Monday 31 December 2018

NUTS4R2's Best Movies Of 2018

The Year In Review 2018

NUTS4R2s Top Movies of 2018

Well this is interesting... I wouldn’t have necessarily thought it if I hadn’t had a count up but, of the 87 cinema movies I experienced this year, I’ve come up with 32 that I wouldn’t leave out of my ‘Top Ten’ list. That’s almost half so, yeah... maybe it’s not such a bad year for cinema after all. Although, looking at the previous list, not nearly as good as last year.

As usual, some of the films which should be on this year’s list are not here because they were already on last year’s list, in the case of those I saw early at Festival screenings. So if you’re wondering why films like Blade Of The Immortal didn’t make the cut here... they did but they were in last year’s list. Also, due largely to the rise of subscription streaming services which blackmail the potential audience into buying their product by making some of the films they show exclusive to their channel (not to mention encouraging piracy), there are probably a few films here that probably might have been on the list, had I had an opportunity to see them. For instance, due to extremely limited screenings, I never got to see the great David Bautista in his movie Final Score and, you know, it could have been a contender. Similar disappointment when I never got to find a rare screening close enough to me of an actual British movie, Anna And The Apocalypse. This was going to be my big, Christmas themed zombie musical of the year but... nope... still can’t find a way of seeing this one. So I missed out and, possibly, so did this list. My other big regret was not finding the time to see The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, so I hope to catch up on that one sometime next year.

As usual, this is a reverse listing taking you up to my number one choice for the year which, like last year, is puzzlingly a big budget Hollywood blockbuster. Maybe my standards are getting lower but I think, to keep all the plot threads in the air in such an entertaining manner, the film I’ve given my number one spot to truly deserves it.

So, without further ado and with much risk to my credibility, here’s my top 32 cinema movies of 2018.

32. Solo - A Star Wars Movie
Okay, so the least successful Star Wars movie was, in fact, not a bad movie... especially after the load of old tosh that was Star Wars Episode VIII - The Last Jedi. But perhaps, barely five months after the release of that movie, everyone was still reeling from that fiasco and so didn’t bother with one of the better Star Wars movies of the last five years. Also, I suspect this would have been a huge hit if Disney would have just moved their new Mary Poppins movie out of the December slot and released this at Christmas instead. My review of Solo - A Star Wars Movie is here.

31. Cam
This one made the list because it’s rare for a movie to not only have a positive take on sex workers but to treat it in such a blasé manner so that it became a plot device rather than something to be held under scrutiny. I think this one got nabbed by a channel rather than a proper cinema release (so I’m glad I managed to catch it at the Curzon Soho at this year’s London Film Festival) but it’s worth a look if you don’t mind a certain lack of closure at the end of the movie. My review of Cam is here.

30. Insidious - The Last Key

The fourth installment in the Insidious franchise once again gives us something that,  for the moment, a low budget horror film could only get away with... a 75 year old female action hero. Something you don’t often see in cinemas and it’s nice when the director of a horror movie also gets all the timing right to make the jump scares work. My review of this one here.

29. Attraction (aka Prityazhenie)
This Russian update of The Day The Earth Stood Still with enhanced action and humour had absolutely no fanfare here (I don’t think I saw one trailer, I just looked it up when it appeared in the listings) and only played at my cinema for a week, I think. It’s a bit US blockbuster in style but it’s a refreshing change of pace to see how the Russians handle this kind of thing. My review of Attraction is here.

28. Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse.
A charming animated feature film from Marvel bringing different comic book incarnations of Spider-Man together via interpenetrating universes. There’s a lot going on in this and the humour and ‘spot the reference’ components of the film make this one a nice change of pace for two hours. My review of Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse can be found here.

27. Aquaman
Nowhere near the level of Wonder Woman but certainly a nice stab at updating one of their long standing characters by DC. This is not the Aquaman as I knew him from when I was a kid but I can overlook stuff like that when the quality of the movie is so good (if a little too long). My review of this one is here.

26. Lady Bird
Wonderful piece about a teenager and her relationship with friends and family. I can remember almost nothing about this other than the fact that I thought it was really cool. My review of Lady Bird is here.

25. Pacific Rim Uprising
I thought the original Pacific Rim was an okay film. I certainly wasn’t expecting to like the sequel as much as I did. Big on action and very clichéd but hugely entertaining. My review of this one is here.

24. The Post
Nice docudrama by Steven Spielberg of a true story. Lots of this seems to be authentic to what happened in real life, which is no surprise since I believe on of the characters portrayed here used to be a neighbour of Spielberg. Would probably make an excellent double bill with All The President’s Men, which it kinda runs into at the end of the movie. My review of The Post is here.

23. A Quiet Place
A not bad, post-apocalyptic horror movie which relies on silence as the main instigator of all the tension you feel while watching it... after cleverly setting up the stakes by showing the worst that could happen within the opening sequence. Basically a 1950s B-Movie in disguise, it’s no wonder that people were complaining about noisy customers in cinemas after this. My review of A Quiet Place is here.

22. Truth Or Dare
Very interesting take on the old ‘viral curse’ school of horror, started perhaps by M. R. James when he wrote the short story Casting The Runes, which this and a dozen other movies (and also a TV play) could be said to be modelled after. It does it well, though. My review of Truth Or Dare is here.

21. Videoman
A nice, humorous homage to VHS tape collectors everywhere... especially those who love both the horror and giallo genres. My understanding is that this will be getting a straight to DVD release later this year. my review of Videoman is here.

20. A Simple Favour
Interesting movie that scuppers any expectations that this is going to be a horrible, Hollywood romantic comedy by having a director and actress known for such things and then giving them a harder edge than you would expect. A Simple Favour is reviewed here.

