Every film I watched in March
- Batman (1966) A special Friday Family Film and Pizza (but occasionally Onigri) Night.
It was the first time my mum, my kids, my wife, and I had all been in
the same room since my dad died nearly two weeks ago. We watched the
1966 Batman projected up on the big(ish) screen. First time my
mum, or my three year-old, batman-obsessed little boy had seen it.
Both enjoyed it for vastly different reasons and I sat and loved
sharing it with them (though Lee Meriwether's rather peachy bum up
there on the screen in glorious Technicolor was an added bonus - and
was also, I suspect, the only bit of the film my dad would really have
Mrs JM is away for the weekend at some sort of two day crochet trade
show in Glasgow. (Yeah, I'm baffled too and I share a house with the
So, while she's away the kids and I settle down on the sofa with buckets of Maltesers, loads of dripping ice-lollies, and watch:
- Journey to the Centre of Time ( 1968 ) - a dreadful film
which stretches three minutes of story to movie length by long
sequences of stock footage, endless techno-babble and a special effects
budget that runs to letting off a small firework placed on top of a
'computer' console. (A measure of the film's limited budget can be
seen by the fact that the 'control room' is three such consoles placed
in front of a wall of blackout curtain. And as a good quarter of the
film takes place in this space it's pretty obvious measure too.) The
kids had a great time adding their own MST3K type rifftrack.
- War of the Planets (1966) - Now here's something weird. I've seen War of the Planets
a couple of times and though the girls would enjoy its
brightly-coloured fast-paced cheesiness. What I hadn't thought through
was that I first saw this piece of Italian Space nonsense as a
battle-hardened SF movie watcher of 50 years experience. They were
seeing it for the first time as impressionable kids who don't know all
the cliches. They loved it. They didn't take it totally seriously but
they enjoyed themselves. The jokes and giggles died away during the
show as they became drawn into the story - though Holly's heartfelt cry
of: "...and you can bend spoons!" at the end of the villain's
scenery-chewing "Join us and become masters of the universe!" rant was a
cracker. Watching it with them the film became a lot better than I
- 2001: A Space Travesty (2000) - Back in February I watched a cheapo piece of drek called Frankenstein General Hospital which I described as "An awful film. I seriously hope I see nothing as bad as this for the rest of the year."
Frankenstein General Hospital was shit but at least it was cheap
shit. You can forgive all sorts of stuff if you know the cast and crew
were working hard for peanuts and making the sets out of what they can
find. Having worked on a film set where I had to scrounge cardboard
boxes from the local supermarket's bins (so we could flatten them to
write idiot boards for the star) I can understand and forgive a lot.
With Frankenstein General Hospital it was hard work because,
apart from one very thin joke delivered very badly, there wasn't really
much going for it. (Even gratuitous nudity from former Playboy models
couldn't save it.)
2001: A Space Travesty on the other hand had no excuse. It cost 45 million US Dollars and is, basically, Hollywood mashup: Leslie Neilsen doing his Police Squad shtick to the tune of Men in Black.
Here's the pitch... "Frank Drebin - in Space..." Not exactly a bad idea
for a 90 minute popcorn comedy but, dear god! you would have thought someone
would have come up with at least ONE new joke. Beyond dire. Neilsen
hated it. He described it in an interview in 2003 as, "the worst
experience I've ever had". At least he got paid (well, I hope he did). I
- El Chupacabra (2003) - No hope, low budget, straight to DVD
piece of shit about legendary the South American goat-sucking vampire,
El Chupacabra on the loose in LA. Dreadfully written: "Goats are
usually found in areas with a high goat population.". And lousily
acted. Really really bad. I became fascinated by the central
character's blinks for a while. Young Lantino actor, vaguely
symmetrical, and he wouldn't stop blinking. I guess it was some sort of
nervous twitch but it was hypnotically distracting*. Some very odd
camera angles too. A lot of really low-level stuff which, I guess, is
supposed to suggest the low POV of the beasty but, as it's never used as
the low POV of the beasty, just leaves the audience thinking "Why are
we looking at this guy's ankles? Why are we looking at the cellulite on
the back of this woman's thighs? etc."
