The Last Voyage,
and a few more films

#234  [archive]
DEC. 11, 2023
Cool as Ice (1991)

Did someone dare me to watch this? 

Vanilla Ice plays a white rapper in a small town, in love with a girl who doesn't know he's trouble.

In spirit, this is an Elvis movie, with the major difference being that Elvis could sing and act.

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Double Nickels (1977)
a/k/a Split-Second Smokey

Two highway patrol cops are so stupid, they think they have a part-time gig repossessing cars, but actually they're stealing the cars. 

Back in the day, lowbrow action like this was churned out for drive-ins and Southern theaters, and this is better than most of the genre. Which isn't to say it's good, but it's harmless, and ends with stuff blowing up. 

Verdict: MAYBE.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Frankenhooker (1990)

Jeffrey Franken has always been a tinkerer, so he invented a remote-controlled lawnmower, but it tragically mulched his fiancée Elizabeth "in a blaze of blood, bones, and body parts."

He's haunted by her death, but still hopes to patch things up by sewing what's left of her onto a new body.

This is a self-aware schlock comedy, and it's funnier and more fun than you'd expect. It has gross-out effects and exploding prostitutes, sure, and a dinner date with a decapitated head, but basically it's the folksy story of a good kid with a can-do attitude. 

James Lorinz hits exactly the right notes of New Jersey innocence and insanity as the amateur surgeon and mad scientist. Louise Lasser has a small but sweet role as his mom, and the lovely Patty Mullen plays what's left of Elizabeth.

Co-written and directed by Frank Henenlotter, who made Basket Case and Brain Damage and founded Something Weird Video.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Labyrinth (1986)
Streaming free

Jennifer Connelly is too young for me to admit she's hot, and David Bowie plays the Goblin King, which for him isn't really acting. She wishes her baby brother was gone, and Bowie materializes to seize the kid. To get the boy back, she must embark on a long and perilous journey and interact with Muppet monsters.

There are many imaginative Muppets here, and some truly stunning visuals. There are songs by Bowie and by the Muppets, of which none are particularly good, but none are awful. 

It's a kids' movie, and if you're ten or still a kid at heart, it might be magical. I'm not ten, not even at heart, and Labyrinth held my interest only sporadically. The problem, for me anyway, is that when they're not trying for laughs, Muppets are mildly annoying.

Written by Terry Jones. Produced by George Lucas. Directed by Jim Henson.

Verdict: YES, but not for me.

♦ ♦ ♦

The Last Voyage (1959)

Next time you're in the mood for old-school action-adventure with thrills and cheers and tears and soggy drama that never lets up, this is it, baby. It's really something.

We're sailing across the ocean blue aboard the Claridon, a creaky but classy passenger liner that's scheduled for decommission soon. In the movie's first moments, though, the captain is handed a note: "Fire in the engine room."

This interrupts dinner in the ship's grand dining hall, where a thousand passengers are eating steaks and drinking wine. To avoid a panic, the captain very calmly and slowly excuses himself, making polite chitchat with several passengers as he glides through the overdressed crowd toward whatever emergency awaits.

After that, it's a series of small incidents and sweat and shouts and frights and explosions. Captain George Sanders is a skipper brave and sure, but not infallible. Robert Stack tries to save Dorothy Malone, but she's trapped under a cracked support beam. Woody Strode is a deckhand called to heroics. 

All this is occasionally corny, sure, but none of it's tripe. It is emphatically not The Poisidon Adventure, and there's not an all-star cast of cardboard archetypes and melodramatics of heroism or stupidity. The Last Voyage follows only a few characters, and they're all interesting and believable. Stack surprisingly doesn't overact (much), and Malone is seriously good in the most dramatic role she ever had.

It's especially riveting because you can see the rivets. It was unmistakably filmed on an aging passenger ship, which MGM frickin' sank to make the movie. (I typed that before looking it up, then checked, and it's true.) Filmed on location, indeed — you've seen sinking ships in the movies, but this one is not a scaled-down model in a tank.

The reality of the ship, its aging pipes and bulkheads and the general hugeness of an ocean liner, compliments the pretty good script and acting, and makes for a fine voyage to the bottom of the sea.

Written and directed by Andrew L. Stone (Stormy Weather). 

Verdict: YES, and very nearly BIG YES.


• • • Coming attractions • • •

Greystoke (1984)
Hugo (2011)
The Importance of Being Earnest (1952)
The Lawyer (1970)
Not of This Earth (1957)
The Saint in New York (1938)
Same Kind of Different as Me (2017)
The Shooting (1966)
The Spook Who Sat by the Door (1973)
The Train (1964)
Welcome to New Orleans (2006)
Winter Soldier (1972)

... plus occasional 
schlock and surprises 

There are so many good movies out there — old movies, odd or artsy, foreign or forgotten movies, or do-it-yourself movies made just for the joy of making them — that if you only watch whatever's on Netflix or playing at the twenty-plex, you're missing out.

To get beyond the ordinary, I recommend:

AlterCineverseCriterionCultCinema ClassicsDocsVilleDustFandorFilms for ActionHooplaIHaveNoTVIndieFlixInternet ArchiveKanopyKinoCultKino LorberKorean Classic FilmChristopher R MihmMosfilmMubiNational Film Board of CanadaNew Yorker Screening RoomDamon PackardMark PirroPizzaFlixPopcornFlixPublic Domain MoviesRareFilmmScarecrow VideoShudderThoughtMaybeTimeless Classic MoviesVoleFlixWatchDocumentaries • or your local library

Some people even access films through shady methods, though of course, that would be wrong.

