Monday, January 25, 2010

The Projected Man (1966) - MST3K Review


Summary:
Dr. Patricia Hill arrives at a laboratory and meets Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Paul Steiner. Turns out these scientists are working on a transporting device, or projector, that zaps matter, stores it as light (?!?) and beams it somewhere else. Well, the mean old head of research, Dr. Blanchard wants Paul’s project shut down and even goes so far as to sabotage it. Paul, determined to prove his success, uses the projector on himself – and promptly turns into a monster. Now, Dr. Hill and Dr. Mitchell must find Paul before he goes around killing everyone who opposes him. Oh and secretary Sheila gets to strip down to her underwear because her eyes hurt.

Movie Review:
The Projected Man itself isn’t horribly executed, but very dull. The plot makes sense most of the time. But we are never clear why the head of research wants Paul to fail. Some kind of blackmail is implied but never fully revealed. The acting is pretty solid. There are attempts at tension and even a tepid romance, but mostly the movie just sits there.

Dr. Hill may be the main character, but she is relegated to the concerned female role and love interested for the incredibly bland Dr. Mitchell. This leaves us with the only slightly more interesting Paul. Still, Bryant Haliday doesn’t do much with the character to make him a credible threat. He’s better as the orange haired scientist. The supporting cast does what they need to do. Dr. Blanchard is annoying in a very proper British way, and Sheila looks good in her underwear.

As for the horror, not too much of that either. Monster Paul ends up looking kinda lumpy with crusty hands, and a permanent sneer. He’s not scary and when he puts the cloth over his disfigured half of his face (Mike and bots call it his face diaper) he just looks silly. The projection machine looks like the spawn of a bubble blower and a hair drier. It also makes one of the most annoying sounds I’ve heard in a MST3K film… and that’s saying a lot.

All in all, not really much to work with riffing wise, and pretty dull as a stand alone.

The MST3K episode:
Not the best way to start out a season, especially after the glorious triple threat of Space Mutiny, Time Chasers and Overdrawn at the Memory Bank. But this was the season 9 premier (and second season on Sci-fi).

Of all the elements to have in a MST3K film, dullness can be the hardest to overcome. Energy and wit are needed. Mike and the bots are filled with energy and attack the movie as best they can. They have some fun with Haliday, who also appeared in the horrible Devil Doll. And since the movie is English they get in some very good zingers about the Brits as well as Monty Python and Pink Floyd. But the movie doesn’t give them enough to work with.

To compare, take Red Zone Cuba a very dull film, but also badly acted, edited, and executed. So the dullness is just one factor to the bad film. In a way The Projected Man reminds me of the slog episodes early in season 8 where the Universal movies made their appearance, but even those had some wacky sets or costumes. The most interesting things about The Projected Man are the diaper on Paul’s face and Sheila in her underwear.

The host segments are fun, but fairly light. Even the discovery of Castle Forrester as a new home for Pearl, Dr. Bobo and Observer isn’t enough to energize things much. They provide a few laughs, but mostly just act as filler. I actually enjoy the Castle Forrester setting. It works well enough. But the endless chase element seemed like it could have been a fun thread to keep. To bad the MST3K cast and crew didn’t enjoy the concept.

The end result is a below average episode. I can only project two stars out of five for this one.

This episode is available on the Digital Archive Project.

MST3K Introduction can be found here.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Mystery Science Theater – A love for the laugh



I’ve enjoyed Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K) since I first saw the episode called “Hercules Against the Moonmen”. I literally fell off my seat laughing so hard. From that day forward I was hooked, and have been enjoying the show ever since.

The show was on officially for about 10 years (11 if you count the cable access season). They started out on Comedy central when it was The Comedy Channel and ended on Sy-Fy when it was still the Sci-fi channel. They watched movies with famous names like “I was a Teenage Werewolf” to things as unknown as “The Dead Talk Back”. They went through an entire on screen cast change, but kept a solid crew of writers working for all 10 official seasons.

The were a fixture of the 1990’s, their last show appeared in 1999. So in a way there is a lot of nostalgia associated with their show. I can’t watch “Pod People” without thinking about working at the video store and having it on. Some people my age have romantic memories of “Titanic”. I have romantic memories around the movie “Hobgoblins” (and if you’ve seen that movie you can imagine the strangeness of that).

