Big Hero 6

A new DVD review from The Movie Snob.

Big Hero 6  (B).  I finally saw this Disney film the other night, and I thought it was good.  The Borg Queen took me to task for not giving it an A grade of some kind, but there’s no way it compares with Disney’s greatest films.  (A few examples: The Lion King, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, Zootopia, and even Moana, which has risen considerably in my estimation since I reviewed it in these pages.)  Also, I suspect Big Hero 6 would play better on the big screen; its futuristic setting was pretty but not immersive on the TV.  Anyhoo, this is basically a superhero origin story.  Teenaged Hiro is a genius at robots but really comes into his own only after his older brother dies in a mysterious fire and a shadowy villain starts stalking the streets of San Fransokyo.  Hiro teams up with his brother’s nerdy science friends and with Baymax, a big balloony robot that Hiro’s brother had been working on when he died.  With a few modifications, Baymax goes from cuddly nurse robot to high-flying action hero, and eventually it’s time for a showdown with the big bad.  I was entertained.  If you like superhero movies, Big Hero 6 is worth your time.

Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone

DVD review from The Movie Snob.

Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone (B).  I saw this 1983 sci-fi B-movie in its theatrical release, and it left such a big impression on my teenaged self that I could still vividly remember certain scenes and lines today.  So you can imagine my glee when I was killing some time at a Fry’s Electronics and found the Blu-ray for around $9.  I watched it last night, and it was just as cheesy as I expected it would be—but I still enjoyed it.  A spaceship blows up out in deep space (an accident caused by something it really seems like they should have anticipated), and three passengers (attractive women all) escape in a lifeboat and crash on a desolate world where a plague decimated a human colony and turned the whole place into a Mad-Max-ish sort of environment.  (I think they filmed the crash scene in Utah’s Goblin Valley State Park, if I’m not mistaken.)  A scuzzy Han-Solo-ish space jockey named Wolff (Peter Strauss, XXX: State of the Union) is in the neighborhood and could use the reward money, so he lands his ship and starts rolling across the desert in his Mad-Max-ish SUV.  He picks up an orphaned scavenger named Niki (Molly Ringwald, one year before Sixteen Candles came out and two years before The Breakfast Club) and discovers that an old acquaintance named Washington (Ernie Hudson, Ghostbusters) is also on the planet searching for the lost ladies.  After some encounters with hostile but not especially competent local mutants, Wolff, Niki, and Washington end up at the Thunderdome-like enclave of the villainous cyborg Overdog (Michael Ironside, Starship Troopers), who has captured the lost ladies, and a climactic showdown ensues.  Strauss and Hudson don’t seem to be taking the movie all that seriously, but Ringwald really commits to her role, spewing amusing space slang a mile a minute and generally acting like a petulant American teenager the whole time.   And did I mention it’s only 90 minutes long?

So that’s what you’re in for if you can find this lost gem!  You’ve been warned!

Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXIX

DVD review from The Movie Snob.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXIX

Untamed Youth (B).  This delightful youth-exploitation film from 1957 stars blonde bombshell Mamie Van Doren (Girls Town) as a would-be rock-and-roll singer.  Unfortunately she and her sister are arrested in some backwater burg, and the crooked judge sentences them to be slave labor on a farm run by the judge’s co-conspirator.  Entertaining episode, and the disc features a short interview with Mamie as a bonus feature.

Hercules and the Captive Women  (C).  This is a cheesy European Hercules flick from 1961.  The title is inapt because there are no captive women in evidence.  Sure, the evil queen of Atlantis is trying to sacrifice her daughter to the gods throughout the whole movie, but that’s just one woman.  (Apparently the movie was sometimes called Hercules Conquers Atlantis.)  Anyway, this is a pretty average outing for Joel and the robots, and the extras on the disc are also unremarkable.

The Thing That Couldn’t Die  (A-).  Now we’re getting somewhere!  Mike and the bots have a great time skewering this 1958 horror cheapie.  A cute-ish blond girl is doing a little water-witching around her aunt’s dude ranch when she discovers an old chest containing the 400-year-old head of some evil guy who got himself executed by Sir Frances Drake.  The head can hypnotize people into doing its evil bidding, and of course its top priority is getting the water witch to find his long-lost body!  The riffing is great, and even a couple of the host segments are funny as Mike encounters the supposedly super-intelligent Observers.

