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Monthly Archives: October 2013

Mystery Science Theater 3000: Space Mutiny (1998) one of MST3k’s best watched bad movies in its 11 year history.

Those of you not familiar with Mystery Science Theater 3000 need to do some homework.  The show ran for almost 11 seasons on several different networks which produced 197 episodes and one feature film.  To this day it has a cult following having just released its 25th anniversary DVD.  The show was created by Joel Hodgson (from the twin cities) and Mike Nelson (from northern Wisconsin).  Anyone familiar with the show would be hard pressed to miss the jabs at the culture of northern Wisconsin and Minnesota.  We are not going to take on MST3k in any sort of marathon tribute as is JPFmovies typical style.  Why?  Because there are 197 episode’s sitting out there for examination that would drive on insane trying to review even the top 10% of the shows at a single time.  So we will intersperse MST3k episodes over future reviews. 

 

Basically the shows premise is simple, but brilliant.  The show mainly features a man and his robot sidekicks who are imprisoned on a space station by an evil scientist and forced to watch a selection of really bad movies (according to the theme song “the worst they can find), as part of a psychological experiment, and sometimes preceded by short public-domain non-educational films.  To stay sane, the man and his robots provide a running commentary on each film, making fun of its flaws, and wisecracking their way through each reel in the style of a movie-theater peanut gallery.  Each film is presented with a superimposition of the man and robots’ silhouettes along the bottom of the screen.  The film is interspersed with skits tied into the theme of the film being watched or the episode as a whole.

 

Joes Hodgson originally played the stranded man, Joel Robinson, for four and a half seasons.  When Hodgson left in 1993, series head writer Michael J. Nelson replaced him as new victim Mike Nelson and continued in the role for the rest of the show’s run.  The robots, Crow T. Robot (my favorite), Tom Servo, and Gypsy, are puppets created from a variety of household objects, manipulated and voiced by other cast members who rotated over the course of the show’s run.

 

Once of the most notorious MST3k episodes is about a film called Space Mutiny (1998).  This film was so bad without the running commentary from Nelson and his robot friends it would be unbearable to watch without some serious prescription sedatives.

The budget of “Space Mutiny” was so insignificant that the exterior footage of spaceships and space battles is entirely made up of stock footage from the original “Battlestar Galactica” T.V. series starring Richard Hatch, Dirk Benedict and others.  Anyone growing up watching the original BSG show instantly recognizes it for what it is—a true case of copyright infringement.  The interiors were filmed in the basement of a South African gambling resort—maybe they bet on black and lost at the roulette table forcing them to stay on the premises.

The film was released in 1988, long after everyone else had gotten over the craze of Star Wars clones.  To cast it in its best light it is simply a bunch of guys that stand around in silver robes, look at really bad computer monitors, and talk about fighting for the freedom of people that don’t seem to exist.  With rare exceptions, these folks are either graying, wise father figures (one looks like Santa Claus) or re-tread women in high-cut combination tunic-thongs who could not act to save their lives.  I believe the movies sets the record for the number of “railing deaths” used to dispose of the extras and the films minor players.

 

Set sometime in the distant future the intra-galactic space-colony-ship Southern Sun is on a multi-generational trip to a new settlement. Tired of his fate to live and die on the ship, Kalgan (John Philip Law), the head of the Enforcers who are tasked with the ship’s security, causes an explosion in the Southern Sun’s docking bay just as a fighter is landing there.  The decorated fighter pilot, Dave Ryder (Reb Brown) survives the crash via an emergency teleportation system, but his passenger, Professor Spooner is killed in the crash, which causes serious damage that puts the docking bay out of commission.  Ryder is taken to see the Southern Sun’s commander, Alex Jansen (Cameron Mitchell), who accepts Ryder’s account of events, though his daughter Lea (Cisse Cameron) flies into a rage at Ryder and accuses him of abandoning the Professor to die.  Despite this less than harmonious introduction, the two quickly become friends, and it becomes clear that Lea is strongly attracted to Ryder.

