Monday, July 25, 2011

Movie Monday: Gog

This week's Movie Monday is the sci-fi film Gog!

Gog was one of those 50s sci-fi movies I had heard of years ago, but never got around to seeing, even though the title really intrigued me. In an age where you had to have a real grabber of a title like "Invasion of the Brain Eaters" or some such, just calling your movie "Gog" seemed positively artsy.
Anyway, Gog was produced by Ivan Tors, who considered this film the third of his informal "OSI" trilogy, following The Magnetic Monster and Rider To The Stars: each film featured an entity known as the Office of Scientific Investigation. Shot in color and 3D (though released in 2D, more about that shortly), Gog looks great right from the get-go.

In some super secret lab, two scientists are performing an experiment on a monkey where they attempt to freeze it, put it into suspended animation, and then revive it (hey, Captain America totally ripped Gog off!).
It appears to work, sort of, but then something goes wrong: the main scientist finds himself trapped in the chamber, and suddenly the room starts to fill with the freezing gas! With the other scientist having stepped out for a moment, our brainiac is left to pound the glass as he succumbs to the gas:
When the other scientist returns, she discovers her partner on the floor, presumably dead (we don't see what she sees). Then the chamber door closes behind her, and locks! The gas fills the room again, killer her as well.

These two deaths are part of a string of mysterious mishaps, so the man in charge of the installation, Dr. Van Ness (the great Herbert Marshall, who I'm familiar with from The Razor's Edge and The Fly) calls in the OSI to get to the bottom of this!

An agent named David Sheppard (Richard Egan) arrives, teaming with another OSI agent named Joanna Merritt (
Constance Dowling) who is already at the base. After a lot of talky scenes, Sheppard determines its due to sabotage committed on NOVAC, the giant computer that runs the base.

The computer also runs two robots, Gog and Magog:
More and more of the scientists are put at risk thanks to the computer. One female scientist is almost crispy-friend thanks to a high-powered solar lens, and she is chased around her lab and the computer tries to set her on fire:
The computer instructs Magog to go into the center's nuclear reactor and pull the safety rod, causing a chain reaction that will blow the whole place up. Sheppard and some of the scientists try to stop it, the robots are pretty strong:
As I mentioned above, this film was originally shot in 3D, but wasn't released until the 3D "fad" was ending, so Gog was mostly shown in 2D. But there's still a lot of shots meant to capitalize on 3D, like when Sheppard tries to blast Gog with a flamethrower:
Just as it looks as though Gog is about to kill Shepard, it suddenly stops and becomes inert. Our heroes wonder why, and we learn that a US fighter jet patrolling above shot down a secret enemy jet had sneaked into American airspace and was controlling NOVAC remotely.

Merritt faints, and when she wakes up its in a hospital bed with Sheppard at her side. They reveal their feelings for one another, and embrace.

This is where we'd normally see "The End" scrawled across the screen, but Gog still has one scene to go: a talky exchange between Van Ness and the Secretary of Defense, where Van Ness explains that a working space station is about to be blasted into orbit (you'd think the Secretary of Defense would, you know, know about this already!):
This station will be equipped with cameras that will see all, preventing any future sabotage, ever. The SecDef is thrilled, announcing "We will never be taken by surprise again!" And with that, we have our ending, complete with cool sci-fi background:
...everything's gonna be great, from now on! The End!

After last week's review of Brideshead Revisited, I promised I would do something "trasy" this week. But of course, Gog is not trashy at all--if anything, its a very high-minded, if at times silly, sci-fi movie that is so in love with science (Science!) that it was probably too brainy for the average drive-in moviegoer. This movie believes science can accomplish pretty much anything, even after it just spent eighty-plus minutes showing us how wrong it could all go.

The final scene reminds me of the one from Psycho, where a bunch of characters explain what just happened. Its generally unnecessary, but I enjoyed it because of its sheer oddness: I totally expected the film to end with Egan and Dowling's clinch, and to see it keep going made me chuckle. Clearly, producer Tors' fascination was more on science than the gushy romance stuff, which feels pretty pro-forma.

