Category Archives: Science Fiction

#80 – Judge Shock

(2002, US, 101 min) Dir Roger Bertle. Cast Timothy Olyphant, Taye Diggs, Michelle Rodriguez.

It’s the future. Outside the cities are a wasteland. The population are controlled by TV. The most popular show on TV is a game show called Judge Shock. Basically the show uses convicts as contestants (yes, like The Running Man) who have to evade Judge Shock. The Judge himself is a masked assassin a bit like the Stig from Top Gear but he can do kung-fu and shoot electric from his hands and stuff too. So anyway – the film opens as a new episode with contestants Paul, John and Lucy (Olyphant, Diggs and Rodriguez respectively) dropped into the dark, maze-like arena where the game is to play out. Of course they’re all there for crimes they didn’t commit and of course they’re all adept at martial arts and that so there’s a good fight in them. Of course they also manage, in the course of the film, to best the not actually invulnerable Judge and uncover the reality of the show which, yeah, leads them to a conspiracy that goes all the way to the top. Bertle’s got a way with the action which is shot clearly and kinetically and the film’s Matrix influenced look is great even if it’s derivative, all inky blacks and neons with sets that are simultaneously spacey and claustrophobic – the only problem is the plotting by numbers that is the script. Oh, and the awful title. Ignore both if you can though and stay for the action – it’s worth it.

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Twitter: @MadeUpFilms

#76 – One Huge Beach

(1955, Aust, 95 min, b/w) Dir Ralph Robinson. Cast Rod Taylor, Diane Cilento.

Max (Taylor) lives alone on the beach in his shack overlooking the tide. Every morning he goes out to fish for food and see what’s been tossed up by the surf. One day finds a metal pod of some kind and through the glass portal on the front he can see that there is someone inside. He drags it back up to his shack and eventually breaks it open to reveal the young woman (Cilento) inside who wakes once the seal is broken. He nurses her back to health and returns from his beachcombing one morning to find her awake and sitting up. She is Valeria Pross and as she tells it she was put into what she calls her “lifeboat” back in 1975 when the war started. Max is confused – he doesn’t know of any war. “What year is it now?” she asks him but he doesn’t know. “But how did you get here?” she tries but incurious Max just shrugs. “My parents had me,” he says, “But they’re dead now.” She convinces him to join her in setting off from the beach in search of civilisation but, as they find, the whole world has been laid to waste by the nuclear war they have survived, turning it into an unending landscape of impassive irradiated sand – sand that is slowly killing her but that Max has grown up immune to. “You mean,” says Max, sifting a handful and furrowing his brow, “You mean the whole world has been turned into one huge beach?” But of course for him there is no loss – he’s never known it any other way.

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#75 – Rivers of Blood

(1970, UK, 48 min, b/w) Dir Ted Malcolm

Shot for the BBC and set in 1983 Malcolm’s film, as the title might suggest, takes as its starting point Enoch Powell’s infamous 1968 speech to hypothesise a right wing anti-immigration victory in British politics and what that would mean for Britain. This gritty docudrama crosscuts between footage of the Dover camps in 1983 as shot by a news crew of the time where West Indian and Pakistani deportees are interviewed and talking head sections where historians and politicians detail the mechanics of racialist policies both historically and contemporaneously. Notable by his absence, unsurprisingly, is Powell himself. Malcolm found himself following in his compatriot Peter Watkins’ docudrama footsteps in more ways than one with his film as it was not broadcast in the year of its making (an election year with a Tory win) but was instead “shelved indefinitely”. It has only been seen since as part of film festivals or retrospectives but, as of writing, has never screened nationally or been released on DVD or video. That could all change and were it to be belatedly released it would underline it’s continued relevance now that immigration has once again come to define British politics.

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Twitter: @MadeUpFilms

#73 – Backspace

(1987, HK, 96 min) Dir Jackie Woo. Cast Jackie Woo, Phillip Ko, Rosamund Kwan.

