Archive for the Science Fiction Category

REMOTE OUTPOST looks at 3 NEW SHOWS WORTH YOUR TIME

Posted in 2013, Aliens, Based on Classic Films, Clones!, Dystopian Futures, Mark Onspaugh Columns, Psycho killer, Remote Outpost, Science Fiction, TV Shows with tags , , , , , , on July 25, 2013 by knifefighter

REMOTE OUTPOST
By Mark Onspaugh

RemoteOutpostHello from the Outpost, located on a small planetoid that is actually a dead generation starship which is hurtling out toward the edge of the galaxy… And we’re all out of Poptarts™ and peanut butter!

(Note: Some of you may have noticed—and been relieved—that the Remote Outpost went “dark” for a while… We have a lot of sophisticated equipment and prototype AI stuff here to make sure we cover all the best in genre TV.  Sometimes, the equipment achieves sentience and decides we “meat puppets” have to go… It was a long and bloody campaign, but good old Terran humanity triumphed again. Hopefully it will be a long time before something goes worng again.)

3 SHOWS WORTH YOUR TIME

These series have now gone into hiatus, which means you’ll have time to catch up on their first seasons before the second one debuts.  Don’t be like me… (I had to binge-watch three seasons of LOST before getting on that bandwagon!)

BATES MOTEL (A&E)

bates-motel-poster

A great writer, a great screenwriter, a great director, a great actor—Robert Bloch, Joseph Stefano (THE OUTER LIMITS, 1963-64), Alfred Hitchcock and Anthony Perkins—all worked together to create one of the most memorable and nuanced psychotic murderers of all time, Norman Bates in the classic film PSYCHO (1960). Now this new series seeks to show us what made Norman “go a little mad, sometimes.”  Creator Anthony Cipriano has reverse-engineered Norman, showing us his high school days, and the series is just terrific.

First up is the cast, with Freddie Highmore as the boy who loves his mother.  Highmore has been with us since he was seven, appearing in films like FINDING NEVERLAND (2004), CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (2005) and AUGUST RUSH (2007).  In BATES he channels Anthony Perkins just enough so that we see the man the boy will become… But this Norman hasn’t killed and mummified his mother, yet.  (Norman’s first foray into taxidermy is both poignant and creepy.) And we’re not sure just how crazy Norman is.  True, he does have fugues, but some of his more outlandish experiences (finding a captive Asian girl in a neighbor’s basement) turn out to be true.  You wonder just how much is Norman, how much is his crazy mother, and how much she (or someone else) may be gaslighting him.

bates_motel

Speaking of mom, that would be Vera Farmiga (JOSHUA, 2007, ORPHAN, 2009, UP IN THE AIR, 2009 and THE CONJURING, 2013).  She’s Norma Bates, and that first name is not one I am crazy about… a little too “on the nose” for my taste.  But she is wonderful—one minute shrewish and shrill, the next loving and nurturing, the next wheedling and cajoling.  This is a woman desperate to protect her favorite son, even though there are those in town who believe Norman is in serious need of counseling.

And yes, I said favorite son.  Norman has a half brother, Dylan, played by Max Thieriot (MY SOUL TO TAKE, 2010 and THE HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET, 2012).  Dylan’s bad boy with a heart is a fine foil to Norman. At first, Dylan wants to little to do with Norman or their mother—then he wants to move Norman out of the house and away from their mother… But events conspire to draw the three of them even closer together.  (And that friendly little town has a lot of secrets—like the basis of its economy.)  The fact that Dylan is never mentioned in any of the PSYCHO films leads one to believe things will not end well for him.

People are dying to stay at the BATES MOTEL.

People are dying to stay at the BATES MOTEL.

One of the things I love best about the show is the (PSYCHO) house and the eponymous motel.  Like Amityville, the Overlook and the House of Usher), both of these places seem cursed.  One new conceit is that the Bates move there after Norman’s father dies.  So the house is aged and creepy, and the motel is… waiting.  Much of the first season is concerned with getting the place ready for guests.  My guess is that things will get even weirder and darker once it starts booking lots of guests – giving an opportunity for an almost anthology style of storytelling.

 DEFIANCE (SyFy)

defiance_posterNow that there are no (new) Star Trek series running, I am hungry for good SF on TV.  The last shows I truly loved were BATTLESTAR GALACTICA (2004-2009), CAPRICA (2009-2010) and SGU STARGATE UNIVERSE (2009-2011).  While DEFIANCE is not as good as GALACTICA or SGU, it has the potential to become some really good SF TV.

The premise is ingenious—seven alien races collectively known as the Votan flee their system, where the sun is going nova.  They come to Earth in huge arks, somehow thinking our planet is uninhabited.  The citizens of Earth regard them with suspicion and hostility, but allow them to establish some modest colonies while most of the Votan remain in suspended animation aboard the arks.  All is proceeding well until the Votan ambassador is assassinated, and the Pale Wars break out.  Many lives are lost and the war goes on for years… until the ark fleet is blown up! Huge pieces of technology rain down on the Earth, and terraforming devices begin haphazardly remaking the planet and mutating the animals, as well as introducing alien flora and fauna (I hate it when that happens).  Humans and Votan realize they cannot survive this new world, which is now alien to both groups.  Because of debris sometimes falling as “razor rain,” long-range air travel is impossible, and going into orbit is too costly – so both groups are earthbound. An uneasy peace is declared.  The new Earth is deadly and pieces of space debris still fall, bringing death…  but also opportunity for scavengers.

Cast of the series DEFIANCE.

Cast of the series DEFIANCE.

All of this is backstory and told wordlessly (and briefly) in the title sequence.  The series opens with Nolan, a former soldier turned scavenger who combs the frontier with his adopted daughter Irisa, an Irathient girl he rescued in the war.  The Irathient people are orange with white markings—whether these marks are pigmentation, paint or tattoos is not quite clear, but they seem permanent.  Nolan and Irisa are trying to get enough money to get to Anarctica, which is rumored to be an oasis on the hostile planet.  Their pursuit of an “arkfall” leads them to Defiance, a settlement of human and Votan built on the ruins of St. Louis (the arch, somewhat the worse for wear, still stands).  The town is a wild and wooly frontier town, a bit like Mos Eisley in STAR WARS (1977), but with only a handful of alien species.

Nolan is jacked (robbed) by some of Irisa’s people, and is forced to become the peacekeeper of Defiance.  Irisa becomes his deputy, along with Tommy, a human African-American who develops a sexy but tempestuous relation with Irisa.  Defiance is run by newly-elected mayor Amanda Rosewater, whose sister runs the local brothel/bar/gambling hall.  Two more races are most fully represented by power-hungry Datak Tarr and his wife Stahma, both Castithans. Castithans are albino, sophisticated, scheming, fierce and their families all bathe together—their dwellings are white on white, making them nearly the opposite of the Irathients, and these races despise one another—united only in their disdain for humans.  Stahma is a great character, sensuous but crafty, deadly while being vulnerable. The town doctor is an Indogene, a people with pale, reptilian skin and dark eyes and lips (very goth/Cenobite) —they are brilliant scientists and have done both brilliant and terrible things during the Pale Wars—this is true of Dr. Yewl, who follows in the tradition of other great TV sci-fi doctors as being brilliant, crusty and not afraid to speak her mind.

Stahma from DEFIANCE.

Stahma from DEFIANCE.

The town and its people (human and Votan) are rife with secrets and intrigue.  Datak and Stahma’s son, Alak, is a DJ who plays alien covers of old Earth standards from the Arch.  He is in love with the daughter of the richest human in Defiance, Rafe MacCawley, who owns a huge mine that yields both precious minerals and alien tech.

The other races get somewhat short shrift (so far) – one looks vaguely birdlike (the Liberata), another quite apelike (the Sensoth).  There are also Biomen, huge blue warriors who are virtually unbeatable, and the Volge, a warlike race humans and Votans alike fear.  Who smuggled the Volge onto the arks is still a mystery.

