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You may have noticed that loads of Justice League movie news has been floating around the internet recently, thanks to the embargo lifting on a press set visit that took place recently.
Before we get into the heavy stuff, let’s recap what we already knew before this flurry of information: Justice League is the follow-on film to Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice. It will reunite Ben Affleck’s Batman and Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, alongside the first non-cameo appearances from Ezra Miller’s The Flash and Ray Fisher’s Cyborg. Zack Snyder is directing again, and the movie will reach British and American cinemas on Friday »
What was Nsfw (or, more specifically, theaters) nearly a century ago? Look no further than what CineGraphic has dug up: a compilation comprised of footage from an old reel of 35mm nitrate from 1926 that was unearthed at an old movie theater in Pennsylvania. The result is Forbidden Images, a collection of clips that were banned and censored to meet local “moral standard,” featuring a brief clip from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and short glimpse of Greta Garbo in The Temptress, among many others.
What instantly becomes glaringly apparent is that all of the scenes feature women (shocker!), but no men. This compilation is a look into the historically sexist lens by which many ratings and censorships are governed, from small towns to the MPAA. To this day, women are still exploited for their sexuality and bodies in cinema. Depictions of sexuality are either celebrated, as in the case of Black Swan »
- Mike Mazzanti
There’s something inherently remarkable about the field of animation: that, with just a paper and pen, one can use infinite imagination to create a world unbound by physical restrictions. Of course, in today’s age it goes far beyond those simple tools of creation, but it remains the rare patience-requisite medium in which a director’s vision can be perfected over years until applying that final, necessary touch.
With Pixar’s 17th feature arriving in theaters, we’ve set out to reflect on the millennium thus far in animation and those films that have most excelled. In picking our 50 favorite titles, we looked to all corners of the world, from teams as big as thousands down to a sole animator. The result is a wide-ranging selection, proving that even if some animation styles aren’t as prevalent, the best examples find their way to the top.
To note: we only stuck with feature-length animations of 60 minutes or longer — sorry, World of Tomorrow, and even Pixar’s stunning Piper — and to make room for a few more titles, our definition of “the 21st century” stretched to include 2000. We also stuck with films that don’t feature any live-action (for the most part) and that have been released in the U.S. thus far, so The Red Turtle and Phantom Boy will get their due on a later date. Check out our top 50 below and let us know your favorites in the comments.
50. The Lego Movie (Phil Lord and Christopher Miller)
Admit it: When The Lego Movie was announced, you did not expect it to wind up any best-of-the-year lists. But, against all odds, Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s first smash hit of 2014 is an unadulterated pleasure. This bold, original film has a wildly clever script (by the directors) with a message of creativity that made it a glorious surprise. It is also well-cast: Lego is the first movie to fully make use of Chris Pratt’s essential sweetness, and offered Elizabeth Banks, Will Ferrell, Liam Neeson, and Morgan Freeman their freshest parts in years. It is not often that a “kids” film entertains adults as much as their children, but The Lego Movie is far more than a piece of entertainment for the young ones. What could have been a headache-inducing, cynical creation is instead a pop treat. Everything is, indeed, awesome. – Christopher Schobert
49. 5 Centimetres per Second (Makoto Shinkai)
Makoto Shinkai’s emotional tour de force is the embodiment of the Japanese term “mono no aware,” which describes a wistful awareness of life’s transience. In the way its characters are haunted by bygone moments in the face of a vast and shapeless future, 5 Centimetres per Second could function as a spiritual companion to the oeuvre of Wong Kar-wai, but whereas Wong’s lovelorn protagonists are stuck in the past, Shinkai’s move forward, steadily, in a state of melancholic acceptance. Time is itself a character here, a fact brought to our attention by shots of clocks, the evolution of technology alongside the characters’ aging, and scenes where narrative stakes ensure that the passing of each second is palpably felt. And yet it is precisely the ephemerality of these seconds that lends them elevated significance —fittingly, the film’s animation is breathtakingly detailed and tactile, allowing us to identify with the characters by having us inhabit each, vivid moment before it vanishes. – Jonah Jeng
Leave it to Steven Spielberg to eke more thrills out of an animated feature than most directors could with every live-action tool at their disposal. The Adventures of Tintin is colored and paced like a child’s fantastical imagining of how Hergé’s comics might play in motion, and the extent to which viewers buy it depends largely on their willingness to give themselves over to narrative and technical flights of fancy. Me? Four-and-a-half years later, I’m still waiting for a follow-up with bated breath. – Nick Newman
It’s the movie that took down Don Bluth, netted Fox a $100 million loss, and starred the young voices of Matt Damon and Drew Barrymore. From a script by Joss Whedon, John August, and Ben Edlund, Titan A.E. is a swashbuckle-y tale with stirring visuals and moments of sheer originality that now feels like a more-accomplished precursor to something such as Guardians of the Galaxy. If you’re going to go down, this is an impressive picture to sink with. – Dan Mecca
46. Metropolis (Rintaro)
Metropolis has more than a little in common with the apocalyptic orgy of violence of 1988 anime touchstone Akira, as the story follows the tragic inevitability of mans’ relationship with overwhelming power. But Rintaro’s Metropolis — which is based on Osama Tezuka’s manga and Fritz Lang’s canonical film — is also a story of overwhelming kindness in its central relationship between Kenichi, a well-intentioned and naïve child, and Tima, a cyborg capable of immense destruction. Distinguished by its washed-out watercolor character designs and its inventive cast of characters, Metropolis is a distinctly lighter take on the characteristically dreary dystopia genre. – Michael Snydel
