Imagine an episode of Game of Thrones as performed by the cast of Peter Weiss’ Marat/Sade minus the fantasy elements and with an even more staggering attention to medieval detail and you’ll maybe grasp a small potion of the late Aleksei German’s outstanding, brutal (yet beautiful) Hard to be a a God. This 2013 film (the director’s last) isn’t for the easily disturbed but if you’re willing to sit through the almost three hour running time, you’ll likely find yourself glued to the screen from beginning to end.
While it may not look like a sci-fi film, right from the start you’ll see subtitles that note the story takes place on an earth-like planet going through its medieval phase about 800 years after ours. A group of scientists have been send there to observe the planet and gently nudge it forward without using technology or politics as it goes through what should be a renaissance phase. Unfortunately, things kind of get a bit out if hand when intellectuals of all types become targets for murder by a tyrant’s roaming militia intent on keeping the people uneducated and (mostly) harmless. Actually, about 28 minutes in, you get a reminder that you’re on another world thanks to a quick shot of something mechanical making itself known. But even then, the illusion of an incessantly nasty age isn’t at all broken.
(Thanks, Forever Horror!)
So, I think it was around spring 1997 and I’m sitting in a movie theater when “surprise!”, that teaser trailer above for Alien Resurrection pops up like a chestburster squeezed into a jack-in-the box. I recall some people in the theater being either not too thrilled or just plain shocked that there was another film on the way. I also recall my eyeballs didn’t pop out like they did when I saw the ALIEN³ teaser trailer six years previously, but I think my new-ish eyeglasses kept them from ending up on the floor. Actually, I was more amused than shocked by what I saw (so there!).
I saw the first ALIEN back in 1979 at age 15 (in dangerous Times Square, baby!), ALIENS was a day one view when it premiered in 1986 (there’s a funny story about screening that I’ll tell one day). The third film was, I thought, going to be the last one when it landed in 1992 and yes, I bade the franchise a fond farewell thinking it had run its course. Welly-well-well, imagine my surprise when 20th Century Fox trundled out the ALIEN name for one more installment that turned out to be less scary than the others and actually somewhat more amusing while unsettling on a few fronts in terms of the visual vibe it delivered. How the heck does that work and how the heck did I find myself bopping into a theater in November 1997 with a wry grin not expecting anything other than to be somewhat giddy partly because I knew some in the audience wouldn’t appreciate this Resurrection at all?
I think it was sometime in mid-to late 1991 when I first saw the teaser trailer to ALIEN³ and had my eyeballs pop right out of my head followed by my jaw hitting the floor way too hard in the theater I saw it in. Ladies and gentlemen, do you know how hard it is to clean sticky goo off your eyeballs after they’ve rolled underneath a movie theater seat? Trust me, it ain’t easy. That and yuck-o, stale popcorn and half an old hot dog have the tendency to rather easily get into a fallen jaw if you let it sit down there for more than a minute flapping away in shock mode. Hey, I was busy trying to find my darn eyeballs, thank you much.
Needless to say, I was kind of shocked by this news that we’d get a third film in the franchise and it was coming in under a year. I wasn’t sure I liked the “On Earth, Everyone Can Hear You Scream” tagline at all and yes indeed, I thought bringing that cranky xenomorph to Earth was a bad (not a bad-ass) idea for a few key reasons. Although at that point, I was kind of screaming myself.
It seems 20th Century Fox may have agreed (or at least was pulling a fast one on us because they didn’t really have an idea about the film they were planning to make), as a few months later, this was the follow up trailer:
(Thanks, Media Graveyard!)
After gathering up my eyeballs and jaw again and handing a few people in the theater their eyeballs that rolled under and around my seat (which was quite interesting as I had to wait until the guy who picked up one of my eyeballs by mistake returned it or today I’d be the Jane Seymour version of myself or something like that), I took time to take in the trailer. Bald Ripley. Bald bad men, some bald men screaming and running, NO weapons at all and a reused music cue from the previous film had me both puzzled and really curious as to how the helllllll Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley character was going to get out of this new mess. That said, the art direction and sets looked solid and that finale bit with the Alien getting too close to Ripley had me intrigued as hell, as did my wondering who the heck was this David Fincher guy directing the film.
There were other trailers and eventually TV spots that arrived before and after the film was released, but I was sold before that point to the point that even if I didn’t like the final product, I had the feeling it would be really interesting and maybe even impressive. Let’s just say I kind of got my money’s worth more on the visual side of things and a temporary gumball substitute for an eye after I picked up the first round object that I could touch after they popped out again.
The best film directors are master manipulators who can magically transform an entire theater audience into a group of happy to sappy sapient lemmings or wide-eyed marionettes easily controlled from start to end credits. Their best films have the masses cheering the heroes, hissing at the bad ones, empathizing with the downtrodden and generally feeling whatever emotion a scene calls for. Yes, there are exceptions to this non-rule (too-likeable villains, swapping out all attempts at sympathy for more explosions and eyeball rolling plot twists you can see coming 20 minutes before they occur). But when you get right down to it, you know your cinematic needs are being taken care of when certain directors are at the helm.
Or, as an old friend once said:
In other words, this is a Spielberg film, folks.
