Saturday, December 29, 2012

Ten Statements About....DJANGO UNCHAINED! (2012)

Yes, he is a free man and yes, he meant to dress like that....

"How do you like the bounty-hunting business?"
"Kill white people and get paid for it? What's not to like?."

1) Since this is a Quentin Tarantino movie, I appreciated the way he incorporates elements from the original Franco Nero films into the story.  Hell, I practically stood up in my seat when the Morricone theme (arguably the greatest movie theme of all time) came out of the speakers at the beginning, and pumped the air when Nero shows up for a brief cameo that passes the torch onto Jamie Foxx.

2) Even though Tarantino has had flirtations with other actors before, I have come to believe that he's found his muse in Christoph Waltz.  Just like with his portrayal of Landa in Inglorious Basterds, Waltz' Dr. King Schultz is a vivid character who seems to have his own weird code of honor.  And given how well he plays off of Foxx, he's a great characters who brightens the film as long as he's onscreen.

3) I think the real charm of Leonardo diCaprio's Candie is that while he does villainous things, an argument can be made that he may not exactly be the villain.  Yes, he does some hideously awful things, he has that subtle but gross incestuous relationship with his sister...but nothing he does is outside the law or mores of the culture he exists in.  It's only when Samuel L. Jackson's Stephen outs Schultz and Django that Candie becomes a monstrous individual.  Taken in this context, it makes sense that his role is relatively small.  And speaking of Stephen....

"You are supposed to be me? Funny...I do not look black...."
4) I have to wonder if Stephen is, in Tarantino's mind, the true villain of the piece.  Jackson's performance is extremely clever.  Judging by the way Stephen seems to shift in intelligence depending on who he's addressing, this seems to be a man who gives off an inferior facade to hide the fact that he's always angling to be in a superior position.  And give it to Tarantino that he doesn't give the character the redemption moment we are led to expect him getting at some point simply because of who is playing him and what his character is in the context of the world.

5) God bless Tarantino for continuing to use practical effects.  These wounds are splattery and messy, and doesn't have the sameness of CGI wounds in other films.  This carnage is so gross that you sort of understand why Django hesitates to kill one man in front of his son.

6) I know that some people have some problems with the humorous way Tarantino handles Don Johnson's Big Daddy and his proto-Klan buddies, especially the scene featuring Jonah Hill complaining about the hoods.  But that humorous element was vital.  There's so much grimness on either side of that sequence, especially when we start moving toward the Candie sequence, that those moments (and I'll fess up to laughing out loud at the whole discussion of whether to wear the hoods or not) are necessary to allow the audience to relieve the tension.

7) One thing that sort of niggles at me is how we never see the logical extension of what Django does at both Big Daddy's and the Candie plantations.  There is so much gravitas to the way Django dispatches the overseers at Big Daddy's that I expected the slaves watching him to rise up.  I can understand why the slaves wouldn't rise up at the Candie's initially--they do have Stephen manipulating them into thinking they should be good lil' slaves--but the ones at Big Daddy should be running around kicking all sort of white ass after seeing Django beat and kill their masters.
Look, Don Stroud...I know you were hot shit in the 70's, but
you don't mess with Christoph Waltz....

8) It puzzles me why Tarantino chose Kerri Washington to play Hildy.  Don't get me wrong; Washington is an excellent actress....but given how little play Hildy has in the film itself, it seems like a waste of her talents.

9) And speaking of talented actors...I am totally cool with Foxx as Django for about 95% of the film's running time.  But there's about 5% where Jamie Foxx The Personality steps out of Jamie Foxx The Actor and totally subverts all the work the latter has put into making his version of Django into a living, breathing character.  There are some moments where I can forgive it, like in the coda at the end, but some of the other moments in Act Two and the early parts of Act Three end up being discordant.

10) I was somewhat floored by the amount of celebrity cameos in this film; if it was made in the 70's, I could easily see it being marketed with one of those headshot lines showing all the big names in small roles in the film.  But without a doubt, the most pleasurable of these cameos for me was seeing John Jarrett of Wolf Creek as an Australian mining guy who is tricked into arranging for his own death. excellent western in the Tarantino mode that only makes me sadder that this may be the beginning of the end of his career.

I was at the Atlas again--they've now raised the price to ten dollars for a matinee, which is almost as expensive as the regular price--and managed to avoid the sludge that is the Firstlook.  What I did not avoid is the family behind me who brought both their infant child and their young son, who thought nothing of deciding to play a little Angry Birds about midway through the film; I really think there should be a parenting license in this country, don't you?   Not a lot of interesting trailers, perhaps the most intriguing being the one for Scary Movie 5--not because I wanted to see it, but because I was surprised the producers took this long to tackle the found footage genre.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Ten Statements About....TIME BANDITS (1981)

"I think the reason I've gotten top billing over you is called...
oh, I don't know, celebrity?"
"Who was that man?"
"That was no man. That was the Supreme Being."
"You mean God?"
"Well, we don't know Him that well. We only work for Him."

1) At the core, this is a children's fantasy, and one of its strengths is how Terry Gilliam makes it a children's fantasy as a child would imagine it, not how an adult would.  Thus it's messy, it's gross at times, it's illogical....and it is sophisticated only to the lengths a particularly bright child can achieve.

2) And let's be honest here; the other strength is Gilliam's incredible attention to detail both visually and story-wise.  I was particularly struck by how the Castle Of Evil in certain shots seems to be made out of Lego Bricks...thus making it something a child can build itself.

3) However, it's not perfect.  It's obvious that Gilliam's script (written in collaboration with Michael Palin) hasn't shaken off his Monty Python sketch structure.  There are moments--like the frequent visits with Palin and Shelly Duvall's lovers--where the film stops so we can get a sketch.  Hell, the whole first half plays out like an extended, star-studded Python episode.  And speaking of that first half....

4) It really could have used some trimming.  I understand that we needed to establish the idea of the time holes and all, but did we really need to spend as much time as we do with Napoleon and Robin Hood?  The Napoleon sequence in particular seems very drawn out.  So does the King Agamemnon sequence, but that one serves the secondary purpose of showing us what Kevin's ideal father would be like before we get the diametrically opposite father figures of Evil and The Supreme Creator....
"What do you mean this is supposed to be a comedy?"

5) While we're on the subject, I like how both David Warner's Evil and Ralph Richardson's Supreme Being are designed as reflections on Kevin's thoughts on what fathers are like.  Warner's is capricious and cruel and prone to punishing for the sake of punishing, while Richardson's is condescending and lecturing to his assistants, making his punishments seem like kindness.  These are both valid ways a child like Kevin might see his own father as being.

6) I find it fascinating that Warner's Evil is obsessed with recreating the world with technology, as opposed to humanity, coming first.  But then, there's a definite luddite-ness to the whole film; it's technology that seems to obsess Kevin's parents to the point of neglecting him, it's technology that tempts the Bandits to their capture by Evil, it's technology that backfires on the Bandits when they're fighting Evil, and it's ultimately technology that ends up delivering Kevin's parents to their fate.

7) As much as I liked Sean Connery's Agamemnon--and I liked him alike--he seems to be in an entirely different movie.  Whereas John Cleese's Robin Hood and Ian Holm's Napoleon are aware they're in some form of a comedy, Connery plays his role absolutely straight.  Even the one moment that could appear comedic, where he does a magic trick for Kevin, is done very seriously.
In its last days, some of the members of Menudo were...
Questionable Choices.

