Saturday, December 20, 2014

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1966)

Even before its inclusion on riffing show Mystery Science Theatre 3000, Santa Clause Conquers the Martians has always notorious for being one of the worst films ever made, right up there with Plan 9 from Outer Space! Like Plan 9, this movie has a cult following thanks to how 'so bad its good' people see it as, rather than being just irredeemably dreadful...

Children all over the planet Mars are feeling depressed, not caring to eat, and heavily drawn to Earth TV programs. The planet's leader Ki-Mar sets to find out what's causing this mood shift, and soon realizes that Mars needs a Santa Claus. He goes to Earth with some compatriots and kidnaps Santa, along with two kids, Billy and Betty, who he had divulge Santa's location. They head back to Mars, where Santa makes a positive impression on everyone but the aggressive Voldar, who seeks to destroy Santa Claus before he can 'sap the warrior spirit' from the Martian youth...

As far as I think, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians isn't really much of a bad film in the slightest! Sure, it doesn't look great, but it has such an air of fun to it that there's no way I could consider putting it on any worst lists!...Well, minus the effects, but that goes without saying. My point is that I have seen a LOT of really BAD movies, and lemme tell you, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is no Feeders 2!

While the plot to this movie is entertaining in a fun and kitsch, it is very is dumb, and has quite a a few plot contrivances, such as Santa and the kids escaping a soon-to-be-decompressing airlock by going through an air vent!...In an airlock!  And then there's the climax, where Voldar, the armed 'proud warrior Martian', is easily defeated by glitter guns, bubbles, and flimsy remote control airplanes! One scene in particular many find weird and disturbing-The laughing scene!

The dialogue is pretty standard, albeit clumsy in places, and there are a couple of mildly amusing moments, like Santa's line about chocolate ice cream and headaches. Then we get to the hilariously lazily named main Martian family-Mo-Mar, Bo-Mar, Gir-Mar, and the more subtly named Ki-Mar (as in King, I assume).

The acting in this movie is largely decent. John Call makes for a very good Santa, looking perfect in the role and acting suitably jolly, while the film's child actors are not as good, especially the two Martian kids (one of which is the infamous Pia Zadora, star of notorious film The Lovely Lady, and subject to the Anne Frank stage production "She's in the attic!" myth regarding the supposed quality of her acting). The actor who plays Voldar technically isn't all that good, but he exudes a villainous charm with his delivery that makes quite entertaining. The character of Dropo is bound to be annoying to some, but is mildly tolerable to others, such as me.

The effects in Santa Claus Conquers the Martians are unequivocally terrible, in a charming way, from the coffee-can headed robot Torg, to the propane-lighter spaceships, the incredibly fake sets, and a polar bear costume faker than the cat in Miranda July's The Future!

There are a few moments of archive footage in the movie's first third, which are pretty unnecessary, but not superfluous, as it is at least showing something of significance. It's just something of significance that isn't really required. Thankfully the quality of its film stock does mesh with the proper film's if you're watching the HD version, though not so much when you're viewing the crummy print Public Domain version.

This movie's score is ok, if eclectic, and the main theme, Hooray for Santy Claus, is listenable, in a fun camp kinda way.

Overall, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is a dumb film, but it's immensely enjoyable, whether you're watching the hysterically funny MST3K version or not. I recommend it if you're looking for something light and fluffy to watch for the Christmas season...

Friday, December 19, 2014

Santa Claus (1985)

Santa Claus is truly one of the enduring figures of Christmas, despite debilitating setbacks such as his weight, or getting beaten up by Patrick Swayze after attempted theft. He's a jolly old bearer of gifts who even gets plenty of great movies based on him!...And about three times more bad ones, but don't tell him that in your letters, otherwise he may start emulating that Weird Al Yankovic song!...

