Archive for August, 2016

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by Allan Fish

This post was originally published in late 2010.  Although Allan was convinced I wouldn’t pay him a return visit, we all did three years later in the summer of 2013.  Our snow shovels have long since been removed from our renovated first floor bathroom as well, though there is a bittersweet aspect to that update as per Allan’s fond testament here.  -S.J.

There are three DVDs of Mizoguchi Sansho Dayu in the picture above – well, durgh!  Question: which of the three do I treasure most?  In the middle we have the Criterion DVD, a lovely package as one might expect.   Nope, not that one.  On the right we have the Masters of Cinema Region 2 DVD set with the additional bonus of his underrated Gion Bayashi.  Again no, I’m afraid.  Yet let’s illustrate further.  Imagine there was a fourth Sansho there, a yet to be released Blu Ray looking sharper than a katana from Hattori Hanzo, and still my answer would be the one on the left.

There’s nothing special about it.  It was a purchase I needn’t have made.  I had Sansho on tape from Film Four, a nice enough print of it, but being a pedant, I just wanted a boxed DVD copy.  It wasn’t a genuine release, merely a tape to DVDR copy of the old US Home Vision VHS.  The quality – certainly compared to the other two in the photo – was rather poor to say the least.  So why on earth would I prefer it?  There have been cases where I have kept old VHS copies of films – imported copies of the once banned in the UK A Clockwork Orange and The Exorcist and an old pre-certification copy of Straw Dogs.  They were just for nostalgia’s sake.  Sansho was something else, a memento of something altogether more important.  (more…)

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Today is truly one of the darkest days of our lives. We lost our British friend Allan Fish after his long battle with cancer. Allan was just 43 years old. We met online in 2005 after an e bay transaction and the rest as they say is history. Movie lovers, we connected immediately, and Allan and I spoke practically every single day for eleven years. He and I co-founded the blogsite WONDERS IN THE DARK, where we both wrote film and arts reviews over that long interval. Allan visited our home twice in 2008 and 2009 staying both times for almost a month. He grew very close with my wife and all the kids, particularly my eldest daughter Melanie, who became a soul mate of his and vice versa. We spent two weeks in 2013 in London at at his Kendal, U.K. home, enjoying the most incrible time of our lives with his saintly mum Sue Fish, beautiful Aunt Anne Cafferkey, family friends Martyn Roberts and Gianmarco Tremble, cat Suki and all the ducks of Kendal, who grandly benefited by Allan’s generous spirit. Indeed many around the world received gifts from Allan,  a mercenary of the cinema who regularly incurred shipping expences sending out the film rarities he regularly acquired. He was an incredible talent, and the world will see the staggering fruits of his labor when his massive film tome is published. He was the greatest writer I have ever known, and the most passionate adherent of the movies. As a friend we had our share of quibbles -our world views were disperate, but there was a mutual love crossing the Atlantic – a deep and abiding concern for each of our well beings – indeed Allan this past week said some of the most beautiful things anyone has ever done about my family, and how much we meant to him. A friend like this is a once in a lifetime experience. Till the end of our own days we will have you with us every minute, every day, suffusing our thoughts, our memories and the very essence of our being. Dear Allan, you will never know just how much we loved you, and how our lives will never be the same, and how that meaning has been compromised with your untimely departure. You impacted so many lives, meant so much to so many, and left an incomparable legacy for the human race. I simply can’t imagine the world without you beloved friend. I cannot accept your departure. With every drop of blood in our veins we love you and will for all-time.

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by Adam Ferenz

1984. Written by James Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd. Directed by James Cameron. Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Michael Biehn and Paul Winfield.

Present day, Los Angeles, 1984. A hulking, naked male figure arrives in a flash of light in an alley, soon followed by another man, slimmer, also nude. The first man proceeds to kill a punk and steal his clothing, before vanishing into the night. The other steals the clothing off a homeless man and slips away from a pursuing police office. Later that day, Sarah Connor, a young waitress, is having a truly miserable day at work. It is about the get a lot worse.

The two men are from the future, where the machines of a defense system have taken control and systemically eradicated the majority of the human population, whose survivors are lead by John Connor, the as-yet-to-be-born son of Sarah, and, as we find out, Kyle, the second man to arrive. John sent Kyle back, to trace his mother and protect her from the Terminator, the first man, a cybernetic being sent to kill her. The Terminator begins by killing two other Sarah Connors, as the data from the future did not specify which Sarah Connor was the mother of the leader of the resistance. Only her name and city, and a year.

