Monday, February 27, 2012

Movie Monday: Destination Inner Space

This week's movie is the 1966 sci-fi extravaganza Destination Inner Space!

While doing research for the article "Ten Genre Posters To Die For" that I did for The Terror Trap, I came across a number of posters for movies I had never even heard of! Destination Inner Space was one of those, and while the one-sheet didn't make my final list, it was awesome enough that it really made me want to see the movie. I mean, maybe you can resist a giant sea monster attacking a group of undersea explorers piloting cool sci-fi-ish ships, but I can't!

So put on your scuba gear, and dive dive dive!
DIS opens with Submarine Commander Wayne (Scott Brady) arriving at an undersea research station called SeaWatch. Maybe I was expecting too much from this movie from the get-go, but Destination Inner Space let me down in just the first few minutes: I was hoping for at least a brief shot of a super-cool, 60s-style futuristic lab, or even just a great matte painting. Unfortunately, we get what is clearly a toy subbing (sorry) for what is going to be the main--heck, virtually only--set of the movie:
Commander Wayne is introduced to the various members of the crew--including Dr. LaSatier (Gary Merrill), and biologist Rene Peron (Sheree North) whom Wayne takes an instant like to:
There's a lot of talk talk talk, including some stuff about having women--women!--on board, and in positions of responsibility yet! This truly is science fiction.

LaSatier's equipment has picked up a strange moving object on the ocean floor, and its concluded it can't be a whale, or a dolphin, or any sea creature. Two of the SeaWatch's crew, an underwater photographer (the gorgeous Wende Wagner) and her boyfriend Hugh Maddox (Mike Road), venture out to take pics of the mysterious craft, but they can only get so close.

Back on SeaWatch, it becomes clear Wayne and Maddox have a past. Soon thereafter, the ship starts moving and gets closer to SeaWatch, cutting off the lines of communication between it and the Navy ship that is monitoring them from above. When the ship stops near the edge of a trench, LaSatier decides to send some of the crew to swim out and take a closer look--and he picks Wayne, Maddox, and Welles.

When our intrepid crew make their way onto the ship, the find it strangely deserted:
...well, not entirely deserted: a small gray cylinder is found, and Maddox insists on bringing it back aboard SeaWatch. Bad idea! Back on the station, the cylinder starts to grow and grow, until out of it comes a beast so hideous no human can comprehend it:
Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating a bit: this sea monster is clearly a cheap suit, but it's not without it's charms. Unfortunately this fearsome beast does little more than just sort of stagger around and wrastle people into submission. It attacks Wayne and another crew member; Wayne escapes, leaving the other man at the mercy of the creature (officially credited as The Thing).

This causes the already tense relationship between Wayne and Maddox to explode; turns out they served on a Navy ship together and Maddox blames Wayne for the death of some of the crewmen. Wayne turns it back on Maddox, revealing that he knows that it was Maddox who, in the process of saving himself, accidentally sealed the fate of his fellow sailors. This huge moment is brought up and then resolved in about three minutes; after a few seconds of Maddox gnashing his teeth everything is forgiven and everyone gets back to work.

The Thing escapes into the ocean, causing part of SeaWatch to begin flooding. The Thing suit is designed in such a way that it's clearly hiding a scuba tank, but what the hell, I enjoyed watching this thing move around underwater:
Unfortunately, there's very little of the creature in the movie. There's more talk (LaSatier wants to understand the creature, while Wayne of course just wants to kill it), and the Thing attacks the Navy ship, killing some of the crew. It also destroys the SeaWatch's air supply, leaving them less than 12 hours' worth of oxygen left!

Later, it is seen loitering around the ship's entrance, they decide lure it out of hiding via some bait: Commander Wayne himself! This plan works, and they jab the Thing with some harpoons, which only wounds it. They capture the creature, and our heroes turn their attention towards a supply of eggs found on the alien ship.

The Thing escapes, and chases after Wayne, Maddox, and Welles, who are planning to blow up the ship. As Wayne gets Welles to safety (she is just a girl, after all), Maddox and The Thing square off, with the explosives about to go off!

