Science Fiction Double Feature (+3): New Views of Future Past Edition

12 a.m. – “High-Rise” – Drama/Thriller

81vy3obfjpl-_sl1500_(2015, Magnolia Home Entertainment) The haves and the have-nots settle their differences through murder and anarchy in this gorgeously photographed nightmare by Ben Wheatley (“Kill List”), based on the dystopian novel by J.G. Ballard. Tom Hiddleston is the newcomer to a luxurious apartment tower in what appears to be England circa the ‘70s; the upper levels are populated by decadent upscale types like Sienna Miller (icy and dead-eyed), while the middle and lower classes (Luke Evans and Elisabeth Moss) hold down the bottom levels and the building’s architect (a sepulchral, Karloffian Jeremy Irons) oversees all from on the top floor. With everything available to the upper floors and nothing to the lower, minor convenience issues soon blossom into class warfare, which becomes psychedelic and savage. Ambitious and grisly fare from the talented Wheatley, who isn’t quite able to hold together all the storylines or link up his false, ugly past to the dark days of Thatcher-era England that would have followed it, but still manages to present another striking examination of incredible violence simmering under the surface of everyday life. Lionsgate’s Blu-ray includes commentary by Hiddleston, Wheatley and producer Jeremy Thomas, as well as featurettes on the impressive sets and special effects.

1:30 a.m. – “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension” – Science Fiction

product_images_modal_buckbonzaicover72dpi__7b55f28178-fc42-4344-ad3e-326ed642e994_7d(1984, Shout! Factory) Scientist/rock star Buckaroo Banzai (Peter Weller) and his band/sidekicks discover that Orson Welles’ “War of the Worlds” radio hoax was a cover-up for a real invasion of Earth by aliens from another dimension. I’ve never understood the cult following for this movie, which seemed self-impressed and possessed of a smirking, superior tone towards the pulp material it’s supposed to be honoring/spoofing*. My opinion hasn’t changed much over the past three decades, though it’s hard to deny its supporting cast: Ellen Barkin as Banzai’s love interest, Clancy Brown, Jeff Goldblum, Lewis Smith and Pepe Serna as his band, and best of all, John Lithgow as a mad scientist seemingly possessed by both Chico Marx and Klaus Kinski (and backed by Christopher Lloyd and Vincent Schiavelli). Shout! Factory’s two-disc Blu-ray – part of its Shout Select imprint – includes a two-hour making-of documentary, commentaries by director W.D. Richter and writer Earl Mac Rauch, and deleted scenes, including an alternate opening with Jamie Lee Curtis as Banzai’s mom.

(*But what do I know? I really like the next movie, so you should take everything you read here with as many grains of salt as necessary.)

3 a.m. – “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” – Science Fiction/Comedy

product_images_modal_btmec-br-cover-72dpi__7badb6c295-3461-41a5-928f-8b387dbe3978_7d(1988, Shout! Factory) Benevolent dimwits (Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter) from San Dimas solve the problem of an upcoming oral history report with the help of a traveler from the future (George Carlin), who aids them in “borrowing” various figures from the past. Goofy lowbrow comedy is buoyed by the cheerful performances of its leads, which perfectly embody the simple ambitions and blithe philosophy of underachievers everywhere, and an airheaded irreverence (courtesy of scripters Ed Solomon of “Men in Black” fame and Chris Matheson) that suggests a joint effort by “Mad” and “High Times.” With a wonderfully weird supporting cast, including Jane Wiedlin as a spirited Joan of Arc, legendary stuntman Al Leong as Genghis Khan, ‘80s favorite Diane Franklin, and Fee Waybill, Martha Davis and Clarence Clemons as the Supreme Beings of the Future, though the bona fide scene stealers are Tony Steedman as Socrates (“So-kraytes”) and Terry Camillieri’s aggrieved Napoleon. “Excellent Adventure” kicks off the three-disc “Most Excellent Adventure” set (also from Shout Select), which also includes the underappreciated 1991 sequel “Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey,” best remembered for the scene in which Bill and Ted fend off an exasperated, Bergman-esque Death (William Sadler) with rounds of Clue and Battleship. The third disc mixes new commentaries by Matheson, Solomon and Winter and new making-of documentaries for both films with interviews and extras ported over from the 2005 MGM DVD set.

