"Paul" – (2011)

Jason’s Rating: 8.35 / 10 (About my rating system.)
“Look. Just because your truth, isn’t the true truth, doesn’t mean there is no truth, Ruth.”

There are not nearly enough science fiction comedies. Really, we see them pop up once every other year, and they are hit and miss. Another great sci-fi comedy that comes to mind is “Galaxy Quest” which really is right in the same family as “Paul”. If this type of movie has a sub-genre, I’d call it the ‘self aware sci-fi comedy’. By that, I mean the story takes place in our reality with the primary characters knowing science fiction to be just that… fiction. But then, that perception is turned on its head and sci-fi becomes reality. The comedy, at least in part, comes from this dynamic.

“Paul” starts as UK uber-geeks Graeme and Clive (Simon Pegg and Nick Frost) are visiting the United States to experience Comic-Con and then voyage across the UFO badlands of New Mexico and Nevada in a rented motor-home. Their sci-fi fantasy trip soon turns into sci-reality when they meet Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen) a grey alien on the lamb from the US Government. As they evade man in black, agent Zoil (Jason Bateman,) they encounter an evangelical woman named Ruth (Kristen Wiig) who joins their quest.

The cast is spot-on. I’ve been a fan of Pegg and Frost since seeing “Hot Fuzz” (then retroactively, “Shaun of the Dead” and “Spaced”). I especially like the fact that their rolls are sort of reversed from what we’ve seen in other films. This time around, Pegg plays the more impetuous role, while Frost plays it rather controlled and introverted. Bateman’s deadpan performance as Zoil (with an odd but funny payoff to his name, late in the film) is also enjoyable and a nice change of tone from his usual characters. And of course, Seth Rogen as the title character, Paul, is, well, he’s Seth Rogen. But I really like Seth Rogen, and frankly that’s what I expected.

This is truly a geek film, making a wide variety of sci-fi and comic book references, some of which will be apparent to the masses, but with many more geared toward a nerdier demographic. That said, it’s totally approachable to mainstream audiences. I love this movie and it will be a frequent rewatch for me. 8.35 stars, based on Jason’s Movie Rating System.

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"Forbidden Planet" – (1956)

Jason’s Rating: 9.3 / 10 (About my rating system.)
“The fool! The meddling idiot! As though his ape’s brain could contain the secrets of the Krell!”

When comparing and contrasting 1950s science fiction films, there are several qualities that are tantamount. Which film had the best flying saucer? Which had the scariest monster and the coolest robot? Which ethereal soundtrack is the most identifiable? Given these criteria, it’s hard to imagine a 50s sci-fi film better than “Forbidden Planet”. From the moment you see the C-57D cross your screen, you know that this is not your typical B-movie flying saucer dangling from a string.

“Forbidden Planet” is visually striking… in fact, it’s nothing short of astounding, given the constraints of the time. Of course they were backed by MGM dollars and an intention to make a real movie, not just Saturday matinee fare, but still, the scope of the visuals here is breathtaking. Watch the scene in the belly of the Krell machines. Or the C57’s crew fighting the invisible yet illuminated ID monster. The melting of the white hot laboratory door. These scenes could hardly be done any better today even with the use of CGI. Beyond the quality of the effects, this film is the absolute epitome of mid-century Populux futurism. Gorgeous cantilevered structures, boomerang furniture and radiating disks. And Robbie the Robot… what can I say about Robbie? He is simply the coolest robot that has ever been conjured on film or paper.

The story is based on Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”, though how closely it parallels, I really can’t say. The character of Morbius, played by Walter Pidgeon, is certainly Shakespearean, given the highs and lows of his accomplishments and tragedy. A young, and not very comedic Leslie Nielsen, plays Commander J. J. Adams, captain of the C-57D. He and his crew have been dispatched to check on a deep space colony on Altair IV which hasn’t been heard from in years. Adams and his shipmates (including Doc Ostrow, played by veteran character actor Warren Stevens) discover that the only remaining members of the colony are Dr. Morbius and his daughter Altaira, played by heavenly sprite, Anne Francis. Without getting too deep into the plot, things get complicated when a crewman is murdered and secrets of the planet’s ancient but extinct civilization come to light.

The acting isn’t particularly strong, with the exception of Walter Pidgeon, who always captivates me. The story more than compensates, and has me riveted every time I watch. The last forty minutes of the film are particularly suspenseful.

The soundtrack deserves an honorable mention as well. Completely electronic, yet utilizing no theremin, oscillator circuits and a ring modulator were used to create the electronic tonalities. (On a side note, I had a professor at the University of Miami, who piped in this soundtrack over the editing shack speakers. I’m pretty sure I was the only student who appreciated his sense of humor.)

This is one of my favorite films, and if you appreciate the sci-fi genre, it’s required viewing. 9.3 stars, based on Jason’s Movie Rating System.

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