Caesar’s Druids (book review)

A new book review from The Movie Snob.

Caesar’s Druids, by Miranda Aldhouse-Green (2010).  This densely written and highly academic book surprised me right off the bat in a couple of ways.  First, I had no idea that Caesar’s Gallic Wars were “our richest textual source for ancient Druids.”  I read the Gallic Wars not too long ago, and I barely remember a reference to the Druids.  Second, I didn’t know that “there exists not one vestige of archaeological evidence that can be linked unequivocally to the Druids.”  Thus, aside from Caesar and few scattered references in other ancient writers, we apparently know almost nothing about the Druids.  As a result, this book is full of discussions of ancient tombs and treasures and places and human sacrifices that we do know some things about, plus a bunch of speculation that maybe these things had something to do with Druids.  Or if not, maybe Druids did similar things anyway.  So, it was kind of interesting to learn about some of these ancient stories and archaeological finds, but I don’t guess I learned a lot about the Druids.  And no, contrary to Spinal Tap’s memorable song, the Druids didn’t have anything to do with Stonehenge.

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Rifftrax: Octaman

A new review from The Movie Snob.

Rifftrax: Octaman (B-).  I caught the latest Rifftrax live show last night, and if you are so inclined you can catch a rebroadcast at your local theater on April 24.  As you call tell from my grade, I’m not going to insist that you go.  It’s OK, but it’s not one of the gang’s greatest hits.  The appetizer is a short featuring McGruff the Crime Dog in an anti-drug screed.  It’s fine.  The main event is a monster movie that resembles a lamer version of the Creature from the Black Lagoon.  (No surprise, since writer-director Harry Essex also wrote the screenplay for . . . Creature from the Black Lagoon.)  The riffing was fine, but it never reaches giddy heights.  Octaman is only 80 minutes long, so the whole show was only about an hour and thirty-five minutes long.  One of the funniest bits was the song the guys sang at the very end of the show recapitulating the whole movie in three short verses.  Let’s see if the next Rifftrax live show, Star Raiders on June 6, is better.

Crossing to Safety (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob.

Crossing to Safety, by Wallace Stegner (1987).  This one sat on my shelf for a while.  Although the blurb on the back cover told me it is “one of the greatest and most cherished American novels of the twentieth centuries,” somehow I just wasn’t sold.  Now that I’ve finished it, I’m like . . . meh.  It’s about two married couples who become best friends in their young adulthood and stay friends, more or less, for the rest of their lives.  As a study of marriage and friendship, I suppose it is pretty good, although these folks are much better educated than most and consequently chew on their problems with a lot more eloquence than is the norm.  Personally, I didn’t find their story all that engrossing, but the writing is good.  For the great American novels of the twentieth century, stick with The Great Gatsby and All the King’s Men.  And Death Comes for the Archbishop.

Mystery Science Theater: 25th Anniversary Edition

DVD review from The Movie Snob.

I have more time on my hands these days, so I’m digging into my large collection of unwatched Mystery Science Theater 3000 DVDs.  This collection, which would be Volume XXVIII but for the 25th Anniversary Edition tag, contains six episodes rather than the usual four.  I think the last two episodes described below had already been released on DVD as standalone episodes.  Anyway, let’s get to this solid but not spectacular collection….

Mystery Science Theater 3000: 25th Anniversary Edition (Volume XXXVIII).

Moon Zero Two  (B-).  This first-season offering features a 1969 production from Hammer, the famed low-budget British horror studio.  The movie is a cheesy “western in space” set on the moon in the early 21st century.  A charisma-free space jockey is recruited for two seemingly independent jobs—help a nefarious plutocrat crash a sapphire-laden asteroid into the far side of the moon and help a beautiful woman find out what happened to her missing brother, a mining prospector on . . . the far side of the moon.  Although the movie is generally terrible, the core ideas aren’t awful, some of the special effects seem pretty okay for the era, and female lead Catherine Schell really is gorgeous.  (She would go on to appear in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and TV’s Space: 1999, and she kept acting regularly into the 1990s.)  Anyway, the riffing started out pretty strong in this one, but it petered out as the movie went along.  Hence, the lukewarm grade.

