Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Ten Statements About....DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER (1971)

"The name is Bond, James...yaaaaawn...Bond."
“You killed my only other double, I'm afraid. After his death, volunteers were understandably... rather scarce."
“Such a pity. All that time and energy wasted, simply to provide you with one mock, heroic moment."

1) This is the first of three Bond films written by Robert Maibaum and Tom Mankeiwicz, a writing team perhaps best known for how...incredibly nonsensical the scripts are.  The plot to this film is totally incomprehensible, and the sooner we accept this, the better.

2) In this film, Sean Connery (who was lured back after George Lazenby abandoned the role and John Gavin had already been signed for a then-unprecedented million dollar fee--which he then promptly donated to a local school) looks thoroughly bored.  The only time he looks motivated is in the pre-credit sequence, where he goes through a cross section of criminal types looking for Blofeld (including strangling a girl with her own bikini top!).  He’s not having any fun, he’s not showing much in the ways of signs of life.  It’s almost as if he’s got one eye on the door and the other on the check in his breast pocket.

3) I think a large reason why this film seems me is because the bulk of it is set in Las Vegas.  Vegas just doesn’t have the same kind of glamour as some of the cities of previous Bond films, and its more blue collar sensibilities seem to leech into the film as a whole, making it feel a whole lot less special than it should be.

4) Yes, Tiffany Case’s character becomes extremely two note (“I want my money/the diamonds” and “I don’t want to go to jail”), and she ends up becoming part of the weirdly smarmy, condescending sexism (even for a Bond film!)  that runs through the Maibaum/Mankeiwicz scripts.  But--and maybe this is primarily Jill St. John’s doing--she is one of the sexier Bond Girls of the 70‘s and fills out that weird bikini with the long sleeves really, really well.

5) In my younger days, I preferred Charles Grey to the other two Blofelds.  While my opinion has changed--I don’t think there has been a definitive Blofeld yet--he does acquit himself well...until that last act, where he dresses up as Princess Margaret and becomes a leering goof.  Maibaum and Mankeiwicz’s tendency to play everything for broad laughs (something that will result in...shudder...Sherif Pepper in the next two films) ruins the menace by making him ludicrous.
Yep...Bond on the 'moon.'  It's gonna be a loooong

6) Is there any reason--any reason--for the Moon Buggy chase?  Admittedly, it’s typical of the lackluster action throughout this film (the best fight scene happens relatively early), but the sheer what-the-fuckedness of that moment is indicative of how this film is just a string of Stuff That Happens.

7) Don’t get me wrong--I like all of the henchmen in this film, even the campy homosexual hitmen Wint and Kidd.  But they’re a little...sketchy, and maybe calling them sketchy is charitable.  Plus, Wint and Kidd really have no direct confrontation with Bond until the final scene (a trademark of Maibaum and Mankeiwicz that grows old when they do it the third time in Man With The Golden Gun).  Their whole narrative arc really is so disjointed from the main story that they could be cut out with little or no rewriting; it’s as if they’re in the movie solely because they were in the book.

8) It’s funny, but Connery seems to have more chemistry with Jimmy Dean’s Wilfred Whyte than with Norman Burton’s fatherly, ineffectual Felix Leiter.  Hell, Leiter comes off as a mild annoyance that Bond can push aside easily, while Whyte becomes a general ally, even a friend along the lines of Draco from the previous film to the point where Bond consults with him rather than his supposed bestie.
mmmmm...okay, so maybe the 70's wasn't
all bad.

9)  Let’s be honest here....the main stunt in this film--the car driving through the narrow alley on one side--is not only boring, it doesn’t work.  Director Guy Hamilton has to resort to some editing and an obvious inset of Connery and St. John ‘shifting’ from side to side in their car to convince us that the car moved from one side to the other.  It’s just a poor payoff to a very poor car chase that’s all the more dull because of the obviously artificial glimpses of the big crowds calmly standing on the sidelines watching the filming.

10) There’s a very real sense of the movie not, you know, having an actual plot until the very last act. The whole ‘we’re built this giant-ass laser thingie in orbit around the Earth that melts tanks and vaporizes people and we’re going to sell it to the highest bidder’ endgame sees to come out of nowhere.  It’s not that Maibaum and Mankeiwicz don’t set up elements leading us to the giant-ass laser thing; it’s that those elements are either injected seemingly randomly or make no logical sense.  Thus the impact of the film’s pay off doesn’t work.

Overall...the first Bond film of the 70‘s (and one of the first Bond films I saw in the theaters with my natural father) is a mess and a half, with the few bright spots far outweighed by the broad comedy, the illogical plotting and the dullness of the setting and stuntwork.  Not recommended.

And be prepared; this is going to be a long decade.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Ten Statements About...CEMETERY MAN a.k.a. DELLAMORTE DELLAMORE (1994)

Love means never having to say 'you've got bits of
my cemetery stuck in you.'
“I'm the watchman of the Buffalora Cemetery. I don't know how the epidemic started. All I know is that some people, on the seventh night after their death, come back to life. I call them Returners, but frankly I can't understand why they're so anxious to return. The only way to get rid of them once and for all is to split their heads open. A spade'll do it, but a dum-dum bullet is best. Is this the beginning of an invasion? Does it happen in all cemeteries? Or is Buffalora just an exception? Who knows? And in the end, who cares? I'm just doing my job."

1) This film is built firmly on the back of Rupert Everett, who was born to play Francesco Dellamorte.  All the laughlines, the tone and the exposition is carried by Everett, and his presence is what moves the film forward even as it becomes--consciously or not--more disjointed narratively.  And speaking of the film’s disjointed narrative--

2) A strong argument (one I agree with) can be made that everything supernatural happens in Francesco’s head.  All the zombies, the strangeness, the angel of death, even the metafictional ending are not acknowledged by any of the other characters save Gnaghi, and given how no one understands Gnaghi save for Francesco, there’s a strong chance that he’s reading meaning into the man-child’s grunts.  This could very well be a film about a mentally ill man and not a weird cemetery where the dead rise after a week.

3) I love how Michele Soavi is unafraid to indulge in his humorous side--and not only in the obvious ways (like how the Mayor tries to fire Francesco even after dying).  My favorite bit is how the photo of The Widow’s statements and, ultimately, her lovemaking with Francesco.   It’s an indication from Soavi that this film should not be taken on its face value.
And the scary thing?  This is the closest thing we have to
a normal relationship in this movie.

4) I love Francois Hadji-Lazaro’s performance as Gnaghi.  A mime by profession, Hadji-Lazaro has to use his physicality to carry his performance, and he does so magnificently.  And while he is used primarily as comic relief, he is able to give Gnaghi a level of pathos and joy at time that is infectious.

5) Anna Falchi....hmmmm.  I appreciate that she is capable of giving us three different characters (she’s referred to simply as ‘she’ in the credits,’ but I refer to the three as The Widow, The Secretary and The Student), but more often than not she isn’t very good, and I keep being distracted by the strangely impossible shape of her body.  She’s at her best as The Widow in the first act, playing off Everett extremely well and managing to get off a few darkly funny she has the greatest reaction to the weirdest pick-up line in the world.

6) What does it say about this film that the sweetest and healthiest relationship is between Gnaghi and the decapitated undead head of the mayor’s daughter?  Just saying.
He runs a cemetery, she's turned on by old's a
match made in...well, somewhere.

