Monday 31 January 2022


Lost & Sound

Mexico/Qatar/United Kingdom/
China/Switzerland 2021
Directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Sovereign Film Distribution

Warning: Possibly very slight spoilers...
I’m not sure if there are, to be honest.

I’ve not seen a film by Apichatpong Weerasethakul before and this one, Memoria, which marks his first English language film (although half of it is in Spanish), deals with a character called Jessica, played by Tilda Swinton (one of the greatest living actresses), as she wanders around bits of Spain and Columbia in search of the answer to the mystery which is haunting her.

Now I’m going to try and write this review without any spoilers which is going to be both bizarrely difficult and easy to attempt in equal measure but, ultimately, having spent over two hours of my time watching the film, trying to tell an audience what it’s actually about may prove something like trying to find a needle in a haystack.

I will say straight up that the movie is shot in that beautiful, languid, relaxed and simple manner I adore, that I might associate with someone like the great Andrei Tarkovsky. Most of the shots are long and there’s not always a lot of movement, if any, within a shot... sometimes for a good few minutes. It takes its time as both Jessica and the audience is hearing, every now and again, a fairly distinctive audio thump when nobody else can. The director likes to use the juxtaposition of sounds which aren’t actually this thump to both wrong foot the audience and also establish a difference between the thumps in Jessica’s head and ‘real’ ones. There’s also no underscore on the picture to distract from the sound design, which almost takes on the personae of being its own character in the film (if that’s not too pretentious a thing to say... although I’m sure a few reviewers might take this tack). So any music heard in the film is diegetic as in, an on screen source for any melody is clearly established.

The problem with the film for me is something I half saw coming from very early on in the narrative actually... if this could be called a narrative... in that I began to think of the main protagonist as being a more malleable screen presence than I think I was, at first, supposed to question. But question it I did and so, when one main character who is helping Jessica build an audio interpretation of the sound she keeps hearing just disappears from everyone’s narrative except hers... I felt myself a little vindicated in my original suspicions. Ditto when her sister, who she has been visiting in hospital but once released, doesn’t remember a conversation that she had with her in bed once she gets out... although considering the nature of the mystery illness which has struck her down, this is partially explainable within a traditional narrative interpretation of events, I think. Her sister's memory seems somewhat questionable anyway.

However, my own discomfort with believing everything put in front of my eyeballs as narrative truth... with good reason it perhaps transpires... wasn’t in anyway comforted by the ending of the movie which everything is leading up to. It also doesn’t help matters when, during the second or third long static shot of the movie, a load of car alarms go off in the city from no visible prompt, helping to re-enforce the notion in the collective mind of the audience that something ‘unseen by many’ is clearly afoot.

But, as I said, the film does work towards an end game and it certainly shows, at least, the source of the sound Jessica is seeing (or possibly two sources, depending on your interpretation) which I can certainly see as being the main clue for various catalogues and listings to label this up as a science fiction movie. That being said, any hopeful revelations on this point are kinda lost in the aftermath of certain statements in a conversation Jessica has with a guy taking up quite a large chunk of the conclusion of the movie. In fact, it becomes clear that not even Jessica is really able to properly comprehend the explanation behind the chain of events that have brought her to this point in the... yeah, let's call it narrative then.

By this stage, it’s fair to say that I think the viewer needs to bring his or her own interpretation of events and personal baggage with them and not feel like it’s an illegitimate way to approach the film... otherwise, I’d have to say, I can see a huge chunk of the audience getting extremely cross with the movie... at least as many as I suspect will look on it as a work of genius. For myself, in terms of the story, I guess I’m half and half with it but, as a deliberately slow paced spectacle with a wonderful central performance by the always reliable Swinton, I think I’d definitely have to err on the side of future classic, although I suspect it might not quite get that place in cinematic history books.

So, yeah, all in all I’m glad I saw Memoria and I’m also glad that, here in the UK, it didn’t have the gnarly release pattern it has in the US... where it will play in only one cinema for one week announced just a few days before it plays, before moving onto another cinema for one week... with no future home video release in its future. So, in that way, I guess I have to thank Sovereign Film Distribution for making it... just a little easier to ever see over here. My final word on it is... well... apart from the fact that I only have a little of a handle on what the film was actually about (there are, I think, a few possibilities and as I said, I think it’s down to individual interpretation)... I think it’s no spoiler to say that the final narrative punch of the film (or maybe just a slow poke in the cheek rather than punch, it might be said), is not all that different from the first time I experienced the ending of Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow Up. It’s not the same ending or at least as direct (and again, it’s open to interpretation and also has a definitive, single, science fiction shot in it) but it’s certainly not easy to forget either and it’s one of those films, I think, that will both divide audiences but also haunt them all for a while after being seen. So, personally, I think you should take that as a recommendation of a good movie worth trying to see but... you know... that’s all open to interpretation.

Sunday 30 January 2022

The Gay Falcon

Flight n’ Gal

The Gay Falcon
USA 1941
Directed by Irving Reis
RKO/Warner Archive DVD Region 1

George Sanders made five movies in 1941 alone, which was pretty much par for the course in Hollywood of old. The first one he shot that year was his final appearance as Simon Templar in The Saint In Palm Springs (reviewed here). The series continued without him but Sanders’ final 1941 movie was the first of what was a 13 film series based on a Michael Arlen character called The Falcon... who was very much like The Saint, although he was more like a private detective. Indeed, the creator of The Saint, Leslie Charteris, who wasn’t best mates with RKO, tried to sue the studio as he saw the character as a cheap imitation of him (the results of the dispute have never been made public, as far as I can see). Hugh Sinclair carried on in the role of Templar in the series of movies based on The Saint character.

Now, it’s often said that The Falcon film series was 16 films long but that’s actually not true. The last three movies are based on another writer’s novels of a character also called The Falcon, although, for some reason, the series was still credited up as being Arlen’s character, even though it’s clearly not the same person. This would explain why the two Warner Archive DVD collections only cover the first 13 films. That being said, Sanders only played The Falcon in the first three and, in an interesting move... oh no... I’ll get to that interesting swerve in the series when I get to the third movie.

Anyway, Sanders was now heading up The Falcon series and, in a move to give audiences a more ‘saintly experience’, they also cast Wendy Barrie as his long suffering fiancé who is trying to get him to give up crime solving and other women. Barrie had already starred opposite Sanders in three separate Simon Templar movies, although she played different characters in each. The Falcon also has a side kick in these films, much like The Saint would often have a ‘stooge’ helping him out. In this film it’s Allen Jenkins playing ex-thief Jonathan G. 'Goldie' Locke. And another element which is interchangeable with The Saint films was the common practice of having a police inspector who gets things wrong and eventually accepting the lead character’s help to solve the crime... in this film it’s Arthur Shields as Inspector Mike Waldeck.

In the books, the lead character is actually called Gay Falcon but, in the first film here, he’s Gay Laurence (which changed to Gay Lawrence for the next two) and The Falcon is more of an alias (again, as in The Saint films). So yeah, if you watch The Gay Falcon it is pretty much like watching another Saint sequel, to be honest, although the screenplay on this one doesn’t quite have the same, well, written sparkling wit of Sanders’ former role.

That being said, it’s an entertaining enough watch although it’s a little light on action. I can’t remember if the series gets more action oriented as it goes on because, the last time I watched these would have been in the early 1980s on BBC2 at 5.40pm or 6.20pm on weekday evenings, when the re-runs of the Charlie Chan and The Saint films had run their course. However, light on action doesn’t mean it’s light on murders (there are three of them) and there’s lots of running around as both The Falcon and Goldie are both under suspicion from the police at various points in the movie.

Sanders pays it cool and his new female assistant (Nina Vale, for this one movie only) helps him get by the police while at the same time bringing down the wrath of his fiance, who inadvertently gets him into more trouble as the story goes on. Although I suspected the real villain of the movie, who is revealed in a twist near the end of the picture, I didn’t really see it coming until I’d remembered at the end of the picture, just before the reveal, that I’d considered this a possibility at the start of the movie... so that’s kind of good. The camera work is quite good too, with people being framed in the 4:3 ratio as and when they are needed in the shot and almost making up ‘too perfect’ photographic compositions on cue. There’s a lovely sequence, for example, where Sanders and Vale have broken into a hotel room and are waiting on the ledge outside the windows for the returning owner of the apartment to leave again. When that happens, Sanders re-enters the room but we stay outside as Sanders is perfectly framed in a middle slice of the screen with square petitioned window frames creating the space for the action on either side. There’s some quite nice stuff in the movie, for sure.

