IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: GORGO (1961)

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When you think of giant monster movies, you most likely think of Godzilla and King Kong, arguably the two most famous giant movie monsters of all time, and you probably think of Japan’s Toho Studios, who made so many of those Godzilla movies we love, as well as plenty of other giant monster adventures.

But today’s movie, GORGO (1961), hails from the United Kingdom, a country that historically did not churn out a whole bunch of giant monster movies. And while in some ways the plot borrows heavily from the original GODZILLA (1954), except in this case rather than Godzilla emerging from the ocean to destroy Tokyo, we have Gorgo emerging from the ocean to pummel London, GORGO is a good enough giant monster movie to stand on its own.

In fact, the special effects in this one depicting Gorgo’s assault on London are right up there with Godzilla’s more famous attack on Tokyo. Topnotch stuff! So much so, that this sequence which pretty much takes up the entire second half of the movie, ranks as one of the best monster-attacks-city sequences ever put on film! The movie is only 78 minutes long, and so at the end of the day, GORGO is one action-packed giant monster movie!

But it’s also rather odd in that it’s one of the few monster movies— or any movie for that matter— that doesn’t really feature any women! There are no female main characters, and I think there’s only two women in the film who even speak any lines of dialogue!

Then again, giant Gorgo is a female, as she is a mommy monster in search of her baby monster which gets kidnapped and taken to London. Hmm. Maybe Gorgo’s contract stipulated that she would be the only prominent female in the cast?

Anyway, GORGO is the story of Joe Ryan (Bill Travers) and Sam Slade (William Sylvester) who helm a salvage vessel, and when they discover a sea monster off the coast of Ireland, they capture it and decide to bring it back to London in order to make money off it. These guys obviously went to the Carl Denham school of business! Little boy Sean (Vincent Winter), who lives on the island where Gorgo is discovered, tells Joe and Sam that they shouldn’t capture the monster and take him away, but the adults don’t listen to him. So, Sean secretly stows away on the ship, and when Joe and Sam discover him, they decide to take care of him and pretty much adopt him for the rest of the movie. Er, Sean, where the hell are your parents?

They bring Gorgo to London where he is shown off at a circus and much to Joe and Sam’s delight, makes them lots of money. But it turns out, this is only a baby Gorgo, and when mommy Gorgo emerges from the ocean, she’s none too happy about her son being abducted, and so she swims to London and attacks the city in order to get him back.

And there’s your plot!

GORGO was directed by Eugene Lourie, who must have loved giant monster movies, because this was the fourth time he directed a movie about a giant monster! His first, THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953), is probably his most famous, as it featured the special effects of Ray Harryhausen and was based on the short story “The Fog Horn,” by Ray Bradbury. Lourie followed this up with THE COLOSSUS OF NEW YORK (1958), a film about a giant robot, and then he made THE GIANT BEHEMOTH (1959), which featured the special effects of KING KONG creator Willis O’Brien, which told the story of a yet another giant sea monster.

And then he made GORGO. Overall, THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS is probably his best movie, mostly because it did feature the effects of Ray Harryhausen, but GORGO is a close second, and the attack on London is far more intense than any of the scenes found in THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS.

Even more interesting, these are the only four movies Eugene Lourie ever directed! He should have directed more, because all four of these movies are very good, and two of them, THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS and GORGO are downright excellent! Lourie passed away in 1991 from heart failure.

Robert L. Richards and Daniel James wrote the screenplay which tells a decent enough giant monster story, with the one glaring oddity being that there are no women in this story whatsoever!

Young Vincent Winter, who played Sean, would become disappointed with acting and turn to working behind the scenes where he would serve as an assistant director for many movies, including the Christopher Reeve SUPERMAN (1978). Winter died in 1998 from a heart attack at the age of 50.

Also in the cast is Martin Benson, who played the circus owner who promotes Gorgo in London. Benson is no stranger to genre films, having played doomed Father Spiletto in THE OMEN (1976), and, in the role I remember him most for, playing the weasel-like Mr. Rash in NIGHT CREATURES (1962), Hammer’s pirate adventure starring Peter Cushing and Oliver Reed. Benson also had a “pressing engagement” in the Sean Connery James Bond classic GOLDFINGER (1964), as his character ends up being crushed in a car by Oddjob.

And speaking of Hammer Films, in the scene where baby Gorgo is paraded around London, you can see Hammer’s THE MUMMY (1959) playing at the theater at Piccadilly Circus.

The impressive special effects were created by Tom Howard, who would later work on Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968). Interestingly enough, the same monster suit was used for both mommy Gorgo and baby Gorgo, and the size difference was achieved with different sets and models, as well as different roar sound effects.

When GORGO was released in 1961, there had only been two Godzilla movies released, the original and its sequel GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN (1955), but the filmmakers must have had Godzilla in mind because they premiered GORGO in Japan rather than in the United Kingdom.

Japan returned the favor by basically remaking GORGO as MONSTER FROM A PREHISTORIC PLANET (1967) (Its original and better title is GAPPA THE TRIPHIBIAN MONSTERS), a tale in which a mommy and a daddy monster attack Tokyo in order to bring back their baby monster which had been taken to Japan.

The lesson from both these movies is, if you’re going to put a young giant monster in a show, you’d best ask its parents’ permission first! You might also want to include them in the contract and give them a piece of the proceeds!

GORGO is one of the better giant monster movies of yesteryear. In spite of the dubious decision not to feature any female characters in its story other than the giant monster Gorgo herself, this one features really good special effects and a second-half giant monster assault on London that can’t be beat!

The title, by the way, comes from the Gorgon, as Gorgo is short for Gorgon, and it refers to the Medusa tale of the creature so hideous one look at her would turn people to stone. While Gorgo is not that hideous looking, the creature is indeed monstrous and is impressive to behold.

