Seconds (1966)

Seconds (1966)

Rock Hudson contemplates his second chance

Rock Hudson contemplates his second chance

What really makes this movie stand out to me, to be honest, is that it was recommended to me by my dad. I’m not implying that he has bad taste in movies but… what was he doing watching this flick??

The stunning and bizarre film from director John Frankemheimer (The Manchurian Candidate, The French Connection II, Black Sunday) examines a rather existential question as it relates to the choices one makes to meet the demands of perceived societal pressure. At some point, each of us asks the question who am I. Our lives are composed of the choices we make, but what determines these decisions? How much of what we do is just because we think it is what we should do rather than what we want to do? Seconds rather poetically uses the pulp sci-fi device of a second chance at life to peel away the veneer of what makes up an identity.

Aged banker Arthur Hamilton finds that his life has become empty and meaningless, his lifelong journey to achieve financial success has become a hollow effort with little joy in it. His marriage is loveless and his prospects seem minimal. Encouraged by a friend, he seeks out the assistance of a vague organization called the Company. Blackmailed and forced into accepting their help, Hamilton finds himself the object of a radical procedure leaving him with an entirely new identity. A corpse is swapped for Hamilton’s body as a fake death is arranged and a new life set up.

The part of Hamilton for the remainder of the film is played by young and vibrant heartthrob Rock Hudson. Hamilton is reborn in a second identity of young artist Tony Wilson. Living in the seaside community of Miami Beach, Wilson finds himself wrapped up in a hedonistic society full of wine, women and song. Despite the initial second chance at a youthful life that few really get a chance at experiencing, the two personas of Hamilton and Wilson find it difficult to cope. Seeking out Hamilton’s wife, Wilson learns too late that his life was a failure because he exhausted himself in hollow pursuits rather than actually relating to his own life when he had the chance. Distraught and nearing a mental collapse, Wilson exposes his dual identity in a party. To his horror, he learns that his young and vivacious neighbors are also ‘seconds’ similarly remade by the Company’s procedure. Having betrayed the Company’s trust, Wilson/Hamilton is recalled.

Desperate for yet another chance, he is relegated to a drab room full of withdrawn men at phones calling friends whom they hope will accept the second chance that they too were conned into, like some kind of sick pyramid scheme.

A brilliant analysis of modern life, Seconds was a flop upon its release in 1966 but when viewed today it is so clearly ahead of its time. Rumor has it that former Beach Boy Bryan Wilson (at a rather delicate time of his life, strung out on mind-altering drugs and paranoid)viewed the film and nearly had a nervous breakdown. To be fair, the film wants the viewer to have a nervous collapse, even if he or she is stone cold sober. A terrifying and moving look at the inner workings of the human mind, it is everything a good sci-fi film should be.

Strongly recommended.

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Krull (1983)

Krull

Krull1After Star Wars proved so popular and financially successful, it seemed that everyone wanted to be next. The result was not always pleasant, but it made for one of the weirdest eras of cinema as several studios released some of the weirdest science fiction and fantasy films this side of Zardoz.

One of the strangest films from my childhood has to be Krull. A British fantasy film with the trappings of Lucas-ish sci-fi opera, this movie bewildered me as it seemed to be part of a larger story. But there was no series of novels, no original version from the 50’s, no 2000 AD comic strip to hunt down… just Krull.

The story goes that Krull was intended to be a big budget Dungeons and Dragons film which makes a lot of sense given that the RPG was at the height of its popularity at the time. However, there were problems with the rights leading the filmmakers to figure out their own story, one that is so bizarre that even the trailer hints at a completely different premise.

At the time, this flick filled the void left between bigger budget epics with actual toy tie-ins, and provided some much-needed material for backyard play. Although I do recall reading about a kid who thought that he was the hero of Krull and whipped a pair of scissors through a window. You never can tell where a movie will take you, I guess.

Trailer

Our story

Beginning where many fantasies end, with the wedding of our hero and lady in distress, the evil forces of ‘The Beast’ arrive and kidnap the damsel from our hero’s arms. The Beast is the kind of monster that fuels a thousand nightmares. A giant claw, red-rimmed rheumy eyes and an open mouth full of fangs. His shocktroops consist of weird white-clad creatures called Slayers who appear to be almost bug-like in their behavior… but not much is ever done to explain what they are all about, kind of like the stormtroopers from Star Wars whom I had thought were robots when I first saw them.

