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Thursday, December 28, 2017

Happy (2017) Series Review

With seasonal television programming cramming the airwaves with a variety of holiday saccharine material so it’s nice to catch something a little different and the SyFy original series Happy is definitely something different. There is certainly no shortage of dark and scary Christmas movies out there, ranging from classic like Bob Clark’s Black Christmas to more modern fare like Better Watch Out, but for television we’ve mostly been stuck with Hallmark type Christmas love stories and so coming across a program based on a comic by legendary writer Grant Morrison I was quite excited, and after watching the first three episodes I’d say this show has left me damn happy.

SyFy brings a comic book to life in all its goofiness and gore.

Nick Sax (Christopher Meloni) use to be a supercop, one of the best detectives on the force, but the series opens with him as a beaten and cynical alcoholic who now makes his money as a hitman and it’s on a job to kill three low level mafia punks that his life take a weird turn into bizarro world. He easily dispatches his three targets but unfortunately a fourth punk had joined the trio and before he dies he offers Nick a password, one that will apparently open untold riches for him, but Nick isn’t interested and he shoots the guy who then goes out the window to crash to the street below. Though wounded from the preceding firefight Nick’s real problem is his heart and soon he finds himself in the back of an ambulance having suffered a stroke of some sort, this is where we meet the title character of Happy (voiced by Patton Oswalt) a small blue flying unicorn who desperately needs Nick’s help to find his best friend Hailey (Bryce Lorenzo) a little girl who was snatched from an outdoor kid’s concert by a very bad Santa (Joseph D. Reitman).


Happy, imaginary friend or morphine induced hallucination?

Nick does his best to ignore this manic hallucination, despite its constant urging to help a little girl in trouble, and you can’t completely blame him at first because word that the dying man gave Nick that certain password, one that mafia don Francisco “Blue” Scaramucci (Ritchie Coster) desperately needs, has unleashed every made man and corrupt cop in the city to find poor Nick. As premises go for a dark dramedy you can’t get much better or more off the wall than that, with the violence that is gloriously over the top and a something that could best be described as Puff the Magic Dragon meets Martin Scorsese.  The show is populated with an array of great characters; Det. Meredith McCarthy (Lili Mirojnick) who is Nick’s former partner and lover but now under the thumb of Scaramucci, Hailey’s mom Amanda (Medina Senghore) a woman desperate to find her daughter and who also happens to be Nick’s ex, and then there is the mafia torturer Smoothie (Patrick Fischler) whose job is to extract the password from Nick in the most painful ways possible.


“I’m going to remove your penis in thin slices, like salami.”

The series is based on the fantastic comic book by writer Grant Morrison and artist Darick Robertson but that it was only a four issue mini-series is what makes the decision to go with a television series format a little odd as it certainly could have easily been adapted into a movie, but so far it has managed to work out quite well. Overall the first three episodes are quite faithful to the source material in theme and tone but as it has to last an entire season a lot of extra stuff is added to pad out the running time; we get scenes of Smoothie with McCarthy mentally unwell mother (Laura Poe) and a lot more time with Hailey in clutches of the psychopathic Santa.


A Santa that would give anyone nightmares.

There is also plenty of flashbacks of Nick’s past dealing with his ex-wife and ex-partner and his dissent from supercop to the wreck he's become due to the horror's he's seen. I’m happy to report that all that additional material beautifully fleshes out the supporting characters that we barely got a glimpse of in the book and the only stuff that felt a bit unnecessary was the repeated arguing between Happy and Nick about finding the little girl. Now their heated debates do occur in the book but in the television series it becomes a little repetitive over the first three episodes and can be broken down thus…

Happy: “We have to save Hailey!”
Nick: “Not interested.”
Happy: “But if she dies I cease to exist.”
Nick: “Couldn’t care less.”
Happy: “But she’s your daughter!”
Nick: “I don’t have a daughter.

Rinse and repeat that conversation a couple of times an episode and you get the idea of how the show runners had to stretch the source material a tad. That both Patton Oswalt and Christopher Meloni are simply brilliant in their respective roles is the true saving grace but having read the comic I’m not sure how they can fill up four more episodes with the material that is left, but I'm dying to find out.

Simply put this oddball show is a violent work of genius with Nick being a master of surviving untold altercations and who takes on more damage than a Raymond Chandler character, but he's also quite capable of dishing out a fair amount of brutality of his own and I particularly loved the bit where he dragged a thug's face across a brick wall.  So I have faith that the people behind the camera will somehow bring this crazed and dark story to a satisfying conclusion that will make fans of the comic and the show equally happy.

Note: I fell in love with the show in the first 50 seconds when Nick blows his own brains out and then proceeds to disco dance while blood fountains out of the top of his head. It was just a drunken hallucination but it perfectly set the tone for the rest of the show

Monday, December 25, 2017

Bright (2017) – Review

Last year we were treated to a film called La La Land where a heightened and magical version of Los Angeles was given to us, now thanks to Netflix we get another magical version of the City of Angels only this time the magic is more overt and the themes are mean spirited and cynical. Using science fiction or fantasy as a lens with which to look through and examine the problems of today is nothing new, that was practically the bread and butter of the original Star Trek, but with Netflix’s Bright there is not one ounce of subtlety to be found.
With this big budgeted entry director David Ayer and writer Max Landis bring us an alternates world where Elves, Orcs and other magical creatures having been living alongside humans for centuries, and as premises go that one is pretty solid but it’s what’s done with the setting that is the key problem here as the premise the plot and the "message" are meshed together rather poorly. Early on in the film we see jaded street cop Daryl Ward (Will Smith) killing a fairy, who had been pilfering from his wife’s bird feeder, and Ward spouts off the tone deaf line to his gangbanger neighbors, “Fairy lives don’t matter.” Is this film going to tackle the systemic racism that plagues our world today? We’ve certainly have had many good movies with that theme, District 9 for example, and one could see that Bright is taking several pages from other films such as Alien Nation as Ward is teamed up with Nick Jakoby (Joel Edgerton), an Orc placed with him as a partner due to some political diversity movement, but Bright does nothing but point out that racism exists and then races off on its action packed gun battle/quest to keep a magic wand away from the villain.


A wand that can do some freaky ass shit.

Someone should have informed Ayers and Landis that if you are going to make a “message picture” that maybe you should actually include a message. Scenes such as the one where a group police officers are brutally beating an orc, while five feet away Ward questions Jakoby’s loyalty to the police force over his own people, creates utter confusion, leaving us wondering if this film is actually pro police brutality or not. The movie tries to paint Will Smith’s character as a conflicted racist but because he is Will Smith, and you don’t dare cast him as an actual asshole, his role is basically a carbon copy of his wise cracking disgruntled cop from I, Robot. It certainly would have helped if it didn’t depict every Los Angeles cop from the desk sergeants to Internal Affairs bureaucrats to Ward’s fellow officers as being all fucking evil. There is no doubt that racist cops can be found all across America but this film paints a broad stroke across the whole lot of them with only one Latino State cop being shown as not corrupt or a complete asshat.


