Tuesday 31 May 2022

Moon Knight




Konshuentious
Objector


Moon Knight
Stream date: March - May 2022
Six Episodes.


Warning: Yes, there are spoilers entombed here.

I apologise in advance for what is probably going to be a very short review of the recent Marvel Cinematic Universe (a misnomer now, surely?) TV show Moon Knight. I’ve not read any of the various incarnations of Moon Knight in the comics over the years. I have a friend who was an avid fan of the character throughout the 1970s and 1980s and he always used to explain that the character was pretty much the Marvel equivalent of Batman. Therefore, since he always knows his stuff about this kind of thing, I’m going to have to assume that this version of the character is probably based on one of the much later, revamped iterations of Moon Knight.

The show starts of with Oscar Isaac, who is frankly the one thing which really saves this show and makes the whole thing watchable (you can tell I was a little disappointed by this one already, can’t you?). He plays Steven Grant, a troubled individual with an accent apparently based on that of my home town of Enfield (yeah... not sure about that, to be honest... we don’t have accents mate!) and a pleasant, comic relief style manner. He works for the British Museum and talks to a living statue in his lunch hours... even though, it turns out, that he seems to walk out of said museum and somehow finds himself directly in Trafalgar Square (which is a good five or ten minutes and a few blocks over).

However, he also has a split personality of which he is not aware... this other being Marc Spector, who apparently created Steven to shield himself from certain traumatic events over the years. To complicate matters further, Marc is also the living avatar of ‘justice seeking’ Egyptian God Konshu (voiced by F. Murray Abraham) who also, like Marc, turns up when Steven blacks out and relinquishes his body. Marc (but not Steven... kinda) is married to Layla, played by May Calamawy... but Marc has tried to lose her for her own protection in the upcoming battle with a bad guy, Arthur Harrow, played by Ethan Hawke who, I dunno, seems somehow wasted in the role I would say. Harrow is trying to release another Egyptian God which will spell doom for the vast majority of mankind but, first, Steven has to find himself and then the two sides of Marc’s personality need to find balance to be able to become a threat to Harrow...

And so on. And, it starts out really great but, by the time it came around to the second episode, where various of these little plot details were being set up, I started to really not care anymore. It was just a confusing mess of a plot until, sometime around episode 5, the majority of the plot points I just explained in the paragraph above became a lot clearer. I won’t deny that the slow and surprising reveal of those elements are a good deal of why I kept watching but, frankly, if it wasn’t for Oscar Isaac’s absolutely brilliant performance as Londoner Steve, then I may not have made it through all the episodes. And I say that even though I’ve always held a keen layman’s interest in Egyptology.

The action is okayish, with the running joke of Steven suddenly blacking out and returning to consciousness having bashed up all his enemies and having gotten himself out of whatever life threatening situation he’d gotten into. The chemistry between Oscar Isaac and, um, himself is pretty good too, it has to be said.

And there were some good things in it including a comical Hippopotamus Goddess, a silly costume for whenever the Steven Grant side of Spektor’s personality summons his Konshu avatar and, even some nice little nods to the comics such as a hospital named after the legendary Bill Sienkiewicz.

However, it has to be said that, by the time the sixth episode rolled around, I just wanted it to stop. The finale was a quickly won resolution which leant on the whole ‘blacking out’ trope to both pull the rug from under the audience by revealing that there is a third personality locked in Marc Spector’s brain and also to skimp from having to show the audience just how Moon Knight and his new superhero partner in crime (his wife as the avatar of the hippopotamus Goddess) actually defeated the bad guys. And on top of this there was a post credits sequence which reveals a little more about this other, ruthless version of Spector, waiting in the wings as a puppet to a less than morally black and white Konshu.

And, yeah, it was an okay show but it didn’t feel that linked to, or invested in, the Marvel universe (I did spot what I thought was a link to an upcoming Marvel show but, since nobody on the internet is talking about it, I’ll keep quiet about it for a bit in case I got the wrong end of the stick) and it didn’t feel like much of it would have any consequence to future iterations of the MCU. Moon Knight was entertaining enough and, honestly, just made me realise what an amazing actor Oscar Isaac (who is also one of the show’s producers) actually is but, yeah, it’s not exactly essential viewing, I would say.

Monday 30 May 2022

Crimes Of The Future & Shorts




The Way
Of All Flesh


Transfer
Canada 1966
Directed by David Cronenberg

From The Drain
Canada 1967
Directed by David Cronenberg

Stereo
Canada 1969
Directed by David Cronenberg

Crimes Of The Future
Canada 1970
Directed by David Cronenberg
Arrow Blu Ray Zone B


Warning: Spoilers that come, hatching from within your body to assault your subconscious mind.

With the imminent release of David Cronenberg’s new feature film Crimes Of The Future, a film which has already had walk outs at Cannes due to its allegedly extreme nature (always a sign of a good movie and a great, unpaid advertisement for it), I though I would take a look at the director’s early short films, made before he was more famous for introducing his trademark body horror into the world (pretty much inventing the sub-genre, I suspect or, rather, putting it on the map as something belonging to a definable collective). Now I remember recording these off the old UK cable network Bravo when it showed them maybe 30 years ago but I started watching for a few minutes and then kinda turned off to them, not revisiting them for a proper look, despite my admiration for this legendary director. But I thought I’d look at them now as a good subject for a tie in review and, as luck would have it, I have a nice Blu Ray edition of these in a special, limited edition Blu Ray disc set of Videodrome, released by Arrow sometime over the last decade (it’s a very nice, out of print package... I believe the disc with these shorts on is still available* as a stand alone release direct from Arrow although, judging from the three figure sums it’s going for on Amazon, you might want to hurry onto Arrow’s web store sometime soon if you want these).

Looking at them now, while there are early twinges of DNA strands which connect them to the groundbreaking films which would immediately follow, I’d have to say that I was fairly disappointed with these films in that, I did catch myself nodding off and having to rewind a number of times over the course of watching these due to their failure to adequately stimulate my mind on a lazy, Sunday afternoon. Now, as much as I love the majority of Cronenberg’s output, there are always a few movies which I find are definitely miss rather than hit for me, such as Spider and Cosmopolis... and so I want to remind people that, as dull as I found these particular films, I am very much a supporter of Cronenberg’s work... it’s just that these ones mostly didn’t click with me.

Transfer and From The Drain are both very short, running at just under and over ten minutes respectively. There’s a strong shot of humour running through these two... as I guess there kind of is in the other two (to a lesser degree and, to be fair, I wasn’t laughing at any of them)... but ultimately these were less comedies to me (as they are classified) and more experimental works (which again, could also be said for the latter two, at least in terms of the techniques employed to present them). So Transfer is a dialogue in a snow covered part of Canada where a reclusive psychiatrist, self exiled to a place far from the rest of humanity, is tracked down by a naive patient. Said Doctor shuns the patient and the job, verbalising that “communication was the original sin” and letting the camera wander away from these two, who have been carrying out one of those continuing conversations at different locations pasted together by an aggressive edit, to fade to black just after the director’s voice can be heard yelling “Cut!”

From The Drain shows two fully clothed men sitting in an empty bathtub in, we are told, the Disabled Veteran’s Recreation Centre. One of them, when he finally decides to engage the other’s attempts at conversation, is frightened about the ‘tendrils’ that come out of the drain and urges the other to plug it up... obviously foreshadowing Cronenberg’s brilliant Shivers (aka The Parasite Murders aka They Came From Within and reviewed by me here). At the end, the nervous one is deliberately exposed to what the other claims is a non existent parasite and he is strangled. The shot where one of the two collects the other's shoes and throws them into a cupboard onto a pile of similar footwear, signals that this is not the first time this has happened. The innapropriate Bagpuss-like guitar soundtrack on this short overwhelmed me and drove me nuts, it has to be said.