4:30 a.m. – “Dead End Drive-In” – Science Fiction/Action

av064_1024x1024(1986, Arrow Video) In the not-too-distant future, the Australian government comes up with a novel solution to its failed economy and rising crime rate: round up the unemployed youth and anyone else deemed “undesirable” and send them to camps tricked out as drive-in theaters, where they’re sedated with a steady diet of drugs and exploitation films. Australia made some of the most entertaining post-apocalypse movies of the 1980s, and while “Dead End Drive-In” doesn’t have the energy and inventiveness of “The Road Warrior,” director Brian Trenchard-Smith (the incredible “Stunt Rock”) keeps things lively with jaundiced humor and nasty-edged violence. There’s a whiff of politics in Peter Smalley’s script (adapted from a story by Booker Prize winner Peter Carey), especially in how the drive-in overseer tries to hang the inmates’ troubles on their Asian counterparts, but the picture is more interested in big, dumb moments like the flying tow truck escape finale (which is absolutely worth the wait). Diehard Oz rock fans may also appreciate the soundtrack, filled with period pop-New Wave bands like Hunters and Collectors and the Kids in the Kitchen. Arrow’s excellent Blu-ray presentation includes commentary by Trenchard-Smith (who describes the picture as, erm, a blend of “Mad Max” and “The Exterminating Angel”) and two of his early efforts: the 1973 TV special “The Stuntmen,” which showcases the risky work of his country’s stunt technicians, and “Hospitals Don’t Burn Down” (1977), a grim fire safety industrial about a deadly inferno caused by a carelessly tossed cigarette.

6 a.m. – “The Shape of Things to Come” – Science Fiction

a10m8xb6qyl-_sl1500_(1979, Blue Underground) After being forced by the “Robot Wars” to seek refuge on the Moon (played by the city of Toronto and points north), the remaining people of Earth face a new threat from self-styled emperor Ormus (Jack Palance) and his army of mechanical warriors. This threadbare Canadian production bears little resemblance to its alleged source novel by H.G. Wells and instead culls its cockamamie script from “Star Wars” and countless moldy space opera tropes. Young, brash hero (future Canadian TV vet Nicholas Campbell)? Check. Comely heroine (Eddie Benton and Carol Lynley – take your pick)? Check. “Cute” robot? You bet. Heavy-breathing villain? Check, check and mate. Dismal special effects and sluggish pacing make this no better or worse than any U.S. or Italian Lucasfilm carbon, and there are certainly enough laughs to be had (Campbell and Benton miming zero gravity), though a certain degree of patience is also required for any scene involving Sparks, the chatty, teleporting air conditioner unit pretending to be an advanced robot (see box cover art). Blue Underground’s Blu-ray includes a lively interview with Campbell, who spins amusing stories about the chainsmoking habit that killed director George McCowan (“Frogs”), producer Harry Alan Towers’ notoriously cheap and sleazy behavior, and buying pot on the sly for Jack Palance. 

About Paul Gaita

Paul Gaita lives in Sherman Oaks, California with his lovely wife and daughter. He has written for The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Variety and The Fix, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for Amazon.com from 1998 to 2014. He has interviewed countless entertainment figures from both the A and Z lists, but his favorites remain Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury and George Newall, who created both Schoolhouse Rock and the Hai Karate aftershave commercials. He once shared a Thanksgiving dinner with celebrity astrologer Joyce Jillson, and regrettably, still owes the late character actor Charles Napier a dollar.
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2 Responses to Science Fiction Double Feature (+3): New Views of Future Past Edition

  1. I have so much love for Bill & Ted. “Bogus Journey” is definitely underappreciated.

  2. Paul Gaita says:

    Agreed. I wanted to review Bogus Journey as well, but the column is long enough as is. Thanks for posting.

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