape-tractor-pull is the kind of attraction people have been clamoring for.   While Ootam is being mistreated there is more drama in the offing; Johnny runs into his brother and it’s all hugs and smiles even though this is the guy who slept with his fiancé, then Johnny gets a note from Lucy saying she wants to meet and so Johnny ditches Samantha so that he can hook-up with his ex.  I’m starting to wonder if Johnny has some kind brain damage that has given him the memory of a goldfish or if he is possibly the most forgiving man in the world. Unfortunately Samantha stumbles in on them while they are “making up” and she flees in sorrow.

So this guy takes a woman away from her home and all she knows, and then he almost immediately dumps her for his ex? What a total dick. Samantha runs to get some consoling from Ootam but she instead finds the big ape being tortured by his handlers. Then, not to be out dicked by Johnny, Lu Tiem proceeds to rape Samantha.


This begs the question, do giant ape movies really require a rape scene?

Unfortunately for Lu Tiem he decided to commit this sexual assault in full view of Ootam’s cage and the ape completely loses it. (Safety Tip: Do not have sex in front of a giant ape, consensual or otherwise) This leads to the citywide rampage we’ve been waiting for, and for some unfathomable purpose Lu Tiem abducts Samantha.  Ootam the proceeds to chase them across the city until he finally catches up with the little scumbag and then Lu Tiem meets the same end as Fred Wilson did in the 1976 King Kong, he is stomped into grape jelly. As much as Charles Grodin’s Fred Wilson was a jerk he certainly wasn’t a rapist asshole like Lu Tiem, so this character ending was actually fitting.


Note: As bad as their monsters suits can get the Japanese do make excellent city models.

The military goes into full on “Kill, kill, kill!” mode but Johnny explains to them that if they can find Samantha she can talk Ootam out of destroying the city. When Johnny eventually finds Samantha they get White General Dude to agree to let them calm Ootam down. Our two heroes race up the building that Ootam is perched on, swatting at military helicopters as one is want to do if you are a giant ape, and are able to calm the ape down. But it turns out that White General Dude is actually Evil White General Dude, and he had the buildings water reservoirs filled with gasoline, which he intends to detonate and kill the Mighty Peking Man. Why did he need the ape calmed down for him to do this? I have no idea, but then again I’m not an Evil White General Dude.


Burnt giant ape has got to smell just terrible.

The story of King Kong has always been a tragic tale, a beast taken out of its native environment, let loose in a modern world only to be killed by things he cannot even understand. Now the makers of The Mighty Peking Man apparently didn’t believe Kong had a dark enough ending, so they also kill Samantha. Yeah, the two innocents in this movie meet a horrible while Johnny just gets to be sad, for awhile at least as and I’m assuming he'll go back and shack up with Lucy before long.


Johnny, what a dick.

This is a terrible ending and certainly nothing the film has earned up to this point. This film does have some fun moments, the ape suit is beyond silly, but it lacks the goofy charm of Infra-Man. All the characters are terribly written, and with the help of even worse dubbing, are completely laughable. Rape scene and downer ending aside this is still a pretty fun in the  “So bad it’s good” way, and so I can recommend it with those caveats.

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Finest Hours (2016) – Review

When you see “Based on a True Story” on a movie poster or trailer one must take such a statement with a grain of salt. William Wallace of Braveheart fame did not have an affair with Isabelle of France (she was only four years old at the time), the third class passengers were not locked below decks as shown in James Cameron’s Titanic, and despite what Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor would have you believe Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnet did not win WWII all by themselves. So when I sat down to watch Disney’s The Finest Hours I was ready for a whole lot of Hollywood hokum, but surprisingly this film by Craig Gillespie is fairly accurate…not completely accurate of course, this is Hollywood after all.


