Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber
Seven Bucks Productions
Warning: A very minor pointer to a possible spoiler.
Okay, so I don’t quite know why this movie has been getting some mixed to bad reviews but, I have to admit I kinda liked it. I don’t think the three lead actors... Gal Gadot, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and Ryan Reynolds had bad chemistry at all (as has been suggested) and my only real disappointment with the movie is that it telegraphs itself a little too much in terms of something which happens much later in the movie.
So the plot of Red Notice is all to do with the three famed ‘Eggs Of Cleopatra’... three bejewelled eggs crafted as gifts for Cleopatra (which are a complete fiction and conjured up entirely for this film, of course). Anyway, these fabled eggs... err... fictional fabled eggs, are wanted as a wedding gift by a rich sultan for his daughter and he has offered 300 million dollars for the person who can secure all three. Cue various international art thieves trying to steal the three from their known owners with the one twist that Nolan Booth (played by Ryan Reynolds), international art thief, is one of the few people in the world who actually knows the location of the third egg. However, an FBI agent, John Hartley (played by The Rock) and his new partner Inspector Das (played by Ritu Arya who feels like a mega-star in the making and really needs to get some higher profile roles) track him down while he’s trying to steal the first egg and capture him... but not before the international art thief known as The Bishop, played by Gal Gadot, makes off with the egg for herself.
Furthermore, she frames Hartley for the theft and he ends up in a Russian fortress style prison with Booth as his cell mate. After they escape, they go after the second egg so Booth can get his reputation back and Hartley can arrest The Bishop.... both pursued relentlessly by Inspector Das as the two become partners in crime etc. So yeah, simple plot set up and it sings along fairly nicely as an action comedy. There’s a good amount of action and the opening chase in and around a museum exhibiting the first egg is pretty great. There’s a lot of comedy (as you would expect with Ryan Reynolds involved) and fortunately Gadot and The Rock are pretty good at comedy too.
There are also some nice metatextual references throughout the film, mainly coming from Reynolds character who, I guess, we are all used to making such references from films like his turns in the Deadpool franchise. For example, he directly refers to one of the eggs as a McGuffin at one point (if you don’t know what that is then google it) and in one scene where he’s filling in The Rock (and therefore the audience) on the specifics of a plan, he refers to the bodyguards and party goers in a sequence as ‘featured extras’. Also, when he and The Rock find themselves in an underground Nazi bunker in Argentina, as well as a quick shot labelled up as the wooden crate which housed the Ark of the Covenant in Raiders Of The Lost Ark, Reynolds has also just been whistling the Indiana Jones theme. I have to say though, in the trivia section on the IMDB, it’s noted that Steve Jablonsky’s score for this movie is very much like the Indiana Jones films and, well, I’d have to say I disagree on that count. Jablonsky really does not sound like John Williams (and vice versa for that matter so, I have to wonder who the heck is writing silly things like this on the IMDB these days).
My one disappointment stems from a ‘surprise reveal’ near the end of the picture. Spoiler... it wasn’t in any way a surprise. By the time I was half way through I’d picked up on something pretty basic about the relationship between two of the characters which was saved as some kind of plot twist for the last ten minutes or so but, honestly, this was telegraphed in the film way too much and I suspect most audiences would have seen that one coming an hour before this point in the picture. So, yeah, that did put a kind of dampener on things by the time it comes up.
That being said, though, the film is still a speedy and entertaining action comedy starring three of Hollywood’s A list actors who are all old hands at this kind of thing. So it’s still a joy to watch even if some of it is a bit obvious. At the end of the film a ‘Red Notice’, aka a high level, Interpol watch notice, is put on certain characters and everything is nicely left open for a sequel, should that be required. Well, all I can say on that one is... sure, I’d watch a sequel to this. Especially since the audience wouldn’t then have to spend the entire movie waiting for one of the characters to catch up to them in regards to the central ‘twist’. I had a good time with Red Notice and, if you like big action films peppered with a fair few one liners and a comic tone, then you shouldn’t have much of a problem with this one, I suspect.
Tuesday, 30 November 2021
Monday, 29 November 2021
Venom - Let There Be Carnage
Directed by Andy Serkis
Warning: Slight spoilers
concerning the mid-post-credits scene.
The first Venom movie (reviewed here) really shouldn’t have worked at all. Without the Spider-Man character as a catalyst for the look of the ‘suit’ that is Venom, it really doesn’t make much sense, either. However, despite the bizarre gymnastics to get the character into a stand alone film and giving him a totally new origin story (which, as I said, makes no sense), the first movie was a really fun, good time at the cinema... so I was more than happy to reacquaint myself with the character for a second movie.
The film once again stars Tom Hardy as Eddie Brock/Venom and Michelle Williams as his ex-girlfriend... and, as teased in the post-credits scene of the last movie, we have Woody Harrelson back as serial killer Cletus Kasady. Kasady becomes Carnage in this move in the most totally unlikely and unconvincing way, it has to be said. The film also features modern Miss Moneypenny Naomie Harris as a version of Shriek from the comics.
So all well and good and I’m here to say that the sequel, Venom - Let There Be Carnage, is a fun if frothy and insubstantial sequel to the first movie (well, even more insubstantial than the first movie at any rate). Certainly, the film is all about the humour as Eddie Brock and Venom try to live with each other and much of the film’s comedy comes from them trying to work out a few kinks in the symbiotic relationship. So there’s a scene played for laughs where Venom is trying to cook up a breakfast for Eddie to cheer him up after he has been heartbroken by the impending marriage of his ex, where he practically wrecks everything in the kitchen in the pursuit of culinary delight. There’s also a nicely done ‘break up’ scene where the two have a massive argument and go their separate ways in the movie for a while, just as Carnage comes into play and Cletus/Carnage is hunting down Eddie for a quick fix of revenge.
And it’s all... fine. Just fine.
It’s also, maybe, a bit of a mess. There’s nothing much but gloss and, coupled with the fact that the movie runs for just over an hour and a half, which is a nice running length for a movie normally, it feels like it’s finished before it’s even begun properly. The resolution, such as it is, just feels one or two set pieces light before you should be getting to that point and maybe, it turns out, a two hour running time is best suited to movies with big, modern, mythical characters. Which is strange because the action all feels epic but the scope of the story does not. Very little actually happens which is why it’s lucky we have some great performances to carry the movie by the likes of Tom Hardy and Woody Harrelson here. Without actors of this pedigree, I suspect that this movie might have really dragged.
I still don’t think the imagination is quite there for the alien symbiotes in these movies though. Venom, as CGI and fluid a character as he is, still feels like some guy standing around in a suit (even if, you know, he isn’t) and, okay, the precedent has been set for that character in the previous movie so it’s fine to go with that here. But, the real problem is that Carnage, who always looked really ragged, edgy and dangerous in the comics (at least from the cover art that I remember) really doesn’t look all that different from Venom in the movie. He’s red and a little more scrappy for sure but, I felt they really needed to go to town a little bit more on the visualisation of the character in this to give him a more distinctive feel. I just felt he needed to be a bit more splintered from reality and all over the place but, still, the character works fine as a psychotic version of Venom to an extent and it looks fine on screen... it just doesn’t really feel as perilous as Harrelson’s pitch perfect reading as human serial killer Kasady, it has to be said.
But it’s still a nice blend of comedy and action and the scenes with Peggy Lu playing the grocery shop owner Mrs. Chen build on the ones from the first movie and should definitely make you smile. There’s also an extra added dimension to where things go at the end of the movie. While Venom is trying to show Eddie some of the things it knows about the universe at the end of the movie, something happens to them which transports them to a different aspect of the multiverse and they end up in a hotel room watching J. Jonah Jameson’s reveal that Peter Parker is Spider-Man... a different look at one of the post credits scenes from Spider-Man - Far From Home. Which means two things. One, the Venom moves are officially crossing over with the current Marvel Cinematic Universe and two, the various multiverses are beginning to collide. I can’t guess for sure as to whether this happens before Doctor Strange messes up the spell in the next movie... after all, this could be a reason that original post-credits scene happened but, saying that, going by the first trailer for Spider-Man No Way Home, the spell appears to get cast as a reaction to something similar happening in the first place so... yeah, I guess the jury’s out on that one.
Anyway, speculation aside, if you liked the initial stand alone Venom movie then you should have an okay time with Venom - Let There Be Carnage. It doesn’t have a great deal going for it but it is suitably entertaining and that’s more than enough reason to go see a movie anyway, right? So it’s fine.
Sunday, 28 November 2021
Doctor Who Flux
Chapter Five -
Survivors Of The Flux
Airdate: 28th November 2021
Warning: More spoilers.
