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Murder on the Orient Express (2017)
Disappointing remake with unconvincing CGI sets
Dreary, dull remake of the overblown original - with dreadful CGI backdrops which look hyper-real and (in all but a few shots) are too sharply defined. Aside from the hilarious moustache sported by Hercule Poirot and his amusing obsession with symmetry there is nothing new here. I think the 1974 version is just about preferable (which isn't saying much). There's a reference to 'The Murder on the Nile' at the end of this movie - presumably that is intended to be a follow-up movie.
Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010)
A sequence of boring video effects strung together ...
Muddled 'arty' science-fiction / horror. There is no proper narrative structure to this mess – it tries to be clever by attempting to emulate the visual style of '2001: A Space Odyssey' and 'THX 1138'. It fails miserably. The story (as far as I can make out) seems to be a 'Carrie' / 'Altered States' rip-off with a dash of 'Splice' thrown in. It really is a dreadfully boring film to sit through featuring some weird over-lengthy, grainy and over-exposed sequences to pad things out. What little dialog there was was inaudible. For some reason it is set in 1986 with a flashback to 1966 (I think). Why I bothered to sit through this trash it is a complete mystery to me – I suppose I kept hoping it would get better.
Mr. H Is Late (1988)
... funnier than 'The Plank' or 'Rhubarb, Rhubarb'
Really quite a funny Eric Sykes TV short – I found this more amusing than 'Rhubarb, Rhubarb' or 'The Plank'. It has a moderately black-humoured theme about some inept undertakers. I feel it pays homage to Laurel and Hardy's 'The Music Box'. Very enjoyable with a great collection of famous British comedians of the 60's and 70's – their last great hurrah so to speak - - including Spike Milligan, John Alderton, Charlie Drake, Jimmy Edwards, Roy Kinnear, Henry McGee and Bob Todd.
The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)
The Emperor's New Clothes
Aside from the vaguely intriguing start with Bowie's arrival (it's not clear where he got the clothes, the rings to sell and the British background, or indeed how long he'd been on earth – where did the car and the chauffeur suddenly come from?). This is a long disappointing mess of a film. I tried very hard to get into this and enjoy it but the narrative structure is confusing and disjointed. I think the film just tries to be clever and art-housy but I found it a complete bore and very frustrating to watch – the Emperor's New Clothes you might say. There is absolutely no chemistry or sex appeal between the two main characters. Visually, it's quite stylish, the best part is the first 30 minutes or so with the frailty of the alien character shown and the interesting and amusing idea (from a digital photography age perspective) of self-developing film.
Atmospheric and lavish looking classic but marred by poor editing
This film is very atmospheric but stagey (it is based on the play not the Bram Stoker book), slowish (despite the short running time) and dated. There are also problems with continuity and jump cuts due to a re-edit (apparently the Spanish language version is more faithful to the original sequenced script). The standout performance is actually from Dwight Frye as 'Renfield' whose lapses into insanity and wild eyed-grinning are very chilling indeed. Bela Lugosi is good in a kind of theatrical way and his accent and line '
. the children of the night
' is superbly delivered. I also enjoyed some of the cinematography – the way in which the coffin is shown then the camera panning away and then back to show Dracula standing outside the coffin is very interesting. The sets of the castle and Carfax Abbey are very impressive (much more so than in the later Hammer films) and atmospheric although the staircases sound wooden. There are some disappointing flying bats and a large plastic spider. At one point it is made explicitly clear that Dracula can change into a wolf as well as a bat he is also repelled by Wolfsbane here (rather than garlic) as well as crucifixes. There's a great sequence when Van Helsing realises Dracula casts no reflection. A classic but flawed film.
Shock Waves (1977)
Claustrophobic & creepy scenes set in broad daylight ...
Slow ponderous Nazi zombie flick – quite atmospheric this film with some very effective electronic music. Strong similarities with the Doctor Who serial 'The Sea Devils' (made 5 years before this film). I like the way the Nazi zombies keep appearing out of the water behind their victims or suddenly appear with their heads popping up above the water (although this does get repetitive). This type of zombie has an aversion to sunlight and they don't actually eat their victims they just want to strangle them and cause mayhem. The first third of the film is a little disjointed. The dark hulk of a shipwreck our protagonists encounter is suitably sinister and dominates the island – sitting as it does right on the horizon (there are several cut-a-way shots emphasising it's presence and signifying that this is the source of the evil). The film is claustrophobic and has scenes in broad daylight which are just as creepy (if not more so) than the scenes set at night time. Not a bad effort but no classic of the genre. The editing of the print I saw seemed disjointed and I suspect sequences are missing (what happened to the original boat for example?). Might be worth tracking down a better more complete print for a future screening as the film might (just) warrant a re-assessment. Peter Cushing and John Carradine are polished off quite quickly and not really well utilised (they do not appear together in the same scene within this film).
