Wednesday, July 31, 2019

'70s Class?: The Hellstrom Chronicle

At least this one delivers on all of the bugs that it promised me!  This is The Hellstrom Chronicle, a 1972 Documentary that actually won an Oscar!  1972 was a strange year for the Oscars as The French Connection won big & (no joke) Shaft and Bedknobs & Broomsticks were competing in the same Category!  The 4 other Films this beat out sound interesting, but also have the barest of bare Wikipedia pages.  I guess history wins out, as this one at least has some background stuff and a full Plot Synopsis.  On top of that, this one inspired a Frank Herbert Book!  So what is this Film and why am I covering it?  It's a Film telling us about the inevitable loss that we as a species will face.  It tells us that we will one day lose to the most innocuous of Species- the Insects!  Should I get rid of all my RAID and other bug spray then to appease my eventual overlords?  So yeah, this one sounds silly.  What's great about it is that it is so self-serious.  It believes and you should too- dammit!  I mean, I don't...but alright.  This Film features lots of interesting nature footage and it sure has lots of things being killed.  If you can't watch The Discovery Channel, don't watch this.  For the rest of you, let's see whether this Oscar winner is a joke or no joke...
The Title comes from the name of the man behind the Film (seen below).
This is him.

He's kind of an asshole, but does have a backstory involving the loss of some fellowships and jobs for his beliefs.

Given his hair, does he look more like young Bernie Sanders or Larry David?
As I said, this Film is about how Insects will one day be the dominant species.

So, naturally, he spends 5-10 minutes talking about killer plants that exclusively target Insects.
Later on, he uses giant-sized props to show how dangerous Insects are.

His main thesis- Insects are born perfect and ready to do their part.
...so naturally, he segues from that to talking about how other Insects go through metamorphosis to become complete creatures halfway through their life-cycle.

Was this really the BEST Documentary of 1971?
Don't get me wrong- the Film is chock full of facts.  It just can't ever do things quite right.

For instance, he talks about how Locusts adapt to the poisons we use to kill them.  To demonstrate, he uses this obvious Actor to play a Farmer and tell us that...again!
For the sake of space, I'm glossing over how much Hellstrom loves Bees and seems to hate individuality.

In the final segment, we see a bit about African Army Ants.  They are dangerous and this is well-documented.

That said, we see a young Komodo Dragon attacked by the swarm...and then a dead one after a cut.  Did you kill it like the Turtle from Mondo Cane?
The Film ends with more bleak talk from Hellstrom and a shot of some Insects before one important reveal to close us out...
This is the worst kind of Shyamalan twist!  Seriously, what a weird thing to do here!  Certain people love to attack Michael Moore's Documentaries over claims that he distorts the truth with Edits.  It might happen, but at least Michael Moore is actually a real person!  Yes, I know the Family Guy joke about that.  The biggest thing is that this really hurts the already-strained credibility of the whole Film.  I get it- he's an amalgamation of people that feel like how the Character was written.  I get it- they wanted one guy to build the Film around, as opposed to multiple talking heads.  It just...feels really insulting that the Film is named after a fake guy and the Narrator is an Actor.  Pressman does a good job here- almost too good.  Given how sardonic he is the whole time, I almost wonder if it is a Parody on his part.  There's a point when he brings up the 'people look like ants from up here' cliche and then insults anyone who's ever used it.  Maybe the Scientists who worked on this were kind of assholes and he just went with it.  Whatever the reason, he is the biggest dick of a Narrator you'll probably ever see.  It's kind of fun, given how silly the Film feels.  If you want to see lots of nature footage, this is an easy recommendation.  If you want to see a self-serious Film that shouldn't be, another easy recommendation.  Just know what you're getting into with this guy...
Next up, I return to the 1950s to feature another Bug Film.  Sudden Theme is sudden!  Stay tuned...

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Old-School Sci-Fi: Cosmic Monsters (1958)

You have to love when Films like this are so serious about something so silly!  Today's Film is Cosmic Monsters, a 1958 Sci-Fi Film that somehow escaped my attention.  The premise- cosmic rays make insects grow big and attack a Town.  Well, that's *part* of the premise.  In addition, this does come years before the Fantastic Four, not that people didn't attribute cosmic radiation to growth/transformation before that comic (clearly).  The crux of the Film is that a mysterious device made by a Scientist in England manages to rip a hole in the Ozone Layer.  Could you imagine if anything happened to the Ozone Layer in real life?!?  Doing research on this Film is a bit tricky as Wikipedia has some odd information in it.  For instance, a link to a page on the Writer brings you to one for SOMEONE ELSE.  On the flipside, this might be the greatest Film ever due to one of it's Stars' names: Alec Mango.  No, really.  This is a pretty obscure Film, as noted by the fact that Wiki page still uses the VHS Cover for the Film.  It doesn't help that the Film is also known as The Strange World of Planet X, a Title I'll explain later.  So the question is this- why is the Film so obscure?  To find out, read on...
Two men are working on a strange device that involves magnets and...I mean, do you care?