Okay, so that was a fairly good episode as it happens and I would probably rate it a lot higher if it hadn’t proceeded from one huge... I’m going to call it a mistake or perhaps, more of an ‘error in judgement’ when some important information was perhaps cut for time?
So, yeah, this is going to be a short review but, for the most part, Doctor Who Flux - Survivors Of The Flux, was an exciting and thoroughly entertaining installment. So The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) is not an Angel after all, just was shipped between universes in that form to where The Division are polishing off their last universe before travelling into another iteration of the multiverse.
Meanwhile, Yaz (Mandip Gill), Dan (John Bishop) and Professor Jericho (Kevin McNally), who had all been left in a shrinking village in last weeks episode, Village Of The Angels (reviewed here) are off on some kind of quest given to them by a hologram of The Doctor left in Yaz’s care, which activated once she had been separated from The Doctor for more than two weeks. So they are travelling all over the world of the early 1900s (and have been for three years) in search of various non-essential ‘busy work’ clues to give them something to do in the script... and that’s my one big problem with this episode. As entertaining as it was. Um... yeah... so does anyone remember that the village they were trapped in was getting rapidly smaller until they would soon end up as corpses floating in the void of space? Well then how the heck can they be globe hopping when it was made pretty clear that they were currently inhabiting a pretty finite version of what remained of Earth? So unless some pretty necessary information was left out of the story for some inexplicable reason... this makes no sense at all. What the heck?
In other story strands... Bel (Thaddea Graham) and Vinder (Jacob Anderson) are still looking for each other and keep playing with different parts of the story ark. Are they The Doctor’s parent’s who leave their child at the end of a wormhole or is something else less revelatory coming? Remembering we have only one episode left of this series.
And, of course The Doctor’s memories were suppressed in a Time Lord style pocket watch... except, hasn’t The Doctor (in David Tennant form) hidden his memories in a pocket watch before now? So, yeah, how does that work then? That must be traumatic. A kind of memory wipe on top of a memory wipe and, if so, then why weren’t all The Doctor’s memories restored to him in one hit back in the Tennant days? I guess this is why people need... I don’t know... some kind of show bible maybe, to refer to so they don’t get their stories bogged down with such inconsistencies. Yeah, okay, I’m being a touch sarcastic here, I’m sure they must have one but then why do they ignore it constantly? Because if someone like me can remember stuff like this, well I’m sure everyone else does too.
Okay, so... other than all this... yeah, really enjoyed this episode. Mandip Gill and John Bishop seem to have good chemistry together and Kevin McNally makes a nice third. It was nice hearing a sound bite from Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart during the early years of UNIT in 1968, maybe a month or two before he first met The Doctor as seen in the Patrick Troughton era story The Web Of Fear (reviewed here). And it was nice seeing Jemma Redgrave back as his daughter Kate Lethbridge-Stewart in the 2021 section of the story too.
And... yeah, I still don’t like the main villains in this and I still think it’s a deeply flawed series but, okay, this one was one of the more watchable episodes this year. I think how the show finally falls with the long term fans all hinges on next week’s episode which, honestly, will have move fairly rapidly to a quick conclusion to this season, for sure. I wonder if we’ll lose the companions by the end of that episode?
So yeah, short review from me again for Survivors Of The Flux and, I hope I’m still caring about the characters a tiny bit after any revelations visited upon us next week. I guess I’ll report back soon on that one.
Thursday, 25 November 2021
aka Black Voodoo
Directed by Al Adamson
Severin Blu Ray Zone A/B/C
Warning: Bizarre spoilers ensue.
Wow... that Al Adamson guy keeps surprising me. I watched Nurse Sherri on the same day that I watched his bizarre musical sci-fi sex comedy Cinderella 2000 (reviewed here) and, believe me, Nurse Sherri was an even stranger experience, tonally, than the former.
So if you look at the trailers for Nurse Sherri you will be sold a film about the demonic possession of a young nurse in the style of something like The Exorcist and... well, it’s certainly a horror movie of sorts but, for one thing, if you’re looking for a scary movie then this isn’t it. And for another, well, let me describe the first few scenes of the movie for you here.
First up we have another animated title sequence similar to those adorning the openings of a lot of Adamson’s films involving various photos and images moved around. And my first thought as I was watching this is that the score, which continues over various scenes throughout the movie, sounded way too old for a 1970s horror movie. At first I thought it was just library music except I also realised I recognised the tune. A quick trip to the IMDB confirmed my suspicions... the film seems to be needle drop scored with some of Dominic Frontiere’s music to the old sci-fi TV show The Outer Limits.
Anyway, the film starts with some scenes from many reshoots Adamson took part in to expand the character of an old ‘occult specialist’ who dies on an operating table early in the movie. There is a sequence shot in the desert where he and a bunch of ‘faithful’ friends of a dead person attempt to raise the person back from death over the space of a number of days. Alas, instead of raising the recently deceased gentleman, the guy collapses as if possessed. We then get his death scene at hospital as Nurse Sherri, played by Jill Jacobson, watches as her doctor boyfriend Peter, played by Geoffrey Land, fails to save his life. And this is where this horror movie takes a bizarre and strange turn...
Following on from this we have a full on naked sex scene where Sherri and Peter are at it for a considerably longer time than you would expect from a scene in any other horror movie. It’s not shy about what it’s showing either. Okay, I thought, this was a mite unusual but, then... after the two are recovering, Sherri asks the good doctor what his strangest sexual experience was. We then get a long flashback to him in his younger days, as he attempts to give a lecture to a class full of students while one of them is giving him a hidden blow job from under his lectern.Wait, what? After a while we go back to Sherri and Peter on the bed and then it’s his turn to ask Sherri what her strangest sexual encounter was... at which point we flash back again to a poolside scene where Sherri is seduced in a lesbian sex scene. Well, this has got to be one of the most ‘off the point’ horror films I’ve ever seen. This is all compounded by another scene when we get back to the hospital and a man is nervous about having an operation. So one of the nurses removes her clothing and starts sexing him up to relax him. So far, this had not been the spectacle of demonic terror I was expecting, to tell you the truth.
After a while, Sherri’s best friend Nurse Tara, played by the incomparable Adamson regular Marilyn Joi, turns up and goes to look in on an all star American football player who has been blinded. It doesn’t take long, of course, for her to remove her clothes and start boning up on the game with him.
Now, in between these unusual sex scenes, there are actually scenes which carry the demonic plot forward. Later scenes with flashbacks explain that the old man who died on the hospital bed has possessed Sherri, which kind of makes sense since every now and again she’ll accidentally let her demon show by talking in ‘croaky old man’s voice’ courtesy of some dubbing. However, we also see a scene from much later than the hospital scene where some bizarrely animated... I can only call it glowy slime sludgy stuff... crawls onto her body and kind of seeps into her. What this has to do with the old occult geezah I have no idea but pretty soon, presumably as a result of this bizarre phenomenon, Sherri starts turning up in unexpected places and doing strange and ‘plot questionable’ killings.
For instance, she’ll turn up at the mini ranch of a retired ‘cowboy hat wearing’ doctor and, for no reason whatsoever and in a scene which has played out, content wise, in at least two other Adamson movies... she sticks a big pitchfork through his back before driving all the way back to hospital again. And it goes on like this for a while, with little inserts of almost non-sequitur horror scenes, surrounded by scenes where everyone seems to think they are in a softcore, sexy nurse movie.
Luckily, Tara’s blinded football star patient had a voodoo priestess for a grandmother and, when everyone starts talking about how strange Nurse Sherri has been lately... like turning up with blood all over her hands and face and speaking like an old man... he tells them that they have to dig the old man up from his grave and burn his body to release his hold on the titular nurse. Which they do, just about saving Peter who is about to get hacked to death by Sherri, wielding two machete’s after she has just killed her carer. Why Sherri has so many framed photographs of different breeds of dogs in her apartment is never explained to anyone’s satisfaction nor, indeed, even questioned by anyone.
And although things don’t end as happily as they could for Sherri, most people in the movie get a slightly happier ending. It’s a strange film though and I honestly thought that Adamson had done another patchwork job on this one, where he’d maybe started off shooting a sexy nurse film due to Roger Corman’s recent success at kick starting that genre and then decided a third of the way through the shoot that they were going to do a horror movie instead but, no, according to the section of the accompanying booklet in Severin’s amazing Al Adamson - The Masterpiece Collection Blu Ray boxed set, the plan was actually to shoot a horror/sexy nurse hybrid from the start. So colour me baffled. Also, though, the description of the film mentioned in the booklet also mentions some scenes shot in 35mm which are curiously absent from this original 16mm cut of the movie... so I don’t know if those sequences are lost or have turned up elsewhere.