19. The Greenaway Alphabet
Beautiful, documentary examining director Peter Greenaway and his relationship with his daughter, directed by his wife. This one deserves some kind of proper cinema release other than a festival screening and it’s certainly one of the most charming films I’ve seen all year.

18. Upgrade
What starts off as a blisteringly interesting, Cronenberg-like sci-fi movie takes a turn towards horror in this interesting film about what happens when you give a human being an onboard computer with a certain capacity for self preservation. A gory slice of action themed mayhem. My review of Upgrade is here.

17. L’Amant Double
What can one say about a film which starts off with a giant, close up shot of the lead character’s vagina? Well, keep it to yourself because this ‘DePalma does Hitchcock’ style French thriller has some nice moments and, though you will see some of the ‘surprises’ a lot earlier than you’re perhaps supposed to, it’s an entertaining movie, to be sure. My review of Double Lover is here.

16. Searching
This is what happens when you push the envelope on the new breed of ‘story takes place on one character’s hard disc’ movies. Far superior to other entries into this new sub-genre (most of which were horror movies), this gives us a police procedural movie with a difference and even, considering the possible limitations of the format, manages to hide a surprise or two up its sleeve.My review of Searching is here.

15.The Queen Of Fear
Like a few of the movies I saw at festivals last year, I doubt this one will get any kind of UK cinema release but I found this Argentinian film about a famous actress trying to put on a one woman show in the face of anxiety to be a marvellous movie. My review of this one is here.

14. Overlord
This World War Two set horror movie is so intense in the horrors of war parts that the monster stuff almost doesn’t hold its own with the intensity of that atmosphere. It’s so well done though, however you look at it, that this deserves to be better known, I think. My review of Overlord is here.

13. Assassination Nation
It’s so tempting to just dismiss this as a modern day Heathers but, even if I did, that’s not a bad label for this teen, social media age, bloody update on the ‘Salem witch trials.
I review this one here.

12. Rampage
A movie based on a video game I don’t even remember from the 1980s... but put The Rock in a movie with a giant ape, giant crocodile and giant wolf and it has to be at least watchable. Put in a prologue with a giant rat chasing people around in zero gravity in space and you have a perfect modern B-movie. My review of Rampage is here.

11. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
What impressed me the most about Three Billboards was the way that, once you got to know them a little better, the characters weren’t really who you thought they were. Complex people crafted by great actors in a quite intense drama. Whats not to like. My review of Three Billboards is here.

10. Mandy
I primarily liked Mandy because the atmosphere it created reminded me of the 1982 version of Conan The Barbarian. Add in some psychotic alien biker thugs and Nicolas Cage on a bloody rampage and they couldn’t really go wrong. My review of Mandy is here.

9. Revenge
Talk about undermining the ‘male gaze’. A rape revenge movie written and directed by a French lady, Revenge is bloody and has occasional touches of brilliance and a certain intensity in the direction that is a little reminiscent of Sergio Leone... at least that’s what I thought. I review Revenge here.

8. You Were Never Really Here
This is pretty much a Scottish remake of Taxi Driver, as far as I’m concerned. The beautifully gory and dreamlike ending push it over into the ‘very special’ category. I review this mini masterpiece here.

7. Molly’s Game
After the brilliance of Miss Sloane (reviewed here), Jessica Chastain takes on a true story about another powerful woman who gets punished, in some ways, for being too successful and trying to beat the odds. I review this slice of brilliance here.

6. The Unthinkable
This is a high octane invasion movie which feels like it’s been written and directed by the late Krzysztof Kieslowski. This is probably some of the best, slow burn character development I’ve seen in cinema in a very long time and I just hope this film gets some kind of UK or even US release next year. I reviewed this one here.

5. Hotel Artemis
This cross between 1940s film noir and post-modern science fiction about a medical, criminal safe house during a riot is an absolute gem and really deserved to be seen by more people. This is great film making that all fans of either of those genres should take a look at. I reviewed this one here.

4. Luciferina
This brilliant horror movie, the first of a proposed trilogy, has the central protagonist fight the demon at the heart of the movie using sexual intercourse as a battlefield. I don’t know why this hasn’t got a major release in this country (or any release at all, for that matter). I reviewed Luciferina here.

3. Isle Of Dogs
What can you say about Wes Anderson that hasn’t been said already. A quirky director who makes wonderful films which take you on unexpected journeys. This is the first animated film I’ve seen by him (yeah, I know, I’ll get to the other one at some point) but it’s easily as good as his live action masterpieces. I review Isle Of Dogs here.

2. The Shape Of Water
This is basically Revenge Of The Creature, the second of the original Creature From The Black Lagoon trilogy, with sex and a slight twist. Truly beautiful movie which I’m sure will be remembered in cinema history for decades to come. I reviewed this one here...

1. Avengers - Infinity War
Okay, I don’t usually put Hollywood blockbusters so high but when Marvel gets it right, they really do get things sorted. I’ve no idea where they’re going to go from here but, while juggling all the multiple story elements and making them all work, they managed to deliver us a really dark film which has so much humour it’s almost a mismatch... but it works so beautifully well. If you haven’t seen the ten years of character interplay that has lead up to this then you probably won’t get much out of it but... yeah... this is one of the best three Marvel movies of recent years, I think. I reviewed Infinity War here...

Friday 28 December 2018

The Adventures Of Captain Marvel

With One Magic Word

The Adventures Of Captain Marvel
USA 1941 Republic Pictures
Directed by John English and William Witney
DVD Region 1

I’ve absolutely loved the old theatrical serials put out in cinemas in the 1930s to 1950s (and even some of the silent ones made before this period), ever since the BBC first aired a two part omnibus edition of the 1936 Flash Gordon serial on TV back in the early to mid-1970s. That and other serials the BBC acquired for airing back in the 1970s and 1980s were always highlights of my childhood and teenage years and I’m surprised it’s taken me this long to get around to finally reviewing one of my beloved serials on this blog. Which means it’s been a while since I watched one, I guess. Time to start remedying that.

