And The Biggest Star Of The Year Is…

Lots in space.

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“There is a theory which states that if ever for any reason anyone discovers what exactly the universe is for and why it is here it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another that states that this has already happened” – Douglas Adams.

The big space movie: Interstellar may have turned out to be one of the biggest disappointments of the year, but there were a handful of awesome images to just about maintain my interest. None were any more powerful than the sprawling Gargantua, a mighty and omnipotent force located near Saturn.

Are we any nearer to understanding what exactly makes black holes work?

In his new book: “The Science of Interstellar,” Prof. Kip Thorne warns that much of the film “must be taken with a pinch of salt.” In dealing with such mind-twisting aspects as curved spacetime, and “holes in the fabric of reality,” the astropysicist branded them as: “the warped side of the universe.”

Essentially, a black hole is a collapsed star. It comes into being when those celestial fusion reactors (commonly known as ‘stars‘) have burnt through its entire stock of hydrogen and collapses under the force of its own gravity. The crush is so hardcore that not even light can escape. In space, no one can hear you gasp.

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“Since gravity is the dominant force acting over large distances, its inexorable pull should evidently lead to strong condensations of matter. Can anything ever stop it?” – Prof. Fulvio Melia.  

One thing is for sure: weird things happen near black holes. Albert Einstein suggested that the gravity of huge celestial bodies – such as black holes – can distort the fabric of the universe. A typical black hole may have a mass equivalent to 100 million suns. It spins at almost the speed of light, and can “drag” parts of the universe with it.

In order to allow the Endurance to reach the nearest star – a feat absolutely impossible by today’s standards of technology, that most convenient of plot-devices: the wormhole was concocted. To validate Nolan’s story of time dilation, a black hole of immense proportions was required; enter Gargantua.  

The distortion of the stars adjacent to Gargantua has come to be known as “gravitation lensing.” From computer simulations, Thorne was able to deduce that black holes are “slightly concave on one side, and have a bulge on the other.”

That’s gravity for you; relativity is superweird.

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“Because of the hole’s gravity warping spacetime into a fold, flying into, and subsequently through, a black hole could mean you ending up in another space or time. SF has speculated for years that… to travel through a black hole could… access other dimensions” – So You Created A Wormhole: The Time Traveler’s Guide To Time Travel (2012).

What about that great quandary: what would it be like to venture through a black hole – and come out the other side? There is NO WAY that you could exit a black hole once entered. Being sucked into a black hole would entail your atoms being dispersed in an instant…

Honestly… there are times when several so-called Hollywood stars who – based on their (dis)service to what is laughably labelled: “entertainment” – could do with this kind of… displacement. It is ironic to think that in this bland age of overblown movies, the biggest ‘star’ of 2014 will just turn out to be a black hole.  

And why ever not?

This beguiling behemoth is testament to what can be achieved through the incredible advance of special effects – Gargantua is impressive on both scale and grandeur. It holds – now and forever – more mass, depth, power, integrity and credibility than a 100 million Mark Wahlbergs. 

So there!

 

“Overwhelming, Immersive, Bold, Beautiful”: Interstellar Has It All?

Who’s “they”?

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“We used to look up at the sky and wonder about our place in the stars. Now we just look down and wonder about our place in the dirt” – Coop.   

The waiting is over: Interstellar is now upon us. Was it worth it?Christopher Nolan has proven to be a reliable and visionary auteur thus far, but – just to be on the safe side -has employed the consultative services of theoretical physicist Kip Thorne, also credited as Executive Producer.

In a future, too-near-for-comfort, food shortages and epic dust storms are threatening humankind. Before you can say: “preposterous plot contrivance,” Space Cowboy Matthew McConaughey – known here as Coop – (reduced to emergency farm duty) stumbles on the last remnants of NASA (aka Michael Caine) who need him, cos he’s “the best pilot we ever had” to lead a highly improbable mission which nobody can afford.

So, in order to save the planet, the best option is to… find an alternative planet to thrive on (i.e. systematically deplete all its natural resources)? Fortunately, the Endurance has… been manufactured already? Not even tried and tested… but this farmer can transport you to a wormhole near Saturn  (…?) …which someone, somewhere, has just discovered…?

