Your Capsule Movie Review

October 30, 2007

Manos: The Hands of Fate:

The two people who read this site undoubtedly know about this movie, intimately.  But just in case…..

If you’re like me, and I certainly hope you are, and you spend your nights watching one awesome movie after another, there comes a time when you have to remind yourself there are some spectacularly awful movies out there.  Not just bad in the Must Love Dogs kind of way, but the Mystery Science Theater 3000 way.

My personal favorite awful movie is Batman and Robin, and as epically stupid that movie is, at least it could be considered competently made.  Manos is both and everything and more.

Its plot is simple and generic enough: a wayward family find themselves trapped in a spooky place and are terrorized by weird people who do bad, evil things to them.  There have been literally millions of movies with this same story.  How Manos succeeds at its failure is textbook filmmaking.  Every single facet of this movie should taught at universities: Don’t Do This 101. 

A lot of the blame is naturally heaped on the director, Hal Warren.  Rightly so, but his greatest mistake was using a camera that couldn’t record sound and could only film for thirty seconds at a time.  The budget was only a meager 19,000 samoleans, but really, that was 1966.  Where in the sweaty hell did all that money go?  He reportedly didn’t pay any of the actors, many of the actors made their own costumes, and he apparently didn’t build anything close to resembling a set.  Surely he could’ve gotten a decent camera.   But such as it is, he ended up with a slapped together mess of thirty second shots of silent footage, under lit and badly dubbed over and menaced by swarms of moths.

No wait, his greatest mistake was the script.  I mean, Robert Rodriguez shot El Marachi for a six pack of cervesa and with guns that could only shoot one blank at a time before they jammed.  That movie was turned out great because he knew how to edit, whereas our Hal didn’t.  Also, write.  Robert McKee’s Story didn’t exist back then, but I’m hoping that someone told our Hal that your movie’s conflict shouldn’t be based on the inexplicable bad decision of the idiot protagonist (played by Hal Warren) to stay at the strange lodge (I believe Roger Ebert had a term for this called The Stupid Plot).  The plot structure meanders from there, and when the conflict is almost resolved as the family finally comes upon the brilliant idea of “running away” from the danger, the wife trips and sobs a bit.  In a normal movie, the husband would drag her to her feet, yell a rousing speech right in her face, and keep on like a good American.  But this is Manos, so our Hal relents and they trudge back to certain doom.  Thus, the scene accomplishes nothing but killing screen time.

The entire movie is like this: nothing happens, and then when something happens, it takes forever to happen, and then it takes forever for something to happen again.  I should have timed it, but when our hero Torgo is told to stand up, he takes what feels like five full minutes to do so.  Supposedly the….things he was wearing in his pants was causing him real physical pain, but come on, Hal, edit that sucker down.

Oh yeah, Torgo has huge knees, if you didn’t know.  This is meant to be scary.  He also talks like Stephen Root in Office Space.  Legend has it the actor became addicted to pain killers in the course of this movie and eventually committed suicide.  Which just piles on the tragedy.

You can read more details and in depth analysis of this movie at Yakmala! and the Agony Booth. There is so much to talk about in a movie where almost nothing happens.

But yeah, this movie was bad.  Thankfully I watched the Mystery Science Theater version, wherein the evil scientists had to apologize to Joel for subjecting him to it, no less.

PS: Oh yeah, forgot to mention the inappropriate jazz soundtrack and the random couple who make out for a full twenty four hours and have nothing to do with anything.

The Hyperreal Museum, as I am told, is a term coined by Umberto Eco for Disneyland, the much loved and much maligned Happiest Place on Earth.  Though I own it, I’ve not yet read the book it comes from, Travels in Hyperreality, so I don’t know whether he meant it as a positive or a negative.  It could go either way: either you enjoy monuments of exaggerated reality, or you don’t.

