NINE DAYS (2021)

August 5, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. The meaning of Life is an ambitious topic to tackle for any filmmaker, but certainly as a first feature film. Japanese-Brazilian writer-director Edson Oda not only doesn’t shy away from existential questions, he has found a creative way of exploring these, leaving us with plenty to discuss after viewing. His approach is often bleak and slow-moving, yet his film excels in pushing us to examine our own attitude and appreciation for the gift of life.

Winston Duke (US, 2019) stars as Will, a kind of guardian angel charged with selecting the replacement souls after deaths occur on his watch. Will has a wall of old-style tube TVs, each with its own VCR wired up. He spends his time watching folks go about their lives. He takes notes and maintains files. See, those he watches are the ones Will previously selected for life. He picks his team, but he no longer plays the game (although he was once alive). His job now is to tweak humanity in the right direction by selecting “good” souls who are tough enough to handle life – not overly sensitive types, and certainly not those too self-centered.

There is no denying Oda’s film is high-concept, and some may outright dismiss his premise. What if pre-life was a competition to determine worthiness?  Will sets up nine days of interviews for the next round of souls. Of course, some won’t last the full nine days, but the process involves a series of quizzes as the candidates watch the wall of TVs and offer up their answers to Will’s questions. Well, all but one, that is. Emma (Zazie Beetz, JOKER, 2019) is a free-spirited soul who sees Will for what he is and what he was. She answers his questions with her own questions, or simply states that she can’t answer. He is intrigued and frustrated by her willingness to play this out in her own way.

Tony Hale (“Veep”) and Bill Skarsgard (IT, 2017) are a couple of the other candidates, and each has their moments to shine. Benedict Wong (DOCTOR STRANGE, 2015) plays Kyo, Will’s co-worker and the one who assists him with the interview process. Kyo also strives to make sure Will maintains some humanity, despite a recent event that shook him to his core, and now has Will second-guessing himself. As Emma slowly gets Will to open up about his ‘alive’ time, we also see how Will recreates a special moment for the candidates as they are dismissed … providing them with a taste of life.

A ‘taste of life’ is fitting because the point Oda is trying to make is that the best parts of life are emotions and sensations – the intangibles that bring joy, fear, and sadness. It’s not all cupcakes and unicorns, and being so tough to block out the senses is not the best way of living. Without him realizing, Emma helps Will re-connect with his inner-being of when he was alive. His re-awakening is a highlight.

The candidates are informed that, if chosen, their memories will be wiped clean, yet “you’ll still be you”. This conforms to the theory that much of who we are is inherent at birth. Again, some may disagree. Oda’s film will inspire thought and debate. If each of us aced our pre-life interviews, let’s make the most of it!  This is a terrific film with a unique look and style, and a standout performance from Winston Duke. We can only hope enough folks take the time to watch and think about the message.

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INFINITUM: SUBJECT UNKNOWN (2021)

August 5, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. In 2015, director Sean Baker’s use of an iPhone to film TANGERINE was viewed as experimental or rogue. Since then, other filmmakers have utilized this method, though it’s only been during the pandemic when filmmakers, desperate to create, have used the iPhone out of necessity. Such is the case with Matthew Butler-Hart, who not only utilized the mobile device for the majority of scenes, but also directed a couple of cameos remotely via Zoom. Co-written with his wife Tori Butler-Hart, who also stars, the film takes full advantage of empty streets and the absence of other people during the lockdown.

Ms. Butler-Hart stars as Jane, whom we first see as she awakens alone in the attic of a house. She’s gagged and bound to a chair, with no recollection of how she got there. She also experiences visions in flashes – some type of memories – as she looks for an escape route. She notices that she’s under surveillance, but after her initial stage of fright, she becomes quite determined to free herself. And that’s where things get really interesting. In the mode of GROUNDHOG DAY (1993) or HAPPY DEATH DAY (2017), only without Sonny and Cher music or a homicide, Jane is constantly re-awakening to find herself back in the same attic, in the same chair, with the same constraints.

Sir Ian McKellan plays the founder of Wytness Research Centre and Conleth Hill (“Game of Thrones”) plays a scientist. These two talking heads (filmed via Zoom) serve up the Quantum science overview that provides the structure of Jane’s situation, and also offer a couple of short breaks for Jane, who appears in nearly every other scene. The Wytness Centre holds the key to her situation, and we are informed that the work there is “propelling human evolution to a staggering new dimension.”

