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I'm Jason. I'm a film, literary and pop culture enthusiast. Got a soft spot and deep love for animation, comics and nerdy things that go in tandem with them.

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Elizabeth: The Golden Age

Posted : 3 days, 12 hours ago on 2 December 2016 07:41 (A review of Elizabeth: The Golden Age)

Painterly images and beautiful scenery cannot hide limp-dick kitsch of Elizabeth: The Golden Age, no matter how much pageantry they throw in front of you. It’s a vibrant production in service of historical revisionism and soap opera fable. It screams to the heavens and clatters like thunder while dipping into a particularly squeamish form of English jingoism. How did we come down so hard from 1998’s Elizabeth to this sound-and-fury sequel?

 

Maybe because the first film was about the transformation of a young girl into a symbolic figurehead, digging down deep into the psychological complexity of how that transition happens. The fires used to forge a woman into a monarch gave way to how that monarch became a frigid, rigid, unpleasant freak show. Then there’s a major problems with the presentation of the Spanish and Catholics as slobbering, zealous ghouls out to purge the Protestants from England. The Golden Age would more accurately be described as The Gilded Age.

 

There’s only so much that frilly frocks, elegant makeup and hairdos, and artful cinematography can be used to mask the religious fervor that permeates throughout. Elizabeth is filmed in swirling camera movements, haloed light, and framed in a style similar to iconographic religious art in the Renaissance. It’s so damn ridiculous and no one seems to notice just how borderline camp it all plays as. Except it believes in its pretentions very deeply and that dampens some of the inadvertent enjoyment from the slow-motion shot of a white horse leaping off of a sinking ship during a heated battle.

 

At least The Golden Age is mainly well cast. Cate Blanchett goes big and broad, breathing flirty, demanding, exacting life to a stodgily written figure that the script tries to beatify and entomb simultaneously. Clive Owen and Abbie Cornish generate erotic bluster as the young lovers, while Rhys Ifans glowers as a hammy villain. The best of the supporting players are Geoffrey Rush, a continual MVP in any film he’s in, and an underused Samantha Morton, as a grandiose Mary, Queen of Scots. Not all of the players are doing good work though. Look no further than Eddie Redmayne, an actor with two operating modes, one of quiet, skilled technique and the other all nervous twitches and fluttering. He tends to indulge the second method more often than the first, and that is the case here.

 

Elizabeth: The Golden Age is pomp and circumstance for two hours. There’s nothing much on its brain aside from eye-gouging pageantry. At least returning director Shekhar Kapur provides plenty of ample superficial spectacle. There’s pleasures to be had in watching only for the visuals. Just mute the omnipresent soundtrack and purple dialog. Except for maybe the sight of Cate Blanchett smacking Abbie Cornish while screaming, “My bitches wear my collars!” in full-on drag queen mode.



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Valley of the Dolls

Posted : 3 days, 15 hours ago on 2 December 2016 05:10 (A review of Valley of the Dolls)

If Valley of the Dolls had the courage of its convictions, it would be an even better piece of proto-feminist piece of pop kitsch. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of camp enjoyment to be found here as it covers all of the basics. The tenants of camp cinema are all found here in bits and pieces, things like unintentionally hilarious dramatic moments, overacting, carbon-dating its subject matter, and a clear lack of understanding of some of this material.

 

Despite racking in obscene piles of money, Valley of the Dolls does distinctly lack a clear directorial vision. Mark Robson was a perfectly competent journeyman director, and he had fantastic work in his partnership with producer Val Lewton (The 7th Victim, Isle of the Dead). Shame that the pervading sense of atmosphere and personality that he brought to those films is nowhere to be found here. Valley of the Dolls is trashy entertainment, but if Robson had given over to some better artistic impulses then Dolls could rival its sequel in terms of sheer fuckery and balls-to-the-walls camp ascendancy.   

 

We have a trio of heroines that all aspire to stardom, but Anne (Barbara Perkins) is our surrogate. Anne is a New Englander, all prim manners and emotional reserve, who befriends Neely O’Hara (Patty Duke) and Jennifer North (Sharon Tate) while they try to make it in showbiz. What follows is peaks-and-valleys of insider information, and moments where our heroines reveal the substantial sexism they’re combating. Yet there’s a pervasive sense that the material is somehow afraid (or unable) to encounter the darker, murkier aspects of their individual lives.

