Alan Smithee Podcast 88: Judge Dredd (1995, Danny Cannon) & Dredd (2012, Pete Travis)

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In this episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast, we travel to the grim n’ gritty future of Mega City One for two very different takes on the beloved 2000 A.D. comic character Judge Dredd. One is abysmal, the other is awesome! Can you guess which is which?

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NEXT EPISODE: SUMMER SPECIAL! CADDYSHACK (1980, HAROLD RAMIS) & CADDYSHACK II (1988, ALLAN ARKUSH)

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Alan Smithee Podcast 85: Red Planet (2000, Antony Hoffman) / Mission to Mars (2000, Brian De Palma)

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In this episode of an Alan Smithee Podcast we conclude our two-part look at Mars on film for the month of Mars…March. Unlike our previous episode, these Mars movies portray a more benign look at the planet’s inhabitants (benign to the point of boredom in one case) and center around visits to the formidable fourth rock from the sun rather than invasions from it.

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Red Planet was not the first of the two Mars movies to come out in 2000, but it was certainly the lesser. Misrepresented as some kind of horror film, the story is an extremely directionless account of astronauts on a mission to repair terraforming technology installed on Mars due to Earth becoming uninhabitable. What happens next is so boring and inane that the Mars’ stature in popular imagination as a place of wonder, mystery and danger is irreparably reduced in the mind of the viewer. The mostly-talented cast helps add a moment or two. Val Kilmer is a total pro, as always, but one-and-done director Antony Hoffman’s mise-en-scene is even blander than the screenplay. It’s a real waste of a planet.

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Mission to Mars is an entirely other kind of space exploration film, one in which the danger of Mars is primarily the matter of getting there, as the title implies. The purpose of the mission is to unravel a mystery with echoes of 2001: A Space Odyssey – echoes so strong that the entire mainstream critical establishment seemed to dismiss the film out of hand as another case of Brian De Palma being unoriginal (a charge Quentin Tarantino stopped having to defend by embracing his lack of originality, but no matter.) Tim Robbins, Gary Sinise and Don Cheadle are all very good at selling the human drama which leads up to a heavy sci-fi conclusion that actually has a point, unlike Red Planet.

Download this episode and get your ass to Mars – again!

NEXT EPISODE: WE’RE LATE FOR PASSOVER! THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST (1988, MARTIN SCORSESE) & THE PASSOVER PLOT (1976, MICHAEL CAMPUS)

Alan Smithee Podcast 79: Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1956, Ishiro Honda & Terry O. Morse) / Godzilla (1998, Roland Emmerich)

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Why is a giant humanoid rampaging through a city such a potent vision of apocalypse? In the best case scenario for humanity, such a giant could be like an unknowing child, wreaking havoc on a world his brain doesn’t comprehend. A particular scene in the trailer for the long-forgotten sequel Honey I Blew Up the Kid frightened me as a child: as the parents are lifted up inside a car by their now-gargantuan toddler, they scream “No honey, don’t eat us!” The thought of being brought to your destruction by something unknowing and possibly indifferent was, and is, unsettling on a cosmic scale. King Kong, the grandaddy of movie giants understood this. His tale is a clash between primitive id and a New York City recently modernized by the showbiz glitz and mechanical industriousness of the 1920s. The flappers and hucksters were brutally reminded that still there be monsters in the recently departed old world.

Godzilla was different from all that, emerging directly from the folly of men as a visceral gut punch and rumination on the new definition of mass destruction, after World War II went out with two bangs. This monster doesn’t just destroy Tokyo, he dwarfs it. His appearance is like a bipedal dragon, a cold-blooded demonic reptile beyond even the temptations of pretty blonde things that ultimately felled the beast Kong. The original Japanese film is all of these things and a lot more. Unfortunately, the heavily recut American version with Ray Milland (as the distractingly named reporter Steve Martin) makes soup out of Gojira‘s narrative while Rosie Grier’s other head looks offscreen and pretends he’s listening to Japanese actors. The tone barely survives and the subtext is reduced to the most minimal lip service, but certainly this was heady stuff for American audiences used to the oft-goofy giant bug flicks of the 1950s.