Long ago, in the cold ends of the Earth, a man named Claus takes great pleasure in giving personally handmade presents to all the children he can reach. One night, he and his wife are nearly killed in a snowstorm after a delivery, and are saved by a group of Elves. The mystical people were expecting Claus, and have prepared a vast toy workshop, from where he can produce toys for every child in the world. Christening him Santa Claus, and giving him immortality and a variety of magical abilities, the elves are ecstatic, and Claus is ready to take on his newfound expanded duty.

In the present day, Santa makes friends with two kids-The homeless Joe, and the orphan Cornelia. They're both entranced by the jolly red man, but after his chief assistant Patch ruins Christmas, they're among the only ones still supportive of Santa Claus...

Santa Claus is a very nice Christmas movie, with many great aspects! This film does something surprising by actually giving Santa a character! I'm sure that other movies have done this (Ernest Saves Christmas, and the Miracle on 34th Street films come to mind), but in most media, he's more of a template (a good one, mind you) than he is a well-rounded character. The mythology behind Santa presented here is very well-done too! This movie takes Christmas seriously, with more than enough joy in its telling!

The story here is decent, and great concerning Santa, but unfortunately it focuses too much on the wrong character (I'll elaborate below), and doesn't spend enough time with its two child supporting leads. They get just enough scenes, but still too few by far! What's worse is that they're quite well-written characters, and their friendship is quite a nice one, but it's not given enough attention. My final problem with Santa Claus' plot is that its ending is really abrupt and rushed, while the final stinger is an oddly dark way to end the movie, which had just seemed to finish on a very happy note.

Now onto my biggest issue with Santa Clause-Patch! I don't care if he's played by Dudley Moore-Patch is an unlikeable sack of crap! His constant pathetic mistakes are the catalyst for all the movie's problems! He's a smug and petulant asshole who never, ever stops making terrible elf puns, and makes many a scene extremely uncomfortable in an otherwise charming movie! He ruins Christmas for a YEAR! He causes Santa to fall into deep depression!

The acting in Santa Claus is middling. Dudley Moore is dull when he's not annoying, while John Lithgow plays his role as the film's villain incredibly over-the-top, to a highly entertaining degree! Carrie Kei Heim is cute, and a largely decent actress. Her delivery is a tad weak at times, but nothing too serious. Christian Fitzpatrick isn't quite as good, but still decent. And finally, we get to David Huddleston, in what is quite possibly the best performance of his entire career! The man gets across so many emotions so fantastically, whether sadness or joy, and his Santa is undoubtedly one of my all-time favourites!

The score to Santa Claus is quite good, with the best song being Thank You, Santa, but unfortunately it's only played for about half-a-minute, then never heard again. What's worse is that the song played over the end credits is sssssssssooooooooooooooooooooooooooo REPETITIVE! It never stops playing the chorus! It's sung like fifty times! LITERALLY! There's a special place in hell for songs so bad they make me want Sheena Easton to shut up!

The effects in this movie are decent. The green screen shots when Santa's flying his sleigh are rather well-done, while the reindeer are cute! Obviously not real animals, but good nonetheless. As for the look of Santa's workshop, and the costume design for the elves, it's all incredibly colourful and vast!

Santa Claus is a great Christmas movie! It has quite a few problems, but it's still a fine thing to watch in this season of joy!...

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Annie (1982)

1982 musical Annie is a film that I was worried about going in, as I'd heard negative rumours aplenty about the movie's quality, but I was far from disappointed by it!...

Annie is a 10-year-old orphan living under the 'care' of the cruel drunkard Miss Hannigan. Her crummy life is interrupted one day when billionaire Oliver Warbucks decides to temporarily take in an orphan for a publicity stunt. Annie is ecstatic at the opportunity to live in Warbucks' vast mansion, and she quickly makes friends with all the staff, eventually the uninterested Mr. Warbucks himself, who decides to permanently adopt her. Soon enough, the two go on a search for Annie's real parents, if they're still alive, but unfortunately their efforts attract the attention of a deceitful pair of one-bit thieves...