Much SF TV is usually confined to a single ship or locale to utilize standing sets.  Green screen has freed up filmmakers to some degree, and Defiance doesn’t feel too claustrophobic.  The principals are all quite good.  Nolan is played by Grant Bowler, a Kiwi whose had roles in LOST (2004-2010) and TRUE BLOOD (2008 -). His daughter Irisa is played by Stephanie Leonidas, who played Mina in a TV version of DRACULA (2006).  Mayor Rosewater is genre fave Julie Benz (BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, 1997-2003, ANGEL, 1999-2004, and she played Rita on DEXTER) and her sister Kenya is Mia Kirshner (THE VAMPIRE DIARIES on the CW, and was on the Showtime series THE L WORD).  Mine owner Rafe MacCawley is played by Graham Greene (DANCES WITH WOLVES, 1990, TWILIGHT: NEW MOON, 2009).  Datak Tarr is Tony Curran (THE 13TH WARRIOR, 1999, THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN, 2003, BEOWULF & GRENDEL, 2005, THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN, 2008) and his wife Stahma is played by Jaime Murray (HU$TLE, 2004-, WAREHOUSE 13, 2009). And crusty Doc Yewl is Trenna Keating, who doesn’t have a lot of credits, but is one of my favorite characters.

Meet Doc Yewl.

Meet Doc Yewl.

It’s a fairly complex mythology, which is why they are fleshing out the alien characters slowly—Star Trek had many years and several series to refine the Klingons, and I imagine this show could be just as rich, if it stays on the air.  As with many new ventures, this is a cross-platform show, so you can find out more about the characters and their races from the website, or from playing the MMORPG online.

ORPHAN BLACK (BBC America)

orphan-black-featureI do love BBC America.  Once in a while you find a real gem there, like BEING HUMAN (2008-) a show with a mismatched trio of supernaturals (vampire, werewolf, ghost) trying to survive both the human race and their more hostile counterparts.  The original British version is far, far superior to the American one and I urge you to check it out.  Lest you think I am a snob for Brit-TV, I will confess I gave up on COPPER (2012-) during its first season… It was meh (despite my loyalty to my Irish kinsmen), and not half as good as RIPPER STREET (2012-) when it comes to period police procedurals.  Also, LUTHER (2010-) with Idris Elba is amazing.

Which brings us to ORPHAN BLACK—more grounded in everyday reality than BATES or DEFIANCE, it still has a cool, science fiction premise: a young woman unhappy with her life of violence and estrangement from her young daughter is terrified to witness a woman commit suicide by jumping in front of a subway train… a woman who is her exact double.

Sarah and Felix in ORPHAN BLACK.

Sarah (Tatiana Maslany) and Felix (Jordan Gavaris) in ORPHAN BLACK.

Our protagonist, Sarah, takes the place of the suicide victim, using the death of a double to fake her own and get out of an abusive relationship (with a drug dealer from whom she has stolen a lot of money).  Unfortunately, the woman she has chosen to impersonate is a homicide detective with secrets… lots of secrets.

And, it gets worse.  One double? How about several?  Turns out Sarah is just one of several clones.  We don’t know how many, nor who the original is.  But someone is eliminating them, and so Sarah is trying to maintain her false identity, evade the clone killer, win custody of and protect her daughter, and solve the mystery of her own existence.

ORPHAN BLACK works largely due to its star, Tatiana Maslany.  Tatiana was in such fare as DIARY OF THE DEAD, THE MESSENGERS and the TV movie STIR OF ECHOES 2: THE HOMECOMING – all from 2007. But whatever you thought of her in those roles, this is her breakout.  Whether neurotic housewife, crazed Russian, lesbian science geek, French goth or our hero Sarah, she inhabits each role effortlessly and really seems to become someone beyond just a different hairstyle or fashion sense.

Send in the Clones! Tatiana Maslany plays several convincing characters in ORPHAN BLACK.

Send in the Clones! Tatiana Maslany plays several convincing characters in ORPHAN BLACK.

Kudos also go to Jordan Gavaris, who plays Sarah’s foster brother Felix.  Gavaris manages to take the character of outlandish but sensible gay man and make it seem fresh and funny.  Felix goes beyond caricature and is a very real ally to Sarah and her daughter…

ORPHAN BLACK is a mystery and a science fiction thriller.  Like good science fiction, it makes us look at larger issues of identity, individuality, the rights of “manufactured” beings and what it means to be human.  It also has one of the coolest title sequences and theme music (by Two Fingers) of any show currently on.

FINAL NOTE:  While I love science fiction, I can’t stand it if it’s boring.  Those who have read this column before know I gave up on TERRA NOVA.  The same may soon be said of CONTINUUM, the SyFy series about a revolutionary group from the future transported to our time, and the cop who is accidentally sent back with them.  Engaging at first, the show is becoming the same song played over and over.  Unless it turns a corner soon, I will toss it into the metaphorical dust bin.

OUTPOST… out.

© Copyright 2013 by Mark Onspaugh

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In The Spooklight: TARANTULA! (1955)

Posted in 1950s Horror, 2013, Atomic Accidents, Classic Films, Giant Spiders, In the Spooklight, Insect Horror, Mad Doctors!, Man vs. Nature, Medical Experiments!, Michael Arruda Reviews, Scares!, Science Fiction with tags , , , , , , on July 17, 2013 by knifefighter

NOTE: This is a reprint of a column which originally ran in the HWA NEWSLETTER in July 2012.  If you enjoy this column, feel free to check out my IN THE SPOOKLIGHT collection, available now as an EBook at www.neconebooks.com, and as a print edition at https://www.createspace.com/4293038.  It contains 115 horror movie columns, covering movies from the silent era and 1930s to the movies of today.  Thanks! —Michael

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT
By Michael Arruda

tarantula_movie_poster_artDon’t you just love furry little critters like— tarantulas?  No?  Find them a bit scary and repulsive, do you?  Well, then you’ll just cringe at the colossal star of Universal’s TARANTULA (1955), a spider so big it can step on a house! 

TARANTULA is one of the best giant monster movies from the 1950s.  It’s certainly the finest one produced by Universal Studios.

Dr. Matt Hastings (John Agar) is called to the coroner’s office in the small town of Desert Rock, Arizona, by his friend Sheriff Jack Andrews (Nestor Paiva) to investigate the death of a man found in the desert.  The victim resembles a man they know, Eric Jacobs, but his facial features are swollen and contorted.  Hastings believes Jacobs’ symptoms resemble the disease acromegaly, a disorder of the pituitary gland, but this doesn’t make sense to Hastings since the disease takes years to develop and Jacobs wasn’t showing any symptoms just days before.

When Jacobs’ employer, the eminent Professor Gerald Deemer, (Leo G. Carroll), arrives, he insists that Jacobs was indeed suffering from acromegaly, and he refuses to allow an autopsy on the body.  This doesn’t sit well with Dr. Hastings, who finds the diagnosis wrong, and Deemer’s behavior baffling.

Yep, Deemer is the town’s resident mad scientist, and he lives just outside Desert Rock in a huge mansion, complete with a laboratory full of oversized animals in cages, including a tarantula the size of a dog.  When yet another malformed insane human attacks Professor Deemer, the laboratory is set on fire and destroyed, but not before the tarantula escapes from the house.  This hideous human also injects an unconscious Deemer with some unknown drug, before collapsing and dying himself.

Later, when a new assistant arrives in town to work for Professor Deemer, the beautiful Stephanie “Steve” Clayton (Mara Corday), Matt Hastings accompanies her to Deemer’s place, where he learns all about the professor’s research.  Professor Deemer is attempting to stamp out world hunger by using atomic energy to create a “super” food nutrient, which he has injected into various animals, and as a result they have grown in size.  Hmm.  Supersized fried chicken!  Yummy!

