Tag Archive: movies


When last we left the baron at the end of The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), he was headed for the guillotine in Switzerland. As The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958) opens, he’s still on his way, so it’s a pretty direct sequel. More or less. Let’s talk continuity, shall we? Let’s do.

Curse opened with some text stating that the story took place “more than a hundred years ago.” So we can do the math: 1957-100=1857. But Revenge’s opening text tells us the baron was condemned to death in 1860. So . . . that’s in the ballpark, though it seems like it should be 1857 at the latest. But that’s not the pickiest nit to pick here. There’s a whole lot of retconning going on.

revengeRevenge’s intro also explains that the doctor was “condemned to death for the brutal murders committed by the monster he had created” and “the whole continent” was relieved at the end of “his life of infamy.” But that’s not at all what happened in Curse! Frankenstein and his assistant Krempe worked in obscurity for years, and only the two of them really knew of the Creature. Frankenstein himself was considered guilty for the murder of his maid by his own hands, because no one believed him that a Creature had existed.

Furthermore, only the maid was mentioned, a single murder. Although Curse did imply that the Creature killed a blind man and the man’s grandson, whatever the Creature did with them wasn’t shown on screen . . . and they were never mentioned again. So, at worst, the story could have spread of a baron who killed his maid and then tried to get off by claiming he’d made a monster who’d done the deed. Not exactly the kind of event which would make a whole continent breathe a sigh of relief if you ask me. Unless it’s a small continent populated entirely by maids who work for barons.

But I digress. Because the big retcon is still to come. Although at the end of Curse the pompous baron was reduced to a blithering mess begging for his life, we find out in Revenge that that was all an act, because Frankenstein—even though unable to convince the authorities of his miraculous surgical skills—had convinced one of his jailers, Karl. Karl suffered from various physical deformities, and in turn for the doctor’s promise of getting him a new body, Karl colluded with the executioner to take the head of the priest attending the execution in the baron’s stead (it’s unclear why no one seems to have noticed a priest went missing at an execution). Now on to more spoilers.

Flash forward three years. Dr. Victor Frankenstein has moved to Carlsbruck, Germany, and taken up practice as Dr. Victor Stein. In a move far more clever than his transparent pseudonym, he works at a hospital for the poor, giving him a source for all the body parts he needs. The dashing doctor also attracts a large number of women to his regular practice, drawing the ire of their former doctors. When they confront him, one of the locals, Dr. Hans Kleve, recognizes him. Since, according to this film, everyone knows about Frankenstein and the Creature, Kleve wants to learn all Frankenstein can teach him and signs on as the baron’s assistant.

Together they put the finishing touches on Karl’s new body; unlike the hideous reanimated corpse of the first film, the doctor has outdone himself, building a tall, handsome vessel for Karl. The brain transplant is a success, but Karl isn’t patient enough to remain in bed as long as the doctors recommend. He tries out his new body too soon, unsettles his brain, and goes wonky in the melon. Unpleasantness occurs, and Karl spills the beans on Frankenstein’s identity. When Frankenstein’s poor patients find out, they give him a serious beat down. Kleve arrives while he still lives, but his body is too damaged. Kleve harvests his brain just before the authorities arrive, and he tells them he tried to save the doctor but was too late. They are convinced of Frankenstein’s death, having seen the body with their own eyes. Luckily, however, Frankenstein has also crafted a duplicate body for himself; Kleve finishes the transplant after the authorities have left.

Flash forward to London and the practice of one Dr. Franck; yes, the evil doctor hasn’t learned anything about convincing pseudonyms, but this time he wears a moustache and a monocle, so I’m sure no one will ever recognize him. The credits roll as the audience imagines what sort of high jinks the doctor is going to get up to now.

Revenge works quite well as a sequel—even though the retconning requires the audience to put some extra effort into the suspension of disbelief—by avoiding being just another story about the doctor reanimating a creature. The twist of making a healthy body as a cozy new home for a living brain is a nice twist. But there’s no mistaking the doctor for a humanitarian; when he sees an arm he wants on one of his poor patients, he lies to the man about needing to amputate. Another great angle is the sympathetic character of Karl—at least if you try to overlook that he killed a priest. Michael Gwynn’s performance as Karl in his new body is touching. He struggles to adjust, but as things go wrong, he starts carrying his body like his previous, deformed one, and his descent into madness is sad and disturbing. The unreserved ruthlessness of Frankenstein along with various body parts sloshing around in jars and tanks help continue the enjoyably twisted tone of the original. Three decades later, films like, say, Re-Animator (1985), owe a debt to these Hammer Films although, of course, with the gore and depravity turned up to 11.

