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Reviews

Wolves at Our Door
(1997)

It's about the wolves.
Wolves at Our Door is a good film about the subject, but with substantial flaws at its core.

To be fair, the wolves are as portrayed; strong, capable carnivores with complex social lives and a reputation which is undeserved. Also, the footage of the wolves is well done.

But all is not well here.

I remember the first time I heard that Disney's True Life Adventures had made footage of lemmings leaping to their doom over cliffs, something which I later discovered that they don't do intentionally, by filling buckets with the rodents and tossing them in the sea. Few things on the screen are as they seem, apparently. Even in the case of wildlife documentaries such as Wolves at Our Door.

For many years, I worked for the Wolf Education and Research Center, the non-profit created to take care of the Sawtooth Pack after Jim Dutcher completed filming Wolves at Our Door. Doing so has given me some insight into both wolves and the work of Jim Dutcher.

The Sawtooth Pack were never really wild. They were born in captivity in Canada and purchased by Jim Dutcher for the film.

During the filming, a black wolf named Aipuyi was euthanized upon orders from Jim Dutcher, against the suggestions of the vet and handler he had hired to care for the wolves during filming. The film gives the impression that the Sawtooth Pack was given to the Nez Pierce tribe in Idaho, but this isn't the case either. The wolves were sold for tens of thousands of dollars to a non-profit organization hastily created to save the wolves, after Dutcher had commented that euthanizing the wolves was an option he was considering. The wolves came with a restrictive agreement which gave most photographic rights to Dutcher. The non-profit group couldn't even use images of the wolves on merchandise in order to support itself or the wolves.

The whole sordid affair came out on the internet, and one can still find references, comments and articles about the issue if one searches. The Internet has a long memory.

I'm almost sorry to say that we -should- view "Wolves at Our Door." It's probably the one video in recent times which has done more to educate people about wolves than most others. But remember, it -is- about the wolves and their plight, and we should always carefully consider if, in the case of wildlife documentaries, the ends justifies the means.

The Shuttered Room
(1967)

There's no Lovecraft to see here. Move along. Move along.
It's impossible to warn people about this film without spoilers.

The Shuttered Room does begin like a modern adaptation of a Lovecraft story would. Daughter sent away to live in the city. Parents killed by a lightning strike. An old crone harboring secrets. Soon however the plot descends into a running chase to keep the protagonist from being deflowered by a village tough, played by Oliver Reed. While Reed is good in this role (he may be the best actor in this film), Robert Blake did it better in "In Cold Blood." Gig Young is Uber-Urbanite in this film. He shows no fear, fights off scores of village ruffians (his kung fu is greater) and even drives a vehicle which reminded me of the Batmobile. Seriously. He solves the mystery of the Shuttered Room, which has persisted for decades, in a few days.

The crone's admission near the end of the film ultimately removes this film from anything even remotely associated with Lovecraft. Far from anything supernatural, the secret in the Shuttered Room is the protagonist's feral sister, the Whateley curse made up to protect the poor girl. Indeed, the director tries to make you feel sorry for the "monster." Right. Feel Sorry for the monster. This ain't no "At the Mountains of Madness." In my opinion, if you want Lovecraft on film, your best bet is still "The Dunwich Horror" with Dean Stockwell's creepy performance as Wilbur Whateley.

Trog
(1970)

I'm ready for my closeup, Mr. DeMille.
I thought Norma Desmond was great as the lead in this movie! Really, the parallels are a little eerie. Joan's career is buried in this movie about a primate, and in Sunset Boulevard, Norma buries her primate at the end of her career.

However, you have to hand it to Joan. Browsing through IMDb.COM, I'm always amazed and surprised at how many actors and actresses seem to commit suicide. Not Joan. Tough as nails, she stuck it out to the very end.

Perhaps TROG isn't so much a comment on Joan Crawford as it is on the movie industry of the era, squeezing every last drop of value from talent until there's nothing left, and the husk of what's left is forced to forage for scraps.

The fictitious Norma Desmond would understand. As would Bela Legosi.

The movie itself is mildly entertaining, for all the reasons mentioned in other commentary. I really -did-recognize Trog's costume from 2001:A Space Odyssey. I was amused at the parade of B-movie actors, including Michael Gough, who appeared in his own primate opus "Konga," and went on to play Alfred the Butler in the first four modern Batman films (Batman, Batman Returns, Batman Forever, and Batman and Robin.

Trog is worth a chuckle if you happen to get it on video for free. More importantly, it might not be bad to think about mortality, entropy and aging and what effects this might have on the emotions of any person, let alone someone who had once held the stature of a Hollywood Icon. The Mighty DO fall. Perhaps that should keep us all humble.

