Thursday, April 24, 2014

Time Travel Time #4: Frankenstein Unbound

Roger Corman's last directorial venture is one of his finest, and it should have led to a new string of Corman "in the driver's seat" endeavors, if only the movie had been better distributed and marketed. With this said, "Frankenstein Unbound" (1990), based on the acclaimed Brian Aldiss novel and adapted by Corman and F.X. Feeney, is a superb treat: not merely a "Frankenstein" retelling, but a fate-laced, time-travel escapade.

John Hurt plays Dr. Joe Buchanan, a scientist from the year 2031, who has built the ultimate laser-beam weapon, which he believes, due to its threatening force, will actually persuade adversaries from engaging in war. Alas, the prototype causes dimensional "slips" and as such, tosses the scientist and his high-tech car, which houses the deadly device, into 1817 and no less than Mary Shelley's classic tale, which Buchanan quickly learns is based on real events.

Though Buchanan is initially drawn to Victor Frankenstein (Raul Julia) after a seemingly chance encounter with the secretive scientist at an inn, he eventually grows cynical of the moody genius, particularly the next day when he happens upon the trial of Justine, the nanny blamed for Frankenstein's younger brother, William's death. It's also at the trial that Buchanan spots the lovely Shelley (Bridget Fonda), shrewdly absorbing the details, and boldly converses with her, learning that she believes the girl is innocent.

Though Buchanan begs Frankenstein to come clean, to admit that his neglected Monster (Nick Brimble) did, in fact, murder his brother, Frankenstein pompously refuses, only then to mislead Buchanan with an pretentious pledge to comply, thus leading to Justine's hanging. Soon thereafter, Buchanan's relationship with Shelley widens, leading the time-traveler to reveal his origin, thus enchanting the blooming author, which in turn, leads the two to copulate in an impulsive "free love" moment.

Knowing how events will basically unfold from Shelley's yet-to-be-completed novel, Buchanan consistently but fruitlessly tries to intervene. The Monster inevitably murders Frankenstein's fiance, Elizabeth (Catherine Rabett), which then results in a unique genesis for the Monster's would-be "bride" (an idea actually reused four years later in Kenneth Branagh's "Frankenstein" adaptation). Ultimately, Buchanan, Frankenstein, the Monster and Bride are absorbed by another time slip, transporting them to a strange, snow-bound realm and still another series of harrowing circumstances.

It should be noted that, what distinguishes the tale isn't merely its time-travel component, but rather Buchanan's desperation to set things right, even though he realizes his own creation is as sadly misguided as Frankenstein's. Even after Buchanan channels the device's power to halt the Monster, he realizes the man-made creation can never truly perish (any more than the prevailing effects of his lethal laser can): in essence, Buchanan's intent to bestow something good onto the world has proven, alas, all in ironic vain. In this regard, Buchanan is clearly being taught a lesson by some unseen, celestial force, if not in the dangers of playing God, then certainly in the dangers of emulating Shelley's mythic character.

"Frankenstein Unbound" is tightly directed (coming in at a swift 83 minutes), while deftly presenting a gamut of thought-provoking ideas, intrigue, tension and impressive performances (including cameos by Jason Patric as Lord Byron and Michael Hutchence as Percy Shelley). That it was filmed in Italy enhances its lush, overall ambiance, defying its modest budget. Corman's signature, surreal interludes also bolster the progression of events, further confirming his creative flair.

It's too bad the movie never received the fanfare it so rightly deserved (though it's safe to say that Corman fans eagerly embraced it from the start), but for those who let this one pass by, it's by all means worth a view. It masterfully combines aspects of the familiar with a brave, newfangled angle, making it, for all intents and purposes, a promising classic in developing discovery.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Video Watchdog #176

Hey folks--just a little FYI to say I got a "letter" published in Video Watchdog #176, reflecting on John Carpenter's "They Live". (Many of you buy the magazine, so you'll be stumbling upon my comments soon enough.) I must confess, I'm rather proud to be featured, if but only in brief form. VW is a very prestigious periodical, with acclaimed film historian (and Maria Bava expert), Tim Lucas, as editor and Quentin Tarantino as one of its most avid readers. Hip! Hip! Hooray!

