Seven more movies

My "big yes" this week is a movie you've probably never heard of — Shredder Orpheus, from 1990. But let's do it all alphabetically ...


I’ve seen Buckaroo Banzai four times over the years, and always enjoy it, but it's also disappointing, every time. It's an attempt at campy, intentionally silly science fiction like Rocky Horror, and it’s only partially successful. 

Buckaroo (Peter Weller) is a brilliant neurosurgeon and transdimensional turbocharged car driver and amateur astrophysicist and lead singer in a band, fighting off an invasion of despicable aliens all named John, from another dimension. The eighth dimension, to be exact.

Weller is always worth watching, Jeff Goldblum has a supporting role, and you can’t go wrong with those guys. It also has Christopher Lloyd and John Lithgow, though — two actors who always annoy me, together at last to double the annoyance. These canned hams are supposed to be arch villains, but I only see actors who believe they're bigger than the story.

The movie has a few indisputably magic moments — “Is someone out there not having a good time?” — but the script seems too calculated-to-be-wacky, and there’s so much going on that even if it does make sense, it’s impossible to make it make sense.

An unmistakably brilliant bit comes at the end, when the good guys walk along the dry concrete of the Los Angeles River, without words, while the movie’s theme song plays. It looks like everyone's simply having a grand time, and that feeling is infectious. After a hit-or-miss movie, that last scene is worth watching on a loop. Every movie should end with the good guys’ strolling over the closing credits. 

♦ ♦ ♦

Bride of the Gorilla (1951)
YES — 

Every man in the jungle melts for the rubber farmer’s wife, and to be honest, so do I. She's Barbara Payton, and hubba hubba. Watch out, though, for the native witchy woman, and Raymond Burr's superior sense of smell. Also, Sheriff Lon Chaney has his suspicions.

This movie is even more nonsensical than my silly review, but it's never not watchable, and actually it's borderline good.

♦ ♦ ♦

Doctor Mordrid (1993)
NO — 

A slow-motion white guy pours a bottle of toxic waste onto highway pavement while ominous music plays, and Rio de Janaero’s famous Jesus statue looks down and watches. Jeffery Combs, meanwhile, lives in an enormous New York City mansion that’s also, somehow, an apartment building full of wacky neighbors.

Combs has superpowers and expertise that seem more than coincidentally reminiscent of Doctor Strange, but I’m soooo tired of superheroes, and I wanted this to be science fiction. I was misinformed, and it isn’t even good for what it is.

♦ ♦ ♦

The Planters (2019)

This is a low-budget buddy movie about two daft women, written and directed by its stars. Martha is a planter, which means she puts odd objects in tin containers, buries ('plants') the containers, and later collects payment placed in the containers by customers. When she's not planting, she's a telemarketer, selling air conditioners. Sadie is a woman with multiple personalities, so she's also Emma and Angie. She befriends and moves in with Martha, helps with the planting and air conditioning sales, and occasionally poops in her dress.

Every time the movie threatens to become conventional, there’s a claymation animated sequence, or something strange happens. None of this is normal, bur normal never interests me much.

The movie has a look, style, and minimalist script so thoroughly borrowed from Wes Anderson they should pay royalties, but you could pick a worse moviemaker to mimic. I liked The Planters, found myself smiling through most of it, and laughed out loud five six times. (After the credits, and after I wrote the previous sentence, there's a bonus scene like in a Marvel movie, and it made me laugh out loud again.)

♦ ♦ ♦

Shredder Orpheus (1990)

This is homemade science fiction from thirty years ago, shot on videotape so it’s all a little blurry. It does what it wants to do, though, with audacious style, campy dialogue, and some rock operatic music that I’ve now added to my permanent playlist.

The story concerns skateboarding rock'n'roll rebels, struggling to survive together in a cheap housing project made from abandoned shipping containers, in a “Gray Zone” future where everyone watches the Euthanasia Broadcast Network. The leader of the band is Orpheus, who plays a magic lyre-axe guitar designed by Jimi Hendrix, and has a doomed dancing girlfriend named Eurydice. 

If you've studied any Greek mythology, you’ll recognize that it’s all inspired by the legend of Orpheus, but here it’s mingled with late-1980s thrash and punk and middle fingers flipped toward the pop culture and ad campaigns of that era — which was my era, so it resonates with me. I can’t even roller skate, so I shouldn’t care about the movie's several skating scenes, but they’re joyous, heartfelt, and add to the anarchist spirit.

Filmed in industrial locations and parking garages, this was obviously made on the cheap, by friends in front of and behind the camera. If you require elaborate Hollywood special effects, fuck off, but this has more heart than fifty Men in Black

Memorable moments:

• drumming at the junk yard
• that ray gun looks suspiciously like a blender
• the public-address system in Hell
• meeting Mom and Dad, long after they’re dead
• “If you want to join the pantheon of dead skate rock guitar heroes, that’s your choice.”
• riding the parking ramp
• the final thrash

♦ ♦ ♦

Space Probe Taurus (1965)

What would science fiction look like, with all imagination removed? You'd call it Space Probe Taurus, a movie I've seen a hundred times before, though this was the first time I'd seen it.

We’re on a spaceship with a crew of four, all white of course. There's a man who's about 45, another who's 55, another who's 65, and a woman who's about 25 and beautiful, as required by movie law. 65 is an old fart who’s always grumpy and impatient. 45 is crude and abrasive, and says he’s writing a book about the mission. 25 describes herself as a “lady scientist,” and her duties include serving dinner. The captain, 55, announces that he didn’t want a woman on board and doesn’t believe she could possibly be competent. Later he kisses her without warning or invitation, so of course she falls in love with him.

They find an alien vessel, 55 and 45 board it, meet an ugly alien on board, and kill it. Later, the spaceship is inexplicably under water instead of in outer space, and they discover different aliens, which are obviously crabs, and everyone reacts like they’ve never seen a crab before.

If there was anything more to the plot, I don’t remember it the next morning. All I remember is that the visuals are of Fireball XL5 quality, and ‘advanced technology’ is conveyed through annoying and repetitive sound effects.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Time Travelers (1976)

According to the credits this is “based on a story by Rod Serling,” but they must have eviscerated that story, because there’s nothing original here. Made by disaster moviemaker Irwin Allen, I'm guessing this was the pilot episode for a TV show that never followed.

“And don’t forget, fumigate her clothes.” A hotshot doctor thinks there’s an epidemic brewing, and Washington DC sends an arrogant goofball to help. These two unlovable lugs, doctor and goofball, are instantly, obviously bound to be best buddies. And it turns out, a century ago there was an outbreak of the same disease, and one doctor who could cure it, but the treatment has been lost in time, so we’ll need to send our buddies back a century to find it.

There’s TV-style dialogue, TV-level acting, 1970s TV-effects, and breaks for commercials. After the boring first act, it becomes somewhat more interesting when our team finally arrives in Chicago 1871. Somewhat more interesting, but not, you know, interesting. There's nothing here with a spark of Serling to it except, perhaps, a minor character who’s comically over-Christian.


Movies, movies, more movies

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