Dossier Fantastique 5-9-2: 2014 Oscars, Doctor Who & Redbox Streaming

Gravity-poster 2013

The latest edition of Dossier Fantastique offers a post-mortem of this year’s Oscar winners, including GRAVITY with seven awards – a rare feat for a science fiction film.Dan Persons rhapsodizes over Alfonso Cuaron’s win, and Lawrence French defends Spike Jonze Oscar for writing HER.
Later, the Cinefantastique podcasting crew examines the latest home video releases, including  THE VISITOR (the 1979 Italian rip-off of THE OMEN, now restored for home video) and TIME OF THE DOCTOR (Matt Smith’s last appearance as the time-travelling Doctor Who, with some great bonus features on DVD and Blu-ray). And Steve Biodrowski runs down the pros and cons of Redbox’s subscription service, which includes a quartet of DVDs a month, plus instant streaming – a good way to catch some otherwise unobtainable horror, fantasy, and science fiction titles.


The Devil's Due, Oscar Noms & First Men in the Moon: Podcast 5:3.1

Devil's Due

Volume 5, Number 3 of the Cinefantastique Black Hole Ultra-Lounge Podcast brings you the latest news and reviews of what’s happening in the world of horror, fantasy, and science fiction cinema. The intrepid CFQ podcasting team analyzes the 2014 nominations from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, including GRAVITY and HER; and eulogizes late actor Russell Johnson, most widely known for playing the Professor on GILLIGAN’S ISLAND, who also featured prominently in several science fiction films. Steve Biodrowski exorcises THE DEVIL’S DUE, a new “found footage” horror film featuring a demonic pregnancy. Lawrence French lionizes FIRST MEN IN THE MOON with a 50th anniversary appreciation of the 1964 science fiction film, based on the novel by H.G. Wells and featuring special effects by Ray Harryhausen.
Also on the menu are this week’s home video releases for Tuesday, January 21, and a look back at the 2012 Blu-ray release of GODZILLA VS BIOLLANTE.

Sense of Wonder: Oscars snub cinefantastique – again

ARGO and LIFE OF PI won big at the 85th Oscars.

Hopefully, the above headline needs no explanation, but in case you have any doubts, we’re talking about cinefantastique the genre, not Cinefantastique, the online magazine of horror, fantasy, and science fiction cinema. Although there have been a few exceptions in recent decades (e.g., a Best Picture win for THE LORD OF THE RINGS: RETURN OF THE KING), the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences traditionally under-represents imagi-movies at each year’s Oscars, and the 2013 ceremony was no exception – and no surprise, since few horror, fantasy, and science fiction films were even nominated.
It is not as if there were not some worthy contenders from 2012: CLOUD ATLAS, RISE OF THE GUARDIANS, ROBOT AND FRANK (especially Frank Langella’s performance), THE SECRET WORLD OF ARIETTY, and THE DARK KNIGHT RISES – to name a few. However, even in categories that traditionally offer a glimmer of hope (technical areas such as special effects), the genre went ignored.
ARGO: Ben Affleck directs John Goodman as John Chambers, the real-life makeup artists who won an Oscar for PLANET OF THE APES.
Best Picture ARGO: Ben Affleck directs John Goodman as John Chambers, the real-life makeup artists who won an Oscar for PLANET OF THE APES.

The only solace, such as it was, took the form of two borderline titles that won in several categories: ARGO and LIFE OF PI. The former is a fact-based political thriller, but its plot is based around using a phony science fiction film as cover to spirit hostages out of Iran, and the film actually uses the concept of sci-fi fantasy heroism in pop culture as a yardstick by which to measure real-life accomplishment. The latter uses effects-heavy imagery to recount one person’s lonely trek aboard a lifeboat in a way that questions the reality of the events, which may be just a personal fantasy.
ARGO took home the Academy Awards for Best Picture, Film Editing (William Goldenberg), and Adapted Screenplay (Chris Terrio). I cannot exactly argue with ARGO’s Best Picture win – it is a great movie – but I would have preferred to see THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (obviously impossible) or at least LES MISERABLES.
LIFE OF PI earned Oscar gold for Visual FX.
LIFE OF PI earned Oscar gold for Cinematography and Visual FX.

