Who would have ever thought that a television show starring a cast of marionettes would be a huge hit? Thunderbirds, conceived by the writer/producer team of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson as a children’s show, unexpectedly proved to be popular with older audiences as well. But what was the attraction? Was it the meticulously detailed toy sets and sci-fi gadgetry? Or perhaps it was the novelty of watching puppet thespians who ran the gamut from boy toy pin-up Scott Tracy to high-society secret agent Lady Penelope and her Cockney manservant, “Nosey” Parker. Whatever the reasons, the surprise success of the 1964 TV series inspired the Andersons to produce a full-length feature – Thunderbirds Are GO (1966) – which continued the adventures of the Tracy family, an International Rescue team operated by millionaire ex-astronaut Jeff Tracy and his five sons. Continue reading
In 1990 South African filmmaker Richard Stanley made his feature film debut with Hardware, a post-apocalyptic tale about a killer cyborg on the rampage. Most critics who bothered to see it at the time dismissed it as a grungy rip-off of The Terminator and other genre favorites but it clearly had style to burn and sci-fi geeks embraced it despite the excessive violence (some of it was edited out in the original theatrical release). Next came Dust Devil (1992), an arty, mystical story of a demonic hitchhiker in pursuit of a runaway married woman in the African desert. It was distributed by Miramax and released in a re-edited version which added a narration and deleted 20 minutes. It was poorly distributed but Stanley’s dynamic visual aesthetic and offbeat narrative flourishes attracted the attention of Hollywood. Then New Line Cinema offered Stanley a dream project, a remake of H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau.
It quickly became a nightmare project. A hurricane destroyed the sets just prior to shooting and Val Kilmer, coming off the mega-success of Batman Forever, undermined and intimidated Stanley and had him fired just days into production. His replacement was John Frankenheimer but even he couldn’t save the film from the damage inflicted by the self-destructive egos of Kilmer and Marlon Brando. The 1996 release was a cinematic train wreck and Stanley, depressed and dejected, appeared to abandon film making forever. Now, 23 years later, he returns from the wilderness with Color Out of Space, an effectively creepy and atmospheric sci-fi/horror thriller that might be one of the best film adaptations yet of H.P. Lovecraft’s famous short story. Continue reading
Austrian director Jessica Hausner has been a favorite of the Cannes Film Festival ever since her 45 minute short Inter-View won a Special Mention in 1999. Since then her subsequent feature films, Lovely Rita (2001), Hotel (2004) and Amour fou (2014) have all been nominated for Cannes’ Un Certain Regard Award. And her new feature Little Joe was nominated for the prestigious Palme d’Or award and won the Best Actress award for Emily Beecham. It is also worth noting that all of Hausner’s previous features with the exception of Lourdes (a French language production) have been in German. Little Joe, not to be confused with the 2008 documentary about Warhol star Joe Dallesandro also entitled Little Joe, marks Hausner’s English language debut and it is a remarkably self-assured and hypnotic work that displays none of the usual drawbacks that detract from a director’s first foray into a non-native language production. Continue reading
Imagine a tunnel under the Atlantic that connected the United States with Europe and provided a high speed form of transportation between the two points. It’s certainly not an unrealistic expectation for the near future when you consider that the undersea rail known as the Channel Tunnel (aka the Chunnel) that currently connects Folkestone, Kent in England to Coquelles, France has been in operation since 1994. But that remarkable feat of engineering is only 50.5 km. compared to the 5,000 km. that would be the more likely distance of an undersea rail that connected New York City with London. Still, proposed plans for under-the-sea travel connectors between countries separated by water continue to surface in news reports and may happen in the near future. What’s most remarkable is the fact that Transatlantic Tunnel (aka The Tunnel), a 1935 British film, envisioned the same thing and some of that movie’s futuristic art direction and design is not that far removed from some of the models you can view on the interest today (just do a search for undersea rail systems). Continue reading