Doctor Who: Cold War (2013)
Disappointing (slight) re-imagining of the Ice warriors ...
Nice to finally see a 'base under siege' story in the 'new Who' series – unfortunately it's a little disappointing. At least we get to see the return of the Ice Warriors and an intriguing glimpse of the creature outside of it's armour 'shell' (which turns out to be cybernetic and remote controllable in design). I regretted that the vocals were no longer whispery and hissy as in the original concept – also the Ice Warrior did not have the distinctive movement as the originals. I also preferred the slightly more organic look of the original costume with the matted hair growing out of the neck line. There are homages to both the 'Alien' films and 'The Thing' (Ice Warrior thawed out of a block of ice). Not bad. I enjoyed it but felt it could have been a lot better.
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)
Hits like a sledgehammer!
Splendid performances from James Stewart and Claude Rains in this famous political comedy (and to my shame not seen by me until December 2014). There is much to enjoy in this classic story of a small town honest guy standing up against mighty political corruption in the big city. I didn't really see where this was going in terms of how the powers that be were going to destroy the James Stewart character – and then it hit like a sledgehammer! Really great stuff and just as pertinent today as it was 75 years ago when this film was made. it's a long film by the standards of 1939 Hollywood – but certainly does not outstay it's welcome. Beautiful quality black and white photography with some nice tourist scenic shots of Washington DC. There's an amusing sequence when Stewart fidgets with his hat and a nice montage of hot metal and letterpress printing presses (which perform a sort of 'duel' in the context of the film).
Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)
Film Noir Western
I've always been intrigued by this film but never saw it until December 2014 when I was able to see it in high definition and widescreen. It turns out to be a simple but effective story of a man trapped in a hick town by a bunch of townsfolk who are all more or less implicated in the murder of a Japanese-American man just after Pearl Harbour. A good cast with some tense moments – shorter and simpler than I imagined. The early cinemascope format makes the best of the train sweeping in and of the rocky scenery in the desert around the town but as most of the picture is set in either a garage, hotel lobby or sheriffs office it is rather wasted. Fairly enjoyable – a sort of 'Noir Western'.
Lost in Space: The Oasis (1965)
Dr. Smith turns into a giant!
One of my favourite episodes of LIS season one – there are no guest aliens in this one only the usual cast (and each member gets a fair crack of screen time). Dr. Smith is excellent – there's a very funny scene where Smith is taking a shower using up nearly all the families dwindling water supply (during a dangerous and lengthy heat wave) while the robot is singing. Imaginative camera angle when we follow Maureen Robinson in the one person elevator from the lower to the upper deck of the Jupiter 2 and there is also a scene showing the dining area of the lower deck clearly. There is the illogical notion of Smith's clothes growing with him (as he grows to giant size caused by his consumption of an untested alien fruit). Throughout this episode we see inconsistent applications of spacial distances – sometimes the family seem near the Jupiter 2 and at other times they appear to be some considerable distance away (looking for a water supply, or rescuing a wounded Major West). There are some nice morality touches in this one about forgiveness and love even when someone (Dr. Smith) is far from perfect and does some really thoughtless and reprehensible things!
Predictable alien abduction shocker
Tiresome, predictable alien abduction shocker with a few effective scares in a clichéd log- cabin with a bunch of teenagers. The unsatisfactory story makes no sense with nothing really properly explained. The dialogue soundtrack was inaudible (I had to keep the volume down to prevent the loud shock moments blaring out) I really wanted the aliens to get their comeuppance but they were all-powerful and vicious despite being the rather typical frail- looking 'greys' so beloved of alien abduction movies. The ending was predictable with a 'cigarette smoking man' rip-off who turns around having ordered the resulting mess to be cleared up. I thought the twist was going to be that as he turned towards the audience he was going to be a human-alien hybrid with large black eyes – that would have been slightly more interesting.
'Wanna take a ride?'
