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Archive for July, 2011

Cinema and Science fiction cinema in particular changed on May 25 1977, the day Star Wars hit movie screens for the first time. But Star Wars changed Sci-Fi movies, it didn’t invent them. Here is a guide to my favourite pre Star Wars Sci-Fi movies:

metropolisMetropolis (1927): Set in a dystopian future it is one of the most influential films of all time still looks impressive more than eighty years later. Directed by Fritz Lang it is an example of German expressionist cinema it is essential viewing for any cinema fan. There were other examples of the genre in the years that followed but none that really stand out to me. I could have included Frankenstein (1931) and The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) both directed by James Whale but they belong more to the horror genre so we fast forward to the 1950’s where alien invasion and cold war paranoia became staples of the genre.

War of the WorldsThe Thing from Another World (1951): The inhabitants of a remote arctic outpost fend off a killer alien organism. The John Carpenter remake from 1982 is more widely known but this original version is also worth seeing. From the same year The Day the Earth Stood Still: Like many great early Sci-Fi this film has been remade but this original is far superior. With post war America overrun with cold war paranoia the film has a none to subtle message warning against the dangers of the cold war and the nuclear arms race that it was fuelling. War of the Worlds (1953) Based on a HG Wells story, by the time this original film version of War of the Worlds made it to film it had become another cautionary tale about the cold war. It was preceded by Orson Welles infamous radio play and followed by an epic album and a Spielberg remake. Invasion of the Invasion of the Body SnatchersBody Snatchers (1956) Like most great early Sci-Fi this film has been remade. Post war America was overrun with cold war paranoia. Is this sounding familiar? Again the message isn’t subtle but it’s a great film. Forbidden Planet (1956) If you are going to steal an idea you may as well steal a good one and that’s what Forbidden Planet does, taking its basic story from Shakespeare’s The Tempest. The special effects were state of the art and that really is Leslie “Don’t call me Shirley” Nielsen. Take a look at the cast list Robby the Robot is credited as playing “Himself”.

60’s and 70’s Sci-Fi reintroduced us to dystopian futures and cautionary tales. Fahrenheit 451 (1966): Francois Truffaut’s brilliant adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s novel about a book-burning dystopian future. Don’t be put of by the mixed reviews and criticism by fans of the original novel, it is a great movie. Quatermass and the Pit (1967) perfectly blending horror and Sci-Fi, known as Five Million Years to Earth in America was it was the final and best (but least financially successful) of the three movies to feature the Quatermass character. The story is largely the same as the original TV series it is based on: workmen extending a London Underground station make a frightening discovery. Don’t expect the special effects to hold up to modern standards but it is still a great movie that has a lot to offer the horror and Sci-Fi genres.

2001 A Space Odyssey2001: A Space Odyssey  (1968) less a film and more a giant metaphor exploring the meaning of life from the origins of humanity to the present day and beyond. Absolutely compelling viewing but anyone who tells you they fully understand what is going on is a geniuses or a liar. It is also a rarity in the list a film that has not been remade, who would dare? Barbarella (1968): A commercial and critical failure the film has since become a cult classic. Based on a French comic strip, Barbarella gave Jane Fonda one of her most iconic parts, unlike many early sci-fi movies (and movies in general) of the time it really doesn’t take itself seriously resulting in a really fun movie. One remake or another is always about to happen but fortunately hasn’t happened yet, leave it alone! Planet of the Apes (1968) Guess what this one was remade too! An astronaut is stranded on a planet ruled by intelligent apes and humans are little more than slaves. The screenplay was co-written by Rod Serling of Twilight Zone fame and ends with what is possible the genres greatest twist. Forget “No [Luke] I am your farther” this is the big one!