So, you don’t have to be afraid of Gorgo’s face. It won’t turn you into stone. On the other hand, you probably should be afraid of Gorgo’s feet, which will turn you into some itty-bitty pieces of crushed flesh and bone when they step on you.

—END—

WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING (2022) – Big Screen Adaptation of Popular Novel Superficial but Satisfying

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WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING (2022), the big screen adaptation of the immensely popular novel of the same name by Delia Owens, probably will not satisfy fans of the novel since its screenplay by Lucy Alibar is superficial at best, but it still manages to tell a compelling narrative in spite of a pace better suited for a sultry summer North Carolina afternoon.

It also features a terrific performance by Daisy Edgar-Jones in the lead role.

WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING opens in 1969 North Carolina where a young woman Kya Clark (Daisy Edgar-Jones) is accused of murdering the man she was seeing, the former high school star quarterback Chase Andrews (Harris Dickinson). Kya is known in town as the Marsh Girl, because she has lived her whole life alone in a house on the marshes. The townsfolk think she’s weird, and rumors about her have run rampant. The bottom line, however, is that few in town have ever given her the time of day.

When the gentle kindly attorney Tom Milton (David Strathairn) steps up to defend Kya, she tells him her story, which we learn in flashbacks, and the movie plays out in this way, jumping back and forth between Kya’s past and her present trial for murder. We learn that Kya grew up in the swamps with her abusive father (Garret Dillahunt) after her mother and older sisters and brother fled the home. Kya remained, and when eventually her father leaves as well, she takes to surviving on her own.

Her only friends in town are the black owners of the local store, Jumpin’ (Sterling Macer, Jr.) and Mabel (Michael Hyatt), and a boy her own age named Tate. As the years go by and Kya and Tate (Taylor John Smith) grow up, they fall in love and become best friends until Tate has to leave for college, but he promises he will come back to see Kya, but he never does, tearing a new hole in Kya’s heart. She then meets Chase, whose attempts to date her she rebuffs, but he’s persistent, and eventually she gives in and starts to see him, not knowing that he is being less than honest with her about his intentions.

And that’s the story told in WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING, with the climax being will Kya be found innocent or guilty, and what will then happen to the mysterious young woman known as the Marsh Girl?

I didn’t really have high expectations for WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING, so maybe that’s why I kinda enjoyed it.

The best part by far is the lead performance by Daisy Edgar Jones. She captures the innocence and wildness of Kya while giving her both the toughness and intellectual curiosity needed to nail the role. She’s in nearly the entire movie, and she’s good enough to carry this film on her shoulders.

Jones receives fine support from veteran actor David Strathairn as sympathetic and very astute attorney Tom Milton. He makes Milton a very likeable character, and an attorney who would have been right at home in an old episode of LAW AND ORDER. Strathairn has been in a ton of movies over the years, going way, way back to films like THE RIVER WILD (1994), and we saw him last year in NIGHTMARE ALLEY (2021). He also has been stuck playing a boring military character, Admiral William Stenz in the meh Godzilla reboots, GODZILLA (2014) and GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS (2019).

I also really enjoyed Sterling Macer, Jr. and Michael Hyatt as the shop owners who in their own way become surrogate parents for Kya, always looking after her and caring for her. They show their frustration with their own situation, being black in rural North Carolina in the 1960s, knowing that they were limited in how they could help Kya, and understanding that it would have been best for them not to be involved with her at all.

Both Taylor John Smith as Tate and Harris Dickinson as Chase are okay. They’re not terribly exciting or interesting and are about as intriguing as a slice of white bread, but maybe that’s the point. Taylor John Smith reminded me a little bit of a young Paul Rudd.

The screenplay by Lucy Alibar as I said is a bit superficial and really plays out like someone trying to summarize a longer and deeper novel. Lots of points are made, none of them all that deeply, but that being said, Alibar does succeed in fleshing out Kya’s character at least, and combined with the wonderful acting of Daisy Edgar-Jones creates a memorable character. The dialogue is also decent. The trial scenes aren’t that exciting, however, and seem like they belong in an old TV movie.

Director Olivia Newman captures the North Carolina scenery and gives this film a lazy, hot humid summer feel. Unfortunately, that also goes for the pacing as well, which is slow and lethargic. The film is two hours and five minutes, and at times feels longer. It really isn’t much of a thriller, and the emphasis here is instead on romance. That being said, while the weather may be steamy, the romances are not. This is definitely a PG-13 love story, not an R rated one, and the film suffers for it, because it comes off like an adult tale tailored for younger audiences.

Newman does create some memorable scenes, however. Some of the best sequences involve Kya’s interactions with Jumpin’ and Mabel, with one of the best late in the film when a bruised and battered Kya visits an emotional Jumpin’ who tells her how much he and Mabel truly care for her.

Taken as a whole, WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING is a satisfying and generally moving drama about a young woman who lived an extraordinary life alone in the swamps of North Carolina, and who had to fend for herself to survive both the hardships of nature and the ways of men. Accused of murder, her life becomes front and center for all in town to see, and the story becomes less about her innocence or guilt, and more about who she is and why she has to do what she does.

In the hazy lazy days of summer, watching WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING in an air-conditioned theater might be just the ticket to pass a sweltering afternoon.

—END—

Worst Movies of 2021

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Welcome back! As promised, here is my list of the Top 10 Worst Movies of 2021.

As I did with my Best Movies List, I’m placing an asterisk next to this one, as once again, the pandemic has prevented trips to the movie theaters from being a safe activity, and so with this in mind, I know we haven’t all seen the same movies since we are not all heading out to the movie theaters to see the same national releases. I know there are plenty of movies I missed this year.

