Sunday, January 26, 2020

The Secret of NIMH (1982) - FilmReview

Just what is the secret of NIMH?

"One animation that did capture my imagination back then..."

Oh, rats! It's the Secret of NIMH. And what a nice little secret it is, too. It's strange how my childhood was blessed with some animated feature films while others scarcely made an impact on me at all. For example, movies such as Pinocchio (1940), Dumbo (1941), One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961), and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) failed to win a place in my heart; whereas Robin Hood (1973), The Black Cauldron (1985), The Fox and the Hound (1981), Yellow Submarine (1968) and Watership Down (1978) firmly planted themselves into my all time list of favourites. Oh yes, and Mickey's Christmas Carol (1983) - no Christmas is complete without a viewing of this particular gem! I'm uncertain why some just didn't make the grade for me. One animation that did capture my imagination back then was a dark feature called The Secret of NIMH. Having a look at the cast list just now I'm surprised by some of the names attached: Derek Jacobi, Wil Wheaton and Shannen Doherty are three that jump out at me.

The film was adapted from a story by American author Robert C. O'Brien, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, first published in 1971. I've never read the book, and so this article focuses solely on the movie. I've also discovered that a follow up to the 1982 animation titled The Secret of NIMH 2: Timmy to the Rescue had been released in 1998, but I'll likely ignore this fact; also seeing as original director Don Bluth wasn't even involved in this second project, it makes ignoring the sequel that much easier. So what was I talking about again?

Oh yes, The Secret of NIMH. Though a children's adventure, there is a far more serious subject matter in NIMH's DNA for grown ups: mental health. This is how I remember the movie as a kid: a little lady mouse meets a clumsy crow, her son is ill and so she needs medicine, and there are some mean rats; there was also a magical amulet.

Now from my adult perspective: A mouse called Mrs. Brisby needs medicine for her ill son (who has pneumonia) and so visits Mr. Ages, a friend of her now dead husband. During her return journey home, Brisby encounters a very clumsy but friendly crow named Jeremy, who is all tied up and in need of a little help to get untangled. This is the first time we encounter a cat named Dragon, which belongs to the owners of the farm, as he attempts to attack them both. We learn that Brisby and her family must leave their house before the farmer, Mr Fitzgibbon, starts plowing. With Timothy, her son, sick, he needs time to recover without being moved. The farmer, however, brings his plowing forward and so Brisby needs help. This is where the rats come into the picture.

Mental health and NIMH

Through a backstory we discover how both her husband and the rats became intelligent: they all live a relatively Human-like existence now, and steal much of what they need from the Humans. Electricity and other technology is becoming common place in their lives. Ever wondered what NIMH refers to? National Institute of Mental Health. It seems that the rodents were "lab rats" and that the experiments boosted their intelligence so greatly that they developed the ability to understand and reason. Following an escape from the laboratory, they built homes and a new way of life. As with any society, there is both good and bad, and one character who you'll love to despise is Jenner, a ruthless, power-hungry rat.

It's nice that The Secret of NIMH received widespread critical acclaim, and has remained in the hearts of many fans over the decades. It's even been applauded as a wonderful adaptation of the original book. It even won a Saturn Award for Best Animated Film of 1982.

Keeping it in the family...

Though Robert C. O'Brien died in 1973, his daughter Jane Leslie Conly penned two sequel books: Racso and the Rats of NIMH (1986); and R-T, Margaret, and the Rats of NIMH (1990). Thankfully, neither of these are connected to the 1998 The Secret of NIMH 2: Timmy to the Rescue animation. Just me? Well I'm happy to say that the majority of critics and fans disliked director Dick Sebast's version; it's been described as missing its predecessor's "heart or craft". Another absence from NIMH 2: TTTR is the remarkable musical talent of Jerry Goldsmith. Let's face it, the man behind compositions for films such as Alien, Rambo, Star Trek, Explorers, Poltergeist, Gremlins, Capricorn One, Logan's Run and Planet of the Apes will always be a hard act to follow.