As I mentioned, Gog is a bit talky, and the two robots--who are supposed to be imposing--are pretty rickety looking. When it approaches one of the scientists, we see the actor actually grab one of Magog's claws and sort of place it around his neck, Bela Lugosi-and-the-rubber-octopus style. But all that can be forgiven; Gog is still a lot of fun and it does have a slightly different, more brainy feel than a lot of other 50s sci-fi.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Movie Monday: Brideshead Revisited

This week's Movie Monday is a bit of a change of pace; we'll be looking at the 2008 feature film version of Brideshead Revisited!

I didn't plan on picking this film for a Movie Monday, but Darlin' Tracy and I watched it last week and I liked it quite a bit--enough to want to, um, revisit here.

Plus, after doing some research online (as opposed to what, microfiche?) I saw that the film was generally dismissed, if not outright loathed, by a great many critics, which kind of shocked me--this is usually the kind of movie critics drool over: a period piece! Literary source material! English accents! So what's so bad about this version of Brideshead Revisited?

The film opens with a pre-credits sequence: sometime during WWII, a man walks through a vast mansion, a castle really, as all manner of uniformed soldiers mill about. He heads outside:
The two men walk, and we see the man's face: actor Matthew Goode (probably best known to most of you reading this as Ozymandias in Watchmen) as Charles Ryder, our main character.
We flash forward a bit, and Ryder is now a successful painter. He and his wife are being fĂȘted by a large group of wealthy aristocrats aboard a cruise ship, who are apparently buying up his work.

But Ryder looks bored being there: as his wife acts as his PR person/agent, he avoids talking to anyone, and has to fake his way through conversations:
Out of the corner of his eye, he seems to spot someone he knows. All we can see is that's a woman, quickly leaving the room. Ryder follows her all the through the ship, ignoring everyone else. The woman keeps walking, almost as if she knows she's being followed. Ryder strains to keep up, until she enters a state room:
The woman turns--she's beautiful, and its clear she knows Charles and knew she was being followed. She smiles and says a satisfied hello. We then flashback ten years earlier.

Charles is a young man going off to college. He comes from a decidedly middle-class home, with a father who is almost comically cold to his son: he seems barely interested in even saying a proper goodbye to the boy.

At college, Charles gets a tour of the place, learning that its mostly filled with rich kids, kids who don't seem too interested in much of anything but partying. Indeed, one of them leans into Charles' window and vomits right onto the carpet!

The young drunkard in question is named Sebastian, and is a member of the wealthy Marchmain family. Sebastian takes an immediate like to Charles, and they quickly become best friends. But you get the sense that Sebastian sees their friendship as something more.
While staying at the Marchmain's vast grounds--Brideshead--Sebastian lets his feelings be known to Charles, with a gentle yet passionate kiss. Charles response is so subtle it took me a few minutes to figure out what it was exactly: at first it seems like he is completely ignoring it, but then it became to clear to me that he neither accepts or rejects his friend. By not freaking out, but also not reciprocating, he lets Sebastian know that this is not the kind of friendship they have; but doesn't judge him for feeling differently or being who he is.

Sebastian drinks too much--way too much--and after Charles goes back to school he gets a telegram from Sebastian saying he was in a horrible accident. Charles hops on a train to go back to Brideshead. Sebastian sends his sister Julia (Hayley Atwell) to pick him up:
We see that this the woman Charles reunites with on the ship ten years hence.

Indeed, it doesn't take Charles long to fall for Julia, hard. Sebastian (who lied about the accident, just using it a ruse to get Charles to come visit) is overwhelmingly jealous, and tries to end his friendship with Charles, but you can tell this is mostly just him lashing out. He continues drinking, and when he is invited to Venice by his estranged father, Sebastian's mother Lady Marchmain (Emma Thompson, cast against type as a cold fish) asks Charles to go along to try and keep her son out of trouble.

Lady Marchmain has her doubts about Charles: they are devoutly Catholic while he is an avowed atheist; but she is so desperate over Sebastian she feels she has no one else to turn to.

Unfortunately for Sebastian, its in Venice that Charles and Julia admit their feelings for one another, even if Julia admits they cannot be together: Charles' lack of wealth--not to mention his atheism--is too wide a chasm for her family to accept. They share a passionate kiss, which Sebastian spies, but after that Julia keeps her distance.

One of the things that impressed me about this film was the visuals: there are scenes here I found breathtaking in their beauty; the color and composition are simply gorgeous:
I wonder why more big-budget films don't bother with visuals like this for the most part; I can only imagine what a superhero movie might feel like if matched with beautiful shot compositions like these.

Anyway, Sebastian is utterly crushed over Charles falling for Julia. He drinks so much that Lady Marchmain withdraws his regular allowance. Sebastian begs Charles for some money, which he gives him. When Sebastian shows up drunk at Julia's birthday/engagement party, Lady Marchmain tells Charles he is no longer welcome at Brideshead. This, combined with Julia's engagement (to a rich Canadian Catholic), is devastating to Charles.

Years pass, and Charles is shocked to find Lady Marchmain in his home. She looks much older, and she sadly reports that Sebastian flew off to Morocco, and is gravely ill. She begs Charles to go there and bring him home, so she can see him before either of them die.

Charles goes, and finds his friend in sad shape, practically an invalid:
Sebastian is happy to see his friend, and is obviously in no condition to go anywhere. They say a sad goodbye, and Lady Marchmain is crushed that she will never see her son again.

Charles starts his career as a painter, and meets the young woman who will become his wife. They seem to like one another, though she seems as much in love with what Charles will become as who he is actually is. When he meets Julia again on the ship, they waste no time, throwing caution to the wind and making love, right there on the floor of the state room.

Charles and Julia go back to Brideshead, having decided to be together and leave their respective spouses. Charles tries to talk to Rex, Julia's husband, about being willing to give her up. Rex is a complete pig; willing to sell his wife for a couple of Charles' paintings. He even admits to faking his Catholicism just to get in good with the Marchmains. Julia overhears all this.

Just as Charles and Julia are about to leave to live in Italy, Lord Marchmain (Michael Gambon) arrives, with not long to live. Gathering with this children (Julia has an older brother and younger sister), he prepares to die. His family wants him to receive last rites, which he initially refuses. But in his dying moments, he accepts them, even crossing himself as his dying act. Charles doesn't know what to make of this--a lifelong atheist, like himself, undergoing the proverbial deathbed conversion.

Later, Charles and Julia's relationship cracks under her devotion to Catholicism; bothered by the transaction between her ex- and future husbands, she realizes she cannot in good conscience run away with another man. Choosing to stay at Brideshead, Julia breaks it off with Charles.

The film then circles back to the very beginning: more years have passed, and World War II is underway. The British Army has taken over Brideshead to use as a military base. Charles is told what happened to the Marchmains; the junior officer of course not knowing the connection:
Lady Marchmain died years ago, and so has the eldest son Bridey. Julia is now serving as part of the war effort. Brideshead is all covered up, quite literally a shell of its former self.

Alone, Charles visits Brideshead's chapel, which is big and elaborate enough to be its own church. He finds a single lit candle still glowing:
He contemplates extinguishing it, but then stops himself. He walks out, leaving it still burning. The End.

As I mentioned above, the critical response to this movie version of Brideshead Revisited was pretty negative. A.O. Scott of The New York Times said it was "
tedious, confused and banal", and other critics were almost as harsh.

Most of the criticism seemed to have a common element: that it can't hold a, er, candle to the PBS mini-series that ran in 1981 which was something like seven hours long. While that might be true, I've never seen that version of Brideshead Revisited; I'm meeting this characters for the first time, so I don't have any superior version to compare this to and find wanting.

While there are elements to this film that I found a little less than fleshed out--the whole religious divide angle, which drives the movie, doesn't get mentioned as much as it should have been. In a rush to fit all the events and themes of the original 1945 novel into a two-hour movie, the machinations of the plot are given more weight, making it more of a soap opera: and while that seemed to be unforgivable to those more familiar with the source material, it made the film compelling viewing for me (and Darlin' Tracy).

I thought Matthew Goode was terrific as Charles; and was pleasantly surprised when I realized I had seen him previously in Watchmen. I thought he just wasn't up to the task of playing Ozymandias, but clearly that wasn't because he can't act: here he fills the space, and draws you in, quite admirably.

As I mentioned before, the film is beautiful to look at, and while I'm usually bored to tears by big CGI-aramas when all they offer is pretty pictures, this film's use of the natural world (sets, colors, etc.) made the film a visual treat.

Having enjoyed Brideshead Revisited, the film makes me want to go back to the PBS mini series, and possibly even the book. Maybe either of those will be so superior to this film that it will color my view of it in retrospect; for now, all I can say is I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Next week: something trashy again, I promise!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Movie Monday: Tarzan The Ape Man

This week's Movie Monday is the 1981 soft-core cheesefest Tarzan The Ape Man!

*Warning! Many of the images in this post are NSFW*

This was a film I was shocked to see on Netflix Watch Instantly (I am easily shocked). Mostly because its such an obscure title, a notorious bad movie that hasn't gained any sort of reputation with age, so its kind of amazing to think whoever owns the rights to it thought to offer it up on the newest of movie platforms. Yet there it is, and I am grateful!

Tarzan The Ape Man was one of those movies that played incessantly on the then-brand-new cable channel we had called Prism (basically a Philadelphia-centric version of HBO, but with sports, too). It was famous for its "hard R" reputation, and it was something I was totally not allowed to see. But because it played on Prism so much (mostly on Friday and Saturday nights), I ended up catching little bits of it, here and there.

If memory serves, I never caught any of the Good Stuff; my direct exposure to Bo Derek's pulchritude would have to wait a few years when I could catch another Derek/Derek epic, Bolero. So here was my chance to see what all the fuss was about!
First up, before any credits, is this gorgeous production company card by none other than Frank Frazetta. Sending up the presumed relationship between writer/director/producer/husband John Derek and his nubile wife, Frazetta flips the dynamic, having John Derek as the helpless plaything of his larger-than-life, impossibly sexy wife. Sadly, it's mostly downhill from here.

Anyway, the first sight we see of Bo Derek (playing Jane Parker, not Porter, as in the novel) is of her carefully, expensively dressed feet, as she is carried through a small town in Africa by some locals:
While staying in a makeshift hotel, Jane is threatened by two would-be crooks, who she sees trying to break into her room. She grabs a pistol out of her bag, and waits for them. They make their way in, and she fires!

Next is the credit sequence, featuring this butt-ugly logo:
The film then introduces us to James Parker, Jane's father, who is out in the bush searching for the mythical "white ape." Our first shot of James, played by the late, great Richard Harris features him waking up his bride in an unorthodox way:
This shot is sadly symbolic of the film itself: as we'll come to discover, we're going to end up seeing way, way too much of Richard Harris.

Jane joins her father on his expedition, after the death of her mother. James and Jane are estranged, and they have endless scenes where they discuss their relationship, or lack thereof. In fact, we get as far as 40 minutes into the movie before Tarzan has even shown up!

At some point John Derek must have realized he needed to get to the Good Stuff, the stuff that puts asses in the seats, as it were. So about halfway through the film, we get an extended scene of Jane swimming nude in the ocean:
...I can't say it was worth waiting almost thirty years to see Bo nude in this film, but I have to admit, she looked damn good.

While Jane is frolicking, a lion shows up on the beach (do they do that?) and approaches. Luckily, for her and for us, the attack is interrupted by a familiar cry:
...a little something for the ladies! This is "actor" Miles O'Keefe, who was the stunt double for the original actor cast as Tarzan. When that actor quit/was fired, they got O'Keefe to fill in the last minute. While he certainly looks the part (sort of), we still have to see whether he can act.