Okay, let’s get on with it. Without further hesitation, here is my list of the Top 10 Worst Movies of 2021:

10. CRY MACHO – probably the dullest movie I watched all year. Clint Eastwood directs and stars in this tale of a former rodeo star (Eastwood) who goes to Mexico to bring back his boss’s teenage son to the States, and along the way, the two form a bond in this underwhelming buddy movie. While I am in awe of Clint Eastwood, who at 91 years old, is still making quality movies, the story here in CRY MACHO doesn’t do him any favors. The storytelling is muddled, and Eastwood seems to be playing a character who is much younger than 91, although the script never makes this clear. Not much to like about this one, even for Eastwood fans.

9. FEAR STREET: PART TWO – 1978 – Yeah, I know. For a lot of folks, this second installment in the Netflix FEAR STREET horror movie trilogy was the best of the lot, but for me, it was the worst. Each part served as an homage to a particular horror movie genre, and here in FEAR STREET: PART TWO – 1978 that genre is the FRIDAY THE THIRTEENTH movies. I’m going to ruffle more feathers here as well when I say honestly that I’ve never liked the FRIDAY THE THIRTEENTH movies and have found them all to be particularly bad. FEAR STREET: PART TWO does a nice job capturing the feel of these movies, but at the end of the day, it’s yet another variation of teenagers at a summer camp being slaughtered in the most unrealistically gruesome of ways. If that’s your cup of tea, you probably love this movie. But it’s not mine. I prefer intelligence in my horror.

8. GODZILLA VS. KONG – Again, this is one that a lot of people really liked, but for me, even as a fan of giant monster movies, especially King Kong movies, and Godzilla movies as well, this one was simply bad. I find it difficult to understand why this movie has so many fans when its script is so weak. The human characters are all forgettable, the situations unrealistic and uninspiring, and the dialogue is pretty poor. So, all you have left are the giant monsters in combat. And even those scenes didn’t do much for me. I know the argument is out there that that’s how the old Toho Godzilla movies all were. That’s a fair argument, up to a point. What always saved the Toho films was that Godzilla and his friends all had personality. The monsters in these modern-day versions do not. Plus, movies like KING KONG (1933) and THEM! (1954) did have superior scripts. These new giant monster movies do not. Instead, the modern-day giant monster movie (mostly Godzilla and Kong these days) has been reduced to special effects only, without any interest in creating any kind of a story worth telling.

7. COMING 2 AMERICA – the original COMING TO AMERICA (1988) starring Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall was very funny. This sequel, in spite of the return of Murphy and Hall, is not. Next movie…

6. TYGER TYGER – this was a movie that I fully expected to like, because it was so different and quirky, with a sense of style that I thought would make it a winner. But this tale of a pair of selfless robbers who kidnap a drug addict before they all find themselves hiding out in a bizarre psychedelic city is probably better enjoyed when you’re high! Seriously! The longer this one went on, the less sense it made, and by the time it was all over, it largely had become a wasted opportunity. No pun intended!

5. THE LITTLE THINGS – in spite of the presence of Denzel Washington, Rami Malek, and Jared Leto this one just doesn’t work. Washington plays a former detective who’s called in to help with a serial killer case, and the character he plays is known for spotting the little things others miss in these cases. Trouble is, the script barely shows him doing this. Malek plays the hotshot detective who calls in Washington for help, but the choices he makes throughout the movie make him seen anything but a hotshot detective. And Leto plays the man they suspect is the serial killer. This one should have been awesome. Instead, it’s a muddled meandering tale that gets worse as it goes along with a particularly weak ending.

4. WITHOUT REMORSE- With a script by one of my favorite screenwriters, Taylor Sheridan, I fully expected to like this adaptation of a Tom Clancy novel, but instead it proved to be Sheridan’s first real misfire. Michael B. Jordan plays an elite Navy Seal who’s gone rogue to solve the murder of his wife, only to find— of course— that it’s all part of a larger conspiracy. What. A. Surprise. Yawn.

And now, the drum roll please. Here are my Top 3 Worst Movies from 2021:

3. SWEET GIRL -Hands down, the worst action movie of the year. Jason Momoa plays a man who vows revenge against a pharmaceutical company after its “business decision” pulled a drug from the market which could have saved his terminally ill wife. So, hubby goes insane and plots to kill the heads of this company, who, while they are undesirable, probably don’t deserve to be killed. So, there’s that initial problem. But wait, there’s more! There’s a larger conspiracy! Of course, there always is. Plus, Momoa’s character against his better judgement is constantly bringing his teenage daughter with him and training her to protect herself and be an assassin vigilante like him… and then, thanks to a bizarre plot twist, his character disappears from the second half of the movie. So, yes, you have an action film headlined by Jason Momoa, that halfway through ditches its star. Ugh.

2. MADRES – the worst horror movie of the year. This tale of a Mexican American couple who move to a new community in 1970s California that seems to have a weird sinister secret involving pregnant women, doesn’t know how to get out of its own way. The film aims for a ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968) and THE STEPFORD WIVES (1975) vibe but fails on both counts. This one is based on true events, and its reveal at the end is actually very good, but the problem is the film tries so hard to hide this reveal with a supernatural tale that is so lame it makes the movie completely ineffective. Had the filmmakers chosen to focus on what this film is ultimately about, it would have been a far darker, more memorable movie.

And now, drum roll please, the Worst Movie of 2021:

1. THUNDER FORCE – by far, the worst comedy of the year. Melissa McCarthy plays a woman who inherits superpowers thanks to her scientist friend played by Octavia Spencer. They then take on the world’s supervillains. Should have been funny. But it’s not. Jason Bateman fares the best as a supervillain known as The Crab. Written and directed by McCarthy’s husband Ben Falcone.

