Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Planet of Dinosaurs

Planet of Dinosaurs was a 1977 film featuring a sci-fi space crew crashing on a planet full of hungry dinosaurs.  The main problem with Planet of Dinosaurs is that the human cast is nowhere near as compelling as the titular dinosaurs.  Even the old school stop motion dinos feel more “real” than the human cast.  After learning more about the film this appears to be the result of the budget.  It was made with a very small budget and director James Shea decided to use most of the money on the special effects leaving little pay for the actors.  The actress Derna Wylde (who also played a character named Derna) reported never even being paid for the film.  The acting is extremely lackluster to say the least.  The film seems to juggle too much of its cast and doesn’t really know who to focus on most of the time.  The character Jim is probably the most important character and he doesn’t stand out very much during the first half of the film.  In fact, the characters that I thought would end up both being the main couple ended up being T-Rex chow by the end.  This is a strength in that not all the character deaths in the film are completely obvious but it also made the film often seem unfocused as it tries to rotate the cast around.

First things first.  Let’s talk about the real stars of the show, the dinos.  The primary antagonist of the film is an impressively animated and deadly Tyrannosaurus Rex.  My favorite part with the T-Rex has it pull a spear someone lobbed into it out with its tiny dino hands.  But the Tyrannosaurus isn’t all the dinosaur goodness.  There is a Brontosaurus, a Stegosaurus, a Allosaurus, plus some others I can’t identify.  Most amazingly, there is a special cameo of the Rhedosaurus from, stop motion master. Ray Harryhausen’s Beast from 20,000 Fathoms.  Glad to see the Rhedosaurus was still getting work!  Harryhausen himself visited the set and said he was impressed with the quality of the effects. 

Most look pretty great but I do have one complaint.   The Stegosaurus was given a pathetically short tail rendering it a harmless joke in the scene where it goes up against the big T.  There was no way that stubby tail could reach its foe.  I think the thing knew it was screwed because it doesn’t even try to point its tail towards the T-Rex and protect its vital organs so the Tyrannosaurus bites directly into its head killing it.  I felt more sympathy for that poor stubby tailed Stegosaurus than any of the human cast.

The film begins with a spacecraft from Earth crash lands into a body of water on an inhabitable planet and is forced to swim to shore with a few meager supplies.  The ship sinks leaving them stranded on a strange world.  The survivors soon realize that the planet is extremely similar to Earth in terms of elements, leading it to have similar life.  Life was evolving just as it had on Earth but this planet is much younger leading it to still be in the age of the dinosaurs.  Sure, this is completely improbable and defies everything we know about natural selection but I really don’t care.  I can’t really blame a film called Planet of Dinosaurs for having dinosaurs.

The film has two main conflicts.  There is the obvious man vs dinosaur theme but then there is the subplot involving the inexperienced Captain Lee and his style of leadership in contrast to his more experienced subordinate Jim.  Lee thinks that it is best to reach high ground and build a blockade to keep out dinosaurs and to act risk aversive.  Jim decides that this uncivilized world will kill them unless they stand their ground and fight back against their nemesis the T-Rex.  My main problem with this plotline is simply that the characterizations of the characters seem inconsistent early in the film.  While Lee and Jim disagree often and argue throughout the movie in most of the early encounters Lee is the harsh, unforgiving, no-nonsense kind of guy while Jim is actually a lot softer and more forgiving of the crew.  When the film suddenly starts treating Jim like the local badass all that stuff before it is just kind of brushed under the rug.  All of a sudden, we are supposed to think that Lee is soft and weak even though up until this point in the film he has acted like a chronically angry guy who wants to strangle his crew.

Another problem with the film is it starts out with a strong sense of comic relief in the first half which is absent later.  I thought the Max Thayer’s character Mike was the best acted and helped lift the mood of the production considerably early on with his jokes but gradually the script stopped providing him material and he loses his sunny disposition and becomes as boring and woodenly acted as everyone else.  On the bright side, one comic relief character is killed off in the most spectacular scene in the movie.   The character Harvey. being both annoying and too stupid to live, inevitably meets his demise.  The moron tries to steal some large eggs laying on the ground thinking they would make a delicious meal and that they must belong to a large bird.  He then calls for the parent saying “Here Chicky!”  When a Centrosaurus (like a Triceratops but with only one horn) approaches he is shocked.  I guess the guy didn’t know dinosaurs laid eggs.  Instead of putting back the eggs and slowly walking away he grabs the laser gun from a crewmember and shoots it.  This just pisses off the previously unhostile Centrosaurus and it chases Harvey to the edge of a cliff where it impales Harvey on its horn before dropping him to his death.  This is probably my favorite scene in the film.  It has some cool animation and it is also very satisfying seeing Harvey finally get his well-deserved Darwin award.

While I probably made the first half of the first half of the film sound superior that isn’t necessarily the case because of the scene stealing Tyrannosaurus.  Even as the actors get more tense and less interesting the dinosaurs start to get their day in the sun.  If you are the type of person who watches Godzilla movies just for the monster scenes and could care less for the human yapping then this won’t bother you.  If you are like most moviegoers who care more about the totality of the production you will be put off by the poor acting and weak script.  With a larger budget so that more money could be spent on actors and a more polished script the film could have been a bona fide classic.    