As one can expect, Sarah only gradually believes Kyle’s story, while the police never do. Not even after the Terminator upends the precinct, sending Sarah and Kyle once again on the run from the Terminator, who follows them. During the 24 hours they run from the killing machine, they build a small arsenal and make love-thus making their son-before the Terminator locates them. Kyle dies trying to stop the machine, which Sarah finally does, by crushing the construct in a steel press. At the end of the film, she is seen driving into a storm, somewhere in Mexico, a young boy having just snapped the photograph that John had apparently given Kyle in order to properly identify her. (more…)

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duck dodgers

by Brandie Ashe

In 1935, a brash young animator named Tex Avery presented himself to Leon Schlesinger at Warner Bros., talking up his resume as a fledgling director and somehow convincing the producer to give him his own small production unit on the Warner lot. Schlesinger stuck him in a ratty bungalow that was quickly (and, unfortunately, quite appropriately) nicknamed “Termite Terrace,” and gave him an initial crew of four enthusiastic animators: Virgil Ross, Sid Sutherland, Chuck Jones, and Bob Clampett. As unlikely as it may have seemed at the time, cartoon legends would soon be borne out of that pest-ridden shack.

Avery’s crew worked primarily on the Looney Tunes series, and in his first cartoon for Warner Bros., 1935’s Gold Diggers of ’49, Avery cemented not only his own rising star, but that of a new character, Porky Pig. The stuttering porker had premiered six months earlier in the Friz Freleng-directed Merrie Melodies short I Haven’t Got a Hat, and Avery’s toon marked only Porky’s second-ever appearance. Porky would go on to reign as the most popular character in the Warner Bros. stable for almost two years, until Avery introduced an antagonist for him–a loopy, insane, and incredibly daffy duck. Animated by Clampett and first appearing in 1937’s Porky’s Duck Hunt, the out-of-control Daffy became an instant star, bouncing across the screen yelling his signature, “Hoo hoo!” as he drove his costars batty.

The pig-and-duck duo was an effective one, and they appeared together in numerous cartoons throughout the following decade, their interactions eventually morphing from antagonistic to an actual partnership—though an unequal one, by most measures. By the 1950s, Porky had been downgraded to the role of sidekick in many of his appearances, while Daffy’s maniacal tendencies had given way to a more calculating sense of self-interest, largely under the guidance of Chuck Jones, who had long since moved into the director’s chair in the wake of Avery’s exit to MGM. Under Jones’ supervision, Daffy’s loose screws were tightened, and he became less zany and more of a self-proclaimed “greedy slob” seeking fame and fortune at the expense of anyone and everyone who might be in his way. This more evolved Daffy—in a manner of speaking—found his main foe in Warner’s marquee star, Bugs Bunny, as he sought to usurp Bugs as the “rightful” head of the cartoon kingdom. But matching wits against the wily hare never quite worked out the way Daffy planned, as Daffy learned in 1953, which saw the release of two of his most memorable cartoons of all time: the mind-bending meta exercise in cartoon madness Duck Amuck, and the conclusion of the fabled “Hunting Trilogy,” Duck! Rabbit, Duck!. (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

Throughout history, compassionate minds have pondered the dark and disturbing question: what is society to do with those members who are a threat to society, those malcontents and misfits whose behavior undermines and destroys the foundations of civilization? Different ages have found different answers. Misfits have been burned, branded and banished. Today, on this planet Earth, the criminal is incarcerated in humane institutions…..or he is executed. Other planets use other methods. This is the story of how the perfectionist rulers of the planet Zanti attempted to solve the problem of the Zanti misfits.        The Outer Limits, “The Zanti Misfits”

