The Deepshell Boys – Available On May 15th From Amazon!

The question has finally been answered. Extraterrestrial life exists in the form of microscopic RNA.

The momentous NASA discovery turns into a deadly boomerang. The probe sent to retrieve it brings back a terrible virus – within months, most of humanity become ravening plague ridden creatures. Vicious, impervious to pain, incredibly strong – with a single driving imperative – to infect or tear apart anyone they can find.

They are known as the OTHERS. Unstoppable, deadly – no longer human. The world is now a death planet- a crumbling, lethal necropolis – where huge swathes of rats, cannibalistic psychopaths and packs of rabid dogs roam freely.

And mankind’s only hope for salvation now lies with…

The Deepshell boys.

Life on Mars? Apparently – but not from Disney.
carterpostJohn Carter (2012)

Directed and co-written by Andrew Stanton and produced by Walt Disney Pictures.

Ok. The plot just in case you didn’t know. It’s the late 1800’s and the movies protagonist millionaire John Carter (Taylor Kitsch), a former American Civil War Confederate Army captain, dies suddenly whilst conducting mysterious business at his considerable estate. Carter’s nephew, Edgar Rice Burroughs (Daryl Sabara), is summoned to the funeral; and as the deceased Carter’s instructions are followed, his body is put in a tomb that can only be unlocked from the inside. After the funeral,  Carter estate’s lawyer hands a bemused Burroughs Carter’s personal journal that has remained unread.  The journal recounts John Carters extraordinary adventures on the Red Planet, Mars – how he got there and why his tomb can only be unlocked from the inside.

That’s the very basic plot in a nut shell. Obviously there is far more to it than that.

Now on to the juicy bits.

This was what I like to class as a ‘should have’ movie. A movie that ‘should have’ been great. I mean, c’mon for fuck’s sake, Disney!! It had all the elements that cinema goers world-wide crave. Great story based on the book series and well-loved Sci-Fi fantasy classics of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Amazing special effects. Good director. Good writing. Great cast. No expense spared budget. Yep – it ‘should have’ been great.

But it turned into a marketing fiasco that ultimately was Disney’s cinematic version of the Titanic (the sinking ship variety, and not the Cameron blockbuster) and was their costliest entertainment debacle to date.

This may give you some idea of how big a flop it was:

Disney went on record in 2012 as saying that it attributed its Studio Entertainment division $160 million swing from profit to loss in the second fiscal quarter of that year mainly to the under performance of John Carter.Given its incredibly expensive marketing and production costs, the film was by and large considered a complete and utter box office bomb.

President of Paul Dergarabedian went on record as saying that this sci-fi extravaganzas  bloated budget would have required it to generate worldwide tickets sales of more than $600 million – and that’s just to break even…bear in mind that kind of box office sales numbers has only been reached by 63 films in the whole history of movie-making!

So what went wrong? Well the blame can be liberally shared around. Here’s three reasons – my oh so humble take on it all.

They fucked with the original story. Yep, I know the old argument that what’s good on paper doesn’t always necessarily translate well to film. But there’s a limit to how far this axiom can take you or the excuses for complete idiocy that it can make for bad cinematic decisions. Burroughs story really was a classic of the sci-fi fantasy. It practically redefined the genre. It had everything – pathos, thrills, strong characters – and enough alien concepts to give it a marvellous ‘otherworldly’ feel. The unnecessary changes that were made to the original story were enough to have poor old ERB spinning in his grave. If I’d written this and seen what they did with my work I’d feel violated. It was almost as if whoever put this mishmash together did it without actually reading the books but used the sparknotes instead.

They didn’t consult with the fans before diving straight in. Burroughs has a HUGE worldwide following and has had for decades. There’s a reason for this longevity of  interest and devotion. The reason is obvious really – but its like this simple fact seemed to totally escape Disney. The Mars series of books survived in their original incarnation and still sell today because they’re good. And if something isn’t broken, why spend time and money trying to fix it?