One could even make the argument that Revenge is a better film than Curse. While Curse, enjoyable as it is, might be characterized as a so-so adaptation of Shelley, once past the original story the Hammer peeps were freed to do whatever they wanted, and they took the story in an interesting direction. It would have been nice to follow the further adventures of Franck and Kleve in London, but, as we shall see next time, the series was about to take a detour in 1964’s The Evil of Frankenstein.

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It’s time for me to rewatch—actually, in most cases, watch for the first time—the series of Frankenstein movies produced by Hammer Films from the late fifties through the mid-seventies. There are six films starring Peter Cushing as Baron Victor Frankenstein:

The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958)

The Evil of Frankenstein (1964)

Frankenstein Created Woman (1967)

Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969)

Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974)

The first two tie together more or less, then the third is basically a reboot with the continuity picking up again after that, after a fashion. I’ll address continuity or lack thereof in the individual posts. I’ll be watching the Cushing films in order, then 1970’s definitely out-of-continuity The Horror of Frankenstein, with Ralph Bates stepping in as Frankenstein. And I’ll be writing snarky spoiler-filled comments, so let’s get to it.

curseoffrankenstein_us30x40First up, The Curse of Frankenstein, in which Christopher Lee (Dracula to Cushing’s Van Helsing in the Hammer Dracula series) plays the unfortunate creature stitched together by Frankenstein and his increasingly reluctant tutor/assistant, Paul Krempe. Yes, you read that right, Krempe starts as a tutor (hired by the young Frankenstein himself !) and then just stays with the baron until he becomes his worried sidekick.

But let’s back up to young Frankenstein, so to speak. We meet him early in the film after his mother dies, and we immediately see that, for the most part, the teenage baron (his father died years earlier) is a self-centered, unlikeable jerk weasel. He doesn’t grow out of it.

The adult Victor brings his cousin Elizabeth to his estate to become his bride, apparently only for appearances, because he exhibits no real affection for her and spends very little time with her, as that would cut into his experiments as well as the time he needs for boinking the maid.

As Frankenstein ruthlessly gathers the necessary parts for his Creature, Krempe increasingly spends all his time 1) telling Frankenstein to stop, without doing much of anything to actually stop him, and B) telling Elizabeth she should leave, without telling her why. For her part, Elizabeth is always cutting Frankenstein slack, even though he continues to treat her abominably (that final word choice may have been influenced by Peter Cushing having been in the lesser-known Hammer Film The Abominable Snowman [1957]).

The maid has more spine than Krempe and Elizabeth put together, threatening to expose Frankenstein for all his shenanigans (including knocking her up), and then she actively looks for evidence in the laboratory. Unfortunately for her, this allows Frankenstein to lock her in a room with the Creature. Problem solved for the Baron . . . or so it seems.

But, wait, the Creature! Lee doesn’t appear until fifty minutes into the eighty-three minute film—what with earlier experiments and then finding the necessary parts and sticking them together and all—and once he’s finally unwrapped, he has frightfully little to do. As in the Boris Karloff version of the story (and unlike the original novel) Frankenstein’s creation doesn’t speak, and after various mishaps reduce his brain to chip dip, he’s little more than a half-trainable animal that, one imagines, would make a lot of messes on the carpet if he survived long enough for Frankenstein to try to housebreak.

But high jinks ensue, and the Creature ends up dead and dissolved in acid, which pins the maid’s murder—justly so—on Frankenstein. Krempe has apparently gotten up the courage to lie to the police so that Frankenstein is the only person claiming there was a reanimated monster at his estate. As the movie ends, the baron is being led to the guillotine and the audience has no reason to feel sorry for him as he begs for his life.

All that said, you may think I dislike the movie, but, no, I’m quite fond of it. Although the baron is twisted and evil and the other main characters generally simpering and ineffectual, there is something about the unreserved glee the film takes in its Grand Guignol plot that still entertains. Although tame by today’s standards, the amount of  blood and body parts—in vivid color, no less!—were shocking in its day, and the performance of Peter Cushing still infuses much of the film with a disturbing creepiness. And one could argue that the aristrocratic baron prefigures characters like, say, Patrick Bateman of American Psycho: rich, privileged, self-involved, and devoid of genuine human feelings.

It’s a solid and gruesome start to the series. Next time, The Revenge of Frankenstein.

[Years ago I watched a bunch of Hammer’s Dracula movies and blogged some thoughts on them. You can find the first post here on my old Live Journal site, then just click the “hammer time” tag at the bottom to find the rest; read from the bottom up.]

SpaceNextBack in 2011 I was an acquisitions editor at Zenith Press. That year I had the pleasure of working on two books about the space shuttle. The first was the NASA Space Shuttle Owners’ Workshop Manual by David Baker. That was simply the U.S. printing of the newest Haynes manual, so I didn’t have any real editing to do, just paperwork as I moved the project through production. Next up was Piers Bizony’s The Space Shuttle: Celebrating Thirty Years of NASA’s First Space Plane. That was a full start-to-finish project. It’s a subject I love, and Piers is a great author to work with; imagine getting paid to read about—and look through photos of—the space shuttle program. It’s great work if you can get it.

