Last Update 12/7/11


Doctor Who Series 6 (2011) 

I was a little annoyed that the first disc in this new set is actually a repeat of a special that I already purchased as a separate item. The Doctor reunites his crew from last season for a mystery involving the moon landing in 1969 in “The Impossible Astronaut.”  The astronaut in question emerges from a lake and apparently kills the Doctor. The tear jerker scene is rather overwrought and unnecessary since we know he isn’t really dead.  And naturally an earlier version of himself turns up still alive. There’s a nice touch – the aliens can only be remembered when they are being looked at. The plot is convoluted and doesn’t resolve itself until “Day of the Moon.” Before it is cleared up, it gets much more confusing, jumping about in time and with people changing sides in scenes we haven’t seen yet, which is very disorienting. We even get to see death scenes for all the regulars, though obviously they’re not really dead.  It seems that the aliens have occupied the Earth since prehistory without being detected – not even by the Doctor during his many visits there! The flaw in this is that if anyone wrote down or recorded alien of the aliens on film, that would survive the process. There are unresolved questions which presumably will return later in the season. 

“The Curse of the Black Spot” takes place on a pirate ship that encounters a deadly siren, the mythological kind. The ship is becalmed and anyone who loses one drop of blood is doomed to be taken by the creature. The siren turns out to be a holographic doctor, but the explanation is pretty weak. The seems to be a lot more suffering and pain in the first three episodes than is normal for the series though and the mood is considerably darker.  “The Doctor’s Wife” was written by Neil Gaiman. The Doctor answers an emergency beacon and drops out of the universe into a microuniverse consisting of a sentient asteroid and four apparently demented people. The asteroid claims to be benign but it’s an obvious trap and the Doctor is wise to it almost immediately. The Tardis turns out to have a personality which is transplanted into one of the crazy people. The asteroid personality occupies the Tardis and carries off Rory and Amy while the Doctor and the Tardis soul try to reverse the situation. An interesting idea, but not carried off particularly well. 

“The Rebel Flesh” and “The Almost People” make up another two parter.  The Doctor makes the dumb comment that “only living things grow” which suggests he’s never heard of crystals, glaciers, river deltas, etc. The story involves a factory where a kind of all purpose flesh matter can be shaped into duplicates of human beings. They are in thrall to their originals until a solar storm severs the relationship and sets up the conflict between normal humans and artificial constructs. The originals, naturally, consider their doppelgangers to be monsters, and the doppelgangers decide that killing the originals is the only way they can survive. A duplicate of the Doctor is created, which suggests a solution to his murder two centuries in the future.  The message gets a little confused here because although the humans are guilty of monstrous acts, the doppelgangers prove ultimately to be monsters themselves.  

“A Good Man Goes to War” is another one with a plot so fast moving and complicated that it’s hard to follow.  The Cybermen and the Sontarans both make appearances this time as the Doctor and Rory recruit allies in their search for the missing Amy and her baby. River Song reappears as well. Amy’s captors are an army of humans who for some reason want to lure him to his death.  He escapes, sort of, and we have a surprise revelation that I had pretty much already guessed. “Let’s Kill Hitler” introduces another companion, briefly, a young woman with a loose interpretation of the law, and plants them in 1938 Germany. They arrive at the same time as an artificial human body occupied by miniaturized humans who plan to kill Hitler. The plot starts with considerable humor but soon devolves into yet another tear jerking episode with the Doctor apparently dying – again. This season has by now turned into a not particularly entertaining soap opera.  

“The Night Terrors” is about a little boy who knows there are monsters, even if adults don’t. It’s the first good show of the season. The Doctor and friends try to help him and get into trouble themselves. Something evil is living in the apartment complex. The resolution isn’t completely satisfying but there are some creepy sequences and the plotline is uncluttered. “The Girl Who Waited” has Amy trapped in a quarantine zone after the threesome does their usual impetuous separating in a new and strange environment. I miss the competent Doctors who actually had some foresight. Some interesting visuals in this and a fair story. More angst as problems in the time stream leave Amy alone for 36 years. “The God Complex” borrows a bit from The Shining by Stephen King. It’s set in a hotel where individual rooms contain the thing you fear most. "Closing Time" has the Doctor, bereft of his companions, visiting an old friend in England and running into a batch of Cybermen. This one has a much lighter tone, some genuine humor, and is my favorite from this season. The season ends with "The Wedding of River Song", which has River Song/Melody Pond fated to kill the Doctor. Much too confusing and internally inconsistent - the Doctor is saddened by news of the death of Lethbridge-Stewart - but he's been in many times following the man's death already. Ends with the Doctor's death, but of course he's coming back.

