Execrable: The Man Who Fell to Earth

The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)
Directed by Nicolas Roeg
Written by Walter Tevis, Paul Mayersberg
Produced by Michael Deeley, Barry Spikings, John Peverall, Si Litvinoff
Starring David Bowie, Rip Torn, Candy Clark, Buck Henry, Bernie Casey, Jackson D. Kane, Rick Riccardo
Not too many motion pictures shot without explicitly pornographic intent are both as figuratively and literally masturbatory as Roeg’s ponderous, oversexualized mistreatment of Tevis’ tragic fable wherein a benign extraterrestrial (Bowie) arrives on earth to fetch an aqueous amplitude for the dying civilization of his desert homeworld, only to be undone by estrangement, alcoholism, governmental wiles and a preoccupancy with television. Mayersberg’s every alteration opens yet another in a gaping plenitude of plot holes prominent by parabolic standards, each a cheap goad for a script eschewing nearly all of the novel’s thematic depth in favor of exoterically exploitative schmaltz — and this is extolled as a cinematic landmark of intellectual science fiction! Tevis’ alcoholic apercus are pretermitted, as are the recherche burdens of an industrialist’s struggle to sustain independence in a corporate culture, and the incapacity of love across an interspecific divide. Mayersberg and Roeg instead settled for trendy, hypocritical denunciation of commercial consumption while subjecting their audiences to pointlessly protracted prurience and tacky effects. The sophomoric result is an arrant adulteration reducing the reputedly brilliant, otherworldly protagonist to a simple and susceptible boor without faculties of sense or strategy. Interpreting the persecuted, frigidly disaffected alien as much an embodiment of his usual themes as any of his musical characters, Bowie’s pluperfect in the lead, the pioneering androgyne curiously convincing as an offworlder, apocryphally addled by his famed addictions. Casey, Henry and especially Torn are always reliable character players; as the enterprising extraterrestrial’s respective corporate antagonist, attorney, and technician/confidant, they cope well with Mayersberg’s leaden dialogue and embarrassingly libidinous scenarios, their director observably, idiosyncratically unmindful of the talent at his disposal. Clark’s believably unsophisticated as Bowie’s provincial love interest, but too vexing and unsexy to be an adequate ladylove for a tellurian, much less a spaceman. Notwithstanding some amusing moments and the eclat of its protean rock star, this maladapted pap fittingly follows Roeg’s dismally risible version of Lady Browning’s Don’t Look Now: another select story stripped of substance supplanted by its auteur’s maladroit indulgences in ostentatious slow motion, to cult and critical acclaim. Would that more viewers read.
Instead, watch The Day the Earth Stood Still.

