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4/10
The Death of Captain Marvel
15 September 2016
Warning: Spoilers
This is an obscure, uneven, and frankly cartoonish film starring the now-forgotten comedian Jack Carson. It is also one of 3 Columbia Pictures product-placement comedies of which I am familiar, the other 2 being 'The Fuller Brush Man,' with Red Skelton & 'The Fuller Brush Girl,' with Lucille Ball. Columbia might have made others but darned if I could find anything on them. I couldn't find anything specific about how these films were financed but since the Fuller Brush Company & the Good Humor (Ice Cream) Company were both viable commercial enterprises in those days, it's obvious they contributed 'plug money' to the productions in exchange for significant exposure.

This film is today mostly remembered because it has numerous references to the original Capt. Marvel comic books, a fan-club, and a non-existent Capt. Marvel radio show. We are talking about the 1940's version of Capt. Marvel, today erroneously called 'Shazam' by most people, who wore a red suit with a lightning bolt emblazoned on the chest.

Despite the fact that Capt. Marvel's publishers obviously contributed some of the plug-money for this film, the references to the Captain include nothing specific about the character, such as his super-strength, or ability to fly. Conspicuously absent are any mentions of Billy Batson, the 14-yr.-old boy who utters the magic word 'Shazam' in order to become the mighty Capt. Marvel.

Perhaps more conspicuously, when the script calls for the Capt. Marvel fan club to utilize a recognition code word, there is no a mention of either of Capt. Marvel's two trademark catch-phrases: 'Holy Moley!' or 'Shazam!' Instead, the rather awkward 'Niatpac Levram' (Captain Marvel spelled backwards) is used.

It is as if the script had been written generically, so that any hero's name could put be used to fill-in-the-blanks.

Or perhaps Superman's publishers had pressurized Columbia Pictures to minimize the film's promotional value. 'The Good Humor Man' was released on June 1, 1950, while Columbia released the first chapter of the serial 'Atom Man Vs. Superman' on July 20, roughly 6 weeks later. This second (and last) Superman chapter play was reportedly the highest grossing US serial of all time.

Superman's publishers, you see, had been working tirelessly to sue Capt. Marvel out of existence since 1941. The wanted a monopoly on superheroes, and sadly, in 1953, achieved their end.

In a strange twist of fate, the The Good Humor Man's villain turns out to be George Reeves. Reeves wasn't in either of the Superman movie serials, but in 1951 he would accept a job playing Superman in what has become the most durable superhero TV program ever, and achieving his own tragi-comic immortality.

Since the titular hero of this film is an early version of the man-boy archetype (forerunner of Seth Rogan), it's too bad the writers didn't bother to work in any references of Billy Batson's ability transform from kid to grown-up & back again. But it's characteristic of a film that is even less than uninspiring, and is in fact, barely watchable. Even the Fans of Capt. Marvel will find this a disappointment, since their hero is treated shabbily. Despite this, they will not miss the opportunity to record in on TCM, just as I could not.
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7/10
Shrinkage
20 January 2016
The makers of this film did a good job creating an inexplicably high degree of verisimilitude which they used to paint over some absurdly impossible concepts, such as the wholesale size reduction of human beings and submarines.

This film was groundbreaking in that it was big-budget, made for adults, and successful at the box-office, all of which were unusual for a scifi film in 1966. Its success helped pave the way for Planet of the Apes and 2001 A Space Odyssey.

I saw this film on TV in the 1970's when I was 13. I hear it's on Netflix now.

I remembered this film recently when my doctor made me get a colonoscopy, which is a medical procedure involving a tiny camera taking a fantastic voyage via one of your body's natural apertures.

While the procedure was happening, I could see what the camera saw, via a TV monitor. The staff had drugged me thoroughly, so darned if I remember much.

It would be an interesting experiment to take the colonoscopy monitor and switch the feed to this film for a person getting the 'scope, seeing as they drug everyone who gets it. Afterwords, interview him, see what he has to say.
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6/10
Never Say You'll Never Be Middle-Aged
14 January 2016
In a couple months I will turn 52, just about the age that Sean Connery was when he made this film, which I happened to have caught at the movie theater back in 1983 when I was 19 years old. With this in mind, I re-watched NSNA for the first time in almost 33 years over the course of 4 daily workouts on the treadmill machine, finishing up yesterday.

Last night, I turned on a rerun of an old Johnny Carson show on the Antenna-TV network, and who turns up but Connery, sans toupee and sporting his classic 'stache. Turns out the show was from 1983, and Sean was promoting NSNA.

Believing this to be another instance of synchronicity in my never-ending study of fine arts, I determined to add my review to the body of literature devoted to this cinematic opus.

The most interesting thing about this movie is the middle-aged Connery, playing the middle-aged 007. These facts are used to advantage early on in the film but are mostly forgotten by midpoint, with the Scots thespian's handsomely craggy facial features being the only reminder that in addition to the evil Mr. Largo, Our Hero is also fighting the inevitable effects of father time. As such, this is a lost opportunity.

(Two years after this film, cartoonist Frank Miller did a much-praised comic book story of a 50 year old Batman titled 'Dark Knight,' which became a genuine cultural phenomenon...Miller never forgot for a moment that the Caped Crusader was now 50, and in fact in the early scenes Bruce Wayne sports a mustache and receding hairline which make him strangely similar to Connery.)

The other missed opportunity is the climactic physical confrontation between 007 & Largo, which takes place underwater, with both wearing scuba gear. As you can anticipate, the scuba fight takes place in slow-motion, thus sucking way much of the satisfaction. This was a story which clearly called for a knock-down, drag-out fight, ala Red Grant, the aging 007 going Mano e Mano against the young Teutonic Largo.

The musical score is another weak spot. It seemed decent enough in 1983, but the fusion-jazz stuff seems very outdated now, whereas the bombastic John Barry stuff from the EON films has held up much better.

Weaknesses aside, this is a fun enough film with which to waste a couple hours. Besides the enduring appeal of our old friend Mr. Connery, there are plenty of fights, vehicular chases, and fun spy-fi business to enjoy.

If you are young and viewing this, remember that the when you are over 50, the world will be a different place, and you will be far more vulnerable than now. Your nemesis will not be SPECTRE, but rather the limitations of your body, and the cruelties of the workplace, where cocky young SOB managers like to treat experienced, seasoned pros as if we are all dead wood.
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A Very Murray Christmas (2015 TV Special)
8/10
Saccharine-Free Holiday TV
9 December 2015
In the USA, where Consumerism is the true national religion, the mass media represent a cruel myth that life is like a Hallmark greeting card or a Joel Osteen fantasy, which inevitably leads most of us to feel something like Charlie Brown or George Bailey.

Paradoxically, the Charlie Browns and George Baileys of the world might like to spend an hour sitting on the sofa, listening to Xmas music, imagining a warm fireplace and snow outside the window, maybe tossing back a couple drinks or taking a little toke. Perhaps to indulge in a little nostalgia, or perhaps to pause and be grateful for food in the belly, a warm place to stay, and whatever friends or companions one actually has in this complex and difficult world.

Before the merchants and the religious fanatics seized upon it, the Winter Soltice was the pagan season of Yule, a time of song, feasting, alcohol and socializing. (Look it up if you don't believe me!)

