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May 2018

Nice to see someone else asking about the responsibilities of the regulatory authorities in banking and financial service (cf. my earlier post on the regulators). Though disappointing not see cited John Braithwaite and Peter Grabosky, ‘Of Manners Gentle: Enforcement Strategies of Australian Business Regulatory Agencies’ (Oxford University Press, 1986). In this Australian empirical study the authors found there was neither enforcement nor strategy, but a great deal of ‘she’ll be right,’ while six-figure salaries were paid to the regulators, evidently on the assumption that nothing so untoward as enforcement would occur.

It seems little has changed. In the 1980s I was surprised to witness the hostile reaction to this book. I heard it denounced more than once as evidence that the authors did not understand the Australian way. That was about the same time the media was ridiculing Dutch bankers who had come to Australia to confront and complain about Alan Bond. The flag was raised and the Dutchmen sent packing. Hypocrisy is always amusing. The more so when it is wrapped in nationalism, since many Australians brag that they are not nationalistic, in between bouts of hysterical nationalism frequently kindled by sports.

A propos of the regulators, I infer from what is not said in O’Brien’s piece that the Royal Commission is carefully steering clear of bringing their role(s) into question. Is that discretion itself another instance of manners gentle?

By chance the other night I spoke to a graduate who works for an unnamed regulator and asked about all of this. In reply I got the corporate line about the technicalities of the legislation. My informant pretended to believe it, and politely I pretended to take its seriously. Ah uh. Regulators who find that their legislation is inadequate have, often, a legal responsibility to point that out to parliament, and, always, a moral responsibly to offer some sort of warning. Sailing on is not an option.

O’Brien also omits the role of the media and those financial wizards in newspapers, on radio, and the television telling one and all about money in all its sizes and shapes. It seems that all those financial reporters were too busy pontificating to do any investigating and reporting. The independent ABC and the independent ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ were as silent on this subject as all the other, numerous media outlets, despite their loud and frequent claims to superiority.

Not only are they passed over, but even let off the hook on reporting about the Royal Commission because the Commission publishes on Fridays. Evidently no reporter can be expected to examine material appears on Friday. Must remember that.

Cut and paste this link into a browser to see the article:
http://www.afr.com/business/banking-and-finance/justice-deferred-hubris-incompetence-and-lost-opportunity-in-the-australian-finance-system-and-its-regulation-20180522-h10efl

Good Reads meta-data is rating 4.4/5 from 10127 litizens. 352 pages.

Verdict? Marvellous.

Circe cover.jpg

Circe is a daughter of Helios, a Titan. Sounds better than it is.

The Greek world is full of gods in a bewildering array of statuses, ranks, powers, egos, and so on. Zeus defeated the Titans and most were destroyed in the Divine War. Only the most essential, like Helios, survived. He is one of the most important remaining Titans but no Titan is important among the Olympians. Over the eons he has sired many children. Every deity is important to mortals. Some are gods, some are demi-gods, some are titans, some are nymphs, some are mortals, some are half-animal, and so on and on. This is a family tree for the LDS to sort out.

The book is a biography of one such child, Circe. Though ageless and immortal, she changes over time from a sulking metaphorical teenager trying and failing to win the approval of her aloof father to become a witch with witch’s brews. She and Flavia, whose books are reviewed elsewhere on this blog, would make quite a pair.

While immature in her father’s house, she transgressed by giving wine to a suffering Prometheus before he was sent to Alcatraz. For this sin she was exiled to an island dot far away to pass eternity alone with pigs. Later clever Circe finds a way to blackmail Helios with her sin.

Over the centuries in this insular retreat she meets passers-by, and she learns of the mortal world from these experiences. For a time she is befriended by Hermes, though he does so only for his own amusement and when no longer amused he is no longer friend.

None of the echelons of the immortals will have anything to do with this outcast, apart from Hermes who is partly spying on her for Helios, and so she takes an interest in the mortals who find the shore. She welcomes some, careful to keep her yellow eyes concealed for they declare the godhead, and regrets it.

Yellow eyes.jpg

One betrays her trust. Another rapes her before she can utter a spell, but she takes revenge by increasing the population of the sty.

Thereafter, she is much more cautious. Then one day wily Odysseus comes and she finds she cannot, nor does she want to deceive this deceiver. What a fresh and vivid portrait of this marriage springs from the pages. Marvellous. Yes, the story is well known but this is a telling Homer would envy.

Finally he leaves, not knowing that she is bearing his child, a son. This is a circle that closes in the remainder of the book.

With the great learning that underlies the book, the author explains much. One example will suffice. Why are the gods so capricious with mortals? Think about it. If mortal life was easy, then mortals would have no reason to pray to the gods and make sacrifices. While the gods do not need these prayers and sacrifices in any material way, together these offerings are how the divinities establish status (along with their powers) among themselves. They are counters in the social snobbery of the Olympians, nothing more. But since the gods have no other pastime but that snobbery, it is the only game in town.

The worse the harvest, it follows there will be more the prayers and sacrifices. The more children and women who die in childbirth, the more the prayers and sacrifices. Of course, to keep the wheel spinning the gods must occasionally allow a good harvest, and for child and mother to survive birth. But only now and then when it pleases them. Sounds about how casinos work, come to think of it.

Odysseus did in time return to rocky Ithaca, but as with many a war veteran, the man who came back was not the one who went away. He is changed. That change is the dynamic of the latter part of the book. He returns short-tempered, easily bored, lustful, violent, and voting Republican. Yet in some ways he is what he always was. This schizoid duality makes sense in these pages. Penelope plays her part, too.

M Miller circe.jpg Madeline Miller

The author brings this world of the gods to life with razor sharp insights, exhilarating prose, penetrating details, and a profound compassion. Yet no punches are pulled. None. The violence rips the page. The arrogance of the gods burns the eye of the reader. The duplicity of mortals in this world is bottomless. All this is true, yet Circe delights in spring flowers and warm sand underfoot. Penelope abides. Telemachus is straight as an oak.

Her earlier book 'The Song of Achilles' is reviewed elsewhere on this blog with the same acclaim.

While pulling these remarks together I noticed a number of deprecating reviews, many of them video, by mouth-breathers (in Jim Rockford's phrase). It was amusing to watch a couple of these pygmies.

IMDb meta-data is this 13 one-hour episodes rated 7.5 from 7501 cinemitizens

Verdict: Excellent and a relief after the sappy hyperbole of ‘Mission to Mars’ (2000), reviewed elsewhere on this blog. But it bogs down, running out of story while the camera goes on and on.

Mars cover-3.jpg

A docudrama about the first Mars landing in 2033 interspersed with 2016 talking heads describing the technical, scientific, and human problems that have to be surmounted to get there. These details are larded with some elevated rhetoric about the purpose in going to Mars.

Purpose? ‘Because it is there,’ that is the distillation of that rhetoric. We see twice the same clip from Jack’s speech in Houston about it being hard, as a justification for the commitment. (I stood at that podium in 2018.) He and Edmund Hilary have a lot to answer for. On this point there will be more below.

Still it was refreshing to hear the optimism and determination from the enthusiasts like Elon Musk who are trying to make it happen. Happily Richard Branson did not put in an appearance to steal the scene with his look-at-me camera mannerisms. Though NASA is represented among the talkers, one theme is that private enterprise can go where no government is willing to go. That would seem pertinent now since the current NASA Administer-nominee wants to eliminate from its charter ‘the expansion of human knowledge’ because God does not like that.

In later episodes I learned that the early Moon missions were trials for Mars in the minds of the NASA scientists and others. Moon was a stepping stone to Mars. That is much emphasised, and it completely escaped me at the time when the Moon seemed enough. However, though it is passed in silence in this telling, Moon was the strategic goal for the military, whose role in space is omitted. Yet those rockets belonged to the US Air Force. There was certainly much popular speculation that near space or Moon would offer an invulnerable missile platform.

As the talking heads lay out how it would go, we cut to a dramatic sequences where it is acted out. In reality, no vampires, zombies, meteors, cave women, enlarged spiders, hostile natives, or man eating daisies are needed to make a mission to Mars deadly. (These possibilities have all been covered in the Mars filmography on this blog.) There are many things that can go wrong, and inevitably some of them will.

Gravity kills. Elemental that. The first death is a fall. A lung is punctuated by a broken rib. Nothing can be done and….

The fall occurs because a fuse blew upon entering the Martian atmosphere and while Captain was replacing it the planet’s gravity clicked in and he fell. Bang.

Because the fuse was not replaced they land a long way for the base camp that had been prepared by robots. To get there, they will have to walk with the dying captain.

Mars sand dune.jpg

Can they walk 75 kilometres before the oxygen in their backpacks runs out? And before the fraternity get bored?

We have a polyglot crew, and also interspersed are fictional pre-flight interviews with them. The point is I guess to indicate what kind of person signs on for this and perhaps to inspire such persons. To me, these were insipid but perhaps my jaded ear was listening.

One of the sticking points from all the talking heads is a double whammy. Everything done on approaching Mars will be done for the first time. No amount of testing. No simulations. No nothing is a Mars test. Mars tests have to be done on Mars.

Moreover, for everything there is only shot. Miss and that’s it. Either you die or return to Earth. If the window of landing is missed it is back to Earth. If the ship hits the atmosphere at the wrong angle, it burns on descent, or crashes on landing, or misses the site by kilometers, or worse, and spins off into space.

I liked the realism. I liked the honesty that things will go wrong. I liked it that the struggle to walk is plainly a struggle, and so on.

Because it was not a military operation, the chain of command was unclear to me. I said ‘Captain’ above but the term is not used.

Later there is an explanation for the failure to continue with Moon. Again it passed me by at the time. the near failure of Apollo XIII caused the Nixon administration and Congress to think twice. No one wanted the public responsibility of a mortal failure. The compromise result was to concentrate on near space with the shuttles. The irony is that deaths occurred, and the Reagan administration did what others did not have the conviction to do, go on.

However by episode six I found it repetitive and boring. On Mars we see much trudge and toil without sufficient explanation of purpose. Are they doing science? Preparing for colonisation? Waiting for the next catastrophe? Looking for new script pages? There is a lot of marking time, leaving the actors little to do.

The death of the botanist was a missed opportunity to this viewer. It just seemed too pat and almost a photocopy of the death of Captain earlier, walking into the light. What killed him was the ten-week dust storm and that was not brought home. Instead it seemed he just went stir crazy. If so, it was some selection process that yielded him for the job. Others were killed in that incident but only the botanist is mourned.

