Thursday 29 November 2018

The Girl In The Spider's Web

Salander Girls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The other thing is Claire Foy as Lisbeth Salander.

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

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

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

Tuesday 27 November 2018

Assassination Nation

Hack To The Future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday 25 November 2018

Doctor Who - The Witchfinders

Doctor Which?

Doctor Who - The Witchfinders
Airdate: 25th November 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday 22 November 2018

Caltiki Il Mostro Immortale

Tiki Fingers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday 19 November 2018

Doctor Who - Kerblam!

Kerblam Your Enthusiasm

Doctor Who - Kerblam!
Airdate: 18th November 2018

Warning: Slight spoiler.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday 18 November 2018

Suspiria 2018

Entrail Acte

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday 15 November 2018


Bling And Die

UK 2007
Directed by Pat Higgins

Okay... so I have a follower on Twitter called Pat Higgins. After a while... quite a few years actually... it finally dawned on me that he is a director of horror movies and I reckon he must have started following me after I gave a fairly favourable review of his film Strippers VS Werewolves (here). So I figured, if the guy is taking the trouble to follow me, I could at least watch another one or two of his movies. I went for the one which had the sexiest cover, obviously (alas, the cover is not all that representative of the content, truth be told but, it more than makes up for it in other ways) and purchased said movie to ‘add to the piles’ of unwatched art in my bedroom.

Then, disaster struck. Turns out the UK Hellbride DVD is in a 4:3 aspect ratio, which didn’t sound right to me and, frankly, I’m not about to turn the clock back to the 1980s and start having to sit through pseudo-representations of films in the wrong aspect ratios. So I jumped onto Twitter to ask him what the ratio was on this thing and... long story short and I won’t go into the details... he kindly made a copy available for me to watch in the correct set up (as opposed to the UK edition of the DVD). So a happy ending all round and... that’s when I really started to worry.

You see... I tend to review every movie I watch but I also tend to be extremely honest. I don’t answer to anyone and that’s partially because I don’t like pulling punches on the reviews I publish too much. So what would I do if I didn’t like the movie but didn’t want to hurt the writer/director’s feelings? That would be a dilemma. As it happens, I didn’t have to compromise myself on this one because, well...

When I saw the reviews of Hellbride on places like the IMDB and Amazon and then found myself finally watching the film, it raised one big question. What the heck were half of these reviewers smoking to have them all turning in such negative comments. I wasn’t expecting a modern masterpiece from this but my expectations were considerably lowered by the poe-faced responses to this one. However, although it maybe has a few minor problems (which I’m sure the director has learned and moved on from and, frankly, who am I to say what the ultimate product was supposed to look like), one of them being that it’s very obviously low budget... well, I think the people making the extra negative remarks were maybe failing to get the tone of the picture, in all honesty.

The film starts off with the history of a cursed wedding ring told through the camera panning and dissolving through a series of illustrations which look a little bit like old woodcuts, while a voice over from someone who later turns out to be a character (during the later stages of the film) gives us the full, fairly embroidered ‘facts’. The thing is, this opening narrative is done with such a relish for campiness and over the top ‘Britishness’ that the tone is set by Higgins to tell you, right from the outset, to absolutely not be taking this film seriously. So that works well for me... here’s a taste of some of the opening spiel...

“So he had the trinket blessed as best he could and stuck it away in his collection, next to the broken voodoo dolls and the badly drawn druid pornography. Eventually he died at a healthy old age of natural-ish causes.”

Come on people! This guy has a flair for comic writing and it certainly brought a smile to my face.

This is followed by a modest but nice typographic title sequence before bringing us into the film proper, with a sequence that shows our hero, one of the two main protagonists, picking out the aforementioned cursed ring at a jewellery shop so he can propose to his soulmate. The hero is called Lee, a stand up comedian played in a likeable manner by James Fisher. His bride to be, who has so much trouble with the spirit of the original owner of the ring in the long line of deaths associated with it, among other things, is called Nicole... played equally charismatically by Rebecca Jaquest.

And then a web of trouble and less than savoury events unfold as Lee, Nicole and their two friends get involved with a prelude to a wedding which ends up being something of an 'event'... more than the wedding itself, that is. Unknown to Lee is the fact that Nicole has been trying to help her dad - who is involved in shady business deals -  cover up the corpse of the guy he shot, who happens to be the beloved son of a powerful crime boss he owes money to. So expecting reprisals, there are a few extra 'guests' at the wedding and, without giving too much away, the end sequence is a three way battle between... Lee, Nicole, the guests and a bunch of ‘good guy’ heavies; the rival gang’s bunch of heavies and, of course, the former owner of the ring and her devilish ‘familiar’. And that’s really all I’ll say about the story content here.

The style of the film is nicely done in places and a mixed bag in others. Like a lot of the elements of the film. For example, the opening establishing shots are achieved in a similar manner as the precredits sequence, with a series of shots in various zooms and angles moving and dissolving into different angles. It’s a nice way of doing things and I’m wondering if this is a revealing signature characteristic of this director or if it’s something he’s moved away from in later works (only one way for me to find out).