Okay, so Stereo is shot in black and white on location in a truly interesting building... and completely set both within and, occasionally, just outside said building. On the print itself, the film is called Stereo - Tile 3B of CAEE Educational Mosaic. An interesting set of establishing shots of a helicopter landing and then depositing a passenger is done in total silence and, it turns out, the whole film is shot with no audio and added voice over narration... and this is true of Crimes Of The Future too, which seems closely related to this and maybe shot in the same location (except in colour). After a while, the first of a series of different but mostly clinical, science gobbledy gook couched voices tells us about the experiment in the building of eight patients who have brain surgery to promote a telepathic response in the subjects, which is then further propagated by emotional and sexual of bonding between two or three or all eight of them to increase the rate of thought flow and dependability in their mutual mind sharing. By the end of the film, three have killed themselves and one has drilled a hole in his head to let the voices out (all done off screen and narrated after the fact). This, of course, strongly foreshadow’s Cronenberg’s Scanners (reviewed here) both in terms of telekinetic people being nurtured in a clinical environment away from the rest of the world population and in terms of the back story of the Michael Ironside villain of Scanners having once resorted to trepanning due to similar conditions.

Crimes Of The Future is similarly set in a series of clinical institutions, starting off with lead voice over by Adrian Tripod, director of the House Of Skin and detailing various homosexual overtones as the male survivors of a world where women have mostly died out due to a curious virus called Rouge’s Malady (foreshadowing AIDS and which effects both sexes, although women are much more susceptible to it). There’s lots of foot fetish imagery in this and also, the film culminates in the broached impregnation of a five or six year old girl who probably hasn’t succumbed to the disease yet, as Tripod becomes involved in an organised gang of paedophiles attempting to save the future population of the planet in this manner. The last shot of the film where Tripod almost but, doesn’t quite make good on this, instead succumbing to something which causes a blue liquid to weep from one eye, is mostly confusing and doesn’t really help things. I don’t know if Cronenberg’s new film, which has a very strong female cast and so is obviously not a straight remake of this (and probably isn’t connected at all), shares any of the ideas explored in this one but the child molestation angle would certainly, in my book at least, explain the walk outs in Cannes (yeah, I could do without the implication of that kind of mental erosion in films I watch too, thanks)... but I’m still happy to give the new movie a go because, well, I kind of trust Cronenberg now (I maybe wouldn’t have, had I seen these movies when they were fresh and of their time, before I'd seen his fantastic early features, I suspect... so it’s a good job I didn’t).

Stereo (which I assume gets its title in a reference to two people synching their minds to each others’ frequency), to me, is definitely the stand out movie on this set and both that and Crimes Of The Future are just over an hour long. They both utilise slow, languid camera movements for the most part but Stereo will be the one that sticks in my mind. There’s a moment where Croneneberg, when one of his characters walks into a room, montages lots of quick fire cuts of each and every object in the room as a kind of mini exploration/assault on the minds eye in terms of what is there. It’s not made relevant why he does this and I suspect he was just experimenting with techniques but it’s an interesting thing I don’t’ remember seeing him do on any of his other films. There’s also a nice visual moment in Stereo where one of the baby’s dummies, which each subject is seemingly issued with, is visually compared in terms of the shape in profile to the Omega symbol found on the back of a pack of Tarot cards. It’s spelled out quite specifically by way of the visual comparison while not once referring to it in the narrative. Again, I don’t know the significance of the metaphor (if there is one) but, well, at least it was interesting.

And that’s me done with the early works of David Croneneberg, collectively as Transfer, From The Drain, Stereo and Crimes Of The Future... and I have to say that I am still very much in the Cronenberg camp but, yeah, I did find these early works a bit of a dull, hard watch, to tell the truth. Still, I’m very glad I saw them and also very glad that I got the limited Videodrome edition with these on extra discs... because now I can go and read the little hard bound booklet which comes as part of the set and which talks about these and the main feature. If you are a fan of the director and tend to grab everything he does, then you should probably try and track these down. If not, I would suggest your life may not be all that much richer for having seen them anyway.

*At time of writing this review.




Sunday 29 May 2022

My 2200th Post - Netflix Gets Chilled




Netflix Gets Chilled

Is The Digital Dream
Already Dying Or Shifting?


Hi all,

Thanks for reading what is, my 2200th Blog Post for NUTS4R2. Due to two batches of recent news specifically about the digital streaming channel Netflix, I thought I’d take the opportunity in this post to write a little follow up to my 13 Year Anniversary Post back in March about the future (or lack of) Physical Media (which you can read right here if you like). In that article I also painted a fairly bleak picture about various creative companies who are, at present, funding riskier projects (of which Netflix happens to be a prime example) and where I saw them a bit later down the road, when they possibly stop being able to take risks... and the future of film as an art form looking decidedly darker.

The thing is, these two pieces of news from Netflix made me wonder if we’re accelerating into that state way quicker than I thought. Now I’m not sure what the answer to that is but, these are the two bits of news which became apparent since I wrote that little article...

One, Netflix announced a huge drop off in subscribers to their channel and, two, as of yesterday (at time of writing this... so a little under two weeks from when I go live with this post) they have announced a large number of lay offs (mostly in America) as cuts are made, presumably as a considered response to the shrinkage of their customer base, which they are projecting will lose a lot more subscribers for a period of the near future.

Okay, so I’m not quite that naive to assume this is the end of Netflix by a long chalk but, lets have a look at what might be going on here, just for fun. First of all... I can’t believe this is just happening to Netflix... I’m sure most of their competitors may well be feeling the pinch of people opting out too... but Netflix is a big share of the market so, they’re probably feeling it a little more. Now, when I first heard the news about the customer drop off, I assumed this was just localised to my home country, the UK. And it made sense with the extreme costs of living crisis we are suddenly in (brought on by an incredibly bad government), that people would just begin to choose eating over subscribing to a television channel if they want to live. So I was a little surprised when I discovered that this trend is affecting US customers too.

So then, what’s happening? Well, with an abundance of channels all giving exclusive options, I’m guessing people are trying to pare down the number of individual subscriptions to different companies they have contracts with because, well... because it’s expensive. I suspect Disney+, because it has Marvel and Star Wars on its books, will be winning out and possibly even gaining from the fall off of, not only Netflix customers but all the other channels. If you’re left with only enough money to stream from one channel, then Star Wars and Marvel are going to be the things people feel they can’t do without... for now (okay, I’ll get to that point in a minute). So, yeah, what this means at present is... I suspect everything is going to quickly go the way of the ‘assured blockbuster’ route (which Disney almost have a Monopoly on... thank goodness Warner Brothers has a hold of DC) as the customers are definitely voting with their wallets. I may be wrong but... yeah, I think this is what’s happening.

Now, one of the things companies like Netflix (and indeed Disney+ when it comes for their time in a slump) will blame is the huge amount of pirate channels on the internet, where their content can be viewed for free in HD, with no loss of quality. But, well, my view on video piracy and what it’s become has not changed over the decades. If people could afford to pay for these digital channels then the majority of the customer base would do so, I believe. However, many of them can’t afford to so they go to the pirate stations (and if the pandemic has demonstrated very clearly, these things are incredibly easy to find now). If you manage to close down every single pirate station (which, frankly, I suspect would be an impossible task) then don’t expect a sudden, huge uptake in customers. You might get maybe a few but what this really means is... there will be much less pairs of eyes on your films. And you may say that’s fine because people weren’t paying for that privilege anyway but, guess what? Many fewer eyes on your film means much less cultural presence for your film and, therefore, the slippery slide to the drop off of people watching... and remembering... your legacy of movies.

Another point is... Disney+ won’t always be the winners. They are for now and this should last for at least another decade (although the speed of the drop of from Netflix makes me consider the possibility that it could be around the corner quicker than I think) but, well, have you seen what Disney have doing to their big properties? We all love Star Wars but the new prequels and sequels have been hit and miss and certainly have diluted the brand considerably. A brand which has been corroded even more by multiple TV spin offs. I've not watched any of Obi Wan Kenobi yet but, my cousin who is a big Star Wars fan assures me it's pretty dire. I'll still watch it. Marvel is not quite in such a bad state but, well, I went and saw Doctor Strange And The Multiverse Of Madness at the cinema recently (you can find my review here) and, had I not seen the WandaVision TV show (reviewed here), which it feels like it’s a sequel to, I think I probably wouldn’t have had a clue about what was going on with Wanda’s mindset by that point. So, I suspect after not a few more years, the interest in people turning up for these kinds of properties may be dropping off quite a bit... but it’s been fun while it’s lasted (I would have loved seeing all this stuff as a kid).

