Archive for July, 2011

Monstrous Question: BEST MAD SCIENTIST MOVIE? (2 of 6)

Posted in 1930s Horror, 2011, LL Soares Reviews, Mad Doctors!, Monstrous Question with tags , , , , , , on July 30, 2011 by knifefighter

MONSTROUS QUESTION
(Part 2 of 6)
Monstrous Question created by Michael Arruda

This month’s MONSTROUS QUESTION comes to us courtesy of our good friend Pete Dudar.

PETE:  Okay, so what’s the best ‘mad scientist’ movie? Is it FRANKENSTEIN? RE-ANIMATOR? THE FLY? We fans want to know.

****

Our panel answers:

L.  L. SOARES:

Well, it’s pretty obvious that Dr. Frankenstein is the archetype that everyone looks to for inspiration, daring to play God and bring the dead to life. But he’s often overshadowed by his monster (unless it’s a Hammer film starring Peter Cushing as Victor Frankenstein).

Mad scientists are a lot like Pringles. It’s hard to pick just one.

One of my favorites is Dr. Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) from the RE-ANIMATOR movies. He’s easily the coolest mad scientist of all time, and he’s pretty obsessed with his mission to reanimate the dead using giant syringes of glowing green fluid. A case could also be made for Coffin Joe (Joe Mojica Marins) being a kind of scientist. In his films, such as 1964’s AT MIDNIGHT I WILL TAKE YOUR SOUL, he is trying to find the perfect mate, and subjects candidates to horrible “tests” to prove their worthiness. In this way, he’s kind of a do-it-yourself geneticist.

But the absolute BEST? Not a matter of preference, but the Definitive Mad Doctor movie? For me, it’s a three-way tie. And they have a common link – they were all derived from classic novels!

FRANKENSTEIN (1931) – the granddaddy of them all – Colin Clive as Dr. Henry Frankenstein creates a body stitched together from various parts of corpses and then brings it to life as the nameless monster (Boris Karloff). As atmospheric and filled with dread as it ever was. One of the monumental classics of the genre. Based on the novel “Frankenstein, or a Modern Prometheus” by Mary Shelley (of course!)

DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1931) When Dr. Henry Jekyll creates a potion that unlocks the darker elements of his psyche, he becomes violent madman Edward Hyde. Probably my all-time favorite mad scientist film, starring the great Fredric March in the dual role. Based on the novel “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” by Robert Louis Stevenson.

ISLAND OF LOST SOULS (1932) Dr. Moreau (Charles Laughton) performs horrible experiments on his private island, trying to transform animals into humans, using painful surgery. Perhaps the most sadistic of all the fictional mad scientists, Moreau yields mixed results for all his bloody experimentation, and his creations eventually turn against him and kill him for his “crimes against nature.  ” Based on the classic novel “The Island of Dr. Moreau” by H.  G. Wells.

Honorable Mentions go to:

– Dr. Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) who seeks to re-animate the dead in RE-ANIMATOR (1985), as well as BRIDE OF RE-ANIMATOR (1990) and BEYOND RE-ANIMATOR (2003) – the first one is by far the best, but the sequels are fun, too. And,

– Dr. Anton Phibes (Vincent Price) who devises ingenuous ways to kill his enemies based on the nine Biblical Plagues in THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES (1971)  and more themed murders, this time in Egypt, in DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN (1972)

—END—

© Copyright 2011 by LL Soares

Monstrous Question: BEST MAD SCIENTIST MOVIE? (1 of 6)

Posted in 1970s Movies, 2011, B-Movies, Gore!, Mad Doctors!, Monstrous Question, Nick Cato Reviews with tags , , , , on July 29, 2011 by knifefighter

MONSTROUS QUESTION: BEST MAD SCIENTIST MOVIE
(Part 1 of 6)
(“Monstrous Question” Created by Michael Arruda)
(This is my creation.    Yes, a criminal lunatic!  It tried to kill you!  BONK!  Shut up!)

This month’s MONSTROUS QUESTION comes to us courtesy of our good friend Pete Dudar.

Take it away Pete:

PETE:  Okay, so what’s the best ‘mad scientist’ movie? Is it FRANKENSTEIN? RE-ANIMATOR? THE FLY? We fans want to know.

***

Okie-dokie.    There it is.    What’s the best “mad scientist” movie ever?

Our panel answers:

NICK CATO:

As the overseer of all things low budget and out of the norm, my fave flick of an insane scientist goes to 1973’s DOCTOR GORE (released on VHS in the 80s under its original title, THE BODY SHOP).   Director/actor J.  G.   Patterson stars as a Frankenstein-like creator who lives alone in an isolated mansion.   After he loses his wife in a tragic accident, he–along with his hunchback assistant–begin to assemble another wife for him from body parts of local woman (future low budget shockers such as PIECES (1982) and MAY (2002) owe their existence to this brutally gory little gem (Okay, they all rip-off FRANKENSTEIN, but you get the picture!).

