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Monday, July 31, 2017

Colossal (2016)- Review

Giant monsters raging across an Asian city is certainly nothing new, Godzilla has been it doing for over sixty years now, but in Nacho Vigalondo’s genre busting film Colossal things get a little weird as he manages not only make an original kaiju film but one that is also a romantic comedy, albeit on that contains a large helping of dark drama that is all tied up in a sci-fi horror premise. That Vigalondo is able to juggle all these elements, and still provide a clear and concise movie, is a testament to his skill as a writer/director.


The film’s protagonist is an alcoholic party girl named Gloria (Anne Hathaway), she is an unemployed writer in New York and whose drunken antics have finally reached last straw levels with her boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens) thus resulting in him kicking her out of his apartment. With no job and no place to live Gloria is forced to retreat to her old hometown and the barren house that belonged to her late parents. It's while lugging home an inflatable mattress that she runs into Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) an old childhood friend and he offers her a job at the bar that was once run by his now deceased father. This is not the best idea.  Working in a bar when you are an alcoholic is all kinds of bad but Gloria is the queen of bad ideas, and so she takes the job and spends her after hours time with Oscar and his two friends, Garth (Tim Blake Nelson) and Joel (Austin Stowell), drinking herself into oblivion. When she awakes from one particular nasty bender she is shocked to learn that a gigantic monster had appeared out of nowhere in Seoul, South Korea.

Trivia Note: This film was hit with a lawsuit because of its similarities to Godzilla but charges were dismissed and the producers told not to reference the classic kaiju monster.

This first act is certainly not your standard set-up to a typical kaiju film, think Cloverfield meets Rachel Getting Married, but then things get even weirder when we get the startling revelation that Gloria is somehow connected to the monster. When she sees footage of the creature scratching the top of its head, in much the same way she does her own, she slowly realizes that her drunken wandering through the local park each morning was completely mimicked by the monster in its rampage through Seoul. Excited by this discovery she shares this news with her drinking buddies and they obviously don't believer her, but then during a demonstration her motions cause her monstrous analog to destroys a helicopter and flatten some buildings, this is when the full nature of the situation hits her like a ton of bricks. She is responsible for the death and destruction unfolding on television. People have died because of her.  We then get an even bigger wrinkle in the story when Oscar steps into the picture and we see that he also has a monstrous analog in Seoul only this one is in the form of a giant robot.

 

That the two ending up fighting should surprise no one.

I will go no further in discussing the plot of this film as it truly is something one must see to properly experience, Anne Hathaway is simply brilliant as this flawed yet sympathetic woman who through these strange events learns to battle all of her demons, big and small. That Hathaway has the ability to give us such a well-rounded and fascinating character is almost to be expected, she has become one of the most well respected actors out there, but then we have Jason Sudeikis as the old childhood friend, who in the straight romantic comedy version of this film would've been played by Harry Connick Jr, shows us some serious dramatic chops as his character goes from affable guy to something quite dark.

 

Sudeikis shows the world that he isn’t just a comic actor.

Colossal may be light on citywide monster destruction, much of it just seen briefly through news broadcasts, but the film is loaded with so much more that it is hardly missed, and with both Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis giving stellar performances it’s a raises the genre to a new level.

The crazy premise of a New York City party girl strangely puppeteering a giant monster on the far side of the world may not be for everyone but the dark direction the film slowly slides into will have any audience member riveted. This may be a monster movie but not all of the monsters are one hundred stories tall.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Atomic Blonde (2017) – Review

Its possible way may never get a female James Bond, as we are still waiting for them to hire Idris Elba as Bond, but until they do we at least have this atomic fueled spy thriller by director David Leitch to hold us over. We can also revel in the increase in action films with female protagonist, from science fiction films like Lucy to the DC's box office smash Wonder Woman, and Charlize Theron is certainly setting the bar high with this entry. One thing to take note of is that though the trailers seem to be marketing this as a John Wick style action film, and as it stars one of the directors that’s not surprising, but the film is actually more a cold war spy movie than what the marketing department is letting on.


 Based on the graphic novel Coldest City by Sam Hart, and taking place just prior to the Berlin Wall falling, the story has a fairly basic plot; MI6 has lost an agent (Sam Hargrave), who was supposed to be acquiring a list with the names of various double agents that if got out could prolong the Cold War indefinitely, and so they send in British agent Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) to get the list and possibly clean up the mess. Now movies with spies trying to get a hold of a list of undercover agents is certainly nothing new, even a 70s Wonder Woman made-for-TV movie used that stale McGuffin, for it to work what you have to do is populate your story with interesting characters that have good motivations, and then throw in some solid action set pieces.  Atomic Blonde nails most of these qualities, the action sequences are some of the best I've seen, but if not all of those elements are handled equally as well what we do get is enough to keep us invested.

 

Is this how you prepare to fight a cold war, ice baths?