The movie is based on the book The Finest Hours: The True Story of the U.S. Coast Guard's Most Daring Sea Rescue by Michael J. Tougias which deals with one of the most dangerous and daring rescue attempts in Coast Guard history.  In 1952 two an oil tanker broke in half during a brutal winter storm, and while most of the resources were sent to rescue the people from the sinking tanker S.S. Fort Mercer only four men were sent to aid the equally sinking S.S. Pendleton.  The movie focuses on these three characters; Boatswain’s Mate First Class Bernie Webber (Chris Pine) who leads the rescue team, Chief Engineer Raymond L. Sybert (Casey Affleck) who takes command of the sinking tanker, and Miriam Penttinen (Holliday Grainger) who in this film is Webber’s fiancé while in reality they’d been married for more than a year in and a half. Though the film does accurately mention that they first met over the phone, and that it was Miriam who proposed to Webber, she is in this film solely for Hollywood’s need for a pretty face.


Mind you, it is a very pretty face.

In the movie when Webber is sent out on what most believe to be a suicide mission Miriam shows up at the Coast Guard station to demand that station's commander, Daniel Cluff (Eric Bana), call off the rescue attempt an bring her fiancé home. This did not happen. Miriam was actually at home with the flu and learned only of the heroic efforts of her husband after he had safely returned. I found Grainger to be fine in this role but it clearly wasn’t needed. Whenever the film cut back to her yelling at Eric Bana, or comforting a widow, I just wanted to get back to the action, and it is pretty insane action and my hat is off to the real heroes if even half of what we see on screen happened. With the Chief Engineer doing everything he can to keep his half ship afloat and Webber trying to get his small Coast Guard motor lifeboat passed the dangerous Chatham Bar we didn’t need to cut to the women folk wringing the hands with worry. We didn’t need it in The Perfect Storm and we didn’t need it here.


The weather started getting rough, the tiny ship was tossed.

Webber had three volunteers with him Richard Livesey (Ben Foster), Andy “Fitz” Fitzgerald (Kyle Gallner) and Ervin Maske (John Magaro) who went out with him on that small boat to attempt the impossible. Facing waves between 40 and 60 feet high their boat was tossed around like a toy.

Note: As awesome as this scene is I doubt the veracity of no one wearing any form of seatbelt as we see in this movie. The boat is rolled over and submerged so many times I was starting to wonder if it was part submersible, but nobody seems concerned with the dangers of being washed overboard.

Meanwhile onboard the oil tanker S.S. Pendleton Chief Engineer Sybert does his best to keep the ship afloat long enough for rescue. With the half of the boat containing the bridge and radio they had no way of radioing for help. That Webber found them at night, in a blizzard, has to be equal parts skill and blind luck. Webber himself was having enough problems having lost the boat’s compass when a wave ripped it away. So even if he managed to find the Pendleton he’d be hard pressed to find home again. This all leads to some incredible edge of your seat moments, making this film well worth checking out, but it’s not without its flaws. As I mentioned before I found the “fiancé” stuff completely unnecessary to the story, but equally unnecessary was having the station commander be a dick and possibly too inexperienced for his job. This is a cliché that appears in dozens of military movies and needs to be retired. We also have the naysayer cliché character aboard the Pendleton; Seaman Brown’s (Michael Raymond-James) sole purpose is to be the asshole that questions everything the Chief Engineer suggests.


“Sybert, you can kiss my clichéd ass.”

Disney is not making a documentary here, so some artistic liberties are bound to be taken, and for the most cases I didn’t mind them, but if they could have left the drama to “Man against Nature” and gave the “Man against Man” element a rest I think it would have been a better movie. All said and done this is a decent movie with a very good cast and some great visual effects. If anything this film does honor some incredibly brave men, who are damn good at their jobs, and who managed to pull off a miracle against all odds. So check it out, you won’t be disappointed.


And at no point does Chris Pine break the Prime Directive in this movie.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Tarzan and the Ant Men: Edgar Rice Burroughs

Argosy19240202Tarzan and the Ant Men is considered by many to be the pinnacle of the Burroughs Tarzan books with the author’s vivid imagination and creativity going on full thrusters, but I myself find some of the books societal implications a little troubling. Then again it’s also basically a Tarzan meets Gulliver’s Travels story, and that’s kind of cool.

First published as a seven-part serial in the magazine Argosy All-Story Weekly in 1924 this is entry can be considered the last book of the run that began with Tarzan the Untamed, continued through Tarzan the Terrible and Tarzan and the Golden Lion, and then concluded here with Tarzan and the Ant Men. After this most of the regular supporting characters begin to fade into the background, and Tarzan spends much of his time out in the jungle meeting new and interesting characters.

