Archive for the The Future Category

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou: WAR OF THE PLANETS (1966)

Posted in "So Bad They're Good" Movies, 2012, 60s Movies, Bill's Bizarre Bijou, Campy Movies, Outer Space, Science Fiction, The Future, William Carl Articles with tags , , , , , , on March 29, 2012 by knifefighter

Bill’s Bizarre Bijou

By William D. Carl

This Week’s Feature Presentation:


Welcome 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-til-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!

In the past few months, I’ve written about the Gamma One films, from Italian bubble gum sci-fi maestro Antonio Margheriti.   After THE SNOW DEVILS (1967) and WILD, WILD PLANET (1965), came the WAR OF THE PLANETS (1966).  At least, that’s how they were released in Italy.  In the U.S., the releases of the movies were as mixed up as the plotlines, but it seems as if they were all unleashed upon American drive-ins in the years noted above.  Don’t worry; you don’t have to watch them in order to ride the candy-colored wave of Sixties goodness.

WAR OF THE PLANETS begins with a tedious, yet ominous, voice-over that says little more than it is New Year’s Eve and there are nasty things in space. There are visions of little toy space stations and cars and monorail trains.  Much of this footage is repurposed from other Gamma One films, even the bubble car pulling up to a station and letting out a space captain, Dubois.  He claims he hasn’t been celebrating yet, but he sees strange green lights in the night sky that resemble nothing more than a glow-in-the-dark lava lamp.  Suddenly, he is enveloped in green light, which makes him walk, zombie-like, up a spiral staircase, because, you know, they still don’t have elevators in the future.

At Earth headquarters, we see that one space station has been engulfed in green lights, and communications have been cut off on other stations as well.  But, who cares?  Over the intercom, we hear, “Headquarters, are you ready for the super space spectacular from Gamma One?”  Well, of course we are!  Then we see a rather sad ballet in zero gravity space to the accompaniment of an accordion playing Aud Lang Syne.  Meanwhile, within the Gamma One space station, we get groovy electronic disco music and wild go-go dancing by women in weird muu-muus and kinky boots.  Connie Gomez, once again played by the lovely and bitter Lisa Gastoni (WILD, WILD PLANET, 1965 and GIDGET GOES TO ROME, 1963) is purposefully ignoring Commander Mike Halstead (Tony Russell reprising his role from WILD, WILD PLANET, 1965) at the party.  Hunky Jake Jakowitz (handsome and young Franco Nero from WILD, WILD PLANET, 1965 and DJANGO, 1966) is also there, and he cheers as a couple dozen space-suited astronauts spell out ‘Happy New Year’ with their bodies in space.  There’s more 1960s dancing that looks like a combination of square dancing and disco.  Also, some rather sexist butt-grabbing and pinching of lady officers.

Connie is invited to space station Alpha Two to teach all the women karate, but she’s distracted when Delta Two’s communication goes down after “negative Geiger readings” are taken.  What?!  Something is cutting off all the Earth’s space stations one at a time!  Sadly, this means the party is over and all the guests are shuffled into pods by a guide with gravity-defying breasts.  They are to return to Earth.  Once the civilians are gone, a ship is sent to DeltaTwo to investigate.  First, though, Connie and Mike have a romantic tiff, and he puts her in her place and she seems to enjoy it.  One spaceman has too much to drink, gets “drunker than a minor on Mars,” and starts whooping and flying around Gamma One like Superman on crystal meth.

Miniatures from WAR OF THE PLANETS!

Meanwhile, on Delta Two, that eerie green light is back, and the investigating team finds the inhabitants of the space station frozen in place, or at least as frozen as actors can stand.  They tend to wobble a bit.  And are those communication devices they’re speaking into really hair dryers?  Yes, yes they are.  The radiation levels are “crazy,” but the investigators still walk around without their helmets.  They discover some of the frozen people are actually alive, including half-naked girls in a locker room!  Yowza!  The commander shouts, “Scramble!  Retro!  Retro!  Retro!”  Green lights that have shape to them attack.  “They’re more than lights!” the commander shouts, shooting off his zap gun.  “They’re things!  They’re things!”  Then, silence.

Gamma One is ordered to evacuate, but Mike and a small group of renegades remain behind to determine what happened.  On Earth, Dubois is commanded by a voice in his head to destroy the Institute For Advanced Sciences.  He fights the voice, but finally gives in, and his breath is smoking from his mouth, as if he were breathing on a cold day.  He’s possessed by the lava lamp!

Within hours, the green space lights arrive at Gamma One, and Commander Mike yells, “Retro, everyone!  Retro!”  Is he referring to the look of the film?  What is this ‘retro’ everyone keeps shouting about?  The aliens enter the station as a green mist.  Lasers, or at least kiddie toy zap guns that shoot sparks, can’t stop them.  When the lights touch the men, they freeze in place.  The creatures also take the convenient shape of gas from a fire extinguisher, or at least that’s what they look like.  Somehow, Commander Mike shoos the green beings from the station.  I have no clue how.  It seemed like he just closed a few doors at ten second intervals.

