Friday, June 29, 2012


Apparently, Philip Hinchcliffe had one last nightmare in
store before Sarah Jane before bidding her farewell...
"Do you tell the future?"
"Can you tell mine?"
"Why not?"
"Because you don't have future unless you listen to me."

1) I honestly didn't realize that this serial was shot at Portmerrien of The Prisoner and Fawlty Towers fame until the documentary pointed this out. The way the story is shot, coupled with the usual gorgeous BBC period interiors and costumes in the other scenes, create a legitimate atmosphere for what has to be one of the most atmospheric stories in the Hinchcliffe run.

2) This, the penultimate story in Elisabeth Sladen's initial tenure as Sarah Jane Smith, does not give her much to fact, there's little for either her or the Doctor to do for long stretches of the tale. But writer Louis Marks (an expert in the Renaissance) has created such an engaging tale that we don't notice that our heroes have disappeared for stretches of time.

3) One of the clever elements in this story is how we're led to believe that the villain is John Laurimore's gloriously scenery chewing Count Frederico---when the real nasty customer is Norman Jones' Heironymous, who is deliciously mean and manipulative...leading to Frederico having something of a 'face turn' in the very end, just long enough for Heironymous to consume him with helix energy.

4) Yes, the Cult of Mandragora's appearance is rather primative in their optically goodness, but the simpleness of the Cult being so consumed that all that's left is glowing yellowish-orange light occupying their robes is highly effective. Plus the shots of Heironymous' mask, the glow shining through the holes, are really, really cool.

5) Especially given that Sarah Jane leaves this season, I greatly like the fact that the script plays with the idea that Gareth Armstrong's Guiliano seriously crushes on Sarah but never follows it to the conclusion that kills the story arc of so many of the companion. Hell, one of my favorite scenes involves Guiliano trying to impress Sarah with his theories about the Earth being round.
"I rather like this control room.  I think I'll keep it until, I don't
know, a new producer decides he doesn't like it..."

6) Once more, we get Philip Hinchcliffe giving us little fiddly bits that enhance the greater mythology of Who. The whole sequence introducing the new control room features shout backs to both the Third and Second Doctor that implies some untold stories. Plus we have the genius moment where The Doctor susses out that Sarah has been hypnotized by Heironymous because she wonders why she can understand Italian which leads to an explanation as to why everyone seems to speak English in the Whoniverse (namely that he gifts all his companions with the ability to telepathically understand languages). It's the sort of thing that only Hinchcliffe seems to be able to do with subtlety and grace.

7) This is the serial that introduces what is easily my favorite iteration of the Tardis control room. I love this set! Baker seems totally at home in this set, which also seems to emphasize that this is a being separate from time and space. The set is only used for this season, and depending on who you listen to it was junked because either the sets warped in storage, or because Graham Williams thought it wasn't 'sci-fi' enough. If the reason is the later, Graham Williams needs to be kicked in the ass repeatedly, and it's another reason I don't care for his tenure.
One of the charms of this serial is the realization that the
real bad guy is the one who looks like the sidekick...

8) Once more, there are these little grace notes provided by the overwhelming chemistry between Baker and Sladen. The thing that really is driven home is how, even though Sarah spends a little too much time as either a hostage or a mind controlled pawn, she is integral to setting the final act in motion, acts as a mediator between the Doctor and other characters and--most importantly--calls the Doctor on the carpet when he's busy goofing off with the suggested costumes Guliano gives him. Plus the interplay in the opening episode of the story, where she is wandering the Tardis with The Doctor, is priceless.

9) I really have to wonder if Tom Baker secretly dreams of being Errol Flynn or Douglas Fairbanks--this story shows us a very physical Doctor, riding horses, engaging in sword fights, and otherwise acting like a dashing rogue. It's obvious that there are portions of the sword fight he has with Frederico's men which uses a stand-in, but a couple of shots are obviously Baker, and you can see the joy on his face when he's doing this stuff.

10) I was a little confused by the Madragora Helix's behavior in the serial. There's this sense in the first part and change that the Helix is just some rogue, runaway monstrosity cutting an out of control's not until the Helix has contact with Hieronymous' that it starts to show not only a form of intelligence, but a heightened example of same. It's like those first appearances are there to remind us that there is a supernatural component to the tale. The story might hang together better if they had treated those early appearances of the Helix better.

Overall...a wonderful last hurrah before one of the greatest alliances in Who history is dissolved, this has all of the Hinchcliffe elements, plus some great performances. Recommended.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Ten Statements About....RED LIGHTS (2012)

She may have experience ghostbusting, but this time the
laughs are few and far between....
"There are two kinds of people out there with a special gift. The ones who really think they have some kind of power. And the other guys, who think we can't figure them out."

1) This is a film where there is a 'shocking end twist'; but unlike certain other horror films with twists in them, the twist isn't the end all and be all of the film. The revelation in the film's final moments actually dovetails directly into what director Roderigo Cortes wants to say about belief, faith and the need for physical proof.

