Thursday, 13 December 2018

Wonder Woman The Golden Age Vol 1

Ropes N’ Tropes

Wonder Woman
The Golden Age Vol 1

by William Moulton Marston
DC Comics 

ISBN: 978-1401274443

I’ll be the first to admit that I was never much interested in Wonder Woman as a kid growing up in, mostly, the 1970s. Sure I watched the Lynda Carter TV show from time to time, primarily because there were so very few live action superhero characters on television then that it was a huge novelty to get someone doing this kind of stuff on air (and even less so in the UK where we only got a few of the small selection of live action comic book characters that the US were putting out in shows and movies). So my primary experiences of Wonder Woman were when she used to show up in the odd issue of the 1970s Justice League of America comics, which I might find laying around at my Uncle’s place and, of course, in one of my favourite cartoon shows, The Superfriends (which was kind of an animated Justice League lite). Of course, Lynda Carter would return to my fantasy life just a few years later in the Wonder Woman costume but... err... yeah, that was purely for other reasons and perhaps it would be inappropriate to explore that here.

All that changed last year when I saw what is, to date, the greatest superhero movie of all time, Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman (reviewed here), starring Gal Gadot as the titular character. This film both moved me and caught my eye on almost every level and, coupled with the unbelievably brilliant biopic Professor Marston And The Wonder Women (reviewed here), it was obvious I was going to want to read more about this beloved comic icon and, what better way than to read these new reprints of her earliest days.

Wonder Woman The Golden Age is a generous tome and reprints all of the stories appearing in the first year or so of her existence from late 1941 and into 1942, covering her first appearance in All Star Comics, followed by a continuation of that origin story in Sensation Comics, followed by her features continuing in Sensation Comics and also in the issues of her own Wonder Woman comic, once the character was proven to be successful.

The artwork is pretty much what I was expecting from a 1940s comic book although, that being said, the drawings aren’t quite as crude as the early Superman comics from 1938, nor the various Timely (later Marvel) comic characters from 1939 such as The Human Torch and The Sub Mariner. I think by the time Wonder Woman was launched onto the scene, the comic book artists were starting to get the hang of the idea that comics were a big thing and a regular paying job, so the artwork by various artists was probably improving all the time (that’s my theory, anyway) so, while you can probably easily date the artwork in these issues to more or less the correct time period (not to mention the structure of the pages as a whole), they aren’t in any way flat or boring and are easier on the eye than you might expect.

It’s interesting to note that while the origin of the character (as told in a couple of different versions in this first year) is quite a bit different from the version in the latest movie - presumably it’s been much revised over DC’s lengthy history - there are also a lot of elements from the original early issues that did make it into the recent film version. Whether that’s Jenkin’s and her writers cobbling bits of Wonder Woman history together herself from the early days or if these are elements that have been picked up in various revisions of the comics over the years, is not something I am qualified to make a good guess at.

So, for example, the origin includes the theft of Queen Hypolyta’s girdle by Hercules who then enslaves all the amazons. When Aphrodite eventually sets them free and hides them on Paradise Island, they all still have to wear shackles/bracelets as a reminder of the nature of man (this is pretty good, feminist stuff for the early 1940s I reckon... at least it’s probably quite ahead of its time in terms of seeing publication in a popular print form for the period). Also, when Wonder Woman, aka Princess Diana, aka Diana Prince (her alter ego as a simultaneous Army Nurse and Secretary to Steve Trevor’s superior in the army) has shackles attached to those specific bracelets and they are put on by a man, she basically loses her powers until they are removed (this was one of the few equivalents to Superman's Kryptonite the character had at this stage).

However, the little things which did make their way into the film in one shape or form are clearly visible here. For instance, in one issue we have the villain as Dr. Poison, who is revealed at the end of the strip to be a woman (the character was played by Elena Anaya in the movie). Also, although the World War Two setting was relocated to World War One for the movie, the second Wonder Woman strip (the first to feature in Sensation Comics) also includes a storyline involving the villain's perfection of a new kind of gas that penetrates all known gas masks... another element from the recent motion picture.

There are also many things which wouldn’t have translated too well from page to screen, for sure. For instance, the fetishistic overtones of female domination and lezdom spanking, often seen in relation to Diana’s friend Etta Candy, was mostly edited from the movie. Etta herself was a completely different personality in the movie but they did get her trademark cry of “Woo! Woo!” into the film... albeit very subtly. Perhaps another thing that may have been a big mistep if the film version had gone into a more faithful adaptation, especially in the scenes on Themyscira where the Amazons are fighting the Germans, would be the fact that, rather than ride around on horses, the Amazons of Paradise Island tend to ride around on giant kangaroos. That's an idea possibly best left in the 1940s as regards to movie credibility, methinks.

There are also some subtle differences too.

Yes, Professor Marston was, along with his wife and live in mistress to them both, the real life inventor of the lie detector... and he does have a lie detector appearing in more than one issue in this first year. However, rather than being a specific ‘rope of truth’ as it came to be over the years, the golden lariat was actually a piece of equipment that compelled the wearer to do whatever the wielder commanded... unless the person giving the orders was a man, of course.

Due to the setting and the times, the comic has a lot of contemporaneous references and also, like many of the comics of the time (especially the early Superman strips, if memory serves), a lot of social messages about how the young readers should be living their lives in the face of corruption and, of course, the war. So, you will sometimes get stories devoted to fairer wages for the shop assistants in department stores or factories keeping the price of milk down for the people. And, naturally, the usual stuff about buying lots of War Bonds and helping the war effort. There are also referrals to things which, while not quite yet lost to the period in which they were written, were things I had to look up. Ignatz Mouse and Krazy Kat, for example, rang a vague bell but I had to research them before I was any the wiser.

That being said, one of the most problematic things with these early comics is the war itself. Since the character, like many of her costumed contemporaries, is all powerful, you wonder why she doesn’t just go over to Germany and deal with Hitler herself and end things in a few minutes. I don’t know exactly when DC wrote in the mystic powers of the infamous and, possibly, real life Spear Of Destiny into the strip, to keep superheroes from getting near Hitler but... it doesn’t seem to be much in evidence in these stories for sure.

One of the delights of these comics is the advancement of the form itself. Things in the artwork are evolving such as one page splash panels to start off the story or using bubble edges around panels which are flashbacks. It’s nice to see this evolution of the art of the comic strip although, it has to be said, when they flash back to her origin story (and change it slightly), you have the former versions of the story on hand so you can see how the colours have been changed on later versions of the back story. Deliberate ‘errors’ like this certainly keeps the readers on their toes and it makes things interesting. It’s also astonishing to see how far ahead of her time, in some ways, Diana was in the comics. Not just in terms of feminism but with fantasy ideas too. For example, she was having adventures on other worlds as the astral projection of her form two decades before Marvel’s Doctor Strange character was doing this more regularly. My guess would be that this was very much influenced by the ethereal transportation of John Carter to the planet of Barsoom (Mars) in the Martian tales of Edgar Rice Burroughs (alas, the film version of A Princess of Mars, called just John Carter, changed it to teleportation to make the concept more palatable to modern audiences). I’m sure they’re something Marston would have at least been a little familiar with, at any rate.

So that’s the first year of Wonder Woman read and I have to say, I really enjoyed these things... especially when you know a little of Marston’s history and kinks and see how they made their way into the strip in some subtle and, often, not so subtle ways. These reprint books from DC are really appreciated and much cheaper than the old DC Archives hardbacks from a number of decades ago. They bundle the appearances together chronologically from all the simultaneous titles, rather than just reprint the one title and leave you with references to other stories you’ve not read yet.. I’m definitely going to have to catch up with some more of these Wonder Woman reprints... and probably some of their other characters as well. I’ve already picked up the first volume of Batman and I’ll hopefully be able to get to that one sometime soon.

Monday, 10 December 2018

Doctor Who - The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos



Ux Dodgers

Doctor Who - The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos
Airdate: 9th December 2018
BBC 1


Hooray... we actually had a finale to the series which wasn’t half bad.

After a prologue where we see an alien race (a race which consists of only two people) called the Ux witness a person transported into their midst, we jump thousands of years in the future to find The Doctor (as played by the excellent Jodie Whittaker) and her three companions Graham, Yas and Ryan (played by Bradley Walsh, Mandip Gil and Tosin Cole) answering a distress signal from the same planet. The planet has unusual properties which attack and break down a person’s grasp of reality so The Doctor fits them all with neural inhibitors and they go to the rescue of the latest in a crew of people who have fallen victim to the floating building at the centre of the planet and its sinister inhabitants.

Now, it has to be said, when we got to the point in this story when the main villain from the first episode was obviously supposed to be someone I should remember... well, I’m sorry but I didn’t. I did figure he would be back at some point but new show runner Chibnall said there would be no multi-part story arcs this series so I kinda assumed they were saving it until next year. So I was a little surprised when the four main protagonist twigged just who the villain was way before I’d cottoned on. When I saw that it was, indeed, the rubbishy looking villain from the first episode... well... my heart sank a little.