Palatable: Jodorowsky’s Dune

Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013)
Directed by Frank Pavich
Produced by Frank Pavich, Travis Stevens, Stephen Scarlata, Damon Cook, Alex Ricciardi, Michel Seydoux, Donald Rosenfeld
Starring Alejandro Jodorowsky, Michel Seydoux, Brontis Jodorowsky, Richard Stanley, Chris Foss, Jean-Paul Gibon, Devin Faraci, Amanda Lear, H.R. Giger, Gary Kurtz, Diane O’Bannon, Nicolas Winding Refn, Jean-Pierre Vignau, Christian Vander, Drew McWeeny
When you’ve declined Douglas Trumbull’s expertise for his vainglory and lack of spiritual depth, upbraided Pink Floyd for gobbling hamburgers while you were expounding on your cinematic conceptions, assigned Salvador Dalí an imperious role for which he’s to be paid $100K per hour and insisted that your sprawling adaptation of Frank Herbert’s science fiction epic treating of rival interstellar cultures warring for a sui generis resource must span twelve to twenty hours, don’t expect to realize it. Not one frame of Jodorowsky’s bizarre pet project — purposed as a hallucinatory alternative to LSD and a prophetic meditation on the ultimate potential of incorporeal transcendence — was shot, but one of two handsome, humongous, hardbound volumes containing the totality of its script, storyboards and conceptual artwork printed to pitch it to American studio executives remains one of the surrealist filmmaker’s prized chattels, wherein the ossature of his vision in toto is preserved and explored in this compelling documentary. Conspectuses of Jodo’s ascension to early repute in avant-garde theater, the adventitious conception and production of Fando y Lis (during which his inspiration served to compensate for his professional inexperience), and the unprecedented underground triumph of his satirical, symbolical western El Topo preface for the uninitiated Jodorowsky’s initial achievements, that last of which attracted the attention of Seydoux, who distributed first El Topo, then the bricoleur’s metaphysical masterwork The Holy Mountain to zealously receptive French audiences. An enduring friendship between the Chilean dynamo and his French benefactor persisted to the present, years after the former’s swindle of his prior producer, Allen Klein (a misdeed unmentioned in this flick). Encouraged by both Jodo’s accomplishment and the unexcelled international success of his selected subject matter, Seydoux eagerly agreed to produce a motion picture of Herbert’s Byzantine saga, quartering his alacritous auteur in a French castle while he lucubrated its screenplay. Jodorowsky’s gift for identifying and locating his collaborators may be demonstrated by the fortuity accompanying many of their first encounters: on the strength of his artwork in the serialized western Blueberry comic books, peerless sequential/commercial artist Jean “Moebius” Giraud was designated to sketch storyboards of over 3,000 shots and render vividly detailed character designs; during a screening of John Carpenter’s and Dan O’Bannon’s joint first picture (the penurious space comedy Dark Star), O’Bannon was reckoned by Jodo kindred, enthralled by his palaver and ingestion of recherche marijuana, and assigned a position as the picture’s SFX supervisor; the phantasmagoria of British conceptual painter Chris Foss were often superior to the books for whose covers they were masterfully pictured, so he seemed as fitting a contributing artist to image outlandish spacecraft and edifices as H.R. Giger, commissioned to delineate with airbrushed intricacy Jodorowsky’s unique contrivance of Baron Harkonnen’s castle, predicated on Giraud’s storyboards. They first met at the St. Regis hotel in NYC, and frequently thenceforth, but Jodo only prevailed upon Dalí to create the Padishah Emperor by the liaison of the Catalan painter’s muse Amanda Lear, to whom he granted the role of Princess Irulan for her mediatory efforts. No small contemplation was invested to cast and score both of the novel’s rival aristocratic families. His stardom in Kung Fu secured David Carradine prominence as a gelded Duke Leto; Jodo’s son Brontis was to portray the messianic central figure of the Atreides scion Paul, and subjected for two years to an operose regimen by martial artist and stunt coordinator Jean-Pierre Vignau so to acquire the martial skill befitting Muad’Dib; Pink Floyd’s meditative resonance seemed a choice aural backdrop for the seafaring family. To one of his preferred Parisian restaurants where he waxed epulose, Jodo’s secretary tracked Orson Welles, whose famed obesity and iconic mastery convinced him that no other could play Baron Harkonnen…and who was eventually propitiated with a bottle of wine and a pledge that one of his favorite chefs would prepare his meals on set or location during the production’s shoot; at a party, Mick Jagger immediately, compulsively accepted Jodo’s offer to play lean, swaggering Feyd Rautha, and Udo Kier was met at Warhol’s Factory to receive the part of Piter De Vries, the post-Teutonic clan’s chief Mentat; no strangers to dystopian fantasy, Magma were picked to generate a sonic aspect of the Harkonnens’ miasma. With no deficit of politesse, every major studio solicited for subvention by producers Seydoux and Gibon — Disney, Warner Brothers, Paramount, Universal, etc. — rejected this interpretation of Dune, conceding their admiration for the endeavor’s fastidious conception…and bewilderment regarding its director’s demands in concern of length and thematic complexity. Pavich wisely focuses on his subjects’ accounts of this grand failure, and interlarded with demonstrative animations of Giraud’s storyboards and Foss’s paintings, interviews with and recordings of Lear, O’Bannon, Seydoux, Gibon, Vignau, Foss, Giger, and especially Jodorowsky graphically report his visionary divergences from Herbert’s novel, charismatic inspiration of his cast and crew, and the immense creative potential that was never fulfilled beyond preproduction. Supplementary commentary by sci-fi filmmaker Richard Stanley and producer Gary Kurtz (whose last endeavors with George Lucas owe an enormous conceptual debt to this undertaking) provide converse perspective on the picture’s abortion; overt observations and hoary hyperbole voiced by overestimated genre moviemaker Nicolas Winding Refn and overfed Twitter jackass and alleged film critic Devin Faraci contribute nothing of worth to this history, and seem oddly incongruous with Jodorowsky himself, a born raconteur and still ebullient in his ninth decade. Despite its cancellation, the influence of Jodo’s Dune reverberated for years in the composition, production design and thematic signification of many motion pictures: storyboards and production photos are juxtaposed with shots of unmistakable similarity from Star Wars, Flash Gordon, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Golan-Globus’ Masters of the Universe, Contact, Prometheus and especially Alien, for whose efforts O’Bannon, Giger, Foss and Moebius were indispensable. Therewithal, most of Jodorowsky’s best concepts were hardly squandered, instead exploited in superb comics such as The Incal in collaboration with Moebius, and The Metabarons with Juan Giménez. One can’t help but speculate whether the creative profusion of this scuttled Dune was worth more than the picture might have been.