Excuse me, there are black holes and wormholes to be had… but no one warned me that there would be plot-holes-a-plenty!

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“Most film-makers think small or medium. Not Christopher Nolan… his new picture is his biggest: biggest event, biggest spectacle, biggest disappointment” – Peter Bradshaw.

One overwhelming aspect about Interstellar is the fact that Christopher Nolan has made what no one had expected: a dud movie.

With Coop the family man tormented by the ordeal of having to abandon his kids, this material actually manages to invoke Homer’s The Odyssey as well as inevitable comparisons with Kubrick’s justly revered masterpiece. A perfect premise for Nolan to create a deep and empathetic drama, but… where is it?!

The mission is doomed, of course, especially if the crew of multi-million dolar vessel have to resort to paper sketches to explain where they think they should go and how to get there. Jeez…!

Not only that, if stuck millions of miles away, subjected to Tomboy Hathaway talking out of her wormhole prattling on about Love in the Fifth Dimension, then Starlord Brad would rather stay on Terra Firma, inhaling dust at the local baseball game. In space, no one can hear you groan.

One golden opportunity missed: the two droids could have turned out (as was hoped) to be the most charming and amusing droids since Silent Running – or R2-D2 for that matter, but nah, TARS and CASE were nothing more than bland and cumbersome boxes.

And what about that old chestnut: characterization? It is ironic to think that Coop travels all that distance to save humanity, yet there seems so precious little of it to be found amidst these rotten/burning fields. Honestly, take his own son for instance – no really! Please, someone, for the love of corn, just take him…

Which brings us conveniently to the deadly duo who wrote the damn thing.

Christopher – and his brother Jonathon – Nolan were responsible for churning out the painfully inadequate “script.” So, guys: out of the $165 million budget, neither of you could spend any of it on Writing For Movies courses? Or hire me to produce a vastly superior Space Opera?!

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“This means flying through a wormhole near Saturn to repopulate the Earth with Hathaway’s frozen eggs…  achieved by strapping McConaughey to a huge metal sphincter and firing him through a shimmering anus in the sky. I feel ridiculous just writing this” – Camilla Long, Sunday Times.

Honestly, if there was anyone ready and waiting to embrace this movie it was me, but Nolan has not concocted a satisfying mix of mainstream physics and emotional intensity. So what good points excited my critical faculties?

Amidst all its faults, grandiose shots, such as the black hole, and Endurance gently gliding past the gargantuan beauty that is Saturn and its rings looked suitably awesome, as did the monumental wall of water caught in mid-torrent.

Yet considering how this is the first major space-travel movie in ages, recommended to be viewed on IMAX, these shots should have been more numerous. Of the woefully scant glimpses of interstellar imagery on display, the shots could and should have lasted much longer.

The scene where Coop confronts his children’s tutors, gobsmacked about the fiddled text books now stating how the moon landings were faked (by Kubrick, we presume?) in order to bankrupt the Soviet Union makes for a particularly amusing scene. 

Jessica Chastain puts in a notable performance as the disgruntled farmer/astonaut’s genius daughter as an adult, agonising over the inanities of the script as much as the selfish abandonment by her father.

The shot of Coop racing away from the farmhouse, overlaid with the countdown to launch and Hans Zimmer’s throbbing organ (music) reverberating around the cinema was particularly dramatic. Not only did these elements herald the start of the mission but signalled the moment at which his kids’ hearts were broken.

The location filming (in Iceland) provided some ideal otherworldly cinematography but after Jason Bourne exploded in space (fantastic shots of debris, at least) all hope, credibility and interest was lost. While Coop screamed at Murph (and himself?!) through the gaps in her bookcase, some chortles of incredulity emanated from the back row…

It’s funny how on Waterworld one hour equals seven years “back home.” As soon as the end credits abruptly raced into action after three disappointing hours, it felt like my brain had devolved into wasabi, and my bum had gone numb (lost in another dimension perhaps?) over the course of twenty one horrendous and wretched years.

