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7/10
Great special effects buoy up otherwise underwhelming story
15 July 2019
The title pretty much sums up the story. Malevolent aliens in the titular vehicles try to intimidate Earth into surrendering before launching an all-out attack. Unusual for the genre, we 'fired first', (although the aliens were likely up to no good from the beginning, having shot down all of our satellites). The typical B-movie story finds scientist Russel Marvin (Hugh Marlowe) (and his pretty wife Carol (Joan Taylor)) constantly in the thick of things as the heroic boffin whips up a last minute miracle weapon. The script and acting are pretty trite, and other than Ray Harryhausen's stop-action work, the production values are weak (notably in the use of excessive and sometimes poorly matched stock footage). Some of the matte footage (such as the heroes running through the fire) is amateurish, and there are a number of irritating inconsistencies in the plot, especially with respect to the alien's capabilities. Of course, what makes the film a must see for genre fans are Harryhausen's iconic stop-action flying saucers. The design is classic, the model work excellent, the saucers are well integrated into the live action footage, and the film was one of the first to include the now de rigueur 'alien invasion' motif of trashing national monuments. Typical of Harryhausen projects, if the rest of the movie had been as good as the special effects, it would have been a classic.
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Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995–1996)
5/10
Some good imagery but overly long, sometimes pretentious, and scuttled by a terrible ending
11 July 2019
Fourteen year-olds (chosen for some undefined special talent) pilot giant bio-mechas into battle with "Angels" - an ill-defined, constantly-evolving, existential threat. Although there are moments of imaginative techo-action and a build-up to an intriguing story, the series (at least the first 24 episodes) is generally an uneven mix of teenage angst, opaque metaphysics, cryptic dialogue, and goofy humour that doesn't consistently succeed on any level. Also, the series is marred somewhat a juvenile approach to character development (especially Asuka, who comes across as how a 14 year old would write an obnoxious 14 year old character), uneven pacing, a lack of visual continuity (it's hard to figure out where anything is relative to anything else), and some unnecessarily pretentious filigree, especially the religious symbolism that is stirred into the apocalyptic imagery, (which ultimately adds little to the story and comes off more like a transparent attempt to make the standard 'mecha vs. monster shtick' sound 'important'). The final two episodes are divisive and I'm in the 'massive letdown' camp: 45 minutes of tedious Oprah-quality psycho-drivel as each of the already 2D characters gets flattened out even more. Too bad: if the story had maintained the momentum of the generally interesting first 2 episodes, if the characters hadn't been so puerile and simplistic, and if the resolution to the mystery of the "Angels" and the "Second Impact" had been as interesting as the build-up, this series might have been as good as I was led to believe. Note: I watched the ineptly subtitled version that was recently released on Netflix.
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9/10
Clever, entertaining spin on the Spiderman saga
9 July 2019
Dimensional cross-wiring brings together a variety of Spiderman-oids together in a battle to preserve reality. The premise allows for a mix of animation styles, when blend together for a great visual experience. The story is typical 'superhero' shtick but holds together well, the characters are engaging, the script and voice talent good (with just the right blend of melodrama and comedy), and the imagery outstanding. 'Into the Spider-Verse' is a refreshing addition in the current Marvel-hero canon, in which even the good films are all stating to look the same.
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6/10
Remake of 'The '?' Motorist' (1906) is less imaginative or novel that the original
9 July 2019
An inventor and a young just-married couple take a trip in a car driven by a mechanical chauffer in this 'remake' of Booth's earlier short 'The "?" Motorist'. After some high-speed mayhem on Earth, the fantastic car, dragging behind it an unfortunate policeman, flies into space, does a lap around a smiling moon, and takes a spin on Saturn's rings before entering the planet for a meeting with some Saturnians. After escaping the ringed world, the car plummets to Earth for a brief underwater adventure: all in 10 minutes! The mechanical driver is one of the cinema's earliest 'robots' but other than that, most of the film is a mix of imagery done before (either in the directors previous 'Motorist' film or in Méliès' films). Still interesting but by 1911, the 'comic space voyage' was getting a little played out as longer and more 'serious' proto-science fiction films were being made (such as the same director's 'The Airship Destroyer' (1909) or 'The Aerial Submarine' (1910).