Far-out visuals, neat characters and a cool weapon

Distraught, our hero Colwyn finds guidance from a wise old man who leads him to finding the ‘Glaive,’ something like the weapon that we would see many years later in the Blade movies, only it’s magical. The Glaive could easily be one of the coolest fantasy weapons out there. I vaguely recall a similar attempt involving a gigantic sword that shot one of its four blades out, but that was far too goofy.

Joining forces with a giant, shape shifter and a band of thieves and brigands, Colwyn embarks on the impossible task of defeating the Beast and retrieving his bride. Alongside the far greater number of opponents, the problem lies in the fact that the Beast’s lair moves freely as the sun rises. This involves seeking out the assistance of mystics and seers, magical horses and many other ideas that make this movie seems like a fever dream.

The visuals and ideas come so fast and furious but are accompanied by such wild action sequences that it kind of works. It’s like saying ‘we’re going to confuse you, but it won’t be boring.’ Just when you think it can’t get any weirder, Colwyn loses his Glaive in the Beast’s hide and uses mystical flame granted to him from his wedding ceremony to defeat the monster. Only the British could think up such an odd resolution.

Krull was full of great British actors as well (including Liam Neeson a young Robbie Coltrane), making the colorful characters that much more interesting.

That’s it??

The glory that is the Krull videogame

The glory that is the Krull videogame

The tie-ins were few, including a disappointing video game and a couple of comic books. A world full of so many bizarre ideas should have spawned a million spin-offs but instead all we got was the one movie. Far too weird to remake, I wager it will stay that way.

Robert E Howard’s Solomon Kane adapted for the big screen

Straight from the pen of Robert E Howard (creator of Conan the Barbarian) comes Solomon Kane, an adventurer from a different era… the 16th Century.

Despite the setting, the film will be as much sword and supernatural content as Kane’s barbarian counterpart, Conan, pitting the puritan adventurer against zombies with only a flintlock and rapier in his defense.

Starring James Purefoy as the title character and Max von Sydow in a supporting role, the film is sure to appeal to fans of the comic book movie genre and horror/fantasy alike.
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To those not already familiar with Solomon Kane, he is a cool yet grizzled hero with a bit of Batman and ‘The Man With No Name’ mixed together in his persona.

Check out this film for an idea (and sampler of Howard’s prose)

The film’s trailer premiered at the 2009 San Diego Comic Con and has already generated some love from Ain’t It Cool News reporter Harry Knowles.

Currently the movie is without an American distributer, so fans may have to wait for the DVD unless the SDCC09 viewing convinced any backers of the film’s potential.

For more on Solomon Kane, click here.

Remake Remodel Re-Marvel

If there is one thing that the comic book format is known for more than the death/rebirth cycle, it is the reboot. As monthly super hero comic books reached a certain level of maturity, the editorial board felt the need to wipe the slate clean for a complete fresh start. This may sound like a good idea (it’s not, but it might sound good) except for the fact that if you get it wrong you have to go back to the way things were or reboot again… or both.

It’s been done (talk to any fan of Legion of Superheroes).

As the comic book world has been stretching into the motion picture world each of these pulp concepts has been remade to fit into the movie format and appeal to an audience who has no idea what unstable molecules are. It strikes me as interestesting that even on the movie format, comics are getting rebooted… again. The experiment from Ang Lee’s Hulk film to Louis Leterrier’ Incredible Hulk film showed that moviegoers are perfectly fine with ignoring the previous attempt at bringing a cartoon strip character to life… even when it’s the Punisher.

These may sound like old stories, but they are starting to bubble back into the media, so keep an eye out as these two comic book titles start to become important (again).

Fantastic Four (by Steve McNiven)

Fantastic Four (by Steve McNiven)

Fantastic Four: The First Family

20th Century Fox is anxious to use its two hot comic book properties, X-Men and Fantastic Four.

I’ve already covered the ideas behind an X-Men: First Class film and it seems that project is still circling around the water cooler looking for inspiration. Personally, I’d love to see a New Mutants movie… but I may be the only one.

The two FF films were only so-so successes however they did cement the identity of these characters into the popular mindset. Even the actors who starred in the movies stated that he felt the films were less than great they did work out how you would create a Fantastic Four motion picture, paving the way for another director to try his or her luck.

With Iron Man making it plain that just about any comic book character can be made into a blockbuster movie, Fox is anxious to get their first family of superheroes back on the screen… reinvented. The idea is that they want less of the hokey stuff and more of the dynamic popcorn flavor that Iron Man has. This is odd because I thought that the humor was the biggest strength in both of Tim Story’s Fantastic Four projects. The plots and action were less impressive, but the idea that Story understood what made the comic book work really stood out to me.

Hopefully the charm of this comic book will not be lost in the shuffle to another production team as they create a new action flick.