Paul Sawtell provides some appropriate but not too striking music here and the pace, even without much action, is fairly fast and, like I said, it’s an okay entry into the series which would run for quite a few installments. Each story ends with a kind of cliffhanger preview which may or may not dovetail into the next film in the series. I don’t believe the throwaway end scene of a lady in distress is picked up in the next one but I’ll let you know soon enough. I’ll be working my way through these pictures, revisiting them now after many decades and I’ll bring the reviews to the blog as I work my way through them. I loved these as a teenager and I’m sure I’ll be spellbound by them now. So I’ll make A Date With The Falcon again sometime soon.

Wednesday 26 January 2022

Yours Cruelly, Elvira

Cassandra Complex

Yours Cruelly, Elvira -
Memoirs Of The
Mistress Of The Dark

by Cassandra Peterson
Hachette Books ISBN: 9780306874352

Wow, what a great book. I just want to give a quick shout out here to one of those rare autobiographies that come along every now and again that remind you that there are some nice people around in this world who, you know, haven’t let the gruelling pressures of the hardships they’ve somehow had to endure turn them into complete monsters. This is just such a tome and, given that Cassandra Peterson... aka Elvira - Mistress Of The Dark... has been pretty much co-writing her own material for decades, it really shouldn’t come as any surprise that she’s managed to write a memoir as  burdened with the weight of some heavy experiences and revelations as this one is, in a witty, poignant and vastly interesting manner. And to somehow make it an absolute hoot of an entertaining book, to boot!

I first became aware of ‘Elvira’, I think, around about 1988, when I was twenty years old. I saw the movie poster being advertised in some magazine (or possibly comic... or both) and instantly, somehow, recognised the iconic ‘boobs n’ hair’ image of someone who looked like either Vampira or Vampirella (or a thrilling combination of both) being burned at the stake. Now, the IMDB doesn’t list the movie as getting a theatrical release in the UK and, while I know I had it on good old trusty VHS at the time (since upgraded twice now to both DVD and Blu Ray editions), I’m pretty sure I did see it at my local cinema over here at the time (a cinema which is, alas, now a Tesco but, still, good times were had).

It was a film which nobody seemed to have heard of at the time, which I introduced a few people to, who then also became staunch supporters of the legendary lady. I met her once and got a photo signed by her in the 90s, or possibly just into the next decade, at the old London Film And Comic Con, back in the days when it was good and not many people went (which probably explains why she never returned to do it again... I didn’t have to wade through a huge queue of pre-booked visitors to meet her at that point). I also remember buying vinyl record albums of her at around the same time and reading comics too, including a black and white, biographical comic which started off highlighting how she got scarred by life-threatening boiling water burns as a very young child (not even two years old yet, I think?).

The full story of that accident and just how lucky she was to survive it due to various things all lining up at once is almost a forewarning of the way things seemed to have happened to her over her life... at least that’s one of the things I took away from this account. She goes on to explain the way things came into being in terms of her career and opportunities much later in the book but, there’s also a lot of dark stuff she went through and she captures a lot of it for the reader as she goes, chapter by chapter, through her life.

And there’s a lot to take in as she goes from tragedy to fortune to tragedy again in small, perfectly formed installments... starting off with a dramatic opening when she is on her honeymoon and getting the call to audition for the role of a certain little ‘Horror Hostess’ for a TV station before flashing back through her memoirs, catching up with this moment a little over half the way through the book and after a bunch of amazing and, sometimes gruelling, stories.

Lots of great stuff here to unpack including her relationship with her parents and siblings, her early obsession with horror films and her love, as a young girl, of building those old Aurora model kits of Dracula, Frankenstein and The Mummy etc  (remember those?), her times as a ‘virgin groupie’ meeting various big bands and the bizarre time she hung out with Jimi Hendrix... to her obsessions with Elvis (who she stayed up talking to for most of a night when she was working as a showgirl in Las Vegas... a conversation which changed the course of her life), Ann Margaret, The Beatles and eventually landing her way to the role that made her fame and fortune.

On the way there are stars who were nice to her (I might mention Liza Minelli) and those who weren’t ultimately all that pleasant (I might mention Frank Sinatra and Tom Jones). And I love the way she humanises some of the celebrity people she meets by initially teasing them into the text by just their first names, so you take in what good deeds they might have done (or not), before she suddenly hits you with a second name and you realise just who it is she’s talking about. For instance, I’m not going to say who Bobby was, who pinned her boyfriend against his car because he was being abusive to her... you’ll have to read the book yourself to find out who that guy was... but it does give a solid, positive sketch of the man behind the name. I will say, though, that when she was taking acting lessons alongside two students, Lynda and Debra, who fast became friends with her... it gave me a little insight into just how Debra Winger came to be cast as Wonder Girl in Lynda Carter’s hit TV show Wonder Woman (reviewed by me here only last week).

So yeah, there are lots of celebrity stories such as hanging out in Rome in her teens and working as an extra on Fellini’s movies... but there’s also often a downside to these periods of her life, such as fleeing Rome after escaping captivity from some criminals who starved her for three days with not much expectations of surviving the experience.

And, of course, her time promoting her brand image Elvira in various shapes and forms over the years... including, of course, the two wonderful films she made and explaining how she modelled the famous Elvira wig (seriously, it took me years to twig that wasn’t her natural hair... I'm naive) on Ronnie Spector’s hairstyle. I also didn’t realise the number of films and shows various actors don’t put on their CV or, perhaps as importantly these days, the IMDB. For instance, I hadn’t a clue that she appeared as a showgirl in the James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever. I also need to check out another new collection of memoirs she tips the reader off to, from the lady who road managed her and which is called The Opposite Of Famous, as soon as time and money will allow.

And there’s more... lots more, including of course the now famous revelation, with the publication of this book, that she’s been living with a female lover for the last 20 years who is finally able to support her emotionally in the way her husband never could (it seems to me). So, yeah, Cassandra’s Elvira brand has had a couple of prominent bumps along the way (many of them detailed in this book) but she’s in a very strong place right now, it seems... finally getting something which approximates the happy ending she deserves.

So, if you’ve not been taking notes, I’d have to say that Yours Cruelly, Elvira - Memoirs Of The Mistress Of The Dark is a sometimes heartbreaking, often hilarious but certainly informative, candid and entertaining tome... I honestly wish it was twice the size so it didn’t have to end so fast. I’d recommend this one to most people I know in a shot but, for now, until I find out the next project she’s getting involved with, I shall continue to play my iPad simulacra versions of the Elvira pinball machines and gaze up, from time to time, at the shot of her on the wall by my bed, to read the message I asked her to inscribe all those years ago (when I had to remind her it was actually a direct quote from her movie... I think she remembers it better nowadays)... Revenge Is Better Than Christmas!

Tuesday 25 January 2022

Revenge Of The Creature

The Giller Memorandum

Revenge Of The Creature
USA 1955
Directed by Jack Arnold
Universal Blu Ray Zone A

After the incredible success of Creature From The Black Lagoon in 1954 (which I reviewed here), a sequel was inevitable and director Jack Arnold returned for the gig. If you’re into your trivia, this one was released (less widely is my understanding) in 3D in selected venues and so this one counts as the very first time a 3D movie had received a sequel shot in the same process.

Now, although this was reportedly the most successful of the three Creature features in terms of box office receipts, Revenge Of The Creature is not nearly as good as the first movie and the quality does tend to go down in terms of the three pictures as they go forward (the posters on the next one in the series promised much but had a huge drawback and is the most disappointing of the series). There are almost no characters joining the returning director from the first movie in this one. We basically have the titular Gill-man, who we last saw floating into the depths of the Black Lagoon as quite possibly a lifeless corpse (played by various actors, at least one of whom was the same as in the first picture) and we have, for about the first 15 minutes but in a much larger role than he had in the first one, Nestor Paiva as Captain Lucas, who takes the two man ‘safari expedition’ into the same area that he previously encountered the creature.

The story line is not nearly as punchy as the original but actually delivers a lot more on the expectations of the original picture. That is to say, this time around it’s more or less a remake of the 1933 classic King Kong (reviewed here). So, man brings creature back to be experimented on, trained and exhibited at Florida’s Marineland (see some of my early Al Adamson reviews for more mention of Marineland) and, even though the scientists are a bit mean to it (giving electric shocks to obey the command of “No” or “Stop”), it develops a kind of fish-man equivalent of Stockholm Syndrome, escapes and then stalks the lead female scientist while she’s out having a good time with her new leading man. Of course, all comes right at the end and we’re left with a conclusion which perfectly mirrors the final shot of the last movie. That’s about all of the story I need to cover right here.