Annie is nicely paced and quick for a two hour movie, and it has a very well-written plot! The 'father-daughter' relationship between Annie and Oliver Warbucks is very well handled! As far as the original Annie stage musical's lyricist is concerned, this is a terrible movie that simplifies and dumbs everything from the play down, but to me, that simply isn't the case at all.

The title character of Annie is great! She's a very likeable and endearing lead character, with plenty of heart, compassion, and all-round character! Annie is awesome, make no mistake about that! She punches out bullies, and sings to FDR!

Oliver 'Daddy' Warbucks is a nicely well-rounded character. Rather than just being a totally cold dick to start with who gets thawed out by Annie, he instead always has a softer side-He's just one of those people who's good without being all that nice. Though of course, he is still touched by Annie's spirit, and made a happier and kinder person-The movie is just less cliched about it than others.

The villains of this film aren't quite as well-handled. Rooster and his Bernadette Peters-helmed sidekick appear just enough to have enough screentime, but I wish they had more scenes. Miss Hannigan on the other hand is another pretty decently rounded character!

The acting in Annie is very good. Aileen Quinn has a lot of work in not only carrying a movie, but a musical at that, and she succeeds beautifully! She's a great singer, a fine actress, and she never comes across as cute in a forced way-She naturally exudes pure cuteness!

By the way, a funny aside. It sure must've been confusing for the young girl to have won both a Best Young Actress award from one outlet, and a Worst Supporting Actress one from another! But then again, that latter 'award' came from the Razzies, and everyone knows they're not a real awards function-They're just a bunch of dicks.

Albert Finney is great as the boisterous and loud Oliver Warbucks, while Ann Reinking is good as the nice Grace Farrell, although she sort-of phases out of the movie after a while. She still shows up now and again, mostly in the background of scenes, and she's in the final musical number, but it's not much.

Carol Burnett is a riot as the lush Miss Hannigan, and Tim Curry is a good villain, with a decent American accent to boot! Geoffrey Holder makes for a memorable character in appearance, even if it is baffling why a black guy is playing an Indian named Punjab (Still, could be worse-It could be a white guy playing the ethnic role!). Holder even gets to let out his iconic laugh at one point, despite the character's otherwise stoic nature in the rest of the film! The rest of the acting is fine, their singing is all pitch-perfect, and not one child actor here is bad! Hooray!

The songs in Annie are great! From Tomorrow, to Maybe, You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile, and Hard Knock Life, by far the film's (and by extension, the stage musical's) most famous number. Tomorrow is reprised twice in the movie, and thankfully it doesn't get old or overused. The space between its uses is long enough, and it fits perfectly in all the scenes it's sung in, making them completely!

Funnily enough, the only songs in this movie I didn't much like were the ones written specifically for it, rather than taken from the stage play, such as the Dumb Dog, and Sandy ones. They were over too quickly, and weren't very punchy or greatly written. I also didn't like the overlong last third of the Let's Go To the Movies number.

The staging and choreography of a lot of the musical numbers in Annie is great, from the iconic Hard Knock Life, to more extravagant ones such as Let's Go To the Movies (blech), or the glorious final song!

One last thing to note about Annie is that I'm very thankful for frilly and huge 1930's style undergarments, because it makes the movie's habit of the younger actresses frequently flashing the camera slightly less creepy, by just a smidge.

Annie is a great musical, and a very joyful movie! It left me with a huge smile on my face come the end, and I highly recommend it!...

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Amazing Mr. Blunden (1972)

Geez, am I glad that I decided to go to the local markets today! I was originally not going to go, but when I woke up, I was too tired to object to being dragged down, and I'm the better for it, as if I'd stayed in bed, I wouldn't have found out about the fantastic The Amazing Mr. Blunden!...

Kids horror films are usually a pretty sorry affair. Even if the movies or TV shows in question aren't bad, they're not often particularly frightening, as they're always holding back in-case they 'scare the kiddies too much'. Screw that! Scare the little brats as much as possible! Scare them until their skin violently flies off their body!

