Scanners: Cronenberg, Existence, and Body Horror

SCANNERS (1981)

Scanners (1981) is a movie lacking in almost every area of cinematic showiness: Its locations, in and around Toronto and Montreal, are plain and dull. The film’s protagonist is practically emotionless. The editing is thoroughly unobtrusive, mostly cutting back and forth between speakers in conversation. The camera doesn’t waste any time or energy moving around the sets, preferring to sit idly, for the most part, and observe. The music matches the quietude of the movie and simply provides an aural backdrop to the action.

It is a masterpiece.

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We’re Off to See the Zardoz

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In the pantheon of wildly ambitious, certifiably insane major studio films released in the go-for-broke 1970s, few can hold a candle to Zardoz (1974). Director John Boorman was riding high on the success of Warner Bros.’ Deliverance two years before, so he was essentially given free rein to choose whatever story he wanted as long as the budget was right. The 20th Century-Fox production was envisioned by Boorman as his second vehicle with Burt Reynolds, but when the mustachioed superstar proved too ill to sign on, Sean Connery was brought on instead. The result is a hallucinatory and utterly unique fever dream of a film, as much fantasy as sci-fi despite its marketing (perhaps because Boorman was still frustrated at being unable to launch an adaptation of The Lord of the Rings), and once seen, it’s certainly not easy to forget. [...MORE]

Tippett Studio

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A few weeks ago I got a chance to visit Tippett Studio and was given a tour by Phil Tippett himself. He was seven-years-old when he saw Ray Harryhausen’s The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad and knew what he wanted to do with his life. Since then he has worked on Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, received his first Academy Award nomination for his dragon in Dragonslayer, was awarded his first Oscar in 1984 for his work on Return of the Jedi, worked with Paul Verhoeven on both RoboCop (the terrifying ED-209) and Starship Troopers (the even more terrifying alien arachnids), would win another Oscar for his visual effects on Jurassic Park, and the list goes on… [...MORE]

We Are Not Alone: Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Forbidden Planet

Today on TCM, two of my favorite sci-fI movies air, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Forbidden Planet.  They approach their aliens from distinctly different angles but share characteristics that have always kept them at or near the top of my favorite sci-fi movies list.  The fact that I saw both of them for the first time in 1977 might be one of the reasons I have always thought of them in the same breath but there are other reasons, too, and I believe that both exemplify the best that science fiction cinema has to offer.

AlienDads

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Forbidden Planet and other Shakespearean musings

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Later today TCM is screening Forbidden Planet (Fred Wilcox, 1956), one of the best science-fiction films of all time. That last statement might ring hyperbolic, but anyone familiar with the movie knows it’s true. What could I possibly add that hasn’t already been uncovered about a film that had an influence on everything from Star Trek to Alien and beyond? Given how Forbidden Planet adds elements of Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Jungian theories tapping into the collective unconscious, I sent emails to cast of The Theatre & Dance department at my campus, which recently hosted “Return to the Forbidden Planet, the musical”, as well as to some folks at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, and even a couple Humanities professors who teach courses on Carl Jung.  [...MORE]

‘Midnight Special’ Coming Your Way

blogmidnightspecialThe 18th annual Sarasota Film Festival (SFF) has wrapped, and, as usual, I have mixed feelings about the event. But, I am always glad to attend because of the opportunity to catch indie, foreign, and documentary films that will never be widely released in theaters or touted by reviewers. Some of these titles may find outlets for distribution, but if they don’t get any buzz in the media, viewers will not know to look for them.

Such are the conditions of film exhibition and consumption in America. For example, way too much attention has been paid in the press to that clunker of a comic-book flick that shall remain nameless. The stars worked the talk-show circuit; the film’s opening made the news; and, even its box-office disappointment generated Internet headlines. Meanwhile, I have seen very little buzz for a far superior film, Midnight Special, which premiered at South by Southwest and played opening weekend at SFF. Directed by one of my new favorite filmmakers, Jeff Nichols, this slice of sci fi tells the story of a gifted boy named Alton who is on the lam across the South with his father and a family friend. Alton, who is played by Jaeden Lieberher, knows way too much about secret codes and satellite coordinates, and he has unusual powers that are gradually revealed. Small wonder that various government agencies, who have not lightened up much since E.T., are pursuing them.

