Friday, March 23, 2018

Planet of the Apes "The Liberator"

This is my entry in the Favourite TV Episode Blogathon hosted by A Shroud of Thoughts

As a kid I was fascinated by science fiction.  In the 70's, when I was growing up, science fiction was a rarity on network TV.  Most of the successful ones managed to stay on the radar because they kept it in the modern day and didn't over inundate the public with any outre science or implausible concepts.  The Six Million Dollar Man comes to mind.  (At least I didn't think a bionic man was too implausible, anyway).But I never really considered this show to be science fiction because Steve Austin was just James Bond with some added cybernetic features.

The really cool shows lasted only one or two seasons at best.  Logan's Run for instance, which was based on the movie of the same name, managed to air only 14 episodes.  Buck Rogers in the 25th Century and the original Battlestar Galactica only lasted a bare two seasons.  And one of my favorites, Project U.F.O. ( which was really about Air Force investigations in UFO sightings, and thus not technically sci-fi, but I still rank it as such) also only had a short two season run.

A far cry from other decades.  In the early days of TV there were quite a few sci-fi shows (although admittedly some had similarly short runs).  Compare that to today when there are quite a few TV series that had extended runs, not even including any of the Star Trek franchise shows.  There are about a dozen sci-fi shows currently on various formats, such as network TV, internet, and cable stations.

Planet of the Apes was based on the hit movie series.  The original movie hit the big screen in 1968 (coincidentally the Year of the Monkey in Chinese 12 year zodiac cycle).  I did a review of the five movies in 2016 (again a year of the Monkey) which you can find on this blog.  In 1974 (not a year of the Monkey, but what the hey...) CBS brought the idea to TV.  Instead of just one lone astronaut doing the gig against those "damn dirty apes" this featured a pair of astronauts, teamed with a friendly chimpanzee on the run from the authorities represented by the scientist apes and the army apes.

The series opened with the episode called Escape from Tomorrow which established the crash landing of three astronauts from 1980 on what is Earth in 3085.  One of them, named Jones (actor unknown), died in the crash.  The two survivors, Alan Virdon (Ron Harper) and Peter Burke (James Naughton). were taken by Farrow (Royal Dano) to a cave.  The future Earth, much like the movie series from which it sprung, was now dominated by intelligent apes.

One particular change from the movies (the first two, which take place on the future Earth) is that the humans can talk and converse with the astronauts.  (In the movies they were mute savages, sort of a transfer of status from modern Earth in which humans can talk but apes can't).  The series starts out pretty good.  It seems to gravitate towards a moralistic theme in most of the episodes, however.  This was the mid-seventies, remember, and on the back side/decline of racial discrimination that was one of the predominant themes in the news (the other being the Vietnam War).

Over the course of it's brief run, Alan and Pete, along with Galen (Roddy McDowell), are on the run from the prevailing ape society, including the gorilla General Urko (Mark "Sarek" Lenard) , who wants to kill them, and Zaius (Booth Coleman), the orangutan scientist who wants them captured alive so they can be studied.  (Roddy McDowell, by the way, is an actor who is probably more well known for his appearance as an ape in this and 4 of the 5 Planet of the Apes movies than he is for all of his appearances as a human combined in his career)

The series only lasted one season (and in my admittedly vague memory, I don't even think all the episodes that were made were aired, at least in my part of the country).  When I finally was able to get the complete run on DVD a couple of years ago, I only remembered seeing the first 8 episodes. The powers that be tried again a year later with a cartoon series, but that only lasted one season, too.  Apparently people were willing to pay money to see apes on the big screen, but thought that the concept was just too boring stacked up against the story of a half-Chinese monk's  travels in the Old West (Kung Fu on ABC) and the travails of a black junk dealer (Sanford and Son on NBC).

 I definitely don't remember the episode I am reviewing today.  And there is some debate on the internet whether the episode even aired at all, which makes this one a natural choice to choose for someone like me.

 The Planet of the Apes: "The Liberator":

As usual, Burke and Virdon and Galen are on the run.  A village in the country is approached by a party of Apes.  A deal has been struck in the past history of the village that they will supply 5 people periodically to the apes as slaves to work.  The village usually tries to supply the slaves by capturing people outside the village (called "Meadow people"), but in order to fulfill the obligation, sometimes villagers have to draw lots to be added to the 5.