While the three films in Ivan Tors Productions’ “Office of Scientific Investigation” (OSI) trilogy haven’t gotten the name recognition or massive fan bases of certain other more well-known franchises, each stands out as a fine example of Tors’ commitment to bringing a more scientific and human touch to the genre. While not going for camp or cheap thrills, the films make for a look into Tors’ heavy interest in pure science fiction with independent films he got made on his own terms.
Beginning with 1953’s The Magnetic Monster, 1954’s Riders to the Stars, and GOG, also released in 1954, the three films trade in the era’s familiar “B” movie antics for drier, more “realistic” hard science mixed with speculative elements. While some action scenes take place in all three films, outside these sequences things are done with a more sedate, almost documentary-like presentation of their assorted plots.
Additionally, all three films can be watched and enjoyed fully in any order, as they tell stories that are connected by a few threads, but don’t contain the same characters. Chief among these threads is men (and women) of science trying to make advances in the field for the future with dramatic (and sometimes unfortunate) results. Or: you can’t make a science-flavored omelette without breaking a few scientist-shaped eggs…
Is Matt Cimber‘s 1983 sword and not an ounce of sorcery flick Hundra a “great” movie? Well, that depends on one’s perspective on these sorts of fantasy movies. If you go in with “epic” level expectations from what’s basically a very straightforward and competent “B” movie with a nice mix of action and humor, that answer might be “nope.”
On the other hand, it’s not bad at all if you bust out the popcorn and fizzy adult beverages and don’ forget to grab a few like-minded friends who enjoy stuff like Xena: Warrior Princess or other fun shows or films with strong female leads. In that case, you’re in for a pretty solid time in front of the TV, warts and all.
(Thanks, Cinema Epoch!)
Laurene Landon‘s striking looks and gung-ho athletic ability (she did her own stunts) outstrips her less than dynamic acting talents here. But her raw performance really works well for the film’s purposes because she’s playing a wild female warrior type in search of a man to impregnate her so she can restart her slain nomadic tribe’s lineage.
“Say whaaaaaat?” Continue reading
Stuff is still slightly bumpy here on a few key levels (I’m having the worst luck with tech in this crazy year of stuff breaking or vanishing), but from the heavens comes some inspiration. THANKS, Debs!. I’ll be
doing covering Hundra, Matt Cimber’s underrated 1983 fantasy flick that features an exuberant performance from Laurene Landon in the title role. Keep an eye peeled… or I’ll do it for you, grrr!.
Back in a bit.
Every movie fan (this writer included) has a case of “Hollywood Blinders” they slap on for certain films they love because without them, thinking of anything abnormal taking place behind the scenes ruins much or all of a particular movie’s strengths. This little review just so happens to be about one of those films some outright adore while others don’t take to it all that well.
While its comic book colors and highly exuberant performances make Vincente Minnelli’s 1948 musical The Pirate a mostly to extremely fun to watch slice of Hollywood entertainment, it’s the behind the scenes stuff that makes the film somewhat problematic as a classic one can fully enjoy unless you ignore certain elements. For this particular film, those Hollywood Blinders take the form of an eye patch (or bandanna or even a big felt pirate hat if you like watching your colorful, imperfect musicals with two working eyeballs).
The pairing of Gene Kelly and Judy Garland should have been a wonderful one and in fact is when the film hits most of its high marks. But thanks to the studio system’s lousy treatment of her from the beginning of her career, Garland’s star was far from shining bright during the troubled production. The results are amusing and impressive at times, but it’s also a somewhat flawed film with a too quick finale that pops in as if the cameras were running out of film and something needed to get shot or someone had to walk the plank.
Garland’s assorted troubles (including a nervous breakdown that kept her off set for an extended period) thankfully don’t show up in the finished product. But it’s clear that the wide-eyed gal next door who played Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz less than ten years previously was a wider-eyed and far more troubled soul on a downward spiral to a much shorter life than she deserved. Toss in a fantastic Gene Kelly dance sequence with The Nicholas Brothers that seemingly got them pushed out of the movies (and Hollywood) for a few years too long and you end up with a film best seen with those Hollywood Blinders on. Nice and tight, now. So, buckle your swash and slap on that eye patch, folks. There’s a storm a-brewin’ on the shooting stage and you’re getting shanghaied and strapped into your seats for a wild ride… Continue reading
Based on the 1959 crime novel King’s Ransom: An 87th Precinct Mystery by Ed McBain (Evan Hunter), Akira Kurosawa’s 1963 film Tengoku to jigoku (Heaven and Hell or High and Low to western audiences) is one of those great police procedural films that’s a must for crime drama fans. With perfect casting, a gripping story of a kidnapping gone wrong thanks to a case of mistaken identity and the rush to find the kidnapper before things go further south, Kurosawa’s film is a multi-layered masterpiece worth seeing multiple times.
When “wealthy” businessman Kingo Gondo (Toshiro Mifune) and the company he works for decide to snap up the National Shoe Company, there’s a divide between executives on how to close the deal. Gondo prefers the company stick to making well-made and reliable stompers for the masses but other big shots want shoes for all that are cheaply made and thus, more profitable because they’ll need to be replaced more often. With all the back and forth debating going on, Gondo has a master plan he’s hiding from his peers. He’s mortgaged everything he owns and plans to pull off a leverage buyout of National Shoes that would put him in charge for good and keep National doing what they do best.
Little does he know he’s being watched by a few pairs of far more evil eyes looking up at his “castle” from the lower depths… Continue reading