Sunday 25 April 2010

The Joy of X

X - The Unknown 1956 UK
Directed by Leslie Norman (replacing Joseph Losey)
Hammer Films DVD Region 1 (Anchor Bay)

X- The Unknown is a low budget Hammer sci-fi horror in the same vein as their movie adaptations of the Quatermass serials and movies such as The Crawling Eye (the big screen adaptation of The Trollenberg Terror). In fact, the character of Bernard Quatermass was supposed to headline this film but Nigel Kneale wouldn’t let Hammer use his creation for their own sequels... so instead you have a science hero who is working on... something to do with radiation... well, something other than rocket engineering and space travel anyway.

Similarly, the movie was supposed to be directed by the more famous director Joseph Losey (and some of his early footage does survive in the final cut) but he was “replaced” when the American actor Dean Jagger refused to work with a “communist sympathiser”. Dean Jagger, of course, is the token American hero imported into such movies at the time to sell it to the US distributors. The first two Quatermass movies had Brian Donlevy fulfilling that role and The Crawling Eye had Forrest Tucker.

Other than Dean Jagger, other interesting acting appearances in the movie include Edward Chapman (Mr. Grimsdale in those Norman Wisdom films), a dashing young Leo McKern and in a schoolboy role, a very young Frazer Hines - a decade or so before he grew up to be Jamie opposite Patrick Troughton in Doctor Who. And of course, no Hammer movie would be a true Hammer movie without the participation of Michael Ripper... playing a sergeant in a similar role to the one he had in the original TV serial of Quatermass and the Pit.

There are, amazingly for a 1956 movie, no recognisable female leads in this movie. There are very few female characters and they seem to be only on screen for five minutes. That seems quite strange for the time.

The film is very much a poor cousin of The Quatermass Xperiment but what it lacks in script and dialogue, it more than makes up for in pacing and... well, shall we say enthusiasm of performance?

The wild plot involves a radiation eating monster that escapes from the centre of the earth and eats any handy radioactive materials.... oh, and people. For some reason it likes to eat people and melt them with what I can only deduce is a forerunner of the Dracula-melting effect in Hammer’s first take on Bram Stoker’s seminal vampire. It’s all quite fun and Anchor Bay’s DVD offers an effectively crisp transfer of a well lit, excellent black and white print... as they often did back in their early days as a DVD company, when they were second only to Criterion as the DVD supplier of choice. I’m not so sure they’d care very much about doing as good a job with it these days but back when they released this little gem they were truly doing a service to the film watching community.

James Bernard’s cracking Quatermassesque score serves this kind of movie well - in my opinion he was much more effective at scoring these things than the Gothic horrors he is more famously associated with and if the film has any major week point it’s the ending. Where some fizzy, jammy, blob-like foam is fizzled to death until it explodes unconvincingly by using some cleverly rigged up, scientific looking apparatus powered by a wildly implausible but exuberant pseudo-science shilly-shally to give the “creature” a convincing sounding demise.

All in all, a nice gem of a British sci-fi horror movie which perhaps deserves more of a mention from time to time.

Moto Roller

Think Fast Mr. Moto 1937 US
Directed by Norman Foster
20th Century Fox DVD Region 1

Ok. My first Mr. Moto movie. Presumably looking for the lightning bolt of success to strike twice after the popularity of Charlie Chan, Fox unleashed another “oriental detective” on the unsuspecting public beginning with this first entry in 1937.

The film is great and a surefire hit with anyone into any of the big Hollywood crime smashers of the 30s and 40s - Sherlock Holmes, Mike Shayne, The Saint, The Shadow, The Falcon etc. However, there’s actually not much similarity with Charlie Chan at all. The dialogue in this first entry, it has to be said, isn’t as sparkling as it is in the Chan films but what this does have in it is a lead character who’s not afraid to get in on the action. While Chan always has either number one son, number two son or some other keen sidekick to handle all the more energetic duties that the traditional panoply of treachery on show in these kinds of movies requires, Moto goes it alone as far as action goes (although he does have some slight assistance from a female “agent” in this one).

Thirdly, Peter Lorre’s character is not, as Chan, of Chinese descent. Moto is very much a Japanese character and there’s a lot of judo moves thrown by Lorre and his stunt double in this film. In fact, there’s a whole mess of action on show here which would look a touch out of place in a Chan movie and which, in some ways, resembles the enthusiastic fist fights on show in a standard Republic chapter play than in a Fox movie... although to be fair to Fox, all the furniture stayed on the floor in this one. In a Republic serial every piece of furniture would have been tossed around the room or thrown through the windows.

It goes without saying that Peter Lorre, consummate actor that he was, breathes life into the character of Moto who, I was surpised to learn at the end of the film, is not an official investigator and goes in for “private detecting” as a hobby. That would explain the lack of legal recourse the character uses to get his man... bumping off henchmen without reporting them and generally absconding with clues without telling anyone. Allowing the main villain to kill another so he can prove his theories that this man, is indeed, the main ringleader... otherwise he wouldn’t have taken that opportunity to kill that other villain over there. A methodology of which Chan would never have approved. It has to be said that, in the pursuit of justice over legality, Moto has more in common with Hammett’s Sam Spade than Earl Der Bigger’s Charlie Chan. At least in his movie.

There's also a plethora of 1930s/40s B movie character actors in this movie. I recognised almost everyone in this film but have no idea who any of them are or where I've seen them. Apart from J. Carrol Naish... I remembered him from such Universal horrors as House of Frankenstein and as the lead villain in the first of the two Columbia Batman serials from 1943.

Looking forward to watching a few more of these movies soon.

Saturday 24 April 2010

No Turn Unstoned

Doctor Who: The Time of Angels
Airdate: April 24th 2010. UK. BBC1

Well that’s a bit better. Not only do we have the return of those lovable temporal assassins “The Weeping Angels” but also Dr. River Song, the Doctor’s future lover (?) whom I now believe might well be the cause of the Doctor’s death in the future but... well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves... spoilers.

Ok, lets be clear here. This was not a great episode of Doctor Who... but it was certainly on a par with the first 30 minutes or so of The Eleventh Hour so... in my book anyway... that makes this the best episode of the current series so far.

And, yes, there were no bloody twists again. Everything you thought might have been meant to be a reveal seemed to be telegraphed a little beforehand. Oh, right. So the image becomes the angel does it? Yeah, nice of you to tell us but, you know what? It was already bleeding obvious. Oh... the eyes are a doorway to the soul are they. Blimey, we’re pretty stupid if we didn’t already realise that Amy was starting the transformation into an angel even before she left that surveillance room!