This is a show of song, and of actors pretending to eat, drink and performing lightly comedic dialogue so as to simulate socializing. Additionally, this show takes pains to acknowledge the fact that real life is nothing like the saccharine shopping-mall mega-church fantasies which propel most Xmas season programming.

The banter and music are mostly amusing, sometimes even quite good, and there is even a hint of genuine sentiment at one point, but thankfully not overdone.

Sometimes you want a TV show that is not heavy or demanding, a kind of electronic fireplace to keep you (and hopefully a companion) company for the better part of an hour, and sometimes you need a little help getting through the holiday season. Some people find the videotronic images of Bill Murray and Paul Shaffer to be an amiable presence. If you are such a person and have a nominal appreciation for irony, this is a good show to watch.
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Barney Miller (1975–1982)
10/10
Of Cops and Compassion
14 November 2015
Of the thousands of American TV sitcoms ever produced, only a small portion of them are genuinely enjoyable and funny 40 years after their production. Barney Miller is one of those shows. More interesting than this fact, however, is that this show has many features atypical of its genre and time period:

1. Virtually all of the action (excepting a handful of scenes and the strange and mostly unenjoyable 'Wojo's Girl' 2-parter) takes place at a single location, the police station. In this way, the show is like a stage play, and of course, stunningly similar to the classic Kirk Douglas play & film 'Detective Story.'

2. There is almost no slapstick, no catchphrases, and no toilet humor.

3. Unlike the most popular sitcoms of the mid-1970's, such as 'All In the Family', 'Good Times', etc. none of the recurring cast play their characters broadly. None of them are shouting tyrants, cartoonish buffoons, dingy housewives, etc. Most of the regular cast played their characters toward the deadpan end of the comedic spectrum. (The recurring Inspector Luger, played by the great James Gregory, is gently buffoonish, but nothing like Ted Baxter or George Jefferson.) One episode is an exception to this rule, 'The Brownies,' which is one of the 10 funniest sitcom episodes ever produced. If you have seen this episode, you know why the characters were played differently this time around, and you know that the essence of the story is seeing the characters behaving different than usual.

4. With the exception of Barbara Barrie as the intermittent presence of the titular character's wife in the early episodes, there are no recurring female characters. (Just an observation, not saying this is a good thing for every sitcom.)

These facts argue in favor of the theory that artists who seek to create something of quality and durability should not always try to imitate. Doing something different can be good.

The writing and the performances are the essence of why this show is good. But also there is the faded paint and rumpled clothes, and the varying degrees of world-weariness in faces of Yamana, Fish, Capt. Miller, and Inspector Luger, which evoke the gritty, working class realities of old New York before a series of quasi-fascist mayors tried to reboot the city as a kind of fantasyland for rich people and tourists.

A final point of interest to which I will draw your attention is gentle and matter-of-fact way in which the cops interact with both 'criminals' and 'victims.' You won't see them trying to intimidate or torture criminals into confessions. There is an implicit message of compassion in this, along with the related notion that when the total circumstances of life are taken into account, the moral differences between people don't seem all that huge.
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7/10
Often Brilliant but Sometimes Sophomorically Unfunny
13 July 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Having heard audio of Russell Brand on the Democracy Now radio show and before the British Parliament, as well as hearing him going off on US cable news shows, I have developed both a grudging respect and appreciation of him. He is capable of being both extremely clever and extremely funny, sometimes at the same time.

But there are also huge gaps in his education and maturity, and during the course of this performance film, these gaps are on display a number of times.

The opening conceit of this show, the concept of the hero, is a worthy topic and Brand shows guts and wit by sharing an unflattering anecdote regarding Mahatma Ghandi, for instance (his point is not to destroy the reputation of Ghandi...his point is that all so-called 'heroes' are human beings with human foibles...).

At the beginning of the show, you really think he's going to go deep and really interesting. Which he frequently does, but never quite as far as I think he is actually capable of.

And there is plenty of laugh out loud stuff, for sure.

But he also has this embarrassing juvenile tendency to be crude and/or offensive just to show he can be crude and offensive. Many comedians also do this, but whereas history shows that George Carlin was right, I doubt history will make Russell's crudeness seem insightful. To make it clear, I am talking about crudeness that simply isn't even funny...not because it is crude, just stuff that is unfunny.

Fortunately, almost every time Brand crosses the line into crudeness for the sake of crudeness alone, he eventually crosses back into the funny/interesting stuff before you decide to turn off the video.

The only time he doesn't cross back again is in the final bit. In the end, he decides to pantomime a giant, talking clitoris, which could theoretically be funny, but in this case, it is Jerry-Lewis-Level- Unfunny. So pay attention to the running time and to the counter as you play this video, and really, you can turn it off during this portion and not miss anything good.

It's too bad the video ends on such a sophomoric note, because there are so many brilliant bits. But I guess that's what happens with a performer who is still hopefully in the upward stage of his development.
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Here's Lucy: Lucy and the Great Airport Chase (1969)
Season 1, Episode 18
7/10
Unexpected Meta-Humor
28 June 2015
I was channel surfing today and chanced upon the beginning of this episode. I hadn't seen even so much as 15 minutes of one of these shows since the 1970's, and was curious if it was as bad as remembered it. I was totally unprepared for what I saw today.

You see after a couple minutes of rather bland expository dialogue with Ms Ball, Gale Gordon, and Little Lucy and Little Desi, the whole episode becomes purely an extended chase sequence at LAX involving numerous airport ground vehicles, machines and baggage conveyors.

At first I just thought it was just typical 1960's juvenile, corny slapstick, and I felt a little impatient for the plot to advance. Then I realized: other than the fact that 2 bad men are chasing Lucy and Gale Gordon all over LAX due to the requisite MacGuffin, there is no plot to this episode.

The whole episode is a kind of meta-humor, humor about the nature of humor (which, paradoxically, is not itself always humorous). But this I must admit, while not causing me to actually laugh, I found strangely amusing...two aging comedic thespians dashing all about LAX, with some jerky radically under-cranked footage on the baggage conveyors that looks strangely like a subtly surreal kind of 21st century digital effect...and vaguely suggests the creepy stop-motion animated Lucy puppet in the credits sequence.

By the end, it reminded me somewhat of the Monty Python 'Confuse-A-Cat' sketch.

All this, when I had only expected typical unfunny 3-camera sound-stage sitcom stuff. Why, with all the location shooting, the budget must have been blown for the whole next season.
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Doctor Who: Planet of the Spiders: Part Two (1974)
Season 11, Episode 22
7/10
Amazing Vehicular Chase Sequence!!!
24 June 2015
This episode is overall good and contains much of the goodness typifying the Pertwee Period of Dr Who...if you like Pertwee, Sarah Jane, Brig. Lethbridge-Stewart, Sgt. Benton, and the daffy cleverness of the vintage years for this show, you will likely enjoy this episode.

The standout feature for this chapter however, is an extended vehicular chase sequence which begins when a villain steals the Whomobile, and involves the Doctor's yellow Ford ('Bessie') and eventually involves a motorboat, a hovercraft, and an autogyro (some call it a gyroplane, but autogyro is a better term) similar to the Little Nellie flown by 007 in 'You Only Live Twice.' To anyone how has seen more than 3 episodes of this series, this episode is simply astounding due to budgetary reasons. For the crew to have gone on location long enough to shoot the required footage, to have fueled and operated the various vehicles shown in operation as well as the vehicles which had to become air and water borne to film the sequence, must have consumed more financial resources than were used in all of the 12 previous years of production. I tell you, it was a simply jaw-dropping experience for me.