However, it turns out it was a nicely staged, compelling episode and somehow the director even, for the most part, managed to successfully distract me from the somewhat cheap looking sets.

There was also a nice dramatic edge to the episode set up where Graham takes The Doctor to one side and makes it clear that when he catches up to this alien who took the life of his wife, he would definitely kill him... despite The Doctor’s warning that if he killed anyone he could no longer travel with her. And, I have to say, Bradley Walsh carried out the various scenes where he really made you think he was going to put down said alien villain with such expertise that it was an absolute pleasure to watch. It gave the episode a certain dramatic weight which would have been sadly lacking, I suspect, if a personal element had not been added into the mix with one of the regular characters.

So, yeah, some of the props and effects did look like they were conjured up from leftover packaging left over from Marks And Spencer but when you have a dramatic tension created by the characters like this... well... appreciation of the quality of the special effects goes out the window, to be honest.

It was also nice, if just a little corny, to have The Doctor give one of those little speeches to the various supporting characters before leaving in the TARDIS which was another of those dialogues towards living in hope. It kind of reminded me of Hartnell’s Doctor leaving Susan Foreman in The Dalek Invasion Of Earth (reviewed here) speech a little bit. I don’t know if that was the vibe the writer was going for with this but that was the way it came across to me, at any rate.

So, yeah, yet another short review on this one (my apologies) as I don’t really have that much else to say about The Battle Of Ranskoor Av Kolos... but this time because I don’t have any really negative take aways from this specific episode, I'm happy to say. It was nicely paced, brilliantly acted by all who sailed in her and not badly written, either. Some fairly nice music too which I believe is being released on CD by Silva Screen in the new year so... you know... looking forward to that (although, note to Silva Screen... can we please have Murray Gold’s music from Series 10 before you release that one please?). And, you know, there was honestly not a dull moment in this one (which is good because there have been plenty of dull moments in some of the previous episodes this year.

Quietly looking forward to the New Year’s Day special now which, if the teaser is anything to go by, features the most terrifying, evil creature in the universe dormant and buried in the Earth for gazillions of years. If it’s not the Daleks then I may get a little annoyed but we shall see. Expect the review of that one to go up in early January.... in the meantime lots of reviews and the annual Christmas cryptic movie quiz to go up here so, hopefully you’ll give this blog another read before then. All the best.

Sunday, 9 December 2018

Creed II (aka Rocky VIII)



Here Be Dragos

Creed II (aka Rocky VIII)
2018 USA Directed by Steven Caple Jr.
UK cinema release print.


Warning: Okay, this one has spoilers in it.

So now we have Creed II which, if you’ve seen the other movies, you’ll know is actually Rocky VIII and this one follows on directly from Creed (reviewed by me here) a few years down the line. Now, I wouldn’t say that this is nearly as entertaining as the previous one in the series... and it really should have been given the plot set up on this one... but it’s nowhere near the worst in the series either and I was pretty okay with this. Plus, it has to be said, there’s one really mind blowing moment of audio/visual design which had me almost leaping out of my chair and applauding at one point (I’ll get to that soon enough).

Okay, so once again we have Michael B. Jordan playing Adonis Creed, the son of the late Apollo Creed who got clobbered and killed in the ring by Ivan Drago, played by Dolph Lungren in Rocky IV, which kind of kick started Lungren’s acting career. In this film, Ivan Drago returns with his son Viktor Drago (played by Florian 'Big Nasty' Munteanu) and the young Drago challenges Creed to a match to defend his newly won title as champion of the world. Adonis takes the match, much against the advice of Rocky, who refuses to try and train him for what he obviously sees as a fight Creed cannot win. Of course, this comes to pass and young Creed is heavily damaged in the ring in the fight, although he retains his title on a technicality as Drago is disqualified because he hit Creed as he was on his way down to the canvass (I think... some boxing thing, anyway).

So yep, you guessed it, we have the drama of a recovering Creed who has to maintain his relationship with his girlfriend Bianca (played again by Tessa Thompson) who is expecting their first child and he and Rocky Balboa (played brilliantly, as usual, by Sylvester Stallone) have to sort things out so Rocky can train him up properly for the re-match. We also have appearances from Phylicia Rashad  as Apollo Creed’s wife Mary Ann plus... and I really wasn’t expecting this... the still stunning Brigitte Nielsen as Ivan Drago’s ex-wife Ludmilla.

And, yes, it’s more or less a direct sequel to, in some ways and, pretty much a remake, sort of, of Rocky IV. And it’s an okay addition to the Rocky movies. Although, it has to be said, Viktor Drago is so big that I don’t, for a minute, think that Creed could have come close to beating him in real life (although that may be because I don’t know anything about the sport).

Both Jordan and Stallone get an equal share of the screen time but I would say Stallone actually comes off a lot better in this one. The films have never really been about boxing (not a sport I really have an affinity for) and they really just use that genre arena to explore the characters and I would say that Adonis Creed doesn’t seem to have come very far as a well rounded human being in terms of progression from the previous film. Whereas Rocky, like he always seems to, little by little, is just a bit more smarter again than the previous installment. He’s now a very shrewd man, in some ways, although he tends to back away from showing that with a lot of self deprecating talk, it seems to me.

The film does seem a little bit ‘by the numbers’ and, unlike previous Rocky films, this one still hasn’t been as brave as some of the previous installments where, in at least one as I recall, Rocky actually loses the final fight. Here, even though Creed is beaten to a pulp midway through the film, he still retains his title on a technicality... and I wish the writing here had been a little different. That being said there were some nice things about it... and fan pleasing references to most (if not all) of the previous seven movies in terms of dialogue call backs and such. It was certainly an entertaining piece that really doesn’t do any damage to the memory of the others in the series.

One of those nice things is the tradition of talking to the dead, which seems to have somehow been handed down from Rocky to Creed. Like in the movie Rocky Balboa (and possibly Creed), we have a sequence where Rocky spends time talking to the tombstone of his deceased wife Adrian and, at the end of this movie, we have a scene (cross cut with Rocky visiting his long estranged son) where Adonis visits the grave of his father and introduces him to Bianca and their daughter. So that’s kind of nice and I wonder if this will be something featured in later chapters of the series (Stallone has recently said Rocky won’t be seen again in any future sequels).

Another nice thing is the musical score, which is a bit hit and miss and features some awful songs but also has some of Bill Conti’s themes from the original Rocky films woven into the fabric of the music, with a really nicely timed appearance of the Rocky fanfare at pivotal moment in the final fight which has been smartly held back until this moment.

And then there’s the absolutely brilliant thing which has been haunting me since I saw it...

There’s a moment in the film where two scenes featuring different characters in completely different locations are crosscut and suddenly, the audience is kinda treated almost as a character in the narrative, if you think carefully about it. What happens is Bianca and Mary Ann Creed are talking about Adonis and Bianca is explaining how he has become more distant since the whole thing with Viktor Drago kicked off. Meanwhile, this is cross cut with Adonis training (or doing physiotherapy possibly, I can’t quite remember which stage of the film this is at) and he is seen swimming in the pool and we have some of the ambient noise from that scene but, at the same time, we are still hearing the voices of the two actresses talking in the scene we keep being cross-cut back to. Now this is the thing... as Adonis’ head goes below the surface of the water, the voices of the actresses become blurry like we’re listening to them from under the water. When his head breaks the surface they become full bodied voices again and then, when he goes under again, they get distorted by the water. Now this is amazing because we know that Adonis Creed can’t possibly hear what these two ladies are saying about him in another part of the town so... think about it... this is a case of the audience via the camera going under water and hearing the cross cut scene being distorted through the water we’ve presumably got in our ears. And, even though it probably should pop you out the movie (well okay, it did me but only because it was such a brilliant artistic decision) it works really well and I suspect that 99% of the audience doesn’t even register it on a conscious level. But I raise my hat to the film makers because this was just amazing.

And that’s me done with Adonis Creed for however long it takes them to bring out another sequel. People who like the Rocky films in general should like this as it’s another, mostly, entertaining chapter in the Rocky saga and doesn’t let any of the other films down (unlike Rocky V perhaps). It runs over two hours but I didn’t notice the time and, if anything, it seemed a little rushed in some sequences. Looking forward to the next one but... I really hope Stallone changes his mind and comes on board, even if it’s just so we can see his character die on screen and have some kind of closure to Rocky’s life. That would be a nice thing.

Thursday, 6 December 2018

The Blood Island Collection



Sangre-La

The Blood Island Collection
Severin Films Blu Ray Zone A
Comprising Terror Is A Man, Brides Of Blood,
Mad Doctor Of Blood Island and Beast Of Blood


Well, I have to admit I’d never heard of the Blood Island movies until Severin released this very limited boxed edition with restored prints and transfers. However, the fact that a series of films have been made all set on the titular location and, in the case of two of the films, sharing a character or two while featuring unbelievably silly monsters mixed with brief snatches of nudity, all of which were totally unknown for me... proved too much for my curiosity. When I saw that the third movie also included a soundtrack CD of the film which you couldn’t get anywhere else, well... that was the clincher. So, I found someone in the UK who was able to import it without having to shilly shally around with those completely ridiculous US/UK postage rates and got access to these things... well, relatively inexpensively.