Who lives, who dies? I won't reveal that here (indeed, no one was allowed to be seated while this scene was in progress, lest Destination Inner Space's shocking finale be ruined*). I will mention that Commander Wayne, after comforting the Dr. LaSatier, banters a bit more with Rene, who takes the direct approach in regards to her feelings to our crusty, middle-aged hero:
...The Ever-Lovin' End!

As if you didn't know already, this movie is profoundly silly. Made on the cheap (and then some), it's the kind of junk sci-fi that was, er, blown out of the water by more sophisticated movie fare like Planet of the Apes and 2001: A Space Odyssey, which was released only two years after this. There's so much screen time wasted on the Crazy Idea that women can be smart too that it's laughable. The film's lead, Scott Brady, was barely over forty when he made this but looks much older; seeing him condescend and leer at Sheree North is, while understandable, makes DIS feel even more retrograde.

That said, the creature (oh, excuse me, "The Thing") is still fun to look at, even though he's not much of a threat. How a creature that flew millions of miles across space and lives at the bottom of the ocean can't out-wrestle some regular humans is beyond me.

But it's hard to really get a hate on for Destination Inner Space; it's a fairly short movie (less than 85 minutes), and it's so lovably square that I found myself charmed by it's aw shucks, isn't the ocean amazing? tone. The story itself is quite sound; I'd say this is one sci-fi property begging for a remake!

Destination Inner Space is available on DVD via Amazon, so if this review makes you (for some reason) want to see the movie, drop this blog a nickel by clicking away:

*I made that up.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Movie Monday: Nothing Lasts Forever

This week's movie is the 1984 sci-fi/comedy/drama Nothing Lasts Forever!

Nothing Lasts Forever might just be the most obscure movie I've covered so far--the whys and hows of that we'll get to in a moment.
Looking at the title card, it might be confusing that I said this is film is from 1984, when it clearly looks like something from the 1930s. Well, writer/director Tom Schiller (who was one of the original writers for Saturday Night Live) had something very, very specific in mind with this film. I mean, check out this eccentric cast:
Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, Mort Sahl, Imogene Coca, Sam Jaffee, and Eddie Fisher? Really? That's who's in this movie?

Yes, all those famous faces are in this movie, as well as a few more, not to mention the star, Zach Galligan, pre-Gremlins. Galligan plays Adam Beckett, who we first see is a concert pianist. But he is soon revealed to be a fraud--it's a player-piano--and the crowd rebels, booing him off-stage. Beckett, a very Candide-like figure, dreams of being an artist, and is shuffled from person to person.

The world of Nothing Lasts Forever is imposing and authoritarian; Adam gets thrown from office to office, a pawn in and endless and imposing (yet still shabby) bureaucratic system. At one point, to prove he can be an artist, Adam is forced into Peep Show-esque booth where he undergoes a weird, real-time test of his drawing abilities, in front of a nude model. 3...2...1...Draw!
Adam ends up not being an artist (he's not good enough!), and finds himself working in the subway, under the auspices of genial but authoritative boss Buck Heller (Dan Aykroyd):
Much of the film is made up of pieces of stock footage, clips from other movies, in a sort of grab-bag approach. Amazingly, it all hangs together visually, while the story--and Adam himself--meanders from place to place, character to character.

He meets a beautiful woman, Mara (the wonderfully named Apollonia van Ravenstein) and he has an affair with her. She talks of Art, Life, and other huge topics, and encounter all manner of hipsters, including one played by the director himself:
Later, there's a funny and prescient gag where Mara raves about Battleship Potemkin, but Adam is flummoxed by her insistence on watching the movie on a tiny, portable TV screen:
Adam meets a tramp, who shows him that all of the world are under a group of tramps' control(!). They take to him (with the film switching to color in the process) and reveal the truth of the world, and follow-up by suggesting he take a trip to the moon to spread the word of peace and meet his True Love.