It’s low budget, the acting’s horrible, and there’s a few stretches of nothingness that will test your patience.   BUT—the clever gore effects are still difficult to watch and the ending is unforgettable.   Fans of psychotronic cinema are advised to seek this one out.  .  .

—END—

© Copyright 2011 by Nick Cato

Suburban Grindhouse Memories: INSEMINOID (1982)

Posted in 1980s Horror, 2011, Aliens, Drive-in Movies, Gore!, Grindhouse, Monsters, Nick Cato Reviews, Suburban Grindhouse Memories with tags , , , , on July 28, 2011 by knifefighter

SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE MEMORIES
The Unborn Alien Avenger!
By Nick Cato

INSEMINOID? HORROR PLANET? Make up your minds already!

 

FANGORIA magazine had been running articles (and graphic stills) about an ALIEN-like gore-fest titled INSEMINOID.  Week after week, we gorehounds of the early 80s anticipated this potential gem’s release, and had all but given up when a film titled HORROR PLANET was unleashed in late 1982.  It turns out INSEMINOID had been re-titled (and as much as I LOVE the original title, perhaps HORROR PLANET was a bit more marketable?).  Either way, the (now defunct) Fox Twin Cinema was packed to the gills on opening night, with horny teenagers and underage patrons waiting for their long-awaited dose of otherworldly splatter.

It turns out the only similarity between this and ALIEN (1979) was in the alien impregnating someone.  In this case, a group of scientists are exploring the underworld of one of Jupiter’s moons (Why? I still have no idea—just go with it), when they happen to unleash a strange creature who forcefully does the intergalactic mambo with one of the prettier female scientists (hey—even monsters go for the hotties!).  Her pregnancy accelerates at an unearthly pace and her fellow explorers (in no certain terms) begin to look at her and her coming child as lab rats.  Unfortunately for these cosmonauts, whatever’s growing inside her is requiring human blood.  What follows is pure exploitation genius: Our pregnant heroine (Sandy, played by Judy Geeson—trust me, you’ve seen her in tons of TV shows) begins to protect herself and her unborn by slaughtering the rest of the cast, turning HORROR PLANET into one of the first intergalactic slasher movies I can think of.  And MAN does the sauce flow…

If you can overlook the horrendous acting and dialogue (if memory serves me, nearly every line was openly mocked at the screening I attended), HORROR PLANET is a decently made British flick with tons of brain-dead splatter fun in store for your viewing (or is that ‘spewing?’) pleasure: one guy’s stomach is blown apart with a laser gun as some poor woman is sliced to shreds with a pair of scissors, and another is eaten alive, in a genuinely savage scene of space-age cannibalism.  When Sandy finally gives birth, it turns out she was carrying twin humanoid creatures that come out of the womb with more goop and vomit-inducing green glop than even Linda Blair could’ve handled.  I haven’t seen the film since this fine evening around November of 1982, so I don’t know how much I’d enjoy this today…but at the time, I was in splatter/sleaze heaven.  And apparently, so was the crowd.  This is the first time I can remember the audience cheering during the kill sequences—a few years before this became the norm at FRIDAY THE 13th sequels (I believe FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 4 started this ritual—which—in my opinion—began to cheapen the feel and affect of most horror films).

If you’re a scifi fan, you’ll probably laugh at the primitive special effects, especially the base of command center (which looks like it was constructed on a really cheap set—or in someone’s basement!), and as mentioned, this is more of a gore film than a serious ALIEN wanna-be.

HORROR PLANET is worth a DVD viewing (I believe it was finally released under the INSEMINOID title), if, for nothing else, to show you how much fun and in-your-face these early gore-epics could be.

One thing’s for sure: you won’t have half as much fun with any other low-budget space monster film released since (and there’s simply NO WAY this would receive an R rating today).

-END-

© Copyright 2011 by Nick Cato

Sandy (Judy Geeson) takes matters into her own mouth in HORROR PLANET.

Remote Outpost: FALLING SKIES

Posted in 2011, Aliens, Apocalyptic Films, Mark Onspaugh Columns, Remote Outpost, ROBOTS!, Television with tags , , , , , , , on July 27, 2011 by knifefighter

REMOTE OUTPOST: FALLING SKIES
Does it taste like Chicken… Little?

Television Review by Mark Onspaugh

In a simpler time. all we needed to repel alien invaders was a wise-cracking Will Smith and a genius hacker like Jeff Goldblum. Sure, we might lose a national monument or two, but then the President would take action and fight them Bill Pullman-style – the aliens would be blown to atoms and the pitiful remnants of their hellish fleet would hightail it back to Arcturus with their spiny tails tucked between their disgusting lower limbs.

Nowadays, people in the real world feel like they’ve been let down – the economy sucks, unemployment is at an all-time high and our elected officials are either involved in scandal or wasting their time on the future of incandescent bulbs.

