I've been told (over and over again, on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and by the ghost of MySpace, which I accidentally summoned during a seance last night while I was using a Ouija board to contact my grandfather in a last ditch attempt to discover the identity of his murderer, and also where Gramps put the spare furnace filters, because they don't make them for that model anymore and some jerk on Ebay is charging like 200 bucks for a 6-pack!) that it's #LoveYourPetDay, and if there's one thing I've learned in life, it's that while popular cultural, contemporary mores, and modern technology have all passed me by, I have one hope to survive the future without being ritually executed by Millennials in a Logan's Run-style shopping mall, and that's to #ObeyTheHashtag!
The stars of Better Living Through Bad Movies: The Audiobook, John Szura and Blanche Ramirez, are back and giving the business to The Alligator People, that lovable 1959 sci-fi classic that perfectly captured America's Cold War fears about atomic mutations, psychoanalysis, and piano-playing reptiles.
According to the inevitable narrator who opens the film,
we’re in the Empire of Klezmer, or something, where the Mages control all the
world’s magic through tax cuts, allowing nothing to trickle down to the
Commoners except cabbagey-smelling urine and night soil tossed from a tower
window. But Empress Thora Birch is a populist who wants Single Payer Magic for
all. [Note: Jeremy Irons, who took the Pro Dragon position in Eragon, will be
taking the Con position in this film, because that’s how we roll in Debate
Okay, I’m just going to warn you: there’s a whole lot of
phallic symbols in this thing. The Empress has a Scepter that controls the
Golden Dragons, which are mythical reptiles that presumably run a Chinese
takeout place, but she really wants the Rod of Savrille, which controls the Red
Dragons, which are mythical reptiles that I'm guessing run a Tae Kwan Do studio.
We open in a Dungeon, and yes, there’s a dragon. This might
not be a good movie, but it’s scrupulous about compliance with the Federal
Trade Commission’s Fair Packaging and Labeling Act. Jeremy and his slave race
of Uncle Festers are using a big gyroscope to create a magical pizza cutter
that will let him control dragons, overthrow the Empress, and neatly quarter
deep dish pies. He is assisted by his chief henchman, a kind of Super-Fester, who
wears white lipstick, suggesting that before he turned to Festering and
Henching, he was a Ronette, or possibly a Shirelle.
Jeremy is a human Cuisinart in this film, and has set his
Scenery Chewing on “Pureé”. But despite all the overacting, the pizza cutter
shorts out, and Jeremy has to kill the dragon by slamming the garage door on
Outside, we meet our two lovably rogues, Ridley Freeborn,
played by Jimmy Olsen from Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman,
and Marlon Wayans, of the Way Too Many Wayons Family. I know this film is based on a table
top RPG game and all archetypes need to be represented, but after 30 seconds of
witless dialogue I really wish these guys would beg a do-over from the Dungeon
Master and reroll their characters.
Anyway, they’re upset that dragon blood has set the river on
fire, something you don’t usually see outside of Cleveland, so they decide to
go burgle Hogwarts.
Meanwhile, Jeremy is demanding the Imperial Council take
away Thora’s Scepter. No one else seems all that concerned about the Scepter
custody issue, and with Jeremy’s acting still stuck on frappé, his unctuous
evil and spittle-flecked energy seems less menacing than just weird and inappropriate -- sort of like Emperor Palpatine
addressing a Chamber of Commerce luncheon.
Thora’s Bearded Advisor (every fantasy queen is issued one)
suggests she just swap out the Golden Sceptor for the Rod of Savrille, which is
cooler anyways because, I guess, it’s cordless? But Jeremy is eavesdropping
with surveillance fairies, and he orders Super-Fester to beat them to the Rod.
While Thora’s Beard struggles to read a map by throwing tiny
atomic bombs at it, his Apprentice Beard, Marina – sadly, not the mermaid from
Gerry Anderson’s Stingray – catches
Jimmy Olsen and Marlon Wayans pilfering magical crap. Suddenly, Super-Fester
shows up with some Medieval Times employees and kills the Beard, but Marina
summons the map, then opens a portal into a pile of garbage, which seems
redundant. They meet Elwood the Dwarf (who’s just as tall as the others – and there
are, in fact, genuine Little People in the the film – but I guess
he identifies as Dwarf), and then they jump from the garbage dump into a sewer,
beating me to the punchline yet again.
