The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

The Day the Earth Stood Still 1951 theatrical.jpg

Aka Farewell to the Master and Journey to the World. Must I take drastic action in order to get a hearing? When humanoid alien Klaatu (Michael Rennie) arrives on a flying saucer in Washington DC the military takes action and the world takes notice. He’s accompanied by an eight-foot robot called Gort. When Klaatu speaks about world peace a nervous soldier opens fire and he disappears from Walter Reed Hospital where he cures himself. Meanwhile Gort is in front of the spaceship, unmoving. Klaatu hides in plain sight in a boarding house (wearing a suit from a dry cleaner’s bearing the tag ‘Mr Carpenter’) where he is befriended by Bobby (the great child actor Billy Gray) whose widowed mother Helen (Patricia Neal) is a secretary engaged to Tom Stephens (Hugh Marlowe). Bobby goes to Arlington National Cemetery with Klaatu and the alien expresses a desire to meet someone of the calibre of Lincoln. Bobby suggests Professor Barnhardt (Sam Jaffe) but when Klaatu visits he’s out so he writes a solution to a mathematical problem left unfinished on the blackboard with instructions on how to be reached. Klaatu returns with government escort and the men discuss the dangerous nature of atomic power:  Klaatu warns that Earth will be eliminated. Bobby follows him and sees him enter the spaceship. He reports the incident to Helen and Tom and Klaatu visits Helen at work and they enter an elevator that stops – he stops all electricity worldwide for a half hour, demonstrating the incapacity of governments to deal with true power… it all comes to a head when he returns with Helen to Professor Barnhardt and the trigger-happy military shoot him dead after being forewarned by Tom. Until … Klaatu stages a resurrection. This Christ analogy was smothered in censor-friendly form, its pacifist message a radical intervention into Cold War paranoia with superb production design (Frank Lloyd Wright contributed to the UFO!) and a suitably strange soundtrack by Bernard Herrmann. Tightly written by Edmund H. North from a story by Harry Bates and superbly directed documentary-style by Robert Wise, this has many great scenes with some of the best in the boarding house between Rennie and Gray. There’s a reason this is a classic and it’s very resonant today. Remember – Klaatu barada nikito!

Advertisements

Terminator 2: Judgment Day 3D

Terminator 2 3D

You just can’t go around the streets killing people. Well, you can actually. James Cameron has revisited one of the key films of the 90s and possibly the greatest action film ever made. It was re-released for one night only – 29 August –  the date the T-1000 was released to an unsuspecting world. In this time-defying work Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) is whiling away the months in a state mental health facility while her kid John (Edward Furlong) is in foster care practising those sneaky skillsets that his mom has taught him because in the future he’s the leader of the humans in a machine-led dystopia. While T-1000 (Robert Patrick) has been sent back to kill John, The Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) has been sent to protect him in one of the greatest face-offs (literally) you will ever see. Once the computer boffin (Joe Morton) has been engaged rather forcibly to help destroy his creations (in a philosophical 360 these will destroy too) there is nothing for it but fight to the death. I didn’t like the 3D and it actually added nothing but migraine in this 4K edition. This is sensational from concept to execution. And you don’t need me to repeat the lines or the warmth between Der Ahnuld and Furlong or the genius of casting Hamilton who is ripped to the max in the greatest action role outside of Sigourney in Aliens. Robert Patrick gives me nightmares. This is future shock like no other. No need to tamper with brilliance so the visual jolts bothered me greatly:  a weird choice given that this is a warning about technology, a fever dream that has particular resonance today.  Written by Cameron and William Wisher Jr. This is intense.

Alien: Covenant (2017)