Heartwarming and magical, The Secret of NIMH not only had a talented director, composer and voice cast, but it is also timeless. I love it as much today as I ever did in 1982 and beyond.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Oh My Word! 007's Are Forever

Lashana Lynch as Nomi in the new James Bond film No Time To Die

"In this day and age why are we even obsessed with colour or gender?"

Before anyone gets upset over a female 007, let me start by asking you to open your mind and be rational. After reports that British actress Lashana Lynch is to play 007 in the next James Bond movie, the internet exploded. With headlines such as "It would be the first time a white man will not play 007 in the spy movie series’ 57-year run" and "Meet the new Bond", it really is getting ridiculous. So, let's clarify things a little...

Lynch is portraying a 007 agent called Nomi in the next movie, but she is NOT James Bond. Still confused? Then please research a little and read up on 00 agents, you'll enjoy the experience. But to give you some insight into it all, here's an interesting piece from Wikipedia: "In Ian Fleming's James Bond novels and the derived films, the 00 Section of MI6 is considered the secret service's elite. A 00 is a field agent that holds a licence to kill in the field, at his or her discretion, to complete any mission". At "HIS or HER" discretion, so we know that a 00 agent can be a man or woman.

OK, so what about 007, hasn't there ever only been one agent to hold that particular licence to kill? Actually, no. In Fleming's stories, Bond is the only 007; to date that has also included the official Eon film franchise. Take a look at 2018's Forever and a Day, however, and you'll find that James Bond isn't the first: "The sea keeps its secrets. But not this time. One body. Three bullets. 007 floats in the waters of Marseille, killed by an unknown hand. It's time for a new agent to step up. Time for a new weapon in the war against organised crime. It's time for James Bond to earn his licence to kill. This is the story of the birth of a legend, in the brutal underworld of the French Riviera".

So, someone else had been 007 before Bond. They had been murdered. As a result, a new agent is assigned as 007. This could have been anyone, male or female. As it happens, the person chosen is Bond.

We know that tabloids have a habit of misquoting or making things up completely, but when you see the Mail Online printing such nonsense as "First ever black James Bond girl who played Thumper in Diamonds Are Forever blasts casting of actress Lashana Lynch who is taking over as 007 - saying iconic code name was meant for a man", it is easy to feel disappointed. So I roll my eyes, sigh, and write my own thoughts. It isn't controversial to cast a black woman as 007, as any agent can be assigned as any 00 if the previous agent has either died or retired from Service.

In this day and age why are we even obsessed with colour or gender? A talented actor/actress has been cast in a film about the secret service. Yes, it's a Bond movie so James Bond must be male but not necessarily white. That does not mean the remaining cast cannot take on other important roles within the infrastructure of the plot.

And it does seem possible that at the start of the new movie, now given the title "No Time to Die", James Bond has indeed retired from the Secret Service. It looks like something will bring him out of retirement, or perhaps he'll work with the new 007 without an official licence to kill of his own. It has happened before, remember when Timothy Dalton's Bond became a fugitive? His licence to kill had been revoked so, in affect, he was no longer 007 until it was reinstalled by his superiors.

It has also been announced that CIA agent Felix Leiter will be played by Jeffrey Wright. In previous instalments the character has been portrayed by numerous actors including David Hedison, whose storyline in Licence To Kill is unforgettable.

Bond 25 is being directed by Cary Fukunaga and will star Daniel Craig as James Bond. As for 007, well, I'm sure the licence to kill is in safe hands. 007's are forever, after all.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Ghosts of Mars (2001) - FilmReview

Can they survive the ghosts of Mars?

Escape From Mars

Director and writer John Carpenter's work has given us some of the best movies in the last forty years. A master of scifi and horror, who can forget Halloween, The Fog, Assault on Precinct 13, Starman, or They Live. Sadly, Ghosts of Mars was seriously underrated by critics and fans, failing to earn enough at the box office and being heavily criticised for being "distressingly amateurish" and an "embarrassing disaster". But is it really that bad?

