Sunday, October 17, 2010

Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women (1968)


Last time the 100 Sci-fi Classics gave us “Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet”. This time there are women involved. Ok, but last time the woman had a beehive and looked sedated. What? We get Mamie Van Doren this time? Sign me up!


A rocket expedition to Venus ends up crash landing. Little hope is given for Dr. Kern (Georgi Tejkh), Allen Sherman (Yuri Sarantsev) and the robot named John (John Bix). Still a rescue expedition is sent out to find them comprised of Andre (Gennadi Vernov), Hans (Georgi Zhzhyonov) and Commander Lockhart (Vladimir Yemelyanov). Little do they know that the inhabitants of the planet are women who worship a strange reptilian god. They are lead by Moana (Mamie Van Doren) and she doesn’t like Earthlings much. Can our heros survive the “Voyage to Planet of Prehistoric Women”.

Good Points:

  • Is filled with all kinds of adventures
  • The special effects range from “not bad” to mind-bendingly goofy
  • Mamie and the girls wear “interesting” outfits

Bad Points

  • Some of the characters are aggressively annoying
  • A confusing dub script renders logic useless at times
  • Rendered even more dull by the new sequences with the ladies


Ouch, did this one hurt. Ok, it’s basically reused footage from “Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet” but edited even worse than before. New footage with a half naked Mamie and girls adds visual interest, but makes the movie plod even slower than it originally did. All the fun of the previous film is sucked away leaving a husk of a film. Need a Mamie Van Doren fix – don’t bother with this.

Scores (out of 5)

Visuals: 3

Sound: 2

Acting: 2

Music: 2

Script: 2

Direction: 1

Entertainment: 2

Total: 2

In Depth

You know I really don’t have much to add. Check out my review of “Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet”. I’ll wait till you read that over.

Ok, now that you know what that film was like imagine the movie cut up with a chainsaw. Then imagine someone adding a horrible voice over providing inane narration. Then imagine a long opening montage about space travel over models of spacecraft done just to pad the film. Finally imagine Mamie and her girls wandering around a rocky beach looking bored, high or bemused.

Having watched this so close to the previous film, I found this extremely boring. Maybe if a few months had passed, I would have enjoyed it a bit more, so I gave it better scores than I really felt. The Russian portions of the film are still pretty impressive, but the editing really butchers this one. I say avoid it.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Sherlock Holmes (2009)


When I caught the trailer for this movie I was a little disturbed. Sherlock Holmes beating the crap out of people? Quick cuts? Robert Downey Jr. nude and handcuffed on a bed with only a pillow hiding little Bobby from us. Um, who’s idea was this.

Then I saw that it was a Guy Ritchie film and it all made sense.


Famous London detective Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) and his partner Dr. John Watson (Jude Law) track down and apprehend Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong) a murderer who’s actions are driven by the occult. Before Blackwood is hung he vows that he will return and that Holmes will be unable to stop him. Soon enough the prophesy comes true.

To complicate matters further the lovely con artist Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) returns to London and enlists Holmes help in a different matter. As the mystery thickens Holmes discovers that he has multiple adversaries out for him. Will he and Watson survive long enough to stop Blackwood?

Good Points:

  • Downey Jr. and Law make a good team
  • Period detail and atmosphere are effective
  • Ritchie keeps things moving

Bad Points:

  • Sherlock Holmes the super hero?
  • Rachel McAdams felt out of place
  • Ritchie gets a bit too creative for his own good


Forget your typical mystery and prepare yourself for Holmes in a more James Bond type role, and you’ll actually have a good time. All the production elements are top notch and make for a good popcorn movie on a Friday night.

Scores (out of 5)

Visuals: 4

Sound: 4

Music: 4

Acting: 4

Script: 3

Direction: 3

Entertainment: 3

Overall: 3

In Depth Review:

The more I thought about it, the concept had merit. Sherlock Holmes is a character that gets revisited on a regular basis, like Dracula or James Bond. Why not bring him back and try something a little different. With Guy Ritchie aboard it would at least be interesting to look at. Robert Downey Jr. could bring a lot to the part. Lets take a look at the results.

The main idea behind this film is to take Sherlock Holmes: detective and turn him into Sherlock Holmes: superhero. The script does this by widening the threat of Blackwood. Instead of being a simple murderer he’s now into world domination. He even makes your typical Bond villain monologue explaining his evil plan.