The Pumaman  (B+).  Another fan favorite, this is a super-cheesy 1980 superhero movie about a guy who supposedly has the powers of a puma and who must use them to fight evil forces led by the great Donald (Halloween) Pleasence (whose name is misspelled Pleasance in the credits).  The guy is more Greatest American Hero than Superman, and his Aztec mentor constantly has to bail him out of trouble.  The extras on the disc are a bit unusual.  One is a complete and unriffed version of The Pumaman; why anyone would want to watch it, I can’t imagine.  The other is a lengthy interview with the actor who played the Pumaman.  He was a New York City lawyer who tried acting for about ten years and then went back to lawyering.  He was a good sport to be interviewed for the disc because he really didn’t appreciate the MST3K guys making fun of this movie!

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.

Autumn Sonata

A DVD review from The Movie Snob.

Autumn Sonata  (C).  I have a shelf full of classics by the Criterion Collection, and it is high time I got more use out of them.  So I pulled down this one, which is now the first Ingmar Bergman movie I have ever seen.  It was a good choice for a cold, grey January morning.  Autumn Sonata is a claustrophobic little family drama centering on the painful relationship between a woman and her grown daughter.  Ingrid Bergman (Gaslight), appearing in her last theatrical release, plays the mother, Charlotte.  She’s a world-class concert pianist, and it doesn’t take us long to figure out that her art always took precedence over her husband, her daughters, and pretty much everything else.  Liv Ullman (Lost Horizon) plays her daughter, Eva, who is married to a minister in a small rural town.  Charlotte and Eva haven’t seen each other in seven years, and when Charlotte accepts Eva’s invitation to come visit it doesn’t take too long before the two are hurting each other all over again.  It’s a very talky movie, with some long monologues and lots of extreme close-ups.  I didn’t love it, but it was worth seeing.  The Criterion Collection version I own is a two-DVD set that include a three-and-a-half-hour “making of” documentary on disc two.  I’m not sure I’m ever going to get around to watching all the bonus content….

Metropolitan

DVD review from The Movie Snob.

Metropolitan  (A-).  Well, your reviewer was feeling a bit under the weather, so I wanted something light and cheery.  I had fond memories of this 1990 indie flick but hadn’t seen it in years, so I pulled down my unwatched Criterion Collection DVD and gave it a spin.  Suffice to say, it was as good as I remembered it being.  It is about eight young people—four girls and four guys, early college-age, as best I can tell—who gather almost every night in Manhattan over one Christmas break to go to various debutante parties or balls or whatever they are.  We don’t see too much of the parties themselves—the focus is on the after-parties, where the youngsters earnestly discuss all sorts of things you might not expect, like Jane Austen, the existence of God, and the relative merits of the bourgeoisie.  Hm, I’m not really selling the movie very well.  There are plenty of romantic complications too as sweet and inexperienced Audrey gets a crush on group newcomer and professed socialist Tom, who is still hung up on his ex-girlfriend Serena, who was last known to be dating the repellent Rick Von Sloneker.  And the dialogue really is very funny, at least if you think it’s funny to hear lines like “Ours is probably the worst generation since the Protestant Reformation” delivered by very young people with drop-dead seriousness.

Writer-director-producer Whit Stillman went on to make two other excellent films in the 1990s, Barcelona and The Last Days of Disco, (starring Chloë Sevigny and Kate Beckinsale).  Enough people took notice of his work to result in the 2002 publication of a book called Doomed Bourgeois in Love: Essays on the Films of Whit Stillman.  Stillman then went quiet for a long time.  Then in 2011 he released Damsels in Distress, which I thought was good but not as good as his prior work, and then in 2016 he released the better Love & Friendship.  IMDB.com doesn’t show that he has anything new in the works, but I’m holding out hope.  If you are new to his work I recommend you start at the beginning and give Metropolitan a try!

The 39 Steps

A DVD review from The Movie Snob.