The Adventures of Captain Marvel was, in 1941, the very first serial made from a superhero comic book (various other costumed adventurers such as Superman, Batman and Captain America were not far behind). Based on Captain Marvel appearing in Whiz Comics and other titles by Fawcett Comics, this superhero even used to outsell Superman comics back then. He’s always been pretty much my favourite of the comic book super-powered heroes because he was always written with a lighter touch and the artwork, while simplistic in some ways, was very clear cut and much more striking than that found in many of his contemporaries.

After a lawsuit from DC Comics in the 70s, Fawcett lost in that they were seen to be copying Superman (no, the origins and plot mechanisms and style are totally different) but then DC took over the character themselves and it’s these comics from the early 1970s that got me hooked on The World’s Mightiest Mortal, as he used to be known (although I have read some of the first year or so of the original Fawcett versions in the first two volumes of archive editions that DC put out). However, because of the copyright situation, during this time the comic book company Marvel comics were able to gain control of the name Captain Marvel and promptly used it for their own super-powered hero (one of the spin off characters with her own title was Ms. Marvel who, confusingly, is getting her own film in 2019 called Captain Marvel). So the 1970s edition of the DC comic was called SHAZAM! (often proceeded by the phrase “With one magic word” on the title). This was Cap’s word which changed him in a lightning flash from boy reporter Billy Batson to Captain Marvel, a power bestowed on him in a New York subway by the ancient wizard Shazam, who died at the same time but who became a spirit to help guide and pass over his legacy to Billy (a bit like a force ghost in the Star Wars movies, in some ways).

He was still called Captain Marvel, though, until DC totally screwed everything up at some point in the last ten years and dropped the name completely, calling him by the name Shazam instead. Which is completely backwards and crazy and, well, when was the last time you had a superhero who couldn’t say his own name because it would change him back to his alter ego. Another stupid thing they tried around 20 or so years ago was to have Billy Batson’s personality in the body of Captain Marvel when he changed... up until then they’d always been distinctly different personality types. This allowed room for more ‘fish out of water’ comedy but at the expense, in my view, of one of the unique aspects of this character. Alas, I believe it’s that version of the character they are using in the upcoming 2019 Shazam movie and, frankly, I’m not expecting good things from that. There was also a TV show in America in the 1970s but I don’t think we got it in the UK (or at any rate I’ve never seen it).

However, we do still at least have this serial, which is often cited as the greatest serial ever made. Far from it as far as I’m concerned - certainly as an adaptation and compared to some of the Universal and Columbia serials, I think it tends to pale in comparison. That being said, it’s definitely one of the more competently made and entertaining serials I’ve seen and it’s always a joy to watch.

This one stars Frank Coghlan Jr. as Billy Batson, no longer a news person and working as part of a team of middle aged archaeologists on a dig in Egypt (yeah, you can bet the curse of King Tut’s tomb is referenced in the first episode). Aiding Billy in the ‘running around and doing stuff’ department are actress Betty Wallace and ex-Bowery Boy William 'Billy' Benedict, although Benedict doesn’t have an awful lot to do, it has to be said. Instead of a New York subway... once an ancient tomb is discovered and the main find, an ancient Egyptian laser weapon in the shape of a scorpion which needs six special lenses to operate it, is divided into lenses between the group so nobody can gain possession of it... Billy comes across Ancient Wizard Shazam in the tomb who, there, grants him the power of Captain Marvel. When Billy shout’s the Wizards name (like the comic, the name Shazam is an acronym embodying the powers of Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles and Mercury) he transforms into Captain Marvel in order to protect the weapon of the scorpion from falling into the wrong hands... in a strange twist known only to the makers of the serial, I would guess, once Captain Marvel’s job is done at the end of Chapter 12 - Captain Marvel’s Secret, those powers are taken away from him.

Tom Tyler plays Captain Marvel and, although the character is certainly not as comedic as the original print version, the look of whom was based on film star Fred MacMurray, he does play a straight superhero role fairly well. He made a lot of Westerns in his time and, if memory serves, owned his own ranch in later years from which he would supply horses to the studios for their pictures. Again, in later years, he was accidentally run over by infamous director Edward D. Wood Jr who picked him up and gave him a lift home afterwards. The year prior to Captain Marvel he had, among a load of other roles, played the first incarnation of Kharis The Mummy in the Universal sequel, The Mummy’s Hand (Lon Chaney Jr took over the role in the next three movies in the series) and two years after this he would go on to play another iconic comic book hero in a theatrical serial adaptation of The Phantom (which is also worth a watch).

And all in all this is not a bad serial... just not a great one. Some great, for their time, special effects such as flying and a wonderful cave melting sequence were obviously done by the same effects guys who did the later Republic serial King Of The Rocketmen, which I just loved. As usual the episodes are mostly short, 15 minute affairs (the first episode on these things is usually almost twice that length) and consists of the main characters running around from one location to another and getting into fights, chases and cliffhanger endings.

A lot of the cliffhangers in this one, early on in the serial, consist of the audience finding out about the limits of Captain Marvel’s super powers... so, for instance, an electrically charged guillotine will drop on a curiously unconscious Captain Marvel at the end of one episode and then be shown to be breaking on his head at the opening of the next. It’s not long, however, before the endings are using cheats where additional footage not seen the week before is added in to fool an audience who can’t quite remember what last week’s ending showed and this enables the writers to get the heroes out of what was seen to be an absolutely impossible situation. I used to get really mad at that stuff when I was a kid but, as the years go by, I just find it kinda quaint and enjoy seeing how audaciously the studio can attempt to cheat each ending when it has a mind to.