My biggest complaint would be the filmmaker’s decision to have the story be mostly told through a clunky framing device; a beaten an bruised Theron shows up at MI6 headquarters to be interviewed by her British superior (Toby Jones) and a top C.I.A official (John Goodman), thus the bulks of the film is told in flashbacks which kind of removes some of the tension as her being alive enough to be debriefed means any of those amazing fight sequences we see the outcome is pretty much assured. In fact every time the film cuts buck to the debriefing room it’s rather jarring and certainly doesn’t help with the pacing. Now as this film is all about double crosses, secret motivations and intrigue some of the information we learn in those scenes is crucial but it would have been nicer if Leitch could have made it work with maybe a more linear storytelling device.

 

"Agent Broughton, is it safe to say you didn't die?"

I was also a little bit shocked at the tone of the film as the trailer made it look more in the vein of a “buddy movie” like The Nice Guys with Theron’s character having to team up with Berlin Station Chief David Percival (James McAvoy), which would lead to many action hijinks, but that is really not the case. Once again James McAvoy proves to be one of the most versatile actors working and when given a nice meaty role, like an undercover agent who may have gone a bit native, we get more than we bargained for.  His performance here is simply riveting and I for one would gladly pay to see a prequel movie about Percival and his adventures prior to the Berlin Wall falling.

 

"Are you sure you don't find any of my twenty-three personalities attractive?"

Another great element in the film is in the character of French spy Delphine Lasalle (Sofia Boutella) who Theron’s character encounters while trying to hunt done the list, all while also keeping an eye out for a notorious double agent, and she sparks up a brief but hot affair with her. What is surprisingly well done with this element of the movie, aside from being able to watch two of Hollywood’s most attractive people making out that is, but that the film does not make a big deal that this is a same-sex relationship, it's just two people finding each other and having an emotional connection. James Bond has either seduced or fallen in love with countless female spies from rival agencies over the years and Theron and Boutella’s relationship easily on par with the best of those, that they are both women is completely irrelevant.

 

Note: I certainly advise against holding your breath on the wait for Bond having a same-sex affair.

As mentioned there isn’t really anything new here as pertaining to the spy genre; critical information is needed, femme fatales are seduce or are seduced, KGB agents are around every corner, and the danger of betrayal at any second is all pretty standard, but what director David Leitch does provide us with is insanely visceral action sequences that will literally have you cringing in your seats. Theron’s Lorraine Broughton is not an indestructible superman, when we first see her her body is a roadmap of cuts and bruises, and when she goes toe to toe with villains that considerably outweigh her the film does not shy away from how brutal things can get. It’s her ability to think quickly on her feet, and not just her physical strength, that lets her come out on top. Of course as this is a Hollywood action film both Theron and McAvoy take hits that would most likely hospitalize a person in the real world but Leitch manages to sell it by not pushing it too far into the ridiculous.

 

Though dressing sharply for a fight seems very important in this film.

Atomic Blonde may not be the most original spy thriller, or the best action film out there for that matter, but it’s easily one of the most entertaining. I hope that if this film does spark sequels we can get more into Theron’s character as the film doesn’t give us much beyond the surface, Lorraine Broughton isn’t in the same league as Theron’s Imperator Furiosa from Mad Max: Fury Road, but if seeing Charlize Theron in thigh high leather boots kicking the crap out of dozens of thug sounds like fun to you then you will not be disappointed.

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Strongest Man in the World (1975) – Review

In this last installment of the Dexter Riley Trilogy we once again find Medfield College embroiled in financial problems and scientific shenanigans; it's clear by this point that the formula is getting a bit tired and the studio wisely decided to end the madcap adventures of Dexter and friends here. At the end of Now You See Him, Now You Don’t the kids of Medfield College were wondering how they would be able to help their perpetually cash strapped school next year, with Dexter pointing out that he'd invented invisibility by accident, "How many times is something like that going to happen?" That's a rather Meta line and kind of shows us that the studio was fully aware of the absurdity of these movies, and they knew it couldn’t go on indefinitely.


The movie opens with the always beleaguered Dean Higgins (Joe Flynn) in a meeting with Regent Dietz (Harold Gould) where he learns due to the school’s financial mismanagement he is being fired, but fast talking and expert groveler Higgins is able to squeeze out a thirty day stay of execution by claiming he is in the middle of a promotional campaign to raise money. Higgins storms off to the “Creative Lab” to confront Professor Quigley (William Schallert) about the incredible waste in spending his science class is guilty of, but what he finds in the lab is a bunch of students working on ways to make a skinny cow into a fat one.  He is less than impressed, and when he learns that they are spending $15 dollars a day to rent said cow he explodes and fires Quigley. You would think that after the school had been saved from bankruptcy twice before by these kids he’d be a bit more understanding but Dean Higgins is not known for rational thinking.  It is his actions that lead to the day being saved for when he storms out of the lab, and slams the door, this causes a formula that Dexter Riley (Kurt Russell) was working on to spill into a vitamin mix cereal that Richard Schuyler (Michael McGreevey) was developing. The effects of this super-charged cereal are impressive; the cow eats the cereal and that night it ends up producing 80 gallons of milk, the fraternity house's pet dog eats some of it and chases a Doberman down the street, and after Dexter has a few spoonfuls he is able to bend steel lampposts and lift people into the air with ease.

 

Sadly this movie does not end with Kurt Russell becoming The Commander from Sky High.