The script also introduces a buddy picture element. Watson wants to wed the lovely Mary Morstan (Kelly Reilly), but Holmes is unable to reconcile this. Holmes needs Watson, not only as a partner, but also as a friend. Watson needs Holmes as a friend, but also as a source of adventure. This dynamic results in some of the funniest parts of the movie. Each man does his best to outmaneuver the other and make it look like he’s not trying to outmaneuver him.

The actors know exactly how to play the parts. Robert Downey Jr. locks onto Holmes typical eccentricities, but adds a spin of mental instability. This man’s mind is in constant overdrive. Without a case to focus on, he becomes a shut-in constantly searching for new mental stimulus. Holmes can be a bit annoying, but Downey Jr. allows us to see deeper into the character.

Jude Law surprised me the most as Watson. According to my wife (who enjoyed the Sherlock Holmes stories in her youth) Law is one of the best Watson’s she’s seen, very close to his literary version in appearance and demeanor. I found his performance to be very warm and engaging, a perfect counter to Holmes and a vast contrast to the standard take on Watson as the buffoon.

Mark Strong certainly has presence as the diabolical Lord Blackwood. He appearances are kept to a minimum but when he’s on screen he projects menace. But I never felt that he was a real threat to Holmes. Just like most Bond villains, we know pretty early on that he’s not as clever as he thinks he is.

Rachel McAdams is a bit of a puzzle for me. Her character is interesting. Her acting is fine. She looks great in the costumes. But for some reason I was pulled out of the film when she was on screen. Maybe it was the American accent (explained away conveniently enough), or maybe she’s one of those actresses that doesn’t seem to fit in period films. Her part isn’t especially large, but it is important and it did end up affecting my enjoyment of the film.

The rest of the movie falls in line to make the superhero angle work.

The setting is dank and dirty reminding me more of Gotham city than the typical film representation of Victorian London. There is an added realism to the city from the sets down to the costumes. On top of that the movie has a grey color scheme, giving everything a slightly washed out look. This makes the explosions and blood stand out a bit more.

Ritchie does a lot of interesting things with the camera, especially when he jumps into Holmes head. During certain fight sequences, we see Holmes plan out his attack in detail. The camera shows each action in deliberate slowness as Holmes explains why he’ll attack and what the affect will be. Then the attack is executed in a stutter of real time and slow motion. It’s an interesting approach that gives us a peak into the mind of our lead character and punches up the action scenes.

The rest of the set pieces are filmed with skill, keeping everything clear while moving the sequence forward at a crisp pace. The sound effects play a big part in these sequences providing pop to keep things exciting.

Hans Zimmer who provided Batman with his most recent musical scores is on hand for this film. It’s an eclectic blend of musical styles, straying far from the more classical approach we’d expect. It lacks a true super hero theme, but it works wonderfully in the film, supporting the action as well as the quieter moments.

The movie felt a little too manufactured. It tired hard to be something new, a little too hard. Maybe if it had toned down the style a bit, let us settle into the world a little more, I would have found it more engaging. Part of this may be Ritchie’s direction, but I’m not sure if I’m sold completely on this concept of Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes as a superhero is an interesting idea and the concept works better than I thought it would. This makes for a solid nights entertainment, but it’s not a knock out of the park.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Study in Scarlet (1933)


I'm familiar with Reginald Owen from his work on "The Christmas Carol". I was intrigued by the idea of him taking on Sherlock Holmes. I'm not familiar with the original story that this film is based on, but things start off with murder - so the film makers are at least on the right track. Lets see how this latest offering from the 100 Mystery Classics box set stacks up.


When a widow comes to Sherlock Holmes (Reginald Owen) complaining that her husband died and all of his estate was going to a mysterious group called The Scarlet Circle, Holmes is intrigued. Turns out he already has suspicions about the sleazy lawyer Merrydew (Allan Dinehart). The plot thickens as more deaths occur and the lovely young Eileen (June Clyde) may be a witness. Holmes tracks down clues, dons disguises and even draws a pistol in his attempt to save lives and solve the mystery of the "Study in Scarlet".

Good Points:

  • Retains the personality and feel of Sherlock Holmes from the works of Doyle.
  • Moves at a pretty good pace
  • The ending held a few surprises

Bad Points:

  • Some of the humor falls flat
  • Owen's portrayal makes Holmes too cold
  • Watson seems to be a third wheel for most of the film.


