Sunday 27 June 2010

Wongs Upon A Time In America

The Fatal Hour (Mr. Wong At Headquarters)
1940 US Directed by William Nigh
Monogram/VCI Home Entertainment DVD Region 1

Ok... this is more like it. This is Mr. Wong at his very best... with my only grumble being that he doesn’t do much (or anything at all) in the way of using his trademark knowledge of scientific investigation to do any actual detecting within this movie. Here it’s all following standard “clues and leads” to get to the final solution to the problem.

In this one the problem involves smuggling precious Chinese artefacts through an imitation jewellery store and, of course, the murders that ensue from this powder keg situation.

Equally aided and abetted by series regulars Captain Street and his regular headache, reporter Roberta “Bobby” Logan... this film is on fire when it comes to the enjoyable, quickfire dialogue threeways between Wong, Street and Bobby. In this film they got all the Wong elements right and it makes for some good, past paced (for a Monogram picture) onscreen shenanigans which will really not outstay its welcome (at barely over an hour in length, these kinds of 30s and 40s B-movies rarely do).

And what’s this? Not one but two uncredited appearances by serial legends. This Wong movie sees the return (since the last one) of Donald Kerr (Happy from Flash Gordons Trip To Mars), this time playing a nameless drunk as opposed to a taxi driver. And then... let me get a close look at that small hotel lobby check-in guy... well blow me down if it isn’t an early role for the inimitable Tristram Coffin! Yes, the lead actor of King of the Rocket Men and regular generic villain/friendly on such TV shows as The Lone Ranger and The Adventures of Superman is on show here, before he ever got it into his head to put on a grubby leather coat, metal hood and take to the sky’s in his rocket pack! Woohoo!

All in all, the fourth Mr. Wong is the best I’ve seen in this series so far. Karloff seems to be taking the role much less seriously in this one and it’s much to the betterment of the series. Lets hope the fifth one lives up to the promise of this one.

Saturday 26 June 2010


Doctor Who: The Big Bang
Airdate: June 26th 2010. UK. BBC1

Ok then. That one was okayish.

A bit complex as it tried to make sense of it’s own tangled threads but complexity should not in itself be confused with something being good.

The direction was quite slick and, for Doctor Who, quite “big budgety” looking.

The music was good and it was also that new subtheme (which I really wish they’d release on CD right now!) repeated over and over again as it has been all series. Think they’re going to have to bundle the new album with the scores from the specials if they want enough new material to fill up the disc.

But whatever... it was a fairly entertaining 55 minutes.

River Song was excellent as always but the mysteries surrounding her have become... I dunno... a little overwrought perhaps. Moffet’s been a little clever in that the audience is forever now going to be looking over its shoulder during the following series to figure out what River is up to next. We know she is a rutheless killer and that she probably killed The Doctor at some point. No great shakes as he can always regenerate... unless she caught him on his last generation... ooh a footnote about that down below methinks.*

As the universe rewinded and the Doctor tracked back through his adventures he visited Amy during the Flesh and Stone episode (and a big shout out again to flaysomewench who brought that little gem to my attention in her speculative review blog when it happened the first time round... and interacting with Amy in what now seems like a very Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Kahn “Remember” moment.

However... I have a few problems with the “Happy Ever After Ending” lets all go off to the Orient Express but, hold on, make sure Amy and Rory get their own room to consummate their marriage in before you go off jeopardising everyone’s lives won’t you Doctor?

Um... where was I?

Oh yeah.

If the Doctor has just been remembered back in to existence and the people he knows all remember him... then is that just a ghost echo from a life they never had or did it really happen? Is this a “reboot” series like the last Star Trek movie?

If things actually happened then they are not where they are... without significantly screwing up their own timelines. Amy Pond's parents can’t surely exist in the same universe as The Doctor. On the other hand... if they didn’t happen and it all came out of Amy Pond’s imaginary memory... then what does that say about the last forty odd years of the show? Did that stuff “happen” or not?

I don’t think anyone cares at the moment and I don’t think we’re supposed to look at it too closely. I think the show has become kind of a parody of itself and I think there’s going to be a lot of explaining to do if and when people start asking those kinds of questions.

Am I missing something here people?

I think I’m going to have to relegate this series of Doctor Who as being the worst of the last five years but certainly a lot better than some of the late 80s and early 90s seasons.

Maybe now Moffet’s got that out of his system he’ll start to explore the characters and situations a little less gung-ho in later episodes. We shall see what we shall see.

*Oh yeah, my little footnote... forgot about that. In the 80s it was established that, as a timelord you get twelve generations and yer out! The Masters 13th regeneration was explained by him nicking Tremas’ body. His 14th and 15th regenerations (Derek Jacobi and John Simm) have never been explained. Are they going to use the whole Doctor has never really existed before now timeline thing from this episode as a convenient "fob us off" excuse to say the whole regeneration life-cycle has been rebooted back to number 1? And what about those “previous” incarnations shown in The Bain of Morbius? Are we expected to believe that The Doctor has lived nine hundred and whatsit years and has been so careless with his lives lately that he shot off eleven of those lives in just the last 47 years? I know continuity is the hobgoblin of small minds but come on people... this stuff needs to be addressed!

Friday 25 June 2010

Bloody Schoolgirls!

Blood: The Last Vampire 2009
Hong Kong/France/China
Directed by Chris Nahon
Pathe DVD Region 2

I remember seeing this movie at the cinema last year and really loving it. Alas, my local fleapit wasn’t showing it for longer than a week and I forgot all about it again. Then I saw that it was out on DVD and picked it up for a fiver (the magic price!) so I took another look to see what I hadn’t been missing the first time around.

Just like when it was on its first run last year, this film blew me away again. Now I have to say, first and foremost, that I haven’t seen any of the anime on which this is based... so Blood purists might like to leave my review at this point and go and read the opinions of someone more informed than I.

If you’re still here after that last paragraph then... thanks, it’s great to have you. Truly appreciated.

Ok. So where to start... This film is set in 1970 and the director is really good to us, in my opinion, by shooting and editing the film in a cinematic language that really does reflect a 70s style of film-making in many respects. I may overuse the term Bavaesque but there’s no better way to describe the lighting schemes for everything leading up to the last 20 minutes or so. Highly saturated reds and greens stimulating your eyeballs. This combined with shots that wander off naturally and catch your eye with pertinent details without shouting at you to look at the right place. Almost like an Altman movie in that respect although the collision of 70s styles means you can’t just pin it down to the direct influence of any one director.

Absolutely beautifully shot and though the story kinda takes an anticlimactic dip at the end... visually it is just so cool! Bleached out colours with just a dash of red here and there while breathtaking and surrealistic imagery slowly unfolds before your eyes. A really good looking film - I’m ramming this down your throat a bit now, aren’t I?

The film has an international cast and they’re mostly speaking English. Fair enough, it is dealing with a bunch of demons on a US Army Air Base. Solid British “genre” actors like Liam Cunningham and Colin Salmon are always fun to watch.

Now there are some problems with the film but they’re livable and do nothing, in this reviewers humble opinion, to mar an otherwise remarkable movie.

It’s been reported that there are a lot of anachronisms in the movie... military sidearms that weren’t actually invented until two years later than 1970 for example. Fair enough... it doesn’t bother me unduly... this is someone who’s scratched his head many a time over the continuity on the second to fifth 1940s Mummy films (and they’re challenging) so a little drift of a few years is not going to bother me anymore.

The CGI blood is a little... um... lumpy and not as spurty as you might expect from a film of this genre... but the CGI demons more than make up for it. I’m assuming this was fully deliberate but they look like special effects the way they would have been done in the 70s. I KNOW Colin Salmon’s demon manifestation is CGI but it looks so much like an old, jerky, Ray Harryhausen or Willis O’ Brien special effect that I remember my heart leaping with joy when I first saw this at the cinema. A really charming and surprising special effect.

And about those fight scenes... they’re more fast editing modern school choreography than what you might have seen from, say, a Shaw Brothers picture of the era... so that just jars a little bit with the style of most of the rest of the movie.

