Film Review – THEY LIVE (1988)

Image result for they live 1988THEY LIVE (USA, 1988) ***
     Distributor: Universal Pictures (USA), Guild Film Distribution (UK); Production Company: Alive Films / Larry Franco Productions; Release Date: 4 November 1988 (USA), 23 June 1989 (UK); Filming Dates: March – April 1988; Running Time: 94m; Colour: DeLuxe; Sound Mix: Dolby Stereo (4 channels); Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Panavision; Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1; BBFC Cert: 18 – strong violence, language.
     Director: John Carpenter; Writer: John Carpenter (as Frank Armitage) (based on the short story “Eight O’Clock in the Morning” by Ray Nelson); Executive Producer: Andre Blay, Shep Gordon; Producer: Larry Franco; Associate Producer: Sandy King; Director of Photography: Gary B. Kibbe; Music Composer: Alan Howarth, John Carpenter; Film Editor: Gib Jaffe, Frank E. Jimenez; Art Director: William J. Durrell Jr., Daniel A. Lomino; Set Decorator: Marvin March; Costumes: Robin Michel Bush; Make-up: Francisco X. Pérez; Sound: Jeffrey L. Sandler; Special Effects: Roy Arbogast.
     Cast: Roddy Piper (Nada), Keith David (Frank), Meg Foster (Holly), George ‘Buck’ Flower (Drifter), Peter Jason (Gilbert), Raymond St. Jacques (Street Preacher), Jason Robards III (Family Man), John Lawrence (Bearded Man), Susan Barnes (Brown Haired Woman), Sy Richardson (Black Revolutionary), Wendy Brainard (Family Man’s Daughter), Lucille Meredith (Female Interviewer), Susan Blanchard (Ingenue), Norman Alden (Foreman), Dana Bratton (Black Junkie), John F. Goff (Well Dressed Customer), Norm Wilson (Vendor), Thelma Lee (Rich Lady), Stratton Leopold (Depressed Human), Rezza Shan (Arab Clerk), Norman Howell (Blonde Haired Cop), Larry Franco (Neighbor), Tom Searle (Biker), Robert Grasmere (Scruffy Blonde Man), Vince Inneo (Passageway Guard), Bob Hudson (Passageway Guard #2), Jon Paul Jones (Manager), Dennis Cosmo Michael (Male News Anchor), Nancy Gee (Female News Anchor), Claudia Stanlee (Young Female Executive), Christine Anne Baur (Woman on Phone), Eileen Wesson (Pregnant Secretary), Gregory J. Barnett (Security Guard #1), Jimmy Nickerson (Security Guard #2), Kerry Rossall (2nd Unit Guard), Cibby Danyla (Naked Lady), Jeff Imada (Male Ghoul), Michelle Costello (Female Ghoul).
     Synopsis: A drifter discovers a pair of sunglasses that allow him to wake up to the fact that aliens have taken over the Earth.
     Comment: John Carpenter’s take on INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS taps into the cold war paranoia of the day of a US government led by Ronald Reagan. References to mass manipulation are woven into its action-packed narrative. Ex-wrestler Piper is cast in the lead role and whilst his acting is adequate at best, his physical attributes help the film’s many fight sequences. David, impressive in THE THING, co-stars as his sidekick. After a promising start, the film descends into a familiar violent shoot-em-up scenario. Moments of tongue-in-cheek humour help us to not take it too seriously.
     Notes: Because the screenplay was the product of so many sources—a short story, a comic book, and input from cast and crew—Carpenter decided to use the pseudonym “Frank Armitage”, an allusion to one of the filmmaker’s favorite writers, H. P. Lovecraft (Henry Armitage is a character in Lovecraft’s The Dunwich Horror)

Film Review – THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951)

