This past week I saw the theatrical release of the first film from Studio Trigger – Promare. Here are my thoughts.

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Touch of Evil is considered one of the best Film Noir of all time, for a lot of reasons – from the very gritty narrative with a driving thrust based around police corruption and racism, to a protagonist being a more upstanding police detective who as the film goes on becomes more morally compromised. However, it has its issues as a film. (more…)

His Girl Friday has aged poorly.

Let’s start off with the fundamental premise – Newspaperman Walter Burns (Cary Grant) has divorced from his reporter wife Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell) at some point prior to the beginning of the film. She’s stopped by the newspaper to announce that she’s remarrying, to insurance salesman Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy), and is going to leave reporting – having been burned out by the cynicism. However, this happens on the eve of the execution of a man named Earl Williams (John Qualen) for murder. (more…)

Excerpt from the Poster for 8 1/2.

Fellini’s film 8 1/2 is considered his magnum opus, the defining film of his career, and a monumental work of Italian cinema. It’s also a film that, in my view, has been eclipsed by later works influenced by it, in particular Bob Fosse’s film All That Jazz. I’ll explain.

(There will be some spoilers for both films) (more…)

There’s a new Star Wars movie – I take a look at it and (while avoiding spoilers for the rest of the film), takes a look at Luke’s teaching style in this movie.

Opening Credits: Star Wars Theme from Super Star Wars on the SNES.
Closing Credits: Chiptune Cantina Band from Chiptune Inc.

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A while back I reviewed Andrei Tarkovsky’s classic science fiction film Solaris. However, of the various films in Tarkovsky’s filmography, while Solaris was and is extremely well regarded, it’s a film that hasn’t built quite the same following behind it as Tarkovsky’s 1979 film, Stalker. While Solaris got a highly regarded remake approaching 30 years later from director Steven Soderbergh, Stalker has gotten a series of games that draws more, visually, from the film than from the novel that inspired it.

Stalker effectively follows three characters, the titular Stalker, and his two charges, known only as Professor and Writer, as they travel into The Zone – a geographical area where weird stuff has started happening after a meteor landed. Inside the zone is The Room – where whoever enters will receive their heart’s desire. As they travel through The Zone, the three talk about their personal philosophies, and why they chose to travel to the Zone.

To be frank, in the various axis of Science Fiction that I brought up in my review of Solaris, this is a film that uses Science Fiction purely for set dressing. This could just as easily be a film about two people accompanying a lay-priest through a hazardous journey to reach a shrine that has a holy relic that is said can work miracles. This is especially case when it comes to the subject matter of the film.

With Solaris, both with the source material, and with the interpretation of the book’s themes by Gorenshteyn and Tartakovsky, they made the film about interpersonal connections, both among humans and the potential between the human and the inhuman.

Stalker, on the other hand, is about faith and belief. The Stalker is a true believer. He knows what The Zone can do. He’s traveled this route many times before, and he understands. He has internalized his belief in the Zone’s power, and the faith in what it can do. It’s a part of him, possibly not only in terms of his identity.

On the other hand, the Writer and the Professor are more pragmatic. The Professor respects the Stalkers judgement and with one exception, respects his instructions. The Professor breaks from the Stalker’s instructions only when he realizes that he has forgotten his rucksack and must return to get it (as the contents of his bag also related to his Desire). Ultimately, when the trio reaches The Room, the Professor reveals that it his intent to destroy the room, and possibly the Zone itself, with a portable atomic bomb that he’s snuck into the Zone – as he believes that The Room’s power is too dangerous to be trusted by people, that people are not worthy of its power – that the unholy cannot be trusted with the holy.

By contrast, the Writer is a complete skeptic. He frequently scoffs at the rules put forward by the Stalker, chafes at his instructions, and when he encounters potential peril, he turns on the Stalker. Meanwhile, while talking about his own career as a writer, he frequently puts blame for his lack of success on others – that Editors, Critics, and Publishers don’t properly understand his work. He complains about their appetites – not only material appetites, but appetites for reading, cloud their mind to his brilliance. Only briefly does he admit any personal failing – claiming that he’s lost inspiration – before dismissing his earlier remarks later. He fits perfectly into the archetype of the creator who attacks any and all critics of their work, taking the view that if you don’t like their work, then you don’t understand their work.

