Tuesday, July 18, 2017

And Then This Happened... Avalanche

Winter sports can be fun for just about everyone. Of course you need the right equipment for them. Luckily the gent in this picture is one of the best skiers in the country (at least according to the film). So that means he not only possesses the right equipment (sponsored by Schlitz of all things), but he is also very skilled. That must also go along with his ability to escape deadly ice and snow from avalanches!

This picture comes from the Roger Corman disaster epic, Avalanche. Time to give our olympic hopeful the caption he deserves.

And then this happened...


Friday, July 14, 2017

Anime Juke Box - No Need for Promises - The Vision of Escaflowne

Been a while since the old Anime Juke Box has spun some j-pop for you. I was going through some of my older anime soundtracks and ran into all three of the wonderful CDs for Vision of Escaflowne. The music was co-composed by wonder woman Yoko Kanno and her husband at the time Hajime Mizoguchi. The score is one of her most bombastic orchestral powerhouses, with amazing action cues, sweeping romance and gothic horror. It works well in the series and is always a treat to listen to.

But Kanno's skills go well beyond her ability to compose for orchestra. She almost always writes the opening and ending pop/rock songs for the anime series she works on. Vision of Escaflowne is no exception. She gets the series started with this cheerful number called No Need for Promises. Like most J-pop of the 90s it is perky, happy, and well produced. Kanno has a thing for using bagpipes in her 90s scores and songs, so you get an interlude with them here too.

Perhaps the biggest thing about this song is that Kanno got the voice actress playing the main role of Hitomi to sing the song. The actress's name is Maaya Sakamoto, and this song launched her successful singing career at the tender age of 16. Kanno and Sakamoto worked on many projects afterward, with Kanno even writing the songs for an entire album of Sakamoto's songs. Both women are still hard at work in the world of film and anime music to this day. So here is where it all began with No Need for Promises from Vision of Escaflowne, written by Yoko Kanno and sung by Maaya Sakamoto.



Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Doctor Strange (2016)

Introduction:

I’ll admit, I’ve lost track of all the Marvel movies lately. But the concept of Doctor Strange sounded like a good one. It goes into an angle of mysticism you don’t see explored in too many big budget movies. I heard the fantastic score by Michael Giacchino. Oh and let’s face it, my wife is a big fan of Benedict Cumberbatch, so we were going to see this movie no matter what.

Summary:

Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is an egotistical but very skilled surgeon. When he ends up in a car accident he loses all steadiness in his hands. Feeling like his life is pretty much over unless he can heal his digits, Strange embarks on a journey to Nepal where he meets The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), who says she can help him, help himself.

Little does Strange know that his keen mind allows him to access and adapt to the mystical secrets of the universe – becoming a true master of magic. Just n time too, because Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) is looking to use a key relic to unleash hell on earth. Now it is up to Doctor Strange to use his newfound powers, magic cape and quick wits to save the world.

Good Points:
  • Some very impressive visual effects that really help develop the key concepts
  • Creates an intriguing world and conflict at the heart of the film
  • Solid acting by the entire cast

Bad Points:
  • The character arc for Doctor Strange is overly familiar – see Iron Man
  • You’ve got Mads Mikkelsen – why aren’t you using him better?
  • Fans of Inception may cry foul at some of the visual effects

Overall:

Like most of the Marvel movies this one is a lot of fun. Visually it is stunning with some of the best visual effects I’ve seen in a long time. The film also creates a very strong concept of magic and mysticism and uses it to flesh out an interesting conflict among the characters. Sad to say the story arc for Doctor Strange himself is a well traveled one. Cumberbatch’s charisma and acting keep it interesting. But then you have Mikkelsen, a very strong actor, who is given a very flat antagonist role. I enjoyed the film, but it felt like it had the potential to be something a bit better.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals:  5
Sound: 4
Acting:  4
Script:  3
Music: 4
Direction: 3
Entertainment: 3
Total:  3

Curious about a full review, sent me an email and I’ll make additional thoughts to this review.


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Friday, July 7, 2017

Chopping Mall (1986)

Introduction:

Ok, it is called Chopping Mall, it was made in the 80s and the VHS box cover art had a severed head in a shopping bag. How the heck was I supposed to resist that? Well, I never did get around to watching it back in the day. But when I saw it available for streaming I knew my quest for a cheesy movie to watch that weekend was at an end. But was I going to regret this little trip to the mall?

Summary:

Mall security could use an upgrade and why not look to some A.I. to help out. Sounds good until a freak storm causes the programming for the three robotic mall cops to go on a killing spree. These guys are bullet proof, have the ability to electrocute victims and shoot sleeping darts. Oh, and since this is the 80s they can also shoot multi-colored energy beams from their eyes. If you happen to be a topless teen this will make your head explode. No, I’m not kidding.

Speaking of teens, some employees at a furniture store decide to stay after hours and have a sex party. There are the goody goody ones that don’t even kiss, so you know they will live. But the rest are all fodder for the rampaging robots. Keep your eyes open for scream queen Barbara Crampton and everyman Dick Miller as they try to survive a night in the Chopping Mall.

Good Points:
  • Packed the brim with 80s clothing, lingo, hair and robots – 80s ROBOTS!
  • Starts with an interesting premise and some hints at amusing parody
  • Some of the kills are pretty graphic and entertaining

Bad Points:
  • Never commits to scares or laughs and ends up doing neither
  • Runs out of steam about halfway through due to the uninteresting characters
  • Didn’t use the mall to the full advantage (probably for budget reasons)

Overall:

This could have been better all the way around. It isn’t scary. It isn’t all that funny. But it hints at trying to do both. The characters are paper-thin and do some really stupid things (par the course for this type of movie). And while it was neat to see the same mall from Commando again, they just didn’t do too much with it, probably for fear of property damage. That said the 80s robots are fun in a retro way, and some of the kills and strategies to stop the robots are clever. Fans of cheesy films will get a kick out of the all out 80s onslaught. But this is more of a rental than a hidden gem.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 4
Sound: 3
Acting: 3
Script: 2
Music: 3
Direction: 2
Entertainment: 3
Total:  3

Curious about a full review, sent me an email and I’ll make additional thoughts to this review.


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Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Movie Music Musings: The Goldsmith Award 2011

It wasn't just animation, it was motion capture based animation, so that made it even more expensive than a typical animated feature. Add to that the simple fact that whenever someone talks about these types of animated films like The Polar Express or Beowulf or the 2009 version of The Christmas Carol, they usually use the world "creepy looking" in there somewhere. I'm not sure that a budget of 150 million was ever going to see any profit.

But Robert Zemeckis was obsessed with getting this motion capture animation to take off. Mars Needs Moms was such a bomb it pretty much ended that idea. The film came out before Spielberg's Adventures of Tin Tin, but that superior film got tainted and that seems to be last of that odd animation experiment. Most motion capture animation remains in the realm of video games.

All that said, Mars Needs Moms may have been a bomb (and a half) but the score isn't. John Powell composed a fun and exciting score. It is what he does best and animation really seems to ignite his creative powers. His scores for the two How to Train Your Dragon films are some of the best of the decade. Mars Needs Moms is right behind them, with lots of orchestral color and energy.

So enjoy the end credits suite to Mars Needs Moms by John Powell. No creepy dead eyed characters shown here. :)


Friday, June 30, 2017

The Time Travelers (1964) – MST3K Review

Summary:

Three scientists are working on a window that will allow them to view events across time. So far they haven’t been very successful, and their funding is going to be cut off. Steve Connors (Philip Carey) decides to crank the power up to 11 for a final try. Dr. Steiner (Preston Foster) and Carol White (Merry Anders) aren’t as keen on the idea but go along with it. They experiment works… kind off. The resident lab groupie, Danny (Steve Franken) discovers that the working window isn’t a window at all, but a door. And because of the extra power boost they are looking nearly 100 years in the future.

Due to series of events, our three scientists and Danny go through the doorway and end up stranded in the future, which is a grim place. World war has destroyed the earth’s surface and only mutants survive. Underground is a group of advanced humans lead by Dr. Varno (John Hoyt) who are constructing a rocket to take them away from earth. They use some seriously creepy looking androids to help build the rocket and fight off the mutants. You see, resources on earth are nearly depleted and the mutants don’t want to be left behind. Can our Time Travelers figure out a way to avoid mutant attacks, return to the 60s and make sure this future never happens?

Movie Review:

Your lab coats won't save you now!
Every once in a while Mystery Science Theater 3000 finds a movie for riffing fodder that is not all that bad. In fact, I would say that Time Travelers is a lot of fun all the way around without the riffing. If you’ve never seen it before you may find yourself being pulled into the twisted time travel adventure and miss half the  riffs that Jonah and bots launch.