Jane stays focused on solving the puzzle that will allow her to escape the house (mysterious staircase and all) and track down what is causing her to experience these events time and time again. There is a video game feel to this as Jane frantically tries to reach the next level of escape, only to be zapped back to the starting point with each failure. Although time is relative and a parallel universe is in play here, we can’t help but notice Jane seems to lack the food, water, and basic hygiene one would require. That point has little impact on the creativity of the story and situation. Rorschach tests appear in certain places, as does a mint condition VW van. What we don’t see are people, though Quantum science does hold infinite possibilities.

Ms. Butler-Hart delivers a strong performance and keeps us interested in her character as she carries the film. Mr. Butler-Hart delivers excellent “camera” work, and the ultra-low budget film shows what can be accomplished. The lockdown has caused isolation and uncertainty for many, and mind games can certainly affect one’s perspective. The Butler-Harts have plans to convert this little film to a graphic novel and TV series, and it appears the “time” is right for both.

Coming to Theaters and VOD on August 6, 2021

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SETTLERS (2021)

July 22, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. With billionaires building their own rockets and blasting off into space, a film about the colonization of Mars doesn’t seem as far-fetched as it did in TOTAL RECALL (1990), or even THE MARTIAN (2015). In his first feature film, writer-director Wyatt Rockefeller minimizes the science-fiction aspects and focuses more on human nature.

A family of three is making their way day-to-day in a compound. Father Reza (Jonny Lee Miller, “Elementary”), mother Ilsa (Sofia Boutella, THE MUMMY, 2017), and daughter Remy (an excellent Brooklyn Prince, THE FLORIDA PROJECT, 2017) have their own greenhouse to grow food, and even (somehow) raise their own pig. We learn they are living in some type of bubble which allows them to breathe without masks, and they have a water supply, though that’s one of countless things that are never explained.

One morning the family awakens to find “LEAVE” scrawled across their kitchen window. It turns out Jerry (Ismael Cruz Cordova, “Ray Donovan”), has returned to reclaim what he says was his family’s home. A battle ensues, and Jerry invites Ilsa and Remy to stay – as long as they don’t bother (or attack) him. Everyone seems to have weapons, though again, we never learn “what’s out there” as a threat.

Remy befriends a droid that resembles WALL-E. She names it Steve. Steve mostly lurks until one crucial scene which seems to come out of nowhere. This is after the ‘last man and last woman’ scenario is introduced with Nell Tiger Free (“Servant”) playing older Remy. Director Rockefeller filmed in South Africa which proves to be an effective stand-in for the surface of Mars, but just leaves too many questions unanswered for this viewer. The human nature aspect is well-handled. We hear Reza tell Remy, “We left Earth because we wanted more.” And later, “Someday it will be just like Earth”, the latter statement seemingly contradicting the first. However, the actions and attitudes of people on Mars seem to be all too similar to Earth’s inhabitants – and that’s a shame.

Opening in Theaters and On Demand on July 23, 2021

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THE TOMORROW WAR (2021)

July 1, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. There are some great time-travel movies, some great Science-Fiction movies, and some great alien-invasion action movies; however, there are very few that successfully blend all of the above. Director Chris McKay (THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE, 2017) and writer Zach Dean (DEADFALL, 2012) come up short in this attempt, and in fact, much of the movie is borderline ridiculous in story line, dialogue, and special effects. It’s extremely rare for me to go two hours (or 2:20 for this one) and never engage with a character or story.

We open on Chris Pratt (and many others) falling from the sky and landing in a horrific war zone. Immediately we flashback 3 decades. Pratt plays Dan Forester, a high school science teacher and former Special Forces soldier in Iraq. He has a supportive wife Emmy (Betty Gilpin, THE HUNT, 2020) and a whip-smart young daughter Muri (Ryan Kiera Armstrong, “Anne with an E”). A glitch in the matrix occurs during the World Cup and a platoon of soldiers announce they are from the future and need help fighting aliens that are annihilating the human race.