To be honest, judging from the trailers I’d seen, I was expecting sheer stupidity and ‘so bad it’s good’ awfulness... the kind that gives you a warm, comfortable feeling in your tummy... but, as it turns out, I was in for a bit of a surprise when I put the first disc on...


Terror Is A Man
1959 Philippines/USA
Directed by Gerardo de Leon and Eddie Romero


Okay, so Terror Is A Man is made almost ten years before the sequel (and I use the term sequel loosely here... I’ll reveal why later on) and it’s the only one shot in black and white. It started off absolutely up to my expectations for the first ten seconds or so by running a card before the movie which read thusly...

Warning
The picture you are about to see has a scene so shocking that it is necessary to forewarn you. We suggest that the squeamish and faint-hearted close their eyes at the sound of the bell and reopen them when the bell rings again.
The Management.


I love good showmanship and the silliness of this hoopla quickly brought a smile to my face. After this, the film starts off with a shot of a map showing the Isla De Sangre in relation to everywhere else and, as far as I can tell, this is the only time this map is seen throughout the four films. This is followed by a shot of a boat carrying an unconscious man pulling up to Blood Island. The guy is called William Fitzgerald, as played by Richard Derr. He is rescued by a small party of scientists on the island, including Dr. Charles Girard (played by Francis Lederer) and his wife Frances (played by Greta Thyssen) who seems to dominate the screen with prominent bosoms that threaten to pop out and endanger the rest of the cast at any moment. Indeed, when she goes to bed, she kind of sets a trend for all Blood Island women in future films... by kinda frolicking and moving in a bizarrely sexual way that suggests masturbation, even when she’s literally just trying to get to sleep. I don’t know who taught her how to do this but I must learn this trick some time.

This film is surprising in that it’s not only quite entertaining, in a story that finds Fitzgerald observing and helping out the doctor who has been operating on a panther and slowly turning it into a beast man over the years, but also quite well put together and realised a little more subtly than I was expecting. It’s quite obviously a remake/sideways adaptation of H. G. Wells’ classic novel The Island Of Dr. Moreau but I have to say, it’s actually pretty good and, easily, the best of the movies in this set. If this had been made just ten years earlier during the classic Hollywood era of films like the Universal Monsters movies and Val Lewton’s productions then this may still be celebrated as a classic to this day. It’s moody and interestingly lit and doesn’t look out of place among those other films I just mentioned.

Although sometimes it’s a little too well lit, it has to be said. There are a fair few ‘night for day’ shots which really do show up in the worst way.

That being said, musically the film is well ‘spotted’ in that it’s not wall to wall and scenes which don’t really require music are not over cooked. There’s also some skillful camera work here with some oddities such as a POV from the monster’s perspective suddenly transforming into a third person view when the creature pounces. I could, however, have done without the terrible dummy somebody suddenly transforms into when he is thrown over a cliff and ditto that bell when it finally rings to warn the audience at what is, literally, a one or two second shot of a scalpel bloodlessy attacking tissue during an operation. However, this is not a bad movie and I was surprised by the quality of this one.


Brides of Blood
1968 Philippines/USA
Directed by Gerardo de Leon and Eddie Romero


Okay, nine years later we have a ‘sequel’, Brides of Blood, which is not really promoted as such and, indeed, never once refers to the previous movie. This one proves to be a totally unsubtle experience and absolutely what I was expecting from these movies, to be honest. And that’s not a bad thing either.

Opening with a small group of scientists on a ship en route to Blood Island, we have a fairly unsympathetic leading lady (one of two female protagonists) who is shunned by her husband, the main scientist, and engages in an activity on the boat going from non-consensual rape to fully consensual sexual activity in that strange way that only old movies seem to be able to pull off as something even approaching plausibility or acceptability.

This film includes some nicely gory moments as, for instance, the local natives are taking dismembered bodies away to be thrown into the sea... somebody drops a quite realistic looking leg. When the scientists arrive to study the effects of ‘atomic bomb tests’ near the island from years earlier, they become the guests of another ‘Western’ man in his mansion on the island. Of course, atomic radiation means the writers can get away with almost anything in this film and asides from the gratuitous ripping away of young, sacrificial maidens' bikini tops at regular intervals throughout the film, we have a forest consisting of deadly, groping tentacle trees, the marvellously ridiculous looking monster whom the said young maidens are being sacrificed to and a terrible looking butterfly which bites one of the scientists, even though you can clearly see the wires on it as it flaps about the set in a supposedly deadly fashion.

We also have some scenes of midget whipping and a sexed up lady who must have studied at the same school of seduction that the lead actress in the first film did, as she sexily fondles the vertical pole of her four poster bed. And, alas, some more terrible ‘day for night’ shots in the film and, much worse, the impression that characters are wandering from one place to another at different times of day as they go somewhere and five minutes later it’s night and then day again and then back to night, as the cameraman presumably forgets to put his filter on during some sequences. Time certainly flies on this island, that’s for sure.

The film is silly, terribly made fun and finishes with a native dance ritual which, in terms of enthusiasm and length, is not unlike the one seen near the beginning of Caltiki, The Immortal Monster (reviewed here). This is an interesting ritual in which lady dancers attempt to attract a mate and then take them back into the forest to a place which I can only assume is an area called The Snogging Trees.


Mad Doctor of Blood Island
1968 Philippines/USA
Directed by Gerardo de Leon and Eddie Romero


Next we have another sequel, Mad Doctor of Blood Island, which in no way refers to the prior film in that it takes place the very next year in the same location but has an entirely different set of natives and absolutely no stories about the scientists who were staying there the year before.

In another burst of showmanship, audience members are invited to drink a vile looking green liquid and recite the ‘green blood oath’ before the opening credits so they come to no harm during the film.
Also before the credits we see a naked lady being chased by a blood island monster and, whenever it’s in the vicinity, the audience does indeed get harmed by some awfully rapid zooms in and out of random frames. And, unfortunately, this is the modus operandi of the cameraman throughout the majority of the movie... this one really made me dizzy, it has to be said.

Once the credits are done, we once again have a vessel containing strangers to the place approaching the island. This film is all about Dr. Bill Foster (played by John Ashley), Shelia Willard (played by Angelique Pettyjohn) and their acquaintances as they try and thwart the scientific curiosity of the titular ‘mad doctor’, who is once more involved with unleashing beasts on the island. In his lab he even has some of the ‘moving forest’ in what is pretty much the only echo of the former film.... although there is also another ritualistic dancing scene that could almost have been lifted from Brides Of Bloood, including ritualistic snogging, once more.

This film is... well it’s not very good and even the fear of radio signals which the creature in this one seems to demonstrate as some kind of sonically allergic reaction appears to have no real function in the final narrative. I was glad when the ‘mad doctor’ was finally burned to death in his scientific compound, to be honest. And that brings us nicely into...


Beast Of Blood
1970 Philippines/USA
Directed by Eddie Romero


The fourth film starts off with the boat carrying Dr. Foster and co away from the island in the previous movie. Yes that’s right... this is the only one of the Blood Island movies which is actually up front about being some kind of sequel to the prior movie. On the boat, a random creature who stowed away at the end of the previous adventure... and I’ve still no idea where this monster at the end of the last movie came from, by the way... attacks the crew and passengers leaving Dr. Foster, again played by John Ashley, the sole survivor. When he goes back to the island a number of months later, he has a troublesome reporter in tow by the name of Myra J. Russell, played here by Celeste Yarnall.

With some friends and acquaintances, they go on a boring but deadly chase across the island to find the location of the mad scientist from the former film, who turns out to have not burned to death after all. Indeed, the experience seems to do wonders for his health. For instance, he has a beard, some terrible scarring down half his face and an eye patch but, miraculously, he also seems to be a lot thinner and a much different age from the scientist we saw previously. I guess that the actor bearing no resemblance to the previous guy playing the role can only be a good thing then.

Although this is the least interesting or fun film in the series, it does have its moments. For instance, when Dr, Foster and a group of people are exploring the previous ‘Mad Doctor’s Lair’, things look mighty dangerous and possibly booby trapped, so he tells everyone to “Stay close”. This is apparently a call to arms for Celeste Yarnall to back away from the group completely, get as far away from them as she possibly can without even trying... and then spring a trap door. This woman has no common sense. There’s also a nice moment when the mad scientist is talking to a severed monster head he is keeping alive in a dish while he operates on its body, when he tells him, “Believe me, I know how difficult this must be for you.”

All in all, though, Beast Of Blood is the least watchable of the series, which has lots of long cat and mouse sequences where various parties are stalking each other through the forest... which makes it all seem a little like an extended 1970s Tarzan or Planet Of The Apes TV episode for a while. Just not very fun.