And why the heck is it called Blood: The Last Vampire if their seems to be a whole load of vampires in it too, as well as demons? They said what now?

But these, all these, are minor grumbles in the face of a really good time at the movies. All self respecting fans of vampire schoolgirl demon hunters slicing demons up with a samurai sword should make a point of watching this one.

Tuesday 22 June 2010

Fellini VS Fosse: When Cabiria Meets Charity

Two directors battle it out on celluloid!

In Federico Fellini’s 1952 movie, The White Sheik, his wife Giulietta Masina makes a five minute appearance playing a prostitute called Cabiria. Fellini was so inspired by this small sequence in his film that he later devoted a whole movie to Giulietta Masina’s exploration of this character... Nights of Cabiria.

In 1966, American showman Bob Fosse based his new stage musical Sweet Charity on Fellini’s Cabiria screenplay and went on to release his own movie version of this in 1969.

I thought it would be worth rediscovering these movies for two reasons... one of which is that the way in which the Italian and American directors handle the characters for their native audiences might possibly be quite telling in revealing something about popular tastes in these two countries at the time of their release. Secondly, my own agenda, is that Nights of Cabiria is one of my all-time favourite movies and Sweet Charity is one of my all-time favourite musicals. So I get to have more fun than usual while I’m researching an article ;-)

Both of these films are interesting in that they convey a very tragic story and contrast it with the genuinely upbeat outer personae of a character, Cabiria and Charity Hope Valentine respectively, as they go through some of the worst knocks that life could possibly hit them with. And to Fosse’s credit, selling that kind of grim reality to an audience in a musical is hard, which might explain the enormous box office flop he had with Charity.

Both movies have a fairly upbeat opening. Cabiria starts off with a light, fluffy Nina Rota score playing over some fairly standard title cards. There is very little in the score which betrays the dark tone of where the movie is heading. Fosse takes the same approach with split screen multicolour half-tone shots conveying Charity having a generally good time as she withdraws her money from a bank and heads over to Central Park.

After the titles play out in Fellini’s film, Cabiria is seen... I think “cavorting” is probably the best description... with her “lover” by a river. He grabs her money laden handbag and pushes Cabiria into the river, in the hopes of drowning her, and leaves her for dead. After she is almost drowned, some locals rescue her and revive her. Although it isn’t quite made clear to us yet, Cabiria has had all her savings stolen. Although the events in the sequence are quite grim, and are used to foreshadow the dark pattern of Cabiria’s life, the trappings of her rescue are played very much for comedy. It his here, too, that her occupation as a streetwalker prostitute (as opposed to the “dance hall girl” in Charity) is inferred to the audience when, after identifying her, one of the locals adds the comment that “She lives the life!”

Fosse’s Sweet Charity starts off in much the same fashion with Shirley MacLaine (playing Charity Hope Valentine) singing a song before she meets her lover. In her dialogue with “Charlie” she makes clear that she has withdrawn all her savings from the bank and is carrying it all around in her handbag, which is something the more subtle Fellini film does not make explicit at the outset... instead letting realisation dawn on the audience as the film progresses. After Charlie has pushed her into a lake and made off with all her money, Charity’s subsequent rescue is played even more for laughs in the Fosse version of the film, even if the character herself in this sequence is, if anything, even more distraught and wretched than Cabiria was under the same circumstances in the Fellini movie. The main difference is perhaps that Giulietta Masina makes the sense of impending tragedy of her character arc implicit in her wonderful facial expressions whereas Maclaine’s portrayal of Charity goes for the quicker gut punch.

It is also in this first sequence in the Fosse version that Charity implies her profession to a cop (and again the audience) as being a “Social Consultant at a Dance Hall”. In Charity the aforementioned Dance Hall replaces the familiar street where Cabiria and her friends ply their trade. Interestingly, Giulietta Masina has a couple of dance scenes in Nights of Cabiria and it is in this first sequence at one of her regular spots where she starts some lively and highly conspicuous dancing to a tune playing on a car radio. Although this sequence is fairly light-hearted and entertaining, and truly a joy to behold, it can’t match for the sheer spectacle and technical genius of Fosse’s replacement “Big Spender” routine with its brilliant use of fast zooms, dissolves, rack focussing and movement within some superb shot compositions.

It is in this musical sequence in Sweet Charity that you really start to realise that you are in the hands of a master choreographer... not just with the dance routines which are stunning and in this particular sequence a masterpiece of minimalist body movement, but also the choreography of colour and light and camera movement and editing. In short, a truly cinematic achievement to be applauded and celebrated and remembered far more than it is currently.

The whole of the next section where Cabiria finds favour from a wealthy movie star, accompanies him to a night club and then goes home with him for dinner... only to find herself having to hide and sleep in the next room when the ex-girlfriend comes back to make up with the movie star is played similarly in both movies, although the trappings and details of this sequence in Charity are a lot more elaborate and fun. And perhaps the ambling but poignant sequence in the nightclub where Cabiria does a vigorous mambo, which says everything about the buoyancy of her character, is a good way of looking at the contrast between the two styles of movie making on display here. Cabiria’s dance lasts maybe two minutes. In Sweet Charity, Ricardo Montalban takes Shirley MacLaine to The Pompeii Club and you are at once lost in a swirling miasma of psychedelic colour and movement and a very long (and enjoyable) set piece dance sequence before she accompanies the film star back to his home, where she gets yet another set piece song and dance number in “If My Friends Could See Me Now.”

And here, too, the dialogue makes explicit what Nights of Cabiria lets you slowly realise on your own terms, when Charity comments that she is “caught in the flypaper of life”. There is certainly no thought at this point in the earlier movie in Cabiria’s head of getting out of her current situation as there is in the Fosse vehicle.

It’s the next sequence in Cabiria that really does it for me and it really says something that this entire 10-15 minute sequence was originally not in Cabiria because the producer, Dino De Laurentiis thought it slowed the movie down. He told Fellini, who didn’t want to budge on it for obvious reasons, that he’d destroyed the sequence. He gave it back to him again in the 1980s and the sequence is now restored to the movie... and about time. This is the scene which really is the key to the whole movie... or at least the key to Cabiria... for this viewer anyway.

Known as, “the man with the sack” sequence in movie-lore, this is the scene where Cabiria stumbles upon and accompanies a man making a night cruise of the surrounding areas of Rome (where Cabiria scrapes her living). This character regularly makes his rounds giving food and blankets to the drop outs and homeless of society, sleeping rough and living in surrounding caves. It is in this sequence that Cabiria recognises one of these unfortunates as an older prostitute she used to know “back in the day.” With this too comes the realisation that this is exactly where she is headed if she continues to lead her life the way she is living it. And it is here that the actress Giulietta Masina shows her real talent as she lets the despair slowly creep into the background of her portrayal of Cabiria and it is this scene that gives the ticking clock nature to the character for the remainder of the movie. There is nothing like this scene in Sweet Charity... and no wonder if De Laurentiis had already cut it out of the original release prints of the Fellini film. Fosse probably wasn’t even aware of this scene.

The next sequence of Cabiria sees her accompanying her friends amidst literally thousands of people going to offer worship to the “madonna” at her local church. This is a real circus of a scene and one can well see why Fellini was continually getting into trouble with the religious establishment during the times his films were being made. Cabiria’s long and gruelling football crowd style slog to worship the madonna is contrasted with the next scene shortly after these events where she realises that, despite going through all this show, her prayers are destined to be unanswered.

To paraphrase an old Charlie Brown strip... “You’re on your own kid.”

Again, Sweet Charity really has nothing like this but the church scene is replaced with a new age church musical number, the famous “Rhythm of Life” showcase number for Sammy Davis Jr, perhaps better known to modern audiences as “that song from that Guiness advert.” This is just an excuse for a bit of a song and dance though and there are no real lessons to be learnt in this sequence.