Especially since, upon reflection, the sequence does almost nothing to advance the plot.

My best guess is that this sequence was created with the intent of impressing potential foreign broadcasters of this series, because in the 1970's, this series was eventually syndicated in various foreign markets, including USA. Car chases were HUGE in US TV during this era.

Whatever the reason, this is a very unusual episode, and for curiosity value alone it is worth viewing.
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Batman: The Minstrel's Shakedown (1966)
Season 2, Episode 5
1/10
Song Virus
4 May 2015
Van Johnson tried to cope with his movie career hitting the skids by creating a singing nightclub act. This episode was clearly written so as to promote his singing, which gets tiresome and embarrassing quickly. Also, the director used his little minstrel tune as the instrumental cue for Johnson, so that by the time you are done, you have this awful song virus, even worse than the Verve's dreadful 1990's pop song 'Bittersweet Sympony.'

Johnson was getting soft and jowly by the 1960's, so he is, in general an unimpressive villain anyway, even without the singing. He and Alan (Alfred) Napier had worked together in '30 Seconds Over Tokyo,' Johnson's best movie, so maybe they had a drink together after shooting this episode, or maybe not. Regardless, this show was another step on the long way down from being an A-lister in the mid-1940's. By the late 1970's, Johnson would be shucking Poly-Grip and appearing on The Love Boat.

The death trap, slow roasting of the Dynamic Duo, is in worse taste than usual, and their escape is unimpressive. The high point for the whole episode is a cameo by Phyllis Diller. I recommend skipping this one.
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8/10
Anti-Authoritarian Suessian Fable
16 April 2015
Here in the 21st Century, I'm not sure who this film's proper audience is, besides cinephiles.

The protagonist is a kid, a fact which will turn off many adult viewers.

At the same time, there are some amazingly elaborate and artistically choreographed dance and acrobatic sequences, prefiguring Cirque du Soleil...the complexity and wonder of which might be lost on kids. (I also wonder if kids' attention might wander during these sequences...)

I am, of course, a cinephile now, but was I at age 10, when my brothers and I watched this back in the 1970's, broadcast by a UHF TV station out of Youngstown, Ohio? Because we liked this film then. Would today's kids, fed a steady diet of video games, MTV and R-rated movies like this film? I doubt it, but you never know.

My 21st Century cinephile self recently re-watched this film, after 40 years, finding it to be beautiful and frightening. It is a clever mix of Suessian imagery and the anxieties of childhood (which adults remember better than we admit) contained within the forms and conventions of the 1950's Hollywood musical.

The cast is excellent, particularly the dancers, but credit should be distributed all around. Mary Healy is very sexy as Bart's mother, and her real-life husband, Peter Lind Hayes, portrays the kind of adult every kid wishes he knew. Hans Conried, at what turned out to the pinnacle of his career, is perfect. Even Bart, played by Tommy Rettig is good (child actors are often very hard to stomach).

Almost the entire film is an extended dream sequence, showing life for a young boy inside a surreal fortress of mandatory piano lessons, and where strict, autocratic order is enforced by a legion of uniformed, thuggish soldiers. Very obvious to my adult self, it is a commentary on authoritarianism and totalitarianism, in the world of an American child. It is interesting to consider that the year of this film's release, 1953, was the peak of the Senator Joe McCarthy witch-hunts. The following year, theocratic authoritarians successfully pressured the US Congress into mandating the phrase 'one nation under God' into the Pledge of Allegiance, which was itself an oath forced upon millions of schoolchildren 5 days a week.

Among many memorable moments is a solo titled 'Because We're Kids,' containing this verse:

'Now just because your throat has got a deeper voice, And lots of wind to blow it out, At little kids who dare not shout, You have no right, you have no right, To boss and beat us little kids about...'

So, as I said before, this film will not be 'accessible' to everyone. But to those of us for whom it is, there are rewards.
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10/10
Captain's Commentary
6 May 2014
A lot of people expect Capt. America stories to be jingoistic right wing combat porn, but in the mid-1970's, writer Steve Englehart did a kind of parallel Marvel Universe Watergate-saga called 'The Secret Empire,' which showed corruption reaching the pinnacle of US politics, and Capt. America was confronted with reality.

And in the early 2000's, writer Ed Brubaker again brought contemporary politics and war into the Capt. America storyline with the original version of the Winter Soldier. Brubaker's run writing Cap was the best ever for Our Hero.

This film is a brilliant synthesis of the best political CA story lines and the 1970's conspiracy movie thrillers, such as 'Day of the Condor' and 'All the President's Men,' and the presence of Robt. Redford here is a clear signal of what the directors intend.

It's also clear to anyone with the slightest bit of imagination that the main plot is a hard-hitting critique of the US's policy of assassination-by-drone...Cap's pal Nick Fury intends to pre-emptively rub out 20 million 'bad guys' in order to (supposedly) protect 7 billion.

Chris Evans nails the difficult part of being an earnest and noble man in the modern world, and there is copious high quality super-heroic stage business, as Cap (and his pals Black Widow and the Falcon) smash their way through the requisite armies of henchmen and super-villains. The directors and fight choreographers also nailed the difficult task of translating Kirby-esque shield-slinging fight scenes into cinematic reality...this film, like the 2013 Thor movie, was like a living silver-age Marvel comic.

So we have been given a pulse-pounding conspiracy thriller and socio- political critique, delivered in the mighty Marvel manner. This is the best (so far) of the comic-book movies. But will it spur a discussion? Will it awaken America to the sense of outrage we so adeptly suppress...the grim reality that we inhabit the Drone nation...sending our aerial buzz-bombs into the world, killing thousands of innocents? Will this film knock our blinders off, bring the realization that our mealy-mouthed pseudo-liberal and belligerent right-wing politicians are bringing unprecedented death and destruction to the world? Only time will tell.

But it's telling that in a time of political corruption of a scale and nature which makes the Nixon Administration look like a church picnic, the only main-stream film with the guts to speak up is a comic book movie.
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Batman (1966–1968)
8/10
The 'Citizen Kane' of Superhero Television
15 April 2014
In the spring of 1968, my parents were mourning the deaths of MLK and RFK. But I was 4 years old, and like most of the kids in my neighborhood, I was mourning the cancellation of the Batman TV series. I was probably among the youngest of those who watched this series during the original run...certainly most of the other kids in the neighborhood who watched were older, being in grade school or junior high.

For kids of this era, I can testify that there was no TV show more important than Batman...and that is saying a lot, seeing as Batman was contemporary to 'The Wild Wild West,''The Avengers,''The Time Tunnel,' 'Mission Impossible,''Lost in Space,' 'Green Hornet,' 'Tarzan,' 'Man from UNCLE,' 'Star Trek,' and other classic fantastical series of the era.