They changed the title. Yep, even a simple thing like that can make a difference I personally think. What the hell was wrong with A Princess Of Mars? All that Disney achieved by changing it was to upsetting the purists. And any other folks who were going to see this movie from cold, and didn’t know about the original literature series didn’t care what it was called. So you instantly create a situation where online movie and literature forum members who can, lets face it,  be a little vociferous and slightly puritanical in their views at times, are then trashing the film makers approach and content before they’ve even seen it. Bad news travels quickly – the name change was the kiss of death in my opinion. They said at the time, that the rationale behind the title change was to reflect that Carter would not become ‘Of Mars’ until the end of the movie. Another reported explanation for the name change was that Disney had suffered a big loss in 2011 with Mars Needs Moms. A conducted study they did noted recent movies with the word Mars in the title had not been commercially successful. Yeah – ok.

Andrew Stanton. Basically he’s the sort of guy from my research for writing this piece is its his way or the highway. He ignored criticisms of the way he was marketing the movie i.e. using Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir song recorded in 1974 in the trailer. I mean, why not use something a bit more up to date? To be fair to Stanton though, Disney’s head of marketing during the production was a guy called MT Carney. A total industry outsider who’s only claim to fame before that was that he ran a marketing boutique in New York. previously ran a marketing boutique in New York. Stanton also chose billboard imagery that simply failed to resonate with any prospective audiences, and put together a hashed preview reel shown at a Sci-Fi convention that did not get a strong reaction from the audience. Or rather it did; although probably not the one he was hoping for. Here’s what Stanton is quoted as saying at the time, ‘…My joy when I saw the first trailer for Star Wars is I saw a little bit of almost everything in the movie, and I had no idea how it connected, and I had to go see the movie. So the last thing I’m going to do is ruin that little kid’s experience.’ Erm…ok Andy…lets just ruin everyone’s experience when they have to sit through it. My friend fell asleep at the beginning. I had to wake her up because she was snoring.

So to sum it all up. A bad movie? Meh…kind of middling. The effects are inspirational, acting is generally good. James Purefoy as Kantos Kan  is a joy on-screen as always, and Taylor Kitsch was actually very good as the planet hopping hero John Carter. All in all not awful but not brilliant.

Believe it or not, there has been talk of a sequel – but I’m fairly sure the financial disaster that was headed by Andrew Stanton and co-written by himself, Mark Andrews and Michael Chabon kind of rule them out – although apparently they are keen to do it as are actors Taylor Kitsch and Willem Dafoe . We shall see!

Newman was Nobody’s Fool.
NobodysfoolNobody’s fool (1994)

This is again, unusually for me, yet another little cinematic gem that hides its light firmly under a bushel; and in my opinion is certainly one of the understated great pieces of cinema from the 90’s. Directed by Robert Benton; the cast includes such luminaries as Richard Russo, Paul Newman, Jessica Tandy, Bruce Willis, Melanie Griffith, Dylan Walsh, Pruitt Taylor-Vince, Gene Saks, Josef Sommer, the sadly departed Philip Seymour Hoffman as an inept small town policeman and Philip Bosco,

This was Tandy’s (Driving Miss Daisy) last produced movie role and was released just three months after her death.

Nobody’s fool is a wry and often darkly humorous look at life in an outwardly peaceful small American town seen mainly through the eyes of Donald ‘Sully’ Sullivan, an Irish American free-lance construction worker portrayed wonderfully by the screen great Paul Newman. The character of Sully is often accompanied by his dim-witted yet incredibly loyal best friend Rub (Pruitt Taylor Vince) who partners him on the various building work he does for the nefarious Carl Roebuck (Bruce Willis), owner of Tip Top construction company whom Sully has tried to unsuccessfully sue for several years after a fall that injured his knee. Roebuck is a serial adulterer with various vacuous blonde secretaries he seems to hire specifically for that purpose. Sully has an open crush on Roebuck’s wife Toby (Melanie Griffith) – and flirts with her every chance he gets.

Sully rents a room from an elderly lady, Miss Beryl (Jessica Tandy), who’s son is the local banker – a business man who has rather grandiose schemes for the small town and its future development – there is a constant friction between Miss Beryl’s banker son and Sully. The banker would obviously like to see the back of Sully both as a tenant and an influence in his mothers’ life, and tries his hardest to get rid of him. However its fairly obvious that his motives for doing this are far from altruistic.

