SF & Fantasy films


REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:

   

THE CREATION OF THE HUMANOIDS. Genie Productions, 1960/ Emerson Film Enterprises, 1962. Don Megowan, Erica Elliott, Frances McCann and Don Doolittle. Written by Jay Simms. Directed by Wesley E, Barry.

   A Truly Strange item, made in eye-searing color the same year as Dr. No, for peanuts and it looks it. It’s about the eventual replacement of human beings by Robots, but unlike most films of this genre, it depicts the robots sympathetically, the humans as boors, and the whole process as genetically inevitable, which evinces a feel for the SF genre surprising in a film so tawdry.

   Having said this, I have to add that it’s incredibly dull.

   It has that terrific title, neat sets, and even implies kinky sex between humans and robots, but it’s all presented in an astoundingly static fashion. You may find it hard to credit this next sentence, but I assure you I do not exaggerate here for dramatic effect. Nothing happens for the whole run of the film.

   I mean NOTHING. Aught. Naught. Bugger-all. Bupkis. Diddly. Goose Egg. Nihility. Nil. Scratch. Squat. Void. Zip. Nada. Zero. Non-existence. What Sartre was fond of calling “nothingness.” People stand around and talk, then say they’re going someplace else. The scene shifts there, and they stand around and talk some more. I say “talk”, but actually they Explicate, conveying all the background and plot development (as in a Harry Stephen Keeler novel) by means of endless conversations in stilted language between actors of very limited range.

   It’s quite possible, of course, that the filmmakers were doing this intentionally to convey the sense of a sterile society, in which the substitution of machines for men will be a mere formality, and if so, I must admit they certainly succeeded. Unfortunately, they forgot to make it Watchable. What they ended up with was a movie that merits some attention on an intellectual level, as a curiosity, but fails totally to convey any conviction at all.

   I admit that it stays in the memory, but so does an irritating commercial jingle. And commercials, unlike The Creation of the Humanoids, are mercifully brief.

   

   

SELECTED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:

   I have to admit I was somewhat hesitant to watch this movie. First of all, I am a fan of the original 1968 film with Charlton Heston and must have seen it close to half dozen times. Second, I thought I would be put off by the CGI.

   I couldn’t have been more wrong. Using motion capture in a magical manner, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a thrilling and enjoyable origin story. The international trailer is relatively short, but it does a good job in explaining what the movie is all about and what issues it explores. Scientists in search of a cure for Alzheimer’s employ an experimental medical treatment that has unforeseen consequences for man and ape alike. And we all know where this ends up.

   While the movie has a strong cast, the characters themselves unfortunately aren’t particularly well developed beyond what is necessary to service the plot. With the exception of the ape Caesar (Andy Serkis) that is. This is his movie from beginning to end. You might think the movie looks a tad overwrought. Let me assure you: unlike the disappointment that was Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes (2001), this reboot is well worth a look.

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:

   

  DR WHO AND THE DALEKS. Amicus, 1965. Peter Cushing, (Dr Who) Roy Castle, Jennie Linden, and Roberta Tovey. Screenplay by Terry Nation and Milton Subotsky, from the BBC Television Serial. Directed by Gordon Flemyng.

   I’ve kind of wanted to give this a look, ever since I saw the previews at the old Southern Theater back in the late 1960s, and I’m glad I got around to it at last.

   It’s Kid’s Stuff, with paper-thin characters, contrived plot, and labored pratfalls from Roy Castle, but I shall remember it fondly, long after better films lie lost in my fading memory, thanks to the gaudy photography of John Wilcox (whose credits include The Third Man and Outcast of the Islands) and the splendid sets, courtesy of Bill Constable, known for… well, not for much, really.

   But once the principals get into the City of the Daleks, this thing takes on the look of a child’s dream, with labyrinthine corridors of shiny plastic, sheer cliffs, bottomless pits, walls that spin like the numbers on slot machines, and the Daleks themselves, rolling about like lethal gumball machines.

   And all at once, this tatty, cliché’d thing takes on a dream-life of its own, actually building up considerable suspense as it barrels toward a lively donnybrook played out like a child’s ballet.
   

   I read Frank Herbert’s original novel when it was serialized in Analog SF, thought it was OK, but I never read any of the sequels — and who knew there were going to be so many of them? I also passed on both David Lynch’s movie adaptation(1984) and the 2000 Sci-Fi Channel mini-series.

   Those of you who may be bigger fans of the book than I am, what do think of the new movie coming out in December, based on the trailer below?

