The internet keeps alive some of the best and most forgotten work of Jim Henson.

henson  Henson and his wife circa 1960

 

While my site is about movies, I am going to stretch it a bit here–just because I can.  Although everyone knows who Jim Henson was and loves his work, most folks don’t know about his early work.  Long before “Sesame Street” and even longer before “The Muppet Show”,  and even longer before all the Muppet movies, Henson had many projects–some dating back to when he was going to high school (if you care,  it was Northwestern High School in the DC suburbs).  Yes, as a young man, he was on TV–or at least his puppets were on TV.   Sometimes they were on TV shows like “Sam and Friends” and “Afternoon” but even more often he was seen on television commercials–most of which had very, very weird sensibilities.  My favorites among the ads were among his earliest–such as the rather sadistic Wilkens Coffee ads.  But, he also made ads for LaChoy, Potato Chips, Kern’s Bread and many, many others.

 

In addition to making ads, Henson and his employees also made some industrial films–films made for sales meetings and to bolster the employees of various companies.  Believe it or not, some of these are the best thing Henson EVER did.  Don’t believe me?  Try clicking the two links below for Wilson’s Meats.  They are INSANE.  In addition, there are a couple other links to some of his ads.  Try watching them all–you’ll be glad you did.

 

 

 

Wilson’s Meats #1

Wilson’s Meats #2

A variety of Henson commercials and short projects

Wilkens Coffee

I have my first fan…..sort of….

Guillame Filion and Martin the Penguin 001

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A few months ago, I did a Google search on my IMDB name, planktonrules.  Wow, was I surprised.  I found that there was a website in Barcelona that was talking about me!  Strange….very strange.  Fortunately, the site was in English and I saw that a Microbiologist, Guillaume Filion, had posted a blog entry about me….or at least about my posts on IMDB!  That’s kind of weird…and I was intrigued–especially since the posts were about a statistical analysis of my entries!

 

In his first post, Guillaume compares the style of my reviews to the average review.  He found that mine differed in a few interesting ways.  In general, the more I disliked a movie, the longer the review.  That came as no surprise to me, as warning folks about a horrible film is like a civic duty to me!  Besides, a bad movie can be so bad that it is actually fun to dissect it!  He also noticed that I tended to avoid doing what most reviews did–I did not get bubbly and excited over a good film and talk about it using teen-speak (such as OMG, or using multiple exclamation points).  Finally, I tended to use the word ‘film’ much more than ‘movie’.  That last one I didn’t realize…but I sure do now when I write a review!

 

In his second post about planktonrules, which came a few months later, he tried to answer a question I had no idea was buzzing around the internet–‘Is planktonrules a single person or actually a group of people who pretend to be just one person?’.  When I thought about it, I realized that this IS a valid question.  After all, I have about 14,500 reviews on IMDB and that DOES sound impossible.  So, using statistics, he was looking for internal consistency to determine if the style varies–which he found did not.  Still, his blog did not sound 100% convinced.  So, I contacted Guillaume….and suggested we meet!  After all, I would be in Barcelona in June and wouldn’t mind meeting him.  Plus, I was really intrigued.  Why would he write about me in his blog?!

 

Above is a picture of Guillaume.  I took it at the bar in the hotel where we were staying back in June.  He does not look like a serial killer or nut…and I hope he did not think the same about me!  Overall, it was a delightful get together and I am happy to have met my one and only fan!  We chatted and I learned that Guillaume is absolutely in love with his work–he adores math, statistics and microbiology.  And, he learned that I DO have a life beyond just writing IMDB reviews!  I’ll keep you posted in case he does any more blogs about me, though I really think he’s exhausted this topic!

 

It’s not the sort of thing I usually watch, but I liked “Last Passenger” and suggest you try to see it when it debuts in August.