The 39 Steps  (B).  Well, I intended to see a movie at the theater today, but I got some bad information from the internet and wound up seeing nothing.  So I decided to get some use out of my DVD collection and pulled down The Criterion Collection edition of this 1935 Hitchcock thriller.  Robert Donat (Goodbye Mr. Chips) stars as Hannay, an ordinary Londoner caught up in a web of intrigue when he takes a beautiful woman back to his flat one evening and she turns out to be a spy—and gets herself murdered that very night!  Suddenly, Hanney is on the run—wanted by the police on suspicion of murder and by sinister spies who are trying to steal British military secrets.  On a train to Scotland he has a meet-cute with Pamela (Madeleine Carroll, Secret Agent), and they later team up to try to foil the foreign plot.  The film is not terribly suspenseful but has some pleasant romantic-comedy aspects to it.  And at 86 minutes, it’s quite efficient.  I didn’t watch all the extras that Criterion packed onto the disc, but a short feature about Hitchcock’s film career in England before moving to Hollywood was interesting, and a critic’s discussion of The 39 Steps itself was also interesting and entertaining.

The Snows of Kilimanjaro

A DVD review from The Movie Snob.

The Snows of Kilimanjaro  (D).  I think this is the first DVD I’ve watched all year, and wow was it a snoozer.  I think I picked it up at a big sale at the Dallas Public Library.  Whatever I paid, it was too much!  Gregory Peck (The Gunfighter, also directed by Snows director Henry King) stars as Harry Street, a successful writer and world traveler who has gotten injured while on safari in Africa with his beautiful wife Helen (Susan Hayward, I Married a Witch).  He gets delirious with infection, and most of the movie is told in flashbacks–long ones about the great love of his life, Cynthia (Ava Gardner, Show Boat), and shorter ones about his dalliance with a rich artist (Hildegard Knef, Decision Before Dawn).  None of it is very engaging, and Harry himself seems like no great prize to me.  There’s lots of stock footage of African wildlife, and the soundtrack was very hard to understand at times.  There are no extras on the DVD, either.  Maybe I would have liked it better if I had ever read the Ernest Hemingway story on which it was based.  Nah.

Rifftrax Live: Time Chasers

A new review from The Movie Snob.

Rifftrax Live: Time Chasers  (B-).  Well, I didn’t actually see this 2016 show live; I just recently saw it on DVD.  But I was really, really looking forward to it because the guys riffed Time Chasers back in their Mystery Science Theater glory days, and in my mind it was one of the funniest MST episodes of all time.  Time Chasers itself is a hilariously low-budget 1994 time-travel movie about Nick Miller, a nerdy physics professor in Vermont who turns his little single-propeller airplane into a time machine with what looks like a Commodore 64.  Unfortunately Nick’s physics prowess far exceeds his common sense, and he rashly sells his invention to an evil corporation called GenCorp, embodied by its tangibly evil CEO J.K. Robertson.  The scene in which Nick visits the CEO in his “office” – a stairway landing in what I’ve read is the opera house in Rutland, Vermont – is one of the all-time greats.  So, Nick has to do more time traveling to try to stop himself from selling the time machine to GenCorp in the first place.

Unfortunately, the riffers just don’t do as good a job shredding Time Chasers as they did on Mystery Science Theater so many years ago.  While watching the movie, I often remembered the wisecracks from the MST version, and the new jokes just weren’t as good.  Don’t get me wrong—it was still an entertaining experience, if only because the movie itself is such a target-rich environment.  I just thought the Rifftrax version didn’t live up to the MST original.  There’s also a short about a chimpanzee that becomes a fireman, but it was nothing in particular to write home about either.

Mystery Science Theater: Volume XXVII

DVD review from The Movie Snob.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXVII.

The Slime People (D).  This first-season offering just isn’t very good.  The movie is horrendous, about a handful of humans trying to survive an attack on Los Angeles by subterranean slime people.  Tedious in the extreme, and the riffing isn’t all that great either.  The highlight of the disc is actually a short interview with a woman who was in the movie, reminiscing about the experience and how horrified she was when she first saw the finished product because it was so bad.

Rocket Attack U.S.A. (C).  This second-season effort is not great but at least it’s better than The Slime People.  The 1961 film is a Cold War relic mainly about a spy sent to Moscow to figure out if the Soviets are planning to launch a nuclear attack.  Answer: Yes.  The first half of the movie features some pretty funny riffing by Joel and the robots, but they seem to lose steam towards the end.

