Movie Review: SLIPSTREAM (UK, 1989)

There are many things that can make a movie bad. Lack of talent either in front of or behind the camera, overreaching by the director / producer, a budget totally incapable of bringing the story to life, a stupid story idea to begin with…

Then there are things unconnected with the movie itself that can have an effect.

Producer Gary Kurtz (who had also worked in that role on Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back) was going through an ugly divorce at the time. The money he spent / lost in the divorce led to a cascade of problems with Slipstream, culminating in the movie never getting a US theatrical release. Which is probably why you haven’t heard of it.

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Movie Review: The Changeling (1980)

The Old Haunted House movie has changed quite a bit over the recent decades. One cannot have a simple haunting by a lone spirit who needs to have his (or her) soul put to rest anymore; one has to have a portal to hell on the property, some sort of demonic possession, or the scene of some horrible atrocity with dozens of victims in order to attract an audience.

Now there’s nothing inherently wrong with a movie like that, but it’s too easy for a filmmaker to fall into the trap of using blood and gore as a replacement for a good, honest scare. For an “old school” spooky haunting, you’ve got to go back quite a ways.

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Movie Review: The Paradise Makers (2017)

The Enterprise is at an unspecified starbase for a little R&R, and to pick up a few new crewmembers. The character development and backstory comes to a halt when new orders come in. The USS Bowfin, a scout ship, was sent off to do an anthropological survey, and they are well past their reporting deadline. Kirk and crew are dispatched to find out what happened.

The briefing en route fills in the details of the Bowfin’s mission. The planet they went to was pretty much uninhabited, except for a large tropical archipelago. Rather uninteresting, except for some oddities that warranted a closer look.

Looks like it’s pretty much a case of Mutiny on the Bowfin. But if that’s all there is, we wouldn’t have much of a story, would we.

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MOVIE REVIEW: 13 Ghosts (US, 1960)

The Zorba family is in a rather bad state. That day, the repo men came and collected all their furniture. There’s no indication as to the source of their financial troubles, but it doesn’t really matter. That night, while eating dinner on the floor (the repo men didn’t take their dishes or kitchenware), a telegram arrives. The father, Cyrus (Donald Woods), is being instructed to show up at the offices of attorney Benjamin Rush (Martin Milner, in his pre “Adam-12” days).

It doesn’t look good at all.

However, once Cyrus gets there, he’s informed that his eccentric uncle Plato Zorba has died recently, and has left Cyrus and his family his house and all its contents. This is a pleasant surprise to Cyrus; he’d though Plato had died years ago. The family quickly relocates to the old mansion (conveniently furnished, and with a live-in housekeeper (played with suitable creepiness by Margaret Hamilton).

There, they find out that Uncle Plato’s eccentricities concerned the supernatural, and he had developed a method that he claimed would make ghosts visible. That would explain the weird glasses that were the only non-house item left by the will. Uncle Plato also happened to “collect” ghosts – and they shared the house with him….

Haunted or no, the Zorbas really don’t have much choice at the moment….

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Movie Review: Battle Beyond the Stars (US, 1980)

Let’s get the big thing out of the way.

BBtS is “The Magnificent Seven IN SPACE!” Or, since TM7 was actually Seven Samurai done as a western, you could say BBtS is “Seven Samurai IN SPACE!!!”

Produced by Roger Corman and his New World Pictures, it’s a typical example of his later work. Take a simple or hackneyed story, but give it as much “bang for the buck” as you can. Typically this involved reusing shots and sets, but it could also mean finding and nurturing young talent or getting established talent who could be had on the cheap.

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Movie Review: Pulgasari (North Korea, 1985)

If you’ve heard about this movie, it’s almost certain that all you know about it is the background. Great Leader (and reputed movie geek) Kim Il Sung wanted North Korea to have its very own Giant Monster Movie; one that would be the equivalent of anything else from Asia. So he kidnapped South Korean moviemaker Shin San-Ok (and his wife) and ordered him to make movie magic. The movie never did get a wide release outside the “Hermit Kingdom”, vanishing without much of a trace when it was finally released in South Korea in 2000. A video release confused the issue by having the word “BANNED” appear on the cover in letters larger than that used for the title. It wasn’t really ever banned; it’s more like it was ignored.

All that nonsense overshadows the movie itself. While that might draw your attention, the real question is whether or not the movie is worth your time.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Krull (1983)

Ah, the early 80s…. In the cinemas, the hot trend was “sword and sorcery” movies. Swashbuckling heroes, damsels in distress, special effects making magic and monsters….. The stuff of legends, brought to life. They were coming out on a virtually monthly basis. To rise above the crowd, you needed something special.

A combined British and American production team thought about it and said, “Let’s add a little science fiction into the mix! And then throw a heck of a lot of money at it!” The result is our subject du jour.

The sci-fi elements in Krull are there at the start. As ponderous narration informs us, the asteroid we are seeing is actually a spaceship, and it’s setting out to conquer hapless worlds. Its next target is the planet Krull, a rather peaceful place consisting of various modest kingdoms. The conquest is well underway as the plot begins.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Dr. Ehrlich’s Magic Bullet (1940)

Science and scientists rarely get proper treatment by Hollywood. If they aren’t the stereotypical Mad Scientist creating wacky gadgets or Tampering In God’s Domain, they’re the Absent-Minded Professor who is socially awkward and treated as Comic Relief. Or the Screen Scientist is just in the plot to provide exposition so the other characters (and the audience) can know what’s going on.

Most likely, this lack of respect is simply because if they showed a real scientist, they’d look just like someone in any other field of employment (and behave similarly, no doubt). And if they showed real science, not only would most of the audience not understand it, the “process” of Science is long, tedious, and filled with failure. Not something that makes for a good movie.

Is it any wonder, then, that the best movies about science and scientists tend to be biographies? Continue reading

Science Fiction Short Films

I’ve been a science fiction fan since high school. Not involved in “fandom”, but just a person who appreciates the story-telling potential of the genre. I also enjoy a good short film, as I have already mentioned here.

Science fiction is one genre that a lot aspiring filmmakers work in when they try out their skills. Sometimes, it leads to actual fame. Neill Blonkamp’s Oscar-nominated District 9, for example, was adapted from his short film “Alive in Joburg”.

Two years ago, award-winning animator Don Hertzfeldt released “World of Tomorrow”, a sixteen minute look into a strange future. When it came out, reviewers weren’t just calling it one of the best short films of the year, but one of the best films of the year in general. It was nominated for an Academy Award for “Best Animated Short”, but lost to the more family-friendly and “multiculturally correct” “Sanjay’s Super Team”.

Well, there are awards specific to the science fiction community. Perhaps it won the Hugo Award for “Best Dramatic Presentation – Short Form”. I looked. It wasn’t even nominated. The nominees for 2015 were all TV episodes.

The Hugos are given by fans, so it’s possible not enough of them saw it. Hertzfeldt released it as a “pay per view” item, and I suppose not enough fans wanted to bother coughing up the $3.99 to see it – assuming they even knew about it.

Well, I’m going to a local science fiction convention this weekend. I’m making it my mission to promote the incredible amount of wonderful work being done in short films, that can be seen (for free!) online. Instead of trying to remember names and URLs, or be so crass as to make a handout, I’d do a blog post and then just refer people here.

I don’t want to clog up your monitor, so I’ll give a list of films showing the quality and variety available after the jump.
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