Some of the critics this week prove difficult to comprehend: Interstellar is not “an instant classic”; it is bereft of any “mesmerising” moments; quite simply, there is no sense of wonder which was bountiful in his Inception, and it is nowhere near the giddy magnificent heights of The Dark Knight. Moreover, for once, we have even been deprived of seeing McConaughey’s pecs! 

Bah!!

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We’ll find a way. We always do.

 

Halloween: The Beginning of Modern Horror

Trick… or treat?

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“Single-minded shocker with virtually no plot, just a succession of bloody attacks in semi-darkness. Very well done if you like that kind of thing” – Leslie Halliwell.

What better movie to celebrate the night of pumpkins, dodgy costumes and candy than Halloween? Made on a shoestring budget during one month in 1978, it became a huge commercial success, spawning a bag of sequels, a remake and scores of inferior copycats.

Once upon a time, horror movies consisted of vampires or werewolves; enjoyed a limited audience (if at all); and received even less (if any) critical attention. The astonishing success of The Exorcist (1973) awoke other filmmakers to the terrific popular and lucrative potential that the horror genre could bring.

Wes Craven’s Last House On The Left (1974), Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1975) and Brian De Palma’s Carrie (1976) were all landmark features, unleashing a new breed of horror movies on an unsuspecting mainstream audience. Fortunately produced outside the Hollywood system, they excelled as low-budget but visionary frighteners, introducing a more confrontationaland ultimately more horrifying – style of filmmaking.  

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“[Jamie Lee Curtis] was just one of several girls auditioning for Halloween. She came in to read. She had a tremendous quality… Different! Very tomboyish in a way… And I never knew she was related to Janet Leigh at all!” – John Carpenter.

Directed by John Carpenter – who had received moderate success with Assault on Precinct 13 – and produced by then-partner Debra Hill, Halloween showed how real horror is unexpected and unfathomable, and can occur in the most mundane places. It showed the escaped killer: Michael Myers stalking a group of girls on a seemingly ordnary October 31st. By concentrating the suspense on a quiet and leafy neighbourhood in (fictional) Haddonfield, Illinois, it brought the horror – the dark side of suburbiacloser to home.

Halloween (1978) introduced a more gritty type of cinematic frightIt is distinctive in its use of hand-held camera shots, but the fear is arguably heightened immensely through Carpenter’s own eerie synthesizer score. He was heavily influenced by The Thing From Another World (1951) – the film which just happens to be showing on TV that night.

“I’m not the Godfather of Gore!” Carpenter protested, as a slew of unwelcome slasher movies flooded the market during the 80s; it is unfair that he has been blamed for their proliferation. Yes, he made a really creepy film in 1978, but no, he cannot be held responsible for a subgenre which relegated young girls to mere murder objects… in the name of movie entertainment!

Donald Pleasance played Dr. Loomis (a nod to one of the main characters of Psycho), but it is interesting to learn that Carpenter had sought both Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee to play this role, but they turned him down! No offence to Pleasance (who puts in a reasonable performance) but either of the two first choices would certainly have enhanced proceedings considerably.

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“People were diappointed because they were expecting to see Jamie Lee Curtis and the Shape… we kept saying: “Look guys, it’s let’s just call it Season of the Witch, it’ll do better,” but they wouldn’t listen…” – Debra Hill.

Despite the lacklustre outing of Halloween 2 (1981) – a sequel so inconsequential it has sunk without trace – the powers-that-be sought a Halloween 3. This time, there was a problem: John Carpenter was preoccupied with other projects, and Jamie Lee Curtis had baulked at the prospect of returning once more to play the babysitter-in-danger. Joe (Gremlins) Dante had suggested dropping Michael Myers and trying something more macabre. In 1982, he was fighting a losing battle to develop a Creature From The Black Lagoon remake, so would have been available to handle a third Halloween movie. Luckily, Nigel (Quatermass) Kneale was called in to work on a prospective script.

However, the end product proved too bizarre and so far removed from the original killer-in-a-mask premise that potential audiences boycotted it; Dante had left ages ago, and having seen his script rehashed beyond recognition, Kneale requested to have his name dropped from the credits. The result was a true oddity: reviled then and now looking embarrassingly incongruous amidst an otherwise well-regarded cult franchise.

