The Savior of the Universe: Flash Gordon (1980, directed by Mike Hodges)


Flash GordonLife on the planet Mongo is not easy.  Aided by Darth Vader wannabe Klytus (Peter Wyngarde) and the sadistic General Kala (Mariangela Melato), the evil Emperor Ming (Max Von Sydow) rules with an iron fist.  All of the citizens are heavily taxed and kept in a state of perpetual war in order to keep them from joining together and rebelling.  Those who attempt to defy Ming are executed.

There are many different races living on both Mongo and its moons. The Arborians, also known as the tree people, live in a jungle and are ruled by Prince Barin (Timothy Dalton).  Until Ming overthrew his father, Barin was the rightful heir to the throne of Mongo.  Barin is also one of the many lovers of Aura (Ornella Muti), Ming’s rebellious daughter.

Barin distrusts the Hawkmen, a group of winged barbarians.  Led by the boisterous Prince Vultan (the one and only Brian Blessed), the Hawkmen live in a palace that floats above Mongo.  Both Vultan and Barin share a desire to overthrow Ming but neither one of them can set aside their own dislike and distrust of each other.

Ming grows bored easily but Klytus has found him a new play thing, an obscure planet in the S-K system.  “The inhabitants,” Klytus says, “refer to it as the planet Earth.”

It all leads to this:

You may have been too busy listening to Queen’s theme song to notice (and I don’t blame you if you were) but I have always found it strange that, even though Ming had never heard of Earth before Klytus brought it to his attention, he still had a button labeled “Earthquake.”  Whenever I watch Flash Gordon, I wonder if I am the only one who has noticed this.

With Ming plaguing Earth with tornadoes, hurriances, and “hot hail,” it is up to three Earthlings to travel to Mongo  and defeat him.  Dr. Zarkov (Topol) is an eccentric scientist who was forced out of NASA because of his belief in Mongo.  Dale Arden (Melody Anderson) is a reporter.  And, finally, Flash Gordon (Sam J. Jones) is a professional athlete.  Because this movie is a fantasy, Flash Gordon is a superstar quarterback for the New York Jets.

The character of Flash Gordon was first introduced in a 1934 comic strip and was played by Buster Crabbe in several classic serials.  Among Flash’s many young fans was a future filmmaker named George Lucas, who would later cite Flash’s adventures as being a major inspiration for the Star Wars saga.  After the unprecedented success of Star Wars: A New Hope, it only made sense that someone would try to make a Flash Gordon film.

That someone was producer Dino De Laurentiis.  (Before writing the script for Star Wars, Lucas attempted to buy the rights for Flash Gordon from De Laurentiis.)  To write the script that would bring Flash into the 80s, De Laurentiis hired Lorenzo Semple, Jr.  Semple was best known for helping to create the 1960s version of Batman and he brought a similarly campy perspective to the character and story of Flash Gordon.  As a result, the film ended up with scenes like this one, where Flash interrupts one of Ming’s ceremonies with an impromptu football scrimmage:

It also led to Brian Blessed’s entire performance as Prince Vultan, which is especially famous for the way that Blessed delivered one line:

(That also makes for a great ringtone.)

Sam J. Jones and Melody Anderson often seem to be stranded by Semple’s script but Max Von Sydow, Topol, Brian Blessed, Peter Wyngarde, and Ornella Muti all get into the swing of things.  Seen today, Flash Gordon is entertaining but too intentionally campy for its own good.  On the positive side, the images still pop off the screen and the soundtrack sounds as great as ever.  When you listen to Queen’s theme song, you have no doubt that “he’ll save every one of us.”

As Flash Gordon himself put it after he saved the universe: “YEAAAAH!”

Yeah

The Chicago Film Critics Are … wait for it … MAD ABOUT MAX!


MadMaxFuryRoad

The Chicago Film Critics announced their picks for the best of 2015 yesterday and it was another lovely day for Mad Mad: Fury Road!  You can check out the nominees here and view the list of winners below!

Best Picture: Mad Max: Fury Road
Best Director: George Miller Mad Max: Fury Road
Best Actress: Brie Larson, Room
Best Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
Animated Film: Inside Out
Documentary: Amy
Foreign Language: Son of Saul
Supporting Actress: Alicia Vikander, Ex Machina
Cinematography: Mad Max: Fury Road
Editing: Mad Max: Fury Road
Production Design: Mad Max: Fury Road
Score: The Hateful Eight
Supporting Actor: Benicio Del Toro, Sicario
Most Promising Performer: Jacob Tremblay, Room
Original Screenplay: Spotlight
Adapted Screenplay: The Big Short

Here Are The 9 Semi-Finalists For The Best Foreign Language Film Oscar!


Awards season continues!  Over 200 films were submitted for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar and yesterday, the Academy announced the 9 semi-finalists.  Goodbye Mommy did not make the cut.  The Second Mother did not make the cut.  The Assassin did not make the cut, which is a shame because I caught the final five minutes of it when I went to see Suffragette yesterday and it looked pretty damn good.  A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Contemplating Existence did not make the cut, which sucks because I love that title.

Here’s what did make the cut:

Belgium, “The Brand New Testament,” Jaco Van Dormael, director;
Colombia, “Embrace of the Serpent,” Ciro Guerra, director;
Denmark, “A War,” Tobias Lindholm, director;
Finland, “The Fencer,” Klaus Härö, director;
France, “Mustang,” Deniz Gamze Ergüven, director;
Germany, “Labyrinth of Lies,” Giulio Ricciarelli, director;
Hungary, “Son of Saul,” László Nemes, director;
Ireland, “Viva,” Paddy Breathnach, director;
Jordan, “Theeb,” Naji Abu Nowar, director.

Best Foreign Language Film is notorious for being a difficult category to predict.  Right now, assuming it’s one of the five finalists, Son of Saul is considered to be the front runner.  Some people even thought it would receive a nomination for best picture of the year but so far, it hasn’t really been much of a factor in the precursor awards.