THE OLD GUARD. Netflix, 20 July 2020. Charlize Theron as Andy / Andromache of Scythia,
KiKi Layne as Nile Freeman, a former US Marine, Matthias Schoenaerts as Booker / Sebastian Le Livre, once a French soldier who fought under Napoleon, Marwan Kenzari as Joe / Yusuf Al-Kaysani, a Muslim warrior who had participated in the Crusades, Luca Marinelli as Nicky / Niccolò di Genova, a former Crusader, Chiwetel Ejiofor as James Copley, former CIA agent, Harry Melling as Steven Merrick, greedy CEO of a pharmaceutical empire. Screenplay: Greg Rucka, based on his comic book of the same title. Director. Gina Prince-Bythewood .

   If you’ve read any amount of science fiction, you’ve probably come across the premise of this recent Netflix release before, or something close to it. A band of immortal vigilantes find themselves in a new situation on two fronts: First, they discover that there is a fellow immortal who they must incorporate into their group, a young female marine and the first such recruit in several hundred years. Secondly, their existence is leaking out into the real world, and the villainous head of Merrick Pharmaceuticals wanted their secret to “help the world,” but the profit incentive is his real obsessive purpose.

   Even if there’s nothing very much new in all this, the movie is both well filmed and well acted. Being killed and finding yourself coming back to life over and over again can extract a terrible mental toll on a person. Charlize Theron as Andromache of Scythia, is the oldest of the group, and their de facto leader, and more than her own personal beauty she manages to display a weariness that weighs so heavily on her after so many centuries of life.

   KiKi Layne, as the new addition to the group and the other of the two female leads, is also very impressive, showing both disbelief at first to her new status, then the agony of learning that she is now being forced to leave her family behind. Only the supervillain hard on the group’s trail shows the film’s comic book roots, but as such, once again, that aspect of the story is also most excellently done.

   There’s lots of guns and other bloody action involved, as well as hand to hand combat, for those for favor that aspect of watching thriller extravaganzas such as this, but I found the personal side of the film, and the characters in it, were what made spending the two hours with them all the more worthwhile.

   

COSMOS. Elliander Pictures, 2019. Tom England, Joshua Ford, Arjun Singh Panam. Screenwriter-directors: Elliot Weaver & Zander Weaver.

   There is a tremendous dichotomy about this movie between those leaving reviews of it on IMDb. About half seem to have found it boring beyond belief, while the other half have found it both fascinating and inspiring. Me, I think they’re both right.

   In the first 50 minutes nothing happens except for the conversation between three science and engineers geeks sitting in a large station wagon or a small mini-van setting up their computers, telescopes and the other equipment as they get ready for an all night’s vigil watching and listening to the stars.

   The story the does jump into higher gear when they start receiving signals from who or what somewhere in the sky. There is no action, only the stunned reaction of the three friends as it slowly begins to dawn on them as to what they are probably the first people on Earth to be seeing and hearing. Fascinating and inspiring? I’d say yes, and all the more so because I know personally people who could each be one of the three, and if I knew more about astronomy, I’d probably be one of them.

   That this is a bare bones, love-of-making-movies production goes without saying. I can’t really recommend this movie to everyone, as there are plot holes galore in the story line, and the ending, as the three of them stand looking happily up into the night sky, all wearing their red Astro Nuts caps, goes on for far too long. But if ever we are approached by being from space, I think it could very easily go like this. Or, let’s put it this way. I hope so.

   

   I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to see both of these:



REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:


THE FORBIDDEN ROOM. Buffalo Gal Pictures, 2015. Roy Dupuis, Clara Furey, Louis Negin, Udo Kier, Geraldine Chaplin, and Charlotte Rampling. Written & directed by Guy Maddin & Evan Johnson.

   Well we’ve all known a forbidden room, haven’t we? Maybe it was in your own house, maybe a grandparent’s, or the musty abode of some aged and indeterminate relative, but we’ve all been given the solemn warning, “This door must be kept locked at all times.” and heard the strange noises from within — haven’t we?

   Well this movie isn’t about that. If The Forbidden Room is about anything at all, it’s about our inability to master our dreams. Indeed, Room drifts and lurches from one vision to another, from the bowels of a trapped submarine to a wintry forest primeval, to a sleazy nightclub, a tropical island….

   You may assume from this non-synopsis that Forbidden Room doesn’t make much sense, and it doesn’t, in the usual sense. But filmmaker Maddin moves it along from tangent to tangent with perfect dream-logic, backed up by visual images where you never quite see what it is that you’re looking at.

   If you’ve never seen a Maddin film, I should explain that he deliberately makes them look like an old movie, maybe something you saw as a child nodding off late at night, on an old TV with bad reception, then half-remembered years later. They look a little like that, bathed in faded, runny, pulsating colors. It’s a unique experience, and one I recommend highly.

