Counterblast (1948)

Nazi scientists up to no good again…will they never learn?

SYNOPSIS: Three Nazi war criminals have escaped from a British prison. One of them, the biologist Dr Brucker, meets with a contact in London and it is arranged for him to assume the place of an Australian scientist named Dr. Forrester. Brucker intercepts Forrester at his hotel and kills him, allowing him to travel as Dr Forrestor to his new post at a university where he is assigned to conduct research. His plans however, are to develop an immunisation against a new plague that the Nazis are planning to use on the rest of the world in order to conquer it. The only thing that keeps getting in Brucker’s way is the suspicions of fellow researcher Dr Rankin and his unexpected new assistant Tracy Hart…

THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Counterblast is a 1948 British Thriller that focuses on an escaped Nazi criminal as he tries to develop a vaccine for a new plague the Nazis wish to use to take over the world. The story centres around three main characters, with the Nazi doctor being one of them, alongside Dr Rankin, another researcher at the university, and Tracy Hart, Brucker’s (unexpected) assistant. Everything mostly centres on Brucker however, and his dastardly plot. he is played as a very cold and distant person and is well acted. He is obviously set up as the villain (being a Nazi and all), but his work is to develop a vaccine for a new plague instead of actually creating the disease, and the fact he just wants to use science to the advantage of evil is his grave error. Never does Brucker ever falter in his goal, and has seemingly little remorse for anything he does or who he kills in order to achieve his goal. At the very end of the film, we see him question what he has to do when it conflicts with his own feelings, and it does round off the film in a more interesting and complex way, even if it does come a little from nowhere. The other subplot of the relationship between Dr. Rankin and Tracy isn’t really anything special, and the way it is conducted really feels outdated and unconvincing, so there’s nothing to really say about that, apart from I don’t think it really makes much difference to the dynamic of the story.

Being released in 1948, Counterblast came out at a time when the world was still recovering from WWII, and no doubt memories of it would have been raw. Because of this, I suppose the film doesn’t take too many risks and doesn’t roll out any Nazi imagery or focus too much on anything specific: It sets up the Nazis as the villains and that’s about it…not that they need establishing as a villain at all, so there is very little effort made to do so; there are no swastikas, Nazi uniforms, bad German accents (not many anyway…) or any similar imagery. The film is not really about big wars and saving the world though, it’s a thriller that is character driven, and all the action is centred around the little world of the three main characters. There are a smaller selection of minor characters that are written very effectively, and add an extra dimension to the plot, but nothing overly spectacular about any of them really comes to mind, but they do add a little variety into the mix, and produce rare moments of drama or even comedy, which makes a nice change of pace, as the film is very slow sometimes, and it needs something to help keep viewers interested during these downtimes. As the story focuses on the characters, there is a problem with Dr. Rankin (the closest thing to a protagonist in the film) constantly comes off as unlikeable and a bit creepy, which muddles the line between the focused and hardworking villain and the sometimes obnoxious hero.

This is not a high budget production: There are no fancy sets or props to be found anywhere. It obviously looks outdated, but that is not really due to the limitations of budget. The sets are all filled with detail and look convincing as living and working environments, and the film really seems to make the most of what it has, even if it is never really ambitious in its execution. Counterblast offers a view on Nazis, science and chemical warfare from a world emerging from the end of a war, but it never really does anything noteable. It makes the Nazis the villain seemingly out of convenience and never does anything with it. There are odd moments of suspense and drama which add up to a decent thriller, and the portrayal of Dr. Brucker brings in an interesting dimension to the ins and outs of the plot, but overall, the film doesn’t really set itself apart from others.

The Man in Half Moon Street (1945)

Immortality has its trials and tribulations…

SYNOPSIS: Dr. Julian Karel is a man with a secret…while he may look around 35, he is actually over 100, which is thanks to experiments he did in his (real) youth with his friend Van Bruecker. However, the time has come when he must undergo surgery to replace his glands to extend his life again, and Van Bruecker is too old to carry out the surgery, on top of that, Karel has fallen in love with Eve, a woman whose portrait he has painted, and the one thing you have to be when you don’t age is alone…

THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: The Man in Half Moon Street is a 1945 thriller with a little science-fiction twist concerning a scientist you has discovered the secret to immortality, which is a secret that comes with a hefty price, as the film shows. The film was made in 1943 (and released in 1945), when there weren’t many science-fiction films being made. Instead there were a lot of mysteries and film-noirs that seemed to be the films of choice, and I assume that fits under the shadow of WWII at the time. The film then unravels very much like a detective story, but the focus is on the mastermind behind it all, and the problems and costs he has to pay for not aging.