It's just to make the Plot go forward, right?  Right.
Their last Assistant gets (partly) fried in an accident, so they get a new one and it's...a Woman?

We get some casual 1950's Sexism, before she proves herself...and is also good-looking.  Thanks, 2nd Wave Feminism!
One test of the device does more damage to the nearby Town than usual, leading a Newspaper declaring that it was the work of aliens.

To be fair, there was also a UFO, but it apparently-crashed into nothing, so no evidence there.
In the aftermath of the test, the 2nd Scientist has concerns.  Naturally, only the woman will listen to him.  Naturally, this is all part of their Romance Sub-Plot.

Sub-Plots are not in short supply here as we have one with the Town, one with a new Teacher, one involving a random Couple and one with...
This mysterious man who comes to Town with no clear answers.  How can you not trust Mr. Rogers with a goatee?!?

To the Film's credit, he comments that his goatee might make him seem out of place, so the character shaves it before we see him next!
Have I not mentioned the giant bugs yet?  Well, it's because they show up WAY LATE in the Film.

You see, the device ripped a hole in the Ozone Layer over the Town.  It had two effects:
1) It turns a vagrant into a killer
2) It makes the bug grow giant.

Mind you, this is a Publicity Photo.  The actual effect involves awkwardly-mixed footage of bugs that are stretched big and Actors firing fake (I hope!) guns at said footage.

It's really, really dumb.
That's not even the Climax!

The mysterious man reveals himself to be an Alien and one of his people's ships crashed earlier.  The device yadda yadda magnetic lines yadda yadda destroy the Poles (somehow).

The alternate Title comes from him revealing that while WE said the Aliens were from Planet X, we are Planet X to THEM.  So clever?
The main Scientist is now also crazy (or at least more) and he goes to run the machine again.  The only hope- let the Aliens blow up the lab.

They do.  The End.
Oh now I see why I never heard of this until now.  The Film is an interesting study in confusion.  Is it a Film about giant bugs?  Is it a Film about Aliens?  Is it a Film about science run amok?  I guess 'yes' to all three.  The narrative is so all over the place.  Mind you, I didn't even mention the random people killed by the crazy vagrant.  He's such a strange outlier to the Story!  Yes, it proves the 'cosmic rays make people crazy' thing, but that just opens up so many problems.  Why were only him and (maybe) the Scientist affected?  Why were all of the Bugs then?  Why did it make him crazy and jump right to murder?  It just raises too many questions.  The Alien thing is interesting, but also kind of weird.  In this Story, the Aliens fly around overhead on magnetic lines to observe us.  Much like Hard to Be a God, they eventually meddle.  Of course, this is a bit closer to Plan 9 From Outer Space, given the 'you have dangerous technology' approach.  Is that what you want to be compared to?  Thankfully, the giant bug thing is not them trying to stop us- just a silly side effect of the device.  They are also the biggest plus and minus for the Film.  To put it simply, the Film was clearly marketed around them.  They play so little a part in the narrative as to make the Film seem deceptive, which obviously hurts it.  The alternate Title- from the Book- is more accurate, but also still a bit misleading.  Contextually, it is explained, but done so in a silly way.  You are obviously supposed to think that we are going to an Alien Planet with that title, which just isn't true.  It's been 60 years, so I guess the cat is out of the bag.  Mind you, TCM still marketed the Film around the bugs, so...nothing ever changes?  It's a decent, but kind of dull Film throughout.  It definitely picks up at points, but is so aimless at times that it hurts the Film.  It's not quite a lost Classic, but it is fun if you're in the right mindset.  That Book though, that sounds amazing...
Next up, I cover a Film that won an Oscar!  Don't get your hopes up- it has to be silly still.  Stay tuned...

Monday, July 29, 2019

Lost in Translation?: I Drink Your Blood

I love Italy.  I love Horror Films.

So what happens when two of my loves come together (giggity)?

This is the Italian Poster for trashy-American Film I Drink Your Blood...
Eep.

That sure is an effective Cover!