   Forbidden Room was originally supposed to be a series of short films but got squeezed together for reasons of economics. As a result, it runs a bit too long and loses momentum. But that only bothered me; it didn’t keep me from watching in wide-eyed fascination.

   And maybe you will, too.


THIS ISLAND EARTH. Universal International, 1955. Jeff Morrow, Faith Domergue, Rex Reason, Lance Fuller, Robert Nichols. Based on the book by Raymond F. Jones (Shasta, hardcover, 1952), a fixup novel comprised of stories appearing in three separate issues of Thrilling Wonder Stories, 1949-50. Director: Joseph M. Newman.

   There is an old saying that you can’t go home again, and I know it’s true, as this movie proves. When I saw this movie the first time, I was 13 years old, and I thought it was the best science fiction movie I’d ever seen. It was in color, first of all, and all of the gadgets in the movie simply knocked my socks off.

   Forbidden Planet came along the very next year, but while that one was also in color and had Robby the Robot and even better special effects, I still liked This Island Earth better. Why? Two scenes have stood out over all these past 60 years. The two scientists building a communications device called the interlocutor from scratch using blueprints and parts send by mail from an anonymous source.

   I tried doing the same thing in my basement at home, but some of the parts must have gotten lost in the mail.

   The other scene I remember is Jeff Morrow and Faith Domergue standing in clear vertical tubes designed as either compression or decompression devices so as to condition them for either space travel or life on the aliens’ planet on their way to the latter to save their civilization. I’ve always been a little vague about the details, but details don’t matter, when you see the two Earthlings in skeletal form as the tubes do what ever is is they did.

   What I didn’t remember — and how could I forget? — is the weird ugly mutated monster that threatens the pair as they make their way back to Earth having failed their mission. A convenient form of amnesia, I guess.

   Nor do I remember when I was 13 wondering why it was the aliens who had so much power and could do many wondrous things on Earth needed all those scientists from Earth to help them fight their battles with other aliens back home.

   I don’t think that Faith Domergue impersonated a atomic scientist very well, but she certainly wore her tight fitting space uniform quite nicely, long before Racquel Welch did in Fantastic Voyage. This Island Earth was there first in a number of ways, but once the group of four left the planet Earth for Metaluna, the story seems to lose its way. Some nice memories were lost along the way as well. I was disappointed.


REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:

JIN ROH, THE WOLF BRIGADE. Japan, 1999. Voices (in the English version): Michael Dobson, Moneca Stori, Colin Murdock, Maggie Blue O’Hara. [From Wikipedia: “The film is the third adaptation of Mamoru Oshii’s ‘Kerberos saga’ manga, Kerberos Panzer Cop, after the two live-action films: The Red Spectacles and StrayDog: Kerberos Panzer Cops released in 1987 and 1991 in Japanese theaters.”] Directed by Hiroyuki Okiyura.

   Japanese anime can be as stylized and foreign to Western audiences as Kabuki theater or Chinese Opera in some cases, and tied in with the cultural differences, it can be a hurdle for older viewers in the US who didn’t grow up with it to follow, but it is also a universal storytelling medium that doesn’t always need language to tell its stories, and a well-told story is a well told story regardless of medium.

   Jin Roh, the Wolf Brigade is set in an alternate Post-War setting where Japan is beset by native terrorists and protected by Special Units of Police trained as jin roh “human wolves.” There are developing tensions between the special units and the regular police and they are as much at each other’s throats as the terrorists.

   When jin roh Kazuki Fuse (pronounced Fu-say) hesitates to kill a young female courier who then triggers a deadly explosion, it gives the police something to use against the special units, and they act quickly to discipline Fuse, sending him back to training under an officer whose son is with the regular police. Then Fuse, still suffering flashbacks to that night and guilt-filled hallucinations, meets and falls for the dead girl’s sister, who bears her an uncanny resemblance.

   Done in realistic style animation, the story is a strong mix of noir, action, and Le Carre style intrigue, where nothing and no one is quite telling the truth, and loyalties shift on treacherous moral sands.

   This is as grim and dark as any live action film, as morally complex, and as unrelenting. It is also beautifully told, with strong elements visually and easily identifiable characters whose animated faces reveal their character as well as many actors.

   Unlike most anime, other than the set-up there is little in the way of science fiction or fantasy elements here, rather a powerful dystopian future, handsomely rendered and deftly told with as many twists as any thriller.

   The film was submitted for an Academy Award in animation, but wasn’t qualified because it first played on Japanese television. It is not a story you will easily forget once seen.


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