Deemer tells Steve and Matt that his lab was destroyed in an accidental fire, and he believes all his caged animals were killed.  He doesn’t realize that his tarantula is free in the desert growing bigger by the minute.  When next seen, the spider is gigantic, the size of a house, and it’s hungry, eating everything in its path, including horses, farms animals, and people.

Eventually, the giant tarantula sets its hairy sights on Desert Rock, and suddenly the town has to scramble to defend itself against the humongous marauding arachnid.

TARANTULA is one of my favorite giant monster movies.  First off, the screenplay by Robert M. Fresco and Martin Berkeley presents a story that is more creative than most.  There’s more going on in TARANTULA than just the basic “giant bug on the loose” storyline.  There’s all the mystery surrounding Professor Deemer’s research, and the strange misshapen men lumbering in and around his property, which adds some genuine intrigue to the story.  Screenwriter Berkeley also penned the screenplay for two other Universal monster classics, REVENGE OF THE CREATURE (1955) and THE DEADLY MANTIS (1957).

Director Jack Arnold, who directed several genre movies, including CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954) and THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (1957), is at the top of his game with TARANTULA.  He creates some memorable scenes.  One of my favorites occurs at night at a farm, when suddenly a group of horses begins to grow very nervous.  In the distance we see a darkened hill, and very slowly, onto that hill from the other side, creeps the massive tarantula.  It’s one hair-raising scene!

Another effective scene has Steve walking back and forth in her bedroom, not noticing the enormous tarantula through her window as it makes its way towards the house.  She doesn’t notice until the beast is on top of the house, literally!

And the tarantula looks terrific, as it’s menacing and scary.  I’m sure the special effects team was helped by the black and white photography, because with shades of light and dark, the tarantula fits into its scenes naturally and realistically.  The special effects team did a phenomenal job in this one.

The make-up on the acromegaly victims was done by Bud Westmore, and it reminds me a lot of the work he did on ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1953) and MONSTER ON THE CAMPUS (1958), as his monstrous creations in both these movies resemble the folks in the desert in TARANTULA.

There’s also an effective music score by Herman Stein.

The cast is decent enough.  Though I’m not a huge fan of John Agar, his performance in TARANTULA is one of his best. He makes his Dr. Matt Hastings a very likeable fellow, and rarely has he seemed more natural in front of the camera.  I just want to know what he keeps inside his briefcase.  It must be valuable, because young dashing Dr. Hastings doesn’t go anywhere without it, even grabbing it before he runs out the door!

Playing Sheriff Andrews is character actor Nestor Paiva, who appeared in a ton of movies and TV shows over the years.  I’ll always remember him as Lucas, the captain of the Rita in CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954) and REVENGE OF THE CREATURE (1955).

Leo G. Carroll, another veteran of movies and television, is also very good as Professor Deemer.  Carroll appeared in many Alfred Hitchcock movies, including NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959) and SPELLBOUND (1945), and he played Alexander Waverly on the 1960s secret agent show THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. (1964-1968).

And for added fun, Clint Eastwood appears unbilled in one of his first roles as an air force pilot leading the attack on the tarantula, arriving just in time to save the folks of Desert Rock from the deadly arachnid.

Do you feel lucky, tarantula?”

—END—

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou: LIFEFORCE (1985)

Posted in 1980s Horror, 1980s Movies, 2013, Aliens, Ancient Civilizations, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Science Fiction, Space, Special Effects, Tobe Hooper, Vampires with tags , , , , , on July 4, 2013 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

By William D. Carl

This week’s feature presentation:

LIFEFORCE (1985)

bbblifeposterWelcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made.  If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it.   Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open.  Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes.

It’s summertime, and my series on the Golan-Globus years of Cannon Films continues with a movie that arrived with an enormously high pedigree.  Based on a brilliant science fiction novel by Colin Wilson, directed by Tobe Hooper, one of the hottest horror directors on the planet, written by Dan O’Bannon,  the man who penned ALIEN (1979), musical score by Henry Mancini (who won four Oscars and wrote scores for BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S, 1961, THE PINK PANTHER, 1963 and VICTOR/VICTORIA, 1982), photographed by Alan Hume (EYE OF THE NEEDLE, 1981 and RUNAWAY TRAIN, 1985), and with special effects by John Dykstra (STAR WARS, 1977, STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE, 1979 and DJANGO UNCHAINED, 2012).  A budget of $25,000,000 was awarded to Hooper, and the largest sound stages in London were rented to accommodate the gigantic and elaborate sets.  What was the story these incredible filmmakers were set to create, using such a distinguished group of creators?

Naked space vampires attack London.

Yep, LIFEFORCE (1985) is a big budget B-movie that pulls out everything except the kitchen sink to entertain you.  Hell, there may actually be a kitchen sink in the middle of this glorious mess. 

When Halley’s Comet makes its side-swipe of Earth, a spaceship is sent to scientifically analyze the rock, but the crew instead discovers an ancient ship hidden in the tail of the comet.  Steve Railsback (HELTER SKELTER, 1976 and THE STUNTMAN, 1980) plays Col. Tom Carlsen, and he makes the decision to lead an exploratory crew into the ship to investigate it, since it will be seventy-six years until the comet returns.  The group invades the ship, which seems very organic and looks a lot like the pictures my doctor gave me of my colostomy!  Near the spaceship’s “rectum,” they find desiccated corpses that resemble giant bats.  Outside, the ship starts to unfurl a huge device that looks a lot like an umbrella, while inside, Col. Tom discovers three nude corpses, two men and one full frontal in your face female (Mathilda May, who bravely remains unclothed through pretty much the whole film, causing fifteen year old boys everywhere to instantly fall in love).  The three space nudists are sealed in glass cases, perfectly preserved, so they are brought back to the ship for further examination.

Open up and say ahhh!

Open up and say ahhh!

Thirty days later, the same ship enters the Earth’s atmosphere.  A fire has destroyed the interior, and it appears as if the entire crew has perished, but the three naked people are still in their coffins.  So, the humans do what they always do in these movies—they bring the aliens back to Earth, to the European Space Research Center in London, to be precise.  Did you know that an early word for ‘comet’ is ‘disaster’ which means ‘evil star?’  That’s what the news is saying about Haley’s Comet as it gets closer and closer to its flyby of Earth.  Fun factoids like that abound in LIFEFORCE!

The casing around the bodies pops open, and Dr. Hans Fallada (Frank Finlay of MURDER BY DECREE, 1979 and CROMWELL, 1970) and Col. Colin Crane (Peter Firth of EQUUS, 1977, TESS, 1979 and THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER, 1990) intend to dissect the bodies.  Before they can, one of the guards is compelled to touch the female, which makes her wake up and clutch him in an embrace of death.  Green lights shoot around them as she sucks the lifeforce out of the man, leaving him a shriveled husk.  It’s a terrific scene, scary and cool, and it allows for her escape.  This is witnessed by Dr. Fallada and another man, Dr. Bukovsky, who is approached by the girl, who tells him to “Use my body.”  And, yes, a naked girl walks right out of the space center, stunning several guards in the process with a lightshow of blasting electricity.

The Army is called in and informed that the escape pod was missing from the retrieved spaceship.  The doctors decide to autopsy the weird husk of the guard, but Bukovsky is ill (uh-oh!) while Dr. Fallada believes that the girl (“The most overwhelmingly feminine creature I have ever encountered.”) is dangerous (duh) and loose in London.  Meanwhile, those two naked guys blow up their crystal coffins and try to walk out of the building, even after being shot several times.  The two male models, er, space vampire minions, are fed a grenade, which leaves nothing but little bits behind.

A husk comes to life!

A husk comes to life!

As the autopsy on the guard is about to begin, the husk sits up, moaning like a zombie, and it motions the surgeon towards it.  Compelled, the man steps into its arms, and those wild blue lights start again as the surgeon’s life is sucked from his body and the husk grows back its skin to become the guard, all healed and confused now.  It’s another terrific scene, with the guard looking incredibly happy and satisfied once he has returned, then he goes into shock as he sees what he has done.  So, the abilities can be passed on, within two hours!