Daredevil (by Marko Djurdjevic)

Daredevil (by Marko Djurdjevic)

Daredevil: The Man Without Fear

One of my favorite vigilante superheroes of all time also got one of the worst action film treatments. That may be reversed as Daredevil is heading for the reboot treatment. Much the surprise of many, the 2003 movie was a commercial success, not the dud many wish to believe it was. Ben Affleck and I are of the same mind, however, in regards to his poor performance as the red-headed clown known as Daredevil. A bloated monster of absurd mis-steps, the Daredevil film is best forgotten by all.

The idea behind a Daredevil reboot is to fully embrace the success of Batman Begins and Dark Knight, delving more into the realism/noir angle than the fantastic wire-fighting nonsense that we got back in ’03. This would certainly fit Daredevil like a glove and also impress upon non-fans why the character is the coolest and darkest guy in comics… forget Batman, DD is the real deal.

The problem with the realism angle is that one can go too far and without a proper budget end up with a film looking like the Dolph Lundgren Punisher film, making it unclear that the movie has anything to do with comic books at all. So long as they keep studio execs and Frank Miller away from this project, I think they may just have a chance at saving it.

Watch for trailers, true believer!

As the money pours in for these superhero films, expect for there to be sudden announcements including titles, actors agreeing to dress in rubber and multiple covers of Entertainment Weekly celebrating oddball superheroes, causing my mom to call me up asking who the Defenders are.

Well… it may not get that crazy.

More as it comes, including Warner Brothers madcap scheme to build up toward a Justice League feature film.

Fantastic Planet

A French animated feature based on the Oms en Série, by Stefan Wul, Fantastic Planet is both visually mystifying and disturbing all at once. Set in a world where humans are treated as little more than pets at best and pests at worst, the story has a very emotional tale of slavery and co-existence that echoes from the time of its release to today.
FantasticPlanetLaPlaneteSauvageR-1

The film opens with a mother desperately trying to escape an unseen threat, her baby cradled in her arms. Suddenly a barrier blocks her progress, then another prevents her escape. Aghast, she collapses. It is eventually revealed that her tormentors are giant aliens playing with her as humans would torment an ant on a hot day. The planet where the film is set is populated by beautiful yet savage Draags and the minuscule humans (called Oms).

It is only through the whims of a Draag child that the Om baby is allowed to live as a kind of plaything. The baby is named Terr and lives in a Draag house, enjoying all of the privileges of such an opportunity as well as the humility of playing the part of a live doll for the Draag child. After obtaining some level of intelligence by absorbing the electronic teachings that pass for Draag school, Terr proves far too clever for his own good and becomes involved in a violent strike against the Draags for independence.

Trailer

A spellbinding picture, Fantastic Planet won the jury prize at Cannes in 1973. One of the most thought-provoking and breath-taking animated films I have ever seen, this movie comes highly recommended.

The details on the upcoming Thor movie

the road to the Avengers is paved and ready

the road to the Avengers is paved and ready

With the Marvel Motion Picture Machine churning its way toward the Avengers, I thought it would be a good time to collect the data thus far regarding the hammer-swinging thunder God known as Thor.
thor1The Premise

Originally planned to be set exclusively on Asgard as a fantasy film, it is starting to sound more and more like the mighty Thor is touching down in NYC. Honestly, I liked the idea of this movie being more of a comic book answer to Lord of the Rings rather than Hercules in New York, but we’ll see if my anxiety is justified or not soon enough.

The mighty Thor is tethered to the lame physician Dr. Donald Blake to teach him humility, a lesson posed by his father Odin that ends up backfiring. The more Thor gets to know humanity, the more he admires them and becomes a guardian to the world Man (called Midgard by the Norse Gods).  Thor’s trickster brother Loki conspires to confuse and harm Thor at every turn, jealous for the love that their father bestows upon the thunder God.

A unique blend of fantasy, mythology and superheroics, Thor is also a tough sell to moviegoers. But then again, so was Iron Man.

Director: Kenneth Branagh

Yes, the Shakespearean actor/director from Henry V and Hamlet is directing a superhero movie. I guess that if he going to head any such project it has to be Thor, doesn’t it? It made so little sense when I first heard his name associated with the film and I’m still in a quandry over this one. However, Marvel EIC Joe Quesada is beside himself with excitement:

We had one big creative meeting with the Marvel Creative Committee, which now works on all of our movies and I have the honor to be a part of. We sat with Kenneth and discussed the “Thor” movie and the overarching story of what that’s going to be, just to give our input before anything was put down to paper by screenwriters.