Final Verdict: Check out the dinosaur scenes on Youtube.  If you are curious, and they pique your interest watch the rest.  If not then don’t bother.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Canterbury Tales

The Canterbury Tales and I go way back.  It is without question one of the weirdest films I have ever seen.  When I first attempted to watch it the reason behind it was I had to review a film based on old English literature for a college class.  Alas, I wasn’t ready for the mind numbing insanity I was about to subject myself to and I gave up a little less than halfway through. I ended up reviewing Beowulf after all.  But after telling a friend of mine about it who also enjoys bad movies he somehow managed to watch it in entirety.  I am now through with school but the film still haunted me.  How could I finish “Fantasy Mission Force” (expect a review there sometime) but The Canterbury Tales proved too much for me?  So, I vowed to finish it.  This film is a horrifying Lovecraftian nightmare which may break my sanity.

            While the source material the movie draws upon has some bawdy stuff it also had its share of the high-brow (although most of that was there to mock it).  Not so with this film.  While it is technically an Italian art film it turns out the line between those and pornography is thinner than a butt-crack hair.  Expect to hear about a lot of nudity, bodily excretions, and genuine (not simulated) sex.  The movie features truly great costuming to match the time period.  It is a shame that the clothes exist primarily to be taken off.  If the director Pier Pasolini intended it to be a celebration of sexual liberation then it is an abject failure.  There is only so many ugly men masturbating and old fat men on top of young women you can watch in the film before you decide that the prudes are saving humanity from its own id.  

 Also notably, famous British actor Tom Baker appears, who is well known for his role as the Doctor in the sci-fi show Doctor Who.  Since Doctor Who recently exploded in popularity again with the new series some of you might be interested in knowing that the fourth Doctor travels back in time to get a handjob from the Wife of Bath.  

            The film begins with an unfathomably annoying song (this won’t be the last of it either) and footage of members of the pilgrimage.  It shows the Wife of Bath as well as the Pardoner and also Chaucer (played by Pasolini).   After that they quickly introduce the frame-story of the people on the pilgrimage telling each other tales.  As soon as that is done they go straight into the tales and the frame story is all but abandoned except for a few shots of Chaucer writing.  A lot of the transitions are so sudden that it is really jarring to watch.  The film in many ways feels bloated and excessive and yet the time spent transitioning between tales is pretty much negligible.  It uses that time instead in expressing its utter insanity.  The order of the tales goes “Merchant’s Tale”, “The Friar’s Tale”, “The Cook’s Tale”, “The Miller’s Tale”, “The Wife of Bath’s Tale”, “The Pardoner’s Tale”, “The Reeves Tale”, and “The Summoner’s Tale”.  Good luck trying keep up.  I’ll just try to give you the highlights (lowlights?) as my full synopsis was mammoth in size.

            The second story starts with a man looking through peep holes into people’s rooms.  He finds two rooms where men were having sex with other men and turns them in to the authorities.  One man pays money and bribes the authorities to leave him alone.  The poorer man, however, cannot.  Both men’s younger partners are still in the room with them but they are ignored.  So, I take it, the guards thought the guys had anal sex with themselves.  As absolutely terrible as all this is it gets worse.  What really creeps me out is how the guys they had just finished sleeping with find the situation hilarious and are grinning ear to ear throughout.  One guy is still smiling while they sentence the poorer man to be burnt on a girdle.  Oh, and the guy that turned the two in sells snacks as he is roasted alive.  No, this is not in Chaucer’s original.  This is all Pasolini.

            This next part is by far my least favorite part of the entire film.  It is supposed to be “The Cook’s Tale” and is sort of a homage to Charlie Chaplin.  It involves a rascal named Perkins going around and doing rascally things.  What makes it so bad is that I simply cannot stand the performance of the actor who plays Perkins named Ninetto Davoli.  By now you may have guessed that the director Pasolini was gay.  He also had a habit of hiring people based on thinking they had interesting faces even though they were not proper actors.  It turns out Ninetto Davoli was once his young lover (at 15!) and so he gave him parts in many of his movies.  It is made especially bad here because everyone else in the film knows English while Ninetto by his own admittance spoke barely any and even then in a broken manner.  So, for the most part, he simply makes over the top expressions.  Instead of speaking he would sing that song from the opening of the movie and it all whirls together with his obvious lack of experience with physical comedy.  To be fair, Charlie Chaplin’s daughter was in the movie and when Chaplin himself saw it he told his daughter to tell Ninetto that he did a good job. Still, I would be lying if I said that his fake smile didn’t creep me out and that the song he sings is agony to my ears. In the interview I read with Ninetto he seemed like a sweet guy who you can tell really missed Pasolini who has now passed away, so I have nothing against him as a person.  I just really, really hate his performance. 

Anyway, the story ends with Perkins having a three-way with a friend and his friend’s wife (who is a whore) and then being arrested for all the trouble he had made prior to that.  He presumably was singing at inappropriate moments through the sex and apprehension (not kidding).

            Then there is the Wife of Bath’s tale.  If you ever thought, alas, my life will never be complete until I get to see Tom Baker’s penis then I have excellent news for you.  One tale begins with a middle aged lady named Alice having sex with her husband until he is left worn out and falls from his bed unable to move.  She leaves to strut about town where she meets a friend of hers.  The friend shows her a peep-hole in her house where a ‘young stud’, played by Mr. Baker, is bathing.  Pasolini, nobody is buying that Tom Baker is either young or a stud. 

