Friday, July 12, 2024

'70s Class: The Deep (1977)

 A Film so good that I'll have to review it twice!
This will make sense later- don't worry.

This is 1977's The Deep, the second Film adaptation of a Peter Benchley 1976 Novel.  You all know the first, I assume.  Amusingly, this was also the second BOOK that he wrote.

His third book, 1979's The Island, would be turned into his third Movie just a year later.

The Plot involves a Couple going out diving and finding a treasure that people will kill for!  Will they get enough help from a local Treasure Hunter to get rich without dying first.

The Cast is notable here, as this Film made Nick Nolte and Jacqueline Bisset into Stars.  It also features Robert Shaw in his third to last Film role and Eli Wallach as he was reaching 'truly grizzled' status.
Lastly, it features Louis Gossett (no Jr here, for some reason) less than a Decade before he'd appear in a Jaws Sequel.

How is the Film?  To find out, dive in...

A couple- Bisset and Nolte- go diving and see a wreck.  

While diving, something yanks on the woman's stick- used to grab objects- and she freaks out, swimming up quickly.

By the way, she does this all while wearing a see-through white blouse.  What an accident.
They find an old coin and a bottle, so they seek more information.

They are told by a local to talk to another man- Robert Shaw.

Nobody sees the Great and Mighty Shaw- not no one, not no how!
He doesn't offer lots of help, but it is something.

While driving back to the Hotel, they are pursued and then grabbed by some men.

They are working for Gossett, who earlier asked them about the bottle and offered to buy it.

Now he's not asking!
They meet back up with Shaw and go diving again.

They find more of the bottles- lots more!

What are they?  They are tiny vials of morphine, left over from the wreck of a Nazi ship.
Drug dealers do like free drugs on the bottom of the Ocean!
There is more to find than just a Deep Sea Pharmacy though.

The jewelry seems to be of Spanish origin, which they find out by reading books and looking at old paintings.

This was life before Google, kids- shudder in fear!
They find enough of the vials to keep the drug dealers/criminals at bay, while dealing with the dangers of diving.

This includes a bunch of sharks hitting their air lines and nearly killing Shaw!
Shaw's man Coffin (Wallach) makes a deal with Gossett when he think that he's going to be short-changed.
Well, you are now!
He betrays the group and lets Gossett's main man inside.

He faces off with a never-before-seen man named Kevin...who's Robert Tessier...with HAIR?!?
He's killed and this leads to Shaw blowing up Coffin when he learns of the betrayal.

He says that they have one last chance to get the provenance to prove their treasure's worth- after that he's going to blow up the wreck!

A battle under the sea ensues between Shaw and Gossett, which leads to Giant Eel Ex Machina to save the day.
It was what grabbed Bisset earlier.

In an oddly non-70s ending, they get the treasure and all survive.  The End.
A good Film, especially if you love Diving.  In the promotion, they made odd claims about how much of the Film is on, around or under the water.

Did you need to know that 60% of the Film is aquatic?  They sure thought so!
This Film was heavily promoted as well, getting a 'Making Of' TV Special, which another Film got that year- Star Wars!

All of this- plus Bisset in a wet t-shirt- worked with the Film outgrossing the other Film that came out that week- Exorcist II.

Your mileage here may vary, as so much of the appeal here is seeing the Underwater Footage, which was a big thing in the '70s.  It still looks great, but is it as exciting to us now with so much CGI?

Everyone acts well here, even if the Plot doesn't always leave time for them to react (or 'sell') the big events for too long.  Bisset, for instance, is traumatized by the bad guys...for one Scene.

All in all, the Film is good.  Director Peter Yates- of Krull fame- was a good fit.  All it needs is a freeze frame ending.  Perfect!

Next up, Fiction vs. Fiction returns with a bit of twist.  Let me cover a Film and...its Comic Adaptation.  Stay tuned...

Thursday, July 11, 2024

Tubi Thursday: Malatesta's Carnival of Blood (1973/2000)

 If you thought that Carnival of Souls was trippy and were right.
Now imagine it was made by H.G. Lewis while he was on Acid non-stop and you get...

The Film is about a Carnival.

It is run by a guy named Blood.
It is owned by a guy named Malatesta.

