Monday, March 14, 2016

24 Hours of Movies: Robots!

by Patrick Bromley
Bleep blorp. I am a robot. I am talking like a robot.

Today's 24 Hours of Movies theme suggestion comes from Mac McEntire. Thanks, Mac! If you've got an idea for a 24 Hours of Moves theme you'd like me to try this month, leave it in the comments below or email us at fthismoviepodcast[at]gmail.com.

10 a.m. - Metropolis (1927, dir. Fritz Lang)
In the tradition of kicking off these themed marathons with some of the earliest examples of said theme, let us begin with one of the very first robot movies and a film still considered one of the all-time great science fiction epics. I still haven't seen the 148-minute restoration from 2010, so that's the one I'm programming here. Two and a half hours of silent German expressionism might be a tough sit at any other point in the marathon, so starting with this one makes sense.

12:30 p.m. - The Terminator (1984, dir. James Cameron)
Just like when making a great mix tape, it's important to ramp things up for the second selection of a 24-hour movie marathon. The first of five increasingly lesser movies in the Terminator franchise is still my favorite James Cameron movie ("Tsap'alute!" [translated from Na'vi: "I'm sorry!"]). Part sci-fi classic, part slasher movie, all relentless action film, The Terminator is basically a perfect movie from start to finish and features one of the greatest killer robots ever to grace the screen. Like Pulp Fiction and the original Nightmare on Elm Street, this is one of those films that's so entrenched in the pop culture consciousness that I think people forget just how great it really is.

2:30 p.m. - Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey (1991, dir. Pete Hewitt)
There are so few good comedy sequels. There are even fewer great ones. Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey is one of the rare movies in that latter category -- an incredibly clever and smart comedy passing itself off as something dopey. Bill (Alex Winter) and Ted (Keanu) are murdered by evil robot versions of themselves sent from the future and must escape from Hell to save their princess girlfriends and prevent a "darkest timeline" future. We watched this for F This Movie Fest 2 a few years back and it blew the doors off the place (the place = Twitter) because it's such a winning comedy bursting with funny ideas and performances. I haven't even mentioned William Sadler's amazing turn as Death! This movie is incredible. Station.

4 p.m. - Forbidden Planet (1956, dir. Fred M. Wilcox)
An obvious inclusion, as Forbidden Planet features one of the most famous movie robots ever in Robby, who would go on to become such a pop culture icon that he actually had a career co-starring in other projects. There's a reason this became such a genre classic: the widescreen Technicolor compositions are stunning, the production design breathtaking, the Anne Francis jaw-dropping. It's one of those movies I just want to live in.

5:45 p.m. - The Stepford Wives (1975, dir. Bryan Forbes)
Since most movies that feature robots tend to be science fiction, I want to try to mix it up a little bit and program at least a couple of movies that don't take place either in the future or in outer space. While still technically sci fi at the end of the day, the original Stepford Wives is much more of satirical drama/horror movie that tackles '70s gender politics head on and makes excellent use of creeping dread. Hopefully it will make for a good breather, as it's a movie made in a period in which movies were allowed to breathe. The really good news is that this has never been remade as a comedy starring Nicole Kidman and Faith Hill.

7:45 p.m. - Blade Runner (1982, dir. Ridley Scott)
Of course the primetime slot is being given to one of the best movies ever made, in which the robots are great even though we never see them as robots -- they end up being the most human characters in the film. Most dystopian science fiction released after 1982 has just been copying Blade Runner's example, but nothing else has touched it in terms of beauty, resonance or pure technical filmmaking craftsmanship. I like the idea of building up to Blade Runner in this marathon and then not trying to live up to it afterwards, but rather watching stuff that approaches artificial intelligence in a totally different way. There's only one Blade Runner, so let's not even try to duplicate the experience. Until they make that stupid sequel, of course.