Animation has never shied away from grief. It’s the bedrock of everything from Grave of the Fireflies to the majority of Pixar’s filmography, but it’s rarely been as unbearably beautiful as in 2014’s unfairly overlooked Song of the Sea. Animated with a mythic tableau style, steeped in Celtic folklore, and filled with a cast of characters worthy of Hayao Miyazaki, Tomm Moore’s work is the rare heartwarming family film that knows it doesn’t need to compromise genuine emotion with fake-outs or Hollywood endings. – Michael Snydel
While much of Studio Ghibli’s popularity focuses on the adored writer-director Hayao Miyazaki, some works from other directors deserve equal praise. One of them — which, yes, cheats a bit because Miyazaki scripted it — is The Secret World of Arrietty by first-time helmer Hiromasa Yonebayashi. The film follows a little boy’s fascination with the Borrowers — small humans that live in our world — and weaves the story of him and his family with Arrietty, one of the Borrowers. There are intensely dramatic moments as the Borrowers are constantly striving to survive amidst this world of luxury and easy life that the larger humans enjoy. Much like some of the best of Ghibli’s work, the film works on multiple levels and layers and thus becomes one of the studio’s most beautiful, enjoyable, and enduring works. – Bill Graham
43. ParaNorman (Chris Butler and Sam Fell)
A story of bullies and the bullied, Laika Studios’ second stop-motion film, ParaNorman, was unfortunately overshadowed by their astounding previous effort, Coraline. But time has been kind, and ParaNorman feels ahead of its time in both the exploration of darker themes (witch hunts, child murder, bigotry) and its juxtaposition of a Puritan New England ghost story and a vividly supernatural present. Buoyed by Jon Brion’s characteristically thoughtful score and an inventive reconfiguration of horror movie iconography, ParaNorman is a coming-of-age story that recognizes that even the “bad guys” have their reasons. – Michael Snydel
42. Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were Rabbit (Nick Park and Steve Box)
Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were Rabbit, Aardman Animation’s second feature collaboration with DreamWorks, brings Nick Park‘s brilliant claymation series about an absentminded inventor and his mute canine companion to the big screen. Working as humane pest removal specialists, Wallace and Gromit have hatched a plan to brainwash every hungry rabbit in town to dislike vegetables, preventing Gromit’s prized melon from being ruthlessly devoured. But the experiment backfires and the Were-Rabbit, a monstrous beast with an unquenchable appetite for veggies, is unleashed on the lush gardens of Tottington Holl. On par with the most uproarious shorts of Park’s career (working this time out with co-director Steve Box), the film slyly evokes fond memories of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein in never treating its goofy leads as seriously as its surprisingly effective scares. It’s a shame that Park has announced the titular duo are likely retired, due to the failing health of voice actor Peter Sallis. Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were Rabbit is a light-hearted and whimsically clever gem that also works as a charming introduction to the horror genre for young cinema-lovers. – Tony Hinds
41. Lilo & Stitch (Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois)
What other film can pull off starting with an all-out sci-fi adventure and transition into a heartful ode to culture and family? Before they delivered an even more impactful variation on a similar sort of creature-human bond with How to Train Your Dragon, Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois created this touching tale. Featuring a return to watercolor-painted backgrounds for Disney, as well as a reliance on 2D animation, it’s one of the company’s last in this era to have that long-missed tangibility. As often repeated in the film, “Family means nobody gets left behind,” and, by the end credits, you’ll feel like you’ve added a few new members to your own. – Jordan Raup
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- Nicholas Bell
The Nazis can't even keep the National Socialist propaganda out of a simple science fiction fable. Hans Albers is the Aryan King Midas as a scientist, and gorgeous Brigitte Helm the Englishwoman who thinks he's peachy keen. The climax is pure Sci-Fi heaven, an unstable 'Atomic Fracturing' installation, wa-ay deep down in a mineshaft under the ocean. Gold (1934) Blu-ray Kino Classics 1934 / B&W / 1:33 flat Full Frame / 117 min. / Street Date June 14, 2016 / available through Kino Lorber / 29.95 Starring Hans Albers, Friedrich Kayßler, Brigitte Helm, Michael Bohnen, Ernst Karchow, Lien Deyers, Eberhard Leithoff, Rudolf Platte. Cinematography Otto Baecker, Werner Bohne, Günther Rittau Art Direction Otto Hunte Film Editor Wolfgang Becker Original Music Hans-Otto Borgmann Written by Rolf E. Vanloo Produced by Alfred Zeisler Directed by Karl Hartl
Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
The Hardy Encyclopedia of Science Fiction still teases Sci-fi fans that want to see everything listed in its pages. Thankfully, videodisc companies catering to collectors make possible the sale of titles that might never show up on some (authorized) streaming service. Video disc has brought us the original Der Schweigende Stern and Alraune from Germany, and I hope to someday see good copies of Kurt Siodmak and Karl Hartl's F.P. 1 Does Not Answer and the Harry Piel Sci-fi trilogy An Invisible Man Roams the City, The World Unmasked (an X-ray television camera) and Master of the World (a robot with a death ray). I've read about Karl Hartl's 1934 Gold for at least fifty years, since John Baxter's Science Fiction in the Cinema told us (not quite correctly) that its final reel had been borrowed for the conclusion of Ivan Tors' 1953 Sci-fi picture The Magnetic Monster. As it turns out, Kino is releasing both movies in the same week. Sometimes referred to as the Nazi Metropolis, Hartl's Gold is a follow-up to the director's very successful F.P.1. Does Not Answer, a spy thriller about a fantastic airport in the mid-Atlantic called Floating Platform One. Both pictures were filmed in simultaneous foreign versions to maximize the box office take. The German original of F.P. 1 starred matinee idol Hans Albers (The Blue Angel) Sybille Schmitz (Vampyr) and Peter Lorre, while a concurrent French version used Charles Boyer, Danièle Parola and Pierre Brasseur. A third English version starred Conrad Veidt, Jill Esmond and Donald Calthrop. The French version starred Brigitte Helm in the same role, but star Hans Albers reportedly rebelled at making two movies for the price of one. According to