How could such leaders ever hope to combat an alien horde?

So it is that today’s alien stories aren’t about preventing conquest, they’re about the conquered (us) fighting their oppressors (them). It doesn’t take Fellini to see that perhaps those beings we are rallying against may be closer than the next galaxy… Much closer.

FALLING SKIES is the new Dreamworks series from Executive Producer Steven Spielberg, airing Sunday nights on the TNT cable channel, and it is similar in some ways to the recent film BATTLE: LOS ANGELES (2011)—Earth has been taken over and now ragtag bands fight with dwindling resources against overwhelming odds and superior technology. Like BATTLE, conquered cities have large towers of sinister design and intent raised their ruins.

FALLING SKIES very much evokes the “Spirit of ’76” note in its tone and content. After all, we were founded by a guerilla force composed of civilians, militia, old people and kids, fighting a superior force with better weapons and supplies. But the guerilla knows his home turf, and knows how to survive… He might have to live like a rodent for a while, but he can make the enemy miserable until they decide it’s too costly to remain. The action takes place in Massachusetts rather than California, evoking that feeling of fighting the War of Independence once again.

FALLING SKIES left me cold initially. Although I felt the exposition of the invasion told through children’s drawings and voice-overs had a certain charm, I wanted to see some of the devastation and carnage. We’ve gotten very little of that, and I suspect the producers not only wanted to save money, they wanted to show this was no Michael Bay explosion-fest. I do believe they wanted to create some fully-realized characters, but that takes time. It’s clear the network was nervous about this gradual build; early episodes had a sort of carnival barker announcer at the end assuring us we didn’t know all the mysteries behind the invasion. Unlike a show like LOST, THE X-FILES or FRINGE which are compelling from the get-go, FALLING SKIES needed a little more time to be something other than THE PATRIOT (2000) with extraterrestrials. Thankfully, the barker is missing from later tags, which is fine by me.

The fight to take back the planet is seen through the eyes of Tom Mason (Noah Wylie – ER, the LIBRARIAN franchise) a history professor turned soldier and liaison between civilians and Captain Weaver (Will Patton – ARMAGEDDON (1998) and THE FOURTH KIND (2009)). Tom’s wife was lost while scavenging for food with Dr. Harris (Steven Weber – THE SHINING TV-series from 1997 and the sitcom WINGS). We get the feeling there may have been more than hunting for cans of Hormel Chili going on, but the doc is killed two episodes in, in the worst case of prisoner baiting since Fritz tortured Frankenstein’s Monster with a lit torch. Tom is now a single dad with three sons – fighter Hal (Drew Roy), alien slave Ben (Connor Jessup) and Maxim Knight as little tyke Matt Mason (named, I’m sure, for Mattel’s space explorer action figure from the 60’s). (By the way, how cool a name is Maxim Knight?  I may have to change mine.)  Tom has all the usual single dad issues, plus he’s fighting aliens. Fortunately, he and Moon Bloodgood (the short-lived TV series DAY BREAK and the movie TERMINATOR: SALVATION (2009)) have caught each other’s eye. She is the unit physician and has to deal with everything from depression and fractures to kids with alien harnesses on their backs (more on that in a moment). The cast of humans is a good mix of humanity, although it remains to be seen if any character is openly gay or not. With aliens around every corner, there isn’t much time for people to make their proclivities known.

Aliens have taken over and humanity struggles for freedom in FALLING SKIES

Now, how about them aliens?  Back when yours truly was just a tyke running around the Outpost, aliens were largely spray-painted humans in outlandish costumes (LOST IN SPACE, TIME TUNNEL) or men in rubber suits with little or no change of expression (the Gorn that fought Kirk in STAR TREK). THE INVADERS (1967 – 1968), in what has to be the money-saving concept of all time, had aliens who looked like us except they couldn’t bend their little fingers, prompting one to guess they had evolved from highly-mannered tea drinkers.

CGI has made it possible to move away from cumbersome rubber puppets (prone to look silly and/or fake, malfunction and rot over time) and the ever-popular Star Trek brow appliances to creatures that are extremely non-human… Hell, they’re not even humanoid. At present, designers of such critters are going to spiders and crabs for inspiration (BATTLE: LOS ANGELES and SUPER 8, which both came out earlier this year) and tentacles are always a favorite fall-back appendage. Most of us have an innate fear or disgust of spiders or anything like them, so creatures of such design are repellent to most of the audience. The aliens in FALLING SKIES (called “Skitters”) look like large crab-spiders with tentacles and walrus-spider faces. Their movement is crab-spider-ish, and they are quite unpleasant to look at. The design isn’t as compelling or groundbreaking as Giger’s alien (And remember how many films ripped off that design?| Boy howdy.), but the face of the alien allows it some range of emotion. Skitters are very fast and hard to kill, although our people are learning their vulnerabilities. Go Humanity!