The trips to the moon are run like a mundane bus route, with the bus conductor played by Bill Murray:
The bus is filled entirely with older, retired people (including Larry "Bud" Melman), and Murray's character (named Ted Brueghel) wonders how such a young person like Adam got aboard.

The moon looks like a 1940s movie backlot, and features hula girls welcoming the tourists:
Adam meets Eloy (Lauren Tom), whom he realizes is his true love, and tries to spend time with her--much to Ted's displeasure. In the meantime, Adam talks to one of the tourists, played by the great Imogene Coco, who tells Adam that old people routinely visit the moon, but are implanted with chips in their necks so when they come home and tell their relatives about the moon, it comes out as "Miami", so no one's the wiser.

Eventually Adam and Eloy get together, and declare true love. Eloy knows the the forces in control don't want them to be together, so they have to enjoy the moment--after all, nothing lasts forever. Soon, Ted's goons grab Adam and knock him out, and he awakes back on Earth (and back in black and white).

Adam ends up back at the concert hall, but this time he's not a fake, and delivers a bravura performance. As he plays, Eloy arrives (via a carriage driven by Reservoir Dogs' Laurence Tierney!) and sits in the balcony. As Adam receives his applause, he sees Eloy, and they smile.

Also smiling are the tramps outside, and as the music swells, the film ends:

Okay, of course, as my "review" indicates, Nothing Lasts Forever is a supremely weird movie, filled with all manner of bizarre concepts and characters. I can only imagine what Warner Bros. thought when they got the finished film and saw it for the first time.

Despite the presence of Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray--who were about to be at the apex of their box-office popularity, thanks to Ghostbusters--Nothing Lasts Forever was shelved, and essentially never released. It has also never even made it home video, supposedly because of rights issues', since the film uses so much footage cribbed from other sources (that sounds a bit bogus to me, since even in 1984 there was a nascent home video market). Nothing Lasts Forever does appear at film festivals every so often, and apparently Bill Murray himself asked for NLF to be included when there was a retrospective of his films a few years ago.

As a movie, Nothing Lasts Forever is bewildering, and at times frustrating in its stubborn insistence on being difficult to understand. Its a bit hipper than thou occasionally, yet Schiller's general aura of cheeriness shows through, despite all the weirdness. It's of course great to see Aykroyd and Murray in another film together (though, sadly, they share no scenes), and it's kind of startling to see Murray play a sort of heavy, an ever-so-slight nod to his later, more dramatic work.

For all of is flaws, Nothing Lasts Forever deserves to be released; its an interesting movie and would probably find a following with Bill Murray fans, SNL fans, and people who love the work of Terry Gilliam (ironically enough, Gilliam's film, Brazil, which shares a thematic similarity with Nothing Lasts Forever, would also suffer at the hands of movie studio meddling).

One final comment about the film: I had never heard of this movie until I read an offhand mention of it in the book Saturday Night, which was about the creation of SNL. It mentioned Murray and Aykroyd being in it, and that it wasn't released. This was pre-internet, so I could get no further news on the film, which drove me crazy. I was a huge fan of all things SNL back then, and the idea that there was a movie with Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd out there that I hadn't seen was frustrating, to say the least.

One night around 1988 or 1989, Bill Murray appeared on Larry King's CNN show, and they took calls. I love(d) Murray, so I placed a call. Amazingly enough, I got through to the show, and some producer asked me what question I had. I breathlessly said I was going to ask about this movie called Nothing Lasts Forever that Mr. Murray and Dan Aykroyd were in, what happened to it, etc. I thought that would be an interesting question, not one that Bill would have been expecting, a nice break from all the same PR crap stars have to peddle when pushing a movie--plus I finally would learn more about the movie! My logic was unassailable.

The producer shot back with "Well, if it's a movie no one has seen, then no one will know what you're talking about" and hung up. I was crestfallen! To get so close!!

But I didn't give up--I called back, again and again, as the hour wound down. Amazingly, I got through again, and was asked what was my question. I made up some BS thing that I thought they would want to hear (something about Scrooged or Ghostbusters 2, whichever movie he was there promoting), and they said okay, you'll be on in a few minutes. I was going to get to talk to Bill Murray!!