But still... I guess it’s a children’s show too so maybe it wasn’t as obvious to their primary target audience. Would have preferred a little more challenge to the story personally.

Still... mustn’t grumble. Just because it wasn’t all twisty, turny, doesn’t make it a bad show. It was quite competent at sustaining the pace and River was a joy to watch. And so was Amy. And once again the Doctor seems to be pushed out of the limelight and ends up playing second, or even third, fiddle to the stronger, dominant personalities of his companions.

Writer Steven Moffet managed to hit the same notes as his Vashta Nerada episodes by having the Weeping Angels “borrow” the vocal chords of their dead victims to communicate after death, as a stand in for the after dead computer loop voices of the space suited victims of the aforementioned “piranhas of the air”.

Probably the first ten minutes of this episode were the best, followed by a switch-your-brain-off, fairly well put together episode. But, you know, did anyone else feel that this episode was just a little bit like the opening episode of Earthshock?

Doesn’t matter. Cliff hanger (ish) ending which kind of gives away the cliffhanger. Stupid BBC ident announcing the next programme over the Doctor’s big soliloquy (stupid BBC idiots - if you want me to continue watching this show live on air - don’t EVER do that again. Anybody reading this should email them to complain RIGHT NOW). If I was Steven Moffett I would be really displeased with this shabby treatment of what is, lets face it, the BBCs flagship show.

Let’s hope the next episode builds on the foundations of this one or at least matches it.

Don’t blink!

Friday 23 April 2010

Zero Intolerance

Panic In Year Zero 1962 US
Directed by Ray Milland
MGM Midnite Movies DVD Region 1

Wow. Just saw a really interesting movie... so I thought I’d better “blog” about it while it’s still fresh in my mind. Now the only reason I got interested in this movie was because of La La Land Records. I’d not heard of this one until La La Land released a 1200 units limited edition of Lex Baxter’s score last year. I grabbed one quick before they sold out and, as I usually do, got interested in seeing the movie after hearing it.

Now Panic In Year Zero is quite an interesting movie. It stars and was also directed by Ray MIlland. It’s shot for AIP (low budget) in black and white and it’s in a 2.35:1 scope aspect ratio. And it’s the kind of film which is completely non-formulaic. It’s actually quite bold and you just don’t know what’s going to happen from one scene to the next. It also doesn’t “quite” have a full resolution either... it almost gets there and one wonders if perhaps AIP just didn’t quite get Mr. Milland enough money to “quite” finish the picture... but either way, a slightly positive and not quite so ambiguous ending for a movie is as good as any other.

The film concerns itself with a typical American family - Ray Milland, his wife, his daughter and his son (played by young heartthrob Frankie Avalon... Grease is the Word!) who leave their Los Angeles home and embark on a road trip to their family vacation. On the way there, a nuclear bomb takes out LA and many other major American and European cities (London and Paris are apparently wiped out completely). And very quickly this film becomes a movie about survival. Not about surviving the nuclear attack but basically surviving the basic, primitive evil of human nature as the many out of town survivors loot and kill and rape and generally make things hard for each other. All the way through, Ray MIlland and co are trying to be morally incorruptible people but it doesn’t take long for that to go pear shaped and pretty soon they find themselves sacrificing their own moral standards and doing some stealing and killing of their own as they attempt to survive the state the world is left in.

This is not big budget action/disaster spectacle (especially not on those old AIP budgets)... this is an interesting study of a typical American family unit as they watch the world around them get all “Lord of the Flies” on their arses! This is a film that, given its context, seems pretty fresh and ahead of its time. I’m pretty certain George A. Romero must have somehow been influenced by the moral philosophising the characters do in this film and took it all in and injected the essence of it into similar scenes in his breakout movie Night of the Living Dead.

To be fair, Les Baxter’s small ensemble jazz score seems a little out of place in certain scenes which may have called for a little more gravitas but... you know... it’s AIP... time is money. It was enough to get me interested in watching at least.

If you want less carnage and more humanity under scrutiny in your post-apocalyptic survival films... then this may not be a bad one to give a spin sometime.

Thursday 22 April 2010

Survival of the Deadest!

Survival of the Dead 2009 US
Directed by George A. Romero
Optimum DVD Region 2

There’s something comforting about a “night in” with a Romero zombie movie. He’s a bit hit and miss as a director (I found his original version of The Crazies almost unwatchable when I checked it out a few years back) but for some reason, and this probably has a lot to do with how he reinvented the genre back in 1968, his zombie films are always a good watch.

So it didn’t worry me too much when the sixth movie in his shuffling dreadnought of a zombie series bypassed a cinema release in this country and went straight to DVD a few weeks back. Heck, a lot of people really hated the last one (his cheating riff on the first-person shooter school of movie making) but I thought it was really excellent... and frankly his third film in the series, Day of the Dead, will always be my least favourite of the series (even if it does have Bub in it). This movie is probably my next least favourite next to that, but only because the other four; Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Land of the Dead and Diary of the Dead, have been really top notch.

Having watched Survival of the Dead now, I’ve been trying to get a handle on what it was really trying to comment on. There is a returning character from the previous film (one of the “home guard” who stole all the “heroes” stuff in the last one) and he has been made a lot more sympathetic in this movie. Actually, I think you’ll find that this is the first time in the series where a character has actually come back into the next film... unless you count Tom Savini’s brief reappearance in Land of the Dead as the zombified biker leader from Dawn of the Dead. Anyway, this character and his group get caught up in a power struggle between two embittered old clan leaders on an island. There’s not much in the way of plot development and the only really new thing is when the zombies finally show an inclination to eat something other than human flesh. I don’t want to spoil it too much for anyone but the phrase “So hungry I could eat a -” comes to mind.

If Night was about racial intolerance, Dawn was about consumerism, Day was about the refutation of the term “military intelligence”, Land... a metaphor for the homeless community and Diary was a look at the way information is used virally through modern technology, then perhaps Survival is making a comment about cultures clashing and heading naturally to violence rather then changing course and making peace. Oh... and lots of shuffling dead people getting gorily shot in the head... but that’s a standard factor in all these movies.

I can kind of see why this movie didn’t get a release over here... most of the protagonists are not young and the suits that decide these things probably thought that the youthful, “beautiful people” would not sit still to watch old men blasting away at each other. And they might have had less confidence that some of the little in-jokes, like a whole mess of dialogue from Sturges’ Kurosawa remake The Magnificent Seven, would fall on uncomprehending ears.

Still, there’s a lot to like in this one.

