Sunday, January 29, 2012

S03E10 - Fugitive Alien


During a raid on the planet Earth, a Wolf Raider soldier experiences a pang of conscience when ordered to kill a mother and her child and ends up killing his best friend by accident. Branded a traitor, he flees, only to end up in the hands of an Earth spacecraft crew. With the captain knowing his true identity and threatening to expose him unless he cooperates, the Wolf Raider is forced to help the Earth spacecraft with whatever jobs they are given, all while avoiding the death threat that hangs over his head.

Movie Review

This movie has a lot in common with another film that showed up on MST3K, namely Time of the Apes. They both originated in Japan. They're both movies that are actually condensed television series (this one being born from a show called Star Wolf). And they were both made by Sandy Frank. Therefore, Fugitive Alien has all of the problems that Time of the Apes has, if not more so.

Naturally, as a fairly long TV series condensed into a feature-film length, the movie suffers from a lack of plot cohesion, jumping from scene to scene with far too much information lost on the editing room floor. The main plot points remain intact, but the more subtle moments that make them feel natural are gone, leaving something that feels more like a series of unrelated scenes than a properly developed narrative. Conflict comes and goes without buildup or warning, by the end nobody feels like a fully fleshed out character.

Honestly, there is very little to be said for this film that hasn't already been said for Time of the Apes, since both of them are practically identical in how they were made. There is, however, one major difference: Fugitive Alien seems to have the luxury of being the first of a two-parter. The ending, like the rest of the plot, is unsatisfying, ending a few minutes after a (supposedly) dramatic plot point with the ominous words "To Be Continued". Obviously, the plot from the original TV series was so dense that fitting even a small amount of it into a single movie would've been impossible, so Sandy Frank decided to split his edited version into two movies.

Despite that, however, it does little to ease the fact that the movie is poorly edited and lacking any kind of decent structure. I doubt even three movies would've made this series of mish-mashed footage worth it. In any case, the second movie will appear in a later episode of MST3K, concluding the tale told in this hacked up tale. I can't say I'm looking forward to it.

MST3K Review

This episode is considered a watershed moment in the series, and I agree, as it is one of the strongest episodes in the show so far. Admittedly the riffs started a little slow, but once the movie introduced the Earth ship's crew, then the riffing really took off. I probably wouldn't consider it an all-time classic, but it's certainly way up there with the great episodes.

Also, "He triiiieeeed to kill me with a forklift..."

Stinger Review

An excellent choice for a stinger: the captain of the ship laughing like a maniac before suddenly pulling out the cigar nestled behind his ear and screaming angrily at the man by his side, "You're stuck here!" Poor dubbing plus one hell of a mood swing makes for one of the more memorable stingers of the third season so far.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

S03E09 - The Amazing Colossal Man


A soldier is exposed to the radiation of a plutonium bomb, becoming severely burned in the process. Miraculously, his burnt skin heals completely, and even more incredibly, he begins to grow in size. Scientists quickly race to find a cure for his rapid growth before his heart gives out and explode, but the more he grows, the more he loses his grip on his sanity.

Movie Review

Bert I. Gordon graces us with his presence with yet another of his films, The Amazing Colossal Man. Unlike some of his previous works (like the atrocious King Dinosaur), this film is actually not entirely bad. Of course, that's not really saying much, but at least it doesn't make one want to tear his hair out in frustration. No, it'll only likely bore someone to death outside of a few moments of mind-numbing stupidity.

The biggest problem with this film is that Gordon doesn't seem to know exactly what kind of film he wants. The first two-thirds of the film details the titular colossal man as he comes to grips with his size increase, resulting in some poorly written internal drama that tries to be deep yet sounds ridiculous. The final third is about the colossal man going on a rampage across the state of Nevada, finally ending up in Las Vegas. Both of these sections are padded with dull sections of people talking in such a way that isn't natural and is in no way interesting. The overall effect is a film with no direction and no idea what it wants to do.

Much of the problem rests in one of the main characters, a doctor who is trying to find a cure for the colossal man's growth. He has got to be one of the most boring and dull characters I have ever seen on screen. He talks like he has some kind of importance and yet he draws out his sentences as if he knows he has to stretch out the film's run time. Every time he speaks he gives dull exposition that the audience doesn't care about. Some of the same padding problems can be seen in a later scene where the army discusses its strategy to find the colossal man, a scene that is entirely unnecessary and boring as all hell.

Now, if the film were merely boring, that would be okay, but then the film does some really stupid things throughout that can make one slap his head in bewilderment. The most jaw-dropping moment of stupidity comes when a scientist claims that the human heart is made up of just a single cell, a claim that most people would find ludicrous. Some of the special effects are also incredibly bad, such as the hilarious moment when two allegedly shrunken animals in cages are just TV screens of said animals with cage bars placed in front of the screens. And while the green screen effect used to make the colossal man colossal aren't exactly good, it gets really lazy near the end when the man falls off a giant dam and yet is frozen in a crouching position during his fall.