This movie presented an intriguing mystery that did a good job of putting a good twist at the end. It was easy to spot the villain, but I didn't figure the entire mystery out. A few of the comic sequences didn't work for me and ended up slowing the film down a bit, but other than that this is an interesting take on the classic character. Worth seeking out if you can enjoy 30's style mystery.

Scores (out of 5)

Visuals: 3

Sound: 2

Music: n/a

Acting: 3

Script: 4

Direction: 3

Entertainment: 3

Overall: 3

In-Depth Review

While I've never been a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes, it's hard to not to be familiar with his adventures and perhaps seen some of his film or television exploits. My wife is the one who's read all of the Holmes stories and is fairly familiar with most of the incarnations of the detective. But she had never seen Owen's take on the character.

The first thing she pointed out was that Owen has Holmes smoking the type of pipe described in the books. The familiar curved pipe does not appear in the stories and was an addition made by a famous stage production. This was continued by Basil Rathbone in his movies and became the accepted type of pipe used nearly all incarnations of the character. But this 30's version uses the straight pipe from the books. Don’t you feel better now that you know that?

Things continue in that fashion from there. Owen makes Holmes brusque, calculating and a bit on the snobby side. He moves around the sets looking for clues like a hunter, moving from place to place with precision and determination. While he doesn't taunt Dr. Watson (Warburton Gamble) or treat him like an imbecile, he does give off an air of superiority. He basically treats Watson like an apprentice of sorts. It's an interesting portrayal, and one that isn't too far from what I'm familiar with. My only issue is that this incarnation of Holmes may be too cold and even intimidating at times. Not the kind of man you'd feel comfortable hiring. I find Rathbone's take on the character a bit more engaging.

For the most part the rest of the cast is good. Dinehart provides us with a sleazy villain that you just want to get nabbed. If he had a moustache, he'd be twirling it. Gamble isn't given too much to do as Watson, but he doesn't play him like an idiot (as I've seen in several incarnations), so that's a step in the right direction. On the other hand, he doesn't really help too much either. He's just kind of there, taking up space. June Clyde is all right as Eileen Forrester, our damousel in distress. She's bland, but again, there isn't much for her to actually do. I was honestly surprised to see Anna May Wong playing Mrs. Pyke. It's not often you see actual Asian actresses in 30's movies. She's cast as the femme fatale, unfortunately she's not very good in the role.

One of the interesting points is that "A Study in Scarlet" is actually a contemporary take on Holmes. That means the movie takes place in 1933, so all the Victorian trappings are gone. All the men are wearing fedoras and the ladies look very nice in their depression era hats. Maybe this was done for budgetary reasons, and it proves an interesting point that Holmes as a character can work in any environment. For the most part the production level is solid visually, it's just a little odd to not have those Victorian touches.

The sound is a little rougher. Most of the time dialogue was clear, but there seemed to be issues with the microphones picking up every little creak in the set or squeak of a boot. This could make a few scenes tough to hear. On top of that, there is no score outside opening and closing titles. This is typical of 30's movies and I don't allow it to affect the score.

The script was interesting. According to IMDB, the plot for this movie has nothing to do with the actual story by Arthur Conan Doyle. Instead the writers come up with an interesting mystery that kept me guessing. It's obvious very quickly that Merrydew is up to no good. But it’s difficult to see just how he is involved. Once Holmes reveals the solution at the end, I saw how it all fit together, but the writers did a good job throwing you and Watson off the scent (but there are couple cheats here and there). The dialogue is pretty good, with the only weak part being the humor. Again with the comedy of booze. This seems to be a staple of 30's flicks and I have yet to find it funny. It shows up here and it does slow down the film a bit.

The direction is solid, with Edwin Marin keeping things moving and allowing the mystery to play out clearly enough so the audience can follow it. Things never get too inventive with camera angles or lighting, so atmosphere isn't a big deal here. It's a solid job, one that doesn't really hurt the film, but makes you wish a little style had been added.

The movie was entertaining, a good weekend movie for a lazy Sunday. While it may not be the quickest paced film, or even the most ingenious of mysteries, the final product will scratch that itch for Sherlock Holmes. Anyone looking for a change of pace should check out Reginald Owen's take on the famous detective.

James Lileks wasn't so hot on this one. Check out his review here.