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8/10
Imaginative celestial fantasy
8 July 2019
Director Walter Booth's silent short follows a couple in a magical car as the they travel to the moon, hitch a ride on a comet, and take a spin on Saturn's rings before returning to Earth only to run afoul of the law. The film is one of a number of fanciful shorts produced by cinema pioneer Robert Paul. The substitution splices are quite good, for the time (especially the switch between the live policeman and the dummy that gets run over). The animation and double exposures are less effective (e.g. the car is translucent and out of scale when it crashes into the courtroom). The images of the car circling Saturn are quaint but memorable. The film was remade and expanded by Booth (then working with producer Charles Urban) as 'The Automatic Motorist' (1911), which follows much the same story except that the car is driven by a robot chauffeur and the trip includes a visit to Saturn's interior and an underwater excursion.
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7/10
Ponderous Stalin-era relic with classic retro-robots. In general, more of historical interest than entertaining
27 June 2019
Theorising that 'free labour' would destroy capitalism, engineer Jim Ripple (S.M. Vecheslov) creates giant mechanical workers. Human workers protest being displaced leading to a confrontation with the military, who try to use the robots as soldiers to supress the uprising. Despite purity of initial intent, Ripple soon breaks with workers (including his father) and becomes a tool of the military-industrial complex, only to be thwarted by the clever and resourceful proletariat. Although where the story occurs is never explicitly stated, resplendent military officers, top-hatted capitalists, glaring neon signs, and bourgeois dance clubs pretty much puts the pin in the USA (or perhaps the USSR's newly fascist neighbour to the west). The message is unsubtle, especially when the workers' protest is put down by gunfire in a scene similar to (but in much smaller scale) the massacre on the Odessa Steps in 'Battleship Potemkin' (1925). 'Loss of Sensation' is quite slow-moving at times, with a lengthy interlude at a nightclub (including a musical number), but the ending is worth waiting for. The robots are classic 1930's mechanical monsters (although they are a bit slow and lumbering to really be seen as a threat). Oddly, the robots are emblazoned with 'RUR' (for 'Ripple's Universal Robots'), despite the fact the story is not based on Karel Capek's famous 1920 play 'R.U.R' (Rossums Universal Robots) but rather the adapted from the Ukrainian novel 'Iron Riot' (1929). The acting is a bit melodramatic (consistent with the thickly laid-on message) but the robot effects are great (in a 'retro' sort of way - the robots could easily be on the cover of a 1930's 'Amazing Stories' magazine), as is the cinematography in general. There is an odd gimmick by which the robots are controlled by sound, which sets up a somewhat delirious scene where Ripple is surrounded by 'dancing' robots, while playing on his saxophone (strangely the scene is not set to sax music but rather to ominous orchestral music). Not many science fiction films were made in the USSR in the '30s (apparently the genre was frowned upon by the Party censors) but 'Loss of Sensation' may have gotten green-lighted because its 'triumph of the workers' message is pure Soviet ideological shtick (interestingly, at least one academic (David Christopher) has hypothesized that the film might be sneakily subversive, with Ripple representing Stalin and the robots representing workers abused under the emasculating cult of the Supreme Soviet). There appears to be a variety of translations and alternative titles on-line (the film is also known as 'RUR: The Robots of Jim Ripl'). I watched a subtitled version on You-tube that was reasonably good although the subtitles had a number of spelling and punctuation errors.
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7/10
Fun sequel
27 June 2019
This time the big guy (voiced by John C. Reilly) is forced to leave his comfortable arcade to find a crucial component of his best friend's (Vanellope Von Schweetz, voiced by a squeaky Sarah Silverman) racing game before the machine is sold for scrap. Out in the real-virtual world the two encounter an endless stream of internet memes as they first search out E-bay, and then try to parlay their e-abilities into real cash. Although I found the film a bit long for the material, I enjoyed it. The story is entertaining, the voice-acting excellent and the jokes are endless (like most of its ilk, the movie would require multiple rewatches (or endless pauses) to pick up on every pop-culture/geek-chic reference. Given Disney's pop-cultural dominance, it's no surprise that almost everyone from Snow White to Imperial Storm Troopers to Buzz Lightyear shows up for at least an e-cameo.