I liked the opening sequence with radio transmissions getting progressively older as we move away from the earth and beyond our solar system into the utter silence of deep space. There is a strong emphasis on religion versus science in this film – and the main protagonist Ellie cannot seem to reconcile the two concepts. There's a creepy blonde preacher guy in this story (which I'd forgotten about) who instigates an exciting but deadly terrorist attack. A long film, but ultimately quite rewarding and much better than the dreadful ' Interstellar' (2014). Good ending and optimistic conclusion. Nice theme tune.
Boring and dreary
Boring, long soap-opera mishmash of a couple of ideas from '2001: A Space Odyssey' (1968) and 'Contact' (1997). I was extremely disappointed with this film as I had very high expectations for it. I expected advanced aliens and a new beginning for mankind – what I got was human relationships (including a lie told in the best overall interests of humanity) complicated by the time dilation effect of travelling vast distances in space plus the effect of gravity near black holes. The inexplicable and constant switching from IMAX format to Panavision made no logical sense and was just plain irritating. Even the visuals in this film were not all that impressive considering the budget it must have had. 'Contact' is three times over a better film than this dreary mess and '2001: A Space Odyssey' is ten times better. I think the director of this film was too wrapped-up in trying (and failing) to keep the science authentic and the scope of the film epic-like – at the expense of entertaining the audience.
Super 8 (2011)
Story starts well but ultimately becomes predictable ...
Not too bad – keeps you guessing and I'd forgotten about the weird cubes and just how nasty the Airforce were in this film – some exciting and tense scenes and the 5.1 surround is very good indeed (the rear effect speakers were given a good work-out!) The creature in this film just simply wants to go home (but it's somewhat more ruthless about it than ET ever was). There is a suggestion of some form of telepathic communication and link between the creature, the teacher and later on the boy. The creature (when we eventually see it) looks like a giant spider with elements of the queen from the Alien films bolted on. I'm not really sure who this film is aimed at – it's a little too gruesome and scary in some cases – for kids below 14 – but in some ways it seems to be a children's film in the same manner as 'The Goonies'. The cinematography is excellent and there are lots of deliberate uses of lens flare effects. There is also a touch of the 'found-footage' genre about this film. The train crash is spectacularly well done.
In Like Flint (1967)
Daft but likable sixties spy spoof
Very daft but likable sixties spy spoof with a great soundtrack (with bonkers vocals sung over the closing titles '
I love your Z.O.W.I.E. face'). A cross between the sixties Batman series and James Bond with just a touch of 'The Prisoner' thrown in. There's hypnosis, freezing gas, an automated document incinerator – the dogs again (from the first film) – cryogenic cabinets, Lee J. Cobb (Flint's boss) in drag, Flint learning to speak dolphin, exploding golf balls, a bunch of girls with brain-washing hairdryers, a doppelgänger president and a final fight in outer space. To be honest it isn't very good but even so it's still a light, enjoyable sixties confection brightly filmed in technicolor (the mock Moscow location all done in a bright red colour palette) and it's one of the last films to be shot in Cinemascope. Production and set design is very good, but the special effects in outer space are badly dated.
Dr. Smith as a fire chief!
Fairly good season 3 episode with the Jupiter 2 returning to the earth in 1947 (why that year? – Roswell influence?) via a time warp. Dr. Smith tricks the inhabitants into thinking he is a fire chief and manages to take command of the local townsfolk (their communications and electrical systems have been disrupted by the Jupiter 2's arrival). There are some good outside location photography with (I think, for the first time seen in the series) a full-size replica of the Jupiter 2 saucer (seen from above with the crew descending down from the landing gear). Smith's plans to become a powerful rich citizen of the world armed with his foreknowledge. As usual his plans go awry and he departs with the rest of the family having failed to destroy the Jupiter 2 with a canon. He is fairly ruthless in this one – having abducted Will to try and force the family to stay (he doesn't want to be on his own). At the end of the story we hear one of the local characters inventing the term 'flying saucer'. The Jupiter crew wear their silver 'landing' suits in this one which makes them look more out- worldly to the townsfolk. Interesting episode. Smith's performance as the fire chief is even more OTT than usual.
Similar idea to Star Trek's 'The Apple'
Unique episode in that Dr. 'Zack' Smith and Major Don West actually get along for a while in this episode (they are on first name terms). It's not a bad story and appears to be a simplified (but much more childish variation of the Star Trek episode 'The Apple' – the robot dances and performs magic tricks which include telekinesis and the ability to make objects disappear!). Interestingly, 'The Apple' was transmitted on 13 October 1967 after the 'The Space Primevals' which was broadcast a little earlier on 04 October 1967. For once there's a little location photography and both the chariot and the space raft make an appearance. The prop used at the heart of 'The Time Tunnel' is seen again (it forms part of the computer which is controlling and guiding the stone age men). Not too bad for a 3rd season episode.
