Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Monstrous Mini-Review: Starship Troopers

The last one was fun, so why not keep it going?

Starship Troopers

1997, 2 h 9 min
Director: Paul Verhoeven


The deal:  So, until very recently, I had never actually seen Starship Troopers, which I imagine many would refer to as a classic, even if its execution was polarizing.  When it came out in 1997, I'm pretty sure I thought it looked a bit...silly.  It became more intriguing once I found out it was based on a seminal science fiction novel, and as I became more entrenched in the culture of gaming, I started to realize just how important Robert A. Heinlein's story has been in establishing the archetype of the space marine...especially the space marine that fights big alien bugs.  It was time for me to finally get a feel for the setting.

The flick:  I enjoyed this one quite a bit...but I can sympathize with those who don't.

Let's get some of the obvious criticisms out of the way.  The acting isn't stellar...but it's definitely functional.  The plot is farcical...but that seems to be intentional, and I suppose it allows a much "bigger" story to be told once you let go of complete plausibility.  The boobs and gore might be unnecessary...but they fit into an overall tone that seems to shout, "This movie is R-rated, dammit!"  And the effects do sometimes look dated...but when this occurred, I actually found it to have a certain retro-SF charm.

To be fair, I would even say I liked the effects overall.  The space action scenes look great (with the occasional green-screen artifact, of I said, retro-SF charm!).  And those bugs came out a lot better than I imagined they would.  (That may be thanks to limiting the battle environments to barren landscapes, but if so, it was probably a trade-off worth taking.)  The obvious CGI effects didn't detract much, if at all, from my enjoyment...from my personal perspective, it was much less distracting than...well, just about any scene involving Gollum.  And...I mean, it was 1997!  The extent to which the effects fall short of that era's version of perfect is balanced out by the extent to which it seems the filmmakers knew they were producing a B-movie. for the accusations of fascism.  I couldn't remember, going into the watch, what the general consensus is regarding the right-wing particulars of the movie and how much of those aspects are rooted in the source material.  I did have the benefit of being able to look up, while stepping away mid-film, some details of the movie's production and initial reception.  I wish I forced myself to make a solid prediction of whether I was going to read that the film is actually pro-fascist or only mockingly so...because I'm pretty sure I was leaning toward a satirical interpretation, BUT there is enough ambiguity of value judgment on the future fascist society depicted in the film that I probably could have been convinced it was genuinely meant to glorify that way of life.  It would have been poorly executed...just too goofy and over-the-top about some things...but I get why some viewers assumed that was the case.

I can't really understand why anyone would force the issue once the conversation went "hey that's fascist," answered with "I know, I'm making fun of it"...but maybe that also has to do with the difficulty of getting such a message out in 1997.  If Starship Troopers were released today, there wouldn't be a dearth of sources to tell us about its political intentions; instead, we'd have an avalanche of unreliable reports that place it all over the political spectrum.  So...I suppose the world would still be confused, just for a different reason...

The rating:  Well, I'm still trying to figure out my benchmarks here.  I felt like this deserved more than The Killer Shrews' rating of 3/5, but there's no way I could justify a 4.  For now:

3.5 out of 5 shrews

The monsters:  The aliens/bugs/arachnids are, overall, fantastic.  Visually, the various types of aliens (differentiated by appearance and role in bug society) range from excellent (warrior bugs) to not-great-but-not-terrible-for-1997 (hopper bugs).  In a way, these things are literally genre-defining, so there's a lot to chew on with regard to their presentation and place in the story...

Y'know what?  This needs its own post.  I'll get back to you on these guys...

Image from HERE

Monday, May 13, 2024

Roger Corman, 1926-2024

Image from HERE

Sad news recently as we found out that film legend Roger Corman passed away last Thursday at his home.  Obviously, at 98 years old, he doesn't necessarily fit a "tragically early" narrative, but it is always a loss when such a strong influence moves on from our world.

Corman directed about 55 and produced somewhere around 385 films during his career.  I remember, as a youngster, seeing his name pop up in places that seemed somewhat disparate at the time.  I hadn't tuned my geek sensibilities enough to put everything together; finally, after probably years of noting Corman's presence around the film industry, I kind of realized, "Oh!  Little Shop of Horrors...A Bucket of Blood...Battle Beyond the Stars...Carnosaur...The Fantastic Four from the 90s...somehow, that's all from the SAME GUY!"

To be completely honest, looking over Corman's filmography makes me realize that I have seen embarrassingly little of his work.  As someone who has become more and more drawn into genre films over the course of my life, however, I think I've seen Corman's influence all over the movies I've enjoyed through the years.  The list of folks who cut their teeth on Corman productions is long and impressive, from James Cameron to Francis Ford Coppola to Martin Scorsese.  (I love the tale that he once told Ron Howard, "If you do a good job on this film, you'll never have to work for me again.")

I think Roger Corman is sort of the Lou Reed of motion pictures...he may not be universally recognized, but his influence is everywhere.  To paraphrase the summary I've often seen with regard to the albums of the Velvet Underground: Only 1000 people might have seen his movies, but every one of them went on to make movies of their own.  (Although, really...the magnitude of his output means that a whole lot of us have experienced at least some small part of his catalog.)