So do I think the world of online digital streaming is dying already. Hmm... probably not yet but it is, I think, already beginning to mutate into something far less creative and palatable much quicker than I was expecting, to be honest. And from there we can all watch the slow, creeping downfall which, alas, will change the way we think of movies and TV forever, if I’m not very much mistaken.

Anyway, that’s 2200 blog posts down... thanks for reading.

Wednesday 25 May 2022

Curse Of The Vampires




Vamp About
The House


Curse Of The Vampires
aka Blood Of The Vampires
Directed by Gerardo de Leon
Philippines/USA 1965
Hemisphere Pictures/IIP/Severin
Blu Ray Zone A


Warning: Big story spoilers here...
if you’re worried about that kind of thing.


Curse Of The Vampires, aka Blood Of The Vampires, is a movie that, while it’s supposed to be set in Mexico, is actually shot in the Philippines and is one of many films in which the company Hemisphere partnered up with Samuel M. Sherman and Al Adamson’s IIP (Independent International Pictures). Indeed, for the same people, Al Adamson directed a movie especially made to look like a Filipino movie which played on double bills with this film, which was Brain Of Blood (reviewed here).

Curse Of The Vampires is the first film in a five movie boxed edition called Hemisphere Horrors, a kind of companion set to their wonderful box set, The Blood Island Collection (reviewed here). In fact, the director of Curse Of The Vampires, Gerardo de Leon, directed the first three of the Blood Island movies in that box.

Curse Of The Vampires is a simple story. Leonore and Daniel, played by Amalia Fuentes and Romeo Vasquez, are lovers. They want to get married but Leonore’s father forbids it. He is also in very poor health and when he is discussing his will, his son (Leonore’s brother) Eduardo, played by Eddie Garcia, overhears that he has changed it so that when he dies, the big mansion house he and his family live in should be burned down to the foundations. When the distressed Eduardo enquires about this, we learn the father’s secret and the reason why he worries about his daughter marrying anyone...

The father takes Eduardo through his ’special secret door’ behind a big painting of his dead wife. In the dungeon below, his wife has turned into a vampire, who sleeps in her coffin at  night. By day she tries to fulfil her blood lust, which is why the father and his faithful man-servant, one of many servants in the house who are Filipinos made up in black face, keep her chained up for her own good. He doesn’t want his daughter to marry because he assumes she will inherit the curse of vampirism. When his daughter also discovers this, she understands why she should stop seeing Daniel, who seems to stand around a lot of the time in the film just brooding and scowling at people.

Now, the inevitable happens and the mother gets free a couple of times. Eduardo is bitten by her and turned into a vampire (unknown, as yet, to the father). She nearly bites her daughter when she is asleep but, as in the traditional vampiric tales, she is afraid of the cross that Leonore wears around her neck. However, she gets loose and the father and man servant have no option but to destroy her. The manservant grabs a huge fencepost and stakes her with it (off shot but we then see this blooming, oversized fence post with the girth of about three arms sticking out of her in the next shot), before they burn her. The film is, given the pedigree of the director and some of his future films, quite bloodless, for the most part.

Eduardo, in his new vampire ways... rapes, vampires up and then marries Daniel’s sister. When his father realises he is a vampire, the shock is too much for him and his heart gives out. Daniel decides it is a good idea to kill Eduardo and gets in a fist fight with him but is held back by Leonore. A short time later, Eduardo sabotages the coach and horses that Daniel and Leonore decide to elope together in. It goes crashing over a cliff and Daniel dies from his injuries. Leonore survives and calls to Daniel, who comes to her aid a couple of times as a spirit before Leonore too is vamped up... along with almost the entire household of servants. He even gets into a sword fight with Eduardo and he definitely has the advantage because, being a ghost, he can teleport himself around the room. However, Daniel’s ghost stakes Leonore with a candlestick, freeing her from her curse. They both meet in the shadowy realm of the afterlife to be together again, while the villagers burn down the mansion and all the vampires in it.

And it’s a surprisingly watchable movie. And, like a couple of other of this director’s films, shows a certain talent for making interesting pictures which hold the attention, even though nothing much happens in them. It feels dated, though. And I don’t mean dated for now but dated for the time it was released. It’s curious the way the film handles the material in the same kind of fashion an American director would have handled it in the 1930s. It seems a little hokey and overly simplistic for 1965. The musical score by Tito Arevalo is actually quite wonderful and I would buy a CD of it in a heartbeat if it ever had a commercial release (it won’t). It has to be said, it further pushes the film into the past as the score is typical of a monster movie made in the US in either the 1940s or 1950s. It’s kind of appropriate to the material but very big and bold and, yeah, just seems a little too energetic for horror films of the period. There’s also something which sounds a lot like a theremin on the score towards the end... another reason why I’d love a recording of this, to go with my other albums which feature that particular instrument.

The films is scanned and presented by Severin from what they say are the best materials. According to the IMDB (which I’ve found is often wrong about a lot of things anyway), the film is supposed to be in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The print here is in 4:3 but, looking at the trailer which IS presented in 1.85:1, everyone looks a little too in  your face and cropped in the cinematic release ratio. I’m pretty sure this must be an open matte transfer and, to be honest, I noted how good some of the compositions in the movie were for that ratio... so I wonder if the director knew it would be cropped down for a widescreen format and made allowances or not. I’ll probably never know, I guess but, I suspect it played in 4:3 in some cinemas too.

And that’s me done with Curse Of The Vampires (which also comes with a 20 minute featurette where Samuel M. Sherman discusses his relationship with Hemisphere). The dialogue is terrible and, yeah, some of the actors are pretty bad too. But it looks great and it held my interest for way longer than a film with this kind of sparse story content should be expected to do. So, yeah, the next film in this set is The Blood Drinkers from the year before, directed by the same guy. So I’m looking forward to that one.

Tuesday 24 May 2022

The Bone Code




Pandemic
Professionals


The Bone Code
by Kathy Reichs
Simon & Schuster
ISBN: 9781471188893


Warning: This one will have slight spoilers...

The Bone Code is the 20th of Kathy Reichs’ Temperance Brennan novels, not to be confused with her other character of the same name who is more ‘based on the writer in her early life’, in the hit TV series Bones. I’m not really into the TV show, as yet... the regular characters are all different, it seems to me and, the main one doesn’t quite seem like Tempe as written in the books to be honest. But, wow, have I really been reading these for that long? Not sure I’ve got all that much to say about the new one but, here goes...

Okay, so once again, Tempe is up to her neck in cases and this one involves two errands, one big and one small and, surprisingly, the smaller of the two... trying to find a woman's twin sister’s ancestor from her death mask... doesn’t quite hook up to her other, much bigger problem as you might have expected it to... well, not that you would expect it to in real life but there are usually a lot of connecting dots in these novels. However, I will say that the punchline reveal of that  side of the story, once the main action is done and everyone is recovering from the last act... is pretty cool. That one’s worth a ‘google’ when you know the answer.

Okay, so Tempe’s much bigger problem is a casket which washes ashore during a hurricane where she and her other half, ex-police officer turned private investigator Andrew Ryan, now live together (although these two still haven’t got married as yet). The casket contains the remains of two young women, one a mere child and this prompts the memory of a very similar case with many identical traits that she and Ryan worked 12 or so years before in another part of the country. As the action moves forward, there’s also a backdrop of a flesh eating virus suddenly breaking out near her area and, against all odds while the mystery starts to unravel, that backdrop element soon comes hurtling into the foreground as there may be a connection to the outbreak of a disease that humans shouldn’t even be able to transmit to each other... and the case that Tempe is working.