I haven’t really enjoyed this series since Matt Smith took over the title role, partly because I don’t care for his performance, but mostly because the writing has been unnecessarily frantic and considerably darker. I don’t mind darker episodes but there’s just been too much pain and suffering, this season in particular, and some of the episodes have been visually very dark and unclear as well. There’s also too much concentration on the story cycle rather than the individual adventures, and an over reliance on deus ex machina solutions – revelations that people have abilities we didn’t suspect. The casual reaction of Rory and Amy to the loss of their child jars as well. The continuity from one episode to the next is also uneven. 12/7/11

Blitz (2011)

As much as I like Jason Statham, this Dirty Harry clone starts off with such a dumb premise that I had trouble staying interested. He plays a British policeman with a long history of assaults and other misdemeanors, and there's no way he would still be an officer after his recent history. He ends up tracking down a serial killer who specializes in police officers and who enjoys calling a news reporter to provide details. The story gets underway with a bunch of fast scenes, so fast it's hard to follow, a device I see more frequently in movies lately and detest. Even action films need to let the viewer settle into the story. Logic problems as well. Experienced police do not unnecessarily alienate their street sources; they may need them again. Nor am I willing to believe that a reporter would hand over £50,000 to a man he doesn't know just because he claims to know the killer's identity. And how does the killer know about the deal and where it's taking place in time to stop it? And why can't the police hold the killer when they find him in possession of the money he stole when he murdered the snitch? And why didn't they search his apartment/find the murder weapon? The subplot about the female cop trying to help a young thug doesn't seem to serve any purpose except as filler. Has a few good moments, but for the most part it's kind of dull and at times it isn't clear what is happening and for the last hour I just wanted it to be over with. 11/20/11

Colony in Space (1971)

Jon Pertwee and Katy Manning star in this Doctor Who episode which pits him against the Master, who has stolen secrets from the Timelords. They are sent to an alien world colonized by humans in the mistaken belief that there is no native species. The colonists take them prisoner while the aliens cart off the Tardis. The local ecology makes no sense - a barren desert world that the colonists insist should produce bumper crops. The script also contradicts itself saying at one point that there are no inhabitants and no animal life, but later when the aliens show up it's evident that the colonists know of their existence. There have also been sightings of giant lizards, but this is clearly some sort of projected hallucination. Next we have a visit from a mining corporation with rapacious ideas, obvious suspects for the depredations. Then there's the man who claims to be the only survivor of another colony, but who has murderous plans of his own. There's never any mystery about who the bad guys are, but there are some plot complications to enhance the main story.  Then the Master shows up to stir the mix even more. One of Pertwee's better outings. 11/18/11

Hallowe'en Party (2010)

Sigh!  This is the very last Poirot with David Suchet that I hadn't seen.  Poirot and his mystery novelist friend combine to solve another crime. A young girl is murdered after announcing that she once witnessed a murder. Obvious motive. The usual skeptical and rather snotty police are convinced it was a random killing by an outsider, but obviously that's not the case and there would be nothing to detect. There are three deaths that fit the time frame for the possible witnessed murder, so in a sense Poirot has cases to investigate, particularly since all three had at least a tenuous connection to people at the party where the new murder was committed. There's a legend of witchcraft, a variety of animosities, the suspicious vicar, a missing woman, a dysfunctional family, a forged will, flirtations, rivalries, and other subplots to keep things not quite clear. There's also an impressive topiary garden. When the victim's brother is also murdered, the police finally agree to cooperate. There's a very nice twist at the end of this one that makes it one of the best episodes in this series.  11/17/11

The Clocks (2009)

Poirot teams up with a Naval officer to solve a rather complicated case involving murder and espionage. A typist is hired for a temporary assignment, but when she shows up at the appropriate address, the only thing she finds is a dead man lying on the floor. The owner of the house doesn't know the victim and did not hire anyone, and there are four clocks in the house, all of which stopped at the same time and none of which belong there. The unimaginative police automatically make the secretary the prime suspect. Then one of the clocks disappears. This is superimposed on the search for a German agent, and the deciphering of a cryptic message scribbled by a dead woman. Then the dead man's identification turns out to be bogus and the police are stumped. The solution is partially telegraphed by the obvious identity of the people framing the secretary. It's a bit of a cheat since there are two sets of killers acting independently, but the BBC production is as always impressive.  11/15/11