 

Sharon Tate made the lasting impression on me, and in a very good way. Her career was brief, but this was the most substantial and lasting role in it. She’s tremendously vulnerable, and her character’s journey is the one with the most pathos and least amount of kitsch attached. She knows she’s a beautiful girl with limited talent, she knows she’s exploited but has nothing else to offer. Tate is all chic clothing, impossibly glamorous, and deeply effecting by withholding and limiting her performance. Her character’s eventual fate is a moment of genuine seriousness in a movie that up to this point had been pure soap opera.

 

The only other performance that impresses for positive reasons is Susan Hayward. No surprise, something like this is well within Hayward’s wheelhouse. Overly dramatic soap opera was her forte, and she modulates her performance incredibly well here. The bathroom fight between her and Duke is a humdinger of kitsch, with her wig removal and battered grace something of a moment of brutal truth. Everything else is all ridiculous fun, with Duke’s inability to modulate her performance a real low-light (or is it a highlight?) as her character crashes harder than Icarus.

 

I do wish the film had mined the feminist fury at the heart of some of this more. The three dolls are at the mercy and sexual pleasure of the men in their lives, with some of them willing to trade on it for favor. The bad behavior on display begins to look more like a well thought-out rebellion. There’s several small tweaks here and there that would improve Valley of the Dolls as camp artifact of the late-60s mod scene. Just sit back and enjoy, because fun is fun, and watching Patty Duke pop brightly colored pills, empty a bottle of Bourbon in her swimming pool, and then have an emotional breakdown in an alleyway is a ton of fun.



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That Touch of Mink

Posted : 1 week ago on 28 November 2016 08:22 (A review of That Touch of Mink)

That Touch of Mink is the sight of the king and queen of distinct styles of romantic comedies trying to enliven mediocre material. Not even the considerable talents of Doris Day and Cary Grant can keep your interest in a movie that features a great kitchen-sink dramatist taking the directorial duties. This combination of routine material and odd director choice makes That Touch of Mink flat when it should be fizzy.

 

Granted, Day’s 60s bedroom farce is something of a stale piece of cake in comparison to Grant’s pedigree as the king of screwball. Think of how sexy, fun, flirty, and funny screwball comedies are in comparison to something like That Touch of Mink, which is basically the bedroom comedy distilled to its most basic tenants. There’s Day doing her “world’s oldest virgin” act, Grant as the lecherous suitor, a pair of more colorful and interesting best friends (Gig Young playing neurotic, Audrey Meadows playing sarcastic), and a healthy dose of smarm covering the whole thing.

 

It’s not that the script is something we’ve seen a million times before in Day’s body of work, look at how effervescent other films she made still are, it’s that Mink is missing that extra oomph. Dick Sargent appears as a newlywed that tells Grant how much he’s dreading his upcoming life as a married man, and this sense of marriage as a tomb pervades. How are we supposed to root for the two leads to get together when the film is obsessed with letting us know that marriage is a small death of the soul?

 

Even worse is how ill-matched Delbert Mann is with this material. The surfaces all right, but the beats are wrong or off. Mann was a brilliant director of hefty drama, think of Marty or Middle of the Night. He seems uncomfortable with the heightened artifice and theatricality necessary to pull this material off. At least he knows to deploy supporting players like Audrey Meadows, Gig Young, and John Astin often as they play this material for all of the glossy, goofy weight they can throw at it. Day is perfectly fine here, but this genre was her bread-and-butter and it does feel like we’ve seen this performance a time or two before. It’s Grant who isn’t bad per se, but is undone by the script’s treatment of his character. His character is a smarmy, oily asshole, and Grant feels slightly uncomfortable playing the character next to the youthful Day at this stage of his career.

 

The conspicuous consumption and materialism on display here is par for the course, but the sexual obligation that Day’s character experiences leaves That Touch of Mink with a bitter aftertaste. There’s a few funny jokes to mine from the material, like Day’s crisis of conscience putting her and Grant on a bed in various locations. Even better is the dressing down that Meadows delivers when she exclaims that the female species sold itself out for the right to smoke indoors, and Day doesn’t even smoke. To be fair, there are minor charms here, and nothing with Day and Grant is totally without merit. It’s just that between them, they’ve blessed the world with plenty of classic romantic comedies and That Touch of Mink is personality-free and unmemorable that it feels worse than it actually is.