I’ve remained a fan, and pick up each new DVD release and enjoy the Digital Archive Projects work to bring episodes to fans – especially ones that may never see the light of day because of rights issues.

I’m going to do some reviews of the episodes on this site. They will fall into an unusual format, where I review the movie itself and then the MST3K episode. I’ll also be following along with Satellite News in the order they cover the episodes. They are currently in season 9, so that’s where I’ll start. But I’ll also review the DVD released episodes as well.

Hope you enjoy the reviews and if you’ve never seen the show, I recommend checking them out on the internet, there is lots of amusing stuff out there.

Season Breakdown
Random Insanity

I’ve written a couple blogs about MST3K on my storytelling site. Check them out here:
The Case For MST3K

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Avatar (2009)

Introduction:

Ah James Cameron, king of the world and maker of the dreaded “Titanic”. You see I was one of about 10 people who didn’t love “Titanic”. I thought it was good entertainment, but not the huge epic slab of genius that most people did. Combine that with the fact that Cameron had taken over 10 years to make this movie and I was afraid… in a George Lucas afraid kinda way about seeing “Avatar”. I had a feeling the movie would be a crushing disappointment even though the buzz machine was working overtime. So did Cameron pull a Lucas or is “Avatar” worth seeing?

Summary:

Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) is a space marine who has lost the use of his legs. He volunteers to go to the planet Pandora to operate an avatar (bioengineered body of one of the natives) to aid in the operations. On the one hand he has Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) who wants to understand the native people called the Na’vi. On the other he has the gun-ho Colonel Quaritch (Stephen Lang) who believes force is the only way to obtain the rare mineral the corporation is after. At first Jakes loyalties are with the Colonel, but the more time he spends among the Na’vi and especially the brave Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), he begins to wonder if his mission is worth the price of betrayal and destruction. Eventually Jake must make a choice, will he help the Colonel and wage war against the Na’vi, or will battle against the technologically superior forces and face almost certain death.

Good Points:

  • Brilliant visual effects create a believable world.
  • 3D technology is used to pull you into the film.
  • Compelling characters make the story and action scenes work.

Bad Points:

  • The story is very familiar, with many predictable turns.
  • The themes may be too “green” or “anti-military” for some viewers.
  • Anyone familiar with the music to “Glory” may become distracted by the score.

Overall:

“Avatar” is solidly entertaining. There are moments when the story is downright predictable. And I even found myself chuckling at some of the overused film elements. But Cameron is able to create interesting (not new, but involving) characters and very believable world. Because of these elements, the twists and turns keep you interested and the action scenes are intense. Without the 3D this would be a fine, fun sci-fi action adventure film. But with the 3D, the immersive experience is very impressive. Definitely worth catching in the theaters and in 3D.

Score (out of 5)

Visual Aspects – 5

Sound Aspects – 5

Acting – 4

Music – 4

Script - 3

Direction – 4

Entertainment – 5

Final Grade – 4

Film Review

“Titanic” was really hanging over “Avatar” like a sword of Damocles. Seriously, I was afraid of this film. I blame George Lucas. Most of you know my disappointments with the Star Wars prequels, something that seemed so foolproof that I was stunned with each release how much I didn’t enjoy them. Suffice to say, a long break between projects just didn’t instill a lot of confidence with me. Sure, Cameron had been working on documentaries and producing other efforts, but he hadn’t actually worked on a film in over ten years. I was not holding my breath.

Then there was the hype machine. It wasn’t nearly as bad as it got for “Return of the King” or “The Phantom Menace” but it was out there and it was strong. All over the internet, fan boys were drooling in anticipation. I had this deep feeling that they were going to be disappointed, and bad word of mouth would kill the movie – no matter if it was good or not.

Well I was wrong on almost every count. Not only is “Avatar” better than any of the Star Wars prequels, but it was as entertaining as 2009’s “Star Trek”, something I was not expecting.

Really a huge reason for the movie working so well is the visual effects. For the most part “Avatar” is an animated film. It goes for a photo realistic look, but one that is on another world. This allows the viewer to buy into what they are seeing, especially when there are no actual human characters on the screen. The animation is very convincing because of the amount of detail in what we see.

