Blu-Ray Review: The Wonderful Worlds Of Ray Harryhausen, Volume One: 1955-1960

Indicator continue their Blu-Ray re-releases of the great Ray Harryhausen’s work with this volume containing three of the films he made between 1955 and 1960. It includes glorious HD prints of It Came From Beneath the Sea, 20 Million Miles to Earth and The 3 Worlds of Gulliver, curiously skipping Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (which has previously been made available on DVD in a set with the first two titles). In my earlier review of the Sinbad Trilogy, I professed my love for Harryhausen’s stop motion creations and how they played a key part in my cinematic upbringing, so I was thrilled to be offered another set of his films to review, particularly since I’d only seen one of them previously (It Came From Beneath the Sea). My thoughts on the three films are below:

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Blu-Ray Review: Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959)

Director: Henry Levin
Screenplay: Walter Reisch, Charles Brackett
Based on a Novel by: Jules Verne
Starring: James Mason, Pat Boone, Arlene Dahl, Diane Baker, Thayer David, Peter Ronson
Country: USA
Running Time: 129 min
Year: 1959
BBFC Certificate: U


Some films, like some music, work best or sometimes only work when watched in certain situations. ‘Bad’ movies for instance, are only fun when watched with a group of like minded friends and helped by the consumption of alcohol. Horror movies, with few exceptions, need to be watched at night when it’s nice and dark and you feel isolated and vulnerable. Comedies are best in a packed cinema or at home with a group of people willing to laugh along at the jokes. These are fairly obvious examples, but another genre (if you can call it that) I’d add to the list are old family-friendly adventure movies. Maybe it’s just me, but lightly enjoyable romps made back in the 40s or 50s work so much better when watched on a lazy, preferably rainy Sunday afternoon when you’ve got nothing better to do. The looser pace and dated elements don’t trouble you like they might when watched before bed on a weekday, when the troubles of the day are still on your mind and you need a bit more excitement or food for thought to keep you awake. Journey to the Center of the Earth (the 1959 version) is such a film and I watched it under near perfect circumstances. Last Saturday, my youngest daughter was a bit under the weather, my wife was at work, my dad was looking after my eldest daughter, and it was chucking it down. So I settled down on the sofa that afternoon, put out some toys for the little ‘un and took a charming journey through Jules Verne’s imagination without a care in the world (other than taking notes for this review).

The title to Journey to the Center of the Earth makes its plot pretty clear, although there are further details I can describe here, many of which were added by the screenwriters Walter Reisch and Charles Brackett to add some more contemporary excitement to the original story.

Respected professor Sir Oliver S. Lindenbrook (James Mason) is given the gift of an unusual piece of volcanic rock from a student, Alec McEwan (Pat Boone), to celebrate his being knighted. Finding some unusual properties to the rock, he runs some tests on it and discovers it contains a message from an Icelandic scientist named Arne Saknussemm, who went missing on a quest to reach the centre of the Earth. The rock is proof that Saknussemm had discovered something close to it, so Lindenbrook becomes obsessed with picking up where Saknussemm left off. When he treks up to Iceland to do so however, he finds himself in a race for the prize against two other scientists, the Swedish Professor Göteborg (Ivan Triesault) and Count Saknussemm (Thayer David), a descendant of the scientist who wants the glory for himself. When the Count kills off Göteborg, the Swede’s wife Carla (Arlene Dahl) joins Lindenbrook, McEwan, a giant local Icelander called Hans (Pétur Ronson), and his pet duck Gertrud, on the titular trip down a rather convenient passage to the city of Atlantis, near the Earth’s core.

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Blu-Ray Review: The Guyver

Director: Screaming Mad George, Steve Wang
Screenplay: Jon Purdy
Based on Characters by: Yoshiki Takaya
Starring: Jack Armstrong, Vivian Wu, Mark Hamill, David Gale, Michael Berryman
Country: USA, Japan
Running Time: 88 min
Year: 1991
BBFC Certificate: 15


With the live action remake of Ghost in the Shell just around the corner, I thought it might be appropriate to look at an earlier Hollywood adaptation of a popular manga and anime, The Guyver. Back in 1991, cult horror producer Brian Yuzna (Re-Animator, From Beyond and director of Society) gave two special effects/make-up masters, Screaming Mad George (Society) and Steve Wang (Predator), a chance to direct their first film together. Supposedly each took on different scenes themselves rather than working together on set. The result is this action sci-fi oddity, which Arrow Video have re-released on dual-format Blu-Ray and DVD.