Under the Dome (2013)
Interesting ideas but ultimately just another soap opera
The premise of this series is that of a town cut-off by a huge dome-shaped impenetrable force field – very similar concepts were used in John Wyndham's 'The Midwich Cuckoos' and the Doctor Who story: 'The Dæmons' (1971). After an intriguing pilot episode this settles down into the usual typical modern American sci-fi padded-out soap opera. There are just enough surprises to keep one watching – (although some of it is quite predictable – the military firing a missile, the fact that the dome extends underground (presumably forming a perfect sphere). Scariest moment was when the kid who was having a seizure sat up and put his finger to his lip
I detect the usual Stephen King quasi-religious and supernatural elements bubbling under the sci-fi surface of this serial. Pretty good – I may keep watching – not sure yet.
Best seen in 3-D
Technically very good – probably slightly better 3D than the technicolor 'Dial M For Murder' which was of a similar vintage. The claw effects coming out the screen are great fun and the creature seems to be lurking everywhere as soon as the explorers arrive in the Amazon (not just in the lagoon). There's a great cave lair which is nicely lit and looks great in 3D. Some of the black and white photography on the deck of the 'Rita' looks absolutely stunning. The swamp- like location photography looks very authentic. The design of the Gill-Man is actually very good indeed especially the breathing and movement of his gills – surprisingly realistic despite this being the classic grand-daddy of all the 'man-in-a-monster-suit' movies. The music builds into a crescendo every time the Gill Man appears and while this is effective the first few times (and the theme is very memorable) it does become a little repetitive. A surprisingly high body count for a film like this and no one seems at all perturbed by this fact – they just diligently go on with their exploration and testing of rock samples regardless. The rivalry between the two male leads becomes a little tiresome at times. None-the-less quite an enjoyable little romp – especially in 3D.
Falling Skies (2011)
Another standard post-apocalyptic soap opera
Yet another standard action-packed series about a post apocalyptic band of survivors/misfits fighting against an unusual event/enemy/situation. This one is odd in that it starts AFTER the event has occurred and one desperately would have liked to have seen the invasion itself (but I suspect we'll be shown elements in flashback later in the series – so as to keep the show interesting and allow it to drag on for endless episodes and seasons). As with the many other TV series in a similar style which have appeared over the past 5 years or so this one intrigues the audience with odd little tantalising clues about the mystery behind the event (in this case it's the purpose of the bio-mechanical spines the aliens have attached to the children – shades of the BBC series 'The Tripods' from the early eighties and the original Outer Limits episode 'The Invisibles'). I just did not find this start to the series as compelling or as original as say 'Revolution' (2012), 'Jericho' (2006), 'Lost' (2004) or 'The Walking Dead' (2010) – and even with those shows I grew frustrated as they just kept you watching the soap opera style plots (admittedly spiked with lots of spectacular SFX action) week after endless week without revealing very much and without drawing their particular story arcs to a satisfactory conclusion. Indeed, the danger is that you get hooked on the show and then the American network responsible just cancels it mid-flow. However, I will keep an eye on the reviews for this one and may revisit it in the future if they manage to keep it to a sensible length and end it properly after just a few seasons.
Phase IV (1974)
Visually interesting film from one of the great graphic designers
There's a rather slow start to this film with a lengthy and unsettling montage of different ant species working together, a little later there is a narration which explains the establishment of a science research facility to study the unusual activity and the decline in the natural predators of the ant population. There are a couple of interesting scenes of the protagonists from the viewpoint of the ants compound eyes which adds interest and creates an unsettling atmosphere. The music is also effective and unsettling. This is the only film to be directed by the graphic designer Saul Bass and there are one or two moments where the film seems a little disjointed – I suspect the film has been cut or re-edited in some way against the original intention. There is a horrible scene where after a chemical spray procedure against the first ant attack some ants crawl from the hand of a dead man ... a cleverly staged sequence shows the ants gradually become resistant to the first spray of yellow poison by absorbing it ... there is then a suggestion that after a queen ant samples it new ants are born which are fully resistant. The ants are very clever – aside from language they build structures overnight around the research centre which reflect sunlight
the premise of this film sounds absurd but somehow it kind of works
flawed but interesting ... The macro photography is excellent. An enigmatic and irritating ending though.