And there you have it. My picks for the Top 10 Worst Movies of 2021. Now, let’s move on to 2022.

As always, thanks for reading!

—Michael

WORTH (2021) -Story of 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund Subdued But Worth a Look

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What is life worth?

Law professor Ken Feinberg (Michael Keaton) asks his students this question in the opening moments of WORTH (2021), a new movie by director Sara Colangelo now available on Netflix which chronicles Feinberg’s efforts to roll out the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund in order to support the families who lost loved ones on that horrific day.

Feinberg answers his own question, telling his students that they are not philosophers but lawyers, and as such, the question has an answer, and it’s a number. And it will be their jobs to determine what that number is in terms of monetary compensation.

So, shortly after the horrific events of September 11, Feinberg believes that with his experience he is uniquely qualified to help the government come up with a formula to pay the families of the victims who lost their lives that day. The Bush administration agrees and hands him the impossible task of seeing that this job gets done. Feinberg has long taught that fair doesn’t exist, so he comes up with a formula that pays victims’ families based on what they earned, and so the family of a CEO will get more than a family of a janitor or of a first responder. Obviously, among the victims’ families, this causes an uproar, the cry being why isn’t my loved one’s life worth the same as someone else’s?

Charles Wolf (Stanley Tucci) who lost his wife on that day, tells Feinberg that his wife is not a statistic and that he finds everything about Feinberg’s formula to be offensive. He also tells Feinberg that the only reason he is doing this is that the government is trying to prevent these people from suing for larger amounts of money. In fact, Wolf points out, that immediately after 9/11 the government changed the law so the victims couldn’t sue the airlines. His point is that Feinberg doesn’t represent what is best for these people, and if he wants to be able to do that, he’s going to have to get to know who they are, listen to their stories, and change his formula.

This is not an easy thing for Feinberg to do, as he has the emotional range of Mr. Spock, but he is a good man who wants to do right by these people, and so he sets out to learn more about them and try his best to make the fund something that they will sign onto.

And that’s the story told in WORTH (2021). As stories go, it’s surprisingly subdued considering the subject matter. The most moving scenes in the film are the testimonies of the victims’ families as they tell their loved ones’ stories, often describing their final harrowing moments. Attorneys on Feinberg’s legal team, Camille Biros (Amy Ryan) and Priya Khundi (Shunori Ramanathan) definitely feel the pain of these families and struggle with the task at hand, but Feinberg does not, and so as a character he’s difficult to warm up to.

Other than Stanley Tucci’s Charles Wolf, there are not many characters in this film who are all that interesting. As such, WORTH works best as a generalized telling of these events which is one of the reasons why it is strangely subdued. The film almost embodies Feinberg’s stoic personality.

Michael Keaton as he always does delivers the goods as Ken Feinberg. He does a terrific job making the audience understand how this man thinks, and so even though he is largely misunderstood throughout the movie by the victims’ families, the audience gets that he means well but that he simply can’t figure out how to get through to these families. In short, he really does want to help the families, he really believes that this money will help them, but his formula turns off and insults so many people he can’t see how to move forward. Eventually, he does, but it takes a while, and Keaton makes Feinberg’s personal journey believable.

Stanley Tucci however steals the movie with a fantastic performance as Charles Wolf, the man who calls himself Feinberg’s harshest critic yet wants Feinberg to “fix the fund” and do right by the families. In other words, he disagrees with the Feinberg’s formula, but he doesn’t want Feinberg to fail. All of Tucci’s scenes are the best in the movie.

I also enjoyed Amy Ryan as attorney Camille Biros and Shunori Ramanathan as attorney Priya Khundi. Their characters are easier to relate to than Feinberg. And Tate Donovan is also very good as cynical attorney Lee Quinn who represents an opposing view from Feinberg’s.

Director Sara Colangelo succeeds in making a movie that tackles an intriguing and emotional topic, the paying of reparations to the families of the victims of 9/11, and she does it in a way that is far less emotional than expected. On the one hand, this is a good thing, because the film works best as a chronicle of these events and doesn’t try to sensationalize them. But on the other hand, the story comes off as so subdued it feels like an ordinary telling of a tale that perhaps needed to be a bit more extraordinary.

Max Borenstein wrote the competent screenplay. It does what it sets out to do, inform the audience of the events which led to the creation of the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund, and it does it in a low key way that keeps things real. This surprised me because Borenstein also wrote the screenplays to GODZILLA (2014). KONG: SKULL ISLAND (2017), and GODZILLA VS. KONG (2021). While these three movies have their fans, I’m not one of them, and I love giant monster movies! But not these. They certainly could have used some of the realistic writing which Borenstein employs here with WORTH, which has a far better screenplay than the ones in those silly giant monster flicks.

WORTH is not the kind of movie that will wow you or blow you away. It has a story to tell, and it goes ahead and tells it.

It may come without fanfare, but at the end of the day, it’s worth a look.

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PICTURE OF THE DAY: Aurora Monster Models

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monster models

 

Today’s Picture of The Day comes from the art of model making, monster models, to be exact!

Back in the day, a company named Aurora manufactured model kits of everyone’s favorite classic movie monsters! They were introduced in the the 1960s. I was collecting and building mine in the 1970s. Just thinking about them brings back memories, from the joy of building them, to the orange smell of the nontoxic model glue, to the frightening display of all my glow in the dark monster models on my bureau in my bedroom, on some nights scary enough to stop me from falling asleep.

I owned all four of the monster models pitctured above, the Mummy, the Wolf Man, Frankenstein, and Dracula.

Dracula was the first monster model I ever owned, and was the best, since my uncle, also a horror movie fan, helped me build it. I also owned Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the Phantom of the Opera, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, Godzilla, and King Kong.

