The Music of the Spheres (1984)

THE MUSIC OF THE SPHERES (1984)
Article 3017 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-11-2009
Posting Date: 11-17-2009
Directed by Philip Jackson
Featuring Anne Dansereau, Peter Brikmanis, Jacques Couture
Country: Canada

After an economic collapse in the future, the world is controlled by semi-sentient computers which have psychic connections with their human counterparts. When a project is initiated that involves the shifting of asteroids out of their orbits, a computer known simply as The Beast begins receiving communications from outside the system… despite the fact that this is impossible.

Sometimes the title of the movie can tell you quite a bit about it. In this case, the title prepared me for something out of the ordinary, with touches of poetry and mysticism. In many ways, that odd sense permeates the movie itself; from the opening credits (which are listed in both English and French, which should clue you off that this one comes from Canada) to the incessant chatter of radio voices to the lyrical music to the off-putting acting style, there is a real sense of something different here. It should be no surprise that it’s an art movie, and an extremely cheap one at that. The acting style is most striking; characters often deliver their lines as if they’re not quite in the moment, and though this may seem amateurish, it also somehow fits the feel of everything else. It’s often rather static; we have long conversations that are occasionally impenetrable, and anyone expecting much in the way of action will be very disappointed. I’m not surprised that the movie has a 4.1 rating on IMDB; I can easily see this movie annoying and boring many viewers. I myself can’t quite dismiss it; there IS something going on in these static conversations, I became fascinated by the choices of names for the various people, places and things (“The Beast”, “Melody”, “Einstein”, “Atlantis”). Maybe it’s all piffle, but if so, it’s interesting piffle, and I plan to watch it again some time to sort out more of the details. And it’s also fun to catch another movie about men moving asteroids around so soon after MOON ZERO TWO.

P.S. In the interim between the time I first wrote this review, the IMDB rating of this movie has moved up to 5.6. It looks like the reputation of this one is beginning to rise.

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King of the Rocket Men (1949)

KING OF THE ROCKET MEN (1949)
Serial
Article 3016 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-10-2009
Posting Date: 11-16-2009
Directed by Fred C. Brannon
Featuring Tristram Coffin, Mae Clarke, Don Haggerty
Country: USA

A madman is knocking off members of Science Associates to get the secrets of their inventions. One scientist who has gone into hiding has invented a rocket suit, and security chief Jeff King dons it in order to find the identity of the evil Dr. Vulcan.

This is the first and best of the three “Rocket Man” serials, often thought of as the Commando Cody series because of the character’s name in the middle serial. The title is a bit of a lie; there’s really only one “Rocket Man”, and he’s not a king, but he’s named “King”, which makes me wonder if they had named him Pope, what the name of the series would be. It’s more solidly made and less cheesy than the other serials, though the fantastic content is greater in its follow-ups; though there are plenty of science fiction contraptions in this one, there are no alien invaders. The villain has one of those FFICs with OIE (for those who don’t remember, that’s a Free-Floating Inviso-Cam with Optional Instant Editing, an item which pops up in movies so that villains can watch what’s going on in areas where there is no noticeable camera). It’s a little odd to see perennial villain Tristram Coffin as the hero in this one, but he does the best he can. I suspect the whole idea came from an attempt to emulate the character of Superman, only without the invulnerability which no doubt made it a little more difficult to come up with effective cliffhangers.

Moon Zero Two (1969)

MOON ZERO TWO (1969)
Article 3015 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-9-2009
Posting Date: 11-15-2009
Directed by Roy Ward Baker
Featuring James Olson, Catherine Schell, Warren Mitchell
Country: UK

A spaceship pilot is hired to help crash an asteroid made of sapphire into the far side of the moon. However, he finds himself embroiled in a plot that involves the murder of a moon miner and the theft of his claim, as it is the location where the asteroid is expected to land.

Much of the advertising for this movie put it forward as a science fiction western, and I can see how something like that could work; if you consider the old west and outer space as new frontiers, you can see the connection. However, the “western” elements of this science fiction movie seem either ill-advised (six-guns on the moon?), silly (“Moon Fargo”) or inconsequential (dressing up the local bar like a saloon and having the dancers wear cowboy hats); about the only strong western element is that the storyline involves miners and claim-jumping. The style doesn’t have any particularly western feel to it, and the music seems more James-Bondish than westernish. Even the opening animation (which leads you to believe the movie is going to be a comedy) has no particular western feel to it, and the cold-war theme of the animation has no reflection in the movie itself. Granted, I’m not surprised the movie fails to feel in any way like a western – I’ve never got the sense that the British were particularly adept at handling that mostly American form.

Ignoring all the western foofaraw for the moment, I do think the movie has a decent plot, and there are some fun moments here. Nevertheless, the movie falls flat; the pace is often turgid, and James Olson, though not a bad actor, lacks the charisma to make his character appealing. As a result, the movie never really takes off. This one can be chalked up as one of Hammer’s failed experiments.

Mistress of the World (1960)

MISTRESS OF THE WORLD (1960)
aka Die Herrin der Welt – Teil 1
Article 3014 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-8-2009
Posting Date: 11-14-2009
Directed by William Dieterle and Richard Angst
Featuring Martha Hyer, Micheline Presle, Carlos Thompson
Country: France / Italy / West Germany

When a trio of scientists discovers a formula that allows a magnetic field to knock out electricity over a large area, they become the target of kidnappers. Interpol is called in to find the scientists and recover the formula.

