Monday, September 26, 2011

Movie Monday: Coach

This week's movie is the 1970s comedy/drama/soft-core sex-flick Coach!

Okay...I have to admit, right off the bat, Coach is not really a soft-core sex flick. Sure, the poster kind of suggests that, and the film was retitled Swinging Coach(!) when it was re-issued in the U.S. (wait, this film was re-issued...?), but there are very few sex scenes, and even less nudity. What kind of sex flick is this?
I guess the producers who made this movie knew that the set-up alone--an older female coach takes over a high school basketball team--would be enough to get lots of horny teenagers interested in going to their local drive-in to see this. Personally, I remember seeing this film for rent at the video store I worked at, Movies Unlimited, and I seem to recall it was categorized in our soft-core section, which of course made me think it was hot, hot, hot!

Now having seen the film, I agree with this reviewer who suggested Coach is what a soft-core flick would seem like if produced by the Lifetime Channel. The main plot is about how a high school basketball team ("The Stallions", heh) loses its coach after a really humiliating series of losses. Desperate, the school principal (played by Keenan Wynn) hires the coach whose resume--that of an Olympic medal winner--lands on his desk. He's less than happy when that coach turns out to be...gasp! A woman!
At first, Coach Rawlings (Cathy Lee Crosby, who was Wonder Woman--okay, briefly, but she was!) has a hard time keeping her players in line, because they're all teenage boys and most teenage boys are sexist pigs. But she's tough and doesn't take any crap, and eventually as the players start to play better, they respect Coach Rawlings and get to like her.
One player, Jack Ripley (Michael Biehn--Michael Biehn!), likes Coach Rawlings a lot, and they start spending time together outside of school. So much so that they start having an affair, which of course puts this movie in the unique category of feminist empowerment film and horny teenage boy fantasy, like if you asked Carrie Fisher to do a script polish on Porky's.

There's some sub-plots in the movie, like one about another player who is such a bad student he has to be hypnotized into remembering his math, with the help of a trigger word ("Jabberwocky"). They then go even further, using the same technique to make him think he's a superstar basketball player, which actually works!

There's another plot about a rich kid on the team that defends Coach Rawlings to his snooty parents (who happen to be the principal and his wife), and he angrily rebuffs their sexism, in what turns out to be a fairly dramatic, well-played scene.
There's a surprisingly small (read: none) amount of nudity in this movie. Crosby and Biehn have one sex scene in a shower that gets pretty, er, steamy (sorry), but that gets interrupted by an unwelcome school janitor. You keep expecting more, but the film never delivers, despite a decent amount of chemistry between Crosby and Biehn.
Right before the Big Game, Jack is nowhere to be seen. He shows up at the last minute, clearly mad at Coach Rawlings. He doesn't play well, and they ultimately fall way behind. During halftime, the Coach reads her depressed players the riot act, proverbially kicking them when they're down. In classic Knute Rockne style, she inspires them to play to their best--and Jack finally mentions why he's mad: he thought he saw her with another man, but it turns out to be a big-time basketball scout, there to see the team play!

When the team falls behind, Coach Rawlings herself uses the "Jabberwocky!" bit, leading to a come-from-behind win! I'd say this calls for some hot teacher-on-student loving to celebrate, no?
Turns out, no--the film ends with the team holding Coach Rawlings aloft, chanting "We're #1!" Did Jack and the Coach stay together, or did she move away when rumors inevitably started to spread? Or did she hang enough and find another student she could get involved with after Jack graduated and joined the Space Marines (wait, I may be confusing my Michael Biehn movies)?

Overall, this film will appeal to you if you like films steeped in the decade they were made in, in this case the 1970s. To be fair, Coach does have more on its mind than most films of this type, but to keep promising some hot-and-heavy content only to cut away from it is frustrating, to say the least!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Movie Monday: Red Planet Mars

This week's movie is the 1952 sci-fi/propaganda film Red Planet Mars!

Of all the films I've watched for Movie Monday, I'd say Red Planet Mars has the biggest chasm between Coolness of Poster and Actual Movie. I mean, come on--look at that poster, it's gorgeous, clever, and unusual! If only the movie was half as good...
Anyway, Red Planet Mars opens with astronomer Chris Cronyn (Peter Graves...sure, why wouldn't it be?), who has discovered evidence of large ecological movements on Mars, which indicates intelligent life!

Right around this same time, a colleague of Cronyn's says he has been talking to Mars(!)--at first using mathematical concepts, then with actual questions, leading him to believe Mars is a near-Utopia!
At first the U.S. Government tries to cover up the existence of these transmissions (oh that Eisenhower!), but world finally gets out. This news, as you might guess, wreaks havoc on the world--dogs and cats living together, etc.:
One of the more disturbing themes of the messages (depending on your point of view, I guess) is that the people of Earth can turn their own planet back into a utopia if only they return to following the word of God.