By the standards of director Jackie Woo this is an unusually restrained techno-thriller but in saying that I have to warn potential viewers that this isn’t The Net or anything like that – it’s still a Jackie Woo film which means there are two beheadings, a disembowelling and one instance of a topless lady running around on fire. Aside from that it’s a model of restraint from the guy. Jimmy (played by Woo’s favourite actor – Woo himself) has just started working at DynoTime industries which boasts a fully automated office building, from the doors to the drinking fountains. Unfortunately for him, in a big slapstick moment involving an inappropriate use for a banana, he screws up big time on his first day and has to hide from his tyrannical boss under his desk. There he falls asleep and wakes up after hours to find the building in lock down with a very vigilant computer standing guard like HAL with whirling razor-sharp blades and before he knows it he’s fighting for his life. As if that wasn’t enough a gang of punk criminals are breaking in that same night, hence the aforementioned body count. Of course the film ends with Jimmy prevailing and being garlanded with Employee of the Year but the journey there is something else. Alternating between broad comedy, hard-core violence and misty-eyed sentimentality this is a classic Hong Kong kind of film.

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#68 – Octember

(1992, Can, 90 min) Dir Ben Roy. Cast Bobby Rusk, E. Emmett Benn, Alison Shaker.

Young Alex finds himself trapped in the missing month of Octember, a twilight month that slipped between October and November many years ago and was never found again. Octember manifests itself as an empty world – the rest of its residents having gone straight to November – though he’s not the only one there. A host of lost souls are adrift with him in this phantom month, some there so long that they have become unhinged. His initial wanderings around his depopulated neighbourhood after waking in his empty house are eerie in the extreme with whole streets rendered very Marie Celeste, the evidence of people littering yards and kitchens and driveways but nobody is there. The perfect kind of kids movie – by virtue of its small-scale made for TV production it occupies the kinds of spaces familiar to children like the house and the street and so on which is perhaps why it’s left such an impression on those, like myself, who saw it at an impressionable age.

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#64 – Beyond the Stars

(1954, US, 123 min) Dir Hal Douglas. Cast Jim Thorn, Alice Patrick, Ed Dietrich.

The best that can be said about Beyond the Stars is that it’s right. If you wanted to go into space yourself then you could watch it and take notes and construct the same rockets and use the same methods that are used in the movie and it would work. The problem with that is that the film will be super exciting to rocket scientists but to your average Joe and Sally on a Saturday afternoon it may as well be filmed in Snooze-A-Rama. And that’s just the plot – you can have the dullest script sold to you by the magnetism of a bona fide star but Thorn, Patrick and Dietrich seem to have been cast on the size of their jaws rather than on their ability to react before a camera better than a slab of aged steak. Add that all together and you’ve got a film that plays at two hours plus but feels like a year. The title’s a con too by the way – they get to Mars by the halfway point and waste precious celluloid standing around in the dirt for the rest of the film. Avoid like a holiday in a vacuum.

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Twitter: @MadeUpFilms

#63 – Coffin Orbit

(1982, It, 115 min) Dir Paolo Andreotti. Cast Kirk Douglas, Carl Weathers, Candy Brown.

It’s 1982. Star Wars busted all the blocks five years ago and then Alien did the same two years after that. The studios are tarting up the schlock in trade of the likes of White Star Films so White Star Films, in turn, have to start pumping in the cash to compete. Trouble is they’ve only got so much to go around. Easy – bet it all on one, a sure-fire winner, and with the profits you make two and with the profits from that… Next stop, success! It’s a sure-fire recipe for sure but a meal’s only as good as it’s ingredients, right? So what have we got here? Andreotti knows how to direct a film, sure, but the man’s getting old and he’s coming off Vendetta di Zombie, a film that doesn’t display the kind of common touch a blockbuster needs. Who’s starring too? Kirk Douglas? Didn’t he learn anything from Saturn 3? What about plot? An previously unnoticed object is detected in orbit around our sun and NASA send Captain Dale (Douglas) and his crew to investigate. Turns out this thing is a colossal coffin for some humongous space creature and something else is in there too. Something deadly. Okay, so Coffin Orbit is no Star Wars. Yes, it’s plot is basically Alien and no, it didn’t get the blockbuster market either, but every once in a while someone spends a ton of money on something mad like this and that should be cherished, even if it sunk White Star Films in the process. Just watch it for all the money up there on-screen behind the awful acting and you’ll be fine.