Other charming features of this serial are things like the little, leap of faith continuity errors which make no sense when you watch them... such as when Captain Marvel enters a bungalow and, when he leaves via the window, is seen leaping from a multi-storey building. And, of course, there are those wonderful Republic fight scenes. You could usually tell which company had made a particlar serial due to little quirks such as, for example, the style of the back story recap at the start of the episodes. One of the things which really shows up that a serial had been put out by Republic Pictures is the quality of their fist fights. Basically, if you’re watching a serial by this studio, you know the fights are going to be enthusiastic, energetic to the point where they almost look like the film has been sped up and... this is the thing... everything breakable in the room gets used and broken in the fight. Seriously, if there’s a prop or item of furniture that isn’t screwed down then it’s definitely going to be used to hit someone with. No Republic fight that I remember has any furniture or unbroken props left in a room once the performers are done with it. This is the main thing I look out for when watching a Republic serial although, by and large, I tend to find the script and pacing of the Universal serials (not to mention the bigger budgets) a lot more watchable.

This serial is one of those types where the good guys have to identify, over the course of the chapter play, which one of their party of friendlies is really the evil villain in disguise and, I have to say, they’re usually tough to spot in these things. Absolutely everyone is made to look like the villain at some point and, just like an Italian giallo of the 1970s, that usually happens just before they get killed off. There’s even one point in this where the whole party are caught in a deathtrap by The Scorpion and you realise, since there are only a few suspects left standing by this point in the proceedings, that said villain has also managed to capture himself in his own deathtrap too, with no hope of escape. Why the heck would he spring it then is anybody’s guess.

The curious thing about this serial is that, by the end of the last episode, only the three young characters of Billy and his friends have survived the story. So why they all walk away looking triumphant when all their eminent friends and colleagues have died is a bit puzzling to say the least.

Still, at the end of the day, The Adventures Of Captain Marvel is a decent enough serial and it’s not a bad one to start on if you’ve never seen any of these things before (although personally I would start on Flash Gordon as a good thing to hook oneself with). It’s fast, fun and a little bit creaky but, frankly, I can’t imagine the new Shazam movie next year being any better than this one. In fact, I’m guessing it might well be a good palette cleanser once you’ve seen the new one... even with the drastic changes to the characters, I’m assuming it’s still more faithful to the original character than his latest incarnation. So maybe give it a go if you’ve been looking for an excuse to get into these wonderful cinema serials of yesteryear... there's something about them which seperate them out from a lot of other cinematic creations.

Wednesday 26 December 2018


Bumble Door

2018 USA
Directed by Travis Knight
UK cinema release print.

Wow... it’s getting really dangerous to see an actual movie at the cinema in the UK again.

I thought the days of Draconian censorship were behind us but, no, first Aquaman (reviewed here) and now Bumblebee have both been pre-cut for the UK market to achieve lower ratings on the advice of the BBFC. So let’s be clear about this... if you go to see Bumblebee at a UK (or Australian, apparently) cinema then you are not actually seeing the film, just a highlights only version because, yep, they cut a full 6 seconds out of this thing. Personally I find one frame of film cut to be appalling vandalism but they’ve cut a whopping 144 frames out of this? Between them the BBFC and the studios should be hanging their heads in shame and refunding our money for making us watch things pretending to be films when they’re not the full version. I don’t think this is acceptable behaviour and I find it damned offensive. I won’t say anything more about it in this review but my hands are tensing up right now from writing about these crimes against filmanity because I’m so enraged. It’s not the only thing which enraged me about the movie.

So, okay... let’s go with the big main positive about this film and say that this prequel is the best follow up to the original Transformers we’ve had. It’s not nearly as good as the very first one but it’s way beyond the follow ups which, to be fair, is not saying too much because Transformers 2 - 5 were all, basically, absolute rubbish which I couldn’t believe were coming from the same creative team as the first one.

Although Michael Bay has stayed on with this one as producer, it’s a bit of a sea change here and the writers and directors have gone for a little change of pace. Sure there’s plenty of action in this one but there’s also lots of small stuff about the way the characters relate to each other and grow... in other words, there’s a lot of heart to this one. Something all the other sequels forgot to throw into the mix while they were similarly busy not allowing themselves to slow down from anaesthetising the audience with non-stop action and forgetting that contrasting action with some less kinetic content is what allows the action sequences to have an actual impact in the first place. This one... more or less... gets the mix between the two right and the result is we have a fairly well balanced film.

That being said, I was almost frothing at the mouth within the first five or ten minutes of what was left of this film after the censors were done with it... so enraged I wanted to yell at the screen and walk out.

Why? Well a complete lack of story logic continuity in the opening sequence which completely kills it.

The film starts off on Cybertron with the Decepticons winning the war against the Autobots (lead by Optimus Prime) and we see Bumblebee escaping to earth to await the coming of the other Transformers. All well and good but when we see Bumblebee on Cybertron he is already in the form of a car. Wait, what? It’s well documented in the Transformers movie universe that the various robots need to scan something before they are able to turn into it... and that’s further backed up in numerous scenes in this movie too. Since a car which is built to carry human passengers would be a completely alien concept to the Transformers at this point, then there’s no way any of the Autobots would be able to change into one. Not unless they’d already been to Earth. Oh, I thought to myself, that means we’ll be finding out that Bumblebee has already visited Earth in his past but... no... a minute or two later Optimus Prime tells him he’s located a planet called Earth they can all go to hide on. So... yeah... it makes absolutely no bloody sense that the first time you see the title character he’s in the shape of an Earth made car when he hasn’t even seen a car or knows what it looks like. This is untenable, people and sloppy writers should really be taken to account for bizarrely poor slip ups like this. Especially since it’s going to pop the average viewer right out of the movie while s/he tries to figure out just what the heck kind of story logic is being followed here. Or in this case... unfollowed.