They go to a tavern, where they feast family style and
infect the bottomless breadsticks with fecal coliform bacteria. Jimmy and
Marina are sucked into the map by advanced TRON technology, and learn that they
need to find a ruby called “The Eye of the Dragon” which lies at the center of
the “Antius Guild Maze” because we’re playing Dungeons & Dragons, so I hope
you brought your 8-sided dice.
They travel to a Frank Frazetta painting, where Marlon
tickles our funnybones by wearing shoes on his head. The ruby’s owner is
Richard O’Brien from Rocky Horror,
and for the two minutes and 42 seconds he’s on screen, this is actually a fun
Richard agrees to give Jimmy the Eye of the Dragon if he makes it
through the Maze, but caveat emptor, every other wannabe Theseus has died in
the attempt. Now roll Initiative!
Jimmy survives the maze – it’s kind of a short maze, about
the length of those you find on the back of a Denny’s children’s menu – and
gets the Eye of the Dragon, but Super-Fester captures Marina and tortures her
with a pair of prehensile earbuds while the others are arrested by the
beautiful Norda, who is both a tough, by-the-book Elf Cop and, I’m pretty sure,
a Quinn Martin Production.
She lets Jimmy and Marlon break into Fester’s castle. Jimmy
goes to find Marina, Marlon goes to find the map, but the area rug turns into
cake batter and he gets caught. Marlon slices Super-Fester’s throat from ear to
ear, but Fester is a clumsy shaver and used to exsanguinating neck wounds, so
he just chases him around the castle like a harassed Dad trying to put a diaper
on an uncooperative toddler.
Fester kills Marlon, then stabs and is about to kill Jimmy,
but Marina shoots some Sith-style lightning at him, then opens a portal so they
can both escape. It might have been nice if she’d done that before the black guy died, but hey, a
trope’s a trope.
Since Klezmer still doesn’t have a Canadian-style single
payer plan, Norda takes Marina and Jimmy to Tom Baker from Doctor Who, an elderly Elf who lives atop a huge hollow Christmas
tree, and presumably leases out the ground floor to the Keeblers.
Elf Tom heals Jimmy, then lectures everybody on how humans
suck, because while Elves use their powers to maintain the delicate magical
balance of all life, we use ours to make crappy movies.
Jimmy is in the grip of despair, believing that his friend
died for nothing, but is somehow able to find the courage to make out with
Marina while Marlon’s corpse achieves room temperature.
Some guy we’ve never met wearing a Phantom of the Opera mask
gives Jimmy a magic sword because why the hell not? It’s an hour and twenty
minutes into the film already, and “magic sword” really ought to have been on
the pre-flight checklist.
They get to the entrance of the Dungeon (apparently the
previous one was a warm-up dungeon) but only Jimmy can pass through the force
field to get inside. He will have to brave the deadly dangers within, and
confront his fate alone, but his companions seem cool with that, and give him a
Yeah, Whatever wave as they saunter off to Craft Service.
(To be fair, Marina does bother to tell Jimmy to “be
careful,” which films me a glimmer of hope, because that’s the last thing Jimmy
said to Marlon.)
Jimmy falls screaming into a hole, puts the ruby into a
sconce, reveals a secret treasure room…Stop me if you’ve played this
D&D campaign before. And if you have, what was it like being a virgin
all through college?
The Rod is in the bony hands of a skeleton. It’s Savrille
himself, who’s been cursed to spend eternity delivering exposition to Flavor of
the Month pretty boys who will blow their one shot at franchise movie stardom.
Skeletor tells Jimmy that anyone who uses the Rod will suffer a terrible fate,
which is corroborated by a bunch of murals.
Meanwhile, back at the Chamber of Commerce, a flock of Golden
Dragons are approaching, so Jeremy convinces all the Mages to cast Magic
Missile. But they miss.
