Wednesday, May 30, 2012


Stop checking her teeth, Styre...even in a shapeless mac, Sarah
Jane is a keeper!
"Clock expert?"
"Horologist, actually, and chronometrist. I just love clocks: atomic clocks, quartz clocks, grandfather clocks... Cuckoo clocks..."

1) This is the first exposure I ever had to The Sontarans...and it's the serial that made me a Sontaran fan for life. Even though this is a story that was apparently thrown together half-assed because Season Twelve came up short two episodes, this serial really drives home the nightmarishness and character that makes them unique.

2) ....and I'll tell you something else. Even though this is obviously a one-piece latex mask, I prefer the Sontaran look from this serial to the harder, smoother version of The Time Warrior and the bushy eyebrowed 'groucho' versions from The Invasion of Time. This one ends up looking actually more organic, and that makes for Styre being a lot more sinister than Linx.

3) I like how this serial takes place entirely out of doors (a necessity, given its last minute creation), and is shot entirely on video. Unlike later episodes, which shoots outdoor scenes on film, this serial gives it a much more consistent look.

4) We're still at the point in the season where the writers think Harry is going to be useful--he actually plays an active part in defeating Styre--but the bulk of his onscreen time is spent literally standing on a rock watching things. It's obvious that the producers have realized what a ball of energy they have in Tom Baker, and Harry's days are numbered.
"Look, Tom, you've got to talk to the producers...they say
they're going to turn me into a goofball before getting rid of
me entirely."

5) That whole angle with Donald Douglas' Vural making a deal with Styre seems a touch...gratuitious, innit? It really adds nothing to the serial except for that one line during the pressure experiment. The idea of this one alien stalking, capturing and murdering these people not out of bloodlust or sport, but out of military curiousity, is strong enough as it is.

6) I know that the automaton was constructed the way it was due to budgetary constraints--we'll see this throughout the series from here on in--but for what it is, it's pretty cool. It does manage to be non-human, and that weird humming and beeping that accompanies it is unnerving.

Granted, I can do without those two things that makes it look like there are chopsticks up its nose, but still...

7) While it is the nightmarishness of the experiments that shook young Tom's mind like a paint mixer when he first saw this serial, I do have to wonder if we would have been better served by seeing the after-effects. The experiment with Sarah seems a touch silly, especially with that goofy headband, and the most effective is that one man near dead from hydration.
Ladies and Gentlemen--this robot is not only a deadly hunter,
but it can imitate a walrus effortlessly!

8) I know that Tom Baker broke his collarbone during shooting, resulting in some judicious editing and stand-in work...but I never noticed it until I was informed of this. So clever is the filmmaking that the injury is extremely well concealed throughout..

9) Thoughout the Hinchcliffe era, there'll be little touches that are so subtle as to almost not be noticed, and here's one....the majority of the astronauts in this serial are played by South African actors to emphasize how language has changed in the intervening years since the solar flare disaster. And I love how these astronauts' attitudes are not of joy, but of resentment--it's the sort of 'pioneer spirit' I'd almost expect from people who were born of colonists.

10) For a two part episode, there's a lot going on--primarily due to the companions splitting up so quickly. Writers Bob Barker and Dave Martin is able to cover so much ground in setting up the situation by following The Doctor and Sarah's separate threads that the meat of the story can be gotten to quickly.

Overall...given that this serial was a last minute commission to make up for a shortfall of episodes, this serial is surprisingly effective and continues to build up the mission statement of the Hinchcliffe era--horror tinged story lines inspired by classic horror tales (this one, let's be honest, is a twisted up version of The Most Dangerous Game). The fact that it is part of a set of link serials that make up one giant story is even more impressive. Some people may disagree with me, but I think it's recommended.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Ten Statements About....LA MALA ORDINA (a.ka. THE ITALIAN CONNECTION and MANHUNT) (1971)

He's oily, she's got the weirdest fashion's a match made
in Italain Stereotype Heaven!
"These men are worthless. You've worked them over. Luca Canale has worked them over, and when their bruises heal, so will their fear, and that's exactly what must not happen! You've got to make sure the fear stays in them like an open wound."

1) Boy, there's nothing quite so engaging as Henry Silva and Woody Strode sitting together trying to out-stoneface each other. It's like watching the heads on Mount Rushmore trying to act all gangsta...