Things are meandering along for Sully, drifting from one job to another and playing strip poker at the local bar when an unexpected encounter with his estranged family forces him to examine his motives as to why he abandoned his wife and child years before. This inevitably brings up many ghosts from his own past as he tries to kindle some kind of a relationship between his now grown up college professor son and newly discovered young grandson, Will.

I wont go further into the plot than this as there are some wonderful set pieces and unexpected twists that can only be fully appreciated by watching the movie in its entirety. What I will say is that Newman was rightfully nominated for the 1994 best actor Oscar for his performance; a portrayal that really showcased his best work and was indicative of his acting maturity in his later career – the movie’s screenplay was also nominated for best screenplay. Newman unfortunately didn’t win the Oscar for this performance (that year it went to Tom Hanks for Forrest Gump) but did however win a Silver Bear for it in Berlin’s 45th Annual international film festival in 1995.

As an aside, the filming was done in the Hudson Valley New York towns of Fishkill, Poughkeepsie, Beacon and Hudson.

North Bath, which was the fictional town for both the book and movie is based on the Fulton County city of Gloversville.

Nobody’s Fool definitely makes it onto my 50 must watch movie list – if only for Newman’s performance. It is currently available on Netflix.

Low Budget High Praise! The Man From Earth.
manearthThe Man From Earth (2007)

Yes, I know. I normally like to pile on the poop deep and heavy if I think something is bad – and a lot of movies out there are really bad! However – this one is an exception. A shining jewel! A glittering nugget of gold that stands out amongst the mundane celuloid dross.

This piece of cinema really is the definitive poster child to showpiece what can be achieved on a low-budget with a tight, well crafted script, a good director and an excellent cast who all know their business.

But don’t take my word for it. Here is just a small selection of some of the top awards this movie has won:

2007 – WINNER – Grand Prize – Best Screenplay – Rhode Island International Film Festival

  • 2008 – WINNER – 2ND place – Best Screenplay – Rio de Janeiro International Fantastic Film Festival (RioFan)
  • 2008 – WINNER – Best SCI-FI Screenplay – International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival, Phoenix, AZ
  • 2008 – WINNER – Best Screenplay – Buenos Aires Rojo Sangre – Int’l Independent Horror, Fantasy & Bizarre, Argentina.
  • Festival, Atlantic City, NJ
  • 2007 – Saturn Award nominee – Best DVD Release – The Man From Earth
  • 2008 – WINNER – DVD Critics Award – Best Non-Theatrical Movie

Directed by Richard Schenkman on a shoestring budget of a mere $200,000 in 2007 this movie rapidly gained rightful cult status and popularity not only from word of mouth, but from fan sharing on peer-to-peer networks – oddly encouraged and approved of by the producer who said at the time that the financial goals of the movie had already been attained and surpassed so he really had no problem with fans passing this movie around – although if anyone still wanted to buy the DVD, then by all means feel free!

This tour de force script was sadly the final one penned by veteran TV writer and acclaimed sci-fi author Jerome Bixby. Originally conceived in 1960 it was finally completed from his death-bed in the April of 1998. Bixby dictated it to his son, another renowned screenwriter Emerson Bixby. The movie comprises many elements that must had evidently fascinated Jerome Bixby during his life. Some themes had been lifted directly from his Star Trek TOS episode Requiem for Methuselah. Anyone familiar with this classic Star Trek episode (and if not I’d certainly recommend that you’d see it) will instantly recognise the premise behind this powerful and intellectual movie.

The plot revolves around a group of college professors who meet up at a friend and fellow colleague’s isolated desert house to throw him an impromptu party. The recipient of the gathering is John Oldman and he is leaving the university they all teach after a 10 year tenure. The whole movie, with an impressive ensemble cast, is set around an in the house. As the party progresses, his curious colleagues press Oldman to explain the reason for his departure as he is a popular, tenured professor on the campus. Oldman, somewhat reluctantly, imparts to the assembled group that he is in fact an ancient Cro-Magnon human who has now lived for more than 14 thousand years; and that he is forced to move on every 10 years or so to keep people from realizing that he never actually ages. But the question is, is Oldman telling the group the truth? Or is this some elaborate psychological game he is foisting on his friends purely for his own amusement?