Three Act Tragedy (2010)

A guest drops dead at a party Poirot is attending, but it appears to be natural causes. Then the same thing happens at another party that includes the same group of people, just as he is about to make an announcement, and Poirot and one of the participants both suspect foul play. The new butler disappears hours later, making him the prime suspect. But Poirot and company uncover information suggesting that he was blackmailing the real killer and may himself now be dead. A young woman has suspicious information the playwright is also keeping her own counsel. Poirot stages another fake killing to get a reaction and while he knows who the killer is, he isn't saying because he doesn't have enough evidence - yet. Then a surprise potential witness is murdered as well and yet another suspect suddenly disappears. Alas, the solution to this is obvious from the outset, in part by the inept and unconvincing performance by the actor playing the killer, and in part because the structure of the plot makes it obvious who is responsible.  Suchet is excellent as always despite the subpar screenplay and story.  11/14/11

Troll Hunter (2011)

This is a not to be taken too seriously horror movie in the style of The Blair Witch Project but with better camera work and a sense of humor. It is also Norwegian with English subtitles.  Three college students find a troll hunter, who secretly works for the government killing trolls that wander into inhabited areas and keeping their existence secret from the public for reasons unknown.  The trolls are actually quite well done although we only seem them in the darkness - they turn to stone or explode when exposed to sunlight. Something is disturbing their natural patterns of behavior and a perilous investigation ensues.  Two hundred foot tall trolls living undetected is a bit unlikely even in Norway.  One troll stores his food under a bridge and they lure another with three billy goats!  I didn't expect to like this but it's actually quite a bit of fun as long as you don't take it too seriously.  11/8/11

Revenge of the Sith (2005)

I don't think I've watched this since I saw it in the theater so there were large chunks I didn't remember, which is not true of any of the others in the series. It's pretty much a downer with the destruction of the Jedi and the Republic, the death of Padme, the turning of Darth Vader following his mutilation in a sequence that made no sense at all to me.  How does Obiwan win by standing a couple of feet higher than Anakin at this point when they've been fighting in a variety of positions all along?  For that matter, why does Padme lose the will to live just as she gives birth? Some interesting light saber duels and the death of Count Dooku was nicely done, but much of the rest left me unsatisfied. It's still fun to watch but the series definitely ended on a weak note.  11/6/11

Attack of the Clones (2002)

I think this is my favorite of the second Star Wars trilogy. It has Christopher Lee as a villain fighting Yoda in a light saber duel. It has the great stadium scene when the bad guys try to execute our heroes, only to have the Jedi come to their rescue, only to be trapped by the droid army, only to have the clone army come to their rescue. The decline of Anakin's temper is not entirely satisfactorily explained, and his romance with Padme Amidala is tepid at best, but basically the plot is sound and only has a few anachronistic moments.  I had not previously realized that Sofia Coppola and Keira Keightley were among the decoys for Natalie Portman's character. The sequence on the assembly line is also very nicely done and as exciting now as it was when I first saw it.  But we know that Anakin's fall to the dark side is imminent and that the Republic will give way to the Empire very soon as well, so we don't need Yoda to tell us at the end that all is not well and is going to get worse.  11/2/11

The Phantom Menace (1999)

First in the second trilogy, featuring young Annakin Skywalker, a child taken from slavery by two Jedi knights during the early stage of Palpatine's plot to undermine the Republic. Despite some rough spots, there are some very good bits as well including the light saber duel with Darth Maul, the pod race, some of the sets, and the battle in the palace of Naboo.  The underwater city, the chase by giant fish, and the occasional mismatch with events from other movies. Why don't R2D2 and Obiwan recognize each other if they met back in this period, and why doesn't C3PO remember either?  Nor could I buy the fact that he was built by an eight year old. The kid is usually tolerable but often falls short in the acting category, but Jarjar Binks wasn't as irritating as I remembered.  Still worth watching.  10/31/11

Return of the Jedi (1983)

