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An "anti-adaptation" that needs to be edited. Why did we have to spend ten minutes watching the protagonist drive down a highway?
The idea behind this original film adaptation of Stanislaw Lem's classic science-fiction novel "Solaris" is sound: the idea that humanity finds at the furthest end of its exploration of space... a mirror, so that people are forced to see themselves and stop avoiding the things they'd rather forget.
Once the viewer (my wife and I watched it together as we both speak Russian) gets past the tedium which the screenwriters inject into the plot to make it LESS interesting (what I meant by an "anti-adaptation" of the original novel), then yes, that point is made, and made very powerfully.
Nothing's wrong with Solaris that cutting thirty to fifty minutes of very boring footage couldn't fix. In that respect, it far outshines George Clooney's Hollywood remake of Solaris, which actually put me to sleep - something the Mosfilm original didn't do.
A fine example of what ought to have been cut from the movie is the drive back from the dacha into town over what was probably intended to be a futuristic highway. I thought that concrete, elevated highways were super cool the first time I saw them, too, but as an adult I can say that the whole scene adds NOTHING to the movie - it's just tedium for tedium's own sake.
Just ignore scenes like that and hang around for the good stuff, when the psychologist actually lands on Solaris. THAT is worth all the boredom that comes before.
The Manhattan Project (1986)
Pretty good science-fiction thriller
"Manhattan Project" is a thriller... maybe a little too aware of its own social importance, but it has some very funny scenes (the science fair's a laugh riot, especially for anyone who's ever been in one). And the dramatic parts are great, too.
It's just, when you start digesting the movie, it becomes a bit absurd. It doesn't take a nuclear weapons geek to realize that the government would rather make the purest plutonium on Earth in Los Alamos, New Mexico, where it already owns a county or two of desert sealed for your (and their) protection from spies and leaks of nasty stuff, and not Ithaca, New York.
Even the plutonium plant in West Valley, New York would be a bad place for such a thing, because all the plutonium there is regularly inspected by a UN agency, and the plutonium in THIS movie is military plutonium which the Departments of Energy and Defense would rather NOT have the IAEA inspecting.
Also, OK, nuclear physicists get horny and date cute real estate agents. They try to make points with the families of such real estate agents. But do they sneak teenage kids into their top-secret plutonium production laboratories? Not in this world.
By comparison, the clinkers dropped in the scenes where the teenage kid is actually processing plutonium pale by comparison.
All through that sequence, I was thinking "Someone's been reading 'The Curve of Binding Energy,'" John McPhee's extended interview with nuclear weapons designer Ted Taylor, which contained an unclassified outline of how to build a nuclear weapon.
Let's just say that the screenwriters SKIMMED "The Curve of Binding Energy" - the details would just bore most people reading this review. But you have to give them credit for doing much more homework than the usual Hollywood screenwriter.
So, I have to give this movie credit for touching all the bases of a good science-fiction thriller. It gets decent scores for technical accuracy, and it was ahead of its time on a lot of things (excimer laser isotopic separation's all the news, these days - the Australians, who are basically sitting on top of a huge part of the world's uranium reserves, have been playing with the process for some time, now).
The rest of the plot... the romantic stuff just gets the viewer to the point where serious theft of fissile materials happens. It's actually funny in a way that Oedipal jealousy drives the early part of the film... "that BASTARD! Putting moves on my Mom like that! I'll show him... I'll, I'll, I'll STEAL his PLUTONIUM, THAT'S what I'll do!"
And really, what's this kid's PROBLEM, anyway? He's got study dates with a girl built for sin, and he's POed because his mom's dating someone considerate enough to show him a million-dollar excimer laser? Stranger things have happened in real life, but I dunno... it blew my willing suspension of disbelief away for a while.
But it's a good film. Worth ONE viewing, at least.
A very nice distillation of Carl Sagan's novel
I don't usually think much of screen adaptations of novels; they often come out being very different stories, and seldom better than the novels.
Contact is a pleasant surprise. It's a very extensive rework of the story told by astrophysicist and science writer Carl Sagan, and for a wonder, every change is for the better. Partly, I suspect that this is because the screenwriters who did the adaptation are simply better writers than Dr. Sagan was.
While Contact is a great story about how contact with a civilization from another star system might actually occur, Sagan didn't tell it as well as other writers might have. He spent a lot of time grinding his ideological axes from cover to cover.
Sagan's points were almost all well-taken, but for someone who likes to throw the term "chiliast" (another word for "extremist" which sounds like it refers to molesting little kids with Southwestern cooking) around in his prose, Sagan gets a little chiliastic in Contact himself. The screenwriters dialed that back a LOT from the novel while still making Sagan's points for him. They probably made his points BETTER than he did by not being as intense about it.