But that’s all just backstory. Those books led to me getting a call from Luke Ployhar of Afterglow Studios. He was researching CAD files of the space shuttle and was wondering if the authors had sourced such illustrations in their books. As it turned out, they had not. All the detailed cutaway illustrations in those books had been done the old-fashioned way, with pen and ink.

I asked why he needed CAD files. It turned out he was developing a 3-D CGI movie in the IMAX format about the past and future of human space travel called Space Next. Somehow it came up that the screenplay he’d been developing in-house wasn’t finished. “Well,” I told him, “I happen to be a published science fiction writer, I’m familiar with the screenplay format, and I’m a space program geek and a movie buff, so if you’re looking for a writer . . .” And that is how I schmoozed my way into doing a new draft of the screenplay.

Now we flash forward four years to the present. All that time Luke has been diligently working away at Space Next on the side of his regular workload at his busy CGI studio. The screenplay now needed some revisions as well as narration for new scenes. I jumped back into the fray, happy for the opportunity to revisit the project and excited by the quality of the animation I got to see in Luke’s office. The rough draft poster above depicts the Voyager probe (to the left of the placeholder release date) against the backdrop of Saturn’s rings.

The movie is still being edited and polished, and there will be some more revising and tweaking on the screenplay as we tighten up the timing of the narration to the final cut of the animation. For a movie and space nut, this has been and continues to be an unbelievably amazing project to work on. When I eventually see my name in the credits on the giant silver screen I may explode. Just a warning to anyone else in the audience that night.

Updates to come as the story develops . . .

A Tolkien Fanatic Ramble

ImageI first read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings in the late seventies—wow, that’s thirty-five years ago. I was immediately entranced and read them once a year for several years following, then sporadically throughout the intervening years. One of the times was while I was a stay-at-home parent. They say it’s good for language development to read to children essentially from birth, and I found out that it doesn’t take as long as you might think to read all four books aloud to a baby. I eventually lost track of how many times I reread them. I would guess at least a dozen, perhaps fifteen or so.

One of the reasons the books are so captivating for me (and for many people, I would guess) is that they seem so real. Strange to say about a fantasy with dragons and giant spiders, but the sense of a vast history beyond the pages you’re turning creates that feeling and pervades The Hobbit and, to a greater extent, The Lord of the Rings. That impression of a deep history wasn’t achieved solely through well-turned flashbacks in the narratives at hand; Tolkien had created a rich tapestry of Middle-earth stories even before he wrote The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings. Those early stories, tinkered with by Tolkien in various degrees for decades (and touched upon in the appendices of Rings), were released posthumously, sometimes in multiple forms, in several books: The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, The Children of Húrin, and the multivolume History of Middle-earth, all edited by Christopher Tolkien, J.R.R.’s youngest son. I’ve read them all. 

That foundational work outside of the four best-known books informs the destinies of Bilbo and Frodo. Just as the rough edges of World War I would eventually boil over into World War II, so too would Isildur’s cutting of the One Ring from Sauron’s hand at the end of the Second Age of Middle-earth lead to the War of the Ring some three thousand years later in the Third Age, as told in Rings. I don’t mean to imply any historical allegory—Tolkien said he disliked allegory—but to emphasize that the “reality” of Middle-earth is enhanced by such connections and consequences running through the various works. 

With all that said, it’s clear I’m a Tolkien fanatic. So it was a bit of a dream come true to become professionally involved in a book about Middle-earth. In an earlier age of the world, I was consulted by a coworker at my then-employer, Quayside Publishing, about whether I thought we should do a Middle-earth book of some sort. I said YES. (As an aside, during this chat I was asked the same question about Star Trek. My equally loud YES to that eventually led to Robert Greenberger’s Star Trek: The Complete Unauthorized History, which I edited.) And, lo, thus was the humble beginning of Middle-earth Envisioned: The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings On Screen, On Stage, and Beyond by Paul Simpson and Brian J. Robb, out now in time for that Middle-earth fanatic on your holiday list. Just helping it along in that little way was fun, but there was more to come. 

I’ve known Paul for several years. I first worked for him when he was editing the official Star Trek Magazine, contributing articles about my first fanatic fave, which I’d discovered prior to Tolkien by about five years. Reversing roles, he wrote That’s What They Want You to Think, a conspiracy 101 eBook, for me at Quayside. Then he invited me to contribute a sidebar to the Middle-earth book. Woo-hoo! That meant I would be professionally published in my favorite fictional past as well as my favorite fictional future. I jumped at the chance, and you can read the result when you rush out and buy the book, which is gorgeously designed and illustrated. Go ahead, I’ll wait here, you can grab it from your local bookstore or order it from Barnes & Noble, Waterstones, or Amazon

My sidebar, “Middle-earth Beyond The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings,” talks about those other Middle-earth texts mentioned above and how Peter Jackson drew on those sources for his film adaptations of the four novels. For space reasons, I wasn’t able to include every example of material outside the novels that informs the films, so what follows are a few interesting tidbits. 