In terms of actors we have the human ‘almost-villain’, who is a much lighter character and is the one responsible for bringing back the creature to civilisation... Joe, played by John Bromfield. We also have the leading lady Helen, played by the charming Lori Nelson and the real leading man, Professor Clete, played by John Agar. These last two, even though they spend a lot of the movie trying to shock condition the creature, thus ensuring the audience are fully sympathetic to the Gill-Man’s plight, are actually pretty sympathetic characters so we can completely root for John Agar as he runs around Florida with the police in a desperate attempt to retrieve his girlfriend from the clutches of the creature.

And, it’s an okay film but, like I said, nowhere near as good as the first movie. I’m not sure if there was any new score written for this one as a lot of it seems to be tracked in from the first movie, including the use of that three note creature theme probably even more often than in the previous installment. It has a certain mood or atmosphere that the first one doesn’t have which, due to the differences in the plot and the stalking of the creature running around Florida with Helen, as he tries to stay close to a water source, takes on an almost ‘slasher film’ atmosphere to it, it seems to me. Like I said, it’s a step down but in mimicking King Kong’s idea of a monster brought to civilisation and then breaking loose, it’s not just a retread of the first one, which I guess we can be thankful for. For that matter, neither is the third in the series but... yeah, I don’t really want to say too much about the third yet. I’ll get there on another review.

Of course, by now, Millicent Patrick, who had designed the original version of the title character, had already had her career ruined by Bud Westmore and was not around to work on the picture. I think where this really falls down for Universal is in the next film where... oh yeah... not talking about that one yet. One person who is around on this is a very young, uncredited Clint Eastwood in his first movie role, as a lab technician in one scene (see pictured above). That always makes me laugh.

So, anyway, this is one short review but it’s really not the movie the first one was and, I’d not recommend seeing Revenge Of The Creature (who has no real revenge issues at all, from what I can make out) without having first watched the glorious Creature From The Black Lagoon. So definitely check out the first one if you’re thinking of watching this one at some point.

Monday 24 January 2022

Gamera - Guardian Of The Universe

Gyaos & Dolls

Gamera - Guardian Of The Universe
aka Gamera Giant Mid-Air Showdown
aka Gamera daikaijû kuchu kessen
Japan 1995
Directed by Shûsuke Kaneko  
Daiei/Toho Arrow Films
Blu Ray Zone B

It had been 15 years since the last Gamera movie and a full three decades since his cinematic birth. Toho was releasing the final of the new Heisei era Godzilla films at the end of this year but now it was time for everyone’s favourite, jet propelled giant turtle to make a return, in a trilogy of Heisei era pictures beginning with Gamera - Guardian Of The Universe. It’s been hailed as a masterpiece by critics (it won a lot of awards) and, more importantly, it was a champ at the box office and its reputation is huge with most audience members... apart from the director and creator of the original Gamera films, who felt it lost a lot when it stopped focusing on young children as the target audience.

The film is a total reboot this time around. The Showa films never happened in this universe and nobody has even heard of Gamera, nor of Gyaos (also returning here) in this movie until an inscription embedded in a mysterious floating atoll, which houses Gamera within, is translated.

The plot of the film is that a whole bunch of 15 foot wing spanned Gyaos (so, initially much smaller than the original Gyaos from Gamera VS Gyaos, reviewed here) have awakened (or hatched) on a small island and eaten the 17 people who were there. Mayumi, played by Shinobu Nakayama, is an ornithologist and, since the Gyaos’ are initially believed to be giant birds, she is brought in by the government to research and then help capture or kill them. 

 Meanwhile, Yoshinaro (played by Tsuyoshi Ihara who you may remember from the remake of 13 Assassins, reviewed here, some years ago) is trying to find out why the drifting atoll was threatening his plutonium transport ship. He gives a comma shaped bead, one of many found on the atoll, to the teenage daughter of his employee, Asagi (played by Ayako Fujitani, the daughter of Steven Seagal, who plays this character in all the films in this trilogy). Gamera awakens and fulfills the prophecy from the monolith on the atoll as he goes to rid the world of Gyaos, mistaken at first as a destructive enemy force (because, you know, he accidentally knocks about a few buildings here and there) and therefore finding himself pursued by the army. However, the comma shaped bead has chosen Asagi, who is now spiritually bonded to Gamera and, when he receives a battle injury, she starts bleeding and getting beaten up too... although she can connect with him in her head and can use the spiritual closeness of her father Naoya (played by Akira Onodera) to help Gamera too.

Because Gamera is somewhat distracted by the army firing gazillions of missiles at him after he’s destroyed most of the Gyaos creatures, one Gyaos manages to eat enough to transform into a proper, much larger giant monster, more like the size of the original Gyaos in the Showa era films. So, after destroying as many of the Gyaos eggs as he can, Gamera has to face off against Gyaos one last time.

And, yeah, it’s pretty good. The acting all seems much more naturalistic compared to the wonderful Showa era movies and monsters have been updated for the times but, it’s all pretty much business as usual... it’s just had a lot more money thrown at it this time around. Well, I say the monsters are updated but they are still unmistakably Gamera and Gyaos. Gyaos is not licking everybody’s blood this time around though, as there is no reference to his legacy origin as being a ‘giant Dracula creature’ in the spirit of the ‘giant Frankenstein’ kaiju movies, alas. He does still retain his sonic beam and the initial ‘ramping up’ of the beam which creates a visual distortion field looks fantastic. Gamera looks as cute as ever and I’m happy to say the film makers have kept his distinctive, high pitched roar. Yes, he still sounds like Johnny Weismuller exhaling loudly on Helium gas, I’m glad to report.

And, yeah, it’s a fun romp with a lot of gravitas to the acting and some good model work. Although, I noticed a lot of the things which would have been done with easily perceptible models in the original movies, such as tanks and battleships, have been replaced by the real thing in this production (darn, I miss the silly models). It’s also quite spectacular and there are explosions galore with the only real weak effects appearing as matte lines in certain scenes at the end, where Gamera and Gyaos are locked together in combat and heading in and out of the Earth’s atmosphere.

The music is very different too, with composer Kow Otani giving this a much more darker and westernised sounding score (on a par perhaps with the kind of scoring found in the 1984 film The Return Of Godzilla). It works quite well but, I have to admit, I really missed the corny old Gamera song which was in a few of the 1960s and 70s productions. Still, we can’t have everything I suppose. At least Gamera got to keep his look and his roar and, you know, there isn’t a single ricochet sound on the entire foley, from what I could hear.

Yeah,  Gamera - Guardian Of The Universe is very enjoyable but I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily any better than the best of the Showa era films... it’s just a slightly modernised approach which happens to work really well and is hugely entertaining. I look forward to looking at the next two.

Sunday 23 January 2022

Spider-Man - No Way Home

Home From Home

Spider-Man - No Way Home
USA  2021 Directed by Jon Watts
UK cinema release print.

Warning: Here be big spoilers right from the start... because there’s not much to talk about in this movie other than the central premise/gimmick.

Okay, so first my congratulations to Marvel for getting a film out which has appealed to enough people that it’s literally made billions of dollars in cinema box office in the middle of a pandemic (which still isn’t anywhere over yet... as I’m sure we’ll all find out fairly soon). As for me... well Spider-Man - No Way Home wasn’t a great Marvel movie and it wasn’t a terrible one. It’s about on a par with the last one in the series, Spider-Man - Far From Home (reviewed here) but, at least in this one we see the Spider-Man costume more prominently. In fact we see a number of different costume variants from different versions of, not just the most recent films in which Tom Holland’s Spider-Man has appeared in but also, yeah, spoilers people, we see the versions from the previous two iterations of Columbia’s Spider-Man movies.

So Holland is back alongside Zendaya as MJ (who’s not actually named Mary Jane as everyone had assumed), Jacob Batalon as Ned, Jon Favreau as Happy, Marisa Tomei as Aunt May, Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange and Benedict Wong as Wong... among a whole host of other regulars from the series. It ties in some of the post-credits scenes in previous movies such as Far From Home and Venom - Let There Be Carnage (reviewed here) and allows them to make more sense because this one is definitely playing around with the idea of multiverses... I guess the studio heads were staggered by the box office of Spider-Man - Into The Spiderverse (reviewed here) and wanted to sort out something similar in a live action version. So J K Simmons returning as J Jonah Jameson at the end of Far From Home makes sense now because this iteration of the character is not the same as the one in the Sam Raimi films... he just happens to look like his multiversal counterpart.

