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Pygmalia: Robocop (1987 & 2014)

This year I’m selecting twelve Pygmalion stories—or stories that contain echoes of the Pygmalion myth—and essaying on them. I already have a few in mind, but please feel free to suggest others in the comments or on Twitter @molly_the_tanz 

Robocop 1987It’s a two-movie column this month at Pygmalia! In a fit of madness I watched the 2014 Robocop remake and realized it could sort of be considered a Pygmalion story, which led me to re-watch the original Robocop, which is much better… even if it’s less of a Pygmalion story. Let’s see if I can straighten out my thoughts into something coherent below…

Robocop (1987) and Robocop (2014)

Robocop is the story of… uh, if you haven’t seen it, probably you still know it’s about “Robocop,” who is part robot, part cop. (Or “part robot, part man, all cop,” according to the poster). Anyways, how much of Murphy is man or robot cop is debatable—and debated—in the original and the remake. In both, the eponymous Robocop, Alex Murphy (the cop part of Robocop), is injured in the line of duty, terribly, and then is reconstructed into a really scary machine man—ostensibly to better protect the city streets of Detroit, but really, there’s more going on than that. 

In Robocop 1987, Robocop is the pawn of Bob Morton, AKA Agent Rosenfeld of later Twin Peaks semi-fame (he was also the voice of the villain in Mulan. The more you know!). Morton works for OCP, a shady tech firm who develops weapons for the Army, which has also been signed to privately revitalize the overworked and underfunded Detroit P.D. When the movie begins, it doesn’t seem like OCP has really put any actual money (or weapons) into the hands of cops; instead, they developed genuinely scary robot monsters called ED-209s in the hopes that they’ll clean up the streets better than the cops.

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Stark Reviews: Johnny Guitar (1954)

JOHNNY GUITAR - American Poster 3

“Gun-Queen of the Arizona Frontier!” the original movie tag-line proclaims, “And her kind of men!!!”

We’ll ignore those exclamation marks for a moment and stick to the facts: Vienna has opened a saloon on the edge of a small town, right on the proposed line of the railway. Jealous local cattle-farmer Emma Small wants her gone. When her brother is killed, Emma falsely accuses Vienna and her friends ­– a group of honest-ish bandits and silver miners – in a bid to get rid of her and her saloon, once and for all.

Based on the book by Roy Chanslor (who also wrote The Ballad of Cat Ballou) Johnny Guitar is weird, subversive, camp as hell and utterly unforgettable. Here are my two cents...

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Mad Max is unexceptional, and that's for the best

Handshake

Mad Max: Fury Road is one of this spring's cinematic surprises. Although the opening weekend was trumped by Pitch Perfect 2, the combination of glowing reviews and word of mouth momentum seem to be adding up to, if not a hit movie, at least a future cult classic.*

Anticipation was always high for this long-awaited sequel, following a trailer that made the film seem like a gleeful throwback to the nonsensical, ultraviolent fun of the cult hit Road Warrior. (We don't talk about Thunderdome). An action film for fans of the action film. If you like noisy explosions, what's not to love?

And then, upon release, all hell broke loose. From an unexpected quarter too - Men's Rights Activists began a noisy (and bizarrely self-defeating) series of protests because the film was deemed 'feminist propaganda'. Which, of course, only drove more people to see the movie - not only out of curiosity, but also to spite the MRAs. And, as a result, the film's received high ratings and support from unexpected quarters and galvanised a very enthusiastic fan base - Fury Road is currently the most talked-about film on Tumblr.

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Films of High Adventure: Dune

DUNEHappy 50th Anniversary, Dune! To celebrate (?), we've put together a special edition of Films of High Adventure. Why's it so special? Well, we have Jason Heller, Hugo-award winning editor, author of Taft 2012, and writer for the A.V. Club and NPR here with us! As Jason is a consummate Dune (the novel) fan-cum-expert, we thought it would be fun (for us, at least) to ask him to watch Dune with us, and see if it stands the Films of High Adventure test of time. Heh.