Revolution follows (except for Bill Maher and Richard Dawkins), but doubt about the veracity of these messages creeps in when an ex-Nazi named Calder (Herbert Berghof) claims he has been sending the messages, duping the world, in an attempt to destroy Capitalism!

Calder gets a visit from some Soviet goons, in a set that looks like a re-dressed Castle Frankenstein:
The Soviet Union is overthrown(!) and turned into a Theocracy. More messages arrive, with Mars suggesting they/it communicated with Earth 2000 years ago in the form of Jesus Christ.

Calder sneaks into the lab of Cronyn and his wife Linda (Andrea King) and says he's going to reveal that the messages are a fraud. The Cronyns believe that Calder was only responsible for some of the messages, but he won't budge.

Linda realizes the only way to stop Calder is to blow up their lab with all their transmitting equipment (really?), so she floods the room with Hydrogen--just as another message from Mars starts to arrive!

Calder panics, pulls a gun, and fires at the machinery, aiming right at the camera:
The whole place blows up, killing Calder and The Cronyns--not the ending I was expecting!

The film ends with the President of the United States eulogizing the Cronyns and reading what arrived of the message: "
Ye have done well my............"

Red Planet Mars certainly is unusual, and for that it deserves credit. There's nary a spaceship or alien in this movie, and instead it tackles huge, titanic issues like politics and religion, all in the space of a low-budget sci-fi movie running less than 90 minutes!

And on that score,
Red Planet Mars falls flat on its face: the movie is so absurdly pro-religion that this movie is almost pure propaganda. Sure, its also vehemently anti-communist, as so many movies were at the time, but to a lot of critics (this one included) the movie is basically trying to swap out one top-down mode of total control for another. Same as the old boss, and all that.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Movie Monday: Rise of the Planet of the Apes/Planet of the Apes

This week's movie is a double-bill: Rise of the Planet of the Apes and the 2001 remake of Planet of the Apes!

I've been an Apes movie fan ever since I was a kid, and I was really happy I finally got to see Rise--which everyone had said was unexpectedly good--and I thought it'd be fun to not only talk about that movie this week, but go back and re-watch the generally reviled 2001 remake of Planet of the Apes, making this Movie Monday's first double feature! Let's start with Rise of the Planet of the Apes!
I hadn't heard much good about Rise before it came out, and that kinda made me sad. As I said before, I love the Apes movies, and after the debacle of the remake, I figured if this reboot didn't work, that would ruin the Apes franchise for the foreseeable future. And while I might be a little late to the party (Rise came out August 4th), I'm happy to report that Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a fine film, worthy of the Apes legacy.

The film opens in our present, with Dr. Will Rodman (James Franco) working at a pharmaceutical company, working on what could be a potential "miracle drug": a cure for Alzheimer's Disease!

Unfortunately, one of the apes they've been experimenting on goes, well, ape, escaping from his cage and rampaging through the lab. The ape is shot dead, but afterward we learn that the ape not only was pregnant, but gave birth.

The baby ape in question comes to live with Rodman, and over the years grows to be a formidable presence, named, ominously enough, Caesar:
Caesar is played by go-to-MoCap actor Andy Serkis, and I can say with confidence this is the first time that I felt an entirely CG character "worked" for me as an actual character. Even though I enjoyed films like King Kong and The Incredible Hulk, I never really bought in to the idea that the titular characters really existed in the same world as the live actors. But once Serkis takes over at Caesar, I began to forget I was watching an effect and just went with it. Its in the eyes, I think!

After a violent run-in with a neighbor, Caesar is dropped off an ape sanctuary, run by the odious John Landon (Brian Cox):
It doesn't take long for us to see this sanctuary is no such thing; its a cruel prison for apes, partly run by the owner's sadistic son Dodge (Tom Felton), whose violence pushes Caesar (whose intellect was boosted by the drugs he got in utero from his mother) to plot, and plan, and conspire, as a great actor once said.

It's Felton who gets stuck with all the "classic" lines from the original Apes movie, and its these brief moments that don't work: they feel shoehorned in as little in-jokes that take you out of the movie. But! The upside is, the response to the most shoehorned of lines ("Get your paws off me...") was, for me, the biggest and best surprise of the movie. I won't say what it is, but its a moment where the plot hinges and starts to take us spiraling into its gangbusters final third.

The apes escape, and begin to extract their revenge. They climb the Golden Gate Bridge (hopefully with plans to head to Marin County and kill George Lucas before he messes with Star Wars any more) and prove they are too much for the humans:
This whole bridge sequence is well-executed, in form and content: the CGI apes look good, pretty damn real, not the rubbery cartoons that you saw in, say, the original Spider-Man movie: they seem to have real weight and presence.