Okay, now that’s out of my system, when Bumblebee gets to Earth things become more like the early, non-action sequences of the original Transformers, with the friendly autobot stumbling around, breaking things and accidentally bumbling his way through doors etc while covertly befriending the main lead Charlie, played by Hailee Steinfeld who I’d just seen... alright, heard... in another film at the cinema as Gwen Stacey in Spider-Man - Into The Spider-Verse (reviewed here) and also her love interest Memo (played by Jorge Lendeborg Jr, who was so brilliant in Brigsby Bear last year... reviewed here). Meanwhile they have to deal with the military from Sector Seven (from the previous films) plus a couple of Decepticons who have misled the military into helping them locate Bumblebee.

And you know what...?

Considering how angry I was at the start of the film, the rest of the story is so well written and performed that I even had tears in my eyes during one of the more moving sequences. Actually, being a prequel, this fits in pretty well with the previous films... apart from that annoying start with the car thing. It’s also really well acted and feels much more like an overall coherent story, rather than just a basic frame to hang set pieces on. Some of the action sequences felt a bit ‘samey’ and dull but at least they were well paced and you still felt like there was a reason to be having them... which I guess is at least half the battle with films like this.

Dario Marinelli’s score is nicely serviceable but it didn’t really seem to share any of the big themes created by Steve Jablonsky for the other ones. At least as far as I could tell because, during a lot of the action scenes, the noise was turned up way too much over the score for it to be effectively heard anyway. It sounded appropriate to the subject matter of the film, though, so that’s something.

Other than that... if you’re a follower of the Transformers movies and have been waiting for something which comes at least even a little close to capturing the lightning in a bottle of the first live action movie then Bumblebee is definitely the one to go see. It’s fairly heart warming and the director certainly has a good go at it. Kids would probably like this one too... even though it seems to be targeting itself at people who were of a certain age in the 1980s when The Breakfast Club was one of the main ‘go to’ movies for a certain generation. Don’t you forget about... this one.

Tuesday 25 December 2018

Merry Christmas 2018

Merry Christmas
to all my readers!

It's that time of year again where I traditionally rattle on about what I've got coming on the blog over the next 12 months. Except... I looked at the last four year's worth of December 25th posts and I realised I never quite seem to get around... or more accurately... claw back enough time, to watch the things I want to watch. Or there are scheduling issues.

For instance, about four years ago I was saying I wanted to finish off my reviews of the old cinema series of The Saint movies. Well, mission accomplished, I finished them quite a few months ago... except, there's been so much other stuff which has taken priority that I still have two or three of them to actually make it onto the blog. So I do have things waiting in the wings, as it were but... new cinema releases or reviews of things which are currently a 'hot' topic tend to take priority. So there's some stuff I have to pull out, put the finishing touches to and then get up on the blog... I just haven't had time yet.

But I will so I can definitely say there's the concluding sets of reviews of the Pirates Of The Caribbean, Phantasm and, yes, The Saint movies to come over the next few months... as well as some other, rather interesting books and movies. Time permitting.

Of course, we have another promising movie year for 2019 with stuff like Avengers - Endgame and Godzilla - King Of The Monsters hitting cinemas so, yeah, I'll do my best to get all these things up. Since there's no proper Doctor Who Christmas Special this year, maybe I'll run some of them this week. Although my review of another high profile Hollywood movie should be going up some time on Boxing Day, I reckon.

And there's not much more to say here. Hope you all have some fun and if you find yourself with some downtime this year, have a go at my Annual Cryptic Movie Quiz which you can find just here.

Once again, thank you for being here and reading my teeny tiny little corner of cyberspace. I truly appreciate your taking the time to look me up. All the best to you.


Monday 24 December 2018

Spider-Man - Into The Spider-Verse

Morales Dilemma

Spider-Man - Into The Spider-Verse
2018 USA
Directed by Bob Persichetti,
Peter Ramsey & Rodney Rothman
UK cinema release print.

After a sequence from this movie played by way of a second post-credits scene in Venom (reviewed here) I was really not that into bothering to go see Spider-Man - Into The Spider-Verse at my local cinema. After all, this film looked from the trailers like it was going to be focusing on the Miles Morales version of the character, with Peter Parker as a secondary character and, I have to say that, for the most part (with a few minor exceptions) I have pretty much only ever read the first ten years or so of Spider-Man’s comic book adventures, starting from his first appearance in an issue of Amazing Fantasy (which is nicely parodied as an alternatively titled comic book in the version of reality in which this movie is set). So I have absolutely no idea who Miles Morales is.

Two things changed my mind. One being that the score for this one has been composed by one of my favourite ‘new’ composers Daniel Pemberton and, frankly, I expect what he does to be exceptional (this movie score is certainly that).

The other reason I finally decided to give this one a go is that the film has been getting some exceptional word of mouth on Twitter, with some people citing it as their favourite movie of the year... and I didn’t want to get left out. So I went and saw the thing and... yeah... I didn’t regret it.

This film manages to do a lot of cool things and get most of everything it juggles just about right. It has many separate different versions of Spider-Man from multiple dimensions that have crossed over... including two versions of Peter Parker (one of them played by Chris Pine), Spider-Gwen (the spider powered version of Gwen Stacy), Spider-Man Noir (a black and white one from the 1930s, played here by Nicolas Cage), a strange manga/anime based looking version called SP//dr (consisting of a girl, a robot and a spider) and everyone’s favourite Spider-Pig, Peter Porker - The Spectacular Spider-Ham... there’s even a Spider-Man 2099 cameo too but... yeah, I won’t say too much about that. And, of course, Miles Morales, whose story we follow in a little more detail than the others although we get some incredible back story flashbacks for all the other characters by way of a running gag which, frankly, really works well.

