December 22, 2011

The Green Slime (1969)

WATCHING BAD MOVIES CAN BE FUN. If a movie has the right combination of poor elements, it can be a blast to sit through. (I taught Dash about this with Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.)

So when I saw that the long-heralded bad movie The Green Slime was airing on Turner Classic Movies (on the heels of a remastered DVD last year), I decided to see if it was possible to have a good time with this supposedly horrible flick.

With a giant asteroid heading toward Earth, a group of astronauts led by Commanders Jack Rankin (Robert Horton) and Vince Elliott (Richard Jaeckel) disembark from a nearby space station to blow it up (sound familiar?). The mission is successful, but they return to the station unknowingly bringing back a gooey green substance that mutates into one-eyed tentacled monsters that feed off electricity. Soon the station is crawling with them, and members of the station’s staff are being zapped by the giant creatures.


The Green Slime opens with an effective, mysterious shot of space – one that’s immediately marred as an obviously miniature space station comes into frame, orbiting in fits and starts as if the effects person who's spinning it is getting a wrist cramp.

Things don’t get any better from there. The film’s first 30 minutes, focusing on the destruction of the asteroid threatening Earth, features long stretches of dead silence as our heroes make their journey. No dialogue, no sound effects, not even a musical score. This is probably why I fell asleep three different times trying to get past this opening sequence.

Things go from painfully dull to laughably bad once the asteroid is destroyed. The biggest offender is the film’s special effects, including:
  • Set pieces that often make The Green Slime feel like a Godzilla movie without Godzilla
  • Rocket ships that look like something from a kid’s backyard launcher, or maybe the old Thunderbirds show
  • Our heroes “floating” in space, obviously suspended by wires
  • The titular green slime – gooey blobs brought to life by air bladders and the type of reverse film effect usually reserved for such high art as the Purina Cat Chow commercials
When we finally see the creatures that are spawned by the green slime, they’re revealed to be rubber-suited, hulking green beings who walk upright, have wavy tentacles and a giant red eye, and sound like baby ducklings stuck in an echo chamber.

If the effects aren’t bad enough to torpedo The Green Slime, other aspects of the film provide additional ammo to sink it:
  • A ridiculous script with lines like, “Since that’s the way it is, let’s be sure that’s the way it is.”
  • Random goofs, such as a gaping wound in Jack’s arm that mysteriously disappears (or rapidly heals) by the next scene later in the day
  • Realizing they can’t shoot the aliens for fear of their spilled blood turning into more aliens, the crew resorts to – I’m not making this up – shoving hospital beds at the creatures and throwing helmets at them. (After that, they break out the heavy artillery: flashlights and flood lamps.)
The Green Slime was shot in Tokyo by Japanese director Kinji Fukasaku, who knew very little English and relied on a translator to give direction (many of the extras were American GIs from local military bases). It’s hard to believe he would go from directing this debacle to helming the Japanese sequences of the highly acclaimed Pearl Harbor film Tora! Tora! Tora! the very next year, after legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa was fired. Fukasaku also went on to direct the cult classic (and precursor to The Hunger Games) Battle Royale.

There are good bad movies, and there are bad bad movies. Despite occasional moments of cheese-tastic hilarity, The Green Slime lands largely in the latter category.

Is it suitable for your kids?
The Green Slime is rated G, but it’s a “’60s G” in that the newly created MPAA was less scrutinous about questionable content in its all-ages G rating. Several men are electrocuted to death by the alien creatures; one man falls to his demise, his head splatting blood on impact; and we see the tattered, electrocuted body of one victim. There are also a few profanities, including several “hells” and “bitch” (as in “complain”). Tweens and older is probably the appropriate age.

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
Highly doubtful. Even if she’s into watching bad movies for fun, there are better choices than The Green Slime.