7) The thing that’s kinda weird about the Buffalora Cemetery that serves as this film’s backdrop is that it seems to go on forever.  It appears far bigger than Buffalora itself is, which seems to be little more than a town square and some side streets.  Granted, this discrepancy allows Soavi to create some beautiful shots, especially the brief tracking shot pulling away from Francesco’s home so we can see the parade of undead making their way to him as the flash from his frequent gunshots illuminate the night.

8) Having seen all of Soavi’s films, I’m willing to bet that the frequent parallels that he evokes throughout the film--the young girl evoking her lover, whose body is now fused with the motorcycle he loved mirrors The Widow emerging from her grave fused with bits of the grounds of the cemetery Francesco tends to; the ignus fatu that surround Francesco and The Widow when they first make love reflect the fate of The Student after Francesco realizes her true nature--are intentional and meant to be noticed, just as the way his composition of Francesco and The Widow’s first kiss evokes Magritte’s ‘The Lovers.’
All this and..BREASTS!

9) I really like Anton Alexander’s Franco, who truly does provide the only touchpoint Francesco has to the real world...although I continue to be puzzled by how he’s handled in the narrative itself.  He takes this strange turn in the third act that doesn’t quite jibe with his portrayal in the first two acts.  Even if we accept that the actions happen in Francesco’s head, there’s a definite disconnect in Fraco’s narrative arc.

10) I don’t know about you, but I don’t think that I would ever go to a doctor’s office like the one of Clive Riche’s Doctor Verseci.  Even if we take into account my ‘this happens in Francesco’s mind’ theory, that place is a dirty, grotesque horror show of a place.

Overall...a strange and peculiar film that is unlike any other zombie film, this is recommended viewing not only for Rupert Everett’s amazing performance but for the sheer oddness of the narrative and the beauty of the compositions.  One of my favorite, if not my favorite, zombie films.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Ten Statements About....28 WEEKS LATER... (2007)

You hang your head, Imogen Poots!  YOU KILLED
"It all makes sense. They're executing code red. Step 1: Kill the infected. Step 2: Containment. If containment fails, then Step 3: Extermination."

1) You can see how badly this film gets it wrong in the opening sequence, where we see an Infected biting and, it is implied, eating a victim.  These Infected act like, well, conventional zombies, which implies that the four writers who wrote this sequel didn't understand the rules Alex Garland set out in the first film.

2) And another thing the script didn't understand about the first film was how the characters came first.  Instead of the small group of people we got in that film, we get a family of unlikable characters surrounded by a group of military ciphers.  We learn nothing about Jeremy Renner's Doyle and Rose Byrne's Scarlet and are expected to sympathize with them solely because they buck the system and decide to protect the kids we're expected to sympathize with solely because they're the main characters.

3) I guess an argument could be made that Robert Carlyle's Don is the most effective of a pretty sorry lot of characters, and he effectively pulls off his Janet Leigh-ing at midpoint...but it's hard for Carlyle to overcome the way Don was so badly written.  He's never quite able to add enough nuance to justify the fact that he was a cowardly dickhead who acts purely on selfish impulses.
Robert Carlyle tries to run away from his commitment to
star in this movie.

Plus he's there for far, far too long after the big change in his status quo solely so...well, we can get more sympathies for his children.

4) ...and don't get me wrong, Imogen Poots (still the most unfortunately named actress in the world) and Mackintosh Muggleton are downright awful as Tammy and Andy.  Andy is a rather one note character, and Tammy is petulant and unpleasant throughout.  And they end up making a decision--much like the decision Don makes when confronted with his wife--that's so stupid as to break the suspension of disbelief.

5) But then, that's the core problem with the script--it is moved solely by stupidity that's not profound, not illuminating, but just...stupid, starting with the way the writers have Tammy and Andy sneak out of an armed encampment by...ducking behind a wall on a bridge?  Hell, we have Doyle noticing their escape, reporting it to the main command center, only for the troops to do...nothing?...for as long as it takes for the kids to discover their mother.  The plot is built on stupid choices which are made solely to expedite the plot and are not supported by the logic of the film's set-up.
"I'm planning on taking up the does 'Hawkeye'
sound as a codename?

6) Why do you hire Indris Elba as Stone and then give him absolutely nothing to do except call 'Code Red' and order all the snipers to kill everyone and let God sort 'em out?  Is that how you waste an expectional actor like him?

7) I have nothing against characters being used as plot devices....except, you know, when the script doesn't bother to give Catherine MacCormick, well, anything remotely resembling a character other than 'concerned mother.'  Hell, once she re-enters the story, she's there solely to be washed up, have the big reveal about how her blood fights the infection, and get killed off.  We never even learn how she survived the Infected attack at the beginning of the film, or how she didn't starve to death; the implication is that she spent the intervening six months cowering behind that facacta couch.

8) Maybe it's the fact that they're using a different method to depict the Infected, or maybe it's because director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo saw The Bourne Identity and thought shaky-cam was a good idea, but the Infected attacks are not as scary as in the original.  They're messy, confusing and just not exciting in the least.

9) Given all the negativity I have for this stupid, stupid film, there is one moment that captures the feel of the original.  The sequence at the carousel manages to give the film its one breath in between the endless stretches of carnage, and manages to give us one of the best chills in the films as its punctuation.

10) Look, I know that the original script is contradictory about this fact--but it is mentioned by Selena in that film that there were reports of outbreaks in France.  So why is the revelation at the end (brought about, presumably, by the selfishness of Tammy) so shocking?

Overall...Almost everything the first film gets right, this film gets wrong, resulting in a film that does not innovate on the Zombie Film Formula, but slavishly imitates it.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Ten Statements About....28 DAYS LATER... (2002)

The people may not be dead..but they
might wish they were if they could.
"This is what I've seen in the four weeks since infection. People killing people. Which is much what I saw in the four weeks before infection, and the four weeks before that, and before that, and as far back as I care to remember. People killing people. Which to my mind, puts us in a state of normality right now."

1) I will always appreciate how Alex Garland's script, while never slavishly following the plots of George Romero's initial trilogy of living dead films, weaves enough elements from all three that you can see how each act represents a different Romero film.  That the story itself is unique is all the more cool.

2) The thing I love about Cillian Murphy--besides the fact that he's got those scary Meg Foster-y eyes--is how he's this slim, frail looking thing and Boyle slowly convinces us that yes, he can be an action hero even if he looks weaker and sicker than the infected that surround him.  It manages to keep Murphy's Jim sympathetic even as he's doing some horrible things to free his compatriots.

3) I think the reason why this film gets to me in its post-apocalyptic-ness where other, contemporary films with a similar set-up doesn't is the way Boyle consciously does not give us any sort of visual reference to England before the incident.  The eiree  shots of thoroughly empty highways and streets emphasize the fact that the world before the infection is over and isn't coming back.  That lack of a reference point to before the disaster only makes the reality of the disaster greater.

4) As I've said many times, the greatest villains are those that believe they are the hero, and this is certainly the case with Christopher Eccholson's Major West.  The moment where West tells Jim the real reason he set up the broadcast that brought them to the barracks is infused with such the motivation that he reveals for this deception is borne out of need and pain.  It makes this character who, up until then, we've looked upon with authority, somewhat vulnerable and transitions him into something darker and more sinister.
"I know I'm going to save the world in three years...but
I figured I'd destroy it first."

5) God bless Doyle and Garland for not forcing the attraction between Jim and Naomi Harris' Selena and letting it develop logically, organically and--more importantly--slowly.  This relationship builds only during unguarded or stressful moments, and I find Harris and Murphy never telegraph these developments.  When these moments of affection happen, they're impulsive, they're desperate and they feel natural.  But then, that's what I should expect...