There are a lot of different sub-plots carried on throughout the film: There is the quest for immortality, then the detective work done by Scotland Yard, the love interest, the suspicions of the surgeon…so there is a lot to cover in the film, but it gives it a good variety of characters and scenes to work with, and everything holds together rather nicely. I think the main purpose of the film is to show the perils of not aging while the world carries on around you, and it does it quite well by showing that one’s actions can still catch up with you. Karel, the main character, moves between the boundaries of protagonist and antagonist, and his actions shift between being a charming, caring person, to being a ruthless killer. It’s difficult to know whether to sympathise with him or not, which makes the whole story quite dynamic and really highlights the consequences of not aging. The main consequence of this seems to be that one must always be alone, and the one rule that must ever be broken is to never fall in love, This is where the film focuses most of its attention on developing a romance that struggles to overcome the central issue of the film; this becomes very apparent in the ending, where the film turns up the emotion between the couple. Apart from Karel, there are only a few other characters that make much of an impression, but they are all well played, and each reacts differently to Karel and present their viewpoints about him as they discover his true nature that shows Karel in a number of different ways, and again that leaves his character and motivations up for question, which is quite interesting.

One of the more striking aspects of the film is the soundtrack which is a very strong musical score that changes its tone perfectly throughout the film to match the tone of the script; rarely a scene goes by without some appropriate accompaniment. This seems to lend itself well to the thriller genre, and helps this film fit into that genre when there isn’t really any scenes that create that tension in their setting or action alone, and really needs that augmentation to build up the suspense. The Man in Half Moon Street hasn’t aged too badly, but that being said it probably won’t entertain modern viewers as much as it might have done when it was first released. It has a slow pace to it and needs time to slowly unravel the complex relations of the characters, and it does a good job of giving the story a lot of different elements to work with. As an early attempt at grasping with this subject in terms of science rather than magic or suchforth, it holds its own without any special effects, flashy props or technical jargon, and relies on intriguing characters and dialogue to tell its story. Again, it may be a little old and contain little to appeal nowadays as the films subject has been taken on with much more scope and ambition, but if you like an old-fashioned story, you may appreciate this little-known classic.

Freejack (1992)

Time travel, soul transfers, and Mick Jagger as a gun-for-hire…

SYNOPSIS: Alex Furlong is a racing driver who during a big race, manages to crash his car and it explodes, seemingly killing him. However, just before the impact, he is transported through time into the future year of 2009, where he termed as a “Freejack”, a person who is brought through time so somebody can have their body and transfer their mind into it when they die. However, Alex escapes and goes on the run, hunting down his girlfriend who hasn’t seen him for 17 years and trying to find some answers with a bounty on his head and a gun-toting mercenary named Vacendak…

THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Freejack is a 1992 sci-fi action film full of dystopic futures, time travel and strange looking contraptions. The story focuses on Alex Furlong, who is transported into the future so his body can be used for someone who has recently died; there mind being held temporarily in a “spiritual switchboard” while a “freejack” is found that the mind can be transferred to. The “future” in this film takes place in 2009, where after a market crash, war and environmental collapse, the world (As far as we see it in new York anyway) has become rather run-down. Perhaps you can find some parallel with what actually happened in 2008 with financial collapses, but obviously the film depicts it much worse than what actually happened. The film sets up this world that really isn’t too disimilar to our own, just a lot more dystopic and run-down. This is about as much plot and back-story as one gets, as the viewer is pretty much just thrown into this future with not much to go on, so one has a sort of empathy with the main character.

The film has a bunch of characters that are recognisable and stand out, but only really because they are very much characters cinema-goers are accustomed to seeing many times before. There isn’t very much originality or substance behind it all to make it stand out above any other films of the time. There are a lot of recognisable actors in this film which while perhaps makes it a bit more memorable and marketable, it does create a problem when the characters don’t actually have any real character, and so just come off as familiar actors playing a role, or characters that you have seen in other films. There is no better example of this than in the casting of Mick Jagger as a trigger-happy gun-for-hire villain…it certainly gives the film some novelty to have him as one of the main characters, but it really is so bizarre to have him in this film that it just distracts from anything else the film tries to put forward. But perhaps seeing Mick Jagger in this film is worthy enough to afford a watch of it alone.