On this occasion, one of the villagers, Clim (Peter G. Skinner), decides he really doesn't WANT to be a slave and tries to run.  Outside the village he encounters our heroes who hide him from the chasing apes.  Clim lies to the group telling them the apes are chasing him for some sick idea of a sport, and takes them to his village.  Clim thinks he is in the clear because he has brought two new potential outsiders to be slaves and Burke and Virdon are imprisoned and prepared to be in the next batch of slaves given to the apes.

But Brun (John Ireland), the head of the village  and it's religious leader has other ideas for Clim.  He says the gods must decide his fate and brings him to the temple.  As Galen watches, Clim dies in the temple, without ever having been touched by Brun.

Miro (Ben Andrews), Brun's son, goes out to hunt down more meadow people to add to the next slate of slaves.  Meanwhile, Burke tries to put the moves on one of the female captors, Talia (Jennifer Ashley) in an effort to try to get her to free them.  But Talia is in love with Miro and the two plan to be married, so that idea falls flat.

When Galen tries to rescue Burke and Virdon he falls into disfavor with Brun, who despite the fact that Galen is an ape, refuses to release the two human captives and now holds Galen captive awaiting the decision of the impending arrival of the gorillas.  Miro gets sliced on his arm by one of the meadow captives and is rescued from impending death by the medical knowledge of Virdon and Burke.  So when Talia is chosen by lots to be among the next batch of slaves to go with the gorillas, and with his father refusing to allow him to take Talia's place, Miro arranges for the escape of our heroes on the condition that they take Talia with them

Cornered at all angles, they decide their only avenue is to head to the temple where Clim died.  It turns out that the temple originally was a place where they created some fairly toxic nerve gas, something along the lines of the same stuff the Nazis used to gas concentration camp victims in WWII or it is supposed to be a parallel to the Agent Orange used in the Vietnam War.  This is what has caused the death of renegades like Clim over the years, although the claim is made by Brun that the "gods" have decided their fate.

Whether or not Brun actually believes the "gods" have determined the fate of the victims is pretty much decided when our heroes discover a cache of clay pots that have been used to collect the gas.  Brun plans to use them when he has enough to attack ape villages and kill them.  The usual platitudes of how war doesn't solve anything come out from Burke and Virdon, as well as how the gas that brun has collected would also kill humans, but Brun is determined to keep his plan alive.

The episode ends rather satisfactorily with our heroes ending up continuing on their goals, and of course with the potentially deadly weapon cache destroyed.  While most of the episodes tended to beat you over the head with their barely disguised political agenda, this one tended to be a little more interesting, especially with the mystery of how Brun and his "gods" actually managed to keep the people under his thumb.

The entire series can be found online, or if you are interested, it is available as a DVD collection.


Saturday, March 17, 2018

Going Green

It's St. Patrick's Day!  Hope you remembered to wear something green.  Otherwise you are probably pretty sore from all that pinching.  (Or is that passe' these days?  When I was a kid I just told them I was wearing green underwear.  And if anyone was fool enough to ask me to prove it... I did.)

Anyway, here is a group of folks who won't have to prove they are wearing green.  Happy St. Patrick's day!

The Incredible Hulk

(By the way, can anybody explain why, when the Hulk changes he loses his whole shirt, but when She-Hulk changes she still manages to retain her modesty?)

Green Arrow AND Green Lantern

Raphael, Donatello, Leonardo and Michelangelo

The Great Gazoo

And some Spiderman nemeses!

The Vulture

The Lizard

The Green Goblin

Dr. Octopus

(Spiderman probably has nightmares about the color green)


Monday, March 12, 2018

Clueless in London

This is my entry in the Marvelous Michael Caine Blogathon hosted by Realweegiemidget Reviews

Prepare yourself for a shock.  Sherlock Holmes, that fantastic solver of mysteries that baffled Scotland Yard, never existed.  It's true!  He was the creation of a doctor who wrote the stories during a time when he was awaiting a position with a prestigious medical firm.  Sherlock Holmes was the creation of that renowned medical man... Dr. John Watson!

Without A Clue (1988):

In this entry, Dr. Watson (Ben Kingsley)  is a brilliant deductive force who, due to circumstances of his profession, hired an out of work actor, Reginald Kincaid ( Michael Caine), to pose as his friend and supposedly the solver of intricate crimes.  But Kincaid is a bumbling fool who must be coached by Watson in what to say when he is posing as Holmes.

