Playing Catch-Up With The Films of 2017: Life (dir by Daniel Espinosa)

I don’t care what Neil deGrasse Tyson says.  Space is dangerous.

Just judging by what I’ve seen in the movies, it might be a good idea for humanity to stay earthbound.  Seriously, it seems like every time a group of astronauts and scientists spend an extended period of time off of our planet, bad shit happens.  They either end up leaving behind someone on Mars or sometimes they crash land on a planet inhabited by vampires.  Occasionally, they end up with evil creatures bursting out of their chest and, if they’re not careful, they might even end up accidentally traveling all the way to Hell and back.

For that matter, it might be a good idea to also stop listening to Bill Nye.  I’ve seen enough movies to know better than to trust science.  Did you know that every time a revived corpse has gone on a killing spree, a scientist has been to blame?  In the movies, science always says it’s going to make the world a better place but ultimately, it just seems to make things worse.

Consider Life, for instance.

This science fiction film, which came out earlier this year and didn’t stick around in theaters for very long, opens with the crew of the International Space Station taking questions from a group of school children on Earth.  Everyone is really excited because a probe has been picked up evidence that there was once extraterrestrial life on Mars.  Starting from one cell, the scientists have managed to clone an alien organism.  (Or something like that.  Wisely, the movie doesn’t waste too much time on how all of this actually works.)  The school kids name the organism Calvin.

Isn’t that cute?

But here’s the thing.  Life is a science fiction/horror movie hybrid and, as a result, we already know that it was a mistake to bring that alien to life.  We know that almost everyone in that space station is going to die a terrible death.  It doesn’t matter that the scientists are played by people like Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds, and Rebecca Ferguson  We know what is going to happen because we’ve all seen at least one movie in the Alien franchise.  We know what’s going to happen and, when things start to fall apart, the entire audience nods and says, “I told you so.”

That’s not to say that Life doesn’t work.   Life may be predictable but that’s actually a part of the film’s charm.  This is the type of film that you need to watch with a group of your loudest and snarkiest friends.  (I watched it with my sisters during the 4th of July weekend.  We all love Jake.  We all love Ryan.  Things got a bit out of hand.)  You don’t watch Life because you’re looking for an upbeat portrait of space exploration.  You watch Life so that you can yell, “No, don’t bring Calvin to life!  No, you idiot!  Don’t go into space!  Don’t lock yourself in the lab!  HAVEN’T ANY OF YOU SCIENTISTS EVER SEEN A HORROR MOVIE BEFORE!?”

(Indeed, one of the unexpected pleasures of Life was seeing that even brilliant people will do stupid things when confronted by the unknown.)

That said, Life occasionally caught me off guard.  It’s not that I was shocked to see the members of the cast being picked off one by one by Calvin.  Instead, I was shocked by the film’s relentlessly dark and bleak vision.  For a film called Life, it’s ultimately all about death.  Just because a character is being played by a big star, that doesn’t mean they won’t end up with Calvin entering their body and graphically devouring them from the inside out.  Calvin was a truly frightening creation and director Daniel Espinosa does a good job of capturing the claustrophobia and clutter of the space station.  Even if they didn’t exactly break any new ground, Espinosa and screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick deserve a lot of credit for pursuing the film to its dark conclusion.  In space, they seem to suggest, there is no hope.

In conclusion, the main lesson of Life seems to be this: outer space is a terrible place and the worst thing that humanity can do is leave the planet.  Science is going to be the death of us.  Neil deGrasse Tyson has a lot to answer for.

A Movie A Day #185: Emperor of the North Pole (1973, directed by Robert Aldrich)

Emperor of the North Pole is the story of depression-era hobos and one man who is determined to kill them.

The year is 1933 and Shack (Ernest Borgnine) is one of the toughest conductors around.  At a time when destitute and desperate men are riding the rails in search of work and food, Shack has declared that no one will ride his train for free.  When Shack is first introduced, the sadistic conductor is seen shoving a hobo off of his train and onto the tracks.  Shack smiles with satisfaction when the man is chopped in half under the train’s wheels.

A-No.1 (Lee Marvin) is a legend, the unofficial king of the hobos.  A grizzled veteran, A-No. 1 has been riding the rails for most of his life.  (The title comes from the hobo saying that great hobos, like A-No. 1, are like the Emperor of the North Pole, the ruler of a vast wasteland).  A-No. 1 is determined to do what no hobo has ever done, successfully hitch a ride on Shack’s train.  He even tags a water tower, announcing to everyone that he intends to take Shack’s train all the way to Portland.