That being said, the whole bunch of prints from Severin are amazingly restored here (yeah, these look like they were only shot the other week) and have various extras accompanying these excellent transfers. I’m really glad that I bit the bullet on this one and picked it up because the first two movies, at least, have some replay value and I’ll probably end up rewatching all of these at some point. I haven’t listened to the soundtrack yet but The Blood Island Collection is a truly nicely put together package of some films which might have died a death had not Severin stepped in to restore them. I guess it must have paid out for them too since the box was a total sell out. Much as I hate this new business model everyone seems to be latching onto at the moment... where everything is a limited edition so you’d better get one quick... I have to say that this one was definitely worth the price of admission. Give this one a watch if you get the opportunity.

Monday, 3 December 2018

Doctor Who - It Takes You Away



Norway Out

Doctor Who - It Takes You Away
Airdate: 2nd December 2018
BBC 1


Well this... was better than last week’s show at any rate.

In fact, I’d go as far as to say that this week’s episode, It Takes You Away, was pretty good, classic Doctor Who storytelling in some ways. Admittedly it looked a little cheap at some points and, excuse me but those flesh eating moths might just as well have been imported from the B-movie Brides Of Blood (review coming very soon) in that they looked completely ludicrous, unthreatening and, basically, couldn’t have looked much worse if you could have seen little threads of cotton holding them up.

So this week’s show had The Doctor, Graham, Yas and Ryan pitching up in a forest region in Norway of 2018. They find an almost deserted cottage with a blind girl barricaded in it, who has lost her father to... ‘a thing’. So it’s up to our regular crew... played as marvellously as ever by Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Mandip Gill and Tosin Cole... to get a shift on and find out what has taken the girl’s father and why. Of course, since this is one of the better Doctor Who stories this season, at least in terms of plotting, there’s also a little twist involving a copycat world through a portal between a kind of airlock/bubble filled with deadly moths and an alien whose soul purpose, it seems to me, is to fill in bits of the plot to let The Doctor, and the audience, know just what’s going on. Maybe he came from the legendary planet of Exposition.

In terms of pacing it has to be said that, while the episode was interesting in terms of dialogue, it felt a little light on action but it more than made up for it in terms of giving us a kind of enchanted... or maybe I should say disenchanted... frog creature and also yet another appearance from Graham’s dead wife. Yeah, I knew they hadn’t finished yanking on that string just yet and I suspect we’ve not seen the last of her in the shows to come.

So... performances were all good and this included a stand up series of moments of Graham having to come to terms with the fact that his dead wife is not real and having to choose to reject her to keep himself... and everyone else as it happens... safe. Bradley Walsh shows just why he’s the right choice for a show like this here although, honestly, I’d really like to see an episode where it’s just him and The Doctor talking about the things which went down in that first story. It would also make sense for The Doctor to address this elephant in the room much more than she did here... although what she did in this one certainly made for a good start.

There were some nice lighting effects in the protective bubble which manifested as a cave/buffer between the worlds but ultimately, yeah... it just looked like a cheap set so I wasn’t so impressed with the execution this week. However, the revelation of the beast which the blind girl’s daughter is trying to hide from was a nice little reveal I didn’t see coming and it wasn’t an over cooked moment either. A throwaway reveal can sometimes be a lot more powerful than something which is built up constantly throughout a show and I think this one was handled with just the right lack of gravitas, to be honest. That being said... there was absolutely no follow through logic to the reveal which kinda made it completely redundant and questionable, to tell the truth.

There was also a nice, classic moment when Yas came up with the idea of ‘reversing the polarity’, which obvsiously had it’s origins in Jon Pertwee’s incarnation of The Doctor before being carried through as almost an unofficial, conservatively used catch phrase over the years and The Doctor’s response to Yas 'talking her kind of language' was a special moment.

And that’s all I’ve got to say about this one and here I am again at the end of another very short Doctor Who review in a year of episodes which has pretty much been inspiring nothing but short reviews. So I’m sorry for not having much else to talk about here but... there’s not a heck of a lot of substance to these latest shows, I guess. I think the problem is possibly we have a very good incarnation of The Doctor, right off the bat, with stories and ideas which aren’t really up to the strength of her personality. I think it might have been a bit of a mistake to not use any of the character's old foes in this series as some of those would have brought some considerably weighty baggage with them which may just up the stakes when the story needs a lift. I’m hoping next year’s series doesn’t take the same path as the current one. So, yeah, short review for, frankly, a very short series. Next week’s show is already the last episode and I feel like things have been deliberately truncated even more so than the previous ten years of shorter seasons. Let’s hope that, next week, they really go out with a bang.

Sunday, 2 December 2018

The Possession Of Hannah Grace



Saving Grace

The Possession Of Hannah Grace
2018 USA Directed by Diederik Van Rooijen
UK cinema release print.


Well this is an entertaining little horror movie I saw the other night, based solely on the strength of the trailer I saw about a month before.

Now, it has to be said, the promotional trailer for The Possession of Hannah Grace is cut so that it seems to be a lot more subtle and atmospheric than it actually is... at least in terms of a slow burn film, that is. This one is anything but restrained and even during the opening pre-credits sequence we are treated to an ‘exorcism gone wrong’ with all the kinds of post-Freidkin possession shenanigans you’d expect to see in something like this, thrown at you in the first five minutes or so. It’s quite hokey, in all honesty but that’s okay, there are many kinds of horror films and this is just not one based on any sense of deepening mystery, is all.

The story is the tale of Megan Reed, played ably by Shay Mitchell. An ex-cop who is cursed with the cliché of failing her partner by not using immediate, deadly force and who has left the service because she can’t cope with the hesitancy that killed her colleague. And, yeah, if you think this back story is just setting her up for a shot at redemption and recompense towards the end of the movie... bingo. Like I said, not subtle but that’s okay, it’s a fun enough ride.

So anyway, shortly after we join Megan, she starts the first night of her solitary graveyard shift at the Boston hospital and, of course, as you would expect, the body of the victim of the exorcism gone wrong, Hannah Grace (played quite dextrously by Kirby Johnson), is brought in and starts causing all kinds of trouble for poor Megan, as it’s clear the exorcism didn’t quite take. And... yes, if you’re thinking this sounds a touch like The Autopsy Of Jane Doe (which I reviewed here) then you’d be absolutely right. This is a little like that film but with no slow build up or mystery and lots of demonic battles pushed to the fore. I mean, all pretense at mystery on this one is taken away at the end of the first pre-credits sequence anyway, when it’s made clear to the audience that Hannah Grace... or at least the cadaver of her which is inhabited by a demon of some kind... is not exactly dead.

Now, the film tries to have its cake and eat it by showing us Megan working alone in a dark suite of the hospital morgue while, at the same time, having her connect with, or sometimes meet and make, new friends and acquaintances over the evening. The reason why the story does this is very simple... the somewhat less than static corpse of the title character is slowly healing herself and, basically, the more people she kills, the less crippled, burned and wounded she is. So we get a steady stream of potential victims visiting Megan for various reasons over the course of the evening, specifically so they can be stealthily killed by Hannah in some kind of supernatural way. Which kind of works okay and I didn’t mind this way of doing things here... once I’d figured out the director was going for full-on demonic showdowns rather than trying to build a scary atmosphere. It’s a valid way of going about things and it... just about... works here.

There’s also a nice sense of symmetry in the mise en scene to this movie and, by that, what I mean is that this director seems to really love the middle of the screen. I would guess that for over 90% of this movie, the camera favours shots which pitch the main action or focus of the shot dead centre. It’s almost like Van Rooijen and his cinematographer have an obsession with this way of doing things. Sometimes he will just use the vertical slabs made by corridors, doors and windows to pull everything to the middle and often he will be moving his camera around, sometimes hand held, so that whoever the character he is following will still mostly stay at the centre of the frame. Occasionally, he will use the twisted, fast, creepy crawling cadaver of Hannah Grace and deliberately pitch her off centre in order to contrast this style and attempt to surprise the audience but, even some of the jump scares are pitched directly centre of the shot and are done by masking off visibility with fluctuating light and shadow rather than with peripheral details.

Strangely, there’s an obvious set up early in the film and he never seems to yank on that string later... at least not in this cut of the movie. Very early on the filmmakers go out of their way to make us understand that about 90% of the lights in the morgue are sensor operated on movement to save energy and this is further highlighted by constant scenes of Megan having to go into dark areas and wave her arms about so the lights come back on. So, yeah, I was just waiting for this to be used as some kind of set up to some big kind of jump scare but... no, surprisingly the director doesn’t really utilise this here. That being said, there could well have been a scene which did just that in an earlier cut, for all I know. I’m just guessing here though because, why shoot all those instances as a set up unless you were going to take advantage of it later on in the movie? Unless he just wanted an excuse to keep everything darkly lit, I suppose.