Early in the film, Watson, who is finally exasperated to his breaking point, kicks Kincaid out on the street.

 He then approaches his editor, played by Peter Cook, to propose a new series with "Dr. Watson; the Crime Doctor" as its hero.  But the editor, as well as the public, will have none of it.  It is Sherlock Holmes they want, and as the editor insists, "It is Holmes or nothing".

Circumstances are made even more difficult when Inspector Lestrade (Jeffrey Jones) approaches with the Lord of the Treasury, Lord Smithwick (Nigel Davenport), with a serious problem.  Someone has stolen the plates used to make 5 pound notes.  The economy of the country is in serious jeopardy, and Smithwick only wants Holmes.  So Watson is forced to curtail his dislike for the bumbling Kincaid and induce him to come back.

On the trail of the plates, Watson and Holmes investigate Peter Giles, an employee of the treasury, and one of only three people, including Smithwick and his second-in command, who had access to the plates.   Holmes and Watson go to a remote village where Giles has supposedly been.  After investigating the town and the cottage, everyone, except Watson, believes that Giles and his boatman drowned while trying to cross the local lake in a fierce storm.

Watson, on the other hand, is convinced that the culprit is his old arch-nemesis, Professor Moriarty (Paul Freeman).  And indeed Moriarty is behind the theft.  But to what purposes?  On the trail of Moriarty, Watson is apparently killed, leaving the bumbling Kincaid/Holmes as the only source of hope for the country in the retrieval of the plates.

Giles' daughter, Leslie (Lysette Anthony) does not know that Holmes is a fraud and retains hope that Holmes will succeed even after the death of Watson.  Or does she?

There are a lot of cute little twists and turns in this little gem and spoilers would ruin it, but I will say to watch and not take everything for granted.  The two stars of the movie are excellent together.  And the movie is quite an entertaining twist on the traditional Holmes narrative.  Caine really shines as the alcoholic, bumbling actor pretending to be Holmes. 

Might I recommend you make this a double feature, pairing it with They Might Be Giants, another movie with a twist on the Holmes story?  (That one features George C. Scott as a mental patient who actually is convinced he is the great detective).

 Well folks, time to fire up the old Plymouth and head home.  Drive safely.


Saturday, March 10, 2018

A Different Kind of War

This is my second entry in the Time Travel Blogathon hosted by Wide Screen World and Silver Screenings.

Take Japanese karate  chop-socky star Sonny Chiba  (next to Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, probably the most famous of the Asian action movie stars of his day), give him a role as a army officer leading a group of soldiers through a war games trial, Use some hocus pocus of some sort to transport them through time to feudal era Japan, and have him and his cadre of soldiers join a group of samurai warriors from said era in a battle for supremacy, and you have the makings of one of the more bizarre entries in the science-fiction field to ever come to the theater.

Sonny Chiba had been a karate film star for several years by the time this film was made.  He got his start on Japanese TV, but made himself an international star in The Street Fighter, a Japanese karate movie along the same lines as much of Hong Kong's international output of the era.  Over the past 60 years he has had a prolific career, both in the martial arts movies that brought him to prominence here in America as well as some pretty good action and period dramas.  (He was featured in both Quentin Tarantino films Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Kill Bill Vol. 2, and was a costar in the The Fast And The Furious series entry titled Tokyo Drift.

G. I. Samurai aka: Time Slip (1979):

On maneuvers, a Japanese army group suddenly finds itself in unfamiliar territory.  It's the same landscape, but there are missing things, such as a power plant that was in the distance.  Confusion as to what has happened to them ensues.  (Note:  the time travel sequence is some of the cheapest special effects you will ever see.  Apparently the movie was over budget by the time they filmed this sequence and they just had to use whatever was still lying around to get it on film.  This is the only real quibble I have with the movie.  I felt kind of cheated that it wasn't better filmed.)

The group is led by Lt. Yoshiaki Iba (Sonny Chiba), who looks a lot like a Japanese version of DC comics WWII hero Sgt. Rock.

It turns out that the soldiers have ended up 400 years in the past during what is referred to by the men as "The Warring States Period" of Japanese history.  The men are met by a cadre of samurai soldiers led by Nagao Kagetora (Isao Natsuyagi).  Kagetora immediately claims Iba as a comrade in arms and his oft repeated phrase is "you are from my tribe!"

