Friday, June 10, 2011

Worth Mentioning - Flying Battleships, Pink Elephants

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Another week has passed and Cody is back again to discuss a handful of films featuring robots, mutants, aliens, Boris Karloff, and Lucille Ball.

ROBOT JOX (1990)

The story is set in the future, fifty years after a nuclear war almost wiped out the human race. The Cold War obviously went hot, and when the bombs were done falling the remaining nations joined into just two separate "Great Alliances", the Market and the Confederation, primarily represented in the film by Americans and Russians respectively. War was outlawed, and all territorial disputes are now settled at Playing Fields in one-on-one battles between giant fighting machines with human pilots.

As the film begins, vicious Confederation fighter Alexander has won another battle and killed his ninth straight opponent. The Market team is down to just one remaining pilot, veteran Achilles, who is on the verge of retirement. Achilles is set to be the last of the naturally born fighters, a group of twenty-something-looking genetically engineered "test tube babies" are being trained to be the new team. One of these tubies is Athena, who Achilles develops a shaky mentor relationship with.

The highlights of the film are, of course, the giant robot battles, as Alexander is repeatedly fought for ownership of the Alaskan territory. The robot effects are brought to life through the awesome stop motion skills of David Allen.

Produced by Charles Band and directed by master of horror Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator), this was Gordon's attempt to do a kids movie, sort of a live action answer to classic "giant battling robot" cartoons like Voltron, Transformers, Tranzor Z, etc. A kid myself at the time, I totally enjoyed it when it was released. This was one of my favorite movies to catch on cable in the early '90s. For some of the same and some different reasons, I still enjoy it today.


After greatly enjoying the X-Men franchise prequel First Class last week, I'm viewing my way through the other X-Men films. Since First Class was set in 1962, the second one I watched was X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which is set in the late '70s. The mutants get involved with the Cuban Missile Crisis in First Class, in Wolverine it's the Three Mile Island accident.

This was the first time I rewatched Wolverine since its release. Despite Wolverine being one of my favorite comic book characters, I was not a fan of this movie when it came out. It's kind of a mess. But there is a good reason behind that.

In episode #82 of the Bagged & Boarded podcast, former Fox executive Jeff Katz is interviewed and covers most of his Hollywood career, from successfully working on Freddy vs. Jason, Snakes on a Plane, and Shoot 'Em Up, to the near misses of Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash, Bubba Nosferatu, and a Phantasm reboot by JJ Abrams. Wolverine is briefly discussed, and Katz says that when the project first came to him, it was a $70 million movie with a Christmas release date that would've been much darker, an almost-R-rated Charles Bronson-esque revenge film.

The skeleton of that version still remains in the finished film, particularly in the section that has former soldier Logan (soon to be Wolverine) trying to live a peaceful life in the Rocky Mountains, working as a lumberjack and courting a school teacher. A killer starts knocking off members of Logan's old team and he's an obvious future target. His life and his girlfriend's are in danger. The Bronson-esque set-up is there, it could've been like Mr. Majestyk with claws.

The trouble came when the release date was moved up from Christmas to May 1st. Suddenly it was a summer tentpole film with more than twice the budget (the estimate on IMDb is $150 million). It needed to be bigger, with more mutants and a more summer-friendly tone. Unfortunately, this change was made during the writers strike. Half the script needed to be rewritten when the writers weren't working.

Watching the movie again knowing about the production troubles, I enjoyed it more than I did two years ago. It is a flawed film, but I was able to get more out of the parts that worked and understand why other parts didn't. I like at least half of it now.

From one maligned "claw" movie to another -


There's something strange in the sky, and civil aeronautics engineer Mitch MacAfee is right in the middle of the situation from the moment that he's the first to spot a massive Unidentified Flying Object. Other pilots also report UFO sightings. Planes are knocked out of the sky. Parachuters are eaten in mid-air. A farmer sees something that he swears is straight out of a French-Canadian legend: a creature with "the face of the wolf and the body of the woman, with wings bigger than I can tell". Mitch suggests that he probably just saw an eagle, but the farmer maintains that it was a monster.

The farmer is right. Not about the origin, and his description is pretty far off, but the terror of the sky is a monstrous creature. A giant bird from another world, able to radiate an invisible barrier than keeps it from showing up on radar and protects it from being harmed by Earthly weapons.

This is a fun, fast-paced movie, best known for the mockable design of the creature. The alien bird does look very goofy, but it's awesome, its silly looks just adding to the fun.

LURED (1947)

A serial killer is terrorizing London, luring unsuspecting young women into his murderous clutches through newspaper personal ads, teasing the police by sending them poems with clues about the type of girl that will be his next target.

After one of Sandra Carpenter's friends is killed, she agrees to help the police by acting as bait for the killer, responding to every suspicious-sounding personal ad possible. After some odd experiences, this tactic does eventually, of course, bring Sandra within striking distance of the killer.

What makes this film, directed by Douglas Sirk, especially interesting is the fact that Sandra is played by Lucille Ball, well into her career but years before she was so famously "Love"d on television. She makes for a tough, smart, entertaining heroine.

One of the characters Sandra encounters through a personal ad is a very odd artist played by Boris Karloff, who wants her to model a dress he designed. Things get out of hand and we're treated to the sight of Boris Karloff threatening Lucille Ball with a sword.

That's all for this week. Until next time - crash and burn. (That's the Robot Jox version of a "break a leg"-type wishing of "good luck".)

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