9:45 p.m. - RoboCop (1987, dir. Paul Verhoeven)
I set out to create a really varied lineup in which robots appear across all genres and all kinds of movies, but there's no point in programming fucking Heartbeeps just so I can say I watched a comedy when all I really want to do is watch RoboCop and a bunch of other really cool movies. This is a movie that feels made for me as much now as it did at 10 years old. I love the comic book futurism, the horror movie creation myth, the insane gore, the wild satire and outrageous humor. Like The Terminator, RoboCop is perfect.

11:45 p.m. - Nemesis (1992, dir. Albert Pyun)
With its wild sense of humor and crazy over-the-top violence, RoboCop already makes a great segue into the overnight portion of our marathon. Nemesis just confirms it. Director Albert Pyun's first foray into cyberpunk is one of his most ambitious, most accomplished films, and while star Olivier Gruner isn't much of a leading man (he was cast against Pyun's wishes), the wildness of the film around him makes up for it. The US DVD is long out of print, but there's a box set in both Germany and the UK that includes this film on Blu-ray alongside its many sequels, none of which I have seen. I'm not saying it's my birthday month, but it is my birthday month.

1:15 a.m. - Chopping Mall (1986, dir. Jim Wynorski)
Of the 850 or so movies Jim Wynorski has directed (many made under various pseudonyms), this is one of the few I've seen that I can tolerate. In fact, tolerate is too weak a word -- I actually have a lot of fun with it. Much of that is thanks to its cast, which includes Kelli Maroney and Barbara Crampton, as well as Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov in cameos (as their Eating Raoul characters!).  It's also thanks to its goofy premise, which finds mall security robots (the movie was originally called Killbots, a much more accurate title than the slasher-sounding Chopping Mall) going berserk and trapping/killing the patrons inside. Yes, this is the perfect movie to watch at 2 a.m. It also features one of the all-time great exploding head gags.

2:45 a.m. - Starcrash (1978, dir. Luigi Cozzi)
Yessss. The Italians reclaim the 2 a.m. slot with Luigi Cozzi's weird, wild Star Wars rip-off produced by Roger Corman and with a cast that includes Caroline Munroe, Marjoe Gortner, David Hasselhoff, Joe Spinell and Christopher Plummer. The effects are all hand-made and wonderful, the plot episodic and almost nonsensical. I love it a lot and would be willing to watch it even without Caroline Munroe wearing a leather bikini through the whole movie. Doesn't hurt, though.

4:30 a.m. - Deadly Friend (1986, dir. Wes Craven)
The late, great Wes Craven tried several times to recapture the combination of teenage angst and horror he perfected in A Nightmare on Elm Street but never quite succeeded (the closest he came -- and it's very close -- was with the original Scream). In this one, Matthew Laborteaux plays Paul, a geeky teenager building his own robot; when his best friend/neighbor Samantha (Kristy Swanson) meets with an accident, Paul uses his robot technology to bring her back to life. It does not go well. Test screenings and studio pressure forced Craven to insert a bunch of graphic violence (including the once scene anyone remembers from the movie), leaving this one severely compromised. It's not very good, but it's good for 4:30 a.m.

6 a.m. - The Black Hole (1979, dir. Gary Nelson)
This is the only movie in the lineup I've never seen, and while it's probably not a great idea to tackle it after 20 hours and 11 other movies I do want to squeeze it in and this is the best spot available. Like Tron, this a movie that I grew up having a real awareness of (I think my brother had some of the toys?) but which I never got around to seeing. There's no real risk here, because even if I don't like it very much it's surrounded almost exclusively by 13 other movies I love.

7:45 a.m. - Turbo Kid (2015, dir. François Simard, Anouk Whissell, Yoann-Karl Whissell)
Early mornings require a pick-me-up, and nothing is guaranteed to pick me up more than last year's Turbo Kid, a movie I love dearly and about which I have already gushed endlessly on this site. It fits the theme of the marathon but not in a way that's obvious on the surface; if you haven't yet seen it (why haven't you seen it yet?) you'll understand its placement afterwards. This marathon is stacked with favorites of mine. Turbo Kid has to be included.