Monday, April 21, 2014

An Alternate Reality #1: War of the Worlds Goliath

Ever since I was a youngster, I've been an avid "War of the Worlds" fan, whether of the H.G. Wells' text or the various productions that have emerged in its wake. When I discovered a couple years back that an animated, "steampunk" version was on the horizon, I got overwhelmingly excited to say the least. Hot dog!--at long last, I finally got to see the film, having stumbled upon a copy at a local Walmart.

This particular entry is entitled "War of the Worlds: Goliath": a Malaysian made sequel (from Tripod Productions), with an English-tongued cast.

After a harrowing prologue linked to the original invasion, the story commences in 1914, just prior to the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, whose death ushered in the Great War. In this instance, however, the reverberating effects of Ferdinand's ultimate demise prove fleeting, due to another pending Martian onslaught, which naturally brings all earthly factions together to fight for the obvious, common cause.

In the context of director Joe Pearson and writer David Abramowitz's epic, Earth's nations have, in truth, long since anticipated such a return. As such, an elite, multinational military group called ARES (Allied Resistance Earth Squadrons) has manufactured a fleet of towering, tripod machines based on Martian technology (which resembles the likes of "RoboCop'"s ED209s and "Star Wars'" AT-ST Walkers). Additionally, as a prevailing reminder of the Martians' eminent existence (and unsettling threat of re-occupation), NY is characterized by a distinct blend of steampunk and art deco characteristics: a radically modern world than would have otherwise surfaced without the alien influence.

As should come as no surprise, the Martians have also made advancements during the reprieve, having constructed super-sleek, flying machines (which resemble the original "Battlestar Galactica" Cylon Raiders or arguably the "Independence Day" alien crafts) to combat ARES' bi/triplanes and its awe-inspiring, war zeppelins, including the Leviathan, which figures into several of the film's rousing battle sequences. Also to their advantage, the Martians are now impervious to the bacteria that previously halted them, making it all the easier for them to stomp incessantly about, blasting structures with their Heat Rays and inserting humans into their weird, cylindrical cages to use as nourishment. 

Naturally, ARES wastes no time to cease such ghastly activities, and led by British Captain Eric Wells (who as a lad, watched his parents perish from a Heat Ray and later coins the term, "Goliath", for his own first-in-the-line,  mega-bulked, appendaged tank), they don't stand much a chance, particularly with the bullish, non-nonsense Secretary of War, Teddy Roosevelt encouraging him on. Manfred von Richthofen, the legendary Red Baron, is also there to enhance the "Hell's Angels"/"Star Wars" styled flight scenes, thus further bolstering ARES' ever staunch pursuits.

Ultimately, what permeates the tale is not so much an evident altering of history (though such most certainly progressively unrolls), but rather a meticulous experiment in steampunk imagery. Some of the scenes are, in fact, so beautifully rendered that most will find themselves easily lost in their destructive expanses. In the end, though, it's Roosevelt who readily implies that Earth, as we once knew it, can never be the historically the same, championing the notion that before the enemy can invade yet again, we must take the fight to Mars!

Incidentally, the film features the voices of many "Highlander" fan favorites (a franchise to which Abramowtiz holds a respected connection), which includes Adrian Paul, Elizabeth Gracen and Dick Wingfield, with Adam Baldwin thrown in for good measure. Additionally a cover of "Forever Autumn", from "Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of WOW", is heard during the opening and closing credits to a most atmospheric and bittersweet effect.

"WOW: Goliath" won't be every one's cup of tea. The peaceniks will surely scoff at it, and youngsters who don't have a handle on its historical time frame (whether the WWI insinuations or the brother-vs-brother IRA subplot), may have a hard time unraveling the overall context.

Personally, I'd like to see another installment (particularly for the potential steampunk possibilities), but then again, anything dealing with Martian invasions is my cup of tea, especially when such faithfully swings back to Wells' imaginative, eternal source!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Collectible Time #6: Giant Size Godzilla 2014 action figure

Hey folks! I seized the above jumbo (Jakks Pacific) action figure at Toys"R"Us, well in advance of the new Gojira film's release. To say the least, I was most frantic to get to the store to nab this one, particularly when I called and discovered they only had one in stock!

The figure is 24" tall, and when the tail is assembled, extends to 3' in length: a pretty impressive scale, to say the least. (The tail has the ability to "swing", and one can display the piece with the mouth open or shut.)

Gosh, what a swell item to obtain (and seemingly at this point, against great odds). Beyond a doubt, it's sure a splendid way to gear up for "Godzilla 2014"! 