In part, The Silmarillion recounts the strife between Ilúvatar—the creator—and Melkor, who is, to greatly simplify things with a common archetype, a fallen angel. Melkor became the Dark Lord Morgoth in the First Age of Middle-earth, and he created the Balrogs, the last of which appears in The Lord of the Rings. Morgoth’s chief servant was Sauron, also a terrible threat across the ages of Middle-earth. These are prime examples of the deep history that resonates throughout Tolkien’s writings.

Jackson & Co. expanded Arwen’s role in the Rings films to counterbalance the novel’s dearth of female roles. When her father, Elrond, counsels her to leave Middle-earth by foreseeing her future after Aragorn’s death, his dialogue draws directly from Appendix A of Rings. Arwen and Aragorn’s future son, Eldarion—whose appearance in a vision turns Arwen away from the Grey Havens and back toward Rivendell—is another detail drawn from Appendix A.

 Expanding The Hobbit into a three-film extravaganza also necessitated drawing on additional sources. The first film, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, includes a meeting of the White Council—Elrond, Gandalf, Galadriel, and Saruman—where Gandalf expresses concern about how Sauron could use Smaug if the dragon were not destroyed, which is taken straight from dialogue in Unfinished Tales (although in a different setting). 

Hardly a complete list, and more examples will certainly appear in the remaining two parts of The Hobbit. Now that a whole new generation of viewers have been drawn into Tolkien’s world by these films, I hope young fans discover that not only is Middle-earth more than the films, it’s more than the four books that inspired the films, and is well-worth exploring more deeply.

What a Weeks

ImageAnyone who works freelance can put together a list like I’m about to rattle off, and this is far from as crazy as it can get, but I’m still trying to keep my head from spinning. Much of this also invokes those buzzwords that hover around writers like gnats: “online presence” and “platform.” These are the things you do to keep your name out there in the interclouds with little or no chance of directly creating income for the time you’ve spent working. Websites and Twitters and Facebooks are a part of that, and I’m not going to itemize those things, but in and around all these other tasks, Facebook posts and tweets and website updates were going on too. Well, mostly. I’ve gotten behind on those the last few days. Plus, was doing all that other life stuff, like washing clothes, cleaning house, picking kid up from school, etc. 

Let’s get going shall we? 10/14–15, finished copyedit of freelance gig. Sent it back to client at 7 p.m. on fifteenth after two long days. 10/16, read The Riddles of the Hobbit and wrote the review for Sci-Fi Bulletin. 10/17, read Southside and wrote the review for Suspense Magazine. 10/18, relaxed a bit with the Kid, who had day off of school. Went to see Gravity, but that was also prep for upcoming Generations Geek podcast. More on that later. 10/19, watched The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) and some other Robin Hood stuff, recorded part of upcoming podcast. That would be a different podcast from Gravity, because combining those would be silly. Still more on that later. 10/20, put together that week’s blog post. Picked up wife from airport, back from ten-day work trip to China. 10/21–24, tweaked first four chapters and wrote fifth chapter of super secret spec middle-grade project. I think I may have posted recently that it was YA . . . sorry about that. Sent to agent 10/24 at 3 p.m. 10/26, watched more Robin Hood stuff, did more recording for that podcast. (Went to friends house that night for dinner and Scrabble. At one point had seven-letter word, “trainer,” but didn’t get to play it. At one point had seven letters of “decanter,” only needed a suitably placed “e” for eighth letter. Never happened.) 10/27, recorded interview with astronaut Thomas D. Jones for the Gravity podcast. There it is, see, I told you there would be more on that. 10/28, planned to dig right into Robin Hood podcast editing, but instead heard from my friend Jim Johnson about a local fiction editor position at Fantasy Flight Games. Wrote cover letter, tweaked resumé, and submitted. Working from my home office is fab, but you actually need paying work coming in to make that feasible in the long term. Funny how that is. So, took shot at day job, then did some podcast editing. 10/29, wrote this post then will get back to podcast editing. Over next couple days will finish recording/editing Robin Hood podcast and upload, read The Walking Dead: Rise of the Governor and review for Author Magazine, and proofread new freelance project. 

Hope to get this all cleared off my desk by next weekend and get in some relaxation. Plus some writing time. But haven’t even started raking leaves yet. And following week will bring another freelance proofread project. Oof.