In truth, it isn't the best movie in Carpenter's catalogue. That said, I do enjoy it for what it represents: a fun and violent action flick that doesn't take itself too seriously. I couldn't disagree more with the "poor set designs" and "hammy acting" accusations. The setting is a simple one, kept to a minimum for maximum impact, and the acting isn't meant to be serious.

I have read that the script was originally intended to act as a Snake Plissken sequel, Escape From Mars, but the idea was changed due to the failure of Escape from L.A. to make a profit.

"Let me put it this way. Maybe I'd sleep with you if you were the last man on Earth. But we're not on Earth"

The film is set on a terraformed Mars in 2176 AD at a time when the planet has long been colonised by Humans. "640,000 people now live and work at far-flung outposts all over Mars, mining the planet for its abundant natural resources". The problem is, during one of these mining excavations, an alien tomb is unearthed and Martian spirits belonging to a now dead warrior race are free to possess the living. Miners who aren't taken over are butchered and beheaded.

Lt. Melanie Ballard (played so brilliantly by Natasha Henstridge) is on an assignment to collect a criminal known as James "Desolation" Williams (Ice Cube) from a cell in a Martian mining town, Shining Canyon, and deliver him into the hands of the authorities. She isn't alone in this task, however: joining her are officers Sergeant Jericho Butler (Jason Statham), Commander Helena Braddock (Pam Grier), and rookies including Bashira Kincaid (Clea DuVall). Sergeant Butler spends most of his time either coming on to Ballard or unlocking doors.

A gypsum (a soft sulfate mineral) mine near Albuquerque, New Mexico was chosen as the location for filming. To give it that Red Planet look, colouring had been used on the mine's rocks.

Upon arriving at the colony, Ballard and her colleagues are at first greeted by a ghost town. Instead of a bustling community, there is nobody in sight. Eventually the team locates a number of decapitated bodies and heads on spikes. It isn't long before they are attacked by a possessed army of miners who have mutilated their own flesh. In a style similar to that of Carpenter's Assault of Precinct 13, we end up with a siege as the newly-arrived officers and a bunch of survivors - which include "Desolation" Williams and three of his associates who came to Shining Canyon to rescue him - attempt to survive the onslaught and escape.

The drugs do work...

One of the things we learn is that when a Human host dies, the Martian spirit will seek a new body to possess; this happens often, and at one stage Ballard is consumed by one of the ghosts, forcing the other survivors to take her outside for their own safety. Sergeant Butler, however, gives her a goodbye gift: he places a pill in her mouth, one of the narcotics she carries around with her in a little silver locket. This trip seriously screws with the alien presence inside of her, allows Ballard to see through the eyes of the spirit and understand the history of these Martian warriors. The drug also helps the young woman to repel the invader, and it exits via her mouth as a red mist before dissipating.

This gives Ballard a chance to rejoin her group and make contact with the train that will lead them to safety.

Love for Ballard

It's been said that Michelle Yeoh, Famke Janssen and Franka Potente were originally considered for the role of Ballard, yet they all turned down the role. The part eventually went to singer and actress Courtney Love, although she departed the project due to injury. In my opinion Famke Janssen would have been an excellent choice. As it is, Henstridge's casting is a welcome one, the Species star is one of the best things about Ghosts of Mars.

What followed after Mars?

It is a shame that this movie was a box office financial failure, a sequel starring Henstridge would have been incredible, perhaps leading a group of men, women and children through Martian landscape in a quest to find a safe zone from the Ghosts. Mars has been quarantined, so no help expected from Earth. Even the thought of leaving the Red Planet is a risk - what if any of the Ghosts escape with them? So many possibilities...

As for the director, John Carpenter took a break from regular film-making after Ghosts of Mars. His next big project would come in 2010 with The Ward. When asked in an interview why such a long gap, he replied, "Man, I was burned out. Completely burned out. I just couldn’t do it anymore, I had to stop. I looked at myself and said you know, I’ve been working constantly. I’m like a drug addict — I need a little bit more of a life. It stopped being fun, it stopped being glorious. I’d fallen out of love with cinema. So I had to rekindle it".