1972's The Amazing Mr. Blunden isn't strictly a horror film, but it shares many qualities, despite what the fun-happy title would leave you to believe. It led me to assume this was a joy-ridden comedy!...

One night, a mysterious lawyer named Mr. Blunden visits Mrs. Allen, a widower. He tells her about a caretaking job at a lavish but in disrepair mansion out in the countryside. As Mrs. Allen is poor, in debt, and has three children to support, so she jumps at the job...although when she visits the law firm the next day, they're most surprised to know that Mr. Blunden of all people was in any way capable of doing anything...

Mrs. Allen's two grownup kids Lucy and Jamie first hear about the estate's supposed ghosts from the cryptic Mr. Blunden, and they soon come across them-Sara and Georgie. The two spirits tell their story about about their cruel housekeeper and semi-guardian plotted to murder them, for their money. Sara and Georgie may not actually be dead after all, as they've been traveling to the present using a potion, which they instruct Lucy and Jamie to brew and drink, so they can help prevent the terrible things about to happen. Lucy and Jamie soon realize how desperately the need to when they find a gravestone with Sara and Georgie's names on it...

The Amazing Mr. Blunden is a very mature kids film! It always takes itself seriously, and the story it tells is a very smart. It's very well written, with elements of ghosts, mental time travel, predeterminism, and of trying to correct dire mistakes of the past, all going together perfectly! This is a pretty dark film, and certainly moreso than usual kids movie fare, and it doesn't shy away from grim themes, even if the ending is a happy one. So many filmmakers assume kids are stupid, and need simple watered down scary-lite movies, but stuff like The Watcher in the Woods and this (among hopefully others) prove that it's certainly possible to make intelligent and scary movies for kids.

When it comes to this movie's genre, I have no idea what to class it as. It's not an adventure, nor mystery, or horror. It's a bit of a hodgepodge of genres.

My only problem with this move is the title! At first I was annoyed by Laurence Naismith's lack of screentime, but as the movie went on, I realized he had an effective amount. What mainly bugged me about his lack of presence at first was that he's in the title, but he is important enough to the plot that I could let that slide...if not for the use of the word 'amazing', which makes this sound like a fun panto romp with him in charge. Also, The Amazing Mr. Blunden? That title is a bit too chipper for the subject matter.

The ending is very good! Rather than just wrap up in under a New York minute, it's actually given due time to properly wrap everything up! There is what could potentially be seen as a bit of a contrivance at the very end given the lineage that comes up, but could potentially just be a little white lie-A sneaky provision by Sara.

Speaking of the ending, the credits are pretty unique and interesting! Think the end of a stage play!

The Amazing Mr. Blunden's characters are nicely written. Lucy and Jamie make for very good leads, as does Sara. Georgie does less, though, as he's a much younger kid. The film's villain is decent. More on her down below.

The villain's husband seems like just a nothing character at first, as given he's either mentally disabled, or brain damaged, he doesn't have a personality on display, but come the end, it makes him a pretty effective villain. He's a tough brute who can't be reasoned with, or easily stopped.

And finally, onto the film's best character, Mr. Blunden himself. He's a tragic and memorable figure, and his efforts to right his wrongs from the past make for a compelling story.

The acting here is largely very good, and there are no bad performances, which is very impressive, given the amount of child actors present. Diana Dors is over-the-top as the villain, but still good, depending on your point-of-view. Meanwhile, Laurence Naismith gives a fantastic performance, making the most of his rather brief screentime.

The scoring is good, but is either absent, or too low-key, in more than a few scenes, so while there are a few memorable tracks, quite a few leave little impression.

The Amazing Mr. Blunden is one of my new favourite movies, and I wholeheartedly recommend it, especially for Halloween!...