Soon, a global military draft is put in place. Thanks to a “worm hole”, those drafted can serve 7 days by bouncing from 2022 to 2051 and back … well at least the 30% who survive get to come back. When Dan is drafted, he hopes to save the world for his little girl, and told her and his students that “science is how you resolve problems”. Of course, big guns help too … but not as much as you’d hope since these aliens are fast, strong, and terribly ugly to look at (with a bit of a throwback look to the 70’s).

In 2051, Dan reports to Romeo Command played by Yvonne Strahovski (“Dexter”), and he works closely with fellow draftees played by Sam Richardson (“Veep”), Edwin Hodge (THE PURGE franchise), and Mary Lynn Rajskub (“24 Hours”). Romeo Command also happens to be a brilliant scientist concocting a potion to destroy the aliens. The hope is to take it back 30 years and prevent the alien invasion from ever occurring. It’s a wing and a prayer plan and there’s a bit more to the story that won’t be revealed here.

Pratt is no stranger to action movies (GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, JURASSIC WORLD), and he’s at his best when cracking wise with one-liners. Unfortunately many of those fall flat when there are only 500,000 humans remaining on the planet, and the human race appears doomed. A crazy (and not believable) turn of events leads us to a segment that includes riding snow mobiles on a Russian glacier. The filmmakers try overly hard to work in serious topics like climate change, government incompetence, and anti-war demonstrations (why sacrifice for a war that’s not yet happening?). On top of that, daddy issues abound with multiple characters, which is where a buff JK Simmons (Oscar winner for WHIPLASH, 2014) comes in.

If the film had received its originally planned theatrical run, there likely would have been a few refund requests. However, streaming on Amazon is a much better fit for lower expectations.

Available on Amazon Prime beginning July 2, 2021

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INFINITE (2021)

June 10, 2021

Greetings again from the darkness. At one time or another, we’ve all been awed by a cinematic special effect. Some remarkable work is being done by the specialists in the industry, adding previously unimaginable elements to movies. As with most good things, too much of it can be detrimental to a cause. The latest greatest example of this is with Antoine Fuqua’s (TRAINING DAY, 2001) current film, INFINITE. In a mind-bending science fiction thriller (think THE MATRIX), we expect special effects to play a role. What we get is a tidal wave of CGI that leaves us shaking our heads and wondering why no one recognized the extreme level of ridiculous reached here. The goal seems to have been to go above and beyond any “Fast and Furious” movie so that a comparison can’t be found.

Mark Wahlberg stars as Evan Michaels, a diagnosed schizophrenic with violent tendencies when he’s not on medication. Evan is haunted regularly with hallucinations and dreams that seem real, and he’s blessed with knowledge and skills that he’s never learned and memories of places he’s never been. As it turns out, Evan is part of a group called “Infinites”. This group is divided in half: the good guy “believers” and the let’s-end-the-world nihilists. These infinites are able to carry their memories from one life/body into the next as they are reincarnated. It’s a terrific concept based on the novel “The Reincarnationalist Papers” by D. Eric Maikranz. Responsible for adapting the story for the screen are Ian Shorr and Todd Stein.

One of the believers, played by Sophie Cookson (GREED, 2019), works with Evan in an attempt to access a specific memory for the location of a device (“the egg”) in hopes that they can save the world. Simultaneously, the nihilists and their powerful leader played by Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 YEARS A SLAVE, 2013) are trying to access that same memory in order to use the device to destroy the world. The story really boils down to good versus evil and trying to save the world instead of destroying it. Not overly complicated, which is a good thing in a Wahlberg film.

Mr. Wahlberg, who looks increasingly like John Cena’s little brother, does get to flash his biceps and abs multiple times, including a sequence as a blacksmith forging a samurai sword using ancient techniques. In addition to his typical physicality and always furrowed brow, Wahlberg’s interjected wisecracks – the ones that work in his simple comedies – are lame and simply out of place here. Mr. Ejiofor, a previous Oscar nominee, goes all out in his outlandish portrayal of the super villain – it’s quite a contrast to his more usual subdued dramatic performances and actually fun to watch.