Last passenger

Before I talk about what I thought about this movie, I think I should mention why I watched “Last Passenger”.  While I rarely watch action films, I was approached by someone who made the film and was asked to see the film and comment on it before its release in August.  I have occasionally had a few filmmakers do this and I assume it’s one of the perks of being such a prolific reviewer here on IMDB.  I agreed to see the film but in no way was paid or given anything in order to write a positive review—I told them I’d just give my honest opinion.  Fortunately, it turned out the film was awfully good—so reviewing and seeing “Last Passenger” was a pleasure.

The film begins with a doctor (Dougray Scott) and his son (Joshua Kaynama) getting on a train in England.  They soon strike up a conversation with a very lovely young lady (Kara Tointon) and it really looks like it’s going to be a romance film.  You like the people and hope that they’ll hook up by the end of the movie.  But in a great case of misdirection, the film has other plans! Soon the doctor gets a call from the hospital—they need him as soon as possible and he’ll have to drop off the boy at his grandparents.  But it’s still a while until they get to his stop and he’s obviously tired, so the nice lady tells him to take a nap—she’ll watch the boy.  Again, here is a nice case of misdirection—the lady is NOT a serial killer or kidnapper.  Instead, the surprise comes later, after the doctor awakens.  His stop is nearing but he notices that almost all the passengers are gone and the train is NOT stopping at the stations!  Soon it becomes apparent that the train is either unmanned or some crazy person is hurtling the train towards oblivion.  And, the few passengers aboard and the people outside the train seem unable to do anything—as the train is a diesel and is racing towards the end of the line.  What’s next?  See this film for yourself.

As I mentioned above, although the story is simple, there are some nice cases of misdirection—which I really appreciated.  Additionally, although I didn’t recognize any of these actors, for relative unknowns they sure did great.  I particularly liked Scott—he was nice looking but no pretty boy and did a very nice job in the lead.  In fact, all the actors (including Iddo Goldberg, David Schofield and Lindsay Duncan)  were excellent and having ‘normal’ faces in these parts instead of big-name stars was a plus, as it made the film seem a lot more realistic.  As for the direction and cinematography, these were big pluses—and you wonder HOW they managed to make the film in such a confined set, as ALL but the final seconds of the film are aboard a train.  Finally, the music was great—and really helped create a tense mood throughout.  Overall, an exciting film that I hope gets wide distribution, as it really deserves to be seen.

last passenger2

 

Those ‘Damned’ movies….

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Back in 1960, George Sanders starred in one of the finest horror films ever—“Village of the Damned”.  I think this because it not only has a wonderful and frightening plot, but it was also made on a tiny budget.  Sure, the film is in black & white and features relatively simple sets, but it really packs a HUGE punch.  Yet, oddly, the film spawned a couple follow-up films that were pretty terrible.  The immediate sequel isn’t exactly a sequel.  It is as if they filmmakers took all the terror out of the original film and tossed it out the window!  Gone were the malevolent little demonoid children, here in “Children of the Damned”, these spawn simply want to be left alone and appreciated for their differences!  Then, decades later, Hollywood does what it usually does–makes a mindless remake that offers no improvements over the original.  “Village of the Damned” (1995) is not exactly a terrible film but it begs the question why remake a film from a classic into a mediocre movie?  Below are reviews of the three films.  I STRONGLY advise you see the first one and stop…seriously…just stop!

 

 

village1

VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED (1960)

I am giving this film a 10 based on the “bang for the buck” it provides. Despite having a small budget, few special effects and an unknown cast (aside from George Sanders), it is an engrossing and terrifying sci-fi adventure.

The movie begins with a VERY STRANGE occurrence–a small village just STOPS. All people life within the village stops–machinery, animals and people. And, when the military tries to enter the town, the soldiers just STOP as well–falling into comas. Then, just as suddenly, everyone awakens–none the worse for wear. Or so it would seem, for later, many women in this small hamlet are found to be pregnant! Once these little bundles of joy are born, the fun begins as these brilliant but disturbingly freaky kids slowly scare the crap out of everyone–especially as they walk, talk and look alike and speak as one (sort of like an evil version of Huey, Dewey and Louie)! And, it turns out, they are apparently unstoppable and up to some sort of evil (though exactly what they intend is uncertain–but it MUST be bad considering their evil proclivities)!

