Notes from our travels across a mysterious world.

Category: Arts & Literature (Page 1 of 16)

“The only answer is to blast that thing out of the sky.”

I was eagerly perusing today’s monster movie listing on TCM, and I realized that, on a day which features greats like King Kong (1933) and Gojira (1954), they were also showing The Green Slime (1968). I started laughing, because I had just seen The Green Slime on the same channel and I wouldn’t have figured they’d go for a second helping of a rare dish: A movie that’s so bad it stands out in a series of bad movies.

A little background: In the mid-Sixties, MGM needed some TV movies, so they asked Italian director Antonio Margheriti to work his magic in the realm of cheap sci-fi. Margheriti made four movies in three months, all centered around a space station called Gamma One. The official Gamma One series includes Wild, Wild Planet, War of the Planets, War Between the Planets, and Snow Devils, all of which we’ve seen. Despite their origins as TV movies, MGM ended up releasing them in theaters over the next few years.

Here’s where the weirdness comes in: MGM liked the films so much they decided to make an unofficial sequel in partnership with the Toei Company, the eventual birthplace of the Super Sentai and Kamen Rider franchises. I’m sure it seemed like a good idea: They already had the basis for the story from Italy, the Japanese were just as good at cheap special effects and models, they could use known American actors (both shipped in and local to Japan), and they managed to get an Italian actress who had just starred in a James Bond movie as the female lead. Change the station name to Gamma Three and they were golden. However, The Green Slime doesn’t work even by the standards of Gamma One because the producers forgot one thing.

The Gamma One movies exhibited all the hallmarks of Italian sci-fi at the time: Thoroughly unlikeable heroes, on-and-off dubbing, cheap special effects, weird clothing, cavalier continuity, mod dances, strange live entertainment, and nonsensical plots. Despite this, the series has one thing going for it: Decent villainy. Even though I still have no idea what the mad scientist was doing in the first one, he was menacing. The green clouds that took over human bodies in the second were both creepy and as confused by the physics of the material world as you’d expect. Even the living planetoid and the Yetis had their moments.

I’m sure when the crew first heard about the green slime monster, their minds filled with possibility. The Thing from Another World (1951) had shown what you could do with something that could potentially shapeshift. The Blob (1958) gave them a straightforward template for a hungry, hungry slime. Planet of the Vampires (1965) and Gamma One’s own War of the Planets showed what you could do with parasitic creatures taking over human bodies. Heck, a slime monster could go through any duct and ambush anyone. The only thing you could do to make a slime monster less scary is to make it solid. Guess what?

The acting isn’t terrible by Gamma One standards. Robert Horton makes a terrible Richard Basehart, but Richard Jaeckel plays a good Richard Jaeckel, and Luciana Paluzzi does what she was asked to do. Everybody is just as unpleasant and macho as in Gamma One. Most general effects are about the same: Models that look like a 1930s science magazine predicting the 1980s and plenty of fireworks for gun blasts and explosions. The plot actually makes more sense: The Green Slime gets on a crewman exploring a new asteroid and makes it aboard the ship, feeds on energy, grows wildly, and is almost indestructible because it can grow back from a single cell.

The problem comes in with the final form of the Green Slime: Not Slime. Instead, it splits into a large number of human-sized, cyclopean, two-legged, tentacled creatures that look a lot like avocados or green eggs. You can’t shoot them, because that just makes more as their blood spills out. They can electrocute you if they manage to hit you with their seemingly uncontrollable tentacles. I guess they’d be a threat, except for a few things.

  • These creatures are played by rubber-suited schoolchildren, and they move exactly like children would if you asked them to play monsters: Flailing, milling about, bumping into each other, etc.
  • They’re really slow, kind of like schoolchildren in rubber suits under hot lights.
  • Early on, the most effective weapon against them is pushing them with a table or hospital bed. There are a lot of tables and beds in Gamma Three.
  • They then discover the creatures’ attraction to light sources, which mean energy. The crew herds them into various areas for…reasons, I guess.
  • After a while they just give up and start shooting them.
  • Eventually, they just abandon the space station to them (Good idea) and then set the space station to burn up in Earth’s atmosphere (Bad idea).

Usually a bad movie can survive bad monsters and bad acting and still entertain me, but, well, I guess I still do not like green eggs and ham. 😉

The movie’s legacy does include two interesting things, though. One, it was used for the 15-minute unaired pilot episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 to sell the concept to KTMA-TV, so we owe it a deep and lasting debt. Second…well, this:

Greet a blade of grass

Okay, I’ll freely admit when I first saw this video, my immediate reaction was that I was going to put it on my blog and snark on it. Let’s face it, it sounds like a Unitarian Universalist hymn, and they put the lyrics in the video so there’s no mistaking that you just heard “Mother Eve and Father Pine.”

That being said, here are a few reasons I present this video without snark for your actual enjoyment:

  • I’m a sucker for symphonic metal, and Nightwish is really good at it. There are some great songs on this album.
  • They’re fully committed, and there’s something charming about that. Seriously, this is from a concept album themed around science and reason. They might be marketing geniuses who know exactly what they’re doing after 20 years, but they’re willing to put it all out there.
  • This song has the word “eukaryote” in it.
  • I’m pretty sure their latest lead singer is a Valkyrie…and you can’t teach that.