 

Just before the docking bay accident, a group of witchcraft-practicing female aliens named Bellerians are brought on-board.  While they never interact with the main characters during the course of the film (aside from a brief scene in which their leader Jennera consults with Commander Jansen and their purchases of Spencer Gifts static electricity globes), it is implied that they influence the actions of the lead protagonists, and also covertly help them by seducing Enforcers, which causes Kalgan to execute them for their seeming incompetence, thinning out his own forces.

Shortly thereafter, a maintenance engineer named Codell discovers evidence that Kalgan caused the explosion in the docking bay, and after informing a bridge officer, Lt. Lamont of this, begins making his journey to the bridge to inform Jansen. Kalgan intercepts him on the way however, and offers him a choice – join the mutiny, or be put in the “deep freeze.” Codell instead chooses to commit suicide.

 

That night, Lea is flirting with Ryder in the ship’s disco, when a pair of Enforcers arrive and ask for Lamont, who is also at the disco. She leaves the disco and is immediately shot dead by Kalgan, who leaves the scene in an electric kart. Ryder and Lea both overhear the whole thing and chase Kalgan down in another kart, eventually arriving at the “deep freeze.” This turns out to be a room in which troublesome officers are stored in cryogenic suspension; when Kalgan takes over the Southern Sun they will be thawed out and given one further chance to join Kalgan’s forces, or be ejected into space. Kalgan and more Enforcers then arrive, and Ryder and Lea are heavily outnumbered and forced to flee, but now have solid evidence that there is a conspiracy and that Kalgan is the ringleader.

 

Ryder is thusly promoted to being the ship’s new security chief, just before the Southern Sun encounters the space pirates. Thanks to Ryder’s leadership, the Southern Sun easily defeats the pirate ships (which look uncannily like Cylon Basestars) without taking any serious damage. Knowing that he cannot now rely on outside help, Kalgan abducts Lea and threatens to kill her if Commander Jansen does not voluntarily give up control of the Southern Sun. Not wanting to rely on Jansen giving into his demands though, Kalgan begins torturing Lea for information by using a laser-like device on her teeth. During this MacPhearson arrives and gives Kalgan a progress report, causing Lea to realise that he too is a part of the conspiracy.

The mutiny begins in full, with both sides taking heavy losses – in particular, many officers fall to their deaths over the various railings dotted throughout the ship. Eventually Ryder sets off an explosion that traps most of the mutineers in that section of the Southern Sun, but both Kalgan and MacPhearson escape. MacPhearson isn’t able to get very far and resorts to hiding in a gas expulsion sump. Ryder (implied to be under the influence of the Bellerians) fills the sump with methane gas which he then ignites, causing a fire which burns MacPhearson to death.

With Kalgan the only mutineer still at large, Ryder and Lea pursue him into the ship’s bowels in an electric kart. Lea gets knocked out of Ryder’s kart, which she then accidentally disables by shooting it in an effort to take out Kalgan, who in turn rams Lea with his own kart, causing her a slight injury. After getting his kart working again, Ryder aims it at Kalgan’s kart and drives toward it at full speed, diving out of it at the last second. Kalgan is unable to dodge it, and is apparently consumed in a massive explosion.

The mutiny seemingly thwarted, Ryder and Lea apparently make preparations to get married. Later however, it turns out that Kalgan survived the explosion, ending the film on a “cliffhanger.”

 

No matter how benign this summary sounds it is impossible to convey the new low this “work” brought to the film genre.  Only the MST3k running commentary can do it justice that is why this is a clip intensive video and I beg you to watch the clips to get a taste of the full Space Mutiny experience.

 
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Posted by on October 26, 2013 in Movie Reviews

 

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The Hunt For Red October (1990).