Now, one slight problem I had with the movie is that the camera view is quite up close and personal a lot of the time when I would have expected it to pull back away from the people a lot more. The only thing I can think of that this might be a symptom of is that it maybe wasn’t possible to close down certain locations as the filming went ahead and maybe things are deliberately pulled in tight to ensure no extraneous background action is caught in certain places. That’s just a guess mind... it could well be a stylistic choice as far as I know.

There’s some nice stuff in amongst this lot though. Quite apart from loving the director’s dialogue writing, with little asides from characters that drift in and out like amusing non-sequiters (this film is refreshingly different to the way this stuff would be done on a big Hollywood production). I’m wondering if he, hopefully, continues in this vein in his later works now or whether he decided to rein it in at some point but the dialogue is awesome most of the time. I mean, how can you not like throwaway marriage lines like... “You may now kill the bride.”?

There’s also a nice ‘monster’ reveal at one point which, in a film where the horror element tends to take a step back so that ‘comedy horror’ can take over, is surprisingly effective and is also genuinely creepy. It also totally shouldn’t work because it’s absolutely the simplest solution in the world to the problem of a certain shot but... yeah, I kinda liked the bravery of it. I won’t give it away here though. There’s also a really nice, fluid, one shot dream sequence that looks like it’s been filmed in a gutted church which works really well. There are a few dream sequences in the film due to the nature of the horror element in the story but this one is particularly nice.

And pretty much the majority of the characters, although mostly clichés (and there’s nothing wrong with that) are really nicely written. Also, when the leading lady mentions that her favourite death scene in cinema history is Roy Batty in Blade Runner... yeah, you just got me on your side real quick. The acting on display is one of the things which maybe, in some instances, lets the film down a little but, even when the performances seem a little less like they can carry the movie, the dialogue still shines through. Don’t get me wrong, some of the acting in this is just right... in particular James Fisher, Rebecca Jaquest, James Kavaz (as Nicole’s father) and Natalie Milner (as Nicole’s friend Carly). Some of the other performances in the film seem a little more... enthusiastic rather than great acting jobs it has to be said but the film soldiers on and, I have to say, it’s never less than entertaining. I’m really glad I got to see this one (especially in the correct aspect ratio).

And that’s me pretty much done on this one. Hellbride is not the best comedy horror I’ve seen but it’s quite an entertaining film and any negatives in there are certainly swept aside by all the good stuff. Quite a nice movie for fans of the genre and I’d definitely recommend giving this one a go... it will certainly bring a smile to your face. As for me, I’m going to have to schedule some more of this guy's work in at some point soon so, yeah, this one certainly gets a big, unnaturally mutated thumb up from me.

Tuesday 13 November 2018

Orbiter 9

Satellite Of Love

Orbiter 9
Spain/Columbia 2017
Directed by Hatem Khraiche

Warning: First of all, do not make the same mistake I made and watch the trailer for this movie before seeing it. It gives away the big twist of the story for the sake of marketing purposes. Secondly, yes this review will also have the same spoilers because, with a film like this, it seems a somewhat fruitless exercise to not be able to discuss what the film is really about. So, again, if you’ve not seen this movie, maybe just watch it before reading this review.

Helena was born in space.

Played by the wonderful Clara Lago, she is now in her 20s but her parents fled the spaceship three years before after a malfunction became apparent in the oxygen systems. They knew she would have more of a chance to make it to a place where a humanoid ‘repair robot’, sent out years ago in case of these kinds of emergencies, would be able to rendezvous with her before the air eventually ran out and so be able to fix her systems.So they sacrifice themselves for her.

With only 1% of her oxygen left, she docks with the capsule carrying the repair robot/artificial human known as Alex (played by Álex González) who informs her that he has only 50 hours of his own control before he has to leave in his ship and recharge... or some such. After fixing her systems, Helena initiates sexual liaisons with Alex because she has never known the touch of another person (not counting her parents). After Alex has left, she is once more left to her lonely existence, heading towards the planet which she and hopefully others will arrive at and colonise as an alternative to the dying Earth her parents left behind decades ago.

Except... when Alex leaves we follow him through the airlock, past some plumbing and out in the forest where the Orbiter 9 ‘prison/science lab’, one of ten, has been built to enable the lie, to its human guinea pigs, of their existence... to study the effects of humans born in the kind of radiation they can expect to find when the doomed population of our planet are actually able to, in 20 or so years time, have the advanced technology to be able to take the trip for real.

Of course, after making love to Helena, Alex’s conscience begins to bother him and the once rational scientist fully realises the moral dilemma of these people born into captivity that the government are secretly experimenting on... the long term plan to let the ‘passengers’ die on their capsules when their natural life comes to an end... floating in space, or rather, prisoners in an underground bunker.

