Saturday, June 29, 2013

Rare Flix: Ghost Chase

G-g-g-g-gosh, this is not that good.  Today's film is Ghost Chase, one of the first (English) films of one Roland Emmerich.  Yes, before he was blowing up the White House (at least twice!) and ending the world as we know it, he was making pseudo-E.T. rip-offs.  Unlike other films like Mac and Me or Nukie, this one is a bit more subtle.  It has a tiny, freaky creature, but it's not an alien.  I'll get into this thing's bizarre origin a bit later.  What you need to know is that this film is very, very '80s.  On one hand, it gives it a kitschy vibe.  On the other hand, it's just plain silly.  The plot, naturally, involves some ghosts, Hollywood and one of the creepiest things designed to appeal to kids.  It's makes this weird movie about the guy in the bear suit look...well, that's still creepy.  Sorry, Gooby.  While Emmerich's film appears to be tanking, see why that probably makes sense...
Our heroes are a pair of amateur filmmakers.  They need to make a hit film in order to pay their comedically-large pile of bills.

However, one of the 'bills' is actually a note telling one of them that their Grandfather died and that they have inherited something.
Instead of money, it turns out to be a box of junk.  Of course, if it is junk, why is someone sending a comedic henchman out to steal it?
 The villain is Paul Gleason, who is far too good for this film.  He plays disdain so well here that you'd almost think that he was Directing it towards the production.  We miss you, Paul.
As it turns out, one of the items in the box is an old clock that summons a spirit at 1 AM.  As luck (and weird writing) would have it, one of our heroes built an animatronic figurine of the Butler (with what money exactly?) and the Ghost of said Butler possesses it.

I don't know- just go with it.
I won't go into detail about the context of this shot, but I just found it funny.
Eventually, they find the Grandfather's body and where he stashed his money.  He didn't want them to have it, so he's a little bit peeved when his Grandson and *sort of* Butler show up.  Send in the Knight!
Our heroes stop the Knight and get the money, but the Ghost Butler/Animatronic Figurine dies...or whatever the closest approximation to that is.  I'm...sad?
In the aftermath, the goofy friend is made the head of the Studio and this film suddenly rushes to the finish by exposition-dumping the key events via newspapers.
They drive off to live their dreams as they drive past the billboard of infamous flop Allan Quartermain and the Lost City of Gold.

Oh and the Ghost Butler/Animatronic Figure is still alive, despite 'getting peace' and his body being blown up in the house.  If I was expecting logic by now...well, I wouldn't be.  The End.
Ghosts are not that funny.  The best word to describe this movie is 'wacky.'  Unfortunately, it's that word and not 'good.'  There's a certain, goofy charm to this whole thing.  As many people online have pointed out though, it's not that well made.  Simple sight gags like our hero crashing his bike into a fence or the girl doing the 'pouring coffee while not looking' bit are just not shot and/or edited well.  There's an art to shooting this stuff and Emmerich doesn't have it (at this time, at least).  They just aren't done well and that's just one of the film's problems.  I don't know why, but the humor is sometimes overly-explained.  When you have to explain a joke, it's not funny- something everyone knows.  For example, our hero grabs some 'paper' to light to see in the Vault, which turns out to be a bank note for $50,000.  When he quickly puts it out, he asks his friend 'Did you see that?'  He replies 'Yes, I just saw you burn $50,000.'  Wow, that's literally what just happened. For those of you just joining the film 78 minutes in and missing the set-up, here you go!  It's still a better joke than 'Well, that's what killed Vaudeville.'  Seriously, I don't get that joke like two years later!  In summary, this is worth checking out for fans of the obscure- like me.  If you aren't, you may not like it.  It's very '80s and I know that it is a selling point to some.  If you qualify, work on your Rubix Cube and enjoy.  As for me, I'll be watching *better* films (that are actually promoted within this one)...
Next up, I begin Project Terrible with a silly slice of the 1980's.  When your show can't be sold, make it a cheesy TV Movie instead!  Stay tuned...

Friday, June 28, 2013

Fiction vs. Fiction: Empire of the Ants

After a recent screening of Empire of the Ants at the Tampa Theater, I thought 'maybe I should read this cheap, paperback copy of a Book with the story in it.'  Did I mention that I bought a cheap, paperback copy of a Book with the story in it?

Oh, well, I did.

In this new segment, I am going to diagram the difference between the original Book versions of stories and their usually-vastly-different Film versions.  Why not start here?
In the Film, a group of potential home-buyers go to an Island.  Unfortunately, there are giant Ants there- thanks to a toxic spill.