So, you know the drill with Reichs’ fastidious ‘bone pathologist’ (yeah, okay, or forensic anthropologist if you like) and she starts working all ends of both this case and the one from years ago, in her usual style and with lots of exclamations from Brennan, talking in first person directly to the reader, to foreshadow events and leave the reader wondering just what is about to ‘rock her world’ next. And yes, the same style of hooking the reader into mini cliff hangers... where a vital clue or link in the story drops right at the end of a chapter and all you read is the character’s reaction t it, making sure you jump straight into the next one where, after a little more teasing, the next break in the case or some such is finally revealed to her audience... is practiced throughout. I used to get upset at Reichs’ over use of this technique in her novels (although it certainly never made me put one down... quite the contrary) but over the years I’ve realised just what a master she is at combining hard facts about the highly professional world that both she and her main character have inhabited, mystery spinning, sharp humour and a shameless sensationalist, pulpy writing style which really shouldn’t fit so snuggly into that world.

In this one, Ryan is mostly off working his own cases and is absent for stretches of the book but he pitches in when he can. Also, there’s no appearance from her regular police person Skinny Slidell in this one... he doesn’t even get a mention. I don’t remember Reichs killing him off yet though but, Tempe has changed location so maybe the character is taking an extended rest for a while. In this, she has a new policewoman character called Vislosky who’s not quite as abrasive as Slidell and who, despite her abrupt and shuttered manner, does bond with Brennan more than they both thought and, due to certain events, has become part of her extended family by the end of the book. I’m sure we’ll be hearing more from her in future novels, for sure.

I’m glad to say that Covid 19 is admitted as an element of the book and it’s even used to highlight the ‘over kill’ reaction to the new outbreak of the other disease with the general public at large. I’ve been sick of writers and film makers ignoring the pandemic and so I was really pleased to at least see it acknowledged a few times in print here. So, yeah, I breezed through The Bone Code fairly quickly and it’s the usual attractive cocktail of thrilling mystery, very real danger and consequential injury to a few of the regular characters, Ryan’s amusing puns, Tempe’s trademark eye roll reactions and more of her very economically entertaining prose... “...the fog was thick enough to make snow angels.” It’s all pretty good stuff and I’m sure her regular readers, of whom I’m one, won’t be disappointed.

Monday 23 May 2022

Shaolin Kung Fu




Shaolin Alley

Shaolin Kung Fu
aka Shao Lin gong fu
Taiwan 1974
Directed by Joseph Kuo
Eureka Masters Of Cinema
Blu Ray Zone B


Warning: Some small spoilers.

Well this is an interesting one from Kuo. I think this is possibly the earliest of the eight movies directed by him which are presented in Eureka’s Cinematic Vengeance box set and, it’s also one of the bleaker entries. On the surface, Shaolin Kung Fu is a tale about young Lin Fung, played by Chiang-Lung Wen, who earns his living as one of many rickshaw drivers in a small village to support him and his blind wife. However, a new, rival rickshaw company is taking away their trade by not playing fair and using bullying tactics to drive the underdogs out of business. Lin Fung, who also has two other female characters looking on him with admiration, in addition to his wife, has vowed to not fight after his wife was blinded and her father destroyed in a flashback sequence, by the vengeance of a violent kung fu grudge. Alas, when he sees first his uncle and then a young boy being beaten by the bad guy rickshaw drivers, he goes nuts, breaks his vow and violence begets violence until he reaches a final showdown with the rival boss.

Now, you could say this is a morality tale showing that violence and vengeance never pays but, no, it’s actually far bleaker than that. If Lin Fung does nothing then many lives are ruined, so he’s pretty much got to stand up and do something... as he’s clearly the most skilled kung fu fighter amongst the firm of ‘good guy rickshaw drivers’. So, it just spirals out of control with various people getting killed and, in turn, being sacrificed as each successive layer of bad guys, hierarchical leading up to the main villain of the piece (the owner of the ‘bad guy’ rickshaw drivers) is in his sights. On that journey, we are certainly shown how violence welcomes one dose of bad fortune after another, as all three lead females who were Lin Fung’s friends are killed due to his efforts to equalise the situation... to no avail. Impressively, his blind wife head butts herself to death rather than see Lin Fung get hurt... which obviously just leads to more conflict.

And this film really is an example of the best of both worlds, in terms of what I’ve seen by this director. I’ve seen a number of films where story takes a back seat to excellent kung fu sequences... to the point where the story is almost non-existent and confusing at best (I’m looking at you The 36 Deadly Styles... reviewed here) and I’ve seen films where he’s tried to inject a strong story element and spend time developing the characters and their relationships with each other, at the expense of totally losing any real interest in the spectacular fighting scenes which are the main draw for the target audience. Here, however, we have a very strong story and build up with characters peppered with just enough fight scenes, as the tension escalates, before finally kicking into high gear in the second half of the movie where, after the death of his wife, Lin Fung escapes a dungeon but then loses two more female friends before going on, as Beatrix Kiddo might put it, a roaring rampage of revenge.

The fight scenes are maybe not quite as sophisticated as in the director’s later pictures but they make up for it with lots of energy, astounding and unbelievable leaping and, in two instances, a demonstration of Lin Fung’s ability to stop the heart of his enemy by just jabbing it with his finger on the correct pressure point. So yeah, good stuff.

There’s some nice cinematography in various scenes, such as when the director will use internal window frames between rooms to frame an actor or use the verticals in a room to further compartmentalise and split the characters. Also, there’s a pretty good looking fight on various parts of a cliff which make for some interesting shots, where the opponents leap to and from various parts of the rocky cliff side. It’s almost enough to make me forget that certain sections of the movie are needle dropped with bits of Lalo Schifrin’s score to Enter The Dragon from the year before. Well, almost but, you know... not quite.

And that’s all I’ve got to say about Shaolin Kung Fu. It’s a nice movie which shows a final, hollow victory for the hero as he saves the reputation and business of his rickshaw company at the expense of losing his wife and two other admiring young women. Is it worth it for the hero of the film? Well probably not but it’s certainly fun to watch and a solid kung fu mini opus from director Kuo. Plus, you know, we get to see the fabulous finger of death move, too!

Sunday 22 May 2022

The Northman










May The Norse
Be With You


The Northman
UK 2022
Directed by Robert Eggers
Universal


The Northman is director Robert Eggers third full length feature film and, as a big studio release, is also around ten times more the budget of his previous two movies put together (at least). Now, I really liked his feature debut The VVitch (reviewed here) but I had some problems appreciating his follow up feature, The Lighthouse, truth be told (reviewed here). Having now seen The Northman, which has been receiving a lot of good word of mouth as being this generation’s equivalent of Conan The Barbarian (no, it really isn’t), I can say that for me, this one pretty much lays somewhere in the middle of both of those. Like many Hollywood released movies of recent months, I’d have to say it isn’t a great movie and, again, it’s not a bad one either. It feels a little compromised somehow (which fits with some things the director himself has said about it) and it doesn’t feel quite epic enough in scope to be counted among many of the big fantasy films which have gone before (and it’s certainly a fantasy version of a tale rather than a straight historical one, for sure, despite much authenticity to certain scenes depicting historical customs).

Another thing I’d heard about it was that it has a very complex story... um... really? No it hasn’t. It’s a very basic revenge movie where a son witnesses his father’s death (in this case, the father is a king played by Ethan Hawke) and escapes to a distant land so he can return to avenge his father many years later.  And, yes, you’ve seen the story done a hundred times before by now on screen, I should think. The grown up son is played by Alexander Skarsgård as Amleth, his mother is played by Nicole Kidman, his favourite seer is played by Willem Dafoe (from Eggers previous film), his father’s killer is played by Claes Bang and Skarsgård’s quirky love interest is played by the always incredible Anya Taylor-Joy (another Eggers collaborator). They’re all very good, the story is very simple... in that Amleth has to track down a legendary sword with semi-mystical properties (think of it as a lightweight, Stormbringer wannabe from Moorcock’s Elric Of Melnibone stories) and slay his father’s killer. So he brands himself as a slave and makes himself useful in his enemy’s community, to hide himself in plain sight and keep close to his target.