The next little scene in Cabiria is the one that seals the fate for the character... at least in terms of how she is left at the end of the movie. Cabiria wanders into a magic/stage hypnotism show and finds herself accidentally volunteered. She is placed in a trance by the stage magician and finds herself giving away a lot more about her romantic nature and obsession to find a partner and husband than she would comfortably like any audience to know. After the show she is approached by a man from the audience calling himself Oscar who is interested in her in a romantic context and who makes overtures to her which she ultimately cannot refuse.

As the courtship goes on and Oscar gets Cabiria to sell her small hovel of a home (a family is waiting on her doorstep to move in as she is packing up to move out) and withdraw all her money so they can marry and move together to another town, it suddenly starts to dawn on the viewer, but not Cabiria, that Oscar is not all he seems and is, in fact, trying on exactly the same scam that found Cabiria in the predicament she was in at the start of the movie.

We watch as she goes for a walk on a cliff top with an ever increasingly nervous Oscar, who obviously does not want to go through with the deed himself. Cabiria nearly slips over the edge of the cliff on her own accord and it is at this point that she suddenly twigs what is really going on here. In reaction, she throws herself on the ground begging Oscar to take her money and kill her because, by this point, she really is at the end of her rope with her life.

Oscar does make off with all her money but he leaves Cabiria alive and at the end of the film, she has finally hit rock bottom. No redemption has come her way. She has no money and even her home is no longer there for her for shelter.

In place of the stage hypnotist in Cabiria, Charity snags an interview for a secretarial job where she is, quite literally, laughed out of the office. As she is riding down many floors in an elevator to leave the building, she gets stuck in a lift with a claustrophobic gentleman named Oscar.

A slow romantic relationship develops and although more or less the same ending concludes Sweet Charity, at least on the surface, the Oscar as portrayed here is in no way the mercenary and predatory animal the Oscar in Nights of Cabiria turns out to be. In Charity, he doesn’t marry her simply because of... well, cold feet really. He certainly doesn’t steal Charity’s money but at the end of the film the misery is still readily apparent as we watch Shirley MacLaine’s heart slowly and inevitably torn to shreds.

At the end of both movies, Cabiria/Charity is “found” by a group of wandering teenagers/flower children and although the characters have lost absolutely everything... one can see them slightly perk up and put on an outer appearance for the rest of the world. A small token gesture at the suggestion of a possible happy ending which in no way dims the impact of the abject tragedy of the characters in question.

Again, what is implied in Fellini’s more subtle film is made overt in the American movie with an onscreen caption proclaiming “And she lived hopefully ever after...” and I think, in conclusion, I have to say that although I love both versions of the story and although I can recognise and enjoy Sweet Charity as being one of the most cinematically inventive and watchable films ever made, I think the subtlety of Nights of Cabiria coupled with the sheer genius of Giulietta Masina’s comic timing and intense acting performance (and Shirley MacLaine is no slouch either) make for a much more satisfying film experience for me than the Fosse movie.

When I put on Sweet Charity I’m guaranteed to be both amused and to cry at the end... when I put on Nights of Cabiria I know I am going to be alternately laughing and crying my head off all the way through. And that’s not an altogether easy task to accomplish.

Fellini wins 2-1.

Monday 21 June 2010

Werewolf VS Samurai

The Beast and the Magic Sword
1983 Spain Directed by Jacinto Molina
Camden Collection DVD Region 0

Written and directed by Paul Naschy himself (under his real name), The Beast and the Magic Sword is the 10th of the 12 movies made between 1968 and 2004 starring Naschy as everyone’s favourite Spanish werewolf Waldemar Daninsky. And this ones a real humdinger.

I’m getting a little bit more relaxed as I get older about the total lack of continuity from movie to movie in this cycle. The only constant seems to be that Paul Naschy plays Waldemar Daninsky the werewolf. Whether he is roaming around early 70s London chasing after Doctor Jekyll or whether he’s living in another century altogether (such as the 17th century where most of this film takes place)... he’s still playing Waldemar Daninsky the werewolf.

Whether he got killed in the last film for good or not, he’s still wandering around at the start of the next one playing... Waldemar Daninsky the werewolf.

Whether he got bitten by another werewolf, got cursed by a witch or some other strange cause is explored as to the origin of his character’s malediction which completely contradicts another film in the series... he is still bloody playing that Polish wolfman he’s so famous for... Waldemar Daninsky... the werewolf.

After having seen half of this series now (and it was not an easy task to find these damn prints) I’ve really begun to mellow towards the fact that you just have to watch Spanish werewolf films on a movie to movie basis and not worry too much about connecting the dots... and this is one of the better ones in the series!

In this one, every seventh generation child in the Daninsky’s bloodline is cursed with lycanthropy by a vengeful demon worshipper. Year’s later, in the seventeenth century, the cursed one in the family line is... yeah, you’re way ahead of me now aren’t you?... Waldemar Daninsky the... right, okay, whatever. Anyway, fleeing the Spanish Inquisition with the blind daughter of his doctor and his... well it’s probably his wife but it’s not made clear, he goes to ancient Japan to seek out a katana slinging doctor who fights off both samurai and ninja to keep our blood swilling and, quite literally, bodice ripping wolfman from killing him before he can concoct a cure. Yes folks, this movie has a werewolf, samurais, ninjas, thick blood dribbling down Naschy’s furred up features and women having the tops of their dresses constantly torn off... what else does a film really need?

Along the way, Daninsky and his companions have to fight off a demon lady who possesses a silver katana with which she could kill Daninsky... except, after seeing him fight a tiger (and it’s a real tiger folks) she decides she wants to use him instead for her own demonic ends. Needless to say, after she kills the blind daughter, Daninsky gores her up and escapes with his “wife”... who then gets speared to death.

The samurai doctor geezah, meanwhile, has tried to perfect a cure from rare Tibetan flowers and, bearing in mind that former strong-man Naschy must have been a big fan of the old classic Universal horror movies of the 30s and 40s, I think this must be a well appreciated nod to the Tibetan Marifasa Lupina plant which was a short term cure for lycanthropy in Universal's first stab at a werewolf movie in 1935, Werewolf of London. Nice one Jacinto!

In the end however, the doctor's cure proves useless and has to get Naschy’s new lover (because only a wolfman’s true love can fully kill a wolfman... I believe that must be a reference to Lon Chaney Jr’s second wolfman movie, Frankenstein Meets The Wolfman) to kill him with the demon lady’s handy silver sword.

Which she does...

Thus leaving the series open for another sequel to totally ignore the ending of this film.

Great stuff.

And who cares anyway... blood and wolfman and samurais and ninjas and gratuitous bodice ripping! What’s to think about here?

Dates for your Diary!

Ed Mason's "Collectors Film Convention"
Saturday 10th July 10am - 4pm
Central Hall, Westminster, Storey's Gate
Admission £4

London Film and Comic Con
Saturday 17th 11am - 6pm and Sunday 18th July 11am - 5pm
Earls Court 2, London
Admission £5
First guests announced...

Midnight Media's "London Film Collectors Fair"
Saturday 31st July 10am - 4pm
Electric Ballroom, Camden High Street
Admission £2

Sunday 20 June 2010

Superargosize Me!

Superargo and the Faceless Giants (double billed as just Superargo with Wacky Taxi) 1968 Italy
Directed by Paolo Bianchini
Sceptic Cinema DVD Region 1

Woohoo! I finally get to see the sequel to the 1966 movie, Superargo Contra Diabolicus, and it’s so brilliantly terrible that it really doesn’t matter that it’s not quite as much fun as the first movie!

Before we begin, however, I should probably warn you that the title of this movie is, perhaps, a little less accurate than you may be prepared for in that the “faceless giants” in question have two big things wrong with them. Firstly they are not in any way giant sized, and secondly they all quite clearly have faces!

Still, you don’t mind a little inaccuracy here and there because these so-called faceless giants are actually robot-men controlled by a supervillain bent on... well I couldn’t actually work out what he was bent on doing... it didn’t seem to be a plot point that the film was in any way interested in divulging at any point. Or maybe I just wasn’t paying attention as well as I should have.