Jodie Foster is probably the very best cast for Ellen Arroway available, having had the requisite brains to get into Yale in real life, she makes a very convincing scientist, very much like the brilliant women I've known in science and medicine over my career. She's also got acting tools too well-praised to need further praise from me.
Matthew McConaughey did yeoman work with that the screenwriters gave him to work with, the extensively re-written character "Palmer Joss."
It's not his fault that while this character's much more believable than the original from the novel (Sagan's Palmer Joss was almost a caricature as originally written, and seldom more than two-dimensional), there are still difficult things to believe about how the movie's Palmer Joss behaves. But McConaughey did his usual great work with what he had.
I'm not going into plot development further than that because Contact's so well-written, directed and performed that you deserve to experience every single part of it for the first time.
Contact's not just a great movie. It tells the story Carl Sagan intended to write the way he should have.
Fail Safe (2000)
The very best thing George Clooney did or will ever do.
I want to freely state here that George Clooney had shown he's capable of brilliance, and the live television production of "Fail Safe" is a prime example of this. Whether it needed to be produced in black and white... is an artistic judgment that a lot of people agreed with. I was "meh" about it - this is, after all, the 21st century, and the only reason that Fail-Safe was done in black and white originally was economics. Now color's as cheap as black and white, and nothing in the original Burdick and Wheeler novel "Fail-Safe" demanded black and white.
One suspects Clooney is nostalgic for the 1960s, when so many moral questions seemed easier to plumb to us baby-boomers. But the black and white presentation's a relatively minor issue.
One thing I missed from the first movie presentation and the novel was a stronger Prof. Grotescheele (the Herman Kahn-like character in the movie played by Hank Azaria, who cut a figure in Georgetown house parties by brandishing his knowledge and. seemingly, insouciance about thermonuclear war. The character came across as oddly subdued in the Clooney adaptation, perhaps because his egotism was shown (in the novel) in places which may have been very difficult to stage for a live production (in one case, the inside of a parked car). That's ONE drawback to live productions - you're limited in staging.
But these are minor cavils. The fact is, George Clooney shot for a very hard target - reviving live television drama - and hit it outstandingly. The atmosphere of tension and violently conflicting loyalties comes across as sharp or sharper as in the original movie.
I recommend you view this film, and the original film, and read the novel "Fail Safe," for the problem it explores, the very unsteady nature of nuclear weapon command and control, is going to be even more important to us as the membership of the Nuclear Weapon Club passes ten and moves toward twenty nations. Eventually, how well Bangladesh can control its nuclear arsenal when North Korea sells them one will be a question that affects all of us personally.
And I fervently agree with George Clooney's remarks in the end credits of his adaptation of "Fail-Safe" that the growing membership of the nuclear club is an ominous development. I disagree that arms control is imperative; we've had arms control and a Nuclear Non- Prolifeation Treaty for almost fifty years, and in that time India, Pakistan, South Africa and North Korea joined the Nuclear Club, often with help from fully signed-up opponents of nuclear proliferation - on paper. There are absolutely no simple solutions to this problem.
Iron Sky (2012)
Porno for leftist bigots
Here in the United States of America, Iron Sky skidded past "direct to DVD" to the next lower stage of popularity, "Direct to Netflix."
Actually, I don't KNOW whether Iron Sky was sold here on DVD, but we sure never saw any ads for it. Now, what makes a movie SO bad that even the flacks of Hollywood won't try to make a serious dime off of it?
It's not that the film is critical of America. Americans are the most masochistic moviegoers on the planet. We have almost unlimited patience with social critics, and if Iron Sky had had any redeeming qualities to speak of apart from occasional fantastic special effects scenes (including one of the most entertaining space battle scenes - not necessarily the best, because, like George Lucas, the makers of the film think you can bank a spacecraft in vacuum), it might have had some viewers.
But Iron Sky seemed to have been written by the Obama campaign. The makers of the film just can't stop pinching loaves off on George W. Bush. Which is fine if you think that absolutely nothing happened between the end of 2008 and 2012 when the film was released, but most of us are tired of hearing "it's all Bush's fault and it'll always BE Bush's fault, and the Nazis weren't even all that bad compared to Republicans."
"Iron Sky" also insults African-Americans, by implying that the only way one would go into space is as an ACTOR. To get their heads into THAT message, the backwoods skinheads responsible for this turkey and the people giving it high scores would have had to be ignorant of the fact that just ONE of the several African-Americans in the US space program racked up over 688 hours in Space Shuttle missions over five separate missions - which makes Dr. Guion Bluford (now retired from NASA) a more formidable space power by HIMSELF in real life than ANY of the nations whose taxpayers paid for "Iron Sky." Just saying.