The 1963-4 science fiction television series The Outer Limits ran for a scant season and a half, producing forty-nine episodes until ABC cancelled it after was pitted against the Jackie Gleason Show.  The show’s moody textured look, eerieness and indebtedness to German Expressionism set it apart from its era’s other major anthology work, The Twilight Zone, which for all its narrative brilliance was shot conventionally.   Of course The Outer Limits was a one-hour program as opposed to the other which ran a half hour for all of its five seasons save for the fourth.  While such science fiction luminaries like Gene Roddenbery have admitted that the influences The Outer Limits exerted on Star Trek is incalcuable it can’t be argued that retrospectively The Outer Limits owes some of its own ideas to 1950’s sci-fi cinema.  Indeed the most celebrated episode in the run of the show is “The Zanti Misfits” which features ant-like, rat-sized aliens who exhibit human faces.  Representatives of this alien world by interplanetary communication ask that Earth provide a penal colony for its criminals.  Set in a California desert the show winds down with the complete obliteration of the creatures and expected reprisals, but Earth officials are quickly thanked for doing something that their own non-violent race cannot.  In the closing narration an alien spokesperson refers to Earthings as “practiced executioners.”

This theme of the total annihilation of a hostile force, also set in an arid southwestern terrain, and showcasing menacing ant-like invaders is the subject of Them!, a 1954 landmark film that is uniformly regarded as the first of the run of the “Big Bug” features that spooled out over the decade.  While “The Zanti Misfits” is patterned after Them!, the 1954 work was an encore of sorts to the The Beast of 20,000 Fathoms, in that both share a single cautionary theme against the use of nuclear weapons.  We’ve seen a more didactic use of the theme employed in films like 1959’s On the Beach, which focused on the after effects of a nuclear war, but the science fiction umbrella allows for a far less preachy approaach and one predicated on entertainment in good vs. evil mode.  Warner Brothers studio head Jack Warner, aiming to capitalize on the spectacular finantial success of Beast –made for $200,00, and grossing 5 million- doubled the budget, lengthened the running time and even gave serious consideration to color, 3-D and widescreen, though these embellishments never materialized due to their incapatability with the F/X process. Warner attempted to make Them! like Beast in scene-by-scene manner , employing the documentary style rather than embracing the monster effects of a horror film, and he even encored Cecil Kellaway’s ironic scientist from the earlier film with the affable thespian Edmund Gwenn, who is as patient here as he was when he portrayed jolly old St. Nick, but in the end with markedly less compassion. (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(UK 1951 81m) DVD1/2

Knight in shining armour

p  Sidney Cole, Michael Balcon  d  Alexander Mackendrick  w  Roger MacDougall, John Dighton, Alexander Mackendrick  ph  Douglas Slocombe ed  Bernard Gribble  m  Benjamin Frankel  art  Jim Morahan  spc  Sydney Pearson  sound  Stephen Dalby

Alec Guinness (Sidney Stratton), Joan Greenwood (Daphne Birnley), Cecil Parker (Mr Birnley), Michael Gough (Michael Corland), Vida Hope (Bertha), Howard Marion Crawford (Cranford), Ernest Thesiger (Sir John Kierlaw), Miles Malleson (tailor), Henry Mollison (Hoskins), George Benson (lodger), Edie Martin (landlady), Mandy Miller (girl),

Ealing comedies have long been a staple diet amongst fans of the so-called golden-age of British cinema, part of our national heritage to be cherished for ever more.  In truth, though they made a host of classics, including Passport to Pimlico, The Titfield Thunderbolt and Hue and Cry, only four stand up to real scrutiny over half a century on; Whisky Galore, The Lavender Hill Mob, Kind Hearts and Coronets and this wonderful satire from Ealing’s greatest director, Alexander Mackendrick.  Many who associate Ealing with a cosy England that is no more often find Mackendrick’s later acerbic Sweet Smell of Success to be the antithesis of his earlier work.  In reality, there’s more than a little darkness in this earlier masterpiece, too.  David Thomson was right to point out the debts to Kafka, and it also dates a lot better than the later Boulting satires (such as I’m All Right Jack).

Sidney Stratton is a working class lad who has been thrown out of his Cambridge fellowship after some radical experiments go awry.  Finding himself eventually in Wellsborough at Birnleys, the biggest mill in the land, he manages to swindle his way into the laboratory.  When he claims to have invented an everlasting fabric, he not only antagonises the industry and unions but attracts the attention of the owner’s daughter. (more…)

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by Adam Ferenz

July 3, 1985. Written by Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis. Directed by Robert Zemeckis. Starring: Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Lea Thompson, Crispin Glover, Claudia Wells, James Tolkan and Thomas F. Wilson.

