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Great Movie About A Bunch Of People On An Old Space Ship Who Save A Cat
It is impossible for me to write an objective review of ALIEN simply because I believe it is not just the best motion picture film ever made, but is a pinnacle of artistic expression that owes its debt to pretty much everything that came before it. The story was a cultural funnel into which it all flowed. The only thing it can be correctly compared to might be the original 1977 release of STAR WARS even though its objectives could not have been more different. It is the most thorough and convincing portrayal of the future ever committed to celluloid. Certainly more convincing than 2001: A SPACE ODDITY, which is too sterile and gleaming. The future will not look like a dentist's office.
The future will be ugly, loud and busy. It will be a retrofitted mess of the past, present and futuristic forms. Like a city which adapts to changing times by modernizing certain parts while still facilitating its old function with its crumbling old infrastructure. If you're curious to see what the future of commercial space travel may look like watch this film. Humans will come and go, we may be tooling about on space craft, we may be crossing vast distances of space, and yes: It stands to reason we will encounter life forms startlingly different than ourselves. Unless we are very lucky it is almost inevitable that like other creatures on this planet they will react to us with fear, hostility or aggression for primal reasons related to territoriality or survival. It is doubtful we will have much in common.
We won't meet these alien life forms by looking for them. We will come across them as we go about our human ways, pressing deeper into the universe while going about our mundane business on the surfaces of worlds never meant to accommodate warm blooded protein and sugar consuming bipedal air breathers. I doubt the aliens we do find will look like HR Giger's creations, but at least in Giger we finally had an artist's vision for a life form that is suitable for the vastness of space. It is infinitely adaptable, roughly taking the form of whatever creature it gestates inside of and born ready-made to thrive in whatever the host's native environment may be. It's a weapon natural or engineered, doesn't matter a DNA replicating machine which mimics its host creature so it may corrupt and devour it more efficiently.
Here it takes the bastardized form of a man and effortlessly eliminates five human adults inside of 48 hours. It would have infected whatever biosphere it was introduced into, skillfully devouring, replicating, spawning and breeding until a critical mass is reached and all other forms of life in that biosphere would be eliminated in a survival of the fittest test with one inevitable outcome. The only way that its threat would be believable and frightening is if the fictional universe the story takes place in is 100% convincing. ALIEN's is, boasting the most effective production design in the history of cinema, bested only by NASA's Apollo moon landing program.
We believe in the universe it is set, the people who inhabit it, and the hardware they use to perform the tasks required by their mode of existence. If we were not thoroughly convinced the entire premise would fall like a house of cards. Ridley Scott, Dan O'cannon, Ron Shussett, Ron Cobb, Christopher Foss, H.R. Giger, John Mollo, Roger Dickens, Les Dilley, Brian Johnson, Jerry Goldsmith, Terry Rawlins, and the cast chosen to enact the story all collaborated seamlessly to produce a completely convincing facade telling a tightly plotted story about humans stumbling across an alien life form. Through duplicity and against protocol, the organism is allowed to infect the human biosphere within the ship, and the crew inevitably discover that the only way to contain the outbreak to their ship is to destroy it. It is a perfect metaphor for the necessary evils of modern life.
The film was successful and its dominance of the horror/action movie market spawned an outbreak of similarly themed films, some of which came close to replicating ALIEN's impact on our culture, but none really being able to introduce anything very useful to the premise. Queens laying eggs dumbs the creature down to familiar Terrestrial life patterns. I would prefer to think that the universe holds many surprises about how life thrives that aren't anything like the patterns we are comfortable with. The bug hunt in the first sequel is well done, but whatever success its offspring may have enjoyed all relate back to the singular vision and urgency behind the artistic quest that this film set out to resolve.
It does so in ways that go beyond the impact of individual scenes. Every film of its kind made since has been influenced by ALIEN in one way or another, and that influence will continue for as long as humans make films. Nobody will ever be able to "undo" its contributions, negate them from our society's palette. You can mix in Predators or A list casts with super-real computer effects, but it will always come back to this film and the startling possibilities it suggested. If it hadn't been done so well we wouldn't still be talking about it, proof that they really did get it right. We have only just begun to explore what forms the possibilities suggested by ALIEN may take, and someone someday will get it just as right in their own era's equivalent.