If A-No. 1 did not have enough to worry about with Shack determined to get him, he is also being tailed by Cigaret (Keith Carradine), a young and cocky hobo who is determined to become as big a legend as A-No. 1.  Cigaret and A. No. 1 may work together but they never trust each other.

Like many of Robert Aldrich’s later films, Emperor of the North Pole is too long and the rambling narrative often promises more than it can deliver.  Like almost all movies that were released at the time, Emperor of North Pole attempts to turn its story into a contemporary allegory, with Shack standing in for the establishment, A-No. 1 representing the liberal anti-establishment, and, most problematically, Cigaret serving as a symbol for the callow counter culture, eager to take credit for A-No. 1’s accomplishments but not willing to put in any hard work himself.

As an allegory, Emperor of the North Pole is too heavy-handed but, as a gritty adventure film, it works wonderfully.  Lee Marvin is perfectly cast as the wise, no-nonsense A-No. 1.  This was the sixth film in which Marvin and Borgnine co-starred and the two old pros both go at each other with gusto.  Carradine does the best he can with an underwritten part but this is Borgnine and Marvin’s film all the way.  Marvin’s trademark underacting meshes perfectly with Borgnine’s trademark overacting, with the movie making perfect use of both men’s distinctive screen personas.  As staged by Aldrich, the final fight between Shack and A-No. 1 is a classic.

Even at a time when almost every anti-establishment film of the early 70s is being rediscovered, Emperor of the North Pole remains unjustly obscure.  When it was first released, it struggled at the box office.  Unsure of how to sell a movie about hobos and worrying that audiences were staying away because they thought it might be a Christmas film, 20th Century Fox pulled the movie from circulation and then rereleased it under a slightly altered name: Emperor of the North.  As far as titles go, Emperor of the North makes even less sense than Emperor of the North Pole.  Even with the title change, Emperor of the North Pole flopped at the box office but, fortunately for him, Aldrich was already working on what would become his biggest hit: The Longest Yard.

Keep an eye out for Lance Henriksen, in one of his earliest roles.  Supposedly, he plays a railroad worker.  If you spot him, let me know because I have watched Emperor of the North Pole three times and I still can’t find him.


Early Hitchcock: BLACKMAIL (1929) and MURDER! (1930)

cracked rear viewer

TCM is running Alfred Hitchcock  movies all month long under the umbrella of “50 Years of Hitchcock” and, in conjunction with Ball State University, conducting a six-week course on The Master of Suspense’s life and works. Since I’m participating, I figured it would be a good excuse for me to write some blog posts on Hitchcock’s films, sort of killing two birds with one stone. Today I’d like to discuss two of his early talking films, both produced at British International Pictures. Let’s start with Hitchcock’s first “talkie”, 1929’s BLACKMAIL.

BLACKMAIL was originally scheduled to be a silent film with some sound sequences, but Hitchcock clandestinely shot the whole thing with sound. Producer John Maxwell liked what he saw and released it in both silent and sound versions. BLACKMAIL is considered the first British talkie, though some of its scenes are silent with music only, and Hitchcock, ever the innovator, was there…

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Music Video of the Day: In Another Life by EMIN (2013, dir. ???)

In another life, I wouldn’t have to spotlight this music video. But I might as well since it has made it all the way to the mass media. Plus, Jimmy Kimmel already beat me to a video that not only fits, but also ties in with the new Planet Of The Apes movie.

Land Of Confusion by Genesis (1986)

Land Of Confusion by Genesis (1986)

I’m sure you’ve all read or seen talk about EMIN’s involvement in the current controversy, the Miss Universe pageant, and Trump, Jr. However, the New York Times articles I read fail to talk about the music video itself. That’s disappointing. I guess that’s why I need to write this post.

EMIN is a Russian artist who was born in Azerbaijan as Emin Agalarov. He moved to Moscow as a kid, went to high school in New Jersey, and graduated from Marymount Manhattan College–according to Wikipedia. He said in an interview with The Irish Times back in 2015 that he went to college in Jersey–close enough. He says in that same interview that he started off singing at open-mic nights in bars. He would translate Elvis Presley songs into Russian so that he could sing them at home. Kinda like the kid in the Taiwanese film A Brighter Summer Day (1991) whose sister would translate Elvis songs for him.