Unfortunately, the callers before me kept talking, taking longer and longer. I eyed the clock, knowing 10pm was approaching. Finally a voice came on and said "You're next" and I practically hyperventilated. But it was not to be--the last caller went on long, Larry and Bill kept talking, and the show ended with me never getting the chance to ask my question.

Some wounds don't heal.

Friday, February 17, 2012

"Ten Genre Posters To Die For"

An article I wrote for the Terror Trap website about classic movie art, "Ten Genre Posters To Die For", is now up! You can read it here.

Thanks again to the guys at TT for asking me to do another piece for them. This one was a total blast!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Movie Monday: The Hound of the Baskervilles

This week's movie is the 1959 Sherlock Holmes thriller The Hound of the Baskervilles!

Tucked away in a quiet corner of the history of Hammer Films is this one-off adaptation of Sherlock Holmes and his most famous case, "The Hound of the Baskervilles." Let's see how their version stacks up:
After a suitably dramatic, very Hammer-esque credit sequence, the film opens even further in the past than we expect, with Sir Hugo Baskerville (David Oxley) hosting a wicked party at Baskerville Hall. Sir Hugo is a cruel, little man, demanding to be the romantic suitor of the daughter of one of the servants. When the servant tries to protect his daughter, he flies into a rage:
When the servant is killed, the daughter escapes the castle, with Sir Hugo in pursuit. Out in the woods, he catches up and stabs her to death. He is then attacked by some sort of vicious dog, which kills Sir Hugo. This begins the Baskerville Curse, which stipulates that any time a Baskerville is alone on the moor, he will be killed by the Baskerville hound.

A few centuries later, after the death of another Baskerville, the case is introduced to the world's most famous detective, Sherlock Holmes (Peter Cushing):

Holmes agrees to take the case, and he and Dr. Watson (Andre Morell) head to Baskerville Hall to meet its new owner, Sir Henry (Christopher Lee):

Within moments, Sir Henry finds himself about to be bitten by a tarantula, which has somehow made its way into Baskerville Hall. Sir Henry, paralyzed with fear, has to follow Sherlock Holmes' instructions to make sure he's not bitten:
At this point, we are introduced to a number of characters, all of whom seem to be suspicious in their own way: a coach driver, an escaped convict, plus a father and daughter who help save Watson from falling in the quicksand-like Grippen Mire.

For a Hammer production, there's very little horror in this film, which is kind of surprising, considering how successful the studio was with their (for the time) gory Dracula and Frankenstein films. Maybe they felt they had to honor the original Doyle work by not making it too lurid.
There's a lot of talky scenes, but there are also a couple of nice, atmospheric moments, including one in an old mine, where Holmes and Watson hear the blood-curdling howl of the Hound of the Baskervilles:
Eventually, of course, Holmes figures out the truth about the curse of the Baskervilles, and heads out with Watson into the moors to save Sir Henry, who doesn't realize that he is in more danger than he can imagine:
I won't reveal the ending, or what happens. All in all, I found it pretty satisfying (despite one small goofy detail), and the film ends with Holmes and Watson back at 221B Baker Street, drinking tea, presumably ready for their next case.

Sadly, The Hound of the Baskervilles was Hammer's only Sherlock Holmes film, even though they expected to make it a series (Cushing in particular was a huge Holmes fan). Sadly, the film was a relative financial disappointment, and the whole plan was dropped.

Which is a damn shame--The Hound of the Baskervilles is, while a little dry, still a lot of fun and I can only imagine the series would have gotten better over time. Cushing in particular looks like an ideal Holmes, and gives a great performance--as does Christopher Lee, Cushing's partner-in-crime in so many of these Hammer films. In a switch from the 1940s series, Andre Morell's Dr. Watson is much less a comic figure, more of an equal partner to Holmes. Another plus is the running time--the film is less than 90 minutes, so it never gets a chance to wear out its welcome.