6) ...because, much like the Romero films that Doyle gets his inspiration from, the humans are the ones who fuck it all up.  The Infected are a complication, but all the real effective acts of violence are committed by the characters we're supposed to identify with--Selena, who hacks up her traveling companion immediately upon showing signs of infection; Major West, who sends Jim to his death when he won't cooperate; the soldiers who seem to revel in destroying the Infected; and ultimately Jim, who releases the Infected soldier West keeps chained up and gruesomely kills one of the soldiers who is threatening Selena and Megan Burns' Hannah.  Unlike its sequel, the film never loses sight that what happens to the characters is more important than the world itself.

7) The effect used to realize The Infected--apparently using a slow motion feature on the Canon DX-1 video camera used to shoot the film--makes them unique and disturbing to look at, primarily because they seem perpetually out of sync with everything else around them.
What's worse than a rage-infected monstrosity
chasing you?  A rage-infected monstrosity on FIRE!

8) I like the fact that this film boils down to an argument about whether life is worth living or not over extreme circumstances...and not only does Garland set up Selena and Jim as opposite sides of this argument, he sets up supporting evidence with Major West and his men on one side and Frank and Hannah on the other.

9) And speaking of Frank and Hannah, I have to give so much credit to Brendan Gleeson.  While Megan Burns is iffy at best as Hannah, Gleeson's interaction with her actually informs and enhances her performance, elevating her in our eyes and making her credible even after he's received his pass out of the movie.  And his final scene, where he struggles to keep his humanity even as he knows he's lost it, is masterful.

10) Thank God that we do get these little grace notes of beauty and hope in the film, including the final moment that is so gorgeous in the message it delivers. excellent alternative to the standard zombie film that has become cliched and dull in the intervening years, a film that is about characters rather than special effects and features exceptional performances.

Pity the sequel sucked so badly.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Ten Statements About....MACHETE KILLS (2013)

Yep...Amber Heard is riding Danny Trejo.  Which proves
no virtue goes unrewarded...
"Machete don't tweet."

1) Boy, Robert Rodriguez really, really wants to direct a Star Wars movie, doesn't he?

No, seriously--there is a point in this film where the Star Wars tropes so overwhelms it that it forgets what made the original film so enjoyable, namely that this was a gory late 70's action film with Danny Trejo stuck in the role usually reserved for some white pretty boy.  Sure, the intention this time seemed to be to pluck the old Mexican in the middle of a spy movie, but the sudden turn into science fiction doesn't work.

2) ...but then, Rodriguez seems so excited by all these new characters he wants to introduce that he seems to forget this is a film about, you know, Machete.  Not that I'm saying that El Chameleon and Voz and Miss San Antonio and Desdemona The Maneater and Mexican Dennis Miller aren't fun characters; I'm saying that Rodiguez spends so much time setting them up and letting them play around that Machete and the characters already set up in his world almost seem like an afterthought.

3) Is it just me, or did it seem like Rodriguez was setting up Charlie Sheen's President Rathcock as either an ally of Mel Gibson's Voz or the ultimate mastermind behind him?  That political campaign ad in the middle of the film seemed to do everything but scream out 'bad guy in disguise'.  I suppose I should be grateful that he doesn't pull the trigger on that, but if you're just going to make Rathcock into a foul mouthed straight shooter, why bother muddying the water?

4) See, Hollywood?  It is possible to make Michelle Rodriguez smile and have fun in spots while still keeping her bad ass credentials.  Hell, we get her doing the big patriotic speech to rally the troops and kick Amber Heard's ass while blind.  Let's keep that in mind for Fast Seven, 'kay?

5) Okay, I give Demain Bichir major props for being a theatrical star in Mexico City, and for appearing in a Santo movie.  But I can't buy him as Mendez because every time he slips into his psychotic personality he
"Of course I have a heart!  It's right
here in this jar!"
becomes Mexican Dennis Miller and I keep expecting him to make Cop Rock references.

6) I know there are some people who have rolled their eyes in disgust ever since the first photos of Sofia Vengara's Desdemona showed up online....but I don't have a problem with her.  It's obvious that Vengara is having fun with this character who's the opposite of the one she plays in Modern Family, and she fits within the world that was set up in the first film.

7) Whether you think Mel Gibson is a racist, misogynistic pig dog or not, he gives a really amazing performance as Voz--which is even more amazing considering what a strange and wrongheaded character Voz is.  Gibson takes this messed-up bundle of science fiction and spy movie cliches and actually put real thought into it.  This results in a character with a level of realization that maybe doesn't deserve it.

8) The political content of this film is not only weird, it's contradictory to the political content of the original film.  Starting with the scene where President Rathcock gives Machete 'what every Mexican wants'--namely, U.S. Citizenship--and continuing with Michelle Rodriguez giving the speech about it not being about Mexico anymore, the film seems unconcerned with the immigration agenda the original embraced.  And given that it slides into cheapjack sci-fi James Bond-isms, well....
"You make one more reference I don't understand,
Mexican Dennis Miller, and I will so cut you!"

9)  Another thing that's missing here from the film is those 'what the hell' moments that infused the original.  There are plenty of attempts to do so, especially when we get to Voz's compound and he shows off his science fiction toys, but they don't have the impact of, let's say, Machete using a man's intestines as a rope or Lindsey Lohan dressed as a nun mowing people down.  Maybe it's because the 'oh shit' moments in this film are both calculated and centered around hardware instead of behavior.

10) I think it's indicative of how bored I was with the later half of the film that when Antonio Banderas shows up driving an evangelical tractor trailer (just go with it), my main thought was how cool it would be if this film was a Machete/El Mariachi crossover rather than the mess I was actually watching.

Overall...A thorough mess on almost every level that manages to undermine the strength of the Machete franchise at every turn.

And incidentally--Fuck you, editor of the Machete Kills television spots for ruining several of the major plot twists with that MMA/Ready To Rumble style campaign.

I was one of three people who were in the theater at Atlas Park to see this crumbling of a franchise first hand.  I have to be honest--none of the trailers appealed to me.  Hell, the closest thing to a promo I liked was the little behind-the-scenes stunt segment with Johnny Knoxville for Bad Grampa.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Ten Statements About....EVIL DEAD 2 a.k.a. EVIL DEAD 2: DEAD BY DAWN (1987)

Remember...he's not laughing at you....he's just laughing...
"In 1300 AD they called this man the uh, 'hero from the sky'. He was prophesied to have destroyed the evil."
"He didn't do a very good job...."

1) You know what's brilliant about this film, and something very few people mentions?  This is the first Sam Raimi superhero origin film.  Bruce Campbell's Ash experiences a trauma, rises above it, takes command of his destiny, gains what amounts to super-powers and ends up fulfilling a prophecy.  It even has a 'suiting up' scene to represent Ash's transition into herodom!  The only reason we probably don't realize it's a super-hero film is because it's surrounded by this wacky haunted house/demon horror film!

2) I know there are some people who deride Bruce Campbell as a terrible actor (Hi, Kevin!), but this film really needed his physicality.  There are moments of extreme physical comedy, especially involving That Hand, that I can't envision another actor selling effectively.

3) And speaking of That Hand...I like how this film is blocked out so well that we forget entirely about it not once, but twice, creating these genuine shocks for the audience.  But then...