The supporting cast is solid and includes Dylan O’Brien, Jason Mantzoukas, Rupert Friend, Wallis Day, Toby Jones, Johannes Haukur Johannesson, and Liz Carr. As you might expect, given that the memories cover multiple centuries, the film’s geographic locations are varied, and the characters bounce from Mexico to New York City to Scotland to Indonesia. Wahlberg and director Fuqua previously collaborated on SHOOTER (2007), but as mentioned previously, the special effects are just too far over the top here. The opening car chase scene is exhausting, and since we don’t know why it’s happening or who to pull for, it’s mostly just noise without reason. Later, there is a stunt (teased in the trailer) that ensures anyone trying to give the benefit of doubt to the film will instantly surrender. A few attempts are made to trick viewers into believing some deep philosophical thoughts are at work here, and that life is bigger than all of us, but mostly we are left wondering … why the absurdity?

Premieres on Paramount+ on June 10, 2021

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COME TRUE (2021)

March 11, 2021

 Greetings again from the darkness. Anyone who has experienced recurring nightmares understands how they impact not just the time you are asleep, but all waking hours as well. Anthony Scott Burns is the writer-director-cinematographer and is working from a story by Daniel Weissenberger. The film is blend of science fiction and horror, and Burns excels in creating an atmosphere of dread upfront.

Burns kicks things off by immersing us in the dark, troubling dream of high school student Sarah (Julia Sarah Stone, “The Killing”). She wakes up not in her bed at home, but instead wrapped in a sleeping blanket on a local playground. Sarah prefers to sleep in a park or at a friend’s house, rather than at her own home for reasons we can infer. Desperate for sleep and rest, she answers an advertisement for a sleep study at the university.

Based on the cars, movie posters, and tech equipment, the film is set in the late 1980s or early 1990s. Even the synth music is of the era, courtesy of Electric Youth and Burns’ own Pilotpriest. The music mirrors the film in that it’s superb in the beginning, and less effective in the second half. The blue-gray color palette and icy cold weather perfectly complement the unorthodox sleep study, and those who are running it. Jeremy/Riff (Landon Liboiron, TRUTH OR DARE, 2018) is the creepiest while looking like a bearded Harry Potter, though it takes a while to unravel his story. Also present is Dr. Meyer (Christopher Heatherington), who does little more than quietly observe. Allowing this character to play a bigger role could have benefited the story.

The mystique of dreams is what’s at play here, and the blinking monitors and concerned look of the scientists all serve their purpose. Unfortunately, it’s the dreams that let us down. The shadow man associated with sleep paralysis is on display here, but his glowing eyes amongst the abundance of gray lacked the eerie imagery need to capture my imagination. In fact, I found the dream sequences to drag, even after the first one got my hopes up.

It’s highly likely that Burns is a fan of filmmaker David Cronenberg, and we do appreciate the homage to Stanley Kubrick and Rodney Ascher. However, to be truly effective, a sci-fi/horror film, especially one dabbling in pseudo-psychology, must have more than the right look. Lead actress Julia Sarah Stone brings a unique appearance to the role, and she’s the reason I stuck with it until the end. My gut feeling is this could have been a world class short film, and it seems probable that I missed a deeper message here. But neither of those was enough to overcome my feeling of boredom during the film’s second half.

COME TRUE will open in select theaters, digital platforms, and cable VOD on March 12, 2021 courtesy of IFC Midnight

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BLISS (2021)

February 5, 2021

 Greetings again from the darkness. We each have a vision of what our ideal world would look like. When we first meet Greg (Owen Wilson), he’s working on multiple sketches of his: a picturesque Mediterranean villa and a beautiful woman to share it with. Greg seems to be escaping from a world that isn’t so great. He’s recently divorced, estranged from his son, and evades his daughter’s attempt at reconciliation. He’s also taking some type of prescription drug that he’s clearly abused. On top of all that, Greg is supposed to be working his office job for a customer service company aptly named, “Technical Difficulties”. The phone bank of employees are trained to answer each call with, “I’m sorry”. At this early point, we aren’t certain if this is a parody of office life or the set up for something else. Our uncertainty remains even after Greg has a disastrous private meeting with his boss.