Palatable: The Dark Crystal

The Dark Crystal (1982)
Directed by Jim Henson, Frank Oz
Written by Jim Henson, David Odell
Produced by Jim Henson, Gary Kurtz, Duncan Kenworthy, Bruce Sharman, David Lazer
Starring Jim Henson, Kathryn Mullen, Frank Oz, Dave Goelz, Brian Muehl / Stephen Garlick, Lisa Maxwell, Billie Whitelaw, Percy Edwards, Barry Dennen, Michael Kilgarriff
A solar syzygy of an otherworld’s antiquity wreaked by magnification through the titular crystal’s magic environmental entropy, while bifurcating the race of mages who imprudently fractured it. Over a millennium’s span, these two factions dwindled to a corporeally yoked pair of elderly decades: one consortium of mansuete, lumbering alchemists and a surfeited, vulturine aristocracy of limitless and unabashed cruelty, who exploit the crystal’s perverted power to counteract their encroaching decrepitude. A doyen of the former partnership details to a bipedal, murescent adolescent in his care a mission to retrieve and restore to the crystal its lost shard, so that the furbished artifact may during another imminent conjunction restore balance in prophetic accordance and avert a global cataclysm. Henson’s marriage of performance and puppetry furnished with sumptuous production values is the most original and ambitious of his studio’s offerings, boasting premium practical and animated effects, and sets exuberant with organic and invented vegetation out of doors, and regal and mystic extravagance within. The sheer scale of this production’s almost as impressive as its every department’s craftsmanship evidenced in spectacles: an astronomer-witch’s gargantuan orrery, ruins almost so baroque as the sinful sorcerers’ castle, and a vast menagerie of fabricated creatures populating this bleak fantasy. Neither is it without defect, for exposition during the first two acts is as redundant as vague, and many of the plot’s perils and villains may prove too nightmarish for especially timid children. Posterior to his collaborations with George Lucas, Kurtz’s artistry in the capacities of production and second unit direction is almost as salient as that of puppeteers-directors Henson and Oz, the latter of whom’s since enjoyed a fruitful career helming comedies starring Muppets and humans alike. For both its fantastic grandeur and the obsolescence of puppetry, nothing quite like this has since been produced; Henson’s vision may be as sui generis as the coaction of talent by which it was incarnated.