reports, the exceedingly expensive Gold was in production for fifteen months. We can see the cost immediately in the enormous main set for the 'atomic fracturing' machine built to transmute lead into gold. Otto Hunte and Günther Rittau designed and filmed special effects for Metropolis and the impressive set is very much in the same style. Off the top of my head I can't think of any technical apparatus quite so elaborate (and solid-looking) built for a film until the 1960s and Ken Adam's outlandish settings for UA's James Bond films. Writer Rolf E. Vanloo had worked on the silent classic Asphalt and is the sole writer credited on the popular Marlene Dietrich vehicle I Kiss Your Hand, Madame. His screenplay for Gold is tight and credible, even if its theme is even more simplistic than -- and somewhat similar to -- that of Thea von Harbou for Metropolis. Scientist Werner Holk (Hans Albers) aids the visionary Professor Achenbach (Friedrich Kayßler) in testing what looks like an electric atom smasher. The experiment: to turn lead into gold. The 'Atomic Fracturer' explodes, killing the old genius, whose work is discredited. Holk barely survives, thanks to a blood transfusion from his faithful girlfriend Margit Moller (Lien Deyers). When agents for the fabulously wealthy Englishman John Wills (Michael Bohnen) contact Holk, he realizes that the experiment was sabotaged. Werner allows himself to be taken to a fabulous yacht and from there to a Scottish castle, where, hundreds of feet under the ocean, Wills has constructed his own, far larger atom smasher with plans stolen from Achenbach. Split between his need for revenge and a desire to prove the dead Achenbach's theories, Holk goes through with the experiment. Wills' daughter Florence (Brigitte Helm), a gorgeous playgirl, is attracted to the German visitor, Holk finds that the workers' foreman, Schwarz (Rudolf Platte) is of a like mind on economic issues. But Wills' engineer Harris (Eberhard Leithoff) is jealous of Holk's talent, and cannot be trusted. Gold begins by repeating the 'big money hostile takeover of science' theme from Fritz Lang's Frau im mond: a pioneering German scientific exploit is siezed by an unscrupulous international business entity. The unspoken message is that the weakened Germany is being cheated in the world economy because it lacks the resources to exploit its superior technology. The avaricious John Wills makes big financial decisions all day long. There's no gray area in this conflict, as Wells murders, steals and spies on people to get what he wants. We've seen his ruthless agents wreck Achenbach's original, modest experiment. This 'England plays dirty' theme mirrors Germany's bitterness toward England for at least the better part of a century of colonial, naval and financial competition. Versailles and WW1 aren't mentioned, but that had to be on the minds of the audience as well: Germany innovates and works hard, but is consistently handed a raw deal. The scenes with the sleek, fascinating Brigitte Helm would be better if they went somewhere; her Florence does what she can to entice Herr Holk but withdraws when he declares his love for his faithful girl back home, the one whose life blood now flows in his veins. 'Das Blut' cannot be dishonored, even if Holk is half convinced that Wills is going to have him murdered after the giant machine starts turning out Gold by the ton. Act Two instead becomes a conflict between Big Capitalism and the lowly-but-virtuous Working Man. Down in the underground warren of tunnels (another Metropolis parallel) Wills' Scottish workforce of sandhogs and technicians side with Holk against their boss. After a preliminary test yields a tiny bit of gold, we get the expected montages of worldwide economic panic, standard material in socially oriented sci-fi as diverse as La fin du monde and Red Planet Mars. Wells plans to grow rich by flooding the world with his artificially produced gold, a strategy that will have to be explained to me. Gold is the world's standard of value precisely because it's rare; it can't be printed up like money. Thirty years later, the surprisingly sophisticated scheme of Auric Goldfinger is to increase the value of his stash of gold bullion by rendering America's gold reserves radioactive, and therefore worthless. If scarcity raises the value of the element, making more should do the opposite. (On the other hand, what about artificial diamonds? Is there any correspondence there?) [I'm acutely aware that discussing the subject matter of movies mainly points up how much I don't know, about anything but movies.] The Incredible Holk convinces the mob of workers that he represents their interests better than the greedy John Wills. The idea that rich English capitalists need to be rejected in favor of honest German morality is the only real message here. It's as simple as the 'heart mediating between the hands and the brain' slogan of Metropolis, but with a slightly arrogant nationalism added. The lavishly produced Gold was filmed on a series of truly impressive sets, including Wills' enormous Scottish mansion. But the giant setting for the climax, deep in a mine under the ocean floor, is the stuff of core Sci-fi. Millions of volts of electricity are harnessed to transmute lead into Gold. That's got to be a heck of an electricity bill; factor in the other enormous overhead costs and we wonder if Wills will ever turn a profit. The special effects for this sequence are sensational. The enormous apparatus is suspended on huge oversized porcelain insulators. The giant glass tubes atop the specimen stage are apparently visualized with mattes and foreground miniatures. But the camera pans and trucks all over the hangar-sized set; it all looks real, with bolts of electricity flashing like crazy. It's a dynamic special effect highlight of the 1930s. The actors sell the conflict well. Beefy Hans Albers sometimes looks like George C. Scott. He exudes personal integrity and a calm force of will. Lien Dyers is as wholesome here as she was wantonly sexualized six years earlier in Fritz Lang's Spies. Michael Bohnen is more than convincing as a powerful man trying to corner all business on an international scale. Although mostly in for decoration, Brigitte Helm is a sophisticated dazzler. Those penciled eyebrows remind us that she had become the Marlene Dietrich that didn't go to Hollywood. Although she did have offers, Helm wanted to stay in Germany. The Nazification of the film industry and the appalling political climate motivated her to leave for Switzerland in 1935, abandoning her career. Although the gist of Gold fits in with Josef Goebbels' National Socialist propaganda aims, the movie doesn't attack England directly. Ufa may have held hopes of foreign