Unlike my recently reviewed Batwoman film which had the ludicrous plot of a megalomaniac scientist randomly kidnapping wrestlers and using their brain juice to create a race of fishmen, the second Superargo movie has a much more credible plotline, sensitive to the entertainment needs of the young Italian adults of the late sixties spending their hard earned cash on spectacles of this kind. No silly plots here. It’s firmly embedded in reality... the plot of this one involves a megalomaniac scientist randomly kindnapping wrestlers to replace all their internal organs and turn them into robot men (the faceless giants of the title). Genius!

Like the first movie this has lots of fist fighting and wrestling throws, bad dubbing, a Barryesque soundtrack and the odd deathtrap. It also has Aldo Sambrella playing an Indian guru sidekick who is helping Superargo make contact with his spiritual side. Just as well because, when he and Superargo are trapped in a cell which is rapidly filling up with cyanide gas, the two are able to induce a trancelike state and levitate up to the ceiling where the heavier than air poison gas can’t reach them. Phew, that was lucky! Had me worried for a minute.

While this second outing is nowhere near as entertaining as the first, it certainly does press all the right buttons that modern fans of this kind of cinema would want pressed. Unfortunately the presentation of this 2.35:1 film is actually framed in 1.85:1 cropped from this and the print is in absolutely terrible shape. Still, it’s probably the only way we’re ever likely to see this film presented now and while I usually shy away from watching a movie in anything other than its original aspect ratio, something this rare is worth making the odd exception to the rule for.

The Superargo films are Italian bandwagon rip-offs of the Mexican Santo movies... but they are done a lot better than the Santo movies were. A definite recommendation for fans of this genre!

Third Wong's A Charm...

Mr. Wong In Chinatown 1939 US
Directed by William Nigh
Monogram/VCI Home Entertainment
DVD Region 1

Or maybe not. The third of the six movies following the exploits of scientific detective James Lee Wong, again stars Boris Karloff in the lead role (he played the role five out of six times) and Inspector Street, his police chief sidekick is back along for the ride.

Unfortunately the Monogram-pacing is relentlessly slow for the first half an hour of this movie and Mr. Wong, while still shown playing with test tubes and in one scene practicing the science of graphology, really doesn’t use his scientific background to solve any of the murderous shenanigans in this one.

The good news is that they’ve brought back a plucky reporter character, this time played by Marjorie Reynolds, to act as a 30s screwball foil to the hot headed Street and these films really need this kind of character in them. In this one she’s given some key action and plot development time in that she saves Mr. Wong from an exploding car trap and also stumbles onto a big clue in the investigation... a clue which is a really stupid clue by the way. She finds a key and fob from a hotel room which one of the bad guys has dropped. Street phones the hotel and finds that the guy has checked out of the hotel only that afternoon... Good grief! Then why would the guy still have his hotel room key on him to drop as a clue. Use your head Mr. Scriptwriter!

My greatest discovery in this one was an uncredited taxi driver who has a couple of lines. I recognised Donald Kerr straight away! Yes folks, it’s Happy. Good old Happy Hapgood the comic relief reporter from the second of the three Flash Gordon serials, Flash Gordon’s Trip To Mars, turns up in this not one year after his big role in the Buster Crabbe serial. How can that be? Why was this guy doomed to taking uncredited bit-parts in Monogram quickies in the thirties and forties... I’ll have to do some research into Donald Kerr when I get some more time. I really like that little guy!

So, Mr. Wong in Chinatown is not as scientifically devilish or clever as the first Wong movie but certainly a little less plodding and dull than the second movie, although the lighting during the first half an hour or so is terrible and since the scenes are mostly shot at night in the early parts of the film, you can barely make out what is going on in some of it.

Not as entertaining as it could have been... but Boris Karloff is always worth watching.

Saturday 19 June 2010

Pandorica’s Box

Doctor Who: The Pandorica Opens
Airdate: June 19th 2010. UK. BBC1

That’s three good ones in a row! Nice one Mr. Moffett. Even though I’d been told certain things about this episode and kinda guessed other bits (through a less than subtle process of elimination) I was still pleasantly surprised at some of the little things... and perhaps less surprised by others (of course the great and mystical message was going to say “Hello Sweetie!” Seriously... what else could it say that would make any dramatic sense within the context of the current season).

Rory putting in an appearance as a roman soldier had me foxed for a while... even though I knew the Autons were going to be turning up. Amy’s “death” was something I wasn’t expecting to happen until next week... which means she’ll be back and will remember Rory (even though she will have lost him again for good is my guess). The Doctor was imprisoned and I’m now convinced he’s the “original” Prisoner Zero... who has escaped of course... and I think things will get a lot more frantic and crazier next week. They’ve given themselves a tad more time to get through the next episode and my guess is they’re really going to need it to sew up all that they can. It’s going to be an interesting one methinks.

I think River Song was a little less likable this time around though. I don’t know why that is but perhaps she’s going to do something really awful in the next episode... providing she gets out of the exploding TARDIS. Note for Stephen Moffet... if you get rid of the police box for good then I’m never going to forgive you!

Loved the way Murray Gold used and belaboured the Cyberman leitmotif whenever there was a cyber body part on screen. Love all his main themes but think the music's been a little less interesting this season. Really like the new subtheme choral variation for the new Doctor but it seems to turn up at different tempos and in different guises in almost every episode... which is a bit of a departure to the previous series. Never mind... I’ll buy the CD if and when it arrives. I wish they’d get a CD for last years specials out there... there was some pretty good stuff in those. Maybe the next one will be a double album. Here’s hoping.

The only really unfortunate bit about the whole episode was they’ve brought those stupid, rubbishy new plush Daleks back. For goodness sakes... they’re way too big and unwieldy to be in any way menacing. We want the - pick any other era from Doctor Who apart from the last 9 weeks of the programme and insert here - ones back... they were much more frightening.

Okay, that’s me done for this time around. Pretty good episode but so far nothing to match Eccleston or Tennant at their finest. But I’m sure it’s coming. If not this season then soon. Yetis are rumoured for the Christmas special so... who knows? Fingers crossed!

Stiller Life Watercolour

Greenberg 2010 US
Directed by Noah Baumbach
Screening at cinemas now

There are kinda spoilers as to the end of the film in this short article.

Hmm... what can I say about Greenberg. Not much maybe... it’s not that kind of film. Everything maybe... it’s also that kind of film.

Noah Baumbach’s latest movie has the kind of European pacing that US directors like Robert Altman used to adopt. It’s not constantly trying to edit every shot into something which contributes to getting you to a specific place in a specific story at any given time... something most Americans who get their movies made seem to be obsessed with just lately.

It’s not a film to be taken too lightly but then again it doesn’t jam its message, if it has one, down your throat either. Greenberg is about... if the movie is about anything... a man trying to survive in a world he’s perhaps not best suited for after his release from mental hospital and it’s also about a woman who also seems to have some undefined issues of her own who happens to like Greenberg (as played by Ben Stiller). The narrative, if it can be called that, switches between the two of them and events and incidents happen on screen as characters and situations are gently rubbed together... the kind of film which lets the characters become their own reality in their own time... the kind of film you can pause for reflection as you’re watching the people on screen do the same.

It kinda goes nowhere in the end... not that it doesn’t have probably the best possible ending it could have had. You know exactly what the female protagonist is going to hear on her phone because you’ve already heard Greenberg record the message earlier in the film. That he is also in the room with her as she is about to hear the message and the credits roll might, in any other movie, signify the birth of a beautiful romance. Here though, while the story is trying to perhaps leave you in an ambiguous place... I think we already know enough about Greenberg himself to realise that this relationship is doomed to failure even before it gets to start up properly. At least that was my take on it.

Greenberg is an excellent film and one which deserves to find an enthusiastic audience. Whether that will get one for another couple of decades is anybody’s guess but I would certainly give it my recommendation if you are happy to let movies ramble on to where they want to go at their own pace and time.

