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Invasion Of The Body Snatchers

Director – Don Siegel – 1956 – US – Cert. PG – 80m

*****

The classic, paranoid SF outing about the residents of a small, American town being replaced by conformist, emotionless duplicates – on BFI Blu-ray from Monday, October 25th

This is an incomplete review, currently in progress…

Made in the middle of Hollywood’s 1950s B-movie Sci-Fi boom, this movie was made by Don Siegel who previously made hard-boiled crime thrillers after cutting his teeth as an editor of montage sequences in, among other things, Now, Voyager (Irving Rapper, 1942) with a striking script and a strong cast headed by Kevin McCarthy and, in her first starring role, Dana Wynter, which also includes Carolyn Jones who would later achieve fame playing Morticia Addams in The Addams Family TV series (creator David Levy, 1964).

Based on a Colliers Magazine serial by Jack Finney, it’s built around the highly potent idea of human beings being replaced by emotionless duplicates who operate as a communal whole rather than individual people. It’s often been read as a metaphor for the anti-Communist McCarthy witch hunts of the period, but as noted in the fascinating documentary Sleep No More, Invasion Of The Body Snatchers Revisited (2006), the left thought it was a satire on the right while the right thought it was a satire on the left.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

The Prayer (Gan Ho-Joong, 간호중)

Director – Min Kyu-dong – 2020 – South Korea – Cert. 12a – 108m

*****

Just how capable are caregiver androids of looking after their terminally ill patients? – thought-provoking science fiction from the London East Asia Film Festival (LEAFF), on now

In a vast, multi-storey building complex, end of life patients are attended by Caregivers, lifelike female androids programmed to perform all the necessary tasks of palliative care, their faces modelled after their purchaser. Manufactured by the German TRS Corporation, they come in a variety of models, including an entry-level type with only basic functions and a more advanced models which can cope better with patients’ needs.

One patient is surrounded by Christian friends of his wife loudly singing praise and worship songs, to the annoyance of those living in nearby units. Adherents of the Christian religion play quite a significant part in the narrative, with nun Sister Sabina (Ye Soo-jung) going round putting stickers wherever she can in these complexes inviting people to phone her if they want to pray.

They might well want to take up her offer. A lot of the patients’ relatives / carers could do with some sort of assistance. Mrs. Choi (Yum Hye-ran from Default, Choi Kook-hee, 2018; Memories Of Murder, Bong Joon Ho, 2003) has sold the family home to pay for a Caregiver (also Yum Hye-ran) for her dementia-stricken husband (Yoon Kyung-ho from Okja, Bong Joon Ho, 2017).… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

A Snake Of June (Rokugatsu No Hebi, 六月の蛇)

Director – Shinya Tsukamoto – 2002 – Japan – Cert. 18 – 77m

*****

Unlike any terrorised female narrative you’ve ever seen, at once bizarre and hugely rewarding – currently streaming on BFI Player as part of the BFI Japan 2021 programme

This review originally appeared in What’s On In London, June 2003.

In an unnamed (but suspiciously Tokyo-like) Japanese city where it’s constantly raining, a mysterious phone caller blackmails repressed housewife Rinko (Asuka Kurosawa). If that sounds clichéd, set your prejudices aside because Shinya Tsukamoto’s unique, new film is unlike any terrorised female narrative you’ve ever seen. The motives of the caller (director Tsukamoto himself) are scarcely what you might expect.

From the moment Rinko opens a postal package labelled “Your Husband’s Secrets” to find photographs of herself masturbating (which she flicks into life like a series of animated stills) via her subsequent following orders involving short skirts and vibrators through to the extraordinary finale, the piece walks a difficult path between humiliating and liberating women.