Things really get bizarre when Greg bolts from the office and into the local bar across the street. It’s here where he first encounters Isabel (Salma Hayek dressed like a witch), who introduces him to the idea that this world isn’t real. None of it … except him. She has created a computer simulation of life and there are two pills/crystals for escape (this should sound familiar to fans of THE MATRIX). The yellow one allows Greg and Isabel to bend the laws of physics, while the blue one jolts them to the world that magically matches Greg’s sketches. Like anyone with newly found superpowers, they head to the local roller rink, and take turns causing other skaters to fall until everyone else lay unconscious on the wooden floor. It’s at about this point where I’m fighting the urge to give up on the movie.

Writer-director Mike Cahill was behind two previous excellent movies that questioned our realties: ANOTHER EARTH (2011) and I ORIGINS (2014). However, this time out his approach is muddled and unstructured. It plays like a philosophical science fiction-romance, but we spend much of the movie trying to determine if the movie is too bizarre or not bizarre enough. A successful complex story will push us to buckle down and engage, but this one never allows us to connect with the characters, so we lose interest. It purposefully tries to trick us into choosing whether it’s a computer simulation, parallel universes, or making a statement on severe mental illness. We don’t have an answer until the end … which would be fine were the journey more enticing.

Asteroid mining, synthetic biology, and Isabel’s “Brain Box”, are given some credence thanks to cameos from Bill Nye (the Science Guy) and Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek. Ms. Hayek and Mr. Wilson, both former Oscar nominees, have little chemistry between them, and the film’s best performance, albeit with limited screen time, comes from Nesta Cooper as Greg’s daughter. By the end, we realize this was a convoluted story line for what was really a pretty simple explanation, and somehow we feel a bit cheated with the whole thing.

Streaming on Amazon Prime beginning February 5, 2021

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THE MIDNIGHT SKY (2020)

December 22, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. Screenwriter Mark L Smith has described his adaptation of Lily Brooks-Dalton’s book, “Good Morning, Midnight”, as a cross between the Oscar-winning GRAVITY (2013) his own THE REVENANT (2015, nominated for 12 Oscars). It’s a lofty comparison, and unfortunately, one that doesn’t prove out. Two-time Oscar winner George Clooney takes on the dual role of director and lead actor, and it’s his first movie role since 2016’s MONEY MONSTER.

Clooney plays Dr Augustine Lofthouse, a renowned scientist, and the only one staying behind as everyone else evacuates the Arctic Observatory after some unspecified “event” as left the earth uninhabitable. Augustine has a terminal disease (also unspecified) and evidently decides to stay behind because he likes drinking alone and self-administering blood transfusions. The drinking alone fun ends when he “finds” a stowaway young girl named Iris (Caiolinn Springall in her first film) and must assume the role of father-figure. To complicate matters, Iris doesn’t speak.

It’s 2049, and the film cuts between 3 storylines. While Augustine and Iris and working on a survival plan, we get flashbacks to a time when he was a younger scientist (played by Gregory Peck grandson Ethan Peck) and sacrificing a relationship with Jean (Sophie Rundle, “Peaky Blinders”) to focus on his career. The third story occurs simultaneously with Augustine and Iris, and involves Aether, a manned spacecraft on a years long mission to determine if Planet K23 can be inhabited by humans. The crew is commanded by Adewole (David Oyelowo, SELMA), and includes his partner, a pregnant Sully (Felicity Jones, THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING), pilot Mitchell (Kyle Chandler, “Bloodline”), navigator Sanchez (Demian Bichir, THE HATEFUL EIGHT), and rookie astronaut Maya (Tiffany Boone, “Hunters”).

When Augustine learns of Aether and its route back to Earth, he takes it as his responsibility to inform them that they need a new plan. In order to do this, he and Iris must trek across the frozen Arctic tundra through a blinding snowstorm to reach the satellite equipment that will allow communication with Aether. This road trip through a whiteout allows for the best effects during the Augustine/Iris section. Aboard Aether, the crew is relatively non-descript, but there is a spacewalk segment that is quite something to watch thanks to the cinematography of Martin Ruhe. There is also a visually interesting segment featuring blood in zero gravity.

So what we have is a three-piece post-apocalyptic science-fiction space survival tale with a surprise twist that won’t surprise anyone. It’s likely meant as a warning about how we are destroying our planet, and global catastrophe may not easily be solved through space exploration. The film presents an interesting symmetry between the vast wasteland of Arctic winter vs the vastness of space … neither seem to have borders or boundaries, yet are fraught with dangers. If you pay much attention to the story, you’ll likely be disappointed; however, if you watch for the visuals, you should be fine.