This is a pity, for Halloween 3: Season of The Witch (1982) started so well: a frightened man pursued through a dark and stormy night by a band of mysterious smartly-dressed henchmen, accompanied by one-helluva-moody soundtrack (again supplied by John Carpenter, and probably superior to the score of the original movie) before descending into a mediocre and unwatchable mess.

During the 90s, further sequels brought back Michael Myers; there was even H20 (1998). To celebrate the original film’s 20th Anniversary, Jamie Lee Curtis returned to face her nemesis one last time.

In conclusion then, the impact that Carpenter and his fellow directors had on the genre was best summed up by master horror writer, Stephen King:

They never had nightmares – they just gave them to us.”

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Peter Cushing: “The Gentle Man of Horror”

Actor. Gentleman. Scientist. Vampire Hunter. Time Lord. Detective. Imperial Badass.

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“The most professional actor I have ever worked with. He’s highly regarded all over the world as a brilliant actor, and deservedly so. If they knew what we got up to on the set in every film we’ve made… the imitations that I used to do, the dances that he used to do… ” – Christopher Lee.  

There is one reason why horror movies no longer appeal to me. They are certainly a barren and soulless place without the late great Peter Cushing (1913-1994). Best remembered for producing the definitive versions of Baron Frankenstein and Van Helsing for Hammer horror films, he was an actor of exceptional range and skill.

Before he made his indelible mark on the horror genre, he had appeared in Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet, and had leading roles in a string of TV adaptations including Pride and Prejudice, The Winslow Boy, and most notably in the live dramatisation of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. It is the latter production which inspired the producer Michael Carreras to invite him to to star in the film destined to change his life forever…

In 1957, he appeared in Curse of Frankenstein, playing the notorious scientist totally different to the pained and remorseful character envisaged by Mary Shelley. Cushing’s Baron Frank was a cruel and cunning piece of work, who is prepared to push a visiting professor to his death just to get a head. The monster was played by fellow horror maestro: Christopher Lee. It not only marked the establishment of a formidable partnership, but a lifelong friendship.

Its stupendous success led to another interpretation of an infamous gothic character the following year. Dracula (1958) certainly gave the opportunity for Lee to create a career-defining performance, but in Van Helsing, Cushing was calm and collected, sensitive yet determined, and ultimately presented an admirable adversary. It’s amazing to consider now how energetic both roles were: the gripping climax in which Van Helsing runs the length of a banqueting table, tears down the curtains and lunges at a sunstruck Dracula with two silver candlesticks pressed together to form a crucifix is said to have deen devised by Cushing himself!

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“When he did Sherlock Holmes, he went to a very famous teacher of the violin so that he knew how to hold it… When he was making The Mummy, he went to the hospital and and sat in with operations. He was very meticulous…” – Joyce Broughton (his secretary).

Peter Cushing could adapt to any role. In 1959, he played Sherlock Holmes in Hammer’s The Hound of the Baskervilles. Directed by Terence Fisher, many Holmes afficianados consider Cushing’s detective as the definitive article.

In 1965, the success of BBC’s Doctor Who led perhaps inevitably to the big screen. In order to maximise transatlantic appeal, Cushing was cast in place of William Hartnell, playing the Time Lord as an endearing grandfatherly figure in Dr Who and the Daleks. Its phenomenal success led to a sequel: Daleks’ Invasion of Earth: 2150 AD. (1966).

Other distinctive roles included: The Mummy (1959), and H. Rider Haggard’s She (1965). In an attempt to emulate hammer’s success, Amicus Productions joined the horror bandwagon, involving Cushing’s invaluable services. Some of the most notable films included: Dr Terror’s House 0f Horrors (1964) in which he dealt tarot cards foretelling the fate of passengers on a train; and The Creeping Flesh (1972) whereby a horrific skeleton from the jungles of Borneo “will be resurrected when the gods shall weep.”

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“The boots they gave me [to wear as Grand Moff Tarkin] were far too small. I said to George: ‘…whenever possible, could you please shoot me from the waist up?’ He very kindly agreed… I was really wearing carpet slippers. That is why Moff Tarkin was so hostile… his feet were killing him” – Peter Cushing.