Zombie movies are rarely very scary (except REC.... that was unbelievably scary) ... and nor, more often than not, are they trying to be. They’re really just body count movies. Even so though, there was a shot in this movie which actually succeeded in making me jump and caused my heart to beat faster. Admittedly it involved a flying bird in the foreground of the shot and no zombies, but even so... scarey bird.

I, for one, would have welcomed the opportunity to see Survival of the Dead on a larger screen. Hopefully the general public’s lack of enthusiasm for this one won’t put Romero off from making another installment. Love to see those shuffling corpses making mischief!

Tuesday 20 April 2010

Holy Bikini! A female Santo substitute!

Bat Woman. 1968. Spain.
Directed by René Cardona. :-) DVD. Region 0.

I now have to share with you, gentle reader, the unfortunate news that I have recently viewed a movie which deals with a crime so unspeakable, nameless and terrifying that it could only been pulled from the pages of true life.

In this movie a troubled scientist, or “evil medic” if the subtitles are to be trusted, is murdering wrestlers so he can extract the juice from their pineal glands and use it to create a half human, half aquatic “fish man”!

Why does he do this? Well apparently, and in his own words...

“We will go to another country and make a dozen; a hundred fish-men, we will control the seas and oceans. We will create HUNDREDS!”

Luckily for us, this infernal scientist, and his assistant Igor (honest guv, I’m not making this up), has on his trail the one and only Batwoman and her special agent friend. Oh... and her new Police Inspector friend.

She certainly has that Barbara Gordon look about her and Yvonne Craig might have been proud (she may even have been prouder if she’d had got to headline a Batgirl movie herself but one look at the quality of this one and she might have Bat-run in the other Bat-direction). She has an Adam West mask/hood, a cape, yellow utility belt, boots, gloves... and hardly anything else. Yes, this plagiaristic Spanish homage to the DC character rounds out her Bat-costume with a bikini top and bottom (see my handy artists impression above). Just so she can visibly jiggle in all the right places when she’s busting crime, beating up bad guys and deep sea diving... and yes, she does a lot of Thunderball inspired swimming in this movie and yes, she is wearing her cape while she’s swimming. Quality!

Ok... so anybody who’s ever seen a Santo movie will know exactly what to expect with this one. On the plus side, at least when you cut to the pointless wrestling and gym scenes predominant in this genre of movie, the female wrestlers have more interesting curves to show off.

I can’t say much for the acting or cinematography of this unparallelled masterpiece... but I have to mention the baffling complexities of the script because, if the subtitles are correct, the screenplay is far from acceptable in even the worst movie... you will be in fits of laughter with this one.

For example, when a few of the villains try to "make a pinch" and kidnap our plucky heroine, they make their intent implicit with the brilliant line... “You’re coming with us to an isolated place!” Now this is dialogue worthy of the great Hal Hartley*, but he would have written it for a much different reaction than is intended here.

After Batwoman throws acid in the face of the aforementioned evil medic on board his private yacht (a yacht named Reptilicus), he plots a terrible revenge... and spends the rest of the movie trying to nab her so he can turn her into a female fishmate for the fish-man he’s already created... which he affectionately named Pisces (no, really... I’m not making this up!). He is frustrated in his attempts time and time again and this prompts the memorable line... “I must grab this woman as soon as possible!”

Ultimately this is a terrible movie which delivers the goods for all the purposes you’d want to watch it for. Gather the beers and mates and try not to chuck things at your precious television. If you want to see a wrestling superhero movie done really well (relative to the genre confinements of that statement) then watch something like “Superargo Contra Diabolicus”... if you want to see one done right - that is with little consideration for continuity, lighting and perhaps even having the camera pointing in the right direction - then watch either this or one of the Santo movies.

*Hal Hartley is currently the world's greatest living director.

Sunday 18 April 2010

The New Number Six

The Prisoner remake
Airdate: April 17th 2010. UK. ITV

The sixties TV show, The Prisoner, was and always has been my favourite TV show. So I’m not the best person in the world to give this new incarnation a fair shake of the stick. Just so you know.

This new show gives us a “version” of the old Number Six in the same old blazer in the form of a short lived character made up to look like an old Patrick McGoohan called Number 93. His living quarters in the new show are almost identical as the old Number Six living quarters... right down to the wax lamps.

But this is a new Prisoner show for a new, dumbed down era. Jim Caviezel seems a fine actor but, as the new Number Six, he can’t hold a candle to the original. This is not his fault. He’s playing him in a sensitive manner... but McGoohan had a dangerous, aggressive and also charming edge to his portrayal. Caviezel seems to want to be playing it touchy-feely... probably at the insistence of the producers.

Ian MacKellan is an excellent choice for the new Number Two... just isn’t allowed to really get away with doing a good job within the confines of this new version of the show. Would have done it well in the sixties I suspect.

Most of the famous iconography of the original show has not been tapped for this version... that means no penny farthings, no mini-mokes, no blazers, no beach, no stone boat, no blaring fanfare on the “announcements” and no crashing, slamming prison doors at the end of the episode. A half hearted attempt has been made to replace the penny farthing with some kind of hand logo... but it’s not really working. A couple of the scenes were inspired directly from the first episode of the original it seems to me. Dialogue is a close match as far as I can remember.

This show has excellent acting. It has good, clean, simple and colourful design and cinematography. It has excellent music (although no match to the strident tones of the original show but it is "of it’s time" I guess). Unfortunately... on the strength of this first episode, the show never rises to being more than the sum of it’s part and is, therefore, not honouring the legacy of the past.

It fails but at least it fails in an interesting manner. Worth a watch but fans of the original show are hereby given clear warning that this new one will seem very bland in comparison.

Dumbing Down Daleks

Doctor Who: Victory of the Daleks
Airdate: April 17th 2010. UK. BBC1

You know... I was always a fan of the multicoloured Daleks. If I had to pick a favourite set of Daleks from any decade of Doctor Who then it would be the bright and colourful metal geezahs from the two Peter Cushing movies of the sixties. Heck, I even liked the fact that they fired steam.

Yesterday’s new episode of Doctor Who gave us three different types of Daleks. The predominant ones in this episode, set during World War Two, were the classic, upgraded, most used style of the Daleks which featured from the late sixties to the late eighties. It was nice to see these on screen again. Then there was one of the new designed Daleks from the recent Russel Davies era of the show... standing them up against the older types really showed just how good the design of those old types were in comparison.

And then there were the brand new Daleks...