Premieres on Netflix December 23, 2020

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SYNCHRONIC (2020)

October 23, 2020

 Greetings again from the darkness. Innovative filmmakers Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead are frequent collaborators, as evidenced by such films as SPRING (2014) and THE ENDLESS (2017). Their films teeter between science-fiction, horror, fantasy, and personal drama, and this latest easily slides into the mind-bending and time-warping space they excel in … and all without the mega-budget we’ve come to expect from such films (I’m looking at you INCEPTION).

The film opens on a couple sharing a motel room and what appears to be an acid trip. Strange hallucinations hit them both. We soon flip to an emergency call performed by best buddy New Orleans paramedics Steve (Anthony Mackie) and Dennis (Jamie Dornan). Their overdose victim is located in a setting where something is just a bit off, and “Time is a lie” is written on the wall. When Steve and Dennis are called to the motel of the first scene, we all start to understand something bizarre is happening.

Dennis is married to his wife Tara (Katie Aselton), who has recently given birth, and their headstrong 18 year-old daughter Brianna (Ally Ioannides) lives with them. Steve’s days consist of one-night stands, more booze than any person should ingest, and time with his loyal dog Hawking (an obvious reference to the elements of time at play here). Dennis is bored and Steve is a mess, and things get worse when Steve is diagnosed with a brain tumor by his pineal gland, and Dennis’s daughter Brianna disappears.

A clue to the increasingly bizarre overdose and death scenes that Steve and Dennis run into is the “Synchronic” packaging. It’s a synthetic/designer drug that has dramatic and lethal effects, and a packet was found where Brianna was last seen. Steve decides to test the drug in an effort to “bring back” his friend’s daughter. As Steve videos his 7 minute trips to the past, and then kindly spells out everything he discovers, we viewers are spoon fed the details that would typically require some effort. Beyond the reference to Stephen Hawking, we also get plugs for French composer Claude Debussy and a rare James Bond- Charlie Sheen joke.

Time travel has long been a fun topic for movies, and the ideas behind this one are quite promising. The only downsides are that it too obviously guides us through what’s happening, and the trips back in time aren’t as structured or interesting as we would hope … although the idea of having the past be in the identical spot as the future is terrific. Benson and Moorhead are ambitious and creative filmmakers, and their shot at appealing to mainstream audiences is appreciated, as is the atmosphere and camera work. However, many of us would rather a bit more be left to our imagination.

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CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954) revisited

July 26, 2020

Greetings again from the darkness. This is another addition to my “revisited” series where I re-watch and then write about a classic movie. Why are “creature features” so appealing, and why was Universal so good at producing these movies that mesmerized me during childhood (and yes, still to this day)? The Universal Monsters of the 1930’s and 1940’s included such classics as Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Wolf Man, The Invisible Man, and The Phantom of the Opera. Many cinematic iterations of these characters/creatures exist including sequels, remakes and contemporary re-boots, and there is something magical about the mystique and legend and lore behind each of the monsters. By the 1950’s, Universal was looking to revive the genre.

William Alland is credited with the idea for CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON. It’s a twist on the 1740 fantasy classic “Beauty and the Beast” from French novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve. Mr. Alland is the film’s Producer, and years earlier he played reporter Jerry Thompson in Orson Welles’ CITIZEN KANE (1941). Maurice Zimm is credited with the story, and the screenplay was co-written by Harry Essex (IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE, a Ray Bradbury story) and Arthur A Ross (an Oscar winner for BRUBAKER, 1980).

Quite similar to KING KONG, the story from Edgar Wallace and Merian Cooper, this movie follows a scientific expedition down the Amazon River where a prehistoric “Gill-man” (half man, half amphibian) is discovered and captured. The creature seems enraptured by Kay, the fiancé of one of the scientists – much like Kong was drawn to Ann Darrow. There is the expected battle between science and commerce: the value of marine life research vs the chance to make a pot of money. The feuding scientists also have to remain focused on the ongoing concern for the safety of those on the expedition … especially Kay.

