Here's my pick for the books out July where I think idea and execution come together. Incidently, Go Mutants has a very cool site.
And Planet recent got itself a facebook page too. Although the clothing section has had its own page for a while, we thought we should have one to indulge our luv & wunderment of pop and off-centre culture. I'm already busy on it regularly posting pics and tubes that appeal to my sense of groovy, hip, cool and crap.
Our mascot, The Silver Turtle: Size of a Planet* says "check it out."
*I lied, we don't have a mascot called The Silver Turtle: Size of a Planet. Wish we did.
Made on borrowed sets in just six days this modest film is basically a melodrama where a few people save humanity from a little alien guy you can't help but feel
sorry for. The fog machine is turned on full to hide the
wire and cardboard as heroes and villains wander around castle walls and out on the moors. It's like watching an epic as done by an amateur theatre company.
Earth VS The Flying Saucers (1956)
Few sci-fi inclined haven't seen this, but I'll remind you anyway. Ray Harryhausen put a lot of life into his saucers and into this film. The film itself is very pedestrian and predictable, but when saucers or aliens appear it just has that childhood thrill or fear you want to recall. And the faux epic climax over models of Washington buildings is always fun.
The Abominable Snowman (1957)
From the writer of the Quatermass stories comes an intelligent and philosophical adventure film. And yes, about the hunting of the Yeti. But despite the glorious visuals (impressive for the budget) this is mainly a psychological story and where much of its strength is from the characters and general atmosphere. There are striking moments to this small grand film and Peter Cushing shows why he's...well...Peter Cushing.
Fiend Without A Face (1957)
Feral brains with whiplash spinal cords! And these squirmy, leaping neck stranglers create a fairly effective climax to this modest British flick that is respectable to all concerned, even with the silly science and melodramatic plot twists. Without doubt the stars of this movie are the little brain bastards and they don't truly appear till near the end but it's a worthy payoff.
Atomic Submarine (1960)
The cheap look adds to the charm of submariners versus a flying saucer. The actors try to be likeable,
the director tries to be entertaining, and the narrator keeps a stiff upper-lip. Stock footage abounds! When our heroes eventually get into the saucer the real fun begins. The big bad alien is one of my cheesiest favourites and I love his alien arrogance. Take that, you!
The Day The Earth Caught Fire (1961)
The world is about to end and no special effects to stop it! That's because this is an actor's piece and more involving for it. Through a top notch cast we see people deal with the crisis in
themselves. This is drama about our own lives as much as a scientific thriller. I think it's one of the best British SF films made.
The Last Man On Earth (1964)
When don't you enjoy Vincent Price? Never does he fail to live up to a film and this Italian mega-el-cheapo mutant zombie movie tries hard to live up to him. Admittedly, this version of Richard Matheson's I Am Legend (there have been three) virtually begins and ends with Vincent's performance, but the film still holds up enough on its own. It shows that even if the execution isn't the greatest, a good idea not betrayed goes a long way towards a good SF movie.
Death Race 2000 (1975)
I've always liked David Carradine even when he's in one of those ultra-cheapie rip-off flicks. And this is one of them, made quickly to cash in on Rollerball (1975). But it moves fast, keeps the right humour and beats Paul Verhoven to that satirical styleuber-violence. It's Wacky Races for psychos. And who doesn't do pedestrian point scoring when that little old lady is taking too long to cross the road? And it has the only bad visual pun I'll let be paid.
The Hidden (1988)
Effectively a chase movie, it barrels along so fast you don't have time to realise there isn't much story. Eventually it turns into an alien and human buddy story, with all that character building stuff wanna-be writers would want to do with such a premise. But the direction and Kyle MacLaughlin's charms keep you happy to see how it all turns out. And the body-stealing alien is a nice piece of work.
Fatally flawed, but there's enough cool stuff in this Rutger Hauer low-budgeter to make you wonder why it goes so wrong. Indeed, this is a smart, sassy, stylish future cop film with quirky heroes chasing a nashy-teeth monster through a flooded London. It's going great guns till the studio, so impressed by the rough cut, thought this could go mainstream and thus rejected the original cerebral ending, forced the director to quit (he went back to commercials) and commissioned a rewrite to deliberately dumb down the last ten minutes (you can see the moment it happens). It could have been a cult classic, but instead it's another Highlander 2, except it still makes more sense than that.
It's hard to find evidence for who was the creator of the autobiographic comic and so it is easy to put that honour on Harvey Pekar. He as good as deserves it anyway. Throughout his work as a comic writer, particularly through his comic American Splendor, Mr Pekar talked of his cranky life as an office worker and music collector. He'd harp on with his observations of life and love with a dry frustration that not just lent itself to the comic medium but created a whole genre in that medium.
Pekar's work began as self published in '76. Robert Crumb was the first and most often and most important artist to illustrate Pekar's commentary of monotony, art, life and relationships. Important artists followed suit and depicted Pekar's world intermittently up until 2008, culminating in a rather decent movie.
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of what will become the legacy of Harvey Pekar is that his art, his work, was almost inseparable from the man himself. His publications weren't just biographies but part of the overall living art installation that was Harvey Pekar. And this living art began modestly and slowly ingrained itself upon the American indy unconscious to construct an unashamedly narrow window of a universe that many could identify as their own life in mundane America.