Sure- that all makes sense.

A couple work there, but have an ulterior motive- to find their missing son.
He went missing here, you see.

We also get a young Couple who wonder about the strange disappearances and get chased around.

Weirdly, they just kind of return to work the next day like nothing happened.

No survival instincts there!

The most common culprit is this weird guy named Stick Man.
He looks like a Zombie and stabs you with a stick.

Truth in advertising, I guess.

The Film just kind of meanders around following a woman who gets lost, the random cannibal hobos, Mr. Blood and, oh yeah, Herve Villechaize!

He randomly appears and then he's gone.
He returns later- don't worry.

Things are obviously not safe here, but, also, we never quite see anyone around.

Oh right- the Budget was like $1,000.

Who will live?
Who will die?
Will you be able to follow any of this?

To find out, stream it now or buy the...Blu-Ray?!?  Yes, this too got a Blu-Ray release.

This one...was strange.  It was very strange.

Some background first...
It was made and released in 1973.  It got a limited run at a Drive-In or two.  
Thanks to what they called disastrous audience feedback, the full release was scrapped and copies burned.

In spite of that, a copy was found in 2000 and put out on video.
This somehow got a Blu-Ray release in the last 5 years.

Positives- it has a weird and interesting vibe.  That will get you through a few of the plodding Scenes of strange people wandering around.
It has a neat feel- that will get you 40 minutes in- tops.

The problems arise when you try to judge this as a Film and not a fever dream.  I'm not sure that David Lynch could follow this!

As a one-time Filmmaker's effort with no money and a vague concept, I can't hate it.
As a Film that I'm trying to enjoy, I'm less thrilled.

On the plus side, Stick Man would go on to be a regular in the early years of Late Night With Conan O'Brien (no joke!)...

A bizarre Film that sure...exists.  Weirdos like me will get something out of this, but this is far more of a once-lost curiosity than a great Film.

Tuesday, July 9, 2024

My Crazy Youth: The Time that the DCAU Foreshadowed 'Invincible!'

 DC used to make some great animation back in the day.  From what I hear, they have managed to do some more of that lately with the new Superman Cartoon.

Full confession- I haven't seen any of it.

The Producers faced some challenges about using certain Characters in this Season.
In short, they couldn't use the expanded roster of Batman Characters due to Batman Begins (aka the Bat Embargo) and Aquaman was off the table due to his unsold Pilot in Production.

Looking back at their previous works, I found an Episode with some real accidental foreshadowing.

In Patriot Act, General Wade Eiling is stuck on menial tasks after trying to use the Government to usurp the Justice League.

It all happened in JLU Season 1 (check it out for more context).

He doesn't think that they were wrong, but Amanda Waller tells him to move on.
So he going back to Cadmus and stealing a formula.

The Episode's Cold Open showed us a hero called Spy Smasher (a DC Hero who got a Serial in 1942- beating Batman by a year and Superman by 6) stopping the Nazis from using a super serum.

In the Present, he takes the unstable formula and turns into a tusk-wielding behemoth!
Meanwhile, the Justice League- which basically includes every DC Hero they could license- is spread thin on missions, so a group of them have to take Superman's place in a parade.

The Group- Vigilante, Shining Knight, Stargirl, S.T.R.I.P.E. and Green Arrow- were picked for a few reasons.
Wade attacks and keeps demanding Superman to show up.  Like in the Supergirl Film, however, he's in another Galaxy!

As such, the powerless heroes- they all use tools and/or armor- must battle the metahuman threat.

Along the way, they get help from local kids to get people to safety.  They are a version of Jack Kirby's Newsboy Legion (who he'd write in the 1940s and 1970s)
With all hope lost, backup the form of Crimson Avenger and Speedy (Green Arrow's former sidekick).

This was done to complete the full line-up of the 7 Soldiers of Victory (just using new versions- like replacing Starman with Stargirl- of the characters).

Ultimately, they can't stop the mad General.

Thankfully, the crowd points out that his fear of metahumans as the real threat is ironic, since he is now one.

He concedes and leaves...sadly never to get a wrap-up (in the Show, at least).
A really good Episode.  It has a good Plot, strong Action and great Characterization.
As mentioned, they had limitations on who they could use.

