Thor (2011)

If I had a hammer...I'd...oh, wait. I already used that joke for Drive. What is it with 2011 and hammers?
If I had a hammer…I’d…oh, wait. I already used that joke for Drive. What is it with 2011 and hammers?

I feel the same way about Thor I imagine most people feel about Superman. After all, Thor’s the Norse god of thunder and, as such, he’s ridiculously over-powered and quite a bit alien depending on the personal taste of who’s writing him at the time. Over a fifty year history as convoluted as any other comic book superhero’s, Thor’s been a god trapped in a man’s bod, a man driven insane by a magic hammer, and more or less everything in between. Now he’s a movie star and I say, Good for you, Odinson. Maybe you can tell me why your movie isn’t better?

Except he doesn’t have to because I know the answer. You don’t exactly need to sacrifice one of your eyes to know the problem with all these post-Iron Man Marvel movies: as soon as the internet began harping about the post-credit scene of Stark’s first film, these movies stopped being movies and started contenting themselves being prequels to The Avengers. It’s become evident Marvel approaches all their films with a giant check-list of shit they’ll have to introduce before an Avengers movie even begins to make sense. Continue reading Thor (2011)

Trash Culture’s Dr. Who Reviews – The Chase (1965)

by Chad Denton

The Doctor installs the Space Time Visualizer into the TARDIS, which allows him to view anything that happens in the past before the TARDIS’ current “location” in time, and demonstrates it to Vicki, Barbara, and Ian by showing Abraham Lincoln speaking the Gettysburg Address, Shakespeare meeting Queen Elizabeth I, and a performance by the Beatles (playing “Ticket to Ride”, by the way). Soon the TARDIS lands in the desert planet of Aridius. While exploring Vicki and Ian find some seaweed and a trail of blood. They also stumble across a ring in the ground that opens up a trapdoor leading into an underground passage. Meanwhile Barbara and the Doctor see the Daleks through the STV, who just happen to be plotting their revenge for thwarting their plans for Earth. After setting out to find and warn the others, Barbara and the Doctor are caught in a sandstorm that buries the TARDIS. Continue reading Trash Culture’s Dr. Who Reviews – The Chase (1965)

Tarantula (1955)

There goes my internet connection. Damnit!
There goes my internet connection. Damnit!

Watching Tarantula‘s opening, with its lonely shots of California’s Lucern Valley (once again standing in for Arizona), you can tell Jack Arnold really wanted to direct a Western. Of the four films he made in 1955, three were set in the Great American West and two were authentic Westerns: the one he made right before Tarantula (The Man from Bitter Ridge) and the one he made right after (Red Sundown). The blasted, lunar landscapes of the Mojave lend an expansive, mythic air to even the silliest drama, or the most serious monster picture.

Better yet, aside from some dated technobable and some really dated sexism, Tarantula isn’t even all that silly. Its got a weird, almost-retro atmosphere to it, thick as Jupiter’s but much more permeable…if you were lucky enough to grow up on Universal monster movies. (And I certainly was…can’t you tell?) All the classic horror tropes we learned to crave are present and accounted for…except for the thunderstorm and the Old, Dark Castle. We’ll excuse the thunderstorm’s absence on account of this taking place in “Arizona”…where, I suppose, a two-story ranch house is as good a castle-analogue as you’re likely to find. The only problem is, the movie forgoes focusing on those tropes in favor of building a mystery. A mystery the movie solves with its title.

I say Arnold “wanted” to make Westerns in the full knowledge that what director’s wanted didn’t really matter much in 1955’s Hollywood. Tarantula‘s no auteur‘s vision; it’s a quickly made, cheap knock-off of a rival studio’s hit from the previous year. There’d be no Tarantula without the surprise success of Them! and the parallels between the two are on fairly obvious display. Continue reading Tarantula (1955)