As you can tell from the diverse character cast consisting of different tonal styles, the film is trying to juggle a lot of balls in the air as it switches from moving drama to broad humour and all the things in between at a fair pace. The amazing thing, though... perhaps even more amazing than The Amazing Spider-Man... is that it manages to tell a story of a team of Spider-Heroes working together in all these different styles while being as post-modern as can be and with a fairly quirky, bordering on very surreal, animation style and it doesn’t at any point lose you and, frankly, it all meshes together very well. Which seems to me to be very against the odds.

It’s fast, it’s colourful and there are some really great compositions as several source references often fight for space in the frame... this is an incredibly detailed movie and I know I’ll notice a lot more when I catch up to this one again. There’s quite a lot of the syntax of comics throughout history used, all colliding with different styles and a wonderful use of typography all clamouring for attention. In fact, even the blink and you’ll miss it typography hits have some nice jokes in certain parts which reference each other. There’s also some visual references to off-set litho print being off-register in a few cases (if I’m reading the intention of the filmmakers correctly... at first I thought there was something going wrong with the projection).

Another really great thing in this is that the non-stop cleverness never lets up and is with you right from the start. Since the nature of the film is about several universes colliding and constantly going out of phase in terms of the characters when they’re in Miles’ version of the universe, even the Columbia Pictures logo and the Marvel logo at the start of the picture are doing some dazzling things (including a nice little shout out to Cat Ballou, of all things). The logos are even followed by a nice big ‘Approved By The Comics Code Authority’ stamp... which should have a lot of people my age tripping down memory lane (are those things still on modern comics?

As you would expect, there are lots of metatextual references to various things in the Spider-Man comics and also, from very early on, quite a few references to the various Spider-Man movies over the years... but there’s also a lot of little jokes about other things making their way in there too (I loved the Shaun Of The Dead parody poster they kept flashing up in the background) and, of course, the usual nice cameo from the now departed Stan Lee (I believe it was the last ‘voice performance’ he recorded... which I suspect means we’re far from done with the cameos in the live action movies at the moment).

And, yeah, the glue which makes all this possible in terms of keeping it all together as one coherent experience, as far as I’m concerned anyway, is Daniel Pemberton’s wonderful score, which should be swinging it’s way on a shiny disc to my letterbox in a week or so, fingers crossed. I can’t wait to hear this thing as a stand alone listen.

So, all in all, glad I went to see Spider-Man - Into The Spider-Verse (the film with too many hyphens) to find out what all the fuss was about. One last thing before you rush to your nearest cinema, though. If you’re a fan of the old 1960s Spider-Man cartoon show, not to mention internet memes, then you’ll really want to wait until the end credits are over because... well, just watch it. You’ll see what I mean.

Friday 21 December 2018

NUTS4R2's Cryptic Movie Quiz - Christmas 2018

Annual Cryptic Movie Quiz

Merry Christmas everybody.

Once again it’s time for my Cryptic Movie Quiz for the festive period.

If you look at the grid above you’ll see spaces for 14 movie titles running horizontally and, below this intro, are the cryptic clues to help you work out what these non-Christmas movie titles are. To help you out, I’ve filled in a line of letters diagonally downwards spelling out MERRY CHRISTMAS... so you have a letter in its correct position for each of the titles. Please don’t forget to click on the grid to see a larger version of it and maybe print it off to help you.

As usual, depending on my finances after Christmas... I’ll probably award a small, strange or possibly customised prize (customised if I know you from Twitter) to the person with the most correct answers, pulled from a hat in the unlikely event of a draw (that's never happened yet).

Email your answers to me at and, since I posted this a little later this year, you have until the end of January 6th 2019 to get your entries in. A few days after that, I’ll stick up the name of the winner (or winners, if it’s a tie or a group effort), along with all the answers, here on my blog.

By way of an example, here’s a question from last year’s quiz, followed by the answer...

Example question:
Saw her feller.

Example answer:
Another way of saying 'saw her feller' might be... spied her man. So... SPIDERMAN was the answer to the clue.

If you keep checking back at the comments section below, I will probably put the odd extra clue down there every now and again to help you out through the Christmas period.

Full marks are rarely scored so... if you’re feeling a bit stuck, there’s still everything to play for. Send me what you've got anyway.

I hope you enjoy playing and, above all, have fun this Christmas, drink responsibly and play irresponsibly. And here are the questions...

1. How old is this special elevation in the road to lift your vehicle off the ground?

2. Tie someone up and then recite the letters of their current state in the right order.

3. They sliced and scrambled Reg up and added something to stop him being odd.

4. I go with the French green.

5. The fourth guy along in the alphabet.

6. You just make your way up to the top of that chopping instrument.

7. Like if a distorted, reduced version of a Woody Allen title character came from a continent bounded by Europe and the Arctic, Pacific, and Indian oceans.

8. Observing a nasty shade of angry and then getting into an argument at the place which is conducive to your good health.

9. Presumably this is where the alphabet lives.

10. Raise an unrelated child on the last day of the working week.

11. Backslang for an Emu to a ‘t’.

12. The final thing needed to hold up the 13th letter of the alphabet.

13. A terrible, common serifed font is where it’s at when James, The Black Dahlia writer, drinks a malt beverage containing about 6 percent alcohol by volume.

14. After the sixth we have a pinnipedia.

Again... good luck and best wishes to you for the season.

Thursday 20 December 2018

Crimson Snow


Crimson Snow - Winter Mysteries 

Edited by Martin Edwards
The British Library Press
ISBN: 978-0712356657

So this is my fourth year of reading a book in December which has a Christmas setting and then reviewing it on here and... I have to say that if I didn’t know better it would not be unreasonable for me to conclude, after the previous two years, that I just don’t like short stories. The first year I tried what is now becoming something of a tradition, I read the novel Mystery In White (you can read that review here) and I really enjoyed it. Alas, when I followed it up the next two years with Christmas short horror story collections, I was less than impressed. So this year I’ve tried a selection of mystery stories and I have to say that, for the most part, I am somewhat less than enthusiastic about a great deal of the fiction I was reading in this tome.