The 2033+ segments divide between the crew on Mars and head offices in London and Vienna. (No idea why two except to offer different cityscapes.) The latter seems pointless. Much posturing. It does allow one of the players a dual role. BFD. There seems to be the usual back biting and bickering, but it adds nothing to the focus: Mars. Nor is the office politics well realised. Most of these episodes are board meetings where twelve extras sit silently. One images the members of the board are as bored as the viewer.

The 2037 press conference seemed silly. The vultures of the press are seated in an orderly manner, already unrealistic, meters away from the podium. Why? So that when the revelation is announced they can be viewed from above swarming the podium like the amoeba in an earlier microscope image. It looks staged because it is. It seems heavy-handed because it is.

Only a few so-called critics' reviews are attached its entry on the IMDb, and none of these is from a significant media source like the 'New York Times.' Nor are any from the Sy Fyians who cover the fictional accounts of Mars. Finally there are only a half dozen of them, which is a small number for a recent release. Odd. I did find the NYT review which is lukewarm for the kinds of reasons given here.

In addition, the IMDb critics are mostly negative. Some complain that it is neither fish nor fowl. Neither is it a sustained documentary, nor a fiction. Yep that is right but it is also irrelevant since it sets out to dramatise some of the points made in the documentary. This criticism is like saying Impressionist painting is too colourful. That is the point.

Others fault the acting. Huh. I thought the acting was fine. Though the players are all unknown to me, they seemed to fit the roles they had. They were young. They were stupid brave. As I read this criticism it dawned on me that the writers perhaps wanted a Hollywood name. Not me when I recalled the acting I have seen in Mars films from Hollywood names, mugging, soulful pouting, gung-ho nonsense, selfie sticking, and the like. Whereas I concluded the use of unknowns was a good choice to place emphasis on the mission rather than on the personalities, and the pre-conceptions audiences bring to Hollywood names.

I say ‘unknowns’ to admit my ignorance, not to denigrate the players.

But I would say on further viewing that the script gives the players little to do after the first four episodes.

The Jordanian Tourist Board got pipped on this one. The Mars outdoors scenes were filmed in Morocco. Seems appropriate since Moroccan leather binding on books is always red. To judge from the extensive terminal credits most of it was processed in that capital of cinema, Hungary. I noticed in the credits a 'Data Wrangler.' But by episode six there was a Data Wrangler, a First Assistant Data Wrangler, and -- guess! -- a Second Assistant Data Wrangler. It runs to twelve parts in all so what can we expect for this entry at the end?

IMDb meta-data is 1 hour and 1 minute, rated at 5.7 by 584 cinemitizens.

Captive EWOman card.jpg Another lie from the marketing department, since as explained below the ape could not carry off that woman, for it was herself. Got it? Read on.

Verdict: a masterclass is making something from nothing.

John Carradine, before he became a caricature of himself, is in top form as the scientist who goes on and on, and changes from a charming genius to a mad and bad scientist.

Carradine pop eyed.jpg

He finds a way in the script to transfer the secretions of glands from one animal to another. This transference leads to a transformation. The dog receiving rabbit secretions becomes a rabbit! ‘Would it work for Trumpettes,’ asked the fraternity brothers! ‘Could they be made human?’ Or is that too much even for a scriptwriter to conceive.

Suspend that disbelief and go along for the ride.

In the early stages of these experiments his findings, somehow, aid human patients. He publishes his work in learned journals. This being the first time in the Mad Scientist Genre I have seen where publications figure. He presses outward on the boundaries of knowledge, narrowing his eyes and lowering his voice. Can a nationally competitive grant be far away?

Then by chance through a new patient he goes to an animal circus and sees a very pliable stunt man in an ape suit. The idea hatches.

He will transfer human secretions into this ape, who then become a human woman. Stuntman to human woman, presents no problem for the scriptwriter. The transference drains, i.e., kills the human patient. ‘They have (unknowingly and involuntarily) sacrificed their pitiful lives for the advancement of knowledge,’ Carradine intones, as only he could. It is a small price (for someone else to) pay for his career.

Hmm. I might have believed it if he had said that they were killed to fatten his CV, meet his KPIs, or win a nationally completive NH&MRC grant. That would be credible in the world McKinsey has made.

Other mad scientists who play god usually have a purpose: sometimes they want make slaves of others, to make superhumans who reach the stars, or plumb ocean depths, vote Republican into eternity, or get tenure. Not in this case. He wants to do it because he can. Mad science for mad science's sake. Nothing instrumental involved. Pure research!

Something from nothing? About a third of the short run time is excerpted from an earlier Universal movie called ‘The Big Cage’ (1933) about an animal circus, featuring Clyde Beatty (1903-1965) who was a remarkable lion tamer, animal trainer, and circus impresario. Director Edward Dymytryk cut and pasted these excerpts so well that the seams do not show. In this he was added by great lighting, make-up, and editing. Doc Adams was cast as the animal trainer because he resembled Beatty as he had been in that earlier film. All in all, the film is technically superb and the print I found on You Tube was clean and crisp.

The result is a rattling yarn. Carradine succeeds but finds a stinger at the end. Doc Adams cracks the whip. Evelyn Ankers, Martha Vickers, Fay Helm, and Acquanetta kept the fraternity brothers watching.

Evelyn was married to a personal favourite, Richard Denning, who was away at war when she made this film, hoping the yellow telegram would not come.

Ankers and Dennng.jpg Ankers and Denning together in the 1950s.

Martha Vickers’s single line in the film is ‘Well, I…’ But she lies around comatose in a hospital bed. She was preparing for her role in 'The Big Sleep' (1946). Fay Helm injects some humanity when she tries to stop Carradine. Of Acquanetta the less said, the better, but her make-up and transitions set a new standard for the genre. She speaks not word one. Correct. Completely silent. Considering what she did to her few subsequent roles that was a good choice. It is said that she was difficult with whom to work. At the time and place, for a woman that was often code for not being sexually compliant.

The entrepreneurial Crash Corrigan (1902-1976) was the stuntman in the ape suit. An acceptable ape suit was expensive and time-consuming to make. Genre horror pictures were then by definition quick and cheap, so they had no time and no budget for such matters. Corrigan saw a market niche and made it his own and passed out business cards: ‘Have ape suit, will travel.’ He was in demand for about a decade for horror movies, commercials in cinemas and later on television, openings of stores and malls, extravagant Hollywood parties, USO tours, charity fundraisers, Trumpette conventions, and more.

Crash started out in B-Westerns where he did his own stunts. In time he concentrated on stunt work which he found more interesting and less taxing than remembering and delivering lines. He got the nickname 'Crash' as a college football player for his open field tackling, not for his automobile driving.

He showed entrepreneurial flair again when he bought a ranch in the Simi Valley and rented it out as set for movies, serials, and television shows. He also staged western shows there for tourists. Crash knew how to make cash.

John Carradine developed the habit early of taking any part he could get, because he wanted the money to pour into his Pasadena Shakespeare Company. And pour money into it he did, but in the end it failed, but by then he retained the habit of answering ‘Yes' when a part was offered. See his subsequent career.

Edward Dmytryk (1908-1999) directed such movies as ‘Caine Mutiny’ (1954) and ‘The Left Hand of God’ (1955) both starring Humphrey Bogart. He worked his way up the pecking order, starting with B genre films like this and ‘The Falcon Strikes Back’ (1943) to ‘Cornered’ (1945) and on to ‘Crossfire’ (1947) and ‘Mirage’ (1965), for a total of fifty-six credits.

Born in Canada he was an orphaned juvenile delinquent in San Francisco who was proud of his Ukrainian heritage. He started working as messenger boy for a studio and then projectionist where he learned the technology, film editor to become the lead director for RKO’s A-Picture department.

He was imprisoned by HUAC for refusing to answer questions, being one of the Hollywood Ten used by that execrable body to publicise itself. His name and his father’s origins in Russia, made him an early and easy target, and his defiance made great copy for the vultures of the media and the Committee.

IMDb meta-data: run time 1 hour and 34 minutes, rated a paltry 7.3 by a mere 16,696 cinemitizens.

Verdict: Classic.

Them card.jpg

Any circle drawn around the best Sy Fy movies of the 1950s, the decade when the genre was at its peak, includes ‘Them!’ It is a gem in every respect and retains the capacity to startle even jaded recidivist viewers like the fraternity brothers.

Before all that judgemental stuff though, first comes the set up. We start with a Cessna spotter aircraft flying over a desert dotted with Joshua Trees, the pilot in radio communication with two state patrolmen cruising down an empty highway in the high bright sun. The flyer spots movement and circles in on it. It is a child walking determinedly through the bleaching sun.

Them girl-1.jpg Sandy Descher

The patrolmen divert their car into the sand, to catch up and grab this nine-year old in a bathrobe with a broken doll. They have to grab her because she just keeps striding into the distance. She is mute and wide-eyed in shock, and she steals the show. Who is she? Where did she come from? Someone must be looking for her.

But who and where?

As darkness falls the police officers find a vacation trailer, ripped apart, and pieces that match her doll but no people, dead or alive. Further along at a gas station they find another scene of devastation. Picture an end of semester beer bust at Sig House and there it is: a disgusting mess. In each place sugar is much in evidence to we viewers but not remarked on by the plod. They radio all this in and a response is mobilized. One of the troopers, wearing a red undershirt, stays at the gas station to look around while the other drives to the hospital to see the child. Oh, oh.

Earlier Mr Pomfritt had collected her in an ambulance in a great scene. The three adults loading her hear a sound on the desert winds and look back at it, while behind them unseen she rises from the stretcher with a look of silent terror and falls back comatose. Marvellous.

The patrolman who stayed behind meets the fate of all Red Shirts. That's why the fraternity brothers never wear Red Shirts.

They find footprints of a sort and make casts and take photographs. Since the trailer was rented by an FBI agent on leave, that bureau sends in Marshall Dillon to sort things out. He dutifully reports everything up the pipe to DC.

Next thing two myrmecologists show up and the plot thickens. After the ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ Edmund Gwen turned to ants along with his very professional daughter. These two are bug hunters worthy of Starship Trooper badges.

Spoilers follow.

The Trinity nuclear tests ten years ago at Alomogordo have produced some giant mutant ants now roaming the desert in search of...sugar.

Santa confirms this with the shocked child by giving her a sniff of ant juice. She utters the title!

Unforgettable to see her small face contorted in terror saying ‘Them!’ If she had said ‘The Thing!' It would have been an whole other story because, as the fraternity brothers know, Marshall Dillion in a rubber head prosthesis was that Thing in the earlier movie of that title, reviewed elsewhere on this blog.