Image result for the thing from another worldTHE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (USA, 1951) ****½
      Distributor: RKO Radio Pictures (USA), General Film Distributors (GFD) (UK); Production Company: RKO Radio Pictures / Winchester Pictures Corporation; Release Date: 6 April 1951 (USA), 1 August 1952 (UK); Filming Dates: 25 October 1950 – 3 March 1951; Running Time: 87m; Colour: B&W; Sound Mix: Mono (RCA Sound System); Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1; BBFC Cert: PG – contains mild threat.
      Director: Christian Nyby; Writer: Charles Lederer (based on the story “Who Goes There?” by John W. Campbell Jr. (as Don A. Stuart)); Producer: Howard Hawks; Associate Producer: Edward Lasker; Director of Photography: Russell Harlan; Music Composer: Dimitri Tiomkin; Film Editor: Roland Gross; Art Director: Albert S. D’Agostino, John Hughes; Set Decorator: Darrell Silvera, William Stevens; Costumes: Michael Woulfe; Make-up: Lee Greenway; Sound: Phil Brigandi, Clem Portman; Special Effects: Donald Steward; Visual Effects: Linwood G. Dunn.
      Cast: Margaret Sheridan (Nikki Nicholson), Kenneth Tobey (Capt. Patrick Hendry), Robert Cornthwaite (Dr. Arthur Carrington), Douglas Spencer (Ned Scott), James Young (Lt. Eddie Dykes), Dewey Martin (Crew Chief Bob), Robert Nichols (Lt. Ken Erickson), William Self (Cpl. Barnes), Eduard Franz (Dr. Stern), Sally Creighton (Mrs. Chapman), James Arness (‘The Thing’). Uncredited: Edmund Breon (Dr. Ambrose), Nicholas Byron (Tex Richards), John Dierkes (Dr. Chapman), George Fenneman (Dr. Redding), Lee Tung Foo (Lee – a Cook), Paul Frees (Dr. Vorhees), Everett Glass (Dr. Wilson), ‘King Kong’ Kashey (Eskimo), David McMahon (Brig. Gen. Fogarty), Bill Neff (Bill Stone), Walter Ng (Second Cook), Charles Opunui (Eskimo), Norbert Schiller (Dr. Laurence), Robert Stevenson (Capt. Smith – Fogarty’s Aide), Riley Sunrise (Eskimo).
      Synopsis: Scientists and American Air Force officials fend off a blood-thirsty alien organism while at a remote arctic outpost.
      Comment: Although it plays loose with the source material this is a tense, tightly scripted and well-acted sci-fi that bears all the hallmarks of producer Hawks despite being credited as directed by his long-time editor Nyby. Hawks’ trademarks of overlapping dialogue and a strong female character (Sheridan) always ahead of her male suitor (Tobey) are immediately evident. The movie was to become a major influence on the sci-fi horror genre. Arness, in heavy make-up, is “The Thing” and Spencer’s warning to the world “Watch the skies” captures the political paranoia of the period.
      Notes: Re-issue version runs 81m. A remake, following the source material more closely, was released in 1982, which itself generated a prequel in 2011. The complete title of the viewed print was The Thing from Another World . In the opening credits, the words “The Thing” appear first in exaggerated, flaming type, followed by the words “from another world” in smaller, plain type. The picture was copyrighted in early Apr 1951 under the title The Thing . According to publicity materials contained in the file on the film at the AMPAS Library, producer Howard Hawks added the words “from another world” to avoid confusion with a novelty song entitled “The Thing,” which was a hit single at the time of the picture’s release. Margaret Sheridan, a former fashion model, made her screen debut in the picture.