This exciting chapter in Tarzan’s life begins with the Ape Man insisting that he is ready for a solo flight in an airplane. His son Korak has been giving him flying lesson, and despite his son’s reservations about him being ready he takes off for a flight over the darkest jungles of Africa. If you believe something will go wrong, and that Tarzan will crash his plane over some lost city, give yourself a cookie. While flying low over jungle that Tarzan is unfamiliar with, which is apparently rare for him, his plane grazes a tree and he crashes. Tarzan, the king of the jungle, has entered an isolated country called Minuni. Cut off from the rest of the world by an immense thorn forest this lost civilization consists of two distinct races; the Zertalcolols who are a mute primitive race of large eared humans, and the Minunians, a people that are four times smaller than your average human, and who live in magnificent city-states that frequently wage war against each other. Tarzan first encounters a Zertalcolols female of the species when one finds his unconscious form after the crash. He is brought back the stone amphitheatre of the Alalus, where the Zertalcolols women and their families live. The females of the Zertalcolols are the dominate sex and the men are hunted solely for breeding purposes. The men are weak and timid while the women are violent and cruel, and they hunt the males with clubs and thrown pebbles. This is another instance where Burroughs views on women gets a bit dodgy, as he writes…

“The hideous life of the Alaus was the natural result of the unnatural reversal of sex dominance. It is the providence of the male to initiate love and by his masterfulness to inspire first respect, then admiration in the breast of the female he seeks to attract. Love itself developed after these other emotions. The gradually increasing ascendency of the female Alalus over the male eventually prevented the emotions of respect and admiration for the male from being aroused, with the result that love never developed.”

I’m guessing Burroughs wasn’t asked to speak at too many feminist luncheons. Then again this was the 1924 so there probably weren’t that many feminists groups around to picket him. Tarzan is the idolized version of the alpha male and Burroughs has clear views on where women belong next to such an example of the species. Later when Tarzan escapes these “awful” women he encounters an Alalus male and teaches him to make weapons and hunt for himself. Later we find out that the man Tarzan uplifted from sexual servitude has spread his skill and courage to other men, and has since struck back against the dominant women. Tarzan is known for showing up at some lost civilization and shaking things up, just in the previous book he had orchestrated the overthrowing of a race of gorillas that had enslaved men, but here he helps overthrow women. When the men defeat a group of women Tarzan’s pupil does a surprising thing, he doesn’t kill her but instead decides to keep her because he hates to cook.

“You will cook for me?” he demanded.
To his signs she but returned a sullen, snarling visage. The son of The First Woman raised his spear and with the heavy shaft struck the girl on the head, knocking her down, and he stood over her, himself snarling and scowling, menacing her with further punishment, while she cowered where she had fallen. He kicked her in the side.
“Get up!” he commanded.
Slowly she crawled to her knees and embracing his legs, gazed up into his face with an expression of doglike adulation and devotion.
“You will cook for me!” he demanded again.
“Forever!” she replied in the sign language of her people.

If you need to take a shower after reading that go head, I’ll wait until you get back.
Burroughs may have had many progressive views on religion and war but when it came to the Battle of the Sexes he was kind of a troglodyte. Now Tarzan is usually depicted as completely chivalrous, usually helping women whether they be his enemy or foe, but when Tarzan again encounters his pupil towards the end of the book he learns how things have changed.

"To entertain Tarzan and to show him what great strides civilization had taken in the land of the Zertalcolols, the son of The First Woman seized a female by the hair and dragging her to him struck her heavily about the head and face with his clenched fist, and the woman fell upon her knees and fondled his legs, looking wistfully into his face, her own glowing love and admiration."