We do get unambiguous Federal Bureau of Magic Dudes.

Yet racism isn’t actually what this film is about, that’s just the tasteless backdrop Ayes and Landis set their movie in, Bright owes more to films like Walter Hill’s The Warriors and John Carpenter’s Escape from New York than it does District 9 or Alien Nation as at its heart it is about a small group fighting their way from Point “A” to Point “B” with numerous factions trying to stop or kill them along the way. Whether they are gangbanging Orcs or a fringe Elf group who wish the return of The Dark Lord it’s all just a bunch of noise as our “heroes” trade clichéd banter and gunfire for the film’s two hour running time. And as for the action, and we do get a lot of action sequences, well there is no suspense or tension during these battles because Ward and Jakoby pull the “Hero Death Exemption” card so many times one has to wonder if they have an actual Angel looking over them. We see evil Elf Leilah (Noomi Rapace) and her two cohorts cut through dozens of Orc gangbangers and SWAT teams, taking them out in mere seconds, but when they are up against Ward and Jakoby all of sudden their super Elf Kung Fu isn’t up to snuff.


Did I mention this film also has a prophecy and a Chosen One?

Turns out that there are beings known as “Brights” who are the only ones capable of wielding a magic wand, devices that are described as basically a magical equivalent of a nuclear bomb, and when one of these wands shows up in the Barrio all sorts of villains come running to claim it. Could the waifish Elf Tikka (Lucy Fry) be such a being? What about Ward or Jakoby? Is one of them a Bright or possibly the one destined to fulfill a prophecy to unite the races against the returning Dark Lord.


I wonder who it could be?

One major plot element made no fucking sense to me was that if these magic wands are supposedly so rare and insanely powerful, and that "Brights" are the rare people who can hold one without exploding, why would Elf Leilah hand her wand over to her assassin so that she can rundown and kill the rogue Elf Tikka?  We are to believe this super possessive "I will kill hundreds of people to get my wand back!" Elf badass just handed her wand over to a lackey who could very well just keep it for herself. That seems like a really dumb idea.  Hell, if these wands are so powerful why couldn't Leilah just use it to kill Tikka from a distance? Why go through all the bullshit of handing over a magical nuclear weapon to an assassin?


Beautiful and dangerous she may be but not really all that bright.

The one saving grace the film has is Joel Edgerton, unrecognizable under an amazing make-up job, as the Orc who dreamed his whole life of being a police officers but has since had to deal with hatred from both his own race and the cops is pretty powerful stuff, and could have made for an interesting film if that had been the crux of the film, but unfortunately this is a Will Smith film and that was not to be. Edgerton is simply great in this role and if the film had ditched the Will Smith character, and maybe also loses the whole search for the magic wand crap, we could have got a solid film out of it, but instead we have a generic action film that insults our intelligence whenever it slows down to preach.


"All hail the World Tree!"

Final Thoughts:

• We are told that two thousand years ago the Orcs followed the Dark Lord and have been paying for that mistake ever since, certainly would have been nice to see a Lord of the Rings type prologue of this.
• The Elves in this world are the One Percenters who live in gated communities but the film doesn’t have time to explore the why or how that came to be.
• There is a nice wide shot of the city that shows a dragon flying across the sky, and now this looked cool but only raised more questions about this world. Are dragons in this world intelligent and if so how what role in society do the fit in? Or are they wild animals and that some federal agency has to hunt?
• With this film and Victor Frankenstein one may want to advise Max Landis to give science fiction fantasy a rest for a while.
• Many blame studio interference for why Suicide Squad failed but this is the second David Ayer's film that sucked, so one must start looking harder at the man at the helm.
• Back in 1991 HBO gave us Catch a Deadly Spell which premised a world where magic existed in an alternate 1948 Los Angeles, a much better film at a tenth the budget.


It’s kind of Raymond Chandler meets H.P. Lovecraft.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

SpaceCamp (1986) – Review

On January 28, 1986, the NASA space shuttle Challenger disintegrated shortly after launch, killing all seven crewmembers onboard, and the whole world mourned the tragic death of those lost souls, but because the world is a bizarre and freaky place 20th Century Fox Pictures just so happened to be making a family friendly film which unfortunately had a key plot element being an accident during a space shuttle launch. Needless to say the film died at the box office and its existence is almost forgotten, but if not for that real life tragedy could SpaceCamp have been a hit?

Could this be the Right Stuff?

The lead character in SpaceCamp is Andie Bergstrom (Kate Capshaw), a NASA-trained astronaut who was inspired by John Glenn’s first orbit around the Earth when she was a little girl and who now is quite frustrated that she keeps being passed over for shuttle mission, and most recently by a guy who even gets carsick. Her husband Zach Bergstrom (Tom Skerritt), who has walked on the moon, tries to console her with the news that she can now join him at Cape Canaveral as one of the instructors at Space Camp. I’m sure the idea of babysitting a bunch of kids trumps going into outer space.


“Honey, last time I went into space I was eaten by a xenomorph.”

We are quickly introduced to our cast of “space campers” in the standard teen-comedy way; first there is Kevin Donaldson (Tate Donavon) a self-centered teen who is only at Space Camp because his dad promised him a jeep if he’d go, then there is Kathryn Fairly (Lea Thompson) an insanely driven teen who dreams of being the first female shuttle commander, next there is Rudy Tyler (Larry B. Scott) who apparently really loves science but is unfortunately not all that good at it, Tish Ambrosé (Kelly Preston) is a smoking hot girl who has the Valley Girl act down pat which is most likely an act to hide the fact that she is quite smart and has an eidetic memory, and finally there is Max Graham (Joaquin Phoenix) an eager 12-year-old boy who begs Andie to allow him to join the older space campers. None of these characters are given much time to flesh out; Kevin and Kathryn have the possible teen rom-com elements introduced but which are quickly forgotten once the actual plot gets going, Rudy and Tish are glorified supporting characters and barely have enough dialog to move them beyond two dimensionality, and Max really loves Star Wars which is all you really need to know about him.


The film even gives him an A.I. robot named Jinx so he can have his own R2D2.

Now to say SpaceCamp isn’t all that scientifically accurate would of course be a gross understatement, but then again even modern big budgeted science fiction films like Gravity and Interstellar fumble occasionally when it comes to dealing with the hard science of space travel and working in outer space so I’m willing to cut this film a little slack there, where this film missteps is in the forty-five minutes leading up to the accident that sends our cast into space. We get the clichéd teen hijinks that can be found in countless other summer camp comedies but where those films are about teens hooking up Space Camp is supposed to be about teens trying to learn to be astronauts and director Harry Winer isn’t able to blend these elements together.

It is certainly not helped by the fact that the chemistry between Lea Thompson and Tate Donavon is practically non-existent, which makes the abandoning of the particular subplot a good thing, and the stuff with little Max feeling ostracised by the older kids comes across as painfully lame. Luckily when the space stuff does begin to kick in the movie starts functioning on all thrusters.


But why exactly is NASA sending kids into space?

To get to the good stuff the writers of SpaceCamp unfortunately concocted what has to be the goofiest set of circumstances imaginable.  Robot Jinx, who for some reason befriends Max, is not just next level A.I. but he’s an empathetic robot as well and one night he finds Max sobbing after being yelled for cock-blocking Kevin’s illicit date with Kathryn, which wasn’t even the kid’s fault as it was the robot who ratted them out, but Jinx overhears Max sniffle to himself, “I wish I was in space.” Now earlier it was established that Jinx takes all commands literally and so the robot decides to help his friend by orchestrating events that will lead to Max being sent into space. And how does a robot accomplish what would seem to be an impossible task? Well as it turns out NASA decides to let Andie bring a bunch of the kids aboard the Shuttle Atlantis during a routine engine test (I doubt NASA would ever let a group of kids inside a working shuttle let alone one that is about to fire off thousands of gallons of rocket fuel but without this bit of unbelievability we wouldn’t have a movie) and Jinx hacks the NASA mainframe and triggers "thermal curtain failure" that causes one of the boosters to ignite, which then forces Launch Control to ignite the second booster to avoid the ship crashing on the landing pad.


Jinx is kind of like HAL 9000 if that computer had a heart and poor impulse control.

What follows is some pretty thrilling stuff as Andie and the kids have to work together to bring the shuttle back to Earth, the tension and drama in these scenes are beautifully performed and well put together, you just have to keep your suspension of disbelief on throughout this portion of the movie and maybe ignore a couple of moments of really corny dialog. Character arcs that were sloppily set-up in the first half of the movie actually get proper pay-offs here.  Kevin learns to take responsibility and make tough decisions while Kathryn comes to understand that she can trust other people to do their jobs and that she doesn’t have to do everything herself. Meanwhile Max will have to save the day when they must retrieve oxygen tanks from a nearby space station (it’s under construction and uninhabited) and Andie is too big to make it through the scaffolding that surrounds the tanks so little Max dons a space suit and gets to be Luke Skywalker for a bit.


The Force is with him.

The events aboard the shuttle are quite gripping and almost against my will I found myself sucked into this prefabricated space drama as problem after problem arose to threaten our heroes.  Can these kids make it back to Earth before running out of oxygen? Will they regain radio contact with Mission Control? Can Kevin get over himself and make the tough call? How much money will the parents being suing NASA after all is said and done? The movie may have a fairly outlandish premise but once it gets going the filmmakers do their best to keep you from thinking about the implausibility of any given situation.

Now let us take a look at some of those implausibilities:

• As mentioned there is no way NASA would allow kids inside a shuttle during a test launch.
• Launch Control loses contact with the shuttle because the Atlantis wasn’t flight ready and thus only has a short range radio. Was it sent out to be fixed?
• Andie doesn’t abort after the launch but for some reason she decides to continue on into space instead of immediately returning to the launch site or one of several other alternate landing areas.
• Andie’s helmet is too big for her to fit through the scaffolding to reach the oxygen tanks so they send out Max because he should be small enough, but the kid is wearing an adult sized space helmet so he should have been in the same boat and unable to reach the tank.
• Ground Control begins the autopilot sequence to bring the shuttle home which results in the cargo bays being closed and Andie being locked outside the shuttle. That NASA would close the cargo bay doors without knowing the whereabouts of the entire crew is ludicrous.
• Kevin overrides the autopilot enabling Max to rescue Andie but once she is rescued it is never explained why they can’t turn the autopilot back on.
• The shuttle goes into a flat spin so extreme I doubt a teenage girl would be able to pull out of it.  Worse is that the special effects people gives us shots of it tumbling through space in manner that is in no way how a "flat spin" looks.
• The movie fails to end with a scene of Max beating the crap out of the robot with a crowbar.


In space no one can hear your bullshit.

SpaceCamp is not a high concept science fiction, nor was intended to be, but instead it is just a harmless family friendly romp with some excellent special effects sequences, a nice score by John Williams, and honest to gosh high tension moments. If not for the Challenger disaster I’m sure this film would have done decent at box office, and it certainly should not be as forgotten as it is today, so if you are in the mood for a fun if cheesy at times science fiction adventure film than there are worse ways to spend two hours.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Streets of Fire (1984) – Review

Set in “Another Place…Another Time” this retro-futuristic world of Walter Hill’s rock & roll fable Streets of Fire came and went into theaters in the mid-80s with hardly a ripple, barely grossing over $8 million at the box office, yet over the years it has developed a strong cult following. Its failure at the time can be easily attributed to the studio’s poor marketing, with Universal not quite understanding what they had on their hands, but I think timing was probably the bigger factor as I’m not sure 80s audiences were ready for a neon-splashed retro-50s rock music western with comic book overtones.

The film Streets of Fire is at its core a western, it may open on a rock concert where lead singer Ellen Aim (Diane Lane) is kidnapped by a leather clad biker gang called The Bombers, who is then rescued by a lone stoic hero who arrives in town via elevated train, all you have to do is just replace the singer with a schoolmarm, the biker gang with rustlers and the stoic hero into…well you don’t have to change him at all, and you've got yourself a standard western. The film’s hero is Tom Cody (Michael Paré) who upon learning from his sister Reva (Deborah Van Valkenburgh) that his old girlfriend had been snatched he returns home to set things right. To establish Cody as a capable hero we get to see him take on a different gang called The Roadmasters who had arrived in the wake of The Bombers kidnapping of Ellen to get some action for themselves. Cody easily defeats the gang, displaying his abilities with a butterfly knife and a broom handle, and thus sets his image as a solid badass.


He also can’t seem to grow a beard or afford shirt sleeves.

In many westerns a lone hero often needs a little assistance and in this case it is in the form of McCoy (Amy Madigan) an ex-military mechanic who shows her stuff by punching out jerk bartender Clyde (Bill Paxton) for giving her a hard time. Also along for the ride is Ellen’s manager/boyfriend Billy Fish (Rick Moranis) who Cody insists is needed because he is familiar with The Bomber’s home turf. Fish is your standard strawman rival to the heroes true love; he is small, weak, and has a big mouth, while the hero is big, powerful and of the strong silent type. We learn that Cody left Ellen because she was beginning to focus on her music career and he couldn’t see himself being a part of that, and what is great here is that neither of them is treated as being fully in the wrong.


Though sleeping with this guy to get ahead could be considered very wrong.

Of course the real reason to watch Streets of Fire isn’t the cool slant on western themes, or the rocking soundtrack by Jimmy Lovine and Ry Cooder, nor the gorgeously shot neon-splashed world orchestrated by cinematographer Andrew Laszlo and production designer John Vallone that clearly inspired the out of time sets found in Tim Burton’s Batman, it is the performance of Willem Dafoe as Raven, the psychotic leader of The Bombers, that stays with you long after the end credits roll. Every moment that Dafoe is on screen you are completely captivated; from his weird 50s flattop haircut to his wardrobe that makes him look like a Dick Tracy villain who hangs out at leather bars, but most importantly it's his calm malevolent intensity that oozes danger and violence at every turn.


Who knew the Devil wore leather hip waders.

The first hour of the movie is simply great with our trio consisting of Cody, McCoy and Fish heading deep into The Battery where The Bombers hang out at a factory turned bar called Torchie’s. Cody takes the high road so that he can lay some devastating fire power against the gang’s motorbikes to help ensure their escape, while McCoy infiltrates through the front door to make her way up to where Ellen is being held captive. The entire rescue sequence is orchestrated brilliantly and director Walter Hill is one of the best in the business when it comes to these kind of action moments, but sadly after the rescue and their nail-biting escape from The Battery, where they end up car-jacking a bus that is owned by the music group The Sorels “Hey that’s Robert Townsend!” and they have to fight their way passed corrupt cops who run their districts like some kind of feudal system, the film kind of stops dead in its tracks.

Once they get back to their home district of Richmond we should be wrapping things up and waiting for the end credits to roll, but instead we have Raven sending one of his emissaries to order the police to stand down so that he and two of his men can roll in and kill Cody.


“Don’t I look like a reasonable guy?”

We do get a really cool and original fight between our hero and the villain, I certainly don’t remember the last time I’ve seen a film where two people went at it with pick axes, and the film even doubles down on its western motif with Cody not getting the girl in the end just as Alan Ladd in Shane didn’t end up with Jean Arthur. Sure Cody and Ellen kiss in the rain, and they even go back to his place for some hot steamy sex, but Cody knows that he has no place in her life and that she’s better off with Billy Fish. Part of this is may have a lot to do with Walter Hill hoping he could get a couple sequels that would have followed the further adventures of Cody but the studios terrible marketing and half-ass released doomed this from ever happening.


I bet Walter Hill would have loved to have been able to express his displeasure via pick axe.

Streets of Fire hit theaters just as MTV and music videos were gaining awareness and though Walter Hill’s movie about stalwart heroes versus a motorcycle gang isn't your typical musical it can still fall into that genre as the film is almost wall-to-wall songs. The music found in Streets of Fire is diegetic in nature, where the music comes from a visible source i.e. a band playing or a radio or television set playing a song or music video, with nobody bursting into song like the Jets and the Sharks in West Side Story.

With Walter Hill’s Streets of Fire we get an offbeat action movie that is chock full of great songs (sadly Bruce Springsteen refused to let them have the song Streets of Fire), a classic hero, a posse of great supporting characters and a villain that once seen will never be forgotten.


Note: It was seeing this film that had me wanting Willem Dafoe to be cast as The Joker.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) – Review

If there is one take away from Star Wars:The Last Jedi it’s that heroism has a cost, and sometimes that cost is pretty high. That we’ve had eight chapters, nine movies counting Rogue One, and yet we are still discovering new themes and characters is a bigger surprise to me than something like “Luke, I am your father.” Where J.J. Abrams treaded familiar ground with The Force Awakens here in this film director Rian Johnson takes all the cool toys from the Star Wars universe and really shakes things up.

The heaviest criticism of The Force Awakens was that too many beats had been lifted from A New Hope, and not many people can argue with that, and this had many fans a little concerned that The Last Jedi could end up being a retread of The Empire Strikes Back, but I’m happy to say that this is certainly not the case. Sure there are a couple call backs to chapter five, and the tone is as dark if not darker than the one found in Empire, but overall the two film’s couldn’t be more different. Now like The Empire Strikes Back this film does have characters split-off in various directions but it’s more a war movie than space drama that Empire  was, and my only minor quibble is that The Last Jedi fractures into not two but three storylines, and one of them wasn’t always that engaging.


"We are so engaging, you take that back!"

Not to get into spoiler territory here but the basic plot of the movie is that the remains of the rebellion is fleeing the forces of The First Order while Rey (Daisy Ridley) confronts Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) in the hopes of enlisting his aid in the fight. Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and Finn (John Boyega) are with Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) as they attempt to escape the clutches of First Order’s fleet of destroyers and dreadnaughts, and along the way Finn will hook up with rebel mechanic Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) and the two of them will have to slip away with BB-8 to find some way to stop the bad guys from tracking them. It’s this third fracture that is something that may bother a few viewers as it does take up a good portion of the film’s two and a half running time, and though it does lead to a pretty solid pay-off at the end I’m not quite sold on the amount valuable screen time spent at a rich man’s Mos Eisley when we'd could have spent more time with Rey and Luke instead.


"Have I ever told you about the scum and villainy I've seen?"

What works so well in this film is the amount of character development we do get in between all that action, from new and old characters alike, and I was stunned with how my expectations were turned on their head time again and time again. One has come to assume that in these sorts of films our heroes will find themselves in some sort of peril, but then they or some deus ex machina will get them out of said trouble, and that is simply not the case here. In fact one of the biggest surprises is that one of our heroes repeatedly makes the same “mistake” and there are consequences to them, dire ones.

The Last Jedi not only plays with the conventions of the genre but also explores the depths of our characters in startling ways. Klyo Ren (Adam Driver) was the angry young man in the last film but his emotional conflict with Ren, as well as with himself, in this film it becomes an integral part of the franchise, making a character that at first looked to be nothing but a spoiled brat who turned evil into something else entirely.


"I will not take a time out."

Of course the biggest question fans wanted to know was “Who are Ren’s parents?” and though this film does answer that question it’s her moments training with Luke, who had basically shut himself off from The Force, and her belief that Kylo Ren can be turned to the light side, as Luke had done with his father, are far more important to the story than who got knocked up by whom. The wrinkle in her plan isn’t that Kylo Ren had just murdered his father and is possibly irredeemable, and one must admit that is a hard thing to overlook, but that Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) could be a sharper cookie than Emperor Palpatine ever was.

Snoke also has a better eye for interior decorating.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a balls-to-the wall action movie which director Rian Johnson marries with great story telling and fantastic visuals, the lightsaber battles in this movie are simply stunning and possibly the best in the series.  The performances are stellar across the board, special shout out to Mark Hamill and the late Carrie Fisher who gives us the best performances of their careers, and not only do we see our favorite characters return but we are taken on a journey with them that is as fun as it is surprising. This movie gets my highest recommends.