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9/10
Gentle, slow, and melancholy
19 June 2019
Giovanni, a young cat, finds himself on a train that is travelling through the stars with his best friend, Campanella. Passengers, each with different fantastical stories come and go, as the train travels through the constellations on its way to its final stop. The film is very slow moving but beautiful to look at, full of colourful, surreal imagery and Christian symbolism. I was very much drawn into soft-spoken Giovanni's sad but ultimately up-lifting story and I remain impressed at how moving Japanese anime can be and how much character the film-makers can draw out of their illustrations. Although not as entertaining as most Studio Ghibli films (or as touching and tragic as "Grave of the Fireflies' (1988)), 'A Night on the Galactic Railroad' is an excellent anime film, providing you are in a tranquil, pensive mood. Based on the posthumously published novel 'Ginga Tetsudo no Yoru' (variously translated as 'Milky Way Railroad', 'Night Train to the Stars', or 'Fantasy Railroad in the Stars') by Kenji Miyazawa.
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5/10
Of historical interest only
17 June 2019
A machine is demonstrated that supposedly instantly turns pig into pork at the turn of a wheel. The film, created by the pioneering Lumière Brothers, is about an imaginary 'technology' but there are no 'special effects'. Calling this ancient one-joke short the first science fiction film, as some do, is a bit of a stretch, but as there is no obvious 'first' for the genre, this is as likely as any of the contenders. The film spawned a number of knockoffs in which various animals are turned into sausages. As there were rumours that such things were happening, these films may have been meant as satire as well as entertainment. Ironically, the 'la charcuterie mécanique' foreshadowed modern meat-product production facilities, which involve considerably less 'hands-on' work than 19th century butchers could have imagined.
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7/10
Action packed no-brainer delivers on what is expected of it
17 June 2019
Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his IMF crew deal with an apocalyptic plan to ignite a new world order with the usual array of high-speed chases, noisy gunfights, gravity-defying martial arts, masterful disguises, and hyper-kinetic stunts. While some of the action set-pieces go on a bit too long (the motorcycle chases all start to look the same after a while), any claim to plausibly is thrown out the window (mastering helicopter controls looks pretty easy), and the 'comic relief' is a bit strained, MI#6 is an entertaining hyper-action flick. The stunts are excellent and Cruise is entitled to a lot of credit for the work he puts into this kind of film.
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7/10
Archaic but fun interplanetary love story
15 June 2019
In this, Italy's first 'science fiction' film, an astronomer falls in love with a Martian women and the two arrange to meet on the moon, where they are married amidst cavorting moon-maids. The film is a mix of animation, stage, and outdoor filming and the visuals are very imaginative. There is an excellent scene where the Earthling is fired to the moon in a giant cannon ball, only to land next to his love, who arrives in some kind of a dirigible-like ship launched from a giant slide. The scenes on the moon are fun (especially when the moon-maids spontaneously appear) and the surreal image of Mars and the Martian city are reminiscent of the alien world in 1973's 'Fantastic Planet'. In one particularly imaginative scene, the astronomer sends his loved-one a radio message, which is envisioned as a stream of letters flying through the heavens. The acting is over-the-top histrionics, even by 'silent' standards, especially the astronomer, who constantly gesticulates like a hyperactive mime. The version I watched on-line had English title-cards but they flashed by to quickly to read. Other versions on-line did not have cards (they aren't really needed, the frenetically pantomiming actors make what the story is about quite clear). The film is much less known than Méliès' 1902 'A Trip to the Moon' but (IMO) is an equally fascinating example of cinéma fantastique from the early silent era.
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7/10
The first American 'science-fiction' movie
15 June 2019
Admittedly, here's not much 'science' in this 'fiction' as an inventor develops an anti-gravity power that he then spills on himself, resulting in him flying (falling?) to Mars where he encounters immense animate trees and a satanic looking giant who eventually blows him back to Earth. Although not as ingenious or as visually intriguing as Méliès' 1902 'A Trip to the Moon' (to which it is often compared), Edison's film has its clever moments: the inventor arrives upside down on the underside of Mars and the split-screen matte as he moves through the 'trees' is very effective. 'A Flight to Mars' was produced for Edison's 'Home Kinetoscope' (an early 'personal-media' device) and in the context of the history of the genre (and film in general) is an imaginative, entertaining and historically interesting short.
