In today’s journal, we look at four sci-fi flicks, from the campy FLASH GORDON and SPACEHUNTER, to the campy AIRPLANE II: THE SEQUEL, to the utterly humorless THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN.
FILM GEEK JOURNAL – ENTRY 34
FLASH GORDON (1980) – Quarterback Flash Gordon (Sam Jones) and Dale Arden (Melody Anderson) are kidnapped by the possibly deranged Hans Zarkoff (Topol) and whisked into space in his rocket ship. They land on the planet Mongo, where they learn that the recent destructive weather patterns plaguing the Earth are the passing fancies of Ming the Merciless (Max Von Sydow). Flash, Dale and Zarkoff try to united the warring factions of the tree people led by Prince Barin (Timothy Dalton) and the bird people led by Prince Vultan (Brian Blessed), in a bid to defeat Ming and save the Earth.
FLASH GORDON is a bit of a mess, isn’t it? The acting by virtually everyone is terrible (though Von Sydow and Blessed are quite good), being saddled with some lousy dialogue. The female characters in particular are egregious and come off as something from the Dark Ages. Credit to these missteps must go to Lorenzo Semple Jr., who for years constantly got jobs writing for fantasy-oriented projects. But for years, Semple also maintained that fantasy was something that could never be taken seriously for one moment. Hence, while he may have written some good scripts rooted in realism, we have Semple to thank for the campy BATMAN and GREEN HORNET TV series, the dreary NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN, the unintentionally hilarious SHEENA, the horrendous 1976 version of KING KONG and this. And yet, missed opportunity though it might be, let’s face it – FLASH GORDON is one amazingly fun flick. The garish sets, which we once rolled our eyes at, now pop with color and vitality. The Queen soundtrack is simply awesome. And above all, the film retains a “gee whiz” sensibility that we don’t get much of anymore. ★★★½ (out of ★★★★)
AIRPLANE II: THE SEQUEL (1982) – For this sequel to the classic spoof, AIRPLANE!, the film once again parodies several tropes of disaster movies. However, since disaster movies were pretty much done by this point (thanks in part to AIRPLANE!, not to mention dogs like WHEN TIME RAN OUT), filmmakers also set their sights on spoofing science fiction as well. This new installment now takes place in “the Future,” where the first passenger shuttle is about to take curious tourists to the moon. However, the shuttle has had numerous problems which were covered up by greedy businessmen and disaster ensues (This very thing would happen in the heartbreaking Challenger disaster a few years later.).
AIRPLANE II was not handled by the ZAZ team of Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams and David Zucker. This is a problem since the ZAZ team basically invented or at least refined this particular style of comedy in both AIRPLANE and THE KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE. Because of that, we have several jokes that are repeated from the first film and several new jokes that just don’t seem to have the same oomph. Writing and directing duties are instead handled by Ken Finkleman, who is responsible for HEAD OFFICE, WHO’S THAT GIRL and GREASE 2. That explains a lot.
The film isn’t a complete wash, however. There’s still enough laughs to make AIRPLANE II an enjoyable enough film. Plus it had William Shatner in one of his first roles that spoofed his involvement in STAR TREK. Not bad, it’s just not the classic that AIRPLANE was. ★★½ (out of ★★★★)
SPACEHUNTER: ADVENTURES IN THE FORBIDDEN ZONE (1983) – Three attractive Earth women are the only survivors of a destroyed luxury space liner. They escape to a barren and hostile planet called Terra XI, where they are promptly abducted by the villainous mutant, Overdog McNabb (Michael Ironside). A salvage collector/bounty hunter named Wolff (Peter Strauss) gets the distress call and decides to travel to Terra XI in order to rescue the damsels in distress and collect the large reward. He is aided in his quest by the motormouthed Nikki the Twister (Molly Ringwald) and the career military man Washington (Ernie Hudson).
No one will ever accuse SPACEHUNTER of being a great work of art. What it is however is a hoot and a holler of campy sci-fi fun. I unapologetically love this film. But if you want to know how in the world I can grant such a high star rating to a film which doesn’t have the best reputation, I’m afraid you’ll have to wait for a future episode of my web series, Moviocrity. ★★★★ (out of ★★★★)
THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (2012) – Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) is left with his aunt and uncle when his parents need to go into hiding. From there, the film plays like the standard Spider-Man origin story, with a few notable changes. Parker’s love interest is Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), just like it was originally in the comics. Also, there is a suggestion that Parker getting bitten by the radioactive spider might not have been such a freak accident after all.
THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN was put together when Sam Raimi agreed to do a fourth SPIDER-MAN, but only if he could take his time with it and make it his way, like the first two installments. The studio had their own ideas and wanted to rush ahead with the project before the movie rights for the Spider-Man character reverted back to Marvel. So, we got this “gritty” reboot.
The main problem with this version, in addition to its sheer pointlessness, is that Peter Parker is not a likeable character. That’s the whole point of the character, that this person is the nerdy and slightly cowardly everyman, put upon by his peers and society. But here, there is no reason for him to be ridiculed by the other jerks in his school, because he is one of the jerks in his school. He’s handsome, with that broody outsider look that the studio probably figured teens would go for because of TWILIGHT. He’s shy but not too shy to make passes at the women in his school. He’s courageous enough to save people in they’re being picked on, but mostly he’s pretty self-centered. Once he becomes Spider-Man, most of this doesn’t change either. He’s still broody, still courageous when he has to be, still makes passes and is still completely self-aborbed. So, what’s the point?