LIFE OF PI won for Cinematography (Claudio Miranda), Directing (Ang Lee), Music (Mychael Danna), and Visual Effects (Bill Westernhofer, Guillaume Rocheron, Erik-Jan De Boer, Donald R. Elliott).
The win for Visual Effects is not a big surprise, but it is something of a disappointment since this is one of the few categories in which outright science fiction films have a shot at the gold statuette. This year’s nominees included THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY, THE AVENGERS, PROMETHEUS, and SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN. Presumably, THE HOBBIT and PROMETHEUS lost because voters felt they had seen the effects before in LORD OF THE RINGS and ALIEN, respectively. THE AVENGERS looked too much like TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON. And SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN lost because it was simply a bad movie, and the Academy seldom singles out isolated pockets of quality in otherwise undeserving films.
Merida in BRAVE from Disney-Pixar
Merida in BRAVE from Disney-Pixar

In the Animated Feature category, voters apparently could not decide on a good film, so they gave the award to BRAVE for being a Pixar Production. Personally, I think nominee FRANKENWEENIE is seriously flawed in the story department, but even so, it far surpasses Pixar’s latest step into mediocrity. Easily the best animated film of the year – THE SECRET WORLD OF ARIETTY – was not even nominated, nor was the worthy RISE OF THE GUARDIANS.
At least PAPERMAN took home the gold in the Animated Short category – the film was the only good thing about having to sit through WRECK IT RALPH, which incredibly was nominated in the Feature Animated category, along with the equally unworthy PARANORMAN. (I have not seen the other nominee THE PIRATES! BAND OF MISFITS, so I will reserve comment.)
click to purchase

SKYFALL, the latest James Bond adventure, is less science fiction-oriented than many of its predecessors, but it still straddles the borderline of the genre. The film earned several nominations, including Cinematography, Original Score, and Sound Editing, and won for Sound Editing (Per Hallberg and Karen Baker Landers) and Best Song (Adele Adkins and Paul Epworth). Adele (who goes simply by her first name) performed the song during the ceremony – the first winner for a franchise noted for its memorable theme songs. (Shirley Bassey was also on hand to perform the title tune from 1963’s GOLDFINGER, which really set the standard for 007 songs.)
The Best Song win for “Skyfall” is one of the few decisions I can truly applaud for the 85 Annual Academy Awards. The song is the best thing about the film – and one of the best James Bond them song in over nearly two decades.
THE HOBBIT, Peter Jackson’s disappointing prequel to his LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, failed to impress Oscar voters. Nominated in three categories – Makeup, Production Design, and Visual Effects – the film went zero for three on Oscar night.
The terrible SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN was had to chances to win – for Costumes and Visual Effects – but lost out in both categories.
BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD (another borderline effort, which includes some fantasy creatures) was nominated in categories for Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay, and Directing but came away empty handed.
So there you have it. It took AMPAS only 76 years to finally award a Best Picture win to a fantasy film (the aforementioned LORD OF THE RINGS: RETURN OF THE KING). Here’s hoping we don’t have to wait another seven decades for history to repeat itself.

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives Review

boonmee-209x300To champion a film as a work of art is an increasingly rare pleasure, but no other reaction seems appropriate in response to Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s masterpiece UNCLE BOONMEE WHO CAN RECALL HIS PAST LIVES. Appropriately, the film won the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival last year, yet this official Thai entry for the Academy Awards was left off the list of 2011 Best Foreign Film nominees. To my eye, this is a tragedy – the sum of the film’s parts are, at times, hauntingly tense, intellectually evolved, aesthetically remarkable, and contrary to popular opinion, cohesive.

Generous and simple bee-farmer Uncle Boonmee (Thanapat Saisaymar, remarkable) is dying. His kidney is failing; neither he nor his illegal immigrant nurse Jaai (Samud Kugasang) can do anything about it, and Boonmee knows better than to fight karma: “I killed too many communists”, he explains. In the days leading up to his death, Boonmee revisits the lives he may have inhabited before this current one, most of which were in the bodies of animals. His visions are accompanied by two reunions to dear people he lost: his wife, Huay (Aphaiwonk, so powerful with little screen time), and his son, Boonsong (Kulhong).

