When Worlds Collide (1951)

When Worlds Collide theatrical

I’m a sucker for a 50s sci-fi and this is a beauty – gorgeous to look at and filled with everything you expect from the era:  great design (although crucial mattes had to be replaced by less expensive sketches), daft romance, a madman in a wheelchair, a sense of jeopardy – extinction! – and a winning optimism about life outside Earth. Producer George Pal could be considered an auteur in this area and the source material is a couple of novels from the 1930s by Philip Wylie and Edwin Balmer adapted by Sydney Boehm. Pilot David Randall (Richard Derr) has top secret photographs which he brings from South African astronomer Dr Emery Bronson (Hayden Rorke) to American scientist Dr Cole Hendron (Larry Keating) confirming that the planet is in the path of rogue star Bellus. The world is going to end in 8 months and Hendron goes to the United Nations to let everyone know and pleads for space arks to transport a limited number of humans to the passing planet Zyra which orbits Bellus, realising it is humanity’s only hope. He’s not believed and has to get money from wealthy and disabled industrialist Sydney Stanton (John Hoyt) to build the vehicles but Stanton wants to choose the people instead of just being allocated a seat. Meanwhile Joyce Hendron (Barbara Rush – wahey!) falls for Randall, forgetting about her boyfriend.  Everyone is building rocketships, people are being evacuated and the world is about to end:   who will survive the impact of Zyra as it first approaches Earth and causes volcanoes and crashing buildings?  And who will make it onto the arks in this lottery for survival? Soon as anything, there’s a riot going on. Great fun. Directed by Rudolph Mate.

Advertisements

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!

Starman (1984)

Starman poster.jpg

You’re not from round here, are you? I hate to think how long it’s been since I first saw this. C’est la vie, une longue fleuve tranquille! Two of the most charming actors imaginable, Karen Allen and Jeff Bridges, run the gauntlet of officialdom led by the kindly Charles Martin Smith and bad cop Richard Jaeckel when he crashlands on Earth (Wisconsin, to be precise) and mutates into her late husband.  He has three days to meet up with his spaceship in Arizona or stay grounded forever …  Director John Carpenter lends his considerable heft to the mise en scene of one of the gentlest alien films while the transformation scenes are created by the great Rick Baker, Stan Winston and Dick Smith.  It’s blessed by beautifully considered performances in the best meet cute ever. The scenes in Vegas are great fun. Written by Bruce A. Evans and Raynold Gideon with an uncredited rewrite by Dean Riesner, the soundtrack is composed by the estimable Jack Nitzche. Lovely!

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!

Contact (1997)

contact-movie-poster

In between paying the bills, dealing with people, learning stuff, surviving illness, being distracted and getting through the day, everyone is trying to figure out what we are, why we are here and all that good stuff. There are many of us who would leap at the chance of getting off the Earth and into the galaxy for a bit. No?! Ellie Arroway (Jodie Foster) has been trying to make contact with people since she was a kid and her father (David Morse – what an apposite name) supplied her first with radios then telescopes and now that she’s an orphaned adult she’s a hugely important research scientist with SETI battling for funding until she can finally make contact with extra-terrestrial life:  people on Earth are just not as fascinating, when you get down to it. And funding’s a bitch as far as getting the Government to back you. The publicity attaching to her private project when static is finally revealed to be the first ever TV pictures being beamed back to Earth (Hitler at the 1936 Olympics) – along with plans to build a bloody huge machine for goodness knows what purpose – elicits scepticism, terror and hostility, especially from the religious nuts. She argues with theologian Palmer Joss (Matthew McConaughey) about the differences between facts and articles of faith and the film is really a disquisition on the politics of belief. She misses out on the first supposed opportunity to travel to meet the alien life forms, in favour of her game-playing boss David Drumlin (Tom Skerritt); while the original project is actually being backed by a reclusive billionaire SR Hadden (John Hurt) who has his own very personal reasons. Science versus religion is the heart of this superior production from Carl Sagan’s novel which he based on a story devised with his wife Ann Druyan, originally a treatment for a film at Warners. It was adapted by James V. Hart and Michael Goldenberg and directed by Robert Zemeckis. Foster is perfectly cast in this story of grim determination. If you’ve been to Cape Canaveral you’ll wonder at the possibilities, as much as you laugh at the rockets and paraphernalia that seem to be made from egg boxes and tinfoil. But all it takes is a leap of faith … Marvellous, in every sense.