Either way, if you want to see one of the most tonally bizarre movies that Adamson has done (and if you’ve read some of my Adamson reviews lately you’ll know he directed or doctored some curious hybrids in the course of his career), then Nurse Sherri would be my recommendation for that kind of experience. Really pleased I saw this one.
Wednesday, 24 November 2021
Raising The Dead
Terence Fisher -
Master Of Gothic Cinema
The Authorised Biography
by Tony Dalton
Just a very short review now to highlight to you a fairly recent book, Terence Fisher - Master Of Gothic Cinema, written by film historian Tony Dalton. I managed to acquire a signed copy recently from Fab Press and of the few studies of the man out there in the wilderness (if you can find any others still in print), this is the one I trust the most.
Mainly because Dalton was a good friend to Fisher and his wife Morag over the last 8 years of the director’s life and is still, from what I can make out, good friends with their daughter Mickey. So, if anybody is going to know what Terry thought of his own films and his colleagues, then this guy is the one who has heard it all direct from the horses mouth, so to speak. Not that I personally agree with everything he says about some of Fisher’s films, it has to be said. Here are three quick things we disagree on, for the record.
One is I love Four Sided Triangle (which I reviewed here). Two is that I really do find Brides Of Dracula a hard thing to sit through... I just don’t think it’s a great movie. And, yes, even though Terry and the rest of the cast hated it as much (if not more, probably, from the sound of the production history as detailed here) as Dalton himself does... I rather liked Sherlock Holmes And The Deadly Necklace (review written and coming to this blog... at some point in the future).
The book has an unusual structure with regards to the more famous of Fisher’s works but it starts off as one would expect, with Dalton detailing Fisher’s early life. He was born on 23rd February 1904 in Maida Vale, went to study for a Naval career on the HMS Conway school ship, served his time and then did various things, ending up as a prominent window display artist for the Peter Jones department store in London (which perhaps explains why I’ve noticed that a lot of his film compositions tend to gravitate towards the centre of the screen?). He then decided to change career and seriously pursued his intention to work in the film industry, ending up as a clapperboy and editor for Gaumont, then editor for Warner Brothers and doing things for various studios on and off until 1947.
After this he went on a director training programme started up by Rank and, in 1951, directed his first film for Hammer Studios. The rest, of course, is history... starting in 1957 when he directed the hugely successful The Curse Of Frankenstein, followed soon after by Dracula (aka Horror Of Dracula as it is known in the US - reviewed here) and really put Hammer on the map as the British quality name for horror film productions, directing many other movies for them including a lot of their revered terror films.
The writer takes us on a fairly linear route through Fisher’s CV until we get to this huge success and then, unlike what other biographers might do... and I’m not sure I totally appreciate this approach but, it is an interesting way of doing it... the writer starts talking about his remaining Hammer films in themed groups, disregarding the chronology and instead doing chapters on, say, his TV shows, his three Dracula films and the many Frankenstein sequels he did. As he goes along the text is peppered with quotes from Terry pulled from various interviews (including, of course, Dalton’s own) and each film is given a short precis and then a critical evaluation by the writer, including standout moments or scenes he thinks worth highlighting. Then the critics of the time are also given their voice in quotes from reviews, mostly contemporary to the release of each movie... these are often quite negative, it has to be said but, also oddly out of touch, I think, with the fact that many of these films were obviously well liked by the paying public and their popularity at the time meant there were many more made.
The book is certainly an entertaining and, dare I say it, insightful read into both the man behind some of the most famous Hammer Horrors and also, hand in hand, an insight into the general working process and how things were conducted at Hammer at the time. This includes little nuggets of information such as The Gorgon film he directed having the Gorgon named after one of the Furies and not one of the Gorgon sisters at all, for some unknown reason.
It concludes with a brief look at some unrealised projects which Fisher was either considered for or which he turned down at some point (Terence Fisher’s Dune anyone?) including two unrealised Dracula productions... and finishes off with a very touching epilogue dealing with the man’s final days and the various messages of sympathy sent to honour the man and say good bye to him (particularly touching are words by both Peter Cushing and Thorley Walters).
All in all, Terence Fisher - Master Of Gothic Cinema is a very entertaining and informative book which certainly captures a mood or sketch of the man and which I think admirers of both his work and the milieu in which he did it will find extremely interesting. I’m especially glad I read this one because, although I’ve been watching Fisher’s films all my life, he’s not a director I’ve really been aware of as an ‘auteur’ as such... and Dalton makes a very convincing case that he certainly was. Give this one a whirl if you are at all interested in this stuff, would be my advice.
Tuesday, 23 November 2021
Puppet On A Sting
Last Night In Soho
Directed by Edgar Wright
Warning: I guess this has some mild spoilers.
Trust modern wonder director Edgar Wright to make a movie which transcends initial expectations of what it actually is... perhaps an homage to 1960s British horror, Italian giallo etc... and deliver something which actually only nods to those kinds of movie more as an acknowledgement... instead bringing something fairly new (although not strictly too far out of the box) into the mix. Last Night In Soho is probably not the film most people may expect it to be and although some of those touchstones are in here... there are certainly elements of a ‘Dario Argento Meets Mario Bava’ influence in both the lighting (which is even given an on screen rationale in terms of a character’s bedroom window in proximity to a flashing neon sign) and odd half winks to their various movies (are the mannequins in one shot juxtaposed to the previous a little nod to Bava’s Blood And Black Lace... reviewed here... for example?)... this one is so much more than the sum of any stylistic parts and very much its own thing.
Now, I have to admit, it took me about 25 mins to get into this one and I’d have to say, my first impressions of the central character were quite bad. For a little while, the way sixties obsessed main protagonist Eloise (played brilliantly by Thomasin McKenzie) was written, in terms of her dialogue... well I was having a hard time liking the character for a bit. However, she did grow on me fairly quickly once she leaves her grandmother’s house (her grandmother played by wonderful 1960s icon Rita Tushingham) to come to London to the famous London College Of Fashion (I think I went there to use their library once when I studied Graphic Design at the London College Of Printing back in the day). It probably helped that the majority of her fellow students are just really horrible and so she seems way better than them anyway and, I soon got used to the naivete of the character to the point where she became the reason why I was watching.
It’s pointed out very early on in the movie that Eloise is one of those people who can feel and see psychic/spiritual vibrations from objects and things quite vividly and, when she rents a room off of a landlady played by another 1960s icon, Diana Rigg, she starts tripping back to the past in her dreams and becomes Sandie, played by the always watchable Anya Taylor-Joy, as she tries to be a to singer emerging from the Soho scene in 1965. However, Sandie falls in with a ‘manager’ played by Matt Smith and things don’t go exactly as she planned. Meanwhile, back in the present day reality, Eloise starts to pick up on people and things from the sixties Soho of her dream life and starts to unravel a long standing mystery leading to a darkness at the heart of Sandie’s world... while fighting for her own life as the dreamworld she has let in begins to splinter into her day to day reality and take her mind.
Okay, so I really can’t say anymore about the story because, a) it will spoil it and b) you’ll probably work out most of the twists and turns a fair bit before the film gets you there. The film is obviously referencing the 1960s a lot and includes another couple of iconic performers of the time... these being Terence Stamp and Margaret Nolan (both she and Rigg have dedications on the film... one before it starts and one after it’s finished, I think this was both of these two actresses last movie role and it’s a shame neither of them lived to see how well the film has been received by the critics). However, the one way this film disappointed me slightly was by telegraphing (despite some obvious misdirection on the part of one of the male leads) the true identity of two of the characters and their actual relation to Eloise’s dream adventures.
And, after my initial reluctance to follow the central character which, as I said, was soon overcome, I have to say I found the film to not only be a tight and technological marvel in terms of the art of putting together something like this but also a thoroughly entertaining romp too. If horror is your bag (which this film plays on the periphery of but, due to the ‘visions’ experienced by the central protagonist, it certainly gets there in terms of slipping into that genre pretty well by the end) then you will probably have a good time with this although, I have to say, it’s a very slow burn of a movie which really doesn’t push any of those buttons until a good way through, when things begin to emerge and bleed over from both worlds. That being said, it doesn’t take long before some really beautiful and stunning non-horror set pieces are visited on the audience. Such as the first introduction to Eloise’s dream world as the character watches bewildered, becoming the mirror image of Anya Taylor-Joy and vice versa.