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Clash of the Titans

Posted : 1 week ago on 28 November 2016 04:45 (A review of Clash of the Titans)

Clash of the Titans is a swan song, not only for Ray Harryhausen’s career but for a type of romantic-adventure stories that are no longer made. While it doesn’t compare to its brethren like Jason and the Argonauts or The Thief of Bagdad, it is of a piece with those colorful epics filled with stolid heroes, beautiful princesses, enormous monsters, never-ending quests, and effects work that is arcane and more dream-like than anything in modern cinema. It is delightful in spite of a series of problems, and a fitting end to the storied career of Ray Harryhausen.

 

Much like Harryhausen’s Sinbad films, Clash of the Titans uses the basics of its mythological framework, a couple of familiar names and monsters, and rearranges them in a straightforward narrative. Ask anyone who is not obsessed with mythology and folklore to tell you the story of Perseus and Andromeda, and they’ll more than likely tell you the story as found here. That is the power of pop culture retelling these legends. This is a film dubbed about the clashing of the Greek Titans without featuring them actually clashing or any of the proper Titans, but instead retrofitting the title onto the Kraken and Medusa.

 

It also shows the power of Harryhausen’s artistry. After all, who else could plop a well-known aquatic monster from Norse mythology into a Greek myth? The Kraken emerging from the water to destroy cities and capture the sacrificial virgin is crude by today’s standards, but delightful for the quality of a dream that it projects. It exudes personality and menace, as though it were a primordial beast unleashing indiscreet havoc. Who cares if there’s no Kraken to be found anywhere in Greek mythology when this gargantuan monster is so pleasing in its purpose.

 

Even better is Medusa, quite possibly the most technically accomplished and artistically complex creation in Harryhausen’s entire oeuvre. The seven-headed Hydra and skeleton army in Jason and the Argonauts still impress with the bullishness of their artistic brilliance, but they’re almost quaint in the sight of the slithering, glaring Medusa. Her hair made of snakes moves independently at every moment, she crawls across the floor, her tail rattles and slithers, and she alternates between lurching forward and shooting arrows at her attackers. She is the stuff of nightmares, a near prehistoric monstrosity of feminine evil.

 

Then there’s the curious problem of Bubo, the mechanical owl. A clear concession to Star Wars’ ascendancy no matter what the creators try to claim. It’s a bit of an annoyance, but it’s animated with tremendous care, skill, and personality. It’s a mixed blessing of a film, a clear fault but one that is done with clear, consummate craftsmanship. Bubo is something of the entirety of the film in microcosm.

 

While Clash of the Titans has the courage to stick to its goofy convictions, completely embracing the passing Saturday matinee fare that was more light-hearted and vibrant than the muddied and grim blockbusters of the current era. We get the Greek gods as played by Shakespearean greats like Laurence Olivier and Maggie Smith, glorious hams like Burgess Meredith, and an attractive lead couple in Harry Hamlin and Judi Bowker. All of them genuflect to the material, some far more successful than others. Supporting players like Meredith, here as Ammon, a poet and quest master for Perseus, are right to go broad with the material to pick up for the slack of the blander leads. But Olivier as a petulant Zeus who is quickly tamed by a pretty face, Smith as a petty and vindictive Thetis, Clare Bloom as a haughty and regal Hera all make positive impressions. Hamlin is fine with a thankless role, basically spending the movie playing fetch in an ever escalating series of quests, while Bowker is pretty but vacuous, the only truly terrible performance in the entire film.

 

It is frequently dysfunctional, completely frivolous and campy in its execution, but dammit if Clash of the Titans isn’t a pleasing trifle. It sticks to the tenants of any Harryhausen film, a pervading sense of kitsch, hammy acting, workmanlike direction, and lovingly arcane special-effects work that give the distinct impression of unreality. Good for it, I say. It’s not a perfect film, but it’s a perfect ending to Harryhausen’s incalculably influential career. It features all of his obsessions in one movie, and it’s packed to the rafters with monsters both big and small. No one will mistake it for the loftiest of cinematic arts, but it’s delicious, comforting junk food. Sometimes, that’s just what the soul needs.