8) I appreciate how everything that Kevin experiences on his adventure can be ascribed to a dream he has inspired by his toys and surrounding and exacerbated by what we learn in the very last sequence has been happening to his house....but attention is never drawn to this fact.  We see the items that might inspire his fantasy in very tiny glimspes so that if we catch it, that's good but if we don't we still get a strange adventure.

9) I totally adore the way Warner has this weird sort of dynamic with his three minions.  There's an active....affection Evil seems to have for these three misshapen lackey, and yet he is incapable of showing that affection except through cruelty and torment.  And the even weirder thing is how much the minions seem to delight in this, to the point that they cheer when they're about to be destroyed.

10) You know, that ending leaves a strange taste in my mouth, especially given what The Supreme Beings says about Kevin's future.  It seems maybe too dark a note to end the film on, even for a film like this that has some really, really dark notes.

Overall...a good children's fantasy that marks a particular moment of development in an excellent director, this film is glorious for its flaws and a compelling watch.

Sunday, December 16, 2012


Oh, oobee do/I wanna be like you/I walk like you/talk like
you, too....

""We have the power to do anything we like, absolute power over every particle in the universe, everything that has ever existed or ever will exist as from this moment. Are you listening to me, Romana?"
"Yes, of course, I'm listening."
"Cause if you're not listening I can make you listen, because I can do anything. As from this moment there's no such thing as free will in the entire universe. There's only my will because I possess the Key to Time."

1)  ...and so the final story of the Key To Time Saga ends with this bloated, epically awful story which serves as an argument against the six-part format, primarily because so much of it is taken up by the equivalent of water-treading.  There is barely enough in this mess for a four-part story; making it a six parter makes for an unbearably slow watching experience.

2) This serial is rife with some wretched performances--and none are as bad as John Woodvine's scenery-devouring turn as The Marshall.  Woodvine pitches his performance at such a melodramatic level where he seems to be shouting every single line--even the ones where he's supposed to be whispering--and comes off as strident and bullying.  Hell, when your performance is so bad you can't even convincing sell the single word 'Fire!' (a word you have to repeat over and over again for an episode and a half because you're stuck in a time loop),'s time to go act in another story.  Or show.

3) I'm still scratching my head trying to figure out what the deal was with William Squire's Shadow.  We're literally given no back story whatsoever when it comes to this goof save that he likes to laugh a lot and is an agent of The Black Guardian.  Much like Woodvine, Squire is chewing up the scenery while actually doing very, very little.  And when we learn of The Shadow's ultimate fate--and that the Guardian actually planned for it to happen--you have to wonder why he was sitting there on Xeos doing all this pointless scheming and running around in the first place.
Nooooooo!  Drax!  Go away!  Stupid Drax....

4) This is Lalla Ward's first appearance on Who, and her turn as Princess Astra (coupled with Baker's interest in her) inspired Williams to cast her as Romana when Mary Tamm gets pregnant.  However, even though Astra is integral to the plot and Ward is fairly decent in her performance in comparison to Woodvine, Squire and others, the reason she's so integral is literally forgotten about for about three episodes until someone realizes they need to get back to the Key To Time aspect of the story.

5) ..but then, the scattershot nature of the plot is indicative of the script by Bob Baker and Dave Martin.  Plot developments are dropped suddenly, perils are introduced only to be waved away a few minutes later, whole characters seem forgotten for long stretches, and there are gigantic stretches of plot that seem riveted on just to eat up time.  Add in a shockingly shoddy grasp of science even for this era of classic Who, and you have a monstrous mess.  

6) And then there's...grumblemutter...Barry Jackson's Drax.  An awfully conceived character to begin with given tiresome life by Jackson, Drax is given far too much time to introduce himself as a comedy element the story really didn't need, then seems to complicate the plot solely for the sake of complicating it.  And the biggest problem with him?  He's introduced in the fifth episode, long after the last significant character (the computer Mentalis) was introduced in the second episode.  I have to think that Baker and Martin had so written themselves in a corner that they created Drax solely as a deus ex machina to get the story to wrap up neatly.

7) Look, I know that the science in classic Who can get really wonky....but The Shadow uses a mechanical device designed to control and communicate with living beings to control and communicate with K-9.  Really, Bob Baker and Dave Martin?  Really?

"Of course I am evil...I am able to turn myself into a
negative image, see?  See?
8) Given what she's endured this season, Mary Tamm ends up in this serial being one of the better things in it.  She ends up actually functioning the way she was set up to function in The Ribos Operation, and figures out some of the plot angles before Baker does.  Plus she ends up wearing a modified version of the outfit she wore in Ribos, with the skirt shortened slightly and rather kicky boots, that is extremely flattering to Tamm.  Pity she steps down to become a mother after this serial, because she seems to have found Romana's character again.

9) And while we're on the subject of characters I actually like, I rather enjoyed how Davyd Harries' Shapp is originally presented as The Marshal's lackey who does nothing but follow orders...and ends up transforming over the course of the serial into someone who is opposing his superior's insanity in his own way.  Plus Harries manages to infuse Shapp with a strange sardonic humor of his own that actually serves as a subtle form of comedy relief.  Sadly, he degenerates into a slapstick buffoon (get used to this), but for a while he's a refreshing presence.

10) Of course, all this five-pounds-o'-story-stuffed-into-twenty-pounds-of-television leads to a rather good finale to this ambitious season-long story arc.  The moment where Baker figures out the implications of what having the Key to Time truly are works wonderfully until it's blunted by some of the patented Williams era forced humor.  And the status quo the series ends up with, where the Doctor slaps a 'Randomizer' onto the control console so he and Romana can evade The Black Guardian (well realized by Valentine Dyall) is promising at this point.  Granted, it all goes to Hell starting with the very next serial (and guess what we're covering next time?), but for the time being it leaves the series in a potentially excellent place.

Overall...a boring and aggravating serial that's marred by some horrendous acting and poor plotting.  The final sequence, which is good, does little to alleviate the overwhelming ennui that infuses this pointless tale.

And just a gets worse.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Ten Statements About....GOLDFINGER (1964)

Yep...Shirley Eaton covered in gold paint...why does this do
it for me?

"Do you expect me to talk?"
"No, Mr. Bond!  I expect you to die.  There is nothing you can talk to me about that I don't already know."

1) This is pretty unique in the Connery cycle in that it's the only film where Spectre doesn't have any role.  As such, this film is not so much an exemplar of The Connery Era as the blueprint for the Roger Moore era that is to follow.  There's a decidedly different feel to this film that sets it apart from the other Connerys--which might be why it's used as the reflex choice for most people when asked to name their favorite Bond film.

2) Gert Frobe is essential to this film even working to the extent that it does.  He's so...grotesque in his behavior, a true glutton who is nonetheless supremely satisfied with himself.  Frobe's physical acting (his voice was dubbed) is wonderfully operatic, and he drives home the monstrousness and arrogance of Goldfinger well.

3) However, as much as I respect her for being a major part of my favorite television show, and for being the woman who forged the symbiotic connection between The Avengers and the James Bond series, I cannot endorse Honor Blackman's Pussy Galore.  The character is fairly mangled in the film as the script tries to acknowledge her lesbianism without out and out saying it, and her motivation seems thoroughly messed up in the process.  Plus the sudden face turn after Bond hits the hay with her--literally--makes no sense whatsoever.  And...I'm being honest here...she does very little for me, ending up arguably in my bottom tier of Bond girls.
The first laser on film...and it's used to threaten
Sean Connery's nuts.....