The Guyver opens with the scientist Dr. Segawa (Greg Joung Paik) on the run. He’s taken a secret biomechanical device known as the Guyver from the lab to keep it out of the hands of his evil boss Fulton Balcus (David Gale), who has been experimenting on humans to develop military secrets. Segawa is killed by Balcus’ henchmen, but not before he hides the Guyver with the intention of giving it to detective Max Reed (Mark Hamill). A young loser called Sean Barker (Jack Armstrong) finds it first though, and, after a run in with some thugs, it fuses with his body, turning him into The Guyver. So from then on, Balcus and his goons (who are mutants that can turn into powerful monsters at will), along with Reed and Dr. Segawa’s daughter Mizky (Vivian Wu) all want their hands on Barker to unlock the device’s secrets.

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Weekend of Trash XX

After a year-long hiatus, Weekend of Trash is back for its monumental 20th (recorded) instalment (previous write-ups can be found in the category archive). With a new addition to my family early in 2016, I’ve struggled to find the time to meet up for our usual orgy of sleaze and gore, but I had an opportunity last weekend whilst the girls were away so I took advantage of it.

So as before, here are the reviews of everything we watched over a weekend of gratuitous nudity, violence and downright nonsense. The reviews are only brief and ratings are largely based on entertainment value over quality, so take them with a pinch of salt. I’ve included clips and trailers when possible too.

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Blu-Ray Review: The Man Who Fell to Earth

Director: Nicolas Roeg
Screenplay: Paul Mayersberg
Based on a Novel by: Walter Tevis
Starring: David Bowie, Rip Torn, Candy Clark, Buck Henry
Country: UK
Running Time: 139 min
Year: 1976
BBFC Certificate: 18


The pop star vehicle tends to be a dirty word in cinema. From the cheesy Elvis movies to Britney Spears in Crossroads and Madonna in Swept Away, it’s fair to say a great many megastar musicians have failed to ignite the silver screen in the same way they have a stage. One pop star who managed to collect a number of interesting, if not always successful, acting roles throughout his career though was the late, great David Bowie. From fun cameos in films like Zoolander and TV shows like Extras, to a fine turn as Nikola Tesla in Christopher Nolan’s Prestige, Bowie used his chameleonic abilities to great effect in a handful of work away from his music. His first starring role in a feature film was in Nicolas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell to Earth and, to many, this remains his finest on-screen performance. I’d never actually seen it, so, being a big fan of Bowie’s music, I was keen to get my hands on Studiocanal’s new special edition re-release of the film on Blu-Ray.

The Man Who Fell to Earth sees Bowie play Thomas Jerome Newton, an alien who arrives on Earth to find water for his dying planet. He shows up at the door of patent lawyer Oliver Farnsworth (Buck Henry), asking him to help set up a company to launch some technology decades ahead of what is currently available. Newton wants to earn enough money to build himself a new space craft to get back home, and indeed his company, World Enterprises, proves a huge success. However, he gets distracted by sex, alcohol and TV, moving in with working class girl Mary-Lou (Candy Clark) whilst rival businessmen plot to muscle him out of the picture.

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DVD Review: Stalker

Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
Screenplay by: Arkadiy Strugatskiy, Boris Strugatskiy, Andrei Tarkovsky (uncredited)
Based on a Novel by: Arkadiy Strugatskiy, Boris Strugatskiy
Starring: Aleksandr Kaydanovskiy, Anatoliy Solonitsyn, Nikolay Grinko, Alisa Freyndlikh
Country: Soviet Union
Running Time: 155 min
Year: 1979
BBFC Certificate: PG


My trip through the work of art-house/world cinema heavyweight Andrei Tarkovsky continues with Stalker, from 1979. Like Solaris, this is one of his films I was simultaneously most looking forward to and most wary of. It’s highly regarded (as are all of his films) which got me interested, on top of the sci-fi focus, but it also sounded like it might be the slowest moving and most bleak title of his oeuvre. So, although I had no doubt that I wanted to watch and review the film, I was a bit hesitant to put it on once I’d received the screener. As is too often the case these days (due to having two young children) I was far too tired to take on such a heavy film and ended up watching it in two parts, but I made it through though and managed to appreciate the extraordinary work Tarkovsky had done.