The budget in this film seems to be very generous. Apart from the big names I have mentioned, the sets are quite expansive, filled with extras, and really capture the feeling of a run-down New York City. There is also the large futuristic vehicles that provide a hint of colour in an otherwise dreary world. All these give the film some credibility, but in other scenes there is some terrible green-screening done which is wholly unconvincing and really drags the film down production-wise. But the main thing which brings the film down is the script (or lack thereof); the characters just don’t really feel memorable or well-rounded, and the story just isn’t really fleshed out in enough detail to suck a viewer into the world it portrays. The dialogue is also painfully bland, only marked with occasional cheesy one-liners which provide a moment of humour in between all the scenes All these reasons seem to justify the fact that the film was a bit of a box-office bomb.

Overall, Freejack is nothing special; it gets some big names, a decent budget and fails to really do anything substantial with either. It’s primarily an action film, and it has some fun and adrenaline-fuelled sequences full of explosions, shooting, and cheesy one-liners, but beyond this it fails to make much of an impact. The characters don’t escape their stereotypes, and none of the futuristic concepts that are at the core of the movie are explained well enough to really draw one into the world it tries to create. When all is said and done though, perhaps its just worth watching just to see Mick Jagger play the villain and come out with some awful puns and lines…

No Escape (1994)

Escaping from the prison of the future is tricky business…

SYNOPSIS: In the year 2022, prisons are big business, and are all owned by private companies who can basically do what they want. Ex-Marine John Robbins, who was convicted of murdering his commanding officer, has been transferred to a level six prison, after escaping from two level 5 ones. After threatening the warden of this prison at gunpoint, he is sent to an island known as “Absolom” a prison island said to be worse than death. Here, wild gangs called Outsiders run riot, under the control of the sociopath Marek, who wages war against the Insiders, the prisoners who are sent to the island. When Robbins is rescued by the Insiders, he joins them, all the while looking for a way to escape from the island and bring the truth about what happened to him to the world…

THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: No Escape (Also released as Escape from Absolom) is a 1994 film that focuses, as the title suggests, on escaping from an unescapable prison. The film is set in the near-future of 2022, where prisons are all owned by private corporations, and prisoners are seen as “assets” in the war for profits. The film starts by showing off this future with convicts riding a high-tech monorail to a futuristic looking compound in the middle of a harsh desert. Then we are shown an impressive looking prison full of traditional science-fiction imagery like rooms full of computers and shiny surveillance equipment…and then, the main character is thrown onto an isolated island where the convicts live like barbarians in an almost pre-technological state. Yes, this is perhaps the most surprising aspect of the film; that it seems to be advertised as an escape from a futuristic prison, and at about ten minutes in, the action is transferred to an island with no technology at all and everyone lives in an uncivilised way. Sure, the island is covered with a radar system that prevents anyone escaping from it, and we get occasional cuts back to the prison where the Warden is watching the island through the control centre, but other than that, there is very little reference to the futuristic state and time of which the film is set. It perhaps feels that one has been mislead on the content of the movie when the film sets up this scene and then suddenly takes it away from you and gives you something almost entirely different to watch for the rest of it. It’s not a good or bad change, it’s just a change which wasn’t really expected.

This film is primarily action-based, and it establishes that fact fairly early on. As soon as Robbins is dumped onto the island, there is non-stop shouting, stabbing, chasing and killing for about 10 to 15 minutes: No time for plot or character development, just a lot of adrenaline to assault the senses. It moves at a very quick pace throughout these scenes and never stops to do anything other than stab, maim, beat or shoot someone. there’s some variety in the sequences, but you’re never given time to take it in. After this run-in with the barbarians, we are treated to a more slower pace as the world that the “Insiders”, prisoners sent to the island, have worked together and made a community. Here we start to see some more distinct personalities, and the film takes its time more so in bringing out the plight of the prisoners. The pacing of this film is very strange in that it goes between the two extremes with little to no warning, and while it is good for it to be seamless, the moments of character development seem utterly pointless in the long run. Te characters aren’t terribly memorable, and Robbins himself comes off as an unlikeable anti-hero, which gradually gets more warming and starts to take on some responsibility for someone other than himself, but this happens very slowly, and for most of the film he just comes off as a jerk.