Fall in love with the groovy, out-of-place, deliciously awful theme song:

The Green Slime
* Director: Kinji Fukasaku
* Screenwriters: Bill Finger, Tom Rowe, Charles Sinclair
* Stars: Robert Horton, Richard Jaeckel, Luciana Paluzzi, Bud Widom, Ted Gunther
* MPAA Rating: G

December 14, 2011

Win a prize pack from the new movie
Alvin and The Chipmunks: Chipwrecked!

YOU COULD WIN a prize pack courtesy of the new movie Alvin and The Chipmunks: Chipwrecked!

The vacationing Chipmunks and Chipettes are turning a luxury cruise liner into their personal playground, until they become "chipwrecked" on a remote island. As the 'Munks and Chipettes scheme to find their way home, they accidentally discover their new turf is not as deserted as it seems. Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked is rated G (fun for the whole family) and is in theaters nationwide this Friday, December 16th.

One winner will receive:
  • $25 Fandango Gift Card
  • Alvin and The Chipmunks and Alvin and The Chipmunks: The Squeakquel on DVD

How to Enter:
Comment on this post by December 29, 2011. I will then pick one comment at random and post the winner soon after. (The winner will have to e-mail me their mailing address to receive their prize pack.)

  • You must have a link to your e-mail address on your Blogger profile page. If not, you must provide your e-mail address in your comment.
  • Prize pack is available to United States mailing addresses only.
Good luck!

December 8, 2011

L.A. Confidential (1997)

IF SOMEONE TOLD YOU they were making a movie about police corruption in 1950s Los Angeles, starring two unknown Australian actors, and directed by the guy who did The Hand That Rocks The Cradle, would you believe it would win two Oscars and turn out to be one of the best films ever made?

Against the background of 1950s Los Angeles, L.A. Confidential intertwines stories of police corruption, the battle for control of the L.A. underworld, a mass shooting in a late-night café, and a pimp who has his prostitutes surgically altered to look like famous Hollywood starlets.


It shouldn’t have worked. A period piece, two virtually unknown foreigners as the leads, and half a dozen plotlines running concurrently over a span of nearly two and a half hours. Yet L.A. Confidential is one of those rare instances when all the elements come together to create, without hyperbole, a modern masterpiece.

From the performances of the actors (perfectly cast by the legendary Mali Finn), to director Curtis Hanson’s vision of the L.A. of yesteryear (he’s a lifelong Angelino), to the Oscar-winning script by Hanson and Brian Helgeland (brilliantly pared down and adapted from James Ellroy’s mammoth book), to the infectious soundtrack (mixing standards and Jerry Goldsmith’s score), to Ruth Myers’ costume design, all the pieces of L.A. Confidential connect masterfully into one perfect, ambitious puzzle.

In terms of the performances: Yes, Kim Basinger’s Oscar-winning performance as high-end call girl Lynn Bracken is good and worthy of recognition, but it’s hardly the best performance. It doesn’t even come in second or third. She’s trumped by a top-tier ensemble cast that includes:
  • Russell Crowe, whose brutish Bud White has a deep-rooted issue with criminals who abuse women
  • Guy Pearce as clean-cut Edmund Exley, who won’t step outside the law to deliver justice, but learns how to work the system
  • James Cromwell as police captain Dudley Smith, who questions Exley’s abilities to go above the law to stop criminals and get confessions
  • Kevin Spacey as slick detective Jack Vincennes, who thoroughly enjoys his gig as advisor on Badge of Honor, the hottest cop show on TV
  • Danny DeVito as Sid Hudgens, publisher of the scandal magazine Hush-Hush, who’s always looking for an angle or scoop
  • David Straithairn as Pierce M. Patchett, a respected businessman and philanthropist who also employs prostitutes who are “cut” to look like movie stars
With L.A. Confidential, Hanson perfectly captures the dichotomy of Los Angeles that exists to this day: The idea of image versus reality. The glitter and fame of Hollywood that masks the city’s seedy, violent underbelly. And a supposedly honorable police force that’s mired in corruption, racism, and brutality. (The fact that Hanson opens and closes the film with Johnny Mercer’s “Ac-cent-tchu-ate the Positive” is no accident.) It’s a world where polar opposites join forces to help each other’s cases and uncover awful truths – and where one cop sworn to serve and protect turns out to be a callous, cold-hearted criminal behind the very crimes and corruption our anti-heroes are investigating. It all culminates in a final shootout that’s a master class in choreography and editing.