(I'll interject something here.  I do not know if this movie is available with dubbing in English.  My copy is in the original Japanese with subtitles.  Much as I dislike trying to keep up with subtitles, I must point out that if there is a dubbed version, no one could possibly essay the enthusiastic performance done by Natsuyagi as Kagetora.)

The samurai warriors leave, but a different group of warriors, led by an attack of ninja archers who pop up from beneath the water attack the group.  Eventually the modern-day soldiers are able to defend against the attack, but a couple of soldiers are lost.

There is dissent among the soldiers.  Some try  to desert.  Some insist that whatever they do might change history.  Some are desperate to try to return to their own time.  (Not knowing exactly how they got there in the first place would seem to put a damper on that.)

Eventually, some soldiers are removed from the equation by Iba himself, exercising a sort of impromptu court-martial in the field.  By midways through the movie the initial 21 modern day soldiers has been reduced to a cadre of 11.  (One actually survives his desertion by deciding to join a family whose father and husband has been killed and becoming a surrogate father and husband for the family.)

Iba joins forces with Kagetora to defeat Lord Shingen, the local ruler.  You would think even with just one tank, one helicopter and a halftrack vehicle and a bunch of machine guns, that the modern day contingent would have a field day against medieval forces wouldn't you?  Not entirely.  There are about a thousand or so samurai warriors and they all have the bravery of unlimited potential.  In the process just about every modern day vehicle is taken out of the equation.  And of course there are a limited number of rounds for the machine guns and the like.

The finale is worth the wait.

Unless you are a devotee of Japanese cinema it is highly unlikely you will recognize most of the actors aside from Chiba (if you even recognize him), but I did notice a couple of familiar faces.  I admit wholeheartedly that I had to make use of the internet to spur my memory, but the guy who plays Katsuyori is Hiroyuki Sanada.  The movies I have seen him in include Rush Hour 3, 47 Ronin, and The Wolverine.  He was also in a low budget sci-fi movie I saw years ago called Message from Space. (He's the young kid who manages to board the helicopter and take out it's crew).  (Note:  He was also in The Last Sumarai, but since that is a Tom Cruise film, I have never watched it.)

Seek this one out if you like a good action movie, and if you like time travel stories this one is sure to be an interesting endeavor.

Time to go home now, folks.  Drive home safely.


Friday, March 9, 2018

Time Warped

This is my first entry in the Time Travel  Blogathon hosted by Silver Screenings and Wide Screen World

It's an axiom of society.  If a guy tells you he's from the future, he must be crazy. But what if, just what if he really IS from the future?  12 Monkeys, a film by Terry Gilliam explores this possibility.  We tend to think along the lines of what our perceptions of reality have been formed.  Time travel is not possible, therefore anyone who claims they have either come from the future (or in another scenario, a modern person who claims to have built a time machine and actually used it to travel into the past or future) must therefore be a little off mentally.

But an adage that was once postulated by Arthur C. Clarke, known as one of the three Clarke's laws  once stated than "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic".  One could extrapolate from that idea that also any idea that one cannot justify by their own deductive intellect is therefore not reliable as an idea.

I personally believe that time travel is theoretically possible, although I do not claim to come from the future nor do I know how to build some machine that would help me accomplish the task. But would I willingly be a guinea pig to see if the process actually works?  Hell, yes. 

The following two features do not feature a man from the future trying to convince the modern day people of impending doom for the planet, however (at least that's not the main theme).  Rather both movies involve people from modern times ending up through circumstances in a future world of Earth.  Both have a rather bleak view of the earth's potential future, at least from the standpoint of the present (the 60's).

Beyond the Time Barrier (1960):

A pilot, Major Bill Allison (Robert Clarke), flies an experimental jet plane into the stratosphere.  The jet travels at supersonic speed and through the magic of rather iffy Hollywood theory, the pilot lands on an Earth some time in the future (although he does not initially know that.)  What he finds is his military base abandoned and in a state of extreme disrepair, even though he thinks he's only been gone for a few minutes.  It turns out, as the story goes, that the Earth has suffered a severe catastrophe.

Not, as you might expect from a movie from the 60's, from a devastating nuclear war.  But it was the result of nuclear weapons.  See, all those bombs being tested ripped a hole in the ozone layer, and let in cosmic rays from outer space, which turned the planet into a barren wasteland.  All of society has been forced to move residence underground.  But in the distance, the pilot can see the above ground city (which is a poorly done matte painting, but this is the only real quibble I have with the movie). 