The passing of his beloved wife Helen in 1971 devastated him. In subsequent years, he made movies of a distinctly lesser quality; this was a concerted attempt to keep his mind occupied as he adjusted awkwardly to a crushing existence of loneliness.  

In one of his more entertaining roles, he appeared as a delightfully daffy professer in At The Earth’s Core (1976), alongside trusty fantasy stalwarts: Doug McClure (“a very dear chap”) and Caroline Munro (“so sweet”). Absolutely hilarious, he was gifted with such dialogue as: “A rhamphorynchus! In this day in age! How extraordinary!”

Maybe George Lucas was a Hammer fan? This would help explain Cushing’s appearance in the original Star Wars (1977) as Grand Moff Tarkin: a brief, yet deliciously malevolent turn. No other actor could lace the phrase: “You may fire when ready” with such bloodcurdling doom!

Nevertheless, in real life, Peter Cushing was a kind and gentle fellow, always approachable, and never said a harsh word about anyone. Although honoured with an OBE in 1989, Peter Cushing never won any movie accolades; yet surely he has topped most horrorfans’ and movie-goers’ polls and – as new generations discover the various gems of his amazing career – he will continue to do so.

Perhaps the last words should be left to the maestro himself:

“The tremendous affection that people shower upon me, and the interest they take in my work, touches me so deeply…

“To think that young people are still interested enough in me to write about me and see my pictures is pretty marvellous!”

 

 

Dracula Unwanted: NO Vlad For Brad!

Vampires are make-believe, just like elves and gremlins and eskimoes.

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“It is time for our culture to abandon Dracula and pass beyond him” – Robin Wood.

With Halloween just a week away, it seemed appropriate to select a topic on fear and dread and all things undead. What better subject than vampires to concentrate on? 

Hey, not so fast!

Unfortunately, any movie featuring fangs, long capes, dodgy Eastern European accents or Robert Pattinson has become strictly off-limits. It has come to the pathetic point that any mention of vampires invokes connotations of mediocrity and monotony, while the very mention of the name: Dracula is likely to send me into fits of boundless irritation.

So, here we go again: the release of Dracula Untold has – not surprisingly – been met with a critical mauling, and less-than-encouraging cinema attendances. At least it concentrates on the origin story of Vlad the Impaler. Let’s face it: this is the only direction with which Stoker’s tired and moribund story could still be tolerated by an equally tired and indifferent cinema-going public.

In the publicity material, Vlad’s suit of armour looks mightily impressive, but then – sign of the times – conceptual art tends to look more impressive than the completed movie these days. Nonetheless, the film still sucks (ha!). You could publish a book just collecting all the reviewers’ vitriol and sarcasm brimming over at rottentomatoes.com  

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“Our very first encounter began with me storming into [Peter Cushing’s] dressing room and announcing in petulant tones: ‘I haven’t got any lines!” …and he said drily: You’re lucky. I’ve read the script'” – Christopher Lee.

Had to rush home the other night to watch the 1958 Dracula on TV – it still proves to be a rare absolute joy; it deserves to be regarded as the greatest vampire movie ever – the pinnacle to which lesser bloodsucking bios strive but always seem to fail spectacularly.

Christopher Lee produced a fabulous (not to mention frenetic) performance to become the definitive Prince of Darkness. Yet it is Peter Cushing as his nemesis: Van Helsing who really enhanced the material, helping to turn it into a compelling drama. It could be argued that without these two icons – at the height of their powers – it seems unfeasible that Hammer Studios could have flourished for as long and successfully as it did. 

Doesn’t matter that Dracula Has Risen From The Grave (1968) warned that “you can’t keep a good man down,” poor conceptions of Transylvania’s most notorious individual failed to impress in later Hammer vehicles. Even Lee himself was becoming seriously dischuffed about having fewer consequential things to do as the sequels became more silly and superfluous… 

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“Dracula remains dead and well (or dead and loving it); other monsters merely endure. After Bram Stoker’s Dracula, their revival became obligatory” – Kim Newman.