2) ....and one of the things I respect about this film is that Cortes pretty much tells us within the first ten minutes what is going on--Hell, he has the key person spell it out for another one--and frequently clues us in on the mystical element of this story, yet does so in such a subtle way we either don't notice or are unwilling to notice until the trap is sprung.

3) The thing about Robert DeNiro's performance is how we almost never see his Simon Silver in a private moment. We see Silver through other eyes--on television shows, in experiment footage, during his stage show. Thus, the two moments where Silver is not performing, where we see what could very well be the real Silver, have even more impact than they might otherwise have.
Those dark sunglasses may be the least bit of misdirection
in this movie....

4) I find it fascinating how in some way all three of our principles are missing something--in the case of our heroes, it's something spiritual (although the twist throws one of these two people's claims into doubt), and in the case of Silver it's his physical sight (although there are the very subtle implication that Silver is sighted and playing at being blind to emphasize the power of his gift). This gives them echoes of the people who are being victimized by the psychics Sigourney Weaver's Matheson and Cillian Murphy's Buckley chase after.

5) Even thought it's undeniable that Murphy and Elizabeth Olsen have powerful chemistry (it doesn't surprise me in the least that we find out about halfway through that Buckley and Olsen's Owen are now living together), her characters seems...superfluous. I suspect she's there primarily to give Buckley and Matheson someone to explain their psychic-busting operations to in the first half, and to 'ground' the scares in the second half. I welcome her presence because she works so well with the actors around her, but she's the most out of place of the elements in this film.

6) I love how the scares are done without any sort of obvious CGI trickery--the only possible CGI work I can detect happens near the very end, in the experimentation montage, and is very quiet. None of them are of the 'jump out of your seat' variety, although almost all of them are creepy in their own way....and my favorite, involving the rearrangement of a room in the matter of seconds, seems to have echoes of the chairs rearranging in Poltergeist.
Yeah, Buckley may have that UFO poster Mulder had in
his office...but this guy may not be looking for truth at all.

7) It's interesting how Cortes goes out of his way to avoid nailing down where this film takes place. Even though the script references real world cities, once we get to this city, places and landmarks become nebulous. Of course, this is a subtle way for Cortes to make the experiences in the story 'universal,' but it also gives the film itself an eerie, strangely dream-like quality.

(For what it's worth, I assumed the city was St. Louis, although there are moments when it looks like Seattle, Portland and Houston)

8) If there is a problem with the film's script, it's how in Matheson Cortes once more resorts to the old cliche of The Learned Person Who Becomes A Skeptic When They Lose A Child. Granted, Weaver is such a good actress that she's able to give that knee-jerk character trait nuance--and she manages to take that and use it to the benefit of her relationship with Buckley, as we get the impression she's transfered the feelings she would have had toward her son if he grew up normally to Buckley. But this is a clever enough script that I find resorting to this lazy bit of characterization a sore spot.

9) I will watch Toby Jones in pretty much anything--and it's great seeing his Shackleton set up as the comic foil for Matheson, only to have him take on a different role in the story once Matheson is written out of the film itself.

10) Much like the mood of the film, the color palette on this film is very muted, almost washed out and unsaturated in the way John Frankenheimer used to to simulate black and white cinematography. The only time we do get bright colors is when we see red--either blood, or the little notebooks one of the false psychic's crew uses to write notes in. This serves to create the sense that, even with all the high tech we see, the film itself is set in some other time.

Overall...a subdued little horror film that will probably unnerve rather than out and out scare, but gets a lot of credit for its strong acting, effective misdirection and deliberate pace. It may be more M.R. James than Stephen King....but in a cinematic world where everything's about spurting wounds, it's rather refreshing.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Ten Statements About....RUNAWAY DAUGHTERS (1994)

"Back off!  You may not realize this now, but the girl behind
me is going to be a comedy star in about fifteen years!"
"We should actually do this more often."
"What--get pregnant or steal a car?"

1) Dear Joe Dante--we get that this is set in the 50's, and you really dig the time period. We don't need to be reminded of that fact every five minutes.

2) Julie Bowen is one of those actors who seemed to need a couple of years to grow into her face. This is one of her first feature roles (albeit one made for Showtime as part of that weird package where Miramax took the names of famous American International films, gave them to popular film directors and asked them to build new movies around them), and the baby fat on her 24 year old form conceals the angularity that gives her a talent for physical comedy as she gets older. It also doesn't help that she should be playing Jenny Lewis' tough girl part, as her attempt at being the good girl who wants to be baaaad doesn't quite come off right.

3) I really wonder about Dick Miller's Roy Farrell. Miller plays the private eye extremely straight--and does so so well I almost regret his never having the chance to play serious roles in his later years. But the scenes themselves seem to play out as parodies. This creates a weird sense that Farrell is the only person who knows what's going on, which works in the context of the film...but I wonder if it would be more effective if Miller and Dante were on the same page.