And, yes, I’d like to say ‘it’s all done with mirrors’ but there looks like there was some clever, practical stuff which was done ‘in camera’ here to use the actresses mirroring each other to both interact with the same co-star at the same time and so on. What’s more, the ways those actresses both reflect and then sometimes not, as they watch each other, shows a real intelligence from, not just the performers but from the way Wright has obviously worked out that you can enhance a scene by using the actions and expressions of each of the two female leads to add a commentary to the events they are caught up in. I was very impressed, for example, when McKenzie apes Taylor-Joy for part of a scene but then is left surprised or doing her own thing as the character splits away from her to fill her in on what may, or may not, be somebody’s back story. Not to mention the technical brilliance (and timing) of the scene where Matt Smith dances with both girls simultaneously by swinging each of them around the camera to transform into the next person and then back again... I expect it took a fair few rehearsals to get right and it certainly wears its trickery on its sleeve but it doesn’t make it any less impressive and well timed, for sure.
And, of course, there’s a sonic backdrop of old 1960s hits such as two of my favourite Sandie Shaw songs... Puppet On A String and (There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me... to get the nostalgia receptors engaged and even, in one sequence, an actress playing a young Cilla Black (what a shame that Work Is A Four Letter Word never made it onto the songtrack, to revive interest in both the song and the movie). The film really hits a nice groove and I’m sure a lot of the younger audience will be discovering the ‘sounds of the sixties’ on the back of this movie, for sure... if Wright can hook them on it. I’m not sure its box office has been all that it could be (well... we are still in a pandemic) but I’m sure this is going to do very well on Blu Ray sales and I, for one, can’t wait to grab a copy of this one to show my folks.
So, yeah, that’s me done on Last Night In Soho. It’s a lot of fun and it looks absolutely beautiful. The twist reveals, such as they are, are maybe not too cleverly done (you probably will be ahead of them) but it really doesn’t hurt the film any because they are also inevitable points that the film needs to hit and it all gives some of the nightmarish, Roman Polanski inspired (surely there’s a little bit of Repulsion in here?) supernatural dream vibrations a good sound logical reading within the context of the story and especially the characters as they are represented later. I’m also pretty sure that, now I’ve processed the content of the film a little bit, I am going to really enjoy watching the heck out of it on subsequent viewings... I reckon this is one of those ‘fine wine’ kind of films that get better with age and familiarity once you start noticing the accumulation of details which you missed the first time around. This is definitely one for fans of spectacular and well crafted cinema, for sure.
Monday, 22 November 2021
Doctor Who Flux
Village Of The Angels
Airdate: 21st November 2021
Warning: Spoilers sweetie!
Okay, so this week’s episode, the fourth installment of the latest Doctor Who serial Flux, is Village Of The Angels. Set mostly in 1967, it’s kind of got an almost John Wyndham feel to it to start off with... once The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) has saved Yaz (Mandip Gill), Dan (John Bishop) and herself from the Weeping Angels who had invaded the TARDIS at the end of the previous episode (by ejecting them under the blind of more scientific, jargon laden jiggery pokery.
So they all find themselves in a village on the evening of 21st November 1967 (literally 54 years to the day before this episode was broadcast), with a group of villagers trying to find a 10 year old girl who has gone missing. Well... Yaz and Dan find out where she is fairly quickly, as an Angel gets them and whizzes them back to 1901, where they find the girl but in a deserted version of the village which has been ‘quantum extracted’... the borders of this version of the world slowly shrinking to the bleak void of space just outside the borders of the land mass.
Meanwhile, The Doctor finds Claire (Annabel Scholey), the woman from the first episode, The Halloween Apocalypse (reviewed here) in 1967 but it doesn’t quite explain why, when The Doctor first met her, she had somehow taken ‘the long way home’ without ageing... and I don’t think they’re going to explain that now, either. It’s really sloppy writing but I suspect it’s going to remain another of those interminable loose ends. By the finish, the rogue Weeping Angel which, it turns out, has inhabited Claire’s mind to get The Doctor to help it stay safe from its fellow Angels (who work for the mysterious Division, who we saw the other version of The Doctor working for last week)... changes the deal and instead uses Claire to lure The Doctor, her memories of working for The Division still wiped, to a point where she can be ‘recalled’ and then turned into a Weeping Angel herself!
Also meanwhile... Bel (Thaddea Graham) is still looking for Vinder (Jacob Anderson) and the search continues as they manage to miss each other on a planet as Bel works the other, post-Flux end of the story involving the villainous Swarm. I'm now wondering if the baby (or one of the babies plural, possibly) inside her is actually The Doctor, to be honest.
Okay, so the Weeping Angels were absolutely brilliant in their very first Steven Moffat penned story Blink... no question it was one of the best episodes of the show ever. However, since then, Moffat continued to use them in ways which severely compromised or made mistakes about the rules under which the ‘quantum locked if you observe them’ Angels function and, alas, while this particular episode was thoroughly entertaining, it continued the traditions of a) breaking the rules and b) further draining their impact with another new element to their personalities we’ve not seen before.
The first problem is, if there’s someone else observing them at the same time you are then they can’t move in on you, right? You’d think that would be an easy rule not to break but, no, dramatic effect means that this is going to happen even though there are clearly eyes on them a couple of times. And, no, running through the wet paint of your painted in corner by saying ‘oh, don’t get in front of them otherwise we can’t see them’ is a complete cop out and, frankly, a load of rubbish... you’d still be able to see a bit of a shoulder or a foot.
Second problem... yeah, due to holding on to one of their possessed humans they can now communicate by first speaking through her and then speaking through... I dunno. Not sure but giving these previously silent and therefore more disturbing and sinister stone cold killers the power of speech really robs them of that unique quality. They instantly become less scary... especially since you can now at least have a stab at negotiating with them. It robs them of any scariness and softens them up once again.
Also, yeah, totally called it back in episode one that The Doctor and the Angels would be working together in some capacity and, though it was a short alliance, I’m not completely sure we’ve got to the point yet where that particular team-up might not be needed again. It’s a good cliff hanger to leave things on... The Doctor now a stone angel about to be returned to The Division while leaving her companions in an ever decreasing 1901 and, yeah, you have to wonder where they are going with this... particularly since there are only two more episodes left to go. I’m really dreading the ending to be honest but I’m keeping my fingers crossed for it to not just ask another load of uninteresting questions about The Doctor’s origins... which we’ve not needed to hear about for the majority of the show’s 58 year history.
Not much else to say though. There were some nice visual references which recalled Amy Pond’s first encounter with the Weeping Angels from Matt Smith’s first season and Village Of The Angels was certainly better than the other three episodes so far. It is very much becoming a proper serial too, although it does still feel like two stories threaded together after the fact. What this means, though, is you do need to watch these 'in order', to make any sense of them (and even then, you might not have much luck with that as far as episode three is concerned) so, yeah, nice episode, deeply flawed when it comes to the ‘guest antagonists’ and definitely not a jumping on point. As usual, I’ll keep my eye on it and see how this one develops. Oh and by the way... those old 1967 television sets were a lot heavier to carry than that, I believe.
Thursday, 18 November 2021
Ball Gown Down
USA 1977 Directed by Al Adamson
Severin Blu Ray Zone A
Once again, Severin’s wonderful Al Adamson - The Masterpiece Collection, highlights another movie by the genre chameleon that, while not exactly a masterpiece, is certainly something completely different to his other films. This is from a time when films such as Flesh Gordon and Alice In Wonderland - An X-Rated Musical Fantasy were making quite a splash at the box office and, while not a hardcore sex film, Adamson’s response to these films was the musical science fiction sex comedy Cinderella 2000. It hit theatres more or less within a week or two of the very first Star Wars film and, I don’t know if this was a successful production (probably was, knowing Adamson’s low budgets and box office takings) but I’m sure it wasn’t the huge cash cow that George Lucas’ similarly space themed epic was.
After the usual kind of animated title sequence of photos being moved around on screen, something which is standard for a lot of Adamson’s films, we have a shot which is reminiscent of the ‘procured shot’ in Adamson’s earlier Horror Of The Blood Monsters (reviewed here) in that Adamson freezes the frame so he can show a view screen on the image. Appearing in the telecast is The Controller of the 2047 society, reminding the people of the world about their rules and filling the audience in on the basic premise. A world where ‘fornication’ is illegal due to overpopulation and sex is only permitted, by computer generated lottery, with Tom Prince (played by Vaughn Armstrong)... this version of the tale’s ‘Prince Charming’, who looks pretty much like Flash Gordon, it has to be said.
We then see a couple of sex scenes broken up by law enforcer Roscoe The Robot, who takes two of the prisoners, wearing their restraining bubble wrap, to be shrunken down to doll size for six months as punishment for their sexing. Actually, it’s been so long that almost anyone in this society did the deed that the couple under arrest were studying stick figure drawings in order to work out how to do it in the first place. When the lady is shrunken down to small size, she is literally a Barbie doll in someone’s hand until you get the close up shot where she’s played by the actress again.