As Dean Higgins is a complete idiot he believes that the financial answer to their college’s problems lies in selling this formula to the Crumply Crunch Cereal Company because why would the United States government be interested in a formula that could create super-soldiers? Higgins attends a board meeting at Crumply Crunch and impresses owner Harriet Crumply (Eve Arden) with his feats of athleticism; such as lifting weights, swinging from the light fixtures like a trapeze artist, and then karate chopping the boardroom table in half. The Board comes to the conclusion that the best way to advertise the powers of the formula cereal is by challenging Krinkle Krunch, a rival cereal company run by Kirwood Krinkle (Phil Silvers).  They come to the conclusion that the best way to show off this wonderful strength formula is in a weightlifting competition between perennial losers Medfield College and the well-funded State College, which also happens to be Krinkle’s alma mater. There is of course a fly in the ointment of this “brilliant idea” and that would be the company's vice president Harry Crumply (Dick Van Patten) who though he is a nephew to owner Harriet Crumply he is also a spy working for Krinkle. Harry is given the job of stealing the formula from the Medfield kids and to accomplish this he approaches A.J. Arno (Cesar Romero) and his idiot sidekick Cookie (Richard Bakalyan) who were recently let out of prison.

 

The Axis of Comic Evil.

In the previous film Arno and Cookie were appended after robbing the Medfield Bank yet somehow they are being released just three years later; now I’m no legal expert but I’m pretty sure the sentence for bank robbery is a bit longer than that, even with a lenient parole board. I’d really love to meet Arno’s brilliant defense team that managed to pull this off.  Regardless of the inadequacy’s of 70s judicial systems it does lead to some brilliant comic bits with Arno and Cookie trying to break into the Medfield Lab via a window washing rig, with the bumbling idiots only being saved by landing in wet cement after their disaster theft attempt fails. Attempt number two involves the kidnapping of Schuyler and using the skills of Chinese underworld criminal Ah Fong (Benson Fong) to extract the formula’s ingredients from the poor kid via acupuncture and hypnotism. Of course the problem here is that Schuyler doesn’t actually know the real formula so when Kirwood Krinkle later tries out this particular formula, by attempting to karate chop a table in half, he is only rewarded with a nearly broken hand.

 

Question: Would you buy a cereal with a picture of that guy on the box?

Things look bad for Krinkle until the villainous snake Harry realizes that if the formula doesn’t work from them it won’t work for Crumply either and thus their hated rivals will be humiliated during the weightlifting competition. On the big day it looks like Krinkle and his band of toadies may just win the event hands down, the weightlifters from State College looking like an ad for steroids wile Medfield’s entries all resemble the before picture in those old Atlas ads, but when Dexter takes a spoonful of their cereal he quickly realizes it doesn’t have that same acidic taste as the cereal from from the original bowl that gave him super strength, that it must have been his formula that imparted strength and not Schuyler’s. With the contest underway Dexter races back to Medfield to find his formula, with Arno and his goons in hot pursuit to stop him, but while this is going on the Dexter’s friends quickly find out on their own that they don’t have super powers.

 

That looks a little worse than a strained muscle.

Will Dexter find the formula and make it back to the competition in time? Can Arno’s goons stand up to a super powered Dexter? Is Medfield College to be saved from financial disaster or will Dean Higgins soon be applying for work at the local Arbys? If you’ve seen the previous two entries in this series the answers to those questions should be crystal clear, but what is also clear is that the Medfield College comedies will not to remembered for their originality. This third and final entry is fun but not quite as good as the previous two and certainly not helped by the fact that star Kurt Russell has the least amount of screen time in this outing, with the focus more on idiot student Schuyler and the villains chasing after the formula than on Dexter. For what screen time he does have Russell is his ever charming self but it’s no surprise to learn that the actor was eager to leave life at Disney Studios far behind.

 

Kurt Russell is The Strongest Man in the World

Final Thoughts:

  • Professor Quigley is back with no explanation as to what happened to Professor Lufkin who took over the “Creative Lab” in Now You See Him, Now You Don’t.
  • Disney’s college comedies exist in a world devoid of sex as Dexter and his friends don’t seem to have time for romance of any kind.
  • James Gregory appears as a befuddled Chief of Police to add some racist schtick and a balloon gag that reeks of padding the film's running time.
  • To make it back to the competition in time Dexter puts the strength formula into Dean Higgins’s old car to turbo charge it. I’m a bit fuzzy on the science here as a car doesn't have muscles to be super-charged.

 

Yabba Dabba Doo!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Ghost Story (1981) – Review

What do you get when you take an immense supernatural tale filled with dense prose, add four legendary Hollywood actors, throw in some cheap jump scares, and then cram it all into a two hour running time? If you said Ghost Story you are exactly right, but you probably noticed that was the link you clicked so that is kind of cheating, yet back in 1981 audiences weren’t sure what they’d be getting when they visited their local cinema. Would this be on par with films like The Exorcist and Halloween, which Universal Studios was certainly hoping for, or would it fail to strike a chord with modern audiences?