A naked girl is discovered in Hyde Park, little more than a husk, but it’s not the vampire.  So now she has clothes and looks like anyone else.  The guard who was revived goes crazy two hours later in his cell, and then, in agony, he withers into a husk and dies.  Dr. Fallada says, “As I suspected, once the victims are transformed, they need regular infusions, otherwise…”  And the huskish guard dies while the pathologist he attacked explodes into dust.

The desiccated girl they discovered in Hyde Park is hooked up to electrodes and strapped down in a lab.  In a horrific scene, the scientists watch as she awakens and struggles with the bonds before exploding.  At the same time, the spaceship’s escape pod re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere in Texas, and Col. Tom Carlsen is rescued and immediately flown to London.  Tom relates what happened on the ship.

When the three specimens were transported aboard the ship, everyone starts feeling drained with the exception of Col. Tom Carlsen.  On the trip back to Earth, the astronauts begin acting strangely, destroying the radio and controls, and then they start dying one by one, their very lives sucked out of them.  Finally, Carlsen was the only one left, and he knew somehow that the girl was causing the deaths, so he torched the ship and launched himself in the escape pod.  But, he also felt attached to the girl, almost as if he was leaving a lover. 

Col. Crane is informed that a needle-like shape has emerged from the tail of Haley’s Comet and is headed toward Earth!  Meanwhile, Col. Carlsen is having weird, erotic dreams in which the female vampire exchanges her lifeforce for his, giving and taking, making him into a creature like herself. 

Dr. Fallada hypnotizes Carlsen, and he discovers the girl is in contact with Carlsen’s mind and vice versa, so Carlsen can see where she is.  She now inhabits a different body, and she is searching for a man to draw energy from, but only enough to feed, not to kill.  When she picks out a victim, Carlsen spots the license plate number so they can track her. 

Meanwhile, that alien needle thing in space is getting closer.  And it looks like a big space-asparagus.

Dr, Fallada starts discovering several parallels between the space vampires and the vampires of European folklore.  Plus, the girl the vampire inhabits is a nurse at a hospital for the criminally insane, where Dr. Armstrong (Patrick Stewart of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION and X-MEN, 2000) is the head doctor.  Together, they visit the possessed nurse, and Carlsen discovers the vampire girl has stepped into another body.  Carlsen roughs her up to find out where the creature has gone, and he discovers she is now inside Patrick Stewart!  They dose him up with sodium pentothal before hypnotizing him to track the original vampire girl’s location.  Of course, during the sessions, Carlsen is again struck with that same overwhelming sexual urge he gets whenever he is around the girl’s presence, as if she is the feminine in his mind, and this leads to a male/male kiss complete with crazy blue lights and poltergeist activity.  Carlsen and the Army learn the infection is spreading through London.  The two males didn’t die; they jumped into the two guards who shot them.  Luckily, Dr. Fallada knows the true way to kill a vampire – by shoving a steel sword through the center of life, two inches below the heart, and he manages to kill one of them.  The other male escapes into the city.

Time to suck out some lifeforce.

Time to suck out some lifeforce.

While transporting Dr. Arnold back to London, he loses all the blood in his body, and it escapes to form a figure of the girl, a great scene, gruesome and uber-cool.  This is when Carlsen reveals the truth about what occurred on his spaceship, a tale of lust, murder, and spiritual awakenings. 

Soon, London is on fire.  Zombies and husk-monsters are running through the streets.  The plague is spreading.  The weird spaceship is swiftly approaching.  NATO is called in and quarantines the city.   The prime minister tries to life-suck his secretary!  And the Earth’s future lies within the libido and sexual prowess of Col. Carlsen.  Will true love be able to stop the spread of alien-vampirism? 

LIFEFORCE isn’t perfect.  Steve Railsback overacts shamelessly, chewing the scenery and spitting it out with a veracity usually relegated to low rent small-town Shakespeare Theater.  Also, if you couldn’t tell by the synopsis, this is one complicated and convoluted plot.  You really must pay attention to keep track of all the players on the board. This is, after all, a story about naked space vampires.  It’s not King Lear

However, the screenplay, especially in the extended director’s cut, is quite intelligent for a genre picture, even though it never quite gets as good as the novel on which it was based.  It has an abundance of references to the Quartermass films of the 1960s, especially the brilliant FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH (1967).  Dr. Fallada is our Quartermass stand-in, and Frank Finley does a more than capable job. 

Mathilda May and Steve Railsback do some dirty dancing.

Mathilda May and Steve Railsback do some dirty dancing.

The special effects range from very good to dazzling, especially in the insane ending when London erupts into chaos as the vampires collect lifeforces from humans.  Henry Mancini’s music is full of great majestic marches, reminiscent of John Williams’ scores, elevating the movie to a higher level.  Also, Tobe Hooper does a good job of reigning in all the various plot elements so that it all (almost) makes sense.  Hooper has taken a lot of flack in recent years for becoming a hack, with such dreadful movies as CROCODILE (2000) and MORTUARY (2005) to his (dis)credit.  LIFEFORCE, however, shows that the man could direct a big picture and that POLTERGEIST (1982) was no fluke.  He frames this movie as a wink at the audience, providing ample scenes of monsters, destruction, sex, and just sheer audacity, while never taking himself (or the film) too seriously.  These are, after all, say it with me, naked space vampires.  All in all, it’s a campy, fabulous good time.

Scream Factory has released LIFEFORCE in a great Blu-Ray/DVD set filled with interesting extras.  The complete version has also been color-corrected by Tobe Hooper, making this the best this movie has ever looked.  And the sound is especially amazing on this disc.  Crank it up for those final twenty minutes of insanity.

I give LIFEFORCE three naked space vampires out of four. 

© Copyright 2013 by William D. Carl

 

AFTER EARTH (2013)

Posted in 2013, Alien Worlds, Coming of Age Movies, Daniel Keohane Reviews, M. Night Shyamalan Movies, Monsters, Science Fiction, The Future with tags , , , on June 25, 2013 by knifefighter

AFTER EARTH (2013)
Movie Review by Dan Keohane

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I have to admit I was pretty surprised to discover AFTER EARTH (2013) hadn’t yet been reviewed by our illustrious staff here at Cinema Knife Fight. They must have assumed that I’d eventually break my writing silence and review it, seeing as how I’m one of the remnant of M. Night Shyamalan fans. Yes, many of you might be surprised that AFTER EARTH is more than just a Will Smith (I AM LEGEND, 2007, INDEPENDANCE DAY , 1996) vehicle. The film is written and directed by one of my favorite directors, who created some of my favorite  horror/sci-fi films, including THE SIXTH SENSE (1999) and SIGNS (2002), but after a series of underwhelming (to the general audience) films like DEVIL (2010) and THE LAST AIRBENDER (2010), the marketing department for  his newest film decided that his name not only doesn’t sell tickets, it might hurt, at least until he can build up a resume of new hits under his belt.

Although I enjoyed AFTER EARTH sometimes for reasons other than its predictable plot (the primary being I watched  it with my son Andrew who’s getting ready to head out to the Big City to find his way through the perils of corporate life), overall I was sadly underwhelmed by the movie. But it’s a great father/son bonding film. It’s sweet in some ways, as well.

But, as far as plot development and the overall script, I’m afraid the film is lacking on many levels.

I did say M Night Shyamalan is my favorite director, and he is. In fact I’d go as far as to say he’s one of the best. That being said, he is by far not the best screenwriters in the business. I will make one assumption based on the “Story by Will Smith” which scrolled across the screen at the end: perhaps Smith did more than come up with the overall story and actually wrote the bulk of the script, then had Shyamalan clean it up and make it look pretty. But if that’s the case Shyamalan should have told Smith the story was weak. Actually, the main issue was more that it was predictable. I knew (as did Andrew and most of the folks in the theater) what would happen in the climactic scene. Everything in the opening scenes existed only to point to this, and not nearly as subtly as THE SIXTH SENSE.

