Tuesday 30 January 2018

Doc Savage - Empire of Doom

Bronze Shadows

Doc Savage - Empire of Doom
by Will Murray writing as Kenneth Robeson
Altus Press ISBN: 978-1618272850

Empire Of Doom
is the 20th of the new Doc Savage novels written by Will Murray, under the original name that Lester Dent used when he wrote the bulk of the series in the 1930s and 40s - Kenneth Robeson. This one is also the second literary work (unless you count other media such as various comic books over the years) to feature both Dent’s Man Of Bronze and another famous pulp character, Walter Gibson’s The Shadow (who was written by him and various others under the name of Maxwell Grant).

Now, for the most part I love Murray’s forays into the mind of Dent in these novels and, as it happens, this one is no exception... however, I read the last one where he tried to team up these two characters (who are as tonally different as night and day) in his tale Doc Savage - The Sinister Shadow (which I reviewed here) and I was somewhat disappointed. I think that disappointment stemmed from the writer being closer to Gibson’s prose in that one than he was to Dent’s and, frankly, I never found Gibson’s The Shadow novels to be anything near as readable as Dent’s Doc Savage tales. So it was well done to Murray for effectively evoking the style of The Shadow in that but, yeah, it didn’t find it nearly as entertaining as the majority of his other Doc Savage works.

That being said, I have to say that Empire Of Doom reads like a full on ‘Kenneth Robeson does Doc Savage’ tale and... yeah, it’s excellent. The Shadow fits right in here and I got a lot of enjoyment out of it. The book starts off strongly with the theft of a Navy Destroyer during the Second World War by The Shadow’s arch enemy, Shiwan Khan (who was the villain of choice opposite Alec Baldwin’s version of The Shadow in the 1994 movie). He immediately uses it to launch two missiles into the skyscraper where he knows The Shadow’s Inner Sanctum to be. Midst all the confusion, as the local fire service try to combat the resultant blaze, some of Khan’s minions infiltrate The Shadow’s lair disguised as firefighters and make off with all of the terrible, fantastical weapons the dark avenger has confiscated from criminals over the years.

While Doc Savage tries to track down the stolen destroyer, one of his five companions, Long Tom, is taken over by Khan’s mind control and kidnapped, The Shadow also tries to track Khan’s progress and, inevitably, the two heroes join forces in an uneasy alliance against the army of darkness that this evil nemesis is recruiting.

And that’s about all I’m going to say regarding the specific content of the novel but, if the plot hook sounds a little familiar to longtime Doc Savage readers, it’s pretty much lifted from the 1938 Doc Savage novel, Fortress Of Solitude. That’s the one where Doc’s one and only arch enemy Johnny Sunlight, who would return for his second and final appearance in The Devil’s Ghenghis, manages to infiltrate Doc’s secret lair and abscond with all the weapons which are ‘too dangerous to remain in the hands of mankind’. So some readers should feel right at home with the opening of Empire Of Doom.

It’s a romp and a half and, though not all of Doc’s ‘Amazing Five’ are present (Johnny is off somewhere on an archaeological dig), it manages to pack in the rest of them quite credibly and it even has a very brief cameo, of sorts, by Doc’s famous cousin Pat Savage, although I would have liked to have seen more of her in here. It also has the ‘other’ Lamont Cranston and this book is helpful to those of us who are not big readers of The Shadow and who are somewhat hazy as to the nature of his secret identity. Is The Shadow Lamont Cranston or Kent Allard or both... or neither? Hard to say because the point seems to be that The Shadow can impersonate them whenever he wants to and, of course, he and ‘the real Lamont Cranston’ use this trick to confound and confuse Doc and his companions as the book goes on.

Other than that, the novel is pretty much business as usual... Murray knows how to spin a good, globe hopping yarn and this one is another real humdinger containing mind control, buckets of severed fingers, brain washed warriors with almost impervious armour and electrocution fingers, wingless planes, a black ray that brings a darkness over everything it touches and which kills electrical power and... oh yeah... there’s even a giant, mechanical robot that can crush you if you let it get near you. The book is full of the usual thrilling escapes, treachery and scenes of combat that are a hallmark of the Doc Savage adventures.

Also, a nice touch in this one, is that Murray finds a way to turn the weird trilling sound that Doc unconsciously makes in times of intense, penny dropping thought into a useful plot point towards the end of the novel. I won’t say too much about that but it comes in very useful when it seems that all the chips are down for our two heroes and death is creeping nearer.

Another thing which was interesting to me and which I didn’t realise before was that The Shadow has a couple of islands where he tries to rehabilitate certain criminals that he captures and it’s obviously a ‘common ground’ between him and Clark Savage Jr, who also has his own methods for the ‘cure’ and rehabilitation of the villains he captures. Now I believe Doc’s ‘Crime College’ was infiltrated on at least one occasion in the past (I think it might well have been the Doc novel The Annhilist from 1934) but this time it’s the turn of The Shadow to have his ‘rehabilitation scheme’ invaded and his subjects converted into loyal followers of his arch nemesis. It’s all good stuff and I appreciated the way Doc and The Shadow interacted with each other here, with Doc never really trusting the invisible avenger or Cranston completely through the tale. It’s even uncertain as to what Doc is going to do with The Shadow at the end of the book, once the super villain’s account has been settled. Although, of course, there’s the obvious ‘incident’ which takes place at the end of the novel which makes any speculation with regards to the fate of Cranston's sometime alias redundant.

Anyway, that’s me caught up for a bit in terms of Murray’s new and, hopefully, continuing adventures of the Man of Bronze. I’m hoping he’ll be releasing at least another one of these sometime this year but I’ve got no idea if or when that will be happening. I would also like to see him write the second of his solo Pat Savage adventures too, after his first one, Six Scarlet Scorpions, was so well handled (reviewed by me here). In the meantime I will have to content myself in saying that, if you’re a Doc Savage fan, then Empire Of Doom is another of Murray’s better entries into the series and you should definitely take a crack at this one. It’s a pretty exciting tale that Murray/Robeson spins here.

Sunday 28 January 2018

Black Water

What’s Up Croc?

Black Water
Australia 2007
Directed by David Nerlich and Andrew Traucki
DVD Region 2

Warning: This one has spoilers floating upstream. If you’re my cousin or his fiancee reading this... read no further!

Black Water is a killer crocodile survival movie by directors David Nerlich and Andrew Traucki. It’s a film that my cousin (now living in Australia, where this film comes from) and his girlfriend have been recommending me for a while and which they eventually gave me for Christmas. Truth is, I’m not so hot on crocodile movies and this is actually, I think, the first one I’ve seen. So, I can honestly say one really positive thing about this movie in that, yeah, it’s definitely the best crocodile film I’ve seen to date.

Now, the Australians are known for some classic movies... I might mention Picnic At Hanging Rock, Razorback or Crocodile Dundee. Alas, I think it would be true to say that, by any stretch of the imagination, Black Water is... not exactly a classic. It’s also not technically a horror movie, to be entirely accurate but it does, at the very least, have a horrifying credits sequence.

Yep, after a short scene where the family which make up our three main protagonists say good bye to a much loved family member and head out on the road for their holiday, the real horror of the movie really takes hold as we are subjected to a truly, horrifyingly misplaced, poppy pop song over the main credits which, honestly, does this one no favours. The family consists of Andy Rodoreda as Adam, Diana Glenn as his newly pregnant but hasn't told him yet wife Grace and Maeve Dermody as her younger sister Lee. These three, it has to be said, are pretty good in their roles but they’re not supported, in my opinion, with a script decent enough to get their teeth into. I especially like Maeve Dermody who has a cute, button nose and looks ‘almost but not quite’ the dead spit of the late, great Adrienne Shelley. So there’s that.

The jauntily inappropriate title song is followed up by some pretty clichéd thriller style tropes as we have a few minutes at a crocodile farm where the show guide shows our main protagonists in the audience (and us, of course) just how deadly these water lizards are. He also, unless I was mishearing this, refers to them on his PA for his ‘family’ show of adults and children as having ‘great fuck me teeth’. I somehow don’t think he would have kept his job for long using this kind of language in front of the kiddies but, hey, it’s Australia so maybe they have different standards on stuff like this.