Jimmy emerges from the Dungeon and finds Super-Fester has captured
Marina (again), along with the others. He promises to release them if Jimmy
hands over the Rod, but then afterward shockingly admits, “I lied.” The Elf and
the Dwarf both break free and start kicking ass, which I assume they could have
done earlier, but then we would have missed that great, “I lied” line. Fester
goes through a portal to the Chamber of Commerce, with Jimmy in hot pursuit.
Jeremy goes up on the roof where there’s more acting room
and summons a bunch of Red Dragons, while Fester and Jimmy have a sword fight.
Their blades glow purple and gold and shoot lightning and are so close without
actually being light sabers that you sense the power – not of magic, but of injunctions.
Jimmy stabs Fester in the back, then throws him off the
tower, while Jeremy throws his arms up and screams “Let their BLOOD…RAIN from
the SKIIIIIIIIIES” while his entire body violently shakes, like James Brown
getting up on the good foot.
(You know, I used to think Jeremy’s bespoke,
low-key performance as Alfred in Batman
v. Superman was an acting choice, but having seen this film, I now think it was
doctor’s orders; he let it rip in Dungeons
& Dragons, and goes into such a hammy spasm I'm convinced he gave himself a rupture.)
Anyway, Jimmy attacks Jeremy and gets his ass kicked, but
he’s saved by Marina, who gets her ass kicked, then by Ellwood and Norda, who
each check the Ass Kicked box.
Jimmy grabs the Rod and gets a crazy look in his eye, but
then remembers Skeletor’s warning, and shatters it, sacrificing ultimate power
and his deposit.
Jeremy gets eaten by a CGI dragon, then Jimmy and his
companions go to Marlon’s grave, where they gang-fondle the ruby, and everybody
turns into Tinkerbell for some reason.
I know you're flushed with victory, conquest, and blood-lust, but your Dungeon Master asks that you take a moment to collect all die, stat sheets, and golf pencils, while his mom asks that you not leave any pizza boxes in the basement,
because it attracts silverfish.
Conflict is, of course, the soul of drama. It's no wonder then that so many films' titles reflect this with a preposition which indicates opposition: Batman vs. Superman ... Billy the Kid vs. Dracula ... Lady Chatterly vs. Fanny Hill [one of my favorites] ... Kramer vs. Kramer -- the list is well-nigh endless. But if there's one country that stands alone when it comes to truly titanic confrontations, it's the Land of the Rising Sun.
And then there's this movie.
At first glance, these title characters might seem an odd pairing. Under most circumstances you wouldn't think there would be much occasion for a rumble between them, operating as they do in somewhat different spheres. But this Human Fly isn't a daredevil who gets his kicks from scaling skyscrapers. Nor is he the hideous result of one of those mix-ups to which experimental matter transmitters seem all too prone, but rather, a man who's able to shrink himself to the size of a fly.
Sort of the Japanese version of the Marvel hero Ant-Man, except he's not using his astounding power of major shrinkage to fight evil. Quite the contrary.
So why is he called the "Human Fly", with all the, shall we say, unpleasant connotations, lifestyle-wise, that suggests? He does make a buzzing noise when he's traveling through the air in his minuscule state (I'll have more to say about that later) but even so, if you're looking for a flying-insect-themed identity to match the sound effect, one would think something like the "Human Hornet" would have been a bit more apropos, as well as nicely alliterative, with a hint of sinister overtones.
Or more hygienic sounding, anyway. But like so many other questions this story raises, it will have to remain unanswered. This SF-themed policier, incidentally, comes from the studios of Daiei, the same outfit who a few years later would bring us the Gamera series. If you're a fan of MST3K, this film's producer, Hidemasa Nagata, is a name you're likely to find familiar.
The story begins on a JAL airliner in flight, as a stewardess opens the door to the rear compartment and discovers the gruesomely pop-eyed corpse of a middle-aged man sprawled on the carpet outside the toilet. You know, the catered sushi did smell a bit suspect ... could it have been the fugu?