Godzilla, King of the Monsters! is useful as a cultural history lesson and nothing else when the original cut is available from Criterion.

The 1998 American film of Godzilla is surely one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse for Hollywood Summer movies in the late 90s, bestride Batman and Robin, The Phantom Menace and, I’ve recently been convinced, Blues Brothers 2000. Roland Emmerich’s film is kind of like a bad sitcom pilot with a two hour giant monster movie attached, and it’s hard to say which component is worse. The ridiculous “human” story is an ensemble of decent actors in horrifically written and miscast non-roles, and whose banter is so achingly self-congratulatory and smug that Emmerich actually pauses between jokes to leave the audience time to laugh. The scenes with Godzilla himself weren’t even impressive for the day, and today they’re somewhere on par with a Sci-Fi Channel original movie about a dinosaur-gorilla hybrid or some such thing.

Kicking a dead horse isn’t hard when it’s the size of a building, and by the end of this episode there’s barely enough rubber left on our sneakers.

NEXT EPISODE: POST-HALLOWEEN SPECIAL! HALLOWEEN (THE TELEVISION VERSION) (1978, JOHN CARPENTER) & THE DAY AFTER HALLOWEEN (1979, SIMON WINCER)

Alan Smithee Podcast 77: Barbarella (1968, Roger Vadim) / Galaxina (1980, William Sachs)

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In this episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast, Andrew and I run wild across the universe with a couple of loose space babes. They both start out a little cold – one of them’s made of metal – but after we shove our opinions down their throats regarding how badly their movies suck, they warm up to us plenty. It’s called “negging,” refer to your pick-up artist manual for a detailed explanation. Then, of course, I take things too far and ask Fonda if she’d tortured any POWs with the pan-and-scan version of Barbarella lately, turning the mood. Stratten also cools down a bit once she remembers she’s been dead and murdered for 30 years.

This is one of those times when our nominally “good” movie is only less worse than the “bad” one, but the pairing of these two broads was too good to resist. It’s a head-slappingly silly mistake, because Barbarella is probably one of the more infamous bombs of the 60s; a seemingly imaginative yet actually highly calculated attempt to cash in on several cultural fads of the time: sci-fi adventure, comic book camp, “free” “love” and Henry Fonda’s acting progeny. You can’t blame Dino De Laurentiis for thinking that these gimmicks would mesh together, and perhaps they would have if the story or script had anything remotely interesting about them. Terry Southern and Roger Vadim have a lot of potentially clever ideas that flitter and flame out within seconds, proving that drugs tend to hamper otherwise good writers more than they help them.

Flash Gordon is practically a masterpiece of production design and witty dialogue by comparison, to give you some idea of how badly Barbarella misfires. At least Dino learned something in the interim. Actually, Flash Gordon actually came out the same year as our second feature of the episode, Galaxina – a title inspired by Barbarella, if not the story. Or lack thereof.

Galaxina is just as vacuous and lazy in terms of actual content, but with far less talent involved. Robots learning to love is one of science fiction’s oldest tropes, so Sachs (who wrote as well as directed) wasn’t necessarily in a bind to begin with. You’d think if the star of your film was Playboy Playmate of the Year 1980 Dorothy Stratten and she’s the robot who learns to love, you kind of have your work cut out for you and can simply enjoy peppering the dialogue with double entendres and concocting sexy scenes of awkward robolove between man and machine. Yes, you’d think. Apparently Sachs felt that such material was beneath him, and basically ignores Stratten for the first half of the film while he establishes, re-establishes and re-re-establishes a trio of bumbling space jockeys in what feels like a failed pilot written by someone who couldn’t get a job on Saturday Night Live even after Lorne Michaels left.