And then, midst this backdrop, we pretty much get a futurised, sexed up version of Cinderella, in a society where sex is outlawed by an impotent controller figure and people who get ‘the hornies’ are taken away to a clinic for treatment, where they get zapped by a ray for discouragement... unless it doesn’t work, in which case they just get sexed up. This, of course, makes no sense but I don’t think we’re supposed to be paying much attention to the plot anyway.
Into this we have main protagonist Cindy (played by Catharine Burgess), her two sisters Stella (played by Adina Ross) and Bella (played by Bhurni Cowans) and her mother, the widow (played by Renee Harmon)... who keeps coming down with ‘the hornies’. We also have Jay B. Larson playing the ‘fairy godfather’ who looks like he’s in his late 30s or 40s and, it’s kind of telling that his next movie was playing a lead ‘teenager’ in Adamson’s Sunset Cove (reviewed here).
And it’s a silly film with bad jokes (they even throw in the “Hey Stella” moment from A Streetcar Named Desire), cheap sets, a terrible temper tantrum robot and some truly awful sex scene choreography. I mean, honestly, one guy is riding a girl in missionary position and he’s completely missing the target by a mile, in fact... because of the angle of the camera, you can see his penis just scraping along a sheet when it’s certainly supposed to be somewhere else from the way the couple are acting. Also, the sight of this lonesome member does nothing to communicate that the character is performing his scene with any sense of enthusiasm, if you know what I mean.
That being said, a lot of the girls make for some good eye candy and Burgess and Larson seem to be doing some good acting in this. Indeed, Burgess seems to be the only one acting really naturally here and Larson is just having a great time waving his magic wand (no, shockingly enough it’s is not a euphemism here) and fixing it so Cindy can go to the ball... or at least go down on a couple.
Another plus is that, despite the cheapness of it, some of the cinematography is pretty good. There’s a wonderful shot in the forest, for example, when Cindy is framed on the wide, scope aspect ratio in the negative space made from the overlapping diagonals of the jagged branches. There’s even a split screen sequence in one of the musical numbers, at one point. Also, the songs themselves such as Doin’ Without and We All Need Love are actually pretty good and catchy.
Other things which are interesting about this production is that sometimes characters break the fourth wall... such as when Roscoe The Robot comments that “All they talk about in this movie is sex, sex, sex” before breaking into song. Or the scene where a turned on Snow White is moaning about not getting any attention before one of the seven dwarfs, played by Adamson regular Angelo Rossitto, moans at her that this isn’t her movie... before the other six dwarves all chip in to help Snow White fulfil her desires (yeah, it totally goes there, in its own softcore way). As an addendum to that, the fairy tale Cinderella does exist in this version, as the lead character is reading it in the forest scene.
It does get quite surreal at times but this isn’t a bad thing, although I won’t even begin to describe what I shall call the ‘human bunnies’ scene. It does get kind of ‘off putting’ sometimes, though, when one of the characters breaks into song and, more often than not, the person dubbing them sounds nothing like the actor or actress when they are speaking.
The film is not too hard to sit through, though and it’s even quite engaging at times as various shenanigans, sexual or otherwise, all lead to the final sequences where Tom Prince, after having sex with all the ladies of the land to find Cindy, his ‘perfect fit’ so to speak... is whisked away by the Fairy Godfather to see the controller, whom Cindy cures of impotence with the powers of her special blow job skills. Much rejoicing is held throughout the land, an earlier song is revisited in a montage of universal happiness and the credits roll.
I don’t have anything else to offer here other than I was disappointed that, bearing in mind it’s a musical, I couldn’t find any kind of commercial soundtrack release, on CD or otherwise, for this movie (which seems to be a thing with Adamson directed movies, to be honest, so far I only have two CD soundtracks from his films). Would I recommend Cinderella 2000... well, it’s certainly not for everybody but there are some people I know who would enjoy the heady mixture of the ‘so bad it’s good’ vibe and the buxom lasses seen frolicking in the movie. Maybe one to check out with your tongue stuck firmly in your cheek (or possibly someone else’s cheek, who knows?).
Wednesday, 17 November 2021
Maim, Jet & Scratch
Godzilla VS Megalon
aka Gojira tai Megaro
Directed by Jun Fukuda & Yoshimitsu Banno
Criterion Blu Ray Zone B
This is another one of those films which I loved in my twenties but, looking at it now, just seems like one of the lesser and most disappointing entries in the Godzilla series, although there’s also lots to enjoy and it’s still a heck of a lot more interesting than the previous movie, Godzilla VS Gigan (reviewed here).
Okay, so we hear that those pesky humans have been testing bombs again on a remote island.. the consequences of which can also be felt on Monster Island. You might ask why this would be the case and the answer seems to me to be two fold. Firstly, Godzilla doesn’t properly turn up in this movie until almost 50 mins into the 80 minute running time... so it’s kind of a way, I believe, of pacifying the audience, showing that it really is a Godzilla movie they have come here to see. There have been a lot of rumours that, in response to a young boy who won a design a creature competition for Toho, that his drastically changed creation (to the point that the crying young prize winner was inconsolable at the changes Toho made to the design), renamed Jet Jaguar, would be the sole headliner of the movie. Although that makes sense in many ways, there is apparently no real evidence to suggest that was the case, from what I understand. So yeah, they show Godzilla to remind the audience and, the other thing the studio gets to do is to use old footage from Monster Island at this point to pad out the running time.
Then, after this footage we have the opening credits and a kid in a wonderful little robot boat in a lake, which looks like three colourful dolphins, with the two side dolphins acting like paddles. However, his inventor dad and his friend almost can’t get the kid back after a fissure is opened in a series of earthquakes, one of which drains this lake. Luckily, the inventor friend has his handy “rope launcher” with him on the picnic because, yeah, this is just what you would take on a picnic, right? Anyway, the three escape the disruption and go back to the scientist’s pad where they fail to stop two thugs who are interested in the father’s latest project, the robot Jet Jaguar. But they do leave behind a red button and some red sand which, on scientific investigation... and I’ve no idea how this is science but I’ll suspend my disbelief here... they figure out comes from 2000 miles beneath the sea and is similar to sand found on Easter Island (which, as I said in my review of Gamera VS Jiger - right here), was all the rage at the time.
It turns out that survivors of the ancient cities of Lemuria and Mu (Atlantis), which were swallowed up by the Earth’s oceans, have built an underwater kingdom called Seatopia, complete with silly costumes and dancing girls. They are fed up with the horrible land dwellers testing bombs which have disastrous consequences for them, so they unleash Megalon... a giant bug with a star on his head that makes him look like a badly dressed Christmas tree that can spit bombs out of its mouth... to destroy humanity (later on, he accidentally swallows one of his own bombs when it fires straight up at Godzilla but lands back in his own mouth, which slows him down for a bit).
For some reason, the Seatopians need Jet Jaguar to tell Megalon what to do for about a quarter of an hour and there’s also a sub-plot where the scientist and his little nipper are kidnapped and driven in a container to be dropped in the cracks where the sunken lake... um... sank... only to be rescued by their friend in a highly non-sensical car and bike chase. Actually I have to ask how ocean dwellers suddenly got so proficient at riding motor bikes and cars. I mean, not quite so good that they can stop the guy they’re chasing but, still, pretty good for people who lived for thousands of years under the sea.
Finally the scientists regain control of Jet Jaguar but then, because he’d had his mechanical brain ‘stimulated by battle’, he gains free will and battles Megalon himself while waiting for Godzilla to arrive, whom he summons for aid. However, the Seatopians have also summoned help, this time from space, as the previous movie’s main villain, Gigan, arrives to help Megalon destroy humanity and its defenders. This is also, of course, in order that lots of footage of Gigan fighting Godzilla could be recycled from the previous films, along with various building carnage which, perhaps not surprisingly, is hardly ever in the same shot as the monsters inflicting the damage. Well, at least day and night footage doesn’t fluctuate so dramatically like it did in the previous movie but budgets at Toho were really stretched by this point in the cycle.
At one point, to make the ‘big fight’ more interesting, Jet Jaguar suddenly grows to giant kaiju size. Now I thought we were going to get some kind of bizarre pseudo-scientific explanation of how he manages to change size at will, such as organic metal or redistribution of molecules but, no, according to his creator... and I quote... “His determination made him grow this big.” Oh, well that’s a neat trick then. Must make a mental note to be more determined.