Film Review – INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1978)

Image result for invasion of the body snatchers 1978INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (USA, 1978) ***½
      Distributor: United Artists; Production Company: Solofilm; Release Date: 22 December 1978 (USA); 22 March 1979 (UK); Filming Dates: 19 February 1978 – 29 April 1978; Running Time: 115m; Colour: Technicolor; Sound Mix: Stereo (Dolby Stereo); Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1; BBFC Cert: 15 – contains one scene of strong gory violence and moderate horror.
      Director: Philip Kaufman; Writer: W.D. Richter (based on the novel “The Body Snatchers” by Jack Finney); Producer: Robert H. Solo; Director of Photography: Michael Chapman; Music Composer: Denny Zeitlin; Film Editor: Douglas Stewart; Casting Director: Mary Goldberg; Production Designer: Charles Rosen; Set Decorator: Doug von Koss; Costumes: Aggie Guerard Rodgers; Make-up: Thomas R. Burman, Edouard F. Henriques, Bob Westmoreland; Sound: Ben Burtt, Bonnie Koehler, John Nutt, Steve Powell, Art Rochester; Special Effects: Russel Hessey, Dell Rheaume.
       Cast: Donald Sutherland (Matthew Bennell), Brooke Adams (Elizabeth Driscoll), Jeff Goldblum (Jack Bellicec), Veronica Cartwright (Nancy Bellicec), Leonard Nimoy (Dr. David Kibner), Art Hindle (Dr. Geoffrey Howell), Lelia Goldoni (Katherine Hendley), Kevin McCarthy (Running Man), Don Siegel (Taxi Driver), Tom Luddy (Ted Hendley), Stan Ritchie (Stan), David Fisher (Mr. Gianni), Tom Dahlgren (Detective), Garry Goodrow (Dr. Boccardo), Jerry Walter (Restaurant Owner), Maurice Argent (Chef), Sam Conti (Street Barker), Wood Moy (Mr. Tong), R. Wong (Mrs. Tong), Rose Kaufman (Outraged Woman), Joe Bellan (Harry), Sam Hiona (Policeman #1), Lee McVeigh (Policeman #2), Al Nalbandian (Rodent Man), Lee Mines (School Teacher). Uncredited: Michael Chapman (Health Dept. Floor Cleaner), Robert Duvall (Priest on Swing), Anthony Garibaldi (Student), Kevin Harris (Dr. of pods), Philip Kaufman (City Official on Phone (voice)), Misty (Harry’s Boxer Dog), Al Perez (PG&E Man), Jeff Scheftel (Pod Person at Party).
      Synopsis: In San Francisco, a group of people discover the human race is being replaced one by one, with clones devoid of emotion.
      Comment: Well-made remake of the 1956 Don Siegel classic. Sutherland is excellent as the public health inspector caught up in the paranoia. He is well supported by a strong cast, which includes a young Goldblum and pre-ALIEN Cartwright. Nimoy is also effective as a psychologist with an ego. Zeitlin provides an eerie electronic score, whilst Chapman’s largely night-time photography makes inventive use of the locations. Tension builds throughout and it is only in its final act that the production becomes more formulaic. There is, however,  a closing scene that is guaranteed to live long in the memory.
      Notes: Second adaptation of the novel “The Body Snatchers” by Jack Finney. Previously filmed in 1956 and remade in 1993 as BODY SNATCHERS and 2007 as THE INVASION. Watch out for cameos by the original film star and director Kevin McCarthy and Don Siegel as well as Robert Duvall and director Philip Kaufman.

Film Review – VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA (1961)