Oh dear. What was the brief here then. Like I said... I don’t mind multicoloured... but THESE! When I saw these on the cover of Radio Times I just assumed the designers of the magazine were having fun and using cheaply made, badly observed toys to decorate their cover with. I had no idea that these were actually the new Daleks. They’re awful. Like cheap, chunky plush toys for kids. I would have thought it was almost impossible to screw up this design classic this much... but they’ve somehow managed it.

Hope these new guys don’t stay around for too long. They are not in any way threatening! Time to put the Daleks away again for a decade or so methinks.

Right. This is not good now. This show needs to get back to being at least as good as the first half of the first episode.

The story was mostly preposterous. There’s no way you are going to rig up spitfires to do that in how ever many short hours they had. This is ridiculous.

As has been the case in all the episodes so far... the Doctor really took second place to Amy Pond. She’s showing him up something chronic... although I’m not too sure she’s even human anymore. There’s something about Amy. She doesn’t remember the Daleks (funny... why did I just know that was going to be the case?)... which either means the timelines have been altered... or she’s not who we think she is. She might even be Prisoner Zero for all I know! Is she friend or foe? Maybe she’s a trap. Who knows? And frankly... at this stage after three not so great episodes... who cares?

That crack in time is already overused. Not too subtle are we Mr. BBC?

There was one nice thing about the episode and that was a shot lasting a couple of seconds of a Dalek poster in the style of British World War 2 Propoganda Poster Art. Not too shabby. The rest was semi-enjoyable but mostly rubbish.

Oh well. Both River Song and the Weeping Angels are back for couple of episodes next. Let’s just hope that these are not going to be tarnished and disrespected in the same way the Daleks just were.

Stopped looking forward to this show!

Wednesday 14 April 2010

A Site For Score Ears

Film Score Monthly
Welcome to the second in my occasional look at the most valuable resources on the internet. For my previous installment... click here.

Lukas Kendall, the man behind this most precious of resources to musical cinephiles started off his magazine, Film Score Monthly, in the form of xeroxed copies 20 years ago. Over the years, this little newsletter grew in format, scope, sales and reputation into a really great magazine which was a good companion to me on many a train journey home from London over the years. As time wore on and the economic strains of maintaining what was an exceptionally high quality and well written niche product grew too great in the “internet age”, FSM finally folded as a printed magazine (a sad day it was too) and went to an exceptionally inexpensive and highly recommended online version - which you can proudly subscribe to at

If it was just on the strength of the track record of the magazine and the accompanying website (with a very much “alive” online community in the form of its message board), FSM would be remembered fondly as it has found a special place in the hearts of many a soundtrack fan. But Lukas Kendall and the behemoth that was his creation didn’t stop at that. Back in 1996, FSM chanced its arm at releasing limited CD editions of scores that had never had a proper release in the format and they continue to this day with over 200 CDs currently released (many of them are still in print if you want to try and pick up some of these little gems from their website). That first release was released on their “Retrograde” imprint... David Shire’s "12 tone score with a jazz funk edge” to the original movie version of The Taking of Pelham 123. This was followed by John Barry’s score to Deadfall and then in 1996 they had their first release using their own name as the label, Jerry Goldsmith’s score to Stagecoach backed with his music to the TV show The Loner.

After that the releases just kept getting more frequent, with much loved scores getting out to the afficianados and FSM are currently releasing around 24 albums a year. Most of these are limited editions and a lot of them have never seen the light of day before in any format. They are always exquisitely remastered from the finest available materials and more often than not provide the most complete listening experience available from the surviving elements.

Some highlights for me over the years would be Ron Grainer’s The Omega Man, Bernard Herrmann’s On Dangerous Ground, Scott Bradley’s Tom and Jerry and Tex Avery Too, Ennio Morricone’s The Five Man Army and their three disc Shaft Anthology - His Big Score and More, which includes for the first time the actual original film tracks from Isaac Hayes’ Shaft (the best selling album was a rerecording) and also the scores to Shaft’s Big Score and various episodes of the Shaft TV show.

Their website has links to the scores which haven’t sold out and includes some generous sized sound samples for browsing customers. Their message board is where you can find a community which collectively has a very impressive knowledge of the history of films and the music used to score them. True, sometimes individual board members may let themselves get a little over-enthusiastic to the point where their arguments can reach Jerry Springer levels... but this can be entertaining in itself.

Frankly, I believe Film Score Monthly as a magazine, website and especially a music label has done more to help forward the cause of film score appreciation, both in bringing the people who like to listen to these things together in the form of an online community and in restoring and getting classic music out on CD which might not have seen the light of day without FSMs particular business model, than many of the great composers themselves.

A valuable resource for a less recognised sub-section of the music listeners around the world. If you’re still reading, you should go check it out.

Sunday 11 April 2010

Jonah and the Beast Below

Doctor Who: The Beast Below
Airdate: April 10th 2010. UK. BBC1

Okay then. Second story not so great. Intriguing moments like a message from Amy to herself were kind of thrown away. The Doctor was a little more tetchy at points like his William Hartnell and Colin Baker incarnations and ultimately this had the feel of being a bit of a money-saving episode.

Certain people in this household think that Matt Smith has killed Doctor Who stone dead. I don’t subscribe to that... we just need a bit of time to get used to him is how I’m going to positively carry on with this show for a while.

Karen Gillan is so far worth watching for anyway. Amy Pond is brilliant.

The model of the floating UK looked a bit ropey though. Looked a bit like Gerry Anderson or Eiji Tsuburaya when they were still learning their craft. Just a bit dodgy.

From this episode it’s looking like they’re getting into that old Troughton era game of having the end of the episode running into the next one. We’ve got old-school Daleks in the Second World War next. Wonder how long it will take for someone to mention Captain Jack Harkness or do a “Are you my mummy?” reference?

Didn’t think much of the episode and everything you assumed to be a throwaway fact from the first ten minutes turned out to be their “big twist”. Not very satisfying. Was expecting more. Queen Elizabeth 10th was kinda sexy though.

Of Myth and Men

Yesterday I took another look at The Eleventh Hour episode of Doctor Who. Noticed that the laptop they were using was a "MYTH" computer. "Who are they?" I thought to myself. Why not a standard PC or even something good like an Apple Macbook.

So I found a Myth Computers website. Something seems wrong. Nobody else is talking about these guys. There's a forum but... well I'm not sure.

Is the MYTH thing a clue for the conclusion of the current season of Doctor Who?

Is this some weird viral marketing I've accidentally stumbled on?

Or am I just being over-enthusiastic? What do people think?