4) ...we are talking about a film so fast paced that the audience barely has time to breathe, let alone think about any plot holes.  Raimi barrels through the plot so fast that we're swept up in the insanity.  This is one of the few films I can confidently call a thrill ride because it never bothers to give us much of a lull.

A severed possessed hand is giving you the finger.
Your arguments are no longer valid.
5) I get that we're not dealing with Grade A actors in this film.  That being said, I do think that Sarah Berry's Annie doesn't quite work.  Her introduction and expository scenes are amongst the very few things that slows down the film, and she never quite convinces me that she's some archaeologist type.  Truth be told, I'm pretty sure she's only there because a) She's a big screamer and b) she looks a little bit of alright in those knee-high socks.

6) Bless Sam Raimi for insisting on using so much stop-motion animation.  Sure, some of it is kinda hinky (although the worst example--Linda's 'dance'--make up for it in its inventiveness), but it gives the film a distinctive flavor all its own...and as a devotee of Ray Harryhausen, I ate up every second of it.

7) In this world where even the slightest movie plot is stretched out to two hours, I am so glad this film is roughly eighty minutes in length.  It makes the constant barrage of gags and grue last just long enough we don't tire of it.

"Gee, your hair smells...edible!"
8) Boy, given everything that Sam Raimi puts his best friend and his brother through...well, I guess there's a price for loyalty.

9) Supposedly, the whole reworking of Evil Dead 1 in this one's first five or so minutes came from Raimi literally being unable to get the rights to use any original footage.  But all told, I think it works pretty well because the retread takes such a short time, and because Raimi is able to bring to bear on that sequence everything he learned in the intervening years.  And while this reshooting thing doesn't work as well when Raimi does it again in Army Of Darkness (mainly because it's hard to get away from the fact that Linda is being played there by Bridget Fonda), this time it gives us a cue that the story we're about to see may have a different tone and feel to the previous one.

10) And it's that tone that may make it unique--in a way, this is the film that reflects Raimi's sensibilities the truest.  It's got comic-book-y elements, lots of slapstick and lots of outrageous shocks and gore.  Everything that Raimi does in the future can be seen in the entrails of this film.

Overall...a classic little film that shows a great filmmaker in his embryonic stages.  Essential viewing if you're interested in horror or indie filmmaking.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Ten Statements About....INSIDIOUS CHAPTER TWO (2013)

Don’t look now, Barbara Hershey! Don’t look!
“It’s been so long since I felt pain. I forgot how much I enjoyed the sensation. Not as much as I enjoyed inflicting it."

1) This, ladies and gentlemen, is a well-made script for a sequel. It builds on the original, doesn’t contradict it, gives some secondary characters room to shine, and even clarifies some of the hazier concepts from the first film. It works seamlessly as a ‘true’ second chapter to the story and not another adventure hastily tacked on to pull more money out of fans of the first film.

2) Patrick Wilson is really having fun with his part in this. The script by James Wan and Leigh Whammel gives Wilson an opportunity to play the kind of part I don’t think he’s ever had the chance to assay before, and boy does Patrick dig in!

3) I am somewhat surprised at how much time Barbara Hershey gets in this part of the story, given how she was almost incidental to the first film. But then, Wan and Whammel’s creation of that second layer to the story justifies her taking the position as major player. Hell, she’s practically the female lead, which works because...

This is the extent of Rose Byrne's contribution to this film.
4) As much as I love Rose Byrne, her Renai is a bit, well, drippy in this one. There are long stretches where she’s there only to be The Girl School Screamer to be menaced by the evil entity of the piece (which, come to think of it, makes her the inversion of Barbara Hershey’s character in The Entity, which was nowhere near as good as this film). When she finally takes up a pot in the final act to try and brain the bad ghoul, I only thought ‘what took you so long?’

5) Whoever Lindsay Seim is, she’s made the list of Actresses I Need To Watch. In her small turn as the younger version of Lin Shaye’s Elise at the beginning of the film, she does an uncanny approximation of Shaye. I knew exactly who she was the showed up on screen, and she creates a strong continuity between these past scenes and the present ones.

6) Here’s something Wan does that he should teach Producer Oren Peli. Wan manages to incorporate some ‘found footage’ sequences that enhance the film without drawing us out of it. The moments, like when Leigh Whammel’s Specs and Angus Sampson’s Tucker investigate Elise’s Reading Room, are integrated subtlely and add to the atmosphere Wan is trying to achieve.

7) There is an attempt to create a method of reaching the spirits for Steve Coulter’s Carl that is effective, but it doesn’t have the retro-creepiness of Elise’ bizarre gas mask apparatus from the first film.

Boo! I's a ghost! A ghooooost!
8) I love how Wan and Whammel’s script ties up all the loose ends from both this and the original, although I am of two minds as to how effective it is when Shaye’s Elise at one point literally faces the camera and mutters, ‘so that’s what that was all about.’

9) I rather like how Wan has enough faith in us as an audience that he allows some of the apparition appearances to come without fanfare, never drawing attention to itself. Some of the creepiest moments have one of the two ghosts just cross across the background while the actors in the foreground, giving us just enough to doubt what we saw.

10) I like the ultimate evil entity that is the cause of all the trouble, although the mythology behind it may be the one weakness of the plot. If this entity, when it was on earth, was notorious enough to get itself a nickname...why didn’t anyone discover the room with the bodies of its victims until Hershey and company stumbled across it.

Overall...a really, really good follow up to Wan’s really, really good original. Fans will not be disappointed by it, and the way it ties up the Lambert family’s story while opening the door for new stories in this mythology is very satisfying.

I saw this at the Loews Village 7, taking advantage of AMC’s $7.50 matinee-before-noon policy. The trailer package was almost identical to the one I saw when I saw The World’s End save for the extended trailer for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug that made me sad that Peter Jackson is overextending that sliver of a book in the name of branding rather than, you know, doing films that are important to him, and Pompeii, which apparently seeks to Zack Snyder-ize that volcanic disaster. And I still don’t get the appeal of the Ron Burgundy character. At all.

Saturday, September 7, 2013


Yes, it is the Doctor about to pitch a cricket ball in space...
and that moment is one of the least stupid in this serial.
“We’ve got to get to Earth and warn them!”
“Or what?  Who’ll believe us?  We’ll be laughed at!”

1) This was the first serial Davison and crew shot for the 19th Season and It.  Is.  Horrifically Bad.  And I don’t think its horrific nature can be attributed to the four principals (well, three of the four; Matthew Waterhouse’s been doing this for long enough that there’s no excuse for him to be awful) trying to get into their characters.

2) I suppose I should be grateful that Nyssa gets a couple of things to do--to the point where you can almost see why Davison wanted it to be just her as companion--and that’s she’s the least risible of the quartet.  But even Sarah Sutton has her moments of overacting badness, which only contributes to the heavy fog of terribleness that just pervades the entire story.

3) Boy, when the crew starts to refer to the Urbankins as ‘frogs,’you never again can get past the fact that these are not-very-good actors in not-very-good masks and awful robes.  Even Stratford John, who is a decent actor who tries to infuse his character of main baddie Monarch with a degree of charm, can’t overcome the unwieldiness of the big ol’ sparkly green mufti.

4) The biggest problem with this story is that is smacks strongly of Making It Up As You Go Along.  There is no forward coherence as to the scheme, and the ultimate reason behind Monarch’s actions (and the final twist regarding his nature) smacks of a spur of the moment decision.  That sense of the production staff having no idea where they’re going just sinks the serial something fierce.
"Well, the Greek Guy is your Exposition News Network
reporter...the rest of us?  Damned if we know..."