"I get it...META!"
4) Seriously...did people really talk like this in the 50's, namechecking so many significant historical elements in that casual-but-not-really way? Maybe it's the actors involved, but some of these scene come off as so artificial it's wingeworthy, especially when Chris Young's Bob seduces Holly Field's Mary by feeding her a line about Sputnik. I've always heard stories similar to this (the incident involved was the Bay of Pigs Invasion, but the rest of it is unchanged), but wondered if they were apocryphal. So much of this film is composed of dialogue like this that seems written, and written by someone whose view of the 50's is filtered through 70's filtered nostalgia.

5) There's this very weird moment toward the end of the film where, after pretty much everything in the film is played for hijinks more or less, two men get accidentally slaughtered. And it gets even weirder when, after we've absorbed the fact that two friendly men who were helping our heroines have been shot, we're then treated to a scene of those same three girls whooping and hollering with joy because they find out the murdered men weren't killed because they were mistaken for kidnappers, but because they were actually 'mad dog killers'....what. the. fuck.

6) While some of the cameos are exceptionally, muggably silly (I think John Astin is a swell actor, but I can do without him literally bugging his eyes and chewing on his mustache while accusing our heroines of being communists), one I did enjoy was Cathy Moriarity's Marie. Whereas so many of the cameo performers here tend to head immediately for over-the-top territory, Moriarity underplays it and gives us a sensitive performance that makes you realize that she genuinely loves the goof we saw a few minutes before and sees herself as the guiding hand--allowing her husband to do what he wishes while gently steering him away from dangerous behavior. It's a wonderful scene, and one that drives home what a good actress Moriarity was.

"I thought I heard someone speaking French over there...
7) With the exception of Moriarity and Miller, the adults in this movie are thunderingly stupid. I know this is a commentary on how the parents behaved in those American International pictures, but given how so much of the film is couched in a realistic tone, the idiocy of the adult characters just doesn't make sense.

8) You'll notice I haven't brought up the big 'guy who would go on to be great' role...namely Paul Rudd's turn as Bowen's boyfriend. The weirdest thing about Rudd, who is very clearly a generic rebel without a clue, is how he seems to have wandered in from the western flick shooting across the street.

9) This is a very top heavy script by Charlie Haas. Once our heroic trio is on the road, the film gets very episodic (the girls are almost raped by idiotic deputies! The girls steal a car! The girls have to negotiate with a creepy fat guy to get a replacement car! The girls encounter survivalists!)....until everyone realizes they've only got a small handful of minutes left, resulting in an ending that seems so rushed it's running a 100 yard sprint.

10) I get it that Dante set this version in 1956 because the original film was set in 1956...but there's no reason for the film to be set therein. It seems to draw attention to the artifice of the plot and narrative--perhaps precisely because it's sold as an 'innocent' period piece when we know the 50's were not innocent at all.

Overall...a curio in the career of Dante that comes off as rather bland and uninteresting.

Thursday, June 21, 2012


"I can't be stuck on a bad set with a crap bubble-headed monster
behind me..maybe if I close my eyes I'll be back in
Pyramids of Mars...that's it...I'm in Pyramids of Mars..."
"You really can't go on calling yourself Morbius. There's very little of Morbius left. Why don't you think of another name? Potpourri would be appropriate."

1) Well, I guess when you devote large chunks of your tenure reworking classic horror tropes, sometimes you come up with Pyramids of Mars, and sometimes you come up with The Brain of Morbius....sigh.

What a piece of crap.

2) This commits the worst sin a serial can commit--even with its mishmosh of Frankenstein, Day of The Triffids and even bits of the H. Rider Haggard adaptations Hammer made in the 60's, it's an actively boring story. It's such a tired little plot (or to be more precise, a script that was hammered into a tired little plot since budget constraints prevented the building of an effective robotic villain), and all the different elements seemed thrown in to disguise the fact.

3) At least it's comforting to realize that even with the mess that this story became through Robert Holmes' rewrite of Terrence Dicks' script, the interplay between Sarah and The Doctor is still massively entertaining. Even when, for no apparent reason whatsover, Sarah gets blinded and starts wallowing in self pity, The Doctor makes a statement that's very serious yet has an element of humor to it. And there are a couple of moments where the water treading of the plot is carried solely by Baker and Sladen. It's not enough to save this horrid little story, but it's enough to take some of the sting out of it.

4) And another small thing--Hinchcliffe continues to find a way to acknowledge the rich history of the series in subtle ways. The choice to make the creature in the first episodes' teaser a Mutt from the Pertwee era serial The Mutants reinforces the coherence of the universe without drawing attention to itself (unlike, say, the unexplained cameo by The Macra in the 'Gridlock' episode of the new series), and the dialogue between the two contains several references to their history together. Even that dopey 'mindbending' scene contains slight namechecking of the other three Doctors before the production staff gets out of control and starts putting pictures of themselves in the machine's viewer.

