Monday, 30 June 2014

War of the Worlds (1953)

I'm sure that War of the Worlds is a story familiar to most, whether from H G Wells' novel, the various radio broadcasts, this interpretation or Spielberg's updated version (2005).  What's great about this version, directed by Byron Haskin, is the sense of helplessness of the humans.  No matter which approach is tried: reasoning, scientific or military; it all comes undone, either by the Martians or ourselves.  Additionally, the sounds created are iconic, in particular the weird pulsing noise that the 'eye' makes, just before it disintegrates someone.

There is always an undercurrent of religiosity, as I think was deemed necessary by movie studios in 50s Sci-Fi.  Most obvious is that love interest Sylvia’s uncle is Pastor Matthew Collins (though the poor guy’s attempt to to “come in peace” while carrying his Bible high is meet with disintegration).  There is also the comment that the aliens could take over the world in 6 days (from this arbitrary point after several days of destruction already) which leads Sylvia to comment that this is as many days as it took to create it!  The climax of the film sees Dr Forrester running from church to church to try and find Sylvia, and in the final narrator’s voice over tells us that the “Martians were destroyed and humanity was saved by the littlest things, which God, in His wisdom, had put upon this Earth.”

Great to see that the main character is a scientist who everyone respects (he was even on the cover of Time magazine), and the military doesn’t automatically shut him out.  And the scientist gets the girl!  Of course even though the scientists are integral to the fight against the Martians, they fall foul of the the public as they panic and commandeer their vehicle, destroying lots of important equipment as they do it.

Not as spectacular as Spielberg's 2005 version, but far more character-driven and no less threatening with a great atmosphere, helped by an introduction making us feel rather insignificant in the Solar System, and some brilliant sound effects.  But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

The Dam Busters (1955)

I had watched a documentary a few months ago about Barnes Wallis, the engineer who developed the bouncing bomb.  It was a fascinating programme, and featured some willing pilots who attempted to recreate dropping the bombs.  So I was really pleased that the movie wasn't just about the training and the mission, but also had Wallis' development of the idea and the frustrations he had trying to bring it to fruition.

The film then nicely integrates Wallis' testing of the bomb with the inception of a special RAF squadron that will carry out the mission into enemy territory.  By the end there is little else Wallis can do but wait alongside the commanders as the pilots leave to destroy the targeted dams.  At this point in the film there is some nice aerial photography of the aircraft and their encounter with enemy fire, juxtaposed against the silent anxiety back at base; clearly the inspiration for the attack on the Death Star at the end of Star Wars.

I enjoyed the hell out of this film, not least for several inspirational Star Wars moments, but because the film wasn't a run-of-the-mill war story, rather it was the story of a fantastic scientific idea from its inception to its devastating conclusion, that helped the war effort immeasurably.  But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Life of Pi (2012)

A spectacular film, Life of Pi is told in retrospect as the titular character, Piscine, tells his story to a journalist.  As a young man he suffered a life changing event which found him adrift in a lifeboat with some animals from his father's zoo, a story which he explains to the journalist will make him believe in God.

I've not read the book, but I'm sure the screenplay didn't come easy, so credit is due to David Magee and Ang Lee for having the vision to bring it to the screen.  More than anything it is a film with moments of sheer beauty, in a similar way to Into the Wild (2007); Claudio Miranda fully deserving the Academy Award for cinematography.  It almost makes the leap to a work of art as 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) does, but isn't quite there.  The kid Ayush Tandon is really very good considering it must have been him in front of a green screen for most of the shoot.

There were a few moments where a continuous shot would have been brilliant and to me, obvious; so their absence was a bit of a shame.  Also the final "make you believe in God" bit, felt suddenly thrown in like it had been forgotten about.  But these are only minor quibbles, overall the film is truly spectacular, visually stunning and completely engaging. I really wish I'd been able to see this on the big screen that it deserves.  But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

The Witches (1966)

More a thriller than one of Hammer's more traditional Horrors, the first hour of The Witches excels at generating an air of "what the hell is going on?".  Miss Mayfield (Joan Fontaine) is employed as the new headmistress of the primary school in the idyllic village of Heddaby; but with strains of The Midwich Cuckoos and decades later Hot Fuzz (2007), Miss Mayfield realises something sinister is going on.

Joan Fontaine is really good as the innocent incomer, and is our window into the peculiar goings-on.  As a large part of this mystery, the two main kids Ingrid Boulting and Martin Stephens are both very good, and the surrounding support cast also help weave a sinister tapestry of deceit.  Perhaps most deceitful of all is the dodgy doctor played by Leonard Rossiter (Rising Damp (1974-78); 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968); Barry Lyndon (1975).  He is a microcosm of the the weird village and as such is perfect; he just seems to have a natural air of conspiracy about him.

I’m finding that the more famous of these Hammer films (Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and Horror of Dracula (1958) excepted) are a bit underwhelming, whereas the more obscure ones (The Nanny (1965), The Plague of the Zombies (1966), and now The Witches) generate far more atmosphere and are far more entertaining & enjoyable.  But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Ghostbusters (1984)

30 years on there's not much I can say about Ghostbusters that hasn't already been said, so I'm going to say it with tweets instead.
It's been a long time since I saw Ghostbusters (though I'm sure I've seen it since I first saw it in the Wrexham Hippodrome in 1984), and I don't think I'd appreciated before how funny the throwaway comments were.  There's the obvious "If someone asks you if you're a God, you say YES!", but it's the little (mostly Bill Murray) quips that embellish the already great film.

Though there are four Ghostbusters, and despite being written by Akroyd and Ramis, this is really Bill Murray's film.  His performance is superbly dead-pan and he clearly had so much fun with Peter Venkman.  The role was initially written for John Belushi, but it's hard to see how anyone could brought the film alive as much as Murray.

From flattops and large glasses to Rick Moranis' yuppy stereotypes and Ray Parker Jr.'s theme tune, Ghostbusters really embraces it's 80s style.

We don't. We feel exhilarated, alive and thoroughly entertained.  The fun of the film is infectious, and I can remember coming out of the theatre feeling like I could take on the world.
Winston's final exclamation is the perfect release for the dramatic finale and sums up what an exiting and fun adventure it has been.  But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.

Friday, 6 June 2014

Reanimator (1985)

If Frankenstein was the modern Prometheus then Reanimator is the modern Frankenstein.  Except that the hard work has been done and all Dr West has to do is inject some luminous yellow liquid into the brains of dead people to bring them back to life.

Based on H P Lovecraft's story Herbert West: Reanimator, the film is very much in the 80s splatter movie style of Scanners (1981), The Evil Dead (1981) or Bad Taste (1987).  Full of Dark humour and quite outrageous scenes, Reanimator is great fun despite being essentially daft and looking rather dated.  The special effects, however, don't look dated.  In the great tradition of practical horror (American Werewolf in London (1981), The Thing (1982), Evil Dead or Evil Dead 2 (1987) and even Aliens (1986)) the effects are all tremendously gooey and as far as I can tell all done in camera, which all adds to the fun.

Perhaps not so horrific by today's standards, Reanimator is more of a Sci-fi romp than anything else, more frenetic than atmospheric; but this doesn't detract from it at all.  But, well, you know, that’s just, like, er, my opinion, man.