Each of his friends are also tenured professors having their own particular scientific discipline and as Oldman pulls them into his complex tale it makes them all question all the suppositions they previously had and even questions one of them’s firm belief in the divine and God. The story keeps you guessing right until the end of the movie – the script is incredibly well crafted, the direction tight, and the performances from the impressive cast that include David Lee Smith, Tony Todd, John Billingsley, William Katt,  and that great character actor Richard Riehle.

Perhaps my one and only minor nit is the ending – I thought it was a little heavy-handed – almost clumsy in its execution – but even with that still one of my favorite movies and I highly recommend it.

Die Screaming, Audience!
Die_Screaming_Marianne_DVD_coverDie Screaming, Marianne (1971)

Well, what can I say? I might have died laughing at this 1971 first outing clunker from Pete Walker – that cultish British director notorious for his gore and sexploitation movies – but certainly not from screaming. Unless, of course, it was screaming at the outrageously bad script this film unfortunately has.

The plot of this pretentious pulp basically revolves around the heroine, a young attractive go-go dancer (although you rarely get to see her extol her dubious dancing talents except for the opening credits. It appears from this brief snapshot that her dance moves include looking like she can extinguish cigarettes at a distance with her feet while simultaneously turning doorknobs). Anyway – I digress; back to the movie. Marianne (played by Susan George of soon to be Straw Dogs fame) is targeted for death by ruthless assassins who are bent on her never reaching her 21st birthday. At this magical age she inherits a large wedge of cash pie from her crooked Judge father who doesn’t want her to inherit anything or get her hands on evidence left by her late mother of his criminal doings. Add an equally murderous and slutty psychopathic half-sister into the equation with undertones of incest, an isolated villa in Portugal and you have a convoluted muddy mix of a plot guaranteed to leave even the most ardent Walker fan scratching their head in puzzlement about what the hell is going on.

The storyline kind of got away from me within the first 20 or so minutes and the third flash of Susan George’s panties which, as far as I could see, she didn’t actually change for the entire movie. After 40 minutes I was left wondering if anyone was going to actually murder her. After an hour and ten minutes I was willing to actually kill her myself along with the script writer and director who all richly deserved death in my opinion by that point in the proceedings.

It was nice to see 70’s comedy stalwart Barry Evans (Here we go round the Mulberry Bush, Confessions of a Taxi Driver) in a supporting role; but more than a little perturbing to see Leo Genn as the judge – this awful role from a quality Shakespearean actor that had once received a supporting actor Oscar nomination for his work in the movie Quo Vadis?

It is always sad to see how the mighty have fallen.

To sum up it all up, if you find yourself with a spare couple of hours as your Brazilian Bikini wax appointment has cancelled out on you and you still feel the urgent need for inflicting some real pain on yourself, then watch it.

Other than in these unlikely circumstance you’d probably do as well to leave Die Screaming, Marianne firmly where it is.

I am not Spock! I am Baffled!
Baffled!_FilmPosterHere’s a rare one from the 70’s. Some say it might have been better left there. But for all you Nimoy fans out there, here’s….

Baffled! (1973)

Lets face it Leonard Nimoy is good at several things. Hes a great director (Three Men & A Baby). He’s a great biographer (I Am not Spock, I am Spock). He’s a talented photographer (The Full Body Project); An accomplished poet   (You & I) (1973) (ISBN 978-0-912310-26-8) (Will I Think of You). (1974) (ISBN 0912310701)

Trouble is, though, unless he’s playing a certain pointy eared cerebral, green blooded alien, he’s a lousy actor.

Some may argue his performance in the remake of The Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) was fair to middling. It was, but he was playing his psychiatrist character like… well, you know who.

So let’s examine his role in the 1973 occult thriller move Baffled! The plot involves a racing driver, called Tom Kovak, who suddenly begins to experience snippets of future events, apparently so he can warn the recipients of his new found gifts and prevent terrible disaster from occurring. It’s a pity that these visions didn’t extend to seeing how badly this was movie was to be received; Nimoy could have prevented a professional disaster for himself at the same time. Anyhow, back to the plot, such as it is. He meets up with a psychic expert played by Susan Hampshire and the action switches to a formulaic mystery at a remote house on the English coast. The movie was a pilot for a thankfully never realized TV series. Nimoy seemed to oscillate between two expressions of acting in the movie. Pain or bemusement; or a bizarre combination of the two. Yes he was obviously baffled by Baffled! And so were the viewers by the end. Baffled as to how they could possibly recover the last hour and thirty minutes of their lives.