I was originally mildly disappointed with the end of the original Star Wars trilogy, mostly because it seemed like a remake of the first with better special effects.  I liked it better this time, although I could have done with considerably less Ewok and more Jabba the Hutt.  The destruction of the second Death Star is almost anticlimactic and the best sequence is the fight in the desert where Leia kills Jabba.  I also had some new questions.  Why is Darth Vader dying after Luke cuts off his artificial hand?  How can Leia remember her mother, who died in childbirth? If Vader can detect the presence of Luke in the same solar system, how come he can't tell Leia is his daughter even when he's in the same room with her? How can the rebel alliance be unaware that the imperial fleet is hovering just around the curve of Endor? The plot doesn't always make sense but it's almost always fun.  10/23/11

Paradise Towers (1987) 

Sylvester McCoy’s time as Doctor Who was short and unsatisfying, not necessarily due to his abilities since he generally had substandard scripts. In this one, he and Mel visit a supposedly Utopian apartment complex only to find that it has deteriorated into chaos, squalor, and the depredations of teenaged gangs.  But there’s a deeper mystery involving a series of odd disappearances, and it is this that piques the Doctor’s curiosity. Meanwhile Mel is in danger from a pair of charming but cannibalistic residents. This was actually one of McCoy’s better outings as he investigates a predatory robot living beneath the apartment complex. The gang rituals are a bit silly though, as is the way the Doctor turns the rule book against his guards.  The actor playing the eventually possessed official – who for some reason is made up to look like Hitler – is about as bad an actor as has ever appeared in Doctor Who, or anywhere else for that matter. 10/17/11

The Cape Soundtrack composed by Bear McCreary, La-La Land Records, 2011

Another television show I never had time to watch, though I'll probably pick up the DVD set at some point if it comes out.  This is a two disc collection of music from the show, composed by the same man who did the music for Battlestar Galactica and elsewhere, most of which I have found very entertaining. This new collection is no exception although several of the pieces are maddeningly short. The show is about a kind of superhero and  a good deal of the music is in that over the top exciting mode. I didn't care for the main theme but that was one of the exceptions. "Carnival of Crime," "The Greatest Circus Act That Ever Lived," and "Waltz for Raia" are my favorites. Not quite up to the standards of his previous work that I've heard, but with a few outstanding pieces sprinkled throughout, mostly on disc one. 10/15/11

The Sun Makers (1977)

The Doctor arrives on a far future Pluto that is habitable thanks to a handful of tiny suns, but which has become a repressive dictatorship. He and Leela get separated, as usual, and while she gets involved with the largely ineffective underground, he is targeted by a high official who thinks he is the key to a larger mystery. The villains are unusually good in this one, although the story itself is comparatively pedestrian. Leela eventually gets captured and sentenced to death but the Doctor manages to save the day - no surprise there - and bring about the downfall of the repressive system that taxes the citizens into slavery. The sets are substandard even for Dr. Who and the acting is, as usual, uninteresting except for Tom Baker's eccentricities.  10/15/11

Arctic Blast (2010) 

I like a good disaster movie now and then. Unfortunately this isn’t one of them. It’s obviously made for television and by scientific illiterates. A sunspot causes a thinning of the ozone layer that causes spikes of extreme cold air to strike the Earth, freezing everything it touches is.  A scientist with family problems – mostly because he’s a workaholic – is in charge of the investigation. At first the incidents are in very isolated places – for no good reason – and he’s called in to investigate – for no good reason. Naturally no one believes him because he doesn’t have absolute proof, so he seizes control of a military satellite and retasks it, in less than ten seconds. The cold air causes freezing fogs that chase people along roads rather than move in a straight line! No explanation of why it doesn’t get any warmer despite hours of exposure to the warmer air around it and the warm earth beneath it. On top of everything else, the picture is slightly blurry and the colors are washed out. 10/14/11

Music from the Transformers Trilogy performed by London Music Works, Silva Screen Records, 2011 

The problem with many soundtracks is that a good portion of each tends to be repetitive and to include incidental music that illustrates a scene but doesn’t stand out by itself.  This  album avoids both problems by selecting the best bits from three different movies. There are six selections from the first movie, of which “The All Spark” is the best and only the last one seemed to go on for too long. There are six from the second movie as well. Since all three soundtracks were written by Steve Jablonsky, there is some similarity. I didn’t think the second was nearly as good as the first. “Tomb of the Primes” is particularly bland and “Matrix of Leadership” isn’t much better. The others are okay. Finally we have four from the most recent movie. “Sentinel Prime” and “It’s Our Fight” are good, but I didn’t like the main theme.  For the most part, quite enjoyable, but I’ll still skip a few of these tracks if I replay it. 10/13/11