4) Is it just me, or does all the argle barge Goldfinger does leading up to Operation Grand Slam seem excessively showy?  Granted, part of Goldfinger's nature is his desire to be thought of as the cleverest guy in the room (notice how he decides to keep Bond alive a little longer only when he acknowledges how brilliant Operation Grand Slam is), but the whole 'let me bring you all together so I can brag, then kill you' thing seems a bit...pointless, doesn't it?

5) The thing that strikes me about Howard Sakata's Oddjob is how, solely through body language and facial expressions, he creates a fully realized character with menace and, most importantly, a sense of humor.  We never once doubt that Oddjob is anything but a scary individual--partially because Connery treats him thusly--but those little smirks reveal something in his inner life that's extremely vivid.  It's not for nothing that he remains one of the greatest Bond henchmen in the series' history.

6) I have this theory that the films where an American city is the central site of the adventure tend to be lackluster...and this may be the best, but not by much.  Kentucky is so....unphotogenic until we get to Fort Knox, and then the film is almost over.  There's little to engage the eye, so much so that the only thing I was concerned with in one scene involving Felix Leiter was the big ol' Kentucky Fried Chicken sign in the background.
"I'm so glad we had this time together....."

7) I like Shirley Eaton.  Really like.  She's got far more life and fun than either of the other Bond girls, and it's a shame she has to exit so quickly.  It's not for nothing that she is the center of one of the most iconic images in the series' history.

8) I don't know why it bugs me so, but I really wish they hadn't hired such a dowdy, obviously older Felix Leiter.  It makes the whole friendship between the two seem less than close.  Hell, Cec Linder looks and acts more like Connery's uncle and not his friend.

9) Boy, Ken Adams' sets are still amazingly tasty....particularly the one for Fort Knox, which Adams made up whole from his imagination.  These few sets--the Fort, Goldfinger's weird lounge room/planning area, the laser laboratory--just jump out at you amidst all the rather ordinary landscapes, reminding you that yes, this is supposed to be a Bond film.

10) Is it just me, or does Connery just stumble around annoying the crap out of Goldfinger until the goof drags him by the ear into his plan?  For a spy film, Bond doesn't do much in the way of spying...which is why it's so odd how so many of the tropes of the series seem to solidify here.

Overall...I know this is heretical, given how this is usually the default choice people have for Best Bond Film, but this is a film that drags at times, detracting from the generally good acting from its principles.  Not my favorite, although far from the worst of the Connery cycle (that's for the next time we look in on 007....)

Sunday, November 18, 2012


When I Googled images for 'Androids Of Tara', this is the
first thing that came up...Sigh...
"You can't trust androids, you know."
"That's funny, you know. That's what some androids say about people."

1) I think it's indicative of the Graham Williams era that one of its greatest serials is one which pretty much slavishly follows The Prisoner of Zenda, only with science fiction trappings like androids interposed within it. Hell, when one of your major actors seems to have been cast solely because of his resemblance to Ronald Coleman is uncanny and The Doctor tells another character that their plan has been done before...well, they're not even bothering to hide it.

2) But one of the reasons this story works so well is the way writer David Fisher finds a way to make the android tech critical to the story. There are certain ways that the plot would not work in this iteration without the presence of androids. And because we accept the use of android tech, the other weird tech aspects--like the electronic crossbows and swords--make a lot more sense

3) A large portion of why this serial is so much fun lies in the performance of Peter Jeffreys as Count Grendel. Especially given the pastiche nature of this episode, there was a need for a larger than life villain, and Jeffreys takes the opportunity to breathe life into a charming cad like the Count. And more importantly, Grendel is smart. He's never made to look the fool by the Doctor--something that will become a problem as we get deeper into Williams' reign--and bases his strategies on logic and a love of cunning. He's so fun that when he's allowed to escape, you almost wish they found a way to bring the Count back.

4) I find it really refreshing that Fischer gets rid of the whole Key To Time aspect of the story within the first ten minutes so he can then dive into the silliness and craziness of the actual tale. Yes, there are moment when the Key fragment becomes the focus of the scene, but usually it's there only to tell us more about the character who's bringing it up, as in the moment where we learn just how intelligent Lois Baxter's Madame Lamia really is.
"I am going to ask you to take your hand off my ass politely..."

5) I think I've mentioned how much I enjoyed it whenever Tom Baker took up a sword and got all Erroll Flynn, right? Well, this is manna for me, as Baker gets to ride a horse, and engages in a climatic sword fight with Jeffreys that is really cool.

6) Since I mentioned her before, I rather liked the way Lois Baxter found a way to infuse Madame Lamia with more nuance than she really needed. One gets the sense that Lamia is clever, maybe even more clever than Grendel, but allows herself to be used due to a combination of Tara's caste system and her own feelings for the Count. It's a pity that she's written out about halfway through the tale, because some of her interactions with the Count and Romana are pretty cool.

7) This is arguably the last time we'll see the Mary Tamm version of Romana being, well, a useful and willful counterpoint to the Baker Doctor. She's the one who sticks to the mission of finding the Key fragment, after all. But there's this tendency to the 'wailing frail' archetype, as she gets kidnapped not once, but twice, and struggles to ride a horse that's a sign of things to come. Hell, when we finally meet her in her dual role as The Princess Strella, we're rather struck by how much more proactive she's in.
"The pellet with the poison is in the vessel with
the pestle--the Hell you say!"

8) God, that freaking pig-midget monster thing. Thankfully, unlike the Shrivenzale of the first Key To Time story,it's only used once and glimpsed very briefly...but it still is an embarassment that points out the chintziness of the show's production at this time.

9) I do wonder if the story wouldn't have been more effective if the serial at the very least moved away from the very Zenda-esque trappings we see here. Because the costuming and sets are all reminiscent of that Ronald Coleman classic, we're constantly reminded of the source material. It's made even more peculiar given the rather fetching outfit Romana produces as 'what all the fashionable Tarans are wearing this year,' which looks nothing like the very Edwardian fashions we see on display here.

10) Even though Williams is very much enamored of K-9--hell, the little monster originated under his reign--it's interesting how they're already finding way to write it out for key scenes. While we do get a lot of K-9 making things easy for Baker, the climax literally dumps him in a boat in the middle of the moat...and it's just an echo of things to come once John Nathan-Turner takes over. of the better stories in the Graham Williams era in spite of its slavishly following the playbook of a classic film.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Ten Statements About....SKYFALL (2012)

Yes, that is That Car...and this is That Bond...
"We are the last two rats. The question is do we eat each other....or eat everybody else."

1) Isn't it strange that we can see an out of focus man all the way down the hallway and instinctively know by the stance he takes that it's James Bond? While I'm still not decided on where I place Craig on the list of Bonds Through The Ages, you have to give him credit for creating a physicality for the character as distinctive as Connery's.

2) I love how, with the inclusion of one key item in the plot--an item that plays an essential role in the plot--director Sam Mendes gives us a way to work this film into continuity with the other ones, or to shore up the theory originally posited in the original, David Niven/Woody Allen/Peter Sellers starring version of Casino Royale.