NOTE: Do NOT see the supposed sequel, “Children of the Damned”. It’s terrible. Instead of the kids harassing people (such as making them crash their cars into walls or blow their heads off), the kids are misunderstood and only want to live in peace!! What crap–I want murder and global domination!

Another NOTE: Do NOT see the recent remake of “Village of the Damned”. It lacks the subtlety of the original and just does NOTHING to improve an already great film.

 

 

children

CHILDREN OF THE DAMNED (1964)

Many of you out there can relate. When I was a kid, like any other kid, I adored Christmas. However, like most kids, there were times when I got presents that looked wonderful–until I opened them. Getting underwear or socks were such “presents”. Well, CHILDREN OF THE DAMNED is like a pack of underwear at Christmas. It looks great, you really anticipate it and when it arrives you are thinking “is this all that there is?!?”. That’s because the first film, VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED, was an amazingly good movie–one of the best of the 1960s. Yet, this eagerly anticipated sequel is a horrible, horrible film–rotten in just about every possible way. The only other original film and sequel that may be THAT different might be WILLARD (a fine film) and BEN (a sequel so saccharine that I feel nauseous just thinking about it).

So why is CHILDREN OF THE DAMNED so darn bad? Well, in the original, these “children” were alien creations with super-advanced brains and telepathic powers they used for evil. They viewed outsiders the same way we might view ants! Yet in the sequel, these children are creepy looking and gifted BUT they just want to be left alone and be given respect!!!!! What happened to all the terror?! In VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED, the kids talked in a creepy monotone manner as one voice AND they used their powers to force people to drive into walls or kill themselves. Here, they just whine about wanting understanding!!! So, a sequel to a horror movie has become, instead, like a live action version of the comic strip “Wee Pals”!!! Ugghh!! Now that is scary!! The production values are okay–so I am giving it two stars. This is generous, as the plot is just horrid–an abomination and a complete waste of time.

By the way, in a blatant case of false advertising, look at the poster above.  These little creeps did NOT come to conquer the world–and the filmmakers knew it!  Shame on you for lying to the audiences like that!

 

 

village of the damned 2

VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED (1995)

The original VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED (1960) was one of the most brilliant, spooky and “best bang for the buck” movies ever made. With a tiny budget, it managed to do so much. So, why remake this wonderful classic? Other than to make a fast buck without spending much effort, I can’t see why. And, unfortunately, this does appear to be the reason why the film was made. Gone are the thrills and suspense. Instead of an eerie build-up, we have more gore and a movie that is a “dumbed down” version for people who insist on hi-tech films. In its place is a flat, pale imitation of the original. I don’t know about you, but I find that in at least 80% of the cases, the original is better.

So why does the film STILL get a 6? Well, with such a great plot it is almost impossible for the film to still be very watchable.  Plus, I will admit that the special effects were very nice.  After all, look at these little monsters!

Save your time and watch the original–it’s often on Turner Classic Movies and it’s available on DVD and video.

The Academy loved this one…I thought it was truly awful.

antonia

In 1996, “Anotonia’s Line” won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.  However, I just thought the film was rather depraved and nasty.  This is not because I dislike Dutch films–there are many wonderful Dutch films (such as “Black Book”, “Twin Sisters” and “Yes Sister, No Sister”).  It’s also not because the film features gay characters–there are tons in “Yes Sister, No Sister” and I adore this movie.    Read my IMDB review below to find out more:

 

I felt VERY frustrated by this movie. It had so many WONDERFUL elements but the overall package was hopelessly baffling because it appeared as if the writers had no idea WHAT type of film they wanted to make. At first, the movie seemed quirky and comical when one of the characters imagined seeing grandma getting up out of the coffin during her own funeral while the statue of Jesus comes to life. I was excited, because I like surreal movies like “Happiness of Katakuris” or “Raising Arizona”. BUT, just as quickly as these images came, the movie completely changed direction. This sort of thing happened again and again in the movie–as if the film had eight different writers who combined their stories without creating decent segues to join the stories. Comedy, philosophy (not the fun type–the “life is futile and then you die” type), sex, love, lesbianism, anti-church rhetoric, ultra-feminism, child prodigy stuff, sexual abuse, murder, etc., etc. all thrown together do not make ONE coherent film but either many separate movies or one big mess. How this film got the Oscar for Best Foreign Picture, I am uncertain, as it had too many holes and left me so unsatisfied. Perhaps it was a slow year. Or, perhaps AMPAS (the Oscar people) just have contempt for traditional morality and so they are rewarding this film for its stand against traditional values.