The fight scenes themselves are ludicrously bad, with Godzilla and Jet Jaguar teaming up to fight Megalon and Gigan and with all the beasts making signs and waving at each other etc like they’re human. A lot of the footage is recycled and spliced in with new stuff but it’s all just a bit dull to watch for any real amount of time, truth be told. It doesn’t help that Megalon’s signature move is to jump instead of walk. A really terrible, bizarre looking, series of progressive two legged hops which look about as credible as... insert least credible thing you’ve seen here...and which will probably make your eyes roll out of their sockets while you laugh at the unintentional hilarity. Things took on more poignancy about the sad state of affairs at Toho when I was researching this after watching it and found that the Megalon suit was extremely heavy and so it took the suit actor and the technicians huge efforts to manage those stupid looking jumps.
Later on, when Godzilla is throwing Megalon around, it’s pretty obvious that there’s no actual actor in the Megalon suit because every time The Big G throws him onto the ground, his floppy legs bend the wrong way. Other than this, when the military get involved, it’s just the usual live fireworks fired at the suit actors as a stand in for the shells of the cannons and, yeah, it just doesn’t look great.
One last thing I’ll menton is the music. Riichirô Manabe’s score doesn’t recycle any of Ifukube’s old themes and it’s not anywhere near the masterpiece of a score that the same composer supplied for Godzilla Vs Hedorah (reviewed here), although it does recycle a Godzilla theme from that one. It’s also interesting in that it’s a lot lighter in tone and, for a lot of the time, really doesn’t match the drama of the action, instead playing through the scenes with a kind of elevator pop muzak style. It does, however, have an interesting theme for Jet Jaguar which gets expanded into a full blown song for the film’s final minute or so. Which for me was probably the best part of the movie... a song very much in the style of the Gamera song found in rival Daiei movies around this time.
And that’s me just about done with Godzilla Vs Megalon. It’s not a film I could recommend to most people but, obviously, you can’t miss this one if you are into Godzilla movies. It’s definitely not Toho’s finest hour and their would be only two more films in the series before the first cycle of Godzilla films had run their course.
Tuesday, 16 November 2021
Of Xu Wenwu
Shang-Chi And The
Legend Of The Ten Rings
Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton
Warning: This has all the spoilers
so don’t read if you don’t want to know.
Okay... be patient and let me get this out of my system because this is nothing new for the way Marvel have been treating their rich source of characters in their film franchises. Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings is, allegedly, based on the old Marvel Shang-Chi, Master Of Kung Fu comic books. Now, it was never a title I read back in the 1970s but I do at least remember the one, very important thing about the character and it is this... Shang-Chi’s father in the comics was none other than Sax Rohmer’s embodiment of the ‘yellow peril’, Dr. Fu Manchu. This is something Marvel retconned, for some reason, at some point in the 21st Century incarnation of the comics but, come on... Marvel movies are owned by Disney now. Surely they could have afforded to pay the copyright to retain the infamous master villain for their new movie (who, incidentally, also doesn’t share the name of his father from the rebooted version of the comics either... go figure). Honestly, I am sick to death of Marvel not treating their characters with the respect they deserve. Not having Fu Manchu in this movie is as much of a crime against filmanity as when they excluded Doc Savage and the Amazing Five from the movie ‘adaptation’ of The Rocketeer. I mean, what is going on here? What a travesty! And just to rub it in, they’ve got one of the most respected Asian actors of our time, Tony Leung, in the role of the father and have named the character... wait for it... Xu Wenwu. Presumably because it rhymes with Fu Manchu. I mean... come on!
And you know what... I am so tempted to just end my review right there before I even get started with the conclusion that, once again, Marvel have screwed their own characters and not done right by them, not to mention completely disrespecting the audience who pay money to go and see movies based on comic book characters they love... only to see them in homogenised and commercialised forms because they presumably think this will bring them more money in. Personally, I think money is a terrible thing to measure success by and use to grant access to the continued production of an art form but... that’s why they call it the movie business I guess.
However, since the film isn’t absolutely terrible, I’ll now give a brief review because, although it’s not the slice of comic book genius I’d been misled into thinking it would be (honestly, it’s not the worst but I would say it’s maybe somewhere within the bottom three or four of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies), it does have some entertaining sequences midst other, more draggy and dull scenes, to be sure.
Okay, so the plot is really simple. Simu Liu plays Shang-Chi and Awkwafina plays his best friend Katy. When his 1000 year old conqueror father and master of the Ten Rings comes to retrieve the amulets belonging to Shang-Chi and his sister, to free someone who he thinks is his dead wife from a dark portal guarded in a hidden village... Shang-Chi, Katy and his sister team up with his auntie, played by acting legend Michelle Yeoh, to try to stop his father from unleashing an evil, soul sucking force into the world. And... I wish I could say the story was more complex than that or had more twists and turns (especially since the movie runs for over two hours)... but it doesn’t.
It does have a lot of nice action set pieces though... not as fast or furious as I would have expected from a film which is presumably trying to match some of the classic Asian Kung-Fu based movies but... although this stuff was like a dialled back version of it, well it wasn’t too shabby in places. The most interesting fight scenes took place on a bus and then on scaffolding outside a big tower block and they were pretty good. However, that being said, they both take place in the first half of the movie and so, yeah, as much as they do try and pack a lot of action in, the climax of the movie does feel like a bit of a damp squib, it has to be said.
But there is some nice humour and also various references to some of the previous MCU films and also a few characters turning up from earlier parts of the franchise. This is where it gets properly spoilery people... you were warned. So we have Benedict Wong returning as Doctor Strange’s sidekick Wong, in a few scenes and it was nice seeing him again. We also have Ben Kingsley returning as Trevor Slattery, the Liverpudlian actor who was hired to be the face of The Mandarin in Iron Man 3 and the spin off short from that, All Hail The King. He gets some good moments where he mostly manages to win back some dignity, although the conversation about Planet Of The Apes, which shows how stupid he is, has to be one of the highlights of the film. Plus there’s a Black Widow (not the famous one) and The Abomination (played by Tim Roth... reprising the role from The Incredible Hulk and tying this into his re-emergence in next year’s She-Hulk TV show). There are also a couple of important characters in one of the end credits scenes.
So, okay, there are two end credits scenes in this one... one mid-credits and another end credits. Now, I really didn’t understand what the heck the final post-credit scene was trying to say but the mid-credits scene, set soon after Shang-Chi and Katy go to Wong’s Greenwich Village headquarters, has a couple of big characters. One is Brie Larson reprising her role as Captain Marvel and the other is Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner... which really had me baffled because... he is playing Bruce Banner, not the new hybrid version of the Hulk that he became in Avengers End Game. Now, we know this scene is post-End Game because, a) he is already friendly with Captain Marvel and b) he still has his arm in a sling from performing his Infinity Gauntlet snap in that movie. However, since we have not been given any insight that he can change back from the smarter Professor Hulk version of his character... and since we know from the trailers from the She-Hulk TV show that he very much is still the new version of his character... I have to ask what the heck is going on here? This makes no sense... and once again Marvel has lost my interest in the continuity stakes. I hope this gets addressed at some point but... what are the odds, right?
And that’s really all I have to say in this overly long review of an overly long movie. Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings is not terrible but it’s not great either. All the actors hold up really well, a lot of the sets and lighting are colourful, there are dragons and cute creatures but, ultimately, in between the bursts of humour and action, it does get a bit dull and ploddy and could maybe have benefited from being around 45 minutes to an hour lighter, I thought. I guess I have to look forward to The Eternals next but... so far, in terms of reportage from my friends, I haven’t heard anything good about it.
Monday, 15 November 2021
No Time Or Reason
Doctor Who Flux
Chapter Three -
Once, Upon Time
Airdate: 14th November 2021
Chapter 3 of Doctor Who - Flux, subtitled Once, Upon Time was... well it was better than last week’s episode in that it was a little more keeping with the first part of this series. As in... The Doctor (Jodie Whitaker) saves her companions Yaz (Mandip Gill), Dan (John Bishop) and Vinder (Jacob Anderson) by unleashing a time storm or some such, which throws them all into a kind of central time network where each of her friends are hidden in fluctuating parts of their own time streams... past present and future. As in... yeah, I really didn’t have a clue what was going on most of the time and so the puzzle box element of the story comes back into the foreground where the audience is giving too much information too quickly for it to stick or make sense but... I suspect that was the idea (and that’s what passes for writing these days).
But, I liked that element about it and because of this, well... at least it never got dull.
There are some nice appearances in this one too, as each of the companions get to re-enact different parts of their lives and sometimes this includes one or other of them somehow standing in for someone they knew... or are yet to know. This includes Jodie’s Doctor trying to frequently jump in on them at different points of their lives to try and explain what’s going on (as much to the audience as them, of course) and constantly getting pulled out again.