The third review in our Cold War trilogy couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time.  Unfortunately, a few days ago, at age 66, author Tom Clancy passed away due to a massive heart attack.  By 66 he had written the Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger, the Sum of all Fears and others.  Each book was made into a commercially successful film.  Prior to writing The Hunt for Red October, Clancy apparently sold insurance.  Well that was one hell of a first novel, being made into a block buster movie within a couple of years after publication and having a strong cast.

 

It is also interesting to note that the mutiny portrayed on the Red October was actually based on the mutiny of a Soviet frigate led by the ship’s political commissar, Captain of the Third Rank Valery Sablin, who wished to protest against the rampant corruption of the Leonid Brezhnev era.  Though his aim was to seize the ship and steer it out of the Bay of Riga, to Leningrad and broadcast a nationwide address to the people, not turn the ship over to the enemy.  In the planned address, Sablin was going to say what he believed people publicly wanted to say, but could only be said in private: that communism and the motherland were in danger; the ruling authorities were hip deep in corruption, demagoguery, graft, and lies, leading the country into an abyss; true communism had been discarded; and there was a need to revive the Leninist principles of “justice.”  So while defection was not the ultimate goal of this mutineer, it was the genesis of the Hunt for Red October story.

 

Back to Red October: in the film Sean Connery plays the Russian Captain Marko Ramius, Sam Neill his executive officer, Alec Baldwin portrays CIA analyst Jack Ryan, James Earl Jones the well-respected Admiral Greere, Fred Thompson the commander of an aircraft carrier fleet and Scott Glen Commander Bart Mancuso, Commanding Officer of the USS Dallas.  This is a pretty heavy cast for a first time novel turned movie—and it is well done I must say.

The movie starts a cold dreary port somewhere in northern Russia with Connery speaking to his executive officer (in Russian) Sam Neill about how cold it is and orders the ship to move on its way to start its mission.  What no one but Soviet officials know is that this particular sub uses a new form of propulsion that is virtually undetectable by conventional sonar means.  It is sort of described as the jet engine of the submarine world.  Jack Ryan (Alec Baldwin) is called to his boss’ office (James Earls Jones as Admiral Greer) rather quickly as new photographs of the sub had been obtained showing unusual ports alongside of the sub.  Ryan goes out on a limb and suggests that these photographs are evidence of a new propulsion system that would permit the sub to slip through all the US and NATO safeguards tracking traditional submarines.  Alarmed by this potential weakness in US defenses, Greer arranges for an immediate briefing with the President’s national security advisor.  Ryan gives the briefing but isn’t told until the last minute.  After his summation to the powers that be, an NSA representative reveals that a phone call was made from a Russian Admiral (Ramius’ uncle) which resulted in the immediate dispatch of the entire Soviet Northern naval fleet with orders to pursue and hunt down The Red October.

Virtually all military personnel at the meeting immediately conclude that Ramius is a madman loose with 23 nuclear missiles in an undetectable submarine heading towards the coast of the United States.  After a few minutes of deep thinking, Ryan starts laughing and claims “the son of a bitch is going to defect!”

Everyone in the room dismisses his comments, except for the national security advisor who says that he’s “a politician and when he’s not kissing babies he’s stealing their lollipops, but it also means he keeps his options open” and lets Jack explore the possibility of this Soviet defection.

 

While en route to the United States Ramius tells his men that in order to motivate them, much like Cortez did when he had his men burn his ships upon landing, he sent a letter to the powers that be that they intended to defect with the ship.  Soon Soviet forces are dropping sonar buoys, torpedoes and other weapons at the Red October, scaring the crew who are unaware of his plans and begin to think something is very very wrong.

 

Ramius’ concerns are not the Soviets though but the Americans.  He is afraid that if they encounter some “buckaroo” a/k/a cowboy all will be lost.  Enter Jack Ryan, who is convinced that Ramius is ready to defect, the only problem is that the Capitan Bart Mancuso, Commanding Officer of the USS Dallas has already received his orders to destroy the Red October.  Ryan convinves him that he knows Ramius so well that he predicted which way the Red October would pull a “crazy Ivan” to clear its baffles.  Mancuso then ups his periscope to communicate with Ramius directly, but is worried that his Morse code is so rusty that he might be transmitting the “[playboy] playmate of the month’s measurements.” Stunned that the Americans have guessed his plan to defect, both subs move towards a very deep part of the ocean where no wreckage could be found in case they have to fake the Red October’s destruction.