Jack Arnold is remembered today as one of the great sci-fi movie directors of the 50’s. His work included THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (1957), IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE (1953) TARANTULA (1955), and the excellent Audie Murphy western NO NAME ON THE BULLET (1959). He also directed many episodes of some of the top TV shows of the1950’s, 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s. For this one, he deserves a great deal of credit for generating sympathy for the creature, by positioning him, not as the villain, but rather as the victim of a home invasion by the humans. Director Arnold also does a nice job early on of teasing us with footprints and fossils, and letting us hear about the legend, prior to actually seeing the creature.

 For a movie that spends most of its time on a small boat named Rita, the cast is deep and talented. Richard Carlson (LITTLE FOXES, 1941) plays David Reed, the scientist engaged to Kay. Mr. Carlson dreamed of being a playwright, and had many guest starring roles on TV; however, “I Led 3 Lives” was his only starring role in a successful series. It was reportedly Lee Harvey Oswald’s favorite show. Co-starring here was Julie Adams (billed as Julia at the time) as Kay Lawrence, personal favorite of both David and creature. In the film she is stalked by the creature, even while she’s out for a leisurely swim in the Amazon (not recommended). Ms. Adams was a favorite on the cult movie circuit, and she died in 2019 at age 92. Having been crowned Miss Little Rock at age 19, she acted regularly into her 80’s, and even had a role at age 91, the year before she passed.

Richard Denning plays Mark Williams, the money man behind the expedition, and David’s boss and nemesis. He’s the one who sees dollar signs while capturing the creature. Mr. Denning served on a submarine in the US Navy during WWII. He starred with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr in AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER (1957), and then in the late 1960’s took an acting job as Governor on the original “Hawaii Five-0”, since he already lived in Hawaii. Mr. Denning’s wife, actress Evelyn Ankers, was known as “Queen of the Screamers” for her work as damsel in distress in many thrillers in the 1940’s (Wolfman, Frankenstein, Dracula movies).

Other cast members include familiar face Whit Bissell as Dr. Thompson. Mr. Bissell was a frequently working character actor from 1940 -1984 in TV and movies. He had over 300 credits, including I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF (1958) with Michael Landon. Nestor Paiva plays Lucas, the Captain of the Rita, as a kind of Walter Brennan type. Mr. Paiva also appeared in more than 300 projects, and his wife was once employed as personal secretary to Howard Hughes. Antonio Moreno plays Carl Maia. Mr. Moreno had a huge career from 1912 to 1959, and was a rival of Rudolph Valentino for many “Latin lover” roles. The film’s narrator, Art Gilmore, became known for his narration and voice acting in shows such as “Dragnet”, “The Waltons”, “Adam-12”, “The Red Skelton Hour”, “The Roy Rogers Show”, and many more.

Of course everyone who watches the movie wants to know more about the creature. Well, two actors were involved. Ben Chapman, who was a Marine during the Korean War, played the creature on land, while Ricou Browning played the Gill-man we see in the water. Mr. Browning was also the co-creator of the popular TV series “Flipper” (1964-67), and directed the iconic underwater scenes in the James Bond classic THUNDERBALL (1965). Also involved here were a young Henry Mancini as uncredited composer and cinematographer William E Snyder. Mr. Mancini was a 4 time Oscar winner best known for his iconic “Pink Panther” theme, and Mr. Snyder achieved 3 Oscar nominations

 Director Arnold insisted on shooting the film in 3-D, despite its low budget, and over the years, it became quite a cult classic (with its’ own festivals). There is even a scandal associated with the film. For many years, Hollywood make-up legend Bud Westmore took credit for the design of the creature. It took more than 50 years, but Mallory O’Meara’s book, “The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Millicent Patrick”, finally allowed Ms. Patrick (pictured, left) to receive due credit for her design work. Sequels to the film included: REVENGE OF THE CREATURE (1955), and THE CREATURE WALKS AMONG US (1956), but it was perhaps director Guillermo del Toro’s stunning THE SHAPE OF WATER (2017) winning the Oscar for Best Picture, that brought CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON back into prominence. This allowed a new generation of movie lovers to behold the classic sequence of the creature’s synchronized swimming just below Kay in the murky Amazon water. What a sight!

watch the original trailer: