Saturday, November 26, 2011
Science Fiction Week Day 7
Total Recall (1990)
Remembrance of Viewing Past: I’m frankly a little surprised that this Arnold Schwarzenegger film is on the list, but it's definitely worth another look.
After viewing: I always thought the story for this one was pretty involving and knowing the story twists didn't really detract too much from the second viewing. I did lose track of the number of people that Arnold kills, but this type of excess seems much more palatable to me in a Sci-Fi movie than in a contemporarily set one.
Friday, November 25, 2011
Science Fiction Week Day 6
The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)
Remembrance of Viewings Past: I saw this at the Rhodes repertory theater during the 1980’s. I believe it was on a double-bill with Zardoz. I have a positive but fading recollection of The Man Who Fell To Earth,and am curious how I will relate it now.
Seeing it now, I think David Bowie was perfectly cast as a very understated alien who comes from a dying planet. And Candy Clark as the leading lady is terrific. It’s a hard movie to explain and don’t know if a sci-fi movie like this could be made today. I don’t think The Man Who Fell to Earth action figures would sell too well. I’m also wondering if it is close enough to Christmas to listen to the David Bowie/Bing Crosby Little Drummer Boy duet. But I digress.
Thursday, November 24, 2011
Science Fiction Week Day 5
Planet of the Apes (1968)
Remembrance of Viewings Past: I heartily admit to a sentimental attachment to the original Planet of the Apes. I first saw it when I was very young and have probably seen in at least in part a dozen times since.
The movie starts with three American astronauts landing hundreds of years in the future on a remote planet. The cynical Taylor (Charlton Heston) leads this band in the search for water or other life forms. They slowly find clues of life and hints of a civilization during the first thirty minutes of the movie. The reason I bring this up is because it is an important part of the building of suspense and introduction of Taylor’s character. The audience knows that they are about to run into a civilization where apes rule. Even if you are seeing it for the first time, we know what the title is! We know what is going on, but the astronauts don’t. It’s a slow trek, but it’s necessary for the plot. I also love Jerry Goldsmith’s score, which is used to full effect during the early scenes.
Anyway, here are a few other thoughts on Planet of the Apes.
1. The desert setting in the early scenes: Why do I like the early scenes so much? We don’t know where the story is going (even if we do know, you understand?) It’s called building suspense.
2. Little touches; The distibution of power, the see know evil, hear no evil, speak no evil pose that the orangutan’s have while Taylor is giving them unwanted truths. The character of Lucius, who is basically an ape hippie without being over the top, the sacred scrolls, the Forbidden Zone and let’s not forget Heston’s concubine Nova.
3. Memorable lines “Get your stinkin’ paws off me, you damn, dirty ape!” Come on, is there a better line as well timed in any movie than that one?
4. The makeup. If the viewer didn’t buy the makeup, the party was pretty much over. Luckily, we bought it.
5. The Turkish cave architecture of the ape village gives the story the otherworldly appeal it needs.
6. Changes from the original book-The Eiffel Tower from Boulle's novel? I don’t think so.
7. The performances-Maurice Evans as the politician Dr. Zaius, Kim Hunter and Roddy McDowell as the sympathetic chimpanzees, but don’t forget Charlton Heston as the cynical astronaut.
8. The ending-One of the greatest endings of all-time.
9. The sequels? Well, the four sequels are a mixed lot. The best of the bunch is probably the third installment where Cornelius and Zira escape on Taylor’s old ship and return to 1973 earth! It was about the only way they could keep the series going since a hydrogen bomb goes off at the end of the second movie. The last two installments in the series have their moments, epecially Conquest of the Planet of the Apes where we see the beginning of the ape uprising beginning to take place. After the movies played out, we had a short-lived television show Planet of the Apes, which was pretty so-so, but I watched every episode (All 13!)
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Science Fiction Week Day 4
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
Remembrance of Viewings Past: First saw on television sometime in the 70’s. Have seen a couple of times since.
After viewing: I’m still a fan of the story, the major flaw in the '1956 version being the unnecessary prologue and epilogue that the studio added to the story. But this was more than a movie of pod people taking over. The author and filmmaker clearly wanted use this story of as metaphor against Communism, McCarthyism and other Totalitarian regimes.
In fact, on the CD I’m listening too there is a quote from the son of Invasion of the Body Snatchers director Don Siegel. I will transcribe it now:
“They were looking at this movie with Fresh eyes. They were bringing all this other stuff to it. Like it was a statement against McCarthyism and other people would say it’s a statement against Communism. But Siegel said that ‘none of that was in my head. That’s all in their imaginations. All I was trying to do was make and interesting scary, movie.’”
As I was saying, Invasion of the Body Snatchers is…an interesting and scary movie that people may at times read a little too much into.
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Science Fiction Week Day 3
Forbidden Planet (1956)
Remembrance of Viewings Past: One of the most fondly remembered of all 50’s sci-fi films. Hopefully, after watching it again I can better define why.
After viewing: Here are the top ten reasons Forbidden Planet is one of the most fondly remembered films all 50’s sci-fi films.
Number 10 Anne Francis’s uber-short mini-skirt!
Number 9 Despite the quality of the production, it can still be a bit cheesy at times.: Examples include the flying saucer shots which aren’t really that much better than the ones from Fire Maidens From Outer Space and the supposedly nude Alatara clearly wearing a body suit.
Number 8 Special appeal for Trekies. This film was clearly a clearly a blueprint for much of the original Star Trek universe: Dashing commander who goes to an unknown planet and makes out with the only girl there! Dashing commander hangs out with the ships doctor, who really is closer to Spock than Mccoy. Blasters-which are called phasers in Star Trek, and more space jargon (you know, like the explanations from Star Trek why a worm hole will be closing up because of an exploding Super Nova in the next galaxy that is really hard to understand, but you just have to except it as a given plot point)is used here than you can shake a blaster at.
Number 7 High brow appeal in that Forbidden Planet is often compared to Shakespeare’s The Tempest
Number 6 Special appeal for Freudians as the Id plays such an important part in this story
Number 5 The fine supporting cast including the guy who later was on Police Woman, the guy who was later on Maverick and the guy who was later on The Six Million Dollar Man.
Number 4 Walter Pidgeon as Morbius is indeed a tragic character out of Shakespeare, though it might take a minute to realize that the pre-Airplane! Leslie Nielsen actually says his lines straight!
Number 3 The fact that the creatures are more of the mind than anything avoids the film from having any bad monster makeup.
Number 2 The look of the film, the color, and the fact that it is in Cinemascope makes this production great to look at. Dr. Morbius’s lab is also pretty impressive.
But the Number 1 reason that Forbidden Planet is one of the most fondly remembered films all 50’s sci-fi films is: Robby the Robot!
Monday, November 21, 2011
Science Fiction Week Day 2
The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
Remembrance of Viewings Past: I was probably about five. I was watching this on television during the days when they actually showed black and white movies on television! I remember the robot policeman Gort coming after Patricia Neal and have never been so scared while watching a movie since.
A one sentence synopsis of the movie might be: Space alien Klaatu comes to Earth and tells the citizens of the planet that if they continue to expand their atomic experiments into outer space, they will have to be eliminated.
As Klaatu said:
Your choice is simple.
Join us and live in peace
Or pursue your present course and face obliteration.
We shall be waiting for your answer.
The decision rests with you.
As Klaatu also said:
Those are great words.
Sunday, November 20, 2011
Science Fiction Week Day 1
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
Remembrance of Viewings Past: If memory serves correctly, I’ve seen Close Encounters of the Third Kind four times before. It's unusual in that I seem to like it more on odd numbered viewings. When it first opened, it made a big splash. Made a big impression on me. One of my favorite movies at that time. A couple of years later, Spielberg re-released a special edition version of the movie and I remember leaving the theater saying, “Was it really worth the extras he added? I was a bit disappointed. The next time I saw it was on television during the 80’s. Once again, I got caught up in the story and liked it a great deal. Then I saw it a few years later and found it to be rather slow moving. Well, it’s been over twenty years now since my last viewing, and this is likely the last time I’ll ever watch it. So I’ll give the film a definitive yes or no here.
In the meantime, I have the pleasure of recounting the reminiscences of one of the STARS of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Ms. Wilma Jo Spanyer, who played…I’ll just let her tell you.
My grandfather and grandmother got jobs as extras when they came to Mobile to film Close Encounters of the Third Kind. There was a casting call and they went to it (being retired and all) and soon they were working on it at Brookley Field. My grandfather, who never met a stranger, soon had my dad, and my sister and myself working on the movie, too. Papa made friends with some of the Hollywood folks and the whole family was in on it. I don't know why my mom did not get in on it. She was with us on the set, just not in the movie. It was the coolest experience of my life. We were lowly extras, but getting big checks for kids back in that day and time. My grandfather was one of the people involved in the Mayflower project on the dark side of the moon part of the film, and my dad was one of the guys in jumpsuits there, too. In some of the earlier versions of the film, you can she the little aliens touching him when they came out of the ship. My sister, Boo, and myself were the two little kids in the back of the farmer's truck near the beginning of the movie.