At age 4, not only did I consider Batman to be a realistic depiction of modern crime-fighting, I also believed that it was perfectly appropriate for grown men to have a secret hide-out beneath their house containing super crime-fighting equipment including a souped-up car, and for grown men to wear masks and costumes and participate in elaborately choreographed fist fights with other grown men. To reinforce the part about the fist-fights, my brother, who was 2 years older, used to practice punching during the commercial breaks, and I happened to be the closest practice target.

Years later, I was 11 years old, and syndicated reruns of Batman became available via the UHF TV stations in the Ohio area, and so I watched the show again. This was a revelation to me, because my memories from age 4 had recorded this series as being a mythic epic of the highest order, both stunning and sublime. Yet at age 11, my childish memories collided with 6th-grade sophistication, and I could now see that Batman had been played for laughs. Fortunately, I had previously been familiarized with the concept of satire, and so was developmentally ready to understand that the series was a kind of meta-joke, a spoof on all things fantastical and heroic, of which there was so much in the mid-1960's. I enjoyed the big joke, but still secretly savored the fantasy of crime- fighting adventure, super weapons and wild gear.

Since those days, I have revisited the series now and again, in college and adulthood, and what impresses me is the brilliance of the heroes' and villains' suits, the brilliant visual design of the batcave and their gear, the brilliant performances, especially Adam West and Frank Gorshin, and the brilliant scripts from Season 1, when the great Lorenzo Semple Jr. had the biggest influence in the show. For that brief, shining period, it was a pop-art satire played straight, working simultaneously as a kid's adventure and as subversive giggles for grown-ups. The clearest example of a multi-level TV series that ever existed. The brilliance of Season 1, and of the 1966 feature film, make up for the gradual decline in quality that began in Season 2 and then escalated in Season 3.

The end was humiliating and cruel for this series, as ratings fell and talent fled in Season 2 and Season 3. And as Batman's star fell, so did the fortunes of almost every other fantastical TV series of the era...Man from UNCLE, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Lost in Space, etc....all were gone by the end of 1969 except for 'Land of the Giants' (ending in 1970) and 'Mission Impossible' (ending in 1973). But as for the others, it was as if they were all dinosaurs, killed by the same meteorite that killed Batman. In reality, I have to suspect that Batman's spectacularly rapid rise and fall in ratings must have spooked the advertising and TV people, so that shows like 'Ironside' and 'Hawaii Five-Oh' seemed better bets.

All the same, the reruns remain. The glory days of this show, as an epic for kids, as Don Quixote for adults, still shine.
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8/10
Jerry of the Jungle
31 March 2014
'Now...Tarzan Make Propaganda!'

A lot of people seem to have a bias against the RKO Tarzan films, but in truth, it was MGM which gradually morphed the Tarzan franchise from A-picture status to B-picture status, gradually reducing the budget and running time of each picture. And MGM had a bad habit of recycling footage from previous entries in the series...how many times did audiences have to watch the trapeze-vine and the crocodile-wrestling scenes?

In fact, it was probably a good thing that the franchise migrated from MGM to RKO, because RKO made some of the best B-pictures of all time, including many classy ones like the Val Lewton horror series, whereas MGM treated their B-pictures like red-headed step-children. Here we get a brand-new plot and a good script, and we get to see Tarzan fighting a bunch of WW2 Jerries. Thanks to Indiana Jones, it turns out that Nazis are timeless villains, which likely would have surprised the creators of this film, who clearly were content to make a fun propaganda piece.

Above all other considerations, we get Weissmuller and his distinctive portrayal of Tarzan. Maureen O'Sullivan, who was wonderful in her own right and who brought out the best in Weissmuller, is absent here, but we find that Our Hero delivers a good-to-excellent performance throughout, being strangely moving in the scene where Boy reads Jane's letter and his righteous fury is very effective when he utters this famous line: 'Now...Tarzan make war!'

Frances Gifford was an excellent choice as the beautiful and brave princess Zandra, who besides being eye-candy for the adolescents and adults in the audience, has very good chemistry with Weissmuller. Perhaps the chemistry is a little too good...Zandra attempts to persuade Tarzan to help by engaging in some enjoyable flirtation...if Jane had seen the two swimming and sunbathing together, if she had seen Zandra leaning her head on Tarzan's bare chest in a moment of despair, she might not have come back from London in 'Tarzan and the Amazons.'

The MGM Tarzan films were marred by blatantly racist depictions of African tribes. For some reason, the RKO Tarzans seem to have few dark- skinned African tribes, but numerous groups of hidden pale-skinned cities. I don't know why RKO's fictional Africa was populated this way, but I will speculate that it may be due to the fact that in WW2, the US govt. made certain efforts to squelch racism in the media, due to the fact that excessive racial oppression was deemed bad for the war effort. DC Comics, who published the Justice Society of America, did some anti-racism comics during the war, at the behest of the War Department.

Whatever the reason, we are spared the usual bad African stereotypes, but at the same time, it is odd to think of an Africa inhabited mostly by pale-skinned people.

The action and violence in this film are, by the standards of B-movies and Weissmuller Tarzans, very good and satisfying, particularly the sequence where Tarzan tracks and taunts the lead Nazi. Sig Ruman, who played Sgt. Shultz in my favorite Christmas movie, 'Stalag 17,' plays a comedy-relief Nazi here, to good effect.

The Nazis go to Africa seeking oil and strategic mineral wealth, and they use military domination to secure their holdings...the Jerries' troops were called 'Africakorps.' Today, the USA and other military powers are still active in many African nations, perpetrating intrigue, fomenting violence, allying themselves with unsavory characters and regimes, so as to secure petroleum and strategic minerals, such as coltan, which is vital for cell phones and personal electronics. The USA has 'Africom.' Now more than ever, the world needs a Tarzan. Barring that possibility, at least we can watch and contemplate this fun adventure.
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7/10
A Monkey Uncle
27 March 2014
Warning: Spoilers
There are two facts that if you know going in, might increase your appreciation of this film:

1) Johnny Sheffield, who played Boy, loved Johnny Weissmuller like an uncle. Sheffield gave a little speech upon Weissmuller's death, and wrote a foreword to a Weissmuller biography, each glowing with praise and affection for the star. The two were in about 7 films together, spanning ages 7-16 for Sheffield...knowing that there was genuine friendship will help you appreciate their scenes together.

2) This film was originally conceived and scripted to be Jane's swansong in the series, due to Maureen O'Sullivan becoming discontented in the role. (Since the reader of this review likely knows that O'Sullivan starred in 2 more Tarzan pics after this, this is not too great a spoiler.) The script originally called for Jane to die near the end of this film, and knowing this will help you appreciate a speech she gives to Boy, and O'Sullivan's performance as well. Also, this knowledge will help you tolerate the fact that the producers added a kid sidekick to the Tarzan series...when this film was conceived, the producers believed Jane would be gone, and that Tarzan needed another person to talk with, to help with exposition, and to be captured so as to help make the plot more compelling. Modern viewers such as myself generally despise kid sidekicks, but in the 1930's they were an accepted convention...in the 1940, the greatest and worst of all kid sidekicks was introduced into the comic strips...Robin the Boy Wonder.

Now, down to business. This film is something of a mixed bag, but does contain all the ingredients that make for an enjoyable and satisfying Tarzan film. It does suffer in the following respects:

1. A little too much of Boy laughing...probably this was due to the popularity of cute child actors in the 1930's, such as Shirely Temple, Our Gang, etc. But to a modern viewer, the laughing comes off as a somewhat cloying.

