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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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SHIN GODZILLA: Japan’s Newest Godzilla Movie—and One of the Best!

15 Oct

SHIN GODZILLA (2016), co-directed by Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi (who also supervised the special effects), is the first new Godzilla movie to be made by the Japanese since GODZILLA FINAL WARS in 2004 and was released to theaters in Japan in July 2016 and given a limited release in the U.S. in October. (In some listings the film is referred to by its English release title, GODZILLA RESURGENCE.) Coming two years after Hollywood’s most recent attempt to duplicate the success of Godzilla (see my piece of May 25, 2014), this film takes the Godzilla franchise in a completely new and different direction, setting it in the current political landscape of contemporary Tokyo and functioning as if Japan has never seen a giant monster before. How would the Japanese government and its bureaucrats and various ministries react to the appearance of an actual giant monster in Tokyo? What would it take to get the Prime Minister to make timely decisions and get the various departments to work together? This is not an atypical scene from the movie:

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Star Trek 50th Anniversary – Memories

8 Sep

Today, September 8, 2016, marks the 50th anniversary of the first broadcast of “Star Trek” on NBC-TV. 25 years ago, in 1991, all the original cast members were still alive to celebrate the 25th anniversary, as was the show’s creator and executive producer, Gene Roddenberry, who died in October 1991, the month following the anniversary. At the time I wondered how many cast members would make it to the 50th. Well, the 50th is here and we’ve got William Shatner (Captain James T. Kirk), Nichelle Nichols (Lt. Uhura), George Takei (Sulu) and Walter Koenig (Chekov) still with us. Shatner and Koenig were at a Star Trek convention in New York this past weekend and Takei remains quite active, having recently appeared in “Allegiance,” a Broadway musical based on his childhood experiences in World War II internment camps for Japanese-Americans. Nichols has been quite busy acting in TV and films, according to her IMDB filmography. Plus, many guest stars from the show are still around, including Teri Garr, Kim Darby, Sally Kellerman, Gary Lockwood, Skip Homeier, Barbara Luna, Joan Collins, Robert Walker Jr., and many more. From the original cast, DeForest Kelley (Dr. McCoy) died in 1999; James Doohan (Scotty) died in 2005; Majel Barrett (Nurse Christine Chapel) died in 2008; and Grace Lee Whitney (Yeoman Janice Rand) and Leonard Nimoy (Mr. Spock) both died in 2015.

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A Twilight Zone Album

27 Jun

My first exposure to the popular anthology series, “The Twilight Zone” (1959-1964), was on a Friday night in the fall of 1964 when a local channel (probably WCBS) ran three episodes back-to-back. I was hooked. The first episode that night was “King Nine Will Not Return,” about a World War II bomber pilot (Robert Cummings) who has crashed in the desert and can’t find any members of his crew. The episode had a twist ending of the sort that made the series famous and I remember being very excited by it. The second episode was “The Man in the Bottle,” about a pawnbroker (Luther Adler) who unleashes a rather sinister-looking genie (Joseph Ruskin) from an old bottle and is granted four wishes, each of which has unpleasant ramifications, including one that turns him into Hitler, quite a memorable image less than 20 years after the end of World War II. The third episode, “Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room,” had Joe Mantell playing Jackie Rhoades, a small-time crook given orders by the mob who faces his reflection in a hotel mirror telling him to stand up for himself. All three episodes were written by series host Rod Serling (pictured above). In each case, it was the writing of the episodes and the focus on character, supplemented by the imaginative situations in which they each find themselves, that impressed me the most. I don’t believe I’d ever seen a TV show quite like it up to this time, at least not at an age to appreciate it. I became a Rod Serling fan from that night on.

Robert Cummings in a production still from “King Nine Will Not Return”:

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