The flora and fauna of the planet Pandora move and behave like flora and fauna we are familiar with, but with an alien touch that makes the visuals both believable and foreign. It’s a tricky balance to strike, but one that the team at WETA does with great skill. Just check out how some of the animals in the film move. We are conscious that they aren’t real, but at the same time we buy into them, because they work in their environment.

On the flip side, the human technology and world is more grounded in science fiction that we are familiar with. Much of the look here is very similar to what Cameron did in “Aliens” or even “The Abyss”. It’s got a very militaristic look, one that is based in military equipment that we have now, but taken into a more futuristic direction. Usually when the humans are interacting with their own materials, it works fine. The only break in reality is when humans have to interact with the visual world of the Na’vi. There is a touch of unreality here. Luckily it works with the story. The humans aren’t supposed to look like they belong here. But there were times where I was very conscious that I was seeing an actor working in front of the green screen and interacting with nothing (or an actor in a motion capture suit).

The added layer is the 3D. This movie really benefits from the use of this technology and it is handled so perfectly that I was amazed. About 20 minutes in, I forgot I was watching a 3D film. I bought into the visuals and was invested in the characters enough to let it become part of the film and not a gimmick. Sure some scenes were more impressive because of the 3D. Action scenes did have things flying toward and around you. And yet it was the depth of field, the details stretching back that really made the visuals effective. If 3D can be used this effectively in the future, and with better stories, then I think we have some great movies to look forward to.

The sound design and effects were also top notch. Most important were the sounds used for the animals and environment of Pandora. There are plenty of moments where the combination of 3D and a dense sound design really pull you into the world. But fans of action will not be disappointed in the organized chaos of the last half hour of battle scenes. I was really impressed here, a lot of good work, again right up there with the sound work on “Star Trek”.

At first I was pretty sure I going to give the acting a solid 3. It seemed average for the most part, with everyone filling in their roles admirably. But the more I thought about the more I realized that some serious voice acting was needed to bring the Na’vi characters to life. I did end up caring about the characters and their fate. Part of this was the excellent voice acting by Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana. So I had to bump that grade up on those performances.

Well that and the excellent work by Stephen Lang as Colonel Quaritch. He reminded me of Lt. Coffey from “The Abyss”, a militaristic villain you just love to hate. Lang does a great job of showing us the man’s drive, his fearlessness, and his brutality. He believes in what he’s doing and you get a sense that he is more than a little angry at what Pandora has done to him and the men under his charge. In another movie, he might be a hero. But here we see the dark side to his character and he makes a great villain.

Solid supporting turns by Sigourney Weaver, Wes Studi, Giovanni Ribisi and Michelle Rodriguez just add to the film – each plays their part well and never distracts from the overall film.

James Horner was one of the key components of “Titanic”. His score and song are still on the top of the heap when it comes to best selling movie music. It only made sense to bring him back in. In addition, Horner was charged with not only creating the music, but helping with the Na’vi language and songs. Many film music fans were waiting in anticipation of what Horner would cook up for this adventure. Well, if you’re familiar with Horner, you’re familiar with the score. His style is very evident here, and its very effective. He brings a sense of wonder to the scenes of beauty. He adds to the tragedy during the battle scenes. And he elevates the victories with great music. All in all, it’s a top notch score that really adds to the film, with one slight exception.

The main theme from “Glory” (also written by Horner) creeps in very obviously in several scenes. Now, it isn’t the exact theme, but it is really, really similar. Similar enough to stick out to me and actually take me out of the film. Now this isn’t going to be a problem to anyone but a film score fan. But the music from “Glory” is so tied to that that movie that it just feels wrong to hear it here. It’s the only reason I can’t give the music a five rating.

If there is any major weak point in the film, it’s the script. There is no subtlety here. The themes are obvious and nearly slam you over the head. Greed is bad. Nature is good. Those who respect nature are good. Those who disrespect it are bad. I know plenty of people who are sick to death of the “green” message. So this movie is just going to annoy them further

The story itself is very familiar to anyone who’s seen “Dances with Wolves” or “The Last Samurai”. Nearly all the same plot points are hit in this movie. This creates a bit of predictability. You know how the movie will turn out and there are very few surprises. It’s safe to say that Cameron wasn’t interested in doing anything innovative with the story. His focus was telling the story in a new way. For some, this will make the film feel too familiar. I was able to just roll along with it, even if I did wish every once in a while that my predictions weren’t right every single time.