5) I think this story could even be a little more tolerable--not salvageable, but tolerable--if the entire cast wasn't so scenery-chewing while being so earnest. Some of the performances, particularly Philip Madoc's Solon, is so borderline hysterical in its mood swings that it's hard to take seriously. And this kind of operatic style infects every single character unique to that serial, even minor ones like Gilly Brown's Ohica with her tendency to cross her hands over her chest before making every pronouncement. This sort of behavior doesn't give life to the serial; it sucks it of life.
Somehow, Tom Baker's bondage fantasy seems so much more
exciting in his head....

6) And since I namechecked Solon--this guy is the biggest goof ever. He's supposed to be one of the premiere surgeons in the universe, yet he seems to put no thought in building Morbius' body. He seems incapable of effectively concealing his motives in front of The Doctor, Maren or Susan. He actively teases and bullies Colin Fay's Condo, who is clearly capable of taking him apart in a second. Even when he is about to be hook-handed to death by Condo, he is unable to convince the man--who is portrayed as mentally challenged--to spare him unitil he bargains with him. Especially when compared to other Hinchcliffe masterminds like Sutekh, Davros and, later, Magnus Greel, Solon is an idiot.

7) I made reference to the 'mindbending' of the reasons I find this scene so stultifying is because the script has a near-mindless Morbius in his flying-saucer head and ridiculous patchwork body (a body that even Sarah gets to mock as 'Mr. All-Sorts' and Chop Suey at points) stomping around the rocks and smacking people around, then has him dragged back to Solon's home so he reattach Morbius' brain fully....juuuuust long enough for Morbius to burst in on The Doctor and engage in 'Gallifreyan wrestling' for a minute, at which point Morbius' brain is burnt out and he's right back to being near-mindless again. There's no reason for Solon to complete the operation save to have that moment--which is full of fan service and in-jokes.
"Looooooooove/all shiny and neeeeeeew...."

8) For someone that the script makes out to be the most terrible Time Lord ever, a personage who almost toppled the Council, Morbius comes off as a pratt. Granted, this doofus spent years as a brain in a jar, but all he does for the first three episodes is yell about how he hates it here and accusing Sarah of being a spy. And once he does get his patchwork body, all he does is laugh awkwardly save for that one moment with The Doctor. We're told that Morbius is bad news, but we're never shown it.

9) And then there's The Sisterhood of Karn, the mock-She cult that fails to impress for a number of reason. The budget doesn't help them, especially given how their flame-shaped blades look just like wooden lollipops. Their monotonous dancing and singing, which they seem to do at the drop of a hat, gets old fast. And there's a real whiff of school play to their interaction with each other. Since these women seem ineffectual, and Solon seems ineffectual, the whole serial appears to be The Doctor mediating a dispute between two small children playing super-hero.

10) Even though there are moments that are consistent with the portrayal of Sarah under Hinchcliffe, there are stretches where she does obtain the dreaded status of Girl School Screamer. This is especially obvious during the episode and change where she's blinded; her dialogue becomes just a series of shrieks, squeals and whines. This is Sarah at her worst, and it actually diminishes the character in the context of this serial.

Overall...the lowest point of this high point in the series' run. Avoid.

Thursday, June 14, 2012


"I will not laugh...I will NOT laugh...I will NOT laugh..."
"I am the servant of Sutekh. He needs no other. Now I bring Sutekh's gift of death to all humans."

1) Cards on the table time--this is one of my all-time favorite Who stories overall, and easily the high point (with maybe only Robots of Death and The Talons of Weng-Chiang rivaling it) of what I consider to be the high point of the Classic series. This is a tightly written, clever, and scary little adventure that wastes very little in telling its tale.

2) And admittedly, one of the major reasons why I love this story so much is the strength of its villains. Sutekh is an amazing, monstrous character, a character so malevolent that you actually worry that The Doctor might lose, given such vivid life by Gabriel Wolff...and he doesn't fully appear until the last episode! But until he does, Bernard Archard's Scarman ably handles the bad guy duty as Sutekh's pawn, giving us two exceptional opponents for the Doctor and Sarah to come up against.

3) This is the penultimate serial in that tightly linked series of stories (it finally pays off when The Doctor and Sarah return to 1980 Earth in The Android Invasion.), and the way they link this serial to the previous one is fairly clever in that it serves to fill in more backstory about the show's mythology.

4) Another thing that's clever? The script by Robert Holmes and Lewis Griefer under the name 'Stephen Harris' manages to introduce links to previous serials (the dress Sarah wears--quite fetchingly, I might add--is referenced as belonging to Troughton era companion Victoria; she refers to one of the puzzles in the titular pyramid as being similar to one in the city of Exxilon from one of her Pertwee stories) in a subtle and non-obtrusive way. These act as 'easter eggs' for long time viewers without in any way alienating the newer viewers. It might be one of the reasons the Hinchcliffe era had some of the biggest ratings in the show's history, and one of the reasons this era was chosen to be syndicated internationally in the 80's.
And the scary thing is that this guy burning the Egyptian
is only the second most frightening villain in this serial!