We got to meet everyone - Steven Spielburg, Francois Truffaut, Terri Garr, Roberts Blossom (he played our dad the farmer), Richard Dreyfuss, Melinda Dillon, the camera people, everybody. I would say we met Carey Guffey but he was so little I doubt he would remember it! It was so much fun to be involved in this. It's funny now thinking back, how some of the extras that had like, one line, thought they were so important. Then when you see the finished movie, half of the stuff you did has been cut out, chopped up and it's all rearranged. The most important people there were some of the most humble acting. Francois Truffaut, Richard Dreyfuss, and Roberts Blossom were some of the nicest people you would ever want to meet. They just act like anyone else.
It was exciting to see how movies are made, but it's nothing like you think it will be. Nothing is filmed in order and they waste so much time. One whole entire night they shot close ups of my sister and I with the fans on us, blowing our hair, and none of that is in there. I guess when they are editing it they need a lot of extra stuff for continuity. It really seems like they waste a lot of time and money, though.
All in all, it was a great experience. We had a wonderful summer, made great money, ate some delightful food (they had wonderful caterers) and had an experience that lots of folks will never get. Then when the movie finally came out, my whole class went and cheered when we appeared on the screen. They even put something about us in our school yearbook. It was my fifteen minutes, I guess, and it was a lot of fun. Gave me some good memories. Recently, there has been a documentary about the making of the movie in Mobile in the works, and I hope we will all get to see that one day soon. I would love to see the interviews with all the Mobile people in it.
-Wilma Jo Spanyer
After viewing: The fifth times the charm. I did get caught up in it this time out and will now retire from watching the film while I still have a favorable impression of it.
And I want to give a special thanks to Ms. Spanyer for her recollections.
Saturday, November 12, 2011
BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967), THE GRADUATE (1967), IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT (1967), GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER (1967), DOCTOR DOOLITTLE (1967)
Mark Harris’s book Pictures at a Revolution recounts elements of the motion picture business during the turbulent and transitional year of 1967. The book gives particular insight into the five movies nominated for Best Picture that year: Bonnie and Clyde, The Graduate, In the Heat of the Night, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and Doctor Dolittle.
Two of these films (Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate) were representations of the new Hollywood. Two of these films represented a change in race relations (Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and In the Heat of the Night)or at least a change in race relations as represented in movies. And Doctor Dolittle was a representation of old Hollywood thinking.
At the Academy Awards that year, In the Heat of the Night won Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay and a Best Actor Oscar for Rod Steiger and did pretty well at the box office.
The Graduate won Best Director and was a huge and influential hit.
Bonnie and Clyde won a couple of Oscars, including Best Supporting Actress for Estelle Parsons. Bonnie and Clyde was also extremely popular.
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner was the biggest hit of director Stanley Kramer’s career, despite the films mediocre to unenthusiastic reviews. The movie also won a Best Actress award for Katherine Hepburn and a Best original screenplay award for William Rose.
Doctor Dolittle won the Academy Award for best song (Talk to the Animals) but was largely a critical and financial disaster.
If I looked back on my viewing of these films, my choices for favorite would have varied according to when I viewed them.
In the late 60’s my choice would have been Doctor Dolittle. Now that really isn’t fair, I know, as I was only five years old when it came out and was the only one of these five films that I could watch or would have even been interested in watching. I thought the two headed-llama (the Pushmi Pullyu) was amazing! Talk to the Animals was such a fun song! And that giant sea snail? Well I thought it was pretty cool even if everyone laughed at how fake it looked. Of course, my choice for greatest movie of all-time at that point would have been Disney’s The Jungle Book, but it wasn’t nominated.
My 1968 choice for Best Picture from this list: Doctor Dolittle
In the early 70’s when I was eleven or twelve, my choice would have been Bonnie and Clyde. Lots of action. Lots of fun, even if what the Barrow gang was doing was pretty unseemly. And that ending? Awesome! Favorite character: Michael J. Pollard as C. W. Moss.
My 1974 choice: Bonnie and Clyde
Then by the late 70’s, I saw The Graduate, and it immediately became one of my favorite movies. It’s funny, is a great depiction of the uncertainty of youth. It has memorable performances by Anne Bancroft and Dustin Hoffman and those perfect Simon and Garfunkel songs for the occasion. And that ending? An even better finale than Bonnie and Clyde.