I predict and hope we'll see one last work The Death of Harvey Pekar. I'm sure it'll be as wry and self effacingly bitter as anything he's written. It'll be an art installation complete.
I can't be arsed writing some lengthy tribute to To Kill a Mockingbird, although it certainly would deserve it, but you can google it and get every man and his book reading dog honouring the work faster than it takes to read this and certainly for me to write it. But there are things that intrigue me as we hit half century on one of the most influential works of the English language, let alone American literature.
Here's a book that has as often been banned or burned as it and the author has been awarded the highest honours for literature and for battling ignorance and bigotry, and all in the same country throughout its 50 year life. Perhaps no other book, except Catcher in the Rye, has shown up the insane contradictions of a religious and rational nation.
Harper Lee herself has only on few occasions involved herself in that madness (great letter she wrote to a school board on her Wikipedia entry) and in fact she has refrained from much comment at all.
Often the media refer to such people as recluses, which is an utterly shallow reaction toward people who prefer to drink with their own mates than fortune seeking journos and fame touching fans (authors like Cormac McCarthy, Thomas Pynchon or Tim Winton).
Harper Lee is no recluse but she obviously enjoys a private life. Perhaps partly due to bearing witness to what happened to her attention-seeking friend Truman Capote, but I think more because she's simply wiser than many.
Harper Lee only wrote the one novel and indeed it is also her only major work. It is considered semi-autobiographical and may explain that she has always thought of herself as more of a journalist than as a novelist, even though she can happily wear the label of novelist on just the one novel (a testament to the power of Mockingbird).
Perhaps an important reason for her reticence to be interviewed or talk about the book is that she firmly believes the book can and should talk for itself. I don't think she wants the book and herself to be inseparably intertwined in the public consciousness as how both In Cold Blood and Catcher are often perceived.
Certainly I feel that the 84 year old Harper Lee (34 when she wrote Mockingbird) does not want herself to be the subject rather than the ideas she puts forward. Indeed, this may well have contributed to the book's power 50 years on.
And that I spent more time talking about her than the book probably wouldn't impress Harper Lee at all.
Ray Harryhausen is a god among filmmakers, because he was and still is the king of movie monster makers. His Dynamation process was more than just hand animating models, which would be awesome simply by itself, but he developed film processes for this animation to work among real actors and seemingly on set. It was stunning for its time but the artistry keeps it alive even now when technically it would seem crude compared to the computer generated material of Avatar.
But I would bet you ten bucks that everyone who worked on the creatures and ships in Avatar is a proud Harryhausen fan directly inspired by his work. And I bet another ten bucks directly inspired by Jason and the Argonauts, maybe the best kids movie ever.
Ten or so years ago I had the privilege of meeting Mr. Harryhausen at a talk he gave. That would have been cool by itself and remains a firm and fond memory. But it was made very special by what he brought with him. He had various models from his films including the Medusa from Clash of the Titans and few other beasties.
Two particular items were really special to me to see, up close too. One was a skeleton from the climatic fight from Jason & the Argonauts; he was like twenty centimetres high. The other was a saucer from Earth vs the Flying Saucers, one of the small ones from the shots where they flew along in armadas.
That moment was so exciting for me, the high moment of fanboy worship, because to actually see up close one of those saucers that Ray animated by hand and know that was the saucer I saw in the film that when I first saw it, some Saturday afternoon on the family TV, I didn't even think of it as something that existed outside the screen, was like making a personal and physical connection to my sense of cinematic awe. This should really let you know where I'm coming from. And it's where a lot of fantastic film enthusiasts come from.
And Ray Harryhausen holds a rare distinction in cinema. In the early years of film, particularly during the studio system, ownership went to the producer, a Selznick or DeMille picture, later, as independents started to arise, to the director, a Hitchcock or Scorcese film, otherwise it belong to the lead actor, a John Wayne or Audrey Hepburn movie. Ray Harryhausen is the only person who is not a producer or director or actor who is given the ownership for the films he created such dazzling effects. Ray did not write, produce or direct any of his films, from It Came from Beneath the Sea to Clash of the Titans, yet all are referred to as Harryhausen films. For in the end, there is no reason to see these movies except for the thrill of what Ray Harryhausen produced for it, often as a solo craftsman and with the most modest of budgets.
And that is why he grows in reverence and stature more and more every day. You see, the coolest thing of all about Ray Harryhausen is that he gets cooler. He is cooler now than he was ten years ago, twenty, fifty years ago. I am glad that on his 90th birthday he has that knowledge that he is one of the coolest guys in the movie world. For over time, because and not despite of all the common place CGI of contemporary fantasy films, new generations can see the artistry and the unique skill of Harryhausen's achievements. Some things don't date and some things date just in the right way to keep them alive forever.
In the world of fantastic cinema, he is a legend. He is the man.
So now, let's wrap this up with what is perhaps Ray Harryhausen's finest moment as an artist, Perseus encountering the Medusa in the 1981 film Clash of the Titans, his last feature film before retirement.