Okay, so what that means, thanks to a screwed up spell when Peter Parker asks Doctor Strange to remedy the problems that Jameson has made for him, is we have various villains... and heroes... from the previous two Spider-Man franchises continuing their story points in the part of the ‘multiverse’ we are familiar with from the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) films. So, yeah, we have Willem Dafoe as The Green Goblin, Alfred Molina as Doctor Octopus, Jamie Foxx as Electro, Thomas Haden Church as The Sandman and Rhys Ifans as The Lizard. Plus, of course, Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield portraying the previous versions of Peter Parker (aka Spider-Man), who are on hand to lend the Tom Holland incarnation some assistance when he loses someone close to him and finds himself in his darkest hour.

And, I will probably get a lot more out of it the second time around but, although I don’t feel all that impressed by this one... which makes absolutely no sense in the way it leaves the characters at the end (I’m hoping they clear up their ‘lack of common sense’ mess in the up and coming Doctor Strange movie)... the film has it’s fair share of up and down moments... more up I am happy to say.

My biggest down moment was Jamie Foxx. I’m sure he’s a great actor and it’s really not his fault that the way his Electro character is written sucks, in both this and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (reviewed here). I used to love that character in the original comics but, yeah, this just isn’t him. However, there were a couple of nice ‘blink and you’ll miss them’ electricity strikes around his head during at least two points which were deliberately reminiscent of the head piece of his costume in the proper 1960s comics at least. I was also somewhat disappointed that Tyne Daley didn’t show up as part of the Damage Control team this time around, as she did in Spider-Man Homecoming (reviewed here) ... which is a shame. Did they drop her from the line-up?

All the other characters were mostly handled well, especially Alfred Molina, injecting the Doctor Octopus role with as much sympathy as he did the first time around in Spider-man 2. Willem Dafoe is also absolutely awesome here and, thankfully, mostly unencumbered by that terrible helmet he wore in Spider-Man (although it does turn up briefly). Thomas Haden Church as Sandman is equally multi-dimensional in terms of his character’s dynamic and reversal in this, like a reflection of what happens with Molina’s character here. The Lizard from The Amazing Spider-Man (reviewed here)  is, perhaps, a little different to how I remembered him, however, especially in the design of the character.

There are also some nice moments with Maguire and Garfield as the two other Spider-Men. One moment which is really emotional is when, when it comes to the MJ character in the film, is when the Garfield version manages to save her from the death he accidentally inflicted on his girlfriend Gwen Stacey in similar circumstances in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Also, there’s a fan pleasing moment when the writers address the issue of whether the mutant Tobey Maguire version of the character shoots webbing from his penis or not... which is something audiences have been asking since his first go in the role in Spider-Man, of course. Yeah, they get a lot of mileage out of his mutant DNA in this one, actually, in terms of the humour of the film.

There’s a large dose of tragedy in the film too. Not just with the death of a major character in the series (yeah, I’m not giving that away too) but with the totally nonsensical ‘how can Peter Parker even get money out of a bank to pay the rent now’ way the ending leaves the central three characters of the MCU Peter Parker, MJ and Ned Leeds in at the film’s conclusion. Now, when I first rumbled they were going to go all multiversal at the end of No Way Home, I was pretty sure they would set this up to eject Spider-Man from the future MCU films... or at least Tom Holland’s iteration of it (there’s a couched reference to Miles Morales in the movie so, it’s obviously on their mind). The ending of the movie definitely sets up a future for the series where Tom Holland’s Spider-Man either does, or perhaps doesn’t, return in future movies. I suspect the answer to that one won’t come soon (and I think it will be a bit of an elephant in the room in the upcoming Doctor Strange And The Multiverse Of Madness too, since it’s pretty much a direct sequel to this one in terms of the set up, at least judging from the trailer used as the second of the post-credits scenes here)... Holland has expressed an interest in not returning so I suspect some hasty salary negotiations are being looked at (or not... Marvel have a track record now for replacing characters with different actors, I believe... Roadie, for example, or Howard Stark and Bruce Banner come to mind).

Ultimately, Spider-Man No Way Home is an entertaining movie for what it is... a big attempt at a multiversal crossover cash grab that, apparently, has certainly succeeded in that. I didn’t hate it and I suspect I’ll grow to like it more over time (if they manage to make sense of their ending in future MCU movies). There are some good bits, there are some clunky bits (“You are AMAZING!"... geddit) but, overall, it’s nice seeing the winning team of Spider-Man and Doctor Strange together again (although Strange is not in it as much as you might think). So, yeah, if you liked the other MCU Spider-Man films, not to mention the previous franchises, you’ll probably have a relatively good time with this one, I would say. I still think Homecoming is the best one in this trilogy, though.

Thursday 20 January 2022


Eternally Yours

USA 2021
Directed by Chloé Zhao
Marvel Studios

Warning: Slight spoilers as to the nature of the main ‘super hero’ characters here.

Okay, let’s address the first of the two elephants in the room here... Marvel’s Eternals is based on the old Jack Kirby Marvel comic The Eternals. Now, I never used to read that one, although I saw it floating around newsstands a lot as a kid in the early 1970s and it seems to me the whole look as in costumes and characters probably has not much in the way of links to what Marvel have done to it in the movie version. Maybe that’s why the producers thought the word The in the title was somehow either superfluous or a way of defending it against the criticisms of the various changes. I’m reading that there were, indeed, a lot of changes from the comics and Kirby’s original vision but, hey, that’s what I’ve sadly come to expect from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. So, yeah, can’t compare it and maybe going into it blind was best for me because...

I really don’t understand the almost overwhelming negativity about this movie. I literally only know one person who liked it... everyone else I’ve seen commenting on it on social media (for example) has given it a big thumbs down but, honestly, I’d have to say this is one of the more watchable and entertaining of the Marvel movies. Due to the comments, I actually put off seeing this one for a while and was expecting it to be really quite bad or, I dunno, lacking in action somehow but, no... it’s chock full of action and it’s got a load of great actors... Salma Hayek, Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Angelina Jolie, Kit Harrington, Kumail Nanjiani (yay, Stuber!), Lia McHugh, Brian Tyree Henry, Lauren Ridloff, Barry Keoghan, Ma Dong-seok and Bollywood star Harish Patel playing a bunch of interesting and diverse characters who don’t always get along with each other and don’t always do the things Marvel good guy/bad guy characters would usually do (this is not a bad thing). Which can also be said, to a certain extent, about the way the film’s storyline goes in general (I kinda wish the studio had the guts to present the audience with the original preview ending of the movie, which is a lot bleaker from what I can understand).

Yes, it’s a long film but that’s because it’s got an epic storyline and, intimate and comedic moments aside, it has a real epic feel to it too. One of the things which gives it that is that the story keeps flashing back from present times to various points in Earth’s history to reveal the reasons behind why the titular heroes have separated and hidden themselves among mankind in the first place. It also addresses the other elephant in the room... why they’ve not done anything to save humanity during its various historical crises, such as the Thanos snap... out of the way fairly quickly and, I thought, glibly at first. That is until it’s addressed again later in the movie as a more satisfying motivation on the part of these once and future heroes.

Now there were some things that maybe let it down a bit. For instance, when one of the heroes turns up dead fairly early on in the modern sections of the film, there was no question in my mind that the film was probably going to reveal a very Watchmen style twist somewhere near the last act... which proved entirely correct so, yeah, no real surprises there. Also, one of the characters is established and then seemingly tossed aside as he only seems to be there to make the most of in the first of two post credits scenes (the mid credits scene in fact) so that his character can be used to set up two other Marvel comic book characters, who will no doubt be appearing in Phase IV of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (one of them is only a voice at this point so, yeah, he got even shorter shrift in terms of appearing in the movie... I won't spoil it for you by naming him here).

The one big problem for me though... apart from some anachronistic sign language used in the wrong part of human history, was the fact that if these beings were created to be perfect beings at carrying out a specific mission... as it’s established they were... why give them specific defects such as, well, one of them being deaf. I mean, yeah, great that deaf people are represented but the concept of giving that character the origin she has makes absolutely no sense in this specific context, it seems to me.

Still, I’m willing to forgive the movie things like this because, as I said, it’s an entertaining movie and much better than some of the weaker entries in the MCU, such as Iron Man 2, Thor 2, The Incredible Hulk or the Guardians Of The Galaxy movies. I was thoroughly engaged with it and it certainly didn’t seem as long as two and a half hours.