There are roughly 9000000 versions of Dune out there, and we actually tried to watch the 3 hour version of Dune for this... but from what we saw it was mostly a camera panning over watercolors of planets. So we ditched it and went for the director's cut (I think?), which is the pretty dang long, but not the longest version. It's the one we all watched/remembered, so it was more authentic that way.

The Film: Dune (1984)

Responsibility Roundup: While it may seem unfair to hold Frank Herbert accountable for the film, credit where due—he did write the novel. Given all the liberties taken with the text, it seems most accurate to view Herbert as the Great Maker, and writer-director David Lynch and executive producer Dino De Laurentiis as two rival barons fighting to the death over the intoxicating essence produced by their sandworm cash cow. It’s not surprising that the film came to be defined by their conflict, since Lynch is of course best known for his heady, esoteric creations like Mulholland Drive and Twin Peaks, whereas De Laurentiis is synonymous with meaty, straight-forward fare like Barbarella, Conan the Destroyer, and dozens of other Films of High Adventure candidates. Photography by Hammer and Amicus alum Freddie Francis (Torture Garden), production design by Anthony Masters (2001: A Space Odyssey), costume design by Bob Ringwood (Burton’s Batman), and soundtrack by Toto and Brian Eno.

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Friday Five: 5 Sharks on the Silver Screen

SharkpunkThis week's Friday Five is from Jonathan Green, with a selection of films you can really get your teeth into... And on the subject of fanged terrors of the deep, Sharkpunk! is out now from Snowbooks. You can find this massive new anthology on sale directly from the publishers or from your favourite bookstore.

There's a signing at Forbidden Planet this weekend, and, even if you can't make it, you can reserve your scrawled-upon copy now.


I’ve always had a fascination for sharks – a morbid fascination, I suppose – ever since I watched Jaws, late one night, unknown to my parents, on a small black and white TV with really poor reception, in my bedroom. Nonetheless, the suspense and the shocks still hit home – despite the sadly lacking home cinema experience – so much so that when I was snorkelling off the Whitsunday Islands in Australia, swimming from our boat to the nearest island, I convinced myself that a Great White must be within only a few metres of me. That thought alone, that out in the ocean I was trespassing on Jaws’ turf, as it were, was enough to set my heart racing. And I loved it!

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Films of High Adventure: Mad Max 2 AKA The Road Warrior

Mad MaxThe Film: Mad Max 2 AKA The Road Warrior (which is how we Yank philistines will be referring to it) (1981)

Responsibility Roundup: Besides creating, co-writing, and directing all four Mad Max movies, George Miller is also the man behind both the Babe and Happy Feet film franchises. You know, for kids. Co-written by Terry Hayes (the From Hell movie, the novel I Am Pilgrim) and Brian Hannant (uh, something called The Time Guardian?). In addition to Mel “Butt-dog” Gibson, the movie stars Bruce Spence (Dark City; I, Frankenstein), Mike Preston (Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn), Virginia Hey (Farscape), Vernon Wells (Weird Science; Commando), Emil Minty (um, something called Fluteman?), and the Lord Humungus as himself (wait, no, that’s wrong—he’s played by Kjell Nilsson). Soundtrack by Brian May (Mad Max, Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare) and the countless explosions.

Quote: “Greetings from The Humungus! The Lord Humungus! The Warrior of the Wasteland! The Ayatollah of Rock and Rolla!”

Alternate quote: “I’m only here for the gasoline.”

First viewing by Jesse: As an early teen, maybe?

First viewing by Molly: A couple of weeks ago.

Most recent viewing by both: A couple of weeks ago.

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The Scully Effect: My Life in The X-Files

The-X-FilesThe X-Files, huh? That show people watched like twenty years ago? Who cares? I do, that's who. Now sit down and shut up while I explain important things to you.

Last week the internet exploded with joy when the long-circulating rumour that The X-Files would be getting a new season 13 years after it went off the air, was confirmed. Well, much of the internet exploded with joy. Some of the internet exploded with skepticism (‘It’ll just suck!’) and bits of it exploded with confusion (‘they’re making a television show about that stupid movie from a couple of years ago?’)

