April 29, 2011

Godspell (1973)

The programming over Easter weekend featured the old standbys, like Ben-Hur and The Ten Commandments (never mind that Passover is a Jewish holiday), but some unusual options appeared as well. Apparently Die Hard is now an Easter movie. Perhaps the logic went as thus:

Die Hard is a Christmas movie.
Easter is a holiday, like Christmas. 
Therefore, Die Hard is also an Easter movie. 

The damn egg hunts get harder every year.

TCM, for its part, decided to feature Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell during the primetime slots on the night of Easter Sunday. Clearly someone has a sense of humor at TCM—though I will say that both movies make more theological sense as Easter selections than The Ten Commandments. Just barely. I had wanted to see Godspell for years after reading about it in the Golden Turkey Awards. When I saw it…well, read on.

Plot Summary

Jesus Christ (Victor Garber) prances about NYC in an afro and seriously creepy makeup with his “apostles.” 

In repertory theater style, Christ and the apostles act out various stories from the Gospel of Matthew, including the Prodigal Son, the Good Samaritan, and others, which I can’t remember now despite nine years in a Catholic school...

Nutrition Facts

Vitamin B-Acting: 100%

The entire movie comes off as a very bad repertory theater production. The ham jumps off the charts—overexaggerated expressions and gestures, stilted delivery, even rolling eyes. It gave me flashbacks of the touring theater groups that would sometimes visit my school. We had to sit through idiotic plays that shoved morals down our throats. The acting level in the movie was exactly the same as in those horrible plays.
Vitamin B-SFX: 80%

The SFX is almost nonexistent, but surely the giant mass of evil trash bags and recycled goods that served as the Pharisee qualifies for a high rating.

Vitamin Fun: 75%

The movie has so many ridiculous, laugh-out-loud moments. The hideous clothing! Victor Garber’s afro! The Holy Macrame Bra of Damascus! (Antioch already has the Holy Hand Grenade.) The unhindered expression of ART and LOVE and PEACE—with rainbows prominently featured! 

While watching, I got the feeling that my dear departed grandmother might have disapproved of this movie’s ‘60s sensibilities. She probably would have made my father and his siblings watch The Ten Commandments instead…again. Or Ben-Hur, or The Sound of Music.

But I digress. The numerous boring stretches and repetitive lyrics brought down the fun rating. After the actors sang “Prepare ye the way of the Lord” for the 15th time in a row (really), I was ready for them to move on. Most of the songs kill at least five minutes of movie time just by repeating the same lines ad nauseam.

Then there’s the whole repertory theater feel. The movie often seems to think its audience consists of children, and frankly, this movie would be an insult to the intelligence of children.

Sugar: 80%

The treacly, feel-good kind. You’re more likely to die from laughing than from choking on the sugar, though.

Plot Fiber: N/A

I’m not going to argue with the Bible. But I will say this: if Jesus Christ had looked like Victor Garber in this movie, Christianity would not have survived.

Yes, that is a heart on his forehead.

April 9, 2011

Attack of the Puppet People (1958)

If I had to describe this film in one sentence at gunpoint, I would say that it is the perverted great-uncle of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. But that comparison doesn’t adequately convey how disappointing this movie is. “Attack of the Puppet People” was clearly the name the studio cooked up in a desperate attempt to attract moviegoers. This movie does not contain puppet people. There is no attack. The snarling dog so prominently featured on the movie poster turns out to be totally lame. (It’s not even the same dog from the movie.) For that matter, there are no "doll dwarfs" or "crushing giant beasts," as per the byline from the poster. Or even big shiny knives.

Plot Summary

A dollmaker named Franz (John Hoyt) went nuts after his wife left him. (Don’t they all.) Since then, Franz uses a ray gun to shrink his secretaries, mailmen, salesmen, etc. into living dolls—think Barbie and Ken-sized creatures. 

When he’s not busy watching the “dolls” dance or holding creepy conversations with a little girl, Franz keeps the dolls in a state of suspended animation inside glass containers. (You kind of have to wonder what else he’s made the dolls do.) 

"Now let's spice things up a little..."

Two of the dolls, Sally (June Kenny) and Bob (John Agar), decide to break free from the maniac’s grip. Will their ant buddy save them from the giant evil scorpion? (Oh, sorry, got mixed up with Honey, I Shrunk the Kids for a second.)

Nutrition Facts

Vitamin B-Acting: 30%

The acting is pretty mediocre overall, with no particularly atrocious performances. (Except for the little girl, who was a classic obnoxious child actor.) But John Hoyt did a fair job of portraying a psychotic old man who is just one step away from full-blown serial killing. Or child molestation, in the little girl’s case.

Vitamin B-SFX: 80%

The movie came out in 1958, and I strongly suspect the effects looked dated and cheap even back then. The “giant” fire hydrant and scenery that appear when the “dolls” wander NYC’s streets are very fake. One can see where the photographic backdrops of NYC streets meets the studio floor. 

Featuring the floor of Studio 10!

The “dog attack” scene basically consists of Sally and Bob superimposed on footage of a snarling, barking dog. A giant box stands between them and the dog—the dog doesn’t even get really close to them. The Rottweiler (or Doberman?) on the movie poster was much more convincing, and it’s just a freakin’ drawing. 
They don't exactly seem terrified, do they?

The moviemakers avoided showing the actual shrinking procedure—they just give us shots of the ray gun, interspersed with droning sounds and bright lights. This ray gun looks a lot like the one in Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, and a few of the “scientific” principles touted in both movies are similar. I can’t find any evidence that Honey paid homage to Puppet People in this respect, though (or else just “borrowed” the gun design).

Vitamin Fun: 60%

Despite the uncomfortable pedophilic moments, the hokiness of the movie makes for good heckle fuel.

Sugar: 10%

All of that 10% comes from the cloying performance of the little girl.

On a different note entirely, this movie never made me wish that I hadn’t popped off my Barbies’ heads when I was a little girl.

Plot Fiber: 5%

Imagine if the climactic scene between Buffalo Bill and Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs had gone like so:

Clarice: “FBI. Your murderin’ days are over!”
Bill: “Damn! Hey, can I at least keep the girl who’s in my pit o’ death right now?”  
Clarice: “No.”
Bill: “Oh, damn!”
Bill lets Clarice lead the senator’s daughter outside to safety. Then he feeds Precious some Bacon Bits. 

"Then Daddy's widdle baby can have a bubble bath!"

Anticlimactic, right?

The “climax” of Puppet People feels exactly the same way. Franz returns to his apartment after losing the “dolls.” Sally, now back to full human size, confronts him. Franz begs her not to leave him. She tells him that she’s going to the police, and walks out. And Franz LETS HER GO. No fight, not even any yelling. That’s IT. The film ends with Franz just staring at the door after Sally leaves. What a total gyp.