5) Are the mummies kind of silly-looking? Yes, especially when they kill a poacher by squeezing him between their cleavage. Is the reason behind their being there still effective and cool? Damn straight.

6) It continues to amaze me how effortlessly Elisabeth Sladen and Tom Baker seem to work as a unit together. Their chemistry is so easy that they work like clockwork--Hell, their chemistry is even more apparent now that Ian Marter is gone, with a give and take that's just stunning. It doesn't surprise me to learn that some of this serial's interplay between the two was improvised on set. What's the most amazing is how, unlike with other companions, you never lose sight of the deep friendship these two have, even when they're yelling at each other. In her way, Sarah defines the Baker Doctor more than any other companion, much in the way Jamie defines the Troughton Doctor, Jo defines the Pertwee one and--as we'll see later--Ace defines the McCoy one.

7) Even though I don't like how he goes out--and even that serves a significant purpose in the serial, by giving us the reaction of someone not used to dealing with such horror on a daily basis--I really like Michaek Sheard's Laurnece Scarman. In particular, I really like how he's obviously a very, very smart man whose weakness is his love for his brother. The joy he has not only in showing off his radio telescope and discussing it with the Doctor, but in comprehending the Tardis so quickly makes him a fun and memorable character.
You can keep Leela and her Janis Thorns and Ace and her
bombs...I'll take Sarah with a rifle any day...

8) While the Baker propensity for comedy--this is the propensity that gets out of control under Graham Williams--is starting to make Sarah the butt of some jokes, whether intentional or unintentional, she is still far from the 'wailing frail' most Rose-sucking fans of the modern serial write her off as. Once again, she is trusted to help the Doctor enact his plans, primarily through shooting the gelignite and destroying the Osirian War Rocket. Even in the last episode, where Sarah does do some panicking, it's short (and she trusts the Doctor enough to calm down when he asks her to). There's a major difference between showing fear and being ineffectual in the face of that fear....

9) You know, I didn't realize this until I started watching these serials back to back, but one of the signatures of the Hinchcliffe era is great confrontations between The Doctor and his opponents. And the exchange between Sutekh and The Doctor that begins the fourth episode is so powerful, so engaging and deeply layered, that it remained in my head during all those years when Who was unavailable here in the New York market. It doesn't surprise me that Wolff (along with Michael Wisher) so defined villainy in the series that he was frequently used in the Big Finish audios and became the voice of The Great Beast in the 'Impossible Planet/Satan Pit two parter of the new series.
"What do you mean that after this conversation I'm
going to become amewling puss?"

10) I know much of the puzzles in the Pyramid of Osiris are kinda childish and relatively simple, but I dug the whole Indiana Jones-ish aspect of the Doctor working his way through the much so that I never noticed the fact that that part of the fourth episode is just treading on water until they can spring the real solution on us.

Overall...a tight, exciting, flavorful little story that pretty much defines the Hinchliffe/Holmes era. There is very, very little to detract from its high entertainment value. Absolutely essential viewing for people who want to study the Classic era of Who!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Ten Statements About....KING KONG ESCAPES! (1967)

"Sometimes, I wanna get you low/yeah. yeah. yeah. like being
"This is Mondo Island, the home of Kong. And in addition to Kong, there are mammoth reptiles living on the island that have long since become extinct on other continents. This island could be called a living museum of the prehistoric age."

1) I know that this is an American/Japanese co-production and that the American half of the money was put up by Rankin-Bass, but damn is it weird hearing main villain Dr. Wu (pronounced 'Who,' so you know the amount of confusion inherent in young Tom when he first watched this movie) sound just like Burgomeister Meisterburger.

2) Boy, if I had to choose between Linda Miller's soppy, whiny Susan and Mie Hama's sultry Madame X, I know who I'd choose to follow.

3) And while we're on the subject of Madame X...I am thoroughly fascinated by how this movie really, really wants to be a spy movie without giving us any details whatsoever. Madame X constantly refers to her country, but never once is said country referenced, even obliquely. There's even this one moment where Rhodes Reason's Carl Nelson rules out a number of countries she can't be from, but is interrupted before revealing which asian nation she does represent. And there's references to Wu's past as a traitor and a criminal with a relationship with Nelson....and yet we never get a sense of what he did.

4) And can we also unequivocally state that Dr. Wu is the single most inept mad scientist ever? He builds Robo-Kong to mine 'element X' without checking to see if the thing is properly insulated against magnetic interference or anything. So he kidnaps the real Kong thinking he'll be able to mine the stuff....except that the glare from the element allows Kong to breaks Wu's hypnotic hold on him. Hell, at one point Wu admits to Madame X the real Kong is better than Robo-Kong! This dude's a total ineffectual tool.
"Of course I am Doctor Who...I stole this cape from Jon
Pertwee himself!"

5) I love how everyone just assumes that Kong is benign, even after the big monkey scoops up Ms. Drippy and starts making faces with his rubber mask. What if, I don't know, Kong decided to eat the woman after picking her up? She'd be more useful in that context....

