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The Robinsons: Lost in Space (2004)
Will I live long enough to see somebody do this show right?
The wait continues for those who love those early episodes of "Lost in Space" from 1965 and want more.
First we watched the original series slowly degenerate into camp. Then we got the 1998 theatrical film which started promisingly and then, like the series, got silly. And now this pilot, in which the first half consists of whining characters we never really learn to care about, and the second half is a formulaic alien invasion story.
Where is the sense of wonder here that permeated the original series? Douglas Petrie's script, in attempt to add character depth to what many people consider a ridiculous show, just falls flat. I don't know about you, but I wouldn't send a family who can't get their you-know-what together on a major space mission. And John Woo's direction, especially in the action-packed second half of the show, proceeds at breakneck speed with no sense of pacing. Like too many films these days, it's fastfastfast and never pauses to take a breath.
The antagonists in this pilot were a particularly poor choice. Unlike Dr. Smith, who was interesting because you always wanted to know what was going on in that scheming mind of his, these villains have absolutely no sense of subtlety. When the show demands a crafty J. R. Ewing-type, we get instead marauding critters out of a 1950s horror film.
And did you notice -- so much of the focus in this pilot is on the kids! Gee, what went wrong with the original series? Oh yeah, that's right!
Kevin Burns, whose "Time Tunnel" pilot was much better but still resembled the original in little besides nomenclature, really needs to turn over the duties of reviving Irwin Allen TV series to someone who understands them better. "Lost in Space" could be a great show again, and it deserves better than this.
No Hitchcock, but not bad
Neither a great film nor as bad as its numerous critics say it is, Psycho (1998) will be recorded in film history as an interesting if not entirely successful experiment.
I can totally see what director Gus Van Sant was going for. So many remakes of beloved films draw complaints...and most of them are about how Hollywood screwed up what was a good story. In this film -- the only one of its kind, as far as I know -- Van Sant went for a literal remake...a shot-by-shot near-duplication of the original film.
Oh, there are a few differences. Now that filmmaking is less puritanical, we actually get to see poor Marion Crane with stab wounds, as well as Norman Bates masturbating as he watches her shower. These do modernize the film for the present day without getting grotesque or exploitative. (The scenes are handled with relative restraint and do not come anywhere near approaching the explicitness of any number of other modern movies.)
Still, bringing this film into the present day is a puzzling contradiction when much of the rest of the look of the film looks like it's set in the 1960s (opening graphics notwithstanding). Buildings look out-of-date. The dialog and camera movements seem quaint. Even the film's coloring looks like Kodak film stock from the 1960s.
Which is not a criticism, just a note that all this doesn't juxtapose well with the aforementioned shower and masturbating scenes...not to mention declaring outright that the movie takes place in 1998.
And of course one can argue with the casting -- that Anne Heche is no Janet Leigh, and that Vince Vaughn is certainly no match for Anthony Perkins. Heche is a puzzling choice. She may just have been coming out of the closet when this film was released; nevertheless she now seems an odd choice for the part of a woman carrying out a torrid love affair with a man in seedy hotels. Even her waif-like hair and figure only serve to enhance her contrast with the voluptuous, more traditionally beautiful Janet Leigh.
And Vince Vaughn loses on two counts. First, he's not particularly good in this. Perhaps no one could have adequately followed the boyish, delicate, twitchy Perkins, but Vaughn does little if anything to make this role his own. And second -- and this is certainly no fault of the director -- the kind of roles Vaughn has chosen to take since this one have pretty much eradicated any chance that viewers will take him seriously in this role.
For all its problems, however, this film does answer the question, "What if somebody tried to make a remake, a shot-for-shot remake, of a classic film, only in color and with a little judicious updating?" We now know the answer: you get mixed results.
The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Hero origins in the Marvel universe are often hard enough to believe on their own. (Radioactive spiders are more likely to give you radioactive blood poisoning than super powers.)
The Hulk, being basically Mr. Hyde on super-steroids, is notoriously difficult to pull off convincingly. Lou Ferrigno, despite not being as brawny as the comic book character (and who is?), nevertheless did it well. The CGI character in this movie, not so much.
In fact, the CGI is the main killer for this movie. On its own, it's not convincing at all. There are almost no scenes in which you're not aware that you're looking at a video game character interacting with normal humans. The result is that the movie ends up looking like "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" crossed with an X Box game.
Whoever designed the Hulk obviously never heard that less is more. A hulk larger than any living bodybuilder would have been fine, but this is one gigantic, over-detailed brute. If motion-tracking technology was used, it didn't show up in the final product. This Hulk moves awkwardly, at times much too fast considering his bulk. His skin is ridiculously over-detailed, as if the producers were afraid anything less would result in a plastic-y look. The result is that the Hulk looks like he's got the world's worst skin rash or something. Muscle striations are visible everywhere except the Hulk's eyeballs, and his overall size is just WAY overdone, like some homoerotic bodybuilder fantasy.
Poor CGI also afflicts things like helicopters and other vehicles, which is puzzling considering people have been doing these things for years now.
That leaves us with story, and unfortunately, the old "the army wants to turn me into a weapon" trope is getting really, really, really tired now. Some ingenuity might infuse fresh blood into this idea, but you won't find it here. The baddies are about as subtle as a fart in an elevator. One ends up wishing that the Cigarette Smoking Man from "The X Files" would show up to concoct some devious, shrewd plan to capture Bruce Banner. But no, we go full-out tanks-and-troops. And the less said about Blonsky, the better. It's all might and no brains. There are no surprises in this movie, only the assurance that you can see the next turn of the plot in this movie coming a mile away.
Norton does a serviceable job as Banner, but you can tell that even he knows that this is a paint-by-numbers plot. Overall it's just old, tired and overblown. Adam West's Batman reached the same level of camp, except that the producers of that show did it intentionally and with gusto.
A Cold Night's Death (1973)
That cold shiver up your spine is not from the arctic weather...
"A Cold Night's Death" is a product of the ABC "Movie of the Week" factory that turned out TV-films at the rate of one or two a week back in the 1970s. Few of those films were memorable, but this is one that stands out in the same way that "The Night Stalker" and "Brian's Song" are still remembered.
Set in an animal research laboratory isolated in an arctic wasteland, the film begins with a lone scientist, Dr. Vogel, who appears to be losing his mind, frantically radioing for help to a base that cannot hear him. When the base is out of contact with Vogel for several days, they send a pilot and two more researchers to investigate. They find Vogel dead under mysterious circumstances.
Once the pilot leaves, the two new researchers, Drs. Jones and Enari (Robert Culp and Eli Wallach) set about salvaging the animal research experiments. Though Enari is all too happy to think that Vogel simply went mad, the more open-minded Jones is bothered by parallels he sees between what happened to Vogel and the strange things which begin happening to them.
If these two men had the mutual respect of Fox Mulder and Dana Sculley, perhaps they could have figured out what was going on. Instead, they move further and further in opposite directions, with Jones convinced something else is at work in the station, and Enari growing increasingly paranoid that Jones has some sinister ulterior motive.
The plot being relatively thin, to tell more would ruin it. Thin or not, the story is milked for all it's worth. Moving at a slow, deliberate pace allows the film to build its suspense one step at a time until it reaches its bizarre conclusion.
Some of the most delicious movie endings have involved the surprise twist that literally doesn't appear until the absolutely final shot. You get one of those here, and it's a good one. Even if you can guess ahead of time who or what is behind it all, you'll still feel a shiver go up your spine when you see that final close-up.
One thing that really makes the film is Gil Mellé's score, which is highly reminiscent of "The Andromeda Strain" (made about the same time). It's electronic, low-keyed and creepy. Director Jerrold Freedman does a nice job making you feel the isolation of these two men who are, really, beyond hope of immediate rescue. In fact, the opening scene is wonderfully spooky. We simply see the research station from the outside in a screaming snowstorm...but we can also hear Vogel inside screaming in panic. Shooting the entire scene from the exterior emphasizes Vogel's aloneness against the malevolent power that is working against him. It's a real grabber. And as Enari and Jones, Wallach and Culp are what they always are: reliable, extremely watchable pros.
The off-camera surprise is that this movie is a Spelling-Goldberg production. Spelling and Goldberg have attained a well-deserved reputation for creating some of the worst (albeit most popular) crap on TV, and high-minded suspense movies with sci-fi/horror overtones are not their typical style. Still, give them a star for this one.
Incidentally, two notes of interest:
First, the movie begins with a narrative which I believe to be the voice of Vic Perrin, the Control Voice of the classic "The Outer Limits".
Also, as some have noted, this movie is sometimes aired under the alternate title "The Chill Factor". And, in fact, I recorded it off a local station a few years back under that title. Yet the title "The Chill Factor" doesn't appear in the film. In fact, NO title appears in the film. It runs through the producers, the cast, the writer and the director, but the film's title itself is missing. There IS a blank space in the opening credits where the title normally WOULD go, so it appears that somebody removed "A Cold Night's Death", and never inserted the new title! It is, to my knowledge, the only time something like that has ever happened in a movie.
Totally ridiculous, but lots of fun
Once "Lost in Space" abandoned its serious roots and started turning into a space fantasy, there were many pathetically childish episodes that made one wince. This, thankfully, was not among them.
Yes, the plot is ridiculous as all get out. Let's count the extremely goofy things we are expected to swallow in this story. A man is thrown out of a passing spacecraft (that's 1) with a parachute (that's 2). Found by Will and Penny Robinson (awfully small planet there, that's 3), the man turns out to be Col. Jeremiah Smith from Earth. How he got involved in traveling with aliens is never fully explained (that's 4), but coincidence of coincidences, he happens to be the cousin of regular character Dr. Zachary Smith (that's 5). He's also bound and determined to murder his cousin so that he can claim Aunt Maude's inheritance. And unfortunately for the good Dr. Smith, Jeremiah is still on good enough terms with the aliens that they are willing to help him.
The first part of the episode establishes Jeremiah's character and motives, and he turns out to be a sly, crafty devil, which sets us up well for the second part, which resembles nothing so much as one of those cartoons where the coyote is always trying to kill the road runner. There's a silly (but very comical) duel of wits between the two cousins, and when neither succeeds in getting rid of the other, we move on to the third part of the story, which involves gambling.
Much like the Space Pod in season 3, Dr. Smith's gambling compulsion conveniently appears out of nowhere, and he is lured into a fixed game of "chance" alongside his cousin against a silly-looking "gambling machine". To say more would be to spoil the ending, but there are a few nifty surprises and plot twists before the episode is over, and John Robinson, who is already beginning to get moved into the background in the series, gets a chance to shine here as he comes up with a brilliant way to save the day.
So in the end, this is one of those plots wherein if you can turn your brain off and go with the flow, you'll enjoy it immensely. Like a good episode of "Batman", it's so absurd, it's great fun.
Hogan's Heroes (1965)
Implausible yet often hysterical
I won't waste time going over the premise of the show; that has already been done more than adequately by nearly every reviewer here.
I will agree that the argument the show being "offensive" is weak. As others said, it was a POW stalag, not a concentration camp. And I'll add that "Hogan's Heroes" played during a period of multiple service comedies, yet it was the best of them, not the worst. Sgt. Bilko was a film-flam man. Cmdr. Quinton McHale occasionally did battle with the Japanese, but you never got the feeling that he or his crew were in danger from anyone but their immediate superior, Capt. Binghamton.
The POWs of Stalag 13, however, were another story. Yes, 95% of the time the focus was on Hogan and his men pulling scams on the Nazis and having fun sabotaging their work, but the remaining 5% of the time things could get uncomfortable. A decent number of stories contain scenes in which Hogan's life (or those of his men) are in peril. And as the show went on, characters like Maj. Hochstetter did not fail to notice that many of the Nazis' worst defeats were centered around Stalag 13.
Of course, this being a '60s sitcom, you know and I know that nothing really bad is going to happen to Hogan or his crew. Yet these moments always had a genuine tinge of tension to them.
But overwhelmingly the focus of the show was around conning the Nazis, disrupting their war plans and in general making fun of them. Bob Crane played Col. Hogan as a born con artist, able to come up with bold, brash scams at the drop of a hat. However, as many actors can tell you, playing the villain is infinitely more fun than playing the hero, and that seems to go doubly well for comedies.
How Werner Klemperer must have loved playing the pompous, cowardly Col. Klink! And John Banner as the pacifist, food-loving teddy bear, Sgt. Schultz...watching the two of them together (or separately with Crane), you begin to realize that it was they, not Bob Crane, that had the best roles in the show. Watch Schultz say something lovably idiotic, and Klink snap from a smile to a frown in an instant barking, "Dummkopf!"
It is these two, and to a lesser degree the various actors who played the heroes, that made the show so good, I am convinced. Each week Klemperer and Banner virtually put on a comedy acting clinic -- they were that good. And when you added the piggish Gen. Burkhalter and that ultimate Angry White Man, Maj. Hochstetter, things only got funnier. All of these characters were played so well that they remain hysterically memorable more than 40 years later.
Try not to concentrate on the inherent absurdity of pulling this stuff off on the Nazis week after week, year after year, and getting away with it, and concentrate more on the exquisite comedic performances, and you will have yourself one hell of a good time.
The Invaders (1995)
Anemic attempt at reviving the classic TV series
Give the producers of this movie credit for making one smart decision, and that is to make it a continuation of the classic 1960s TV show, and not a complete from-the-beginning remake.
Give the writers credit also for the very subtle subtext which equates the invading aliens with their more human counterparts who still don't believe in environmentalism or global warming. Never actually said outright, it's kind of implied that those who knowingly promote more and more pollution are not only anti-American, but anti-Earth.
That said, there's plenty in this four-hour pilot that gets an E for effort but a C- for execution.
The plot is familiar territory, even those not familiar with the TV series. Earth is being secretly invaded by aliens who look like us, and we follow the adventures of one man who knows the truth.
Sci-fi fans old enough to remember the classic show, as well as any number of similarly- plotted motion pictures, will instantly spot some problems with this film.
Possibly the goofiest is Richard Belzer as a Rush Limbaugh clone who vents his warped thoughts across the Los Angeles airwaves every morning. I suppose he's supposed to bolster the subtext I mentioned above, but in point of fact he has no actual impact on the story and never connects with the other characters, leaving us with the impression that this movie ran fifteen minutes short and that they shot the Belzer footage as filler.
Equally disappointing though is the lethargic pacing. "The Invaders" is really a decent two-and-a-half to three hour movie (with commercials) in a four-hour slot. There's little sense of urgency to the proceedings, a situation not helped by keeping star Scott Bakula in a passive mode for much of the show.
Too, there is a little bit too much modification of the "Invaders" canon. We see the aliens' true form, and frankly, it's nothing more gruesome than you've seen in other sci-fi/horror shows. We DON'T get to see what was a favorite moment in the old series: an alien burning up as it died. Nor do we get to see their spaceship. A more ornate version of the saucer from the old TV show would have been welcome, but here we get little more than "Close Encounters"-style bright lights coming out of clouds.
They've also muddied the whole idea of "regeneration". As originally conceived, the aliens had to return to "regeneration stations" regularly, to be placed in glass tubes and processed so that they could appear human and continue to breathe our atmosphere. Here the "tubes" appear to be used to suck the life out of humans so that it can be infused into their identical-looking alien impostors. And the new regeneration consists of things like inhaling truck fumes.
This also introduces an "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" aspect that, unless I'm wrong, was not a part of the original series. In the TV show, aliens (in human form) appeared to have been always "there", in the same way a mole infiltrates a spy organization and lays low for years. There was none of this "yesterday Person X was a human, and today he's been replaced by an identical- looking alien" stuff -- again, at least as far as I recall.
Then, those neat little discs that induced apparent coronaries in human beings are gone. Pity, because they were a handy way for the aliens to get rid of eyewitnesses. On the other hand, introduced is some kind of telepathic ability the aliens have to control certain people, which I don't recall being a part of the show either. Not that I'm against entertaining new facets of the aliens' "lore", but it would have been nice to have more stuff from the original TV series to get a handle on, before introducing new ideas.
Returning back to things which are gone, however...if you're waiting to hear the familiar theme music from the TV series, you're waiting in vain. Surely it wouldn't have been hard to get some composer to re-orchestrate some of that classic Dominic Frontiere music. It doesn't sound like an important thing, but just the music alone could have been enough to give this production more of the feel of the classic show.
One welcome spark of life comes from the all-too-brief appearance of David Vincent (Roy Thinnes, as the same character he played in the 1960s TV show). The manner in which he's woven into the plot is fine, and I suppose it makes sense to have an aging Vincent "pass the baton" to someone younger, but that facet is never explored, and Vincent is gone from the story all too soon, leaving us wondering what he's been up to for the last twenty years anyway.
Mission: Impossible (1988)
A few flaws, but still an exciting update of the classic series
Apparently not all Mission Impossible fans are happy with the 1988 remake. As someone who IS old enough to remember the original, I can tell you that it's actually a pretty good show, and a damn sight better than the movies! The new and old casts are comparable. Let's face it, you don't get to flex a lot of acting muscles on a show like this, so in terms of thespic efforts, I'd say the '88 cast matches the classic cast (Landau/Bain/et.al.) pretty well, and had its own charisma.
Yes, some of the plots are recycled -- a necessity because of a writers' strike at the time. That's the only reason this show got remade in the first place. We're lucky it didn't get yanked after only ONE season when the writers went back to work. But ABC had some modest success with this, and we got an extra year out of it.
Critics have correctly pointed out that one difference between the Missions is that the original was more cagey regarding the information it gave to the audience. For instance, you might see Barney with an electronic device, and Cinnamon and Rollin discussing some bit of trickery, without them explaining what the purpose behind them was. You just had to wait to see the show play out to find out where these things fit into the plot. The newer show, however, had a tendency to want to explain more: "Okay, now we're gonna use these projectors and mirrors to make Mr. Badguy think someone's trying to assassinate him." Another flaw was that some episodes got a little outlandish. Jane Badler in space comes to mind. And the writers had this unnatural love for overlaying supernatural themes on their espionage missions. More than a few plots revolved around spooking some international thug by means of "ghosts" and other hauntings. It was a bit much to believe that so many dictators and terrorists were superstitious enough to fall for this stuff. And one last carp: sometimes the IMF's technology was a bit TOO sci-fi. In one episode, for example, they "un-erased" a videotape while double-talking about some "infrared" layer underneath that could be recovered. That's scientifically illiterate. You'd have as much luck trying to unscramble an egg.
Yet despite these flaws, the show was a delight. The tape recorder sequences were wonderfully updated with a miniature DVD device. The "cons" were still exciting. And the music was just as good as you remembered it...maybe even better. Just the opening title sequence alone was worth tuning in. While it didn't change from week to week as the old show's did, it was very high-tech and very well-cut, like a good music video, and gave the show a welcome face-lift.
And of course it was nice to see Jim Phelps again every week. Even if he had a different supporting cast. Tom Cruise can screw up the franchise all he wants. Mr. Phelps will always be our hero.
The 40 Year Old Virgin (2005)
Cute idea, mediocre execution
This is an odd film. On the one hand, you've gotta like Steve Carrell. He brings a charm to his character, and the part is written well. He's appropriately down about his virginity, but he deals with it. He's naturally p.o.'d when his friends razz him about it, yet mature enough to accept their apology. And the ending is what it should be: Carrell finally finds the right woman when he stops listening to other people's advice and just acts like himself.
On the other hand, a lot of the jokes in this film are really lame. The morning hard-on? Cute but hardly guffaw-inducing. The crabby immigrant who swears a lot? Been done, and the swearing is OVERdone. The dumb friends who give Steven bad advice? Old, old, old -- at least as old as "A Guide for the Married Man" (1967!) and done to death many times since, not only in movies but plenty of TV sitcoms. The boss who secretly yearns for Carrell to be her, ahem, "buddy"? Nothing ever comes of that plot line.
But then this movie had a rough road to hoe. As I said, it's been done over and over ad nauseam, the only real difference is this time it's buddies helping someone lose their virginity, instead of just helping someone get laid. It'd need a ton of wit to overcome a concept this worn out, and that's why I think I was unsatisfied with this film: the jokes were easy and not particularly witty. Some were just odd. For example, when Carrell winds up finally having sex, he sings "Aquarius". I found myself asking, "Why is that supposed to be funny? It just looks strange." I'm guessing very young audiences take the song to be a dorky expression of happiness by a dorky character, but a lot of folks older than Gen X won't make that association. To them it's a cool (if dated) song.
In the end I can't help wondering what better writers would've done with something like this. Hopefully made it into something more than a hybrid cute love story/dumb teen comedy.
My Girl (1991)
You only THINK you won't like this movie
Many other people have summarized the plot of "My Girl", so let me just make a few observations:
You may, as I did, assume that this is going to be a chick flick or one of those safe, crashingly boring "family" pictures. In reality, it's neither. Though it's a family picture, the characters are so wonderfully realized, and the situations so easy to identify with, that if you give this movie five minutes, you WILL be sucked into watching it. AND you will enjoy it immensely.
Anna Chlumsky -- I cannot say enough about her performance. And she was 11 years old? She may be an adult by now, but even as a kid, she had talent out the wazoo. Great actress. Why she didn't have a prolific career in Hollywood is anyone's guess.
Guys -- you WILL cry. And there will be several points where you can't help getting misty-eyed. Again, it has to do with the wonderful writing and the sweet performance by Miss Chlumsky.
The script is wonderful. I kept waiting to see some phony/clichéd "Hollywood" moment, but all the scenes were touching and real: Vada and Thomas J. learning how to kiss; Vada first liking Shelly, then feeling threatened as her dad falls in love with Shelly; Shelly sitting Vada down and explaining the birds and the bees to her (and Vada saying, "That should be illegal.") There are laughs, there are tears, and there are the cute moments everyone enjoys in watching children grow up and people fall in love.