Village of the Giants (C).  This okay episode features an old movie starring a young Beau Bridges (The Fabulous Baker Boys), a very young Ron Howard (TV’s Happy Days), and a timeless Toni Basil (the 1982 hit song “Mickey”).  Howard is a brainiac kid in the little town of Hainesville.  He accidentally invents a substance that, when eaten, makes the consumer grow to enormous size.  Unfortunately, Beau and his gang of unpleasant punk teenagers get a hold of the growth formula and proceed to terrorize the town.  Expect lots of unconvincing special effects and lots of whining from Beau’s gang about how adults are always pushing young people around with their rules and such.

The Deadly Mantis  (B).  My grade may be slightly inflated because of the weakness of the other movies in this collection.  This is a 1957 creature feature about a giant praying mantis that was frozen in arctic ice millions of years ago.  Somehow it gets defrosted and runs amok killing people.  There is very little plot beyond finding and killing the mantis, which seems to take an unduly long time.  The riffing is pretty good.  The two extras are an introduction by Mary Jo Pehl and a short documentary about Mantis producer William Alland, neither of which is of any special interest.

Mystery Science Theater: Volume XXVI

DVD review from The Movie Snob.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXVI.

The Magic Sword.  (C).  I don’t know, somehow this one just should have been funnier.  It’s a lame 1962 swords-and-sorcery flick in which Sir George (Gary Lockwood, 2001:A Space Odyssey) has to defeat an evil wizard (Basil Rathbone, The Hound of the Baskervilles) and rescue a beautiful princess (Anne Helm, Follow That Dream).  There’s so much material to work with, like George’s six assistant knights who get killed faster than bugs in a Raid commercial, and his inept sorceress foster mother, I don’t know why it wasn’t funnier.  The really amazing thing is that director Bert I. Gordon, whose movies were regularly skewered on MST3K, agreed to sit down for a documentary short about his career.  What a good sport!

Alien From L.A.  (D).  Yes, this is the 1988 cheesefest starring Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Kathy Ireland (Necessary Roughness).  She plays a clueless loser named Wanda who, through a series of ridiculous events, finds herself playing Indiana Jones in the lost city of Atlantis, far below the earth’s surface.  I think the director made her inhale helium before she read every line, because her voice was impossibly squeaky.  Unfortunately, the MST guys couldn’t do much with this one.  It just wasn’t very funny.

The Mole People.  (B).  This is a pretty good episode.  Some archaeologists (including Hugh Beaumont of Leave It To Beaver fame) find their way into a subterranean world inhabited by an ancient race of albino Sumerians.  The top archaeologist, a square-jawed John-Wayne soundalike, subdues the entire race with his trusty flashlight and courts a comely non-albino lass who happens to be among the mole people.  Pretty entertaining, with some laugh-out-loud riffs.  A decent short documentary about the film also appears on the disc.

Danger!! Death Ray.  (B).  Another pretty good episode.  The movie is a terrible 1967 rip-off of the James Bond movies.  Our “hero” is a pretty-boy spy with the unlikely name of Bart Fargo.  As one of the riffers comments, there is absolutely no tension or suspense at any point during the movie.  But the riffing is the point, and it’s pretty good.  The disc includes a short, choppily edited interview with Mike Nelson as a bonus, but it doesn’t really add much value.

MST3K: Volume XXV

DVD review from The Movie Snob.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXV.

Robot Holocaust (B).  Even though it was an episode from the first season of MST, which was a bit spotty, I enjoyed this one.  Actually, I’m pretty sure I would have thought this movie was funny even without any riffing at all.  It’s an 80s-era sci-fi movie that’s sort of a mash-up of Star Wars and Mad Max, and it is hilariously bad.  The budget must have been nonexistent.  Some highlights are some monstrous “sewer worms” that are obviously nothing more than sock puppets, and the monstrous spider of which we are allowed to see only one leg.  Also fabulous is the female henchman of “the Dark One.”  She’s kind of pretty, but she can’t act to save her life, and she adopted (or actually had) a bizarre accent that sounded like a speech impediment.  Well worth watching.

Kitten with a Whip (B).  This is a pretty entertaining episode.  The movie being riffed is a 1964 flick starring Ann-Margret (Viva Las Vegas) as a troubled juvenile delinquent and John Forsythe (TV’s Dynasty) as the unlucky fellow whose house she decides to hide out in after escaping from juvie.  Ms. Margret overacts terribly, but she is nicely counterbalanced by Forsythe’s remarkably bland performance.  Definitely worth seeing.