2) ...until you realize once Silva's Dave Catania hits Milan that he's more interested in chasing tail and throwing money around and he's....seriously goofy. I'm so used to Silva being the quiet, brooding guy of so many other films that seeing him lounging in yellow bathrobes, making it rain for a bunch of prostitutes and trying to bang hippy chicks is a bit of a culture shock. And the weird thing is that the interplay between Silva and Strode's Frank Webster is the most compelling thing about the film. There's this sense that Frank is there just as much to keep an eye on Dave as he is to kill a small-time pimp, and it's a fun and compelling little partnership.

3) But here's a big problem with the film. We spend almost the entire first act--roughly twenty minutes of the film's ninety minute running time--with Dave and Frank, following them around as they punch hookers, kick bikers in the nuts, insult mafia soldiers and otherwise raise hell in their search for Mario Adorf's Luca Canali. But after that they disappear for long stretches of time as we discover that it's Luca that's the real hero of the film and not these two. And because Luca comes off as a goof for all of the first act and a portion of the second, it takes a while for the film to regain that first twenty minutes' momentum.
Believe it or not...someone just told Woody Strode and Henry
Silva a funny joke.  This is them laughing.

4) As someone who called Adolfo Celli's Largo one of the most boring Bond villains of all time, I was really surprised at how cool his Don Vito comes off here. He goes through the entire film with this dark malicious light in his eyes, as if he's looking for the next person to slaughter. And the scene where Vito outdoes Dave in disciplining one of his soldiers by shooting them both dead is a highlight of the film.

5) Why is Luciana Paluzzi even in this film? She's established in the very first scene of the film as Dave and Frank's handler...and then all she does, it seems, is take the two of them to this same goofy nightclub so they can sit in a booth and ogle the naked women dancing on tabletops. Everything else Dave and Frank do, they do for themselves. Yeah, she's hot--the hottest of all the women on view here, although Francesca Romana Coluzzi comes close when she's not wearing that ridiculous blue wig--but narratively she contributes nothing.

6) Getting back to Luca, you know what else bugs me about him? He's established as a low-level pimp, and not a very good one. Nothing in the first thirty-some-odd minutes do we get any indication that he's nothing but a muttonchopped, oily 'tard. And then when everything starts going down we see him outwitting, outfighting and otherwise acting like Big King Ass Kicker Guy. There's a severe disconnect between the Canali of the first act and the Canali of the rest of the film. And speaking of which....

7) That chase scene that seems to be the central sequence of the film...Ye Gods, does it go on. It exceeds its Chase Tolerance Point by a mile, and having the chased being a thug driving a milk cart (!) gives it a rather silly cast. It could easily have lost a few minutes, especially from the back end.
Mario Adorf's attempt to recreate the scene where Tom Cruise
shows off in The Color of Money goes horribly, horribly wrong.

8) I find the slapping that goes on in this movie infinitely fascinating. It seems like the biggest insult of all--Hell, the scene where Luca's girl is being brutalized as punishment for not telling Vito where he is comes down to two men pinching her breast, jerking her around by the arm and taking turns slapping her. Given in an earlier scene the woman tells Luca they promised to cut off her arm, the whole slap fest seems a lil' anticlimactic.

9) Boy, nightclubs are really peculiar in policia films. Seemingly random people--including a few guys in glasses and business suits amongst the young hipsters--bouncing up and down without rhythm while some bizarre pop song

10) There's a weird mix of fairly normal acting performances mixed with some really theatrical ones that seem to come straight out of the silent era. The aforementioned girlfriend/hooker of Luca in particular is so broad as to yank the viewer out of the film whole.

Overall...a strange mix of elements, some of which (especially Silva and Strode acting like bad asses) are admittedly fun...but the way the film seems in love with its pimp lead, turning him into a total asskicker after promising us ninety minutes of Dave and Frank, makes it a slightly unsatisfying experience.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Ten Statements About....DR. NO (1962)

"HEY!  Stop checking out my shells.  My eyes are up here!"
"I admire your courage,
"Trench, Sylvia Trench. I admire your luck, Mr...?
"Bond. James Bond."

1) The thing that might strike a viewer only familiar with later Bond films is how this one plays out for the bulk of its running time more as a private detective film than a spy film. We see Bond using his brain, following leads and investigating the situation though footwork and deductive reasoning. It's a definite difference from the Bond we will see under Moore or Brosnan or Craig, or even the later Connery flicks for that matter.

