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Dune

Director – Denis Villeneuve – 2021 – UK – Cert. 12a – 155m

*****

A powerful family is exiled to a desert planet populated with giant sandworms as part of an interplanetary conspiracy to end their dynasty – out to rent on Premium Video on Demand from Monday, December 6th

Frank Herbert’s sprawling novel Dune (1965) was read in the late 1960s and 1970s by any teenage boy with the slightest interest in science fiction and fantasy. It had (a little) space travel but more significantly it had alien worlds, notably the desert planet Arrakis on which 95% of the action takes place, and so ticked the SF box.

Then it had a whole ecology involving the planet’s occupants the Fremen, a drug known as ‘the Spice’, and giant sandworms, so it also ticked the fantasy box.

On top of this, it pitted dynasties – ‘Houses’ – against each other in a tale of interplanetary political intrigue.

The plot was unbelievably convoluted, spawning a lengthy series of sequels. I gave up around the fifth or sixth book. And yet, the first book possessed an almost mythic quality that my diminishing interest in the later volumes was unable to dispel.

The sheer quantity of plot was always going to be a challenge for a standalone movie.… Read the rest

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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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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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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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A Quiet Place Part II

Director – John Krasinski – 2020 – UK – Cert. 15 – 90m

****

A family move out from their isolated farm on an Earth where alien predators hunt by sound – out on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-Ray & DVD from Monday, August 30th 2021

There are obvious differences between this film and its predecessor, the near flawless A Quiet Place (John Krasinski, 2018) about a family surviving alien predators who hunt by sound, put together pretty much by the same director, writers, cast and crew. The first film was – well, a first film with nothing to live up to. When it became a colossal success and Hollywood clamoured for the inevitable sequel, the second film had to somehow be as potent and effective as the first but inevitably doesn’t have the opportunity to introduce the world and the characters because that’s been done.

That much is obvious without seeing the new film. There are other differences though. Firstly, the sequel leaves the safety of the farm where AQP mostly took place as Evelyn Abbot (Emily Blunt) and her two kids Regan (Millicent Simmonds) and Marcus (Noah Jupe) venture out to find out what’s happening beyond their farm. They don’t really have any other option since their farm was overrun by aliens at the end of AQP.… Read the rest

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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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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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A Quiet Place

Director – John Krasinski – 2018 – UK – Cert. 15 – 90m

*****

A family live on an isolated farm on an Earth where alien predators hunt by sound – out on DVD, Blu-ray and selected online services

NB This is the original film, not A Quiet Place Part II currently in cinemas.

The world is a changed place. Civilization as we know it has broken down. Earth’s population has been decimated by alien predators. Evelyn Abbot (Emily Blunt) goes through the meds on a shelf in a deserted store in town where her youngest son Beau (Cade Woodward) becomes attracted to a model spaceship because “that’s how we’ll get away from here”. When his dad Lee (John Krasinski, the film’s co-writer and director as well as Blunt’s real life husband) sees this, he removes batteries from the toy and forbids his son to take it. However, his daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds) takes pity on Beau and slips it to him when her dad isn’t looking. And in similar fashion, when she isn’t looking the boy also takes the batteries. An act which will have fatal consequences for him and, going forward, a huge impact on the relationship dynamics within this family.… Read the rest

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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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The Invisible Man Vs The Human Fly (Tomei Ningen To Hae Otoko, 透明人間と蝿男)

Director – Mitsuo Murayama – 1957 – Japan – Cert. 12 – 96m

**1/2

The lesser of Daiei’s two Invisible Man movies. Mitsuo Murayama, working from a script by Hajime Takaiwa, delivers not so much a sequel but, much like the different entries in Universal’s Invisible Man series, a different story with a different set of characters built around the concept. Without Eiji Tsuburaya’s guiding hand, the invisibility effects are less memorable but do what they need to. A striking theramin score by Tokujiro Okubo adds an unearthly atmosphere.

This time, the Invisible Man is not a criminal but on the side of the law. It’s a murder mystery with a bizarre twist… [read more]

On a Blu-ray double bill with The Invisible Man Appears (1949). Full review at All The Anime.

Trailer (double bill):