Tarzan rescues Jane, but it scared off when James Parker fires a shotgun nearby. They all realize the "white ape" is this man, Tarzan!

After some more talky scenes between Harris and Derek, Tarzan meets up with Jane while she's off filling her canteen. He carries her away from the expedition, but she runs away. She is attacked by a giant snake, which Tarzan kills, in an action sequence shot in painful extra-slow motion, for some reason.

Tarzan collapses from exhaustion, so Jane takes this opportunity to examine this amazing specimen of hunkitude. She runs her hand across his chest, up his thigh. Meanwhile, Derek keeps cutting back to Harris, lost in the jungle, cursing Tarzan and yelling out for his daughter.

The next morning, Jane and Tarzan get to know each other. Even though the Ape Man is a savage, doesn't speak a lick of English and probably stinks to high heaven, we see he's got Game:
sg, are the boys back in the jungle gonna love hearing about this!

Tarzan and Jane's heavy petting session is cut short by Parker, who has finally found Jane. But before too much celebrating, the whole party is captured by a band of evil tribesmen, who take them back to their king, a giant brute painted all white named The Ivory King.

This where John Derek ramps up the Good Stuff, or at the very least the Weirdly Titillating stuff: as Parker watches helplessly, his daughter is stripped naked and scrubbed by some native women. And they don't miss an inch:

This scene gets even goofier, as the women then paint Bo white:
During this whole sequence, Harris basically tries to tell his daughter to let her mind escape her body, and not think about it. So, basically, lay back and think of England. Gee, thanks Dad!

The Ivory King shuts Parker up by stabbing him. Tarzan shows up (a bit late, ape man!) and attacks the Ivory King, fighting again in slow motion:
Tarzan breaks the Ivory King's neck, pounding his chest in classic Tarzan style. Parker dies in his daughter's arms, allowing Jane to take off with her hunky rescuer and go live in the jungle together.

Tarzan takes her to a nearby river, giving us the opportunity to watch Bo get scrubbed clean. One of Tarzan's pals, a chimp, shows he has Game too:
...bold move, Cheetah!

The film ends with Tarzan and Jane in silhouette, having sex (or about to). You'd think that was the end, but Derek saves the weirdest for last. During the end credits, we see Bo, Miles, and an orangutan playing around. Bo is topless, and the orangutan gets just rough enough with her that you can only hope this is as far as it got:
It takes a special kind of director to add a "♥" next to the name of orangutan who you just filmed molesting your wife. And they say Roman Polanski is skeevy!

What to say about Tarzan The Ape Man? Well, of course its a total mess; its not a good Tarzan film by any metric, the action is poorly shot, the acting is horrible, and the nudity so absurdly jammed in that its just laughable. The film keeps cutting back to Richard Harris, looking for Jane, cursing Tarzan to high heaven, so much so it becomes completely comical.

That said, the film is relatively handsome to look at. Bo Derek--the whole reason this film exists--looks drop-dead gorgeous, nubile, sexy as hell. If I had seen this whole movie at age twelve or whatever, I would have totally fallen for her, the way I did for other gorgeous movie gals from that time, like Valerie Perrine and Jane Seymour.

Apparently the spoilsport Edgar Rice Burroughs' estate tried to sue to have the film halted or shelved. It didn't work; the film was released and went on to make over thirty million bucks, a fortune in 1981 money.

We live in an age of almost instantaneous franchise reboots. So its fun to notice that "rebooting" kinda went on in the 80s too: Tarzan was given the serious movie treatment just three years later, with Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, about as far away from this film as possible. So if you think of Greystoke as a sort of Batman Begins, that makes Tarzan The Ape Man the equivalent to Batman and Robin. Which is about right.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Movie Monday: River of No Return

For this week's Movie Monday its the Technicolor Big-Time Hollywood Western River of No Return!