I hope I'm around to see that happen, maybe even have a hand in making it. Who knows.
Mission Mars (1968)
One Frozen Cosmonaut to Go, Please (**Spoilers**)
I love movies like this. Low budget hard science fiction effort played straight-up, non-campy, done with the best of intentions in mind with the limited resources the filmmakers had access to. If you had any doubt it's all on the level look no further than Darren McGavin as the capable no- nonsense commander of America's first manned mission to Mars. Which according to the way the film is edited feels like it took about a week, round trip.
My favorable opinion of the film likely cased by having followed the advice of skipping forward to the blast off and bypassing the preliminary nonsense. Not sure what all I missed just yet but subsequent scenes of females back at home sitting around being annoyed they have been gone so long don't bode well. The rest of the movie went swimmingly for this lover of improbable space suits, absurd model effects, studio bound alien planets, unsealed motorcycle helmets with antennae and oxygen tubes, stick figure aliens that look like Gumby dolls, space capsules equipped with office chairs, unexplained artificial gravity, absurdly entertaining music that actually works, and balloons.
On that note the film is actually quite satisfying if still clumsily made. Nothing wrong with that. One's suspension of disbelief only need be tempered by being assured that if the filmmakers had access to the budgets & resources "2001: A Space Odyssey" boasted they'd have come up winners too. They didn't, and persevered anyway with space suits consisting of downhill skiing garb, props that do nothing, and even threw in a meal in space scene: Takes up screen time, and converting contemporary food into space food only requires a few odd looking trays with futuristic utensils. Food is food.
I love the pan shots of the wind-swept Martian surface in miniature, the research balloon subplot, and the lost expedition angle with mummified (frozen?) Cosmonaut. Maybe they'd seen "Planet of the Vampires"? The aliens are great, very wise decision in not even bothering to have them move. Makes them more alien without even trying, and their use of a hand weapon on one provides the movie's biggest laugh. I love the stupid hoses connected to their motorbike helmets, the empty tool boxes they carry around, the backwards sound effects and the film's marvelously trippy color schemes. They may have been trying to play it square but this is one hell of a head movie & I'm not even stoned.
In all honesty, most viewers would likely be advised to skip it unless planning a bad movie night, which is a cliché but can still be fun. Those who enjoy low budget science fiction movies and are inclined to admire art made under whatever circumstance the artist had at their disposal in the face of universal indifference & potential ridicule will find a brave little movie here. The filmmakers weren't dummies, even working in a sly reference to Gemini 5's famous corned beef sandwich incident. They also knew how little they had and insisted on working with it, only to be shown up by someone more capable who had the mistakes of films such as this to learn from. For that matter I enjoyed this movie just as much as "2001" though for different reasons more related to playing space explorers with my pals after school. Or during school, whenever we could find the time and something to serve as a rocket ship. Same kind of spirit at work here.
And WTF is that theme song? LOL I want a whole CD of that. Awesome movie, just be warned about those first 17 minutes. I don't even want to look.
Even I Have My Limits, It Seems
Nope. I am not going to do it. I refuse to get into the spirit of this awful little movie, which revealed itself very quickly as an homage to The Three Stooges when one of the characters has a bit of trouble with a high pressure water hose. In Curly's capable hands such physical comedy passes beyond just being funny into some sort of sublime expression of how futile & stupid life can be, and that the best advice anyone can offer another is to save string. Here it's just funny and provided me with the film's sole laugh.
The rest of it was puzzling. At two times I "gave up" and went on to do something else with the precious time our grand creator has granted me here on earth. Life is short. The girls in the movie are tall, however, and I dig tall chicks. It can be like making love to a suspension bridge, so I went back both times to see what the film could come up with them to do, other than to look great in their space leotards. Trust me when I say that could be a whole movie just right there, though sadly they were not granted enough screen time to carry the day & the movie sucks.
