‘Explorers’

Title: Explorers (1985)
Rated: PG
Directed by: Joe Dante
Starring: Ethan Hawke as Ben Crandall
              River Phoenix as Wolfgang Muller
              Jason Presson as Darren Woods
Tagline: “You don’t need a driver’s license to reach the stars!”

By: Bo from Last Blog on the Left

Pre-screening memories: Ah, Explorers, I hardly remember ye.  When a buddy mentioned the movie, I had to freeze in place a moment as synapses not fired in years began to reconnect and offer up flashes of spaceships and a young River Phoenix.  And, then, more came.  I remembered the spaceship, looking much like the riders’ car from a Tilt-a-Whirl at a local fair, and the thing that drew me to the movie in the first place: adventure.

 

Ever a fan of the kids-on-their-own adventures like The Goonies (who are, indeed, good enough for me), and of the sci-fi flicks of my earlier years, such as Star Wars, this seemed like two great tastes that taste great together.  So why has Explorers fallen off the pop culture radar while others achieved ubiquitous reverence?  Who knows?  Prior to viewing again, I thought perhaps it was too fluffy, the Spacecamp-like entertainment that is immediately engaging, but has no lasting value; the cinematic equivalent of the Milky Way bar.  And those films have their place, the Saturday afternoon movies that you don’t feel guilty for falling asleep on, and no lingering urge to seek them out, to see what it is you missed while drooling on the arm of the couch.

 

Explorers is the tale of three kids who start having dreams of circuit boards, which they actually build.  Needless to say, it’s a fantasy.  The circuit boards turn out to be a method of traveling to the stars via some sort of electric bubble.  When they begin to receive strange messages while journeying in their makeshift spacecraft, they follow the signal into the stars and meet irritating aliens.

 

This is a movie that is more heart than brain by a long shot.  The spirit is so willing, too.  The themes of the outcast kids banding together to do something unexpected and wonderful hits all the right notes.  The first act of the movie hums along, introducing its characters well, and even treating the viewer to some post-Tron graphics that have managed to become quaint by today’s standards.  The whole thing goes off the rails, though, once the trio makes it to the aliens’ ship.  There are several too-long sequences that bog down the film as the kids investigate the strange alien vessel, but that’s nothing compared to the out-and-out trippiness of the aliens themselves.  Apparently, they’ve had access to Earth television, which has, in fact, rotted their brains.  They are schizophrenic and the scene overstays its welcome with a weird intergalactic talent show that’s about as entertaining as you remember every talent show you’ve ever seen.

 

New memories

I was happy to learn that I was correct on the Tilt-a-Whirl memory, but that was about the only solace I gained from this mess of a third act.  There are hints of frivolity, such as the school named after Charles M. Jones (or good old Chuck Jones of Looney Tunes fame to you and me).  There’s even a “Hey, wait, where’s the ground?!” Tunes-style joke here, but it feels so ridiculously out of place.  And what about the somber kid, Darren, whose father is apparently occasionally abusive?  What happened with him?  Eh, I just wanted it to be over.  There’s an hour’s worth of fun in Explorers, but the slop that ends the film makes it hard to suggest revisiting it.  This is probably one better left in the memory banks, where time has erased the irritation.

Listen to Bo’s recollection of his re-entry into space with ‘Explorers below or download it here.

Episode XVIII: ‘The Giant of Marathon’

Film: The Giant of Marathon (La Battaglia di Maratona, 1959)

Rated: No rating
Directed by: Jacques Tourneur
Starring:
 Steve Reeves as Philippides
                Mylène Demongeot as Andromeda

                Daniela Rocca as Karis
                Sergio Fantoni as Theocritus

Tagline:
A Giant Among Men in a Gigantic Spectacle!

By Marilyn Ferdinand from Ferdy on Films, etc.

