Quickie Review – Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle (2017)

After pretty much dismissing Dwayne Jonson’s latest action flick Rampage out of hand in this weekend’s Saturday Double Feature, (and though I still haven’t seen it, from what I’ve read and heard about it so far that doesn’t seem to be an unreasonable response), I thought it only fair to give at least a little time to a recent film of his that I really did like, last year’s Jumaanji: Welcome To The Jungle.

Okay, full disclosure here, I have never actually seen the original Robin Williams-staring Jumanji. It was one of those that I missed upon its initial release and have just never gone back to check out. So I don’t have any kind of feelings of nostalgia coming into this one.

Fortunately, Welcome To The Jungle doesn’t require any knowledge of the prior film. Instead it dives right in with an update from the original’s board game to this version’s video game.

When I wrote about Rampage I talked about the fact that often someone like the rock can carry a movie through personality alone, even if the movie itself is not all that good, and there is no denying that Johnson’s charisma is at full force throughout the film. Nor is he alone, for the entire cast shines and is obviously having a great time with their roles, especially Jack Black who gets to play himself as if possessed by a self-absorbed high school girl.

The good news is that the movie is not completely reliant upon the skills of its leads, as the plot and adventure are also absorbing enough to make this an entertaining afternoon or evening viewing. Yeah, in the end it’s basically just a goofy romp, but it’s fun goofy, and that’s all it really needs to be.

OTR Tuesday – The Saint (1947-1951)

The short intro: For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, Old Time Radio is the phrase generally used to refer to the time when radio was (mostly) live, and was full of a variety of different shows, as opposed to simply being a means for record labels to use robots to promote the top records of the day. OTR  Tuesday is my chance to explore some of those old radio shows, their connections (both old and new) to movies, and hopefully to encourage some of the rest of you to take a look at a probably unfamiliar source of entertainment that I truly love. If you want more info on OTR, and some examples of the variety of shows that were made, be sure to check out this introductory post.

One more look back at Vincent Price on the radio as we revisit an earlier post concerning Mr. Pice’s appearance as The Saint in the classic radio show. This was first posted in 2013 and has been updated with new links to the episodes.

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Those who have been following this blog for any length of time will know that I have a special affinity for Mr. Vincent Price. Known today mostly as a horror film icon, Mr. Price was every bit a renaissance man who was involved in an incredible number of ventures, both on- and off- screen. One of his lesser-known ventures, I feel sure is his charming portrayal of Leslie Charteris‘s character Simon Templar, also known as “The Saint”, who Price portrayed on a weekly radio show for four years, from 1947 to 1951.

The Saint, as noted, was the creation of pulp novelist Leslie Charteris who wrote a long-running series of books starring the character beginning in 1928. The lead character in the stories, Simon Templar, is described in the opening of the radio show – and elsewhere – as “The Robin Hood of Modern Crime” as he was basically a thief who would target other crooks, evil politicians, gangsters, and other “ungodly” characters, bringing them down or retrieving stolen goods, then, after extracting a ten percent “tithe” (after all, a man like Templar did have a certain lifestyle to uphold) either returning what he got to its rightful owner, contributing it to a worthy charity, or splitting it among those who worked for him.

As far as Templar’s nickname goes, whenever he would finish a caper, he would leave a calling card or other drawing, depicting a stick figure with a halo above its head, as seen in the drawing at the right. This, combined with the character’s initials (S.T. = St = saint), led to him being known as “The Saint”.

The character had many incarnations over the years, expanding from the pulp stories to comics, films, television shows, and, of course, the radio. There were actually a number of different radio incarnations of The Saint, the first actually appearing on Ireland’s Radio Eireann division Radio Athlone in 1940. In America, the character first appeared, interestingly, on two different networks in 1945. On the NBC network, the character was portrayed by Edgar Barrier, while Brian Aherne filled the role for CBS.

The longest running radio incarnation of the character on the radio, however, was the portrayal by – yep, you guessed it -Vincent Price. As noted above, this particular series ran for five years, and was actually, over the course of those years, carried at various times over three different networks as it moved from NBC to Mutual to CBS.

As always, Price brought his unmistakable voice, charm, and charisma to the show, and no matter how lacking the plots and writing might be at times (let’s face it, in a weekly show that lasted that long, there are going to be some clunkers), he always elevated the material simply by his presence.