Image result for voyage to the bottom of the sea 1961VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA (USA, 1961) ***
      Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox; Production Company: Irwin Allen Productions (as Windsor Productions); Release Date: 12 July 1961; Filming Dates: 25 January 1961 – April 1961; Running Time: 105m; Colour: DeLuxe; Sound Mix: 4-Track Stereo (Westrex Recording System); Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: CinemaScope (anamorphic); Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1; BBFC Cert: U.
      Director: Irwin Allen; Writer: Irwin Allen, Charles Bennett (based on a story by Irwin Allen); Producer: Irwin Allen; Director of Photography: Winton C. Hoch; Music Composer: Paul Sawtell, Bert Shefter; Film Editor: George Boemler; Production Designer: ; Art Director: Herman A. Blumenthal, Jack Martin Smith; Set Decorator: Walter M. Scott, John Sturtevant; Costumes: Paul Zastupnevich; Make-up: Ben Nye; Sound: Alfred Bruzlin, Warren B. Delaplain; Special Effects: Johnny Borgese (uncredited); Visual Effects: L.B. Abbott.
      Cast: Walter Pidgeon (Adm. Harriman Nelson), Joan Fontaine (Dr. Susan Hiller), Barbara Eden (Lt Cathy Connors), Peter Lorre (Comm. Lucius Emery), Robert Sterling (Capt. Lee Crane), Michael Ansara (Miguel Alvarez), Frankie Avalon (Lt (j.g.) Danny Romano), Regis Toomey (Dr. Jamieson), John Litel (Vice-Adm. B.J. Crawford), Howard McNear (Congressman Llewellyn Parker), Henry Daniell (Dr. Zucco), Skip Ward (Crew member), Mark Slade (Seaman Jimmy ‘Red’ Smith), Charles Tannen (CPO Gleason), Del Monroe (Seaman Kowski), Anthony Monaco (Cookie), Michael Ford (Crew member), Robert Easton (Sparks), Jonathan Gilmore (Seaman George Young).
      Synopsis: An Admiral takes a brand new atomic submarine through its paces. When the Van Allen radiation belt catches fire, the admiral must find a way to beat the heat or watch the world go up in smoke.
      Comment: Enjoyable bit of nonsense which became one of its producer’s most successful ventures. Pidgeon is a few levels above the material and his dignified performance keeps you believing in the fantastical events that are unfolding. The topic of global catastrophe triggered by man’s ability to pollute the planet has gained in significance over the years with the debates on global warming.  As such much of this tale will resonate with modern audiences. The script, however, lacks sufficient depth to make the most of these potential messages. There is kids adventure stuff too with one of the underwater sequences involving struggles with a giant octopus. The film was successful enough for Allen to transition it toTV.
      Notes: Song: “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea,” music and lyrics by Russell Faith. Followed by a TV series (1964-8). This story was remade as an episode of the TV series “The Sky’s on Fire” (season 2, episode 18) broadcast on 23 January 1966.

Film Review – FANTASTIC VOYAGE (1966)

Image result for fantastic voyage 1966FANTASTIC VOYAGE (USA, 1966) ***½
      Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox; Production Company: Twentieth Century Fox; Release Date: 24 August 1966 (USA), 14 October 1966 (UK); Filming Dates: 25 January – mid June 1965; Running Time: 100m; Colour: DeLuxe; Sound Mix: Mono (Westrex Recording System); Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: CinemaScope; Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1; BBFC Cert: U.
      Director: Richard Fleischer; Writer: Harry Kleiner (screenplay), David Duncan (adaptation) (based on a story by Otto Klement and Jerome Bixby); Producer: Saul David; Director of Photography: Ernest Laszlo; Music Composer: Leonard Rosenman; Film Editor: William B. Murphy; Art Director: Dale Hennesy, Jack Martin Smith; Set Decorator: Stuart A. Reiss, Walter M. Scott; Costumes: Bruce Walkup, Truman Eli, Ollie Hughes (all uncredited); Make-up: Ben Nye; Sound: David Dockendorf, Bernard Freericks; Special Effects: Johnny Borgese, Greg C. Jensen (both uncredited); Visual Effects: L.B. Abbott, Art Cruickshank, Emil Kosa Jr.
      Cast: Stephen Boyd (Grant), Raquel Welch (Cora), Edmond O’Brien (General Carter), Donald Pleasence (Dr. Michaels), Arthur O’Connell (Col. Donald Reid), William Redfield (Capt. Bill Owens), Arthur Kennedy (Dr. Duval), Jean Del Val (Jan Benes), Barry Coe (Communications Aide), Ken Scott (Secret Service), Shelby Grant (Nurse), James Brolin (Technician), Brendan Fitzgerald (Wireless Operator). Uncredited: Brendon Boone (Military Policeman), Kenneth MacDonald (Henry – Heart Monitoring), Christopher Riordan (Young Scientist).
      Synopsis: A diplomat is nearly assassinated. In order to save him, a submarine is shrunken to microscopic size and injected into his bloodstream with a small crew. Problems arise almost as soon as they enter the bloodstream.
      Comment: Imaginative sci-fi memorable for its superb production design and photographic effects, which deservedly won Academy Awards. The script is solid, even if the dialogue is a little hokey at times, and provides the requisite set-pieces, helping build tension in the story. The concept of miniaturisation is fanciful, but once you get past that element there is much to enjoy in the fantasy it creates. Boyd makes for a likeable square-jawed hero and Welch adds glamour to the mix.  Capably directed by Fleischer and with an eerily discordant score from Rosenman.
      Notes: The picture marked the first major screen role for actress Raquel Welch. Won Oscars for Art Direction-Set Decoration (Jack Martin Smith, Dale Hennesy, Walter M. Scott and Stuart A. Reiss) and Special Effects (Art Cruickshank). Novelised by Isaac Asimov. Followed by an animated TV series in 1968.