After getting a dressing-down by his father, the general-in-chief on Earth, Mike sees the ‘bodies’ of several green light victims.  They are apparently chock full of cobalt and radiation.  Several more scientists are taken over by the light creatures, and Connie Gomez says, “This is starting to make sense.”  To her, I say, “It is?  Phooey!”  The Earth’s skies are covered now in alien green lava lamp lights!  Just then, Dubois appears, still arguing with his inner alien.  The being speaks to the group, “I am an emissary.  We come as friends.  All will join our world.”  Commander Mike says, “He’s gone Galaxy!”

The aliens have taken over all radiation on Earth, and they want humans to become like them, members of a single mind from Mars, like a hive of bees.  Dubois informs the Gamma One team that a few of their best and brightest must go into space with him for some reason or another.  This, of course, means Mike and Jake to the rescue!  With laser guns hidden in their jackets, they launch into space where the light creatures take over their ship.  Meanwhile, Connie Gomez becomes possessed and she’s going with Mike and Jake!

A rare calm moment in WAR OF THE PLANETS.

They head straight for Mars, where there just happens to be a uranium mine.  Mike says, “Uranium?  Radiation!”  It’s good that the hero is so intelligent.  After a Martian feast, the group discovers an active volcano where many of the missing people from other space stations seem to be lounging unconscious.  Magma, fog waterfalls, magic vaults, a huge battle (well, huge for THIS budget), and more are a part of the grand finale.

Even with this much plot, WAR OF THE PLANETS runs a bit too long, with a few too many slow stretches to make it as great as the other two Gamma One films, but it still holds a whacked-out fascination for any viewer.  The horribly dated hair and costumes and music and bad dubbing, and the Playmobile-like miniature special effects, all lend a surreal quality to the film that keeps it watchable at worst and a true hoot at its best.  It’s also pretty interesting to watch Franco Nero in his best role in the series, just before he would hit the big time with DJANGO (1966) and CAMELOT(1967),  He was a magnetic young actor, whether spouting scientific gibberish or just standing around and looking handsome, and you can really see his development here.  Tony Russel makes for a fun hero: stalwart, determined, tanned of face and with rock-hard silver fox hair.   Lisa Gastoni isn’t given much to do in this one, but she looks terrific doing it!  Plus, I swear the song over the end credits is a version of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” by Rogers and Hammerstein.

WAR OF THE PLANETS is another fun space romp from the twisted mind of Antonio Margheriti (aka Anthony Dawson), who also helmed the wild movies ALIEN FROM THE DEEP(1989), YOR, THE HUNTER FROM THE FUTURE (1983), CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE (1980), KILLER FISH (1979), WEB OF THE SPIDER (1971), and the utterly nutty LIGHTNING BOLT (1966).  All of these are Bizarre Bijou fodder, and they’re all a lot of fun.  Margheriti obviously enjoyed himself, playing behind the camera like a little kid.  Nowhere is this more obvious than in the Gamma One films, where all the props and miniatures look just like plastic toys in a sandbox.  That sense of child-like glee is infectious, even when the movies are less than stellar.

There was one more Gamma One film, but it was produced by Toho Studios in Japan, had all new actors and characters, and featured the greatest theme song of all time—THE GREEN SLIME (1968).

WAR OF THE PLANETS gets two and a half disco square dances out of four and is available in a great print from Warner Archive.

© Copyright 2012 by William D. Carl



Posted in 2012, Action Movies, Cinema Knife Fights, Plot Twists, Science Fiction, The Future with tags , , , , , on March 26, 2012 by knifefighter

Cinema Knife Fight: THE HUNGER GAMES (2012)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

(THE SCENE: Two men sit behind a long desk. One is L.L. SOARES, wearing a huge blue wig that is teased so that it towers above his head. MICHAEL ARRUDA is wearing eye make-up and a hat that looks like a small skyscraper. As we zoom in on them, the two men are laughing)

LS: That was a good one, Michael. (to audience) Welcome back, everyone, to the 74th Annual Hunger Games. I am here with Michael Arruda, giving you the latest updates from the arena.

MA: I have to admit, I was a little leery about coming to the Capitol, but it’s turned out to be quite a nice experience. The lovely food, avant-garde fashions, luxurious living quarters. Delightful.

LS: Well, we are the guest commentators this year, and the Capitol knows how to take care of its guests. A big shout out to President Snow. Thanks again, Big Guy.

MA: So why don’t you tell the good people about our movie this week.

LS: Movie? Oh you mean THE HUNGER GAMES themselves! I can most certainly bring everyone up to speed.

