Spy flicks (i.e. international intrigue movies) generally fall into one of two major categories. There’s the big budget action adventure type, with gadgets galore, eye-popping stunts, and exotic locations. Then you’ve got the low-key types that rely more on mood and the personal challenges and drama of the characters. The former are the James Bond and Mission: Impossible movies; the latter are the lesser known relics of the Cold War era that are generally treated as more like mysteries than tales of international espionage.
John le Carré is a master of the second type. Like Ian Fleming, he worked for British Intelligence, but rather than write what are little more than glorified “Mary Sue” stories, he got down and dirty in all the more boring and unpleasant aspects of the game.
“Spy” is one of his best works, and was turned into one of the best movies of the genre.
War movies are an interesting genre for the film buff. Not for the action and adventure, or the visual recounting of history, but that the movie reflects the attitudes towards war in the time and place it was made. Movies made during a war tend to be all patriotic and supportive of the troops; movies made near the end of a long and “questionable” (to put it one way) war tend to be dark comedies or biting satires of the military. Movies made in peacetime can be either, but they also tend to reflect the attitudes of the time the movie was made towards the history of the war – historical accuracy be damned.
Zulu is one of the latter. It shows the Battle of Rorke’s Drift in January, 1879, during the Anglo-Zulu War. A contingent of some 150 British troops at what was basically an outpost consisting of little more than a supply depot, a church, and what could be called a hospital with only the greatest amount of charity held off an assault by around four thousand Zulu warriors. That’s going to be great drama and action, as long as you show it with even modest accuracy and competence.
But what of the politics?
A new dessert sensation is taking the country by storm. Something like a cross between whipped cream and marshmallow sauce, “The Stuff” tastes great and is low in calories. Needless to say, a consortium of business owners want to find out exactly what it is so they can come up with their own version. After all their attempts at analyzing it fail, they hire David “Mo” Rutherford (Michael Moriarty), a former FBI agent, to do some industrial espionage.
Mo meets up with a young boy, Jason (Scott Bloom) whose family has been acting very strangely after he saw a glob of The Stuff moving of its own accord, and Nicole (Andrea Marcovicci), an ad agency executive who created the initial ad campaign for it.
It’s off to Virginia and then Georgia to unravel the mystery. The Stuff is more than what it appears to be; and the trio’s lives are increasingly in danger as they get closer to the source….
I’ve watched a lot of low-end sci-fi movies in my time. There’s something fun about either finding a bit of gold in an otherwise forgettable movie, or coming across one so bad that it turns into an unintentional comedy. I get suggestions by reading the many movie review blogs that are out there (most notably The B-Masters Cabal). I cannot recall which of them mentioned the current subject to me, but suffice it to say that whoever it was didn’t have anything really good to say about it. Intrigued by their description, I went looking for it. And I found that someone had posted a crappy (but complete) print of it to YouTube….
Gamera: Guardian of the Universe (1995)
Gamera 2: Attack of the Legion (1996)
Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris (1999)
After a “golden age” in the 1950s where they produced classics like Rashomon (1950) and Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959), Japan’s Daiei Studios began to decline; mostly due to financial mismanagement. They were forced to declare bankruptcy in 1971 – but managed to get revived in 1974. They had a modest number of releases, to decent success.
I’m guessing they were jealous of rival Toho Studios continued success, especially with their Godzilla films. Hmm… didn’t Daiei still own their own giant monster – Gamera? What if they blew the dust off the old Big Turtle (which by then had become a staple of Saturday afternoon “Chiller Theater” TV programming), and gave him new life with the latest in moviemaking technology?
The three movies really do comprise a trilogy. Though each one is self-contained and you can watch them in any order, they exist in the same universe and the second and third movies each contain references to the ones that came before (explicitly in the third). This is not like the Godzilla movies, where Japan – even though they may have a special anti-Kaiju military agency, seems to have completely forgotten even the existence of the monsters from the previous movie. Actors even play the same characters from one movie to the next; most notably Yukijirô Hotaru, who plays a nervous police official in Guardian, a security guard in Legion, and a homeless bum in Iris. Clearly, the stress of his encounters with Gamera and the other monsters got to him. Continue reading
Jules Verne is widely regarded, and with very good reason, as one of the fathers of science fiction. He built upon the technology of the time, and turned it into some pretty good adventure tales.