— — —

Illustration by Jeff Meyer. Reviews are spoiler-free, or at least spoiler-warned. Click any image to enlarge. Arguments & recommendations are welcome, but no talking once the lights dim, and only real butter on the popcorn, not that fake yellow stuff. 
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  1. I notice you never talk about James Bond movies, and I love that about you.

    1. When did you stop beating your wife?

    2. I've seen, I think, all the Bonds until the last few, and after the first few they've all disappointed me. I *want* a thrilling spy adventure that adds up, but they deliver overblown action adventure silliness with a shaken-not-stirred wink that becomes tiresome. I watch, I shrug, I wish they were better.

      Each of the first three Jason Bourne movies with Matt Damon was better than any Bond since the 1960s.

    3. Claude Reigns, Shaken, Not StirredDecember 11, 2023 at 5:09 PM

      On Her Majesty's Secret Service is best. The super villain's secret ski lodge with all the flavors of women - that's my style

    4. Lazenby was a model, couldnt act thouygh. Give me the silly Roger Moore in outer space.

    5. I was fortunate to have read the twelve James Bond Novels and two short stories before I saw any of the movies. I finished the last novel just in time to see From Russia With Love in 1962 and Goldfinger in 1963, then went back and caught Dr. No at a second run house and was ready for Thunderball. I've not gone back to reread any of the books, but, although I was 13 when I read the last, and not an experienced novel reader, I recall their being pretty darn entertaining. After the first five movies, though, the Broccoli family started taking the movie scripts farther and farther from the plotlines of the books. It's always going to happen to some extent: books are longer than movies and scenes and plotlines from books need to be taken out of the movie.

      But having read the books gave me a mental outline of the development of the plot and characters and I was able to mentally insert the scenes the writers/producers/director had left out.

      The books are really quite well written, with some exceptions like The Spy Who Loved Me, and well suited to the big screen. Unfortunately, as the movies became more popular, the script doctors went to work. I got off the Aston Martin after You Only Live Twice, the fifth movie, and I don't think I ever saw another Bond movie again.

      My favorite Bond book is Goldfinger -- it's nicely written with colorful but plausible characters and a galloping pace. Of the five movies I saw, I thought they did the best job at bringing that to movieland.

      So whatever you think of the films, you might consider reading the books. Again, I was an adolescent when I read them but I suspect I'd still enjoy them.


    6. I've heard passionate claims that Dr No is the only *real* Bond film, or Goldfinger is the best, etc, but you're the first to claim On Her Majesty's Secret Service as the masterpièce de résistance. Of all the flavors, my favorite was kinda like lightly metallic tuna.

      I saw OHMSS but don't remember anything about it, like most of the Bond movies, except that 'On' seems wrong and it should've been 'In'.

      Without googling because I prefer google-free conversations, I think Randomonium is right that OHMSS was Lazenby. His great accomplishment was getting Sean Connery back.

      As I've gotten old I almost only re-read the few books I love, and never have I ever read any Ian Fleming. What I've heard is that the books were drier than the movies, with plots that made sense, and fewer witticisms, more action. True? Nonsense? Nonsensically true?

    7. Doug, it would take you a day and a half to find out. They're quick reads. "Mr Goldfinger cheats at cards."


    8. Or again from Goldfinger (without referencing any source -- a straight memory dump from 1963 ...

      (Goldfinger): "Mr. Bond, they have a saying in Chicago: Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence -- the third time it's enemy action."

      I hope I got it right because I hade a couple of occasions to use it in the business world.


    9. I like that line, but it reminds me of 9/11/2001, where the first plane seemed like a horrid accident but the second one seemed like bad manners indeed.

    10. After all these years of using the phrase I finally looked it up early this morning in Oxford Reference, which isn't definitive, but is pretty close. According to OR, Fleming writes in Goldfinger "Mr. Bond, they have a saying in Chicago: 'Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it's enemy action.'" Goldfinger (1959)

      I once had all the Fleming Bond books in my library but lost them to a divorce or a back surgery. I have no idea what a first American edition of Flemming/Bond goes for these days and I'm not gonna look it up. And I don't recall whether that construction made it to the movie, but it was written by an author, not a screenwriter.


    11. Do you get https://www.oxfordreference.com/ through your library card? Looks like an occasionally helpful site...

    12. Library cards are keys to a magic kingdom, but parts of OR are available without a card. I found it via a simple goog lookup.


  2. You really are a cranky old fart! You didn't like Labyrinth? It's a classic!

    I watched The Last Voyage solely on your say so, and thought it was silly for a while but it kept getting better and it really does punch above its weight.

    How could you be so wrong about Labyrinth though?

    1. Labyrinth SUCKS. Dark Crystal is where it's at.

    2. I can see good points in Dark Crystal and Labyrinth, but jeez does EVERY character have to have a screechy hoarse annoying voice? I'm just tired of Muppets.

    3. Well if you don't like muppets why would you watch Labyrinth?

    4. I try to keep my horizons wide like my waistband. If I hear something intriguing about a movie, it goes on the list.


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