Tackling the 500 page horror tale penned by Peter Straub was going to be no easy task, as the author took a page from Stephen King by deciding to paint his story on a large canvas, telling multiple storylines that would interweave with the main plot, but when adapting such a story to film a certain amount of things will have to be cut. Even Tobe Hooper’s Salem’s Lot had to discard much of King’s 400 page opus and he had three hours to work with, but director John Irvin had no such luxury with Ghost Story. Screenwriter Lawrence D. Cohen had the daunting task of jettisoning about 90% of the book's tapestry of characters and plot threads thus leaving behind only a simple story of revenge.

 

Albeit a ghostly revenge from beyond the grave.

The movie centers around four men, the book had five but one of them didn’t make the cut to the big screen, that live in a small New England town, who all have been harboring a dark secret for over fifty years, a secret that has now come back to bite them in the ass. Ricky Hawthorne (Fred Astaire), Sears James (John Houseman), Dr. John Jaffrey (Melvyn Douglas), and Mayor Edward Charles Wanderley (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) make up a small club they call the Chowder Society, an informal men’s club where they regale each other with scary stories, but now they are all suffering nightmares that seem to be a harbinger of terrible things to come. That the movie opens with John Houseman telling a tale of terror is a bit of an odd choice, not because Houseman is a terrible storyteller as his voice is perfect for spooky tales, but the problem is that just one year earlier John Carpenter’s The Fog opened with Houseman telling a spooky campfire tale, and so for a brief moment I was confused as to what movie I’d put in my Bluray player.

 

“Beware of leper ghosts and gold doubloons.”

Meanwhile in New York City Edward's son David (Craig Wasson) seems very concerned with the naked woman in his bed. Sadly something that rarely concerns me.  The tub in the bathroom is overflowing while David keeps asking this woman, who is lying face down in his bed, “Who are you?” Later we learn this woman was his fiancĂ©e so his question is more metaphorical in nature and not due to a guy bringing a woman home without bothering to get a name. Though he’d have been better off with a one night stand for when he places his hand on her naked flesh he is shocked at how cold it is, and then she turns over and her face is finally revealed.

 

I guess their relationship wasn’t based on looks.

David reels back in terror, crashing through his high-rise window, and falling to his death far below. This leads to Edward calling his other son Don (Craig Wasson), who just so happens to be David’s identical twin thus being played by the same actor, and he tells the boy he must come home for the funeral. Don insists to his father that David’s death was not an accident and being the death involved his brother practically flying through a glass window I’d say most forensic officials would want to do a little investigation on this as well, but not in this movie because we don’t have time for cops and we’ve got ghosts to bust. The father and son seem to be at odds but they aren’t given any time to build bridges before Edward is lured down the street by a spectral figure, and as he crosses a bridge Edward is startled by the ghost. In terror he falls backwards off the bridge.

 

“Boo!”

So that’s her entire bag of tricks, just scare the crap out of her victims and hope they die from it? It may seem a trifle lame but you can’t knock its effectiveness, and despite Ricky, Jaffrey and young Don all believing something supernatural is going on good ole Sears refuses to discuss the situation. Don joins the Chowder Society by telling a ghost story of his own, this one involving a woman by the name of Alma Mobley (Alice Krige) who was a secretary at the school Don taught at.  The two had a hot and passionate affair but when things got a bit weird, like Alma demanding to be married in Don’s hometown with all family and friends watching, which was pretty much a deal breaker for Don. Then one night Don wakes to find Alma standing naked in the living, staring out at the ocean, and without turning around she states, “I will take you places you've never been. I will show you things that you have never seen, and I will see the life run out of you.”

 

She may be hot but that kind of crazy you don’t need in your life.

That relationship totally messed up Don’s life, after breaking up with her and her subsequent disappearance his life spiraled in a downward direction, but things took an even darker turn when he got a call from his twin telling him that he was going to marry Alma. Seems like she was really hell-bent on marrying into that family.  Yet scaring David out of the window didn’t seem like a good way to seal the whole marriage deal, and I thought that was the point of her whole goddamn plan. Maybe David was just too big of a douche, and as the guy was marrying his brother’s ex that's some pretty damning evidence of his douchery, so she decided to just kill him instead and then head on to New England to continue her vengeance fueld killing spree. Why she didn’t just do that in the first place is never made clear.

Weirder still is that Ricky comes across two psychos living in an old abandoned house, one an escaped lunatic by the name of Gregory Bate (Miguel Fernandes) the other being pint sized Fenny Bate (Lance Holcomb), and they seem to be working for the ghost.

 

Never knew a ghost to need a Renfield before let alone two of them.

The problem here is that these two idiots aren’t all that effective, certainly not as effective as a “Scare you to Death” ghost who chocks up another victim by terrifying Jaffrey to death. With the death toll mounting the remaining two members of The Chowder Society finally spill the beans to their big deep dark secret to Don. As young men these four all fell in love with an exotic woman by the name of Eva Galli, who surprise surprise looks just like Alma, and when she picks Edward as the lucky one she will sleep with his inability to sexually perform makes things a little awkward. Later when they are all drunk as skunks the four boys pay a call on Eva, and that is when things start to turn bad to worse, Edward knocks Eva down before she can reveal that he failed the bedroom test, this being bad because he'd already told his boys how awesome it was, and she hits her head. They find no pulse and jump to the conclusion that she must be dead.  Not wanting to ruin their lives they decided to put the body where no one will ever find it, which for some reason involves putting her in the backseat of a car and then pushing it into a pond.  Their idea of “A place no one will ever find” differs radically from mine. The stupidity of their dumping ground isn’t even the biggest problem as it turns out that Eva had only been knocked unconscious, and so the group end up looking on helplessly as she bangs on the back window while the car slowly sinks into the pond.

 

So we are supposed to be on the side of the murderous ghost, right?

Back in the present Ricky and Don do their best to convince Sears that Eva and Alma were one and the same person and that she is now a ghost seeking revenge. How Alma appeared to be a living breathing person, one who could hold down a day job and have unabashed sex with both Don and David but could also turn into a ghastly living corpse is never fully addressed. It's common knowledge that most ghosts have a hard time landing jobs, unless it’s working for Michael J. Fox in The Frighteners, but Alma seemed to have no problem with this. Now a key element to a successful horror story is having a clear set of rules on how the supernatural elements function; Alma was capable of taking on a corporeal form as Eva to date Don and David yet in ghost form she doesn’t seem to be able to do anything but scare people.  This begs the question, "If she can take on a physical form why not try killing them old fashion way?" Her motivations are clear but her methodology is a mess. Another thing never addressed is how our “heroes” hoped to defeat Alma/Eva, did they plan on just marching into her haunted house and asking her to knock it off?

 

They don’t seem to sporting proton packs.

The trio enter the Alma's house and immediately reach epic levels of fail as the staircase collapses, sending Don crashing though to the floor below, and resulting in him breaking a leg. Sears declares that Don can’t be moved and offers to drive off to get help. Excuse me? Can’t be moved? He’s got a busted up leg not a broken back, there’s no reason they couldn’t have helped him to the car and driven to the hospital.  Instead the idiot Sears drives off alone where he soon encounters Eva standing in the middle of the snowy road. He runs through her spectral form but then ends up crashing into a snowbank.  He survives this minor accident but unfortunately for him Fenny Bate was in the backseat and Sears meets his end.

 

Killed by Mini-Renfield, now that's embarrassing.

When Sears fails to return with help Ricky decides he will head off on foot, but of course this means leaving poor disabled Don alone in the haunted house and soon the ghost of Eva is stalking down the hallways in search of her next victim. Meanwhile Ricky spots an approaching car, which he flags down and then gets in without bother to look to see who is driving, and of course the driver turns out to be Gregory Bate. One would think this would be the end of poor Ricky but somehow this escaped maniac is stabbed to death by an 80 year old Fred Astaire. But what about Don at the mercy of the ghost?

 

Seems like Alma really did want to get married.

While Don is being stalked by Bride of the Damned Ricky somehow makes to the police on foot and manages to convince them to pull Eva’s car out of the frozen pond. Umm, hey Ricky, haven't you forgotten about poor ole Don? Let’s break things down a bit; Ricky stabbed crazy Gregory, causing the car to crash and roll, and then he spent who knows how long getting to the authorities, and we must assume he spent even more time convincing them to get a tow truck over to the old pond, yet he never thinks to say, “Sheriff, could you send an ambulance to that old abandoned house, a friend of mine is there and he's badly hurt.” Sure he thinks exposing Eva’s corpse will lift the curse, and he’s right of course, but couldn’t he have also sent somebody to rescue Don?

 

“Damn you, Ricky!”

The car is found and once opened the rotting corpse of Eva spills out as it's flesh sloughs off the skeleton. With the dead body revealed the ghost menacing Don vanishes and the day is saved. And that’s it, that’s the end of the movie, the curse is lifted and Ricky and Don get to live happily ever after.  Or maybe Ricky goes to jail for the murder of Eva, as well he should, but the credits roll before we find out what happens. Peter Straub has stated he drew inspiration from the works of Nathanial Hawthorne and Edgar Allen Poe but what made it to the screen here is nothing more than an average Tales from the Crypt story that you would have found in an issue of EC comics. Hell, a little more editing and you could make this into a decent episode of Supernatural, but as a two hour movie it’s a bit of a slog. Seeing these Hollywood giants working together was certainly a treat, and Alice Krige was simply fantastic in her dual role as Eva/Alma, but if they had all been in service of a more interesting script we could have had something truly great here. Ghost Story is not a terrible movie but it suffers greatly from its translation from book to screen, much of what made Straub’s book so riveting is missing here and the finished result is less than engaging.

 

“Next week on Vault of Horror.”

Monday, July 17, 2017

Now You See Him, Now You Don’t (1972) – Review

Next to flying and super strength I’d say the power of invisibility ranks up there as one of the more popular power sets people would pick if given the chance but it’s also the one power that easily opens up the avenue of abuse.  I myself would never wander into a woman’s locker room while invisible but the world isn’t full of people with my sterling character, so it’s a very valid concern. In the original H.G. Wells classic The Invisible Man it’s the invisibility formula itself that drives the central character mad but could the power alone corrupt a man? Walt Disney’s Now You See Him, Now You Don’t of course does not delve into such heady ideas instead it works mostly as a mild anti-establishment teen comedy.


This is the second of the Dexter Riley movies that deals with the shenanigans of a group of misfit kids at Disney’s fictional Medfield College, which first appeared in the film The Absent Minded Professor in 1961 and is a direct sequel to 1969’s The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes. Once again Kurt Russell returns as the science minded Dexter Riley, a man whose passion for science is unfortunately exceeded by his abilities, and along with his friends he will find himself pitted more against Cesar Romero’s villainous A.J. Arno and his henchman Cookie.

 

Medfield has the same problem as Gotham in not keeping this guy locked up.

The movie opens much as the first one did with Medfield student Dexter Riley (Kurt Russell) and his compatriots; including best friend Richard Schuyler (Michael McGreevey) and the lovely Debbie Dawson (Joyce Menges), eavesdropping on a college staff meeting being held by Dean Higgins (Joe Flynn) where they learn of the schools dire financial situation. Later Professor Lufkin (William Windom) shows Dean Higgins around the “Creative Lab” where his science students work on various experiments in the hopes of convincing the Dean that someone in this group could possibly land a $50,000 cash prize, given to the winner of the Forsythe Science Award, and thus keep the school afloat for another year. The sight of Schuyler’s tinker-toy display doesn’t boost the Dean’s confidence much and even though he does seem to like honor student Druffle’s (Ed Begley Jr.) work with bumblebees it's Dexter’s “nitwit” experiments on invisibility that has Dean Higgins convinced that the school’s money has been wasted on the sciences.

 

You can tell science is going on here by the beakers full of colored liquids and the Jacob’s ladder.

That night a thunderstorm builds up over Medfield and the roof of the lab is struck by lightning; now if you remember in The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes a storm flooded the computer lab which in turn led to Dexter getting jolted with electricity and being gifted with the brain of a computer, so it’s clear that weather and scientific breakthroughs go hand-in-hand.  It’s this particular accident that somehow turns Dexter’s failed invisibility formula into a working one, and after watching this movie I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the United States government covered up the fact that Benjamin Franklin developed superpowers after his experiment with a key and lightning.

 

Note: This movie does not contain the most convincing optical work ever put to film.

Random lightning strikes isn’t the only storm to worry about as our heroes run into A.J. Arno (Cesar Romero), who they had all assumed was in jail after the events of the previous movie, heading into the school for a meeting with Dean Higgins.  When Dexter questions Arno about not being in jail the smooth criminal explains to them, “Oh, that. That was a mistake. You know, the police, the judges, they all make mistakes. But I forgive them. I don’t hold any grudges against anyone.” Now being that some of the charges involved racketeering and kidnapping, in front multiple witnesses, one must assume that the Medfield justice system is a hotbed of corruption and or incompetence. Of course Dexter and company know he must be up to no good and when the gang later learn that Arno took over the mortgage on the college they know they must stop whatever nefarious plans he has in mind. Lucky for our scrappy gang of students they have an invisibility formula that allows them to sneak right into Arno’s head office and uncover these evil plans.

Science Note: Dexter’s invisibility formula works on the principle of bending light around an object but the human eye requires light to bounce of an object and into your cornea, but if your cornea was invisible the light would pass straight through and not continue through to the optic nerve thus an invisible man would also be a blind man.

Turns out that Arno plans to foreclose on the college and make-over the whole place into a gambling establishment due to an old 1912 law that allows gambling on the property that Medfield College currently sits on. When they inform Dean Higgins of this discovery things look rather bleak, but Dexter ensures him that their science project is a shoe in to win the Forsythe Award, even though he refuses to divulge the nature of the project fearing the Dean has too big a mouth.  They do run into another snag when they find out that Medfield has been dropped from the contest for being too insignificant. Dean Higgins calls up Mr. Forsythe (Jim Backus) to see about getting their school back into the contest but only manages to get a meeting on the golf course, which is not good as Higgins is a terrible golfer, but with the aid of an invisible Dexter Dean Higgins is able to impress Forsythe with some amazing golf skills which include numerous unbelievable hole-in-one-shots. Forsythe agrees to include Medfield in the contest but Dean Higgins isn’t just satisfied with that and so he accepts an offer to enter an exclusive golf tournament in nearby Ocean City that has a $50,000 dollar prize.  Unfortunately Dexter hears about the contest too late and misses the flight to Ocean City and poor Dean Higgins and his caddy Schuyler fail miserably without their invisible guardian.

 

The ocean makes for a pretty tough water hazard.

Things get even more complicated when Arno starts noticing the strange goings on; like seeing a towel float into the Country Club’s shower and then a damp Dexter Riley stepping out, and with the aid of his chief goon Cookie (Richard Bakalyan) they discover and steal the invisibility formula. This of course leads to a humiliating moment when Dexter and Schuyler go to demonstrate their formula before the Forsythe Science Committee to only discover that it had been replaced with colored water. After quickly deducing that Arno is behind the theft of the formula the gang plant a bug in Arno’s office and soon discover that the crook is planning on using the invisibility formula to rob the local bank. Unfortunately neither the bank manager nor the police place any credence in tails of invisible crooks so it’s up to our heroes to thwart the villains and save the college.

 

Racing to the rescue in a Dexter’s cool ride.