Ruby (1977)

Curtis Harrington is a pretty interesting director. He specializes in horror films involving middle aged women, rather than young co-eds or anything of that like, and his films tended to have very distinct themes and creepy atmospheres. I couldn't tell you much more than that, as to this day, I've yet to see any of his films (even the awesomely titled Who Slew Auntie Roo?), aside from his 1977 outing Ruby...

Ruby Claire was a big-time celebrity and singer in the 1930's, but her nasty habit of hanging around gangsters backfires on her badly when her  mob boss friend Jake killed her lover Nicky in a jealous rage. Years later, the washed-up Ruby runs a drive-in, employing all her old 'comrades-in-arms' from her criminal days. One night, they start getting mysteriously and violently killed, and Ruby soon becomes convinced that Nicky's spirit is back. She's correct, and Nicky is under the impression that Ruby set him up to be killed. He makes short work of the guys, and soon possesses his and Ruby's mute daughter Emily to personally take revenge on his ex-lover...

Ruby is a pretty good horror film. The plot is decently written, and had very neat pacing! It's never boring, and never shows off too much or too little at a time. Ruby's overall atmosphere is nice and ooky, and there are some great setpieces. One scene, however, is a total Exorcist ripoff!

There is a pretty big problem I had with the plot though. It's unclear whether or not Ruby's 'boys' are the ones who shot Nicky. If they are, why is Ruby ok with them?

Aside from that annoying bit of confusion, the plot is otherwise fine, and the ending is nicely fitting!...Until the last ten seconds, anyway! The 'shock' moment completely botches the whole point of the ending! From what I can gather, this abrupt 'shocker' pissed Curtis Harrington off something fierce!

Another issue I have with Ruby's ending is that I wish we would've had a bit of conclusion for Emily. At least it didn't end depressingly for her.

The acting in Ruby is all decent. Piper Laurie is great as Ruby Claire! The character may be pretty unlikeable, but she's Laurie's fantastically over-the-top, and unhinged comes the end!

Janit Baldwin is great as Emily, but unfortunately underused. Without saying a word, she relies entirely on her physical expressions and actions, and she succeeds very well! And then there's when 'she' talks! She can look scared, look diabolical, and she's also absolutely adorable! Look at her!

The effects in Ruby are good, especially the 'ghostly hurricane', and the death scenes are very stylish and well-put together!...Except for one, where it looks like the guy's getting the crap beaten out of him by the film's edits!

The scoring is atmospheric and effective, and complement the movie so well!

Ruby is a nifty horror film, and for the vast majority of its runtime, I enjoyed it greatly! I recommend it, but make sure to pause the ending and switch the movie off in the last ten seconds, so you can get the ending's true effect, and not get pissed off...

Mr. and Mrs. Murder (2013)

As an Australian, I can attest to there not being nearly enough genre shows over here. While there's some variance in our kids shows, they're obviously not for everyone given their age range, and the majority of shows we get over here are soap operas, shitty reality TV, and dull gangland drama. Naturally, when a show like the funny whodunnit Mr. and Mrs. Murder starts, you can be sure that I'd be extremely happy!..Less so when it was cancelled at the end of its first fucking season though!...

Trauma cleaners Charlie and Nicola Buchanan don't just clear up violent crime scene's, but also have a keen interest in crimesolving. The compassionate Nicola and methodical Charlie use either their status, wiles, or ingenuity to get to the bottom of mysterious deaths, whether outright murder or believed to be suicide,

Mr. and Mrs. Murder is a great TV series! It always has well-written plots, and nicely crafted mysteries!

The main characters carry the show awesomely, with entertaining quirks, and great intelligence! Comedian Shaun Micallef is kinda annoying in about 10/20% of his filmography, but Mr. and Mrs. Murder certainly doesn't come under that small pocket.  Kat Stewart is equally great,   And then there's the niece, snarky Jess, usually the pawn in Charlie and Nicola's sleuthing schemes. The fourth and final main character is police detective Peter Vinetti, a friend of Nicola's who's wise to the Buchanan's skills, and lets them in on investigations (and frequently frustrated and having to look away when they find clues thanks to less-than-reputable ways of sleuthing, i.e. breaking and entering).