And that, of course, is where everything goes wrong for all the characters, as Alex fools the system and frees Helena, introducing her to the world around her and having to deal with other, more deadly consequences of his actions.

Orbiter 9 is written and directed by Hatem Khraiche and it’s a bit of a corker. I only wish I hadn’t seen the trailer which gives away the fact that the first scenes take place in an artificially created environment and that Helena is really on Earth because I reckon this one might well have taken me by surprise. Khraiche plays the cards very close to his chest in this one and the beautifully shot, sterile, Kubrickian-like environment of Orbiter 9 is perfectly and leisurely paced to set the audience up for a surprise when the rug is pulled from under them around 20 - 25 minutes into the film. At the same time, he doesn’t overstate the revelation that Helena is on Earth with either the performance from Álex González or by enhancing the twist with any camera tricks. True, the score by Federico Jusid becomes a little bit icier, just short of sinister but, as I implied earlier, things are never overplayed and there are no heavy musical stingers, as such.

Much of the movie when Helena gets out of Orbiter 9 - which is when Khraiche does use camera effects like disoriented hand held, bleached out shots for a while to give us an appreciation of her psychological reaction to finding out the life she has been living is a lie - is in contrast to the sterile environment of her former ‘lodgings’ and a lot of it is set at night time, to show up the contrast between the two. Indeed, the director has stated that a scene where Alex shows Helena how to use chopsticks at a neon lit, rain drenched diner is a homage to the opening of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (reviewed here) and there are also some moments where a Mario Bava /Dario Argento style of lighting is utilised as planes of red, pink and green are pitched together in the shot compositions.

The performances are all good and even smaller roles like Alex’s ‘shrink’ Silvia (played brilliantly by Belén Rueda, who was so good in films like The Orphanage, reviewed here and Julia’s Eyes reviewed here) and his less than one dimensional, unwillingly villainous boss Hugo, played by Andrés Parra... are very nicely written and performed, making the film a joy to watch and populated by characters who are very easy to believe in.

My one, very slight criticism, is that once Helena is out of Orbiter 9, the ending of the film is very easy to figure out and, although it’s an entertaining journey to the final scenes, this part of the film was entirely predictable. That being said, there is a little more to the ending than you might be reasonably expected to guess and, in just the same way that the characters are not entirely stereotypical in their psychological make-up, there is a ray of hope and sense of collaboration for the future of mankind in the final few shots of the film.

And that’s all I’ve got to say about Orbiter 9. A nice, well written, well performed and directed slice of modern Spanish sci-fi which is well worth the time of any science fiction fan. Definitely give this one a go.

Sunday 11 November 2018

Doctor Who - Demons Of The Punjab

Punjabi Dozi

Doctor Who - Demons Of The Punjab
Airdate: 11th November 2018

Warning: Slight spoilers

Well, that was another corker... and I really didn’t expect it to be, in all honesty.

When I read that this latest episode, Demons Of The Punjab, was dealing with the partition of India in 1947 I became somewhat sceptical because, frankly, the show has been getting a little bit too preachy and educational of late. Yes, I know, it's something the show was originally designed to do back in 1963 when it first started... a family show to entertain and educate but, if you’ll remember, Verity Lambert took a step away from that approach straight away by putting the first encounter with the Daleks as the second story and, though the show alternated between tales to educate via adventures in history and much more classical science fiction for the majority of the first Doctor’s tenure on the show, it would never have kept going without that shrewd move, in defiance of her superiors, that early on.

So, yeah, this latest series has been getting a bit Hartnell-ish to be honest and I really didn’t want (and possibly didn’t need) another history lesson on man’s inhumanity to his own species. However, I’ve got to hand it to them, if they’re going down that route then this one was another example of just how to do it. Mixing up a fast paced adventure yarn and throwing a hard science fiction plot device in the form of antagonistic aliens, perceived as demons, who turn out to be in no way antagonistic in their intentions and who are, instead, going around the universe and bearing witness to the many people who die alone.

And pretty much everything about this episode was good. You had Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor in shining form but almost taking a back seat... almost, although her character holds everything together...  to Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole and very importantly, Mandip Gill’s character Yasmin, who persuades The Doctor to go back in time to find out what her auntie has been hiding from her all these years in terms of her wedding day and the things she has been through.

We have a nice moment with a broken watch which has a shattered glass front and, as you will no doubt guess, we find out just how that watch got that way all those years ago, as The Doctor and her companions arrive in time for the wedding of Yas’ auntie and, at the same time, the bloody legacy of Mountbatten’s decision regarding the partition of India. And, yes, Yas has to try not to meddle with her own past so she doesn’t inadvertently alter the course of history and erase herself from existence.

The episode is, there’s no getting around this, good old fashioned Doctor Who and the effects of the teleporting ‘demons’, while a throwback to the 1980s in terms of visual effects, also worked very well and moved so fast that you didn’t really have time to perceive how ropey they might have looked (something which people dealing with moving image have been doing for a long time now... that and hiding their fantastic machinations in the shadows).