A final note: although these many story elements are perfectly acceptable for adult fair, this is NOT a film for kids as the subject matter is VERY mature. Also, I was deeply disturbed by the families portrayed in the film because apparently, NOTHING was private or adult in this extended home. Two examples come to mind: the one scene where EVERYONE is making love like sex-crazed weasels so loudly that the little girl yelled at them to be quiet so she could get to sleep AND the scene where this same person (now an adult) is debating whether or not to have an abortion–while each child in the family tells her their opinion! This is sick and the family demonstrates a complete lack of reasonable boundaries. I’m not suggesting adults need to be prudes, but the idea of putting kids in these situations seems abusive and disturbing. If these types of situations are thrust on kids, what’s next–showing them step-by-step photos of a prostate exam?

 

Weird, clever and very sweet–this is a great Dutch import!

zuster

 

Not only did I have more fun watching this DVD than any film, but I did something I never did before–I ended up watching the movie again that very same night! I was utterly charmed by this wonderful Dutch musical-comedy and anticipate that I will probably see it again a few more times–it’s THAT good! I think a lot of the reason I loved the movie so much was that while bits and pieces of the film reminded me of other films, overall it was so unique and quirky that it’s got to be one of the most original films out there. In addition, when I heard the songs, I couldn’t help but swing in rhythm to the bouncy and adorable music! Despite not knowing Dutch and relying on subtitles, I can’t think of ANY musical that I enjoyed more because the songs are that catchy and kooky. They all have a charming old fashioned style with wonderfully funny lyrics.

The film itself has an early to mid-1960s look to it and although I noticed in one of the reviews that this movie was based on a TV series, the film looks even more like a film of a play in style. Plus, the sets look very fake, but I don’t mean that in a bad way–more like an idealized and perfect world that you know can’t exist but you really wish it did! Apart from great music, the film has a wonderful ensemble cast. The standout character is Mr. Boordevol who is a lot like a combination of Sam the Eagle (from The Muppets) and a crazed version of the AFLAC duck! He must have had a wonderful time playing such an outlandish character–and his voice was like something out of a cartoon! Other standout performers were Jet, an incredibly cute and shy young lady who is in love with Garrit, Garrit, a reformed burglar who has a wonderful voice, the Engineer (he has no name–and is just called “Engineer” throughout the film) as well as many, many others.

A word of note to parents–This movie was released by Wolfe Video–a Gay movie distributor. While there are two gay main characters, I really didn’t see this as a gay film, per se, but a film about many people–just two of which are gay. And, unless you are ultraconservative, I doubt if you would be offended or mind if your kids watch the film. I am a pretty conservative person myself, but really liked ALL the characters and let my teenager see the film–in fact, I nagged her until she watched it with me!

By the way, it took me three viewings to realize that the plot of this film is a slight reworking of Seuss’ HOW THE GRINCH STOLE Christmas! Seriously!!

Busting all the dumb slasher film cliches….

ticker

My recommendation of “Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil” is hardly surprising,  This little cult film has been noticed by other reviewers and I remember reading Leonard Maltin’s column on the film.  It manages to make a slasher film interesting–something I never thought possible.  While many folks love the “Friday 13th”, “Halloween” films and the like, I cannot stand them–mostly because they are poorly written and teat the audience like they are idiots.  But, with “Tucker & Dale”, anyone can enjoy the film….well, anyone who is old enough to handle the gore.  Yes, there is gore but it manages, believe it or not, to be FUN and you will be ashamed to admit that it’s FUNNY gore.  Don’t be surprised if you laugh as you see horrible things occur!  In addition, the film works because the characters (particularly Dale) are so likable.

