Saturday, January 03, 2015

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Korg 70,000 B.C.: "The Beach People"

“The Beach People” continues the story begun in “The Moving Rock.”  

The Korg family has relocated to the beach/ocean in an attempt to find food during a time of famine.  

But here, Korg (Jim Malinda) and his family realize they know very little about hunting for sea life.  The bottom line is that if they don’t adapt to their new environment, they could still starve to death.

Tane attempts to hunt out in the surf and is pulled out to sea on the tide. He is rescued by a denizen of another tribe, “The Beach People.”  But the other members of Korg’s family believe that this individual is not a person, like them, but a Spirit or God of the Waves. 

Bok and Korg get stuck on a rock as high tide comes in, and it is up to the Beach People to save Korg’s family.  Tane begs them to do so, and they acquiesce. Later, the Beach People teach Korg’s family how to fish and hunt at the ocean…

“The Beach People” is a fairly exciting episode of Korg 70,000 B.C., made more so by the family’s desperation, and by the visual techniques used by the filmmakers.  

On the latter front, “The Beach People” includes some immediacy-provoking hand-held camera footage, shot from water level, in the ocean. This composition is used late in the episode, and there’s an urgency to it that makes the rescue of Korg and Bok all the more dangerous.

As was the case in last week’s episode, “The Moving Rock,” “The Beach People” reckons with the idea, brought forward by Korg and Mara, that the Gods are angry with the family, and thus denying them food.  Once more, the Neanderthals mistake an action (this time by another Neanderthal) as a sign from a spirit. In this way, Korg very subtly associates religion with superstition, and more than that, with ignorance of the natural world.

But “The Beach People” also focuses on another idea that is standard to this Saturday morning series (and featured in such stories as “The Story of Lumi,”) that people can cooperate and show decency to one another, even if they are strangers and even if times are difficult.  Here, the Beach People teach Korg and his family about the sea, and don’t covet all the resources of the area.  Korg would return that favor in “The Story of Lumi,” specifically, sharing the family’s water during a time of drought.

Next week’s story, “The Web,” mysteriously finds the Korg family back at their old cave, as if nothing happened, with no mention of the sea or the Beach People…or the adventures of the last two episodes.

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: BraveStarr: "Wild Child"

In “Wild Child,” BraveStarr and Thirty-Thirty learn of a lost child in the desert. When they find him, this so-called wild child is injured, and believes that the Dingo Gang of bandits is his family.

Meanwhile, the Dingos discover a lost city in the desert and find it guarded by Sarko the Hunter, a kind of savage barbarian and evil denizen of the long-lost metropolis.  

The last of his race, Sarko lives in a constant state of rage because his only son died saving his life.

Ultimately, Sarko is able to relate to the wild child and show compassion for the boy, because of his own situation…

“Wild Child” features a cool setting -- a weird, alien lost city -- and introduces an unusual and mysterious character, Sarko.  

I’d like to know more about Sarko’s people, the city, and how the metropolis was built on New Texas, but the episode never gets that far.  Very little is actually explained.  The alien city and Sarko -- who is sometimes incorporeal -- are just there, waiting to be discovered. Once more, however, the visualization of the city is amazing.  I would have loved to see a few episodes devoted to its builders, or its exploration.

Instead the episode belabors the idea that “violence is weak” and that “love is strong.”  The wild child “softens” Sarko’s heart, and makes him an ally against the Dingo bandits.  Like all Filmation entertainment, “Wild Child” is message-heavy, and yet the story is entertaining too.

Next week, I’m going to cap off my coverage of BraveStarr for the time being, with the episode “Jeremiah and the Prairie People.”

Friday, January 02, 2015

At Flashbak: Rubik’s Reign: The Toy Puzzle Craze of the 1980s

My 2015 at Flashbak commences with a retrospective of the toy puzzle craze of the early 1980s, and the ascent of Rubik's Cube.

"The first years of the eighties brought kids around the world an intriguing and fun trend: a slew of combination toy puzzles.

No doubt the best-remembered and most beloved of these puzzles is Rubik’s Cube, a toy which was created by Erno Rubik in 1977, but released widely in America by Ideal Toys in 1980.  The toy took off, and Ideal released a second toy called “Rubik’s Snake” and then a third, “Rubik’s Revenge.” 

Today, the Rubik’s cube is still a staple of childhood,.."

Cult-Movie Review: Extraterrestrial (2014)

(Beware of spoilers!)

If Exists (2014) is the “angry Bigfoot” movie of last year, then I suppose Extraterrestrial qualifies as the “angry alien” movie of the same season. 

In both horror films, inconsiderate twenty-something year-olds transgress against paranormal creatures, and -- without so much as a trigger warning -- the creatures respond with blazing, barbaric violence.