3) Mendes, thank God, has chosen to buck the trends that previous film Quantum of Boredo--SOLACE! I Mean Solace! in its action sequences. The chase scenes, which are all innovative and fun in their way, eschews shakey cam, choosing instead to use unique color palettes and situations to make each one special....and indisputably Bondian.

4) While there may be some room for debate about whether Bond sleeps with the junior agent played by Naomie Harris (why she remains unnamed for the bulk of the film soon becomes apparent as the story develops), she's the first Bond Girl in a looooooooong time that I'd really just want to hang out with. She's loads of fun, very energetic and super-hot to boot.
I saw a super-villain drinking a pina colada at Trader Vic's/
and his hair was....bizzare....

5) I am very glad that the franchise continues to acknowledge its connection to The Avengers with the inclusion of Ralph Finnes' Mallory...and I love how Mallory is set up to be that most awful of cliches for The Modern Action Film, the government dickwad, only for him to show a great deal more nuance than is originally thought. And it makes the transition that happens at the end all the more satisfying.

6) And even though we've got a really colorful villain in Javier Bardem's Silva, and a great Bondian plot that seems to channel at times both Goldeneye and The World Is Not Enough...this film is, at its core, a film about the relationship between Bond and Judi Dench's M (who--in what I have to assume is another nod to The Avengers--is given the first name of Emma by Albert Finney's Kincaid). This film firmly establishes what has been hinted at in the two previous Craig entries--for Bond, M is a mother figure, and the person who guided him into full maturity as an agent....leading to these moments where Craig, Dench and Finney are standing together and look for all the world like a family unit.

7) And speaking of Javier Bardem--in this film, he gives us what we've been missing in this present cycle of Bond films....a truly maniacal, operatic villain who acts like he's in a Bond film. Everything about him, from his abandoned island hideout to his insane predilection for weird ass assaults (like, for example, trying to squash Bond under a subway, really) to his hinted-at homosexuality and sadism towards his female companion seems straight out of the Ian Fleming playbook. He's so good there was a moment I almost wished we could see him escape.

(And there's no indication whatsoever that he's related in any way to Quantum--thank God the Broccolis abandoned the idea of this film being the end of a trilogy)
Not only is Naoimie Harris one of the sexiest Bond Girl of the
Craig era...she's the most fun!

8) I realize it's tough to replace Desmond Llewelyn as Q, but Ben Whishaw does an admirable job by blazing his own path...and it helps that the script by Bond mainstays Neal Purvis and Robert Wade along with John Logan manage to make Q (along with Mallory and Harris' character) active participants in the adventure proper.

9) But what is perhaps the biggest trick Mendes and the writers manage to pull is in making the bulk of this film take place in the most unlikely city of all--namely, London proper. I don't think there's ever been a Bond film that has taken so much advantage of Bond's homebase as a backdrop, and uses its unique qualities to fuel exciting action set pieces.

10) This also may be the one film that dig in the most to Bond's returning to the Skyfall of the title, we get some real info on Bond's history, although I would have preferred it more if so much of that history didn't reek so much of being borrowed from Christopher Nolan's Batman films. excellent return to form for a franchise which was on shaky ground with the generic, American Action Movie Manque of Quantum of Boredo--SOLACE! I Mean Solace!. Fun from beginning to end, setting up the new direction for the next batch of films and never lagging for a second. Need I say...recommended?

For this outing I visited the AMC Fresh Meadows, which was part of a new pilot program for AMC that is trying to create a much homier atmosphere for the theater experience, complete with overstuff reclining seats (I wanted to bring mine home!), and exceptionally friendly staff. We managed to avoid most of the AMC Firstlook. Of the trailers, the most interesting was for Steve Soderburgh's thriller Side Effect, which starts out as a relational drama only to slide into Rooney Mara going bugfuck and killing people thanks to pharmaceuticals. None of the others really engaged me, not even the one for the long-delayed Red Dawn.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Ten Statements About....WOLF CREEK (2005)

This may not be  some caricature of a bushman....
"I'm going to do something now they used to do in Vietnam. It's called making a head on a stick."

1) This is a beautiful, beautiful film--director Greg McLean has a real eye for great compositions and in the first third of the film frequently cuts away to catch moments of amazing loveliness. And because so much of this first part of the film is steeped in beauty and wonder, it makes the rest of the film all the more frightening.

2) And there's also the fact that while McLean never makes any bones about this being a narrative film, there are long stretches that seem to ape a 'found footage' feel, especially in regards to the party in the pre-credit sequence and the actual visit to the titular Wolf Creek. It gives the film a weird and strange sense of veracity to it, drawing us closer to our trio of protagonists, and making what they're going to go through all the more harrowing.

3) I find it interesting how McLean's script seems to gleefully take horror movie conventions and just screws with them something fierce. And each of these genre-busting moments are so well spaced that you forget that all bets are off, making each of these moments truly shocking.

4) The last two thirds is an extremely intense experience...and it's all the more notable for how very little overt gore there is in the film. We see rather graphic after-effects of what our villain does, allowing us to run horrific scenarios concerning what he's going to do to Kesti Morassi's Kristy in the shed we find them in that are all the more horrifying.
This is may not be your final girl..

5) And speaking of the villain, this film is made by the performance of John Jarrett as Mick Taylor. The thing that makes Jarrett so terrifying is that his actual performance almost never changes. He is still the same goofy, caricature of a bushman he appears to be when he first shows up; only the context changes for his behavior. And that somehow makes him downright demonic. Granted, it doesn't help that McLean creates this coda that seems to imply that Mick is something akin to a supernatural force (the playing around in the first act with stories of UFOs and magnetic interference don't help much, either)....but Jarrett owns this movie.

6) And since we're on the subject, the one big weakness of the film is McLean's continuing to play around with the idea that our trio of travelers slip into another reality when they encounter Mick. There are specific moments like the ones cited above, and another one involving a shed full of cars, that just don't work unless you accept that Mick is more than human. And sadly, it detracts from the film's power, as Mick Taylor is far more frightening as a plain ol' evil human being and not a preternatural killer.

7) While I know most people would cite the 'head on a stick' as the most disturbing moment of violence--probably due to it being the most graphic and gory moment--my feeling is that the last kill is the hardest to take. Portrayed in long shot, with no musical accompaniment, the thing that makes it so horrifying is how detached it...and if that isn't enough, the close-up that follows of Mick, his expression so blank it invites you to figure out what's going on behind his head, just chills you to the bone.
This may not be an escape...

8) This is one of these films--and this may be more thanks to Jarrett than McLean--where a second viewing changes the experience. Watching it with the knowledge of Mick's true nature changes your attitude towards his interaction with our heroes, and makes you see them in a new light.

9) There is one moment in this film, where someone comes across a pile of video cameras and watches one of those videos that still chills me to the bone. There's no violence, no threats, but the sheer implications of what we see, the conclusions we draw, may very well be the most horrifying thing in the movie.

10) The ending is so bitter--it manages to thoroughly break the back of the hope that it might otherwise give. Part of it is the seemingly random nature of why the character survives, and part of it is what the character goes through after escaping his fate.

Overall...even though it's an extremely intense and ugly film morally, this movie is gorgeous visually and has enough going on under the surface that it achieves a certain haunting quality.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Ten Statements About....THE NIGHT STALKER (1972)

This film takes place in a time when people were scared
of vampires!
"This will be the last time I will ever discuss these events with anyone. So when you have finished this bizarre account, judge for yourself its believability...and then try to tell yourself whenever you may be it couldn't happen here."