Weerasethakul works here to create something that is one part science fiction, one part epic poem, one part tender drama, and one part lucid dream. Germane to this multiplicity is the collaboration between Weerasethakul and his cinematographers, Yukontorn Mingmongkon and Sayombhu Mukdeeprom. UNCLE BOONMEE WHO CAN RECALL HIS PAST LIVES is almost completely captured in still shots, each one appearing to be the work of a great Impressionist obsessed with lushness, complementary colors, and objects bathed in shade.

An ongoing motif is the shrouding of actors behind softly colored nets for keeping out bugs. Never has the concealment of characters been so exquisite as in these separate shots, sometimes bathing the nets in sunlight or making the subject nearly imperceptible. Light is manipulated here subtly and expertly, often wringing fluidity from the lack of movement in shots. Naturally, Boonmee himself is never behind a net: he braves buzzing bees, mosquitoes, and gnats as if to say, “What’s the use anymore? I’ve honey to harvest.”

This is truly such a resplendent, creative, intense film. I find that I am skeptical of any sort of religious or spiritual subplots, but faith and spirituality take UNCLE BOONMEE WHO CAN RECALL HIS PAST LIVES to another dimension. In many ways, that spirituality appears completely foreign. It allows Boonmee to interact casually with ghosts, living caves, Ape-people, and animals. It gives Boonmee and his family the strength to watch him dissolve before their eyes, a particularly rare gift.

Saisaymar has the difficult task of portraying Boonmee as a man whose death is not necessarily a tragedy; his steady, powerful delivery gives us the insight to know he feels a little fear, a little joy, a little obligation, and so much more.

Although I realize it is clear how much I admire this film, I do not think a critique of it could be comprehensive without mentioning its most outrageous scene. One of Boonmee’s visions includes his life as a catfish (or perhaps a friend?), in which the fish subsequently encounters and pleasures an aging princess. It’s, um, a bit peculiar. But do not falter – in context, it is simply a segment of a magnificent whole.

UNCLE BOONMEE WHO CAN RECALL HIS PAST LIVES (2010, U.S. release 2011). Directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Written by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Inspired by: A Man Who Can Recall Past Lives by Phra Sripariyattiweti


  • Boonmee – Thanapat Saisaymar
  • Jen – Jenjira Pongpas
  • Tong – Sakda Kaewbuadee
  • Huay – Natthakarn Aphaiwonk
  • Boonsong – Geerasak Kulhong
  • Roong – Kanokporn Thogaram

Oscar Winners, The Haunted & Encountering George Lucas: CFQ Round Table 2:8

wolfman-haunted-lucas copy
L to R: Rick Baker's Oscar-winning makeup for THE WOLFMAN; the ghost from Joseph Stefano's rarely seen TV pilot THE HAUNTED; George Lucas.

This week’s episode of the Cinefantastique Round Table Podcast (Volume 2, Episode 8, for those of you keeping count) is even more full of horror, fantasy, and science fiction excitement than usual. Up first, a run down of the the genre’s big winner’s at this year’s Academy Awards, including Rick Baker for THE WOLFMAN’s makeup, Natalia Portman for her role in the artsy horror offering BLACK SWAN, and INCEPTION in numerous technical categories. Then, after the usual round-up of news, events, and home video releases, follow Dan Persons, Lawrence French, and Steve Biodrowski into a new segment of the podcast, titled “The Black Hole Ultra Lounge,” in which you will learn the details of THE HAUNTED and THE UNKNOWN, two rarely seen television pilots scripted and produced by the Joseph Stefano (THE OUTER LIMITS), which recently screened at the UCLA Film & Television Archive. And then listen to Lawrence French recount his sidewalk encounter with STAR WARS mogul George Lucas, while out for a stroll on the streets of San Francisco (not far from where a scene from Hitchcock’s VERTIGO was shot). It’s a week’s worth of epic awesomeness unlike that found in any other podcast, in this galaxy or the next!