Day of the Daleks (1972)

Jon Pertwee is the Doctor in this battle against the silly but popular alien Daleks. This new release has some new footage and effects for some reason but the basic story is the same. In our present, a crucial peace conference is underway in England. In the 22nd Century, Earth is ruled by the Daleks. Human agents are coming back through time to influence events, pursued by the Ogrons, servants of the Daleks. The Doctor's friend Jo gets sent to the future by mischance and he follows in order to rescue her. The usual captures and escapes follow before they restore the timeline to its original track.The new scenes are mostly cityscapes in the future, and I believe the weapon sounds were altered as well. A better than average episode. 10/12/11

The Music of Battlestar Galactica for Solo Piano composed by Bear McCreary, performed by Joohyun Park, BSX Records, 2011

I have several soundtracks from the Battlestar Galactica television series, all of which I have liked very much. This new two disc set takes selected pieces from these earlier releases and reprises them on a single piano only.  I had mixed feelings about this because a lot of the variation that so impressed me previously is less obvious when they're all played on the single instrument, and there are a couple that I don't think survived the transition very well. On the other hand, the great majority of them are recognizable but so different in effect that they are almost a new composition. One piece is recast and sounds like an operetta, not really my favorite kind of music, and another is a piano duet with McCreary joining Park. 10/8/11

The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

The blu-ray edition gave me an excuse to start rewatching this series. The first part of the movie, set on the ice planet Hoth, is one of the best sequences in the Star Wars epic.  The encounter with Yoda is better than I expected and he's still a puppet, not CGI. The brief sequence with the emperor has been redone with the new actor and some dialogue that helps make the problems with Luke's parentage a bit more fuzzy. The light saber battle at the end is also well done, although I never liked the Cloud City very much.  It holds up well and I still haven't seen anyone  do this kind of space adventure nearly as well even after thirty years.  10/5/11

The Sarah Connor Chronicles Season 2 (2008) 

This spinoff from the Terminator movies was hamstrung by the limitations of its plot, since it had to involve running from the bad guys in every episode, sort of The Fugitive with robots, but it grew steadily worse all on its own. Season 2 opens in the middle of a scene so it’s a bit disorienting if you haven’t seen, or in my case don’t remember, how the first season ended. The evil male terminator is still after them, but now there’s a liquid metal female as well. The terminators can assume the appearance of other humans, so we don’t have to worry about how they get established in our world. In this episode, the good terminator – Summer Glau – temporarily goes bad and tries to kill John before a sloppily sentimental bit in which she is redeemed. Mom Sarah proves to be the world’s worst driver, wrecking several vehicles for no good reason – they’re not even being chased on two occasions. Glau, who has a gimpy leg and can’t keep up with a running boy, somehow manages to travel over a mile in a few seconds in order to intercept the fugitives driving headlong away from her in a jeep, which was a definite what-the-heck moment. Disappoint start to their final season. 

There are numerous problems. If they’re on the run, how come John gets into public schools so easily, and why does he bother? Why do they even stay in the same city? Why is there always a convenient tool nearby. When trying to hotwire a truck, he finds a screwdriver in the cab. When another time traveler appears naked in an alley, there’s a pair of pants lying nearby. How do they get clearance to work in a nuclear plant minutes after walking in off the street. When a supervisor catches a worker in an authorized area, he does NOT put her to work cleaning the place. And if they know about past events in the future, why do they have to keep sending messengers back with the information? Why not send all the info at once?  Episode 2, in which a terminator plots to sabotage a nuclear plant suffers from most of these faults. In episode 4, the female terminator has an attack of amnesia or disorientation and the police put her in the jail instead of sending her for a medical screening, which is completely implausible. And neither would they then release her even though she has no ID.  We discover that terminators are sometimes imprinted with memories of real people, including Summer Glau, and that she can cry, which makes no sense either.  Dull episode. The fifth is incredibly bad. You don’t get admitted to an exclusive school on ten minutes notice and without an interview, and you don’t get hired as a staff member based on a ten minute conversation with no background check. But since the whole plot is nonsense, it probably doesn’t matter that much. At this point I was glad the show got cancelled. And it’s nu-cle-ar not nucular. 