Friday 9 April 2010

Ninja-bred Men

Ninja Assassin 2010 US
Directed by James McTeigue

It seems like I’m having a pretty violent time with my movies this week. Back in the late 70s/early 80s there was a certain number of “made for Americans, made by Americans and starring Americans” pseudo Ninja movies. I understand that these movies have a small following for people of a certain generation but I was never tempted to give up any time to watch any of them. James McTeigue’s new Ninja Assassin movie was produced by Joel Silver and I imagine it is not a far cry from those American ninja movies from a few decades ago. Think Cobra meets The One Armed Swordsman.

This film is a curious mix because, although it features all of those factors of a fun 80s actioner... rubbish plot, terrible script and bad acting... it mixes this with a level of gore and violence which is straight out of the province of a modern Takashi Miike movie. This film definitely classifies as ultraviolence... in fact, one sequence where somebody’s leg comes flying at the camera made me wonder why this one wasn’t the latest to jump on the 3D bandwagon.

What saves this film is the picture perfect framing of the visuals and the speed of the editing matched to the fight coreography in such a way that, unlike certain other modern action movies (I might mention The Bourne Supremacy or Quantum of Solace) the audience is not left totally confused as to what is going on during its more “enthusiastic” sequences. Shot follows shot smoothly and with... you know... “emotional context” ;-)

Perhaps the real reason this movie succeeds is because it never tries to be anything much more than the cheesy USA action flicks it tries to imitate. It’s just got better cinematography.

This post is dedicated to Russell Barley.

Thursday 8 April 2010

Kicking the habit...

Kick Ass 2010 US
Directed by Matthew Vaughn
Screening at Cineworld

There’s not a hell of a lot I can say about Kick Ass. It’s a great film offering all the visceral pleasures a film following in the wake of cinematic mayhem such as Kill Bill could be expected to offer. It has smart, well observed dialogue on the usual teen-angst one would expect but elevated to a level beyond the normal lip service usually paid in films of this type.

Plus a pieced together “homage” of a soundtrack with lots of references to previous pieces of cinematic iconography such as a parody of that “slow kettle boil” type of sound from The Dark Knight or a great dollop of the main title music to For A Few Dollars More during one of the more competent set pieces in the movie.

Also, although dressed as a simulacrum of the post-Burton Batman character, the Big Daddy role as played by Nicholas Cage seems to take great pleasure from delivering all his lines as if he’s Adam West. So good fun there then.

The film has had a lot of criticism levelled at it for the amount of violence and swearing “brought on” by an eleven year old girl in the film. Fair enough but it’s a 15 certificate so I don’t see that there’s much to complain about. You have been fairly warned (the certification is there for you on the poster) and, frankly, if you want to hear swearing and see violence which makes Kick Ass look positively tame, go catch a bus during school rush hour with real eleven year old kids... it’s far worse than anything thrown up on the screen here.

In short... Kick Ass is like watching short snippets of Tokyo Gore Police but with the sensibility of something like Ghost World thrown into the mix.

Chantastic Tales!

Keeper of the Keys. 1932. Earl Derr Biggers.
Academy Chicago Publishers. ISBN: 9780897335959

Keeper of the Keys is the sixth and final of Earl Derr Biggers novels featuring his most cherished character.

It states, quite boldly on the cover, “a CHARLIE CHAN mystery”... but perhaps the biggest mystery of all about this particular novel is why, out of around 50 Charlie Chan movies made, none of them have ever been based on this last novel. I can’t fathom why not because after having read it, it’s a pretty good one and would have made a good contribution to the Warner Oland movies. Perhaps its time as a very short lived stage adaptation deterred Hollywood from having a go at this one? Although it’s formulaic qualities should have been enough to bring it under consideration I would have thought. Or perhaps the rights usage for the stage play added an unnecessary complication when the writing on the film series was obviously good enough to warrant that the adaptation of this final chapter was not worth bothering with.

Either way, the book is excellent in it’s own right and has some nice considerations for the general Charlie Chan fan. In this novel he swaps the heat and malaise of Honolulu for the snow covered pines of Lake Tahoe and much is made, all through the book, that this is Chan’s first sight of snow and his enjoyment and satisfaction of his own exposure to such an atmosphere is celebrated by this character at every opportunity. For example, this is the first time that the character has had the pleasure of finding the clue of footprints in the snow and much is made of this.

Like a good giallo, there is more than enough credible suspects in this novel for the reader to accurately guess (or frankly have any idea of) the identity of the murderer... at the denouement I was trying to remember which character had actually done it from the name given and I had to backtrack a little to remind me of that character’s place in the narrative.

As usual the book is peppered with optimistic Chanisms and I shall leave you with a direct quote from the great man himself from this novel...

“Three things the wise man does not do. He does not plow the sky. He does not paint pictures on the water. And he does not argue with a woman.”

Wednesday 7 April 2010

Clasherific! Moves along at a Krakening pace...

Clash of the Titans 2010 remake US
Directed by Louis Leterrier
Screening at Cineworld

You know... I always liked the movies of Ray Harryhausen. Sinbad fighting the cyclops in The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad. Jason fighting the skeletons in Jason and the Argonauts. Sinbad fighting the statue of Kali while Caroline Munro looked on in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad. All these were great memories for me so, when the time came to go and see Harryhausen’s new venture Clash of the Titans back in 1981, this teenage boy was ready to rock. Unfortunately, when I came out of the cinema 29 years ago...  I left feeling disappointed at having seen what was probably Harryhausen’s least interesting movie. The only consolation was the robot owl standing in as a kind of ancient Greek R2D2 and that cheeky shot of Judy Bowker rising up from the bathtub... which left a definite impression in the mind of this 13 year old at the time.

So frankly... when I heard that Hollywood were doing a modern remake of this my first thoughts were... a) You can’t remake a Harryhausen movie with any of the charm that the great man himself would have brought to the formula and b) it seriously wasn’t worth trying to revive the corpse of this lifeless movie anyway.

When I heard it was going to have some post-production 3D added, I was even less impressed (3D is the BluRay of cinema right now... they’re just looking for more ways to charge you more money).

And so now, I’m going to make a total fool of myself in the wake of some exceptionally negative criticism of the film and say to you right here and now that the new version of Clash of the Titans isn’t just faithful to the original movie in many ways... it is so much better than the original and everything I would have wanted to see in that darkened cinema back in 1981!