This part makes me really uncomfortable.  I mean this whole movie makes me uncomfortable but this is just a special breed of uncomfortable.  It’s like if Mr. Roger’s decided to do nude scenes.  A man famous for children’s television shows up with a porno stache. To be fair, Doctor Who’s innocence has been long dead.  I would like to blame Russell T Davies for turning the Doctor into a dirty old man, trying to steal girls less than half his age away from their boyfriends and get them into his van Tardis, but that isn’t where the problem began.  It goes at the very least back to when former DW actress Katy Manning did a nude photo shoot with a Dalek, the Doctor’s most popular enemy.  Get it! Because they sort of look like dildos…. 

The friend says he is a student named Mr. Jankins and Alice says she should start planning her next wedding.  Alice’s husband dies (presumably from exhaustion from his wife’s voracious sexual appetite) and so she decides to go after Jankins.  As mentioned earlier, she gives him a handjob which effectively woos him.  After they marry Jankins starts to become misogynistic and considers women the root of all sin.  Alice hits him with a book and calls him a faggot which angers him and he knocks her down.  She pretends to be dying and while he stands over her pleading for forgiveness she bites his nose.  Ironically, in Chaucer’s original Jankins later reforms his ways and becomes a loving husband but here it just ends with the nose biting and domestic abuse.

Inexplicably, the next tale “The Pardoner’s Tale” has no reason for any sex at all but it is shoehorned in.  In order to demonstrate that the three protagonists of the tale lived sinful lives Chaucer wrote that they committed various sins in the tavern, like gluttony and gambling.  Pasolini uses this as an excuse to show the three men having sex with whores. To up the kink content of the movie substantially one whore uses a whip and the man she is with calls her his queen. After that completely unneeded part of the movie one of the men named Rufus pisses on a bunch of people in the tavern for drinking wine and gambling.  I guess those old vices are too soft now so Pasolini had to make him both more deranged and a hypocrite.  That and he just really wanted to add some golden showers in there. 

The genuine plot of the tale begins when they learn that one of their friends was killed by “Death”.  Since this is an allegory death is treated by the men as a character not a condition or abstract concept.  The men decide to kill death and threaten an old man till he reveals where he is.  The three find a treasure where the old man told them death would be.  They decide that one of them should return to town to get some alcohol.  The one who returns laces the wine with rat poison so he can have all the treasure to himself.  The remaining two also have a similar idea and knife the guy with the wine when he returns but then they too die from the poisoned wine.  This proves the old man correct that there they would find death.

            On to the end of this baffling movie.  In it a friar is led to hell by an angel only to find out the sad fate of friars there.  Satan keeps them up his ass and literally shits them out upon the angel’s instruction.  The fecal friars then return up the Devil’s rectum from whence they came.  This scene is done with a lot of naked men with body paint and fake wings playing devils.  The little boy playing the angel gets a costume which looks bad by 3rd grade Halloween costume standards.  The Devil is a naked man with red body paint and wings like the other men but with the camera tweaked to make him (or at least his butt) appear huge. The footage was then modified so that footage of falling men is spliced with it to look like he is farting them out.  An overly loud fake fart noise plays throughout and the friars are dressed in brown robes which actually does make them look surprisingly like shit.  At the end the footage is reversed to look like the friars leap back inside of Satan.

            I did it!  I just finished the movie which had seemed insurmountable to me for so long.  This feels like a herculean accomplishment.  Maybe I was watching it out of a misguided nostalgia for those college days, or maybe I am just a masochist.  Who knows?  All I really know is that I will forever be haunted during the night by what I have seen.   I’m going to go curl up into the fetal position and cry now.


Verdict: Disgusting, vile and bizarre. Some of the actors are also just random people off the street.  Highly unrecommended.

Monday, June 12, 2017

La Nave De Los Monstruos (The Ship of Monsters)

La Nave De Los Monstruos (The Ship of Monsters) is a 1960’s sci-fi b-movie from Mexico that really excels at campy fun.  It isn’t particularly unique in its story or tropes but the execution is something unlike anything else you will ever see.  The singing cowboy, alien women looking for men and wild b-movie monsters all meld into a movie that transcends the sum of its parts and becomes a classic. 
            In the film, the men of Venus have all died out due to atomic weapons leaving only women on the planet.  Okay, it has to be said, this basic plotline makes no sense.  Did the two sexes live in different areas so one sex was spared when the bomb dropped?  Did the radiation only hurt males?  If the Venusians are so technologically advanced can’t they use cloning or something? The movie doesn’t seem to care about exactly what happened to the men so I will try to follow suit.
Two attractive alien ladies, Gamma and Beta (played by the stunning Miss Mexico winners Ana Lepe and the Lorena Valequez) embark on an interplanetary journey to find men of other species to replace the Venusian men.  They are joined by a robot Tor (spelled Torr in the youtube subtitles) which was taken in by the two after the species that created him all killed each other with atomic weapons.  Tor is said to have the accumulated knowledge of his entire doomed species within his robotic mind.  Keep that in mind later.
A cowboy named Lauriano (played by Eulalio Gonzalez) looks at the sky and sees a shooting star and wishes for a woman to love.  He expresses this wish in song.  Unbeknownst to him, it is not actually a shooting star but instead the ship carrying Gamma and Beta which had to make an emergency landing in Mexico.  Laurinao is a cowardly guy who fabricates crazy stories at the local bar to appear more heroic.  But when he meets the girls they all immediately take a liking to his charming personality and charisma.  They tell Lauriano they work for the circus and he believes them even after they introduce him to Tor.  They begin to become enamored with him after he brings up love.  They ask him “What is love?”   This leads into a musical number but I assure you it is not the song “What is love?” by Haddaway.

