Monday, 30 May 2016

Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)



For many people, Plan 9 From Outer Space is the gateway drug to the world of bad movies, and it was certainly the case for me. Writer/Director Ed Wood Jr can be accused of many things in terms of deficiencies of plot, characterisation and special effects, but there is no way you can call his work boring.

While on a routine flight airline pilot Jeff Trent (Gregory Walcott) and his co-pilot Danny are surprised by a bright light and loud sound, and are shocked to see a flying saucer. The saucer lands at a cemetery, where a number of suspicious deaths have taken place. It turns out aliens are hiding out there, carrying out their fiendish plan to take over the world: reanimating the dead, otherwise known as Plan 9 From Outer Space.

The basic elements of the story, mad scientists, atomic power, alien invasions, zombies (albeit the pre-Romero, non contagious, non-flesheating kind) are not unfamiliar in the genre films of the time. In the hands of another film-maker, what could have resulted is the sort of pleasant but forgettable film that so many others were churning out at that time. Thankfully the job was turned over to Ed Wood, a man whose enthusiasm for movies was only matched by his enthusiasm for vodka. This meant that his scripts were bursting with ideas, and while he was not always the best at shaping these into a coherent whole, they have an anarchic energy and anything-can-happen atmosphere, coupled with dialogue that veers between the drearily banal and the outrageously surreal.




There are so many other points of interest along the way, from the health and safety loving police sergeant who insists on punctuating every line of dialogue by pointing at things with his gun, the Styrofoam Gravestones, the outrageously camp chief alien, and the heroic disregard for continuity, especially in terms of what time of day it is.

The star of the film, Bela Lugosi died a few days into shooting, the sort of event that would have crushed a lesser man than Ed Wood. Instead, he simply carried on, getting his wife's chiropractor to play the Lugosi role with his cape over his face so that we can't see the difference, even though he is at least a foot taller than Lugosi.

When I first saw this, back in the early 1990s the consensus was that this was something silly and terrible, something to be sneered at. Nowadays, I feel nothing but admiration for Wood. Granted his film-making skills are not up there with the best, but his enthusiasm and tenacity shines through in the movies, The surfeit of ideas means the film never gets dull and stands up to repeat viewings. 

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Gorgo (1961)


Gorgo is a rare British excursion into kaiju, the genre usually associated with Godzilla, where huge seemingly indestructible monsters smash up major international cities. The two dimensional human characters are more than made up for by the sympathetic monsters, fast paced script and competent special effects.

A huge volcano erupts off the coast of Ireland, nearly sinking a salvage ship working nearby. While awaiting repairs on a nearby island, Captain Joe Ryan (Bill Travers) and first officer, Sam Slade (William Sylvester of 2001: A Space Odyssey fame) hear tales of a giant monster and mysterious deaths and disappearances amongst the fisherman of the island. When they discover that the monster is all too real, the pair and their crew manage not only to capture it, but also transport the creature to be shown off in a circus, where it is named "Gorgo" - but a group of scientists thing the 65 foot tall Gorgo may only be a youngster, and his mother is three times that size, and wants her child back.

The script with a plot straight from the Toho studios template, with a bit of King Kong thrown in as well is competent if unoriginal. The main point of interest is how unsympathetic the two main characters are, driven by greed, blind to the consequences until it's far too late, although Ryan gets to redeem himself by saving a cute little orphan boy. By contrast Gorgo and his mother, like King Kong are likeable, despite the destruction they cause, because of the treatment they have received from human beings

Director Eugene Lourie keeps things moving along in an entertaining way, and the scenes of panicking crowds as London gets smashed up are full of nervous energy and hysteria, with lots of handheld shots, close-ups and fast cutting. The special effects are also borrowed from Japan, with a man in a rubber suit stomping models of famous landmarks into the ground.

These scenes of destruction are even more interesting when put in an historical context. The film was released 20 years after the Blitz saw Nazi bombs raining down on England and right in the middle of the Cold War, when the end of the world could be around the corner. Filmmakers and film goers were eager to explore any potential apocalypse, are still are, but always seemed to prefer doing so in a fantasy context.


Gorgo (1961) Full Movie by TheCryptoCrew



Thursday, 5 May 2016

Chuck Norris vs Communism (2015)



Chuck Norris vs Communism (2015)

A breezy, pleasant documentary that poses an interesting question - what if you lived in a world where watching a Chuck Norris film was an act of political defiance?