5) The four ethnic types and their coterie....what purpose do they really serve?  I don’t think the script ever gives a true rationale as to why Monarch has been gathering these people up with each subsequent trip to Earth, and save for some expository dumpage from Philip Locke’s Bigon, they pretty much do nothing but provide some, ummm, local color and stretch out the paper thin plot so that it’ll somehow fit into four episodes.

6) And speaking of stretching the much of the serial’s running time is made up of those ‘recreations’?  It seems like a third of the story’s running time is spent watching the repetitive performances.  And I still don’t understand why the final explosion where all four presentations just go off at the same time.  If that whole aspect of the story wasn’t an argument for the ultimate switching to a three-episode serial structure Nathan Turner used at the end of his tenure, I don’t know what is.

I'd look like this, too, if I was stuck in this serial.
7) So, ummm....the only reason The Doctor susses out Monarch’s real nature, which leads to his vanquishing of the froggy villian, is because his thoughts on time travel are stupid?

Words. Fail. Me.

8) I honestly don’t know who’s worse--Adric with his gullible super-earnestness, falling in with Monarch....because that's Adric's move at this point, or the overtly hysterical Tegan.  I personally waver towards Tegan, simply because of the way her screaming and stomping about not only goes thoroughly over the top, but it actually drags Davison’s performance down at moments (the exchange cited above is ludicrous in the way Davison’s voice actually cracks at an inopportune time).  Even at this early stage, you can see how the ‘Kindergarten TARDIS’ concept simply wasn’t going to work.

9) Okay, I’ll give the serial this much--I rather liked some of the tech on display.  For some reason, I really responded to the simplicity of the oxygen helmet, which has a quaint retro look to them.

10) I think we can safely put the cliffhanger of Episode One in amongst the Lamest Cliffhanger Of All Time.  Having an alien frog show up as a severe looking woman in the dress Tegan sketched out, and having Tegan be creeped out by it is not fascinating viewing.

Overall...Ugh.  Just...ugh.  It’s not the worst Davison serial.  It’s not the worst Davison serial this season.  But it’s still rotten and stinking of cheese.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Ten Statements About....ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (1969)

"My good."
“This never happened to the other fellow."

1) Let’s get this out of the way....George Lazenby is actually quite good.  He’s the most energetic Bond we’ve had (which makes sense, given he was 28 at the time), handles himself extremely well in the fight scenes, and even manages to create a delivery that gives us some continuity between him and Connery.  Plus he is handed the most emotional arc of any Bond, including a devastating final scene, and acquits himself handily.  

2) Especially after the excesses of You Only Live Twice, the refreshing thing about this film is how naturalistic it is.  The only real gimmick Bond has is that cumbersome electronic safe cracker device that requires a big ol’ crane to transport, and the science fiction-y plot Blofeld has put together is certainly within the realm of believable science (Hell, it makes this iteration of Blofeld the first bio-terrorist in the movies).  In a way, an argument could be made that this is the first ‘soft reboot’ Bond film that sought to give the franchise a new direction.

3) Since you could see Broccoli thinking Lazenby’s inexperience as an actor being a liability, he stocks the film with lots of veteran actors...and none is as great as Diana Rigg as Tracy.  Rigg is stunningly gorgeous, proved that she had the proper physicality for the Bond franchise in The Avengers, and had the acting nuance to convince us that this was a woman Bond could not live without.  The rumor has always been that she and Lazenby hated each other, but you’d never know it from what’s on the screen.
"I had briefly considered going undercover as a
lollipop-sucking cop, Mr. Bond..." 

4) I am not as big a fan of Telly Savalas’ Blofeld as some people, but he is the best Blofeld for this movie.  He matches Lazenby’s energy and has a refreshingly hands-on approach when it comes to maintaining the security of Piz Gloria.  If Blofeld had been played more as a delegator like Donald Pleasance or Charles Grey did in their performances, the film would have been lacking a formidable opponent.

5) ...but then, one of the things I really like is how the roles of Mastermind and Henchmen are kind of switched.  Even though Blofeld is the main villain, he oversees his soldiers, is on the frontline for all the chase scenes, and even drives the car for when he enacts his special revenge on Bond while Ilse Steppat’s Irma Blunt seems to do all the supervisory work.  It’s a subtle but effective little bit.

6) Peter Hunt, who was the editor of the previous Bond films, got to direct this as a thank you from Broccoli--and it’s a shame he didn’t have a much, much bigger career as a director because he does an amazing job.  He chooses to shoot with naturalistic light whenever possible, taking full advantage of the gorgeous Swiss scenery.  His choice to create thematic motifs for every character results in some striking shots.  Hunt’s choices results in one of the most unique and distinct looking Bond films.

7) I really enjoyed Gabriele Ferzetti as Tracy’s father Draco--and so did Richard Maibaum, apparently, as he returns to this type of ‘honorably criminal’ supporting character in For Your Eyes Only and Octopussy.  Draco also has echoes of one of my favorite Bond supporting character, From Russia With Love’s Ali Karim-Bey.  Maibaum utilizes Draco just enough for us to appreciate him, allowing him to be a valuable resource at times without letting him overstay his welcome.

8) And while we’re on the subject of Maibaum, this is the last time in a long time where the movie faithfully resembles the novel.  Hell, it’s perhaps the most faithful adaptation of all outside of the previously mentioned From Russia With Love.

9)  Boy....the women who are Blofeld’s patient....yeah.  I find it amusing that amongst all these gorgeous women--which includes amongst its number Joanna Lumley (who will solidify the whole Bond/Avengers connection by going on to be Purdy in The New Avengers) and Catherine Schell--the one who makes the most impact is the daffy, energetic Angela Scoular as Ruby.  She may not be the sexiest woman in that group, but she’s the most fun.

10) I know it really existed, but the chalet that becomes Piz Gloria is one of the best villain hideouts in the series (you’ll notice that Ken Adams’ name is absent from the credits)...and not the least because it provides some wonderful vistas and sunrises for Hunt to shoot.

Overall...a film that does not deserve it’s reputation as second rate Bond  (earned probably due to the hideously bad two-part television edit ABC showed for decades), it’s actually a unique and engrossing film which ranks as one of the series’ best.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Ten Statements About....THE WORLD’S END (2013)

"Alright, everybody, here's a map to the funny bits."
"Tonight, we will be partaking of a liquid meal, as we wind our way up the golden mile commencing with an inaugural tankard in The First Post, then on to The Old Familiar, The Good Companion, The Trusty Servant, The Two-Headed Dog, The Mermaid, The Beehive, The King's Head, and The Hole In The Wall for a measure of the same. All before the last bittersweet pint in that most fateful, The World's End.  Leave a light on good ladies, although we may return with a twinkle in our eyes, we will be in truth blind drunk."

1) Why is it that everyone else seems to understand making effective John Carpenter movies these days better than, you know, John Carpenter?  For just as Shaun of the Dead is the best George Romero movie not made by George Romero, this is the best Carpenter science-fiction film Carpenter never made.

2) ...although what Edgar Wright does that, let’s say, Neil Marshall doesn’t do in Doomsday (which also expressed much Carpenter love) is take elements and themes that Carpenter used in many of his 80‘s films and fused them with elements and themes that Wright himself is obsessed with to create something unique.

3) One of the genius things about the way the film is structured is how it’s something Carpenter has never done in any of his classic science fiction films--namely, it turns out to be an origin for a archtypical Carpenter hero, down to the rather heroically silly name.