After that we have the obvious plot set up of them choosing to go on a tour of some local back waters in search of fishing by a tour guide called Backwater Barry. However, they’ve just missed Barry so his ‘not so able’ assistant offers to take our fearless family out on the watery swamp (filled with handy trees sticking up out of the muddy surface) and yeah, I have to admit, this just made me assume that, once the scales hit the fan, Backwater Barry would either turn up as the cavalry near the end of the picture or, at the very least, end up as fodder to get another ‘bloody victim’ scene in. However, one of the more impressive points of the film is that it actually doesn’t make good on that set up at any point. On the other hand, I wasn’t entirely sure if that was due to artistic decision or budgetary restraints at having to pay more actors.

The music budget may well have been suffering too, I noticed, at this point. Early on in the proceedings, Rafael May’s score sounds a little like he’s trying to be John Carpenter on a really cheap, old style Casio home synthesiser from the early 1980s mixed in with some kind of hillbilly folk guitar for good measure. To be fair, though, his style does settle down as the movie continues and becomes something more like a good supporting score and sticks out less... in a positive way rather than bad.

Once our good protagonist’s boat is capsized by a rare (for the area) crocodile... as you kinda knew it would be... and their makeshift tour guide is eaten by said antagonist, the film becomes a survival story starting with Adam and Grace halfway up a tree and Lee trying to balance on top of the capsized boat. Once Lee is safely trapped in said tree with them, we get the usual arguments about whether the best course to freedom is finding their way through interlocking trees or making a play for the boat. We get more shenanigans until Adam makes a play for the boat with exactly the kind of consequences you are expecting from that venture at this point in the movie. There is a scene of not so high tension as he asks the girls to slacken off the rope tied to the boat so he can get it the right way up... at which point I kinda lost it because they’d already established that the rope was (quite visibly) caught on something under the surface of the water and so slackening it off won’t help one iota... but whatever, we all kinda know what’s going to happen here anyway.

Later on, as night falls, the screen goes black apart from the characters lit up with an occasional lightning flash. It’s, predictably, at this moment, that the wiley croc decides to eat one of the characters it’s killed earlier on in the film... when there’s no light so you don’t have to a) actually show it and b) worry about how good any practical effects you might choose to use here would look to the audience. I’m not sure if I’m just being cynical at this point or if the film-makers are just being shrewd, to be honest.

Now, I’m possibly being a little unfair to this film in some respects. The directors do invoke genuine suspense and tension in some scenes, usually from the characters visibly dipping limbs into the water or with the sound of little splashes which indicates that the crocodile is about somewhere near. Alas, once you recognise these tricks and they are repeated a few times, the tension drains out of the film somewhat but, still, there are a few scenes there that show a good understanding of this kind of genre fare at least.

Now, it has to be said... and I alluded this earlier... that the script, especially in terms of the dialogue, is not good. I couldn’t help thinking that if the writers had injected just a little more humour or over the top, tongue in cheek awareness into the characters at the nature of the story they were taking part in, much like Stephen Sommers did when he rebooted The Mummy franchise for Universal, then this movie would have had a lot more going for it. Heck, even putting something really stupid like flying crocodiles in here might well had done the trick in terms of giving this a sillier level of interest but... as the film complete lacks a sense of irony, it does tend to fall flat a lot of the time. There is a spark of a bright idea when the the younger sister tries to use the severed arm of an earlier victim to tempt/ward off the crocodile while she tries to get it into the sights of her newly acquired revolver but... alas... the film never really runs with this and instead, we have an obvious end game and an extra bleak ending which, in all honesty, doesn’t really save it.

However, I’m really glad to have seen Black Water because it’s interesting to dissect how some of these films don’t always work and, also, because it’s interesting to see what frightens other people enough to recommend this and try and figure out different audience responses to certain situations. And, yay... at last I’ve now seen a crocodile movie. So that’s another box ticked. If you’re into films like The Shallows or 47 Metres Down then this might be something you might like to try out.

Thursday 25 January 2018

The Post


The Post
2017 USA Directed by Steven Spielberg
UK cinema release print.

Warning: Very light spoilers, of a sort, in here if you are not familiar with the subject matter.

I quite like Steven Spielberg.

Pretty much since seeing his TV movie Duel on an old black and white set back in the early 70s.

I think he’s a director who, for the most part, makes consistently good films, sometimes great films and whose star status behind the camera dwarfs most actors and celebrities he works with. I’ve not seen all of his work but I’ve seen the large majority of it (barring a few films) and, asides from stuff which were real clunkers and which I could never quite bring myself to watch again (like E.T - The Extra Terrestrial and A.I) then you are usually on to a winner if you take a trip to the cinema to see one of his movies. He’ll also, usually, get to show you a moment or two of things which are unique or inventive.

Now, The Post, is a pretty good movie. It’s not a great movie but it is, at the very least, entertaining. I thought it was less gripping than a more recent cinematic outing into investigative journalism from a couple of years ago - Spotlight (reviewed by me here) but this is still genuinely compelling in places... especially if, like me, you have absolutely no first hand (or even any second hand) knowledge of the real life events that are being depicted in the movie.

The film opens strongly as we follow a soldier called Daniel Ellsberg, played by Matthew Rhys, on a stint in the Vietnam war. As his patrol is ambushed and all hell breaks loose we have a nice transition where the footage is revealed to be him flashing back to this chapter of his life as he rides a presidential plane in his current job. We then see him, a few years later, start to abscond with... and then have photocopied... various documents which show a history of American presidential regimes have been lying about the success and expectations of that particular war.

We then meet some of the other key characters in the film, the main two being Tom Hanks as Ben Bradlee, an editor or head of department for The Washington Post (someone who I believe both Hanks and Spielberg knew socially at some point in their lives) and Meryl Streep as Kay Graham, the owner of the family business that The Washington Post was. Now, we have a few things going on at the start of the film... declining sales, Kay Graham’s decision to launch the newspaper on the stock market and, amongst all this, Bradlee’s hunch that a crack writer at one of their rivals, The New York Times, has been silent lately and so must be working on something really important. These threads are followed and pulled together as we flit between the team of reporters working on their assignments and Kay’s social circle, where it’s highlighted that she knows some of the players about to be embroiled in what happens when, as Bradlee gets wind of, The New York Times are going to publish Ellsberg’s 'Pentagon Papers' and reveal the dark underbelly and legacy of the US politics.

When The New York Times are threatened with a cease and desist document from the American government while they seek to sue them, one of Bradlee’s people find the source (Ellsberg), gets the photocopies of the documents from him - which are almost to hot to handle (as it happens, the real ones from the actual incident were used in all the scenes where they are seen in the film, it seems) - and the film then becomes about whether Kay should greenlight printing them in this manner and, very briefly, the outcome of the court case in light of her decision.

It’s good stuff and, as you would expect from Spielberg and the team of craftsmen he surrounds himself with, it’s all put together pretty well including, of course, the excellent performances from a wealth of great actors. Of special note, naturally, are Streep and Hanks and, since I don’t have too much to say about the way the movie has been put together, let me just focus on these two giants of modern acting for a moment.

Streep is someone who I haven’t seen that much but she’s always struck me as being completely convincing in any role I’ve seen her in (starting for me, I think, with her role as Woody Allen’s lesbian ex-wife in his classic Manhattan). Now, I have to say, I found her character a little infuriating here... because she seems so, how do I put this... measured here, in her delivery. It’s like the character takes time to process every thought and sentence and I had a real desire to just shake her and tell her to get her words out quicker. Which tells me two things... one, the real life person she’s playing must have had some element of that inherent in her personality (or there was a good reason for playing it like this) and, two, she must be a bloody good actress (which I think enough people know by now).

Hanks surprised me a little. I’ve always liked him since I started pointing him out to people as some one who may go far after seeing him in a TV movie called Mazes And Monsters when it was broadcast in the UK in the early 1980s. I was thrilled when he got a big feature film role in Splash and, yeah, I guess the rest is history... and he’s always been an actor I’ve liked but he’s also someone who I equate with being a ‘movie star’. That is to say, he plays more or less the same type of person in every film and he’s generally someone you wouldn’t mind hanging out with in a bar. So I was astonished at just how different the character he inhabited here seemed. I mean, yes, it’s still Hanks and he feels all Hanks-ike as usual but, there’s something extra here somehow. An edge to the character where he would say and do things and I would think... I wouldn’t expect Tom Hanks to say or do that in quite that way so... yeah, there you go again. Another great actor and also a joy to watch.