I kept wondering whom it was allegedly made for, what audience was in mind while it was being constructed from script to final edit. Children *might* be entertained by it. Lovers of campy overtly corny movies will need their own hard copy so they can plan theme parties where screening it is the focus of the evening. Anyone else should just stick with "Plan 9" which was intended to be a serious movie made by a filmmaker who demonstrated far more finesse with the form than anyone here shy of the ladies' costume designer. At least they got that right.
How to put it ... I love "bad" movies, but they have to end up being bad with the best of intentions to make something meaningful. When you go out of your way to purposefully make a bad movie you are treading on thin ice. What makes the film so curious is that it was made in 1962 when such filmmaking was regarded with a certain amount of seriousness. It's pre-Elvira, suggesting that the film's creators were actually sort of ahead of their time in creating the same kind of crap that Elvira helped make fashionable.
Which I despise, rooting for the underdogs that actually made their little movies for a few thousand dollars in spite of universal indifference & critical ridicule. Going right for the jugular of critical ridicule is nothing short of cheating and this movie left me annoyed enough to come here and crab about it. Sorry.
Special Bulletin (1983)
Still Worth Watching For Ideas
I have now seen this ingenious made for TV movie twice: Upon original broadcast and again last night via the marvel of the internet. In 1983 I was a high school sophomore who watched in thunderstruck awe as a dark fantasy of nuclear hell played out as vividly as it had in the music of the era which captivated me. Here at last was a suitable pop culture document of how senseless it all was, with even the well-intentioned terrorist/activists being as dead wrong as the suicidal federal policies they were trying to put a stop to. It scared the living crap out of me to say the least, ringing with authenticity and dead cold delivery. The few moments where the script tries to become pat and predictable are all undermined by the activities of the players. Normality is set aside.
Upon second viewing now as a jaded adult approaching fifty some of the seams in the weave are evident. We've grown up in an era of 24hr cable news programming with one on the spot disaster coverage after another. The mother of all being coverage of the September 11th attacks, as riveting a 36 hours of nonstop news viewing endurance as I can recall. Then there's all those plane crashes, space shuttle disasters, hostage dramas, reality TV law enforcement shows, and the Ferguson riots, which were streamed live from people's smart phones. You can now pretty much cut out the middleman of the broadcast journalist and watch events unfold live via those who are there.
So there's sort of a chicken-egg thing going on here: Which came first? The cinema-verity docudrama approach of speculative fiction, or the tradition of Americans tuning in on their TV sets to watch events of horror or spectacle happen before our eyes? Which was one of the aspects which made that 1983 viewing so unforgettable The story *happened* to the viewer and could not be stopped or paused or Tivo'd to watch it later. You had to be tuned in and paying attention, and I am struggling now to recall how or even if I knew specifically to watch. It certainly would have been a priority viewing experience if told about it. I was a young suburban punk being prepared for the coming apocalypse by the music of The Clash, British Ska bands, artist/experimenters like Eno and King Crimson, and watched Carl Sagan's COSMOS religiously. It's fatalistic anti-nuclear theme was pure and rational enough to be convincing even without "Ivan Meets G.I. Joe". We were doomed as far as I was concerned. Just a matter of circumstance and POOF. There goes 6.5 billion years of evolution.
None of what "Special Bulletin" depicts stretched outside the realm of what we thought was possible in 1983, and there wasn't opportunity to stop the proceedings during events to check IMDb or other resources (which didn't exist at the time) to try and make sense of what the hell was going on. You sort of have to surrender yourself to the passage of events shown, which was easier 32 years ago than it is now. Viewing with a 2015 sensibility the authenticity of certain moments suffer, specifically the final shootout where a live feed camera is allowed to capture the initial moments of the assault. First thing Delta would have done was get the goddamn cameras out of there, but then again this is as much a fantasy about the news media's irresponsible nature as it was about the nuclear incident. In such fantasies plausibility will be the first thing to go out the window.