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Frankenstein (1910)
7/10
Fascinating early horror film with a great 'creation' scene
14 June 2019
In this very loose and abbreviated retelling of Mary Shelly's famous tale, young student Frankenstein learns how to create life but his creation (here played by Charles Ogle) is evil and so hideous that it cannot abide its own reflection and is ultimately vanquished by the power of love. Much of the film is typical of the melodramatic histrionics of the early silent era but the creation of the monster, as it slowly, spontaneously self-assembles in a great steaming cauldron, is outstandingly creepy (and reminiscent of the excellent regeneration scene in the original Hell Raiser (1987)). The film is let down somewhat by a sappy ending but otherwise it is well-worth watching, especially if you can find one of the better restored versions on-line (in the version I recently watched, you could clearly see the creature's face during the creation scene (at around 4:45)).
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6/10
Slow moving but surprisingly watchable
12 June 2019
An energy-based Martian life form 'invades' Earth in order to stop any further exploration of Mars. Following a reasonably well done (for the budget) scene following the fate the robotic explorer from Earth's first mission to the red planet, the film settles into a ghost story-like tale of a family being menaced by mysterious doppelgangers as they vacation in an immense, empty mansion. Very little happens and what little exposition that is offered follows a lot of scenes of increasingly frightened looking people wandering from room to room, but the cinematography and music is well done and moody. By 1962, aliens taking over our bodies was a well-trodden motif, but the ending of TDMIE is a little different and worth sitting through the generally plodding film for.
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6/10
Disappointing kaiju extravaganza
11 June 2019
Eco-terrorists connive to release the quiescent kaiju held by "Monarch" (some kind of paramilitary crypto-zoology organisation) in an attempt to restore balance to Earth before the careless current alpha species (us) destroys the planet. Not surprisingly, the former lords of the planet have their own agenda. The film, number 35 in the long-running and now international, franchise, is long, loud and over-wrought. The whole eco-terrorist subplot gets tedious fast, especially Vera Farmiga's self-righteous/bitter/villainous/heroic-mom shtick and her bonding/unbonding/rebonding with her precocious daughter. The plot relies heavily on a McGuffin - the "ORCA", a one-of-a-kind monster-controller gadget that seems virtually indestructible, adaptable to any available wiring, and seemingly operable by anyone. There are lots of stylised shoot-ups as eco-mercenary Alan Jonah (Charles Dance, famously impaled while on the toilet in 'Game of Thrones') and his generic gunmen attack Monarch bases, first to get the ORCA, then to release the beasts. After a while, it all starts to look the same. Sadly, the film spends too much time on the flimsy 'human component' of the story, at the expense of showing lots of monster mayhem and obliteration of famous landmarks - often the best part of this type film. Many of the monster scenes are too dense, too busy, too rainy/cloudy/smoky/dusty, and too full of rapid-fire cutting to really get a good look at what 200 megabucks can buy. Another problem is a fractured sense of time and distance: any character (human or otherwise) seems to be able to get anywhere in the world as quickly as the plot requires, resulting in too many last-minute Deus ex Machina rescues that dilute any sense of menace developing in the story. The acting is about what you'd expect in a Hollywood hyper-action film, but given the script, not much more is needed. The music is nondescript up to the moment when elements of Akira Ifukube's iconic themes are introduced. Fun for aficionados but likely lost on most viewers, the film references may elements from the long-running kaiju series for good and for bad. As in the original 1954 film, there is a heroic scientist named Serizawa and 'oxygen destroyer' über-weapon. Monarch's base is named "Castle Bravo", which was the name of the Bikini Atoll H-bomb test that contaminated the Japanese fishing boat Lucky Dragon 5, inspiring Toho Studios to make a film about a monster born in radioactive fire. The eco-babble about the 'Titans' being guardians of Earth was reminiscent of the various stand-alone Mothra story lines (as are the sparkles that accompany the giant moth) and there is a hint that the she-monster's young twin priestesses might show up. Monarch's giant plane is similar the various flying super-weapons fielded against the big guy in the Heisei-era films and one point Godzilla overloads on radiation, turns red, and threatens to explode, as he did in the Heisei-era capping 'Godzilla vs. Destroyerah' (1995). On the downside, there is an annoying kid who (long) outstays her welcome (a staple in the later Showa-era films) and like most of the preceding 34 films, there's a plot that, if you pause at any moment and think about it, doesn't really make any sense, even by the credulous standards of the genre. I liked the 2014 American reboot and was looking forward to a multiple monster epic (having enjoyed 1968's rubbery 'Destroy All Monsters' and 2004's delirious 'Final Wars') but this film was a disappointment. The insipid story, weak script, and bland acting fatally undercut both the impressive CGI and the homages to earlier films (iconic and otherwise). Too bad. Next stop: 'Godzilla vs King Kong', last seen in the ring together in 1964 (in the first of the silly, kid-friendly films that was also the top money maker in the Toho series). Hard to believe that a 2020 remake could be worse, but also hard to believe that two decades into the second millennium, a fight between giant ape first seen in 1931 and an overgrown lizard who debuted in 1954 could still fill theatres.