Revenge of the Creature (B+).  This sequel to The Creature From the Black Lagoon isn’t all that terrible—it’s just kind of dull.  But the riffing is quite good, and occasionally hilarious.  Watch closely, and you’ll see a very young Clint Eastwood (Unforgiven) in an uncredited role.  (Actually, the MST guys point him out, so I guess you don’t have to watch all that closely.)  The disc contains a few extras, including a reasonably interesting documentary short about director Jack Arnold, who directed several other movies of greater note, including It Came From Outer Space, The Creature From the Black Lagoon, and The Incredible Shrinking Man.

Operation Double 007  (C+).  That’s right, this 1967 movie is called Operation Double 007 in the credits, but for some reason it’s labeled Operation Kid Brother on the DVD box.  It’s a shameless rip-off of James Bond movies, right down to starring Sean Connery’s younger brother Neal as a spy.  Well, he’s not really a spy; he’s a plastic surgeon and hypnotist who gets recruited into being a spy.  It also features some of the minor players from the Bond movies, including Miss Moneypenny herself, Lois Maxwell (Moonraker).  The riffing is decent, but this episode is the weak link in this collection.  An introduction by Joel Hodgson doesn’t really add anything either.

The Last Man on Earth (TV review)

A TV review from The Movie Snob — a guy who watches very little TV.

The Last Man on Earth: Season One  (B).  The premise of this sit-com intrigued me:  Take a standard last-man-on-earth scenario, but play it for laughs.  Will Forte (Nebraska) stars as Phil Miller, a very ordinary guy from Tucson who just happens to be the only survivor of a virus that seemingly wiped out everybody else on the planet.  Including all the animals.  The first season is only 13 episodes, but they are so packed with twists and surprises that I really can’t say anything else about the show without committing spoilers, so I’ll just say that I thought it was creative and occasionally pretty funny.  The extras on the DVD set are nothing to write home about—some deleted scenes that aren’t particularly funny, a couple of episode commentaries that don’t add much to the experience, a couple of other short items about the creation and making of the show.  Just watch the show itself and see if it’s your cup of tea.

Laggies (DVD review)

From The Movie Snob.

Laggies  (C).  It seemed like this 2014 release was barely in the theaters at all, even though it stars the winsome Chloë Grace Moretz (Dark Shadows) and the toothsome Keira Knightley (Atonement).  It isn’t terrible, but it isn’t very good either.  Knightley stars as Megan, a 28-year-0ld Seattle woman who has failed to launch.  She’s been dating her high-school boyfriend for 10 years, and despite having some sort of graduate degree she “works” by twirling an advertising sign in front of her dad’s accounting firm.  She chances to meet some cool high-schoolers, and she winds up running away from her real life and staying with Annika (Moretz) and her divorced dad (Sam Rockwell, Moon) for a week.  Not sure I’d let some stranger move into my house for a week on my kid’s say-so, but okay.  Ellie Kemper (They Came Together) has a thankless supporting role as a humorless member of Megan’s old high-school posse.  Gretchen Mol (The Notorious Bettie Page) pops up in a tiny role.  It’s not a very believable movie, and Megan isn’t a particular believable (or likable) character.  Still, I liked this better than Your Sister’s Sister, also by director Lynn Shelton.

The Last Five Years

A DVD review from The Movie Snob.

The Last Five Years  (C).  If this little musical actually played in any theaters in Dallas, I totally missed it.  But I read a rave review in The Weekly Standard, and so when I saw the DVD on sale at Target I snapped it up.  It didn’t hurt that it stars Anna Kendrick (Up in the Air).  It’s based on an off-Broadway show, and it is the story of the romantic journey of Jamie (Jeremy Jordan, TV’s Smash) and Cathy (Kendrick).  I’m not giving anything away by revealing that there’s a gimmick: the characters alternate singing songs about their story, but Cathy starts at the end, and Jamie starts at the beginning.  So we know from the very first scene how it ends: Jamie takes off, and Cathy is heartbroken.  Knowing the destination, how much did I enjoy the ride?  Eh, decently well.  On the plus side, the performers were good, and Kendrick in particularly gives it her all.  A few of the songs are catchy, and the movie moves along briskly, wrapping up in 94 minutes.  On the other hand, many of the songs are kind of generic, and the story moves so fast I didn’t feel like I got to know the characters very well.  If you like musicals, I say give it a try and see what you think.

