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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MOVIE REVIEW: Q, The Winged Serpent (US, 1982)

There’s an old (well, not *that* old, but old enough) movie trivia game known as “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”. Basically, it attempts to demonstrate that no actor is more than six co-star links away from Kevin Bacon, thus making him the Center of the Hollywood Universe – or something. It’s become a cliche now, to the point where one can make fun of it knowing that people will get the reference.

But if you’ve somehow never come across it, or want to impress your friends with your movie trivia wizardry, the key is to remember the movies with unusual pairings in the cast. Jack Nicholson and Boris Karloff. William Shatner and Judy Garland. David Carradine and Richard Roundtree…

That last one is the subject of this review. In Q, Detective Shepard (Carradine) and Sgt. Powell (Roundtree) are NYC police officers who find themselves investigating the decapitation of a window washer. The real puzzle is that the victim was at work on an upper story of the Chrysler Building at the time. If that wasn’t bizarre enough, they also are dealing with a couple of cases of what looks like ritual human sacrifice.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Beastmaster II: Through the Portal of Time (1991)

There’s a term in film criticism that comes up in the discussion of “bad” movies – the Idiot Picture. It has a couple of definitions. It could refer to the plot of the movie progressing only because a character is an idiot. I’ve heard it referring to a fantasy / sci-fi movie world where everyone is so idiotic that the movie reviewer feels they could take over that world on a good weekend. Or perhaps it’s the movie makers who are idiots for including utterly inane dialog and leaving vast plot holes. Or maybe it means that only an idiot would think it’s a good movie.

Beastmaster II seems to cover all of them.
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MOVIE REVIEW: My Neighbor Totoro (Japan, 1988)

You know, I’m finding it difficult to understand why this animated kids’ movie is so well-liked by both people and critics. It’s got none of the things you expect and love from both animated films and kid movies. It’s billed as a fantasy, but even the non-fantastic elements reveal that it takes place in some crazy Bizarro World.

Let’s take things from the top, shall we?

The movie opens with a really lively and bouncy theme song, so you are deluded into thinking all will be right. But that’s the only song in the movie! There’s no other singing or musical number that they can sell to the kids (or their parents).

It goes downhill quickly from there. We see a father and his two daughters in a dangerously overloaded truck as they move to a new home in a small farming village. If this were a normal movie, the kids would be bickering amongst themselves, and whining to their barely tolerated dad about how they hate leaving all their friends behind and moving to someplace out in the middle of nowhere. But they are actually a happy family! Insane!

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Movie Review: When the Wind Blows (1986, UK)

Nuclear war movies had their heyday in the 1950s and early 1960s, with irradiated animals turning into mutant monsters and Communists lurking in every shadow. The “Silver Age” came during the Reagan administration, when his saber-rattling led to fears of a global nuclear holocaust destroying civilization if not all life on Earth.

In the US, the TV movie The Day After (1983) showed the effects of such a war on Lawrence, KS. Not to be left out, the next year the UK came out with Threads, which showed the breakdown of civilization in Sheffield in the aftermath.

Coming late to the party, and taking an entirely different approach, was the UK’s animated film When the Wind Blows.

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Movie Review: Requiem for a Heavyweight (TV, 1956)

Nostalgia is a tricky thing. When reminiscing about the past, we automatically filter out all the crap and spend time thinking only about the good things. When we recall the first decade or so of television, we think of it as a “golden age” as we recall shows like “The Honeymooners” and “Dragnet”. We conveniently forget all the mid-level stuff like “Drama at Eight” or “Richard Diamond, Private Detective”. But the really good stuff, just as in any art form, lasts and lasts because each era can find something new or something relevant to its own time.

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Movie Review: Killdozer (TV movie, 1974)

When you see the basic description – a bulldozer is taken over by an alien entity and starts attacking a construction crew – you’re going to suspect that this is a pretty crappy movie. When you find out that it was made for television, you’re going to figure it’s another lump of crud from the SyFy Channel (or whatever the heck they are calling it these days), and give it a miss.

Well, that’s not entirely fair. Back in the 1970s, in the heyday of the made-for-TV-movie, the networks took them seriously. They were crucial elements of the Ratings War between the three networks. Some of them launched their own series (Columbo, The Night Stalker), some launched careers (Duel), others can still stand up to the best that Hollywood has to offer (Brian’s Song, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pitman, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark). Whatever you could say about them, they were all at least competently made. Experienced actors and professional crews knew what they were doing, and they had writers who didn’t pander to the lowest common denominator.

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