Pre-screening memories:

I managed to dredge up one film that planted three scenes indelibly in my mind: The Giant of Marathon. Because the film came out in 1959, when I was 4 years old, and it’s not the kind of film that would have been revived only a few years from its premiere, I’m sure I didn’t see it at a theatre. I’m almost positive I saw it on TV because I generally I spent my Saturday afternoons in front of our TV in the basement. A very popular type of film for the networks to show in those days were Italian sword-and-sandal epics. I watched Greek mythology and history paraded in front of me week after week and took great delight in trying to see how well the English dubbing matched the lips of the mainly Italian performers. It was during these afternoons that I became intimately acquainted with the special effects of Ray Harryhausen , whose films I still take pleasure in viewing today. Somehow, the only one of those films that really stuck with me, other than the Harryhausen films, was The Giant of Marathon. Even though I hadn’t seen it since the 1960s, I remembered its name and these images:

1.       The tiny figure of a man lifting a giant boulder and throwing it onto the Persian army fighting below on an open plain.

2.       A dark-haired woman running from some burning bodies and being struck in the back with an arrow. Her blue, chiffon dress turned purple as a perfect circle of blood oozed from her back.

3.       Men underwater being struck through and through with arrows fired by men in a boat above them.

I placed the DVD of this movie in my player and rewatched The Giant of Marathon to see if the rest of it looked familiar and whether my memories were accurate.  To the first part of that sentence, the answer is “no.” To the second part, I can say “yes,” but the first two scenes didn’t happen the way I remembered them.

The story basically tells about the history of the marathon foot race as it recounts the battle between Greek city-states, united in opposition to a common enemy, the Persians. Philippines is the “giant” of the title, overall winner of the ancient Olympic Games and a peasant from near Athens, who runs to Sparta from Athens when he loses his horse to ask them to join arms with their historical enemy, Athens, for the sake of all Greece. There are love stories and treachery, thrilling action sequences and ingeniously staged battles. The quintessential Hercules of films, Steve Reeves, plays Philippides.

New memories:

Now that I’m older and a pretty dedicated cinephile, I can appreciate that Jacques Tourneur and Mario Bava (as DP and uncredited director) were involved in this film, making it something that film buffs might be interested in. Tourneur’s influence is nowhere visible, but Mario Bava in this, his third feature film, has imprinted it with ingenious violence that would be even more elaborate over time. Could I tell that someone of quality was involved in the film’s production when I was young? Is that why it stuck out? I’d have to say that I didn’t know it at the time, but the scenes that impressed me were from Bava’s hand. So I must have had some reaction to its quality. Nothing about the love story and court intrigue stuck with me, nor is that an impressive part of the film to me now.

I’ve become familiar with Daniela Rocca, who played Karis, through her brilliant work in Divorce, Italian Style. It was great to see an actress of her caliber in this film. She did lend a certain dignity to this pulpy film that I can appreciate now. I also liked the Athenians treating her as an equal in war; it was a classy scene that is in keeping with a certain equality Greeks gave to women as goddesses.

I find I’m still a sword-and-sandal fan, and this film is one of the reasons why.

Hear Marilyn’s Olympian recollections below or download the podcast here

The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T

Film: The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T
Rated
: PG
Directed by: Dr. Seuss (Theodore Geisel)
Starring:  Hans Conreid as Dr. Terwilliker
              Tommy Rettig as Bart Cullins
               Peter Lind Hayes as Mr. Zoblowdowski
               Mary Healy as Heloise Cullins
Tagline:

By Scott from He Shot Cyrus

Pre-screening memories:

The Gilroy Public Library.  That’s where I first saw a VHS copy of The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T.  Belonging to an avid reader, my ten-year-old eyes popped at the sight of a live-action Dr. Seuss movie.  It was added to a stack that most likely featured The Rescuers Down Under, two episodes of Ramona and Jurassic Park (which my mom made me put back every week).

At that point, I had already seen the Seuss cartoons.  Not just the popular ones like Horton Hears a Who.  Oh no, my favorite was Pontoffel Pock & His Magic Piano. I was very vocal about this.  Obviously, I was destined for a life filled with non-stop social engagements due to my unimaginable popularity.  Why they haven’t made a live action Pontoffel movie, I can’t fathom. 

The chance to watch Dr. Seuss come to life was once-in-a-childhood.  How the Grinch Stole Christmas would later pop up during my teen years but failed to appear on my radar.  Said social engagements were surely the cause.