If there's one thing I can't really fault the movie with, it's the female lead, namely the colossal man's fiancée. Unlike some other female characters on MST3K, she actually has some depth in that she's loyal to the man she loves and refuses to leave him despite others pushing for her to do so. True, she does become a cliched damsel in distress at the very end, but in the rest of the film she isn't an annoying airhead looking to jump into the protagonist's pants. Surprisingly a decently written character, to a point, for a film like this.

Outside of her, the only other character who is at all memorable is the colossal man, if only because of his silly overacting. During his growth spurt, he really pours on the cheese as he spouts line after flat line about sin and being a freak. If the movie had any competent direction at all, it could've been an interesting character study, but as it stands it is nothing more than dull conversations one after the other. Every other character, from the scientists to the army personnel, are bland and faceless, as far as characterization is concerned.

Overall, not the worst that Bert I. Gordon has to offer, but still nothing to write home about.

MST3K Review

While the last few films were in the between decent and good category, this episode finally breaks that streak and hits a better than good quality. While it hasn't reached the lofty heights of some of the show's classics to this point, this episode was great effort by Joel and the bots with some excellent lines and well-time zingers. Definitely one of the more enjoyable episodes of season three so far. 

Stinger Review

The colossal man's overacting during a scene where he laughs makes for a decent stinger. However, I think the scene where the scientist claims that the human heart is a single cell should've been the stinger, since nothing in the movie could top that stupidity.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

S03E08 - Gamera vs. Gaos


A road project is being held up by a small village that refuses to sell its land for the road to pass through. Matters become more serious when a nearby volcano erupts, letting loose a giant creature dubbed Gaos that rampages across the nearby countryside and cities. The only hope for everyone seems to rest in Gamera, the famed giant turtle monster.

Movie Review

Oh, joy, another Gamera movie. Compared to the previous two Gamera films featured on MST3K, this one isn't that bad in some respects. In other respects, however, it is just as bad, if not worse. So it ends up coming about dead even on the mediocrity scale. Oh, joy.

First, the good news: the monsters don't look as ridiculous as before. Oh, don't get me wrong, they still look as goofy as kaiju monsters always look, but at least the film makers seemed to have learned some lessons from the previous film(s). Unlike the last beast, Barugon, this film's monster Gaos does not look painfully obviously like a man in a suit. How did they accomplish this stunning feat? By not focusing on the monster's legs, which were a dead giveaway in the dog-like Barugon. Instead the feet are often obscured or at the least rarely focused on, allowing the monsters to look more like monsters and not men in heavy suits. So at least they wised up there.

But then they had to ruin their hard work with one addition to this film that wasn't in the previous one: Ichi. A kid. Another goddamn kid. Is he is as annoying as Kenny? No, nobody could be as vile and loathsome as Kenny, the boy who loved Gamera despite the giant turtle's slaughtering of thousands of people. And yet Ichi is still annoying. Why? Because he's a kid, and therefore he's been dubbed like he's sucked helium all his life. Why did old English dubs have to give kids such horrible, screeching voices? I'll never understand why they thought this was good idea, never.

To make matters worse, the film tries to make Ichi actually useful by (I can't believe I'm writing this) giving him the keys to defeating Gaos. Ichi is the one who reveals that Gaos only comes out at night. Ichi is the one who suggests using a rotating platform for an idea to incapacitate Gaos. Ichi is the one to reveal how to summon Gamera. Why? Because Gamera is a friend to children, apparently. I am not well versed in the traditions of kaiju, so perhaps it is normal to make a kid smart enough to get security clearances in the Japanese military and offer ideas that no one else has the brain capacity to ever consider. But even if this is tradition, it's still ridiculous to make Gamera, a killer turtle who slayed thousands of people in his first movie, suddenly a friend who will act as the savior of the human race.

Outside of this inherent silliness, the movie does not help itself with its ridiculous plot points. The most ridiculous moment comes when they decide to incapacitate Gaos by making him stand on a giant rotating platform so he will become dizzy. And how do they lure him there? With a giant fountain of blood. Artificial blood, of course, made in a science laboratory within a day. Of course! Then there's a silly subplot involving the local farmers holding out for more money for their land, which serves no purpose in a movie about giant monsters fighting each other.