After an uprising in what was once North America (now called Panem), where the various districts rose up against the Capitol, the rebellion is squashed, and, in remembrance, each year each district must give up two kids—a boy and a girl, between the ages of 12 and 18—to compete in the Hunger Games. It’s kind of the Capitol’s way reminding the districts who’s boss, and keeping them in line. Everyone watches the Hunger Games on television and each district desperately wants their champions or “tributes” to win. If they win, the district gets plentiful food for the year.

MA:  When people—and there were many—recommended I read the book THE HUNGER GAMES, it was exactly this story that prevented me from reading it. I just didn’t find it believable. It just seemed too far-fetched and imaginary, and because of this I didn’t think I’d find it all that compelling.

LS: I found myself wondering at first, why would the Districts put up with this? Why would they willingly sacrifice their children? And then I easily dispelled that doubt. We have our own version of this, after all. It’s called war.

MA: Well, this might be the only negative thing I’ll say about tonight’s movie, THE HUNGER GAMES, because, to my surprise, I did find it compelling. I really liked this movie, but more on that later. Right now, back to the story.

LS:  Always interrupting my plot summaries. Jeesh! (smiles broadly) It’s a good thing the audience enjoys our banter so much, or I’d wring your scrawny neck. (laughs).

When the story opens, we become aware of Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), a girl in District 12. She sneaks outside the fence that surrounds the area to hunt for wild game —something that is considered illegal—but since she sells some of her catches to the Peacekeepers, and the Mayor himself, the authorities turn a blind eye. Katniss hunts with her friend Gale (Liam Hemsworth), a long-time companion who is as good at hunting as she is. Every year, there is an event called The Reaping, where all the children who are of eligible age are gathered up, and the names of each year’s tributes are pulled from a fishbowl. In District 12, this is done by the glamorous Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks).

MA: Yes, Elizabeth Banks is nearly unrecognizable made up as the colorful Effie.

LS: I know. Isn’t it wonderful?  So this year is the first year that Katniss’s young sister Primrose (Willow Shields), called “Prim,” is old enough to be in the Reaping. Since she’s only 12, the odds are she won’t be chosen, but when her name does come up, Katniss volunteers to take her place in order to protect her.

MA: You know, I think we’d all seen this scene in the movie’s trailer, and yet, somehow, it still worked. For me, this was a sign early on that this movie was going to be better than I expected.

LS: The way Katniss sacrifices herself in place of her young sister is quite compelling! I know my heart went out to her, as I am sure yours did.

The other tribute, the boy one, is Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson), a baker’s son who has had a crush on Katniss from afar for most of their childhoods.

The two of them are whisked to the Capitol—this shining diamond of a city—to prepare for the Games, under the watchful eye of Effie and, of course, Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) who was the last person from District 12 to ever win the Games. He has since grown old and surly and has quite the taste for alcohol. That was 30 years ago, after all!

MA: Haymitch is a change-of-pace role for Harrelson, as he’s actually a pretty nice guy as the movie goes on, and I think Harrelson did a great job.

LS: Harrelson has played nice guys before. Did you forget 2009’s ZOMBIELAND so soon?

MA:  Yeah, but that nice guy liked to blow zombies’ heads off.  He was a little bit different than Haymitch.

LS:  Katniss and Peeta are also provided with a “stylist” named Cinna (Lenny Kravitz), whose job is to give the two tributes a memorable entrance as the pre-game segment begins, and make them attractive to rich viewers who may become their “sponsors” and send them necessary items when the actual Games begin.

The tributes are also interviewed by the master of ceremonies, Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) who tries to bring out a little of each one’s personality.

Then, after a few days of training, the Games begin.

MA: And what exactly are the Hunger Games again?

LS: The Hunger Games are a battle to the death! Where each District has sent two representatives to kill or be killed. All of them must fight to the death until only one tribute is left standing, and that person will then be crowned the victor! Isn’t that exciting?

And there are also the Gamemakers who control the arena and can do things like control the weather and cause disasters to strike—like a random forest fire, say. The Gamemakers are represented in the movie version by Seneca Crane (Wes Bentley) who we see orchestrating things from a control room behind the scenes. I don’t remember Crane being in the novel version, the Gamemakers there were mysterious behind-the-scenes types whose moves—like those of chess players—were always strategic in making the Games more dramatic. I’m not sure I care very much for Seneca here, although it does give us another point of view of the Games that we didn’t have in the book. And there is a scene involving Seneca and some berries that is rather poetic….

MA: It’s like a great big futuristic version of the TV series SURVIVOR, except instead of voting each other off, the players kill each other.

LS: Exactly! And how many times have we wishes the contestants in SURVIVOR could knock each other off? The Hunger Games are a win-win in comparison!