They sure made the most of it, however, giving many Characters like this a time to shine.  The Legion of Superheroes and Mike Grell's Warlord- among others- also got the spotlight.

This is a good example of changing a Character Background in a great way.  General Wade Eiling becomes this Character in the Comics, but it involves lots of back story, another team of Villains and the continuity of a Silver Age Monster known as The Shaggy Man for it to happen.

I like this version just fine.
Full confession again- I also love Green Arrow in this Show, so I'm a bit biased when he gets to shine.

Why do this Episode though, you may be wondering.

Well, General Eiling is voiced by JK Simmons, who would go on to become Omni-Man, another super-powered guy with a mustache who had a habit of trying to kill other Superheroes.

I'm sure it is just a coincidence, but it is a fun one nonetheless.

JK Simmons was clearly born to play mustachioed superhumans in Cartoons.  I think that this proves it.

Monday, July 8, 2024

Shudder Day: Vacation of Terror (1989)

 Let me end my Birthday Weekend with a bit of silly, imported Horror.

This comes to us from Rene Cardona III, the last (AFAIK) man in the line of Directors that gave us Films of various (but usually dubious) quality between 1930 and 2018.

That's a legacy!

A young guy uncovers an artifact at an old site and trades his portable tape player (this Film isn't dated at all!) for it.

What he doesn't know is that it came from a Woman who was burned at the stake as a Witch.
Around the same time, his Girlfriend's Uncle inherits an old home from his late Aunt.

He takes the whole family- himself, the Wife, 2 Sons, a Daughter and his Niece- to it to enjoy the Weekend.
The kids play around outside and the Daughter falls into what looks like a well.
She's not hurt- why do you ask?

She finds a doll.
This will shock you, so make sure that you're sitting down when you read this.

The doll turns the girl evil and begins to wreak havoc.
I mean, though, it's just an evil doll.

It's not like it could make the walls bleed, inflict internal trauma, throw knives around the room and, I don't know, control cars from a distance like some sort of vehicular voodoo doll.

There's no need to SPOIL this one- you know what is going to happen.

If you want to see it for yourself though, I encourage it.
It is silly.
It is melodramatic.
It is a pretty stock Plot and execution.

If you're new to Horror, everything will come as a nice surprise to you.
For everyone else, you can see all of the beats coming.

That said, I did enjoy this Film.  It treats everything straight- that's the best way to do something so silly.
This same Plot could be done- for instance- by a Comedy Group like Broken Lizard and people would eat it up as Satire.

For me, something this silly- a Witch's spirit inhabits a doll to kill people for no clear reason- is best when treated as sacred.

Also, worth nothing- Julio- the young Lead- is basically just Ash Williams here, just without the roguish charm and charisma.

The only downside for me here is the Actress playing Paulina is just screaming and cowering for 90% of the Third Act.  When she finally does something else, it feels a bit phony.
She doesn't 'gain courage' or 'suck it up'- she's just reached the point when she's supposed to do something.

However, I still enjoyed this one, so don't get burned up at my mild critique.

A silly Film that works for people who enjoy the accidentally funny Films.  It sure was nice of Cardona III to make this one a tribute to Cardona I.

Saturday, July 6, 2024

Streaming Standard: A Quiet Place- Part II

 A watch/review I meant to get up before the new Film came out.  Life got in the way.

Let's take a SPOILER-FREE look at the Sequel while you ponder whether or not to see the Prequel.

The Film begins with a Flashback to how it all began for our Heroes/Heroines.

I guess this part did so well that people demanded a full Film like this perhaps?
This gives us a brief look at life before everything changed and more of a look at the creatures.

Did I miss the point in both Films that they are called 'Death Angels' or is that just from the new Film?
The Film proper follows our Leads as they leave the Farm to spread the word about how to defeat the creatures.

I was getting real 'Walking Dead Episodes where they follow the train tracks' vibes, but thankfully this isn't spread out nearly as long.
They find that the creatures- whatever they are called- aren't the only danger, as they walk into a trap.