Talking of which, the alien creatures in this one were really beautifully designed but, it has to be said, were a throwback in some ways to the non-moving face masks of yesteryear. They reminded me a little of the old Silurian costumes back in Pertwee’s day... in that they were a much better looking design to the modern equivalents but with much less expression to their faces. Still, it seemed to work okay here and it didn’t jangle the wrong way with me, at any rate.

Also, Segun Akinola’s score for this was another big hit with me, taking Indian ragas and rhythms and weaving them into the score to give it almost a kind of pseudo-authenticity but without beating the audience over the head with it and not overpowering the traditional action scoring of the episode with too much altered colour. It never once threatened to dominate the function of the scoring and, much as I miss Murray Gold’s time on the show, this new composer seems to be knocking it out of the musical park as much as Gold did. Am hoping this series will get a CD score release at some point (once we’ve had Gold’s last series released please).

And that’s me done on this one. Another good episode in a debut season for Whittaker's Doctor which really is turning out to be a surprisingly excellent introduction to her spin, such as it is. I hate having to watch it on a Sunday night before I have to go to work the next day rather than in the traditional Saturday slot but, this is the only thing I could find to complain about with this week’s show. Let’s hope the team behind and in front of the camera can keep up the great work. 

Thursday 8 November 2018


Horrors Of War

2018 USA Directed by Julius Avery
UK cinema release print.

Cry havoc... and let slip the dogs of war. Or, in this case, let slip the reanimated corpses of French villagers given a substance which turns them into crazed, mixed up super soldiers.

When I first saw the trailer to Overlord, a month or two ago, I found it interesting that J. J. Abrams was producing what looked to be a new entry into the ‘zombie nazi’ subgenre but I figured, at the very least, that meant there would be some money thrown at it so it might be worth taking a look. It could go either way in terms of quality and the trailer wasn’t really giving a good flavour of what the final product might be. So I went and saw this the opening night of its UK release and... by golly I’m glad I did.

Overlord is one heck of a well made horror movie, directed by Julius Avery and, well, it’s just extremely competently made and is entertaining as you could hope for. As far as it being a zombie Nazi movie... well technically it’s not. Most of the reanimated people in this are not actually German soldiers and the one Nazi officer who does benefit greatly from the effects of the super serum that the typically stereotypical ‘bespectacled German war scientist’ in the movie is developing isn’t... well, he isn’t dead. There are a few reanimated corpses of note though so, while not absolutely a ‘zombie Nazi’ film in its absolute correct definition, the juxtaposition of those two elements certainly throws it into roughly the same kind of area, if genre categorisations are your thing.

The film tells the story of a unit of soldiers flying into France to blow up a communications jamming unit on top of a Nazi controlled church (more like a fortress, truth be told). However, after they are shot down, the few survivors of the incident manage to find each other and regroup to carry on the mission. The main protagonist is Boyce, played absolutely wonderfully and with a fine mix of both confidence, righteousness and vulnerability by Jovan Adepo. Now, the only big problem I had in terms with suspending disbelief in a film about reanimated corpses taking a super serum is that, heck, you would not get that racial mix happening in the US army in the 1940s. The soldiers would have been segregated into different units but... if you can get past that, Adepo really owns the character and gives the audience someone to believe in and care about.

Another member of the troop is Ford, the tough and slightly enigmatic member of the unit. He also brings a nice quality to the film and all the way through I kept thinking how much this character would have been well played by Clint Eastwood back in the 1960s or 1970s. Now I knew it wasn’t Eastwood’s son playing this role (for my thoughts on him, read my review of Pacific Rim - Uprising here) but, once I’d stayed behind for the end credits and found out the actor’s name was Wyatt Russell, it all made sense. Closer investigation showed his full name to be Wyatt Hawn Russell and he is, in fact, the son of Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn... so looking back I must have been picking up on a vaguely Snake Plissken vibe to the character. He does really well in this movie too.

Now, it has to be said, the film is pretty intense and brutal in places, even before the surviving troops befriend one of the local French women, Chloe (again, played quite brilliantly by Mathilde Ollivier) and get embroiled with a triple mission of blowing up the tower, stopping the mad experiments which are taking place in the basement of the fortress and rescuing Chloe’s younger brother. One of the reasons it is so intense and, for once, had me on the edge of my seat, is because the whole ‘war is hell’ angle is played up so well that it more than holds its own against the horror element. Scratch that, I would go as far as to say the way in which the conflict between the Nazis, the American soldiers and the occupied French villagers is handled is absolutely what gives this film its edge over a lot of others where they might not necessarily take up the amount of time to pitch the setting right. In fact, apart from a gooey mess of a body found in the early stages of the film, the horror B-movie (with an A-movie budget) doesn’t even start to emerge until about a third to a half of the way through the story. When it does it’s equally fraught, as Boyce finds himself on his own midst the enemy in the compound for a while... something the director really ramps up by using a lot of hand held camera during these passages. Heck, even Boyce’s parachute jump at the start of the movie is an absolutely drawn out, nerve stretching suspenseful sequence and it just keeps getting more intense from there.