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Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger

Posted : 1 week, 2 days ago on 27 November 2016 03:48 (A review of Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger)

Here is further proof that the third installment of a franchise is inevitably the weakest, Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger is a retread of not only the two previous entries in the trilogy but the entirety of Ray Harryhausen’s career. There’s no wonder here, no fun sense of otherworldliness at play. In fact, even Harryhausen’s creations are more humdrum than life giving to this limp piece of cornbread.

 

While neither Seventh Voyage nor Golden Voyage could claim modesty in how often and routinely they paused their narratives to bring in more fantastical creatures, Eye of the Tiger makes them look positively prudish in comparison. But the excess on display here has a strangely numbing effect since so much of has been done already by the master, and better. There’s ghouls, a metallic Minotaur, a troglodyte, a gigantic walrus, a chess-playing chimpanzee, a gigantic wasp, a Smilodon, and a witch who can change sizes and transform into a bird.

 

But none of them are as imaginatively rendered as they should be. I suppose one should be kind to Harryhausen for this, as even he admitted that there just wasn’t enough time and money granted to him to make the effects really pop. They’re perfunctory from beginning to end leaving Eye of the Tiger as the nadir of Harryhausen’s career. It feels wrong to criticize a master of his craft who has so incalculably aided to my imaginative development, but Eye of the Tiger is just not good or original enough by any measure.

 

Too much of Eye of the Tiger feels built upon the foundations of other material. There’s Melanthius, a Greek alchemist/exposition dump played by Patrick Troughton like a dry-run for Gandalf in a never-made Harryhausen Lord of the Rings adaptation. There’s Zenobia, another Sinbad movie offers up a dark-arts practitioner as its main villain, this time an evil stepmother played to theatrical heights by Margaret Whiting. Jane Seymour gets saddled with the poorly written love interest role, and Patrick Wayne is a hopelessly wooden Sinbad. The role of Sinbad is something of a mixed blessing for any actor. On one hand you’re the title character, on the other you’re merely a blank space for Harryhausen’s creativity to throw swords and magic spells at. Kerwin Mathews and John Phillip Law were likable, handsome, and knew how to give themselves to the material, while Wayne is just kinda…there.

 

The worst offender has to be director Sam Wanamaker. He splices the film with little regards or care for creating intelligible spatial geography and basic filmic geometry. He also allows too much bloat to make its way into this. Golden Voyage’s 105 minutes was pushing the boundaries for how long this material could sustain itself, and Eye of the Tiger’s near two-hours is clearly beyond the thin story’s reach. The better directors of Harryhausen’s films knew they were traffic cops trying to keep everything running smoothly, so I guess you could dub this film something of a pile-up.


Distinct and unique sense of mythology and location is noticeably absent here. Where the previous films were gleeful in the ways they mixed disparate bits of cultural mythologies into their whimsical hodge-podges, this feels lazily assembled. There’s obvious stealing from She in the pyramid hidden away in an arctic tundra, complete with steep stairs, a light vortex, and frozen Smilodons. Then there’s the oddball way that our characters enter a valley that either spits them out into a lovely spring and forest, or they walk back a desert pyramid. Looking for logic in these films is a bit of a stretch, but a certain set of fair rules and coherence by their own internal workings is not asking for much. 

 

Yet I still possess a modicum of affection for it. Call it the hazy gaze of childhood nostalgia, call it my deep fondness and love of Harryhausen, call it what you will. Undoubtedly this is the lamest of the Sinbad films, but I’ll be damned if it didn’t stir some strange form of fondness in me. Hell that battle royale between the troglodyte, Smilodon, and Sinbad is a vast improvement over the Golden Voyage’s climax, and if you only watch Eye of the Tiger for that one scene, well, it’s a damn fine scene.  



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The Golden Voyage of Sinbad

Posted : 1 week, 2 days ago on 27 November 2016 12:16 (A review of The Golden Voyage of Sinbad)

Ray Harryhausen’s second spin around with Sinbad the Sailor takes the basic formula that worked so well in The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad and cranks it to eleven. This steroidal sequel lacks the naïve innocence of the original, but makes up for it in a bigger scope, more fantastical elements, more stop-motion critters, and more of everything else. It’s a worthy successor despite the general sense that the magic of these films was quickly drying up and their promised adventures falling short of the prior heights.

 

While the script is a collage of incidents with holes built into the material to provide wiggle room for Harryhausen to strut, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad does distinctly lack a certain something that was pervasive in some of his older films. Perhaps changing tastes had left this gee-whiz type of adventure story as archaic by 1974. Still, even with a major problem of middling awe there’s plenty to recommend and catch your imagination during the voyage.