2) And there's also a different feel to the film as a whole--which makes total sense, given how so much of this film is a bunch of people feeling their way around looking for what makes a Bond film a Bond film. Unlike in later Connery entries, this Bond is rather professional, actually caring about his anonymity and not drawing attention to himself. The Bond we become familiar with doesn't crystalize until much later in the series.

3) Boy, given how we've lived on the myth of the Bond Girl as a piece of set dressing good only for her to hang on his arm and look hot (which also gave rise to the trope of the woman cast as the newest Bond Girl promising that she'll be an integral part of the action), Ursula Andress' Honey is anything but. Right from the first shot, where we're struck by how muscular she is, she has a purpose and contributes quite a bit to Bond's survival. Granted, once we get into No's lair and she becomes a trembling willow branch, it comes off as odd...but while we're on the island grounds, Honey is a peer and an integral part of the team.

4) I can't help but think that at some point in his childhood, David Caruso watched this movie and thought he was going to imitate Jack Lord's Felix Leiter one day. I can almost understand why later Leiters are so doughy and older, given how Lord dominates the few scenes he has with Connery.

5) One of the things I find fascinating is that Quarrel--usually codified as The Sacrificial Ally--spends the majority of his time pretty much as comic relief. Even more fascinating is how that comic relief is expressed, namely through his drinking and how those people around him (including Leiter) disapproves of his guzzling an entire freaking moonshine jug of rum. It's the sort of thing I can't imagine the motion picture industry standing for these days.
"I'm sorry, ma''re a strange looking girl, and I'd rather
go first a mock-Asian madman...."

6) I know I remarked upon this in an episode of Better In The Dark, but there are moments where you can see how Ken Adams' design work inspired so many of the spy series that followed. The look of The Avengers, for example, was directly derived from such scenes as the one where Anthony Dawson's Professor Dent gets his instructions from No in that weird bare room with the circular window throwing shadows on the wall.

7) And speaking of Professor, that scene where Bond cold-blooded murders Dent--admittedly after Dent tries to kill him--is pretty harsh. I'm particularly struck by how Bond shoots him, pauses, then pumps two more bullets in him. This is one nasty customer, that is.

8) Look, I know that the general belief in movies in the early 60's was to emphasize instrumentals over actual songs, but couldn't Broccoli and Salzman had bought a song other than 'Under The Mango Tree'? After the fifteenth iteration of this song, both as a full on song and as an instrumental, it became a full-on earworm and tortured me for hours after the present viewing of the film.
"I'm sorry, Quarrel...I've got manly chest hair, and she's an
Italian blonde in a wet've got to be the one to go
out like a bitch."

9) It's funny how the film, unlike so many others in the Bond canon, keeps Joseph Wiseman's disturbingly reptilian Dr. No off screen until the film is literally almost over. And to be honest, I really don't know whether I like the idea or not. It does give him a grander feel when he does show his head...but once he sits down to dinner with Bond, he doesn't seem to deserve such a grand build-up. Plus, as Derrick Ferguson has pointed out, Wiseman runs like a girl.

10) I'm still trying to figure out what Broccoli and Salzman were thinking with the addition of Eunice Gayson's Sylvia Trench in this film and the next. Unlike Lois Maxwell, who ends up fulfilling the 'flirtatious galpal' role I think they were going for, Gayson seems to be out of place. She plays her lines with this strange somberness that clashes with Connery's underplayed humor and has an even stranger, unsymmetrical face that draws attention away from each of her scenes.'s a little prototypical and has a few false avenues it goes down, but this is where it all began, and is an effective action-adventure film in its own right. Recommended, and not just for the historical element.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


"Maybe if we pointedly don't look at it, Sarah, it'll transform
into a much better looking special effect."
"Homo Sapien. What an inventive, invincible species. It's only a few million years since they crawled up out of the mud and learned to walk. Puny, defenseless bipeds. They've survived flood, famine and plague. They've survived cosmic wars and holocausts...and now here they are amongst the stars, waiting to begin a new life, ready to outsit eternity. Indominable. Indominable."

1) While Tom Baker had command of the role of The Doctor in Robot, here is the serial where he put down the flag and claims the series as his own. That wonderful speech I quote above, the humor, the philosophy that the universe is a big enough place for everyone, his strategic mind, his support of's all in there. This is The Doctor who will define the series throughout the Hinchcliffe era (the Graham Williams era sees him become extremely silly before John Nathan-Turner reclaims him in the last season) and be the most recognizable version of the character for a long time, maybe even up until today.