The Skitters are also equipped with scout ship/fighters (nothing to write home about, design-wise) and “Mechs” which are bipedal killing machines that stomp around like the ED-209 in ROBOCOP (1987) and have a sort of jack-o-lantern visage (in cool blue) that I kind of like. They also make a roar similar to the LOST smoke monster, so maybe he got some voice-over work. Since the Skitters are multi-legged and the Mechs are bipeds, I suspect that they are being piloted by the teens the Skitters take as slaves and outfit with “harnesses”, a strange, biomechanical slug-like monstrosity that fuses with the kid’s spine and nervous system. Kids under the influence of said harness walk like zombies and seem to be in telepathic contact with the alien overlords. Removing the harness is messy (metal links into the spine must be cut with a torch and leave behind metal studs running down the kid’s back) and risky (several kids died until the late Dr. Harris pioneered a procedure to keep the kids from convulsing and flat-lining). A new development has some adults nervous and bigoted about these freed kids, calling them “razor-backs” and proclaiming that they attract Skitters and their loyalty is compromised. Surely a metaphor for children fathered by invading forces, unable to belong in either country.

He followed me home, Mom. Can we keep him?

As I mentioned, I was ready to give up on FALLING SKIES after two episodes, (and some of you may have done so), but hung in there, being a diehard sci-fi and horror fan… Two episodes ago it turned a corner. The characters had been one note clichés, even the ever-dependable Will Patton, who was gruff and unyielding to the point of parody. But now all the principals have been allowed to breathe and stretch—there have been some very good scenes, particularly between Tom and his kids and Captain Weaver and Jimmy Bolland (Dylan Authors), a thirteen-year-old trying to find his place on the battlefield. Also, and most interestingly, some aliens seem to display compassion (one stroked the head of a sleeping slave child in a very maternal way, not like a master with a pet) and we have been told their agenda is not all it seems.

Of course, I have seen shows like this which were so cool in the beginning run dry creatively and begin to wander far, far away from their original mission statement (it happened when David Vincent of THE INVADERS found a group of people who believed him about the Invaders, and when the mythology of the THE X-FILES became so unwieldy and was suffering the absence of its heroes Mulder and Scully)… Right now, we have an interesting mix of humans dealing with the aliens on FALLING SKIES – some are courageous, others slaves, still others greedy looters or traitors colluding with the aliens… That’s great, humanity isn’t totally unified, and the enemy isn’t just extraterrestrial or all of one stripe.

But we’ve been fooled before… the moment may come when an alien skitters forward and offers to help Tom and his friends… They end up calling him Uncle Bob because his alien name is too hard to pronounce, and he ends up with a fondness for pickle brine and bouncing laughing children on his many knees. At that point the producers will have either jumped the shark or will be revving up their Fonzie-cycle to do so, and we will be just a treacly “very special episode” or Christmas special away from the Hanna Barbera version of FALLING SKIES where they throw in a (nearly) talking dog and a nervous Don Knotts type for comic relief.

But, hopefully, such a day never comes, or is at least five seasons away. We need good science fiction on television, so let’s hope this show may avoid the traps and pitfalls that dooms it to one or two seasons like CAPRICA, THE EVENT, V, DAY BREAK and SPACE: ABOVE AND BEYOND. For now, the acting and writing have gotten better, the effects are good, the aliens are interesting and loathsome and there seem to be some twists coming our way. Those are all good reasons to watch. Remote Outpost out.

© Copyright 2011 by Mark Onspaugh

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER

Posted in 2011, 3-D, Blockbusters, Cinema Knife Fights, Comic Book Movies, Marvel Comics, Superheroes with tags , , , , , , on July 26, 2011 by knifefighter

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (2011)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

 

(THE SCENE: A battlefield somewhere in Europe during World War II. Allied forces are caught in a fierce crossfire with Nazi stormtroopers. Suddenly, a man with a shield appears. On the shield are the letters CKF. The man is dressed in a red, white and blue costume. It is MICHAEL ARRUDA.)

MA: Back, you evil forces of darkness! (There is stunned silence.) What’s the matter? Who did you expect? Captain America?

ALLIED SOLDIER: Well, yeah! Who the hell are you?

MA: I’m Michael Arruda, Cinema Knife Fighter, and humble movie reviewer!

SOLDIER: Big friggin deal! What the hell are you doing here on the battlefield?

MA: This is a review of the new film, CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER. It’s not the actual movie. And so I’m not the real Captain America. I’m just reviewing the movie.

SOLDIER: Well, tell that to that guy!

(A man in a RED SKULL costume stands before them holding a massive ray gun. It is L.L. SOARES. Suddenly, the ray gun goes off and hits some of the fighting soldiers, smashing them to atoms).

MA: Whoa! You take these characters much too seriously! You weren’t supposed to actually shoot anybody.

