Djinn & Tonic
Years Of Longing
Directed by George Miller
Metro Goldwyn Mayer
I’ve not got a very good track record with the films of George Miller, to be honest. Of the eight I’ve seen, only Mad Max 2 - The Road Warrior and his segment of Twilight Zone The Movie were worth crossing the street for... unless there was heavy traffic in the way, in which case not even then. So I’m extremely pleased to say I’ve now seen Three Thousand Years Of Longing and so discovered that Miller had an absolute masterpiece in him after all.
Based on a novella length short story by A. S. Byatt called The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye, I will give you now my customary warning that, no, I haven’t read the source material and so I can’t tell you in the slightest how good the film is as an adaptation. I can only respond to it, without that particular baggage, in terms of its engagement as a film.
The story tells of the somewhat isolated, or perhaps that should be muffled, personality who is Alithea, played by the great Tilda Swinton with a striking Northern accent (at least that’s what I hear it as). Alithea is a well respected Narratologist, someone who studies narratives... or stories, I guess... and makes deductions and conclusions about the way they are used and perceived by humanity. The film opens with her going to Istanbul to be a guest speaker at a World Of Narratology conference, booked into the local hotel in their Agatha Christie room, where the late writer wrote Murder On The Orient Express. However, after a couple of bizarre visions which I’m still not sure about (or at least in terms of how they tie in with this particular narrative) she finds herself in a nearby antique shop. Here she takes a shine to an old bottle which is purchased for her as a souvenir of her visit. It’s in the hotel room when she is cleaning said bottle, rubbing it briskly with a toothbrush, that the stopper is finally pulled and a genie or djinn is released into her room, in the form of another great actor, Idris Elba. He, of course, offers her three wishes.
Now, Alithea, who knows the cautionary tales of all the prior, ancient Djinn stories involving three wishes... knows that this concept rarely goes well for the person making the wishes. She at first refuses to wish at all and, as she and the Djinn get to know each other, they start swapping stories and she learns, through beautifully recreated flashbacks, of the circumstances surrounding this particular Djinn’s three prior bottle incarcerations and various releases. And I’m not telling you where it goes from there but, this is one of those films which is, adventures and magic aside, a good solid romantic movie. I don’t often take to those, they usually have to be really good or really intriguing... two qualities that this film possesses in spades.
And it’s just a beautifully shot, well put together movie about the nature of humans and their relationship to stories and their unfolding. The structure is such that we have Tilda Swinton doing voice-over narrative and talking directly to the audience to tell her present story and, in a lot of the sections, Idris Elba doing voice-over narrative as the Djinn, relaying his tale to Alithea. And it works really well and reflects as much on the nature, traps and pitfalls of romantic relationships as much as the way in which narratives can give insight into the nature of reality.
It also has some great lines in it... the writing is superb and I had to wonder how much of that came from the original short and how much if it is original to the movie. My favourite moment in regards to the dialogue, was when Tilda Swinton, playing this great, no nonsense powerhouse of intellectual thinking, tells the Djinn... “I’m a literary scholar. We don’t understand much.”
The film also has a truly wonderful score by Tom Holkenborg (aka Junkie XL), sadly not released on a proper CD... because why would they want to release a superb, richly orchestrated score like this on the most popular form of physical media so people can listen to it properly, eh?
And I don’t have much else to say about this one because it’s one of those truly wonderful, damn near perfect movie experiences but, I will say I was astonished and gleefully happy that, during her lecture on the use of narrative, Alithea has two big slides of super-hero artwork from both DC and Marvel side by side... not a crossover you would expect to see in a modern cinematic landscape, I guess. At least not yet (yeah, it’ll be coming).
And that’s me done with Three Thousand Years Of Longing. If you respond well to romantic movies, in both the modern sense and the original usage of the word as used to describe imagination and inventiveness in storytelling, then you surely won’t be disappointed in this one. It’s a lovely, moving and somewhat fast paced piece of cinema which truly is a spectacle and should be on every cinephile’s ‘to watch’ list. This one’s really wonderful.
Sunday, 25 September 2022
Wednesday, 21 September 2022
Off The Record
The Falcon's Alibi
Directed by Ray McCarey
RKO/Warner Archive DVD Region 1
Warning: All the spoilers.
Well there you go. I never knew director Leo McCarey had family in the business but here he is, younger brother Ray, directing the 12th in the series of films based loosely on the character of The Falcon, namely The Falcon’s Alibi.
This one starts at a race track again, just like The Falcon In Hollywood (reviewed here) did but, this one introduces us to a lot of the main cast, aka suspects, during the race track scenes. Then it’s back to a hotel where The Falcon is trying to help a young lady played by Joan Meredith, who has purchased a fake set of jewels so the real, priceless jewels will not disappear if they get stolen, who is in trouble. Because, after a while, both sets are stolen... one of many thefts in a hotel where The Falcon, Tom Lawrence, once again played by Tom Conway, has to solve the mystery, try to work out why people are getting bumped off and come up with an alibi for himself (an alibi who winds up as another corpse and reverting us to the old dynamic of the police suspecting The Falcon of pretty much everything). He also has to foil a bunch of scammers who are claiming insurance for the thefts.
And, there’s not too much mystery in this one, it has to be said. Although this entry in the series has a bona fide superstar in it... co-starring as a DJ who is secretly married to another character, we have the great Elisha Cook Jr playing someone who you suspect right away is behind the killings and the robberies. As soon as I saw the DJ set up I was like... okay, so he puts a recording of his voice on the radio so he can leave the office and steal the various trinkets. And of course he does but, to the credit of the writers, they reveal it straight away and then, when the person defrauding the insurance company in collaboration is revealed to be the husband and wife getting their jewels stolen... well, like I said, it’s pretty obvious what’s going on here, despite a few minor plot twists which don’t exactly throw anyone off the trail.
And it’s a fine romp as these things always are. The police inspector and his sidekick are a new pair again and we have yet another guy, Vince Barnett, having a crack at playing The Falcon’s assistant Goldie Locke. Well, he’s passable but he seems less broadly comic and just a bit too understated to really shine in the role, it has to be said. All the actors are fine, though, especially Conway who really is very good in the role and, of course, the remarkable Elisha Cook Jr, who seems fine at first but then gets that weaselly look in his eyes and get a bit obsessive and disturbed as the film wears on (as you would expect from him in these roles at the time).
Not too much more to say about this one but one of the things I did note is that the score was kinda interesting on this one. The usual Falcon fanfare or signature tune is played at the front end of the movie, as it had been on a fair few of these by now and, as usual the music director is credited as C. Bakaleinikoff. However, this seemed a lot more interesting and there’s some wonderful, very low key timpani towards the end of the movie, when The Falcon is sneaking around various hotel rooms, where the drumbeats replay the opening jingle like bass drum notes. Very effective and it reminded me of some of the things John Barry used to do in his early James Bond scores. So I looked it up and it turns out the score for this film, uncredited and in only his third outing as a composer, was by Ernest Gold, who went on to score such famous films as Exodus, Cross Of Iron and, of course, It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. And, yeah, he does a really good job here, it has to be said.
And that’s me done with this one. The Falcon’s Alibi is a fine, short but sweet entry in the series and Tom Conway would have just one more crack at the character, which I’ll get to as soon as I can.
Monday, 19 September 2022
The Final Girl
by Grady Hendrix
The Final Girl Support Group is the latest novel (at time of writing) by Grady Hendrix, a writer who I quite liked already from his unique novel Horrorstör (reviewed by me here) and his book about the 1970s/80s horror paperback boom, Paperbacks From Hell (reviewed by me here). This one was first published in July of 2021 so I’m guessing it’s one of his pandemic projects. It’s also the best book I’ve read by him by far and, you know, I already liked his others somewhat.