After Mr. Price left the show, it did carry on for awhile, with Tom Conway in the lead, but that version only lasted a few months.

There were, as noted, other radio incarnations of the character, and he was also brought to life on television in various series, most famously, of course, in the long-running series which starred Roger Moore (yes, the same Roger Moore who would go on to portray James Bond). As recently as 1997, Val Kilmer starred in a film take on the character, however, that may be a case of the less said about it, the better.

Anyway, for now, once again I invite you to sit back and travel back with me to a time when radio was the king, and enjoy listening to the adventures of The Saint.

 

 

Say “Cheese” 012 – The Train Killer (1984)

This past Christmas my son got me a Mill Creek box set called Awesomely Cheesy Movies. 100 movies on 24 disks, it’s actually a combination of two of their earlier released sets, “The Swinging Seventies”, and “The Excellent Eighties”.

For those of you who may not be familiar with these Mill Creek sets, they are generally comprised of  public domain or made-for-television movies that are reproduced without embellishment, enhancement, or extras and are sold in large collections for very low prices. This means that the quality on them can be quite variable, and they often show signs of age and wear. Nonetheless, there are often hidden gems amongst what can be large swaths of dross.

Anyway, I’ve decided to wend my way through this collection, starting with the first movie on the first disk of the 70s collection, then the first movie in the 80s set, then back to the 70s, and so on, and see just what turns up. If nothing else, it should be interesting. Come along, won’t you?

You could be forgiven if, from the title of this film you thought it was about a mysterious killer loose on a train. That’s nt the case, however. Instead, The Train Killer is the story of a Hungarian saboteur blowing up train lines and trying to sabotage the railway in the early 1930s. He was literally trying to be a train killer!

Based on the true story of Szilveszter Matuska, The Train Killer plays out less as a mystery/thriller (though there is that aspect of it) than as a psychological portrait of a man who feels compelled to carry out what he considers to be a mission from God, and yet is still willing to let himself be used by political force who want to take advantage of his disaster-creating proclivities.

Michael Sarazin portrays Matsuuka as a driven man, sure of his purpose even as other try to (pardon me) derail him, and as the police and military forces close in around him. He also does a good job of showing the madness of the saboteur which seems to grow with each passing day.

As always with this kind of “based on a true story”movie, there is quite a lot of divergence from the actual facts of the case, but when taken as a simple low-key thriller as opposed to any kind of narrative documentary, it is generally effective, and far from the worst film we’ve encountered so far in this box.

Here’s your trailer:

 

Up Next: The Swinging 70s  Disk 2 Movie 3: Wacky Taxi– Gomez Addams

Saturday Double Feature: Rampage (2018) and…

Another Saturday means another Saturday Double Feature!

Okay, let’s start with a quick recap of the “rules”, shall we? The basic idea here is to take a movie that is out in theaters now, and pair it up with another movie from the 1980s or before. Sometimes the connection will be obvious, and sometimes it’ll be a little less so, but that’s part of the fun.

Okay, I’m going to admit it up front. I’ve loved The Rock since ever since he was “just” a wrestler for the WWE. Early on he showed incredible mic skills and charisma that marked him as a future star, and that has been borne out throughout his acting career.

Unfortunately, even though I like Dwayne Johnson both as a wrestler and an actor, some of the choices he has made when it comes to films has been… well, let’s say… questionable, shall we? Still, even when the movie itself is bad, Johnson is still usually entertaining.

I really don’t have much hope for Johnson’s latest, Rampage being a particularly good movie.Based on a particularly mindless (though admittedly fun) video game, it’s obvious that this is really just an excuse to give the Rock a paycheck and highlight a lot of CGI. And, who knows, it could turn out to be a fun little waste of an afternoon.

After all, they turned the game Battleship into a movie, and we all remember what a spectacular triumph of film making that was, right?

Ummm… right?

Let’s just go to the trailer, shall we?

Okay, so let’s stick with this month’s 1968 theme to look for something to pair Rampage with, shall we?

Well of course, if you’re looking for giant critters in the late 60s, you’re obviously gonna look no further than the king of them all, Godzilla. And fortunately, it just so happens that in 1968 the big G teamed up with a whole mess of other gigantic beasties for Destroy All Monsters.