LS: It went off accidentally. Besides, I’m supposed to be the Red Skull. What do you expect me to do? Hand out candy?

MA: Okay. You have a point.

LS: By the way, no Allied Soldiers were harmed in this reenactment. The ray gun only hit Nazis.

Okay, let’s get started.

MA: Sure thing. I’ll start us off.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (2011) is the latest Marvel superhero movie, and the latest to tie in with next year’s highly anticipated superhero team extravaganza, THE AVENGERS.

It’s World War II, and young Steve Rogers wants desperately to enlist and help the American cause, but he’s having a difficult time getting accepted into the army because he’s both scrawny and unhealthy. He has asthma, for starters, along with a host of other maladies. However, Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) is attracted to the young man’s earnestness and persistence, and he offers Steve a chance to get into the army, as a test subject to one of his experiments.

LS: The Super Soldier program!

MA: The experiment is a success, as it turns Rogers into a new man (Chris Evans) who is muscular, strong, and nearly unstoppable. As Erskine explains it, his formula takes a good man and changes him into a better man, but it also could take a bad man and make him worse, which is exactly what has already happened, as back in Nazi Germany, the brilliant and demented Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving) was Erskine’s first test subject (of course, over there, Erskine was forced to do this) and it turned him into the supervillain, the Red Skull.

With his newfound strength, Steve soon dons a costume and becomes Captain America, and helped by British agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), Colonel Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones), and millionaire Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), he takes on the Red Skull in order to save the world.

LS: Yeah, Atwell is the love interest. Tommy Lee Jones is good, but playing yet another war-weary officer, and Dominic Cooper plays the inventor father of Tony Stark, who we know better as IRON MAN.

MA: I thought CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER was a very good movie, and I enjoyed it a lot. However, that being said, it wasn’t quite as good as I expected it to be.

First off, I loved the look of this movie. It really did a good job recreating the World War II era, and many times I felt as if I were looking at a moving painting of the United States circa the early 1940s. The film is a feast for the eyes. It also captured the emotions of what it was like to be an American during World War II.

LS: Yeah, this movie did a good job of capturing the time period. A few times I thought that it almost felt like a recruiting commercial for the Army – except these really are the roots of the character. Captain America was created by writer Joe Simon and artist Jack Kirby back in 1941 when Marvel Comics was called Timely Comics, and he was meant from the start to be a hero to punch out Hitler and help our boys win World War II.

MA: I also really enjoyed the Captain America character. He’s a very likeable superhero, and he’s easy to root for. I thought Chris Evans delivered a solid performance. I liked him better here than as the Human Torch in the FANTASTIC FOUR movies. Surrounded by extravagant special effects in a superhero fantasy world, Evans made both Steve Rogers and Captain America very believable.

LS: Yeah, I thought Evans did a good job, too. Even if Captain America is kind of a goody goody character, like Superman. The movie is pretty faithful to the comics, as far as the character’s origin story. And yeah, this is a bit more substantial role than the Human Torch, where he just made wise-cracks – he’s the lead character here instead of just another member of a team. He was cocky and “hot-headed” as the Torch, but he was supposed to be. Here, he plays good and earnest pretty well, too.

MA: The film enjoyed less success with its villain, the Red Skull. While I loved the look of the Red Skull a lot—.

LS: Gee, thanks!

MA: Not you! The real Red Skull! Though your make-up looks pretty good too.

Anyway, the Red Skull was really cool-looking—and while Hugo Weaving delivered a very good performance—the character doesn’t really get to do all that much as a villain in this movie. Most of the film, he’s on the run. He’s really not in control for very long. I wish Red Skull had been more of a menace here, a la the Joker in THE DARK KNIGHT (2008). I also preferred Kevin Bacon’s villain Sebastian Shaw in X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (2011) to the Red Skull.

LS: I liked the Red Skull and I think he was a formidable villain—I mean, he wasn’t happy to just be one of Hitler’s minions, he wanted to take over the world for himself, and his plan for world domination was pretty ambitious. I thought he was a lot more interesting than the many Iron Man clones that IRON MAN has fought in his movies (Whiplash, the only villain who was interesting, also wasn’t given much to do).

But you’re right, while I liked Weaving’s performance—and I liked it better than you—I agree that he seems to be fleeing the scene of a battle 80 percent of the time. There is a decent brawl between Cap and the Skull toward the end, though.

Oh, and while the Red Skull here looks a lot like he does in the comics, since it was a movie, he also reminded me a bit of Dr. Anton Phibes, the skull-faced bad guy Vincent Price played in THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES (1971) and DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN (1972).

MA: Yeah, he did resemble Dr. Phibes.

Hayley Atwell is beautiful and tough as Peggy Carter, and she’s fun character. I also really enjoyed Tommy Lee Jones as Colonel Chester Phillips. Phillips is a wise-cracking military man, but he nonetheless has the best interests of his men at heart.