So scratch watching this for an authentic demonstration of how such an event could unfold. Watch it instead for the performances, all of which are pretty much dead on, David Clennon being especially convincing as the leader of the group. It is the staging of the interplay between the media personalities which dominate the proceedings being the main shortcoming for contemporary audiences. Or rather, subsequent experience with such broadcast events have rendered the approach taken by the writers as being naive. It's never that simple, and indeed the broadcast's finest moments are when events spiral out of control and leave the commentators bereft of anything to say. Because there is nothing to say at such times, and the best thing they could do was shut the hell up. At least they got that right.
The Mysterious Monsters (1975)
Joey, Do you like Movies about Sasquatches
Peter Graves sonorously narrates Sunn Classics uproarious Bigfoot documentary with all of the authority of Captain Crunch. The film is best remembered in my circle for a genuinely hair raising segment where Bigfoot rummages through the belongings of a group of "Boy Scouts" out camping without adult supervision. Attention is also given to the Loch Ness Monster and indeed, Graves is able to conclude with authority that it is a population of aquatic dinosaurs who have somehow escaped the ravages of time. He also concludes that Bigfoot is actually a population of 200 or more bipedal creatures who exist at one with nature, and have only come to our attention as mankind has cruelly encroached on their habitat with all our unwelcome riot & clamor.
The same approach is found in Sunn Classic's "In Search of Noah's Ark", which taught us that the Ark split in two and rests half submerged in a glacier on Mount Ararat, just waiting for earnest Christians to free it from the ice. Sunn's "The Lincoln Conspiracy" also finds in favor of a complex conspiracy to assassinate Lincoln centered around super spy / traitor Union Colonel Lafayette Baker, who would have made Oliver Stone blush with embarrassment for his ham-fisted script for "JFK". And the overlooked "The Bermuda Triangle", which posits with authority that ships, airplanes and whole civilizations have been sucked into the very bowels of the Earth itself by a misfired Atlantean particle beam accelerator, lost somewhere off the coast of Bimini.
The films are classic Americana, made with working class families who went to the movies two or three times a year in mind, demanding otherwise wholesome G-rated fare suitable for all-ages and fueled by a bizarre zeal to have it all be true even when flying in the face of common sense. "Mysterious Monsters" succeeds admirably, cashing in early on the Bigfoot craze that even "The Six Million Dollar Man" got caught up in and demanding our acceptance by appealing to our conscience rather than science. Forty years later there's still no hide or bones to study and it's to my personal disappointment that garbage films like this sort of got shoved under the carpet as people realized how stupid it all was. It is the right of earlier eras to be as slack-jawed and backward as they like. I for one marvel at garbage such as this film, celebrating with forthright authority man's unending quest to sucker each other out of a couple dollars In this case, movie tickets, and it worked brilliantly. These movies all made gobs of money with almost nothing up front, though don't sell the talents of the filmmakers short. They knew exactly what they were doing just like the guy at the carnival sideshow knows what he is doing. It's called show business.
The results are actually highly entertaining, the one slow spot in the film being a sequence where a "psychiatrist" is shown "hypnotizing" his "patient", who relates a tale so filled with mystery as to sound not just poorly scripted, but unrehearsed. Yet that's half the fun. Not just marveling at how bad, dumb or outrageously idiotic the movie is, but in knowing that it was the best they could manage under the circumstances. Which means there's hope for the rest of us, or at least those of us who refuse to stop believing in Bigfoot and the Bermuda Triangle, UFOs or "Ancient Aliens". Take your pick, spark up and just enjoy being smarter than the dimwits who paid money to see this, ate it up whole, and went home wanting more. Now that's funny.
Battle 360 (2008)
WW2 as Low Attention Span Theater
Stumbled upon this series by coincidence; Had been reading up on the Battle of Santa Cruz and what the hey, gave the episode on it a try via the marvel of YouTube. It's hypnotic viewing with a compelling lead character in the WW2 era U.S.S. Enterprise, easily the greatest warship to prowl the seven seas. What's interesting and somewhat different is the high-octane barrage of busy action scenes visualized by computer animators who had seen "Return of the King". If you've ever wondered what it might have looked like to see 100 plane wave attacks from every possible angle here you go, with one of the most interesting aspects being the depiction of the anti-aircraft efforts flung into the air, something that still photos & grainy archival films from the era never make clear. Like, wow.