2. A bit too much of Boy getting himself into peril, requiring Tarzan's rescue. These vignettes do serve a plot purpose, in that they provide a rationalization for Jane's behavior, and also a key the resolution of the plot. But there are one or two too many, and so they start to seem tiresome.

3. Too much of the plot is recycled from 'Tarzan Escapes.' I guess this is somewhat excusable since TE was released in 1936, and this film in 1939...audiences in this pre-home video era had plenty of time to forget some of the previous film.

And a brief note about racism: as is typical with films of this era, depictions of Africans are racist, showing them as savage, violent and sadistic. If it is tempting for a modern American to feel superior to the creators of this film, I advise watching some Fox News or CNN and taking note of how Muslims are depicted in a supposedly non-fictional medium.

Now for the good: There is plenty of good Tarzanic stage business, vine swinging, running, wild beasts, etc. I found the underwater swimming scenes, shot at Silver Springs, in central Florida, to be particularly good...I used to live in that region and snorkeled in similar waters. And for a 7 year old, Johnny Sheffield's underwater swimming is amazing. Weissmuller and O'Sullivan are, as usual, absolutely terrific, and having the added element of a child to parent together, and all the accompanying parental emotions, raises their performances to a new level. The love of a parent for the child is the emotional heart of this movie...and the scene where Jane leaves Tarzan alone with the baby for the first time is priceless, and unique in the series.

If one is inclined to like the Weissmuller Tarzans, and there are many reasons to be so inclined, and one keeps one's expectations in line, this film is both enjoyable and satisfying.
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3/10
Bland From UNCLE
24 March 2014
As the administrator of the Facebook UNCLE page, and having seen all of S1 and S2 of Man From UNCLE via DVD, I consider myself a fan of the series. But even as a fan, I cannot say this is a good film in any way. Too bad, a number of good actors such as Herbert Lom, Joan Crawford, Kim Darby, Telly Savalas and the smoking hot Jill Ireland appear in this film, a spliced-together 2 part MFU adventure.

Also a shame, seeing as there is a fun opening sequence with a squadron of Wallis WA-116 type autogyros that attack Our Heroes as they drive the Pirhanna UNCLE car...as an autogyro aficionado, this sequence was released two months before the 007 'Little Nellie' autogyro sequence in 'You Only Live Twice.' There should be more autogyros in cinema, but they still don't save this picture.

It's mostly a bunch of short, uninteresting vignettes, and very silly fight scenes featuring a bunch of goons in matching outfits, similar to the goons you'd see on the Batman show, working for Penguin or the Riddler.

The most silly fight takes place in a night club, where the mostly forgotten bubble-gum band 'Every Mother's Son' performs...apparently MGM owned this group and used this film for cross-promotional purposes. Which pretty much sums up this film...just cashing in before the gravy train dried up. Vaughn and McCallum, who usually had a good chemistry together and had high individual appeal, seem to be phoning in their appearances...it might have been my imagination, but I swear it looked as if they were each wondering if their respective agents had been getting calls lately, or whether he should invest in a restaurant.

If you are not familiar with the MFU series, you should know that Seasons 1 & 2 of that show were generally good (and a few excellent) but from Season 3 onward there were serious problems. This movie is from two Season 3 episodes, and Season 3 was the nadir of this series.

The good episodes of MFU have cleverness, fun and some kind of a point to them....but this doesn't, and worse, it's a double-length waste of time, as opposed to just one misfire of an episode.

I DVR'd this last time it was on the TCM cable network, it having been a while since I'd seen an MFU episode. Frankly, I would have been better off going the library or video rental store and watching another episode.

This film is only of interest for die-hard UNCLE fans, or for college students drinking cheap beer to watch on a Saturday afternoon so they can jeer at it. If you've never seen MFU, this is not a good introduction to the series. This is sad, seeing as MFU is almost never shown even on cable TV.
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1/10
The 'Citizen Kane' of Bad Taste
21 March 2014
It was a tremendous boon to TV and tabloids when celebrity Woody Allen was revealed to be having sex with his adult adopted daughter. Because it was a case of perversion and child-molestation, except that Allen apparently waited until the girl was over age 18 to make his move. And because the victim was legally an adult, media were under no obligation to protect the privacy of the victim. The whole sick spectacle could be exploited guilt-free.

There is a curious fascination to this film, it appears to be completely saturated with unintentional comedy. The guy who plays Woody Allen absolutely nailed the part, and he is made up so realistically, it creates the perfect illusion of what Woody Allen would say and do in his private life, if his lines were written by a 17 year old. The actress who played aging screen goddess Maureen O'Sullivan is also a singular performance of sophomoric material. All in all, this telefilm is an excellently staged and acted rendition of a surreal imagining of a disgusting, real-life tragedy.

Now of course, things are better: we have reality TV, so we can watch this kind of twisted garbage unfold in real time.
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8/10
The Passion of the Chimp
20 March 2014
This was the first Weissmuller Tarzan film I ever saw, back in the 1970's in the days of UHF TV, and while I enjoyed it then, I enjoy it more now, being able to see a less-redacted version via DVD. As an adult, I appreciate the clever and at times powerful script by Cyril Hume (who wrote 'Forbidden Planet,' the most perfect scifi film of all time) and I also appreciate the often artful camera work...the fleeting view of Tarzan as he first approaches the safari's camp, as well as the swimming scenes stand out in particular.

As every other IMDb review points out, a few very grisly scenes were cut before theatrical release, and so there are a couple abrupt jumps in the story. Also, there is some usage of fast motion (to simulate more aggressive fighting), stock footage, and some of the comedy relief is also clumsy. And of course, the depiction of Africans is racist. These are the flaws in this picture, and are typical of the era. I forgive them since the overall experience of this picture is enjoyable and interesting.

This is likely the most violent of the MGM Tarzan films, and certainly depicts Our Hero dispatching justice in a very cold, yet understandable, fashion. At the same time, this film has some of the most emotional and heart-rending moments of the series, and there is something vaguely messianic in the way Tarzan, believing himself betrayed by one he loves, willingly enters the cage, later to descend physically down a violently rocky slope into unconsciousness, only to re-emerge into the world commanding an army of avenging elephants.

Weissmuller has all the moves down here, and utters mono-syllabic sentences with the strength of a conqueror or the vulnerability of three year old child, depending upon the needs of the script. There is a moment of genius when Tarzan says 'Secret?' to Jane...it's as if he is simultaneously asking for the definition of the word and asking Jane why in heaven's name she is keeping a secret from him. While Weissmuller was never a Lawrence Olivier, Lawrence Olivier never could have played Tarzan, so there you go.

Besides fun and adventure, this film contains several extended commentaries on human behavior, on relationships, and on moral values. O'Sullivan gives her usual magnificent performance and there is suitable Tarzanic stage business throughout. Lovers of old adventure and fantasy films, as well as lovers of the Tarzan series, are likely to enjoy and appreciate this film.
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8/10
Amazon Doth Come
17 March 2014
Warning: Spoilers
This film was released in April, 1945, very close to the end of WW2, and likely reflects some of the sub-rosa anxieties of this period. Specifically, some of the allied service-men had already been mustered-out (due to wounds, etc.) and some had been rotated back the USA at the time of this film's production. So it was that many men, raised in a highly machismo and patriarchal society, found themselves contending with wives and girlfriends who had been empowered by wartime factory work, and children who had suddenly become rebellious adolescents.

And so it is that we find Tarzan contending with a secret society of matriarchal Amazons, fiercer and sexier than Rosie the Riveter, and with a rebellious adolescent son.

It is also fitting that this film marks the return of Jane to the Tarzan series. Intelligent Tarzan scholars can disagree as to who is the greatest Tarzan in cinema, but there is universal acknowledgment that Maureen O'Sullivan was the greatest Jane. Despite this, Brenda Joyce was an amiable replacement, wholesome-sexy and not obnoxious, and she fit with the peculiar chemistry of the Tarzan films, and so we like her.

The last 4 Weismuller Tarzan films feature titles that name female characters. Besides this one, there was 'Tarzan and the Leopard Woman,' 'Tarzan and the Huntress,' and 'Tarzan and the Mermaids.' Likely the producers were attempting to lure more heterosexual men and other lovers of female beauty into the theaters, to broaden the ape-man's appeal beyond the 12-year-old demographic.

This film is a little short on action, although we do get to see Our Hero fight a crocodile and we see an adequate degree of peril and hazard. To it's credit, the script calls for Tarzan to express several philosophical concepts, using his own unique modality of thought, which author Jose Phillip Farmer describes as being 'Tarzanic.' In one instance, Tarzan issues forth what amounts to a haiku, likening the dazzling effect of gold on human greed to way the sun blinds those who stare directly at it. In another instance, Tarzan issues this pithy gem: 'Every time men bring guns, men bring trouble.' There is a quality of mythology to this film which compensates for the reduced action, and this is something of an initiation rite for Boy.

Also, the Amazons are sexy.

A lot of people bag on the RKO Tarzans because they are smaller budget than the MGM's, and because Weismuller has a bigger gut, but such concerns are trivial. This film contains Weismuller, who still had the confidence, charisma, and conviction to be a convincing Tarzan, and whose portrayal of the ape-man was the most distinctive of all actors. I recommend this film for all fans of vintage B-movies and fans of Weismuller.
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8/10
The Elvis of Tarzans
17 March 2014
Warning: Spoilers
A lot of fans like to bag on the RKO Tarzan films because they lack the production values of the 6 MGM Weismuller Tarzans (which they do), but a recent channel surfing session gives me an alternative perspective. Specifically, not long ago while eating a sandwich on my couch I found myself watching a section of the first Johnny Weismuller 'Jungle Jim' feature (1948). Seeing Our Hero slogging through Southern California and Stock Footage Africa in a Columbia ultra-cheapie, phoning in his performance and fighting what appeared to be a paper-mache crocodile made by a third-grader, has given me the ability to appreciate the RKO-Tarzans for what they are...solid B-Movie/Saturday Matinnee escapist adventure films.

Many intelligent Tarzan scholars disagree on who the greatest film Tarzan was, but none can disagree regarding the cultural impact of Weismuller and no movie Tarzan has ever had a fraction of Weismuller's staying power. Weismuller isn't for everyone, but then again, not everyone likes Elvis. This is the first Weismuller Tarzan film I have seen in about 25 years, and I have to say that after all these years I really enjoyed Weismuller's charisma, confidence and conviction. Weismuller wasn't a good actor per se, but darned if he didn't nail the Tarzan part.

Obviously, Weismuller was beginning to have a gut in these later films, but he was still strong and he still carried himself with the pride of an Olympic athlete. If you are a man over age 40, take a good hard look at your own gut some time.

RKO apparently didn't have the rights to use the patented bone-chilling hybrid Weismuller/MGMfx Tarzan yell, but as a consolation prize, we get to hear a 100% Weismuller Tarzan yell. The 100% natural yell isn't quite as impressive as the MGM version, but knowing it was 100% Weismuller adds to the enjoyment and novelty.

This film has a good plot involving a basically good-natured lady played by the smoking-hot Patricia Morison (clearly upstaging wholesome-sexy Brenda Joyce) who is hunting for zoo animals. Tarzan is ahead of his time in this film, as he opposes taking animals from their native habitat, just as he opposes killing them for anything other than self-defense or sustenance. (In the real world in 1947, keeping animals captive in zoos was universally considered to be humane and ethical.)

Cheeta is referred to as a 'she' in this film and has a fetish for putting on make-up. IIRC, in some films Cheeta was a 'he.' Who knows, maybe Cheeta was also ahead of his/her time regarding the idea that one can choose one's own gender identity.

Tarzan has one decent hand-to-hand combat fight scene, and while I would have appreciated a little more, the film is filled with appropriate Tarzanic stage business, such as Tarzan stealing all the hunters' firearms while they sleep, and shooting a goose with his bow and arrow. The concluding sequence, where Tarzan initiates an elephant stampede, causing mass carnage and death among the hunters, is well-done and highly satisfying, despite the usage of some stock footage.

This film is a fine use of your time if you are a fan of vintage B-features, or a fan of the Weismuller Tarzan. Not his best, but definitely enjoyable and satisfying, with a script and direction much better than your average B-pic.
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5/10
Holy McKee!
20 February 2014
The likelihood that our future is some kind of apocalyptic hellscape, while being somewhat depressing, was a huge boon for makers of low budget scifi films. In the post apocalyptic future of Ib Melchior's 'Time Travelers,' most of the action takes place indoors, where the human survivors of the apocalypse must stay so as to avoid the requisite race of post-atomic savage mutants. Shooting outdoors on location is expensive...shooting on small, spartan sets on sound stages is much cheaper.

The other great thing about the human race having to live indoors is that women have to take off their clothes and go into a room together to bathe in the rays of a sun lamp, with a few carefully positioned props covering up their naughty bits so that the scene is cheesecake, rather than being soft-core porn. In my lifelong study of low budget scifi films, this is the only film I have seen where this aspect of our future post-apocalyptic life was explored.

Scifi fans or film buffs looking for any kind of serious artistic or dramatic content should look elsewhere. This movie was obviously aimed at kids and adolescents, and the value of it now is just pure goofy fun.

Comic actor Steve Franken, while not the leading man, is a highlight in this quirky opus, playing an electrician wearing coveralls named Danny McKee. Danny McKee has the habit of saying 'Holy McKee!' to express surprise or amazement. I have never in my life ever met a real person who used his own last name in this fashion...imagine if, say, Matthew McConaughey said 'Holy McConaughey!' whenever he was surprised or amazed. But for some reason, Danny McKee likes to say 'Holy McKee!'

There is an improbable sub-plot of one of the beautiful future women, one of the gals in the semi-nude 'sunbathing' scene, falling in love with goofy Danny McKee. If they had married, would she also say 'Holy McKee'? If they were married by a clergy person, would they be united in Holy McKeetrimony?

Another highlight of this film is that many of the special effects are simply bits of stage magic, perhaps adapted slightly to fit the setting. There is a scene, for example, where a head is removed from an operational android...this is done in the exact manner as a popular magic trick where a head is 'removed' from a living stage assistant. There are other stage magic tricks scattered throughout this film, such as the depiction of a high tech future assembly line and other business with the androids. I don't know if director Melchior was also a stage magician, or whether his FX person was, but the magic tricks provide unintentional humor and add to the goofy charm.
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7/10
XM = Expatriated Missile
18 February 2014
Despite this picture being produced quickly and cheaply in order to capitalize on the publicity generated by George Pal's big budget 'Destination Moon,' this movie is better than a lot of scifi flicks produced today costing tens of millions of times more and having our 21st century futuristic technology for special effects.

It's interesting to note that the film was directed by the German-born Kurt Neumann and features the beautiful Teutonic actress Osa Massen in the female lead. The original version of this film, screened by American audiences 5 years after the surrender of Germany, contains footage of the WW2 German V-2 missile, used in lieu of FX miniature shots of the titular rocketship. The V-2 footage is not from WW2, however. The V-2 film comes from the American rocket program, which in 1950 was still using captured V-2's for testing and development, due to the fact that even 5 years after WW2, the USA still did not have anything that could touch it.

These facts are interesting because Germany was hugely important to space exploration movement of the 20th century. It was a clique of German rocket experts in the 1920's who first proposed plausible trips to the moon for humans, and who served as advisors for German director Fritz Lang for the silent 'Frau Im Mond,' the first attempt at a serious cinematic depiction of space travel. The space enthusiasts were co-opted in the 1930's by the Hitler regime, eventually designing the A4, which rained indiscriminate technological death upon England in a manner similar to way US drones rain indiscriminate technological death upon the villages of Pakistan and other Muslim nations.

The German rocket experts were all captured by the US and Russians as Germany finally fell to the Allies in 1945, and they were forced to share their expertise with their captors. One German rocket expert, Werner Von Braun, did well for himself in the USA, designing the mighty Saturn V, which eventually took the first humans to the moon.

In this film, the lustful American pilot Lloyd Bridges, dressed in military fatigues, spends a lot of screen time trying to put the make on the serious German rocket scientist Osa Massen. It's kind of a metaphor for the USA, ostensibly seducing but perhaps also coercing the German rocket program for it's own uses.

There are some long, dull sections of this film in the beginning and middle where Neumann should have compressed things...probably he had orders to make this film over 1 hour so that it might pass for an 'A' picture (in those days, 'B' pictures were frequently just at the one hour length). And there are numerous scientific boners, like a zero gravity environment where a jacket floats but humans don't.

At the same time, there are a number of visuals, such as the meteor scene, where you can appreciate the ingenuity of the filmmakers, who created these images with almost no money and almost no time, and none of our futuristic technology. The acting is, overall, pretty good, and there are some very nice uses of language in certain parts of the script.

The scenes filmed at the launch center and inside the rocket, are spartan and atmospheric in a way that makes the film seem more realistic than it actually is. (The later Lippert feature, Flight to Mars, which used the same rocket sets, is inferior to this film.) As is often the case, black and white film stock gives this feature an unintended documentary quality, toning down the unrealistic elements.

The Martian sequences, filmed at Death Valley, contain some artistic visuals and there is a nice use of the theremin sound, the earliest example I know in scifi films.

Many others have noted that this is the first scifi film to discuss the possibility of earth being destroyed by atomic war. It should also be noted that this film touches upon all the other major themes of science fiction films of the 1950's: human space flight, alien races, the planet Mars, and atomic mutants.

Despite the primitive FX and numerous scientific boners, Neumann and his writers achieved a tone that is adult and dramatic, all the while avoiding the embarrassing emotional excesses of George Pal's later, big budget Mars film, 'Conquest of Space.' Also, the ending of this film is very different than most scifi films of this period, containing a nice bit of poetic dialogue. This film should be on the curricula of any 1950's scifi film buff.
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8/10
In Search of Goofy Low Budget Fun
18 February 2014
Dr. Franklin Ruehl originally did this show in the 1980's as a public access thing, but somehow he got picked up by the Science Fiction Channel (nowadays called 'syfy') in 1992. Dr. Ruehl does in fact really have a PHD in nuclear physics, but his screen persona is more like a spoof of a 1950's B-movie scientist. Ruehl is also a UFOlogist, and this program was like an ultra-low budget, mildly tongue-in-cheek rip-off of the 1970's 'In Search Of' pseudo-documentary show. Every episode featured quirky unsolved mysteries such as UFO's and related phenomena or oddities, with Dr. Ruehl sitting at a cheap desk in a cheap studio set, maybe playing some video of the subject, and occasionally with a nerdy-looking reporter in the field.

Every so-called mystery was a genuine mystery, whatever that means, but the whole atmosphere of the show was like a spoof, with Dr. Ruehl at the center, with his strange appearance, mannerisms, and catch-phrases, such as whenever he pulled a piece of information out of an envelope, he would say 'let me extricate it from it's paper prison.' The first time a person watched the show, he might think it was unintentionally corny and goofy, but after you watched a few episodes, you were in on the joke.

Dr. Ruehl would pad the show with trivia, one time explaining that President William Henry Harrison, who refused to wear a coat and hat to his inauguration and then immediately took ill and died, died because he was a 'macho man.' The Scifi Channel used to run this show on Sunday nights, right before the classic Patrick MacGoohan series 'The Prisoner,' and so I caught a lot of these episodes.

Once you got wise to the fact that Dr. Ruehl was kind of spoofing himself, it was a mildly fun show, if you think unsolved mysteries are interesting and enjoy a little goofiness. Besides being a genuine nuclear scientist, Dr. Ruehl has been a fan of old scifi movies since his childhood in the 1950's, with his favorite movie being 'Rocketship X-M.' Via the interwebs, Dr. Ruehl is doing some kind of show now.

'In Search Of' was a predecessor to this show, made in the 1970's, featuring thespian Leonard Nimoy, a famous pretend scientist from his iconic TV show in the 1960's. 'In Search Of' was played extremely straight and often melodramitic, with the effect being that afterwords you felt you had been manipulated.

This show featured a real scientist, but presenting in a playful and often humorous manner, with the effect being that with this show you didn't feel manipulated.

This show doesn't rank with say, Perry Mason or Gunsmoke as far as quality TV goes, but it was a hell of a lot better than all the so-called 'reality TV' crap we have now like Honey Boo-boo and Duck Dynasty.
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8/10
Whipping Boy for the Summer Movie Critics
5 September 2013
The world needed a Lone Ranger movie, and while this one is not perfect, it's a lot better than many so-called 'summer blockbusters' of 2013.

It would be nearly impossible, in our post-modern, ironic, cynical world, to do the Lone Ranger with the same earnestness as the classic Clayton Moore/Jay Silverheels version.

Rather than try to do something nearly impossible, the director of this film elected to give us two earnest characters, who inhabit an Old West that, because it contains the irony and cynicism usually whitewashed from our history books, feels post-modern.

I enjoyed both Armie Hammer's and Johnny Depp's respective performances in this film, and I was amenable to the Masked Man and Tonto being rebooted in a somewhat Quixotic vein. (I am still troubled, however, that the producers did not find a real Commanche or least First Nations actor to play Tonto, however.)

I especially appreciate this film's deconstruction of US mythology, especially the now-metastatic Cult of the Military.