 

Most notably is a moment of tender poetry, where Harryhausen seemingly wrote in (the Sinbad films are the few movies where he contributed story elements) a self-reflective moment between a creator and creation. Our villain, Koura (played by the Fourth Doctor, Tom Baker) uses black magic to create a homunculus then gives it some of his blood to breathe life into the creature. This moment, oddly tender and beguilingly quiet, is a miniature portrait of the master at work, giving pieces of himself to bring to life a cavalcade of horrors to do his bidding.

 

While that scene is a clear highlight, it’s not the lone moment of inspired magic and imagination. An uncredited Robert Shaw, unrecognizable under layers of makeup and vocal distortion, as the Oracle of All Knowledge in a banging, clattering scene of awe and terror as the oracle drops mysterious clues and vague prophecy to aide our heroes on their adventure. Shaw’s Oracle looks positively demonic with it’s disgusting teeth, wild beard, and many horns protruding from his scalp. He appears and disappears in firestorm and blinding lights, and this is the type of moment that Harryhausen fans are thrilled by.

 

Of course, the real reason we all return to Harryhausen’s films is the stop-motion creature animation. The Golden Voyage of Sinbad is overstuffed with creatures, and a few of them are some of the more memorable inventions of his career. While the one-eyed centaur is fun, and the masthead that springs to violent life is appropriately creepy, but nothing compares to sense of fantasy and wonder that the statue of Kali generates. The battle between Sinbad and his cohorts against the statue is the first sequence in any of these films to live up to the brilliance of Jason and the Argonauts’ skeleton army. This battle with Kali hammers home that when these films are working, whether in individual scenes or as an entire work, they convey a pleasing sense of the otherworldly.



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The Valley of Gwangi

Posted : 1 week, 3 days ago on 26 November 2016 06:44 (A review of The Valley of Gwangi)

The Valley of Gwangi was an inherited project for Ray Harryhausen. Originally intended by mentor Willis O’Brien as a follow-up to King Kong, with a few sequences of cowboys on the loose in Africa repurposed into Mighty Joe Young, Gwangi is actually the second run-through of this material after O’Brien produced 1956’s The Beast of Hollow Mountain. Of course, a weird western about cowboys battling it out with prehistoric animals sounds like something from the whacky imagination of Harryhausen anyway, so the transition of the idea between the men is seamless.

 

The Valley of Gwangi is inoffensively kitsch, a movie where you’re very likely to witness an Allosaurus (that would be Gwangi) munching on a character only dubbed “the dwarf,” then fight an elephant, before meeting its end in a cathedral undergoing renovations in a hellish vision of flames destroying the terrorizing monster. The first forty-five minutes has to be powered through, although none of it is terrible so much as it is a bit mundane and workman-like, before the back half goes completely insane.

 

The second half is where we plunk ourselves down in the valley and a succession of Harryhausen creatures come trotting across the screen. There’s a Pteradon attack, a battle between Gwangi and a Styracosaurus, Gwangi attacking a Ornithomimus in a sequence that was directly lifted for Jurassic Park, and the cowboys trying to wrangle an adorable little Eohippus like a cow. If all of that sounds like wonderfully arcane nonsense, that doesn’t even account for the band of Gypsy hanging in Mexico, a British paleontologist, a traveling Wild West show, and a pervasive sense of daffiness.

 

Nothing about Gwangi is serious, and nothing in it should be taken seriously. Like many of the films in Harryhausen’s canon, the acting is blandly proficient but the dubbing of Gila Golan is noticeably bad. Her mouth and voice rarely match, nor does the dubbing match the emotive acting that Golan is displaying. Only James Franciscus manages to match the outlandish vibrato of his acting style to the material. Look, if your reaction is anything like mine, then you’ll be rooting for Gwangi to just lay waste to everyone and leave a trail of destruction in his wake as he makes his way back to the valley. I’m not usually so nihilistic, but it would be greatly entertaining to see that happen.