In fact, Exists and Extraterrestrial share a number of commonalities beyond that overarching one. They have in common a central location -- a cabin in the woods -- and even a deliberately placed tree blocking egress from the woods. In both films, protagonists find guns on the premises, and defend themselves with them, usually without much success.

But where Exists is relentless, terrifying, and exciting, due in large part to the direction of Eduardo Sanchez, Extraterrestrial is mostly ridiculous and derivative. 

The latter film veers wildly between a campy tone -- evidenced in the eye-bulging performance of Michael Ironside and the Grand Guignol fate of one character named Seth -- and schmaltzy romance or melodrama.

Extraterrestrial also features more endings than a Peter Jackson film set in Middle Earth. I counted four. You'd think at least one of them would be effective.

I don’t know which of these two films -- Exists or Extraterrestrial -- was produced first so I can’t argue that one copied or even influenced the other. I can only say that Exists absolutely thrilled me (and I saw it first), and Extraterrestrial proved disappointing, in part because it seemed so familiar, and in part because I expected more from the Vicious Bros. after Grave Encounters (2011), a superior horror film, and one that every horror movie fan should see.  The first hour or so of that movie is truly remarkable, and terrifying.

Extraterrestrial isn’t found footage in style, except for in a scene or two, but it is a wide-ranging tour of alien abduction movie and TV show tropes. One might want to make the argument “pastiche” here -- that the film tries to assimilate, incorporate and pay homage to a number of sources -- but that point seems to really be stretching the matter. 

The last horror film I saw in 2014, Extraterrestrial is a massive disappointment, especially after such superior efforts as The Babadook, Exists, and another alien-centric film, Honeymoon.

“At the end of the day, we’re all just alone in the universe.”

April (Brittany Allen) and her boyfriend, Kyle (Freddie Stroma) plan a weekend at her mother’s cabin in the woods.  But Kyle is planning to propose to her there, and asks some friends to come along: Mel (Melanie Papalia), Lex (Anja Savcic). 

When Kyle pops the question, however, April says no, because she has other plans involving her education and career.  

Kyle is heart-broken, but has no time to dwell on his disappointment because an alien saucer crash lands in the woods near the cabin, and foot-prints are visible in the mud.

An alien attacks the cabin, and April shoots it dead. This act provokes a merciless response by the aliens. A local nutcase and friend of April’s, Travis (Michael Ironside) suggests that she broke the “no engagement treaty” by killing the alien, and now…it’s war.

The aliens come after the youngsters one-by-one, and Kyle makes a brave last stand for the love of his life.  Afterwards, April realizes the depths of his love, and risks everything to be reunited with him.

We know each other, inside and out.”

I truly appreciate the idea of merciless, aggressive aliens attacking humans on our turf.  For one thing, the concept fits into one of my deeply-held theories about horror movies.  That theory goes that we, as Americans, live in a safe and secure world with no real predators. Yet the primitive part of our minds longs for that danger, for that opportunity to test our mettle.

Therefore, modern man must create imaginary predators so as to feel endangered, and horror movie boogeymen -- Freddy, Jason and Michael, to name a few -- are examples of them. These personalities boast strength and abilities well beyond our own, and, in essence, hunt us as prey.

By reckoning with such predators, we face, understand and internalize the emotion of fear, and test our instincts and responses. For a moment (or ninety minutes) the safe, buttoned-down nature of life slips away, and we are just scared creatures, huddling in the dark, like cave-men. We have no responsibilities to society except to survive, because we are overwhelmed by creatures of superior abilities.

Therefore, horror movies are an outlet for primitive fears in a society that has no saber-toothed tigers or other daily threats. Highly-advanced aliens, bent on revenge, are a perfect example of this kind of fictional predator.

This is a long-winded way of stating, I suppose, that I appreciate Extraterrestrial's conceit of angry aliens on the war-path.  

I just wish the film stuck to that idea on a serious, straight-faced basis, and didn't feel compelled to cast a wider net, telling a tragic love story, and giving shout-outs to other alien abduction pictures.

Before Extraterrestrial finishes, for example, it features scenes that will be familiar to fans of Fire in the Sky (1993), and also The X-Files (1993 – 1999). In terms of the former inspiration, there’s a horrific alien abduction scene here. 

It's still not as scary or well-designed as the one in Fire in the Sky.

On the latter front, a Cigarette Smoking Man/Federal Agent actually appears on screen for a few minutes, imitating the exact demeanor of William B. Davis’s iconic character.

One can argue that the film is attempting to construct an homage to such alien-abduction material, but that’s really a stretch. The Smoking Man has no depth or meaning here. He is merely a symbol piped in from a superior work of art, and his sudden presence (with no explanation) succeeds in taking the viewer out of the story.  

Seth’s fate is particularly nonsensical too. Aliens take the trouble to pursue and abduct him, all so they can put him in a chair on their spaceship, and shove a roto-rooter drill through his rectum?  His butt explodes in an ejaculation of blood, and Seth dies. 