This is an action-comedy with wonderful western scenery, interesting characters, good acting, that challenges one's political assumptions.

There are plenty of excellent action sequences, and of course, the climactic sequence does play the William Tell Overture in the background. There are also some moments of genuine heart and soul. If you like the Lone Ranger, there is no substitute for watching the Masked Man and Tonto in action while this music plays in the background.

Any movie featuring Batman or 007 is guaranteed to sell a certain number of tickets based on name recognition alone. But the Lone Ranger hasn't had that kind of name recognition since at least the 1960's...why Disney decided to spend astronomical sums on a mostly forgotten action hero franchise is a mystery, but they did it 2 years ago with John Carter, so there you go. The point is, if Disney had set a reasonable budget for this film, a lot of things would have been different.

Why critics panned this film is an interesting question. It may be that they sensed that TLR would flop, for the reasons cited in the previous paragraph, so they just decided to make this film a whipping boy for the excesses of summer movie goers. It's a fact that in this day of media hyper-consolidation and uber-budget summer blockbusters, critics who want to keep their jobs are routinely pressured into giving favorable reviews of certain movies...emotionally, they need to take out their anger somewhere, and in 2013, The Lone Ranger was their target.

It may even be that the US govt., not liking the way its military is portrayed here, exerted pressure. (The US govt. approved the script for this year's Superman movie, and helped promote the film).

But the point is, the critics were wrong. This is a very fine action/escapist film. It's not the perfect Lone Ranger and Tonto...no one will ever replace Moore and Silverheels...but this is the only Lone Ranger we've got, and it was good enough for me.
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Man of Steel (2013)
6/10
Snapping Necks and Cashing Checks
14 August 2013
Warning: Spoilers
I went in having low expectations for this film due to my low opinion of Hack, I mean Zack, Snyder, and due to Warner Communications' dismal record of Superman film adaptations.

Therefore, when I finally saw MOS at the second run theater, I was pleasantly surprised to find that in many ways this was a decent movie. The actors playing Supes and Lois are good, the shots of Superman flying are good, a lot of the Krypton backstory is good, and Ma and Pa Kent were also good.

I am giving a lot of credit here for the wise casting decisions, since 2006's 'Superman Returns' had the worst Superman and Lois in movie history.

Also, the main storyline about Gen. Zod and his cronies wanting to terraform Earth into a New Krypton was a pretty interesting story idea.

But the movie is marred by a slow, meandering beginning, and by the excessively cluttered and complex fight sequences which characterize this stage of the digital revolution.

Worse, this film simply does not give us enough of Superman/Kal/Clark...the eponymous character is mostly a cipher. We care about him because we learned to like and trust him in previous incarnations, but more than that, we don't know.

Then there is the aspect of Superman killing one of his enemies. For the classic years of the Superman comics, Superman had a self-imposed moral code that prohibited killing, period. This was to balance out the fact that by virtue of his invulnerability, Superman never had to live with the possibility of his own death, the way a human must always live with the possibility that he could on any given day be taken out by a stray bullet, an auto accident, or a medical emergency.

Now, in this film, no such moral code is established, nor is it talked about after the villain is killed by Our Hero. By these omissions, an event of great drama and interest is reduced to mere collateral damage.

If we had earlier seen young Clark and one of his 2 fathers discuss the morality of killing, or if afterwords, Our Hero had become disgusted with himself and vowed never to kill again, that would have been good, dramatic stuff. But no, Superman snuffs out a villain and then utters one obligatory cry of regret, but otherwise he is as detached as a US president snuffing out children in Yemen with his mighty drone bombs.

Another weird thing is that this film spends a lot of time on the streets of Metropolis, as buildings are getting blown up and all heck breaking loose, showing people experiencing the carnage up close. There is miles and miles of this footage...way more than necessary to tell the story.

The way these sequences unfold, you find yourself thinking '9/11.' And for me, I complete the thought this way: '9/11...AGAIN...every year for 12 years and for the next hundred years action movies are going to keep evoking 9/11 for manipulative and jingoistic motives...phooey!!!'

And then I remember the shameful ad campaign earlier this year, with Superman's image being used to entice young people to join the National Guard, to throw their lives away as cannon fodder in the USA's imperial wars of aggression.

So, yes, this Superman is indeed and improvement on the last one. All the same, I'd prefer a more a human version, a Superman less tainted by crimes and excesses our own insanely militaristic and aggressive era. We needed a Man of Steel, instead we have a Man of Depleted Uranium.
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The Point (1971 TV Movie)
8/10
A Real Kid Helped Me Review This Movie
18 April 2013
I have a fragmentary recollection of seeing this film when I was a kid and liking it back in the 1970's when it played on network TV. I recently re-watched it with my nephew Max, who is in 2nd grade and will be 8 years old in two months.

Probably the most important thing to say is that the movie held Max's attention very well, his eyes were riveted to the screen, and that he liked it very much, except for some of the musical interludes, which he thought were 'wierd,' especially the song where the whale dies and decomposes. (Of course, me being a sophisticated adult, I thought that song was probably the most profound and poetic, but I can see where Max was coming from.)

Based on the fact that Max appears to be a fairly typical real kid, who plays games on the Wii, who normally watches Adventure Time, the Ninja Turtles, and Sponge Bob, I would say that it is likely that other real world kids of today are likely to enjoy this movie as well.

As an adult, I find a number of reasons to recommend this movie for grown-ups and kids to watch together:

1. It's nice to find a kid-friendly film that isn't part of a mass merchandising campaign, which is now always the case regarding Disney and Pixar and Shreck movies, not to mention crap like GI Joe, Transformers, and My Little Pony. After watching this, it's unlikely your kid is going be asking for an Oblio action figure, and if he does ask, you won't find that action figure at the Target store.

2. Animation: This film has full-animation as opposed to the cheap-looking 'limited' animation that you see in the Hanna Barberra stuff from this period. Also, the drawing and coloring appears to have been done all by hand, giving the moving images a hand-made kind of quality, which is endearing to adults, and which might serve to inspire kids to pursue their own artistic endeavors. All in all, it's a refreshing change from computer animation and the other super-perfect stuff made today.

3. The narration and dialog is often clever and amusing, even insightful at times. The voice actors are all good, in particular, Mike Lookinland, who sounded so much like a real and natural kid, I did not recognize him as being one of the sickeningly saccharine Brady Bunch kids. A lot of the reviewers her on IMDb lament that Dustin Hoffman's original narration has been lost, and I of course always regret when a piece of art is not preserved intact, but Ringo Starr, besides being an old friend to the adults, tends to be popular with kids as well (hence his former gig as the narrator for Thomas the Tank Engine).

4. I'm dubious that all of the songs will appeal to kids, but at least they didn't cause Max to walk out. As an adult, and being ambivalent about a lot of Harry Nilson's music, I can say that most of the musical numbers I quite enjoyed. At least with the musical numbers, that is a good time for the kid to go the bathroom or to put some fruit or Ritz Bitz on a little plate for him.

5. The morals of the fable, regarding the somewhat arbitrary criteria we use to determine whether an activity has a 'point,' and regarding tolerance and acceptance of the differences between persons, are good morals for kids to learn.

On the whole, I found this to be a fun, sincere, unique, surprising and heartfelt piece of video that grown-ups and kids can watch together.
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