Trash Culture’s Dr. Who Reviews – The Space Museum (1965)

by Chad Denton

When the TARDIS lands, everyone is concerned when suddenly they find themselves wearing their usual clothes, not the thirteenth century costumes that they had been wearing since leaving Jaffa. The Doctor waves off their worries by mumbling something about the “relativity of time”, but then Vicki swears that she watched while a glass of water that she dropped and shattered on the floor reassembled and flew back into her hand. Through the TARDIS’ monitor Barbara notices that outside there are spaceships. Ian guesses that they’re in a spaceship graveyard, but the Doctor observes that the ships are all from different eras. Venturing outside, they find that, even though the atmosphere is hospitable to life, the planet seems dead. The Doctor is finally disturbed when Ian points out that, even though there is a layer of dust on the surface, they’re not leaving any footprints; worse, they find that someone or something had taken the TARDIS. Approaching a building, the Doctor and the others find two men who don’t seem to notice them even though they’re only a few feet away. Seeing various exhibits of technological devices, including the armor of a Dalek, the Doctor deduces that they’re in a museum. When other members of the museum’s staff appear, they find out that not only are they apparently invisible to the people but also the TARDIS’ crew can’t hear what they’re saying. Next Vicki and Ian discover that their hands pass through solid objects. Eventually they find that the TARDIS has been set up as an exhibit, but when the Doctor tries to enter he only phases through it. Not only that, but they see that their bodies are also propped up as exhibits. The Doctor that the TARDIS skipped a “time track” and that they’re trapped in “the fourth dimension.” He adds that they’re only looking at a potential future and to have a chance at setting things right they only have to “wait for themselves to arrive.” Soon enough the Doctor is proven to be right and the TARDIS’ crew find that they’ve actually “arrived.” Continue reading Trash Culture’s Dr. Who Reviews – The Space Museum (1965)

Batman: Year One (2011)

Yeah, when I heard this was coming to DVD, I more or less pulled this face.
When I heard this was coming to DVD, I more or less pulled this face. Because I knew, sooner or later, I’d have to write this review.

I hate to sound like an ungrateful fanboy but I find myself with no other option. Why does this film even exist? It’s too late for Year One. What idiot would want to adapt it now, after all its major elements have been translated to the silver screen at least twice?

Non-comic book readers should know Year One first appeared as a four-part story arc in Batman #404-407 (February – May 1987). Like most of the Bat-stories published around that time, it quickly became a cornerstone of the character’s modern continuity. Creative teams have referenced it and referred to it ever since, and it’s inspired some of the finest stories of Bat’s modern age.

For example: Bruce Timm (who executive produced this film), Paul Dini and Alan Burnet used it as the inspiration for whole sequences of Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (otherwise known as The Greatest Batman Movie Ever Made), including the flashbacks to Bruce’s early crime-fighting years and his extended  flight from the GCPD in the second act. Christopher Nolan turned wide swaths of Year One into my favorite parts of Batman Begins, including the slow build-up to our first sight of Bruce in the Bat-suit…and his extended flight from the GCPD in the second act. Both used Year One as inspiration: a ball they ran with into their separate In-Zones. How can any screen adaption of Year One hold up against that, or the quarter century of expectation Bat-fans have built up? Continue reading Batman: Year One (2011)

Atragon (1963)

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. And sometimes its a flying submarine.
Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. And sometimes its a flying submarine.

Submarines and sci-fi stories go together like fish and chips, as anyone who’s read 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea already knows. And if you thought that book hit it big in the English speaking world (I’m not even going to try and count how many times it’s been adapted to film) you should see the influence it had on Japan. Once Jules Verne hit the home islands his books sparked an SF craze that, in most respects, has never really gone away.

Local rip-offs were inevitable, the most important for us being Shunro Oshikawa’s Kaitei Gunkan (“Undersea Battleship”), published around 1900. The first in a series of what we’d now call “young adult adventure novels,” Undersea Battleship followed the crew of its titular device through a futuristic version of the Ruso-Japanese War that was, in reality, just around the corner. Like a lot of Japanese fiction at the time, it was enthusiastically imperialist, fiercely nationalistic, and (one would think) completely anathema to a post-war movie audience raised under the Constitution of 1945, with its explicit “wars are bad, m’kay” stance.