At the end of the day, The Possession of Hannah Grace has some nice acting, some likeable characters and also, I should add, a nice soundtrack by composer John Frizzel which, alas, doesn’t seem to have a CD release. The downside on this is it’s fairly predictable and there are no real scary bits in this one. However, as a ‘comfort horror’ film is works quite well and I think most lovers of the genre will quite like this one. Or at least not find much to complain about. So there you go, that’s me done on this one. If horror movies, no matter how hokey, are your thing, then you might want to give this one a go. If not... yeah, you can probably miss this one. I quite liked it and will be happy to watch it again when the Blu Ray goes into the bargain bins, for sure.

Thursday, 29 November 2018

The Girl In The Spider's Web



Salander Girls

The Girl In The Spider's Web
2018 UK/Germany/Sweden/Canada/USA
Directed by Fede Alvarez
UK cinema release print.


Oh man... this is an absolute travesty of a travesty.

It’s also a problematic film for me to write about since, if you treat The Girl In The Spider’s Web as just a film with no strings attached, so to speak, then it’s not a bad little movie on its own terms. Trouble is... it’s not trying to be a stand alone action thriller on it’s own terms. In some ways, the film is a lot like the 1966 adaptation of Peter O’Donnel’s Modesty Blaise (which I reviewed here). As a film without anything to compare it to, it’s a nice piece... as an adaptation of the original source material, it’s worse than just a bad adaptation, it gives a completely false impression of what any of the characters in the novels and comics are like.

The same thing applies to the movie ‘version’ of The Girl In The Spider’s Web. Not only is it a bizarrely twisted and completely off the mark attempt at an adaptation of the source novel, the original novel also has some atrocious problems of its own. So this film not only reflects the terrible liberties taken by David Lagercrantz in the ‘fourth’ novel, it also ridicules the characters and situations further (if such a thing is possible).

I’ve already said just how I felt about Lagercarntz’ novel in my review of it here but, for the record, he completely seems to dumb down the main characters of the original trilogy and, in the process, loses some of what made them so special in the first place. Not to mention completely ignoring certain twists and turns of the original characters... even going as far a ignoring the existence of main characters completely... so the people left in the equation aren’t as progressed in terms of their story arc as they were in the previous novel. And, yes... continuity went out the window on that one, as far as I’m concerned.

So why did I even bother to see this movie, you might ask?

Well, two reasons, the most prominent being composer Roque Banos. I like this composer a lot but I don’t have much of his stuff and this seemed a good way to be able to hear one of his scores in the context of the movie before the CD comes into my life towards the end of next month.

The other reason is... I saw the trailer to this and was astounded, bearing in mind it has the same title as the novel, at just how far removed from the events and situations in the book the film seemed to be going. So I wanted to see if the director had tried to make it more like the original Millennium trilogy or had just done the usual Hollywood thing of completely changing the content of the property that was purchased.

Well, I can confirm that the content of this film bears, in my opinion, only a superficial resemblance to Lagercrantz’ novel. Normally I might be happier about that but, honestly, it’s like they’ve tried to commercialise the characters even more and turn this property into some kind of James Bond action franchise. It even has its own Bondian style opening credits sequence which wouldn’t look out of place on any of the EON produced films of Ian Fleming’s popular character.

There are also some terrible choices in terms of casting. Mikael Blomkvist and Erika Berger are played here, competently enough, by Sverrir Gudnason and Vicky Krieps. Krieps, especially, looks as you might imagine Erika to have looked like in her youth. But that’s just the problem - these two people here are nowhere near old enough to be playing these two iconic characters. And, bearing in mind that the story must be set a year or two after the events of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest, this makes absolutely no sense. There’s barely any age difference at all between Blomkvist and Salander in this movie, for starters and... well when did they think Blomkvist and Berger were making their names in the newspaper industry? When they were 5 year olds? This all seemed fairly wrong.

However, I said the film is problematic for me to review and here’s why.

For starters, it’s beautifully shot, beautifully scored and, in and of itself, is a nice piece of action thriller cinema. If it’s trying to be James Bond then it’s definitely James Bond with a much darker, rawer edge than what we’ve been getting in recent years. It’s easy on the eye and, if you can divorce the characters from who they are meant to be, then you might find yourself sucked into this one fairly easily.

The other thing is Claire Foy as Lisbeth Salander.

Now I’ve only ever seen Foy’s work in one other film but she is the third movie incarnation I’ve seen of this character and I’d have to say that, for the most part, I was quite impressed with her interpretation of the role. Each of the actresses who have played Salander so far... Noomi Rapace, Rooney Mara and now Foy... have each had their own ways of interpreting the character and, they are all equally valid. Admittedly, Foy’s character shows a lot more vulnerability around other people than she might have in the books but it’s clear that Foy has put in the research and, presumably, read more than just the source novel for the movie she is headlining... she’s obviously gone back to the original, classic trilogy... The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest... to piece together her version of the character and so, ironically, the version of Salander on screen in this movie is way closer than the one in Lagercarntz’ sequel novel. And, despite that occasional twinge of ‘pain seen by others’... I got the sense that the character really wasn’t compromised in the way she’s been portrayed on screen so, honestly, my respect goes out to this actress for managing to pull off such an alienating character so well in a film which is really trying hard to be a popcorn movie, to an extent.

And, yeah, the director films her and the situations she finds herself in admirably, with a lot of style and edited in a way which doesn’t leave you confused or pummeled by the train of events. Which brings me back to my dilemma because... I can’t say I hate this version nearly as much as I hated the novel it purports to be based on. Even Salander’s lost sister, introduced in the same book, seems to have some kind of credibility to her and the casting of Sylvia Hoeks, who played the lethal replicant in Blade Runner 2049 (reviewed here), was a good one. Although, the whole, almost albino whiteness of her didn’t look credible in terms of her make-up, I thought.

Okay so... I really have nothing much more to add on this so I’ll quickly conclude with this... if you are a fan of slick action thrillers with a bit of an edge to them and you’re not invested in the characters from Stieg Larsson’s original Millennium trilogy, then you should probably try and catch The Girl In The Spider's Web on the big screen. If, however, you are a fan of the characters in the original books then, well, I’d say give both the fourth novel and this bizarrely transformed version of it a wide berth. This is not, quite, the Salander you are looking for.

Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Assassination Nation



Hack To The Future

Assassination Nation
2018 USA Directed by Sam Levinson
UK cinema release print.


I missed this one when it was doing the festival circuits earlier in the year so I’m glad Assassination Nation finally got a UK release. And I have to say, it’s a pretty well made piece of cinematic machinery, for sure.

Okay, so this is how you immediately get me on your side when it comes to a movie like this... you have an opening tracking shot following a character down a street as Ennio Morricone’s opening title music for Dario Argento’s The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (reviewed here) is mixed right into the foreground while a voice over narrative hits you up with the framing device for the majority of the movie. Then, as Morricone’s score changes to the furiosity of the secondary part of the melody line, show a collage of upcoming fast cuts of the movie while the girl on the audio, main protagonist Lily, played by Odessa Young, warns the audience, in a whirl, of the upcoming 'graphic nature' of the story content in a manner not unlike the editing style of a lot of the rest of the movie... before going back into the main melody line of the Morricone classic. The score from the classic giallo is briefly revisited later to give the audience a subconscious connection and let them know that they’ve caught up to the opening spiel.

I have to say that this is a film which seems like it’s deliberately targeting a young teen audience but, don’t let that put you off because it’s very well done and, despite the possibly naivete of the ‘not so subtext’ dangers of toxic masculinity (which is probably fair enough, actually), it’s also got a lot of wisdom and heart at it’s centre. Now, I think I said this before about another movie on here recently but I’m going to say it anyway... it would be lazy to say that this is a Heathers for the younger generation but... that’s exactly what it is. The only real difference being that there are more than just the one nice character in this one in that Lily is supported in her quest to survive her town by her three friends Bex, Sarah and Em... all played equally well as Ms. Young by Hari Nef, Suki Waterhouse and Abra.

The film is quite intense for the first half hour in the way it depicts the fast and vibrant head rush of modern social media culture with fast edits, constant split scenes and sequences of varying emotional weight often playing out in quick cuts against each other on the same chopped up screen. However, rather than be the way the whole movie is styled... which would be fairly exhausting, for sure... the film settles down to some sequences which share the pacing of the opening and it leaves some nice moments for the audience to take in what they are seeing and hearing by slowing down the pace just a notch or two without, thankfully, losing your interest as to what is going on. One of the ways it does this is with a constant barrage of killer dialogue which seems, at least at my end of the telescope, to be a good approximation of the teenage experience (although I suspect a real teenager might disagree with me... and they’d probably be right to do so).

The plot of the film is about somebody hacking various people’s private phone/computer images, texts etc which ruins the lives of various people. What happens when a lot of this kind of information is made publically accessible should come as no surprise to anyone watching who noted that the film takes place in a town called Salem. Yep, the spirit of the Salem witch trials takes over and when Lily is blamed for the hack, even the local police force are trying to kill her and her friends as mass hysteria takes over and the town becomes a bloodbath while the girls, who find themselves with access to automatic weapons due to the conclusion of one of the sub-plots of the movie, are forced to fight for their lives.