One very interesting thing, given it’s a Marvel movie, is that there are two DC references in the film... specifically in terms of talking about both Superman and Batman at different points in the movie. Now, at first I thought that this may be some big money making plan on the part of Marvel (and it certainly would be a licence to print their own money) to cross over with Warner Brothers’ DC Universe at some future point but, thinking about it, certain secrets about the characters are revealed and so, what I think it actually does is establish that DC comics are alive and well in the Marvel Cinematic Universe but... they are just that. Fictional comics and media and not something which meshes with the MCU in a more interesting way. So now, I have to say, I’m fairly puzzled as to why I’m hearing these references to rival comic book companies in a Marvel movie (and, yeah, you can bet DC will get their own reprisals in on their up and coming movie slate, for sure, when it comes to referencing Marvel comics).

But, yeah, other than that... not too much to say about Eternals other than... I think the audience seem to have reacted really harshly (maybe because it’s not just straight Bam! Kapow! Kablooey! this time around) and I really hope to see some of these characters again in future Marvel movies. Which, despite the low box office take, I think they will be practically forced to do at some point because it seems to set up so many future MCU events which would dovetail nicely into this. And, while it probably doesn’t adhere closely to Jack Kirby’s original ideas, I could definitely see some of his ‘cosmic influence’ on certain sequences in the movie... which did give a few scenes a more Kirbyesque look, it has to be said. Splendid stuff and I hope that Marvel don’t listen to the audience response on this one.

Wednesday 19 January 2022

Abbott And Costello Meet The Invisible Man

Defective Inspector

Abbott And Costello
Meet The Invisible Man

USA 1951
Directed by Charles Lamont
Universal Blu Ray Zone A

This one will be a short one as there’s not all that much to say about this final part of the Invisible Man franchise other than, it’s a not bad Bud and Lou vehicle which mostly works. Abbott And Costello Meet The Invisible Man was originally planned as a another straight entry in the series but, after the success of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein and what followed for the comedy duo’s career revival in the wake of it, the straight script was recrafted to fit into their subsequent successes of the Abbott And Costello Meet... films.

Of course, at the end of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (which I reviewed here), the two had already briefly met an iteration of The Invisible Man in the form of Vincent Price, who had already played the character in The Invisible Man Returns (reviewed here). This time, however, it was yet another title character, this time in the form of boxer Tommy Nelson (played by Arthur Franz), who is friends with a doctor who has the invisibility serum. Actually, the mechanics of the plot fit right into the Invisible franchise, as it’s established that it’s the same serum used by Dr. Griffin in the first film. Alas, although the doctor in this film has a portrait of Griffin as played by Claude Rains (in 1933’s The Invisible Man, reviewed here), they say that his name was John Griffin... when the character name of Rains character was actually, of course, Jack Griffin. However, the threat to Griffin’s mental state is exactly the same and I guess nobody can remember the antidote serum used in some of the previous Invisible pictures because, although the formula is once again expected to bring madness on the user within a week or two, the doctor has to start developing a re-agent from scratch here.

Meanwhile, the now invisible Tommy has to clear his name after his manager was murdered for not throwing a fight in a crooked boxing match. So he hires two bumbling detectives fresh from graduating from detective school (played by Bud Abbott and Lou Costello... we see the graduation ceremony as the opening scene) and between the three of them they end up putting Lou undercover as a boxing sensation in order to attract the same crooked offer and so expose the operation and get a confession to clear Tommy’s name. While all the while they work to escape detection from the mostly ineffective police inspector who knows the game is afoot, played by William Frawley (who people may remember from the popular I Love Lucy TV show).

That’s the set up and it’s all pretty much the kind of comedy shenanigans you’d expect from Bud and Lou (they retain their real names for their characters and their middle names for the character’s surnames) while also blending the invisible routines into the plot. And, to be fair, it’s a perfect fit for all kinds of zany antics, culminating in the big boxing match where invisible Tommy throws the punches while Lou tries to look like he’s doing the fighting.

So yeah, nicely comedic with some standout sequences such as a nice ‘money grab’ routine between Bud and Lou as they fight over their retainer money and a good three handed card game with the invisible guy. The scene where the invisible boxer steals Lou’s spaghetti before he notices it and Lou ends up rolling up his own napkin in his fork and stuffing it into his mouth is typical of how these two comics can sell their antics so well. It was an unexpected moment and well executed, like many of their comedy routines.

The special effects are all top rate in terms of the invisibility stuff and, even though some of these sequences are recycled footage from The Invisible Man Returns, the new stuff is equally impressive and really shows how well the studio could knock out these trick shots just 18 years after the first one. To be fair, the majority of the effects work in all of the Invisible Man franchise was pretty good right from the start and Universal were not a poverty row studio who would try and cut corners on this kind of stuff. It all looks pretty convincing although, the recycled footage of an invisible hamster disappearing does contradict the way Tommy transforms in terms of continuity of the process, to be fair.

Of course the jokes are thick and fast and a nice running joke where eye witnesses keep ending up in the office of the police psychiatrist also breaks up the action and gives a quick break here and there. A nice one liner is when the psychiatrist asks Lou if he knows where the subconscious mind comes from? Lou’s answer of “The subway?” does not disappoint.

One thing I noticed was that the humour is a lot gentler than some other comedians in terms of what they were bringing to the table, particular in terms of sexuality. It’s present but it’s not spelled out for the kids. So, for example, a line to Lou from a seductive femme fatale that she has “Two good reasons for wanting to meet you.” is filled with the expected innuendo but Lou just looks away to milk it... rather than follow it up with a line of his own, allowing it to float over the heads of the more innocent audience without making a big production out of it.

At the end of the day, Tommy’s name is cleared, Bud and Lou presumably get paid and the main villain gets his come uppance. Incidentally, eagle eyed viewers might recognise the villain, Morgan, as being played by Sheldon Leonard. Leonard had, of course, played Nick the bartender in a couple of scenes in It’s A Wonderful Life (reviewed by me here...)... “Hey get me, I’m giving out wings!”... so it was a nice surprise seeing him in something else.

And that’s about all I've got in me for Abbott And Costello Meet The Invisible Man. However, it’s not the end of my Abbott and Costello nor Universal franchise reviews because the fifth classic Universal monster was just around the corner in Creature From The Black Lagoon (which I’ve already reviewed for this blog and you can read that here) and also, Abbott and Costello would meet a new incarnation of yet another of the five big Universal horrors too. And, as usual, it’s all coming soon to this blog so... stay tuned.

Tuesday 18 January 2022

Tales Of The Shadowmen 17 - Noblesse Oblige

Cops & Roburs

Tales Of The
Shadowmen 17
Noblesse Oblige

Edited by Jean-Marc Lofficier
Randy Lofficier

Black Coat Press ISBN: 97816493202478

Okay, it’s that time of the year again when I do a very small shout out of a review to what has now become my third Christmas reading ritual over the years, following the latest Patricia Cornwell and Kathy Reichs novels (okay, don’t panic, I’ve not read the latest Reichs yet for various reasons but that review will hopefully be coming in a couple of months). That ritual is the devouring of the ‘second from latest’ Tales Of The Shadowmen collection from Black Coat Press... never quite up to date for a Christmas present because the latest one is never published until the middle of each December of the year.

So, December 2020’s collection is Volume 17 in the series, subtitled Noblesse Oblige and, like all the others before it, it contains a collection of short stories with the common thread of each writer taking two or more famous literary pulp or comic book characters and having them cross paths in a new tale. Because of the huge amount of different characters, many of them French, I don’t always get all of the references but, as in previous editions, there’s a handy guide to the origins of all the characters, objects and place names in a kind of index at the back for each story, which attributes these various appearances to the original writer who created them.

This volume has the usual interesting kinds of ‘mash ups’ (in the common, current parlance) and so you have characters like Arthur Conan Doyle’s Moriarty or Jules Verne’s Robur The Conqueror (you know, The Master Of The World) cropping up or at least mentioned in more than one of these tales. There are also, again as in previous volumes, the next story in ongoing arcs from various authors, acting as sequel segments to their stories in various editions of the Tales Of The Shadowmen collections. So, for example, The Revolution Begins Tonight by Nigel Malcom, which has people like Sexton Blake, The Nyctalope, Una Persson, Doctor Omega, Zenith and Judex fighting a corrupt government, transplanted into the future world of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, is the fourth and final installment of this story arc.

And, while some of the combinations of characters are not as odd as they’ve sometimes been in the past... there are still some really nice homages to both the literary and certain cinematic variations of characters. For example, there’s a nice short tale called Only One... by Frank Schildiner about Boysie Oakes (aka The Liquidator, Rod Taylor played him in the movie version of the first book) being brought, by Elke Sommers’ character from the Bulldog Drummond movie Deadlier Than The Male, face to face with the Jean Marais 1960s cinematic incarnation of Fantômas. Or another in which ‘that woman’ from Sherlock Holmes, aka Irene Adler, brings about the downfall of the latest scheme by Robur... in a story called Master Of The Six Gun by Nathan Cabannis.