L.A. Confidential is one of those films that requires a second viewing to catch everything you missed, but it’s hardly a chore to do so. Character nuances become more noticeable, the narration and multiple storylines flow together better, and terrific instances of foreshadowing are much more appreciated.

Kevin Spacey has said that if L.A. Confidential hadn’t been released the same year as Titanic, it would have won the Oscar for Best Picture. Off the record, and on the QT: He’s absolutely right.

Is it suitable for your kids?
Despite being set in a time when movies were largely free of inappropriate material, L.A. Confidential has plenty of content not meant for all audiences. There are scenes of brief nudity, discussions of drug use, graphically violent footage of mob hits, and more than a dozen people dying by bloody shootings. There’s also frequent adult language, plus occasional glances at vintage nudie and S&M magazines. High school kids and older is probably the benchmark to use when deciding if L.A. Confidential is suitable for your kids.

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
Factoring in its subject matter, nearly all-male cast, and police procedural setting, I’d gamble that L.A. Confidential is more for dads. In fact, it should be required viewing for all dads who love movies.

L.A. Confidential
* Director: Curtis Hanson
* Screenwriters: Curtis Hanson and Brian Helgeland
* Stars: Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, Kevin Spacey, Kim Basinger, Danny DeVito, James Cromwell
* MPAA Rating: R

Rent L.A. Confidential from Netflix >>

November 30, 2011

The Muppets (2011)

REALITY CHECK: There are now generations of children who haven’t been properly exposed to the special brand of adorable anarchy that is the Muppets. This is a crime.

Apparently, actor Jason Segel (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) felt the same way. Drawing on his fond childhood memories of the original Muppet movies and The Muppet Show, he championed a new feature film for his formerly famous felt friends (fun fact: I love alliteration). That film, simply titled The Muppets, opened over the Thanksgiving holiday.

The premise is inspiring, and has one foot in pseudo-reality: The Muppets disbanded years ago, and no one has heard from (or cared about) them since. But this may change as Kermit, Fozzie Bear, Miss Piggy, and the gang reunite to throw a telethon to save the Muppet Theater from being demolished by a greedy oil tycoon, Tex Richman (a perfectly evil Chris Cooper). Leading the charge are two brothers: human Gary (Segel) and his Muppet brother Walter (voice of Peter Linz), who dreams of one day being an official member of the Muppets himself.


In creating The Muppets, Segel (who co-wrote the script) and director James Bobin had two daunting tasks: 1) Satisfy the nostalgia of Gen X-ers raised on the original Muppet movies and The Muppet Show; 2) Hook the current generation of children who only know Muppets from the benign edutainment of Sesame Street.

Did they succeed? Regarding the latter, time will tell if there’s room today among kids’ fast-paced, CGI-laden entertainment for a bunch of felt characters who haven’t been big since the Reagan administration. But for parents who were raised on Kermit, Fozzie, and Miss Piggy’s antics, The Muppets hits all the sweet spots of nostalgia. If you’re a Gen X-er (like yours truly), you’ll feel like a kid again as the film shows clips of the old Muppet Show, pans past framed pictures of former guest hosts, and hauls out a new yet faithful rendition of “The Rainbow Connection,” the signature song from the original Muppet Movie.

Like the Muppet films that preceded it, the humor in The Muppets is very self-aware. Clever bits include traveling “by map” to get places faster, and the Muppets agreeing that a montage would be the best use of time for rounding up the remaining members of their gang to save the theater.