Sublime: Dreams

Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams (1990)
Directed by Akira Kurosawa, Ishiro Honda
Written by Akira Kurosawa
Produced by Mike Y. Inoue, Hisao Kurosawa, Seikichi Iizumi, Allan H. Liebert, Steven Spielberg
Starring Akira Terao, Toshihiko Nakano, Chishu Ryu, Mitsunori Isaki, Masayuki Yui, Mieko Harada, Chosuke Ikariya, Martin Scorsese, Mitsuko Baisho, Toshie Negishi, Hisashi Igawa, Yoshitaka Zushi
Not a jot more or less lucid than their sources, this feature comprehends vivid dramatizations of eight dreams conceived during Kurosawa’s slumber: on a rainy day, the director as a tad (Nakano) ventures into a forest against the counsel of his mother (Baisho) to furtively observe a procession of vulpecular spirits celebrating an espousal; during Hinamatsuri not a decade later, he’s (Isaki) briefly intrigued by his sister’s hina-ningyo set before lured by a young girl to an orchard where trees bearing peaches were felled by his family, and encounters the dolls’ imperial spirits personated in hierarchic formation, as aggrieved as he for their loss; a mountaineering quartet meet with a blizzard, during which the most mulish among them (Yui) is visited by a bewitching yuki-onna (Harada); after measuring a reverberant rural tunnel, a discharged army commander is confronted by his deceased platoon in either ignorance or defiance of their quietus; in early middle age, Kurosawa (Terao) admires a selection of Van Gogh’s masterworks in a gallery before traversing several of them in search and pursuit of the madly nettlesome master (Scorsese!), who elaborates on the wonders of natural beauty and strenuity its delineation connotes before his admiring pursuer ranges to revel in the magnified beauty of evocative brushstrokes as loci; as nuclear reactors inadvertently detonate to render Mount Fuji incandescent, AK accompanies two other survivors (Negishi, Igawa) dwelling on the depredation of nuclear horror; a post-apocalyptic wasteland’s the stage for Wind Man’s meeting with a lesser demon (Ikariya) bemoaning their lot amidst dandelions enormously escalated by nuclear fallout and other floral mutations; in an idyllic hamlet replete with watermills where modern conveniences are abjured in favor of natural harmony, a centenarian (Ryu) elucidates his austere lifestyle to Kurosawa and deprecates the pollution and misery attending industrialization. His last extravagant production succeeds as both an oneiric expression of Kurosawa’s apprehensions and admirations, and a cinematic model for adaptation in this mode. Ever poignant for and despite its curiosities and hazy beauty, the burden herein concerns AK’s reverence and fear for nature, a preoccupation articulated more in observation than didacticism. Opulent production values are musically complemented by Chopin’s Raindrop prelude, In a Village from Ippolitov-Ivanov’s first Caucasian Sketches suite and a slyly stirring and effectively applied score by Shinichiro Ikebe surpassing anything he composed for Imamura. Clearly, Kurosawa grasped the significance of the dream as a distorting or refracting window through which reality’s scrutinized; bookending with cavalcades in commencement of a wedding and conclusion at a funeral, the aging Emperor strove in his final decade with an ambition worthy of Fellini to synopsize life through that sleeping veil.

Favorites: Orchestra Rehearsal

Orchestra Rehearsal (1978)
Directed by Federico Fellini
Written by Federico Fellini, Brunello Rondi
Produced by Michael Fengler, Renzo Rossellini
Starring Balduin Baas, Umberto Zuanelli, Sibyl Mostert, Ferdinando Villella, Elizabeth Labi, Andy Miller, Clara Colosimo, Claudio Ciocca, Luigi Uzzo, David Maunsell, Franco Javarone, Cesare Martignon, Franco Mazzieri, Daniele Pagani, Angelica Hansen, Paolo Fiorino, Adelaide Aste, Ronaldo Bonacchi, Franco Iavarone, Francesco Aluigi, Heinz Kreuger
He was always fond of sampling sociopolitical phenomena through a microcosmic lens, and never more so than in Fellini’s facetia of an orchestra’s eventual insurrection against its carping, autocratic conductor (Baas). Though a rehearsal hall’s vitreous fourth wall, the ensemble’s spry amanuensis and factotum (Zuanelli) at the threshold of his retirement is first to bespeak the audience with a history of the hall now deconsecrated from its former glory as a church and auditorium, before the musicians follow suit ere their rehearsal and during a breather following one of their musical director’s diatribes. In gregarity, societal variety’s personified and contrasted, and idiosyncrasies evinced in interviews with an unseen television crew: a burly yet gentle bass tubist (Javarone) depicts the selection of his instrument as a commitment predicated as much on ruth as affinity; talkative percussionists avouch their exceptional frolic; neuroses and transports are ascribed alike by trumpeters (Mazzieri, et al.) to their artistic discharge; the flute is conferred by its lanky blower (Mostert) of gawky and exuberant charm a singular mysticism; wistful yet waggish trombonists (Pagani, Fiorino) introspect; a cheery, fetching pianist (Labi) declares sociality her sine qua non of performance; solitary spirituality, authority and antiquity are accredited to the oboe by its practitioner (Miller); lonely and chubby, a harp’s plucker (Colosimo) clings to her subsistence; one conceited cellist (Villella) professes the primacy of his instrument and the violin (which he subsequently derides); a clarinetist’s (Martignon) anecdote elucidates the clarity of the woodwind; their union delegate (Ciocca) commends labor reforms that heightened the professional musician’s dignity and salary; the Teutonic maestro in his suite bemoans a disenchantment with his symphonic society’s impudence and indiscipline, reminiscing of the felicity affected by his mentor’s mastery, and the age of his early appointments, when he commanded subordination of a finical standard. Throughout, recurrent tremors forebode a tumult to which the unruffled musical director repairs: a protest in which mutinous instrumentalists degenerated into a doggery vandalize the hall with graffiti and rhythmic cacophony first divides the orchestra into their conductor’s silent supporters and chanting dissidents; the schismatic broken consort’s rebels again predictably split into proponents of absolute meter purposing to supplant the maestro with a massive metronome, countered by wilder apostles of individualistic naturalism. Armageddon’s by demolition typed at this riot’s climax before order’s restored for the sake of survival, affirming the harmonious necessity of tradition, unity and authority. Less dynamic than his masterpieces, Fellini’s brief feature’s composed primarily of expositive static shots and elegant pans in swift time with Nino Rota’s lilting passages or slow scans of speculative significance. It’s nearly more abrupt than its substance can afford, but Rehearsal‘s scale and parabolic profundity exceeds the usual proportion of a duration shy of 70 minutes.