Now You See Him, Now You Don’t does nothing to reinvent the wheel when it comes to the invisible man premise but it does offer some good laughs as Dexter and company use the invisibility formula in a variety of fun ways, chasing an invisible car being the highlight here, yet as cool and fun as this film is there is a downside as the optical effects are fairly poor across the board. The special effects used to make someone’s hand invisible would barely pass muster for televisions show of the time and certainly more is expected from theatrical released movie from a major studio, but on the plus side the mechanical effects to depict things like shoes walking on their own work really well. Once again it’s Kurt Russell’s indefatigable charm that makes these movies work despite the “science” and the premise of the film’s being fairly ridiculous. The movie does end with a bit of a self-aware joke; after winning the Forsythe Science Award, which they do by accidentally spraying Dean Higgins during the award’s ceremony, Debbie brings up a very salient point…

Debbie: “He was able to come up with $50,000 this year because you invented invisibility, but next year he’s got to come up with $50,000 again."
Dexter: “Yeah, plus, I discovered invisibility by accident. How many times is something like that going to happen?"

Well the answer to that is at least one more time as Dexter Riley becomes The Strongest Man in World when Schuyler's vitamin cereal mix gives Dexter super-strength.

Now director Robert Butler is a deft hand at these types of comedy and a viewing of the Dexter Riley comedies is something I can recommend to anyone, but if you ever think about applying to Medfield College at give it some serious second thoughts as their science curriculum is certainly suspect and the criminal element in that town is way out of control.

Final Thoughts:

• The formula is water soluble so when Schuler walks through a puddle his shoes become visible but later during a chase involving an invisible car it drives through a puddle and busts open a fire hydrant without it making any part of the car visible.
• It’s clear that that invisibility formula was created by accident, Dexter having no clue as to how it was achieved, and as I’m pretty sure being able to verify your discovery is a key component to winning the science contest I don't think they could claim the prize money.
• Strangely no one in the government shows up to investigate this invisibility formula in the name of national security.
• Ed Begley Jr. who plays Druffle would later play The Son of the Invisible Man in the spoof Amazon Women on the Moon.

 

Career foreshadowing.

Friday, July 14, 2017

War for the Planet of the Apes (2017) – Review

What, no time traveling apes? By the third installment of the original Planet of the Apes series the Earth had been blown to smithereens making options on how to get a sequel going rather limited, but the lack of a planet would not deter the studio from making more money so they stuck some apes in a spaceship and had them thrown back in time to land in the present. That’s some bloody creative bullshit right there. Ten years after Tim Burton’s failed attempt in rebooting the series the studio decided to avoid that mess by going the prequel route with Rise of the Planet of the Apes, where we were treated to an installment far better than it had any right to be, and now with the third chapter director Matt Reeves gives us an entry that is even grander and more emotionally charged than its two predecessors.

This film opens with ape Caesar (Andy Serkis) dealing with the fallout from Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,where the hate filled ape Koba had betrayed him and led an attack on the humans who Caesar had been working with towards a peaceful alliance, and now the only thing Caesar wants is to find a safe home for his people before they are wiped out by the army that arrived in answer to the humans mayday. This of course is easier said than done especially when the particular military outfit chasing after him and his people are led by an obsessed Colonel (Woody Harrelson) hell-bent on wiping every ape off the planet to ensure humanities survival.

 

Note: Using guerilla tactics against actual gorillas may have been a mistake.

*minor spoilers ahead*
An emotional exhausted and war weary Caesar is catapulted into action when The Colonel leads a raid on their hidden base which results in the death of Caesar’s wife and eldest son. What is best for his people is tossed aside in his thirst for vengeance and it’s during such heavy emotional moments that one must step back and be amazed at the performance by Andy Serkis and the animation wunderkinds at Weta, the CGI of the apes in the previous film was stellar but in this third chapter it’s simply jaw dropping.

Caesar isn’t alone on this mission of vengeance, though he wanted to be but his friends would not let him face death alone, so he is joined by the orangutan Maurice (Karin Konoval), and fellow chimpanzees Luca (Michael Adamthwaite) and Rocket (Terry Notary). On their quest to find the Colonel they end up adopting a young mute girl (Amiah Miller), after killing her guardian who in all fairness tried to shoot them first, and they also hook up with Bad Ape (Steve Zahn) who once was an ape in the Sierra zoo and not one of Caesar’s people.  Bad Ape could lead Caesar to the location of The Colonel but he's not too keen on bringing along a tiny human.

 

But not even a war hardened ape could turn away this girl.

The introduction of the girl and Bad Ape are two big leaps towards where the original Planet of the Apes started as her muteness is trait of all humans in the Charlton Heston film and Bad Ape shows that the virus that spread across the globe wiping out most of mankind has most likely affected apes everywhere, the same way it did Caesar’s apes. It is especially the former that has The Colonel all riled up as if the virus has mutated in such a way that it is robbing mankind of speech and its cognitive abilities then the end will definitely be nigh. It’s this kind of thing that adds a nice layer to the film’s primary villain for even though he is a right sadistic bastard he’s not all that wrong.

 

He also gets some interesting allies to fight this war.