The society, called the Citadel,  is ruled by a leader called The Supreme (Vladimir Sokoloff), who has been granted almost dictatorial rulership over society.   Everyone except for The Supreme and his second-in-command (Red Morgan) are deaf mutes.  They are also all sterile, there have been no new births in 20 years.

The Supreme's daughter, Trirene (Darlene Tomkins), however appears to be a last ray of hope because, although she is also mute, she is fertile and can be a bearer of children.  Which makes it convenient that Maj. Allison has shown up.

But the Captain does not trust Allison.  He is convinced that Allison is not from the past as he says but is instead some kind of advance spy for the Mutants, a race of people who live on the surface.  Convinced he is a spy he initially casts him into the Pit with the rest of the Citadel's mutant prisoners.  But Trirene has the hots for Allison and convinces her father that he is what he says he is.  (She is also telepathic...)

Allison is put in with a few other scientists who have also come from different eras of the past  (it turns out he was not the first to cross the time barrier).  The scientists convince Allison he can go back to his own time if he reverses the events that brought him to the future in the first place. The scientists tell Allison not to trust the Supreme and the Citadel.   But the Captain in turn tries to convince Allison not to trust the "scapes", which is what the scientists are called.

Chaos must ensue, of course, for Allison to actually make his escape to the past (his present).  It turns out that the "scapes" are not all to be trusted, as one of them engineers an attack from the inside with the help of the released prisoner mutants.  Whether Allison actually makes it back to his own time, and in what condition he will be in if it is actually him I will leave to you to find out by viewing the film.  This isn't actually as bad as it sounds, but the better movie for true admirers of real science in their science fiction will like the second feature better.


The Time Travelers (1964): 

In a laboratory, three scientists, Dr. von Steiner (Preston Foster), Dr. Connors (Phillip Carey) and Dr. White (Merry Anders),  try to perfect a window into time, although this window is initially only a "window", supposedly letting them see things as on a TV screen.  But just as a technician, Danny (Steve Franken, and yes he is related to Al Franken), shows up to tell them their power is about to be cut off, everything fries on the computers and this window actually becomes a portal.

Danny steps through the portal, and soon the others follow.  Of course, just as soon as they do, the portal vanishes and they are stuck in the future.  Once again, some devastating event has turned the future into a barren wasteland.  A group of red-skinned mutants, all looking like "Bull" Shannon from the TV series Night Court,  begin to chase the four

They end up in a cave where a mysterious force field ends up protecting them.  It turns out that the force field was generated by the inhabitants living underground.  (Yes, another society of people who had escaped the shattered world above ground for security of a society insulated from the bad old world of above ground.)

The underground civilization, led by Dr. Varna (John Hoyt) and his associate, Councilman Willard (Dennis Patrick) are desperately trying to complete the building of a spaceship that will take them to a planet near Alpha Centauri.  See the planet Earth is rapidly dying and the people living in the underground society are going to have to leave the planet if they want to survive.

Willard convinces Varna that taking the four newcomers with them will drastically reduce their chances of success, as they have everything down to a science as to how much food water and the like the people will need to make the trip.  But Varna does allow the scientists to use what resources are available to recreate their time portal and return to their own time.

Fate however intervenes, as the mutants above ground launch an attack, just as the spaceship is being boarded.  They destroy the spaceship and most of the colony on board already.  But a handful of the citizens and the scientists are able to finish the portal and escape to the past.  Upon arriving however, they find they are somehow living in a faster time rate than the actual present.  The scientists go to their lab where their former selves still are.  But they seem frozen!  No so.  The group from the future are living at an accelerated rate, estimated to be living at a year per second of actual time for their selves in real time.  (A concept that was used in an episode of the original Star Trek TV series, but I think this movie came out first.)

Fortunately the point at which the scientists re-entered the past is also a point in which the portal first materialized as a passageway into time and they find they can step through the portal again, albeit 100,000 years into the future.  It is dark and no one knows what is beyond the portal, but their choices are pretty limited, since they can't move or adjust anything in this present point.

Sounds awfully confusing doesn't it?  Wait until you see the final segment.  This movie was lampooned by the MST3K group, but the movie is one of the surprisingly more entertaining ones that that group made fun of.  Except for that rather bizarre and admittedly confusing ending, the acting and the story work out quite well.

Time to head home, folks (no pun intended)  Drive home safely.