Star Trek: Happy 50th Birthday

The American Cinematheque, Geek Magazine & Paramount Home Video Present

STAR TREK at 50

Special Guests, Bonus Featurettes, Giveaways, New Documentary ‘FOR THE LOVE OF SPOCK,’ Booksignings, Photo Opportunity and more surprises!

 

 

September 9 – 16, 2016
at the Egyptian Theatre

 

Space … the final frontier” opened up to television viewers on September 8, 1966 with the NBC-TV premiere of “Star Trek.” Creator Gene Roddenberry had envisioned the sci-fi series as the interstellar answer to the popular Western “Wagon Train” but couldn’t have possibly imagined how long the “five-year mission” of the U.S.S. Enterprise would last – cancelled after three seasons (and an unprecedented fan letter campaign to keep it on the air), the program spawned animated and live action TV spinoffs and an ongoing series of big screen adventures.

 

In 1979, Robert Wise’s STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE kicked off a mania for TV-to-movie adaptations that has thrived ever since and spawned multiple sequels. To celebrate a half-century of “Star Trek,” we present the new documentary on star Leonard Nimoy, FOR THE LOVE OF SPOCK, and five of the first features following Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy, Scotty, Uhura, Sulu and Chekov across the galaxy. These films embody the ideals of sci-fi’s first franchise that have endured for 50 years; may they continue to live long and prosper for many more.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind Special Edition (1977/1980)

Close_Encounters_of_the_Third_Kind_(1977)_theatrical_poster.jpg

No film is made by one person. Paul Schrader, David Giler, Hal Barwood, John Hill, Jerry Belson and Matthew Robbins all contributed to the screenplay in one way or another but it had one originating sensibility and intelligence – that of Steven Spielberg. He twisted and turned their various interpretations of his story to something that was and remains ineluctably his:  sceptical but imaginative and wondrous. It starts in a desert where planes that disappeared in WW2 are discovered. Then a little boy Barry (Cary Guffey) runs after a spaceship in Muncie, Indiana where there’s a power outage and electric lineman Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) gets major sunburn from a flying saucer at a railroad stop. The witnesses to the ice cream-shaped vehicles zipping along the rural highway think they’re going crazy. Roy starts sculpting mashed potato at table, leading his children to cry and his wife (Teri Garr) to leave. He then takes garden soil into the living room and starts to build. Meanwhile, Barry’s mom (Melinda Dillon) sketches a mountain, repeatedly… The Devil’s Tower is where the alien encounter is planned by French scientist Lacombe (director Francois Truffaut) along with the US Army and other government agencies.The film was released before Spielberg believed  it was finished – Columbia was under pressure for a hit and they got it.The additions (some new scenes on top of deleted scenes) entirely expand the premise and the later Director’s Cut still retains the arc but is somewhat darker. Even if you believe (as I do) that most of the essential films were made between 1955 and 1965, this is monumental filmmaking. Once seen, never forgotten.

8 1/2 (1963)

8Mezzo

A great film, like fine wine, simply gets better with age. And the viewer’s increasing age helps too.  Fellini’s masterpiece – well, one of them – is a magnificent, epic carnival of creativity, narrative, beauty, obsession, dithering, memory, fantasy, love, family, sex, religion, school, acting, obligation and film. He and Ennio Flaiano devised the story and the screenplay was assisted by Tullio Pinelli and Brunello Rondi (the team behind il maestro’s La Dolce Vita). I hadn’t expected to watch it today, but there it was and I was gripped, even moreso than before. Perhaps its impact and universality derive from the need to make sense of things, to construct meaning, to sort things out rationally so that a narrative can be constructed and things have a natural flow – which of course life rarely does.  And filmmaker Guido is constantly disrupted by the people in his life and the film critic sent to haunt him. And there’s a ruddy spaceship and he’s supposed to make a sci-fi film. Guido’s past and his inner life surround him in a mythos of fabulism and fatalism. In the fifty-plus years since its release, it is very difficult to make the claim for any film, anywhere, that it is better than this.  All human life is here. The beautiful confusion indeed.