Redletter Media recently featured Shakma on its show Best of the Worst, and I bumped into the trailer last month, so this confluence of events made it impossible to pass it up when I discovered it was available to stream for free through Amazon Prime. Yes, I was warned about its quality. Warned accurately. “Free” is about as much as anybody should pay to watch this. Killer baboon films deserve much better than people wandering around bland hallways for a stretched out forty-five-minute conclusion that never offers anything new.
Shakma has some promise for cheesy fun, mainly because its central “monster” is a rather adorable baboon. I can tolerate a monster film where the monster is a funny and charming primate who isn’t the least bit threatening. But where Shakma fails as B-movie fun is an interminable hour and forty-two minute running time where everything interesting has already happened after an hour. When I felt the movie was reaching the natural wrapping up point, ready to ramp into the finale, I checked the time and saw that three quarters of hour were left. And that remaining time consisted of nothing much more than Christopher Atkins slowly moping around the same set of boring corridors on a soundstage at Universal Studios Florida. A judicious cut of at least fifteen minutes could’ve improve the film, although wouldn’t save it. Shakma has no bite.

Redletter Media recently featured Shakma on its show Best of the Worst, and I bumped into the trailer last month, so this confluence of events made it impossible to pass it up when I discovered it was available to stream for free through Amazon Prime. Yes, I was warned about its quality. Warned accurately. “Free” is about as much as anybody should pay to watch this. Killer baboon films deserve much better than people wandering around bland hallways for a stretched out forty-five-minute conclusion that never offers anything new.

Shakma has some promise for cheesy fun, mainly because its central “monster” is a rather adorable baboon. I can tolerate a monster film where the monster is a funny and charming primate who isn’t the least bit threatening. But where Shakma fails as B-movie fun is an interminable hour and forty-two minute running time where everything interesting has already happened after an hour. When I felt the movie was reaching the natural wrapping up point, ready to ramp into the finale, I checked the time and saw that three quarters of hour were left. And that remaining time consisted of nothing much more than Christopher Atkins slowly moping around the same set of boring corridors on a soundstage at Universal Studios Florida. A judicious cut of at least fifteen minutes could’ve improve the film, although wouldn’t save it. Shakma has no bite.

This is one of my favorite of the Heisei Era Godzilla movies, although I can’t see non-Godzilla fans having an easy time with the first half, which is prolonged set-up through the time-travel gimmick for the monster action. I appreciate the filmmakers going for a different approach to putting together why the monsters exist in the movie, even if it’s derivative of The Terminator. Once Godzilla enters the story and unleashes the most hellish fury yet in the Heisei movies, the big guns come out and the film’s a blast. The Shinjuku showdown between Godzilla and Mecha King Ghidorah is one of the action highlights of any Godzilla film. 
As a bonus, there’s some excellent character work with Mr. Shindo, played by legendary Japanese actor Yoshio Tsuchiya, who has a powerful final scene when he confronts the monster he once believed was his savior—and the savior of all of Japan. It’s a superb piece of staging and acting, and emphasizes Godzilla’s power as a symbol beyond being just a big monster.

This is one of my favorite of the Heisei Era Godzilla movies, although I can’t see non-Godzilla fans having an easy time with the first half, which is prolonged set-up through the time-travel gimmick for the monster action. I appreciate the filmmakers going for a different approach to putting together why the monsters exist in the movie, even if it’s derivative of The Terminator. Once Godzilla enters the story and unleashes the most hellish fury yet in the Heisei movies, the big guns come out and the film’s a blast. The Shinjuku showdown between Godzilla and Mecha King Ghidorah is one of the action highlights of any Godzilla film. 

As a bonus, there’s some excellent character work with Mr. Shindo, played by legendary Japanese actor Yoshio Tsuchiya, who has a powerful final scene when he confronts the monster he once believed was his savior—and the savior of all of Japan. It’s a superb piece of staging and acting, and emphasizes Godzilla’s power as a symbol beyond being just a big monster.