And, honestly, it’s a truly great film. Although it maybe doesn’t push things as much as it might (I suspect that’s a deliberate decision in order to actually get the film made and passed for release), the film does maintain a certain intensity in the way the mise en scene stays ‘in your face’ even when the fast edits are on hold for a while. It’s a film which sometimes is able to successfully let you feel more than you actually realise you are witnessing but, at the same time, it doesn’t skimp on the goriness and blood letting and there was a scene at one point which even reminded me of Revenge (reviewed here) in terms of the lead character literally slipping up on the amount of blood splashed around the set.

There’s also a nice and blatant disregard for the integrity of the fourth wall in this one, even from the outset of the movie and, perhaps my favourite moment of this was when one of the characters literally ushers in the non-diegetic soundtrack with a click of her fingers. There’s some really nice stuff here and I imagine, with the constant density of the visuals and audio bombardment (even when text messages are not being sent you will often hear that sound the i-phone makes when something is sent, to randomly punctuate the soundtrack), that this film would hold up to repeat viewings... there’s probably a lot that can be missed here.

I also loved a certain scene where the camera keeps panning around and up and down the various floors of a house from outside as a major sequence of violence and action take place throughout the lenghty tracking shot. It absolutely reminded me of the thing that Dario Argento used to do in movies like Tenebre (reviewed here) and, bearing in mind the choice of musical accompaniment at the beginning of the movie, I’m pretty certain this must have been a deliberate reference on the director’s part. As is, I suspect, a young boy’s mode of transport in the opening sequence, a reference to Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining.

The film doesn’t pull that many punches in the dialogue and succeeds on pretty much every level you could hope for, despite its uncanny trick of being able to ramp up and down the pacing from dead stop to screaming chaos and back very quickly.

The ending is a little bit of a shame in that, after it has an iconic looking and well orchestrated sequence of imagery leading to a ‘does the inevitable happen next?’ conclusion, it does kind of undercut that moment a little with a kind of end coda where the actual identity of the hacker is revealed. I’m pleased to say that, despite there being a very obvious throwaway line of dialogue from one of the peripheral characters half way through, the identity of person who has caused so much trouble did actually take me by surprise. However, the reactions of the other people in the scene kind of implies a much less aggressive sense of closure to the story which is almost at odds with the previous scene. So I don’t know if that was a last minute addition of, maybe, studio insistence that a culprit is actually named (it’s kind of redundant by this point in the story) or whether it’s supposed to be taking place a little before the prior scene but it doesn’t really get in the way of it being a great movie  and, it did surprise me somewhat so... all in all... that’s a good thing.

So there you have it. Assassination Nation is easily one of the best movies out in cinemas at the moment and lovers of teenage movies with a violent spin and a certain self awareness in the lead characters would probably not want to be missing out. This one is definitely a future purchase on Blu Ray and, I would also have bought the soundtrack if it had been released on CD instead of some awful, electronic download thing they seem to have put out but maybe some producer with half a brain might make the music available properly at some later point. Great movie, however and definitely something those who want to see how editing can really make footage more immediate and visceral might want to take a look at.

Sunday, 25 November 2018

Doctor Who - The Witchfinders



Doctor Which?

Doctor Who - The Witchfinders
Airdate: 25th November 2018
BBC 1


Aaah... well... that one was what it was, I guess.

For me this episode was a bit of a dud again, alas but, to be fair, I’ve never really liked the idea of witchfinders and the persecution of innocents to push through personal agendas. That period of history always rubs me the wrong way and so, to be fair to this episode, this was never really going to be one of my favourites.

That being said, yeah... there was loads of good stuff here and so I’ll flag up some of this and try and suppress my own prejudices on this one.

So a nice thing about this was we had a great Hollywood actor in this episode, as far as I’m concerned. I’ve always had a soft spot for Alan Cumming since I saw him as Boris in Goldeneye (reviewed here) back in 1995. I was also impressed with him as Nightcrawler in the second of the X-Men films (before the franchise lost it and ate its own continuity on a film by film basis) and, if you appreciate this actor, then you owe it to yourself to see his absolutely brilliant villain in the astonishing but, alas, under appreciated modern masterpiece Josie And The Pussycats. So I don’t know how they got this guy for Doctor Who but here he is and he’s playing King James.

And it was absolutely brilliant to see the four series regulars... Jodie Whittaker, Bradley Walsh, Mandip Gill and Tosin Cole more than holding their own against him in terms of commanding the screen. Not that it’s a competition, of course but... sometimes strong personalities can inadvertently dim the fire of their fellow actors in a scene but, I’m glad to say this wasn’t the case here.

And we had a plot with the background of the Pendle Witches in Lancashire, although it gave us an addition to actual events, I suspect, rather than interpenetrate with the recorded history of those times as they occurred. I can only assume that’s the case because... well, there were no mud filled alien prison cell trees in the records as far as I know but, as I made clear, I’m not likely to be an expert on this period or subject matter.

That being said, though... everything just seemed a bit flat on this one, to me. We had The Doctor highlighting the prevailing attitudes of men and how difficult it is to be a woman in that time period and, frankly, things probably haven’t changed all that much since those days. I just get tired of hearing about that myself and it seemed such an obvious point that pushing it into the audience and highlighting it in this manner just seemed a bit... well... a bit like ‘old news’ I guess. Still, at least the message behind that sentiment is a worthy one for younger audiences to hear so I can’t see that as a hugely bad thing, personally. Just a little dull, in all honesty.

The music was lively in some scenes but I wondered if the composer was trying to be authentic to the time with all that fiddling (I have no idea but it kind of felt out of place to me here). I did get the feeling that the music was being deliberately written up-tempo to try and disguise the fact that, yes, this was a very slow moving episode. At least that’s how it seemed to me. Elmer Bernstein had the same problem with his score for The Magnificent Seven but that was much more suited to picking up the pace of that movie, it seems to me.

The special effects on the alien creatures were quite good in places... at least on the leading alien... but I did wonder if we needed all that CGI’d facial movement (I’m assuming that’s how it was done). Especially since the latest series has been further whittled down to only ten episodes. Personally, I think I’d prefer it if more stories were produced with slightly less than special effects rather than try and lend an air of credibility to some of the writer’s creations. Maybe I’m being a little cynical here but I suspect the effects have had a make over since the last season and this might be where some of that ‘possibly missing’ budget might have been rerouted to.

Okay, so this is once again a very short review for this week’s story but, honestly, this one didn’t inspire me. That being said, I hope people are now beginning to realise that Jodie Whittaker is doing a fantastic job here and I think she deserves a lot of credit for carrying the show in the way she is right now. I have absolutely no problem with her playing The Doctor at all... I just wish they’d get some better stories because there have been a few this season which felt like they didn’t have much of anything interesting to say and, to boot, weren’t all that entertaining. And this one, for me at least, was one of them.

Never mind, despite the protests of others in my near vicinity, I shall still be ready for another tale from the UK’s much loved TV hero next weekend. Let’s hope we get a really great one.

Thursday, 22 November 2018

Caltiki Il Mostro Immortale



Tiki Fingers

Caltiki Il Mostro Immortale
(aka Caltiki,The Immortal Monster)

Italy/USA 1959
Arrow Zone B Blu Ray
Directed by Riccardo Freda & Mario Bava


“Caltiki, you’re so fine.
You’re so fine you blow my mind.
Caltiki! Caltiki!”
Ancient Mayan Ritual Song channeled by Toni Basil


This is one of those films which was co-directed by Mario Bava before he was getting a screen credit (something he’d done before and he was known already to be a great cameraman and matte slide/special effects artist within the industry), working on a fair few films where he was, like this one, left uncredited. To find out more about how much of a hand he had in a whole slew of productions before his first credited solo feature film (the famous Black Sunday), you should really read Tim Lucas’ epic book (and I do mean epic... both in volume, content and price), Mario Bava - All The Colours Of The Dark, which is one of the all time greatest tomes on any aspect of cinematic history, I would say.

I’ve been meaning to catch up to Caltiki - The Immortal Monster for some time... firstly because I love Bava’s work and his input here is quite huge (by some accounts, Freda walked off set with the film half done because he wanted Bava to take the plunge into being a proper director) and secondly because I quite like Roberto Nicolosi’s score for the movie which, although this is a 1959 movie (and didn’t get released until 1962 in some territories like the UK  - where the BBFC asked for cuts) the score sounds like it’s lifted from a late 1930s to early 1950s monster flick. Which is kinda interesting because, in spite of The Blob the year before, the obvious two templates for this movie are the Nigel Kneale serial The Quatermass Experiment (and subsequent big screen adaptation The Quatermass Xperiment, from Hammer, reviewed by me here) and another Hammer movie which was originally intended to be a sequel to that remake, until Nigel Kneale refused, X- The Unknown (reviewed very briefly by me here). I’ll get to some of the similarities here in a little while.