During a very hurried opening scene we learn that something bad happened to the earth ecologically, things went from bad to worse and the human race had to leave the planet to survive (in this way it opened much like this years OBLIVION, minus the invasion). Our technology had advanced enough (we assume) that we could settle on a remote system’s star using warp technology and now live on a decent planet with very little vegetation, red rocks, and cliffs. Very, well, Red Rocks-ish. Now, there was some other point about an alien race that did not like us, and decided to wipe us out by genetically engineering these man (and woman) eating monsters called Ursas which are blind (OK, so not the brightest aliens), but instead track humans through fear. The explanation for this worked OK, so let’s go with it. Over time, a number of human soldiers learned to master the art of fearlessness—feeling no fear, at all, and thus becoming invisible to the monsters. They began to teach others this technique while using this new blind spot to begin wiping the creatures out. They still exist, in limited numbers. It is never explained if more are being made or bred, or where the aliens are now…. again, the opening recap was pretty quick and hard to follow.

Oh, Will Smith’s character Cypher was one of the first to master this ability of feeling no fear after a near death experience. He’s a General now, a “war” hero and loved by many. He also seems to have carried his lack of fear into other personalities, like love and affection. Not that he doesn’t love his family, he just acts a bit stiff around, well everyone, including his son.

This is an interesting trademark of most Shyamalan films. His leading man is always played to near-stiff perfection. Bruce Willis’s character both in THE SIXTH SENSE and UNBREAKABLE (2000) never smiled and spoke quietly, in an almost monotone manner. Mel Gibson’s fallen priest in SIGNS, though obviously a little depressed, had deadpan expressions most of the way through (as did his brother played by Joaquin Phoenix… however that name’s spelled), and walked around with his arms limp at his side like they were  bound. I remember distinctly watching SIGNS (and loving it, by the way) and thinking that someday Shyamalan would have to cast William Hurt because the man is known for his deadpan, even-handed approach to leading-man-ishness (enter M’s next film, THE VILLAGE, 2004, starring Mister Hurt himself). So, seeing the usually animated Will Smith playing a quiet, introspective, emotionally-repressed father in AFTER EARTH came as no surprise.

Let’s give credit where it’s due to Smith and his son Jaden, who plays Cypher’s son Kitai. I think they both did a tremendous job with the roles they were assigned. Jaden played a whiny, needy teenaged boy, and did it well. I’ve seen him in the remake of the KARATE KID (2010) and THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS (2006) when he was younger and I know the kid can act. The problem with his character is they really pushed the “fearful child” angle (and his father feels no fear now, giving us the father/son angst angle, replacing sports or overachieving). Will Smith plays his quiet, brooding father well, keeping his cool but loving his son dearly. Cypher battles a slowly growing sudden fear —of his own death, but mostly his sons—as the movie progresses, mostly through cracks in his expressions and delayed stares. I know people have said his acting was wooden and stilted, but I disagree. For the part he and Shyamalan gave him, he did very good.

Unfortunately, the movie itself is neither original nor interesting enough to take such talent and make it truly shine. Smith’s Cypher takes his son with him on a routine transfer of a captured Ursa (one of the monsters) to some moon station where his men can practice not being afraid (and thus being invisible). An asteroid shower causes damage to the hull and after jumping into a worm hole to escape the asteroid, they end up outside of Earth (somehow, some preset location, the closest habitable planet?) but are too damaged to turn back. The ship breaks up on entry into the atmosphere. The crew is all killed, except for Smith & Smith. And the captured monster, which escapes and is seen no more (until, as you all have guessed, the climactic scene of the film).

Smith, Sr. is injured, resulting in Smith, Jr. needing to travel alone through some beautiful, lush terrain to reach the tail section of the ship to retrieve a homing beacon. The Earth they are marooned on is no longer destroyed, in fact it doesn’t look like anything is wrong with it. There were earlier comments before crashing that everything on the planet has adapted itself to be fatal to humans, a way for a dying Earth to rid itself of its biggest threat. My son Andrew had a good point, maybe AFTER EARTH was a sequel to THE HAPPENING (2008) where nature decides to kill humans by making them kill themselves. Maybe. However, there really wasn’t any of this fatal-to-humans stuff, except for some slugs which secrete a poison, and extremely cold temperatures at night. The rest are natural predators like baboons (in a pack or solo they can be dangerous, and Smith, Jr. threatens them), and lions.

Smith, Sr. is able to follow Jr. and act as his guide via a comm-link along this adventure, much like a Dad can be a mentor and guide for his son off to college or moving to the Big City via Skype or cell phone. As they move along there is the requisite bonding that takes place. Not as much as I expected, at least they made the Dad change only a little—they’re on the planet for a couple days max as it is. Complications happen, but I never felt too worried for the characters because everything was happening too by-the-numbers for my taste, the threats simply not threatening enough. One “danger” Smith, Jr. faced even ends up being a mode of rescue later. This particular detail I expected early on, but how it was done I thought was kind of cool, as kitschy as some people might possibly think it is executed.

So in the end, I’m saddened that my favorite director guy M Night Shyamalan made a movie I was less than impressed with (alongside DEVIL and the second half of THE LADY IN THE WATER, 2006). But there were some positive experiences in the movie—Smith Sr.’s acting, as understated as it was, and good visuals (alongside some iffy CGI moments, such as when Smith, Jr.’s flashbacks to how his sister died at the hands/claw of an Ursa in their home). Overall I think the director should stick to what he does so well, direct, and leave the writing to people who do that well (and as much as I really enjoy almost everything Will Smith is in, I think he should be kept away from the typewriter, too, if this is the result). Or at least, someone tell him what’s wrong before it goes any further than the screenplay. I’d hate to think someone of Shyamalan’s caliber doesn’t listen to honest criticism. Maybe Smith doesn’t. If it’s been done too many times before, if it’s predictable, someone should have spotted this and corrected it, not just rushed it to the distributor because of the star power, or marketing’s need to get it in print by Father’s Day.

It is a good movie to see with your boys, though, for a belated Father’s Day present..

So, reluctantly, I give my buddy M Night Shyamalan’s newest film one of two possible ratings:

As a standalone science fiction film with a large budget, major movie stars and directed by MNS: 2 out of 5 Father Figures.

As a movie—to rent—and watch with your kids, make it 2.5

That’s about it. Nice to be back here in these fine pages, and special congrats to our fearless leader, L.L. Soares, for taking home the Superior Achievement in a First Novel Stoker for his very original debut, LIFE RAGE. Nice job, my friend. You earned it.

© Copyright 2013 by Daniel G. Keohane

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Transmissions to Earth: THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN (1977)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 2013, 70s Horror, B-Movies, Bad Situations, Disease!, Horror, LL Soares Reviews, Low Budget Movies, Monsters, Mutants!, Science Fiction, Trasmissions to Earth, Unfortunate Astronauts with tags , , , , , , , on June 13, 2013 by knifefighter

TRANSMISSIONS TO EARTH Presents:

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THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN (1977)
Review by L.L. Soares

Incredible Melting Man (1977)In this business I come upon a lot of bad movies. But what makes them “so bad they’re good” or just plain bad? Sometimes it’s pretty easy to answer that.

But I’m still not sure which one THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN (1977)  is.

Sure it has some funny aspects about it. But it’s also pretty much a waste of time, and has a storyline so thin, it could slip between your fingers.

It’s actually amazing that this one was made in 1977. It has the look and feel of a bad 1950s sci-fi film.

As we begin, three astronauts are passing through the rings of Saturn! Pretty cool. This must be in the far future, right? Well, not really, when we get back to Earth, it still looks an awful lot like 1977. Who knew we’d perfect faster-than- light interplanetary space travel so quickly?