Now it’s not clear what Tarzan’s stance is when comes to spousal abuse but the fact that he doesn’t pick this guy up, and toss him off a high cliff, kind of makes one wonder if this isn’t a bit of a peak into the mind of the author, and if so I pity Mrs. Burroughs. Lucky for us we do not spend the bulk of the book with this race of mute savages, but in the cities of the Minunians. While hunting for some food Tarzan encounters a horde of diminutive warriors, riding tiny antelope, battling an Alalu she. Tarzan spots one of the eighteen inch high warriors clutched in the she’s hand, and he signals her to release him. When she refuses Tarzan kills her with an arrow. Yeah, it seems Tarzan isn’t very chivalrous towards women in power. He had no knowledge of the situation he had blundered into, as a far as Tarzan knew that woman could have had every right to grab the little warrior. We’ll never know because he just outright murdered her.

tarzan and the ant men

Of course the person he rescued turns out to be the son of one of the Minuni kings. Tarzan is incredibly lucky when it comes to rescuing people; they are usually either royalty or at the very least the son or daughter of a local chieftain. Tarzan joins the Minunians on their trip back to the gigantic dome-houses in the city of Trohanadalmakus, while there he learns that the Minunian’s culture and its very existence hinges on the wars that allow a city-state to rejuvenate their gene pool by stealing slaves from their enemies. Tarzan finds himself fairly impressed with the soldiers of Trohanadalmakus and the society they protect.

"No chicanery of politics here, no thinly veiled ambition of some potential tyrant, no mad conception of harebrained dreamers, seized by the avaricious criminal for self-aggrandizement and riches; none of these, but patriotism of purest strain energized by the power of self-preservation. The perfect fighters, the perfect warriors, the perfect heroes these."

Burroughs clearly admires the men who go off to fight battles, but not so much the men who send them to fight for unjust or corrupt reasons. What is interesting to note here is that all the Minunian cities have slaves, but Tarzan never takes a stance on slavery itself. The part of Africa that he rules over he’s forbidden slavers to operate in, but he doesn’t seem to feel the need to oppose anti-slavery viewpoints anywhere else. Now if Tarzan himself is captured and enslaved he will of course free himself, and any slaves with him, but if the society that befriends him happens to have slaves he doesn’t like to make a fuss about it. He only helps the people of Trohanadalmakus against their enemies because he encountered them first. We of course later learn the king of the particular city is corrupt as well as mad, but once again Tarzan does not know this at first. Tarzan is a character who really likes to “wing it” in cases of morality. What Tarzan decides to do on a Tuesday, under the exact circumstances on a Wednesday, could lead to completely different actions. This kind of makes Tarzan a chaotic neutral character, which isn’t surprising as he’s a man of two worlds.


Tarzan and the Ant Men is a nice blend of jungle adventure and science fiction; Tarzan encounters a Lilliputian race that uses science to shrink him down to their size, while also spending time do his standard jungle fighting. Aside from the views of women, and how they should be treated, this is a solid adventure story, and a shrunken Tarzan fighting an army villainous despots is pure fun, but unfortunately the book occasionally leaves Tarzan and his exploits to see how Esteban Miranda, the Tarzan look-a-like from Tarzan and the Golden Lion. I was not a fan of that character when he first appeared and he does nothing here to change my mind. He has little to no impact on the main Tarzan’s story, the two only meet on the last page, and comes across as unnecessary padding. That Jane once again fails to recognize the imposter is a not so shining moment for her. It’s a times like this that one gets the impression Burroughs would have been happier if Jane had actually died in Tarzan the Terrible.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

A*P*E (1976) – Review

A*P*E practically defines the term “quickie rip-off” as the South Korean film industry, teaming up with an American production company, rushed their Kong rip-off to the screen just ahead of Dino DeLaurentiis’s multi-million dollar King Kong remake. It was originally going to be called The New King Kong until RKO got wind of it and sued them $1.5 million dollars. The film was then titled Super Ape but eventually released as simply A*P*E with the tagline, “Not to be confused with King Kong," as if there was any danger of that happening. But the lawsuit didn’t stop South Korea from releasing it in their own country, and various international markets, under such titles as Super King Kong and King Kong Returns.  Though my personal favorite title for this film is Attack of the Giant Horny Gorilla as it was renamed for its 1982 re-release. It was certainly a more accurate title to say the least.