This film is old time 50s and 60s Hollywood epic with masses of action thrown in for good measure. The small, cliched character sketches of the men accompanying Perseus actually work really well and the movie runs along at a Krakening... sorry... cracking pace with some great special effects and creature design. Well okay, so I didn’t like the design of the Kraken much... and I didn’t like the fact that Pegasus is black... but everything else from Charon to the Djinn and the giant scorpions is aces. There’s even a brilliant cameo appearance by the Bubo the R2D2 owl I mentioned earlier... looking exactly as he did in the original movie.... only better animated. And as for Medusa the Gorgon... well she’s really beautiful and looks like she’s just stepped out of one of the works of Alphonse Mucha. I’d hang out with her anytime.

And it’s got Gemma Arterton in it! Yum.

All in all a great movie for kids and adult fans of “high adventure”. Don’t miss out on this one. It’s clasheriffic!

Tuesday 6 April 2010

Four hearts beat as one...

Doctor Who: The Two Doctors. 1985. UK.
Directed by Peter Moffatt. BBC DVD. Region 2.

Patrick Troughton’s last appearance in a Doctor Who story teams him and his assistant Jamie (the always brilliant Frazer Hines) with the sixth Doctor as played by Colin Baker and his assistant Peri (Nicola Bryant).

Although there’s a lot of things in these three 45 minute episodes that should have ensured a very successful story, I’m afraid to say that this is actually quite a weak set of episodes. The wonderful Jacqueline Pearce as one of the lead villains is, unfortunately, not given as much glam and autonomy as a character to best show off the dominatrix-style treachery that made her run as Servalan in Blake’s Seven so memorable. And the make up on the Sontarans in this story is unbelievably bad compared to what came both before and after it... like they’d gone to a toy store and bought the masks for a fiver.

Troughton and Hines are always a pleasure to watch but Troughton is just not given nearly enough screen time in this adventure and is almost relegated to the role of “damsel in distress”. Worse still, there is absolutely no explanations given for the lack of temporal continuity which this episode throws up. If this episode is set between the Troughton episodes Fury From The Deep and The Wheel In Space (as this episode starts the second Doctor has just said goodbye to his companion Victoria) then he was certainly not on good terms with his fellow Time Lords (who Jamie wouldn’t even know about yet). They were still trying to catch him at that point... not send him on missions. And Jamie wouldn’t know what a regeneration is (all this is quickly and ineffectively glossed over). Similarly, there is no explanation given as to how Peri knows who Jamie is. Nor how the second Doctor would recognise a Sontaran for that matter (if you want to get really picky).

There are a few nice one liners in this one... but they don’t compensate nearly enough for this mess of a story.

The wealth of extras included on this release are generous in terms of quantity but not so great in terms of quality. In addition to the nice tribute documentary on Robert Holmes, the only other slight curio of any interest... if you really want to watch it... is an episode of Jim’ll Fix It with the Sixth Doctor, Tegan (as played by Janet Fielding... although her character had never met that incarnation) and the same, badly realised Sontarans.

All in all, not a great deal to recommend this release... other than the fact that it was the incomparable Patrick Troughton’s final farewell to the character.

Monday 5 April 2010

These plants were made for walking...

The Day of the Triffids. 1981. UK.
Directed by Ken Hannam. BBC DVD. Region 2.

Over Christmas 2009, BBC broadcast a new 2 part “adaptation” of John Wyndham’s novel The Day of the Trifids. I’d always loved the sixties movie when I was a kid, and also admired this six part serial the BBC put on in 1981, which lead to me reading the original novel. It has to be said that my excitement at a new adaptation of Mr. Wyndham’s enthusiastic plant life was short lived... after I’d seen how awful the new 2009 version was.

A soulless adaptation containing no characters you can care for and some run of the mill CGI effects which just dragged the story down (what little was left of it after the new scriptwriters had finished ravaging the corpse of this classic novel) and outststayed its welcome after only a short time into the first episode.

So, to exorcise the memories of this new version, I went back the the 1981 version which I admired so much as a young ‘un and I have to say that, even after all this time, this earlier adaptation doesn’t dissapoint. Although the aforementioned sixties movie was fun, this first BBC TV version is easily the most faithful and the most gripping of the small batch of versions available.

The acting is, for it’s time, superb and the characters, therefore, never fail to engage your attention and make you care about thier collective fate. And if there was ever an argument for practical, in camera, man-in-suite prop-like special effects as opposed to flimsy, modern CGI... this 1981 version of The Triffids is it.

The only real clunkers are that... well it jumps around a lot in terms of time and location from one scene to the next at various points... but this in no way disorients you enough for you to lose what’s going on. The other problem it has is the wonderful looking anti-triffid gun that the main protagonist sports in his travels. A nice looking flying disc weapon that was featured heavily in publicity shots for the serial at the time on the cover of the Radio Times and on the tie-in re-issue of the novel, is only used the once (in episode 5) and when it is finally fired... a "BBC Micro" style white triangle effect comes out of it instead of a much needed metal disk. That’s probably the only bad thing in it... the Triffids themselves are superb creations.

At the time, the production values and acting on this serial made the contemporary shows of the time like Doctor Who and Blakes Seven seem seriously lacking... unfortunately, it also makes the new 2009 adaptation look seriously lame in comparison too!

Sunday 4 April 2010

The Kissogram and the Time Lord

Doctor Who: The Eleventh Hour
Airdate: April 3rd 2010. UK. BBC1

So... eleventh Doctor... Eleventh Hour and... yeah, this opening episode is also extended to an hour in length.

Watched this when it was aired (switched my mobile phone off and then forgot to switch it back on until this morning).

Not sure how I feel about this. I have a great respect for Steven Moffat’s writing in Doctor Who and he did some nice stuff in this one. The episode was certainly not a terrible episode... that’s for sure. But it wasn’t exactly a great episode either. It did drag in places... which would be okay... although it sent my mother to sleep so that’s not necessarily a good thing.

I think my problem with it was that all of the character stuff and the chemistry between the new Doctor and his new companion Amelia Pond was really great. Loved the fact that he meets his companion as a little girl and then comes back “in five minutes” which lasts fourteen years for her. All that was good... as were all the characters in this episode. I think where the episode felt draggy... and why I might myself have lopped a good ten minutes or so off the running time... was the actual “let’s defeat an alien invasion” stuff. Tired old running around and saving the planet story. Possibly to give the new guy room to breathe? I don’t know. Bit humdrum I thought.

Then there were the new prophecy references about the Doctor having caused the “crack in time” and tearing bits of the universe asunder which seem to point to being addressed at a later point in the series. Yeah, ok. That kind of stuff worked well with the previous four seasons and the specials but... it’s getting a little tired now. I’m kind of hoping that all that stuff is just Steven Moffat playing with the formula and living up to the audiences expectations so that he can somehow do an “about face”on it later on and ditch it all and surprise us. Probably he won’t do that... but you never know.