Stray Thoughts:
  • You could have a drinking game revolving around characters saying the word “hope” in these movies.
  • We have heroic moments from nameless rebel pilots and soldiers that manage to really tug at our heart strings.
  • Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie) is given more to do this time out but she still kind of falls into the Boba Fett category of big build up with not so great pay-off.
  • I like that the Jedi Island Luke is hiding out on follows the Dagaboh rule of having one area that consists of the Dark Side of the Force.
  • The salt flats that make up the location for the film’s final battle is nice nod to Empire but is even more visually striking.
  • Flying the Millennium Falcon through and obstacle course is cool but by now is kind of becoming a little overused.
  • The porgs are about the cutest things ever but luckily they never annoying nor are they that big of a part.


 If scientists are not trying to create these things I’ll be very disappointed

Monday, December 11, 2017

The Secrets of Isis (1975-1976) – Review

With the moderate success of Filmation’s live action show Shazam! the studio decided to create a female counterpart to Captain Marvel but as they were unwilling to pay licensing fees for Mary Marvel a new character called Isis was created. Later Isis would appear alongside other heroes in animated form on the cartoon series The Freedom Force, which was part of Tarzan and the Super 7, and eventually DC Comics would adopt her officially into canon where she would eventually became the wife of Captain Marvel’s nemesis Black Adam. Yet before all that, back when it all started, she was just a simple high school science teacher who was suddenly gifted with powers of a god.

Like many Saturday morning kid's shows The Secrets of Isis didn’t have an origin episode but unlike in the case of Shazam! we do at least get a little backstory as to how she got her powers; for The Secrets of Isis it was in the form of the show's opening narration where we are told how the Egyptian Queen Hatshepsut was given a powerful amulet by the royal sorcerer that would endow her and all her descendants with the powers of the goddess Isis,“With the powers of the animals and the elements. You will soar as the falcon soars, run with the speed of gazelles and command the elements of sky and earth.” Then 3,000 years later science teacher Andrea Thomas (JoAnna Cameron) dug up the amulet while on an archeological dig (don’t bother asking why a high school science teacher was on an archeological dig…maybe it was some kind of vacation thing) and found out that she was the heir to the power of Isis, and now she must live a dual life as “Andrea Thomas, teacher; and Isis, dedicated foe of evil, defender of the weak, champion of truth and justice!”


What were the odds of the person finding it being one of Hatshepsut’s descendants?

The basic formula of the show was very similar to Shazam! where mostly stupid teen-agers would get into some kind of trouble and Andrea would have to call on the power of Isis, “O mighty Isis!” and she would transform into her Egyptian counterpart to rescue whatever particular idiot was in danger. What made this show work better than Shazam! was that Isis had a massive variety of powers on hand to add a bit of variety to the proceedings, and with the catchy incantation of “Oh Zephyr Winds which blow on high, lift me now so I can fly!” she could take to the air like Captain Marvel, but whereas flying and super strength were the only powers Captain Marvel had to work with Isis on the other hand could control all the of the Earth's elements (not only sky and earth as the opening narrator stated but air and fire as well), she has also had complete control of matter and molecular density which allowed her to phase through objects or make them immaterial instead.  Her headband even allowed her to see through the eyes of her raven as well as to look into the past, but most startling of all her abilities was the one that allowed her to stop and reverse the flow of time.


“Imperial battleship, halt the flow of time!”

If seeing Captain Marvel relegated to using his immense power to convince kids to not give into peer pressure seemed to be a gross waste of potential than seeing Andrea use these amazing powers to uncover the real culprit behind the theft of a school mascot will surely blow your mind.

In the episode “Lucky” a little boy is taught by Isis that his dog drowning is just part of the circle of life, cause that kind of logic is comforting to a child, but the real crazy thing here is that she literally has the power over life and death and could have easily reversed time and stopped the kid’s dog from dying. I must say there’s a difference between teaching a life lesson and being a cold-hearted bitch. In fact the power to halt and reverse time kind of trumps all of her other powers as it could pretty much undue any moment of trouble her students get into.

As Isis she also has the ability to create matter with a wave of her hand, which is in contention with time manipulation as the most awesome power ever, and in one particular episode fleeing crooks are captured when she makes a ring of full grown trees suddenly appear around them to form a cage.  It's quite clear almost from the outset that she must just be screwing with those around her as that power set could end any conflict in seconds.  This is what makes the show so good, the complete and utter absurdity of this woman snapping off a rhyming couplet to call on immense powers for some of the most mundane and ridiculous reasons, "I've got to find out which cheerleader is cheating, better call on all the forces of the Heavens and the Earth!"  My all time favorite moment in the entire series is when she used her elemental abilities to create a ring of flames around a bear who was endangering an idiot school slacker, and throughout that sequence you couldn't help but pity that sodden bear.


Also the bear suit used for this show was beyond hilarious.

The Secrets of Isis also had a bigger supporting cast than Shazam did; aside from Andrea Thomas we have fellow teacher and possible love interest Rick Mason (Brian Cutler), though he’s too much of doofus to have a real chance with Andrea, there’s Dr. Joshua Barnes (Albert Reed) the stern but kind school principle, and then over the course of the two season she had two different teaching assistants; Cindy Lee (Joanna Pang) for season one and Rennie Carol (Ronalda Douglas) in season two. My question is, “Do high school science teachers actually get teaching assistants?”  They certainly didn’t at my school, unless it was kept a secret from me for some reason, but with most of the cast clearly being played by actors in their twenties this could easily have been a show about a local college campus.  I guess having it in a high school setting is more relatable to the show’s target demographic.


I'm sure science nerds got a kick out of it.

It’s interesting that a show based on an original character would completely outshine the more well-known comic book character of Captain Marvel, but as Standards and Practices forbade such violent stuff as punching and kicking on a children’s show Captain Marvel found himself hopeless kneecapped by those restrictions, while Isis on the other hand had her wide gamut of magical powers which allowed her to take on opponents in variety of interesting ways. Where Captain Marvel was relegated to mostly saving people by lifting things, followed by the required stern lecture, Isis was able to whip up magical barriers and reverse time if need be. Though to be fair she also used her powers to magically retrieve dirty dishes from the bottom of a river, so not always that impressive.


She could be fighting for world peace but teaching kids responsibility is more important.

Most of the episodes for The Secrets of Isis had insanely ridiculous plots with the first episode “The Lights of Mystery Mountain” being a prime example of this as it had Andrea and the gang uncovering a real estate scam that used flying saucers to scare off owners so they could get a hold of their land, or in the episode “No Drums, No Trumpet” our heroes found themselves in an old west ghost town haunted by a trio of thieves, both of those were more in keeping with something you’d see on Scooby Doo, Where are You! then what you’d expect on a superhero show.