A real gem of a movie.

“This is you...”

Friday 18 June 2010

Fade to Black

Black Death 2010 UK
Directed by Christopher Smith
Screening at cinemas now

Some spoilers here... beware!

Ok... not quite what I was expecting. I will have to say, up front, that this is a really well put together movie by Mr. Smith and much more gripping and fraught than his previous efforts and highly recommended as a piece of movie making that is worth giving some time too.

That being said, however, I have to say that it’s not a movie I’d watch again out of choice. I have a real blind spot when it comes to certain subject matter in film... one is witchcraft/satanist inquisition and torture and the other is gangsters (unless it’s Jimmy Cagney or Bogart). It’s not that I’m all that squeamish, it’s just that I find those kinds of “real life” horrors as something that is just too close to home (go to school in my home town and you’ll see enough gangsters) to warrant my having to look at that stuff in a movie. This is why I shy away from films like Witchfinder General or De Palma’s remake of Scarface. Just not my cup o’ tea.

I was expecting, from the trailer, for this movie to be another tread of Crichton’s The Thirteenth Warrior in tone... the plot of Black Death is that a priest joins up with some knights to find out why a village in Denby has not had any people lost to the bubonic plague which is ravaging the country. They go with their instruments of torture to find the obvious satanist ringleader who has so obviously made a pact with the devil to spare their village. I was expecting... I don’t know... real demons and ogres battling with our heroes when they got there. What we get instead is, indeed, a bunch of satanists... but of the trickster and sleight of hand variety... no supernatural doings at all. Scooby Doo endings all around as far as the validity of said satanists go.

Lots of blood, torture and religious moralising. All very well shot, performed, written and with an extremely nice and strong visual style (although, dude, the rats looked way too clean)... but not my cup o’ hemlock as I said before.

It even has a quite haunting and brilliant epilogue to the story... but I couldn’t honestly personally suggest this movie to anyone unless they have a penchant or passion for seeing man’s inhumanity against man.

There is one thing I would definitely recommend however... Christian Henson’s really great score. I feel a definite purchase coming on regarding the music front of this movie. Well worth a listen!

Sunday 13 June 2010

Being a defence of the giallo movie and the place it holds in popular culture.

I read a book about two years ago called La Dolce Morte: Vernacular Cinema and the Italian Giallo Film by Mikel J. Koven and all this time later... it’s still really irritating me. The giallo film has been generally looked down on and has suffered, along with both the horror genre and the giallo’s less appetising (to this writer) illegitimate child the “American slasher movie”, onslaught after onslaught of critical attack as it struggled to rise above the accusations of being an artistically devoid and trashy sub-genre of film coupled with the usual accusations of anti-feminist misogyny often levelled at this kind of genre.

Okay then. Time to take a strong stance at this collective sneering and attempt to let people “wake up and sniff the Kafka” so to speak. I will go on the record right here and now and say that, judging by the sixty plus giallos I have seen, I not only think the genre is one of the most artistic genres of film-making anywhere, but it can also be held up as having an extremely positive, pro-feminist attitude towards women. Furthermore, the giallo should be celebrated and re-evaluated in a much more serious manner than has been attempted before, certainly in the aforementioned book.

Now then, before going any further I am going to announce that the following article will, indeed, contain paragraphs associated with that wretched word “spoilers”. I hate spoiler warnings on anything other than reviews because I always assume that the reader is going into reading an article with his or her eyes wide open and especially so in this case since, for my own part, the principle interests in a giallo movie lie not with the stories, which are almost always rubbish, but with the overall cumulative effect on the collective audience psyche of the sheer power of the mise-en-scene in these kinds of films. However, I know that some people will moan at me when they read the identity of killers in certain films so, please, treat this paragraph as your special spoiler warning.

“really irritated me...”

Okay then... I don’t want to pick on Mikel J. Koven here because the guy has put all this effort into what is effectively the only mainstream printed tome to date on the subject of giallos in the English language, and it will at least provoke discussion of the genre but, I must admit, that his book was off to a very bad start for me even in the introduction where, and this really irritated me, the author says that various films were not taken into consideration because he could not obtain copies of the prints to view or because ebay merchants were charging too much for them.

Okay Mr. Koven just lost me right there. It surprised me because, lets face it, I am not a scholarly writer doing serious research and writing on a film genre... I just lay claim to watching and enjoying the odd movie here and there. But I have got most, if not all, of the movies Mr. Koven purports to not be able to get to view. Something’s wrong here. For starters, most of these films, if they’ve not been released legitimately, can be purchased as bootleg prints transferred to DVD from any of the well known... um... events in this country.... for maybe a fiver or a tenner! Another source is the various internet outlets offering this stuff also at a very reasonable price. This stuff really isn’t, for the most part, that hard to get hold of and even if there was some question of Mr. Koven’s ability to access this work in this fashion, for goodness sake man, pay the money! You purport to be doing a serious critical analysis of the genre but instead you are skimping on your main avenue of research... actually watching the movies for yourself. If you can’t be bothered to do that then just don’t write the damn thing in the first place.

Secondly, and this really hurts this writers chances of being taken too seriously by me, Mr. Koven “defends” the giallo by restating the context of the giallos’ primary audience as responding to the lowest and therefore, in his mind, popular ingredients of these films (the high levels of nudity and bloody violence which the genre is, perhaps wrongly, recognised by) and saying... okay they are not that artistic and are not going to stand up to the same rigorous scrutiny of, say, a Fellini or a Visconti movie, but that’s okay because they are not aimed at that kind of audience.

I’m sorry but that’s plain wrong (and a little insulting). Some of the most interesting and vibrant shot set ups in cinema history are to be found in the giallo and more than compare to the works of the perceived upper echelons of the Italian movie-makers. And guess what people? They were popular. For every La Dolce Vita or NIghts of Cabiria knocked out and released to critical attention on the international stage (and I’m not knocking Fellini here folks, I think his movies are great) there’s a Blood and Black Lace or a Profondo Rosso (Deep Red) raking in the cash. In fact, when the, then, young actor Michael Brandon (of Dempsey and Makepeace/Jerry Springer The Opera fame) was starting out in the seventies, he got interested and accepted Dario Argento’s offer of the starring role in Four Flies on Grey Velvet because his agent was telling him that Argento was “bigger than Fellini” in his native country and that was pretty much the case... Argento was already established as “the Italian Hitchock” just on the strength of his directorial debut which popularised the giallo, The Bird With The Crystal Plumage.

Okay rant over, for now, on La Dolce Morte. You know one of the things I’m defending the genre from. I would urge anyone with an interest in these movies to pick up Mr. Koven’s oh-so-quickly out of print book from a legitimate source because, like it or not, you will learn something of interest from this work and he seems to really want to sell the giallo to a wider audience. But please don’t, I implore you, be taken in with the widely popular theory that Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow Up is a giallo. It seems a lot of people are trying to legitimise the giallo as an art form by counting Blow Up as a masterpiece of the genre... and for all I can make out, just because it has David Hemmings in it!

Again, don’t get me wrong, Blow Up is a great work of cinematic art but... it’s just not a giallo. There is an ambiguity about whether there has even been just one murder over the course of this film (guys, you at the very least need a “series” of murders to classify a giallo) and there is an even bigger ambiguity as to whether the main protagonist of Blow Up even exists in the film. Probably not because, you know, he kinda winks out of existence at the end of the movie. Antonioni’s film is not a giallo movie, it’s about playing with the medium of film itself, both the medium of the still photograph and the medium of the film being projected at the cinema. Please realise that the giallo movie really doesn’t need Antonioni to legitimise its quite obvious status as an important artistic phenomenom in it’s own right.

“protective arms”

I’ll talk about the perception of these kinds of movies as an affront to the fairer (and in my opinion, tougher) sex a little later on in this article but right now let me get down to brass tacks and figure out, first, what a giallo is and isn’t before I throw my protective arms around the genre.