Now I must mention that the ad campaign for this movie has really been selling it as a big summer action packed blockbuster but even though this film does have a fair amount action that's not really what it's all about as it deals more with the mindset of war and not the spectacle of it. I’m am actually amazed at the balls that Matt Reeves has to make a summer blockbuster that not only addresses such heavy subject matter found here but that also has most of its dialogue in subtitles as only a couple of the apes have developed speech yet. War for the Planet of the Apes is a character driven movie led by the amazing Andy Serkis and directed the shit out of by the wonderful Matt Reeves and I can’t recommend it enough, but do not go into the theater expecting to see an ape version of Saving Private Ryan.

 

This scene does not occur.

Final Thoughts:

• The naming of the mute girl is a great nod to the Linda Harrison character from the original.
• The wooden Xs that the apes are tied to is an obvious homage to the scarecrows that lined the edge of the Forbidden Zone in the original film.
• The apes hope to find a safe haven on the other side of a desert. Could this desert be the Forbidden Zone?
• Woody Harrelson does a really good Colonel Kurtz.
• That the Colonel upon capturing Caesar puts him to work with the other enslaved apes is idiotic, this would be like if the Romans didn’t crucify Spartacus but instead let him get back to fermenting rebellion.

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Barefoot Executive (1971) – Review

With so much garbage polluting the channels these days one has to wonder, “Just what kind of a nut thought the XFL was going to be a thing?” Yet questionable sports programming is barely the tip of the iceberg, certainly no one can explain what the hell Galactic 1980 was about, or who thought the Hitler sitcom Heil Honey, I’m Home was a good idea, but back in 1971 Walt Disney Studios give us a glimpse at someone or something that should be put in charge of the Networks, The Barefoot Executive.


By 1971 Kurt Russell had become a household name when it came to Disney films and after his successful teen comedy The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes the studio was eager to give him another starring role albeit one where his co-star was a chimp. The movie follows the life of go-getter Steve Post (Kurt Russell) who works in the mailroom of the United Broadcasting Corporation but believes he’s got what it takes be an executive at the network. He’s constantly bothering vice president in charge of programming Francis X. Wilbanks (Joe Flynn) with insane ideas like “Abraham Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog” but as nuts as his ideas are he does at least have the lovely Jennifer Scott (Heather North), secretary to Wilbanks, in his corner. Wilbanks has no interest in any of Post’s cockamamie ideas as UBC is always third in the ratings and there are only three networks and he needs a hit, thus enters Raffles the television loving chimpanzee into our little story.

 

Think Ted Turner but with a bit more class.

Raffles belongs to Jennifer, who was saddled with the chimp when the previous owners had to move to San Francisco and couldn’t take the little guy with them, and Steve is at first angry that he has to deal with a spoiled chimp who hogs the television, but when he soon discovers that every show the chimp likes turns out to be the next day’s highest rated programs he knows he’s on to something big. The problem is he doesn’t want anyone to know that a chimpanzee is picking the show, he wants the credit himself.  This results in him breaking into his girlfriend’s place and swapping out Raffles for a chimp he picked up at the local pet store.

Question: In the 70s could you actually purchase a chimpanzee from a pet store?

It’s at this moment in the film I began to lose sympathy for our hero, as charismatic as Kurt Russell is it’s hard to get behind I guy who would steal a girl’s chimp, but the film works really hard to keep us on his side. When Jennifer eventually finds out that Steve basically kidnapped Raffles and is secretly using him to forward his career at the Network she is outraged, but then he tells her, “I did it for you.”

 

Who could doubt a man wearing that housecoat and that ascot?

Steve explains that he could never think of marrying her while working as a mail boy, one who doesn’t even have a car and goes to night school via a motorcycle, but with Raffles picking winner after winner he managed to become Vice President of the Network and won the Emmy Award "Television's Man of the Year” and apparently Jennifer is a soft touch and she buy’s this excuse, but there is more trouble in paradise as Network President J. Crampton (Harry Morgan) is worried that this rising star will eventually take his job. Soon Wilbanks, along with his oddball chauffer (Wally Cox) and ass kissing assistant Roger (John Ritter) are on a mission to find out just how Steve Post is doing what he is doing.

 

A trio of comedy legends.

The Barefoot Executive is not what one would call “comedy gold” but Walt Disney had arrayed a stellar cast of some of great comic actors of the time in key supporting roles, including a John Ritter in his film debut, and though the target audience was clearly children there is still enough adult humor and good slapstick to keep older viewers from falling asleep. Of Disney’s “gimmick comedies” it will never stand out among classics like The Absent Minded Professor but Russell’s affable charm, and the film’s delightful goofy premise, does earn it a warm spot in my heart.

 

It's all just monkey business after all.

Final Thoughts:

• When the heads of the three networks discover the truth of a chimp picking top rated shows they assume if the public learned of this, “It would be the end of TV?”  It could be just me but I’m not really seeing the correlation there.
• One exec comes up with a simple solution, “Destroy the chimp.” I’m guessing this guy later moved onto work at Fox News.
• Quite a few Medfield College alums are here; Kurt Russell played Dexter Riley, Joe Flynn played Dean Higgins, and Alan Hewit who plays a rival network exec played rival Dean Collingsgood.
• Jennifer is played by Heather North who is most known for being the original voice of Daphne on “Scooby Doo, Where are You!”

 

Daphne Blake meets Jack Tripper