For those who need their memory jogged, the ‘final girl’ is a term coined in the early 1990s by Carol J. Clover in her look at the horror and slasher genres... Men, Women and Chainsaws. I’ve never read it myself but it’s considered something of a classic of film and feminist theory and, yeah, I do have a copy sitting a few feet away on one of my huge ‘to be read’ piles so, you know, I’ll get to it one day. So, final girl is a referral to the last person standing in a slasher or horror movie, usually a woman (a term which I always argue somewhat implies that strong women do exist in the genre) after all the other victims are left behind for dead. The one who, if the ending isn’t too downbeat, kills (or appears to kill) the marauding killer in the last act... only for them to return to plague her in the sequel, if the box office is sufficient.
For this fabulous fiction, Hendrix gives us a tale about a regular group therapy session which unites the ‘final girls’ of real ‘fictional’ life slasher crimes, metatextually referring to some well known films in the process. The plot is that, after decades of meeting, the half a dozen or so members of the group all pretty much hate each other and bicker in the sessions constantly. They all have their own ways of dealing with thier personal trauma, including Lynette Tarkington, who tells the tale from a first person point of view. Lynette is a typical survivor, shut away in her heavily secured apartment, checking sight lines and weak spots on any situation which takes her out in the open, switching buses and taking complicated routes back to her apartment to make sure she’s not followed etc. A traumatised individual anyone would think was over compensating for her traumatic experiences but... totally justified as it turns out. Because, suddenly, one of the final girls is dead and a series of attacks seems to point to them all being targeted and, unfortunately, due to various narrative twists and turns which I certainly won’t spoil here, it’s up to Lynette to try and keep everyone safe, even though nobody actually trusts her a damn or even wants to be near her after certain things which go down in this novel.
And that’s all I’m saying about the plot other than... it was an absolute joy to read this one. The writer is obviously a connoisseur of American slasher films from the 1970s and onwards and it’s certainly a loving homage to the genre... at least it seems so to me. I will, as regular readers of this blog may remember, fully admit that I am not a big fan of the genre and have not seen very many slasher films... I’m much more into Italian giallo movies and will obsessively watch those any day but, I dunno, American slashers seem a bit too mean spirited and aesthetically challenged for my taste. But it doesn’t matter because, although I’m sure I missed a fair few of the cleverer references, I think I was certainly picking up on a fair few of them also. I might not have seen the films but I could work out when there was a veiled reference to Jason Vorhees, Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger or, indeed, Leatherface, for example.
Also, there’s a lot of humour in the book and Hendrix manages to perfectly match the very grim, gravitas of Lynette’s character with some laugh out loud moments. Not too mention some nice chapter title moments. The chapters are all called a variation or expansion of a regular slasher film style title you would get on a film franchise so, a few of them here by way of an example: The Final Girl Support Group 3D, The Final Girl Support Group’s New Nightmare, The Final Girl Support Group IX Final Girl VS Final Girl, FGSG X and The Final Girl Support Group XXI The Final Chapter II... and the list goes on for 24 chapters.
Punctuating each chapter is a fictional document to give a commentary from the ‘real’ fictional world of the characters by way of such things as a chat group screen display, the final girl support group notes by the doctor, articles in newspapers and magazines (Rue Morgue magazine is mentioned by name and it’s just possible some of the documentation is real, I would guess), the VHX box blurb from the fictional movie Gnomecoming and a police incident report form, etc. And it’s great stuff. Also, a chair... a chair which is either stationary or drawn in a falling motion in one direction or another... I’m not completely certain of the significance of the chair, to be honest but, it might be just a referral to Lynette’s mental state in various chapters as she tells the story, I guess. On the nice UK Titan Books hardback I read for this review, remove the dust jacket and you will find the same chair foil stamped on the cover.
And there are some nice touches to the characters too, such as the more James Bond than Bond precautions Lynette takes whenever she enters a new space or her only friend being a plant named Fine... short for Final Plant, after the few she had before she learned how to take care of them properly all died, leaving a Final Girl plant, so to speak.
And that’s about as much as I’m saying about The Final Girl Project other than, it’s an absolutely wonderful novel and I thoroughly recommend it for any fan of the genre and, even for non-fans of the genre such as myself. Oh, and I learned something too. Now I know what ACTH is and also what a hybristophile does. So I’ll try and use those two in sentences at some point I guess (oh, wait, I think I just did). Anyway, go read this one, it’s great.
Sunday, 18 September 2022
Directed by Kevin Smith
UK Cinema Release Print.
Warning: Some spoilerage may occur. Snoogans.
Wow. What can I say? I was expecting to have a reasonably good time with Kevin Smith’s new movie, Clerks III but I wasn’t expecting it to be as great as this. For starters, it’s an absolute belter of a movie which is going to be lapped up by Smith’s many fans and... rightly so. But there’s so much more to it than the expected rush of comedy gold when you are watching this one...
Clerks III is actually the eighth film in the Jay and Silent Bob series of movies (not counting the various animated entries) which began back in 1994, with the original Clerks. That debut film was shot in black and white over nights at the Quick Stop grocery store where Kevin Smith worked during the day, making the movie on credit cards for a very small amount of money and lots of good will (I would imagine). Clerks had one of the lowest budgets of any independent film at the time (probably still holds some kind of record) and it went and won first prize at the Sundance film festival before Smith continued to entertain many people with a series of films based on the ‘side characters’ Jay And Silent Bob, who are sometimes the main protagonists of the films and, in one instance, only appear in one scene. Jay is played by Jason Mews and Silent Bob is played by Kevin Smith himself... who also writes and directs all of these movies. If you want to see the movies in the order of their release, the eight of them are (again, not including various animated incarnations)... Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy (the first one I actually caught at the cinema, after seeing the first two on TV), Dogma, Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back, Clerks II, Jay And Silent Bob Reboot (reviewed here) and, now, Clerks III.
For Clerks III, Brian O'Halloran returns to reprise the role of Dante Hicks and Jeff Anderson reprises his role of Randall. Also, the brilliant Rosario Dawson, who made her entrance into the View Askewniverse (named after Smith’s production company) in Clerks II, returns but she returns in such a way that... well... all I can say is that Smith once again continues to surprise me as a writer, because what might seem like a cop out of necessity in any other film seems like a really well thought out way of using a returning character in a different way... and that’s all I’m saying about Rosario’s return in this.
It would be true to say that this film isn’t really a jumping on point for people who have never seen a Jay and Silent Bob movie. Smith’s films are all slotting into their own linked up universe with characters from others of his films constantly turning up in cameos and crossing over in joyfully convoluted metatextual events... Clerks III is no different in this matter but, even more so in that the plot of the movie actually centres around a huge piece of self referentialism.
Near the start of the film, Randall has a heart attack in the Quick Stop (which long time watchers of the film series may remember has been rebuilt after fire and is now jointly owned by Dante and Randal after Jay and Silent Bob helped them out financially... it’s a long story, watch it all for yourself). Dante gets him to hospital and his life is saved (mirroring somewhat the director’s own real life experiences with a near fatal heart attack a few years ago). This forces Randall to realise how he’s wasted his life working in a Quick Stop for his whole working existence and so he decides to make a low budget, independent movie based on his life with he, Dante, Jay and Silent Bob... and a whole host of regular returning guest actors and returning real life customers... all playing themselves. Which of course, is what Kevin Smith initially did in real life to get him to where he is today.
Ad so the film is an absolute blast as it references a gazillion scenes and faces from prior View Askewniverse movies, basically saying many of the same lines as they did in the first two Clerks movies (primarily... with a few other movies thrown into the mix) and giving us, kind of, rebooted scenes, shot lovingly in black and white, to punctuate the new shenanigans these characters are all getting themselves into. Yep, the egg man (Walt Flanagan), the ‘cunning ruse’ lady, the Salsa shark scene... loads of stuff gets packed in here. There’s even a big reference to the original, cut ending of the original Clerks (which you can see as a deleted scene on many home video releases over the years). It was great seeing a lot of these people back, including guest cameos from the likes of Danny Trejo, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Askewniverse regular Ben Affleck... but perhaps the nicest inclusion from me (along with the cameo characters played by Smith’s wife and daughter) was the return of Marilyn Ghigliotti as Veronica... Dante’s original girlfriend for whom fans of the original will remember for her association with the number 37.
