There’s an old (well, not *that* old, but old enough) movie trivia game known as “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”. Basically, it attempts to demonstrate that no actor is more than six co-star links away from Kevin Bacon, thus making him the Center of the Hollywood Universe – or something. It’s become a cliche now, to the point where one can make fun of it knowing that people will get the reference.
But if you’ve somehow never come across it, or want to impress your friends with your movie trivia wizardry, the key is to remember the movies with unusual pairings in the cast. Jack Nicholson and Boris Karloff. William Shatner and Judy Garland. David Carradine and Richard Roundtree…
That last one is the subject of this review. In Q, Detective Shepard (Carradine) and Sgt. Powell (Roundtree) are NYC police officers who find themselves investigating the decapitation of a window washer. The real puzzle is that the victim was at work on an upper story of the Chrysler Building at the time. If that wasn’t bizarre enough, they also are dealing with a couple of cases of what looks like ritual human sacrifice.
There’s a term in film criticism that comes up in the discussion of “bad” movies – the Idiot Picture. It has a couple of definitions. It could refer to the plot of the movie progressing only because a character is an idiot. I’ve heard it referring to a fantasy / sci-fi movie world where everyone is so idiotic that the movie reviewer feels they could take over that world on a good weekend. Or perhaps it’s the movie makers who are idiots for including utterly inane dialog and leaving vast plot holes. Or maybe it means that only an idiot would think it’s a good movie.
Beastmaster II seems to cover all of them.
You know, I’m finding it difficult to understand why this animated kids’ movie is so well-liked by both people and critics. It’s got none of the things you expect and love from both animated films and kid movies. It’s billed as a fantasy, but even the non-fantastic elements reveal that it takes place in some crazy Bizarro World.
Let’s take things from the top, shall we?
The movie opens with a really lively and bouncy theme song, so you are deluded into thinking all will be right. But that’s the only song in the movie! There’s no other singing or musical number that they can sell to the kids (or their parents).
It goes downhill quickly from there. We see a father and his two daughters in a dangerously overloaded truck as they move to a new home in a small farming village. If this were a normal movie, the kids would be bickering amongst themselves, and whining to their barely tolerated dad about how they hate leaving all their friends behind and moving to someplace out in the middle of nowhere. But they are actually a happy family! Insane!
Nuclear war movies had their heyday in the 1950s and early 1960s, with irradiated animals turning into mutant monsters and Communists lurking in every shadow. The “Silver Age” came during the Reagan administration, when his saber-rattling led to fears of a global nuclear holocaust destroying civilization if not all life on Earth.
In the US, the TV movie The Day After (1983) showed the effects of such a war on Lawrence, KS. Not to be left out, the next year the UK came out with Threads, which showed the breakdown of civilization in Sheffield in the aftermath.
Coming late to the party, and taking an entirely different approach, was the UK’s animated film When the Wind Blows.
Nostalgia is a tricky thing. When reminiscing about the past, we automatically filter out all the crap and spend time thinking only about the good things. When we recall the first decade or so of television, we think of it as a “golden age” as we recall shows like “The Honeymooners” and “Dragnet”. We conveniently forget all the mid-level stuff like “Drama at Eight” or “Richard Diamond, Private Detective”. But the really good stuff, just as in any art form, lasts and lasts because each era can find something new or something relevant to its own time.
When you see the basic description – a bulldozer is taken over by an alien entity and starts attacking a construction crew – you’re going to suspect that this is a pretty crappy movie. When you find out that it was made for television, you’re going to figure it’s another lump of crud from the SyFy Channel (or whatever the heck they are calling it these days), and give it a miss.
Well, that’s not entirely fair. Back in the 1970s, in the heyday of the made-for-TV-movie, the networks took them seriously. They were crucial elements of the Ratings War between the three networks. Some of them launched their own series (Columbo, The Night Stalker), some launched careers (Duel), others can still stand up to the best that Hollywood has to offer (Brian’s Song, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pitman, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark). Whatever you could say about them, they were all at least competently made. Experienced actors and professional crews knew what they were doing, and they had writers who didn’t pander to the lowest common denominator.
When most people think of Soviet Cinema, they picture ponderous and didactic propaganda pieces. Or badly hacked / edited redubbings of SF films only suitable for Mystery Science Theater 3000. But just like Russian literature, there’s a lot more to it than that.
Nikolai Gogol was born in 1809 in what is now Ukraine. Self-conscious and withdrawn (probably something to do with his height; schoolmates called him their “mysterious dwarf”), he developed a talent for mimicry and storytelling. In 1831, he met the writer Alexander Pushkin. Inspired, he wrote and published a collection of stories from his youth entitled Evenings on a Farm near Dikanka. This movie is an adaptation of one of those tales – “Noch pered Rozhdestvom,” or “Christmas Eve.”
The “evil Santa” trope has been around for ages…. or it least it seems that way. Krampus doesn’t count (no matter what the contrarians trying to revive his legend might think), nor does Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. For some reason, the idea of the traditional holiday bringer of cheer becoming the holiday bringer of death is popular with the producers of cheap horror films. The producers of Santa’s Slay decided to take that idea, toss what must have been some decent cash at it, and turn it into a comedy.
It’s Guy Fawkes Night in South London, and a young woman (Jodie Whittaker) is walking home from work. As she approaches her home in a public housing complex, a gang of teenaged thugs surround and proceed to mug her. Before they can complete their task, something crashes down into a parked car at the side of the street. Moses (John Boyega), the gang’s leader, goes to investigate, and is slashed in the face for his trouble. This assault cannot go unpunished, so their mugging victim forgotten, the gang tracks down the wild animal responsible.
The thing is tracked down to a shed in a playground, and is quickly beaten to death. Moses carries the body back home as a trophy, but it takes him and the rest of the gang a while to realize that the thing is no earthly creature. And when a number of flaming objects start landing in the neighborhood in the same way that their victim arrived, they are in for a whole heck of a lot of trouble….
Movie buffs tired of seeing the same old rehashes or sequels really should give a look at what other countries are doing. Sure, you’ll have to deal with subtitles and a lot of little cultural differences, but you don’t have to be Joseph Campbell to realize that certain stories are universal. Priests are always going to be going into battle with the devil over the souls of the departed, romance is romance no matter what language the lovers speak, and young people are always going to go through rites of passage into adulthood.