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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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Black Widow

Director – Cate Shortland – 2021 – US, UK – Cert. 12a – 133m

****

Marvel’s latest is less about mysterious former spy Black Widow than the relationship between her and her younger sister – out in cinemas on Wednesday, July 7th

The nuclear family of a father, mother and two young daughters growing up in Ohio in the mid-1990s turns out not to be a nuclear family at all but a man, a woman and two unsuspecting children planted there to look like one by mysterious Russian organisation the Red Room. Natasha (Ever Anderson) is both highly competitive with and protective of her little sister Yelena (Violet McGraw). When someone gets hurt, their mother Melina (Rachel Weisz) is always there for comfort and support.

“You remember how we said one day we’d have an adventure?” says dad Alexei (David Harbour). “Well, that day has come.” He has the only remaining copy of computer files on a disc. There’s an hour to pack before first police cars then S.H.I.E.L.D. SUVs turn up looking for them. By the time the SUVs find them, the family are busy taking off in a private plane from a hidden airfield. When they reach Cuba, the mother is dying from a bullet wound while the father is revealed as a mercenary, happy to see the two children who aren’t actually their daughters at all sedated and taken away after the older Natasha has pulled a gun on her ‘dad’.… 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):

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The Invisible Man Appears (Tomei Ningen Arawaru, 透明人間現る)

Director – Nobuo Adachi – 1949 – Japan – Cert. PG – 82m

****

With a title that seems to proclaim, “look at me, I’ve arrived”, Daiei’s The Invisible Man Appears (1949) is a Japanese manifesto, a statement that they can match American movies. Eiji Tsuburaya‘s effects are as good as anything in Universal’s The Invisible Man (1933) and were almost certainly produced at a fraction of the cost.

Although the concept originates with H.G.Wells’ 1897 novel, images from the Universal version starring Claude Rains are lodged in the popular consciousness. Thinking of The Invisible Man, I immediately recall a hat being removed then bandages being unwrapped from covering a man’s head to reveal… nothing… a shirt collar with no neck inside. The Invisible Man Appears recreates such effects convincingly… [read more]

On a Blu-ray double bill with The Invisible Man Vs The Human Fly (1957). Full review at All The Anime.

Trailer:

Trailer (double bill):

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Ishiro Honda Double Feature: The H Man (Bijo to Ekitai-ningen, 美女と液体人間) and Battle In Outer Space (Uchu Daisenso, 宇宙大戦争)

The H Man

*****

Director – Ishiro Honda – 1958 – Japan – Cert. X – 86m

Battle in Outer Space

*****

Director – Ishiro Honda – 1959 – Japan – Cert. U – 90m

Alongside the standalone release of Mothra (1961) comes a double bill of two more Toho science fiction movies directed by Ishiro Honda with special effects by Eiji Tsuburaya: , The H Man (1958) and Battle In Outer Space (1959). The Toho studio is associated more with monster movies than any other genre, notably Godzilla (1954) and Mothra. The superior entries in this cycle tend to be the ones they directed, including the initial 1954 film which ticked all the right boxes to prove a massive success.

When no-one at Toho was quite sure what had made Godzilla work, the pair collaborated on a number of different SF films before everything came together on Mothra. The H Man is a monster film dressed up in gangster trappings while Battle in Outer Space is an epic with space stations, flying saucers, rocket ships, an alien moon base and alien mind control… [read more]

Over at All The Anime, I review Eureka!’s Ishiro Honda double bill Blu-ray.

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Mothra (Mosura)

Director – Ishiro Honda – 1961 – Japan – Cert. PG – 101m

*****

Giant moth attacks Tokyo to save fairies. Someone had a meeting about that.

You’d be forgiven for assuming Mothra (1961) a typical Toho monster movie in which a giant moth attacks Tokyo. Yet the film single-handedly redefined the genre much as the original Godzilla film defined it.

With a typhoon moving towards Japan, sailors abandon ship near Infant Island where Rolisica – an amalgam of Russia and the US – has recently tested nuclear weapons. Rescued survivors are tested for radiation sickness but no symptoms found. Two members of the press, reporter Zenichiro Fukuda (Frankie Sakai) and photographer colleague Michi Hanamura (Kyoko Kagawa) sneak into the team of scientists to take pictures and ask questions, learning the natives gave them red juice to drink. They report back to their editor (Takashi Shimura).

Clark Nelson (Jerry Ito) leads an expedition to Infant Island to find a jungle like Pathé’s for King Kong (1933) with man-eating plants, hostile natives and two telepathic, singing Shobijin (lit: ‘small beauties’) about a foot tall… [read more]

Full review at All The Anime.

Blu-ray available from Eureka!

Trailers:

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This Island Earth

Director – Joseph Newman – 1955 – US – Cert. PG – 83m

*****

UK PAL laserdisc review, 1997.

Originally published on London Calling Internet.

Pioneer continue to plunder the Universal vaults for SF gems. I’d never heard of This Island Earth when a print turned up for a revival run at London’s late lamented Scala repertory cinema in the early eighties, but having seen it several times since it’s a film which stands the test of time admirably. Moreover, being an Academy ratio film, it doesn’t suffer either the necessary indignity of widescreening black bars top and bottom or the thoroughly infuriating cropping of picture sides that accompanies too many video releases. The digital remaster on this Pioneer disc looks superb too – This Island Earth may be a good deal more than merely the sum of its special effects, but it IS an effects movie and those effects are impressive by the standards of the day (even if they creak a little now). What’s more, most of them are on side 2 of this disc in glorious CAV.

Warning: (plot) spoilers.

Eschewing obvious alien invasion plot lines, the narrative has nuclear research scientist Cal Meacham (Rex Reason) slowly lured into an alien conspiracy alongside rival in his field of research Ruth Adams (Faith Domergue).… Read the rest

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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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Zu Warriors From The Magic Mountain (Shu Shan – Xin Shu shan jian ke)

Director – Tsui Hark – 1983 – Hong Kong – Cert. 12 – 98m

*****

One of the greatest special effects action movies ever made, this groundbreaking epic delivers non-stop, near unbelievable, visually entrancing vistas of Chinese mythology – online in the UK as part of Focus Hong Kong 2021 from Tuesday, February 9th to Monday, February 15th and available on Blu-ray

There are films which seem almost single-handedly to define cultures. There are plenty of elements in Zu Warriors From The Magic Mountain that can be found elsewhere in Hong Kong cinema – martial arts stunts, flying wire work, period costumes, stock figures, airborne drapery – and yet the precise way this mixes these elements up then adds in others and adds in lots of 2D effects animation makes it a unique work, even by Tsui’s extraordinary standards.

With the ancient world in which he lives in a state of chaos due to constantly warring human factions, a man gets swiftly out of his depth when he sidesteps all that to follow a hero in the hope of becoming his disciple as the hero battles the forces of evil. If this sounds very highbrow… well, perhaps it is. Or perhaps it’s just an excuse to put together a series of truly extraordinary special effects action set-pieces that transport the viewer to mythological otherworlds the exact like of which have never been seen onscreen before or since.… Read the rest

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Green Snake (Ching Se)

Director – Tsui Hark – 1993 – Hong Kong – Cert. 12 – 99m

****1/2

Two sister snake spirits, the white snake and the green snake, enter our world to discover the mystery of human sexual love – from the London East Asia Film Festival (LEAFF)

China’s White Snake legend has spawned numerous adaptations including the recent, animated White Snake / Baishe: Yuanqi (Amp Wong, Ji Zhao, 2019) which boasts fast paced action and state of the art CG visuals. Tsui Hark is from another era: the legendary Hong Kong director who almost single-handedly bought Hollywood-style special effects to Hong Kong movie production in such epics as Zu Warriors From The Magic Mountain (1983) and the Once Upon A Time In China films (1991 onwards) alongside period romps like Peking Opera Blues (1986). For Green Snake, Tsui turned to Lillian Lee’s novel based on the White Snake legend which she adapted into a screenplay for him. Rather than tell the story from the perspective of the white snake as the original legend does, Lee shifts her narrative to the perspective of the younger, less experienced green snake.

In appearance, the two spirits start off as female humans down to the waist and snakes below, not dissimilar to Harryhausen’s half woman/half snake Medusa in Clash Of The Titans (producer and effects: Ray Harryhausen, 1981) but using full size puppetry/animatronic effects rather than stop frame animation.… Read the rest