She is so compelling not even that notorious scene stealer James Whitmore had a chance, he of he mugs, eye brow wiggling, ear pulling, and snorting expertise.

Oddly for the time and place no one wonders if a woman can be a scientist or makes any stupid jokes about her. Just as well because later she is a dab hand with the flamethrower. Mostly the chaps stand back and let her get on with it. Very wise, chaps.

Santa gives lectures and prognosticates, but with Gwen it is almost fun listening to him. The mutant ants are going to take over the earth unless some Rid is applied soon and in a big way. Does Rid work on Trumpettes, asked the fraternity brothers?

The business is so dire that it is top secret and kept that way. Ha, as if some grunt won’t spill the whole story to a jackal of the press for a five spot. Well it is a work of fiction. The media then would exercise its responsibility to scatter confusion, panic, and destruction.

While on the fictitious nature of the film, there is quick and general agreement along the Potomac to act and to follow Santa’s direction. What does someone from the North Pole know about ants in the desert is a question no one asks. Both army and police personnel are serious, sober, sane, and disciplined, so we knew it was fake news. Not a self-serving careerist is in the lens frame.

The bugs head for the sugar capital of Lost Angeles! Bug hunting season opens in the sewers of Tinsel Town. Dr Daughter is ruthless and wants to kill them all! None of that scientific impulse to keep one alive for study. In fact she insists not just that they be killed, but also that when dead they be burned to ashes! The fraternity brother cringed on the sofa.

The police uniforms were a thing of wonder with braid, insignia, badges, stripes, chevrons, epaulets, gaudy enough for this month's African dictator for life.

Uniform.jpg Something like this.

A reformed Mr Pomfritt after he went bad in ‘The Man from Planet X’ (1951), reviewed elsewhere on this blog, rides the ambulance.

It was filmed in the Mojave desert, or a facsimile thereof, with those Joshua Trees. How is it that a film set in the desert Southwest does not include any Latinos or Native Americans remains a good question. But it doesn’t and it has plenty of white-bread company in the genre.

On the other hand Davy Boone (figure it out) and Mr Spock are also present.

Them nimoy.jpg Mr Spock under cover.

The project had started as a big budget, Colour, and 3D picture from Warner Brothers. Uh uh, but Jack Warner always blanched at big budgets and even before the first shot it had been cut back to black and white and a flat 2D.

IMDb meta-data hour and 21 minutes, rated 7.7 by 13,422 cinemitizens

Verdict: Deserves a higher rating. Much.

Grant Williams gradually finds his clothes are getting bigger. Hmmm. Is it the new laundry detergent? Is he losing weight? Is his ego diminishing? He consults Mr Pomfritt (in a very early role) and finds it is none of the above.

Shrinking CArd.jpg

Act I is the shrinking Grant, which was caused by a freak combination of exposure to pesticides and then later to radiation in separate incidents, each an accident. Separately each exposure was harmless but in sequence... While medical science is mobilised, Grant denies this is happening to him. But then medical science fails.

Act II, Grant reacts in anger to his loss of stature. He lashes out at his wife, gamely played by Kansan Randy Stuart. He becomes ensconced in a doll house with ever smaller Ken Doll clothing. There is some bargaining here as for a time his shrinking seems arrested, but only for a time.

Grant becomes a media spectacle as the meat eaters nearly batter down his door to get pictures of this living Ken Doll freak with the sensitivity we have come to expect of the free media. The vultures can never get enough dead meat. That kindles a siege mentality in Grant.

Act III, the cat! The one-time pet cat has to be kept out of the house now, and, [see if you can guess] it sneaks in one day as Randy is leaving for work. Someone has to earn a crust since micro-Grant is no longer payroll material.

In the battle with the cat, Grant is shut into the cellar, and the final act is his struggle to survive in the vast, inhospitable reaches of this savage world of half empty paint cans, off cuts from carpets, cracked tiles, battered suit cases, a rusty lawn mower, a leaking water heater, a gaseous furnace, and the cellar wild life that is larger than he is. He is at first depressed but then wills himself to continue. There are some great moments here as this mini-Tarzan struggles against the odds in this terrifying yet mundane world.

But he continues to shrink and he comes to accept his fate as cosmic unity, or something. The end.

The master narrative is that as Grant changes physically, he also changes emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. The mental changes born of frustration and fear drive a wedge between his only solace, Randy, and himself. He knows he is doing it, but cannot stop himself.

Doll House.jpg

The ending is downbeat. The wife thinks the cat got him. End of cat is implied. But there is no feline autopsy to be sure, as recommended by the fraternity brothers. She moves out of the house leaving the ever diminishing Grant to his fate in the basement wilderness. It is inhospitable enough to be Mars or New Jersey to mini-Grant.

There are fine setups and shots of the kind that made director Jack Arnold’s name. The performances are exact. The special effects work. There are two sidebars that illustrate the downward spiral that Grant is in. There are no villains to make it black and white.

It is a character study. This happens and the is how people react.

When the Hollywood remake comes, it can star Tom Midget. No special effects will be needed.

In a masochistic effort to watch all the many freely available John Agar movies so that I might have ontological dinner party bragging rights, I tried to watch ‘The Attack of the Puppet People’ (1958) but found the sludge so deep that I became mired, and instead read about it and to discover it was an imitation of ‘The Incredible Shrinking Man,’ which had much better reviews so I had a look and I am glad I did.

I find slipping the word ‘ontological’ gratuitously into a conversation usually stops the quibbles.

The fraternity brothers mainly slept through this one. ‘Too wordy,’ one of them drooled. ‘A house cat does not make a Creature Feature,’ muttered another.

IMDb meta-data is: 1 hour and 54 minutes of Dali time, rated at 5.6 by 64,947 cinemitizens

Verdict: Morons on Mars in a pastiche of previous films.

Mission to Mars card.jpg

Verdict: As always, Roger Ebert nailed it: A hundred million dollar production with a ten cent script. Think what NASA could do with that money. Plus it is double sappy.

It is a Mars rescue mission that ends with comic book CGI. The players try, but well it gets trying.

In 2020, a mere two years from now, all is peace and harmony on Earth (as if) and the World Space Program sends Dan Cheadle with three others to land on Mars, and where they quickly prove they were never Boy or Girl Scouts.

1. All four of them ride around Mars together in their jeep, leaving no one in reserve back at base.
2. They stand motionless when the storm breaks rather than taking cover, or getting in the vehicle and scooting.
3. Motionless, they also stand close enough together for one CGI rock to finish three of them. ‘Spread out,’ those are often words of sergeant wisdom.
4. Moreover, none of them notices the very conspicuous white protrusion on the top left of the hill that then spits dirt at them. Even the fraternity brothers noticed that.

One of the four survives, and by the way, we never find out how or why, though he refers to himself as having been spared, and that implies selection. Now he has to be rescued.

Of course he will be. There is none of the technical, social, or political dimensions to this undertaking that are set out better in ‘The Martian’ (2016). Cheadle’s wife is never informed of either the deaths or his survival. Yet she and many other wives are much in evidence in the opening barbecue derived from ‘Apollo 13’ (1995). Thereafter she and they are forgotten. In the credits they are styled 'NASA wife 1,' 'NASA wife 2,' and so on. The high horse sighed: every character in a Sam Peckinpah movie always had a name. Every character actor in a Frank Capra movie had screen time, else why have them. Not so here. Might as well have been CGIed.

Oh, except for the wife who goes on the mission as half of a married couple. Sure that would be NASA policy. For fun read the acknowledgement of NASA in the terminal credits, and then try to figure out what the convoluted wording means.

The scriptwriter's old friend, the meteor puts in an appearance at the most (in)opportune time. Bang. Equally predictable these days are the product placements that feature on the NASA hardware. Likewise to be expected is the piteous piling up of a tear-jerker back story, about a dead wife, though we find out nothing about her, she is much displayed as eye candy.

The rescue mission is a failure and lands three astronauts with no gear, equipment, or good dialogue. Their situation is desperate from the get-go and they are there to find Don, if he is still alive. Pressure. Pressure. Pressure. So what do they do first? Well, on behalf of the World Space Mission that sent them they plant a USA flag. Not kidding. That is what they do.

On Mars there is evidently plenty of water because all the actors stay shaved and clean. And the weather isn’t bad since the ripped up and open to the elements tent has green growing plants in it in Mars’s atmosphere, enough to feed them all. Green cheese is shipped in from the Moon to stock up the fridge.By the by the temperature on Mars at this moment is -100F, per the NASA Orion web site.

In a screenplay full of inane lines said with the self-importance of Hollywood, the prize goes to Don who buried his fallen comrades. Well, he dug and marked three graves but he only found one body, but ‘it didn’t seem right’ to make only one grave. Huh? Burn those calories. By the way, Don asks not one word of his wife back on the Earth, despite all the sap about the other two wives. OK, if he did, it was so incidental I missed it.

There is great photography and CGI special effects, including a tribute or two to ‘Space Odyssey 2001,’ the mandatory scenes of weightlessness, and an EVA. Although each is drawn out and out and out striving for epic length, when the additional footage adds nothing.

Spoiler ahead. The enigmatic face and the DNA are interesting and arresting, but they come so late and are trivialised into a comic book take. The alien DVD on evolution would make Disney blush, so lame is it. On the bright side, it would get the film banned in Alabama.

In another repetition of a previous film(s), our hero says he didn’t come this far to turn back now. An astronaut has to …. That he was on a one-way ticket was telegraphed for more than 90 minutes. Even the fraternity brothers got that message through the fog that envelops them.

The end.

For those who like mysteries, figure out how the surviving widow got the neck chain off her dead husband, floating in space out of reach, so that she could later give it to our hero.

Like other entries in the current Mars industry, it was filmed in Jordan. No doubt the Jordan Tourist Board remains hard at work in the Mars industry with its red lens filters.

IMDb meta-data is run time of 1 hour and 11 minutes of purgatory, rated far too high at 2.9 by 551 misguided cinemitizens.

Verdict: there is no curse, no swamp, and a creature in a rubber mask only appears in the last five minutes when all hope for diversion had long been abandoned.

Curse Swammy.jpg Sick green seemed the right colour choice.

Three local villains in East Texas hope to trick geologist John Agar into finding undiscovered subsurface oil.  The trio together score 99 are the Stanford-Binet IQ test.

The catatonic Agar will make said discovery by drifting in a flat bottomed boat along the Red River, calling it a swamp. 