Back to the Future is one of my personal favorite movies. I’ve seen it so many times, I’ve lost count. It is endlessly entertaining. It has also become problematic, for some, who accuse it of golden age thinking. I disagree, and will get to that in a moment. What the film is, ultimately, is wish fulfillment, and fantasy, mixed with heaping doses of humor and escapism. The adventures of Marty McFly and Doc Brown were a vital part of my filmic youth. So, what was it all about?

Plotwise, it’s about a high school student who travels back in time after seeing his mentor get shot to death, and ends up meeting his parents before they became a couple, and how he must navigate the waters of avoiding altering history, because, you see, his mother has the hots for him. Yep. But, more on that in a bit. In reality, it’s about consequences, about hopes and dreams. Oh, and lots of humor.

The film isn’t ultimately a deep, philosophical argument about man’s place in the universe, nor is it about the randomness of existence and chance. It would be a stretch to say that is what it is about, though it is not unfair to consider those themes while watching it. What this film is, is a pure entertainment piece. This business of making one feel joy, of laughing, of being thrilled by the events and coming to care about the characters,  which it accomplishes expertly, by keeping the story simple without ever being stupid or shallow. This is a film with a great big heart. (more…)

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by Jaimie Grijalba

Note: This is my last essay for the Sci-Fi Countdown of Wonders in the Dark on the first film directed by Richard Kelly. I’m very grateful for the opportunity that I’ve had to write about the three films of one of my favorite directors of all time, and may this be a testament that I want a new film by him. Any film. Thanks to those that took the time to read these essays, which are more and more personal, and may we have a wonderful top 50 Science Fiction films of all time.

Another note: This Might Contain Spoilers.

I think one of the hardest things that someone can do is trying to write about your favorite film of all time… and, yes, Donnie Darko is still my favorite film of all time at my 26 years old. It might seem childish to some, but it’s one that feels the closest to my heart in many ways, and while I’ll try to attempt to explain why, I honestly don’t want to expose myself that much, so maybe I’ll focus as much as I can in the science fiction aspects of the film, mainly because I think that it’s why it had so many votes… or is it?

For al the science and the fiction that matters, the film portrays one element that would relate directly to it: a time travel towards the end, where the main character jumps back to the moment where a jet engine is about to fall onto his room, but instead of jumping out and meeting with Frank, he laughs and stays, thus changing the future and “correcting” history, becoming a super hero and some sort of Christ like figure that sacrifices itself to save the rest from the sins of humanity, that are thoroughly dissected and exposed in the film that we just saw. That, just on the surface level, and that is if you actually think he travelled back in time, instead of “dreaming it all”, like many theories support. (more…)

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by Adam Ferenz

March 31, 1999. Written and Directed by The Wachowskis. Starring: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano, Hugo Weaving, Gloria Foster.

What is The Matrix? Existence. Perception. Reality. Fantasy. It is everything and nothing. A construct intended to use humanity as a battery for a race of sentient machines. A battleground for the fight to free humanity from the clutches of said machines, and their minions, the Agents, lead by Agent Smith. Into this enters Neo, a young computer hacker who discovers the awful truth about mankind’s current condition. The film is as much about ideas as it is about plot.

What is The Matrix?

The Matrix is the world the machines create to trick humanity into sleeping their lives away as an energy source. When Neo meets Morpheus and Trinity, the leaders of a resistance cell, based on a ship called the Nebudchadnezzar, his life is irrevocably altered, and the course of humanity reset. One could talk about the action sequences-such as the assault on the stronghold to free Morpheus, a ballet of glass, leather coats, shiny marble floors and bullets-or the chase through the tunnels and final fight with the construct, an Agent known as Mr. Smith. But that would miss much of the point of the film, which is about dual identity. It would be easy to say that the Wachowski Brothers-as they were then known-were interested in this for personal reasons. But, the Wachowski’s were really more interested in exploring what is real and what is forced. Choice or will versus enslavement.

They accomplish this through a variety of means. Philosophical discussions. Action sequences doubling as metaphors, or very specific staging of events in order to evoke a sense of self.  Much has been made of the film’s Abrahamic roots, and while this is true, what with obvious nods like the ship being named the Nebudchadnezzar, one character being Morpheus-to change-another being Neo, “the one” or the Chosen, and yet a third, the aptly named Trinity, this is but one layer on which the film operates. (more…)

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