Supernal Dreams: Academy Boosts Visual Effects Nominees to Five

Inception (20100
INCEPTION, a likely nominee for visual effects

As I’ve suggested here for the last two years, limiting the Academy Award for “Best Visual Effects” to only three nominees seems quite unfair, since all the other categories (except make-up) have five nominees. Given the overwhelming number of films that feature superlative effects work these days, it has become increasingly obvious that this is a change that has been long overdue. Last May, the Visual Effects branch finally acted, when their three Governors (Richard Edlund, Craig Barron and Bill Taylor) chaired a meeting and recommended that the change be made to five nominees.  According to an article on the meeting in Variety by David S. Cohen, the change actually met with some heated resistance from Academy members.
The two main objections cited in the Variety article were that four additional names (for each of the two additional films nominated) would have to be read on the Oscar show, and that if five movies were nominated, the final award might not go to “cutting-edge” effects work. Such objections seem silly at best, and luckily wiser heads prevailed, so this years award for “Best Visual Effects” will indeed feature five contenders for the first time since 1979 when ALIEN won the final prize.
Since we are still only seven months into the year and there are already more than five worthy nominees, (among them:  INCEPTION,  IRON MAN 2,  ALICE IN WONDERLAND,  THE TWILIGHT SAGA: ECLIPSE,  ROBIN HOOD,  CLASH OF THE TITANS and even THE LAST AIRBENDER),  this is obviously a change for the better.  Likewise, last year several worthy films, such as 2012  and TERMINATOR SALVATION failed to make the cut because there were only three slots available.
The Academy explained the change in their official press release:  “Since 1963, when the Special Effects award was discontinued and new separate categories for achievements in visual effects and sound effects were established, the only period during which it was possible to have five visual effects nominees was 1977 through 1979. In only one of those years (1979) were five achievements actually recognized. Between 1980 and 1995, two or three productions could be nominated; since 1996 the rules have dictated there be exactly three nominees.”

Horror, Fantasy & Science Fiction at the 2010 Oscar Show

AVATAR took home three Oscars at the 2010 ceremony.

Despite multiple nominations, genre films take home only a handful of technical awards.

Going into Sunday evening, the 2010 Academy Awards presentation had ample opportunity to break with their standard tradition of snubbing horror, fantasy, and science fiction films in all but technical categories: two major films, AVATAR and DISTRICT 9, had been nominated not only for Best Picture but also in other top categories, such as Direction and/or Screenplay. However, when the dust settled and the wins counted at the end of the night, it was the same-old story, with cinefantastique shut out of all but a handful of categories: science fiction and fantasy films wound up with a total of six Oscar statues, almost all of them in technical categories:

  • The genre’s “big” winner was AVATAR, which earned the nod for Art Direction, Cinematography, and Visual Effects.
  • UP took home the gold twice, for Animated Feature and for Music
  • Finally, STAR TREK took home the statue for Makeup.

Genre fans could perhaps take some solace by noting that the evening’s Best Picture winner, THE HURT LOCKER, was directed by Kathryn Bigelow, who helmed the effective cult vampire film NEAR DARK back in 1987. Bigelow made history last night by becoming the first female director to win an Oscar.
One towering figure in the realm of horror, fantasy, and science fiction was honored on Oscar night, though not in the way he fully deserved. Producer-director Roger Corman (THE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH, FRANKENSTEIN UNBOUND) was among four winners of a lifetime achievement award. Unfortunately, in its infinite wisdom, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had handed out these awards at a smaller ceremony last November. All we saw last night was a few, short video clips, followed by a brief shot of Corman sitting in the audience (well, at least they invited him to the big show).
For fans of cinefantastique, the highlight of the 2010 ceremony was the tribute to the horror genre. NEW MOON co-stars Taylor Lautner and Kristen Stewart introduced the segment by noting that horror, although a perennially popular genre, has not been honored by the Oscars since THE EXORCIST took home two statues back in 1974. One could quibble with this factoid (it all depends on whether you include Oscar-winners like ALIEN and SILENCE OF THE LAMBS in the “horror” genre), but the essential point is a good one.
Below is a complete list of the genre’s winners at the 2010 Academy Awards ceremony:

  • Up: Pete Docter


  • Avatar: Rick Carter and Robert Stromberg (Art Direction); Kim Sinclair (Set Decoration)


  • Avatar: Mauro Fiore


  • Star Trek: Barney Burman, Mindy Hall and Joel Harlow


  • Up: Michael Giacchino


  • Avatar: Joe Letteri, Stephen Rosenbaum, Richard Baneham and Andrew R. Jones

For the complete list of 2010 Oscar winners, click here.