As formulaic and silly as the show was it did have some interesting science fiction elements such as a force field generator in “The Sound of Silence” or the weather machine that Rick is framed for stealing in the two-parter “Now You See It…Now You Don’t.” Sadly episodes like that where Isis and company are up against actual criminals were rare and the plots mostly revolved around more mundane topics such as cheating, taking dares, learning about responsibility, low self-esteem, and the dangers of hitchhiking. In one particular idiotic episode the students believed the legendary Bigfoot was living in the nearby hills, but it of course turned out to just be a tall dude in hat.


If they thought this was Bigfoot I doubt their ability to graduate from high school.

As silly as most of the episodes were they are also insanely fun to watch as an adult now, my friends and I laugh harder watching The Secrets of Isis than we do most actual comedy shows, it seemed like every two minutes something lacking any logical sense was happening, and it's bloody brilliant.  In one particular episode there was this scene where a girl was trapped in a well (seriously this show had that old chestnut) and the girl's father finds her but it's up to Isis to save the day by magically reassembling an old broken ladder, levitating it down into the well, to save both the girl and her useless father, but what made this scene amazing was that she then levitated the girl's father, ladder and all, out of the well. What was the fucking point of rebuilding that ladder if you could have just levitated them both out?


This is how a goddess has fun.

Whatever can be said about The Secrets of Isis one has to admit that JoAnna Cameron really sold the character, no matter how ridiculous the setting she was fully committed to the part, she even put up with that stupid raven that the show runners refused to get rid of, and those few times Captain Marvel teamed up with her clearly illustrated how useless he was in comparison to her. If you can get a hold of this series I recommend you do so, and then have a few friends over for a real fun time.


I bet she treats him like a boy toy when no one is around.

Final Thoughts:

• Andrea has the standard Clark Kent disguise of wearing glasses but then she doesn’t wear them half the time which makes her friends even dumber than Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen.
• Andrea builds a force field generator in her high school science lab that is radioactive and somehow she’s not fired for this.
• Rick was working on a top-secret government plan to build a weather machine. I must say this high school hires fairly over qualified teachers.
• Isis occasionally would break the fourth wall and wink at the audience. Could this be part of her being a goddess?
• Whenever President Trump demands the destruction of Isis I can’t help think that somewhere out there JoAnna Cameron is turning around looking startled and asking, “What was that, destroy me?”
• In an episode of Smallville Lois Lane was possessed by the spirit of Isis.


O mighty Isis, indeed.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Shazam! (1974-1977) – Review

In the early 70s kids were overjoyed to see Hanna-Barbera’s Super Friends cartoon starring their favorite superheroes each and every Saturday morning but in1974 over at the rival animation house Filmation a half-hour live-action Saturday morning program featuring the adventures of Captain Marvel was being produced, and to say the results were something less than heroic would be a vast understatement. Sure as a kid from the 70s I ate this show up with a spoon but at the time I’d never read a Captain Marvel comic so had no basis to measure it’s accuracy to the comic book character, and the Christopher Reeve Superman: The Movie had yet to appear in theaters, so us kids back then were more easily impressed.  Looking back now with adult eyes this show is rather quaint with its low budget effects and almost complete lack of action.

Filmation's Shazam! was not Captain Marvel’s first live action appearance as his the first appearance was actually on the big screen back in the 1941 with the Adventures of Captain Marvel serial for Republic Pictures, making him the first superhero to do so, and though that incarnation of Captain Marvel veered wildly from the comic book (as in comics Captain Marvel didn’t murder bad guys left right and center as he did in that serial) but this Filmation incarnation ditched even more of the elements found in the pages of Fawcett Comics. There would be no appearances of Captain Marvel’s comic book enemies like Dr. Silvana or Black Adam but instead Billy Batson and his super heroic alter ego would deal with kids joyriding or committing acts of vandalism.  These are not really crimes you’d think would require someone who has wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles, and speed of Mercury.


Captain Marvel, the world’s most powerful hall monitor.

This series would ditch most of the trappings from the comic and would instead follow Billy Batson (Michael Gray) as he and his pal Mentor (Les Tremayne) as they travelled around the country in their motorhome until a blinking orb in their vehicle would notify Billy that the Immortal Elders needed to speak to him. And why exactly was Billy hanging out with this old dude you ask? Well the character of Mentor may have been loosely based on the comic book character of Uncle Dudley but in the show no family connection is mentioned and his sole purpose seemed to be in driving the motorhome and using the mobile phone to call for help on occasion.  We do get one throw-away line of dialog in the first episode where Billy mentions being on vacation from his job at the radio station (which comic book readers know to be Billy’s actual job), but we never get a clear definition of his relationship to Mentor.


"Hey Billy, want to check out that leather bar we passed a while back?"

When the "Eterni-Phone" rings (that's what the blinking orb was called) Mentor would pull over so that Billy could go into some kind of trance by uttering the phrase, “Oh, Elders, fleet and strong and wise, appear before my seeking eyes.” We would then see live action actor Michael Gray superimposed over a fairly static cartoon image of the Elders; they would then give him a heads-up on what current crisis he was about to deal with, such as a teen facing peer pressure to steal a car or cheating in school, and then the "gods" would quote Shakespeare or some such thing to lay out today’s moral message. Billy would pop back into his body to inform Mentor what their mission of the day was and the two would then proceed to drive around until they literally ran into the paricular trouble the Elders were talking about.

Note: The wizard Shazam, who gave Billy his powers, is completely absent from this series in favor of the Greek pantheon making personal appearances.


I’m not sure why the Greek gods cared so much about American teens.

In the first episode “The Joyriders” a group of teens think it would be cool to borrow a car but one of them thinks it’s a bad idea, it being a crime and all, and despite being called "chicken" this particular kid refuses to go along. It’s at this point that Billy and Mentor arrive causing the stolen car full of idiots to peel off in one direction while the other kid hoofs it in the other, with Billy in hot pursuit on foot.  Could this be a job for Captain Marvel?

Watching this pilot episode one quickly comes to the conclusion that we are not going to be getting much in the way of actual super heroic action.  Captain Marvel ( played by Jackson Bostwick in the first two seasons and John Davey for the third) appears about once an episode and the twenty-two minute running time of the show consists mostly of Billy and Mentor lecturing whatever stupid kid they encounter that week. What may seem a bit odd is that the writers of this show never gave much thought as to how creepy it was to have two dudes traveling together who constantly hunt down kids to give them a “lesson” from their motorhome base. At one point the peer pressured kid we met in the pilot has his bike stolen, his idiot friends having kidded him about locking it up, and Billy and Mentor offer to give the kid a ride to the police station in their aforementioned motorhome. I think today’s lesion shouldn’t have been about peer pressure but instead about getting in a van that belongs to two dudes you don’t know.