But that’s not all folks... it turns out that Clerks III is not just a comedy... it’s also a really moving movie with the third act really going for the jugular in terms of emotional impact. It goes to a place I wasn’t quite, expecting and, what happens after the initial set up seems almost so out of left field as to be unfair... which stokes that drama so well. All I can say is I wish I’d taken more hankies with me because I was crying a little in the cinema and I was still in... lets call it a high state of sadness... 20 minutes later when I got home. This is a truly phenomenal entry in the series and yet another great Kevin Smith movie. Without giving it away too much... he could easily make another Jay and Silent Bob movie (and hopefully this isn’t the last) but, while he could still make another Clerks movie... well... what would be the point? I suspect that this is the last time that we’ll be seeing that specific iteration of the View Askewniverse headlining its own film.
And that’s all I’ve got to say about Clerks III... primarily because I’ve pretty much said all I wanted to but, also because I’ve now started tearing up again remembering it and it’s hard to see the screen when your eyes are all smeary. If you are into Kevin Smith’s movies... and you really should be, they’re a shot of pure joy... then you should really love and, will probably be very moved, by this latest installment of the franchise. And do yourself a favour and stay through the end credits to hear more, heartfelt ramblings from the writer/director.
Wednesday, 14 September 2022
What You Eat
Crimes Of The Future
Directed by David Cronenberg
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
Warning: Spoilers all over this one as I want
to talk about it properly. Please don’t read my
take on it until after you’ve seen the movie...
which you need to see if you are into the
art of cinema in any way, shape or form.
So Cronenberg returns triumphant with a great new film called, wait for it, Crimes Of The Future... which was also the original working title for his excellent eXistenZ and the title of his earlier short film (reviewed by me here). Now, first of all, let me address the elephant in the room which seems to be the little ‘out of place’ and unduly sensationalistic reportage of this film. I don’t know why people have been walking out of this one and putting it about that it’s somehow controversial but, no, it really isn’t. By modern horror film standards it’s actually quite tame (I just watched The Sadness, reviewed here, the other night so, please!) and, actually, this one isn’t even a horror film... it’s one of Cronenberg’s science fiction films, lacking the horror element completely. It maybe comes on as minor body horror but, I’ve always found that label a little problematic because, nine times out of ten, body horror movies don’t really shift into the horror genre, to be honest.
That aside, though, I always find Cronenberg a bit hit and miss... although more hit than miss I’d have to say and, if you like his work, then I’m happy to report that Crimes Of The Future is actually quite a charming and playful, fun movie. It’s properly old school Cronenberg delivered with the kind of visual sophistication which he started delivering as an aesthetically polished concept in the 1980s-1990s period of his work, I believe. I wasn’t expecting this to be as good as some of the movies I regard as his classics... such as Shivers, Rabid, Scanners, Videodrome, Dead Ringers, Crash and eXistenZ... in fact, I wasn’t expecting it to be much at all considering the, presumably manufactured ‘controversy’ hype used as a tool for marketers. But I have to say that it’s not only harkening back to a classic period of this director’s work, it’s also one of Mr. C’s best films, definitely in the top five of my favourite Cronenberg movies.
The film is set in a future which, it’s implied visually but not revealed, has survived some kind of apocalyptic event or possible evolutionary cull. The colour palette used throughout seems to be very dulled down, neutral and pastel versions of colours and everything seems consistent with that kind of aesthetic throughout... everything dialled back a notch and then infused with beiges, yellows, creams, blues and greens, I believe. Following an opening where a young boy starts eating his plastic wastepaper bin and then is smothered to death by his mother, our two main protagonists are introduced... Saul Tenser, played by Viggo Mortensen and Caprice, played by Léa Seydoux. The two are performance artists of some esteem. Humans don’t feel a lot of pain these days, the ability has left them but, Saul is one of those who still can and who is continually growing new, mysterious internal organs in his body, which Caprice then cuts out of him as the performance, using a Sark unit with robot arms wielding scalpels.... pulling apart new incisions, retrieving and slicing the organ in question and presenting it to the public (I’m assuming the Sark unit is derived from the term sarcophagous here).
However, after registering his next organ with a new, secret company called the National Organ Registry, things start to get complicated. Tenser meets Wippet, played by Don McKellar and Timlin, played by Kristen Stewart. We also meet the two maintenance technicians who come to service his organic bed (used to help him monitor and cultivate new internal organs) and feeding furniture (to help him eat), called Berst, played by Tanaya Beatty and Router, played by Nadia Litz. For reasons that become apparent later in the movie, the playful nature and agenda of these two struck me as being a female version of Wint and Kidd from Diamonds Are Forever (reviewed here). We also meet Scott Speedman in the best performance I’ve seen him give, as Lang Dotrice, father of the murdered child at the start, who wants Saul and Caprice to do a show based on the autopsy of his kid, for reasons which become apparent after Saul discovers he’s part of a cult of people surgically altered to consume plastic instead of food, in easy to consume chocolate looking bars referred to by one as ‘candy’. Of course, given Cronenberg’s passion for Philip K. Dick as evidenced quite explicitly in eXistenZ along with other movies, I couldn’t help but think this was also a reference to Can-D and Chew-Z from Dick’s novel The Three Stigmata Of Palmer Eldritch, which wouldn’t be the first time the director has referenced this specific novel.
However, a part of what qualifies as the government, as manifested by Welket Bungué playing a detective of the Body Crime Unit, are very much interested in this group of people, especially since the dead child has, it is rumoured, inherited the evolved genetic trait of consuming plastic from his father, rather than be surgically altered. All this is going on while Saul has registered for an Inner Beauty Pageant - Category: Best Original Organ With No Known Function... but he’s also an informant for the Body Crime Unit, unknown to Caprice but, as the film progresses, you realise a few of the people who he comes into contact with might know this already.
And its great. One of the buzz phrases associated with the marketing of the film is that ‘Surgery is the new sex’ which, I thought nothing of but it turns out that this is also a mantra of a few of the people in the movie and, certainly Saul and Caprice indulge their mutual sexuality in this way. With Saul controlling the Sark with a remote unit quite reminiscent of the pods in eXistenZ, she lays naked, enjoying each stroke as he slices up her flesh for her sexual pleasure, before putting the unit on remote and joining her. In another scene, she unzips the scar of a new hardware access point from something put in him to monitor the Inner Beauty Pageant and starts licking his open wound which is given and received in much the same manner as a blow job. The punchline to all this comes later when Kirsten Stewart, who coins the phrase ‘Surgery is the new sex’ in the movie, tries to instigate sex with him through a passionate kiss and he rejects her after a minute stating, “I’m not very good at the old sex.” So, yeah, as much as people are calling this one an edgy film, it’s more full of humour, almost to the level where at some points it’s almost functioning purely as a comedy.
And being as it’s Cronenberg, it all looks fantastic. There’s a brilliant moment where a shot is split vertically by the frame of a door. The door opening on the left with Stewart standing in it, with yellowy beige walls behind her and with Léa standing on the right against the wall of the room in which the camera is placed, the wall cream coloured behind her. It’s such a striking shot composition that one could be forgiven for thinking Cronenberg had used a split screen for the shot... it’s that much of a contrast, in spite of using colours which wouldn’t have a lot of perceived contrast against each other in a busier shot. The film is full of this kind of good stuff and you are constantly reminded you are in the hands of a master director all the time.
Once slight criticism might be that the blood effects in the film look like they’re handled by CGI. They may not be but, they do look like they don’t have much substance to them. At least to me. I have no idea how the effects were achieved but it might be a trade off to easily include the concept of the Sark unit (an earlier conceptual version of which was seen in Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, if memory serves).
And one observation, rather than criticism, is that time seems to drift without warning in the film. Everything seems to be taking place in close proximity to earlier events but, as you go through, you realise days, weeks or possibly even months may have taken place between one sequence and the next with no real warning. I was fine with that and the progression of people and organisations over this time can be easily tracked either visually or in details of the text but, I suspect some people may find this a barrier... not an insurmountable one though and I kind of grew to like that freestyle attitude to the story after a while. And it is a proper story, people... this one more than most of Cronenberg’s is actually leading up to a moment in the last shot which, once you think about the consequences of what you are seeing, actually has a meaning and resonance that hints at an actual evolutionary process in a certain direction without direct provocation. So that was pretty cool.
And all of this is supported by a typically Cronenbergian score, provided by the director's frequent collaborator Howard Shore and, frankly, the biggest crime of the future, in regard to this movie, is that this brilliant score at time of writing, has not been issued on a proper CD. Come on people, get your act together. People need a proper release of this stuff on the only format worth listening to it on.
And, apart from me singling out Kirsten Stewart’s performance as being brilliantly against type... I’m used to seeing her play very confident characters, not nervous and excitable people... I will leave you with a solid recommendation for Crimes Of The Future. It oozes old school Cronenberg charm and I found it hugely entertaining. He really knocked it out of the park here.
Tuesday, 13 September 2022
Wild Cards Vol 30
by George R. R. Martin
Proclaiming itself a Wild Cards mosaic novel on the first printed page of the book, this 30th new collection of short stories in the Wild Cards series, Full House, isn’t really that at all. Sure it consists of new stories by a variety of the Wild Cards writers but, unlike the majority of the multi-authored previous volumes in the series, these aren’t all going towards making up an overreaching story arc. Instead, this is a collection of stories previously published on Tor’s website... which is fine by me, I don’t really have time for electronic PDFs or Epubs of fiction when there are so many good printed stories to be read... hence, I haven’t read any of these before, myself.
But the point is, these don’t go together so well and, yeah, I’ll hit you with my one negative comment at the end but, if you are a Wild Cards fan... lapping up these tales taking place in an alternate Earth history where a virus from an alien world was unleashed in the 1940s, which either leaves people as they are, turns them into hideously deformed Jokers, kills them or gives them Ace powers (basically gives them super powers)... then you are going to love this one.
As usual, all of the stories in this tome are amazingly well written and, if you’re anything like me, you’ll probably be absolutely into all the characters... old and brand new alike. These are skilled writers giving us fantastic prose set in a version of Earth where literally anything can happen... these books are like addictive drugs, they’re so good. Here’s a very brief rundown of what’s in this new edition of the stories... I’m not going to go into detail on each one because, frankly, they’re all absolutely brilliant.
When We Were Heroes by Daniel Abraham
This one has former American Hero contestant Bugsy, moved on since the various big international conflicts he’s been involved with since the first season of that reality show, now working as a ‘reporter’ on Aces magazine, a gossip rag of some notoriety. He is on the sharp end of an angry Curveball, after she finds out about a shot he uses of her combined with an Ace celebrity piece he puts out, catching her on a first date. The conversation they have crosscuts between a recent, tragic event in Bugsy’s life where he was working security for an organisation and the awkwardness and romance of Curveball’s first date with a Nat (Nats or naturals are people who haven’t been affected by the virus... yet).
Evernight by Victor Milan
This one’s a fairly dark tale featuring Candace Sessou aka The Darkness, as she tries to free her terrorist brother from captivity in a Joker sanctuary beneath the catacombs of Paris, by doing a job for those who run the place in exchange for his release. Things go wrong all over.
Lies My Mother Told Me by Caroline Spector
This one sees Bubbles and her adopted, insect-like daughter Adesina attacked by zombies on a carnival float. However, it’s not Bubbles former lesbian lover and friend Hoodoo Mama who is responsible for the zombie disruption and deaths. Someone sole Mama’s power temporarily to specifically put pressure on Bubbles through her friends. Between the two of them, the ladies fight back and neutralise the threat... as far as we know... in the usual deadly manner.
Nuestra Señora de la Esperanza by Carrie Vaughn
Earth Witch, still mending from a bullet wound she received in one of the big international battles told in the novels, is wracked with guilt for killing so many enemy soldiers and then finds out that, somewhere in Mexico, her grandmother is still alive. Finding the advice of the local priest completely unsympathetic to the plight of those touched by the virus, she takes a road trip to go and find her grandmother for some advice on the matter... one Ace to another. A background detail... Curveball seems to still be in a relationship with John Fortune, son of the first wave Ace Fortunato, in this. Which kinda contradicts the first story in the volume... I’ll get to that soon.
Discards by David D. Levine
This one is by David D. Levine who wrote the wonderful Arabella of Mars novels (which I reviewed here, here and here). This one tells of a new Joker/Ace when his card turns, transforming him into someone who can attract certain kinds of junk and debris to overcome his obstacles. Now, I think Levine has been involved in the Wild Cards novels before on a number of occasions but this is the first time I’ve consciously noticed that this is the same guy who created Arabella. The writing style is totally different here to those aforementioned tomes and shows what a great, diverse talent this writer is... but the same can be said for all the Wild Cards writers, I’m sure.
The Elephant In The Room by Paul Cornell
This one’s a nice little sketch of Abigail, who picks up passing Ace and Joker powers (I think her first appearance was in the Wild Cards novel Fort Freak, reviewed here). She’s also the current girlfriend of the original, multigenerational, ageless Ace... Croyd ‘The Sleeper’ Crenson. But when Croyd is coming to the end of his current waking cycle and desperate to stay awake via whatever amphetamines or alternatives he can find, becoming his usual cranky self... Abigail’s mum comes for a visit.
When The Devil Drives by Melinda M. Snodgrass
Star Trek writer extraordinaire Melinda M. Snodgrass is one of the old and constant guard of the Wild Cards universe (and sometimes shares the editing credit with George R. R. Martin). This is another tale of assassin Noel Matthews, former teleporting assassin for the Order Of The Silver Helix and his various male and female incarnations. In this one, pursuing a somewhat ‘straight’ life, he is framed for a murder he didn’t commit and, in chasing down the real culprit, finds himself trying to fix his own family, from whom he has retreated.
The Atonement Tango by Stephen Leigh
This one headlines Drummer Boy, everyone’s favourite Joker/Ace musician. However, when a Joker Plague concert is bombed and all but one of his group and himself survive, with life changing injuries, he needs to investigate just what crackpot let the bomb off and come to terms with some home truths. This one features another cameo by Croyd Crenson and also the centaur Dr. Bradley Finn, who is looking after DB’s wounds. There’s also a mention of Jube, the walrus newspaper vendor and I love that people still assume that Jube is just another Joker, rather than an alien visitor from the old days of the early books in the series.
Prompt. Professional. Pop! by Walter Jon Williams
Irritating, self important, teleporting Ace Cleopatra is leading a life of crime but an intervention by original 1940s Ace Jack Braun, aka Golden Boy (who also doesn’t age and has been both a hero and a villain... due to his turning evidence in 1950s McCarthy hearings on ‘hidden virus citizens’ back in the 1950s) helps land her in more trouble pursuing fame and money.
How to move Spheres and influence people by Marko Kloos
This one is another story of a new Ace. When disabled 15 year old TK’s card turns on the last week or two before her summer holiday from the expensive school she is enrolled at, she eventually becomes a hero when she is trying to have a holiday in Edinburgh with her folks. She is expelled from school for her heroism but she is also approached by The Committee On Extraordinary Interventions, who are helpful and let her know she can go and work for them when she turns 18, if she wants to.
TK’s Ace ability is she can manipulate any spherical object with her mind... which obviously makes her very dangerous but, I won’t tell you her Ace name because the writer holds that back as a little reveal at the end of the story.
And that’s me done with Wild Cards Full House. My one disappointment is that the stories aren’t presented in chronological order, so there are lots of contradictions from story to story as various Aces are mentioned as doing different things at different stages of their lives (even though the stories are all about the more modern of the Wild Cards heroes... within the last ten years). So you do have to kind of ignore the seeming contradictions as you go on this one. But, other than that, another absolutely fantastic ride and I can’t wait for the next volume, which is due out next year. I love these books and have been reading them since the first tome appeared in the 1980s. Great stuff.