In order to keep coming up with new tensions, the writers made time travel almost commonplace, with even AWOL soldiers jaunting back to the past for some R&R. And if Skynet can send so many of its killers back, why doesn’t it just take control? And why would the terminator impersonating a powerful businesswoman not just arrange for the “accidental” death of the child she’s saddled with rather than waste time taking her to a counselor? It becomes easier to kill terminators as time passes. In episode 7, one is killed by a single blow from another terminator. The whole episode is terrible, depending upon multiple coincidences and assuming the police would arrest a man based on a very tenuous identification from a news broadcast by someone who has never actually met the man in question, testimony which gets dismissed out of hand a while later. The evil terminator keeps a young girl with him for no reason whatsoever and our heroes get a lead on a criminal and do nothing to prevent the man who gave up his address from warning him that they are coming. A complete mess.  

As the season progressed, my opinion of Sarah Connor dropped dramatically. She is increasingly petty, thoughtless, even cruel, sometimes showing less compassion than the terminator.  And the recurring evil terminator character isn’t a very well designed machine if he continuously misses an unprotected human target from a dozen feet away even with a machine gun.  The series contradicts itself at times – why the Asian woman has been sent back through time for example – and has silly distractions – including nonsense about the machines making a man get pregnant in the future. And there are NOT more possible Go games than there are atoms in the universe. John’s girlfriend’s sudden character turnaround is jarring and implausible. And the supposed heroes get more and more repulsive as the series progresses.  

The series gets progressively more stupid. Sarah begins to obsess about three dots and has John searching the internet for every website that includes three dots, which is absurd even if it wasn’t just because of a dream. We also discover that the good terminator has actually been working on her own project nights – how she managed to do that with no one ever noticing is never explained.  There’s actually a good episode involving her project in which she reconstructs the history of a terminator who somehow ended up in the 1920s. But then they introduce flying saucers, of all things, with Sarah going to a UFO conference because some of the UFOs have three dots. Of course, she immediately gets a lead to someone connected with a super metal project and even though he’s been missing for months, she finds him within a couple of hours.  

The show actually improved a bit during the last few episodes, but there is something inherently wrong with a program in which the soulless robot is the only likeable character. A subplot set in the future aboard a submarine is so full of plot holes that the sub should have sunk, but the scenes involving the now tamed killer robot are amusing. 10/4/11

This Island Earth (1955)

I just recently reread the Raymond F. Jones novel this is based on so I decided to rewatch the movie as well. The first half is fairly close.  The protagonist is ungraded from engineer to scientist but he is still lured to the secret alien research project by building an interocitor, an advanced communications machine, where he finds that some of his fellow employees suspect a hidden agenda.  Then Hollywood goes off on its usual joyride. Since aliens can't be friendly, these interloper use murder - for no obvious reason - and mind control and they plan to invade the Earth to escape their home planet, under siege by another race. Instead of a brief visit to convince the alien rulers to protect Earth, our hero is kidnapped there and arrives just in time for the planet's final defeat. There are also a couple of hokey mutants thrown in because SF movies have to have a monster, right?  Their science is even worse than was Jones'.  You don't turn a planet into a star by bombarding it with meteors, and there is not a gaseous barrier in outer space surrounding the Earth.  Okay but nothing special. 9/30/11

The Lord of the Rings Symphony, Howe Records, 2011

The trilogy of movies based on the saga by J.R.R. Tolkien was certainly a landmark achievement and while I was not conscious of the soundtrack while watching the first time, I did notice it frequently the second time through. This is a composition condensing the music from all three films into six movements (the publicity release mistakenly says that they coincide with the six novels in the series). It is performed by a full orchestra here and often resembles classic symphonic music, but there is such a variety of moods, themes, and even styles that it doesn't have the kind of unity that you might expect in that form. Despite that, it works very well, in part I suppose because it brings to mind some of the stirring images from the films. If you don't have the individual soundtracks already, this is an economical way to get the best of all three. 9/28/11