Deep within the ersatz swamp there is a wanna be mad scientist, Dr Dope, and his curvy wife, whom he keeps locked in a room so that she does not interfere with his research. This order of priorities baffled the fraternity brothers, as much does.

By the use of a dry ice bath Dope is trying to transmute individuals into a über creatures with the power to overcome maxed credit cards. His test subjects come from the local village.  So far he has failed and he disposes of the bodies of his fails by feeding them to a swimming pool full of alligators. ‘Do alligators like chlorine,’ asked fraternity brothers?

Needing more unwilling specimens, Dope invites the geological exploration party of four to stay overnight in his house. Being lower case dopes, the accept. The dialogue of this soiree is so painfully inept that even the fraternity brothers cringed.

Meanwhile, the local villagers have noticed the decrease in their number and in response play bongo drums. A lot. Then some more. Having got that out of their systems, they dress up in face paint and hang Dr Dope in effigy.  By this heap big medicine they hope to stop his inroads into to their number. Must be anti-vaxxers. That is colourful but....they decide torches would better thanks to the advice of a consultant in D-Movie schlock.  They organise an angry mob of outraged villagers and...[tension does not mount].

Now that the members of the geological party are asleep on the floor of Dope’s one-room mansion, he selects the conniving woman in the party as his next specimen, syringe to the ready.  Dipped into the dry ice bath, she’s dons the rubber mask with ping pong ball eyes. It is an unexpected and unexplained move for him to select the woman of the group. What does that do to the staples of Creature Features? Namely the creature caring off the babe.

When she comes to life, Dope siccs her on the approaching mob.  Sicks, indeed.  Agar, who barely knows her, appeals to her humanity, she who conspired in the earlier murder of an oilman, and must have been planning Agar’s demise.  Had he not read the script? Well, that appeal didn’t work.

The resourceful Agar then tells her she is a monster because of Dr Dope! Good one! She turns on Dope. They struggle and together fall into the alligator pool.  We see again for the fourth, or was if the fifth time, stock footage of feeding time at a zoo.

The production values are a film school fail.  The mansion is just a house. When Dope drugs the woman he carries a pillow which is supposed to be her back through the living room where the three men in the geological party are sleeping on the floor, kicking and tripping over them, but they sleep on. Sure. Tired out after floating all day.

Yet they are later roused by noises from the very sedate mob. Speaking of that mob, what losers!

The mob comes with torches. With torches! Come on! This is Texas! Where are the AK-47s?  

Credit, such as is due, the fact that there are black faces in this production.  They are the VooDooing villagers whose dwindling number provided Dope’s unwilling specimens when out after dark.  His only henchman is also black.

One drooling NRA member of the geological party assaults a young black women who works as a maid in the mansion and she out smarts him.  Good! But not a high bar, outsmarting him. 

This is another entry in the Texas film industry from the ego and bankroll of Larry Buchanan whose literal re-make of ‘Zontar: The Thing from Venus’ (1966) set a new standard for zero. It, too, featured Agar. Who else would do it? It was even worse than the tiresome original. Both Zontar pictures are reviewed elsewhere on this blog. 'Read at your own risk.'

Admission: I watched it because I thought it related to ‘The Creature from the Black Lagoon’ (1954) and his several misadventures in Florida.  Wrong!

Sad to say that this is not the end. There followed: ‘Curse of the Swamp Creature’ (1994) and ‘Curse of the Swamp Creature 2’ (1997). I have not yet had the courage to find out any more about them.

IMDb meta-data is 1 hour and 18 minutes, rated 5.8 by 2358 mouth-breathers.

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The IMDb summary says the Creature escapes and starts killing! ‘Not so,’ cries Perry Mason. Despite the paltry rating by the fraternity brothers, this is a thoughtful rekindling of the franchise of ‘The Creature from the Black Lagoon’ (1954) and a welcome improvement on the previous sequel, ‘The Revenge of the Creature’ (1955). Both are subjected to rigorous commentary elsewhere on this blog.

This, the final entry for the Creature. starts with two advantages. It does not star John Agar. Jeff Morrow and Rex Reason lead the cast here. In addition, there is a screenplay with some ideas in it that are developed.

The set up is this. Jeff is a wealthy medical doctor with a trophy wife, who provides the bathing beauty scenes and little else. Jeff, somehow, has studied the traces of the Gill Man, as the Creature is now styled, and has leapt to several conclusions. First is that the Gill Man can be surgically altered to breath just like us to live out of water (so he can walk among us). Second, with his extraordinary strength and endurance Gill Man can lead us to the stars! What, go to Hollywood? No, he means it literally, by using Gill Man we can create a superior race who can survive spaceflight and conquer the universe. 'Jeff, call Elon Musk!'

The fraternity brothers wondered about how this procreating was going to work. Always the same with these bottom feeders.

Rex is taken aback by this divine agenda, since he signed on, being himself a medical scientist, to study the Creature in a controlled environment. He means the Creature no ill; unlike Jeff who wants to cut-and-paste him into … Flesh Gordon,

This polarity is one of the continuing themes, the discussion of which bored the fraternity brothers. Another is the deteriorating relationship between Mr and Mrs Jeff. Every time he tells her not to do something, off she goes to do it. Learning nothing from experience, Jeff keeps telling her what not to do. She shoots sharks for fun. She dives too deep to show off. She flounces around in revealing costumes. She drinks. All very 1950s.

The hired hands notice her, and press their attentions on her. She is not interested in them, but Rex, now that is another chin. He however is ever so correct.

Jeff is all soft spoken, but — as always — he looks worried. Could be the Amex bill he has run up in hiring a cabin cruiser the size of the Titanic and sailing it from San Francisco to the Gulf of Mexico and back with a crew of hired hands to ogle Mrs.

These two governing narratives are set forth with brisk economy in the first fifteen minutes. There follows a lot of padding to reach a respectable length.

Off they go a-Creature hunting, five men in a row boat the size of dinner plate. Best time to find the elusive creature in the swamp is at night, right? With plenty of gas for the two-stroke motor and torches to light the way. He finds them first and attacks. In the melée he is set on fire and rendered unconscious. They capture him. The burns reveal a second underlying skin much like ours. A nip and tuck here and there and he can breath air and walk among us.

He is a modest Creature and the hired hands dress him in some size XXXXXXXL pyjamas. This dressing occurs off camera so the Creature retains mystique.

As he recovers consciousness the Creature is unsure and then makes a break for the water. In he goes, only to discover he is now gill-less and drowns. ‘Cut.’ cried the director. ‘If he dies... we have no movie!’ On cue, Rex and his chin dive in with an oxygen line and save the Creature.

Once in Sausalito Jeff pens the Creature in a stockade with an electric fence. The Creature broods for the water seen in the distance. Rex feels sorry for him, and suggests….well, nothing. He doesn't feel that sorry. Mrs flounces around in a huff. Jeff still has stars in his eyes.

Hired Hand again tries his hand on Mrs, who again pushes him away. Jeff yet again observes and though he blames Mrs for drawing attention to herself, he grows enraged with Hired Hand and clonks him to death. Gulp! What to do? Thinks, Jeff, 'I will blame HH’s death on the Creature.' Little Jeff carries the big hunk of Hired Hand to the pen, turns off the juice, and throws the corpse at the Creature’s feet. How the starry dreamer has fallen to the jungle.

The Creature is confused and lashes out at Jeff who falls over his script. Now the Creature pursues Jeff through the mansion. In ransacking the house to find Jeff, the Creature comes across Mrs, who cowers per the director’s orders, and noble Rex and his chin interpose themselves in front of her. The Creature pauses to look at them. Looking…..

Then he turns away. He has no quarrel with them. Rex and his chin saved him, and Mrs can swim up an eyeful. He goes after Jeff. He finds Jeff. End of Jeff. Jeff, his tormentor and captor is his only victim. By the way no ‘City Screams in Terror’ per the lobby card since all of this action takes place in a rich man’s private compound away from prying eyes.

Then, searching for Virginia Woolf, the Creature walks into the sea. The End. There is no fourth entry in the series.

As Jeff’s marriage failed he reverts to the primitive man who clubs his rival to death and then blames the hapless Creature. Get it? He starts out a star gazer and ends a cave man.

By the way, Jeff and Rex met earlier in 'This Island Earth' (1955), reviewed elsewhere on this blog. Jeff had the white hair, and parked his UFO under Rex's chin.

The underwater photography is technically proficient but it is only eye candy in this outing, not integral to the story. Indeed there is a lot of padding in this execution. While this screenplay is preferable to that of 'The Revenge of the Creature,' the scientists make no effort to establish any rapport with the creature or to communicate with him on any level. Not even the word 'Stop.'

IMDb meta-data is 1 hour and 22 minutes of treacle time, rated 5.6 by 4432 cinemitizens.

Verdict: A major disappointment.

Revenge card.jpg

While ‘The Creature from the Black Lagoon’ (1954) had atmosphere, tension, humour, likeable characters, elegant photography, and — most of all— humanity. This sequel from much the same production crew has few, if any, of those qualities. While it still shows some of touches of director Jack Arnold, they are bleached by the inept screenplay.

Some films can be saved by the actors but not in this case. This was the first of fifty B movie creature features/Sy Fy movies that would largely constitute John Agar’s subsequent career. At this stage he was still trying to be an A picture leading man, and not yet sleepwalking in his trademark catatonic style developed later. He is really trying, and very annoying, and so superficial that the fraternity brothers rooted for the Creature.

Not even a pay-check, a director, a screen-play, and a career motivated the ichthyologist to warm to Agar. No rapport puts it mildly. While required to embrace and kiss him, the viewer can see the icicles.

While dead at the end of the marvellous ‘The Creature from the Black Lagoon’ in the previous year, by the miracle of modern medical screenplay writing the Creature is restored to life in the Black Lagoon. The first fifteen minutes consists of his capture. Nestor Pavia, the only hold over from the original, captains the boat with his usual panache.

While Richards Carlson and Denning could not quell the Creature in the original, Bozos One and Two dynamite the lagoon on the assumption either they will kill Creature and take him back for dissection, or knock him unconscious so they can send him home for torture.

This approach alone indicates the Channel 7Mate intellectual level of what follows. Kaboom!

Once captured Creature is put on display for gawkers at Ocean Harbor in sun-bright Florida. There Agar and Ichthie torture him with food and cattle prods. Yep. Several times. Repeatedly. Their aim is to teach him to stop on the word ‘Stop.’ High level science it is. The fraternity brothers called the SPCA.

Ichthie and Agar exchange frozen lips now and then. The fraternity brothers know those kisses for the brush-off they are.