It’s been a long stretch since I’ve watched the Disney Tarzan, and my knowledge of ERB and his most famous creation have increased immensely since then (although I was already quite Tarzan-fluent when the movie was in theaters originally). Now that I’ve seen many of the lesser-known, but excellent, live-action Tarzan films, I’m curious to see what I make of the Disney Renaissance take.

It’s been a long stretch since I’ve watched the Disney Tarzan, and my knowledge of ERB and his most famous creation have increased immensely since then (although I was already quite Tarzan-fluent when the movie was in theaters originally). Now that I’ve seen many of the lesser-known, but excellent, live-action Tarzan films, I’m curious to see what I make of the Disney Renaissance take.

I had no idea this H. P. Lovecraft adaptation even existed until yesterday, but I’m grateful for the discovery. It’s one of the finest versions of an HPL tale, and since that tale is also my personal favorite of the Old Man’s work, it adds to the thrill.
This is a low-budget German film titled Die Farbe (“The Color”) based on “The Colour Out of Space.” I don’t know why the official English title dropped Lovecraft’s purposeful use of the U.K. spelling “Colour.” Lovecraft was such a severe Anglophile that it seems strange to change the title, but perhaps the Germans didn’t understand what a difference that one letter makes to Anglophones.
Like the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society films The Call of Cthulhu and The Whisperer in Darkness, this is a black-and-white film with a distinctly retro feeling, although it isn’t specifically attempting to imitate a 1920s or ’30s style of filmmaking. The choice to shoot in black-and-white ends up paying off immensely, because “the colour” can genuinely seem like an alien color when it is the only color that ever appears on screen.
The between-wars Germany setting works well; the filmmakers manage to capture the sense of HPL’s rural New England through rural Southeastern Germany (specifically the Swabian-Franconian Forest). Most of Lovecraft’s story remains intact, with a few variants, such as the reason the protagonist goes to investigate in the first place, and an odd coda. The budget causes some problems, such as some very wonky blue screen effects during the first five minutes that might unfortunately turn some viewers off regarding the quality of the rest of the movie. There’s also a German actor who is supposed to be playing a character from the U.S., but his few scenes in English have him speaking with a thick German accent. But what the filmmakers achieve with what they have is often stunning, and the movie manages to capture some of the most terrifying moments of the story in skin-crawling fashion.

I had no idea this H. P. Lovecraft adaptation even existed until yesterday, but I’m grateful for the discovery. It’s one of the finest versions of an HPL tale, and since that tale is also my personal favorite of the Old Man’s work, it adds to the thrill.

This is a low-budget German film titled Die Farbe (“The Color”) based on “The Colour Out of Space.” I don’t know why the official English title dropped Lovecraft’s purposeful use of the U.K. spelling “Colour.” Lovecraft was such a severe Anglophile that it seems strange to change the title, but perhaps the Germans didn’t understand what a difference that one letter makes to Anglophones.

Like the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society films The Call of Cthulhu and The Whisperer in Darkness, this is a black-and-white film with a distinctly retro feeling, although it isn’t specifically attempting to imitate a 1920s or ’30s style of filmmaking. The choice to shoot in black-and-white ends up paying off immensely, because “the colour” can genuinely seem like an alien color when it is the only color that ever appears on screen.

The between-wars Germany setting works well; the filmmakers manage to capture the sense of HPL’s rural New England through rural Southeastern Germany (specifically the Swabian-Franconian Forest). Most of Lovecraft’s story remains intact, with a few variants, such as the reason the protagonist goes to investigate in the first place, and an odd coda. The budget causes some problems, such as some very wonky blue screen effects during the first five minutes that might unfortunately turn some viewers off regarding the quality of the rest of the movie. There’s also a German actor who is supposed to be playing a character from the U.S., but his few scenes in English have him speaking with a thick German accent. But what the filmmakers achieve with what they have is often stunning, and the movie manages to capture some of the most terrifying moments of the story in skin-crawling fashion.