It seems that an alien race has raided monster island and released a bunch of the inhabitants to go on a mind-controlled umm… rampage… against mankind. Among the monsters are, of course, Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan, Gorsaurus, and Manda. However, the humans manage to release the kaiju from the aliens control, but that just causes them to retaliate by bringing in the truly big gun, King Ghidorah. We eventually wind up with a huge battle royal between the creatures and the aliens’ secret weapon which they call the Fire Dragon.

Will mankind survive? And even if we do, what will be left of civilization?

So what do you think? What would you choose for a double feature with Rampage? Leave your thoughts in the comments, along with ideas of any other upcoming movies you’d like to see “double featured”. Consider it, if you will, your chance to challenge me to come up with an interesting pair.

Until next time, Happy Viewing!

1968 Fest – A Very Cold War – Ice Station Zebra (1968)

I really feel like I should have more to say about Ice Station Zebra than I do.

After all, we have Rock Hudson as an American submarine commander, Patrick McGoohan as a British intelligence agent, and Jim Brown as a military officer who may very well have his own nefarious aims. All in support of an adaptation of a novel by Alistair MacLean. Really, this should be a slam-dunk combination for a blockbuster film.

Unfortunately it turns out the film is more block than buster.

It’s not that there’s anything particularly wrong with Zebra, just that it feels like it could have eben so much more. We spend the first half of the film on the submarine as it attempts to get to the station, and there are some truly interesting visuals of the sub under the ice, and then the second half is mostly a search for a Macguffin. The final part is a rather tedious confrontation between the Americans and Russian paratroopers who are looking for the same Macguffin.

Okay, I said above that there’s nothing particularly wrong with the movie, and while that’s true, there is one negative that stands out above all others. If you’ve looked at the poster, you may have noticed one name that I left out above: Ernest Borgnine. Now, don’t get me wrong, in the right role, I truly love me some Borgnine. But in Zebra, he’s called upon to play a Russian who has supposedly defected to the American side, and trust me, there aren’t many current comedies that have made me laugh as hard as Borgie’s attempt at a Russian accent.

As for the other stars, they are, as one would expect, just fine given the material they have to work with. One major disappointment is how badly the movie under-utilizes Jim Brown, who we know from other roles can be quite charismatic but here is relegated to a very small role and then is given a rather ignoble death before he can even really play a part in the finale.

I suppose that the movie wants to make a statement about the cold war and its effects on those who merely serve at the behest of their countries,, and we’ve seen myriad examples of how these ideas can be made truly entertaining. Unfortunately, Ice Station Zebra puts far too much emphasis on the “cold”, and not enough on the “war”.

Throwback Thursday -Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Between this blog and my previous one, Professor Damian’s Public Domain Treasure Chest, I’ve been writing about movies for quite a while now. Because of that, there are a lot of posts that have simply gotten lost to the mists of time. So, I figured I’d use the idea of “Throwback Thursday” to spotlight some of those older posts, re-presenting them pretty much exactly as they first appeared except for updating links where necessary or possible, and doing just a bit of re-formatting to help them fit better into the style of this blog. Hope you enjoy these looks back. 

Another look back at a previously written in movie from 1968, this time from the Professor Damian days

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Tuesday Terrors: Night of the Living Dead (1968)

You know, Kiddies, it occurs to me upon thinking about the upcoming release of George Romero’s latest “living dead” project, Survival of the Dead, that the franchise has actually become not unlike its eponymous monsters – a thng that is not-quite-living, not-quite-dead; seemingly unstoppable as it continues its progression across the landscape; stirring up memories of things that once were; but ultimately, by this point, brainless and simply out to consume.

Ok, perhaps that’s actually a bit harsh. One certainly has to respect Romero for staying true to his vision and for keeping the franchise low-budget and independent. Oh, certainly he’s done his share of big-budget movies, and his share of Hollywood just-for-a-paycheck films, but recently, in his later years, he seems to have re-embraced his independent spirit, taking the franchise which made him a major player back to its roots and at the same time trying to update and innovate within it.

But we’re not really here to talk today about the entire franchise, or even the latest installment. Instead, we’re going back to the beginning, the granddaddy of the modern zombie genre, 1968’s Night of the Living Dead.