But the evidence indicates he was murdered. Everyone on the flight is detained for questioning. Among them is famous physicist Professor Hayakawa, who isn't looking so well after his recent heart attack. The scientist's daughter Akiko soon shows up with his colleague, Dr. Tsukioka, in tow. Fortunately, the officer in charge of the investigation, Chief Inspector Wakabayashi, is an old friend of Tsukioka. Once her father's condition is explained to him, the considerate detective postpones the professor's interview.
After grilling the remaining passengers and the crew, Wakabayashi is no closer to solving the crime. None of the other passengers have any connection with the deceased, let alone a motive to kill the guy. Suicide doesn't seem likely. Yet the stewardess swears she was watching the rear of the plane the whole time, and the victim was the only one who entered the compartment.
A real puzzler, this. Unless ... a ninja assassin was hiding down in the toilet! It's been done before. (Seriously.) But this doesn't occur to anyone.
This is the sixth unsolved murder in the last three months. Wakabayashi's higher-ups are worried: There might be political repercussions.
Wakabayashi drops by the Hayakawa residence to question the professor. The detective's hopes for gleaning some useful information -- Prof. Hayakawa had been seated next to the victim -- are soon dashed: The professor claims the guy kept his lips zipped the whole time. Baffled yet again, Wakabayashi half-seriously suggests the killer must have been invisible.
The conversation comes to a screeching halt: Tsukioka, Akiko and Dad exchange significant looks. By a startling coincidence, it turns out the professor and Tsukioka have stumbled upon the secret of invisibility out in the backyard lab -- a gleaming modernistic structure which looks as though it might have been designed by the same architect who did Gigantor's hangar, with interiors by the Krell.
"Wait 'til you see how many TV channels we get with that dish!"
Tsukioka takes his friend for the tour. Prof. Hayakawa's grad student, Sugimoto, buzzes them in. Tsukioka demonstrates their new invisibility ray (discovered by accident in the course of the Prof.'s cosmic ray research) on an empty glass beaker. It promptly disappears! Forget the dribble glass: This gag will slay 'em at the physicists' next key party.
Tsukioka explains he hasn't tried his new discovery out on a live subject yet. Wakabayashi has an inspiration: Invisibility could come in right handy on a stakeout. Especially if it might involve the showers at the YWBA.
Well, too damn bad. I'm done with "resolutions". I'm great at making resolutions, I just suck at keeping them. So this year, I'm doing something different. I'm making a list.
I'm calling it a "bucket list" but it's not the kind you make when you are thinking of the end of your life. I'm thinking about the how I want 2018 to end.
My list isn't going to be grandiose. It won't be life changing. It will be small. I can add to it anytime I want. It will be positive. It won't put me on any hit lists. Most importantly, it will be easy to do.
Once I put something on this list, it won't go away. It will still be there until I can check it off. Kind of like a grocery list. And like a grocery list, it's not going to be long. I'll add things that I think of that will be necessary to making 2018 a bit better than 2017. But that's it. Unlike a grocery list, you will never ever find the word "kale" on it.
If you're looking for amazing goals like "running a marathon", then you better move on. This will be the most boring bucket list in the history of bucket lists.
Here we go:
Clean the kitchen.
Clean the dining room table.
Clean my desk.
Finish reading "Warlock Holmes" by GS Denning
Send my resume to local, neighborhood Catholic Schools, whether they want it or not.
And one more that I can easily put a check mark next to as "done":
Go to accupuncturist more than 2 days a week to help heal this latest round of Trigeminal Neuralgia! ✔
So there ya go. It's my New Year's To Do List. The neat thing is, I got a whole year to put check marks next to stuff. The un-neat thing: I'm probably going to have to add stuff like, "buy new litter boxes and some of that SLIDE cat litter" or, "My horoscope says the best time to buy a pant suit will be this month. Time to go to the mall!" and other boring stuff like that. Still, easier than making resolutions!
I hope everyone has a safe and happy celebration, whether you're dancing in a 12-foot tall cocktail glass for the benefit of jaded sophisticates, or sitting home alone drinking with your cats like a normal person, and wish you guys a better -- a much better! -- New Year.