Friday, August 9, 2019

Alien Isolation - NovelReview (2019)

Originally published on

Release date: July 2019
Writer: Keith R. A. DeCandido

The Promise

One of the saddest things about Alien isn't that Ellen Ripley lost her crew-mates aboard the Nostromo at the hands - or jaws - of a vicious killing machine, it is the heartbreaking fact that she never returned home to Earth in time for her daughter's Eleventh birthday, and that she never got to see Amanda "Amy" Ripley EVER again! In Aliens DIRECTOR'S CUT we get to view the moment when Carter J. Burke, junior executive for the Weyland-Yutani Corporation, reveals that Amanda Ripley-McClaren died at the age of 66, two years prior to Ellen being found in deep space. She had died of cancer. However, what we as viewers never got to see was Amanda's own personal journey. Until now...

"Dallas wants me on the Nostromo, and they just took on a big contract to bring cargo back from Thedus."

Titan Books have published some terrific titles in the Alien catalogue, my favourite being Alien: River of Pain. However, there had yet to be a title covering Ellen Ripley's lost years, those being her 57 years absent in hypersleep aboard the Narcissus.

November 2137, the crew of the salvage ship Anesidora discover the flight recorder of the commercial space tug Nostromo, which had now been missing for 15 years. Altering course, the Anesidora goes to LV-426, the last known location of the missing ship. Those familiar with Alien won't be too surprised when things turn sour and one of the Anesidora crew gets attacked by a facehugger. With no time to lose, they leave the planet and head to Sevastopol Station where they hope to find help.

"Sevastopol's a supply depot in the region. It's a permanent freeport facility."

While repairing a Lagdamen X34 land buggy, engineer Amanda Ripley is told of the fortunate black box discovery by Christopher Samuels, a Weyland-Yutani Corporation employee. At first sceptical that the information could lead to yet another dead end, she eventually agrees to board the USCSS Torrens and head for Sevastopol. This being Alien, nothing goes to plan and Amanda finds herself trapped on board the space station among armed civilians and a deadly monster stalking the corridors and ventilation system. Her single goal: to locate the flight recorder and find out just what happened to her mother all those years ago.

As the book proudly states on the cover, Alien Isolation is an "original novel based on the hit video game" of the same name from 20th Century Fox. The game was a 2014 first-person survival console experience developed by Creative Assembly, it was published by SEGA for various gaming platforms such as PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One and PC. Once it was announced that a book would be released based on Alien Isolation, however, you can just imagine my excitement. Author Keith DeCandido, who has written a plethora of sci-fi works including media tie-in books such as Star Trek as well as his own fiction, was tasked to adapt the game. Titan Books couldn't have chosen a better writer. What you get with Alien Isolation the novel is a lot more than just a mirror image of someone else's work, he literally adds depth to the back story of Amanda Ripley. We get to see her childhood, and the moment when she had to say goodbye to Ellen before that ill-fated trip aboard the Nostromo. DeCandido also includes a scene one month before her eleventh birthday when her stepfather Paul gets the news that the Nostromo is being declared "missing in action".

There are other inclusions that I will leave for you to discover.

Celebration and the Xenomorph

Titan Books couldn't have chosen a better time to release Alien Isolation. It is now 40 years since director Ridley Scott gave us the Xenomorph in Alien (1979). The franchise has exploded like a Chestburster, impacting on every media from movies to novels, comics and video games. And collector's merchandise. Though the movies first focused on warrant officer Ellen Ripley, played so perfectly by Sigourney Weaver, follow-up titles such as Alien vs. Predator (2004) and Prometheus (2012) have opened the door for other characters to confront the nasty saliva-dripping creatures.

Considering this is an official canonical expansion of both the game and Alien universe in general, what is there not to love? Published 30th July 2019, you'd be crazy not to board the Torrens with Ripley and explore Sevastopol.

Just pick up your motion tracker, and watch out for bugs.

You can pick this up, as well as other great titles, direct from Titan Books.