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2/10
About as bad as they get...
10 June 2019
A team of astronauts to the 13th moon of Jupitar find the last denizens of the lost continent Atlantis threatened by a mysterious black entity. The film is awful at every level. The story make no sense and no explanation as to who the alleged Atlantans are, how they got to Jupitar 13, or who/what the mysterious black creature is ever offered. Prassus (Owen Berry), the only man on the planet tries to explain but is dismissed by the astronauts as being nuts, despite the fact that they are inexplicably standing in a Minoan-like temple in orbit around Jupitar. The rest of the Atlantans are pretty young women who are supposedly Prassus' daughters, mothered by the goddess Aphrodite and, needless to say, immediately are smitten with the chain-smoking Earthling explorers. The existential threat is what appears to be a skinny guy in a black jumpsuit (explaining the noticeable zippers) with a deformed black head who can't speak and is impervious to the bullets fired by the well-armed astronauts. The spaceship scenes are a mix of recycled V2 footage and terrible matte shots (the spaceship seems to change size and drift randomly when landing, and once down, trees are visible through the tail-fin). The ship has a crew of five who always sit in a semicircle and watch the captain work what appears to be the only controlling device in the spacious cabin and, when the crew descend to the planet-surface, they lower what appears to be a standard household ladder (that may be covered with paint in places). Back on Earth, ground-control is a group of seven people in a room who do nothing but stand in a clump and comment as astronauts communicate through what appears to be a telephone. The direction of these scenes is awful, with the camera slowly panning from face to face as the actors do nothing. The script is ludicrous and the acting amateurish (especially the 'fire-maidens', some of whom seem to be having trouble keeping a straight face), and just when you think the film couldn't get worse there are dance numbers by the titular maidens that seem to combine ballet, cotillion, belly, and stripper dance styles. The only good thing about the film is the musical score, beautiful at times, which is taken from Alexander Borodin's 'Prince Igor' opera. Some commentators credit the film with predating Kubrick's use of classical music in '2001: A Space Odyssey' (1968) but I suspect that, given the film's scanty budget, it was just a cheap way to fill ears. If 'Cat Women on the Moon' (1953) was the mother of the 'dying alien civilization of young women in search of men' subgenre, this would the child of whom she'd be least proud. FMFOS is watchable only in the context of its lofty place in the pantheon of crap that is 'bad movies' - which makes it a 'must see' for a surprising number of people.
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7/10
Farcical black comedy about the end of a sanguineous era
9 June 2019
Comrade Stalin is dying and senior party apparatchiks plot to survive what is expected to be a bloody transfer of power. The humor is very broad and crude at time with many of the characters played a bit 'over-the-top' (especially Jeffery Tambor's goofy Georgy Malenkov, which got tiring after a while). Steve Buschemi is fine, although not very convincing, as Nikita Khrushchev, as is Michael Palin as a weak 'yes-man' Vyacheslav Molotov. The central character, Lavrentiy Beria, is played by Simon Russell Beale, who mixes graveyard humour and menace as the vicious head of the dreaded NKVD (by all accounts (but consider the sources), the real Beria was even worse than the film portrays him). The film is a very black satire about hard, callous, and sometimes ruthless, men and some viewers may find the interspacing silly jokes with brutal and callous violence (mostly off-screen) off-putting. While far from a history lesson, many of the events in the film are grounded in fact and make interesting reading. The film would have greatly benefited by a little more wit and a little less puerility. The changing images running behind the closing credits were a both an amusing epilogue and clever commentary how things were done in the 'worker's paradise'. Next to convincing people that he doesn't exist, perhaps the Devil's second best trick was convincing people that he could be funny.
