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.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013


Now that he's established, this Master gets to
being truly, seriously scary....
“Logopolis is not the universe."
“But it is. Logopolis is the keystone. If you destroy Logopolis, you unravel the whole causal nexus.”

1) There is no doubt, right from the first part of this serial, that Janet Fielding’s Tegan Jovanka is going dominate the companion screen time....and given the abrasiveness and bossiness of the character (it’s not for nothing that at one point during her tenure she’s referred to as ‘a mouth on legs’), this does not bode well for the tenure of incoming Doctor Peter Davision.

2) And the fact that Nathan Turner has fallen in love with Tegan results in his impulse add of Sarah Sutton’s Nyssa becoming inconsequential.  Nyssa just appears out of nowhere in the second part of the story, and seems to be there solely so The Master can have someone to use that weird arm-controlling device in part three.  Admittedly, there is an attempt to bind her together thematically with the other companions when her planet is destroyed (a moment where Sutton shines), but the fact that she’s there Just Because is glaring.

3) Christopher H. Bidmead’s script is typical in its hard science concepts, especially when it comes to Logopolis itself.  The moment the TARDIS lands on this planet and we start to unravel the mystery and purpose behind it, the serial never lets up.  And Bidmead trusts us enough as an audience to grasp these principles without talking down or stopping everything to explain what’s going on.  That allows for the story to flow evenly and allow us to concentrate on the characters and what’s happening to them.
"Free at last, free at last!"

4) This is the first full serial that reveals Anthony Ainley’s Master to the world, and man is he pretty damn scary!  Even though he’s saddled with that odd outfit with the black frock coat and ornate silver collar that made me refer to it as ‘the gay pirate’ uniform, Ainley creates a very malevolent and--more importantly--opportunistic figure who thinks nothing of taking advantage of a serious situation he caused by accident to blackmail the entire universe.

5) I have to wonder why Bidmead allows the whole sequence concerning the nesting Tardisi, as it really doesn’t pay off much save for watching Tegan wander around and around the Tardis looking for an exit.  This is something we’ll see a number of times throughout the Peter Davison series, where there seems to be two separate and unconnected acts that run through the serial.

6) The Watcher...I am of two minds about this aspect of the story.  It’s certainly a fairly shaky justification for a regeneration, and the Watcher is an even shakier device for it to happen.  That being said, I give both Bidmead and Nathan-Turner credit for trying to make the whole regeneration epic.  It doesn’t work (the Davison-to-Colin-Baker regeneration works a whole lot better, primarily because the moment is treated as more intimate), but at least it’s there.

7) Maybe it’s because he’s finally getting his pass out of the series, but Tom Baker is surprisingly subdued and effective in the serial.  There’s a sense of him being aware of his own impending doom (the way he keeps trying to pass off Adric and, later, the girls, off on others seems to emphasize this) and trying hard to keep it together.  Plus he shows absolute contempt for the Master.  There’s that moment at the end of episode where the Master offers his hand to cement an alliance; Baker looks away before shaking his enemy’s hand that speaks volumes about his distaste for the deal.
"Mark my of you is going to have to go..."

8) John Fraser’s performance as The Monitor is rather intriguing.  There’s a certain sense of, well, modest immodesty to his actions, and the way he rarely speaks in anything other than  conversational tones makes the few moments when he does lose his self-control all the more effective...especially the moment where we learn the true secret of Logopolis.

9) Maybe it’s because the series had been under the influence of Baker for several years, or maybe it’s because of the inexperience of two of the main actors involved in the serial--namely Matthew Waterhouse and Janet Fielding--there’s a level of pantomiminess that serves to make the flow of the serial out of kilter.  The broadness of the reactions in Fielding’s case are particularly jarring.

10) I appreciate the use of the Pharos Project; it dovetails nicely with Bidmead’s mathematics theme, I assume it allowed the budget to stretch so that this serial looks a little cooler than it could have...but I think that the final part is a little too full of everybody running around the grounds, all hunched over in the hopes of not being seen.  This, coupled with the whole ‘nesting Tardisii’ things give the serial a sense of being overinflated.

Overall...Yes, it’s flawed.  Yes, it could be more tightly plotted.  Yes, it suffers from companion-itis.  But it’s got a wonderful nugget of a premise that is very hard science fiction with some excellent performances by Baker and Ainley.  This is absolutely essential viewing.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Ten Statements About....YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (1967)

"Wait a're short, you're bald, and you have a
weak chin.  Give me a real master villain!"
“James Bond. Allow me to introduce myself. I am Ernst Stavro Blofeld. They told me you were assassinated in Hong Kong."
“Yes, this is my second life."
“You only live twice, Mr. Bond."