And The Doctor also has the same problem where she keeps seeing a future... or possibly a past... where she is in command of some kind of military attack on the room where the time guardians are located... but she’s also seeing a future (or past) of herself. As in, her reflection in one of her possible timelines involves the re-appearance of Jo Martin, who was revealed last season as a mystery incarnation of The Doctor herself. Now, Jodie is still convinced that this other Doctor is somehow an earlier incarnation... which would involve some kind of severe memory wipe it has to be said. I’m not so confident of that conclusion and still think it could be a far future incarnation of The Doctor. But, of course, we’ll have to see... assuming they are going to bother to tie up these long standing loose threads in the remaining three episodes.
Okay, so, it’s true I liked it a lot better than War Of The Sontarans (reviewed here) but, honestly, it was still weaker than the first episode, The Halloween Apocalypse (reviewed here), it has to be said. There were some nice monster sightings though... we had a brief appearance from the Daleks, (fully hover converted at this point), a gun battle with the Cybermen and a couple of quick sightings of the Weeping Angels (the next episode is apparently entitled Village Of The Angels and looks like a more traditional episode, from the quick preview trailer on the end of this episode at least).
There was some nice character work with a character called Bel, too... played by Thaddea Graham. Her navigation through a post-Flux universe and relationship to one of the four main cast in this series was nicely revealed by the end of the episode, although her story too, as yet, is left unresolved.
It was kinda confusing a lot of the time but that’s okay, I’d rather be confused than bored any day and, as usual, Jodie and the other actors all knock it out of the park in terms of how they bring their characters to life. All that being said though... I guess I am getting a little bored with constantly being battered with questions and then being teased a possible solution. That’s nothing new for this series, however... I’ve been thinking this for a few years now. I’m hoping the writers (mostly show runner Chris Chibnall this series) can give us an ending to this one worth working towards because, truth be told, not a lot of the end games from the last six or seven years (where story arcs have been hidden in regular episodes) have been much good, it seems to me. So, yeah, Doctor Who Flux - Once, Upon Time is a nice enough and engaging episode but it really does leave you wanting some kind of more positive, coherent narrative to the admittedly brilliant set up. Again, a short review but I’ve not really got a heck of a lot to say about new Doctor Who these days. Let’s see how it goes.
Thursday, 11 November 2021
House Of Dracula
USA 1945 Directed by Erle C. Kenton
Universal Blu Ray Zone B
Many people regard House Of Dracula as being the final proper entry from this era to feature Universal’s top three horror franchise characters. Don’t worry though... those people are wrong and not being properly respectful of where the franchise went in the next movie in the series.
House Of Dracula took an awful long time to come out on the DVD home video format and, as a result, it took a long time for me to catch up to it again since seeing it as a nipper. It came very late in the game and wasn’t released on Universal's original run of classic monster DVDs until the reissues, some years later. Thankfully, by that time it was here to stay and is now out in a proper Blu Ray transfer. The missing piece of the Universal horror puzzle is now as easy to see as all the others.
I remember when I did finally catch up with it (having remembered nothing of the film from when I was around 5 or 6 years old), I was heavily disappointed with the movie. The big two problems for me with this one are... well, for one thing, it’s supposed to be a direct sequel to the same director’s House Of Frankenstein (reviewed here) from the year before and, indeed, includes the same three main monsters played by the same actors... John Carradine as Dracula, Lon Chaney Jr as The Wolfman and Glenn Strange as the Frankenstein Monster. However, although all three characters met their demise in the last film, the only one who has an explanation of how he survived his death is the Frankenstein monster - who is still clasping the skeletal remains of Boris Karloff’s character from the previous film... although they, quite bizarrely, have been washed up in the mud of an undersea cavern. A cavern which, by a strange coincidence, leads into a secret passage revealing Frankenstein’s old laboratory, below the estate of this film’s scientist character, Dr. Edlemann, played by Onslow Stevens.
Not only that but... the film is once again set in Vissaria, where surely the villagers would remember Lawrence Talbot from that time many years ago (in the last movie) when he was there before. It makes no sense.
The other big problem with the film is that, although the ‘big three’ are in each other’s presence in a scene or two in their normal guises, they never actually get to properly meet up in their full-on monstrous incarnations at any time in the film. Dracula is dead by a certain point in the film (well okay, deader... although has transferred his blood into Edlemann, thus turning him into a vampiric killer with the sole purpose of reviving the Frankenstein monster) and, astonishingly for the franchise, Lawrence Talbot is actually cured of his werewolvery, before the Frankenstein monster is revived for the last five minutes of the film. It turns out that all that was causing his ailment was pressures on the brain from calcium deposits, which fooled his glands into thinking his thoughts of turning into a werewolf were true and caused the body to change in the same way. Um... yeah, that really holds no water at all when you think of the origins of the character in the first film and the ‘man out of time’ nature of Talbot, who by now must be nearly 100 years old in terms of when each film was set (Even though the settings of each film are, somehow, always the 1940s... yeah, let’s just screw the continuity again right Universal? After all, nobody was ever going to see these films again once they’d left the cinema on their original release and they would then be forgotten forever.). So yeah, he’s cured but the treatment makes no sense to the symptoms and, anyway, as we’ll see in the next film in the series... the cure obviously didn’t last that long.
Unfortunately then... a monster mash up with no actual mashing up of the monsters and a sequel which makes no attempt to tie itself into the other movies, not even the same director’s House Of Frankenstein from the year before. Not to mention that, in a similar fashion in this film... well, Dracula’s actual house is nowhere to be seen. Unless you count the coffin in the cellars of Edlemann’s estate.
However, for all that and even excusing the cheapness of the budget on this one, if you can get over the disappointment of the main monsters not having a big fight at the end, you will find that this is actually a pretty good movie. It’s really nicely shot and the other elements that make for a classic Universal horror, even down to the casting of Lionel Atwill playing a similar law enforcement role to others he’s played in the Frankenstein movies, are all present and nicely done. There are some great shot set ups such as one, where Dr. Edlemann goes to open the door of his laboratory, pictured opposite camera and centre screen, which uses the perspective and some beautifully distorted, gothic shadows bending up into the middle to really draw the eye into the focus of the shot.
And talking of focus, when one of Edlemann's assistants looks at the sleeping Dracula, he hypnotises her and the whole right hand side of the screen is like someone has applied vaseline to the lens to fog it up, so only the assistant struggling with consciousness can be focused on. I don’t think it is actually vaseline in this case because the fog seems to move a little later on in the shot but it’s very well done however they did it.
There’s another great moment where the same assistant, played by Jane Adams, witnesses the other assistant (played by Martha O'Driscoll) under Dracula’s thrall and they both walk past a mirror. But no, it must be a window into a replica of the set with another actress behind the frame because, as the two walk in front of it, Dracula casts no reflection. It’s a wonderful shot and this kind of trick always reminds me of the ‘mirror scene’ between Groucho and Harpo dressed as Groucho in Duck Soup. Similarly, the moment where Edlemann finally comes under the transformation of Dracula's blood and he is seen standing in front of a mirror as his reflection slowly disappears is, for 1945, exceptionally well done.
Other things of note would be the fact that his lab assistant, played by Jane Adams, is the latest in the long line of hunchback assistants in the Frankenstein franchise. The fact that the hunchback is a female might well have been a first in movies and, similarly, the fact that she’s quite an intelligent and peaceful character is also a first for the hunchbacks of the franchise. So good for them. This film even has a scene which, finally, gives us what we’ve wanted to see since the first of The Wolfman films. The arrogant ‘doctor of the mind’ telling Lawrence Talbot, who is locked in a jail cell, in front of one of his assistants and Lionel Atwill, that his belief that he turns into a werewolf is really all just in his head. Then, just after he’s said this, the full moon rises and Talbot proves him quite wrong as he changes into his ferocious alter ego and tries to escape his cage.
And that’s about it for this one. Lovers of the Universal horror franchise will recognise a lot of the musical moments in this (correctly or incorrectly credited to Willam Lava) from previous films by the likes of Salter and Skinner and that certainly gives it a more authentic feel than, say, The Mummy’s Curse from the year before (and reviewed here). As I said... it’s a shame the monsters never really got the chance to fight but, even though Universal didn’t renew Lon Chaney Jr's contract after this film (he can also be seen as the Frankenstein Monster in a few shots tracked in from The Ghost Of Frankenstein, reviewed here... in fact, there’s even a dream sequence using shots from the majority of Frankenstein films, including some with Karloff), he would return along with both Dracula and the Frankenstein monster in a movie which, finally, gave us the big monster fight scene audiences were waiting for... and, in the process, the monsters saved and rejuvenated another famous franchise... but I’ll get to that story when I review that movie here.
Wednesday, 10 November 2021
USA 1978 Directed by Al Adamson
Severin Blu Ray Zone A/B/C
One of the unexpected, somewhat dubious pleasures of slowly working my way through Severin’s beautiful Al Adamson box set is that there are a few films which are so bad that, once they’re over, you can congratulate yourself that you both survived the ordeal and that you never have to sit through them ever again. Sunset Cove, not to be mistaken for the similarly titled... erm... Sunset Cove from the same year... is just such a film.
