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 Live

A new review from The Movie Snob.

Mystery Science Theater 3000 Live: The Great Cheesy Movie Circus Tour (B).  The principal creator of Mystery Science Theater 3000, Joel Hodgson, is on the road doing live shows in venues around the country.  I think I heard this is supposedly going to be Hodgson’s last road show.  Anyhoo, my sister and I caught the show last weekend in Dallas’s fancy opera house.  The show is basically a live recreation of an episode of the MST3K TV show, with Joel and his two robot sidekicks (Crow T. Robot and Tom Servo) riffing on a terrible movie and occasionally taking little breaks to do (allegedly) comical skits.  The terrible movie for our show was a cheesy 1986 Karate Kid rip-off called No Retreat, No Surrender (featuring a young and villainous Jean-Claude Van Damme, Timecop), and the riffing was very amusing.  I’d probably give the show a B+ or an A- based on the riffing, but the skits were unfortunately unentertaining (just like they usually were during MST3K’s TV run).  Note that Joel is the only person from the original show involved in this production; the robots are voiced by two new guys, and two new actresses participated in the skits.  I think it was a pretty clean show, too, if you’re thinking about taking the kids.  Definitely worth catching if they come to a town near you.  Looks like they’re about to do a bunch of shows in Florida if you’re down that way!

The Ideal of Culture: Essays (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob.

The Ideal of Culture: Essays, by Joseph Epstein (2018).  More great essays by the great essayist.  I have sung his praises before, and you can read some of them here, here, and here.  The down side of this volume, if it has one, is that Epstein includes several essays about lesser-known masterpieces of literature, and he’s such a good salesman that I ordered two of them online before even finishing this book.

Longbourn (book review)

Book review from The Movie Snob.

Longbourn, by Jo Baker (2013).  In the Jane Austen novel Pride and Prejudice, Longbourn is the name of the estate where the Bennets—the family at the center of the story—live.  Longbourn is a novel about the servants of those very same Bennets, before, during, and after the events of Pride and Prejudice.  I liked it well enough.  The main character is Sarah, a young servant whom the Bennets took in after she was orphaned as a child.  Two interesting men come into her life at the same time—a new servant working down at the Bingleys’ house and a mysterious stranger the Bennets take on as a footman.  It’s kind of fun to watch little snippets of Pride and Prejudice take place in the background, and to see the Bennets from a different (and not very flattering) angle.

The Sparrow (book review)

Book review from The Movie Snob.

The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell (1996).  How about a science-fiction novel about first contact with an alien species that is chock full of religious talk?  That’s what The Sparrow is.  In the near future, a radio telescope discovers unmistakable signs of intelligent alien life on a planet in the (relatively) nearby Alpha Centauri solar system.  Remarkably, the Jesuits (a Catholic religious order) are the first to mobilize after this discovery, putting together a team of priests and lay people to pilot an asteroid-turned-starship to this alien world.  The author’s style didn’t really grab me, especially the many scenes that I guess were supposed to be humorous.  Also, the story takes a long time to get going because Russell starts out telling it on two tracks: the story of the discovery and mission preparation, and, some 50 years later, the story of the Jesuits’ attempt to figure out what went wrong by interviewing the mission’s sole survivor and returnee.  But after bouncing between these two narratives for a while we eventually get to the first-contact adventure, and I must admit that part of the story held my attention.  Although I can’t say I loved the book–there’s some fairly gruesome/lurid stuff in the first-contact-adventure part of the story–I sort of want to read the sequel to find out what happened next….

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!

Ad Astra

The Movie Snob sees a current release!

Ad Astra  (C).  This movie has done very well with other critics—currently scoring 80 out of 100 on metacritic.com—but I was underwhelmed.  It’s a sci-fi flick set in the near future.  Brad Pitt (Burn After Reading) stars as Roy McBride, an astronaut so unflappably cool he makes Neil Armstrong look like a bowl of quivering jello.  Strange, deadly energy pulses from Neptune start threatening life on Earth (and on the moon and Mars, which have been colonized), and it seems that Roy’s father Clifford (Tommy Lee Jones, The Homesman), who disappeared on a scientific mission to Neptune years before, may have something to do with it.  Before you can say “2001,” Roy is blasting off from Earth on a mission to contact dear, old dad and, with luck, save the world(s).  Lots of critics have compared Ad Astra to Apocalypse Now, which is fair, but to me the more obvious comparison is the 2007 space thriller Sunshine.  Anyhoo, I found the movie visually appealing but much lacking in the story and character departments.  Roy is so locked down he is hard to empathize with.  Donald Sutherland (Forsaken) pops up in a small role, and Liv Tyler (That Thing You Do!) has the tiny and thankless task of flashing on the screen a few times as Roy’s estranged wife.