Written and directed by Ib Melchior, this man helped bring Reptilicus to the screen. But Melchior brings a bit more to the table when it comes to the script for this film. In Reptilicus he was tied to the typical giant monster movie tropes, but here he can play with time travel and the impacts on the travelers themselves.

Which one of you fluxed the capacitor?
While the characters in Time Travelers aren’t terribly engaging or well developed, the plight they find themselves in is interesting. These are your typical scientist types. Foster plays the older wiser scientist. Conners is the younger hot head who doesn’t play the by the rules. And Anders is… well she’s the girl. I guess we should just be happy that they have a female scientist at all in a 1964 film. But don’t expect her to actually contribute too much to the technical parts of the plot. She’s mostly around to make observations on the future culture and be saved by Steve.

Danny is the everyman character. He spends most of his time in the future with his mouth hanging open and hitting on the future ladies. Franken plays him a little broadly, but that is par the course for a movie like this. He adds a bit of levity to the scenes with some wry comments and bad pick up lines.

In the future everyone has a gaggle of creepy androids
following along behind them... um... yay?
Where Time Travelers ends up shining is as we explore the futuristic society. The way the humans have adapted using the androids (ignoring how darn creepy those things look) as a slave workforce and army is interesting. It allows the scientists and technicians to focus on working on the rocket. But it also keeps these greater minds from actually interacting with the dying earth and the mutants directly. These people were made by their situation, but they also perpetuate it by ignoring the plight of mutants and any who are like them. Carol’s compassion toward a partial mutant is looked at as detriment, but we understand how she can feel for those unfortunates.

"Wow, Simon got a lot more complicated."
All technological leaps our heroes see, the oranges that grow instantly, the music/light show, the ability to capture images of distant worlds, is all interesting and I like that the plot spends some time showing us all these elements and allowing our characters to interact and comment on it in some ways. It gives perspectives from both sides of the dilemma.

Time Travelers’ real weakness is mostly due to budget constraints. The concept is solid, but there are some moments where the execution is less because the effects look a bit silly, or the androids are just too darn creepy.

Alas poor Data. I knew him Horatiotron.
Yeah, let’s not ignore the elephant in the room any longer. Are these things supposed to be uncut nightmare fuel? As melty and lumpy as the mutants are, the androids are just wrong with their O shaped mouths, dead eyes and cone heads (inspiration for the Saturday Night Live sketch of the 70s?). They seem helpful enough, but I swear if I caught this film on TV when I was a kid, they would have scarred my psyche for life.

I will admit that the whole sequence in the repair bay is a lot of fun, with solid practical effects and slight of hand to make the whole thing interesting to watch… and then you get another close up of an android face and you run screaming from the room.

Oh wait, is this a Tom Baker episode? Cool!
There are a few bad points. The pacing of the film is on the slow side, but that is more a relic of the time it was made. For a scientist film made in the 1960s it actually moves along pretty well. Some of the sets look a little flimsy and the model work for the rocket isn’t all that convincing, but I’m willing to give it all a pass. Time Travelers does such a good job focusing on crafting a solid sci-fi story and doing it as well as it can, I find it to be a bit charming and entertaining.

Tom gives the rocket a helping hand.
Right up to the ending. The story attempts an interesting twist, something that could have come right out of a Rod Serling script. It will certainly remind some viewers of one of the old Star Trek episodes. But due to some editing on by the crew at MST3k it ends up not making a whole lot of sense. I’ve seen the movie twice and while I appreciate the effort, I’m also not quite sure what the heck happened at the end. Not in a good 2001: A Space Odyssey way, but more in a Starcrash kind of way (but we’ll get to that in good time too).

The Time Travelers is a solid B grade sci-fi adventure, with an engaging story and some fun visuals. Jonah and the bots find plenty to work with, but does this turn out to be too easy of a target for them?

Episode Review:

Take a trip to the uncanny valley... to hell!
When the episode ended my wife turned to me and said that the whole thing reminded her strongly of a Joel/Comedy Central era episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Maybe it was the fact that The Time Travelers feels like it would be something they would watch after The First Spaceship on Venus or even 12 to the Moon. Jonah’s style of riffing certainly feels more like Joel’s easygoing style and less aggressive than Mike’s.

That said, I could see The Time Travelers being a big favorite for anyone who loves a good 50s/60s scientist movie. All the tropes are in full force and Jonah and the bots have a good time with them. For the most part the riffing is solid, although they are still clustering riffs rapidly together at times. This creates some pacing and timing issues that I noticed in all the early episodes of season 11.