However, it turns out to be someone they knew before things got all terrible.
The Plot splits when the Daughter- who is deaf- is convinced to follow a radio signal.  
The man they met- Cillian Murphy- reluctantly goes with her to keep her safe.

Back at the other place, keeping a baby quiet and safe in this World proves to be just as difficult.

To find out what happens, stream it now.
A solid Film that builds upon the same formula and expands it a bit.

To start with, the Flashback Intro is really good.  If that really was the reason to greenlight a Prequel, I get it.
The creatures get time to shine and the chaos is well-orchestrated.

What's also nice here is that plenty of Characters get Arcs here.
The Daughter is the most obvious one, as her confidence is tested and maybe she learns to be careful too.
The Son gets to go from a familial liability to a brave helper.
Cillian's Arc is a mixed one, as it is the fairly standard 'Survivor who has suffered loss' one.  No need to reinvent the wheel, I suppose.

Part of me thought at first that having him as the reluctant Father Figure was a bit lazy, but he's so good that I got over it.

All in all, this does what a Sequel should do.  It expands the Story and Setting, it has bigger moments, and it leaves you wanting to see more.

Just don't SPOIL the new one for me now.

A good Sequel that seemed to fly under the radar a bit.  Why did that...oh right, COVID.

Friday, July 5, 2024

Al's Birthday Review: The Trial (1962)

Hey, everyone - it's Bob, back for another of Al's requested birthday reviews. This one was rather less painful than some of the others, though make no mistake, I'm still left pretty mystified by this one - just more pleasantly mystified than the usual.

This time, Al's got me looking at The Trial, Orson Welles' 1962 film based on Franz Kafka's Der Process, starring Anthony Perkins, with Welles himself in a major role.

The Trial is the tale of Josef K, a man who stands accused of...something. No one will quite tell him what it is, often just responding with questions or advice about what to do while Josef just wants to know what it is he's even being accused of and marvels at the strange, arcane, and often seemingly corrupt processes of the courts and law. Mystified and offended by the situation in which he finds himself, Josef desperately tries to find a way to free himself from the shadow now hanging over his life as his mental state becomes increasingly erratic and distressed. It is framed by a sort of fairy tale, which opens the film in full and is later recounted in part to Josef near the end, about a man seeking admittance to The Law who is stopped by a guard and lives out his life unsuccessfully trying to gain entry, only for the guard to finally tell him that only the man could ever have entered the door but the guard is now closing it. So, you know, one of those cheery and easily understood fairy tales.

The plot of the film proper is deeply confusing, necessarily so, as Josef's confusion - and therefore the viewer's - is central to the entire experience of the film. The film is quite aggressive about never providing any true, concrete answers to what is going on, and simply bizarre events will happen on a fairly regular basis, whether that's Josef being arrested but allowed to just go about his daily life just fine, or Josef suddenly finding officers that he'd accused of soliciting bribes being flogged in a closet at his workplace, or Josef discovering that a painter's dilapidated shack is actually attached to the court records room, then fleeing from a horde of young girls through an inexplicable tunnel system. Time frequently skips forward a considerable distance with no real announcement of that fact, as well.

Ordinarily, I'd regard these as significant failings of filmmaking, but somehow with The Trial, they are just part of the experience. Similarly, there are other clearly intentional bits of awkwardness, such as people frequently talking over each other, and moments where characters inspect something clearly important to the plot but we aren't shown a bit of it...and again, these are clearly a part of the style of the film, not errors, and I can't really complain about them as they succeed in what they're designed to do, which is create one heck of an unsettling atmosphere.

The Trial is unnerving and disorienting at all times, succeeding in setting its mood by never once letting a scene get comfortable. The moment that you start to feel you understand a scene and are able to fully follow it, the movie immediately throws in a strange event or odd twist. Oh, you're settling in to a bit where Josef is chatting about his case with a nurse working for his lawyer? Well, by the way, there's another client just living in the maid's room. Getting used to the inspector's mannerisms while he's questioning Josef? Well, here's three of Josef's work associates hanging out in his neighbor's bedroom for no adequately explained reason. Okay with Josef talking with his uncle about the possibility of using a computer to figure out his alleged crime, itself kind of a weird concept? Here's an officer being flogged and apologizing to Josef for the noise, then putting tape over his own mouth to quiet down. The words "well, that just happened" will come to your mind a lot in this film.