1) With the casting of Darren McGavin in this role, we witness the perfect fusion of character and actor. Even though the role was not written with him in mind, Carl Kolchak seems tailor made for McGavin's hardboiled sensibilities, resulting in a reporter who seems to harken back to an earlier time, a man who believes in breaking past the truth....resulting in him knowing the secrets of the universe and, Cassandra-like, being shunned for it.

2) And it's fortunate McGavin--whose prior claim to fame was playing Mike Hammer on television--fit the role so well, because so much of Richard Matheson's excellent script is structured like a hardboiled crime film in its pacing, its language and its visual look. And because the first act of the film plays like a straight detective story about a serial killer stalking Las Vegas, the ultimate revelation about who and what Janos Skozeny is becomes all the more shocking.

3) You know, Gail is pretty much a thankless task assayed by a mediocre actress in Carol Lynley...but it has to be admitted that she has a real chemistry with McGavin, and gives us a very rare aspect of the character we don't get in either the sequel or the television series that resulted from this film's success. Seeing her interact with Carl softens him slightly and grounds him as a human being--thus giving those moments where he's desperate and scared have more impact.

4) Another thing that makes this film so unique is the way director John Llewellyn Moxey goes with a cinema verite style. The way the scenes play out in the first twenty minutes of the film seems so naturalistic....and yet there are these weird, strange elements in these very same scenes. It's another reason why the film feels real to us, making the surreal elements feel all the more shocking when they emerge.
Down these mean Las Vegas Streets one of the greatest
characters in televsion history drives.....

5) ...and another thing that helps create the veracity of this film? We don't see Barry Atwater's Janos Skorzeny until over twenty minutes of the movie's seventy-five minutes running time, and don't see him clearly until thirty minutes. That's an eternity when you take into account this was designed to run with commercial breaks. It makes us almost accept that this might be a legitimate crime thriller about a killer he thinks he's a vampire...until we see Atwater's shadowy over-the-shoulder form strangling a german shepherd while its owner looks on frozen in fear.

6) One of the genius touches of Matheson's script is something that becomes a hallmark of the character--namely, the little character sketch of each victim we get before she makes her disappearance. It further re-enforces the film noir atmosphere of the movie and gives us a degree of sympathy for what amounts to cannon fodder. And given each mini-essay is being recited in McGavin's wonderfully world-weary and cynical voice...well, it works.
7) You know, even though the film has that wonderful score by Robert Cobert that's this combination of jazz and electronic howls and screams, I love how so much of the movie happens quietly. There are long stretches where the only sound is the dialogue and ambient background noise. Moxey trust the script so much he allows it to stand out unsweetened by music--something that would never happen in the modern day.
Anyone wh knows their film noir knows this triumph
will end up leaving a bitter taste in Kolchak's mouth...

8) This film also benefits one hundred percent from being shot recognizably on location in Las Vegas. The shots of Kolchak driving down the Strip, or of these people wandering through the casinos once more add to the reality of the story and makes it feel realer than other comtemporary horror films.

9) As much as I love McGavin's portrayal of Kolchak, I suspect I wouldn't love it so much if he wasn't paired up with Simon Oakland's Vincenzo. It's not just that McGavin and Oakland's chemistry is palatable, or that they both play up to and subvert the cliche of their's that the tension between them makes the ultimate resolution of their relationship as reporter and editor all the more impactful. Oakland's entire role plays up to that single line...'You're a Hell of a reporter,' and when we hear that line, delivered in that way, we know what's about to happen is Not Going To Be Good.

10) ...which brings us to the ending, and I love how dark it is. Kolchak saves the city, and is thanked with the threat of prison, his story being suppressed, being forcibly separated from his fiance' and run out of town. This is absolutely in keeping with the film noir world view that Curtis, Moxey and Matheson has maintained since the first moment of the story. And it leads to the exquisite last moment, where Kolchak makes a decision about what to do with what he knows, which is at turns funny and appropriate. of my favorite television films, a film noir crime story with a strong supernatural element that has at its core one of the greatest television characters in history. Essential viewing.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Ten Statements About....DARK CITY (1998)

Sometimes psychiatric methods take really, reall weird turns...
"These do bring back memories. This one is still warm. What is it? The recollections of a great lover? A catalog of conquests? We will soon find out. You wouldn't appreciate that, would you, Mr. Whatever-your-name is? Not the sort of conquest you would ever understand. Let's see, a touch of unhappy childhood, a dash of teenage rebellion, and last but not least, a tragic death in the family."

1) This is, without a doubt, Alex Proyas' crowning achievement. Forget the goth twittering of The Crow and the work-for-hire stuff he's been trapped in ever since this one crapped out at the box office--this is a truly visionary piece of work that at times is a detective thriller, at times a film noir, at times a horror film, at times a science fiction film and in the end, one of the coolest super-hero films of all time! And that all these disparate elements slide around together seamlessly, not interfering with each other in telling this one single story is astounding.

2) And you know what's really amazing? This is a film where the lack of backstory is woven into the film proper, yet you get a real sense of every character's life out of the context of the movie itself. Part of this is sharp screenwriting by Proyas, Lem Dobbs and David Goyer, but part of this is just the smart acting choices by Rufus Sewell, William Hurt, Jennifer Connelly and others. The performances are so insightful, so intelligent that I believe that, for example, Hurt's Inspector Bumstead had this long career in the police force. Hell, I would cheerfully watch a syndicated television show of Bumstead's adventures.

3) I am fascinated at how Proyas plants these little prescient echoes of future plot developments in earlier scenes, like how the simple act of Sewell's John Murdock placing a dying fish in a bathtub foreshadows where he is going to go to seek sanctuary later on, or the maze in Dr. Schieber's office gives us a visual warning as to one of the film's biggest reveals.

This train may lead you around in circles...that'll lead you
to something you might not want to see....
4) And while we're on the subject of the good Dr....Keifer Sutherland is amazing in this film. While the initial impression is that Sutherland is playing at being Peter Lorre, you realize as you go deeper into the film how Dr. Schrieber's affectations indicate something much more nuanced and, ultimately, much more tragic.

5) No film of this sort can work without a memorable villain, and Richard O'Brien's Mister Hand is more than worthy of the task. O'Brien's physicality just sets the hackles of the back of the neck, and the true irony is how he's even more unsettling the more human he becomes. It's he, and not Ian Richardson's leader, that becomes the Stranger's standard bearer.

Okay, so that little kid who hangs out with Mr. Hand is just as creepy....even more so when we finally hear his one line of dialogue.

6) Make no bones about it--while there are strong suspense and action elements throughout this film, the science fictional elements are not only vital but integral to this plot. There is no way for the film to work without the presence of the Strangers and their experiment. And that gives the film an extra level of flavor to it.

7) ...and the film provides us with a couple of things we never saw before in 1999. Not only that, those things we never saw before are major plot points that move the story forward. The impact of these moments are made all the more impactful by seeing them through Murdock and, later on, Bumstead's eyes--since we emphasize with these characters, their wonder and shock are transferred to us.

I know she looks half-asleep...but trust me, it makes sense.
8) I appreciate how the characters around Murdock seem to gain more awareness the more information Murdock gets. Hurt, Connelly and the others seem positively asleep in the first act, only for them to become more vivid once the layers of the mystery is revealed...