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5/10
The cheesiest of cheesecake but mildly entertaining and surprisingly influential
8 June 2019
The crew of an atomic rocket to the moon find a dying underground civilization of beautiful, telepathic cat-suited women who harbour nefarious plans for the mother planet. Other than some effective lunar backgrounds (using images created by Chesley Bonestell), the special effects are dire: the rocket's 'atom chamber, sector 5' is a repurposed submarine-movie set (hence the periscope), at least two distinct rocket models are used during the flight, the lunar city is an unconvincing painting decorated with left-over pseudo classical props, and the giant spiders, while endearing, are obviously puppets. The acting is typical for a low-end B-movie, with a somewhat dissolute Sonny Tufts ineffectually barking orders to his nondescript crew. The premise is thin and silly: despite landing on an airless, lifeless orb, the crew (almost sheepishly) take along a revolver, cigarettes, and matches, all of which are later needed to move things along. Fortunately, the perfunctory plot runs its expected course at a brisk pace and the off-camera demise of the conniving cat-women is surprisingly abrupt and mater-of-fact. Despite the daft story and obvious production weaknesses, the film is imaginative with some interesting ideas: engineer Walters (Douglas Fowley) is constantly looking for ways to cash in on space flight (he makes an in-flight plug for an oil company worth "hundreds of thousands"), presaging the flurry NASA-related space-based marketing in the 1960s. 'Cat Women on the Moon' was the first of a series of films featuring a dying civilization of women looking for men to replenish the race and has a slightly harder distaff edge that than later entries: Alpha (Carol Brewster), the lunar leader is an unapologetic tyrant who plans to take over Earth by controlling women's minds and subjugating men, and then ensuring only girl babies are produced (clearly a plan with some long-term flaws). Any feminist agenda in the film is undercut by the figure-hugging lunar lingerie sported by the titular felines, the negation of Alpha's telepathic control over Earth-women Helen (Marie Windsor) when the latter is holding hands with the man she loves, and one of the classic moments of 'women in space': the first thing Helen does after surviving the crushing acceleration of Earth departure is to get out her make-up mirror and touch-up her hair-do. The score is by soon-to-be A-lister Elmer Bernstein (or Bernstien as he is credited) who, grey-listed for possibly being a commie, wasn't in a position to be picky about the projects he took on. The music is reminiscent of that in the legendarily awful 'Robot Monster' (1953), which was also scored by the struggling impresario. The plot (such as it is) and some of the props were partially recycled as 'Missile to the Moon' (1958), an inferior remake with all of the weaknesses of its antecedent and none of the novelty. While cheap and silly, 'Cat Women on the Moon' is watchable fluff and noteworthy for birthing the subgenre that gave us, among others, the classic Zsa Zsa Gabor opus 'Queen of Outer Space' (1958) and the bottom-of-the-barrel 'Fire Maidens from Outer Space' (1956).