The Muppets works best when the humans don’t get in the way. Yes, there are human villains and a slew of celebrity cameos in the original trilogy of Muppet films (The Muppet Movie, Great Muppet Caper, and The Muppets Take Manhattan). But the Muppets didn’t share the main storylines in those films with anyone who wasn’t a fellow felt creation. While it’s understandable Segel would want to write himself into his dream project, you wonder how much leaner the film might have been had he relegated himself to a cameo or supporting role.

The Muppets’ original musical numbers by Flight of the Concords’ Bret McKenzie are good, the standouts being the big opener “Life’s a Happy Song” and the hysterically overwrought “Man or Muppet.” However, the licensed soundtrack choices are trite and uninspired, including tired anthems such as “Back in Black,” “Bad to the Bone,” and “We Built This City.”

Another area that’s anemic is the lackluster roster of celebrity cameos, which in past Muppet films has been populated either by current A-listers or Hollywood royalty. To compare: The original Muppet Movie has Milton Berle, Bob Hope, Mel Brooks, James Coburn, Dom DeLuise, Madeline Kahn, Richard Pryor, Steve Martin, and Orson Welles. With The Muppets, we get Emily Blunt, Judd Hirsch, Ken Jeong, Jim Parsons, Sarah Silverman, John Krasinski, Emily Blunt, and the kid from ABC’s Modern Family. (One plus: Neil Patrick Harris’ cameo is both fleeting and funny.) You also have to wonder if kids who watch The Muppets generations from now will know or remember Jack Black (Kung Fu Panda 2), the “celebrity host” (emphasis on the air quotes) that the Muppets get to emcee the telethon.

Soundtrack and celebrities aside, nearly everything about The Muppets feels right. It’s fun to watch, and it exposes today’s kids to the joys of Muppet mayhem. After a rousing finale, the audience in our theater applauded. And as we left the theater, I was happy.

But once we got home, the cinematic equivalent of buyer’s remorse set in. Did Segel and Bobin just use a large chunk of Muppets nostalgia to make their movie work? Aside from some new, uneven musical numbers, what did they bring to the Muppet legacy to re-establish it, as was surely the plan with this project?

Look at it this way: Midway through The Muppets, Miss Piggy declares they’re going to get a celebrity host for their telethon “by any means necessary.” The same goes for the film itself. If it means nostalgically hijacking the Muppet memories of Gen X-ers to get a new generation of kids to know, cherish, and bond with Kermit and company, fine. Whatever it takes. The truth is, as you’re watching those memories unfold on screen, you won’t care. You’ll just be happy to see the Muppets again – and that today’s generation of kids can now discover what they’ve been missing.


What did Dash and Jack-Jack think?
They loved The Muppets, laughing frequently and eating up the antics. Some of the plot logistics may have gone over their heads, but it didn’t faze the fun they were having – though Jack-Jack was quick to point out, upon Fozzie demonstrating his “fart shoes:” “See, that’s why it’s rated PG.”

Is it suitable for your kids?
The Muppets is rated PG for mild rude humor, aka the aforementioned fart shoes. Aside from those shoes, a comical fistfight breaking out at a relaxation center, and some menacing by Cooper’s Tex Richman, there’s nothing terribly inappropriate for kids.

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
Absolutely. And she should. Despite its minor flaws, she’ll love The Muppets. See it as a family; if you don’t have kids, see it as a couple. It’s worth it.

"Wow, there it is...where all the Oompa-Loompas make Everlasting Gobstoppers..."
"Uh, Gary, you're thinking of a different place..."

The Muppets
* Director: James Bobin
* Screenwriters: Jason Segel, Nicholas Stoller
* Stars: Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper, Jack Black
* MPAA Rating: PG

Rent The Muppets from Netflix >>

November 12, 2011

The Golden Blaze (2005)

FOR HOW MUCH NETFLIX crows about its Just For Kids section, their selection of animated G-rated movies made for children above the pre-school level is anemic, to put it lightly.