Execrable: Diabolique

Diabolique (1996)
Directed by Jeremiah S. Chechik
Written by Pierre Boileau, Thomas Narcejac, Henri-Georges Clouzot, Don Roos
Produced by Gary Barber, Chuck Binder, Jerry Offsay, Bill Todman Jr., James G. Robinson, Marvin Worth, Gary Daigler, Kirsten W. Welles
Starring Isabelle Adjani, Sharon Stone, Chazz Palminteri, Kathy Bates, Spalding Gray, Shirley Knight, Allen Garfield
Chechik’s transition from direction of vacuous music videos to feature filmmaking initially produced some entertaining offerings: half of his initial theatrical quartet comprise the raunchy holiday favorite National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and Benny & Joon, a charmingly comedic psychologic romance in the familiar mold of David and Lisa; that the Canadian native elected to reinterpret Clouzot’s classic thriller (which he stupidly animadverted as “flawed and misogynist”) in a feminist context may be imputed to provincial idiocy, but his failure to fulfill any facet of this purported thriller only denotes a thoroughgoing ineptitude buoyed by vanity. Stone really is a wonder, and her career a testament to the enduring pull of the casting couch: how can anyone so egregiously overact by dint of such wooden delivery? After over a decade cast in prominent roles, this woman possessed yet not a grain of histrionic instinct or technique, posturing ludicrously in her supposedly sultry role as the mathematics instructor of a boarding school engaged in one of several affairs juggled by its sadistic headmaster (Palminteri) in rivalry with his pristine, cardiacally fragile wife (Adjani). Stone’s nigh beyond salvage, but Chechik’s sweeping incapability’s also transparent via his able players: Adjani and Palminteri are also uncharacteristically stiff, and Gray seems to be channeling John Glover’s fussier personae. Resembling a distaff Joe Don Baker, only Bates prevails by plausibility as an absurdly invented detective defined primarily by a mastectomy she references within her first ten lines. Not at all subserved by its moronic impertinence, schlockily recriminative repartee, costuming and set design evoking all the shoddiest points of noir crime dramas and a sapphic subtext of the hoariest convention, sprinkled with misandrist quips for a demographic prepossessed by Lifetime’s fare, bound by Roos’ typically prosaic dialogue and scored by numbers to the humdrum hilt courtesy of tiresome Randy Edelman, Chechik’s turkey trudges on and on and on and on to a conclusion of brutal fatuity, at every opportunity almost calculatedly shirking suspense. In Hollywood, dreck begets dreck: in a small part played with suitable stilt not too many years after penning and co-producing the unbearably cornball features Regarding Henry and Forever Young, unsightly and nepotistic golden boy J.J. Abrams appears as one in a duo of A/V dorks to foretoken his perpetuation of uninspired trash in this exact idiom. Brilliant for their adapted invention, Clouzot’s best movies are unassailable, recreated exceptionally on rarest occasions only by virtuosi such as Friedkin and Chabrol. Inadvertently, unrepentantly, Chechik certified that genre journeymen are seldom able auteurs, a verity apparently unfathomable to studio executives.