Now, Spielberg is someone whose films I have mostly enjoyed (as I mentioned earlier) but he’s one of those rare director’s who I’ve never really been able to identify as having a discernable signature style in his work. Other than always being amazingly competent and providing nice compositions which don’t call attention to themselves. Now I’m sure he wouldn’t have it any other way either but... looking at this... I kinda noticed something which I think may actually be something he does in other films... I just can’t think of a single example off the top of my head right now. However, in The Post, I caught him doing this...

He will switch out from a general shot of lot of hubbub where a fair few people are doing things which are fairly distracting (almost like a mini version of a Robert Altman movie but... not quite that distracting and disorganised) and then one character, often not the main character, will be given a task which becomes his or her purpose for the rest of the shot and quite possibly the next scene. And then the camera will filter everything else out and go hell bent for leather with that person as he or she completes her task to fill in, usually, an important plot point. So, for instance, Hanks character might grab an intern and tell him to do some stuff over the background miasma of a noisy office and then, suddenly, we follow that intern with a certain speed and purpose which dominates the scene for the next minute or two... I dunno. I just go the feeling that it’s a genuine Spielbergism and I’m going to be watching a few more of his movies this year (hopefully) and see if it’s a common factor. This idea of splitting away from a general ensemble atmosphere and then suddenly intensifying the focus onto just one character for a minute at the exclusion of all else.

The other big star and character in this, if you will, is the wonderful score by Spielberg’s regular musical collaborator, composer John Williams. Now, I have been a big admirer of this composer and have been following his career and going to concerts by him since the 1970s. When he scored Star Wars - The Force Awakens a couple of years ago, I thought it was one of the best things he’d written in many years and he really would have deserved the Oscar for that one (alas, I believe Oscar politics may have gotten in the way of things that year). Even my friend who is a big Williams devotee and who used to even travel to Boston in the United States to see him in concert too, agrees with me that his music for The Last Jedi was a real patchwork of a score and a bit of a career lowlight.

However, having now seen this movie, I’m baffled as to why he got an Oscar nomination for his new Star Wars score when, frankly, his score for The Post is way more deserving. I think, of many Spielberg films, this really does need the supporting score to drive home its points. It’s not particularly subtle but it really helps the film that it isn’t, I think. I said last year that Zimmer’s score for Dunkirk was the only thing which provided the underlying tension of that film and, if you took it away, the movie would fall flat. I think the same thing applies to The Post. There were sequences here where Williams is using... well not exactly 1950s B-movie stingers but certainly a close cousin as he highlights conversations and sequences with a building menace which, frankly, I would not have realised were supposed to be in any way suspenseful without the score there to spell it out for me. It’s probably because I don’t understand and don’t really care about anything political, in terms of not knowing I was supposed to be feeling lurking dread but, thankfully, Williams provides it all here and this is a real example of a score doing more than just supporting the film, I think.

And that’s about all I’ve got to say about this one. The Post closes out with, more or less, a reconstruction of the opening sequence of the classic film All The President’s Men and, I’d have to say, although I don’t think this movie is quite as powerful as that one, it would make one hell of a good double bill playing before it at cinemas. So there you have it, Spielberg gives us, not a great film but a fairly good one and, with his track record, that’s really not bad. If you enjoy movies of this ilk then you’ll no doubt like this one too so... catch it at the cinema to get the best of that Johnny Williams score, is my advice.

Monday 22 January 2018

The Commuter

Commuter Error

The Commuter
2018 UK/USA Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra
UK cinema release print.

Well this movie is a pretty mixed bag, I would have to say. This is another one of those Liam Neeson action vehicles which I usually quite like the idea of, when they’re done right. However, my desire to see another of these was countered by the fact that I tend to find the director, Jaume Collet-Serra, way more miss than hit when it comes to making competent, interesting movies... even when they're headlining Neeson.

The Commuter has the benefit of an extraordinary cast supporting Neeson in his endeavours to find a person on a train using his ‘very special set of skills’... including the always stunning (and sadly underused here) Vera Farmiga, her 'on-screen husband' from The Conjuring films Patrick Wilson, Sam Neil (who I honestly never even recognised throughout the film with that worrying beard) and the even more memorable looking Jonathan Banks (from Beverly Hills Cop). And, as you would expect from such a professional cast... they all pull their weight, even when the script is weak in a lot of places.

Now, I have to say, there’s a lot of good stuff about this movie...

The opening title sequence, for example, which is a montage of Liam Neeson being awoken by his alarm, having household discussions with his family and then dropped off at the train station where he begins his morning commute into work, is built up from various different seasons and years to give a sense of the dogged routine Neeson’s character, Michael MacCauley, commits himself to... as well as building up a sense of familiarity in the audience as to various passengers on the train we’ll get to take a closer look at later.

There’s also the set pieces of suspense and action which are, for the most part, terrifically put together and not over edited... leaving them with a raw energy and sense of tension absent from some other movies in this kind of genre (this director’s movies included). It’s nail biting stuff and the sound design and effects for things like gunshots are extremely present in the mix and give an active appreciation of the implied danger the characters put themselves in.

Another plus is the superb score by Roque Banos, who really provides something that’s far from the humdrum noise I associate with a lot of action vehicles of this type, using strong melodic hooks that linger in the mind long after the movie has punched its last ticket (yeah, I’ll definitely be picking up the CD on this one when it eventually gets released). It’s also, surprisingly, well mixed into the foreground (at least on the IMAX set up I saw this on) and it really does hold its own against the noise of the blood and thunder extraordinarily well.

One last plus, for me, was the beautifully rendered end titles where the entire cast and crew list scrolls up and reveals itself to be designed like a train map, with various terminus stops and branch lines indicated, breaking off to usher in another section of the often ridiculously lengthy roll call of names that modern motion pictures seem to require. It’s good stuff and I’m all for it.

Unfortunately, there’s also some 'not so great' stuff here too...

The plot has been constructed almost like a Hitchcock mystery with added action scenes and, you can almost imagine Cary Grant or James Stewart performing in a slightly less adrenalised version of this film sometime in the 1950s. Alas, the script isn’t that great and the director manages to telegraph a lot of the little twists and turns well before they actually happen. Some of this is even revealed in the casting when you recognise a face and then wonder why they would have such a small role in the movie... with the answer to that being, of course they don’t... they’re the bad guy. So, yeah, there’s some bad stuff here.

Perhaps as bad is that the director, I suspect, seems to realise he’s stepping into Hitchcockian territory and sometimes does his best to play to that... in as unsubtle a manner as possible, I thought. As a ‘for instance’, there’s a scene where he uses that overly clichéd simultaneous zoom/push/pull effect from Vertigo (popularised by Spielberg’s use of the same technique in Jaws, somewhat) to highlight a plot point which the audience had surely guessed twenty minutes or so before and which, honestly, was so bluntly handled that I nearly burst out laughing in the cinema. Seriously, guys? I mean, I know people like to homage that shot but maybe it’s time it was left alone for a couple of decades now.

So yeah, perhaps there’s less to list on the bad side of things but it’s elements like this that are all pervasive and they do, in some ways, take a lot of the wind out of the sails on this particular movie. Still, it’s a lot better than Neeson and Collet-Serra’s Unknown (reviewed here)... so there’s that.

Ultimately, The Commuter is a likeable romp which is maybe somewhat less clever than the creative forces behind it might like to imagine but which is also quite competent and entertaining enough for a good night out at the cinema on a first watch. I have my doubts as to whether it would hold up under repeat viewings but, overall, the film is not terrible and, while I couldn’t wholeheartedly recommend it, it’s not a bad way to while away a couple of hours. Be warned, though... the Spartacus homage scene (you’ll know it when it happens) is probably going to make you groan.

Sunday 21 January 2018

Attraction (aka Prityazhenie)

Klaatu Barada Nyet-to

Attraction (aka Prityazhenie)
2017 Russia Directed by Fedor Bondarchuk
UK cinema release print.

I had to go to this one because, frankly... when was the last time my local cinema was playing a foreign movie with subtitles? The answer... next to never. So when it came to the prospect of a new Russian sci-fi movie on a big screen, I was well up for it. Now, obviously, when I hear the term Russian sci-fi I immediately associate that with one of my all time favourite directors, Andrei Tarkovsky, who directed stupendous genre adaptations such as Stalker and the original version of Solaris. However, when I took a quick look at the trailer for this film, which did huge box office in its own country, it looked more like a modern day, Hollywood spectacle blockbuster of a film. The truth lies somewhere in between.

Now, when I looked at the run time on my phone for this movie, I became fairly enraged because I learned that there’s a European cut of the movie which runs for just under two hours... but there’s also a full length version for Russian cinemas that runs 13 minutes longer and that really annoyed me. Why do distributors insist on cutting these things down for us foreign audiences? However, because these films are so rarely screened in UK cinemas anyway, I decided to give it a look and then, if I liked it, to try and find a full length version from whatever country puts it out in that form in Blu Ray. However, I’m happy to report that when I saw this at my local and noted the exact time the actual print of the movie itself started playing, that it ran for just over two and a quarter hours. Now, I don’t know if there’s any difference in running time between the 3D and 2D versions over here but, the IMAX 3D presentation (of sorts, I’ll get to that in a second) seems to be the full length cut so... you know... catch it while you can.

The first thing that struck me about this movie when I went to see it on its opening night, aside from it being the smallest (in single figures) audience to any IMAX 3D movie I’ve seen... was the warning up front where the people from IMAX have tried hard to disassociate themselves from it. Seriously, before the usual IMAX stuff comes up, there was a warning that the film had not been processed by IMAX for 3D and was therefore not a reflection of ‘The IMAX Experience’, which left me wondering just one thing.... why the heck had the audience paid out extra cash for premium tickets to an IMAX film which, in large bold letters at the front, belligerently stated that it was no such thing? Especially since this then went into the whole IMAX Experience spiel after this statement had been displayed. I think people need to have a little talk with Cineworld, adding this to a number of problematic policies inflicted on the general public by this particular chain. If it’s not made for IMAX, don’t charge me for IMAX.

An equally curious thing I saw, though, was that, just before the opening credits started properly, the film warned the audience that this would contain images of people smoking tobacco. What the what? Um... so would that be the scenes where people are smoking cigarettes then? Especially, since in this film, one of the characters makes it clear the harm smoking does to the human body? I mean... do the distributors think we’re so stupid that we can’t work out that people are smoking cigarettes? What the heck is going on here? Can we have a warning that, I don’t know, some people in the film are wearing non-matching sweaters or something too? Or that the dog in the film has fur on it. I don’t understand the reason for this warning at all. It's completely ridiculous.

Anyway... now that’s out of the way...

Attraction is an astonishing movie and, in terms of blockbuster type films, has a lot of things that the Americans could learn from when it comes to putting these kinds of big screen spectacles together. Where to start...

The actors were all amazing and their characterisations were great. And the script, while quite clichéd throughout, really did some things out of left field that I didn’t see coming. So from the start, I was pretty sure the main protagonist was going to be one specific person of two school girls who were best friends. However, when she goes to the roof of a building to watch the much publicised meteor shower (along with the rest of the world) and sends her best fried Yulia (played brilliantly by Irina Starshenbaum) and her ‘maverick boyfriend’ Artyom (played remarkably three dimensionally by Alexander Petrov) to her apartment to take advantage of their ‘alone time’, it soon becomes apparent, for reasons that I won’t go into here, that she is not the main protagonist after all... that it's clearly Yulia. I’m not going to spell out why though.

After an observing alien starship is knocked off course by one of the asteroids, over zealous military types shoot it down and it crashes into several city blocks with devastating consequences (for the people living in those blocks). After a high ranking military officer called Colonel Lebedev, who happens to be Yulia’s father (as played by an actor called Oleg Menshikov who has a very striking screen presence), talks to an alien, the devastated city blocks are locked down under military protection while the alien tries to repair the ship. Meanwhile, tensions are brewing in the hearts and minds of the local residents and it’s not long before Yulia is torn in her loyalties between wanting to make the aliens pay for the deaths they have caused and her new loyalty to Hijken, an alien who saves her life and who is played by Rinal Mukhametov. So we have all that going on while at the same time, the writers take the opportunity to indulge in some of the ‘fish out of water’ comedy that comes from the clash of two different cultures and, I have to say, the comedy and chemistry between Yulia and Hijken is very well done and brings a lot of heart the film.

Another thing that impressed me was that the characters are not, for the most part, one dimensional. They evolve and change over the course of the picture. One of the characters leads a mob of proletariat against both the aliens and the military forces and I couldn’t help think that, if Sergei Eisenstein had been able to see this, he would have approved of the Russian propaganda machine so well illuminated in these kinds of scenes here. The character I’m talking about (I’m treading carefully so as not to give anything away) starts off as somebody who I thought was going to be the male lead hero of the piece but, by the end of the film, has metamorphosed quite convincingly into moving into the role of lead villain and... it’s so subtly done that you have to take your hats off to the writers and actors here.

The other thing which impressed me here was, for once, the spectacle of the special effects. Especially when the starship crashed into the Russian streets. Obviously, the director and writers know the value of not crowding one action sequence on top of the other and give their action set pieces room to breathe but, honestly, this sequence single handedly tops anything Michael Bay did in any of his Transformer sequels and, at the same time, with all the billowing smoke and dust, it all looks so achingly beautiful. Russian filmmakers are still, as far as I am concerned, a nation of visual poets.

Also, the attention to detail in the streets in the wake of the craft as Yulia and her friends walk the abandoned buildings thick with floating debris and unbelievable set dressing to highlight the destruction is densely packed and astonishing. Not to mention little details like the brainy friend, nicknamed Google (presumably after the search engine... unless that’s a Russian name) having a Creature From The Black Lagoon poster in his bedroom. Nice.

All of this is coupled with a truly fantastic and, sadly unavailable (which is a crime) score by composer Ivan Burlyaev. Seriously, this score puts a lot of Hollywood movies in a similar vein to shame and it really demands to be heard as a stand alone listen away from the movie it ably supports and enhances. I would love to be able to grab this one.

As I watched the film race towards its, somewhat inevitable conclusion, it became clear that what I was actually watching was a roundabout remake, with details shifted and more action and political shenanigans, of the remarkable 1951 movie, The Day The Earth Stood Still and, while the intentions of the alien race depicted were different, the message they give is exactly the same, in essence. I guess if you’re going to borrow, borrow from the best.

Attraction is a truly cool film that, while it maybe drags a little in the last quarter, is well worth the time of anybody in love with the genre of science fiction to see. I can’t imagine this will be in UK cinemas for more than a week so try and catch it in the next few days if you are able to. And, despite the bizarre warning up front, the 3D on this is pretty good and that spaceship crash is well worth seeing on an IMAX screen, I can tell you. This may well be a shoe in for one of my best of the year list and it’s only January. I hope this film gets the international recognition it deserves... it’s already done very good business in Russia, by all accounts. Don’t miss this one.

Wednesday 17 January 2018

Insidious - The Last Key (Insidious 4)

Insidiouself At home

Insidious - The Last Key (Insidious 4)
2018 USA/Canada Directed by Adam Robitel
UK cinema release print.

I’ve quite enjoyed the Insidious movies as they’ve been released into cinemas so far. Starting with the weakest and least compelling of the series, the original Insidious (reviewed here) was more or less an expansion/remake of the old Little Girl Lost episode of The Twilight Zone. However, both Insidious Chapter 2 (reviewed here) and Insidious Chapter 3 (reviewed here), just like The Purge franchise, took ideas from the concept pitched in that first installment and created much more enthralling and entertaining pictures out of them.

Now one of the important things about what those sequels came to be and what they are, thankfully, continuing to be in the prequel movies (parts 3 and 4) is something which I pointed out in my last review from the series and its something horror seems to do better than certain other genres... change peoples attitudes to what it's possible to portray and get accepted in mainstream movies, by stealth. And by that I mean that what we have in these last couple of films is not just a female action hero carrying the main protagonist role (which is no mean feat by itself) but, also, a 75 year old female action hero (in the form of Lin Shaye as Elise Rainier)  who is wandering around banishing demons and generally getting thrown around by them in a Marvel comics kind of way. I honestly applaud and support these films for this... where else in Hollywood are they giving action roles to heroines who are living past their seventh decade?  So yeah, I wish these films well.

Now, the bad news for me was that this was another prequel to the first two movies, being set chronologically in between the first prequel, Insidious Chapter 3 and the very first Insidious. In fact, this one is set just weeks/days before the events of original film, at the point where Elise enters the narrative of that particular supernatural adventure. Now I was hoping that this installment would finally be a sequel to the end of the second Insidious movie, where the now dead Elise is still looking after her two sidekicks in the form of Specs and Tucker (played in this one again by the film’s writer Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson) from the other side of the spiritual realm known in this series as ‘the further’ and sees something there so terrifying that we need to know who she’s seen.  Alas, the answer to that one is not tackled here, either but, at least the film does take us right up to the first one chronologically so, who knows, if this one does well enough at the box office (it certainly deserves to) then hopefully the writers will have nowhere left to go other than carrying on from that moment in time at the end of the second.