Witness for the Prosecution

A DVD review from The Movie Snob.

Witness for the Prosecution  (B+).  This 1957 classic was directed by Billy Wilder (Double Indemnity) and based on a short story and play by Agatha Christie.  Charles Laughton (The Hunchback of Notre Dame) stars as Sir Wilfrid Robarts, a celebrated London barrister with a knack for winning impossible cases.  While he is convalescing after a heart attack, just such a case shows up on his doorstep—a murder case against a charming WWII vet named Leonard Vole (Tyrone Power, Rawhide).  His icy German war bride Christine (Marlene Dietrich, Morocco) is his only alibi, but she seems to have a secret agenda of her own.  It felt like the murder trial itself took up about half the film’s 116-minute running time, but the trial scenes are well done, and my interest never flagged.  Definitely worth seeing, Witness for the Prosecution was nominated for six Oscars, including a best supporting actress nod for Elsa Lanchester (The Bride of Frankenstein) as Sir Wilfrid’s overbearing nurse.  The DVD’s extras include the movie’s trailer and some moderately interesting footage of interviews with Wilder about the movie.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXIV

DVD review from The Movie Snob.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXIV.

Fugitive Alien (B+).  I got several big laughs out of this “movie” that was cobbled together from a Japanese TV series.  The “movie” is about a human-looking alien named Ken(!) who accidentally kills a fellow alien, becomes a fugitive from his own species, and joins a crew of human space travelers for some space-going adventures.  Oh, and because Ken killed her brother, Ken’s former lover is legally obliged to track him down, kill him, and take his head back to their home world.  Good riffing from Joel and the robots make this episode a treat.

Star Force: Fugitive Alien II (C-).  For some reason, this sequel to Fugitive Alien never really takes off.  The “movie” is just as bad as the first one, but the riffing never really gets going.  The really shocking thing is that Sandy Frank, the man responsible for importing these Japanese creations (and others, like Gamera) to America, actually agreed to be interviewed for this disc!  He comes off as a real wheeler-dealer kind of guy, and he has very little to say about his treatment at the hands of MST3K.

The Sword and the Dragon (B).  In this episode the guys riff on a 1956 Russian movie about a medieval peasant hero who rises up to help his prince defeat invading Mongol hordes and their three-headed dragon.  It’s a pretty good episode.  As extras, they’ve bundled onto the disc two MST3K shorts that weren’t originally associated with this episode, “Snow Thrills” and the truly hilarious “A Date With Your Family.”

Samson Versus the Vampire Women  (B).  This Mexican import is truly bizarre.  For about half the movie, it’s a standard, if lame, vampire yarn.  Some lady vampires need to abduct a specific young woman and turn her into their vampire queen, while the woman’s professor father, her fiancé, and the local police ineffectually try to protect her from the sinister but attractive vampiresses.  Halfway through the movie, a masked wrestler (complete with tight pants, cape, and no shirt) named Samson just shows up in the professor’s study and makes it his mission to defeat the vampires.  And nobody seems to think it is odd. The riffing is not bad, but the oddness of the movie alone is enough to make it worthwhile.

Oklahoma!

A DVD review from The Movie Snob.

Oklahoma!  (C).  Well, this 1955 musical didn’t really do it for me, as you can tell by my grade.  I’m not sure why I didn’t like it more, because the songs are undeniably catchy, and Shirley Jones (TV’s The Partridge Family) makes a very cute Laurie.  The story is paper-thin, but that’s not really a valid objection to a movie musical.  It isn’t Crime and Punishment, after all.  I think what turned me off were the several extended dance interludes, which seemed to go on forever.  The balletic dance that goes on in Laurie’s mind after she takes a whiff of the traveling salesman’s perfume was a particularly long and psychedelic sequence that went on interminably.  Still, the songs really were top-notch.  I was surprised to learn that Oklahoma! was directed by Fred Zinneman, who also directed From Here to EternityA Man for All Seasons, and High Noon.

I Married a Witch

A DVD review from The Movie Snob.