With the year’s most arresting opening – a stripping model reduced to orgasmic ecstasy in serial, rapid-fire static images to the flashing of a stills camera – it’s likely to engross some viewers while offending others.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Settlers

Director – Wyatt Rockefeller – 2021 – UK – Cert. 15 – 103m

****1/2

The lives of a one-child family living on a farm on Mars are changed forever by the arrival of a hostile outsider – out on digital platforms from Friday, July 30th

Reza (Jonny Lee Miller from Regeneration, Gillies Mackinnon, 1997; Trainspotting, Danny Boyle, 1996) and his wife Ilsa (Sofia Boutella from Climax, Gaspar Noé, 2018) have emigrated to Mars to take over a farm which they now run with the help of their nine-year-old daughter Remmy (Brooklynn Prince from The Florida Project, Sean Baker, 2017). Growing vegetables and rearing pigs, they seem very happy with their lot, not least because that the Earth the couple left behind was not in a good way… We hear very little about it beyond a conversation where Remmy learns her parents never encountered whales or elephants, only dogs, even as that planet hangs in the sky as a constant reminder of where they came from.

The light has a reddish glow. Everything around the compound is dirt, rocky outcrops and occasional areas of bush and scrub. There is no-one else around apart from the three of them.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Occupation: Rainfall

Director – Luke Sparke – 2020 – Australia – Cert. 15 – 128m

*

Australian alien invasion epic with lots of seasoned actors and heaps of special effects. What could possibly go wrong? out in cinemas on Friday, July 9th

A sequel to Australian alien invasion outing Occupation (2018) by the same director, this big effects movie spends much time and effort on spectacular alien spaceships and dogfights, prosthetics alien costumes and the occasional creature that couldn’t possibly be portrayed by a human actor in a suit. These visual effects do the job but aren’t particularly engaging. The piece overall lacks original ideas and panache. 

The sketchy plot has the world (i.e. Australia) invaded by aliens called ‘Greys’ because of their skin colour while a military force under Wing Commander Hayes (Daniel Gillies from Spider Man 2, Sam Raimi, 2004) is fighting back. Hayes believes force is the only way to deal with the invaders and has consequently sidelined peace negotiator Amelia The Human (Jet Trantor from Thor: Ragnorok, Taika Waititi, 2017) who has made the effort to learn to speak the alien language. Greys unsympathetic to the invasion live amongst the humans. 

A wise elder named Abe (David Roberts from The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, Lana & Lilly Wachowski, 2003) despatches a two-man recon mission to find and discover the exact nature of the eponymous Project Rainfall.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

A.I. Rising

Original title: Ederlezi Rising

Director – Ladar Bodroza – 2018 – Serbia – 18 – 86 mins

****

Serbian Sci-Fi shot in the English language in which a male astronaut becomes dissatisfied with the female android programmed to satisfy his every desire on a deep space mission – on Amazon and iTunes

You’ve got to admire the sheer ambition of A.I. Rising, a Serbian sci-fi movie shot in the English language with production values and visual effects on a par – mostly – with anything Hollywood at its most lavish can offer.

I say mostly because there’s an early rocket launch sequence which cries out for exterior shots of the rocket on its launch pad and then taking off, but all we get is an admittedly impressive view from space of the distant ship ascending into the atmosphere. It’s the only time the production misses a trick like this and it doesn’t detract from what follows.

The plot concerns one man and his dealings with women – well, one woman in particular. Milutin (Sebastian Cavazza) is given a new assignment by the Ederlezi corporation. Prior to his flight into deep space, a woman social engineer (Marusa Majer) explains the nature of his mission and that he’ll be required to work in a team of two, the other member being an android modelled after a human woman “but unlike a human woman, she’ll be unable to hurt you.”… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

The War Of The Worlds

Director – Byron Haskin – 1952 – US – Cert. PG – 82m

****

RUK PAL laserdisc review, 1997.

Originally published on London Calling Internet.

Hungarian born George Pal, who produced the stop-frame Puppetoons shorts in the forties, chose H.G.Wells’ seminal alien invasion novel for his fourth live action production. Media wunderkind Orson Welles had already transplanted the Home Counties setting across the Atlantic to New Jersey for radio; it was only natural that a rising Hollywood producer such as Pal should shift events further West to California. A then‑unknown Puppetoon animator named Ray Harryhausen had pitched a movie version at Welles, without success. However, while Welles was beginning his legendary slow descent from the pinnacle of the movie biz, Pal was clearly in the ascendant.

It’s not hard to see the attraction of the Wells’ novel to such creative heavyweights. Orson Welles, whose radio version had interrupted what appeared to be a programme of live, on air dance music with a series of eye-witness newsflashes of the Martian landings, clearly relished the prospect of panicking an entire nation in art if not in life. Harryhausen, one imagines, would have recreated Wells’ towering tripods, mechanical Victoriana burning up the Home Counties with their terrifying death rays (a decade later, Harryhausen’s First Men In The Moon, Nathan Juran, 1964 is packed with Victorian industrial ephemera).… Read the rest

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Animation Features Movies

Hello World (ハロー・ワールド)

Director – Tomohiko Ito – 2019 – Japan – 97m

****

A social misfit schoolboy must rescue a girl classmate from the rogue software underpinning a virtual, future version of Kyoto with the help of his time travelling, ten years older self who is in love with her – plays online in the Japan Foundation Touring Programme 2021 in the UK, 48 hour rental window from 6pm, Monday, March 1st

Kyoto, 2027. Bookwormish Naomi Katagaki (voice: Takumi Kitamura) doesn’t really fit in at his Kyoto school. When he walks there in the morning, the fact of his head being buried in a self-improvement book seems the perfect metaphor for his complete lack of social skills. Asked by a bright, pretty classmate if he’d like to join her and a bunch of others for karaoke after school, he doesn’t really know how to respond and before we know it, she and the group have gone.

He doesn’t really pay attention to those around him, so he gets ignored. While he’s working out what food to select in the canteen lunch queue, everyone has dived in and taken everything but the one option no-one wants. Only when the subject of who is to volunteer for the library duty comes up do his fellow students take any interest in him – by recommending him for the post to which he agrees more out of an inability to say no than from any real desire to take it on.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Secretary

Secretary

Director – Steven Shainberg – 2002 – US – Cert. 18 – 106m

*****

A Snake Of June (Rokugatsu No Hebi, 六月の蛇)

Director – Shinya Tsukamoto – 2002 – Japan – Cert. 18 – 77m

*****

Double DVD review originally published in Third Way, February 2004.

The cover image (rear view of a female figure in tight, short skirt and stockinged legs, bent down, hands grasping ankles) suggests titillation, but the American production Secretary is actually a serious drama – albeit one laced with a healthy dose of black humour – about a sadomasochistic relationship. But beneath its fetishistic surface, it is something else – an exploration into why two specific people (and why they in particular rather than any others) make one flesh. And how that works for them if the two people are initially in some way damaged (as we all are).

Although from a very different culture, its Japanese counterpart A Snake Of June – made by the experimental cyberpunk auteur Tsukamoto (of Tetsuo: The Iron Man fame) – explores much the same territory. Being small, low budget productions frees both films from mass, multiplex mainstream audience demands, allowing their directors to instead tackle (inter)personal relationship issues in depth.… Read the rest

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Books

The Mars Trilogy

Blue Mars

Kim Stanley Robinson, VOYAGER £15.99, Hbk.

Red Mars, Green Mars

VOYAGER both £5.99, Pbk.

As Mars is terraformed, its dusty red surface shifts through the green of vegetation to the blue of ocean waves as its north polar ice cap is melted – the three volumes in Kim Stanley Robinson’s trilogy being named accordingly. Although Blue Mars can be read alone, it not only continues on from where the second book left off (the Terran flood disaster of 2127 and subsequent Martian bid for independence) but contains so many references to what has gone before that one can get far more out of Blue Mars if its read following the two preceding volumes. For instance, the opening crisis as to whether the radical terrorists should or should not destroy the (second) cable elevator link with the asteroid New Clarke relates to a whole prior history, including the destruction of the original cable and the freeing of the first Clarke from orbit, with the spectacular and devastating collapse of miles and miles of cable furnishing the unforgettable finale of Red Mars.

Not that the Mars trilogy is purely for techno-geeks. Principle characters are members of 2027’s original group of settlers, appropriately named the First Hundred even though their number also includes a hidden hundred and first member, a concealed stowaway later nicknamed Coyote.… Read the rest