However, before I hastily concur that the short story format is not for me.... let me add that I love the short stories of such writers as Philip K. Dick, H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard and Edgar Allan Poe. So maybe, I might resign myself to the fact that I don’t like collections of stories by a variety of writers where, to be fair, the hit and miss nature of that proposition might be a deciding factor in whether it’s something I can get behind or not. However, I am then reminded that I loved the selection of Christmas stories from The New Yorker magazine which they published a decade or so ago and, every year, I enjoy at least one Tales Of The Shadowmen collection (I really must get around to reviewing one of those sometime soon) and so, perhaps, I should be a little less hard on myself when it comes to my overall reaction to these things and just chalk it up to experience, once more.

The collection known as Crimson Snow and subtitled Winter Mysteries is a case in point where once again I feel victim to the hit and miss nature of the volume in which I have decided to spend time with on the run up to the Christmas festivities.

In the introduction to the collection he has put together here, Mr. Edwards highlights the benefits of curling up with a book over the Christmas period, rather than spending all one's time with online shopping or parties of a varied nature and, I have to say, this is a matter in which I am in whole hearted agreement with... or would be once the online shopping is done. Alas, if it had been a different curling companion other than this particular volume I chose, I might have had a more beneficial experience here than what I ended up with.

I’d have to say that while the majority of stories in this collection are fairly well written, they were certainly less than entertaining and, in a fair few cases, easy mysteries to solve. The opening story, The Ghost’s Touch is something I’ve already forgotten the details of (and pretty much most of the broad strokes too, it has to be said) but I do remember it starts off trying to pass itself off as a traditional Christmas ghost story before, inevitably, heading into territory more familiar to those who would embark on an endeavour boldly subtitled Winter Mysteries. It has some nice foreshadowing... “Had I been absent, the catastrophe might have been greater...” but, overall I have to say that I was mostly ambivalent towards this short and it didn’t really give me anything I wasn’t expecting.

There were a few of these stories written by famous names such as Edgar Wallace which, I have to say, didn’t really take me by surprise when... spoiler alert... it turned out the narrator who was following the investigation of a murder turned out to be the guilty party. Another seasonal tale called The Man With The Sack, written by Margery Allingham and starring her famous detective Campion, was similarly disappointing.

As was a script for a Sherlock Homes spin off play by S.C. Roberts, which actually had me wondering what the writer was thinking attempting it and, furthermore, why it was included here. There are much better Sherlock Holmes parodies out in the world and this one didn’t really seem to add anything new into the mix.

Most of the volume is just small puzzle solving and nothing, at least for this reader, to get excited about. There were a couple of standouts but for every little real gem here there seems to be at least two stories worth of paste. One of the stories included is all about a woman getting pushed off a roof and, quite honestly, I couldn’t find one single reason as to why it had been included in a book which has such a clearly descriptive and functional title as this.

But there are a couple of stories here worth reading...

Mr. Cork’s Secret by McDonald Hastings is a fast moving murder caper set in a hotel over Christmas and, like the original printing of the magazine it first appeared in... an extra solution to the mystery is given as a last chapter at the end of the book which was originally published in another issue, along with the two pages by the competition winners who had guessed just what Mr. Cork’s secret was (it’s really not that hard, to be honest). The dialogue and atmosphere is straight out of a 1930s or 1940s detective movie and fairly sparkles on the page.

By far my favourite tale, however, was Death In December by Victor Gunn, which featured that author’s running police detective character, Ironsides Cromwell and which was culled from a collection of stories featuring the detective set during various holiday periods. This one has some nice stuff in it and, again, takes the guise of a Christmas ghost story before revealing the inevitable human hands behind the seemingly supernatural shenanigans. Nice stuff though and a shadowy figure chased by the detectives that leaves no footprints in the snow has a nice explanation for this phenomenon. Easily the most entertaining gem of the collection and also, I think, the longest.

There’s one or two other nice things in this selection too but even a story which relies on a poisoned napkin which the victim rubs over his lips at various points during a Christmas dinner kind of loses its sting when you’ve already figured out who the killer really was when he was introduced fairly early on in the story. And another tale where a detective tries to solve the presence of a mystery owner at a house is nice in the fact that it turns out the mystery element of the story is entirely in the policeman’s head and he’s just gotten the wrong end of the stick.

All in all though... yeah, I’m not that happy with my choice this year and so I need to maybe find a more substantial Christmas adventure which doesn’t comprise of just short stories for next December, methinks. As for Crimson Snow... there are some things to like in it and the editor writes a page of prologue to each story to explain who each writer is but... I would only recommend it for die hard mystery fans. Not my cup of tea.

Sunday 16 December 2018


Curry On Sea Men

2018 Australia/USA
Directed by James Wan
UK cinema release print.

Okay... so this was nothing like what I was expecting this movie to be. I was assuming this would be, like most of the other recent DC movies in this particular cinematic strand of continuity... something of a mess. As it is, this is easily one of the most engaging and entertaining of the DC universe films, second only to Wonder Woman (reviewed here). That being said, I can’t imagine any other superhero movie ever coming close to Wonder Woman in my lifetime so, yeah, I guess you can say I thought a lot of the new Aquaman movie, even though he really isn’t the Aquaman I used to love as a kid.

Aquaman stars Jason Momoa as Arthur Curry, the title character, reprising his role from Batman Vs Superman - Dawn Of Justice (reviewed here) and Justice League (reviewed here). He bookends the narrative with voice-over narrative telling a big story of political battles in the undersea kingdom which threaten all the non-ocean dwellers on the planet but, he comes at it through the eyes of his personal story and... this is something which hooked me in right from the start... he tells it from the angle of a love story. A love story between his dad, Tom, played by Temuera Morrison (who you might remember as Bobba Fett’s father Jango Fett, plus a bunch of clones of his character, in the prequel Star Wars movies) and his mother, Atlanna, played by Nicole Kidman.