Creature has enough of their prodding and does some of his own. He kills Bozo One in the melée and escapes with ease since no precautions were taken, per the screenplay.

Though Bozo One was well known to both Agar and Ichthie neither misses a beat at his death. Just as neither gives a thought to Creature’s plight at the end of the cattle prod. (Yes, I know, Ichthie once says ‘she almost feels sorry for him.’ Put the emphasis on ‘almost.’ That means she does not feel sorry for him.)

(The next time cattle prods were on screen they were used by Bull Connor’s police in Birmingham on protestors.)

The opportunities lost were many. One of the strengths of the original was the underwater photography and the swimming of the stuntman, Ricou Browning, who is also in this one. There is some imitation of the original and Arnold’s touch shows in it, but it is not integrated into the insipid story. Moreover, once in Florida's glare the mystery of the Black Lagoon is gone. There is another Arnold-moment when the peeping and stalking Creature is transfixed by the sight of Ichthie in her boudoir. But again it is cut before it sinks in.

In the aquarium there are some nicely framed shots from the water into the viewing area and the reverse that could have used for communion if not communication between the two worlds, but not so. The potential is palpable, but left at as a showy camera shot, not integrated into the story.

Rvenge Quaua.jpg

The Wiki word is that despite the commercial success of the original, the studio cut the budget for this reprise to the bone, because of losses on other pictures. The McKinsey managers’ assumption was, as is often the case and often right, the audience would be too stupid to notice. Considering the undeserved high score on the IMDb maybe they were right in the long run.

Whereas in the original the deaths of associates were shocking and disturbing, in this one it is not even clear to this inattentive viewer, ahem, if Agar and Ichthie realise Bozo was torn apart. Instead they go out on a dinner-dance date. Indeed they show no interest in the escaped Creature and feel no responsibility for anything. 'Don’t blame them; they written that way.'

Now the Creature has no trouble spotting Ichthie and puts his moves on her. The de rigueur scene of the Creature Feature lobby card occurs as he carries her off into the night. Where promptly he puts her down. Must be heavier than she looks.

In the end Creature obeys Agar’s command to stop, so that the assembled NRA members can shoot him down. Another triumph for US foreign policy. See something foreign, shoot it.

The end.

Maybe Creature is the only sympathetic character in this soup because he does not have to speak any of the tepid and dreary lines of the screenplay. Silent and brooding with such underwater grace and agility, he embodies a personality none of the dry players can match.

A recurrent theme in Jack Arnold’s movies is the situation of women professionals, career and family. It is here in some dialogue but so poorly executed one suspects Arnold inserted it and the screen writer made no effort to integrate it. Still Ichthie does muse on her choice as a career woman and where will it lead, when most of her gal pals are now married with children. Agar ignores these concerns, per the mores of the time.

Revenge Clint.jpg

Perhaps the only thing that makes the movie worth watching for anyone who is not a copper-bottomed Sy Fyian is that it is Clint Eastwood’s film debut. He has thirty-seconds as a lab technician in the early going.

Internet Movie Database meta-data is 1 hour and 11 minutes of Dali time, rated 5.3 by 1161 cinemitizens

Ariys 2.jpg

Verdict: Pop goes the balloon!

John Agar becomes the helpless victim of….a brain. It was a new experience in his long downward descending film career.

Gor from the Planet Arous is on the interstellar lam from the laws of physics, pursued by agent Vor. Gor is a balloon on a string painted with a human brain. One prop does them both since all Arousians look alike to the fraternity brothers.

Atomic energy testing on Earth attracted Gor who wants to use it to return to Arous and take revenge!

So far it sounds better than it is.

Los Alamos and its cottonwood trees are nearby and so is the crack [gasp] nuclear physicist Agar whose expertise runs to reading voltmeters. He is not employed on the bomb testing project but is yet a nuclear physicist, freelance it seems, just hanging around. The fraternity brothers scoffed since there was not a slide rule was in sight. Strike one. At no time does he intone E = (MC)2 or any other incantation of the high priests of science. Strike two. Nor does he sport a nerdy white pocket protector. Strike three. Yer out!

Gor merges with Agar. Read that again slowly. Gor merges with Agar... who then goes all Lee Strassberg, writhing, sweating, doubling up, twisting, pounding his head against a wall, like a Red Sox fan re-acting to another drubbing by the Yankees. There is one marvellous scene where he stoops over a water cooler and is photographed through the water in the tank in a weird and disturbing image.

ARous water cooler.jpg
What it shows is a big fat head. Nice but not integrated into the film.

Warning, danger ahead! When possessed by Gor, Agar tries to act. His evil laugh is as good as Bart Simpson’s but no better. Passable for a ‘C+.’ He gloats at his enormous power over savage Earthlings, while telling himself that Sally will do nicely. A ‘D’ for gloating. He then dons reflective contact lens and wills destruction. This is definitely an ‘A+.’ Overall as a villain a ‘B-’ average.

Since he is not employed, Agar has plenty of time to roam around and frequently visits his girlfriend Sally who lives with her dad (Thomas Browne Henry, a stalwart of 1950s and 1960s television, who is picture above near the water cooler) with the faithful hound, George. (Who but a scriptwriter would name a dog George?) Of Mom we hear not a word.

When Agar tries to act, Sally and Dad notice a change. In one notable scene Gor-Agar tries to rip her clothes off. The fraternity brothers had pretty terse criticisms of his technique. Needing the pay check for completing the role, Sally perseveres with Agar.

ARous Gor.jpg The balloon plays a dual role, both Gor and Vor.

She and Dad find the cave of the ‘Robot Monster’ (1953), a film reviewed elsewhere on this blog, which also has some clothes tearing in it, where Gor hangs out. There Vor appears with the same voice but in a reassuring tone, like Richard Boone trying to be nice. He clues them in on the plot and reveals Gor’s Achilles Brain heel.

Between bouts of gloating, triggering nuclear explosions, twice blowing Malaysian passenger planes out of the sky, declaring his lust for Sally, Gor-Agar complains of terrible headaches while clutching his stomach. The director skipped anatomy classes in college. There is more which the reader is to be spared.

Vor decides to inhabit George to keep track of Gor-Agar because at times Gor must leave Agar's body to update the IOS and Gor is vulnerable at that time. Vor will pounce on Gor then! This is an intriguing possibility balloon-à-balloon, and maybe some dog stunts to equal to Agar’s gut clutching, but no. George rides around in the car a couple of times and goes to sleep. Another method actor: realism. Pouncing is out.

In the end -- a long time in coming -- Sally gives Agar written instructions with a drawing as explained to her by Vor, and leaves an axe handy for him to use to split the atoms in Gor’s balloon brain. Which he does.

When he recovers himself, i.e., leaden and bored, Agar asks her how she knew where he should strike per the instructions and with what, namely the axe. She tells him about Vor.

He dismisses this explanation as her imagination! She exits to collect the pay cheque.

The end.

Ah the 1950s when chauvinism, sexism, whitebread, and stupidly were the coin of the realm. But wait, has anything changed?

Rumor has it that some screenings were interrupted by the announcement of the Sputnik success.

1 hour and 28 minutes of treacle time, rated a vastly inflated 6.0 by 2246 of the producer's extended family members.

Verdict: Viewer beware. I could not finish this one. Not even Lieutenant Willard’s name in the cast list could keep me at it.

Time Shifters.jpg

The premise is a good one and offers much potential which was not grasped by writer, director, producer, or the cast.

The premise is that in the future backward time travel is possible, and it has become disaster tourism. Those in future travel back in time to take part in disasters, to be rescued in the nick of time by the time travel agent. Sail on the Titanic. Be a Red Sox fan. Land at Omaha Beach. Board the Hindenburg. Vote for the Twit-in-chief. And be home and dry by dinner time, spared all consequences for these and other disasters.

Such time travellers are discovered in this story by a lazy and incompetent journalist with a reptilian sneer who can barely drink instant coffee. Maybe that is why I could not warm to the movie. Where is the comatose John Agar when we need him?

The proposition that Casper the Ghost might have the presence of mind, energy, wit, intelligence, and insight to figure this out in five minutes was just too much for my suspended disbelief.

Those IMDb users who made comments concentrate on the story’s potential, not the execution of the material. Not even the fraternity brothers could warm to this.

Replete with inaccuracies and fabrications yet ponderously and pretentiously presented as though a documentary. ‘History on Film’ I hope will demolish it in due course. Until then I offer my comments.

Because the gullible cinemitizens of IMDb will eat it up and think they now know the history it has to be nailed.

Darkest Hour.jpg

They rate it 7.4 from 94,328 votes and it runs two hours and five minutes. Its documentary approach goes day-by-day in May 1940 as Churchill took office, but it inserts events that occurred later in June in this May narration. It attributes to Clement Attlee, the Labour Leader, a position he never took. It trivialises the ‘V’ sign. It fabricates a Tube ride. It shows in May 1940 an American aircraft only manufactured in 1943. Ditto the automobiles. It garbles Churchill’s several meetings with Paul Reynaud who did want to fight on.

In short, despite the pretension of accuracy implied by the documentary approach, it is as careless with fake facts as the Twit-in-Chief.

It adds nothing to our knowledge of the Fox, Edward Halifax, nor does it explain the transformation of King George. These two figures are very well drawn by the actors, respectively, Stephen Dillane and Ben Mendelshon. Halifax remains a man of mystery. He was everyone’s obvious first choice as PM who stepped back and back. King George surprised Churchill by his conversion to the ‘fight ‘em on the beaches’ attitude by learning together with his wife to shoot a pistol.

Nor does the film credit Churchill’s long acquired mastery of parliamentary forms, rules, and conventions which he used to gain and keep support. The grand strategy was in his speeches; the killer tactics were in meeting schedules, ordering of items on an agenda, orchestrating other speakers, and so on.

Attlee had said repeatedly in public and private that he would continue to serve in War Cabinet regardless of whom the Conservative majority installed as PM. He did not make his service, and hence national unity, conditional on Churchill’s selection. It is unthinkable that he would have done so and he did not.

Though every detail of this time is well documented, the facts are not enough for the film-makers.

Having seen Churchill enacted so many times (Albert Finney, Robert Hardy, Timothy West, Brian Cox, Timothy Spall), it is impossible to see him with a fresh eye. Having said that, Gary Oldman seems to have compiled a host of external mannerism and ticks without any inward unity. The declamations, the cigars, the shuffling steps, the staring eyes, are all there without anything inside rather like an animation from Madame Tussaud's wax work collection. The publicity hype says he studied many films of Churchill. No doubt. He has the walk; he has the talk, but he has no empathy for the man inside.