 

The Valley of Gwangi would prove to be Harryhausen’s last dip into the prehistoric realm, and it is a noticeable improvement over the interminable One Million Years BC. What’s more prominent is just how obviously indebted the entirety of the Jurassic Park series is to this lone film. The Michael Crichton novels provided the beats, characters, and framework, but this Harryhausen film gave the cinematic blueprint and visuals to follow. Trace over in more than a few instances. It’s a good-bad movie, the kind that knows it’s adorably strange, completely implausible, and clunky in its use of clichés.



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One Million Years BC

Posted : 1 week, 3 days ago on 25 November 2016 08:37 (A review of One Million Years B.C.)

Some of the dopiest material ever committed to celluloid is found in One Million Years BC. There’s the gaggle of seductive cave woman, all big 60s mod hairstyles and fur bikinis without a speck of dirt or sweat upon their bodies, and the images of men outrunning gigantic iguanas and land roaming sea turtles. There’s a moment in a ritual where one of these cave dwelling honeys starts to go-go dance, honest to god, she starts gyrating like it’s an episode of Shindig!

 

What does it all add up to? Nothing much as it is merely a 90-minute kitsch fest with Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion dinosaurs and Raquel Welch wandering around like the hottest babe on the volcanic planet. Perhaps that climatic volcanic explosion is merely the earth’s natural reaction to seeing her panting and all wet. None of that matters in this ahistorical bit of schlock.

 

After directing the career-high for Harryhausen with Jason and the Argonauts, Don Chaffey returns but without the sustained sense of tone and pace that made their prior collaboration such a classic. We’re treated to the never-ending sights of mankind fighting dinosaurs and dinosaur-like creatures, many of which have been thrown together despite appearing across vast differences of time, yet none of our characters speak beyond rudimentary babble and grunts. If you’re going to ask us to buy into something as ridiculous as Raquel Welch fighting dinosaurs in a fur bikini, then couldn’t you also allow the characters to speak in normal English? After all, if you’re in for a penny with this absurdity then go in for a pound and completely dismantle any sense of plausibility in your tale.

 

One Million Years BC wants to be both a completely ludicrous bit of cheesecake, and a pseudo-complex tale of mankind surviving in harsh terrain with its series of power struggles, betrayals, romances, and reconciliations. This makes for stretches of the movie being near interminable as you wait for the next attack scene to drop you back into good ol’ fashioned camp territory. Harryhausen’s dinosaurs exhibit far more personality than just about any of the human players, exemplified in the battle between a Triceratops and a Ceratosaurus that has more rooting interest than any other action scene. This prehistoric hokum is passable as entertainment merely for Harryhausen’s efforts and the erotic allure of Welch. This is one is mildly entertaining without ever approaching the realm of good.  



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First Men in the Moon

Posted : 1 week, 5 days ago on 24 November 2016 03:17 (A review of First Men in the Moon)

After the artistic high of Jason and the Argonauts, First Men in the Moon is a drastic comedown. Here is a Ray Harryhausen movie where the limited budget shows, and instead of a cornucopia of tangibly strange stop-motion critters we’re treated to men in rubber suits. This Harryhausen film takes over an hour to give you what you came here for. Consider that the first cinematic sin against it.

 

Another H.G. Wells adaptation that plays fast-and-loose with the source material, First Men in the Moon takes kernels of good ideas and does nothing with them. It takes too long to get going, waiting roughly forty-five minutes to plop us on the moon to then spend another forty-five minutes doing a slow build that fizzles out long before the climax. The thudding humor, pounding the same vaudevillian key strokes over and over again, dominates too much of the narrative and proves more cumbersome than welcome. Consider these more cinematic sins.

 

There are highly imaginative and interesting visual concepts at play here, like the crystalline and stone cavern palace of the moon’s alien race. The three Harryhausen creations appear here, with two of them potentially hinting at a caste system within the alien race. A ruler with a gigantic head and a researcher are the only stop-motion aliens, standing in stark contrast with their lithe bodies and imposing height. The vast majority of the aliens are drones that are squatter and walk as if they’re folding in half. If this was supposed to purposefully state something about their society, we never get a square answer with the time spent on the moon rushed and muddled.

 

Also during this sojourn through the alien’s palatial quarters, our heroes run into the caterpillar-like creature that thrashes about. The sight of the caterpillar-thing and the aliens fighting is the dopey highlight of this clumsy film. Call me crazy, but if we had truncated the first half, spent more time on the moon exploration, completely removed the flashback structure, and spent more time on these ludicrous moments of pure spectacle, First Men in the Moon would have been a far better bit of B-movie schlock. Then there’s the persistent problem of Martha Hyer’s forced character which boils down to a waste of a highly talented actress. Try as Hyer might to bring something valuable to this character, she frequently grinds things to a halt or proves more unnecessary than anything else.