Through a mix of talking head interviews and dramatic reconstructions, we are taken back to 1980s Romania, under the dictatorship of Nicolae Ceaușescu. Western Imperialist Capitalist culture was banned outright, but the government and Secret Service were no match for one enterprising citizen, and a woman who went on to have one of the most famous voices in the country.

The citizen was Teodor Zamfir, a man who had overseen the smuggling of scores of videos of banned American films into Romania and set up a dubbing studio in his apartment. The woman is Irinia Nistor, who was working as a translator for Romania’s Government controlled TV channel. Clandestinley approached by a colleague, she ended up providing Romanian language voiceovers for the bootlegged films, and as the underground network of viewers spread, Nistor became the second most well known voice in the country, after that of Ceausescu himself.

The title of the film, while understandably attention grabbing, is not strictly accurate. Norris was one part of a wider set of American films that was not limited to the action genre, but took in comedies and romances such as Dirty Dancing. These would all be viewed in clandestine screenings at somebody's apartment, and if word got around that one was taking place these could be busy affairs.

This is ultimately what Chuck Norris vs Communism celebrates, the communal joy of a shared experience, of being lifted out of reality, even if only for a few hours.

By 1989 Ceaușescu's regime had collapsed following a wave of violent protests, and he and his wife were tried and executed. With the collapsing economy and living standards he presided over, it is likely Ceaușescu would have fallen eventually anyway, and I don't think the director Ilinca Calugareanu is trying to imply the videos were responsible for his overthrow. But, there is no denying, they did help people get through the troubled times.



Chuck Norris vs Communism Official Trailer by filmow



Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Island of Terror (1966)


Island of Terror (1966)

Island of Terror is a fast paced, imaginative and at times, wonderfully cheesy slice of British sci-fi horror, straddling the twin sub genres of "science run amok" and "trapped on a remote British island". Despite the presence of director Terence Fisher and star Peter Cushing, it is not a Hammer film, and feels if anything like a precursor 1970s era Dr Who.

On a remote island the police constable makes a grisly find - the corpse of a local farmer, but without a single bone in his body. The local doctor is stumped, so travels to the mainland to seek help from top London pathologist Dr. Brian Stanley (Peter Cushing) and bone disease expert Dr. David West. Back on the island they find more boneless bodies - and a mysterious lab where a scientist was working on a cure for cancer. Has this got some link to the strange creatures responsible for the horrifying deaths? But with all transport and communication to the island cut off, will any of them make it off alive?

Island of Terror was very obviously knocked out cheaply and quickly, but the film-makers respond to it with typical British Gusto. Firstly, by cheerfully ignoring the ridiculous rubber monsters causing the terror, and secondly by focussing more on the script. Being trapped in a place is a classic horror trope, and the script does set up, albeit through portentous dialogue, plenty of reasons why they can not get away. The writers are also not afraid to throw in twists and shocks, and bump off important and likeable characters. Granted some of the attitudes have not dated well. Toni Merrill, Dr West's girlfriend exists purely, as the daughter of a wealthy man with a helicopter, to give the men quick transport back to the island. After that she spends most of her time screaming and needing to be rescued. The slightly patronising attitudes of the London lot to the island folk looks a little cringeworthy too, especially when it was big city slicker scientists that started the whole crisis in the first place.

Some of the special effects, such as the boneless corpses or an dismembering a hand are surprisingly gruesome and shocking for a 1960s film. Others, particularly the creatures themselves, are just awful. They look like rubber shells stuffed with noodles, and coupled with the weird squeaky electronic noises they make, could come straight out of 1970s Dr Who. Cushing, as usual, plays it admirably straight, and brings some dignity to these scenes.

In fact, with some minor tweaks, the whole thing could play as a 70s Dr Who story, with Jon Pertwee in the Cushing role, and similar ideas of science gone bad and threatening the world were explored in stories of that era, such as The Green Death and The Seeds of Doom. Plus, there is a perpetually screaming woman who always needs to be rescued.

The film finishes on a speech defending the scientist whose work caused all the problems, a sort of, "okay, it went bad, but at least he meant well". This is quickly followed by a twist ending along the lines of "at least it's not happening anywhere else", followed by a cut to a lab in Japan, where.... well, I'm sure you can guess.


Sunday, 17 April 2016

The Raid (2011)



The Raid is one of the most compellingly relentless action films of recent times.

Rama (martial arts star Iko Uwais) is a rookie officer in an elite Indonesian police paramilitary unit. His team's first mission is to infiltrate the high-rise slum fortress of ruthless gang boss Tama, previously considered untouchable by the police. However, things very quickly go wrong The problem? The apartment complex the cops are invading is occupied by tenants who range from assassins to thugs to certifiable psychopaths – and all the other scum the slums have to offer. The cops barely make it through the door before they’re spotted by the crooks, and from there it is an all-out war, floor by floor, as Rama and his teammates try to brave a nightmare of violence and destruction in order to make their arrest.