Toys which helped warp…. er, shape a childhood!  These magnificent models are up there with the Creature Double Feature and Famous Monsters of Filmland.

Wonderful memories indeed!

As always, thanks for reading.

—Michael

Books by Michael Arruda:

DARK CORNERS, Michael Arruda’s second short story collection, contains ten tales of horror, six reprints and four stories original to this collection.

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Waiting for you in Dark Corners are tales of vampires, monsters, werewolves, demonic circus animals, and eternal darkness. Be prepared to be both frightened and entertained. You never know what you will find lurking in dark corners.

Ebook: $3.99. Available at http://www.crossroadspress.com and at Amazon.com.  Print on demand version available at https://www.amazon.com/dp/1949914437.

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

How far would you go to save your family? Would you change the course of time? That’s the decision facing Adam Cabral in this mind-bending science fiction adventure by Michael Arruda.

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com. Print version:  $18.00. Includes postage! Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

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Michael Arruda reviews horror movies throughout history, from the silent classics of the 1920s, Universal horror from the 1930s-40s, Hammer Films of the 1950s-70s, all the way through the instant classics of today. If you like to read about horror movies, this is the book for you!

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Includes postage. Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, first short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

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Print cover

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Ebook cover

 

Michael Arruda’s first short story collection, featuring a wraparound story which links all the tales together, asks the question: can you have a relationship when your partner is surrounded by the supernatural? If you thought normal relationships were difficult, wait to you read about what the folks in these stories have to deal with. For the love of horror!

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Includes postage. Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.  

 

 

 

 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: ONE MILLION B.C. (1940)

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After KING KONG (1933), film audiences really had to wait a while before any other giant monsters returned to the big screen. The next major giant monster release really wasn’t until Ray Harryhausen’s special effects driven THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953), based on Ray Bradbury’s short story “The Fog Horn.” Of course, the following year Japan’s Toho Studios released GODZILLA (1954) and after that there was no looking back for giant monster fans.

But in between 1933 and 1953 were lean years, with just a couple of films released featuring oversized creatures. One of these films was ONE MILLION B.C. (1940), an adventure about two different cave tribes who have to overcome their differences in order to survive.

One of the reasons they have to fight to survive is there are some prehistoric beasts on the loose. Yup, this isn’t factually accurate, of course, as some of these creatures would have been extinct long before cave people walked the earth, but who’s complaining?

While ONE MILLION B.C. technically isn’t a horror movie, it does feature enormous ferocious creatures, and it is also of interest for horror fans because it features a pre-Wolf Man Lon Chaney Jr. in the cast.

The plot of ONE MILLION B.C. is pretty much a love story, as Tumak (Victor Mature) and Loana (Carole Landis) who are from opposing tribes meet and fall in love. Loana’s tribe is the more advanced and civilized of the two, and as they welcome Tumak, he learns of their more modern ways and uses this knowledge to help his own people. Meanwhile, life in the stone age is no picnic. There are nasty creatures at every turn, and pretty much all of them want to eat people for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Lon Chaney Jr. plays Tumak’s father Akhoba, who is a bit rough around the edges and sees nothing wrong with eating all the food first and letting his underlings have the scraps, which is unlike Loana’s tribe, who share their food equally.

While Victor Mature, Carole Landis, Lon Chaney Jr. and the rest of the human cast are all fine, since they’re playing cave people, they don’t really have any lines of dialogue, meaning this one can become tedious to watch.

The real stars in this one are the creatures, and the special effects run hot and cold. Mostly cold. There is a T-Rex like dinosaur that is laugh-out-loud awful. It’s obviously a man in a suit, its size changes, and at times it seems to be no taller than a center for the NBA.

The best effects are when the film utilizes real lizards and makes them seem gigantic. Most of the time this type of effect is inferior, but in this film the “giant” lizards look pretty authentic. The film also does a nice job with the “mastodons” which are elephants in disguise. If anything is done well consistently, it’s the sound effects. All the creatures, regardless of how they look, sound terrifying.

The special effects were actually nominated for an Academy Award but lost out to THE THIEF OF BAGDAD (1940).

ONE MILLION B.C. was directed by Hal Roach and Hal Roach Jr., and while the monster scenes are all rather exciting, what happens in between them is not. In fact, most of the film is pretty much a bore.

But audiences in 1940 didn’t think so. ONE MILLION B.C. was the box office champion that year.

Mickell Novack, George Baker, and Joseph Frickert wrote the standard no frills screenplay.

Victor Mature would go on to make a lot of movies, including SAMSON AND DELILAH (1949) and THE ROBE (1953), while Carole Landis, who pretty much gives the best performance in the film, sadly struggled to land leading roles in subsequent movies, ultimately leading to her tragic suicide at the age of 29 in 1948.

And Lon Chaney Jr. of course would make THE WOLF MAN the following year, and the rest, as they say, was history.

Over the years, ONE MILLION B.C. has been overshadowed by its Hammer Films remake, ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. (1966), which starred Raquel Welch and featured special effects by Ray Harryhausen. Neither film is among my favorites.

This Thanksgiving, as you prepare to give thanks and dig into that grand turkey dinner, you might want to check out ONE MILLION B.C., a movie that recalls a long ago time when it was humans who were on the holiday menu.

—END—

 

 

 

 

PICTURE OF THE DAY: GODZILLA (1954)

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godzilla 1954 first appearance

For my money, Godzilla’s first ever appearance on-screen in GODZILLA (1954) as seen in the picture above is hands down one of the scariest moments in the entire Toho Godzilla series.