ImagePosting about Patrick Stewart last week made me think of other celebrity stories where I actually met the celebrity. Way back in 1992 Peter O’Toole had published the first volume of his memoirs, Loitering with Intent. I attended a signing appearance here in St. Paul at a bookstore that no longer exists. 

Peter was running late, and a crowd of more than a hundred people was waiting patiently. Suddenly the crowd parted, and Peter, a head taller than anyone else in the room, walked briskly through us commoners in his inimitable lanky way. Women from sixteen to sixty swooned, as did approximately 10 percent of men. In his mid-sixties at the time, he still had an amazing aura of energy (metaphorically speaking), the quintessential magnetic personality. 

I knew what I wanted him to write in the book. One of my favorite movies of his is the 1982 comedy My Favorite Year, in which he plays a washed-up drunk of an actor riding on the fame of bygone days. There’s a great deal of self-awareness in the role, you could say. In his first scene he shows up in the offices of a Sid Caesar–type show on which he’s the guest star, drunk as a skunk, and passes out. The boss wants to fire him on the spot. A young writer on the show bets that he’ll still be able to do the show later that week. Another writer takes the bet. Then Peter rises up, glares at the guy who bet against him, and says “Double the lad’s bet for me, you toad,” before he slowly timbers to the floor. What a great personalization that line would be. 

However, as my turn approached, I saw the sign: “No personalizing.” Peter was just signing his name. When there’s a lot of people, it’s common to keep the line moving in this way. But Peter was chatting with everyone, so it was probably more about sparing him writer’s cramp than saving time. 

Finally it was my turn. He focused his incredibly sharp bright blue eyes on me. Even as a straight man I almost swooned. “It’s too bad you’re only signing your name, because I had picked out my favorite line from My Favorite Year that I was going to have you write.” I purposefully didn’t say the line to see what his reaction would be. He leaned closer to me. “And what line is that?” 

“Double the lad’s bet for me, you toad,” I said, trying not to do my impression but probably matching the intonation fairly closely from repeated viewings. He sat up straight, threw his head back, and guffawed as only he can. Then he looked back at me, leaned forward again, and said, as he put an elbow on the table, hand in the air, “And then … the fall.” He flopped his arm down just as he had collapsed in the scene. 

Well, well. He signed his name and I was off, feeling that I had had a genuine moment with him. What a personable guy. The way he talked to everyone, looking straight at you … he really engaged. The whole thing is incredibly clear in my mind two decades after it happened. 

So that’s my Peter O’Toole story. 

[Original version posted February 4, 2009]

[Okay, here’s the deal with the title of this post. I’d like to do Weird Mofo Cinema as a podcast or vlog, but I don’t have the time right now to make that happen, so it’s debuting as an occasional post on my regular blog. On with the show, but be warned: I will spoil decades-old movie plots without hesitation.] 

ImageYou know something weird is going down when the opening credits of Beware! The Blob (1972), ostensibly a horror movie, play over footage of a kitten frolicking in a field. Come to think of it, though, it’s comparable to the light-hearted (and ill-fitting) opening song of the original film, The Blob (1958). But the original overcame its theme song and was an effectively creepy and scary movie, plus a solid introduction for Steve McQueen in his first leading role. By the time the belated sequel’s opening credits finish, however, naming the director as one Larry Hagman—yes, Larry “J.R.” Hagman—the viewer can’t help but wonder just WTF is going on.

Beware! The Blob quickly makes clear that it’s meant to be a comedy. Interspersed, of course, with people being devoured by the giant quivering Blob that fell to Earth in a meteorite in 1958. The end of the original saw the cold-sensitive Blob parachuted into the Arctic; McQueen’s character commented we would be safe as long as the Arctic stays cold (a line which plays differently in the twenty-first century of shrinking Arctic ice). The sequel is set in motion when a pipeline worker by the name of Chester comes home from the Arctic with a small chunk of a mysterious frozen thing dug up during construction. 

While Chester camps out in a tent set up in his living room for no apparent reason, his wife takes the sample out of their freezer and it’s forgotten on the counter. Soon the Blob oozes out of the container and eats the kitten. Aahhh, you see, there was a reason for the title sequence, to make sure you were in love with the cute kitten before it was gobbled up by the slimy ooze. 

Chester falls victim to the Blob after his wife, and while he watches The Blob on TV. Umm, what the meta-fuck is up with that? But things are just starting to get weird, in a six-degrees-of-separation kind of way. Even while he’s still being absorbed, he’s found by Lisa, played by Gwynne Gilford, who happens to be the mother of Chris Pine—Captain Kirk in the J.J. Abrams Star Trek reboot movies. Lisa’s boyfriend, Bobby, is played by Robert Walker Jr., who was Charlie in the original Star Trek series episode “Charlie X.” They eventually tell Lisa’s story to the town sheriff, played by Richard Webb, who was Finney in the original Star Trek series episode “Court Martial.” Whoa. Mind. Blown. 