It seems somewhat inevitable that this struggling post would twitch and stagger to the ubiquitous subject of vampires. For a brief period during the 80s we could enjoy an original and enjoyable revival of the fanged ones, with Fright Night (1985 – yay, Roddy!), cult classic Near Dark (1987) and the real “children of the night” The Lost Boys (1987).

Yet somehow, as Francis Ford Coppola’s bold and lavish “faithful” adaptation of the the novel: Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) failed to attract my interest. For all its grandeur, it made for turgid viewing. The only true scare to be gleaned from this whole wasted effort was being subjected to Keanu (“severe drop in cinema attendances”) Reeves as Jonathon Harker. Oh, The horror, the horror!

Since then, what undead undoings have we been subjected to? Alas, more than a few unfortunate instances entailing the regrettable loss of 90-120 minutes have befallen me, and – guess what! – movies involving vampires were always to blame…  

By far the worst offender came in that feckless dire heap known as Van Helsing (2004), wherein Hugh Jackman showed that he just could not step into the substantial and hallowed shoes of the late, great Peter Cushing. When Kate Beckinsale co-stars in figure-hugging black, you realise how desperate the film-makers really are! Naturally, this led to more unbearable tosh in the wretched form of Underworld and its unwanted stream of vacuous sequelsand now the reboot has just been announced!…? 

And – ye gods! you lucky mortals! – you’ve been spared my rant against Twilight!

No matter how many silver crucifixes you stow away, or how much garlic you secrete about your person, there will always seem to be an unending supply of intolerable vampire movies ready to give horror movies a bad name.  

(Must sign off here before typing that dodgy remark about them being a pain in the neck…)

 

 

 

Xenomorph! It’s Got A Great Defense Mechanism – You Don’t Dare Kill It…

In space no one can hear you scream.

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“The biggest problem, of course, was: What’s the alien going to look like? I mean, you could screw around… trying to come up with something that wasn’t all nobs and bobs… When I went into Fox for the first meeting, they had a book there by H.R. Giger: The Necronomicon. I took one look at it, and I’ve never been so sure of anything in my life” – Sir Ridley Scott.  

With Halloween just weeks away, it would be cool at this point to just break away from the usual SF themes explored in this Blog, and delve into something darker and more sinister. The cold and cruel depths of outer space seems like an all-too-obvious choice in which to set horror movies. A quick glance over the last 35 years since Ridley Scott’s seminal sci-fi shocker: Alien reveals that the challenge was met with some gruesome, sleazy and downright odd specimens!

It doesn’t matter that E.T. (1982) – with its endearing portrayal of a harmless but lost, dopey-looking alien – overtook Star Wars to become the Highest Grossing Movie Of All Time. No, audiences clamoured for beasties with a bit more bite, preferably with acid for blood…

A whole spate of low-budget video nasties offered a range of horrendous xenos (of the cheap and nasty kind!) and delivered a standard mix of gore, dimly-lit scenes and a copious supply of invariably loud and incredibly dumb humans whose chances of survival were just as miniscule as their “acting” abilities.

Let’s rummage through the bargain bin of bug-eyed beasties and see what this SF/Horror hybrid really looks like! So, anyone fancy a bug hunt?

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“Giger seems to be painting aliens, but the closer you look, the more you realise he’s painting twisted versions of us” – Clive Barker.

The term: “xenomorph” was first used in connection with the weird cyclopean entities of It Came From Outer Space (1953). With their spacecraft having crashlanded in the Arizona desert, these aliens could take on human form, but in the rare glimpses of their natural forms, they were truly terrifying.

Possibly the grandaddy of sci fi-horror beasties would have to be It! The Terror From Beyond Space (1958). Having gone to the trouble of creating a genuinely scary-looking “Terror,” the creature still hid in the shadows for maximum shock effect (not to mention to make the most of a miniscule budget!) It! holds a special place in this Post, being widely regarded as the primary influence behind Ridley Scott’s vision.

Alien (1979) is justifiably considered to be the pinnacle of SF/Horror; not only does it capture the claustrophobia and debilitating loneliness on a space freighter in an unknown sector of the galaxy, but it also can be treated best as a traditional haunted house story set in deep space. The biomechanoid design of the xenomorph by the late great H.R. Giger has stood the test of time as one of cinema’s greatest creations. The Swiss surrealist artist derived his unique style from his own nightmares; how fitting then that he has gone on to disrupt the sleep of many others!