distribution. The one man in Scotland that Holk knows he can trust is the captain of Wills' yacht, a fellow German. Nine years later, Josef Goebbels' anti-British version of Titanic would make a German the single ethical person in authority on the doomed ocean liner. The fellow is constantly badmouthing the craven captain and the venal English ship owner. When Hans Albers finishes this movie with a ten-cent moral about love being the only real treasure, the show seems plenty dumb. But that amazing special effect set piece is too good to dismiss so easily. Gold is a classic of giddy '30s science fiction. The Kino Classics Blu-ray of Gold (1934) is a good encoding of the Wilhelm Murnau Stiftung's best copy of this once-rare item. The print we see is intact and with has good audio, but the contrast is rough. It shifts and flutters a bit, especially in some scenes in the middle. I did notice that the final special effects sequences looked better than much of the rest of this surviving print. But the parts of the movie repurposed for The Magnetic Monster look better on that 1953 science fiction film than they do here. In his book Film in the Third Reich David Stewart Hull explains that when the occupation forces reviewed the recovered German films, they ordered this one destroyed. They were concerned that the Alchemy / Atomic Fracturing machine might have some connection to Germany's wartime nuclear program. So how could Ivan Tors have bought the footage from Ufa, if the U.S. Army had seized it? I have a feeling - just idle speculation -- that it might have been obtained in a special deal made through government connections. Since the image looks much better on The Magnetic Monster, Ivan Tors might even have cut up Gold's only existing printing element to make his movie. After finally seeing Gold, one more thing impresses me besides the grandiose special effects. It's sort of a 'brain-drain' movie. In the '30s, Germany had a reputation for the best precision engineering in the world. Werner Holk is semi-kidnapped to serve John Wills' greedy science project, which was pirated from Germany in the first place. Also in awe of German scientific prowess is Brigitte Helm's Florence. The playgirl finds Werner Wolk's brilliance and clarity of mission irresistible. He's both smarter and more ethical than her father. Holk just stands there looking like he's posing for a statue, and Florence is carried away. Ms. Helm is terrific, but it would be nice if her character had a more central role to play in the story. On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Gold (1934) Blu-ray rates: Movie: Very Good Video: Fair + This may be a rare surviving print. Sound: Good - Minus Supplements: none Deaf and Hearing Impaired Friendly? Yes; Subtitles: English Packaging: Keep case Reviewed: June 10, 2016 (5137)
Visit DVD Savant's Main Column Page Glenn Erickson answers most reader mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Text © Copyright 2016 Glenn Erickson
- Glenn Erickson
Ivan Tors and Curt Siodmak 'borrow' nine minutes of dynamite special effects from an obscure-because-suppressed German sci-fi picture, write a new script, and come up with an eccentric thriller where atom scientists behave like G-Men crossed with Albert Einstein. The challenge? How to make a faceless unstable atomic isotope into a worthy science fiction 'monster.' The Magnetic Monster Blu-ray Kl Studio Classics 1953 / B&W / 1:37 flat Academy / 76 min. / Street Date June 14, 2016 / available through Kino Lorber / 29.95 Starring Richard Carlson, King Donovan, Jean Byron, Leonard Mudie, Byron Foulger, Michael Fox, Frank Gerstle, Charles Williams, Kathleen Freeman, Strother Martin, Jarma Lewis. Cinematography Charles Van Enger Supervising Film Editor Herbert L. Strock Original Music Blaine Sanford Written by Curt Siodmak, Ivan Tors Produced by Ivan Tors Directed by Curt Siodmak
Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
How did we ever survive without an "Office of Scientific Investigation?" In the early 1950s, producer Ivan Tors launched himself with a trio of science fiction movies based on that non-existent government entity, sort of an FBI for strange scientific phenomena. As of this writing, Kino has released a terrific 3-D Blu-ray of the third entry, 1954's Gog. The second Tors Osi mini-epic is the interesting, if scientifically scrambled Riders to the Stars, which shows up from time to time on TCM but has yet to find its way to home video in any format. The first of the series, 1953's The Magnetic Monster is considered the most scientifically interesting, although it mainly promotes its own laundry list of goofy notions about physics and chemistry. As it pretends that it is based on scientific ideas instead of rubber-suited monsters, Tors' abstract threat is more than just another 'thing' trying to abduct the leading lady. Exploiting the common fear of radiation, a force little understood by the general public, The Magnetic Monster invents a whole new secret government bureau dedicated to solving 'dangerous scientific problems' -- the inference being, of course, that there's always something threatening about science. Actually, producer Tors was probably inspired by his partner Curt Siodmak to take advantage of a fantastic special effects opportunity that a small show like Magnetic could normally never afford. More on that later. The script plays like an episode of Dragnet, substituting scientific detectives for L.A.P.D. gumshoes. Top-kick nuclear troubleshooter Dr. Jeff Stewart (Richard Carlson) can't afford to buy a tract home for his pregnant wife Connie (beautiful Jean Byron, later of The Patty Duke Show). He is one of just a few dauntless Osi operatives standing between us and scientific disaster. When local cops route a weird distress call to the Osi office, Jeff and his Phd. sidekick Dan Forbes (King Donovan) discover that someone has been tampering with an unstable isotope in a room above a housewares store on Lincoln Blvd.: every metallic object in the store has become magnetized. The agents trace the explosive element to one Dr. Serny (Michael Fox), whose "lone wolf" experiments have created a new monster element, a Unipolar watchamacallit sometimes referred to as Serranium. If not 'fed' huge amounts of energy this new element will implode, expand, and explode again on a predictable timetable. Local efforts to neutralize the element fail, and an entire lab building is destroyed. Dan and Jeff rush the now-larger isotope to a fantastic Canadian "Deltatron" constructed in a super-scientific complex deep under the ocean off Nova Scotia. The plan is to bombard the stuff with so much energy that it will disintegrate harmlessly. But does the Deltatron have enough juice to do the