This movie is always a tricky one to cover, because there are so many aspects one can talk about – the black and white photography, the origins of the zombies and of the idea, the use of Duane Jones as the lead and the symbolism of his death at the end of the movie, the fact that it was shot in and around Pittsburgh for a budget just around $113,000, the influences, sequels, remakes, and the split between Romero and partner John Russo which resulted in Russo spinning off his own set of “living dead” movies, and so much more. But at the same time, those topics have been done and done and done, and probably better elsewhere than yer Ol’ Professor would in this limited space. So instead, since this is the Public Domain Treasure Chest, what I want to spend just a few minutes on is the p.d. status of the film and the impact that that has had not only on the film itself, but on its legacy and the legacy of George Romero.

So how does a film like Night of the Living Dead end up in the public domain in the first place? Well, it’s pretty simple, actually. In 1968, when the film was made and released, one of the copyright requirements was that prints of the film had to carry a proper copyright notice. The thinking was that if the producers didn’t even care enough to put the notice on the film, then they didn’t care enough to maintain the copyright. This also provided a way for people to know who to contact in caase they wanted to license the film, to perhaps reuse part of it, or even if there was some kind of copyright dispute with the film itself. Unfortunately for Romero, a last minute title change insisted upon by the film’s distributor meant that the copyright notice, which had previously appeared in the same frames as the title, was left off of the prints, resulting in the film immediately entering the public domain.

Considering the impact and legacy of the film, George Romero has at times been understandably bitter about this development, even claiming that the distributor “ripped us off.” (Note, by the way, that it is the distributor that Romero blames, not the copyright system. Everyone knew what needed to be done, and had the distributor followed through on placing the proper notice on the prints, things would have turned out differently.) However, over the years he also seems to have mellowed his stance some, realizing that it is the public domain aspect of the film that has, in large part, led to its fame and ubiquity. Had the film retained its copyright status, it’s likely to have been just another forgotten little horror film among many from that era. However, during the home video boom, when releasing companies were looking for anything that they could throw onto VHS (and later DVD) for cheap, they found this absolute gem of a movie. Therefore anyone who had access to the equipment was putting out their own print of the film. According to Wikipedia, as of 2006, the IMDB listed 23 copies of NOTLD being sold on DVD and 19 on VHS. Also, as of this writing, the film was the second most dowloaded film on the Internet Archive with almost 650,000 free downloads. It’s also a late-night perennial, and a film that I dare say almost every horror host in the country working since its release has featured on his or her show.

Certainly, this is the film that (deservedly) made Romero’s name, and led him to go on and make a whole string of other films besides the sequels, and it’s doubtful that we’d be sitting here 42 years later waiting for the latest of those sequels if the original had not gained the kind of widespread viewership and appeal that it has through these many viewings and showings and incarnations made possible through the public domain.

Ok, enough talk. Let’s have a peek at the film itself:

And here’s the skinny:
Title: Night of the Living Dead
Release Date: 1968
Running Time: 96min
Black and White
Stars: Duane Jones, Judith O’Dea
Directed by: George Romero
Produced by: Karl Hardman, Russell Streiner
Distributed by: The Walter Reade Organization

Until next time, Happy Treasure Hunting,
-Professor Damian


Hope you enjoyed this blast from the past.

1968 Fest #3 – Getting Into Your… Head (1968)

Hey, hey, we are The Monkees
You know we love to please
A manufactured image
With no philosophies

We hope you’ll like our story
Although there isn’t one
That is to say there’s many
That way there is more fun…

You say we’re manufactured
To that we all agree
So make your choice, and we’ll rejoice
In never being free

Hey, hey, we are The Monkees
We’ve said it all before
The money’s in, we’re made of tin
We’re here to give you more
The money’s in, we’re made of tin
We’re here to give you…

And so, The Monkees set their statement of purpose at the beginning of their movie Head.

Though immensely popular due to their television show, the Monkees were critically derided as a manufactured pop band known for their radio-friendly bubble gum sound. And though they definitely could fill arenas singing their pop songs, it was apparent that the boys wanted more. That’s why they teamed up with Jack Nicholson (yes, that Jack Nicholson), producer Bert Schneider, and producer/director Bob Rafelson to create Head.

On a (reportedly) drug fueled weekend retreat, Mike, Mickey, Davy and Peter, along with Rafelson and Nicholson brainstormed the basic outline and major scenes of the movie, and then a (again, reportedly) LSD-tripping Nicholson took that and structured a screenplay from it. Or at least something resembling one.