Sunday, 11 September 2022
Directed by Scott Mann
Warning: Very slight spoilers you would just pick up from watching the trailer.
Well then, Fall is a film I initially couldn’t care less about when I first saw the poster advertising on the internet. Why? Well, it bore the legend “From the producers of 47 Metres Down” which, frankly, I thought was pretty unremarkable and not something I would want to waste my time with again (I still haven’t bothered with the sequel... maybe I’ll get around to that one day). However, two things came to light about this movie which, for better or worse, made me change my mind...
One was that the always brilliant Alan Jones said it was a sensational movie and selected it to play in this years marvellous FrightFest. So if I was going to take a recommendation from anyone it was going to be him. Secondly, when I watched the trailer, I realised that I really liked the lead actress. The lead of the two main protagonists here, Becky Connor, is played by none other as Grace Caroline Currey, who was an absolutely brilliant version of Mary Marvel/Mary Batson/Mary Bromley in “The Original Captain Marvel” movie SHAZAM! And if you don’t know who Mary Marvel is and why she’s Captain Marvel’s brother, read my review of that first movie here where she’s billed under her previous acting name of Grace Fulton. She’s pretty amazing in that and also in this too... so, yeah, now I had two reasons to see the film. So, you know, I did.
The film starts off with a scene where Becky, her husband Dan (played, briefly, by Mason Gooding) and their best friend Hunter (played by Virginia Gardner) are climbing a mountain and Dan falls to his death. One year on from that... or 51 weeks on, actually, according to the on screen legend... Becky is a complete mess, draining her sorrows in alcohol, estranged from her loving father (played by the great Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and about to end her life with a rather sloppily executed and ‘doomed to fail’ (it has to be said) overdose of pills and whisky. Then her friend Hunter, absent for a year... err.... 51 weeks... turns up on her doorstep and says she needs to pull her life back together, lose the fear and climb a huge radio tower in the middle of nowheresville desert land which also happens to be the fourth tallest structure in America. There are ladders going up about two thirds of the way and then another hard climb after those. And so they do.
Now I’ve never really understood why people would be stupid enough to put themselves in harms way just to climb something tall and so, honestly, everything which happens to these two just makes me cross my arms, after wagging my finger and saying, “You’ve only got yourselves to blame.” And, once they’re up the top (not including the thin spire but, yeah, that comes later as a survival attempt), after lots of vertigo inducing shots of shaking, unstable metal structures, wobbly screws about to come undone at any second plus aggressive buzzards, not to mention the constant stops and hurdles of Becky’s emotional baggage... the inevitable happens and the ladders all fall away from the mast, leaving the girls stranded miles from nowhere, up a very, very tall structure with no phone signal because of their current height. The rest of the movie details how they attempt to survive and try and get out of this mess.
And... okay, I had a relatively fun time with it, I would say. There are some terrible moments such as a certain twist on the relationship between the three original mountain climbers which, honestly, I can’t say I wasn’t expecting... I’ve been kinda conditioned to expect certain complications in modern thrillers over the last 20 or so years (this guy must be a fan of The Descent... and who isn’t?). That being said, there was at least one twist towards the end which I didn’t see coming outright although I could see the inspiration for this sudden revelation for Becky too so, it was an easy one to accept once it was brought to light (um... yeah... I did say I think this guy must be a fan of The Descent, right?). One of the nice things about that is that there were two sequences in the film with the usual, ‘it’s not all that bad, it was just a dream’ wake up moments and, by the time we got to the second one, I was sick and tired of the old ‘waking moments’ cheap shot cliché being used more than once in a movie but, when you get to the final reveal, it actually makes more sense that the director is trying to condition the audience to that kind of mentality in order to pull off the last, falling brick of a twist more acceptably... so, yeah, I can see why he did it like that.
And all in all, the film is very well acted, especially by the two female leads who you stay with pretty much for the entire movie (I think it only cuts away to another location very briefly twice towards the end of the film). Everyone was good in this, the cinematography was great, the CGI effects were awesome (because I refuse to believe the director would put his actors in this much peril in real life and removing and so... replacing vertigo inducing heights and safety equipment must surely have been done with the aid of a computer) and, all in all, I’d say that Fall was an entertaining piece of movie making which I’d probably recommend to most people.
That being said, a word of caution about censorship and the lengths studios will go to in order to get bigger profits. The original cut of the movie apparently had a lot of usage of the ‘f word’ in it. However, in order to drop it to a lower, kid friendly age rating to grab more money, the studio redubbed the lines without the f***s and then resynched the actors mouths via the magic of CGI. I didn’t notice this myself but I am aggrieved that the original cut of the movie was not used. This is where the ‘art’ of the movie gives way to the ‘movie business’ and when it loses that battle, it loses its soul.
My only other big question about the film is this... on the end credits it shows that Becky, her father and her late husband all have the same surname of Connor. Now the only possibilities I can think of for this bizarre state of affairs is that either Becky was in a strangely unlikely and coincidental dating situation at one point where she met and fell in love with someone with the exact same surname as her (and her father) or... she got incestuous and married her own brother. I’m not sure which one of these two options is more likely in real life but, yeah, it seems a bizarre set of credits and it just poses questions that one really doesn’t want to ponder, it has to be said. Still, Fall is a pretty good movie which, I can’t imagine watching a second time but was worth looking at once. Like one of Bugs Bunny’s weaponised carrots, I suspect it’s only good for one shot.
Wednesday, 7 September 2022
In Glory Hole Bastards
Directed by Rebekah McKendry
Warning: Very slight spoilers through the round hole.
I have to be honest here. The only reason I decided to watch Glorious is because it’s directed by Dr. Rebekah McKendry who, with Elric Kaine, comprises one half of the podcast team for All The Colours Of The Dark, which is one of those shows which helped make things a little more bearable for me during home office sessions throughout the pandemic (that and their former incarnation of the show Shockwaves). I always find it a fun show and I was curious to see what McKendry is like as a director. The answer to that is... pretty darned awesome, it has to be said.
The story, such as it is, tells of Wes, played by Ryan Kwanten, who is on the road after a bad break up with his girlfriend (played by Sylvia Grace Crim in some flashback/memory reconstruction scenes). After spending a night of self torment parked outside the Route 37 Rest Area (is that a Kevin Smith reference there?), Wes goes to use said rest room. It’s literally just one of those bathrooms with, if you’re lucky, a vending machine attached to it... which you sometimes see on our motorways over here in the UK, too. A poor excuse for anything anyone would call a ‘service station’, for sure.
Anyway, Wes goes in to throw up and, through what is essentially a glory hole in the side of the stall (if you’re going to Google that term, just go into that knowing that it’s NSFW), with an elabourate painting of a Cthulhu-like God around it, he begins to hear the voice of an actual, ancient God talking to him and trying to engage him in conversation. And the rest of the film is almost extensively set in the rest room (hey, low budget is great when you can do it right, as here) and is, for the most part, a two hander between Wes and the mostly unseen God in the toilet stall, as voiced by the always brilliant J. K. Simmons.
And it really works. It’s well written and, thankfully, well performed by the two actors (Simmons comes off at points almost like a very polite, ‘ancient wisdom’ version of HAL 9000 from 2001 A Space Odyssey... and I mean that in a good way). Backing these two performances up is the direction and staging which, considering it’s obviously going to have a naturally claustrophobic feeling to this kind of environment, is surprisingly well handled... to the point where it never, ever gets dull (which is a big plus).
McKendry uses lots of camera movement, coloured lighting and just enough ‘outside influences’ to keep things interesting while allowing the actors to exist in this film world without ever once losing a sense of credibility, or a sense what is very demonstrably at stake in the scheme of things... I won’t say much about it but, the future of all life in the universe hinges on how the conversation and a certain ‘favour’ asked of Wes plays out.