Either way, this is another strong entry in the series which, although I didn’t prefer it as much as the previous two, still entertains and brings the scares when it needs to... not so many scares, for sure but, when it gets those shock moments right, it really manages to get the jump on the audience. Actually, I found it amusing from the chuckles of anticipation and the pent up tension in the auditorium of the screening I went to, mostly from teenage couples, that the horror film is still very much, in some ways, a kind of ‘rites of passage’ experience. I could almost see the hormones bubbling up in some of the couples sitting in my nearest proximity.

So the film starts off with an extended flashback into Elise’s childhood and we begin to see, in this and other flashbacks and, also, in those moments where adventures in ‘the further’ overlap in shifting time zones, how Elise came to be the person she is at the time of this story. We learn just what kind of burden she carries around with her, too... as we meet her family at various points in time. It’s also a nice bit of writing that some of the revelations we find out about Elise’s past are also news to her and we see how she reacts to these reveals as we respond to them ourselves.

The movie goes gets straight to the point with all the supernatural stuff here and, although there are the obvious suspenseful, drawn out scenes of lurking dread in the mix, there is no slow build up reveal to the first presence of the ghostly apparitions and, although this approach maybe shouldn’t work so well, the director seems to really get away with it very well here. It's very rapidly paced and there’s a lot crammed in. Even some of the editing is judicious with short cuts like watching Elise walk through a door in relative close up, towards the camera and then, in the next master shot, cutting to her already being halfway through the next room. It’s something which, perhaps, should seem a little out of place here, when timing in these kinds of films is a crucial element but... nope... it all works quite well and the frights don’t lose too much impact in the scenes which matter in terms of jump scares.

There’s a wonderful sequence where Elise is going through a ventilator shaft (much like Dallas in the first of Ridley Scott’s ALIEN films) and she finds her way blocked in a couple of sections by piles of suitcases. As she goes through each pile, unlocking and opening as she goes, she finds sinister contents I won't reveal here and, as she does so, we are made aware of the old ‘sinister demonic ghost's point of view’ approaching one of the suitcase from behind. Each time Elise has a case lid up, shielding her view of the rest of the shaft in front of her, the ‘ghost camera’ saunters up from behind the lid and, as we cut back to Elise closing it, we assume that something is going to be there with her as she shuts the lid to reveal it and... each time she does it, nothing is revealed. And then, after a few of these cases, we get the expected jump scare but, because the director has deftly used the old clichéd horror syntax of manipulating expectations through shot movement, the audience is effectively blinded by those expectations of just where that ‘attack’ is going to come from. So, yeah, there’s some nice stuff happening here.

We also get a possible set up for a worthy successor to Elise and, it will be interesting to see whether, if they do decide to pick up the hanging thread from the end of the second movie, they bring back this character introduced here to act as the ‘conduit person’ between Elise in ‘the further’ and the real world. I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s exactly what this character’s function is here, if the writer and producers are thinking far enough ahead.

As far as bad stuff here... well, two things really.

Once again, composer Joseph Bishara provides an appropriate though somehow more restrained musical score for the film but what he doesn’t do is give it the signature, scare the hell out of everyone, extended dissonance on the revelation of the film’s title at both the start and end of the movie as the previous installments did. This was always part of the fun and I don’t know why the decision was made to not do that this time when it’s become an established part of scoring these films.

Similarly, in terms of continuity... why is this not considered Insidious Chapter Four? While Insidious - The Last Key is an okay title and makes some reference to some truly, nicely surreal uses of keys in this film... it feels almost like the people behind the scenes are bailing out of the timeline they set up in the previous three somehow. Even though it’s certainly evident that this film finds a perfect fit in its place within the series. I don’t understand why that decision was made.

Still, those are my only real complaints and although, as I said, I didn’t quite think this one as strong as the previous two, Insidious - The Last Key is still a great ride for fans of the horror genre and, if you like the Insidious films anyway, surely not one to be missed. Plus, like I said earlier, this film has a main protagonist who is a 75 year old woman... go support this stuff so we can see more films with this option on the table. Send Hollywood that message by plonking down your pennies on stuff like this... I’m glad I did.

Tuesday 16 January 2018

My 1400th Post

Ha! Why Five Oh? 

My 1400th Post

For what turns out to be my 1400th post I thought I’d talk about something which has been on my mind for a bit,  just recently. One week ago I turned 50 years of age. It’s a bit of a milestone, I guess and, if anyone were to ask me then I would probably tell them the same old cliché most people respond with when they hit a big, round number like that... that I don’t really feel like a ‘insert your appropriate number here’ year old. And, as it happens, it’s true... I don’t feel anymore like a fifty year old than I did when I was a forty year old.

However, that doesn’t mean nothing has changed for me.

This blog means a lot to me. It’s an indication to myself that I can a) write about film and other assorted arts in a, reasonably, coherent manner and b) it means I have been disciplined enough not to give up and keep plugging away at this thing regardless of the occasional set back. And then I think, since the primary focus of this thing is centred around film, how different the world is now and how, as a young lad, I would never have been able to even  imagine the concept of a blog.

I was born in 1968... which means I pretty much grew up in the 1970s and early 80s. You couldn’t just watch the movie of your choice at your convenience in those days. There was no such thing as home video and, although we had a black and white television, films had a hold back from cinema to being shown on TV of at least five years (should one of the three TV channels decide purchase the broadcast rights). Furthermore... and this was in the days before you could record or time shift anything, remember... once a film had been on TV, it wasn’t likely to return to the schedule for another 3 to 5 years either. So if you missed it in the slot it had been allocated (such as a late night horror spot), then you’d had it. Also, although colour TVs were around, if you were brought up on a black and white set then you probably weren’t all that aware that you weren’t watching in colour. Because your mind used to fill the colours in by itself. Granted, you made your own colours up but, you know, sometimes they were better than the actual reality of the thing anyway. I remember feeling quite weird when I got my Dinky Thunderbird 2 toy and I had to ask my dad why it was a turquoise colour instead of being red like on the black and white telly. Which maybe says a little more about me than I might ordinarily like to share.

We also didn’t have video games back then. I can remember when the very first one came out which was two lines to represent bats and a dot to represent a ball... you controlled the ‘bats’ by a cylindrical knob on a controller hard wired to the big unit. People’s jaws were dropping. We couldn’t have conceived of this bizarre, virtual interaction with technology on our TV sets and it was a fair few years before the home computer boom began to change the way people thought even further. These were the days before Space Invaders, remember. So if you went into an amusement arcade in a seaside town there was very little in terms of a 'virtual' display. It was all slot machines, penny falls, the big mannequin of the cowboy bandit you had to outdraw, ski ball and, my favourites, the pinball machines (still my favourites but more or less, sadly, extinct).

So, yeah, accessability to things like films was a no go (although there was a small market for Super 8 'cut downs' of certain movies). It’s hard to explain the absolutely giant leap of technology I’ve seen in the last fifty years. Anyone under the age of 30 would probably have a really hard time trying to imagine what it was like in that bygone era and, I’m never really sure if that’s a bad thing or a good thing, to be honest.

There wasn’t much in the way of movie merchandise either, in those days... before films like Star Wars changed the face of the toy industry. We had the occasional, sometimes age inappropriate bubble gum cards like Shock Theatre. And there were Top Trumps, Corgi & Dinky toys, Mego Action Figures, Action Man, Cyborg & Muton and rubber sharks. But nothing like what is available for entertainment these days although, ironically, some of the toys we did have back then are worth a fortune now.

And, of course, we had our comics. Mostly Marvel, DC and Harvey for me but books and comics were my main focus of entertainment when I wasn’t spending my time drawing. I longed for the movie companies in Hollywood to try out making a movie about a superhero but, you know, high risk projects of material such as that were few and far between. Nowadays when I go to the cinema and see all these super-powered movies, I feel like I’m living the childhood I never had the opportunity to live when I was a lad.