But after several attempts to find just the right family film suitable for both Dash and Jack-Jack, one seemed to keep popping up: the relatively unknown 2005 release The Golden Blaze.

Bullied schoolboy Jason (Khleo Thomas) has his world turned around when his dad, fumbling scientist Mr. Fletcher (Blair Underwood), accidentally gains superpowers much like Jason’s comic book hero, The Golden Blaze. However, the town’s Trump-like business tycoon, Thomas Tatum (Michael Clarke Duncan), was also affected by the accident – slowly turning him into The Golden Blaze’s arch-nemesis, Quake.


The Golden Blaze sets itself apart from recent animated films in several ways, the first being director Bryon E. Carson’s choice of Flash animation (a la The Chosen One) versus CGI or 2D. True, it may have been a budgetary choice, but it immediately sets the film apart in today’s crowded animation market.

The plot is also unique, yet also so obvious it’s hard to believe no other superhero or family film hadn’t done it before. Watching Jason give his dad tips and lessons on how to wield his newfound powers provides many funny moments, but it also serves as a way for them to bond as father and son in a much less awkward way than before.

They say that a superhero movie is only as good as its villain, and The Golden Blaze delivers with Thomas Tatum, who eventually becomes the villainous Quake. He’s probably the best-written character, with a story arc and dialogue worthy of any mainstream or live-action superhero film.

Other strong points: The Golden Blaze’s action sequences come at a pretty steady clip, but stop short of becoming relentless. And it’s refreshing to see a superhero movie featuring a predominately African-American cast – including Thomas, Underwood, Duncan, and Sanaa Lathan (The Cleveland Show), as well as Neil Patrick Harris (A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas) as a sarcastic comic book store owner – giving much-needed diversity to a genre usually populated by eccentric white billionaires with daddy issues.

It’s no surprise that The Golden Blaze won the 2005 Children’s Jury Award for Best Animated Feature Film at the Chicago International Children’s Film Festival. It hits all the marks for a kid audience: an animated superhero film about a boy who’s dad becomes a superhero, and the two grow closer because of it. But The Golden Blaze also does an effective job of addressing the struggles boys and dads can have when they realize neither one of them is perfect.

It’s the world’s worst-kept secret that every dad wants his kids to see him as a superhero, even if he’s not invincible. And in the highly entertaining Golden Blaze, that’s exactly what Mr. Fletcher wants from Jason: to love him for the man he is, not the superhero he’s become. And along the way, Mr. Fletcher is reminded that with great power comes great responsibility – not just as a superhero for the town, but as a father for his son.


What did Dash and Jack-Jack think?
The boys were a little apprehensive at first, trying to adjust to The Golden Blaze’s unique animation style, but they quickly ate it up – enjoying the action and laughing often. The fact that the plot centered around superheroes and villains, and a boy’s role in it all, surely helped.

Is it suitable for your kids?
The Golden Blaze is rated G, but it does have a bit of questionable content for very young viewers. There’s a solid amount of comic book violence (punching, hurling, etc.), and Jason is bullied by several boys, including Thomas Tatum’s son Leon (Rickey D’Shon Collins), who verbally harasses Jason and punches him once in the face off-screen (you hear the thud, followed by Jason sporting a black eye). In terms of language, someone calls a fellow kid a “dodo head,” and Jason and Leon each utter “this sucks” once. Looking back, The Golden Blaze may have been a bit inappropriate for someone Jack-Jack’s age (6), but more suited for older kids and tweens.

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
The Golden Blaze seems more like a film for dads and sons to watch together, but there’s no reason the whole family can’t enjoy it – FilmMother included.

Behold their awesome powers of...bowling? Skee Ball?
Bocce? Intergalactic soccer?