Perhaps most importantly, Corman was all-in for the medium he loved, and by all accounts that I can recall, it seems he was a pretty nice guy.  That'll always be good for Hollywood.

As I continue to (attempt to) move this blog into a specific direction with regard to the content I present (e.g. I'm really into creature features at the moment), I have a feeling I'm going to mention Roger Corman a time or two in the coming months.  I hope you'll take a moment to look over his work, think a bit about the massive impact he has had on our culture, and maybe take in some of the hundreds of silver screen spectaculars he left the world.  I can pretty much guarantee'll find something you love.

Sunday, May 12, 2024

Holy..... How did I miss these 3.75" Ghostbusters that are on the way?

I mean...I guess the obvious explanation is that I don't do daily checks for important Ghostbusters or action figure news...but I still felt behind the times when I finally saw this announcement!

Thankfully, I caught an article on preorders starting for the upcoming 1:18 scale Ecto-1.  The phrase "alongside the upcoming 3.75″ o-ring action figures" made me do a double take.  I know I'm easily impressed by new and shiny things...but would it be too much to say that these are the toys I've been waiting my entire life for?


One thing I'm still a little confused by: the newer article mentions a 1:18 scale Ghostbusters: Afterlife Ecto-1, and the older one refers to the upcoming release as "a retro-style take on the previously released Plasma Series Ecto-1."  Because the Plasma Series figures are larger than 3.75"/1:18, I had assumed that the accompanying ghostbusting vehicle was the same...but sure enough, according to this video, the old Ecto-1 is much smaller than the figures.  Has there been a 1:18 Ecto-1 out there for me to drool over this whole time?

Tuesday, May 7, 2024

Monstrous Mini-Review: The Killer Shrews

Well...I guess I just feel like reviewing an old monster movie...

The Killer Shrews
1959, 1 h 9 min
Director: Ray Kellogg


The deal:  The Killer Shrews was made by the same director, around the same time, as The Giant Gila Monster, which I feel like I've seen referenced more than this one, but maybe that's just because I'm typically more drawn to the idea of a giant Gila monster than that of killer shrews.  At any rate, those two films formed a double feature back in the day, and currently it seems they both have some pull among fans of old lowbudgetscifihorror fare.  (They both got roasted on MST3K, which I think automatically lifts a B-movie to the next level of awareness among the public.)

It stars James Best, who I recognize only as Rosco P. Coltrane from The Dukes of Hazzard.  (He would go on to appear in a sequel to this in 2012!)

It's also in the public domain, so it's easy to find, and there's a good chance you've stumbled upon it before...

Image from HERE

The flick:  Best plays a ship captain who finds himself stranded on a remote island with his first mate and a team of scientists who are clearly keeping some secrets.  Piece by piece, the puzzle of their situation is put together (although there really aren't that many pieces, to be honest).  The menace they face?  This one's gonna shock you, but it's killer shrews.  The crew has to wait out a hurricane and survive the night for a chance to escape in the morning light.

This is a very good creature feature that provides all the basics folks look for in schlocky sci-fi.  It definitely moves slowly (the MST3K crew had some fun with the fact that the characters spend a lot of time standing around talking), but the next turn of the plot usually comes around before one can get too antsy.  The acting is vintage B-movie melodrama and includes an appropriately shallow love connection (and jealous suitor). probably annoy anyone reading this who insists they don't see race, I'll note the positive that there's even a Black character who...other than playing out that debated trope of horror movies (sorry, SPOILER)...could be a lot more cringeworthy for a 1959 film.

And then, of course, there are the shrews.


Those beautiful, giant, killer shrews.  It's fun to see them as dogs-in-scruffy-jackets (and they actually seem pretty menacing moving like a pack of dogs), but those hand puppet closeups are worth the price of admission alone.

The rating:  I've gotta be careful not to fence myself in by giving the first movie I review like this (and maybe only, who knows with me) too high of a rating and then realizing that the things it does well can actually be done a lot more well.  The shrew effects carry a lot of weight, though.  This is a very watchable film that doesn't overstay its welcome.  I'm tempted to seek out the sequel but am held back mainly because I'm not sure I want to chance ruining the positive outlook I have on this one!

If you're a "throw a movie on" type with a tolerance for B-movie foibles, this is great background noise, and there's always the MST3K version if you want to check it out but would like the security of wry humor.  I don't think I can go any lower than 3/5 right now.

3 out of 5 shrews

The monsters:  I wouldn't change a thing about these creatures.  They are simple and effective.  I suppose you'd be disappointed if you went into it assuming they were going to be giant giant...but they are the size of dogs, which...I don't think I have to tell you, that's pretty darn giant for a shrew.

My current rules obsession is a slightly homebrewed take on the D6 system that powered the old West End Games Star Wars RPG (and miniatures game)...simplified to be more in line with its Ghostbusters RPG roots.  (It's a work perpetually in progress.)  Here's a shrew:


Giant Killer Shrew

Might 2
Dexterity 5
Presence 2
Skills: Dig +2
HP: 7
Move: 18
Handling Difficulty: --- (you ain't handling these fellas)

Attacks: 2x Claw 5 (1D6-3 damage) or Bite 5 (1D6-1 damage plus poison; death within 3 minutes if not stabilized or successful on one difficult save)