What we have here is another example of the Gizmo Maguffin; the formula is used towards the beginning of the movie, and the rest of the movie involves heroes and villains fighting over the formula. It’s directed by Williem Dieterle, who was responsible for some great movies during the thirties and forties. On one level, I really like this movie; it has a markedly different feel than many other spy movies, with the spies doing a lot more team-oriented work rather than the usual lone-wolf approach of most of the other movies of this genre. It also attempts a higher level of realism than those movies; parts of the movie almost feel like a police procedural of sorts. There’s some particularly wonderful location work as well, especially during the last part of the movie which takes place at Angkor. Unfortunately, most of the movie is slow-moving and too talky; when the heroine lashes out at the Interpol agents for doing nothing but talking, you’ll feel for her.

It’s possible the problems with the movie may have to do with the cutting of the English-language print; my source for the movie tells me that it was cut heavily. This presents a bit of a mystery to me; my cut runs 106 minutes, longer than the IMDB time of 98 minutes, which seems to imply that very little was cut but new footage was added. However, I can’t help but notice that the German title indicates that this was Part 1, and a follow-up movie that ran 89 minutes was also shot. Is it possible that my print is actually a shortened version of the combined footage of both movies? This seems likely; the cast for the second movie seems the same, and includes characters that would have been dead for the sequel had my print been for the first movie only. If this is true, than a good eighty minutes is missing here.

Message From Space (1978)

MESSAGE FROM SPACE (1978)
aka Uchu kara no messeji
Article 3013 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-7-2009
Posting Date: 11-13-2009
Directed by Kinji Fukasaku
Featuring Sonny Chiba, Jerry Ito, Vic Morrow
Country: Japan

When the planet of Jillucia is overrun by the invading Gavanas, a small resistance group releases eight liabe nuts to pick a task force to help them defeat the enemies. However, the chosen ones seem unwilling to help, and the Gavanas are now setting their sights on Earth.

I’ve heard this Japanese STAR WARS ripoff was quite horrible, but the first ten minutes gave me some hope; it was definitely a STAR WARS ripoff, but I rather liked to Oriental costume designs, and the spaceship that was modeled off of a sea ship was really rather clever. But once I met the annoying juvenile delinquents and their spunky rich girl friend who were the first recipients of the nuts, I lost hope and I never recovered it. At least Vic Morrow is there to give us some sense that what’s happening is important, and even he’s saddled with one of those cutesy robots that appeared in the wake of R2D2 and C3PO. The movie is ultimately charmless, badly dubbed, messily plotted, and poorly edited. Those who uncritically like spaceships and watching things explode will like this one best. Me, I still prefer the clean plotting and the relatively uncluttered production of its model.

The Last Wave (1977)

THE LAST WAVE (1977)
Article 3012 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-6-2009
Posting Date: 11-12-2009
Directed by Peter Weir
Featuring Richard Chamberlain, Olivia Hamnett, David Gulpilil
Country: Australia

A lawyer takes on a case where he defends a group of aboriginals on a murder charge. However, he finds that one of the aboriginals has been appearing in his dreams, and that his dreams may portend a future event…

From the opening scene where a small desert village in Australia is hit by a hailstorm despite a cloudless sky, to the final apocalyptic visions, this is one movie that leaves you in a constant sense of dread. Though I’m not a particular fan of premonition movies, the powerful use of symbolic images, and the addition of the theme of the clash of cultures (in this case, that of the Australian tribal aboriginals and the currently dominant white settlers) adds a power and a depth to the movie that makes it a fascinating watch. The mysticism makes the movie rather difficult at times (though the concept of dreamtime being a separate and equally “real” reality as the more mundane waking time is fascinating), and the movie does run a bit too long, but its use of water symbolism is truly unsettling, and the challenge of working out some of the details means that I will most likely be revisiting this fascinating film again. I’d been looking forward to seeing this movie for years after having heard about it and having seen director Peter Weir’s earlier film, PICNIC ON HANGING ROCK, and I’m glad to say that it didn’t disappoint.

Honeymoon Horror (1982)

HONEYMOON HORROR (1982)
Article 3011 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-5-2009
Posting Date: 11-11-2009
Directed by Harry Preston
Featuring Paul Iwanski, Bob Wagner, Cheryl Black
Country: USA

A philandering wife and her lover are caught by a jealous husband, who is knocked out and left to die in a burning house. Later, the widow marries her lover, and plans to make a bundle by using the island she inherited as a honeymoon spot for young newlyweds. However, someone is knocking off the people on the island one by one. Could it be that her husband isn’t really dead, but badly burned and seeking revenge?

Oops, did I give away the ending? Well, I’d say not; I’m telling nothing more than I was able to figure out ten minutes into this bottom-of-the-barrel regional direct-to-video slasher flick. It’s one of those movies that shows such a singular lack of imagination on all fronts that you know that the special effects, suspense, scares and surprises will all disappoint. The special effects are definitely nothing special, the most suspenseful scene has you wondering whether the pot-bellied comic-relief redneck sheriff with his belt unbuckled is going to drop his pants (and this also serves as the scariest scene in the movie), and the biggest surprise is when that same sheriff is able to neatly leap a fence; who’da thunk it? Everything else is slasher-style horror at its most uninspired. If you decide to catch this one anyway, be warned; unless you really get attached to that redneck sheriff, than the movie is over ten minutes before it’s over.