The movie is based on the popular novel by Suzanne Collins, who also helped to write the screenplay, and the movie is mostly faithful to her book. They do change things here and there to condense events or save time. For example, in the novel, there is a big deal about Katniss trying to find water once the Games begin, and she almost dies of dehydration, but in the movie she finds water pretty quickly and with minimal discomfort. While I understand most of the changes, not all of them work for me.

MA: I didn’t read the book—.

LS: Not necessary, my good man! The movie will guide you through this terrain quite well, regardless.

MA:  I know. I was about to say that I understood pretty much everything in the movie, and better yet, I liked it. I liked it a lot.

LS:  Although, I must point out that, as is almost always the case, the book is actually smarter and more satisfying than the film in some ways.

MA: On the other hand, to all the moviegoers out there like me who haven’t read the book—.

LS:  All three of you.

MA:  Ha ha. To all of you who haven’t read the book, the movie stands on its own. It’s a highly entertaining flick, and you don’t need to have read the book to enjoy it.

LS:  I’m just saying the book is better than the movie, that’s all.

And so we watch as Katniss tries to stay alive in a vast forest that has its own dangers aside from the other kids who are looking to kill her. Oh yes, I forgot to mention. During the pre-game interview, Peeta lets on to the viewers that he had had a crush on Katniss since they were children. The show plays up this “star-crossed lovers” aspect, and I must say, the audience and the sponsors seem to just eat it up. So we’re always leery of the moment when Katniss has to “remove” Peeta from the game. Or will it be vice versa?

MA: It’s all so riveting!

LS: Let’s take a look at the actors, shall we? First off, we’ve got Jennifer Lawrence portraying Katniss, and I have to say, she does a remarkable job here.

MA: Yes, one of the best things about THE HUNGER GAMES is there is some major star power going on here. It’s got a terrific cast, really impressive, and at the top of the list, you’ve got Jennifer Lawrence in a knock-out performance as Katniss.

LS: Katniss is the one who is the heroine of this story, so it’s important that she sympathetic and believable, and Lawrence brings those qualities and more to the role. I really thought she was the heart and soul of this movie. What a wonderful job of casting. Lawrence makes us believe she actually is Katniss Everdeen as the story unfolds. Some people may remember her equally impressive acting job in the movie WINTER’S BONE (2010). She was also quite good as the young Mystique in X-MEN: FIRST CLASS (2011). I’ve become quite fond of Ms. Lawrence.

MA: I completely agree, and I liked her much better here than as Mystique in X-MEN: FIRST CLASS. She’s completely believable in this role.

LS: The rest of the cast is also quite good.

MA:  The rest of the cast is excellent.

LS:  Standouts include Stanley Tucci as the very plastic yet dynamic Caesar Flickerman. He balances sincerity and artificiality quite splendidly here, with his flashing white teeth. I can’t imagine that anyone does not know who Tucci is, but just in case, we most recently saw him as Dr. Abraham Erskine in last year’s CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER.

MA:  I thought Tucci gave the best performance in the movie. I really liked his flamboyant Caesar Flickerman. From his commentary on the Games, to his hosting the interviews, Flickerman was a captivating character. He was Steve Colbert crossed with Liberace.

LS: Yes, you and I can only hope to be as good at providing color commentary for the Games as he is. He is the gold standard for emcees here at the Capitol.

I’m also a big fan of Woody Harrelson, and he does a fine job as Haymitch here, even if he plays the role a little more seriously than the drunken buffoon we first see in the novel (although he gets quite serious as time goes on there as well).

MA:  I thought Harrelson was great. He really makes Haymitch—a guy who starts off seeming like a useless drunk—likeable.

LS: Ahh—but not so useless. In the novel, when we first see him, he falls off a platform and vomits on himself. But there’s no sign of that Haymitch here. In fact, when Peeta tries to knock a drink out of his hand early on, he shows that he still has the reflexes of a warrior, even if he long ago went to seed.

And Donald Sutherland is suitably menacing as President Snow, even though it’s a role that Sutherland could have easily done in his sleep, if he had to.

MA:  Donald Sutherland as President Snow was as icy cold as his character’s name. There was something sinister and chilling about Sutherland’s portrayal, and while you’re right that he could have done this in his sleep, I thought he was terrific in these scenes. He creeped me out.

LS:  I also liked musician Lenny Kravitz as Katniss’s compassionate stylist. And I think many of the other kids were quite good, especially Josh Hutcherson as Peeta; Amandla Sternberg as Rue, a 12-year-old girl from District 11 who bonds with Katniss at one point; and Alexander Ludwig as Cato, the most vicious of the other tributes out to get Katniss.

(The screen behind them suddenly fills with the face of NICK CATO)

NC (seems confused): Cato? Did someone say Cato?

LS: Ahh, it’s our illustrious Nick Cato, author of the Suburban Grindhouse Memories column here at

MA: Hi, Nick.

NC: I thought I heard you guys mention me.