Alien Covenant theatrical.jpg

Updates, eh? Sometimes they work, sometimes they get you in the … Well between computer glitches and Shelley, the Prometheus behemoth is regenerating with this Alien retread and despite my misgivings including the dislikeable casting, I didn’t even look at my watch until ten minutes before the end. Some kind of record. Particularly given the charisma gap here. The Covenant is en route to an intergalactic colony with a coupla thousand peeps and foetuses in pods but a random electrical event causes the death of the Captain (James Franco, gone in sixty seconds) and he’s replaced by deputy Billy ‘Skeletor’ Crudup a religious zealot who sees another planet and decides to stop there instead. Bad move. Because this ain’t paradise and there is not just the pathogen ‘accidentally’ released by Prometheus to contend with, but David 8 (Michael Fassbender) the lone survivor of that ship. And his ‘brother’ Walter (Fassbender) a staple of the Covenant crew meets one of his own kind – family! – for the first time. We’re into mad scientist territory and moreso. It’s only a matter of time before the team including second in command Daniels (beady eyed Katherine Waterston, Franco’s widow) are in all kinds of danger. This can happen when you literally have to recharge your batteries:  so much for technology. This is so fast and furious you never stop to think about the fact that Danny McBride is the guy who’s left to rescue them. Wow. This is more than a human origins/Adam and Eve story:  it’s a proper riposte to the gyno-politics of the series, especially the last one when Dr Elizabeth Shaw (the great Noomi Rapace) carried out her own abortion/Caesarian – and you should see what’s left of her. This is what happens when men decide they want to take charge of reproduction, with obvious debts to more than one Shelley. Written by John Logan and Dante Harper from a story by Jack Paglen and Michael Green. I have one major issue with this. Please stop shooting all sci fis and superheroes on grayscale. I can deal with all the colour spectrum. Really. And I’m not the only one. Put on some lights, use the rainbow. This has been going on for years and I’m sick of it. I will need a coalminer’s lamp next time I go to the movies if this continues. And next time an insect flies into one of your orifices, be very scared indeed … Outer space, innerspace, vive la difference! Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!

The Stepford Wives (1975)

The Stepford Wives poster.jpg

This starts smartly, although you don’t realise it until the film is over. Hip photographer Joanna (Katharine Ross) is leaving her NYC apartment because her hubby Peter Masterson insists Connecticut is a better place to raise their family. She looks across the street from the station wagon and spots a guy lugging a mannequin over a zebra crossing. She takes a snap. Talk about semaphore!  She is befriended by cooler-than-thou neighbour the fabulous Bobbie (Paula Prentiss) and then starts figuring out that all the other passive women who enjoy screaming orgasms with their unprepossessing husbands are like clones of each other and there’s something sinister going on at the Men’s Club, which her husband has eagerly joined. Then Bobbie changes. Completely … Ira Levin’s stunning satire of modern marriage was inspired by his divorce, his resultant anger at the women’s movement and a visit to Disney’s Hall of Presidents, a model for fembots everywhere. William Goldman did the screenplay but wouldn’t do another draft for director Bryan Forbes, who had employed his own wife, the lovely Nanette Newman, in a supporting role. Supposedly this had caused a costuming change across the female ensemble. So writer/director/novelist/actor Forbes took a pass himself and this movie simply improves upon each viewing. Look at the clever cinematography:  when that family car enters Stepford we view it from – a graveyard! Brilliantly photographed by Owen Roizman, this is the look of US burbs forever. Great, scary fun and the women are fantastic! And they’re everywhere!

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

rogue_one_a_star_wars_story_poster

As a Gen Xr I’m a confirmed Star Wars kid. My favourite guy in the world (okay, the galaxy) is Chewbacca (strong, mostly silent) and all I want for Christmas is a Millennium Falcon. So in theory this should be my cup of tea. Series-wise it fits into the narrative gap between Revenge of the Sith and Episode IV: A New Hope but it’s a standalone outing in a new Anthology. The omens were not good, starting with a terrible, unlikeable cast – Diego Luna, Forest Whitaker, the sibilant-averse spittle-spewers Mads Mikkelsen and Ben Mendelsohn, and the orthodontically-challenged Felicity Jones; plus a vaguely Asian rebel ensemble created by a PC/marketing combo of a diversity focus group and the Chinese market. The director Gareth (Godzilla) Edwards allegedly lost the plot early on and writer/director Tony Gilroy came in (cost:  $5 milllion US) to do a massive reshoot. He rewrote Chris Weitz’ screenplay which was based on a story by John Knoll and Gary Whitta, from George Lucas’ characters. These were just observations and rumours. That’s the business of movies. Having seen it? It looks horrible. It starts with a scenario not unfamiliar from the original trilogy with a girl, Jyn Erso (Jones) joining the rebellion against Orson Krennic (Mendelsohn) who killed her mother and kidnapped her father, engineer Galen (Mikkelsen). He winds up working as head bod on the Death Star against his will and he knows how to take it down. Darth Vader makes a return. There is the frankly questionable and weird decision to bring back the great and very dead (22 years now and counting) Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin. It made me queasy. The film only gets into gear in the second hour when the rebels go after the Death Star plans against the Alliance and climaxes with what look like hyperreal WW2 antics on a beach archipelago not unlike the Palm resort in Dubai.  It all ends up in a pretty mushroom cloud which makes the Death Star very much the nuclear offender and brings us up to 1945 in real world atomic analogies. It only became my kind of Star Wars at the very, very end when John Williams’ score made a most welcome return, along with a very familiar face which is where we all came in, in 1977 or thereabouts …  There’s precisely one good line of dialogue in the entire 134 minutes and this is it:  There’s a problem on the horizon. There is no horizon. Turns out it’s not my cup of tea at all, it’s quite ghastly and I don’t care if I never see it again in a galaxy far far away or even this one. I want Chewie. Boo! Hiss!