job? Its Canadian supervisor tries to halt the procedure just as the time limit to the next implosion is coming due! Sincere, likeable and quaint, The Magnetic Monster is nevertheless a prime candidate for chuckles, thanks to a screenplay with a high clunk factor. Big cheese scientist Jeff Stewart interrupts his experimental bombardment of metals in his atom smasher to go out on blind neighborhood calls, dispensing atom know-how like a pizza deliveryman. He takes time out to make fat jokes at the expense of the lab's switchboard operator, the charming Kathleen Freeman. The Osi's super-computer provides instant answers to various mysteries. Its name in this show is the acronym M.A.N.I.A.C.. Was naming differential analyzers some kind of a fetish with early computer men? Quick, which '50s Sci-fi gem has a computer named S.U.S.I.E.? The strange isotope harnesses a vague amalgam of nuclear and magnetic forces. It might seem logical to small kids just learning about the invisible wonder of magnetism -- and that understand none of it. All the silverware at the store sticks together. It is odd, but not enough to cause the sexy blonde saleswoman (Elizabeth Root) to scream and jump as if goosed by Our Friend the Atom. When a call comes in that a taxi's engine has become magnetized, our agents are slow to catch on. Gee, could that crazy event be related to our mystery element? When the culprit scientist is finally tracked down, and pulled off an airliner, he's already near death from overexposure to his own creation. We admire Dr. Serny, who after all managed to create a new element on his own, without benefit of a billion dollar physics lab. He also must be a prize dope for not realizing that the resulting radiation would kill him. The Osi troubleshooters deliver a stern lesson that all of us need to remember: "In nuclear research there is no place for lone wolves." If you think about it, the agency's function is to protect us from science itself, with blame leveled at individual, free-thinking, 'rogue' brainiacs. (Sarcasm alert.) The danger in nuclear research comes not from mad militarists trying to make bigger and more awful bombs; the villains are those crackpots cooking up end-of-the-world scenarios in their home workshops. Dr. Serny probably didn't even have a security clearance! The Magnetic Monster has a delightful gaffe in every scene. When a dangerous isotope is said to be 'on the loose,' a police radio order is broadcast to Shoot To Kill ... Shoot what exactly, they don't say. This line could very well have been invented in the film's audio mix, if producer Tors thought the scene needed an extra jolt. Despite the fact that writer-director Curt Siodmak cooked up the brilliant concept of Donovan's Brain and personally invented a bona fide classic monster mythology, his '50s sci-fi efforts strain credibility in all directions. As I explain in the Gold review, Siodmak may have been the one to come up with the idea of repurposing the climax of the old film. He was a refugee from Hitler's Germany, and had written a film with director Karl Hartl. Reading accounts in books by Tom Weaver and Bill Warren, we learn that the writer Siodmak had difficulty functioning as a director and that credited editor Herbert Strock stepped in to direct. Strock later claimed that the noted writer was indecisive on the set. The truly remarkable aspect of The Magnetic Monster comes in the last reel, when Jeff and Dan take an elevator ride way, way down to Canada's subterranean, sub-Atlantic Deltatron atom-smasher. They're suddenly wearing styles not worn in the early 'fifties -- big blocky coats and wide-brimmed hats. The answer comes when they step out into a wild mad-lab construction worthy of the visuals in Metropolis. A giant power station is outfitted with oversized white porcelain insulators -- even a set of stairs looks like an insulator. Atop the control booth is an array of (giant, what else) glass tubes with glowing neon lights inside. Cables and wires go every which-way. A crew of workers in wrinkled shop suits stands about like extras from The Three-Penny Opera. For quite some time, only readers of old issues of Famous Monsters of Filmland knew the secret of this bizarre footage, which is actually from the 1934 German sci-fi thriller Gold, directed by Karl Hartl and starring Hans Albers and Brigitte Helm. Tors and Siodmak do their best to integrate Richard Carlson and King Donovan into this spectacular twenty-year-old stock footage, even though the extravagant production values and the expressionist patina of the Ufa visuals are a gross mismatch for The Magnetic Monster's '50s semi-docu look. Jeff's wide hat and David Byrne coat are there to make him look more like Hans Albers in the 1934 film, which doesn't work because Albers must be four inches taller and forty pounds beefier than Richard Carlson. Jeff climbs around the Deltatron, enters a control booth and argues with the Canadian scientist/turnkey, who is a much better match for the villain of Gold. Jeff changes into a different costume, with a different cap -- so he can match Albers in the different scene in Gold. The exciting climax repurposes the extravagant special effects of Otto Hunte and Günther Rittau, changing the original film's attempted atomic alchemy into a desperate attempt to neutralize the nasty new element before it can explode again. The matching works rather well for Jeff's desperate struggle to close an enormous pair of bulkhead doors that have been sabotaged. And a matched cut on a whip pan from center stage to a high control room is very nicely integrated into the old footage. The bizarre scene doesn't quite come off... even kids must have known that older footage was being used. In the long shots, Richard Carlson doesn't look anything like Hans Albers. A fuel-rod plunger in the control room displays a German-style cross, even though the corresponding instrument in the original show wasn't so decorated. Some impressive close-up views of a blob of metal being bombarded by atomic particles are from the old movie, and others are new effects. Metallurgy is scary, man. The "Serranium" threat establishes a pattern touched upon by later Sci-fi movies with organic or abstract forces that grow from relative insignificance to world-threatening proportions. The Monolith Monsters proposes giant crystals that grow to the size of skyscrapers, threatening to cover the earth with a giant quartz-pile. The Sam Katzman quickie The Day the World Exploded makes The Magnetic Monster look like an expensive production. It invents a new mineral that explodes when exposed to air. The supporting cast of The Magnetic Monster gives us some pleasant, familiar faces. In addition to the beloved Kathleen Freeman is Strother Martin