As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I will never stop loving Steven Spielberg’s 2005 take on H.G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds.” It was a damned decent science fiction epic, the special effects were fabulous, and it’s actually pretty scary upon its first viewing. The movie successfully channeled post-9/11 anxieties without exploiting them, and Spielberg characteristically humanized the story’s apocalypse by framing it through the eyes of a realistic, relatable modern family. (The terror of the genocidal monsters is a little ironic, too … when I was a kid, Spielberg was known for the wondrous aliens of 1977’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and 1982’s “E.T. — The Extra Terrestrial.”)
Say what you want about Tom Cruise … I think he’s a decent actor, and he’s led some really terrific science fiction films. Dakota Fanning was fantastic child actor here, and Tim Robbins was predictably brilliant (even if his story arc, in my opinion, was largely unnecessary and too depressing).
This was a great flick.
“Kingdom of the Spiders” (1977) was yet another 70’s bug-apocalypse flick that aired from time to time on 1980’s television. As I recall, this one was kinda good … or at least it was scary enough to impress me as a grade-school kid. The movie wisely made use of a truly frightening adversary (and used live tarantulas for filming). And it had the kind of jarring, open-ended final scene that I hadn’t seen before for a sci-fi/horror film.
The only thing that detracted from its creep-factor was the presence of William Shatner as the lead. It wasn’t that Shatner did a poor job with the role — it was just that he was indelibly linked in my young mind to his iconic role in the original “Star Trek” (1966-1969). I simply couldn’t get past the idea that Captain Kirk was an ordinary veterinarian; it took me out of the movie. I’m willing to bet that Shatner was helming the cop drama “T.J. Hooker” (1982-1986) at around the time that I saw “Kingdom of the Spiders,” but that was a show I didn’t watch.
Anyway, if you want to catch the flick in its entirety, you can find the whole thing over at Youtube right here.
Tempera on panel.
“The Silence” may be dreck, but it’s good dreck.
If you’ve read anything about this new Netflix movie, than you know it’s regarded as a lower-budget ripoff of the immensely well received “A Quiet Place” (2018). (Both follow a family surviving an apocalyptic invasion by monsters who hunt by sound.) And I suppose it is, with a bit of saccharine teen drama and a neglected cult subplot shoehorned into it.
But I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t enjoy it at all. I’d rate it a 7 out of 10 for being a fairly entertaining creature feature.
Stanley Tucci and Miranda Otto are always great to watch, and the young Kiernan Shipka is a cute kid with a lot of charisma. (Am I the only guy in the world who thinks that Tucci is extremely talented? To appreciate his range, compare his milquetoast suburban dad here with his growling, menacing super-zombie in last year’s “Patient Zero.”)
The monsters were suitably revolting and well rendered, and the action sequences were mostly engaging. (The scene involving a well was well executed — no pun intended.) Maybe I’m just a kid at heart and want more creepy crawlies in my horror films, as opposed to endless demons and shrieking wraiths.
Here’s the key to enjoying it — think of it as a throwback to cheesy 70’s monster movies like “Kingdom of the Spiders” or “Damnation Alley” (1977). We had fun with those when we were kids, didn’t we?
Was “Solo: A Star Wars Story” (2018) really quite as bad as everyone said it was?
Yes, I do understand why it’s so maligned by “Star Wars” purists. Han Solo has arguably been the entire franchise’s most memorable protagonist since his debut in its very first film in 1977. (When we were kids and playing “Star Wars” in the street, how many of us wanted to be Luke Skywalker and how many of us wanted to be Han?)
Disney missed an opportunity to serve up what fans undoubtedly wanted — an edgy origin story that took risks to portray this famously wily criminal anti-hero. What the studio gave us instead is a generally toothless, safe-for-primetime fable that even managed to become saccharine at times. (You could argue that Luke’s origin story was far darker — he discovered the burned bodies of murdered aunt and uncle. Then he studied magical martial arts with the mysterious mystic samurai-hermit who once fought wars with his absent father.) “Solo” feels too much … like a Disney movie.
There are other problems too … its narrative is unfocused, it’s cluttered with too many characters, and, yes, it slavish attention to origin-story details is annoying. (The how-Han-Solo-got-his-surname bit, for example, is indeed a big misfire.)
But “Solo” felt far more like an average film to me, instead of one that was truly terrible. I’d rate it a 6 out of 10 for being an acceptable, passably entertaining “Star Wars” entry. It’s got a few things going for it.