LS: Yeah, I agree with you about Atwell, although it sure took them a long time even to have their first kiss! And I liked Tommy Lee Jones, but like I said before, it feels like he’s played this character several times before.

MA: Stanley Tucci is also excellent as Dr. Abraham Erskine. It’s another fine performance by Tucci.

Dominic Cooper delivered a nice performance as Howard Stark, the man who would become Tony Stark’s (Iron Man’s) father. The Iron Man connection here was fun.

LS: Yeah, Marvel is using these movies as a way to intertwine all of the origins of their various characters in ways they didn’t foresee in the original comic books. Even the supernaturally powerful weapon the Red Skull is using to rule the world is from the comics. He calls it a “tesseract” early in the movie (which is a four-dimensional cube)  and alludes to it being an artifact that was stolen from the god Odin (which brings us back to THOR). But in the comics it was called “The Cosmic Cube” and led to a major battle between good guys and bad guys back in the 1970s. We also get a brief explanation of Captain America’s shield, which was here created by Tony Stark’s father.

There’s also Sebastian Stan as “Bucky” Barnes, who was Captain America’s kid sidekick in the old comics. Kind of like Robin to Cap’s Batman. But here, they’re childhood friends and it’s kind of fun how, when the movie starts, Barnes is the one protecting Rogers, and later on their roles are reversed.

And of course, to bring us full circle, the movie begins with Captain America being found frozen in the the Arctic in modern-day, almost 70 years after the events of the movie. In the comics, the Avengers found him floating in suspended animation in an iceberg way back in AVENGERS # 4 (1964).

MA: The rest of the characters weren’t as fleshed out as they could have been. I wanted to know more about Captain America’s special team of soldiers. While they looked interesting, we never learn much about them, and so their battle scenes together are never that compelling.

LS: Yeah, that group of soldiers who join Captain America in battle don’t explicitly introduce themselves, but they’re clearly meant to be Nick Fury’s old unit back when he was Sgt. Fury, They were called his “Howling Commandos”—one of the few war comics Marvel put out in the 60s (in a sea of superhero titles) that took place during World War II—before they turned Fury into a modern-day James Bond type character, leading S.H.I.E.L.D, a little later in the decade. Long-time Marvel fans would probably recognize “Commando” Dum Dum Dugan (Neal McDonough), with his signature bowler hat and  mustache, right away.

MA: The action scenes, while nice to look at, weren’t overly exciting or memorable. I liked the train sequence, where Captain America and his men have to slide down a rope onto a racing train, and there were also a couple of cool chase scenes, one involving motorcycles, but other than this, the battle scenes didn’t do much for me. I also thought the ending, the battle between Captain America and Red Skull, was anticlimactic.

LS: I liked the train scene too, but liked the final battle between the two enemies a lot more than you did.

MA: Director Joe Johnston gets mixed results with CAPTAIN AMERICA. The movie looks great and it’s well-paced, but the action scenes for the most part are just OK. Johnston also directed THE WOLFMAN (2010), and that was another movie that looked great but could have used more memorable scenes.

LS: I liked THE WOLFMAN a lot. I think even a little better than CAPTAIN AMERICA. But Johnston does a good job here, too.

MA: I think they were about equal, but THE WOLFMAN definitely had more bite (heh heh).

(The WOLFMAN suddenly appears behind MA and growls menacingly).

MA: On second thought, THE WOLFMAN might have been a hair better.

(WOLFMAN pats MA on the head approvingly, howls, and leaps away).

LS: What a suck- up!

MA: The screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely is OK. The story is fine, and the dialogue isn’t bad, but the characters, other than Captain America, aren’t fleshed out much. I enjoyed the script for X-MEN: FIRST CLASS much better, because it did a better job defining both its main characters and supporting characters.

LS: And there were a lot of them!

MA:  The 3D effects weren’t bad. I enjoyed seeing CAPTAIN AMERICA in 3D, but I bet it looked just as good in 2D.

LS: I saw it in 3D because it was the most convenient show time for me, but I felt robbed, as usual. Except for a few actions scenes where Captain America hurls his shield directly at the screen (and there aren’t many of these) the 3D aspect is hardly used at all. I felt it was completely wasted here. Yet again.

MA: You’re right. The film doesn’t take advantage of the 3D effects with any degree of satisfaction. Other than the depth factor, the 3D doesn’t add much.

I also thought the second half of the film was rushed. We never get to see Red Skull be all that evil. At one point he blows away some Nazi officers. Hmm, that’s pretty good, actually! We also never really see Captain America be tested. Everything he does succeeds. Victory comes easy for him. There’s not much conflict in CAPTAIN AMERICA, and the movie suffers for it.