The film begins with the ceremonial opening of the Gerald Desmond Bridge which is interrupted by Mickey running through the red ribbon followed by the rest of the Monkees, all of whom are being chased through by a collection of odd characters. Mickey jumps off the bridge, landing in the water. He is then approached by a couple of mermaids, and they swim in the water in a psychedelic swirl of lights and color as “Porpoise Song” begins to play.

We then cut to the Monkees living room, familiar from the television series, where they are all kissed in sequence by a lovely young lady. From this we cut to the Rose Bowl stadium where the group leads the crow in a chant spelling out war which then cuts to the song above which is overlayed with images from the movie and from popular culture.

As you might be able to tell by now, the movie is a collection of seemingly unrelated vignettes, all of which are tied together more thematically than by any actual plot structure.

So what is the theme? Well, as I noted above, and is made obvious in the quoted song. The Monkees were attempting to break out of the box that they found themselves put in. They were attempting to show that there was more to them than the light-headed, soft-baked mindless pop confection that was the “pre-fab four”.

There are even many instances in which this theme is made literal. The boys continuously find themselves trapped in enclosed spaces, and even when they manage to break out of these literal boxes, even when they attempt to take action and initiative, they still find themselves in unexpected places and circumstances beyond their control.

Part of the problem, of course, is that even as they were trying to break free of their image as a  manufactured copy of the Beatles, the original fab four were morphing themselves, expanding their musical vocabulary and exploring new frontiers, the Monkees still seemed to be following in their footsteps.

Of course, the movie also suffered a one-two punch at the box office. The teeny boppers who were the ban’s biggest fans weren’t interested in seeing the boys take on a new image, and the counterculture audience they were reaching for simply weren’t interested, if for no other reason than they had a preconceived notion of what the band was and what they are capable of.

The film ends, perhaps fittingly, with an image of the boys trapped in an aquarium which rests on the back of a tuck. As the truck drives away, it becomes obvious that no matter how hard they try, the Monkees will never escape the boxes that surrounds them. In a lot of ways, this is in keeping not only with the truth of their lives, but also with the tenor of a lot of movies of the era. There was a sense of bleakness that pervaded a lot of the era’s movies, the sense that there was a certain inevitability to things, and that in the end, for one reason or another, the protagonist (for its hard to call a lot of the leas of these movies heroes) would eventually fall to the forces around them or if they did achieve some measure of victory it would be Pyrrhic at best.

Here’s your trailer for Head.

 

 

 

OTR Tuesday – The Price of Fear (1970s)

The short intro: For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, Old Time Radio is the phrase generally used to refer to the time when radio was (mostly) live, and was full of a variety of different shows, as opposed to simply being a means for record labels to use robots to promote the top records of the day. OTR  Tuesday is my chance to explore some of those old radio shows, their connections (both old and new) to movies, and hopefully to encourage some of the rest of you to take a look at a probably unfamiliar source of entertainment that I truly love. If you want more info on OTR, and some examples of the variety of shows that were made, be sure to check out this introductory post.

I’ve posted a couple of articles so far looking back at the career of horror master Vincent Price and especially his film, radio and television appearances that are available on YouTube. I thought today I’d take a bit more of a look at one of those radio appearances, a 22 episode series hosted by the man himself, The Price of Fear.

In creating and producing the series, John Dyas came up with an interesting idea: rather than have Price simply narrate the stories or provide opening and closing monologues, Price would be the featured character in the stories, not playing various characters, but playing himself. Well known as a world traveler and immediately recognizable, Price was well known not only for his stardom, but also as a collector of stories, so many times the shows would involve him getting involved in some horrific situation or being told by an acquaintance of a situation  they found themselves in.

I said above that the series consists of 22 episodes, but they were not all produced at the same time. The initial series of five stories was broadcast initially in July of 1973. These were rebroadcast in September and November of that year alongside five new stories. Then the next year six new stories were produced. Then, nine years later, in 1983, the series was revived, with six new episodes, though, unfortunately, in those Price reverts to a more traditional narrator role.

Drawing its stories at times from classic horror tales, The Price of Fear adapted tales from the likes of Roald Dahl, R. Chetwind-Hayes, and Bram Stoker. Most of the stories were written by long-time radio scripter William Ingram. Highlighted by Price’s distinguished voice and charm, the show is highly entertaining and very much recommended.

So let’s give it a listen, shall we?