And yet…the popularity of Oshikawa’s books managed to survive both his death and the death of Japan’s imperial ambitions. Why wouldn’t it? They’re all about manly men doing manly things in service to manly causes. To a movie studio struggling to establish itself internationally as the age of James Bond dawned, that sounded like a recipe for success. And who better to bring all that to the silver screen than the people who brought you Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra, Varan and The Mysterians? That’ll make for a guaranteed-great movie…right? Continue reading Atragon (1963)

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

Everyone wants free trolly rides, but some apes are more willing to take what they want than others.
Everyone wants free trolly rides, but some apes are more willing to take what they want than others.

…is the seventh film in, and second reboot of, the Planet of the Apes franchise, even though the last one was officially marketed as a “remake.” It wound up being an incredibly stupid mistake that exposed Tim Burton for an idea-starved thug he’d become by then and apparently staked this entire franchise through the heart. But let’s be honest with ourselves and admit these movies hadn’t been “relevant” for years. Most intelligent fans trace the decline of the franchise back to the moment they stopped being about Planets full of Apes and became all about justifying the existence of said planets to fools who won’t take these movies seriously no matter how many prequels you roll out.

Ten years after that debacle, a hit-starved 20th Century Fox unearthed the franchise’s corpse and removed the stake, like many a Hammer horror victim. I didn’t expect much going in, being long-since burnt out on reboots. Director Robert Wyatt didn’t help things by explicitly compared it to Batman Begins. You could go either way with that one. Everybody wants to be the goddamn Batman, but not everyone has the chops. I can remember thinking, “From the writers of The Relic? Are you fucking kidding?” So before we do anything else, I’d like to personally apologize to Amanda Silver and Rick Jaffa, one writer to two others.

Guys: I’m sorry I doubted you. Your movie’s awesome. In fact, it’d be prefect…if it didn’t insist on featuring James Franco. Continue reading Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)

Aww...they're so cute when they're passed out.
Aww…they’re so cute when they’re passed out.

I hate 3D on general principal and consider it a classless, money-grubbing gimmick, trotted out whenever panic grips the hearts of backward-looking Hollywood bean-counters. I reached this conclusion early in life after coming to grips with just how awful Freddy’s Dead, Jaws 3D, and Friday the 13th Part 3D really were. But every critic has that one 3D skeleton in the closet. One black mark on their critical scorecard. One film they like in spite – or perhaps because of –  the occasional distracting bit of visual cheese.

Creature from the Black Lagoon is mine. Despite coming out twenty-three years after the other monster movies that celebrated their sixtieth anniversaries in 1991, it made its way onto VHS and into my eight-year-old-self’s collection. I can’t think of a better time to give yourself a classical monster education. And what could be more classical than ripping-off King Kong‘s “beauty and the beast” angle?

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Continue reading Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)

It Came from Outer Space (1953)

If I had to sum up the 50s SF movie in one'd probably be that trifocal eye from War of the Worlds. But this would be a close second.
If I had to sum up ’50s SF in one image…it’d probably be that trifocal eye from War of the Worlds. But this would be a close second.

3D is bullshit. You know it, I know it. But movie studios and the technology companies allied with them are, as of this writing, wasting billions of dollars on an international propaganda campaign to convince us otherwise. (I know – “Duh!” right? Well, since I currently can’t spit without hitting a trailer for the 3D Phantom Menace, you get to watch me vent about it.) This has happened before, but those who forget the past are condemned to…do something. I forget what just now. Strain their eyes, get headaches and have seizures if this Cal State study from last August is any indication.

Most of us are old enough to remember the 3D craze of the mid-80s. Even if we aren’t, a casual viewing of Friday the 13th Part 3-D or Jaws 3-D will tell us everything we need to know. But tonight I want to go back – way back – and talk about the wave that struck Hollywood in 1952.

A little-remembered man-eating lions epic called Bwana Devil formed the leading edge of that one. One day, I hope to read someone with a bit more clout than I correctly label Bwana Devil “the James Cameron’s Avatar of its era.” Then as now, the novelty of a “new” viewing format (which is as old as film itself, but never mind that now – 3D is the future!) allowed slack-jawed idiots to pretend the crappy, derivative film they just watched somehow “immersed” them in a “new” and/or “visionary” “experience.” Continue reading It Came from Outer Space (1953)