No more [email protected] on the PS3

Well, there goes my sense of social contribution. Sony will be removing the Life with Playstation client from the PS3 with the 4.30 update. The client, which contributed processing time on the PS3 to medical research using folding protein models, was used by around 15 million people to contribute over 100 million hours of calculations.

My system has a little over 500 nights’ worth of calculations under its belt, which would be about 3000 hours. I figure my function has been to supply money for power for the PS3 to keep doing important work. Now what’s my purpose, and what’s it going to do? 🙂

Here’s hoping Sony changes their mind, or figures out some other way to use those processing cycles.

Courtesy of The Escapist.

Game of Thrones, out today

I’m speaking as a fan of the books, but I have to say Game of Thrones, Season One, is one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. Take the acting from Battlestar Galactica, give it the narrative direction you can only get from an established story, and you get ten episodes of compelling television. (DVD and Blu-ray sets out today.)

My impressions:

  • You don’t need to have read the books to enjoy the show. They do a fair amount of exposition during the storyline.
  • “They got their True Blood in my Game of Thrones!” Not sure why HBO figured we wouldn’t pay attention to the exposition scenes without a naked woman wandering around, but the nudity wasn’t as exaggerated as I thought from earlier reviews. And, yes, for those who’ve read the books, they show Hodor’s hodor.
  • That being said, is it kid-appropriate? Nope. Too many throats getting sliced.
  • The producers took the opportunity to add in a few non-expository scenes that I don’t think were in the books. They should have been.
  • Having living actors added a new dimension to some of the books’ more one-dimensional characters.
  • Heck, the Lannister kids are even better, and they were good in the books. Cersei is a lot better when being played by Lena Headey. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Jaime is excellent, and Peter Dinklage would have been the perfect choice to play Tyrion even if he’d been 6’4″.
  • As in the books, a friendly warning: Don’t get too attached to any characters. GoT has the approximate mortality rate of the actual Middle Ages.
  • Update: Almost forgot: It does continue the GoT tradition of moms are crazy.

And, for anyone who has already seen Season One, here’s the Season Two trailer (starts April 1):

Thoughts upon seeing Crank (2006)

What…What was…I don’t…Who’s that…What happened?

Now, for post-Crank thoughts, here are my reasons why Crank should have been nominated in several Oscar categories.

Best Screenplay: I didn’t understand half of the words Jason Statham was saying, and there were so many characters I had no idea what most of them were doing in the movie. This is similar to my past experiences with Shakespeare.

Best Actor: Chev Chelios needs to keep moving and keep his adrenaline pumping to survive. Bringing this character to life is an impressive achievement, largely due to the fact that actor Jason Statham normally never seems to get more excited than, say, Clint Eastwood. One assumes, given the fast pace of the movie and what people would normally call “dialogue,” that Statham actually took some sort of drug to speed up his metabolism and risk his life, and one has to admire that sort of commitment to the craft.

Best Supporting Actor: Dwight Yoakam creates a character by literally phoning in his lines. I’ve never seen anyone do that before. Now, in this category there could be competition from some of his own Crank castmates. After all, you can’t completely discount the performances of The Guy Who Played Pedro In Napoleon Dynamite (Efren Ramirez) and The Guy Who Played Weevil In Veronica Mars (Francis Capra). But I’d give it to Dwight.

Best Supporting Actress: Amy Smart is so natural in the role of Eve it’s almost like she didn’t realize she was in a movie. I don’t think she did. I think, during the take, Jason Statham just showed up at her apartment and she improvised as well.

Best Cinematography: One take, ninety minutes of following an adrenaline-fueled Jason Statham around while he’s improvising. ‘Nuff said.

Best Director: True, it might seem easy to take that screenplay and those actors and turn out the best movie of the year, but directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor took it all one step farther: They were brave enough to have a word appear, most of the way through the movie, for one second, floating by itself on Statham’s forehead, with no real context or precedent. How often do you see that? Martin Scorsese didn’t do it. Neveldine and Taylor did.

Best Foreign Language Film: There were smatterings of English, but that shouldn’t disqualify it. This movie’s native tongue was the whole-body sign language called Action!

Best Picture: Not Crank. Apocalypto. Apocalypto is like historic Crank, and history always makes films better.

Did you miss one of the great films of our generation in theaters? Not to worry. April, 2009…CRANK: HIGH VOLTAGE!

Batwoman…Outed Very Slowly

Am I missing something here? There’s a brief news flurry today about Batwoman being the first gay superhero. I realize the actual story is that DC is going to feature her as the lead in Detective Comics, but the current Batwoman incarnation has been “out” since 2006, as far as I know.

Not to mention the current version of The Question, Northstar, Midnighter and Apollo, one version of Catwoman, Scandal Savage, Flatman, Obsidianthe list just keeps going.

It’s interesting that DC is turning one of their flagship comics over to a gay character for a while, but I suspect sales, her place in the DC Universe, and the writing won’t be much different than if, say, Nightwing was going to be the star. (No, he’s not gay. Ignore the costume.) 😉

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