Monday, April 7, 2014

I saw Cap...

I saw Captain America, in the grandiose sequel, "Captain America: the Winter Soldier" (directed by the acclaimed Anthony and Joe Russo and penned by the equally acclaimed Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely), and as far as team-up jaunts go, this is a triumph: right up there with "Avengers", I dare say, only not as character-laden, of course, and considerably darker, more cynical than most other Marvel movies. It also features both of Cap/Steve Rogers's primary comic-book "best buddies": Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan, reprising his role from "First Avenger") and Sam Wilson, the Falcon (Anthony Mackie). The ever stalwart Nick Fury (Samuel Jackson) is in there, too, along with the ever resourceful (and abundantly fetching) Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), plus some new characters, like SHIELD honcho, Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford), who brings a sleek,  '70s espionage feel to the scene. Still overall, it's essentially Chris (Johnny Human Torch) Evans' steadfast WWII superhero who keeps this powerful yarn completely in check. Through him, everything patriotically revolves.

The film's ultimate focus (as most already know from recently publicized comic-book lore) centers on a revitalized (once believed defunct) Bucky: brainwashed into a super-charged, bionic machine. He's the Winter Soldier: for what it's worth, a term that refers to one of initial honor, but later of questionable cause.

In a way, it's actually quite heartbreaking to discover that Bucky has gone from virtuous aide to demented foe (even though in the last Cap entry, he was radically reinterpreted to be older and wiser, instead of an adolescent "poor man's Dick Grayson", as he's sometimes been called). Still, as the mind-warped Winter Soldier, one can't help but feel a sentimental twinge for Cap's wartime sidekick, but gosh, is he ever a lethal opponent! At the same time, he's also not a traditional villain, if only in that he can't entirely shake his gracious roots (particularly when he recognizes Rogers after an intense encounter), but always remains a tenacious enough force to fuel the film's escalating tension.

Although Bucky may have fallen off the virtuous path, the Falcon is there to more than deftly occupy his spot, but it's the modern, practical look that he sports, not that hip, '70s flair that many generally associate with the character. Nonetheless, the new look works logically in the modernized scheme of things, and whenever the Falcon takes flight, the sequences are nothing short of thrilling.

At any rate, Cap not only has to contend with a dangerously revamped Bucky, but has suspicions that Nick Fury and SHIELD many not necessarily be on the level, especially in the aftermath of a recent mission. How Cap resolves this, and who (or what) is actually pulling Bucky's strings (an old enemy, perhaps?) is what draws one deeper into the plot.

In the end, beyond all the twists and turns, "Winter Soldier" emerges as a rollicking, high-adrenalin adventure, which like its predecessor, never forgets that, at its heart, it's all about a good man trying to do good. That's what counts here. Cap stands for something righteously old-fashioned, yes, but so what? Admirably, he believes in doing the respectable thing and is never hesitant when it comes to dishing out justice. Of course, in Bucky's case, Cap does face a dilemma, for his friend has obviously been altered by others. Still, with the damage done, how can Cap allow his old pal to run rampant? Cap has no choice but to stop him, or by some impossibly slim chance, find the means to reach him, redeem him.

Anyway, get off your duffs and support Cap in his latest spree. That's right--send a message to those high-brow know-it-alls who think Cap is passe, and maybe on a more frequent basis, we'll be awarded even more of these good-hearted salutes. God only knows we need such in this ever confusing world; why, oh, why not at the very least start with the movies?


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Collectible Time #5: Maria Metropolis Robotrix

My parents, Fred and Loretta, surprised me with this wondrous Maria "Metropolis" Robotrix statue. Evidently, it was on back order for quite some time through Design Toscano, but at long last emerged! I must say, I'm as happy as a lark on a spring day with this dandy piece. My wife, Donna, thinks it's pretty striking, as well. What can I say, except that she clearly has very good taste.

This particular Maria representation is made of resin, stands about 10", and sports (as you can undoubtedly behold) a pose distinctly in tune with Brigitte Helm's legendary, science-fiction character.

No doubt about it--this one would make any "Metropolis"/Fritz Lang/Art Deco fan euphoric beyond belief. I thank my parents from the bottom of my heart for purchasing it. They obviously know what tickles my fancy!!!

(And remember, folks: The Mediator Between Head and Hands is the HEART!!!)