9) ...and while we're on the subject of Jennifer Connelly's Emma, I love the fact that the fate that happens to her at the top of the third act is not a complication, but a way to give Murdock something he truly wants when he achieves his full potential and provides a wonderful coda to the film as a whole.

10) And thankfully, the CGI here is used not in making crazy creatures (the Strangers' true nature are used very sparingly), but in creating the effects of the 'tuning'--which in turn opens up Proyas' creativity, resulting in some innovative fight and chase scenes that take advantage of the mutable nature of the titular Dark City. I know some people might grouse about some similarities to Inception...but Proyas was here first. of the most brilliant science fiction films of all time, a personal favorite, and must-viewing for anyone who wants to see how you can successfully infuse the genre with elements from other styles without obscuring it. Well acted, well written and contains something I promise you'll never have anticipated seeing.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Ten Statements About....TAKEN 2 (2012)

For God's sake, he punched wolves in the face; what
chance do you think some Albanians stand?
"If I kill you, your other sons will come and seek revenge?"
"They will..."
"And I will kill them too."
1) First off, I'm really relieved that what the trailers hinted at--namely, that Maggie Grace's Kim was going to transform into a hot, flip-floped, bikini'd, braided version of Brian as she rescues her father and mother--didn't happen. Kim does help Brian escape, and becomes the driver in a pretty harrowing car chase in the middle of the second act, but she's still just a girl unfamiliar with the kind of life her father led....and mercifully she's written out for the film's third act.

2) I like the fact that the film chooses as its setting Istanbul, another very beautiful city like Paris, but one that's much more exotic and strange, giving us a greater sense of being adrift in enemy territory. I can almost seeing Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen cranking out new scripts where Brian and Kim find themselves in a new picturesque city defending themselves against a new threat for up and coming directors to shoot. But then...

3) There is a definitive whiff of Besson and Kamen being very self-conscious about this now being a franchise. There are a number of decisions made in this film--from the rather abrupt writing out of Lenore's husband so they can rekindle her romance with Brian to the way a potential extension of this storyline is brought up in the climax--that seem to have been made so that Taken 3, Taken 4 and beyond are already set up. Those decisions stick out as weirdly inorganic and not pertinent to the story.

4) And what would a sequel be without the Unnecessary Cameo By A Beloved Character From The First Film...except that there are several moments where Leland Orsier's Sam could be used logically. Hell, he's referenced several times during the proceeding before his all-too-brief second appearance, and any one of those references could have brought forth a cameo.
Ladies and gentleman, the real reason Maggie Grace is
Lic Besson's muse...

5) It's fairly clever that the story is inverted not only in the obvious way (it's Brian and Lenore who are taken, not Kim), but in the motivations of the characters--Rade Serbedzija's Murad points out that he is operating out of grief over the death of his son just as Brian operated out of love of his daughter in the first film. It gives the movie a strange dark mirror aspect, and results in a fairly nuanced final confrontation.

6) Famke Janssen--who, incidentally, still looks mad hot--is a lot more lively in this film, although I question the decision to reposition her so violently at the beginning of the flick. That being said, there's some really uncomfortable stuff with her being tortured that really stands out like a sore thumb. There's one scene in particular that director Oliver Megaton seems to dwell on far too much, as if he's expecting us to get some dark, shameful joy at what's happening to her.

Yes. That's his name. Oliver. Megaton.

7) I am so relieved that Luke Grimes' Jamie is introduced as Kim's boyfriend and....nothing. He seems to be a little sleazy in his first scene, but he proves to be just a good guy who likes Kim. I can think of a dozen other writers who, in similar movies, would have made Jamie into a real asshat or, even worse, related to Murad's crew. That Besson and Karmen make him part of Kim's healing process and not a contributor to her further trauma is commendable. That being said...
It may be a new city...but this old wolf still hunts.

8) I think we could have spent a few more minutes addressing what Besson and Karmen seem to want us to treat as a major plot thread, namely Kim's shellshock over what happened in the last film. It's referred to a number of times in the first act, and the scene in the foot chase she's involved in where Kim is cornered and at first seems to be ready to show some defiance, only for her to collapse and beg for her life rings true to her nature...but the rest of the film she appears to act as if nothing happened. Hell, there's a couple of scenes that contrast what's going on with her parents and her bubbleheaded Skyping with Jamie. I don't know if this is due to Grace's deficiency as an actor or a conscious choice by the writers, but I think we needed more for her character arc to work.

9) There's one really inventive sequence that shows what Megaton is capable of--the sequence involving Brian trying to construct a map in his mind through counting out seconds and noticing incongruous sounds. It's done primarily through Brian POV, with his hooded eyes being intercut with hazy images of what he hears. This shows that Megaton might have a real career, and not the shaky-cam fight scene bullcrap that obfuscates the action in some stretches.

10) I understand ultimately why they had Brian hide that little mini-cell in his sock--the film would stop dead if he didn't do it--except that there's no reason for him to be sliding it in his sock. His assignment is over, he has no way of knowing the Albanians are coming for him, and he's about to go on a family outing with his ex-wife and child. It rings weird for him to do this, even with Brian's micromanagement of his life already established. It's a jarring moment in an otherwise logical script. it as good as the first film? Not exactly. Is is good? Yes. Yes it is.

I went to the Kip's Bay for this one (AMC still has a deep discount matinee for films before noon, although the price has gone up to $7)....and it was the first time since that legendary showing of Machete where I had problems with the show; we were treated to about fifteen minutes of nothing between the end of the Firstlook and the trailers. And the trailers--eight of them--was a real mishmash of stuff, including the first one for A Good Day To Die Hard that leaves me with a really, really bad feeling about this; the trailer for Skyfall that gives me a really, really good feeling about this; Identity Thief, which reminded me why I hate the average comedy these days; Broken City, a confused looking thriller that might be worthwhile if only to see Russell Crowe cosplaying as Rudy Guiliani; and the Rob Cohen directed, Tyler Perry starring Alex Cross which...doesn't look as bad as the TV spots have been leading me to think it'll be, although I feel it'll rise and fall on how adequate Perry is going to be.

Saturday, September 29, 2012


"Noooooo, Colleen Camp!  Don't get into that car!  Your
career will be wrecked for years afterwards!"
"What good is the roadrunner without the coyote? What good would the fox be without the hound? What good is the Bandit without the Smokey?"

1) As shocked as I am to admit this, but this may very well be the single worst film I have ever seen. I don't think I can think of a single thing in this misbegotten ninety-three minutes that is even in the same state as amusing. I did not laugh once during this film, just sat there with my mouth agape in astonishment as the crude, sad and nonsensical parade of crap passed before my eyes.

2) ...and I think the filmmakers figured this out, because the movie takes what seems like forever to start. First we get a sepia-toned clipshow of the previous two films, then a scene that seems somehow retrofitted from the original trailer (since Burt Reynolds had refused to return except for a cameo, the original concept was that Gleason would play both Buford T. Justice and the Bandit), then a montage title sequence of Gleason 'enjoying' retirement before the actual plot begins.

3) One of the major reasons why this is a cinematic form of torture is how Buford is saddled with Mike Henry's Junior throughout the entire movie....and since Buford is the central character, that means the highly annoying, simpering Junior is in almost every single scene. And Junior just sucks any sort of amusement from every one of the sad little scenes. But then, people who just are incapable of being amusing are the bane of this movie.
"Sir, I know the Bandit.  I watched the Bandit.  And you, are no Bandit."