Instead Lauriano puts some background music on his jukebox and sings a song which explains what love is to the two aliens who had never heard of the concept.  Both Gamma and Beta start to fall for Lauriano. Tor, deeply impacted by the song too, falls in love with the jukebox.  Why a robot as intelligent as an entire dead race would develop romantic feelings for a jukebox is unknown to me but, then again, I will defer to his greater intellect here.
Now that there is a love triangle you are probably wondering how it is going to be resolved.  If you guessed that Beta is an evil vampire from Uranus give yourself a point!  Wait, what!?  To the movies credit, it does swiftly foreshadow this by saying that Beta was not originally from Venus in the exposition at the start of the movie.  After Beta drinks the blood of a random human, Gamma communicates with her superior on Venus who tell her that she must put her friend to death.  Before Gamma can fulfill her orders, Beta knocks her unconscious and decides to release the monsters locked within the ship upon the Earth.

Allow me to introduce the monsters.  The first is Tagual, the prince of Mars (Tawal in the youtube subtitles) who is a diminutive alien with an exposed brain.

  Next, Uk, who is the king of some fire planet and a reptilian cyclops. 

My favorite is, Utirr (Crassus in the youtube sub.) of the red planet (presumably not Mars) who is a weird humanoid spider thing.

Finally, there is Zok (he is left unnamed in the youtube sub.) a sabre toothed skeleton who claims his people live on in this state after all his species killed one another with atomic bombs (hmmm, it is as if there is a theme here).

Possibly the funniest thing about the monsters isn’t even the silly costumes or cheap effects. While the costumes are obviously fake they are very unique looking and creatively designed. The funniest thing is that these goofy looking monsters were picked out by Gamma and Beta as elite breeding stock.  They looked at them and determined not only can I procreate with this thing but for the good of Venus I should!  These monsters were hand-picked to act as studs and impregnate as many Venusians as possible.  I’m particularly curious how they think that Zok will be able to father children.  Gamma says of Utirr, “He’s a male, a strange and terrible one, but a male none the less.”  Man, I thought Mexican beauty queens would have higher standards.
As soon as Beta reveals she is a vampire from Uranus the monsters all become madly attracted to her and completely forgive her for kidnapping them and taking them away from their home worlds. Beforehand they were unhappy with the idea of getting to impregnate countless Venusian beauties. The Monsters decide they don’t want to go home anymore but would rather conquer Earth with Beta. 
I particularly enjoyed watching the monsters flirt with Beta, the evil beauty.  The brainy Tagual attempts negging by telling the former Miss Mexico that she is ugly compared to the red Martian women but has a great personality.  The more suave and bold Utirr goes for physical contact with his long spidery appendages.  Poor Zok appears extremely intimidated because all he does is laugh awkwardly (then again, he does that anyway).  Zok clearly wants to put the moves on the lady but the only thing keeping him standing up is that darned string connected to the ceiling. This leaves him stationary while he can only watch uncomfortably while his romantic rivals move in.  Zok requires Uk to carry him to even move around in scenes and currently Uk is too busy to be his wingman.  Uk is approaching the unconscious Gamma and acting a bit handsy…
Woah!  This is the darkest part of this otherwise lighthearted family-friendly film.  That is including the fact that atomic war is a nearly universal background story for the aliens.  Luckily, even Beta whose crime of drinking the blood of humans is said by the Venusians to be the worst sin in the universe won’t put up with Uk raping her former partner and promptly stops him before he goes too far.  This scene does not fit with the tone of the movie and the film could easily do without it.  It looks like it was mainly useful for promotional pictures as it provided good close-up of the gorgeous Ana Lepe and the monster together.
Gamma wakes up and reveals the truth of their extraterrestrial origin to Lauriano.  Ultimately, Lauriano becomes a hero and helps save the day from Beta and the Monsters. The film ends with Gamma staying on Earth and marrying Lauriano.  She tells her commander in Venus that Earth is precious because the people there know love.  Then we are treated to the movies last song, a love duet between Tor and the Jukebox which is now apparently alive and loves Tor.  WHAT!?  Did Tor turn the Jukebox into a robot or was it always sentient and Tor just had the incredible intellect to perceive this when no one else could?  Maybe it came to life purely out of the power of Tor’s love?  Who knows?  Call me a softy but I prefer the last explanation.  I’m happy for those two crazy kids.
My biggest complaint with the movie centers around Zok.  He is an incredibly cheesy monster and is like they were trying to play the Skeleton in The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra straight.  But that isn’t the problem.  My beef is he is nowhere to be seen in the climax (probably because he could not move independently) so his fate is never made clear.  I kept expecting him to pop back up for a “The End… Or Is It?” ending.  This loose end still haunts me. I like to think that he survives and gets taken to Venus and fathers the next generation of the planet.  After all, if a Jukebox can be a love interest why can’t a skeleton be a sexually potent lover of a harem of babes on Venus?   

Final Verdict:  Highly recommended.

Link to the film on YouTube.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders

I, along with many other people, am still processing the news that the great Adam West has died.  He had a large influence on me and the Batman show helped shape my love of the zany and ridiculous which would later fuel my love for B-movies.  To honor the legacy of this iconic actor I have decided to review Adam West’s latest appearance in his most famous role in Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders and dedicate it to him. The film came out in 2016 and had Adam West, Burt Ward and Julie Newmar all reprise their roles in an animated movie based on the classic Batman series. Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders is a very interesting film because it has had decades to look at the character of Batman, analyze why exactly people love the 1966 show and how it fits into the overall modern Batman mythos.  From repeated viewings it became increasingly clear that the creators of the movie are not just fans of the ’66 show but big fans of Batman in general and relished the opportunity to pay homage to both new incarnations of the character and the characters history and roots.  The film looks at the sharp contrast between the sunny, silly and idealistic Batman compared with the dark, broody and more disillusioned version.  Ultimately, it concludes they are both wings on the same bat and you need both to fly.

