Some Science Fiction films

Another film post, reblogged from 2013. David and Keith have seen it, but I think few others have. Science Fiction this time.


What is Science Fiction? It can be argued that this means different things to different people, and with justification. I will deal with those films that take a futuristic view of events, and try to imagine what life might be like, in an alternative reality, or in centuries to come. I will try to avoid ‘monster’ films, but will include robots, and space travel. Some of these are incredibly famous films, and I could not justify omitting them from this short list. If you think you know them well, have another look, and discover something you might have missed.

Things to Come. Written by H.G.Wells, and directed by Alexander Korda, this 1936 film spans a huge time period, from 1940, through to an imagined 2036. It is famous for its predictions; of the destruction of cities by massed aerial bombardment, the use of chemical and biological warfare, and post-apocalyptic…

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Some uncomfortable films

Another 2013 film post. Only Eddy and my cousin have seen this one.


I have to get straight in with a warning here. These films are described as uncomfortable, as this is the type of viewing experience you can expect. Some are downright nasty, and all will make you uneasy at some point, and you may even turn them off. They contain scenes of sexual violence, mass-murder, casual killings, and portrayals of madness. So, watch at your peril, and don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Why recommend them in that case? Despite the above disclaimers, I feel that they all have something to offer; about society, or war, or human endurance. Some are studio productions with a star cast, others made on a budget, with little-known actors. All are well-made, with performances of intensity, and sincerity, from all those involved. Without exception, none of them are feel-good films, and all will leave you with unpleasant memories. A lot like real life then…


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Some British films

Another old film post from 2013. Only Eddy has seen this one.


Working my way around European Cinema, I almost forgot the UK. The long tradition of film-making here has been diluted over the years, with the demise of many famous studios, and leading actors and directors ‘defecting’ to the USA. There is still a vast amount to choose from though, and here are five to think about.

Brighton Rock. The first, and best film treatment of the Graham Greene novel. This 1947 film gives the young Richard Attenborough the role of the psychotic Pinkie, a juvenile gang-leader , arguably one of his best ever performances. Filmed for the most part on the streets of post-war Brighton during the summer, it serves as a fascinating social documentary as well, portraying those times, the vehicles, and the style of dress. With a cast of well-known British character actors supporting Attenborough’s menacing central lead, this is a great example of the sort of British…

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Lyrically Evocative (30)

In 2004, I heard a song by the British band, Keane. It was called ‘Somewhere Only We Know’. I liked it a lot, but not enough to buy the album it came from as some of the other tracks did not appeal. Many years later, the song was covered by Lily Allen, to be used as the soundtrack for the John Lewis Christmas TV advert, in 2013.

Her plaintive vocals touched my heart, and for me they lifted the song to a new level.

Earlier this morning, I commented about her version on another blog post, and listening to the song once again, it made me remember just how relevant the lyrics are to me.

Here are those lyrics.

I walked across an empty land
I knew the pathway like the back of my hand
I felt the earth beneath my feet
Sat by the river and it made me complete
Oh, simple thing, where have you gone?
I’m getting old and I need something to rely on
So, tell me when you’re gonna let me in
I’m getting tired and I need somewhere to begin
I came across a fallen tree
I felt the branches of it looking at me
Is this the place we used to love?
Is this the place that I’ve been dreaming of?
Oh, simple thing, where have you gone?
I’m getting old and I need something to rely on
So, tell me when you’re gonna let me in
I’m getting tired and I need somewhere to begin
And if you have a minute, why don’t we go?
Talk about it somewhere only we know
This could be the end of everything
So, why don’t we go?
Somewhere only we know
Somewhere only we know
Oh, simple thing, where have you gone?
I’m getting old and I need something to rely on
So, tell me when you’re gonna let me in
I’m getting tired and I need somewhere to begin
And if you have a minute, why don’t we go?
Talk about it somewhere only we know
This could be the end of everything
So, why don’t we go?
So, why don’t we go?
This could be the end of everything
So, why don’t we go?
Somewhere only we know
Somewhere only we know
Somewhere only we know

Source: Musixmatch
Songwriters: Rice Oxley Timothy James / Hughes Richard David / Chaplin Thomas Oliver
Somewhere Only We Know lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Mgb Ltd.

And here is Lily’s version, with the animated TV ad.

A perfect quote

I thought of this post from 2013, which has not been seen by many of you. It is one of my favourite quotes of modern times.


I was watching a documentary film this morning. The person who was the subject of the documentary was being remembered by friends. One recalled that she had once met Gil Scott-Heron, the late musician. She asked him what his definition of a pessimist was. His reply has to be one of my favourite quotes, ever.

“A pessimist is a person who is in possession of all the facts.”


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Just been watching…(112)

Snowpiercer (2013)
***No spoilers***

I watched this film a long time ago. It was late at night, and I admit I had consumed some wine. I remember thinking it looked good, and enjoying the big-name cast. Then last week, I read a review of the film on the blog of the lovely Abi.