Well, gather round, folks, because I'm here to tell you why you should not just care that the X-Files are back, but should get really excited. I was there when it all began, loved the show from the beginning, and have a lot of opinions so I'm  more qualified than anyone else on the entire internet to tell you this stuff. 

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Films of High Adventure: Waterworld

WaterwoldThe Film: Waterworld (1995)

Responsibility Roundup: We usually start this section with the director and writer or writers, but real talk here, we all know there’s only one person to blame for this turkey of the sea, and that’s Kevin Costner. Not only does he “act” in the film, but he reportedly sunk millions of his own money into the film as producer and backseat-directed the whole damn thing. Tempting though it surely is to hold Costner fully accountable, we must nevertheless give credit where credit is due to the rest of the cast and crew—after all, there’s plenty of guilt to spread around.

Kevin Reynolds directed, though he really should have known better after working with Costner on Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. The script was apparently re-written three dozen times, but final credit went to David Twohy of the Chronicles of Riddick franchise and a dude named Peter Rader whose sole previous credit was a mid-nineties remake of Escape to Witch Mountain. Joss Whedon allegedly did some last minute rewrites, and the movie’s certainly bad enough to make this sound plausible. Supporting roles by Dennis Hopper (Blue Velvet, Easy Rider, and the Super Mario Bros. movie), Jeanne Tripplehorn (Basic Instinct, Big Love), a bunch of character actors, a youngish Jack Black, and Tina Majorino (Veronica Mars) as the kid.

Quote: “Nothing’s free in Waterworld.”

Alternate quote: “Well, I'll be damned. It’s the gentleman guppy. You know, he’s like a turd that won’t flush.”

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Ross & Rachel & Ron & Hermione & Jessica Rabbit

Ladbrokes Bingo_Valentines Cards_Lord of the RingsAnother survey - this one on behalf of Ladbrokes Bingo - this time investigating 2,000 cinema-goers and how they feel about loooooooove. As before, they've very kindly let me poke about with the numbers and draw my own conclusions. And boy, are they fun.

Background: the 2,000, are split across all ages (18+), equally between men and women, and, generally speaking, they're pretty genre-agnostic (equal fans of romance, comedy, sf/f/superhero, action, crime, etc). So, you know, people.

The bulk of the questions, again, this being about looooooove, have to do with favourite couples and romantic moments. What I found particularly interesting is how these split by age and gender.

I suppose it shouldn't come as huge shock but my top-line conclusions are: some of these 'timeless' romances... aren't. And when it comes to 'romance', men and women seem to have slightly different ideas. Oh, and - men are creepy.

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Pygmalia: The Bride (1985)

PygmalionSing, O Muse, of Pygmalion, the sculptor so disgusted with womankind that he chiseled himself a wife from stone! Sing of Aphrodite’s decision to reward this questionable impulse by turning the resulting statue into a real, living girl! But most of all, O Muse, sing of the enduring legacy of Pygmalion, for his misogyny and unreasonable expectations inspired generations of artists to contemplate what it would mean to create an ideal instead of finding one in the real world. (Or just, you know, settling.) 

Many Greek myths have found their way into fiction over the years (uh, millenia), obviously and otherwise. Prometheus’ fire-bringing set aflame the Shelleys’ imaginations, among others; Orpheus and Eurydice are recalled in diverse media ranging from C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia to the film Moulin Rouge!. Countless texts warn against the sort of hubris that damned Icarus, and Dionysus and his maenads show up in that beloved coming of age novel, The Secret History, to name but a few examples.

The Greek's myths endure because they continue to resonate. While Donna Tartt treats The Bacchae directly, the tale of Dionysus’ razing of Thebes is at its heart about the terrifying power of religious mania, the danger in believing you possess all the answers; it points a finger at the hypocrisy of those who pretend they have no shadow side, and cautions them to beware what they repress. Similarly, who among us has not wished we could retrieve something irretrievable, as Orpheus tried in vain to do? And what isn’t appealing about the noble attempt to bring fire to a dark world? 

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