The into to the movie is superb because it features recreations of classic Detective Comics covers featuring Batman as well as comic panels.  It is a nice touch considering critics of Batman ’66 have for years have called it unfaithful to its source material.  Considering one of the biggest criticisms of the shows was it used onomatopoeia pop ups, which are used in comics because they lack sound, I always found most of these criticisms hypocritical.  The show was a parody with a light-hearted tone but it tried extremely hard to get the visual elements of the comic right and was very affectionate to its source.  Comic movies like the X-men had been trying to make movies based on comics but give them a more realistic feel which meant cutting out a lot of the costumes and other iconic comic elements.  You would think this would lead to anger at deviating from the source material but many people never even address it.  What people really want is comic movies taken seriously, which I can completely understand even though I think their vendetta against Batman ’66 is pointless.  George Reeves is believed to have hated playing Superman and considering playing a comic character beneath that of a serious actor.  Adam West, in contrast, after he was typecast fully embraced the role of Batman and considered it an honor to play such an iconic role.  People need to understand that while Batman ’66 was intentionally ridiculous it ironically was one of the first instances of comic book roles being taken seriously and respected by the cast.  There is a reason that even actors like Mark Hamill who have played much darker roles in the Batman universe love and revere the show.

The dynamic duo turns in to the show Gotham Palace to watch the band Victor and the Hodaddies.  The band was replaced by Joker, The Penguin, The Riddler and Catwoman.  As the crime fighters rush out Aunt Harriet stops them and says by the way they are running places you would think they were Batman and Robin.  They give the normal excuse that they were going fishing before they run off.  Aunt Harriet lets Alfred know that she knows they have a secret even though Alfred denies knowing what she is talking about.

The four thieves steal a replication ray gun which can multiply items.  This leads to a classic Batman fight complete with all the “pows” and “whams” we have come to expect.  Catwoman attempts convince Batman to join their criminal gang during the fight.  A distracted Robin tries to tell Batman not to listen but is knocked down by Joker.  Batman turns down Catwoman’s offer but is then struck over the head by Penguin and temporarily sees three Catwomen.  Catwoman jokes that he will now have a hard time choosing just one of them.  The others Catwomen which Batman sees are modeled after Lee Meriwether and Eartha Kitt who were the second and third actresses to play Catwoman on the tv show.  It is a clever joke and callback alluding to how fans have discussed who was their favorite actress to play Catwoman for years.  While Batman is dazed the criminals escape.

Batman uses the Batcomputer to determine that a piece of tinfoil the villains dropped came from the abandoned tv dinner factory. They go there to confront the dastardy crooks.  Catwoman knocks Batman and Robin out with gas and when they wake up are tied up on a giant tv dinner.  Catwoman tries a mysterious substance she calls Batnip which she says will turn Batman into her evil ally.  Batman says that his principles and willpower are no match for her drug.  The four villains then decide that since their foe won’t join them to kill him and the boy wonder.  The criminals depart while the conveyor belt the tv dinner is on begins to move towards a fiery furnace.  The classic deathtrap has returned!  Batman thinks quickly and realizes that the TV dinner they are on has a lemon tart for desert.  Since lemons are acidic he places his bond hands in the lemon tart and allows its acidity to weaken the ropes so that he can free himself.  Batman breaks free and grabs Robin and throws a roped batarang so that he can grab his sidekick and swing to safety at the last second.

Aunt Harriet begins snooping around in Bruce Wayne’s room trying to find clues for why they are acting so strangely.  She is just about to touch the iconic bust of Shakespeare which contains the button that reveals the Batcave when Bruce walks in the room.  Aunt Harriet lies and says that she must have gotten lost and wandered into the room by mistake because she knows she is not allowed in Bruce’s personal quarters.  She leaves abruptly.  Dick tells Bruce that that was close and she almost discovered their secret alter egos.  Alfred walks in the room and apologizes for allowing Aunt Harriet in the room and assures Bruce it will not happen again.  Bruce angrily fires him, saying he is sure of that.  Dick is astonished at the harsh firing of Alfred, who had been such a loyal servant for so many years.

The dynamic duo searches for the four criminals through land, sea, and sky but find nothing.  They decide that the people that they are looking for must not be on Earth.  They take the newly revealed Bat-rocket and Bat-spaceship (given the colors and bat motifs of the 1955 Lincoln Futura car which became the Batmobile).  Batman reveals that the U.S. had made a space-station with a secret deal with Belgrade and that the villains are likely there.  Meanwhile, the four fiends are in the space-station when Penguin says that they can’t trust Catwoman because of her not-so-secret love of Batman.  The three thieves force Catwoman out the airlock but Batman, while wearing a spacesuit, catches her and gets her to safety. The villains reveal to the caped crusaders that they intended to use the replication ray to create multiple Earths’s which they each rule.  Batman and Robin then confronts Joker, Riddler and Penguin in a fight which takes place in zero gravity.  It ends after a batarang hits the switch turning gravity back on.