 

There is one wrinkle; that is, one of Ramius’s former students Tupolev has been hot on his tail and begins to torpedo the Red October.  After missing his first chance because the safety mechanisms were on, his second shot is with torpedoes with no safeties.  Enter USS Dallas that in a daring move is somehow able to divert the torpedoes into chasing it rather than the Red October and circles around ultimately leading the torpedoes back to their original shooter and destroying the ship.

 

The game is not over yet though as there is a KGB agent on board disguised as a cook’s assistant who is trying to hotwire one of the nuclear missiles to destroy the Red October before she falls into enemy hands.  Ryan is sent in to kill him but not before Ramius delivers a great line warning him to be careful what he shoots at because there are nuclear missiles in there.  Naturally Ryan takes care of business and fools the Russians into thinking that the Red October has been destroyed.

 

Yes I know this has been a long review, but this is an action packed thriller.  Its great cast and the film’s central fear of superpowers engaging in nuclear war, while seemingly quaint in light of today’s more insidious terrorist threats, has added resonance given recent revelations about the USSR’s Cold War designs to annihilate us.  Politics aside, however, The Hunt for Red October is a thrilling edge-of-your-seat trifle that has admirably withstood the test of time.  The film personifies the very real fears of the cold war era, but places itself outside of the dour the Spy Who Came in From Out of the Cold and the somewhat campy Ice Station Zebra.  Proof of its resilience is seen in a 96% Rotten Tomato’s rating and the film that in my opinion all future Clancy novels-turned movies are judged against.

 

This film makes for excellent comfort viewing, hearkening back to an era when all that was American was right and just, Reagan was the father we could look up to, and only a Communist would dare question the inherent gift that God had given to America to rule the earth.  All cinema has its agenda, and this film made little secret of it.  The Cold War must go on, and justify those enormous ‘defense’ budgets, promote the ideology of the good guy.  Though the Bush revolution has had its share of films attempting to pick up where this tradition had left off, they were largely miserable failures, insufficiently blinded by ideology. The days of the 80′s action hero are quite dead.

 
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Posted by on October 16, 2013 in Movie Reviews

 

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We here were graced with an actual cast member of a movie reviewed some time ago “King Rat” actually comment on the film.

I’ve never had that happen before–an actual cast member of a film comment on one of your reviews–check out the general comments to see what an actor in the film King Rat thought about the review and gives a little more history about the film.

 
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Posted by on October 15, 2013 in Movie Reviews

 

Not as cold as Ice Station Zebra, but still the cold war: The Spy Who Came in From the Cold (1963) starring Richard Burton and based on the novel by John le Carré.

The second movie in our cold war trilogy, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, is a lot grittier than Ice Station Zebra.  Based on the Novel by John le Carre, which is actually the pen name for David John Moore Cornwell, who in the 1950’s and 1960’s who actually work for British intelligence agencies MI5 and MI6, and wrote a series of very successful novels presumably based on his experiences.  His novels are often contrasted with Ian Fleming’s sexy superhero type 007 James Bond movies and films, le Carre’s providing a more accurate portrait of cold war espionage.

The film describes secret agents as “seedy, squalid bastards,” and none is seedier or more squalid than Alec Leamas (Richard Burton), the weary semi-alcoholic brooder sent by British intelligence to East Germany.  The mission into East Berlin is slowly revealed as a complex, table-turning operation that involves Leamas’s idealist Communist librarian turned lover (Claire Bloom) and his vicious, Teutonic counterpart (Peter Van Eyck).  Purposefully going against the grain of a genre known for thrills, glamor and beautiful women, the film’s director Ritt crafts a sober, weighty atmosphere of moral ambiguity in which spies from both sides are bound by their ruthlessness both against the enemy and each other.