And it's excellent.

I can't say I truly understood what was going on, but my goodness, this was good. From the setting to the mood to the sound to the acting, it's all great. I have to give particular praise to Anthony Perkins, playing Josef, who just does an absolutely incredible job showing a mix of determination, confusion, righteous indignation, and a gradual descent into confused panic and distress, including multiple scenes where he just entirely breaks down in a panic attack so convincingly I would've been deeply worried for him if I'd been on set. He's terrific, and that's a darn good thing since he's in almost every single shot of the movie - which helps to keep us confused, of course, but also binds us to him in a way that makes us deeply sympathetic of Josef, who is just as confused and disoriented as we are. It's a lot of ask of a single actor, and Perkins is more than equal to the challenge.

As for the others - everyone fulfills their role to the fullest. Welles is great and excellently erratic as Josef's strange and domineering lawyer, who seems to do little for his clients but verbally abuse them but insists that it is better than the alternative. The variety of more minor characters that Josef meets are always played well, with a slightly off-kilter style that leaves the viewer constantly in at least slight discomfort even in the most calm scenes. It always feels like someone is leaving something unsaid, something so deeply important that if you just heard it, it would reveal everything to you and to Josef, but no one will. No surprise, then, that Josef gets increasingly distressed through the film.

What does it all mean? Honestly, I think it'd take more than one viewing for me to adequately theorize about it in any detail (surprisingly, this is one I'd actually be willing to watch again to try to figure it out, though). Perhaps a metaphor for life in general, I think? A study on the strange and often arcane intricacies of human life, and the nature of guilt and innocence? Or perhaps more direct, a critique of just how the law functions, how lost ordinary people can be in a system that protects the powerful - there is, to be certain, a lot in this film about the high magistrates being out of Josef's reach and out of the reach of those who work with him, with the authorities he does meet being referred to as smaller, and Josef, especially towards the end, questions the entire concept of judgment of humans by humans. That is probably the clearest element of the film, an almost sarcastic prodding of the legal system and its treatment of the ordinary people who get caught up in its machinations and corruptions.

Perhaps, as well, it is about how humans can get so wrapped up in their own self-assurance that they avoid that which could help them - frequently, Josef refuses to follow advice he is given - whether to immediately present a paper, or to confess and seek help, or to take an "ostensible acquittal" which will, at least, restart the cycle from the beginning again and again, or to plead lunacy, or more, even casting aside a priest's outreach. He also brushes aside the concerns of family, and seems to value his ambitions at the office - or at least, a fear of being fired - over caring for his cousin in town or visiting with his uncle. He sometimes seems to be right in his actions, sometimes wrong, but Josef always seems to be driven by his thought on what should be happening, his path forward, rarely - though not never - willing to truly take advice from another.

I won't go into the ending - not that I'm sure it would qualify as spoilers when I'm not sure I can describe what happens in a way that ascribes it meaning that will make perfect sense - other than to say that it seems to reflect a theme of Josef's rejection of judgment and refusal to simply obey and follow a system he does not agree with or understand - in this case, a positive, though one that perhaps makes little difference.

My apologies if the above makes little sense - honestly, The Trial is quite a difficult film to describe because it's a difficult film to comprehend. What I can say with clarity, however, is that it is good. It is excellently put together, excellently acted, and difficult because it is intended to be difficult, rather than through some flaw of the filmmaking. It's deeply perplexing and left me more than a little lost quite frequently, but at the same time, it's undoubtedly an achievement of filmmaking and probably the best film Al has had me watch for one of these. Brilliant and artistic, if utterly opaque, it's one I will definitely praise but perhaps find difficult to truly recommend, if that makes any sense.

If it doesn't, well, perhaps I've just put you in the right mindset for The Trial.

Happy Birthday, Al.

Wednesday, July 3, 2024

Is it Bad?: Beverly Hills Cop III (1994)

 Just in time for my Birthday, the Beverly Hills Cop Franchise is back.

Why has it been absent for 30 years?

To find out, let's check out the previous one...

Beverly Hills Cop III.