LS: You thought it felt rushed? I thought, at over two hours, this movie seemed a bit too long. A 90 minute action-packed CAPTAIN AMERICA movie would have been a big improvement. I have no idea why all these superhero movies think they’re powerful epics that need such long running times. If it were shorter and faster-paced, I would have liked it more.

MA: Still, I really enjoyed CAPTAIN AMERICA. It’s not as good as X-MEN: FIRST CLASS which came out earlier this summer, as that movie had a better script, nor is it as good as the two movies that have set the bar for me for excellence in superhero movies, THE DARK KNIGHT (2008) and IRON MAN (2008). THE DARK KNIGHT had the Joker, and Red Skull is nowhere near as effective a villain, and IRON MAN had Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, and while Chris Evans is very good as Captain America, he doesn’t carry this movie the way Downey Jr. carried IRON MAN.

LS: Well, the main reason for that is because Tony Stark and Steve Rogers are very different characters. Because of his rich playboy persona, IRON MAN is always going to be more interesting than someone like the super-earnest Rogers. If Evans had turned in a similar performance to the one Downey gave in IRON MAN, well, then it wouldn’t have been CAPTAIN AMERICA.

MA: True, but as goody-goody Captain America, he still could have carried the movie, and as good as Evans was in the role, he doesn’t carry the movie. Let’s compare his Captain America to Christopher Reeve’s SUPERMAN for a moment. Superman is also a straight-forward earnest superhero, and I think Christopher Reeve in the first SUPERMAN movie (1978) made more of a splash in that film than Evans does here.

LS: Okay, he’s not Christopher Reeve at his prime, but I think Evans was fine. So was Weaving. But I did think the movie was a bit too slowly paced at times, especially in the middle. I liked this one and thought it was yet another decent superhero movie from Marvel Studios, but unfortunately, I’m starting to get a bit tired of the formula. All of these movies are starting to seem way too similar, and there are absolutely no surprises to be had, and for that reason I was a bit more bored during CAPTAIN AMERICA than I was during some of the previous Marvel movies.

MA: I give CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER three knives.

LS: I’m starting to find these movies rather formulaic. It’s not the fault of the filmmakers as much as Marvel’s philosophy – but these last few movies have seemed to be very “cookie cutter.” You go into a Marvel superhero flick knowing exactly what you’re getting. In one way that’s good, because you know there’s a bit more quality control than other franchises, but at the same time, it’s getting harder and harder to maintain excitement for these movies.

That said, I guess I give CAPTAIN AMERICA three knives, too. It was just as good as something like THOR, which I also gave three knives to. It was good, but not great.

MA: I still found this one pretty satisfying, though.

LS: By the way, this is yet another movie where you have to sit through ten minutes of end credits to get to a “secret scene” at the end. Yet another piece of the puzzle leading us to next year’s AVENGERS movie. And it even includes a big preview of that upcoming movie. So, if you’re a fan, you might want to stick around. That said, I am getting SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO tired of having to sit through tons of boring credits every time I watch a Marvel movie.

MA:  Well, don’t stay. Nobody’s forcing you to stay until the very end. I for one like these end-credits surprises.

LS: I almost am starting to hate the “Marvel Secret Scene” as much as 3D. So, there!

MA: Okay. You obviously feel stronger about it than I do. Anyway, looks like our job is done here.

LS: Yeah, let’s wrap up the role-playing and get a beer. (They both take off their masks)

(The WOLFMAN returns, holding a beer in each hand. He hands one to LS and the other to MA.)

LS: Gee, thanks, Wolfy!

MA: But what are you going to drink?

(WOLFMAN looks at them with narrow menacing eyes.)

MA: Remember, you’re a werewolf, not a vampire!

LS: I don’t think that matters. (Points to MA) Remember, he’s the one who didn’t like your movie as much as I did.

(WOLFMAN howls, then growls ferociously before leaping over them, attacking and devouring a group of Nazi soldiers who’d been sneaking up behind them.)

MA: Looks like Captain America has a new ally. Hmm. A Marvel/Universal tie-in. I wonder?

LS: Shut up and drink your beer, already, before it gets warm!

—END—
© Copyright 2011 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER 3 knives

LL Soares gives CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER 3 knives

Quick Cuts: What’s Your Favorite GIANT BUG Movie? (Part 5 of 5)

Posted in 1950s Sci-Fi Films, 2011, Giant Insects, Giant Spiders, Mark Onspaugh Columns, Quick Cuts with tags , , on July 22, 2011 by knifefighter

QUICK CUTS (Part 5 of 5)

Summer is here, which means the bugs are back.  So, this time on QUICK CUTS, we’re asking, What’s your favorite giant bug movie?

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Our final answer comes from

MARK ONSPAUGH:

For me, THEM! (1954) is king… But I also love BEGINNING OF THE END (1957), a Bert I. Gordon wonder with Peter Graves (the entomologist) and Peggy Castle (the journalist). Together they find that an experiment to grow huge grain has also given a steroid boost to… grasshoppers!  Naturally the big fellahs are carnivorous, and have a creepy screech they make when attacking… One particularly grisly scene involves Frank, a deaf mute (Than Wyenn) silently screaming as he is attacked and devoured by a leviathan named Jiminy.