While there is very little in this film in the way of plot or story, the theme of escape makes it point at various moments, but sometimes in the strangest ways. there are some scenes where Robbins is staring out over the sea or other sublime views…while this does highlight the notion of wanting to be free and appreciating the beautiful, it does feel a little out-of-place in this film. The music too has moments when it becomes a full orchestral performance, and really tries to have these moments of sublimity and peace, but the next scene will have bodies flying and explosions everywhere; the film knows it is an action film with an aim to ramp up a large body count and blow things up, but it just has these odd moments in which it seems someone is trying to bring out the beauty of nature and go a lot deeper than this film really is capable of. I’m not sure whether No Escape is trying to go a little deeper than the traditional action film with all its attempts at bringing in these scenes and music, but all these constant changing of pace and setting are endemic to the whole film; first we are set up in this futuristic prison, then out onto an island in the middle of nowhere, then there’s non-stop running, shouting and killing, then there’s tranquility, ten there’s more killing…this film is either catering to short attention spans, or it simply does not know what it wants to be. I think perhaps it it trying to break a little from the genre with some variety, but its really not necessary. It works well as an action film as there’s plenty of action: The characters, setting or story aren’t particularly memorable, and its not astounding, but its decent entertainment when it does what it does best, which is explosions, cheesy dialogue and death galore.

Thrill Seekers (1999)

How does some of the greatest disasters in history sound as a holiday destination?

SYNOPSIS: Tom Merrick is a reporter who is starting his new job as a journalist at a newspaper, after a rough time getting over a previous reporting job in which two of his crew died. While researching the history of 20th century disasters, he discovers the same man in three different photos of disasters throughout the century. He is sent to investigate, and while he is on the flight, he sees the man in the photos, and tries to stop him. When he inadvertently stops the plane from crashing, he realises that he has prevented a disaster, and some folks from the future are unhappy about him messing with their history, and are sent back to eliminate him and correct the timeline. However, Merrick soon learns that more disasters are to happen in the coming days, and being the only one who has knowledge to stop them, he must find a way to save hundreds of lives while being hunted by both the FBI and two mysterious individuals from the future…

THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Thrill Seekers (Also known as The Time Shifters) is a 1999 TV movie all about time travel and averting upcoming disasters. The film focuses on the exploits of Tom Merrick, who manages to uncover proof of the existence of time travellers who come back to the past to witness the great disasters of history. The film is very action-based, and there are numerous fight and action sequences that are full of adrenaline and are designed to keep attention. The soundtrack also augments this quite well, as it is very tense and thumping which really builds up some hype where perhaps there is little budget to do visually, that said, it does seem quite generic. The problem with most TV movies is that they rarely have the ambition, scale or budget to do something really spectacular, so you can’t expect too much. Thrill Seekers doesn’t seem to be held back by any of these really; it knows what it can do and what it wants to do, and doesn’t push itself out of the box designed for it. This doesn’t make it a bad film, but it also doesn’t present the viewer with anything particularly fresh or experimental, and this seems to sum up the film as a whole.

The story of the film is quite nicely paced, and is full of a good variety of sequences that make the film work as a whole. The film explores some of the tricky moral implications of time travel, and the implications of interfering in the past are brought to the forefront as one of the main themes of the film. The actions of the characters that are deviating the timeline, and the ones that are trying to correct it are played off against each other, and the line between who is doing the right thing becomes questioned, though perhaps not really far enough, and not more than other films have done (though it does highlight it rather dramatically with the trio of disasters that are supposed to happen). This comes to a point in the finale, in which the antagonists from the future try to restore their timeline (and families) by triggering a disaster, which was originally an accident, in order to kill 11,000 people and to restore their timeline. If “fixing” something and restoring people means having to kill a different group of innocent people, is that the right thing to do? The moral/ethical conundrums illustrated really well through the characters (again, even if they are very one-dimensional), and certainly gets you thinking alongside the action sequences, and the balance is struck nicely. One thing which isn’t explored or elaborated on very much is the mechanics of time travel, and the future that the travellers com from. We hear some technical jargon thrown about throughout the course of the film, from which one can piece together what is going on, but it is very thin. The main villain, who seems to be the one running the show run a temporally insulated bunker is never really given an explanation, and what is actually going on in the future remains unexposed. However this does work within the film, as the focus is on the actions we take now, in the moment, instead of worrying about things as a means to an end, and to preserve a future that doesn’t exist for you, but means everything to others. It’s quite clever the more I think about it, but it is all veiled beneath a lot of mediocrity in terms of production and execution.