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Twitter: @MadeUpFilms

#58 – Cyborg Hamlet

(1983, HK, 105 min) Dir Jackie Woo. Cast Jackie Woo, Rosamund Kwan, Phillip Ko.

No real need for a synopsis here as it’s basically, as above, Hamlet with a cyborg. Okay, yeah, so what’s the deal, I hear you say: why’s the guy a cyborg? Fair enough, maybe it’s a bit different. Okay, so John Hamlet runs the biggest electronics company in Hong Kong and his proudest achievement is his cyborg son. Young Hamlet (director Woo) was on death’s doorstep when his father, apparently without repercussion, grafted a load of metal to him in order to save his life. Of course his father dies in mysterious circumstances, his electronics empire being taken over by the shifty Tony Claudius (Ko) who is also having his way with Hamlet’s mum, in case murdering his dad weren’t enough. Cyborg Hamlet is thus all sad in a rainy alley one night when the genuinely terrifying ghost of his father appears and demands bloody vengeance. Who is Cyborg Hamlet to decline? It all goes a bit off-piste from there – slaughtered henchmen didn’t play the biggest part in Shakespeare’s original text from what I can recall. Between crushing skulls in his metal hands there’s still time for some romance with Rosamund Kwan’s Ophelia before she goes mad (which is the bad guy’s fault too of course) and then it all comes to a bloody head at the wedding of Claudius and Hamlet’s mum which involves a massive martial arts rumble across three floors, a daring rooftop chase and someone getting a big metal pole like a javelin through the face. Great fun but no good for revision, kids!

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#54 – Meto in Space!

(1974, Tur, 67 min) Dir Esen. Cast Esen, Arzu Gorgun, Melek Okay.

I have to confess from the out that the only version of this film I’ve seen is of an nth generation VHS copy – it’s colours all blobby, it’s picture all shot to hell and without subtitles – that was downloaded on the recommendation of an aficionado friend of mine who is in possession of a lot of free time and standards that are minimal. While I wasn’t disappointed in the film vis-à-vis it’s badness I can’t say that I can recommend it entirely either. Meto (Esen, also director) was apparently a children’s entertainer in Turkey in the 1970’s and this was his second film (the first, called simply Meto, is for some reason not as mental). For humour think Benny Hill but coarser and more crudely sexual – the ‘comedy’ mostly involves Meto chasing buxom and scantily clad women around a cardboard set meant to be outer space (for production values imagine Ed Wood working on the cheap). Oh and Meto also is in possession of a grotesque nose that looks like the resulting offspring between a penis and a flute. I have no idea about plot at all but every once in a while something that looks like a flashback happens and there are all these colours and spinning disks and either someone dies horribly (eaten by spiders for example) or else their clothes fly off. Are these Meto’s powers? The idea that this might be family entertainment boggles my mind. The fact that this might be entertainment for anyone boggles my mind. If you hate your eyes, ears and mind then do yourself a favour – find this now.

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#29 – Last Elephant, The

(1972, GB, 89 min) Dir James Hill. Cast Ron Rifkin, Bill Travers, Virginia McKenna.

Environmental sci-fi from the Born Free director. It’s the undated future and through a combination of poaching and the environmental devastation caused by a limited nuclear war all of the elephants of Africa are now dead. American journalist Alan Finch (Rifkin) is sent to Botswana to follow-up on a tip-off of a sighting from conservationists Frank and Mary Beckett (Travers and McKenna). The first half of the film finds our trio travelling uncomfortably, Finch’s city-living type not cottoning on to the Beckett’s nature loving ways. After they find the elusive elephant the second half becomes a kind of dirge with their every attempt to help the sickly survivor failing. At the end the world’s media convenes on this dying elephant, filming it as it expires. Finch’s conversion is complete when he is asked by a newscaster what the big deal is – “We have elephants in zoos, right?” Finch shakes his head. “No,” he says, “This wasn’t an elephant in a zoo. This was the last real elephant there will ever be.” A heartfelt film with no embellishments in it’s vision of the future – no hover cars or ray guns – that would suggest either the film’s modest budget or that the story they’re telling is something less than allegory.

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Twitter: @MadeUpFilms