This is the second retro-H. P. Lovecraft film from the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society, following their superb silent version of The Call of Cthulhu. This time, the movie is designed to look like it was shot in the 1930s, and the filmmakers manage to craft a very convincing simulacrum of Old Hollywood. The script includes almost everything in Lovecraft’s shortnstory, but in order to provide material to a make a complete narrative film, it extends into a finale that goes past where the story stops (Wilmarth finding out the true identity of Akeley) and moves into a more standard thriller, with Wilmarth teaming up with a young girl to shut down a gate the mi-go are trying to open. The climax involves mi-go chasing a bi-plane, which is the perfect sort of finale for a 1930s movie, although certainly not something that would have occurred to Lovecraft.
It’s probably as good a film as could be fashioned from the short story given the low budget. However, it’s really for Lovecraft fans and lovers of 1930s cinema; more casual viewers will have a harder time getting into it.

This is the second retro-H. P. Lovecraft film from the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society, following their superb silent version of The Call of Cthulhu. This time, the movie is designed to look like it was shot in the 1930s, and the filmmakers manage to craft a very convincing simulacrum of Old Hollywood. The script includes almost everything in Lovecraft’s shortnstory, but in order to provide material to a make a complete narrative film, it extends into a finale that goes past where the story stops (Wilmarth finding out the true identity of Akeley) and moves into a more standard thriller, with Wilmarth teaming up with a young girl to shut down a gate the mi-go are trying to open. The climax involves mi-go chasing a bi-plane, which is the perfect sort of finale for a 1930s movie, although certainly not something that would have occurred to Lovecraft.

It’s probably as good a film as could be fashioned from the short story given the low budget. However, it’s really for Lovecraft fans and lovers of 1930s cinema; more casual viewers will have a harder time getting into it.

This is the second time this year I’ve watched a movie in memorial to a very funny person who died too early. It’s dreadful to lose Harold Ramis and Robin Williams, and Williams’s death due to depression is such a painful reminder of how destructive, epidemic, and misunderstood the illness is.
This was a strange memorial movie to watch, and I did go into it knowing that is has elements that relate to Williams’s death. It’s a fine movie, a dark comedy that pulls back from the dark edge at the right time. But it’s hard to discuss given the recent events.

This is the second time this year I’ve watched a movie in memorial to a very funny person who died too early. It’s dreadful to lose Harold Ramis and Robin Williams, and Williams’s death due to depression is such a painful reminder of how destructive, epidemic, and misunderstood the illness is.

This was a strange memorial movie to watch, and I did go into it knowing that is has elements that relate to Williams’s death. It’s a fine movie, a dark comedy that pulls back from the dark edge at the right time. But it’s hard to discuss given the recent events.

The Abominable Dr. Phibes has a straightforward story: an organ player plots to murder the physicians and the nurse he holds responsible for his wife’s death on the operating table, using the Plagues of Egypt from Exodus as his guide. The police track the murders and try to intercept them. That’s pretty much the sum total of the story. But what everyone remembers about the film is the bizarre modernist design (it feels exactly like the theatrical release poster) and the fantastic British gallows humor.
It is strange that Vincent Price has no on-screen dialogue in the movie. Dr. Phibes only “speaks” using a connection from his throat to a Victrola horn, which produces an odd halting voice. It works in the film, but it is strange to have the wonderful characteristic voice of Mr. Price put in the background.

The Abominable Dr. Phibes has a straightforward story: an organ player plots to murder the physicians and the nurse he holds responsible for his wife’s death on the operating table, using the Plagues of Egypt from Exodus as his guide. The police track the murders and try to intercept them. That’s pretty much the sum total of the story. But what everyone remembers about the film is the bizarre modernist design (it feels exactly like the theatrical release poster) and the fantastic British gallows humor.

It is strange that Vincent Price has no on-screen dialogue in the movie. Dr. Phibes only “speaks” using a connection from his throat to a Victrola horn, which produces an odd halting voice. It works in the film, but it is strange to have the wonderful characteristic voice of Mr. Price put in the background.