6) But give this dopey lil' film credit....this thing is paced in such a way that we always get some form of giant monster action before we get bored. Yeah, it might be something like Kong digging in the side of a cave....but hey, Giant Monkey!

7) And since we're on the subject of the Giant Monkey....don't get me wrong; I will always take a man in a suit over a collection of CGI pixels. But watching this beast in the high definition drives home the point that this is one sorry kaiju. The different pieces of the suit don't quite blend together, and the 'concealed' zipper is anything but, as it makes a noticeable raised line in the back.
"Oh, and you should have heard all the puns that Bond putz
would use..."

8) There's a really muddled storyline concerning Susan and Akira Takarada's Jiro. There are intimations that Jiro and Susan are romantically involved, or at least romantically attracted. Hell, Dr. Wu taunts Craig with this fact when he's lowering the temperature of their cell to coerce him into cooperating. And yet, even with all the cues--it's Jiro who saves Susan during the climatic battle between Kong and Robo-Kong, it's Susan who runs into Jiro's arm at a moment's notice--there's this reluctance to pull the trigger. It's as if the Rankin-Bass people were really, really nervouse about the idea of a white woman being an Asian man's girl.

It's even more puzzling given how overt the script plays the attraction of Madame X to Craig....

9) I can't quite accept that the Mei Hama of this film is the same woman who played Kissy Suzuki in You Only Live Twice. Maybe it's because she's acting in her own language, but she's so much more alive and engaging than the mannequin in a white bikini she was in the Bond film.
"Sir!  Rubber Snake off the port bow!"

10) I am utterly fascinated by the way the special effects seem to vary wildly, sometimes from shot to shot. While I can never get past the model-ly goodness of the film, some of the vehicles--especially the rather Thunderbird-esque hovercraft that transports the main trio to and from Mondo Island--are actually quite good, and the destruction scenes in Tokyo are energetic and fun. But then you get that lame-ass fight with the snake in the first act, or the long shots of Robo-Kong on that tower obviously are a toy that's falling off, and the rear projection shots are frequently wince-worthy. Still....

Overall...even with all it's flaws, it's hard to deny that this flick has a dumb energy in its lame spy cliches and crazy concepts. Not necessarily required viewing, but if you want to spend a lazy afternoon and come into it with both eyes open, you may find yourself enjoying this.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Ten Statements About....THE SHINING (1980)

"I'm not going to be a movie star?  NOOOOOOOOO!!!!"
I think we should discuss Danny. I think we should discuss what should be done with him."

1) I know this is a bizarre way to start this 10 Statements...but the soundtrack that Kurbrick puts together piecemeal from various sources is one of the most disturbing soundtracks I've ever heard. The weird atonal pieces from classical performer Bela Bartok are particularly upsetting.

2) One of the reasons I suspect Kubrick cast this film the way he did is because he wanted to tell as much of this film with the character's faces. So much of this movie is moved forward by the reaction shots of these people--hell, a major plot point rests on watching Scatman Crothers' eyes widen and mouth drop open--that he needed these particular actors, even if some of them are much older than the characters are portrayed in the book.

3) That being said, one of the weakest links (not the weakest link, as we'll get to later) is Shelly Duvall's Wendy. She seems to spend the entire film whining, crying and screaming to the extent that it rejiggers the relationship in the book into something much more overtly abusive and parasitic than it was in the book. While that's a definite choice, and one that was successful in the context of this film (people still talk about this version while the Garris telemovie remains mostly forgotten), it also blunts Wendy's 'resourcefulness' to the point where I wondered where Jack's talk of her being so came from in Act Three.

4) I have to assume, given how Kubrick always approached everything with a extreme attention to detail, that the weird fairy tale echoes were intentional, especially in regards to the hedge maze. I realize it was created because special effects at the time made recreating the hedge animals of the book impossible, but having this maze be 'the dark woods' Danny has to enter to avoid the monster his father becomes is actually more appropriate in the context of the movie.
wait a minute...those are real girls...THOSE AREN'T

5) Of course, the sad thing is that Danny Lloyd is not an actor. Yes, there are moments where he works--the whole sequence where he retreats and leaves Tony in charge is pretty good--but the bulk of his performance is lackluster and obviously artificial. We're not even going to talk about the ludicrousness of his facial expressions whenever he starts to 'shine.'

6) I respect what Kurbrick is doing with the whole sequence where Scatman Crothers' Hallorann comes to Danny's rescue only to have said rescue dashed almost immediately (although ironically, said 'rescue' ends up successful). However, I do think that all the time we spend watching him realize the danger, fly out to Colorado, arrange for the Snocat, etc. ends up building up the expectations to the point where his sudden dispatch is a disappointment rather than a shock.

7) Everyone mentions Joe Turkel's Lloyd, probably because his exchanges with Jack are quotable...but to me the scariest character overall is Philip Stone's Delbert Grady. Part of it is the subtle way Kubrick introduces him, allowing us to slowly realize who he is, but mainly it's because in this film full of quiet horror Grady is the most quietly monstrous--telling Jack the most horrific things in the most reasonable of ways.
With Kubrick, it's not this point that's's what happens
getting up to this point.