That jogged my memory, and I decided to watch it again, courtesy of Netflix.

The general idea is that scientists on Earth decide to stop global warming. They do this by adding a newly-discovered chemical to the atmosphere, designed to reduce the temperature considerably. Of course, it doesn’t go as planned, instigating a worldwide ice age that kills off most of the life on the planet. The last remaining humans are surviving aboard a very long train, the Snowpiercer of the title.

The train is designed and owned by the man known simply as ‘Wilford’. He has invented a self-perpetuating engine, and the train runs a circular route around the world, taking one year to complete each circuit on a specially-built track. Inside the train, social structure is tightly maintained, with a poor underclass right at the back, and the wealthy and influential closer to the front. Those at the back are forbidden from moving forward, policed by a private army that controls them rigidly. They are fed a ‘protein jelly’, and kept in relative darkness, regularly counted and ordered around.

Their treatment causes stirrings of rebellion of course, and they look to two leaders to organise a revolt. One is the elderly sage, Gilliam. (John Hurt) A wise spiritual leader, he is assisted by the tough warrior, Curtis. (Chris Evans) The people at the back of the train are a mix of types and races. Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Black, alongside the white people. Those nearer the front, the soldiers, and the privileged few, are mostly white of course.

So we have a post-apocalyptic thriller, with overtones of a concentration camp film, and also making some statements about racism, equality, and the desperation of mankind in a near-impossible situation. “Seen it all before!”, I hear you cry. I know. But this time, it’s on a train!

And the train is good. Despite a stellar cast, including those already mentioned but adding an almost-unrecognisable Tilda Swinton, and the reliable Ed Harris, the train is the star. It feels at all times as if they are on a real train. The different sections, getting ever grander closer to the front, are very well imagined, and the exterior shots of the train in the snow and ice covered landscape are beautifully rendered by CGI. So, is it a good film?

Not really. That will teach me not to watch a film very late at night with red wine on board my system. Despite that great cast, some well executed set pieces, and the marvellous train, it often feels just plain silly. And it is ultimately pointless too. There are much better post-apocalyptic/dystopian dramas out there. This one looks a lot better than it actually is.
Unless you like trains, of course…

Some Japanese films

More World Cinema from 2013, this time from Japan. I don’t think any of you have seen this post before.


This is a difficult one to tackle. So many Japanese films are about historical subjects, and samurai warriors. In recent years, the animation film industry has been turned on its head by developments from Japan, and a lot of their domestic films are becoming similar in style and content, to American Cinema. The horror film is still widely produced and admired there, and the films are good enough to attract remakes on the other side of the Pacific. It is the home of one of my favourite directors, Akira Kurosawa, as well as one of my favourite actors, Takeshi Kitano. As a result, my research for this small list of recommendations has taken twice as long as usual, and I have tried to avoid the obvious, and frequently seen films, as well as some of the older classics. With some reservations at not being able to suggest a much longer…

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Gangster Squad (2013)

***This is based on real events, so spoilers do not apply***

I am very late to this six-year old film. To be honest, I had little interest in it at the time, expecting it to be just another rehash of better gangster films I had seen previously. And it was exactly that, to some extent. However, great lighting, tight direction, and the borrowed theme of ‘The Magnificent Seven’, (that borrowed from ‘The Seven Samurai of course) allowed this more recent example to stand on its own in the genre.

Post-war Los Angeles, 1949. East Coast gangster, Mickey Cohen, (Sean Penn) has managed to take control of the city. He has corrupt police officers on his payroll, and bribed judges turning a blind eye to his rackets of gambling, drugs, and prostitution. It seems that this one criminal has swallowed the huge city whole, brutally resisting the infiltration of the Mafia, and other gangsters from the eastern parts of America. He is a man who deals out violence without thought, and is as tough on members of his own gang as he is on the innocents he preys upon.

But he has not reckoned with one incorruptible cop, Sgt O’Mara. (Josh Brolin) He is a war hero, and as tough as they come. Embarking on a one-man crusade, he determines to do what he can to disrupt Cohen’s criminal activities, having as much difficulty with his colleagues on the force as he does with the criminals. Seeing the men he arrests set free, and being warned not to to make waves, his frustration builds to boiling point. Along comes grizzled Police Chief, Bill Parker. (Nick Nolte) He recruits O’Mara into an undercover squad, and tells him to set up his own team. The rules of law will be ignored, and the new team will have one objective only, to destroy Cohen completely. With the help of his loyal and pregnant wife, O’Mara begins to choose the incorruptible men who will help him carry out the mission.

From there, the film follows the usual formula. Men are chosen for their skills, toughness, and the required racial mix. O’Mara sets out the rules, and in this case there are no rules. The team get to work busting gambling joints, clearing out dens of prostitution, and hijacking drug consignments. One of them, Jerry, (Ryan Gosling) even begins an affair with Cohen’s girlfriend. Very soon, a furious Cohen goes to great lengths to discover the identities of the team, determined to wipe them out. The scene is set for many shootouts, murders, and a thrilling race to the eventual climax.