The film also contains no particular joy or excitement for the characters. It’s dark, humorless and the conspiracy storyline that will continue in the sequels feels forced. Hey, I tried. I wanted to like this, which is why I gave it a second chance. But the film was even worse the second time around. ★ (out of ★★★★)
BIRDEMIC 2: THE RESURRECTION (2013) – A young filmmaker is ready to undertake his dream project. Along the way, he also hires his leading lady and the two start getting serious about one another. But uh-oh, soon the skies are raining blood and birds start attacking Hollywood to show how upset they are about global warming. Pretty much everyone from the original BIRDEMIC: SHOCK AND TERROR returns here as well. There’s also some zombies and cavemen present, because why not? Trust me, I have a lot more to say about this one and you can read my full-length review HERE.
EDDIE THE SLEEPWALKING CANNIBAL (2012) – Lars is a frustrated painter who takes a job at a remote Canadian art school. He lets the mute and emotionally impaired Eddie stay with him out of compassion and a need to endear himself to the townspeople. But soon, Eddie starts killing and eating people in his sleep. And that’s when inspiration strikes. You can read my full-length review HERE.
ROOM 237 (2013) – This documentary poses several outlandish theories about the true meaning behind Stanley Kubricks film, THE SHINING. Subjects range everywhere from the Apollo moon lamdnings (which one theorist alleges Kubrick helped fake), roles of sexuality and the plight of the Native Americans, just to name a few. To get the full skinny on this one, read my full-length review HERE.
The following films were watched for review on an upcoming episode of FILM GEEK CENTRAL PRESENTS: THE FILMS OF 1985. This is our podcast in which we review every film released in American theaters during 1985, on its corresponding weekend in 2013. Check out the shows we’ve already done and look at some of the films yet to come, including:
ALAMO BAY (1985) – Racial tensions erupt in a fishing town as several Vietnamese families move in to fish the same waters as the conservative and bigoted southerners. It’s only a matter of time before the Ku Klux Klan installs themselves on the ships in full uniform, because that’s just what happens. This film is directed by Louis Malle (PRETTY BABY, MY DINNER WITH ANDRE, AU RERVOIR LES ENFANTS) and stars Ed Harris, Amy Madigan (STREETS OF FIRE, FIELD OF DREAMS) and D.W. Moffatt. Inspired by actual events.
DEF-CON 4 (1985) – A Star Wars-era defense system gets a front row seat as the world is destroyed by nuclear missles. They are later brought down to Earth to find the air polluted, the people dying and at least one fascist society set up by a charismatic high school student. This is a Canadian production which gained a bit of notoriety when released in America. The production team would continue in Canadian film production for some time and would later be responsible for the cult sci-fi series, LEXX.
FEAR CITY (1985) – On the seedy streets of New York City, ex-prizefighter Matt (Tom Berenger) and ex-manager Nicky (Jack Scalia) run an agency of exotic dancers and sex workers. When a psychopath begins attacking the sex workers of New York City, their business is in jeopardy as are the girls they take care of. This is another sleazy slice of NYC life from director Abel Ferrara (MS. 45, BAD LIEUTENANT) and co-stars Melanie Griffith, Billy Dee Williams, Rae Dawn Chong and Maria Conchita Alonso.
FLETCH (1985) – Based upon the Gregory McDonald paperbacks, Chevy Chase plays Irwin Fletcher, an investigative journalist looking to expose a ring of drug dealing and crooked cops. When a suppoedly dying man (Tim Matheson) offers him a large sum of money to murder him, Fletch initially thinks it’s another mystery worth looking into. But eventually, he discovers that the two cases are connected. Though it took quite a few liberties with the book series, this became a big hit in 1985 and was followed by the sequel FLETCH LIVES in 1989.
GOODBYE NEW YORK (1985) – An upper middle class woman (Julie Haggerty) quits her job, leaves her cheating husband and flees New York City, hoping to see Paris. Unfortunately, she misses her layover and instead continues onto Tel Aviv. Stuck in Israel with no money and no way home, she tries to make things work out until she can find a way out of her mess. This film was written, produced and directed by its own co-star, Amos Kollek. So yeah, some serious auteur stuff going on here.
GYMKATA (1985) – An Olympic gymnast (Kurt Thomas) is brought in by the American secret service to infiltrate a remote nation who only allows outsiders to stay if they can survive a trecherous game in which they are pitted against the elemenets, crazed townspeople and ninjas. This film has become notorious over the years due to how ridiculous it is. Directed by Robert Clouse, who also helmed the notable martial arts flicks ENTER THE DRAGON, GAME OF DEATH, THE BIG BRAWL (a.k.a. BATTLE CREEK BRAWL), BLACK BELT JONES, ANGEL TOWN and CHINA O’BRIEN.
SILVER CITY (1984) – Polish immigrants travel to Australia in the years following World War II, where they are expected to work and pay back the government for their passage. During this time, a young woman falls in love with a married man and the two carry on an affair while the world around them changes. This film focuses on the unique immigrant experience of Poles who emigrated to Australia and offers up a bit of romantic melodrama to the mix as well.
SMORGASBORD (a.k.a. CRACKING UP) (1983) – Jerry Lewis stars in and directs this film about a suicidal man who finally seeks psychiatric help in order to figure out what’s wrong with him. Along the way, he gets into a bunch of hysterical predicaments and meets several strange characters, some of whom are also played by Lewis. This was the last slapstick comedy directed by and starring Jerry Lewis. It was released overseas to great success in 1983, but didn’t make it to the U.S. until 1985.
Total films watched in 2013 so far: 166
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