There’s literally nothing much to say about the plot but the comments that it has similarities to Conan The Barbarian, are not completely unfounded in terms of some of the content and the occasional (I believe, deliberate) nod. For example, the son living a hard life away from his slaughtered kin to return to avenge his father is pretty much the same as the first movie version of Robert E Howard’s literary creation. The scene where Amleth comes across his magical sword is very much reminiscent of the short Conan story The Thing In The Crypt, written by  L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter, it seems to me. Also, the pre-credits sequence starts off with the similar, low percussion element on the music followed by the growly tones of voice over narrative introducing the character, which is again very similar to the first Conan movie... although, stylistically and in most ways, this is where the similarity ends.

It’s an entertaining enough yarn, though and it looks very good. Eggers has used something almost black and white for many of the shots set in the moonlight (which is the only time the sword can be properly used to feed on opponents blood... in darkness). So some shots will be completely monotone while others, midst the grayness, will have things like coloured torch flames, very much reminiscent of the style of pitching the colour and monotone together as seen in the Sin City movies.

So, yeah, the film looks pretty spectacular, rattles along at a hasty pace and, you are pretty much rooting for Amleth the whole way through the movie. It doesn’t, as I said earlier, feel really epic but this is more to do with the scope of the story, I think... as I said, it looks pretty spectacular.

Despite the opening bars of the score, this doesn’t go the full on, rich epic Hollywood sound of the Basil Poledouris music for Conan The Barbarian either. If anything, it’s much more stripped back and ‘of its time’ in terms of the way the music is functioning in the film (and when I say ‘of it’s time’... I don’t necessarily mean that literally, I mean that it’s more transparent, uncomplicated writing with simple orchestration). So it surprised me somewhat... since it sounds just the kind of score Eggers’ previous collaborator on his first two features, Mark Korven, would have written for this... that it’s actually composed by Robin Carolan and Sebastian Gainsborough. I need to hear this one again and, at time of writing, it’s been announced that there will be a CD release of this coming soon, so I may just get a chance if they stick to their guns on that.

And I’m sorry this is such a short review for this film but that’s me pretty much done with The Northman. Like The Lighthouse, I doubt I’ll be revisiting this one for a second watch but fans of this kind of stuff should have a strong liking for it, I would have thought. It’s an entertaining, bloody depiction of a familiar trope which people should lap up. I’ve certainly not given up on this director... and I’m happy to see what he comes up with next (I think the big studio experience has somewhat him soured to taking on something like this again, by the sound of it).

Wednesday 18 May 2022

Invasion




Space Invaders

Invasion
USA October - December 2021
Series 1 Ten episodes


Warning: This one has spoilers invading the reading space.

Okay, so ignoring the many other films and TV shows with the exact same title, Invasion is a new episodic serial which was broadcast at the end of last year. Now, I can’t quite remember how I first heard of it, it may have been a semi-recommendation on the All The Colours Of The Dark podcast but, truth be told, I wasn’t going to bother with it. Then, however, I found out that there had been a CD release of some of Max Richter’s score for the show. Well, okay then, now I had to watch it (the CD should also be joining me through my letterbox at some point today, as I type these words, too).

And I’m glad I did because it’s a phenomenally intense show about an apparently hostile alien invasion of planet Earth, told through the lens of four different characters in different parts of the world. Well, okay, five different characters initially, but one drops out of the narrative in the first episode (the expensive one), which comprises the openings (and in one case closing) of three of the simultaneous running stories of people trying to survive the next week, with two more characters in different time zones on the planet starting up from the second episode onwards.

So we have Sam Neil as a small town sheriff in the US. If you can believe it, he’s on his last day of work before retirement and the writers totally run with that cliché and take it to its more than obvious conclusion at the end of the first episode. Then we have Mitsuki, played by Shioli Kutsuna. She works for the Japanese space agency JASA as a technician and, in the first episode, her astronaut girlfriend blasts off into space but encounters something deadly there. Mitsuki needs to know what happened to her and how her spacecraft was damaged, at whatever cost.

Next up is Aneesha, played by Golshifteh Farahani. She is the mother of two children living happily with her husband until the day she finds out he’s been having an affair with another woman and is about to leave her... right as the world finds itself under attack and the two of them have to put their new differences aside to try and ensure their kids’ survival. Then we have Shamier Anderson as Trevante, a soldier in the Middle East whose entire troop (and more) is taken out during an ‘alien encounter’. Alone, wounded and confused, he just needs to get out of the country and back home to America to make peace with his wronged wife.

And lastly there’s Caspar, played brilliantly by Billy Barratt. He’s one of a group of school children who find themselves stranded in the country and trapped in a huge crater after an alien attack, where it all gets a bit Lord Of The Flies for a while. I’d have to say that he’s, for me, the best thing in the show and totally carries it... along with his schoolgirl love interest played strongly by India Brown and an equally brilliant performance from Paddy Holland as the hateful school bully, who we find is more than just a two dimensional presence and a much more complex, fragile character himself.

And it’s all kinda great. The four story strands never really threaten to come together as they’re supposed to be four different viewpoints on the slowly emerging picture of the attacking aliens although, it has to be said, two of the least likely threads you would expect to join up do overlap and characters ‘team up’, so to speak, in London in the penultimate episode of the first season. And this way of looking at four simultaneous storylines throughout kept me absolutely hooked, as it makes for an intriguing, slow reveal on everything, not unwrapping its secrets too early and allowing the intensity of the mystery and strong (sometimes even brutal in terms of emotional punchiness) events and encounters to build and create almost unbearable suspense. I couldn’t stop watching this thing and binged the whole thing in a couple of evenings.

There are odd things about it too but, that just adds to the freshness, for the most part. For instance, there’s a change to the format in one, shorter episode which focuses on only one of the sets of characters I mentioned earlier and, it’s very much in the vein of the old War Of The Worlds moment where everyone is trying to stay out of reach of an alien invader which is loose in a house, trying not to alert it to their presence as they know that if they do, the end would be relatively swift. Also, there’s an odd subplot involving this same set of characters towards the end of the run where they are being hunted by a splinter group of humans for, honestly, no good reason that I could fathom. Not sure what was going on there, to be honest. It’s taut and one, long suffering character, cashes in their chips at this point but, yeah, no idea why.

My biggest surprise and delight, though, was when we first meet the schoolchildren in episode two at, as the caption says, London, England, United Kingdom, Earth (which does suggest that, at some point in a future season, we might not necessarily be on Earth anymore). The thing is, the kids start off in my small home town of Enfield. There’s the market place with the band stand five minutes from where I live, a reverse shot of a bus going past Pearsons of Enfield, before they go into the Grammar School I used to attend and get on a school bus (which inexplicably goes over Tower Bridge a minute later). I had no idea this was being shot here and, judging by how crowded the streets are, I can only assume the scenes were taken with small cameras hidden from the public. I can’t see how they would have managed to lock down the area here in Enfield Town for shooting without a lot of people knowing about it. But it was great to see my home town on screen, in a big budget US sci-fi/horror show, no less.

There’s also the odd thing where the wrap up comes in the ninth of the ten episodes (where another major character dies although, it would seem, that also isn’t the last we’ll hear of that character, perhaps, since there’s still obviously some brain activity in there, even if this person isn't breathing anymore). Everything seems concluded in the ninth and, mostly episode ten just deals with the aftermath but, because of the way events have unfolded (and the insistence of one character that things aren’t necessarily over, plus her sinister kid who obviously knows something), you kinda know they’re building to something else and, sure enough, something happens at the conclusion of the last episode that sets up the next season of Invasion.

Which, I’m delighted to say, has been commissioned and is currently scheduled to release in the Autumn. I wasn’t sure it would because, when I saw a load of reviews of this, I was absolutely gobsmacked to find that most people seemed to hate the show. Furthermore, they seemed to hate it for all the reasons that I loved it. So that’s a bit strange.