As they pass through the rings, something goes wrong. This is when we see stock footage of sunspots close up, in negative. It’s supposed to be the astronauts “seeing the sun through the rings of Saturn,” and they’ll use it a few more times in the movie.  Two of the astronauts die soon after. The third one, Steve West (Alex Rebar) survives, but is horribly disfigured.

We have no clue how he gets back to Earth, but he does, and it’s kept under wraps (how do you keep the return of an astronaut secret, anyway?). Astronaut West is also “under wraps” literally as he’s wrapped up in bandages. When we see him after his return home, he’s bandaged and strapped to a bed in an undisclosed hospital. All of a sudden he just gets up, breaks the straps, and runs away, chasing an overweight nurse through the hallways.

Suddenly, Steve West is on the loose. But he’s not the same guy anymore. Now he’s the INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN, whose skin is constantly oozing off his body. His face looks like a skull covered with dripping wax. Oh, and he’s radioactive! So you don’t want him to touch you. He goes around killing people, and we’re told he needs new cells to survive, but it’s not clear how he gets those cells. Is he eating people or what? One guy has his head torn off and thrown into a waterfall, another person is ripped apart – if Steve is eating people for their cells, then he sure does love to play with his food!. We never actually know what’s he’s doing to his victims, but they end up a bloody mess.

Meanwhile, everywhere he goes, he leaves dripping oozy flesh in his wake. You would think someone like this would be easy to track down, but no way! Doctor Ted Nelson (Burr DeBenning) is ordered to go find Steve and bring him back to the army hospital by General Michael Perry (Myron Healey), but Nelson spends most of the time goofing off. At one point he’s home making a sandwich for his wife. Pretty awful tracking job, Dr. Nelson! He tells his associate Dr. Loring (Lisle Wilson) that his wife has had three miscarriages about this same stage in her pregnancy and she’s nervous something will go wrong again. This is about the time Nelson realizes that Steve West, who he is supposed to recapture for the government, is radioactive, and he’s worried that this might affect his wife (one of the few real dramatic aspects of the script, although it’s soon forgotten). Maybe that’s why he doesn’t seem to try very hard to find West.

Incredible-Melting-Man-LC-2-kleinWhen Dr. Nelson has no luck finding West, General Perry comes to town, demanding results. Meanwhile, the monster who used to be Steve West continues on his rampage until there’s a big showdown in some kind of power plant.

There’s not much of a plot, as you can tell. It basically amounts to 1) man comes back from space as some kind of monster, 2) government guys try to track him down when he goes on a killing spree, and 3) big showdown where the monster is killed.  Pretty-by-the numbers, and not very compelling.

The acting is so-so for the most part, but no one stands out here as a Shakespearean actor! Burr DeBenning (also in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET: DREAM CHILD, 1989, and lots of TV shows like MATLOCK and FALCOLN CREST), as Dr. Ted Nelson, seems to love standing around, wasting time, and I’m not sure if he’s supposed to be funny, but he is. He comes off as completely incompetent. Myron Healey is convincing as General Perry, in a “TV general” kind of way. Healey had a long career as a cowboy or a military man in the movies and on TV, and was actually in tons of westerns in the 1950s and 60s, as well as such other horror/sci-fi classics as VARAN THE UNBELIEVABLE (1962) and THE UNEARTHLY (1957) , and the TV-movie V (1983), and was also Colonel Wright in one of the best episodes of KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER, “Mr. R.I.N.G.” (from 1975). Local Sheriff Neil Blake (Michael Alldredge, who was also in THE ENTITY, 1982, and V, 1983) is okay as the frustrated cop who wants answers – that the government just isn’t giving him. Ann Sweeny is likable enough as Ted Nelson’s wife, Judy, and Alex Rebar is serviceable as Steve West/the Melting Man, since all he has to do is put on crazy makeup and run around causing trouble.

There’s also a great (but short) scene where a photographer tries to coerce a model to take off her top on the beach, until the monster shows up. The model is played by genre legend Cheryl “Rainbeaux” Smith. Future movie director Jonathan Demme also has a cameo as a character named Matt Winters, another one of the monster’s victims.

Probably the biggest star in this one is the makeup artist, the legendary Rick Baker, in one of his earlier jobs. The Melting Man is not one of his best creations, but it certainly looks too good for this movie! It’s amazing what Baker would do with a bigger budget and real equipment (see AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, just four years later in 1981).

Rick Baker's makeup effects for the monster might be the ONLY reason to see THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN!

Rick Baker’s makeup effects for the monster might be the ONLY reason to see THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN!

Star Alex Rebar (the Melting Man) had roles on TV shows like THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS and MURDER, SHE WROTE. He was also one of the (9!) writers of the Italian exorcism classic, BEYOND THE DOOR (1974), and his first acting job was in a movie called MICROSCOPIC LIQUID SUBWAY TO OBLIVION (1970), which I would love to see, just for the title alone.

Director William Sachs also gave us GALAXINA (1980)  and SPOOKY HOUSE (2002).

Not bad enough to be good, and not good at all, THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN is for fans of bad cinema only- who don’t mind wasting 90 minutes of their lives – or Rick Baker completists.

© Copyright 2013 by L.L. Soares

Scoring Horror: Interview with NATHAN WHITEHEAD

Posted in 2013, Barry Dejasu Columns, Film Scores, Horror, Interviews, Killers, Murder!, Music for Film, Science Fiction, Scoring Horror, Soundtracks, The Future with tags , , , , on June 11, 2013 by knifefighter

Scoring Horror Presents…An Interview with NATHAN WHITEHEAD
By Barry Lee Dejasu

It’s that time of year again, folks!  Yes, Purge Night is here, where for twelve solid hours, any and every crime is 100% legal.  So go out there and get your deepest, darkest urges on, and remember: all emergency services will be suspended for the duration of Purge Night.  Good night, good luck – and have fun!

ThePurgePosterThis is the world of THE PURGE, written and directed by James DeMonaco (LITTLE NEW YORK, 2009; also the writer of 1998’s THE NEGOTIATOR and 2005’s ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13).  In an alternate America where the regulated legalization of crime helps reduce its effects on the populace for the rest of the year, a family is preparing for another long, safe night indoors on Purge Night.  This time, however, things don’t exactly go according to plan, a group of masked visitors come knocking…

The visitors arrive.

The visitors arrive.

Such a grim cinematic tale naturally has to be told with a voice of thorough suspense.  With all things visual and verbal being handled by the actors and the director on their respective ends of the camera, there is the necessity of bringing not only traumatic stimulation to the eyes and ears of the audience, but to subtly introduce tension and empathy to the soul—and for that, the music is key.  For this purpose, composer Nathan Whitehead was brought in to unleash his talents.

Composer Nathan Whitehead

Composer Nathan Whitehead

No stranger to cinematic tales of suspense and action, Mr. Whitehead’s credits include work on LORD OF WAR (2005), TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON (2011), as well as TV and video game work.  Mr. Whitehead was kind enough to share some of his thoughts on scoring THE PURGE.

BLD: How might you describe your score to somebody who hasn’t yet seen the film?  (Or better yet: what kind of story did you try to tell through the music?)

NW: I would describe the score as dark, textural and fairly minimal.  We wanted to convey a sense of unsettledness and dread surrounding what’s happening on this Purge Night, but we also wanted to explore what this means as a society.  What does Purge Night say about us as human beings?  With the music, I think we were trying to tell both of these stories; how can we survive this night and even if we do, what does that say about us?

BLD: What kinds of instruments and/or vocals did you incorporate for the score?   

NW: The score incorporates a lot of synth and sound design elements which are both tools that I love to work with.  There are strings in certain moments and sparse piano but also a lot of synth pads and textures.  Even with the more electronic sounds, I tried to keep them organic and it’s difficult to discern what is an acoustic instrument and what is a synth.  Almost everything was processed in one way or another too, so even if it started as a shaker or something it usually ended up morphing into something completely different.