LS: No, Nick. We were talking about the character “Cato” from THE HUNGER GAMES. We’re in the middle of our review here.

(MA waves to NC from behind the desk)

NC: Oh, okay. I was just going to say that….

(The screen goes blank when LS presses a button)

LS: Now, no more interruptions. Back to our wonderful review! What were you going to say about the cast, Michael?

MA: I agree. Josh Hutcherson as Peeta definitely grew on me as the movie went along. I thought his character might become kind of a jerk, based upon his early scenes, but he’s not this way at all, and he grows more likeable as the story goes on.

And as you said, Amandla Sternberg is also quite good as the cute Rue.

And while Wes Bentley as Seneca Crane, the guy who runs the Games from behind the scenes, doesn’t really do a whole lot but look dark and dashing in his black suit, he does dark and dashing well, and he’s more memorable here than he was in last month’s GONE, where he played a cop who also happened to be—surprise, surprise—dark and dashing.

LS: The direction by Gary Ross is quite good, if unspectacular. He sticks to the book fairly closely for the most part, and doesn’t give us too much in the way of surprises. But hey, sometimes a faithful adaptation is just what the doctor ordered. Ross previously directed the films SEABISCUIT (2003) and the interesting PLEASANTVILLE (1998).

MA:  I thought Ross did a nice job, too. I thought he got the pacing right. For a long movie—2 hours and 22 minutes, to be exact—it didn’t drag one iota. It also caught my interest and had me hooked long before the actual Games even start, and once they start, the film gets even better. Honestly, I was really impressed. I went in really expecting not to be wowed by this movie, but it succeeded in delivering the goods.

LS: Two hours and 22 minutes? Yes, it never seemed that long at all. It moves at a very nice pace.

I liked THE HUNGER GAMES, especially Jennifer Lawrence’s performance. I wasn’t particularly dazzled by it, but I found it to be a solid story, done well. I give it three knives.

And what is your verdict, Michael?

MA:  I liked it even better than you, which surprises the hell out of me.

I still don’t buy the plot.  A society where children are forced to fight to the death in Games that are televised nationwide still comes off as pure fantasy to me, and I’m not a fan of pure fantasy. I like some realism.

However, that being said, the movie takes this outlandish story and makes it believable. I believed in the onscreen events I was watching, and as such, I was moved by them.

LS: Actually, this isn’t the first time we have been treated to such a concept in the movies. The Japanese cult film, BATTLE ROYALE (2000), also based on a popular novel—in Japan, at least—also treads similar ground. In that one, a class of school kids is brought to an island where they must fight to the death, with only one victor. However, THE HUNGER GAMES is different enough to avoid being a mere cover version. THE HUNGER GAMES, in comparison, is very American, and the backstory about the Capitol, and the glitz of the Games themselves, all give us a very home-grown feel to the proceedings. And Katniss is such a wonderfully memorable character.

MA: THE HUNGER GAMES works on multiple levels. First and foremost, its tale of games in which children must kill each other, whether I buy that as a concept or not, works because the characters in this story know only one of them is coming out alive, and they make you feel their anxiety and their fear over what is about to take place. This works very well in the movie. I believed that these kids were scared, and I believed that to survive, they would kill each other, and they do.

LS: Well, that’s just one. What are the other levels, Michael? I, for one, saw it as an allegory for war. And a certain scene with berries, involving Peeta and Katniss, reminded me a bit of the story of Adam and Eve. In fact, there are lots of other levels that the movie (and book) delves into as the story goes along.

MA: Now, THE HUNGER GAMES is rated PG-13, and so while some may argue that the killing scenes are neat and sanitary, I thought in spite of the fact that they weren’t gory and bloody, they were sufficiently brutal and effective. These killing scenes aren’t pleasant. And they help make this movie work.

LS: Yes, the violence is well done. I found that THE HUNGER GAMES maintains a certain edge that is lacking in other young adult franchises—the TWILIGHT series springs instantly to mind—and I found it particularly pleasing for that reason.

MA:  I definitely agree with you there.  If only the TWILIGHT series had an edge! And before my showing of THE HUNGER GAMES, they just had to show the preview for the final TWILIGHT movie too, coming out on November 16.  Start the countdown!  Ugh!  At least we’ll be able to celebrate that there won’t be any more TWILIGHT movies after that!

LS:  Well, there’ll be more HUNGER GAMES movies.  Just as the book was the first part of a trilogy, it’s quite clear at the end of THE HUNGER GAMES movie that there’s more to come. And you just know this movie is going to be a big enough hit to give a green light to sequels.

MA: There are also some neat scenes showing the reactions of people in the Districts, including parents of slain children, who rebel, and have to be suppressed by futuristic riot police. Scenes like this keep the story real. There are real families tortured by the deaths of these kids.