Familiar faces fill this movie, because Larry Hagman was already well-known, having starred in five seasons of I Dream of Jeannie. According to the producer of both films, Jack H. Harris, in Return of the B Science Fiction and Horror Heroes by Tom Weaver, Hagman said “everybody wanted to be ‘blobbed’ ” and he could “put together a cast for the [movie] but he would like to direct it.” The cast consisted of many hard-working actors who were already recognizable to moviegoers in 1972 and others who are certainly familiar to audiences now. 

In the apparently improvised comedic vignettes that unfold between Blob attacks, all sorts of people turn up. Look, there’s Burgess Meredith playing a drunken hippie-hating hobo. Yes, I just said that. One of the other hobos is an all but unrecognizable Hagman in a full beard. He’s soon eaten by the Blob. Look, there’s future-Shirley Cindy Williams. There’s Carol Lynley, who appeared in The Poseidon Adventure and Beware! The Blob in the same year. There’s Danny Goldman, the med student whose questions vex Gene Wilder’s Doctor Frankenstein in Young Frankenstein. There’s Dick Van Patten playing a scout master. There’s old-school comedian Shelley Berman (who would eventually play Larry David’s father on Curb Your Enthusiam) playing a hair stylist. 

The movie doesn’t succeed at blending the genres like, say, An American Werewolf in London did (for the most part). Instead, the horror distracts from the comedy and vice versa, so in the end it’s not that funny or that scary, a rather pointless retread that skimped on the effects budget and let its improvising actors go on far too long. Even producer Harris admitted to Tom Weaver that it didn’t work as a sequel, as “it was too funny and not scary enough.” 

Really the most effective Blob scene plays out between the Blob and the kitten. The film is like several different stories pasted together with the Blob. We won’t talk about the wrestler in the tub wearing a fez. Yes, I just said that. If you love The Blob, you can take a pass on this, unless you enjoy watching weird mofo cinema that makes you say WTF…then, by all means, spin this one up.

I just watched Star Trek Into Darkness for the second time courtesy of the newly released DVD. (Side note: because we’re still rocking DVD instead of Blu-ray, we shrugged off the controversial marketing ploy of spreading the extras across multiple vendor-specific Blu-ray releases and just bought the cheap DVD.) Being hardcore Trek geeks, my daughter and I had attended a 3-D midnight premiere back when it hit theaters. We came down on opposite sides of the fence on the film, which you can hear us discuss on our podcast, Generations Geek, Episode 9, “Into Geekness.” The kid loved it and went back to it a couple times in theaters, but I was not highly enamored of JJ’s second film after finding the first one an entertaining joyride (even if the script was in need of a coincidencectomy or two or three). I was in no rush to see it again. [Spoiler alert: the rest of this post contains spoilers.] 

As often happens in these situations, I found the second viewing much more entertaining because, knowing what was coming, I wasn’t as put off by several key what-the-huh moments of the screenplay (e.g., hiding a spaceship from a nonspace-faring race not in space where they couldn’t possibly see it but instead offshore right by them where it’s quite possible they will see it). I touched upon some of those moments and the increasingly bizarre backlash against fans who didn’t like the film from fans who did in a couple of previous blogs, “JJ Trek’s New Clothes” and “Deja Vu(lcan).” To recap, my objections to the film are not a manifestation of some sort of subconscious problem with everything beyond the 1969 cancellation of the original series; in fact, my problems with STID often have little to do with Star Trek as such (certainly nothing to do with judging whether it’s “really” Star Trek…I find that notion as annoying as judging whether someone is “really” a geek); rather, my problems are frequently with issues that I would be critical of regardless of the specific film in question or the genre to which it belonged. In a nutshell, plot points that make no freaking sense, like the parenthetically aforementioned hiding of the Enterprise underwater. It’s kind of like Batman telling Robin, “No, we’ll hide the Batmobile outside of the Batcave. No one will think of looking for it there.” Or when the Enterprise gets shot to pieces over the Moon causing it to fall almost immediately into Earth’s atmosphere. I’m no rocket scientist, but I believe there’s this little thing called “about a quarter of a million miles” between the two. If I trip on my doorstep in St. Paul, Minnesota, I don’t land outside of a pub in Warwickshire, England. I wish I did, but gravity and space and time behave in largely predictable ways, as Newton and Einstein might tell you (if they weren’t in fact still dead). I don’t like my movies to disregard all common sense or matters of scale. If JJ Abrams made a movie about climbing Everest, would the lead character start out in L.A., get on a bus, and an hour later get dropped off at base camp? Would the mountain be five miles up but only two miles down? These things matter. A story that makes sense matters. That’s the difference between a well-crafted screenplay and just a series of exciting set pieces that barely hold together under the weight of all the details being ignored to make them happen. 