4) If we accept The World’s End as the end of a loose trilogy that includes Shaun of The Dead and Hot Fuzz, I like how our two leads have effectively switched places psychologically in this film, with Nick Frost being the level-headed one and Simon Pegg being the screw up...which makes their role in the third act all the more surprising.
I would go through twelve pubs to fight by the side of
Rosamund Pike...and I don't even drink.

5) I love how Wright casts actors in roles I don’t expect them to be in.  Paddy Constandine, in particular, is effectively cast against type.  That being said, I almost didn’t register Pierce Brosnan (who must be here because Wright loves James Bond, as all good red-blooded men are) in his role until well into the movie itself.

6) Oh, Rosamund Pike...even looking sorta dowdy, you are a vision on I figured your times in the Bond mines made you look kick-ass in the fight scenes.

7) What was the point of the giant sculpture thingie on the village green, other than to give us a wacko visual during the second act?
Oh, show me the way to the next Carpenter film/Oh,
don't ask why/Oh, don't ask why

8) Thank God this is another light-hearted, action-inclusive comedy that was allowed to be rated R.  I shudder to think how this movie, which relies so much on alcoholism, suicidal thoughts, mental illness and other darker themes, would play as a PG-13 film.

9) I appreciated the thought that was put into The Network, its motivations and its modus operandi.  It gave the menace more of a nuance (something else that Carpenter seems to not be interested in in many of his films).  Plus it allows some interpretation about whether Gary’s actions ultimately was for the benefit of humanity or not.

10) I do like how, even though Wright gives us the kind of dark, apocalyptic ending Carpenter was fond of, all of our characters got what they wanted...even if what they wanted wasn’t exactly in the pristine way they wanted it.

Overall...a great little picture that shows John Carpenter how he used to be able to do it, but with the kind of sensibility only Edgar Wright can pull off.

It was off to the Atlas for this, where I was the only patron save for three other folks, which was...kinda sad.  Amongst the trailers were The Fifth Estate (Bernard Cumberbatch in a bleached blonde wig is the most shocking thing in this flick, apparently); Insidious 2 (another one of these ‘we showed these people the movie and look how scared they got’ trailer, which I think undermines the fact that it’s a sequel to a really effective, really good James Wan flick) and Getaway (I just don’t get Selena Gomez.  I certainly don’t get Selena Gomez trying to act all gangsta and stuff).  Oddly enough, the most fun I had prior to the show came from watching that risible Firstlook puff piece on The Crazy Ones, where Robin Williams improvises a sexy fast food song in front of Kelly Clarkson.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Ten Statements About....THE FRIGHTENERS (1996)

Don't look now, Michael J. Fox...a 90's CGI effect is coming to
“That was the Soul Collector and he's been taking people out since time began.  He's been going about some dark business here in Fairwater and we ain't nothing but worm bait.  When your number's up,that's it.”

1) The thing I like about Michael J. Fox’s Frank Bannister is that he doesn’t shy away from being a scumbag, and director Peter Jackson doesn’t flinch away from his scumbagginess.  It makes his story arc have more heft when he starts finding a way towards his own humanity again when confronted with this rash of mysterious deaths.  However....

2) much as I liked Trini Alvarado’s Lucy, and as much as I admit that she and Fox have some real chemistry, their romance never quite feels real.  Part of it is because there’s no impetuous for it to happen; it seems like these two become attracted to each other solely because Jackson wanted a love story in the script.  Plus there’s the fact that she seems to fall for Frank, like, two or three days after burying her husband, which gives it an added layer of awkward.

3) Even though it’s obvious John Astin’s Judge is meant to be a comedic figure like his fellow ghosts Jim Fyfe and Chi McBride (who let him into this film?)...boy does his performance serve as a reminder of how good an actor he is.  Sure, it’s vaguely embarrassing watching him hump a mummy, but the scenes between him and Frank range from the spooky to the downright poignant...and his 'second death’ is something of a shock.

4) Even though there are some CGI moments which are wince-worthy (many of the sequences involving The Soul Collector moving through walls are thoroughly awful), I’m impressed as how well most of the shots do work.  The ones involving the normal ghosts are inventive and cool, and I like the way The Soul Collector swoops and swirls around the night skies as it seeks out its latest victim.
Don't you just hate it when you get some Jake Busey caught
on your gravestone?

5) I’ll be honest--Jackson makes a concerted effort to hide Fairwater’s true identity as two New Zealand towns (and also makes a concerted effort to not nail down where Fairwater is supposed to be), but the combination of the cars and the landscape doesn’t jibe with an American town, let alone what seems to be a small town with a big ass museum in it

6) The time frame seems a bit...screwy here.  If we’re to assume that Frank’s wife is the first of the Soul Collector’s murders, and that over two dozen murders happened between then and the start of the film before people start noticing, it should take place over time...and yet the backstory claims that Dee Wallace Stone’s Patricia has only been released for six months.  I would think the sudden rash of mysterious cardiac arrests would be a lot more noticeable if they were happening more than weekly--plus Frank’s downfall, establishment as a psychic investigator with three ghosts in tow and the like seems rather rapid in this context.

7) I do think, even though Jackson telegraphs the big twist regarding The Soul Collector--which is not the revelation of who he is--it comes as a bit of a shock, and the impact of the revelation works even more by letting the viewer in on it, and then plays on our perceptions as opposed to Lucy’s.
"Yep...I'm your designated movie love interest."

8) Boy, does Elizabeth Hawthorne’s Magda stick out.  While everyone who is New Zealand-y tries to affect an American accent with varying degrees of success, Hawthorne doesn’t even try...and every time she opens her mouth it’s a little shock of disbelief entered into a film that works real hard to create a credible world.

9)  I am a little conflicted by Jeffrey Coombs’ Milton Danvers, although I suspect a lot of that comes from Coombs’ performance.  It is obvious that he’s here to be a major fly in Frank’s ointment, consciously looking to pin all the deaths on him.  But there are moments where Danvers elicits a creepy sort of sympathy, especially when we learn the extent to which his past undercover work cost him.

10)  Since this is 1996, the score is a) primarily instrumental and b) composed by Danny Elfman before he became a parody of himself.  But there is a moment that utilizes Sonic Youth cover of The Carpenter’s ‘Superstar’ that is shudderingly creepy.  I mean, literally giving you the chills.

Overall...a great little comedic thriller with some effective special effects, it surprises me that it has fallen through the crack between Jackson’s indy films and the Lord of The Rings stuff.  Highly recommended.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Ten Statements About....AMERICAN PSYCHO 2: ALL-AMERICAN GIRL (2002)

Oh, Mila, Mila...couldn't you have found another DTV
sequel to star in?
“Okay, think about it.  I’m killing the few to save the many, sort of like Robin Hood."

1) One of the biggest problems with this movie that has many problems is how it simply cannot decide what it wants to be.  It seems like it wants to be as satirical and darkly humorous as the original, but it doesn’t have, nor want, the level of subtlety Mary Harron’s original possesses...and yet there are moments where you think director Morgan J. Freeman, or the script by Alex Sanger and Karen Craig (which totally missed the point of the original), believe they’re filming a genuine horror film.  It’s simply a mess....