TV Review – DOCTOR WHO: THE BATTLE OF RANSKOOR AV KOLOS (2018)

Image result for The Battle of Ranskoor Av KolosDoctor Who: The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos (TV) (2018; UK; Colour; 49m) ***  pr. Alex Mercer; d. Jamie Childs; w. Chris Chibnall; ph. Sam Heasman; m.Segun Akinola.  Cast: Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill, Mark Addy, Phyllis Logan, Percelle Ascott, Jan Lee, Samuel Oatley. On the planet of Ranskoor Av Kolos, lies the remains of a brutal battlefield. But as the Doctor, Graham, Yaz and Ryan answer nine separate distress calls, they discover the planet holds far more secrets. Who is the mysterious commander with no memory? What lies beyond the mists? Who or what are the Ux? The answers will lead the Doctor and her friends towards a deadly reckoning. Season finale lacks the sense of occasion of previous seasons. The story is okay, but again the alien threat is too easily nullified and there is no real sense of jeopardy as everything feels so rushed – it was a mistake (one of many) not to sprinkle some two-parters into this series. The performances are uneven, with Gill and Cole too wooden in their parts. The best performances come from Addy and Walsh. Jodie Whittaker appears to have settled into a one-tone approach to her performance as the Doctor and many of the jokey lines feel more than a little bit wearisome. It’s all nicely shot and the visuals are very impressive. The theme of “cause and effect” by tying into THE WOMAN WHO FELL TO EARTH feels tokenistic. It provides a bookend feel to the season, but there is no real sense of wonder or surprise. An average end to what has been a disappointingly average series.

TV Review – DOCTOR WHO: IT TAKES YOU AWAY (2018)

Doctor Who: It Takes You Away (TV) (2018; UK; Colour; 50m) ***½  pr. Nikki Wilson; d. Jamie Childs; w. Ed Hime; ph. Denis Crossan; m.Segun Akinola.  Cast: Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill, Eleanor Wallwork, Kevin Eldon, Christian Rubeck, Lisa Stokke, Sharon D Clarke. On the edge of a Norwegian fjord, in the present day, The Doctor, Ryan, Graham and Yaz discover a boarded-up cottage and a girl named Hanne in need of their help. What has happened here? What monster lurks in the woods around the cottage – and beyond? For the most part, this episode is intriguing and tense. The mystery is well plotted and has characters emotionally invested. Whilst conceptually this has been the most challenging episode of this series it has also been the most rewarding, showing that strong writing is what has been missing for most of this series. But the episode threatens to implode into silliness with the talking frog, which deflates much of the tension that has been built up to that point. Why did the writers and producers think this would make the episode more dramatic? It comes across as a gimmick which derails what could have been the best episode of the season by far. As it stands it is still one of the better representations of Chibnall’s vision in this disappointing run of stories. That the last three episodes, none of which have been written by Chibnall, have come closest to the series’ template show that there is still life in the concept with thoughtful writing. Let’s hope Chibnall can pull the rabbit from the hat in the last episode and the New Year special – otherwise, this will almost certainly go down as the worst series of the new run.