In the Short Story, a small ship is sent to South America to stop an outbreak of vicious Ants.  They're not gigantic- just mean as hell.
In the Third Act of the Film, they discover that the Giant Ants have taken over a nearby town and control them with pheromones shot from the Queen's thorax.  They blow up the Ants and live to fight another day.  The End.

In the Climax of the Book, one of the men goes on board, gets bitten and dies.  The Captain sends the boat back to get more help.  The End.
So yeah, the Book Version and the Film are VERY different.  There are zero Giant Ants, zero people being eaten and no Ant Pheromone Mind-Control.  I was expecting *some* of that to show up in the Story, but it doesn't.  So by 'Based on the Book 'Empire of the Ants,'' Bert I. Gordon just meant 'It is about Ants.'  Thanks, Bert.

Hmm...I wonder if I should read 'The Howling' books next? 

Thursday, June 27, 2013

#4 With Opera: The Phantom Lover

The Music of the Night apparently translates into Mandarin!  Today's film is The Phantom Lover, yet another version of The Phantom of the Opera.  People must really see something in this story!  In the last four years, I've covered a few different versions of the tale, including one by Dario Argento, one with Robert Englund, one set in a Mall and one that's a Disco musical.  It's been almost four years since I've done a Phantom film.  Why the wait?  No reason, really.  I just haven't.  There are still a few juicy ones out there to cover, including a pseudo-sequel *not* written by Andrew Lloyd Webber.  Yeah, he made his own.  So what's unique about this film?  For one, this was made in China.  Secondly, it has a very operatic feel to it, making it a mid-point between stuff like the horror versions (i.e. Hammer's) and the Gerard Butler film.  This one is *very* pretentious and very arty.  Since it's too late to give it to Bob to review, I'll just dive right in...
The film has a main plot and lots of flashbacks.  They tint the flashback bits, which helps, but the DVD version is a bit washed out already.  So yeah, not easy to follow.

Basically, a new Theater troupe comes into town and buys up a vacant building with a history.
Thankfully, a mysterious and not-at-all suspicious man is there to help them.  I'm looking for a Phantom- have you see one?
Since this is an Opera, they do the equivalent of a Bollywood film and just stop to perform.  If I wanted to watch an Opera, I'd...just end things on my own, thank you.
As it turns out, this guy was a great Actor and got too close to this woman engaged to this rich guy's son.  They doused his face in acid and set the place ablaze.  Why not shoot him too while you're at it?
It all got covered up and he would have gotten away with it if it weren't for you meddling Opera Performers!

Actually, he did get away with it.  Oh, I see.
This Phantom guy looks totally trustworthy, right?  I mean, the Dr. Doom (movie version) outfit alone inspires trust.  In spite of all of this, he seems to have some sort of plan.
Not wanting to have his lady oggled by a SECOND lead in an Opera Company, the man's son goes on the offensive.  After he beats the lady in the streets, it's hard to imagine where my loyalties lie.
In a surprisingly-tame finale, the Phantom just kind of shows up and says 'Can we just leave in peace?'  'Well, I was trying to kill you five minutes ago, so..."
'Of course you can!  Leave in peace.  After all, my son is dead- at your hands.'

Seriously, that's it!  He just lets them leave and she apparently just died some time later.  The End.
Eh, it wasn't for me.  This is not a bad movie.  The big thing is that it just tries to be this big, romantic epic.  That's all well and good...for someone else.  I guess I should have expected this, to be honest.  As it is, it's a film that I recommend for people that go for it.  For non-Opera fans, there's some good performances, it's shot well and The Phantom looks mysterious and all.  Ultimately though, he's just some guy.  I didn't expect him to be some sort of Spy or Super-Villain, but him being some love-struck Opera Performer is kind of a letdown for me.  If you like the tone and the music, you'll like the film overall.  If you're a bigger fan of the Horror-styled versions, you will not be.  Like I said, it's by no means a bad movie.  It's just not my kind of movie.  I do have to laugh when the Menu just starts playing the Music though...
Next up, a film to consider for any of you planning to see White House Down.  Before he was blowing shit up, Roland Emmerich was making ghosts take over puppets!  Stay tuned...

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

My Crazy Youth: That Time Batman Fought Giant Bugs and a Farmer!