Stalker is set some time in the future when a large area of the country (presumably somewhere in The Soviet Union) has been cordoned off with barbed wire and armed defences. Known only as The Zone, this area is off-limits to everyone and believed to be highly dangerous. Gifted individuals known as Stalkers have special abilities to be able to navigate it though, to take people to what is special about The Zone, The Room. The Room is believed to be a place that can make true the inner most desire of those who enter. Our protagonist is an unnamed Stalker (Aleksandr Kaydanovskiy), who has been hired to guide The Writer (Anatoliy Solonitsyn) and The Professor (Nikolay Grinko) to The Room. As they make the long, treacherous journey out of the city and across The Zone, the three of them argue about the meaning of their lives and the importance of faith, among other things, culminating in a dilemma as they reach the threshold of The Room.

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DVD Review: Solaris

Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
Screenplay by: Fridrikh Gorenshteyn, Andrei Tarkovsky
Based on a Novel by: Stanislaw Lem
Starring: Donatas Banionis, Natalya Bondarchuk, Jüri Järvet
Country: Soviet Union
Running Time: 160 min
Year: 1972
BBFC Certificate: 12


The next port of call in my journey through the work of Andrei Tarkovsky takes me to Solaris. It’s probably the director’s most well known and popular film, but at the same time it seems to be his most divisive. Some critics have cited this as the film where Tarkovsky’s style began to get too philosophical and slow for its own good, with a couple claiming the philosophies lean towards the cod end of the spectrum. It’s views like these that made me a little apprehensive about watching the film (and reviewing it for that matter). However, I’m determined to work through all of his films being re-released and would like an opinion on them, even if it’s a negative one, so the other night I found myself sitting down in front of the projector to check Solaris out.

The film sees psychologist Kris Kelvin (Donatas Banionis) sent to a space station orbiting the planet Solaris. It is believed the crew has gone insane and he is sent to confirm and find out why, possibly destroying the station afterwards if it is irredeemable. Once on the station, he finds that one of the crew members has committed suicide and the other two seem emotionally unstable. The problem on board soon becomes apparent when a woman appears in Kris’ quarters who seems to be his recently deceased wife, Hari (Natalya Bondarchuk). This isn’t a mere ghost or dreamed memory though, she’s physically there in the station with him and the others can see her too. This embodiment of his wife doesn’t share Hari’s memories though, or at least not more than a few fractions to make her seem like Kris’ wife. She isn’t a mere shell either – although not human, she has her own thoughts and feelings, which Kris’ fellow crew members give little regard to. They refer to her and the other ‘guests’ on board as things they should cut up and analyse, even when Hari is in the room with them.

Kris realises this isn’t his wife straight away of course and initially tries to dispose of her, tricking her into a rocket and firing her off the station. However, another version soon appears so he realises he can’t get rid of this painful memory and instead learns to embrace it, mentally and physically. He grows too attached though and neglects his duties on the station, instead suggesting he stay on Solaris with Hari (3.0) forever.

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Toronto After Dark 2015 – A Preview

 

The 10th edition of the Toronto After Dark film festival kicks off later today and runs for a solid 9 days (Oct. 15-23). The fest seems to have settled into its niche – it doesn’t look to expand beyond its ~20 screenings per year and likely won’t compete for big World premieres, but year after year it puts together an interesting and eclectic lineup of solid genre fare. Granted, there are typically some odd choices and a rather insistent need to pick thematic pairings (I have to assume many people are getting slightly tired of the zombie double-bills every year – or is that just me?), but there’s little doubt that genre fans who don’t make the trip to Fantasia and Fantastic Fest are rabidly happy that TAD rolls in the numerous big genre titles of the year to the big screen here in Toronto. And many of us are also rabidly happy about the late night pub gatherings.

With the shift to the downtown Scotiabank location in recent years, the more anticipated screenings typically sell-out (several have already done that) so the fest has instituted some late night second screenings for the more popular titles. Consult the full lineup on the festival’s schedule page) which should include trailers for the films as well. Here’s a short run down of this year’s titles (with the proviso that I’ve not watched any trailers or read much about any of these films):

 

Thursday October 15th

 

Tales Of Halloween – Though my love for horror anthologies was challenged a few years ago when Trick R’ Treat was screened at After Dark (I seem to be in the minority in not liking that film though), I have higher hopes for this particular effort. The stories are shorter, the directors are more varied & interesting and there has already been some solid reviews of it. All the tales apparently take place on the same spooky evening, so we’ll see if they manage to do any crossover/merging of the stories or if they are all standalone. I’d love it if they could bring some of the feeling of the old Amicus anthologies from the 70s, but I think we’ll be in for a pretty rousing fest opener regardless.