2) And one of the coolest things about this serial is how it is definitely in the Hinchcliffe mode--the Wirrn are at their core The Body Snatchers--and yet there is no black and white here. There's a strong argument for the Wirrn being something of an aggrieved party here so that, while we don't condone their actions, we understand them. However...

"I am afeared of my bubble-wrap insect grub hand!"
3) Good Lord, are the Wirrn stupid looking. It's a brave attempt to try and doing something inhuman with these characters, but there's a big ol' whiff of paper-mache' to them, and the way their legs just wiggle comically with even the slighest movement evokes guffaws of laughter. A little better effect are the grubs, which are done through clever use of bubble wrap and green tint.

4) I wish all those people who claim Sarah Jane is just another useless screaming companion would watch this serial (and so many other serials during her tenure). While she doesn't take the focus of the story away from the Doctor like some companions of the 2005 series (I'm looking at you, Rose), she is the person who offers up a way for the Doctor's plan to be enacted, and she out and out volunteers to run the cable from the shuttle to the cryogenics chamber. She is a proactive member of The Doctor's crew.

5) And oddly enough, Elisabeth Sladen gives great panic. There's this thing she does with her face where it looks like every single muscle clenches as one that just unnerves me, plus she finds fifteen different ways to scream and yelp when she is startled. This talent may be the reason why she is written off as a useless wailing frail, but it's an unfair critique. On the contrary, her panic emphasizes how dire the threat is in each serial (something we'll discuss when we look at the next serial).

Harry Sullivan...AC-tion Hero!
6) While the script by Robert Holmes does give Harry a number of things to do, it's obvious that the production team has changed its mind about this companion and are repositioning him as The Team Oaf. The entire first episode, which is mainly The Doctor and Harry trying to get the power running on the titular arc, is filled with Harry messing things up, and The Doctor gently scolding and mocking him...and Harry becomes more Goofus than Gallant in the next few serials.

7) One thing Holmes' script gets right is by getting past what is at its core a 'Base Siege' serial in the season after a slew of Base Siege serials during Barry Letts' time as producer to emphasize the humanity of many of these characters. Even though there is a 'hey, you're a stranger! You must be in on it!' moment, it's quickly discarded because all of the ark denizens are focused on their mission of repopulating Earth. Thus a number of ark crew members act selflessly, even sacrificing themselves to make sure the mission succeeds.

8) Even when I first saw this serial, in that horrifically cut up form (complete with 'since you Ammuricans Are Too Dull To Grasp Serialized Drama' intros by Howard DaSilva) on WWOR here in New York, I was really struck by the uniforms the Nerva-ites wore. They're very functional with an easily understood color coded system to figure out what each person's purpose is for, and they don't look out of place on either the male or female member.

Plus Sarah looks especially good in them. Just saying.

9) Watching it this time around on DVD, the one thing that sticks out to me as inconsistent is the presence of Wendy Williams' Vira. It's not that Williams isn't a good actress, or that she doesn't give a good performance; it's that she's noticably older than the other Nervans we see. She looks to be in her late 40's--hell, she has grey hair! If this is a mission to renew and repopulate the Earth after its demise via solar flares, I would think the chosen participants in the program would be of child-bearing age. Given Vira's obvious age discrepency, it makes very little sense to bring her along, let alone 'pair bond' her with Kenton Moore's Noah.

10) One of the things everyone seems to forget about the serials of this season from here on in is that they're interlinked. At the end of this story, The Doctor and his crew go down to the recovered Earth to fix the transmat...which leads into The Sontaran Experiment. There's similar 'linkages' to Genesis of The Daleks and Revenge of The Cybermen. It's something I always liked, a sort of call back to those early Hartnell seasons, and something that wasn't done again until The Key To Time Season and, after that, some of the John Nathan Turner 'trilogies.'

Overall...if you forgive the really, really goofy monsters, this is a solid serial which manages to take the standard 'Seige' storyline that was a staple of the Letts era and tacks on elements that will dominate the Hinchcliffe era.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Ten Statements About....DOCTOR WHO STORY SEVENTY-FIVE: ROBOT (1974/75)

Oh, dear...I'm sorry...that's just...unfortunante...
"Doctor, you--you're being childish!
"Well, of course I am! There's no point in being grown-up if you can't be childish sometimes."

1) And here we begin what I consider the true Gold Standard of The Classic Who Series--the reign of Philip Hinchcliffe as Producer of the show...which is kind of funny given that, at its core, this is a pretty ordinary story. Still, even at this early date the concept of the series as a Gothic Horror Show Set In A Science Fiction continuum is in place, as what we've got is the Whoniverse take on King Kong.