It’s also very funny.
Yep, McKendry and co pour on the jokes here and, again without spoiling it, there are some nice moments where the edit between two shots of Wes using a urinal and the toilet stall home of the God in question make for some hilarious viewing moments, with a repeat structure joke. And I can’t think of any other film right now where I would be as likely to encounter lines such as “You thought your human penis was going to save the universe?” There are also, as expected, a fair few nods to horror movies over the years, many of which I probably missed but, even to the extent of a quick practical effect at some point mimicking a 1989 film (not one of my favourites, it has to be said... I won’t reveal the film here for obvious reasons).
And before I finish up on this short review, since I always shout it out on the very rare occasions it happens (as regular readers will know)... there’s a slight twist reveal near to the end which I totally didn’t see coming. Unlike many other modern film makers, McKendry doesn’t telegraph her rug pulls by giving away too much stuff to prep the audience. Like I said, it’s extremely rare anyone fools me with this stuff but there’s a sequence where the contents of one of those ‘shoe box’ looking DIY cardboard boxes of the style you can buy at stationery stores and places like IKEA is revealed and, with it, twists the way the audience are perceiving the entire situation. It’s a nice reveal (especially for a director who obviously has an affinity with certain horror tropes) and I was fully appreciative of not figuring it out before hand. So she gets a big round of applause from me on that count too.
And, yeah, that’s me done with Glorious... other than a quick shout out to some nice sound design (which also even adds to the humour of some of the jokes relying on the edit in one particular scene). If you’re into low budget, quirky horror movies with a nice line in dialogue and some acting which can put that stuff over in a gripping way, which is actually done quite well without spilling its secrets too quickly... one which you may find yourself laughing with a fair bit... then this one is definitely worth a look, for sure.
Monday, 5 September 2022
Eye Am Legend
Cold Cold Bones
by Kathy Reichs
Simon & Schuster
Warning: Very minor spoilers.
Okay, so regular readers may be surprised to find me reviewing the latest of Kathy Reichs’ Temperance Brennan novels (not to be confused with the character Temperence Brennan on the TV show Bones, who is based on Reichs herself) during the summer when it’s just been released, rather than at Christmas time as part of my Yuletide ritual. Truth is, the people who regularly buy me the new Reichs book for Christmas last year just couldn’t find a way to get hold of it and so I ended up sourcing it myself. So, to minimise the risk in future, I’ll be grabbing these ones when they come out instead of reading and reviewing them six months or so later. Thought that would make more sense.
This one, Cold Cold Bones, is set in January to March and the specified dates given in various chapters tally with it being set in 2022. So, yeah, despite the one lone reference in this to Covid, it’s clearly set in the year it’s been released and, as usual for this particular writer... it’s a rollercoaster. And I mean that in the nicest of possible ways.
This one is probably going to be even better for those of her readers out there who remember the details and specifics of the various Temperance Brennan novels going back over the last 25 years because, although it takes the lead character almost a third of the way into the book to figure out what’s going on, this one deals with a copycat killer who is mimicking specifics of various bodies scattered through Tempe’s various cases. Starting off with the delivery of a fresh, human eyeball in a box outside her front porch, with GPS coordinates etched into it. Nice.
Joining her in this one are the usual suspects of her fiance Andrew Ryan and, Erskine Skinny Slidell. I mentioned in my review of the last Tempe Brennan novel (which you can find here) that Slidell was pretty conspicuous in his absence from that adventure, to the point where I’d thought the character had maybe been bumped off and I’d just forgotten about it but, no, he’s back in action in this one, handling the English speaking parts of Canada for Ryan’s private detective venture, as a business partner. Also joining the narrative on this one, with a lot more presence than the brief guest appearances or mentions in previous novels, is Tempe’s daughter Kate, who has finally left the armed forces and has moved to a new place near where Brennan works as a forensic anthropologist. In fact, she gets a little too close to the story this time around, becoming a part of it herself... but I won’t go into spoilers here (and certainly not as much as they tease on the dust jacket).
And it’s naturally got all the regular Reichs signature traits. For instance, it’s full of foreshadowing and she does the usual 1930s pulp fiction thing (which I love, not knocking it), of leaving most chapters with a cliff hanger like sentence to keep the reader ticking over into the next one (which is why these tomes are always such a fast read). Some of these kinds of chapter ending statements this time around would be... “The next day would be a nightmare.”, “That night we learned just how high those stakes would go.” and “My alarm began wailing.”, for example.
And, of course, we have the usual mix of an absolutely un-putdownable, seductive cocktail which makes up three quarters leg work and deduction with one quarter action and, while it felt a bit more formulaic and ‘deus ex machina-like’ this time around (which it sometimes gets like in these books, it has to be said), it’s a pretty good mix and certainly is nothing less than entertaining and gripping throughout. Reichs has an excellent sense of pacing and, coupled with her foreshadowing fetish and other great writing tricks, it certainly makes an impression on the reader... especially if you’ve been on the long haul with the character for the last quarter of a century, as I have.
And also, a new phenomenon I’ve found in recent years in her stories, I’ve actually learned a few things again with this book. I don’t mean the bones pathology minutia... that stuff will never sink in with me which is, perhaps, part and parcel of why I love reading this writer’s works so much. For example, I now know what enucleation means, I know what a prepper is (part of the novel is set amongst the world of survival enthusiasts preparing their way of surviving the end of the world) and I also now what www.snopes.com is. There’s also the odd disappointment...
For example, although I have the English edition of the book, I still find myself subjected to the wrong spelling of the word ‘centre’ as the truly despicable variant, ‘center’. Not a good thing for child readers in the UK to stumble upon and not be taught the difference, for sure. My other slight disappointment with this particular story is that I knew who the main culprit behind the copycat killings was as soon as that character was introduced on the page. Sometimes Reichs will surprise me with her story twists (which is hard to do with somebody my age and I always applaud when a writer can do that) but, this wasn’t one of those times. When the crimes appear to be solved towards the end of the novel, I wasn’t too worried because there was still around 40 pages left and, although Reichs does sometimes have an extended epilogue to tie up loose ends, I figured 40 pages was way too long and so I stuck to my guns on the main suspect and, I was right to do so. Oh well.
Luckily for me, this is not the only reason why I read the wonderful Temperence Brennan novels released by Kathy Reichs and, all I can say is, if you are a fan of this writer and her wonderful mystery novels, well, you should probably lap this one up too. Cold Cold Bones is another humdinger of a crime novel from Reichs and if you are a fan of Tempe and her world, you should probably get on it right now.
Sunday, 4 September 2022
Nope Way Out
Directed by Jordan Peel
Warning: Ever so slight spoilers.
Regular readers of my blog may remember that I’ve not been that impressed with the cinematic CV of Jordan Peel so far, at least in terms of his big hit Get Out (reviewed here) and his admittedly better follow up movie Us (reviewed here). It has to be said that both movies I mentioned here are very well put together and have some great performances in them... they just didn’t happen to do much for me, for the most part (although I thought the music in Us was pretty good). With Nope, well, since UFOs and aliens are something of a trigger for me, I was kinda hoping to say that I’ve finally seen a Jordan Peel movie that I really liked but... nope.
That being said, it’s quite entertaining, telling the story of a family of Hollywood ranchers, brother and sister, who fall on hard times after their father is killed by falling debris, his head penetrated by a falling coin near the start of the movie. The surviving family are brother and sister OJ (who tends to wear orange clothing throughout the film... like Orange Juice I guess), played by the always watchable Daniel Kaluuya and his sister Emerald (more often than not dressed in green), played by Keke Palmer. The family are said to be descended from the jockey who rode a horse photographed by Muybridge, doing his thing to study movement (and to win a bet), way back when.