The Day the Earth Froze (B).   This is a decent episode.  It starts with a short about a trip to the circus.  The main course is a weird old Finnish-Soviet movie based on a Finnish fairy tale.  A witch kidnaps a fair maiden to coerce her brother, a famed blacksmith, into building the witch a gadget called a “sampo” that can apparently make whatever you want it to.  Then the fair maiden’s boyfriend tries to steal the sampo, leading the witch to steal the sun, thereby threatening to freeze all the nice villagers.  Solid riffing, solid episode.  The real prize on the disc, though, is a short documentary featuring interviews with the original cast members about how MST3K first got started on a local cable channel in Minneapolis-St. Paul.  It really was interesting.

The Leech Woman  (C).  The riffing is only average on this weak 1960 horror movie about a woman who gets hooked on a potion that temporarily restores youth—but unfortunately requires an ingredient that can be obtained only by means of murder!  Extras on the disc include a decent documentary about many (or all?) of the people who acted or provided voice work on Mystery Science Theater 3000 and a short interview with Mary Jo Pehl about her life post MST3K.

Gorgo (B).  Next up is a cheesy 1961 Godzilla ripoff set in Ireland and London.  Decent riffing makes for an above-average episode.  One of the movie’s stars, William Sylvester, actually went on to have a major role in 2001: A Space Odyssey as Dr. Heywood Floyd. And Leonard Maltin makes a special guest appearance on MST!

Mitchell (B).  This was the last MST episode featuring Joel Hodgson as its host.  Joe Don Baker (Mud) stars as Mitchell, a disheveled slob of a cop who plays by his own rules, bucks the police chief, and makes it his mission to nail some sleazy guy for murdering another sleazy guy who was burglarizing the first sleazy guy’s house.  Pretty good riffing, plus Linda Evans (TV’s Dynasty) co-stars in the movie and has to endure a sex scene with the unappealing Baker.

The Brain That Wouldn’t Die (B-).  This was the first MST episode to feature Mike Nelson, who had been a writer for the show for a while, as the host.  The film is a 1962 horror movie about a doctor who has been dabbling in unorthodox experiments.  His love for weird science pays off when his fiancée is decapitated in a car crash; he puts her head in a lasagna pan and keeps it alive in his laboratory while he creepily trolls various nightclubs for a suitable replacement body.  Amusingly, the final title card at the end of the movie changes its name to “The Head That Wouldn’t Die.”  The disc contains a short feature about Joel Hodgson’s leaving MST and a short interview with an actress who appeared (very briefly) in The Brain That Wouldn’t Die.

Cruel Intentions

New from The Movie Snob.

Cruel Intentions (D).  I wanted to go see a movie, but no current releases were really grabbing me.  I noticed that this flick was in re-release for its 20th anniversary, and I remembered seeing and liking Dangerous Liaisons (on which it was based) many, many years ago, so I gave it a try.  Well, it’s not so great.  Sarah Michelle Gellar (I Know What You Did Last Summer) and Ryan Phillippe (Crash) star as conniving and wildly promiscuous step-siblings who love to seduce and ruin other young people.  None of it is believable in the least, but Gellar and Phillippe’s interactions are somewhat amusing, and it’s also entertaining to watch Gellar try and fail to be a convincing bad girl.  Reese Witherspoon (Just Like Heaven) is okay as a wholesome Midwestern gal that Phillippe sets out to ruin and accidentally falls in love with.  Poor Selma Blair (Hellboy) has a thankless role as a dimwitted naif that Gellar’s character wants Phillippe to ruin.  Not worth the $14+ I paid to see it, that’s for sure.  I usually go to matinees; when did normal movie tickets get so expensive?