This is one seriously bigoted movie. It out-paces serious competition from Hollywood to be the Left's answer to D.W. Griffith's "The Klansman" and "Birth of a Nation."
Funnily enough, it seems to have gotten most of its funding from a nation remarkable for having hung in there with Hitler and the Nazis during World War 2, whose aircraft bore the swastika proudly in their war with Russia - Finland. This may explain the cuddly-fuzzy portrayal of Nazis in Iron Sky's script - sort of a large-screen sci-fi version of "Hogan's Heroes."
So, if you really want to sit through two hours of really slanted and groundlessly negative portrayals of Americans, go for it.
I'm sure our current President LOVES it. I'm not sure what all the people praising Obama and this film at the same time are thinking of, because we're talking about someone who spies on his own people, wiretaps the press, and uses the Internal Revenue Service to punish the political opposition.
But maybe that's how the fans of this show in Germany, Australia and Finland like it.
Oh, and looking over all 24 pages of reviews and ratings, halfway through I noticed at least ten posts were duplicated word for word. Congratulations, Iron Sky fans, for finding a way to pw'n IMDb by duplicating good ratings with the posts.
I'm sure Hollywood's paying attention, and we'll NEVER see a Hollywood feature score less than 9 on IMDb from now on. You've shown them how to game the system.
Dr. Cook's Garden (1971)
Bing Crosby's ultimate made for TV movie
Bing Crosby Productions made a number of what used to be called "thumbsuckers," movies with a philosophical context (not necessarily "message movies," although some of them were).
Dr. Cook's Garden is one of those and stars Bing Crosby himself. It features Frank Converse as Jimmy Tennyson, a young doctor going back to his roots in a quaint New England town. Naturally, he visits the town doctor, Dr. Leonard Cook, played by Crosby in one of his better, certainly darker, portrayals.
During his visit, Dr. Tennyson notices people dropping dead who didn't seem to have a life-threatening condition... except they often weren't nice to know or particularly decent people. There also seems to have been an unusually sharp distribution between the healthy, thriving population of the town and some sickly kids and adults who die sooner than Tennyson would have predicted.
His curiosity piqued, Tennyson noses around Cook's clinic. In the dispensary, where drugs and other supplies for the clinic are kept, he notices an unusually large variety and number of poisons... and Dr. Cook knows that Tennyson noticed.
Suddenly. Tennyson begins having close calls, then, in a climactic picnic (just Tennyson and Cook in a bucolic meadow), the two men have it out. Tennyson has a sandwich with a strong mustard which conceals a dose of cyanide, and when it begins to take effect, Dr. Cook reveals his secret and offers Tennyson a chance not to die if he accepts Cook's method of keeping his little town decent. Tennyson accepts, Cook gives him an antidote for the poison, and a tense relationship ensues, neither man trusting the other.
Eventually Cook himself has a heart attack; Tennyson has the nitroglycerin pills that CAN save Cook... who realizes he's about to be the latest weed pruned from Dr. Cook's Garden.
Crosby gives this character a calm but very dark nonchalance about the deaths he inflicts; it's a side of Bing Crosby I'd never seen back in 1971 when I first saw this film.
While Bing Crosby did produce "message movies" for TV, this isn't one of them. No easy answers are in the plot, and certainly nothing that smacks of Crosby's strong Catholic belief in real life. It's a very quiet, unassuming character study, and a mystery good enough to have been in the running for an Edgar Award.
I can recommend this, if you can find it. It's unusually thought- provoking for a Bing Crosby Production, worthy of that time in the history of television when at least some producers were smarting from FCC commissioner Nicholas Johnson's judgment of television as a "wasteland," and trying to make worthwhile scripts. Watch it, you won't regret it.
Robot Chicken (2005)
Self-indulgent, self-referential crap
This is a clay-mation sketch alleged comedy series whose only virtue is irreverence. Yeah, their irreverence is way cool - for eighth graders.
Eighth graders would have done a better job than "Robot Chicken." It's politically preachy in a way that might have helped American voters make the biggest mistake they've ever made in a Presidential election TWICE.
I didn't mind the wicked sketches about Bush. What was ridiculous was the lack of ANY sort of balance - any recognition that John Kerry and Barack Obama are just as ridiculous in different ways, and just as unqualified to be President of the United States.
Robot Chicken would have done this country a real service if they'd been every bit as caustic and biting about Bush's predecessor, his opponent in the 2004 election, and his successor. Millions of people who lost insurance coverage as the "Affordable Care Act" (THERE'S a joke for you) went into effect would have thanked Seth Green and Matt Senreich if they'd just treated Obama the way they did Bush.