Despite these momentum-killing flaws, the movie does do a couple things right. First, the fights between Gamera and Gaos are actually lengthy and numerous, as opposed to Gamera's lone, pathetic 10-minute fight with Barugon in his previous film. Also, while there is a submissive Japanese mother (of Ichi, duh) whose sole responsibility is to look pretty and apologize for her son's rudeness, she isn't matched with any of the film's male characters by movie's end, which is actually surprising. On a series like MST3K, where women are paired up with men they've met for all of one hour by the end of a movie, it's a breath of fresh air to see such a pointless plot point eliminated.

Such a shame it had to be in Gamera vs. Gaos, a goofy and at times annoying film that looks like it's started several trends that will only get worse. Much, much worse. Oh, joy.

MST3K Review

The previous two Gamera films were aired very close together, and probably as a result the second film, Gamera vs. Barugon, seemed to suffer with its jokes. The break that Best Brains gave the Gamera films (by airing Time of the Apes) seems to have helped, as the jokes were noticeably stronger for Gaos than they were for Barugon. The level of quality still isn't as high as some other season three episodes, but the level of quality is slightly higher than the average so far. At the very least it was enjoyable to laugh at Gamera again.

Stinger Review

I don't get this stinger. Two comic relief characters suddenly look scared and hold each other when their radio starts to emit warbled static. The scene makes sense in context, and out of context it's not particularly memorable, even if the two characters overact a little. Overall, not the best stinger, probably on the same level as the Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster stinger. A much better choice would've been the scene of Gamera throwing a rock into Gaos' mouth, a ridiculous scene in any context.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

S03E07 - Daddy-O


Short: The ABCs are presented through a series of short film segments that correspond to each letter of the alphabet.

Movie: A truck driver and amateur racer meets a feisty young woman who challenges him to a drag race. During this race, his best friend is killed and he is initially blamed for it. When he is cleared of the charge, he and the young woman seek to find out the cause of his friend's death by infiltrating a new nightclub.

Movie Review

Before diving into the droopy antics that is Daddy-O, this episode of MST3K starts off with antics of a different kind: the alphabet kind. In the short film  Alphabet Antics, a woman narrator takes us through each letter of the alphabet by showing off a short film segment related (often tangibly) to each letter. While not as terrible as most of the previous films or shorts shown on MST3K, this short is so inherently goofy and pointless that one wonders who exactly it was made for. Perhaps it had been meant for school children to watch in class, or had it once been attached to movies meant for younger viewers?

Whatever the reason, the movie is certainly peculiar, as well as at times poorly executed. As typical for something likely aimed at a young audience, the narrator speaks in rhymes as she narrates the scenes and their corresponding letter, but her rhymes make no sense and have no inherent consistency. Granted, children of a young age would likely not care, but why not put forth at least some effort? Also, some of the letters were really stretching their relation to certain scenes. The letter I, for instance, was for "In" and accompanied by a shot of the White House. Why? Because when the President is inside the White House, he is "in," and when he's not "in," he's out. And the pelicans were saddled with the letter Q for  "queer, queer pelicans" (one of the most notable words whose definitions have changed in recent times).

Also, aside from some apparent animal mistreatment, there was also one instant of apparent racism where, for the letter B, a group of stereotypical African bushmen were rowing a "boat." Yeah, I don't get it either.

In any case, this is one of the more harmless, if silly pieces of film that has graced MST3K's projection screen, which is more than I can say for the feature film, Daddy-O. Now, to be fair, Daddy-O isn't that bad of a film. It's not a good film, but it's not as bad as a lot of the dreck that has come before it on this show. However, it is an indecisive film, having the same problem as Sidehackers in that it doesn't know what kind of movie it wants to be (without the jarring rape sequence, thankfully). Does it want to be a racing film? Or a mystery film? Perhaps an action film? No one can tell, and neither can the movie, which makes for a very uneven watching experience.

One of the biggest problems is the forced chemistry between the two leads, the male racer (played by accordion legend Dick Contino) and the female upstart. They try so, so hard to have some kind of stormy yet slowly tempering relationship between them from the moment they meet, but it just doesn't work. The moments they switch from "I hate you" to "I don't hate anymore" to "I love you" come out of nowhere and feel like neon signs signaling bad writing. Like in many movies of this ilk, the romance is completely unnecessary and just weighs the film down. If one good thing can be said about the romance, it is nowhere near as bad as the one found in The Corpse Vanishes, but that's the only thing.

Aside from the romance, the story is nothing to write home about, just the standard story of illegal deeds being investigated by jerks with hearts of gold and the police doing absolutely nothing. Oddly enough, the movie seems as uninterested in the plot as the audience does, as it seems to forget about it until near the end during a forced exposition scene. The final third is a bunch of action scenes strung together, and the editing department apparently has no experience with such types of films, as these scenes are disjointed. Several characters also appear and disappear without warning, though the impression they leave is so small no one apparently cares about them leaving.