Destination Moon
(1950)

Seeds of Legend
A slightly flawed child of the 1950's, this film is notable on a number of levels.

First, it represents something of a change in the direction of film making of Producer George Pal. Destination: Moon was the first in a line of ground-breaking films which would become iconic in the science fiction genre. War of the Worlds, When Worlds Collide, The Time Machine... Pal's incredible legacy starts with this film.

Second, of course, is Bonestell's artwork. His graphic images would determine how a generation thought of space.

It's interesting to note how both Bonestell and Pal "fell" later in their careers. Pal's last film was the forgettable "Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze," while I believe Bonestell worked on Disney's SF "epic" The Black Hole. But I'll need to check IMDb to be sure of that! I highly recommend this film. It might help a younger generation understand what their grandparents were thinking about "The Final Frontier."

Leo the Lion: King of the Jungle
(1994)

Leo the Lion; exploitation?
Leo the Lion seems to have been released at a time when lions were "hot."

The release date of this film coincides with the 1994 release of a redone "Kimba the White Lion" series on television, and of course The Lion King in theaters.

In fact, The 1994 release of Kimba shares voice talent with Leo the Lion.

I suggest that you simply find DVDs of Kimba from the 60's or view the 1997 theatrical release of Osamu Tezuka's Jungle Emperor Leo, which is also out on DVD and can be found on IMDb.

A word of warning though. Jungle Emperor Leo, although animated, is probably not for younger children.

Ghosts Can't Do It
(1989)

Not with -our- dolphins you don't.
The Dereks did seem to struggle to find rolls for Bo after "10".

I used to work for a marine park in the Florida Keys. One day, the script for "Ghosts Can't Do It" was circulating among the trainers in the "fish house" where food was prepared for the dolphins. There was one scene where a -dolphin- supposedly propositions Bo (or Bo the dolphin), asking to "go make eggs." Reading the script, we -lauuughed-...

We did not end up doing any portion of this movie at our facility, although our dolphins -were- in "The Big Blue!"

This must have been very close to the end of Anthony Quinn's life. I hope he had fun in this film, as it certainly didn't do anything for his legacy.

Komodo vs. Cobra
(2005)

Giant animal movies need different bite
"Scientists at a remote lab experiment on (insert scaly creature here) and create out of control monsters. In the meantime a crack military team/the scientist's daughter/bank robbers find their way to the remote place and are menaced by the giant critters. One by one they're eaten, all during an "exciting" race to not be blown up by the forces who initially created the monsters..." The sad thing is that this sounds like about a dozen movies which have appeared on the Sci-Fi Channel. I have to wonder just what is going on? Sure... I like bimbos and Hollywood-Hunk wannabes be eaten by CGI critters as much as the next person... but where's the plot or originality? Granted, there are times when Sci-Fi Channel Shines. Battlestar Galactica, if a bit dark, can be very good. Writers have continued to pump life into the various Stargate offerings, and the latest BBC import of Doctor Who is surprisingly good.

Even in the various "giant animal" movies on Sci-Fi, the animation seems to be getting better all the time. Compare the kommodo in this film to the rather clunky version in the first giant kommodo film on Sci-Fi.

But goodness... how about a different plot? Maybe some -different- giant critter? On a whim, I started searching around the internet. Among the litter I found a few interesting stories which might appeal to SF fans and out of work Russian CGI animators at once. I offer http://www.macrophile.com/~arilin/archive/metamorphosis-day to the network with a suggestion that they contact the author for the story rights. (The story contains violent images generally on a par with those of various Sci-Fi channel offerings).

The story has subplot, ethical and moral comment on the nature of humanity and ends not on one of those horrible "did they REALLY kill all the monsters???" moments, but rather leaves you guessing completely and in an entirely different mindset.

Which is generally what science-fiction is supposed to do, no?

Silent Hill
(2006)

What -is- Horror, anymore?
My friend and I decided to see Silent Hill mostly because the imagery contained in the trailers intrigued us. In this the movie didn't disappoint. From the odd ashen "snowfall" to the claustrophobic interiors, the movie does far better on the big screen than it will on the small.

It was also nice to see Alice Krige again. Some actors get stereotyped, and this seems to have happened to Ms. Krige, who has played some very odd characters in her career. From the Ghost in "Ghost Story" (her best role, in the movies I've seen her in) to a scientist become eco-druid-temptress in "Habitat" to the Borg Queen in "Star Trek: First Contact," her roles put her in the company of great character actors such as John Caradine.

As far as Silent Hill's plot, well...

