Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Yesterday Machine (1963)

I usually applaud filmmakers for what they’re able to achieve on screen unless their product is so incoherent, so incompetent, that I want to do physical harm to the movie in some metatextual bloodsport.  It takes a hell of a lot to actually produce a film from soup to nuts and even more to get it distributed in any fashion.  This has arguably changed some with the rise in technology and its effects on the business.  Does this lessen my admiration?  If I’m being totally honest, yes, to some degree it does, but we’re not here to discuss that today.  We’re here to discuss Russ Marker’s The Yesterday Machine, a film about a Nazi scientist hiding out in the American Southland with a machine that can twist time.  Sounds at least mildly interesting, right?  Well, it isn’t.  Despite the low-fi charm of the production (including lots of post-dubbing, which is partly distracting, but when you hear the actors’ actual voices, it makes a bit more sense), and despite some of the more intriguing aspects inherent in the film’s basic idea, this is one deadly dull affair.  While it isn’t completely irredeemable (this is a very debatable statement, admittedly), it is most definitely something I would never recommend as a watch for anyone (unless that person were a masochist).  

It was keeping this in mind, combined with my general dislike for simply bashing on a film in my writing that lead to my approach to this particular review.  Here’s the lowdown: I asked my seven-year-old nephew (whom we will refer to as “Charles” hereafter, partly to keep his identity private and partly so I can claim authorship if anyone ever wants to pay money for this crap) to reinterpret the plot of The Yesterday Machine by drawing scenes he would rather see and stringing them together with a flimsy narrative.  To add some excitement (a la an episode of Family Feud), I gave him a time limit of three minutes per picture.  I’m a jerk, I know.  What follows is his pictures and a combination of his and my words, some concerning the plot, some concerning our conversation about clarifying said plot.  Enjoy.

Howie (Jay Ramsey) and Margie (Linda Jenkins) are out in the woods dancing one night, when Howie is suddenly attacked by a Tyrannosaurus Rex.  Howie screams as he is ripped apart by the dinosaur, while Margie screams.  But then she dances some more.

Dr. Von Hauser (Jack Herman) teleports the evil Hitler to the present, but a dinosaur gets in the way while the time machine is working.  Hitler and the dinosaur are put together into a monster with two heads.  To keep his master alive, Von Hauser builds a deadly robotic armor (might even be cybernetic) and puts Hitler and the dinosaur (which can be any except a Diplodocus) in the armor.

“How did Von Hauser put together armor fast enough to keep these guys alive?” I asked.

“He already had an armor built, just in case.”

Two-Headed Hitler uses Von Hauser’s Yesterday Machine to bring a giant ape (who is TOTALLY NOT King Kong - Todd) from the past.  But aliens from the future intercept the machine’s signal and send a giant monster to fight the ape.  The monsters destroy the city with their fighting, and the alien kills the ape with his chest lasers.  But with his dying breath, the ape chokes the giant alien monster to death.

“You know there were no such things as giant apes in the past.”

Blank stare.  


“Where’s Margie and Jim at this point?”

“Who’s Jim?”

“The reporter.  Remember?”

“Yeah.  They’re not here now.  They’re boring.”

Jim (James Britton [I guess he’s needed after all now – Todd]) gets control of the time machine and brings planes from World War Two to fight the Nazis.  But the aliens from the future send back spaceships too, and a giant battle takes place.  Everything blows up, but the good guys win it.

“But what about Two-Headed Hitler?”

“Jim threw him off the cliff.”

“A classic maneuver.”

Charles nodded.

“Where are the Nazis’ planes?  Don’t they have any?”

“They didn’t bring any with them.”

Jim sends all the planes back to World War Two, but Dr. Von Hauser is hiding in the lab.  They have a fight, but Jim kills him, and then he blows up the lab.  The End.

“That picture’s a little bloodthirsty.  I mean, bloodthirsty-er.  Don’t you think?”


“Why not?”

“Because he’s the bad guy.”

Fair enough.  

Please direct any option inquiries courtesy of this post.  Until next time.  Good day.  

MVT:  The concept behind the film, while old hat, is still one from which a lot of compelling stories can be wrung.  It just isn’t the case here.

Make Or Break:  The first scene of the film (nay, the first shot) is of Margie’s hips gyrating to the “hip” rock ‘n roll music blaring from her tiny transistor radio.  Had the rest of the film been as entertainingly offbeat as this setup, I would have been in, at least on some level.  Unfortunately, these first few minutes are as much fun as you will have in this entire movie.

Score:  2/10 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Midnite Ride #30: The Guest

Welcome to another Midnite Ride!!!

This week Large William is joined by an all-star stable of Gents for a chat about Adam Wingard's The Guest (2014).

Direct download: TheGuestMR.mp3 
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Midnite Ride #29: The Keeping Room and Pasolini

Welcome to the Modnite Ride at TIFF!!!

Large William discusses The Keeping Room (2014) directed by Daniel Barber and Pasolini (2014) directed by Abel Ferrara!!!

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Episode #305: Top Hat of Diablo

Welcome back to the GGtMC!!!

This week Sammy is joined by longtime friend of the show Rupert for coverage of Top Hat (1935) with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers and Ride Clear of Diablo (1954) starring Audie Murphy.