Matt Smith's Doctor is... okay so far. Not terrible and it’s not fair to pass judgement yet. The only Doctor I’ve never really liked was Colin Baker. Don’t know why and it certainly wasn’t his fault. Matt Smith seems to be committed to the role and that’s always a good thing.

Karen Gillan, however, is really great. What a fantastic new companion he’s picked up! She’s better than the Doctor. That red hair is so good to give the frame a vibrant shot of colour too. Bit shame they toned her down to “kissogram girl” when they had obvious references to internet pornography later on in the episode. Maybe kissogram girl was supposed to be a euphamism (it’s hinted that aside from her police uniform she also does nurse, french maid and nun)... I’d like to think so. It would be nice for the Doctor to have a sex worker as a companion and give people in that kind of profession the respect they deserve in a popular TV show. Probably won’t happen though.

There were some nice visual references to previous episodes of the show. Good to see a brief glimpse of a Sea Devil again!

There were some nice surprises. The new TARDIS interior works better in the context of the show with a camera moving about it than in the dreadful “still” photographs that were released of it previously. Nice colours. Wish there were more of the old circles in there... hope this doesn’t mean we’ve lost those for good.

The new logo is good (frankly anything would have been an improvement on that last one, which was the worst one in the show’s long history) and the title sequence... well that might take a little more getting used to.

There were some nasty surprises also. What were they thinking. It’s okay to rearrange Ron Grainers original theme... it’s really hard to do that any harm if treated sensitively. Now I loved the music for this episode but that main theme variant was awful! They managed to totally destroy it! Would humbly suggest they go for a less “augmented” arrangement of that real soon. This is not good and really upset me!

Ok... so all I can do is wait and see what the next episode brings. Timewise it looks like they’re going to continue to do some interesting things with the way the Doctor and his new companion interact. Looking forward to it.

Friday 2 April 2010

Here be Draggins!

Drag Me To Hell. 2009. US.
Directed by Sam Raimi. Lionsgate DVD. Region 2.

I’ve never been the biggest fan of Sam Raimi... although I thought the Spiderman movies tended to get better as they went along.

Drag Me To Hell is a great little movie though. Perhaps one of his greatest achievements as a director. It’s a B movie but it never pretends to be more than it is... which seems to me to be an uncredited remake of Night of the Demon (aka Curse of the Demon), itself a “loose” adaptation of the M. R. James short story “Casting the Runes”. Actually, about that last point... I don’t know why more people haven’t made that connection yet... the movie even finishes on the railroad tracks!

All the most endearing Raimi qualities are present in this film... namely a mixture of black humour and grotesque horror mingled in together (when I saw this at the cinema last year, the fight between the main protagonist and the old gypsy lady in the car had the audience in stitches). In fact, the many indignities piled on both the old woman and our plucky heroine (played here by Alison Lohman) just keep ramping up until Sam Raimi’s sympathy with old Looney Tunes cartoons comes to the fore with a particularly humerous episode involving a suspended anvil (why?) and eyeballs popping out on their stalks.

Also there are some very eerie scenes reminiscent of something you’d find out of the pages of a few of the old Dennis Wheatley novels. And a nice talking goat thrown into the mix.

Boasting some fairly strong performances by a largely unknown cast and a kick ass, devil’s fiddle style score by composer Chris Young (who gave Spiderman 3 such a great but sadly unreleased on CD score) and you have a nice movie to spend some quality time with on a lad’s night in around the telly with some beer and nibbles.

‘Tis a pity then that I don’t drink beer :-(

A Trip to and on Shutter Island

Shutter Island 2010 US
Directed by Martin Scorcese
Screening at Cineworld

Shutter Island Soundtrack by Various Artists 2010 Rhino 8122798319

Warning! This contains spoilers for those who haven’t seen the trailer and figured out the twists from that!

Martin Scorcese used to be a pretty good director. No... let me modify that if I may. Martin Scorcese used to be one of the all time great directors.

Some of the great American masterpieces of cinema came to us from this guy! This is the man, let's not forget, who gave us Who’s That Knocking at my Door?, Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore and The King of Comedy. Not to mention quirky little dessert courses like It’s not just you, Murray and The Big Shave.

But then he started making disappointing movies like Goodfellas... which was technically brilliant but just an astonishingly boring choice of subject matter for this particular viewer. And then I just lost interest.

Yes, okay he made the odd little stab of genius again with films like Kundun (which was all about the Glass!) and The Aviator but mostly his films have held no real interest for me since those early days of absolute genius.

But every now and again he makes a movie that reminds us just how great he was/is... and his new release, Shutter Island, is just such a movie.

The set up to the film is almost as old as film itself. Two US Marshalls are called in to a maximum security mental hospital after on of the patients has escaped.

Yeah, ok, sure! He really telegraphs the so-called twists to you within the first 20 minutes of the film. There’s some very overwrought stuff where the identity of the “missing doctor” is pretty much lit up in red neon on the screen when the camera keeps jump cutting to the doctor in question to catch his reactions so that when you go back to see it a second time you will, presumably, say to yourself... “Oh... thats why they kept cutting back to that character when the patients were being interviewed!”... except it’s just a little bit unsubtle and so you tend to see it coming a couple of hours before you’re supposed to.

But you know what? It doesn’t matter... and quite honestly, anybody who has even seen the trailer once will have figured out that there’s only two possible routes that this film can go down... and both have been done to death a number of times. There’s the “the lunatics have taken over the asylum” approach... popularised by such iconic confections of pop culture as the 1966 Star Trek episode “Dagger of the Mind” or there’s the other obvious route of... “the lunatic is still in the asylum and it’s you and you’ve really been in it for quite a while now” approach... used in the framing story of Robert Wiene’s 1920s masterpiece of German Expressionism “The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari” but perhaps made more specific and mixed into the foreground of the 1962 Roger Kay reimagining “The Cabinet of Caligari” (and reimagining is right). I’m not going to spoil it for you and tell you which of the two routes Scorcese takes with this movie... but it won’t take you very long into the film to figure it out. Especially with protracted clues early on in the movie such as one of the US Marshall’s fumbling with how to get his pistol and holster from his belt.

But as I said before... this doesn’t matter.

A few years ago, Scorcese did a short advertising film for freixenet called The Key To Reserva. It’s his hommage to Alfred Hitchcock and, quite frankly, it’s a brilliant piece of movie making. This short film in its entirety can be seen here...