If you’re a Nimoy fan and you haven’t seen this one, then give it a spin round the track. You may be moderately amused.

Norwegian Nasty
songnorwayAnd continuing on with my movie reviews of Good, Bad and Ugly – today we have a real Norwegian nasty from the dark days of 1970.

The Song Of Norway (1970)

This light operatic stinker was adapted from the 1944 Broadway operetta hit about the famous Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg. Not unnaturally the movie was set to Grieg’s often bland compositions and then they were edited and rearranged by Robert Wright and George Forrest; who also wrote those lyrics that Mr. Grieg had somehow happened to overlook when he originally composed the music. Virginia and Andrew Stone (‘Julie’, ‘Cry Terror’) both produced and directed this non-start action movie, they photographed on actual locations in Norway and Denmark, where Grieg’s riveting life story actually happened – and then popped over to  England to shoot some more scenes where it didn’t. Grieg himself was played by that electrifying star of  the Norwegian stage Toralv Maurstad. Now there’s a name you’re not likely to forget. Or to be able to spell. Or pronounce probably. Anyhow, as good as a stage actor as Toralv was alleged to be, his performance in this movie was akin to a strategically shaved chimp suffering from terminal hemorrhoids that had been forcibly dragged onto a movie set to unwillingly perform under the promise of receiving 30 lbs of bananas as a reward.

There were a massive 45 – count them 45 – musical numbers and 25 songs. And as this cinematic turkey flickers in front of your eyes, one can’t help but be thrilled as various, and apparently congenitally hobbled European actors perform a twitching, uncoordinated and interpretative romp through endless vistas of picturesque Norwegian countryside. You really do need to watch this movie to get as sense of it awfulness of truly heroic proportions. The problem with any movie about Grieg, is well…Grieg. He was a person who, in real life, could have captained his countries Olympic boring team.

Pauline Kael of the New Yorker sums it all up far more eloquently than I ever could:

‘The movie is of unbelievable badness; it brings back cliches you didn’t know you knew – they’re practically from the subconscious of moviegoers. You cant get angry at something this stupefying; it seems to have been made by trolls’.

Trolls indeed. Rent it. See it. Shoot the TV.

Huge Ants, Skank Pants and Kids That Can’t Dance.

Movies. We love them…we hate them. They make us happy. They make us sad. Rarely, We are indifferent to them. They bring out the best in us – or sometimes the worst. I’d like to just use this part of my site to air my views on various ones that I’ve  seen over the years ; ones that have impacted me either negatively or positively. The good. The Bad. The Ugly!

The Good.

thTHEM! (1954)

Warner Brothers B&W classic about a nest of giant radioactively mutated ants that were  discovered in the desert of New Mexico. The original Sci Fi story was by by George Worthing Yates, being given a screenplay treatment by Ted Sherdeman and Russell Hughes. It was superbly directed by Gordon Douglas, and starred James Whitmore, Edmund Gwenn, Joan Weldon and James Arnesss.

This was one of the first 1950’s Atomic Creature movies, and the first giant insect film, Them! It was nominated for an Oscar for its Special Effects and won a Golden Reel Award for the  Best Sound Editing. The opening shots of the traumatized little girl wandering alone in the desert in her dressing gown is a classic. The plot proceeds with the local State Cops investigating several mysterious disappearances and horrific deaths. It hooks the viewer as it slowly develops into a horror story about the giant ants, the Them of the movie title. To build up the suspense, the giant creatures are only heard on occasion and not seen until nearly a third of the way into the film.

OK. I saw this movie first in 1967 at home. I was a kid of six and I’d played up rotten to be allowed to see it. So my dad, very unwisely in retrospect, allowed me to. I was frightened shitless. I had weeks of nightmares about giant ants outside the house and in my room.

Thanks dad! I remind him of what he inflicted on me on a dark windy fall evening years ago every chance I get – but at the same time I also remind myself of how just a few simple ideas or images can strike fear into someones very being. A premise and device I hope I’ve used effectively in my craft as a writer. But even now, I cant help yelling out Them! ever-time I see those big-assed containers of Raid with the giant ants peering off the packaging at me when I’m in Lowes.