2) Whether you love him or hate him, the thing you can't deny about Tom Baker is that he owns the role of The Doctor from the very moment he appears. This is maybe my favorite of all the regenerations when it comes to seeing the new actor grow into the part (although admittedly Colin Baker's first minute or so as The Doctor in Caves of The Androzani matches it, only to be let down by the erratic, psychotic behavior of The Twin Dilemma, and Matt Smith approaches it in The Eleventh Hour), as we know exactly the kind of Doctor we're going to get for the next few years by the end of the first episode....

"So, we really have to bring that Harry
character along?  I mean, Ian Marter is a nice enough
chap, but still...."
3) ...and what we're getting is a Doctor who, breaking away from previous Doctor Jon Pertwee's vigorous and physical performance, prefers the cerebral and intellectual. In his way, Baker manages to fuse elements of all the previous incarnations (Hartnell's crankiness, Troughton's clownishness as a mask for brilliance, Pertwee's low tolerance for stupidity and deep loyalty to friends) into a more-or-less, unpredictable-bordering-on-unstable whole.

4) Okay...the actual Robot is, ummm, a bit silly looking. The way the chest and legs don't seem to join together, in particular, is especially goofy. However, Michael Kilgarriff does a heroic job in giving this very flimsy looking creature a great deal of depth and nuance solely with his voice and acting. He manages to keep the creature sympathetic while never letting us forget what a powerful monster he is.

5) You know why I hold Sarah Jane Smith in such amazingly high regard? Here we have the only companion in the classic era (in my mind, the only companion in the series history) that spans two Doctors and still has the same strong chemistry with both. And in this particular stretch that lasts this season and part of next, she's just as feisty and take change as she was with Pertwee. Hell, it's having her on the ship that makes Harry feel so inconsequential down the line of this season. And speaking of which...

6) I understand that Harry was created when Barry Letts and Philip Hinchcliffe had assumed that the Fourth Doctor was going to be an older man--but let's give Ian Marter credit; he manages to make the character into something interesting when coupled with Baker. In this story, there's a real 'Holmes and Watson' feel to the interplay between them...although after this, it seems like Harry becomes the 'bumbling screw up' that frequently gets the other two characters in trouble.
"Get used to this whole 'getting killed by a chroma-key effect,
Harry.  It happens a lot..."

7) It kind of saddens me that we're at the point where UNIT are shadows of their former selves. The whole bad-assedness of both The Brig and Sargent Benton has now been watered down to a point where they serve solely as The Doctor's chauffeurs. We'll only see UNIT a few more times between here and the classic series' end, and The Brig only a few more times...and his ability to kick ass without mussing that perfectly coiffed hair and mustache is sorely missed from here on out.

8) I admit it--I adore Patricia Maynard's Winters and Alec Linstead's Jellicoe as the bad guys. Not only are they deliciously over-the-top in their evilness, not only are their stand-in Nazi cred get a real sense of these two having a life before the story starts, and of a strange and twisted relationship going on between the two of them.

Yes...I'm thinking whips, chains, the whole nine yards.

9) I know that Edward Burnham always intended Kettlewell to be evil and unbalanced, and goes to great lengths to portray him as such...but even with this recent viewing, I never felt this character was all-out insane. I think his brusqueness and apparent contempt for unintelligent people screwing up the environment makes him strangely sympathetic...which makes his 'face turn' in episode three all the more effective.

10) Ahhhh....that final part. You know, when the Robot becomes....


There are some things the classic series should not have done with its limited--very limited--budget. What they attempt to make the King Kong simile work in the last episode is one of them. And sadly, we see them attempt something similar a lot better several stories down the pike with The Terror of The Zygons.

Overall...a rather average story that's elevated heads-and-shoulders above its deserved position by Tom Baker's braveau debut as The Fourth Doctor. Ignore the stupid elements and bask in one of the greatest 'statements of intent' an actor ever made to announce his presence as The Doctor.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Ten Statements About....THE AVENGERS (2012)

"You gotta strut, pout, put it out/that's what you want from..."
"The Avengers. It's what we call ourselves, sort of like a team. 'Earth's Mighiest Heroes' type thing."
"Yes, I've met them."