And that’s because the original 1954 is unlike any of the Godzilla movies to follow it. By far, the deepest, most serious of any Godzilla movie, with Godzilla himself symbolic of the atom bomb which ravaged Japan just nine years earlier, if you have never seen this film, you are missing one of the best giant monster movies ever and one of the few that transcends the genre and works as a tragic drama, a metaphor for the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

For years, I had only seen the American version with the Raymond Burr scenes added, which was called GODZILLA- KING OF THE MONSTERS (1956) but even this version is superior to the films which followed it, although the original Japanese version is preferable to the Raymond Burr one.

Anyway, in this first appearance, Godzilla is terribly frightening. I first saw this film on TV when I was probably about 10 years old, and it gave me nightmares for weeks afterwards. I’d hear his thunderous footsteps, his unique roar, and I’d see that massive shape with the jagged teeth looking down upon me.

Scary!

Although Toho primarily used man-in-suit special effects for their Godzilla movies, in this first appearance that’s a puppet being used, and a mighty frightening puppet at that.

While I certainly enjoy the Godzilla movies which were to follow, the ones that turned Godzilla into a sort of superhero fighting all the “bad” monsters to save the Earth, and in fact I actually prefer some of those films, I can’t deny that the one and only true Godzilla horror movie is the first one. It’s terribly scary.

And Godzilla’s rampage and destruction of Tokyo remains one of the most memorable scenes in any giant monster movie.

The recent GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS (2019) while an okay film pales in comparison to this cinematic classic.

Wanna have a nightmare? Watch GODZILLA (1954). Or maybe just stare long and hard at the photo above.

Either way, you might be in for a restless night.

—Michael

MICHAEL’S MUSINGS: THE SATURDAY MORNING CARTOON

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scooby doo

So the other day I posted on my Facebook page that people of a certain age remember a thing known as “the Saturday morning cartoon,” that time when back in the day cartoons were on all morning on Saturdays.

I asked folks to name their favorites, and as many people responded, I couldn’t help but feel nostalgic as I read all the old titles.  I thought it would be fun to list all those titles in one place. So, here they are, a list of favorite Saturday morning cartoons/programs from a bygone era, as suggested by lots and lots of Facebook friends.

Cue nostalgia.

Enjoy!

 

AMAZING CHAN AND THE CHAN CLAN

ANIMANIACS

BANANA SPLITS

BATMAN/SUPERMAN HOUR

BEANY AND CECIL

BUGS BUNNY

BUGS BUNNY/ROAD RUNNER SHOW

CAPTAIN AMERICA

CAPTAIN CAVEMAN

COURAGEOUS CAT

DANGER MOUSE

DARK WING DUCK

DAVEY AND GOLIATH

DUDLEY DORIGHT

DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS

ELEKTRA WOMAN AND DYNA GIRL

FLASH GORDON

FLINTSTONES

FUNKY PHANTOM

GARFIELD

GARGOYLES

GEORGE OF THE JUNGLE

GIGANTOR

G.I. JOE

GODZILLA (70s)(WITH GODZUKI)

GODZILLA THE ANIMATED SERIES

GROOVY GHOULIES

HAIR BEAR BUNCH, THE

HE-MAN

HERCULES

HERCULOIDS, THE

HONG KONG PHOOEY

H.R. PUFFINSTUFF

INCREDIBLE HULK

IRON MAN

ISIS

JABBERJAW

JOHNNY QUEST

JOHNNY SOKO AND HIS FLYING ROBOT

JOSIE AND THE PUSSYCATS

JUSTICE LEAGUE

KIDD VIDEO

KIMBA THE WHITE LION

KROFFT SUPERSHOW

LAFF-OLYMPICS

LANCELOT LINK, SECRET CHIMP

LAND OF THE LOST

LONE RANGER

LOONEY TUNES

MAGILLA GORILLA

MIGHTY MOUSE

MILTON THE MONSTER

MONSTER SQUAD

MR. PEABODY AND SHERMAN

MUPPET BABIES

NAMOR

PAC MAN

PINK PANTHER

POPEYE

REAL GHOSTBUSTERS

RESCUE RANGERS

ROAD RUNNER

ROBOTECH

ROCKY AND BULLWINKLE

RUN JOE RUN

SCHOOLHOUSE ROCK

SCOOBY DOO

SHAZAM!

SIGMUND AND THE SEA MONSTERS

SKY KING

SMURFS, THE

SNORKELS, THE

SPACE GHOST

SPEED RACER

SPIDERMAN

SPIDER-MAN AND FRIENDS

STAR TREK (animated)

SUPER FRIENDS

SUPERMAN

TARZAN, LORD OF THE JUNGLE

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES

THUNDARR

THUNDERCATS

TOM AND JERRY

ULTRAMAN

UNDERDOG

VOLTRON

WACKY RACES

WOODY WOODPECKER

WINNIE THE POOH

WUZZLES, THE

 

Hope you enjoyed the list.  Now go eat some sugary cereal!

As always, thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

READY PLAYER ONE (2018) – Cinematic References Best Part of this Fantasy Tale

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ready-player-one-poster

I’m not a gamer. I don’t play video games, and I haven’t read the book  Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, and so my interest in seeing READY PLAYER ONE (2018) the new fantasy adventure by director Steven Spielberg, was purely for cinematic reasons.  That’s right. I saw this one simply because I wanted to see the movie.

So, as a movie, how does READY PLAYER ONE size up? Not bad.  For the most part, it’s a fairly entertaining two-plus hours at the movies, even if it’s telling a story that is about as compelling as a game of Donkey Kong.

The best part of READY PLAYER ONE is all the cultural cinematic references. After all, where else can you find King Kong, MechaGodzilla, and the Iron Giant all in the same movie?  Where else can you have your characters enter a world based on Kubrick’s THE SHINING (1980)?  The answer is READY PLAYER ONE! These and other references and nods [including to ALIEN (1979) and LOST IN SPACE (1965-68)]  are what kept me most interested in this movie, long after I lost interest in its story.

Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) lives in 2045, a time when life is so hard people need to escape from reality, and they do so by entering the OASIS, a virtual reality world created by the brilliant James Halliday (Mark Rylance) where pretty much anything can happen. You can be whoever you want to be and do whatever it is you want to do. So, Wade plays in this video game world as a handsomer version of himself known as Parzival.

Halliday has since died, but he’s left a challenge to all the players in the OASIS: he has left three keys inside his virtual reality world, and the player who finds all three keys will unlock the game’s secret and become controller of the entire OASIS.  Wade and his friends make it their goal to do just that, but they’d better hurry because an evil company led by a man named Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) has other ideas.

And that’s the story.  This one’s certainly not going to win any awards for Best Screenplay, that’s for sure.

Visually READY PLAYER ONE is a lot of fun, and Spielberg keeps the action fast, bright, and playful.  I have no problem with this part of the movie.

The cast is okay, even though they don’t have a whole lot to work with. Tye Sheridan is decent enough in the lead role as Wade/Parzival, but the character as written in this movie is rather dull, and Sheridan doesn’t really bring this young man to life.  Both his parents have died, yet this grief barely resonates in the story.

Olivia Cooke fares better as Samantha, who becomes Wade’s best friend and eventual love interest.  Samantha is also a kick-ass character who is much more interesting than Wade.  I like Cooke a lot and have been a fan since I first saw her on the TV series BATES MOTEL (2013-17) and also in the Hammer horror movie THE QUIET ONES (2014).

Ben Mendelsohn plays the cardboard villain Sorrento who acts like he walked out of an old Scooby Doo cartoon.  Mendelsohn played a much more effective villain, Orson Krennic, in ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (2016).

I did enjoy T.J. Miller as Sorrento’s henchman I-ROk, as he provides the film’s best bits of comic relief.  Miller was recently in DEADPOOL ((2016), but I always remember him as Hud, the frightened yet frequently hilarious guy behind the camera in CLOVERFIELD (2008).

Mark Rylance, either hidden under lots of hair or CGI effects in the OASIS, is quiet and unassuming as the gaming genius Halliday, but Simon Pegg as Halliday’s business partner Ogden Morrow is little more than an afterthought.  These two fine actors really don’t get a whole lot of chances to do much in this movie.

The screenplay by Zak Penn and Ernest Cline, who wrote the novel, is straightforward and pretty much tells a by-the-numbers plot.  Teens have to save the world from an evil meddling company while learning about the man who created their favorite game and about themselves as well.

At times, the film feels like a cross between TRON (1982) and WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (1971). In fact, it’s been reported that Spielberg had approached Gene Wilder to play Halliday, before the iconic comedic actor passed away.  Its nonstop video game landscape is mixed with a syrupy sweet nostalgia tale that makes for lightweight fare, as opposed to a hard-hitting fantasy adventure.

There’s not a lot of memorable dialogue either. And the action scenes, while visually stunning, were pretty tame.

READY PLAYER ONE is chock-full of fun cinematic, video game, and cultural references, especially from the 1980s, and it’s a treat for the eyes, as it’s full of colorful alternate reality landscapes, but its story is meh and often falls flat.  For example, for nearly its entire 140 minute run time, we are immersed inside its virtual reality world, yet at the end, we are treated to a message that says the real world is still more important and interesting, which after all that came before it simply sounds hollow and forced.

READY PLAYER ONE is a colorful diversion if you have 140 minutes to spare.  If not, feel free to spend some time outside instead.  In the real world.

—END—

 

 

 

 

 

Kong Battles A Weak Script in KONG: SKULL ISLAND (2017)

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kong-skull-island-poster-

King Kong is back!

And while he’s still king when it comes to defending Skull Island from giant monsters and aggressive humans, he’s not so adept at overcoming a bad script.

KONG:  SKULL ISLAND is a new King Kong movie, produced by the same folks who made GODZILLA (2014), the one with Bryan Cranston.  As such, it’s not a sequel to Peter Jackson’s KING KONG (2005), but as most everyone knows by now, a new story to set up a future King Kong vs. Godzilla bash which is scheduled for release in 2020, which is why Kong has been taking steroids.

Yup, in this movie, Kong is huge!  Whereas in the Peter Jackson movie, Kong stood at 25 feet tall, here in KONG:  SKULL ISLAND Mr. Kong stands at a towering 104 feet tall.  The 25 feet tall is comparable to Kong’s height in the original 1933 film, and the tallest Kong appeared in KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (1962) where he stood at 147 feet.

For reasons I’m not sure I understand, KONG:  SKULL ISLAND takes place in 1973, just as the Vietnam War comes to a close.  Scientist and adventurer Bill Randa (John Goodman) asks for and receives—why?— federal funding to lead an expedition to an uncharted island in the Pacific in search of giant monsters.  He also asks for and receives a military escort, led by Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), who’s still smarting over the way the Vietnam War ended, for as Packard says, “we didn’t lose the war.  We abandoned it.”

Also going along for the journey are professional tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and war photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), as well as various other military folks and scientists who are just as under-developed as these main characters.

When they get to Skull Island, it doesn’t take them long to encounter Kong who quickly makes short work of them, downing their helicopters and killing most of them.  Those who survive find themselves scattered on the island, but they know of a rendezvous point where more helicopters are scheduled to arrive to pick them up, and so they know if they can get there, they can be rescued.

Of course, Kong and the other giant creatures on the island have other ideas.

While I wouldn’t call KONG:SKULL ISLAND the worst Kong movie ever made— that distinction still belongs to the utterly horrible KING KONG LIVES (1986)— it’s certainly one of the stupidest Kong films ever.  What a ridiculously inane story!