It is supposedly too serious.
It is supposedly too silly.
Did Eddie Murphy really try?
Was John Landis the best pick?

Is it bad though?

Pro: While the Film is still an Action-Comedy, it tries to be more.  Axel is motivated by the death of his Captain here, with Murphy showing legit emotions.

Con: Many people point to the tonal whiplash here, given the funny setup before.
I'm not that bothered by it myself though.
Con: The lack of Taggart here to round out the Comedic Trio.

Mind you, there's a complicated answer for that- basically the Script was rejected, he had to do another project and then wasn't available- and it is unfortunate.

That said, Hector Elizondo does fine in his place.  Is it the same?
Pro: Putting Axel in a Theme Park makes for a good Fish out of Water Story.

A little more time in Detroit would have really sealed the deal though.

This is the only one in the Franchise (so far, at least) that doesn't feature a Strip Club Scene too.
Pro: The Plot is *gasp* not a convoluted affair.

I love the Original, but its Plot involved bearer bonds, an Art Gallery and random stuff.
The second one features Robberies with a fake Theme that are something something gun running.

This one features some sort of criminal affair in a Disney World/Universal Studios pastiche.  I can explain it in one sentence.
Pro: Serge is back.  His replacement in Part 2 was still fine, but it feels like a Beverly Hills Cop Film with him in it.

His Character takes a silly, but logical turn here, as well as serving as the Film's Q.

Con: According to Bronson Pinchot, he's reacting here to Director John Landis and not Murphy, who he claims was depressed (about his career) and the stand-in was easier.

Mind you, you'll only notice that now because I just told you.
Pro: The Film makes full use out of the unique setting, with Foley having to be disguised at points, as well as interacting with Park Guests (including George Lucas).

They also use an Attraction for an Action Scene later and use the empty Park at night for the finale.
Pro: It is still a Beverly Hills Cop Film, and he still has clashes with an outside Authority Figure (just not his dead Boss or the missing Ronnie Cox).

Con: They do kind of repeat this alot, don't they?

Pro: It works, right?  Plus, it is Stephen McHattie!
Con?: The Film double-dips on aged friend shot for pathos here.  Granted- the second one doesn't die.

This apparently has confused Mr. Murphy, as he spoke about his motivation in 'the last one' was 'Uncle Dave being shot.'  I guess he forgot the beginning.

Granted- it has been 30 years.

Pro: The Film does make good use of Axel- and not someone else- being framed for a crime in Act 3.  In addition, it gives us a Cameo-fest that features Arthur Hiller, Forrest J. Ackerman and Ray Harryhausen!
Pro: The Film gets really creative with the finale, with Characters outside in the Park, running through the Tunnels and interacting with the Attractions.

It's a bit obvious when they show us Alien Attack (a retrofitted Earthquake Attraction) in full earlier that it will come up later.

Serge's ridiculous gun is a fun prop too.
Con: Supposedly Murphy wanted to be taken more seriously as an Action Star, so the Film's finale ends with him wounded- as Reinhold and Elizondo.

I know that lots of people don't like the idea of the Film ending at Wonder World either, but it does still give us the proper freeze frame ending.

What's Good?
The Film still feels like a proper Beverly Hills Cop Film.  You can say that things look too bright, or it is not as funny, but you can't deny how it feels.
The Action is good here and they make great use of the setting(s).
A small thing I like- they use multiple remixes of 'Axel F,' which is fun.
The returning Characters are nice here and the new ones- especially Timothy Carhart as Ellis DeWald.  He has that same punchable face and vibe as William Atherton.

What's Bad?
The Film isn't quite as funny as the other 2, with less of the defining moments of the previous Films.  Despite being the most recent one, it is the least remembered.
The lack of Taggart here is disappointing- no question.
The attempts to make the Film more grounded at times is certainly a choice that many people don't like.


Is It Bad?

Objectively, the Film is fine.  It isn't amazing, but it is not bad.
Will it be your favorite in the Franchise?
Perhaps not.

I can't be mad at any Film with a Cameo from Julie Strain...

She's 'Annihilator Girl'
...and Al Leong.
as 'Uncredited Car Mechanic.'

Next time, should I go right to the obvious green target?  I think so.