To be fair, this represents the idea of the Film and is a bit scary.

Of course, none of the people in the Film are actually shown here, so...it's here.
Also that's not even close to a translation of the U.S. Title...

Here's the original...
As per usual, I added darker colors for contrast.  I also added some sharpening to hopefully-increase the 3-D effect on the Poster.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

DCE-Hulu: Swamp Thing- 'Brilliant Disguise'

Another week as the end approaches for this experiment in Streaming Content.  Let's keep digging...
A bit of Plot Convenience (and a power up) allows Swamp Thing to appear as Alec to Abby for a day.

While nice, I wonder if this was part of the 'must cut Budget!' moments.
The Sunderlands plan a big deal with a big money backer for their new formula (made from Swamp Thing's DNA).
...although Avery is busy in the Swamp looking for our Hero, who he just learned is alive somehow.

At this point, the one-armed Fry Cook is going to find out who Swamp Thing is!
Abby seeks to find some evidence to help stop The Rot.  Will that be too dangerous?

To find out, stream the Episode.  You might as well- you know you'll get an Ending!
This one is a bit more setup than payoff, but still good.  This Episode is definitely all about setting up big things for the close of the Season.  There's no big monster- at least in the most literal sense.  A bunch of important information is revealed in this one, which I obviously won't SPOIL.  You learn about the big setup that is going to be the Season/Series ending conflict.  You learn a few secrets about a few people.  There is not a whole lot of action in this one, but what you get is definitely interesting.  Like I said, this one is about build-up and the next few Episodes are (hopefully) the payoff.  It remains to be seen what the decision to chop off about 1/4 of the Episodes from the original order will have.  Here's hoping it still works as a strong narrative.  After all, who likes to see the big guy get sad?
Next time, events try to separate our characters.  Will that be a good thing or a very bad thing?  See you then...

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Quick Reviews: The Asylum's Avengers Grimm (2015)

As Marvel finally unseats Avatar, we look back at The Asylum's attempt to copy The Avengers with...Grimm Fairy Tales?  Alright, I'm curious...
This is Rumplestiltskin.  He's their Loki and he's conquered the (99% off-camera) Fantasy World.

This is Casper Van Dien.  This is arguably a low-point for him.  Think about that.
The group of Heroines tries to unite with a new ally- Little Red Riding Hood.

There's apparently some conflict, but it is never explained and just plain annoying.
Through some silly shenanigans, they all go through the Magic Mirror and are stuck in, of course, Los Angeles.

However, the mirror also broke during this (what?!?) and a piece of it stuck in Hood.  Logic!
Our Heroines must now join forces to stop whatever Rumpelstiltskin is up to.

Their mission is so important that they never stop to let the Film identify them.

Seriously, they don't even SAY Snow White's name until over 2/3 of the way through!
Van Dien gets some help in the form of Iron John (deep cut- I'll grant you)- who is just Lou Ferrigno as Ferro Man/Steel/Commander Steel (who are DC, not Marvel).

I guess Lou just wanted to physically appear in an MCU Film that people like.
Can the group overcome the odds?  Can they save Los Angeles (and later the World...I guess) from Rumpelstiltskin?  Does this Film end up better than most Asylum Films?

To find out, watch the Film.  I streamed it on Tubi, since it was free.
A decent watch.  To be fair, this one is meant to match up to Avengers: Age of Ultron, the Sequel that less people like than the Original.  I personally like both for different reasons, but whatever.  In this case, the Film looks good...but has many problems.  For starters, most of the Drama is killed by the choice to begin In Media Res.  We don't really know the Characters or their Stories before they get tossed through the Magic Mirror.  As I mentioned, most of them are not even named for quite a while!  Why are Red and Snow White not getting along?  What is Cinderella's name?  What are her powers?  Who is Snow White's Husband?  What exactly are the limits to Van Dien's powers here?  So many unanswered questions and so little time.  I mean, they did have time...but they chose to give Ferrigno more Screen Time and a Character Arc instead.  To be fair, he is the best Actor here.  Ponder that sentence I just wrote.  I'm not even joking- he is a legit Actor here.  The other Actors play Characters so underwritten that they are basically just one Character Trait- that's it.  Van Dien is a close second, clearly reveling in playing a Loki-style Character for a change.  The Film looks nice enough and is kind of alright.  Is it going to be topping a Marvel Film?  Hahahahahaha no.  This is better than Sinister Squad though, so props.  It also got a Sequel, so...
A decent-enough looking and feeling Film.  They just cut so many important corners to make a tight Film that it suffers more than it should.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Quick Reviews: Batman- Hush (2019)

Can you succeed in adapting the second best-selling Batman Books of all-time?  Should you even bother?  To find out, read on...
It's another day in Gotham.  Although, things feel a bit different.