While I would never recommend it as strongly as I recommend “Tucker & Dale”, you might also try watching “Zombieland” and “Shaun of the Dead”–two films that are intelligent–something sorely lacking in most films in the genre.

A surprisingly good family film that even adults can enjoy.

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Now I am NOT going to say that “Hotel Transylvania” is brilliant, but I was impressed by it.  These days, CGI films have become very, very common–so common that they seem to zip in and out of theaters with little notice. There are, of course, some exceptions (such as the Pixar films), but when “Hotel Transylvania” came to theaters, it came and went without a huge amount of notice. Now that I finally saw it, I really wish the film had received much more attention, as it’s far superior to most CGI family films.

This film is a funny look at monsters from their point of view. To them, the humans are the enemy and see them as blood-thirsty beasts. The monsters are afraid of them and are actually amazingly gentle and likable. The main character, Dracula (Adam Sandler) is a very overprotective father and won’t let his daughter (Selena Gomez) leave their prison-like castle–afraid that those horrible humans will kill her! However, accidentally, a human shows up when Dracula is throwing a HUGE birthday celebration for his daughter! In order to prevent widespread panic, Drac convinces the young man (Andy Samberg) to dress like a monster and blend in…but the plan works too well, and Drac’s daughter falls in love with this horrible human!

“Hotel Transylvania” is directed by Genndy Tartakovsky–a newcomer to CGI, but a veteran of lots of excellent Cartoon Network shows, such as “The Powerpuff Girls” and “Dexter’s Lab”. I think he did an excellent job and think this, along with great writing, made this film fun for all ages–with lots of laughs for adults and kids alike–just like his TV shows. In fact, this is the strength of the film. It had wonderful characters, terrific dialog and a nice sense of humor. The CGI ranges from fantastic (particularly the backgrounds) to average.

So why, if I liked the film so much, did I give the film an 8 and not a higher score? Well, the movie had one area where it was deficient–the songs. Each time a song occurred, it slowed down the film tremendously. On top of that, the ending (which was one HUGE song and dance number) was really weak. It’s a shame, but a problem you can easily overlook. Overall, a fine family film that will interest adults just as much as it will appeal to kids–and that is something all too rare.

 

Reassessing Shirley Temple

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I adore old films–the older the better.  However, I’ve come upon a problem with Netflix–I have seen just about every Hollywood film they have that was made before 1960.  So recently I did something I was not proud of at the time–I broke down and rented a few of the Shirley Temple films.  For years, I deliberately avoided them as I saw them as saccharine and just plain awful.  Well, imagine my surprise when I found that I actually enjoyed most of them and have even gone so far as to put ALL her films on my Netflix queue!

While I will admit that a few of the films are bad (“The Blue Bird”, as it terribly miscasts Temple), most are amazingly good–AMAZINGLY GOOD.  Twentieth Century-Fox really knew how to get the most out of these films.  Plus, Miss Temple was simply fabulous–even when you see these films today.  Not only could she sing, dance and act, but even the most jaded will find her tugging at your heart.  Now I am not a super-sentimental guy, but I found myself tearing up at a few of them.

The only serious negative is when it comes to race.  In so many of her films, it was very, very obvious that Hollywood and America had horrible notions about black people and a few of the films will make you cringe.  Stepin Fetchit, one of the most famously negative black stereotypes in film history, appeared in a few of her films.  But what is REALLY hard to take is seeing Shirley herself in black-face in “The Littlest Rebel”–a film where the slaves all seem VERY happy and actually work to help the Confederacy defeat the dreaded Yankees!!  As for her work with Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson, these were always great–with Temple and Robinson making a very appealing duo, as well as the only mixed race dancing team at the time!