Favorites: Opening Night

Opening Night (1977)
Directed and written by John Cassavetes
Produced by Sam Shaw, Al Ruban, Michael Lally
Starring Gena Rowlands, Ben Gazzara, Joan Blondell, John Cassavetes, Paul Stewart, Laura Johnson, Zohra Lampert
The sudden death of an especially frantic fan (Johnson) following a theatrical performance is the catalyst that triggers its famous, jaded leading lady’s (Rowlands) inevitable midlife crisis, prompting increasingly aberrant dysfunction, oppugnance to her role of a woman suffering the wane of her allure and all its associated power, and delusive encounters with the deceased as a reflection of her teenage self: initially affectionate visitations that lapse by realization to violent confrontations. Even as the volatile actress struggles by rationalization to deny all affinity to her wholly apposite persona during a succession of ebullitions and collapses, she’s perforce the precessing lynchpin around which everyone in her compass revolves: the veteran playwright (Blondell) torn between fascination and frustration in observance of this tempest and equanimous producer (Stewart) who patiently weathers it, a former lover and co-star (Cassavetes) wisely distanced to sustain their professional relationship, her rock of a director (Gazzara) scarcely at amorous arm’s length from the star he adores, and his quietly long-suffering wife (Lampert), whose envy of her is tempered by respect. Cassavetes’ sixth collaboration with his spouse and most disastrous flop is one of his very finest films, shot in Pasadena with moderate experiment to maximize its evocation of shock, intimacy and the disquiet thrill of dramaturgy. By relegating himself to an imperative yet fittingly unflattering character, the independent icon situated himself optimally to work his experient cast to their utmost, substantiating both his trademark verisimilitude — essentially a motional still-life in close-up — and the veneer of staged artifice as parts parallel personalities. More indisposed than incapable of tackling her role’s rigors, the frailties of Rowlands’ lead dissolve the fourth wall to her attendees’ mixed disdain and ovation — indulgences culminating at the contemporaneity of her drunken prostration and the play’s premiere in New York as an extemporary episode of unexpectedly triumphal compliance to her production’s burden and audience’s appetites. Regrettably, this feature’s transient, overlooked theatrical runs in L.A. and NYC didn’t mirror the eclat of its conclusion.

Execrable: Wetlands

Wetlands (2013)
Directed by David Wnendt
Written by Charlotte Roche, Sabine Pochhammer, David Wnendt, Claus Falkenberg
Produced by Peter Rommel
Starring Carla Juri, Christoph Letkowski, Marlen Kruse, Meret Becker, Axel Milberg
Filth flows from and unto every orifice of a pretty, putrid provocateur (Juri) who vaginally absorbs muck from toilet seats, masturbates with phallic vegetables, slums with a fetishistic immigrant, contaminates provender and utensils with bodily fluids, face-paints with menstrual blood and swaps tampons with her unsightly best friend (Kruse) until an anal incision inflicted during a shave induces her hospitalization — a condition she meditates to prolong so to reunite her divorced parents (Becker, Milberg) and flirt with a timorous nurse (Letkowski). Wnendt adapted Roche’s daft novel as a pastiche of exquisite fatuity, plying flourishes of pinchbeck Tykwer, Boyle and Ritchie to ineptly offset its deficiencies: equivalencies are substituted for insights, snark for sport, posturing grotesques for appealing characters, obscene yet overworked anecdotes for a plot. Naturally, our grubby exhibitionist discountenances every authority figure who indulges the cheek to admonish her with outrageously feculent feats of idiocy, but for all its desperate endeavor to shock and nauseate with her sexual, narcotic and septic exploits, most of this adolescent feature’s 110 meandering minutes merely comprise a deadly longueur scarcely punctuated by rare moments of human sentiment or musty metaphysics. A critical and commercial success, Wnendt’s picture represents the infantile German cinema of Emmerich, Boll and Alexander that supplanted the disregarded Neuer Deutscher Film decades ago. Few archetypes are so mortifying as the stilted German striving to demonstrate countercultural irreverence, and ultimately substantiating just how impressible he or she is to degenerate American influence.