So, what was the point? 

Why did the aliens do this?  

It’s not like this was a test, or even a torture session because no information is taken from him. And it's not like the aliens couldn't have satisfied their rage in another way. Basically, these beings traveled light years and expended lots of energy just to blow up some obnoxious kid's butt-hole.  If this is an example of how the aliens think, it is a wonder they ever developed space travel.

The moment is campy, yes, but totally out-of-tone with the rest of the picture, and it just collapses the movie’s sense of reality.  There are many simpler, cheaper, more effective ways that the aliens could have killed this character off.  For instance, they make a likable sheriff (Gil Bellows) blow his head off with his own shotgun, using mind-control powers. Was it really worth it to beam Seth up, restrain him, and then fatally corn-hole him?

The impact of the scene is that you want to tune out because the movie has turned…dumb.

Even the final scenes between Kyle and April -- determined to be together through thick and thin, and through alien abduction -- are actually highly reminiscent of Skyline (2011). But even with that inspiration (such as it is...), it’s abundantly plain the filmmakers have no idea how to end the love story. 

Should the lovers be separated, so April learns what it really feels like to be alone in the universe?  

Check, you get that ending.  

Or maybe April should realize the error of her ways, and go to the ends of the Earth to save Kyle?

That ending is also here.

Should they survive and return to Earth?  

Well, why not?  You gotta love an unexpected happy ending!

But then, there story could still end tragically, not because of vengeful aliens, but because (cynically) of government cover-ups.  Damn you, Big Government!

Fans of that ending will find something for them as well.

Extraterrestrial goes on ten or fifteen minutes too long as it decides in favor of “all of the above” and goes through ending after ending after ending after ending.

And as much as the film refuses to settle on an ending quickly, Extraterrestrial abruptly ends the sub-plot with Bellows when there is still some material to mine there. Specifically, his wife disappeared some time ago, and he realizes that she may have been abducted by aliens too.  A moment after his realization that his wife really loved him, and didn’t leave him of her own volition, his blood is decorating a police cruiser’s windows.

End of subplot.

Similarly, a female camper and mother undergoes a fearsome abduction experience and is returned to Earth, but without her family, including her little boy. The movie gives her one scene that suggests she'll be an important character, or that her story will have larger meaning in the plot. 

Instead, we never see her again. Instead, we have to keep going back to the dumb kids, like Seth, and April and Kyle.

I didn’t exactly love Alien Abduction (2014), a low-budget film set in North Carolina also featuring alien abduction, but even it is better and more internally consistent than this film is.

Again, I can’t stress enough how promising Grave Encounters wasand what a great job the Vicious Brothers did there. 

If you want to see one of their films, make certain that’s the one you watch.  In terms of Extraterrestrial, I  only recommend you take Michael Ironside's advice:

Do not engage!

Movie Trailer: Extraterrestrial (2014)

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Happy 2015!

May the year 2015 bring happiness, joy, and love to each and every one of you.  (And, perhaps, a great Star Wars movie too...)

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

BraveStarr Neutra-Laser (Mattel)

Mattel BraveStarr Playsets

Action Figures of the Week: BraveStarr (Mattel)

Pop Art: BraveStarr (Blackthorne Publishing Edition)

BraveStarr Colorforms

Lunch Box of the Week: BraveStarr

Video Game of the Week: BraveStarr (Commodore 64)

Theme Song of the Week: BraveStarr (1987 - 1988)

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Tribute 2014: Those We Lost

The year 2014 saw the passing of far too many talented and beloved film and TV artists.  It was a bad year on that front, and the losses to the science fiction and horrors genre, especially, were numerous.

As always, any omissions in the following gallery are entirely unintentional.  

To those we have lost, let me say this: I am truly grateful (and fortunate) to have shared time on this Earth with you. 

Thank you, always, for the laughs and screams, the memories, and the beautiful art. Rest in peace and Godspeed.

Sir Richard Attenborough

Lauren Bacall

Ann B. Davis

Marilyn Burns

Sid Caesar

Joe Cocker

Booth Colman

Ruby Dee

James Garner

H.R. Giger

Philip Seymour Hoffman

Jan Hooks

Bob Hoskins

Russell Johnson

Casey Kasem

Koichi Kawakita

Richard Kiel

Glen A. Larson
Mary Ann Mobley

Mike Nichols

Kate O'Mara

Don Pardo

Elizabeth Pena

Harold Ramis

Arthur Rankin Jr.

Joan Rivers

Mickey Rooney

Maximilian Schell

Lorenzo Semple, Jr.

James Shigeta

Dick Smith

Marcia Strassman

Elaine Stritch

Carol Ann Susi

Meshach Taylor

Shirley Temple

Ralph Waite

Eli Wallach

Kenneth Weatherwax

Billie Whitlaw

Robin Williams