A P E _(movie_poster_-_American_release)

The movie opens with a freighter transporting the 36 foot tall titular ape from points unknown, though one sailor mentions it was picked up in Harlem and is being transported to Disneyland. I’m not sure if that is an attempt at comedy or just plain racist, it’s quite hard to tell in this film, but it’s clear that this movie’s $23,000 budget could not afford to give us Skull Island, and the toy boat we see in this opening scene is indicative of the effects this movie will bring us. For some reason the ape awakens early and starts to smash his way free. “Oh shit,” exclaims one of the sailors, and by “exclaim” I mean deliver it in the deadest monotone possible. The acting in this movie goes from the hilarious to the hilariously bad. The ape escapes the flaming wreckage and then proceeds to fight a giant shark, and that the shark in question isn’t a terrible constructed prop but an actual shark is a bit off-putting. If you thought Rick Baker in an ape suit wrestling a big rubber snake in the DeLaurentiis King Kong was lame wait until you see A*P*E wrestle a dead shark.


Hey, if you are going to rip-off King Kong why not take a shot at Jaws as well?

This scene is not helped by how bad the ape suit looks wet or by the fact that the actors t-shirt is briefly visible during the “fight” sequence. The ape then wades ashore and proceeds to rampage through this seaside village, but really it looks more like a drunk stumbling home while trying to scrape dog shit off his shoe. A*P*E is not poetry in motion. Aside from the big ape the film focuses on four other characters; Captain Kim (Nak-hun Lee) a local police official whose claims of a giant ape terrorizing the countryside are ignored, then there is movie star Marilyn Baker (Joanna Kerns going by the name Joanna DeVarona for obvious reasons) and when she is arrives in South Korea she is met by a gaggle of press that includes journalist and ex-lover Tom Rose (Rod Arrants), who comes across as more of a stalker than a serious love interest.  But the real star of this movie is Colonel Davis (Alex Nicol) as the beleaguered American military officer who can’t believe he is stuck dealing with an oversized monkey, and he spends the first half of the movie in denial that this giant ape even exists.


“It’s a damn publicity stunt for the movie they are making.”

If there were awards for “Phone Acting” Alex Nicol would have won all of them, almost all his scenes consist of him ranting into his phone, Nicholas Cage could take lesson from this guy on chewing the scenery.  Nichol does not work alone as he has a Buster Keatonesque aide Lt. Smith (Jerry Harke) who spends his time silently writing notes while his boss loses his shit, and Harke's deadpan reactions to his boss's raving is comedy gold. It’s also Nicol who gets the film’s best lines such as “Hell with the press, I’m going to smoke this damn cigarette!” and “Let's see him dance for his organ grinder now!” when the ape is being shot to pieces by the military. But when Alex Nicol isn’t trying to win an Academy Award for overcooked ham we have to spend time with actress Marilyn Baker and Tom Rose. Tom continually tries to get Marilyn to either marry him or at least sleep with him, but she had asked for break from their relationship so that she could pursue her career and his response was to fly to South Korea to continue harassing her. He even crashes the rape scene she is shooting because rape and romance go so well together.

Note: The film’s director Paul Leder does a cameo here as Marilyn’s on screen director, and he’s given the name Dino which is an obvious jab at Dino DeLaurentiis, the producer of the big budget Kong remake, and given such great lines like...


Remember Greg, rape her gently.

It’s while she is filming this movie that the ape spots Marilyn for the first time and becomes fascinated with her, she’s blonde and I guess that is something giant simians just can’t resist, but before grabbing the damsel he does spend time terrorizing children at an abandoned amusement park which had me waiting for one of the kids to exclaim, “That’s not a giant ape, it’s only Mister Jenkins the park owner!”   The giant ape also beats up on a snake, interrupts a Kung Fu movie being made, and plays with a passing hang glider.


It’s while taking a much deserved break that he spots Marilyn.

Tom and Captain Kim race after the ape, as well as much stock footage of military vehicles they could afford, and they catch up with the ape in some rocky terrain. Colonel Davis is upset that the authorities want to catch the beast alive, and the ape isn’t too keen on the idea either.


Is he flipping off the military or us the viewer?

While the ape is swatting down toy helicopters Tom is able to sneak in and rescue, and then Captain Kim offers his home in Seoul as a safe place for Marilyn to hide.  Unfortunately for us this leads to endless shots of Kim’s wife and kids putting on a marionette show for Marilyn. While this puppet shows goes on the death toll mounts as the ape leaves the countryside in search of Marilyn.  Colonel Davis almost bursts a blood vessel when the stupid “scientists” still insist on catching the rampaging monster alive.