The film starts off with a prelude of a narrative against a montage of creative slide shots which informs us of the mystery of the mass migration of the Ancient Mayan civilisation. After this, the film starts proper, with one of the first party of explorers in a Mayan ‘discovery’ returning back to base camp in obvious distress and put together with a beautiful series of expressive shots created by Bava, including some complex matte shots, one of which works on a couple of different layers of depth as the actor comes down one side, exits and then returns much larger in front of some of the inserts. It looks pretty good and, in addition to a fair number of shots with matte paintings on glass courtesy of Bava to greatly expand the set (something which has been with us since the dawn of cinema, from the films of Willis O’ Brien right through to the epics of George Lucas and beyond), he also tends to like to shoot things looking through other things anyway, like doors and windows and tree trunks etc. The only thing missing from the Bava-ness of the movie is those trademark, almost fluorescent juxtapositions of colour which would fall into place a few more films down the line.

As the man goes mad and slips into delirium, we get to meet the main characters in this intrepid band of scientists and explorers. We have main leading man John Merivale playing Professor John Fielding, Didi Sullivan playing his wife Ellen, Gérard Herter as Max Gunther... who is the film’s main human/Caltiki hybrid villain... his ex-prostitute ‘half-breed’ wife Linda played by Daniela Rocca and another gentleman whose name escapes me (yeah, thanks a lot IMDB for not making yourself clear on which actor is which) but this latter performer doesn’t last too long into the film anyway, before he meets a suitably grizzly death.

Actually, talking about striking imagery for a 1950s film, the most eye-popping moment is upon us when Ellen and Daniela go outside one of the tents for a chinwag. Didi Sullivan is quite obviously, as can be seen on this new Blu Ray print from Arrow, not wearing a bra and the topography of her handsome lady bits are very visible beneath the cool facade of her ‘scientist’s wife’ shirt. Indeed, closer inspection seems to show that someone in the crew has literally wet down the areas around said actresses bosoms for the express purpose of highlighting their stature to levels unnatural for both a standard B-movie romp about a blob monster and, it has to be said, a film being made for a mainstream commercial audience in 1959. Astonishing stuff.

We soon have a scene where the returning mad man’s chums go to look for the rest of the party, only to be thwarted by an underground grotto’s river so they promise to come back the next day with diving equipment. Somewhere in here we also have a scene which is one of the biggest lifts from the groundbreaking stuff in Nigel Kneale’s The Quatermass Experiment, when they watch footage from the recovered cine-camera from the fateful party of explorers. So we have the principals sitting down and watching silent, found footage of what they explorers encountered. Now, The Quatermass Experiment is probably one of the earliest, if not the earliest, example of found footage in horror cinema but please note that this was footage recorded with timed intervals (to increase dramatic tension) from a fixed camera in a rocket ship... so everything was static. In Caltiki we have Bava pretty much inventing the typical shaky-cam style footage which we see in so many horror films these days but which was almost a taboo of what not to do with a camera back at the time that this came out. If you thought Peter Hunt’s editing where he cuts on motion in the early Bond films was groundbreaking... and it kinda was... then consider that this film is also doing it with a deliberately shaky camera in this sequence three years prior to when it first raised eyebrows in Dr. No. So, as in keeping with Bava’s reputation... he was inventing and being way ahead of his time throughout his career in cinema.

We then have a scene where Gunther establishes his ‘complete bounder’ tendencies as he tries, unsuccessfully, to seduce Fielding’s wife Ellen with his wiry, Germanic charm... foreshadowing his transformation into human villain a little later in the film. This includes some chatter from his own very loyal wife Linda, whom he is completely bored by but who, somehow, wants to stay with him forever, aiding him in his wicked ways above and beyond the call of duty as the film’s running time wears on.

And then we have another member of the party decide to go and spy on the obviously-not-so-secret dance ceremony of the local natives. Or to put it another way, once he is warned that bad luck befalls anyone westerner whose eyes behold the sacred and somewhat sexy dance, he decides to go and watch it from behind some jungle vines anyway, filming as he enjoys the spectacle of a young lady wildly twisting her way in what I can only describe as something she could be charging good money for if only someone had decided to install a vertical pole in the jungle clearing where she enthusiastically writhes. And if this sounds gratuitous and completely unnecessary to the plot of the film... well done, it is. There’s one impressive moment where one of the natives whisks off the ladies skirt to reveal a much smaller micro skirt and panties and, remembering the UK winners of the 1981 Eurovision Song Contest from when I were a lad, I can only assume that an impressionable member of Bucks Fizz must have seen this and stolen the idea from here. Also, although I can’t be certain because I was trying to behave in a sedate and sophisticated way while I viewed this movie and not call attention to myself by rushing to the other side of the room to study the screen in close up, I believe another ground breaking first for a 1959 film may be seen on screen here. That is to say, judging by the nice Blu Ray transfer, this could well have been the birth, in commercial cinema at least, of the phenomena we now know today as... the camel-toe.

Anyway, the next morning the party goes back to the grotto and the fellow who filmed the ‘forbidden dance’ volunteers to go into the water with his diving suit and see what’s down there... yeah, I know, this character has obviously never seen a horror movie before. Anyway, he goes down and finds a) a load of skeletons and b) a load of ancient Mayan treasure, a sample of which he brings up to show the others. He then makes the fatal mistake of going back for more treasure only to be attacked by... something. His friends pull him up on the rope just in time to see the juicy skeletal remains of his body inside the diving suit breathe its last. Actually, this must have been one of the most grizzly images of a 1950s horror film, I reckon. After this, all hell breaks loose as the blob monster known as Caltiki chases... well, crawls... after them. They run but villainous Gunther wants to grab the treasure and... “Caltiki, what a pity, you don’t understand. You blob my arm up good when you take me by the hand.” Yeah, that’s right... he pays for it as Caltiki absorbs his arm. Professor Fielding pulls him free, with much blobbage stuck to his arm, and gets Gunther out of there. He then gets into a handily, conveniently parked lorry full of gasoline and points it at Caltiki, jumping free just before it turns itself into a model shot of the same van which explodes, killing Caltiki and making big flames which are a dead giveaway that the scale of the model is too small for credible fire (much like some of the Gerry Anderson productions over the years, it has to be said).

When the professor gets Gunther to the hospital, they remove the blobbage from his arm to show that he has been left with only a skeleton for a limb and to find that he has been infused with the spirit of Caltiki. As he starts going mad and plotting to escape the hospital to abduct the professor’s wife, Fielding takes a piece of Caltiki to his laboratory (and later a piece to a science research unit). The rest of the film involves various bits of Caltiki reanimating and splitting into many Caltiki’s because of a comet which passes by the planet every gazillion years or so and which, of course, just happens to be the night that the professor finds out about this thing. We also have Gunther killing people to get to the professor’s home and these scenes are another shout out to Nigel Kneale because the way he shields his dodgy arm and is a fugitive from captivity as he makes his way there, finding his way and staying out of the clutches of local authorities, very much mirrors the 'cactus'd up' Victor Caroon character in The Quatermass Experiment, it has to be said.

And the film is.. fairly enjoyable and not too sluggish that most monster movie lovers won’t get a kick out of it. It even has one of the scientist guys accidentally driving his car over a cliff and I kind of did a mental double take when I saw the car go over because, it has to be said, it looked like every tracked-in-from-the-same-reused-footage ‘car goes over the cliff and bursts into flames’ shot you ever see, repeatedly, in those old Republic serials like King Of The Rocketmen or Zombies Of The Stratosphere or whichever chapter play you are watching. Which proved to be an absolutely spot on observation as it happens because, when I went to listen to one of the commentary tracks, by Tim Lucas, he points out that this is, indeed, re-used footage, originally from Chapter One of the 1946 Republic Pictures serial The Crimson Ghost. So I felt kind of good about myself for catching that one.

Okay, so there’s lots of mayhem in this one and lots of special effects work including a lot of Mario Bava’s glass slide painted inserts and a heck of a lot of animated tripe wending it’s way through various models (apparently, although it kinda looks more like a canvass sack to me than tripe, it has to be said). There’s also that pretty great score on this by Roberto Nicolosi, which I first discovered when Italian company Digitmovies released it as a limited edition CD ten or more years ago. Although, as I explained earlier, it sounds much less sophisticated than something you might expect from a 1959 movie, it’s got its own thing going on and I really enjoy this score. Actually, although it predates it by 18 years, there are a lot of passages here where the orchestration, at the very least, reminds me of some of the music that John Williams wrote for the original Star Wars and, if you are familiar with that score and listen to Caltiki, The Immortal Monster away from the movie, I think you’ll probably pick up on the similarity here too.

Caltiki, The Immortal Monster is essentially a minor 1950s style monster movie which is elevated greatly by the presence of the late, great Mario Bava directing a lot of it and which is a fun ride I’ll always have time for. The Arrow Blu Ray transfer is absolutely gorgeous and contains two commentary tracks, an interview with Kim Newman about the film and a load of archival stuff too. This is all well worth the price of admission and Arrow are to be congratulated on the quality of this release. Monster maniacs and horror hounds won’t want to miss out on this one.

Monday, 19 November 2018

Doctor Who - Kerblam!