BLD: Did you implement any unusual instruments or playing methods, or even construct any new kinds of instruments for it?

NW: Yes!  I think “unusual instruments and methods” describes nearly the entire score.  I really love thinking about the emotional content of sounds, especially things that on the surface might not seem to have any emotional content at all.

I was visiting my parents and there is an ancient microwave in their basement.  The door on this microwave had this great spring rattle sound when you closed the door.  It probably rang out for five or six seconds.  I always travel with a little pocket recorder of some kind so I can grab any interesting sounds I find.  So I put my recorder inside the microwave and slammed the door and got these great, growly spring decay sounds.  I took this back to my studio and just started experimenting with them – distorting, filtering, weaving a bunch of them together to create a longer bed.  Eventually I had this unsettling low throb that seemed to feel organic and odd and it became a central component of the score for THE PURGE.  It just seemed to have this nagging discomfort and familiarity that felt right for what was going on.  Most of the synthetic sounds in the score are made in similar fashion from some sort of real-world recording like traffic or wind through leaves or banging on a trashcan.

BLD: What were some particularly favorite scenes that you scored?  (That is, if you’re allowed to be, or are comfortable with, talking about them)?

NW: Well, I don’t want to say too much, but I really loved scoring the scenes that highlighted the internal human struggle going on.  Not just the struggle to survive but more the sinking realization or question of “What have we become as people?  As families?”  There are some great moments; just simple looks between James (Ethan Hawke) and Mary (Lena Heady), when we feel the weight of how messed up things have gotten—those were really juicy moments to explore, musically.

Lena Heady and Ethan Hawke star as Mary and James in THE PURGE.

Lena Heady and Ethan Hawke star as Mary and James in THE PURGE.

BLD: You’ve worked in a number of genres and mediums.  Do you wish to work more in a particular medium and/or genre than others?

NW: I’ve been really fortunate so far in my career to work on a wide variety of projects.  I love that variety.  I think working in different genres and mediums keeps things fresh and challenging and also allows me to continue to learn new things.  Each project generally informs the others in one way or another, and that’s exciting.

BLD: What kinds of films do you enjoy watching, in general?

NW: It might sound a bit generic, but the short answer is I like films that are good stories.  I love movies and storytelling in general because of their ability to make a human connection, whether it’s entertaining or challenging or terrifying or something else.  I don’t think I can narrow it down to a particular genre; there are too many great but different movies out there!

BLD: What was your first instance of noticing music and sound in film?

NW: I guess the very first was probably RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983). It was my introduction to John Williams and STAR WARS, so that’s difficult not to notice.  The theme from the TV show AIRWOLF (1984-1986) also was really exciting to me.  Tim Burton’s 1989 BATMAN wasn’t first but I remember being amazed by (Danny Elfman’s) music in that movie.

BLD: Who and/or what are some of your biggest musical inspirations, in general?

NW: There are too many great ones to mention them all, but to pick a handful I would say Steve Reich, Arvo Pärt, Philip Glass, Fugazi, NOFX, Operation Ivy, The Cure, Bach, Carter Burwell, Danny Elfman, Mark Mothersbaugh, the list goes on…

BLD: What led to your film work?

NW: Music has always been very exciting to me.  It has always felt magical or like a superpower.  I’ve also always loved experimenting with electronics and gadgets and computers.  Early on I remember playing with this Casio keyboard that my brother and sisters had as kids.  It was an SK-1 so you could do really basic sampling with it.  We would make either short stop-motion videos or skateboard videos and I would “score” them with the SK-1.  It was a precarious arrangement to record the Casio’s output onto the audio track of a VHS tape and it meant that I erased whatever sound was there before.  (I actually still have an SK-1 which I used a bit on THE PURGE.)  In high school, I had played guitar in a punk band and started putting together a basic project studio. I really loved working in the studio.  I started recording local bands in college and also creating music and sound effects for some short films.  I think it just clicked that writing music in my studio for film (or games or TV) combined all these things that I love, things that consumed my thoughts and imagination anyway, so I should explore doing that for a living.  After college I moved from Tennessee to L.A. and started working for a sound design company while writing music for any project I could get my hands on.  Slowly I started doing programming and arrangements for other composers around town and that eventually led to scoring films on my own.  I have been really fortunate to have some great mentors along the way, particularly Steve Jablonsky.  He gave me some great opportunities and we still collaborate on projects today.  I think there’s a huge part of film scoring that you have to learn on the job and it’s crucial to find those opportunities to learn.

BLD: Are there instruments that you haven’t yet used that you’d someday like to explore and experiment with?

NW: All of them!  I have a pretty insatiable appetite for exploring and experimenting with new instruments.  I am a guitar player but I’ve never used a real dobro; I think that would be fun to work with.  I would also love to experiment with a cristal baschet.  I know Cliff Martinez has one and I’m a huge fan of his work. It seems like such a beautiful instrument.

BLD: If you could re-score any pre-existing film (but preferably older ones, and the older, the better), which would you choose, and why? (Other composers have mentioned NOSFERATU, for example.)

NW: I would choose the original 1954 GODZILLA.  Godzilla has always been one of my favorite monsters and I think it would be really fun to score all that mayhem and drama.  Plus Akira Ifukube (the original composer) created Godzilla’s classic roar with, I believe, a double bass and I think that’s awesome.

BLD: There are tons of films always in the works.  If you could choose and score anything in particular, which would you jump for? (Anything from a new documentary to, say, one of the new STAR WARS films?)

NW: I would love to work with the Coen brothers, Spike Jonze, or Michel Gondry someday and I would jump at any opportunity that came along.  I would also love to score (Steven Spielberg’s) ROBOPOCALYPSE.  The book was great and I’m very excited for the movie.

BLD: Would you like to add anything else?

NW: Thanks for the great questions, this was fun!

THE PURGE opened everywhere on June 7th.

© Copyright 2013 by Barry Lee Dejasu

Quick Cuts: The STAR TREK Edition

Posted in 2013, Classic TV Shows, Quick Cuts, Science Fiction, Star Trek with tags , , , , , , on May 31, 2013 by knifefighter

QUICK CUTS:  STAR TREK
With Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Daniel Keohane, Paul McMahon, and Colleen Wanglund.

MICHAEL ARRUDA:  Welcome, everybody, to another edition of QUICK CUTS.  With J.J. Abrams’ STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS  in theaters now, we’re going to talk some STAR TREK.

Specifically, I want to know if the original STAR TREK has been surpassed by any of the other series.  Have Kirk, Spock, and McCoy ever been bested?

Today L.L. Soares and I are joined on our Cinema Knife Fight panel by Daniel Keohane, Paul McMahon, and Colleen Wanglund.

Here’s our first question.  Who’s your favorite starship captain?  Kirk?  Picard?  Or someone else?

Ladies first.  We’ll start with you, Colleen.  Who’s your favorite starship captain?

COLLEEN WANGLUND:  I come from the generation that grew up on the original STAR TREK television show, as well as the films.  While I did watch THE NEXT GENERATION and love Patrick Stewart, the original is still the best. 

When it comes to the Captain of the Starship Enterprise Kirk is hands down the MAN.  Shatner’s overacting is rather endearing.  And how do you not love a guy who practically had a girl in every inhabited planet of the universe?

Captain James Tiberius Kirk

Captain James Tiberius Kirk

ARRUDA:  I can’t argue with that line of thinking.  (The rest of the panel agrees, except for L.L. SOARES who shakes his head.)

L.L. SOARES:  I dunno.  While Kirk certainly smooched lots of alien women, I don’t think he had sex with them as often as he should have.  He should have taken things to the next level.

ARRUDA:  I don’t think Kirk wanted to be responsible for little hybrid alien children following him around on the bridge.

DAN KEOHANE:  Though it took a couple of seasons to warm up to him, I have to admit Picard’s character grew on me. Kirk will always have a special place since childhood, and he was a hoot, but Picard brought a Shakespearean charm to the con. So in effect, there’s a tie, Kirk & Picard. The others from the other series were OK, but not to the level of these two.