Perhaps my favourite stories this time around were the more involved and longer tales which spent a while building up the characters. For instance, John Peel’s The Child That Time Forgot, where the inhabitants of Verne’s travelling, mechanical island get caught on Skull Island in the late Nineteenth Century and one of those left behind ensures the survival of baby Kong. But I even enjoyed the ones where I really didn’t know the characters so well. Such as Randy Lofficier’s The Phantom Angel And The Dwarves Of Death, which has Sleeping Beauty, who is now living in the modern world with a fairyland community often hidden from human eyes, helping out a lady detective from a French police procedural TV series called Spiral, as they work to uncover the murderer of one of the seven dwarves.

Plus, as per usual, all kinds of appearances by the likes of Dr. Moreau, The Morlocks, The Liliputians, Dr. Fu Manchu, Rip Kirby, Maigret, Arsene Lupin and also, a brilliant little tale called Doctor’s Note by Matthew Dennion, in which Eric (aka The Phantom Of The Opera) seeks to have his deformity cured, seen first through the diary of Dr. Van Helsing and subsequently through the notes of Dr. Jekyll.

So, yeah, it’s all just delightful business as usual and, once again, I can do nothing else but recommend Tales Of The Shadowmen 17 - Noblesse Oblige to any readers who have a penchant for stories where old characters from different kinds of fiction and walks of life encounter each other. As always, these collections can be a bit hit and miss depending on your tastes, due to the wide variety of different writing styles and, I would say start from the first volume because there are often multi-part stories running through the various collections.

Monday 17 January 2022

Wonder Woman

Bullets & Bracelets

Wonder Woman/
The New Adventures
Of Wonder Woman

USA 1975 - 1979
Three Seasons
Blu Ray Zone B

Following a somewhat muted attempt at a Wonder Woman TV show with a pilot starring Cathy Lee Crosby, in a much toned down version of the role (similar to a run on the DC comics around that time, when the character had lost her powers and become a kind of secret agent, I suspect) a new attempt was made to capture the lightning of the character (DCs top female superhero character, pretty much since her first appearances in Sensation Comics in 1942). A new pilot starring Miss World 1972, the great Lynda Carter, was commissioned... along with a couple of episodes. Then a gap as this first series proved good with the ratings and another load of episodes were commissioned, giving a total of 14 episodes in total made by Warner Brothers for ABC. Despite the popularity, ABC didn’t renew the contract but two more seasons were created for CBS, under the slightly revised title The New Adventures Of Wonder Woman.

Now, I didn’t really watch these as a kid. I saw a few episodes and liked what I saw at the time but couldn’t get over the fact that I’d managed to miss the Cathy Lee Crosby TV movie from the year before (it aired on the week I was away on holiday) and I found it hard to get invested in something if I couldn’t see all the episodes (even when I was six). By the time I was eight, though, I was very much interested in her as a pin up girl and I treasured any issues of Starburst, Starlog and the like which had photos of Lynda in her sexy costume.

However, visiting them properly now for the first time on Blu Ray (I’ll get to the 1974 TV movie when I finally get around to purchasing it), I can see just how great this must have been for young female viewers in the 1970s. Shows like Wonder Woman, The Bionic Woman and Charlie’s Angels, all of which had relatively strong female characters (while still operating with highly sexist values, it has to be said) must have had a considerable impact on women of the time and I’m so glad these were made. I came to Wonder Woman as an interesting character very late (asides from seeing her regularly on the old Super Friends cartoon show), when I grudgingly went to the first Gal Gadot movie... which completely blew me away and forced me to re-examine this character.

All I can say is, wow, this was a really great show. Especially the first series where you had Lynda as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman, Lyle Waggoner (who was just pipped at the post by Adam West for the role of Batman in 1966) as Steve Trevor and Beatrice Colen as Etta Candy (all characters from the comic books). These first season episodes were set in the 1940s during the war (as were the original comics penned by William Moulton Marston, although the TV show continues using his literary pen name, Charles Moulton, on the credits). This debut season was amazing in that it used a brilliant series of animated comic book panels for the opening credits (pitched against a rollicking song which was toned down more and more each season) and the comic book style would continue into the story so you’d have comic book drawings become photos and the constant use of captions superimposed on the live action footage such as ‘Meanwhile’ and so on. One minor problem in the writing, perhaps, was that the villains were always the ‘Nazi of the week’ during the first year but, heck, the entertainment value was high and she also had her ‘invisible jet’ in this season. I don’t recall if it was used more than maybe only once more from Season 2 onwards... which is strange because I can remember that invisible jet being a hugely popular thing when I was a kid and the recent Wonder Woman 84 movie (reviewed here) also features an homage to it.

Like later seasons, the show was peppered with guest stars, many of them big names and one of the fun things about watching the various incarnations of the show now is spotting the various people who were either nearing the end of their careers or just starting out. There were people like Frank Gorshin, Roddy McDowell, John Saxon, Ron Ely and Ann Francis turning up in various shows. Even Roy Rogers was in one, although he refused to work with Carter until they got her some Western style clothes... so Wonder Woman has a new cowboy themed look to her costume for that episode (which actually works quite well, it has to be said). Also, a young Debra Winger was in a few episodes as Diana’s sister, Wonder Girl for the first season, although she bought herself out of the contract and turned down offers for episodes in a future season and her own spin off series (I’m currently reading Elvira’s wonderful autobiography and I now know why that particular piece of casting came to be).

For the second season, the show was updated to contemporary times... which was fine with the Wonder Woman character, as she’s not supposed to age. However, Lyle Waggoner also returned, this time playing the son of the character he'd played in the first season, also called Steve Trevor. This version of Trevor works for the Inter-Agency Defence Command (IADC) and, following an opening episode which half plays as a repeat of the first season pilot, Diana becomes an agent working under him. However, the revamped show lost its ‘comic book’ visual connections and, although the villains in the stories were more varied in their motivations, it did kind of lose a little in the updating. Especially when a ‘funny computer’ and a ‘funny robot’ were thrown into the mix.

In the third from last episode of Season 3, the show’s producers went for another reboot and Diana moves to LA, to work for a different branch of the IADC... introducing a whole host of new regular characters including a streetwise, Gary Colemanesque kid, a chimpanzee and an invincible man. This must have been made after the last two episodes (which were aired a little later as specials) because, in those two (which make up a single story), Diana is back in Washington and working for Steve Trevor Jr again. So yeah... I would have liked to have seen it continue but, honestly, not in the new format they were steering towards for an LA version of the show so... perhaps it’s best it ended when it did, with 60 episodes under its belt.

Still it’s a really interesting series but I did notice it always kept reinventing itself a little more than I would have liked... which is my polite way of saying it kept changing the rules. For example, the famous spin created for the TV show, where Diana Prince transforms into Wonder Woman, is shown as it should be for the first three episodes. It’s slowed down and shows Diana moving at super speed and throwing off her outer clothes to change costume. But it was time consuming (and therefore expensive) to keep doing that and locking off the camera before a 45 minute make-up and costume change so... pretty soon they developed a magical woosh superimposed over the two parts of the spin to bridge the footage and, it looks fine and is a staple of TV nostalgia now (again, there are even a couple of very subtle references to them in the Gal Gadot movies) but it’s also problematic. And the reason it’s problematic and the reason I say it’s reinventing itself is because the rules of Diana’s powers change over time due to this. When she’s tied up or imprisoned as Diana, she no longer has her powers unless she’s completed her spin in later episodes. So she becomes more like a Billy Batson changing to Captain Marvel style character, when he used to have to shout SHAZAM! to change and gain his powers. She is vulnerable when she’s Diana Prince which, obviously, is total rubbish and not the way the character is supposed to work at all. Not how she did work in the earlier episodes, where she had various other powers such as the ability to mimic any voice, many of which were dropped for the post-season one incarnations of the show. There seems to be a definite lack of consistency as the show develops as to what she can and can’t do and, if you’re watching them back to back in a compressed time slot as I just did, you’ll notice these little changes more.