Palatable: Fantastic Voyage

Fantastic Voyage (1966)
Directed by Richard Fleischer
Written by Otto Klement, Jerome Bixby, David Duncan, Harry Kleiner
Produced by Saul David
Starring Stephen Boyd, Donald Pleasence, William Redfield, Arthur Kennedy, Raquel Welch
An indispensable scientist is likely another victim of Cold War designs, injured during an assassination attempt mere minutes after deplaning on U.S. soil and transferred to a underground operating theater, where his comatose body is subjected to an unprecedented mode of surgery. Under the command of a jittery physician (Pleasence), an unsurpassed surgeon (Kennedy), his technical coadjutor (Welch) and a coolly jocular G-man (Boyd) are deployed in a nuclear research submarine helmed by a naval captain (Redfield) that’s miniaturized to atomic proportions and infused into the patient’s carotid artery, from where a sally to the brain where a clot’s to be dissolved with a laser rifle seems a daunting yet brief task that won’t exceed the hour before the sub and its occupants re-magnify…until a succession of whammies and a presumptive saboteur cumber their efforts, inspire resourcefulness and endanger both the crew and their patient. Varicolored sets and detailed miniatures of imaginative construction enhanced with rear-projected and animated SFX represent the internal environments of adventurous passage from sterile facilities to corpus via syringe, and through arteries, veins, a stopped heart, capillaries, pleural cavity, lymphatic system and the inner ear to the destinal brain — corporeal sites rendered as outlandish as any otherworldly. Fleischer sustains a fixating suspense heightened by silences and Leonard Rosenman’s atonal score to the last few minutes by exploiting the tensions within the submarine’s tight confines and the hazards of a sprawling intramural world — alacritous antibodies, a fistula’s whirlpool, gusting respiration, liquidizing corpuscles — without neglecting potentially treacherous human dangers. Pleasence outshines his co-stars as the claustrophobically misappointed honcho, but his very casting adumbrates a few painfully prognosticable plot points. As one of the last expensive Old Hollywood sci-fi hits, Voyage succeeds on the merits of its technical excellence and conceptual novelty, but its miniature drama is satisfactory withal…for whoever can overlook its numerous plot holes.
Recommended for a double feature paired with Innerspace.

Palatable: Little Big Man

Little Big Man (1970)
Directed by Arthur Penn
Written by Thomas Berger, Calder Willingham
Produced by Stuart Millar, Gene Lasko
Starring Dustin Hoffman, Chief Dan George, Richard Mulligan, Faye Dunaway, Jeff Corey, Martin Balsam, Thayer David, Robert Little Star, Aimee Eccles
To a haughty historian, a centenarian (Hoffman) recounts a series of escapades and misadventures ensuing his pioneer family’s slaughter by Pawnee marauders, his adoption by and acculturation to a Cheyenne tribe and eventual reclamation to white society, wherein he’s a unique anomaly. A dear rapport with the chief (George) and tribe who raised the talented nebbish is contrasted often against his varied associations with a blusteringly pietistic reverend (David) and his gorgeous, goatish wife (Dunaway), one glibly inveterate mountebank (Balsam) who suffers amputations by requital for the sale of his noisome nostrums, famed gunslinger Wild Bill Hickok (Corey), and dashing, opaque, cruelly imperious Gen. George Custer (Mulligan), here disbosomed a villain by Berger’s and Willingham’s modern revisionism. Navigating both tribal and post-European cultures in frequent alternation, Hoffman’s nomad observes with his audience the eccentricities, vices and hypocrisies of both, as well as the slow, sorrowful genocide of the Cheyenne committed by the U.S. Army and their Pawnee rivals. Poignant, exciting and uproarious, Penn’s picaresque western benefits tremendously from first-rate comic performance and Hal Needham’s choreography, but the director maladroitly melds tragedy and farce in a manner that occasionally negatives the impact of either. This condemnation of bloodthirsty overreach in the age of Manifest Destiny hasn’t the appeal of Leone’s, Peckinpah’s and Hill’s classics depicting the old west’s disappearance a year or two preceding, but it’s worth revisiting for its mirth and gravity, as well as the senile makeup by which Hoffman was transformed into an ancient remnant of a history aggrieved by its hecatombs.