First of all, it’s not a new story at all.  While technically not a remake of the original Kong tale, it basically tells the same story:  a group of people travel to an uncharted island in search of something monstrous that supposedly lives there.  It’s the same exact story, only without the Fay Wray character.  This is the best the writers could do?

Don’t be fooled.  KONG:  SKULL ISLAND is not an original tale.  It’s just another origin story, and we’ve already had plenty of those.  They’ve been called KING KONG. Sure, here it’s been altered to fit into a Vietnam era tale, but these alterations only make things more ridiculous.

I’m not really sure why there is a Vietnam connection.  It’s obvious from the film’s poster that the filmmakers are going for an APOCALYPSE NOW (1979) connection.  And while there’s plenty of cool 1970s songs on the soundtrack, along with wise cracking soldiers, none of it really works.  It all just feels out-of-place.

Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts does the film no favors with a choppy style that is more reminiscent of TOP GUN (1986) than APOCALYPSE NOW.  Like TOP GUN, there are lots of characters  who we never really get to know, often shown in brief music video-style clips which serves as a substitute for genuine character development.

The screenplay by three writers with considerable screen credits—Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein and Derek Connolly is pretty bad. It’s chock full of awful dialogue, and the only reason folks like John Goodman and Tom Hiddleston say their lines with straight faces is because they’re really good actors.  And the story is a snooze.  It’s an origin story disguised as monster movie/war movie hybrid, and it just doesn’t work.  Gilroy wrote NIGHTCRAWLER (2014), Borenstein co-wrote GODZILLA (2014), and Connolly co-wrote JURASSIC WORLD (2015).  KONG: SKULL ISLAND is not their best work.

Back in 1976, critics made fun of the fact that in the 1976 remake of KING KONG, Kong walked upright like a man, which was a clear departure from the way he walked in both the original 1933 classic and in the ensuing Japanese Toho productions.  Kong was a giant ape and was supposed to walk like an ape.  To be honest, I never had a problem with Kong walking upright in the 1976 version, as it is an interpretation which suggests that Kong is not just a giant ape but a different creature altogether.  This interpretation makes Kong more monstrous.

I bring this up because here in KONG:  SKULL ISLAND Kong once again walks upright.  I don’t have a problem with this.  However, I do have problems with Kong in this movie.

While Kong looks fine, he has to be the most boring King Kong ever to appear in a movie.  In every Kong movie, even the Toho films, Kong has a personality.  He is a definite presence in the film.  He has no personality here.  In KONG:  SKULL ISLAND, Kong is nothing more than a slow-walking giant who battles both humans and monsters and that’s it.  Not that I’m arguing that every Kong movie has to be a love story between Kong and a woman, because that’s not what I’m talking about.  In other films, Kong has been angry, Kong has been heroic, and Kong’s has been ruthless.  It’s these emotions which have set Kong apart from other giant monsters in the movies, and while Kong goes through the motions in this movie, I never felt these emotions at all.

It’s one of my least favorite Kong interpretations of all time.

One thing the movie does have going for it is it is full of good actors, and so you cannot argue that the acting is bad here.  In fact, the acting in spite of the silly script, is one of the film’s best parts.

Tom Hiddleston, who plays the villain Loki in the MARVEL superhero movies, a character I have never liked, is very good here as hero tracker James Conrad, in spite of the laughable dialogue he has to say.   The same can be said for John Goodman, who plays adventurer Bill Randa, a sort of Carl Denham character— in fact, the clothes he wears in this movie are an homage to the clothes Denham wore in the 1933 original film—and who has to say even worse dialogue.

Brie Larson also does a fine job with Mason Weaver, although like every one else in the movie, her character is way under developed.  Samuel L. Jackson probably fares the worst, because in addition to his lousy dialogue, his military character is strictly cliché, the type of character who always seems to show up in a giant monster movie, the military officer who takes out his misplaced frustrations on the giant monster, vowing to kill the creature at all costs.  Blah, blah, blah.

The most interesting character in the film is Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly) a World War II pilot who was shot down during the war and has been living on Skull Island ever since when he is discovered by the folks in this movie.  Reilly has a field day with the role, and he has all of the best lines in the movie.

In fact, the story of KONG:  SKULL ISLAND is really the story of Hank Marlow.  The film begins with him being shot down, and the entire story arc in the movie which goes all the way into the end credits follows his tale, not Kong’s, which would have been okay, had I bought a ticket to see HANK MARLOW:  SKULL ISLAND.

Surprisingly, there are not any dinosaurs on Skull Island, this time around, but there are plenty of giant creatures.  Some work, others don’t.  I liked the giant spider and the bird creatures, but Kong’s main adversary in this film, giant reptilian creatures which come out from underneath the ground, did not work for me.  I thought they looked really silly.

The giant spider is an homage to the giant spider in the pit scene from the original KING KONG (1933) which was cut upon release, lost, and has remained missing ever since.  Kong’s fight with a giant octopus is also an homage to a similar scene in KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (1962).

There is an after-credit scene, but I didn’t stay for it.  I had had enough by the film’s end.

KONG:  SKULL ISLAND isn’t really all that intense.  In fact, you can make the argument that the 1933 original KING KONG is a far more intense film than this 2017 edition.

I love King Kong and I’m a huge fan of the King Kong movies, both the good and the bad, and so I can’t say that I hated KONG:  SKULL ISLAND. I just thought it was really stupid, and I didn’t particularly like the interpretation of Kong in this movie.  The actors all do a good job, but they’re in a story that doesn’t help them at all.

KONG: SKULL ISLAND is certainly one of the weaker films in the KONG canon.

—END—

Books by Michael Arruda:

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

InTheSpooklight_NewText

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

For The Love Of Horror cover

Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.