The top-notch CGI is important, because halfway through the film, it effectively stops being Rodman's story and lets Caesar become the main character. That's a ballsy move dramatically, and one that the movie pulls off, through the combo of Serkis' performance and the CGI. After all, this is a Planet of the Apes movie; at some point you gotta have apes!

There's a great scene where the apes have the chance to show mercy towards one of their human tormentors; they refuse. The shot--held for several seconds, a record nowadays--I found terrifying, as a character has just enough time to comprehend they are about to die, violently. *Shudder*

Caesar and his army make it to a redwood forest, and he has one last moment with his "father":
The film ends on a curiously upbeat note; considering all the violence and pain the movie has put us through (I found the first half, which deals heavily with animal experimentation and what we humans see fit to do with them, unpleasant to watch, despite it being well done and involving). Then there's a post-credits sequence--which I will not reveal--that tips the movie's hand in showing us where this franchise might go next.

Its a huge reveal for a post-credits sequence, and its that impish quality that I thought helped keep the film from getting too dire, even though its dealing with such heavy issues.

I walked out of Rise very satisfied; its probably the best made film since the original (having just seen the original five films, all in a row, I was reminded that no matter how fun the four follow-up Apes films are, some of them are pretty dodgy as coherent movies), and I'd totally be up for seeing another chapter in this new Apes saga!

Okay, next up: The 2001 remake (oh, I'm sorry, "re-imagining") of Planet of the Apes:
I remember seeing this film in the theater and walking out massively disappointed: that partly had to do with the ending, which made no damn sense; and since that was the last thing the movie leaves you with, its the freshest memory.

Now, I didn't think POTA 2001 was, like, the worst film ever made; it just seemed a lot of time and money went into an entirely unnecessary one; why waste all this talent remaking a movie that still holds up?

That said, I thought Apes was worth revisiting:
The film opens on the space station Oberon, which counts among its crew Leo Davidson (Mark Wahlberg), who is working with chimps to go on routine space missions. When the station is hit by a massive electromagnetic storm, they send one of the chimps, Pericles, into a space pod to investigate and gather information.

But Pericles' ship disappears into the storm, leading Davidson to grab another pod and follow. He, too, disappears, ending up crashing on a planet named Ashlar in the year 5021.

In short order, Davidson meets the cavemen-like human inhabitants of this world, as well as the ruling class, which are not what he expected:
Right here is a good indication of what's wrong with this movie: Wahlberg looks mildly shocked, but that's it; there's no big "ta-daa!" moment when the apes are revealed. Sure, I guess you could argue that by this point (2001), there's no way to get a shock out of the reveal because everyone already knows the premise; but there's something about Wahlberg's more internal style of acting that just doesn't seem like the right tone for a movie like this.

Anyway, we are introduced to the various ape characters: the brutal General Thade (Tim Roth), the wily Limbo (Paul Giamatti, who's very funny), and the kind Ari (Helena Bonham Carter). Each of them have wildly different opinions on how the savage humans should be treated.
Thade is desperately trying to gain control of the government, turning to his ill father, Zaius, for advice, played by none other than an uncredited Charlton Heston:
Zaius reveals to Thade that, thousands of years ago, humans were the more evolved species. He passes a powerful weapon to his son: a gun, which Thade will learn to use.

Davidson helps form an organized rebellion against the apes (with the help of the Nova-esque Daena, played by Estella Warren), leading to an assault at the holy ape city of Calima. Its here that Davidson realizes that Calima is the remains of the Oberon, which crashed on the planet thousands of years ago. The Oberon's survivors--apes and humans--ended up forming the civilization of Ashlar.

Suddenly, another visitor from space arrives:
Inside the ship is Pericles, who made a similar leap in time as Leo. All the apes think Pericles is the incarnation of their god Semos (got all this?), and this transcendent moment leads the apes to declare peace with the humans.

But General Thade is not interested in peace, and inside a nearby cave he fights with Leo and Pericles. Leo ends up trapping Thade in the wrecked hull of his original pod, and takes Pericles' pod to go back to Earth.

In short order, Leo crash lands on Earth, in Washington D.C. specifically. But once again he's in for a surprise when he takes a gander at the Lincoln Memorial:
Leo's arrival is quickly discovered by the police, reporters, and ordinary citizens, all of whom are apes! As Leo stands there, mouth agape, he is surrounded by apes, and the film ends.

Watching Planet of the Apes again after a decade, I came to the conclusion its not that bad a movie: the performances are mostly pretty good (though like I said, I think Wahlberg, a decent actor, was the wrong choice for a movie like this), the film looks great, and it takes as its source material the original book by Pierre Boulle, an idea that has worked for other sci-fi remakes (John Carpenter's The Thing, to name one superb example).