All that said: Scotty. He kinda steals the show. Simon Pegg is just brilliant in this role. And I noticed one line he has that I missed the significance of the first time round. Complaining about having the Enterprise underwater, he says that they’be been there since the night before, which implies they went underwater under cover of darkness, which is a nice detail. Still no explanation of why they’d go underwater in the first place, but still a nice detail that also implies they were thinking of leaving under cover of darkness as well. 

Other quick thoughts: I want to write fan fiction about that navigator with the shaved head, because she looks like she could kick some serious ass. I hope she’s back in the third film. 

Dammit, I miss Pike already. Greenwood nailed that role to the wall and then hit it with three bull’s-eyes, if I may mix metaphors, and I believe I just did. Although many people didn’t like how Kirk’s a bit of a dickweed in JJ Trek, I didn’t mind it, especially while watching him get his ass chewed by Pike. Of course, that fabulous scene in STID is undercut by the fact that Kirk almost immediately gets the Enterprise back again after Pike, once again, gets attacked by a vengeful madman. If I were Kirk’s superior officer in that universe, I would never punish him, because you’d know within moments you’d be getting eaten by a Gorn or something, and Kirk would suddenly be a hero again. Just let the dickweed do what he wants, admiral, it’s not worth the risk. 

After the torpedoes detonate aboard the Vengeance, I know things got pretty hairy aboard the Enterprise, what with there only being about a mile and a half between the Earth and the Moon, but maybe if someone had told Khan that they still had his crew alive, he wouldn’t have plunged the Vengeance into San Francisco, killing untold thousands. Or maybe he would have, because, you know, vengeful madman. 

Concurrently with seeing the film again, I was reading the novelization by Alan Dean Foster. He tried to cover up lots of plot holes with a geeky spackle of technobabble and a fresh coat of retcon, but there’s only so much you can do with some of these things. He didn’t touch the Enterprise underwater. I mean, come on. 

But anyone who loved the movie should read the book…there are bits here and there where I don’t know if they’re Foster’s work or represent scenes in the script that didn’t make the final cut—maybe they’re in some of those deleted scenes you may or may not get to see by tracking down all the versions of the Blu-ray—but they are some nice little touches. I won’t spoil them with examples, you can look for them like Easter eggs.

I recently watched the documentary Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey about the life of Leon Theremin, pioneer of electronic music. If you don’t recognize the name, I guarantee you’d recognize the sound of his most famous invention, the theremin, a musical instrument which is played without touching it.

Its unearthly tones have been used in music as varied as the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations” and the soundtracks of Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound and Robert Wise’s The Day the Earth Stood Still.

The documentary earned rave reviews, including “two thumbs up” from Sisko & Ebert as well as Best Docuentary at the 1994 Sundance film festival. I had long looked forward to seeing it due to my interest in Theremin and the movie’s reputation.

I was, however, disappointed to find the documentary uneven and unclear. Without narration, it moves haphazardly through Theremin’s life, making a jumble of his complicated history. Viewers are often left to piece together the disparate events on their own.

Some of the subjects interviewed seem to have been given little direction or editing; Brian Wilson, tapped to discuss his use of the theremin in the iconic “Good Vibrations,” is allowed to ramble on with his trademark incoherency far longer than is useful.

Theremin arrived in the Unites States in 1927. The film makes extensive use of Clara Rockmore, arguably the greatest theremin player ever, but even with her lengthy interviews much is unclear. I don’t recall Theremin’s first wife being mentioned in the film. Theremin proposed to Rockmore (she said no), but when? When did he divorce his first wife? He married his second wife sometime in the mid-1930s, but it’s unclear.

In 1938 Theremin disappeared back to Russia under mysterious circumstances, and his wife, friends, and associates could not find out what had happened. His life in the hands of the Soviets from that time forward has some astonishing twists and turns that are carelessly related. There were times I almost wanted to shout questions at the screen to try to get an understanding of when things were happening.

Although rumored to have been executed, he was eventually discovered to be alive by Rockmore and her husband, but it’s unclear when. I’ll not list any further spoilers, but suffice to say it sometimes comes across that the filmmaker didn’t do research to illuminate any details beyond what his interview subjects told him. This is complicated by the elderly Theremin’s shaky and hard-to-follow English.

All that said, I would still recommend people interested in the subject to see the documentary. The period footage and the new interview footage are fascinating even when you can’t fit together the jumbled jigsaw puzzle of his tragic life.

Last week’s episode of Enemy Lines delved into The Thing (2011), the prolonged deleted scene that is the prequel to The Thing (1982). Now, spoiler alert, I’m going to spoil Prometheus. I mean really spoil it, just get up in its grille and spoil the shit out of it.