The infuriating catch to this lack of Stratten-sleaze is that when she finally makes the scene, we don’t get so much as a side boob and the proto-Spaceballs parodies are only getting worse. The cleverest thing in the whole waste of celluloid is an alien hooker with three boobs, strongly suggesting that at least one person who worked on Total Recall has seen Galaxina. Given how clumsy and rote the predictable parody scene of Alien is, it probably wasn’t Dan O’Bannon’s idea to include an homage in kind. Who did Sachs think he was, not delivering on the tagline that in the 31st century, man finally created a machine…with feelings!(?) This bozo wrote and directed The Incredible Melting Man. If you’re going to make an exploitation film, know your audience.

Galaxina “introduces” Dorothy Stratten as per the opening credits, even though she’d starred in the softcore lesbian erotic thriller Autumn Born, a film which undoubtedly featured her in the nude and was probably better written as well. Stratten belongs to that unfortunate club of actors and actresses more famous in death than life, and will go down in movie history only for this and Star 80 – the 1983 biopic depicting her murder, in which she’s played by Muriel Hemingway. Pairing that with Galaxina as the good-movie counterpoint would’ve been smart, but hey, we’re not all that smart sometimes.

NEXT EPISODE: BLUES BROTHERS SPECIAL! THE BLUES BROTHERS (1980, JOHN LANDIS) / BLUES BROTHERS 2000 (1998, JOHN LANDIS)

Alan Smithee Podcast 73: Real Genius (1985, Martha Coolidge) / My Science Project (1985, Jonathan R. Beutel)

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In this episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast, we party like its 1985 and try to keep our intellectual hats on – much like the authors of our two films, Real Genius and My Science Project. As discussed in our Revenge of the Nerds episode, there was a formative period in the decade of Reagan towards the social acceptance and respect for geeky, gawky intellectuals, at least so far as they could get down and party like the rest of us. This bra bomb better work, Nerdlinger!

Real Genius has built a considerable reputation as a cult comedy classic, surprisingly so, in that the film was not a financial success at the time and remains relatively unknown today. However, most everyone who has seen one or two scenes of Val Kilmer retains fond memories of his peak comic abilities, cast in the mold of the Bill Murray anarchic-slacker archetype who has ruled movie comedies arguably until present day.

Kilmer represents the best that archetype can be in Real Genius, a smart aleck who is actually smart, loves the ladies, defends the underdogs, and is not opposed to authority per se, but to authority figures like William Atherton who – whaddya know – was also a dickish authority figure in Ghostbusters the year prior.

Real Genius also was ahead of its time to the degree that some of the nerds in the film are quirky in ways that are true to life, rather than possessing cheap sitcom quirk, whether they’re Michelle Meyrink’s OCD nerdette or Robert Prescott as the bully-nerd Kent. Gabriel Jarret’s main character is also a sensitively portrayed wimp, and he probably hates Val Kilmer forever (geddit) for stealing the show and taking center stage on the awful theatrical poster, which misconstrues the film as some kind of madcap yuppie misadventure.

From a smart film pretending to be dumb to vice versa, My Science Project is a film with a lot of confidence and no brains whatsoever to get in the way of Fisher Stevens. Released by Touchstone, the story definitely has a kind of Disney-esque whimsy that could have made an entertaining movie for kids in more competent hands. Unfortunately, writer-director Jonathan R. Betuel of “The Last Starfighter” writing fame (and “Theodore Rex” infamy to come) doesn’t seem to know whom he’s making the movie for, let alone why his own film even needs to exist.

The main characters are high schoolers with less believable personalities than the cast of Saved By The Bell and despite the film’s Ghostbusters inspired poster promising a special effects extravaganza, the titular science project doesn’t begin to go haywire until halfway through the run time. Which means there’s plenty of time for the one-dimensional characters to twiddle their thumbs as Dennis Hopper earns a paycheck and star John Stockwell wishes he were still being chased by Christine.