There’s also the character of the Stalker’s daughter, “Monkey” – who was born without the use of her legs, due to the Stalker’s trips in and out of the Zone. In the film, scenes shot outside the zone are filmed in a sepia monochrome, while scenes within the zone are in color, much like with The Wizard of Oz. The exception is scenes from the implied point of view of Monkey, which are always in color – and the end of the film reveals that she has some telekinetic abilities, implying that there is a little of the Zone within her.

I’ve had to think a lot about what makes this film something that would be science fiction – why the earlier narrative framework I suggested wouldn’t work just as well if not better. The best answer that comes to mind is that this is a story that, possibly like Tarkovsky’s earlier film Andrei Rublev (which I admit I have not seen), which confronts the topic of faith, but unlike Rublev, is dependant on having characters with a more modern, and in particular more Soviet take on skepticism and religion.

If I had one complaint about this film, it’s that I think the contrast would have been stronger had the scenes within the Zone been in a 16:9 aspect ratio, with the scenes outside staying in monochrome and 4:3. However, going from the documentary material on the film, the movie was a tremendously troubled production, in particular with the developers ruining the negative from the first round of filming.

The film also has one thing in common with the John Wayne film The Conqueror – it was filmed in a tremendously toxic environment. While the environment of the Zone is very beautiful, it’s also toxic as hell, with industrial pollution in the environment giving much of the cast and crew cancer, including Tarkovsky himself.

As with Solaris, this is a film I absolutely recommend watching, though I admit I may be completely off base when it comes to the themes of faith in the film – I’ll let someone more versed than I get into that (and if I do find a good essay on the topic, I’ll pass it along).

The film is available from Amazon.com on DVD and Blu-Ray. If you buy the film through those links, I’ll get a small commission on the size of that order, which will help support my work. Also, please consider backing my Patreon.

I really like anthology films – particularly when it comes to horror. Anthology films let you take a brief period of time to tell an exciting, concise story that can scare you, excite you, or creep you out. Perhaps this is due to many great horror stories being short stories. One of the masters of the horror story was Edgar Allen Poe. This brings me to Extraordinary Tales, an animated anthology film adaptation 5 of Poe’s short stories. (more…)

There’s a bit in an episode of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip where the characters on the series serial-numbers-filed-off version of Saturday Night Live are working on a sketch for Thanksgiving where the turkey spurts absurd, Army of Darkness levels of blood when carved. The bit is not shown, only talked about – with one of the characters commenting about the Prop guy thinking the level of blood is unrealistic with the comment”If it’s just a realistic amount of blood, then it’s… extremely disturbing…”

That is, perhaps, Blood and Lace‘s greatest strength, and its weakness. (more…)

“$NAME_OF_FILM” on/in a “$LOCATION_OR_VEHICLE” is a pretty good reductive way to describe some films. Under Siege is Die Hard on a Battleship. The Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Starship Mine” was pitched as Die Hard on the Enterprise. The Magnificent Seven is The Seven Samurai in the old west. While it’s reductive, it’s not necessarily bad, nor is it necessarily a derogatory way to describe a film. Thus, don’t take it as a minus when I say that Fury is Das Boot (which I’ve previously reviewed) in a Sherman Tank. (more…)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, suffers the same array of problems that the Michael Bay directed Transformers films have suffered. The film takes emphasis away from the title characters of the film to put an increased focus on the human characters. To the film’s credit, it doesn’t clutter up the film with the samedegree of human characters as the Transformers film did, but those elements of the film distract from the main thrust of the narrative. Further, the rest of the film’s action is so cluttered and chaotic that it can’t compensate for the rest of the film’s weak points. (more…)