And that’s me done with Invasion until the second series comes along... I’d recommend it to anyone. Looking at some of the criticisms the show has received, they all seem to centre on the fragmentary nature of the story but, for me, this is what kept the show alive. Admittedly, the ditching of a main story arc from the first episode seems a little strange and one wonders if there was some production trouble at some point, which necessitated a change to the script. Also, there are a heck of a lot of loose ends and unanswered questions within the show so, yeah, I think it’s perfectly credible to assume the writers have more to say on this one. I hope the second season doesn’t spoil the excellent work done here and, yeah, I can’t wait to see it.

Tuesday 17 May 2022

Beyond The Infinite Two Minutes


 

Time Before Time

Beyond The Infinite Two Minutes
aka Droste no hate de bokura
Japan 2020 Directed by Junta Yamaguchi
Third Window Films Blu Ray Zone B


The reason I picked Beyond The Infinite Two Minutes up was because people were kind of connecting it with the brilliant movie One Cut Of The Dead (reviewed by me here) to the point where I was under the impression that this film was written and directed by the same person. It’s actually not and, as far as I can tell, other than an endorsement it has nothing to do with him.

However, while this ‘filmed in one take’ movie is nothing to do with that, it’s still quite an accomplished but... and this is saying something... even more of a small scale production than One Cut Of The Dead. And I’m going to stop mentioning that other film now other than to say... the two films are worlds apart and it’s like comparing apples to oranges. It was just a marketing ploy.

What we have with Beyond The Infinite Two Minutes is a movie which is more of a light hearted look at a thought exercise. The basic plot set up is that a small cafe owner goes to his flat above the shop to find himself talking to him on his monitor from the other monitor downstairs, from two minutes in the future. So he then goes downstairs to see if its true and has the same conversation with himself from two minutes in the past upstairs. And then more people get involved with the two monitors... one which projects from two minutes in the future and one which receives from two minutes in the past, to the point where some bright spark has the bright idea of bringing the upstairs monitor down to look at the other (on its impossibly long electrical cable), setting up a Droste effect or infinity loop where the two monitors reflecting each other set up an infinite set of levels of time which the central protagonists can then visit at different points because, time passes and then they are suddenly at a later point in the chain etc. At some point a couple of violent criminals and two agents from a ‘time police’ bureau turn up but the film has a fairly short running time so not a whole lot has too much time to develop past the kind of novelty factor which, I have to say, is nice but wears thin fairly quickly.

It’s actually not that confusing although, a couple of times it does threaten to be but, the practical demonstrations of proposed theories illustrate things fairly well so you’re never too lost in the temporal dynamics of the situation. A simple love story almost has time to blossom and this keeps the interest up when things continue to be repetitive and escalate at different levels and angles.

It’s not a bad little movie to demonstrate and explore the idea and, certainly, on a technical level it’s absolute genius. I’m pretty sure the very first message from the main protagonist is a video recording but, after that I suspect the footage from each monitor (presumably being picked up from a hidden cam on each) is being looped back at two minute intervals and the cast have to be rehearsed enough to hit the correct places and perform their scenes at the right times. It must have been a nightmare of concentration and, I suspect, false starts and spoiled takes to get right. The film is only 70 minutes long but, even so, you could get a long way into a take before it gets screwed up and everybody has to start again, I would think (unless the film has only a semblance of being a single shot and was using traveling matte cuts etc to create the illusion of one cut but, I haven’t heard anything about that being the case here).

The actors are all good and the majority of the characters are all sympathetic. Also, there’s a budget friendly commitment to keeping everything fairly low tech, so the two ‘time police’ have these futuristic guns which really do look like somebody raided the local toy shop for them. The low key nature also extends to Koji Takimoto’s score which only comes in very occasionally as a very light hearted attempt to highlight certain points but, for a lot of the time, the score is absent.

That being said, I completely understand why some people have been bored by it. I kinda liked Beyond The Infinite Two Minutes but, throughout the whole movie, I kept waiting for something ‘more’ to happen and, when the ending of the film did come, it just felt very low key and abrupt for something which has such a high concept at its centre. I’m glad I saw this one but am now a bit annoyed I didn’t wait a few months for it to come down in price in the sales as, yeah, it’s not the hilarious mind blower I had been led to believe. Worth checking out if you’re a fan of the concept but don’t go in expecting a look and feel as lofty as its own central premise, for sure.

Monday 16 May 2022

The Obama Biden Mysteries




Biden His Time

Hope Never Dies
by Andrew Shaffer
Quirk Books
ISBN:  9781432858414

Hope Rides Again
by Andrew Shaffer
Quirk Books
ISBN:  9781683691228


Anybody who knows me or who has read this blog for a substantial amount of time will know I know nothing about politics and don’t care for it one way or another. Whoever is in power is just as bad as the last lot it seems to me... with a little added caveat here acknowledging that the current UK government is perhaps the worst, stupid and possibly downright evil bunch we’ve ever had in this country. Same thing goes for US politics although, I have to say, I did have a soft spot for Obama... although I don’t know anything much about him, nor about his former vice president Joe Biden (outside the memes I saw on Twitter, once the Trump monster had been voted in). The point is, I wouldn’t know a Republican from whatever the opposing teams are called. Over here people refer to right wing and left wing but, honestly, I’ve got no idea what the difference is between the two and have never had enough interest in the subject to try and seek some understanding when people have tried to explain it to me, using other words equally shrouded in political mystery which seem completely useless unless you are in some kind of special club.

But I wanted to give a short shout out to a couple of books which I received for my birthday but which, actually, were already on my ‘to buy sometime soon’ list. Hope Never Dies and its sequel, Hope Rides Again, are two novels by Anthony Shaffer which tell, in much humourous detail, the fictional adventures of ex-President Barack Obama and ex-Vice President Joe Biden, after their terms in office came to a close. And they’re action packed, murder mysteries where the two, inadvertently find themselves trying to stay one step ahead of a bullet, while solving crimes together à la Scooby Doo. And who couldn’t resist a proposition like that, right? But, of course, given my previous paragraph, I have to warn the reader here that a good three quarters of the jokes probably went over my head. I have no point of reference for a lot of this stuff.

But the novels are kinda cool anyway and, certainly, a fun read. They are both told in first person by Joe Biden, in a kind of deliberately ham fisted, hard boiled inner monologue style. In the first one called Hope Never Dies, Amtrack Joe, as he’s often known, finds that one of his old conductor friends has been killed and left to be squished by an upcoming train... it’s up to him and his somewhat estranged, former friend Obama, to investigate when the police fail to realise just what’s going on. In the second book, Hope Rides Again, after Obama’s blackberry is stolen, a possible young suspect is shot up and recovering in hospital with a potential killer lurking in the background. Biden and Obama only have about a day to investigate the case before other commitments bring their time in Chicago, on the night before St. Patrick’s Day, to an end.

And it’s great stuff. I’m never quite sure, as I’m reading, whether it’s supposed to be pro or con Biden and Obama but it pitches up as something with its tongue stuck so firmly in its cheek you have to wonder when the blood will start flowing from the tasty organ’s awkward penetration. Biden is very much the main man of the narrative thrust and, obviously, the prose always follows him on his side of the adventures. Obama is very much depicted as ‘the cool president’ personae, with athletic qualities and brains to match. For example, when “An impossibly long speedboat entered the frame, cutting through the surf like a buttered bullet.”, Obama is depicted waterskiing behind. Biden on the other hand... well, Biden bends down in a field looking for a piece of evidence and his knee pops, causing him to flail around on his back like a stranded turtle.

The books are a joy to read, actually, with passages like... “That didn’t mean I wasn’t game for some Hardy Boys hijinx.” and, when the two are in disguise at one point and Obama corrects Biden about how they look saying, “We’re not dressed like idiots, we’re dressed like teenagers?”, Biden responds with, “There’s a difference?” And there’s a wonderful clichéd moment when Biden’s life is saved when a bullet hits the pocketed Medal Of Freedom which Obama gave him, instead of going through his heart.