Cameron has always been a solid director. He isn’t flashy with his camera work, he isn’t arty in a David Lynch way. Instead he focuses on telling his story and usually he keeps the plot moving at a solid pace. “Titanic” was the exception. It did drag a bit, in my opinion. Even the “Abyss” has a few slow moments. But when Cameron is on, he’s on. “Avatar” is a long movie, but it never feels long. Cameron keeps everything moving forward. He makes sure the exposition scenes also move the story forward.

I have to give the man a hand when it comes to directing action scenes. All of them move well and are exciting, but more importantly they are filmed in a way that we understand clearly what is going on. This is something that has been missing from many recent action scenes (check out “Quantum of Solace” for some seriously confusing action scenes). This is especially handy since we care about the characters, we like to know what kind of danger they are in, as well as look at the pretty explosions.

I found “Avatar” to be entertaining. The time flew by, and that’s usually tough for a movie over two hours. The balance of immersive visuals, well executed action and characters pulled me in and kept me there for the entire running time. A tough thing to pull off because I found “Dark Knight” a little too long the first time I watched it.

Is “Avatar” going to change the world, or take the spot of the best movie of the 2000’s? I don’t think so. It’s a worthy bit of entertainment that is well worth seeing on the big screen. If anything, Cameron has raised the bar for visual effects. Like I said before, if someone with a great fresh story can use the technology utilized in this film – we’ll be in for a real treat. But until then we’ll have a lot of copycats abusing this stuff. We also have a very enjoyable film called “Avatar” to watch, and that’s the good news.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Movie Index - Introduction - Reviews and Ratings


Movie Index
The following movies do not fall into one of the featured sections:

The following sections contain links to their corresponding reviews:

- - -
Introduction
I decided to create a new blog that was devoted strictly to movie reviews and movie related topics. This was mostly because my current blog, Storytelling in All it’s Forms allows me to only examine movies from a limited scope – mostly from the writing end of things. Sure I can discuss how director or actor decisions affect the storytelling powers of the film – but I don’t’ really get to break down the elements of a movie as much as I like to. So I find that my blogs about movies turn into mini reviews, and I usually end up editing them down to the essential storytelling components.

This revealed that I still enjoy reviewing movies, even if I haven’t really done it officially in several years. My original idea was to create a Author website where I could house movie reviews I felt compelled to tackle, but my skills in web mastering are limited to 90’s tech, not something to be proud of. So I decided to basically make a blog of reviews until I get to a point where I can build (or have built) a site I feel comfortable with.

But the blog will have some downsides that I’m aware of. Mostly the lack of an easy search function. But at the same time it will allow me to write about movies and not feel so constricted by the parameters of my storytelling blog.

And the storytelling blog isn’t going anywhere. I’ll still be writing it, but it will focus more on my writing as well as the books I’m reading. I’ll still tackle movies on there, and may do so in conjunction with this movie reviews blog. So you’ll get a movie review here and a more in depth discussion on the storytelling angle of the movie.

Now most of the reviews will cover films that are already available on DVD. I don’t got to the theaters so much any more and when I do it’s usually for something special. So this will limit the types of movies I’ll cover here, but I’ll try to keep things interesting. I intend on putting up reviews for all the James Bond films, Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes, Japanese Animation, and little known flicks from 30’s and 40’s. All this in addition to better known films. I’ll also use this space for my thoughts on movie music, director’s styles, and movie series. Sure it seems a bit broad, but I know I’ll have fun writing it, and I hope you have fun reading it.

Feel free to send me suggestions on what you’d like to see me tackle and review. I’m always up to checking out new stuff. If I can find a place to rent it, I will.

So I hope you enjoy my writings and ravings about movies. I look forward to any feedback you provide!

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Reviews and Ratings

I wanted to take a moment and explain my review writing style and my ratings system. My reviews will essentially be split into two parts. The first part will be a quick breakdown of the basics of the review. So if you are curious about what I think about the film but not willing to read the full blown review, you can get your taste here.

I start with a paragraph Introduction covering my experience with the film, or maybe it’s place in the larger scheme of things. I continue with a Summary that is spoiler free and covers the basic plot of the film and actors involved. I try to keep this to one paragraph as well. Next comes the Short Review section that breaks the movie into it’s Good Points, Bad Points, and Overall judgment. Again I keep these points short and sweet. I then follow it up with my Score broken down into numerical ratings, which I’ll cover in a minute.