All this, plus a tyrannosaurus rex (Bethuel really likes dinosaurs), props for the underrated Jonathan Gries (a basement dweller in Real Genius), and serious consideration of how special effects usually hurt comedies rather than help them in this young, fast and scientific episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast.

NEXT EPISODE: SUPERGIRL (1984, JEANNOT SZWARC) AUDIO COMMENTARY TRACK!

Alan Smithee Podcast 64: Alien (1979, Ridley Scott) / Alien 2: On Earth (1980, Ciro Ippolito)

The Alien – capital T, capital A “Alien” – has been the Mickey Mouse of sci-fi horror for over 30 years now. That’s because there wasn’t really a recognized hybrid genre of “Sci-Fi Horror” before screenwriter Dan O’Bannon and his partner Ronald Shusett conceived a version of O’Bannon’s early sci-fi comedy Dark Star (directed by John Carpenter) in which the goofy beach ball-looking alien would be a terrifying monster and another crew of astronauts would be stuck in the black void of the cosmos with nowhere to run. The famous tagline “In Space No One Can Hear You Scream” said it all. Selling the audience on both a realistic spaceship and a seemingly real, unprecedentedly bizarre looking space monster helped change the standards by which space movies were judged. The same can be said of Star Wars, which similarly combined a lot of endearing features from an escapist fantasy genre and portrayed their spaceships and aliens so vividly with state-of-the-art special effects that all around the world, the mainstream was reintroduced to those charms as adults.

The fun hypothetical question to ask of both films is, what if the sequels and multi-media franchise empires had never followed? Just one self-contained Star Wars adventure and one Alien? The impact on the rest of the movie business actually would have remained much the same. Mickey Mouse would have remained in the dark shadows of our imagination, that’s for certain. The most prominent features of Ridley Scott’s original film, compared to the later sequels of James Cameron, David Fincher et all, are the slow pace of the story and the way the alien is shown as little as possible. This was not a case of the effects being unconvincing and necessitating minimal view as with the shark in Jaws, but simply Scott’s preference as the director. He did not consider himself a horror film maker after all, and under the harsh light of a horror movie fan’s experience, the film really ceases to be suspenseful or scary after the first viewing lets you know when the monster is going to suddenly emerge. Coupled with loud noises on the soundtrack when said jack-in-the-box “jump” moments occur, the overall effect of Alien on the horror end of the equation is ultimately rather lacking. No wonder the sequels barely bothered trying to be scary after people had seen the Alien in full view by the end of Scott’s movie – a view which practically reveals the zipper running up it’s back. Whoops. So close.

The residual strength of Alien is ultimately in the science fiction department. While unmistakably drawn from the late 1970s, the film’s cast of characters live and work in their spaceship as if they were born there. Their descent onto the alien planet and discovery of an alien ship containing alien eggs is a masterpiece of wonder in the face of the unknown, a creation of mood helped by Jerry Goldsmith’s awe inspiring score. The methodical arguments between Sigourney Weaver, Ian Holm and Tom Skerritt over what actions to take grounds all the fantastic elements down to a practical level and makes the future seem all the more real. Culminating in the unforgettable sight of the mysterious alien “facehugger” wrapped around one of the astronauts, the first act of Alien is as engrossing and impressive an introduction to a possible future as Kubrick’s 2001.

Being a big studio, high profile, new post-Star Wars Summer blockbuster event picture, Alien contained a massive amount of gloss and polish which not every “Sci-Fi Horror” film produced in its wake could compete with when trying the experience. These Alien influenced horror films could, however, afford to imitate the most talked-about grossout moment of the movie: the infamous “Chestburster” scene where a penile hand puppet with teeth explodes out of John Hurt’s belly. Thus in the immediate wake of that infamous demise came a whole spate of fake heads and torsos being busted open from within by ugly sock puppets. Probably the worst among these is Alien 2: On Earth.