Batman then decides that he has had enough of these games.  He takes out a pair of iron knuckles (shaped like a bat) and begins severely hurting his foes.  The onomatopoeia’s in this section are more brutal like “pulverize” and “fracture” instead of the normal sillier ones like “oomph”.  Batman also begins to use lines he said in more recent incarnations such as, “This is the operating table and I’m the surgeon” from Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns.  Both Robin and Catwoman are shocked by the sudden brutality shown by Batman. Catwoman takes advantage of the distraction and escapes to a shuttle and gets away.  After the other criminals are badly beaten Batman prepares them to turn over to the authorities.

Back at Wayne manor, Dick finally gets home to find Bruce insulting Aunt Harriet to the point where she is in tears.  Dick tries to explain to Bruce that he is behaving cruelly but Bruce angrily kicks Dick out of the house.  We are then shown a homeless Alfred rummaging through garbage.

Gotham develops a crime wave as Batman stops answering calls from Commissioner Gordon.  While the city is in chaos Gordon and O’Hara struggle to quell the problem to no avail.  Suddenly a shadowy outline of a jagged cape appears, it’s Batman!  While the two police officers think their prayers have been answered it turns out Batman has a different idea.  He declares Gordon and O’Hara too inept for the job.  Gordon says that the city cannot function without a commissioner and chief of police. Batman reveals his plan by shooting himself with the replication ray and having the replicas take the jobs.  Batman clones begin to take over all the jobs in town such as mayor (a joke about Adam West’s role on Family Guy), judge, chef, and even street sweeper. 

Robin realizes that Catwoman’s Batnip did indeed turn Batman evil but that it worked much slower than expected.  He goes to the hideout of Catwoman and asks her if she has an antidote.  Catwoman agrees to help Robin deliver the antidote because the evil Batman thing wasn’t working out as she had hoped.  Robin agrees to drive her to the Batcave if she agrees to temporarily be put to sleep with Bat-sleep spray so that she doesn’t learn the secret location of the cave.  She agrees and allows him to drive her using her special cat themed car.

At the Batcave, Robin and Catwoman come face to face with Batman.  Robin explains to Batman the situation but the new evil Batman is glad to be freed of his moral code.  Catwoman gives Batman the antidote but it is revealed that it had no effect because evil Batman preemptively took the anti-antidote.  Batman and Robin engage in a utility belt duel where both counters the gadgets of the other using their endless supply of amazingly situationally specific gadgets.  Catwoman eventually gets fed up with them going back and forth countering each other and tries to whip Batman. Batman retaliates by knocking them both out with gas.  When they come they find that Batman plans to lower them into the nuclear silo in the Batcave right at the exact moment it releases nuclear steam.  Batman leaves to continue his plans to rule Gotham.  The two only survive because it is revealed Robin foresaw this and sprayed both of them with  Bat-anti-isotope spray while Catwoman was asleep in the car.

To get more help against the city full of Batmen, Robin and Catwoman pose as prison inspectors and help the less popular ensemble of villains break free.  This includes the likes of Egghead, King Tut, Mr. Freeze and more.  It is a nice touch and allows the lesser appearing villains in the tv show to make cameo appearances.  Joker, Riddler and Penguin are not released and the guards at the prison are baffled to find they have turned into sand.

Batman takes over the show Gotham Palace.  He says he has realized that he doesn’t dress as a bat to scare criminals but instead because he craves attention and that Gotham Palace is the best place to get it.  Catwoman, Robin and the b-gallery of supervillains show up to stop him.  This begins a big fight against the Batman clones.  While the smaller villains try their best and fight hard they are simply unable to deal with a team of Batmen and get knocked out.  Catwoman also does a good job in the fight considering she never actually fought Batman in the show.  Batman had a “never hit women rule” which would result in him forfeiting to female henchmen and letting them capture them so that he wouldn’t have to fight them.  Always made me wonder as a kid why all of the supervillains didn’t just hire only women as henchmen. However, evil Batman does not have this stipulation and is just fine with hitting women.

Ultimately, evil Batman is about to prevail and dance the Batusi in victory.  Then a mysterious man appears and offers the original Batman a drink to celebrate his new career as a tv star.  Batman drinks the drink only to revert back to normal.  The mysterious man is revealed to be Alfred who concocted an anti-anti-batnip antidote curing the caped crusader.  Robin is amazed but Batman reveals that he told Alfred if he ever fired him it would be because of mind control and that he would need him to create a drug made to Batman’s specifications capable of counteracting what the evil Batman would take to try to stay evil. It is a sweet scene that showcases the bond between him and Alfred; as well as how crazy prepared Batman is to all possible situations.  The Batman clones all turn to sand and it is revealed that the Batmen created were molecularly unstable and wouldn’t last.  This is a nod to the 1966 Batman film with the dehydrator which would turn people into essentially colored sand by removing all water from their bodies.

Batman realizes that for once he was not always one step ahead of the villains.  He deduces that the Joker, Penguin and Riddler he threw in jail were replicas and that they knew Catwoman’s batnip would work and distract everyone while they pulled off their ultimate crime caper stealing the priceless artifacts and artwork of Gotham.  Catwoman agrees to help the duo so she could get even with the three supervillains for attempting to kill her.

It ends with a climactic fight on top of Penguin’s penguin shaped blimp.  Eventually all three villains are thrown from the blimp but have their fall softened by objects and are arrested.  Catwoman tells Batman that they can be together and drink tea in cafĂ© in Europe if only he agrees that they can kill Robin.  “Holy unsatisfying ending!” says Robin.  This is a joke on the widely criticized ending of The Dark Knight Rises. Batman refuses and Catwoman jumps from the blimp.  It is left ambiguous if she survives the fall but let’s face it, she pulled this stunt in the show as well.  As a truism if you don’t see the body to verify generally they are alive.