Captain Jean-Luc Picard

Captain Jean-Luc Picard

SOARES:  A tie?  You never make up your mind, Dan.  Be a man! Make a decision!  Do you even pick out your own clothes?

KEOHANE:  I pick out my own clothes—- eventually.  (Dons his best “deer in the headlights” expression.) Blue— or black?

ARRUDA:  Well, I’m old school, so my favorite starship captain is Kirk. 

While I definitely grew to like Picard a lot, too, I’ve always enjoyed Kirk’s off the cuff thinking, his “no lose” attitude, in which he’ll do whatever it takes to protect his ship and crew, and his constant sparring with Spock and McCoy.

MCMAHON:  My favorite captain is Benjamin Sisko from DEEP SPACE NINE.

Captain Benjamin Sisko

Captain Benjamin Sisko

From the very first episode he doesn’t want the job, he’s put off by the responsibility, but even more than that he can’t stand to shirk his duties when other people need him. Throughout DEEP SPACE NINE he fights as hard as he can against everything that comes up, refusing to quit because that’s what everyone (most of all himself) expects him to do.

SOARES:  What the hell is DEEP SPACE NINE?

MCMAHON: Oh come on, you’re not serious are you?

SOARES: Naw, I’m just kidding you.

Look, I grew up on reruns of the original STAR TREK, but it’s not a nostalgia thing. Kirk was the coolest starship captain ever. It’s just a fact. No one could emote like William Shatner. He could break your heart with one of his meaningful speeches. And no captain was as good at using his fists as well as his brain.

ARRUDA:  On to our second question.  Who’s your favorite starship genius?  Spock?  Data?   Someone else?

KEOHANE:  Spock. There can be no comparison.

SOARES:  Are you sure it’s not a tie, Dan?

Look, I have to go with Dan on this one. To choose anyone other than Spock is illogical.

Mr. Spock

Mr. Spock

ARRUDA:  Like Dan and LL, I’m going with Spock here, too.

By far, he’s the most interesting character in the entire STAR TREK universe.  His half human/half Vulcan self is the perfect embodiment of what STAR TREK is all about, logic vs. emotion, and which one is more effective when confronting the universe.

MCMAHON: Enough with the Spock coronation.

SOARES: Besides, Kirk is the most interesting character in the entire STAR TREK universe. Spock is just his sidekick!

MCMAHON: My favorite genius is Doctor Bashir. Brilliant, genetically enhanced, there isn’t a disease or a puzzle he can’t figure out. His people skills are undeveloped and immature, though, which leads him to constantly make an ass of himself in social situations. This makes him the most fun to watch.

SOARES: Always gotta be different.

WANGLUND:  While I liked Data and his whole search for the meaning of being a human, Spock is my favorite genius—because he actually was a genius.  Spock was born that way, while Data is an AI machine.  He’s a genius because he was made that way.  The guy is a walking computer; Spock was flesh and blood.

ARRUDA:  Next question.  Who’s your favorite starship doctor?  McCoy?  Beverly Crusher?  The Doctor from VOYAGER?  Someone else? 

MCMAHON:  As brilliant as Bashir is, I’d rather have DeForrest Kelley’s McCoy standing over me should I wake up in sick bay. Of all the many doctors, McCoy is the one I’d trust to tell me the exact specifics of my ailment and not pull punches when he came to the prognosis.

Dr. "Bones" McCoy

Dr. “Bones” McCoy

Besides, he seems like he’d be a great drinking buddy.

ARRUDA:  Wouldn’t he though?

KEOHANE:  I think Scotty would be a better drinking buddy.

WANGLUND:  I’d rather have a drink with Jim Kirk.

SOARES:  To hell with those guys!  If I’m drinking with anyone it’s Dr. Carol Markus from the new movie! And maybe Uhura, too.

The very professional Dr. Carol Marcus

The very professional Dr. Carol Marcus

ARRUDA:  I think I asked the wrong question.  I should have asked who on STAR TREK would make the best drinking buddy!

Anyway, my pick for the best doctor is McCoy. 

While I absolutely love the Doctor from STAR TREK VOYAGER, McCoy as part of the triumvirate with Kirk and Spock is certainly the most important medical man of the entire STAR TREK universe.  He’s also the most entertaining, and often represented the rest of us in those debates with Spock.  Of course, he’d disagree.  “I’m a doctor, not an entertainer!”

WANGLUND:  Do I really need to tell you who my favorite ship’s doctor is?  “Jim I’m a doctor not a ……” fill in the blank.  The repetition of this line by Bones McCoy is cheesy but brilliant!

SOARES:  Who cares who the damn doctor is? I thought you were pushing it by asking who the best “starship genius” was, whatever that means. What are you going to do, Arruda, just go down a list? Who’s your favorite Russian navigator? Who’s your favorite Mechanic Number 5. Who cares? After the captain, everyone else is background noise.

KEOHANE:  McCoy is an icon and a great foil to the otherwise uber seriousness of the show, and his lines have always been the best in any episode. So, Bones, hands down.

ARRUDA:  And our final question tonight is just for fun.  Who’s your least favorite character in the STAR TREK universe?

MCMAHON:  My least favorite character in the Star Trek Universe would have to be Deanna Troi.

Deanna Troi

Deanna Troi

ARRUDA:  I agree with you, there.

MCMAHON:  I get that they were trying to break up the perception of an all-male future, but Troi just never worked for me. I was disappointed and left wanting with all her featured episodes, and never surprised myself by liking any of them (although the closest I came was the episode “Thine Own Self,” when she orders Geordi to his death… but then she goes and ruins it by whining to Riker about how hard it was).

ARRUDA:  Yeah, she whined a lot.

SOARES: Aww, I think she’s sweet.

KEOHANE:  In the final series, ENTERPRISE, among the bad “guys” who formed the cadre of alien baddies planning the destruction of.. something. I forget, the storyline got so bogged down, the thing in the fish tank that would sing like Flipper when he talked. I know this is an obscure one but man, that whole gang of villains were an embarrassment to Trekdom everywhere.

ARRUDA:  I think I had stopped watching ENTERPRISE by that point.

KEOHANE:  You didn’t miss much.

SOARES: Are you kidding? That fish tank guy was my FAVORITE character in the Star Trek Universe! Him and that little weird guy who follows Scotty around in the movies!

WANGLUND:  As for my least favorite character?  That would have to be Guinan, played by Whoopi Goldberg.  Picard was supposed to be the level-headed man of reason.  There was also a ship’s counselor, Deanna Troi, who was an empath.  Why have yet another voice of reason?  I felt Guinan was redundant.

Whoopie Goldberg played the lovable Guinan

Whoopi Goldberg played the lovable Guinan

ARRUDA:  Yeah, I can’t say that I liked Guinan either.

However, my least favorite character would have to be Deanna Troi from NEXT GENERATION.  I just never really understood the need for a ship’s counselor, and thought her speeches on alien feelings a complete waste of time. 

SOARES: My least favorite character was the guy in the red shirt who dies in Episode 42. Aww, who cares? I don’t care enough about the STAR TREK Universe to have a least favorite character. What a bunch of nerds!

But Kirk, that little guy who follows Scotty around in the movies, and Dr. Carol Markus are my favorites.

KEOHANE: Don’t forget the guy in the fish tank.

SOARES: Oh yeah, and him.

ARRUDA: Okay, so we’re done here.  It looks like the original series acquitted itself well.  It won all the categories, and none of the characters from the original series made it onto our “least favorite” lists.

So, I guess Kirk, Spock, and McCoy haven’t been bested.  The original is still the best, at least in terms of tonight’s questions, anyway.

Thanks for joining us everybody!  We’ll see you next time on QUICK CUTS!

—-END—.

© Copyright 2013 by Michael Arruda, L.L. Soares, Daniel G. Keohane, Paul McMahon and Colleen Wanglund