Alien 2: On Earth exists in the company of many other Italian knockoffs and unofficial sequels to American genre movies, such as 1983′s Escape From New York cash-in 2019: After the Fall of New York, previously featured on this very podcast. But where 2019 had some resources behind the production and ideas to add to the initial premise stolen from John Carpenter, Alien 2: On Earth appears to have been made for a handful of lira and adds absolutely nothing creative as a fake sequel to Alien. Following a team of modern day geologists on a doomed excursion into some Californian caves, the film does include blobby alien hatchlings which cling to and burst out of faces, but nothing else which could be confused for the original. The sole defense you could make of this film is that its producers did what fans of the real Alien movies waited decades to see – the aliens “on Earth” – but the incompetence of the filmmakers on every level makes any viewing an endurance test of pain.

Only sheer obscurity has kept 20th Century Fox from suing over the title, even after the recent Blu-Ray release by Midnight Legacy – who, like the film’s creators, are probably banking on the title and not the abominable film itself.

NEXT WEEK: NAZI HUNTING SPECIAL! BLACK BOOK (2006, PAUL VERHOEVEN) & BLOODRAYNE: THE THIRD REICH (2010, UWE BOLL)

Alan Smithee Podcast 59: Escape from New York (1981, John Carpenter) / 2019: After the Fall of New York (1983, Sergio Martino)

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In the 20th Century people were big into the idea of the post-apocalypse created by nuclear war, instead of by realistic causes like zombies. The apocalypse, it was presumed, would happen after the Soviet Union and the United States laid waste to the world and civilization was wrecked. A few films were made along this premise in the 1970s, like A Boy and His Dog and Damnation Alley, yet none of these fantasies struck a chord in the public imagination until 1981 when George Miller directed his masterpiece The Road Warrior and rising auteur John Carpenter made Escape From New York. Carpenter’s conceptual masterstroke was combining what the new subgenre was getting at – that the future would be looking more like Lord of the Flies than The Jetsons or even Zardoz – with the assumption that New York City was so far gone to crime it may as well drop dead. Aside from Walter Hill’s The Warriors, no sci-fi / action / adventure films had explored the fantasy of New York as a lawless playground for gangs and Carpenter’s conception of Manhattan island as an inescapable prison colony captured the imagination of genre fans everywhere.

He also gave Kurt Russell a second career after years of Disney boy Bobby Driscoll roles, as Snake Plissken, a truly self centered and cynical antihero who perfectly matched the grim, bleak tone of his dystopic future adventure. Further rounding out the cast is possibly the best array of character actors ever assembled: Harry Dean Stanton, Adrienne Barbeau, Ernest Borgnine, Issac Hayes and Lee Van Cleef invest a sense of reality to the low budget landscape like no other cast ever has. As we discuss, this film truly shows off Carpenter’s auteurist skills at their peak from the synthesizer score to impeccable cinematography by his best collaborator Dean Cundey. Escape From New York is one of Carpenter’s greatest films and for the first time since our first episode we do our best to summarize its brilliance.

2019: After The Fall Of New York is by its title alone something of an admitted ripoff. What’s delightful and oft-stupefying is how many other science fiction genre ideas Ernesto Gastaldi, Sergio Martino and Gabriel Rossini decide to borrow when the premise of a Kurt Russell lookalike going into an abandoned Manhattan island to get someone out isn’t enough to sustain an entire movie without copying every single plot beat from Carpenter. Amongst these ideas are escape from Earth via spaceship, de-evolution of humans into ape-like creatures, infiltration of humanity by cybors, and a global infertility crisis threatening to wipe out humanity. This last idea may sound familiar to viewers and readers of Children of Men. 2019: After The Fall Of New York is a textbook case of Italian knockoff cinema complete with a totally overdubbed soundtrack and an exhilarating absence of narrative logic. Highly recommended to fans of Escape From New York and The Road Warrior who are also fans of every other sci-fi adventure ever made.

NEXT EPISODE: BREATHLESS SPECIAL! BREATHLESS (1960, JEAN-LUC GODARD) & BREATHLESS (1983, JIM MCBRIDE)