The movie also works on the media level, and it’s actually this part of the story that I buy more than the actual Games story. See, I believe that the public would actually watch a show where people really killed each other. I’m just not sure I believe in a government that would allow it. Most brutal governments are uncivilized and they don’t possess the imagination necessary for pulling a spectacle like THE HUNGER GAMES off. Thankfully.

LS: Speak for yourself, Michael. I for one, love to be entertained!

MA: But the show part of it all, I buy, and it’s this media aspect of THE HUNGER GAMES that I found disturbing. I believe people would watch this stuff. And I thought the whole spectacle of the interview show hosted by Stanley Tucci was dead on. If ever a show like this were to exist, it would be like that.

LS: I agree whole-heartedly, my friend (grins for the cameras).

MA: THE HUNGER GAMES was creative and different enough to hold my interest throughout. I was into this story long before the Games started. Once they start, things really get moving, as you don’t know who is going to survive, and it’s not like so-and-so loses and they get voted off. They get killed. Brutally. It truly heightens the suspense. It really works.

One thing that didn’t work, and this is a minor quibble, is that the vicious animal creatures at the end of the movie are so obviously fake—another poor example of CGI— they’re laughable, which is too bad, because the rest of the movie isn’t. But they’re not a big part of the film, so their presence doesn’t ruin it.

LS: I must agree with you there. The “muttations,” as they are called in the book, aren’t very convincing here. Also, in the book, there is a major secret about them that is never mentioned in the movie. But you’re right. I thought they seemed tacked on, and looked rather silly.

MA: I was completely impressed, and entertained from start to finish! I give THE HUNGER GAMES three and a half knives.


See, this is what I hoped for from JOHN CARTER. Go in with low expectations, come out impressed. That one didn’t do it for me, but THE HUNGER GAMES, to my surprise, did.

LS (smiles wider): Well, I for one continue to defend JOHN CARTER as a very good movie that just failed to find its target audience. If only the marketing campaign had been a bit more focused….

MA: But, alas, we’re not talking about JOHN CARTER here. So back to the matter at hand. THE HUNGER GAMES is one time where the movie lives up to the hype.

So, that wraps things up here. We’ll see you next—-

LS:  Shh!   They’re making an announcement. Listen.

VOICE:  A special announcement. There’s been a change in the rules for today’s Hunger Games. As part of the festivities, only one co-host will be allowed to survive and continue with the show. This will be the only announcement.

MA:  Hmm. That kinda changes things, doesn’t it?

LS:  Not really. It’s just like old times.

(MA dives for a sword, while LS snags an axe. The two Cinema Knife Fighters lunge at each other, screaming with fury, as the camera FADES TO BLACK.)


© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares

Michael Arruda gives THE HUNGER GAMES ~three and a half knives!

LL Soares gives THE HUNGER GAMES ~three knives.


Posted in 2011, Action Movies, Daniel Keohane Reviews, Science Fiction, The Future with tags , , , , , , on October 31, 2011 by knifefighter

IN TIME (2011)
Film Review by Dan Keohane

IN TIME (2011) is an interesting, if not completely well-executed, science fiction story from Andrew Niccol, writer/director of one of my favorite sci-fi films, GATTACA (1997), and writer of another favorite: THE TRUMAN SHOW (1998). Niccol spins an interesting story in most everything he does but… well, though I found the premise of IN TIME very cool, and it was well-acted for the most part, it was no GATTACA.

Here’s the poop for you folks who never read the entire review: the movie felt too long. Though it clocked in at under two hours, and I’ve watched all twelve hours of the LORD OF THE RINGS (2005+) trilogy without blinking (granted, no-blinking is one of my movie-watching quirks, but here I’m being metaphorical), so being long is not a problem, having a film feel too long, well, that’s not a good thing.

The movie is broken into three interesting blocks of plot, any two of which could have been culled out of the script and the third expounded upon to make a great, in-depth science fiction film. Smooshed together as they were into one flick, it was a lot of stuff to watch on the screen without ever getting too interested in any one aspect. Each “chapter,” as we’ll call them, was almost-interesting.

In the future (I guess it’s the future – doesn’t rally say and the only way you can really tell is that the cars are electric – but more on them in a second – let’s just say it’s a What If world), we’ve tapped into the aging genes of humans so when anyone turns twenty-five years old, they stop aging. Yikes, you say, won’t that cause overpopulation? No, because we are born with a bio-electric timer shining from our left arm, reading 0001:00:00:0:00:00—one year. When you hit twenty-five, you stop aging and the clock starts ticking. 0000:11:30:6:23:59 and so on. Months, days, hours… and when it hits zero, you die, but death is staved off as long as you work, or your spouse or friend or parents work, and earns more time. No money in this world, only time: the most precious commodity in this world because once you run out of it—system shutdown. No restarts. (Though a sequel could always be done: IN TIME 2: ZOMBIE RESTART.. hmmm).