... and frankly, it’s well worth clicking on for any fan of good moviemaking. Starting in a documentary style with a humorous interview with Scorcese about the film... the film then starts and it’s a beautiful summation of Hitchcock. Scored, quite literally as you’ll see as it’s presented in the context of the short, with a part of Herrmann’s score from North By Northwest, the short hits so many Hitch moments and fans of the work of the Master of Suspense (or maybe I should refer to him as the American Argento ;-) will want to stay on to the end of the short with that brilliant pull back shot from the Scorcese epilogue.

Anyway, the reason I’ve mentioned this is because... if The Key to Reserva is Scorcese’s homage to Hitchcock in the medium of the short, advertising film... Shutter Island is very much his homage to Hitchcock in a feature film. It has to be said that some critics have likened Shutter Island to those early RKO horror pictures produced by Val Lewton (a series of films which I like very much) and... maybe at a stretch in terms of the subject matter (although this movie is based on a novel)... but no I disagree... this film is definitely Scorcese doing Hitchcock. It’s uncanny and it’s the sheer beauty of this postmodern filtration that makes the movie so eminently watchable.

The angles he’s chosen. The colours and framing choices he’s made. All of it pure Hitchcock. Here’s Leonardo DiCaprio’s head filling the screen up at the start of one of his many nightmare sequences in a direct echo of Jimmy Stewart in Vertigo. There’s Leonardo DiCaprio climbing the sheer cliff face as Cary Grant clambered about Mount Rushmore in North By Northwest. Here’s the famous full on shot of the showerhead filling camera as it did in Psycho. Back to Vertigo again and here’s Leonardo running up and up the spiral staircase in the lighthouse and taking stops on the way up just as Stewart did running up the stairs of the bell tower... I’m surprised Scorcese resisted the urge to track in some of Hermmann’s much loved score at this point. Like Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds... Shutter Island is very much a film for fans of the art of film itself.

Then, too, there are the performances.

Scorcese has assembled a quite amazing cast of very strong actors and actresses with which to populate his film. The only one I don’t really know is DiCaprio since I’ve only ever seen him in two other movies... he’s passable enough and he certainly doesn’t let any of the other actors down. But those other actors... you’ve got Mark Ruffalo (one of my favourite modern actors), Ben Kingsley, Elias Koteas, Jackie Earle Haley (Rorschach himself!) and the one and only Patricia Clarkson. Plus... you have the inimitable Max Von Sydow playing a classic Hitchcockian psychiatrist but with a look by way of Edward Van Sloan’s memorable portrayal of Van Helsing from Dracula (1931) and Dracula’s Daughter (1936). Absolutely brilliant.

I mentioned there are a lot of nightmare sequences in this movie... perhaps a more accurate description would be to say that the movie has a very hallucinogenic feel to it. This doesn’t give anything away as the film is quite blatant in it’s explorations of the fragility and contradictory nature of reality from a very early point in the telling of the tale.

And as brilliant as the film is in the sense of being a visual feast... the score is an absolute foreboding presence, reflecting and shadowing the disturbing nature of the subject matter in hand. I scanned the credits for the composer but there was none readily forthcoming. That’s because Scorcese has used, to quote the sticker on the excellent double album release of the score, lots of different examples of “modern classical compositions” to “mood out” his atmosphere... and it’s properly mixed into the foreground of the film like... well, like Hitchcock might have done with his Herrmann scores. You know the drill by now... a smattering of John Cage... a sprinkling of Alfred Schnittke... and of course those two powerful crutches of all scare-the-pants-off-you directors (such as William Friedkin and Stanley Kubrik for The Exorcist and The Shining respectively), György Ligeti and Krzysztof Penderecki.

There’s some amazing, deeply disturbing music to be found on the Shutter Island soundtrack... and consequently the resulting soundtrack album (which I’m listening to as I write... urm... blog this) is a great sampler for people who are somehow unfamiliar with this kind of challenging but satisfying kind of disharmony.

Shutter Island, then, is a veritable three course meal for the eyes and the ears. Despite it’s lack of surprise and revelation.

I guess what you really have to ask yourself at the end of the day though is this... Which would be worse... to live as a monster or to die as a good man?

Go ask Alice...

Alice In Wonderland
Soundtrack by Danny Elfman
2010 Walt Disney Records 5099962854429

There have been some truly great and memorable director/composer partnerships in cinema history. Alfred Hitchcock and Bernard Herrmann for example. Sergio Leone and Ennio Morricone might be another. Or how about David Cronenberg and Howard Shore?

Yes, these composers and directors still shine when working with other people... but when they’re working with that special person who is in sympathy with their own ideas, the work usually takes on an artistry which nears perfection... and sometimes not.

Tim (Mr. Helena Bonham-Carter) Burton and Danny (Mr. Bridget Fonda) Elfman are just such a perfect collaborative partnership... most of the time. Burton, it has to be said, can be a bit hit and miss. Always unique but not always quite nailing it. Elfman, too, can seem to be on fire or a little cooler from one project to the next... but he’s usually pretty good when he’s working with Burton.

However... this time the perfect partnership had a rare miss...

It is my sad duty to report that, in terms of watchability, entertainment and something to inspire, Tim Burton’s movie hotchpotch of shakily referential Lewis Carrol allusions seems to fail on all counts. It’s sad to see something which should have been so up Burton’s street deteriorate into something you just want to end.

It is, however, my happy duty to report that Danny Elfman’s score to this celluloid cure for insomnia is... quite possibly... his greatest score ever and certainly one if his best “stand alone” listens.

The main theme song which opens the album provides the coda, proper, for a listening experience which keeps bringing that theme back in for constant reuse, weaving it through the score and using it to familiarise the audience with the main character in exactly the way good movie scores used to do... before modern producers started to use their music as wallpaper.

The album hits all the usual Elfmanisms (Herrmann meets Penderecki in a fairy tale setting) but loses a lot of the subtlety and really beats you over the head with it in an Edward Scissorhands filtered through Spiderman kind of way. Elfman’s Alice theme is like a tapeworm in your head... it is so infectious you’ll be whistling it all day. It never outstays it’s welcome and it comes back in full form a lot but it is also a brilliant starting block from which to build the rest of the score. I don’t know what Elfman’s working process on this particular score was but it seems to me to be clearly evident that he must have written that main theme first because the rest of the cues are just so reliant on it... in a good way.

A cohesive and consistent listening experience for once, for a post millennium score, and definitely one which will be spinning in my player for a good many years.