Also thrown into the mix are the successful proprietor of a nearby ranch called Jupe (played by Steven Yeun), a local electronics store employee called Angel (played by Brandon Perea) and an old school Hollywood director of photography called Antlers Holst (played by Michael Wincott) who, armed with his hand cranked camera, fulfils an important plot point at a certain part of the film. The story involves a UFO or, something like it, which has been ‘stealing’ horses on the ranch. One of the things I did like about the main characters is, instead of them trying to work out how to make contact or react in awe and wonder etc, they just want to be the first to properly photograph it so that they can gain money and fame from getting a clean shot of the thing. The stakes are upped once they know just what they are dealing with, following a certain event which takes place just under an hour from the end of the movie.
And, yeah, like Peel’s other movies, it’s well shot, flows together nicely, has some great performances but, for me, it just didn’t feel that engaging (although I loved the old Hollywood stuff and the parody old style cowboy music used for some sections). One of the problems for me, though, was with certain story points. The film makes a point about building up Jupe’s character for instance, with a real humdinger of a back story from when he was the child star of a hit TV show as a kid. But, although there may have been some metaphor involved in its inclusion, I couldn’t really make out why we were delving into his back story, especially when it’s made clear (again, just under an hour before the end of the story) that his character isn’t as significant as we once thought. I just couldn’t see the point of it. Now, I’m no fan of the Chekhov’s Gun principle of writing, where everything has to mean something or connect the dots but, I did feel that since we were asked to observe the background of an incident involving this character multiple times and fairly in depth, that it might have had more of an impact on the story, maybe?
Also, the threat which the main protagonists are facing and the way in which they try to deal with it... didn’t make a heck of a lot of sense to me. I’m guessing you need to know more about how to tame a horse or break it in (trying not to give too much away here) but, yeah, I didn’t really know what was going on after a certain point, it has to be said.
But, I did have a certain amount of fun with it and I certainly found the film somewhat interesting and entertaining so, yeah, it kept me quiet for a couple of hours, I guess. Nope was a minor movie for me and certainly not Peel’s best of the few I’ve seen but it is quite watchable and I’m sure some people will love it. Not my cup of tea but I’m still looking forward to the day when Jordan Peel manages to totally blow me away. He’s bound to do this at some point, surely... I live in hope, not nope.
Wednesday, 31 August 2022
In The Realm
Of The Cleanses
Directed by John Swab
FrightFest Screening 27/8/22
Warning: Okay, this one will have slight spoilers
because I want to talk about certain things.
Candy Land is a new film I saw at FrightFest this year and, as you’ll probably see people writing in their various reviews, it’s got a kind of grindhouse movie vibe to it. It’s not actually a horror film as such, more of a throwback (in the absolute best way) to the kind of raw edged thrillers being churned out in the 1970s except... that grindhouse tag also does it a bit of a disservice because it’s actually a very well put together, slick piece of movie making for sure. I had a couple of problems with it, which I’ll come to (and it’s the same issue my friend who saw it with me had) but, overall it’s a very gutsy and technically well made piece of art.
Okay, so the film is about a group of truck stop girls (and a guy) played by Eden Brolin, Sam Quartin, Virginia Rand and Owen Campbell, plus their ‘employer’ played by Guinevere Turner. They all live in a few motel rooms and service the various truckers and other customers either in their rooms or out in ‘the pit’ where the truckers park up, taking sex directly into their trucks. Another character, who turns a blind eye but constantly procures the male sex worker for his own gay thrills is the local sheriff (who is very bad at his job, it has to be said) played by William Baldwin.
Now, they are constantly bothered by some kind of ‘deeply Christian’ cult talking about repenting and cleansing their souls living nearby and, one day, rejected from that clan of people, a character called Remy turns up, played by Olivia Luccardi. Now she is the naive girl who, because of their protective nature, gets taken in by the friendly bunch sex workers and she soon becomes one of the girls working tricks. Then a client turns up dead in the bathroom, his eye stabbed out. Things get more violent and it’s not long before one character starts attacking the customers in gory ways.
The film pulls no punches in certain areas of the dark territory it explores... via nudity and editing (yeah, I’ll get to it) but also has a truly poignant atmosphere and a sense of joy, love and camaraderie between the main characters. Which of course, makes the murders and sense of peril for these people all the more engaging.
Okay, so the editing. At lots of points in the film, especially early on, a bunch of close ups are used with the director cutting to details of what would normally have been a wider shot, often edited together every two or three seconds without any real sense of establishing shot, often used almost as a montage to bring you straight in, up close and personal, to the way the truck stop characters live their lives. So, that way of shooting things against the ingrained, expectations of wider master and establishing shots quite often, tends to leave you with a sense of being less than comfortable with the way the film is shot and, of course, this all serves to make the audience more vulnerable to the onslaught of both violent imagery but, also, really helps generate the amount of suspense and tension you are feeling. Especially coupled with the charming performances of the actors here. It really is skillfully put together and so I can forgive it any other problems I had with the film.
Bit I’ll highlight those two problems here anyway because, heck, it’s what I do, I guess.
Number one problem for me is you will clock onto who the killer is right before any of the murders take place. So when the first murder happens and it’s not made clear by that point who the culprit is (it will be soon), you pretty much know anyway what’s happened. Then there’s a red herring of a scene where one of the truckers attacks Owen Campbell’s character but, to be honest, that really doesn’t detract from who the real killer is and, yeah, I was disappointed to latch onto who it was that soon in the film. Although, having said that, maybe the writer/director wanted us to know that anyway from early on, to build the sense of tension so... yeah... it didn’t spoil things overall.
What did detract just a little (but not enough to not celebrate this marvellous film in the way it needs to be championed) is that both my friend and I were expecting the film to be a lot more violent than it is. Don’t get me wrong here... it’s a total bloodbath of a movie but, I think because they were going for practical effects instead of CGI (which is always going to be a better choice, I think, no matter what), I did get a sense of ‘feeling’ the kills rather than seeing them. Things were cutting away just before a body hit for the most part or taken from a concealing angle and, although there was plenty of gore on offer, it felt like the illusion of violence was in the foreground, rather than seeing a knife or blunt object actually penetrate a targeted part of someone’s anatomy in close up on camera. But, again, it’s only a minor grumble and, like I said, because of the visual language the director, DP and editor have boiled it all down to, it feels a lot rougher than it looks, if that makes sense.
All in all, then, a nicely put together movie full of nudity, gory aftermath, fantastic acting, a somewhat off-kilter editing style and some rough, dark subject matter. I won’t say anymore than that because I don’t want to spoil the experience for people but, yeah, Candy Land is definitely one to watch. Also, Colin Salmon was at hand to introduce a clip from his new exorcism movie Prey For The Devil, which is released in UK cinemas at Halloween this year and... yeah, he’s an interesting person to have speaking about your new movie, that's for sure.
Tuesday, 30 August 2022
aka Occhiali Neri
Directed by Dario Argento
FrightFest Screening 27/8/22
I’m not quite sure why the new giallo from the legendary Dario Argento has met with a somewhat muffled response from audiences over the last few months. Dark Glasses is, in many ways, a return to form for Argento... although I’ve frankly found something good in pretty much everything he’s done, including those last few films which received a critical mauling from fans.
This one stars Ilenia Pastorelli as sex worker Diane. In an opening scene she apparently damages her eyes slightly by watching an eclipse although, frankly, not badly enough that it makes any difference to her vision and, asides from one line in the script, I suspect this sequence may well have been a hangover from another draft of the script 20 years prior but, typically for the director, he’s kept it in anyway because he wanted a nice scene showing an eclipse (I may be wrong about this but my gut tells me this may be true, since the director has admitted on numerous occasions in the past that clinging onto a fantastic visual composition is much preferable to it actually making sense within the context of the movie).
Anyway, after a string of escorts are killed... we see one grottled to death early on in the picture in a scene where she takes a bizarrely long time to bleed out and die, while a crowd of concerned onlookers fail to help her... Diane somehow finds herself next in the line of sight of the killer. An early scene which highlights the killer to the audience is so obvious that, most (including myself) would think that this was a deliberate red herring to deflect attraction from the real killer but, no, it’s not the case. Anyway, the killer... who is somehow intelligent enough to spray his black van white after the first victim but not smart enough to repaint it again after any of the other murders or attempted homicides in the picture... causes Diane to lose control of her car. She is blinded in the subsequent crash, which also kills a mother and father in another car, leaving an orphaned boy called Chin, played by Andrea Zhang.