Sci Fi’s Finest Volume 1, BuySoundtrax, 2011 

This 36 track collection of remakes of various themes from SF movies and television shows may not be the “finest” but it’s pretty good. “SF Double Feature” from Rocky Horror is fun, for example, although the theme from Battle: Los Angeles is as undistinguished as was the movie itself.  I really like the theme from The Thing (the remake) and Buckaroo Banzai, not so much Devil Girl from Mars or The Illustrated Man, although the versions here are well done. The arrangement of Banzai is considerably different from the original but still nice. Other high points were the Eureka theme – I’ve never seen the show – although it’s very short, and two versions of the Fringe theme – I haven’t seen that one either. The Star Wars theme is a familiar favorite, as is the Twilight Zone, and I liked the New Outer Limits theme, but didn't care particularly for the three cuts from Star Gate. I didn't even recognize the themes from Starlost and Man from Atlantis, both of which are okay but unexceptional. The Knight Rider theme is better than the show, as is also true of UFO. The Doctor Who theme is from the most recent version, which I like, but I liked some of the earlier ones better. The remainder, including a few Star Trek themes, are listenable, but only the piano version of Deep Space 9 really caught my attention. I very good selection overall.9/19/11

Lake Placid 3 (2010) 

The original Lake Placid is one of my favorite movies.  The first unnecessary sequel was so dreadful I almost couldn’t watch till the end.  The third is slightly better, but mostly because the writers and actors didn’t take the story of crocodiles eating people in Maine too seriously. Surprisingly, since many of the actors have no previous credits, the acting was pretty good. Not surprisingly, the CGI crocs are pretty bad.  The over the top female hunter, the inept zoologist, and the incompetent babysitter were the high points. The plot sometimes makes illogical jumps and we never learn why crocodiles would suddenly become so aggressive and so impervious to bullets. I also wondered how the kid had been feeding them stakes for a long period of time without his parents noticing that the freezer was empty. 9/16/11

Mothra (1961) 

This was the first appearance of Mothra, a mechanical giant creature rather than a rubber suit, unusual for Japanese SF.  Mothra rises from an age long sleep when a villain steals two miniature humans from his island and travels to Tokyo, destroying everything in its path, to recover them. Initially Mothra is a caterpillar – and in later appearances almost always took this form – but spins a cocoon and becomes a giant moth for the final confrontation.  More story than in most similar films, and the dubbed dialogue is as silly as ever, but the acting seemed pretty good except for the chief villain, who chews the scenery at every opportunity. There is also no explanation why a foreign entrepreneur would be placed in charge of an official Japanese government investigation either.  I saw this on television back in the 1960s, but this is the first time I’ve seen this installment in the series since then. 9/15/11

The H-Man (1959) 

This wasn’t one of the best early Japanese SF movies, but it has more plot than most. The creature of the title is a blob variant created by H Bomb tests. It crawls through the sewers and dissolves all the humans it encounters. A scientist figures out what’s going on and convinces the police to flood the sewers with ignited gasoline, which eventually kills the monster (or perhaps monsters – it’s never entirely clear). There’s a major plot about a missing gangster, attempts to force his wife to talk, and the police investigation of a drug shipment. There’s also a good deal of scientific doubletalk but it’s still watchable. 9/14/11

Battle in Outer Space (1959)

This was the first SF movie I ever saw, a Japanese film directed by Inoshiro Honda, who did Rodan and several others. As expected, the dubbing is awkward and the science is laughable, but the special effects are actually pretty good for their time. Aliens are using a base on the moon to attack Earth via mind control, flying saucers, and space torpedoes. Humans unite and send an expedition that destroys their base, then defeat a direct assault on the Earth, losing a few landmarks in the process. Not subtle or clever or entirely plausible, but there is a kind of enthusiasm in the film that is missing from a lot of modern, larger budget movies.  Worth tracking down.  9/13/11

Horror of the Blood Monsters (1970)

A contender for worst movie of all time. Vampirism is an alien contagion which begins to manifest itself all over Earth in the form of really cheesy attacks on a host of disposable characters most of whom have only one line, a scream. Humans have visited the world from which the vampires come, but none have ever come back. Now a new mission is launched to find the secret that will save the Earth. Chunks of this were taken from a Filipino black and white horror movie, with color added by a really awful tinting process. Sometimes everything is pink, sometimes green. The spaceship and control sets are so primitive they look like high school drama projects. No one even has headsets so it isn't clear how they are hearing one another. The dialogue is as dumb as you might expect; they keep talking about landing on a solar system. Once landed, they find brontosauruses, mammoths, and oxen all indistinguishable from those of Earth, plus giant iguanas. The warring cavemen show up a short time later and most of the rest of the movie is them slaughtering each other. Boring. 9/9/11