The other thing about this is that the film doesn’t skimp on is showing the brutality of war and what both sides are willing to do in the conflict. There’s one sequence in the middle of the movie, when the German officer who is built up as the main villain of the piece is being ‘interrogated’ by the Americans, where Ford is seen to be almost as brutal as the Nazis in his methods of acquiring the information he needs to know. To be fair, you’re definitely rooting for Ford again by the end of the film but this movie really takes no prisoners when it comes to being fair about what people are capable of doing for their respective side of the conflict. For example...

The film is full of clichés such as the soldier who is perceived as nasty but then turns out to redeem himself and have a heart of gold by stopping a bullet for the child he pretends to hate. The soldier in question is played by John Magaro and, like any of these actors, you could see them holding their own in some of the great war movies such as Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan. Ditto for the cliché of the war photographer who’s not really a soldier but ends up going through hell (played here by Iain De Caestecker from Marvel’s Agents Of SHIELD). The thing is, though, because the film is so dark and raw when it needs to be and doesn’t really flinch in the ‘horrors of war’ department, I really didn’t mind the clichés inherent in some of the character types. Indeed it’s kind of comforting that they’re there in a way and, of course, it makes for really useful shorthand in telling the story quickly. And with Jed Kurzel’s wonderful score backing up the visual intensity... sadly unavailable as a commercial stand alone release when I tried to buy a copy of the soundtrack, CD or otherwise... you really do feel it when the action gets going and things get a little insane.

One other thing about this movie I should probably warn you about, if you’re not a die hard horror fan... there’s a lot of blood and viscera in the film. You will see a person, for example, shot in the head and then, with his face half hanging off, dose up on the serum before beating everybody else up. This is war and when the bullets start flying, sometimes when you least expect them to, then the director doesn’t look away when it comes to throwing in the guts and gore. Not necessarily an element which I particularly look for in a film but, if the story atmosphere calls for it then I don’t think you should skimp on it and this seems to be the view shared by the film makers on this one, to be sure.

So that’s my take on Overlord, a movie which I wasn’t too hopeful about but which I’m really glad I saw. This is quality B-movie exploitation shocks done just right and with, for once, a big enough budget to be able to pull it all off credibly. If you are into horror movies, or war movies or, as like this, a thrilling combination of the two, then you should definitely put Overlord near the top of your list because it’s all put together extremely well. Oh... and if you have already seen this and you were in the 8.20pm screening at Enfield Cineworld in Row E on the opening Wednesday... get a life. You don’t need to be texting on your phone all the way through the film. Turn the damned thing off and watch the bloody movie.

Monday 5 November 2018

Doctor Who - The Tsuranga Conundrum

P'Ting On The Bits

Doctor Who - The Tsuranga Conundrum
Airdate: 4th November 2018

Okay so, many apologies but this is going to be yet another brief review, mainly because this episode was a classic ‘Doctor Saves Almost Everyone On Board A Spaceship In Peril’ episode that was done exactly right. I mean, when they’re good they’re good and, though their were more dissenting voices in our household about this episode and the state of the show now in general, I’d had to say I have to disagree with the criticisms I heard levelled at this one.  I think I’m beginning to warm to Chris Chibnall as a writer, scary as that is for me to admit.

So this one dealt with a fair few classical and, yeah, admittedly clichéd science fiction concepts but it did so with a certain amount of style and matter of fact, throwaway attitude to the introduction (or probably reintroduction) of those concepts that was handled quite well.

So The Doctor and her new crew accidentally get caught in an explosion of a sonic mine which scrambles their insides and, leaves them in a bad way which we don’t really see until they wake up on a hospital ship with their insides still slightly scrambled but otherwise reconstructed and kinda okay. Except we have a new, gremlin like alien called the P'Ting that eats anything in its path eating the ship around from everybody and also killing one of the crew in the process. Meanwhile, they have to also deal with a male pregnancy, a war hero pilot who is dying while keeping it a secret from her engineer brother and also a small scale Hadron Collider which powers the ship's anti-matter drive.. oh and a big detonater which will blow them all up once the place they are rendezvousing with triggers it if they think the ship is in trouble.

So, yeah, lots of balls in the air in this one which is fortunate, actually, because it could have been a really boring, straightforward non-starter of a story without all the constant rushing about, fast explanations and cross cutting between different groups of people doing different things. It was also a big plus that the cute CGI creature was actually quite well done so, yeah, sometimes special effects can serve the story in a worthwhile fashion, I guess.