Howdy, boys and girls!  Deep into the fourth and final season of Batman: The Animated Series, some weird ideas were slipping in.  They changed from Fox to Kids WB, which allowed them more freedom to do darker and stranger stuff.  They got some minor accomplishments done, like finally being able to use Firefly.  Fox says 'no fire' (really!), but WB says 'go for it.'  'Mad Love' has some innuendo and implied violence to a female (from a man)- you're in!  In trying these newly-free ideas, they also did some odd stuff.  There's a partnership/romance between two villains that I just won't SPOIL (assuming you don't remember) and this story...which I will.  The late Steve Gerber wrote some very weird, anti-establishment stuff like Man-Thing and Howard the Duck (both of which got shit films).  In fact, he wrote two of the three aforementioned stories, plus today's one.  Critters is one of the most divisive episodes of the series and with good reason- it's weird as hell!  On top of that, it goes against the darker, grittier tone that the series had already established.  Oddly enough, it's for this reason that it's the only episode on its Disc to get a Commentary by the people behind it- minus Gerber.  They defend it as being like an episode of the Adam West Batman show, which I kind of get.  It's still weird as hell though.  To find out why this episode bothers so many and why its villain is usually considered to be *the worst* created for the show, read on...
A man named Farmer Brown shows off his giant, genetically-modified cow in Gotham.  However, much like Kong, it's angered by the flash bulbs of the cameras and rampages.
Farmer Brown is told to never make his 'monsters' again, but vows (to the camera, mind you) to return with some 'real monsters.'  Oh boy.
One year later, very large Praying Mantises appear in the city and wreak havoc.  Their bodies break down while Batman is fighting them, because...science.  Still not the weirdest science to come.

Oh and it's only now that I caught Bruce Wayne 'blinking'  Not intentional- honest.
Brown likes to live a rural-looking life, but is really some super-rich scientist who lives on a private island.  He'd make a great villain in a trashy '70s Horror film, that's for sure.
More creatures attack Gotham in the form of giant birds (crows- I guess) and steer.  They work in all of the 'bull jokes' that you'd expect, including one of the beasts smashing into a China Store.

By the way, are those still a thing?  I'm really asking here.
In the episode's craziest bit, Brown sends a mutated goat to Gotham to deliver a ransom message.  The goat actually talks!  Gordon's face sums it up well, I think.

It's worth it to watch with the Commentary on just to hear the Producers/Writers try to explain this event too.  Gold!
Oh yeah, his daughter is super-strong due to 'beef steroids.'  This also makes Batgirl's flying kick *bounce* off of her.  There's being filled with muscle and then there's being filled with metal.  They are not the same!
 My biggest gripe is that Brown briefly fights Batman and seems amazingly-competent.  He's one of the rare one-off villains to do.

Oh and he also hears Batman sneak attack him.  Bullshit, I say!
To complete the live-action Batman feel, the pair catch our heroes and stick them in a death trap (a rocket pod filled with soon to hatch eggs) and walk away to celebrate.  For a genius, you're kind of an idiot.  Especially when you consider that *his own* creatures knock open the door, allowing his plan to be stopped and him to be defeated.
Personally, I don't hate it.  That said, when seeking material for this segment, I was reminded of this episode.  I remember seeing it as a teen and being confused.  Watching it as an adult, I find it more humorous and a bit less polarizing.  Teenage me was like 'Why is Batman fighting an evil Farmer and giant bugs?'  Adult me is like 'Batman is fighting an evil Farmer and giant bugs- weird.'  I question things a lot less these days.  The episode still stands out as an odd one- there is just no getting around it.  Farmer Brown might be a more palatable villain for some if more was done with him.  Unless he appeared in the Animated Series comic line that DC put out, this is his only appearance.  Because of this, he appears pretty one-dimensional and gimmicky.  The Producers compare him to villains created exclusively for the 1960's live-action series like The Bookworm, Egghead (who's also a Marvel villain BTW) and others.  That's probably not the best company to keep, even if said villains were played by great actors on the show.  Looking back at it, the show overall was full of weird stuff.  Remember the Old West Episode based around Ra's Al Ghul narrating a tale of Jonah Hex?  Remember the episode with Mr. Freeze and an obvious version of Walt Disney?  Remember that episode based on Freaks?  The difference is that those were played really straight, while this one goes for the laughs more often than not.  I think Batman's impossibly-narrowing eyes tell the tale best.
Next up, we return to Spider-Man with a complicated and goofy revenge tale.  Can you get revenge on people you've never been shown meeting before?  Stay tuned...