TV Review – DOCTOR WHO: THE WITCHFINDERS (2018)

Doctor Who: The Witchfinders (TV) (2018; UK; Colour; 50m) ***  pr. Alex Mercer; d. Sallie Aprahamian; w. Joy Wilkinson; ph. Tim Palmer; m.Segun Akinola.  Cast: Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill, Alan Cumming, Siobhan Finneran, Tilly Steele, Tricia Kelly, Arthur Kay, Stavros Demetraki.  The Doctor, Ryan, Graham and Yaz arrive in 17th century Lancashire and become embroiled in a witch trial, run by the local landowner. As fear stalks the land, the arrival of King James I only serves to intensify the witch hunt. But is there something even more dangerous at work? Can the Doctor and friends keep the people of Bilehurst Cragg safe from all the forces that are massing in the land? A promising storyline with one or two effective scenes is undermined by a cluttered TARDIS crew trying to find enough to warrant their inclusion. Finneran delivers a strong performance, notably when she becomes possessed, but the script is not as strong as it should have been, failing to drive sufficient tension from the narrative. So, what could have been the strongest episode of this new set becomes yet another triumph of style over content. The visuals are what give the story its atmosphere and the make-up work is excellent too, but the story lacks depth due to the rush to cram a lot of material into the running time. The introduction of the alien threat late in the day leaves no room for further exploration of backstory or motivation. Ultimately, this is a story that would have benefited from room to breathe.

Film Review – ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981)

Related imageEscape from New York (1981; UK/USA; Metrocolor; 99m) ***½  d. John Carpenter; w. John Carpenter, Nick Castle; ph. Dean Cundey, George D. Dodge; m. John Carpenter, Alan Howarth.  Cast: Kurt Russell, Ernest Borgnine, Lee Van Cleef, Donald Pleasence, Harry Dean Stanton, Isaac Hayes, Season Hubley, Adrienne Barbeau, Tom Atkins, Charles Cyphers, Frank Doubleday, John Stobel, Bob Minor, John Diehl, George “Buck” Flower. In 1997, when the US President crashes into Manhattan, now a giant max. security prison, a convicted bank robber is sent in for a rescue. Cult classic may have dated, notably in the visual effects, but still has much to enjoy. Russell deftly essays Clint Eastwood in his portrayal of Snake Plissken. Good support cast of oddball characters and some nice tongue-in-cheek touches from director/co-writer Carpenter. Grimy and decadent representation of Manhattan as a prison city is well realised. Followed by ESCAPE FROM L.A. (1996). [15]

TV Review – DOCTOR WHO: KERBLAM! (2018)

Image result for doctor who kerblamDoctor Who: Kerblam! (TV) (2018; UK; Colour; 50m) ***½  pr. Alex Mercer; d. Jennifer Perrott; w. Pete McTighe; ph. Simon Chapman; m.Segun Akinola.  Cast: Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill, Julie Hesmondhalgh, Lee Mack, Callum Dixon, Claudia Jessie, Leo Flanagan.  A mysterious message arrives in a package addressed to the Doctor, leading her, Graham, Yaz and Ryan to investigate the warehouse moon orbiting Kandoka, and the home of the galaxy’s largest retailer: Kerblam! Obvious links to the massive growth of companies like Amazon, this does not play to the expected corporate greed sub-plot in the traditional way – instead linking the threat to anti-corporate terrorism. As such this is a refreshingly straight-forward tale, which adds to the mix elements of robo-phobia (mirroring stories such as THE ROBOTS OF DEATH). The result is one of the better entries in this otherwise disappointing series to date and there is genuine tension generated by McTighe’s script and Perrott’s direction. The performances, however, remain variable – Cole seems to be becoming more wooden by the week – but at least the companions get to be split up and given equal roles to play. [PG]