I thought it was time to give the Giant-and-Usually-Killer-Animals bit a rest, so I went scouring around Netflix to look for something I hadn't seen and would be a change of pace.

So when I came across River of No Return, I was intrigued--I'd certainly heard of the movie, but had only known it was a Marilyn Monroe picture. Not being a particular fan of hers, I never gave the film much thought, but then I looked a little closer: it was in Technicolor--a plus. It co-starred Robert Mitchum--another plus. It was directed by...Otto Preminger?!? Okay, I had my movie!
The film opens with cowboy Matt Calder (Mitchum) atop a horse, headed to a tent city. Recently widowed and having been in jail for murder, he now wants to reclaim his son Mark (Tommy Rettig), left in the care of dance hall singer Kay (Monroe).

Right from the beginning, we see this film was clearly an "A" production: of course the stars, but Preminger fills some shots with dozens of extras, all scrambling around as the camera pans by:
Mark and his father are virtual strangers, but Matt promises him a good life back at their homestead.

Meanwhile, we see Kay's relationship with her fiance, a scraggly gambler named Harry (Rory Calhoun), is none-too-good: he's clearly a liar, and he hits up Kay for her hard-earned money to file the deed on a gold mine.
So far, this film doesn't feel much like an Otto Preminger movie; and my research told me that this was a picture forced upon him by a studio contract. Its not that its a bad film, by any means; its just a tad generic, especially coming from someone as idiosyncratic as Preminger.

But there are some scenes early on that have a weird, almost nasty feel: like when some creeps at the tent city pick on poor Mark by shooting at the buckets of water he's carrying, then laughing when he begins to get upset:
...of course, Mitchum shows up to paste the jerk one. Several, actually.

Matt takes his son on his way home, and they run into Kay and Harry who are on a flimsy raft, headed down river. Matt and Mark rescue them, only to have Harry steal Matt's gun and horse so he can get to Council City (where the deed has to be filed) by land!

When Indians show up to threaten the three of them, they hop on the raft to escape. During their trip, they start to learn more about one another, with Matt wondering why Kay would agree to marry such a creep like Harry. Kay points out that at least Harry never killed anyone.

There are some absolutely beautiful shots in this movie--with the mountains and sky, they look like classic Americana paintings:
...sure, this was filmed in Canada, but you get my point.

The back-projection effects of our trio heading down river are, well, pretty fake-looking, but they don't last all the long and they do the job:
Kay and Matt get to admire one another (including a sort-of attempted rape of Kay by Harry, which is really weird and off-putting), and Kay sees how brave Matt is when he rescues her from a mountain lion, some prospectors (who say Harry stole their claim), and some more Indians. At the same time, Mark learns to look up to his old man, learning that Matt did a kill a man, but it was in the defense of someone else.

They make their way to Council City, and Harry doesn't like being confronted by the allegation he stole the gold claim, and decides to shoot an un-armed Matt:
...but just as he's about to fire, a shot rings out: it's Mark, who was inspecting a rifle in a nearby store. Harry falls over, dead, in a well-executed (no pun intended), tense scene with a just a touch of bloody violence.

Later, just as Matt and Mark are planning to return home, Matt stops by the saloon where Kay is singing (with distinctly less enthusiasm then she had before), grabs her, and takes her with them. The End.

I couldn't help but feel a little underwhelmed by River of No Return; its certainly not a bad film by any means (and it really didn't deserve Monroe later calling it her worst film), its just a bit pro-forma considering the stars and the director. After this, Preminger went on to make edgy (for the time) films such as Man with the Golden Arm, Anatomy of a Murder, and Exodus. He bought out his studio contract, and pretty much never made a "for hire" movie again.

But Mitchum is his laid-back best here (indeed, he was busted for pot possession while making it; so I guess he was pretty relaxed), Monroe is very sexy, and the Technicolor vistas are beautiful. So while I wouldn't say rush out to see it, if you're experiencing a lazy Sunday and want to watch an exercise in old school Hollywood professionalism, you could do worse than River of No Return.

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