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March 12, 2016
David Kalat
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Lathes of Heaven

I’ve always had a thing for trippy Sci-Fi headscratchers. Its one of my favorite genres. I can’t be sure if my taste for such things is a consequence of seeing The Lathe of Heaven at a young and impressionable age, or if my intense memories of The Lathe of Heaven were because I already primed to enjoy such stuff. Either way, this was a formative movie experience.

The year was 1980, and I was ten. This was a made-for-TV feature produced by PBS affiliate WNET’s “Experimental TV Lab,” and I remember it screened several times between 1980 and 1981 in my area. I was already a devotee of Doctor Who, and so I was a regular PBS viewer who payed close attention to their schedule. Back in those days PBS actually mailed a glossy illustrated magazine to its viewers (or at least those who donated at pledge drive time) with the local schedule. I remember the tantalizing write-up for Lathe of Heaven and how I circled it on the schedule, to be sure to see it. (I wish I still had that thing. It might be a collectors item today, or at least a nostalgic souvenir. But I cut it up to cut out all the pictures of Tom Baker as Doctor Who. I was 10, remember).

And man did that movie burn its way into my skull. It’s been haunting me ever since.

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KEYWORDS: Bruce Davison, James Caan, Lisa Bonet, The Lathe of Heaven, Ursula K. LeGuin
COMMENTS: 5
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The Palm Springs Classic Science Fiction & Horror Festival is alive!

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Aliens! Monsters! Mutants! Throw-backs! Things! Dopplegangers! I’ll say it again… Dopplegangers! Something out-of-this-world is going to happen in the California desert! No, it’s not an invasion of the earth… it’s the inaugural Palm Springs Classic Science Fiction and Horror Festival… and you’re all invited!

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Past Lives: The She-Creature (1956)

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In 1956 the hip new fad was past life regression, thanks to the story of Bridey Murphy. In Colorado, amateur hypnotist Morey Bernstein had been experimenting his craft with Virginia Mae Morrow, who claimed to have died in Ireland in 1864, when she was known as Bridey Murphy. The story was reported in the Denver Post, and then published as a best-selling book authored by Bernstein in 1956, The Search for Bridey Murphy. It was briefly on everybody’s lips, with the New York Times reporting, “there were Bridey Murphy parties (‘come as you were’) and Bridey Murphy jokes (parents greeting newborns with ‘Welcome back’).”  Hollywood wanted to cash-in on the craze while it was still relevant, so Paramount rushed their official adaptation of The Search for Bridey Murphy, starring Teresa Wright, into production. It was released on October 1st of 1956. American International Pictures worked a little quicker, cranking their past life regression monster movie The She-Creature (1956) out in nine days, and getting it into theaters on July 25th. Though beset by casting troubles and budget restrictions, The She-Creature manages to create an atmosphere of voluptuous dread, aided by Paul Blaisdell’s insectoid creature design and efficient direction from bargain basement king Edward L. Cahn.

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Invisible Intruder: The Amazing Transparent Man (1960)

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In April of 1959 Edgar G. Ulmer was given an impossible task. Toiling in Dallas for Miller Consolidated Pictures, a short-lived B-picture studio, he was assigned to shoot two features in eleven days. These turned into Beyond the Time Barrier (1960) and The Amazing Transparent Man (1960). Most of the limited time and money was spent on Beyond, since its leap into the future required more elaborate set design and a larger cast.  What remained for him to use for The Amazing Transparent Man was a house on a hill, five actors, and an improbable tale of a mad Major experimenting with nuclear radiation to create an army of invisible warriors. From these meager resources Ulmer spun a dark, despairing tale of Atomic Age breakdown. Each character nurses a private tragedy, egged onward to self-annihilation. For most of its life the film has been an object of scorn — it was the subject of a Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode — but seeing a 16mm print projected at Anthology Film Archives (in their series on American International Pictures) was something of a revelation.

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