The Golden Blaze
* Director: Bryon E. Carson
* Screenwriter: Archie Gips
* Stars: Blair Underwood, Michael Clarke Duncan, Sanaa Lathan, Neil Patrick Harris, Khleo Thomas, Rickey D’Shon Collins
* MPAA Rating: G

Buy The Golden Blaze (DVD) at >>
Rent The Golden Blaze from Netflix >>

November 7, 2011

Gumby: The Movie (1995)

LAST MONTH would have been Gumby creator Art Clokey’s 90th birthday (he passed away in 2010). Google even honored Clokey’s birthday with an interactive Gumby-themed homepage logo:

Dash and Jack-Jack loved what Google did and, since they had never heard of Gumby, started asking questions about him and his friends. It was the perfect opportunity to show them Gumby: The Movie, which I had just put in my Netflix Instant queue a few weeks earlier.

Gumby’s band, the Clayboys, decide to throw a benefit concert to raise money for local farm owners who are losing their farms, thanks for the evil Blockheads who run the local mortgage loan company. But when the Clayboys perform, Gumby’s dog Lowbelly cries tears that turn into valuable pearls – prompting the greedy Blockheads to kidnap Lowbelly and keep the pearls for themselves. In addition, they start kidnapping Gumby, Pokey, Pickle, Goo, and all the Clayboys and replacing them with robot look-alikes.


Everything about Gumby: The Movie the simple plot, the animation, the innocence of the characters – is a refreshing trip back in time for kids’ filmmaking. Granted, 1995 wasn’t that long ago, but Clokey (who directed the film) embodies everything that made his earlier Gumby series so endearing to generations of children. The ability of Gumby and his friends to enter storybooks and live the adventures within (farms, science laboratories, medieval times, etc.) adds to the magic.

That’s not to say Gumby, Pokey, and the gang only do it old school. Gumby’s band, the Clayboys, bring the rawk – jamming to the most hard rock/metal tunes ever shredded by animated lumps of clay.

Clokey’s “claymation” style of animation is pleasantly nostalgic, and the performances – aside from the Clayboys’ rockin’ numbers – are downright tame compared to today’s animated films.

The action in Gumby: The Movie does pick up in the second half, as Gumby and his evil robot twin chase and fight each other through different stories, even jumping into a few “videocassettes” (well, the film was made in the ‘90s). A couple of sequences even have subtle winks to Return of the Jedi and Terminator 2.

Nothing is heart-poundingly exciting or outrageously hilarious in Gumby: The Movie, but it gives kids and their parents a simple, enjoyable, fun family film that does Gumby – and Clokey’s legacy – proud.

aka Gumby 1.


What did Dash and Jack-Jack think?
Since Dash and Jack-Jack have been raised on CGI and 2D animation, I had concerns they’d be jaded about the simplistic, occasionally crude claymation style of Gumby: The Movie. So I was happily surprised that they were glued to the screen for the entire film, even during the quieter moments – though at times, Jack-Jack was a bit confused (frankly, so was I) as to who were the “good” Gumby & Friends and who were the robots.

Is it suitable for your kids?
Gumby: The Movie is rated G and contains nothing overtly offensive. The robot dog falls in manure, and at one point Gumby and his evil robot twin fight each other with light sabers (leading to one of them losing a hand and the other getting sliced into pieces), but it’s not done violently or traumatically. Children of any age should be fine watching the film.

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
If she watched Gumby as a child, Gumby: The Movie could definitely be a fun, nostalgic trip for her.

*Sigh* Where do you run the swipe key on these doors?

Gumby: The Movie
* Director: Art Clokey
* Screenwriters: Art Clokey, Gloria Clokey
* Stars: Charles Farrington, Art Clokey, Gloria Clokey, Manny La Carruba, Alice Young, Janet McDuff, Patti Morse, Bonnie Rudolph, David Ozzie Ahlers
* MPAA Rating: G

Buy Gumby: The Movie (DVD) at >>
Rent Gumby: The Movie from Netflix >>


Related Posts with Thumbnails