Mothra (1961) is one of the most important of all Japanese fantasy/science fiction films. It marks the turning point where the explosion of fantastic cinema in Japan that started with Godzilla (1954) turned away from the U.S. model to a fully realized, distinct domestic style. Mothra is nothing like the atomic monster films from the 1950s in the U.S., and pretty unlike any U.S. film. It does make borrowings from King Kong, with an entertainment promoter bringing back to civilization an amazing discovery from an exotic island and suffering city-smashing consequences, but the confluence of fantasy, comedy, musical numbers, and light satire make it unique. It’s one of the finest of the kaiju genre and one of Ishiro Honda’s best films, with epic and expansive work from special effects genius Eiji Tsubarya. Mothra’s two rampages, first in larval form and then creating massive windstorms in adult form are astonishing in their scope and ambition.

Mothra (1961) is one of the most important of all Japanese fantasy/science fiction films. It marks the turning point where the explosion of fantastic cinema in Japan that started with Godzilla (1954) turned away from the U.S. model to a fully realized, distinct domestic style. Mothra is nothing like the atomic monster films from the 1950s in the U.S., and pretty unlike any U.S. film. It does make borrowings from King Kong, with an entertainment promoter bringing back to civilization an amazing discovery from an exotic island and suffering city-smashing consequences, but the confluence of fantasy, comedy, musical numbers, and light satire make it unique. It’s one of the finest of the kaiju genre and one of Ishiro Honda’s best films, with epic and expansive work from special effects genius Eiji Tsubarya. Mothra’s two rampages, first in larval form and then creating massive windstorms in adult form are astonishing in their scope and ambition.

This is the best of Shusuke Kaneko’s three Heisei Gamera films, which therefore makes it the best Gamera film, period. The effects, with a few exceptions, are superb, and Kaneko pushes the characters to dark places and makes rage and vengeance central to the story. However, I simply can’t embrace this film as whole-heartedly as many other kaiju fans do, because I feel that Kaneko tends to over-mystify the film to a point of befuddlement, coming up with a metaphysical tangle that takes some of the edge off an otherwise excellent giant monster movie.

This is the best of Shusuke Kaneko’s three Heisei Gamera films, which therefore makes it the best Gamera film, period. The effects, with a few exceptions, are superb, and Kaneko pushes the characters to dark places and makes rage and vengeance central to the story. However, I simply can’t embrace this film as whole-heartedly as many other kaiju fans do, because I feel that Kaneko tends to over-mystify the film to a point of befuddlement, coming up with a metaphysical tangle that takes some of the edge off an otherwise excellent giant monster movie.

Yes, yes, I’ve waited so long for a Blu-ray of Phantom of the Paradise, and here it is, with so many bonus features that Shout! Factory had to spill them over to a second disc.

Yes, yes, I’ve waited so long for a Blu-ray of Phantom of the Paradise, and here it is, with so many bonus features that Shout! Factory had to spill them over to a second disc.

Fun space opera, although perhaps my general detachment from the cosmic aspects of the Marvel Universe (I was into the more street-level aspects, Spidey and Captain Amercica) makes this have a less an impact on me than some of the other MCU films. As a character story, it’s great; all five guardians are fleshed out and portrayed, often movingly, as outcasts and loners. As a space opera adventure, it’s perhaps a bit too simplified, and Ronan the Accuser never seized me much as the lead villain. (Nebula is far more interesting, and we’ll certainly be seeing her more.)

Fun space opera, although perhaps my general detachment from the cosmic aspects of the Marvel Universe (I was into the more street-level aspects, Spidey and Captain Amercica) makes this have a less an impact on me than some of the other MCU films. As a character story, it’s great; all five guardians are fleshed out and portrayed, often movingly, as outcasts and loners. As a space opera adventure, it’s perhaps a bit too simplified, and Ronan the Accuser never seized me much as the lead villain. (Nebula is far more interesting, and we’ll certainly be seeing her more.)