Stranger Danger!

I know the 70s were simpler times, and the fear of pedophiles snatching your children off the street wasn't as much in the public consciousness as it is now, but looking back at this show with modern eyes the creep factor is pretty high. Later the Shazam! show became part of the Shazam/Isis Hour that paired episodes of Shazam! with Filmation's other live action kids show The Secrets of Isis, which had a similar structure, but instead of having two guys driving around “helping” kids that show’s main character was not only female, thus a little less threatening, but also was a school teacher and not just some random stranger in a van.

Being both Shazam! and The Secrets of Isis were produced by Filmation Captain Marvel and Isis would make cross-over guest appearances on each other’s shows, which of course made the “crisis of the day” seem in even more ridiculous for needing two beings with godlike abilities, but most of the cross-overs involved Captain Marvel just moving the odd boulder around while Isis dealt with the kids more directly.


The Big Red Cheese and Isis.

Seeing Captain Marvel lift those boulders and fly into the air like Superman was certainly enough for most kids of that era but the lack of actual action makes it harder to watch now.  The main factor that hampered these shows is that both it and the Super Friends cartoons were under the watchful eyes Standards and Practices who would not allow "kid shows" to include any real violence, you know, punching and stuff, but at least with the Super Friends you had a wider variety of heroes to watch, and not to mention that the Batmobile and Wonder Woman’s invisible jet were certainly cooler than Mentor’s creepy motorhome. The entire run of Shazam! has been made available through Warner Archives but the nostalgia factor is probably not worth the price they are asking.

Monday, December 4, 2017

The Black Hole (1979) – Review

What do you get when you cross Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey with Shakespeare's The Tempest? Well in 1979 Walt Disney Studios released their first PG rated film called The Black Hole which kind of answered that question, unfortunately that answer was something audiences of the late 70s were not particularly interested in.  Making things even worse was the fact that Disney’s attempt at a science fiction film had neither the hard core science elements of Kubrick’s film nor the fun space-fantasy elements of the current hit Star Wars, resulting in fans of either of those films feeling rather dissatisfied. It’s like that old adage says, “If you can’t please everyone you may as well please no one.” Wait, that’s not an old adage?  Well it should be as it definitely sums up the problems with Disney's The Black Hole.

I’ll dispel one major belief that seems to hang over The Black Hole like a cinematic dark cloud and that of Disney trying to shamelessly cash in on Star Wars and that they bombed in the attempt, this is not true, for one the film was well into pre-production before Luke Skywalker left his home world of Tatooine and secondly it did make a profit.

Note: Even though the film eventually made it into the profit column it only managed to take in $36 million dollars domestically on a $20 million dollar budget, drastically under-performing to expectations.  That would certainly not have impressed the shareholders.

In fact aside from cute robots making an appearance there isn’t all that much to compare between the two films; Stars Wars was pure space fantasy while The Black Hole was more in the vein of such science fiction films as Destination Moon and The Forbidden Planet. The key problem with The Black Hole was not in its subject matter or the special effects, which were pretty amazing for the time, but that the script was simply terrible and that they went into production without even having an ending figured out.


Incredible matte painting can do a lot but sadly they can’t solve poor plotting.

The movie introduces us to the crew of the spacecraft USS Palomino while they are on their return leg from a deep space exploratory mission; the crew consists of Captain Dan Holland (Robert Forster) the stalwart commander who must make the tough decisions, First Officer Lieutenant Charlie Pizer (Joseph Bottoms) the brash young space hero, Harry Booth (Ernest Borgnine) a journalist whose cowardly nature could spell destruction for them all, then we have Dr. Alex Durant (Anthony Perkins) as the expeditions civilian leader and person you'd least like to have visit you in the shower, and finally there was Dr. Kate McCrae (Yvette Mimieux) the ships psychic whose ESP abilities seem to be plot specific and only used for her to telepathically communicate with the ship's robot V.I.N.CENT (Vital Information Necessary Centralized), voiced by Roddy McDowall. I’m sure on their prior missions she had other important duties to perform but in this movie everything Dr. McCrae does could be replaced by a Radio Shack walkie-talkie.

Note: We never do see her communicate with any of her human crew members via ESP just the robot, which is kind of bizarre because mentally linking with a machine doesn’t seem very ESPish, but then again I’m no expert on telepathy so I’ll let that slide.

The crew of the Palomino are stunned when they discover a large spaceship seemingly perched at the edge of a massive black hole; Dr. Durant is especially impressed as he intones with much gravitas, “The most destructive force in the Universe. Nothing can escape it, not even light.”

When watching this film you should be prepared to hear everyone speaking as if whatever is happening is the most significant thing that has ever happened. Self-importance just oozes out of every frame of this movie as if the four screenwriters, and yeah there four writers which is never a good sign, were writing a story to rival the works of Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke, but when the film finally rolls to its “conclusion” the audiences is left realizing that nothing substantive has been said about anything. When your film is about one of the universes biggest mysterious you’ve got to put at least some thought in to it.


It’s a visually stunning whirlpool but has little bearing on the movie’s actual plot.

What story we are given owes more to likes of Jules Verne and Shakespeare then it does Clarke or Asimov; when the crew of the Palomino learn that the ship they’ve spotted is the long-lost USS Cygnus, and that the only person on board is the famous Dr. Hans Reinhardt (Maximillian Schell), we get serious Captain Nemo vibes with a heavy dose of The Forbidden Planet, which of course was a science fiction update of Shakespeare’s The Tempest.  In The Black Hole we have Reinhardt as this film’s version of Prospero and in place of a the villainous island native Caliban from the play we get a robot by the name of Maximilian, who looks like he was purchased from a Sharper Image catalog edited by Satan.


I will admit that Maximilian is one damn fine piece of robot design.

We learn that Dr. Hans Reinhardt had been ordered to return to Earth, his mission to find “inhabitable life” (that should have been “Inhabitable worlds” but somehow this kind of mistake got by four writers) being deemed a failure, but he tells our heroes that his ship had suffered major damage from a meteor field and that his communications equipment had been wrecked. Reinhardt explains that he is the sole human aboard, having sent the rest of the crew off twenty years ago, and he appears shocked to find out that his crew never reached Earth.

In the two decade since he has apparently spent all his time studying the black hole with the intent of someday, “Going in, through and beyond!” That he is lying about the fate of his crew is fairly evident and soon even our dimwitted heroes have figured out that the android crew that Reinhardt supposedly built are actually zombified crew members via laser lobotomy.  Harry discovers that the Cygnus has an AgroPod big enough to feed an entire crew yet the ship supposedly only has one human on board and Captain Holland witnesses what appears to be a funeral procession for one of the androids. This is when the shit hits the fan and Reinhardt orders his robot Stormtroopers, who look and move like goose-stepping cybermen from Doctor Who, after the Palomino crew with orders to “Liquidate our guests.”