2) ...and while we’re on the subject of Sanger and Craig’s script, the damn thing can’t even be consistent.  It goes through pains in the first act and change of the story to establish that this is all Mila Kunis’ Rachel’s point of view (even the scene that looks like it couldn’t be is later established as being seen through her eyes)...and yet they gleefully abandon this the moment they realize they have to firmly establish Geraint Wynn Davies’ ineffectual Dr. Daniels as a credible adversary as opposed to William Shatner’s Professor Starkman.  This is a script that doesn’t have the respect for its own world that it needs to have.

3) And speaking of William Shatner--my God, is he good as Starkman!  Shatner is the one actor who seems to be taking this mess seriously, and his performance is the most subtle I’ve seen him in years.  He’s definitely a high point in this film.

4) I really wish I could say the same for Mila Kunis, who is admittedly super-cute...but I think she takes the opposite tack of Shatner, overplaying it to the extreme.  There are a large number of moment when I swore Kunis was imitating Sarah Michelle Gellar at her Buffy-est worst, although I admit I could not tell if she was doing this for some sort of metatextual comic effect. And her monologues have none of the nuance and chill of Bale’s in the original, and are so broad they can’t even be interpreted as parody.
It's Mila Kunis driving a car containing a dead William
Shatner.  Your argument is no longer valid.  I guess.

5) There are two ‘twists’ in this braindead little film that are simply not set up in the least, one involving Starkman and one involving Rachel.  These things seem to show up solely because the writers need a little extra stuff to stretch out the running time.  It creates a definite sense of ‘making it up as you go along’ to the film.

6) ....but then, this is a film that’s so sloppy in its execution that it has Rachel murder people in broad daylight and in public places and nothing is made of it until the very end.  And I mean nothing.  It’s not until Dr. Daniels goes to the world’s most ineffectual sherif’s department that anyone thinks anything is wrong.

7) Oh, that fucking soundtrack.  Yes, the original featured a soundtrack that could be obtrusive at time, but that was primarily to reinforce the film’s sense of place and time.  This soundtrack of alt-rock songs keeps intruding on us, as if it’s afraid that we can’t figure out the nuances of the movie without it.  Hell, I like some of the bands on it, but not when they suddenly intrude on every single scene in every single moment.

8) You know how this film annoys me right from the start?  It shows that the writers had no understanding of what the original film was about by ignoring the revelation of the ending and reducing Patrick Bateman to just a normal serial killer.  By hinging the premise of the film on that assumption, it makes the whole film spurious.  Now there is a (very) brief moment where it looks like the writers are going to play on the original film’s conceit, but that moment is discarded immediately so we can return to the too obvious plot.
Look, you know this is the only reason you're considering
watching this movie, so here's another photo of her looking

9) You know, the biggest problem with Wynn Davies’ Dr. Daniels as the film’s hero--besides the fact that he’s totally ineffectual (and morally wreckless) as a psychiatrist?  He seems to be an after thought.  There’s a strong sense that Starkman should have been the hero of the film, a sense that’s bolstered by Shatner’s performance...but after he’s given his pass out of the movie in an actually pretty good scene, Daniels is shoved into the hero role by default.  And considering the character has not displayed anything to feel positive about, what we can laughingly refer to as the film’s momentum is stopped cold.

10) Okay, this is an unrated direct-to-video sequel, right?  Then why is it so bloodless.  Not that I’m saying gore would have saved this movie, but it seems weird that we don’t get blood and ick in a film as aggressive about its mayhem as it should be.

Overall...a worthless, annoying film that seems to scream and run about like a toddler on a sugar high.  Supposedly, Mila Kunis is embarrassed by this film, which only proves to me that she has a good head on her shoulder.  Avoid.  Avoid a lot.

Saturday, August 3, 2013


Doctor In A Box!
“That's the trouble with regeneration: you never quite know what you're going to get.”

1) And here we formally begin the Peter Davison era with this final leg of the introduction of the Master--and it’s indicative of the Davison era in how it feels like two separate stories welded together, seems to be truly stretched out and features some moments where the TARDIS Crew seems...ineffectual.  And yet there are large swatches of the serial that works and works well.

2) This is, of course, Davison’s first full serial as the Doctor and let’s give him credit--he gives it his all, especially during the first half’s failing regeneration.  I appreciate how Davison works hard to give all the shout-outs to previous Doctors some weight even when it’s obvious they were shoehorned in as a game of Husker-Du.  He’s going to struggle throughout his three years to find out what his Doctor is like (something that’s not entirely his fault), but even here there are glimmers of what could make him unique.

3) Maybe it’s because Adric is more or less credibly out of the picture (although he’s in the picture in another sense), but this serial actually, you know, gives Nyssa a lot to do.  Even though Davison assigns to Tegan the role of ‘Administrator,’ Nyssa pretty much is in control of things.  She’s the one who keeps the team together, she’s the one who figures things out, and she’s the one that’s key in doing lots of the science-y stuff.  Granted, after this she falls asleep for a serial, and...well, not all that much after that.  As someone who (like Davison) felt Nyssa was the best of the three companions, it’s a little heartening.

4) Look, I get that the Nathan Turner conception of the Master is that he’s always in disguise manipulating things from behind the scenes...but Ye Gods, how come no one figures out which one of the Castrovalvas is him?  Putting powder in your hair and stooping over does not make an effective disguise.
"You're not fooling me, Anthony.  You look like an old

5) Of the two parts, I vastly prefer the first part, where our companion corps have to work out how to stop falling into (what will become) the sun.  There’s a definite sense of urgency and pace that seems to dissipate once they reach Castrovalva.  That being said, I do very much appreciate how Bidmead is able to make the first half significant to the second, setting up factors that will dominate once everyone gets to the titular area.

6) Watching it now, I’m sort of puzzled by all that’s made of how sinister Derek Waring’s Shardovan is in the third and part of the fourth chapter.  It’s almost as if they want him to be a red herring, but they try too hard, from dressing him in black unlike the other Castrovalvans, having him look on in an enigmatic way, at one point interposing himself between the escaping crew and pretty much glaring, etc.  If the intent was to throw us off the scent of the Master, it fails because it’s trying too hard....

7) But then, this might be why the serial seems so disjointed throughout; in trying to establish how different the first Doctor he has complete stewardship of is, Nathan Turner seems to overcompensate...which is weird, given how so much of Nathan Turner’s last Baker season was built on simply good stories and not on the deck-chair-changing exercises.  But then, last season was story edited by this story’s writer, Christopher H. Bidmead, while this season (and so many others after it) was edited by...grumblemutter...Eric Saward.

You will learn much of my dislike of Mr. Eric Saward and his dumb-ass Buster Brown haircut in the coming months.

8) I do like the design of Castrovalva, which--like the serial--was inspired by Bidmead’s interest in M.C. Escher.  I like the way he furthermore extrapolates on Escher’s design asesthetic to create a trap for The Doctor.  However, the effectiveness of 1982 special effects does blunt the impact of the trap being sprung at the end of the third chapter.
There are some who would say being trapped in an abstract
web was the best use of Matthew Waterhouse's time...

9) I have to be honest--I’m still a little hazy as to the nature of the Castrovalvans.  If we accept what the Master says about them as gospel (and I see no reason why we shouldn’t, given that The Doctor and Nyssa pretty much confirm the fact), then the Castrovalvans’ ultimate fate doesn’t quite make sense.  It makes for cool visuals, sense.

10)  Even this early in the Ainley Master’s career, the man is beginning to degrade into the cackling goofball that he becomes toward the end of the classic era.  There’s some moments in particular, like when he’s gloating about creating traps within traps, where he seems to get too pantomime-y and disrupts what Nathan Turner is trying to do with his quieter, more human Doctor.