The best thing about the show
(apart from wondering just how long the editor can sustain the
pointless shot of our two villains walking across a bridge while some
bland music covers up the conversation they are obviously having but
can't hear) the best thing about this show is the cheap, on location
'Making of' that accompanies it. When you have the 'star' of the show
telling the interviewer how professional the crew is you know you're
deep in wannabee land. Kudos too to the director of this featurette for
making the two obvious stunts in the film more exciting and dangerous
than they appeared in the finished product just by finding a better
angle. "Shoot whatever you want just don't get in our way OK?" During
the film I remember thinking: "I wonder how close that 'speeding' car
actually came to that stuntman?". Watching the 'Making of' I was
shocked. "Jeso! He nearly hit the guy!" I'd know who I'd hire.
* On reflection I'm exaggerating about the shoddiness of the acting. The central performance was crap. I had one of those - "oh, please don't tell us this is
the hero..." moments when he first appeared. And he seriously fluffed
his lines on more than one occasion - in the takes they USED! God knows
what he was like in the out-takes. (This is why people budget for ADR,
people!) Everyone else does the best they can with a crap script, less
than two dimensional characters, and, I suspect, very weak direction.
- Invasion of the Neptune Men (1961 aka Iron Sharp, 宇宙快速船 Uchū Kaisokusen, Space Hypership) - whatever you call it, it was shit.
- Ponyo ( 2008 ) - I loved it! A simple story beautifully told. Very dreamy.
- Shaolin Ninja (1985 if you believe the box, or 1981 if you
think the IMDb can do no wrong. Mind you, the VHS case thought it was a
cert 18 while the tape had a 15 sticker on it (The BBFC says 15). To
add to the confusion before we even get to the start of the story the
film has changed its title and is called Shaolin Fighters Vs Ninja in the opening credits. It is apparently also known as Return of the Deadly Blade.).
What follows is the usual 90+ minutes of Chinese guys walloping seven
kinds of shit out of each other (literally; at one point one of our
'heroes' attacks someone who is having a dump in a riverside outhouse on
stilts). Who these people are and why they are wellying the crap out
of each other at a moment's notice is beyond me. For reasons which I
didn't understand - though 'revenge' seems to get mentioned a lot - two
lone fighters are in search of Master Li who disappeared many years
before. Someone has hired Ninjas (sic) to stop them. I think. Some
sort of Moon Goddess is floating about too disguised as a mortal. In the
end Master Li turns up in his Kung-Fu flying wheelchair and despite
lots of "Ah! So you are my father, and he is my brother and my auntie
too - I must kill you!" dialogue at the end, culminating in a sword vs
wheelchair vs flying moon goddess lady fist fight, I was still none the
wiser at the end.
Best underwater Ninja attack sequence I have ever seen though.
- Ninja Dragon (1986) - Another from the VHS pile. And what a gem! Ninja Dragon
is an incomprehensible mess of a film cobbled together by cutting some
newly shot footage of badly dubbed, middle-aged white men into a Chinese
gangster film in which everyone dresses like the Blues Brothers. The
white men are gangsters too and film alternates between shots of the
Chinese Gangsters happily carrying on with their incomprehensible
Chinese Gangster feuding and shots of the white guys barking orders to
them down the telephone in sub-Sweeny White Gangster style. Both of the
white gangsters are also Ninjas(!). From time to time the gangstering
stops to let some ninja stuff happen. I'm pretty sure the Chinese
Gangster stuff was originally intended to be set in the 1930's; the
clothes and weapons certainly give that feel - how many modern gangsters
use Thompson submachine guns? Though the white guys' sequences are
definitely modern day; modern cars and Uzis. The music is eclectic too
and, I'm sure, borrows a couple of sound cues from David Lynch's Dune.
I was so impressed (happily bewildered) by the whole mess that I
immediately sauntered over to eBay and bought a DVD copy and another of
the director's "Cut and Paste" films, Ninja Terminator, (which, my sources tell me, is even less comprehensible than Ninja Dragon). I paid £1.27 for the both of them - and that includes postage.
- The Independent (2000) - rewatch of a favourite great little film.
- Drainiac! (2000) - Straight to DVD. Teenagers. Creepy
House. Something evil in the pipework (hence the title). No budget.