Diane is given a dog and a white stick, striking up a friendship with her ‘adapting to being blind’ coach Rita, played by Asia Argento. She also, unofficially and illegally, adopts the boy but, of course, the killer is after them and the rest of the movie is a cat and mouse game between the killer, his intended victims and also the police, who want to find the boy to put him in an orphanage. And that’s enough I’ll say on the plot.
So, yeah, it’s actually in many ways a typical Argento and, right from the outset, you are probably going to be in not much doubt just who is directing this one. The score by Arnaud Rebotini (which is about to come out on CD, yay!), for example, is absolutely spot on for what I think Claudio Simonetti or his group Goblin would have been doing with this material. It sounds right away like it belongs in an Argento film.
Added to this we have the fluid, moving camera work and slavish devotion to beautiful visual compositions which you would expect from this director. He loves using elements of architecture and other natural elements to split the shots into interesting shapes and this is especially noticeable in the first two thirds of the movie, before we go into a rural setting leading to the film’s finale. For instance, there’s a wonderful shot where the screen is split by a big vertical doorframe which is taking up more or less the full height of the frame on the right hand third of the composition. Behind it, through the doorway in a corridor, on the wall right behind it, is a large, vertical rectangular painting... which is angled so the top and right hand sides of it make a perfect margin within the frame, thus accentuating the vertical split. Then, to the right and slightly overlapping the door is the big foreground head of Chin as he writes at a desk. Then, the other two thirds of the shot shows the wall with various bits of furnishing and Diane as an upright vertical herself at a distance farther back from the lens. This looks really great and, of course, this kind of stuff is exactly the reason why I admire Argento’s work so much.
One thing, it almost surprises me to say, is that the acting is pretty good. I mean, that’s kind of a given in terms of his daughter Asia but, both Pastorelli and Zhang do really well here and have good chemistry. It’s not quite the same kind of relationship as between Karl Malden’s blind character and his granddaughter in Argento’s classic Cat O Nine Tails (reviewed by me here) but, yeah, I can see how lovers of his earlier works might feel a little nostalgic at this element of the story.
If there’s anything I have to say as a criticism, it’s that the last third of the film could have been a little more ingenious in terms of character reveals and kills but, honestly, it all works fine and I was happy to be watching something which is, probably, his best movie since The Card Player. That being said... yeah... I could have done without the snakes scene which makes me giggle every time I watch this one (don’t ask... it could have used Samuel L. Jackson in here yelling it up a bit, maybe).
And, yeah, this is probably one of my shorter Argento reviews but, what can I say, I enjoyed Dark Glasses a lot and I hope a UK/USA friendly, subtitled Blu Ray gets a release date sometime soon... this one deserves it (although you can certainly pick up an Italian Blu Ray with English subs at the moment... copies of which were at sale on one of the stalls at this year’s FrightFest). A nice return to form and I hope we get more from Argento soon. He’s still a visual wizard. Actually, on that last point, Dario was on hand at the screening to talk a bit about the film and he is planing to start shooting a new movie in Paris, spring of next year, which he hinted would be a remake of a dark Mexican, 1940s movie so, yeah, we shall see.
Monday, 29 August 2022
Orchestrator of Storms:
The Fantastique World
of Jean Rollin
Directed by Dima Ballin & Kat Ellinger
FrightFest Screening 26/8/22
Orchestrator Of Storms: The Fantastique World Of Jean Rollin is a brand new documentary that I saw screening on its European premiere at this year’s FrightFest. And, truth be told, it was a really nice little movie. Although my first reaction to this heady concoction of talking heads, excerpts from Rollin’s cinema and behind the scenes stills was that it felt a little like “Rollin for Beginners” to a certain extent. Some of the presenters and guests for the screening seemed to be getting more out of it in terms of acquiring knowledge than I did and my first gut reaction straight after the screening was... really? You can pick most of this up from the extras on many DVDs and the few books written about the director. But then I realised that this documentary did do something new which I’m really grateful for... it did give me at least one thing I’d not known before and it also reminded me of something I’d long forgotten. And, actually, it also acts as a kind of summary for a lot of those old DVD and Blu Ray extras from times gone past so... yeah, after I got thinking about it for a bit, I figured I did get a lot out of it and, beyond me personally, this cinematic document is going to be a lot of help for people who don’t have the time or opportunity to piece together all this information like some of us were doing as teens in the 1980s, when there was no internet. So, yeah, good job.
The film talks to certain key people in the director’s life and various other experts, among them some very important ones such as the brilliant Virginie Sélavy (who I think I might have met at a seminar on Rollin’s work once and who was one of the guests here at FrightFest), the great Kier-La Janisse, Nigel Wingrove (who founded the Redemption label, instrumental in exposing a lot of people to Rollin’s work... albeit in sometimes cut form... in the UK back in the 80s and, indeed, Redemption’s recent definitive US Blu Ray editions are still the best documents of these films), the wonderful Françoise Pascal and frequent collaborator and legend Brigitte Lahaie... who was the main guest for this screening with much to say and who I was happy to meet, briefly, at a signing session after the film.
The movie takes us from Rollin’s early childhood, where I found out a little about his parents and was reminded that, when he was a very young boy, his mother was engaged in an amorous affair with the writer Georges Bataille, who was an early influence on Rollin. It goes through his early break into the film industry and talks about the riot that ensued at the screening of his first feature film The Rape Of The Vampire (which I reviewed here), putting it into context with what was going on at the time. It goes through, mostly, his personal films but it does touch on his career in the pornographic industry he used to finance his own work, perhaps a little more briefly than I would have liked since this is the stuff I genuinely don’t know much about and could do with learning a little more.
What I did find interesting was Rollin’s desire, in his final year, to try and make a movie version of Georges Bataille’s confrontational, pornographic work Story of the Eye (Histoire de l'oeil). Admittedly, it would be a tough movie to try and get past any censor in most countries but one thing which did spring to mind, when Wingrove describes the scene where a man’s eyeball is torn out and then inserted into a woman’s vagina... is that Bertrand Blier already filmed a version of that scene, pretty much, in his charming movie Merci La Vie so, yeah, maybe not necessarily that scene but it would have certainly made for a challenging movie, that’s for sure.
Kier-La Janisse once again tells the charming story about how she invited Jean Rollin to one of her first film festivals without realising the strings attached and it’s made apparent just how much that meant to Rollin and how much joy it brought him. The most moving and informative stuff in the film, though, I think comes from his technical collaborator Véronique Djaouti. There’s a point in the proceedings charting just how ill Rollin was in his final years and it gets to a point where she’s practically reliving his final night for the camera and just breaks down, unable to go on for a while. Now, I was in tears myself by this point so it’s admittedly a very powerful piece of film but I was thinking to myself... they could at least have turned the cameras off. I’m sure the footage is here by mutual consent though so, yeah, it’s strong and engaging stuff.
After the film finished there was a quite good Q&A with Sélavy, Lahaie and the man behind the new book about LeHai’s films and, I learned a lot from this too. I already had an inkling but it turns out that Lahaie has been successfully hosting a very popular two hour, daily radio show since early in the millennium and so she’s actually a very busy person these days. I’m not going to say too much about the Q&A because Arrow were filming it for inclusion on their Blu Ray of the movie, due to be released sometime next year. There were some interesting questions that came up though, including one about Rollin’s connections to the underground jazz music scene at the time.
And, yeah, I think that’s me done on Orchestrator of Storms: The Fantastique World of Jean Rollin. I got so much more out of it than I at first realised and fans of this director’s filmography should appreciate this one... especially the future fans who will certainly find this an invaluable insight into the director’s life and work. This is probably my favourite film of FrightFest this year, I think.