The Hallow – To be honest, all I needed to see was that the film was from Ireland…Of late, there have been numerous really solid atmospheric horror films coming from that isle (or at least funded via their film fund) like Dorothy Mills, Citadel and the recent The Canal. Though there isn’t necessarily anything specifically in common between those films, there is an appreciation of atmosphere and a willingness not to rush to jump scares. Even though The Hallow is getting stuck with the “scariest film at the fest” moniker (which always sets expectations too high), I’m hopeful that it will tackle horror in my favourite way – the one that slowly envelops and squeezes the breath from you.

 

Friday October 16th

Synchronicity – Sci-fi can be a tricky bet at smaller festivals like this (especially when you hear them being compared to much larger budget and classic films like Blade Runner), but TAD has chosen a few good ones the last couple of years and with director Jacob Gentry’s track record of The Signal behind him, there’s at least some solid talent involved. Given the title and the knowledge that there are likely some time travel paradoxes involved, the film promises to be a head-scratcher in a good way. Also, Michael Ironside plays a baddie, so there’s always that.

Lazer Team – I’ll be honest…I have much less confidence that Lazer Team lives up to any of its billing. Goofy comedic sci-fi can be even more difficult to hit right especially when your protagonists are (apparently from the blurb) idiots. I’m not familiar with the filmmaking team’s web series (Rooster Teeth), so this one is a crap shoot.

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Blu-Ray Review: Hard to be a God

Director: Aleksei German
Screenplay: Aleksei German, Svetlana Karmalita
Based on a Novel by: Arkadiy Strugatskiy, Boris Strugatskiy
Starring: Gali Abaydulov, Yuriy Ashikhmin, Remigijus Bilinskas
Country: Russia
Running Time: 177 min
Year: 2013
BBFC Certificate: 15


I‘ve not made my life easy this week. Of the four films I’ve watched to review, three of them were lengthy, surreal, mind-benders and I saved probably the toughest one to last. Hard to be a God was a project its director Aleksei German had been interested in since the 60’s when he read the book of the same name, written by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky (who also wrote the novel Tarkovsky adapted as Stalker). German supposedly planned to make the film in the 80’s, but was beaten to it by Peter Fleischmann, who made his own adaptation in 1989. German finally started work on his version in 2000, spending 6 years shooting it. It took a further 7 years to edit the film, with German actually dying in 2013, before completion. His son Aleksei German Jr, also a respected filmmaker, helped put the finishing touches to it (largely special effects and sound tweaks) alongside his mother Svetlana Karmalita. This epic undertaking finally hit British shores this year and I got my hands on Arrow’s impressive Blu-Ray release.

Hard to be a God is set on a planet called Arkanar, nearly identical to Earth but some 800 years behind in terms of development. Its progress is further hindered by the fact that the planet’s ruling classes have suppressed the birth of the renaissance, meaning the world is stuck in a bleak, ugly version of our middle ages. A group of scientists from Earth have landed on the planet to observe proceedings. One of these, a man named Anton, is asked to help the planet’s society progress, but without forcibly interfering with the advancement of technology or culture. He is given the identity of a nobleman named Don Rumata, who to many is considered a God. His promise of not interfering becomes difficult however as rebels and religious groups vie for control and the devious Prime Minister Don Reba tests his patience.

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Weekend of Trash XVII

I got together with the guys once again this weekend just gone for the 17th (recorded) Weekend of Trash (previous write-ups can be found in the category archive). I was too lazy this time around to do haiku reviews on top of my standard ones, but I still put together reviews of everything we watched over a weekend of sleaze, violence and downright nonsense. The reviews are only brief (I’m not about to start writing notes whilst watching action movies with my mates) and ratings are largely based on entertainment value rather than quality, so take them with a pinch of salt. I’ve included clips and trailers when possible too.

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Weekend of Trash XV

We tried to squeeze one more video weekend into 2014, but ill health and busy schedules prevented it happening. So instead we kicked off 2015 with the 15th (recorded) Weekend of Trash (previous write-ups can be found in the category archive).

So as usual, here are the reviews of everything we watched over a weekend of sleaze, violence and downright nonsense. The reviews are only brief (I’m not about to start writing notes whilst watching movies featuring time travelling dinosaurs) and ratings are largely based on entertainment value rather than quality, so take them with a pinch of salt. I’ve included clips and trailers when possible too.

* Apologies for the crap image above – my phone camera didn’t like the lighting in the room so it came out a funny colour.

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