as a concerned airline pilot. Fussy Byron Foulger owns the housewares store and granite-jawed Frank Gerstle (Gristle?) is a gruff general. The gorgeous Jarma Lewis has a quick bit as a stewardess. The Kl Studio Classics Blu-ray of The Magnetic Monster is a fine transfer of this B&W gem from United Artists. Once hard to see, it was part of an expensive MGM-Image laserdisc set twenty years ago and then an Mod DVD in 2011. The disc comes with a socko original trailer that explains why it did reasonably well at the box office. Every exciting moment is edited into a coming attraction that really hypes the jeopardy factor. At that time, just the sight of a hero in a radiation suit promised something unusual. Nowadays, Hazardous Waste workers use suits like that to clean up common chemical spills. The commentary for The Magnetic Monster is by Fangoria writer Derek Botelho, whose name is misspelled as Botello on the disc package. I've heard Derek on a couple of David del Valle tracks for Vincent Price movies, where he functioned mainly as an Ed McMahon-like fan sidekick. His talk tends to drift into loosely related sidebar observations. Instead of discussing how the movie was made by cannibalizing another, he recounts for us the comedy stock footage discovery scene from Tim Burton's Ed Wood. Several pages recited from memoirs by Curt Siodmak and Herbert Strock do provide useful information on the film. Botelho appreciates actress Kathleen Freeman. You can't go wrong doing that. Viewers that obtain Kino's concurrent Blu-ray release of the original 1934 German thriller Gold will note that the repurposed scenes from that film look much better here, although they still bear some scratches. On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, The Magnetic Monster Blu-ray rates: Movie: Good + Video: Very Good Sound: Excellent Supplements: Commentary with Derek Botelho, Theatrical trailer Deaf and Hearing Impaired Friendly? N0; Subtitles: None Packaging: Keep case Reviewed: June 8, 2016 (5138magn)
Visit DVD Savant's Main Column Page Glenn Erickson answers most reader mail: email@example.com
Text © Copyright 2016 Glenn Erickson
- Glenn Erickson
Universal Robots Written by Mac Rogers Directed by Jordana Williams Presented by Gideon Productions The Sheen Center, NYC June 3-26, 2016 (special performances: parents’ matinee, 6/12; audio described for the visually impaired, 6/15; Asl interpreted, 6/23)
Contemporary theater is not exactly bursting at the seams with works in the science fiction genre. With a new production of Mac Rogers’ 2009 Universal Robots, Rogers and Jordana Williams, the writer and director respectively of last year's acclaimed extraterrestrial invasion play cycle The Honeycomb Trilogy, reunite to continue bucking that trend. Universal Robots uses multigeneric Czech writer Karel Čapek's influential 1920 play R.U.R., commonly translated as Rossum's Universal Robots, "as a point of departure for an original speculative drama," borrowing some situations and concepts while crafting an alternate history that differs from our own in some smaller ways (real-life Čapek's brother and writing partner Josef becomes Josephine) and some much larger ones that we won’t spoil the fun of finding out here. Though Čapek's life and corpus provide the intertextual focus, audiences will also be put in mind of the works of writers including Philip K. Dick and Isaac Asimov, as well as of Fritz Lang's Metropolis, shades of which permeate not only the often Futurist aesthetic of the set but also the play's consideration of the means of production.
Universal Robots begins in Czechoslovakia a few years after its founding in 1918. Karel (Jorge Cordova), his sister Jo (Hanna Cheek), and his literary friends Vaclavek (Tarantino Smith) and Salda (Greg Oliver Bodine) meet every Friday in a cafe owned by Radosh (Jason Howard) to debate art, politics, and other Big Ideas. Their circle is joined on occasion by Tomas Masaryk (Sara Thigpen), the president of their "infant nation." Vaclavek criticizes Karel as a counter-revolutionary and a propagandist puppet of the President for his refusal to accept socialism as a viable option. The President, meanwhile, believes that government must be a form of Christian charity, and argues that the atheist Karel is really a Christian himself underneath it all. All of this discussion leads to a debate on the relative merits of fantastical and realistic theater, which in turns leads to a play by the Čapeks that imagines the consequences of an artistic class supported by a drudge class created by pills taken by expectant mothers.
Life -- or, artificial life -- imitates art when Helena Rossum (Brittany N.Williams), a fan of Karel’s and the daughter of a pair of scientists, appears at the cafe with a robot. The automata is pushed inside in a wooden wheelchair with a white cloth covering its head, looking like nothing so much as Hamm from Beckett’s Endgame, an appropriate echo given the emphasis in both plays on servitude and the importance of storytelling in/and memorialization. Just as, historically, Josef Čapek was responsible for R.U.R. being the first text to employ the word robot -- derived from the Czech robots, meaning forced labor or, metaphorically, drudgery in its current usage -- Rogers’ Jo lands on the term to replace Drudge, automata, or creature. Karel advocates to the end for depersonalizing language, including a ban on first-person or gendered pronouns, in order to maintain the distinction between the robots and humans, and it is interesting to note that it works for the audience, too, at least until it doesn't.
We learn that Helen's father is dead, and her mother, a driven, pure scientist who goes simply by Rossum (Tandy Cronyn) is working on continuously improving these robots (which are what we would probably call androids) and needs funding, but wants it to be from the “right” people. With the President’s approval, Peroutka (Neimah Djourabchi), a scientist and friend of the Čapeks, joins Rossum’s project, and the Čapeks themselves become its ethics advisors. Unsurprisingly, ethics becomes a central concern once mass production begins. The steadily increasing learning and sensory abilities of the robots engender increasingly thorny issues that range from the interpersonal and emotional to the roles of and in labor (one short question asked about robots for pedophiles could probably support its own two-hour play), and these issues come to a head as the Nazi threat looms and they are visited by Bernard Baruch (Greg Oliver Bodine), ostensibly negotiating on behalf of Fdr and the United States government, but also there on behalf of his fellow Jews. Regarding what follows, we will say only that Rossum’s robots turn out to be too much of a success.