Disneyland, as a place and a concept, is collection of places that don’t exist and never will.  Fantasyland is obviously just that; Tomorrowland will never come to pass; Frontierland is long gone; Main Street only recently gone; and Adventureland is exoticism manifested as jungle, tropic, and desert mashed together.  The add-on area of Toon Town is blatantly cartoony.  The closest we can get to realism is New Orleans Square, and even that’s a romanticised version of Old Swampy.

Without getting into the nitty gritty of the theory of theming, what elevates Disneyland above other theme parks is this tenuous connection to reality and its ability to exploit historical and fictional motifs.  The park, or rather the people who designed it, specifically went after aesthetics that people wanted but couldn’t have.  Walt said so.  You can read it on that plaque.  He walled off reality so he could create his own and control it, like some anal retentive freak.

So what happens when the nostalgia wears out, when the exhibits get old and worn down, and only the most fanatical bother to care anymore?  The locals become used to the status quo and the tourists don’t know any better. I will swear up and down that this almost happened early this decade.  The management stopped bothering when they decided that not good enough was good enough.  They found that if they didn’t try as hard and didn’t spend as much money, they could make more profit since people came anyway. Paint started peeling, light blubs burnt out, rides started creaking, and more and more of the standards were chipped away.

I mean, look at California Adventure.

But I really mean, look across the country and the bigger sister park: the Magic Kingdom at Disneyworld.  Kevin Yee over at MiceAge had a recent article about this very problem. The “museumification,” as he calls it, is in full effect there. They still have the Carousel of Progress, for god’s sake. Now there’s an artifact of antiquity, a 1964 New York World’s Fair original, a delightful testiment to Futurism.

So how long must a Hyperreal Museum remain static before it becomes a museum to itself? How many times can you ride Pirates of the Caribbean before the appeal comes from the recognition of the ride rather than the pirates? When does it turn from nostalgia into familiarity?

Thankfully, tides change.  And executives move on to mall jobs, where they’re better suited for cookie cutter production. Now, the emphasis seems to be more on innovation than preservation. But there are those who will lament the loss of any exhibit from the Hyperreal Musuem. As a Man of Science, I embrace the future. It’s too bad that the future of Tomorrowland has been hijacked by cartoonery, but that’s a different article.

O! the shame….

October 23, 2007

We direct you to a blog detailing what could be described as Embarrassing Movie Posters.

I, on the other hand, would call them Awesome.

Seriously, how can you not love such a tagline as, “This brain wants to LOVE….and this brain wants to KILL!”

And then there’s the accompanying painting. Pure genius, I tell you.


October 22, 2007

In case you haven’t heard (whoever you are), the entirety of Southern California is on fire.  Before anyone asks, I’m okay.  I even got let out of work early, despite that there was actual work that needed to be done, but them’s the breaks when someone sets the world ablaze.  I’ve always that the gummyment should do something about those annoying Santa Anas.

 So, now I sit at home, broken hearted, as footage of Rancho Bernardo mansions and assorted Fallbrook McMansions, to use a topical term, burn to the ground.  I savior my sweet schadenfraude and worry of the poor rhinos at the Wild Animal Park like a good little misanthrope.

When this gets old, and it will because events aren’t progressing fast enough for the frentic pace of network news, we’ll pop in Excite Truck and race our cares away.

Vaya con Burritos

October 19, 2007

The Immigrant Criminals strike again, but thank the Good White Lord in Heaven that a reader of Gourmet magazine is here call it like it is in a recent letter to the editor.

Or is that Criminal Immigrants? Same difference!

Your attention please.

This is the tracking procedure of an adventure through the Internets.  Adventurous men of science who have made this journey before you are carefully plotting every phase of this incredible journey as we document instances of Science gone awry and gone Right, as we coldly regard the downfall of civilization through our popular culture and our unpopular politicians, and as we generally blather on about nothing and sundry.

We wish you an enlightening experience.  For though your body will shrink, your mind will expand.

This is a Man of Science.