One of the best episodes ...
Splendid, gentle Christmas episode in which Will is transported to a back-water American town where his story that he is from the Jupiter 2 is met with disbelief and incredulity. After various run-ins with the law and kind-hearted townsfolk (who mean well and want to adopt him) he manages to escape back to a pre-planned position and the robot transports him back to the planet Priplanis. Although he never manages to get in touch with Alpha Control he does manage to acquire a bottle of tetrachloroethylene cleaning fluid – vital for the food processor, much to the bemusement of his father and the other family members. There are some amusing and futile attempts by Dr Smith to re-programme the robot to state that he (Smith) is an upstanding, trustworthy member of the crew and that he was nowhere near the alien machine when Will (or Penny initially) disappeared. There's a nice homely performance by Reta Shaw as Aunt Clara in this episode (who appeared in the 1964 feature film 'Mary Poppins' and the TV series 'Bewitched'). Good fun.
Falling Skies: Live and Learn (2011)
Yet another bunch of post apocalyptic misfits ...
Yet another standard action-packed series about a post apocalyptic band of survivors/misfits fighting against an unusual event/enemy/situation. This one is odd in that it starts AFTER the even has occurred and one desperately would have liked to have seen the invasion itself (but I suspect we'll be shown elements in flashback later in the series – so as to keep the show interesting and allow it to drag on for endless episodes and seasons). As with the many other TV series in a similar style which have appeared over the past 5 years or so this one intrigues the audience with odd little tantalising clues about the mystery behind the event (in this case it's the purpose of the bio-mechanical spines the aliens have attached to the children – shades of the BBC series 'The Tripods' from the early eighties and the original Outer Limits episode 'The Invisibles'). I just did not find this start to the series as compelling or as original as say 'Revolution' (2012), 'Jericho' (2006), 'Lost' (2004) or 'The Walking Dead' (2010) – and even with those shows I grew frustrated as they just kept you watching the soap opera style plots (admittedly spiked with lots of spectacular SFX action) week after endless week without revealing very much and without drawing their particular story arcs to a satisfactory conclusion. Indeed, the danger is that you get hooked on the show and then the American network responsible just cancels it mid-flow. However, I will keep an eye on the reviews for this one and may revisit it in the future if they manage to keep it to a sensible length and end it properly after just a few seasons.
Tango'd aliens and a fake flying sub
Typically silly episode with really illogical plot development. Just how did Admiral Nelson work out the flying sub was a fake? Three orange skinned amphibious aliens (from Scorpius) plan to destroy the Seaview so that they can recover the atomic reactor and harness it to hatch out millions of eggs which are scattered across the shore of an uncharted island. The aliens first seem all powerful – capable of transfixing the humans instantaneously and teleporting them to the island – but later one of the aliens uses a force shield instead and subsequently becomes prone to attack and destruction via a laser weapon – why didn't he simply transfix his attackers as he did earlier? The sounds the creatures make – a low level growl; the costumes and incidental sounds – (as crew members are made to appear and disappear or become transfixed) are straight out of the 'Lost In Space' sound library. There is also a short extract of the theme from 'The Day the Earth Stood Still' played over one scene in a corridor. Reasonably entertaining in a daft way. There are the usual fires and explosions and the slightest short circuit in an engineering panel causes the Seaview to rock back and forth alarmingly (as usual). The costumes (although very obviously men in rubber suits) – are quite well done and imaginative.
Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)
Don't sit too close to the (IMAX 3-D) screen!
This is an excellent follow-up to the first film in the re-booted series – essentially, the story is a re-imagining of the Khan story in the alternate reality created in the previous film. There are some stunning action sequences and a detailed imagining of London and San Francisco in the 23rd Century. Unfortunately, we were only able to book seats 3 rows up from the front and were too close to the screen. I look forward to seeing this again with more space between me and the screen so that I can enjoy the detail and better cope with the very fast action sequences. It would be nice to see a TV series now come out of this (which would allow smaller scale drama / hard science fiction without the need for so much epic-level action) but with the same high production values, same principal actors and use of the same film sets – as the crew now go on their 5 year mission. Perhaps such a TV series could be inter-leaved with one or two more big budget movies
Excellent but spoilt for me by the 3-D IMAX presentation. Khan is brilliantly portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch. There's another nice surprise cameo appearance by Leonard Nimoy in character as 'Spock Prime' – but that should be the last now – enough is enough!