"What is he doing the its ro-batch!?"
They do end up picking on the character of Danny quite a bit. I’m not sure the character earns it. He’s kind of annoying but not as aggressively annoying as Paul from Cry Wilderness or Akton from Star Crash. For some reason they go off on him quite a bit. Some of the riffs are funny. I do like when Jonah comments that the scientists should get Danny a Highlights magazine while they do important stuff. Later when they attempt to use a matter transporter device on Danny and he appears in a 2D form Tom says, “He’s more Polaroid than man, twisted and Danny.” Quite a few Star Wars based riffs in this one, especially when Crow does a C-3PO impression during the robot repair bay sequence.

Oranges... OF THE FUTURE!
There are also a lot of fun riffs based on the concept of time travel and how the movie’s script attempts to explain and execute them. Crow takes time to remind Jonah and Tom that he often travels through time at the rate of one hour per hour. Later on when the scientists declare that they have gone over the target time they were aiming for Crow asks, “Do I get paid overtime to go overtime?” When our heroes return to the 60s only to realize they arrived before they actually left Crow asks, “Hey, did the movie just lap itself?” Those are all valid questions.

Are they going to give him a less creepy head?
But my favorite riffing sequence in The Time Travelers takes place during the robot construction sequence. As we take a full tour of the robot repair bay we get a great combination of riffing. On the one hand the disturbing robot faces cause all kinds of hilarious jokes from Jonah and the bots. But then Tom and Crow are intrigued and disturbed by seeing other robots being created. Their reactions are priceless. The sequence only suffers a bit form the speed of the riffing here, I was laughing so much that I missed many jokes even during the second viewing.

"Our oranges have the vodka already inside, so you
don't have to!"
The host segments are right in the middle of the road. It starts with Jonah and the bots playing “Never did I ever…” but the bots take the easy way out with things like “Never did I ever breath oxygen.” During the invention exchange Crow invents the edible silica packet for your snacks. It allows you to do the forbidden act and not die a horrible death. The Mads come up with the After-life alert, modeled off the silly looking medallion from Cry Wilderness. After you die you can contact someone using the After-life alert to ask for help getting to heaven… or the other place. After The Time Travelers in the film ignore safety protocols Crow and Gypsy are concerned that Tom and Jonah may do the same thing. So they create a helpful safety film for them. Jonah and Tom think the whole thing is goofy. At the next break Jonah keeps introducing new robot friends. This enrages Tom and Crow and they destroy them! But Jonah may be doing this on purpose.

A difference of opinion about how to celebrate
200 hilarious episodes.
In the next break we get another guest cameo as Dr. Varno played with gleeful relish by Elliot Kalan. You may recognize Elliot from The Daily Show where he was a writer as well a performer. You also get a chance to see Joel Hodgson out of his Ardy garb and play Larry the orange tree scientist. The two are cruising through space being the party animals they are. They invite Jonah and the bots to come along on their galactic party, but Jonah declines (much to the bots disappointment). When the episode ends Kinga declares it a success and says it is the 200th episode of the series (if you count the KTMA episodes). How time flies when you’re riffing.

Yeah I think the mutants have the right idea.
This is a fun episode with a solid riffing session and a watchable movie. Fans of the classic science fiction episodes featured on older MST3K episodes will find a lot to enjoy here. You really get the feel that The Time Travelers could have appeared on season three or four of the original series. For me, while I had a good time, it didn’t quite hit those high points I was hoping for. The rushed riffing hurt it and the movie’s pacing is on the slower side. As usual, I’ve already run into people that say this is their favorite episode of the season. I can recommend it for sure, but it is not in the top tier.

I give it three dead eyed androids out of five.


This episode is available on the Netflix streaming.

"Doh! How are we supposed to get Back the Future?"

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

And Then This Happened... The Time Travelers

Traveling through time can be a tricky business. There are all those issues with paradoxes and accidentally killing your great grandmother so you are never born. But there are also the dangers of traveling to a time where you are constantly attacked by people who just don't like you. In that case, it is always good to bring gear you may need to defend yourself against such vicious attacks. Of course you may have a Time Lord with you, but that is a whole other Tardis full of fun.

In this case our Time Traveler finds herself the center of some unwanted attention. Time to caption this scene.

And then this happened...