Disclosure statement. By some combination of button pushing I watched this in a French dubbed version on a trans-oceanic flight. I had not intended to do that but once it started I let it run as my French lesson of the day.

IMDb data: 1 hour and 37 minutes, rated 3.5 by 64 cinemitizens.

Zombie Cats Mars cover.jpg

Just as some suspected for eons, cats are the devil’s familiars. Two high school boys see a UFO at twilight, but say to themselves, despite the evidence of their eyes, that it is but a weather balloon and that explains why weather predictions are so accurate. The irony detector went off.

Of course, they are ridiculed for seeing a UFO, though they did not say that they did. The small town bully gets to work per the script. Down the street is a cat lady with fifty or more felines. When the Martian cat shows up, she takes it in. That was her last mistake.

The Martian has glowing eyes which are soon imparted to its kind. They turn on the cat lady. Who is going to clean that up? This is just the beginning. Down they go like mice before the grim cat reapers.

The police are inept and the narcissistic carrion of the media find the string of murders amusing, but boring after a time. Everyone in the small town is killed, one-by-one, until our protagonist wakes up to find it all a dream for a short story he has to write for homework. The end.

The production values are Ed Wood standard. The players are…sincere. It does not take itself seriously and most is thus forgiven, though not all.

How we know the killer cat came from Mars is unknown. Where the UFO was parked is likewise unknown. Why did they come? Most important of all, what makes them zombies?

IMDB meta-data is runtime 1 hour and 17 minutes, rated 4.8 by 1243 cinemitizens.

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Verdict: Stay at home.

In 2001 all problems have been solved on Earth. Pi has been calculated to the end. The drains at Wrigley Field have been cleared. The United Nations (having exterminated the John Birchers [Hooray!]) governs one and all in peace and prosperity with plenty and no conflicts among humanity. At long last we have learned to live together in harmony.

Well, it is fiction.

Note that the initial stock footage of space flight is replete with uniforms of the USA and USAF. No UN blue in sight.

The opening narration continues, the inner planets, including Saturn, have been explored to ensure that they are Trump-free. In order to be sure that the whole Solar System is free of this deadly menace, a doughty crew of five, including the ubiquitous John Agar, sets sail for Uranus, the seventh planet to give it the once over. From here on this is one for the fraternity brothers: inane, puerile, salacious, and other words beyond their vocabulary.

The betting opened on how many of the five would make the return trip. The crew is multi-national with one who goes on about Leprechauns, another who waxes on about Danish windmills, a third who has the wooden heart Elvis sang about, and a vaguely other, along with Agar. All white-bread.

As they approach Uranus, they read from the array of voltmeters on the cardboard flight deck that the ground radiation is Chernobyl, that the ambient temperature is -270 Kelvin (or Fred), that the atmosphere is a noxious brew of Pat Robertson-speak, but they land anyway. Of the crushing gravity, not a word is said. Brave men, these.

Now they take readings again. ‘Huh!’ John Agar can deliver that line like no other, as he sleepwalks toward another pay cheque. It is +72F; it is mild; it is radiation free; it is …(too good to be true but spacemen were not selected for brainpower). Donning coveralls with a UN patch, crash helmets, and grasping caulking guns they go forth with scuba gear on their backs. They are ready for anything. Anything, except what they find!

They find a sylvan glade wherein all their individual wet dreams come to life. Sort of. Beautiful women from the past of each appears to them individually. Hmm.

&th Palnet FB.jpg The fraternity brothers sat up at this point, and stayed up.

After….hmm… a while the spaceboys figure out that these women cannot be real. The fraternity brothers wanted to know…. (how they knew.) Conclusion? An alien intelligence is dredging these images up from their minds and projecting them. This manipulation cannot be tolerated, though two of crew demur, claiming that a good manipulation is just what they need after all that script time in space.

Nonetheless, they set out to find, confront, and destroy this intelligence. US foreign policy Prime Directive number one: seek and destroy.

Bolton.jpg The baleful influence of Neo-Cons extends to Uranus. The white rat is hiding in plain sight.

Meanwhile, between alien-destroying bouts, they cavort with the women. The fraternity brothers object to the word ‘cavort’ since all they do is talk and there is one chaste embrace. ‘Cavorting,’ they cried, ‘is what we major in and this is not it!’ Point conceded.

Evidently the space invaders prevail but one of them gets absorbed, and not in a book.

The Danish captain insists on taking along his dream squeeze as they flee the planet before the requisite KABOOM. Agar does try to tell him she is not real, but…. A man has got to do what his first friend tells him to do. She disappears in the mist, after being rescued. Some gratitude that!

That is one version of the events. Here is the revisionist history now taught in Uranian universities.

Invaders land without permission. They come in battle dress and armed with fearful caulking guns. To make them feel welcome Brain conjures their wettest dreams, which they enjoy to the limits of 1962 film censorship. No harm comes to them.

In response, they set out to destroy Brain. To survive Brain must take defensive action, and it dredges up from each them nightmares to inhibit their destructive actions.

Put that shoe on!

This is a product of Sid Pink and Ib Melchior. That says it all.

It opens and closes with a mournful ballad about the 'Journey to the Seventh Planet.' That alone was worse than the film, albeit shorter.

Though Denmark is much mentioned, it was filmed in Sweden and all the actors, including the Irishman, have Swedish names, apart from Agar, in the credits. Maybe Agar is a Swedish name? No one speaks with a Swedish accent, so maybe it was dubbed. Hard to tell on the print I watched from Daily Motion.

IMDb meta-data is 1 hour and 19 minutes and rate 3.6 by 732 cinemitizens.

Missile Mooon card.jpg

Verdict: The first astronaut was a Moonie!

It bears an uncanny resemblance to ‘Cat-Women of the Moon’ (1953), reviewed elsewhere on this blog, but there is less dancing and this time no one smokes on the Moon, these being the high points of the film. Yet it does have some interesting features which go undeveloped in the screenplay in favour of the spacers old friend, the meteor shower.

With their own money Dork and Steve have laboriously built the cardboard cut-out of a spaceship in the backyard and are about to blast off for the Moon when, the heavy hand of officialdom falls. 'Private enterprise shall not go the moon,' says a man in an Army Navy Store uniform. The Air Force is here to confiscate your rocket which will fold down nicely into a briefcase.

Steve rolls with this punch but Dork is infuriated and becomes driven to set off on his own. There are close ups of Dork fuming. [Censored.]

The rocket is surrounded by an electric fence, yet two reform school drop outs get inside without breaking a fingernail. See, the cut-off switch for the fence was conveniently located by the gate and it took only a dime to pry it open and kill the juice. A dime is all the sense these two elderly teenagers had together but it was enough. They hide in the rocket. Well, they stand around in the rocket's ballroom and Dork finds them but keeps it a secret in return for their cooperation in his flight to the Moon. ‘Sure, why not. It is a little out of the way but, hey, it’s a free joy ride.’ This is delinquent logic at work.

While Dork and his cronies are dialing dials, unbeknown to them, Steve and Squeeze come on board for reasons known only to the scriptwriter.

The original plan was a crew of two, now there are five on board. Yet somehow the cardboard cutout rocket is up to it and they have lift-off.

In flight Dork snuffs it when the BO of the felons hits him in the enclosed cabin. Well, he hit his head when he slipped in the meteor shower where he went to escape the aforementioned pox. As he dies, he tells Steve that all is programmed and it must be followed exactly. He goes on about ‘my Lido,’ as it pining for Venice. Was he in the wrong movie? Good question.

Cutting to the lunar landing, they discover the two-crew rocketship has spacesuits for four, though the suits do not extend to the back of their necks. They are in for some Moon tan. They encounter some of the slowest moving stuntmen in the geriatric wing of the old actors' home decked out as Moon Rockmen. Squeeze falls down in front of these Rockers and is unable to get up in the Moon’s low gravity so she waits patiently for rescue by Steve. She stave off the Rockers by reciting Zeno's paradox. What other explanation could there be, Erich? Note that the Moonscape had scrub bush on it just like that in Bronson Canyon. What an odd coincidence. They shelter in a cob-webbed cave where they find: spiders, torches, oxygen, beauty queens, and the Lido. But no cat women.

Turns out Dork was a Moonie! His plan was to go to Earth, build a rocket ship and return to the Moon by missile. Neat so far? Then the beauty queens would pile into the rocket and return to Earth to…. Now how Dork got from the Moon to Earth without a rocket in the first place is left to mystery. The BQs have to leave Moon because the oxygen is running out, though where it ever came from is left to mystery. There is mystery in this screenplay.

The idea that the first Earthmen in space is a Moonie, well, that is a twist, and that lust for The Lido is his fuel might add to the fun, but it does not because there is no fun to which to add anything.

Along the way the enlarged spider appears to justify the lobby card. One of the delinquents fries. (See comment above about neck exposure.) Various BQs come to bad ends.

Oh, and we discover that ‘The Lido’ is the maximum BQ.

The Lido.jpg Notice the boss headwear.

She mistakes Steve for Dork, such is her undying love for Dork, because she is blind, because Steve is wearing a medallion Dork gave him with his dying breadth, because the scriptwriter hit the wrong keys. She wants a (re)union with Steve the ersatz Dork, and this riles Squeeze to something more than the mild boredom which has been her contribution to the dramatic arts so far.

‘Cat-Women of the Moon’ has the same IMDb score of 3.6 but has more exposition of the Moonies that strives for plausibility, and fails. Moreover, it had Marie Windsor to add some spunk to proceedings and some old hands in the crew to deliver their lines with conviction, rather than this weary and dreary crew. No doubt the two delinquents were there to capture the Steve McQueen youth market per 'The Blob' (1958). Fail!

Unknown word card.jpg

IMDb metadata is 1 hour and 14 minutes of Dali time, rated 3.9 by 731 cinemitizens.

Verdict: Stay home.

Enrico Fermi frightened a generation of school children with the prediction that nuclear explosions would ignite the atmosphere and incinerate the Earth. This film starts with that assumption.

A team of scientists decides that to survive humanity must burrow into the Earth. Mole-ville here they come. This is a private enterprise, and though it attracts much press coverage, it is underfunded. Most of the ink is derogatory as the Fourth Estate once again meets the standard of irresponsible journalism.

However the hoo-hah attracts a wealthy layabout with a big smile who puts up the money provided he can go along for the ride. While all other members of the crew are doctored scientists, he is a golden brick. Tensions surface but taking him is the only way to proceed. All aboard the Cyclotram (which has since been used to drill subway tunnels in Athens, Istanbul, and London).