The term giallo is, obviously, Italian for “yellow” and the giallo takes it’s name from a series of books first published in Italy starting in 1929 by the Mondadori publishing house and “branded” with predominately yellow covers and the term Il Giallo Mondadori. These were various crime thrillers and whodunnits which were Italian prints and reprints of authors such as Agatha Christie and Edgar Wallace. The giallo film seems to be a much more narrow field than the basis of it’s genre title suggests in that the movies tend to share several common features which will mark them out to any fan of these movies immediately as a giallo. A list of these common features will be at least, say, half of the following 11 common signature points which I think define this style of movie-making...

1. A series of murders (an absolute necessity) which are usually quite brutal and violent and not necessarily, as popularly conceived, against a mainly female cast of victims.

2. A killer who remains unknown until the last five minutes of the movie - the only giallo I saw where the killer was revealed within the first five minutes was Luigi Cozzi’s absolute masterpiece “The Killer Must Kill Again” aka “Il ragno.”

3. More often than not, the killer will wear black gloves, a mask, a trilby hat and a long trench coat. This is always seen as a very stylistic signature of the giallo but I personally suspect it grew through the more practical reality that these kind of props will help disguise from the viewer (and also the killer’s victims and hunters within the context of the story) the identity and sex of the killer. It also means that anyone can stand in for the killer in various scenes when the killings are being done. In fact giallo-master Dario Argento used to pride himself on always playing the “hands” of the killer in his early films.

4. A convoluted and often ridiculous plot with more red herrings than you can comfortably shake a fishing net at and all in the interests of not allowing the audience for one moment to suspect the true identity of the killer. The film-makers want to surprise their audience at the end so will usually go to great and bizarrely imaginitive lengths to provide a pointed suggestion that each and every one of the key characters could be the murderer. Not one person is presumed innocent... even the “dead” victims, as they have also been known to pop up as the killer at the end of the movie too.

5. An international cast, all of whom are speaking their own language (these films were not recorded with live sound and Cinecitta studios are based near an airport so it’s no wonder) and who are later dubbed, very badly, into both Italian and English for their respective markets with no real regard for actual lipsynch in either case.

6. There is quite often a slightly well known B list American or English actor playing the main male lead in the film in an effort to more easily sell the movie to the more profitable American market. So these films will regularly have people like David Hemmings, John Saxon, Karl Malden, George Lazenby or, recently, Adrien Brody turning up in them.

7. Terrible and often unintentionally amusing dialogue and scripting and even worse acting by almost all the cast with the exception of the American or English actors mentioned previously. If you are wanting to watch a movie for its story or acting performances then you really shouldn’t be bothering with a giallo.

8. Exploitative and gratuitous glimpses of female nudity. Now I’m a bloke so I’m certainly not going to make a fuss about this but I know the audience for these films were not just male so I’m not going to try to defend or attack this ingredient here. In most countries, censorship is more inclined to allow a female nude than a male nude so it’s not as if the balance could be redressed legally by the people who make these movies.

9. Absolutely gorgeous scores by great masters of musical composition like Ennio Morricone, Bruno Nicolai, Goblin and Stelvio Cipriani.

10. Absolutely stunning photography and elaborately contrived shot compositions.

11. For the most part they have really silly, complicated titles which don’t always have much resemblance to the movie itself... here are a few of my favourite giallo titles: Seven Blood Stained Orchids, Seven Deaths in a Cat’s Eye, The Red Queen Kills Seven Times, Forbidden Photos of a Woman Above Suspicion, Lizard in a Woman’s Skin, Iguana With A Tongue of Fire, The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh, Your Vice Is A Locked Room and Only I Have The Key, What Are Those Strange Drops Of Blood On Jennifer’s Body? (aka The Case of the Bloody Iris), The Black Belly of the Tarantula, The Case of the Scorpion’s Tale, Short Night of the Glass Dolls, Strip Nude For Your Killer, In The Folds Of The Flesh, The House With The Laughing Windows, Death Walks At Midnight, Death Carries A Cane, Death Walks in High Heels and Spazmo!

The giallo movie is generally thought to have started with master director Mario Bava’s 1963 monochrome classic The Girl Who Knew Too Much. Not only is it a classic giallo but it has strong moments of humour and a central, female protagonist who clearly enjoys reading the very giallo thrillers from which these movies take their collective term. He made a couple of these kinds of films including the style setting masterwork Blood and Black Lace but the giallo was not popularly received until Dario Argento’s genre classic The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, which was unofficially based on writer Fredrick Brown’s popularly adapted novel, The Screaming Mimi.

This film was an even bigger hit with audiences than the very popular Italian “Spaghetti” Westerns which were playing to packed cinemas at the time and so, in typical Italian style, the Italians started making hundreds of giallos with the same passion with which they had appropriated the American western and peplum (sword and sandal epics) genres before them. And so an explosion of giallo were unleashed upon an unexpecting and mostly censorous international audience.

Now these films have two main levels of interest to viewing them (ignoring the obvious sex and violence portion of the audience which I suppose also exists but whom I would like to think are in a minority). The first and fun level on which these things can be watched is the puzzle element. Can I, as a viewer, figure out who the killer is before the characters in the film can?
Well, unlike most American movies these days, the answer is usually a resounding no. These films are hard to solve because there are so many red herrings scattered among the clues. More often than not the person you think is doing the dastardly deed is dead within 10 minutes of you suspecting him/her (with the exception of perhaps the aforementioned The Bird With The Crystal Plumage which seems pretty obvious from the first five minutes). So there is this element to these movies and, really, if this was the only element of interest to be found in this genre then it would have been relegated to cinematic trash long ago.

The more interesting way in which these movies can be viewed is to to watch the psychedelic colours (Mario Bava’s hallucinatory and unnatural ways of lighting sets with juxtaposing reds, greens and purples etc for no apparent reason was later appropriated by Argento - indeed, Argento even employed both Mario Bava and his directing son Lamberto Bava on the odd occasion to help on his own movies) and the amazing, crisp compositional experiments, all set to a kick ass, half-melodic/half atonal and sometimes progressive rock soundscape courtesy of the cream of Italian score composers.

This is a group of films that really wears it’s mise-en-scene on it’s sleeve, so to speak, and my personal theory on why these films look so good and so interesting is simply this: The scripts and acting on these films are so boring and rudimentary and probably so deadly dull to actually shoot that, I think, the directors and cinematographers just used to want to keep themselves amused by, if you like, “over-stylising” the look of the films. But whatever the reason, the majority of these movies look fantastic.

These films are high art in, at least, sound and look so I really don’t think they deserve the lack of critical attention that has been payed to them so far.

“orgy of blood and violence”

Okay... the other and much more expected criticism of this style of cinema, and it’s also always levelled at horror and slasher films too (there wouldn’t be rubbishy slasher cycles like the Friday the 13th series or the Scream series without the much more stylishly thought out Mario Bava giallo Bay of Blood - aka Twitch of the Death Nerve), is that of treating women as objects to be sexualised and then brutally excised in an orgy of blood and violence.
Well okay then... putting aside the more obvious defence that there are just as many male victims as female in these movies... the fact that there usually is a lone woman in peril near the ends of these movies speaks volumes on the strength of the female roles therein. If you’ve got a female protagonist near the end of the movie getting ready to fight off a serial killer then you’re probably going to have a script which spends time setting up that character and strengthening her position in the minds of the audience. And this is not a phenomenon to be sneered at. Long before Sigourney Weaver donned her boiler suit and her alter ego Ellen Ripley ushered in the so-called age of the strong female leads in genre movies, giallo were doing exactly the same kind of thing in no uncertain terms (and so were studios like the British pseudo-gothic Hammer Films... check out Susan Strasberg’s role and ultimate twist reveal in Hammer’s Taste of Fear if you want a good place to start).

The strong female lead is nothing new but has never been as widely recognised as it is now. Most Hollywood actresses would tell you that finding a strong role for a woman is a hard task these days. For every Lara Croft, Beatrice Kiddo and Lilith Silver there’s a dozen twist-yer-ankle damsels in distress to be rescued by their male counterparts.