So is there anything good about this film? Maybe the score, which was the first film score done by the legendary John Williams. Though the music lacks the iconic melody lines that has made Williams famous and thus isn't all that memorable, the music is a lot better than the stock music and random sound effects used in many other B-movies. If this movie is the price to pay for Williams' work to follow, then so be it.

All in all, not a bad film, just an uninteresting one.

MST3K Review

Apparently whatever drugs Joel and the bots used to get the brilliant riffs from the previous episode were in short supply for this episode, as this one ranks as one of their weaker efforts. Nowhere near as bad as The Mad Monster and The Hellcats, but also not up to par with some of their best riffs. There were some strong jokes her and there, and by the end they seemed to have found a good groove in places, but there were too many lags throughout to really rank it in the upper hierarchy of episodes. Interestingly, the short had better riffs than the actual film riffs. The ending scenes of the Mads struggling to fix the credits was funnier than the film riffs, in fact.

Stinger Review

Going along with the episode's "okay but no more" feeling, the stinger has approximately the same quality. The scene is of the brainless and near-blind thug telling the hero "Couldn't help you if I wanted to, fella. Gym policy." A bizarre line made even more bizarre by the guy's facial expression make this a decent stinger, though it feels a little hollow compared to some of the better stingers in previous episodes.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

S03E06 - Time of the Apes


Two children take a trip to a science laboratory where experimentation on the cryogenic freezing of apes is taking place. An earthquake forces the two children and their caretaker to seek shelter in some of the freeze pods, which accidentally turn on and freeze them, sending them hundreds of years into the future. When they are awoken, they find themselves in a land ruled by humanoid apes and have to fend for their very lives. Their only hope for survival rests in the help of a renegade human in the ape country, where humans are marked for death.

Movie Review

The previous MST3K film, Stranded in Space, shows us the pitfalls of using a television pilot as a feature film. This episode, Time of the Apes, shows us a different yet similar pitfall: using an entire television series as a movie. Originally a 26 episode television series called Saru no Gundan, the episodes (especially the first and last ones) were edited together to give us this weird and confusing film.

Naturally, editing a full 26 episodes into a movie can go spectacularly wrong if not handled correctly, and the process here, handled by Sandy Frank, was most certainly not handled correctly. The film is a mess from start to finish, jumping from scene to scene with little coherency, leaving multiple plot details unexplained and introducing new ones unnecessarily. The film isn't edited in such a way that it's impossible to tell what's going on, but the way scenes move at such a rapid pace make the movie's TV roots abundantly clear.

The movie really suffers because of this in the middle, where all the explanation and back story of 20+ episodes is gutted for a few action scenes and some abrupt setups. It's eventually revealed at the end that six months pass during the time that the protagonists are in the ape country, but there is nothing in the film to give that sense of scale. Also, there are aliens. At least that's what it looks like, because they appear and disappear too abruptly to make any meaningful contribution to the film until near the end.

Okay, so editing a lengthy TV series into a feature film is not a good idea. Does anything else drag the film down further? Well, the English dubbing, for one thing. Typical of Sandy Frank dubs, the voice acting is over the top and shrill, especially the female and children characters, the latter of which there are too many. Though not as vile as Kenny from Gamera, the kids in Time of the Apes are predictably annoying, the boy for sound like a whiny little sod and the girl for one of the most ear-splitting voices imaginable. There's even a child ape, who thankfully isn't as aggravating as the human children but still manages to be irritating.

The plot itself is almost a direct ripoff of the film Planet of the Apes, a fact that is noticeable despite the haphazardly edited plot. Certainly there are changes here and there, but no one is fooled concerning this story's source. On the plus side, the costumes of the apes are pretty good, even though some of them weren't done as carefully as the others. And some of the effects, while goofy, are at least well done for their time (more or less).

Overall, the production values aren't really the problem with this movie - the original series may even be pretty good, for all I know. The series-to-movie conversion and English dubbing, however, turn it into something that isn't worth looking into except for curiosity's sake. Sandy Frank deserved all the scorn he got for this episode, as well as the dreck of his found in previous episodes.

MST3K Review

The last Japanese movie that Joel and the bots did, Gamera vs Barugon, was a disappointment, perhaps because they riffed two Gamera movies nearly back-to-back. It seems the decision to go with a a Japanese film without the giant turtle was a smart move, as they were in top form in this episode. The first third of the film especially had some strong riffs, and while it sort of lagged in the middle, the ending finished strong as well. Certainly one of the best episodes of season three to date.

Stinger Review

"I don't care." Of course they chose this for the stinger, the scene where, after a small tremor, little Johnny rebuffs his mother's concern with these immortal words. The poorly timed dialogue and the badly dubbed voices all converge into an absolutely perfect stinger, one of the best in the series so far.