After graduating with a Business degree, he went back to Russia and in 2005 started taking vocal lessons from a well-known Azerbaijani singer named Muslim Magomayev. Magomayev was famous enough that a few years before he died, he was given the Order Of Honour by Putin. Because of course that kind of connection would be there. After that, Wikipedia simply states facts about the success of his albums.

While he says otherwise, music does appear to be a hobby that he happens to take seriously. He works in the family business, because again, of course he does. According to that same interview with The Irish Times, he used to have an eBay store back in college where he sold Russian memorabilia. He also opened his own shoe store because of the success of the eBay store.

At least as of the date of The Irish Times interview, he identifies as Muslim. However, the most interesting part of the interview is as follows:

[Q:] Musically, you’d be on the Michael Bublé/ Enrique Iglesias end of the spectrum. Who were your heroes growing up?
[A:] My heroes were Elvis, Elvis and Elvis! One of my favourite Elvis songs is My Boy, and now that you’ve told me it was written by an Irishman [Phil Coulter] I love it even more.

With that background out of the way, let’s look at the video.

The video starts off in a boardroom where EMIN is being shown pictures of Miss Universe contestants because business connections. According to Wikipedia, Miss USA (2013)–Erin Brady–said that her and other contestants were not paid for their appearance in this video. Yet, if you go to the New York Times article it says that they weren’t paid for their appearance in EMIN’s video for Amor. But that same article also says that Trump made an appearance in that video. He doesn’t. I’m not sure what to make of that. I think the article has the two videos confused since Amor just has 2012 Miss Universe winner Olivia Culpo in it. Or the article was trying to say they were shot at the same time. That’s my best guess.

We see that it’s one of his co-workers who is showing him these photos.

EMIN isn’t interested…

but it is making this guy sweat.

EMIN falls asleep and wakes up back home.

For whatever reason, the video jump cuts to his head tilted to our left. He gets some coffee and spots a pretty woman in his kitchen.

Surprised, EMIN spills coffee on himself. Since he can’t go about his day with a metaphor, he goes and changes. Then he proceeds to leap on his couch…

and do a handstand like everyone does in the morning.

EMIN goes to brush his teeth when another woman appears.

He goes around and sings a bit before settling down at the piano where Miss Russia appears next to him.

She disappears too, which leaves EMIN confused. Luckily Miss USA straightens him out by hitting him in the head with a pillow.

This appears to turn him on when he realizes it was her.

Then EMIN realizes there are people behind him. That would be Miss Puerto Rico, Miss Poland, and Miss Switzerland. That means America attacked him, and behind him are people representative of a US territory acquired in the Spanish-American War, a country taken by Hitler during WWII, and one that is traditionally associated with remaining neutral in conflicts–particularly WWII.

They disappear on him as well, so he goes to look under the bed? Do women normally hide under there in his dreams?

After sitting in a chair, he is suddenly walking down some steps with Miss Spain, Miss Philippines, Miss Ukraine, Miss Turkey, and Miss Japan. We have a Russian singer walking in front of a country that once colonized the one behind it, that is followed by one that was part of the Soviet Union. Behind Miss Ukraine, we have Miss Japan representing a country who took the Philippines. To the side of Miss Ukraine, we have Miss Turkey. Interesting combination.

Now EMIN goes into his pool room and sees Miss Philippines and Miss Puerto Rico hanging out together. Makes sense, a former territory of the US with a current territory of the US.

We also see Miss Spain talking with Miss Switzerland. Two countries that were largely neutral during WWII.

Miss Turkey is walking on the other side of the pool while…

Miss Ukraine is poolside. Turkey having been one of the first countries to recognize Ukraine’s independence from the USSR. They still do as recently as January of this year as it pertains to Russia.

That’s when the co-worker from earlier jumps into the pool since she has the opposite body-type from the rest of the ladies.

EMIN wakes up and Donald Trump makes his cameo appearance to of course fire EMIN for showing up late and falling asleep at work.

That’s not bad. I still prefer claymation Trump firing Donner.

Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer by Regis Philbin (2006)

There you go! That’s the video that is currently in the news. It’s not a particularly good song. It wouldn’t be a noteworthy video beyond the inclusion of Trump but for the seemingly intentional choices of which ladies to use depending on the countries they represent, and their relations over the years.