4) Take Colleen Camp's Dusty, for example. Now I know Colleen Camp is a good actress, and can be funny...but not here. A large part of the reason for this is that she's been given a character that's a cipher. She's not even given a sketch card of a background like Sally Fields' Carrie was in the first film; she's given a rant in her first moment on screen that I think is supposed to be her back story, but it says almost nothing about her. I particularly like how she has a line about how she moved to this area--most likely to explain her noticable New York accent--but at no point does where she came from comes up. She's thoroughly wretched.

5) But then, it might have worked better if Colleen had Burt Reynolds or Jackie Gleason to play off of as Bandit...but instead we've got Jerry Reed's Snowman, who in some nonsensical twist designed to cover up the fact that Gleason was supposed to play both roles, disguised himself as The Bandit to impede him on his trip. And a little Reed goes a long way...and a lot of Reed is interminable, especially when he's bantering with Colleen Camp. He just won't. stop. talking.

6) You know who else there's way too much of? The Enis family. In the first two films Pat MacCormick and Paul Williams were kinda fun--but they only showed up in small scenes. In this film, we're treated to the two of them enacting all these goofy coyote-like tricks to delay Buford (they're the ones who call in Snowman and get him to dress up like Bandit), and their welcome wears out long before the film is done. And when we get to that bizarre and unfunny sequence in the hotel where they dress up as women...well, it plunges past unfunny into shockingly painful.
"Sir, I'm going to write you a ticket for participating in a movie
so bad it's disgusting...."

7) This movie features some of the most unexciting, nonsensical and boring chase scene not only in the franchise, but maybe ever. They're made all the more unexciting for the way they just happen with no logical reason whatsoever except that director Don Lowery wanted to see Buford jump through a canon or a wall of fire. And even worse is how each of these chase scenes is accompanied by voice over conversations between Buford and Junior which is nowhere near as funny as anyone who made this film think they are.

8) I'm still trying to figure out why some of the scenes, like the one where Snowman, after assuming his Bandit disguise, marries off his dog Fred, even made it to the final shooting script. They stop whatever sad little excuse this film has for momentum absolutely dead...and even with all the overstuffed chase scenes and comedy bits this film has, the momentum is slow enough that they can't afford to have it stopped.

9) That fucking hot sheet motel scene...sigh. Not only does it go on for what seems like forever, not only does it have this smarmy, disapproving tone to simply isn't funny whatsoever. It, like the sequence with the nudist colony, wants you to ogle the nudity and the weird folks parading around (midgets! bodybuilder! Tall nypmhos! girls riding guys like horses!), and yet wants to act all shocked about the goings on. And it features our main characters behaving oddly (in addition to the sight of the transvestite Enises, there's the whole physical business with the fish Buford has been tasked with transporting from Miami to Texas) for no logical reason except that there was some belief it would result in a funny gag.

Uhhhhh, no.

10) I'd like to say that Burt Reynolds cameo is a little better than the shit that precedes it, but Burt appears sad and puffy, and the rationale for the cameo is as poorly thought out as the rest of the film. He's here solely to set up Smokey And The Bandit IV...but thank God that didn't happen until Universal decided to revisit the franchise as a series of TV movies as part of its Action Pack syndication package several years later.

Overall...God, no. Your life will be shorter and sadder for exposing yourself to this.

Friday, September 28, 2012


"You're complaining about your scarf?  Look at me, sah.
"You commit mass destruction and murder on a scale that's inconceivable and you ask me to appreciate it just because you happen to have made a brilliantly concieved toy out of the mummified remains of planets?"
"Have some care, Doctor. It is not a toy!"

1) This, the second serial for the 'Key To Time' season, is the first of two (three if you count 'Shada,' the story that was meant for Season 17 but never finished due to a strike) written by Douglas Adams. And as such, it is all over the place, and features gags being set up just for the sake of gags. I have grown to not appreciate Mr. Adams' brand of humor, although I will admit that it is less intrusive in its cleverness than some of his other works.

2) Like the previous story, this serial features an over-the-top bad guy in Bruce Purchase's Captain. Unlike that previous story, Purchase's over-the-topedness is marginally more entertaining...and when we learn that his bluster is a conscious choice to conceal a deeper motivation, it adds a level of depth that Paul Seed's Graff Vynda K lacked. That being said...

3) ...there are story elements in this story, especially involving The Captain and his assistant, Andrew Robertson's Mr. Fibuli, that mirrors the previous story so closely there's a fierce sense of deja vu. It makes me wonder if both stories would have benefitted from being separated by another, less similar stories.

4) This is the second story featuring Romana, and we're still at the point where Romana is a Very Good Idea Indeed. This is the first time where the character separates from The Doctor for some scenes, and Mary Tamm's mixture of slight innocence and haughtiness plays well when contrasted with The Captain.

5) And of course we continue to see the kiddification of the series under Graham Williams. For every element that seems kinda horrific and adult (the ultimate fate of these planets that The Captain mines to obsolescence is particularly terrifying, especially given The Captain's intention of using Earth next), there's stuff obviously put in to amuse the children like the electronic parrot that engages in a battle with K-9.
"Tell us more about your affair with Churchill, grammy!"

6) Okay, I know that the big reveal involves who really is the big bad of this serial is supposed to be the main shock....but it's telegraphed . There are so many prominent shots of this person that we know there's something wrong. Plus when that person's true nature is reveal, the actor's performance is pretty, well, bad. It's almost as if you wish The Captain remained the villain of the piece.

7) I truly wonder if David Warwick's Kimus and Primi Townsend's Mula are necessary to the plot. When all is said and done, they don't really do much, as The Doctor and Romana is the one who does the heavy lifting. Kimus in particular seems useless save to spout some anti-Captain rhetoric and provide some mild exposition about Queen Xanxia...but there's no reason not to collapse his character into Mula, who at least has the excuse of being the sister of one of the Mentiads.

8) And speaking of the Mentiads, while I will agree they do have a purpose in the story, they are indicative of one of the many problems I have with Adams as a scriptwriter...namely that he doesn't know when to stop throwing new ideas into the mix. As with pretty much everything he wrote, this serial at times come off as an sausage so overstuffed that it's exploded. There's so many ideas thrown into this pot, a number of these things leak out and just sit there messily.
"Ahhhh, this is boring...let's go watch TWILIGHT:

9) While this story has not aged well in my eyes, there is one magnificent moment that almost redeems it all. The scene where The Doctor confronts The Captain over the display case of destroyed planets, debating whether it is a marvel of science or an abomination, stands out. The way Baker tries to rationally explain why he won't applaud the Captain's efforts, then explodes in righteous, overpowering anger when the Captain rebukes him shows us a Doctor we won't be getting much for the bulk of the Williams era.

10) Reasons why I am no longer endeared by the vaunted Douglas Adams humor #42: after three and a half episodes of carefully constructed plotting, or building up the mystery and getting all our ducks in the row, we get this torturous set up so that Adams can spring a play on the phrase 'throwing a spanner in the works.' That the climax is a joke blunts the impact of said threat, and makes the entire story up to that point several gradients of irrelevant.

Overall...a well-constructed story for the most part that frequently gets derailed by Adams' tendency to reach for a laugh. Some good performances redeem it somewhat, but the fact that this is one of the better stories of this season says more about the season and not the story itself.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Ten Statements About....THEY CAME FROM BEYOND SPACE (1967)

60's mod fashions took a weird turn towards the end...
"Have you ever known meteors to land in formation?"
"These did. In a perfect 'V'."