One plot point which is key to the entire film: you can exchange hours. A small girl walks up to someone in the street and says, “Got a minute, sir?” She’s not looking to talk, but begging for a spare minute. If you own too many days or years on your arm and find yourself in a tough part of town, someone can jump you and steal all of them, draining your life from you. This time exchange is clever. How they actually do it is silly, but I can’t think of a better way without everyone walking around with a bio-reader on their belt.

Justin Timberlake (BAD TEACHER, 2011, THE SOCIAL NETWORK, 2010, ‘N SYNC: IN THE MIX Documentary, 2001) plays Will Silas, twenty-eight years old and hasn’t aged a day in three years. Will lives with his mother, Rachel (Olivia Wilde – COWBOYS & ALIENS, 2011, HOUSE M.D., 2007-2011), who still looks twenty-five, though plans to celebrate her fortieth birthday when the film opens. At first I thought it odd that a twenty-eight year old still lives with his mother, but people have little time for much else than work in their neighborhood, known as a district. Prices are inflated unexpectedly by some unseen governmental agency (unseen by the residents, at least). A cup of coffee costs 4 hours (you pay in hours, days, etc). Bus fare has jumped from 1 to 2 hours (yes, I’ve stopped spelling out the numbers in this review, taking a break from Strunk & White for now). People live hand-to-mouth (or arm to mouth since their arms are always displaying the remaining hours of their lives).

I found this world fascinating. Will and his mom trade a few hours so one of them can make it to work and back without dropping dead. Will’s job has increased his quota so when he gets paid it’s only a pittance. Suppression of the masses is the obvious goal here, and the picture being painted by the filmmakers. I would think that these ghettos would be boiling pots of angst, with riots being common occurrences, but they aren’t. Everyone is docile and seems resigned to their fate of scraping enough time together to live another day. Not sure how accurately this would play out in the real world.

One cool behavior of the poor folks in this district is the constant, repetitive act of checking their arms to gauge how much time they have left. Always aware, and wary, of the clock. At one point, Will says, “In this neighborhood, you learn not to sleep in.”

Quick shout out to Johnny Galecki (THE BIG BANG THEORY, 2007-Present, ROSANNE, 1992-1997) as Will’s frumpy best friend, struggling to support his wife and new baby. His story is brief but the few scenes he plays in are powerful, and I would have liked to see him more. Galecki has a good screen presence.

When Will encounters a stinking rich guy played by Matt Bomer (Bryce Larkin from CHUCK, 2007-2009, THE GUIDING LIGHT 2001-2003) flaunting 115 years shining from his arm, he saves the stranger from a marauding gang which terrorizes the district and wants to take the century of life for themselves. This rich guy, Henry Hamilton, explains that he’s lived over a hundred years and people shouldn’t live this long. He wants out, and gives all of his time to Will while he sleeps except for 5 minutes, enough time to wander out to a bridge and die to his own terms.

“For a few to live forever, many more must die,” he tells Will. This line is repeated later and is the crux of the story, of the world they live in.

The next “chapter” comes when Will, after trying to use his money to help his best friend, mother and a charity mission on the corner, but mostly failing, decides to see how the other, richer half live in order to find a way to fix the problems in his district, to stop the insanity, and to avenge those who have died needlessly.

This world is also interesting, in a snobby, boring kind of way. Centered in the downtown of a nameless city, it is populated exclusively by black and grey-clad rich people with centuries glowing from their arms. They have an almost unlimited supply time. There are people who “come from time” (instead of coming from money), but time is also squeezed from the poorer masses. There is no middle class, you are either poor and on the edge of death, or are virtually immortal. If there is a middle class, it is the police force, called Timekeepers, which enforces the “balance” of time-ownership amid the lower class, investigating when one person’s supply spikes suddenly. In effect, they enforce the upper class requirement that the poor stay poor and the rich become richer.

Oh, let’s mention the cars again. I said above that the only sign this was a “future” world were the cars. The rich and the timekeepers all drive cars. Slowly, lest someone bumps into something and gets hurt. The cars are electric because they whine, no motor noises. And the doors close with a hissing “fwoop!” This is a real nit-picky thing, but this is a sci-fi movie, and us fan-boys always nit-pick details. Everyone has by now seen at least one Hybrid and/or electric car. They don’t make noise. A Prius could sneak up behind you and the only sound to give it away are the tires rolling over pebbles. They don’t whine, at least not like these cars. And, there’s no need for doors to hermetically seal themselves. If there was, make all the doors do that in the film, not just every now and then when the sound effects person remembers to. OK, I’ve given voice to my geekie-ness. Back to the film review.