Mr. and Mrs. Murder is very funny. We get humorous dialogue, actions, and situations, as well as some oft-entertaining recurring jokes, such as Charlie and Nicola's one-sided rock-paper-scissors matches, or how Nicola serenely growls whenever hugging people.

The episode prologues are usually pretty tensely filmed, which is a pretty neat contrast to the lighthearted nature of the show, and neither these cold opens, nor the darkness of the rest of the show ever mesh negatively with its more happy atmosphere. The first episode's prologue is my favourite-It's well direction, edited, has an ooky score (which sounds like it'd fit right in in the Shadowman game), and a nifty atmospheric locale and lighting!

The acting in this show, from major characters to minor, is all good, and some of the actors playing the killers are niftily psychotic once they're true intentions are revealed!

With its recurring tunes, leitmotifs, and one-off music, Mr. and Mrs. Murder's scoring is great! The main theme is a very nice tune, and the opening credits are, for one, actual opening credits, and they're very stylish with their comic book nature.

As I said above, Mr. and Mrs. Murder only lasted the one season...I'm pretty sure, anyway. The various region DVD's of the show list it as Series 1/The Complete First Series, etc., which has me a tad hopeful that maybe the show will come back for a second season. I really hope so, because Mr. and Mrs. Murder is a fantastically entertaining, witty, and amusing whodunnit series...

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Bee and Puppycat (2013-)

Adventure Time really has opened the floodgates for more quirky and surreal animated shows, from Regular Show (possibly), to Gravity Falls, and Bravest Warriors, as well as the rest of the Cartoon Hangover channel, including such new shows as Natasha Allegri's Bee and Puppycat...

Bee and Puppycat originated as a two-part ten minute short on Youtube, as part of the Cartoon Hangover channel, and it was extremely popular. Thanks to a hugely successful Kickstarter campaign, it's made it to full series. So, is it worth the wait, Kickstarter, and hype?...

Bee is an odd young unemployed woman who encounters the stray Puppycat, an animal that looks like both a dog and a cat, which she takes home as a pet. Bee is in desperate need of money, and Puppycat, who can sorta-talk , takes Bee with him on a temp job for Temp-Bot, a giant TV...

Bee and Puppycat is a very amusing show. It's creative, and totally adorable! The pilot it started life as lays the groundwork for the series well, although given it's a pilot, some things do get changed up for the rest of the series-The animation's a bit different, and some aspects such as Temp-Bot's accent and possibly demeanor are altered.

Like Adventure Time before it, Bee and Puppycat is extremely surreal. We've got a woman and her pet of indeterminate species working as temp agents for a giant TV in hyperspace who sends them on assignments in locations such as Fish-Bowl Space or Jelly Cube Planet, to do things like babysit sad fish children who turn into hideous monsters after hearing fairy tales, or help out a farm that eats souls.

The characters in this series are entertaining, and the two supporting leads Deckard and Cass actually add a more serious and thoughtful nature to the show which balances really well with its otherwise whimsical nature.

The acting in Bee and Puppycat is good, with Allyn Rachel making for a boisterous and cute lead. The actor who plays the character Cardamon is very stiff. Whether that's intentional or not, I've no idea. Thankfully the concept of the character (he's a child landlord) is entertaining enough to let you look past that.

The animation here is great! It's cute, lively, well-drawn, and ensures the show's great quality. And then there's the show's scoring, which is great! It's nice, soft, soothing, and very pretty!

If I had to pick one problem with this series, it's that Puppycat looks very little like a dog. That's no big deal though. I also wish the episodes were longer than 6 minutes, but the short length isn't crippling or problematic. I just wish there was more Bee and Puppycat.

Bee and Puppycat is a great little webseries, and it seems to be going uphill from here!...