A Clockwork OrangeA Clockwork Orange (1971) Another dystopian near future or just an alternative 1970s Britain? Based on an Anthony Burgess novel it could be a satire on the culture of the day or a grim vision of the near future, I would rather believe it is a testament to the human spirit. The Andromeda Strain (1971): based on a Michael Crichton novel and directed by Robert Wise (who also directed Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979). The fight to prevent a deadly alien virus from spreading creates an interesting concept, the brilliant thing about it is the way it is captivating and tense without a villain or visible antagonist. THX 1138 (1971)George Lucas’ first attempt at Sci-Fi was far less successful than Star Wars but has gained a cult following. Starring Robert Duvall it depicts a yet another dystopian future, in this one drugs that suppress emotion are mandatory and sexual intercourse is outlawed. This is enforced by an android police force.  The Omega Man (1971) The first of two movies on the list to star Charlton Heston. The second and probably the best adaptation of Richard Matheson’s 1954 I Am Legend telling the story of the last man on earth following biological warfare between the People’s Republic of China and the Soviet Union.

Solyaris (1972) The story of a space mission that may just have found intelligent life. The 2002 Steven Soderberg remake was a little tedious but the original still makes for compelling viewing. Silent Running (1972) The story of a spaceship containing the earths last forests until they are one day able to return to earth. Another cautionary tale. Soylent Green (1973) When I compiled a similar list a few years ago I missed this movie off the list, after my error was pointed out by Heather from Movie Mobsters I watched it again. I had forgotten just how good it was. Set in a polluted and overpopulated future, Charlton Heston plays a New York police detective targeted by government agents as he gets too close to a secret everyone wants to keep, namely where soylent green, a revolutionary new food comes from.

Death Race 2000 (1975) I saw this movie when I was very young, too young! I loved it at the time but didn’t really get it. Following a financial crisis and a military coup United States has become a fascist police state. The most popular sport is the Annual Transcontinental Road Race, a race where drivers score points for killing pedestrians as they race from coast to coast. The acting is terrible and the production cheep, but it has aged surprisingly thanks to a simple subtext that makes it an effective political satire. Released the same year, Rollerball (1975) received a more positive critical response but actually isn’t any better than Death Race 2000. The movie also revolves around a violent sport, this one resembling Roller Derby. The film now looks strangle prophetic as it depicts the world as a global corporate state. Also worth a look from the same year, A Boy and his Dog (1975) is a post-apocalyptic story about a boy (Don Johnson) communicates with his dog telepathically Logan’s Run (1976) is an interesting film to finish on. Released less than a year before Star Wars, it is a good solid and fun movie in its own right but in comparison to Star Wars looks extremely dated, it appears to belong to a different era, it this was it does work well as a reminder of how the genre and cinema in general changer forever just a year later.

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Forget The Dukes of Hazzard (2005), Starsky & Hutch (2004) and Charlie’s Angels(2000) they are as good or bad as you would expect them to be, but there are some movies based of TV shows that should have been great but turned out to be utter crap, here are three examples:

The Avengers (1998)

The original TV series was silly and camp but tremendous fun and has aged surprisingly well so an updated movie version was most welcome. You only had to look at the images of Uma Thurman as Emma Peel to suggest she was the perfect actress to fill Diana Rigg’s leather catsuit. Ralph Fiennes was fresh from his Oscar nominated performance in The English Patient and a good choice to take on John Steed immortalised by Patrick Macnee in the original show. Sean Connery allegedly turned down the chance the chance to play a Bond villain to play the bad guy in this movie. So what could go wrong? Well basically everything! Its easier to say what was good about it, the movie looks good, the main characters cars and costumes are spot on, the rest of the film sadly isn’t! The story is rubbish; the acting is atrocious; not helped by the lack of chemistry between the central characters; the direction, just like the plot is none existent.

The Mod Squad (1999)

Based on a 60/70’s TV show about a group of delinquents who are recruited by a cop work undercover. I haven’t seen any of the original show so don’t know how it compares, regardless of this, the concept is good. The cast is great with Claire Danes, Giovanni Ribisi and Dennis Farina but they are just wasted. Where the story should be hip and fun it is dull and forgettable. The cast is wasted and the direction and the photography are poor at best.