9:15 a.m. -  Robot Jox (1990, dir. Stuart Gordon)
This slot was almost given over to last year's Ex Machina, a thoughtful and excellent sci-fi movie about artificial intelligence and gender politics. But that's a little heavy for the 25th hour, so instead I'm going with the very big and very silly Robot Jox, very nearly the final film distributed by Charles Band's Empire Pictures (the company put out one more movie, Spellcaster, in 1992 after Full Moon Features was already up and running). I'm still not fully on board with Gary Graham's performance as the hero Achilles, but I love the colorful Saturday afternoon matinee feel that Gordon creates and Dave Allen's stop-motion effects in the robot battles are super fun.

10:45 a.m. - The World's End (2014, dir. Edgar Wright)
Yes, we're over 24 hours at this point, but the only way to finish our marathon is with the end of the world as seen by the great Edgar Wright. The third and final film in his Cornetto trilogy deals with robots and aliens and the apocalypse as well as with friendship and nostalgia and life not working out the way we thought it would. It's the perfect movie on which to end the marathon, seeing as it's all about looking back and examining our choices. After nearly 30 straight hours of watching movies about robots, that's exactly what we'll be doing, too.

Movies I wanted to include but couldn't: Sleeper, Westworld, Hardware, The Iron Giant, Saturn 3, Ex Machina, Aliens, Return to Oz

10 comments:

  1. I was really hoping you would find room for Halloween 3 here, but a really solid list anyway. Plus the time slots for Deadly Friend and Black Hole should give you some quality sleep time if you need it.

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  2. Nemesis, Chopping Mall and Starcrash could be the best triple feature I've ever heard of! Awesomeness!

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  3. Give me the opportunity to substitute Westworld and The Iron Giant in certain spots and I'm totally down with this. Forbidden Planet sounds like a movie I should have seen by now. I should look into that. '50s sci-fi rules!

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  4. You won't believe how hard I laughed at the random Na'vi in this article. Never change, Patrick.
    (Patreekbromlee, you have strong heart.)

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  5. Nicolas Cage theme hopefully!

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  6. I thought you might have 2001 here, although HAL isn't really a "robot" unless you count the entire Discovery spacecraft as his "body."

    Disney's The Black Hole is...not fine. Well, it's not horrible, but it's another one of those movies where you wonder who the heck it was made for (or for whom the heck it was made, if I want to be extra pedantic). It has cute robots that look like they were made by Fisher Price existing in the same universe as a vicious disemboweling, and a spacecraft (the Palomino) so concerned with conserving space that they made room for a 250 lb news reporter played by Ernest Borgnine. I used to defend this movie until I saw it for the second time (the first time was when I was 10). It's the Goonies derivation in full force.

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    Replies
    1. Michael GiammarinoMarch 15, 2016 at 4:46 AM

      I count myself as a very big fan of The Black Hole. I recognize the fact it's a very polarizing, divisive movie. It's one of a handful of science fiction films that try to take 2001 and Star Wars (and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea) and mash them up for a commercial audience.

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    2. Well, I think it´s pretty fine, partly because of nostalgia, having seen it three times on the big screen in 1979 at age 13, partly because of John Barry´s great score, partly because of it´s gorgeous production design and one of my favourite spaceships of all time, the Cygnus.
      Yes, it´s a typical Disney mess from that Ron Miller period, trying to cater to every demographic and ending with delivering not enough for anyone, mixing it´s dark storyline with silly kid friendly robots.
      Having watched it again maybe a year ago, it´s a crazy hodgepodge of everything, succeeding only in parts but it has something that still resonates with me.
      And it is truly great to look at.

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  7. I have a huge soft spot for The Black Hole. I wore out my VHS tape of it. I'm sure most of my affection for it is childhood nostalgia, but I miss movies aimed at children that weren't afraid to scare them.

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