I haven’t watched the whole of Ginger Snaps in years, but it’s astonishing how imprinted it is on my memories. Plenty of movies I saw ten years ago haven’t left a trace, but this low-budget werewolf movie that uses teenage female puberty as its central metaphor has really stayed with me. It’s probably because 1) I love werewolves, and 2) I frequently use teenage girls as lead characters in my books.
The only part of Ginger Snaps that doesn’t click for me is the finale, where it turns into more standard “escape the monster” fare. I miss having the interplay between Brigitte and Ginger, which is wonderful throughout the rest of the film. But once Ginger goes full wolf-thing (I don’t like the rubber hairless appearance, although as a suit it’s good for the budget) we are just left with Brigitte alone.

I haven’t watched the whole of Ginger Snaps in years, but it’s astonishing how imprinted it is on my memories. Plenty of movies I saw ten years ago haven’t left a trace, but this low-budget werewolf movie that uses teenage female puberty as its central metaphor has really stayed with me. It’s probably because 1) I love werewolves, and 2) I frequently use teenage girls as lead characters in my books.

The only part of Ginger Snaps that doesn’t click for me is the finale, where it turns into more standard “escape the monster” fare. I miss having the interplay between Brigitte and Ginger, which is wonderful throughout the rest of the film. But once Ginger goes full wolf-thing (I don’t like the rubber hairless appearance, although as a suit it’s good for the budget) we are just left with Brigitte alone.

Ah, Moonraker. Still as profoundly ludicrous and worshipping on the altar of Chuck Jones as ever. This is the dumbest and most outlandish of all James Bond films, yet I still have a love for it, as I’ve described before. Seeing it in a movie theater amplifies the flaws and its beauties.
I have more questions than ever, some new some old: How does Bond know that Drax’s shuttle has a laser on it? Why does no one bother to do anything about the man shot to death during the pheasant hunt, like report it to the authorities? Why does Dr. Goodhead think it’s a decent idea to have a visitor with no experience try out a centrifuge training machine? Why does Chang attempt to assassinate Bond by attacking him with a non-lethal weapon? Why didn’t Bond double-check on the location of Drax’s Venice laboratory before forcing M and the Minister of Defence to fly all the way out there and “see for themselves”? How is Drax a U.S. citizen despite seeming overwhelmingly Anglo-French? Does the U.S. actually keep a space-defense corps armed with lasers and zero-gravity packs on hand at all times with a space shuttle ready to launch? Is it a good idea to be a secret agent whose “reputation proceeds” him?
Well, whatever… John Barry music, Ken Adam sets, great visual effects, and that astonishing doberman death scene!

Ah, Moonraker. Still as profoundly ludicrous and worshipping on the altar of Chuck Jones as ever. This is the dumbest and most outlandish of all James Bond films, yet I still have a love for it, as I’ve described before. Seeing it in a movie theater amplifies the flaws and its beauties.

I have more questions than ever, some new some old: How does Bond know that Drax’s shuttle has a laser on it? Why does no one bother to do anything about the man shot to death during the pheasant hunt, like report it to the authorities? Why does Dr. Goodhead think it’s a decent idea to have a visitor with no experience try out a centrifuge training machine? Why does Chang attempt to assassinate Bond by attacking him with a non-lethal weapon? Why didn’t Bond double-check on the location of Drax’s Venice laboratory before forcing M and the Minister of Defence to fly all the way out there and “see for themselves”? How is Drax a U.S. citizen despite seeming overwhelmingly Anglo-French? Does the U.S. actually keep a space-defense corps armed with lasers and zero-gravity packs on hand at all times with a space shuttle ready to launch? Is it a good idea to be a secret agent whose “reputation proceeds” him?

Well, whatever… John Barry music, Ken Adam sets, great visual effects, and that astonishing doberman death scene!

New release this week from Scream Factory, which just keeps producing fantastic horror releases. This is an indie Canadian production that picked up a cult following quickly. This is the first time the movie has received a U.S. release in its proper aspect ratio; the previous DVD was a pretty bare-bones 4:3 presentation. This release is packed, it’ll take a while to get through all these bonuses.

