In Moon (dir. Duncan Jones, 2009), Sam Rockwell plays the scruffy hipster-next-door on the moon, who turns out to be both more and less than what he seems. With impressive set design, constructed with tiny models instead of CGI, Moon inhabits not the 1960s techno-future of visible progress, but the 1970s paranoid present of hidden ulterior motives. In a way, Moon recalls not so much the actual space race, but the aftermath of plastic modules on the kitchen table, with an excess of glue and tiny pieces that don’t seem to fit anymore. Continue reading →
Before I went to see J. J. Abrams’ version of the classic franchise, I was treated to dark whispers and quiet warnings such as, “If you’re a big-time Trekkie, you’re not going to like it.”
Being a moderate-time Trekkie, as opposed to a big-time one, I hotly anticipated the release through two years of promotional posters, mysterious trailers, and vague, origin-story allusions. I have to confess that along with Pixar’s Up, Star Trek is likely one of the best movies of the year. It’s not just a good sci-fi movie. It’s a good movie. Continue reading →
I don’t remember how I first heard of Repo Man, only that its reputation preceded it. As a teenager I actually picked up a used cassette of the film’s famous punk rock soundtrack at my local record store long before I was able to hunt down a copy of the movie itself, which for me only heightened its grungy cult flick allure. (For you youngsters, this was back when there were audiocassette tapes. And record stores. And suburban video stores with unpredictable inventories.) When I did finally see Repo Man, it lived up to my expectations simply by defying them. “…[T]he only real response to it is the perception of brilliance or the belief that it’s an utter piece of garbage,” writes Film Threat’s Brad Laidman. That’s pretty much the textbook definition of a cult classic.
If at times you feel overwhelmed by the tidal wave of ‘entertainment’ that comes at you from your all around, then you understand how Max Renn (James Woods) was feeling in Videodrome. In his quest for the ultimate cheap thrill he finds himself caught in the zone between the real and the manufactured fiction he peddles.
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.
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.
2001: A Space Odyssey – dir Stanley Kubrick – 1968
Sadly, you can no longer fulfill your childhood dream (assuming that your childhood dream matched mine) of meeting science fiction legend Arthur C. Clarke. Fortunately, the author/visionary/inventor lives on in his dozens of books, essays, and the movie he co-conceived with master director Stanley Kubrick, 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Whether it’s the classical strains of Johann Strauss played over a starfield, a here’s-a-bone-there’s-a-space-station jump cut, a terrifying glimpse of artificial intelligence, or the even more terrifying postulations regarding our origins and ultimate destination, 2001 breaks ground. That’s the case whether or not you watch if with Pink Floyd accompaniment, you understand.
2001 is watchable and re-watchable because it’s about archetypes. It’s about the quest for the origin. The quest for the destination. The ultimate consequence of curiosity and of achievement. When the fundamental human question, “What’s next?” is asked in this film, the answer comes via a voiceless teacher, a single monolith of unknown origin, although you don’t need to dig too deeply to realize that the monolith and its apparent effects come from within.
Whether with a bleached bone or with the HAL 9000 supercomputer, these fruits of Man’s ingenuity become the vehicles by which He shifts into a new state with regards to Himself and His environment. The old archetypes no longer apply. When Man rises to dominance over a small band of ape-men or takes the next evolutionary step forward, the one constant is his own ability to overcome adversity through invention and creativity. His survival is ensured, but also His progression as a species into what He was always meant to be.
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!
The basic premise behind Grindhouse, the B-movie double feature from directors Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, isn’t really all that novel. Director Stanley Donen’s 1978 effort Movie Movie is a strikingly similar package to Grindhouse, albeit Donen flew solo. That package is this: a pair of separate movies sharing some of the same cast members and glued together by nostalgia and fake trailers (Grindhouse‘s fake trailers are a major drawing card, featuring cameo directorial appearances by Rob Zombie, Edgar Wright, and Eli Roth). But while Movie Movie affectionately spoofed the candy-sweetness of Old Hollywood in the midst of the grittier 1970s, Grindhouse longingly harks back to exploitative ’70s cheapies in an era when Hollywood product has grown dishearteningly slick and safe. By marking up their movies with scratches, pops, and intentionally missing reels, Tarantino and Rodriguez’s modus operandi is to transform sanitary suburban multiplexes into grindhouse cinemas that, while undeniably rattier, at least had a kind of dingy individualism intact. The entire enterprise is more about the act of going to see a film than anything else. See it on DVD and you’ve already skipped half the joke. Continue reading →
After the decline of the studio system, Hollywood would often struggle to find fresh ways of generating sure-fire hits. 1969, for instance, saw the release and surprise success of Easy Rider, whereupon the studios, the story goes, decided the “youth picture” was where the money was. Universal, however, discovered otherwise in 1971 when both The Hired Hand and The Last Movie, Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider follow-up projects, flopped spectacularly (as did Monte Hellman’s Two-Lane Blacktop, among the first films released by Universal’s youth-oriented division). In the early 1980s, John Carpenter’s films provide a similar object lesson in industry obtuseness, this time with regard to the profitable corner of the market carved out by exploitation films in the 1970s. These genre picture’s inherent transgressive qualities may simply have proved too unseemly for the larger, blander platform of multiplexes and PR campaigns the studios would present to them. Continue reading →