You can purchase Hound of the Baskervilles on DVD via this handy Amazon link. It's...elementary!:

Monday, February 6, 2012

Movie Monday: Moneyball

This week's movie is the Brad Pitt baseball drama Moneyball!

I had wanted to see Moneyball in the theater but never got around to it, so I leaped at the chance once it hit DVD. Batter up!
The film opens with a real-life footage of the Oakland A's losing baseball games in all manner of embarrassing ways: booting infield balls, crashing into one another, and watching other teams' home run balls sail out of the park. This is 2001, and the Oakland A's are a pretty bad team.

Their manager is former player Billy Beane, played by Brad Pitt. Beane spends a lot of time driving in circles in a parking lot, frustrated at the situation he finds himself in (at one point he tosses a radio playing the game--which the A's are losing, of course--out the window, only to track it down and stomp it into bits).

After a frustrating meeting with the team's owner--who will not pony up a dime more, even though the A's are losing their three best players to the Yankees, whose operating budget is three times Oakland's--Beane decides things have to be done differently. He starts hatching an idea about drafting less big name players, cheaper players, undervalued players. He is met with nothing but resistance from his scouting and coaching staff, who are decidedly Old School:
While in Cleveland trying to strike a deal, Beane watches the whole thing fall apart, partly at least due to the whispered advice of a young assistant. As he is leaving, he finds that young man, who is more than a little intimidated:
The young man in question is Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a bookish, shy low level employee, who nonetheless has bold--even radical--ideas about how baseball teams are managed and how players are assessed and valued. Beane essentially buys him from the Indians, and gives Brand an office in Oakland.

Brand shows Beane the nitty-gritty of statistics and what they reveal in terms of baseball (my gf, who works with statistics for a living, loved this part!). Beane hatches a plan and starts drafting players that are considered by others to be too old, too broken, or generally too hapless to ever get anywhere.

While Beane gets pressure from the media and his own staff, he's also dealing with his daughter, who he dearly loves. There's a painfully awkward scene where Beane goes to pick her up at his ex-wife's house, who has remarried to an excruciatingly even-tempered touchy-feely guy. This scene is all about footwear:
Beane's daughter wonders if her Dad is going to lose his job, after what she's been reading on the internet. Beane's solution? "Don't go on the web. Or watch TV. Or listen to the radio. Or talk to people..."

Spring Training starts, and the team is, in fact, a mess. It's not helped by the fact that the A's coach, Art Howe (played wonderfully by Phillip Seymour Hoffman, in a terse, sour performance) thwarts Beane at every turn, refusing to put in the players in the positions Beane had in mind. The A's lose, lose, lose, and everyone thinks Beane's job is hanging by a thread.
There's a great scene where Beane overhears jovial clowning around in the players' locker room after they've lost another game. Beane--who has generally kept himself at arm's length from the players--steps in to teach them a lesson, which involves bat throwing, Gatorade-cooler-tossing, and a lesson about what losing sounds like:
Silence. Awkward silence.

As you might guess, things start to turn around, but not necessarily in the ways you'd expect. Beane's approach is recognized as having real merit, and near the end of the film Beane finds himself at Fenway Park, faced with a life-changing decision:


I found Moneyball to be a truly involving film, or ever level: the story, the pacing, the performances. Brad Pitt is terrific as Beane, and absolutely deserved the Oscar nomination he's received. We see a guy who has a hunch, and has basically put all the chips on the table on that hunch. He's at turns confident, angry, nervous, and often very, very funny. I laughed out loud more times during Moneyball than I have during many straightforward comedies.

Jonah Hill is a great foil to Pitt; both in terms of looks and energy. Pitt's Beane releases his energy in a hundred different ways, while Hill's Brand--who is just as revolutionary in this thinking--remains contained, almost painfully so. Yet this unassuming, schlubby guy is completely reinventing the National Pastime.

I'm a baseball fan and figured I would enjoy this movie, but I am happy to report Moneyball exceeded my expectations. It's a real winner.

Moneyball is available via Amazon in multiple formats. If you're a baseball fan, a statistics fan, or just someone who loves solid movie dramas, I suggest you give it a try:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...