8) You know, at first I thought some of those shots of Jack Nicholson sitting there looking like a comedy goof were ludicrous...until I noticed how Kubrick changes the color palette whenever Jack 'enters' the world of the Overlook. When he's in the 'real' world, the palette is stark and harsh, but when he's lost in the Overlook, the colors become warm and comfortable. Of course, the world where he's the most at home is the world he should never, ever be in....

9) I find it riveting how, the deeper we get into Jack's psychosis, the more the camera begins to 'identify' with him, to the point where it follows the line of his axe whenever he swings it. This is how you use a moving camera--to emphasize the fact that Jack's no longer stable, but is absolutely unstable.
Furries...this is what you look like to us.

10) To me, the effectiveness of the scare scenes is because they're so sparse on the ground and rely on us to put together what's going on. If a lesser director (like, Jan de Bont or you know...oh, Mick Garris) had handled this, we would have gotten an avalanche of special effects full of goopy, gooey ghosts instead of a couple of carefully placed apparitions with only minimal grotesqueness. Hell, the most disturbing stuff isn't the decaying old lady but the two girls--who I swore were adult actors made up until I saw them in the documentary short on the DVD being introduced to Nicholson--or the strange tableau with the figure in the animal costume. Kubrick trusts us to make stronger scenarios in our head than he can provide himself.

Overall...a truly amazing horror film notable for how deliberate and subtle it subtle that all the overtly hammy elements serve as the breathers, and not the moments of silence in between.

Sunday, June 3, 2012


"Well, you do the hokey pokey/and you turn yourself
around/that's what it's all about!"
"Another universe?"
"From the beginning of time, that has existed side by side with the known universe. Each is the antithesis of the other. You call it nothing, a word to cover ignorance. For some time, scientists invented a word for it...anti-matter."

1) I think I can safely say that this is the first 'pure' Hinchcliffe serial--and boy, does it make it clear that Whoniverse is about to become a scary-ass place. This serial, like so many other Hinchcliffe serials, takes a classic horror film or figure (in this case both Jeckyll and Hyde and Forbidden Planet) and reworks it into something distinct to the Who mythology.....

2) ....and yet people don't realize that it's part of that massive linked story that started with 'Ark In Space.' This leads directly from 'Terror Of The Zygons,' as The Doctor promises he'll proceed to London before the Tardis picks up the Morestran distress call. After the crisis is averted, the Doctor and Sarah endeavor to get back to London, only to drop in at UNIT HQ before UNIT HQ was built in 'Pyramids of Mars.' I can understand why Hinchcliffe ultimately abandoned this tightly linked serial concept, but for as long as it lasts it's very compelling.

3) I find the way The Doctor and Sarah have fallen into this very easy partnership fascinating. Even when Sarah suggests something that's wrong--like when she suggests they just leave and let the Morestrans sort out what's going on--The Doctor never belittles her or treats her as less than a friend and peer. Compare how Baker and Sladen interact with each other to other Doctor/companion pairings, where the Doctor treats his companion like a child (Pertwee and Manning, for example) or in some cases with outright contempt (Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant in their first season). This is one of the closest pairs in the series history.
No joke..I just this outfit makes Lis Sladen
looks particularly yummy.....

4) This is one of the very few 'shot in studio' episodes where I sort of buy into the alien terrain outside of the Morestran ship. I suspect a lot of the reason it's so effective is the moody lighting, but these's so much detail and elements that are alien in shape without looking like something standing in for an alien shape that it seems otherworldly.

5) Here's another element I always liked in the Hinchchliffe era--the different layers the scripts usually had in the supporting cast. In the case of this serial, there's a really odd relationship between Ewen Solon's Vishinsky and Prentiss Hancock's Salamar. Even thought Salamar is in command, there's this sense that Vishinsky is only playing at being subservient because he's trying to be a mentor without overtly being a mentor to the younger, brasher Salamar. This comes to a head in the final part, but spurs on Salamar's final (admittedly nonsensical), fatal actions.

6) I remember the antimatter monster that is featured in the first two or so parts being pretty nightmarish when I first viewed this as a teen. It's still pretty strange--the fact that it's being chromakeyed into a reddish outline still gives it an otherworldly feel--but it's not as scary as it was. Still, it's a damn sight better than the silly werewolf-y 'Anti-Man' monster Frederick Jaeger's Sorenson transforms into in the latter two parts.

7) While I feel Jaeger's performance is bland (even if it sometimes threatens to tilt into hand-wringing goofball mode), I do find the interactions he has with The Doctor wonderful. That one scene where the Doctor seems to be suggesting to Sorenson that he needs to commit suicide for the greater good is one of the highlights of the serial.