Overall...even though it has its shaky moments, this is still a good serial, and a decent ending to the ‘Return of The Master’ trilogy.

But enjoy this good story while you can, because a lot of what follows....ugh.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Ten Statements About....THE BLOOD ON SATAN’S CLAW (1971)

Ladies and gentleman...the Hot Face Of Evil!
"You must have patience, even while people die. Only thus can the whole evil be destroyed. You must let it grow."

1) The thing I find the most fascinating about this picture is how it’s dominated by Patrick Wymark’s Judge and Linda Hayden’s Angel Blake--and yet both actors only appear sporadically, especially Wymark.  It’s to the credit of these two actors that they manage to cast a shadow over the story even when they’re nowhere to be seen.

2) The film also greatly benefits from being shot on location using mostly natural lighting.  There is a definite sense of veracity to this small town, which makes the strange and disturbing things that happen all the more creepy.

3) God is Linda Hayden gorgeous.  And while I still think she is while she’s wearing that ridiculous sheet and the black crepe-ish eyebrows in the third act, her Angel Blake is a tutorial in how to be seductively evil.  There are moments when director Piers Haggard just focuses ever-so-briefly on Angel, and the way she’s staring, or the way her lips just curls gently into a smile, speaks volumes about the darkness in her heart.
"Verily, this cookie has gone bad..."

4) Apparently, this script was written as three shorter films set in three different time periods before Haggard insisted on them being integrated into one story...and you know, that integration works to heighten the sense of this small rural town in Jacobean England falling into utter chaos.

5) One of the reasons I love films from this period of British cinema is how they’re populated by these amazing character actors that bring life even to their briefest scenes.  I was particularly taken with Howard Goorney’s unnamed Doctor and Anthony Ainley’s naturalist Reverend Fallowfield, who bring a little nuance to their every moment on screen.

6) Perhaps the thing that I find so disturbing about the events in the film is how it’s almost entirely caused by a group of kids who seem to think they’re playing.  And to make things even worse, Haggard adds these two old people in amongst the kids, laughing and smiling in encouragement that adds a whole layer of unsettlement to the proceedings.

7) According to Haggard, the centerpiece of this film--the ritual (incestuous, necrophiliac) rape and murder of Wendy Padbury’s Cathy, was improvised on the day.  If that’s the case, it’s a magnificent piece of on-the-spot filmmaking. It’s truly scary for the way Haggard seems to play with our expectations, leading us to imagine all sorts of fates for Cathy...until we see what Angel has in store for the hapless young girl and we realize it’s much, much worse.

8) The greatest unsung hero in making this film so great is composer Mark Wilkinson, whose weird, woodwinds-intensive score that tweets and twitters like the crows that serve as one of the movie’s motifs.  The way it seems to insinuate itself quietly, commenting on the events as they grow more and more out of control, contributes to the overall sense of unease in the story.
"Collect All My Parts And I Will Be....A MONSTA!!!"

9) Okay...that freakin’ paper mache’ devil.  What the.....?  In a film that so skillfully creates mood and atmosphere and maintains such a creepy feel, the goofy looking demon hoping around just kills a lot of said atmosphere.

10) And while we’re on the subject, while I don’t think it has the buzz-kill aspect of paper mache’ devil, I find it amusing that The Judge warns people he will use unimaginable methods to kill the evil, and ‘unimaginable methods’ apparently equals a big honking sword, two mean dogs, and that deaf mute guy who got thrown off the roof in The Spy Who Loved Me.

Overall...a really amazing little horror film that manages to create a disturbing atmosphere throughout.  One of the great jewels in the crown of Tigon’s career, and a shame that it’s not available on DVD or Blu-Ray in the United States.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Ten Statements About....PACIFIC RIM (2013)

"Today, the apocalypse is cancelled."

1) While Guillermo del Toro not only is clear about this being his version of a kaiju film (it’s not for nothing that the film is dedicated to Ray Harryhausen and Ishiro Honda), this owes more to Starship Troopers than any Godzilla film imaginable.  del Toro structures this film as a war movie, with all the military politics and soap operatics that entails in the modern world...and he makes it work.

2) And because it owes a lot, structure-wise, to Starship Troopers, it doesn’t surprise me that del Toro builds its narrative structure firmly on the back of Indris Elba.  Much like Michael Ironside in the previous film, Elba serves as expository device, guiding force and character mirror, giving the entire film a consistent tone it might not otherwise have.  Because he’s a rock in the center of a very chaotic story, Elba grounds the film and leaves the other characters free to have their own little storylines.

3) Thank God that del Toro respects us enough to let the relationship grow naturally between Charlie Hunnam’s Raliegh and Rinko Kinkuchi’s Mako.  Hell, give him credit for making it clear that the two are heading for a romantic relationship without hitting us over the head with it.  The two never even kiss, never say anything that expresses their feelings, yet we know.

4) Considering how much I despised him in Torchwood as Owen Harper, I have to give Burn Gorman a lot of credit--and maybe an apology--after his turn as Dr. Gottleib.  Gorman submerges himself in Gottleib, allowing himself to be used as comic relief while retaining a sort of dignity as a scientist.

5) You wanna know a way to retain a sense of reality for your science fictional world?  Fill your world with character actors who look more or less like real people.  Outside of Elba and Ron Perlman, this is a movie populated by people we may recognize vaguely, but only vaguely.  Since there’s rarely a moment where we stop and go, 'hey, it’s _______’, we’re able to lose ourselves in the world.

6) I respect how del Toro, knowing we’re jonesing for robot vs. kaiju action, never lets us go thirsty for giant creatures beating each other up.  Sure, there are only a few set pieces...but in the spaces in between there’s always something to remind us this is a world under attack by monsters primarily thanks to a series of news reports.

7) Boy, given what he goes through in this film, Ron Perlman must be the best friend ever.  And he also must have the least amount of ego.

...oh, and these guys.
8) It gives me great satisfaction that when the World Leaders believe the Jaeger Program is failing, they end up with a new plan--namely, to quote Centurion, ‘a fucking wall.’  And it gives me greater satisfaction to see how that shakes out.

9)  I have to wonder if there is a way to connect the Pacific Rim universe to the Hellboy universe.  There are strong commonalities in the way the entropic elements work in each adventure, and one could see a comic-book-y ‘unified field theorem’ going on in the mind of comic-book fan del Toro.

10) You’ll notice I haven’t talked much about the actual, you know, robots fighting monsters thing.  That’s because the action sequences kick ass, they’re well thought out, and it’ll feed that primal need we all have to see big honking things roaring and smacking each other around.

Overall...del Toro does it again--finding a way to do something big and shouty that appeals to our younger selves while giving us a degree of nuance you’ll never find in most other big budget blockbusters.

I went to the Atlas again for this, and through the use of strategic bathroom breakage managed to avoid the bulk of the Regal Firstlook (fuck you, Firstlook).  Amongst the trailers I saw were Elysium (the new Neil Blomkamp, who seems to be making a subtle sequel to his District 9 judging from some of the tech on display), Anchorman 2 (I just don’t get why the first was so amazing--I found it stupid and puerile--that it needed a decade-later, inferior looking sequel), Ender’s Game (which looks like it would be the kind of science fiction film I’d want to see if, you know, the person who wrote the original wasn’t a homophobic ass) and Seventh Son (a fantasy movie that bugs me for, at turns, obviously wants to be a franchise and wanting me to buy Julianne Moore as an evil witch/dragon).  We are entering some dark, dark days, my friends.