Once again, Jodie Whittaker was awesome as The Doctor and her companions played by Bradley, Walsh, Mandip Gil and Tosin Cole more than held their own. Their were some great lines given to Walsh here who continues to be both the comic relief and part of the emotional heart of these new stories and once again we have the running gag of a lack of ‘knuckle touching’ with one of his co-stars. I also liked the proud statement from Graham (Bradley Walsh) that he’d learnt a lot about delivering babies as he’d seen every episode of the BBC TV show Call The Midwife... along with his later admission that he looked away during the squeamish bits.

Another thing which really helps... and this is a fairly crucial thing with Doctor Who... is that, once again, the writers and producers aren’t shying away from the deaths of likeable characters in the episodes to show the consequences of people's actions and inaction... which also helps the dramatic beats along. This is all good stuff and a very necessary part of these kinds of stories, as far as I’m concerned.

So.. actors all good, nice budget conscious sets which didn’t look too bad even though I can assume the same bits of corridors were doubling for one another during the shoot, an okay musical score and more than enough dialogue and world building to distract from the somewhat jaded story line and the sheer obviousness of the 'two birds with one stone' solution to the creature and the bomb that The Doctor will eventually come up with. Yeah, okay... saw that coming a mile off but it’s cool, they did it with a certain style.

And I don’t really have much more to say about that one, I’m afraid. Good episode. Nothing much to complain about. Well, alright, maybe wondering how The Doctor’s ‘found’ costume managed to change colour between episodes but, apart from that... not really. Keep them coming and fingers crossed they do one or two really great stories at some point this season. At the moment it’s, for the most part, sure and steady and it’s working just fine. Don't kick it.

Sunday 4 November 2018

FrightFest Halloween Edition 2018

Abra Cadaver

FrightFest Halloween Edition 2018
Horror Marathon Saturday 3rd
(and technically 4th) November 2018
Mini reviews for the movies Reborn, Deep Clean, Parallel, Mara, Peripheral, The Unthinkable,
The Predicament and Abrakadabra

It’s been a while since I’ve done an ‘all nighter’ (or in this case, an ‘all dayer’) as in sitting in a cinema for more or less back to back movies for a substantial period of time. I’ve only done this twice before, in fact. Once at The Empire Leicester Square (which is now no longer called The Empire but everyone knows it as such) back in 1989 with the debut of Star Trek V - The Final Frontier, preceded by the four previous movies with an absolutely brilliant audience and a laser show before each film. That one must have run for about 12-13 hours. Then again, in 2005, I did a slightly shorter but certainly wonderful all nighter put on by Celestial Pictures at the Curzon Soho which was four Shaw Brothers movies back to back - The Monkey Goes West, The Mighty Peking Man, Oily Maniac and The Super Infra Man... which must have gone on for 8 - 9 hours.

This year, I enjoyed the sense of communal spirit on the five FrightFest films I saw at the August Bank Holiday weekend event so much that I returned to The Empire Leicester Square (or Cineworld as it insists it is at the moment) for a FrightFest marathon which ran for around 14 hours - the most I’ve ever done back to back, to date. This was also partially inspired by the fact that I really wanted to see three of the movies they were screening and tickets were £15 each which... when the day pass was only £45 for this venue and with a couple of free DVDs thrown in to boot... seemed like the best way of doing this. I was a little bit worried I might get too tired but, no, my love of film kept me wide awake for most of it (although the first two films had me slightly sleepy, for some reason).

Now, I thought that since I saw so many films yesterday, it would be too much for me to remember everything about each film and I usually try to write a review while one is still fresh in my mind before seeing the next film. It’s hard to do that with 8 back to back movies so, hopefully my regular readers won’t think I’m cheating at this too much if I do one of those combined capsule review collections encompassing the day because... well, I just think this will be both a better use of my time and will also help capture the flavour of the event in a more concise format, so to speak.

USA Directed by Julian Richards
Festival print.

So first up was Reborn, a fairly ridiculous tale about a somewhat washed up Hollywood B-movie actress called Lena O'Neill, played by somewhat less than washed up Hollywood genre actress Barbara Crampton. This tells the story of a past that comes back to haunt her at just the wrong time, when her agent played by legendary actress Rae Dawn Chong (curiously disassociated with the movie and completely uncredited if you try and find her included in the listings on the IMDB at the moment) is trying to get her to read for an audition with great director Peter Bogdanovich (who makes a lovely cameo appearance at the end of the movie).

The past that comes back to haunt her is her left for dead stillborn baby Tess, played by Kayleigh Gilbert, who is somehow brought back to life by some dodgy and unexplained electricity, is raised by the pervert morgue assistant who whisks her away with him and who, by the time of her 16th birthday, can somehow manipulate electrical current, just like Electro in the Spider-Man comics I used to read in the early 1970s... and use her powers to kill people who get in the way of her reunion with her mother.