Monday, June 24, 2013

R.I.P. The Master of Literary and Film Fright

The world is now a less interesting place.  After 87 glorious years, we are bereft of a great mind...
Richard Matheson played a major role in the world of Horror/Sci-Fi Cinema.  With just one work, he put around a dozen films in motion.  That work: 'I Am Legend.'
This book led to a number of films, including The Last Man on Earth, I Am Legend (with Will Smith), The Omega Man, I Am Omega (Hi, Asylum!) and Romero's Dead Series.

Would we have Zombie Films (in their classic form) without Matheson?  Maybe, but not in the same way.

On top of that, Matheson wrote many Screenplays.  Among those films are...
 ****
 ****
   ****
****
You want to know how varied Matheson's works have been?  He is a Credited Writer on Jaws 3 and this film...
With this and Harryhausen's recent death, we are in a sad time.  Let's hope that some of the other greats in the industry can hold out for a while.  I won't *dare* mention any names, lest I give them my infamous bad luck.

Rest in Peace, Mr. Matheson.  Your work lives on and will always live on.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Turning Korean: A*P*E

I just had to see this thing again.  To many people, A*P*E is the Plan 9 of Giant Ape Films.  Is that accurate though?  In a lot of good ways, I'd say 'yes.'  Plan 9 From Outer Space is hysterical, even if its supposed to be a serious space epic.  In fact, that's what makes it so funny.  A*P*E is played pretty straight, which works to its ironic benefit.  On top of that, both films feature a useless scene or two with military brass, silly sub-plots and an amazingly-tepid 'romance for the ages.'  The film's effects are almost always laughable.  There's maybe one scene that isn't transparently fake, so I will highlight that later.  Made to cash in on the potential success of Dino's King Kong, the film was a bomb- both of them.  The film suffered in a way that many Asylum films have, latching themselves on to what they hope will be a hit.  Fortunately, this film has taken on a life of its own a la such anti-classics as Blood Freak and the aforementioned Plan 9.  It is chock full of hilarious bits (which weren't meant to be) and ridiculous Writing.  Even little things like thanking the Army in the Credits is done poorly, as it stays on-screen for what feels like an eternity.  To misquote MST3K- "They're thanking the hell out of them!"  If you still haven't seen this thing,
The film opens with two guys on a boat with the titular Ape.  I'm already getting flashbacks to the Plan 9 Gravediggers...

They exposit how the Ape was captured in Harlem (to make it seem like a Kong sequel) and is being shipped to Disneyland.  No, really.
In the scene that the U.S. poster heavily promotes, the creature kills a giant shark.  In reality, a guy in an Ape suit flails a dead, toothless shark around.  Oh, hi PETA.
Now somehow in Korea (check your maps), the Ape smashes up a building because...um, it's there.  This sets up the first of many, stupid 3-D shots and the film nearly lighting their suit performer on fire.

Fortunately, the suit was probably 80% Asbestos.  No downside there.
Highlights of the beast's rampage include his meeting with a toy cow (which you must see) and him interrupting a Kung-Fu movie shoot.  When he attacks, the crew does the only logical thing: fire their fake weapons at it.
 Another is this horrible Actor doing the 'look at the devastation' bit.  It's funny because it's done *three times in a row,* done with cheap model sets on fire and features this guy's silly mug.
The best one, however, is this hang-glider pilot somehow NOT SEEING the 36-foot Ape in front of him.  You really failed your Vision Check!
Seriously, this bit with him walking around the city is the best thing that they do.

It's important to highlight a film's achievements, even if they are minor and silly.
These two are a riot if you like bad Acting and just general deadpan humor.  They question everything up until they are *allegedly* near the Ape.  I
After a long, drawn-out bit of real tanks, toy tanks and Styrofoam rocks (they were all the rage back then), the Ape is killed.  Even his bloody death is in 3-D- nice!
Oh and that romance story ends with them talking about getting married.  It's like that old expression goes: It takes a giant Ape to bring two people together.
Everything about this movie is bad- hurray!  Seriously, as an actual film, it sucks.  The romance is dull, the action is laughable and the whole plot would barely fill a Post-It Note.  'Ape runs around Korea.  Movie star has romance in Korea.  Military does shit.  Ape dies.'  That said, the movie is a sure candidate for So Bad It's Good Cinema.  It's funny as hell and was practically made to be riffed.  If you want a film to watch and mock with your friends, this one is a gold-mine.  It is definitely the Plan 9 of Killer Ape Films.  Do yourself a favor and give this one a look.  If you've seen it before, just see it again.  I can tell you from personal experience that it only gets funnier.  Take us away, 3-D shot.
Next up, let's stay in Asia for a familiar subject: The Phantom.  Will the 'music of the night' translate to Mandarin?  Stay tuned...