Been there, done that - but never quite so crappily as this. I've only
seen one other film by the writer director, Brett Piper - which was the
tremendously awful A Nymphoid Barbarian in Dinosaur Hell (1990). On this limited sampling I'm willing to bet that the titles of his films are the best bits. Not that Drainiac
was ALL awful. There were a few nice inventive, low-budget in camera
'let's do the creepy effect by tilting the set and have the evil slime
run UP the walls!' stuff going on, but it was swamped by the awful,
awful script, some really godawful post-production sound work and rotten
acting. Though, it must be said, the two female leads were bearable and
have gone on to better things. (Mind you, getting naked and writhing
around in a bathful of rubber tentacles will always add JunkMonkey
watch-ability points. Pity the wrong actress got wet and naked but you
can't have everything. What has Hollywood got against short, well-rounded brunettes?)
- Pirates! An Adventure with Scientists (20012) Friday night pizza fun.
- Center of the Web (1992) - the parcel I ordered from eBay (see Ninja Dragon above)
arrived with the wrong discs in the case. So I'm watching the discs
that are in there quick so I can send them back and get the right ones
sent to me. I do wonder why I'm bothering though; Center of the Web
is a plodding, leaden-paced 'thriller' that stars Charlene Tilson.
Took me ages to work out where I had seen her before. She played Lucy
'The Poison Dwarf' Ewing in Dallas. Very dull. Though the hand
drawn muzzle-flash pasted onto the end of her pistol as she finally gets
round to shooting the bad guy was almost almost worth the pain.
Two frames of almost inventive film making. The opening credits ran for
two minutes the end credits for six. Eight minutes is a sizeable
percentage of a 92 minute movie.
- Gladiator (1986) - between making the notorious mad artist turned serial murderer film Driller Killer (1979) and proper films with well kent actors like Christopher Walken and Harvey Keitel: King of New York (1990), Bad Lieutenant (1992), The Funeral (1996), etc. Abel Ferrara paid the rent by directing some TV work. Episodes of Miami Vice and and TV movies like this. Gladiator
is a better than average, grittier than usual, made for TV
action/message of the week movie ('Drink Driving is Bad') that mashes up
bits of Death Wish and Duel and pits a bereaved auto-mechanic against the serial hit and run driver who killed his brother. Like Duel the
killer's car is his character - we never see the driver's face or hear
him speak, and the vigilante mechanic has a crisis of confidence after
driving a speeding car off the road (only to find the occupants were a
couple desperate to get to the hospital as the woman was in labour), and
turns himself in. The best line is delivered by the always dependable
Robert Culp. He's just been read a long list of conflicting
descriptions of the vigilante driver and his souped-up, turbo-charged,
gizmo laden truck. The descriptions have mostly come from his drunk
victims: "So," says our world weary detective. "We're looking for a
bald, black James Bond. Shouldn't be hard to find..."
- Death Ring (1992) - Yet another of the endless number of movie riffing on the central theme of The Most Dangerous Game (1932).
In this one a bored, petulant ex-Green Beret (with the screen presence
of a plate of custard) is kidnapped by a bonkers billionaire (played
with wonderful over-the-top, camp loopiness by Billy Drago. Drago
really was the best bit about this film a whole performance built on the
idea of seeing how far he could tilt his head 'being weird' before the
director told him to stop. The Green Beret type is played by Mike 'Son
of Chuck' Norris. His character's best war story - or at least the only
one the audience gets to hear - is about the time he spent three days
sitting in a forest behind enemy lines waiting for his buddies to
arrive. They had retreated but no one had told him. (Did they know
something we didn't?) To cut a lot of tedious character (hah!)
development and backstory guff short the custardy ex-Green Beret,
Special Forces guy and his girlfriend are kidnapped by two blokes, in
broad daylight, in the middle of the city by the old chloroform pad over
the mouth gag. (Which makes you start to really wonder just how movie
tough this guy is.) Their friend (ace helicopter pilot and wartime
buddy, played by someone being Mickey Rourke for the day) notices they
have disappeared and goes looking. Luckily the bad guys have a
distinctive tattoo on their wrists (Zoinks,Thelma, a clue!). Green
Custard guy and girlfriend wake up on Mystery Island where they are
introduced to an ethnically diverse group of bad actors who will be
hunting him down for kicks. With a four-hour head start our hero
whittles a spear out of a branch and makes some ill-defined 'stand in a
loop of something and get hung up by your ankle' device. He is attacked
by skinny Asian ethnic hunter who does a great line in throwing
shiruken into bits of wood just next to our hero's head before standing
in the ill-defined loop of something gizmo and getting himself killed.