My 1979 to present choice: The Graduate
It might make for a better ending to this rant if I now pick In the Heat of the Night or Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner as my favorite now, but I really don’t think The Graduate is going to be beat. We’ll see…
After watching all five of these movies in 2011
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner: The racial situations depicted in this film may seem a bit naïve and over the top, but the theme of harmony and getting along with others at least has its heart in the right place. Plus it’s pretty funny and the trio of stars, Katherine Hepburn, Sidney Poitier and Spencer Tracy in his last role, is worth watching. I wouldn’t call it Best Picture of the year, but in my re-watching I liked it better than I thought I would
In the Heat of the Night: I liked this one less this time than in my previous viewing. Supercop Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier) comes to a small southern town and uses an astute power of reasoning that would make Star Trek's Mr. Spock blush to try to solve a local murder. All this while the local rednecks (which seems to be pretty much everyone in the whole town of Sparta) seems to want to beat him to death with a tire iron. Rod Steiger’s Chief Gillespie is the only one who seems to not want to beat Virgil Tibbs to a pulp, though he does try to run him out of town several times. Gillespie also proves to be a rather poor police officer, arresting the wrong person for the murder three times-including his own deputy! I may be a little overly sensitive to the issue of the way Southerners are depicted by Hollywood and I know this movie is over forty years old, but there you have it. I do think Rod Steiger is quite good, but this definitely isn’t my Best Picture choice for 1967.
Bonnie and Clyde: I’ve read a couple of revisionist Oscar takes where it is acknowledged that Bonnie and Clyde should have taken home the Best Picture award. One thing I liked about the film were some of the smaller touches, such as Bonnie and Clyde tying up a police officer and taking pictures of him with the Barrow gang as if they are posing for a yearbook. I also liked the plot point of Clyde being impotent, which raises a lot of motivational questions for both him and Bonnie. The unseemly nature of the Barrow gang’s exploits does bother me more now than it did when I watched it in the early 70’s. Still love the ending, but Bonnie and Clyde is still not my choice.
Doctor Dolittle: As badly as this movie has been trashed by critics over the years, I honestly didn’t find it all that bad after viewing it all these years later. All the problems with the shoot of this film are entertainingly accounted for in Harris’s book. As far as the actual movie itself, the songs are kind of fun and there are some clever touches with Dolittle’s conversing with animals. I’m even okay with the sea snail. Nonetheless, it was pretty silly to give this a best picture nomination over such films as In Cold Blood.
But the winner for me still is…
The Graduate: I’ve probably seen this about ten times now. It’s not a perfect movie. I thought Ben and Elaine’s relationship seemed rushed. Weren’t they only on their second date before they are broken up by Mrs. Robinson?
And the change in the naïve Ben in the first half of the movie to the obsessed overconfident Ben in the second half can seem a little jarring. Though I do think that growth is part of the point.
Ten memorable scenes from my favorite movie of 1967
1. Ben’s journey on the moving sidewalk over the strains of Sounds of Silence “Hello, darkness my old friend.”
2. The party in the opening scene. “Plastics”
3. Mrs. Robinson’s initial seduction of Ben “You are trying to seduce me aren’t you?”
4. The nervous Ben trying to get a room from Hotel Clerk Buck Henry “Are you here for an affair.”
5. Some great editing including the scene where Benjamin leaps toward the raft in his pool and lands on Mrs. Robinson in their hotel bed.
6. The scene in which Ben tries to get Mrs. Robinson to engage in small talk in their hotel room is funny at first, but is ultimately quite sad. “Let’s not talk about it. Let’s not talk at all.”
7. Elaine Robinson’s discovery of Ben’s affair with her mother. “Goodbye, Benjamin.”
8. Mr. Robison’s dressing down of Ben. “You’ll pardon me if I don’t shake hands with you”
9. The mad dash for the church to stop Elaine’s wedding. “Elaine! Elaine!”
10. Ben and Elaine escape from everything by bus in the final scene….but as Mike Nichols said, one day they will probably turn into their parents.
And thanks to Mark Harris for his informative and entertaining book.
Friday, November 4, 2011
Blog Writer: They don’t make ‘em like this anymore. It’s a horror movie that doesn’t go over the top and rely too much on special effects. We also don’t see anything filmed in black and white anymore, which could really add onto the creepiness factor of some recent films, BUT NO, that’s too subtle, we can’t have that either. And another thing…excuse me a second.