And it’s quite charming and heart warming and from this simple, fish out of water start where Tom rescues Atlanna and cares for her in his lighthouse, I was completely hooked. There’s a wonderful action scene in said lighthouse where Nicole Kidman goes full-on warrior and bashes up a load of Atlanteans and then sacrifices her freedom to return to the oceans, leaving Tom to raise their child... who we soon see has lots of cool, undersea powers from his mother.

From then on we get two parts of the villainous plot introduced... as Black Manta, a modern pirate played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, is left hating Aquaman for reasons I won’t go into here while regular James Wan collaborator Patrick Wilson, as Aquaman’s half-brother King Orm, tries to persuade and manipulate wise King Nerreus, played by Dolph Lundgren, to raise up Atlantis, unite all the armies of the kingdoms of the oceans and wage war on the surface dwellers who have been polluting their oceans for centuries. Meanwhile, over the years, we have Orm’s advisor Vulko, played by Willem Dafoe, who has been secretly training Aquaman in his fishy ways over the years and Mera, played by Johnny Depp’s nemesis Amber Heard, reprising her role from Justice League, who wants Arthur Curry to find an ancient trident which will give him power to gain the kingship of the ocean and defeat Orm’s attempt to be Ocean Master.

So, basically, what we have is an action spectacular with a kind of road movie treasure hunt involving Aquaman and Mera, who are trying to gain the trident and avert disaster and... you know what? It’s a real fun ride.

James Wan is somebody I usually only associate with low budget, fairly high quality horror films but, it looks like he can really knock out a good, large scale action blockbuster if he’s given enough money to play with. Like Wonder Woman, the big action is matched by a very overt, emotional, beating heart which gives the audience something to invest in when the battle scenes come and this really took me by surprise since, frankly, the Aquaman character didn’t really get much of a chance to shine in Justice League. So the writers have really thought about this one and Wan has managed to pull it all together to make a very confident looking, big screen spectacle.

This is not the blond, short back and sides version of Aquaman I grew up with... reading him in his appearances in titles such as Justice League Of America and The Super Friends. I used to love the little Comic Action Heroes figure from Mego I had as a kid, despite the fact that my Uncle had squeezed it too hard one day and Aquaman’s leg would fall off whenever he went into action after that. So I was not very happy about the look of the character they’ve brought to the screen here but I really mellowed to it once I saw how well the film works. Also, there are a fair few throwbacks to those original Aquaman strips... including those little circles they used to draw to symbolise him talking to the creatures of the ocean and also, in the endgame of the picture, his old, colourful orange and ‘green gauntlets’ costume which I used to like so much.

Now, there are a couple of problems with the movie so let me just cover those here...

It’s been quoted many times over the years that ‘continuity is the hobgoblin of the small minded’. Well then call me small minded but I think story arc continuity is an important and much valued building block when fashioning a cinematic universe (or in any other kind of story medium, to be fair) and I got the feeling that if I were to sit down and re-watch Justice League right now, I’d find a couple of glaring mis-matches. However, there’s very little shout out to the former film, although it clearly takes place some time after that one and... they kind of get away with certain differences, I think.

The other problem is that it’s just too long... it kinda slumps about two thirds of the way through and the action scenes towards the end could have done with a fair amount of trimming it seems to me. Also, a more lengthy and personal fight between Orm and Aquaman may have been a little more satisfying. That being said, it didn’t detract form the sheer impact and brilliance of the film overall and I think this is definitely one of the DC films from this period which will be remembered in a positive light, providing audiences are willing to go and see it after the not so great Justice League.

But it also has a lot going for it... great acting, great story, some well choreographed action in the middle of the film and a beautiful score by Rupert Gregson-Williams, who also did such a great job on Wonder Woman. Also, it’s easily the most surreal of the contemporary DC movies, with characters riding armoured battle sharks, giant crabs and militarised crustacean people... it’s like if Salvador Dali was allowed to design the extended underwater battle from the James Bond film Thunderball (reviewed here) and did his own thing with it. Which is never going to be a bad thing.

Also, it’s got some amazing transition scenes in the movie including flashbacks which take you completely by surprise and a lovely transformation from a shot of a snow globe to the next narrative point in the story, fairly early on in the film. There’s some really nice stuff in here and I think James Wan has done a truly remarkable job cramming in all this great stuff in a compelling, visual way.

So yeah, that’s my take on Aquaman. There’s a mid post-credits scene which gives you some insight into where they might be going with a sequel and, if it does the numbers I’m hoping it does at the box office, then we should be seeing that at some point in the future (fingers crossed). If you’re, like me, wondering why the hell DC have been getting everything wrong lately other than Wonder Woman... well, wonder no more. If you decide to go and see Aquaman then you’re in for an aquatic treat. Thoroughly enjoyed this although, a quick ‘heads up’ to say that, since I saw this, I’ve found out it’s been cut under advice from the BBFC in this country... which means I’ll definitely be importing the Blu Ray from the US when it comes out, rather than buy the truncated, vandalised English version.

Thursday 13 December 2018

Wonder Woman The Golden Age Vol 1

Ropes N’ Tropes

Wonder Woman
The Golden Age Vol 1

by William Moulton Marston
DC Comics 

ISBN: 978-1401274443

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are also some subtle differences too.

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

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

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

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

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

Monday 10 December 2018

Doctor Who - The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos

Ux Dodgers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday 9 December 2018

Creed II (aka Rocky VIII)

Here Be Dragos

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

Warning: Okay, this one has spoilers in it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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