With the cold rain pouring at Checkpoint Charlie, in this transition zone stands Alec Leamas the head of the East German British desk waiting-no hoping for the successful defection of one of his spies.  The man in question appears and makes a run for it but is cut down by gunfire.  Leamas is then recalled to London by his boss, Control (Cyril Cusack), expecting to be fired.   Instead Control decides to keep Leamas “out in the cold” for a devilish plot.  Supposedly, Leamas is soon looking for work and ends up as of all things as a menial librarian. With booze as his only friend, he broods and builds up resentment against the British Secret Service.  He hooks up fellow librarian and British secretary of the communist party Nan Perry (Claire Bloom), but soon assaults a shopkeeper and ands up in jail.

Nan must like him though, and vice versa, since she meets him on his release from prison. Interestingly, there is another chap there to see his return to society and he approaches him in the park. Claiming to be from a charity which helps ex-convicts, Carlton (Robert Hardy) takes Leamas to an expensive lunch. This is all double-talk of course — in reality it’s an approach from the enemy, checking out a disgruntled ex-spy and finding out if he’ll defect. Leamas seems to feel that he doesn’t owe Britain anything and, somewhat grudging, seems to accept (purely for the $15,000.00).  Then Leamas circuitously makes his way to Smiley’s (Rupert Davies) house, for a meeting with Control. Everything becomes clear as Control outlines the plan, a devious and cunning attempt to discredit the top East German spy, Hans-Dieter Mundt (Peter Van Eyck). With haste, Leamas is flown to Holland for de-briefing by Fiedler (Oskar Werner), the second in command to Mundt. The crux of the plan is that Fiedler detests Mundt and would do anything to destroy him and tries to but is burned in the process as we discover Mundt is actually a British agent working deep under cover.

The skills that Leamas has for espionage based on his years of experience, keep him alive as he weaves a convincing tale for Fiedler.  Realizing the “truth”, Fiedler bundles Leamas back to East Germany, where he hopes to bring down Mundt in a closed trial. Leamas is an added complication though since he insists that Mundt couldn’t have been a double-agent (he was head of East German operations and would have known). Fiedler still manages to force a trial though, absolutely convinced that Mundt is betraying his country, and the closed session begins. It seems as though the tribunal will rule against Mundt, resulting in his execution, until his defense lawyer presents an unexpected witness—Nan the librarian, whose testimony puts Fiedler into his grave. 

Mundt, though detested by Leamas and vice-versa, arranges for his and Nan’s exfiltration.  They need to get over the wall.  Everything is arranged, the guards are told to keep their spotlights away from a certain part of the wall long enough for the two to climb over.  However, as Leamas and Nan are climbing, their driver shoots Nan in the back (probably because she could prove to be a liability and expose everything) who falls to the ground.  Leamas is standing on the top of the wall as the alarms go off and spotlights shine on the area.  He is urged by fellow agent Smiley to jump.  Leamas does jump, but back to East Germany where he is shot by the guards before he hits the ground.

As the flip-side to the cartoonish antics of James Bond, this movie is both a welcome antidote and a snapshot of the now elegantly departed Cold War era.  The script has believable dialogue (most of the time the characters talk in metaphors, never actually voicing the real meaning) with a slow, wary pacing which reflects the nature of spying (the movie lasted about 90 minutes but felt like 3 hours—a good three hours though).  However, Richard Burton’s acting as the burnt-out, disillusioned, semi-alcoholic, shambling agent is fantastic.  The supporting actors are good, but their performances pale in comparison. The technical aspects, such as the cinematography, are noteworthy, working together to create an atmosphere where human lives are somehow worthless, where information is all that matters.  In summary, a cracking story with superb acting which reflects on a lost but not forgotten period in history.

 
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Posted by on October 12, 2013 in Movie Reviews

 

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