As gangster films go, this is pretty good. It feels more like ‘The Untouchables’ in mood, rather that the gangster noirs of the past, like ‘Little Caesar’. Cast members take their roles seriously, with Brolin’s jaw set tight, and Nolte sounding as if he is gargling concrete. Even Gosling steps up, delivering a performance with much nuance. Scenes in nightclubs and the neon-lit streets of L.A. are mostly convincing, and there is no holding back on the violence necessary to defeat a criminal empire.

If you like films of this genre, you will probably enjoy this one.
And that makes it good enough for me.

Just been watching…(84)

Parkland (2013)

I was eleven years old when John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, in 1963. Since then, countless books have been written about it, and many documentaries and films have been produced about the events too. The Warren Commission Report might well be regarded as the greatest fiction to have been written about the murder, and Oliver Stone’s film ‘JFK’ (1991) divided critics, audiences, and historians with its depiction of his version of what happened.

So for someone of my age, ‘Parkland’ might just have been another rehash of something I have read about or watched before I was even a teenager.
But it isn’t.

Parkland Memorial Hospital was the place where the president was taken to after being shot. The place where doctors and nurses in the emergency room attempted to save the life of a man already well-past saving. Not long after, his alleged assassin Lee Harvey Oswald was shot whilst in police custody, and he was also taken to that same hospital; to that same room, where he was attended to by many of the same doctors and nurses who had tried to help President Kennedy. The film views those tragic events from a very different angle. Not only the hospital staff working under unprecedented pressure, but also the secret service agents, FBI officers, and local police who battled out their rivalries over the shattered bodies on operating tables.

Weaving everything together based around the man who shot the famous 8 mm cine camera footage, Abraham Zapruder, the story is seen to begin from his perspective, as he is shocked to see the event unfold through his camera viewfinder. Once the ensuing chaos consumes the law enforcement agencies, a distraught Jackie, and a solemn Lyndon Johnson, we get some of the back story to an incident that shook the world at the time. Lee Oswald’s brother, appalled that his sibling could have done this, and their mother, hoping to become famous, and to cash in, as a result. The overwhelmed Secret Service agents, and the FBI officers who had been tracking Oswald, and realise they could have stopped it all happening.

I really liked this film. It is intelligent, well-constructed, and manages to show a new perspective on something we might have all thought we already knew about. The casting is restrained, with superb performances from Paul Giamatti as Zapruder, Billy Bob Thornton as the head Secret Service agent, and Marcia Gay Harden outstanding as the professional head nurse involved in both the emergency room scenes. Zac Efron impresses as the tired but dedicated young doctor, and Ron Livingston is convincing as the FBI man hiding the secret of his own mistakes. I recommend it highly to anyone still interested enough in what happened that day. But don’t expect it to reveal any truths.

Just Been Watching…(81)

The Conjuring (2013)

As most of you know already, I couldn’t care less about Halloween. But one good thing about it is that the TV companies use it as an excuse to re-run dozens of horror films, usually starting in September. (It feels like that, to me) Most of them are familiar favourites, with the big-hitters like the original ‘Halloween’ usually reserved for the night of the 31st. But as a film fan, I like to examine the schedules around that date, and pick up on something I might have missed previously. Last night, that happened, and I got to see ‘The Conjuring’.

A familiar theme, and one we have seen before. Supposedly based on a true story from the 1970s, we have a nice family moving into a big old house in the country. Hard-working Dad, loving Mum, and their five daughters. The film doesn’t wait too long to start delivering some shocks, as the family soon discover that there is something very wrong lurking within their new home. Mum decides to enlist the help of a team of paranormal investigators, and they arrive with lots of equipment, cameras, sound recording devices, and a wealth of previous experience in the field.

First off, the cast is strong. The reliable Patrick Wilson stars as the investigator, Ed Warren, with the excellent Vera Farmiga as his psychic wife, Lorraine. Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston are good as the concerned parents, and the young actors playing the five daughters all do their jobs well. The film is set in the 1970s, and feels like it was made then, so full marks for that too. Without any spoilers, I can only give an overview, but if you have seen any similar film, you will know what to expect.

Demonic possession, and a dark history surrounding the house. Spooky wardrobes and scary cellar, hidden passages, and unknown corridors. Exorcism, things thrown around, doors slamming, sleep-walking, and unusual sights and sounds. Confronting evil, religious symbols, and a worried priest.

Yes, it’s all there.

But there’s a BUT. It is actually very good! Deciding to leave out blood, gore, body horror, and violence worked, and it worked really well. Even the well-telegraphed shocks are kept to an effective minimum, and sensible lighting means we can actually see what happens. Everyone takes it very seriously, and the restrained use of special effects makes it a lot more believable. Wilson and Farmiga make a great couple, and are also convincing as determined paranormal investigators, on top of their game.

As ‘Haunted House’ films go, this is one of the best, in my opinion.
(I can’t speak for the sequels, as I haven’t seen them.)