And there’s a heck of a lot more I could write about this show, actually. I wrote a lot of notes as I watched but, honestly, I don’t want to write a book on the subject (although, if anyone wants to commission me to write a book on the first of the Gal Gadot movies, I’d be happy to oblige). Unless you want to read about me getting annoyed about how every corporation depicted in Season Three having exactly the same bizarrely shaped coffee mugs and things like that. Suffice it to say that Lynda Carter totally nails it in the role and is an amazing hero who, I guess, happened to hit at the right time when she was needed by an audience that appreciated her. The only thing which occasionally grates is the big, cheesy, freeze frame grin she gives at the end of pretty much every story but, honestly, she’s absolutely brilliant in this and I’m surprised she didn’t go on to do more higher profile things in Hollywood once the show had ended. 

 If you are interested in the character then this show, despite its differences to the comic, does not let the character down too much and the title role is a strong, positive role model for people, as far as I’m concerned. Or if you don’t want to go the long haul, maybe give Season One a spin, where the visual style of the comic book source material is played up  in a really nice way... something which should never have been dropped in my opinion. Anyway, the recent Warner Brother Blu Ray set of the entire three seasons of Wonder Woman is definitely worth a twirl, whichever way you look at it.

Sunday 16 January 2022

The French Dispatch

French Letters

The French Dispatch
USA/Germany 2021
Directed by Wes Anderson

Warning: Very mild spoilers.

A new Wes Anderson movie is always a cause for celebration. He’s a director who, in my humble opinion, has been consistently stunning since fairly early on in his career and when I sat down to watch this, I was fully expecting this to be my favourite film of the year... which it was for the first third of the movie but, although this is indeed another of Anderson’s amazing, cinematic spectacles which once again remind people that you can shoot an intensely personal artistic vision and still turn it into a glorious epic in this kind of medium, I’d have to say the film came up just a little short of being movie of the year for me. But, hey, this would surely be in anybody’s top ten last year once they’ve seen this amazing, visual feast.

The film starts off with the death of the founder of the news magazine The French Dispatch, played by Bill Murray and, in typical Anderson style, the film is presented to the audience as articles in that magazine. The magazine is an American publication but based in France, in the small fictional town of Ennui (Ha! I love that Anderson can boldly get away with ridiculous jokes like this without losing credibility for his elaborately concocted fictions) and, in addition to Bill Murray, includes a whole host of A list actors in all kinds of roles, large and small, such as Benicio Del Toro, Adrien Brody, Tilda Swinton, Léa Seydoux, Frances McDormand, Timothée Chalamet, Jeffrey Wright, Mathieu Amalric, Owen Wilson, Bob Balaban, Henry Winkler (yes, The Fonz is back in a movie and doing an unbelievably good job as a perfect, understated Anderson character), Christoph Waltz, Willem Dafoe, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan and Elisabeth Moss.

So a star studded cast and all caught in little pockets of the story but, as I said, the structure is that for the main sections sandwiched between the obituary and the End Note - Declines and Deaths section, the film is actually four ‘articles’ told from the point of view of one of the main writers of the magazine. So we have The Cycling Reporter from the Travel section (the briefest of the four main ‘articles’ told by Owen Wilson’s character) followed by Tilda Swinton of the Art And Artists section telling us about The Concrete Masterpiece (my favourite section of the movie), Frances McDormand’s Revisions To A Manifesto for the Politics/Poetry section and Jeffrey Wright, who seems to be channeling the performance style of Orson Welles (unless I’m missing a more literary allusion to the basis of his line delivery) to captivate the audience with the tale of The Private Dining Room Of The Police Commissioner for the Tastes And Smells section.

So, what we actually have, rather than one consistent linear narrative, is a medley or showcase of Wes Anderson short films... which is alright by me. The only weakness of the film is the inherent one of taking this format as the break from a single arc, meaning the audience will naturally compare and rate the various sections, as they would do in any kind of portmanteau movie. The ‘hit and miss’ nature of the strength of each episode being part of the territory. That being said, with Anderson being such a master of his craft now, it’s more of a ‘hit and not quite as much of a hit’ affair in terms of quality. In other words... there are no misses.

I’m not sure when each article is set but the death of the editor comes in 1975, with the publication of the last issue of The French Dispatch, which is shut down as part of the provision of the will. Whether these articles are all put together for this final issue or are a selection from various years is not something I could quite make out but, certainly, the Revisions To A Manifesto felt more 1960s to me than some of the other articles.

And once again, Anderson is mixing it up in terms of the different formats of the picture... a lot of it is black and white, some of it is in colour, most of it is in a 4:3 ratio with other moments in widescreen and even split screen where additions to the 4:3 ratio can be added as an appendix or reference to the content of the main shot mixing both colour and monotone simultaneously in one, nice sequence. This is not a division between different sections, more that every section contains all these kinds of treatments within the boundaries of its own ‘magazine article’. He also, uses a couple of animated cartoons to illustrate parts of some of these sections and, as quirky as that is... and also considering his past works where live action and animated styles have co-existed in the same picture (such as The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou or The Grand Budapest Hotel)... I couldn’t help but think that in the second, cartoon animated car chase, the budgetary concerns of shooting such a section may also have come into play as to where best to unleash this technique.

The storytelling of each segment continues the style of the writer/director as sudden tangents to the storyline of each segment are often revealed to be Russian nesting dolls of ideas that ultimately grow from each other to add to the forward momentum of that particular arc.

There’s not much more for me to say on this one but I will reveal one delightful thing which, I suspect, would have had an audience composed of Jean Luc Godard and David Lynch howling with delight if such a situation were possible. When Tony Revolori (Zero from The Grand Budapest Hotel) is playing a young version of the imprisoned, psychotic, homicidal Moses Rosenthaler, he suddenly grows up into the later version of the artist, played by Benicio Del Toro. This is not done with a clever dissolve or other trickery but with the simple and ‘immersive defying’ moment of Revolori vacating his chair as Del Toro then sits in it, while taking his medallion off and putting it around Del Toros neck. One actor handing a character over to another, in fact. A truly nice touch and this one brought my personal house down, so to speak.

And that’s me done on this. If you like Anderson’s quirky, ‘catalogue and categorise’ style of narrative coupled by his squeaky clean shots, quirky physical space negotiations (such as when we track the progress of a character journeying up a tall building by his accelerated appearances at windows and balconies) and truly strong performances by actors investing in larger than life characters, then The French Dispatch should definitely top your list of ‘must see’ movies of 2021. And, of course, it’s all made more sweeter by the needledrop soundtrack selections punctuated by another of Alexandre Desplat’s masterpiece scores... this one very similar to his work on The Grand Budapest Hotel and yet another great triumph in this composer/director relationship. If not the best then, certainly, one of the best of last year.

Wednesday 12 January 2022

Gamera Super Monster

Turtle Recall

Gamera Super Monster
aka Uchu kaijû Gamera
Japan 1980
Directed by Noriaki Yuasa
and Shigeo Tanaka  
Daiei/Arrow Films Blu Ray Zone B

Warning: Spoilers but... you’re probably
not going to care either way with this movie.

Gamera Super Monster is considered both the last of the Showa era Gamera films and, also, the last kaiju movie of the Showa era. Out of the films I’ve watched so far in Arrow’s truly superb Gamera - The Complete Collection Blu Ray box (which is now in its second edition but split down into two, smaller boxes), both this one and the last one have been quite disappointing, following on from a load of truly bizarre and wonderfully surreal monster movies.

Now, 1980 is a bit late for people to be talking of it in terms of the Showa era, as far as I’m concerned but, I can certainly understand why, now that I’ve finally seen this. The most disappointing thing about this truly low budget, attempted revival of everyone’s favourite giant-sized flying turtle, which was not a success and failed to save the new, resurrected and bought out version of Daiei Studios (which filed for bankruptcy shortly after), is the fact that every single monster fight scene in the film is culled from previous Gamera movies! There are very few original kaiju themed special effects shots in this film apart from a couple of new Gamera fly-bys. So you will see him battle almost all of the monsters from the previous films, as spliced in footage highlights making up the total of the kaiju confrontations in this movie and, it’s only the supporting alien and human content which is original to this version.

Oh, wait. Did I say original. Sorry, I don’t know what I was thinking because the remaining, newly shot content is far from original.

So the film starts off with a definition of what a galaxy is and tells us that the ‘Zanon’ spaceship has conquered various planets... showing us a few static illustrations of space battles since the producers really didn’t have the budget to shoot those kinds of scenes at this point. From here on it basically parodies a bunch of American movies which were big in Japan from the last five or so years. Remember, this film is nine years after the previous entry and was released in 1980. So what do we have here?

Well, following on from the two illustrations of space combat, we have a starship which, apart from a couple of oversized fins, looks exactly like the Imperial Star Destroyers from the original Star Wars. So much so that the first moving shot of the film is an almost exact copy of the first shot of the 1977 original, as we watch the impossibly huge (but now quite quick) belly of the ship pass above the camera in space. Seriously, it’s almost the same shot dropped in.