New release this week from Scream Factory, which just keeps producing fantastic horror releases. This is an indie Canadian production that picked up a cult following quickly. This is the first time the movie has received a U.S. release in its proper aspect ratio; the previous DVD was a pretty bare-bones 4:3 presentation. This release is packed, it’ll take a while to get through all these bonuses.

King Kong Escapes is basically a live-action Saturday Morning cartoon show. (Remember those?) Which shouldn’t come as a surprise since the movie was a co-production between Toho Studios and Rankin/Bass to tie in with with latter’s Saturday morning cartoon, The King Kong Show. The movie is silly, light, colorful, filled with gadgets and gizmos, and designed to target 7–12  year-old boys. It works as exactly what it is. I imagine that director Ishiro Honda was a bit frustrated with it, since this sort of comic-book fantasy didn’t allow his more humanist interests to surface, but VFX director Eiji Tsubaraya sure got to run riot with the effects, which, aside from Kong, also feature Mechani-Kong (the giant robot that would inspire Mechagodzilla), the dinosaur Gorosaurus, a sea serpent, a super-sub, a flying all-terrain vehicle, and an underground Arctic base. The effects are plentiful, and with the exception of some iffy optical work, always pleasurable to watch.
The recent Blu-ray only contains the version that Universal released in the U.S., with dubbing for the Japanese actors. This is not as detrimental for King Kong Escapes compared to many kaiju films, because two of the leads, Rhodes Reason and Linda Miller, are English-speakers who spoke their own language on set. Linda Miller ended up dubbed by another English-speaking actress, but her lips still match. As a bonus, Paul Frees dubs the villain, Dr. Who (no relation), played by Eisei Amamoto. It’s always great hearing Paul Frees dub anything. However, the dubbed version does injure the performances of the other leads, Akira Takarada (who becomes Linda Miller’s love interest) and Mie Hama as the very sexy femme fatale spy Madame X. This was the same year that Mie Hama appeared as Kissy Suzuki in You Only Live Twice, and she’s far more sultry here. She also undergoes a costume change every two minutes through a parade of great ‘60s fashions.

King Kong Escapes is basically a live-action Saturday Morning cartoon show. (Remember those?) Which shouldn’t come as a surprise since the movie was a co-production between Toho Studios and Rankin/Bass to tie in with with latter’s Saturday morning cartoon, The King Kong Show. The movie is silly, light, colorful, filled with gadgets and gizmos, and designed to target 7–12  year-old boys. It works as exactly what it is. I imagine that director Ishiro Honda was a bit frustrated with it, since this sort of comic-book fantasy didn’t allow his more humanist interests to surface, but VFX director Eiji Tsubaraya sure got to run riot with the effects, which, aside from Kong, also feature Mechani-Kong (the giant robot that would inspire Mechagodzilla), the dinosaur Gorosaurus, a sea serpent, a super-sub, a flying all-terrain vehicle, and an underground Arctic base. The effects are plentiful, and with the exception of some iffy optical work, always pleasurable to watch.

The recent Blu-ray only contains the version that Universal released in the U.S., with dubbing for the Japanese actors. This is not as detrimental for King Kong Escapes compared to many kaiju films, because two of the leads, Rhodes Reason and Linda Miller, are English-speakers who spoke their own language on set. Linda Miller ended up dubbed by another English-speaking actress, but her lips still match. As a bonus, Paul Frees dubs the villain, Dr. Who (no relation), played by Eisei Amamoto. It’s always great hearing Paul Frees dub anything. However, the dubbed version does injure the performances of the other leads, Akira Takarada (who becomes Linda Miller’s love interest) and Mie Hama as the very sexy femme fatale spy Madame X. This was the same year that Mie Hama appeared as Kissy Suzuki in You Only Live Twice, and she’s far more sultry here. She also undergoes a costume change every two minutes through a parade of great ‘60s fashions.