It’s also clear that South Koreans do not have the same model making skills as their Japanese counterparts.


Not helped by the Ape drunkenly stumbling through them.

A*P*E is not a good film, it’s not an even a so bad its good film, instead it is a piece of cinematic trash that stands all alone in the annals of “What the Fuck?” theatre.” A shoe string budget can account for a lot of things; an ape suite that looks as if it was made out of a moth eaten fur coat, a soundtrack that consists of all the public domain music that the producers could find at the local music library, extras that forget they are supposed to be terrified and instead smile at the camera, the use of repeated stock footage to pad out the 86 minute running time, and a collection of actors ranging from bad to people obviously just trying to pay the rent, but what cannot be explained is just how terrible it is all put together.



Even that cow is more convincing than this script.

Worse is that this film was made in stultifying 3D! So not only were audiences being bombarded with a ludicrous script and bad acting but every few minutes something would be thrown at the camera. The ape would throw barrels at the screen, random martial artists would lunge at the viewer with spears and battering rams, soldiers would stick the barrels of their rifles at you, and pretty much anything thrown was being held by clearly visible wires. The 3D in Dr. Tongue's 3D House of Pancakes was better than this stuff, and that SCTV skit wasn’t actually in 3D.


“Oh my god, it’s coming right at us!”

As King Kong rip-offs go this is at the bottom of the barrel of monkeys, they even try to top the original’s ending by having the hero state, “He was just too big for a little world like ours.” What the hell does that even mean?  That director/writer Paul Leder actually put his name to this movie is possibly the most courageous thing I’ve ever seen a filmmaker do. This is a movie that makes The Mighty Peking Man look like Oscar worthy material, and should only be watched after consulting a doctor or local bartender.


And no, I haven’t a clue what that scene with the snake was about.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Konga (1961) – Review

Not since King Kong has the screen exploded with such mighty fury and spectacle!” That was what the 1961 British/American international co-production of Konga proclaimed in their ad campaign, and they may have been overstating their case just a tad. Producer Herman Cohen had greatly admired the 1931 King Kong and thought a giant ape in colour would do gangbuster business. Unfortunately RKO was not cool with someone else remaking King Kong so instead they charged Cohen $25,000 solely for the rights to the name of Kong, and stayed completely away from the source material. The result was less King Kong and more along the lines of Murders in the Rue Morgue.


The film opens with a news report of a plane crash in Africa that was carrying famed botanist Dr. Charles Decker (Michael Gough), a year later headlines announce the startling return of Doctor Decker. I wasn’t born until the tail end of the sixties so my experience with this era is rather limited, but I was always under the impression that “Free Love” and the Vietnam War were two the key elements of that era which would have garnered heavy press coverage, not so much botanists. I’m not saying botany isn’t important but I doubt newsboys were yelling “Extra! Extra! Read all about it!” when it concerned university professors and their exploits with plants. Of course the doctor in question here is of the mad scientist variety and so maybe worth a few extra paragraphs in the Sunday times. It turns out that he has returned from the darkest jungles of Africa with a technique that allows the combining of plant and animal cells that would allow the manipulation of their very genes. When he begins experimenting in his home laboratory the results are startling.


Startling and a little phallic.

Doctor Decker has worked out a way to create giant carnivorous plants, you know for science and stuff, but this movie isn’t about man-eating plants so you can forget any ideas that we will be getting Michael Gough and one of his plants singing “I’m a Mean Green Mother From Outer Space” because this movie is about a giant ape. He believes that if you squash the leaves of these plants the juice they emit will cause animals to grow, and for this he has his faithful chimpanzee Konga to experiment on. We’d earlier learned that it was this chimp that had led Decker from the crash site of his plane to the village that cared for him and basically saved his. That he is willing to not only experiment on a chimp he professes to care for but on one that also saved his life makes him seem like a bit of a dick. Yet his level of dickishness has not even begun. When he spills a bit of this formula on the floor, and his housecat laps some of it up, he casually goes over to a drawer, pulls out a gun, and shoots the poor thing. This upsets Margaret (Margo Johns), who is Decker’s housekeeper/assistant, but he explains he’s just not ready for a giant cat to be roaming around the house. So yeah, asshole.