There are some cool pop culture references throughout the stories too, concerning the ‘Democratic Duo’. For example, a moment where Obama uses his top secret information about what really happened at Roswell as a bargaining chip for the next lead from an informant. And, honestly, I had no idea the Americans knew who Tony The Tiger was and that they had Frosties over there but, yeah, the various references... they’re gr-r-r-reat! Perhaps my favourite joke, though, comes as a nice little nod to everyone’s favourite timelord, or more specifically his TARDIS. When Obama and Joe go to a speakeasy, they have to enter through an entrance in an imitation doorway of a British Police Telephone Box (which is what the TARDIS also appears as, due to a faulty ‘chameleon circuit’). As Joe goes in and down through this entrance he makes the comment to the reader... “It was bigger in the inside than it looked...”, which any follower of Doctor Who would know is, more or less what every companion says in some form or another when they enter the dimensionally transcendental space and time machine.

And that’s me just about done on Hope Never Dies and Hope Rides Again. A lot of Joe’s time in the second novel, set a few years ago, is about him trying to make up his mind whether he should run for office and, now he’s actually the president in real life, I’m guessing the writer may hold off on writing anymore in this series for now but... yeah, I kinda hope not. I found these books hugely entertaining and would love to read another. Definitely worth a look if you’re a fan of comedy mystery novels, for sure.

Sunday 15 May 2022

Doctor Strange And The Multiverse Of Madness




Stephen Things

Doctor Strange And
The Multiverse Of Madness

USA  2022 Directed by San Raimi
UK Cinema Release Print.


Warning: Yeah, this’ll have some spoilers.

Okay... this is going to be a fairly brief review, I think. It’s not that I didn’t like Doctor Strange And The Multiverse Of Madness... I did (and it might still grow on me some more). It’s a fine film and certainly an example of what is, currently, a typical Marvel Cinematic Universe movie. With more in the same vein teased in the first of the mid and post credits scenes. But I wasn’t exactly bowled over by it either... which is a shame because I think Sam Raimi can be a good director (I don’t think it’s his fault, for the record, as to why I had a less positive reaction to it than I'd expected) and I’ve always had a soft spot for the Marvel character of Doctor Stephen Strange.

The plot in this one deals... not with fall out from Spiderman No Way Home (reviewed here) as you would expect (although Spidey does get a quick mention)...in fact, it turns out that this film was originally supposed to have been released before that one. Nope, this one has a definite plot device of its own to cause alarm in one of the facets of the multiverse that Strange travels to. I said there would be spoilers in this review and so, if you want to avoid them, stop reading now...

It’s not a secret that joining regulars returning from the original Doctor Strange MCU film (reviewed here)... including  Benedict Cumberbatch (as Doctor Strange), Benedict Wong (as Wong), Rachel McAdams as Dr. Palmer and Chiwetel Ejiofor as Baron Mordo... is Elizabeth Olsen, reprising her role as Wanda Maximoff aka The Scarlet Witch. Well, this film is pretty much kick started from fallout from her TV show WandaVision (reviewed here) but, instead of being a heroic character as she became after a brief stint as a villain at the end of Avengers Age Of Ultron (reviewed here), she actually reveals herself from very early on to be the main villain of the piece. It is she who is trying to get hold of new MCU character America Chavaz (played really nicely here by Xochitl Gomez). Chavez can travel through the multiverse but Wanda wants to kill her and take her powers to travel to a variant universe where she has children instead... which actually makes less sense than you might think, since she can piggy back into other versions of herself anyway.

It all gets a bit fraught and we get to see some guest character appearances, in different versions of their previous Marvel selves, along with new actors playing other variants. So Patrick Stewart enters the MCU as yet another version of Professor X (this film apparently marks the character’s fourth death on screen as played by Stewart), Hayley Atwell as Captain Peggy Carter (but a new superhero variant where she’s a kind of Captain Britain character who was in the What If? cartoon series) and John Krasinski as Reed Richards (yep, a multiverse variant of Mr. Fantastic also gets his MCU debut here)... plus a few others. And all of them die pretty horrible deaths at the hands of Wanda, it has to be said, although this is in no way a horror film, as some delicate parents have suggested (it’s a 12A certificate over here, for goodness sake and probably could have gotten away as a PG). True, there’s a person whose head implodes and another cut in half but, yeah, it’s all pretty bloodless for the most part (including those specific scenes), it has to be said.

It was fairly entertaining but the text was extremely dense and, on the way home from the cinema I was reflecting on why it mostly failed to connect with me. Well, despite a couple of scenes featuring Bruce Campbell (it’s a Raimi movie, so of course), there’s really not much humour in it. I mean, sure, some of the characters act in a humourous manner sometimes but, yeah, the script is not loaded with amusing dialogue and one liners like, say, the recent Spider-Man and Avengers movies. The film has a lot of gravitas and sometimes I felt like the writers were beating the audience over the head with the weight of the emotional consequences for various characters when they maybe should have injected a little more fun into things.

Raimi regular Danny Elfman was trying his best with the score here but, while he does include Michael Giacchino’s excellent leitmotif for the Stephen Strange character, it’s mostly very subtly done when, honestly, we needed that familiar theme to pop up way more often in the film, I think. It’s an okay score but, again, not much chance of me really finding out just how good or bad it is because, at time of writing, Hollywood Records have only released it on a useless electronic download and not on a physical CD... so this is another modern movie score I won’t be able to listen to properly, alas.

The first of the post-credits scenes, technically a mid credits scene, sets up another movie as a woman confronts Strange on a New York street and opens a portal to take him, once again, into another part of the multiverse. Well, this scene disappointed me because, when I saw the woman I was thinking to myself... “... please don’t be Clea, please don’t be Clea”. But then I checked the IMDB and, sure enough, this character is supposed to be the first appearance of Clea in the MCU. Frankly, she has none of the look and gothic impact of Doctor Strange’s future wife (and niece of the Dread Dormammu, if memory serves) and, yeah, she looks just like every other Marvel superhero clone (in fact, she looks more like the original version of Valkyrie in the comics). So I felt a bit deflated after that.

And that’s me done on Doctor Strange And The Multiverse Of Madness... which really does feel like a sequel to WandaVision more than anything else, truth be told. If you like the usual Marvel movies you will probably like this and, I certainly didn’t hate this one. However, all I will say is that, for residents of the UK, this is not the best of the multiverse movies at cinemas at present. For a much more entertaining look at alternate realities, check out my review of this one here.

Wednesday 11 May 2022

Everything, Everywhere, All At Once




Happily
Evelyn
After


Everything,
Everywhere,
All At Once

USA  2022
Directed by Dan Kwan
& Daniel Scheinert
(aka Daniels)
UK cinema Unlimited
cardholder preview.


Warning: Some inevitable spoilers.

Wow. It’s ‘the morning after’ and I’m hoping that my brain has managed to process enough information for me to try and write something half intelligent about this confusing but, ultimately very fun experience at the movies.

Well... okay, in a nutshell, the plot of Everything, Everywhere, All At Once involves an infinite number of alternate multiverses and a team of ‘good guys’ who have come to our universe because they believe a character called Evelyn can help fight against a villain known as Jobu Tupaki, who is threatening to destroy all the different multiverses by sucking them all in as part of the ‘everything’ of a giant black bagel with ‘everything’ on it. So Evelyn is taught how to jump into different versions of herself in different worlds to acquire the memory of the skills she needs in order to slingshot back into her current universe and try and fight a battle, of sorts, in her own reality. That’s my best take away from this as a plot so, if I got it slightly wrong, forgive me but, it’s a very dense film of different layers and, well, everything kind of happens all at once in it, as the title suggests.

But, as I implied, asides from not being 100% on how the physics and rules of the ‘jumping’ from incarnation to incarnation works... it kinda doesn’t matter. Once you can relax into this film and just take it for what it is, which is a bombardment of rich and, frankly, crazy ideas, then you should have a lot of fun with it. There are endless pop culture references in here from 2001 A Space Odyssey through Ratatouille (which I’ve not seen myself but, even so, I totally got the long running Racacoonie joke in this) and even Wong Kar Wai’s In The Mood For Love.