1) The fascinating thing about this Amicus-produced science fiction thriller is that even though it is made in the mid-60's, it feels 100% like a B movie from the 50's. The look, the feel, the dialogue all seem to indicate that this would not be out of place in a Drive-In circa 1957, directed by Roger Corman filtered through a decidedly British sensibility.

2) Of course, there's another influence that seems to have been overlaid on the proceeding in its set design and the way main character Temple is a punching, kicking foo'--namely, 60's spy culture. There are many, many moments that has definite echoes of The Avengers and other spy television series, especially when it comes to the sequences where Robert Hutton's Temple finds his way into the aliens' secret base. And speaking of Hutton....

3) ...throughout the film I couldn't help but think that the script was written with a much, much younger man in mind. The physicality of Temple, the way he seems to be a hit with the female leads, the way the script refers to his recklessness and love of sports cars, looks odd with the almost 50 year old Hutton doing it all, especially since in many scenes he's noticeably older than everyone around him. It's a weird sense of frisson that sometimes pulls you out of the film.

4) What the Hell was the point of Luanshya Greer's Gas Station Attendant? They give her quite a build up, flirting furiously with Temple (which is akin to your best friend in high school coming on to your grandma), saving him at a key point, being around when the Crimson Plague hits...and then is seen as a corpse later as an afterthought.

5) There's a good reason that Zia Mohyedden's Farge doesn't work as a sidekick--not only does he not come into the film until very late into the proceeding (well into the third act), but he has no characterization whatsoever...and no, showing us all his horse riding trophies doesn't count, as those trophies end up as a punchline that leads to the resolution of the hour and change of running around after alien-possessed scientists.
6) And while we're on the subject of those weapons that Farge and Temple devise to combat the, are they goofy. The trio running around with Silver motorcycle helmets and those big goofy goggles that seem made out of cardboard and aluminum foil is as ludicrous a sight as we can see in any of those Drive-In classic.
"Oh, that thing overhead?  It's my career, trying to escape the
awfulness of this film."

7) And then we get Michael Gough's embarassingly named 'Master Of The Moon,' another alien-possessed human....but my question is why, oh why did he and his pals on the moon swap their normal clothes for the cast-offs from a high school production of Flash Gordon? It's not as if these aliens have shown any concern for style or fashion or anything like that. And it's a pity that these bargain basement costumes detract, because Gough is his usual reliable self in his brief appearance.

8) Even though it's wildly inappropriate, I got a kick out of James Stevens' jazz score. There's something so of its time about the way that score just jumped in at strange points in the plot, seeming so at odds with the staid stuff that's being depicted on screen.
"I know, I know...whatever you do, don't mention the
collander on his head."

9) There's a decided lack of consistency in the plot--first we've got this whole 'Crimson Plague' thing that's referred to by Temple as the 'Scarlet Plague,' which then is dropped after a bit because we never know why or how the Plague has been introduced by the aliens, and then we've got all these intimations of something sinister going on with the aliens, only for them to drop all pretensions when confronted with Temple and confess they just wanna go home. This is a script that should've had another pass or two before it was shot.

10) I understand that they couldn't have used the original name of the novel this film was based on--The Gods Hate Kansas--but couldn't they have come up with something in the same vein? Just saying is all.

Overall...a not-very-good film that probably proves why Hammer stayed far away from science fiction after looking at what little brother Amicus wrought with this, it still has its moments as a goofy, so-bad-it's-funny (notice I didn't say good) curio. And it's available on for free!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Ten Statements About....THE BULLET VANISHES (2012)

Song may be Hong Kong's answer to the Robert Downey Jr.
Holmes, but his motivations and curiousity proves very, very
1) It's obvious that this film in its look and feel is emulating the Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes film; the soundtrack in particular seems to be ripping whole pages out of that franchise. And yet, because this is a Hong Kong film set on mainland China in the 30's, there are subtle changes in tone, in characterization and in pace that makes this film feel unique.

2) And one of the more interesting variations lie in the presentation of our Holmes stand-in, Ching Wan Lau's Song. Right from from when we first see him--attempting to hang himself as an experiment to prove that an inmate was wrongly accused--we get the sense that he's motivated by curiousity and the need to know, but those qualities have redirected his attentions elsewhere. He's a very enigmatic figure, not as dynamic as Downey's Holmes but at times much more intriguing.

3) And while we're on the subject of Song, perhaps the most amazing aspect of his character is this strange relationship he has with a female prison inmate that we learned committed the perfect murder, then confessed after a few years. There might be this tendency to write the prisoner off as Irene Adler to Song's Holmes, but there's something that's not romantic, but loads more intimate about their relationship with each other...especially when they correspond during his investigation of this case.
"I ain't no Nigel Bruce, muthafucka!"

4) If Song is subdued and not as flashy as Downey, Nicholas Tse's Guo makes up for it. There are large stretches where Guo comes off less like a police detective and more like a gunslinger, shooting first and acting later. And that tendency to act first makes his ultimate fate all the more logical.

5) While the plot is flawed and suffers from a degree of OCD, I find it fascinating that as Song and Guo unravel this mystery, each level of the solution reflects a different subgenre in detective fiction. Through the film's hour and forty-five minute running time, the plot transforms from a deductive film to a locked room mystery to a police procedural....and on and on until you realize finally that what we've been watching is a hardboiled detective thriller that Sherlock Holmes somehow wandered into.

6) I very much appreciated how Song's confrontation with the ultimate culprit is not clear cut. Since Director Chi-Leung Lo refuses to give us a concrete indication as to who did what, we can make our own decisions. And also, I suspect that Lo isn't interested in giving us simple answers, just more questions.

7) And I also appreciate how most everything Lo lays out in the first act pays off in the third--especially the hanging experiment in Song's first scene. And the moments where we see how far in advance Song has figured so much of this case out throws his intelligence and deductive reasoning into sharper relief.
I wish I knew who the actress was who played the character
between our two protaganists, because she's the closest
Song has to a girlfriend...and is loads of fun!

8) While I realize that we're suppose to respond to Yang Mi's Little Lark, who is Guo's love interest, I was rather more taken with the pathologist friend of Song (If you're wondering why I can't identify the actress, it's because trying to find a complete cast list for this film with the character names has proven to be damn near impossible) who examines the body and discovers a key clue to the solution. This is what a 'character actor' is supposed to do--advance the plot while also giving us some flavoring to the proceedings....and some of the flavor she adds, like the ostrich she keeps in her lab, is loads of fun.

9) I'll admit--while some of the aspects of the solution are cool (the revelation of what the 'phantom bullet' is, for example), it's frustrating that those aspects are brought up, then forgotton. Part of the fun of a mystery is the demystification of the crime, and I needed a little more elaboration for these revelations to be truly satisfying.

10) Even though there's an element of 'is the crime supernatural or not' in Sherlock Holmes, in this film there's a little bit more verisimilitude to the angle thanks to the culture in which it takes place. Because the culture of China at that time accepted the presence of ghosts, the idea this is revenge being enacted upon the boss of a munitions factory by a wrongfully accused woman is a plausible angle even if we know it can't be true.

Overall...Even with its derivative nature, a film that may not be 100% successful but has enough differences in tone, plotting and characterization from its American inspiration to be watchable.