And not only are there female survivors but it is really not uncommon for the murderers in giallo movies to be women too. I’ve not studied the numbers but I reckon it might even be more than 50% female killers in these movies. Take Dario Argento’s first four giallos for example. Only the second of these movies, The Cat O’ Nine Tails, actually has a male murderer. In the other three instances it is a strong female character doing the killings.

Even Argento’s famous horror film cycle, The Three Mothers Trilogy comprising Suspiria, Inferno and Mother of Tears - aka The Third Mother, are, obviously, three strong female presences- in this case famous witches inspired from a page or so long passage in the follow up chapters to Thomas De Quincey’s famous Confessions of An English Opium Eater.

If this doesn’t show that the films are not content to just objectify and eradicate the female form then I don’t know what does.

“trashy throwaway junk culture”

In conclusion then, I think what is demonstrated here is that far from being the trashy throwaway junk culture they are often perceived as being, the giallo films were for the most part, not only a major provider of strong female roles to actresses like Suzy Kendall, Susan Scott and the unsurpassed queen of the giallo, Edwige Fenech... but they were also a stylish and vibrant form of cinematic art and their influence was far reaching. For a view of how these things were obviously received on an international level, check out some of those beautifully shot “pinku” and other Japanese exploitation movies of the early seventies such as Bohachi Bushido: Code of the Forgotten Eight, Sex and Fury or the Female Convict Scorpion films to see exactly the kind of intense colours and strong compositions which were the strength of the giallos.

At the end of the day... there really is no need to stand up and say, okay you’re looking at these things in the wrong context and what you need to take into account is the taste of a populist audience. Because in the cases of some of those directors like Argento, Bava, Sergio Martino, Luigi Cozzi and Umberto Lenzi... at least in terms of the look and sound of these films, these directors easily hold their ground with the Bergmans, Kurosawas, Kieslowskis and Tarkovskys. And there can be no greater compliment than that.

Once Upon A Time In Korea

The Good The Bad The Weird 2008
Korea Directed by Ji-woon Kim
Icon DVD Region 2

Finally caught up with The Good The Bad The Weird after I’d missed it at the cinema a year or two ago... thanks goodness for HMV sales.

Let’s face it, there’s nothing like a good Sergio Leone movie... and this is nothing like a good Sergio Leone movie (drum sting).

What it is, however, is a fun, action packed movie set in the 1940s (according to the IMDB although I’m not so sure) which doesn’t really outstay it’s welcome and which has a very rich visual palette, saturated in references to various spaghetti westerns, particularly those of Sergio Leone (there’s even a piece of music made to resemble Cheyenne’s Theme from Once Upon A Time In The West). It never gets boring and though there are no really “great” set pieces, the cobbling together of several “very good and competent” action sequences to hang onto the loose narrative idea are all hugely watchable. Although it has to be said that the editing together of hand held camera and smooth gliding camera in the train sequence near the start of the movie is a bit jarring and may well pop you out of the film.

Nice colours, especially in the first half an hour or so and an interesting set of contrasting juxtapositions which are certainly welcome and which make perfect narrative sense in context of the scenes in which they play out (deep sea diving helmet in a shoot-out for example), so much so that I don’t see how the “weird” in the title can be in anyway applied to this movie as it is at no times surreal... unless the movie-makers meant the original definition of the word to mean a persons “fate”... which I don’t believe they did.

If there’s any reason for complaint then it might be found in the ending of the movie. There are a few alternative endings presented on the two discs on the UK DVD release and it has to be said, that although the final outcome of the movie is unchanged, the alternative Korean ending of the movie makes for a more satisfying conclusion and leaves you as to no doubt on the viability of a sequel should the audience ever require it.

A nice action epic for a Sunday afternoon’s viewing. Everything that Sukiyaki Western Django should have been a few years back.

Wongdoers Beware!

The Mystery of Mr. Wong
1939 US Directed by William Nigh
Monogram/VCI Home Entertainment DVD Region 1

Okay... so the second Mr. Wong film doesn’t play as well as the first one. The pace is still a bit Monogram-lumbering on this but in this instance it’s very much to the detraction of the film itself. In fact it feels a little like the script is a bit padded to make the duration longer.

Again, Boris Karloff makes absolutely no attempt to imitate an oriental accent (and I rather liked what he did when he played Fu Manchu) and, to kind of give this approach credence other than (perhaps) sheer laziness, it’s mentioned a couple of times that Mr. Wong studied at Oxford University in England.

Although the script heavily pushed the scientific angle in the detection of the perpetrator of a couple of murders, there isn’t really a lot of science justifiably involved other than to ascertain that the gun which everyone assumes was used in the first murder was not the weapon in question. No real interesting science elements like the sound activated shattering globes of poisonous death in the last movie.

I didn’t guess the identity of the killer in this one (and to be fair I really didn’t have a much of a chance) but by the end of the picture I couldn't have cared less. Wong’s sidekick Chief inspector character is retained but his girlfriend is not... which is a shame because it gave the first film an unusual dynamic.

Bit of a dull and plodding entry in the series and not really one I can recommend.

Saturday 12 June 2010

Blog Monster Perception Filter

Okay, going to have to make this quick because I just found out I need to be doing something else.

If you didn’t see the Coming Next Week sequence at the end of today's episode of Doctor Who then don’t read this. As River Song would say... spoilers!

If you remember I put this strange paragraph at the end of my Starry, Starry Pandorica Rising article and then dedicated it to Blog Goddess (or is that French Maid?) Flaysomewench. That paragraph is here...

So on now to a really amazingly nonsense sentence actually unless, there’s one near solution. Does a little exciting knowledge send children young but elderly running maniacally ever nowhere?

But what I was actually doing was applying my special Bloggers low level perception filter and hid the names of some of the coalition of monsters who will be facing the Doctor in the last two episodes. So all you have to do is take the first letter of every word in that paragraph in order, like so...

So On Now To A Really Amazingly Nonsense Sentence Actually Unless, There’s One Near Solution. Does A Little Exciting Knowledge Send Children Young But Elderly Running Maniacally Ever Nowhere?

... and then read it off. So... Sontarans, Autons, Daleks, Cybermen

So there you have it. Trying to top the old Cybermen/Dalek war of the Tennant years? We shall see!

Keep watching the skies... specifically keep watching the skies right above Stonehenge... ooh, wait, I’ve said too much.

Jammy Lodgers

Doctor Who: The Lodger
Airdate: June 12th 2010. UK. BBC1

Hooray again! Another good one. That's two in a row... but first a word from our sponsors at Pandorica...

Three weeks ago I’d written on my Doctor Who review for the first Silurian episode that I had been carrying around a burden of spoilers for a little while now and that I was finding it hard to keep it to myself. Once week ago... in my Starry, Starry Pandorica Rising post I decided to let loose with one of those spoilers but I didn’t want to make it easy (although it pretty much was) for people so I used my equivalent of a low level perception filter and hid something in a very strange paragraph which I decided to dedicate to a loyal reader, Flaysomewench (check out her blog here... it’s cool). The secrets of that paragraph will be in my next post which will hopefully hit less than an hour after this one publishes.

Okay! Onto my review. Going to go back in time now and restart this post again but split it off into a different timeline which will ignore the last paragraph.

Hooray again. Another good one. That’s two in a row. Gosh, I feel really great now. I even liked that Cordon fellow in this one.

See, this is the kind of thing that Doctor Who and science-fiction in general does best. Takes an everyday story... in this case a gentle will they or won’t they love story, and pushes the boundaries in which you are able to explore those ideas by wrapping them up in a sci-fi plot and opening out the full range of speculative ideas to explore your milieu in. Works beautifully and this episode proves it.

First things first though... was that a sketch of El Santo or one of his ilk hanging on one of the walls of the flat? Nice one beeb!