As I have mentioned, this is a TV movie, and ambition and budget are not fantastic. The few visual effects are nothing special, and it seems it works on the idea that more explosions make it more dramatic. There are a lot of busy scenes though, full of people, falling debris etc. so these must have taken some work to put together. there’s also the dramatic camera angles that are designed to make the action much more exciting, but overall, it still seems presented in an average way. Problems such as the often wooden acting (Merrick’s accent is all over the place…), the one-dimensional characters including the man who has lost his family because of work, the unapologetic police chief and his geeky sub-ordinate, the leather-clad villains with foreign accents…its all there. All of this adds up to Thrill Seekers being a by-the-book time travel movie that while not bad, really doesn’t do much to make itself stand out from the crowd. At parts it is hilariously bad, at other parts it is quite gripping, so all-in-all I think it balances out to an average film that might be a good way to kill 90 minutes, but you could certainly do it watching something better.

Unity/Spectrum/Strength (Start a Conversation and Make it Last) (2013)

Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)

Wanted: Somebody to review a film. This is not a joke. You’ll get paid never. Must bring your own blog. Safety not Guaranteed…

SYNOPSIS: Darius is a social outcast that does not seem to fit in anywhere. Working as an intern at a magazine, her boss sends her, another intern, and a reporter to investigate a wanted ad in a local paper someone placed that requested somebody to travel back in time with them. As Darius gains his trust to try and get the details of the story, she gets involved in a strange conspiracy where truth and fantasy become blurred: Can Kenneth Calloway actually travel back in time?

THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Safety Not Guaranteed is a 2010 film that is initially inspired by an actual wanted ad that appeared in a magazine (that one of the writers placed there as a joke) and subsequently became notorious and especially an internet phenomenon. Seems like an odd place to find inspiration for a film…

the story centres around Darius, a young woman who does not fit in with the ins and outs of daily life. She is taken alongside another intern (Arnau) by Jeff, a reporter at the magazine she interns at, to report on a strange wanted ad that appeared in a newspaper that someone is looking for a partner to travel back in time with. Darius goes undercover as an applicant to the person who made the ad (Kenneth Calloway). Throughout the film Darius learns about Kenneth, his motives, reasons and him as a person, but the question of whether he can actually time travel or he is deluded is one that is not revealed until the very end of the film. This plot device of going undercover to investigate someone then actually getting involved is a cinematic trope that has been done to death (in romantic comedies especially) and the film doesn’t really build on or develop from that starting point. That said though, while I was watching it I wasn’t really concerned with the fact that I had seen this story done before, and I think credit needs to go to the performances of the actors that give the characters a real down-to-earth and altogether human personality, and sets the film up as not not giving us the same old characters and offering something a little different and actually capturing the feeling of being on the outside of normal society which so many films genuinely succeed at.

Each of the characters have their own narrative and motivations going on, and they all tie into this issue of time, going back, regret, and change. They all have their own unique character and there’s a good dynamic between them. I think the interaction between these characters is one of the highlights of the film for me, as it feels very refreshing and more life-like than other attempts. Safety not Guaranteed falls in the very curious intersection of the genres of science-fiction, romance and comedy, which few other films tackle, much less pull off (Happy Accidents being the only similar film I can think of that managed to work well in this area…in fact, the two are very much alike), this mixing of genres leaves it tricky to be categorised and compared to other films, and it isn’t afraid to experiment despite it’s rather simple storyline. I think there could have been more done with the premise with a bit more ambition, but it’s still a good film. The humour is very subtle and deadpan, and can be easily missed if you’re not paying attention; sometimes you have to take a step back to realise the odd situations the characters get into and appreciate the funny side to it. There’s a lot in this movie that can just pass you by without realising, so it might be worth watching it more than once to get the most out of it.