Lucky for our heroes these robots are even worse shots than your average Stormtrooper.

Now this all may sound rather exciting; an obsessed Captain Nemo like character having lobotomized his crew to fulfil a mad dream to explore a black hole, a ship manned by said creepy humanoids as well as laser gun toting robots led by a robot devil with spinning Cuisinart blades for arms, we even have a ship that looks like a cross between an oil refinery and the S.S. Poseidon, and all of this would one would assume would lend itself to a pretty gripping an action packed tale, but sadly it doesn’t.

So how can a film with all those elements, including a first rate cast, fail to engage an audience? Well instead of a sci-fi blockbuster or a taught and thought provoking tale we got an overwritten melodrama with some of the hammiest lines of dialog ever uttered on film. The robot V.I.N.CENT's sole character trait is that he speaks in clichés such as, “There are old pilots and bold pilots but very few old bold pilots” and he keeps uttering them with such frequency that one must assume he was programmed by Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader. Then we also meet an old battered robot B.O.B. (Bio-sanitation Battalion) that has us wondering why someone would program it with the voice of Slim Pickens, sure we are told it was designed in Houston but would even a Texan robotics engineer incorporate such a voice into a robot?


Maybe the programmer was a huge Dr. Strangelove fan?

The movie isn’t even helped by the score provided by the great film composer John Barry because even though the movie has some wonderfully operatic themes, stuff you'd expect in a space opera, when the final act eventually kicks into gear we get this down tempo and ponderous music during the supposedly exciting laser battles between our heroes and the evil robots.  What was Barry thinking?  The entire film is guilty of having the worst pacing ever as each scenes seems to just plod along until the next bit of melodrama must be thrown at us by one of our main characters; Anthony Perkins will spend most of the screen time ass kissing Maximillian’s Schell’s mad scientist Reinhardt, the hot shot young hero Pizer is only around so that he can argue with V.I.N.CENT, “When I volunteered for this mission, I never thought I'd end up playing straight man to a tin can” and then we have both Robert Forster and Yvette Mimieux who both seem completely out of place in the film, and then there's Ernest Borgnine’s character who never made any sense to me from the start and had me asking, "What kind of news outlet sends middle-aged out of shape reporters on a deep space missions? Did his editor hate him that much?"


I guess surviving The Poseidon Adventure gives him some screen cred here.

Of course the real stars here are the movie's visual effects, and they are spectacular; the film sports 150 matte paintings by the great artist Peter Ellenshaw and the model design and construction of the spaceship Cygnus is absolutely fantastic. The shots of the little Palomino craft as it search lights scan the dark hull before the Cygnus suddenly lights up like a high-rise on Christmas Eve is simply stunning. It’s clear that not only did a lot of money go into this project but also a lot of love, but no matter how awesome your movie’s visual are if they are in service of a lacklustre script the film is pretty much doomed.

As I mentioned earlier this film began shooting without a finished script, which kind of explains why the film really doesn’t have much of an ending, and as our heroes follow the mad Hans Reinhardt into the maelstrom of the black hole we get a bit of stuff that a charitable person would say was an “homage” to the trip through the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey, but then the film all of a sudden goes Biblical for no rational reason as our "heroes" pass through Heaven and Hell. You can just picture those four sad sack writers banging their heads against the wall as they try to come up with an ending, and I'd say director Gary Nelson should have had them shot for dereliction of duty.  So what did these genius writers eventually come up with? We see Hans Reinhardt and the evil robot Maximillian doing a bit of space ballet before Reinhardt finds himself trapped within his own creation and then we see them literally in Hell.


Parents at the time must have had fun explaining this to their kids.

Earlier in the film Anthony Perkins compared the black hole to Dante’s Inferno so I guess that can be called foreshadowing but then the movie decides to double down on the Bible motif by the appearance of an angelic being that guides us through crystal hallways that I’m assuming we are to take as Heaven. Eventually our heroes and their spacecraft are spit out the other side of the black hole, all perfectly fine after their cosmic trip, but before any of what we just saw could be explained the film abruptly ends with a quick shot of their ship flying through space towards a new planet near a bright star and...roll credits.

The Black Hole had a lot of potential but saddled with a weak script, and a director mostly known for television work, it really didn’t stand much of a chance.  We are constantly treated with glimpses of the better film this thing could have been; Hans Reinhardt is depicted as your clichéd obsessed mad scientist but there is a moment in the film where he runs up to Kate, right after the evil robot Maximillian has buzzsawed into Durant’s chest, and he whispers to her, “Protect me from Maximillian.” What is that about? We do see that the robots all seem to function in some autonomous fashion, with Maximillian tending to take things into his own hands (clamps?) but we never get the impression that he isn’t anything more than a mechanical thug created by Reinhardt, so what’s his deal? Why at the end does Reinhardt fear him?


They should have focused the movie on rogue A.I. robots and skipped the black hole.

As mentioned earlier this movie was Disney Studios first PG rated movie, years before Touchtone or Miramax were created to handle this kind of more adult stuff, but there really isn’t much here to offend anyone or frighten children.  I guess the use of the word “damn” as well as images of Hell and the occasional on screen death were enough to make censors force the PG rating on the film but there certainly isn't anything here that most kids would even blink at as all the violence is quite bloodless. Unfortunately bloodless pretty much sums up this entire film as it is quite pale and lacks any real substance, which is a shame as the visuals are often breathtaking. So if you come across The Black Hole on Netflix or Turner Classic Movies give it a perusal if you are the curious sort, but just be sure to lower your expectations a tad or two.

Final Thoughts:

• The actors walking around in slow motion to simulate no gravity is pretty goofy.
• The film's designers chose to make V.I.N.CENT a hovering robot to differentiate him from R2-D2 but the amount of times you can spot the wires he is hanging from illustrates this was a bad idea.
• The robots aboard the Cygnus have a rec room where they can challenge each other at laser target practice yet despite the need for robots to practice targeting being patently ridiculous it also apparently didn’t help as they can’t seem to hit our heroes even when they are standing still and right out in the open.
• The double barrel horseshoe shaped laser guns the bad robots use makes no practical sense.
• The hull of the Cygnus is breached in multiple places by meteors yet our heroes survive catastrophic decompression when they should have all died almost instantly and been sucked out into space.
• V.I.N.CENT notifies his friends that “A meteorite struck the ship” and you’d think a robot that is supposedly a "Vital Information Necessary Centralized" unit would know that a meteor is only referred to as a meteorite when it passes into a planet’s atmosphere.

The Black Hole is a film that bills itself as science fiction movie and a not space fantasy but more often than not it goes for “What looks cool” over making things scientifically accurate, and to be fair I’m normally okay with this but only if the story is good enough to make me forgive such things, sadly that is not the case here.