It’s well cast, for one. I was actually very surprised at how well actor Alden Ehrenreich captures the character of a young Han Solo. They guy has natural charisma, and he seems to absolutely channel the character without once mimicking Harrison Ford. You could do a lot worse. Ehrenreich also has great chemistry with Chewbacca (Joonas Duotamo), and with Donald Glover, who equally shines in the role of a young Lando Clarissian. If you put the three of them in a sequel with a leaner, darker screenplay aimed firmly at adults, it could be a truly great movie. (Consider how lame the first “Captain America” movie was in 2011, and how its far darker 2014 sequel was so unexpectedly great.)
“Solo” also has great visual effects. (All the newer “Star Wars” movies have come a long way from the clumsy, heavy handed CGI of the prequels.) The Kessel Run sequences were especially good, and I’m still enough of a kid at heart to love those kind of dazzling set-pieces, even when they punctuate a lackluster script.
“Solo” was the sixth most expensive film ever made, at $392 million, and it was a complete commercial failure. So I doubt we’ll ever see these versions of the characters again in theaters. But what about television? What about streaming services? I, for one, would keep an open mind about whether Disney could do better with this film’s ingredients.
Hot damn, did I love this book when I was in grade school. I’d be surprised if any of my friends remember it, because it was published in 1958 … I’m not sure how it wound up in my hands in the early 1980’s. The eponymous “homework machine” depicted in the book was a 50’s-era computer owned by Professor Bullfinch, who was Danny’s mentor or father figure or … something.
This was actually the third in a series of “Danny Dunn” books published between 1956 and 1977. I read one other — “Danny Dunn and the Fossil Cave,” which I also liked a lot.
The authors were Raymond Abrashkin and Jay Williams, and they were quite good at their craft. Danny, along with his friends Joe and Irene, were pretty relatable characters to a kid in the second grade.
“The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries” (1977-1979) is another show that I remember fondly, if very vaguely, from my very early childhood. It ran on ABC for a scant three seasons (over a two-year period), and that sounds positively odd to me, because my memory has morphed it into something that seems like a much bigger part of the 1970’s.
I also remember it being two different shows, but that maybe makes sense — the first season of the program had a weird format in that you saw a standalone adventure of the Hardy Boys one week, and then a Nancy Drew outing the following week. (The characters, of course, were based on the young adult books written respectively by Franklin W. Dixon and Carolyn Keene.) They eventually went on to have adventures together, Wikipedia tells me, although Nancy Drew had a reduced role, and was eventually dropped altogether in the third and final season.
Wikipedia also tells me that the show’s third season portrayed the Hardy Boys as … adults? And that they were agents of the Justice Department? And that the Season 3 premiere saw the younger brother’s fiancee killed by a hit-and-run driver? I definitely don’t remember that — and it seems a little darker from what I remember of 1970’s primetime television shows.
I loved the show, even if I was too young to follow its relatively simple stories well. (I would have been in either kindergarten or the first grade.) But it was a program intended for “big kids” (my older siblings had the books), and that made it wonderfully cool to me.
I moved onto the books myself, by the early 1980’s. I loved those too. The two that I remember are “The Secret of Wildcat Swamp” (with the Hardy Boys) and “The Secret of the Old Clock” (with Nancy Drew). It was the Wildcat Swamp adventure that inducted me into the club — you see that snarling mountain lion on the cover? That was utterly enticing to me when I found the book in the bottom of the closet I shared with my brother, when I was … maybe in the third grade, I guess. (It looked a lot like the “saber tooth tiger” baddie in that Aurora model kit that I loved so much.) I kept pondering that scene and wondering what the outcome was. (Did they even have guns?! Would the dad or whoever that was protect them?!) One day, I finally accepted the challenge of reading what seemed like a very long book to me at the time, and I wasn’t disappointed. That’s the power of a good book cover, I guess.
Chuck Barris’ “The Gong Show” (1976-1980) was another show I remember vaguely (but quite fondly) from when I was in kindergarten or the first grade. (It aired its original run between 1976 and 1978, and then was syndicated the latter two years.) I still remember laughing uproariously at its weird acts, and it might have been one of those shows that ended just before my 8 PM bedtime.
The idea was this — a panel of three celebrity judges would view a handful of amateur talent acts, and would bang the titular gong if an act was so bad that they decided they couldn’t allow it to continue. (Along with legitimate talent, the program deliberately fielded acts that were weird or just plain bad.) What’s interesting is that this seems like a very tame precursor of contentious current reality shows like “American Idol” or “Britain’s Got Talent,” which are still going strong since their advent in the early 21st Century. “The Gong Show” was a lot more laid back.