This is a small-scale and independent film with a lot of character that you don’t get from Hollywood style pictures. The film is shot with some tricky angles and some shakey close-ups that draw you into the situations. There are some beautiful locations that really capture something magnificent in the quiet town by the sea in which the film is set, and this adds up to the film being colourful, bright and quirky; which is a good way to go. The dialogue also helps in this respect as it is often funny and clever. Overall, I think Safety not Guaranteed manages to produce something warm, endearing, humourous and generally enjoyable, with enough twists and thought-provoking “what-ifs?” to keep one hooked. It’s odd starting point from being inspired by a newspaper ad might not seem like much, but it manages to base an entire film around it. The core plot may not be original, but the characters are relateable and down-to-earth, and earn some empathy and attachment. It never really takes itself too seriously, and manages to blend a mix of comedy, drama and science-fiction into a film that may not be to everyone’s tastes, but I think it works rather well.

Melancholia (2011)

It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel…fine?

SYNOPSIS: Justine and Michael are celebrating their wedding, but Justine finds it difficult to feel happy. Her sister Claire is angry at her for not being as happy as she should be, and her husband, John is also annoyed at Justine as he has spent a lot of money to make this day happen. Nothing seems to lift her out of her depression, but their are bigger things at stake, as a rogue planet, hidden on the far side of the sun, is about to fly awfully close to the Earth (if it doesn’t hit it)…

THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Melancholia is a 2011 film that apparently is inspired by the notion that depressed people react much calmer than others in stressful situations, probably because of their expectation of the worst possible outcome (This realisation coming out of the director’s treatment for depression). The film takes a rather extreme example of that in setting the scene with a rogue planet coming to collide with the Earth and wipe everybody out, and the lives of a small number of people who respond (with varying degrees of receptivity) to it. The film starts with some beautiful imagery of space, full of colourful nebulas, gas clouds and star systems, amidst all this, we see the planet Melancholia as it collides with Earth, leaving no room for wondering whether the end result of the film is going to be a happy one or not. In this scene though, we don’t see any dramatic explosion or tense music to accompany this image of destruction; instead it’s all done rather serenely to a calming orchestral score, and it generates a feeling that the film tries to showcase throughout; the melancholia of watching Earth being destroyed is met quietly and calmly, and seems just like another demonstration of the awesome power of nature. By starting the film in such a way, one is left in no doubt as to the ending, but the film still manages to play a bit of a rollercoaster with how it all turns out, which is rather interesting.

The action primarily settles on Justine, her sister Claire and her family across two acts. Act one is Justine’s wedding reception, and features no mention of any impending destruction of the Earth, instead focusing on the problems of a more human nature in terms of relationships and depression. the second act slowly introduces the problem of the incoming planetary fly-by and how it has an effect on the characters we come to know. This incoming event only ever plays the backdrop to the human drama that unfolds before us. The science of an interplanetary fly-by are never really elaborated on or thought through in any major detail, but of course this isn’t the focus of the film, so I can’t be too critical about it: It never tries to explain itself too fully, and leaves it as a backdrop, so it would be pointless to nitpick.

The narrative of Melancholia is told from a very personal perspective: The cinematography reflects this, and is composed of a lot of close-ups and wobbly shots that seem to be affected by the characters presence. There’s not much rhythm or structure to the film, it has its ups and downs, its slow parts and more emotionally intense ones, and they all never come together to form a coherent pattern one can follow; but this fits in with the theme of the film, notably viewing depression against the backdrop of the end of the world (the seeming “end of the world” vs the real end?) as with depressive spells there is a sort of falling out of everyday activity and a want for doing anything at all. Depression is one of those things that can’t really be viewed or made sense of outside of the sufferer’s own intersubjective logic, so taking that as the core concept for a film is certainly a challenge. I’m undecided as to whether the concept is just too much to deal with, and the film fails to make any sense and falls on a flat note: there are points where I get the film and Justine’s state of mind perfectly, and others the impact the film tries to make falls on a bit of a flat note. Perhaps it relates more to people who have an understanding of or have suffered depression, and they would get more out of it than someone who has no experience in it.

As a film itself, Melancholia feels quite original in its design: it doesn’t adhere to cinematic concepts and goes its own way in delivering story, characters and narrative. The use of cosmological imagery sets up moments of otherworldliness which are a welcome change of visuals, and contrast nicely with everything else that is going on. There are a lot of high-profile stars in this film, and they come together to deliver a good performance. I’m not sure whether the use of these well-known faces would contribute some expectation on a viewers part to seeing a more typical Hollywood film, and they may end up rather confused and dazed by the film. Nevertheless, I think Melancholia does a decent job of addressing an extremely difficult subject matter to deal with, even if it does stumble and fall along the way, there are some poignant scenes which will resonate with those who are familiar with what is being portrayed. There are no moments of high-octane drama or action, so it is a bit of an endurance piece, so I think this film polarises and subdivides filmgoers into those that will enjoy it and those who have no idea what they watched for over 2 hours.

Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)

It’s my 100th film review! To celebrate, let’s have some fun with an old favourite…it will be most excellent.

SYNOPSIS: Bill S. Preston Esquire and Ted “Theodore” Logan are trying to get their most bodacious band “Wyld Stallions” to get noticed, but they seem to have a number of problems, one of them being that they can’t actually play their instruments. Much more bogus problems are afoot though, as the two are about to fail history unless they can deliver an A+ on their final history report, and Ted’s father will send him to an Alaskan military school. Fortunately, help arrives from the future in the form of Rufus, and a telephone box that can travel anywhere in time. All they have to do is travel back in time, grab a few famous historical figures, and bring them back to present day California to deliver their history report and save their band…

THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure is a 1989 film that everybody has to have seen at least once. It is a mixture of science-fiction and teenage comedy mixed with some ear pleasing glam rock. The story centres on two teenage would-be-rockstar slackers Bill and Ted who have to travel back in time to collect important figures from history to pass their history report, otherwise the tranquility of the future will be destroyed. Yes, it’s a pretty ridiculous plot, but this whole film is ridiculous (in a good way) and really allows itself to have some fun with the concept of time travel by throwing the gates open and letting itself run wild with some of the most famous figures in history and how they would react to the world of 1980’s California. You could probably do an entire film with just one of the historical characters, so having eight of them really is cramming a lot into those eighty minutes. The film always feels neatly paced, and one hilarious situation after another with lots of variety between them means the film never slows down or gets stuck in a lull: It’s just good fun.

The film is primarily a comedy, with the science-fiction element thrown in to create a bizarre situation in which humour develops. Bill and Ted are absent-minded, stereotypical teenagers and most of the humour is derived from their aloofness to what is going on around them. The jokes are not complex or overly witty; it’s simple, but it’s effective, and never pretends to be anything more complex than that. Sure, it’s not intellectually stimulating, and all the jokes stem from the two characters being a little bit slack and nonchalant about what goes on around them, but the film also paints them as characters that always have the best intentions at heart, and can always step up to the plate when they need to, regardless of what any figure of authority thinks. In short, they come off as clumsy, but altogether charming and perhaps misunderstood, which as the target audience for this film would be teens as well, it’s sure to help it succeed. It also manages to reference other sci-fi works, with the telephone box time machine as a reference to Doctor Who, and the utopian future the pair visit could be from any number of 70s/80s, and satirises such visions of the future if you think that it comes from the “philosophy” of two teenagers starting a band in their garage. But the humour isn’t out of date either, it can still get some laughs today if you’re willing to just get sucked in and enjoy it. Coming off the back of the Back to the Future trilogy, which gave mainstream audiences a taste of time travel, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure really has some fun with the space-time continuum, rather than the happenstance mess that time travel seems to be in the Back to the Future trilogy.

Despite all the daft fun that’s going on in the film, there is a lot of clever devices at work which tie up the film nicely. Time travel of course is a tricky film device to work with, as it can lose people quite quickly (and for a film such as this, you don’t want anything too complex that will detract from the comedy), but this film keeps things easy to understand while surprisingly taking a lot of twists and turns and some of the scenes are quite clever, such as the one where Bill and Ted meet their future selves, and you experience the same scene again later from the perspective of the future Bill and Ted. Such a scene is a clever use of time-travel mechanics, and also presented in a way which is clear, allows for hilarious consequences. production-wise, the film does a lot with what it has, and has a lot of fun locations, some decent effects, and of course that fantastic 80s glam rock soundtrack which is one of the many highlights of the film. Overall, I’m not sure why Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure works: there is so much going on it should be difficult to keep track of all the characters in all the time zones, and the humour is a little childish…but still, it just works brilliantly. Bill and Ted are loveable characters from the offset and while they are always misunderstood, they never do know harm to anyone and just want to make excellent music, which as it turns out is what makes the world a better place (and it makes a surprisingly amazing feel-good movie). I think I would put Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure near the top of my favourite films, as it is fantastic fun, and an excellent adventure that always manages to hit the right notes.