Our hero does not pick up the shiruken, or go through the dead bad guy's
pockets to see if he has anything else useful. Our suspicions about
him being a bit of a thicko are deepened. Our hero is attacked by the
Apache Indian ethnic hunter who throws a BLOODY BIG SPEAR into the tree
trunk right next to our hero's head. (Being a tree near this guy is
dangerous - though it could be a comment on the guy's acting. "Honest. I
couldn't tell them apart!") There is fighting. The Apache Indian
ethnic hunter gets killed by an ill-defined prodding in the tummy with a
stick. The hero does not pick up the BLOODY BIG SPEAR either. (To
save time I'll tell you he doesn't pick up the Kris or the garotte from
the other two ethnically diverse - but easily disposed of - hunters
either. Our suspicions about Custard boy's thickness are confirmed.
Stop whittling sticks and pick up something with a point, you
numbskull!) Meanwhile, the Mickey Rourke-o-gram talks to the police
and calls in at the only tattoo shop in Los Angeles where he beats the
crap out of the owner, and finds the tattoo belongs to a Hispanic cult
member. We're glad he did this because when the cult kidnap him a few
moments later and tie him to a chair then tell him where to find our
hero we aren't wondering who they are. We may be wondering why people
are telling him all this but at least we know who's doing it. They
let him go and Rourke legs it back to the cops who, with the help of a
map and a small wooden ruler, work out that small islands 250 miles of
the coast of Mexico are outside the jurisdiction of the L.A.P.D.. (Great
detective work!). At which point our sidekick-hero commandeers a
helicopter and sets off.
In the end our hero defeats all comers with the help of a crippled
previous survivor of the hunt, a Mickey Rourk-a-like throwing hand
grenades from a helicopter, and, in what I think was supposed to be an
attempt at irony, he is finally rescued from the killer fists of an ex
Viet-Cong female assassin - by his girlfriend! Our hero is being
pummelled unto death by a small Asian woman who he had previously
thrown out of an upper-storey window and his girlfriend has to rescue
him by shooting her in the back. I'd love to have heard the
conversation around the Norris family table that night after a hard
day's action movie acting:
I just want to point out I bought this movie by accident.
|Mike: Hi Dad! I'm home. How d'it go today?
Chuck: Oh, you know, son, the usual: killed a gazillion goons
with my bare hands, defused the bomb with my feet, and threw a truck
full of dynamite at the bad guys... how about you...?
Mike: ...er... listen, dad, I gotta go tidy my room, okay...?
- The Alternate (1999) - yet another cheapo Die Hard
knock off. Lots of people do stupid things so they can get shot to
death easily - sometimes several times. The greatly underrated Eric
Roberts is the lead and he does his thing well and frustrated me again.
Why doesn't he get/take better material? He's a far better actor than
this crap deserves; it's sad to see him doing shit like this. The vastly
overrated Michael Madsen turns up for a bit (though not on the same set
or on the same day as any of the other names in the cast) and, almost
literally, phones in his performance. He also manages to win the film's
'looking even less bothered about being in the show than anyone else'
competition by peering through a pair of binoculars without taking off
his sunglasses. Highlights of the ineptness here included: a practical
demonstration of the harness used by stuntmen while strapped to a fan
descender; the same helicopter being in two separate places at the same
time; budget-extending stock news footage of masses of emergency
vehicles at a real real emergency - which don't match in any way the
location footage; and police who are, at a crucial moment, unable to
shoot down one of the two same helicopters because it went behind the
besieged building - the implication being that they have only thrown a
cordon around one half of it. Derivative shit but worse than that: badly done, derivative shit.
- Steel Dawn (1987) Post-apoc mullets and fighting movie which plays out as yet another variation on Shane
but with swords this time. Not good. But not terrible. The DVD
transfer of the disc I bought from Poundland was dreadful though.
Strangely, and variably, cropped, sometimes slicing the top off the image leaving you staring at talking torsos for a great deal of the time.
- Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex, Drugs and Rock 'N' Roll Generation Saved Hollywood (2003) - one of the better quidworth's I've spent in Poundland recently.
- Lorna (1964) - another early Russ Meyer this time featuring an almost coherent story and the stupendous breasts of Lorna Maitland.