"Yeah, takes us a while to get any traction, I'll give you that one. But let's do a head count here: your brother the demi-god; a super soldier, a living legend who kind of lives up to the legend; a man with breath-taking anger management issues; a couple of master assassins, and YOU, big fella, you've managed to piss off every single one of them."

1) I owe Joss Whedon an apology, as in this film he manages to prove he is able to do big-ass on-screen action and super-heroics...and manages to find new and engaging ways to do said big-ass on-screen action (although there is a moment which makes me wonder if he was aware of the criticism some people leveled at him, myself included, and decided to spoof it).

2) Mark Ruffalo's take on Bruce Banner is rather interesting. There's a strange sense of humor running under his take, a kind of bemused sarcasm that plays off of Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark really well. And while I still don't buy the reasoning Banner gives for controlling his Hulk-Outs in the third act, I can see how Ruffalo made those choices to bolster that contention.

3) At first, I really thought Clark Gregg's beloved Agent Coulson was acting out of character when he went all fanboy in the presence of Chris Evans' Captain America...but then I realized that what Whedon was doing was showing how Coulson's admiration for Cap is what spurred him on to become the super-cool secret agent we've grown to like in the previous four films, that Cap's selflessness became a template for Coulson's sense of duty and honor, and spurs on his actions later in the film.

4) One of the things I really, really appreciated was how we had our heroes actively using their powers to save people at time rather than just beating things up. Iron Man trying to jumpstart the helicarrier, Cap making the save in the bank....these moments gave us a sense of these characters being heroes and not just gaily-dressed guys beating up armored lizard guys.

" that...our profits?"
5) So first Scarlett Johanssen, now Cobie it the agenda of these movies to get every woman I think is hot squeezed into a formfitting SHIELD uniform? Can I look forward to Kristen Bell playing Daisy Johnson? Maybe McPhee as Victoria Head?

6) I was also appreciative that the only real member of the Joss Whedon Day Players was Alex Denisoff's Other (unless you count Chris Hemmworth, who got Thor thanks to Cabin In The Woods)--and he was buried under make-up. But then, this is perhaps the least Whedon-feeling of Whedon's productions, even though there are large elements that are Whedon-esque.

7) While Tom Hiddleston's Loki acts a great deal more like an actual super-villain, he's still excellent in the role. He successfully gives us a proper face to the Big Shouty Alien Bug Invasion, and both puts forth his agenda ('It's easier to give up freedom, isn't it?') with a degree of rational thought and revels in his mischief.
"So you really think I'll be sticking around as Banner?"

8) While I recognize that the 'meet-and-fight' sequence that pulls the curtain down on Act One is there to give us a legitimate action beat while also giving fanboys a bit of a thrill...I wonder if it was actually necessary. It's not like Fury wouldn't have briefed everyone on each other, or that they'd be aware of each other's abilities. Yeah, it's a satisfying dust-up, but it could easily, easily have been sidestepped with a few lines of dialogue...

No, wait...this isn't supposed to be a Brian Michael Bendis comic.
Wow....that's....ummm, kinda tight, innit,

9) I also recognize that someone had to get the short end of the stick, and I'm not surprised that it's mostly Those New Kids--Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye (who comes off as pretty much a cipher) and Smolder's Maria Hill. However, I am impressed that the script gives us a sense of both characters in the main action that we don't feel too left out. Hell, in the case of Hawkeye, what we learn made me actively interested in seeing this talked-about Hawkeye and Black Widow movie if said movie was a prequel that revealed the story they referenced a couple of time.

10) That last act could have been a massive mess of shaky-cam confusion...but I love how Whedon came up with lots of innovative action set pieces (the way Cap and Iron Man worked together utilizing the shield to focus and direct the repulsor blasts) and moments of genuine characterization that kept the film's momentum engaging. It's absolutely fitting that the last moment in the film includes a testimony from a seeming bystander making reference to Cap saving her during that last act.

Overall...about as great as a super-hero movie could be while still being unapologetically a super hero movie, this is the greatest movie little twelve year old Tom could have imagined when he was reading those old Shooter/Perez issues....and is a great two hours and change for adult Tom to experience. Here's hoping the next one is half as fun.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Ten Statements About....BEFORE SUNRISE (1995)

Sometimes all you need is two people to create compelling
"Think of it like this: jump ahead, ten, twenty years, okay, and you're married. Only your marriage doesn't have that same energy that it used to have, y'know. You start to blame your husband. You start to think about all those guys you've met in your life and what might have happened if you'd picked up with one of them, right? Well, I'm one of those guys. That's me y'know, so think of this as time travel, from then, to now, to find out what you're missing out on. See, what this really could be is a gigantic favor to both you and your future husband to find out that you're not missing out on anything. I'm just as big a loser as he is, totally unmotivated, totally boring, and, uh, you made the right choice, and you're really happy."
"Let me get my bag."