And there you have it. I’m done with this post, I think. I’m not going to leave you with any positive message or a warning about ‘how all you kids have it lucky today’... especially with the state of things going on in the world at the moment. I will, however, say one thing which youngsters might want to discount as an ageing and unwanted word of wisdom on the subject, while I’m writing about such a thing and it is this... If you are going to attempt to live as long as I have and reach this age then... don’t try it without adult supervision.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday 14 January 2018

The Theatre Bizarre

They Ate Her

The Theatre Bizarre
USA/France/Canada 2011
Directed by Douglas Buck, Buddy Giovinazzo, David Gregory, Karim Hussain, Jeremy Kasten, Tom Savini, Richard Stanley
Blu Ray Zone B (Germany)

Warning: Yeah, you know what? This review is going to have some minor spoilers in it otherwise... well, otherwise I won’t have too much I can talk about.

The Theatre Bizarre is a film I ordered from a different country because I’d heard enough about it that I wanted to see it on a crisp Blu Ray transfer and, in the UK, it only seems to be around on DVD. Well, mission accomplished in terms of the transfer but, alas, it’s really not the film I was hoping it would be. The real trouble with anthology movies is that they tend to be quite hit and miss in the effectiveness of their stories, especially when they are traditionally, just like this one, put together by different directors. I’d have to say of this one that, on the whole, I found it more miss than hit and pretty much weak tea when it came to delivering on the shocks and scares normally associated with a horror movie. Likewise, it’s title leads to expectations of something truly unusual and, while it does have a few moments which I’ll highlight in a little while... again, there wasn’t exactly an abundance of bizarre imagery or story content available.

The film opens quite strongly with some nice credits leading into the first excerpt of a framing story by Jeremy Kasten. A lady doing frantic sketches and artworks of the titular theatre across the street from her window feels the call of the place and goes to the rundown and, seemingly closed, theatre. She gains entry and is greeted by a strange kind of mannequin puppet which, even from the start, is somebody who you can tell is Udo Kier. He’s got a fake head which looks like a rough, claymation impression of him and he mechanically introduces a series of mannequins, as the lady takes her seat and watches... each mannequin leading onto a segment of the film telling their story.

The first story, The Mother Of Toads, is directed by the great director Richard Stanley (Hardware, Dust Devil) and horror and giallo fans would probably twig right away that the clue as to the style of this segment is in the title. Yeah, that’s right. This whole segment is a little homage to the horror films of Dario Argento and Mario Bava and involves a man’s quest when he is offered a chance to go and view a copy of the infamous Necronomicon at the house of a lady whom his girlfriend buys some earrings from on a market stall. Anyone familiar with the writings of H. P. Lovecraft and his Cthulhu mythos will, of course, recognise the Necronomicon as a notorious fictional book within his writings... an evil book which has been referenced by many, many artists, writers, movie makers and musicians over the years.

It has to be said that The Mother Of Toads is easily the best segment of the entire movie and it has some beautiful camerawork such as an amazing shot of the canopy of trees of a forest reflected in a car windscreen from above, following the director’s little homage to the famous ‘road approach’ in Stanley Kubrik’s The Shining. There are also some beautiful, Bava-esque lighting juxtapositions of block colours, perhaps in slightly cooler tones, in certain scenes.

The sequence is not a masterpiece but it’s a great contribution to the film and ends up with a naked toad woman, mucus sex and aggressive toad murders. I kinda wished they’d saved this segment until the end of the picture because at least then it would have gone out with a high. Lucio Fulci enthusiasts might like to know that this segment also features a performance by Catriona MacColl.

Following another part of the framing story, where Udo’s mannequin starts to look less artificial and a little more... um... Udoish, we have the second story, I Love You. This one is filmed with a more clinically neutral palette but with big set pieces of goriness to offset that. It’s really a very disappointing story of a guy and a girl breaking up because she is leaving him and having an affair and... yeah... nothing new here and just a little tedious, I thought. It does, however, have the epic line... “Your penis and my vagina never really liked each other.”... which brought a smile to the face.

Between the second and third segments, Udo’s ‘host’ gets his real eyes.

We then have Wet Dreams, directed by and starring make up and special effects guru Tom Savini, who has been a famous genre fixture both behind and in front of the camera since the mid 1970s. This is the second strongest of the stand alone segments in the movie and involves the story of an abusive man who keeps having bad dreams and drifting from one dream to another. There’s a brilliant dream in this where his naked wife, who he is approaching to have sex, suddenly unleashes these beetle-like pincers from her vagina and bites his cock off. When he ‘wakes up’ to his normal routine, this is also revealed to be a dream as his wife serves him his cock for breakfast. So... it’s an old plot of dreams running like Russian dolls until the final twist. The final twist in these kinds of stories usually involves the person dreaming doing something absolutely terrifying to somebody before discovering that they had actually woken up for real but the end of Savini’s segment has a slightly different kind of reveal. Not necessarily a better one but.... at least it’s different.

The fourth stand alone tale is called The Accident and kind of deals with the loss of innocence of a child as she witnesses death up close for the first time. Alas, there seem to be no horror tropes in this one at all and absolutely no reveal of an ending either. It just kind of drifts along with, I thought, nothing to say.

The fifth story is called Vision Stains and involves a serial killing woman who is going around slowly penetrating people’s eyeballs with her syringe and extracting what she believes to be some kind of spiritual essence from her victims... which she injects right into herself soon after to see what she can learn. Or something like that... the reasons are pretty much the ravings of a deranged mind, to be sure. There are an awful lot of close up shots of people’s eyeballs being penetrated by the syringe in this story. The segment finishes when she kills a pregnant mother, extracts from the fetus inside her and then injects the essence of the baby into her own eyeballs. However, the baby then gets in her head and induces the woman to stab her own eyes out with a screwdriver. She then wanders the earth as a... well... as a blind serial killer, I guess.

The last story in the selection is called Sweets and it’s a very colourful look at a break up of a couple who are very much into eating sweets of all kinds. However, the woman who is leaving her boyfriend has an ulterior motive and... I wish I could say that her intent was fresh and original but, no, the ending of this story has been done to death before, it seemed to me so... yeah, not the strongest story you could have ended on.

And that’s about it. By the end of the film, the twist of the framing segment is revealed but, alas, if you’ve being paying attention to what’s going on in it then I’m afraid it’s not something you wont see coming a mile off. Which is a shame because I really wanted to be surprised by this movie and I even watched it late one night, on my own in the darkness, to add to the atmosphere. Not too much to say about this one though and I would have to say that, while The Theatre Bizarre does demonstrate some artistry and skill in certain places, it’s ultimately not the most interesting film I’ve seen in a while and I genuinely felt the scripting was weak in a lot of places. The directors did their best but the source material does not really seem enough to work with. Okay as a palette cleanser, perhaps, in an all nighter with some more serious or unsettling movies on either side of it... this could be the movie you stick on to have a little break but, as a stand alone experience, it doesn’t get much of a thumbs up from me, I’m afraid.

Thursday 11 January 2018

Annual Cryptic Movie Quiz Answers

And the winner is...

It’s that time of year again to reveal both this year’s winner of my, apparently quite fiendish, Annual Cryptic Movie Quiz and, of course, to give you the answers.

Once again, let me extend my thanks to all the readers and supporters who had a go and, as always, I hope you had some fun trying to crack these.

This year we have a complete newcomer to the competition as our winner so, without further ado, let me say congratulations to...

Nicholas Walker

... who was the only person this year to come up with a completely correct full house of answers.

You can check out his twitter here @narwalker and his letterboxed account here... https://letterboxd.com/narwalker/

He also writes reviews here at https://youreawful.wordpress.com/ and, as he puts it, ‘blithering nonsense’ at https://gingerbreaddragoon.wordpress.com/ So... check out his stuff at some point soon.

Okay, so here we go with the answers... don’t kick yourselves too hard. ;-)

1. You received a new chauffer for coming first place in that competition.
If you come first place in a competition you WIN. A chauffer is a DRIVER that you won so... Win Driver... re-split the words to... WIND RIVER.

2. A laboratory test to see if a ringing object can knock you out.
Okay so, a ringing object could be a BELL. A knock out is often abbreviated to KO. A laboratory test is an EXPERIMENT so... Bell KO Experiment... THE BELKO EXPERIMENT.

3. I didn’t lose the red back for the lady.
If you didn’t lose, you WON. Red backwards is DER. A lady is more than often a WOMAN. So WONDER WOMAN.

4. You’d be one of these if you were taking the toddler out for a spin.
If you were taking a toddler out for a spin in your car you’d be a BABY DRIVER.