 

I’ve lost count of just how many cinematic sins we’ve piled up, but there’s not enough good here to tilt the scales towards enjoyably silly. The otherworldly moments come too late in the film to undo some of your wandering interest. If you’re a fan of Harryhausen like I am, you can wait to visit this film. There’s just not much of his magic or imprint here to really give a hearty recommendation in spite of its problems.



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Jason and the Argonauts

Posted : 1 week, 6 days ago on 22 November 2016 05:15 (A review of Jason and the Argonauts)

Ray Harryhausen regarded this as his all-time best film, and it was a moment of an artist correctly appraising their own work. This is not only the greatest film in his canon, but one of the greatest films of all-time. No, it’s not some deep, cerebral viewing experience, but this is what a piece of great entertainment looks like. This is what a transportive, highly imaginative action-fantasy-epic should feel like.

 

In a career filled with memorable and unique monstrous creations, Jason and the Argonauts is the definitive piece of an artistic master. The various stop-motion creations are doled out in a steady drip here, beginning with imposing Talos and ending with the one-two punch of the snapping hydra and the band of marauding skeletons. These creatures terrorize various characters and Greek cities that only exist in the fervid imagination of Harryhausen. Sure, Jason, Hercules, Medea, and the Greek gods appear in mythology, but not quite like this. They have been refracted through Harryhausen’s distinct cinematic prism, and it is a warm, artisanal point-of-view.

 

The obvious highlight of the still impressive effects work is how technically complicated all of it is. Talos, a gigantic metallic statue come to life, is something that Harryhausen had done before in the Cyclops attack during the earliest scenes of The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad. Aside from that one sequence all of the others are technical feats that prove he was operating at the height of his artistry. The harpies fly and thrash under a net, the Hydra is a seven-headed nightmare of snapping mouths and a slithering tail, and the bravura battle with the skeletons all fire the synapses and linger in the mind. The minute attention to detail is so ornate that if you look close enough you’ll notice the shields on the skeletons contain prior Harryhausen creations like Ymir and the cephalopod from It Came from Beneath the Sea.

 

While there is no question that Ray Harryhausen is true auteur of his films, certain directors knew how to whip the sinewy material between his effects money shots into pleasing foreplay. Don Chaffy is a prime example of this, as he keeps you interested even when there’s no mythological monstrosities on display. His directing is energetic and buoyant, creating a series of memorable images in the absence of Harryhausen’s effects. Look no further than the tension filled sequence where the Argo travels between the Clashing Rocks where still waters are merely a prelude to a terrifying fate. Or how about the view of Olympus as a sterile white palace where the gods play with our fates like chess pieces on  large map and view their work through a reflecting pool. I’m sure that Harryhausen had a hand in these decisions, but Chaffey’s camera is what makes such absurdities into the stuff of dreams.

 

It is precisely this tangible quality of the effects, a series of matte shots, trick photography, stop-motion animation, that give Jason and the Argonauts the impressions and dream-like quality that makes it so memorable. Compare it to the recent CGI-behemoths like Jurassic World where the various dinosaurs look like close approximations of the real thing, and the wonderment in Jason and the Argonauts hits you harder. These are the ideas of what these creatures are, to repurpose the argument that Roger Ebert made in favor and defense of King Kong’s rudimentary imagery. This tactile quality imprints itself more so than all of the slick CGI can. If I asked you to describe to me the skeleton attack or Talos’ stiff movements in detail, you probably could. If I asked you to describe to me Medusa in the Clash of the Titans remake, could you?  

 

I have spent a great deal of time defending, describing, and engaging with the effects work and outlandish imagery of the film and very little how it uses Greek mythology, the acting, or the score. This is both a correct decision given how effective that specific quality is, and a wrong one at the expense of everything else. So let’s correct these oversights. Todd Armstrong as Jason is a bit bland, but he’s appropriately handsome and stolid. While Nancy Kovack is delightfully mysterious and vampy as Medea (in heavily truncated form), Nigel Green as a hearty and experienced Hercules, while Honor Blackman and Niall MacGinnis bring a certain overwrought-yet-classy Britishness to Hera and Zeus managing to sell the drollery and finicky nature of the gods.

