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Dead Ringers

dead ringers surgery red

Twins. Red surgical capes. Fiendish homemade medical implements. This is a brief look at the David Cronenberg classic, ‘Dead Ringers.’

dead ringers poster

In 1988, David Cronenberg, one of the most accomplished purveyors of horror and shock cinema at the time, unleashed a beast of a different kind. The film is Dead Ringers. It is a chilling, fictionalized account of the story of Stewart and Cyril Marcus, twin gynecologists who died together under mysterious circumstances in 1975. Ringers is based on the lives of the Marcus twins as well as the novel Twinsby Bari Wood.

In Cronenberg’s film, the identical twin doctors are Elliot and Beverly Mantle (both played by Jeremy Irons), and their unique brotherly connection causes them to share their personal and professional lives in more ways than one. Practically indistinguishable from one-another, they even trade roles without bothering to make others aware of their substitution. Read more…

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Just How “HARD TO BE A GOD” Is It?

A spoiler-free appreciation of the great Russian film, ‘Hard To Be A God,’ by late writer/director Aleksei German (that’s Grr-men, with a hard “G”) released in 2014.

Ironically, myth has always been a fertile source for science-fiction. A culture’s collective mythology is a set of impossible-to-prove stories intended to explain why things are the way they are. At first glance, science fiction doesn’t seem like it works backward in that way. What can a tale of futuristic advancement explain about our origins? Like I said, it’s a little ironic.

Hard To Be A God Russia 2014

Movies and myth have always been a perfect match for one another. Just think about how many times the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral has been made into a movie (nearly two-dozen if you count TV). Why has that story been retold over and over? Primarily, because the official historical record is imperfect. No retelling can be proven wholly accurate, allowing different storytellers to riff on the story in their own way.

When you expand your gaze from the myths of the Old West to the myths of creation, now you are onto something. The exploration of a culture’s own creation mythology is also a relatively popular topic in SF circles (Prometheus comes readily to mind). Space exploration and the search of a higher power or life-form both brush up against mythology (think Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, or Tarkovsky’s Stalker) as well. Sometimes, good fiction is able to take an entirely novel approach to the mythical constructs we are familiar with.

Hard To Be A God is one such film. Released several months after the death of writer/director Aleksei German in 2013, Hard To Be A God examines what life might have been like had the Italian Renaissance never brought an end to the Dark Ages. A team of scientists has been observing life on another planet identical to Earth, with a dominant species identical to humans. This society, which has mirrored the development of humans on Earth, currently lags behind that of the scientists by about 800 years. That puts them, you guessed it, smack in the middle of their own Dark Ages period. Only thing is, this version of humanity has violently suppressed its greatest artists and thinkers, causing itself to unknowingly regress into a doomed societal state. Read more…

ALIEN: COVENANT

Alien: Covenant Review

In my time as a fan of the ALIEN films and all things xenomorphic, a dichotomy among fans has become apparent (mostly friendly… mostly). In any group of said fans, there will be a fairly even divide between those who prefer Alien and those who prefer Aliens (with considerably less love for Alien³, Alien: Resurrection and Prometheus). While I have bounced back and forth between camps, these days I generally find myself stumping for the original over its almost equally tremendous sequel. Even the later installments in the franchise tend to be categorized by which of the two they adhere to the closest. With Alien: Covenant, director Sir Ridley Scott has carefully tiptoed that line in ways that are both deft and frustrating.

Scott’s own Alien (1979) was a science-fiction suspenser of the highest order and one of a handful of films to adopt the slasher-film structure before the full-on deluge of the 1980s. Aliens (1986) on the other hand, was James Cameron’s run-and-gun actioner. It remains a roller coaster ride with a great story. Covenant, meanwhile plays somewhat like a mixtape of the franchise. It holds to the slasher formula (for better and worse), it delivers action-packed shootouts, a coterie of alien beasts, and even furthers the philosophical bent of Prometheus. The result is interesting, but overstuffed and not as singular in its vision as either of the first two films. As a sequel to Prometheus (2012), Covenant reaches higher highs and also stumbles to lower lows, creating an entertaining if uneven experience likely to divide fans in much the same way. Read more…

‘MIRACLE MILE’ And The Taste Of Fear

Miracle Mile is a small but remarkable film from 1988, written and directed by Steve de Jarnatt. The story begins with a meet-cute romance between Harry and Julie, played by Anthony Edwards (Top Gun, Zodiac) and Mare Winningham (St. Elmo’s Fire). Miracle Mile moves at such a brisk pace, that the relationship is established by end of the opening credits, with hardly a line of dialogue. The sweetness of these two actors carries through to the end, and helps the film to retain its emotional core as the tension rises.