Cyclotram.jpg
We see schematics. We see dials. Levers. Switches. Gizmos. Instruments. What is worse is that there are expositions.

We get excerpts from doomsday lectures to thousands who -- contrary to the natural law of the lecture theatre -- seemed awake.

Unkbown lecture.jpg

We get bored stiff. The players are earnest and it is presented with urgency, but none of it is engaging.

The team consists of a small group of fifty year old, near-sighted, round shouldered, shuffling PhDs, and one virile ex-Marine engineer, who is there to fight with the Gold Brick over the attentions of the one female in the crew who is much younger than the other PhDs. She is the nutritionist who has made the dietary pills off which they will live as they bore and bore and bore. 'Boring!' cried the fraternity brothers.

Is the aim to find the underground cavern of Edward Lytton Bulwer’s Vril (‘The Coming Race’ [1871]) where humanity can become Moles. Or is the goal to rescue John Agar from "The Mole People' (1956), reviewed elsewhere on this blog? If the latter, forget it.

They enter the underworld by sailing to Carlsbad Caverns and descending into a dormant volcano. First up then down, down, down. What could go wrong? Ever try sailing to New Mexico?

At least they are safe from the Sy Fy scriptwriters nemesis, the meteor. But things do go wrong. The Gold Brick is annoyingly supercilious and careless. There are speeches about bending nature to human will. 'As if,' said Georg Hegel.

But then….poison gas, volcanic eruptions, dandruff, contaminated water, and annoying remarks bedevil progress.

Some of the doctors croak and the Gold Brick matures. His growth was well done, and of course the lady doctor warms to him now that the ex-Marine is toast. Gold Brick is the only one under fifty left anyway.

They go down, down, down. Much to the disappointment of the marketing department they find not a single enlarged lizard creature to grab the doll for a picture on a lobby card. No stunt men in rubber suits were in the budget. Instead there is an oppressive journey into darkness. In fact, it is much closer to the text of Jules Verne’s ‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth’ (1864) than the big budget version of it in 1959 with that toothy crooner in it. Not reviewed elsewhere on this blog.

Spoiler ahead.

Moreover, it is resolutely downbeat. Nothing good happens. 'Yawn,' agreed the fraternity brothers. They -- the players not the brothers -- are submerged in an ocean 2500 miles underground! Not good. Doomed. But then the scriptwriter reached for an up-current and it propels the craft to the surface (stock footage of Pismo Beach follows) and they are saved. Delighted to be back where they started from, they throw open the hatch.

What was that about decompression? The End.

All of that and they are back on top where Fermi’s burning atmosphere awaits them. Huh?

The production teams includes veterans of many of Sy Fy films who really should have known better.

The IMDb metadata is 1 hour and 35 minutes run time, rated 4.7 by scant 200 cinemitizens.

Mission Mars card.jpg

Verdict: Not even Carl Kolchak could save this one.

Three American astronauts blast-off for the Red Planet (quite visible of late), but before that about twenty minutes is devoted to their wives and girlfriends telling them each to be careful. Nearly the same dialogue is repeated three times by the women. That astronauts have lives and cares is certainly worth screen time but the repetition makes it irritating rather than engaging. Each of the women give it their best shot. The problem is not the singers but the song.

The flyboys blast-off and the early going has some verisimilitude, though the shots slide between a Jupiter and Atlas rockets in NASA stock footage of Florida launches. The fraternity brothers are up on rockets and spotted this gaffe. Our heroes encounter the usual screenwriting tropes of communication blackouts, meteor showers, and body odour. Darren McGavin and Nick Adams do their best to make it credible.

There is also an amusing moment when McGavin and the third member of the crew, who the fraternity brothers immediately identified as a dispensable Red Shirt, tuck into a meal of pellets and brine, while Adams produces from his kit a salami sandwich and thermos of coffee. They are appalled, aghast, and envious all at once. One of the few nice touches in this turgid celluloid.

Nearing Mars, they pass, floating in the void of space, two dead spacesuited Soviet cosmonauts. Gulp! That gives them pause for thought about a fate that might await them in the screenplay. This encounter ties up an earlier aside about Soviet interest in Mars. So far, so usual.

In the approach for landing they take actions that separate them from the supply canister that was to accompany their landing. ‘We’ll find it later,’ says McGavin. We know what that means. Trouble.

They land and alight with no ceremony or awe. Just a remark to the effect that ‘So this is Mars.’ They spend hours, well so it seemed, pumping up weather balloons for scientific reasons unknown. To find the supply pod they scout around. Yep. While they have on white overalls, their face masks came from a hockey team and do not seal into the overalls.

Soon enough the local flora and fauna objects to their presence: Terra Nullius or not. The Red Shirt in the crew of three is gobbled up by a large golf ball.

Gold ball.jpg This orb looks very much like the enlargement John Carradine used in ‘The Cosmic Man’ (1959), reviewed elsewhere on this blog.

They find a third Soviet cosmonaut frozen in a spacesuit. ‘We can’t leave him here,’ McGavin says. (He gets all the good lines.) Gamely Nick Adams carries the frozen Soviet block of ice back to the ship. The fraternity brothers were pretty sure leaving the Red there was just fine, and how could little Nick carry that big Slav with all his gear to the ship anyway. That attitude just proves why they will never graduate from scriptwriting school.

The bug-eyed saplings and gigantic tin foil wrapped golf ball cripple the ship making departure impossible. Stop there and check the Vulcan logic.

The FF (flora or fauna, the fraternity brothers could not tell which was which and neither could the special effects department) wants the strangers gone. How to do that? Disable the ship so they have to stay. Check. That is scriptwriting school logic, Mr Spock. It is to be seen in countless other Sy FY features like ‘Forbidden Planet’ (1956), reviewed elsewhere on this blog.

The Siberian thaws out and comes to life while Nick goes to tee-off on the golf ball, nine iron in hand. Bad move. That Reynolds Wrap tin foil is club-proof. Gobble. Gobble.

However, while the golf ball is masticating Nick, McGavin sees his chance to blast off and puts the Siberian at a console to twist dials. Dials twisted. Kaboom. They take off in joint American-Soviet effort at escape. For the time that is a concession to the unity of mankind in the face of mean plants.

The end. Well, I stopped watching, ahem, maybe earlier, too.

The story and production come straight from a 1950s B movie, yet it was released in the same year as ‘Space Odyssey 2001.’ It seems all the more dated when one realises that in less than a year the audience would see on the television news a man walking on the Moon.

The early going and the end are marred by an insipid soundtrack that has no connection to either the form or content of the movie. The producer must have had an aspiring musician in the extended family.

It was made in Miami and the supporting actors in the cast were evidently local talent, not the familiars of Hollywood. That does give it a freshness but it is soon lost in the early repetitions.

This same director’s oeuvre includes ‘Santa Claus Conquers the Martians’ (1964), not reviewed on this blog, yet. But only because I have been unable to locate it online.

This is the first in a series of nine book-length titles (and one short story) recounting the many adventures of Flavia de Luce, aged eleven and a half, in Bishop’s Lacey of rural England of 1950-1951. ‘Flavia’ is pronounced, she has more than one occasion to say, to rhyme with bravia as in bravo.

Sweetness.jpg

With pigtails flying, aside her faithful bicycle Gladys, Flavia goes where no plod ventures, under beds, into holes in the ground, inside ovens, over roof tops, through holes in the wall, diving in to muddy ponds, all the while musing on the wonders of chemistry.

It all began early one morning, very early, about 4 am, while she was waiting for an experiment to mature, Flavia discovers in the cucumber patch a dying man. ‘How interesting!’ is her reaction, as he breathes his last.

When plod, duly summoned, shows little interest in her or her observations (which are many) she resolves to get to the bottom of things before plod does. The race is on, but only one of the runners knows it: Flavia.

First stop, the local library, then the local gossips, as she mobilises village resources to identify the deceased and infer his purpose then to find his killer while plod follows police procedure, i.e., drinks tea, calls London, fills in forms, drinks tea, scratches ear, fills up tank of police car with petrol, rests, and goes home.

The cast of characters includes a largely silent Father, who occupies himself most hours behind closed doors with stamp albums. There is a bounded retainer, Dogger, whose emotional frailty is debilitating. Father and Dogger spent long years in Japanese prison camps, and in different ways have never recovered from it. Harriet, wife and mother, died just before the war, leaving a very large gap. Though gone for a decade she remains a presence in Buckshaw, the decaying family pile. At the mere mention of Harriet’s name, Father faints. Meanwhile, Dogger cowers in the greenhouse with his demons. Mrs Mullen does for them and provides a pipeline to the village and sanity.

Older sisters Ophelia, the narcissistic musician, and Daphne, the bespectacled reader, round out the ensemble cast. Rivalry among the three sisters has become Total Sibling War.

The Molochs of Inland Revenue undermine Buckshaw with questions, writs, and invoices. Harriet died without a will, leaving questions of property much vexed. Four years in a Japanese prison camp did not break Father, but Inland Revenue seems about to do so. He could satisfy these meat eaters by selling her jewels (valuable), books (rare), and automobile (handmade) but this he resolutely refuses to do, as if by keeping them he keeps her.

That Flavia is the very image of Harriet explains why Father can hardly look at her, though she does not understand this and feels slighted. Father and Harriet were cousin and he knew her at Flavia’s age.

I gulped down the nine books of the sequence, one-after-another, each a delight. Flavia does not always understand what she sees or hears or is said to her, and she makes mistakes. Nevertheless she has the optimism, audacity, energy, and determinism to overcome all obstacles, including those of her own making. When all else fails, when she is totally desperate, when there is no alternative, she will even tell the truth!

The plotting is neat, details play into the larger picture in due course. There are no superfluous asides and backstories. The characters are delightful, most of all the star of the show, Flavia, but also Dogger, Mrs Mullen, the Vicar, and the Weird Sisters, and more. While Flavia makes the snap judgements of youth, time and experience cause her to change her mind more than once. Call that growing up.

There is much chemistry. Like many a prepubescent girl, Flavia keeps scrap books. In her case they consist of newspaper and magazine cuttings of homicides by poisoning. She got kicked out of the Girl Guides when for a home science project she distilled arsenic from house cleaning products. On the wall of her room are autographed pictures of many chemists, particularly those whose work expanded knowledge of poisons. She has longterm plans for the Weird Sisters.

There are some false notes now and again, and the one book set in Canada at boarding school seemed somehow lesser, though it has some great moments, the whole is less than the sum of its parts.