Stay Off Lawn: Mad Scientist on the Premises.

Margaret is an interesting character as she is madly in love with a man who is clearly indifferent to her, when the body count starts up all she does is demand that he marry her or else she will got to the police. He agrees to marry her, but they'll have to wait until the end of the school term, which is his way of saying “I can’t marry you now and will totally not kill you when you’ve outlived your usefulness.” So by the time Konga kills her we’ve lost any sympathy for this poor spinster. And just how and why does this film have a body count you ask? Well first at the university Decker's boss Dean Foster (Austin Trevor) tells him to stop talking to the press about his insane theories about the evolutionary connection between man and plants. This does not sit well with Decker who later that night gives Konga the growth serum, and with a few hypnotist commands sends him off to kill Foster. Then at a dinner party he meets Professor Tagore (George Pastell) whose research is in the same vein as Decker’s. Not one willing to share the glory in this discovery with anyone else Konga is sent out to kill the rival scientist and destroy his lab.


Beware, gorilla suit at large.

The final victim on Decker’s kill list is Bob Kenton (Jess Conrad), a student of Decker’s who is quite concerned with the amount of attention the good doctor has been giving Sandra Banks (Claire Gordon), Bob’s girlfriend. And Bob has every right to be concerned as Decker clearly wants to get in that young co-eds pants. After class Decker approaches Sandra and tells her how amazed he is with how much she’s changed in the last year, “There’s a maturity about you now, Sandra, and how pretty you’ve grown.” Call me old fashion but I prefer my mad scientists to be less overtly creepy.


And lot less rapey.

Doctor Decker also attempts this rape within earshot of Margaret, right after she overhears him tell Sandra how useless she is and that he needs a younger fresher mind as an assistant. You’d think a brilliant scientist would know not to commit rape when you’re fiancé is in the other room, but I guess mad scientists move to the beat of a different drum. Unfortunately for everyone the spurned Margaret rushes to Konga, hypnotizes the beast to only obey her commands, and injects it with more serum so that it will be bigger and stronger. This was a tactical error as the ape grows to an immense size and immediately kills Margaret.


Barbie doll Margaret meets her untimely end.

An ever increasing in size Konga interrupts Decker’s attempted rape, Sandra flees from both Decker and the giant ape, but before she can get away her arm is seized by one of the carnivorous plants.  Strangely we never find out what happens to her, Konga seizes Decker and carries the jerk away, while the last we see of Sandra is her screaming while the plant munches on her arm. For what is ostensibly a “giant ape” movie it’s rather mean spirited and cruel.

It’s also not that much of a giant ape movie. Konga doesn’t move from gorilla size to King Kong size until an hour and fifteen minutes into the movie, and that’s not good when your film is only ninety minutes to begin with. We don’t even get any giant ape rampage, all we see Konga do is wander up and down the London streets, doing absolutely no damage to any of the surrounding buildings, until the army shows up and kills him.


Also we don’t get much in the way of decent effects here either.

Decker gets his just deserts when Konga chucks him at the attacking army. Something King Kong never thought to do with Fay Wray and those pesky biplanes. So Decker is killed by his creation, a staple ending for a mad scientist, and Konga reverts back to chimp size. The End.


“Twas stupidity that killed the beast.”

I’m not sure exactly what kind of film producer/writer Herman Cohen and director John Lemont were trying to make as it doesn’t remotely resemble the film they were ostensibly paying homage to. I’m guessing budget constraints had something to do with Konga’s lack of gigantism for the bulk of the film’s running time, but how a horny professor bent on scientific glory was supposed to translate into a King Kong analog is beyond me. What we did get was an amazingly fun over-the-top performance by Michael Gough along with a really bad ape suit on an even worse ape actor. Which is entertaining in its own awful way.

Ignoring all the bizarre character decisions and plot threads that are never resolved I am left with but one question, “How can you have a giant ape stand next to London’s Big Ben and not have him knock it over?”


“Konga, the Laziest Wonder of the World.”