And ya know what? Harrison “I’m Han Solo/Indiana Jones, get over it” Ford turned down the opp to play Captain Dallas(!), while Peter “walking carpet” Mayhew lost the chance to don that infamous xenomorph suit.

“I find that hard to believe,” said Ripley incredulously.

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“You still don’t understand what you’re dealing with, do you? Perfect organism. It’s structural perfection is matched only by its hostility” – Ash.

During the mid-80s, there were hordes of downright despicable carnivorous aliens on bloodthirsty rampages in SF movies, at a time when slasher flicks were dominating the shelves labelled: “Horror” in every video rental shop. Despite this serious lack of variety, this blogger nevertheless confesses to have rented out (almost thirty years ago, of course) some of these cheap and (below) average Alien clones on too many weekends to mention. Among them, the likes of Star Crystal and Titan Find would get screwed up played in my long-suffering VCR.

Actually, these rip-offs were just as ridiculous as they were unlimited. To illustrate this extreme situation, take for example: Galaxy of Terror (1981) (aka Planet of Horrors) produced by Roger Corman, and then Forbidden World (1982) (aka Mutant) produced by (yes!) Roger Corman – very confusing, especially considering how their equally shoddy production values made them virtually undistinguishable!  

Interestingly enough, considering the tacky nature of the special effects, more or less the same team responsible for Titan Find (1985) would reunite shortly after for another marauding monster vs. hapless humans thrill-fest. Only this time the effects were supervised by an FX Master: Stan Winston, and a certain James Cameron was onboard to direct the Mother of all Bug Hunts: Aliens (1986).  

It’s ironic to think that the only true rival to Alien came in the form of its own sequel! (There is too much to say about this veritable Classic, so will deliver a Post devoted to this some day soon).

Has it really come to this conclusion? That in order to make a really enjoyable SF/Horror monster movie you had to have either Scott or Cameron’s direction?! Or Giger’s superior design?! Admittedly, back in the day, there was a certain charm… then, but now that brand of garish and outrageous action/horror cannot exist outside the 80s, and the enthusiasm once readily mustered for them can never be replicated…

Well, it’s getting late, and it’s a heckuva long way back to Earth, so…

Back to the old freezerinos.

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Sweet dreams!

Great Xpectations: A Tale Of Love, Mutants And Apocalypse

What’s the last thing you remember?

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“Get off the bloody chandelier, Hank!” – Charles Xavier.

With the release of X-Men: Days Of Future Past on DVD, this ol’ X-fan has finally got round to enjoying what was inevitably shaping up to be one of the best blockbusters of the year; with Bryan Singer back at the helm, and a plot grabbed from a major story arc in the original comic, it was looking like a very promising prospect indeed.

In the original Days of Future Past comic, it is intriguing to learn that it was Shadowcat (aka Kitty Pryde) and not Logan, who was tasked with the time-travel duties.  Also, the “future” events supposedly take place in 2023, but interestingly enough, the original 1981 comic specifically mentions 2013 – the year incidentally in which filming began.

Well over thirty years ago, visits to London during school hols would always culminate in raiding the bottom shelf of the station newsagent for a comic to read on the train home. Obsessed with finding as many crazy-costumed-crusaders as possible, the search usually concentrated on teams rather than solo heroes. So, er… X marked the spot as it were. No pun intended, for any Uncanny X-Men issue swiftly became the treasure of my (modest) comic collection.

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“So, I wake up in my younger body, and then what?” – Logan.

Why – if you like the X-Men so much – has it taken so long for you to get round to watching this: one of the finest in the franchise? Oho! Trust you to come up with such a good question, dear Follower.

When X-Men:DoFP was released in mid-May, my usual mid-year sojourn in the UK was weeks old; the film was available in multiplexes throughout the country, humongous billboard posters of Wolverine and Mystique taunted me in London Underground tunnels, but still, no muto-show. What on Earth was holding me back?