Before the release of Prometheus, Ridley Scott became annoyingly coy about whether or not he was making a prequel to Alien. Now that I’ve seen it, I understand. Prometheus glances off Alien, taking place in the same universe as the 1979 film, but it’s a different story. The problem is that it’s a story that makes no sense and is largely driven by characters with random motivations doing unbelievably stupid things.

The film opens with a pale alien/god stripping down to show us how ripped he is before consuming something that causes him to disintegrate on a genetic level. His remains mix into a scenic waterfall to make a genetic soup that will eventually simmer into humans. This makes it immediately clear to the audience that this is going to be a WTF(BILC) movie: What the fuck? (But it looks cool!)

Apparently alien-gods that are kick-ass bodybuilders and travel the galaxy seeding planets with life don’t think of just adding their genetic disintegration snack to a simple blood sample, but instead prefer a suicide approach. WTF(BILC)

Next we get some human Scientists. I cap it because that seems to be how they feel about themselves: Back off, man, we’re Scientists. They discover a star chart in various ancient artworks across multiple civilizations, which they think is an invitation. Somehow, a few dots scratched in stone is accurate enough that they’re able to find the exact match dozens of light years away. WTF(BILC)

So they travel there and high jinks ensue. I’m not going to list all the WTF(BILC) moments, because the sheer volume could break the internet. And some of the WTF stuff doesn’t even look that cool, like when they keep taking their helmets off in an alien environment which, although it has breathable air, could still be full of who knows what sort of bizarre alien shit. Which, of course, it is. But why would they think of that? They’re just a bunch of Scientists.

Let’s just do a quick sampler list of further WTFs:

1. Two guys freak out and want to go back to the ship when the team finds some dead aliens. Even though they’ve mapped the site, and one of the freaked-out guys was in charge of the mapping tech, the two get lost.

2. When the rest of the team evacuates the site, they think the other guys must have already gone back to the ship even though all the ground vehicles are still there.

3. When the guys that got left behind find a creepy alien worm/snake, one of them—and remember, they were scared of DEAD aliens—talks to it like it’s a puppy and tries to touch it. Then things get squishy.

4. When one of the Scientists ends up pregnant with an alien squid baby, the crew is going to put her in suspended animation until they get back to Earth. Instead, she beats up a couple people so she can escape and perform a C-section on herself (see next WTF) . . . and then everyone acts like it never happened. No one says, “You hit me in the head when I was trying to save you. That shit’s messed up.” Or “Dude, what’s with the line of sutures on your stomach?” Or “So, boy? Girl? Other? Where are you registered?”

5. Scientist with alien squid baby ducks into a robotic med unit so she can take care of business, but the unit isn’t programmed for C-sections because it’s set up to treat males only. But the unit is the personal property of Charlize Theron’s character, whose skin-tight suits make it clear that she is in fact a woman. This raises two possibilities: a) that she is secretly a man, but that’s a pretty big WTF, even for this movie, or 2) that she is secretly an android (a distinct possibility that is hinted at in a couple other scenes) and she only has this as a way to say, “See, I’m a person, I need a robotic med unit in case something happens to me that would hurt a human but not an android, because I’m a person not an android. Why are we talking about androids?” Either way, however, it’s pointless, because she gets killed (see next WTF) and the whole thing was just awkwardly injected into the story (like an alien squid baby) to provide a way to extract an alien squid baby.

6. Big alien spaceship crashes and is rolling over toward C-section and Secret Android/Man. They run in the direction it’s falling, like dumb animals on the road running in the direction the car behind them is driving. Finally C-section runs perpendicular to the ship and gets to watch Secret Android/Man get crushed because she never thinks to turn left or right. But then when the ship stops rolling and tips over, C-section goes back to moving in the direction it’s falling and it lands on top of her, but she lucks out and there’s enough of a space beneath it that she survives.

7. Along the way it’s revealed that the alien/god bodybuilders had second thoughts about humans and were at this site preparing deadly alien creatures to bring back to Earth to exterminate us. Which then leaves them with no motivation at all to have ever revealed the location of their weapons lab to early civilizations which ended up in cave paintings and set this whole story in motion in the first place.

8. Turns out the whole mission was actually underwritten by a terminally old guy hoping the alien/god bodybuilders would cure him. Instead of being played by someone old, he’s played by a guy in obvious old-age makeup, I assume to trick the audience into expecting he will be regenerated at some point so that it’s more of a surprise when he gets offed by the roid-raging alien/god they wake from suspended animation. Not cool.

9. The alien/god bodybuilder doesn’t die at the controls of his ship like you expect to match the scene in the derelict ship in Alien, so this isn’t even the same ship or batch of aliens as in that film, making the link to Alien so tangential that it comes across as a shameless marketing ploy to package an independent story as being related to a beloved film classic.

Well. I’ve already gone on far longer than I meant to, and I only scratched the surface of all the nonsensical events that drive this film. But it sure looks cool.