1) This is unique amongst the Bond films for the fact that it’s written by someone outside of the Eon Productions family--namely Roald Dahl.  And as much as I love Dahl as a writer (he’s one of the greatest short story writers ever) and a novelist, this script is very nonsensical and has the kind of ‘and then this happens, and then this happens’ make-it-up-as-it-goes-along feel that comes to dominate the series once the Roger Moore era rolls around.

2) Boy, does Sean Connery look old at times....which might be why he made the decision to leave the franchise during its filming.  He looks particularly old as he goes undercover as a Japanese fisherman (don’t ask).

3) I find it fascinating how this is one of the only Bond films--if not the only Bond film--where the bulk of the gadgets don’t come from Q.  The only thing Desmond Llewellyn gives Bond is Little Nelly; the exploding cigarettes and the ninja mufti is all Tiger Tanaka’s work.  And the ninja angle gives this film a unique feel the previous Bonds don’t have.  And speaking of Tanaka...
"I'm Japanese, damnit...JAPANESE!" 

4) Tetsuro Tamba is great as the head of the Japanese Secret Service.  Since he’s closer to Connery’s age (or at least looks closer to his age), there’s more of a sense of them treating each other as peers.  Plus he’s cool as crap in his own right, what with his own private railway car, ninja school and the ability to call up electromagnet-enabled helicopters at will.

5) While Mie Hama’s Kissy Suzuki is the featured Bond Girl, it’s real curious as to how little she actually is featured.  She doesn’t even show up until after the halfway mark, and doesn’t do much except run around in a very fetching white bikini.  Plus, she’s not all that interesting--and I have to assume that’s the script’s fault because I’ve seen Mie elsewhere and know she’s capable of being engaging.

6) And more puzzling, Connery has more screen time (and way more chemisty) with Akiko Wakabayashi’s Aki.  Aki has a great dry sense of humor that works extremely well with Connery and does a lot more than Kissy.  She definitely feels more like the prime Bond Girl, and while her ultimate fate has more impact due to her screen time, some of the energy goes out of the film when Wakabayashi is no longer in it.
Yep...pretty much the only reason Mie Hama is in this movie.

7) I’m not a big fan of the Japan depicted within this film.  There is a definite sense of Japan as a modern country--which it certainly was becoming at the time--and yet we see people wandering around in traditional Japanese dress at time.  This is particularly jarring when we see Aki tailing Bond at the beginning of Act One, dressed as a geisha in a sea of men and women in suits (I know that this might be Lewis Gilbert trying to make make Aki stand out so we know she’s different, but still....)

And we’re not going to talk about the Fishing Village That Time Forgot....

8) You know...given that this was the culmination of a tease started back with the first film, and the climax of the first leg of this series, the revelation of Donad Pleasance as Blofeld seems a little lax.  He ends up being rather unimposing and less freakish and colorful than the underlings he sent before him (well, other than Largo.  No one’s more boring than Largo yet.).  His interaction with Bond is rather bland and his running like a girl once his plan blows up in his face is laughable.  And speaking of that plan...

9) ...there are some moments that are seriously goofy.  The whole thing with Karin Dor's Helga Brandt and the plane with the wooden plank makes no sense, and the idea of using a big ass spaceship that opens up to swallow smaller spaceships seems rather exorbitant.  And Dahl seems bored whenever some details are needed.  The moment when Blofeld blackmails the Generic Asians for a larger payment calls out for a little expository dialogue...and none comes.

10) The Ken Adams volcano set is pretty impressive--it netted Eon Productions an Oscar--but the film seems to engage in a little too much set porn as Gilbert lovingly goes over every nook and cranny of this area without much of a point.  There’s a particular moment near the end of Act Two where we just asked to take in this fortress for roughly five minutes before another drawn out scene in Blofeld’s sprawling office.  If they made these picturesque moments a little more streamlined, maybe the film would’ve flowed better.

Overall...not a great entry, mainly due to Dahl’s rather peculiar script, even though there are some great moments.  Not a good coda for this leg of the Bond series (although, to be fair, it’s a little better than either of Connery’s return to the roles).