So anyway... not a whole lot to say about this one. Vincent Van Gogh references littlered throughout (keep an eye on that Pandorica people) and a pseudo-TARDIS which belongs to... well I think we really would have liked to know that information. Hope the fact that it wasn revealed is because it links in to the next two episodes.

Amy and the Doctor in separate places talking across space and time (he is stranded on earth, she is stranded in the TARDIS) and the usual cultural jokes one would expect in the “craziness and hijinks” which ensue... okay so craziness in hijinks should have been highlighted in my special “this is sarcasm people filter” but I haven had time to invent one yet.

All in all a great episode and I was really hoping that the Coming Soon at the end would at least reveal a little of what I know about the last episodes so that I can reveal last weeks unburdening paragraph to you all in it’s true colours. It revealed at least what I put in that paragraph... albeit only as a voice over... so I can come clean with some of my secrets in my very next post... which I am hoping will hit here in less than an hour...

The Discreet Charm of Hal Hartley

PF2: Possible Films Volume 2 2010
US Directed by Hal Hartley
Possible Films DVD Region 0

Okay... something you should know about me before you start to read this mini review is that I’m completely biased when it comes to the subject of Hal Hartley. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again... Hal Hartley is the greatest "living" director and it’s always been a mystery to me that people in his home country aren't lining up to throw huge piles of money at him to make whatever movies he wants.

I’ve always trusted him completely but... that being said... the last two DVDs I bought of his were a bit hit and miss, which is a really unusual reaction from me to his work. Possible Films Volume 1... which was a collection of some recent shorts... failed to keep me entertained in the style I had become accustomed to when it comes to this great man’s work and, similarly, Fay Grim... his sequel to his excellent Henry Fool, left me a bit cold, even though it had one of my favourite actresses in it (Hartley regular Parker Posey).

Not letting this throw me and since every other film he’s made has not failed to thrill me, entertain me, make me think and otherwise revel in the very nature of film... I decided to purchase his new collection of recent shorts, the starkly titled PF2: Possible Films Volume 2.

All I can say is... he’s still very much at the top of his game. The DVD contains five shorts, as follows:

1. A/Muse (11 minutes)
A/Muse is a quick character sketch of an actress attempting to hook up with “a great director”. There’s something about the style of this one that recalls his character Audrey Roget in his first feature The Unbelievable Truth... this woman is definitely a direct descendent in terms of the character's mix of comical confidence and naivety. He’s even using his old style of captioning (and in a few of the other shorts on offer in this collection). You know... imprecise titling like “Meanwhile” and “After a while”. After about half way through this one it had me chuckling and then giggling. Without giving too much away, the window denouement and then the marvellous demonstration of “why the window denouement” (I have NEVER seen windows that do that... I live a sheltered life) was really excellent.

2. Implied Harmonies (28 minutes and 5 seconds)
Okay, so this is a documentary with just a few little dramatised “reconstructions” of a collaboration between famous composer Louis Andriessen and Hal Hartley as Hartley tries to stage an opera by the former. This contains interviews with both Hartley and Andriessen and is quite fascinating to behold.

3. The Apologies (13 minutes and 36 seconds)
Three characters who don’t share any screen time together shot in an apartment. The words didn’t speak to me as much as they usually do but the women are so beautiful that I was easily distracted.

4. Adventure (20 minutes and 26 seconds)
A light examination of a period in the life of Hal Hartley and his wife, actress Miho Nikaido. This is quite charming if mildly alarming... I didn’t realise they had separated as such... let alone gotten back together again.

5. Accomplice (3 minutes and 8 seconds)
Right. All through his early career I remember Hartley being constantly labelled as being “heavily influenced” by the work of Godard. Now I never agreed with this because, even though I love the work of Godard, I was always easily absorbed by Hartley’s work. It enveloped and pulled me inside in a way that Godard would never have wanted me to be with his movies... in fact Godard employs every tactic in the book to constantly remind you that you are participating in the act of watching a movie. I don’t think Hartley tries to do that. However, I COULD see the influence of Godard in Hartley’s feature The Girl From Monday (going as far as to say that I thought it would make an excellent double bill with Godard’s Alphaville). Well this three minute short seems to wittily address those observations/criticisms from the early nineties. If having the credits popping up every now and again throughout the length of the film arent enough to make you aware of what he’s doing... the footage of Godard which turns up certainly clues you in. I have to say... after having watched this short I have absolutely no idea what it’s about... but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

I really liked this whole collection of films and I hope we see something new from Harley again soon. His web site is always worth a visit. If you are a newcomer to Hal Hartley then I probably wouldn’t recommend this collection as a starting point (try his shorts Ambition, Theory of Achievement or Surviving Desire or definitely a couple of his early features such as The Unbelievable Truth, Trust, Simple Men or Amateur... oh heck, most of his body of work will probably get you going... check out his filmography). For fans of this genius of modern cinema though... this is an essential collection.

As far as I’m concerned... a Hal Hartley film is a film rich in clean, visual landscapes and with witty, thought provoking dialogue. I place him shoulder to shoulder with such greats as Kurosawa, Tarkovsky and Fellini. Like them, he is a soft spoken but individual voice that deserves your attention.

Wednesday 9 June 2010

Recursive Lullaby of Death

Triangle 2009 UK/Australia
Directed by Christopher Smith Icon DVD Region 2

Warning! Here be spoilers...

Okay, sorry about this but I really can’t think of a great way to review this movie without referring to it’s narrative structure and... well, therein lies the main weakness of the movie actually. It's not going to be spoiler free if you talk about its anatomy.

Triangle is a nicely (really nicely) shot movie where “beautiful people” who get caught in a sea storm and board a seemingly deserted cruise liner move through impeccably framed shots and mostly get killed a few times each. And it’s great just to look at, but storywise I’m just not sure an hour and a half feature film is the best medium to explore this kind of story. It may have been a lot better as a short.

That being said, I must admit to enjoying it a lot more seeing it the second time on DVD than I did on its initial release in the cinema... and this is why...

A while before Triangle premiered in UK cinemas there was a great trailer for it doing the rounds. And it looked like it had an intriguing premise and did exactly what a trailer is supposed to do. It made me not want to miss this at the cinema because even though it had the hallmarks of an American teen slasher film (and I’m really not a big fan of those for the most part unless it’s Carpenter... give me a proper giallo any day of the week... the Italians do it so much better) it also had a pile of dead bodies of the same woman scattered on the ground and so the big pull was that, for some yet to be explained reason, these teenage slasher style victims were getting killed over and over again.

So I rush out to see it on the first week of its release and I sit there in the darkened, celluloid church knowing what's coming and am frantically trying to figure out the end of the movie,.. what the explanation could be that will explain this recursive lullaby of death. And at the end, nice cyclic ending that it is, there was absolutely no explanation offered as to why the bizarre events on screen have been unfolding as they have. So the film just becomes an exercise in editing and visual structure.

And that’s fine. I’m the last person to knock the celebration of style over technique. The medium is the message and all that. Anyone who knows me well would vouch for the fact that story and plot are, for me, the least important elements of a movie. And even though I cry a lot at certain movies, I’ll still be steadfast in my denial of the storyline as anything other than an element to drive the visuals.

That being said though, it would have been nice if the writers could have at least attempted to rustle up a semi-credible explanation for their haunting flights of fancy because it is such a brilliant idea. As it stands the movie is, perhaps, a bit of a one trick pony.

However, I found that when I was free of the constant gnawing stress of trying to figure out the ending on my second time around, I enjoyed the movie a lot more on it’s own terms and it is one that I’ll probably revisit at some point if I ever clear my ongoing backlog of DVDs I have to watch (yeah, and pigs may gravitate towards the sun).

The film has a reasonably interesting score, which gets the odd spin now and again, by Christian Henson which features some nice female wordless vocals by Dot Allison and Synergy Vocals and that's available for your listening pleasure from moviescoremedia.

In conclusion then, I think that I wouldn’t, in all conscience, recommend watching this movie to anyone... but I would recommend that they watch it twice!