The Bad

Lost horizon

Lost Horizon (1973)

Columbia put the horrible musical movie mishmash  out in 1973. The actors were good – 70’s A-list stars like Peter Finch, Liv Ullmann, John Gielgud, Michael York..err…and John Gielgud. On paper it must have looked great. It had everything! They couldn’t fail! Taken from the classic Hilton novel; it had catchy toe-tapping music by Burt Bacharach – there was action and adventure – a story of timeless love… of paradise lost and regained. It couldn’t fail but to bring paying audiences streaming into the movie theaters!! Couldn’t it??!! HELL NO. It couldn’t. The people who actually put their bankrolls into this lead lined zeppelin un-affectionately called it Lost Investment instead of Lost Horizon…It was a huge steaming turd of a film. Something you lay in a toilet bowl and no matter how many times you flush it, it keeps coming bobbing back up to haunt you.  I mean, where the hell do you start to describe how bad this film was? Having had test audiences watch the movie the producers noted that their reactions were, shall we say kindly, less than favorable. And in answer to that in true Hollywood style they proceeded to butcher it into something approximating a palatable experience for movie goers… However, this proved to be to no avail. The beast would not die. It raised itself up once more to haunt audiences for two generations to come. The choreography was dire. The kids in the movie couldn’t keep their bodies or movements in time with the music if their lives depended on it. And from looking at some of their fixed expressions during the scenes I’m willing to bet it probably did.

Even if Olivia Hussey had exposed her extremely large triple digit considerable charms and did a really hot sex scene with Liv Ullmann – well even that couldn’t have saved it.

Here’s what the New York critic Pauline Kael said about it at the time. She noted that:

‘Shangri-La was depicted as a middle-class geriatric utopia [where]… you can live indefinitely, lounging and puttering about for hundreds of years… the Orientals are kept in their places, and no blacks… are among the residents. There’s probably no way to rethink this material without throwing it all away’.

The movie, you’ll be happy to know, was selected for inclusion in the Medved book 50 Worst Films of All Time.

The film is also listed in Golden Raspberry Award founder John Wilson’s book The Official Razzie Movie Guide as one of The 100 Most Enjoyably Bad Movies Ever Made.

However, on a lighter note, star Peter Finch did say he enjoyed making the film.  Cheers, Peter. Shame the audiences couldn’t say the same about watching it though.

The Ugly

zombie assZombie Ass: Toilet of the Dead (2011)

This movie is one of the most disturbing pieces of horror movie I have ever seen. Even more so than the much talked about Human Centipede. I don’t know if the director Noboru Iguchi is into water sports, brown showers, panty fixations, face farts, human torture or dismemberment…I really have no idea. The plot of the movie was both convoluted and bizarre – quite incomprehensible in parts. But I don’t think that mattered overly to the director as much as the grotesque images and imagery seemed to be ALL that mattered.

Let me give you the plot rundown, such as it is, of this 85 minute shit fest.

Megumi , a teenage karate expert who is guilty as hell over the suicide of her bullied sister, accompanies four older friends on a trip into the woods: This unlikely quad of folks include a smart girl, called Aya; her messed up sociopath druggie boyfriend Taka, full-figured model Maki (the inevitable contribution of big tits that are needed in Japanese horror) , and a nerdy yet semi-hot guy Naoi. Determined to be a model Maki finds a parasitical worm inside a fish taken from a river in the woods – and wolfs it down, in the hope that the fishy parasite will keep her skinny. Soon after, the group is attacked by a crowd of poop-covered undead who emerge from a nearby outhouse toilet. The outhouse scenes really do defy description. You’d just have to see it to believe it (ewww!) The group then seeks refuge in the home of the strange Dr. Tanaka, who conducts experiments on both zombies and the parasites … and who has a plan in mind for the five strangers who have unwittingly come into his sphere of influence. Can Megumi’s karate skills help them all escape a fate worse than death, or will she have to rely on the liberating power of her ass and its excessive flatulence to defeat her demented captor?

Let me assure you that Zombie Ass: Toilet of the Dead is really an UGLY movie. Watch it at your peril and don’t say you weren’t warned!

It’s available on Netflix.