1) Maybe it's because Richard Linklater isn't as ever-present and larger than life than his larger-than-life filmmaking peers like Tarantino and Kevin Smith, but I'd put him right up with the others as a master of true-to-life dialogue. This movie boils down to two people having an extended conversation...and it's just as engaging as another film full of action and explosions and all sorts of bright shiny things.

2) And one of the brilliant things about this film full of brilliant things is how Linklater includes all the elements of the romantic comedy--the 'meet cute,' the big city backdrop, the first date, the first fight, even the weird supporting characters--and compresses it into a single night, removing all the artifice and silly behavior to just create what amounts to a wonderful little short story in filmic form. And never once does Linklater forces Ethan Hawke's Jessie or Julie Delphy's Celine into situations or actions just so the plot will move forward.

3) And what's more--this movie will never, ever date. The only real cultural reference is the one made to Hemingway, and maaaaybe the only thing that will seem out of place is Hawke's very 90's hairstyle. There will be college students a hundred years from now who will watch this film and get the same things out of it I got out of it when I first saw it.
Ahhh, Julie Delphy...if it wasn't for Killing Zoe, you might
have been The Beautiful One...

4) Ahhhhhhh, Julie of the most beautiful women I've ever seen, with one of the easiest smiles ever. Not a smile that will light up a city like some women, but will keep you warm in your cabin on a cold midwinter's night. When I first saw this film, I thought I could watch her in anything....and then I ended up watching Am American Werewolf In Paris...and Killing Zoe...and...

Well, you get the point. Thank God I always have this, which is a showcase for her as a woman and as an actress.

5) This film would not have worked without the chemistry between Delphy and Hawke. Not only do we get this sense that Jessie and Celine have a life outside this film, we get a sense that this is a seminal moment in their lives solely through their interaction with each other--and all without the big gestures and grand standing that mainstream Hollywood would consider 'romantic'....

6) I know most people would be puzzled as to why there are no subtitles when Jessie and Celine encounter other folks...but Linklater knows that what these people are saying is inconsequential. After all, both of our heroes are foreigners in the land they inhabit, and since they're our POV characters it makes sense that they wouldn't know what they're speaking about. And Hell, we don't even need to know what the annoying couple that prompts Celine to move her seat are talking about; their only purpose is to spur her on to meeting Jessie, so why they're arguing is inconsequential.

7) What struck me watching the film this time is the body language between Hawke and Delphy. The things they do when they're together speak volumes about what they're thinking. Even something as simple as Delphy taking Hawke's arms and wrapping it around herself while they're walking down the street, neither looking or acknowledging this act, is a beautiful indicator of their thoughts.

8) Of all the satellite characters, I love Dominic Castell's street poet the most. There's something really compelling about the deal he makes with the two, and the poem actually is the point where you get the fact that even Jessie is impressed even though he is mocking the man as he leaves.
"Hello...hello...this imaginary phone doesn't work..."

9) I love how Linklater trusts our actors (he apparently spent nine months looking for the right combination before going into production) enough to leave so many areas open to interpetation. A lesser director would have given us an actual sex scene between Hawke and Delphy; Linklater never tells, letting us take the fact that Celine is no longer wearing a t-shirt after the scene on the lawn (and Jessie may very well be wearing it) and come to our own conclusion.

10) And Linklater has the guts to let this film end the way it should have--not with Jessie abandoning his intentions to return to the States, or with Celine deciding to go with him, or with a flash forward to six months later...he lets this remain this one perfect, discrete moment in these two people's lives and lets us decide what happened next. And while he has returned to these characters twice (in a scene in his surreal cartoon Waking Life, and in the 2007 sequel Before Sunset), we can keep our conclusions as the perfect coda for us.

Overall...a beautiful, wonderful jewel of a film that is near perfect from beginning to end, it can be funny, sexy, sweet and lovely all at the same time. Anyone who thinks modern romantic films are the death of cinema need to see this to see how this is done.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Ten Statements About....DOCTOR WHO STORY SEVENTY: THE TIME WARRIOR (1973/74)

"Hello...I'm the Greatest Companion You Will EVER Have."
"A straight line may be the shortest distance between two points, but it is by no means the most interesting."