One of the big shots in this world is Philippe Weis, a flush-faced, quietly sinister man, well-played by Vincent Kartheiser (MAD MEN, 2007 -Present). He owns most of the banks and controls many of the prices charged for services and products—well, he and a cartel we meet only on audio conference call. There doesn’t seem to be much of a government here, just wealthy people controlling all. Weis’ daughter, Silvia, is a spoiled, bored rich girl who finds her time with Will more exciting than her last 27 years combined. She becomes infatuated with him, even when Will escapes the police using her as a hostage to save himself from being falsely arrested for killing Henry Hamilton. Silvia is a pretty convincing bored, rich girl, played by Amanda Seyfried (RED RIDING HOOD, 2011, AS THE WORLD TURNS, 1999-2001), with her constant, narrowed-eyed look of intense angst.

In this world of wealth, and especially the scenes where there is a large crowd of people, the sheer scope of casting this film became apparent. Seriously, everyone in the world stops aging at 25 years, so no forty year-old actors could get a job here. Everyone is not only 25, but pretty. Many of the extras wore make up, I’m sure. But to find a primary cast who can act and carry a film, actors had to be pulled from film and television. Kartheiser’s most recent success was television, as was Bomer’s, not to mention a lot of folks were once actors in soap operas (hence my seemingly-odd choices in parenthetical credits above, but I do this to make a point). This isn’t a bad thing. In fact, I like it, it’s good (ok, what song did I just quote? Anyone?).

What isn’t convincing in this film is the love affair between Silvia and Will as “Chapter 3” kicks in, where they pull a Bonnie & Clyde/Robin & Marion crime spree, stealing time from her father’s grip and giving it to the poor. Seriously, after losing all the time he’d gotten from Bryce, Will is down to a few hours remaining. Yet he and Sylvia in this short span fall in love with each other and have sex—or almost manage to a couple of times. Their whole relationship felt like a Hollywood requirement for a love story in every film, even if it needs to be crowbar-forced into the script.

Woven throughout the three components of the film, two groups are in pursuit of Will and his time. The Timekeepers, led by Officer Raymond Leon (Cillian Murphy – INCEPTION 2010, THE DARK KNIGHT, 2008), look like refugees from the MATRIX (1999) movies—long black coats, overly-serious expressions, sunglasses. This look did not work. It worked in THE MATRIX because it was new and stylish, but here it looks a bit pompous. Murphy’s early scenes tracking Will and trying to catch him are dull – I mean dull… I was not impressed at all with how they did up these cops. Until the last third of the film, when the pursuit of Will and Silvia becomes a personal thing to Officer Leon, then Murphy breaks his character out of the stereotype and acts human again. It’s rare for a character to seem so dull and one-dimensional at first, and then become one of the better players in a film at the end, but that is the case here.

The other group, the “mob” which terrorizes the poor district, is led by a pretty dude named Fortis (Alex Pettyfer – I AM NUMBER FOUR, 2011, BEASTLY, 2011). Initially they are pursuing Will after he rescues Hamilton from their clutches, then they fade into the woodwork of the film, forgetting about Will except for an occasional moment when they accidentally come across him again, eventually leading to a final showdown—but this is more a scene to show the bad guy (one of them at least, there are quite a few in this movie) get his comeuppance, rather than any actual plot resolution.

That’s the thing with IN TIME – there are so many threads and stories throughout this movie, it was hard as a viewer to become fully vested with any of them, because there wasn’t enough time spent in any of them.

As a way to close out, let’s compare IN TIME to GATTACA one more time. Not everyone liked Niccol’s 1997 masterpiece, but GATTACA works, with a background story that was huge, and similar in theme to IN TIME, where this new movie falters. In GATTACA, genetic engineering at conception produces perfect people, and those born naturally are considered a lower caste in society. Niccol focused on one story about a natural-born man who wants to be an astronaut and what he is willing to do to accomplish this. Granted, the three primary actors were Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman and Jude Law, and that had a lot to do with the film’s power, but the story was also narrowly-focused, so the viewer could hold on and relish it.

With IN TIME, an entire film of the poor district, the daily struggle just to stay alive, the gangs terrorizing the people for their time and thus their life, the Mission run by a young man collecting time a minute at a time only to give it away every day, would make for a pure, simple and fascinating story. The world of the rich, with their slow movements and eternal life, built on the backs and the lives of the poor, yet who lead an empty existence, could be another (though less emotional). The crime spree of Timberlake’s and Seyfried’s characters might also make a good story, if you keep the pursuit of them by the Timekeeper and the angry reaction of the gangsters to their giving away of stolen time to everyone: also an interesting story.

Together, though, it becomes a meal overloaded with too many rich ingredients, fighting for your taste and attention, dulling the impact of each. Sometimes three smaller meals over time makes for a better, richer experience.

I’ll give IN TIME 2.5 Knives out of 5… ok, back to Strunk & White’s rules: I give IN TIME two and a half knives out of five.

© Copyright 2011 by Daniel G. Keohane

Dan Keohane gives IN TIME ~ two and a half knives.