The final scene has Bruce and Dick throw Aunt Harriet a surprise Birthday party.  She is overjoyed and tells them she knew they were hiding something from her but she had no idea it was this.  She also says that they no longer have to make up ruses such as going fishing and the like.  Bruce notices the bat symbol in the sky and the two make up a bad excuse and leave.  Aunt Harriet looks at Alfred in confusion.    

The film is excellent.  One of the best things about it is that it brings back all of the best elements of the old Batman show while still telling a story that feels both nostalgic and new. It isn’t just a recycled plot with no originality but it has everything you want and expect in a Batman ’66 movie. Batman still, on principle, has to cross at the crosswalk and Batman and Robin still climb up buildings in the classic style. Even small touches like the Batcomputer not having screen (GUI) and having to print out any info if Batman is to read it just like in the show. But then it has unexpected things we have never seen such as Adam West’s Batman going bad and everyone going into space.  The writing is very tight and feels like the original show.

The music is also fantastic.  You have the classic theme and motifs that you have come to expect.  I do have one minor gripe though.  They have the main Batman theme song but it is not the original version.  I want to say it is an instrumental but, in truth, so was the original.  I hope you aren’t stoned reading that because it will probably blow your mind.  Anyway, however they made those synthetic sounds sound like women’s voices saying “Batman” you will not hear that in the film.  Kind of a shame.  But not too big of deal.

The voice acting is for the most part superb. Adam West and Burt Ward may not sound the exact same as they did in their youth but they still sound great and did a fantastic job and were full of energy.  Julie Newmar returning to the role is also a treat and something that many never expected.  Jeff Bergman (Joker) and Wally Wingert (Riddler), in particular, did a great job replacing the voice of Cesar Romero and Frank Gorshin.  William Sayers (Penguin) is probably the weaker casting as he sounds less like Burgess Meredith but he still did an admirable job filling into titanic (waddling) shoes.  Overall, no real complaints.

Rest in peace, Adam West.  You will forever be remembered as the classic Batman. To me and many others you will also always be the true Batman.    

Saturday, October 17, 2015

I Am Thor

Recently, I attended a regional premiere of I Am Thor; a documentary about the life of Jon Mikl Thor as he struggles to achieve fame in his music career.  Yes, long before there was Chris Hemsworth playing Thor in The Avengers, Jon Mikl Thor lived as Thor the Metal Avenger.  Thor wrote and starred in the film Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare, a campy B-movie classic.  As a fan of cult movies, it is one of my personal favorites.  All in all, I am very glad I did because, not only is the film fantastic, I ended up meeting Rusty Hamilton at the screening.  If you don’t already know who that is then you will learn shortly.

The film opens with Thor talking about his early life as a Canadian youngster and about how he always wanted to be a superhero.  Nothing surprising there, as most kids love superheroes.  He would wear a Superman outfit under his clothes at school and take them off to be Superman.  Interesting, but nothing too crazy yet.  But get this, at recess he would get the other kids to throw bricks at him in order to show off his superhuman invulnerability.  Thor recollects how after getting struck in the forehead warm blood gushed down to his eyes.  Holy shit!  But even with this juvenile head trauma (or some might argue because of) he never gave up this desire and it would go on to help define his later life.

Young Jon Mikl also learned accordion from his family which served as his musical introduction.  With the advent of the Beatles and rock music he ditched what must have seemed like a painfully uncool instrument at the time and learned bass guitar.  When his older brother introduced him to weight training and bodybuilding he used rock as his prime motivator and he attributes the music to pushing him forward and helping him do the sets and reps that built him his award winning physique.  While still a teen he had won numerous bodybuilding competitions including Mr. Canada and Mr. USA. 

The audience learns how he worked as a nude waiter for a period of time, during the free love era of the 70’s.  He was the most popular waiter, with all the ladies fawning over him, until eventually his muscular body was overshadowed by a new waiter who was just an ordinary guy who was hung like a mule.  According to someone who had seen an earlier version of the film the first version didn’t feature the nude picture of Thor from those days that made the final cut.  I’m not sure why they bothered to censor the picture in such a half assed way.  The—ahem-- hammer was censored with a black bar but you get to see all of his pubic hair.  Eh, I can’t claim to be that shocked or scandalized.  I had already seen Thor’s ass in Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare. 

John Mikl formed an ill-fated band named Body Rock which broke down because some of the other members hated each other.  When one of the ladies of the group hit a male member over the head with a chair the band came to a dramatic end.  But from the demise of Body Rock came the emergence of Thor, the rock warrior.

While working in Las Vegas as a performer, Thor appeared on the Merv Griffin Show and seemed prepped for a meteoric rise. With his new Thor alter ego he assembled a band and released his debut album Keep the Dogs Away.  He combined his music with some showmanship tricks he learned as a bodybuilder and on stage he would regularly bend steel bars between his teeth and pop hot water bottles through sheer lung power.   This brought him to the attention of Rusty Hamilton, who simultaneously worked as both editor and model at Cheri magazine.  Rusty and Thor fell in love and she joined the band where she worked as bandmate and manager using her magazine connections.  The two wed and made for an awesome rock star couple.

Now is the part where the story gets weird.  As Thor seems ready to be the next big thing, he gets a new producer, the man responsible for getting Bruce Springsteen on the covers of both Time and Newsweek at the same time, a feat unheard of up until then.  His ascent to fame seemed all but assured.  The only problem was the guy was a nutcase who was a part of some strange new age religion.  Out of the blue, the guy decides that Thor needs to rewrite all of his songs because the god Seth told him to.  Thor and Rusty were understandably not too enthused to hear this. 