Neither Amazon, Wikipedia, nor the author’s web page offers a simple chronological list of the titles in the series. Below is my effort to supply that list.

‘The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie’ (2009).
'The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag’ (2010).
‘A Red Herring Without Mustard’ (2011).
‘I Am Half-Sick of Shadows’ (2011).
‘Speaking from Among the Bones’ (2013).
‘The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches’ (2014).
‘The Curious Case of the Copper Corpse’ (2014) (a short story).
‘As Chimney Sweepers Come To Dust’ (2015).
‘Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d’ (2016).
‘A Grave's a Fine and Private Place’ (2018).

alan-bradley.jpg Alan Bradley. Chapeux!

I first espied one of these titles (‘As Chimney Sweepers Come To Dust’) in the English-Language section of a bookstore in Helsinki in 2016 and when I got back to it, I found it had predecessors so I started with the first, reading on the Kindle, and the banquet began. Now sad to say I have read them all, but fear not for I have returned to this, volume one, and started over. ‘As Chimney Sweepers Come To Dust,’ by the way, was the one I saw in Helsinki and I am glad that I did not start there as I might have then stopped, this being the one set in Canada as referred to above.

Dare we readers hope Flavia will continue her chemical ways in adolescence and adulthood?

AKA ‘Star Pilot’ (1966)

IMDb metadata: 1 hour and 29 minutes of Dali time, rated a generous 4.3 by 284 relatives of the producer.

Hudra card.jpg aka 'Star Pilot.'

Verdict: One hour and twenty-nine minutes later and I still do not know what Mission Hydra was.

Rock rats in Sardinia find a hole in the ground. Wow! Then their fancy scientific instruments — watches, telephones, jeeps — misbehave. The solution is more funding! But the Ministry in Rome is not convinced. There follows more incoherent drivel from the Italian Sy Fy factory.

Much going to’ing and fro’ing and it seems the Roman coliseum is in Sardinia.

Using the script as a tool, the professor and the graduate students dig and find a buried spaceship. The aliens missed Arizona and hit Sardinia near the coliseum. Wow! Satnav gone mad!

First contact does not go well. Just as the professor was about to display his CV, thugs appear with gats and demand the secret weapon he has been working on. They declare, by the way, that ‘We are not Chinese [despite appearances]. We are Oriental.’ Salute that!

‘It’s no weapon, you fools,’ replies the professor. ‘It is an alien ship.’ The Orientals are not going to fall for that one, when….

Aliens in black latex appear and blast away. They seize the surviving thugs and the professor’s party, which includes his daughter (who thereafter tries to steal every scene by mugging, posing, waving, flouncing, peering, preening, gasping, gyrating — the whole repertoire of a director's girlfriend's efforts to act). It seems that the aliens took the wrong off ramp when they crashed and now need repairs. Blah, blah, blah. The prof, it turns out, can change a tyre on a spaceship, when not digging in the rock garden.

The aliens, commanded by a woman, take off with the prisoners to complete a mission and continue the repairs, with the promise of returning the prisoners to Earth when Missione Hydra is accomplished, whatever it is. No one cracks wise about how strange it is that a woman is captain alien.

Then there is a segment that seems from another movie, as Earth Command launches a fleet of spaceships in pursuit of the alien craft. We never hear or see this armanda again. Satnav again? Must have diverted into the another movie in a studio next door.

In a similar vein they land on a planet of the apes and some creatures appear to put on the lobby card. There is dialogue in this sequence that makes even less sense than that elsewhere.

On board the imprisoned Orientals make a break, and shoot ‘em follows. The black latex is not bullet proof. The situation gets worse. And worse. The screenplay is even worse. Later the dead rise in response to a late screenplay edit.

More than once members of the crew have to do an EVA without a spacesuit. Yep. They pop out onto the space trampoline in their black latex and wiggle the antenna, scrape the barnacles, paint the prow. Weightless, briefly. Cold, no. Dead, no. Slow motion, yes.

Meanwhile, thanks to Einstein’s theory of relativity, time passes, and the Earth is destroyed in a nuclear war, according to some old newspapers they find on a derelict Bulgarian Marie Celeste spaceship. Bulgarians in space! What next! An idiot in the White House! Again.

They have then no choice but to go on. And on. The fraternity brothers feared the worst. They were right.

Star Pilot bore.jpg It just goes on and on, boring the cast to distraction.

While made earlier, the English-Language dubbing was done after the success of ‘Star Wars’ and it was retitled ‘Star Pilot’ to travel in its wake to bait hapless audiences.

IMDb metadata is 1 hour and 22 minutes, rated 5.1 from 1701 cinemitizens.

T Travelers card.jpg

Verdict: They left home with the AMEX card!

In 1964 three whitebread scientists are reading dials and shouting for more or less power. They cannot seem to make up their minds. Are they wearing the white-coats to keep time dust off their clothes? Meanwhile: Levers are levered. Switches are switched. Dials are dialed. And then …

It is the year 2071!

The Earth is a wasteland! The Republican ascendancy must have had its way. The advance of human knowledge has stopped.

The three scientists and comic relief step through the time portal which promptly collapses behind them stranding the travellers without visas. They are set upon by vestigial Trumpettes, crippled and deformed, i.e., unchanged: slavering, hunched, overweight, waddling… Yikes.

In one notable early scene two of these savage Trumpettes attack the lady scientist, who thinks fast and sprays them with a fire extinguisher and that drives them off. Hooray! She does not scream, faint, go pale, or make coffee, but does some quick lateral thinking and takes decisive action. How rare is that for a woman in a creature feature in 1964? Very. Moreover, at no time does anyone talk about the contradiction of a women being a scientist. Take a bow, scriptwriter!

The illegal immigrant time travelers without visas take refuge in a cave where they find the few remaining Mole Hillaries underground. The Moles confirm the Republican armageddon which sent Evangelicals and most everyone else to their rewards. The few survivors are the Moloch Trumpettes on the surface and Eloi Hillaries underground, thus reversing H.G. Wells.

T Travelers 1.jpg John Hoyt in the powder-blue regalia is a fine actor totally wasted in this role as the visa denier.

The Mole Hillaries plan to relocate to Alpha Centura where a Democratic majority is assured! They are hard at work on a spaceship and welcome additional white-coated scientific help. Meanwhile, they depend on Androids to defend them from the Trumpettes. So far all of this has been pretty snappy.

T Travelrs droids.jpg But now we hear much about the Androids, but when you have seen one droid, you have seen them all.

The story bogs down to an arthritic snail’s pace with expositions of spaceflight, Alpha Centura, 3D printing, and the androids supplemented with comic irritation. Tedious with a capital 'T' and it goes on and on. The fraternity brothers got their Zs in Act II.

These four newcomers irritate some of the Hillaries. Jealously, ambition, KPIs rear their ugly heads. With a little spreadsheet magic one sore-headed Hillary proves she won the election, no, whoops, he proves that the four strangers cannot fit onto the Alpha Centura rocket and will to stay behind and play with the Molochs. Nice, not. Help us build the rocket, yes; ride in it, no. Sounds like a familiar management move. 'You do the work and I take the credit' is a chapter in the McKinsey Managers Manual.

Then in the middle of another exposition, the Trumpette Molochs attack! What a relief! Much running around. Sirens sound. Lights flash. The fraternity brothers gained consciousness.

The intruder is neither a registered Republican nor a Democrat, but a human being! There is an argument about exterminating him. The lady scientist gets all compassionate and saves him. Big deal! We never see or hear of him again. He fell through a typo in the screenplay. 'Did he get on the rocket, or not,' asked the fraternity brothers? Good question.

Though engaged in a race against time to get to Alpha Centura (before it closes), and in a war to the death with the Trumpette Molochs, the Hillaries take time out for sunlamp bathing, arm wrestllng, and trysts in the cavelight. We see semi-clad women lounging around a spa talking about the population explosion that will follow resettlement on New Earth around Alpha Centura. Get it! The fraternity brothers sniggered.

Then the Trumpettes attack in force and in the confusion the time travelers return to 1964 to vote against Barry Goldwater. However once there they find themselves motionless. Comic irritation does his stuff. This paradox is an interesting twist. Back-up: Denied seats on the rocket, they used their iPhones to telephone back to 1964.

However, they cannot reintegrate into 1964 because the IOS updates are inconsistent. What is to become of them? ['Who cares,' asked the fraternity brothers?] But the Eloi have a change of heart and somehow, ex cathedra screenplay, manage to get to 1964 to offer them a place on the rocket after all. A happy ending is thus assured. Who they threw off to make room is left unsaid. Pretty sure that unregistered human being did not make it.

The story is incoherent. Though there are many incidents, the whole is less than the sum of its parts. The denouement is not the result of anything that preceded it. It just happens. Kind of like life.

The writer and director Ib Melchoir other achievement was ‘Reptilicus’ (1961). Enuf said.

IMDb metadata is 1 hour and 13 minutes, 5.8 from 77 cast members' relatives.

Verdict: Spelunkers will be disappointed, as will Martians.

In the far distant future of 1987 humanity has achieved space flight and the first Mars lander is en route with a two-dork crew.

Cave Women cover.jpg

They land on uninhabited Mars to find….inhabitants. But does that matter? A little terra nullius and hey presto, no problem.

Because of the low budget, they find an Earth atmosphere and trudge around in coveralls. One of them wanders off and is…

There are women. ‘These two losers had to go to Mars to get a date,’ hooted the fraternity brothers!

One of them encounters two warring tribes of women, each of which tries to kill him, or enslave him, or otherwise have their wicked ways with him. But no, they decide he is too dangerous to live and if he dies there is no movie. What a conundrum!

Males are weak, cowardly, and enslaved by women. Realistic anyway. 'She' (1935) Who Must be Obeyed took refuge on Mars, it seems. ('She' has been re-made many times but the first is far and away the best.)

Those coveralls drive the Martian caveless women wild! The kiss is unknown to these women and …. [censored]. Knowledge!

It is filmed in black-and-white and offers a tribute to 1950s B Sy Fy movies. It is modest and the actors say all their lines slowly and clearly (because there was no budget for re-takes). In most scenes there is one camera set up and the actors do not move once the focus has been pulled.

Even so it is mildly diverting, but has nothing to do with Mars or with caves. It is a trope in 1950s Sy Fy that there are worlds of women without (real — Republicans don’t count) men, e.g., ‘Cat-Women of The Moon’ (1953), 'Fire Maidens from Outer Space’ (1956), ‘World Without End’ (1956, or ‘Queen Of Outer Space’ (1958) to name but the a few of the fraternity brothers' favourites.

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