8) I have always thought the cliffhanger to part three, with Sarah and an unconscious Doctor about to be jettisoned off into space in sealed coffins while alive, pretty scary. I didn't realize that this cliffhanger is so effective not just because of Elisabeth Sladen's previously referenced ability to give Good Panic, but because of that small scene where Sarah watches Vishinsky's disposal of a body. Not only dies that scene establishes how the mechanism works, it gives us this wonderful exchange ("It's neat and tidy." "It's horrid.") that shows us Sarah's abhorrence of the practice. That one bit of foreshadowing feeds into the chiffhanger, engaging us even more when it's triggered.

9) Boy, that is one truly crappy looking starship. What happened...did the special effects staff just grab the nearest vacuum at the last minute?

10) The one thing that bothered me is how this military expedition is composed of a multiracial crew with names that reflect a wide array of Earth nationalities...and yet they're supposed to be an alien race. This curiosity is made even weirder by the way Salamar and Vishinsky show some knowledge of London and Earth even though this happens some 30,000 years after 1980. I wonder if the script--by script editor Robert Holmes under the house psuedonym of Louis Marks--wanted to make a connection between the Morestran race and the colonists who we were told fled the earth in 'Ark In Space.' But if that was the intention, the connection was not made clear enough. entertaining but minor little serial that overcomes its silly central monster through some clever set design, a decent script that gives us wonderful characterization, and other touches. You can almost see this as the mission statement of the Hinchcliffe era.

And if you don't like this one...wait until you see what's next.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Ten Statements About.... IL BOSS (aka WIPEOUT!) (1973)

Budgets cuts on Girls Gone Wild got noticable early on...
"Would you kill me when you're tired of me? I really mean that."
"Honey, I'm tired of you NOW!"

1) I would pay not only for a single movie, but a whole series of movies where Henry Silva is a hitman and Antonia Santilli plays his annoying nymphomaniac girlfriend who keeps bugging him while he's busy killing people. The interplay between those two are hands down the best things in the film.

2) I know this is only my second policia, but I simply just don't get them. It seems that they share the same lack of attention to plot and detail as gialli and spaghetti westerns, but without the dreaminess and sardonic humor that made those genres fascinating.

3) This is Henry Silva in Stoneface Henry Silva mode and, while I miss the goofy Silva of La Mala Ordina, he fits perfectly in this insane world. And this shows up the best whenever Silva's Lanzetta is contrasted with the more...theatrical moments in the film. Seeing Silva trying to contain his anger at Santilli's Rina, or keeping himself cool while Richard Conte's Don Corrasco pontificates to insane lengths is pure gold.
If you won't watch this movie, Henry Silva will kill this
sleazy-looking bum...because we're all out of puppies.

4) Gianno Garko's Commissioner Torri is such. A. Goof. And the way he's set up as a hardass in the first part of this film, smacking around mafioso and chasing widows out of coroner's office, only for us to learn that he's a squirrely, corrupt weasel with a bad mustache in the second part only serves to confuse the narrative. We never get a sense that he is a worthy opponent for Lanzetta, nor that he is anything but a caricature for Silva to eventually gun down.

5) But then, the problem with this film is how no one seems to make up any sort of opposition here. Hell, we see Corrasco dictating terms to a man who, it is implied, is The Pope. This is a film that takes the average cop drama and unbalances the other way, with the Mafia so thoroughly in charge of Italy they can run the country with impunity.
"I swear...his gun was this big...why are you laughing?"

6) I really, really like Antonia Santilli. I'm not a big fan of most Euro-babes who populate these films, but there's something about this baby-faced doll (who looks very remarkably like anti-folk 90's songstress Brenda Kahn) and her charms that makes me drool. Add in that amazing chemistry she has with Silva, and I'm in love.

7) There is a moment about half way through the film where Silva decides that he's going to take over the mob where I get the impression director Fernando Di Leo got bored with his original script and started making things up on his own....leading to weird scenes like Corrasco telling his advisor that Lanzetta has to die, but he still respects him as an underling. And I get the impression this sort of abandoning of the original story happens a lot....

8) I know that we're supposed to feel some sort of reaction--horror? Surprise?--to the montage where the kidnappers and other soldiers in Cocchi's employ are murdered....but even the kidnappers, who we spend a bit of time with in the first half, are interchangable ciphers there only to terrorize Rina (and to indulge her in her nymphomania). Thus any intended impact has been thoroughly blunted.
"So...when you go kill that Mafioso, can we stop at TCBY for
some Key Lime with nuts?  Please?  Please? "

9) One thing I do appreciate about these films is the jazzy scores. While it doesn't necessarily fit every moment of the film, it's unique to the genre and makes these films feel both of their time and timeless.

10) And let's give this film, and the examples of the genre I've seen so far credit....if it wasn't for the rotary phones and other technological cues, these movies don't date much. Hell, even the talk of student protests and free love doesn't serve to freeze these stories in a specific time.

Overall...while Henry Silva does try to keep the film together by sheer dint of his glowering presence, this really doesn't bring much that's engaging to the table. I respect that so many people I like like this stuff; it's just not interesting enough for me and my sensibilities.