I am not sure the movie ever said who the producer was but I checked and his name is Mike Appel.  He even still has some classic Thor songs on his official website.  From my research, he also was the producer for another of my favorite bands Sir Lord Baltimore and wrote the lyrics to their songs.  Old Seth was apparently no slouch in the lyrics department, I will give him that.  Appel may have been a lunatic but he helped write the amazing Kingdom Come album.  Learning this blew my mind! But Appel is clearly not squeaky clean:  when Bruce Springsteen sued him he opted to settle out of court. 

While the movie never makes it clear by who exactly (you can probably guess), Thor and Rusty were kidnapped at gunpoint, held captive for a year while being forced to create a rock opera.  The production looked incredible-- chariots on stage, Amazons, little people, and other wonders.  They were released before its completion, but this ended the possibility of the rock opera ever seeing the light of day.  Even worse, now that they had been targeted by some sort of organized crime, other producers were afraid to work with them.  No charges were ever pressed.  His career went up in flames.

Thor tried for a period of time to live a normal life and just be Jon Mikl once again.  But he learned that he couldn’t hang up the hammer that easily.  Eventually the desire to return to music overcame him.  Rusty, however, couldn’t deal with it anymore.  Frankly, after the crap she had to go through, I understand completely.  She had once been the biggest supporter of her husband’s aspirations but now launching a comeback of a career which had brought them so much pain and turmoil proved too much for her.  After two decades the couple separated.

No longer at his youthful peak of fitness, the older Thor reunites with his old bandmates guitarist Steve Price and drummer Mike Favata as they chase the fame and recognition that they had never received.  In spite of no longer looking the part of a rock god Thor still proves capable of putting on a very entertaining show.  In an uncommon turn of events, Thor has actually gotten heavier over the years subverting the usual course of rock bands take as they age.  A large part of this is Thor’s voice deepened substantially since his glam rock 70’s era and instead of ineptly trying to sing in the same manner as he did then he simply went in a more metal direction. 

The band resumed but played in venues with very limited people.  Those that show up get their world rocked but still no acclaim.  Thor has a nervous breakdown and suffers from depression.  He speaks very openly and candidly about this time which I thought showed real courage.  If even the one true wielder of Mjolnir can speak openly about mental illness then I think we are doing well as a society and more people have a chance to genuinely beat it.

But through the fog he reemerges just as determined as ever.  If Thor has a true superpower it is his force of will.  You just cannot keep this man down.  Over the years he has tried to give up numerous times but he always ends up going back to chasing his dream.  Even having a heart attack didn’t permanently deter him.  Even as his career takes a toll on his health he keeps soldiering on.  Thor is doing better now and has remarried.  

The film ends with Thor on tour in Finland and Sweden where they receive a much better reception than in the U.S.  In other reviews of the film they attribute this to Thor simply being popular there.  While I personally am a fan of Thor I saw this final bit a little differently.  People were rather indifferent to seeing Mike Favata at first because the majority were unfamiliar with him.  It wasn’t until they saw the show that they started losing their shit.  Sweden is a pretty metal country and Finland is probably the most metal of all countries on Earth.  Let’s see, Finland has Hanoi Rocks, Stratovarius, Sonata Arctica and Children of Bodom.  Those are just Finnish bands they have that I can think of off the top of my head.  Thor wasn’t phenomenally famous there it is just at the end of the concert he had won them over.  Trust me, this was something he damn well deserved to happen.  The man even spat out several of his own teeth on stage while trying to bend steel in his mouth but he still finished bending it just because he refused to let down the crowd! He was passionate about what he does and there the fans are truly passionate as well.  Since so many more people who love metal there than in the U.S. he was just beginning to reap the benefits of potential stardom.

Overall, it was a great film.  I would have liked it to talk a little bit more about Thor’s film career as it is only briefly touched upon but thematically it was the right choice as it would just bog down the narrative.  My biggest complaint is just the fact that Thor hasn’t yet fully received his happy ending.  Thor’s music and theatrics may not be for everyone but I know that there is a larger audience out there for him. 

After the showing I spoke with Rusty.  She seemed surprised I recognized her, which I thought was very modest.  She is out of the music business today but had nothing bad to say about her ex-husband.   Sorry for those out there hoping for an in depth tell-all about how big an asshole Thor is.  It seems he is, in truth, a great guy.  Buff guys tend to get seen as dumb meathead bullies.  But Thor is a polite, warm guy who is himself a comic fan and has more in common with them than jocks who would denigrate them.  Mike Favata compares him to a puppy.  One fan was impressed that after making breakfast for Thor and his band Thor was so appreciative that he insisted on doing the dishes for him!

Rusty also told me some other interesting tidbits.  For example, she used the name Pantera while a member of Thor’s band before the band Pantera came about.  She was sure the band hadn’t done this intentionally, and she had used so many other stage names anyway, she was fine with letting the band use it.  She also admitted that she had never seen a picture of Thor’s new wife until seeing the movie.  Another surprise for her was seeing Thor drink a beer in one scene because she said when he was young he would never touch alcohol, even when he was working in Vegas where everyone would offer you free drinks and be offended if you turned them down.

To anyone who likes underdog stories, band documentaries, or just rock/metal music in general I recommend you check this movie out.  It was worth the 15 years it took to finish it.  When it comes out on DVD I advise you to ride your chariot to the store and buy it.