I Married a Witch  (B).  This is a 1942 comedy starring Fredric March (The Best Years of Our Lives) and Veronica Lake (Sullivan’s Travels).  I had never heard of it before, but I saw that it was in “The Criterion Collection,” a fancy-shmancy series of DVDs “dedicated to gathering the greatest films from around the world and publishing them in editions of the highest technical quality.”  Plus, it was on sale, and I was curious to see what Veronica Lake actually looked like.  (You’ll recall that Kim Basinger played a supposed Veronica Lake look-alike in L.A. Confidential.)  Anyhoo, I Married a Witch is an enjoyable, if offbeat, little movie.  The opening scene establishes that back in Puritan times, a witch and her warlock father were burned for, well, witchcraft.  The witch (Lake) puts a curse on the Puritan fellow who accused her such that he (March) and his descendants will always marry unhappily until the curse is lifted.  Fast forward to 1942, and the father-and-daughter team are on the loose.  The Puritan’s descendant Wallace Wooley (also March) is running for political office and about to marry an obvious shrew played by Susan Hayward (Garden of Evil).  The witch decides to torment Wallace a little bit, and the movie goes on from there.  It’s a quirky little movie; the DVD booklet says that director Rene Clair was one of the early innovators of the cinema.  The TV show “Bewitched” seems to owe a little something to this film, and it also bears a certain resemblance to the much-worse movie Kitten With a Whip.  Worth seeing if the opportunity presents itself.

Downton Abbey – Season Two

A belated review from The Movie Snob.

Downton Abbey – Season Two  (B).  Season one of Downton Abbey ended with the outbreak of World War I; season two opens in 1916, in the thick of that conflict, and it ends in 1919.  I won’t commit any spoilers here (even though I’m so far behind the times that it would probably be safe to do so).  Let’s just say that season two seemed even more soap-operatic to me than season one did.  Heir-apparent Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens, A Walk Among the Tombstones) is mostly off at the western front, but back home he has gotten engaged to someone other than Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery, Hanna).  Noble valet John Bates is still trying to be rid of his viperish wife so he can be with his true love, the sweet and lovable Anna.  What’s-his-name, the politically radical Irish chauffeur, is still in love with Lady Sybil.  And life at Downtown Abbey is turned upside down when it becomes a convalescent home for wounded soldiers.  Some excessively soapy touches slightly diminished my enjoyment of the season, but all in all I still liked it very well.  On to season three!

Mrs. Doubtfire

From the pen of The Movie Snob.

Mrs. Doubtfire  (B-).  This was my first time to see this 1993 flick, starring Robin Williams (Night at the Museum) and directed by Chris Columbus (Adventures in Babysitting).  It was not at all as annoying as I expected it to be.  Williams plays Daniel, a voice-over artist who is as hyper and as entertaining as, well, Robin Williams.  As one might expect, this much energy could take a toll on a marriage, and we aren’t too deep into the movie when Daniel’s wife Miranda (Sally Field, Lincoln) gives him the boot.  But he can’t bear to be separated from their three kids, and when Miranda advertises for an after-school nanny for the kiddos, Daniel gets his make-up artist brother to create the perfect disguise—a matronly British woman who applies for and gets the job.  The hijinks that follow are reasonably entertaining and occasionally exhausting.  A very young-looking Pierce Brosnan (Mamma Mia!) shows up as the new fella in Miranda’s life.  I’m not sure why Columbus felt obliged to include a bunch of tacky sexual references in the movie, thereby tipping it over into PG-13 territory and really making it less enjoyable all the way around.

The two kids who played Robin Williams’s daughters have retired from acting and have blogs now, if you’re curious:

http://lisajakub.wordpress.com/

http://marawilsonwritesstuff.com/

 

Schindler’s List

A DVD review from The Movie Snob.

Schindler’s List  (A-).  I did not get around to seeing the winner of the 1994 Oscar for Best Picture until last night — I had bought the DVD years ago, but could never bring myself to watch it.  It is, of course, as good and as powerful as I had expected it to be.  A young Liam Neeson (Clash of the Titans) plays Oskar Schindler, an amoral, womanizing entrepreneur who moves to Krakow, Poland, and hatches a very successful plan to profit from WWII by using cheap Jewish laborers to manufacture things for the German army.  Gradually, his eyes are opened to the Nazi horror, and by the end of the movie he has spent his entire fortune on the bribes necessary to save the lives of some 1,100 Jews.  Neeson turns in a fine performance (Tom Hanks beat him out for the Best Actor Oscar for Philadelphia), as does a young Ralph Fiennes (Wrath of the Titans) as Amon Goeth, the psychotic Nazi commandant of the labor camp outside Krakow.  (Tommy Lee Jones beat Fiennes for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for The Fugitive.)  Ebert included Schindler’s List in his first book The Great Movies, and with good reason.