The film is... nicely performed but doesn’t hold well together as a story, it has to be said. There’s a lot of leaps of faith and when a couple of seemingly unrelated deaths cause Detective Marc Fox, played by Michael Paré, to somehow make the unbelievably correct conclusion that someone is using ‘powers of electrokinesis’ then that just about kills what little credibility the picture had. Sure, I understand it’s trying to parody, somewhat, the kinds of films Barbara Crampton used to headline in the 1980s (some posters of which are, bizarrely, on display in her teaching workshop for aspiring actors) but it either didn’t take it far enough or maybe didn’t reign it in enough. The audience did give a big, collective chuckle when the electrokinesis stuff came up out of the blue, that’s for sure.

Also, there were a fair few mistakes on display in the film. Such as a shot towards the end when the detective pulls his car into the front drive of Lena’s house next to her parked car, which has its hazard lights on, for some reason. However, when we get the close up of the shot, the lights on her car are definitely off. Also, when we are told one of the characters is 16 and was ‘stillborn’ in the year 2000 (dating this film as being set in 2016), why are we then confronted by a tombstone which dates her as living from November 2002 - November 2018? This makes no sense. This wasn’t my favourite movie of this year’s FrightFest, that’s for sure. 

Deep Clean
UK Short Directed by Matt Harlock
Festival print

Next up was a short movie called Deep Clean. This was an interesting concept about what really goes on in those builder's tents when roadworks are being done... aka, plugging up interdimensional portals where hostile, alien, plastic baby mannequins are trying to take over your body. It was a nice idea and I can see why the creators are trying to develop it into some kind of TV or web series but I felt the execution on the all important, alien horror scenes was a little drab, to be honest.

Canada Directed by Isaac Ezban
Festival Print

Parallel was next and I was really looking forward to it as it’s by Isaac Ezban, the director of The Incident (which I absolutely loved and reviewed here) and The Similars (which I still haven’t gotten around to watching yet but, don’t worry, due to the kind actions of a film friend, it’s ‘in the pile’). This is his first English language film and it wasn’t actually written by him this time. This kinda shows, actually, because it’s not nearly as strong as The Incident, although the concept is sound and it has some great performances. It’s the old cliché portal to parallel universes plot again but, this time, the group of people who completely luck into this ‘never once explained’ device try and use it for monetary gain by comparing what works well in one slightly different version of their reality and using it to progress themselves in their own reality.

There are some lovely moments and a nice lot of ‘moral dilemma’ issues are raised but ultimately it felt like a throwback to 1980s Americana. It starts off strong with a set up showing just what lengths a person will go to in order to replace someone in one of the parallel dimensions and, to an extent, this informs the ending which shows that this film could easily be franchised or turned into a successful TV show. However, it never really lives up to its pre-credits sequence and I just felt the director could have done something a little more original with this. It’s not really a horror movie but there is a nice sequence in the movie when we see the effect of what happens when you cross over when the mirror portal changes state into a physical glass object when you’re halfway through the jump. So, yeah, a nice gory moment where half a person’s face and body slide down the front of the mirror and the internal organs all pile up onto it. Parallel is an okay film but, for me, not quite as standout as the next movie in the day. 

UK Directed by Clive Tonge
Festival print

Mara is a British film which seems to be set in the US as a criminal psychologist, Kate (played by Bond girl Olga Kurylenko), gets involved in a series of murders involving both herself and others who have been suffering from the very common condition of sleep paralysis... only this version has many of them being systematically targeted, haunted and eventually killed by an ages old sleep demon called Mara. This is based on a real folklore myth from various cultures and I personally came across the intrusion/confusion of incidents of sleep paralysis when I was looking at alien abduction stories a couple of decades ago. The film is absolutely brilliant (if a little obvious at times) and easily stands up against a lot of the big budget US horrors we are getting these days from the likes of Blumhouse Pictures.

The writer/director, (who was very nervous at the festival but needn’t have been because his movie was one of the two standout films of the day), cannily builds in a set of horror rules for the benefit of both the characters and the audience, as he introduces us to the ‘four stages’ of Mara’s modus operandi which gives us a kind of countdown for each character and the order in which we know they will be killed off, overlapping different timelines for different people but, because of these rules, making it so it’s very easy to keep track of things. The film also utilises sound design in a very unsettling and knowing manner, such as the ticking of the swinging arm of the Chinese cat Kurylenko’s character has in her apartment and using this and other sound effects (including a nice musical score which I’m hoping may get some kind of CD release) to build tension by stopping or starting the sound in various scenes. Nice stuff and I hope this movie gets the theatrical release it deserves.

UK Directed by Paul Hyett
Festival print

Next up was Peripheral, directed by Paul Hyett who helmed Howl (which I reviewed here). This stars Hannah Arterton (little sister to Gemma) as Bobbi Johnson, an inflammatory and successful writer who is in hiding in her flat and trying to write her second novel. This is all set in said flat and involves her becoming somehow symbiotically bonded with a new piece of hardware/software writing kit which is sent by her horrible agent and which is constantly getting upgraded while she has to deal with all the distractions this brings... along with dealing with her drug dealer ex-boyfriend and a psycho follower who knows where she lives and who sends video tapes of herself slowly self mutilating until Bobbi agrees to phone her. The film get s darker as it goes on and the performances, especially Arterton’s, are all excellent. It’s basically another metaphor for the creative process (something which seems to be doing the rounds again at the moment in modern cinema) but I didn’t enjoy it as much as Parallel or Mara and some of the ideas such as the main protagonist's fingers, hands and toes slowly turning blacker seemed a bit muddled (even when the director tried to explain that one in the Q & A). I’m glad I saw it though.