1) Ahhhhhh, Sarah Jane Smith. If anyone wants proof of why Elisabeth Sladen is the gold standard of Who Companions, you have just to see this serial. Just as Tom Baker steps in and owns the part of the Doctor instantly a few serials hence, Sladen makes sure we know what Sarah Jane is all about from her first appearance at the scientist's summit. And throughout the serial, Sarah Jane is proactive, taking the point when dealing with Irogron. She's the perfect Doctor Who companion because she can take a major role in stories while complimenting the Doctor, not overshadowing him.

2) I know stories indicate that Jon Pertwee didn't get along with Sladen, but you never see it here. On the contrary, The Doctor seems to have a gleeful admiration for her and entrusts more and more to her as the story progresses. It's as if in Sarah Jane you get both the Ian and the Barbara, the Jamie and the Zoe, the ass-kicker and the smart chick all rolled into one package.

"My name is Linx.  I am 34, and my interests are military
adventurism, torture and conquest.  I am looking for..."
3) And then there's The Sontarans. You can keep your Daleks, your Cybermen, your Ice Warriors...I'll take these guys. Supposedly writer/creator Robert Holmes wrote out an exceptionally long treatise on these aliens, and it certainly shows in this serial. Over the course of four parts we learn loads about the Sontarans--and I love how these guys have an actual cultural outlook and personality. Linx is a monster, but one that has a code of honor and even a rudimentary sense of humor. Yes, they become diminished in future appearances (slightly--very slightly--returned to some form of dignity by Russell T. Davies., although I could do without the short jokes), but for now they're the most brutally formidable of the Who monsters. gives The Doctor an alien race that's strong, but not so super-strong (like the Cybermen) that they can engage him in hand to hand.

4) One of the clever touches to Holmes' script is how Linx honors his promise of giving Irongron 'magical' weapons--but is satisfied with just giving them rifles and a single primitive robot, as if he's willing to do what he says, but never so far that his allies could become a liability to him. It shows how intelligent an enemy Linx is....

5) ...and, to the script's credit, The Doctor responds in kind. This isn't the Doctor of other eras who gleefully cheat by using high tech to squash his foes dwelling in the past; he uses methods more or less consistent with that time and a knowledge of guerilla tactics. Just as with Linx, this speaks volumes of this Doctor's view on the sanctity of time and cultural development.

6) Another cool touch is how Donald Pelmear's Professor Rubeish is set up to be comic relief....but is revealed to be a valued ally who uses his own weaknesses to his advantage, and--like Sarah Jane--takes action against his situation. It doesn't surprise me that The Doctor ends up trusting Rubeish to help enact his final plan.
You know the story...two aliens, one woman...trouble.

7) I also appreciate that while there is a gag about Linx claiming Earth for the Sontaran Empire (a plot thread that is picked up with the Sontaran's next appearance in next season's The Sontaran Experiment), this whole serial is motivated by a very simple, very selfish intent--namely, that Linx wants to return to the war with the Rutans. Everything derives from this one need on Linx's part. It's refreshing to see this kind of story in amongst all the 'we're taking over this planet NOW' tales that Doctor Who all too often deals with.

8) Here's the one thing that bothers me about the Sontarans, though...the whole thing about the 'probic vent' in the back always rang wrong. I understand the reason for the vent (it forces Sontarans to face their enemies in battle and never turn their back on them), but it seems a somewhat arbitrary concept...and given that the Sontarans presently are practicing an in vitro form of reproduction, I can't figure out why they didn't breed out this weakness when so many of their opponents sneak up on them and smack 'em on the vent.

9) I find it interesting that Holmes chose to have Alan Rowe's Edward of Essex just accept The Doctor and Sarah Jane at face value, just ascribing their weird clothes and speech to their being sorcerers. It nimbly sidesteps what could have been a time consuming duplication of the 'who are these beings?' thing that we've been through already once with Irongron.

10) I am not entirely sure--other, more learned fans will correct me, I'm sure--but this may be the first serial done under Barry Letts that does not feature stunts by Havoc! It does kinda show, especially with the painful long-shotting of many of the fight scenes to conceal that this isn't Pertwee doing all the chopping and kicking. excellent introduction to an excellent companion, featuring a solid new villain and sober, clever script writing. And on top of that, it apparently is the first serial to namecheck Gallifrey. Downright required viewing.