Brings the harrowing nature of this form of combat to home, though all of the hyperactivity succeeds at the expense of subtlety. No shot in the series lasts for more than a second, with animation effects adding flourishes to the stream of layered visual information which never lets up. And after watching a couple three episodes one gets familiar with certain sequences used as stock footage (a cost saving measure for the then expensive GCI renderings). Every last moment is also orchestrated with booming music, giving WW2 a techno metal beat between outbursts of "Victory at Sea" type strings.
I guess all this is a good thing however, since here for once is a living color version of WW2 that viewers raised in the electronic/digital age can watch both as a pop culture entertainment and historical document. The final ingredient being something to remind the attention deficit oriented viewers that the events, places & actions depicted were real, a job honorably seen through by the inclusion of veterans adding their color commentary, reflecting on what it was like to be there. It's engaging viewing, not sure how much memory retention of the facts presented will take place but that's why you hit the web after to read up a bit more. Or maybe even go find a book? Hey, you never know.
Informative & Entertaining
One of the live TV events of the OJ Simpson era: Larry King's producers put together a makeshift interview format show out in the middle of the Nevada desert, allegedly within sight of the mountains ringing the secretive Area 51, to seriously address the UFO subculture currents which were trending during the runup to the 50th anniversary of the famed Roswell Incident. It's on YouTube if you'd like to see, just search the title. No conclusions are drawn, with production segments splitting up interviews with the special's guests, led by Stanton Friedman and Kevin Randle, the two leading researchers into the Roswell quagmire.
I was convinced by the end of it that the subject was far more interesting than I'd given it credit for prior. Though it should be noted that for every Kevin Randle there's a Dr. Steven Greer, who appears on the special to represent the nutcase contingent of the flying saucer community. Daffy Duck would have been a more credible voice though there's no denying the entertainment factor behind the Dr.'s contributions to the proceedings. And in fact the most dramatic moment during the show ends up being a bright light which appears close to the horizon after dusk had fallen in the desert. That it was just a car wasn't a problem, watching it live one could taste the excitement that a time was approaching when some of the enigmas from the UFO subculture might soon be brought into the light.
Some were and just because they didn't turn out the way many may have hoped shouldn't be a problem. As for Larry King he and others made some great television out of it all, and this remains one of my favorite examples.
The Bog Creatures (2003)
What we have here in BOG CREATURES is actually a decently made modern version of the C to Z grade creature feature thrillers of the 50s & 60s updated for the cell phone era. Which means nothing too remarkable in terms of plotting, acting, or execution. Sole purpose of the film is to part unwary viewers with 85 minutes of their time with relative ease and on as limited a budget as possible. The only attributes making it any different than HORROR OF PARTY BEACH or THE GIANT GILA MONSTER is some partial nudity during a flashback sequence and a squirm-inducing scene where the film's obnoxious horny pervert character stuffs a pair of ladies' knickers into his mouth. Ew.
One thing the movie does sort of have going for it is a admirable ambiguity as to just where on earth it was filmed. The plot is set in Norway with a visit to Amsterdam for an autopsy scene, but my eyes said Connecticut. Could be anywhere, really, giving fans of the movie something concrete to speculate over. Summer school for eager young filmmakers in Minnesota, perhaps. The cast also features attractive females in their 20s comfortable scampering around in their shorts & tank tops, including foxy Debbie Rochon beautifully spilling out of hers before she chews up the scenery with a burst of acting that none other in the cast can come close to. You can do worse with your time.
