Tag: Fantasy

July 14, 2008 / / Film Notes

By Julie Lavelleinvasion of the body snatchers

Invasion of the Body Snatchers – 1956 – dir. Don Siegel

Don Siegel’s 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers has prompted countless debates over its political message: is it anti-McCarthyism or anti-communist? Although the iconic invasion narrative gives the plot cohesion, the film is most interesting for its bleak envisioning of a post-World War II America filled with broken promises, mental instability, and general uneasiness–a world in which anxiety rules and love can’t save the day.

July 8, 2008 / / Film Notes

By Kris Tronerudfearless vampire killers

The Fearless Vampire Killers (aka Dance of The Vampires) • 1967 • dir. Roman Polanski – Original Theatrical Trailer

Someone’s heart is beating around in their bosom… pitter pat… pitter pat… like a rat in a cage…
— Iain Quarrier to Roman Polanski in The Fearless Vampire Killers

From the beginning of the long and winding road that has been the film career of Roman Polanski, the Polish-born director’s films have been judged not only by their often considerable merit, but as a kind of post facto barometer of his tragedy-haunted, scandal ridden life. The corrosive alienation and jaundiced world view of his early successes Knife in the Water (1962), Repulsion (1965) and Cul-de-Sac (1966) taken as a reflection of his being left alone to escape the horrors of the Warsaw Ghetto and survive the war in the Polish countryside at the tender age of nine; the pessimistic, paranoid (and brilliant) Rosemary’s Baby of the fears of a successful young director dependant on strangers in a foreign environment; the brutal, feral violence of Macbeth redolent of the horrific murder of his wife, unborn baby and 4 friends at the hands of the Manson family; with his whole post-exile career seen as a long string of reflections on personal morality, corruption, and the terrible difficulty of human relationships in general, and a string of artistic missteps and/or commercial failures viewed as some sort of karmic/filmic comeuppance. All this ephemera has been, happily, put to rest with the commercial and critical success of the Oscar/Cannes Prize-winning The Pianist and the presumably healing effect of the 2008 documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired; a good time, perhaps, to revisit the one Polanski film that can truly be enjoyed completely on its own, the light-hearted and baggage-free The Fearless Vampire Killers, an affectionate, charming homage to the Golden Age of Gothic Cinema in general, and 60’s Hammer vampire films in particular.

July 2, 2008 / / Film Notes

By Kris Tronerudblade runner

Blade Runner – 1982- dir. Ridley Scott – Official Trailer

All these moments will be lost… in time… like tears in the rain…
— Rutger Hauer to Harrison Ford in Blade Runner

When Blade Runner was finally released in 1982, after a long, arduous and grueling production history, marked by equal measures of technical difficulty and personal turmoil, it met with a decisively lukewarm reception from a confused and disappointed public. In the wake of Harrison’s Ford’s sudden rise to stardom in Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark, adoring new fans expected to see ‘Indiana’ in another riproaring, uplifting sci-fi epic. What they got was a dark and dystopian dreamscape of a movie, a violent futurist nightmare with the heart of a classic private eye noir, and a lot more on its mind than explosions and derring-do. Additionally saddled with a lugubrious studio endorsed faux Raymond Chandler narration (which Ford purposely read in as expressionless a manner as possible, hoping the studio would drop it) and a mawkish ‘happy’ ending based on unused footage from, of all things, The Shining, Blade Runner was doomed in its initial run; but over the years, a number of different cuts of the film appeared on tape, laser disc, and in festival showings (a total of seven discrete versions, according to Paul Sammon’s terrific essay “The Seven Faces of Blade Runner“) provoking continued fan interest and debate, and with the release in 1992 of the Official Director’s Cut, this emotionally charged, visually resplendent film was, finally, properly acknowledged as Ridley Scott’s masterwork, and quite arguably, the best science fiction film of all time.

June 9, 2008 / / Film Notes
April 21, 2008 / / Film Notes

pmag-mothra61-poster

by Kris Tronerud

Mothra (Mosura) • Inoshiro (Ishiro) Honda • 1961 • Original Theatrical Trailer

The Mightiest Monster in All Creation, Ravishing the Universe for Love!
(From the Poster for Mothra)

There are Kaiju (Giant Monster) fans and there are Monster movie fans, but whether you know the name of every opponent Godzilla has faced in the last 58 (!) years or only have fond memories from Creature Double feature Saturday afternoons, everyone reacts the same way when anyone mentions Mothra, by shouting: The Twins!! (I tried this on a number of unsuspecting test subjects leading up to this article). The second most iconic and beloved (after the Big Green One himself) of all the Japanese stable of Rubber Monsters, Mothra holds a special place in boomer hearts due to the unique fairy-tale approach of this entry; symbolized by … The Twins!