The Unthinkable
(aka Den blomstertid nu kommer)

Sweden Directed by Victor Danell (as Crazy Pictures)
Festival print

And then came the absolutely best film of the day. The Unthinkable, aka Den blomstertid nu kommer, which google tells me translates as The Flower Time Now Comes, is a story about a terrorist or possibly opposing country’s military, invasion of Sweden. It takes the form of a mystery but it felt like what would happen if someone had asked the late, great Polish director Kieslowski to make a military/civilian action flick. The thing is, it’s all done through a lens which is all about the main protagonist Alex, played by Christoffer Nordenrot, his unrequited love for childhood sweetheart Anna (played by Lisa Henni), his subsequent career as a much loved progressive pop music artist and his turbulent and destructive relationship with his violently tempered father Bjorn, played by Jesper Barkselius, who managed to make both his wife and then his son desert him.

It’s a beautiful and moving tale and takes a full half to three quarters of an hour just setting up the back story of the characters. As a consequence, when the mystery of the invasion swings into place a decade or so later, you have a real emotional stake in the each and every one of the characters (even some of the minor ones) and you really feel every loss and moment of self sacrifice and redemption. This is an epic movie in every sense, something any director should be proud to have on their CV and it’s so moving that it brought tears to my eyes by the end of the movie. Also, the few jump scares of the day were provided in this film as various unexpected bullet hits and other action moments are handled in such a way that the director manages to never telegraph each new act of antagonism. That being said, I have no idea why this movie was playing at FrightFest but I’m really glad it did because it’s definitely one of this year’s best movies as far as i’m concerned. I’m hoping this will get a general release in this country next year at some point because, frankly, people need to experience the artistry of this film.

The Predicament
New Zealand
Short Film Directed by Steven Baker
Festival print

Then we had a 15 minute short film called The Predicament which was about 14 minutes too long. This has a nice central premise of three people... a woman, her partner and their irritating third wheel of a friend... who get trapped in a car with no keys and have to stay in it for many hours as zombies are trying to get at them. Even when it turns out one of the characters has an ulterior motive and kinda caused The Predicament to happen, it just feels too long for the content and I have to say that it was pleasant but I lost interest fairly quickly, I’m afraid.

Argentina/New Zealand
Directed by Luciano and Nicolás Onetti
Festival print

Last up was a brand new giallo which looks and feels like it’s been shot in the 1970s. Indeed I appreciated the authenticity of the direction and performance style a great deal. It’s like the writers and directors were not trying to imitate the style of the films made by the great giallo masters such as Mario Bava, Dario Argento or Sergio Martino but, instead, going for the look, feels and sound of one of the lesser interesting gialli of the early 1970s time period. And I appreciated a lot of the brilliant, old school flourishes, the blown out colour on old 70s looking stock and the lightning in a bottle moments of purely authentic giallo tomfoolery. It even had a very Cipriani sounding score and at one point, although this seemed to be completely unmentioned on the end credits from what I could see, a cue used as source for a scene which was lifted straight from Piero Umiliani’s score for one of my all time favourite gialli, Mario Bava’s Five Dolls For An August Moon (which I reviewed here).

For all that, though, I had a hard time with this film and felt that it suffered from the same problem that Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof half of Grindhouse suffered from, in that it was too close to the kind of film it was trying to be (rather than the post-modernistic stew which I might find more entertaining at this point) and, in this case, it just felt like I was watching a very dull, sluggish and sleep inducing example of the genre with, admittedly, the odd dash or brilliance in terms of the mise en scène. This, along with Reborn, was one of only two films where I was kinda hoping it would end soon and was clock watching down on it. However, I did enjoy parts of it and overall it contributed to what was a pretty decent and certainly varied day of cinema watching.

All in all, then, FrightFest was worth the struggle of getting home from central London in the small hours of a Saturday (although the city was completely packed with people still as I was leaving the cinema) and I thoroughly enjoyed the community feeling of being in a room full of horror film afficionados who were there for a good time. The scares were very light on these, I’d have to admit but, in some cases here that really didn’t matter and the artistry of the cast and crew made up for it on a lot of these projects. Among the world premieres here we were even shown three exclusive clips from the new Soskia Sisters 'reimagining' of David Cronenberg's Rabid... which makes me feel a little more comfortable with going to see it. This is something I would definitely do again and so I’m kinda hoping I have the financial resources to sort out a similar expedition next Halloween. Definitely one of my more memorable outings this year and watch out to see if some of these films will be hitting the cinema next year. in this country. Fingers crossed.