And it was one of the highlights of my time here at Marvel because not only did Branagh sit there and give you the story beat for beat, he and [Marvel Studios head] Kevin Feige formed a great team. It was performance art. Kevin would give us the establishment of the shot and the situation: “Here we are. We’re in (take your pick of location). And here’s Odin and he’s coming up to (pick a character).” And then Kenneth would come in and give you the color commentary. “Odin has an air of majesty to him” and he’d act out the Odin part or the Thor part. So we sat there and literally got a three-hour one-man show from Kenneth Branagh. It was fantastic. People pay a lot of money for that kind of performance by one of the world’s greatest living actors.

And of course, he’s got that great, charming British accent, so it makes it all go down easy too. [laughs] He could have said anything, and we would have said, “Yeah. Make that.” He has such a passion for the material, and he’s sitting there describing things from the Kirby run and things from the Simonson run, citing places where the mythology conflicted in Marvel history and how we’re going to streamline it. It was just fascinating to watch.

Loki: Tim Hiddleston
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A fellow stage actor to Branagh, the fact that he was the first actor announced said many things. This will not be a ‘cast of thousands’ debacle as many fear it to be. It will be a real movie with real actors… that you don’t know. I’m hoping that Hiddleston will bring the necessary life to the character of Loki because it is such a pivotal role in the world of Marvel Comics and the character of Thor.

Odin: Brian Blessed
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Color me pleased. Prince Vultan of Flash Gordon himself is Odin the All Father. This is just brilliant casting the likes of which is rarely seen in movies. Another fellow RSC actor of Branagh’s (as Hiddleston is), Blessed is also well known in sci-fi circles for his appearances on Blake’s 7, Doctor Who and Space: 1999.

Yes, he has been in all three.

Thor: Chris Hemsworth
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I’m still on the fence about this announcement (the latest casting announcement to date) as I know so little about the guy. Given that the film dodged so many bad idea bullets from the wrestler Triple H to Brad Pitt I should be grateful. So far he strikes me as just another pretty face. I think (hope) after I see him in costume I will feel better about this one.

Release Date: May 20, 2011

Greg Rucka’s Whiteout

For those of you unfamiliar with the writing of Greg Rucka… get familiar with it. A celebrated crime novelist who turned his talents to comics with Whiteout and later Detective Comics and Checkmate (to name but a three), Rucka has been hailed as one of the best of the ‘new breed’ of comic book writer extending to Brian K Vaughn, Ed Brubaker and Brian Michael Bendis.

His first major comic book work from 1998, Whiteout is the perfect fusion of his skills as a comic book writer and novelist. A murder mystery set in the wastes of Antarctica during its long period of complete seclusion, the story is told from the point of view of Federal Marshall Carrie Stetko. The only female stationed on the network of bases, there is a definite feeling of seclusion from the rest of the world as much as a feeling that being the only female puts her at risk. A thrilling tale that earned Rucka the Eisner Award for Best Writer, Best Artist for Steve Lieber, Best Limited Series, and Best Graphic Album of 2000, Whiteout has been in film development for some time.

Finally, it’s here.

... somewhat awkward tagline, no?

... somewhat awkward tagline, no?

While the trailer offers little in ways of hinting at a story, it is very informative about the challenges posed by Antarctica as a setting… kind of like a miniature nature documentary.

Trailer

Release date: September 09

Recommended:
Whiteout Volume 1: The Definitive Edition

Big Man Japan

Remember all those late nights watching Creature Double Feature while the cool kids had better things to do?

Do you lament the days of Ray Harryhausen flicks where the monster actually looked interesting?

Are you bored with American blockbusters?

5
Voila!

A mockumentary of Japan’s most hated superhero Daisatou, Big Man Japan caused many a chin-scratching at Cannes this past year. However, it found a home with the comic book set after a showing at the NY Comic Con.

An examination of the life of a superhero, the movie has been called far more satisfying in the genre than the more high profile ‘Watchmen.’ The filmmaker follows our hero throughout his life which is filled mostly with slovenly distracted behavior until he is called into action. Growing into a giant wearing a giant pair of underpants by the power of pure electricity, Daisatou battles absurd monsters in downtown Tokyo ranging from the Strangling Monster to ‘The Stink.’ After seeing so many films where the creators slave over the CGI, it’s pleasant to see genuinely awful special effects as the monsters fight our hero.

A statement on the genre of giant monster movies and superheroes as well, Big Man Japan will be making its way to America for a May 15th limited release.

See it with someone special.