5. The examination of the religious ending of a British drink is medically assaulted for the thousandth time.
An examination is a TEST. A religious ending to something like a prayer would be AMEN. A British drink is TEA (let’s call it T). So TESTAMENT so far. Medically assaulted might be DR ABUSE. Slip in the Roman numeral for 1000 in the middle... M, so DOCTOR M ABUSE... THE TESTAMENT OF DR. MABUSE.

6. Jazz trumpeter wears head gear for the satellite of the apiarist's favourite spread.
Head gear would be HAT. A jazz trumpeter could be CHET Baker. So HATCHET. The MOON is a satellite. An apiarist’s favourite spread is presumably HONEY so... HATCHET FOR THE HONEYMOON.

7. Your audible, sorrowful breath is covered in hair!
An audible, sorrowful breath is a SIGH. If you are covered in hair it could be FUR. SIGH FUR... CYPHER.

8. Drowned swimming location.
DEAD in the POOL then, I guess. DEADPOOL.

9. Finally, a double consonant for an emasculated Clark Kent.
Finally would be LAST. Clark Kent is SUPERMAN. Emasculated would get rid of the MAN. Stick a double consonant in their would give you SUPPER. So... THE LAST SUPPER.

10. It’s almost a mixed up kangaroo, if you let it defrost.
If you let something defrost then you THAW it. A mixed up KANGAROO is almost RAGNAROK so... THOR RAGNAROK.

11. Tab back personified... but not quite a Hobbit.
Tab backwards is BAT. Personify it and you could end up with BATMAN. A famous Hobbit was BAGGINS but, it’s not quite that so change it a little to get... BATMAN BEGINS.

12. I happen to be a foot.
A foot is something at the END of a LEG so... I AM LEGEND.

13. Noah’s 4th vessel comes complete with urban environment.
Noah’s ARK. Fourth vessel along could be 'D' ARK so... DARK. An urban environment is a CITY. So... DARK CITY.

14. No, I see... this gent is made with the opposite of it’s literal meaning.
A gent is a MAN. Something which is used as the opposite of its literal meaning could be IRONIC. No, I see... No IC so, not IRONIC but IRON. Giving you IRON MAN.

15. Cunning but why is it a mix of red and green?
Cunning like a FOX. Mix red and green paint and you should get BROWN if you’re doing it right so... FOXY BROWN.

16. A cloned feline.

17. She is the pun!
She is the pun. THE PUN IS HER... THE PUNISHER.

18. Mutilated drone makes a bad guy.
Mutilate the word DRONE by taking out a letter, putting a stop in and rearranging the letters to give you famous Bond bad guy DR. NO.

19. 54A
This clue would also work as 65A.
Split it into number and letters... 5 4 A. Express the digits as Roman numerals V and IV. Then add the A to get Anna Biller’s VIVA.

20. I wish I was dead.
That would be a DEATH WISH.

21. A very quiet Lord Of The Rings species makes a hasty retreat.
A Lord Of The Rings species could be an ENT. Quieten it down to make it SILENT. Making a hasty retreat implies it’s RUNNING so SILENT RUNNING.

22. Saw her feller.

23. Journal for you to keep track of the misplaced young lady.
A journal is usually a DIARY. A young lady is a GIRL. If she’s misplaced then she's probably LOST so DIARY OF A LOST GIRL.

24. Prejudiced against a villanous fantasy race no longer.
If you’re prejudiced against race then you’re a racist. If you’re prejudiced against an ORC then you’re an ORCIST. No longer means you’re EX that so... THE EXORCIST.

So there you have it. Truly hope all of you that played enjoyed racking your brains as much as I did to put this together. Hopefully this tradition will carry on again at the end of the year but, in the meantime, lots of reviews coming up soon.

Wednesday 10 January 2018

Best Scores Of 2017

NUTS4R2s Top
Fifteen Scores of 2017

Okay... so I’ve been fairly ruthless again this year with my selections. If the film was released first run either at the cinema or ‘straight to home’ releases then it’s eligible on my list, as long as the score got a CD release. If it only got a vinyl release or, worse still, some kind of rubbishy electronic download (okay, those two formats are almost as bad as each other these days), then it’s not going to be on here.

Also, no archival releases are on here. As with most recent years, there have been some absolutely fantastic CDs of great, past scores in 2018, most of which would easily win out against the newer ones... so it’s not really fair to let them be on this list.

Anyway, here’s are my picks in reverse (aka ascending) order...

15. The Limehouse Golem by Johan Söderqvist
Söderqvist wrote a pretty cool thriller score which included some nice string orchestrations for this Victorian mystery tale. I could also hear some very specific influences from Jerry Goldsmith making their way into the film (although I don’t remember if those sections I’m thinking of made it onto this album). This CD was a very limited release from Varese Sarabande but... well... at least we eventually got a CD version. You can read my original review for this movie here.

14. Wind River by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis
Wind River had a very quiet and contained score, to match the icy visuals of this stark chiller. Everything seems like it’s a lesson in restraint as the score keeps sounding like it’s going to burst forth in anger at any moment. It also contains some vocal passages which I really didn’t like at first but which have grown on me and work as a part of the stand alone listening experience. My review of the accompanying film can be found here.

13. Pirates of the Caribbean - Salazar’s Revenge/Dead Men Tell No Tales by Geoff Zanelli
Probably the best of the poor crop of sequels to the original, much better movie, Zanelli’s score uses the themes developed by Klaus Badelt and Hans Zimmer throughout and, it has to be said, he does so in a much less subtle but certainly way more entertaining manner than most of the sequel scores manage. I was pleased that this didn’t jettison the soundscape developed over the years and was delighted with the results. My review for the ‘not as good as the score’ movie can be found here.

12. Professor Marston and the Wonder Women by Tom Howe
This is a lovely selection of cues from an amazing movie. When you have a dialogue based film with a script that sparkles the way this one does, without relying on any action sequences, some composers are better off just letting their music get out of the way as a support to the visuals. However, Tom Howe provides a rich accompaniment which raises the emotional highs and lows of the characters perfectly. It was an absolute nightmare to get hold of this CD, for some reason. After my third supplier told me it had somehow been lost in the post (How, when every other thing I ordered this year arrived safe and sound, did three copies of this from three different suppliers get lost in transit?) I despaired of ever getting to hear this before it went out of print but, thankfully, it’s here now and worth the wait. My movie review is here.

11. Happy Death Day by Bear McCreary
This is one of a few movies with scores by the wonderful McCreary in it this year, for what turned out to be a kind of teen slasher remake of Groundhog Day, no less. Bear’s score matches the slow burn shock of waking up every day and I love how the first four cues on the album, titled Day One through to Day Four, have similar, chilling, slow building openings to the tracks to enhance the familiarity of where the main protagonist wakes up every morning. The film wasn’t without some minor flaws but the same couldn’t be said for the score, which is absolutely marvelous.

10. Dunkirk by Hans Zimmer, Lorne Balfe and Benjamin Wallfisch
I’m not the greatest fan of Christopher Nolan’s, admittedly epic feeling, movies but I do like the scores on some of them and this one is no exception (thankfully, it’s no Inception, either). The film is quite intense in the way it piles on the suspense but I think, if you took away this score which, it seems to me, is doing all the work, then the whole film would collapse. So a score which, I suspect, saved the move in some ways. As reviewed here.

9. Spider-Man Homecoming by Michael Giacchino
The first of two Giacchino scores in my top fifteen this year is one which I wasn’t overstruck on when I first heard it (asides from the immediate impact of the Marvel Logo music being a new version of the old cartoon series theme). However, it’s really grown on me and it’s had a fair few spins this year. I reviewed the film here.

8. Blade Runner 2049 by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch
This unwanted sequel to the greatest movie ever made really missed the mark in a big way but I was really interested in seeing what the director’s more recent collaborator, Jóhann Jóhannson, was going to do with the score. Alas, he was replaced fairly late in the game with Zimmer and Wallfisch, both excellent composers in their own right but almost every decision about this film seemed ‘off’ to me. However, this final score, with an overpriced limited edition soundtrack which then turned out to be not so limited after all, is an okay listen, although it never quite seems to get to the heights of sonic empathy it really sounds like it wants to in terms of relating to the original Vangelis score for the original classic. The CD album suffers from the placement of songs dropped into the score which doesn’t help maintain a steady atmosphere in places. My review of Blade Runner 2049 is here.

7. War of the Planet of the Apes by Michael Giacchino
My second Giacchino score is his second score for the Planet Of The Apes series but, it’s also the first one of the modern films, as far as I am concerned, that doesn’t sound out of place with the stylistic leanings of the majority of the scores from the original, five films from the late 1960s and early 1970s. This one has some really great stuff in it including a kind of march for the apes to counter some of the rich, emotional stuff at other points in the movie. I reviewed this one here.