Writer and director Gareth Evans takes a simple concept and wisely avoids overcomplicating it, keeping the story moving forward at all times and also steers clear of modern cliches such as smirking one-liners, and “bromance”. The characters are far from invulnerable, giving a real sense of uncertainty to the outcome at times.

The action is shot and edited for maximum impact, with hardly a wasted shot or scene, leaving the viewer breathless. Granted, this does not leave much time to introduce the characters, many of whom, good and bad, get bumped off before we've barely had time to learn their names. This does have two justifiable outcomes however, as the scale of the carnage sets the tone of the threat, and the diminished cast keeps the story focussed.

While The Raid is ostensibly an action film, the gore, confined spaces and overwhelming tension at times make it feel like a horror film. There is also one other disconcerting element that links it to that genre - the building itself. The exterior has a slightly unreal feel, the overwhelming height giving the feel of a fairy tale castle. The interiors are nightmarish, dark, dingy, more like an insane asylum than a residential tower block.






The Raid Redemption (2011) - Trailer by geekpkcom





Thursday, 7 April 2016

Forbidden Planet (1956)



1950s sci-fi films often feature campy special effects and hostile outsiders from another planet trying to invade this one but Forbidden Planet stands out from the crowd in that it features neither of these things. MGM poured a lot of money into the excellent model work and borrowed a Disney man to work on the animated laser blasts and the famed "Monsters from the ID" and the threat comes not from "out there" but from deep within the mind of man.

In the 23rd Century, a star ship led by Commander John Adams (Leslie Nielsen) is sent to the distant planet of Altair 4 in order to find out what happened to an expedition who landed there 20 years earlier. On arrival the crew are met by the only survivors, Dr Morbius and his daughter Altaira, and their robot servant, Robby. Morbius tells them that his shipmates and their craft were destroyed by a planetary force when they tried to leave. The same force starts to attack Adams and his crew and ship but is it a force which may have a source closer to home than someone would like to admit?

The script for Forbidden Planet is both one of the best and weakest things about the film. The themes explored are serious and intelligent, aimed at adults, not the teenage drive-in crowd of The Blob, and are engaging and thought provoking. But it is also relentlessly talky at times, giving the film an often sluggish paced, something not helped by the slightly flat and stilted performances of the leads.

However, these occasional lapses are more than made up for by the sumptuous visuals, whether it is the spacecraft model work, the huge, imposing and beautifully realised Krell underground cities (structures that completely dwarf their human interlopers), or the eerie and disturbing animated silhouettes of the Id monster, courtesy of Disney’s Joshua Meador, who was loaned to MGM for the film.

The story is not entirely original of course. Forbidden Planet often gets branded as a space opera version of The Tempest, and while that is not strictly true, it does share some similarities with Shakespeare's play. The Tempest centres on Prospero, a magician exiled to an island with his daughter Miranda by his brother Antonio who then steals his title and property. Prospero uses his powers to cause a storm that shipwrecks Antonio, trapping him on the island where he can take his revenge. Morbius is the Prospero character with Altaira as Miranda, and Altair 4 stands in for Prospero's island. After that the comparisons don't really work as Adams and the crew are strangers to Morbius, and he is not driven by revenge, rather a desire to be left alone to carry exploring the planet and the Krell, the now extinct civilisation that lived there previously.

Forbidden Planet works much better if you judge it as a piece of work in its own right, and as a time capsule of the ideas, attitudes and obsessions of the time in which it was made. The first of these obsessions is Freudian psychoanalysis, which by the 1950s had come out of the consulting room and into popular culture, in particular the movies, through the work of directors such as Hitchcock. It is made explicit in Forbidden Planet through talk of "Monsters from the Id". The Id is what Freud thought of as the primitive, instinctive, often illogical aspect of our personality that demands immediate satisfaction, regardless of the consequences. Morbius thinks both he and the Krell have outgrown this, but it soon becomes apparent, particularly when handsome space pilots take a shine to his daughter, that he has not, and the raging torrent in his psyche takes a more literal and deadly form when linked to the highly advanced Krell technology.

Forbidden Planet is also very much of it's time in its look and attitudes. The Flying Saucer that the crew arrive in is another 1950s icon, albeit one here used by mankind rather than little green men. The film has some of the 50s can-do optimism of a country riding high from the post-war euphoria, with a new generation of pioneers, rolling up their sleeves and carving out new worlds. The craft is run like the ships and subs that some of the audience may have served on during the war 10 years earlier, even down to the cook with a taste for bourbon.

