Friday, May 08, 2020

L.A. 3-D Movie Fest Online and Ape

The Center for Stereoscopic Photography, Art, Cinema, and Education is an exhibition space/collection in Los Angeles which I'll have to visit if I make it out that way any time soon, most recently noted for crowdfunding the restoration of El Coranzon y la Espada (on the 3-D Rarities II Disc I reviewed a few weeks back. They've got monthly screenings, although that's obviously off right now. So, for Sunday's show, they had planned to show a selection of recent productions, and chose to do it online. There were options to stream it in anaglyph (red/blue) or side-by-side format, with the TV or projector un-compression the pictures so that they could be alternated, projected through polarized lenses, or the like (at one point, this was a way to distribute 3-D films theatrically, using a special polarized lens to project the two images atop each other).

You lose a bit of image quality that way, but it's not so bad, although with some of the selections being rough themselves, the effect can pile up. It's neat, though, and it's good to see that there are folks who enjoy 3-D enough to make new material. Is it better than the feature I popped in later, Ape? Well, some are, though I don't know if that's clearly a high bar (although upon hitting IMDB, I'm not sure what the knowledge that Joanna Kerns had a B-movie babe phase of her career before playing the wife of "Jason Seaver" on Growing Pains means to me).

The next one is set for the 21st of June, though I don't know whether that will wind up another livestream yet. One thing I found myself anticipating was the fact that it was a livestream - starting at 2pm PDT/5pm EDT, running for an hour, and then being more or less immediately set to private. With no sports, and no movies in theaters with ticketed times, everything can sort of be put off or piled up to pick up when one chooses, but this was a screening. Sure, it's not the only thing like that right now, but, honestly, it added more structure than the daily "stand-up" calls at work.

Yes, I've gotten to the point of missing almost being late for something. It's a weird time.

Fun discovery made while looking for Amazon links to break up the wall of text and maybe, someday, have someone click: The "best short soundtracks" album, which is a cool thing to have exist, although I'm not sure who would be buying a whole album as opposed to just the individual ones which impressed them.

"The Whole Picture"

* * * (out of four)
Seen 3 May 2020 in Jay's Living Room (L.A. 3-D Movie Fest Online, SBS 3D YouTube via Roku)

This one looks too new to have an entry on IMDB (or, heck, any sort of internet footprint), but it's a nifty little thing that changes aspect ratios and color and depth in its three minutes before it goes a different route. Looking at IMDB, it feels like it might be a sort of calling card for director Zsolt Magyar, showing what he can do as a cinematographer and director when much of his career has been working in sound.

"Ghosts of the Pastures"

N/A (out of four)
Seen 3 May 2020 in Jay's Living Room (L.A. 3-D Movie Fest Online, SBS 3D YouTube via Roku)

Another one whose internet footprint is awfully small, and three days later, I can't remember a thing about it.


N/A (out of four)
Seen 3 May 2020 in Jay's Living Room (L.A. 3-D Movie Fest Online, SBS 3D YouTube via Roku)

Uh… OK? A minute of home-movie footage which is nice for the folks involved and interesting as a time capsule later but which makes me feel like I'm intruding a bit when watching it.

"Zerynthia Expedition 2"

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 3 May 2020 in Jay's Living Room (L.A. 3-D Movie Fest Online, SBS 3D YouTube via Roku)

Kind of a 3-D screen saver in a lot of ways, fun as a tech demo or as the rough draft for a bit of world-building in a sci-fi movie. Nine minutes is kind of a lot, though, especially when you're waiting to get to the next.

"Feline Paradox"

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 3 May 2020 in Jay's Living Room (L.A. 3-D Movie Fest Online, SBS 3D YouTube via Roku)

One of only a couple things in this program that feels like a real movie, but also one that shows what a toll doing good 3D can take on your production - would there have been more resources available for animation if filmmaker Benjamin Reicher wasn't rendering every frame twice? It looks a bit rough throughout, although part of it is that the models for the humanoid cat-people just don't ever feel quite right compared to the humans and the actual cat.

It's kind of fun, though - Reicher has a lot of fun with time travel paradoxes and looping around to the point where it gets a bit out of hand, especially with all the different versions of the main character that keep popping up. It stretches out a bit too long and doesn't necessarily land on the most clever possible ending. But it's goofy and inventive and willing to get weird on occasion, enough that I'll probably grin if I come across something else of Reicher's later and follow the links back here.