For one thing, Bane is acting out of character and there's something about a stolen Lazarus Pit.
Before Batman can answer those questions, he's seriously-injured by a surprise attack.
Things seem to be related to a strange new villain- Hush.

Two things:
1) The Story is so packed that Catwoman meeting Ivy & Ivy meeting Hush happen within 30 seconds of each other!
2) Yes, that ass shot.  I guess the DP from Justice League is an Animator now.
Things escalate as Superman enters the picture and he's under Ivy's thrall!
Hush continues to manipulate the people in and around Batman to create maximum pain and chaos.
Who is this mystery villain?  Are there new twists in this well-remembered tale?

To find out, watch the Film now on Digital.  It is coming soon to DVD/Blu-Ray/4K/42K soon.
It's mostly a Story you know- for better or worse.  Hush, as mentioned, is only 2nd to The Dark Knight Returns in total sales.  Considering the amount of time between those 2 releases, that's quite amazing how close they are!  So going into this, they have to tell a Story that many, many people already know.  Do you just tell it again?  Do you tell a whole new Story with this as the framework?  In this case, they kind of split the difference.  They definitely cut some stuff- like the Jason Todd tease- and change some players around- like swapping Bane for Killer Croc.  I absolutely get the former, unless your plan is to jump right to ANOTHER version of the Red Hood Story.  It's not like DC won't double-dip (like with Superman vs. Doomsday), even if it has only been a Decade since the last version.  I also don't have much of a problem with the latter as well, since you get to mostly the same place with either Villain.  The bigger thing- which I won't SPOIL in-depth- is how they change some key stuff with Hush and the Ending.  I guess I have to commend them for not just copy-pasting a very successful Story, but it's a risky endeavor to do what people would consider 'remaking the wheel' here.  You may mind, you may not.  In any case, DC Animated keeps up the quality and I'm happy to see it.  Something I'm less happy to see- a pretty flimsy excuse to put Batman in the suit from the Hush Comics...
A solid, well-made Film.  You'll either love or hate the changes made to the Story.  

Monday, July 22, 2019

Poor Bastards of Cinema: I Drink Your Blood (Part 1)

I Drink Your Blood was a strange Film.

If you missed/skipped the Review, it amounts to this: Satanic Hippies kill people due to Rabies.
No, really.

During their rampage, they take quite a few innocents.  First up, this woman who finds two of them looking sad and weak nearby.
She takes them and starts carving up Ham for them.  Who hasn't been there?!?

One of them eyes the Electric Carving Knife she set down.
Seeing a stranger grab a weapon near her only garners this face before...
Her hand is chopped off (in one motion!) and she runs outside.  I hope I die making this face too.
In summary: she tried to help two people and got killed.

The moral: don't show off your Electric Carving Knife.  What good could come from that?!?

Next time, more victims and more silliness.  That would have been the Tagline for the Remake (had the Director not died during Pre-Production).  See you then...

Sunday, July 21, 2019

DCE-Hulu; Swamp Thing- 'The Price You Pay'

We're now in the second half of the Series.  Will the quality be maintained for the end run?  Let's see...
A night in the Swamp proves to be dangerous for our Hero as Sunderland's men come looking.  They won't like what they find.
In the aftermath of last Episode, someone is in a coma.  They won't be there long!
We get a neat little flashback for 'Blue Devil' in which he 'makes a bargain' that is key to his being trapped in Town.
After last Episode's outburst, a big truth is revealed about Alec's 'death,' among other subjects.
If he can survive all of the attention, can Swamp Thing make peace with himself for Abby's sake?

To find out, stream it.  You're all enjoying Young Justice again, no?
What can I say- it's another good one!  Swamp Thing continues to do a nice, slow and steady burn on its Plot.  We know that Sunderland is up to something bad.  We know that his Scientist buddy is up to some bad things too.  Hell, the people in charge of the Law are not blameless in this Town!  They continue to build everything up nicely.  As a bonus, they don't get too predictable.  For instance, this one doesn't *really* have a creature for our Hero to battle.  Way to not be formulaic, guys!  It's all good and I can't wait to see what comes next.  How can you not root for a couple like this?!?
Next time, more intrigue and Plot.  I try to stay blind here, so no SPOILERS from me yet.  See you then...