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6/10
Weird (and very British) post-apocalyptic farce
7 June 2019
Just two years after the end of the 'frightened fifties', Spike Milligan wrote the play "The Bed Sitting Room", a black comedy about life in post-apocalyptic London and, in 1969, Richard Lester directed this film version. The film is essentially an interconnected series of absurdist sketches featuring some of England's best known comedians playing survivors in the radioactive aftermath of a two minute war (the "nuclear misunderstanding"). In the film's off-kilter reality, mutations are causing dramatic changes to people, including Lord Fortnum's (Sir Ralph Richardson) literal metamorphosis into the titular room and 'Mother's' (Mona Washbourne) change into a wardrobe (setting up the line "Get your hands out of my drawers!"). These strange events are all monitored by the Police Inspector (Peter Cook) and his Sergeant (Dudley Moore), either from their balloon-lofted Morris Minor or their wreaking-ball equipped bulldozer. I found the film is more fascinating than funny: some of the humour I liked (such as the BBC host) but some resembled forgettable Monty Python sketches (the Underwater Vicar comes to mind). The strange, bleak and sometimes surreal settings are the best part of the film, especially the vast piles of shoes and of the mountain of broken crockery. Apparently in a 1988 interview, Milligan said that the play was his way of saying that after the apocalypse life would just go on, with all of its absurdities intact. If that was indeed the raison d'être for the film, it was completely lost on me and I have no idea what other viewers will make of this strange, dated yet oddly compelling pitch-black farce.
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5/10
Cold-war cautionary tale
6 June 2019
After listening to a disparate group on Americans in a Manhattan bar gripe about taxes, the draft, and government intervention, Mr Ohman (Dan O'Herlihy), a self-described "forecaster" swirls his brandy and asks them to consider the ramification of their objections. Suddenly there is a news broadcast about a surprise enemy attack on Alaska, followed by reports that A-bombs have been dropped on west-coast air-force bases. The film follows the bar patrons as they try to get home or enlist as the war escalates. Despite giving more that it gets, America is soon on the ropes, as atomic torpedoes sink carriers, bombers shatter infrastructure, enemy paratroopers drop from the skies, and cities start to fall to the invading hordes of unidentified (but vaguely Slavic) soldiers. Finally, as New York is nuked and the seat of government in Washington D.C. is overrun, the last of the original bar patrons dies, choosing self-sacrifice of over a 'fate worse than death'. Is it all real or is it one of Mr. Ohman's 'forecasts'? 'Invasion U.S.A.' is heavy-handed cold-war propaganda at its finest. The 'peace through strength' drum is steadily beaten, as an ineffectual president tries to maintain morale in his outgunned country and a congressman learns the hard-way that cuts to military budgets pave the road to disaster. The film is almost entirely stock-footage from WWII and Korea and little attempt is made for accuracy, other than a some footage of MIG fighters, all of the aircraft seen are USAF, including the ones bombing American cities, and early on we are told that the invading troops are wearing U.S. uniforms and carrying American weapons, saving the producers the cost of equipping an 'enemy army'. From 'Mr. Ohman's' name to the closing quote from George Washington, there is nothing subtle about 'Invasion U.S.A.', the film is purely an attempt to scare people into unwavering support for the US military. Apparently the message was not lost on audiences: the film was very popular and did well at the box office. All in all, a watchable relic but its meager budget makes it more of interest historically than as entertainment. I suspect that the film's abysmal IMDB score is more a function of post-cold-war viewers' distaste for its message than its merits as a low-budget 'futurist' adventure.
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3/10
Bottom-of-the-barrel space-cheesecake
5 June 2019
This remake of the equally dire (but more influential) 'Cat-women of the Moon' (1953) finds an engineer, his fiancée, and a couple of escaped cons captured (and captivated) by with a bevy of leggy moon-maids living under the lunar surface. The film makes little attempt for visual cohesiveness (the V2 rocket used for the takeoff/landing sequences looks nothing like the spaceship shown at the beginning) and the plot makes little or no sense. The science in the fiction is completely inept, with flames burning and sound travelling in the lunar vacuum, the lunar sunlight being hot enough to instantly incinerate a person, and a breathable atmosphere in caverns that are contiguous with the lunar surface. The story, yet another spin on the teen-bait 'sexy space women in need of men' trope makes little sense, the script is dull, predictable and humourless, and the B/C-list cast underwhelming in their generally hackneyed roles (although most of the moon denizens were not likely chosen for their thespian skills). 'Star Trek' fans may recognised the lovely Leslie Parish ("Zeta"), who 10 years later falls for Apollo in the classic TOS episode 'Who Mourns for Adonis?'. Other than the lithic Gumbys that lurk on the lunar surface "Missile to the Moon" is an unnecessary remake just recycles stock-footage and props from 'Cat-women of the Moon', (including the remarkably unconvincing tarantula) and is not really worth watching by anyone except hard-core sci-fi-schlock fans (admittedly not that rare a breed).
