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The Films of 1968, Part 1: What We Were Seeing 50 Years Ago

21 Aug

In 1968, Hollywood was undergoing quite a turbulent period. The studios continued to turn out lightweight studio entertainment as if it were 1938, while also contending with audience demand for greater frankness, more mature subject matter and fewer restrictions on language, nudity and violence. Foreign films and independent films were gaining greater critical and audience acceptance. The Motion Picture Association of America, long the guardian of the Production Code, with which films had to comply in order to get an MPAA seal of approval, first introduced a tag, “Suggested for Mature Audiences,” in late 1967 and then, when they realized that wasn’t enough, installed a full-blown ratings system for films in October 1968: G for General Audiences, M for Mature subject matter, R for Restricted, and X for adults only. So you had films like Robert Aldrich’s X-rated THE KILLING OF SISTER GEORGE, about a lesbian romance, and Christian Marquand’s  CANDY, about a young girl’s sexual awakening (invariably involving slumming over-forty Hollywood stars like Richard Burton, Marlon Brando, James Coburn and Walter Matthau), alongside sugary assembly line fare like Elvis Presley songfests; family comedies starring Doris Day, Jerry Lewis and Don Knotts, adaptations of Broadway musicals like FINIAN’S RAINBOW, FUNNY GIRL, and OLIVER!; and live-action Disney family features, five of them released in 1968: BLACKBEARD’S GHOST, THE ONE AND ONLY, GENUINE, ORIGINAL FAMILY BAND, NEVER A DULL MOMENT, THE HORSE IN THE GRAY FLANNEL SUIT, and THE LOVE BUG. Continue reading

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Kamen Rider Movies: A 47-Year Old Superhero Franchise Continues to Thrive

25 Mar

Kamen Rider (or Masked Rider) premiered on Japanese television on April 3, 1971. It was the brainchild of Shotaro Ishinomori, author of the wildly successful manga series, Cyborg 009, which had already been adapted into two animated features and one animated series for television. Kamen Rider preceded by four years the premiere of Goranger, the first sentai series and another long-running franchise, also created by Ishinomori. All of these series were produced by Toei Pictures. When I visited the Toei Kyoto Studio Park in 2016, I saw a gallery devoted to Kamen Rider:

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James Bond in Japan: 50th Anniversary of YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE

13 Jun

50 years ago today, on June 13, 1967, YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (1967), the fifth of the James Bond films starring Sean Connery, was released in the U.S. It’s one of my favorite films and I’ve seen it over 30 times, probably more than any other film in my lifetime, and that includes WEST SIDE STORY (1961), THE WILD BUNCH (1969), KING KONG (1933), CASABLANCA (1943) and the second Bond film, FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1963), all of which I’ve seen close to or more than 30 times. Back then I had to wait to see YOLT until it came to a neighborhood theater in the Bronx in September of that year, but it would be the first Bond film I’d see during its initial release (I’d seen the others in reissues) and I was psyched for it from the beginning of its ad campaign. I remember visiting Times Square sometime that spring and seeing the massive billboard for the film adorning the full block of Broadway from 45th to 46th Streets atop the marquees of the Astor and Victoria theaters. The billboard had three distinct images from the film, all featuring Bond in unlikely poses, but promising action, sex and spectacle. Here’s a shot of that billboard:

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YOUR NAME (KIMI NO NA WA): Newest Anime Masterpiece

11 Apr

YOUR NAME is a Japanese animated film that was the biggest hit in Japan last year and has now opened at about 300 theaters in the U.S., including several in the New York area, where it can be seen in English-dubbed and English-subtitled versions. It earned $1.6 million this past weekend, which is pretty damned good for that number of theaters. The Japanese title is KIMI NO NA WA, which might be more accurately translated as YOUR NAME IS… I actually prefer the Japanese title to the more prosaic one chosen for the English version or even the Japanese title with the English one in parentheses, like this: KIMI NO NA WA (YOUR NAME), although that might get a bit unwieldy for multiplex marquees. In any event, it’s a magnificent film by any name and it deserves credit for the simple fact that it doesn’t look like any other film that’s out in the marketplace right now. For one thing, it’s 2-D animation at a time when Hollywood seems to make only 3-D CGI animated films now. It’s also filled with light and color, two elements seemingly absent from just about every science fiction/fantasy film made by Hollywood these days. And YOUR NAME is indeed a science fiction-fantasy film, but, more importantly, it’s a contemporary romance.

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Power Rangers – 24 Seasons and Counting

23 Mar

Since the new big-budget Hollywood Power Rangers movie opens in theaters this Friday (March 24), I thought it would be a good time to celebrate the long-running TV franchise on which it’s based, especially since the 2015 and 2016 seasons, “Dino Charge” and “Dino Super Charge,” were among the best in the series yet. The first Power Rangers series, “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers,” premiered on local TV stations in the U.S. on August 28, 1993 and the franchise has continued with new seasons every year since. The most recent season, “Power Rangers Ninja Steel,” premiered on Nickelodeon on January 22 of this year and is currently up to episode #8.

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American Stars in Japanese Films: LATITUDE ZERO (1969)

17 Feb

LATITUDE ZERO, directed by Ishiro Honda, is an unusual film in Toho Pictures’ filmography of sci-fi monster films. It features four Hollywood stars among the main cast members and one American newcomer in a significant role. It has a Jules Verne-style science fiction setting located underwater far from Japan. There is no central monster to be fought, just a series of smaller, lesser monsters, all rather unformidable and all in the employ of a mad scientist who can’t quite make the best use of them. Production-wise, the film’s most unique feature is the decision to shoot the entire film in English with synchronized sound, which meant all the Japanese actors with speaking parts had to be competent enough in English to make themselves understood. There may have been some post-dubbing to correct a rough patch here and there, but what you’re hearing on the English soundtrack are the actors’ actual voices, mostly recorded live on the set.

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The Best Films of 1956

18 Dec

The older I get, the more I like watching films from the 1950s, the decade in which I was born, especially the mid-1950s. I like revisiting my favorites from that period and continually discovering new films from that time, be they westerns, dramas, crime movies, historical epics, musicals, sci-fi, horror, etc. It was a unique period for filmmaking, as Hollywood was undergoing a transition from the studio era, its ironclad contracts and ownership of theaters to one of independent production, independent theater chains, a loosening of the Production Code, more location shooting and greater acceptance by the public of foreign films. The old guard was still turning out exemplary work, as seen in the films of John Ford, Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock, Fritz Lang, William Wyler and King Vidor, all of whom had gotten their start during the silent era, while younger directors with bolder visions and new stylistic approaches had emerged during and after the war, including Orson Welles, Billy Wilder, John Huston, Elia Kazan, Anthony Mann, Vincente Minnelli, Nicholas Ray, Don Siegel, Samuel Fuller, Robert Aldrich, Douglas Sirk and Otto Preminger. In addition, a host of new talent was emerging from television, Broadway and documentaries and quickly finding their way to Hollywood, including Stanley Kubrick, Arthur Penn, Martin Ritt, Delbert Mann, Sidney Lumet, John Frankenheimer, and Robert Altman. These overlapping waves of directors offered an unprecedented talent pool the likes of which Hollywood has never seen since. It’s no coincidence that a group of French film critics developed the auteur theory around this time.

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