(Minor spoilers follow, but I won’t give away the ending)

Miracle Mile 1988 Harry Julie

Harry and Julie spend time getting to know each other after meeting at the La Brea Tar Pits. They make plans to go on an official first date after Julie gets off work at midnight. Harry oversleeps and heads to the rendezvous point at Johnie’s Diner three-and-a-half hours late, unsure of what else to do (by the way, how did we ever get by before cell phones?). Read more…

‘3 WOMEN’ – Robert Altman’s Fever Dream and Maybe Masterpiece

Robert Altman’s 3 Women (1977) is a unique viewing experience. It flouts easy genre categorization, and carries the distinctive air of an otherworldly dream within a contemporary (for 1977) milieu. Is it a conventional drama? Certainly not. Is it horror? Still no, though Gerald Busby’s musical score might lead you to believe otherwise. It’s a mixture of elements that produces a calculated dissonance, and it’s an experimental gem from Altman’s monolithic career.

3 Women stars Sissy Spacek as Pinky, and Shelley Duvall as Millie. Pinky is a slob, childlike, and relatively guileless with men. Millie is classically feminine (please take that as a value-neutral statement) though perhaps only superficially so; she is well dressed, cooks, lives in an immaculately-kept apartment, and flows over with fashionable lifestyle advice. Who is the third woman? While the cast list is likely to tip viewers off that the third woman is Willie, local artist and businesswoman played by Janice Rule, 3 Women is essentially a two-woman show for most of its runtime.

3 Women Poster Rober Altman

Pinky starts a new job at a therapy center, assisting elderly patients with water aerobics and other activities. On the job, she meets and is trained by Millie. The two women take a liking to one another and they quickly begin to display an uncanny connection to one another. Plot-wise, there is not much more than that. There are more characters, but their presences are mostly incidental. Read more…

Rogue One

This is long overdue, but I finally have time to share a few thoughts on Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the latest Disney/Lucasfilm tentpole. Cutting to the chase, Rogue One is terrific. While the film is not completely without fault, I find that the majority of my criticisms fall in the “nitpicks from a Star Wars fan” category, and do not add up to anything that seriously hinders the experience.

rogue one star wars story poster

The beautiful one-sheet for “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”

Chief among my gripes, and one of the major talking points regarding the film (unfortunately), are the fully-CGI renderings of Governor Tarkin and Princess Leia (Peter Cushing and Carrie Fisher circa 1977). Many have grappled with the ethics of using the likeness of the deceased Cushing (which I don’t see as an issue), and it will be interesting to see how Fisher’s character will be used in future installments after her tragic and untimely passing. My bugaboo is that the characters didn’t look great on the screen, and the distraction hardly seemed worth the trouble. Leia was the more convincing of the two, but I imagine her minimal screen time helped a bit. Tarkin, as well as Cushing himself, is iconic, and while I like the idea of him having a presence in the story, he didn’t need to be a fully-fledged character responsible for anchoring multiple scenes. The likeness was not quite good enough for that and resulted in a distraction that makes a Star Wars fan powerless to think about anything but the weirdness of seeing a major character in a modern movie played by an actor long dead. Not a movie-wrecking travesty, but a distraction nonetheless.

This serves as a natural segue into a few other pain points revolving around how Rogue One related to the canonical Star Wars episodes. [Prepare yourself for a paragraph of petty beefs followed by what I actually liked about the movie… I promise.] Darth Vader appeared in a couple of scenes. In his scene with Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), you might notice that Vader doesn’t appear quite himself. Whether the great James Earl Jones’ (now 86) iconic timbre isn’t what it used to be, or the costume wasn’t quite right (I’ve heard many diagnoses, but haven’t been able to put my finger exactly on it), the small details in this scene were bound to distract longtime fans and could have been altogether avoided without harming the story if the scene were trimmed. Jimmy Smits was a welcome sight, but did he have to come with a verbal reference (might as well have been a wink) to Princess Leia—especially when you’ve already got her lined up for a killer cameo later on? It’s just a matter of redundancy bogging down the proceedings when subtext would suffice. There are other pocks, but I’m going to stop now before I forget that I actually really liked the movie a lot. Read more…