April 17, 2008 / / Film Notes

Black Rose Mansionby Kris Tronerud

Black Rose Mansion • Directed by Kinji Fukasaku • Shochiku Studios • 1969

Exactly 30 years ago, I found myself crouched down in a neighborhood theater to watch what was being openly marketed as a Star Wars ripoff with my ten year old son, frankly not expecting a whole lot beyond an amusing Saturday afternoon hangout with the kid. What I got was an intensely colorful, surprisingly heartfelt sci-fi saga that straddled the line between Space Opera and Fairy Tale a lot more fully than did Star Wars, and whose fanciful, if not exactly realistic special effects achieved a palpable sense of childhood wonder on about a zillionth of George Lucas’ budget. Starring Vic Morrow(!) and Sonny Chiba, Message from Space had believable, well drawn characters, and was alternately thrilling, funny, touching, scary and goofy, in about equal proportions. Welcome to the world of Kinji Fukasaku.

March 31, 2008 / / Film Notes

Is there a film more famous than The Wizard of Oz? There are films with loftier reputations, yes: as impressive an achievement as it truly is, The Wizard of Oz is still written off as kids’ stuff on occasion. But what other film has embedded itself so firmly in our culture? It’s a reference that most everyone picks up and the one Old Hollywood classic that nearly everyone has seen (and, until recently, one of the few being broadcast on network television in primetime). It’s been remade and spun-off in all manner of ways, 0from a television version populated by the Muppets to the misbegotten disco epic The Wiz, to surprisingly bleak incarnations like the eighties semi-sequel Return to Oz and the Sci-Fi Channel’s recent Tin Man miniseries. It crops up even in unexpected places: as a key reference point in anxiety-ridden fair like After Hours and Blue Velvet, and a throwaway line in Reservoir Dogs’ infamous torture scene (“How’s about a little fire, Scarecrow?”). Heck, Richard O’ Brien originally wanted The Rocky Horror Picture Show to imitate The Wizard of Oz’s iconic – and still breathtaking – leap from black-and-white to color. The film is also a merchandizing perennial, the inspiration for a booming cottage industry of hand-numbered music boxes and collector’s plates.

April 4, 2007 / / Film Notes

When sitting down to watch The Dark Crystal, a labor of love directed by legendary puppeteer Jim Henson and his frequent collaborator Frank Oz, you know you’re in for something unique in the truest sense of the word: not merely unusual, but one-of-a-kind. There really hasn’t been another film quite like it before or since. A “digitally enhanced” sequel titled The Power of the Dark Crystal is rumored to be in the works, but even that film won’t match its predecessor for sheer daring and ambition. Released in 1982 after being in production for five years, The Dark Crystal was conceptualized by Henson and British artist Brian Froud as the first live action film to feature only puppets and not a single human actor. This was a dream project for Henson, an attempt to explore new territory and push his art further.

April 4, 2007 / / Film Notes

“Times of transition are always magic,” the late Jim Henson is quoted as saying in Jim Henson: The Works, a hefty coffee table book chronicling the career of the visionary creator of the Muppets. “Twilight is a magic time and dawn is magic – the times during which it’s not day and it’s not night but something in between. Also the time between sleeping and dreaming. There are a lot of mystical qualities to that, and to me this is what the film is about.” Henson was referring to Labyrinth, the 1986 film that he described as being “about a person at the point of changing from being a child to being a woman.” Labyrinth indeed falls into a tradition of coming of age stories that straddle the line between the real and the fantastic, from family- friendly fare like the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz (one of Henson’s inspirations), to Neil Jordan’s grownup 1984 horror film In The Company of Wolves. It makes sense that this is so. Adolescence is certainly a liminal time in one’s life: neither childhood nor adulthood but a confusing in-between, and a film like Labyrinth populated by fantastic characters and possessed of an uncertain sense of time, place, and space perhaps more aptly conveys the outsized anxieties of adolescence than many realist films about young adults.

September 22, 2006 / / Film Notes

Written by Kristoffer Tronerud

USA, 1982. 129 min. UA/ Dino De Laurentiis Pictures. Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Earl Jones, Max von Sydow, Sandahl Bergman, Mako; Music: Basil Poledouris; Cinematography: Duke Callaghan; Production Design: Ron Cobb; Based on Stories by: Robert Howard; Screenplay: Oliver Stone, John Milius; Directed by: Milius

“I’m a Zen Fascist” John Milius once famously remarked, and, while his tongue was firmly planted in cheek, that description goes a long way in explaining the unique appeal of this very talented and likable rogue artist. While it may take courage to be left of center in the country at large, in Hollywood, the conservative is the true maverick, and, as a director and screenwriter, Milius has paid a price for his cheerful unwillingness to toe a politically correct line for Tinseltown convenience. Still, it is a big mistake to paint Milius with the broad brush of the political simplemindedness of, say, a John Wayne or a Jack Webb. From the start of his career, Milius’s projects have evidenced a complexity and thoughtfulness that make such easy classification impossible. His work embraces the reality that men and women are different and that courage and violence are sometimes unavoidable and necessary, in a way that makes knee-jerk liberals uncomfortable, but his work also betrays a tenderness and respect for women and a keen sense of the limits of the macho ideal that give lie to the stereotype that generally accompanies any discussion of his oeuvre.