My friend and I laughed all the way through this movie. To the point where we were sore from laughing.

First of all, the plot was cliché. Toss a bit of "6th Sense, Just a dash of X-men (for the mutant-revenge angle), a fair dose of "Hellraiser" (for the overall imagery, gore and omnipresent, oppressive entity or force)and any movie about the Salem Witch Trials, and you'll end up with something very like Silent Hill.

There were may unintentionally funny moments. In one scene the main character memorizes the interior map of a hospital; right, left, right, right... she mutters this to herself for some time while you remind yourself that the movie was based on a video game. Your thumbs start to ache as the dialog continues.

In another scene,a gaggle of demonic-ally-possessed undead nurses (!) lurch down a dark hallway towards the camera. I've no doubt that the extras were dancers... who knew the undead could be so buxom and toned? As they continued to lurch, I found myself humming a pop beat from the 80's, expecting both a voice-over from Vincent Price and an appearance from the gloved one. No such luck.

There was much much more. In one shot a police officer fires a few shots at some baddies then, after keeping them at bay by keeping her gun trained, grins and explains (to those that will later kill her) that she was out of bullets. In another horror movie, this person might have been the one who went into the barn alone, to see what was there.

Silent Hill is an impressive looking movie at most times, but that's about it.

Grizzly Man
(2005)

Every armchair environmentalist should see this movie
I consider myself an environmentalist, and for the past few years I've been championing the return of wolves to my home state. I'll get letters or emails from someone stating how mystical wolves are, and how they would never hurt someone. I answer back that wolves, like cougars and grizzlies, are animals trying to survive in a violent world; that as carnivores or omnivores, they eat meat, and yes... we're meat. This simply the way of things, not good nor bad, and when appreciating the animal one needs to be aware in order to not become food.

It's a lesson learned too late by Timothy Treadwell. His friends know it in truth, which you can discern by carefully listen to the dialog of this film. Friends of Amy, Timothy's doomed girlfriend, state that she was at home in the wild and knew what she was doing. Yet, in Timothy's diary, it's mentioned that Amy threatened to leave him, and that she was fearful of the bears and was convinced that Treadwell had a death wish.

Timothy Treadwell was a man very much in search of himself, even to the point where he had to imagine up personas for himself. Bears and other wildlife on the other hand are brutally, fundamentally honest.

Perhaps this is what killed Timothy Treadwell. This record of his life and death should be required viewing by anyone interested with working with large carnivores in the wild.

Stuart Little 3: Call of the Wild
(2005)

Carnivores are Evil?
Consider the wolves, reduced to mere caricatures of evil, in Disney's Beauty and the Beast. Consider the leopard from Disney's animated Tarzan, who was simply trying to survive. Consider the hyenas of The Lion King; science tells us that hyenas are successful hunters and caring parents within their pack, and yet here they've been reduced to stereotype; mangy, miserable poachers.

Now comes "The Beast" of Stuart Little 3. Her habitat is shrinking, her food has fled the encroachment of human civilization, her forests either destroyed or filled with the sounds and smells of ATVs and chainsaws. She herself has probably been hunted, running for her life from baying dogs and humans who only want to destroy her because she would look good on a wall.

But even through all this, she is less of a carnivore than her real-world cousins would be. She offers her potential prey a way out. Bring her food, and you may live. She may indeed feel some disdain for the "lesser" animals she deals with, but she might be forgiven, considering the life she's lead.

Indeed, she could be the tragic hero of this opus. She defends the last vest ages of The Really Wild, while her forest is altered and destroyed to make way for scout camps, roads, condos, subdivisions and strip malls, vanquished tellingly by a mouse who thinks he's human and a cat who has forgotten his catness.

Yes, this video is for children, but children learn from what they experience. What are we teaching them? Quietly, I root for The Beast.

Mausoleum
(1983)

Standard Fare for the Time
There seemed to be a lot of these movies, all probably in reaction to "The Exorcist" and "Rosemary's Baby" in latter-seventies. You can add this film to the list including The Car, The Wraith (with a young Charlie Sheen, if memory serves, The Herse and Devil's Rain. The Dunwich Horror... well... it fits in this category, but is almost too good to include. Besides, it at least has Sandra Dee! And now a SLIGHT spoiler warning as this has been mentioned in previous comments...

The secret family name NOMED was a rather obvious plot hint. If I were marrying someone with that name, one of the first things -I- would probably realize was that it indeed was DEMON spelled backwards.

I think I would insist on a hyphenated name. Like Susan Cthulu-Smythe or some-such.

This film would probably be a good selection for a collection of films which are "so bad, they're good."

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