Of all the Temple films I’ve seen so far, my favorite is definitely “Bright Eyes”.  It has so much going for it and is able to wonderfully balance Temple’s sweetness with Jane Withers’ delightfully nasty performance!  And, in addition to a terrific plot (have your kleenex nearby), it features perhaps Temple’s greatest song “The Good Ship Lollipop”.  I gave this one a 9 on IMDB and when it comes to entertainment for the entire family, you can’t do much better than this.

So, I strongly recommend you try a few of her films (but avoid “The Blue Bird”….ugh, it’s bad!) and don’t worry about how incredibly sweet and old fashioned the films are.  And, if you are embarrassed by watching them, see the films alone when the family is gone!  But do indeed see them–she was a brilliant little actress and STILL the best there ever was!

 

Oh, and if you get a chance, a few of her adult performances are very much worth seeing.  The best is probably “Since You Went Away” (one of the best wartime films you can find) and “Fort Apache” (a wonderful John Ford/John Wayne saga of the west).

 

If you care to look, this is the official Shirley Temple page.  It’s mostly for buying Temple related stuff–like DVDs and dolls.  However, Miss Temple also talks very openly about her battle with breast cancer and she was one of the first celebrities to talk openly about the disease.

http://www.shirleytemple.com/

 

Al Adamson…a director at least the equal of Ed Wood!

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Al Adamson is a name not familiar to most readers.  Much of it is luck.  In the 1970s and 80s, bad movie fans rediscovered Ed Wood and his ‘masterpiece’, “Plan 9 From Outer Space”.  However, they just as likely could have chosen Adamson and his films…they were THAT bad.  Also, in one way he was more than Wood’s equal–with titles that rank among the worst of any director.  Titles include: “Psycho A Go-Go”, “Satan’s Sadists”, “Hell’s Bloody Devils”, “Horror of the Blood Monster” and “Brain of Blood”—just to name a few!

 

 

My favorite Adamson film, though, has a relatively normal title, “Dracula vs. Frankenstein”.  Here is my review of the film:

This is a very painful movie to watch if you love old horror films. That’s because both J. Carrol Naish and Lon Chaney, Jr. both starred in this film shortly before their deaths. As for Naish, he was so sickly that he acted in a wheelchair. Additionally, he had lost an eye and could not remember his lines, so he read from cue cards–and you could literally watch his one good eye darting back and forth while the glass one remained still. A sad and creepy effect, I must say. As for Chaney, he was killing himself with booze and he naturally looks bloated and a shadow of his former self.

Not surprisingly, these performances reminded me of Bela Lugosi in PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE. Like Naish and Chaney, Lugosi was dying and many rather pointless scenes were dumped into PLAN 9 by director Ed Wood, Jr.. Like Wood, Al Adamson seemed to just dump film randomly into the film, as he took scenes from a planned sequel to SATAN’S SADISTS (a biker film) and dumped them into this horror of a film. Additionally, he hired a lady who looks like a stripper to play lead.

So is there any reason to watch this film? Well, if you want a quality film, then keep looking!! However, if you enjoy laughing at incompetence, then this film has it in spades. There’s a Dracula who looks nothing like the familiar Count (perhaps he looks a bit more like a gay porn Dracula–you be the judge). There’s also a Frankenstein that looks more like a mushroom man from ATTACK OF THE MUSHROOM PEOPLE and his face is just,….well,…impossible to describe, though comparing it to Frankenstein is NOT possible! And, if that’s not bad enough, the dialog and acting are horrid and the film just screams “crap” from start to finish! So overall, the film is horrible and it begs the question “was Al Adamson perhaps a worse director than Ed Wood, Jr.”? With such great films to Adamson’s credit as THE NAUGHTY STEWARDESSES, LASH OF LUST, BRAIN OF BLOOD, HELL’S BLOODY DEVILS and PSYCHO A GO-GO, if he ain’t the worst director ever, he sure is a runner up!!

 

 

So what happened to Adamson?  Well, the story gets rather sad. Only a few years after his leading lady and wife (Regina Carrol) died, he himself was murdered and buried under a concrete slab by some scum-bag who then tried to impersonate him but was apprehended.   A horrible filmmaker, but I certainly wouldn’t have wished this sort of end for him.