Robby the Robot is also a very old fashioned idea of a robot, basically a butler with a deadpan tone of voice. Although a wildly impractical design, he would go to become an iconic figure in further films and TV shows, and here, more importantly, plays an important role, driving the plot forward with his manufacturing capabilities and programmed attitudes towards human life. The deadpan tone also provides some comic relief to the sometimes very serious onscreen talking.

The astonishing, unsettling soundtrack is the work of electronic music pioneers Bebe and Louis Barron. It breaks all the rules of what a soundtrack should be in two big ways. Firstly it is entirely atonal, being composed and performed on oscillators made by the Barrons, and fed through echoes and tape loops. Secondly, by having their work represent everything from the ambient noise of the Krell buildings, the roar of the monsters and the ship’s engines, but also having it underpin key scenes to add to the tension, they blur the lines between diegetic and non-diegetic audio.

Forbidden Planet had a further influence beyond this, leaving an undeniable mark on the whole sci-fi genre. It paved the way for serious, adult sci-fi such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, as well as providing the template for Star Trek. The film and TV show both feature a ship run like a military craft, exploring new worlds and investigating mysteries, but using a scientific approach to explain things. In addition, the human drama in Trek and Forbidden Planet centres around the three main crew members, the First Officer, the ship’s doctor, and the steely, unflappable captain with an eye for the ladies.




Tuesday, 29 March 2016

The Great Dictator (1940)


Perhaps even more than his ground breaking short work, The Great Dictator is Charlie Chaplin's most important and daring work. At the time when world leaders, never mind Hollywood studio bosses were reluctant to annoy Hitler, Chaplin had the guts not only to put his reputation and money on the line, but to make the end product largely free from pious moralising, instead going for the giant raspberry in the face of the despot.

The plot is a slightly contrived piece of farce. Chaplin plays a barber (unnamed, just like his tramp character), from the fictional country of Tomania. During military service during the First World War, he saves the life of Schultz, a German pilot, crashing a plane and giving himself amnesia for 20 years. He eventually returns to his barber shop, only to find that a dictator, Hynkel, who is also a dead ringer for the barber, has come to power, and his goons are sweeping through the country's ghettos, smashing up businesses and rounding up Jews. The barber ends up in a concentration camp, from which escapes, just in time for Hynkel to suffer a mishap on a boat which ends with him in the camp and leaves the world with a serious case of mistaken identity.

The film largely consists of set pieces, featuring some of Chaplin's best physical comedy, much of it dialogue free as well, such as the graceful dance with the balloon, the hair raising plane ride to freedom, and the running gag involving confusion over the correct salute. Chaplin's reputation as a perfectionist is well deserved judging from the elaborate staging and construction of the scenes.

Special mention also needs to go to Jack Oakie, who plays a thinly disguised version of Mussolini, Benzini Napaloni, the ruler of neighbouring Bacteria. The state visit is an increasingly ridiculous exercise in one upmanship, with a misbehaving train carriage, uneven furniture, and a barber chair gag that predates the Bugs Bunny cartoon Rabbit of Seville.

The film only really comes unstuck at the very end, when the barber, impersonating Hynkel, takes to the microphone to deliver a heartfelt three minute monologue to the assembled crowd, both on screen and those sitting in the cinema. There is very little to find fault with in the content, a plea for kindness and humanity in the face of industrialisation and war, and a reassurance to those suffering under Hynkel/Hitler that freedom will eventually prevail. As a standalone piece it is certainly moving and stirring, however as part of the film, the speech jars with the style and content of that which has preceded it and moves towards the earnest lecturing Chaplin had avoided up to then.

Your perception of the film's success as a satire may depend on how you personally define satire. Other than the climax, rather than hand-wringing or over intellectualising Chaplin is more interested in showing Hynkel to be a stupid buffoon. He spent a lot of time studying and aping Hitler's mannerisms and speech patterns, and clearly wanted the audience to link their scornful laughter at Hynkel with their attitudes to Hitler. However, writing some years later in his autobiography, Chaplin said that could not have made the film if he had known at the time of the true horror of the Holocaust. While understandable, this would have been a great shame and a great loss to the world. Despots are invariably humourless, and fully deserve to have a raspberry blown in their faces. It may not bring them down, but it may make a chink in their armour, and sometimes, as Mark Twain once said, the human race has one really effective weapon, and that is laughter.