Æon Flux (2005)

Set in a dystopian future world the original animated series created by Peter Chung was bizarre, brilliant and avant-garde, it contained themes including sexual fetishism and graphic violence and most of all it had compelling characters. All this was lost in the terrible movie adaptation, it did retain the basic characters, some of the themes and gadgets, beyond that it is a loose and week adaptation. The story is incoherent drivel and is dull at best. The one redeeming feature, Charlize Theron looks amazing in the title role.

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As we get into the summer season the blockbusters all come out to play and there are lots of movies to see. Well actually no, as all the big movies take up 3 or 4 screens in multiplexes (or even more when there are 2 and 3D versions) the smaller films get pushed to one side and there is actually less to see. I did find six movies an see, five were worth the effort and one was The Hangover: Part II.

X-Men: First Class

Is X-Men: First Class a reboot or a prequel? I’m not sure if it really matters, but if it’s a prequel there are some distracting continuity issues, if it’s a reboot it is a fantastic opportunity to restart the franchise in the way the comic books often do. The casting is great, the acting is good, the story is okay, I love the 60‘s setting and there are some very funny moments. It does suffer from too many unnecessary characters and isn’t very well paced. On the whole it is a worth entry into the X-Men franchise that is much better than The Last Stand and Origins: Wolverine but not as good as parts one and two.

Senna

A rare entry in the movie of the month segment, a documentary. Nothing against doc’s, they just don’t make it to my local cinema often. As a fan of F1 and Ayrton Senna I felt compelled to go and see this movie, I was amazed at just how busy the cinema was, now in its third week (like foreign language movies documentaries tend not to make it into a second week) and is number seven in the UK box-office. A fantastic and moving story a man who was possibly the greatest racing driver of all time, the true greatness of the film is how many none F1 fans who also enjoyed it.

The Hangover: Part II

The Hangover worked largely because of a great concept and a pull no punches approach to its gags, it even won my first ever movie of the month award exactly two years ago. The things that made the first movie surprisingly good are the same things that made this sequel dull, predictable and repetitive. All of these things can be forgiven, the homophobic and xenophobic nature of the story could also be overlooked but one thing that is totally unforgivable for a movie like this, it just isn’t funny.

Stake Land

A grim and often violent road movie from the team who gave us the direct to DVD zombie/rat/mutant classic Mulberry Street. As a survival road movie first and vampire movie second it shares as much with The Road or Carriers as it does with vampire movies. Benefiting from its gritty realism and the constraints of a low budget it is an intelligent and thoughtful whilst still being entertaining, and the vampires don’t sparkle in sunlight they burn! The best vampire movie since Let The Right One In

The Beaver

A clinically depressed businessman finds his own kind of self-help via a tatty old beaver hand puppet that he communicate through. Given his recent past, the baggage that Mel Gibson brings to a movie could present a problem, In the case of The Beaver, it actually helps. Poorly marketed this isn’t a fun comedy, yes there are laughs but this is a far darker movie than you expect. There is an interesting sub plot involving Gibbon’s son and a girl played by rising star Jennifer Lawrence, this in itself is as interesting as the main plot, however the two stories don’t fit together very well.

Green Lantern

If Marvel and DC are in a battle for movie supremacy Batman is standing alone against the might of the X-Men, Iron Man, Thor and Captain America. Green Lantern was DC’s chance to get back into the fight before they bring out the potential big gun, a Superman reboot. I think we are going to have to wait for the man of steel. Ryan Reynolds does a good job in the lead role and the movie is better than the trailer and reviews would suggest, it’s still average at best.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

The best thing I can say about the new Transformers movie is that it is much better than Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, considering how bad that movie was it really is the definition of damning with faint praise. The story and the acting are as bad as ever, some of the action is quite good. The one lesson learnt from the previous movie is to make better use of the human stars even though foremost of those is Shia LaBeouf who lacks charm charisma and acting ability. The sad thing, somewhere in the two and half hour runtime there is probably a decent ninety minute movie; and the surprising thing, I miss Megan Fox.

As much as I loved Stake Land I have to give Movie of the Month to Senna, the first documentary to win movie of the month and a must for all film and motor-sport fans.

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