Over the course of Universal Robots, these developments cause Karel and Jo to grow apart, and Jo becomes the true ethical voice as some of the robots move towards their "finished" form. The early cafe arguments over whether violence against an Other is an unavoidable mechanism of historical change (Masaryk's government massacred its opponents, but Masaryk knows that Vaclavek's socialist revolution would begin with the same tactics) find parallels in the play’s late stages. Soldiers and how they are used and discarded form a set of parallels both with our historical present (extending to Ptsd) and with the play’s other laborers. At least some of these connections would suggest that certain aspects of history are cyclical, and the play introduces both the idea that the inventors, the "brilliant freaks," are the ones who truly change history, not politicians or playwrights, and the idea that the most dangerous person is just such a dreamer when he or she is possessed of the power to realize his or her dream.
The gender-blind casting of Masaryk creates in her conflict with Rossum an extra textual effect of two powerful women each fighting for such a dream, and both are excellent at projecting strength and purpose under tremendous burdens. Jo is the heart of the play in more than one sense, and Hanna Cheek turns in a subtle, nuanced, and affecting performance in the role. Jason Howard, in addition to playing the steady, admiring Radosh, forges a similarly impressive, physically detailed, and notably evolving performance as the robot Radius. Jorge Cordova creates a charismatic Karel who loves his art, his family, and his country equally; his fellow intellectuals; Nikki Andrews-Ojo's imposing robot, Sulla; and the rest of the coterie of robots are likewise well-played.
Universal Robots combines allegory, allusion, humor, and propulsive storytelling to fashion a sweeping, almost Shakespearean sci-fi experience. Give your robot avatar the day off and go see this production for yourself. - Leah Richards & John Ziegler
Photo credit by Deborah Alexander
Dr. Richards is an English professor in NYC, and spends her free time raising three cats and smashing the patriarchy.
When not writing reviews, Dr. Ziegler spends a lot of his time being an Assistant Professor of English in NYC and playing guitar in a death metal band.
- Leah Richards
Review by Adrian Smith
When I Love Lucy debuted on American television in 1951, nobody could have suspected that it would become one of the most beloved shows of all time. Across six seasons Lucille Ball and her real-life husband, Cuban band leader Desi Arnaz, shared their lives with millions. At the time it was the most watched show in the United States, and undoubtedly helped fuel TV set sales during the decade. It has also been repeated constantly since, and sold around the world. Now, almost sixty years since the final episode, it is possible to go back and view it all from the beginning.
Keeping their own names helped further blur the line between the show and reality in the minds of the audience, and watching Desi and Lucy every week felt like you were spending time with real friends. For the most part the situations played out in »
- firstname.lastname@example.org (Cinema Retro)
Kino Lorber continues its crusade to release spectacular HD versions of obscure motion pictures culled from around the planet. Today, Kl announced its plans to release Gold, a rare and eye-filling German science fiction future-shock film from 1934 starring the great Brigitte Helm (Metropolis) and directed by Karl Hartl. Gold has been…
- Chris Alexander
Peaky Blinders (BBC2) | iPlayer
Grayson Perry: All Man (C4)| 4oD
Forest, Field & Sky: Art Out of Nature (BBC4) | iPlayer
Veep (Sky Atlantic)
Birmingham’s Small Heath can never have looked uglier nor more thrilling. One actually wants to go to what may have been, back then in 1924, the most sulphurous, mephitic place on this black Earth: impossible smokestacks loom and belch, dizzying aqueducts sail the high, dark sky. It’s Fritz Lang’s Metropolis given a greasy coat of toxic tar; and it’s venal, and my, it’s exciting.
Perry makes a great companion: lucid and unafraid to show his intelligence, nor to expect the same of his interviewees
Continue reading »
- Euan Ferguson
Everyone needs to start somewhere. And while German filmmaker Fritz Lang eventually went on to make the name for himself that he has today with classics like “Metropolis,” “M,” “The Testament of Dr. Mabuse,” and “The Big Heat,” it was ultimately his 1921’s “Destiny” that initially got the ball rolling. So to give audiences the […]
- Will Ashton
[caption id="attachment_24623" align="aligncenter" width="575"] Edgar G. Ulmer[/caption]
Seeing Edgar G. Ulmer’s The Black Cat (1934) again recently, my appetite was whetted to re-read Theodore Roszak’s Flicker, which uses Ulmer’s strange career as a master stylist exiled to a career toiling in B-movie obscurity as a jumping-off point for a sinister story engorged with a decadent and whispered history of movies. Three years ago I was commissioned to write about Flicker for writer Bill Ryan’s annual October consideration of horror at his great blog The Kind of Face You Hate. I had to admit, I never really thought of Flicker as a horror novel in the strictest sense while I was immersed in it-- the first half reads more like an indulgent orgy of movie lore woven expertly into a pleasingly reluctant, expertly teased detective story. But the book certainly qualifies as horror in that it shares the obsessive nature of its protagonist, »
- Dennis Cozzalio
Guns! Bombs! Assassinations! Blackmail! Fritz Lang invents the escapist super-spy thriller! To seize a set of political documents the evil Haghi dispatches the seductive agents Kitty and Sonya to neutralize a Japanese security man and our own top spy No. 236. (that's 007 x 33,714.2857!) It's a top-rank silent winner from the maker of Metropolis. Spies (Spione) Blu-ray Kino Classics 1928 / B&W /1:33 Silent Aperture / 150 min. / Street Date February 23, 2016 / available through Kino Lorber / 29.95 Starring Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Gerda Maurus, Lien Deyers, Willy Fritsch, Lupu Pick, Hertha von Walther, Fritz Rasp, Craighall Sherry, Hans Heinrich von Twardowsky, Gustl Gstettenbaur. Cinematography Fritz Arno Wagner Art Directors Otto Hunte, Karl Vollbrecht Set Designer Edgar G. Ulmer (reported) Original Music Werner R. Heymann (original) Neil Brand piano score on this disc. Written by Fritz Lang and Thea von Harbou from her novel Produced by Erich Pommer Directed by Fritz Lang
Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
How did Fritz Lang »
- Glenn Erickson
"V for Vendetta" has only come to look more prophetic in the decade since its release on March 17, 2006.