There's plenty of material for wicked, absolutely tasteless humor in Benghazi, Obama's spiritual "God Damn America" adviser (and the press' "nothing to see here, folks" reaction to a Presidential candidate who sat in the pews and lapped up racist vomit spewed from the pulpit of his church FOR 20 YEARS); the sketch about "Operation Fast and Furious" just about writes itself, as does the one about Attorney General Eric Holder getting his cues on how to be the nation's chief law-enforcement officer from the Nixon Administration playbook.
The ultimate Obama sketch would have showed him in Wicked Witch of the West drag giving the Flying Monkeys of the IRS union their marching orders to drag in every Tea Party and conservative organization in the country - and their little dogs, too. But maybe that's over the heads of Seth Green and Matt Senreich.
So... apart from Robot Chicken being a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Democratic Party, the sketches themselves are the very worst sort of sophomoric humor - actually, I've coined the term "freshmanic" for humor that doesn't even come up to the standard of "sophomoric" Robot Chicken is freshmanic humor, gleaned from the drawings on the covers of the algebra notebooks of every dumb football jock who ever lived.
You can DO irreverent humor that's smart humor. Monty Python showed us how it's done, and they are no fonder of George W. Bush than the makers of Robot Chicken. I like Monty Python, even though their smartassery about American politics has that rotten, left-over from the 1970s smell. They still manage to be funny. And Robot Chicken sort of slouched into a dumb, patting themselves on the back sort of smarminess that just makes you want to puke. They stopped being funny toward the end of Season 1 (and I've watched them through the end of Season 2, when they were just boring, preachy, and insulted the intelligence of anyone who watched).
O Lucky Man! (1973)
One more example of cinema puante (the fetid cinema)... self-indulgent crap
This film emerged from the "revolutionary 1970s" as an example of unplanned obsolescence. Everything the director dislikes is set up as a strawman for denunciation; some sex is thrown in now and then to keep the proles watching and nodding to every malformed political thesis between boob shots. Its politics have been overtaken by events; the socialism it espouses by default revealed to be even more mindless, amoral and homicidal than the worst it can say about capitalism.
Basically, you have to have a raging crush on one or more of the actors in this film to like it, or to value technique over substance. While Helen Mirren IS hot, she's not hot enough to redeem this crock.
Guys, if you hate modern civilization that much, there are places you can still get away from it in. Go move there. That way, you won't have to bore us with adoring reviews of self-indulgent film school projects like this.
Very possibly one of the worst science-fiction movies ever made this century.
I mean that, too. Part of the dumbing-down of the civilized world (not just America) is that something that used to be taught in high school, the Law of Universal Gravitation, is blithely tossed out the window in this Leaden Turkey of a movie. Things happen which anyone with a pencil and paper and knowledge of equation F=G(M(1)xM(2))/r squared at his disposal could show would never happen in a few minutes of paperwork. It's not even calculus - just simple algebra. Isaac Newton was able to figure it out in the seventeenth century.
There is absolutely no excuse for this film. It is an amalgam of willful, sorry ignorance of scientific facts wrapped up in a glittering cinema production. The writers of this script should hang their heads in shame, for they have demonstrated a great deal of highly-counterintuitive idiocy in their screenplay.
There are American films I am proud are shown overseas. This one makes me want to hang my head in shame at the thought that the screenwriters' VERY sketchy grasp of science is being shown outside the country, helping to give our people a mostly undeserved reputation for crass stupidity.
If I could burn every reel, tape and DVD of a movie, it would be this one.
Wrong Is Right (1982)
Underrated low-budget satire - the Dr. Strangelove of the War on Terror
Wrong is Right was handicapped by indifferent marketing; it had a good cast, decent script, good production values. It also came out just after the trough of the Carter administration malaise... and during the Iranian hostage crisis, when people did not want to see MORE terrorists than they already knew existed.
But Wrong is Right is more enjoyable now, when its plot line is comparatively tame compared to the events of the last twelve years.
Post-9/11 viewers can see how prophetic Wrong is Right is of how the War on Terror would play out, with both major US political parties signing on for the dysfunctional response to terror attacks on the United States we eventually saw in 2001.
Wrong is Right's saving grace is the taut interweaving of savage satire and action scenes that characterized its famous predecessor "Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Relax and Love the Bomb." It drags a little in parts, but not much, and some of the humor is hackneyed, but again, not enough to hurt the production.
The cast of Wrong is Right is "name" actors who came to work, no one phoning in his or her performance. And those performances are very good for a low-budget Hollywood film - they maintain a dark comedic pace as close to that of Dr. Strangelove as possible without Terry Southern in his salad days writing and Peter Sellers doing his stellar best to delight and bemuse.
Wrong is Right could have been made better; it's still one of those wicked satires which you ought to see when you're in the mood for a movie that says "I told you so." Something I'm very grateful "Dr. Strangelove" hasn't been able to say. Yet.