But this is only one level of the fun as we are transported along with Evelyn, rapid fire, into alternate realities where, for instance, Evelyn is a rock with googly eyes (like a pet rock... and the googly eyes are kind of an inverse black bagel in terms of their significance in the movie) or caught in a lesbian love affair in a universe where everyone has hot dogs for hands (and ooze mustard and ketchup from their mouths when having sex). So there’s stuff going on all the time at, trust me on this one, a fair lick of a pace... love it or hate it, you at least won’t get bored during this film, which is split up into three parts... 1. Everything, 2. Everywhere and 3. All At Once.

So you need a cast who are experienced to be able to handle all this stuff credibly (and also handle some of the quite intense action choreography which is sometimes needed for many of the scenes). And that’s exactly what we have here...

Evelyn is played by Michelle Yeoh who, frankly, I’ve always had a soft spot for and she really demonstrates that at 60 years of age (looking pretty much like she's 30) she’s still not too old to really carry a movie on her back. She’s always had brilliant fighting skills from her pre-Bond (and after) days of making kung fu action movies and, while that certainly stands her in good stead for this role (which was apparently at first conceived for her old Supercop co-star Jackie Chan), her brilliant way of putting over the emotions and complexities of her character are absolutely wonderful. What a fantastic actress.

I’ll get to Evelyn’s husband in a little while. Her daughter is played by Stephanie Hsu, who I don’t think I’ve seen before but, once her different multiversal personalities start snapping to and fro, it’s a quite dazzling performance as she captures multiple different states of mind at the flip of a switch. Again, a very strong actress who really shines in the second half of the film.

As Evelyn’s father we have the living legend that is James Wong. He just turned 93 a couple of days ago and has finally been given a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame (with over 600 roles to his credit... it’s about time) but he was certainly spry and nimble enough to do some sequences you would expect from a much younger actor in this.

Joining these three as a villanous henchman... or rather henchwoman (and sometime hot dog fingered lover) is the equally legendary Jamie Lee Curtis. She’s certainly come a long way in her career and does a great job with one of many complex roles in the film, which must have been far from her comfort zone. Trust me when I say that all the actors in this movie look and act totally ridiculous for a lot of the time... which has always been the case with actors but, in this movie, more so.

And then there’s the big surprise (for me at least, I went into this one relatively blind), of just who is playing the key role of Evelyn’s husband Waymond. He gives a very good, supporting, warm hearted performance but also, in an incredible fight sequence where he uses his belt bag as a pair of nunchucks in a tax office, acquits himself way more than adequately in the fighting skills department. All the way through the movie he looked somewhat familiar but I just couldn’t place him. All the candidates I thought he might be would have been a lot older than he is here. So, when I saw in the credits that he’s played by Ke Huy Quan, I blinked somewhat, said to myself, “Wait... really? Is that...?” and then confirmed what I suddenly realised with the IMDB app on my phone. Yep, it’s the guy who, as a boy, played Short Round in Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom (and who was also in The Goonies, which is a movie I haven’t seen, actually). All I can say is wow. He’s just fantastic in this and, I can tell you, has great chemistry with Michelle Yeoh. They should put these two in more movies together, I think.

And that’s all I’m going to say about this one. Especially since it’s almost impossible to describe most of the scenes in any credible way... you kind of have to experience it to know it, I think. Suffice to say, I found Everything, Everywhere, All At Once to be a highly entertaining and extremely impressive cinematic experience and I’ll definitely be importing the Blu Ray release of this very soon (I have a feeling it won’t get one in the UK... I believe it’s reserved for TV channel exclusivity aka ‘the death of the art of film’ over here). It’s not showing in a lot of UK cinemas... or certainly a lot less than, say, other multiverse movies currently at the cinema (which I will catch up on soon for the blog, I promise)... so I would definitely try and catch this one on the big screen if you have the opportunity.

Tuesday 10 May 2022

The Falcon And The Co-Eds




Educating Danger

The Falcon
And The Co-Eds

USA 1943
Directed by William Clemens
RKO/Warner Archive DVD Region 1


And so onto the next in the popular series of films based on The Falcon character of the 1940s, The Falcon And The Co-Eds. This one has a kind of different atmosphere to the preceding films but then, the series does seem to keep reinventing itself in both big and small ways as it progresses. For instance, Tom Lawrence has no real assistants in the mystery solving department in this one and not much in the way of romantic interest either (not a single fiancé in sight and I think the young ladies in the film, who are college students at Bluecliff Seminary, are supposed to be slightly underage for anything intimate for the most part but, again for the most part, I would say the actresses playing them are not).

Now, I had no idea what a co-ed is because we don’t have the term in England but, apparently it’s some sort of slang for a woman studying at a mixed boys/girls school or, as in this case, college. I’ve also still no idea why the term is applied in this title because, well... it’s an all female school (apart from one of the teachers... two if you count the first murder victim, who is dead before the story even starts) and so the term seems to be complete nonsense if you ask me. Still, it may mean something more to an American audience perhaps but... I’m not getting any help from the definitions found on the internet, it has to be said.

Okay, so Tom Lawrence, alias The Falcon (played once again by Tom Conway), is called in by the student daughter of a friend when it’s common knowledge, due to the psychic prophecies of one of the girls, Marguerita (played by Rita Corday), that one of the teachers has been murdered rather than, as one of the resident doctors who teaches psychology there has signed on the death certificate, suicide. In fact, Lawrence is pretty much compelled to be there, actually, when the gal steals his car to get him to the seminary to retrieve it. The so called suicide is hushed up because the head mistress doesn’t want to bring any hint of scandal to the college but, it’s not all that far into the proceedings before she herself is run through and killed with a fencing sword by a person unknown.

So The Falcon, posing as an insurance investigator, is roaming the campus trying to solve the mystery and, somehow, the police end up on the grounds pretty soon too. Actually, the two police who are the regular guys, Cliff Clark as Inspector Donovan and Edward Gargan as his sidekick Detective Bates, are pretty important here to help remind audiences that they are watching a Falcon film, in some ways because, as I said, this isn’t the usual milieu inhabited by the central character. I’m happy to say that the running joke dialogue between Donovan and Bates has been reinstated for this movie, after a curious absence from their regular repartee in the previous film.

Of course, there’s no question that The Falcon will eventually find the real culprit behind the murders but he comes to it pretty late and, I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised that the solution this time around wasn’t at all easy to work out. I only had my suspicions about the same time Lawrence figures it out near the end. I think part of the reason for this is that it's put together just like one of those typical Italian gialli films in terms of the amount of characters who could have done the deeds. There’s an abundance of suspects and, like a giallo, one of the prime ones is suddenly bumped off half way through the film, eliminating her from the long list of possible suspects.

It’s fast paced enough with some humorous dialogue and even some natty song and dance numbers thrown in. For some reason, because of the fact that some cliffs factor in to the story at some point, the director chooses to not only have the dreary credits sequence filled with a picture of the rolling waves of the nearby sea but also seems to use it at least four times throughout the film as some kind of transition shot... although it establishes really nothing in terms of connecting the scenes in any useful manner, it has to be said. Also, though it’s quite clear that much of the film is shot on location, including many of the cliff scenes, there are also some quite ham fisted examples of visual effects which do tend to get in the way of total immersion into the movie. Such as a few shots of Conway and some other actors walking along the cliff with it clearly being a back projection and the cast walking on a treadmill. Or some worse shots where two of the characters are clearly superimposed quite badly when standing on a cliff’s edge.

It’s also very much of its time too... as shown by a scene where The Falcon picks up one of the college girls (the actress was 20 at the time) and giving her ‘a good spanking’. Which is something that many young audiences watching these days would make a fuss about but, honestly, even in the 1970s when I first saw this film, it wasn’t really anything anybody would bat and eyelid at. So, yes, this film probably wouldn’t win any awards with the fashionably woke brigade but, The Falcon And The Co-Eds is still an enjoyable romp and, just a little bit different from the atmosphere of the preceding stories, as I said earlier. As usual, the film ends with the title character being cliff hangered onto another case and, I believe for once the dangling plot line left here as a punchline might actually get picked up in the next film in the series. So I’ll report back on that one when I revisit it again.