I’d like to say that Adamson’s one and only teenage sex comedy was riding the bandwagon success of Porky’s... another film I hate in a genre which I am loathe to watch. However, this film pre-dates Porky’s by a few years and even the only slightly less famous Lemon Popsicle was produced the same year as this one so... maybe not so much riding a wave as much as helping kick start a popular genre. Despite the unbelievable success of Sunset Cove when it was released a year after production, however... it does nothing to change the fact that it’s a pretty terrible film.
It starts off with shots of people frolicking on a beach and then we are plunged into the last day of term, where two rival factions of teenagers break for their summer holidays. I don’t really know what this college is doing though because, honestly, this bunch mostly look just a little too old to be playing these kind of characters. However, the fact that they all seem a little older and wiser than the parts written on the page doesn’t stop them from acting like complete idiots and doing all the teenager clichés perpetuated on the general public by many a Hollywood movie.
That is to say, they constantly play pranks on the local police enforcement and other authority figures, get drunk (strangely not high, which is interesting), have lots of meaningless sex with each other and generally make a nuisance of themselves. If there’s an empty swimming pool in a scene... you know somebody will be pushed in. If there’s someone who looks even older than the... let’s call them ‘seasoned teenagers’ shall we? Well then they’re quite likely to lose their trousers. If there’s a gal in a shot, it’s more than likely you will see what she’s got under her top before many scenes have gone by.
So, yeah, the usual obnoxious teen hijinks ensue and then, somehow, a plot suddenly turns up and we have the mayor supporting a local building developer to build a bunch of condominiums on the teens’ treasured beach. So the film suddenly becomes about, not just playing pranks on authority figures but actively trying to combat them. And all the stereotypes are in place... the local meathead who really has a heart of gold (played by Bill Nuckols, who played Hawkman in Legends Of The Superheroes, reviewed here), the nice girl who doesn’t let all the partying go to her head as much as the others and, of course, the brainy nerd who isn’t above allowing himself to be corrupted by the other ‘over the hill’ teens’ need to party but who is also studying law... thus allowing the obvious, last minute solution to everyone’s problems to evolve in an almost credible way. Also, enabling part of that final solution, is a cameo appearance by Adamson veteran John Carradine as a retired judge, who helps put the brainy guy on the right track and ensured he gets an audience to combat the mayor and his allies.
And, even with many topless actresses thrown in for good measure, the film is not a fun watch by any stretch of the imagination (although I guess it hit a certain zeitgeist the year it was released, for sure). It gets especially gruelling with a long montage sequence as the kids whip the local community up by wearing t-shirts, painting signs and demonstrating on the beach. It’s a pretty interminable sequence and, just when you think you’ve seen the back of it, some kid with a band gets up on a stage and starts singing a song about “Save Our Beach”, ensuring that the damned montage goes on and on and on.
Sunset Cove quickly resolves itself when the time for all the padding scenes has reached the point where a respectable running time is ensured but, honestly, it’s a painful 87 minutes at best. I’m sorry for the short review but I expect I should probably stop here as I have nothing really good to say about this one and certainly wouldn’t be silly enough to recommend it to anyone. It’s mediocre at best but, most of the time, it’s at its worst.
Tuesday, 9 November 2021
Every Shade Of Black
by Linzi Drew-Honey
Matador ISBN: 9781789013863
Every Shade Of Black is the third novel, that I know of, by former British glamour model and actress Linzi Drew (aka Linzi Drew-Honey). Among many other things she has done in her lifetime, she has published one autobiography, many years ago (and which really needs a sequel) called Try Everything Once Except Incest And Morris Dancing (which I reviewed here) and her fictional work Every Shade Of Blue (reviewed by me here), to which this is the sequel. Now this lady probably needs no introduction to UK people of a certain age but, if she does, I would urge you to read my previous reviews of her work first, to help fill you in a little on her famous background.
I bought her previous novel direct from her in a nice personalised copy at the Camden Film fair and, biding my time through the current pandemic, was able to remake my brief acquaintance with the lady at the recent Conway Hall Film Fair so, I'm glad I waited as I now have a signed copy of the sequel.
Every Shade Of Black continues the story of Suzanne (who I believe in my heart is, at the very least, partially based on the author herself), her new lover Sebastian, her soon to be ex-husband Edward, the treacherous young thing Tatiana (who stole Eddie away from Suzanne before the opening of the previous novel) and, just on the perimeter of their story and hovering like a slightly sleazier version of a Bond villain, appearing when required to make the drama of the book work at times, is Angelo, who kidnapped Suzanne in the previous book and who is concerned that one of his upper class sex addict, sex workers - namely Tatiana - is not back safely in the fold.
The story is a proper continuation of the various characters set up in the previous book and the majority of its fifty eight chapters, asides from an epilogue taking place in September of the same year, takes place between the 2nd and 17th of January, with each chapter once again including the specific date of the events ‘going down’ in that chapter and the name of one of the four characters. Each chapter is then told from the point of view of that specific character as Linzi takes us on a slow but deliberately paced journey to... well, okay, I’ll get there.
The story is fairly simple but, once again, this means the writer can take her time but also... much to the readers advantage... pepper it with liberal amounts of graphic, erotic content. However, it’s not just the copious amounts of sex which make this one an entertaining read but the general way the characters are explored. Sebastian especially is sketched out quite thoroughly and his personal story arc in this is the one which is mostly concentrated on. The majority of the novel takes place in the week of his birthday, when he and Suzanne take a trip to a five star hotel in Vancouver, with the now ‘fully employed again’ Suzanne doubling it up as a trip for her new job as a kind of hotel reviewer... and with Sebastian taking the opportunity to use it as a reason to finally catch up with the estranged father from his troubled childhood.
Once again, the characters are drawn as much by the small minutia of their lives in terms of the purchases they make, the clothes they wear, the perfumes they use and the wines they drink etc... as it is with everything else but, like the first novel which employs the same style of honing in on details to paint a broader picture, this works fairly effectively and at no point comes across as lazy writing (as it sometimes does with other authors who try to negotiate this kind of content).
As usual, every now and again (well, okay often) Linzi comes up with a very nice turn of phrase and one of them from early on in the novel in particular struck me, as she describes minor villainess (or perhaps expensive, nymphomaniac hedonist might be a better term rather than villainess) Tatiana as being... “Smug and contented like a pampered moggy...” Yeah, this made me smile because I knew exactly what she meant. She also, midst all the sexual shenanigans, comes up with a lovely description of snowfall, which heavily comments on the romanticism of the ice cold flakes (I know at least one lady who doesn’t share my love of snow but that’s because she lives in Switzerland, where it seems more of a bother when you’re living with it for long periods, I guess). But for UK based me, the sentence “The snow started to accelerate; a million wet kisses descending from the heavens as the sky darkened.” seemed pretty spot on to me. I also now know what the word ‘sybaritic’ means so, yeah, glad my phone has a dictionary.
I mentioned the story was fairly simple but it’s also fairly effective in that there is a little twist which surprised me. I knew there had to be something the book was working towards in terms of the dramatic impetus of Sebastian’s character but I couldn’t for the life of me work out how. Then I discovered, the simple trick of using both the long form and shortened version of a name of a periphery character was the basis for a quite effective and somewhat serendipitous reveal of a plot point and, yeah, I really didn’t see that one coming at all... sometimes a simplistic structure is the best way to hide a secret and it certainly worked in this one. Hidden in plain sight, as it were.
There’s lots of nice little pop culture moments in the book too. I thought the reference to the Milk Tray Man might possibly date the novel against the purported age of the central characters but, after doing a quick Google on that, I found that those “All because the lady loved Milk Tray” style adverts were being made again. There’s also a nice, sneaky reference to the John Landis movie An American Werewolf In London, which of course featured Linzi as Brenda Bristols in the porn movie within the film, See You Next Wednesday.
My only real complaint... and this is probably not a criticism as such, is that the amount of sex the central four characters get up to each and every day is phenomenal. Maybe it’s just because I’m getting fairly long in the tooth now but the characters here put my stamina levels to shame... if I pushed things to these kinds of heights a certain body part would probably drop off me pretty quickly, I suspect.
All that aside though, Every Shade Of Black is another winner from the glamourous Linzi Drew-Honey who, like her central protagonist, has hair which is “a swath of golden sunshine” and, thankfully for this cynical, old reader... writing talents to match the binding. I definitely hope this isn’t the last thing she writes for sure and look forward to hearing more news about her as a writer in years to come.