Its just this film has no real shocks or surprises; and when it does have one--the final scene--it feels tacked on and nonsensical, as if they realized they needed a Statue of Liberty-sized twist. Its not that it doesn't make sense, per se (Thade clearly went back in time and twisted Earth in his own violent image), but it just sort of comes out of nowhere.

Another thing that works against the finale is that it was planned as a cliffhanger for a sequel; and maybe if they had continued the story and enhanced it, it wouldn't in retrospect seem so ridiculous. But since that sequel never came (despite the film being a financial success), the Aperaham Lincoln ending just feels a little desperate.

One last thing that I think works against this version of the Apes world: there's very little sense of wonder. We see a whole lot of the apes, and everything becomes quite routine fairly quickly. Maybe that's because of Tim Burton, who seemed like an odd choice to take on this potential franchise; the movie simultaneously feels too locked in to his vision yet also lifeless and generic.

So while the Planet of the Apes remake isn't the disaster I remember it being, its really not worth searching out, especially now that Rise of the Planet of the Apes has delivered a much more effective installment to the Apes franchise.

Go ape!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Movie Monday: The Final Countdown

This week's movie is the sci-fi/action/drama/hunk of cheese The Final Countdown!

The Final Countdown is one of those movies I had heard of for a long time, but never seen. The premise sounded cool and weird: a modern-day battleship finds itself back in time, the day before Pearl Harbor--so once I saw it was available on Netflix WI, I queued it up!
The film opens up aboard the USS Nimitz, under the command of Capt. Matthew Yelland (Kirk Douglas). Its being visited by a civilian observer, Martin Lasky (future President Martin Sheen), who is there to oversee the ship during a routine training mission.
During the trip, the ship finds itself in the middle of a huge lightning storm--but this is no ordinary lightning storm. No, its some sort of vortex, and when the ship gets sucked into it and comes out the other side, it finds itself back in time--on December 6, 1941!
Of course, it takes a while--a long while, actually--before the crew of the Nimitz (which includes Wing Commander Owens (James Farentino) and Commander Dan Thurman (played by SuperFly himself, Ron O'Neal) really believes this has happened. At first they hear old radio broadcasts, and figure its some sort of weird trick. Then they take recon photos of nearby Pearl Harbor and see that it looks just like it did before that fateful day.
Nearby is a small boat, and on board is Senator Samuel Chapman (Charles Durning), and his assistant Laurel Scott (Katharine Ross). They see a fighter jet overheard, which of course doesn't look like any plane they're familiar with. They end up aboard the Nimitz, and Lasky realizes that this Senator is the same guy that disappeared on December 7, 1941, and was in line to become FDR's fourth Vice President--which of course ended up being Harry Truman.

Lasky and Yelland have a lot of discussion over what to do--the Nimitz has the power to repel the sneak attack by Japanese, thereby changing all of history. Can they do it? Should they do it?

This is primo material for a compelling, classic sci-fi "What if?" kind of story, and while we kind of get that, generally The Final Countdown fumbles the ball.

Directed by Don Taylor (Escape From Planet of the Apes, The Omen II), the film has a sort of bland, TV-movie vibe: despite this great premise, not all that much exciting happens: there's a lot of arguing, some nice period detail, and some decent acting, but none of it really catches fire: the romance between Ross and Farentino is cookie-cutter (I mean, who cares, really, when friggin' Pearl Harbor is about to happen?!?), and everyone adjusts to being back in time fairly smoothly (you'd think there'd be at least one crewman who'd go bug-f*ck crazy over the idea).
There's a brief action scene, featuring a recovered Japanese pilot (played by M*A*S*H's go-to Korean, Soon Teck-Oh), which is fairly well done and tense, but its over very quickly and basically doesn't affect the plot, one way or the other.

That said, the film is still enjoyable to watch--everyone here is the utmost professional, from the lead actors to the SFX guys--so it goes down smoothly. This would be, for instance, the perfect movie to watch with your Dad on a Sunday afternoon. There's no truly bad scenes, but nothing that you'll remember for too long afterwards, either.
I won't spoil the ending, and say what Yelland and his crew decide to do in regards to Pearl Harbor. The final scene is a sort of Twilight Zone-ish twist ending, which is kinda cheesy but fun. Which is probably the best way to describe all of The Final Countdown.

One final thought: a cool element of this movie is that they don't explain the whole time-portal thing; it just happens. So, Note to Hollywood: we don't need a "re-imagining" of The Final Countdown, where you explain in exhaustive detail where the time portal came from, how it works, and basically ruin all the mystery in an attempt to make sure everything is explained to everyone. As mediocre as The Final Countdown might be, its fine the way it is!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...