A “highlight” of the many low-budget effects is the use of postcards to stand in for the city of Chicago, where seemingly huge grasshoppers crawl up skyscrapers before being lured out into Lake Michigan to drown…

Also fun is THE DEADLY MANTIS (1957) from director Nathan Juran and featuring Craig Stevens (TV’s PETER GUNN) against a giant praying mantis that was frozen in the Arctic… The giant puppet mantis is actually pretty scary for the time… Until he flies – then he looks like some errant Rose Parade float with tiny, fluttering wings…  1957 was a banner year for bugs!

Quick Cuts: Favorite GIANT BUG Movies (Part 4 of 5)

Posted in 1950s Sci-Fi Films, 2011, Giant Insects, Giant Spiders, LL Soares Reviews, Quick Cuts with tags , , , , on July 21, 2011 by knifefighter

QUICK CUTS (Part 4 of 5)

Summer is here, which means the bugs are back.  So, this time on QUICK CUTS, we’re asking, What’s your favorite giant bug movie? 

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L.L. SOARES:

I am a huge fan of giant insects and spiders. I still say insects are some of the freakiest looking creatures on the planet – if you see pictures of them up close, they are so different from us they look like aliens! And while  a lot of giant bug movies have been silly, here are eight I really enjoyed (I wanted to just list five, but I didn’t want to leave any of these out).

1.      THEM!  (1954) – It looks like everyone has this one on their lists, and there’s a reason for that. THEM! Is the granddaddy of all giant bug movies – the standard that all others are going to be compared to. Even now. And it’s got impressive-looking giant ants (for the time), good acting, and a compelling story. The noise the ants make – alone – make this movie unforgettable. From the opening scene showing the aftermath of a monster ant attack, to the big finale under the streets of Los Angeles, this is a great movie. And it even has a drunken bum singing “Make me a sergeant in charge of the booze!” One of my favorite songs as a kid, thanks to multiple viewings of this movie.

2.      THE FLY (1958) – Sure the David Cronenberg remake from 1986 makes more sense from a scientific angle, and Cronenberg is one of my all-time favorite directors, but I still prefer the original version of THE FLY, even now. Sure it makes no logical sense why a man would have the giant head of a fly after a teleportation machine test goes wrong. It makes even less sense that the little fly that got into the machine would now have the tiny head of man, and be able to talk. But you’ll never be able to get this one out of your head. I still love the last scene best, where the tiny fly is trapped in a spider’s web and crying out “Help meeeee!” Vincent Price helps it by crushing it to death with a rock. Oh yeah, that’s another reason to love this one. Vincent Price is in it!

3.      THE MIST (2007) – We have no idea what kind of insects they are, because they’re from another dimension, but they are several kinds, they’re all ugly, and they want to kill you. THE MIST gets better every time I watch it, and I think it’s a modern classic, and one of the best Stephen King adaptations of all time. Directed by the great Frank Darabont and starring Thomas Jane. It has that super-depressing ending that so many people hate, but  I really dig this one.

4.      EMPIRE OF THE ANTS (1977) – Another great giant ant movie (you just can’t go wrong with giant ants!), although this one is kind of silly compared to THEM!. Directed by the king of giant critters, Bert I. Gordon (even his initials spell BIG), and starring Joan Collins as a sleazy con woman pulling off a real estate scam on an island where monster ants have taken over. This one is a lot of fun!

“Give us a kiss, Love!” – Joan Collins and “friend” from EMPIRE OF THE ANTS

5.    THE BLOOD BEAST TERROR (1968) – This is an unusual one. A woman pretending to be the daughter of Dr. Malinger (Robert Flemyng)  is actually a Death’s Head Moth that draws unsuspecting victims to their bloody deaths, like a moth to the flame! Often overlooked, this one is pretty cool, and I wanted to make sure to mention it here.

6.    THE DEADLY MANTIS  (1957) – Aside from the ants from THEM!, THE DEADLY MANTIS is probably the most formidable of the giant bugs. You actually believe this one could do some real damage. Besides, I just think praying mantises are pretty cool.

7.   THE BLACK SCORPION (1957) – Everyone mention giant spiders, but they often overlook this other cool arachnid – the giant SCORPION. In this one, giant scorpions attack New Mexico!

8.   TARANTULA  (1955) – Mad scientist Leo G. Carroll turns into a hideous freak during a lab accident. A giant tarantula he was experimenting on escapes from that same lab and won’t stop growing. Starring B-movie royalty – the great John Agar as Dr. Matt Hastings! And featuring a cameo at the end by a young Clint Eastwood as a fighter pilot who drops a load of napalm on the giant spider.

-END-