Disney’s Black Hole

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After Star Wars was released, the sky was the limit as far as science fiction epics went. Directors were not restricted to the polar opposites if schlocky Corman-type films or artsy Kubrick flicks… they could split the difference. In 1979, Disney made the surprising decision to enter the world of adult sophisticated sci-fi film with The Black Hole. Based on the classic ‘20,000 Leagues Under The Sea,’ the movie features a zombie cyborg crew, kill-crazy robots and a mad scientist attempting to pilot his craft into the eye of God.

Heady stuff, huh?

Disney must have been wetting the bed over the high level of sophistication this project boasted because they inserted a set of goofy robots that would appeal to the kids. The sharp-witted caffeine-addicted toddlers that stayed awake through the long drawn-out intro in time to see Anthony Perkins gutted to death then sizzled alive! I don’t mean to knock the bots because I have a soft spot for them and the voice acting by Roddy McDowell as Vincent and Slim Pickens as Old Bob is top-notch but… it definitely takes away from the dignity of the movie when wire-strung puppets ‘soar’ across the screen.

And this is where the film falls apart. It cannot decide if it is a children’s matinee feature or a high-art experiment. It comes very close to be a stunning classic, but as a movie directed toward kids it is a total mess. The finale features a panoramic vision of Hell, for God’s sake!! What were they thinking??!!

Like many kids at the time, I had the complete set of action figures released to tie into the movie. Finally I had that Ernest Borgnine action figure I always wanted… geeze. But Maximillian was tops and by far one of the most imaginatively designed robots in a very long time. Keep in mind this was the era ruled by C-3PO and R2D2, so introducing a new idea of what a robot looked like was very impressive. The acting is very impressive as well and both Perkins and Maximillian Schell deliver some very riveting scenes that are sure to creep out the poor kids waiting to see the robots fly. Special effects range from the eye-poppingly impressive to dire so randomly I have to wonder if the budget ran out of if Disney simply lost interest in the movie.

A relative success in the box office at the time, it was also the first PG Disney film to hit the screens with cursing and violent death for the whole family to enjoy, causing quite a stir.

The Black Hole was kept under the radar for years by Buena Vista Distribution but is finally on DVD in a brilliant package worthy for your shelf. Whatever else you may say about Black Hole… it’s a rarity.

Recommended:
The Black Hole

Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster

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Being awake at 3 AM on a regular basis to feed my son, I end up watching some odd things. For instance, I’ve now seen Daredevil far too many times than I’d ever admit. However, Saturday mornings are always fun thanks to AMC’s Fear Friday which usually has something interesting. This week was the ‘classic’ 50’s flick Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster.

My background in post-graduate studies of Mystery Science Theater 3000 could not prepare me for the amount of stock footage passing for plot. A pair of scientists create a robot pilot for a trip to the moon only to have the craft shot down by aliens on their way to launch an invasion at the same time. Isn’t it always the way? Both parties land in Puerto Rico to do battle. The robot pilot named Frank (no kidding) gets half of his faced melted off and turns into a blood-thirsty monster roaming the countryside killing anyone who looks at him funny. Meanwhile the aliens round up some local bikini-clad ladies to repopulate their nuclear war-ridden homeworld.

So, your typical 50’s monster movie.

nadirThe real star of course of the villainous Dr. Nadir who gloats like nobody’s business under his bald cap and Mr Spock ears. Honestly, I’ve never witnessed such an inspired performance. The man utters lines such as ‘Maximum energy!’ as if he were in a stage production of the Tempest. This guy puts Doctor Who’s Anthony Ainley to shame with his over-the-top acting and glances to the camera. He is a sheer delight and it is sad to hear that he did not do more filmwork in his career.

Maybe the oddest thing in this film is the soundtrack, consisting of pop songs. This must have been an oddity at the time and while the songs themselves are fantastic time capsules of the 60’s (The Poet’s “That’s the Way It’s Got to Be” and “To Have and to Hold” by the Distant Cousins) they completely transform the film from a sci-fi horror film into something wholly other. I mean what is the reason behind playing “That’s the Way It’s Got to Be” while watching stick footage of an astronaut preparing for launch aside from the fact that it’s a ricking tune? And a mad race against time to find the man-made astronaut turns into a pleasant afternoon on a Vespa thanks to “To Have and to Hold.” It’s so bizarre that it has to be seen to believed.

I really do adore this kind of film that embraces the dancehall rock’n’roll era of Americana and because of its obvious flaws as a movie it is even more adorable. In the spirit of the Creeping Terror and Monster A-Go-Go, this is a badly made movie that reinforces the feeling that I was born too late.

Oh and there’s a monster named Mull who will roar and eat you if you fail at your job.
mull