The Cat from Outer Space

The Cat From Outer Space.
Walt Disney Pictures 1978.

Before watching the movie:

In the 60s and 70s, Disney’s live action movies department came up with some pretty outlandish ideas. Some of them are cartoon ideas, but done in live action, some are just… did they throw darts at a board or something?

This is an adventure about an extraterrestrial cat. There’s some humans trying to help the stranded alien cat get home and some other humans trying to steal the cat’s technology, and I don’t really know much more than that, which I learned only minutes ago.

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The Black Hole

The Black Hole. Buena Vista 1979.

Before watching the movie:

This always seemed a strange choice for Disney, even considering the weird live action movies they made in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. The trailer I dimly remember seeing for it on some tape seemed dark and scary and serious, not the kind of fanciful family outing that most Disney live action movies try to be. I’ve heard there are fun comic relief robots for the kids, but this always seemed to be positioned as “Disney does Star Wars” (which took about three and a half decades to actually happen).

The synopses I’ve seen are not much help for shaking this notion. It seems like Alien meets 2001: A Space Odyssey. A deep space mission with a sense of foreboding encounters a mystery that ultimately takes them beyond anything the reality we know prepared them for. You know, for kids!

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Movies of My Yesterdays: Howard the Duck

This is a little later than most My Yesterdays selections, but it’s still formative. I first saw this movie shortly before starting Yesterday’s Movies and I had Opinions, and at the same time I was looking for an internet project I could add to on a regular basis. And now it’s been ten years of putting my unsolicited thoughts about movies people have forgotten about into the void.

Howard the Duck. Lucasfilm 1986.

On one night of his perfectly ordinary life in a world run by humanoid ducks, Howard is suddenly sucked into space by an interdimensional portal, and lands on our Earth. Stuck in a world that finds him weird, freakish, and otherwise a magnet for harassment, Howard quickly gets mixed up with Beverly, singer for a great girl band with a bad manager, and helps her out. As romance kindles, suddenly a group of scientists arrive and explain that Howard was brought here by an accident with a “laser spectroscope”. Before Howard has a chance to get them to reverse the beam and send him home, there’s another accident with the machine, the police show up and arrest Howard, and the lead scientist, Dr. Jennings, has a Dark Overlord of the Universe taking over his body.

This still seems like two incompatible movies to me. The first act and the epilogue are a very upbeat music-filled story that’s almost a romantic comedy, but once Howard and Beverly are starting to settle into a relationship, an entirely different movie, and not a better one, crashes the party and takes the plot in a completely different direction. It felt like half and half originally, but the space alien section seems much longer now, mostly due to the action scenes that last three times as long as they need to.

I guess the point of that turn was to spend some time establishing a status quo before getting on with a surreal adventure, but Howard still just got there and wants to leave. Nothing is normal for him and Beverly. They’re just interrupted as they’re beginning to figure out what to do with themselves.

The swift escalation of a lot of confrontations between Howard and people who don’t get him is still cartoonish. There are the people who assume he’s a human in a costume or some kind of puppet, and the people who think he’s a deformed human or animal, but somehow, way too many of them, when they find out he’s not what they think, go straight to “picking a fight”. To the point that he practically almost gets lynched at least once. If duck people were common and a lot of humans knew them as a race they wanted to subjugate, that would make more sense than “thing I can’t identify is giving me some lip”.

The filmmakers wanted to “have fun with it”, but the main part of the movie is not much fun. There are some scenes that are trying to be comedic and muddying the tone, but the overall way the Dark Overlord story is handled is a slog of bad to mediocre ideas. It’s not a complete travesty of a movie, but it really doesn’t have much understanding of how to handle itself.

Face/Off

Before watching the movie:

Face/Off. Paramount Pictures 1997.

My strongest memory of this movie being in the world was the giant poster on the side of a building at King’s Island for years. I don’t think it had anything to do with anything at the park, it was just a 50-foot poster nobody bothered to take down across the three to five years my visits were spread across. (Update: apparently they named their head to head roller coaster Face/Off, until Paramount sold the park and the new owner debranded it. I didn’t ride many of the coasters there.)

I later learned the movie is about a good guy and a bad guy trading faces for… reasons, don’t think too much about it. I’m not sure which actor starts as which character, because of course both play both. I’ve heard that Cage as the terrorist gets eccentrically creepy in the way he’s famous for now.

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Space Cowboys

Space Cowboys. Malpaso/Mad Chance. 2000.

Before watching the movie:

What happens when a bunch of engineers who became ranchers or something I guess go into space to fix a satellite only they can fix? This movie, apparently.

I get the conceit that these engineers are being called out of retirement to fix space-based equipment that was designed on standards nobody learns anymore, and it takes less time to train the experts to be astronauts than to train the astronauts to be experts for the same reason as Armageddon, Because that’s how you get a movie.

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Predator

Predator. 20th Century Fox 1987.

Before watching the movie:

Survival sci-fi horror starring a ripped commando who shoots stuff. I’m not sure if the Predator franchise eventually blended with the Alien franchise just because they’re both survival sci-fi horror, but I think this is more action and less gore than Alien, at least that’s how it presents itself.

I like the angle of humans encountering a species more capable than themselves that is intentionally an intimate threat to them. Extraterrestrials are often threats in the form of invasions or mindless monsters, but the Predator is, I understand, a sapient being optimized biologically and technologically for hunting.

I suspect that there is less machine gun fire and more running and hiding than suggested by the poster.

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Day of the Triffids

Day of the Triffids. Security Pictures 1963.

Before watching the movie:

The Triffids are an iconic piece of science fiction. Any locomoting plants in sci-fi stories will inevitably be compared with them.

The full-color alien invasion horror movie aspect makes me think about Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but there doesn’t really seem to be much in common between “anyone near you could have been replaced by an alien” and “run from that twenty-foot tall walking plant”. If there’s an allegory for something in the public consciousness in the 60s here, I’m not sure what it would be.

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