Direct download: ggtmc_305.mp3

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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Nest (1988)

Cuckoos are arguably the most interesting of birds one can imagine (feel free to debate this amongst your friends).  They are not especially attractive, to be sure, and they are most popularly known as the signal for the start of a new hour on some old-fashioned clocks (you know, those things that used to tell time for us and that made the Swiss so very famous according to Harry Lime [okay, among other things]).  Even more striking though, is the connotation attached to these avians as symbols of insanity (and this is even sometimes tied in with their role as alarms; just look at any one of dozens of cartoons for further proof).  What a lot of folks don’t think of, or maybe just don’t know, is for some cuckoos’ propensity for brood parasitism.  For you non-ornithologists/zoologists/what-have-yous, this refers to their practice of laying their eggs in the nests of other bird types and allowing those suckers to raise their young so the cuckoos can go along their merry way, whooping and partying it up.  Naturally, these parasites are something of a danger to their hosts, and if the animal kingdom (and yes, even the humans in it) has taught us anything, it is that nature can be both beautiful and brutal, and often both at the same time.

Cockroaches (maybe not so much like the ones in Terence WinklessThe Nest) don’t (to my knowledge) engage in brood parasitism, but they do have a much more aggressively invasive policy, and due to their dietary/hygienic habits, they are typically seen as vermin and worthy of extinction.  I know I see them that way (especially after the time one scuttled across my face while I was  sleeping [many moons ago when I was living in a basement apartment; never do that if you can help it] and then survived my smacking it with the flat of my palm).  I’m sure there are those who would frown upon violence to these exoskeleton-having Larry Dallases.  I’m not one of them.  

In the small Massachusetts (?) town of North Port, hunky sheriff Richard Tarbell (Franc Luz) maintains homespun order over a plucky cast of characters (read: future victims).  When ex-squeeze Beth (Lisa Langlois) arrives back on the island after four years gone, Richard has to figure out just what he wants (and seeing as how he’s dating the island restaurateur Lillian [Nancy Morgan], he would do well to get his shit sorted out).  It doesn’t help any that Beth’s dad Elias (Robert Lansing) hates Richard with a fiery passion or that there are flesh-eating cockroaches plaguing the community.  Did I bury the lead on that last one?

Being an amalgam of so many films (The most prominent of which being [again] JAWS, with everything from the everyman cop character to the score, to the tourist concern of money over safety, to the coastal town setting, to the spirited secretary doling out the lowdown on various town denizens [and whom we never know as anything other than a voice]), The Nest’s charm lies in its tone as a “summer read”/”beach read” film (not surprising, since it’s based on a novel by Eli Cantor, and no, I have not read it).  These are the kinds of stories that don’t require much in the way of heavy lifting (not to say that they’re empty).  They are loaded with melodramatic elements, a little (sometimes a lot) of sex, and a little (sometimes a lot) of graphic violence.  But more than that, they are largely about stringing together sweet spots into a (usually) coherent whole that passes the time nicely.  

Going a large way in accomplishing this is the colorful cast, all of whom are archetypes bordering on stereotypes, and all of whom are individuated by their exaggerated appearances and their firm roles as likable monster chow (again, mostly; there are, after all, exceptions to every rule).  So we get folks like Church (Jeff Winkless, who I’m thinking is related to the director somehow), the short order cook who wears a dopey hat and hovers over his grill with a stogie perennially stuffed in his pie hole.  We get folks like Jenny (Heidi Helmer), the dimwitted teenager, who flits around on roller-skates, radio headphones plastered to her head (the better to ignore looming danger).  And lest we forget, the town lush/cuckoo Jake (Jack Collins), who spends his time cackling, stealing crap, and shooting rats in his junkyard home.  Nevertheless, while they’re all cartoons to some degree or another, they are never offensively so.  Consequently, they make for memorable victims.  We’re not overly saddened to see them go, but we do think back to their time onscreen, and it doesn’t feel entirely wasted.  Of course, it helps a lot that the how of their deaths and the aftermaths of them are nigh-equally notable.  I don’t know a great many people who can name the old man who first comes into contact with 1958’s The Blob (it’s Olin Howland, for your information), but I do know a great many who can recognize him on sight and could describe in detail everything that happens to him once that meteor splits open.  These characters could be anyone, being little more than plot engines, but they are just distinct enough that we remember them to some extent (maybe not forever and ever, but still…).

There is also a nice little psychosexual element, and it’s embodied primarily by the antagonists.  The relationship between Elias and Beth is, to put it mildly, icy and awkward.  We are given a rather dark explanation for this, but I am convinced there is something else under the surface of it; something more incestuous.  This is only augmented by Lansing’s presence in the film (and the man looks as if he would like to be just about anywhere else), his oddly guilty, hangdog performance, and a payoff that makes the threat physical (and just a bit creepier).  More overt is the character of Dr. Morgan Hubbard (Terri Treas), the scientist in charge of the roaches.  She delights in thumbing her nose at Richard and Elias, claiming a masculine side to rival theirs (and unlike the other two women in the film, she has no stated interest in any male in the cast).  Most intriguing, however, is her interaction with the insects.  As they bite into her hand, her expression takes on a gleam of sexual stimulation.  Observing the roaches further mutations, she reacts as if she’s taking in a particularly tasty piece of eye candy.  This could explain her rather erratic behavior in the film, but between cuckoos and cockroaches, I suppose personal preferences are bound to vary.

MVT:  I absolutely adore the physical effects in this movie.  They’re gruesome, and imaginative, and just delightful whenever they appear.  But I love physical effects, so I’m biased.  

Make Or Break:  The first kill in the film is the Make for me.  Between the solid editing, the bug’s eye POV, and the grisly results, it satisfies like a Snickers.  It doesn’t hurt that I found the victim more sympathetic than most.  You’ll see what I mean when you watch the film.  

Score:  6.75/10