Laserblast (1978)

You know what they say, revenge is a dish best served with a laser cannon…

SYNOPSIS: Billy is a teenager who is a bit of a loner always getting pushed around by everyone including the cops, his girlfriend’s grandfather and every other teen in the town. One day however, he finds a laser cannon out in the desert, and a strange pendant which slowly starts to possess him and allows him to exact his revenge on all those who have wronged him. meanwhile, the aliens who left the cannon behind are on their way to get it back, and an external investigator has turned up to try and find the alien technology too…

THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Laserblast is a 1978 film that focuses on a bit of payback for the kid who gets pushed around a lot, leaving it up to science-fiction to grant the form of revenge as a giant laser cannon. Right from the outset, we are introduced to our loser Billy, who is constantly being tormented and outcast by everyone. Now, here’s what is perhaps the main problem with this film; the film tries to promote Billy as this loser who does not fit in anywhere and is constantly being harassed, but as one becomes familiar with Billy’s life you really don’t see that, and this character that you should feel sorry for just doesn’t strike one as the outcast. For example, at the start of the film, we see Billy being left home alone by his Mum, who has to go out of town again (for what reason is not made explicit), and we see Billy lives in a nice house with his Mum, who he scorns for what it looks like going away to work, when he clearly doesn’t have a job. Besides, when you’re a teenager, wouldn’t you jump at the chance to be left home alone? There is also the fact that Billy looks at least 20 instead of a teenager…the list goes on. There is also the harassment by the police, which when he starts acting like a bit of an ass seems entirely justified. What has to be the biggest problem in this line of reasoning, is that for a so-called loser, Billy has a girlfriend, and she is absolutely crazy about him, and she is made out to be the most attractive girl in town too…I’m supposed to feel sorry for this guy? If one looks at the film like this, Billy really comes across as spoilt and ungrateful, and difficult to empathise with. There are some moments when Billy does seem to be a victim, but these don’t come together to make Billy the unfortunate punching bag the film tries to make him out to be.

This is a dark movie. The setting is a dead-end town in the middle of the desert which seems the sort of place one would never want to go, and there’s a lack of any real life there. None of the characters seem to have anything going for them, and they all seem to get a kick out of making everyone else suffer. The ending as well just rounds off the film in the same way, and has no happy ending, and it is rather confusing as to who the victim is in all of this. Or perhaps everyone in the film is a victim, which just makes the whole thing even more depressing. There is one humourous scene, in which Billy shoots a Star Wars billboard and blows it up, in a not-so-subtle jab at the most successful sci-fi film of the previous year, but other than that the film just hits a continual flat note in terms of comedy or tension.

This is very much a typical B-movie in terms of its production and special effects. its most interesting aspect in this area is its creation of the aliens using some rather impressive stop-motion animation. Whereas most B-movies just dress someone up in some tin-foil or rubber suit and look unconvincingly like a creature from another world, these aliens do look quite extra terrestrial and otherworldly, which is a nice change. this technique of stop-motion animation was present in a lot of earlier fantasy/science-fiction films in the late 50’s and 60’s, and to use it in 1978 makes it seem a bit outdated by allowing audiences to relate to those earlier techniques, but it works okay, and it is refreshing to see some aliens with a bit of imagination in them. They also don’t speak any Earth language, which is a change. The rest of the budget of the film just seems to have been spent on blowing everything up (mostly cars), which make for impressive visuals, but it does get repetitive just seeing cars exploding again and again, and there’s little variety in the action of the film.

So overall, Laserblast is not a very good film. It is a low budget production that takes on a theme of revenge as its primary plot device, and fails to develop a decent narrative or characters: The victim doesn’t really seem like a victim, and his actions make it difficult to feel sorry for him.  For a revenge film, you want to feel some satisfaction when the victim gets his revenge, but that doesn’t happen; in fact, it’s difficult to feel anything for these cliches. Some of the visual effects are creative, but we don’t see enough of them, and instead we are treated to cheap looking props for most of the film, backed by wobbly camera angles, and sloppy editing. It’s classic B-movie material, so you may get a laugh out of the 70’s haircuts, the lame effects and the wooden acting, but it’s nothing special beyond that.