"LIttle Planet"

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 3 May 2020 in Jay's Living Room (L.A. 3-D Movie Fest Online, SBS 3D YouTube via Roku)

Another fun little thing that plays like filmmaker Takashi Sekitani is kind of fooling around with some tech and seeing what he can get out of it. Here, that seems to be walking around with a 360-degree VR camera overhead and flattening it out in such a way as to make it look like he's on a fisheye-lens planet.

No particular story, and I don't know Tokyo enough to really get a sense of the different perspective this offers, although I kind of like the effect of how people getting closer to the person at the center become stretched out and more important as the number of pixels increases. It feels like a cool visualization of something, even if the filmmakers have only wound up at the "looks cool" stage.


* * (out of four)
Seen 3 May 2020 in Jay's Living Room (off the shelf, 3D Blu-ray)

You think weird things watching a random B-movie like Ape, like how many of the giant-ape movies to come after it used CGI models based on real apes while the ones before used guys in suits or stop-motion and thus had human gaits, and this one often has its ape hunched over but not actually able to get its knuckles to the ground, like they kind of wanted to do better but, oh well, whatever. It's lazy and cheap, but sometimes just bizarre enough in how that pans out to kind of be fun.

It's flagrant in being a King Kong rip-off, although it basically starts with its 36-foot-tall ape chained up in the hold of a ship, being brought across the Pacific to be shown off at Disneyland. It wakes up early and angry, though, capsizing the ship and making its way to the coast of South Korea. Meanwhile, in Seoul, reporter Tom Rose (Rod Arrants) is surprising his actress girlfriend Marilyn Baker (Joanna Kerns) at the airport, having wangled the assignment to report on her first international role. It's not his first time here, which is fortunate, because it means he knows Captain Kim (Lee Nak-Hun) of the local police and can ride along as he and U.S. Army Colonel Davis (Alex Nicol) try and figure out what the heck you do in this situation.

Writer/director Paul Leder gets right to the movie's main draw first, as the nameless giant ape wrestles with a rubber shark and then stomps on some miniatures, and while it never looks close to real - and to make things worse, it's shot in 3D in such a way that one's depth perception immediately reveals the proper scale when viewed that way. This stuff is, nevertheless, still kind of a blast, the kind of kaiju destruction that the audience can enjoy just a bit more because it's fake enough to reassure one that nobody gets hurt even as the first glance makes it feel real. It's lazy and sloppy enough to be frustrating, but there's also a peculiar meta joy to it, where one snickers at the ape flailing at helicopters that just aren't there and thus feeling like it's a victory when one gets in range and he smashes the hell out of that toy.

The whole movie is that sort of mess, not just cheap but stupidly so, like when Tom is pointing things out to Marilyn without getting an B-roll, or the way none of the ape bits seem to be connected, or how nothing anybody does ever makes a lick of sense. It's so comfortable being a King Kong rip-off that it often doesn't need much reason to do something other than "they did it in that other movie", and the ape's fights with giant sharks and snakes make one wonder whether such super-sized mutations are common in the film's world or if the filmmakers just didn't think this through. The laziness is much more apparent with the miniature city demolished at the end, with all the signage in Chinese despite the film taking place in South Korea.

Luckily, there are enough people having fun with the thing that it doesn't become completely insulting, which is kind of impressive, because most of the time when people try to get clever despite messing up the basics just make them look worse. Leder at least makes a few amusing detours as he inserts himself as the director of Marilyn's film - I have no doubt that he has had to sincerely ask actors to be gentle while filming a rape scene - and the cast is in large part just good enough: Rod Arrants and Lee Nak-Hoon are are pleasant without being bland, Alex Nicol does a bit better than mailing it in, and Joanna Kerns (using maiiden name "Joanna DeVarona") does okay for the sort of B-movie most actresses will eventually try to ignore.

There are enough movies with giant apes wreaking havoc out there that this one is mostly of interest for 3D enthusiasts; it's just not good enough at anything else to really stand out. Ape occasionally gets cock-eyed enough to be entertaining, but not enough to be a major part of the kaiju canon.

Also on EFilmCritic

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