The we meet the three adult stars, Kilara (played by Mach Fumiake), Marsha (played by Yaeko Kojima) and Mitan (played by Yoko Komatsu). All these gals have to do is go through a silly choreography of arm and leg movements and they shed their Earth bound alter egos, transforming into their superhero, space alien selves... with cloaks and costumes to match as they fly around in the sky like Superman. However, because of the big invading starship, they have to be careful about revealing their super powered selves to other people. Then we meet their friend, the child hero of the movie Keichi (played by Koichi Maeda) and also the evil alien woman Giruge (played by Keiko Kudo). Giruge is here to oversee the releasing of the monsters in the evil alien’s plan to invade and destroy the Earth by unleashing stock footage Gamera fights from previous movies at us! Shenanigans ensue including a hazy, bizarre reappearance of Gamera as Earth’s protector in somewhat muddy and questionable circumstances.

After that, the film becomes a rush of scattered ideas as the various players do the bidding of their script writers and rush around to various locations in an attempt to explain why the various kaiju battles are taking place all around the globe, with mismatching Gamera suits and a complete disregard for cars and fashions from the 1960s and early 1970s juxtaposed with new footage of 1980s environments.

Lots of ideas are shoe horned in here including a bizarre scene where the fins of one of the monsters are swimming around the ocean as the cast suddenly seem to be in a Jaws movie for a minute or two... very strange. It’s like the writers were trying to throw everything from a mid to late 1970s American blockbuster into the melting pot to see if some regurgitated idea might capture the attention of the audience. I mean, the alien gals are seen controlling their futuristic technology with musical notes whenever Keichi is around and having a close encounter with them, so to speak.

There are also some real bizarre moments when various famous Japanese anime shots are inserted, sometimes with Gamera superimposed over them. I recognised Space Battleship Yamato when Gamera was bizarrely in front of the cartoon image but another one is from something I don’t know of but which was apparently well known in Japan. About the only interesting reference is when a poster board of a monster, which is obviously supposed to be advertising a Godzilla movie (referred to here as Dojira, although not to be confused with the real Dojira from Ultraman, I guess), is toppled in Gamera’s wake as a kind of poke in the eye to Toho (who would make a big comeback with the first in their second wave of Godzilla films only four years later).

Also, while the music is reminiscent of both John Barry and Barry Grey in a few places, it’s really not very good (and the new Gamera Song is really awful) and I would say inappropriate to the film, not only not functioning to support the scenes it’s underscoring but actually dampening the potency of most of the scenes. It’s amazing how the exciting and humourously grotesque, surrealistic monster fights from previous, much better Gamera films can seem real drudgery when they’re rescored with this new stuff. It’s a bit of a hard watch, if I’m honest. Although, oh joys, that blasted ricochet sound effect is back in one scene... and I didn’t miss it one bit.

At the end, Gamera sacrifices himself to save the Earth but it’s not the moving moment it should be and, it’s then diluted by the three surviving space gals taking the youngster on a fly by of the city at night... just like the Superman and Lois flight scene from Superman The Movie... while the credits roll.

Arrow’s transfer is pretty good I suspect but, as is very apparent from the opening credits, this is a terrible print... if it is taken from a print. It looks, especially at the start, like a really good transfer of an old VHS tape print, which is to say... very fuzzy and almost unwatchable. Things perk up as the movie progresses but, you’ve also got the problems of different footage from different movies derived from different quality prints also fighting each other in the mind and so, the look of this particular one in the box seems inconsistent throughout.

Okay, I’ve nothing much more to say about Gamera Super Monster other than... I wouldn’t recommend it unless you are a die hard fan of the kaiju in question. I’ve only got four more Gamera films to watch left in this boxed edition now but I’m hearing they get very good again, very fast... the first of these being shot some 15 years later and I shall, as always, let you know.  

Tuesday 11 January 2022

The Making Of Tomb Raider

Tomb It
May Concern

The Making Of
Tomb Raider

by Daryl Baxter
White Owl Publishing
ISBN: 9781399002059

Lara Croft was a magical name for me when I was a certain age. I’d not been in my working life long but needed to get myself a new Apple computer for home use to keep up with the world of graphic design and, naturally, I wanted some games to play on it evenings. I think the first of these new style 3D games that I loved were Wolfenstein, Doom, Duke Nukem and Quake. I’d not been that aware of Tomb Raider the year it came out but, somewhere in the middle of playing that lot, I grabbed myself a copy of Tomb Raider 2 and, yeah, I remember hours of playing Lara through what could sometimes be frustrating and difficult levels. I remember the joy of driving and jumping a speed boat through some windows off the canals of Venice and the frustrations of getting the timing wrong and dying time after time. The amount of obscenities thrown at Lara as I watched her fall from somewhere high and break her neck was almost a constant thing at times.

This new book by Daryl Baxter, The Making Of Tomb Raider, is a look at the creation and development of the first two games, Tomb Raider and Tomb Raider 2. It would be fair to say the book isn’t what I first expected it to be when I saw it go up for pre-order at the tail end of 2021. I was expecting loads of illustrations and design sketches from the pre-production. Instead, the majority of the illustrations in the book are screen grabs from the games and the occasional shot of one or more of the design teams (and some of those seem way less quality than a standard print resolution would perhaps dictate). The reason for this, I suspect, is because it’s labelled up as an ‘unofficial’ look at the franchise. That will always have the tremendous disadvantages in terms of illustrations and photographic material available for a publication, not to mention restricting the pool of people that can be tapped for the research.

However, the big plus side for an unofficial edition... and the reason why I like them so much... is that they are often far less inhibited about getting to the truth of the matter and will go to places which would be ‘out of bounds’ for an authorised edition. So, yeah, always swings and roundabouts with some of these kinds of accounts of a period of time but, I’d rather something truthful and informative than something which just looks nice for the sake of it.

That being said, I’m not sure how I stand on this particular book... which has a cover which endorses my thoughts on an unauthorised edition by highlighting (or technically lowlighting in this case) the word THE in red letters. So, yeah, this is not just The Making Of Tomb Raider, it’s THE Making Of Tomb Raider... according to the publishers at least.

Well, it’s got its good points in terms of the fact that it certainly tells a credible version of the development time spent making both the initial game and the follow up... which lost its two pioneering creators, who were having creative differences for the idea of a sequel and who left before the incredible sales of the first game could make their fortunes (as it did for many of the people on the team for the first two games). It does this by using huge amounts of interview segments with various creators culled by the author from various sources. And I certainly admire Daryl Baxter for pulling off the incredible task of choosing and organising the many quotes used to drag the volume together... it must have been a pretty big task.

My main issue with the book is that it’s not particularly well written or inspiring in terms of the glue holding these excerpts together, which is to be fair, the smaller component of the book but, you know, it could be better. For example, apart from various typos, one repetitive sentence starts with the words “Upon his return...” and then finishes up with “on his return.” You certainly don’t need to qualify this stuff twice within the same sentence and there were a few incidences of this happening, not just in what should have been the main body of the book but also in the many interview sections. It’s quite possible of course, even probable, that the interviewees themselves were making these errors in their responses but, you know... anyone heard of editing?

Another thing which surprised me is that sometimes the writer will plug the exact same lengthy paragraph into the text as illustration of a point two pages running. At one point, this is done with two different sets of paragraphs within a couple of pages of each other. So this is either a testament to the fact that the context of their placement wasn’t actually needed or, well, that a final proofread might have been in order before publication (I’ve no idea what the deadlines were on this but I assume getting it out for a Christmas market may well have been the priority here).

So, yeah, that’s about all I’ve got to say about this one. The Making Of Tomb Raider certainly does what it says on the tin in terms of the content of the book (or for the first two games at least). I came away with some sense of just how hard these things were to put together and the mental toll it took on the very young looking teams that made them. And also, a little insight into Nathan McCree’s music was also welcome. Plus little things I didn’t know such as Ian Livingstone, the guy who used to write some of the earlier remembered (but definitely not the first) ‘choose your own adventure’ books being the guy who ran Eidos, who bought out Core Design specifically because he saw the potential of the first Tomb Raider game as it was being developed.

Overall, though, I would say it feels like this is the book you read while waiting for something more robust and spectacular to be released, to give a more detailed overview of the entire lifespan of Lara Croft, in her various forms to date. So, if Tomb Raider was a big deal for you in the mid-nineties, as it was for me, then you’ll probably get something out of this tome. For less die hard readers I’d say, maybe have a mull over spending the cash on this one first.