Sorry for the interruption. It’s just some plaster falling off the walls of my den. That’s a bit troubling...It’s really coming off in chunks. Anyway, continuing with my train of thought, Repulsion was Roman Polanski’s first major film in English and features one of the most beautiful actresses of all-time, Catherine Deneuve…Damn! Hold on just a minute…
Sorry, I thought I heard people having sex in the room above me. But that’s crazy since no one else is in the house. I guess my imagination is playing tricks on me. As I was saying, what was I saying? Something about Roman Gabriel? No, Roman Polanski, I think. I just can’t concentrate right now. These walls are really in worse shape than I thought.
At that moment a ghostly presence with flaming eyeballs and a hooded cloak appears in the seat next to the blog writer.
The Presence: So, what is it you think you’re doing?
Blog Writer: (Putting his hand to his chest) Oh! It’s just you. You really gave me a start. I was just writing about the 1965 psychological horror classic Repulsion.
The Presence: An interesting choice, but what you are saying in this blog sounds a lot like what you said about the movie The Haunting. I’ve been keeping notes on your entries and I see similarities here.
Blog Writer: Really? I do apologize if I’m being repetitive. It’s just that I’ve gone through about three hundred of the movies on this list and I guess I may be developing a tendency toward redundancy.
The Presence: That’s all very well. But do you think this is what you need to be doing right now, anyway? Shouldn’t you be promoting your short story, which is now available on Amazon and Kindle?
Blog Writer: You mean the story “Death Takes Another Holiday,” from the anthology Dreamspell Nightmares 2?
The Presence: (Sarcastically) No, I mean your Pygmy/Locust poem you wrote when you were a kid!
Blog Writer: Oh, yeah! Pygmy/Locust. I still remember it by heart, just like I wrote it yesterday…
The blogger clears his throat before reading.
Pygmies jumping to and fro,
I feel a greasy chipmunk a-lyin’ in my hair
Running water upside down.
Fishermen in the trees,
A hatchet twenty-five miles wide,
Chopping at my knees.
The pain inside has almost stopped,
That rattle in my brain,
Now help me get up, get outside,
And try to grab the rain.
The Presence: (Sighing) I’m guessing you did a lot of glue sniffing when you were young.
Blog Writer: No need to be so insulting.
The Presence: I’m sorry. But would you please promote your story already!
Blog Writer: All right. Dreamspell Nightmares 2 from L & L Dreamspell, a horror anthology featuring many great stories including “Death Takes Another Holiday” by Christopher Cox is now available on Amazon and Kindle.
The Presence: Anything else?
Blog Writer: You mean like I should say to visit their website at www.lldreamspell.com for other great books and story collections?
The Presence: Yes, like that. Was that really so hard? Oh, would you excuse me for just a second?
The presence begins brushing his jagged teeth. The blogger stares at him until the mouth of the ghostly figure has become frothy with toothpaste.
Blog Writer: What are you doing? Don’t you know where the bathroom is? And by the way, that’s my toothbrush!
The Presence lowers his head and hands the toothbrush back to the blogger who tosses it into a nearby trashcan.
Blog Writer: Anyway, you know how this whole self-promotion thing makes me uncomfortable.
The Presence: I have an idea. Why don’t you try to come up with a gimmicky way to get the information out so it won’t seem like you’re just promoting your book?
Blog Writer: I did that already. I posted the cover of the book at the top of the blog for The Haunting.
The Presence: Well, do it again.
Blog Writer: You don’t think I would be repeating myself again?
The Presence: Stop worrying so much. Just post the damn thing.
Blog Writer: I’m not sure…I...
The Presence has now started eating something with a pungent odor.
Blog Writer: What on earth are you doing now?
The Presence rips a piece of pink flesh into his mouth and begins chewing, though with some difficulty.
The Presence: Oh, this is just some raw rabbit I found in the refrigerator. It’s a little tough, but it’s quite hearty. Want a bite?
Blog Writer: No! No! I’ll post the cover already! Just take that thing out of here!
The Presence: Suit yourself. I have to go anyway. Now promise me you’ll call me when you do a blog on Swing Time. You know how I do love Fred and Ginger.
Blog Writer: I will. I will. Now let me have some peace, Thumper breath!
The Presence unsuccessfully stifles a burp as he disappears from view. The blog writer posts the cover of Dreamspell Nightmares 2 on his blog before unsuccessfully looking around the house for some Spackle.