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3/10
Bargain-basement B.I.G.-bug movie
2 June 2019
Frugal auteur Bert I. Gordon brings us this tale of a giant tarantula menacing teens and townsfolk from its cavernous subterranean lair. Like the superior 'Tarantula' (1956), the titular monster is played by a real arachnid (except for an unconvincing model at one point) but unlike the earlier film, the special effects, especially the split screen and matte work, are generally second-rate. Most of the cave scenes use images from the Carlsbad Caverns and it is obvious that the actors are usually walking behind 2D pictures and when the heroes are spraying the monster with DDT, the discontinuity between the two screens is obvious. The acting is underwhelming (even for a cheapo bug film) and the leads are obviously a decade older than their characters, and the spider (of course the highlight of the film) is often poorly photographed and inconsistent in size and colour. While a necessary addition to 'giant-bug' fans' life lists, "Earth vs. the Spider' is one of the worst in a genre not known for its cinematic excellence. Note: this is NOT a film from which to learn how to handle dynamite (or electricity) safely.
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6/10
Yet another '50's giant bug fest: watchable for the undemanding fan
31 May 2019
Researchers (led by TV-oater regular and future 'Dallas' (1978) star Jim Davis) investigating the effects of cosmic radiation on organisms launch a small menagerie into the upper-reaches, only to lose contact with the rocket carrying wasps. Months later, following reports of strange monsters being sighted Africa, the intrepid scientists deduce that the irradiated insects (including an egg-laying queen) returned to Earth and produced off-spring of monstrous proportions, and so head to the Dark Continent to try to undo the deadly results of their hubris. Despite being a bargain-basement production, the special effects are imaginative and, if not convincing, at least entertaining at times. The opening scenes feature a rocket base in the middle of Monument Valley (unfortunately all of the subsequent rocket shots are recycled V2 footage), there are some fun giant-wasp attacks interspersed in a lengthy and tedious trek across Africa (represented by either stock footage or the ubiquitous Bronson Canyon) as well as a nicely done stop-action battle between one of the immense insectoids and a gigantic snake. The film is defiantly an example of the infamous "white men to the rescue" trope, as the American WASPs (and their crate of grenades) strive to protect Africa from the heinous hymenopterans (at least 'Africans' get to throw grenades, the female lead just gets to cower photogenically during the skirmish) and is littered with gratuitous African stock footage, including a massive attack by warriors lifted from 'Stanley and Livingstone' (1939). 'Monster from Green Hell' is pretty standard example of the 50's 'scientists make the problem, scientists fix the problem' narrative, but watchable never-the-less, at least by aficionados of the 'giant bug' subgenre of sci-fi schlock. Apparently the climatic volcano scenes were originally in colour but most available versions of the film are entirely in black and white.
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The Blob (1958)
7/10
NOW at the Colonial Theatre: See teenagers take on a nebulous nemesis!
30 May 2019
A small but gluttonous, amorphous monster arrives on Earth via a meteorite and soon threatens the folk of a small Pennsylvania town. Can the actions of fast thinking teenagers save the townies from the vermillion jello-of-doom? Famous for an early starring role by Steve McQueen (at the time almost a decade past being a teenager), 'The Blob' is an entertaining low-budget monster film. The opening music, courtesy of Burt Bacharach and Mack David, deliberately sets a light-weight, tongue-in-cheek tone to off-set the early images of people being dissolved and the frequency of characters being interrupted by the oozing invader while 'making out' quickly establishes the target audience. The film was a money-maker for Paramount Pictures and remains a retro-entertaining, if somewhat campy, classic of 1950's drive-in fluff.
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10/10
Outstanding debut film
22 May 2019
A crew of hard-cases deal with the aftermath of a heist gone bloodily wrong and with the growing conviction that one of their number is a rat. Quintin Tarantino's debut film has all of the hallmarks associated with the now famous director: nonlinear story-telling, extreme violence and profanity, an undercurrent of blacker-than-black humour, and multiple obscure (and often non-sequitur) pop culture references. The story, script and cast are all outstanding and although the film was not to everyone's taste, it was a milestone in independent film-making and has held up remarkably well over the ensuing decades.
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