Thousands of miles at home on the Gulf of Thailand, Mrs. B waited patiently. During our daily chats on the phone, we agreed to not seeing it separately until my return.

In the past “a new and uncertain world” as Charles Xavier called it, (late 2000 to be precise), while flying down to Australia, watching The X-Men as inflight entertainment was such a great experience, and helped allay pressing concerns about how (and where) to find gainful employment and/or the love of my life.

Fast forward to May 2003, Bradscribe – living and working in Southeast Asia – sat in a fine, yet freezing cold, cinema, with his gorgeous girlfriend (who is now the lovely Mrs. B) enjoying X2: X-Men United beside him. My own “world of endless possibilities and infinite outcomes” had been seized successfully. Such an amazing movie – we ended up watching it together at the cinema three times. Not only did we promise to grow old together, but vowed to watch any more X-Men sequels that came our way!

It’s such a shame that X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) turned out to be a huge disappointment, jettisoning the drama and character development of the first two films for a monotonous cascade of lame fight sequences. It may have been a weak movie, but our love remained strong.

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“We were supposed to protect them. Where were you when your own people needed you? Hiding! You and Hank, pretending to be something you’re not! You abandoned us all!” – Erik Lehnsherr.

It should be said that it was stupendous news to learn that Michael Fassbender had been cast as a young Eric Lensherr, in X-Men:First Class (2011). Mrs. B acquired the DVD when it came out. We settled down to watch, and sure enough, Fassbender as Magneto proved to be impressive; his presence made the film work and took the franchise to an interesting new level. But it soon became evident that my beloved clearly did not dig what was going on. To her, an X-Men movie without Scott or Jean – or completely Ian McKellen-less for that matter – ain’t worth her time. Yet this new instalment, with all of Her faves reinstated, and some spectacular scenes on offer, looked like rekindling our mutual mutant appreciation.

For me, DoFP did not disappoint. Again, Fassbender is on top menacing form. An instant classic scene sees a sinister fedora-clad Eric, infiltrating the facility where his helmet is stored; the image of him marching down the corridor levitating metal balls above his palm, was cool and impressive, not only requiring  inmmediate playback, but just had to be incorporated into this Post by any means necessary. The tension between Erik and Charles in 1973 clearly in my view surpasses the ’60s drama of the previous movie. The scene between the young and elder Xaviers is especially astounding, and the dialogue between Wolverine and a dispirited Charles in Cerebro is a contender for one of the best scenes from the whole franchise.  

The final scene where Logan wakes up in a peaceful but busy Xavier School and sees Jean Grey was a nice touch and brought back teary-eyed memories of that happy month in 2003… when only one movie mattered.

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“The thrust of Apocalypse is really to complete the trilogy… There will be familiar characters and new characters that we haven’t seen… ever… but it’ll be the completion of what we began in First Class” – Simon Kinberg.   

Last, but by no means least, the post-creds sequence for DoFP must stand as the most thrilling this fanboy has ever seen in any Marvel-related movie. From the depths of my dark, tangled mind, the character portrayed was instantly discernible. Apocalypse was one of the most powerful mutants, also known as En Sabah Nur (“the first one”). This final instalment in the trilogy may feature other mutants not previously featured onscreen, but should provide an awesome spectacle when it is unleashed in May 2016. But will Mrs. B appreciate it? “It’s going to take the two of us.”

Well, as our new DVD got underway, it came in for instant criticism. She frowned discouragingly during the opening mutants vs. Sentinels battle.

“Who are these guys?!…”

It is with deep regret that even yours truly had to confess to not knowing who any of those mutants were.

“You’re the fanboy! You should know!”

Yes, my dear, but 1981 was a very long time ago, and none of the onscreen X-Men sport their unique costumes as seen in the comics, so it all looks rather confusing.

When Logan wakes up in 1973, he just had to be absolutely starkers, didn’t he? Mrs. B was clearly not amused. She huffed discontentedly, snuggled down on the sofa, and fell fast asleep, leaving me to sit through the rest of the movie on my own which, as mentioned before, is what this blogger should have done four months ago anyway.

Oh well…

Er... no, not exactly
Er… no, not exactly