The second half of the review is an in depth coverage of the film. I usually spend a paragraph or so covering each of the following points: Visual Aspects, Sound Aspects, Acting, Music, Script, Direction, and Entertainment. This gives you at least six paragraphs of review – but usually more because I tend to spend about a paragraph on each key performance in the film. This section is meant for readers who have seen the film or don’t mind spoilers. This is the real meat of the review, and I try to be really thorough but to the point in my reviews.

At times I’ll include a addendum. This might cover specifics of the DVD release of the movie or maybe some other point about the film that I want to discuss. For example, when I tackle “Diamonds Are Forever” or “Man With the Golden Gun” (not sure where I want to put this one yet), I may include an addendum about the 70’s era or James Bond films. Or I just might make it into a separate blog entry. But I think that DVD details should be included in the review and I’ll do so in the Addendum.

Finally I’ll talk a little about my numerical ratings and what they mean. I use a five point scale. 1 is the lowest score and 5 is the highest. 3 is an average score. So, a film that I find perfectly average will get a rating of 3. In the end, I take all six categories and come up with an average grade and will round up or down, depending on how I feel about the film. So if a movie comes up with a 3.7 and I enjoyed it, I’ll give it a 4. If something gets a 2.6 and I feel it was below average I’ll give it a 2.

Most of the categories are fairly self explanatory, but I’ll go into them a bit. Visual Aspects includes the overall look of the film. This is where I’ll talk about sets, costumes, visual effects and overall look of the film. Sound Aspects covers the sound effects use in the film. Acting is where I talk about the performances. Music is where I’ll talk about the songs or score used in the film. Script is where I talk about the dialogue and story construction of the film. Direction is where I talk about the editing, camera angles and shot set up, as well as the overall mood and themes of the film. Entertainment is where I talk about my gut reaction to the film. A movie can be technically excellent, but I may find it dull or annoying. This is where the grade gets leveled.

Looking over this makes it sound like I take movies too seriously, and I do. I love watching them and then taking them apart and seeing why they work or why they don’t (its something that comes up as a writer). Sometimes its amazing what turns out to be the make or break element of the film and writing about them can really bring that out. Maybe you agree with my review, maybe you don’t, but I want to hear from you either way.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

DVD Verdict Reviews

You'll find reviews for a whole host of other titles over at DVD Verdict.com. These will range from documentaries, television series as well as movies of all kinds. If its on DVD then DVD Verdict will review it.

I'll do my best not to write redundant reviews on this blog, but I am limited on DVD Verdict with word count. In same cases I may want to elaborate on a few points and so you'll find some overlap. But for the most part its different content over on that site.

Check out my dossier here. It contains a brief summary about me and you'll find links to all my reviews there as well. Feel free to contact me via the Verdict or vote on the review (at the bottom) of the page.

Check out my first year anniversary page. It has links to the best and the worst I tackled in my first year of writing for "the verdict".

Saturday, January 16, 2010

MST3K - Season 3 Overview

This is a season that is known for dividing fans. Some find it to be the summit of Joel years in the show. Others find it duller than any other season. The reason is quite simple, there is very little variety in the movies shown. You either get a Japanese import of some kind (most likely a Gamera film) or you get something from Roger Corman's American International archive. Many fans find both dubbed films and Corman's flicks so dreary and lifeless that this season is a chore, others thrive on it.


I find that I fall right in the middle. There are some seriously classic episodes to be found here, and yes I'm a fan of all things dubbed, so this fits the bill. This riffing speed and density is a bit better than the previous season and that helps, especially when Corman's around.

Two classic episodes explode right out of the gate with Cave Dwellers and Pod People. These are pure 80's and pure awesome. When it comes to Japanese laughs I actually find Fugitive Alien and Time of the Apes superior to most of the Gamera offerings. The two Master Ninja episodes are pretty solid too, for a compilation of some seriously cheesy 80's television show called The Master starring Lee Van Cleef. My favorite American International films in this season are The Amazing Colossal Man, It Conquered the World and Viking Women vs. The Sea Serpent. When it's all said and done you've got a pretty solid season all the way around