The premise also has some merit as well: Scandanavian peat field holds the corpses of several unfortunates thrown into what was once a bog to their fates, conjuring up images from old National Geographic magazines of mummified bog bodies. The corpses aren't happy about it and come back to a shuffling existence suitable for PG-13 rated fare. That they are depicted with low budget makeup effects consisting of muddy shawls & garlands of moss can't be held against the film, as it does not aspire to be an SFX study in rotting flesh, severed limbs and sexual violence. If anything it screams out as an attempt at a date movie rental with strong female roles, good looking semi-neutered guys handy for a body count who aren't as smart as the female lead, and a minimum of gratuity which might come off as sexist. She may think it's dumb but likely won't break it off over having agreed to watch it with you. Safe to rent.
Which unfortunately means that horror genre fans will likely find the results lacking in the sleaze, decadence and excess that the movies it resembles deliver. Consider THE EVIL DEAD with a PG rating, strip away its veneer of artistry, reign in the plot to remove anything too arresting and that's essentially what you get. For what its worth I'll confess to having sort of enjoyed watching it as well; wishing it had ended up as something else won't get us anywhere, and indeed there's room for another go at the motif if anybody is so inspired.
The Incredible Invasion (1971)
This movie likely won't be of much use to the bulk of humans infesting the surface of the planet Earth. But it may interest Boris Karloff fans and amateur theatrical detectives who like to dissect bad movies like lab specimens. What you get here is one of the most disjointed and bizarre films ever made, a combination of what appear to be two films edited to seem like a larger whole. The first movie consists of about thirty minutes of footage featuring Boris Karloff playing a white suited scientist who invents a disintegrator ray device. The were filmed on soundstages in southern California, with some ending up in this film and others in FEAR CHAMBER, THE SNAKE PEOPLE and HOUSE OF EVIL.
The second movie was filmed after his scenes were completed in Mexico and attempts to match the Hollywood scenes with actors -- some the same -- wearing similar costumes on similar sets, reciting more or less similar toned dialog & engaged in similar actions. Idea being that they are on one side of the room and Karloff on the other: Sometimes characters who were present for both sessions walk back and forth between the scenes, which is quite strange. Their hairstyles and lighting changes subtly, creating a disjointed viewing experience that overwhelms whatever the script was about.
If memory serves, a space alien in what can only be described as an Art Neveau flying saucer gets wind of the disintegrator ray and decides it is too great a threat for mankind to posses. The alien looks like Yahoo Serious and wears a silver lame space jump suit that reminded me of David Bowie from THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH. So did some of the flying saucer's design elements, consisting mostly of beakers with colored fluids bubbling through them. The spaceship is mostly shown from the inside too, requiring the viewer to sort of have to take the director's word for it's existence.
The alien takes possession of various cast members and compels them to sabotage the disintegrator ray, which is probably for the best after the local military gets wind of the situation and decides they want a portable version to serve as a weapon. This results in several conversation scenes where characters veer from the California shoot to the Mexican footage. It's a great lesson in how a film can be constructed, and we can only hope that we can learn from it or the seventy three minutes it runs is a waste.
Fans of Boris Karloff will likely be pleased, he's on screen a bit in this one and looks great in that white suit which sharp viewers will recognize as the same one from THE SNAKE PEOPLE, likely filmed earlier that day. Others are well warned to try something else.
Masterpiece In Applied Bad Taste
Seriously fun little Italian sleazefest by former spaghetti western director Anthony Ascott. His "Sartana" films were filled with nifty little gimmicks, gizmos, devices, contraptions and bizarre cinematic flourishes that set the films apart from the pack. Here his little wind up gimmick is a despicable marvel of exploitation monster mania that must be witnessed to be believed. Watching the poor little rat man claw apart the half naked female supporting players is where the heart of the film lies. It delivers the goods, doesn't apologize about what it is & gets the job over with a bit of style in under 85 minutes. None of it is really scary but a lot will make your flesh crawl, and probably laugh.
One idea that keeps coming to mind is about how the film is a study in applied bad taste right down to the wince inducing use of a real life deformed person in a freakshow role. Such things cannot be enjoyed in good conscience without beer which is used in the presence of friends: It's a howler of a party movie and a guilty pleasure to be enjoyed at times when you just want to marvel at how absurd the human species can be. I don't defend this movie for a minute but I sure am in awe of it, which in some cases will have to do.