Westworld (1973)

Westworld poster.jpg

Boy, have we got a vacation for you! Michael Crichton hadn’t wanted to make a science fiction film as his feature directing debut. The successful doctor and writer (now that’s a real multi-hyphenate) had however visited Disneyland and been fascinated by the robotised Pirates of the Caribbean ride and saw the potential for a story.  (Not the one that made Johnny Depp rich as Croesus. Ira Levin similarly had a  lightbulb moment following a visit to the Hall of Presidents and the result was The Stepford Wives.) This corresponded with Crichton’s interest in machine and human interaction, technology, systems failure, and things going awry, so he came up with the concept of a theme park for adults where they could safely live out their fantasies for a few days and a thousand bucks. There are three worlds at Delos:  Roman, Mediaeval and Westworld, which is where Richard Benjamin and James Brolin hole up to de-stress – it’s Benjamin’s first time, Brolin’s second. The plan is to shoot some harmless rounds,enjoy a drink at the saloon and the attentions of some robotised whores. They don’t figure on a a robot rebellion or getting involved in the revenge fantasy of The Gunslinger, an android programmed to instigate gunfights. He’s played by Yul Brynner, equipped with pixellated point of view which was a first for cinema and necessitated an expensive animation process. The rebellion appears to be infectious and spreads through the three worlds and those guns that are supposed to recognise body heat start killing humans as the technicians start to die, locked into the control lab … A lot of the fun is seeing Brynner reprising his garb from The Magnificent Seven and imbuing his droid with that inimitable charisma, this time in villain mode. Not so much fun in real life, by some accounts. When he was playing in The King and I at London’s Palladium, one of his fans waited for him by the stage door at the conclusion of every evening’s performance in the hopes of getting his autograph.  He refused. Finally, she bought a bunch of flowers which he brushed off. So she hit him over the head with them. The Palladium’s manager, John Avery, who died recently, famously said, “It was the only time I saw the fan hit the shit.” A TV series Beyond Westworld was made in 1980 and lasted just five episodes;  we are however about to see a new TV interpretation, co-created by Jonathan Nolan (yes, that one), exec’d by JJ Abrams and starting in October. Can’t wait!

The Stepford Wives (1975)

The Stepford Wives movie poster.jpg

The great novelist Ira (Rosemary’s Baby) Levin wrote this in 1971/72 when he was reeling from the aftermath of divorce, reading Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock and he visited the Hall of Presidents at Disneyland whose animated figures led to Stepford’s sex toy fembots – which are of course the desire of the contemporary paranoid yet upwardly mobile male. Published at the height of the women’s movement, it was perfectly satirical stuff. Screenwriter William Goldman refused to do more than a first draft so director Bryan Forbes had to do the heavy lifting in his wake and changed the ending in a major alteration which however works on its own terms. It’s sci fi, horror, political thriller and black comedy – something Frank Oz didn’t cotton to in the weirdly unfunny remake in 2004. Katharine Ross is the gorgeous wife who befriends the equally gorgeous Paula Prentiss in the burbs where the Men’s Association rules the mysterious roost. (Diane Keaton turned down the lead on the advice of her analyst, then Tuesday Weld cancelled – we don’t mind!). And that’s Mrs Forbes, the terrific Nanette Newman, as the spookily perfect wife next door. It looks wonderful, mainly courtesy of Owen (French Connection, Exorcist, etc etc!) Roizman, the muzak by Michael Small is apposite and it really is unfortunately timely (as everyone who agrees with Hadley Freeman’s last Guardian op-ed will know.) Beware domesticity, ladies. You will never ever be the same. Times never change, actually. But your life does!