6. A Ghost Story by Daniel Hart
About the worst thing you can say about this truly interesting score by Daniel Hart for this amazing film is it’s too short. I could quite happily have listened to a double CD of this stuff. It even has a not unlistenable song on it which carries a lot of the emotional weight at times. My look at A Ghost Story is here.

5. Shin Godzilla by Shiro Sagisu and Akira Ifikube
The score from Shin Godzilla is a far greater achievement than the actual movie itself, as far as I’m concerned. Shiro Sagisu’s new material blends in perfectly with the new recordings of Akira Ifikube’s melodies from some of the original films and it’s a pure joy to listen to this. The CD is a bit pricey, as it comes from Japan but, worth every penny as it’s been in my player quite a bit since it arrived. I recently reviewed this one here.

4. La La Land by Justin Hurwitz
Despite what I said in my initial review, this film has both a strong score and a pretty good, if small, range of songs in it too. When I’d listened to the songs a second time, after writing my review, I realised just how great they were and what I’d been missing. The album had a strange release in that it was split, unnaturally, into two albums... one for mainly score and one for mainly songs... which is an expensive way to do it, especially when I suspect most people, myself included, were going to recompile it into a proper album reflecting the combined order in film sequence. Then, towards the end of the year, a third double CD in a box was released with even more stuff and alternate material which is finally, more or less, what should have been released in the first place. My slightly wrong headed review of this movie is here.

3. Jackie by Mica Levi
I was absolutely gutted this music by relative newcomer Mica Levi didn’t win the Oscar for best score last year. Well, at least it got nominated, I guess. Like her earlier Under The Skin score, this one is just pure genius and may take you to emotional places you didn’t realise you had. Any other year, this may well have been my number one choice but, as you can see below, the competition for the top spot was tough in 2017.

2. King Arthur - Legend of the Sword by Daniel Pemberton
Well, this is one of those ‘not so rare as you may think’ instances when a quite terrible movie has a truly stupendous score which takes on a life of its own as a stand alone listen. This is right up there with Pemberton’s equally cool score for the same director’s recent reboot of The Man From U.N.C.L.E and it basically feels like... well... medieval rock n’ roll. The percussion and various other effects like the use of breathing as a musical instrument really serves to give a fresh and ‘beyond toe tapping’ suite of musical delights. I gave this one a lot of play and you can read my response to the less than stellar movie it’s trying its best to support here.

1. Wonder Woman by Rupert Gregson-Williams
I couldn’t believe I missed just how brilliant Rupert Gregson-Williams’ score for Wonder Woman is on my first listen through at the cinema. I sure as hell twigged it when I heard it away from the images which inspired it, though. This is a case of my number one film from 2017 and the score from the same both taking the top spot. While Gregson-Williams occasionally uses Hans Zimmer’s Wonder Woman theme from Batman VS Superman (to very good effect... less is more) he also introduced numerous rich, extremely emotional and, for sure, powerful themes which tend to sweep me off my feet every time I listen to it. In fact, when I was walking around London with earphones on and listening to this thing, I began to start tearing up exactly the same way that I do when I see the movie (actually, tearing up may be a bit of an understatement). A truly soulful set of cues which, considering just how much good music has been left off the CD, really needs an expanded 2-3 disc release from one of the boutique soundtrack labels like La La Land or Intrada. This disc has been played to death by me this year and I suspect it will be getting a lot of spins by me over the next decade or more. My review is here.

Sunday 7 January 2018

Splintered Visions

Fulci In Motion

Splintered Visions -
Lucio Fulci and His Films

by Troy Howarth
Midnight Marquee Press
ISBN: 978-1936168613

Lucio Fulci is one of those directors who I’m never sure whether I’m on board with. I loved his films like Lizard In A Woman’s Skin (reviewed briefly here), Seven Notes In Black (aka The Psychic), Don’t Torture A Duckling, The New York Ripper (reviewed here), City of the Living Dead (reviewed here) and The Beyond (reviewed here) whereas others such as Four Of The Apocalypse and The House By The Cemetery (reviewed here) leave me completely cold. And then others such as Manhattan Baby (reviewed here) and his much celebrated Zombi (aka Zombie Flesh Eaters aka Zombie 2, reviewed here) are quite fun but with some clear problems which I’m only just about able to overlook. So whenever anyone asks me how I feel about Lucio Fulci as a director... I’m never too sure how to reply.

So I decided to read a book about him and see what I was missing.

Troy Howarth’s Splintered Visions - Lucio Fulci And His Films is actually a pretty good tome if you want to know a little bit more about the subject although, I would add the caveat that, as excellent as the book is (and it really is), it tends to focus on the ‘and his films’ part of the title more than it does the man himself. Although, in terms of his collaborators... well I feel I know a little more about them.

The book starts off with an intro by Brett Halsey which, in terms of the typographic design of the book goes, seems to inexplicably blend into the author’s own preface and makes a nonsense of the words until you realise that a software design accident must have happened and gone unnoticed before going to print. After this though, we get a fantastic study of the films that Fulci worked on in one capacity or another, highlighting his work when he started out and not only as a director but as a writing contributor too. So the early sections about his career in his celluloid endeavours was really interesting to me because I knew nothing about it.

As the volume progresses, the same format is utilised all the way through but Howarth, who really does know how to write about this stuff in the way that a lot of academics aren’t able to master, throws in loads of peripheral information about the various actors, actresses, writers, special effects guys and composers of note who worked on various films with Fulci. And it all seems very thorough and very interesting. Not as thorough as Tim Lucas’ book on Mario Bava, of course but, certainly I learned a lot I didn’t know while reading through here. For example, I found out a little about composer Piero Piccioni being accused and linked with a murder charge on an infamous, unsolved case involving the death of a woman on a beach and I also found out that famous singer Mina was, apparently, publically shunned for her pregnancy by a married actor she was having an affair with. Stuff like this hardly ever comes up on album liner notes so it was interesting to be reading this kind of information here.

Another thing Howarth does, aside from reveal little gems about the conditions Fulci had to put up with on set... such as panning around a shot with the furniture being immediately removed by repo men as said items left the camera’s field of vision because the producer owed so much money, is the regular insertion of interviews with various key people and collaborators from Fulci’s long career. Some of these are lifelong friends and others are people who only worked with him once but many of the insights are, if not always invaluable, at least entertaining. And it's especially nice to hear from one of his more frequent musical collaborators, composer Fabio Frizzi, about his working relationship with him.

It’s interesting in that Fulci’s notoriety at treating his actors and actresses like cattle (and worse) is acknowledged by almost everyone who is interviewed for this book but, as far as I can see, only one person in the book has said he was actually like that to them. One wonders if the legend of his behaviour is more of a storm in a tea cup or, perhaps more likely, the majority of people who could have been interviewed had no interest in talking to people involved with a book extolling Fulci’s virtues.

The reason this is only a fairly short review is because the only complaint I really have about this book is that, although I felt I knew a fair few of Fulci’s films better... which I’m grateful to the author for because I now know which ones to seek out and which ones to ignore... I didn’t feel I knew Fulci ‘the man’ in any way better than I had before going in and, since I knew practically nothing about him before I started reading, I guess in terms of the personality behind the films, I felt a little short changed in that respect.

That being said, the writer had me on his side straight away by rejecting the claim, early on in the book, that the non-Fulci film Perfume Of The Lady In Black (reviewed here) is, in any way, a giallo film. Sure, it uses the cinematic language of the gialli being made at the time but, if it was going to have to be pigeon-holed into a particular genre of Italian exploitation cinema... giallo is not the one I would label put it in (and to label it would give away the ending of the movie to anyone who’s not seen it so I’m not commenting further on that here). Howarth is a writer I now trust to write competently and informatively about various aspects of cinema and I shall be seeking out further books from this gentleman in future, I think. If you are a relative Fulci novice, like me, then you will find a lot of information in this book and it’s written in an accessible and entertaining way. If you are more of an expert, well I think the ‘devil’s honey’ is in the detail and I believe you will still find this one informative for all the many nuggets of information about various other figures involved with Italian cinema at the time. Whichever camp you are in, Splintered Visions - Lucio Fulci And His Films is a strong recommendation from me as I think this is an indispensable book for people interested in this man’s work... if not necessarily the man himself.