 

Never go to Hollywood for a straight interpretation of Greek mythology, but Jason and the Argonauts makes a few interesting changes to the myth that work well for the medium. There’s no Hydra in the original, the honor of battling that demonic creature goes to Hercules while he completes his twelve labors. The original features a dragon that Medea uses magic to lull to sleep, and that’s just not cinematic. The decision to change it from a dragon to the Hydra and avoid a comparison to The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad was a very smart one. The Spartoi, the monsters that spring up from the teeth of the dragon/Hydra, were tricked into battling each other instead of Jason and the Argonauts. That’s just not terribly cinematic or thrilling, and making it a thrilling climactic battle is just good movie-making. And any lover of Greek mythology will notice that the film ends mid-way through the myth, completely removing the eventual revenge of Medea and betrayal by Jason, leaving us with a happy-ish ending. This works since the final words are given to Zeus and Hera who decide that they’ve had enough of playing with the lives and fates of mortals for now and will resume their games with Jason eventually. 



Then there's Bernard Hermann's score with its surges and underlining bombast of the action scenes and light romance. It ranks right up there, possibly even above his wonderful work in their prior films, most obviously Mysterious Island and Sinbad. All of these elements combine to make Jason and the Argonauts still feel alive and vital despite the fifty-odd years since its release. No film is a purer distillation of the magic of Ray Harryhausen, merging the penchant for absurdities and creativity that informs his best work. This film is the great light from which his legacy and legend grows, from which the special-effects industry grew by leaps and bounds.



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Posted: 7 months, 1 week ago at Apr 29 15:46
At last! I'm finally done with this list...
Thanks again for your help.

If you are interested, you can check the end-result :
Listal's 100 Films To See Before You Die (2016)
Posted: 8 months, 1 week ago at Mar 30 15:29
Thanks for your help! The list has been updated :
http://www.listal.com/list/listals-100-films-see-before-4551
Posted: 9 months, 4 weeks ago at Feb 11 16:24
Yes, it is once again time for our yearly tradition. What is the best movie, according to you, Listal member? What are you waiting for?!? VOTE!!!!

http://www.listal.com/list/listals-100-films-see-before-4551
Posted: 3 years, 1 month ago at Oct 26 17:23
Posted: 3 years, 8 months ago at Apr 8 14:36
hi friend check out my new list .
hope you like it and thanks for your
time
http://www.listal.com/list/love-these-posters
Posted: 3 years, 8 months ago at Mar 30 14:02
This might just sound schize, but thanks for re-writing my "Pocahontas" review-- saves me the trouble of figuring it all out *again* myself, a-hahahaha....
Posted: 3 years, 8 months ago at Mar 18 22:57
Thanks for participating in my lists.
Sorry, but you can't do another top, really sorry.
But thanks.
Posted: 3 years, 9 months ago at Mar 10 18:22
Thanks for taking part in my musicals list!

I also know how you feel, I found it hard to limit my choices down to 10.
Posted: 3 years, 10 months ago at Jan 19 23:47
hey friend check out my new list. hope you like it
http://www.listal.com/list/reflecting-beuty
Posted: 3 years, 11 months ago at Dec 21 16:14
Hello there! I enjoyed your review of Dracula and took myself the freedom to link it to my Universal Horror Films - Best to Worst list. Hope you're fine with that!
Posted: 4 years, 4 months ago at Jul 21 2:52
Thank u 4 your comment on the muses list. Suggestion added.
Posted: 4 years, 10 months ago at Jan 27 21:05
I'm working on a new project. Maybe you can check it out and help me. From which State are you from? and in which State are you living right now?

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(I may have asked you this already earlier, in this case, apology for the inconvenience!)
Posted: 5 years, 4 months ago at Jul 16 13:06
I'm working on a new project. Maybe you can check it out and help me. From which State are you from? and in which State are you living right now?

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Posted: 6 years ago at Nov 18 1:19
O.O Thanks!!
Posted: 7 years, 10 months ago at Jan 12 20:17
cool reviews =]
Posted: 8 years ago at Nov 15 17:51
Posted: 8 years, 3 months ago at Aug 12 18:48
Hey man, I see you're pretty new, I'm loving the reviews though! Great job.

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