Kerblam Your Enthusiasm

Doctor Who - Kerblam!
Airdate: 18th November 2018
BBC 1


Warning: Slight spoiler.

Ahhh... okay. Just when I said to somebody it’s getting a bit boring now reviewing new Doctor Who episodes because they’re of a certain standard... we get another fairly dud episode. Not that it was terrible, mind you. Kerblam! was a fairly entertaining diversion, to an extent. It was also somewhat predictable in a way.

The episode starts when The Doctor gets one of those ‘help me’ notes on a delivery packing label from the intergalactic version of Amazon.com called Kerblam! Yeah, we all know that urban legend. So she and her loyal companions go to a moon which is the Kerblam! warehouse and work there under cover to find out who sent the note. No prizes if you figured out, right from very early on, that the automated system itself had sent the request specifically to The Doctor for a good reason.

Now, one of my biggest problems with this one is that, after starting off fairly soundly with a satire of the true evils of companies like Amazon, by the end of the show it kinda took a step back and somewhat defended the service. Not trying to be hypocritical here by acknowledging the evils of these ‘modern slavery masquerading as a benefit to mankind' kinds of companies, by the way. I use Amazon as much as the next person... then again I eat meat too but it doesn’t mean I like the fact that animals are killed either so... yeah, don’t lets have that conversation.

Anyway, there were some nice things about this episode... asides from the usual strong performances from Jodie Whitaker, Bradley Walsh, Mandip Gill and Tosin Cole, that is. It, like a lot of the stories this season, was very character oriented in that it took the time for us to get to know the characters which, you know, is always a good thing if the writers want you to care about them when they start getting killed off. So that was nice.

Another nice thing was the concept of weaponised bubble wrap which would explode and kill the moment a human being does what a person almost always does when they come into contact with bubble wrap... pop it. That was a nice touch and I love it when somebody finds ways to ‘murder up’ a habitual character trait like that. It reminded me, somewhat, of the person who accidentally kills himself by clicking his shoes together because Marcello Mastroianni knew he would do that and put the appropriately activated explosive in his boots in the wonderful movie The 10th Victim (reviewed here). I’m a sucker for that kind of stuff.

Another nice thing was the sinister, lifeless qualities demonstrated by the killer robots... based on the idea of the Kerblam! Man. I mean, admittedly this is standard stuff for Doctor Who through the ages and I couldn’t help but think back to some classic moments from shows like the old Tom Baker story Robots Of Death but... it’s always nice when they do it well. So that’s something they got right.

In the end, though, I felt the episode was just a bit less varied... shows which take place on a mostly interior set with not much going on in terms of variety of locations are not usually up there in my favourite Doctor Who stories these days, it has to be said. And... nope, that’s all I’ve got. Honestly, I know this is a little light on detail but I don’t have much else to say about this one. I apologise profusely for the short review but the episode didn’t do much for me. I’m still liking the majority of the show though... which is challenging because I’m pretty much the only person in my house who is liking this new series. Everybody else in the place has given up on it, for some reason.

Next week’s episode is... well, it looks like they’re heading into Witchfinder General territory and, as much as I like Alan Cumming, who seems to be next week’s bad guy... witch trial stories are not really my thing. I hope they give that one a good science fiction spin to hold my interest. So... I’ll report back with a review here of that one in roughly a week.

Sunday, 18 November 2018

Suspiria 2018



Entrail Acte

Suspiria 2018
2018 Italy/USA Directed by Luca Guadagnino
UK cinema release print.


Well this is a worryingly problematic film which I’d be tempted to sum up in just a line or two but, since some of it seems to be fairly well made, I’ll give the project its due. Fair warning though... I’ve not seen any other films by this director so I can’t comment on how his particular sensibilities find any commonality with any of his other projects.

Let’s get all the preliminary nonsense out of the way first by clearly stating that there’s no reason and, really no way, that you should... or could... attempt a remake of Dario Argento’s masterpiece Suspiria (which I reviewed here). The original/real Suspiria is a unique film and is also unshakeably bound by the artistic sensibilities of its director. I would no more think of remaking this classic than I would any other classic of cinema such as Citizen Kane, Star Wars or Taxi Driver (and you can bet at least two of those are coming in the next 10-30 years). It’s almost impossible to subvert Suspiria to a modern sensibility with another creative team behind the film and... in some ways it’s a relief to find that this is, in fact, not what Luca Guadagnino has done here with his new, ‘updated’ version.

In fact, the approach to this version seems almost childlike in that he’s almost gone in exactly the opposite direction from all the things that made the original so unique in order to not be compared to it. If that was the case, "well done" because it’s certainly true that this could never be compared to the original. It’s just too different. The original had two things which are common to the majority (not all) of Dario Argento’s work... bad acting and a not so great story. It also had absolutely stunning mise en scene, shot in bright, primary colours via a technicolour printer and an absolutely awesome score by Goblin. It is incomparable to most any other film (even to Argento’s equally superb sequel Inferno) and stands alone as the piece of art it is.

In this new version, it’s hard to find much of any common ground. You have the basics of Daria Nicolodi and Dario Argento’s story of a dance academy housing a coven of witches, also remotely inspired by a certain couple of essay pages written by Thomas De Quincey about the three mothers, often published in compendiums of his writing bundled with Confessions Of An English Opium Eater. And... that’s about it as far as connections go. You have characters who aren’t necessarily fulfilling the same kind of story roles as they did in the original. Dakota Johnson’s Susie Bannion is a completely different kind of protagonist and she has a much different arc here... as does, surprisingly, the character of Helena Marcos (played as one of three roles by Tilda Swinton)... who has a kind of demotion from her status in the previous version (I won’t go into spoiler territory here though).

You also have a great cast... with Johnson and Swinton having to hold their own among equally gifted actors such as Mia Goth, Chloë Grace Moretz and Angela Winkler. One thing this film is big on is acting talent. There’s even a cameo from Jessica Harper in this but the character she’s playing (again without giving too much away as to the true nature of her role), is connected to an element of the film which is in no way present in the original story. Indeed, Swinton’s turn as the male Dr. Josef Klemperer is one of many different avenues the film goes down into a story, set the same year as the original release of 1977, which seems to be more about fallout from World War Two and, also, the whole Bader-Meinhof thing than it does to the witchy goings on in a dance school.

Furthermore, the famous primary colours have been dropped in favour of an almost exclusively washed out colour palette and, although there are a few sequences with smooth, longish camera movements there is also, it seemed to me, an abundance of short, static shots in an edit which is something which pretty much removes this film’s right to be compared to Argento’s opus even more. So you really have to look at this movie on its own terms as, frankly, anything you could use to compare it to the former is taken away from you.

As a film in it’s own right then... well, it starts off really strong and builds up a nicely unsettling and powerful atmosphere which it manages to sustain for the first two thirds of the movie... which it then somehow manages to waste completely by getting truly dull and uninspiring by the time it reaches the last third. This last third includes scenes of orgiastic goriness which, frankly, should have left me shocked and gasping but which... and maybe it’s just the way it was cut and paced... distanced and comforted me in a kind of dull, passive way almost, rather than confront me with the visceral jolt of horror I was expecting. I mean, people having their entrails pulled out, limbs twisted and heads half severed to spray fountains of arterial blood over the rest of the cast sounds like a great and visually ostentatious, fun time should be had by all but, the way it was shot and presented here it just felt a little too much like David Cronenberg-lite, to be honest.

The most interesting things about the film were the bits where it built up the political and redemption sub plots but, honestly, they seem to amount to nothing by the end of the movie and when it comes to Tilda Swinton, one of the great actresses of our time, playing Dr. Klemperer in this one... a character who isn’t even in the original... one has to ask the obvious question here. Why? She does it well but... could they not afford another male actor?

And then there’s Thom Yorke’s celebrated score. It’s just fine. It’s mostly appropriate... although I could do without the songs... but the film is really not as special or as visually striking as the 1977 movie so it doesn’t have to serve the same function as Goblin’s absolute masterpiece of the original. It must be a hard thing to score, knowing you’re going to be compared to Goblin in this way but, there you have it. It’s not nearly as strong but it doesn’t have to be and so, being appropriate and probably a nice enough listen away from the images is absolutely fine. It’s pleasant rather than essential but, frankly, that’s no mean feat anyway so I’m not complaining. I’ll be picking up the CD of this one soonest, I suspect.

And that’s all I’ve got for you as a first impression. This is really not a remake of Dario Argento’s Suspiria. Instead, it’s a nice but somehow muddied (plot wise) horror film which starts off phenomenally well but which then gets burdened with an overlong and excessively dull final third which kind of felt like it wasn’t living up to the strength of its set up. Still, it’s an interesting curio but... why call it Suspiria? I’d hate for youngsters today to think this is in anyway a substitute for the real thing. A nice enough attempt to do something interesting but a failed one (not necessarily a bad thing... spectacular failures can be as interesting as successes) and something which seems unnecessary to be birthed in, quite, this ‘named branded’ manner. I couldn’t watch it over and over again like the original but, then again, I really wasn’t expecting that to be the case anyway.