Once my little brother finally finished whatever BBC “Chronicles of Narnia” mini-series he had checked out (again) it was time to live the dream.  Popped the tape in, fast-forwarded past the FBI WARNINGS and the previews and got right to the goods.  Apparently, there’s something special about those 5,000 Fingers because certain scenes still stick out in my memory.  It’s been ten years since my last viewing, but I can still remember every movement the two brothers-one beard characters make, including their death scene!

When I was an undergrad, a professor showed us Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.  INSERT: childhood cinematic flashback.  I’d bet that the director had some love in their heart for German Expressionism.  That being said, Dr. Seuss probably did as well.  The sets were so gigantic and magical.  There were ladders leading to nowhere, huge doors, and that 500-boy piano. 

The plot circles around a young boy who somehow gets sent to a magical world.  I can’t remember how.  An evil piano teacher has devised a plan to enslave 500 little boys (don’t worry, it’s a PG movie) and have them play an enormous piano.  Why he wants them to all play one piano, I can’t remember that either.  My 5,000 Fingers memories are mostly visual.  The plot plays like Swiss cheese in my brain.  It’d be interesting to see if the magic is still intact and if the storyline is anywhere as impressive as the cinematography.

Did the ivory tickler Dr. T still tickle Scott’s fancy? You can download it or listen here (Ed. – In this ep, it sounds as though Scott and I are speaking over one another in some parts. We were actually very considerate, but the recording somehow sped up our comments to overlap each other. Sorry. I’ll fix it in future eps.):

Addendum: We contacted Bill Davis, the pre-eminent Seuss-ologist whern it comes to ‘Dr. T’ with regards to this podcast, and he replied: ”

Probably the most interesting thing about the film is the fact that they cut 10 songs out of the film before it was released. The movie was supposed to be more about how the adults aren’t able to communicate to kids or to each other. I’m not saying the film would have been better received by the public if it had been released in the full version, but it would have been a different film.”

 

– Thanks to Bill and check out his ‘5,000 Fingers’ tribute page for more!

Now, onto the podcast:

‘Cat People’ (1982)

Title: Cat People (1982)
Rated: R
Written by: DeWitt Bodeen & Alan Ormsby
Directed by: Paul Schrader
Starring: Nastassja Kinski, Malcolm McDowell, John Heard
Tagline: An Erotic Fantasy About the Animal in Us All!

By Jen Ellingsworth

Pre-Screening Memories: My 13-year-old conscience knew it was wrong to want to see “Cat People.”

In 1984, though, there were few things on my mind other than Duran Duran, my kick-ass Lisa Frank sticker collection and this forbidden movie I was going to watch before my parents got home from work.

With feline stealth I slunk into my older brother’s room – where he proudly displayed his latest acquisition, a Sony Betamax VCR (he paid $800 for it). I’d procured the tape from a classmate who shared my obsession with horror films.

The movie proved effective in that it scared the crap out of me.

Irena (a young Nastassja Kinski), is orphaned as an infant by her animal-trainer parents. She’s reunited with her minister brother Paul (William McDowell), who’s horny as a tomcat. It’s later revealed Irena and Paul are über-cat/humans who transform into giant panthers during intercourse with others. They return back to human only after they kill their mates.

Wow! As if that weren’t enough of an engaging plot, turns out the only way to stop the transformation is sex with a sibling. It was almost too much for me handle. I’d seen nudity in films before, sure, but this movie was so gory I had nightmares for weeks and couldn’t go near the family cat, Tigger.

I remember in one scene, Paul is transforming from cat back to human (so slick were the special effects!), and (gag) eats some glistening leftover fur-skin from his stomach.

Paul continues to sleep with, and maul, numerous lovers, while Irena starts dating a zookeeper Oliver (John Heard). Thing is, she can’t have sex with him because then she’d have to eat him. Paul’s killed while in panther form, Irena’s sexually frustrated and poor Oliver’s looking more and more like a tempting plate of Fancy Feast.

Twenty-three years later, I remember little more about this film other than a man’s arm is eaten by a panther through the bars of a cage in one of the final scenes. I’ve yet to see something so gruesome in a movie. Not even “Kill Bill” had more blood. (Editor’s note: ‘Kill Bill’ link is the over-the-top Crazy 88 scene, you have been warned.)

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