MST3K: Volume XXIII

A DVD review from The Movie Snob.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXIII.

King Dinosaur (B). This episode starts with a short, and as usual it is even funnier than the feature film being riffed. The short is “X Marks the Spot,” a production of the New Jersey Department of Transportation about a guy whose terrible driving lands him in an afterlife courtroom where he is half-heartedly defended by a sort of guardian angel. The feature, King Dinosaur, is a pretty good episode about four scientists who travel to a “lost continent” kind of planet. The disc also features a long and decently interesting bonus documentary about Robert Lippert, who produced some MST3K fodder such as Last of the Wild Horses.

The Castle of Fu Manchu (D). Wow, this movie is really, really horrible. Christopher Lee (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring) stars as the evil Fu Manchu, and he is masterminding some incomprehensible scheme to destroy mankind by turning all the oceans into ice, while simultaneously taking over the opium trade from a castle in Istanbul. Seriously, this movie is worse than Manos: Hands of Fate, it makes so little sense. And is so badly shot and edited. Even the guys on the Satellite of Love can’t make it entertaining. Skip it.

Code Name: Diamond Head (B). This is a decent episode in which the guys riff on a 1977 TV pilot about spies in Hawaii. Ian McShane (Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides) plays the villain, a master of disguise. I didn’t understand why the guys kept calling him “Lovejoy,” but apparently it was a TV role in which McShane played a “loveable rogue and an antiques dealer.” (IMDB.com) The episode kicks off with an amusing short, “A Day at the Fair.”

Last of the Wild Horses (C-). This weaker-than-usual episode riffs a lame Western about a beefy would-be stagecoach robber who gets mixed up in a range war between a wealthy rancher and a bunch of little ranchers. Kind of like the 1% versus the 99%, but with horses.

The Fall of the Roman Empire

A DVD review from The Movie Snob.

The Fall of the Roman Empire (D). Imagine Gladiator stretched out to three hours. Take out all the good parts and substitute some long, boring speeches. Now you’ve got the gist of this 1964 epic starring Alec Guiness (Star Wars) as Emperor Marcus Aurelius, Christopher Plummer (The Sound of Music) as his unbalanced son Commodus, Sophia Loren (Man of La Mancha) as his daughter Lucilla, and Stephen Boyd (Ben-Hur) as the doughty Roman general to whom Marcus Aurelius intends to bequeath the Roman Empire. As we know from Gladiator (and even from actual history), Commodus became emperor after Marcus Aurelius’s death, and things generally kind of went downhill for the next few centuries. The sets and costumes and epic sprawl are all fabulous, but the script is flatter than a pancake, Loren can’t act, and scenes seems to drag on forever without anything ever actually happening. I watched a couple of the bonus features on the DVD, and they were more interesting than the movie itself. If you see this movie in the bargain bin at Walmart, try to resist the urge to buy it.

Non-Stop

The Borg Queen stops long enough to send us this review.

Non-Stop  (B).  I enjoyed this film much more than I anticipated, and it even kept the interest of my teenage daughter, which is saying something.  The story centers on Bill Marks (played by the always entertaining Liam Neeson), an air marshal on a non-stop flight to London.  Shortly into the flight when most people are sleeping, he begins receiving text messages from an unknown number threatening to kill a person every 20 minutes if $150 million is not transferred into a specified account.  Chaos ensues.  Throughout the movie you keep wondering – how is a person going to be killed every 20 minutes when everyone is in such close quarters and he can see everyone?  How is this person getting away with texting Marks without anyone noticing?  It’s not the next Lord of the Rings by any means, but the movie maintains a good pace, is humorous at times, and keeps you guessing.  My daughter and I made a game out of trying to guess first who the culprit was and how they are doing it.  A good rental for a Saturday night with the family.