The adaptation of the Alan Moore/David Lloyd graphic novel, starring Hugo Weaving and Natalie Portman as a vengeful anarchist and his protege fighting a fascist government in a near-future England, proved to be the biggest critical and commercial success for producers the Wachowskis since "The Matrix." It also popularized the Guy Fawkes mask that has been a favorite of real-life protesters worldwide.
As iconic as the movie became, "Vendetta" ran into numerous obstacles during its production -- and many controversies upon its release. Here are ten things you need to know about the fan-favorite.
1. After making three "Matrix" movies, Andy and Larry Wachowski (now Lilly and Lana, respectively) dusted off a screenplay for "Vendetta" they'd written years earlier, before they had the clout to make it. Wanting a break from directing, »
- Gary Susman
For the first time in the Us, Jacques Rivette’s 1961 directorial debut, Paris Belongs to Us is available thanks to an accomplished new restoration from Criterion. A neglected title associated with the same crew of vibrant auteurs eventually known as the Nouvelle Vague of the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Rivette’s thunder was stolen by more famous films from critics turned filmmakers Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol, and Francois Truffaut (even though it technically went into production before several of theirs). The initial lackluster response explains Rivette’s slower rise to notability, his particular methods and idiosyncrasies eventually embraced nearly a decade later when items like Mad Love (1969) and the monolithic Out 1 (1971), the legendary near thirteen hour production, were released.
Anne (Betty Schneider) is a young literature student in Paris, following in the footsteps of her older brother, Pierre (Francois Maistre). Afetr a disturbing interaction with a neighbor at her hostel, »
- Nicholas Bell
An Encore Edition brings back Fritz Lang's searing police corruption tale, with the great performances of Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame and Lee Marvinaided by several pots of fresh, hot coffee. As is usual, Fritz Lang leads the way in modernizing a genre -- this one is a keeper. The Big Heat Blu-ray Encore Edition Twilight Time Limited Edition 1953 / B&W / 1:37 Academy / 89 min. / Ship Date February 9, 2016 / available through Twilight Time Movies / 29.95 Starring Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame, Jocelyn Brando, Alexander Scourby, Lee Marvin, Jeanette Nolan, Willis Bouchey, Robert Burton, Adam Williams, Howard Wendell, Dorothy Green, Carolyn Jones, Dan Seymour, Edith Evanson, John Crawford, John Doucette. Cinematography Charles Lang Film Editor Charles Nelson Original Music Henry Vars Written by Sydney Boehm from the book by William P. McGivern Produced by Robert Arthur Directed by Fritz Lang
Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Four years after Twilight Time's initial release, this Encore Edition »
- Glenn Erickson
In years gone by, looking to June’s E3 conference as early as March would’ve been tantamount to madness, but times have changed. Both movies and games get teasers for teasers years before release, and as all sorts of comments from top-level execs are starting to roll out in regards to what the games industry in particular is planning for the biggest show of them all, it’s about time we took stock of the best.
On just March 3rd, Nintendo delivered another fairly solid ‘Direct’ livestream, one in which they balanced the awesomeness of bringing Snes games to the Virtual Console, by having a member of Metroid Prime: Federation Force’s dev team try in vein to justify its existence. In the end, it reminded gamers of one thing; we ruddy love looking forward to future projects and teased releases, for better or worse. »
- Scott Tailford
In this edition of The Week in Spandex, we look at Justice League, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad, Wonder Woman, Supergirl, The Flash, Arrow, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, Gotham, Powerless, Lego DC Comics Super Heroes – Justice League: Cosmic Clash, Batman: The Killing Joke, Captain America: Civil War, Doctor Strange, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Thor: Ragnarok, Avengers: Infinity War, Daredevil, The Punisher, Iron Fist, Jessica Jones, Agent Carter, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Marvel’s Most Wanted, Deadpool, X-Force, X-Men: Apocalypse, Legion, Heroes Reborn and more…
Last week it was rumoured that Warner Bros. was concerned about Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, and could push back Justice League as a result, as well as removing Zack Snyder from the director’s chair. Well, turns out that report was a load of old rubbish, as the studio officially announced that production on Justice League Part One »
- Gary Collinson
Clark travels to Metropolis for the Cerberus Summit, a rare meeting between three of the world’s most prominent young chiefs of industry: Lex Luthor, Oliver Queen, and the enigmatic Bruce Wayne. Landing an exclusive interview with any of the three would all but guarantee Clark a prestigious internship with the Daily Planet…but Clark runs into some unexpected competition when he meets another college journalist named Lois Lane.
Superman: American Alien #4 is out now, priced $3.99.
- Amie Cranswick
Fritz Lang applies rigorous realism and excellent science in the first half of his final silent film, a treat for fantasy fans and those impressed by a Nasa-like moon rocket forty years before the reality. The action on the moon is pure green-cheese fantasy, with breathable air, deposits of gold and evidence of a human civilization. Let's go! Woman in the Moon Blu-ray Kino Classics 1929 / B&W / 1:33 flat full frame / 169 min. / Street Date February 23, 2016 / available through Kino Lorber / 29.95 Starring Willy Frisch, Gerda Maurus, Gustav von Wangenheim, Klaus Phol, Fritz Rasp, Gustl Gstettenbaur. Cinematography: Curt Courant, Oskar Fischinger, Konstantin Irmen-Tschet, Otto Kanturek Art Direction: Joseph Danilowitz, Emil Hasler, Otto Hunte, Karl Vollbrecht, Prof. Gustav Wolff Technical Advisors Willy Ley, Hermann Oberth Special Effects Oskar Fischinger, Konstantin Irmen-Tschet Original Music Willy Schmidt-Gentner Written by Fritz Lang, Hermann Oberth, Thea von Harbou Produced and Directed by Fritz Lang
Reviewed by Glenn Erickson »
- Glenn Erickson
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