Alas, very little of his work could actually be called science fiction. It fits better in the genre of “pulp adventure”, and is mostly forgettable. Seriously, how many of his over fifty Voyages extraordinaires can you remember, or even name? Well, there’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, which you undoubtedly know from the movie. Around the World in Eighty Days was also made into a movie that’s much better than the original novel. You may have heard of From the Earth to the Moon because of its use of a giant cannon to launch the spaceship…. But The Vanished Diamond or Facing the Flag? Nope.
Working for American International, Director William Witney took two of those forgettable novels – Robur the Conqueror and its sequel Master of the World – into one, well……
There’s a pitfall for amateur movie reviewers. We tend not to have much experience in criticism (i.e. critical writing), so there’s a tendency to think that pointing out mistakes and flubs and inconsistencies (like Cinema Sins) counts as valid criticism. It is not. While it is true that proper, professional critics do have to note such things, it is not the be-all and end-all of their review.
I fell into that trap when just after watching Swamp Thing. I focused on all the things that made no sense at all to me – from the violation of Conservation of Mass to why the federal government has stashed a supposedly secret lab someplace down in the bayous and mangrove swamps of the Deep South – and they’re not even doing military research there.
But anyway…… Continue reading
Film critic Nathan Rabin came up with the idea of the “manic pixie dream girl” as a character type after seeing Kirsten Dunst in Elizabethtown (2005). He called the type “that bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.” A less-overblown description would be a generally young, usually cute, female “free spirit” who enters the life of a dull, boring, generally older male and gets him to loosen up and enjoy life.
The MPDG has been identified in movies going all the way back to 1936, when Katherine Hepburn turned Cary Grant’s world upside down in Bringing Up Baby. The term has also taken flack from critics who object to the sexism of the idea, which has been used to define actresses in real life, and not just characters.
The character type has become one of those things where once you know to look for it, you can’t stop seeing it – or at least hints of it. Since it’s become a defined trope, one might expect to start seeing variations – a Manic Pixie Dream Boy, perhaps.
Kitten With a Whip was made well before the MPDG became common, so it clearly cannot be a response to the trope. But it does pose the question – What if the MPDG was a sociopath?
LEGO has been an amazing tool for amateur filmakers. The pieces are cheap, infinitely combineable, and the human figures are all at the same size and are easily posable. Anyone wanting to do a little stop-motion animation need only get a bucket of LEGOs and a camera, and they’re in business.
There’s a whole genre of these “brickfilms”, with its own support communities and festivals. Given the time-consuming nature of the technique, most of them qualify as “shorts”. (The LEGO Movie and its sequels were made using computer animation, but were careful to follow the brickfilm style.)
Back in 2011, Joseph DeRose started making one of these brickfilms. His 20 minute short quickly grew to the point where it got away from him, and became a full-length feature film. He worked on it with friends and family over the years, doing it in segments and uploading them to YouTube as each one was completed.
He finished it in August, and uploaded the entire thing to YouTube.
With the success of such syndicated shows as Star Trek: The Next Generation and Tales from the Crypt, Metro Goldwyn Mayer decided it was the right time to bring back its old anthology series, The Outer Limits. The one hour show would first appear on the cable network Showtime, and then be released into syndication.
All they needed was a good story – one that could handle being extended into a 90 minute movie. They found it in a George R.R. Martin novelette, “Sandkings”. The 1978 story would have to undergo some major adjustments in order to work on TV – not the least of would be that it had to work within a TV budget.
The original story is an award-winning horror tale where the protagonist is a right proper cretin who deserves everything that happens to him – but I’m not going to talk about that. Not even about how the movie is different from the story. One has to treat the movie on its own – and if you have to have read the book to understand the movie, then the movie hasn’t done it’s job.